The first time it happened, it was an accident.
Lance woke to an unfamiliar weight on his chest. He blinked his eyes open, momentarily confused at the swirling projection of stars that danced on the ceiling above him.
He looked down at himself, jolting at the glowing, golden eyes staring back. Unhappy with the sudden movement, Jay gave a squeaky rumble, shifting her weight on top of him. Lance exhaled in relief, letting his head fall back as he tried to calm his heartbeat. Right, tiny Galra kid, not an enemy, no threat of impending death. Thank goodness.
“Oh, jeez, you scared me,” he breathed, raising his head again and reaching out to run his hand over her forehead. She blinked sleepily back at him, looking not even the tiniest bit phased by this. She was sprawled across his chest, tiny claws pricking him through his clothes as her legs dangled off to his right. He now recognized the soft blankets and mounds of pillows that made up the nest-like bed in the nursery room, the Lions shooting through the stars on the walls. Right. He’d been exhausted after the mission yesterday, but he'd told Jaybird he’d come see her. He must’ve fallen asleep on accident.
Jay gave a sleepy chirp. Next to them, a low whistle answered.
It was then that Lance became aware of the third body in the bed.
Stomach fluttering, he was suddenly acutely aware of the extra warmth pressed snugly up against his side. He glanced over, slowly, taking in the other body that was curled next to him. One arm was cradling his head, and the other slung over Jaybird’s legs as he whistled again, a seemingly unconscious action. His dark locks were splayed messily around his face, and he still looked dead asleep.
Lance didn’t remember falling asleep here, and he definitely didn’t remember falling asleep with Keith .
Jay chirped again, softly, and still Keith responded in turn. He really seemed asleep, his breathing even as he made no other move to answer the kit. It was, kind of precious, that he could respond to her so instinctually that it didn’t even wake him up? Precious for Jay, of course, and no one else ever, he told himself. Definitely that one.
This was how he found himself in a conundrum. Their closeness left him buzzing, an odd sensation that made him feel the need to get up, do something, anything. He’d long ditched the habit of sleeping in, countless drills and missions getting him in the habit of an early rise. Between the two, he couldn’t stay laying here for much longer, or it was going to drive him crazy. Also, he kind of had to pee.
The fact that Keith was still dead asleep was a true testament to how tired the Blade had been the night before. Lance didn’t want to wake him - not to mention how bitingly awkward it would be if he woke up to the pair of them like this . It was enough for Lance as it was. He’d have to be smart about this.
Carefully, Lance started shifting Jaybird over to rest on Keith, instead. She gave another little rumble, her favored sound of displeasure, before deciding that the action was in fact, acceptable, and settling right back down. Now, he just had to maneuver himself out of the covers and off the bed without disturbing his slumbering teammate. After all, the best thing was to just, get out of here, and pretend this had never happened.
His feet hit the floor, and he exhaled, relief settling over him. Perfect. Okay, now just out the door and-
“Lance..?” He froze. There was a gentle sound of ruffling bedding, and slowly, he glanced back over his shoulder. Keith had barely raised his head out of the mound of blankets, eyes half-open and blinking sleepily after him. His arms were wrapped around Jaybird like a cocoon, holding her close to him as if to protect.
It had no right being as adorable as it was.
“Sorry,” he laughed, a nervous titter that left his mouth dry. “Didn’t mean to wake you.” He half-turned, watching as Keith worked on returning to the land of the living. He’d never taken the Blade for a slow riser, but he still looked as if he were in a fog, gaze unfocused as Lance talked. “I uh, I must’ve fallen asleep on accident last night.” It took a moment, but then Keith shrugged, dropping his gaze to rub at his eyes.
“S’okay,” Keith mumbled, a yawn working its way out of him. “Don’t mind.” Something about that statement sent Lance’s mind into a halt. It seemed to reboot after a second, words falling out of his mouth like badly-scripted dialogue.
“Oh. Okay.” He heard himself saying them, felt himself nodding his head a little too enthusiastically. “Cool. Cool cool cool.” He stood there another few moments, weight shifting from foot to foot as they stared at each other. Not knowing what else to do, he cleared his throat, motioning at the door. “I’m just gonna… go now. Get ready for the day, and all.” He snapped his fingers at Keith, pointing at him with the familiar dual ‘guns. Keith merely blinked back at him.
“M’kay.” He settled back down, Jay curled up against him, and that was that.
