Keith pull up hard on the fighter’s controls as the blast fires straight through the warship. He turns frantically in his seat until he spots the rogue ship. Lotor. Keith almost goes after him, but an incoming transmission draws his attention.
Allura’s voice startles him; cold as ice, but not with anger: fear.
"Keith. Get back to the castle."
“Allura-” There's a crackling on the line, and a new voice speaks suddenly.
"Keith. Get over here now."
“Shiro, I have to-”
"That is an order, paladin."
Keith flinches slightly and silently pilots the ship towards them. When he reaches the castle he docks the stolen Galra fighter, looking up at where the bridge is located. He hesitates before climbing on board the castle, wondering how long the lecture will be this time.
The door to the bridge slids open and Keith would never have expected the sight before him. It's at once both similar to when he had been with the Blade of Marmora on a mission and returned too late to help the group form Voltron, and different. The people gathered on the bridge turn one by one as they hear him walk in.
Shiro is the first to see him, and the look on his face genuinely scares Keith. He looks downright terrified. Keith narrows his eyes, and before anyone can get a word out he says, "It was the only way. I don't want a lecture!"
That only seems to make things worse. Pidge flinches, and Keith realizes she's curled into Hunk, tears staining her face.
"The only way? Keith, there were a million other ways you could have fixed that!" Hunk says, his face pale. Hunk looks down at Pidge, who pushes herself up. The next thing Keith knows is her face buried in his chest.
"W-We though you were going to-" She gulps down a sob and Keith, slightly unsure of what to do, hesitantly wraps his arms around her.
"I lost my dad, I almost lost my actual brother. I d-don't want to lose you too....You're like a second brother to me." Pidge says softly, pulling out of their impromptu hug. Her expression switches and she gives him a cold look. "Never do that again or I will kick your ass all the way back to Earth." In spite of the situation, Keith can't help but laugh. Pidge hugs him one more time, then punches his arm.
"If you do that again I'll punch you harder!"
Shiro and Allura come up to him next, both of their faces pale and stony. Keith's expression hardens and he straightens up, feeling like he's back in Commander Iverson's office, in trouble yet again.
Instead they both pull him into a tight hug, and Keith just stands there, shocked. He tries to say something, anything, but the words are suddenly caught in his throat.
Shiro lets go of him and rests a hand on his shoulder. "Keith....There's always another way out. Trust me." He smiles ar him, a real smile, and steps back, Allura taking his place.
"Keith, I know we haven't always had the...best relationship, but I want you to know I don't hold it against you. You being Galra, I mean." Allura hugs him again. "What you did was immeasurably selfless and courageous, but..." She frowns. "If you ever do that again I will ground you."
Keith chokes out a laugh through the tears that had started to fall. "Yes, mom." He says teasingly. Allura laughs softly, but Shiro doesn't seem amused. Shiro glances towards the doors of the bridge.
"Keith, there's someone missing, don't you think?" He says pointedly. Keith scans the room with a strange feeling in his stomach. He isn't quite sure what it is, but some part of him seems to be nervous. Shiro is right, there is one person missing.
Shiro nods toward the door. "You'd better go find him. He....He didn't look too good." He rests his hand on Keith's shoulder again. "I think he's in his room, but he won't talk to any of us. He's pretty shaken up....Go talk to him."
Keith frowns slightly but heads off the bridge, taking the long route to the area of the castle with the team's bedrooms so he can organize his thoughts. Why would Shiro send him to talk to Lance and not have Lance dome to the bridge? Unless....Shit, he'd told Shiro, hadn't he.
He groans quietly and presses his hand on the panel to open Lance's door.
The door slides open, revealing Lance curled up on his bed with his knees tucked into his chest.
“Lance, are you-” Keith’s unfinished question falls short as he fully takes in how awful Lance looks. He frowns, giving the teen in front of him a concerned look.
“Lance, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, it's you.” Lance mutters, and okay, that hurts Keith a little bit.
“Oh, it's me?” Keith raises an eyebrow.
“I was just hoping it was Allura, come to confess her love in my time of sorrow.” Lance says dramatically, his familiar personality poking through. Keith snorts and rolls his eyes.
“Shut your quiznak, lover boy.”
“That's not even what that means!”
“You used it that way first..” Keith complains, but there's a smile on both of their faces now.
