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When Lance walks onto the bridge, Keith is already in an argument with Shiro and Pidge.

If he had the energy, he’d roll his eyes and join in on today’s highlight reel of Keith’s recklessness. But funnily enough, getting battered around by the Galra for two hours really drains a guy. He barely managed to change out of his armor.

He trudges into the room, jacket dangling from his hands and dragging on the floor; he couldn’t be bothered to put it on. But now he’s wondering if he should’ve taken his time, because it looks like arguing is all they’re going to do today.

“Black was fine!” Keith exclaims. “I did a systems check before I flew out, and our bond felt alright!”

“And I’m telling you that she wasn’t,” Pidge stresses. “There was a bug in her weapons array—”

“Then explain the battleship I downed.”

“Look,” Shiro interjects, “while it’s great that you and Black functioned fine out there, you still couldn’t have known it was safe for sure. You should’ve stayed in the castle—”

“Like hell I’d sit on my ass—”

Pidge throws her hands up. “Keith, you know we’re not supposed to fly out on compromised systems. Even more so with Black, she’s the head of Voltron—”

“She’s stronger than you think! It’s not a big deal! The enemy was a complete idiot, I wasn’t in any danger, it wasn’t like her life support system or flight mechanisms were compromised—”

The argument spirals from there.

Don’t get him wrong, Keith’s great as leader, but he’s still learning. Sometimes, he regresses a little. And while Lance has never passed up a chance to rib his rival for a bit of fun—right now, he feels like going to sleep right here on the floor. Just watching this soap opera is draining what’s left of his energy. When are they going to start the debrief? He wants to take a bubble bath, with the candles and the bath bomb he picked up at the space mall last month. He’s filthy and sore all the way to his bone marrow, to his freaking organs.

Pidge throws her datapad at Keith. He tries to suffocate her with his jacket. Shiro tries and fails to pry them apart.

Lance looks around. Hunk’s standing on the side, wringing his hands. Allura’s straight-up ignoring them, and Coran’s taking notes on his datapad. The subject line reads, ‘Human Conflict Resolution.’ There’s a lot of red marks.

Shit, why’s it always got to be Lance?

He shuffles over, intending to lend Shiro a hand, maybe lift Pidge off the ground and carry her away or something while Shiro deals with Keith.

But what actually happens is that Lance, yawning, trips and falls right onto someone’s back. His temple knocks against a warm ear and his hands latch onto firm, bare biceps.

“Sorry,” he says automatically. “Didn’t mean to bump into you.”

He almost thinks his hearing went out, too, when nothing but silence registers. He lifts his head, sluggish, and finds the entire room staring at him. He frowns and tries to get his feet under him—who’s back is this anyw—

Black, unruly hair tickles Lance’s nose. Red armor fills his vision.

Keith. He’s leaning on Keith.

Lance is draped all over Keith Kogane’s fucking back like a fucking koala.

“Shit, dude,” he begins, “sorry, I should’ve watched where I was going, I—don’t kill me, alright—”

Only, Keith doesn’t react. He doesn’t move a single muscle; it’s like he’s carved out of rock. Lance trails off, confused. He glances at Pidge and Shiro. They stare back, wide-eyed.

Slowly, because he’s kind of scared of what he’ll see, Lance leans around to catch a look at Keith’s face.

Blank, placid eyes. Jaw slack and brows smoothed out.

Lance waves a hand in front of his face. Nothing, not a twitch.

“What the hell,” he whispers. “Shiro?”

“No idea,” Shiro replies, bewildered.

Lance hesitantly pokes Keith’s cheek. “Dude, you okay?”

“You broke him,” Pidge accuses.

“I did not! I just fell on him.”

Shiro eyes them. “Lance, could you…could you move away?”

“Uh, sure.” He detaches himself from Keith.

The moment he does, Keith boots up like a fucking robot. You can actually see the life flicker back into his eyes. Dude just goes straight back to hissing at Shiro.

“—and another thing,” he begins, “you never listened to Iverson when he said to sit out—”

Shiro takes Lance’s hands and slaps them against Keith’s arms. Keith immediately shuts up and goes back to impersonating a wax figure.

An unholy grin stretches over Shiro’s face. “Oh, I get it now.” He chuckles, low. “Oh, this is too good. This is gold, oh hoho ho, I am a rich bitch.”

“What?” Lance asks. He tries to take his hands back but Shiro forces them to hold Keith’s. What the hell. “Shiro, what?”

Beside him, Pidge gasps. “You’re his off button.”

Lance just looks at her and laughs. It sounds so ridiculous. That’s—there’s no way that’s true. Him? Having that type of effect on Keith? That’s not a thing, that doesn’t happen to people.

His laughter peters off as he glances at Keith, standing docile before him. Curiosity wells up in him. He lets go.

Keith blinks, rapid. His head jerks up and his mouth opens.

Lance locks their hands together and—yup. Yeah, that’s—wow, huh. Keith’s eyes have glazed over again, and he slumps against Lance like his muscles have all atrophied. Okay, so this is a thing. A thing that is happening.

“Told you,” says Pidge.

Lance sighs. “Let’s just debrief already. I need a five-hour nap before I can even think of dealing with this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the meeting, Lance drops Keith off at his quarters, paying no mind to Keith’s confusion and the questions aimed at his back. He just drops into bed and passes the fuck out.

Yeah, not dealing with the Keith thing at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, they’re asked to weigh in on a dispute brought up by a Coalition member or something. Boring bureaucratic shit. You’d think saving the world involved less bullshit.

This leaves no time for the team to poke fun at Keith for whatever that was yesterday, which Shiro looks disproportionately disappointed by. Honestly, Lance would prefer if it never came up again. He has no idea how to feel about it. He and Keith might be friends now, but he draws the line at explaining to the guy that he’s got a Lance-shaped weakness. That’s just bound to go over badly.

At least Keith doesn’t look like he has any idea what happened. Small mercies.

The day progresses and not much gets resolved. More issues crop up, actually. Shiro looks a hair’s breadth away from politely committing murder. His customer service smile is decidedly manic.

“Like we said,” he grits out, “Voltron can’t be in two places at once. We can’t respond to your hails every time. That’s why we stationed Captain Kli-f’s battalion on your planet—”

“It’s not enough!” The alien shakes their head, blubbering. Lance finds that this species is really susceptible to emotional breakdowns. “The Galra almost annihilated us yesterday!”

Lance bites his lip. Now, that’s a blatant lie. Their distress call turned out to be about space debris. Fuck, he would find this hilarious if he wasn’t so sick of being stuck in this room. It’s been five hours.

As if on cue, the seat beside him is shoved back. Keith stands, scowling. Ohh, he’s mad. Here we go.

“This is fucking stupid,” he states.

Lance ducks his head, hiding a grin in his palm.

Allura sighs. “Keith—”

“Sorry, Princess, let me just—” He turns to the alien, who quivers before his glare. “You. You—we have things we need to do, why are we still here? You’re safe, you don’t need anything else!”

The alien makes a valiant effort to refute him. Really, it’s commendable; Keith’s pretty scary, after all. “But we’re in close proximity to a Galra settlement—”

You decided to build your settlement there!” Keith hollers. “This was your choice, you—listen. You’re getting Captain Kli-f and her soldiers, that’s it, and you’re going to be happy about it, or so help me, god, I will—”

Lance spots movement at the edges of his vision—soldiers reaching for their weapons. Shiro is rising to his feet. Coran has his hands out, placating the rest of the council. The team seems resigned to another meeting ending in a Keith-typical way.

Ah, seriously, Lance really wishes he could’ve forgotten about the whole issue.

With a heavy sigh, he stands. As heads turn to him, he slips off his suit glove and places his hand on Keith’s nape. The noise level abruptly cuts in half as Keith’s mouth snaps shut. The soldiers pause and the crying alien—what is their name?—stops, well, stops fucking crying, thank god.

“Sorry,” Lance says, “I’m just going to borrow him for a moment. We’ll be right back.”

As he steers them towards the doors, Shiro gives him an embarrassingly proud thumbs-up. Lance wants to die. He’s got Keith by the fucking neck like a misbehaving cat; what about this deserves a thumbs-up?

