Keith stared up at the rickety house before him. Part of him had always hoped that he would come here, but he had never imagined actually doing so. Especially not under these circumstances.
Sure, Lance had invited all of them to come visit his home once they made it back to Earth. Lance had nudged him, a smile lighting up his face, the first time he had done so, back before the battle they thought would end Zarkon and this war. "My mom will totally adopt all of you! She'll stuff you with so much food that you won't be able to move for a week!" He had chattered on and on about all that they would do.
Once they began to make their way back in order to rebuild the castle, Lance had offered again. It had been a bit more subdued, more quiet, but his small smile had been genuine still.
And then Lance had offered to bring them back one more time before he'd left to visit them once they were here. But Pidge was caught up with her own family reunion and Hunk's had managed to join them at the Garrison, and both of them were dealing with rebuilding the castle. Coran was helping with that, and Allura and Shiro had been focusing on establishing a formal alliance and building bridges between their team and the Garrison. Considering he was currently piloting Black while Shiro's new arm was being built by the Olkari, Keith had been forced to join them. He'd been able to see Lance off though, and Keith remembered that this time, he hadn't been smiling. He seemed almost sad before he'd taken off on an actual plane, instead of using one of the Lions, to get home.
Keith should have known something was up at that moment.
Still, Lance had kept in contact. He'd texted, he'd emailed, he'd done video calls, he'd done all of the duties that they sent him.
But he hadn't come back. And Lance didn't mention when he was going to come back.
Keith hadn't thought that he wouldn't come back though.
Not until that video conference.
The entire team had been assembled in the Garrison conference room, going over the reports and finalizing when exactly they would be able to be able to leave as Shiro's arm had been fully installed and adjusted and Team Punk along with Coran and Allura were wrapping up on the Castleship 2.0. Lance was up on the TV screen in order to join them, wearing his usual jacket but a different shirt than what Keith had grown to associate with him. Everything was fine up until Keith asked when he would be joining them so they could all leave.
Lance blinked, obviously surprised at the question. Keith didn't know why until he opened up his mouth. "Oh, I'm not leaving with you guys."
Everyone stared at Lance, shock on their faces. Glancing around, Keith knew that for once it wasn't his social skills that led to him not seeing this coming, because no one here had.
"What?" Pidge was the first to break out of the stunned state they'd fallen into. Her face shifted and her eyes narrowed at the screen.
"I thought you guys knew?" Lance awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. "I mean, I'm pretty sure I told you all before I started planning my trip home. And I sent a formal email to Shiro and Allura." He glanced away from the screen. His voice became a mumble, but Keith still heard him say, "I guess it's my bad for not making sure you were paying attention."
"Lance, what - I don't - " Hunk struggled to put his thoughts together as he wrung his hands together and was clearly unable to make a full sentence. Keith couldn't blame him.
But luckily, Keith was not having the same problem.
"Lance, what do you mean you're not coming back?" Keith asked, staring him down as best as he could through the video screen.
Lance's face fell and Keith could practically feel his frustration as he sighed. "Look, Keith, we've talked about this."
Immediately, Keith found himself on the receiving end of everyone's glares. Well, not quite everyone was glaring. Pidge most definitely was scowling at him, but the others' expressions ranged from Hunk's shock and disappointment to Shiro's mild confusion. Still, he couldn't help but flinch, and he didn't know whether it was from the others turning to him for an explanation or that he knew exactly which conversation Lance was referencing.
"The math still stands." Lance explained simply. "Six paladins, five lions. You want the best of the best piloting them, and that's you all." He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "So I think it's time for me to take a step back."
"Lance - " Keith had thought that this had all been resolved back when Lance had approached him in his bedroom. It was with hindsight that he realized that maybe he hadn't said things in the best way, but he thought that he'd gotten through to Lance how important he was.
Well, he'd grown since then. Maybe now he could -
"Lance, buddy, you can't really think that!" Hunk interrupted him before Keith could say anything more than Lance's name.
