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A Kiss is a Kiss (But it's never like this)

Chapter Text

Keith would like to say he heard the creak and rumble before everything went sideways. In reality the floor swept itself out from under them before he could process the alarm singing in his veins let alone yell out a warning. In reality, it had been more or less a trap and they all more or less should have anticipated it from the start.


Keith would have also liked to say he reacted admirably to the sudden collapse of a five story building around them, that he didn’t so much as yelp in terror and instinctively protected himself from the rubble like a hero truly would. In reality, he couldn’t say for sure what happened. He flinched, probably, maybe yelled but it was swallowed up in the cacophony of shattering and breaking above them and the sudden searing pain emanating from his ankle. He must have curled over Lance, though. Must have had the presence of mind to at least prevent him from getting hurt worse—again— because he felt a sharp crack against his shoulder as the floor curled upwards and the ceiling folded downwards around them, and suddenly Lance’s wheezing breath filled his whole muffled world.


Keith would like to say this sort of thing didn’t happen regularly to the pair of them, but the utter and complete lack of surprise he felt in his gut would say otherwise.

It wasn’t until the roar of crashing rubble calmed down and the dust settled that he could safely analyze their situation, it wasn’t until the reality had the chance to completely set in that he felt like throwing his hands in the air. And maybe going back to bed while he was at it.


Six floors, give or take, of old and unstable rock had crashed down on top of their half-hearted exploration, creating a sort of ‘lean-to’ shelter surrounding them, from what he could discern. No light seeped through the cracks and shambles around them, so by his best estimations that probably meant no flowing air either. Wonderful.


“You alright?”


Lance sounded off, somehow, but Keith rolled his eyes anyways and attempted to flop over, so that he wasn’t awkwardly hovering three inches from the blue paladin’s visor. The dull ache in his shoulder flared up angrily at the movement and he couldn’t prevent the wince that twisted across his features.


“Uh, mostly,” he attempted to calm the frantic pulse of his chest and flatten his expression into something more neutral-- ‘play it off Keith, everything is fine’-- butwas met with a dry, unimpressed look from the other boy. “You?”


Lance shifted slightly, as if testing and taking stock of himself, before his eyes went wide and a sickening pop resounded through the precarious silence. He paled, and failed to bite back a strained whimper.




“Don’t move,” Keith snapped, attempting to follow the dull greyed out image of Lance’s outstretched arm.


He shuffled through a few smaller stones and bits of rubble, pushing them away from the injured boy. After a few moments he revealed Lance’s arm, awkwardly bent in the middle in a nauseating U shape that was definitely not normal. He winced sympathetically, taking in the slab of rock crushing Lance’s hand to the floor and thinking of the five or so floors that had been above them previously.


“Yeah, definitely no moving. Your arm is broken, and stuck.”


“Fuck,” Lance responded eloquently. Keith, for once, agreed.


It was dark, but the dull glow of their helmets gave Keith a grey and blue scale impression of their current  layout. It wasn’t much to go by but it was definitely better than nothing. Keith noticed he  had narrowly avoided being trapped himself under a large slab of rock to his side. He also noticed that the bigger chunk that was currently pinning Lance by the wrist, was also the key support for the area around them. If they attempted to move the rock to free Lance, he doubted their cave would be able to hold itself up much longer.


Double shit.


“Shiro, Pidge, we’re trapped inside. Can you reach us?” The visor portion of his helmet was cracked in the corner, his coms buzzed once, faintly and sputtered away. “Shiro, Hunk, Pidge, please respond.”




“Fuck,” Lance surmised once more, sounding almost cheerful. Yeah, this was all just typical.


“Can you try yours? Mine might be damaged.”


Lance was pressed closely to his side, enough for Keith to feel the strange hitch of his breathing as he gave a little nod.


“Allura? Hunk, buddy do you copy?” Lance paused for a moment, Keith’s own coms flickered again, briefly.


“I can hardly hear you guys, but we’re trapped under the uh, well what used to be their library I guess. Can you get us out?” Keith’s visor hissed, and went eerily quiet. Lance frowned.


“Hello? Hello, ah shit.”


Their luck was really incredible. Murphy’s law and all that, anything that can go wrong will invariably go wrong in the worst possible way.


“I think I heard Allura for a second at least,” Lance sounded relaxed, too relaxed given their circumstances. Keith frowned. “I’m sure she’ll, uh. She’ll scan us or. Yeah.”


Keith snorted, “Or… yeah?”


“Listen, Keith, I do not need your smarmy assed baloney okay. My arm hurts and I have a headache, I’m using my get out of insult free card for the day. No cheap shots.”

Keith’s brows furrowed closer together. “Your head hurts?” He leaned over the other boy again, concern winning out over his snarky side. Under closer inspection he spotted a faint trickle of blood by Lance’s ear, the hair by his temple was already matted thick with it.


“Shit,” he breathed. “You probably have a concussion.”


Lance stared up at him, then huffed with an aborted roll of his eyes. “Well, that’s wonderful. Anything else I should be waiting for? Are we running out of oxygen? Is there water slowly filling the room? Spikes closing in from the walls?”


“Um,” Keith glanced down at himself. “I think my ankle is broken?”


“Yeah, that sounds about right.”


Lance’s chest took a funny leap again. Keith slid back down against the rubble below him, careful of his shoulder. Distantly, he thought he could hear rubble still sliding and tumbling above them.


“How does this keep happening to us, every time.” Lance grumbled.


“You’d think they’d stop sending us on away missions,” he agreed. Honestly, between the poisonous plants of their last planet, and Lance’s tendency to always end up on the business end of every blaster or pointy ended stick, Allura was just being inefficient at this point. Lance probably spent more time in a healing pod with the rest of them nervously pacing outside than he did training. And with Allura’s rigid exercise schedules, that was saying something.


“I think the universe just hates me, specifically.”


Keith snorted, “I’d say it hates me more, after all I’m the one that always ends up stuck with you.”

He was sure if he could see Lance from where he was lying, the guy would be sticking his tongue out like a five-year-old.


“To be fair, Lance. You do tend to jump in front of dangerous weapons a little too often. Gotta play the hero, huh?”


“I’m going to chalk that up to jealousy. And I will take that compliment, thank you.”




“Oh of course,” Keith could hear the dramatic flourish in the guy’s tone, of course Lance was going to be dramatic. Even now, broken arm, possible concussion, and buried under rock on an alien planet,Lance was still putting on a show. Honestly, who even was this guy.


“Clearly, I’m the object of so much attention the universe is jealous and therefore keeps heaping monumental amounts of absolute bullshit on my head. Specifically.”


He didn’t bother deigning to give that a response. Keith did have to wonder what the odds were this time, though. They’d been on an exploration mission, no weapons or angry civilians in sight. Just a musty old library Coran thought might have some valuable information. Shiro and Pidge were taking on the actual mission a few hundred miles away, something about trade negotiations if he remembered properly. He’d been distracted by Lance’s whining and hadn’t heard all of it.  ‘Utterly safe!’ Coran had smiled, a little hysterically. ‘Not in the least bit dangerous, none at all!’  Keith was a bit inclined to believe Lance’s universe theory at this point.


Of course it had to be booby trapped, of course the whole thing had to collapse on top of them.

Of course their communication to the rest of the team was jammed. Obviously they couldn’t have one mission end without disaster and near death experiences.


“Hey,” Keith thought after a few minutes. “Can you reach Blue from here?”


Lance hummed distantly in response.

Keith nudged him, “what, are you sleeping over there? This is really not the time Lance.”


“So rude,” Lance breathed, and shifted his arm. Keith felt the exact moment the pain smacked into Lance again and every muscle in him clenched. “Ah, fucking hell.”


“Idiot, don’t fall asleep then!”


“Didn’t mean to!” Lance practically whined back at him. “M’head hurts.”






“I think you’re supposed to stay awake when you have a concussion. You can’t fall asleep, okay?”


Lance hummed again, and Keith made the executive decision to poke him sharply in the non armour covered portion of his side.


“Hey! Ow!”


“I said no sleeping! Can you hear Blue?”


Lance grumbled for a moment, “uh, yeah. It’s hard but, kinda. She’s worried. She worries a lot.”

That… seemed like a personal thought Lance probably hadn’t meant to let slip. His own heart rate skipped in response, just a flicker of concern, and he shook his head minutely. “Can you get her to scope out the area? See how much trouble we’re in here? Maybe she can get the info to the other Lions.”


“Mm, yeah okay. She’s gunna try. Jeeze, she’s really frantic suddenly… ‘dunno why…”


“Lance?” The boy’s breathing slowed, Keith propped himself up to get a better look. Lance gaze was lidded heavily, he seemed to be fighting it but losing steadily. If he remembered properly, from all the health conversations Shiro and Hunk had given the rest of them, that was a very bad sign. “Lance! Come on, you gotta stay with me here!”


Lance mumbled something indecipherable.


“What was that?”


“Said you didn’t want to be stuck w’th me anyways…”


Keith’s chest leapt funnily, an echo of Lance’s strange breathing. Keith’s cheeks warmed in guilt. Lance’s tone lacked it’s usual teasing flair, it was disconcerting at the very least.


“Uh, no. I was joking, I uh. I don’t mind, really. But you gotta stay awake, okay?”


“…don’t even like me,” Lance frowned, his gaze in the half-light trained far away. The strength of his voice was seeping out into the darkness. Keith watched another trickle of blood slip from his forehead and he was already pressing the release button on the side of Lance’s helmet before he could finish calculating the oxygen composition of the alien planets atmosphere.


“Idiot,” he huffed. 21% atmospheric oxygen content, he read— thank god—even if the amount in their confining rocky prison was waning steadily. “Of course I like you.” Lance’s partially glazed vision finally flicked over to him, his mouth open in a tiny ‘o’ of surprise. His cheeks were faintly flushed, and Keith felt embarrassment heat his own face in realization.


“I mean, um. You’re part of the team, aren’t you? Kinda have to like you.”


Lance almost looked crestfallen, just for a hairsbreadth of a second before his eyelids began to sag heavily again, and Keith panicked. He pushed his own helmet off, in a flurry of motion, and patted Lance’s face gently.


“Hey, Lance, come on. The team’s going to be here soon, you gotta stay alert until then, alright?”

Lance didn’t react, his eyes slipping further. Keith’s heart jumped into his throat, imagining Lance falling into a coma right beside him. In his head he thought he could hear muffled voices somewhere beyond the cascade of rocks and slabs above them. They were probably close by, right over head.They had to be. Lance only needed to stay awake for a few more seconds, and then Pidge and Allura and Coran would be fluttering all about him like busy, overly intelligent bees and he’d be fine.


Lance would be fine. He just needed something to shock him out of this stupor, something startling maybe. Something unexpected… or…


He wasn’t thinking again, or maybe he was thinking too much, but suddenly he felt dry, chapped lips under his own and heard a small gasp echo through their cramped hideout. For a moment, he nearly let himself melt into it. For a moment, his whirlwind of concern slipped into a simple ‘oh’ of bliss.


Then he was abruptly peeling away, reeling in shock and embarrassment and gracelessly slamming his injured shoulder into the stone behind him. His thoughts whited out for a moment as a hiss of pain escaped him and he hunched inwards on himself.


“-eith! Keith, what’s… Breathe, okay? You gotta relax man, you’re gunna make it worse, come on. I can’t help you, you have to… yeah, like that, there you go. Breathe through it, dude.” Lance was mumbling an endless stream of words, something to focus on beyond the pain in his arm and his ankle. He was vaguely aware of a hand clamped tightly within his own. The waves of pain slowly receded after a moment, his own strangled breathing levelling out as he forced his muscles to relax.


“Jeeze, you really know how to wake a guy up, huh?”


He snorted, after a moment to regain his thoughts. He heard a faint buzz from Lance’s helmet, and focused on pulling air into his lungs and riding out the last tides of pain.


“I uh, I don’t wanna ruin the moment here but  we’re running dangerously low on oxygen in here, and I think my tanks busted.”


“Wonderful.” Fear waited in the wings of his mind, but honestly, all of this was just par for the course. Well, except for the kissing portion. That was new. And horribly embarrassing. He was grateful that Lance seemed out of it enough to ignore the incident, at least for the time being. Keith had a sinking feeling that when they got out of this, he wouldn’t hear the end of it. Ugh.

He had a strange mental image of Lance skipping about the castle, chirping that he needed Coran to report to the med bay to give him a ‘cootie shot’. It wouldn’t really be that radically out of character, which was horrid enough.


“On the plus side, I’m sure Allura and the others have got to be close by now.” Lance’s voice was already regaining a slight dream-like note. He sincerely hoped Lance was right.


“How’s your arm?” He licked his lips, accidentally, instinctively. Lance’s eyes, carefully watching him and Keith wasn’t purposefully looking away, not at all, but he caught the faint stutter to Lance’s steady breaths anyways. Really, they should probably conserve the waning amount that they had left, survival instincts told him it was a wise idea. Maybe Lance’s god awful optimism was rubbing off on him after so many near death experiences together, but he couldn’t find it in himself to be all that concerned. Or maybe it was the lack of oxygen talking.


“It’s. It’s fine. Broken, but yanno.”


He pretended not to notice the awkward stutter or the flustered nervousness in Lance’s tone. If he did, he’d have to also acknowledge the rabid butterflies eating at him from the inside, or the rapid beat of his own pulse. Or the way it had felt strangely wonderful to have the other boy’s lips pressed against his. Inappropriate, Keith. Life or death situations called for drastic measures.


“I just remembered. Coran won our bet.”


Keith raised a brow at him, before realizing Lance probably couldn’t even see it.


“He bet me that I’d have another disaster by the end of the week, he thinks we should make one of the healing pods my official second bedroom. I said there was no way because, yanno, this planet wasn’t even dangerous and we were just on recon so. Guess I lost, dammit.”


“What did you bet him?”


Lance paused at that, and Keith’s chest tightened again when his response was laced with sleepiness once more.


“’s a secret,” Keith could hear the drowsy smile on the boy’s lips. He could also hear something rumbling above them, now. He hoped it wasn’t an aftershock or more of the building collapsing on them, though it would be their luck.


“A secret?” He prompted.


“Mmmhm. Not for nosey Keith’s to know. Coran lost our other bet though, which is. Nice.”


“What, do you guys just have a secret betting pool now?”


Lance breathed a laugh, Keith couldn’t find the energy to try to snap Lance awake. He noticed distantly that their hands were still clasped together, and squeezed tightly. Keith’s helmet fizzed at him again, the red light of his comms blinking in the darkness where he’d thrown the thing. A distorted warning message flashed inversely across the cracked visor. Low oxygen, no doubt.

Keith felt comfortable, warm and rumpled like he was waking up from a nap, or heading off to sleep in the middle of a warm spring night. It was probably a bad sign, the rumble from above was joined by familiar voices now.


“’M glad you’re here,” Lance mumbled drowsily.


The voices were clearer now, someone yelling about yellow lions and breathing. He smiled into the darkness.


Me too.

Chapter Text

“How does this keep happening?!”


Keith snarled, leaping through Red Lion’s mouth—already open, of course already open, Red was as intertwined with his rising panic like platelets rushing through his veins. She pressed her concern gently against his own, swallowing it back for a moment.


“I don’t know, man! He just dived in front of Green Lion before any of us could do anything!” Hunk’s voice was pitching into a near whine. Damn idiot, always so observant he somehow seemed to notice trouble before anyone else but only succeeded in putting himself in the way. It was almost like he didn’t realize people cared or something.


“We don’t have time for this now. Keith, how’s it looking down there?” Shiro punched through the static, calm and assertive as always. Grounding. Keith drew his bayard, scanning his surroundings in the same movement.