The attendants milling about give him directions to the nearest empty room. He tugs Keith into it and locks the door. God, he hates everything about this situation. He pushes Keith into a chair.

He exhales steadily, then removes his hand.

Keith blinks woodenly. Lance sees the moment his eyes focus in on Lance’s chestplate. His head lifts, and he stares dumbly at Lance.

“Hey, man,” says Lance. “You good?”

Keith takes in their surroundings. “What—where are we?”

Lance drops into the seat next to him. “So, we forgot to tell you about something yesterday. Don’t freak out, okay?”

Suspicion falls over Keith’s features. “What’s wrong? Where is everyone?”

“No, you gotta promise you won’t get mad.”

“Are you serious?”

Lance just looks at him.

“Who am I kidding, of course you are. Fine.” Keith puts a hand over his heart. “I promise I won’t get mad. Now, spit it out.”

Lance purses his lips, swiveling side to side in his chair. There’s no easy way to explain this. He’s just going to have to go for it. “You—when I touch you, you—shut off? Sort of? You were getting really mad back there, so I, um. I thought you could maybe chill a little so I touched you—honestly I wasn’t expecting it to work—but you shut off, again, and now we’re here. Just to—just to cool off for bit, but mostly because I’m taking this chance to get the fuck out of that room.”

A beat, then Keith scowls. “If this is a joke—”

Lance smacks his arm. “Dude, I wouldn’t mess with you like that. A mean prank like that would involve, like, heavy drugs, man, what the fuck.”

Keith squints at him. “…Okay, fine. Right. But—shutting off? What, like a phone? You do know that sounds ridiculous, right?”

“Yeah, well, it looks even weirder than it sounds. Yesterday, you—I fell on you and you stopped talking and everything. Wouldn’t respond to anything. Kinda creepy, to be honest.”

Lingering traces of doubt pulls Keith’s lips into a tight line. Lance doesn’t blame him; if he hadn’t seen it first-hand, he’d be hard-pressed to believe it, too. Still kind of feels like he’s going to wake up in his own bed and this was all just a dumb dream.

“Okay, here, let me just—” He reaches out, fingers inches from Keith’s cheek.

“What—”

“Just—don’t hit me, okay?”

He brushes his fingertips over the swell of Keith’s cheekbones.

He’s expecting him to freeze, go all ragdoll-like. He expects a deactivated Keith-bot.

What he gets is a—a sigh, and Keith’s lashes fucking—fluttering.

Lance inhales sharply. Okay, fuck, what? That’s new?

That familiar glassiness has slid over Keith’s features, but he leans into the touch like a cat, mindless and shameless. Lance lets him, too stunned to stop it. This is—different. This—Keith’s reacting, this time. He’s still zoning out, still pliant to Lance’s direction, but he’s seeking it out, too. When Lance eases off, he pushes in.

“The hell?” he mutters. What’s different about this time?

Keith just hums and leans so far towards Lance that he nearly tips out of his seat. With a flush, Lance realizes he’s been stroking Keith’s face. He rips his hand away and jams the traitorous thing under his thighs.

Keith comes back quicker this time. He doesn’t look confused about his surroundings. Is—is he getting used to whatever this is? Is he retaining consciousness now?

He stares at Lance for a long second, then a slow spread of pink climbs up his neck. Well, shit.

“Oh,” he croaks. “So that—that happened yesterday?”

“Yeah. Except you, uh, you didn’t remember it—but you did this time?” Lance peeks at him.

Keith gives a jerky nod.

Silence falls over them.

Lance jiggles his leg. Great, this is—great, yup.

“Does that happen with the others, too?” Keith asks.

Lance stills, then starts fidgeting faster. “Um, not that I know of?”

“So, it’s just with you?”

He blows out a breath. “Dude, I’ve no clue. Shouldn’t I be asking you about this? Hasn’t this happened to you before?”

“No, of course not! If I knew I’d check out when someone touched me, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

A smile pulls at Lance’s lips. “Ah, that’s right, you’d probably be suited up, head to toe, in a homemade anti-touch suit or something. Oh god, now I’m imagining preteen you decked out in hockey gear, just to avoid this.”

Keith kicks him. Lance kicks him back.

He pauses. “Wait, that didn’t do anything for you?”

“Don’t say it like that,” Keith grumbles. He scrutinizes his leg. “No, don’t think so.”

Lance hums. So, there’s parameters to this touch thing. Skin to skin, uh, obviously works. But it looks like a thin layer is enough to block it.

But he distinctly remembers sparring with Keith, in tees with plenty of skin bared. Their scuffles never resulted in this. And Keith’s probably gotten minor skin contact with others at some point, so why now? Why’s his body acting up all of a sudden?

…Oh my god.

“Dude,” he says, horrified, “are you like, hitting Galra puberty or something? Is this a side-effect?”

A beat.

“No!” Keith shoots to his feet. “You—that’s gross, what—why would you even say that?”

“I mean, it makes sense!”

“Absolutely not. No, there’s got to be another explanation for this. Maybe I got hit by spores or something.”

“Oh god, we’re going to have to call Kolivan.” Lance makes a face. “Wonder what his reaction's gonna be to being asked if puberty for Galra involves being—petted.”

“Shut up,” Keith demands. “I do not like being petted and I am not going through puberty a second time!”

His voice—his voice fucking cracks.

The worst part about it, is that it clearly does not crack like a human voice—it cracks into a growl. Like the sound a large cat would make.

Lance literally could not tell you how long they spend staring at each other in terror. He opens his mouth.

“Don’t,” says Keith.

“You just growled.”

Keith closes his eyes.

Lance slides down in his seat. Ohhh shit, they are not prepared for this, oh god, they are so not prepared for this. He was not expecting to be right—that was half a joke! What’s next? Fangs?

Okay, but that’s hot—no, shut up.

Not for the first time, Lance wishes fate would cut them a break. Isn’t fighting a war enough? Now they have to deal with this shit? And he knows he’s going to be involved in this process, because that’s the fine print to being the right-hand man; his leader’s bullshit is his bullshit, now. Fuck.

“I’m not going back to the meeting,” Keith states.

Lance considers that. Considers ignoring that, considers dragging Keith into a situation that had already irritated him so badly that Lance had to touch-whammy him just to calm him down. Shit, with the growling thing—what if the next time he pops off, he manifests a mouth full of steak knives?

“You’re not going back to the meeting,” Lance agrees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They call Kolivan.

“This doesn’t mean I think you’re right,” Keith assures him. “We’re just ruling out possibilities.”

Lance keeps quiet and lets him have his delusions. Of the two of them, Lance has got the longest winning streak of being right.

Kolivan, as always, greets them with all the enthusiasm of a rotting fungus. “What is it.”

Lance waits for Keith to say something. When he doesn’t, opting instead to stare at the Blade leader in sudden mortification, Lance asks for him: “What can you tell us about Galra biology? We think Keith’s going through a—developmental patch.”

Nothing visibly changes in Kolivan’s expression, but Lance gets the impression that the man would rather be dipping his eyeballs in acid than answer this.

“A developmental patch,” he says. Shit, what is he, a parrot?

“Yes,” says Lance, because Keith’s still mute. “When he receives skin-to-skin contact, he zones out. Like, he’s awake, but he’s just completely unresponsive.” He pauses. And because he’s kind of a jerk, he adds, “Do you want a demonstration?”

“No.”

“No fucking way, Lance.”

Simultaneous appalled replies from both Kolivan and Keith. Lance feels proud.

“That will not be necessary,” Kolivan says. “I believe I know what you’re referring to. Keith, were you isolated as a child? Or did you perhaps receive significantly less physical contact than your peers at any point in your adolescence?”

Whoa, hit the guy a little harder right where it hurts, why don’t you?

“…Yes,” Keith mutters. “Why.”

Great, now Kolivan’s got him doing the same dead-tone shit. Lance is going to refuse Keith’s Blade missions on his behalf if this keeps happening.

What? The team worked hard to get Keith to this level of sociability. Lance’s not about to let their efforts go to waste.

