Shiro’s standing on the mound of dirt that barely counts as an incline when Keith walks out at sunrise. He heads straight over to his best friend, who doesn’t even turn around.
“It’s good to have you back.” Keith starts, resting his hand on Shiro’s shoulder. The sun’s barely coming up, but that hasn’t stopped him from being wide awake before, and it certainly won’t now.
“It’s good to be back.” Shiro’s about as awake as Keith is, which is a relief considering their adventure the night before. He looks different, still the same Shiro as before but with a new scar spread wide across his nose and a white tint to his bangs that is absolutely not the result of being dyed.
“So what happened out there?” Keith’s hand slips off, frown forming on his brow. “Where…were you?” He hesitates to ask, especially considering how recently Shiro woke up.
Shiro sighs, turning to stare at a patch of dirt somewhere in front of them. “I wish I could tell you. My head’s still pretty scrambled. I was on an…alien ship. Somehow I escaped.” He sounds surprised, not that Keith can blame him. The fact that aliens exist still isn’t acknowledged by most humans. “It’s all a blur.”
He turns again to look Keith right in the eye. “How did you know to come save me when I crashed?”
Keith struggles a moment, eyes drifting over Shiro’s new arm. Alien technology. “You should come see this…” He gestures with his whole body, using the motion to turn and lead Shiro back to the desert hut.
Keith’s feet hit the deck, and in a split second he’s already off and running. They just came off the most important mission of their lives and yet his senses are tingling. Something bad happened to Shiro, and he knows the itch won’t go away until he sees his best friend up close.
His breath comes out in harsh pants already, adrenaline keeping him upright as he sails past his teammates, too slow getting out of their own lions. “Keith?” Lance voice drifts into his ears, concern filling his very being, and the adrenaline kicks it up a notch.
The other four are hot on his tail before long, all of them running to the black lion, still lying disturbingly still. The eyes are dark, no sign of movement inside or out.
“Shiro!” He shouts, the name ripping itself from his throat as he reaches out mentally, willing the lion to open up for him the way he does when he calls for Red. It does, and the four – no, Allura and Coran are with them already, making it all six – of them burst inside. The doors into the cockpit itself take forever to open, long enough for Keith to calm his breath. Patience yields focus.
“Shiro?” Lance asks the second the door opens, caution in his voice as he steps forward.
Keith takes in the cockpit of the lion. The chair is empty, the black Bayard shoved ceremoniously into the slot. They all step forward anyway, as if Shiro had slumped far enough in the seat to be hidden from the door. But even crowded around it, they can all see the same thing. The thing Lance voices out loud anyway.
Allura’s hands shake against the back of the chair. She looks like she’s using it to support her weight. Keith can’t see the rest of the team, his vision narrowing to a point on the Bayard, but he feels Lance next to him. It’s a tingle, strongest at the base of his wrist, the sensitive skin hidden under his gloves.
The place where his words are.
Everything around him is dark, the only focus he has left is the Bayard. He itches everywhere. He can’t breathe.
Keith doesn’t feel himself sink to the ground, but he does feel when two hands come to rest on his shoulders. There’s an overwhelming sense of worry, fear, but deeper than that is an undercurrent of calm. Keith grasps at it, desperate, and pulls himself back to reality with some effort.
Coran and Allura are nowhere to be seen, but Pidge and Hunk are still there, faces averted in what he can clearly read as discomfort, even in this state. In front of him, far too close for his sanity, Lance is leaning in, eyes searching his own. “Keith?” He asks, a spike of concern hitting Keith square in the chest. “Buddy? You ok?”
He looks away, needing to see anything but Lance. He settles on the Bayard again for a second, but his anxiety kicks in again. Another shot of worry hits him and he turns his head, focusing on Pidge instead.
Their hair is sticking out in a permanent state of helmet head, a look he’s gotten used to over their time in space. The familiarity of it comforts him. Partnered with the calm pulsing beneath his skin, he manages to bring his breathing back to normal.
Keith brushes Lance’s hands off, surprised at how easily they fall away. He ignores the blue clad hand offered to him, using the chair to help him stand instead.
“Keith?” Lance says his name again, the nagging unease still present in his words and posture. Keith ignores him.