Lance raised an eyebrow. "Am I wrong?" He ticked off his fingers and as he drove his reasoning home, he looked at each of them one by one. "Shiro, your bond with Black is so strong that he saved you from dying and you're the essential leader. Pidge and Hunk, your technology and engineering skills are indispensable both on and off the battlefield. Keith, you're the best pilot among us and you've always pulled through when the chips are down. Coran's knowledge and advice are always needed, especially with diplomatic niceties. And Allura's magic and her progress with Blue have been phenomenal, so much faster than when I piloted her." Lance leaned back a bit as he finished, his hands dropping. "Anything I can possibly add to the team, someone else can easily do. If we can afford having anyone taking a back seat, it's me."
It was pretty much everything Keith had heard before, even if it was a bit more detailed this time. It kind of shocked him sometimes how highly Lance thought of them all, and he always made sure they all knew it. And yet, despite the boasts that Keith remembers Lance making way back in the beginning, he seemed kind of down on himself.
Did Lance really not get what he did for the team?
"Lance," Shiro calmly called out, directing Lance's attention to him. Part of Keith was glad that he was here to take the lead because he had always been so much better at human interaction, and since he obviously screwed up last time, Shiro was sure to get things right.
"I'm not going to force you to come back."
The words took a second to register with Keith. His head snapped around to glare at Shiro, "Wait, what?!"
He swiftly realized that he may have been wrong to rely on Shiro to get Lance to come back.
"However," Shiro continued, ignoring Keith and everyone else's stares, "I want you to think this through. We've all had to give up things to continue the fight, and I can understand if you don't want to fight anymore. Just please - "
"Are you saying that I should think about whether or not I'm willing to give up my life for this?" Suddenly, Lance looked exhausted, making him appear much older. Keith had never seen him so rundown before, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
They all shifted uncomfortably at that, pointedly not looking at Shiro, who Keith knew had already died once. It had made it clearer than ever before that they all could be lost in this war.
Well, actually Keith noticed from the corner of his eye that Allura's expression was different. Her thoughtful and worried gaze had landed on Lance and she looked as if she was standing in the way of a crashing train. As if she could see what was coming, and it was terrible, but she couldn't change it.
"In a way, yes." Shiro finally answered.
"Do you - " Lance paused and his eyes flickered back and forth as he studied all of them, that weary appearance draped more heavily over his normally exuberant attitude. Keith wasn't sure what he was looking for, but apparently he didn't find it. "None of the rest of you know, do you?"
Keith frowned, and he knew his expression was mirrored on Pidge and Hunk's faces at least. "Know what?" He hated that the question came out more like a demand, but Lance was setting all the alarm bells in his guts off.
Lance was quiet before he smiled. It wasn't his usual smile that always made the universe seem brighter. It was bitter and twisted and Keith never wanted to see it on Lance's face again. "And here I thought that everyone knew and just didn't want to talk about it. I mean, Keith and Shiro get passes as they weren't there but - " He ran his hand over his face. "You didn't even notice."
Shiro frowned. "Lance, what - "
"You're asking me if I'm willing to give my life to this." Lance interrupted him, not a usual tactic from him and the clamor in Keith's soul rose a bit higher. Lance stared at them all, but then his gaze settled on one person in particular. "But technically I already have."
Everyone followed his eyes and stared at Allura. Keith didn't know what was going on, but she clearly did.
And Allura looked horrified.
Then, Lance's words fully registered. Keith's head snapped back to him. "Wait, Lance, you - "
Before he could continue, yells could be heard on Lance's end, making him look up. "Sorry about all… this." Lance gestured to them all. "I, uh, I gotta go. I'll talk to you all later." Lance's smile wasn't bitter anymore, more tentative and sad than anything else, as he gave a final wave goodbye and the video call ended.
Silence engulfed the room in the wake of Lance's revelations. But Keith at least needed to understand. He needed to know what had led to this.
Keith turned to Allura, a fire ignited in his gut and his hands curled into fists. He ignored the way she looked sick to her stomach as he practically growled.
"What the hell happened to Lance." This time, it definitely wasn't a question. It was a demand.
Allura's eyes darted between all of them before she steadied herself and took a deep breath.
She told them.
To say that Keith was unhappy would have been a gross understatement.
Quite frankly, Keith still was not happy at all. However, he'd placed his anger at Allura, at Sendak, at this whole messed up situation on the backburner because there were more important things on hand.
And if Lance wasn't going to come back, then he'd have to go to him. Plus, it'd be a lot harder for Lance to slip away when Keith was right in front of him.
Which lead to him standing in front of Lance's house, trying to work up the courage to knock.
