Lance’s voice is loud and firm, anger threatening to boil over. Hunk and Pidge exchange looks and Coran goes so far as to take a step back away from him. Lance’s hands are clenched at his sides and he takes turns glaring at Shiro, Allura, and Keith. “No.”
“It’s not really your decision,” Keith says, remarkably calm.
“The whole point of Voltron is that we work together as a team, not that we split up and sacrifice each other for the greater good.”
“Lance,” Shiro starts, sounding as if he’s speaking to a dog who might attack at any moment, but Keith, who is still standing with his arms crossed and hip jutted out as if he didn’t have a care in the world, interrupts.
“Well, Voltron isn’t working. So we have to move on to Plan B.”
“This isn’t Plan B, it’s Plan S for shitty.”
“Good one,” Keith says sarcastically. “We’ve been trying to come up with something for days and we’re running out of time. This is the only way.”
Lance whirls on Pidge. “And what about you? Are you okay with this?”
Pidge blinks and then stands straighter, glaring at Lance. “I didn’t ask him to do this. Don’t stand there and accuse me of putting my family before Keith. This wasn’t my idea.”
Lance almost immediately deflates. “Fuck, Pidge, you’re right,” he says apologetically. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” He turns his anger back onto Keith. “This is a bad idea and I won’t allow it.”
“Who died and made you captain?”
“Lance,” Shiro cuts in. “None of us like this idea, but it is the only viable option we have.”
“Fine,” Lance says. “Then let me do it.”
“I’m the only one who can.”
“Full of yourself much?”
“I’m not full of myself. Red is the only Lion that is quick and agile enough to get in there, and Blue is bigger, anyway. This is exactly the kind of reckless move that Red was made for.”
“So you agree that it’s reckless?”
“It’s a bad idea,” Keith says grimly. “But it’s the only one we have.”
Lance looks between all of them. “There has to be another way.”
“There isn’t,” Allura says. “At least not one that is immediately available to us, and if we don’t move now who knows when the next time we’ll be able to reach Pidge’s family will be.”
“And we can’t defeat the Galra without whatever it was Matt figured out that the Galra are so afraid of,” Keith says. “And to do that we have to get to Matt, and to do that we have to get into their ship, and the only one who can do that with even a hope of doing it without alerting the entire army is me and Red.”
Lance throws his arms into the air. “Fine. Be a fucking idiot and kill yourself. See if I care.” And with that he stomps out of the kitchen.
“That probably could have gone better,” Hunk says. Shiro sighs and rubs at his face.
“I’m going to get ready,” Keith says, disappearing in the same direction Lance had. Pidge chews her lip.
“I don’t like this, either,” she says. “I want to save my family, but not at the cost of any of you.”
“We know,” Shiro says, trying to sound soothing but unable to mask the stress in his voice. “But Keith is right. We need to do this. I’m not sure –” He seems to think about whether he should say this or not, but eventually he continues. “I’m not sure they’ll keep Matt alive for much longer.”
Pidge looks at the ground. “I’m going to make sure the Lions are ready,” she mutters. Hunk shoots a look at the others and then follows after her. Allura looks at Shiro.
“I don’t like this, either.”
“None of us do,” he says. “But Keith knows what he’s doing.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing.”
Keith looks up in annoyance. “It’s polite to knock.”
Lance ignores this. “It’s a stupid idea. It’s reckless and it won’t work. You’ll be flying right into a trap, and we’ll end up losing you, Matt, Pidge’s dad, and Red. How are we supposed to form Voltron if we’re missing the Red Lion? You’re being selfish.”
Keith advances a step towards Lance. “Sometimes you have to take risks in order to make things work. We won’t get anywhere without Matt. The Galra are more powerful than they ever have been. We can’t do this by ourselves.”
“It’s going to end badly,” Lance says, and this time he sounds more scared than angry. Keith looks at him, shifting from foot to foot, and Keith tries to remember him like this. He aches at the sight. He knows Lance is doing this only because they are friends, but sometimes it is easy to pretend. Easy to read into the smiles and laughs and touches. Keith wants to tell him the things he’s been keeping secret for so many months, but it’s not fair to him or Lance to do it now, because despite his bravado he knows this plan is dangerous, and it’s very likely that he won’t be returning.
But some things are worth it.
“It might not.”
“I’m doing this whether you approve or not, Lance. Nobody ever said saving the galaxy would be easy.”
“Nobody ever said it would have to be a suicide mission.”
“You and I both know I was the best pilot at the Garrison. If anyone can do it, I can.”
“If you’re not careful that big head of yours won’t fit in your Lion.”
Keith smiles. Lance doesn’t smile back.
Allura gives them an inspiring speech that Keith doesn’t listen to. He is looking at his friends, at his family; at Shiro, his brother, who had hugged him tightly before the others came and told him he loved him. At Hunk, who was the only one who laughed at Keith’s lame jokes, at Pidge, who had told him with shaking hands that he had better come back, too. At Allura and Coran, trapped in their ship again.
And because he is reckless, and he feels kind of like he’s on death row, and because maybe he’s a little selfish, just like Lance had said, as they all separate to head to their lions, Keith grabs Lance’s arm to keep him behind and then kisses him. It does not last long; it barely lasts at all, and when he pulls away Lance is staring at him with wide eyes.