“Pidge, I need you to hack into…Black here and get a full log from the battle.” He goes straight into pretending to be the leader, emulating Shiro as best as he can. As long as he keeps moving, as long as there’s a plan, he won’t break down again.
Confident in his ability to walk a solid distance without collapsing, Keith steps away from the chair, heading out of the lion. The spluttering behind him indicates that Lance isn’t letting him off this easy.
He ignores it, the way he’s been ignoring Lance since the moment he realized something was wrong with Shiro, letting the doors slide shut behind him. He’d take off running again if his legs weren’t shaking so bad.
“Keith!” Lance’s voice is closer than he expected. He’d gotten too lost in his head.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” The words roll off his tongue easily.
Lance’s hand is on his shoulder, pressing its deceptive warmth down. The tightening of Lance’s fingers paired with a jolt of anger are Keith’s only warnings before he’s jerked around to face the blue paladin.
He stumbles, off balance on his shaky legs. Lance’s hand holds him steady, keeping Keith upright seemingly without effort.
“You really need to calm down.” Lance is frowning as he speaks, perfect skin marred by temporary frown lines. Keith focuses on that rather than the view behind Lance. He’d been flipped around to face the black lion again, still as dark and unmoving as it was five minutes ago.
Lance, in contrast, is dynamic and alive. His gaze is focused on Keith, eyes flitting between his as if searching for something. A year ago he wouldn’t have believed the blue paladin was capable of such depth, but time has a funny way of changing things.
His wrist itches.
“We’re going to find out what happened to Shiro, and we’re going to get him back.” Lance promises. There’s nothing but earnestness in his expression, honesty in his emotions. Keith wants to believe, wants to scream, wants to collapse into Lance, wants to spit in his face.
His body doesn’t listen to him. His shoulders release their tension, dropping from where he’d been unknowingly holding them stiff. He opens his mouth but has nothing to say, so he closes it again, fully aware that he’s gaping like a fish.
Keith’s eyes flick back to the black lion, leading Lance’s there with the movement. In a moment, Keith feels the paladin stiffen, the clench in his own stomach. Guilt, he realizes belatedly.
“We should probably shower.” Lance says, turning Keith effortlessly again, away from the lion this time. “And get ready for dinner. I’m sure Coran has…something for us.”
He’s chattering, rambling to distract him. Keith nods, the wave of pure calm hitting him again. He takes a deep breath, not resisting as Lance leads them out of the hangar.
Lance may have talked the entire way to the showers, or he may have been completely silent. Keith isn’t sure. He loses himself in empty breaths as he walks, letting the familiar hallways ease him into a false sense of security.
“I’ll come get you for dinner,” Lance promises, voice dragging him back to reality. He leaves Keith at the entrance to the showers with a pat on the shoulder and a wave.
He has no idea how he got here.
Showering is the furthest thing from Keith’s mind, but with the lack of alternatives popping up in his imagination he gives in and heads inside. Despite it being immediately after a mission, there's no one else in here. Lance had already walked away, but even Pidge and Hunk are mysteriously absent.
He pushes it from his mind, thoughts dangerously close to veering back into panic mode, and turns on the shower. Lance had waxed poetic about them their first week here. “Instantly the temperature you ask for, no waiting necessary,” he’d fawned. His face had glowed as he'd talked, growing more animated until Coran had interjected his two cents about the recycling system of the water. At the time Keith had laughed along with Pidge, poking easy fun at the blue paladin. Now, though, he reaches for the memory as a crutch.
It anchors him as he strips out of his paladin suit, setting it down piece by piece. The gloves come off last, as they always do. He’d never been particularly fond of his hands, but his soulmate’s – Lance’s – tendency of writing on the sensitive skin on his inside wrist cinched the deal for him.
Now he’s never without his gloves if he can help it.
The shower is hot immediately, but Keith tests it anyway, body moving through the motions automatically, before he steps in. He lets the water fall over his shoulders, zoning out at the glass in front of him. Panic doesn’t take over again as he focuses on his breath. In for three counts, hold for two, then out for four.
Keith itches his wrist absently. Today’s words are already fading. I’ll definitely find you, even if I have to search all the stars in the sky.♥ He read them ten times this morning before they left on their mission, etched them into his memory. Now, twelve hours later, he’s trying to purge them from his skin the same way he’s trying to purge the whole mission from his memory.
