When Keith swung his legs out of bed he wasn’t expecting his feet to land on the floor with a splash, but there it was.
He groaned and glared at the ground. There was at least a solid inch of water on the floor, its surface glinting in the strengthening light in his room. His motion caused ripples to float towards the walls, though he supposed the natural movement of the ship pushed the gentle waves across its surface. He was lucky that he’d picked up his clothes off the ground the night before and put them on his table. As it was, the bottom hem of his pants were now drenched and there were soggy dust bunnies and stray hairs floating in this water from just being on the ground, for crying out loud.
It was going to be one of those days again, wasn’t it.
There wasn’t much point in putting on socks or shoes in this, so he sloshed through the water to the door. As expected, the flood wasn’t confined to his room. The entire hallway was in a similar state, as far in each direction as he could see. Really only one person could’ve been responsible for this, and Keith was going to make sure he knew exactly how he felt about the castle’s new water feature.
He splashed down the hallway towards the kitchen, which was, of course, full of dirty water. Hunk and Pidge were sitting on the counter, their feet dangling above the flood while they ate with plates of food goo on their laps, their socks dark and dripping.
“Nice weather we’re having, huh?” said Pidge by way of greeting. Their face was unamused.
Keith made his way over to the food goo dispenser, driving water up his pant legs with every step. This was actually the worst.
“What happened this time?” he asked, already feeling exhausted despite the fact that he just woke up.
“Lance,” Pidge and Hunk answered in unison, as if Keith didn’t already know that.
He joined them on the countertop. Having his feet above the waterline didn’t really help. The bottoms of his pants were now clinging to his ankles, cold and uncomfortable.
“He got upset last night,” Pidge said. “The water storage system is wrecked.”
“What was he upset about?” Keith asked. He didn’t really care. Really.
“Hell if I know,” Pidge said with a shrug.
“Probably the usual stuff,” Hunk replied around a mouthful of green. “Homesick, disappointed that you aren’t impressed with him, you know.”
“Impressed with him?” Keith asked, but his train of thought was completely interrupted when the door slid open.
Speak of the devil.
“Good morning, everybody,” Lance said.
Here was the thing about Lance, right now: when he walked into the room, he didn’t splash through the water like the rest of them. Instead he practically glided through it, all grace and elegance. The slippers that he wore on his feet looked dry. When he did manage to kick up droplets, they seemed to glitter around him. He couldn’t care less that the place was flooded because of him. He was at home here.
It was a striking difference from when he flew, Keith thought with gritted teeth, if just to make himself stop admiring his easy footsteps.
Lance went to the food goo dispenser without a single word of apology, even a comment to any of them about the current disaster in the Castle-ship. Keith didn’t know how far the damage went, but he was pretty certain that all this machinery couldn’t just be hunky-dory with all this moisture around. Forget their personal discomfort. What if Lance had incapacitated the ship? What if it had shut down? They could all be stuck out here in the middle of space thanks to him.
“Lance,” Keith snapped, swiveling to look at him. “What the hell is all this?”
Lance glanced up at him, eyebrows raised. “What’s what?”
Keith glared, throwing his arms out wide to gesture to the room as a whole. “This.”
“Oh.” Lance looked down at the floor, grinned at his own reflection in the (disgustingly murky) water. “Isn’t it cool? I even surprise myself with my power sometimes.”
“This isn’t cool!” Keith replied. “My pants are wet!”
Lance turned away from the dispenser, a heaping bowl of goo in his hands. He was smirking at Keith with the same sly look that usually portended something awful happening to Keith, and Keith considered making a break for it, but that would mean splashing through the stretch of water between here and the door.
It was too late anyway. Lance raised a hand, and with a flick of his wrist, some of the water on the floor sprayed up onto Keith. Pidge made a sound of disgust and scooted away.
“Now your shirt’s wet too,” Lance said. “You’re welcome.”
Keith’s eyes narrowed, irritation powering through his muscles as his hands clenched into fists. “So are you really an ocean god? Or just the god of being a piece of shit?”
