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When Keith’s in a fight, nothing else makes sense. 

When it’s all whittled down, just the grip of metal between the joints of his fingers, the world becomes a smaller place, a wilder place; something for him to burn. Even if it’s just one galra soldier on the ship’s crystal core deck, flying fists and spitting purple magic. He’s aware of something firing, a gun, the ring of it in his ears and slide of his muscle as his blade swings down, through, forward, seeking. Pidge slices and there’s Allura screaming a name, his name when he yanks and shoves backwards. The blade clatters and scraps back into its Bayard, rumbling with the remnants of a lion’s roar.

He comes back to himself in stages; limbs each carefully accounted for. Two eyes, two hands, two feet, Lance, an ache in the pit of his stomach from where Sendak sent his giant’s fist, Lance.

His eyes scrape across the room, slowly settling on the smudged blue and white of Lance’s suit. Standing isn’t exactly easy but he manages, containing a wince that tugs down at his mouth when he stretches his upper body and begins to walk.

A brief image surfaces of Lance limp in Shiro’s arms, jaw clenched and eyes squeezed shut. Keith had swallowed down his heart and followed Allura outside, willingly even, if it meant he didn’t have to face that .

(That : months of pretending not to notice eyes on the back of his head in class, a strangely absent feeling behind his ribs in the solace of a scrapwood cabin, who are you again?, a lie, screaming matches, warm where he smiles and icy where he scowls.)

Truth be told, whatever that is, it’s too complicated and tangled for him to unravel with the careful time and thought it deserves. So naturally, he leaves it alone. More likely to fester a hole in his chest than it is to disappear.

Pidge has made their way to Shiro by then, peering at him through their eyeshield with a carefully worrying expression. Keith catches Allura still fiddling with the control system from the corner of his eye but something tugs him forward, towards Lance. A mindless kind of pull. An emotion he can’t put his finger on, not sure if he would dare to if he could.

He crouches, knees making minor protests and reaches his hand out only to curl it back to his side in the next second. Lance’s breath is unsteady, a harsh staccato of exhale and inhale. His face is beaten with grime and oil, his suit in dire need of repairs and a polish. Keith tries again, tenderness a foreign concept not to mention one he doesn’t excel at, and this time he clasps Lance shoulder perhaps with more force than intended.

“Lance.” A flutter of eyelashes, a groan. “Lance,” he repeats again, tilting in closer, “Are you okay?”

He’s answered with another groan, followed by a lurch, and Keith’s grappling tentatively with Lance’s other shoulder before he can stop himself. Lance’s smile is slow burning, hardly turns up the corners of his lips when he opens his eyes, “We did it-”

Oh, Keith realizes, and his heart has leapt back up again, a burning tingle left in the hollow space behind his ribs, that's new.

“-we are a good team.” Lance’s words are faint but they snag at the edge of Keith’s mouth, pin it there in a small smile. They’re both battered and bruised but it’s better than any other alternative. The relief hits him all at once, a delayed reaction. His gaze travels briefly to Shiro and Pidge then, another involuntary tug, and Shiro’s gentle tilt of his head is enough of a reassurance. 

They’re fine. For now, right now, at least, it’s going to be fine.  

“Hey,” Lance is shifting again and Keith snaps back his attention, suddenly hypersensitive to Lance’s hands, one on his shoulder and the other near his waist. We could be dancing, he thinks, vaguely.

“Hello? Mulletface?”

He narrows his eyes and Lance has on his best shit-eating grin, albeit not quite the same when his brow is pinched with the effort.

“...What, Lance.”

“We were pretty cool, weren’t we, mulletface?”

“Lance-”

“And by we I mean-”

“If you-”

-Me.”

Keith resists the urge to gently smother him with a glove, sighing  through his nose instead. Lance’s speech is still dragging, hazy as those in pain usually speak. Keith decides to indulge him, just this once, as insufferable and possibly self-degrading it may or may not be.

