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tell me again, do you love me?

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1.

He really was going to take it to the grave. Really.

How embarrassing would it be otherwise, to have it known? What, is he supposed to confess?  Suffer through the indignation of admitting that the rival he once so adamantly opposed is now half the reason he even gets up in the morning?

No. No, Lance was fully prepared to keep his feelings smothered until he kicked the bucket somewhere in a far-off galaxy. Probably after taking a hit meant for Keith. Because he’d actually do that now; he’s, like, that level of fucked.

But things have never gone Lance’s way and this doesn’t look like it’ll be any different.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand the reasoning for this.” Allura frowns at the shimmering forcefield separating the team from the alien city. “Surely you must know we retain sensitive and confidential information. We can’t run the risk of disclosing that just to attend a meeting on a prospective alliance.”

The minister on the other side waves her hands. “Oh no, it’s nothing like that. The field actually just forces you to admit a personal secret. Something like—hating your grandmother’s cooking, even though you’ve told her you love it. It’s not meant to be anything but a mild embarrassment.”

At this, Allura relaxes. Lance, in contrast, feels a migraine forming. “Still, it’s a rather unconventional way of maintaining security. How does it keep you safe?”

“Ah, well…it doesn’t?” the minister says sheepishly. “It’s just been around for so long that no one really remembers how to disengage it or alter to actually catch malicious intent. We mostly just accept the momentary embarrassment if we want to pass the border.”

Allura nods. Lance despairs at her acceptance and considers his escape routes. If he just turns around and boards Red again, no one will stop him, right? “Alright, then. I suppose it can’t hurt. I’ll go first.”

She steps up to the buzzing shield, placing a hand on it and pushing experimentally. It doesn’t budge. “So when does it—” her spine snaps straight and she blurts out— “Coran doesn’t know it, but I was the one who put the hair-altering solution into his shampoo last week!”

As soon as she finishes, the forcefield melts under her hand and she stumbles forward. It seals shut the moment the last strand of her hair passes through.

“Oh my god,” Pidge exclaims. “It was you?!  That was the best prank all month!”

Allura covers her flaming cheeks. She looks somewhere between ashamed and pleased. “It was?”

“Totally! It beat out Shiro’s lame attempt at tripping Keith at breakfast, that’s for sure.”

“I am old,” Shiro declares, “okay? I am tired. I cannot be assed to keep up with your prank competition. Besides, it worked all the time when he was a kid.”

“Yeah,” replies Keith. “Because I was a kid. There’s this thing called growing up? Which you clearly don’t know about, seeing as you’re still immature enough to trip people.”

“Wait, you used to go around tripping children?” Hunk asks.

“No, just Keith.”

They stare at him.

“What? He needed to loosen up.”

“Okay,” Allura says, struggling not to laugh. “Let’s move on. Who’s next?”

“I’ll go,” Pidge volunteers, placing her hand on the shield. The same shock rips through her body. “When I was six, I was the one to tell Mom about Matt's secret girlfriend!” Then, as the shield locks behind her— “But, to be fair, he ate my science project.”

Shiro is next, with: “I stole all the snacks from the pantry and hid them in my locker in the training bay,” to which he is regaled with boos and jeers. He dodges Pidge and Allura’s slaps, laughing and apologizing.

Lance watches them, dread in his throat. Why is this so easy for them? Please, let Hunk have killed fifteen dogs or something—anything to minimize Lance’s impending guilty confession.

What if he tries not to feel guilty about it? What if he pretends keeping secrets has never bothered him, or that him liking Keith is not a secret? Determined, he tries to internally hypnotize himself as Hunk steps up next.

“Don’t kill me,” he says to Keith.

“What did you do?” Keith sighs.

With a grimace, Hunk puts his hand on the forcefield and immediately spits out, “I made a scratching post for you, for if you ever go full-Galra, but then I thought that might be offensive, so it’s just been sitting in my workshop for the last two months.”

He jumps through the opening before Keith can reply.

“That,” says Shiro, “is spectacular. Which reminds me, does catnip work on Galra?”

“Shut up,” Keith says. “Just—no. I’m pretending I heard none of that.”