“I’ll see you after,” Keith tells him, even though with every step forward it feels more and more like he’s going to meet his death.
When he turns around Shiro is there. Keith can’t quite meet his eyes.
Too many goodbyes.
There is absolutely nothing sophisticated about their plan. The other paladins are the distractions while Pidge finds a way to disable the shields, giving Keith time to infiltrate and figure out where Matt and – ideally – Pidge’s father were both being held. Keith really, really hoped they were together.
It was a bad plan. They all knew it was a bad plan. But it was the only plan they had. Their intel told them that the Galra weren’t planning on keeping Matt alive for much longer, and Keith had told Shiro that taking a risk was better than sitting back and letting Matt die while trying to think of a better plan.
I can do it, he had said. He wasn’t entirely sure if he could, to be honest. He just knew he had to.
He wonders if this was what having a family was supposed to be like. Realizing that sometimes your life just isn’t as important as theirs. That you were willing to sacrifice everything, even yourself, if it meant that they would be okay.
“You ready, there, Mullet Head?”
Keith comes out of his thoughts when Lance’s voice sounds in his ears. It was uncanny; it was like Lance had known Keith was drowning in his thoughts and needed to be brought back out.
“Are you ever going to shut up about my hair?”
“Are you ever going to get a better haircut?”
“Guys,” Shiro’s voice comes sharp through the speakers. “Focus.”
“If you get out of this, Keith, I’ll never call you Mullet Head again.”
“Don’t make promises you know you can’t keep, Lance.”
“If you two are done flirting,” Pidge’s voice breaks though, “I’m almost done.”
Keith doesn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed. “Okay. Everybody know what they’re doing?”
“I would just like to go on record one last time as saying that I am utterly against this,” Lance says.
“Noted. Ignored, but noted.”
“Keith,” Lance keeps talking, because of course he does. “Don’t you dare fucking die.”
“Seconded,” Hunk says.
“Noted,” Keith says grimly. “I’ll see you guys on the other side.”
“I could do without the death metaphors,” Hunk remarks.
“Done,” Pidge says, and Keith is moving immediately.
He hadn’t been being arrogant when he told Lance he was the only one who could do this. It was the truth. This was the kind of idiotic bullshit that Red was made for. That Keith was made for.
The wards are down but the only safe space to land Red that is close enough for an escape is still difficult to get to. It’s an isolated part of the ship that is used mostly for escape pods and is patrolled irregularly. Keith hopes it’s irregular enough that no one will notice a giant red lion robot parked there.
Like Allura had said – it was a bad plan. Everyone knew that. But Matt had figured something out, something the Galra desperately needed to keep quiet, which was why he had been transported here. It wasn’t the best guarded place, because they weren’t planning on keeping Matt here for very long.
This was his last stop before the Galra did the safest thing and got rid of him.
Keith isn’t entirely sure why they didn’t just kill him on the spot. It would have been safer. He wonders what Matt had done to keep himself alive.
He wonders if he’s going to get to ask.
He shakes himself. He couldn’t be thinking like that.
“I’m in,” he says into the comm. He kind of feels like the James Bond theme song should be playing. He makes a mental note to tell Lance. “How are you guys doing?”
“Oh, super,” Lance’s voice comes through. “I love being shot at.”
Keith doesn’t answer this. Pidge had done whatever Pidge normally did and figured out the rough pattern of the guards and their shifts, so he waits until a pair of them pass and then has a minute or so to get to the next room. He can’t help but be reminded of his rescue mission to get Shiro, that day so long ago, when they had all gotten into this mess. That hadn’t gone as planned. He’s pretty sure it had been Lance’s fault.
He wasn’t sure when he stopped thinking of Lance as being annoying and when he started noticing the way his nose crinkled when he laughed or how he couldn’t quite wink without the other eye closing, or the way he said people’s name differently, how the way he said Hunk was different from how he said Pidge and how different it was when he said Shiro. Keith listens intently, after he discovers this, to the way Lance says his name, but every time he does it comes out even mockingly or in annoyance. There isn’t the kind of easy familiarity like when he says Hunk, or the fondness he gives to Pidge, or the clear admiration that seeps into his voice when he says Shiro. He longs for the day when his name means something more to Lance, and then he chastises himself for being an idiot. But Keith has always been hopeless when it came to boys he had crushes on, as Shiro always likes to remind him.
But there was something different about Lance. Something about the way he smiled and the easy way he lounged against Hunk, how he put Pidge in a headlock every time she annoyed him, how he liked to throw crumpled up pieces of paper at Keith when he was bored. Keith’s crushes normally burned bright and then faded, but this one just wasn’t going away. It might have been how close they were, how close they had to be, living with each other, training with each other, putting their lives in each other’s hands, but Lance just wouldn’t leave his head. And it was horrible, to have such strong feelings for someone who didn’t, couldn’t feel the same, and someone he had to work with as well. The galaxy literally depended on them, and he couldn’t afford to fuck that up.
But half of Keith was expecting to die today, so kill him if he wanted to go out with a bang.
