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under the shining stars

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It had started with sharing insecurities, things they wanted someone to know, but not necessarily the entire team. Then it became talking about their day, about their past, of the little things. It started off with two boys just keeping each other company, helping one another through hard times. Eventually, it became intimate. If someone asked who initiated the first hug, or first kiss, or who invited who to sleep in the other's bed, there'd be a bit of dispute. See the thing was, both boys were competitive, and it was apparent they carried that over into all aspects of their lives.

Keith was standing outside Lance's room, with his head pressed against the door. How long he had been like that, he didn't know. All he knew was that he just had a nightmare, a bad one, and the first thought he had when he jolted awake was to go and find Lance. His feet then sort of just moved on their own, because Keith wouldn't be here if he was lucid. Keith didn't want to bother Lance by interrupting his sleep, but what he didn't want even more than that was to go back to his room—alone, and sleep in his bed  alone. So, he pulled his head back, took a deep breath in, and knocked on the door a few times.

When no one came to answer the door, Keith wasn't surprised. After a few moments he turned around, with the idea to go train for the rest of the night, before realising that it would probably power up a few parts of the castle, and wake someone else up. It was a lose-lose situation; no matter what, someone would be unhappy, and it would be because of Keith. The castle was dark now, with the dimly lit blue lights being the only source of getting around. Another thought came to his mind then. Keith had only been there a few times, not wanting to ruin the specialness of it, but he figured he could find his way to the observation deck if he tried. Before he could even turn around and take a single step, however, the door in front of him opened and Keith was met with a sleepy Lance, rubbing at his eyes.

"Keith?" Lance whisper-yelled when he registered who had been knocking.

"I—um," Keith felt put on the spot and couldn't come up with a single lie so he just decided to tell the truth, "I had a nightmare. And when I woke myself up my only thought was to come see you?" Keith didn't know why he phrased it like a question and why he felt embarrassed confessing the reason behind his actions. As soon as the words left his mouth Keith realised Lance could turn him away, send him back to his room and be angry that Keith made him get up in the middle of the night. He began to feel anxious and his heart started beating fast, and he didn't know why either.

"Oh. Okay," Lance seemed to sober up immediately, and he spoke casually, as if Keith going to look for him was not the weirdest thing to happen. Considering what their lives were though, it probably actually wouldn't be. "Why don't you come in, buddy?" He dropped his arm and moved back to let Keith through. Walking into Lance's room, Keith ignored how he almost flinched when Lance called him 'buddy'. When Lance apologised for taking so long and explained that it was because he was putting on some pants, Keith ignored the blush that made its way onto his face too and became thankful for the darkness.

They were sitting on Lance's bed now, next to each other, barely touching but also not close enough at the same time. There was somewhat of an awkward silence before Lance spoke again. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Keith took a moment to answer, because quite frankly he had forgotten what Lance was referring to. It was as if just seeing Lance made any lingering feelings of fear dissipate. He felt safe, and warm, even though he was only in his t-shirt. "No, I think I'll be okay," and it wasn't a lie.

"That's good," Lance replied, "you want to go back to sleep then?"

And all of a sudden it felt like Keith had been punched in the gut. "I don't really want to go back to my room right now," Keith managed to mutter out, looking down at his hands in his lap. He didn't particularly want to sleep either, for that matter, if he was going to be alone. He understood where Lance was coming from though, there was really nothing else left to do.

"Yeah, I'm not kicking you out. I mean do you want to sleep here? With me?" Lance got Keith to look up again, and even in the darkness he could see the blueof Lance's eyes. Although Lance wouldn't agree, Keith always believed Lance's eyes were his most captivating feature. They just told so much, and were such a pretty colour. Currently, they were soft, concern being the main emotion conveyed.

"In your bed?" Keith mentally facepalmed himself for asking such an inane question, it wasn't like Lance would make him sleep on the floor, but he still couldn't believe Lance had suggested such a thing.

"Only if you want. I know what it's like after a nightmare, and I think it'd help to have someone beside you." Lance sounded like he was speaking from experience, and Keith immediately wondered how many nightmares he had of his own that left him in the state Keith had been. He thought Lance was quite strong to be able to get through them on his own, because he sure wasn't able to. He then felt upset he hadn't been there to help, and made a mental note to tell Lance later that he could find him too at whatever time.

"Okay," Keith agreed before he could talk himself out of it. He was feeling sleepy again, and didn't want to make a big deal out of this. It was fine, he would just be sharing a bed with Lance because it'd make sleeping easier, it was normal. "Let's do it."

Lance then perked up and waggled his eyebrows suggestively, which Keith punched him for. Before Keith could protest, Lance fake surrendered, but his smile didn't drop. "Yes, yes, I know you didn't mean it that way. Let's actually do it now," Lance giggled at himself and Keith rolled his eyes although he couldn't see, "we'll still be able to get a somewhat decent amount of sleep. I'll take the wall side, which means you're on the left. Hope that's okay."

Even if it wasn't, Keith wouldn't complain. Lance had been more than kind to him tonight, so he wasn't going to be making any requests. Instead, he crawled under the covers, Lance's covers, and whispered goodnight back to Lance. He seemed to fall asleep immediately, but Keith didn't have such luck. He had never shared a bed with anyone else before, which was something he probably should've considered beforehand, and suddenly he was hyperaware of everything happening. He lay stiffly on his back, listening to Lance's even breathing. Hell, he could feel Lance breathing, that's how close they were. When he finally relaxed he turned onto his side, Lance's body hot against his, and as their backs pressed together Keith found himself repeating 'it's just to keep the nightmares away' like a mantra, until he didn't know why he was repeating it anymore.

If Keith woke up being held by Lance, it was nobody's business but his. If he couldn't stop thinking about it for the rest of the day and afterwards—the warmth radiating off of them, how he seemed to fit so well in Lance's arms—it wasn't anybody's business that he started finding excuses to share a bed with Lance again either.

When the whole thing started they never had a "what are we" talk; they were too busy being preoccupied with saving the universe. Instead they just rolled with it, and no matter how inconsistent their days were this became the one thing they could rely on—the other being there for them. And so when the Galra forces were finally defeated and the empire had surrendered, it meant they had no longer had an excuse for not defining exactly what their relationship was.

The day the Galra Empire was defeated was a great one. It had started off well too, the team was in their best condition, their allies were carrying out preparations without a hitch, and everyone had a good feeling. It's just that dread accompanied that feeling for two boys. Of course, at the back of everyone's minds they were still very nervous—there was still a chance that their plan would not work, however unlikely it was. But the end of the Galra Empire meant they didn't have to actively be paladins anymore; they could go back to Earth, they could go home. It meant that Keith and Lance would have to sort through what they were and figure out if they wanted to carry this relationship to their home planet as well. They had both developed feelings for each other, pretty early on actually, but had doubts which stopped them from truly pursuing anything. It was the first time either of them had anything like this, so they were inexperienced, lost, and didn't really know how to go about with communicating. They were oblivious to how the other felt, to how it was mutual, and didn't want to ruin what they already had, so it was a topic they always avoided.

Everyone was busy during the day; they were barely catching a break, and were constantly on edge. It was a lot of hard work, but they were going to dethrone someone who had ruled for over ten thousand years, so it made sense. Their plan, in the end, was quite simple when logistics weren't considered. They were going to drain the Quintessence from Zarkon's castle. It would render a lot of their defence systems and weapons useless—a fun bonus, and they had gathered from their data that no one except the emperor and the witch had copious amounts of Quintessence in them, so no one else would be affected. Despite how heinous Zarkon had been, the paladins weren't enthusiastic about being the ones that had to kill him. In order to prevent Zarkon from being revived, they would have to be in very close proximity and pierce his heart. They wanted to find another way, the other option was to remove his soul—however that'd work, and they were stuck for a long time until Keith remembered how the Galra relied on Quintessence as an energy source, and how Zarkon and Haggar were the way they were due to vast exposure to Quintessence. He suggested they drain the Quintessence from the two, which would hopefully revert their immortality and all those years would come back to them, ultimately leading to their demise. With all the Quintessence they'd drain, it would be possible to use it to restore any dying planets. After it had been used to commit evil wrongdoings for so long, it would be nice to see it be used for good.

Although it was a smart idea, no one had a clue as to whether it would actually work or not, but since there were no other plans, discussions and meetings began to hash this one out. They had to get to work immediately, already having been assigned various tasks and things to do, but it didn't stop Lance from kissing Keith in congratulations and beaming proudly. Keith's face became flushed instantly, and although he wanted to reprimand Lance for displaying such affection in front of so many people, he couldn't help but smile too.

The biggest downside to their plan was that after all the preparations were completed all they could do was wait. It increased the tension tenfold, and everyone felt a bit useless just sitting around. Some tried to distract themselves by training, double-checking and triple-checking their work to see that everything was in place, or by sleeping the time away. In the moments before they had to execute their plan, the OG team—as Lance had dubbed them—got together at the lounge. Everyone looked eerily calm, and none of them knew what to say. They stood around, shuffling around in silence, until Allura started giggling. The others didn't know why, but they couldn't help laughing along with her.

"It's just, we've come so far," Allura explained about recomposing herself, "I still remember waking up from the cryopod like it was yesterday, and now we're about to defeat Zarkon and his empire. Can you believe there was a time you weren't able to form Voltron?"

They then reminisced on their past adventures and battles until someone came by to tell them it was time.

"This is it then," Shiro started, "it's the end."

"Hey hey, save the sentiments for afterwards okay? Right now, it's time to kick some Galra butt!" Lance then kicked Keith's ass for emphasis, and all Keith could do was roll his eyes while everyone else chuckled.

While Allura and Coran made their way to the bridge of the castle, the paladins entered their lions to patrol the nearby area and get rid of any incoming Galra forces. There were a lot, especially after their ship came into view, but it was nothing they hadn't done before. The fact that this was going to be their final battle also worked as motivation for them to hold out as long as the others needed. When the device they created to extract the Quintessence was good to go, the paladins pulled back and watched Zarkon's reign come to an end. Everything happened exactly as planned, if not better. As soon as all the Quintessence from within Zarkon's castle was drained and placed into containers, their allies began transporting them to planets that would need it for replenishment. The Blade of Marmora infiltrated the castle and took command of it the moment it went offline, and confirmed that Zarkon and Haggar were dead with no way of coming back. Currently, they were broadcasting the events that unfolded across the galaxy, and informing everyone of the end of the Galra empire. They then addressed the members of the fallen empire, politely asking them to surrender and cooperate for their sakes, and those around them. Anyone who wished to run away may do so, but there was no telling what would happen if they were caught.

There had been shouts and whoops in celebration across communications when their victory was announced, but they couldn't rest just yet. The empire had been spread far and wide, and without a ruler everything was thrown into chaos. A handful of generals and commanders already turned themselves in, but others were declaring war, heading to central command to avenge their emperor. While Allura introduced herself to the Galra and talked about the events that led to today, as well as what she planned to do from here on out, the paladins neutralised those who came looking for a fight. It was tiring, and it seemed like there would be no end them, but they prevailed. Everything was under control, there were no more threats.

