It didn’t surprise Keith in the slightest to see that Lance was the first to approach him as he stepped out of the Altean pod when he first returned to the team. He had always figured it would be him. He and Lance had been close since their impromptu journey into outer space had begun.
Now, ‘close’ didn’t always mean ‘friendly’. Lance hated Keith at first – he thought he was an arrogant prick - and Keith admittedly didn’t do much to change his mind. Somewhere along the way though, their banter became a little less barbed and a little more playful. When picturing what his reunion with the team would look like, he had imagined that it would be much like his departure. Crying. Hugs. Heartfelt reassurances. And he had always imagined Lance being at the forefront of it all.
Instead of what he had always pictured, however, he got, “How do we know you're the real Keith and not his bigger, cooler, grizzled older brother?”
It had been two years since he had spoken to anyone other than Krolia and - no offense meant to his mother – but he definitely took after her in that he wasn’t the most socially adept individual. They both tended to use bluntness to get their point across, and dancing around unspoken words wasn’t a skill that either of them had.
With his heart in a twist and with the exhaustion and adrenaline weighing him down, he approached the conversation with the highest degree of eloquence and social dignity he was capable of in that moment.
Absolutely none whatsoever.
“I don’t have time for this, Lance!”
(Later, Keith asked himself, What did I even mean by ‘this’? Time to playfully banter with Lance? Time to lean into the hug Keith retroactively realized Lance had offered? Time to breathe in the heart-achingly familiar smell of Altean shampoo in his hair? Time to mentally unpack exactly what Lance meant by “grizzled”?)
And in the following few hours, between their battle with the Galra generals and the showdown with Shiro and the fight with Lotor’s giant mecha and sacrificing the castle-ship, Keith honestly didn’t have time to stop and catch up with them. His return to the team had been a hurried decision made out of necessity. There was no time to question it – Shiro was out of commission, the Black Lion needed a pilot, Keith could pilot her, and he stepped in. That was it. Not to say he wasn’t happy to see his old team – quite the opposite – but there hadn’t exactly been time for touching reunions.
Which is why, as the team was making camp that evening, Keith felt a little bit lost about how to approach them.
Two years was a long time. He had gotten used to missing the team. Even in the constant flashbacks of his life on the space-whale, which involved the team more and more frequently towards the end of their two year stay, didn’t help him feel closer to them while he was away.
To the team, however, he had only been gone a few months. Things hadn’t changed for them like they had for him.
So, Keith took the easy way out. Shiro was resting and Krolia was exchanging intel with Pidge, so he went about setting up a shelter for himself in lieu of speaking to anyone. He gathered up extra supplies from his lion – a tarp, a few lengths of rope, a handful of nails – and settled down onto the ground to begin building, which he hoped would give off a signal to the others that he’d much rather be left to his thoughts. But of course Lance, being the exact same stubborn brand of idiot that Keith remembered, approached him.
Keith looked up but avoided eye contact, preemptively kicking himself for whatever was about to come out of his mouth.
He internally kicked himself again. Dammit Kogane.
Lance shuffled from foot to foot. “I didn’t get to say this earlier because of the… y’know… battle, and all that, but… I just wanted to say, welcome back.”
Keith met his eyes and saw a slight blush across the other man’s tan cheeks. “Uh. Thanks, Lance.”
Keith honestly expected him to leave at that point, so he returned to his task of setting up his make-shift tent and arched an eyebrow in surprise when Lance sat down next to him. “So, whatcha doing?”
He fought back the urge to roll his eyes. “Setting up a tent.”
“Wow. You’re really not good at this whole socialization thing anymore, are you? We had made such progress with you, and it all came undone over a couple of months. What a shame.”
Now, Keith recognized that his tone was joking, but he found that he could only sigh heavily as he picked up a nail from his pile. “I’ve been gone for over two years, Lance.”
“Two years? Nonono, Keith, you’ve only been gone from the team for three months. Geez. Do they not believe in keeping a calendar at the Blade of Marmora or something?”
Keith remained silent as he worked on pounding the nail into the ground to secure the corner of his tarp. An unreadable expression came over Lance’s face, and Keith could practically hear the gears turning inside his head. Keith found that he didn't like Lance's expression when he opened his mouth again. “Oh. Oh, no, Keith… Keith, you said time worked differently where you were. It really has been two years for you, hasn’t it?” He looked up just as Lance’s eyes began to sweep over Keith’s form as if taking inventory of the changes to his body. “That’s why you’re taller. That’s why you look so different now. Oh my god…”
Seeing that something dangerously close to pity entered Lance’s eyes, Keith turned back to his task. “Lance, it’s really not a big de-”
He was promptly cut off with a smothering hug. “Keith. Keith. I’m so sorry.”
The hug was awkward and at a weird angle, since he was crouched over his tarp when Lance wrapped his arms around him, but he didn’t find that he minded. In fact, he dropped the contents of his hands and returned the hug without giving it much thought.
And just like that, Keith started to feel normal again.