The door to the holding cell is guarded by two guards on high alert, but Keith is able, through the element of surprise, to take them both down relatively quickly. They don’t have a key so Keith has to awkwardly hoist a dead Galra back up and physically open their eye for the retina scan, which is not a situation he is particularly eager to ever do again.
Sometimes the universe pulls through, because there isn’t anyone inside. Just Matt Holt, slumped against the wall, wearing dirty clothes, eyes closed. He doesn’t even look up when the door opens, probably expecting just another Galra guard.
“Hey,” Keith whispers. “Matt.”
Matt looks up and his eyes widen in surprise. “Keith?”
Oh right, Matt knew him. Keith and Shiro weren’t actually brothers, but Shiro treated him like one, which meant that Matt was dimly aware of who he was.
“Uh, yeah.” If he hadn’t known who Matt Holt was to begin with, he would have recognized him immediately just from the resemblance he shared with Pidge. “This is a rescue mission, so, uh. Let’s go.”
Matt looks at him in disbelief and then nods. “Yeah, okay, but you really need to explain to me what the hell is going on. Is Shiro with you? Why are you in space?”
“We really don’t have time for this, Matt. Where’s your dad?”
Matt’s face screws up and he looks away. Keith’s heart sinks. “Oh. Fuck. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” he says, standing up straighter. “I’ll explain later.”
Keith feels bad, but not bad enough to stand there and mourn a man he barely knew. “I’m here. I have him.”
“Is he okay?” Pidge’s voice comes through, loud in his ear, voice panicked. “What about my dad?”
Keith’s heart sinks. He doesn’t want to tell Pidge, doesn’t want her to be distracted, but his silence will be answer enough.
“Pidge,” he says, softly, and there is complete silence on the other end. Then Pidge clears her throat.
“You have to get out of there now, Keith. I think they’ve noticed the intrusion, and the distraction isn’t going as well as we wanted. Lance just keeps insulting their mothers.”
Despite everything, Keith almost smiles at that. “Okay. We’re on our way out.” He turns back to Matt, only to see him staring back at Keith in horror.
“Did you just say Pidge? Is my baby sister in fucking space?”
“Your baby sister is saving all our asses right now, so we need to move.” Keith grabs Matt’s arm and pulls him, surprised at how thin he is and the way he stumbles. “Have they been feeding you?”
“Depends on how you define feeding,” he says grimly.
“Christ,” Keith mutters. “Okay, come on.” Matt follows after him, and Keith tries not to lose patience at how slow he moves.
“And your mother too!” Lance’s voice comes on, and Keith winces.
“Keep your fighting to yourself, Lance, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“You need to get out of there quick, Keith, they’ve definitely noticed that their most important prisoner is on the loose.”
“Gee, thanks, I thought I might stop for a quick brunch while I was here.”
“Guys, this is really not the time,” Hunk’s voice says in his ear, sounding worried. Keith can almost perfectly picture him chewing his lip.
Keith opens the door, gesturing Matt behind him, sword out in front of him.
And is met with a Galra guard, who had clearly been waiting for them, judging from how quickly the sword slices through his ribs.
He makes a soft, surprised noise. “Oh,” he says, and he stumbles back into Matt, who has a hard time holding him up, especially since the Galra is now trying to get to him. He grabs Keith’s sword from him, who is watching all of this blearily, barely aware of the pain in his stomach.
“Oh? What does oh mean? Keith?” Lance.
“Keith? Are you okay? Is Matt okay?” Pidge.
“Keith. Report.” Shiro, harshness doing a poor job of covering the anxiety in his voice.
Matt slices at the Galra, but he is weak, and the Galra lets out a laugh as he advances on him. Matt takes stock of his surroundings and then lunges.
The Galra backs up, but Matt hadn’t been aiming at him. Since the Galra was still holding a sword, Matt had slashed at the holster holding his gun, catching the Galra off guard. Matt lunges for it.
And points it at the ceiling.
Keith wants to point out that that’s the wrong way, but he’s finding it hard to form words.
“Keith, please.” Pidge.
“Keith, are you all right?” Shiro.
Matt scans the ceiling for something, jumping out of the way of the Galra, and then shoots.
The ceiling crumbles, and whatever had been in the room above comes crashing down with it, doing a very effective job at blocking the door. Keith wants to congratulate him, except now he’s locked them in a room with an angry Galra, with only a weakened scientist and a sword to defend them. But the Galra lets his surprise at the collapse of the room distract him, and Matt wastes no time at driving Keith’s sword into his neck. Keith winces, and Matt drops the sword to the ground, staring in horror at the body on the ground, before turning to Keith.
“Shit,” he mutters. “Shit, shit, shit.”
“Yeah,” he responds weakly. The voices in his ear start up again.
“What happened? Keith? Are you hurt?” Shiro.
“Please say something.” Pidge.
“Keith, c’mon.” Hunk.
And then, most horrifying of all, Lance’s voice, calm in the franticness of the situation: “I’m coming to get you.”
“No,” he manages to say. “You are not.”
“Want to bet? Pidge, Shiro, can you handle this? Hunk, I need you.”