The paladins made their way back to the castle, regrouped with everyone else at the lounge, and started celebrating. There were cheers, laughter, and happiness all round. Not long had passed when Allura told everyone it was time to go rest up. "I know it's exciting and the adrenaline must still be pumping through you all, but we're not done yet. Our work has scarcely begun, and we must be in top condition if we wish to help everyone quickly. This is the first time they'll be able to really feel safe in over ten thousand years, and we want to make sure they feel at peace as soon as possible. There will be plenty of time for celebrations later."

Keith made his way to his room, stifling a yawn. He was just about there when something came up from behind him and grabbed his hand. He got ready to fight, until he realised it was just Lance. Before he could ask what the boy was doing, Lance started running, pulling him along. They didn't stop until they were in Lance's room, with their hands to their knees and panting.

"What are you doing?" Keith whisper-yelled, because it was getting late, and this is not what Allura wanted them to do.

"Keith…" Lance huffed out, "we won! We really won!" He threw his arms in the air and spun around himself. He looked so cheerful that Keith wouldn't have been able to stop the smile making its way across his face even if he tried.

"We did it," Keith replied, observing Lance fondly.

Lance continued celebrating by himself for a bit, Keith content with just watching, and then Lance came up to Keith and took his hands. He pulled them to the centre of the room, and began dancing with Keith. He raised their arms together and waved them side to side, twirled Keith under his arm, pulled them apart and spun into Keith's arms. At some point they began laughing, and hadn't stopped. The atmosphere was lively, they were very happy, and this was their moment. Nothing could ruin that.

"We get to go home," Lane said softly when he and Keith began slow dancing.

Keith went rigid, but Lance didn't seem to notice. He continued swaying with the taller boy, but an impending feeling began to consume Keith, and suddenly all his joy seeped away. Going home meant the end of what he had with Lance, and he wanted anything but that. In the middle of the empty room, surrounded by nothing else except Lance, was where Keith realised just how much that boy meant to him. He hadn't planned to fall for Lance, especially since the lines between friendship and relationship, casual and serious were so blurred for them, and he doubted Lance shared even a bit of the same feelings. It was okay though, he guessed. Although they had to move forward, although tomorrow would come, it wasn't here yet, so he could indulge as much as he wanted right now. Keith closed his eyes and lost himself to the imagination in which this moment would last forever.

At some point Lance and Keith had gotten so close they were pressed against each other, but it didn't matter to Lance. Nothing else did—not the fact they just defeated the forces of evil, not the fact that he would see his family again very soon—except for how Keith was here and in his arms. Sure, becoming a paladin, a Defender of the Universe, was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but Lance had become convinced that meeting someone like Keith was as well. There was no one else that existed who could compare; no humans, no Galra, no other beings. When Lance felt tears forming, he pressed his forehead against Keith's hair. It was unfortunate he'd have to let him go—there was no way Keith, someone who was so amazing, could feel the same way about someone like him—but Lance told himself he'd be able to get through it. What he had with Keith while it lasted was good enough.

Lance hadn't heard from Keith since he left for his mission with the Blades. Normally he wouldn't be so concerned, some of their missions required stealth, and sometimes they were tight on time and couldn't check in periodically with someone to let them know they were doing okay. But no one had heard from Keith since he left, and what made everything worse was that the Blades reported casualties. Ever since Lance returned from his own mission, long ago, he had been pacing around, trying to get to Keith, and asking anyone for updates. Eventually Shiro had enough and told him to wait it out in his room or in the lounge. He looked tired, and hadn't rested since he got back, and Keith will get here when he gets here. Lance knew that Shiro was just as concerned, and he didn't want to end up worrying him too, so he listened.

Lance went back to his room and tried to sleep. He couldn't. In the silence, and with everything being still, nothing stopped the panic and pessimism from entering Lance's thoughts. What if Keith got hurt? They'd tell them, right? They had to, he was a paladin. But what if he was in a life or death situation right now and the Blades didn't want to tell them because they weren't sure which side he'd come out on? His heart started beating faster until all Lance could hear was it pounding. He felt like he was going to lose his mind, so he jumped out of bed and launched his gaming system in an attempt to distract himself. It did absolutely nothing at first, Lance's hands were shaking and it was difficult to use the controller, but eventually he could feel his muscles relaxing. He continued playing, with his helmet nearby, just in case.

Lance had just reached the final level when he heard a voice. "H-hello?" There was some static, but it definitely sounded like Keith.

"Keith? Are you okay? Where are you?" Lance rushed to his communicator as soon as Keith's voice came through.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just about at the castle now."

"You're fine? I haven't heard from you all day!" Lance was sure he sounded desperate, but in the moment he couldn't have cared less. He had to make sure Keith wasn't hurt.

"I'm sorry about that. A lot of what we did was on foot, and we had to turn off any other form of communication so they wouldn't be able to listen in and find us. I would've checked in, but then some people got hurt and I couldn't just not help them. They're mostly okay now, though, and I'm fine too. I'll tell you about it all later, I'm pulling in now." Keith hung up and Lance immediately ran to Red's hangar, waiting.

After Keith made his way down from his lion, and as soon as he took off his helmet and shook his hair out dramatically in the way Lance always teased him for, Lance sprinted up to him, cupped his face with his hands, and kissed him square on the mouth before he could even open his eyes. When he realised what he had done, he retracted his hands immediately and ran them through his hair. He decided to wait for Keith to say something first, fearing he would screw it up.

Keith seemed to be in a daze, staring at Lance—and his lips. It made Lance feel like he was being scrutinised, and he could feel himself heating up. He faked a cough out of awkwardness and also to snap Keith out of his daze. Lance couldn't tell if it worked or not, because while it made Keith speak, he still sounded entranced, and he was still staring at Lance's lips.

"That was our first kiss," Keith stated simply. That caused Lance to jerk. It was true, and he hadn't even realised. It was his first kiss as well. Despite his outgoing personality and flirtatious attempts no one's lips had ever touched his own, and it was something he fretted over often. It kept him up sometimes, late at night. He was nervous about what the events would be leading up to it, and whether he would be able to tell it was going to happen. He had no clue what he would be supposed to do, because, sure, he had seen plenty of kissing before, but that didn't mean he knew what it would actually be like. Would the other person be able to tell he hadn't done it before? And what if that made them not want to kiss him again?

Although he tried to convince himself that it'll happen naturally and he shouldn't worry, he couldn't help but imagine what it would be like. He originally envisioned it to be soft, it'd happen when the two of them were alone, and overall it'd be a gentle moment. When he started whatever it was with Keith, his ideas changed. He wasn't sure if kissing would be a thing, but if it was he imagined the first kiss to happen in the exact opposite way. Their relationship was in no way soft; sure, they had their moments, but most of the time they were bickering and getting on each other's nerves and there was no way their first kiss wouldn't reflect that. Maybe it'd happen with Keith pinning him on the floor after sparring, or maybe it'd happen in the middle of an argument, Keith kissing him to shut him up. How it definitely would not happen was at the end of a day where they had barely seen and talked to each other, and Lance would not be the one to initiate it.

As Lance was discovering, nothing with Keith was predictable.

"Um, yeah. Sorry if it wasn't how you imagined or anything," Lance wasn't sure if Keith even thought about these kinds of things, and then he realised Keith may not even want this kind of thing at all. "Wait, god, I'm sorry I kissed you without any warning; I don't know if it's something you wanted or want and wow I just charged at you after you returned you must be tired do you want to —"

Keith cut Lance off by pressing his mouth against his, draping his arms across his shoulders, and whatever else Lance wanted to say was gone. Their second kiss wasn't like their first. It was tender, and slow, and there was tongue involved and wow Lance could really get used to this. He couldn't believe he had been so worried before, kissing Keith seemed like the most natural thing in the world. He didn't even have to think about what he was doing because their mouths just slotted together like pieces of a puzzle. Then Keith pulled away.

"What I want to do," Keith said while adjusting Lance's hoodie, "is to kiss you some more."

"Really? That was okay?" Lance knew that Keith knew there was a hidden question there, asking if Lance was okay.

"It was great. I've been wanting to do that for a while too, but didn't know when or how to initiate it."

"That makes two of us. I guess all it took was a dangerous Marmora mission, hey?" Lance said it jokingly, before grimacing and realising thatperhaps it was too soon.

"If I had known that I would've gone on one even earlier," Keith gave an ingenuine smirk, and chuckled bitterly. Lance couldn't tell what he was thinking, but if it was anything like his thoughts it would be the reminder that they were only teenagers, and yet they were risking their lives for the universe.

Lance was filled with the urge to comfort Keith, so he turned around and kissed him again.

"I was so worried about you," Lance murmured against Keith's lips.

They pulled apart and pressed their foreheads together. The moment made Lance's heart hurt. It suddenly struck Lance that there would be a time where he wouldn't be able to do this anymore. There was a limit on what he had with Keith, and someday he would lose it all. It brought tears to his eyes, and caused Keith to pull him into a hug, who must've thought it was still about today.

"It's okay. I'm safe, I'm here now." Not forever though, Lance replied in his mind. He shut his eyes and began committing everything to memory, how Keith's lips felt against his, how his body felt pressed against his now. Cherish this, he told himself, cherish him.

As it turned out, the boys didn't need to worry about having to define their relationship. They had no time to. After defeating Zarkon and the Galra Empire, they seemed to be even busier than before. There were parades and 'thank you' events to attend. They had to help restore planets that were destroyed to the brink of death and relocate species who no longer had a home to return to. It was a lot of work, and when they were finally alone, late at night in one of their rooms, they were too tired to be having an important conversation.

Both boys were still almost always around each other during the day, being paladins and all, and sometimes they did get small moments of privacy, but neither of them wanted to have to break the conversation up into parts. In all honesty though, they just didn't want to talk about it. Any time they even skirted towards the topic, they steered it away, or the other distracted them with a kiss, and no one ever minded. Every day that passed meant they were one day closer to the end, and they didn't want to cut that down so it was even shorter, instead drawing it out as long as they could.

That was, until Lance decided he couldn't keep wondering anymore. Why wait any longer when he could potentially have the full package with Keith now? He had been a bit careful with how he interacted with Keith, not wanting to come on too strong or make him uncomfortable, but what if he didn't have to be? What if he could unabashedly be himself, and properly showcase his real feelings to Keith? That was the best-case scenario, and the worst was that his suspicions would be confirmed and Keith only put up with him because there was no one else around and he felt lonely. He had been alone for so long, after all. If it was the latter, it'd probably come to an end right then, and Lance wasn't sure how he'd take it. However, the slight chance that it wouldn't be was enough for Lance, and he took the risk.

"Keith, can we talk?" The two boys woke up late today and were hastily getting dressed. It was the day of another liberation parade, and surprisingly Lance was beginning to get fed up with them. They had to do the same thing again, and again, and again—they had to smile even if they weren't up for it, uphold an important image, listen to speeches that sounded the same, and attend after-parties that went on forever and left them exhausted by the end of the day. Lance wasn't unappreciative, he was glad all these species had a home again, that they were safe, and he understood how their roles played an immense role in granting them that, but the events had started losing their value.

"Talk? About what? There's nothing to talk about. We should get going," Keith had just put on the last piece of his paladin gear and was out the door before Lance could even mutter another word. Keith was a coward. He didn't want to run away from Lance, but moreso, he didn't want to face rejection. He knew what Lance was going to say. He was going to tell Keith that he noticed his feelings, and didn't feel comfortable doing what they did anymore, even though they didn't have long left. Now they were going back to Earth, he wouldn't need Keith anymore. Because why would he? There were many more options for him back on Earth, more girls.

