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Silence has a Sound

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Keith didn’t want to deal with people.

People just ended up hurting, manipulating, lying and using him. Every single person that was decent in his life left him or died. One or the other.

Keith Kogane just didn’t do people.

So he decided at thirteen years old that his enforced silence at his group home (through threat of starvation and beatings) would become his entire life. No one would ever hear a single word come out of his mouth. No one cared about him, no one mattered to him in turn.

Who would really notice?

Well, his pre-teen self must have really underestimated the novelty of the ‘mute kid’ and the never-ending pull to bullies no matter where he went. It didn’t help he dressed in mostly all black and could even be called ‘ratty’ since his hair was rarely cut to a suitable length.

He was expecting the exact same treatment when he was transferred to another group home in the next state over, to Voltron High.

Keith sighed, staring at the building and hating that in every place he’d been that the age to drop out of high school was eighteen instead of sixteen.

Maybe he could look into emancipation. Maybe that’ll make it easier.

He could try to run away again.

Although that really never got him anywhere.

“-and then she said I had pretty eyes so I think it’s safe to say that she’s definitely in love with me.”

“Lance, you’re completely delusional.”

“Wha-Pidge, I will have you know-!”

“Dude, watch it!”

Keith looked over to see a tall, lanky tan boy walking backwards just before he ran straight into Keith. They both took a tumble, sprawling all over the concrete at the base of the stairs and Keith managed to scrape up his forearms and elbows.

Yeah, this is about how my life goes.

The tall boy groaned next to him, rubbing at his head since he seemed to land on his back and hit it on the ground.

“Oh my god, are you both okay?”

A very large dark-skinned boy hurried to look them both over, Keith momentarily confused as to why he cared about Keith when it was his friend that fell too. Another pint-sized person crouched next to Keith specifically, kind of looking like some kind of bird.

“Great going, Lancey Long Legs. You managed to barely not murder someone with your scatter-brain,” the small person said, sarcastically.

“Hey dude, I am so sorry,” the tan boy said (apparently named Lance).

Keith looked over in surprise. When was the last time someone actually apologized to him?

The tan boy looked genuinely apologetic and chagrined, wincing as he helped Keith up to sitting with a hand on his back. Keith wasn’t really sure what else to do other than flinch away as though Lance had struck him.

Lance looked startled by the sudden movement, confused. He shook it off, as the big man helped his friend up by giving him a hand. The small person reached out a hand for Keith too but he smacked it away and scrambled to stand by himself.

“We should get you both to the nurse just in case. You might have a concussion and you need those scrapes bandaged,” the big guy said, pointing to Lance first and then to Keith.

Keith wasn’t sure how to say no to that (and considering he hadn’t spoken in maybe three or four years he just couldn’t manage an idea of what to do) so he let the group basically force him into step next to Lance up the stairs and down the hallways to the supposed nurse’s office.

“I really am so sorry, man. Completely my fault,” Lance said, a hand over his chest.

Keith glanced to him, then just huffed and shrugged it off. Lance frowned, now even more confused.

“I don’t recognize you, though. What’s your name? What year are you?” Lance asked, persistently.

Keith hesitated, wondering if he just didn’t respond at all then maybe he’d shut up. But it might have been the first time anyone had given him genuine attention in years, so he just sighed and pulled out the schedule the school emailed him before he was transferred.

Lance took the offered schedule with an intrigued eyebrow tilt and then read it.

“Keith Kogane,” Lance read out (surprising Keith with a proper pronunciation of his last name). “Junior. Oh, you’re a new student? Shit, then I’m really, really sorry. Not a great introduction to the school. Don’t worry, I’ll help you out. We actually have like four classes together. Oh, dip you’ve gotta be smart as hell, you got physics with Iverson. We’re all in that class but I had to get like two teacher recommendations. And we can tell you that guy’s a major asshole. Again, don’t worry though. We’ve got your back.”

Keith was readily baffled by all this. He hadn’t even spoken to them, but they all chimed in to say that they’d help Keith in class.

How long was it going to take that they realized he didn’t speak at all and left him to the dogs?

“Ah, here we are!” the big guy announced. “Hey, Coran?”

They all herded into the nurse’s office and Keith jumped a foot in the air when a man with orange hair and handlebar mustache careened out of his personal office at Mach speed. Lance snorted at the reaction, bumping shoulders with Keith.

“This is Coran. He’s the nurse. I think he’s actually a PA or something, but we have zero clue what he’s talking about most of the time,” Lance explained to him.

“Now who’s the sickly and ill, hm?” Coran asked in a strong New Zealand accent.

Keith was starting to think just maybe everyone who went to this school was stunningly bizarre and crazy. Maybe that was a good thing for him, since then he’d actually fit right in.

“Lance just took out the new kid,” the small person said, pointing to Lance and Keith.

“Ah, that’s not very nice now!” Coran said, hands on his hips at Lance.

“Hey! It was an accident! And I apologized!” Lance said, indignantly.

Keith actually had to hold back a snicker. That hadn’t happened in nearly a year.

“Well, come, come. Sit and let me see the damage. And you are new, yes?” Coran addressed this last part to Keith.

Keith nodded. Coran hummed, leading him to the single padded bench as Lance sat next to him. Keith held out his arms to show the scrapes and Coran tsked sympathetically.

“Quite the tumble, then? Do you both feel alright? No dizziness or concussion? Maybe nausea or pain?” Coran asked them both as he brought out the first aid kit.

“I might have hit my head,” Lance said, wincing as he rubbed the spot. “So possibly a headache. But no dizziness or nausea.”

And Keith just shook his head no. Just indicated more with his arms the scrapes were the only injury. Coran nodded.

“Alright, then I can give Lance a Tylenol and I’ll give you a few bandages for your boo-boos!” Coran said, holding out a bunch of multi-colored band-aids with stars and hearts all over them.

Keith made a disgusted face at being treated like a child as the other teenagers laughed raucously. Lance patted a hand on Keith’s shoulder, startling him again. What was with this guy and personal space? It was like he’d never even heard of it. What part of Keith’s overall demeanor screamed ‘yes, I love platonic touching’?

“Oh man, your face was great. Don’t worry, though. I’ll lend you my jacket so that no one sees you wearing pink hearted band-aids,” Lance said, shrugging off his jacket.

Keith only had time to look even more perplexed before Lance just set the jacket on over his shoulders. It engulfed his smaller frame and hung off of him as Coran disinfected and cleaned the cuts.

He just sat there in complete bewilderment as the other three teenagers went off into a conversation about Keith’s first class with Lance. It was an advanced English class, focused solely on classic literature and novels.

“Hey Keith?” Lance said, getting his attention again. “You happen to have read Jane Eyre before you came here?”

Keith blinked, then slowly nodded an assent. Lance gaped, shocked at this for some reason.

“What? Really? Did you have it assigned at your old school or something?”

He shook his head no. Lance’s jaw dropped wider.

What? You read it for fun or something?”

Keith shrugged, unsure of how else to respond. He wasn’t even sure the last time he had fun. He didn’t even really know what that entailed. Didn’t having fun mean you had to have friends? He hasn’t had friends since he was maybe ten years old.

Lance then got a calculating look on his face. He looked Keith up and down a few times, assessing.

“Huh. Interesting. I wouldn’t peg you the type that read the Brontes for fun. You look more like the Dracula or Frankenstein type. Maybe Stephen King,” Lance said, thoughtfully.

Stephen King, his absolute all-time favorite author. He’s read every single one of his books that he could get his hands on at least four times.

Keith was then struck by the sudden urge to speak. It was the first time he genuinely wanted to speak to someone in nearly three years. He wanted to ask Lance if he’s read Stephen King, which of his books was his favorite and why, did he see the IT movie and if so, why was it the best piece of cinema ever created by mankind.

Lance seemed to perceive marvelously, because he grinned in triumph.

“Dude, you are totally a Stephen King fan, huh? No surprise there. But understandable, that guy can write horror like no other. Straight up legend. Although, I think some of his most popular books are a little overrated. Like I get IT. Heh get it? Because get IT? Huh?”

Lance started nudging his elbow like Keith was actually supposed to take it as a pun. He did get it, obviously. He was just very unimpressed.

The smaller person still in the room started cackling at Keith’s non-response. They held their stomach as they pointed to Keith’s face.

“Oh my god, dude. No reaction at all. Not even a ‘shut up, Lance’. Incredible. Oh, I like him. I say we keep him,” they said, wiping under their eyes.

Keith looked at them like they’d grown two heads. What on earth was that supposed to mean?

“I like him, too,” Lance said, snorting. “Don’t you worry your pretty little mullet head. You’re in with us, now.”

They seriously didn’t even notice that Keith didn’t speak. At all. To any of them.

They were all complete idiots.

Keith decided at least they weren’t shoving him into lockers or anything.

 

 

Lance McClain made a new friend.

A new friend that had yet to say a single word.

As he sat down in all the classes they had together, he suddenly noticed it. No matter what was said to Keith, he didn’t verbally respond back.

When they first met that morning, Lance just thought he was shy or nervous. Probably just didn’t like socializing that much. Well, no matter. Easy for Lance, he got along with basically everyone he’d ever met. Except for complete douchebags, obviously.

But Keith just kept…being quiet.

No words escaped that boy’s mouth no matter what.

Lance was curious about it. Keith wasn’t deaf, because he responded to audible cues. He just didn’t speak.

He wondered if he was sick or something. Lost his voice. Laryngitis is a thing, right?

They all sat for the hell that was going to be Iverson’s physics class and Lance, Pidge and Hunk were sure to get seats all surrounding Keith like it was the usual thing to do. The boy looked a little weirded out by it, probably since they basically forced him into being friends with them even though he may not at all want it.

“So Keith.”

Keith looked over to Lance with an eyebrow quirked.

“Doing anything after school?”

He blinked in stupor. He looked around at Pidge and Hunk, then slowly shook his head.

“Cool, wanna go to the arcade with us?” Pidge asked, casually.