“I don’t know yet; I can see Blue but it doesn’t look good. There’s smoke.”


At the current moment, Blue Lion was half submerged in a swamp; her crash landing had knocked plates and armor loose and Keith could see electricity sparking across her side. Blue’s eyes were dark. He sucked in a sharp breath, fear spiking like static through him.


“Lance? Lance, how’re you holding up there buddy?” Shiro sounded strained, probably still fighting the few straggling Galra up above. They all waited a few moments, straining in the silence for anything, any sound at all. Only dead air surrounded them, almost mocking them.


Keith frowned, surveying the crash site once more and trying to pinpoint an entrance. The faint electric current skidded around Blue’s exposed side— diving in the get to Blue’s front hatch was a no go, then.


“Keith, can you get to him?” Allura chimed in, professional as always. She sounded pinched, conveying her own concern glaringly.


“They landed in a swamp, I can’t- there’s exposed wires, I don’t know how to get around it.”


Shit, shit. Shit.


“I’m going to pull Blue out, give me a moment—” Pidge cut in, Keith growled in frustration.


“There’s no time! Are the suits electricity resistant or, or plastic or something?”


Pidge faltered, briefly. “I… I haven’t…”


“We don’t know,” Hunk piped up, filling in. “Probably? I mean if they have a plastic coating they might be non-conductive but—“


“I hope you’re right,” Keith muttered, slamming the mute button on his comm’s and leaping into the swamp water.


It was reckless, yes. If Hunk was wrong there would be two paladins requiring assistance or worse, but Keith had that gut feeling. He’d spent enough time at this point, dealing with close calls, and shitty close quarters with the blue paladin, that he now had a strange fifth sense, almost a pull in his chest when it came to Lance. In his heart, he knew Lance was running out of time and it was up to him to save his ass again. He just knew it; in the same way a compass always knows North. His red arrow pointed shakily across the swamp, and he had no choice but to follow.


He pushed through the murky darkness, his helmet’s newly attached lights gave him only a blurred outline of where Blue’s form lay. Pidge had been insistent, after their library collapse incident, that their suits have a few improvements. He guessed in some small way, they’d all pretty much assumed Lance would be in danger within the week. Again. And they’d all assumed, it seemed, Keith would be the one to assist. Again.


Sort of flattering, sort of terribly burdensome in a way that left his nerves fried and constantly on edge.


Thankfully this meant that his visor was the first to be equipped with the new lights, and, unfortunately the only one Pidge had been able to upgrade before the Galra attacked nearby. Coincidence, maybe. The universe hating both him and Lance specifically? Much more likely. Not that he would tell Lance, after he undoubtedly recuperated, that he believed the ‘universe-hates-me-more-than-anyone-else-because-stupid-shit-keeps-happening’ theory. After all, Lance would just use it to gloat anyways.


And he would gloat, or whine, or both at once. Because Lance was going to be fine, just like last time, just like every other time. Keith would make of it.


Slowly, the murky depiction of Lion’s hatch appeared through the weeds and pond muck. Lion had no power, though. Opening the door would inevitably flood the compartment, potentially drowning Lance if he was unconscious or worse. But, there was an emergency hatch on Lion’s left side.


Conveniently, the side that was mostly out of the water. Also, Keith had a sword for a bayard that could cut through metal plating.


Sometimes the universe pulled its punches, but only sometimes.


Blue was sinking, though. The bottom of the swamp was probably mostly mud and eroded ground and there wasn’t anything firm for Blue to stand on. Or, lie on in this case. It meant Keith didn’t have much time, it meant Lance had only minutes before he and his lion were swallowed up in muck and mud on an alien planet.


Keith jammed his bayard into the faint outline of the emergency door; the water around him causing the motion to slow and lose strength, but he managed to pry it open nonetheless. Not today, universe. Not this time. Lance wasn’t going down like this.


They’d talked about it, once. A sleepless evening hour shuffle to the kitchen, an accidental run in, and a strange camaraderie that only the complete vacuumed silence space could provide. He and Lance had cozied up together with mugs of steaming tea and talked for hours staring out into the great nothing.


“I wanna go out like a star, yanno. Like a big supernova.” Lance hadn’t been looking at him, he’d been watching the faint twinkle of nearby galaxies. His blue eyes shone in the hallway lights around them, but seemed darker and deeper than Keith could process. He’d scoffed, lacking all the usual vitriol.


“You would,” he teased.


Lance shot him a look out of the corner of his eye, something sad quirking his lips into a lopsided smile. “Yeah. Stupid I know.” He shrugged.

“It’s just. I know what we face every day and all, and I know people need us but. I dunno, we never chose this I guess.”


Keith frowned, Lance turned farther away, staring down at the mug in his hands instead.


“It would be nice if we could at least get the whole blaze of glory deal. But I know… I know it won’t be like that. I’m probably gunna mess something up and my last words will just be ‘fuck, not again’.” He laughed, but the sound was warbled. Tangled up in something more true, more honest than Lance had probably meant. “I’m kinda worried I won’t get to say goodbye, or yanno, feel like I did something good for once. It’s stupid.”


If Keith was anyone else he probably would have argued, would have been able to think of a rebuttal that would bring the spark and shimmer back to Lance’s gaze, instead of the small scared darkness he saw seeping inwards. If Keith was anyone else he would have been full of reassurances, of ‘we need you’s’ and ‘you’re a great paladin’s’.


But Keith lost his voice between the spaces of Lance’s bone white knuckle grip, lost his nerve within the furrow between Lance’s brow. Instead he’d just bumped his shoulder gently, stared at nothing at all. “You’ll get your dumb superhero ending, I promise,” he whispered, a dark scarlet burn covering his cheeks. Lance’s shocked gaze made him look down at his feet, but there was a warmth, a surprised adoration there and Keith felt Lance’s shoulder press into his.  


Lance, you’re going to get your damned supernova ending. You’re gunna save the damned universe like the hero you are. Keith thought furiously as he yanked himself over the ledge into the emergency hatch, green water sloshing forwards with him. You’re not going to die on some random assed planet on some random meaningless mission. You’re gunna live through this or so help me I’ll kill you myself.


The interior of the Blue Lion was dark, except for flashes of light as circuit boards and wiring sparked and fizzled. Blue’s back up generators had been damaged apparently also, or something far more technical and Altean than Keith could conceptualize, because the emergency lights were dim.


“Lance?” He called, ignoring the cautious anxiety ridden tone in his own voice. Lance would make fun of him for that, if he were conscious. Even hearing the boy attempt to ridicule Keith would have been comforting, instead of the ominous nothing. Keith pushed onwards, the water sloshing around him grew to shin height as he slid down towards the pilot deck. Blue was sinking, still. The cracks and fissures in her hull allowing more water to seep in, too much water. If Lance was unconscious, or pinned down somewhere then--


Keith reached the pilot door with the murky water pooling around thigh height, heart lodged firmly in his throat. “Lance, if you can hear me I’m going to have to get this door open. More water is probably going to pool towards you so. Uh, hold your breath if you can okay?”


A frantic alarm rang through Keith’s mind at the lack of response, imagining Lance with his helmet missing, face down in a steadily rising pool of murky water. He shook himself, readying his bayard once more to pry open the mechanical doors. His hands shook minutely and clammy sweat slid down the back of his neck, but he focused only on the sealed edge standing between him and Lance.


“Come on, come on!” he growled, and finally the door hissed open as the release mechanisms instinctively rolled backwards. The knee high water around him rushed forwards, down the slope towards the pilot seat and--




He couldn’t stop the yelp that squeaked through him, sloshing forwards to where the other boy lay unconscious and, thankfully, still strapped into his seat. Keith’s hands flickered, unsure, towards the clasp, towards Lance’s cracked helmet, across the unnatural bend to Lance’s right arm. Lance was in bad shape, but, when was he not these days. Lance must have pulled his belt across at the last moment before they were hit, his arm looked like it had gotten caught between the panelling at some point and gotten torn right out of it’s socket.


Keith winced in sympathy, but honestly, he was grateful it wasn’t worse.


“Lance,” he breathed, working the belt off him and carefully untangling his injured arm. Lance’s eyelids flickered briefly, a faint moan of pain escaping him, and something in Keith’s chest both tightened and released all at once. “It’s going to be okay,” he wasn’t sure who he was reassuring. He lifted Lance carefully to his feet, pulling Lance’s good arm around his own shoulders. Lance rolled his head backwards, a whine on his lips. Keith winced.


“Alright so, we’re on a sinking robotic lion, on an alien planet,” he sloshed forwards, towing Lance’s limp form along beside him. “You’re unconscious. Maybe bleeding somewhere under the armor. Your helmet is broken so you could possibly drown, and your arm is fucked. That’s fine, this is all just. Fine.”


Something distantly sparked, a crackling sound rippled down towards them.


“Oh, and the water might be electrified. Which, if it isn’t and that’s why I’m not dead, then we might die. If it is and my suit is resistant, I sure as hell hope yours isn’t cracked or you might die. Really, things are marvellous. Lance your luck is ridiculous and horrible. Maybe Pidge can find a way to sample it, the Galra wouldn’t stand a chance.”


Keith might have been rambling, just a little. For someone who didn’t often feel the need to talk most of the time, something about Lance’s complete lack of anything made him nervous. He shook his head, focusing on making sure Lance was awake tomorrow to talk his ear off once again. He pushed them slowly through the pried door, the tilt of the hallway had increased at some point. The trek up to the escape hatch was more or less a climb now.


“And things just got worse, of course.” Keith shook his head with a growl. He hefted Lance up higher, gathering his strength for a moment. Keith had always been physically fit, a necessary tool for survival the way he lived, but the idea of carrying all of Lance’s weight plus the armor plus the additional water weight up a good ten feet of metal…Wasn’t thrilling. Or even possible, necessarily.


Well, he supposed, here goes nothing.


Keith pulled the cable from his belt- another Pidge improvement meant for “Spider-man-ing” according to them- and tied it around his waist, and, after a few moments of struggling, across Lance as well. He figured securing Lance to his back, like a permanent piggyback, would at least allow his arms to be free. Provided Lance’s weight didn’t pull them off the wall like dry wallpaper, everything should be wonderful.


Fortunately for them both, Keith was stronger than he looked. He pulled them both over the ledge after a long moment, up safely to the emergency opening he’d pried open. Unfortunately for them both, the lion had sunk farther underwater during their trek and the opening was now a waterfall of brackish liquid raining down on them. Shit, shit.  


Lance’s chest hitched in a funny half leap, Keith was reminded of the cave in and his fingertips went cold with worry. There wasn’t time to look for another way out.


Keith swore loudly, yanking upwards with all his strength and praying he could get them both through the current of water before Lance drowned. Hackles were beginning to rise in his mind though, a terrible sense that something wasn’t right with Lance creeping up on him and the panic was enough to drown out the rational portion of his brain. Lance needed help, now. Adrenaline, or something worse like overwhelming fear coiled in his gut and he pushed upwards with everything he had. He couldn’t feel the burn of his muscles or the scream of his lungs, only the creeping worry that Lance hadn’t so much as shifted since he’d found him, only the absolute sudden clarity that something was very wrong filled his whole world. The waterfall pushed at them both, like gravity had increased tenfold but god dammit Keith couldn’t do this without Lance, he refused to do any of this without him. Lance didn’t so much as flinch at the sudden cold or the current that threatened to pry them both apart, Keith felt stretched thin with worry.


Come on, Lance. Come on. We’ve beaten worse, haven’t we? Don’t give up. Almost there, almost there.


His thoughts swirled around him like a mantra as he pushed them both across the opening, swimming the few short feet to the surface with a fire in his chest he didn’t know he possessed. He didn’t recall breaking the surface, couldn’t focus on the exhaustion in his chest as he pulled Lance’s limp form onto the bank, only the stillness of his chest. Only the relaxed slant to his lips, the paleness of his cheeks. Only that Lance was definitely Not Breathing.


“No, Lance, don’t do this,” his own voice was breaking, warbling apart and he didn’t know what to do. Lance was supposed to be okay, he was supposed to be hurt but okay like he always was, and this was too much. Keith pulled his helmet off in a panic, pushing a hand through his hair and fell to his knees beside the other boy.


He pulled the top portion of Lance’s armour with a frantic desperation, no time to be careful of his dislodged shoulder but Lance wasn’t complaining. Lance wasn’t doing much of anything. Keith pushed his ear against his chest, something wet and cold filling the center of his throat.  


One, two, nothing. There was nothing.


“Lance, you- you can’t, you gotta-come on... No!” He was shaking slightly, distantly, but he remembered distantly the crash course training in CPR Shiro had forced them all to sit through. He had to get Lance to breathe, had to kick start his chest. He was running out of time.


He pressed down on Lance’s solar plexus, feeling the slight give underneath and winced in sympathy beyond the fear-panic clawing at his chest. “Come on, come on.”


He pinched Lance’s nose, pressing his mouth firmly against Lance’s cold lips, willing Lance to breathe and wake up and make jokes about Sleeping Beauty or what ever else he’d inevitably come up with. His hands trembled, unsure and fluttering. He pushed down on his chest and tried not to think about anything at all.


After a few more moments, he pressed his fingers to Lance’s pulse point again.




He felt hot tears prickle at his eyes and a growl ripped through him. “Lance you asshole, don’t you dare leave me like this. You gotta have your big supernova dumb ending, you have to breathe!”


I promised, the thought made him clench his jaw and a well of emotions pull from his chest.


He slammed his hands down in a hysterical bout of frustration against Lance’s chest.


“Please! Lance, I-I need you, please!” A strangled sob pushed through him as he leaned forwards to push air into Lance’s chest, his thoughts whirling with hopelessness and grief when suddenly Lance tensed and jerked forwards. Keith jolted backwards, watery eyes wide as Lance choked on a breath, coughing out dark lake water and gasping painfully.


Keith leaned back on his heels, relief and exhaustion warring within him so intensely he couldn’t do anything but stare and heave with residual sobs for a few moments.


He placed a hand on Lance’s curled back as the boy pushed himself weakly to the side, still coughing harshly and fighting for air. He wanted to hug him, wanted to punch him in his dumb self sacrificing mouth and yell at him never to do anything like that again.


He wanted to cry, to scrabble his fingers against Lance’s thrumming heartbeat and breathe for a moment. Thank god we didn’t get electrocuted, his brain muttered, completely unhelpfully.  


Maybe it was the adrenaline and the fear and the tears still tracing down his cheeks but he wanted to kiss Lance, abruptly, a real one. He wanted to press their mouths together and smile his relief across Lance’s skin. Keith shuddered, worry suddenly coursing through him. Oh god, we could have been electrocuted. Lance almost died.  He let out a shaky breath and patted Lance’s back awkwardly, eyes wide and thoughts reeling.


Lance rolled back over onto his back, coughs subsiding, and stared up at him blearily. “Fuck,” he rasped, hazily but a smirk still crept up on his lips. Keith blinked and huffed out a breath of laughter in response.


Leave it to Lance to very nearly die and immediately make light of the situation. Idiot.


Keith was so immensely relieved, so shell shocked and grateful to see Lance’s dumb brown eyes again, he very nearly didn’t notice the sudden shuffle of steps from beside them. He also very nearly missed the business end of a laser gun pointed directly between his eyes.




“Fuck,” he breathed, loudly. The Galra soldier on the other end of the gun frowned.


“Fuck.” He said again, flatly. Lance, wheezing to his side nodded empathetically. 

Chapter Text

He still hadn’t checked Lance, which was the worst part. They’d been slapped with shackles, thrown into the back of transport/jail ship and threatened more times than Keith was willing to listen to, but he still hadn’t checked Lance.

