A/N: A cliched Klance fic that I've been working on since November. Written for the tumblr prompt:

"What you say when there's miles between us/no space between us"

I have a lot of mixed feelings about posting this. I'm glad that it's done, of course, but I wish I'd managed to finish it before Season 2 came out, because I was building this on a lot of meta I'd done regarding Lance being insecure... which Season 2 then confirmed. While it's nice to know that I was right, I'm a little disappointed that what would have been some interesting meta is now going to be drowned in the middle of a very large quantity of nigh-identical fics due to the fact that S2 touched on exactly what I was going to say. I went back to add in references to S2 anyway, just because it helps with atmosphere, but... well, it stills feels much more cookie-cutter than I was planning.

It doesn't help that the fic ended up three or four times longer than it was supposed to be due to the closet scene not working out as smoothly as I hoped. I didn't quite stick to the prompt (the closet scene was supposed to be 'no space' and it was supposed to end there, and then the battle scene was added for 'miles of space'), but I think I did okay?

o.o.o.o.o

Keith is… not good at the whole "dating" thing.

He's actually kind of terrible at it, in that he's had no experience actually dating anyone, or in any of the associated activities. He doesn't even really understand his own feelings most of the time, let alone someone else's, and the idea of flirting is confusing at the best of times and actively terrifying at the worst.

So Keith doesn't really know how to react when Shiro, at the end of one training session, asks "So have you thought about how you're going to tell Lance you like him?"

Keith mostly just gapes at him, to be honest. There's a lot of gaping going on.

"What?" He finally asks.

"It's not that hard to tell that you like him," Shiro says slowly, one eyebrow gradually hiking its way up his face. "I was just wondering if you were planning to do anything about it."

"I do not like Lance," Keith says as firmly add he can. "Not any more than any of the rest of you."

Shiro's other eyebrow joins its adventurous twin. "Are you sure?"

"Yes!" Keith answers.

"Are you just saying that on reflex or have you actually thought about it?"

"I—" Keith pauses.

"Yes?" Shiro prompts.

Keith frowns.

"Listen, I don't want to get involved in your love life, but this is the sort of thing that could cause problems if you realized it at the wrong moment." Shiro rubs a hand against the back of his head. "Not necessarily the kind that end the team, but still. Problems."

"Speaking from experience?" Keith asks, aiming for snark because he's not sure what else to do.

"Yes." Shiro admits without any shame whatsoever. "I figured out my crush on Matt early on enough for it to be a negligible issue in that sense, but Allura..."

Keith has watched Shiro privately go red, hug pillows, and wax eloquent about the princess on multiple occasions since the disaster of a rescue mission that split them all up and all the ridiculous events since then. He's also been the person most exposed to Shiro's guilt in letting the situation ever get so far that a rescue was needed at all.

Keith knows all about what he's personally dubbed "the Allura situation."

He sighs. "Fine. I'll think about it to see if you're right. That work?"

"Of course." Shiro says, clapping Keith on the back with a smile.

Keith doesn't really think Shiro's right.

o.o.o.o.o

Shiro is so right.

Keith doesn't think he's ever going to forgive his best friend for this, because whatever situation could have cropped up from Keith not knowing about his own apparently massive crush on Lance, it could not have been worse than this.

Keith knows he's in deep. Pidge, for one, has more than made that clear, since they've been teasing him at every chance they get. Shiro has given him a massive grin and thumbs up on more than one occasion. Allura even took him aside to ask him what was wrong at one point.

HUNK HAD GIVEN HIM THE SHOVEL TALK.

HUNK.

A SHOVEL TALK.

Only Coran hasn't brought it up, and Keith is fairly certain that it's only because he doesn't care to. If Coran had figured out that Pidge wasn't constantly a boy without any hints, then Keith's crush must have been obvious.

Literally the only person who doesn't seem to know is, of course, Lance.

"I hate you."

Shiro looks up from the weights he's been looking at contemplatively and blinks. "Come again?"

"I hate you. This is all your fault." Keith fists his hands at his sides, because the only other option is making vague hand motions, and he doesn't really think of himself as that kind of person.

"This?"

"The whole… thing. With Lance." Keith takes a heavy seat and nurtures his face in his hands, knowing how heavy his blush must be. "What am I even supposed to do?"

"Ask him out?" Shiro suggests.

"You mean like you have Allura?" Keith asks instead of acknowledging the suggestion in a way that isn't overtly aggressive, giving Shiro a dirty look.

"I don't know enough about Altean dating customs to know if that's a good idea, and I'd have to deal with Coran to find out, which honestly doesn't seem like a great plan to me." Shiro explained so calmly that Keith almost couldn't get angry. You know. Almost.

"You really could just ask him out," Shiro said, and when Keith looked over, he saw that Shiro had his Team Dad smile on again. "I could help you plan it out, if you want."

Keith almost says yes, but then sighs and dismisses it. "No, I can handle it myself."

o.o.o.o.o

Keith absolutely cannot handle it himself.

o.o.o.o.o

Lance gets aggressive, even more than usual. He doesn't get violent, of course, not outside of sparring, but it's clear that he's noticed something is wrong and that it's freaking him out.

"What the hell is your problem?" He demands one day when Keith is too distracted by the sight of Lance's ass to shoot straight during training.

(Nothing about Keith had ever been straight except his shooting and flying. Looks like he's down to flying.)

"You are," he answers before he can think better of it, which of course leads to Lance getting offended and shoving him, which leads to an impromptu spar, which leads to Shiro and Allura separating them and sending them off to cool down in other rooms.

"So," Shiro says, and doesn't continue.