Keith made a face, like he didn’t exactly believe what they were asking of him. Lance rolled his eyes.

“Seriously, it’s not that lame. My sister works there and we get all kinds of open access to the machines and none of the assholes at this school ever go there because obviously they think it’s lame. Which it’s not. It’s fun. You should come.”

Before Keith could give a response, which Lance guessed might not have been anything at all, Iverson started the class with a slam of his hand on his desk. Everyone, even those used to Iverson’s ridiculous antics, jumped and the room went deathly silent.

“It’s time for class to begin,” Iverson said, gruffly.

As if he didn’t just add a jump scare to their schedule. God, that guy was an asshole.

Lance turned to give the group a Look, but froze at the expression on Keith’s face.

The boy was pale as a ghost and his hands were clenched into fists on his little table. His eyes were wide and his chest moved like he was breathing hard. He was staring at his fist, unable to look up.

Oh, that’s not good

Lance was quick to intervene.

He carefully ripped off a piece of his notebook paper and wrote ‘ya good, fam?’ before balling it up and throwing it to hit Keith’s face.

Keith startled, head whipping up to look at Lance with an offended expression. Lance pantomimed opening the paper and pointed to the ball on his desk. Keith then looked confused, but slowly took the paper and unfurled it. He frowned at the words.

Keith looked up, giving Iverson one glance to make sure he wasn’t looking and gave Lance a small nod. He looked like he was sucking on a lemon when he did so.

The rest of the class went by just as usual, in which everyone was struggling to keep up with everything going on. They would try to take as many notes as Iverson let them before moving on and ignoring any hands raised for questions.

“So now, I need some participation,” Iverson said, tone commanding.

The whole class had to hold back a groan. He always asked the hardest questions imaginable and never answered the raised hands, only those that had their heads down and not looking at him. It was the worst part of his class.

Iverson asked two questions, calling on a few poor souls before asking the hardest question yet. Not a single hand raised and everyone looked away from his roaming eye.

Lance’s stomach twisted as Iverson sneered.

“Keith Kogane. You’re new here, but you had to have good grades at your old school to get into my class. So why don’t we see what you’re made of?” Iverson said, bringing everyone’s attention to Keith.

Lance’s stomach dropped at the expression on Keith’s face, flinching like someone had physically hit him. Lance exchanged momentary panicked looks with Hunk and Pidge, who must have also noticed Keith’s lack of speaking before.

Maybe it was really just shyness around people wanting to be his friends. Maybe he’d speak up since it was obvious he couldn’t not speak.

And yet, Keith remained silent.

Iverson narrowed his eyes at Keith’s bowed head.

“Kogane. Answer the question.”

Keith didn’t even raise his head up to look. Iverson snarled, which made everyone cringe because the rest of them knew what was going to happen now.

Kogane. If you don’t know the answer, then you can just say so. At least attempt it. Now.”

Lance kept nervously looking between Keith and Iverson. Both of which seemed unable to concede their side.

Something was very, very wrong with Keith. It was stunningly obvious to Lance, then. It wasn’t just some quiet, stoic vibe. It wasn’t really just a nervous, shy attitude.

The boy was completely mute.

“Are you deaf? What is wrong with you? I’ll send you to the principal’s right this minute unless you say something,” Iverson boomed out, totally serious.

“Hey! You can’t talk to a student like that! What if he is deaf?”

Oh no. That was Lance’s voice. That meant that he just said that. To Iverson.

He was totally doomed.

“Excuse me?” Iverson asked him, eye bulging in fury. “What did you just say to me?”

Lance’s heart pounded with nerves, but he was already in too deep. Plus, he wanted to keep from Keith getting the brunt of it.

“He doesn’t know. Obviously. Just move on. You’re only making him feel worse,” Lance said, firmly back.

Iverson sucked in a sharp breath through his nostrils and then turned to pull out the pad of pink slips. Which meant someone was getting sent to the office. Great.

“McClain. Kogane. Go to the office.”

Lance sighed under his breath, standing up at the same time as Keith, gathering their things together. They took one slip each and then left the classroom, Lance indicating which way the principal’s office was with his chin. Keith nodded and they walked side-by-side.

“You okay?” Lance asked, just because he felt like he should.

Keith glanced up at him, with a fairly uncomfortable expression. He shrugged.

“Don’t let that get to you, man. Iverson’s a complete dickwad. Everyone hates him.”

Keith nodded, looking down at his shoes as they walked. Lance thought hard about it all, shoving his hands in his pockets as Keith wrapped Lance’s jacket around him tighter. Should he ask about why he doesn’t speak? That seemed like a really personal question. They really did only just meet, after all.

Lance stayed quiet in the end, leading them all the way to the principal’s office. They headed into the little alcove of the administration and gave their slips to the secretary.

“Alright, well she’ll be with you in a few minutes. Just sit over there.”

They both nodded, sitting in the chairs lined up against the wall. Keith fidgeted next to him, then sighed and pulled out a notebook and pen from his bag. He wrote down something on a blank page and handed it over to Lance.

You didn’t have to do that

“Do what?” Lance asked, confused.

Keith pinched his lips and scrawled another answer.

Stand up for me or whatever to Iverson

Lance hummed. “Don’t worry about it, man. It was really no big deal. Iverson sends kids to the office like ten times more than the usual. Really, the only reason he’s not fired is because he was on the school board for like ten years before he became a teacher. At most, we might get detention. But I know how to butter Ryner up, so don’t you worry. I think considering the fact that one, you’re new and two, I stood up for you…I think we can get out of this one completely scot-free.”

Keith made almost an amused face, which made Lance way giddy. It was now a mission of his to get Keith to actually smile. He had a feeling with the totally hot grunge look he had going on that it would be like seeing the sun after a long winter.

Keith looked down at the paper with a frown, thinking about something. Then he wrote something, paused and scratched it out, then wrote something else.

Why aren’t you fucking with me?

Why are you being so nice to me?

Lance frowned, too. He didn’t like that the first thing that Keith thought was that Lance should be making fun of him or something.

“Because you’re cool. At least to me you are. You’ve got this edgy, cool vibe to you. And I want to be your friend. So do my friends,” Lance said, shrugging.

“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re kind of quiet.”

Keith gave him a Look, like ‘really?’. Lance laughed, waving it off.

“You’re cool, man.”

Ryner was pretty lenient on them, knowing just how much of a hard-ass Iverson was. They only had to write an apology letter each to Iverson for being ‘disrespectful’ or whatever. Lance had to keep in an eye-roll. He hated that adults expected respect when none of them seemed to ever actually respect him in turn.

“Nice, we didn’t even get detention,” Lance said, smirking at Keith as they walked out.

Keith huffed, but did look a bit satisfied.

“So, you coming to the arcade?”

Keith glanced at him, then shrugged.

“Okay, it’s a yes or no question. I give everyone rides, you know. No need to worry about that. I got my restricted and a car already,” Lance said, proud of himself.

Keith’s mouth twisted almost enough for a close-mouthed smile. Lance grinned at the expression, nudging Keith’s shoulder.

“Come oonnn, come with us. Make friends. Learn how to not be emo. I swear that we’re all cool. Eh, maybe not Pidge because they’re a ridiculous gremlin, but me and Hunk are the absolute coolest at this school,” Lance said, persistently.

Keith breathed a long sigh, then rolled his eyes and threw his hands up in surrender. Lance fist pumped both hands into the air.

Hell yeah! Let’s go!”

 

 

Keith never had been adopted after getting thrown into the foster system, but he wondered if maybe this felt a little like that.

As the group met up in front of the school, Pidge (apparently by context clues he managed to figure out was the small gremlin person) immediately handed Keith a small white board and a marker with an eraser on top. He took them with a confused head tilt.

“So you can actually contribute to conversations, instead of having Lance just throw his giant ego around with you,” they said, casually.

Hunk grinned at him, friendly and kind. “And because we don’t want to make you uncomfortable by just asking you yes or no questions. So now you can respond or even ask your own questions easier.”

“I stole it from the art room,” Lance said, leading the group to his car.

Keith was stuck feeling strange, like he was almost touched by the gesture. These people weren’t trying to change him or make him go outside his comfort zone at all. They were actually trying to accommodate him and what he was comfortable with.

As they all piled into Lance’s car, Pidge and Keith in the back and Hunk up front, Keith uncapped the marker and asked the first question that came to mind. He showed it to Pidge quickly, wanting to ask without having to butt into their conversation that was soon to pick up.

You are Pidge right?

They blinked, then threw their head back and laughed.

“Yeah. Did you spend all day wondering which of us was Hunk and Pidge?” they asked, snickering.

“Wait, what?” Hunk asked, confused.

“Keith was apparently confused as to which of us was named ‘Hunk’ and which of us was named ‘Pidge’,” Pidge explained, chuckling.

“HA!” Lance said, shaking his head. “Imagine if we called little baby Pidge ‘Hunk’. Everyone would be so confused.”

“Everyone is already confused, here I am a walking ‘they/them’. The straighties’ biggest nightmare,” Pidge said, proudly.

Keith fought the resounding urge to laugh. He decided to maybe try and actually make a joke, so he wrote the letters ‘LOL’ on the white board, keeping a completely stony face.

Pidge looked at it, then sputtered into thigh-slapping cackles. Both teenagers up front looked behind curiously, so Keith turned the board around to show them. All of them descended into similar laughter and guffaws.

Keith only barely managed to keep a smile off his face.

At the arcade, all the others seemed to know just what to do. They all walked right in, pulling out cards from their wallets. Keith looked around, curiously.

It looked vaguely like it hadn’t been fully cleaned in maybe ten years and smelled like old popcorn and the ground felt disgustingly sticky under his boots. He made a face, a little grossed out.

“Hey, don’t knock it until you try it,” Lance said, noting the expression on Keith’s face.

Keith huffed and rolled his eyes. Pidge snorted at that, nudging his arm with their shoulder.

“Come on, let’s get you set up with a playing card and then we’re going all out. I need that giant Green lion plushie like now,” they said, leading him to the counter.