Keith struggles to keep himself here in the present, but the more his mind wanders, the closer it gets to Shiro. Shiro. Fuck, though what is he going to even do?
Counting his breaths isn’t working anymore, thinking about Lance’s stupid daily words isn’t either. Nothing is helping because Shiro is just gone. Again.
He’s lost in his head again, brought back only by the sharp sound of knocking on the bathroom door. “Keith? Buddy? You ok in there?” The bubble of worry is back in his chest.
Keith jerks his head up, staring through the glass at the door. If Lance walks in and sees him like this he’s not…he won’t…
“Keith?” Lance’s tone changes, the bubble of worry erupting into a different shade of panic. “Are you alive?”
If he doesn’t say something, anything, Lance is going to open the door. “I’m fine.” Keith chokes out, voice a pitched higher than he’d meant. He stands up, stepping further under the stream just in case Lance walks in anyway. “Just finishing up.”
The emotions in his chest fizzle, morphing together into something Keith can’t quite name. “Alright.” Lance might be on the other side of the door, but the distrust is clear in his tone. “Coran said food’s ready as soon as you finish.”
“I’ll be right there,” Keith promises, shutting off the water. Shit, had he been in there that long?
He opens the glass with a hiss, a burst of air drying him most of the way off. He usually brings a towel to keep his hair from dripping down his back, but this time he doesn’t have anything, having come straight from a mission. Dammit. As if he doesn’t already have enough to deal with.
“Lance?” He calls out, barely loud enough to be heard on the other side. Half of him hopes the blue paladin has already left for dinner, but he knows better than to hope too much.
Especially when he can feel Lance’s emotions still.
“Yeah?” Lance responds almost immediately, tone eager.
Keith pushes down his own shame, his own emotions still present enough despite their proximity. “Can you get my clothes?”
Confusion, realization, then…embarrassment? All three feelings flood through him in rapid succession. “Uh,” Lance clears his throat, the embarrassment still humming under Keith’s skin. “Yeah sure. Be right back.”
He hears footsteps moving away from the door.
Keith closes and opens the door to the shower itself while he waits, the rush of air drying him completely before Lance gets back.
Lance knocks twice on the door. “Keith? I have your clothes but, uh, I don’t think I can just crack this open and slip them inside.”
He gets out of the shower finally, shaking the last traces of dampness from his hair. “Just close your eyes then.”
His heart jolts, a flush of something as Lance hesitates. “Alright.”
Keith presses the button, letting the main door open with a hiss. Lance lets out a squeak, but as the steam clears out of the room – Keith hadn’t realized it was that warm – the blue paladin is holding out his clothes. His eyes are closed, covered by his free hand and his body is half turned away. There’s a flush across Lance’s nose, pink against the usual brown, so he snatches his clothes and steps back into the room, forcing the doors closed again. The sudden movement has his heart stuttering, so he focuses on taking a few calming breaths.
“Are you decent?” Lance asks after a beat, squeak still in his voice.
“It’s been ten seconds, Lance.” He growls, tugging on his pants with more force than necessary.
Arguing with Lance is normal, and normal is exactly what he needs right now. Keith pulls on his shirt and shoes, opening the door to face the music, but this time the blue paladin is standing there with his back fully to him.
He sighs in exasperation, resisting the urge to kick Lance’s foot. “Don’t just stand there,” he argues just to keep their argument going, keep things normal. But Lance doesn’t bite.
“Come on. Everyone’s waiting.”
Keith freezes again, barely two steps out of the bathroom. It’s a punch to the gut that an hour has hardly passed and already he’s forgotten about Shiro. Ice creeps up his stomach to his chest.
He doesn’t realize that he’s stopped walking until he feels warmth on his shoulder once more. Keith looks up, eyes meeting Lance’s. He both sees and feels the worry in them, concern and pain and depth he would’ve never expected from the blue paladin. Lance is a mess of contradictions that Keith doesn’t want to explore, but the weight of his hand is the only thing keeping him tethered to the floor of the ship.
“We’re going to get him back,” Lance promises again, punctuating the words with a squeeze of his fingers on Keith’s shoulder. He has no reason to trust Lance, no evidence that the blue paladin can pull through and really do what he says he can.
And yet. It calms him.