"I'm such an idiot," Keith says, doing his face into his hands and sliding down the wall. "Why did I even say that?"

Shiro looks torn between unimpressed and kind of amused. "Are you sure you don't need any help?"

"I don't think there's any way to help." Keith laments. "He hates me. He has for years, oh my god. Why did I have to fall for the guy that's hated my guts since before he even knew how to start a ship?"

"Envy and hate aren't the same thing, Keith."

"They are with him." Keith squeezes his head a little harder between his hands. Maybe if he squeezes hard enough, his head will explode and he won't have to deal with any of this.

"So is asking him out really that much of a—"

"I stick my foot in my mouth every time I so much as try to say hello," Keith says. Maybe pacing would help?

Keith tries pacing.

"A letter?" Shiro suggests.

"He'd think it was a prank or something."

"Are you sure you aren't just looking for excuses?" Shiro asks.

Keith shoots him another glare, because really?

Shiro raises his hands and ducks his head with a smile, not actually conceding anything, but willing to let the issue go for a bit.

"Do you want me to talk to him?" Shiro asks, not for the first time.

"No!" Keith protests. He pauses, thinks about it for a second, and then reaffirms his decision. "No."

"Okay."

o.o.o.o.o

Shiro doesn't talk to Lance.

He talks to Pidge.

And Pidge has…plans.

o.o.o.o.o

I can't believe they locked us in a broom closet.

It's so cliché he could scream. Lance looks like he's on the verge of doing just that, even in the low light.

"What the hell, Pidge?" He yells, banging on the door. "C'mon, dude, what the hell?"

"Dude?" Keith asks, momentarily distracted. "I thought Pidge said she was a girl."

"It depends on the day and I read 'dude' as gender neutral!" Pidge shouts through the door.

"Whatever your gender, you're a little shit, Pidge!" Lance yells back.

"I take pride in that!

Keith blinks. Okay, then. He's not sure why being a 'little shit' is something to take pride in, but okay.

"Now you two are going to talk things out or I'm leaving you stuck in there forever!" Pidge shouts again.

"Wait, what if the Galra attack?" Keith feels like this is an important point. He's fairly certain that the Galra will attack long before any biological needs like food or water pose a problem, if only because of how their lives go. Unlike the biological needs, the Galra are also everyone else's problem as well.

"We'll manage!"

Then there's a clang and some shuffling noises, and no matter how much Lance keeps yelling, it seems that Pidge is gone.

"I can't believe them!" Lance kicks a mop that's been stood up in a corner, and it falls to the ground with a dull thud instead of a clatter, since the head was at the top.

Keith…isn't entirely sure what to do.

"Oh my god, this is such bullshit." Lance complains, followed by a series of words that Keith only vaguely recognizes.

"…Spanish?" He asks, just to make sure.

Lance whirls on him and bends forward at the waist to get his face within inches of Keith's. "Yeah? What's it to you?" His hands are on his hips, and his legs are in a wide stance to keep him balanced, but Keith's mind is already somewhere it absolutely shouldn't

"I'm not good at languages," Keith says, instead of trying to chase that line of thought. "I just wanted to make sure I wasn't…misidentifying or whatever."

"Oh," Lance says, and some of the tension bleeds out of his frame. "Okay."

"It's not an attack on you whenever I say something, you know." Keith feels a little put out, honestly. He's been trying to be a good friend, at least, since he can't be more. Lance just really likes taking things in the worst way possible.

"Not everything is about you, Keith." Lance crosses his arms and huffs.

"...I mean, I know that, but when you try to argue with me about something random about me, then it's usually because it's me." Keith made a vague sort of gesture. "You can't really blame me for assuming that the pattern holds true."

Lance just looks at him for a moment and then scoffs, crossing his arms and looking away. "I tend to end up on the wrong end of some wetback comments back on Earth when people hear me speaking Spanish, okay?"

Keith blinks at him. He has no idea what that means. "…what kind of comments? "

Lance raises an eyebrow in disbelief. "You know, racist stuff against Latino people? 'You're speaking Spanish, so you may be an illegal immigrant, probably from Mexico because I, a racist person, don't care to learn the names of any other Latin American countries,' or whatever?"

"…but what does that have to do worth your back being wet?" Keith knows how to deal with racism, but his knowledge of slang is…minimal, to say the least.

Lance drags one hand down his face. "The idea behind that particular word is that all Latinos must be illegal immigrants who crossed the border from Mexico by swimming across. As you can guess, it's hella racist."

"...but I thought you said you were Cuban."

"I am." Lance says slowly. "But racists don't really care, because if they shout wetback then they can imply that all immigrants of Latino descent are lazy illegals and display how little they care about the fact that we aren't all the same."

Keith considers that. "Like when people assume I'm Chinese or Japanese and make jokes based on that, despite the fact that I'm actually Korean?"

"Yeah, probably." Lance eyes him for a moment. "You seriously didn't know that."

"I'm…not good at people. Or slang." Keith shrugs. "I lived in a shack for years, so I don't really have the same frame of reference, and I'm not good at picking up on subtle cues."

Keith feels like this was a pretty accurate and fair analysis of his own social skills, which are practically nonexistent.

"Yeah, I can believe that." Lance shakes his head.

"You can?"

"There aren't exactly a lot of reasons you wouldn't get something as popular as the 'when I say X, you say Y' style of cheer, dude."

Keith frowns, because really?

"I see the look on your face, Keith. Yes, I've noticed that you don't respond to things the way people usually do, I just usually thought it was on purpose." Lance folds his arms and looks away, nose in the air.

"Why would I do any of that on purpose?" Bewildered, Keith thinks, is a great word for his current state of mind.

