It was hard, Lance thought. It was hard to keep things as nice and put together as he liked when they were in the middle of space, fighting some strange, inter-galactic war that Lance sometimes dreamed of as a child but never actually wanted to be a part of.
His skincare routine had fallen by the wayside long ago, and he didn't have much time anymore to file and shine his nails like he used to.
Even if he did, Lance wasn't sure that he would use the time for something like that. It all seemed so trivial now.
Because he was a part of the war now, and it wasn't like he could just up and leave or wake up from it all. So, he figured he might as well grin and bear it as best as he could with his chewed-up nails and crackling skin and overwhelming fear that he'd never see his family again.
Somehow, Keith made it all seem so easy.
Keith, Lance noticed, never seemed the type to hesitate. Sure, Keith had made some shitty decisions in the past that almost got them all killed, but at least he never hesitated while doing so.
Besides, Lance was pretty sure they had all made some unfortunate, life-threatening decisions in the past, so it wasn't like Keith was the only one guilty of that.
And, in spite of all that, Keith had grown so much. Not only physically, either, though he definitely looked older and taller after his trip in the quantum abyss, but he was also more mature now, level-headed enough that Lance, not for the first time, trusted Keith completely.
He also brought with him a cool space dog and his mother. Lance tried so hard to reign in his jealousy at that because it wasn't fair for him to be snippy about something so good and happy just because he was a bit homesick.
Keith had also returned back with a hint of softness that he hadn't had before that went hand-in-hand with his gentle touches and smiles. In the past, Keith had been plenty abrasive. He still was now, but it wasn't as bad; it was more manageable and tempered with his new scar that somehow made Keith look even younger than before.
Lance felt it in the few moments that they touched. He felt the understanding, even in Keith's callouses and cuts. He felt it that one time in the training room, when Keith had taken Lance's hand so tenderly in his own before cleaning it and wrapping it up nice and snug to help stop the bleeding and encourage the clotting.
Lance felt it in the way Keith kissed him.
Their first kiss had been the light press of Keith's lips against Lance's furiously bleeding hand. Even past the blood, Lance felt the dried cracking of Keith's lips, but that didn't matter. It still felt good, and Lance wanted more.
So he found himself with Keith more often. Most of the time, they sat together in silence, doing their best to take in each other's steady presence while forgetting about everything that was going on around them for as long as it lasted.
Keith enjoyed sharpening his knife a lot when he wasn't doting on Cosmo. Lance liked to pick at his hangnails a lot when he wasn't doting on Cosmo. At least, he did until Keith had stopped him, resting his own calloused-ridden palm over the back of Lance's hand.
"Let's just cut them off," Keith said. "And file away some of the uneven parts."
Lance nodded and watched as Keith tended to Lance's nails. It was clear that he didn't actually have much experience with managing a person's hands and nails, but he did his best, and that was all that mattered. Even if most of Lance's nails ended up being even more ragged and splintered them before, it was lovely.
So, Lance didn't bother to fix it. He kinda liked the reminder that Keith, too, wasn't perfect at everything.
But Lance had to admit, Keith was pretty good at kissing. His lips were still chapped, even after Lance had so thoughtfully gifted him a mostly full tube of his favorite lip balm, but that was fine because it felt good regardless. It felt good because it was Keith, who kissed with as much single-minded attention as he gave while piloting. It was Keith who decided that it was Lance he wanted to go around kissing.
Keith was better at kissing and running his hands through Lance's hair and over his thighs than Lance expected. It was a pleasant surprise, though.
Keith also knew how to sew, apparently.
Lance hadn't even noticed the quickly-growing hole in his favorite sweater. It was in the arm, after all, and the arms were so large and usually bunched together that it was hard for Lance to see that particular spot.
On the other hand, Keith ended up noticing it pretty quickly.
"Here, let me help with that," Keith said, holding his hand out.
Curious, Lance pulled the sweater off slowly, dragging it off over the top of his head in a way that he hoped looked cool and seductive. Based on the way Keith licked his lips in time with the slow rove of his eyes, Lance figured he had been successful.
After that, Keith just took Lance's sweater without a word. He was gentle with it as he pulled at the damaged arm, which Lance greatly appreciated because that sweater had been a celebratory gift from his grandmother.
"For the cold nights in the desert," she had said as he handed the sweater to him, big, proud smile on her face. "The desert can be harsh, you know. You have to take care of yourself out there."
As it turned out, space was even worse than the desert.
At least Lance had Keith there to help him patch up the hole, even is Lance hadn't even known Keith could before this. Even in all the of the weird scenarios Lance thought up of to help him wrap his head around Keith's cool mysteriousness, Keith having a sewing kit tucked away in his bedside drawer had never been one of them.