While Lance said that his sister worked there, it was actually a young guy behind the counter. He looked up lazily and waved at them.

“Hey guys. The place is basically deserted besides a couple going at it in the photo booth. So stay clear of that and you’re fine to have the place to yourselves,” he said, sounding entirely bored.

“Ugh, really?” Lance asked, lip curling. “Do we know them?”

The guy smirked. “It’s actually your sister and some random chick with blue hair.”

Lance’s jaw dropped and his eyes bulged. “Excu-huh? Since when did she get a girlfriend?”

“I think they’re fuck-buddies actually,” the guy said as he finished up Keith’s card.

Keith didn’t even notice that Pidge paid for his card and he floundered, trying to find a way to refuse as Lance got even more flustered and out of sorts.

“Oh dios mio, I don’t want to think about that. Never tell me those things again.”

“It’s fine,” Pidge said to Keith directly. “By the looks of your sad, sad boots I don’t expect you to pay me back either.”

Keith frowned, not liking the dig that he was dirt poor. They waved a hand.

“Come on. We’ve got to do at least one go at the DDR machine. It’s tradition.”

All of them headed off through the rows of old machines and found the DDR machine in the corner. Lance skipped ahead, excitedly.

“Okay! How about we initiate our new guy officially?” he asked, smirking at Keith.

Keith quirked an eyebrow in question. Lance held up a finger.

“You have to beat at least one of us at this on double,” he explained further, swiping the card to activate it.

“So…are you in?”

Okay, yeah. Keith was mute. He hadn’t talked in years. But there was one thing about him that he could never resist. He was really competitive.

So he handed over his white board to Pidge and shed Lance’s jacket, hanging it over Hunk’s shoulder. Both of them went ‘ooohhh’ in intrigue, as Keith stepped up on the platform on the right as Lance took the left.

They glanced at each other, Lance actually feigning stretches and Keith acting as cool as possible. The music started up and Lance scrolled through to pick one and the difficulty level.

“You think you need Beginner’s?” Lance asked, half-sounding genuine and half-sounding cocky.

Keith scoffed as soft as he could. He instead took over to choose ‘Expert’ on the song. Lance sputtered, just as the song immediately kicked in. Hunk and Pidge clapped and cheered for their favorites, Lance for Hunk and surprisingly Keith for Pidge.

It was simple, really. Just hit everything when the screen scrolled and told you to. Keith was very good at rhythm games, always had been. So he picked it up in no time, as Lance seemed to rely on a lot of muscle memory and flair.

They hit on the beats together and Lance even added real dance moves, like rolling his torso or kicking his feet out. Keith only made sure to hit the right spot on the right beat, but he could appreciate how Lance was grinning and actually having fun.

The song ended with a two percent difference, Keith barely edging ahead of Lance.

“Wha-that was insane!” Lance said, a little winded. “We’ve been playing this shit for years! Have you done this before?”

Keith shrugged, non-committedly. He hopped off the platform and Pidge whooped, giving him a high-five. Somehow, he managed to catch it right on time and it was pretty satisfying to do. Like he just won something and a friend was congratulating him.

He guessed he did.

 

 

 

Apparently, despite the muteness and the general ‘piss-off’ vibes that radiated off him all the time, it was strikingly easy for Keith to meld into the group.

The white board was an excellent idea, as he actually started contributing readily to conversations. He would end up asking questions about them all, wondering about their interests and hobbies. He and Lance had a whole conversation after school one day about Stephen King, Keith writing so fast it looked nearing painful.

And adding him to the group chat was like looking into a different dimension, because Keith actually responded all the time. And he was the sassiest and most sarcastic human being alive.

The real cool mofos at Voltron:

keith.kogs: so has anyone tried strangling Iverson before

pidgeotto: unclear. wouldnt be surprised.

Lancito: what did he do now!?

keith.kogs: what hasnt he done

hunkymonkey: I don’t think he’s killed anyone

keith.kogs: are you kdding? that guy has at least a kill count of 10. probably all children because he hates them

Lancito: ADJFLAKSDJ;FA KEITHH

But Lance was still just so damn curious as to why the boy stopped speaking aloud. It was obvious that he actually really wanted to have connections to people.

It was maybe a month into him being at school that Lance caved.

They were alone at the courtyard lunch tables, while Pidge and Hunk were off working on their robotics tournament project. Lance handed over half his sandwich to Keith and a bag of chips from the vending machine, since he’d noticed that the boy rarely ever got lunch.

“So…I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or anything…but I want to ask at least once and you’re completely welcome to tell me to fuck off…” Lance said, awkwardly and nervously.

Keith looked up and then sighed, nodding. He scribbled something on his board quickly, then flipped it up so Lance could read it across the table.

You wanna know why I stopped talking

Lance cringed, shrugging. “I mean, yeah…again, totally welcome to tell me to fuck off. Like won’t ever bring it up again.”

Keith pursed his lips, thoughtfully. He erased the board, then hovered with the marker open over it with furrowed brows. He was about to write something, then stopped and sighed. He wrote a few words slowly.

Its a long story. Its kinda complicated.

“Do you…ever want to talk again?” Lance asked, unable to help himself.

Keith frowned, looking uncomfortable and nervous.

“Okay, totally get it. Won’t bring it up again,” Lance said quickly, waving a hand to dismiss the subject.

And they really never talked about it again. They always just let Keith contribute how he could, which ended up with a lot of non-verbal acts.

Whenever Hunk would give him leftover food from his house, Keith would then give Hunk little wrapped candies from his pockets. Hunk would get so excited about it, probably because friendly affection from Keith was quite scarce.

And when Pidge would get really out of their head about things, (sometimes school, sometimes gender dysphoria, sometimes just stress in general) Keith would just sit with them in silence, patting their head gently.

With Lance, it was a little different.

Keith was more reactive to Lance, but was less likely to initiate with him. They would have silent hangman games or tic-tac-toe on the white board, but it was always Lance to start them. Keith was more likely to make expressive faces at Lance, rather than respond to the others.

Lance really got excited by that.

He learned to basically read all the minute movements over Keith’s face, desperately trying to keep up with the silent communication. He was pretty much a Keith Expert.

And that was how he totally saw the fight incoming.

It was just after school that they all congregated around Lance’s locker. Pidge was telling an animated story about their brother Matt tragically striking out at a bar, the rest of them giving cackles or softly amused looks in Keith’s case.

“Oh, well isn’t it just the Land of Misfit Toys over here.”

All four of them froze, Lance, Pidge and Hunk giving exasperated sighs and Keith a confused expression as they looked around.

James Griffin stood with a sneering leer over all of them, in all his fuckboy glory, backed up by his fuckboys-in-training.

Lance rolled his eyes. “What do you want, Griffin?”

“I’m just surprised by the new addition. Kogane, right? Do you actually not talk at all? Or is it just an act to get out of presentations or shit? I might give it a try,” he said, snickering with the other guys around him.

Keith gave no reaction other than a soft scoff, looking away with no real reaction. Lance crossed his arms, putting himself between them, protectively.

“Yeah right. I’m sure you’d go crazy because I know that the only thing in the world you actually love like a human being is the sniveling sound of your own voice,” Pidge said, squaring their shoulders for the confrontation.

Keith’s head whipped around, eyes wide with surprise that they would stand up for him.

“Oh and here’s the tragically loud little doll of the island. Tell me, what exactly even are you, huh? You just smooth down there in your pants like a Ken doll? Not a dick or a pussy in sight?” one of the other guys spat out, derisively.

Pidge’s eyes burned with dark hatred, but they gave no indication that it bothered them in their expression. Lance and Hunk’s hands clenched into fists, instinctually as they both got intensely furious at the cruel attempt at a transphobic ‘joke’.

Lance snapped out of it, as he caught the movement right behind him, where Keith shouldered past him with a snarl on his lips and deep wrath in his eyes. Sudden, all-consuming concern flushed through Lance as he recognized that Keith was about to do something very stupid.

“Oh wait-!”

And in a second, Keith’s fist was flying and he caught the guy in the face.

Chaos consumed the hallway, as all the guys fell back and Keith was wailing on the guy. James grabbed Keith by the shirt, throwing him off and two guys managed to hold his arms as he started punching Keith in the face.

Fuck!” Lance yelled, grabbing Hunk and then they were in on the fight.

Lance went right for James, twisting his hands in his shirt to hold him back and swinging a knee up to get him right at the ribs. Hunk shoved off the two guys holding Keith, holding the boy up with an arm. Pidge let out a pterodactyl screech before launching themself into the fray, tiny fists and elbows and knees catching anyone on sight.

It took four teachers and both the girls’ soccer coach and the football coach to break it up, with Principal Ryner making the trip all the way to see them in full. Her eyes were hard, steely as she took in the scene.

Three of the football douches had bloody noses and most all of them had shiners. James spat out blood from his mouth, holding his abdomen in pain. Lance held a throbbing wrist at an awkward angle, licking a busted lip. Pidge sported their swollen eye and their bruised knuckles proudly. Hunk managed to keep out of most of it, but had a couple tears in his shirt.

Keith definitely looked the worst out of them all, blood covering over his nose and mouth and his whole shirt was basically torn to shreds. Swollen bruises littered over his face and chest, him not even able to really stand up properly.

Lance and Hunk immediately went to wrap Keith’s arms around their shoulders and keep him up. Pidge stared down all the teachers in defiance.

“Call for the nurse. Now. And Mr. West? Take Lance, Keith, Pidge and Hunk to your classroom. Ms. Sanda can take the rest into hers. I want everyone’s stories as to what has happened here and who’s exactly going to get the most punishment,” Principal Ryner said to her administrative colleague.

The advanced Calculus teacher, Mr. West herded their group just two doors down into his classroom.

He shut the door, as Lance and Hunk lowered Keith down gently into a seat. Lance squatted down in front of Keith, looking him over.

“Hey buddy, are you okay? Do you need to go to the hospital or something? You look pretty beat up,” Lance said to Keith, quietly.

Keith quickly shook his head, despite the grimace and clutching at his shoulder and arm.