"To piss me off!" Lance immediately shoots back. "Like always!"

"I didn't even know who you were at the Garrison, why would I deliberately irritate someone that I barely knew existed?"

"Oh, so now I'm not memorable."

Keith grabs his own head between his hands and kind of wants to scream. He also kind of wants to bang his head against a wall.

"And you keep showing me up here with Voltron," Lance continued.

"I am doing. My job." Keith says as clearly as he can. "We all are. I'm not going to do worse and save less people just because you're embarrassed or whatever. There are lives on the line."

"I know that!" Lance snaps. "Just stop with the... the fancy stuff."

"What fancy stuff? I just fly!"

"No, you do fancy stuff that makes me look like trash!"

"I'm literally just flying to save as many people from Zarkon as I can!"

"Maybe I'd like to be the fancy flier for once!"

"Why do you even care?!"

"Well, what else do I have?!" Lance demands with so much raw emotion in his voice that Keith actually takes a step back. Lance stays as he is for a moment, chest heaving and face red in the dim light and then roughly turns away.

"...I'm guessing this is something that's been building for a while, then?" Keith says as delicately as he can.

Lance gives him a dirty look. "No, really? What gave you that idea?"

Keith opens his mouth to respond, then thinks about it. "Was that a rhetorical question?"

"Yes, it was." Lance grumbled after a moment. "Are you seriously telling me that half the reason we fight so much is that you actually don't know what-"

"Probably," Keith interrupted. "I want to know what's going on with the whole 'what else do I have' thing, though."

"Can we forget that happened? I'd like that. That sounds like a good idea to me."

Keith stares at him as blankly as possible.

Lance drags a hand down his face and takes a heavy seat on an upturned bucket. "I don't have the same kind of… specialty thing going on as the rest of you. Shiro's a great leader and perfect in just about everything, Pidge can hack just about anything, you can fly and fight, Hunk is both a cook and an engineer, Allura's in charge and terrifying and can shape-shift and fight and open wormholes, Coran knows everything, and I'm…just the guy that gets tricked by pretty girls."

Keith tries very hard not to make a single noise.

"Back when we were doing that prison break after we found the Blade of Marmora, I thought I might have finally had something, you know?" Lance keeps going without prompting from Keith, getting to his feet and starting to pace with his hands linked behind his back. "Like. I thought I could be the sharpshooter. Maybe that could be my niche, you know? There had to be a reason I got the small, precise blaster when Hunk got the big one that just blasts out melee, and you and Pidge got the physical ones. And I made it work, for a bit! Shiro even called me the sharpshooter after I pulled off an almost impossible shot when we were rescuing the scientist dude and then… nothing. Shiro's gone for a while, Pidge pretends they don't remember, probably because they think I'd be annoying about it, and I'm just… the deadweight again. I don't have a thing."

"You're not deadweight," Keith says, frowning. "We wouldn't be able to form Voltron without you, and the Blue Lion's whole… thing with ice? That's definitely saved us or other people a few times."

"That means that Blue is useful. Not me."

Keith doesn't really know what to say as Lance takes a heavy seat on the upturned bucket again, once more burying his face in his hands.

Lance talks again after a few moments of silence. "You're not arguing with me."

"…no?"

"That means that either you agree or you can't think of any reason I'm wrong," Lance says, not looking up. His voice is ever-so-slightly muffled by his hands.

"I do think you're useful to the team," Keith reaffirms. "I'm just… very bad with words."

"Ha. Right."

They sit in silence for a few more minutes as Keith tries to find the right words to say. He's not quite sure he has them all yet, but he thinks it's probably better than nothing.

"Okay, so…" Keith sighs and focuses his gaze on his own hands, trying to make sure he actually keeps his ideas straight in his head. "You aren't useless. That's the first thing. You are a better shot than anyone else on the team, even when we use Pidge's digital targeting systems, and I know we'd probably be dead a few times over by now if you weren't there to get us out. Hunk can shoot more, but you actually get the… the… the detail-work? The accuracy, that."

There's a noise of shifting cloth from where Lance is sitting, but Keith doesn't look up. If he looks up, he's probably going to get distracted by Lance's stupidly attractive face and then he'll lose his words and won't be any help at all.

"And you're the only reason we have actual outfits to wear. I know you spend a lot of your nights sewing and knitting when you can't sleep, mostly because I can't either and sometimes you leave your door open while I'm walking around to get my mind off of things, and I know that doesn't seem like much, but it does about as much for morale as Hunk's cooking. And…"

Keith grasps for words, and hears Lance inhale.

"Ke—"

"I'm not done," Keith interrupts. "I'm just… having trouble saying things."

Lance doesn't say anything for a long while, and Keith starts again when he thinks he's got a decent phrasing figured out.

"Yeah, your jokes are dumb, but it's like the sewing, because it helps with morale. When you make them mid-battle, then it keeps us from getting too dragged down in the anxiety of how serious it is. Like, we do complain, but they also help. And you have a weakness for pretty girls, and all that, but everyone has their own… faults? Flaws, that thing."

"Shiro doesn't," Lance interrupts.

"Shiro still has moments where his PTSD makes him stop and lose control for a few seconds. He freezes up and forgets where he is, and it's not his fault, but it still happens. He's also an adult, and he's had more time to iron out his issues than us," Keith says. He hesitates a moment and then adds. "And he's always been kind of perfect."

"Not surprised," Lance snorts.

"You get what I'm saying, though, right?" Keith looked up, seeing now that Lance was slouched against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, still sitting on the bucket. "And… does anyone else know you feel like this?"

