Lance had never really considered himself to be the “touchy-feely” sort, as Pidge liked to teasingly call him. He’d always grown up in a high contact household, so he didn’t think much of his tendency to want to be physically close to others in any way he could. His mother often reiterated how important touch was, that children left without physical affection would grow up to be unhappy and emotionally stunted, malnourished, or could sometimes even die.
There was no sort of wall around touch in their home. Wrestling, tickling, hugging, high-fiving, back-patting, hair-petting, cuddling, shoulder-slapping—there was always some sort of skin-on-skin contact going on, though his mother didn’t much approve of him using the excuse of, ‘But you said touch was good! ’ whenever he put Marco in a headlock, pushed Veronica off the swings, or pulled on Rachel’s pigtails
She had sighed one day in exasperation at his antics, gave him a sharp pinch on the arm, and said sternly, ‘Here’s a touch that isn’t so good. There are positive and negative ways to touch people, mijo, and you better learn the difference now ’. So she patiently taught him to braid Rachel’s hair rather than pull it out, encouraged him to help hold and rock his younger cousins to sleep when they were still infants and his Aunt wasn’t able to with her hands occupied going about different tasks during the day. When he gained another little cousin, added to his list of responsibilities as he grew older were bathing, feeding, and diaper changing, too. He didn’t understand how that all fell into the category of ‘important positive touching’, but he sure as hell wasn’t about to question his mother again.
They didn’t have a lot of money growing up either, and he’d shared a bed with his brothers until he was ten, as well as bathed with them until he hit puberty. It was normal to spend most of the rarely cold winters huddled up with his family in a giant dog pile of limbs and blankets, to wake up with someone’s butt or foot in your face and not really give two shits about it.
They didn’t always bother closing doors when they went to the bathroom. They complained loudly and lovingly about things others might say was too much information, but there was never any griping about whether they ‘should maybe have more boundaries’. It was commonplace to live without constantly worrying if it was or wasn’t an okay time to hug someone—and Lance surely never felt like he was invading anyone’s personal space. It wasn’t really something you asked about anyway, so much as the fact that it was just something you did, and no one seemed to mind it.
All in all, like most children eventually learned, Lance discovered that there were definitely unacceptable ways to touch, and that he surely didn’t want to seriously hurt anyone. He was grateful for those lessons from his mother, even if he still chokeholded the shit out of Marco away from her watchful view whenever he got the chance.
But this sort of ideology wasn’t unique to his household by a long shot, as every family he knew seemed to be like this. They lived in a small town off the coast, mostly untouched by tourism, and were a tight-knit community. Things were easier for Lance then, carefree and comforting. Family get togethers and neighborhood ones alike were loud, rambunctious, and a constant state of celebration. His fondest memories were of parties by the beach, of watching his father and brothers joining hands, leaning on and hugging their friends as they all drunkenly sang together.
He would play wrestle with his own friends in the sand, tackle and grapple with them in the waves until they were all too exhausted to move, and then they'd proceed to curl up in a pile on a towel and sleep the day away. There was no taboo over wanting to be that close to others, no second guessing whether he had crossed a line by holding a friend’s hand, or that he had cuddled “too much” with them. He honestly never thought anything of it until he left home.
He’d had quite the culture shock to say the least when he’d first gone abroad and enlisted in the Galaxy Garrison. People began telling him he was always in their “bubble”, that he talked too close and too loud, which made them uneasy. They raised their eyebrows whenever he made eye contact for what they deemed as a “creepy long amount of time”, took steps back whenever he gestured wildly with his hands like he always had. They said that it was weird when he greeted strangers by hugging them, and they would often misinterpret his automatic gesture of kissing cheeks as a flirtation method (to be fair, however, he had to admit that sometimes it was).
In those first few months of enrollment, he’d been smacked more times than he could keep track of since he’d been a young teen hopelessly trying to hit on girls. And for the first time in his entire life, Lance remembered feeling self-conscious about those little bits of intimacy and affection that had always been greatly encouraged and came second nature to him. He felt oddly put on the spot and awkward, got an undercurrent of a feeling like he was doing something wrong. He stopped giving hugs and kisses, started keeping to himself more, despite continuing to show off his boisterous, outgoing attitude.
Meeting Hunk not long later had been the greatest relief, as he even went through a slight withdrawal from not being able to express himself through touch like he was used to. Hunk had no limits or weird preconceived notions about hugging—and for sure he hugged often, tightly and to the point where sometimes Lance felt like he might break in half, though admittedly in a good way.