To delay the inevitable, Keith studied Lance's home for a moment. It was exactly like Lance had described it. It was old, having been in his family for generations, but it looked well loved and taken care of. Keith had been surprised at how close it was to the beach, not even a five minute walk away, and the yard was filled with discarded bikes, scooters, surf boards, and all manner of toys. Next to a small barn and chicken coop in the back, Keith could already see Kaltenecker out and chewing soulfully as if completely at ease. Even from his place outside, Keith could hear voices, shouting, but no one sounded angry. Everything about this place screamed life and Keith could see how it was much more appealing that the cold apathy of space.
But he still needed Lance to come back.
As he walked up the porch steps, Keith thought back to how surprising it was that he was the only one to come. Shiro hadn't approved so he knew he wouldn't come, and Coran seemed to be of the same mind though he'd looked sad about it, but Allura, Hunk, Pidge… They had all appeared pensive and quietly admitted that they didn't think Lance would want to see them. Keith felt like he was out of the loop, like they knew something he didn't.
Keith didn't get it.
Didn't they know how badly they all needed Lance? They had to get him back.
And it was with that conviction that finally encouraged Keith to briskly knock at the door. Shouts went back and forth from within, and Keith tapped his foot and rolled his eyes, waiting for someone to answer the door. He sighed when it finally opened but as he looked at the person opening the door, he did a double take.
It was truly a testament how long and far he had gotten used to the weirdness of space that his first thought was, Quiznak, Lance has been turned into a kid. Because it really did look like a mini-Lance opening the door. Tanned skin that reminded Keith of sun-baked clay, brown hair that curled slightly at the tips, even the unimpressed expression on his face as he raised an eyebrow at Keith in a silent question screamed of Lance.
However, once Keith met the boy's eyes, he quickly realized that no, this was not a mini-Lance, de-aged, cloned, or otherwise. Instead of bright blue ocean eyes staring up at him, a set of earthy brown eyes peered at him instead.
Keith tried to ignore the relief running through him. Maybe he was a bit jumpier after the whole clone thing after all.
Wait, the kid was speaking to him.
"¿Quién eres?" The kid frowned up at him, his skepticism a perfect mirror to Lance's when he was suspicious. "¿Qué quieres?"
"Uh…" Keith stared back. One would think that growing up in the American Southwest, Keith would have learned how to speak Spanish, especially during those few years when he was in foster care. However, he'd only ever picked up the basics, so he only caught a few words. "Um, I'm, uh, Keith? Y'know from - from Voltron?" He really hoped that Lance had told them about Voltron and his words were getting through.
The boy blinked and comprehension seemed to pass along his face. Keith felt hope surge as the boy lifted a finger to point at him and with a cheeky grin called out, in perfect English:
Keith's entire being froze in place. And then his eye twitched just a little as he tried to keep a somewhat pleasant smile on his face.
Yes, this was most definitely one of Lance's relatives.
Luckily for the kid, before Keith could attempt a reply, the boy looked over his shoulder and shouted into the house. "¡Tío Leandro!"
Keith frowned and opened his mouth to protest, because he had no clue who this Leandro guy he was calling for was. If he recognized Keith, he should be calling for Lance instead. However, no words came out and Keith's heart stuttered as from the depths of the house he heard a familiar whine. "¿Qué?
"¡Tu novio está aquí!"
Keith furrowed his brow as he tried to decipher the words. He had caught that he was telling Lance (or Leandro? What was up with this name game...) he was here, but he wasn't quite sure what the kid had called him.
A loud thump distracted Keith though and he glanced up at the ceiling at the shriek of "¡¿Qué?!" that rang through the house. This was followed by even louder thumps until Lance rounded around the bottom of a staircase, huffing and puffing and staring at the front door with wide eyes and a red face.
For a moment, Keith just marveled at being in his presence again. It had been months since Keith had seen him other than through a video screen, and simply being here, knowing Lance was in reach, seemed to steady something inside that he hadn't even realized was off kilter.
Lance took in the scene in mere seconds, and then he turned a pout towards the boy. "Sylvio…"
"¡Tu novio!" The same teasing grin that Lance often wore lit up the boy's, making Lance's pout turn into a scowl.
"No es mi novio." Lance rolled his eyes as his words didn't deter the smirk he was greeted with. "Sylvio, tu abuela te necesita."