“Galra are the most tactile when young,” Kolivan begins. “Our mental and physical health depends heavily on positive touch, with peers and parental figures. If a Galra child experiences isolation from such necessities, they may develop a condition later in life—an extreme sensitivity to touch. In some cases, it can be debilitating. ‘Zoning out,’ as you describe it, is a common symptom.”

Keith looks at Lance. Lance looks back.

Okay. Okay, alright. Cool, okay, chill, fine. That’s fine.

“What are the other symptoms?”

“Delayed physical maturity,” Kolivan says bluntly.

Lance slams his hands on his thighs. “Called it!”

“Shut up!” Keith roars. Like, literally. That was a roar, that was a sound produced by Galra vocal chords, right there. Keith instantly drops his head into his hands, whining low and pained. Still sounding like a cat.

“Vocal changes,” Kolivan observes. “Yes, I do believe you are undergoing puberty, paladin.”

“I want to die,” Keith whispers.

Lance pats his hand, forgetting what effect that has until Keith sways on the spot, then he snatches his hand away, face blazing. Kolivan is politely pretending he didn’t witness that. Keith gives up and squats on the floor.

“How do I deal with this,” he croaks.

Now Kolivan looks even more anguished, meaning his brows visibly pull together. “…Touch, mostly,” he finally says. “You need to acclimatize to physical sensation from others.”

Lance raises a hand. “Wait, that doesn’t make sense. When—okay, so the first time it happened, it was because I tripped and fell on his back. But right before that, he had Pidge in a head-lock, and this morning, he slapped Shiro’s hand away from his plate. He was fine both times.”

“You’re saying he only has a reaction to you?”

Lance flounders. “I—guess?”

“Interesting,” says Kolivan, looking not at all interested. “Unfortunately, I have no explanation for that. Perhaps it is a result of his human genes. In any case, all he needs to do is adapt to whatever stimuli causes him to ‘zone out.’ If that’s stimuli from you, then it’s stimuli from you. It’s not complicated. Now, if that is all, paladins, I must be going. I have a base to destroy in the next minute. Kolivan out.”

The screen goes black.

“That went well,” Lance offers.

Keith slaps his shin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“So, that’s the situation, basically. He’s touch-starved and just needs some love.” Lance looks around at the team gathered in the lounge. Keith’s standing beside him, miserable. “Any questions?”

Coran is teary-eyed. So is Shiro. Hunk’s just full-on sobbing; gotta love the guy.

Shiro stands and pulls Keith into a hug so overdone that Keith’s feet lift off the floor. “Keith, I am so sorry—Adam and I should’ve noticed you weren’t getting enough hugs! This is all our fault.”

“Please,” Keith snorts. “You guys did nothing but hug me. I’m pretty sure this is because of that time in orphanage, actually.”

Shiro squeezes him harder. Keith kicks at his kneecaps, completely ineffective against his brick shithouse of a brother. “I’m going to smother you in hugs.”

“Me too!” adds Hunk.

“We all will!” Coran joins in. Allura nods, scarily determined. Pidge shrugs.

Lance is perfectly content to let them think there’s no bias here, except Keith, the dumbass, has to go and be honest about who he actually needs hugs from. “Thanks, but it’s only really Lance that can help. He makes me zone out, so he needs to touch me enough that I eventually stop.”

Everyone freezes. Keith slowly reddens as he registers what he said, and how he said it. Lance mentally writes a note, reminding himself to murder Keith in his sleep tonight.

“Oh,” says Shiro, glancing between them. “Oh, okay. Unrelated, but is there anything you two want to tell me—”

“Alright, I’m heading out,” Lance says. “Good talk, everybody.”

“Don’t you dare leave me here,” threatens Keith. “Lance, get back here. Lance! You asshole, are you seriously—if you walk through that door, I am going to slice up your wool blanket! Lance!”

Out in the hallway, Lance takes a moment to send a prayer up for Keith, then sets off for the kitchen. Hunk’s bound to have a pie in the oven by this time of day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been four months since Keith took over as Black’s paladin. Three months since they found Shiro strapped to a dissection table in one of Haggar’s labs and blew the whole thing up, including the matter transporter she used to nab him.

Four months since Lance and Keith have started up their co-leading thing.

Over those months, Lance comes to terms with a few things.

One, that he and Keith really do make a good team, more than the one time. Honestly, it makes the competitive sixteen-year-old Lance in his head fume. But he’s older now, and supposedly more mature, so he pretends he can’t hear it whining.

Two, that while he misses piloting Blue every day, Red’s great too. Sometimes, Red even gets jealous about having to share Lance with Blue, and Keith with Black, and it’s lowkey adorable.

Which leads him to three: that this co-leading role actually really fits him well. He wouldn’t have chosen it for himself, but Red knew better. Blue knew better.

He’s always found it easy to guide people along, to ease tensions in groups, and encourage others. He thought that meant he was a leader. And, to an extent, he is. He can lead in a pinch; he’d like to think he could fit with any group who needed a temporary head.

But there’s a sort of pride that he gets from being Keith’s second. At first, he refused to acknowledge it. What kind of rival would settle for being second-best? Wasn’t he going to be better than Keith?

But the satisfaction he gets when Keith leaves his back open for Lance to guard is too gratifying to ignore. The ease with which Keith listens to his suggestions and his confidence in Lance as a grounding rod for his fiery temper is vindicating, in a strange way. And the moments where Keith seeks him out to confess worries or uncertainties is always a—pleasant surprise. Because he’d have thought, now with Shiro back, that Keith would stop going to him.

So, it’s less about being second-best, and more about being the safety net, the complement. The mediator, the unwavering pillar. He finds a different sort of strength in this, one he never saw coming, but one that feels just as good.

And now they’re here, in a ridiculous predicament, with Keith needing something so personal from him. Lance is well-aware that, a mere four months ago, neither of them would’ve been able to stomach this. Keith would’ve locked himself in his room rather than let himself be vulnerable in front of Lance. And Lance—he would’ve eventually done his part, sure—but not without complaining to hell and back, hating every second of it.

Now, it’s better. Now, they’re co-leaders of Voltron. They’ve dealt with worse things than a little forced physical contact.

Though, he won’t lie, it’s still a little embarrassing.

“Keith, it defeats the purpose if you stand all the way over there,” he says tiredly. “Could you, like, sit down?”

“I am,” replies Keith, halfway across the lounge. “I will. Give me a second.”

Lance does. Lance gives him multiple seconds. Lance gives him so many seconds that he might as well be a seconds billionaire at this point.

“Don’t make me come over there.”

Keith grumbles, but sinks down next to him. “Alright, do your worst.”

This is just sad. Who reacts to impending physical affection with ‘do your worst?’ What does he think Lance is going to do—wrap all four limbs around him and suffocate him? This is too sad to think about, he’s just going to go for it.

He starts off small and wraps a hand around Keith’s wrist.

Keith fucking flops over onto his lap.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

“Nrghgh,” says Keith.

“Oh, so you can respond, now. Sort of. That’s good. Progress, right?”

Hesitantly, Lance strokes Keith’s hair, the pressure so light he might as well be touching the air above Keith’s head.

Keith still fucking—shudders.

Lance cranes his head back and glares at the ceiling. His ears are burning. Why him. Why—fucking—this is so unfair.

Keith is a dead weight across his thighs. He runs reluctant fingers through Keith’s hair.

At some point, his fingers decide to go about detangling the knots they find. Lance blinks down at the glossy, wavy strands and feels betrayed, somehow.

He clears his throat. “Hey, Keith? How long am I supposed to do this for?” He lifts his hands.

Keith growls.

He places his hands back. Okay, so, for longer than that. Fine. He can manage that, whatever.

He decides to make a braid. If he’s being held hostage, he’s going to take his amusement where he can. Keith will just have to deal.

He’s on his fourth braid when Keith jerks out of his hold.

Lance meets his gaze, blinking, hands still poised above his lap. Three and a half braids stick out of Keith’s head, and there’s a red pillow mark—jeans mark?—on his face. A flush has settled over the top of his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. He’s got a deer-in-the-headlights face on.

Cute, thinks Lance. Then, fuck, no, shut up. Not dealing with this, remember?

“I got to go,” Keith blurts, shooting to his feet. “Bye.”