The other boy looked dazed, like he was two seconds from passing out or curling up and taking a long nap. He kept wincing when he swallowed, taking long shaky inhales that sounded painful even to Keith’s ears. When the guards hurled them both across the small enclosure he’d heard Lance’s pained whine as his chest hit the metal ground; his compressions must have broken something or else knocked it out of place along with Lance’s bad shoulder. The poor guy was falling apart.

His shoulder probably wasn’t feeling particularly great either, yanked behind his back and handcuffed like he was. Why was it always Lance’s arm? Keith’s concern was thick and cloying against his heart.

A sharp pain filled his senses as he was smacked across the skull and he glared murderously up at the soldier in front of him.

“You, Red Paladin. Give us the lion.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “Wow, ‘give us the lion’ is all you’ve got?” He snorted. “Yeah sure, I mean why not.”

The guard hesitated, looking over his shoulder at the other three guards with a flutter of blinks. They shrugged back. He looked at Keith hopefully.  “Really?”

“No, you overgrown toilet brush!” Lance piped up, pained laughter causing his curled position to shake. Keith’s own smirk tilted further upwards in agreeance. What a bunch of morons, honestly.  What, Lance and him weren’t worth the effort of sending someone with a higher pay grade? Insulting.

The guard growled, tilting his head towards the other three off to the side. Keith was about to roll his eyes, something snarky lacing the tips of his teeth because frankly, he just saved a dumb boys life and might also be experiencing an emotional crisis over said boy.  Today had been a lot of things simultaneously. And he was tired. Give him a break. Clearly these Galra soldiers didn’t care enough about the Paladins of Voltron to bother attempting to be serious, so maybe they could all just hurry up the pace here a little. Soon Keith and Lance would be stumbling out of healing pods under Allura’s overly protective gaze and this would all be a bad memory.

Keith needed a long nap and maybe a good punching bag to work through the residual panic in his veins. Going through the motions until their rescue was just, tiring and tedious, and they’d had better kidnappings in the past anyways.  

He opened his mouth with a smirk, casting a smug look Lance’s direction, but Lance wasn’t smiling back. Lance looked horrified, suddenly, like he was going to shout a warning Keith’s direction.

Before Keith could move his muscles were clenching and fire ripped across his skin as something pressed into his back. He heard someone shouting distantly between his own screams of pain as his body convulsed. The floor reached up and grabbed him and his watery gaze caught a glimpse of Lance’s outstretched arms before he blacked out entirely.





Waking up was usually an abrupt thing for Keith; he slept fully clothed most of the time, ready to leap into action at a moment's notice. Perks of being a ‘desert hermit’ as Lance so fondly called him. He’d learned instinctively how to shift from sleep to fully alert, call it a flight or fight response or survival instincts but he wasn’t used to waking up slowly.

Consciousness pulled at him from across a blurry distance in sections.

First, he heard someone speaking. It warbled across his brain like he was miles underwater. The voice was familiar, somehow, and pulled tight like they were worried or in pain.

“-sten, you can’t get em. One is sinking underneath miles of dirt and the other one is shielded. Only this guy over here can get through it. Agh! Stop hitting me, dammit! I’m telling you, if you kill him, you’re shit out of luck.”

A grumbling sound followed, then a pause. Keith started to swim closer to the surface, feeling the cold metal beneath his cheek.

“Yeah buddy, you fucked up. Knocking your only hope to impressing your boss unconscious wasn’t the smartest move there.” A loud smacking sound filled the silence, along with a groan that sounded pained. “Okay, yeah that one was fair. But, I can guarantee Zarkon’s gunna want both of us alive too, since, yanno. We’re kind of important.”

“Well,” another voice spoke up. Keith slowly began to piece himself together. His eyelids fluttering as he remembered the shitty predicament they’d found themselves in. Damn, he ached all over.

“He’s going to need one of you alive, anyhow.”

Keith pried his eyelids open just in time to catch the flicker of fear cross Lance’s expression. There was a line of blood trailing from his forehead, he looked a little rougher- if it was even possible- than Keith remembered. He probably had a concussion again too, that would be just their luck.

The guard was standing over Lance, his nasty gnash of a smile glinting in the electric lights. “Tell Zarkon we have the red paladin.” He levelled his blaster at Lance’s wide eyes.

“But sir, what about the blue lion?” Another guard peeped, clearly not the brawn of the operation. Keith’s mind spun, clogged and muggy still from his bout with unconsciousness, he needed an out. Now.

“The blue lion is useless to us; it’s broken apart and underwater. We can fetch it later.”

“She’s not broken,” Lance’s tone had lost almost all of it’s typical snark, Keith could hear him fighting to keep his voice from cracking. His heart beat painfully in his chest. Lance was trying to go for bravado, trying to keep the focus on him and away from Keith even though he was hurting. What an idiot, he thought, ignoring the skip leap of his heart. Too noble for his own good.

“Zarkon doesn’t need to know that,” the guard bared his teeth, trigger finger lining up ever so slowly and Keith needed to stop this, now.

Keith had always been the impulsive one, always acted on anger and instinct alone and dealt with the consequences later. Sometimes this led him to do stupid things, like take on Zarkon alone, or charge straight into battle without a plan. Or sometimes, it led him to kick a guards ankle with all his strength just as his finger pulled backwards on a trigger.

You know, normal things.

“Holy shit!” Lance yelped, the laser nearly grazing his bad arm and scorching into the metal wall behind him.

“Whoops,” Keith blinked.

“Grahhh!” The guard growled, stumbling from the blow and smacking his head into the wall in the process.  He slumped to the ground silently, thoroughly knocked out.

“Uh,” Lance blinked.

Keith shared a stunned look with the blue paladin, before they scrambled to their feet. The other two guards standing near the door looked just as confused and surprised, and for a moment nobody moved.

“Uh, stop right there!” One guard yelled, sloppily pulling his dagger upwards nervously. Keith charged forwards before the guard could prepare himself, Lance yelled and bowled into the second guard at the same moment. They slammed the two galra into each other and they gracelessly fell in a pile of limbs.

No time to catch their breath, Keith nodded towards the open door. “Let’s move!”

He grabbed Lance roughly by his good arm, and shouldered his way through the unlocked door. Honestly, these guards were idiots, leaving the door unlocked and only three guards with them?

“Zarkon should send us apology cards,” Lance muttered, sounding slightly out of breath as they scampered through the enemy ship. He seemed to be thinking the same thing. “This is the worst hospitality I’ve ever had.”

The ship was smaller, a pod of sorts probably sent for survey and capture. Beyond the jail door there was a stretch of hallway and an assortment of side doors, and an open bay door. Of course, Lance Luck true to form, the exit contained a wall of guards milling about. Before Keith could decide their next step, Lance shoved him through one of the side doors with a yelp.

They crashed gracelessly into what appeared, more or less, to be a storage closet. Lance yelped and Keith’s wide eyes met his, the unspoken “shit” loudly rang in the abrupt silence.

Lance blinked, pushing Keith off him with his good arm awkwardly. “Uh,” he seemed flustered, vaguely, Keith’s brow furrowed in concern, wondering how badly Lance was in pain. “so, what’s the game plan here mullet boy?” He glanced down at Keith’s handcuffed hands and his own awkwardly held arm. Keith blinked back, shrugging.

“Why do you assume I have a plan? I’m the impulsive one, remember?”

Lance laughed, shaking his head. “A title that’s closely followed by me, I’ll have you know. But yeah, good point.” He exhaled, Keith pretended not to notice how shaky it sounded. “Well, alright so we fought past a handful of guards that are probably searching for us, you’re handcuffed and were recently knocked out, and I’ve got a bad arm and a few not so good ribs.”


“Listen buddy, we’re fucked.” Lance grinned, Keith’s gaze narrowed in on the drops of clammy sweat accumulating on his brow. He felt his heart shudder nervously.

“You don’t have to sound so upset about it,” Keith huffed. Honestly, Lance was probably the weirdest person he’d ever met. They paused for a moment, trying to still their rapid heart beats. Keith’s was leaping all over the place still, probably residual effects of being electrocuted and knocked out. Probably.

“Man, what I wouldn’t give to hear Pidge right now. They probably would have a whole escape route with schematics and shit by now.”

“Yeah,” Keith breathed, glancing around their small enclosure. Lance and him were forcibly pressed uncomfortably close. The closet was pretty small; Keith could feel Lance’s breathing against his own chest. Something about it made his cheeks flare up and made him glance away, causing his gaze to fall on the row of-

“Lance. Lance, we’re idiots.”  

They were in a weapons closet, a stack of laser guns hung behind them in different assortments along with grenades and lasers.

“Oh. Okay so we’re considerably less fucked.”

“Also, my coms work just fine. I muted them. I uh, kind of forgot.”

Lance levelled him with a withering look. “Incredible.”

He bit back an insult, for once, and pressed the unmute button on his helmet. “Um. Hi guys?”

An uncomfortable silence followed for a few seconds before an uproar of noise and insults filled his visor, he winced.

“Keith! Keith are you okay?”  “Keith, god dammit, you better not have electrocuted yourself or I swear-” “We could hear everything you were saying but you wouldn’t answer us and oh my god!”

His gaze flickered to Lance’s for support, but met only an unimpressed brow quirk. He sighed.

“Sorry, I’m okay. I mean I did get electrocuted but not from that. We’re fine.”

“We?” Shiro’s voice broke through. “Is Lance alright?” He sounded weary, like he’d aged ten years in the time since they’d last seen each other. Lance and his luck had that effect on people.

“Oh, yeah Lance is fine.”

Hunk sniffed loudly. “Thank god, oh god thank god. I- we heard you earlier… when... With the lake.”

Keith froze.

“We thought he might have... “

“We thought Lance was dead.” Pidge finished flatly, but there was a noticeable tightness to their voice.

A wave of something deeper than guilt splashed through Keith’s lungs. Lance, pressed closely enough to hear, stayed uncharacteristically silent but Keith couldn’t bring himself to meet his gaze, he stared instead at his feet. There was a strange puddle beneath them, he focused on it as his heartbeat began to swallow his hearing.

“Uh, no. I- it was close but…” He swallowed. The puddle was fascinating, much better than meeting Lance’s no doubt emotion laced expression. It was strangely red and bright, and distantly he noted that there was a strange trail of it dripping from somewhere, it seemed to have stained Lance’s leg. “He’s still with us, but uh. Listen we’re stuck on an enemy ship here and we’ve kind of backed ourselves into a corner. I’m handcuffed and Lance is-” his gaze trailed up further, narrowing in on the dark splash of something covering Lance’s side and a strange lump protruding from it.

He felt his blood run cold for the second time in one day. He finally pulled his gaze up to Lance’s surprised expression, one that was quickly morphing sheepish and guilty, like he’d been caught red handed.

“Lance. Is. Is that a dagger?”

“...maybe I’m just happy to see you?” Lance offered weakly.

“God dammit Lance! How did you not tell me you got stabbed? What the quiznack, you asshole!”

He ignored the outburst of panic from his coms, electing instead to focus on biting back the fear curling around his throat. Lance held up his good arm in a placating surrender.

“In my defense, it only mostly hurts.”

Keith likely would have glared or yelled, or maybe dealt with the burning ball of cotton suddenly lodged down his throat but abruptly footsteps and arguing echoed through their tiny enclosure.

“Shit, Shiro what do we do?” He snapped into the coms, cutting off their team’s assortment of complains and tearful wailing.

“We’re on our way, max three minutes out. You two are going to have to hold out till then. Find a way to make it to the bay doors and I promise, we’ll be there. Hold on, Lance.”

Lance nodded, and Keith closed his eyes exhaling shakily. Three minutes. Three whole minutes for the universe to screw them both over once again and get Lance into further trouble. They could do this; it would be fine.

“Keith!” Coran’s voice squeaked across his headset, high pitched and concerned. “Whatever you do, don’t remove the dagger! We can get Lance shipped off to a healing pod right away but they can only fix so much!”

“What he said, Lance could bleed out if you stop the blade from pinching things in place.” Hunk warbled. Keith nodded, turning off his own mic despite the fact none of them could see him.

“Alright,” he turned to Lance, determination settling into the cracks in his courage. “We need to get you to the bay door.”

Lance wobbled slightly, “Well, buddy. That’s uh. Going to be a bit of a problem.” He slowly sank backwards, knees giving out. Keith attempted to reach around him to prop him up, his handcuffs rendering the endeavour basically useless.

“Can’t um. Really move.”

Keith bit his lip, eyeing the dazed look of pain in Lance’s eye. His dislocated shoulder and whatever other punishments Lance had endured during Keith’s brief stint with unconsciousness must be exhausting him. “Come on Lance, we just have to get through this for a few more minutes. If we just get you to the-”

“Keith.” Lance’s voice flattened out, his eyes gaining a darkly serious edge to them. Keith had never seen Lance look so carved out, so bolded and thin all at once. His mouth snapped shut in surprise. “I can’t. Walk.”

A helplessness crawled up his throat and he brusquely shot it down. “I’m not leaving you here.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “So dramatic, honestly. Keith you’re going to have to-”

“I’m not going to leave you here after you almost died, and then tried to save my sorry ass. You’re coming with me or I swear.”

“God! Keith would you shut up for ten seconds? I’m not asking you to leave me, I just need you to pull it out.”

Keith’s mind blanked out uncomfortably. “Um.”

Lance was going to give himself a headache with all the eye rolling. “The dagger, genius. I need it out.”

“But Coran just told me-”

“I know, I do. Trust me. But listen, I’m not going to make it to the bay door like this alright. If you take it out I can at least move. I might pass out before we make it but it’s better than giving up, right?”

Keith hated this, he hated everything about this and man, if this prison ship was still around when he got to his lion he might just blow the thing up for stress relief. But Lance was right, leaving the dagger in meant leaving Lance here, Keith couldn’t drag Lance with handcuffs stuck to his wrists. Shit.

“What,” he felt like he was the one who’d aged years in a single moment this time. Hanging around Lance was bad for his health. “What do you want me to do.”

Lance leaned back against the wall, a nervous energy flickered behind his eyes. He looked so tired, suddenly. Just for a moment. Like he’d been running on less than fumes and he was nearing his limit. Keith wondered, for a terrifying moment, just how long he’d been out and what had happened during that time. He gave Keith a weak smile, just a little bit of fleeting reassurance in their hell hole of a situation. Something in Keith warmed and burned apart at the sight, like kindling in a roaring blaze.

“Just, rip it out. Like a needle.” He shrugged with his good shoulder. “It’s going to suck either way but, maybe if you do it when I’m not expecting it?”

“Won’t it hurt you?” Keith’s hands twitched and clenched at the thought, his gut roiling.

Lance laughed, and it sounded taught, like he was fighting back hysteria. Keith’s heart ached.

“Oh hell yeah, but it hurts worse like this.”

Keith frowned, nodding slightly. He moved to gently palm the handle, and Lance recoiled instantly with a hiss. “Ah, fuck. Yeah it’s going to hurt a lot, I’m uh. I’m sorry in advance.”

“Idiot,” Keith felt flighty, a little frantic around the edges. This was insane. “Why are you apologizing, who does that.” He was going to have to distract Lance somehow, so his instinctive need to get away from the pain didn’t make things worse. Keith had bandaged up Lance enough times now he should have assumed it wouldn’t be so easy as to just, remove it. Lance tended to be flinchy.

A thought crept up, unbidden in his brain. He fought the blush that automatically threatened to cover his cheeks. There was… a way to surprise Lance enough he wouldn’t notice. It was just…

He leaned in closer to Lance, deactivating his visor. He watched the way Lance’s eyes widened, the faint pink hue that leapt to his face in response. It was, adorable. In a different situation, in a different time, maybe Keith would let himself focus on that train of thought but there were more footsteps beyond their door and drastic times called for quick actions. Or something.