The boy's grin fell. "No, ella - "
"Ve." Lance's tone made it clear that he wasn't joking about whatever he was saying. The boy was now the one scowling as he scurried away. And Keith finally found himself once more at the receiving end of Lance's attention.
"Hey," Lance said, the red finally fading from his cheeks as a smile spread over his lips. "You should have let me know you were coming, I would've come out to meet you!"
"Well, I didn't know when I'd be coming." Keith admitted. "I'm just glad that I got the message across to your…"
"Nephew." Lance confirmed, with a nod. His brow scrunched up a bit. "But what do you mean by 'got the message across'?"
"Well, I know you all speak Spanish, so…" He trailed off as Lance bit his lip, eyes shining. "What?" It almost looked like Lance was holding back laughter.
"Keith…" Keith narrowed his eyes as Lance's tone confirmed he was holding back. "While Spanish is the primary language of our house, with the exception of my grandparents, everyone else is bilingual and knows English."
Keith stared. His eye twitched.
That kid was definitely a relative of Lance's. Lance's obvious struggle to contain his snickers was not helping.
Keith closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He should be past this. He'd grown up a lot since the Garrison days. He could be mature. He could do this.
When he opened his eyes, Lance was no longer shaking with suppressed laughter, but the wide grin remained. "Anyway," he said, "come on in. Mi casa es tu casa." He took a step back to wave him in.
"Lance." And his tone made Lance pause as he looked back at him. "We need to talk."
Lance's face fell into the serious expression Keith was used to from when it was time for a mission. Lance opened his mouth to answer, but -
"Oooooo." Keith jumped at the sound and looked up to see two girls, older than both him and Lance, leaning over the railing of the staircase with Lance's signature teasing grin on their faces.
God, that had to be genetic.
Lance tossed them a flat, unimpressed glance before rolling his eyes and tugging at Keith's hand. "Should've known you're not the type to just visit. Come on; if you want to talk, there's no way we'll get privacy here."
Keith followed Lance but he did look back as one of the girls wolf-whistled at their retreat. He squinted a bit. The one with the short hair and glasses looked somewhat familiar, as if he'd seen her before. Maybe at the Garrison… ?
No, that couldn't be it.
Keith turned forward and as Lance lead the way on the winding path towards the beach, Keith took the time to really get a good look at Lance.
Lance looked really good. His skin was tanner than ever, darkened by the sun, and he could clearly see it as instead of the usual long sleeved shirt, jacket, and jeans he was used to, Lance was wearing a tank top and shorts. Keith blinked as he noted freckles dusting Lance's nose and shoulders like scattered stars. He wondered if Lance always had traces of those or if they only appeared here where the sun could easily draw them out. Lance had also gotten a haircut at some point; his hair had gotten a bit ragged by the time they had returned to Earth, but now it was back to how it'd been when they'd started their adventure. But most importantly, Lance's eyes had a spark in them that, now that Keith thought about it, he wasn't sure when it had disappeared from Lance's gaze.
Lance took no notice of Keith's studying as he absently hummed. It was only as they arrived at the beach that both Keith and Lance even realized that he was still holding onto Keith. Keith chuckled at the flustered way Lance dropped his hand, red tinting his cheeks.
"Anyway," Lance brushed aside the awkwardness as he stepped forward enough so the waves splashed over his toes, "this part of the beach is usually quiet, so if you want to talk business, this is a lot better than the house."
Keith shook and pulled himself together. This was not the time to stare at Lance when he intended to leave. "Listen, Lance, we need to talk about this leaving thing."
Lance snorted as he took a step back and then plopped onto the sand, leaning back on his hands. "As if you have any right to talk about leaving." He said, and Keith just barely caught the bitter tone in Lance's voice and his scowl.
Keith frowned right back. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Any argument that Keith had died in his throat. He wondered if this was why the others hadn't come, because they all knew that Lance would have some sort of argument against each of them, one that would hit right where it hurt. Lance always tended to know more than he let on, but usually he would avoid any real painful blows.
Because Lance was right.
"Yeah, but I - " Keith began to protest.
"Don't bother." Lance interrupted him this time, looking away so Keith couldn't see his face. "You already told us everything when you left."
Keith's face scrunched up. Lance sounded more bitter than Pidge's black coffee. He would've sworn that Lance hadn't been that bitter when he left. "I thought you were fine with me leaving."