Having been raised similarly, the two were able to bond and express their frustration with the odd game of chicken people there seemed to do in order to avoid any sort of contact that wasn't mechanically on the surface. For a while, things were simple again. Pidge still teased them, Hunk and Lance would tell her she was ‘just jealous of how cool and close they were’, and really, that was that.
But out in the cold depths of space, Lance found that Hunk’s amazing hugs weren’t quite satiating his need like they used to. That Shiro’s one handed ‘good job team’ pats somehow left him feeling emptier than ever. Even Pidge hitting him whenever he said something stupid didn’t have that familiar comforting ‘genuine sibling rivalry’ feel to it anymore.
This bizarre emptiness permeated his thoughts a lot lately, and he felt like he wasn’t connected enough to the people around him, even as he leaned up against Hunk after training or playfully ruffled Pidge’s hair. All his desperate thoughts of how to replace this void that only touch ever seemed to be able to fill appeared to be in vain, because how could you fill something that apparently was already being done?
Lance felt drawn to wanting more somehow, but not from Hunk or Shiro or Pidge, and really not from just anyone else on the ship. That was when he began to realize, despite everything he stood for, that maybe he was getting slightly picky about who touched him and who he wanted to touch. Maybe the foreign customs of America and then the even stranger, newer ones of space had finally started changing him, finally succeeded in making him feel bad about being who he always was used to being.
In any case, there was something terribly wrong with him. Maybe he was getting sick from how much he missed being home, as he was now infinitely farther away—and perhaps even permanently. Maybe this homesickness was actually going to kill him. He even feared for a brief time that if he didn’t have a decent cuddle-session with someone soon, he might wither away and die, much like his mother used to talk about happening to unloved babies.
It didn’t help, that one late night after training all day, he finally discovered that he placed this new particular desire as wanting to be fulfilled by Keith—and only Keith.
It was at that time, sitting at the opposite end of the couch in the main lounging area and watching Keith warily as he looked close to falling asleep sitting up, Lance decided that he wasn’t getting sick, but actually going insane.
The urge started normally enough—to crawl closer, to wrap an arm around Keith and offer a shoulder to sleep on. For almost half an hour, Keith’s eyes had been fluttering open and shut as he struggled to stay awake. He’d lose the battle and nod forward, only to fall into nothing but air and jolt back up, wide eyed and alarmed, then repeat the whole process a few minutes later.
Halfway on his journey to scooching closer to Keith, Lance had stopped, reassessed the situation, and decided that something was admittedly off about it all. He was suddenly apprehensive, and a nervous, cold sweat broke out on his neck.
Lance didn’t know why he was making such a big deal out of actually letting Keith sleep on him considering that was something he did for friends and family all the time before, but there was something—something about the whole thing that made him feel incredibly anxious, that made his stomach start doing strange little somersaults up into his chest.
He didn’t understand. He’d offered his shoulder and lap as makeshifts pillows to anyone and everyone practically thousands of times over ever since he was a young boy. He’d begun uncharacteristically feeling annoyed, wondered why Keith didn’t just get up and go the fuck to bed so he could suffer these terrible new feelings alone in peace.
Only seconds later, Lance guiltily considered that maybe Keith had been too tired and afraid of face planting on the way there to try attempting that, and he was kind of being a dick about the whole thing for no real reason.
So Lance sat there awkwardly sneaking glances at him instead, crossing and uncrossing his legs, shifting from lying back and sitting up. He wanted to take a small nap himself, but couldn’t seem to get comfortable in any position, unusually acutely aware of the proximity between them. Everyone else had already gone back to their rooms, and a steady, peaceful silence had fallen over them.
Lance kept getting his attention drawn to Keith’s little yawns, to the small noises he made with each one. He found them cute in a way that was distinctly unlike how he fondly used to laugh whenever his younger siblings got overtired. It was adorable beyond what proper words could express, and he’d stared for much longer simply taking in the minor details about the boy that he’d never really focused on before, like the way Keith’s yawns blew out large tufts of his hair, and how it would startle him whenever some of it got caught between his lips accidentally when he inhaled.
He noticed that Keith had a few faint freckles dusted over his pale face, that he had very prominent bags under his eyes. When Lance started focusing farther down, lingering on the shape of Keith’s lips, he’d rubbed his eyes, tried to focus by tearing his gaze elsewhere.
That’s when what he dubbed as “even more fucked up thoughts” started coming. He wanted to touch Keith’s hair, to rake his fingers through the strands, to caress his cheek and maybe give him a kiss on his forehead as Keith dozed soundly on his shoulder. It looked so soft and pretty in the dim light, ringlets forming around his cheeks after sweat from sparring had drenched it slightly curly, and Lance wanted nothing more just then than to reach out and touch it.