As he runs out the door, he has the decency to throw a strangled, “thanks,” over his shoulder.

Lance is left staring after him, struggling not to feel like he’s just been ditched on an awkward date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another great thing about this partnership they have—they’re on the same wavelength more often than not, nowadays. Meaning they wordlessly agree not to acknowledge the touch thing unless they really need to.

Days pass and everything is routine. Lance gets that satisfied feeling in his chest when he sees that any awkwardness they might be feeling has no bearing on their duties. They still kick ass on the field. That’s professionalism, baby.

Keith doesn’t approach him for—that—for about a week. And it’s fine, he doesn’t seem to be suffering ill effects. Sure, his voice cracks more so he doesn’t speak much, which means he’s even more of a silent brooding presence now. And when he does speak, it’s a lot deeper than Lance expects. It’s fine. Whatever. It doesn’t keep him up at night, it doesn’t.

…And is it just Lance or are Keith’s pupils weirdly slitted now, too? And yesterday, Keith tore into his Ruvili steak without a knife. Just his teeth. Steak juice slid down his chin and Lance had to excuse himself to use the bathroom.

He didn’t actually use it. He just crouched by the dining room doors and thought about Slav’s mustache until his half-boner went away.

So, a week and a half later and Keith is significantly…sharper? More cat-like? More animalistic? Hotter?

Anyway, with how he is, they should’ve predicted that such developments would upset people.

“I cannot fathom why you would let the enemy command Voltron,” some half-baked alien declares to Lance at a banquet. “His fangs are unsightly, his eyes even more so!”

Lance calmly sets his fork down. “Man, I really wish you hadn’t said that.”

“It would not do be dishonest!” the alien exclaims, and like, shit, is there a single alien race out there that doesn’t have some annoying mannerism?

“Right.” He wipes his mouth with the napkin. “My turn, then. You have the all the charm and personality of a decaying sack of entrails on a hot summer day.”

The alien’s mouth drops open. “I beg your pardon?”

“The scent of your breath is enough to castrate a weblum. If Zarkon ever met you on the battlefield, he would run from the sight of your shadow on the dirt, let alone you yourself. You probably ate your siblings in the womb and liked it. Even maggots wouldn’t eat your flesh—”

Lance goes on like this for quite a while.

By the time the team and the alien king hosting them are aware of the situation, Lance is helping himself to another slice of cake and the idiot that insulted Keith is on the floor crying.

“What did you do?” Hunk asks, baffled.

“Nothing. All I did was respond in kind when he cast insults.” Lance raises a brow at the alien king. “That’s the correct social procedure for your people, isn’t it?”

Lance knows he’s right. He read Coran’s briefing, front to back, three times. It clearly states that if someone receives an insult, they’re allowed—they’re owed, in fact—the right to shoot back with as much vitriol as they believe they suffered.

The king is staring at his subject in abject horror. Good, so he gets how badly that idiot insulted a Voltron paladin. “I—yes. Yes, that is correct.”

“I crave your pardon,” wails the alien on the floor. “I did not mean to invoke your anger! I crave your pardon! Please, retract your poisonous words!”

“They…they must have gravely offended you,” the king says haltingly. “On their behalf, I apologize. I will have them reprimanded.”

Lance shrugs. “It’s fine, I think I took care of it.”

They all regard the weeping alien silently. The king’s guards wordlessly shuffle closer to their monarch. Lance wants to tell them to relax. He’s not going to try anything. Not unless the king pulls the same shit with him.

Pidge snaps a picture of the scene and goes back to her seat. Hunk claps Lance on the shoulder and follows her. Coran, after confirming that Lance did not actually commit a social faux-pas, just nods approvingly and tows a gob-smacked Shiro and a long-suffering Allura back to the head of the table.

Only Keith remains. He’s got those piercing violet eyes fixed on Lance’s face and yeah, his pupils are definitely slitted.

Lance waits, but Keith doesn’t say anything. Just stands there, expression intent, as security comes to collect the distraught alien. He doesn’t blink once. Lance can’t read his expression at all.

Lance breaks first. “What?”

“They really offended you?” Keith asks.

“You think I would’ve caused a scene over nothing?” Lance snorts. “Have some faith in me, dude.”

Keith cocks his head. Something about it raises the hairs on Lance’s nape. “Just curious.”

Lance spends the rest of the dinner feeling just a bit off-kilter and not knowing why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later, he finds out that Keith’s hearing has extended twice over, when Hunk mumbles something half a football field away and Keith answers him. Fucking—seriously?

He refuses to acknowledge Keith’s existence (or the sly glance he shoots Lance’s way) for the rest of the day.

Not dealing with it. Nope, no sir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three days after Lance verbally reduces a grown person to tears, they finally get another touch session. Albeit, an unexpected one.

He and Keith are on an intel-gathering mission. Easy stuff. The most surprising thing that happens is that Keith manages to confuse a couple Galra soldiers to a stop by flashing his fangs and snarling at them.

“He’s half-Galra?!” One of them squeaks. His chompers are noticeably duller, Lance observes.

“He’s dead is what he is,” another sneers, typically villainous. The safety on their blaster is on. Idiot.

The third soldier has their ears pulled back, yellow eyes wide and skittering all over the place. When Keith growls, they whimper.

Lance kind of feels bad for all of them. For like a ghost of half of a second, maybe.

Suffice to say, he and Keith apprehend this group rather easily. Keith’s super-hearing is badass to see in action. It’s like he’s got eyes at the back of his head; nothing can sneak up on him.

They get what they came for and blow the base sky-high. Lance is feeling pretty good, and across the lions’ bond, he gets a faint impression of Keith’s satisfaction.

They’re riding the battle-high so easily that they forget and high-five each other bare-handed when they make it back to the castle.

“Fuck,” Keith hisses, stumbling. Lance automatically steadies him, which is stupid, because Keith’s cheek presses against his and that just makes him even more useless. He topples straight onto Lance. “Fffuuck.”

“I am so sorry,” Lance tells him. “Shit, okay. Let’s sit down. Locker room okay with you?”

Keith muffles a groan into Lance’s hair. Lance takes it as an agreement.

They end up straddling a bench, facing each other, Keith’s legs slung over Lance’s thighs. Their chestplates are gone, their undersuits pulled down to their waists. For more exposure? Lance has no idea if this is helping. Keith just pawed at his suit, desperate, and it turns out Lance is fucking easy, wow. Wow.

Keith’s got his head under Lance’s chin and his arms wrapped tight around Lance’s ribs. Those are Keith’s actual hands, on his skin. Keith is—hands—touch—fuck, okay, no, don’t think about it. Shit.

On instinct, Lance rubs Keith’s back. Keith starts fucking purring.

“Dude,” Lance wheezes. “Dude, oh god, is this real?”

Keith doesn’t respond, too busy dragging his nose all over Lance’s throat. Lance tries so goddamn hard not to think about the fangs lurking behind those pink lips, brushing so close to his pulse.

About a minute in, Keith manages a gravelly, “L’nce?”

“Oh? Did we graduate to actual words?” Lance ducks his head to catch Keith’s dazed gaze. Dude’s pupils are blown wide. “Keith? You back yet?”

“I—” Keith squishes his cheek against Lance’s collarbone. “Mmph. Warm.”

Alright, so he’s a bit more lucid. Not by much, but it’s a marked difference from the first time. Looks like the touch therapy is working.

He squirms in Lance’s arm. “Why’d you st’p?”

Lance blinks, realizing his hands have slowed on Keith’s back. “Ah, sorry,” he says, resuming the slow drag up and down Keith’s spine. On a whim, he uses his nails, scratching lightly.

Keith arches into it. He moans, right into Lance’s ear, all breathy and soft.

Lance’s body erupts into flames. He’s such a fucking dumbass—why does he do this to himself. Why. He’s going to go sit in a cryopod and sleep for twenty thousand years.

“S’nice,” Keith sighs. “More.”

Lance squeezes his eyes shut. Kill him, kill him, just please kill him please for the love of god please end his suffering please anybody—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith runs away this time, too.

Lance immediately rips the rest of his suit off and stumbles into a shower stall. He barely has to stroke himself once to go hurtling off the edge of the cliff.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

He hangs up his gear and leaves Keith’s forgotten chestplate outside his door.