"You thought - " Lance whirled to face him, sand spraying up slightly at the force of his turn, and Keith flinched at the anger in his eyes. "You thought I was fine? You thought I was fine that just when I think we're finally getting along, that I was connecting with you, that I had someone who treated me as an equal, you just up and decided to leave us?! That you didn't even talk about it with me beforehand?! That it turns out that all the effort I put in trying to make things easier for you, to keep the team together, was useless because apparently you didn't care?! And of all things, you wanted to fully join the Blades! The Blades!"
Keith stared at Lance, but it was like Lance couldn't even see him anymore. The words flowed from his mouth like poison from a wound, a hurtful process necessary to cleanse the body and soul.
"The Blades who are the absolute worst when it comes to teamwork, because for all their preaching, they really aren't that different from their opponents. Only the strong survive and the weak get left behind. They leave behind people, claiming that it's necessary, and that could so easily have been you! It almost was you, because don't think that Matt didn't tell us about Naxzela!" Lance punched an accusing finger up at Keith. "And then they wonder why their organization is dying and why they have so few members, when it's because they allow crap like that to happen!" Lance was panting from the force of his words, and Keith took note that the other boy was practically trembling from emotion.
As if fully realizing what he said, how much he had revealed, Lance blinked and turned away again, sitting criss-cross and his hands curling into fists on his lap. "So, long story short, no, I was not fine with you leaving, but I let you go because I thought that was what you wanted." He sniffed slightly and Keith couldn't tell if Lance was on the verge of tears or just being dramatic. "I thought you'd at least give me the same courtesy."
Keith hadn't known. He had never had a clue that this was how Lance felt. Lance was always so open, so ready with a smile or a comforting hand, that it had never occurred to Keith that Lance hid anything away.
Lance had seemed as sad about him leaving as the others, but Keith hadn't thought that it would affect him so much personally. Then, again, Lance did seem ecstatic to see him when he returned, at least until Keith had to brush him off so they could all focus on the situation at hand.
And thinking back further, he should have already known that Lance had hidden depths when he had first shown up at his doorstep with worries and his pinky still up to illustrate that there was an extra.
The extra that Lance had been convinced was actually himself.
Lance gave a wet snort, shaking Keith out of his thoughts. "Heck, it should've been me to step aside in the first place." He muttered, as if his mind had also been back at that moment in Keith's bedroom.
Here, at least, was something that Keith could protest. "No, Lance, the team needs - "
"The team needs you." Lance interrupted him. That was turning into a bad habit of Lance's, Keith couldn't help but think as Lance turned to him with somber eyes. "I'm just - you - " he huffed a bit as he gathered his thoughts " - do you really think that it's a coincidence that everything fell apart after you left and things only started going well again once you came back?"
Keith blankly blinked at him. No, that hadn't even occurred to him.
Lance ran his hand down his face and sighed deeply. "Listen, Keith, I know you mean well, but you severely overestimate my importance to the team." Lance's eyes never left Keith's. "I don't know if anyone's told you about how things were while you were gone, but let me tell how things were with me.
"Pidge and Hunk have been getting closer ever since we got into space. And there's so much tech, and it's so hard to find someone on the same wavelength, that they'd often get wrapped up in what they were doing. They hung out a lot." He looked away and Keith noticed that his hands were trembling slightly as he rubbed his arm a bit. "I don't think they meant to exclude me, but they kind of did. And they didn't mean to hurt me when they teased, but they would make fun of things I cared about and they didn't notice when I stopped laughing. They really know how to make a guy feel even dumber than usual."
Keith's breath caught in his throat. If that was just with Pidge and Hunk, the people Keith had thought were Lance's best friends, then how much worse could it get.
"Allura and I started getting closer after you left. We'd sometimes train together, but even then she was usually busy with diplomatic stuff and leading the Coalition. And then with Lotor…" Lance's expression grew bitter. "I never really trusted him. He just felt… slimy. And despite saying he was our ally and giving up some information, never too much and only what was relevant at the time, he never made any moves to dissolve the empire or change things or actually help people. And he and Allura became… close. She didn't have time for anything but her duties and him." His hand was clenching his arm so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. "I didn't trust him, but everyone said I was just jealous. And I heard it enough times that… I believed that was all." Lance snorted. "And with everything that went down, with all the pain he ended up causing, it would just be wrong to say, 'I told you so.'