Patience yields focus. He reminds himself, imagining the words in Shiro’s voice. He closes his eyes, focusing on his breathing. Lapsing into another panic attack isn’t going to get Shiro back any faster.
When he opens his eyes again, he’s calm. In control. Keith gives Lance a nod. Lance nods in return, giving his shoulder one last squeeze before releasing him to the cold air of the castle around them. Together, the two of them head into the dining room for a subdued dinner.
Five days pass and Pidge still hasn’t found anything. They’re all getting antsy, tones sharper than normal. Lance forces himself to keep to his daily beauty routine, normalcy ruling supreme while the world around him apparently turns to shit. It’s easy in theory, muscle memory taking over, but at night he lies awake for hours.
He’d thought it would get better as the days passed. That searching for Shiro would turn into their new normal. But after five days of Pidge not finding anything, tensions are wearing thin around the castle. Lance can feel it in the empty hallways as he walks through them, in the kitchen where he hears someone – Hunk or Coran – cooking quietly and alone. He sees it in the line of tension across Pidge’s shoulders when he passes the black lion’s hangar. When he reaches the bridge, he can almost touch the tension, it’s so palpable. He’s surprised he doesn’t choke.
Allura is the only one he sees in the room, back to him as she scans through the universe. Literally. “Princess –“
“Not now, Lance.” She interrupts, not even giving him a chance to finish his sentence. “Go help Coran.”
Allura doesn’t turn to look at him, instead flipping through the giant map of the universe around her. She’s searching for Shiro in her own way. Aside from Pidge, Allura’s the only one of them who can conceivably do anything. Lance is worthless at this.
He can’t even worry properly.
“Yeah. Let me know if you need anything.” Despite not being able to see her face, he can guess she has bags under her eyes that match the ones he’s seen on the rest of the team.
The princess waves her hand, dismissing him wordlessly.
So the bridge is out. He’d tried helping Pidge on Day 2, but they’d thrown him out after less than 10 minutes of him hovering, trying to help. Hunk could be anywhere; if he didn’t want to be found he could make that happen. Lance had learned that the hard way back in the garrison. It’s always best to leave Hunk in peace until he calms down.
That leaves Keith. Lance isn’t particularly looking forward to confronting the red paladin because yes, it would absolutely turn into a confrontation. Keith’s been training too hard lately. Lance had figured it out on Day 0 when Keith had a full blown panic attack in the black lion. Keith’s just as worthless as he is at finding Shiro, and the way he’s decided to go about it is apparently by working himself into an early grave.
The whole situation pisses Lance off to no end. He let him go almost five whole days without a confrontation, but if Allura is sending him away then fuck that. Shiro is gone, the team is falling apart, and he’s pissed. In fact, a confrontation with Keith about his obsessive training regimen sounds like exactly what the doctor ordered.
Lance heads straight for the training deck, no longer needing to bypass the area now that he’s ready and willing to get into this fight. Fuck Keith, he’s already mad. Even if the red paladin caves and admits he’s being an idiot – unlikely – Lance is going to punch him square in his fucking perfect jaw.
He stomps as he walks, righteous anger fueling his pace. The halls are predictably empty, sounds from the training deck echoing through them. They’re loud even here, crashing growing louder as he gets closer. Lance doesn’t have to be able to see inside to know exactly what’s happening, but the visual image solidifies it for him.
Keith is battling not one, not even two, but three – three – of those robots. From where he’s standing in the doorway, frozen in disbelief, Lance can see the sweat at the nape of Keith’s neck. His stomach flips uncomfortably and he curses as he pulls out his Bayard, forming his trademark gun.
The robots have Keith surrounded, and while they don’t appear to be striking to kill, they are wearing him down noticeably. Keith is focused on the two in front of him and completely misses the move the one behind him makes, bringing its staff down right between his shoulder blades.
Or it would have, if Lance weren’t standing there.
He doesn’t stop to think, just takes aim and pulls the trigger, breathing out as he shoots. The gun lets out its little pew, shooting its laser directly at the back of the robot’s neck. The machine crumbles to the ground before it can make contact with Keith, its staff cluttering uselessly off to the side.