Keith rubbed away at the tears welling up in his eyes, cursing himself. He had been so careful to conceal how he felt—he tried not to let his touches linger for too long, made himself look somewhere else when he caught himself staring at Lance, and sounded as casual as he could when asking for a kiss or to share a bed. Apparently he wasn't as subtle as he thought, but now was not the time for those kinds of emotions. He had to be happy, thankful towards whomever it was throwing them a parade. A tiny part of him wondered whether Lance was going to do the opposite of what he thought, and instead tell Keith that the feeling was mutual. He laughed it off, because as if that would ever happen. Lance wouldn't settle for someone like him. He wasn't good with people, he didn't have a family growing up, and he was too willing to let himself go. Lance deserved someone who could be there for him, always, in the way that he needed. Unfortunately, that didn't dull down his own feelings one bit. He tried to ignore how he felt a pang in his heart whenever he thought of Lance being with someone else, doing what they did together with someone else, and doing more with that someone else. On his side, however, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to feel that comfortable with someone else. It wasn't easy for him to initiate physical intimacy, and he had a hard time doing it, but it did not at all mean he didn't want it. He was surprised with how easy it all was with Lance, and how natural it was; Lance just made him feel warm and safe. He didn't know how he would face him later, now that his feelings were no longer a secret.

Lance was left sitting on the bed, only halfway through getting dressed, trying to process what had just happened. On one hand, Keith could've just felt really rushed and didn't want to have any kind of conversation right now, but on the other hand he could've known exactly what Lance was talking about and walked away because he didn't want to have that conversation. Didn't want to have to dump Lance, probably. Lance rubbed at his hair out of frustration. It was his own fault for asking a question at a time which would illicit an ambiguous response, but he really couldn't wait any longer. He really doubted Keith didn't know what the conversation would be about, they came close to it multiple times the past week, so he guessed he had his answer there, and there was no use pondering anymore. Lance was upset, heartbroken. He told himself he'd get over it eventually, he'd be okay. Except it wasn't that easy. While he finished getting dressed and made his way to his lion, Lance realised his deepest insecurities had just been confirmed. He really wasn't boyfriend material, although he couldn't really blame Keith for not wanting him. He didn't know specifically why Keith wasn't attracted to him, but it wouldn't be hard to guess. He was most likely either too loud, or too annoying, or was simply not special enough. Keith knew about his low self-esteem and probably thought that was irritating as well. Perhaps it was a combination of everything. Lance finally let the tears fall as his lion made its way out of the hangar, but he had his head against his chair and was smiling. It was great while it lasted, he learned some things and gained more experience, and all good things must come to an end, he supposed.

Keith hadn't seen Lance since Allura finished giving her speech at the banquet. He personally wanted to get away afterwards as well, but he wanted to do so with Lance. Currently, the younger boy was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Keith hadn't even noticed him slip away into the crowd. It brought a frown to his face, and he stared after the main corridor as if it'd magically make Lance appear. When everyone dispersed Keith made his way to Hunk, assuming he'd know where his best friend was.

"I, uh… don't, actually," Hunk rubbed a hand behind his neck, which Keith would've believed if he didn't also break into a sweat, eyes darting around the room.

"I understand if you absolutely cannot tell me, but I want to let Lance know I'm there for him if he needs," Keith poured his sincerest emotions into his speech and expression, hoping to persuade Hunk.

In the moments before Hunk replied, his face changed. He looked at Keith as if he was trying to find something, which he must've, because his face registered with realisation and he straightened up. "He's at the observation deck, with the wide windows where you can see all the stars. I think today got to him a bit, so be careful, yeah?" Hunk's face was full of concern, and Keith nodded in thanks.

Keith walked to the food tables and grabbed a few things because even though Lance may not want it, Keith doubted he had eaten or taken anything with him. As he made his way out of the main area and to the deck, he greeted everyone he passed politely. Allura may not be happy later that two paladins left the party, but that was something they could deal with then.

Now, this would be the first time Keith had actually been in the room, not just passing by, and he was not prepared for the view. He knew that space was beautiful, that the bright stars plastered against the dark sky was really a sight to behold—he had known that since his first night at the desert shack. Out there, with no obstructions, he had the clearest view of the skies. He used it as an outlet to relax himself, to wind down after a long day. It would be no lie to say that Keith was somewhat ecstatic when he went into space. Aside from all the possibilities out there, he was sure that the stars looked even more magnificent from out here. Unfortunately, between fighting and training Keith couldn't find a time to properly appreciate his surroundings.

Which is why, standing at the entrance of the room, with windows that spanned from the ceiling to the floor, and the stars that lit up the darkness, Keith became entranced. He could see so much, more than he had even imagined possible from one place. The windows made it seem like he wasn't in the Castle Ship, and was out in actual space itself. There were so many stars, of all sizes, of all colours. It was dazzling, and Keith knew immediately it would become of his favourite places.

Sounds of shuffling snapped Keith out of his daze, and he turned his head to find Lance in the centre of the room bringing his knees up to his chin from a cross-legged position. He was watching in front of him, eyes glazed over. It looked like he was deep in thought, and he barely reacted when Keith went and sat by him, putting the plate of food by his side. They stayed in silence for a while, Keith using the moment to take in the view once more, before speaking.

"Hey," Keith started, keeping his voice soft, "are you okay?" It felt like a dumb thing to ask, but he didn't know what else to say.

"Yeah…" Lance looked up at the ceiling and Keith knew it meant he wasn't fine, "I guess."

"You want to talk about it?" If Lance chose not to, Keith would respect that, but if not, then he was all ears. Either way, Keith would be there for him.

"Not really?" Lance looked hesitant, then paused. "It's just—All these people are home again, you know? And it's so good for them, I'm so happy for them… But it just reminds me I haven't seen my own in who knows how long. Time doesn't pass the same way here right? What if we get back, and years have passed? What if my own family doesn't recognise me anymore, or what if they've moved on? I must've missed so many big events. I'm an uncle, did you know that? I wonder if my nieces or nephews think about me; I got along really well with them, which is probably because we don't have a big age gap. God, I hated some classes at the Garrison—chemistry? No thanks. I tried to sleep my way through the classes. But do you know what I would give to be there right now if it meant I would be back on Earth? I know we're supposed to be the 'Great Paladins of Voltron' and whatnot but I'm still just a kid! Obviously my experiences here are nothing like what would happen on Earth, they're out of this world, if you will, but I miss that normality." Lance spoke in one breath, and it seemed like he wasn't exactly controlling his words, they just came tumbling out. It was apparent he had been keeping these thoughts bottled up for a while, and Keith wondered why he never shared it with anyone before now.

"I…" Keith looked over at Lance at lost his words for a moment. The taller boy was hugging his knees now, looking more vulnerable than Keith had ever seen. It made Keith realise that Lance trusted him, felt safe with him, and he had no clue what to do with that knowledge or the surge of warm emotion he felt. "Does being here make you feel better?" He ended up asking, because he reckoned it would lift his mood.

"Haha," Lance gave a sheepish chuckle, "it makes me feel worse, actually." He peered over at Keith, as he was expecting some of big reaction. Keith was stunned, and he didn't really understand why Lance would do that, but it wasn't anything to judge him about. "It makes me force out the emotions I've been keeping in for a while, and yeah it makes me feel horrible and sad and I hate it, but I'm fine afterwards. Those feelings are gone, at least temporarily. The stars make me feel existential. It makes me really think about how many solar systems and galaxies there are. And that's not counting the possibility of other universes. I'm really not much compared to all that." Lance gave a sad smile. "And when, if, we do get home, it's not like I have anything to brag about, you know? Sure, yeah, I did and am doing all of this, but I don't exactly stand out within us. I'm not smart like Pidge or Hunk, I don't have the same leadership qualities as Shiro, and I'm not magical like Allura. Coran… is eccentric, but that's what makes him special you know? And you, Keith, you really are a good pilot. Not to mention how great you are at fighting. I'm just… me."

Keith hadn't said much so far, wanting to listen to Lance instead, but what just left Lance's mouth changed that. "No." When Lance gave him a confused look, he repeated the word again. "No. You're not nothing, Lance… You're our sharpshooter. I know you don't get to showcase your skills often but you're deadly accurate and we all know that. Recently your ability to notice when something is off is what has gotten us through some hard battles. You're extremely empathetic, you've been there for me—and the others, more times than I can count. It makes you the most likeable paladin, most likeable being, out of everyone here. Who knows where we might be if we didn't have your hospitality, or you charm to win others over?"

"Guess that's all I'm good for though, right? Charming people," Lance spat the words out like venom.

"F—sh—sorry," Keith wanted to pull at his hair, "I didn't mean it like that. You're even more than all of what I said, Lance," and I wish I had the words to tell you, Keith finished in his head. He wished he could show Lance how truly special he was to him, but Keith had never been good at showing affection, and he was afraid that trying it now could just screw things up. Suddenly Keith remembered what Lance had shared about himself a while ago. Everyone was talking, passing time, and he mentioned that when he was younger and feeling upset, whichever family member he was with at the time would hug him. It was his mother more often than not, and those hugs became less frequent over the years, but it still always got him feeling better.

Keith had never hugged Lance one-on-one, so he wasn't sure on the positioning of things, but he turned to face him, and slowly extracted Lance's arms from his legs. Although Lance was unsure of what was going on, he didn't move or pull away when Keith touched him. With Lance no longer closed in on himself, Keith scooted closer and wrapped his arms around his chest. Lance jumped initially, but then realised what was happening and hugged Keith back, pulling him closer. They stayed like that for a while, relishing the touch, and they remained the same way when they conversed again.

"Sorry," Lance said into Keith's ear, and Keith shivered when he realised they were that close, "I don't mean to be such a downer. It's probably really awkward for you." Lance laughed a bit, and Keith felt it as well.

"It's okay Lance, your emotions shouldn't be a burden. It's nothing to be sorry or ashamed about."

Lance pulled away from Keith so he could look him in the eyes and smile. "Thanks for being there for me."

"Always." Keith replied in a volume low enough so that Lance wouldn't hear.

This was it. They were going back to Earth. There had been a big farewell event, and then a much smaller one between the team. There was reminiscence, and laughter, and promises that were made, then crying, and hugging and now they were heading to their hangars for the last time in a very long time. Allura and Coran had been adamant about them each taking their own lions back. They knew the risk that came with it, but there would be no evil requiring Voltron in the foreseeable future, and they had gotten Pidge to incorporate the cloaking device, as well as a shrinking device, on every lion, so they wouldn't be seen. The Alteans told them repeatedly that they were welcome back at any time, and that the lions would be able to signal to them that they were coming. In return, the paladins promised that they would be available should they be needed.

Keith and Lance stood in the space between their respective doors, and kind of just looked at each other. It wasn't like they would never see each other again, but it was different. On Earth they'd be Lance and Keith, not Lance who was the paladin of the blue lion and Keith who was the paladin of the red lion. They didn't exactly live close to each other though, so who knew when they would see each other next. It was weird.

"So, what will you do now?" Lance asked, in an attempt to start a conversation.