But it was far more real than any of Lance's other wilder thoughts.
And, strangely enough, it didn't look all the strange. The way Keith set about sewing up Lance's sweater was reminiscent of the way Keith approached... pretty much everything else - so focused, so intense, and so effortlessly skilled.
Keith's scarred fingers moved fast and efficient, and the hole in Lance's sweater was coming together at an impressive pace. It was nice to watch Keith in his element, and it was nice that Keith was almost always in his element.
They both remained silent as Keith worked, and it felt like it was all over before Lance had the chance to truly admire Keith's efforts.
"Here," Keith said, breaking through their easy silence smoothly. "It's not the best, but it's done. You can probably get someone to do a better job with it, once we get back to Earth."
'Once we get back to Earth.'
Lance let those words melt down onto his tongue before swallowing them down, ready to keep them safe inside him until they finally got back to Earth.
In the meantime, Lance carefully took his sweater back from Keith, stretching the arm out so he could admire the handiwork. Keith was right; it wasn't the best job. The tan thread Keith used didn't match the dark, forest green color of his sweater. In fact, it looked a bit jarring.
Regardless, the sweater was all nice and one piece again, and it was still as soft as comfortable as it had been before.
“Thanks,” Lance whispered. He held out the sleeve for Keith to look at his handiwork while it was draped on top of him. Keith smiled approvingly. “I hadn’t even noticed there was a hole in it, to be honest.”
Keith shrugged. “I only noticed it because you’ve started talking with your hands more often again.”
“What?” Lance asked.
“Nothing,” Keith said cryptically.
Lance leaned in close and tried to get something more concrete out of Keith, but Keith refused to budge, as secretive and stubborn as ever. Even when Lance huffed in frustration at it all, all Keith had to do was kiss Lance long enough to distract him, and the whole matter had been dropped quickly enough.
But Keith couldn’t distract Lance enough a few days later. He was wounded, his mother was hollering everyone’s ears off because of it, and Lance was beyond upset, even without having the deal with the small Gara fleet trying to attack them.
Because Keith, for the first time, was so much of an open book that it was almost scary.
“Lance,” Keith slurred, eyes bleary and darting around worryingly fast. “Is that you?”
“Yeah, buddy, it’s me,” Lance soothed. At least, he was trying to sound soothing. He suspected he was actually more borderline frenzied than anything else, but he did his best to hide that because Krolia was doing enough of that for everyone. “I’m right here. I’ve got you.”
“Lance, what happened?” Keith asked. For as weak and debilitated as he looked, Keith’s grip on the collar of Lance’s suite was quite strong. “What did I do wrong? What did I do wrong this time?”
Oh, and that was just heartbreaking.
"Nothing," Lance whispered, hauling Keith out from where he sat haphazardly in the cockpit of the Black Lion. Coran said something that Lance could vaguely make out as "strong, but temporary chemical that causes disorientation", but it was hard to make out over Krolia's yelling, Cosmo's whining, and Lance's own heartbeat pulsing painfully loud through his head and down his throat. "You did nothing wrong. You were great, in fact. You helped us get out of that ambush alive."
"But you're hurt," Keith mumbled.
In all actuality, Lance wasn't completely fine, but he was fine enough. There was definitely a scrape on his side that stung like a bitch, courtesy of some faceless Galra warrior. It had been stupid of Lance to dive into the attack without any real plan, but he had seen it heading towards Keith, and that was that.
And now he would probably have some kind of scar all across and up the right side of his body to show for it. When he was well again, Keith would be furious, but for now it was enough that Keith just get the rest he deserved.
Keith refused to rest, however. He squirmed and screamed when any of them tried to set him down for too long.
"Why can't we just put him one of your healing pods?" Krolia growled. Her eyes were slitted and her fangs bared. "What's the point of being one of the most technologically advanced species in the universe if your healing pods can't even help get rid of a simple neurotoxin?"
Allura didn't look at all impressed with the display. "This neurotoxin is not simple, and, even if it were, the healing pods aren't designed for neurological disorders! It's not that simple! We should all just be happy that we're alive and that Keith's current state will pass in time."
"Allura's right," Hunk said, obviously trying hard to diffuse the situation. "We should all just relax for now and get ready for whatever Lotor or Haggar or whoever has in store for us next time. And, if we just have to wait for Keith to get better, then we wait."
They all agreed eventually, even if some of them were more resistant to the idea than others. Krolia insisted that she be able to stay by Keith's side until he recovered, and Lance wasn't about to fight her on that; she was his mother, after all, and she was also pretty intimidating, if Lance were being honest. He was more than happy to give them that time and space together.