But Lance can’t celebrate just yet; Keith clearly heard his entrance and has turned himself to face Lance, slack jawed. The action gives the two other robots attacks of opportunity, and Lance has to shoot them both in rapid succession. He misses hitting the second one square in the eye-hole, but it crumbles regardless.
“What,” Keith pants, “the hell?”
Lance blows off the imaginary smoke from his gun, dispersing it back into handle form. “I think the phrase you’re looking for is ‘thanks Lance, you’re so great. The very best in fact’.” He corrects, stepping onto the deck and letting the doors slide shut behind him.
“No. I think the phrase I was looking for is ‘what the hell’.”
Irritation flares in Lance again, mixed with a sick satisfaction. He’d wanted a fight and Keith is clearly not going to disappoint him. Excellent.
“I get that the whole training yourself to death thing was taking too long, but if you really wanted something faster it would’ve been nice if you thought about who has to clean up after you.”
Lance is pleased to see his own irritation mirrored in Keith’s glare. The red paladin hasn’t dropped his Bayard’s form yet, gripping the handle stubbornly in his gloved grip. “What are you talking about?”
“This!” Lance gestures around, flinging his arms dramatically. “You knew I’d be the one to walk in and have to mop up your blood!”
To his surprise, Keith actually wipes the back of his hand across his jaw. He examines it with a squint, as if trying to find a trace of blood on the back of his glove. The ridiculousness of it all startles an incredulous laugh from Lance’s lips. “You’re kidding me, right?” He asks Keith, taking another step forward.
His Bayard is back in handle form, but that could easily change. He’s not sure he likes the idea of a distance vs melee battle though. If he misses, he could actually hurt Keith, and although he’s here for a fight, he’s not really looking to do more than maybe make the red paladin’s lip bleed or give him a bruised jaw. ‘Course, if Keith gets up too close, Lance is shit out of luck. Aside from Shiro and Allura, Keith is the best at hand to hand combat, and his sword is no joke.
So Lance does the next best thing. As if he planned it, he sets his Bayard down on the ground and walks over to the nearest robot, the one he shot first. He scoops up the staff and feels the weight of it in his hands. Lance knows he’s not particularly good at close range battle, but this is easier for him than true hand to hand against Keith I-think-I’m-a-ninja Kogane.
“Come on, pick one up.” He uses his own staff to point towards the other two robots.
Lance points more aggressively, jabbing the staff forward. “Pick up a staff, idiot. If you want to get beat up so bad, I’ll do it for you.”
He half expects Keith to argue more, for their battle to be predicated with a pre-battle ‘are we gonna do it or not’ argument. But Keith shuts his mouth, juts out his jaw, and scoops up the nearest staff. He tosses it between his hands once, settling into a stance that looks easy, natural. “I don’t think I’ll be the one getting beat.”
Lance recognizes the challenge in his voice and quirks his lips up in a smirk. It’s as close to the old Keith as he’s seen in five days. He adjusts his own stance to mirror Keith’s; Lance is nowhere near as practiced in this, but they’ve done more than one staff exercise as part of their group training.
Lance runs at him first, before Keith can get the chance. The red paladin might be known for being a hot head, but Lance can give him a run for his money when it comes to moving without thinking. He lashes down with his staff, a straightforward whack that Keith blocks easily.
Keith counters with one of his own, using his staff like a sword with arcing swings. Lance blocks the hit with some effort, the weight of the hit evidence of all Keith’s strength training. He uses shorter swings for his own hits, not aiming for anything too creative, and Keith parries all his blows.
Lance catches the wild look in Keith’s eyes, the only warning he gets before Keith flips his staff over, coming at him from below. Lance throws himself bodily to the side, flipping over himself and holding tight to his own staff before righting himself.
He’s barely regained his footing, but Keith is already running at him. The red paladin swings at eye level, and Lance ducks, feeling the air whoosh above his hair. Right now, he’s thinking maybe challenging the guy who does literally nothing but train to a sparring match was not his best idea.
Keith swings again, faster than Lance can properly react, and he barely gets his staff up in time to redirect the hit. He doesn’t block the blow, remembering the strength behind Keith’s last attack, instead twisting his staff so the weight is redirected. It’s clearly the right move – the red paladin’s eyes widen as he stumbles, not having expected that. Lance mimics Keith’s earlier move, flipping the staff around and whacking him on the butt.