"I don't know. I'll just figure it out as I go, you know?" And it was true. Keith didn't have any family to visit or friends to catch up with. He wasn't looking forward to going 'home' as much as the others.

Lance looked dissatisfied with his answer, face scrunching up, but he didn't say anything.

Truthfully, there was some kind of tension between the two boys. They hadn't talked much at all up until now. It was sad, and it upset both of them deeply. Ever since that one morning before that one liberation parade their dynamics changed. They tried to push it past themselves, forgetting that it ever happened but it didn't work. At first, they were still kissing, still sleeping in the same bed and being touchy-feely with each other although it was more awkward. Those interactions weren't necessarily without feeling, but it was as if they were being extremely careful, like it was the first time they were doing those things. It became obvious they continued for the sake of keeping up somewhat of an act around the others, but they seemed to know something was wrong, so they dropped the act. Keith no longer came to Lance's room, Lance no longer kissed Keith when he saw him first thing in the morning, there were no more lingering touches. They stopped bickering, and the silence that fell between them was foreign.

Keith dealt with this by throwing himself into training, even though there was no need for it anymore. Still, with everything around him changing he needed some familiarity. He didn't go easy on himself either, he set the training system at its highest, even though he had only fought against the Gladiator robot at that level a few times at most. When he felt himself losing, or that it was too difficult for him to keep up, he didn't back down and disengage like he used to. Instead, he took the hits, receiving plenty of bruises, and kept fighting. While fighting he couldn't let his mind wander, he had to stay on guard constantly. This worked well at pushing Lance out of his mind, and the fact that the dreamy, cheerful memories he made with him suddenly made his heart ache and throat choke up whenever he thought of them. He felt sadly nostalgic thinking about it, even though they hadn't officially ended anything and were still seeing each other every day. The pain from each hit, cut, or bruise worked well at diverting the attention from the pain Keith felt whenever he saw Lance's face indifferent, and sometimes drop, upon seeing him. It was easy dealing avoidance, from both parts, in person. It didn't feel great, but he could get by. The worst thing was the dreams. Apparently, some part of his brain was really not with the program, because almost every night Keith would dream about being with Lance again. Sometimes, it was just another day in space and they were sparring together. Other times, they would be back on Earth and going on a proper date. One time it was back when they were at the Garrison and it got sort of weird. Occasionally they were… inappropriate, and caused Keith to wake up embarrassed, face flushed. Most of the time, though, it was devastating to awaken. He'd try to force himself back to sleep, chasing the dreams where everything was okay and easy and made sense. He couldn't, and had to deal with the reality where he could no longer feel Lance's warmth. He'd lie in bed for a while longer, cry out some tears, try to remember what Lance felt like, before plastering on a mask and going about his day.

He spent most of his days before leaving space either in his room, or at the training deck. He still ate his meals with everyone else and hung out with them when everyone was together, but other than that he didn't do a whole lot else. It was obvious it upset the team, if he could even call them that now, but he wasn't up for keeping any appearances. Later on he went and apologised to everyone individually, simultaneously thanking them for all they did and telling them what they meant to him. He did that for everyone except Lance, he couldn't bring himself to do so, and he suspected the other boy knew it.

Lance, on the other hand, threw himself into interactions with other beings. Honestly, during his time with Keith, he had spent a lot less time with Hunk and Pidge, as well as everyone else, so he told himself he was making up for it now. What he definitely wasn't doing, was trying to distract himself from Keith. It wouldn't have worked anyways, every time he made a quip he immediately thought he had to tell it to Keith later, and sometimes someone would say something reminding him of how Keith spoke and suddenly everything hurt all over again. Aside from that, it was nice spending time with his friends. Even if they kept flashing worried glances at him, or alluding to the topic of Keith without ever directly asking. He liked that about them, if he didn't say anything about it they wouldn't push. And then, at the end of the day, once everything was done and dusted Lance made his way to Hunk's room. Lance was avoiding being alone. If he had no one beside him and no other surrounding noise it meant he was alone with his thoughts. With his feelings. So, the first few times, he had sleepovers with Hunk. It was something they had occasionally done before the fall of the Galra Empire, and it was always fun. If it was still early in the night, Pidge would join in with them too before leaving to sleep in her own room, saying that theirs were too empty for comfort. Their activities didn't vary much, but it kept them up, and Lance liked that. By the time they finally went to bed he was too exhausted to think about anything else. After a while though, Hunk said they should stop the sleepovers for now. He wanted to sleep early, and he could also tell Lance was avoiding something. He didn't specify what he thought it was, but he did think that Lance shouldn't avoid it at the expense of his health or happiness. Lance, after putting up an argument, relented and started going to bed when everyone else did.

He never fell asleep right away though. He kept thinking about the last time he shared a bed with Keith, and how neither of them knew it'd be their last. He tried to remember how Keith felt against him, how they slept so close he could hear and feel him breathing. He tried to remember how they kissed, how Keith would tangle his fingers in Lance's hair and bite at his lip, and how he sounded when out of breath. And their hugs, how Keith would tuck his head under Lance's chin and how it kind of tickled and how he felt so warm. He tried to remember it all, but it felt like a distant memory, something foreign, and he cried himself to sleep over how the efforts he made to commit everything to his mind were in vain.

With nothing else to say and the silence becoming a bit too much, the two boys shared an awkward hug, then walked into their doors. Along with leaving space, they were leaving their relationship—whatever it was—behind too.

After Lance had finally, and strenuously, passed the Final Inferno in Killbot Phantasm I and finished the game for the first time, a New Game Plus mode became unlocked. Lance was ecstatic, because it meant he didn't have to start completely from scratch, his characters would have the same statistics as when the game was completed. He also discovered some expansion areas that were hidden and inaccessible before. He was having a great time finding and unlocking new items, and he thought that maybe he could find all the collectibles and one-hundred percent the game in this playthrough, but then he was blocked off from entering one of the cells. He didn't understand why, so he just backtracked and came back but it did nothing. Frustrated, he saved and restarted the game, thinking it had glitched, but that didn't change anything either. Finally, after some hair-pulling moments of anger and inspecting every detail on the screen, Lance noticed a carving in the wall showing a big '2' above two characters. The moment he registered what it meant he almost turned the console off out of anger. He had spent so long wondering what he did wrong and why he couldn't access the area when it was simply because it was a multiplayer section. Looking back, he had no idea how he missed the inscription. He sighed and paused the game, heading off to find Pidge.

Pidge was at the training deck learning Altean, and Lance wondered how she managed to kick Keith out. She was getting pretty good at the language, and having the safety on probably helped, which she had to hack into the system to change.

"Hey, Pidgey!" Lance sauntered in.

"Hello, Lance. I told you to stop calling me that. What do you want?" Pidge barely paid attention to him, and was muttering Altean words under her breath during her break.

"Why do you think I'm here for something? Maybe I just wanted to visit you. Ask you to teach me some Altean words," Lance was bluffing, and he knew Pidge knew it. It was still fun to pretend though.

"Yeah, but you gave up on Altean after you failed to pronounce Klanmüirl, and you only ever use that tone and nickname when you need something from me." Lance was proud of how easily Pidge said the word, remembering how she had struggled with it at the start.

"Okay, you got me. I finished Killbot Phantasm! It took me forever but I completed it," Pidge perked up and looked impressed, causing Lance to smile. "And then I started playing NG+, but I got to this area I couldn't access because it was multiplayer only. Play it with me?"

Pidge hummed, and made a move as if she was getting up, but then turned to face the hologram that popped up. "I'd love to, good job for finishing by the way, but I'm busy right now."

Lance let out an indignant squawk, unable to believe he had been rejected. "Busy doing what? Come on, you were so excited when we got the game and set it up."

"Uh, learning? I know I was excited about it then but this isn't so bad either, and it could actually be helpful. Plus, I think you ended up liking it a lot more than I did. So no, can't play, sorry."

"What do I do now?" Lance said it out loud, but he was moreso just asking himself. Pidge had commenced her lesson and he doubted she was listening to his musings. "Hunk is working on something so I can't ask him…" Lance stood still for a moment longer, pondering.

"I think Keith's free," Pidge called out, startling Lance, "I saw him not too long ago just walking around aimlessly." Lance snickered at the image of Keith brooding around the castle after being kicked from the deck, then considered the idea. It seemed like a ruse, especially with Pidge's 'nonchalant' tone, but Lance was so desperate for a gaming partner he didn't dwell on it. He shouted a quick goodbye to Pidge and walked out to find Keith.

When Lance spotted Keith, he called out and waved for the boy to come over.

"What do you want?" Keith asked, causing Lance to laugh. "Really? You called me here just to laugh at me?"

"No, it's just that Pidge said the exact same thing when I talked to her. Anyways, you want to game with me?"

Keith mustn't have been expecting that. He kind of froze, and just stared at Lance. Lance paused as well, after registering what he had just proposed. They didn't work like that. Their relationship was strictly professional, and while they tended to sometimes share personal details or insecurities about themselves, afterwards they always acted as if it had never happened and they never brought up the conversations again. They had never done anything together for leisure. Lance realised he had probably broken some unspoken rule of theirs, and had prepared to apologise when Keith broke the silence. "I, uh, don't really know how to play?"

This time, it was Lance who was surprised. He never really thought about the fact that Keith wouldn't have played video games before, he just kind of assumed it was something everyone had done in their lifetime. It made sense though, thinking about it. And then he was hit with sadness, silently making a vow to show Keith everything about gaming. "That's okay! I'll teach you. You probably won't have to do much either, just help me out with battles." Keith, interested at the mention of fighting, nodded and followed Lance into his room.

Lance didn't think about the potential awkwardness, but it was there now. The lights were off, as they always were when Lance gamed, with only the glowing of the screen and other equipment lighting the room. It didn't change the atmosphere at all when Lance was alone, but all of a sudden with Keith in the room it felt oddly intimate. Which said… something, but Lance didn't want to think about it. The aforementioned boy stood at the entrance of Lance's room, looking unsure of what to do with himself. It struck Lance that perhaps this was the first time Keith had been in anyone else's room, aside from Shiro's.

"You should, um, sit down." Lance gestured to the spot beside him.

As Keith sat and made himself comfortable Lance set up the second controller. He hadn't done it often so he still had some difficulty, and with Keith watching him he felt pressured. Still, he managed and handed it over to Keith's hands. He launched up the game, loaded his profile then got Keith to set up his own. He went over what each of the buttons did, and witnessed Keith struggle with pressing the correct ones. It was amusing, Keith looked different, and Lance found himself watching Keith instead of the screen. After Keith finished setting up, Lance opened his save file and taught Keith the basic controls—how to move, jump, fight and block. Then, they entered the room Lance was locked out of before.

Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those cells where there were no obstacles. There were enemies, and quite a lot of them. Lance fought them, forgetting about Keith until he had lost all his lives. Without the extra support, no matter how bad it was, Lance soon died too and they were sent back to the previous save point. Lance turned to Keith, ready to explain strategies, but found the boy staring forwards with his lips pinched.

"Sorry." It was short, grunted out, and Lance almost missed it.

"Sorry?" He wasn't sure if he was asking for clarification, or apologising himself.

"I ruined your game. I died, and you died, and now you have to start again."