“I’d like to get the story out of you all now,” Mr. West said, breaking their little group session.

“They’re going to say that we started it. Specifically: Keith. I want to make it clear right now, that they provoked us and said really fucking disgusting things to Pidge. Keith was only defending them. They escalated it way out of hand. We were minding our own business until they walked up and started talking shit,” Lance said, standing up and laying down the truth before James’ group could try to spin the narrative.

“Yeah, it’s true. Keith just stood up for me,” Pidge said, firmly.

Keith looked quite shocked that this is what they said. Hunk laid a gentle hand on Keith’s head, standing protectively in front of him.

Mr. West hummed, looking over them all and then landed his eyes on Keith. He had an inquisitive air, rather than an interrogative which made Lance relax just a little.

“Is this true, Keith?” he asked.

Keith winced and his head lowered in shame.

“He doesn’t-,”

“I’m well aware of Keith’s communication difficulties. I’m giving him the option of using whatever means he’s comfortable with to tell his side of the story. Even with non-verbal tools. If you are capable of sign language, I’m fluent,” Mr. West said.

Lance was stunned for a moment, looking over to see Keith with wide eyes and a slack jaw. He licked over his bloody lips. He raised his hands and signed a full conversation with practiced motions.

“Wha-dude, why didn’t you tell us you knew sign language?” Lance whispered, honestly offended.

Keith shrugged with a jerky movements. Mr. West chuckled under his breath.

“Alright. It seems like that’s your friends are saying something entirely for your defense. And yet, you want to take all the blame?”

“Wha-now, hold on!” Lance said, stepping in between Mr. West and Keith’s desks. “I’m not letting Keith take the fall for this! If anyone, it’s all our faults for not keeping Keith back or, uh…just de-escalating or-or something, I don’t know, but Keith’s not at fault!”

“Yeah!” Pidge said, crossing their arms over their chest and stepping up beside Lance protectively. “I’ll be damned if I let Keith get in trouble for standing up for me!”

Hunk cringed and then sheepishly stepped up, too.

“I don’t like that it got violent either, but Keith’s a good guy. It’s not like those jerks would ever try to help the situation. And they said some really nasty stuff. They’ve been messing with the three of us since grade school and has gotten steadily worse as all of us have come out as some form of LGBTQ+. Keith just got here at the…most intense time between us all,” Hunk explained, still on Keith’s side.

Mr. West carefully looked over them all and took a deep sigh.

“Okay. I’ll take in all of your statements and compare with Ms. Sanda. Principal Ryner will need to hear all the sides before coming to a decision on what to do,” he said, standing up and heading out of the classroom.

Lance sighed with relief, turning around and freezing at the look on Keith’s face.

It was pure, unadulterated guilt and agony. It was the worst thing he’d ever seen on Keith’s face before.

“Hey no, don’t do that,” Lance said to him quietly. He crouched down next to Keith’s desk and ran a gentle hand over Keith’s bicep. “We’re not just hamming it up for him. None of us think you’re at fault. Honestly? It was kind of super cool and badass.”

Pidge nodded in agreement, swiping angry hands under their watery eyes.

“Thank you, Keith. That was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me,” they said, smiling kindly at him. “And don’t even try that ridiculous martyr bullshit. If you’re going down, we’re going with you. It’s the least I can do.”

Keith sucked in a bloody lip and looked conflicted some more. Lance noticed the look that Keith had something to say, so he quickly grabbed a pen and loose-leaf notebook paper off Mr. West’s desk and placed it in front of Keith.

Keith quickly took up the writing utensil and scratched out a scratchy sentence with a shaky hand. He turned it to them all.

I didnt mean for you to get in trouble

“We know,” Hunk said, gently. “And we don’t care. I mean…my moms will definitely kill me and bury me in the garden, but worth it.”

“Oh yeah, my Mama is going to be so pissed. But, once we explain what really happened, I think everything will work out fine. And Ryner knows us and those guys. This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten into a little hallway scuffle. I mean, definitely way more violent than ever before…but this has been a long time coming,” Lance said, chuckling.

Keith pursed his bruised and bloody lips, then scratched out something else. He hesitated, before showing it to them with a shy glance.

Thank you for protecting me. It was really nice

“Awww, buddy!” Hunk said, cooing. “We love you, of course we’d keep you safe!”

Keith’s face went slack at the admission and he looked dumbfounded. Lance immediately understood that people did not tell Keith that they loved him enough.

“We really do all love you. You’re a real part of the squad. And that means you’re family,” Lance said, softly.

“Totally. The emo, mute, sarcastic crazy wild card of the family,” Pidge said, smirking. “New brother.”

Keith’s eyes shined miraculously close to tears, before the door opened and Coran rushed in to look over their injuries.

It was a whirlwind after that. Apparently, there really were enough witnesses to corroborate their story that the football douchebags started the whole thing. But, Keith was still the one to throw the first punch, so he was set to either take all the blame and get expelled, or share the blame with his friends and all the rest of them got a month’s lunch and Saturday detention, while he got a week’s worth of in-school suspension.

The football douches actually got the choice of forfeiting all the rest of the year’s games entirely because their stars were benched from the season or share the blame and reduce all of their sentences to a month of just lunch detention.

The compromise ended up Keith and James get three days’ suspension each and the rest of them got half a month’s lunch detention. It was actually a huge win in Lance’s book, way more lenient than he would have imagined.

Keith almost tried to take all the blame again and shoulder the expulsion, but Lance whacked his hands down before he could sign it to Mr. West and Pidge jumped on the compromise without a second thought.

And sure, Lance, Pidge and Hunk totally got grounded for like a month each too.

But again, as Hunk put it, totally worth it.

 

 

 

Over a few months, they got a few little details about Keith’s life.

They found out that Keith lived in a group home, so he was an orphan. They found out he’d lived in ten different states, moving all the time. They found out that he was the oldest in the group home he was in, so the caretakers rarely cared how late he was out or if he never even came back at all.

Lance then offered something he wasn’t sure was a great idea, but it felt like he wanted to.

“Do you wanna come over to my house tonight?”

Keith looked at him like a deer in headlights. He stared at Lance for a few moments, then cocked his head to the side.

“I mean, you’d be so welcome. If you wanted.”

He looked like he just didn’t know what to say. He looked down at the white board in his hands and then looked back up to Lance with a worried expression.

“Oh!” Lance said, realizing the problem. “Dude, no one would care at all! Okay, you might get a few questions from the twin horrors, but other than that…”

Keith still looked dubious about it, nervously moving his lips around.

Lance noticed a tick of Keith’s that he sort of deduced to indicate when Keith actually wanted to speak. He would move his lips around over his teeth, like he was thinking about opening it and finally letting a word out.

“Seriously, the offer is on the table. I just like the idea of you meeting my family. I…kind of want you to like them,” he said, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head.

Keith breathed in and out deeply. He wrote two capital letters on his board.

OK

Lance drove him to his house that night, giving Keith the run down of his family.

“Alright, so Luis and Marco are off with their own families, Luis is an architect and Marco is a mechanic. Gabby and Veronica are both in college but they come home like all the time. Rachel and I are twins, but Rachel goes to a super fancy dancing school that’s like way awesome and cool and expensive. She’s a ballerina. Like an actual, real ballerina. She’s also super sweet and like one of the kindest people on the planet. Probably even sweeter than Hunk. My Mama’s name is Rosa and she’s going to adore you. My Papa’s name is Hector and he’s totally going to try and razz you, but don’t let it get to you. That’s how he shows affection. I think right now, only Luis and his kids are home, probably Veronica and Rachel too. We’ll see. It’s kind of always a surprise when you open the door to see who’s home.”

Keith was silent as always, but when Lance glanced to see the expression, he was again like a deer in headlights.

“Oh jeez, too much information at once, huh? Alright, don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it in no time. And word to the wise, it’s best to just let the twins do whatever they want to you. I don’t think they’d even notice you not talking to them, because they’d be so busy talking themselves,” Lance said, laughing a little.

Keith huffed, which Lance had learned was as close to a laugh or smile as you were going to get from him. Once or twice, Lance had caught a smirk on Keith’s face and nearly had a conniption.

“Oh and dinner will definitely be a thing. So I hope you like Cuban.”

Keith wrote a quick little response and showed it to Lance in front of the dashboard.

Never had it

Lance gasped, as though he’d said he was planning a murder.

“Ten whole states around the country and not any of them sold you Cuban food? Blasphemous. You’re really in for a treat, then. Mama’s cooking is some to die for. Trust me.”

Keith looked a little apprehensive, then he deeply sighed out a breath. He wrote a quick message under the first and showed it to Lance with a strange blush on his face.

I trust you

Lance’s hands gripped the steering wheel tighter as the words absorbed and what that really meant for someone like Keith.

When a person decides that they’re better off without speaking at all, it’s a silent but very resounding announcement to the world that they don’t think they need anyone in their lives. That they’d be better off alone in their heads. It’s a self-imposed isolation.

And Keith just told him that despite the fact he still refused to speak, he trusted Lance.

Lance’s face broke into an overjoyed grin, heart skipping a beat and he had to fight ridiculous tears in his eyes. He cleared his throat, nodding.

Nice.”

Keith huffed again, sounding much closer to a laugh this time.

Oh, Keith. I’m definitely getting you to smile tonight.

And then they pulled up to his house, getting out and the door flung open.

Tio Lance!”

The twins came careening out, like they didn’t just see him like four days before that. Lance grinned as he knelt down and swept up the two of them in a big hug.

“Hey, little rascals!”

They both giggled in unison, then was distracted by Keith walking over with nervous eyes.

Nadia grabbed Lance quickly.

Tio Lance, do you know him? Is he a stranger? Mama says that if there’s someone that comes up to me that I don’t know that I need to scream,” she said, with wide eyes.

“Wha-no, no don’t scream!” Lance said, quickly. “That’s Keith. He’s my friend.”

Sylvio gasped, going over to tug on Keith’s jeans.