"And then Shiro - " Lance cut off, glancing back at Keith before soldering on " - except for a few moments, he made sure that I knew exactly how much I was worth to the team. And it didn't amount to much."
"Lance," Keith tried to protest, but the more Lance spoke, the more his stomach sank, "that wasn't really Shiro."
The look Lance gave him was almost pitying. "Shiro never really took my opinions into account. The clone was just a lot more blunt about that, and Haggar made him more mean in general, especially towards me.
"Anyway, with all that going on - it became really clear that I don't really contribute." Lance turned towards the ocean once more, his eyes gazing out at something in the distance as his hand fell to support him against the sand. "I tried my best to keep things together, to keep the team going but it all just - Poosh." He splayed his other hand in an explosion gesture. "They need you, not me." Lance chuckled a bit. "I'm just - a placeholder. There to make do until something or someone better comes along."
"I don't think you're a placeholder." Keith said softly, almost to himself, but Lance caught the words and threw him a sad, but fond look.
"Just because you believe something doesn't make it true, Keith."
And Keith knew that. He never thought he'd have to apply that to Lance of all people.
Silence fell between them. Lance had said his piece and Keith mind whirled as he tried to make sense of everything.
At least it made sense now why no one else had come. Why no one had thought they'd be welcomed. Keith got the feeling that it hadn't hit them until just now, when faced with the consequences, but it was abundantly clear:
The team had not treated Lance very well in Keith's absence.
The very thought made Keith's blood simmer in his veins.
It was no wonder that Lance didn't want to come back. He'd experienced it enough when he was in the system that if it was clear that you were unwanted, if others treated you like crap, if you felt unneeded, then there really was no reason to continue going there. It's part of why Keith had been bounced around so much in the years between his father's death and meeting Shiro. He couldn't believe that the team had made Lance feel like that.
And yet, the evidence was there before him.
"Lance, I know you probably don't feel like it's true, but we do need you." Keith pushed.
"Nah, not really. Ask anyone." Lance didn't look at him as he shrugged. "I'm the dumb one who's no more than a pretty face. I could hear people talking about it, at diplomatic stuff, wondering what exactly my role on the team was." He frowned. "There really wasn't much to tell them."
Keith scowled. He'd always hated those types of events, partly because they'd be full of people who knew nothing about what it was like on the front lines like the team often was situated.
"You know," Lance laughed a bit, but it was so downcast that it could hardly be counted as such, even as he tilted his head back to look at Keith again, "funnily enough, I think you were the only one who ever treated me seriously. Who actually treated me like I could contribute."
And you left.
Neither of them said it.
Lance turned back to look at the ocean, and a flash of lighter brown caught his eye and he directed his gaze at it.
Along the edges of Lance's tank top, Keith could just barely see the edges of the starburst shaped scar that Keith knew covered a majority of Lance's back. It was probably Lance's oldest scar, back from when he'd protected Coran from that bomb and been on the brink of death.
It wasn't Lance's only scar.
They were all faint, with the exception of his back scar, due to the wonders of the healing pods, but as Keith's eyes traced over Lance's exposed skin, he picked up the healed remains of stab wounds, laser blasts, falling debris. Several of them Keith could recall Lance getting. Others, Keith had no clue where or when Lance got them.
And Keith's heart seized as he noticed, so faint that the only reason Keith noticed was because they caught in the light as Lance shifted his arms and hands to his lap, thin lichtenberg scars crawling up from his hands and over his forearms. And he knew that they were from when Lance died.
Keith finally slumped down in the sand next to Lance, cradling his head in his hands. He sighed before directing his gaze out into open waves.
Keith had always wanted to leave Earth. And out in space, he'd gained so much. He'd gotten a family in Team Voltron, he'd carved a position and purpose for himself both as a Paladin and a Blade, he'd figured out who he really was, and he'd found his mother. He had gotten everything he'd ever really wanted.
It was just occurring to Keith that while he'd gained everything, Lance had lost everything.
Though Lance had wanted to go to space, he'd wanted to explore. He hadn't wanted to be involved in a millennia old war, but that's what he'd found himself in and he'd accepted that. While out there, he'd lost the family that he loved so dearly. He'd lost his best friends as they got wrapped up in each other and in their shared interests that didn't include him. He'd lost his new friend the moment someone else came along. He'd lost his hero as he realized said hero didn't take him seriously.