“Oh the count of three,” he breathed. Lance nodded, a guarded preparation building in his dark eyes.

“One,” Keith moved impossibly closer, he poised his hand above the protruding handle on Lance’s side. He felt Lance’s breaths skitter and skip.

“Two,” he whispered and watched the way Lance instinctively wet his lips in nervousness.

“Three,” and he pressed his lips quickly against Lance’s, feeling the surprised inhale as his eyes fluttered shut. Keith lost himself for a moment, Lance’s frozen, shocked mouth just barely melting into something warmer and then he was pulling the dagger smoothly from Lance’s side in one fluid motion.

He broke away just as a wheezing yell of agony rushed out from Lance’s lungs.

The footsteps froze outside of their hiding place.

“Well,” Lance heaved shakily, weakly pushing himself to stand. “That’s one way to solve the problem.”

“Shut up, it worked didn’t it?” Keith refused to acknowledge the angry fire on his face, grabbing a nearby gun with his cuffed hands. The slowly spreading stain on Lance’s side was making his palms sweat with nerves. Voices clamoured outside of their hiding place. “We have company.”

“Darling, when don’t we,” Lance winked, and reached for his own laser. “We have a date with a bay door, I think. Better not be late.”

Keith was going to kill Lance McClain when they got out of this, he decided. If they got out of this. Lance was barely holding himself together, there was an approximate small army outside the door no doubt, and he himself was putting “fighting with two hands behind my back” into a fascinating new perspective. The odds were extremely stacked against them but, honestly, when weren’t they these days. Better to go down swinging.

Lance smiled at him, a full cocky, toothy grin that sent a new wave of aggressive fire coated butterflies squirming through his gut. God dammit.

He touched the side button on his helmet. “Shiro, we’ll be waiting at the door.”

“We’re about a minute out, stay alive please.”

Lance winked at him, “That’s what we do best.”

“Barely,” Keith shot a pointed look at Lance’s hip and the nauseating spread of dark wet fabric surrounding the ragged hole in his side. Lance only grinned wider, his eyes oddly bright and glittery.

Lance had better live through the next minute or Keith would hurl his flirtatious and distractingly charming smug self through the nearest airlock. He curled his hand around the blaster, ignoring the wave of emotions coiling through his veins with whip crack intensity. There’d be time for analyzing this later, he was sure. Time to sort through the mess of affection and frustration he could feel warring against his chest with every glance he sent towards the brunette. Time to berate Lance angrily for once again throwing himself in the line of danger for no good reason and dragging Keith once again into hell and back with him.

Keith slammed the open button on the door probably a little too forcefully and charged forwards into the crowd of soldiers, an aggressive battle cry hot on his heels.

He’d make sure there was plenty of time for all of that, later.

Chapter Text


Lance was beautiful, in an almost alarming way. It caught him off guard. Keith passed a cloth across the blue paladin’s forehead for the hundredth time, removing the older rag and placing it back into a cool bowl of water beside him.


Lance always seemed so lively, so animated; his expressions jumped in a non-stop rollercoaster, from excitement to sadness to smugness and back. It was rare to catch his vulnerable side, the brief moments when he stopped trying so hard. When he could breathe deeply enough to rattle the stars around them and he would just be.


In the stillness of the white coated room, while Lance was, for once, completely silent, Keith noticed the little things. The way his eyebrows bunched together in worry even while sleep overtook him, the feverish blush to his cheeks that brought out the younger softness to his face, his full eyelashes that barely dusted across his skin. Keith was in too deep, he knew.


He wished he could appreciate the moment more. A part of him wanted to unfurl every corner of Lance’s carefully folded façade and smooth out the edges. Another part of him was scared to move to quickly, tentatively afraid of pulling too hard on the gossamer thread of his own thoughts. Lance’s furrowed brows clenched even tighter, his face twisting and a low moan of pain pulled from somewhere deep in his chest. Keith’s own chest tightened with sympathy.


“Shh, shh Lance,” he bit his lip, brushing his fingertips through the limp fringe of hair matted to Lance’s clammy skin. “I know, I know.” He muttered nonsensical comforts, hushing and doing everything he could think of to soothe the other boy. His heart pulled, wrapped behind layers of barbed wires and pained empathy.


Lance had been hurt many times, they’d all seen him bleeding and battered and bruised; they’d seen him sick and exhausted to the point of passing out many times but this was something horribly new. This was throat catching pain, this was muscle cramping spasms and whimpers of anguish that likely would have been screams if Lance had the energy. This was torture.


The god damned dagger had been poisoned.


They’d found out after Keith had half dragged half carried Lance aboard the yellow lion during their rushed escape plans and Lance had seized up in his arms. It had been a terrifying moment. One second Lance was slipping him that sneaky smirk of his, muttering something about the number of times he’d ended up in Keith’s arms this week, and the next Keith could do nothing except watch.  It was almost in slow motion as Lance’s eyes roll backwards into his skull and his muscles went rigid, stone-like in his grip. He’d been half sure Lance was gone before he’d even hit the floor, like he could see the wispy trail of light leave his eyes entirely. If Coran’s voice hadn’t barked at him to roll Lance onto his side and snapped him from his panic, Lance might have died right there on the cockpit floor.


It turned out pulling the dagger out had been a bad idea after all. Gee, who would have thunk. Pidge said it would have happened either way, but Keith knew he shouldn’t have listened, shouldn’t have aggravated their tentative balance between the frying pan and the fire.


The healing pods couldn’t do much for him, either. They’d carefully healed his injured arm and shoulder, some kind of pocket nano-device Hunk and Pidge had been tinkering with for a while fixed it up nicely with a strange assortment of clicks and whirs, but they were afraid to close up the wound in Lance’s hip. The blackened tendrils and heat that spiralled out from it made Keith think of claws, of roots and he wanted it out so badly it was nauseating. But the wound couldn’t heal anyways, not without a cure. And the roots grew thicker, angrier.


Keith wasn’t sure which was the worst part, knowing that surrounded by alien tech in the middle of space Lance could die from something so simple and devious, or the fact that Keith had volunteered to watch it happen.


He couldn’t leave Lance. His muddled fears and anxieties wouldn’t let him; there was a catch in his lungs, just between the rib cage that was tethered to the side of Lance’s infirmary bed for better or for worse. He didn’t want Lance to go through any of it alone, couldn’t let him. Allura only needed two paladins to go with her to find the antidote anyways. Shiro had taken one look at him, bless that space father figure’s heart, and immediately volunteered himself and Hunk for the job.


A genius plan really, Hunk liked to distract himself from things that couldn’t be fixed. He didn’t deal well with waiting, and seeing Lance in so much pain might have broken Hunk’s poor heart. It was nearly breaking Keith’s as it was. And Pidge like to be where the problem was, they liked to have direct access to tinker and meddle. Or in this case, peer into the med bay every once in awhile with a deeply unhappy worry before returning to whatever research they were compiling.


Keith almost remembered hearing something about genetics and chemical compounds, but he knew Pidge was helping in their own way. Somewhere between the jargon and the fiddling, he’d seen their nervous lip bites and furrowed brows. Voltron was a team, no, a family. They were all worried with the same heart sickness Keith felt burrowing into his bones.


Coran knew an expansive amount about various poisons and diseases from his time on Altea, but the knowledge didn’t extend to humans. He’d mentioned an ancient family healing method involving hanging the ill one upside down and shaking them vigorously, and if that didn’t help dunking them in a pool of mucus-y liquid. Keith had taken it upon himself to eject him from the room for the time being. Coran didn’t fight him on it, strangely. Probably due to the frantic staccato pulse in Keith’s fingertips, probably because he could feel Lance and how they’d come to work in parallel unison, like parenthesis’, and his thoughts were scrambling apart with stress and exhaustion. Probably a little due to the wrecked way Keith felt, grasping at limp fingers, that was no doubt broadcasting from his every pore.


He doubted anyone would know what to say, it was obvious in Allura’s tilted head at first, now even more so as he watched the boy below him twist in pain and felt his own chest nearly combust inwards.


There was something more, here. Something Keith was scared to put a finger on. Something he couldn’t parse between the impending swan song of disaster Lance had somehow roped him into.


“Nng, no…” Lance’s breathy whine of pain went straight to the deepest most guarded parts of Keith’s heart. He was putty in Lance’s hands, he knew. Something intrinsic to his heart, something fragile and unbreakable had fused with Lance as easy as blinking. He was molten lava, liquid fire. Lance was in pain and all he could do was slip his gloved palms between Lance’s clammy grip and hold on. All he could do was be here, and pray that it would be enough.


“Shh… Lance, it’s me, come on. Just relax.” He fought against the strangled sob that threatened to rise in his chest, it’s abrupt intensity shocking him from his reflective stupor. “That’s it, just breathe. It’ll pass, shh. Shh, it’ll pass.”


Lance’s eyes fluttered weakly and Keith’s lungs caught and held with cautious hope. Lance had been ill for a few hours, for a long few hours. He flickered in and out, lucidity seeming to ebb and flow along with his temperature. Last time he’d woken up he hadn’t been himself, he’d only frozen up. A straight line of confusion and so much anguish and he’d just screamed.


Keith was sure the residual echoes of Lance’s suffering were carved into his bones, it ached.


“Hey,” he mumbled, lacing as much warmth and care into his single exhalation to drown out the weak hope. Lance’s dull, dark eyes tracked sideways to him. Only the barest glint of brown between dark lashes. Lance seemed to deflate minutely, like he was settling into the confines of himself. Keith sighed along with him, his hands twisting further into Lance’s.


“Hi,” and god, Lance’s voice was so broken it sent shudders through all of Keith in sympathetic agony. He forced himself to smile in a facsimile of reassurance, ignoring the temptation to wrap his arms around the other boy and never let go.


“You with me? Like, really with me?” He didn’t dare let himself believe Lance wasn’t still dreaming, at least in part. The side of Lance’s cracked lips quirked upwards.


“Always,” he whispered, and Keith’s world rose and fell and rebuilt. He rolled his eyes instinctively, pretending he wasn’t going to hold Lance’s word close to his chest and wrap it around his ribcage and breathe it in. He’d never let himself stare with this kind of vulnerability normally, if the sweat soaked sheen to his forehead was anything to go by, Lance was most likely a thousand miles away mentally. But his face was so soft and lax, just for a single second, and Keith’s heart swooped.


Lance seemed to struggle with himself for a moment, his eyes opening a smidgen wider as he took stock of himself. “Keith, ah… Why…” he frowned. “S’hot.” Keith couldn’t help the snort that slipped through him, or deny the compulsion to slide his free hand through Lance’s short hair. If his chuckle was a little wet and choked, Lance didn’t seem to notice.


“You’re sick,” he watched the way his thumb smoothed the lines on Lance’s brow again, a piece of himself settled further into place. “But we’re gonna fix it. Allura and Hunk and Shiro are-”


Lance smiled, dopily. “Hunk’s a good pal.”


Keith frowned. “...yes.” Obviously.


Lance’s eyes trailed lazily across Keith’s face. “You’re good too. And pretty.”


Yep. Definitely hallucinating. And Keith’s face was definitely cherry red and he was definitely keeping this memory under lock and key and he would definitely die if anyone knew.




And that was definitely the sound of Pidge with their camera phone and ensuing giggles trailing through the halls. Shit.


Part of him entertained the idea of chasing the little shit down and throwing their phone into the garbage chute, but the vengeance Pidge would inevitably concoct wouldn’t be worth it. And besides, he couldn’t leave Lance.


“Whuzzat… Pidge?” Lance’s head lolled towards him and Keith was too frozen in embarrassment to handle the absolute look of fond adoration broadcasting from the feverish brunettes every pore. “Mmm… My head s’all fuzzy.” Keith’s fingers carded more firmly through Lance’s hair, like he could take the illness from him by aggressive affection alone.


Lance frowned, struggling to think around the fever addling his brain. “Weren’t we… on a ship? I remember. Captured and… ‘member… distracting me. Was nice.” And if there had been a way to make Keith wish for sudden and immediate deletion from existence faster, that was it. He idly wondered if there was an airlock nearby he could launch himself out of even as his cheeks flared vibrantly.


“Wanna do it again.” Lance continued dreamily, and Keith could physically feel his heart burst and die in a pile of pre-teen emotions in front of them.


“You… you do?” He hated how awed he sounded, hated how a few simple words could pull giddiness across his nerves so intensely he was practically swooning.


“Did you wanna do it? Th’ first time?” There was something hopeful on the edge of his words and Keith focused on the twinkle deep in the melting tenderness of his eyes. He wondered how one person could always be so open and honest, so bright and blunt all in one. He wondered how he’d never realized how immensely screwed he was, how Lance had turned his whole world around with nothing but a warm smile.


“Yes,” the word trailed out of him, unconsciously. He blushed harder at Lance’s smile, felt his chest tingle with a buzz of pleasure at how goofily Lance grinned, how his eyes light up like northern lights. He’d never been good with emotions like this, never been good at untangling his thoughts from his tongue and his words from his heart but he couldn’t be embarrassed. Not when Lance mumbled ‘me too’ with that adoring, wide toothed grin. Keith wasn’t good at any of this, but it was Lance and Keith could help but burn up in the heat of it all.


“Coran’s gunna owe many space bucks,” Lance whispered and his eyes, still twinkling in a duller way, shone more brightly with fever glaze. Reality struck him cold, down to the quick with a cruelty he couldn’t anticipate. Lance was sick. Lance wouldn’t remember this, he was sure. Lance was delirious and feverish and didn’t mean anything of what he was saying. His heart was spiralling dangerously too far away and too close to home and he was fighting to swallow it down before he fell any further.


“Lance”, his voice was too shaky, too dangerously packed with tenderness and he didn’t know what to do with it. Lance didn’t know what he was saying and this, all of this, the moment and Lance’s affection, it all felt like taking advantage of something too good for him to touch.


“Keith,” Lance replied loose lipped and in bliss within his own feverish world. “How does this happen so much? Is it, is it me?” Keith couldn’t follow, but something in the conversation was shifting under his grasp and he felt the ghost of the inevitable swooping fall in front of him before it hit. He tensed with, anticipation? Fear? Both and all of the above?


“You always save me. Why’d you do that? Maybe… maybe ‘s the universe tellin’ me something, huh?”


The fall hit, the floor falling out from under him and he was so scared of the way Lance smiled. So scared of how calmly Lance stated his deep rooted fears, like he were taking a mid afternoon stroll. ‘I know I won’t get the big hero ending…’ a phantom voice reminded him that this, this was what kept Keith up at night. This was what kept him following Lance, kept his heart skipping tempo with worry when the boy strayed too far. He was angry, scared, too many things all at once because dammit, couldn’t Lance see how good he really was? Didn’t he know he pulled Keith’s axis off course the second he’d waltzed into Keith’s life with his stupid smirk and his terrible jokes? Didn’t he understand how much Keith cared? How much he needed Lance?




He blinked his eyes open, not realizing he’d slammed them shut. His impossibly tight grip on Lance’s hand loosened, then let go entirely as he watched Lance’s distant hazy gaze meet his. Lance’s mouth had fallen open in a tiny ‘o’ of surprise, a blush high on his cheeks from the fever, no doubt.