Nodding to himself again, Lance quietly walked out the door and into the empty hallway. When the door slid closed behind him, his exhale turned into a groan of exasperation. Nope. Too early for this, he decided, fingers dragging down his face as started walking again. Definitely too damn early.
These two were going to be the end of him, one day. He just knew it.
_ _ _ _
Of course it was only so long that Lance could sneak around before someone else took notice. He’d been aware of that fact since the beginning of this mess. He just wasn’t expecting who it would be.
“Are you quite alright, my boy?” Lance looked up from where he was kneeling, cleaning supplies in hand and suds trailing down his arms. He’d been scheduled to help Coran clean the medical wing, which was nothing unusual. He enjoyed listening to the man’s whimsical stories; the long, rambling speeches reminding him easily of his uncle’s tall tales back home.
“Huh?” It took him a second to parse the question. Coran’s brows furrowed, looking concerned even as Lance answered. “Oh, uh, yeah! Yeah!” He flicked his hand dismissively, soap bubbles fluttering to the ground around him. “Right as rain, my man.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Coran said, turning back to where he was polishing one of the healing pods. The buffer revved quietly in his hands, eyes keeping track of the machine as he worked. “You’ve been a bit absent, of late. Wouldn’t want you to feel unchecked.”
“Right,” Lance said. Guilt crept up his back. Coran had been his confidant for a long time, ever since that first night in the castle where his homesickness got the better of him. To not be able to talk through recent things with him… the feeling was like something ugly sitting in his chest. He kept having to remind himself that it wasn’t his secret to share, that it wasn’t his choice. It didn’t always make the task any easier.
Looking up from his cleaning, his eyes crossed the room to land on Ulaz. The Galran physician had taken up his own maintenance, sorting through the stored medical files and organizing the information within. He was so quiet, Lance often found himself forgetting the Castle’s newest medic was even there.
Ulaz looked up, sharp eyes catching Lance’s in a tick. He gazed back, seeming to take in the Paladin’s expression, before giving a tilt of the head. Right. Ulaz understood - he had been helping Keith with Jaybird from the start, and hadn’t whispered a single word. Lance wondered if that came naturally, to someone with a background like his, or if the fact that he was among friends made it even harder. He wondered how it felt with Shiro.
A hand pressed to his shoulder, and his attention was pulled back to the man who had moved to his side. Coran smiled.
“Remember if you need anything, I am always around to listen, hmm?” His voice was upbeat and non-threatening, the specific brand of Coran-talk that never failed to put Lance at ease. He smiled again, and this time, it felt a bit more real.
“Yeah. Yeah, thanks, Coran.”
_ _ _ _
Somehow, the sleeping arrangement kept happening.
Lance blamed it on how often he would come down to the nursery after training now, already worn out and ready for a nap. How much more time he was spending there instead of relaxing, how easy it was just doze off with the late-night visits - how much Jaybird’s small, precious weight snuggled between them would remind him of his niece and nephew after a nightmare.
It didn’t seem to matter how he planned things, though. Somehow, in the inevitability of a capricious universe, he kept ending up in Keith’s arms.
He played it off like he did everything else, with a great deal of complaining and far too many dramatics. He’d tease Keith about being a koala cuddler, scoffing and tossing his head as he’d extract himself from the other man’s grip when he awoke. He’d whine about having to get up for early practice, or about missing dinner, or about all the blankets being stolen from him. He’d launch immediately into how all this oversleeping was going to have an effect on his beauty regimen, mark his words, every time he ended up pinned to the mattress again.
Anything, he figured, was better than acknowledging how much he liked it.
_ _ _ _
“So what’s up with you and Keithy-boy?”
Formerly half-asleep in his seat, dangerously close to landing face-first in goo, Lance jolted up. He narrowed his eyes at the source of his current displeasure, the castle’s light glinting off their glasses. Pidge was staring back at him with a familiar shit-eating grin, chin resting casually in her hand as she leaned across the table towards him.
“What are you talking about?” he asked slowly, still not taking his eyes off the mischievous younger paladin. She just snorted, lifting her other hand to play with the rat’s-nest she called hair as she continued to stare him down. Lance didn’t particularly like the look in her eye.
“Oh come on,” she scoffed, twirling finger twisting a knot even further into oblivion. “He starts disappearing, you start asking about it, then you start disappearing… a girl starts to wonder.” She brought her hand back down to rest under her chin with the other. “So. Are you two sitting in a tree or what?” It was a damn lucky thing Lance wasn’t still eating, because he would have choked to death.