Not thinking about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They become cautious about their proximity after that, especially in public. They weren’t particularly touchy to begin with—that’s more Hunk and Lance’s thing—but now they don’t high-five or ruffle each other’s hair anymore. After all, it wouldn’t do to have Voltron’s leader reduced to a needy pile of purring feline, cute as it is. Not that it’s even remotely cute at all, what?

But when Keith starts getting snappier and Lance has to touch-whammy him again, it becomes obvious that the not-touching-until-we-really-have-to thing they’re doing is actually a detriment. Which should’ve been obvious—Keith’s touch-starved. Taking away one of the already very few sources of physical contact wouldn’t help with that.

They agree to set aside some time for the touch sessions. They soon find out they usually average around twice a week for about an hour, but it honestly depends on how needy Keith’s body is that day.

After about seven weeks, Keith is more stable and less prone to outbursts. Bit by bit, Keith retains more of his mind with every session. Bit by bit, Lance gets used to the heat of Keith’s body, the drag of his skin under Lance’s palms. And most amazingly, Keith stops running off.

He starts complaining, instead.

“This is the worst,” Keith croaks. “Like, the actual worst, you know?”

Lance hums sympathetically. They’re back on the lounge room couch, Keith huddled into his side while he goes over this week’s reports. They’ve both opted for sleeveless shirts today and yet that’s apparently not enough for Keith. His hands have snuck under Lance’s shirt and attached themselves to his stomach and spine.

Look, Lance tried to remove them, okay? He tried. Almost got a headbutt for his troubles.

Keith’s still complaining. “I hate the Galra, fuck. Fucking cats. Couldn’t Mom have been a small green man or something?”

That shocks a laugh out of Lance. “You’d rather have your dad be attracted to B-movie villain, than to need a hug now and then?”

“Yes,” Keith replies emphatically. “I’m going through fucking puberty a second time, Lance. My teeth hurt. I want to chew on something, like, all the time now, what the hell.

“There, there,” Lance snickers. “Just let it all out, kitty, I got you.”

“Fuck you.”

I wish, goes the traitorous voice in his head. The hand he’s buried in Keith’s hair twitches and Keith whines. “Ah, sorry.”

“No, it—” Keith bites his lip. “Do it again?”

“Sure,” Lance acquiesces. Because he’s a good partner and a great teammate and this is for Keith’s well-being, not for any ulterior motives at all. This is a sacrifice, not a dream come true that Lance is indulging in, get it in your head, McClain.

Keith snuggles into him; he tucks his toes under Lance’s thigh and his nose to spot behind Lance’s ear. Five feet eleven inches of apex predator and pure, lean muscle—all up in Lance’s business.

He tosses his tablet on the couch in defeat; he dares anyone to get work done like this. You can’t. It’s impossible.

Pidge walks in two hours later—because of course Keith’s greedy today—and squints at them. She reaches into her pocket.

“I’ll clean your workstation,” Lance offers. “Spotless, I promise. No sauce splatters, no more empty coffee cups lying around. I’ll do it.”

“Tempting,” she says. “But nah.”

And because Keith’s fallen asleep on him, Lance has to just sit there and let Pidge take the goddamn picture.

Next time, they’re doing this somewhere private.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next time turns out to be in the training room, unfortunately.

They’re in there, sparring, because—well, because they both fucking miss going up against each other, okay? This touch-starvation thing means that they haven’t had a good fight in weeks, it’s—irritating.

And it’s just not the same with the others. Pidge gets bored of combat training easily; Hunk’s fighting style is way too similar to Lance’s; Shiro still kind of intimidates him, undisputed Galra Champion that he is; Coran’s way too busy; and Allura is just—no. No, she’d beat his ass until it’s concave, no thank you, he’s not a masochist.

Keith’s…really the only fit for him. And judging by the frequency that Keith agrees to spar with him, he’d bet it’s mutual.

The spar was going fine. They had long-sleeves on, no one was in shorts or anything. Keith even got them both gloves to wear, ones that covered their entire hands. Sure, they were practicing hand-to-hand, but with the precautions, Keith shouldn’t have been in any danger of zoning out.

Shouldn’t, being the operative word.

“Dude, you have to let go of me, I need to check if your head’s hurt,” Lance explains patiently.

“Later,” mumbles Keith. Right, like a possible concussion would wait until you’re ready to examine it. Unbelievable. Even when he’s dumb, he’s cute.

Five minutes ago, they were in the middle of it, trading blows on the mats, rapid-fire. Lance’s blood was singing with adrenaline and Keith had a wild grin on his flushed face. And perhaps they were too caught up in it. Perhaps they forgot how sweaty sparring can get. And perhaps they forgot that sweat on mats can make you slip and only remembered when Keith ducked to avoid Lance, fell on his ass, and promptly slammed his head on the floor.

And you know, Lance obviously freaked out and went to check Keith’s head, but the gloves couldn’t feel shit so he took them off and—okay, you get it.

He’s on his back, Keith plastered to his front. Why the guy had to tackle him at the first touch, he doesn’t know. It’s not like he was going to run away at this point in their arrangement.

Staring resignedly at the ceiling, he slides his fingers over Keith’s scalp and gently feels about. No blood, it seems. “Does it hurt anywhere?”

“My ass,” says Keith. Then, cheekily, “You want to check that, too?”

If it were possible to disintegrate into dark matter, Lance would’ve. “Shut up, you’re not funny.”

“Why’re you smiling, then?”

Lance stops smiling. “You’re delusional. Clearly, we need to take you to medbay.”

“We’d be there already if you hadn’t taken off your gloves.”

“Oh, so this is my fault now?” he asks, indignant.

“Lance McClain can’t keep his hands to himself, alert the press—”

“Yeah, keep talking, smartass, I’m about to kill you—”

“I’ve got you pinned, McClain, just try it—”

This time, Coran is the one to walk in on them. He regards them—locked in an impromptu wrestling match, shirts half off—for a long moment.

“I can explain,” says Lance.

Keith snorts. Fuck him, honestly.

“No need,” replies Coran. He takes out his datapad, writes something down, then turns on his heel and leaves.

One day, Lance is going to steal that datapad and throw it in the recycler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some days are going to be bad. Some days are just trash. Some days, you’re going to give your best, fight within an inch of your life, and you’re still going to feel like you’ve accomplished nothing.

The knowledge doesn’t make it easier to stomach failure.

Lance pulls a t-shirt over his head. The fresh bruises on his back protest the movement. He runs a hand over his abdomen, knowing he won’t feel a mark because of the healing pod, but still expecting a shallow gash where his brain says there should be one.

Today was a bad day.

Today, there was a battle, an infiltration, and a child where there shouldn’t have been a child. Today, Lance had sacrificed some blood, some flesh, to save a kid. A little boy, nearly-comatose and thin as the branches of a willow tree. He’s in a pod himself, now, a small thing, a bed—a cradle, really.

Today, Lance had saved the kid, but didn’t show up in time to save the parent. Today, Lance left someone behind. A body, cold to the touch.

He’s in the middle of deciding if he should bother trying to sleep tonight when there’s a knock on his door.

It slides open to reveal—

“Keith?”

“Hi,” says Keith.

Lance blinks. “Hi. What are you doing here?”

“Are you busy?”

He squints. “What are you hiding behind your back?”

“Just answer the question.”

“That better not be another fire-breathing lizard,” he says warily.

Keith pouts. Fucking pouts, Jesus Christ on a stick. “If you had let me keep the first one, I wouldn’t keep trying, you know.”

“Dude, it burnt your arm hair off. And some of your skin. Plus, Coran said they’re picky eaters and don’t make good pets—”

“Okay, okay, stop. That’s not what I’m here for.”

Lance throws his arms over his chest and gasps, exaggerated. “A booty call? Keith, you pervert!”

Red splashes all over Keith’s cheeks. “Dude, shut up, that’s not—” he gurgles, incomprehensible, and kicks at Lance. “Just—get on the bed, idiot!”

“That’s not really convincing me that you’re not here for nefarious purposes.”

“I’ll kill you, how’s that for nefarious purposes?”