Lance purses his lips and turns away, and it takes a few seconds for a reluctant answer to work itself from his lips. "Hunk knows. Pidge probably heard me when I was talking to myself during the mission to rescue Slav, and might have told Shiro, but I don't think either of them remember, or at least didn't think it was serious."

"…so it is serious," Keith says, just to confirm.

Lance rolls his eyes and nods, but still doesn't look at Keith. "Yeah."

"Does talking to Hunk help?"

Lance shrugs. "Yeah, but I try not to bring it up too much. He's got enough things to worry about."

Keith wants to question that, but doesn't. Right now, things are about Lance. "So… you do understand what I was saying, right?"

"Understand, sure. Believe…" Lance purses his lips again, the bottom one almost disappearing as he, Keith assumes, bites it. "Not so sure about that."

"Why not?" Keith is a little offended. He spent a lot of energy on that. A lot of… spoons, that was it. That was the word people used for this sort of thing. Social energy and emotional energy and willpower when dealing with a mental illness or developmental disorder or something.

"Well, for one thing, it's you," Lance says, like that explains everything. "And for another, I know I wouldn't want to be stuck with my whiny ass until Pidge lets us out, and would be saying all the empty platitudes I could to make me shut up about it."

Keith frowned. "They weren't empty."

"See, that's what everyone says, but it's still doesn't change the fact that they are." Lance dropped his hands down to stick them in his pockets. "And it's not like you've ever had a nice thing to say about me before, so…"

"Lance, stop." Keith rubs his hands into his eyes. "That's not… no. I just know that I'm not good with words, so I try not to say things."

"Pffft. Right."

"Lance, you saved my life, when Sendak and his goons almost took the castle over. And I saved yours when the castle's AI got corrupted, with the airlock. And like, there were… other instances but it was less direct and my point is that I don't hate you. I'm just… not good at words and don't have the same frame of reference."

Keith feels like he's said more in the past fifteen minutes than he usually says in a day. At least, more than he's said to anyone other than Shiro.

"Well," Lance says, drawing the word out in a particularly aggravating way. "I guess you did live in a shack in the desert for a year. Must've messed with your pop culture reference pool and your ability to people."

"You're avoiding the subject again," Keith realizes. "You keep trying to… to derail the conversation."

"What part of 'I'm not going to believe you, and hearing lies to make me feel better is just going to make me uncomfortable' is so hard to get?" Lance asks, and there's an unsettling calm and… smugness? Smugness in his own security of the knowledge that he isn't as useful or as wanted as everyone else, Keith figures, however untrue it might be.

It's genuinely sickening, in Keith's eyes, and he thinks it shows in his face, because Lance's smile only grows..

The alarm goes off.

Galra.

They stare at each other for a few more minutes as the alarm keeps going off, and Keith is struggling for words while Lance sits there with that stupid fucking empty grin on his face and—

Pidge slides the door open. "I was bluffing, and Shiro told me I needed to get you. Let's go."

If they send Keith a questioning look as they all run off, Lance dashing off ahead with a (so very, very fake) exclamation of optimism, well.

That's just between the two of them.

o.o.o.o.o

The battle goes smoothly enough that Pidge probably could have left them in the closet for a bit longer, and when it ends, Lance ignores Keith as much as he can.

(They didn't even need to form Voltron, which is nice; Keith doubts they could have pulled it off with his and Lance's current issues.)

He's cornered by pretty much the entire team once Lance declares that he's going to go take a shower.

"What did you do in there?" Pidge demands.

There's a glare on Hunk's face, uncharacteristic at the minimum. "Dude, I haven't seen that look on Lance's face in months."

"If this has consequences for your fighting capabilities," Allura starts to say, "then—"

"I didn't do anything!" Keith protests. "I just—he said he wasn't useful, and I told him he was useful and even used examples and then he said he didn't believe me and that he thought I was just saying that so that I wouldn't have to listen to him whining while we were trapped in there."

Keith drops to a couch seat, gripping his hair in his hands, and makes a frustrated noise. "I literally told him all his best qualities and he gives me this… this weird grin like he knows it doesn't look real, and he's pitying me for thinking I could trick him into thinking he's a worthwhile member of the team? I don't—ugh!"

Keith punches one of the couch pillows, and then stares at his hand as it rips through the cushion.

"Galra strength, nothing to worry about," Coran assures him before he can even apologize. "We'll fix that up in a jiff."

"Wait, so you're saying that Lance's insecurities kept him from believing anything you said?" Pidge asks. "Did you even get around to confessing?"

"All I got to say was that I didn't hate him, and that we'd saved each other's lives enough times for it to mean something, and then he just…" Keith groans again. "What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

"Shit," Hunk groans, and Keith looks up to see him pinching the bridge of his nose. "So Lance is back in that weird place where he kind of hates himself but pretends he's the best most of the time and refuses to listen when people tell him he's actually worthy or whatever."

"As far as I can tell?" Keith says hesitantly. "How long has…"

"Years," Hunk says shortly. "I… if it's as bad as it sounds, then it's really hard to get him out of that mental space again. He needs assurance that doesn't sound forced, and he needs to prove to himself that he's useful. It's.. it's a weird thing and sometimes he's gotten accused of fishing for compliments when what he needs is validation, and it's… you know, something he doesn't really trust anymore."

"So basically…" Shiro rolls the thought around in his mind. "Make sure to compliment him only when there's something direct to compliment? Like, instead of just saying that he's a better shot than the rest of us, point out a specific shot he made that's more impressive than usual to make sure there's something to back it up?"