Lance grimaces, smile contorted and then he’s almost falling, leaning up against Keith’s shoulder. His head comes to press against Keith’s chest, hair barely tickling Keith’s chin. It’s closer, like this; close proximity something Keith had never considered an issue between them now seems like an obstacle. Lance’s head moves with each breath Keith takes so he slows, tries to make each rise and fall as even as possible. He’s forced to move his arms across Lance’s back, holding and tightening his grip to make sure he wouldn’t slip from the nook in Keith’s side.

There’s a nudge at his shoulder, Lance readjusting his grip, “No but...but really-

“Keith.” Allura’s voice is clear as cold water even from her position by the crystal at the control panel. He twists his neck regardless to look at the concentrated ramrod line of her back. “Lance’s injuries might be severe. He needs to get to one of the cryopods immediately.” She pauses, a finger poised above a switch before she flicks it on, “But I’m afraid it’s going to take some time to get them back online. Zarkon’s code sent things into a frenzy.”

“Princess, please, this is but a scratch, I’m f-”

“Shut up.” Keith says without turning his head back to Lance for a second, “Princess Allura, what would you have me do?”

Nobody speaks but Keith subtly tries to secure his grip on Lance in case he gets any hairbrained ideas. Like trying to walk, or punch something to prove a point.

The answer, almost unsurprisingly, comes from behind him. Shiro’s footsteps echo lightly, no stagger despite the death grip he holds on his only remaining human arm. Blood is already seeping through a makeshift cloth tied on his forearm, armor stripped away like an extra layer of skin.

“Take him back to his room for now. Pidge, you can help Allura with the code, right?”

Pidge perks up, nods their head, “Oh, uh - I, yeah. Of course.”

Shiro’s smile is strained when it finally appears, aiming down where Keith and Lance sat in an awkward kind of hold on the floor, “We’ll let you know when everything’s up and running again.”

Keith finds himself nodding; Lance picks his head up far enough to bob along in a weird rendition of agreement. Wordlessly, he grabs under Lance’s arms, somehow managing to hoist them both up. Lance’s legs look as stable as a newborn foals. Keith trusts them to do their job about as far as he can throw their owner.

“I can help?” Shiro offers a steel lined arm, glaze of concern back over his face.

“It’s alright.”

“Carry me, mullet prince.” 

This time Keith can’t hold back the glare, throwing as many knives with a look as he possibly can.

Lance coughs a laugh so hard his ankle twists out, nearly sending them stumbling. “There he is. The asshole we all know and love.”

Keith squints again at Lance’s stupid shiny eyes and rumpled muddy hair, his stupid straight white teeth and stupidly sharp jawline. He pretends Shiro isn’t biting back a laugh, too.

“Fine.” He juts his jaw out and in one fluid motion, nabs behind Lance’s knees and sweeps him up into his arms.

He’s heavier than Keith anticipates, a warm deadweight that goes with direct contradiction to the sudden animation to his face, stuck somewhere between shock and fear. He decides not to point out the flush creeping from Lance’s ears to the tip of his nose. Chock is up to circumstance, injury, surprise, anything that Keith is able to rationalize in his head.

“Let’s go.”

“O-Okay,” is all Lance squeaks out, almost drowned out by Keith’s own pulse pounding in his head.

The way to their rooms isn’t simple, set in a separate block unit near the top of the castle, close to where the lions stay stored behind walls ten feet thick, a veritable small fortress. And with Lance’s added weight his steps nearly drag with the effort of getting them there.

“You-uh, you didn’t have to do that…”

Keith looks at Lance for the first time since they left the control room, taking in each detail again from the disheveled state of his hair to the obvious fatigue he wears like a cloak over his whole body. He’s exhausted, hurt, likely somewhere they cannot see. It doesn’t take a genius like Pidge to recognize something like that.

“Yeah, I did.”