The team laughs, jostling and joking with each other. Keith steps up next and he’s not even tense, either. He’s scowling at Shiro, trading witty remarks, but just like the others, doesn’t seem to hold any stupid, soul-crushingly shameful secrets.

Lance inches backward, mentally calculating the distance to his lion.

“Tried to make coffee for Dad once and broke the machine so I threw it out and then pretended not to know what happened to it,” says Keith.

Lance only gets a second to appreciate how cute the confession is before Keith steps into the city, leaving Lance the last of them on the other side.

“You coming?” Hunk asks, brow raised.

“Um.” Lance shifts on his feet. “I’ll be right behind you guys. I just, uh…need a moment?”

His team sends him a flat look. None of them are buying it. The alien minister looks between them, unsure. “If it makes you uncomfortable,” she begins. “I alone could stay?”

“That’s unfair; he heard all of ours,” Hunk points out. “Plus, it’s not like we’d make fun of him for whatever it is. Unless he, like, murdered someone. Lance, did you murder someone?”

“I wish I did,” Lance grumbles. “It’d be easier than this.”

He drags his feet forwards, chewing on his lip. When Keith tries to catch his eye, concerned, Lance drops his gaze. In his peripheral, he registers the frown that pulls over Keith’s features.

Ah, he really was going to take this to the grave. Really.

“Just. Don’t be weird about this,” he mumbles. “Okay?”

He puts his hand on the shield.

His mouth falls open.

“I’m in love with Keith.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.

Surprisingly, it takes three more missions for Keith to approach him about it. Up until that moment, Lance has never been so thankful that they live busy, dangerous lives. He should’ve known his lucky streak could only last so long.

“Oh god, don’t,” Lance begs when he comes out of Red and sees Keith standing there in the hanger, bags of pilfered Galra tech at his feet.

Keith scowls, but looks just as flustered as Lance feels. “If you try to run, I’ll catch you.”

“I told you not to be weird about it but here you are, being weird about it,” Lance grumbles. “Here, hand me a bag. Where’s Hunk? This is his shit.”

“Ran off with Coran. Something about the generators acting up. Asked if we could drop these off in his workshop.” Keith turns on his heel and Lance falls into step. “Are we seriously not going to talk about it?”

“I mean, I was down with forgetting about it. Everyone was kind of down with forgetting about it. Except you, apparently.”

Count that as another lucky streak. Lance isn’t sure what it was about the situation exactly—maybe they thought he had been significantly mortified all on his own—but the team was merciful for once. There was no teasing. Not even a word breathed about the confession at all. It didn’t make the elephant in the room any less hard to ignore, but still. The effort was appreciated.

“Lance, you said you were in love with me,” Keith says slowly. “With me.”

“I know, I was there.”

Keith hikes the bag higher on his shoulder, baffled. “So—? Are you going to explain, or…?”

It’s Lance’s turn to be confused. “What is there to explain? A confession is pretty self-explanatory.”

Keith just stares at him, lost. Something about it plucks at Lance’s heartstrings. It’s like the guy doesn’t even understand…

“Dude,” Lance blurts out. “Are you asking me why I like you?”

Keith’s blush is only rivaled by the impressive scowl he musters. “Don’t make it sound like I’m fishing for compliments! I just—you hated me! I’m—it doesn’t make sense.”

Lance gapes at him. “Yeah, ‘hated,’ as in past tense. Dude, we lead the team together now. How could we be doing that if I hated you?”

“Professionalism? Or—” Keith bites his lip, uncertainty flashing across his face. “Wait, is this a prank? Is it your turn in the competition?”

They’ve arrived at Hunk’s workshop, but Lance just stands there, frozen and incredulous, as Keith walks in and drops off the bags. He gives Lance a questioning look when he makes no move to enter.

“First of all,” Lance begins, stomping in and throwing his load on the floor with a crash of metal, “I would never pretend to like someone just to mess with them, because that shit is awful. Second, I was literally compelled to confess, so there's no way I could've lied. Third, I am not talking about my feelings for you with you, so you’re just going to accept that I—you know—and then you’re going to do your best to forget about it.”

