“You look happy.”
It was a lie. Every time Keith said it to Lance when he saw him working the fields of his new home and living his quiet new life, he was lying. It was a lie when he saw the light fade from the little blue marks that accented Lance’s once-sparkling blue eyes. It was an even more heinous lie when he would say it after noticing the mottled red color of his cheeks, spots scattered like freckles and obscuring his real ones, telltale signs he had just been crying.
And yet, every time Keith saw him, it was the only thing he could think to say.
Maybe Keith just wanted it to be true. They had all been through so much. He had watched Lance give his heart to someone so earnestly, only to have it handed back to him in pieces to nurse for the rest of his life. It was true that Keith was tending to his own wounded feelings over Lance choosing someone else, but he could hardly hold that against him. In reality, he cared too much about him to try.
So, instead, he simply willed them both to be happy in the lives they had chosen without one another.
Every once in a great while their paths would cross, and he would smile that same painful, hollow smile and tell Lance how happy he looked. He would clap him on the shoulder and take a moment to memorize the feeling of Lance’s warmth beneath the weight of his hand, and then he would let go, not knowing when or if he would see him again.
It was better that way. At least he told himself that it was.
Things might have continued that way forever, if not for Lance’s inability to follow Keith’s lead without offering a reality check along the way. It had always been that balance that made them a good team in battle. Turns out, that honesty was valuable beyond the battlefield as well.
“You look good,” Keith said when they met again as Keith’s team touched down on Lance’s home soil. He offered Lance that familiar smile, reaching out to him. “Healthy. Happy.”
Lance caught Keith’s hand in the air and pushed it away, eyes narrowed and cautious.
“Why do you always say that?” he asked. Keith blinked back at him, startled from the usual numbness Lance’s presence brought with it.
“I… It’s just. That’s all I can think to say, I guess? Why?”
Lance frowned, stepping back slightly. “I mean… It’s clearly not true.”
Keith’s breathing stopped for a long moment, caught painfully in his chest. “It’s not?” he finally managed, though he already knew the answer.
“No!” said Lance. He crossed arms over his chest. Keith noticed that the marks on his face had gone so dull that they were barely discernible from the rest of his skin any longer, like two small bruises and nothing more. Lance seemed aware of Keith’s eyes fixed on them, as he rubbed beneath his eyes self-consciously.
“Look, you know I’m not happy here. I haven’t been happy in… Well, yeah. You know. This sucks. This whole thing sucks. But I don’t understand why you just refuse to acknowledge that.” By the time he finished speaking, his voice was fraying at its edge, raw with emotion and the beginning of tears. Keith felt it like the edge of a blade.
“I didn’t… I never meant to hurt you,” he said honestly. “I just. I guess I just wanted you to be happy.”
“You can’t just tell someone they’re happy and make it happen!” Lance yelped, throwing his hands in the air. Keith winced, stepping back.
There was a time he might have shouted back at Lance. Instead, he stood in silence for a long moment before nodding.
“You’re right. I’m sorry, Lance.”
He didn’t say anything else. He simply turned and left, with Lance still calling after him, and did his best to ignore the beginnings of tears in his own eyes.
Keith’s team stayed on Lance’s home soil for several days. The first day and night were spent on debriefings and official duties, so it was easy to avoid contact with Lance.
Once they dismissed for personal time, though, it became much more difficult.
Zethrid and Ezor spent a great deal of time together, visibly blissful. Acxa sought out Lance’s sister, which only made it harder for Keith to keep to himself. By the third evening of their stay, he found himself wandering through the dark, alone and miserable.
“Hey,” a familiar voice called out to him. When he turned to find its source, he saw Lance looking back at him. There was no anger in his expression, no expectation or haste. He simply stood a few yards away, hands in his pockets and eyes on Keith.
“Hey,” Keith replied. He stopped where he stood. Lance stepped closer.
“You, uh. You look happy,” Lance said. There was an edge of humor to his voice. Keith did not laugh, but he shook his head, a sad hint of a smile on his face.
“Yeah, yeah. Likewise, I guess.”
“Don’t suppose you’d like some company, would you?” Lance ventured. Keith was quiet for a moment, then shrugged.
“If you don’t mind being ‘happy’ with me.”
Obviously, Lance didn’t mind. He closed the last few steps between them and came to walk beside Keith. They wandered together through the dark, through the buildings that made up the small but growing village Lance and the others were building there.
Silence stretched between them for a while, but it couldn’t last forever. Not as heavy as it was on their shoulders.
“So, uh. You need to talk?” Lance asked. Before Keith could answer in the negative, Lance added, “Because I sure do.”
Keith turned his head to show that he was listening.
Lance swallowed, nodding like he was bracing himself to speak. His hands remained jammed in his pockets. “I need to be honest, man. This whole thing with you and me? It’s killing me.”
“What do you mean?” Keith asked. Again, Lance swallowed audibly.
“I mean, like… The way you act around me. Since everything happened. You’re not. It’s not like you. I just want to know what changed. What did I do?”
At that, Keith couldn’t stop himself laughing, a dry, bitter sound.
“You didn’t do anything, Lance. I promise.”
“Then what?” Lance asked, more urgently. He stepped in front of Keith, stopping their steps. “What changed after team Voltron disbanded? After Allura died? It’s like you just… You just try to pretend I’m not here. What happened?” Lance seemed to realize then that he had all but stepped into Keith’s space, his face a few inches from Keith’s. He took a step back, shaking his head. “I thought we were friends.”