“I beg your pardon?! ” he wheezed, eyes blown wide at the question. Oh, no. No no no no no. He wasn’t even sure where Pidge was getting this idea, but he was shutting it down this instant.
“Oh, please. Even when you’re in the same room together, you’re both stuck at the hip, whispering to each other and smiling, ugh.” She scrunched up her face, nose crinkling in displeasure. “I mean, you could at least keep it to yourselves, y’know.”
He was not thinking about this right now - he was not thinking about this ever! He definitely wasn’t enjoying spending all this time with Keith as anything more than a teammate and friend. That was all they were, teammates and friends. Heck, the Blade coming to him first didn’t even mean anything. Lance was simply the one with the most knowledge on taking care of kids. It was just, convenience and necessity. Nothing more.
He wasn’t sure if thinking of it that way made it any easier or not.
“We are friends !” Lance insisted, arms flailing outwards in desperate gestures. “Teammates! Rivals!! ”
Okay, it wasn’t that he’d never… thought about it … but that was the furthest thing from his mind right now! Or at least, it was the furthest thing from Keith’s mind, he was sure. Keith was still struggling through this new relationship with his new daughter , he didn’t have time for… well. Whatever it might be between them. He wasn’t about to throw even more cogs into the works.
“Yeah yeah, so you claim…” Pidge said, back thudding against the seat as she leaned back and crossed her arms. “Sounds like a cover-up for a big ol’ crush if you ask me.”
“Oh, are we finally talking about Lance’s thing for Keith?” Lance whipped around so fast, he could have sworn he heard something in his neck snap. He stared at Hunk as he walked into the room, mouth hanging open. The Yellow Paladin simply stared back inquisitively, as if not understanding the problem. Lance flailed his arms again.
“ HUNK! ” He managed to squeak after a moment’s more flailing. Hunk shrugged, shifting the large jar he was carrying and at least having the decency to look a little shy.
“Sorry, was that not what we were talking about? I thought - well. I just thought it was obvious..” Attitude aside, the words still stung. Lance swallowed, hard. He couldn’t believe this was happening.
“No, Hunk, we absolutely were not -”
“We were definitely talking about the thing,” Pidge cut him off, leaning towards Hunk with that same smirk that Lance was starting to hate. “And it definitely is obvious.”
“There’s not a thing!” he snapped, folding his arms across his chest as he scowled. “The only thing between Keith and I is our rivalry, and that’s that! Now cut it out.” That should have been the end of it. He’d asked for it to stop - but Hunk glanced between the two other Paladins, brows furrowing as he set the jar down.
“Okay, but.. I mean, you had a crush on him back at the Garrison, right? I just figured that was still a thing.”
“ I KNEW IT! ”
Lance barely heard Pidge’s exclamation as she got to her feet. He felt as if the floor was yanked out from under him, staring at Hunk in disbelief. He’d told Hunk plenty of things during late, sleepless nights, both in the castle and back at their shared school bunk. Hunk had told him plenty in return. Fears, hopes, dreams - it felt as if they’d told each other everything. Never, never , had one of them ever spilled something the other had shared, and yet, Hunk did it so casually. He couldn’t… he couldn’t even process this.
“Excuse me?” he said, voice whisper quiet. Hunk stilled, frowning at Lance and tilting his head as if he didn’t understand.
“Well, you said that-“ Lance’s hands slammed down on the table. Silence followed.
“ No. ” He stood there, quaking, as he stared them down. He couldn’t even fathom what he was hearing right now - these two were supposed to be his friends ? They were treating his feelings like a joke! Emotions bubbled in his gut, and he huffed, fighting back the urge to slink off and cry to himself instead. “I told my best friend that, in confidence , and you’re just… spitting it around!!” Hunk opened his mouth, but Lance’s hand shot up, silencing the other Paladin and leaving him gaping like a fish. “I don’t know who you are right now, Hunk, but you’re not that best friend.” His hand dropped, but his eyes never broke contact. “You better figure your shit out, quick .”
He turned his back. He shot a glare sideways at Pidge for good measure, a sick feeling of satisfaction in his stomach as she shrunk away. He stormed from the room.
_ _ _ _
His breaths came in and out quickly, and he was still swallowing back tears. His head swirled with emotions, and Lance found that he could concentrate very little on the halls around him. He let his feet carry him of their own volition, trusting that his body would carry him to a safe space even in this state. He didn’t have the mental capacity for anything other than replaying the scene over and over again in his head, his own words echoing in a voice that didn’t feel like his own.