“Forget about it,” Keith repeats incredulously. “How am I supposed to—you literally said you’re in love with me!”

“AHHH DON’T SAY IT!” Lance screeches, slapping Keith on the shoulder.

“What?” Keith yells, dodging his blows. “You’re the one that said it first! Lance! Stop hitting me!”

“Forget it! Forget it right now! It didn’t happen! Erase it from your mind immediately!”

“You’re impossible!” Keith sputters, a grin pulling at the edges of his mouth, and oh, Lance hates how it softens his features. “You’re seriously so—hey, watch out for the—!”

It’s funny, how even after all the training and experience he’s gained over the past year, Lance still manages to trip over spare robot parts, arms wind-milling like he’s seventeen and gangly again. And by funny, he means shameful.

Even more so when Keith swoops in and catches him.

Keith is warm and solid against him. In that split second where Lance lets himself be held, he feels Keith’s breath rustling his hair, feels the thump of his heart, the shifting of his grip on Lance’s lower back.

It’s—ugh, it’s really, really nice. No, it's disgusting. How dare this situation make Lance’s heart fall over itself squealing. What the hell is this, a shoujo anime? He hates his life. Whoever made this show should retire.

“Thanks,” he mutters, pulling away. Then, catching sight of Keith’s strange expression, snaps, “What?”

“You…” To Lance’s utter horror, Keith brushes the backs of his fingers over Lance’s cheek. “You’re blushing.”

Lance recoils. “Shut the fuck your mouth, I am not.”

“You are,” Keith says wonderingly. He takes a step, hand raised as if to get a second touch and Lance cannot do this.

He scrambles back, his arms around his face. “Stay back! Don’t take another step or I swear to god I’ll bite your hands off.”

“You’ve never—I never seen you like this, even when it was Allura,” Keith continues, head tilted in genuine interest. Lance’s gut tries to eat itself. What’s with that look? “Do you…like me that much?”

Lance hates him. He hates him so much, honest to god, Keith is the worst. Can’t he let a guy blush without drawing undue attention to it?! Sure, he feels like he’s roasting in his suit from how strongly he’s flushing, and yeah, maybe he’s never reacted like this to anyone else, and okay, maybe he might want Keith to put his arms around him and never let go—but it’s not a big deal!

Except Keith is looking at him like it is. Like he wants to open Lance up and see for himself how deep these feelings run, and it’s doing things to Lance.

“Huh,” Keith breathes, eyes going curiously dark, and he’s realized it, he finally gets how bad Lance has it, and holy crap, no. Just—no. Nuh uh. Not doing this anymore.

“I am leaving,” Lance announces loudly. “Forever. I’m—bye. You better forget any of this happened or I’ll fling your marmalade blade out the airlock.”

And then he flees, feeling Keith’s stare boring into his back the entire way back to his quarters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.

Keith doesn’t bring it up again.

Somehow, this is worse.

Because he’s quiet about it—not the ignoring-a-problem kind of quiet. Not a resolving-to-sweep-it-under-the-rug quiet. But a quiet that suggests that he’s stewing on it, gnawing on it like a dog with a bone. Lance is lowkey afraid of the conclusions that will result from Keith purposefully thinking.

Sometimes he’ll look up and Keith will be staring at him. Once, Lance caught a flash of yellow slitted-eyes and his prey hind-brain had engaged so quick he had taken a step behind Hunk before he could stop himself. Keith only blinked, eyes their normal indigo, and Lance was left wondering if he had imagined it.

He’s definitely not imagining it when the touching starts.

Generally, their friendship has progressed to the point where they can nudge each other without it turning into a brawl. There’s the shin-kicking when one of them gets annoying, the high-fives when they accomplish a success. They’ll clasp hands or sling arms over shoulders and drag each other off the battlefield; you know, friendly bro things.

But then Keith introduces touching just for the sake of touching.

Like, absent-minded contact. He’s reaching out for no goddamn reason, like he just wants his hands on Lance but doesn’t realize that he’s acting on it.