"Tha-that would be it, yeah." Hunk leaned back against one of the couches, arms locked. "Lance and I have been trying to support each other through this sort of thing for a few years, now. And before you say anything, I know Lance mocks me sometimes, but we know each other's limits and we talk to each other if a line gets crossed. Also, yes, he's good at hiding it most of the time, but that doesn't mean that the insecurity isn't there anyway."

Allura and Coran look around; Keith is pretty sure that they aren't all that used to a human's (not very) fun mental processes, but they seem to be taking this seriously.

"You can take your cues from us if you're confused, princess," Shiro assures her, putting an arm on her shoulder.

"I suppose that I shall. While insecurity did occur on Altea, I don't know if it took quite the same forms, or if it requires quite the same handling." Altea nods seriously, and reaches up and pats Shiro's hand twice, glancing at him, and then steps forward. "Hunk, could you explain a little more while we can still be sure that Lance won't hear? I'd rather not have him think that the compliments are insincere."

"Yeah," Hunk said, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, I can do that."

Keith may not have confessed to Lance about his crush, but at least he'd managed to unwrap a problem that they did need to address.

o.o.o.o.o

Lance is suspicious.

Keith can tell, right from the first pat-on-the-back after-training compliment from Shiro, that Lance is suspicious. He plays it off with a joke and smirks for the rest of the day, but he spends the rest of the day sneaking glances at Shiro when he thinks no one is looking. Even then, it's hard to tell; Lance wears his masks well, and Keith understands why it's been so hard to notice that he's hurting.

Keith is also fully aware that a compliment from him would sound weird and uncomfortable and Lance would immediately know, so he waits for the opportune moment and just… yeah.

"How the hell did you make that shot?" Keith demands during one training session, putting down his blaster to stare in unexaggerated shock. He'd normally try to ignore it so he could attempt to make a better shot, but he lets his first instinct take over this time. "What the actual hell?"

Lance looks smug and buffs his fingernails on his uniform. "Jealous?"

Keith huffs and looks away. "No."

Lance's smirk stays on for hours, and Keith mostly just lets Lance brag with Hunk being the one to validate him, and…

Well, at least Keith knows what his personal way of handling Lance compliments is going to be:

Indirect as fuck.

o.o.o.o.o

"What," Lance says one day, to Hunk, "did you do."

They are just out of sight but not out of earshot of Keith.

"I-I-I don't know what you're talking about, Lance, I mean I just—"

"Hunk, buddy." There's a sound, like shifting fabric. "People are paying attention to me. In a way that doesn't relate to me annoying them. Nobody even told me to knock it off with the jokes last mission. What did you do."

Keith knows Hunk is going to break.

"Nothing?"

"Hunk, they're doing exactly what you do when you go all mother hen."

"…We all knew you'd been talking to Keith before that one mission, and then like… I mean, we didn't need to form Voltron or anything, but we could all feel that mental block you were setting up anyway, you know? So we kind of asked him what went down when you were talking. And he told us you'd said all that stuff you say when you start feeling like you're not really part of the team, so I got worried you were going to—"

"Hunk!"

"You remember what happened when you got assigned cargo pilot, Lance! I don't want you to go down that road again!"

Keith has a feeling that he is very much not supposed to be listening to this conversation. He didn't meant to, of course, but he could have left at any time.

"Hunk, I'm not… I'm not that bad. I've been doing good. A-and it took me a while to notice that they were doing your thing where you make sure to only compliment me when I've actually done something—"

"Because you never believe us when we compliment you unless it's right after you've done something you think you might actually deserve to be proud of," Hunk says.

"Because it's never true!"

"Dude, we are not having this argument again. Please. We both know it never ends well."

Keith focuses his gaze down at the little fork in his hand. It looks like plastic, despite being an entirely different material, something that's not quite metal and not quite ceramics.

"So why are you all even doing this? 'Cause the only explanation I can think of is that you're all worried I'm going to run off if I get too emo or that it'll be a problem to form Voltron if I'm whining in my head all the time or—"

"It's because we care about you, Lance." More fabric noises. "Is it really that hard to believe?"

"I mean, I know you do, Hunk, but everyone else? We're like… barely friends. I mean, I get along well enough with most of the team, but I'm the joke friend that everyone secretly wishes they could g—"

"No, you're not, Lance, nobody wishes they could get rid of you."

Keith gets up and leaves the room, his lunch sitting half-finished on the table behind him.

He thinks it's a good time to go destroy some training robots.

o.o.o.o.o

There's another fight with the Galra, because there's always another fight with the Galra.

They hold off on forming Voltron, because the Blade of Marmora are holding the line well enough to keep the Galra fighters contained, but not contained enough for Voltron to be more useful than individual lions. They'll probably need to form Voltron at some point to deal with the warship that's attacking the castle, but Allura's assured them that right now, it's more important to minimize the number of fighters that make it to the surface of the planet below.

"Hunk, see if you can take out the blaster on the warship," Shiro orders. "Pidge, get in contact with Slav, see if you can send a worm into the ship's system. Keith, Lance, I want you both working near the Blade of Marmora to down as many of those ships as possible."

"What about you?" Keith asks.

"I'll see what I can do about thinning out the fighters that are attacking the castle," Shiro assures them. "We've got a planet to defend, but we're going to have a hard time doing it in the future if our base of operations is destroyed. Okay, team?"

"Yeah!"

Keith is still a little embarrassed that he joins in on the whole 'shout your agreement' thing, but it's… reassuring, he supposes.

Whatever.

He dives into the thickest part of the fighting, Lance not too far away in Blue, and lets the lions do their part in melding their minds just enough for them to be able to maneuver around each other in the most efficient manner possible.

"Lance, my fires aren't working here," Keith says at one point. "There's not enough oxygen. How's your ice?"