Lance rubs his arms, looking away from Keith. "I- It's just- When you flew towards that shield..." His voice drops off suddenly, and he curls in on himself even more. "I thought I would lose you, okay! I thought you were going to die and there was nothing I could do except watch!"
Keith blinks as he takes in what Lance means. He shifts awkwardly on his feet. Did he really mean that much to Lance, of all people?
Lance swipes at his eyes angrily. "I'm not crying-" Keith makes a split-second decision and climbs onto the bed, sitting with his back against the wall next to Lance.
"I really mean that much to you?" His question is almost unheard, but he had to get it off his chest. It's been so long since he'd had someone who cared that much. Someone who even cared at all.
Lance's head shoots up from where he'd buried it in his arms. "Dude, you and Shiro are like the anchor of the team! Of course we care! I-" He cuts himself off. Keith hesitantly puts his arm around Lance's shoulders, hoping it's not crossing a boundary. He wishes for a split second that there wouldn't be a boundary anymore, but he shoves that thought aside and focuses on Lance. Which still doesn't really put that though aside, but oh well.
Lance shrugs and trys to play it off. "Nothing.."
Keith doesn't push it. "Okay. That's okay." He gives Lance a slightly forced smile. Don't get your hopes up don't get your hopes up don't get your hopes up- ....dammit. Keith looks away from Lance, the two of them sitting there in relative silence for several doboshes before a teasing smirk crosses his face. "Hey, Lance?"
"I believe this counts as...a bonding moment?" Lance blinks, and then promptly shoves Keith off the bed.
"Nope! Nope nope nope, didn't happen, suddenly I have temporary amnesia, what just happened?"
Keith snorts with laughter as Lance frantically tries to defend himself. "You can't get out of this one!"
Lance dramatically flops down on the bed. "I give up."
Keith laughs again, then takes a deep breath. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't realize how my....sacrifice would have affected the team..." His voice trails off. Lance sits up slowly, the bed creaking. He sighs.
"It-It's okay. I mean, not okay, but-" The words catch in his throat, his next words almost a whisper. "I wouldn't have been able to handle it if you had..." The unspoken end to the sentence hangs in the air. Died. Lance ducks his head, and Keith pushes himself up off the floor. He sits back on the bed and rests his hand on Lance's shoulder.
"Hey. Hey, I'm right here." Lance's body shakes, and he tries to muffle a sob. Keith throws caution to the wind and pulls the other teen into a hug. Physical contact has never been his cup of tea, but it's different with Lance. Safe.
Lance makes no move to pull back, so neither does Keith let go of him. They sit together, Lance curled into Keith's chest, the silence comforting to both of them. Keith wants to hold this moment forever, freeze time and never let this end, but....there's something he needs to say.
"Lance?" It shatters the silence, and the other teen tilts his head up at him.
"What's wrong?" Keith looks away, letting go of Lance and taking a deep breath.
"I- How...How can you stand me?"
"W-What!? Keith, what are you talking about?"
It's Keith's turn to hold back his sobs. His words come out in a rushed, harsh whisper, jumbled together in one long sentence.
"Keith, stop it." Lance shifts on the bed until he's sitting in front of Keith. "You're not a monster..."
"That's what everyone thinks. I can see it whenever they look at me! I- I'm just-" A freak. The words echo in Keith's head, but he can't bring himself to volcalize them. He angrily rubs his eyes, choking out a sob. This was definitely not how he had planned for this to go, and he anxiously waits for Lance to say something, do something, anything.
Lance continues to surprise him, hesitantly reaching out and brushing away the few tears that had fallen down Keith's face. "Hey, hey, shh, it's okay to cry. Just let it out." He rubs Keith's back comfortingly, and Keith shatters. He buries his face in Lance's chest, clutching it tightly as sobs shake his body.
Lance holds him tight, laying his head on top of Keith's. It's strangely intimante, but peaceful, the two of them holding on to each other. For a split second, Lance, eyes closed, wishes this could have happened without the near-death experience, wishes maybe things could have been different but still worked out. He looks down at Keith, who takes a shuddering breath before faintly whispering, "Thank you."
It's a start, a new relationship between the two of them. Not quite where each boy wants to be, but a start nonetheless. And maybe, well, maybe it could lead to more.
But for now, they both are content to hold on to each other. Be each other's rock, each other's strength.
And maybe the aftermath isn't so bad after all.