“On it,” Hunk says. Keith tries to sit up weakly and ends up collapsing onto Matt.
“Lance, don’t you dare.” He wants to make his voice stronger, wants to put as much feeling into his words as Lance had when he told Keith he wasn’t doing this mission. Needless to say, it doesn’t work. He presses his hand to the wound on his stomach and hisses.
“You’re losing a lot of blood,” Matt says. He tears part of his dingy shirt off and presses it to Keith’s stomach. “Fuck,” he says, which is all Keith needs to know.
“Listen,” he says. “Take my sword. Head down the hall, take the third left, head into the hangar. There will be a red lion there. She should open for you. Show her the sword if she’s being moody. Fly out of here.”
“No,” Matt says, at the exact same time that Lance says, “That’s as shitty a plan as your last one.” He sounds genuinely angry.
“We need him,” Keith says, as much to Matt as to Lance.
“And we need you, too, idiot! Keith, fucking listen to me, you are going to shut up and stop wasting your strength by talking useless nonsense and wait for me and Hunk to get there, all right, because I am not going to let your die, it is not happening, you do not get to kiss me and then die!”
Silence. He hears Pidge say, tentatively, “Excuse me?”
Lance either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. “Hunk,” he says, and Hunk says “Got it,” and in the distance Keith can hear the dim noise of something exploding.
“It’s too dangerous,” he says. Lance makes an irritated noise.
“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”
Keith does, but only because he can feel himself fading out of consciousness. He leans heavily against Matt and lets his head droop onto Matt’s shoulder.
He is dimly aware of Matt shaking him every time he tries to go to sleep. It is incredibly irritating. “Stop,” he mutters, annoyed.
“You need to stay awake,” Matt says. He is being very still beneath Keith, as if he is afraid that if he moves he’ll make it worse. Keith isn’t sure how, exactly, this could get much worse.
What feels like hours later he hears a very familiar voice say, “What the fuck is this?”
“In here!” Matt yells, and the sound jolts Keith, who groans as pain shoots through him. “Fuck, sorry,” Matt mutters. “I collapsed the roof, you’ll have to move the debris,” he says towards the door again.
“Fuck that,” Lance says, and there is a loud noise as debris flies everywhere. Matt covers Keith’s wound with his arms, something that Keith finds very touching.
“Did Lance just shoot his way into the room?” Keith mutters.
“If this guy in the blue suit is Lance, then yes,” Matt says. It occurs to Keith that there isn’t really a better way to get to know somebody then by bleeding all over them.
“Matt, you go with Hunk,” Lance says commandingly, wasting no time. “He’s going to take you into his lion and fly you out of here. You and me,” he says, glaring at Keith, “Are finding Red and getting you the hell out of here.”
“Don’t worry about Blue,” he says. “She’s safe. I came with Hunk.”
“Are you really going to talk to me about stupidity?” Keith knows that the only reason Lance sounds so mad is because he’s scared, but it’s still jarring to hear that much anger turned towards him after so long of him and Lance having a good relationship. “Matt, up.”
Matt listens. Keith has never heard Lance talk like this. Like a leader. Matt lifts Keith up slowly and Keith hisses, but the body behind him is quickly replaced with another. A firmer, stronger body, who lifts Keith’s helmet off his head.
“God, I hate you sometimes,” Lance says, taking note of the blood soaked rag and swearing. “You are not dying in my arms, Keith, I swear to God we are not doing that.”
Keith lets out a wheezing sound that sounds vaguely like when you let the air out of a balloon.
“Was that a laugh? Are you laughing?”
“S’romantic,” he says. He is dimly aware that he is becoming delirious.
“Oh, now he gets a sense of humour,” Lance mutters, seemingly to himself.
“I’ve always had a sense of humour.”
“Could have fooled me. Stop talking, Keith, Jesus.”
“I lost the bet.”
“What bet?” Lance says, trying to figure out a way to get Keith out of there without hurting him more.
“You said if I get out of here you wouldn’t call me Mullet Head again.”
Lance makes an angry noise from behind him. “You’re getting out of here, I told you I’m not letting you die.”
“The sword wound in my stomach begs to differ.” He thinks this is probably what dying is like. The pain has faded into a dull discomfort and everything is sort of fuzzy and he kind of just wants to sleep. He is aware that his voice is weak and shaky but he finds he can’t stop talking. It’s like he wants to get everything out before he can’t anymore. “I’m sorry I kissed you. I should have asked. I shouldn’t have done it.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Lance says quietly, which has too many implications for Keith’s dying brain to sort through. “New bet, okay? If you get out of here you can kiss me again, okay?”
Yeah, Keith is definitely dying. This is a dying hallucination.
He finds himself not minding.
Keith does not respond. Lance lets out a string of profanities.
He had barely been able to concentrate on this fucking mission when Keith had kissed him, but he hadn’t gone and gotten himself stabbed, had he? Lance had told them it was a bad idea, but no one ever listened to him. Someone should have gone with Keith, is what they should have done.