First, it’s his palm on the small of Lance’s back as they step up to greet someone. Then it’s his knee against Lance’s under the dinner table as he argues with Allura about training regimens. It’s his chest radiating heat as he leans over Lance at his station, one hand on the back of his seat and the other reaching around Lance to point at the screen, talking like normal while Lance sits frozen, thinking of nothing but the arms caging him in.

If it were anybody else, Lance would think they’re messing with him for fun.

But Keith is Keith, straight-forward and guileless. If he’s touching Lance more, it’s only because he’s gotten more comfortable. And on one hand, that’s great, that’s—Lance feels very honored. His heart is doing backflips and aerial stunts and everything. On the other, this is really not helping with his raging crush.

His breaking point turns out to be when Keith, exhausted after a day of subspace meetings, drops his head onto Lance’s shoulder and sighs.

It’s a sigh that says, now I’m comfortable, that admits, I’m recharging, that practically screams, you help.

Hands in his pockets, he lets Lance bear his weight as if he trusts Lance to handle it. Great. That’s just—how dare he. How dare he be so vulnerable with Lance? Who does that?

It’s so enraging that Lance just blurts out, “I’m going to need you to stop doing this before I fall in love with you even more, asshole.”

Keith freezes.

“L—laundry!” Shiro shouts. He spins on his heel and powerwalks to the doors. “I forgot my laundry! I will go do that now, immediately. Excuse me.”

Without a word, the rest of the team run after him, practically stepping on his heels in their haste. Lance stares stonily ahead as the doors hiss shut.

It feels like an entire eternity passes before Keith hesitantly directs a question to Lance’s collarbone, “What…what exactly am I doing?”

Hah! He’s not answering that. In fact, Lance is going to pretend he’s not here. He’s actually on a beach somewhere, snoring in the shade while the waves crash onto the sand, and he’s having a great time and not at all suffering from no-brain-to-mouth-filter disease.

Keith sighs, sounding somewhere between exasperated and amused. He lifts his head, pulls back just far enough to catch Lance’s reluctant gaze. There’s an unfamiliar emotion in his eyes, but the corners of his mouth betray a smile and his brows are evened out, shoulders slack. It’s unfair. Why doesn’t he look more awkward asking Lance this embarrassing stuff?

“If you don’t tell me, I won’t know how to stop you from falling,” Keith says quietly. What the fuck.

“Shut up,” Lance croaks. “God, I hate you.”

Keith bites down on a smile, eyes crinkling in silent laughter. He looks—Lance doesn’t have a word for it. It’s strange, it’s new.

He doesn’t look like he’s bothered anymore by the fact that Lance is freaking in love with him.

Lance scowls, pushing a fist to Keith’s chest. “Stop smiling, jerk. This isn’t funny.”

“I’m not smiling to make fun of you, Lance.”

Keith takes his hand out of his pocket and flicks a stray strand of hair out of Lance’s face. Lance is going to punch him. How can he just insert himself into Lance’s space so easily and not expect Lance to trip over his feet and spill his entire heart onto the floor? Is this guy serious?

He grabs the offending hand, fingers tight around Keith's wrist. He shakes it for emphasis as he says, “This. Stop doing this.”

Keith frowns, glancing from their hands to Lance and back again. He really doesn’t realize what he’s been doing. It isn’t supposed to make Lance’s stomach swoop, but hell, there’s something way too satisfying about being right. Keith really is just that comfortable around him.

“You’re too close these days,” Lance explains. Then, jokingly, “Don’t you know what you do to me?”

But when Keith doesn’t A) sputter in discomfort, or B) roll his eyes, or C) straight up leave, but instead gets that odd, intense expression that means he’s thinking, Lance realizes he’s miscalculated.

“You really do like me, huh,” Keith murmurs.

“I…thought we established that,” Lance mutters, glancing away. You could cook an egg—no, a dozen plates of ribs and wings and hotdogs for a barbeque—on his face; it’s that warm. He shoots Keith a glare. “Also thought we weren’t talking about this.”

“You’re the one that brought it up.”

“And who’s fault was it that I did?” Lance grumbles. He shakes his head. “Whatever, we’ve got cargo to sort; if the Gulmh think they’ve been shortchanged again because we didn’t do inventory right, I’m going to scream.”