"Oh," was all Lance could say. When Keith finally turned to him, looking frustrated—either at himself or Lance, he couldn't tell—he scrambled for words. "Ah! I don't mean it like that. I meant it as in, 'oh, so that's all you're worried about'. Don't worry, buddy! This happens all the time, you have no clue how many times I had to restart, trying to get to the key for one of the doors. You're fine, just a bit bad with manoeuvring," Keith narrowed his eyes at him, and he rushed to speak again. "Not that it can't be fixed! I was going to go over strats—strategies," Lance explained upon seeing Keith's confused expression, "with you, and you can play the tutorial to get a proper feel."

It turned out that Keith was as fast at learning how to play video games as he was with flying. He got the hang of the game in no time, and although he couldn't be compared to Lance, he made up for it in passion. He did that thing where he tilted the controller as if it'd do anything, and yelled at the characters on the screen when something went wrong. It made Lance laugh. He was seeing a completely different side to Keith, and it made him think that he really was interesting.

Playing with him was that way as well. Soon, Lance and Keith were both shouting at the screen as well as at each other during intense battles. When one of them screwed up while completing a puzzle they had been at for ages, it always resulted in bickering. A lot of their insults or comments weren't even related to how they played the game, and that just made everything all the more ridiculous. They thought so too, clutching their stomachs and crying with laughter at the end. When they were on a roll, they worked really well together. Without communicating they seemed to know what to do, which strategies to play out. Within no time, they completed the game together. There were shouts in celebration and high fives all round. They came down from their high and smiled at each other.

"Good job, partner."

Eventually, it became somewhat of a tradition between them. If Lance managed to get his hands on a new game and there was a multiplayer mode, he'd play it with Keith before even considering anyone else. Sometimes he'd ask Keith if he wanted to come over to play something on his own, and he always did. They didn't really have meaningful conversations in those situations, but still talked nonetheless. It was usually about the game and what they thought about it, but other times it was about the most random things. Which of their favourite animals would win in a fight; how they avoided Iverson back at the Garrison; whether they'd rather toes for fingers or fingers for toes.

It wasn't useful information, perse, but Lance enjoyed knowing these things about Keith. He liked how carefree and comfortable they were with each other now. They were no longer just teammates or distant friends who only had conversations about either surface level or in-depth things; they could actually enjoy each other's company. And with the way Keith sought him out when he wanted a partner to spar with, or someone to compete with against something, Lance figured the feeling was mutual.

Getting settled back onto Earth was something, to say the least.

Keith stayed with Shiro, but it wasn't like he had a choice. Shiro was adamant about Keith living with him, saying that he wouldn't properly take care of himself otherwise, which wasn't wrong. It actually turned out better than expected; Shiro insisted they ate their meals together but other than that he was left to his own devices. Which consisted of brooding—so much so that even he himself admitted it—and a whole lot of nothing. He didn't have family or friends to catch up with like the others, so he mostly just sat around and worked out. He thought that maybe he should try catch up on what was happening right now and everything he had missed, but that required a lot of effort and it wasn't like he cared before anyways. Shiro later suggested it was probably Lance's influence, and he promptly changed the topic.

Despite having lived alone for so long and trusting barely anyone before becoming a part of Team Voltron, Keith suddenly found it hard adjusting to being solitary again. He missed the liveliness at the castle, because even though he may not have been around someone at all times, there were still people out and about doing their own things. Back at Shiro's apartment, it was only the two of them, and Shiro kept to himself almost as much as Keith did, so it was mostly silent. On the days Shiro went out, the atmosphere seemed dead, and Keith's presence was like an intrusion. Shiro tried to get him to go out as well, whether it was just for a run or to go grocery shopping, but as of yet he hadn't taken him up on the offer. He needed time to get used to it again—being alone. Around the first few days he could still feel the connection from mind melding, so it was harder to repress any thoughts of being around someone, of being around them, or him, but that pull lessened over time and Keith became fully in control of his thoughts.

The only time Keith wasn't in control was when he was unconscious. While he had full reign of things when lucid, while he was asleep, anything went. This usually came in the form of nightmares. They came back, subtly, so Keith didn't notice at first. There would be this odd aspect in his dreams, and then his good dreams would end badly, until they started that way as well. He mentioned it offhandedly to Shiro, who became so worried, who offered to share a bed with him if it'd help, but Keith didn't accept. A lot of the time Keith couldn't even remember what they were about anyways. He just knew that he wasn't safe, and he was fighting again and he had to get away but he was tired and it was dark and—

Keith jolted awake. He launched up into a sitting position, heaving, trying to catch his breath. When his heartbeat finally seemed to calm, he lowered his hand to his side but felt coldness instead of warmth. He turned his head, heart lurching when he saw that no one was there. Where was Lance? Did they take him? No, that wasn't possible, the alarms would've gone off, Keith would've noticed, Lance would've called out. Keith scrambled out of bed on autopilot and sprinted to Shiro's room shouting his name.

"Shiro! We have to alert—it's Lance, he's—I don't—" Keith didn't even know where to start, a feeling of utter terror had settled down in his stomach and he was starting to feel sick. He held the side of Shiro's door frame, breathing heavily.

"Keith?" came Shiro's mumbled reply. In the darkness Keith could see him sit up, rubbing at his eyes. Keith didn't understand why he seemed so unpanicked; Lance was in danger, and he didn't seem concerned at all. He was about to launch at him when Shiro flicked a switch.

It was the yellow that snapped Keith back to reality. They didn't have yellow lights in the castle, they were always blue. Now that the room was somewhat lit, Keith could clearly see that he was not where he thought they were. He was in Shiro's room, his actual room, because they were on Earth. They left space weeks ago, and Lance wasn't here anymore. They hadn't communicated since leaving. Turning his gaze to where the light came from, Keith realised Shiro had switched on his bedside lamp. Shiro was looking at him too, with this look, and Keith knew he had made a big mistake. He started backtracking, grumbling out some kind of half assed explanation, when Shiro's stern voice cut through the silence.

"No. You're staying here tonight. I don't care you if don't want to talk about it, I won't make you. I don't care if you won't sleep, or if it means I won't sleep either. You're not okay, Keith. And I know… I'm not him, but that doesn't mean I can't comfort you. Please," Shiro extended his hand, Keith noticed it was his human one, and for the first time, Keith accepted.

Keith let himself be held like he had before in the past, and he indulged in it for a moment before pulling back to speak. He wanted to tell Shiro about it, whom he had trusted more than anyone, whom he had shared with before, but this time he just couldn't. It was too intimate, and it had been just between them, and even though he wanted to try, nothing but tears came. Somewhere in between it all, Keith let out a cruel chuckle when he realised this was the first time he had really cried since Shiro was announced to be missing. Eventually, it tired him out, and Keith slept soundly for the first time since the nightmares began.

That had been the final straw. The next day, in the middle of the afternoon, Shiro sat him down and gave him a look like he was about to be scolded.

"Look, I'm not going to guess or say what I think this is about, but it's eating away at you. I can tell, and I know it's going to get worse if you don't do anything about it."

"I can't."

"Who said that? You shouldn't have to suffer, Keith, and you deserve good things no matter what you tell yourself otherwise. You deserve to be happy." Shiro then gave a soft smile, patted Keith on the head and went to prepare dinner. Keith, having spent so much time with Shiro, knew what the gesture meant. It meant that Shiro wanted Keith to think about it, but wouldn't bring up the topic again unless Keith did so first, or it was getting out of hand.

Initially, after the words left Shiro's mouth Keith wanted to brush them aside. He didn't want to give it a second thought. There would be no use in trying, he knew what Lance's answer would be. Besides, what could he even say? 'Hi, I developed the biggest crush on you when we were up in space and I know you don't feel the same but it won't go away. Oh, and I keep having nightmares because you're not sleeping beside me'? That didn't seem like the greatest conversation starter. So, Keith stopped thinking about it, pushing it to the back of his mind. Except, it kept itching forward. To add onto that, Shiro barely made any conversation at dinner, as if he was keeping it quiet in order for Keith to think, so in the end Keith just gave in.

That night, Keith opened his phone and dialled the number he had memorised and almost contacted in countless ways over the months. Then, he took a deep breath, and with a shaking hand, pressed the call button.

Lance didn't have to think about what to do first back on Earth. He had family to catch up with, lots of them, and on other days he met up with Pidge and Hunk, or with some other friends. It kept him busy, preoccupied, and away from any thoughts that were threatening to wander into his mind. But at the end of the day, when everyone was gone, when it was just him, he was left defenceless. He was surrounded by so many people during the day, that when he was alone it just felt empty. It didn't help that in those moments of emptiness Lance thought back to space, and how if they were still here Keith would probably show up at his door any minute, and if not he would go find him himself. But they weren't in space, they were on Earth, and Lance hadn't heard from or seen the red paladin since leaving. Normally he would've just contacted the boy first, but he didn't want to, just in case Keith was relishing in time spent without him, so he decided to wait for him to reach out. And if he didn't, well, he'd get by.

That was, if the dreams weren't considered. God, the dreams. When they were set in space it was bearable, because Lance was able to tell that it was a dream, and go about the rest of it with a sentimental feeling. Sometimes wild things happened, because it was space, and it was fun. He liked it when Keith laughed, and when he was the one to make him do so. One of his favourite dreams had been when they visited a planet with these creatures they could ride. Keith, despite the cool and edgy exterior, was hesitant until Lance said he could sit behind him and wrap his arms around his waist. He meant it as a joke, but Keith agreed without missing a beat and beamed wholeheartedly as if that had been his plan all along. Sneaky bastard. Truthfully, and dream-Lance would never tell dream-Keith this, but he was a bit scared as well. So when the creature lurched, throwing Lance and Keith forwards, he couldn't be blamed for screaming loudly. Or for yelling at it to stop repeatedly, even though he knew it couldn't understand. Keith apparently found it amusing. He laughed at each of Lance's screams—a beautiful sound, but not one Lance necessarily wanted to hear at his expense—and shouted in glee when the creature did it again. Apparently, Keith was having fun. So much for being afraid. Maybe he did it on purpose, maybe he wanted to see Lance suffer. When the creature calmed down, slowing down to something resembling a trot, Keith wrapped his arms even tighter around Lance and pressed his head between the back of Lance's neck and shoulder. Without seeing it, Lance knew Keith was smiling, and decided that the 'suffering' may not have been that bad after all. It was nice to see what space would've been like without the war and fighting. Maybe someday he'd go back to experience it, and that was as far as he'd let his mind go before he could think about whom he wanted to go with.

The dreams set on Earth were what caused tears when he awoke, what left his heart craving and whole being aching. They were just so real, and Lance wanted to believe they were the realities in another universe. Some of them were set in the strangest timeframes, with seemingly no correlation to what had happened in real life whatsoever. Others started from where they were currently at; they would get into contact again—who reached out first alternated—start talking, and end up in a proper relationship. Sometimes they would stay distant for a while, other times they jumped right into it. A few ended up with them not being together again, but this time forever, which was like rubbing salt into a wound, showing Lance that even if they rekindle it still may not work out. Every time he woke up from the good dreams he'd check his phone with hope that there'd be a text from Keith on it, and his heart would sink when there wasn't. Waking up from the bad dreams left him sort of reckless, strangely enough. He wanted to just throw everything into trying because hey, it may not work out anyways. But when he sat, staring at the blinking cursor on his screen, he couldn't think of a single thing to say.