“Oh,” Lance whispered again, all light and breathy and his gaze dipped lower, just for a moment. Keith realized he’d spoken out loud, that his aggressive admittance of so many heavy words were still hanging in the air above them. A thick and cloying emotion rose in his throat but Keith didn’t have the time to worry as Lance’s hand raised, trembling and weak and pulled on Keith’s collar insistently. Almost as if he wanted Keith closer, almost as if he wanted-


The movement pulled at the wound in Lance’s side, yanked at the roots and vines of the dark sickness pulsing through him and he recoiled like a burn. Lance hissed, abruptly cutting off Keith’s wandering thoughts about lips and dreamy expressions and schoolboy doe eyed bullshit. Keith instantly flipped into concerned mode, panic flaring in him as Lance tensed and his eyes squeezed shut.


“Shit, shit, Lance you have to breathe,” He tangled his fingers through Lance’s hair once again, brushing his bangs backwards shakily as, oh god, tears began to collect and stream from Lance’s clenched eyes. This was all too familiar, all too warped and twisted and familiar.


Lance’s croaky, watery voice hissed through his clenched teeth. “Lo siento, lo siento mama. Por favor, dios mio, por favor.” He sounded so scared, and lost. So overcome with hurt and illness, Keith placed his palm on Lance’s chest, over the rabbit beat of his heart.


“Shh, shh Lance just listen to my voice, I’m here okay? You’re here with me.”


Lance was sobbing, heaving on his choked and broken breaths and shaking his head vigorously. “Keith, Keith! Lo siento, Keith! Please, please. Please wake up… Nng- no! Don’t… Don’t leave me…”


God, Lance was dreaming about the ship, wasn’t he? This was killing him; this was tearing and shredding every ounce of his soul. Lance was worrying about him, and he was right beside him, it was killing them both.


He glanced around the medbay, it would still be hours until Shiro and Hunk returned with Allura’s medicine. Hours until they could work on making a cure, and there wasn’t anything to help him before then. Lance looked so vulnerable, young and terrified and his bleary eyes were open once again and staring at nothing. Streams of muddled spanish falling from his wobbling lips, and Keith was a shoreline against this battering current. He was losing pieces of himself to this boy and he’d let Lance keep taking and taking.


Lance needs me, Keith’s spiralling thoughts abruptly realigned. A lightning bolt against the dark as he held this dumb boy’s hand, as he carded shaky fingers through his bangs and hushed him with a steadily growing tightness in his throat. No, I need Lance. Lance’s dark eyes tracked through nothing, and suddenly stuck like gravity pulling their gazes together. Oh, I’m in love with him.

An alarm blared in the distance, the one Pidge had hooked up to Lance’s vitals as Lance tensed again, another hiss of Spanish on his lips and tears springing in the corners of his eyes. Keith didn’t let himself think. Didn’t let himself breathe, because he was in love with Lance. And Lance was trapped in a circle of his own thoughts, and Lance needed help, needed an anchor.

Needed a distraction.

In hindsight, it wasn’t a good plan. In hindsight, there were likely other ways to calm Lance down and drag him from his fever delusions. In hindsight, there was nothing more beautiful in the galaxy then the sigh Lance let loose as Keith’s mouth pressed warmly against his. Nothing more perfect than the way Lance froze, startled confusion melting into calm relaxation, and the absolutely awe filled smile Keith had glimpsed for a moment afterwards.

Wrapped up in the moment, Keith felt the molten heat charring apart his ribcage meeting Lance’s own raging fire, and the cool undercurrent just beyond that. It nearly swept him apart, the ice and burn of it all and god, he wanted so much more. He was hyper aware, seconds ticking into long stretches of silence, of the way Lance’s lips pressed firmly back against his, of their tangled fingers and the pressure of Lance’s other hand like snowflakes just barely floating against his over heated skin. Melting away in their cocooned inferno.

He was also immensely aware, with a sick jolt in his gut, that Lance wouldn’t remember this either. Keith was a horrible, horrible person. That Lance didn’t know what was happening and Keith was kissing him.

Ripping himself away, his chest tugged and smouldered with the red of Lance’s cheeks, with the part of his lips and the golden melt of his eyes. His heart lurched towards him, even as his stomach roiled angrily with self hatred. Lance’s eyes were so wide, so impossibly hopeful, and it would have been so easy to sink into all of it. To lose himself in the simple acceptance Lance was always so willing to dish out, the love he always seemed to have laced between his fake bravado and his even faker smug words.


Then his breathing hitched, his fingers twitched. An icy shard of warning before the other shoe dropped.

In hindsight, Keith made a lot of bad decisions when it came to Lance. The boy was a meteor, burning apart as he ricocheted across the inky black of space. Keith was only meant to watch, never meant to touch because everything he did only broke more pieces off. Only made them careen dangerously closer to crash landing.

He was as hazardous to Lance’s health as anything else they’d encountered so far, and he couldn’t bring himself to stay away. But Lance was bursting apart, he was flickering out and away with something a little like holding on and a lot like martyrdom and Keith was killing him.

In hindsight, he could pinpoint the exact moment, down to the second, that his realization snapped his heart in two. It was linked to the exact moment Lance’s chest stopped rising, when the spasms took over as the poison tore its claws through everything Lance had left to give.

He was pushing himself away from the bio bed and scrambling towards the door with a yell on his tongue before Lance’s look of fear had even begun to filter across his clammy cheeks.

In hindsight, he should have expected Lance’s bio-readings to flatline immediately following. It was just the kind of day they were having.

Chapter Text


Keith wasn’t a good person. It wasn't something he had decided, or wanted. Somewhere, deep inside his coding there was a flaw and it just, kept spreading.  He hadn’t meant to ruin everything, it had just sort of happened. The way a sigh slips out, or an unconscious bite of the lip. He’d lost himself in the soft warmth in Lance’s gaze and the way his shaking fingers had reached for him , and he’d let himself stop thinking, just for a moment.


Keith was used to instincts driving him, pulling him forwards, never letting him stay still for long enough to settle. But his instincts kept leading him to taking, to reacting without the time to contemplate consequences. There’d been something growing between the spaces of his fingers, something filling the gaps of his ribs. He’d reacted and broken the fragile trust building between him and Lance.


He kept taking .


Lance was too kind to say no, probably. Even though kindness often came wrapped in layers with the other boy, even though Lance was selfless in a much more blunt way, even though Lance never had a problem with saying no before. Maybe Lance hadn’t realized what Keith was doing, what he kept doing. Maybe they’d both been lying to themselves and pretending nothing had changed at all.


Keith was spiraling, had been since the cave and the wisp of Lance’s breath across his cheek. He’d been doomed probably long before that, there must have been something in him that had stared a little too long, wondered a little too much. He couldn’t remember when it had started. Lance’s bad luck was a sinkhole that Keith had been caught up in, but he’d been standing too close from the start. Things had started on the long slide vertically into shit before Lance though, when he thought about it.


Maybe the bad luck wasn’t Lance’s at all. Maybe it was his.


If Keith were to really consider it, Lance’s survival was more of a sign of good luck than anything. Keith’s own life had been a series of misfortunes and failings but maybe it hadn’t mattered before because it was only him left to sweep up the ashes. Even this time, even after his heart had given up for a few terrifying seconds. Even after Keith’s veins had run icy thick with fear and everything had nearly slipped through their fingers, Lance came back somehow. Clawing and digging into life with everything he had and refusing to give in.


Maybe Keith was the black hole, the imploding supernova and he was just swallowing in Lance’s luck and his brightness like he did with everything else. Maybe Keith was the reason all of this kept happening.


And god , he’d kissed him. He’d kissed Lance when he was delirious and sick and hurting. There was a cloying dread in his gut, a viper like clench around his heart that swam thick with guilt and self hatred. Something about Lance made him reckless in a new way, selfish in a sense, and he’d never had anyone to be selfish about before Voltron but it was just, Lance. He didn’t take from Hunk, didn’t choke out the brightness from Coran’s smile or Shiro’s gentle reassurances. It was just, Lance.


Keith wasn’t a good person, but Lance was . It was written under his fingernails and leaking from his eyes like the universes they traversed on a daily basis, like holograms late at night and secret warm smiles passed between unspoken moments.


Lance had died this time, for a few moments. He’d nearly drifted off and lost himself and Keith refused to do this. He’d stuck around the med bay, afraid to leave and terrified of staying until Lance’s eyes flickered open, clearer than they’d been in days. Keith hadn’t stayed long enough for those dark eyes to flicker towards him.


He was terrified. He dreamed about it, the moment Lance’s heart had stopped, his eyes widening as his fingers froze and fell limply. The moments, too long moments, that Coran and Pidge had pushed past him and Keith’s world muffled outwards until all he could see was Lance’s blue tinged lips pulled slightly upwards in a hint of a smile. When Allura and Hunk had burst in later, Keith was little more than an imprint himself, a ghost slowly sapping at the dwindling hopes still holding on.


Lance’s head was always turned his direction in his dreams, his eyes closed. It was always dark, foggy almost as the team fluttered around him and the muted sounds of his heart kickstarting once more filtered through. In Keith’s dreams he couldn’t speak. In Keith’s dreams, Lance always blinked awake with a gasp, his eyes fluttering open with shock. There was a pattern to his nightmares, one that was worn and shouldn’t terrify him as deeply as it still did. One, Lance smiled and laughed and Pidge hugged him with tears on their cheeks. Two, Keith’s hand raised, always reaching even when he knew what followed, towards the still outstretched hand on the bedside. Three, the fog grew thicker, cloying and suffocating as Lance’s eyes finally met his.


Keith woke up sobbing, three times a night with a name still fading on his lips.


It was a temporary solution, avoiding Lance. There was only so far he could go on a spaceship in the middle of nowhere, only so much distance he could push between them. They were defenders of the galaxy first and foremost, before his stupid insipid feelings,  before the myriad of hurt and guilt and self directed anger boiling beneath his skin. It meant he couldn’t avoid Lance all of the time. It meant he saw the pained furrows of Lance’s brows at dinner, the deep frowns that tilted his easy grin during meetings. It meant months of hesitancy, of Shiro’s disapproving stare and Pidge’s uncomfortable frowns; months of Hunk burying himself in technology and fixing because he couldn’t figure out how to fix this. Allura looked wearier and more solemn, Coran’s mustache more deflated. And this was it wasn’t it? Keith, his heart’s black hole taking and taking once again.  


Better to run away like he’d always done than to accept things as they’d crumbled. Better for Lance to just hate him without any excuses. Better that Keith just leave.


It had been a distant thought at first, the idea of packing up and heading off into the night. Every sleepless night and icy breakfast made it more concrete until he found himself packing things away in bags, here and there. Until there was nothing left to pack. Until he found himself staring too wistfully at maps with faraway dots of light.


“That’s a little hypocritical, don’t you think?” Pidge interrupted his wandering thoughts one night as he tracked across the holographic stars. He froze, like he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. 


Pidge sighed, stepping closer into the room. “Weren’t you the one that nearly tore my head off for suggesting that I might leave before?”


“Wh-” Keith swallowed, his brows furrowing in a panicked divot against his forehead. “I have no idea what you’re-”


“Keith,” Pidge leveled him with a stare so withering he felt his fight break apart into dust in seconds. “Look, I’m not gunna give you the whole ‘we need to defend the galaxy’ speech, so relax.”


“You’re… you’re not?”


Pidge snorted, “I mean, again, hypocritical.” They waved a hand towards Keith, turning their gaze to the bright assortment of galaxies and planets laid out between them. The blues and purples flashed against Pidge’s glasses, blocking their eyes for a moment.


“Jeeze, the Panion System? They don’t even have rudimentary electric power that far out, little bit rough for a vacation.” Keith shrugged, an embarrassed heat spattering across his cheeks. They’d traversed the area a few months back, Keith had liked the open fields. The blue-ish skies. The way no one had asked questions.


“Why not Earth?” Pidge’s opaque glasses shifted to face him, he shifted uneasily. He wasn’t sure how to explain, how to package his desire to disappear, to force Team Voltron to find someone new. Keith just didn't want to fight it anymore, he was tired of trying. He couldn't tell Pidge any of it.


Pidge hummed. “That bad, huh?” They stepped carefully around the machine, Keith tensed with uncertainty, suddenly unsure if Pidge would actually hit him or yell or run off to tell everyone else. He nearly jumped when he felt a pair of arms wrapping gently around his middle.


“Whatevers going on, it can’t be the end of the world, talk to us.”


Keith frowned, his arms awkwardly hovering above Pidge’s shoulders. “I’m not so sure.”


The arms squeezed, Pidge’s nose pressed insistently against his rib cage. “It’s not. Keith, it can’t be so bad that you’d… That you’d want to leave us. It can’t be, right?”


With a swell of horror Keith realized Pidge was shaking, that their voice was tight with barely restrained emotion. “Pidge…” He breathed. He was hurting more than just Lance. The thought was an icy sickle of horror against his lungs. He didn’t know how to do any of this, how to be the family Pidge thought they were. How to keep hurting all of them. He didn’t know how to stop hurting them, if he left they could find someone who made them all happy instead of, this. He needed to stay away from Lance, needed to stop taking advantage of the bad luck he dragged in behind him like a dead animal. He needed Lance to hate him.


Pidge’s anger was sharp and visceral; he hadn’t noticed he’d been speaking out loud until Pidge seething “What?!” met his dazed ears.


“Keith, what the hell?”


Words were so fleeting, so easily escapable. So likely to slip him from comfort to danger in milliseconds. He winced. There were few things he could deal with worse than an angry Pidge. It felt wrong somehow, like betrayal. Pidge's anger was always laced with more. His shoulders caved, a slow slide like unfurling an old page, reluctant but exhausted.


“Lance keeps getting hurt, Pidge. And before you say that’s just him, listen.” He carded a gloved hand through his hair, looking everywhere but at Pidge’s angry eyes. “You went to the garrison too, this is a recent thing. And- and it started with the little stuff. The slipping and falling all the time... It was funny at first, but then. Then there was the time he got hit with knock-out gas, and- and the time he triggered the death traps, and then the cave in and I just,” he took a shaky breath, his vision was getting swimmy, his throat tightening. “I can’t watch him get hurt anymore Pidge.”


“Hey,” Their voice was soft, Pidge’s hands gentle when they tapped his chin. “He’s always okay, though. Right? He comes out just fine. What does this have to do with you leaving?”


“It’s me, Pidge. It’s me. I figured it out.” He couldn’t stand the understanding in their tone, the warmth and the damned sympathy. Keith turned away, his fingers tightening in his hair in frustration. “I’m the one that’s always had bad luck. I had to figure out my own how to tie bandages because I kept making all these mistakes- well, well I thought they were mistakes but what if they weren’t. What if I brought it here .  I haven’t been injured once since we’ve been out here, don’t you think that’s strange? I brought my bad luck with me and Lance is so stupidly kind and...and egotistical he just. Puts himself in the way all the time.”


Oh my god, that was it. The light bulb moment was electrifying, overwhelming.


“He does it all the time, in. The knock-out gas was aimed at me but he just happened to fall into it. The traps, I was two seconds away from hitting it myself. He wasn’t even in the way of the cave-in. This last time, he jumped a guard that was about to shoot me, that’s why he got stabbed! Pidge, Pidge it’s me.”


Pidge was staring blankly at him when he turned back around, a hysterical laugh bubbling through him. He felt the warmth on his cheeks before the sob erupted, and then he couldn’t help but let the breakdown hit him. Pidge was there, burrowing and sobbing along with him before he could think.


“Keith, you can’t. You can’t put this on yourself, there’s-”


“What if he dies, Pidge? What if the next time he takes a bullet for me and I have to just watch it happen?”


He would, that was the worst part. Keith would invariably charge into something where he was over his head and Lance would inevitably be right there like he always was. Lance would absolutely take a bullet for any of them, he'd probably smile while doing it too. He was just that much of an asshole.


“I can’t do it, I can’t.” He sobbed, it felt like a burn beneath his skin. Every sob only enraged it, made the burn fiercer. Pidge’s cool hands against his cheek were a welcome relief, clawing him out of his panic for a brief moment.