He puts his helmet back on and shoves Keith’s back on his head. “I’ve got Keith. He’s passed out.” He tries to keep his voice even, tries not to show the others how sad and scared and angry he is. Fuck, he’s angry. He’s so goddamn angry at Keith, at the lot of them, at everyone who said this was a good idea, at Keith for pitching the idea. He’s so fucking angry because Keith is dying in his arms, and Keith had kissed him and now he’s dying and they might not ever be able to talk about it. Lance might not ever get to tell him that he’s wanted to kiss Keith for ages. He might never get to yell at him for kissing him as a goodbye. Might never get to kiss him again.
If Keith makes it through this, Lance is going to kill him.
“Is he okay?” Shiro is clearing fighting to keep control, and he is doing about as well as Lance is.
“He’s bleeding pretty heavily. He’s very pale. He’s –” His voice is shaking slightly. Lance fights to hold onto the anger. He can handle his anger. Being mad at Keith means Keith is going to be okay, because he can’t let Keith die while he’s angry at him. “He’s not looking good.”
“Hurry, Lance,” Shiro urges him, as if Lance didn’t fucking know that.
He has no idea how the hell he’s going to get Keith out of here while also defending against anyone who’s left. He’s not sure what the other paladins did to give them so much privacy for so long, but soon the Galra will be rushing down here to try and take Matt Holt back, and when they don’t find him, they’ll take Lance and Keith instead.
“Fuck,” he mutters. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s afraid that if he hoists Keith over his shoulder, he’ll irritate the stab wound more, but holding him bridal style means his hands are occupied and he has no way to defend himself – or Keith – at all.
He doesn’t know what to do. All he knows is he can’t stay here.
He sort of wants to sit down and hide, pretend none of this is happening. He’s so fucking mad at Keith he can’t see straight. He’s so afraid that it’s almost paralyzing him. He can’t stay here or the Galra will corner them, but if he leaves they’ll overwhelm him anyway.
“Lance? What are you doing?”
“I –” He takes a deep breath, trying to steady himself, looking down at Keith’s pale face in his arms. He can’t stay here, but what else is he supposed to do? How is he supposed to get Keith out of here? He looks around for something to try and wrap around the wound, but the only thing is a dirty rag that is drenched in blood.
He’s going to have to do it. If he doesn’t move they’ll both die, he’ll just have to risk having Keith over his shoulder and hope it doesn’t fuck anything up more than it already is.
He lifts Keith into a sitting position and gets ready to lift him when he hears someone running towards the room. He lowers Keith and stands in front of him, bayard raised.
Lance has had a crush on Keith for ages, but when he sees Hunk come through the rubble, he thinks he might kiss him.
“Not that I’m not unbelievably happy to see you, Hunk, but what are you doing here? Where’s Matt?”
“He took my lion and flew it back. I didn’t want to leave you by yourself.”
“Hunk, you beautiful specimen of a man.” Hunk steps forward and lifts Keith up, holding him in his arms. Lance knows that logically it makes more sense for Hunk to carry Keith, since Hunk was stronger, but he still feels some strange desire to be the one to help.
Hunk scoops Keith up easily and follows Lance out, who holds his bayard ready. The Galra are incredibly disorganized, thanks to Pidge, and so anyone they come across is quickly gotten rid of. Lance feels no qualms about killing the soldiers; normally, even though he knew the Galra were the bad guys, he still felt some kind of nausea whenever he took a life, but with each one that goes down all he feels is some sense of satisfaction, watching them go down as Keith bleeds to death in Hunk’s arms.
Red makes an anxious noise when they reach her, and Lance tries to soothe her as best as he can, but he’s as nervous as she is. “You got to help me get him to the castle,” he tells her as Hunk rifles through Red’s first aid kit to try and find something to help.
Red flies faster than Lance knew was possible. Lance barely needs to control her. He understands, now, why Keith had been so sure that Red could do this. Blue is a part of him, and she is so in tuned to his thoughts that she almost knows what he’s thinking before he’s even aware he’s thinking it, but Red is more instinctive, doing what she seems to know is right. Keith makes a noise, as if he can feel the presence of his lion, and Red perks up, purring in response, but Keith doesn’t move again.
When they get back to the castle everyone, even Matt, is there, standing next to Pidge with his arm around her, but when Hunk comes in carrying Keith they all stand up straight. Shiro runs over to them and smooths back Keith’s hair.
“We’ve got to get him to the pod,” he says, and Hunk doesn’t object when Shiro takes Keith from him. Allura and Coran follow him as he heads towards the pods, and Lance wants to follow, but when he takes a step forward his legs give out and he slumps against Hunk. Hunk supports him with ease.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m –” Is he okay? He’s not hurt, not physically at least, but he has Keith’s blood on him and every time he looks down at it he gets dizzy. He looks over at Matt, who is gripping Pidge’s shoulder tightly, and says, quietly, “I think I need to sit down.”
Hunk brings him to the sitting area and watches him anxiously as Lance leans forward and buries his head in his hands. Pidge sits down on his other side and leans her head on his shoulder. Matt sits next to her, seemingly unwilling to leave her side for long, and with Hunk on his other side they sit like that, waiting in silence for news.
Keith stays in the healing pod for a long time. Shiro barely leaves his side, and everyone else goes to visit regularly, but Lance finds that he can’t stay there for long without remembering how hard he had to scrub at himself to get Keith’s blood off his skin and his suit.