Lance laughs, throwing himself onto the bed. Keith joins him a beat later, sitting cross-legged by his hip. Lance tries to peek around him to see whatever’s in his hands. Keith nudges him back with a socked foot, growling when Lance makes to tickle him.

“You’re such a handful,” Keith grouses.

Lance sticks his tongue out. “Let me see what you have.”

“A knife,” Keith deadpans. “Ow! Stop—I thought you liked Vine references!”

“It feels wrong when you say it!”

“Fucking stop—okay, fine, here!” Keith thrusts a bundle at him. “Just—open it.”

Lance takes the offering, careful to avoid Keith’s bare hands, and places it in his lap. He looks at it. Looks up at Keith. Look back down. “Is this—did you just give me a present?”

Keith puts his face in his hands.

“I feel like I should document this.”

“I swear to god, Lance, I’ll stab you.”

The present is haphazardly swaddled in crinkled blue paper. There’s too much tape in some places and not enough in others. The shape of it isn’t square or round or a neat in any way. Altogether, it kind of looks like a large rock in wrapping paper.

Lance still feels like his chest in caving in, though.

He peels the clumps of tape back and eases the paper open. Three objects fall into his lap.

A cream sweater, so soft to the touch that it almost feels like he’s touching nothing at all; a pair of black gloves, made of a sturdy but supple material; and a strange piece of tech.

“It’s not even my birthday,” he murmurs.

Keith shrugs. “I was going to save it for then, but I figured…I figured you need it more, now.”

Lance presses his lips together, eyes stinging. The sweater fills the spaces between his fingers so nicely when he buries his hands in it, fighting down the wave of emotions threatening to spill over.

“Where’d you even get these?” he asks after a moment, voice only a bit hoarse. “We don’t exactly have spending money.”

“Blade missions take me to lots of places,” Keith replies. “And while I don’t have money, I do have skills, you know. The sweater was—a merchant asked me to clear out some predators near his land. The gloves, I got on a base raid with Kolivan. He said they’re pretty high quality but too small to fit Galra hands; probably belonged to someone they captured.”

“So, you stole these. From a dead person.”

“I—no one was using them! And they’re perfect for sword-wielding; you’re going to have a better time practicing with your broadsword if you wear these.”

Lance is seriously—he’s going to eat his bed, this is—too much. He lifts the last gift. “And what about this?”

Keith takes it from him and sets it on his bedside table. He fiddles with the tech for a bit, mumbling under his breath. Just as Lance is about to offer to get Pidge or Hunk, Keith makes a triumphant noise. He hops over to the bed and settles in beside Lance, leaving a foot of space between them. He hesitates, glancing at Lance.

Lance presses his lips together, because Keith really reminds him of a puppy and he needs to stop having gay feelings right now, this is so not the time. “What?”

“I—just hope you’ll like it, is all,” Keith mumbles. “Okay, um—lights off.”

Before Lance had entered the Garrison, he’d spend every summer at the beach, without fail.

Every day, he’d track sand into his bedsheets, shells into his backpack, and sea salt onto his lashes. He’d swim until the lifeguards got sick of him, he’d dig his toes into the sand until the crabs snapped back— anything you could do at a beach, he did them all.

But of all the things he liked to do, it had to be just—letting himself sink. Letting his body drift down right under the waves, where the setting sun strikes gold and blinding, bands of sunflower light dancing in the blue. He’d look at his arms, his body, and see the tides written along his skin. He’d see it, and his head would go quiet. Absolutely, utterly silent. And he’d let himself drift until his lungs screamed him awake.

Keith says lights off and drops him right back there, into the past.

The room is awash in blue, in all its shades. Ripples of water climb over the walls. It’s lightest on the ceiling and darker on the floor, as if there really is a sun above, shining down. His room has been transformed, transmutated into an aquarium. Lance inhales and his lungs tell him air, but all he sees and feels is water. Is ocean, is sea, is home.

He looks down and there, it’s the same. Across his shirt, his pajamas, the tides wave to him. On instinct, he holds his breath. His eyes prickle. He exhales.

“I knew I had to get it for you,” says Keith, with an ocean drifting across his galaxy eyes, “when I saw it on display at the mall. And before you accuse me of anything, I didn’t steal this one. I actually bargained pretty well for—”

“Keith,” whispers Lance, “shut up.”

He doesn’t think, just throws himself at Keith like all of his limbs are magnetized to him. He wraps himself so thoroughly around Keith, not even caring that their skin touches. He welcomes it, at this point. There are so many things he wants to say but—god, he can’t find the words. This—this is—

“I can’t believe you,” he mutters. “You—I—”

Keith laughs, even as his arms are compelled to hug Lance back. “You’re welcome, Lance. Though you couldn’t have held back a little? You know I can’t let you go like this. We’re going to be stuck for a while.”

Lance just squeezes him harder; Keith goes slack, sighing.

“Thank you,” Lance says quietly. “You’re a really good friend, Keith.”

Keith squeezes him back, cheek to cheek. “You taught me that.”

Lance smiles into Keith’s hair. He—this—god, just—he’s so fucking happy. He feels like bursting into tears, into delirious laughter. His heart swells like the ocean, like a full moon.

He falls back onto the bed, taking Keith with him. Keith goes willingly, making himself comfortable on Lance’s chest. The sea lights wash over them, soothing. Lance’s hands find Keith’s hair again, stroking through it. He wonders how long Keith will need this time.

He drifts off before he can find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He wakes up later to Keith, tossing and turning. He grumbles and pulls Keith in, trapping his bony limbs in place. He goes back to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, the kid wakes up. It’s hell, watching Allura explain to him where he is, who he’s with. It’s hell to see in his eyes that he already knows what happened to his parent, hell to see him finally break down in Coran’s arms.

But Keith has his shoulder pressed to Lance’s, and it keeps him upright.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s funny—and by funny Lance means distressing—is that all this touching they’re doing is conditioning them. Specifically, conditioning them into being way more touchy-feely than they ever were.

It’s like a never-ending spiral into hell. They touch because Keith needs it. They get used to it and reach out more, only to realize they can’t. Keith gets agitated and so does Lance, just a bit, and then before he knows it, they’re cuddling more aggressively the next session around. Which ups their quota for contact and aggravates Keith further when he still isn’t able to touch outside of the sessions. Which means their sessions get longer and so on and so forth. Rinse and repeat.

It’d be alright if Lance could still like, hip-check Keith or punch his arm lightly or kick him good-naturedly over their clothes or armor. Because theoretically, it should help take the edge off, right?

Except, the one time he tried that—although Keith didn’t collapse or anything, the guy did stare at him for the rest of the day with like, the hungriest expression, and then ruined their cuddle schedule by jumping Lance a day early.

So Lance doesn’t do that anymore.

Sometimes, he can’t tell if Keith is getting better or not. It’s been four months, and although Keith’s fully aware when they touch now, he’s still as clingy as ever, still as starved for Lance’s skin as he was at the start—if not more.

“You ever think about how surreal our lives are?” Keith muses, with his aggravatingly low voice. Fuck him, honestly. Can he not say that right up against Lance’s ear like that?

They’re in Keith’s bed, covers bunched at their feet. Today, he’s decided to gather Lance up in his arms, his chest to Lance’s back. One arm is under Lance’s neck, the other tight around Lance’s torso. He’s got Lance’s left foot trapped between his, and Lance’s left hand twined with his own. Lance doesn’t know if Keith even realizes that he has it and is rubbing circles on it.

Earlier, Lance had to pop into the bathroom to piss and that was a catastrophe and a half—first off, Keith refused to let go of him. He had to employ actual hand-to-hand techniques just to subdue Keith long enough to bolt for the bathroom. Second, Keith had grumbled at him through the door the entire time, like he was the unreasonable one here. And third, when Lance opened the door, Keith had been pressed against it, like he’d been listening, like he’d been worried Lance would disappear or something.

Everything about this screams possessive.

Lance fiddles with a loose thread on the bed sheet. “No. I’ll go insane if I have to seriously consider it.”

Keith huffs a laugh; Lance feels it like a punch to his gut. “You know, recently, I’ve been entertaining myself thinking about how I’d explain any of this to a past me.”