Keith groans. “Don’t remind me; I still have nightmares about that. Who's joining us?”

“Shiro and Allura, I think. The others are tackling the malfunction in training room five.”

“I thought that was room two? The thing with the bubbles coming out of the cooling unit?”

“You’re thinking of the sitting room, actually. Hunk fixed it last week. This one is leaking corrosive acid.”

Keith wrinkles his nose. “How the hell is that even possible?”

Lance shrugs. “Coran said Alfor really wanted to make the simulations as real as possible. I guess the lack of maintenance over the centuries has finally caught up to the castle. Anyway, that room is going to be out of commission for another three days, based on Hunk and Pidge’s last report. That leaves rooms one to four, six, eight, and eleven free. The rest are still being used as storage, last I checked. Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Command looks good on you,” Keith says sincerely.

Lance kicks him, ears aflame. The audacity, seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.

Somehow, Lance’s feelings for Keith become common knowledge in the Coalition.

Those aliens probably let it slip. Gossip is a hot commodity in a war. Nothing gets your mind off death and genocide like keeping up with who did this and who said what. Last week, it was all about Matt’s accidental pantsing of a fellow commander. The week before that, someone had broadcasted twenty minutes of…intimate audio over the main frequency.

So it’s, like. Fine, or whatever. Nobody’s mean about it. Mostly, Lance just gets a couple dozen missives from friends that all basically say, I fucking knew it, you owe me credits, McClain, like goddamn loan sharks. (Why is he friends with these people, seriously.) And maybe people stare at him and Keith more when Voltron drops by for supplies. Maybe they whisper. Whatever.

It’s mildly embarrassing, sure, but he’s confident they’ll all find something new to fixate on next week.

Honestly, it’s kinda funny after a day or two, because it quickly becomes clear that people have no idea how to act around him and Keith.

“S-so, please accept my confession!” a young Puigan girl squeaks, eyes wide and face marking blushing blue. Her hands are shaking at her sides. The bangles on her wrists shook through her entire speech earlier.

Lance has to hand it to her, she’s braver than he was at her age, to walk up to the leader of Voltron and confess in the middle of a busy market day.

He’s idly thinking about how he’d really like to pat her head because he’s definitely been in her shoes multiple times before, when he catches sight of the terrified faces of the nearby Puigans.

He whips around, expecting to see a twenty-foot tall Haggar breathing fire and holding a cannon in her new prehensile tail while Zarkon laughs from the top of her head, but he's only met with another horrified crowd of Puigans.

He frowns, baffled.

“Um,” says Keith. He doesn’t exactly bend down to the girl’s height, but he does slouch a bit, shoulders curling in to make himself smaller. He rubs his neck sheepishly. “Thank you? But I, uh, I can’t. I’m sorry.”

The girl tears up, even as she accepts the rejection with grace. She nods, mumbles an apology for bothering him and then scampers into the crowd. Keith goes back to paying for his purchases, but Lance watches her go with a sympathetic frown, which is the only reason he picks up on the whispers.

“I thought she was going to die,” one hisses. “She’s lucky Paladin Lance is merciful even in this.”

“If it were me, I wouldn’t have let her go without a challenge of honor,” another agrees. “I can’t believe she—everyone knows what those two are to each other, even if Paladin Keith hasn’t said anything! The nerve of children these days.”

Yeah, uh. What the hell?

And that’s not the last time something like that happens.

Voltron visit the Mer a couple days later and the Queen won’t take no for an answer when she assigns Keith and Lance to the honeymoon suite. On Kubir, a guy tries flirting with Keith and six complete strangers rush him out of there while throwing fervent apologies at Lance like they’re afraid he’ll incinerate the poor guy on the spot. On another occasion, an unsuspecting psychic offers to read Lance’s love life. He declines, joking that he already knows his fate is to carry a torch for Keith until he dies, and the psychic is so distraught on his behalf that they cast a “curse” on Keith for this dishonor.

Keith gets a cold for like, two days, but it actually helps in unlocking his Galra night vision abilities, so they’re counting it as a win.