Lance had lost Keith by supporting what Keith wanted, even if it had been against his better judgement.
Lance had lost the Lion who had truly chosen him over anyone else because the team needed him elsewhere.
Lance had lost his very life.
Maybe Lance was right that it was Keith's turn to support him, even if it went against every fiber of Keith's being.
He's leaving just like everyone else! Some part of Keith screamed at him, and he felt a twinge of heat at that, because out of everyone, Keith had firmly believed that Lance would never leave him.
Part of why he's leaving is because I left first.
He had never wanted to put someone through the pain that he had been put through, but it turned out that he had done just that to the person he had wanted to hurt the least. To stop him would be hypocritical at this point.
"What are you even going to do?" Keith asked, resigned. He couldn't even imagine what Lance would do if he wasn't piloting a Lion, and he wondered what that meant in regards to how well he knew Lance.
Lance perked up beside him as he blinked at him for a moment. And then his shoulders relaxed. It was only then that Keith noticed how tense Lance was, even if he'd been putting on a fairly nonchalant air.
"Well, I've been offered a position with the Garrison." Lance stated, his fingers fiddling with each other. "Professor Wolff came and talked to me about it after he got my email about officially stepping down from Voltron that I sent to Shiro and the Garrison when I first came back here. Though Veronica's trying to steer me into helping more with communications than with piloting and strategies like he's suggesting."
Professor Wolff? Keith's eyes narrowed as it fully hit him. Adam!
He couldn't believe the man had stolen back Shiro's heart despite everything that had gone down between them, and now he had gone behind their backs and tried to steal Lance for the Garrison. The nerve of him!
When I get back to the Garrison, we are going to have a… talk.
"Yeah, Iverson looked like he was on the verge of having an aneurysm when he joined the conference call." Lance snicked a bit. "He always made it clear that I was never going to amount to much. Must have hurt having to ask me for help."
Keith blinked out of plotting Adam's demise like he used to do when he was 16 to tune back in to what Lance was saying. "What?"
Lance huffed a bit, not too surprised by his lapse in attention. "My point is, I'm not bowing out of this war, not totally. I'll probably end up on the Castleship 2.0 at some point - " Keith's heart flipped at his words " - but for now, there's more to be done here on Earth. And I can be closer to my family, too." He glanced back towards his house, before looking Keith in the eye, his expression somber.
"To tell the truth, one of us was going to have to stay." Lance turned to the ocean and leaned his head into his hand. "Commander Holt is great and all, but he spent most of his time among the Galra locked up as a prisoner. They need someone who's actually fought the Galra, who knows exactly what we're up against.
"Maybe I'm wrong and you're right and Voltron does need me, but Keith…" Lance gave Keith a small smile, "I think the Earth needs me more right now."
Keith took his words in for a moment before he sighed. "I understand." And he did, he really did. It was similar to part of why he joined the Blades.
But that didn't mean he liked it.
Silence fell between them as they watched the waves meet and then retreat from the shore. It was quite soothing and looking out over the ocean, Keith couldn't help but think that it was beautiful. This was his first time going to the beach. He'd always wanted to see the ocean that Lance loved so dearly.
He just wished it had been under happier circumstances.
"So how long are you staying?" Lance finally asked. Keith silently debated just leaving right now, since he'd failed his objective, or actually being honest.
"I don't have to be back until tomorrow sometime."
Keith decided to be honest.
Lance lit up, just like he had when Keith had appeared at the door. "Cool! Then you can hang out today and spend the night before you leave in the morning!" Keith hesitated and Lance must have sensed it as he knocked his shoulder against him. "C'mon, you deserve a little break! And this is your first time at the beach, right? You've gotta make the most of it."
Keith gave him a flat look but he couldn't bring himself to deny Lance when he looked so happy. "Fine," he sighed.
"Yes!" Lance's smile dazzled him as he hopped onto his feet and pulled Keith along with him. "Come on! I've got a swimsuit you can borrow, and we'll get you some sunscreen so you don't match Red - "
Keith smiled to himself as Lance babbled on, practically bowled over by his excitement.