“You find that entertaining? That’d be a nightmare for me.”

“Really?” Keith hums. His breath ruffles Lance’s hair. “I mean, true, parts of our life can be shitty like the dying and the trauma and the whole being hunted by a genocidal empire thing—”

“No, yeah, please continue, I don’t think I get the point just yet,” Lance says dryly.

“—but there’s the good and the fun, too. Right?”

“I mean, sure. Pidge’s got her family back, you found Shiro and got a lead on your mom, Hunk’s stopped puking while piloting, and I finally beat the boss level in Killbot Phantasm yesterday.”

“Exactly,” Keith laughs. He falls quiet. “I think past me would be a bit jealous, actually.”

“Jealous?”

Keith’s arms tighten around Lance. “I have a lot more good in my life now than I did back then.”

Lance opens his mouth. Closes it. He eyes the grip Keith has on his hand and something tremulous and aching wells up in his lungs. Dangerous. “Yeah?”

“Mm. I’ve just been having these thoughts because, well, if I could tell him it gets better, I would.” Keith curls around Lance some more—if that’s possible—legs sliding between his, forcing Lance to curl in with him. Lance feels—held. Cherished. Oh, god, when will this stop? When will Keith let him rest? “If I could tell him that his family grows, that they stay, I would. If I could tell him he’ll get hurt and do dangerous things, I would. Because he’ll be doing it to help others. He’ll be saving people, like his dad.”

Lance swallows.

“I’d tell him he’ll be okay, wherever he goes and whoever he fights, because he’ll have friends to watch his back, like in those kids’ adventure shows he loves so much.” Keith’s voice grows softer. “And I’d want to tell him that he gets a badass partner, one that puts up with his shit and even makes him stronger. Someone who can handle him at his roughest, someone who he can be weak in front of, mess up in front of, and they won’t do anything but pull him up and say, ‘okay, now let’s fix this.’”

Shit. Shit, what is he saying all of a sudden? “Keith…”

Keith squeezes him. “Sorry. I know it’s kind of a lot.”

Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. You don’t just drop a bomb like that on someone who has a raging crush on you. It’s taking all that Lance has, to not turn around and kiss Keith stupid. Fuck, he wasn’t supposed to acknowledge any of that. But it’s too late, he can’t deny it now.

“It’s—okay,” he says, wracking his brain for something comforting to say with out sounding utterly in love. “I get it. I—you know we’re glad we have you in our lives, too, right? ‘Cause we do.”

“Even you?” Keith teases, and his ugly, gravelly voice makes it gross, so gross, the grossest, ew, ugh, why’s it so hot? “The great Lance McClain, my one and only rival?”

“I take it back, I hate you so much.”

Keith laughs—he’s been laughing so much these days, what the fuck, can he chill for one goddamn moment, fuck’s sake—and the rumbles in his chest feel disgustingly nice against Lance’s back. He’s so warm, goddamn it all.

“Yeah, I know.” There’s a press of something soft and fleeting to the nape of Lance’s neck. Did he just—? “Ah, m’tired. I want to take a nap…”

“I—what?” Lance is so goddamn confused, he’s three steps behind this entire conversation. “Why? Were you up last night thinking about this or something?”

“Or something.” Keith exhales; you can still hear the smile in it. “Hey, take a nap with me.”

“What? No.” Lance tries to wiggle out; no luck. “Dude, we have to help Hunk with dinner in twenty minutes!”

No answer.

“Bro. Dude? Keith, you headass, are you serious? I’m not even tired. Am I supposed to just lie here? Keith? Keith!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That session sticks with Lance for a long while. Honestly, he can see it sticking with him for—well, forever. Keith saying anything longer than five sentences is amazing in and of itself, but having him be sentimental? Lance has heartburn for five straight (gay) days. Every minute, he has to remind himself that it’d be weird to just scoop Keith up and hug him until he cries. Lance mostly just sits in silence, consumed by tender longing. It’s so fucking gay. It’s sickening. He’s tired of himself.

Yeah, he’s acknowledging it now. Figures there’s no point pretending anymore. He’s—he’s gay. He’s got a fat, gay crush on Keith. His leader, his brother-in-arms. Shit.

“Lance? Are you okay?”

He raises his head.

Shiro stands on the other side of the kitchen island, a plate of brownies in one hand and a bottle of—is that Puirian wine?

“You’re going to drink at 4 in the morning,” Lance says. “With brownies?”

“You’re the one having a breakdown in the dark—can you really judge me?”

Lance considers this. He holds out a hand. “Pass me one?”

Shiro does. He takes the seat across Lance. “I won’t tell Hunk if you don’t.”

“I value my life, too, you know.”

“Cool. So, want to tell me about whatever this is?” Shiro pops a brownie in his mouth, uncaps the wine and take a swig. Is this what Lance is going to be like five years from now? Gay, traumatized, and consuming bad food combinations?

“Dunno if you’re the right person to talk to about this, no offense.”

“Why? Because it’s about my brother?”

Lance chokes on his brownie. “Fuck, Shiro—how—how did you—?”

Shiro levels a finger at him. His nails are turquoise blue. “You’re asking me how I know? Really? When we all know Keith literally, actually, physically needs to cuddle you and only you? Even though the condition in any other Galra could usually be satisfied by anyone? You’re going to ask me that like there’s some other interesting thing that’s happened to you recently that would make you this dramatic? Really? You’re going to ask me that to my face?”

Okay. Okay, he has a point. But— “Is it that obvious?”

“The team has a betting pool going, you know.”

Lance lays his head on the counter.

“We don’t exactly have money to bet,” Shiro continues, “but I put in my stash of chocolate for this, so if you could, like, make a move sometime this month, I’d appreciate it.”

“Experimentation changed you,” Lance deadpans, because they’re all close enough for dark humor now. “You weren’t this cruel at the Garrison.”

“Well, yeah, I didn’t pay for plastic surgery just to come out looking the same.”

“You didn’t pay at all.”

“Is that why Haggar keeps coming after me?”

Lance breaks character and Shiro follows, snorting brownie crumbs everywhere. Shiro chokes, predictably, and when he takes a swig of wine to clear his throat, Lance makes a honking noise and Shiro chokes again and now they just two guys sitting in the dark, wheezing and gasping, just fucking struggling to breathe.

It takes them a good while to calm down.

Lance swipes away the tears in his eyes. His stomach hurts. Shiro’s wrapped around the wine bottle, face to the counter. His hair has flopped over into his brownies. Silence sinks in, with only the discordant hum of the refrigeration units to interrupt.

“I think Keith loves me,” Lance says quietly.

Even as he says it, he knows he’s right. Even as he tries to deny it, he’s never felt more certain of anything before. It doesn’t matter how much he tries to rationalize it, doesn’t matter how much he tries to convince himself that it’s not what he thinks. He can’t shake off the word partner; the intimacy in Keith’s voice; the imprint of his body around Lance’s.

All of it had felt like Keith had been trying to tell him one thing, and ended up admitting another.

“He told me how happy he is out here with us. He called us his family.” He looks down at the countertop. “And then—in his own way—I think he said he loves me. I don’t know if he was aware of it.”

Shiro sits up slowly. He props his chin in his palm. “…You don’t sound surprised by his feelings.”

“I-I am, it’s just—” Lance opens and closes his mouth, struggling to articulate what he feels.

It’s not that he isn’t surprised. He is, if only because he thought they wouldn't acknowledge this thing they had until it was years down the line, probably while one of them was dying or something. And while he knew that they shared a close bond, he’d only been fifteen percent sure there were romantic overtones to it. He hadn’t let himself think about it.

When would they have that luxury? That excess of time? To indulge, to explore what they could be? And if they tried, would they be satisfied with stolen moments? With their love squeezed between their duties like an afterthought? Could they swallow that?

He hadn’t let himself think about it.

Shiro looks at Lance like he knows. “Do you have an answer for him?”

And, shit—shouldn’t he be more surprised at how quickly the answer pops into his head? Isn’t this moving too fast? He feels like it is, he feels like he’s in Red, hurtling towards a star at full throttle. His heart is in his throat.

“You should tell him.”