Anyway, all of this results in Lance loosening up on the subject. He gets kind of shameless about it; tries to get out of certain duties by whining don't you know I'm head over heels for you, Keith, why are you making me deal with the Taujeerians on my own?  It doesn't really work, but it's still fun to watch his teammates' face screw up in second-hand embarrassment.

Plus, he can’t find it in himself to feel bad about his crush when it makes such a good get-out-of-jail-free card, after all.

“Actually,” Lance says, “I’m afraid I can’t participate in your sacrificial ritual, fascinating as it sounds to get, uh, roasted alive and all that.”

“And why not?” the Queen demands.

“Well, if I’m remembering correctly, the sacrifice needs to have a ‘calm, content soul’ to satisfy the requirements. And while I’m flattered you think I’m stable in any way—” Keith snorts— “I’m actually extremely, unbelievably depressed at the moment.”

“How so?” she questions, eyes narrowed and suspicious. “You’ve done nothing but smile since we signed the papers.”

“That’s just a force of habit to hide the misery,” he says seriously. Beside him, Keith rubs a hand over his face to hide a grin. “And putting aside the fact that I’m a frontliner in a war and probably have PTSD, I’ve also recently had to deal with the worst heartbreak of my life.”

Keith chokes.

The Queen gasps in horror. Her attendants and personal guards blanch in tandem. Understandable, considering her race is susceptible to straight up dying if they’re too emotional. Lance is banking on sympathy and he’s winning.

“No,” she whispers. “Who would turn you down? Who would endanger a paladin like that?”

Lance jerks a thumb at Keith. “This guy right here.”

She pales. “Your leader?”

Lance pastes on an appropriately forlorn expression. The Queen looks to be a second away from fainting. “Yes. I'm inconsolable. I've been crying on and off for days. Right, Keith?”

Keith struggles to pull himself together. “R-right. I, uh, I totally shattered his heart. To pieces. Not that I hate him or anything, I—am actually just incapable of love, as it turns out. Childhood trauma, they say.”

Lance claps a hand over his mouth and manages to make his startled laugh sound like a sob. His eyes water. He glares at Keith, whose mirth is barely hidden behind his scowl.

“Dear god, the two of you…” The Queen regards them with big, sad eyes. “I understand. We’ll sacrifice livestock in your place, Paladin Lance, though I’m sure the purity of their souls will not amount to yours.”

“Thanks?”

She shakes her head, gathering her skirts in a curtsy. “I must take my leave now. I—I must meditate. The tragedy of your lives distresses me.”

At once, her retinue scrambles to bundle her up and out of the room. Lance waits until the doors close before falling against the meeting table, honking with laughter. Keith tries his best, but he takes one look at Lance and breaks into guffaws.

“Jesus,” Lance gasps, wiping at his eyes. “Why is it that we always get stuck with the weirdos? Shiro never has to deal with this shit.”

“That’s probably because he’s the one assigning missions,” Keith rasps, eyes bright. “You had way too much fun with that, by the way.”

Lance grins cheekily. “Okay, Mr. Childhood Trauma. Don’t act like you didn’t find it just as hilarious as I did.”

Keith shrugs, the corner of his mouth pulled up in a smile. “Yeah, well…just surprised you’re joking about it now.”

“We all have our coping methods,” Lance quips.

Keith swipes at him. “Stop making it sound like being in love with me is traumatic.”

Lance hops away, snickering, and thinks, nah. Thinks, it really isn’t.

He thought being forced to confess would ruin everything. That he’d be unable to be around Keith without thinking about it, or vice versa. He was afraid Keith would change, that all the hard work they put into leading together wouldn’t hold up against Lance’s feelings.

But it has. It’s evolved into something familiar. Comfortable, even. Everyone else might still be walking on eggshells around them, but Lance thinks that loving Keith has been the farthest thing from traumatic.

It’s been easy. The easiest thing he’s ever done, in fact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.

“You are an idiot,” Keith growls.

His sword slashes through the foliage, chopped down rather brutally. He adjusts his grip on Lance’s waist. The fierce curl of his lip is at odds with the care he takes to make sure Lance’s bleeding thigh isn’t jostled too much. He’s taken most of Lance’s weight by now; the blood loss having steadily drained Lance’s energy. In a couple minutes, Keith is probably going to have to carry him the rest of the way.