There was nothing abnormal about wanting to touch someone’s hair, he had thought, but there was probably something not so normal about wanting to deeply inhale the smell of it, to maybe move that imaginary caress down and drag it across a person’s full, pouty lips.
Lance had been about to stand and rush to his room to get some sleep himself, because clearly he needed it even more than Keith, when at that very moment, Keith lost his battle with consciousness for good. He’d fallen back, slumped over to the side, and ended up with his head right in Lance’s lap. Having not really been paying attention as his thoughts had wandered, Lance had subconsciously been creeping a little closer to Keith anyway. Describing his subsequent reaction as anything short of panic would have been an understatement.
“Shit, what...what’s happening... ” Keith said with a drowsy slur, waking instantly from hitting his head on something solid. There were a few seconds that he stared blearily around before realizing what had happened, and he jolted up and looked abashedly at Lance while Lance short-circuited internally. With one hand rubbing against the back of his neck, he’d muttered, “Oh, uh, sorry. Didn’t mean to get up in your space. Guess I should probably go to bed.”
There might have been a few rational explanations for why Lance did what he did next. It could have been the comment ‘get up in your space’ combined with the fact that Keith was acting like he’d done something particularly bad that triggered it. It might also have been the ingrained instinct he had to casually brush it off as 'the no big deal' that it was and offer physical comfort.
It didn’t matter, really. Before he knew it, his mouth had spoken against the conflict currently happening in his brain.
And it had only been downhill from that moment, because the only thing Lance responded with—despite every alarm going off in his head right then to tell Keith that ‘yeah, you should get to your own bed in your own room, far, far away from me’—was stupidly:
“Naw, it’s fine, buddy. Just lay back down if you want. If you’re too tired to stay awake right now, you’ll probably be too tired to try and walk that far away.”
Keith didn’t fight him, or try to say anything snarky. Keith didn’t even say anything else.
Apparently, Keith had been too tired to protest fuck all, because he took one last weary, level look at Lance before yawning wide, and then settled himself right back down where he’d been.
In the what felt like years that followed while Keith slept, Lance repeated over and over to himself that there was nothing different or weird about this, that this was just like any other innocent time he had people use his lap as a pillow. He’d tried to convince himself that Keith curled up into a ball with his head pressed so warm and snug against his thighs, with that look of utter bliss on his face as he smiled slightly as he slept, was definitely not making his skin feel hotter than normal.
When he admired the way Keith’s silky, shining hair fanned out over the folds of his pants, and tentatively began stroking it like he had wanted to earlier, his mantra reassured him that it was totally the most normal thing in the world to do.
But when Keith, who honestly didn’t strike him as much of the cuddling type at all—and by all accounts, Lance had never once witnessed him do anything but flinch whenever anyone made a move to touch him—shifted and stretched his arms, smiled wider, and pushed back into the gentle scratching on his scalp while nuzzling further into his lap like a happy cat, Lance pretty much forgot all pretense of why he wasn’t supposed to think this was weird because, well—this shit was weird.
And it was most definitely different, and there wasn’t much he could say was too innocent about it anymore when his pants began feeling a lot tighter, either. Conflictingly, and only adding to his confusion, was the fact that this mild show of affection was doing things to him that no amount of touching had ever satiated in him before. It was honestly the single greatest feeling he’d ever experienced.
That void in his gut began to fill, piece by piece, satisfying like a puzzle finally coming together after years of working relentlessly on it. He felt like he could die happy right there, with Keith snuggling in his arms, just relishing in brushing and sifting the strands of his hair between his tingling fingers.
This wasn’t familial or friendly affection, though he couldn’t say that this contact had completely eased his stressed nerves so much as they had frayed away every last bit of rational thought in him. There was nothing else he could do at the time but run his fingers more subtly through Keith’s hair than before, try and keep him from shifting any closer to his groin, and hope to god that Keith wouldn’t take longer than a five minute nap.
...Which he sure as shit didn’t. The fucking pretty bastard slept like a goddamn baby for almost two hours straight while Lance panicked into the gayest ass hell of his entire 19 years of life.
Proceeding to have an existential crisis while your supposed rival is nestled happily between your thighs isn’t really an ideal situation to be in, is the conclusion Lance comes to as he reflects on all that’s happened within the past few days following what he’s started referring to as, ‘the night everything got a whole lot more homoerotic than usual’.
But it’s the third night in a row that he finds himself in this exact same situation, and he’s starting to run out of excuses about why this keeps happening, or on how to explain what the fuck is even going on between them anymore.