Lance knew that he would see Keith eventually. Before leaving space, the paladins had made promises to meet up after properly getting settled down back on Earth. No one forms a bond like they did and just never see each other again. It was horrible the first few days without them, almost painful. The distance pulled at his mind, and it wasn't anything he had experienced before. He didn't understand why he was getting a headache now, because before there could be galaxies between them and he'd feel nothing. Perhaps the mind meld was being severed, and this was a part of the process.

At the start Lance could almost see what the others were doing, and he wondered if the same thing was happening to them. He missed them a lot, but he would see them all soon enough. It wasn't the same with Keith though. He didn't want to wait until everyone got together to see him, but he had no other choice. If Keith didn't contact him, then that was the only chance he had. Knowing what Keith was up to made him feel a bit at ease though, at least he was taking care of himself, and if he tried hard enough it would seem like he was there with him.

Lance tapped into the meld whenever he could, but in hindsight it wasn't a good idea. He was supposed to be moving on, not trying to extend the limited time he had with Keith. It made him happy when he did it, but afterwards he was a mess. He couldn't stop thinking about the way things were, what he could've done to make things better, how he should've been someone Keith could fall for. It left him crying, and upset, but he decided it was worth all the pain if it meant he could be with Keith again, if only in his imagination. Slowly, however, the bond faded, and with it, his connection to Keith.

It was easier to move forward then, as Keith wasn't constantly in Lance's thoughts. Lance found new ways to distract himself; he played with his nieces and nephews, cooked with his mum, met up with Hunk and Pidge. Things were beginning to feel normal again. Lance didn't flinch upon seeing red, or a cropped jacket, or a bad hairstyle. His mind didn't go to anyone specific when he started catching up on all those games.

That didn't mean it was perfect though, there were days where he'd spend too long in the shower, standing with his head hung and the spray of water hitting the back of his neck, tears mixing with it down the drain. Sometimes he would stay up late on his phone, scrolling through the photo album of pictures others had sent him of Keith, wondering what he should've differently so that he could be there smiling beside him. He would open up his messages, type out a text to Keith, delete it, and retype it, over and over again, until giving up and just shutting his phone down.

But even though it got bad, even though Lance sometimes felt like he was back at square one, he was still making progress. He was doing well. And then one day he accepted a call without checking who it was from first to hear a voice that sounded like home.

"Lance… let's meet."

Keith was having what other people called an off day. Personally, he didn't call it anything. He liked to ignore the fact his mood plummeted and wasn't coming back up. He was more on edge, and got agitated more easily. He couldn't make it past the second level of the training sequence, mind too distracted, and he stormed out of the deck when the system shut down, effectively forcing him out. He knew the others noticed too, some were giving him confused glances and others just looked curious, amused. He didn't try to offer any kind of explanation and just let them come up with their own ideas.

Not knowing what else to do in the castle, Keith wanted to take Red out and fly around for a while, but realised halfway through changing that it was too dangerous, considering how many enemies they still had. This only aggravated him even more, and after getting dressed back into his casual clothes he settled for just sitting in the lounge. When he got there he was the only one, which he found odd. They weren't doing anything important today, and when that happened there was usually someone in the room, hanging out. It probably would've been better that way though, he didn't want to piss off or unintentionally hurt anyone with how he was being today. Which was why, when Lance walked into the room, he froze. Lance didn't say anything, didn't even look at him, so Keith didn't speak either, but his eyes tracked Lance as he moved. He made his way to the opposite end, then sat directly across Keith. When Lance met his eyes, he turned his head away. This seemed too deliberate, like it was set up, and he was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

"So. What's up?" Lance asked, his tone surprising Keith. It was casual, and Keith couldn't tell whether he was trying to discreetly ask about his mood or not. He looked up to find Lance sitting comfortably as well, he wasn't leaning forwards and getting closer to Keith, he was laid back. It made Keith feel weird again, so he stayed silent, not knowing how to respond or what to do. "It's okay if you don't want to talk. I can do that. Unless you'd prefer silence. Tell me if you want that, or, like, gesture, if you'd rather that. I just want you to feel comfortable. If you'd rather go somewhere else where no one will bother you, I'd suggest the observatory. It's where I always go if I'm feeling down, and I've never really seen anyone else there." Lance waited to see if Keith would say anything before starting on a story.

As Keith listened to Lance talk, watching his animated gestures, something nagged at him. Here Lance was, trying to make him feel at ease, comforting him without explicitly doing so, and he couldn't even thank the guy. His mood was fighting against the emotions Lance was drawing out. He wanted to say something, anything, but he couldn't even form the most basic words. The silence from his part was getting to him, and he didn't want Lance to feel like he had to be here, putting up with him, giving without receiving. Finally, just as Lance was about to reach the resolution of his anecdote, words managed to tumble out of Keith.

"I'm afraid that everyone around me will someday leave." He said it without any flow, with his eyes closed, and barely made out the last words before his throat closed up. Keith had no clue why he shared this information with Lance, of all people, and he didn't know why that was what came out of his mouth. He trusted that Lance wouldn't tell anyone else though.

It was kind of a thing between them apparently, sharing things they wanted to tell someone but not necessarily say to anyone. A pressure had been lifted, but now he was anxious as to how Lance would react. When he opened his eyes again he saw Lance seem taken aback for a moment, hands frozen, and then he moved to sit beside Keith so suddenly he was afraid he'd get whiplash.

"Don't," and Keith couldn't tell where this was going, "say that." Keith stayed silent again, and for the nth time Lance surprised him. He took Keith's hands into his own, prompting Keith to look at him, then stared dead into his eyes. "Keith…" and there was so much raw emotion put into that one word, into his name, that Keith thought he might cry. In fact, tears started welling up.

"Sorry, I didn't—"

"Don't apologise either," Lance's words were firm, "is this why you've been feeling off today?"

Not really wanting to talk about it, Keith gave a hesitant nod. Lance, who could apparently read him like an open book, nodded back but didn't say anything. Keith then felt something on his hands, looked down to find that Lance was still holding onto them, and had started playing with his fingers. It didn't seem like a conscious thing either, Lance looked unfocused, pondering. It was sight to Keith, as he was someone who had never really been physically affectionate with anyone. He kept staring down at their hands, watching their fingers interlace, trying to stay still so as not to disturb Lance's movements. He was doing quite well, until Lance started thumbing at his palm, and the ticklish sensation caused him to jerk. That snapped Lance out of his thoughts, and his eyes immediately followed to where Keith's were. After noticing and realising what he had been doing, Lance quickly pulled his hands away. Keith immediately missed the warmth, and although he tried to replicate Lance's actions to bring it back, he found that his own touch just wasn't the same.

"Wh—oh m—sorry, I'm so—" Lance looked so flustered, stumbling over his words to apologise, when Keith didn't even want that at all.

"Who's the one apologising now?" Keith cut him off with a smirk.

Lance gasped in exaggerated shock, grinned, and then went back to being concerned.

"You won't be alone again,I'm not going anywhere," Lance sounded so confident, so sure, that Keith couldn't help but believe him. He nodded and gave a small smile.

"Well then, tell me the end of that story."

So Lance did. And afterwards, Keith surprised him and himself by sharing the few memories he had of his own family. Their interaction made Keith forget he had been in a bad mood at all.

It was the first thing either of them had said to the other in months.

Lance, surprised to the point where he couldn't even freak out, managed a reply, which led to them they planning when to meet and where. There was nothing more to be said afterwards, so Keith hung up. That was when the shock came. Lance brought his phone down in a daze and just sat on his bed, unmoving. Keith had called him. Keith called him, and wanted to meet up with him, and he agreed. But why? It wasn't really like they had any unfinished business to take of. Or maybe Keith thought he wasn't clear enough last time and wanted to clarify that he did not want Lance. God, what if he wanted to see Lance just to dump him a second time? Lance was starting to regret making plans, but he couldn't take them back. Besides, a big part of him was nagging to see Keith.

They planned to meet up soon, sooner than Keith was prepared for. But he also knew that if he didn't go as soon as possible, he wouldn't end up going at all. There were still a few days before then though, and Keith spent all of it thinking about what could happen. He decided that he wouldn't confess, at least not until he could gauge the situation and get a feel for Lance's emotions. He also didn't try to plan out a speech, or come up with things to say, because he knew that once he saw Lance all thoughts would be gone from his mind. After making the plans, Keith let Shiro know that he'd be going out on that day. Shiro didn't specifically ask what it was about, but from the looks he gave it seemed like he already knew. He then smirked as if to say "I told you so", and all Keith could do was roll his eyes, but he was feeling optimistic too.

Finally, after waiting for what seemed like forever yet also like nothing, the day they would see each other again came. They decided to meet up in the evening, as it would be too sunny and hot during the day. The fact that they were going somewhere hilly with a lot of trees meant it would be quite cool then. The point was, they would be in the right state of mind to talk, at least without any outside distractions.

As Lance and Keith made their way to the meeting point, they coped with their nervousness in different ways. Lance fiddled with buttons on his jacket, snapping and unsnapping them; Keith pulled at the ends of his gloves, feeling his hands becoming sweaty. They came from different directions, so when they each turned the corner they came face to face, freezing when they made eye contact. There was still a great distance between them, but their view of the other crystal clear.

The first thought both boys had upon seeing the other went something along the lines of "wow, he looks good". It didn't mean that they didn't look good before, but fighting everyday put a toll on their physical and mental beings. Now that they were back on Earth, they were able to properly rest, and recover from their time up in space. They looked healthier, and actually resembled teenagers, not children who were forced into adulthood prematurely. After taking in the other's presence, and realising that yes, they were actually here, they slowly made their way over to each other.

They stood at an arm's length, and to any outsider it would seem like they were strangers. It was worse than that, probably. They didn't look comfortable around each other, one was transferring their weight from foot to foot and the other was holding their elbow and looking away. What hurt most for them was that they were so close, after so long, and they couldn't even touch each other. There wasn't even a hug, or a handshake, too afraid that if they made contact they would never let go.

"Hey Lance," Keith decided to make a move—this was his idea after all.

"Hey man." When Lance gave a small smile with his response, Keith fell all over again right then and there. Perhaps in another universe they wouldn't have gone to space, and would've gotten together without any complications. Unfortunately, that was not this universe.

"So, want to take a walk?" It came out anything but casual, and Keith cringed, but he didn't want to just stand at the entrance and do nothing. Lance nodded, and as they headed off, Keith wondered why he didn't reply with words. He thought that maybe Lance didn't want to be here, talking to him, so he decided he would get it over with as quickly as he could.

Walking didn't get rid of any awkwardness, and all they could manage was small conversation. They talked about how their days were, and commented on what was around them. They didn't walk with an aim, but they ended up at the top of a hill, where the sun had just about finished setting. It gave a pretty nice view of their surroundings; they could see families and friends below them, a sea of trees to their side, and most of all, they had the clearest view of the sky and stars. After sitting, they were suddenly reminded of their time up in space. All they could think about was that time in the observatory, when Lance was feeling homesick and Keith had comforted him. They had their first hug then. They couldn't help but compare it to now, and to how their dynamic had changed so drastically. They missed it; they missed it so much, and it ached.

"How've you been?" Keith asked after some time.