The day after they get back Pidge and Hunk corner him. He wonders how Pidge managed to throw off her brother.
“You know you have to explain, right?”
Lance sighs. “There’s nothing to explain.”
“Keith kissed you! That needs explaining.”
“That’s it, Pidge. He just kissed me. That’s all that happened.”
“He’s gonna be fine, Lance,” she says. Lance tries to smile, but it falls flat.
“I know,” he says, although every time he thinks about it all he can see is Keith’s face, so pale he could almost see the veins underneath his skin. Both Pidge and Hunk look like they don’t believe him.
“Do you want to go train?” Hunk asks. “Work off some energy?”
Lance has no energy to work off, but he knows Hunk is trying and he appreciates it. “Sure, buddy,” he says, and the happy smile that Hunk gives him almost makes it worth it.
It takes a few days, but eventually Shiro approaches him.
“I never thanked you,” he says. There are bags under his eyes, and Lance wonders how many nights he’s spent awake, staring at Keith’s still body in the pod. “Neither Keith or Matt would have made it out if you hadn’t gone to get them.”
Lance shrugs. He sought Shiro’s praise often, but for some reason this just makes him uncomfortable. Maybe because he doesn’t feel like he should be thanked. Keith almost died. He still wasn’t even stable. Lance hadn’t done anything that Shiro should be thanking him for.
“He isn’t safe yet,” he says miserably. Shiro puts his hand on Lance’s shoulder.
“You did everything that could be done.”
Somehow he doubts it, but he doesn’t want to tell Shiro that. He had wanted Shiro to be proud of him for so long, wanted to be appreciated, but not like this. Not at the possible expense of Keith. Of any of them. Lance would rather wallow in his low self-esteem, ignored by the rest of the group, then have Keith be in this position.
Shiro seems to realize that nothing he can say is going to help, so with a nod at Lance he heads back towards the medical bay.
Keith had been one foot in the afterlife when they had brought him back on board so they hadn’t really had an idea of just how long it would take for him to get better. It had taken a long time for the pod to even stabilize him. The clock on the front said that Keith would be ready to be released in a day or so.
So when Keith wanders into the kitchen as everyone is eating (Lance has done nothing but pick at his food for days) and clears his throat, everyone stops dead.
“Hi,” he says warily. He’s still in the black under suit, which is still caked with blood, but there is colour in his face and any wobbliness that he may have seems to have come more from days in a healing pod rather then any lingering injury.
It is Shiro who moves first, standing up quickly and enveloping Keith in his arms. That seems to break whatever spell has settled on everyone, as they move immediately, surging around Keith.
“You weren’t supposed to be out yet,” Shiro says, standing back but keeping his hands on Keith’s shoulders. “We were going to be there when you were released. You’re early.”
“Leave it to Keith to not do as he’s told,” Pidge says, but she hugs him tightly anyway.
They all take turns. Hunk envelops Keith in a hug so tight that Keith tells him he probably reopened the wound; Allura gives him a quick hug and tells him she’s happy he’s safe. Coran pats him on the shoulder and tells him some strange Altean idiom that no one except him and Allura understand. Matt smiles appreciatively at him and thanks him.
Eventually the only one left is Lance, who hadn’t left his chair. Keith catches sight of him elbows Pidge.
“What’s wrong with Lance?”
“He’s mad at you,” she says matter-of-factly. Keith makes a face.
“How can he be mad at me? I got stabbed.”
“I believe that’s why,” Shiro, who had not strayed too far from Keith’s side, adds. Some signal must pass amongst the group, because all of a sudden Hunk says, “Oh, no, I think I left the oven on!” And the others all agree, rushing out of the room. Keith rolls his eyes.
“Do they know we’re already in the kitchen?” He asks, but Lance doesn’t answer him. Keith shifts from foot to foot. He has a feeling Lance is waiting for him to apologize, but Keith doesn’t really think he owes him one. He just keeps quiet, banking on the fact that Lance is physically incapable of keeping his mouth shut.
“What were you thinking?” Sure enough, Lance breaks first. Keith finally raises his eyes to look at Lance, but Lance isn’t looking at him.
“We’ve gone over this,” he says.
“You could have died,” Lance continues, as if Keith hadn’t spoken. “You almost died.”
“But I –”
“And you fucking – you – God, Keith, why did you do it that way? Of all the fucking times you could have kissed me, I –”
“I said I was sorry, okay?”
“I don’t want you to be sorry!” Lance finally says. His voice is loud, almost a shout. He fights to quiet down, because he is very aware that his friends are likely all eavesdropping right now. “Stop apologizing for kissing me, Christ.”
“Then why are you so pissed at me?” Keith asks. “I’m not going to apologize for doing what I did, because it was the only option –”
“You kissed me goodbye,” Lance says, and his voice breaks slightly on the last word. “I don’t care that you kissed me, fuck, I’m glad, but why did you have to do it that way?”
“You’re glad that I kissed you?”
“It wasn’t fair, Keith. It wasn’t –” Lance stops, takes a steadying breath. “You almost died. You were bleeding to death in my fucking lap.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did it that way. But I’m not sorry for saving Matt.”