Lance smirked, crossed his arms, raised a single eyebrow at Keith. “Either way, you should be impressed. Come on, worship me!”
Frustration bubbled up inside of Keith, but lucky Lance was spared the result of it by the kitchen door sliding open. Allura entered, followed closely by Shiro and Coran.
“Lance,” Allura said, her expression serious as the bottom of her dress trailed through the water. “What happened here?”
He already had the shit-eating grin on his face, it was just a matter of turning it towards Allura now.
“You like it?” Lance asked. “It’s a nice touch, right?”
“Your ‘nice touch’ made it so that none of the ship’s water-based systems are currently functional!” Coran chirped, though rather than accusatory his tone was light. That was his soft spot for Lance coming through, right there. “This includes showers, drinking water, plumbing, and the hydraulic accelerator!”
“See what you did, Lance?” Keith jumped in. He’d known this was going to spell trouble. He thought he caught Lance flinch back from his words out of the corner of his eye, but whatever. This was all his fault, anyway.
“Keith,” Shiro warned.
“We’ve changed course for a planet with an abundance of potable water,” Allura announced. “We can repair the tanks en route and refill them once we arrive.”
Lance’s back straightened and a smile, a real, genuine, smile, stretched across his face. “A planet with an abundance of water?”
“Yes, but this isn’t time to play,” Allura said. “We have a lot of work to do. Paladins, please start by helping drain the water and drying this deck.”
Hunk and Pidge groaned in unison.
“Why do we have to?” Pidge asked. “This was Lance’s fault.”
Shiro leveled his best authoritative look at them. “Do you want everything to stay wet?”
Pidge shrugged. “I don’t mind.”
“Don’t say that in front of Lance,” Keith said, already headed towards the door. “He’ll start to think that this kind of thing is actually okay.”
Keith ignored the way that Shiro called after him, part disappointment and part scolding, in order to go find wherever it was that they could use to drain this water out. If there was one thing that Keith found more annoying than Lance, it was wet socks.
The planet looked blue from afar.
It reminded Keith of Earth in that way, even though he never truly associated Earth with the color blue. The Earth that Keith knew was anything but: all bright, sunlit beiges and scorching yellows, reds and oranges where the light set over the desert, gray where drought touched the cacti. Keith had never been to an ocean before in his life. But he’d seen pictures. He’d heard of Earth being called the Blue Planet. He’d stared at enough globes and maps and pictures of it from space to understand why.
Which was why this blue sphere hanging in the center of the view from the Castle-ship’s wide bridge window reminded Keith of Earth. He wasn't the only one. Pidge and Hunk stared at it wistfully from their chairs on the bridge, but Lance was standing at the console in Allura’s usual place, his hands gripped tight around its edges, his entire upper body leaning forward towards the sight. Every so often he’d point at it, telling them to look at this, look at this, as though they hadn’t already seen it.
His smile was genuine, and something about it washed at the irritation that threatened to boil over inside of Keith until there was no more of it. Lingering annoyance, perhaps, but more towards the bottom of his pants that were still not dry rather than Lance himself. Lance, whose delighted, childlike joy was so contagious that even Keith found himself smiling, just a little bit.
As they broke through the atmosphere more and more of it became discernable. As far as Keith could see the entire surface of the planet was covered in water, turquoise and beautiful. The closest thing Keith had ever experienced to that much water was this morning with the flooding around his ankles.
Lance was ecstatic.
He was the first one out of the ship, Paladin uniform on but helmet forgotten. The water where the ship landed only came about halfway up their calves, but that didn’t stop Lance from plunging into it, bellyflopping to the ground, whooping. He splashed it up into the air, and around him waves formed, small and jaunty.
“Come on, that’s enough playing around,” Shiro said, pulling him up out of the water. “We have a job to do.”
Basically, Allura explained, there were four main pumps on the Castle-ship for water intake, two aft and two fore. They were a little bit finicky so they each needed careful watch in order to make this process as efficient as possible. Shiro and Pidge would take the fore ones, she announced, while Keith and Lance would take the ones aft. Meanwhile, she, Coran, and Hunk would oversee the process from the inside.