"Okay, you know. It's been something settling back in," Lance was looking at the stars, thinking that maybe it would create the illusion that they were still fine. It helped him be more open, which he was finding hard to do when he was looking at Keith. Too many emotions surged forward then, and in order to maintain some control he had to look away.

"Yeah? What about the people, is there anyone special?" Keith didn't know what he would do if the answer was yes, but he couldn't bear not knowing even more. He realised that he didn't even know if Lance had been with someone before going to space, or if he liked anyone. Maybe they reconciled, and were happy together. Maybe Keith had never been a part of the equation at all. If that was the case, Keith decided he wouldn't burden Lance with his feelings.

"Special? Of course. You know how much I missed my family. They were so worried for me when I came back, and I just know they were even more concerned when I was gone. I feel horrible for putting them through something like that, but I can't change anything, so I'm just glad we're reunited now." Lance had been riddled with guilt when he first saw his family; a lot of them looked like they hadn't been sleeping well, and even the younger ones didn't look as bright as they should be. They concealed their feelings, pretending that they weren't fretting over his wellbeing while he was gone. Lance didn't know if they thought he was dead or not, but he didn't want to find out.

"Oh, that's good. I'm happy for you…" Keith paused, because Lance obviously didn't understand his connotation. After deliberating for a minute, he decided to clarify. "But I, uh, actually meant romantically. Is there anyone special… romantically."

"No, Keith," Lance snapped his head to face Keith, and looked at him fiercely, "there's no one. There hasn't been anyone since you." Lance's voice was now laced with annoyance and anger, causing Keith to want to curl in on himself. Everything was going so, so, wrong. Then Lance dropped his volume, "or honestly, even before you," which caused Keith to jump, but the former blue paladin was already moving on. "Look," Lance pinched his nose, recomposing himself. "Why'd you call me out here? It's great seeing you and all, but it hurts, you know?"

"What are you talking about?" Forgetting any prior emotions, Keith was now only consumed with confusion, raising his eyebrows to express as much.

"Before the liberation parade? I tried to talk to you, to talk about us, and what would happen, but you just flat out ignored it, brushed it off. If you didn't want it to be a thing then I don't know why you would want it to be a thing now. You don't need to be lonely," Lance looked away again, voice suddenly small, "you could have anyone you wanted. Some of us don't have that luxury."

"What do you mean? Could you explain, please?" Keith felt stupid only asking questions, but he genuinely had no clue what was going on. There was only one liberation parade Lance could be talking about, and that day he was in a foul mood, and avoided Lance's words for the sake of not being rejected, not whatever Lance was implying.

"You're amazing, Keith. Don't you see that? You may not be extremely book smart, but you're street smart. You're strong, you're a survivor, and anyone would be lucky to have you in their life, by their side. You have more options now, you're free to be with whomever you want, or you don't have to be with anyone at all." This time Lance spoke in a slightly raised voice, as if mad that Keith was who he was.

"Okay," Keith matched Lance's tone and volume, "well what about you? You're so attractive, god, and you know it and wear it well. You have a heart of gold, and you're so compassionate. I could say the same thing about you, there are so many girls here, girls around our age; you don't have to be with someone you don't want to be with."

They went back and forth like that, continuously firing compliments at each other, but it didn't feel good at all. They were arguing, fighting against the other, knowing what the implications of their words were but too afraid to ask for confirmation, until finally, at the same time—

"So why?"

Keith answered first, wanting to finally say how he had felt for so long. "Lance… I only want you, and I've only ever wanted you. I ran that day because I didn't want you to tell me you didn't need me anymore. That whatever we had was over."

"Wait," Lance waved his hands, as if he misheard Keith, "what? That was not what I was going to do at all. I was afraid you would tell me you didn't need me anymore. But I had to do it and ask you how you saw us because I…" Lance took a deep breath in, as he was about to let it all out now. "Because I couldn't go on falling in love with you if you didn't feel the same way, not even just a little bit."

"Wh—" everything else Lance said flew by Keith, since he had zeroed in on a single word, "love?" Because he didn't understand, love—romantic love—was a strong emotion, it wasn't one he thought he'd ever feel, much less have someone feel that way about him.

"Yeah," Lance chuckled, hanging his head back and looking back up at the stars again, "I fell hard, huh?" He felt a lot freer now, despite the fact he still didn't know what Keith's response was going to be. It was good to be able to admit his feelings out loud, he hadn't realised what a toll it took on him to keep it all in.

"I don't know what to say," because this was the first time someone had confessed to him seriously. Yeah, he had people confessing before, but it was just to try get some action, or it was a joke to see how he'd react. He had never been in this position before, and had no clue how he was supposed to react. "You, um… I… I'm—"

"You don't have to say anything, I get it." Lance smiled at Keith. He had faced rejection before, and he could face it again. He could cry all he wanted about it later, but he had to put up a front now and pretend that it was okay. "At least I know now," and it hurt, even more than the first time when he didn't have a clear-cut answer.

"No!" Keith basically shouted, he had to explain himself before Lance took it the wrong way, again. "I—I'm not good words. I also—before we left space I went and had a private conversation with everyone about what they meant to me and how thankful I was for them. I didn't with you, but I'm going to try make up for it now. When we got back to Earth, it was hell without you. It was horrible without everyone, but especially you. I would enter a room and expect you to be there, smiling when you saw me. I thought I'd wake up to a morning kiss, and get a kiss goodnight. It was cold without your warmth, Lance. Shiro—I had a nightmare one time, a bad one, and he had to hold me but it just… it wasn't the same. It's not just those kinds of things though. I missed our bickering, our little fights, even being around you but not actually interacting with you. I just missed you Lance. I miss you," Keith ended in a soft voice. He didn't have to worry about whatever image he wasn't upholding, because Lance knew the real him. He could let Lance in; he had done so many times in the past, and he was doing it again now.

"Oh…" Lance was the one with nothing to say now. What Keith said, what he confessed, was a lot. It may have been different to what he said, but that didn't make it less genuine. And Lance knew it was the truth, he knew that Keith wouldn't joke about something like that as others had. He also realised, a bit belatedly, that it meant Keith felt the same way about him. He felt giddy, and knew his smile reflected it. "Me too," he replied dumbly, on a high, "I also—me too."

The two boys smiled at each other, but then broke eye contact, suddenly shy. They still hadn't made physical contact because for some reason it got awkward again, even though they now knew they shared the same feelings. Perhaps it was because they didn't think they'd get this far, and the fact that this was real seemed like a dream to them. Except it wasn't a mirage, or an illusion; this was their reality.

They settled for silence, stargazing, each with their own thoughts. Then, Lance slowly crept his hand towards Keith's and took hold. When they touched it was like they had never done so before, it was electric, and they suddenly felt so alive, as if being away from the other had been draining.

"So," Lance smiled stupidly again, but was excusable, he was happy. Keith liked him. Keith really liked him. All of those hard nights and angst he had gone through over this unrequited love, only to find that it was not unrequited at all. He couldn't wait to tell Hunk and Pidge about it, even if it'd subject him to endless teasing.

"So," Keith grinned back at Lance, feeling the lightest he had a long time. Lance did that to him though, and now he could do it over, and over, again. Lance made he feel good—good about himself, about life, just everything in general. And now he could do the same for him. But before that… "Lance, will you be my boyfriend?" Even though he knew what the answer would be, he still felt nervous asking.

"Yes! Of course, yes." Lance then scrunched his face up, thinking, and came up with his idea just as Keith began looking afraid, "although… We went through so much together, didn't we? I feel like we deserve something other than 'boyfriends'. How about 'space ranger partners'?"

"I love it," and Keith's expression was bright enough to light up the entire world.

"Hey," Lance plopped himself down next to Keith even though there was plenty of space elsewhere, "everyone else is busy right now doing other stuff but you seem like you're not, so hey… I guess."

"Hello…" Keith didn't look like he was asking for the company, but he also didn't push Lance away, so it was a win.

Lance didn't say any more, suddenly feeling awkward, and neither did Keith, so they just sat. After a moment, Keith went back to what he had been doing when Lance entered to room—he leaned back into the chair, hung his head back, and closed his eyes.

Keith looked… soft like that, Lance decided. In his waking moments Keith almost always looked as if he was ready to fight something or someone, and had rough edges around him. But now? Now he looked small, vulnerable, as if he had let all his walls down. Lance wondered what happened in his past that resulted in Keith being so jaded. That quality made him a hell of a pilot though, and it was no wonder Red wanted him to fly her.

Speaking of piloting, there was something Lance did every time after a mission or battle, and since Keith was the only one free, he had to do it with him. That fact made him almost want to forgo it completely, but he couldn't, it was too important.

"Hey," Lance prodded Keith to get his attention. Keith only hummed in response, and Lance wondered if he had fallen asleep. He poked the boy this time, and Keith grunted before sitting up properly to face Lance.

"What do you want?" Under any other conditions that phrase would've caused Lance to take his words back, deciding it wasn't worth the trouble. With Keith though, he knew it was his usual manner, he could be a bit brute and to the point.

"After every battle or mission or whatever I usually go over the events with someone," when Keith looked as if he was expecting more, Lance continued, "specifically over me. What I did well, what I did wrong, what I should've done differently, and what I can change." Lance felt a bit embarrassed telling Keith. He didn't want to be belittled by him, but judging by Keith's thoughtful expression he thought maybe it wouldn't turn out that way.

"And why do you need to do this?" Lance had expected Keith to start hurling criticism at him, so he was not prepared for the sudden question. Especially one that would reveal his deepest insecurity. He didn't reply right away, but he also didn't try to change the topic. Keith looked at him for a while, but when no response came he went back to resting.

Lance realised that their conversation wasn't going to progress any further unless Lance answered the question. Keith wasn't going to initiate anything, because why would he? This was Lance's request. What was most surprising to him was that none of the others asked him why, but perhaps they already knew. Yet Keith had, and maybe because for some reason Lance thought Keith wasn't the kind of person to judge anyone in that way, or because he looked like he wasn't listening, Lance answered.

"I want to be good enough for the team," Lance's voice came out barely a whisper. He watched Keith for a response, and when none seemed to come, he almost breathed a sigh of relief. He was just about to lean back, when Keith snapped his body around to face him.

Keith's violet eyes pierced into Lance, and he felt like prey trapped under a predator's gaze. "You what?"

Thinking he could still pretend he hadn't said anything, Lance began to backtrack, perhaps inappropriately proud of himself that he managed to mumble something with Keith still watching him like that, "it's nothing, don't wor—"

"No I heard what you said," because apparently Keith had super hearing, "it's just—how can you think that way?"

"What?" Lance was shocked. He thought that maybe he was the one who heard wrong, because there was no way Keith, of all people, just said that.

"You are good enough for the team," Keith sounded firm, like he was trying to convince Lance to believe it, "you're even more than that. You are a great pilot, and people trust you, without you having to say or do anything. Blue trusted you, and without you we probably wouldn't even be here. You are valuable; you are important." When Keith finished speaking, his look challenged Lance to disagree. He could not, because even if he didn't believe it, hearing someone else say it with such conviction made it seem true. "We can still go over things if you want to, though."

Lance considered for a moment. Keith's words changed his outlook a bit, but he still believed there were many areas where he could improve. "Yeah, would that be okay?"

