After Kerberos, Keith is just so done with everything. He’s done with being abandoned and forgotten. Done with being ridiculed and belittled.
He’s not buying the excuse of a pilot error, but Shiro must be dead, and once more Keith is the one who is left behind. So Keith is done with solitude, too.
The first time he sleeps with another cadet, it’s nothing but an encounter. A momentary lapse. But it makes everything go away, if only for a little while.
So he does it again. And again.
He never stays with one person because he knows that no one ever chooses to stay with him either. He barely even remembers their names or their faces. But then again, there is very little he remembers from that time in general.
When he’s finally, finally kicked out because he just can’t keep his fucking mouth shut, it’s almost a relief. For the first time, he is the one who gets to leave. It doesn’t feel like a victory.
In the desert, there is no one to judge him. In the desert, there are no arms to fall into. So Keith falls into his obsession instead.
Months and months later, it finally pays off. Months and months later, Shiro is back.
Back before everything went down the drain, Keith had wanted to kiss him. Had wanted to dare and make the first step. Had regretted ever single moment after that he hadn’t.
Now it doesn’t matter anymore. Keith is not going to do anything about it. They have too much on their hands anyway, Shiro more than anyone. They can’t afford distractions.
And, Keith tells himself, trying to fall asleep at night, he had forfeited his chance when, instead of properly grieving Shiro or searching for him or literally anything else, he had instead chosen to sleep with a bunch of strangers.
It makes no difference. They are in the present now. They are Voltron. Keith had hoped for a miracle and actually gotten it. He will pay his dues.
Until one day, when Lance is once more feebly flirting with someone, Keith makes an off-hand quip about whether Lance knows the meaning of ‘trying too hard’. To which Lance immediately retaliates that Keith himself must be very familiar with the concept of being ‘too easy’.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, c'mon, everyone knew that back at the Garrison you weren't exactly picky when it came to your partners.”
And Hunk is trying to intervene, sensing the dangerous undercurrent of that topic, but by now the others are catching on and things are getting heated.
“Shut up,” Keith hisses. “Like you have any idea what you are talking about.”
“I know enough that it was one of the reasons you got kicked out.”
“That's bullshit and you know it!”
“Oh? Like that rumor that you tried to seduce one of the instructors, that you even had an affair with him? Weird coincidence that that little story popped up right before you decided to turn tail and just disappear into the desert.”
“That’s not true!” Keith’s face is hot and he feels helpless in his fury, his fists shaking at his side. Because it’s not true, not all of it, but enough that he feels the shame and disgust rise up in him like it never had before.
“That’s enough now, boys,” Shiro finally interferes, as always the voice of reason. “You’re taking it too far, Lance.”
He’s got his hand on Keith’s shoulder. Usually, it is a gesture of comfort, of camaraderie. Now it only feels oppressive. Keith had allowed himself to be touched by too many people. He does not want to taint Shiro.
So he just throws Lance another glare, shrugs out of Shiro’s gravitational pull, and stalks away, ignoring everyone else.
Back at the castle, he chides himself for being so unreliable. If they had to form Voltron now, he knows that he would be unable, his mind a single mess of memories, half of which he’s trying to suppress while he doesn’t deserve the others. The ones before Kerberos. The ones that made him think that maybe he had fallen in love.
Eventually, Lance comes to find him. Keith is not entirely surprised because Lance can be petty but he is also bad at holding a grudge. He’d rather make amends first than let the bad blood between them simmer.
At the same time, Keith cannot help but wonder why Shiro didn’t come look for him. Wonder whether Shiro is too disgusted by him now.
“Hey,” Lance says as he gingerly sits down next to Keith.
“Hey,” Keith says, not bothering to look up from the floor.
“Pidge says she hacked your file,” Lance begins quietly. “She says you got kicked out because you wouldn’t stop asking about Kerberos.”
Keith is silent for a moment. “Is that supposed to be an apology?”
“I guess.” Lance purses his lips. “I’m really sorry. I don’t even know why I said all that. It’s just... I never seem to be able to get a date while everyone just kept going on about what a great lay you supposedly were.”
“It’s easier if you don’t care about them,” Keith knows. “And when they don’t care about you either.”
“That’s why you and Shiro are still tiptoeing around each other, huh?”
Keith blinks, wondering whether he has really been that obvious.
“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “It’s all too late anyway.”
“Why?” Lance frowns. “Shouldn’t this whole... Kerberos and Voltron thing have shown you that late is better than never? No time like the present? Seize the day?”
“I doubt he wants anything to do with me after all this.”
“Because I tried to forget him by fucking half of Galaxy Garrison.”
It’s an exaggeration of course, but right now it doesn’t feel that way.
“So let me get this straight,” Lance says. “You were never actually dating, but you think he will judge you because he practically died and you developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms.”
“That’s one way to call it,” Keith mutters darkly.
But Lance just gives a shrug. “I mean, we all deal with grief differently. Hunk cooks a lot, Pidge turns into a boy and infiltrates military facilities. And you get your rockers off with people who could never hold a candle to you.”
“And what do you do?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I like talking about my feelings. You’ll find that that actually helps in a lot of situations.”
Keith just gives him a look and Lance rolls his eyes.
“This is a not so subtle hint that you should go and talk to Shiro! Be an adult. Tell him how you feel. About everything.”
Keith squirms around a little. “It’s not that easy.”
“See,” Lance says. “That just means that you care.”
“Hey,” Keith says when the door to Shiro’s cabin swishes open. “Can we talk?“
Shiro doesn't look surprised at all and just gives him a soft smile. “I’d love to.”