Pidge’s eyes were wide, brimming with something like a spark in their depths. “Keith, you idiot. He’s in love with you.”


Keith's chest caught, swooped, and crashed in a cacophony of stunned silence. Pidge looked deathly serious, no hint of a mischievous spark or a sign that they were just saying what Keith wanted -so desperately- to hear. His mouth was a desert suddenly, he floundered for a few seconds, trying to process the weight of Pidge's words and feeling losely tethered to the metal walls around them. 


Before he could speak, or think, or process the skip jump leap of his heart, the alarms burst to life, blaring loudly through the halls. "Paladins, report to the main deck!" Coran's squawk echoed almost in slow motion.


Pidge stepped slowly back, lips pursed and eyebrows drawn tightly. They gave Keith a slow nod and turned to leave.


'He's in love with you' 




“Paladins, it is not up for argument. There’s a distress beacon alert from this planet, we need to assist those in distress!”


“Uh, why exactly do we need to split up though?”


“Because, Hunk, I said so. That’s why.”


A chorus of eye rolls and groans followed along with an undercurrent of passive acceptance. Nobody argued with Allura when her ‘mission bun’ was set and her eyes flashed that particular stubborn blend of alien princess and badass warrior.


“I agree, it’s a good plan. The topography of the planet jammed our readings anyways, we have a lot of ground to cover since we couldn’t lock the coordinates.” Shiro siding with Allura was more or less the last nail in the coffin. Damned space parents. Keith sometimes wondered if Shiro was on his way to concocting a 'time out corner'. Although Allura would probably turn it into some kind of training exercise. The two combined were a menace. 


“We have to be on high alert, the Tamians are a peaceful people but they fall in the sphere of Galra influence. Be careful paladins, and take a partner with you.”


“Which is why of course,” Shiro tag teamed into the conversation cheerfully. Far too cheerfully. Keith's eyes narrowed with suspicion, and Shiro looked everywhere but at him. “I’ll be heading North with Allura to speak with the high council, and Hunk and Pidge will be tackling the West side of the planet to figure out a way around the geographic interference problem.”


Keith paled, “Wait, Shiro you're not…”


“Keith and Lance you’ll head off to the South through the jungle!”




“No arguing, you have a duty and all! Best be heading off paladins! Important business to attend to! Good bye!” Allura spoke quickly and the rest of the team nearly stumbled over their own feet to hightail it out of the conference room. Leaving Keith and Lance alone for the first time since the poison incident. The first time alone since Pidge’s announcement that had deftly annihilated the paradigms Keith so strongly abided by. The first time alone since Keith had realized how desperately in love with the other boy he really was. 




Neither one moved, Keith stared resolutely down at his clenched fists. Damned conniving family they all were, this was obviously a joint effort to force them to resolving their weird tension. Why couldn't they just use words like actual responsible adults


Lance coughed awkwardly after a long moment. “We should, uh. Get a move on. Probably.”


He sounded unsure, his typically boisterous voice lacking any of its usual flamboyance or excitement. He sounded flat. Tired. Keith fought back a wince.


“Yeah,” He nodded, glancing around the room. “I’ll be planetside in fifteen. Rendezvous then.” He pushed his chair back with probably a little too much aggression and stormed out as quickly as he could. He didn’t miss the anxious flutter of Lance’s fingers out of his peripheral vision, almost as if they were instinctively reaching towards him. He didn’t miss the way his chest lifted and tightened either.


He was going to have words with Shiro after this. 



The jungle was sticky, warm in a deep and thick sort of way that crept under his skin. He sliced at another strange purple leaf, tugging through the interlaced vines beyond as he trudged forwards.


It was quiet, unsettlingly so. Lance usually filled their away missions with inane conversations, describing movies Keith had never seen or regaling him with obviously exaggerated tales from his earlier days. It was usually relaxing, just passively listening. He enjoyed Lance’s ability to talk about everything and nothing, it left the pressure of responding off of his shoulders. He liked listening to the excitement in Lance’s tone, it was nearly tangible. Like a beam of orange sunlight through a dim room.


Lance being so silent left Keith with too much room to think.


‘He’s in love with you’


The slice of his bayard through the jungle echoed back at him.


He didn’t ever seem to do the right thing by Lance. Pushing him away, falling for the guy’s stupid remarks he knew were aimed just to rile him up, glaring and pouting all the damned time. He’d know if Lance felt the same way, wouldn’t he? If Lance smiled differently at him than anyone else or laughed too hard at his jokes, he’d have noticed. Maybe they’d been getting along better recently but Lance was still always needling him, looking for a certain reaction.


Maybe Lance had been smiling more, melting softer around his pointed edges, telling him more stories late at night by the dim illuminated map of Earth, wrapped up in their own cocoon of stars and shut away from the world. Keith didn’t have a lot of experience with friendship, he didn’t know what was normal and what was too far. Maybe he was just projecting his own confusing thoughts onto Lance. Maybe he just wanted, always wanted.  


It was stupid, he was stupid. They were alone for the first time in weeks and Keith could just tell Lance. He could just wait for Lance’s easy relief and if there was denial along with it, that would be fine too. But he was petrified.


All he could see were Lance’s dark eyes in his dreams as they stuttered to a stop across from him. When he squeezed his eyelids shut, their angry stare plastered itself across his brain. When he breathed the same fear, the same beep of the heart sensor in a never ending note coiled inside his chest until there was no room for anything else. He wished he could just turn, grab Lance by the shoulders and tell him he loved him too but that he was so fucking afraid. He wished he could step forwards into a deep dark chasm and Lance wouldn’t have to look so meek and fragile anymore.


He sliced through another thick grove of vines. This mission was stupid, Shiro and Allura were stupid. Mostly he was stupid.


“What are we even looking for anyways,” he growled, desperate to break the negative unending loop of his thoughts.


“Uh. The beacon signal got scattered because of the mountains and the weird magnetic fields and-”


“No, Lance, I was there for that part. I meant, what are we expecting to find out in the middle of the jungle like this? A friggin battlecruiser? This is pointless.” He flailed his arms wildly in aggravation. The heat of the planet was getting to him, dripping down the crevices of his armor and slinking down his back. The quiet was getting to him, the alone time with Lance was getting to him. He felt like a thousand pairs of eyes were on them, he was tired.


His face must have shown more than he meant to, Lance’s wide shock morphed quickly into something nastier. He couldn’t meet Lance’s eyes still, he caught the way his jaw clenched, the rigid furious tension that pooled in his clenched fists. Something dark and thunderous slid behind his teeth and Keith looked away.


“Yeah? Or maybe, maybe you just can’t stand being here with me.”


Oh, no.


“Maybe, you’re angry that you have to go on a mission with me . Maybe this has nothing to do with the jungle at all, huh? Maybe you’re mad because you have to acknowledge I exist for two goddamn seconds before you go back to treating me like a piece of garbage stuck to the bottom of your fucking space shoe.”

Lance was seething, physically heaving with the strenuous effort of holding back the rest of the fury wrapped obviously across his every feature. Keith turned away, tense.


“What are you talking about.” He said it flatly, his words falling like a concrete block waiting to break.


Lance rolled his eyes. “Did you not think I’d notice? There’s only so many people on the castle, numbnuts. It’s pretty hard to avoid someone forever. But I guess you weren’t planning on sticking around anyways, were you?”


Keith froze.


“Yeah, I found your pinpointed vacation spot the other day while I was clearing out the logs.” He scoffed, an entirely bitter sound. It was misplaced here, between the ridiculous heat and the amount of vitriol in Lance’s words, Keith felt unreal. Like he’d stepped between planes of reality. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t think beyond the image of Lance’s dark hate filled eyes burned into his brain.


“Are you really that desperate to get away from me? I’m sorry! I’m. I don’t know what I did or-or what I didn’t do but I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t think you’d just decide to hate me, I guess I-I let my imagination get away with me and. And if that’s why you’re so disgusted by me then I understand,” Lance sucked in a shuddering breath and Keith’s brain pinwheeled and fell. Lance was apologizing to him, he noted distantly. Lance thought he hated him. What?


He was missing something, Lance had been livid two seconds ago, a livewire of rightful hurt and frustration. Why was he apologizing? What was Keith missing ?


“I wasn’t… Lance, listen it’s not-”


“No you listen!” Lance’s hand yanked at his shoulder, spinning him around violently. He flickered his gaze away from Lance’s eyes, instinctively and defensively. Lance huffed a frustrated breath. “Why can’t you look at me? Keith, damn you, what did I do ?”


Keith was helpless, lost in the torrential downpour that was Lance. He felt guilt, concrete and overwhelming at the bottom of his gut, but the feeling was coupled with something lighter. Something a little hopeful, a little wildly relieved. He felt untethered. Lance paused for a moment, searching for something in Keith’s empty expression before he growled and pushed away, pulling his helmet off angrily.


“Was it the poison thing? I don’t remember much but I remember you being there, and I don’t know what I said or-or what I did but...” Keith blanched further, shock making his gaze snap upwards for a moment, enough to catch the frantic way Lance’s hand carded through his short hair. “I… If you don’t feel the same way that’s. Well that’s shitty but, I… I was scared and Coran said you stayed the whole time so maybe I just thought...  Maybe I thought it was real, maybe I’m just an idiot. Just, you in the cave and-and the dagger and...“ Lance was mumbling to himself, probably not aware he was even speaking out loud. The fluttering lightness between Keith’s ribs pulled at him, he took a step forwards.


“Lance,” He swallowed roughly, his mouth was suddenly dry and he didn’t know what he was doing. Only that, for a second, it almost sounded like Lance was admitting something. For a second it sounded a little like long nights staring at the ceiling beating himself up over the way his heart wouldn’t calm down enough for sleep. It sounded, for a moment, like a warm smile beneath his own, like a dark cave and a hitching breath and a ‘he’s in love with you, Keith’.


“Lance, do you-”


A crack reverberated through the thick underbrush.


The thing about Lance’s theory that the universe was out to get him, and the recent revelation that the universe was in fact out to get Keith instead, was that it gave snippets of something more before it dashed everything apart. The thing about being around Lance’s mishaps so often, was that one developed fast reflexes to cope with the fact the other shoe was always about to drop. The thing about Keith and his burning understanding that he loved Lance too much to watch him get hurt anymore, was that when he made a promise he kept it to the ends of the world.


A crack of a branch breaking, the cock of a pistol and Keith damned well was keeping his stupid promise to this stupid boy.


He leapt towards Lance, shoving him hard and down out of the way before he could so much as tense in warning.


Maybe it was time for the universe to suck it, and let his bad luck fall purely on his own shitty shoulders for once and stop letting other people take the fall for him. Maybe it was time Keith give back, just once for all he was taking.


He heard Lance’s sharp inhale before he heard the telltale buzz of the laser bullet tearing across the jungle air. He felt Lance’s shout shake through his bones before he felt the punch and the heat searing into his back. He glanced up at Lance’s brown eyes, for the first time in weeks, and saw the fear bubbling between the golden flecks of light before he saw the blood.





Dying was different than he expected. Beyond the initial pain, it was calm. The wound- Lance’s hands pressed on his front so he couldn’t see the gorey details- had partially cauterized itself in the heat. Or so he assumed. Getting shot clean through the back likely would have been an immediate lights out otherwise. The burn was probably the only thing keeping him conscious, but even still, the amount of blood on Lance’s white paladin armour was nauseating. The heat probably fried some of his nerves too, or else he was barely holding on as it was, because Keith felt mostly fine. Dizzy and vague, but fine. Lucid beyond the way time kept slipping, slowing down strangely and narrowing in on details.


Like the way Lance’s lips furled as he snarled at their attackers, like the way his hands shook as he brushed hair from Keith’s eyes in a desperate attempt to keep him focusing. As if Keith would focus on anyone else, Lance was adorable when flustered.


“Put your god damned guns away you bastards. For the tenth time, we’re with Voltron! We were sent here to help you. Can you do anything useful? We need a medic, or- or transportation! Help us!”


“But we were told Voltron was just a myth-”


“For fucks sake! We received your distress beacon, we came to assist you and you fucking shot him! Voltron is real but frankly, I don’t give a fuck right now because my.. my friend is dying.


He’d never seen Lance angry at anyone other than him, it was weirdly fascinating. The way his expression kept flipping between furious desperation to panicked concern was so distinctly Lance he couldn’t help but smile. And cough painfully, apparently. He squeezed his eyes shut, his chest wracking with a hopeless attempt to clear his failing airways. His focus greyed out for a moment.


Suddenly Lance’s teary eyes were in front of him, he was yelling something into his helmet and he’d shifted his knees underneath Keith’s head, pillowing him away from the damp soil.


“Hey, hey there you are,” Lance pulled his helmet off with twitching fingers, leaning closer to Keith’s clammy forehead. His lips pulled tight, a facsimile of a comforting smile. Keith almost felt like laughing, knowing the exact emotions laced behind that particular expression. Things were bad if Lance was failing this hard at seeming optimistic.


“Was worried about you. You coughed up a lot of blood a-and passed out for a bit but…” he inhaled shakily, closing his eyes. “You’re going to be okay, you hear me? Allura and Coran are on the way with the lions and….Y-you have to be okay, so. So hold on, don’t you dare give up on me here pal.”


“Wasn’t… plannin’ on it.” Keith whispered back. He felt a tear splash against his cheek. His chest felt cold, unattached at the seams. Like it was pried apart and bare against the expanse of space beyond.


“Why’d you do that, you idiot. Getting shot at is my job.” Lance’s thumb passed ever so gently against his upturned chin. Keith caught the warble, the sad slope of his dark brows as Lance bit back a sob. He weakly pushed his head into Lance’s palm. Small comforts.  


“Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t… watch you. Not again.” He’d spent too many nights imagining the worst case, the dagger slightly up and slightly deeper, the rockslide a little bit closer. Remembering the slipping seconds that Lance had stopped breathing, the blurred fractions of reality when Lance’s heart had decided enough was enough. He was haunted by a world without Lance, and he wasn’t strong enough to face it.


Lance did sob then, and bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. “I don’t understand, Keith.” He folded inwards, head bowed low enough to tough Keith’s forehead ever so gently.


Lance was beautiful, Keith noted for the second time in so many days. It shone through his pained eyes and breaking heart brighter than the light of the two suns around them.


“You remem’br the cave?.” He grinned, ignoring the way his teeth were likely bloodied and the way his eyelids were steadily drooping. “When- when you pushed me out of the way? Thought you were gunna fade away on me. I was so scared.”


A sniffle and Lance’s arms tightened around him. “I was scared too, you got hurt.”


“Not as much. I was gunna have to… to watch you. You were slipping away. I kissed you.”


Lance said nothing, Keith was close enough to hear the way his breathing halted entirely.


“And. The swamp, you stopped breathing… I almost lost my mind. And then the dagger- Lance. I can’t keep watching you. Can’t watch you almost die, you… you mean too much to me.”


The last bit of composure Lance was clawing together shattered apart, he crumpled inwards, his arms tightening across Keith’s chest as if he could drag him closer. As if he could pull the pieces of Keith together and force him to be whole.


“You can’t do this dammit. You- you can’t avoid me an-and plan on leaving me behind and then say shit like that.” Lance was breaking above him, splintering diamonds refracting and spiraling around them. Keith couldn’t stop smiling. He was so beautiful. “It’s not fair! You’re such a selfish asshole, y-you can’t decide this for me. You can’t push me away and then save my life, Keith- I. I don’t understand why .”