“Gotcha.” He smirks, internally high fiving himself for having actually landed a blow. And the first one, at that.
Keith catches himself, turning his sweat soaked face at him with a growl. Lance takes a physical step back at that; Keith does not look happy. He doesn’t even look human, the anger in his eyes more like the Galra they battle.
Keith comes at him fast, body low and grip on his staff so tight Lance can see the whites of his knuckles. The feral anger in his eye is what freaks out Lance the most, making him scramble backwards. His heel catches on something – the robot he’d forgotten about – and he stumbles just as Keith jumps. By luck, he manages to catch Keith’s staff on his own, hooking it underneath. He falls, clutching onto his staff for dear life, and the momentum of it causes Keith to flip over his head.
The red paladin goes flying backwards and there are two thuds; one from Lance hitting his ass on the ground and the other from Keith’s own fall. Lance lies there gasping for air before tilting his head to look at the other paladin. Keith had dropped his staff somewhere mid-flight and is just lying there on the ground looking as winded as Lance feels.
Overall the fight didn’t even last a full minute.
Wincing, Lance forces himself into a seated position, finally letting the staff fall. Admittedly, this had been a terrible idea. One of his worst. But he does feel a little better. Keith, on the other hand, looks like shit.
He has circles under his eyes, and his skin’s paler than normal. He’d looked tired when Lance had walked in, geared up for a fight, but now he looks…destroyed.
And a little pathetic.
Lance forces himself upright, feeling the beginnings of a bruise on his tailbone from the fall, and walks over to the red paladin. He means to offer his hand, help Keith up, suggest – kindly – a shower and sleep. And probably food.
Actually, come to think of it, Lance can’t remember seeing Keith join them for a meal since he’d forced him to join them for dinner the first night. No wonder he looks like shit. He probably hasn’t had a decent meal or a full night’s sleep in nearly a week.
But Keith brushes the hand away as soon as it’s offered, pushing himself off the ground and swaying right into Lance’s side. Lance manages to catch him, but Keith’s heavier than he looks, and he lets out an “oof” as he rights himself. Keith smells of sweat and steel and the stench of the training room, but it’s not as bad as it should be. Before Lance can get a second whiff to figure out why, Keith’s pushed off of him.
“Don’t touch me,” he growls, swaying again. Lance reaches out to support him, but Keith smacks his hand away. “I said don’t touch me!”
Really? Lance isn’t supposed to be the reasonable one here, but the entire goddamn castle is moping while they’re all in standby mode waiting for Pidge to come up with some kind of magic cure-all, and he is so fucking sick of this shit. “At least let me help you get to the kitchens,” he grits out. It feels a bit like poking a bear, but fuck it. Keith isn’t the only one who’s tired and upset and missing Shiro. All of them are acting like they’re the only ones who care but they all care, and Lance is starting to feel like he’s the only one who sees it.
“I don’t need your help,” Keith insists, and Lance is done.
“Are you fucking kidding me Keith?” He stomps two steps, closing the distance between them, and grabs Keith’s shoulder, spinning him around. The fact that Keith is so easy to maneuver should give the red paladin a clue, but apparently he can’t take a fucking hint.
“Believe it or not, you’re not the only one in the castle who misses Shiro and can’t do jack shit about it. Surprise! Everyone misses him and the only two people capable of doing anything are Pidge and Allura and my guess is they both sent you away same as they did to me.”
Keith’s eyes widen a little in surprise. He opens his mouth to say something, but Lance barrels on before he can. “And I wasn’t kidding when I said that you’re training yourself into an early grave. Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately, Keith? You look like absolute shit – no let me finish – you look like shit, and I’d bet my entire life’s savings it’s because you haven’t been eating or sleeping.”
Lance pokes him in the middle of his chest. “Seriously, do you have any idea what day it is? I’d tell you, but I’m still not sure how to read calendars out here, so instead I’ll give you a hint: it’s been five days since Shiro went missing. Almost a full goddamn week, and you have been training almost the entire time. So before you keel over right here and right now, we are going up to the kitchen where I am going to watch you eat or so help me, I will force feed you myself. And then you are going to take a shower, because you reek, and then you are going to go to bed or at least lie there in the dark for a minimum of eight earth hours because you are freaking me out. Kapish?”