Lance is delirious enough to find that appealing.

“That’s not how you thank somebody,” he huffs.

“I didn’t ask you to take the hit for me,” Keith retorts. “You’ll get your thanks when you’re not bleeding out. Dammit, Lance, I had it under control. Why would you do something so reckless?”

Lance blinks sluggishly. The grass under his feet blur and drag; sight feels like molasses, somehow. His head is heavy. His stomach swoops sickeningly with every step they take. Still, he jokes.

“M’ in love with you, dude. Don’t you know I’d die for you?”

Keith jerks to a stop.

Lance winces at the motion, knowing he’s gone too far. He peers up at Keith and immediately feels ten times worse. Even with the haze of pain clogging his senses, he still registers the hurt on Keith’s face.

He won’t even look at Lance. His jaw is clenched, breathing hard through his nose.

“Don’t joke about that,” he rasps.

“Okay,” Lance says, soft. “Sorry.”

Keith stows his bayard away. He readjusts Lance’s arm around his shoulder and in one smooth move, hefts Lance in his arms.

Lance’s head spins, but it feels heavenly to have the weight lifted off his leg. He feels no shame in relaxing into the hold, turning his face into Keith’s hair.

“Am I hurting you?” Keith asks.

Lance hums a no. Keith shifts his grip and sets off. The trip is largely silent, and Lance would’ve fallen asleep if Keith didn’t ask him to say something now and then. Keith pushes through the forest, sometimes turning so that his body protects Lance from whatever branches they can’t avoid.

It does a number on Lance. It overwhelms him. His throat aches. His eyes sting.

He really loves Keith a lot.

“I know,” Keith whispers.

And if it came down to it, he really would lay his life down for Keith. It wasn't a joke, not in the slightest. And he's not saying this to be heroic or romantic, but because it honestly comes down to the simple fact that Lance is at his happiest when Keith is safe. His finger will always be trigger-happy when Keith's on the battlefield. His heart always a steady thrumming beat of protect, protect, protect. He can't rest until they're all safe and sound, and that goes double for his partner.

Keith breathes out shakily. "I know, Lance. I know."

That's good. It’s good that he gets it. Maybe he won’t be too mad now.

Satisfied, Lance closes his eyes and lets himself drift off, knowing that Keith will take care of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.

“Thank you,” Keith says the moment Lance wakes.

“Y’r welcome,” Lance slurs. “Water?”

Keith helps him sit up and holds the glass as Lance takes careful sips from it. When he’s done, Keith settles him against the pillows. He places a gentle hand on a spot just above Lance’s wound.

Or, where there should’ve been a wound. Lance shifts experimentally; nothing. Not a twinge. God, he loves alien medical technology.

“All good?” Keith asks. He brushes over the area, watching Lance’s face closely.

“Yeah,” Lance answers. He looks around. “You carried me to my room after I came out?”

“Coran said you might need some more sleep for the exhaustion. I offered to watch over you.”

“How long have I been out?”

“Four hours in the pod, one in bed.” Keith reaches for his comm. “You hungry? Hunk and Shiro should be finished with dinner by now.”

Lance’s stomach rumbles on cue. Keith huffs a laugh. “I’ll ask them to send a tray up.”

“You don’t need to do that; I can walk to the dining room.”

“You’re not too tired?”

He shakes his head. “Kind of want to stretch my legs, actually.”

Keith hums in assent. He flips the comm in his hand absent-mindedly. Lance takes a moment to drink him in. His hair is loose around his face, slipping free of the low pony he’s put it in. He’s wearing a white tee and the colour is so odd on him that it takes Lance a second to realize that it isn’t his shirt; it’s Lance’s. The sweats are his, too, actually.

Keith catches him staring. He looks down, shy. “You don’t mind, do you? I used your shower, too.”

Lance blinks, dazed. “No, it’s—fine. But you could’ve gone back to yours to clean up, you know? I probably would’ve been fine just lying here on my own for an hour.”