“I just—” He rubs his neck. “I don’t know if I’m ready. For—for that kind of change.”

“When do you think you will be?”

That stops him.

When…when does he think he’ll be ready?

When does he think he’ll be ready for Keith? For anything that Keith does? For the smiles he gives and the kindness he shows, the love hidden just under his veins? When does Lance think he’ll be ready for Keith’s eyes on him, only on him, Keith’s adoration painted on him—when does he think he’ll be ready for that?

He’ll never be ready.

Truth is, he’ll always be off-guard, his heart will always skip fifteen beats. Lance will never be ready, because every second with Keith is unexplainable, is unplottable. Every moment is new and different and good.

If Lance waited until he was ready, he’d never move at all.

“Shit,” he says.

Shiro smiles.

Lance throws a brownie at him. “Shut up, you’re just happy that you’re not losing your chocolates.”

“I mean who wouldn’t—Lance, no, put the plate down right now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lance pens the decision to Have A Talk into his calendar. He looks at it and nods, decisively.

Yeah, still fucking horrifying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They do get around to it. It just doesn’t go the way he thought it would.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As suddenly as it arrives, the touch-starvation leaves Keith.

It happens like this:

Lance gets poisoned.

Okay, most likely, it had nothing to do with Lance getting poisoned. The side effects probably wore off in the three days since their last session, but they find out when Lance gets poisoned.

With a job like theirs, you’re bound to get scraped up now and then. Everyone on the team has got at least a handful of scars by now. It’s not a big deal. If you get thrown, if you crack a rib or scrape your elbow or tear your suit to shreds, you just keep going. Sometimes you don’t even feel like stopping. Adrenaline is scary like that.

So really, it’s not Lance’s fault he didn’t notice.

The burning in his veins could totally have been mistaken for leftover adrenaline! And with his body tingling the entire fight, how was he supposed to remember that one soldier that ripped up the back of his suit with a nasty, serrated dagger? That shit basically happens every time he steps foot outside. That guy wasn’t special. So what if his entire spine went numb? He has bad circulation.

It’s only when they’re debriefing that Lance starts to think maybe, just maybe something is wrong.

Allura is saying something. He’d bet his face cream it’s something inspiring and heartfelt, she’s real good at that stuff. Especially when the mission ends up worse than they expect, and fuck, was it tough as shit today. Problem is, Lance can’t understand a word she’s saying. He’s about to ask if her translator is off when his vision swims and goes all blotchy.

As if his body was waiting for a signal, everything starts shutting down. His chest becomes ten times heavier; breathing is impossible. His legs lose all feeling. He stumbles and topples onto someone.

He has enough awareness to feel the rumble in their chest, to hear the alarmed, “Lance?” and register the arms that scramble to hold him up. When he tries to move, nothing happens. The wires in his head are cut. He thinks there’s a commotion, but he can’t be sure. All his senses are failing. There’s nothing but blackness.

Hm, he thinks sluggishly, I don’t think this is because of my iron deficiency.

A second later, he’s out like light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Lance grumbles his way out of the pod—god, he hates being in there, always stinks like fish even though he and Coran spend hours cleaning this shit—the team is sitting cross-legged on the floor, playing—Go-Fish. They’re playing Go-Fish. God.

“Oh, he’s up,” remarks Allura, not even looking up. “Hunk, if you would?”

Hunk reaches behind him and pulls out The Whiteboard. He erases the ‘14’ written there, uncaps a marker, and writes a big, fat ‘0’ with way too much flourish.

The Whiteboard now reads: Days since someone drank their dumb bitch juice: 0.

“C’mon guys,” Lance groans.

“Ah, ah, ah.” Hunk wags his finger. “Poisoned people don’t get to complain.”

“Gimme your sixes, Shiro,” demands Keith.

Shiro throws a card at him. It lands on Pidge. “Fuck off.”

Keith plucks it off Pidge’s hair and places all his cards down, smoothing them into a neat order on the floor. He regards them proudly.

“Fuck off,” repeats Shiro venomously.

Coran makes a note on his datapad.

Lance feels laughter bubble up in his stomach. Shit, he hates this, they’re hilarious, what the hell. He’s so tired, he can’t even allow himself to laugh. “How long have you guys been sitting here for?”

“All day, asshole,” replies Pidge. “Don’t get poisoned next time, Jesus Christ.”

He snorts and plops down beside her, putting all his weight on her. She grunts but doesn’t push him away. She shows him her cards and he blinks lazily at them.

“Shiro, you got any threes?” he asks.

“Fuck all of you!” Shiro hurls his cards at them.

The room bursts into noise as they all duck, laughing and flinging their cards around. Keith curls over his, the overprotective idiot. Hunk tackles Shiro to the floor and Allura grabs Pidge around the waist and fucking tosses her in the air, the both of them giggling as she falls back into Allura’s arms. Coran is still taking notes.

Lance falls onto his back, only managing to hiccup breathlessly before his body goes nope, no, we’re way too behind on calories to do anything but lie here.

Keith peeks up from behind his arms and shares a smile with him. “Feel alright?”

“Same as always,” he answers. “Sorry I didn’t notice.”

“It’s alright, we’ve learned to expect that from you.”

Lance smacks his arm weakly. “Ass.”

“Idiot.”

In the background, Hunk has Shiro in a chokehold, apologizing the whole time while Shiro cusses like it’s the end of the world. Pidge stands over them, raining cards on them and cackling. Allura is running around the room, Coran’s datapad in hand as he chases after her, pleading uselessly. It’s good to see them like this; means he wasn’t in the red this time. He hates to worry them.

Keith stretches out on his stomach, right over his cards. He reaches for Lance’s outstretched hand. Lance is about to remind him of his condition when their fingers twine together, and all Keith does is give him a warm smile.

“Oh,” breathes Lance. “It’s over?”

“Mhm. Found out when you fell on me. Didn’t feel that stupid urge to…” Keith trails off, face reddening.

Lance clears his throat. “That’s—um, good?”

“Hah, yeah, I couldn’t exactly have joined you in the pod.”

“And now that means we don’t have to be on guard all the time, thank god.”

“Ugh, that was such a pain.”

Somewhere beyond Lance’s field of vision, there’s a loud crash. Allura swears, followed quickly by the sound of Coran spluttering.

It’ll be freeing, Lance muses, to go back to normal. To not have to worry about proximity. And—god, to finally be able to train together again? Hell yeah. Even though all the cuddling did feel unfairly good. And who knows, maybe once they talk out their feelings, they’ll get to do it again. Maybe.

“This is nice,” Keith hums, rubbing a thumb over the back of Lance’s hand. He hasn’t let go. Why hasn’t he let go yet?

Lance raises a brow. “Would’ve thought you’d gotten used to it. That’s all we did for months.”

“Nah, that stuff was—intense.” Keith grimaces. “Almost couldn’t enjoy it. Was too busy being embarrassed. It felt—good, I mean, obviously it did, but…”

He tightens his grip. “But this is better. This is—on purpose. I get to touch you, on purpose, now.”

His cheek is squished to the cold floor, black hair a mess and threatening to poke his eyes, but he looks at Lance like he’d stay in that uncomfortable position for hours if it meant they could hold hands. And not because he needs to, apparently, but because he wants to.

“You’ve been trying to tell me something recently,” Lance mumbles, “haven’t you?”

“…Yeah.”

“I’m not reading you wrong?” he asks, just—just to be sure. Just in case.

“Do you want me to say it?”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

“Okay,” says Keith easily. “I like you, Lance. You’re my best friend, my partner, and I want to love you as my boyfriend, too. Say yes?”

Lance drags himself up, shuffles over on his hands and knees to roll Keith onto his back, and flops onto that firm chest.

“Yes,” he says, face buried in Keith’s neck.

“Awesome.” Keith presses a kiss to his hair.

“Fucking finally,” Shiro yells from the other side of the room. “Everybody pay up!”

A chorus of groans; Hunk whining, “Oh c’mon, Lance—now? Really?” but Lance is too warm and sleepy to care. Shiro better share his spoils later.

“I hate them,” mutters Keith, the fondness in his tone at odds with his words.

Lance listens to his family bickering and smiles.

Keith’s right. Everything is so much better like this.