He couldn’t believe this. He just. Couldn’t… What was with his friends, lately, if he could even still call them that? Acting like he could never be helpful, like his feelings were only something to laugh at, barely taking the time to give him a conversation unless it was to make him the butt of it.
At least with Shiro there had been a reason. That angry, doubtful person hadn’t actually been Shiro, hadn’t actually been his family member that had hurt him. These two, though - what was their excuse, he wondered? He just didn’t know. Didn’t understand. It filled him with bile in the worst way, and he knew it would be a good while before he felt like listening to them again.
The soft beeping of a hallway sensor brought Lance back to himself. He was surprised, as he fizzled back to reality, to find that his feet hadn’t led him to Blue’s observatory. It was where he usually ended up, when his brain fogged up and everything became too much. Still, the hall around him was quiet, and his hand hovered over the panel for the nursery door.
He’d never come here before, not during an episode like this. His mouth was dry and his head still spun, and he couldn’t even start to parse what Keith might think of him like this. Why was he here? His hand shook, still poised above the panel he couldn’t seem to bring himself to press.
He didn’t have to. The door hissed open, startling Lance into stepping back. Keith peered inquisitively outward, violet eyes raking over him with unmasked concern.
“I heard you out here,” he said, and Lance’s heart was racing. Keith watched him for a moment, chewing on a lip as he hesitated in the doorway. “Are… you okay?” The words were soft, laced with concern and not tinged at all with pity or malice. It made him feel safe, and wordlessly, Lance shook his head. Understanding flashed through Keith’s eyes.
“Can I touch you?” A nod. Keith’s hand settled on his shoulder, gentle. “Come on.” The pressure moved to his back, and he was guided inside.
He found himself sat in one of the beanbag-like cushions, tucked away into the corner of the room. A blanket ended up wrapped around his shoulders, and something warm and steaming was placed in his hands. The holograms of the Red and Blue Lions circled him, bright yellow staring through him in a way that felt far too real for mere projections. Something rumbled, in the back of his mind - something reaching through the debris to brush against him in a way that felt familiar and comfortable.
He sipped, whatever it was tasting earthy and floral and a little bit sweet, and let the quiet wash over him.
_ _ _ _
He wasn’t sure how long he spent curled up in the corner. He’d dozed off, barely, hitting that state of not-quite-awake and hovering there for awhile.
His head was pounding, and he was grateful for the dim lights.
There was a quiet shift nearby, and he raised his head to see Keith standing next to him. The Blade handed him a water pouch, slipping a small caplet into his other hand that Lance recognized as an Altean painkiller. He murmured a thank you, swallowing it down quickly before draining the pouch.
“Better?” Keith’s voice was gentle, barely above a whisper as he watched Lance closely. He nodded.
“Much. Thank you.” The quiet fell between them, a comfortable thing that they both settled in. “How did you, y’know,” The words were still hard, catching under Lance’s tongue, and he waved his hand in a tired attempt to convey meaning. “Know how to deal with that?” The corner of Keith’s mouth twitched up, and for a moment, he looked almost as tired as Lance felt.
“We all have bad days, don’t we?” he murmured. It was only a few words, but it conveyed so much more. They brought a sense of relief washing over Lance, an acceptance and feeling of camaraderie he hadn’t even realized he’d missed until now. So often it felt like it was just him that felt this way, this broken and tattered thing that no one would help stitch back up. For someone else to acknowledge it meant more than Keith knew, he was sure.
“Besides,” Keith motioned over his shoulder, to where Jaybird still lay curled up in the nest, blissfully unaware of the conversation around her. “She’s had a lot of good days, lately. I learned through the bad.”
Keith’s eyes flicked over him again, concern darkening his eyes. Lance didn’t know when he’d earned that sort of attention from Keith. He was grateful for it now.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” Lance shook his head slowly.
“Not right now.”
“Okay.” No begrudging acceptance. No probing questions. Lance couldn’t remember the last time he’d been treated so well - he felt like he could cry, if he weren’t so exhausted. There was quiet between them again, suddenly so comfortable that he could wrap himself up in it like a blanket.
“.. do you want to sleep here?” It was Keith acknowledging this thing, and not shying away from it. It might have scared him before, but now… Lance took in a shaky breath.
“..yeah.” He smiled, and it had never felt more real. “Yeah. I’d love that.”