"Let me check," is the answer that Keith gets. It takes a few moments where Lance is out of sight for Keith to get a full answer. "Not as well as it would if we were somewhere with water in the air, or actually underwater, but there's frost, and I think the cold blasts are damaging some of the machinery, or at least the insides of the cockpits."

Keith frowns. "Think mine might be doing the same thing, just less obviously?"

There's the mental equivalent of a shrug from Lance, passed along through the lion's connection. "Only one way to find out."

So Keith angles his lion towards one of the largest fighters that isn't the warship, shrugs off the laserfire as he lands right above the bridge that's just barely large enough to not be a cockpit, and aims Red's tail at where he thinks the engine is.

There's a silent explosion, and the eyes of the Galra turn fearful as Keith lets go, and they fall towards the planet below.

"I think you were right," Keith says. "But it's too slow to be useful."

"Same," Lance grunts. "You take left, I'll take right."

The right has more fighters, and Keith bites his tongue before he can reprimand Lance for taking more opponents when he knows that Keith is the better pilot. He needs to trust that Lance knows what he's doing.

"Fine."

It works, for all of about five minutes, and then Shiro's voice cuts through the battle (which feels so noisy, but Keith knows it's all in his head; there's not enough air for sounds to actually transmit).

"Lance, get out of there, now!"

Keith whips his lion around, and sees what has Shiro so worried. Hunk apparently hasn't destroyed the warship's blaster yet, and it's aimed directly at the Blue Lion.

The Blue Lion, which is currently trapped by Galra fighters, and unable to move in time to avoid the enormous laser that is a bare second from being fired.

Lance.

Keith's heart seems to stop.

No.

Keith does it without thinking.

He just screams and flies, and manages to put Red in between the laser and Blue with fractions of a second to spare.

It's too much for Red, of course.

"Keith? Keith!"

He blacks out.

o.o.o.o.o

Keith feels like he's floating, later. The world feels soft and pale and blue.

It doesn't hurt.

It's nice.

o.o.o.o.o

The healing pod opens and with it comes a quick return to consciousness. It's not immediate, but a few seconds is enough for Keith to be able to open his eyes, and a few more to stand mostly on his own again.

"You okay, Keith?"

Keith blinks and looks to the side, and notices that Shiro is holding him up.

"I… think I'd like to take a seat."

The words feel clunky in his mouth. Actually, his mouth feels clunky in general, like his teeth are too big for it or something. He swipes his tongue around, ignoring the cloying, slightly sour taste of having slept without brushing one's teeth, and frowns.

He's seated now, and looking at the ground.

"Shiro?"

"Yeah?"

"My teeth feel weird."

It's such an off-the-wall comment that he hears Pidge and Hunk start laughing. They sound relieved. That's nice.

"Your teeth?" Allura asks, and he can hear her take a step closer.

Shiro seems to take him seriously, though, because he crouches down so they're eye-level. "Open your mouth?"

Keith does as ordered, pulling his lips back so that as much as possible can be seen. Shiro makes a noise of surprise and shifts over a little. "Allura, come take a look at this."

If Allura presses her shoulder to Shiro's a little too readily, well, Keith's not going to comment.

"Oh my," she says, leaning in a little too close for Keith's comfort. "Are those…"

"I think so, yeah." Shiro stands up, pulling Allura to her feet as well. Keith closes his mouth, which still feels a little strange, and lifts his head to watch them.

"What's wrong with my teeth?" He asks, though he has a suspicion. They feel like—

"Fangs, apparently. They're not very noticeable from the outside, but if you're looking for it, then the eyeteeth are noticeably sharper and bigger than they should be." Shiro scratches the back of his head. "I think maybe the healing pod managed to tap into your Galra DNA or something."

"Galra may be more compatible with quintessence than humans," Allura says. "I wouldn't be surprised if the surge of quintessence that's required for healing was involved in…pushing that part of your heritage to the front, so to speak."

Keith frowns. "Does anything else look different?"

They both eye him for a moment, and Shiro even lifts a hand to cup his chin as he tilts his head. Some shuffling noises, and Pidge and Hunk are there too, staring at him to see if there are any other differences.

"I'm not seeing anything," Shiro says after a minute. "Anyone else?"

"No, I'm afraid not." Allura shakes her head. "I'll ask Coran and the Blade of Marmora if they have any guesses as to what's going on."

"Coran's plotting out coordinates," Shiro says, noting Keith's confusion. "That's why he's not here."

Keith's mind finally catches up to the important stuff, like why he was in a healing pod in the first pla—

"Oh my god, where's Lance?" He breathes out, and he's pretty sure there's a look of dawning horror on his face. He turns around, ignoring his own dizziness, and scans the other healing pods to see if Lance is in one of them. He isn't.

"He's fine." Shiro's hand lands on his shoulder, steadying him. "He's just… not here."

Keith knows his face is showing panic right now.

"I promise he's okay." Shiro looks him in the eyes.

"He just feels, like, super guilty that you took that hit for him," Hunk says, "So he's been avoiding the healing pods when the rest of us are in here."

"He did sneak down to watch you a few times," Pidge volunteers.

Keith feels himself relaxing. "So the battle ended alright? Nobody else was hurt? Lance is fine?"

"Lance is alright, and a few of the Blade of Marmora were somewhat injured, but not seriously. We managed to chase the Galra army away from the planet, so that counts as a win for us," Allura informs him.

"I… okay." Keith sits down heavily, and feels that sudden rush of panicked energy leave him. "Okay."

"I'll get you some clothes." Shiro pats him on the back and leaves, and Hunk and Pidge take his place to talk for a bit.