Lance groans and this time Keith knows its in exasperation more than pain, “Why are you like this.”  

“That’s a rhetorical question, I presume.”

“Sure-” his breath goes shallow again and it almost sends a pang of guilt through Keith for spurring him on, “-young Billy Ray Cyrus.”

Key word: almost.

“Do you want to be dropped, McClain?”

“Okay, okay fine,” Lance says, softer than before without sounding alarmed or even apologetic in the slightest. It’s irritating.

They’re almost to the pilot’s quarters, just a few steps through two more sets of bay doors and then Keith is home free. His arms are beginning to do more than ache now; Lance plus the weight of his suit is heavy and Keith would be lying if he said he didn’t skip arm day now and then.

A harsh sound comes from Lance’s throat and for some reason it sends Keith’s low key agitation one tick higher.

“Keith-”

The use of his actual name catches his attention, even while making sure his arms don’t tremble is keeping his focus. “Yeah?” He doesn’t mean to sound so resigned but it comes out like that anyway. It’s not likely that Lance will remember any of this pain-induced concussion haze later on anyway.

“You...have a funny face when you’re concentrating." 

“Thanks.”

“You’re so welcome,”

Does he ever stop talking? Lance’s weakly chuckling to himself like he’s made a joke. Probably not.

All of their rooms are on the same hall, dimly lit when compared to the bright, illuminated lines and sloped edges in the rest of the ship’s interior. Keith passes his own room on the left and follows the slight slope of the hallway to the next door on the right. Carefully, much to the relief of his biceps, he lets Lance’s feet fall on solid ground again, keeping one arm close to steady him.

“How did you know which room is mine?” He presses the flat of his palm to the scanner pad, swiping blue light once before flashing green.

“We’re literally neighbors. And there are only five of us. I can hear you snore from where my room is.” Keith recites it like he’s reading from a list, one that he’s maybe made subconsciously since they all began training mere weeks ago.

Lance doesn’t say anything, a telling sign in itself as they shuffle through the wide doorway together. His room is the mirror image of Keith’s, plain sleek walls and sturdy bed carved out of a space to their left, the blankets left messy and strewn halfway to the floor. A tall dresser is built into the opposite wall in a similar fashion to the bed, a single empty desk wanting for wear sitting beside it. The room isn’t too different from one they each had at the Galaxy Garrison. Military operations are the same no matter the galaxy.

Keith guides them both over to the bed, Lance eventually catching on and ducking his head to sit on the edge of it. His grip on Keith’s arm doesn’t loosen, simply migrating from his shoulder, across his back and down his arm to tighten around his wrist.

“Now what?”

“I’ll-” his mouth goes reluctant, tight lipped when he thinks about actually saying it out loud. It shouldn’t bother him, but it does. That’s why it bothers him even more . “I’ll...help you undress.”

The noise Lance makes is as close to a whistle he can probably muster, “Oooo- ” He’s still holding Keith’s wrist, right where his blood is beating double time.

“Please. Stop talking.”

“I didn’t really say anything-

“You were thinking about it.”

Lance sighs explosively, seemingly defeated by five icy words, “That’s fair, I guess…”

It sounds strangely tame, coming from someone who usually doesn’t hesitate to snap at Keith’s neck and/or ego whenever given the opportunity. It only puts Keith more on guard, even when he can sense his body beginning to relax in Lance’s presence with each passing day.

“Now, attend me.” Lance makes a sad attempt at raising his arms in a princely manner, looking more like a sad imitation of a featherless bird than anything else. Keith stores the mental image for a later time. At least his wrist is free now, skin tingling from the touch through the thickness of his own suit.

He doesn’t try to hide an eyeroll and begins to unhook Lance’s armor starting at the top of his arm, slowly working his way down until he can slide each completely off. There’s no scratches or bleeding, and even the bruises are minor considering the size of the explosion. Keith grazes each of them with a brush of his fingertips, trying to keep a tally to report back to the others if they needed it.