Keith shifts in his seat by the bed. “I—actually, I was here before you got out the pod. I…waited. Took a nap. Here.”

“Oh,” Lance says.

“It’s kind of weird, I know—”

“I don’t mind,” he rushes to say, blushing. “I don’t—I mean, you probably knew I wouldn’t mind.”

Keith doesn’t reply. His eyes rove over Lance, from his hands fisted in the sheets, his mussed hair, his unwashed and probably very oily skin. He reaches out and takes Lance’s hand in his.

“Tell me you love me,” Keith says—aaand that makes the second attempt on Lance’s life in under twenty-four hours.

“What,” Lance wheezes.

Keith rubs circles onto the back of Lance’s hand. “Please?” he asks.

Lance starts to consider the possibility that he’s still unconscious.

His mouth opens and closes uselessly. But Keith just waits, strangely patient, and Lance finds himself conceding like the lovesick fool he is. “I love—I love you.”

The smile that grows on Keith’s face is so genuinely content that Lance actually gets the breath knocked out of him. He’s so distracted that he almost misses what Keith says next.

“I love you, too.”

“Huh,” says Lance.

Keith’s comm chirps. He glances at it, types something and then pockets it. “Dinner’s ready. You wanna head down?”

“Wait, stop.” Lance holds up a hand. “Hold on. I feel like we missed a step in this conversation. What do you mean you love me?”

“Lance,” Keith begins, mouth curling at the edges, “are you asking me why I like you?”

Oh, that is just unfair.

“You’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome,” Lance declares. “You’re confused.”

“Pretty sure that’s not how it works.”

“Well, how do you know how it works—you’re the victim!”

Keith pinches the bridge of his nose, incredulous and fond. “You’re so—are you seriously arguing with me about my romantic feelings for you? Just accept it like a normal person and we can move on and eat the Rivali steaks waiting for us downstairs. Hunk seasoned them the way you like it, you know.”

Steaks do sound nice—

“Stop trying to distract me,” Lance scolds. “How long has this been going on?”

“This is probably the worst reaction to a confession I’ve ever experienced,” Keith grumbles.

“Keith.”

Keith purses his lips. “Would you be surprised if I said before you confessed?”

“Uh, yes? Incredulous, more likely. Disbelieving is another good one,” Lance snorts. “Especially since that is just impossible.”

Only, Keith doesn’t laugh or say, haha just kidding. He just sits there, elbows to his knees, hands loosely clasped, eyes lowered behind his hair. He…he’s…

“You’re serious,” Lance whispers.

Keith exhales heavily through his nose, but nods, gaze flicking up to Lance. And in that moment of contact, it becomes clear.

All of it, Lance sees all of it. The nerves, the vulnerability, plain as day on Keith’s face. And suddenly, it’s not so hard to believe.

Because that strange, new look that Lance has puzzled over so many times is, in fact, the face Keith apparently makes when he’s in love. He's been in love with Lance this whole time.

“You suck,” Lance rasps, face scrunching up. “You suck so much, are you kidding me?”

Keith smiles wobbly, reaching for him. ““Sorry for making you wait. I had to figure it out.”

Lance launches himself at Keith, arms wrapping tight around his neck. Keith buries his face in Lance’s shoulder, squeezing Lance’s waist like he’s trying to imprint himself onto Lance like a tattoo. Lance can feel his heartbeat.

“Took your damn time, didn’t you,” Lance mumbles. He sniffs. “But it’s okay. I forgive you, because unfortunately I suffer from the Loving Keith Kogane disease.”

Keith tickles him, and when Lance jerks and falls back onto the bed, he follows and lands right on top.

“Keith! Ugh, you’re heavy.”

Keith is unrepentant, nuzzling into Lance’s cheek, brushing kisses over his face until their lips finally meet. Lance goes pliant and it’s so depressing; he’s so smitten, fuck.

“I think it’s probably contagious,” Keith says once they break apart. He brushes the hair from Lance’s forehead and drops a kiss there. “‘Cause I’ve got the Loving Lance disease.”

Lance goes bright red. Keith laughs.

They’re late to dinner.