Keith lets the words wash over him, his mind elsewhere.

o.o.o.o.o

"Lance?" Keith raps on Lance's door, pitching his louder than normal, but otherwise the same. It sounds a little too combative, but that's probably the sort of thing that Lance would expect anyway.

"Go away, Keith!"

"I just wanna talk!"

"Then talk to somebody else!"

Keith groans in frustration and pounds on the door a little harder. "Lance, seriously, we need to talk!"

"No!"

Keith clenches his jaw (which feels weird as hell, still), and leans against the door. After a moment, he turns his back to it and slides down. "Fine."

"…really?"

"You have to come out some time," Keith tells him, and that offended squawk of protest is… well. Keith feels a little embarrassed that he's doing this, but he really does need to talk to Lance. If Lance tells him to fuck off even after Keith figures out what's going on, and hopefully finally confesses, then Keith will fuck off.

But he wants to at least make sure that the air between them is clear, first.

He hears a sewing machine start up inside Lance's room, and knows that it's going to be a while.

He's right, because Lance doesn't say anything, or come out, for an hour and a half. All Keith can hear is the intermittent sounds of the sewing machine.

It nearly lulls him to sleep.

He perks up at the sound of feet padding across the floor on the other side of the door, coming closer.

"Keith? Are you still there?"

"Yeah."

"…I'm coming out, so you might wanna move."

Keith shoves away from the door and rolls to his feet. After a moment, the door slides open, and Lance steps out. There's a bundle of white-and-red fabric in his arms, and a determined look on his face, despite the fact that he's staring steadily at the ground.

"Lan—"

"Before you say anything," Lance interrupts, "I'm really sorry you took that hit for me, and I'm not going to let it happen again."

"That's not—"

"And I know you run pretty hot because of Red, but you've also said that you get cold pretty easily when we go to colder planets without our uniforms, so I made you a coat. Well, it's more of a long parka, and I figured you're not that into video games, but I should probably mention that the hood design is kind of based off of the one in some of the Assassin's Creed games, since it matches our helmet shapes pretty well, and—anyway, just look at it and see if you like it."

Lance finishes rambling and pushes the bundle of fabric into Keith's hands, then crosses his arms and looks away as Keith fumbles in an attempt to not drop the new coat.

It is more like a long parka than anything. There's some fluffy material quilted between white Altean fabrics, pouched into thick, puffy square shapes that march across the design. When he lets it unravel and holds it out at arm's length, he can see that it's going to come down to his knees, if not longer, when he puts it on. The front of the hood dips down in a little V-shape, and there's a little red accent there, in exactly the same shape as the one on his hood. The other accents on the jacket, like the strip around the bottom, and the Voltron V on the chest, and the series Voltron symbols that twist around the wrists, are in the same shade of red. So is the lining, though it looks like it's made of a much, much softer material. He maneuvers it around to touch the lining and, yeah, okay, that's soft.

"Well?" Lance demands, still not looking at Keith. There's a blush on his cheeks. Is he that embarrassed? "Try it on!"

Keith hesitates a moment, which is apparently enough to make Lance think he hates it.

"Never mind, it was dumb. Give it back so I can—"

"No, it's mine." Keith pulls the parka out of reach of Lance's grasping hands before he can actually grab it.

"What."

"I'm keeping it," Keith says, not looking away from Lance's eyes. They stand frozen for a few moments, and then Lance pulls his hand back.

One of those smug, possibly-fake-now-that-Keith-thinks-about-it smirks curls across Lance's face. He strikes a pose with his fingers making a weird sort of checkmark shape under his chin. Is that supposed to be a finger gun? "I'm that good of a tailor, huh?"

"…yes?" Keith frowns. "You've been good the whole time we've been on here. You've made, like, everything except for the uniforms and what we came with. Was… was there some indication that you weren't?"

Lance's face falls, and he looks away again. "Never mind."

Keith isn't sure what to do, so he pulls on the parka.

It fits perfectly, of course.

"This is very warm." It's actually a little unnerving. "Are parkas usually this warm? I've only ever lived in the desert, so the coldest I experience is the nights."

"I think it's the Altean fabrics," Lance says, and he's cupping his chin and frowning. "Turn around so that I can be sure everything looks the way it should."

Keith does as instructed, and then does so again with his arms lifted out to the sides, then again with it zipped and unzipped, hood up and down.

"Can I take it off? I can handle the heat well, but this is getting a little stifling."

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure." Lance steps back as Keith takes the coat off, and then says, "So, does that mean it works as an apology gift?"

Right.

That.

"I don't need an apology, Lance," Keith says, frowning. "I jumped in front of the attack because I was worried for you. It was my own decision."

"Yeah, but if I'd flown better, then you wouldn't have had to in the first place." Lance scratches the back of his head. "I shouldn't have gotten pinned down."

"I mean…" Keith takes a moment to find his words. "I do think you'd have done better from a distance, since you're better at shooting than close-combat, but that's something to figure out in training. I'm alive, and I'm okay, so the point is to figure out how to do better in the future. You got pinned down because there were a lot of enemies, not because you're bad at flying or fighting. All I did was choose whether I…"

Keith falters, then, and can feel his cheeks reddening a little. He looks down and folds the parka over one arm so that it stops brushing against the floor.

"Choose whether what?" Lance demands.

"Whether I valued your safety more than I did mine," Keith mumbles, just barely loud enough for Lance to hear.

There's silence for a moment.

"What?" Lance's voice cracks. "What the hell, Keith? Do you have any idea how important you are? You can't just throw yourself away like that!"

Keith looks up and gapes, because really? "What, and letting you take the hit would have been so much better?"