“Hi! I’m Sylvio and I’m six years old and I don’t know you,” he said, importantly. “Papa says that I should introduce myself if someone is a guest. But at abuela’s house, I am a guest, too.”

Keith mouth opened, obviously thinking about actually saying something back. It was the closest Lance had ever seen of Keith actually speaking and his stomach flipped over in excitement. But he closed it soon enough and just waved a hello.

Lance let out a little sigh of disappointment, before turning to the twins.

“Hey guys, you gotta listen really carefully, okay?” he asked, quietly.

They looked over and tilted their heads in curiosity.

“Keith is my friend and he has a little trouble talking out loud. If you could be really nice and patient with him, he can talk back by writing on his white board, see?” Lance said, pointing to the board and marker still in Keith’s hand.

“Ohh…okay!” Nadia said, smiling bright and cheery.

And the two of them chattered off to Keith, sometimes giving him a moment to write back a response. It was incredible endearing, seeing as how Keith actually lost a little bit of his grumpy façade and softened around the little ones.

Lance managed to move them all back into the house, as he heard the sounds from around the kitchen.

Lancito?”

“Si, Mama! I brought a friend, if you don’t mind.”

A clatter of pots and a loud hum.

“Hunk, Pidge or both?”

“New friend, Mama.”

A pregnant pause and then a flurry of footsteps, revealing Lance’s mother at the opening in the foyer. Keith startled at the quickness and then nodded his head to her. She beamed like a sunray, reaching over and pulling Keith into a bone-crushing hug. Keith looked almost alarmed at this, arms hovering at her back, unsure what else to do. She looked over at him at arm’s length, while Keith opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water.

“Keith, yes? Oh, it’s so nice to finally meet you! Lance has told us so much about you! Do you want anything? We have water, juice, tea, no soda obviously because it’s horrible for you. How about a quick snack before dinner? Cheese and crackers, maybe? Oh, you look so thin, how about I make you a sandwich-,”

Dios mio, Mama! Let the boy breathe! You’re freaking him out!” Lance said, waving a hand in between them. “We’ll be in my room, I’ll get snacks in a bit.”

Lance’s mother huffed. “Fine. Go on up. Is there anything you don’t eat or are allergic to?”

Keith’s mouth opened a smidge, before he hurried to write down a quick message.

I’m lactose intolerant

“Oh, then no cheese and crackers!” Lance’s mother said, patting Keith’s head. “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of you here.”

Keith’s lips pursed, but then he slowly nodded. Lance sighed and grabbed Keith’s shoulders, steering him away.

“Alright, show’s over. We’ll be in my room, don’t bother us, please!”

And then led him upstairs into his bedroom. Lance sighed as he closed the door and Keith just looked a little overwhelmed. Lance dropped his book bag on the ground, toeing off his shoes and putting them over in his shoe rack.

“You can take your shoes off too, if you want,” Lance said to Keith.

Keith shook his head to clear it from whatever was happening inside and then followed suit. Seeing Keith in socked feet was for some reason very cute and exciting to Lance. It was like every time that Keith showed any form of comfort around him was a win.

“So, we can watch a movie or Netflix or something. What do you like?” Lance asked, pulling over his laptop from his desk to his bed.

Keith shifted awkwardly on his feet, eyeing the desk chair and the bed. Lance fondly rolled his eyes and scooted to sit against the wall and patted the bed next to him.

“Come on then, Mullet.”

Keith sighed and then gingerly sat on the edge of the bed, legs still hanging off.

“So, go on and pick a movie,” Lance said, gesturing to the laptop screen.

Keith put down the white board on the nightstand with a nervous look, like he didn’t like being without it. But then he settled on the bed further, to look at the selection. His eyes were thoughtful, until he scrolled and hovered over ‘Ancient Aliens’.

Lance snorted. “Really? You an alien conspiracy theorist?”

Keith’s hand snatched away and then he shook his head quickly. He crossed his arms and shook his head again.

“Oh no, wait!” Lance said, pouting and grabbing his hand. “Don’t go all clammy on me again! Show me the aliens! I won’t make fun, I promise!”

He looked at Lance with a suspicious expression.

“I pinky swear!”

Keith frowned at the pinky in the air, then lost tension and curled his finger around it to finish the oath. Lance started the episode of the show, both of them settling close together on the bed to watch.

Lance would have a running commentary about it, sometimes being like “Oh what? People from the past just didn’t know about math or something?”, but of course Keith never responded except huffs or eye-rolls.

But it was probably the most responsive that Keith had ever seemed without the cause being Lance, Hunk or Pidge. His eyes were glued to the screen, absorbing all the information he could. He kept moving his mouth, biting his lip or pursing them or sucking his bottom lip in.

Lance quickly took a mental note for future reference:

Keith was obsessed with aliens. Probably was a huge conspiracy theorist.

“You know, the Stephen King totally makes sense for you now,” Lance said, chuckling.

Keith gave him a weak pout.

“Dude, don’t feel embarrassed about it. It’s actually really cute.”

They both then froze at that, Lance because he didn’t really mean for it to come out like that and Keith probably because, well it was kind of weird.

“U-uh, anyway-,”

Keith then grabbed his arm to stop him from switching topics, then turned and grabbed the white board and marker. Lance could watch as the question formed, as they were just sitting next to each other.

You really dont think its weird?

Lance was struck by a harsh fond protectiveness. Fuck anyone who messed with this adorable, soft, sweet boy.

“No. Not at all,” Lance said, shaking his head and reaching over to wrap Keith’s hand up in both of his own and squeezed. “Keith, you’re perfect just the way you are. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel embarrassed or insecure, okay? Me, Hunk and Pidge like you just great right now.”

Keith’s jaw moved and he sucked in his bottom lip to bite on. He erased the question, before hovering over the board with the marker and hesitating. He looked up, opening his mouth and taking a shallow breath.

Lance got a shot of excitement, seeing the beginnings for Keith to speak again, before he shut his mouth with an audible snap.

Lance settled in disappointment again, while Keith wrote out:

Even when I dont talk?

Lance sighed, sitting up a little to face Keith better.

“It’s not that we’d rather you stay mute. We don’t really know why you don’t speak, so we can’t expect you to one day just up and start singing showtunes or something. One day, if you’re ready and able and you trust us enough, we’re totally psyched to hear you speak. I know that for me, I just don’t want to see you so closed up anymore. We’re your friends. We all just want you to be happy,” Lance said, squeezing Keith’s hand again.

Keith’s mouth kept twitching and he kept opening it and taking breaths, as if he’s preparing for a speech in front of thousands. He sighed, closing up again and looking even disappointed in himself.

“Hey, it’s really okay. You’re not ready yet. Just know that if and whenever you are, we’re going to be here for you,” Lance said, smiling as kind and as gently as he could.

Keith took a long deep breath, nodding.

He slowly instead twitched up the sides of his mouth and gave Lance a tentative smile.

It hit Lance all at once how truly attractive Keith was, with his soft long hair and bright inquisitive deep blue eyes and strong stature. His cool vibe had morphed through their friendship into something softer, gentler and wishing for connections to people.

His heart skipped like three beats at once.

Oh, I’m so completely in trouble here

 

 

 

“Okay, so we are all in agreement that whenever Keith chooses to trust us and speak for the first time that we just smile and softly encourage like we’re dealing with a skittish cat, yes?” Lance asked the two of his other friends in an important Keith Emergency Meeting at Pidge’s house the next week after Keith met Lance’s family.

“Do you really think he wants to talk again?” Hunk asked, concerned. “We could choose a different approach and like…learn sign language together or something.”

“That’s still a good idea and it’s in the ‘maybe’ column. Nothing wrong with that,” Lance said, allowing that to be added on the list. “I just can tell guys. He wants to talk a lot more than he lets on. Just something keeps stopping him.”

“I’m loathed to say this, but I think Lance is right,” Pidge said, nodding their agreement. “But the question has always been: what keeps stopping him?”

“It has to be something really important and personal, right?” Hunk asked, nervously. “I don’t want to push him past his comfort zone too much. It’s so easy for him to just shut down and close up again.”

Lance sighed, staring at the list in front of him. “I just…don’t want him to look so sad all the time. I want him to start smiling more and open up and I’m just sure that it will start with him speaking again.”

“Alright, then we make a game plan,” Pidge said, authoritatively. “We gently coax him closer to speaking. Not by just talking to him, but talking to him about his interests and his hobbies and stuff. Maybe if his interests are the conversation, then he’ll be more likely to actually want to speak. And Lance, I think you should speak as often as you can with him, especially one-on-one. It seems like he’s the most comfortable with you.”

“What if he catches onto us trying to get him to start talking? What if he shuts down again?” Hunk asked, seriously.

“It won’t happen,” Lance said, marking the paper to be ‘Operation: Hear Keith’s lovely, sultry voice’.

“We’ll be as subtle as we can. He won’t suspect a thing.”

 

 

His friends were definitely trying to get him to speak out loud.

If this had happened at the beginning, when they first met, maybe he’d get really uncomfortable and would want to punch their faces in. He wasn’t sure. But at that point, they’d been friends for nearly four months, and they’d had such good interactions.

Keith finally thought people cared about him. He was certain he trusted them. So he knew the obvious cues to speak were out of a place of love.

And it wasn’t as if he didn’t want to. He did. He wanted to speak so bad. He wanted to laugh out loud to Pidge’s jokes and groan with the others at the cringy lines Lance would say. He wanted to smile and show Hunk as much kindness as he’d shown Keith. He wanted to be confident enough to answer the questions in class that he knew the answer to.

But more than anything, the first thing he wanted to say to his friends when he spoke aloud for the first time in more than three years was to thank them.

He wanted to just say ‘thank you’ to Hunk and Pidge, but especially to Lance.

Lance was the first to just sweep him up into a conversation and give Keith a place to feel comfortable and safe.

But it’d been over three years since he’d actually used his vocal cords. They had to have been damaged and weak. He didn’t want his voice to just crack or have to whisper it. He wanted it to actually sound like him. He wasn’t even sure if he knew what he sounded like.