He expects a fight from Keith, expects him to shove him away and repeat that he doesn’t need help so that Lance will be forced to resort to stalking him until he collapses for real. But the red paladin is always full of surprises, and today it’s the way he sags into himself, eyes dropping to the floor in embarrassment.
“Okay,” he agrees so softly, Lance almost asks him to repeat himself.
“Okay? Okay!” Lance nearly jumps for joy, because for the first time in forever, he’s actually doing something helpful. And for Keith of all people. “Food first,” he reminds, spinning Keith towards the door. He keeps one hand on his shoulder because he still doesn’t fully trust Keith to not duck away and run back to the training deck, but Keith shuffles forward surprisingly obedient.
He guides Keith back towards the kitchen first. Because yeah, the guy totally stinks, but whenever Lance is as exhausted as Keith looks he passes out the second he gets back to his room. So the room is the last item on his agenda.
“Anyway, I don’t think that was really my best moment, but we should do it again anyway.” Lance jabbers on as they walk, mostly to keep Keith awake. He’s performed the same duty for his sisters back on Earth; it comes second nature to him. Out of the corner of his eye, he spies the twitch of Keith’s head towards him, so he barrels on. “Sparring I mean. Obviously I’m the sharpshooter of the team, but I can’t always rely on you guys to watch my back.”
He sees Keith swallow, his throat working with a click, and realizes he’s staring. Lance clears his throat and looks forward again, cheeks and nose pink. “You want to spar. With me.” Keith doesn’t ask it as a question, just states it incredulously.
“Sure, why not? It’s not like we have anything…better to do.” He trails off at the end, mind finally catching up to his mouth. Ok so that was definitely the wrong thing to say. His brain whirs, trying to backtrack, but nothing quite comes to mind.
Lance whips his head around so hard he cricks his neck. Keith isn’t glaring. He doesn’t look angry at all, actually. “Ok?”
Lance is a little too distracted by that to notice where they are and nearly walks smack into the door to the kitchen, an action only prevented by it opening on its own.
“Whoa, sorry about that.” Hunk sidesteps, his eyes lighting up when he sees Lance. “Hey! You're just in time, I whipped up some lasagna. Well kinda. Space lasagna.”
“With worm mucus or without this time?”
Hunk scoffs, feigning offense. “You trust me so little for someone who keeps you from starving out here.”
“Awww you know I love you buddy.” Lance spots a flash of movement behind Hunk and sees Keith heaping a pile of what looks like blue lasagna onto a plate. His shoulders relax, releasing a tension he hadn’t noticed.
Hunk shifts, turning to see where Lance is staring. “Oh hey Keith. There's some space basil to top it with on the counter behind you.” The yellow paladin walks over, showing Keith the proper way to eat his latest culinary masterpiece. Lance leans against the doorway, watching.
Hunk is looking a little worse for the wear, circles under his eyes – though his are nowhere near as dark as Keith's – and his hair is noticeably greasy. Lance wonders what Hunk’s been up to and if he's heard from Pidge.
But it took him a lot of effort to even get Keith out of the training deck. If he brings up anything related to Shiro now, there’s no way he’ll get the red paladin to sleep.
“Lance? You want some too?” Hunk already has a plate in hand, scoop of lasagna dripping over it. As if on cue, his stomach rumbles, reminding him that he can't remember the last time he ate anything.
He pushes himself off the wall and takes a seat across from Keith. “I'd never pass up space lasagna,” he declares.
It doesn't look as appetizing as real lasagna, but considering some of the crap they've had to eat out here – plus all the green goop – it could be worse. And after the first bite, he's reminded that Hunk is basically a gourmet chef disguised as an engineer. “Your talents are wasted out here. Wasted.” Lance declares, brandishing his spork dramatically. Hunk chuckles, looking somewhere between embarrassed and pleased at the praise.
Overall, even with Keith staring blankly at the table while he eats, it's a decent meal. He gets a chance to catch up a bit with Hunk, both of them carefully avoiding the ten thousand pound Not-Keith Galra in the room, and the food’s good. None of the other inhabitants of the castle join them, but that's ok. Baby steps.
Hunk leaves after making sure Lance and Keith put their dishes in the cleaning rack, and it occurs to Lance that his best friend had only stayed to make sure they were well fed. Good ol’ Hunk.