Keith thought about protesting, but Lance was kicking up water so that its arcs shone as a rainbow in the light of one of this planet’s suns, and Keith immediately lost all will to defy anyone. Hanging out with Lance, just by themselves…wouldn’t really be all that bad.
Of course this didn’t stop Lance from making jabs at Keith as they waded through the water all the way around the Castle-ship. Keith reciprocated with the usual banter. The interaction was so dependable that Keith realized he was grinning. There was no actual sting in any of their words. They were just interacting as they did, comfortable and easy.
When they reached the pumps they got to work. Allura hadn’t been kidding when she’d said that the pumps were finicky. Keith’s didn’t want to turn on until he’d given it a solid kick.
“Whoa, hold up!” Lance cried from where he was working on his own. “Isn’t that a piece of delicate machinery?”
“Percussive maintenance,” Keith said.
Lance sat back down in the water, contentedly swirling his fingers through it. His eyes were bright, his smile blissful, and Keith didn’t think he’d ever seen him with such a pure expression. In the moment he was quiet except for the water swishing around him, and Keith watched, drinking in the outline of the pleased quirk of his lips, the natural angle of his eyebrows.
“Hey,” Keith eventually said, giving his pump a nudge with his foot when it began to splutter again. He turned to watched it instead of Lance as it jerked back to efficiency and slurped liquid up into the ship. “Why’d you do all this, anyway?”
Lance huffed, abruptly irritated. “It wasn’t like I did it on purpose.”
“Could’ve fooled me with the way you were talking,” Keith said, crossing his arms and leaning back against the ship. “Not what I meant, though. What got you all upset?”
“I wasn’t upset,” Lance said, flicking water up with agitated motions of his wrist. He wasn’t looking at Keith, although his chin was raised to a haughty angle.
“Yeah? Then what happened?”
Lance grumbled something under his breath, and a small wave crested against the castle ship. Keith maybe picked out the words “falling for” and “dumb mortal” but who knew what Lance was really saying over the sloshing of water around them.
“Can’t hear you,” Keith said. “Speak up.”
Lance sighed loudly, dramatically, and whirled his head towards Keith. “I was just homesick. Okay?”
Keith sloshed over towards Lance. He knew he was going to regret this, but since when was he one to mull over consequences? Decisively, he plopped down into the water beside Lance, sitting next to him with his legs crossed.
“Is that all?” he asked. The wetness made his clothes cling to him but he ignored it.
“Why should I tell you?” Lance snapped.
“I’m being nice!” Keith said.
He was about to climb to his feet again, but his desire to evaporated when he watched the way Lance’s shoulders slumped, the way the water around him stilled. Keith, after months spent together on the Castle-ship, could read a kind of exhaustion in him. He knew he was homesick, severely so, but it wasn’t like they could do anything about that, and Lance knew it. His usual cure for that was going to talk to Hunk or Coran when he was feeling that way, not taking out his anxieties on the water storage system. Something was up, probably. Keith couldn’t always understand people but he knew that much.
“You’re the worst,” Lance said, but somehow it was unaccusatory. It carried none of the bite or the aggression of his usual remarks. It was stated stagnantly, standing as a fact.
It caught Keith off guard.
“What?” he said, used to rapid flowing insults.
“I was upset because you’re the worst,” Lance said, not looking at Keith. “I’m always going out of my way to make sure you see me and you always ignore it.”
Keith found himself frozen by Lance’s words. “That’s—what?”
Lance scoffed. “You can’t not know, c’mon man. I’ve been chasing after you since we were in the Garrison! And I thought I could get your attention if I just showed you the kind of power that I really have, but you’re always—”
Keith was fated to never learn what he’s always apparently doing, because just then a thunderous splash rang out from the other side of the castle ship. It echoed like the sound of a whale bellyflopping into an ocean, complete with the hard, sharp slap of the surface being broken by something broad and flat. If Keith hadn’t already been half-drenched from sitting down beside Lance, he would’ve been then, ripples joining together into waves, curling over the surface of the water.