“We’re supposed to be a team.”
“And we are. But sometimes you have to switch it up.”
“Not like that.”
“It had to be done.”
“We could have come up with something else –”
“No we couldn’t! Not in time! It had to be done, and I had to be the one to do it.”
Lance pushes his palm into his eye. “Someone should have gone with you. You shouldn’t have done it alone.”
“I wasn’t going to let anyone else risk their lives.”
“But we were supposed to be totally fine with you risking your life?!”
“What other option did we have?!”
“That’s enough.” Shiro’s voice cuts through the two of them, and both of them turn abruptly to see him standing in the doorway, arms crossed and looking pissed. “Keith just got out of the healing pod, Lance, I will not have you rile him up, especially since he was supposed to be there for another day.”
“And you, Keith. I know you think you made the right choice and I don’t expect you to apologize for it. In the end it worked out. But you have to understand that for Lance – for all of us,” he says, and Keith can hear the pain in his voice, and for the first time guilt blooms in his stomach, “You were dying. And we didn’t know if you would make it. Lance was right there as you bled out. Remember that.”
Both Lance and Keith stand there like scolded children. Keith nods sullenly.
“Keith, go get some rest. Don’t argue with me,” Shiro adds when Keith opens his mouth to tell him he had done nothing but rest, he had just got out of a healing pod for heaven’s sake. “Lance, go take a walk. Cool down. You can continue this conversation later, but only if you both can keep calm.”
Lance glares at Keith and Shiro, but walks off anyway. Keith watches him go.
“You’re being a dad again. Remember when you told me to tell you if you ever started acting more like a father then like a leader? You’re being a dad.”
“And you’re being selfish.” Keith opens his mouth but finds he doesn’t have a good retort. “Yes, it was probably the only shot we had, and it worked out, and I understand that there are some things that are worth sacrificing yourself for. But you were dying in his arms, Keith. He went against orders to go and get you and he held you as you were dying and you have to understand the kind of affect that has. It took three wash cycles to get the blood out of his suit.”
Keith looks away. “Okay.”
“Good. Thank you. I’m going to be your brother now, okay?”
“You shouldn’t have kissed him.” Oh. Keith blushes. Shiro had switched from team leader to big brother, and Keith isn’t sure which Shiro he would prefer. “Not like that. And this isn’t like when you gave that kid in eighth grade a handwritten valentine and then ran away and didn’t go back to school for a week – ”
“Do you always have to bring that up –”
“Because this had bigger consequences then you asking to switch schools. It wasn’t fair to you, and it certainly wasn’t fair to Lance.”
“I know,” Keith says petulantly, the exact same way he had said I know when Shiro had calmly told him you can’t switch schools just because you told a guy you liked him.
“You should eat something solid. Come on.”
Keith shoots a glance to the door that Lance had disappeared though before nodding and sitting back down.
It takes a few days for the two of them to be able to sit down and have a conversation without it escalating into a shouting match. Lance was mad because he thought Keith shouldn’t have done what he had done; Keith was mad because he refused to apologize for it. The rest of the team watched the two of them interact with extreme interest.
“When do you think they’re going to realize they’re just mad because they have feelings and shit.”
“Watch your language.”
“Fuck off, Matt.”
“I don’t understand why they do not just talk about it. On Altea if two people shared feelings for each other they entered a courtship almost immediately. There was none of this… anger.”
“On earth you usually just stifle your feelings and wait for the other person to make a move.”
“One time Shiro asked a girl out and then ran away before he could hear the answer.” Shiro wraps a hand around Matt and clamps it over his mouth, using his metal hand to pinch Matt repeatedly in the arm. Allura just shakes her head.
“Humans,” she mutters, as Matt squeals and tries to escape Shiro’s grasp.
Eventually it gets to be too much even for Keith, who was more then capable of holding an incredibly unhealthy grudge. He seeks Lance out one night and finds him in the control room flicking through solar systems.
“If I say sorry, will you talk to me again?”
“You won’t mean it.”
“For fuck’s sake, Lance.”
Lance leans his head back on the wall. After a moment Keith sits down on the ground beside him.
“You know what I can’t stop thinking about?”
“You told me you had lost the bet. You know, how if you got out alive I would never call you Mullet Head again. And you told me you lost, meaning you weren’t getting out of there alive. And you were so calm and sure about that. About dying. And I think I’m mad because I thought you were giving up.”
“I wasn’t giving up.”
“Then what were you doing?”
“I don’t know. I just… couldn’t stop talking. I remember that. Everything’s kind of fuzzy but I remember I just could not stop talking. It’s like I wanted to say so many things, but I don’t think I ended up saying anything important.”
“You apologized. For kissing me.”
“You don’t remember?”
Keith shakes his head. “I don’t remember much. Just a lot of pain.”
Lance makes a noise that sounds almost disappointed. “You were wrong, though. I can’t call you Mullet Head anymore.”
Keith attempts a smile. He looks up at the stars of a solar system he doesn’t recognize and wonders why they just can’t be honest with each other.
“What are you doing?”
Lance looks up at Hunk. “In general or at this exact moment?”