“We are,” Keith replied immediately. Of that, he wanted there to be no mistake. “I just… It’s not really something I wanted to talk about.”
“So, there is something, then,” Lance said, his eyes wide. He sounded so vulnerable. Keith’s chest ached at the sound.
“I… Yes. But Lance, I was trying to avoid all of this.”
“Well, it didn’t work.”
“Obviously,” Keith sighed. He supposed that if he had to spare them both heartache, the best way might really be to just tell Lance why he had been avoiding letting himself fall in love with him. At least that way, Lance could have some chance at returning to a normal life, knowing that his friend did not despise him. Keith would simply shoulder the sadness of his reality alone.
“Look,” he began. “I… Like I said, I wanted you to be happy. I could see that you weren’t. After Allura died, after the team split up - you seemed miserable, actually. But I guess I thought if I told myself you were happy, I wouldn’t try to like… I wouldn’t try to jump in and help.”
“Help?” Lance asked. Keith shrugged, unable to think of a better explanation.
“I care about you,” he said, as truthful as he had ever been about anything in his life. “I… I wanted to be with you. The way Allura was. The way Zethrid and Ezor are. But I know you can’t just tell people that kind of thing. You can’t just take someone’s place. I knew you loved Allura, so I didn’t say anything. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.”
A beat of silence stretched into several. Then Lance’s voice came, soft and unsteady. “Keith…”
“I’m sorry,” Keith said in reply. “I’m sorry to dump all of this on you now. I just want you to know this has never been about you or anything you’ve done. I just wanted to keep my distance so I wouldn’t get hurt. Or worse, hurt you. But I…” He trailed off, swallowing to clear his throat. “I guess I ended up doing both, huh?”
He felt a heaviness settle on his shoulders then, an almost unbearable weight. Just as he thought it might take him to the ground, Lance’s arms were there to steady him, pulling him into a gentle embrace.
He held Keith and spoke into the collar of his shirt.
“I wish you would have told me.”
On the back of Keith’s neck, he could feel the first drops of rain beginning to fall. He stepped back, just enough that he could see Lance’s face. He brought his hand up to gently cup Lance’s chin, looking that face over for any sign of anger, of hesitation or fear.
All he saw was a quiet, breathless longing that mirrored his own.
“I wish I would have, too,” he said. He traced his thumb over Lance’s chin, his heart fluttering in his chest at the way Lance’s mouth parted on a tiny sigh. The tiny marking beneath his eyes flickered to life, the first time Keith had seen them glow in months. They lit Lance’s lovely face in tones of soft, muted blue.
“Do… Do you still feel that way?” Lance asked. “About me?” He never took his eyes off Keith’s.
“I do,” Keith admitted. He probably always would. There was no sense in lying about it anymore.
Lance drew a shaky breath, quietly exhaling his words. “Then stop looking at my lips and kiss them.”
Keith didn’t give Lance’s words time to process for long. If he had, he might have talked himself out of acting on them. With Lance leaning toward him, though, eyes fluttering closed and face beautifully lit by the glow of his markings, Keith was nearly powerless to do anything but acquiesce.
The first press of his lips against Lance’s was soft. He needed Lance to know that he could back out, that he could change his mind if he wanted to. But as soon as Keith’s mouth parted against his, Lance reached up to take hold of Keith’s collar, pulling their bodies closer together and sending a message loud and clear that he wanted to be exactly where he was just as much as Keith had ever wanted to be there.
It was emboldening - intoxicating. Keith tasted Lance’s mouth with the care of someone sipping a priceless wine, then let himself be swept away with hungrier, needier kisses as Lance sighed against his lips. Keith wanted nothing more than to show Lance that he could be patient, that he could wait for a thousand years if he had to for a moment like this, but Lance had no such patience.
With one hand clutching Keith’s collar, Lance’s other came to rest against the side of his face, wiping away tears Keith hadn’t realized were falling.
When Keith pulled back, it was just enough to breathe again and see Lance’s gorgeous face lit by the light of his markings. One of his arms had come to rest around Lance’s waist, holding him close. Keith brought his other hand up to brush rain-matted hair from Lance’s face, smiling.
They laughed, joy and relief coursing through them both.
“You look happy,” Keith said, and this time he meant every word. Lance’s face was tear-stained, soaked by the rain and bathed in a mixture of blush and blue light. But he had never looked more beautiful. Or happier.
He grinned back at Keith, leaning forward to kiss him again in reply.
“For once, I think I might believe whatever you say.”
Keith raised an eyebrow at that, still high on the feeling of Lance in his arms and the taste of him lingering on his lips. “Yeah?” he asked. When Lance nodded, he smiled. “Then believe this: I love you.”
Lance’s eyes went wide for a moment, the glow of his markings more brilliant than Keith had ever seen them before. It was breathtaking. It was beautiful. It was so uniquely, incredibly Lance.
For once at a loss for words, Lance leaned forward and buried his face in Keith’s shirt, grumbling. Keith laughed at the sound of something similar to ‘love you, too’, happy just to revel in the chance to stroke Lance’s back comfortingly. It was a gesture he had never known would bring him such happiness, but then, holding Lance close, he was certain anything could bring him joy.
They walked back toward Keith’s ship that evening hand in hand, their steps lit by a gentle blue glow.