So he decided to start practicing by himself.

Keith snuck out of the group home in the evening, out in the trees and he sat on a log. He looked around, making sure no one was overhearing him. He took a few long deep breaths, preparing himself.

“Ah.”

Okay, that sounded pathetic. Like a wounded deer. He cleared his throat, feeling the scratch of disuse and neglect.

“M-my name-,”

He cut himself off when he finally heard it. His voice. For the first time in years. It was high, crackly and wheezing. All that time that should have been spent training his voice to go through puberty and get deeper and stronger, was spent in silence. It sounded like he’d smoked for thirty years at the age of sixteen.

“My name is Keith Kogane.”

He had to keep going. He had to get his voice stronger.

My name is Keith Kogane and my friends are Hunk Garrett, Pidge Holt and Lance McClain.”

And then he spoke to himself for as long as he could. That entire day, he just sat in the woods and talked about anything. He spoke himself completely hoarse and until his throat hurt.

He wanted to start speaking again. He wanted to be stronger. He didn’t want that weakness anymore.

He was Keith Kogane.

And he wanted to talk to his friends.

 

 

And then that all went to shit.

“You’re getting transferred again. Get ready. You leave in two weeks. Good luck in Arizona, Keith.”

 

 

Lance was helping with dinner, cutting up vegetables and telling his Mama about the test in Iverson’s class that he was trying to not fail with and how Iverson was the worst teacher on Earth, when a loud pounding at the door cut through the noise.

“Are we expecting anyone?” Gabby asked, looking to Lance.

“Uh…not that I know of?” Lance said, cocking his head. “I’ll get it. Maybe it’s Hunk or Pidge and they need help studying because we’re going to die.”

He hurried to the door, opening it up and his heart plummeted through his chest.

Keith stood on his doorstep, drenched from the rain, eyes red and puffy, and he was breathing heavily as if he ran all the way there.

“What happened? Are you okay?” Lance asked, suddenly very serious.

Keith sucked in a shallow breath in his nose, his mouth opening and his lips trembling before he shook his head and covered his face with his hands. Lance hurried to bring him in and hissed in a breath.

“Shit, dude you’re freezing! What are you doing here?” Lance asked, definitely in vain as Keith was still decidedly silent.

Lancito, quien esta en la puerta?” his mother called out, curiously.

“It’s Keith, Mama. Solo algunas cosas de prueba, estaremos en mi habitación. I don’t think we’ll be down for dinner, I’ll come and get food later for us. ¿Está bien?” He called back to his mother, quickly.

His mother hummed. “Yes, alright. Hello, Keith sweetheart! Lovely to see you again!”

Keith sniffled behind his hands, now shaking like a leaf and softly sobbing at the statement. Lance felt the burn of tears at just the sight of Keith so broken and upset, wrapping a gentle arm around Keith’s shoulders.

“I’m taking you upstairs, okay? And you’re staying over, I don’t care what you say. You don’t have to tell me anything at all, let’s just go and hang out. And change out of those wet clothes, you’ll get sick like this. If you want to take a hot shower, I’ll make sure no one bothers you,” he said to Keith, quietly.

The boy stayed silent and they walked upstairs to be shut in Lance’s room. Keith kept silently crying and he just revealed his face to stare at the ground as the tears flowed down his face. Lance handed over a box of tissues without a word and then rifled through his clothes, pulling out his shortest sweatpants and smallest sweatshirt. It ended up with a horrible sunshine yellow Florida sweatshirt and green and blue checkered plaid sweatpants.

Keith actually broke out of his shell for a second to look mildly offended by the fashion.

“Dude, you’re like two foot tall. This is the closest to fit you from my clothes,” Lance said, defensively.

Keith then looked actually offended by that and Lance patted the top of his head.

“Go change. Bathroom’s just two doors down. Still welcome to the shower, too. Do you not have your white board with you?” Lance asked, as Keith continued dripping on his carpet.

Keith shook his head, patting his pockets, then momentarily looked panicked. He looked at Lance, then mimed a phone against his ear.

“You forgot your phone, too?” Lance asked, deducing what Keith was trying to say.

Keith nodded, sighing with his shoulders dropping.

“Let’s talk after you change. I’ll go get something you can talk with and some food,” Lance said, shooing Keith to the bathroom.

He went off and Lance dug through his bag to pull out a clean notebook and a sharpie, leaving it on the bed. He then headed down to the dining room, as everyone was sitting down to dinner. His mother looked up and pointed to two plates set out.

“Those are for you two. Is everything okay with Keith? You sounded pretty worried when you saw him. Did he have a ride here? Did he walk here in the rain? Does he have a ride home? Oh and tell him he’s welcome to stay over. Should I call someone to tell them he’s okay?” she rapid fired questions at him and he waved his hands.

“Mama, calm down,” Lance said, exasperated. “He’s…I…I don’t really know. I gave him some clothes and I told him to stay over. I don’t…think there’s anyone to call.”

His mother gave the table a look and a quick direction to start without them, before standing up and directing him to the kitchen. She closed the door and gave Lance a serious look.

Lancito, is Keith in any kind of trouble? Please, no matter what it is, we won’t judge him at all. If there’s something we should know, you know to tell us, right?” she asked, quietly.

Lance sighed, glancing at the ceiling to where he did hear the shower going.

“I…I really don’t know what’s going on. I…don’t think it’s good though. You know he’s an orphan, right? He lives in the group home on Linden Mill,” Lance explained, tiredly.

“I think he’s been crying. He doesn’t have his white board or even his phone with him. I’m about to go up and see if he’ll tell me what’s going on. But, please…please can you keep everyone away from my room? He’s so shy and I don’t want this to make him more uncomfortable. If…if it’s something really bad, then I’ll tell you. I’ll somehow convince him to let me. I’m honestly really worried about him.”

His mother nodded, then took the plates and used the leftovers in the kitchen to pile high on both plates. She also added two mini plates and gave them brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

“Alright. I’ll bring these up with you and if he’s willing, I’d like to have a few words with him. I won’t ask him anything and I won’t push, I just want to talk to him,” she said, gently.

Lance felt a twinge of anxiety at Keith closing up again, but he nodded. His mother could be very compassionate when she was talking to any of her children about something important, so he hoped maybe she could get Keith to open up about whatever was happening.

They brought up the food together, his mother walking in first, gently poking her head in.

“Keith? Corazonctio?”

Lance’s heart warmed at the affectionate term of endearment that his mother would use for any of her family, especially her children and grandchildren being used when she spoke to Keith. Maybe she figured that Keith just really needed a warm maternal figure in his life.

Lance followed her in with the plates. Keith was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest with his back against the wall on the bed and looking at Lance’s mother with wide, anxious eyes. They put the food down and Lance’s mother sat on the bed, close to Keith but far enough away as to not make him uncomfortable.

“Can I ask you about what’s going on?” his mother asked Keith, gently.

Keith bit his bottom lip and looked really worried about it. He looked up at Lance, as if asking what to do.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. But I think maybe you could talk to her and let her help if she can,” Lance said, shrugging.

Keith took a long deep breath and nodded. Lance’s mother smiled at him, reaching over to envelop his hand with hers.

“Do you want Lance in here or no?” she asked, quietly.

Keith gave Lance an apologetic look, then shook his head. Lance felt a small bit of disappointment but left the room and sat in the hall, nervously biting at his nails as he waited. He drummed his fingers on his thighs, thinking of all the horrible things that could be the reason Keith came running through freezing rain without even his cell phone on him.

It was a few minutes before the door opened again and his mother stepped out, looking quite sorrowful herself. Lance jumped to his feet, looking to her for any kind of answer.

“Oh, mijo, he really needs you right now,” she whispered, cupping his cheeks.

“Is it bad?” Lance whispered back, terrified.

She sighed softly. “It’s not as bad as one might think at first. But for him, it looks like he feels completely hopeless. I believe it will be fine, but he needs someone that cares about him.”

Lance kissed her forehead in thanks for everything, then hugged her tight.

“It’ll be okay. Te quiero, Mama.”

“You’re such a good and loving boy, Lancito,” she said.

She left them alone and Lance went back in, locking the door behind him.

Keith was curled up on his side, back facing the door and he was audibly sobbing with a wheezing voice into Lance’s old stuffed lion that was usually in his closet. It was such a heartbreaking scene that brought horrible grief up for Lance and he had to blink away his own tears.

He gingerly sat on the bed, seeing the notebook he laid out for Keith facing down on the bedspread.

“Keith? Buddy? Can…can you tell what happened?” Lance asked, quietly.

Keith sucked in a shuddering breath, then shakily pointed to the notebook. Lance picked it up, flipping it over to read what he wrote to his mother.

Theyre sending me away

Arizona in 2 weeks

No one cares about me I have no one no one can help

I dont want to go

I love them I dont want to leave

Theyre going to forget me

Im going to be all alone again

“Oh…oh, Keith…” Lance said, struck by even more heartache.

Keith sniffled and curled up tighter, crying harder into Lance’s stuffed lion. Lance laid a hesitant hand on Keith’s shoulder, unsure of where his boundaries still lied. He was never entirely comfortable with touching.

“Hey, nothing is going to keep us from staying friends,” Lance said, quietly. “We’ll figure it out! We can keep texting and even video chat!”

Keith sniffled, looking over with a dubious look.

“Hey, come here,” Lance said, pulling Keith up to sitting.

Surprisingly, he actually accommodated to move up and into Lance’s arms. They were so close that Keith was nearly in his lap. Lance was focused on providing any kind of comfort that he could, for both him and Keith.

Lance hugged him tightly, running one hand over his back and another gently combing through his hair.

“Keith, this isn’t going to be the end of this. When you become our friend, it’s for life. You’re never going to be alone ever again. I swear it.”

Keith sniffled and buried his head into Lance’s neck.

“Do you believe me?”

There was a pause and then a soft sigh of breath against his neck. Lance heard the breathiest noise of assent, barely a hint of a voice attached.