"Sure, I usually reflect on my performance afterwards too, except it's a lot more internal," Lance hadn't expected Keith to do the same thing, but it really wasn't too surprising.

"Okay," Lance started, "well, at the start of the battle, when we were still separated? I don't know if you saw, but…"

The two boys played through the events of the day, what they had difficulty with, which moments they were proud of, and then provided advice for the other on areas they could improve on. It was strictly business, until it wasn't, and they spent the rest of their free time talking about what they enjoyed about flying, what they liked the most about space, and what they were looking forward to.

From then on, they met up with each other at the end of the day to talk about what happened, and sometimes others joined in too. More often than not, it ended with them talking about things unrelated to their fights. Soon, they realised that being in the other's company wasn't so bad after all.

After a while, the awkwardness and shyness dissipated, and the boys were back to talking like they had in space. It was mostly small chit chat, catching up on what happened after returning to Earth—which involved some awkward explanations and a lot more apologies, as well as reminiscence of old times. At some point, Lance burst out laughing out of nowhere, and when Keith looked at him funny, he only laughed harder.

"I just can't believe how dumb we were over this. Looking back," Lance shook his head, "it's so obvious our feelings were mutual." The lingering touches, the unreadable gazes, that carefulness the both of them had, they were all signs. If Lance hadn't been so caught up with his own, maybe he would've seen the ones from Keith.

"Yeah, but maybe we were in denial about it," because Keith sure was. Honestly, he still kind of was. Everything felt a bit surreal, like he would wake up tomorrow with no evidence that this day had actually happened. For so long he had viewed this outcome as being almost impossible, and he was having a hard time believing it wasn't.

"We'll definitely have to work on communication," Lance nodded, "that's for sure." Although, while that would have saved a lot of pain, they wouldn't have learned as much if everything was easy and smooth. Lance was glad it happened this way, he felt as though it resulted in him appreciating it a lot more. They grew during that in-between period, understanding more about themselves and what they'd want out of a relationship. Lance didn't know how easy talking about the important things would come to them in the future, as they both had varying degrees of the habit to run away from any issues they were faced with. He hoped that it would at least be easier now, since they weren't fighting a war anymore it meant no one would be making risky decisions or considering sacrifices, and not telling the other, to protect them.

"I don't think we were that bad at it," Keith thought of something and wanted to tease Lance, "you seemed to understand when I wanted to share a bed pretty well." As soon as the words left his mouth, however, Keith felt himself blush as well. It had been so long since he slept with Lance's body beside his, but he could still remember the feeling down to every atom. He never thought he'd enjoy it that much, but it made him feel safe, and Lance's arms always felt like home. At the beginning they had slept back-to-back, and with Lance's back being so muscular it felt like sleeping against a heated wall. Then, as it occurred more frequently, Lance would just wrap his hands around Keith and pull him close right away, since they always woke up like that anyways.

It was difficult for Keith to fall asleep like that at first, he was ticklish, and Lance's breath against his neck made him giggle. Lance found it amusing, so he started blowing against Keith's neck, which meant he was responsible for Keith headbutting him. He said those exact words when Lance asked what that was for, and he agreed to stop. He then switched to gently tickling Keith's stomach, but couldn't do much after Keith grabbed hold of his hands. And then—and Keith, to this day, could not figure out why—Lance licked a long strip along Keith's neck. Apparently he thought it would be funny, but it wasn't, and they both froze. Lance then retracted his hands like he had been burnt and turned to his other side. When Keith tried to ask what that was, Lance cut him off and said he was going to sleep. That annoyed Keith, and he tried to go to sleep as well, but he just could not get that sensation out of his head. The memory made Keith heat up, and he felt embarrassed again. Lance, who obviously had no clue what he was thinking about, simply shrugged when Keith couldn't look him in the eye.

"That's only because of me, though! If I hadn't asked you to come to bed, you would've just gone back to your room!" To be fair, Lance may have only suggested that because he wasn't completely conscious, or maybe, he had wanted to share a bed with Keith too but didn't know how to ask, and that had been the perfect opportunity. Keith didn't have to know that though.

"Okay… well then the first kiss was definitely because of me," this one Keith knew Lance initiated, but he was technically right, and perhaps he wanted to hear Lance talk about how he kissed him.

"No. It was me! I kissed you!" Lance threw his hands up in disbelief that Keith thought otherwise. But to be fair, if someone asked him to recount what had happened, he wouldn't be able to do it. All he remembered was that he was overcome with emotion upon finally seeing Keith after that long day, and his body moved on autopilot. Before he could register what happened, his lips had already left Keith's. Aside from that one instance though, there wasn't a single kiss Lance couldn't recall. Whether it had been a celebratory one, or peppered ones because they were sleepy, they were all just as special to Lance. It wasn't a feeling he'd ever forget, and his heart skipped a beat upon knowing he could renew that feeling over and over again now.

"But if I wasn't gone all day, would you have done it? First hug was from my part too," Keith normally wouldn't have brought it up due to the negative emotions that were a part of the reason why it happened, but Lance looked happier now. He supposed being home and being with his family was a big part of that, and he hoped Lance's memories of space were mostly positive now.

"If we're going by that logic, then it was from mine. Actu—wait." As soon as the pieces connected in Lance's mind, a smug expression made its way to his face. "Certain things were initiated by one person, but the other was the reason for it. So, I guess you could say we both did it first?"

"Tha—" Keith cut himself off, realising Lance had a point. "Huh. I guess so then. We really do make a good team," Keith echoed the same words Lance had said to him at the very beginning. They still weren't on the very best of terms then, but they had started getting there. It was the first time Keith had really been worried about Lance too, even though he had argued that the amount of time he spent staring at Lance's cryopod, waiting, wasn't too long for a 'rival'. So much had changed since that point; they had developed both as a pair and as individuals, and even though it was about them, Keith was proud of how much they'd progressed.

Lance smiled, not missing the words Keith chose to use. He started thinking about what they would be able to do on Earth together. Although there wouldn't nearly be as much thrill as there was in space, he believed anything would be exhilarating with Keith by his side. "The stars, they're really beautiful. It's different seeing them from here. It's nice to finally be able to look at them and appreciate. I couldn't do that when saving the universe." When he was in space, seeing the stars meant he wasn't in a good place. It made him feel horrible, although it allowed him to let out any negative feelings he had kept bottled up for a while. But seeing them right now, on Earth, with Keith? It was totally the opposite. The stars looked pretty, they made him feel light and safe. He was starting to understand what Keith meant when he said he liked stargazing.

"Mmh." Keith was taking in Lance's words, but barely. He was too busy focused on just watching Lance, entranced by his expression. It was a fond gaze, and he looked gorgeous, and Keith realised once again just how much Lance meant to him. "You know what's more beautiful though?"

"Keith," Lance turned to face Keith, caught somewhere between an eye roll and a cheesy smile, "I swear to god if you say—"

"Me," Keith smirked, predicting how Lance would react. As tender as they had been with each other, it was still fun to get him riled up, and he was sure Lance would agree.

"Wh—what?!" Lance's expression took a complete turn, turning into one of shock and confusion.

"Oh yeah, you know, these luscious locks," Keith flicked his hair for emphasis, "killer looks," waved a hand before his eyes, "mysterious demeanour," and gave a sly smile. "I've got to say, I really am a catch."

Lance turned away and pouted. It wasn't as if he wanted to be complimented by Keith, but it would've been nice. Everything Keith listed about himself was very true, especially the last part, and feelings of insecurity began crawling back. Keith really was too good, and he was just… him. But just before he could overthink anything, Keith chuckled and brought Lance into his arms.

"I'm joking. You're the most beautiful, Lance," Keith kissed his forehead when he relaxed into his arms, "and I can't believe you're here."

"I never left," Lance unzipped his jacket and draped it across them, it had started getting cold, "you just didn't know."

"I just can't believe him!" "Who does that?"

Currently Lance was sitting with Pidge and Hunk in the lounge, while Keith stood before Shiro in his room.

The two boys had found themselves in an argument again, but this one wasn't like the others. This was caused by a build-up of little things, and when it exploded a big mess was created. It stemmed from the clashes between their respective personalities—Keith wanted to do something one way, but Lance wanted to do it a different way. It almost put their lives in jeopardy, and they had had enough. As they would soon find, apparently so had the others.

Lance made an impromptu speech about how "Keith was insufferable" and how he had no idea why he put up with him, while Keith made one about how he had "no clue why Lance was like that", and how he was "infuriating". They talked out loud, not specifically at anyone, but the others were listening, and looking at them weirdly. When the boys noticed the funny expressions, they cocked an eyebrow in question.

"Have you, you know, ever had a proper conversation with him before? You should try it," came the answer. Before either boy could protest, "also, apologise," was added. And then they walked away, leaving them to their own devices. In the silence, they pondered over what was said. It was true, they never had the chance to really talk, but they also never thought it'd make any kind of difference. Realising that it could really harm their team dynamic if they continued this way in the future, the boys set off to find the other.

As it turned out, finding someone when you were actually looking for them was difficult. Before, the other always seemed to be there even when they didn't want it, but now they were nowhere to be seen. Finally, just before they were going to give up, they met in the middle of the hallway outside their rooms.

They stood, simply staring for a few moments—there was still some remaining hostility from their argument. Keith pulled at the ends of hair at the base of his neck, Lance played with the hem of his jacket. Neither knew what to say, they hadn't planned a speech, and writing one in their minds wasn't working out. In the end, they decided to go for simplicity.

"Sorry," was huffed out at the same time. That caused the boys' eyes to jerk to each other, which was when they noticed that with how they were standing, they mirrored each other. And then, for the first time, they realised that they paralleled each other in other ways too. Blue against red, fire and ice, gun versus sword. Didn't they always say opposites worked well together? After some consideration, they decided that this may not be so bad.

And it wasn't like they hadn't had their moments before. Sure, it was rare, but when they had to be serious and team up, they did it well. They were well coordinated, and knew what the other needed without saying anything. It was just that every other time a tense atmosphere existed between them. Perhaps it was a time for that to change, though. They could start small, and slowly build their way up. They didn't have to become best friends right away, or at all, but it would be beneficial for them to at least be willing to help the other out at any time.

"So," Keith broke the silence, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the training deck, "you want to spar?" He still didn't come off as friendly to Lance, but it was excusable, since he was pretty sure that was just how Keith was. As far as he was concerned, Keith never took the initiative to ask someone to train with him either, so it made Lance feel good about himself.

"Sure," Lance gave a casual shrug. And it was genuine, unlike the sarcastic ones Keith had seen too many times before. As he walked with Lance, in silence, despite it being a striking change, he thought it was nice the usual negative energy wasn't there. He was excited to spar with Lance, and with their skills and abilities, they could be a really hard pair to beat in the future.

And that was the beginning of something greater than what they could ever imagine.

The two boys started off as strangers, before becoming classmates. Then they had a rivalry, a dumb one, which lasted up until and a bit after they were thrown into space to become Defenders of the Universe. As teammates, they fought against the forces of evil, rescued countless beings, and saved planets. At one point, they even held two uppermost positions—the leader and the right-hand man. Then, everything fell apart. Instead of laughter there was silence, instead of physical contact they stayed distances apart. They stopped talking even before coming back to Earth, but as hard as they tried they just couldn't move on. So, they met up, made amends. And now, they were lovers.