Lance and Keith met each other’s wide eyes and hopped to their feet.
“What the hell was that?” Lance asked.
“Let’s go look,” Keith replied.
Wading through water is hard work but running through water is some other kind of toil entirely. Keith found his eyes drawn to Lance, who had darted ahead of him almost immediately. His legs met little resistance as he sliced through the waves, giving him a strange, ethereal elegance that was unfairly beautiful. Keith wanted to hate him for it as his own legs strained against the weight of the water, but instead found himself admiring the ease of it. Keith had never seen Lance so completely surrounded by water like this before.
It really, really suited him. Made him look like a god, actually.
Keith barely managed to stay behind Lance, and clearly exerted way more energy than him as he did so. The castle was broad with a wide circumference, so getting around to the other side wasn’t exactly a short stroll.
Putting on his helmet, he realized there was already chatter on the comms.
“—is completely immobile with the pumps down,” Allura was saying, her voice tight. “Paladins, we need you in your Lions, now.”
“On our way, Princess, but it doesn’t look like this thing is going to patiently wait for us to get up there!” Pidge was shouting back.
This thing? “What’s going on?” Keith demanded, but it was then that he turned the corner of the castle
and almost barreled straight into Lance, who had stopped short just before him. Keith opened his mouth to berate him but instead found himself cursing for a different reason entirely.
The thing was graceless, enormous, ugly, in the way that only Galra-created beast can be. It was standing out a ways from the Castle-ship, though making its way forward, in water deeper than they were in. It seemed to be a large, unwieldy glob of a thing, slow-moving and bulbous, blubbery and glinting in the sun. Above the waterline rested two fin-like appendages, gigantic in surface area, flat and wide.
It made its way towards the Castle-ship, undeterred by the water beneath it.
“Allura, can’t you turn on the particle barrier?” Keith demanded, swerving around Lance to change his destination to the nearest castle entrance.
“I’m working on it,” Allura replied.
But it didn’t seem to matter either way, because the creature raised a hulking, flat limb, and brought it down into the water with a ridiculous speed and strength, sending out another thunderous slap. It wasn’t the sound he had to worry about, though. It was the resulting wave, towering and fast. Keith saw it coming, and knew he wouldn’t be able to get into the castle in time to avoid it. Bending his knees low he braced himself.
The water hit like he’d been slammed into a brick wall. No amount of bracing himself could have prepared him for its power, and he tumbled back. His head snapped backwards, his helmet knocked off, his limbs thrown at bizarre angles as he tried to right himself. It washed over him and Keith got a noseful of water before breaking the surface again, sputtering and panicked.
“—Keith!” Lance was shouting, running towards him. Keith, dazed, entire body smarting, eyes stinging, read the worry in his furrowed eyebrows while watching the beast over his shoulder, preparing to raise another one of its limbs. If it slammed down both at the same time, that would spell disaster for not only anyone outside of the ship but probably the ship itself as well.
“You idiot,” Lance said, hauling Keith to his feet. “That’s not how you face a wave! You have to ride it!”
“What—,” Keith tried to say, but he was cut off by a second wave racing their way. It was at least as tall as he was, if not more, and it looked like it could easily curl over him and kill him. Keith braced again for the impact.
But Lance thrust out his hand, and it parted and slid right past them, only washing at their calves. It knocked against the castle, rocking it.
“Paladins!” Allura urged.
“We’re trying to head inside,” Shiro said. “These waves are making it difficult to get very far.”
Another slap against the water drowned out whatever Allura was going to say in response. Keith’s eyes widened as the wave approached. They were getting bigger, and this one could easily envelop him completely. He whirled towards Lance, and found his face calculating and determined.
“Hold on,” Lance said, and grabbed Keith by the forearm.