Even when they were both so sad and upset, Lance felt the strongest bolt of hope in his chest at the development for Keith to trust him enough to give him the slightest noise.

“We…we love you, you know,” Lance whispered, heart pounding with trepidation.

Keith jerked in his arms, slowly separating and looking up at him. His lovely indigo eyes were as expressive as ever, showing surprise and even some elation.

He gave the smallest smile, even when a few more tears slipped out.

 

 

 

It was in the middle of another rainstorm that Keith got a call down to the living room in the group home a week before he was supposed to leave. Said that he had a visitor.

Keith was sure that it was going to be one of his friends and he was ready to just greet them how they usually did. He went down the stairs, avoiding the little kids and until he stood at the opening for the living room.

And his heart completely stopped in his chest.

The man who stood up from the couch was one that Keith vaguely recognized and also didn’t. The man standing before him had one less arm than Keith remembered, had a streak of white in his hair when before it had been completely black and a new scar over the bridge of his nose.

“Keith? Is that…is that really you?”

The first thing that Keith ever spoke aloud in over three years to another person wasn’t to his friends or to Lance: the boy he was completely head-over-heels for.

It was to the man he counted as his brother, the one foster brother that actually took time to get to know him and help him.

It was to the man who he thought he’d lost forever when he was reported MIA overseas.

“Sh-Shiro?”

Shiro had a glassy look in his eye, tears obviously wanting to overflow. Keith stumbled over to grab him, overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions: relief, elation, grief, confusion, disbelief, shock.

Shiro wrapped his single arm around Keith tightly and Keith felt like his entire world flipped upside down. And Keith was struck silent once again.

“Oh god, kiddo. Look at you, you’re all grown up…” Shiro said, sounding choked up.

Keith couldn’t say a word to that. It’d been over a year since he’d last heard from Shiro by letter. He didn’t know what to say to someone like that. Especially since he’d never actually told Shiro that he had gone mute.

He was glad he brought down his white board in case it was his friends there, because he quickly wrote down:

What are you doing here? What happened? How are you alive?

“Woah, buddy,” Shiro said, looking confused. “I have some questions too. Like…what are you doing with that thing?”

“Keith is mute,” the ‘foster mother’ explained as she groaned and got up from the couch.

“By his paperwork he hasn’t said a word to anyone in over three years. Actually, ‘Shiro’ might have been the first thing he’s said since he became a teenager.”

Keith glared at her, hating the fact she was just talking about him as if he weren’t there.

Shiro gaped at him, horrified. “You’re…what? Wh-what happened? Are you okay?”

Keith sighed and rolled his eyes. He quickly wrote down:

You lost your ARM

Shiro shrugged. “Okay, that’s fair.”

Keith gestured for him to explain. Shiro sighed, setting Keith down and locking his hand over his knee. He gave the story as little as he could, that he was take captive as a prisoner of war and his unit had no idea. That they took his arm and he escaped, running on his own to the next city and to ask for a way to contact the base.

As soon as he was back in the states and through the surgery for his arm and through like months of therapy, he went looking for Keith.

“Since you’re still a minor, I didn’t have any way of finding you because I’m technically not your blood relative,” Shiro finished it off.

Keith scrawled out a question.

Then how?

“My old communications buddy,” Shiro said, a tired but grateful smile on his face. “By the name of Matthew Holt.”

Keith’s jaw dropped, making the connection.

“Yeah,” Shiro said, laughing a little. “His little sibling seemed to like to talk about their new friend who was super cool that wore all black and was conveniently named Keith Kogane. Matt called me up as soon as he heard the last name.”

Does Pidge know?

“About all this? Maybe. I don’t know if maybe they made some connection or what, but this is all worked out this way. And I told your foster mother that I want to go through the system and try to get you emancipated, so you can come live with me. I can’t adopt you, because I don’t have enough stability, but if I can help you petition the courts. Keith, I want to be your family now, because I thought I might have lost you forever back then. Not anymore.”

Keith let out a few shocked breaths, unsure how to believe it. He turned to his foster mother and she sighed and shrugged.

“Honestly, I think the courts would grant it. You’ve been wasting away in the system, the only time you’ve ever had any positive reports was when you had Shiro there for you. It’s unusual for foster kids to get granted emancipation without getting married or some shit, but I think your case worker would vouch for you and having Shiro there would seal the deal. I’m willing to sign it away, too. You barely give me enough money to make it worth it. And honestly your face just makes me sad.”

Shiro gave her a discontented look at that, when Keith barely kept back a snicker. He actually didn’t mind her so much. Obviously, she didn’t care about him, but at least she didn’t actively hate him.

He scrawled out a question as fast as he could.

Can I stay here at my school to finish?

Shiro chuckled. “I thought you might ask. I’ve already been looking for apartments in the area. As soon as I move in right, you can come live with me.”

Keith huffed out choked up breaths, face breaking into a huge smile. Probably the biggest he’s ever shown someone in over four years. He crashed right into Shiro’s chest, finally descending into overjoyed sobs and crying.

He finally had a real family again.

 

 

“Okay, but he seriously thinks aliens have been to Earth. He’s kind of crazy. In a majorly hot and sexy way, obviously,” Lance said, as he walked with Hunk and Pidge on the sidewalk up to the school.

Pidge rolled their eyes. “You’ve been mooning over Keith for weeks now. Just ask him out.”

“Are you kidding? We can’t even get him to speak yet! Imagine telling someone so shy that they won’t even talk that you like them. He’d literally never set foot near me again. I don’t even know if he’s gay or what!” he said, throwing a hand up.

“Plus…he’s…he’s leaving. I can’t make things harder for him like that,” Lance added on, his heart filling with pain and achy loss at just the thought.

And then Lance nearly bowled over by someone slamming into him and wrapping his hands around his middle from behind. He stumbled forward a few steps and managed to catch himself, with a very unattractive “WAH!”.

He looked down and immediately recognized the black nail polish and the black fingerless gloves hooked under his ribcage.

“Oh shit, Keith?!”

They all stopped and looked as Keith stood in front of them, a blinding smile on his face, teeth showing and eyes gleaming. Lance sucked in a gasp, losing strength in his legs at the sudden wave of emotions hitting him at the sight.

Woah, what happened? Something good?” Hunk asked, also looking giddy at seeing Keith’s huge smile.

Keith quickly nodded, turning and waving to a car that was parked just a few carpool spaces down. The car door opened and a gorgeous man stepped out of the driver’s side and onto the sidewalk, waving with one arm.

Hunk and Lance exchanged looks, but Pidge looked thrilled and they grabbed Keith’s arm with a gasp.

“Holy shit?! He came for you?!” they asked, excitedly.

Keith turned and nodded again, still blinding smile on his face. The man stopped next to Keith with an amused smile at them all.

“Hi, I’m guessing you are all Keith’s friends?” he asked, with a gentle, kind voice.

They all nodded their assent. The man reached his one hand to Pidge first.

“I’m Takashi Shirogane. You all can call me Shiro. I’m also guessing that you’re the mini Holt?”

Pidge scoffed, derisively. “Excuse me, Matt is just the failed first attempt to get to me.”

Shiro laughed, nodding. “I can see the resemblance. And you two? I’m guessing Hunk,” he took Hunk’s hand. “And you must be Lance.”

Shiro’s hand was a strong grip on his and he had to hold back a wince at the shake. He nodded.

“Hi, uh sorry but I’m not exactly sure who you’re supposed to be? Are you a friend of Keith’s?” Lance asked, confused.

Keith stepped up with the answer already written on his white board to all of them.

He’s my old foster brother. I’m getting emancipated and living with him. I’m staying at Voltron until I graduate.

Lance gaped at Shiro, looking between them a few times. Hunk made a few noises like “huh? Wha-huh?!” and Pidge whooped, hopping up and down like Keith said he just won the lottery.

“Really?!” Lance asked, shrilly.

Keith’s grin got even more excited, crinkling adorably as he nodded an assent. Lance couldn’t help the happiness swelling in him that he swept Keith up in a hug, picking him up and swinging him around.

“Oh my god! Keith! I’m so happy for you!” he said, reveling in how Keith held tight onto him and then a miracle:

Keith actually laughed out loud.

Lance felt his chest burn, hearing the crackly deep joyful sound out of Keith’s mouth. It was the first time he’d ever even seen Keith laugh, let alone with his voice too. Lance quickly set Keith down and stared into his face, heart skipping beats like a samba.

“Holy shit,” Lance whispered, as Keith turned bright pink and ducked his head in embarrassment.

“Hi, uh Keith? Yeah, I really wanna kiss you, oh my god, please? Can I?”

Keith’s head whipped up in shock, eyes wide and mouth agape.

“You know, I think I had…something to do, so I’m gonna go. Coming, Pidge?” Hunk suddenly said, grabbing Pidge’s arm and dragging them away.

“See ya in class, lovebirds!” Pidge called out as they basically ran away.

“Yeah and I’m going to go…somewhere else, too. See you later, Keith. Nice meeting you, Lance. Take care of my little brother, will you?” Shiro said as he backed away to his car.

Keith wheezed at him, obviously super embarrassed. His face turned scarlet red, but he only bit his lip at Lance and tried to keep a huge smile off his face. He nodded a little in answer to the question.

Lance cupped the side of his neck, moving his head up to look up at him and Keith kept moving his eyes all over Lance’s face. He bent down just a tad to meet Keith’s lips and then closed the distance.

It was just a chaste peck, a few seconds against their lips. And yet, Lance felt an entire fireworks display burst in his chest.

“I’m so glad you get to stay with us,” Lance said, quietly to him.

Keith smiled even wider. He just went up onto his toes to kiss Lance again.

That was a perfect response for Lance after all.

 

 

“Junior year finally done! And now the best time of the year…summer break!” Lance announced, throwing his hands up as they walked down the sidewalk after the last day of school.

“Ugh, now I’m just going to be bored for two and a half months,” Pidge said, sighing.

“Oh come on! Now we can go to the beach and the pool and just hang out all summer! With our punky new recruit!” Lance said, wrapping an arm around Keith’s shoulders and grinning at him.