I love you, Keith thought desperately. He wanted to tell him, wanted to see the way Lance’s face would light up in awe, or surprise. Wanted Lance to know he was worth it, he’d always be worth it. His tongue dried and his throat clamped up tight at the thought. It wouldn’t be fair, he couldn’t leave Lance with his pathetic adoration and break him more than he already was. I love you, Lance.


“Don’t go,” Lance sobbed.


Keith lifted his arm, trembling, to drag his fingers through Lance’s mussed hair. “Dunno if I’m gunna have a choice.” He tried to be at peace with the thought, but something broken must have flickered in his expression. Lance’s mouth curled downwards farther. “Hey… hey it’ll… It’ll be okay. You gotta… have your big superhero ending, right?” Keith watched the crinkle of Lance’s nose as he pulled back, the desolate loneliness already creeping into his watery gaze.


“You can’t get rid of me. Someone’s gotta watch… your sorry ass. I’m stayin’ right here. Right with you. Promise.” Lance’s laugh was watery and choked. He was staring at him through teary dark lashes, upside down and awkwardly but it was so perfect, Keith’s heart lurched and scattered apart like fizzing fireworks,


“I need you,” And god, Lance had never sounded so vulnerable. So small and two steps from falling down entirely and it tore Keith up inside. Before he could think, before he could process the burn that was slowly numbing in his chest or the wet slide of air through his straining lungs, he was brushing Lance’s bangs from his eyes and placing a wet kiss, right there. Sweet and laced with so much sorrow, and Lance’s sobs hitched and faltered.


Lance’s tears were warm against his cool skin, pressed against his chest and fluttering near his outstretched palm, his sobs tearing through the eerie silence like they were punched from him, and Keith was fading faster than he meant to.


He wished they could have time, he wished they could explore this budding thing between them. He wished he could have the time to learn everything about Lance, that he could revel in their friendship and hadn’t wasted so much time doubting. He wished that he could reach up and trace his fingers across Lance’s cheekbone like he’d wanted to for so long. He wished, he wished, and he wanted so achingly, a little more time.


I love you, he thought desperately. I love this boy so much. I love him.


“Stay awake,” Lance pressed the words into his forehead, his tears leaving splashes of warmth against Keith's skin. He could barely feel them anymore. “Stay with me, Keith, don’t go. Stay here, please. I love you, Keith you hear me?” Keith’s heart was so full, it ached in a haunting way, even as the grey seeped back in and made his eyelids shutter closed. He was so tired .  


“Please don’t go, please.” Lance’s whispers swam across the fog, somewhere between the sounds of distant shouting and crunching foliage. 




I saved him, he was floating away too fast, he couldn’t fight it. I won this time universe. Suck it.



His last thought before the grey took him over entirely was that Lance was a really ugly crier, and that Allura and Hunk had really wonderful timing. 

Chapter Text

He grasped bits and pieces of the next few hours as he sank and rose under layers of grey. A flurry of hands touching, pressing, cradling. The feeling of blunt nails scratching gently through his hair. Lance’s watery eyes above him, drowning in a sea of worry and fear. He’d wanted to say something, wanted to twitch his hand and wipe the sorrow from Lance’s brow but something cold had pressed against the numb heat in his chest and he’d whited out shortly after.


Later there’d been cold white and silver, the sound of wailing alarms and someone shouting. The burn-slide feeling in his gut (something he knew, in some deep, animalistic way, was wrong, so terribly nauseatingly wrong) was lifting, a fuzzy feeling overtaking his fingertips and buzzing around his head. Someone was wheezing, choking against their own breath. Allura’s laser focused eyes filled his half open gaze as she barked commands, her hands were gentle as they tapped his cheeks.


“Stay with us, Keith. You’re almost there, hold on now.”


He'd dreamed, maybe, caught in between wake and rest. Spiraling through flashes of worried eyes, of pouring water and a shiver up his spine, of sticky red and dark pooling abysses. Time passed in a flurry of feverish thoughts and disjointed memories. At first they all left him moaning in horror, or at least fighting to, but then. A soft hand on his cheek, a warm press to his forehead. 

"You have to be okay. You have to come home, you hear me? With us, with me." 




He remembered a shack, a busted up dusty wooden nothing in the middle of nowhere. He had no home. 


"Come on, you gotta hear me. I can't lose you, Keith! God... You're stronger than this. You're too damn stubborn for this, we- I- need you. Please." 


Trust and pride and faith and Love pushed past him like a cocktail loaded hurricane across the overheated wasteland of his mind. It kicked up the dusty shack and the red drip-drip-dripping and swiped away his fears all in one. His dreams faded into flowerbeds, dusting across his mind like springs of refreshing water. Laughter and sparkling eyes, quirked lips touched with an impressed fondness. Teasing words laced with affection and camaraderie. Something more, something warm and sated swirling underneath. Stars flickered in and twirled across his skin, like they'd found home. Like they'd found their home. He breathed. 


He’d woken up later, ice crystals melting between his eyelashes, just as he tumbled forwards. Strong arms caught his weight. “Woah there!” Hunk. Keith blinked furiously, trying to clear the fog from his head and get his limbs under control. “Hey buddy, I got you. Let’s sit down, okay?” Keith nodded, feeling shaky.


“Man, am I ever glad to see you,” Hunk’s warm arm around his side was a comforting anchor, Keith let himself sink into it as his knees fought to keep from buckling under him. He’d been in the healing pod, he gathered, his hand shot to his stomach instinctively. No gaping cauterized wound met him, only the smooth material of his undersuit. He sighed in relief.


“How,” he swallowed roughly, his throat felt packed with sawdust. “How long…?” Hunk set him down on the nearby steps, Keith flexed his fingers slowly, the warmth slowly pushing back towards them as his vision began to align itself.


“You were out for almost two weeks man, it was pretty touch and go there for a while.” Hunk looked at him with a mixture of pure relief and something wistful, aching almost. Keith shrugged into himself a little, unprepared for the intensity. Hunk sagged, his gaze flicking elsewhere. Keith noted the dimly illuminated room, it must be late, sometime in the night cycle for no one else to be up and about.


Hunk’s voice seemed small in the expanse of the room. “I’m really glad you’re okay.”


Keith tried to give him a reassuring smile, knocking their shoulders together gently. “Me too. What uh, what happened?”


“Oh! Well, you jumped in front of Lance, obviously, and got lasered through the back.” He winced. “The heat stopped you from bleeding out, but made it really hard to keep everything functioning and… You sort of, gave up, right when we got there. Just, lights out, no breathing.” He let out a shaky breath. “It was terrifying, Lance nearly went out of his mind.”


Oh, right. Lance. Keith’s heart jumped at the mention. God, he’d thought he was dying and Lance had to watch .


“I came up with a improvised defibrillator, which kept you with us until we could get you to the lions but. Man, if we hadn’t heard the laser firing… It was weirdly quiet yanno? We made it with seconds left.” Keith noticed the dark eye bags around Hunk’s eyes with a twist of his gut.


“Have you… been here the whole time?”


Hunk shrugged, an easy smile flitting across his tired expression. “Lance volunteered to stay with you most of the time. I had to force him to head to bed the other night after telling him for the thousandth time that you were going to be fine.” He laughed, shaking his head to himself. “We were all really worried.”


Keith didn’t know how to process the complicated emotion circling around his heart, he looked away.


“You saved my life. Thank you, Hunk.” It was a thin, weak excuse for a thanks but between the dark lines under Hunk’s eyes and the easy care rolling from him in waves, he was suddenly overwhelmed. Had he ever thanked Hunk for the work he’d put into saving Lance’s life time and time again? For not judging his weird obsessive nervousness, for going out of his way to make Keith feel welcomed and liked even when Keith was wrapped up in his own melodrama?


He got the feeling he had a lot of apologizing to do.


Hunk’s warm hand fell across his shoulders. “Don’t mention it, that’s just what family does, right?”


Sunshine bloomed in his chest, he leaned slightly towards Hunk with a hum of agreeance. He’d never really had a family before, but he was grateful.


“We should probably let the rest of the team know you’re awake, huh? Pidge is gunna punch you probably. Just a heads up.” Hunk stretched and stood, Keith shrugged.

“I probably deserve that.”





Pidge had in fact punched him, a solid and surprisingly hard smack on his arm before they wrapped their wiry arms tightly around his middle and burst into tears.


“You asshole!” Keith sent a bewildered look at Shiro, who was looking a little ragged and exhausted as he leaned on the doorway arch. Shiro smothered a chuckle and shrugged helplessly.


“I’m pretty sure that’s Pidge for ‘I was really very worried about you Keith, my dear good friend,’” Hunk chimed in far too cheerfully.


“It’s Pidge for ‘never fucking do that again you completely insufferable drama king’,” Pidge mumbled wetly into Keith’s shirt. Keith frowned playfully.


“Hey, Lance pulls shit like this all the time, how come you never yell at him?”


Pidge pulled back far enough to send him a deeply exaggerated eyeroll. “Because it’s Lance . If I yelled at him every time he pulled some dumb martyr bullshit, I’d explode.”


The rest of the team laughed heartily at that in agreeance, Keith’s heart ached slightly at the noticeable lack of protests in the room. “Um.” He patted Pidge’s shoulders awkwardly. “Where is Lance anyways?”


Allura, whose eyes had been positively glowing with relief earlier, dimmed. Then forcefully plastered a smirk across her features. Keith’s gut dropped even lower. “He’s sleeping. None of us could remove him from your healing pod until just last night, he needs his rest.”


“He was really worried you know! I told him, I said ‘Keith is the red paladin!’ It’s fact, at least with the past few generations of paladins, that the red paladin heals slower, not sure why! But I told him, he’ll be right as rain soon enough. Didn’t seem to believe me though; that Lance is very determined. Or stubborn. Or both.” Coran even seemed a little nervous, forced just slightly around the edges. Keith’s brow furrowed.


“Give him time,” Shiro spoke up, and Keith met his eyes to read the ‘don’t push this’ lying underneath.


Everyone shifted slightly, an awkward tension filling the air. Lance had stayed with him for three days straight Hunk had said, Lance had been worried sick. He remembered Lance’s dark eyes, bright in fear and concern and tears spilling over, he remembered Lance’s warbling voice pleading with him to stay.

But Lance wasn’t here and everyone was tense just underneath the surface and Keith was missing something monumental here.


“Okay,” Keith said. Everyone sagged in relief, Shiro nodded ever so slightly at him and turned away.


He probably owed Lance a little space, at the very least. Even if every molecule in him was vibrating with dread. Even if a little voice in him told him the longer he waited the worse it would be.


He’d saved Lance’s life, hadn’t he? Everything would be good now, it had to be.





Lance didn’t come out of his room the rest of the day.


Keith was still weak, nearly dying from a shot straight through your back would do that he supposed. Pidge made him sit through several different kind of sensors and scanners while Coran fidgeted and fiddled with Altean tech nearby, until they could both double and triple check that everything had healed up fine. Keith pretended not to notice the pinched look of worry in Pidge’s eye when he mentioned his back ached in a deep and unsettling way. He also avoided acknowledging Coran’s wobbly lower lip, which cumulated in a weepy hug a few moments later.


He didn’t know what to do with the heaps of affection being placed on him, with the support and worry and attention. Something still felt off, like everything had been shifted two steps to the left when he’d been out. The details of his near death experience were blurry at best, and he could only remember snapshots of a numb feeling spreading through his limbs while Lance sobbed somewhere nearby for him to stay awake. He worried. Had he said something horrible? Had Lance been injured too somewhere along the way?


Why was Lance avoiding him? He’d spent so long stubbornly waiting for him to get better in the healing pod and then vanished, it left a strange pit in his stomach to know Lance hadn’t wanted to see him awake. And that the team obviously knew something more than they were saying.


It wasn’t until Shiro had pushed Keith into a hug pile later on that he realized they were trying to distract him. To keep him from trying to charge into Lance’s room and demand answers.


Maybe the old Keith would have. Maybe Keith from before would have been angry and hurt and wanted to shake Lance by his shoulders until that stupid smirk reappeared on his dumb face. Keith felt different now, somehow. Softer just a touch around the edges like he were printed in fainter colours. He was worried sick of course that he’d overstepped something, that he’d broken the tenuous thing between them without meaning to. But Lance had been angry before, too. And he’d been crying. That meant he cared, didn’t it?

Mainly, Keith couldn’t be angry. Lance was alive and for once, unhurt. Keith had fought the forces of fate and the universe and won, that was grounds for celebration.


Well, it would have been if his back wasn’t so achy and tender and if everyone else didn’t keep sending him side eyed looks of anxiety when they thought he couldn’t see.


“Keith, would you mind accompanying me to the main deck?” Allura piped up, Keith lifted his head from the mass of limbs and snores he’d been tangled in. Nap time was apparently a full contact sport.


“Uh, sure.” He gingerly lifted Hunk’s arm off of his legs and scrambled upright, a little nervously. Allura never wanted to talk to him privately. He wasn’t sure they’d even had a single conversation just the two of them, ever.


“So, Keith…” Allura trailed along in front of him as they walked, her skirts swirling behind her. “I wanted to tell you that what you did was very brave.”


Keith blinked. “Oh, I mean… it wasn’t- I mean..”


Her blue eyes met his for a moment, sharp and twinkling. “You saved his life, most likely. Lance certainly has a knack for trouble. The little incidents here and there have been getting worse, haven’t they.”


She stated it so plainly, like he hadn’t spent months developing the same conclusion through fear and dread. Like he wasn’t having nightmares over Lance’s heart slowing to a stop or his chest stuttering and his eyes dimming. Like she knew with the same sink of dread that the horrible reality he’d lived in was going to steal Lance away in the middle of the night, like Keith was right all along.


“He’s really lucky to have you, you know.”


“Huh?” Keith’s heart leapt in his chest, he gaped as she smiled mischievously over her shoulder and swept her skirts up once more.


“I’d almost say that you make a really good pair. Almost.” She turned a corner and Keith stumbled to keep up, his mind whirling. He was so wrapped up in her cryptic words he didn’t notice they’d passed the main deck already and turned towards a more familiar corridor. Was Allura suggesting she knew about...that too? Did she just know everything? Maybe Keith should check Alteans for psychic powers or something.


She continued, sing songing her words in a strange disconcerting way. “It’s a shame Lance can’t seem to get his words together to tell you himself, such a shame.”


“Uh,” he blinked. Suddenly Allura stopped in front of him, a ‘too wide’ smile stretching across her cheeks as she reached for something on the wall.


“Such a shame,” and abruptly she pushed him into a room with a giggle. “Well! Guess you’ll have to figure it out together, good bye!” And the door slid shut in front of him. What?


Someone coughed awkwardly behind him. Keith whirled around at the sound, coming nearly nose to nose with Lance.


“Um,” Keith’s brain was a backfiring engine, he stared blankly.


Lance was….pale. Deeply pressed crescent moons like bruises painted his skin underneath his dark eyes. His hair was a skewed mess like he’d been running his hands through it and pulling at it for days. Keith’s heart lurched like a fish hook caught beneath his ribcage, pulling him towards Lance. He didn’t dare move.


“Uh,” Lance echoed, blinking slowly with an anxious twinge to his voice.


This was Lance’s room, he realized slowly. Allura, part of the group of people attempting to give Lance ‘time’ and ‘space’ had shoved him into Lance’s room and left. ‘He’s lucky to have you,’ she’d said. Keith inhaled sharply, eyes tracking dazedly from Lance’s stunned gaze to his chapped lips and back.


Lance wet his lips almost self consciously. “I gotta say,” His mouth quirked up ever so slightly. “of all the weird things Allura’s done, shoving you into my room when you look like you’re about ready to pass out probably tops the list.”


“Yeah,” Keith agreed, noting blankly they were standing uncomfortably close. He stepped back, and a flicker of some complicated emotion filled Lance’s face. He glanced away, rubbing a hand across his neck.