But now that the yellow paladin’s gone, there’s no distraction from the fact that Keith is two seconds from collapsing where he sits. Lance stands up, stretching and makes a show of being responsible. “Alright, shower time.”
The responding stare from Keith is so dead-eyed, Lance almost reconsiders forcing him to clean himself off. Leaning in stops that thought before it forms. Keith reeks. Maybe it was because the entire training room reeked before, but Lance hadn’t noticed just how bad it was until now. Damn. “I can carry you if you want.” He offers, half serious.
Some life flashes back into Keith’s eyes, not as much as Lance would like but enough to glare. “No.” It’s a sign of how tired Keith is that his comeback isn’t more than a word.
Lance shrugs and steps back, breathing sweet clean air. “Hurry up. I have better things to do than babysit your ass.” He’s lying, but there’s a sense of comfort that comes with insulting Keith.
“Never asked you to,” Keith growls, but there’s no heat behind his words. Lance hears the scrape of a stool behind him and knows Keith’s following him.
He leads them to Keith’s room first to get clothes because nope, not again, and when Keith heads in to shower he sits against the wall in the hallway to wait. Lance hums a tune, half a song from earth, half made up shit from ‘music’ he’s heard out here.
Alone in the hall, he has a chance to roll up his sleeve and look at his wrist. His words from today are fading. Have you ever been awake early enough to see the sunrise?♥ There are no new words, no answer, but that’s not unusual. His soulmate had responded a few times, back when they were younger, but even then it was short clipped words. Sometimes an answer to a direct question.
More often than not it’s nothing at all.
Instead, he gets doodles or paintings. Nothing quite like art. If Lance had to describe it, he would call it stress relief. It’s overwhelming when his soulmate communicates, their own feelings override Lance’s completely, paralyzing him. He ends up frozen wherever he is, riding the waves of emotion till they end, leaving him with swirls or connect-the-dots or, more recently, colors that climb over his limbs, painting him in technicolor.
They’re no artist, that much is apparent, but doodling on themselves clearly calms them. Lance is most overwhelmed when they start, the emotions levelling off into calm by the end. They’re working through things, he knows that, but he wishes sometimes – selfishly – that they would go about it a different way.
He’s terrified of what would happen if they need to work through something while he’s piloting Blue.
Luckily, for now, his soulmate only seems to communicate at night. Or at least, during Lance’s night. Though it’s been a while since he last heard from them; since before Shiro went missing at least. Long silences from them aren’t unusual, and he can only hope it means his soulmate is in a state where they’re not overwhelmed.
“Lance?” The door to his right hisses open, and Keith steps out, dirty clothes draped over his arm.
Lance shakes thoughts of his soulmate away. He has a tendency to think of them, wonder about them, in his downtime. But now, he needs to be here making sure his teammate is going to get some sleep. “Done?” He asks, rhetorically, standing up.
The door closes behind Keith. “Yeah.”
They fall in step, heading towards Keith’s room. The red paladin isn’t fighting this, so Lance doesn’t really need to keep babysitting him, but he keeps going anyway. He’s committed to this, ok? He doesn’t need a reason.
But that does make it awkward when they reach Keith’s door. Lance may be committed to making sure Keith sleeps before he dies from exhaustion, but he’s definitely not going to go as far as tuck Keith in. So he pauses at the door, needing a script or something to go off of.
“Uh…thanks I guess.” Keith mumbles, staring resolutely at the floor.
Well at least he’s not the only one feeling awkward. He resists the urge to make a big deal about Keith thanking him. The guy’s tired. He’ll give him shit for it another day. “Yeah, anytime.” He scratches the back of his neck. “Well, see ya later then I guess.”
He takes a few stilted steps away, stopping at the sound of the door opening. He turns back, one more thing left to say. “Wait, Keith.”
Keith’s head whips to him, startled.
“Turn off your alarms and stuff, ok?” Lance clarifies. “I’ll get you if we need Voltron.”
The look Keith gives him is almost grateful. “Thanks.”
Lance stands there, waiting for Keith to make it all the way into his room. He makes sure the door closes and that he sees the glow of the light flip on then off again a few seconds later. He’ll definitely make sure to tease Keith for thanking him twice. Another time.