Keith smiled shyly at him, but got bold enough to kiss his cheek in response.

“Oh you guys are just so adorable!” Hunk said, hugging them both together.

Lance laughed, patting Hunk’s head. “Yeah, yeah. Of course we are. I’m always adorable.”

Keith huffed and rolled his eyes. Lance gasped, indignantly.

“How rude.”

The summer went by with everything Lance talked about. Shiro had finally moved in permanently in the area, so Keith had a stable place to live. He got a job from an old army buddy at a mechanic’s shop and even let Keith work over the summer, learning about cars and mechanics. Lance had a usual seasonal position at the local pool as a lifeguard, while Hunk and Pidge had crazy smart summer retreats for some weeks for engineering and robotics.

It was surprisingly busy, something that Keith had never really encountered before. Every summer before then had either consisted of more moving or just finding ways to get out of the group homes and running amuck in the area.

They made time for each other though, constantly making plans for weekly beach visits (as the beach was a convenient half hour away) and backyard movie nights. Pidge had built some high-tech projector and Lance knew how to hang a white curtain in his trees for an outdoor movie theater experience.

Lance and Keith did purpose to make time for themselves, too. Going on dates, spending quality time, going so far as to make out for the first time.

Keith was unabashedly happy. He was finally stable enough to know that the people wanted him there and even liked it better if he was there. Shiro was his family again and he even had a boyfriend.

And he’d been practicing for months on strengthening his voice. He’d even been speaking out loud to Shiro more often than not.

By Lance’s birthday party, he was finally ready for his boyfriend to hear him speak.

It was at his house, Rosa McClain deciding she was only letting very close friends and family come. She said because they’d go all out for his eighteenth the next year.

Keith teased him for being a baby of the grade (seeing as how he was turning eighteen in just three months). Lance stuck out his tongue at him and called him ‘Shorty McEmopants’. No one but him actually laughed at that.

The day was centered all around Lance, which the boy ate up. The attention made him puff like a peacock and Keith kept snickering at him, amused by it. Lance would just huff, but lean in and kiss his temple or cheek.

After things had winded down into the night, some family members going home and things going quiet after presents and cake, Keith grabbed Lance’s hand and pulled him subtly up the stairs.

“Oh, Keith…how naughty…” Lance said, grinning mischievously.

Keith rolled his eyes, but ran his fingers over the gift in his pocket. He was nervous about that, but not nearly as nervous as he was for the other surprise.

He closed the door of Lance’s room behind them for privacy and tried to reign in his now raving anxious nerves. Lance seemed to have picked up on it, because he tilted his head and let a gentle expression grace his face.

“What’s going on, Keith?”

Keith took a deep breath, reaching into his pocket and handing over his gift. Lance’s eyes lit up and he grinned, taking the present and humming as he looked over the tube covered in haphazard wrappings.

“Oh, you did get me something!” Lance said, with excitement.

He sat on the bed, Keith deciding to follow suit and sat next to him as he tore into the present. He unrolled it quickly, then froze at what it was.

Keith had only gotten so many new things since moving in with Shiro and it wasn’t like they were really made of money, so he had to get creative for his gift. He had always had a secret hobby of drawing and art, so Shiro bought him some better art supplies and good sketch paper. So, Keith decided he wanted to recreate one of his favorite pictures anyone’s ever taken of him.

It was their group, all together and laughing at the pier while in the background was the lit up Ferris Wheel. It was taken by Shiro, completely candid. Keith was smiling up at Lance, while Lance’s head was slightly bent back with laughter. His arm was wrapped around Keith, while Hunk and Pidge looked over at them with fond grins.

Keith drew it in sketched pencils, outlined in ink and colored it in with way-too-expensive markers.

“Oh…oh my god, Keith? I…I didn’t know you could draw like this! This is…this is amazing…” Lance breathed out, sounding like he was in awe.

Keith sighed with relief that he liked it, so then he pointed to it, miming to flip it over. Lance blinked out of his reverie, to flip it and read the message on the back.

‘There’s one more surprise.’

“Hm? What else?” Lance asked, looking over to him with bright, excited eyes.

Keith took a deep breath, reaching over and wrapping Lance’s hand up in both of his. He kept a determined hold on his eyes, trying not to let his anxious heartbeat psyche him out.

Alright, this is it…

Keith swallowed hard, deciding to trust in his newfound voice and said:

“Happy birthday, Lance.”

There was a few seconds of dead silence, as Lance’s face went completely slack. He blinked a few times, then suddenly tightened as his eyes filled with wetness.

“Oh my god…” Lance whispered, as tears streamed down his face and he let out a sob, even as his mouth widened into an elated smile. “Oh my god, Keith!”

He bent in to kiss Keith a few times, sloppily as he continued to cry. Keith responded, even as his own mouth tried to rebel and break into a huge beaming grin. Lance backed up just enough to look over Keith’s face in full.

“You sound so sexy, oh my god,” Lance said, hiccupping with glee. “I promised myself I’d be cool if this happened, but wow that is so not how it’s going down. Sorry, I’m really trying not to be all ‘oh my god’ but like oh my god, Keith!”

Keith let out an actually audible chuckle. “It’s okay. It’s cute.”

Lance squealed in his throat, cupping Keith’s cheeks and smiling so wide it almost looked painful.

God, you sound so hot. I’ve been imagining for like ten months what your voice sounded like, but nothing compares to the real deal. Wow. Literally speechless,” he said, sniffling and wiping away tears.

“I’ve been practicing,” Keith said, getting more and more confident in his broken voice. “I wanted you to hear my voice like how it was always meant to sound. I haven’t spoken out loud to anyone in over four years. I sounded like a dying walrus at first.”

Lance laughed, shaking his head. “I’m still processing this, because I want to remember this forever. Best birthday ever.”

Keith grinned, sweeping Lance up in a heated kiss that brought warmth in his blood.

“One more thing before the surprises are done…” Keith said, curling his fingers through Lance’s hair.

“Jeez Keith, anything more and I might just keel over from a heart attack,” Lance said, hand going to his chest in emphasis.

Keith chuckled again, shrugging.

“I wanted to finally tell you that I love you.”

Lance wheezed out a breath, before falling against Keith’s chest and descending into hysterics.

“I love you too,” he choked out, squeezing Keith’s middle.

Keith just patted his head and felt more content than he’d ever felt in his life.

 

 

A School Year Later

 

 

“I can’t believe Iverson was the one giving out diplomas,” Lance said, sighing as they all walked out of the city’s activity center after their high school graduation.

“He will be principal next year,” Pidge pointed out, although they looked as disgusted as Lance by it.

“Horrible decision, really,” Hunk said, shaking his head. “No one will ever go to Voltron High after that.”

Shiro just shook his head while he walked in front of them. He waved his brand-new robotic prosthetic to show his distaste.

“I don’t like him too much either. He kept calling me, telling me that Keith needed to be sent to a ‘special military school’ because of his ‘discipline issues’. It took all my willpower not to knock him out,” he said.

“Why does he care about any of that anyway?” Matt asked, from where he was walking with Shiro.

“Well, he did have all of us again because he took on advanced astronomy. He hates Keith and me because we wouldn’t bend over backwards to please his every whim,” Lance said, scoffing as he had his arm linked with Keith’s.

“I still never spoke out loud in his class. He hated me because of that and really that only,” Keith said, quietly.

Keith had come a very long way in his comfort speaking. It took another few weeks before he was comfortable speaking out loud to Hunk and Pidge after Lance’s birthday, even then it was short sentences and usually quietly only to them. He was very unlikely to say anything in public as of yet. All of them had gotten fairly fluent in reading ASL to make up for the difference.

“And you never should have been forced anyway. He was basically bullying you after a while. And I would call him out, which he hated,” Lance said, rolling his eyes.

“He’s an entire douchebag,” Pidge said, as they all congregated around Matt’s huge SUV that they came in as a group. All of their families let them have their own ride for after graduation party shenanigans.

“Oh, speak of the devil,” Matt said, turning and looking over their shoulders.

They all looked to see Iverson standing with his buddies from the school board, obviously schmoozing and trying to gain favor.

Keith got a wicked idea and he slowly grinned, glancing at Lance in his peripherals.

“I’d like to say something,” Keith said, acting as though it was really important.

They all perked up, Lance getting excited because it was really rare for Keith to want to say something to a group that large and with that determined tone.

“Oh, Keith…you can say anything, we’re here for you,” Hunk said, kindly.

“Yeah kiddo, go ahead,” Shiro said, patiently.

Keith took a deep breath, then turned back around.

“Wait, what are you-?” Lance began to ask in confusion.

“HEY IVERSON!” Keith yelled out, making everyone in the vicinity jump.

Iverson whipped his head around, eyes searching to find the group. He frowned, obviously not understanding whose voice called out to him since he’d never recognize Keith’s.

Keith smirked, throwing up two middle fingers at him.

“SUCK MY BIG FAT FUCKING COCK, YOU RAT BASTARD!”

Iverson’s jaw dropped, as well as both of the school board members he was talking with.

“Holy shit!” Lance sputtered out, grabbing Keith’s arm as Iverson looked ready for murder. “Let’s go, we’re getting out of here!”

They all scrambled to pile into the car, Pidge and Keith outright gleaming with pride and glee. Lance and Hunk looked so exasperated as Shiro and Matt got in the front to peel out of the parking lot. Keith and Lance had actually just fell to the ground in the car, grabbing onto each other.

“Keith!” Shiro said, in admonishment. “What the hell?!”

“I told you I wanted to say something,” Keith said, smirking and shrugging a shoulder.

Lance threw his head back and laughed.

God, you’re so hot and I love you so much,” he said, reverently.

Keith grinned and swooped down to capture his lips in a kiss.

“I love you too.”

They grinned at each other, happiness the overwhelming emotion as they looked to their future with hope rather than fear. 

Keith thought that it was a pretty good ending to his high school career. One he'd never had expected in a million years. 

It was then on to a bright beginning.