“So uh,” Lance shuffled his weight, on his feet. “You’re awake.” Keith’s eyebrow rose in a voiceless and instinctive sarcastic reply. “I mean, obviously you’re awake. I guess… Well, I mean I knew you were going to be fine but--”


“Because you waited the whole time, you mean.”


Lance winced, a darker storm passing behind his eyes. Lightning flashed like the spark of a fight within them. “Um.”


Keith sighed, allowing the sharp edges of his shoulders to slip away. “Just say it, Lance.”


Lance’s eyes flickered towards him, the sharp look on his face morphing guarded. Anxious.



Keith knew he’d gone too far, somehow. That when he’d been fading out and greying in the loam of the forest floor, he’d slipped in between honesty and the denial he always held too closely and he’d broken everything along with him. Lance had never looked so angry, so bitter and jaded. The silent stretches between them had never been so icy and distant.


“Just tell me that you hate me and let’s move on.”


He was being stubborn, he knew. Some heated frustration had pooled in his gut like hot tar and filled his veins with resignation before he’d noticed. A dark and hurt thing grew in the spaces between his words, in the furrows of Lance’s brow and the way Lance wouldn’t look at him. He felt unhinged, like the something that had been growing between them, that the love he knew he felt so strongly towards the dumb brown haired blue paladin had spiralled into something too big to deal with. Too much to shove away and hold onto.


Lance’s face slipped, shattered, and for a moment, Keith’s gut dropped with such intense regret his knees shook. Then Lance’s brows slanted downwards and his mouth opened in a wordless snarl and Keith was too far off balance for any of this. He was too tired and strung out and relieved and regretful, he was being pulled in a thousand directions all at once and they all tied back to Lance. He just wanted to clear the tension, push the unspoken words onto the table and let them be.


‘It’s a shame Lance can’t seem to get his words together to tell you himself, ’ Allura had said. Well, Keith had just about used all of his self restraint up over the past few days. Maybe he could help Lance with that.


“You think I hate you?” God, Keith had never seen Lance so livid. So written entirely in bold lines of furious rage it made his shoulders curl inwards.


Keith shrugged, helplessly. He didn’t want to fight, he was honestly so beyond tired of fighting, but Lance couldn’t look at him. They had a job to do, it was fine if Lance hated him so long as they could still save the god damned universe and go back to bed afterwards.


Lance stepped forwards, his eyes tracing Keith’s face but not meeting his eyes dead on just yet. He jabbed a finger into Keith’s chest and god, Keith really was weaker than he thought because it was enough to make him stumble backwards a half step.


“You think, after all of this. After you took a fucking bullet for me, and nearly died in front of me, that I hate you ?You honestly believe- oh my god Keith! You self deprecating, self centered, heroic ass hole!” He pulled away, running his hands through his hair again as if he were beyond comprehending the level of stupidity existing in the room. Keith’s hackles rose defensively.


“Yes! I do! I mean, of course you hate me! Everyone kept trying to keep me from talking to you today because you don’t want to see me, what the hell else am I supposed to think?”


Lance laughed, a short disbelieving huff of air. “I can’t bel ieve you.”


Keith growled, he grabbed Lance’s shoulder and spun him forwards, mouth open with an angry retort just as a sharp pain spiked through his back. He gasped instead, knees crumpling with the abruptness and intensity of the ache. His ears rang, buzzing as his vision went blurry for a moment.


“-shit, Keith? Oh fuck, I fucked it up again oh god, are you-- should I get Pidge? Hunk? Fuck.”


He took a moment, catching his breath. Lance’s arms cradled him gently against his chest, holding him upright as he waited for Keith to get his feet back under him. He could hear the rabbit fast beat of Lance’s heart, the worried and terrified lilt to his voice, the whispers of guilt eeking from his every pore.


“Shit,” he mumbled after a moment.


“What was that? God I knew it was too soon, you need to rest. Here lets, yeah. Sit here.” He pulled Keith over to the side of his bed, propping him gently against his side as the world began to right itself.


“‘S my back. It’s fine, Pidge said so. Just hurts.” The ache died down, the fierceness and suddenness of it had scared him though, leaving him breathless. Lance rubbed small circles into his arm as he took slow measured breaths.


“God, don’t scare me like that please.”


Keith huffed. “Not like I meant to.”


Lance paused, his thumb freezing in place against Keith’s shoulder. “No,” he agreed. “But you did before, right?” He sounded small, Keith snuck a glance out of the corner of his eye. Lance was biting his lip, looking down at his free hand, clenching and unclenching.


Keith remembered Lance pressing against the wound in his stomach as Keith’s gaze faded out and the numbness took over. He remembered Lance’s red soaked hand pressing against his cheek, trying to keep his focus steady and keep him conscious.


“I didn’t mean to scare you, no.” He said, careful. The ache pounded through his spine, less of a pinpoint now. “Just thought it was my turn.”


Lance froze further, like the breath had stopped in his chest. Keith was reminded abruptly of the cave in, measuring Lance by the rise of his chest in the darkness. Parsing their chances of being alright.




Keith closed his eyes, leaning further into Lance’s side. “You’re always taking hits for us, dumbass. Me, mostly. Couldn’t just sit by and watch forever.”


The hand on his shoulder tightened, something irritated passing through the blue paladin. He shook his head, Keith blinked his eyes open to catch the exasperated but-fond?- smile flit across his lips. “Sit by and watch, he says.” Lance scoffed. “As if you weren’t continuously throwing yourself in danger after me. As if you didn’t drag my sorry ass out of every shithole I landed in with your bare hands and stubborn determination alone. Sit by and watch my ass.”


Keith was stunned, he wanted to argue but the way Lance had stated his observations was so plain. So factual. Keith had never considered that perspective, not really. He’d taken his proximity to the disasters as part of the Lance effect, a package deal along with his own trailing misfortunes. Then later, a result of Lance being too kind and diving into disasters because he could.




“You nothing.” Lance was being petulant but it was softer somehow. “You’re the bravest idiot I’ve ever met.” Keith didn’t feel his nerves grate together or ire build in his fingertips. He felt like snuggling in closer, like burying his face beside Lance’s neck and just breathing. A dangerous thought, but… Lance’s thumb traced circles against his skin so carefully, his breathing so measured. Keith looked up at him and saw the way Lance’s dark lashes caught the white light of the room, the faint tilt of his lips, the way Lance was looking at the mop of Keith’s dark hair pressed against him like it was the night sky.


“You almost died, Keith.” It was nearly a whisper, but it carried weight heavier than any words Keith had ever heard. It was a thank you, it was a please don’t. It was a confession.


“I’d do it again, you know.” Keith whispered back. I love you , his heart hurt.


Lance choked on a laugh, a strangled near sob that nearly broke Keith’s heart. “That’s what worries me.”


Keith bit his lip, the dull throb of his back became a distant imprint but he didn’t feel like moving. Afraid that the moment would shatter along with it. “Lance, I…” He swallowed roughly, not knowing where his words were leading but feeling the expanse in front of him with every syllable.


“I wanted you to...” Lance cut in, voice still light and soft in the metal walled room. Keith paused, confused.


“Wanted me to jump in front of you..?”


Lance groaned, “no, smartass. Honestly if you ever do that again I’ll age so rapidly I’ll have white hair like Shiro. I’m not lying it won’t be a good look for me, I swear to fuck you better--”


Keith laughed, surprised and pleased by the easy teasing in Lance’s tone. “Alright alright! No promises, but I’ll talk to Pidge about a shield or a... bulletproof vest for all of us or something.”


Lance snorted, falling silent again. Keith tentatively pressed farther into Lance’s side, enjoying the way Lance’s arm instinctively squeezed him closer.


“I wanted you to kiss me.”


Keith froze, then jerked backwards enough to catch the smirk on Lance’s face, just enough to feel the reality of the world and know he wasn’t dreaming. “Wha- you…. Huh?”


Lance laughed, playfully like he were shy. His cheeks looked pink, just a little bit. His shoulder relaxed like he knew what he said and he meant it. Like he was teasing, playing some kind of joke on Keith or he was... Or he was flirting. Oh. Oh.  


Keith’s mouth worked soundlessly, a thousand thoughts sprinting across his brain. Mostly a lot of ‘god dammit’ and ‘holy shit’, but god dammit and holy shit Lance wanted to kiss him? Lance rubbed his free hand against his neck, looking at his socked toes dangling from the bed and kicking his feet. It was probably the most adorable thing Keith had ever seen, god, he was too weak for all of this, there was a good chance he might legitimately pass out.


“I… I’ve been wanting to. Kiss you. For a long time.” Lance admitted, his cheeks turning a bright cherry red as Keith stared in shock. “And then… the cave in happened and I was pretty out of it but. I was so glad you were there with me. I remember thinking that my arm hurt and that I thought we were going to die and that Keith would get us out of there somehow, like he always did. I know I was fading pretty fast and I could tell you were scared and then, god. I didn’t care my arm was fucked up or that my oxygen tank was messed up or any of it, I’ve never been so happy as I was in that one second.” He was smiling, so, so fondly. Keith’s heart leapt and soared and did kickflips through the air. “And then yanno, you fucked your shoulder up and killed the moment.”


“Hey!” Keith slapped a hand across his mouth and Lance laughed and turned towards him and if Keith wasn’t already gone on this boy, he would have fallen all over again at the tilt of his brows and the spark in his eyes.


“Keith, I…”


“I thought I ruined everything,” Keith found himself whispering, his fingers shook against his face and he couldn’t stop staring. Lance made a noise of protest, reaching towards him slowly, so carefully. Keith noticed his hands were shaking too. “I thought you’d hate me and you’d be disgusted and- god why are we so stupid?”


Lance smiled again, shaky and nervous and snarky all in one and Keith was so in love with him, so in love with everything about him he nearly sobbed. “Speak for yourself mullet head, I’ve known I was in love with you since day one. Some of us are just faster than others.”


Keith rolled his eyes, “Lance you would ruin a perfectly good-” Keith’s mind rewinded, skipped and paused on the words still hanging in the air between them. The sarcastic playful anger waiting on his tongue evaporated, his arms felt heavy and full of static and his heart nearly stopped all together.


“You…. love me?”


Lance looked up at him from behind his lashes, bashful almost. “Okay, that one’s my fault. I genuinely thought that much was obvious.”


Keith blinked. “You’re… you….”


Lance reached out slowly, brushing a stray curl of hair off of Keith’s cheek. His fingers swept slowly around to cradle his cheek. “I love you, Keith.” His dark blue eyes met Keith’s with a ferocity and intensity that stole all the air from Keith’s lungs. Lance meant it, he meant it. Lance was in love with him. Lance was in love . With Keith. Keith must have died in the healing pod or somewhere else before. Lance was in love with him .


Lance recoiled slightly, probably taking Keith’s frozen shock as a negative sign.  “I.. I mean...If it’s okay. I don’t want to scare you, if uh. If you don’t feel the same. It’s fine, I just. Um.”


Keith launched himself forwards, wrapping his arms tightly around Lance’s broad shoulders and pressed his face into his neck with a half laugh half cry. “I love you too,” he shuddered, tears burning at the back of his throat. Lance let out a long shaky breath, laugh crying along with him as he wrapped his arms around Keith and pulled him closer.


“I love you.” Lance whispered so fiercely, his face tucked into Keith’s neck, his forehead pressing against Keith’s collarbone. “I love you so fucking much I can’t stand it. S-so you have to be okay, dammit. Y-you know I hate soap operas, we gotta have a happy ending and-and be disgustingly domestic and make Pidge gag with how cute we are. So… so no more near dying, okay?” Keith chuckled. He wanted it too, so badly it felt like an entire galaxy expanding where Lance’s lips touched featherlight across his ear. He wanted to be able to hold hands and give each other gross nicknames and have the rest of their lives to figure all of these infinities sprawling between them.


“Lance, I’m staying right here with you. Nothing in the whole universe could make me leave.”


Lance’s face crumpled, his eyes so bright they were nearly glowing and his hands flew up to cradle Keith’s face as he pressed their foreheads together. “Oh my god, Keith you were right. We’re idiots, oh my god.”


Keith rolled his eyes. “Shut up and kiss me, you dumbass.”


“Oh, god, yes please.” And Lance swooped forwards with a delighted noise, pressing their mouths together. Gently, carefully, like it was the most precious thing he’d ever done. Like he’d been waiting and wanting exactly this. Lance sighed, the happiest little sound of pure bliss and Keith was gone.


It was a little imperfect, a little off center with the awkward angle but it was Lance kissing him. Keith felt a million stars burst apart in his mind, a thousand cacophonous waves of colour and bliss. God, Lance loved him back. He sent up a thank you to the space and nothing around them itself as Lance’s hands pressed firmer against his jaw, angling his chin for a deeper kiss with another groan of bliss. Keith didn’t care what else the universe had in store for them, what other bad luck awaited them. They could handle it. They could fight the odds and win god dammit.


And Lance loved him.


Fuck you universe.


Then he felt his back flare up in agony again, just a little reminder, a little fuck you too, and he had to admit he probably deserved that one at least a little.





“Hey,” Lance’s boisterous voice dragged him from his warm up routine, he looked up at the taller boy’s wide grin and felt his own grin stretch easily in response. “I bet you I can hit more of ‘em than you.”


Keith scoffed. “Oh, you are so on.” Lance stepped further into his space, sliding his arms across Keith’s shoulders and smirking.


“If I win you have to kiss me.”


“Hmmm, that’s a tough one.” Keith tapped his chin, looking up at the ceiling thoughtfully and ignoring Lance’s indignant squeak. “I have a better idea,” he pulled Lance closer by his hips with a wolfish smirk. “I could just kiss you right now.”


“You know, I somehow hadn’t thought of that.” Lance met him halfway, pressing his warm lips against Keith’s and humming with pleasure. Keith could feel Lance’s smile against his own, and the sensation never failed to send skitters of fireworks through his heart.


Someone coughed behind them.


“You idiots do know we’re right here, right?” Pidge sounded disgusted, Keith broke away from Lance reluctantly, sending them a pout.


“Why did we want them to get together again?” Pidge stage whispered to Hunk who just shrugged helplessly in response.


“I think it’s rather adorable.” Allura gleamed. Lance stuck his tongue out at Pidge, they had the upperhand in any argument if the princess agreed with them. She’d been a major player in getting them to finally sort out their emotions after all, of course she approved. “Or at least, it would be if we weren’t about to go on a mission.”




Shiro gave them a small smile. “As happy as we are that you two aren’t bickering and giving each other the silent treatment anymore--”


“Eugh” Pidge finished.


“I’m just happy we haven’t had to use the healing pods at all! It’s a verifiable miracle,” Coran wiped a large tear from his glowing eyes. “Of course, saying that out loud could evoke an even worse spin of fate that not even the pods could help with but--”


Everyone gave him a dry look.


“I mean, I’m absolutely positively certain everything will be grand! No injuries here, not at all!”


Lance snickered, and Keith rolled his eyes fondly, grabbing the other boys hand in a tight squeeze. “Everything will be fine,” He nodded once to himself. He couldn’t explain it, like the arrow that kept leading him to Lance or the tails of bad luck that had finally lost their trail. He felt clearer. Lighter.


An alarm blared through the halls and everyone tensed, their serious expressions locking down over top of the easy joking smiles.

“Paladins, good luck.” Allura’s gleaming eyes met Keith’s and she winked. He grinned back, a little too confidently.


Lance pressed a quick kiss to his cheek as everyone moved to their stations, laughing at the way Keith’s face immediately heated up.


“Come on Allura, good luck is my middle name!” He winked.