“With Keith. What are you doing with Keith?”
“You’re losing me, buddy.”
“Keith kissed you, and I know you’ve wanted to kiss him for ages –”
Lance looks around the room. “I told you that in confidence!” He hisses.
“And yet all you two are doing is arguing. What the hell, man?”
Lance drops his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s complicated.”
“No it’s not.”
“He almost died in my arms.”
“Okay, but he didn’t. And I don’t see why –”
“Because that’s all I can see,” Lance says. “Every time I look at him all I can see is him dying. And that doesn’t exactly put you in the mood to kiss someone, you know?”
“We all knew the risks. But you can’t let the risks get in the way of things. You can’t stop living in case something goes wrong. That’s why he kissed you. Keith, I mean. Because he knew the risk but he was willing to do it anyway. He wanted to take a chance and live, even with the risk that maybe things could go wrong.”
Lance grins. “I know everyone thinks Pidge is the genius, but sometimes I think you’re too smart for your own good, too.”
Hunk puts a hand on his shoulder. “Remember in first year, when after every class you would come back to the room talking about Keith and how much you hated him?”
“I knew then you liked him.”
“I did not!”
“Come on, Lance. You were obsessed.”
“Only because he was an obnoxious jerk with stupid hair.”
“Well go find that obnoxious jerk with stupid hair and communicate. The rest of us are getting overwhelmed at all the unresolved sexual tension.”
“Oh shut up,” Lance mutters. Hunk laughs and squeezes Lance around the shoulders.
Keith is in the training room when suddenly the training robot is turned off. He turns around to see Lance standing there, hands stuffed in his pocket.
“What are you –”
“We made two bets that day. The first was that if you got out alive I wouldn’t call you Mullet Head again.”
Keith wipes away the sweat on his forehead. “Okay? What was the second?”
“That you could kiss me again. If you survived. I told you that you could kiss me again.”
Keith licks his lips. “Oh,” he said. “I knew – I remembered that.”
Lance blinks, as if he hadn’t been prepared for this answer. “Then why –”
“I thought I,” he says, blushing fiercely, “I thought I had hallucinated it, or something. That it was some kind of dying fever dream.”
“We’re so fucking bad at this,” Lance mutters. Keith takes a step towards him, suddenly very aware of how sweaty he is and how nice Lance seems to always look.
“You said you were glad I kissed you,” Keith says. Lance nods. “Then why didn’t you… why haven’t you. You know.”
“You kept apologizing,” Lance says. “It was pretty freaking confusing.”
“Right,” Keith says. “I guess I can see that.”
“Are you sorry that you kissed me?”
“Yes,” he says without even a thought. Lance looks disappointed, so Keith hurries to finish the thought. “Only because it – because it wasn’t fair to you. You were right. I shouldn’t have done it like that. Not as a goodbye.”
“Why did you do it like that?”
“Because I was afraid. Because I was pretty sure I was going to die. Because I thought it was the only chance I was gonna get. It was selfish of me, and I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” Lance says slowly. “I mean, you’re forgiven. I guess.”
Keith almost smiles at the ridiculousness of it all. “Okay.”
The training robot suddenly comes alert again, and charges at Keith, who side steps out of the way and reaches for his sword again. Lance looks at the control panel to see what was going on before glancing towards the door.
“Pidge! What the hell?”
Keith turns to see Pidge there with a remote in her hand. The robot turns off. “You two are stupid. I’m just trying to knock some sense into you.”
“You need to be supervised.”
“You need to –” She is cut off by Hunk, who drags her away, poking his head briefly in the room to give the two of them a thumbs up.
“Why is everyone on this ship so nosy –”
Keith laughs. He can’t help it. Lance glances back at the noise and smiles, meeting Keith’s eyes. He walks the final few steps until he’s in front of Keith and then leans down. He stops before their lips meet. “I’m still mad at you,” he says. Keith rolls his eyes and pulls him down so their lips meet. They kiss for a couple seconds before Lance pulls away.
“Keith, Jesus, you are so fucking sweaty, oh my God.”
Keith grins, wipes his forehead and smears it all over Lance’s face. Lance shrieks and ducks away.
“You’re going to make me break out you disgusting asshole.”
Keith laughs more and grabs Lance’s wrist, dragging him back to him and kissing him again. Lance kisses him back, and his hand grazes over the area of Keith’s stomach where he had been stabbed. Keith grabs his wrist and pushes his hand more firmly over the wound, and Lance’s kiss turns a little more desperate. His hand slips under Keith’s shirt and he rubs his thumb lightly over the bandage.
“I’m still not sorry I did it,” Keith mutters. “But I’m sorry I pulled you into it.”
Lance’s other hand slips into Keith’s hair. “I’ll forgive you under one condition.”
“You already forgave me.”
“I take it back.”
“Fine. What’s the condition?”
“We keep the terms of the second bet, but we forget about that first one.”
Keith lets out a huff of laughter. “You’ll forgive me for almost dying in your arms as long as I let you make fun of my hair again?”
“You’re so fucking ridiculous.”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“What do you think?”
Lance kisses him again. “Pleasure doing business with you, Mullet Head.”