He can sense Lance’s eyes following him. Luckily, Keith is good at ignoring everything Lance Charles McClain does, if he so chooses to.  

Cautiously, Keith bends down and nudges the breastplate up from it’s bottom edge until he can see Lance’s undershirt, crinkled white and sticking to his skin with sweat. Keith inhales deeply and holds it in his lungs until his heart screams for fresh blood; a tactic he’d learned a long time ago to keep his nerves in check.

“Keith,”

Pushing and following the piece of armor up they’re almost eye to eye now. Keith grunts, not wanting to respond or have to look straight at Lance while they’re so...close.

“Keith?”

“What?” He finally says, safely slipping the piece over Lance’s head with minimal knocking against his temple. He sets the discarded parts on the floor next to the bed. 

“I have a confession.”

Not many things can make Keith stop dead in his tracks. In fact, almost nothing can. He’s faced intergalactic robot aliens that haven’t made him blink twice. But confession makes his muscles lock, leaving him to blink away the idiotic astonishment. So he does what any good pilot would do when faced with a situation they’re unsure how to get out of:

“You can, uh, get your pants yourself, right?”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Evade. Escape.

“Hey, wait-

The silence is incredulous and Keith knows Lance is gaping at him, even unintentionally as Keith slips his helmet off, but instead he turns his back and begins to tug at his own pieces of armor, starting with his arms the same as he did with Lance. He pats at his side, belatedly realizing his Bayard is still in the control room. Damn.  

“Keith, listen-”

“Listening.” 

“Okay that’s great but actually listen - hey, hold on. W-What are you doing?”

“Changing. Finish taking the rest of your suit off.” His voice is steady but he can feel the warmth creeping up his neck, a shade of embarrassment that the last person he wants to see is directly behind him.

“Alright but, really-” Keith can hear the dull sound of unclasping divots and the nonthreatening clatter the armor makes as Lance lets it fall to the floor, “-I know I talk a lot about how I hate you and everything. And I do, don’t get me wrong.”

Well that’s, not what he expected.

“But...the thing is-” Keith pulls a little too hard, slamming the top of his suit into his nose, preemptively, “I don’t think I really do. Hate you, at all. I think I actually like you a lot.”

Keith’s palms are sweaty when he starts on his bottom half, waiting for some half-baked just kidding or inevitable take back for whatever kind of practical joke Lance thinks this is. But nothing comes. Is he waiting for me to respond? What do I even say? I’m not even sure what it is that he said?  

“So...which one is it?” He can’t bring himself to turn around yet, instead opting to bore his stare into the wall.

“Dude, I don’t know. Shiro told me to tell you because it would help with our...teamwork skills.”

It makes sense, if Keith considers it long enough, yet while they’re both sitting in Lance’s room with nothing but undergarments on might’ve not been the ideal opportunity to bring it up. Lance might be better at controlling his temper when danger is involved but Keith’s starting to think of himself as the more socially competent between the two of them. And that says something.

“It’s not even that I like you or hate you it’s like-” Lance is stumbling on himself and Keith lets him, carefully peeking over his shoulder to watch him fume. “Look, you can’t tell anyone this but,” he takes a deep breath, like it’s painful, “your mullet actually looks really good on you. There. I said it.”

It’s all garbled together into one run-on sentence, and for a second, Keith is genuinely unsure if he heard it all correctly. “What?” His face is smoldering hot, and maybe against his better judgement he turns all the way around to stand right in Lance’s perfect line of sight.

“Yeah and, those gloves you wear? Those’re so cool, you don’t look dumb like most people would, and sometimes you smile and suddenly I feel like smiling too? Oh and another thing- ”  

Oh god, he’s piecing it together, tentatively, without much room for hope. He hadn’t allowed himself any before, just a possibility of a chance. Something borrowed and blue growing in the spaces between his bones. It slow burns in the back of his head like an iron brand, a feeling not unfamiliar but foreign when he tries to contain it within himself. I like Lance.