But Keith just refused to let him go.
"Lance," Keith groaned. He blinked up half tear-filled eyes at him, and Lance knew he'd never be able to resist Keith in this state. "Lance, don't go."
"I won't," Lance breathed, avoiding Krolia's eyes as he bent down to smooth a hand over Keith's forehead because that was just way too much for him. "I won't, if you don't want me to."
Coran, however, stepped forward with a frown. "Keith," he began softly, "Lance is wounded. We must take him to a healing pod before it gets worse."
Keith turned his still-wet eyes back onto Lance's face, and it was filled with almost child-like affront. Of course, Lance couldn't help but feel guilty at the sight.
"You lied to me," Keith whispered, and, God, had Keith ever sounded that sad before? "You said you were fine."
"I am," Lance said hastily. "Just a little scratched up. It's really not a big deal."
"You lied to me," Keith repeated. "Have you been lying the whole time, then? When you said it wasn't my fault?"
Lance sucked in a sharp breath, and he was sure he was going to full-on start crying himself. "No, Keith, no! It wasn't a lie. None of this was your fault, I swear."
All Keith did was glare at Lance before burying his face into Krolia's chest. Krolia looked at Lance oddly, pupils still condensed into pinprick slits, and Lance didn't know what to do to make it better.
So, he decided to follow Coran to one of the healing pods. Their walk there was silent, and it remained so as Lance prepared himself for the deep sleep that the healing pod always put him under.
The only thing that was said came from Coran.
"It'll be fine. Don't worry."
Lance fell asleep to those words and hoped with everything he had that they were true.
It only took Lance a few hours of rest in the pod before he was ready to go. The scrapes were gone, and there was nothing left behind to show for what had happened only a few hours ago.
Lance supposed that was for the best.
Quietly, he snuck through the halls until he reached Keith's quarters. Without even bothering to consider that Krolia might be in there, too, he entered.
She wasn't there. There was just Keith, swaddled in piles of pillows and blankets. Lance wondered if he had sent her away, or if she had left of her own accord. Probably the former, based on her reaction to everything.
He sat down gently at the edge of Keith's bed and pushed a few of his bangs away. Keith looked like he was sleeping deep and peacefully, so Lance figured he was safe.
But, then, Keith grabbed a hand out and wrapped it firmly around Lance's wrist before snaking his finger over Lance's palm.
"You're back," Keith said, and he sounded far more lucid than he had before.
"Yeah," Lance said. "All better now, too."
"You still lied to me," Keith whispered.
Keith snarled and threw his blanket away from over him so he could lean in closer to Lance's face. "How could you possibly look me in the eye and say that I did nothing wrong when you got hurt?"
Lance narrowed his eyes. "Keith, that wasn't your fault at all. I did that to myself, at the end of the day."
"For my sake."
"Even if I hadn't, I'm sure you would've been able to dodge it or something just fine," Lance argued.
"You don't know that," Keith breathed, loosening his grip. "You just don't. You don't know what could've happened out there because of me."
Lance's eyes softened and he leaned into Keith. "None of us do. But we're all here and just fine. Isn't that enough?"
Lance sighed. "Keith, do you really think that being our leader means you have to do everything right?"
"But if I do something wrong or make a bad call, then who knows who'll pay for it?" Keith whispered.
Lance couldn't help the small smile that crept over his face. "Keith, you really are kinda dumb, aren't you?"
Keith jerked forward, mouth open and ready to respond, but Lance quickly interrupted him. "Look, Keith, you may be our leader, but we're in this with you together. Not just as your subordinates or your soldiers, but as your teammates. None of us know exactly what we're doing, but we know what we're doing it for, at least, and we're not dumb."
"I know," Keith sighed. "I know, but still..."
"We're here for you, just as much as you're here for us," Lance whispered. He rested one of his hands, all scratched up and peeling, over one of Keith's hands that was all scratched up and peeling. "I'm here for you. Ok?"
Keith inhaled deeply, and Lance was sure was going to argue more. Instead, he simply sighed again and gave Lance a tentative smile. "Ok."
Lance smiled and was all ready to go for a kiss before his hand caught onto something.
He looked down and noticed a tear in the sleeve of Keith's shirt.
"Hey, Keith? Can I ask you for a favor?"
Keith tilted his head away from where he, too, was leaning in for a kiss. "What is it?"
"Will you teach me how to sew? Then I can help patch up your clothes, too."
Keith's eyes flitted down before seeking out Lance's face again, and he was also smiling.
"Sure. We can start tomorrow, after we get some rest."
"Sounds good to me."
And it felt even better, being able to lace his legs in-between Keith's and just pretend that, for now, things were just fine.