"Yes! You're our strongest tie to the Blade of Marmora, the one that takes over if Shiro gets taken out of commission again, the one who can actually use Galra tech, and the best pilot except maybe Shiro!" Lance looks offended at the very idea of Keith thinking he's the more expendable one. "We lose a lot if we lose you! I'm none of that, and unlike your Lion, Blue is actually pretty friendly, so you'd be able to find a new paladin without too much trouble."

Keith stares at Lance for a long, pregnant moment, and then finally says. "But I'd rather take all your pain than lose you."

It's probably the cheesiest thing he's ever said. He's also pretty sure it sounds dumb as hell, but… he's made no secret of the fact that he's not good at words. Or people.

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

Keith takes a deep breath, because there's no way out of it, now. "I've been in love with you for the past few months."

Lance stares. "You're lying."

"I'm not!" Keith protests. His arms are still full of parka. He wants to set it to the side so he can grab Lance and make him listen this time. "I've been crushing on you for… a lot longer than that, and I only realized it all a few weeks ago when Shiro pointed it out, but I'm serious. Why do you think Pidge locked us in a closet?"

Lance, who's been trying to get a word in edgewise this whole time, stops. "That's… actually a good point."

"Shiro told them that I was… that I was crushing, and they decided to do something about it." Keith lets his gaze drop to the ground. He can feel his cheeks burning. "I couldn't get the words out then, and I know you'd just think I was lying if I tried to tell you any time since then, but I pretty much almost died for you last battle, and I think that's a pretty good indicator that I'm telling the truth that I care, and you don't have to have feelings for me back, but I need you to understand that I'm not lying."

Keith takes a few deep breaths. That was too many words. Way too many words.

Lance takes a few steps forward, entering Keith's field of vision. Keith looks up to see Lance's face just inches from his own, staring straight into his eyes.

"What?" He asks.

"You really aren't lying, are you?" Lance says, almost wonderingly. A hand comes up, haltingly, to stroke a thumb along Keith's jawline. Lance's cheeks aren't red, but there's still something of a blush there. "You really do like me. Like… actually like me."

Keith doesn't trust himself to speak, but he manages to croak out, "For all the reasons I said back in the broom closet, and more."

His arms are still full of parka. He thinks he can still get one arm out, but he's too frozen to do so.

Lance's breath hitches, and his eyes dart down to Keith's lips, and then back up to his eyes. "Can I—"

Keith starts to nod, and then freezes. "Wait."

The light in Lance's eyes starts to die out. "I knew i—"

"No, it's not that, it's…" Keith finally moves, and runs a frustrated hand through his hair. "I, the healing pods. The quintessence did something weird to my teeth, because of my Galra DNA, so like…"

All the tension of the moment breaks. "Your teeth?"

Keith uses his free hand to pull back his upper lip, just over one of the eyeteeth that has become a fang.

Lance stares. "Seriously? You have fangs?"

"So, it's not that we can't kiss," Keith rushes out, because he very much would like that kiss, and now, please, "But if there's tongue, then we have to be careful because I don't know how sharp these things are. If they changed, then my tongue might have gotten tougher too."

Lance stares for a moment. "I'm going to kiss you now."

"Please," is all Keith manages to say, and then Lance's hands are on either side of Keith's face, and their lips are smushed together and wow, Lance has soft lips. Lance tilts his head to deepen the kiss, and Keith lets it happen, though he's careful not to open his mouth enough for his teeth to be accessible. They stay like that for a few minutes, just standing there and moving their heads to find new and interesting ways to kiss, and then Lance pulls back a little. He adds one more peck to Keith's lips, and then moves back even more.

There's still a parka in Keith's arms.

"Your mullet is a mess," Lance tells him; his arms are still linked around Keith's neck.

"You were the one that wouldn't let go of my hair," Keith retorts, though the bite of it is gone, much like his breath. "So… that was good."

Lance rolls his eyes. "Yeah, it was good."

"Uh-huh." Keith can't stop staring at Lance's eyes. "You… so you've liked me too? Or was this just… I'm the first person that actually—"

"I've liked you since the Garrison," Lance interrupts. "It was mixed up with a lot of jealousy, and it got even weirder once we got out here and actually got to know each other, but… yeah. There was a crush."

"I thought you only liked girls," Keith admits, and then backpedals. "I mean, Hunk's reaction to finding out I had a crush made me pretty sure that there was at least some chance of reciprocation, but—"

"I'm bi," Lance interrupts again. "And I was going to suggest we go into my room, since… there's apparently way less negative feelings on either end than we both thought. Also there's a bed in my room, and you can put down the parka, and we can figure out how to kiss without your shiny new fangs being a problem. That work?"

Keith nods, and follows, and thinks that maybe things will turn out alright. Sure, they're going to keep having to work on Lance's insecurities, but… things might work out.

"FUCKING FINALLY," Pidge's voice booms out over the PA system, and Keith is startled enough to drop the parka. "HUNK! You owe me five hundred GAC! Keith finally grew a spine and confessed!"

Well.

That's.

Keith shakes his head and follows Lance into the privacy of his room, bending down to pick up the parka along the way.

Things are going to be fine.

o.o.o.o.o

A/N: This is my first Voltron fic, so I'm not entirely sure that I got the voices of the characters correct. Hunk, in particular, was giving me trouble.

Lance's approach to disbelieving compliments is based on my own reaction when I'm at my worst, while Keith's inability to speak very well under pressure without some time to think first is... well, also based on me. I can talk without thinking if it's unimportant, but when it comes to explaining things or serious conversations, there needs to be "thinking time" first.