“-you look really good in v-necks. Has anyone ever told you that before? It’s so weird I don’t know what it is but-" 

Shit.

His mind’s fuzzy, trying to catch up with what his body wants to do and what it should be doing. Lance’s eyes are bluer than he remembers and his mouth is still moving even after Keith’s tuned him out which is more endearing than he wants to admit.

And Lance likes me.

Keith’s moving before he can stop to think about it, because thinking is hard and they could’ve died back there but they didn’t; he’s here. Lance is too. Keith finds the drop of Lance’s jaw with his thumb even as he closes his eyes, holding his breath.

And then he’s kissing him.

It’s brief, hardly anything at all, Keith too afraid to overstay his welcome; but Lance’s mouth is softer than he thought it would be, not as scalding and abrasive when he moves his lips against it. Lance is still beneath him, and even when Keith pulls away he doesn’t move.

“I think-” and Keith wants to laugh at himself now, “that’s what it is.”

Lance’s staring up at him and they’re still near enough that Keith could count the freckles barely visible across the bridge of his nose, probably less prominent with lack of any sun exposure. He considers what they might look like after a few days at the beach. It isn’t an unpleasant thought.

Common sense doesn’t come surging back to him until its a few seconds too late, and Keith’s suddenly very aware of his gentle hold around Lance’s face. He stutters in pulling his hands back, mumbling an apology before a grip seizes his arm and reels him back in.

They crash together this time, rougher than before, Lance’s teeth immediately scrapping at the bottom of Keith’s lip. It lights something inside of him on fire, ravaging down through his chest down to the tips of his toes. He pushes hard back, not too hard but firmly enough so that there noses brush and breath mingles. Lance’s fingers are in his hair, tugging, and Keith allows his hands to roam, starting at Lance’s jawline and steadily moving down, the crook of his shoulder, the nape of his neck. 

Lance is all teeth when he kisses, catching Keith’s lip between them and holding, not always gently. It’s harsh and scathing when Keith swipes his tongue along the edge of them, hungry when Lance is pulling him forward, down, over him until Keith’s knees sit on either side of his hips.

At first he lets his arms support him but gives up after Lance’s grip slides from his hair and down his back to rest at his waist, the thin layer of his cotton clothes hardly enough to provide any protection from the spark that ignites under his skin. They’re chest to chest, Keith’s hair falling across his face and it’s intoxicating, almost; like what being drunk on hard liquor feels like, he imagines. 

“Keith,”

Lance hums against his mouth, hands clumsily spreading flat across Keith’s hip and tightening, leaving fingerprints, a small and scattered reminder.

“Keith?”

He hardly heard it before, between concentrating on stifling a moan and shoving his tongue down Lance’s throat but the voice rings sharp and fast like an anvil to his higher thinking abilities. Sitting up at breakneck speed he says across the room to the comm in his helmet, questioning, “Shiro?”  

Throwing a look back at Lance he catches red pressed lips, pouting puppy dog eyes.

Yeah, it’s me. Bring Lance as soon as you can, the pods are up and running again. Do you need any help?”

“So,” Lance whispers, pulling himself up by using Keith’s forearm as leverage and accepting the assistance when he reaches behind his head to tow him the rest of the way up, “...this means you like me right? As in like like-”

“Shut up, cargo pilot.” There’s a bite there but Lance doesn’t seem to care, attempting a flick at Keith’s cheek as recompense.

Keith?”

“No it’s all good, I think.” He calls back to the comm. Lance’s hands are running up and down his thighs now, impatient maybe, and they’re like conspirators, both trying not to bust out laughing at their shared secret. Keith tries to dampen the smile pulling at his lips but Lance is looking at him, all crooked grin and happiness and he finds himself unable to look away,

“I think I’ve got him.”