Instinctively, Keith grabbed back, and found Lance’s limb lax and fluid beneath his grip. He grit his teeth, waiting for the collision—
It never came. When the wave approached Lance tightened his hold but let his body relax, and instead of squaring against the water let it lift him, pulling Keith with him. They rode easily over the swell, and for a second Keith felt weightless, the same way he felt when in zero G. Then the wave passed, and deposited the both of them gently on the ground.
There wasn’t time to dwell on it, though. The beast was gearing up again.
A spluttering shout rang through the comms, and Shiro cried, “Pidge!”
Wet coughing followed, along with babble from Allura. “Is everything alright? Paladins, you need to hurry!”
“I’m okay,” Pidge wheezed, while Shiro barked, “Send the Lions out to us, we’re not making any progress towards the castle.”
The waves were bouncing back off its surface now, and the current was hard, tugging at Keith’s legs. If he thought the water was difficult to move in before, its choppy swells now made it nigh-impossible.
“Let’s go,” Lance said, but instead of bolting towards the castle as Keith had expected, he ran in the direction of the beast.
“Lance!” Keith yelled after him. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m taking this thing down!” Lance replied, easily riding over another wave.
Lance was too far away to help Keith over this one, but he recalled the feeling of floating over it, and let it lift him up. As soon as he was returned to the ground he was running after Lance, who, in the time since Keith has seen him last, had somehow halved the distance between himself and the beast.
It absolutely dwarfed him. He stood in its shadow, fragile and miniscule. The thing noticed him, turning its sluggish head, and raised both its limbs into the air simultaneously.
“Lance!” Keith shouted, struggling through the water towards him.
The creature began to ready itself for the strike, but Lance was faster.
The water around him rose and swelled with a sudden urgency. Keith felt the current tug him, unrelenting, in Lance’s direction, and allowed it because he knew he couldn’t fight it, not with all the water being drawn up towards him like that. The beast had paused momentarily to watch the water growing, Lance atop it, lifted, higher, higher, as he pulled in more and more. Keith, swept along, watched in stunned awe as the concentration on Lance’s face highlighted by the sunlight bounding off the water, as his wave grew taller into the sky.
But the beast had had enough. Its arms were poised, and it brought them down.
Lance unleashed his mountainous wave, sending it crashing towards the beast.
The current still pulled. Keith knocked into Lance as the swell of water traveled away from them, the rocking of the wave letting them down gently. Still in deep water Keith instinctively grabbed on, and Lance grabbed back, watching as the wave crashed against the beast. It, like Keith, seemed to have tried to brace against it, and found itself stumbling backwards, stunned. It wasn’t out for the count yet, but it was off-balance.
“Still want more?” Lance taunted, fixing his hold on Keith so that his arm was around his waist.
This time Keith was with Lance as he gathered the water, quick and rising. Keith could feel its power around him, feel Lance’s power, incredibly strong to command something so forceful. They rose, and it was something kind of like flying.
When Lance unleashed the wave this time, the beast was knocked back, losing its balance entirely, falling. Lance whooped, riding the remaining waves. The water was deeper here, a little chaotic as moved by the fight, so Keith clung to him, appreciating the solid strength of his arm around him.
The Black Lion appeared, followed by Green, swooping down to fire at the beast. It was soon obvious that the thing wasn’t going to rising to its feet again anytime soon.
But Keith wasn’t paying much attention to that. Keith wasn’t paying much attention to anything except the way that Lance’s arm was still snagged around his waist, helping keep him buoyed in the rocking water, and the way Keith’s own cheeks were burning and his stomach was swooping and everything seemed so bright. And Lance grinned, Lance whooped, so at home in the water, and when he turned to beam at Keith their faces were close together and Keith could count the droplets hanging off of his eyelashes.
He wasn’t even planning it. He just went where the flow of his emotions took him. And that was leaning forward to press his lips against Lance’s cheek.
Lance’s reaction was instantaneous. The arm around Keith’s waist tightened fiercely, the water swelled, pushing them higher. Keith didn’t pull his face away to look at Lance’s expression, instead leaving it to his imagination as he pressed his nose into his dripping hair and said into his ear,
“Sure, I’ll worship you.”