" - And you know, if you'd left here without having some of Mamá's cooking, you seriously would've made her cry, man. Then she'd get mad at me for making you feel unwelcome - "
Still, there was a twinge in his heart.
Lance would be staying on Earth. Lance still didn't get how important he was to Voltron, to the team, to him. And Keith didn't know how to make him see that, but it was already too late. Lance had made his decision, and given the circumstances, he couldn't blame him.
Keith looked up as Lance addressed him directly. He had that sad/solemn/happy expression on his face again and it made Lance look like he'd been the one to age several years in a messed up time stream.
Keith stared at him, but nodded his acquiescence. "Don't mention it." He said, because he really didn't want him to thank him. And then Lance was back to normal, chatting away as he pulled him into his house and yelled out that they were going to the beach.
It still ached, it still hurt, but Keith pushed it aside so he could at least enjoy the time he had left with Lance.
It would be fine.
Lance did come to see them all off. He'd been back at the Garrison to handle his transition to being a member of the staff, despite not graduating, and he'd worked with all of them in the week leading up to the launch of Sekhmet, as the new Castleship had been dubbed.
Despite the fact that he was no longer a part of Team Voltron, his new uniform matched theirs, with its blue color matching his original Lion and armor.
Lance gave each of them a hug and a smile, reassuring them that he'd hold down the fort while they were out in space. Hunk didn't even attempt to hide his tears, and Keith felt his own eyes prickle a bit as he held Lance a bit longer than was maybe appropriate.
He didn't really care.
But he held himself together as Lance waved goodbye, telling himself that this was for the best even if it felt wrong to leave Lance behind once more. He told himself that would be fine.
That all fell apart when Keith entered his new quarters.
On his bed was a familiar looking red jacket, a pair of fingerless gloves, and a note.
Hands trembling, Keith picked up his old red jacket. It looked slightly different, but it was just the same as it had always been. The fingerless gloves were his old ones as well that he hadn't gotten around to replacing. He thought that he'd lost all of them with the Castle.
Keith turned to the note.
He instantly knew who it was from.
Thanks again for all your support. I know you don't agree with me and I know you're not happy about this, but you still supported me. It means a lot to me. I know this is hard for you, but maybe these can help.
I managed to grab your jacket and gloves when I grabbed my stuff before the Castleship exploded, but I never had a chance to give them back to you. Plus, your jacket probably wouldn't fit with the growth spurt you had. I hope you don't mind, but I adjusted it for you so it should fit again! They don't call me the Tailor for nothing! :)
And luckily, your gloves should be fine. I remember you said you got them from your dad and they're adjustable so you can still wear them.
Anyway, thanks again! Play it safe out there, Samurai; I expect dozens of stories when you get back. We can go back to the beach!
Keith stared at the note. Then he hesitantly slipped on his jacket.
It fit him perfectly.
That was the final straw.
The ache in his heart became a burn as Keith fell upon his bed and curled up in a ball, clutching at the jacket that Lance had always made fun of, but still had taken the time to grab and fix just for him. No one had ever done something like this for Keith. But it was just in Lance's nature to do something so kind and thoughtful for someone else, and then treat it like was no big deal, that it was just what anyone would do.
And now Lance was gone.
And it was their own fault for not appreciating him while he was here.
It wasn't right, but they'd have to move forward without him.
No matter how much it felt like Keith had left a part of himself behind.
As he fell into a troubled sleep, still curled up in his jacket, Keith hoped that maybe things would turn out alright.
After all, Lance had never steered him wrong before, right?
AN: So straight off the bat, I want you to know that I outlined/started writing this back after season 6 aired before season 7, because I thought that going back to Earth would be a road trip sort of deal but that in their urgency they'd wait until Earth to really confront any problems. And I thought this may happen when they got there considering the way the team treated Lance. Like, I know they care, but they really didn't treat him well and he felt isolated and alone. There's actual consequences to that here instead of Lance just shrugging it off and appearing more and more miserable as the show goes on.
And with Lance's death, I know there's been some debate over whether he was dead or not, but Allura's only gone that type of glowy when restoring life so, I'm pretty sure that power surge electrocuted him to death in his pilot seat.
Also, the new castleship is called Sekhmet, not Atlas because I feel like Atlas is overdone while Sekhmet is literally a warrior goddess and protector who can turn into a Lion. It makes sense.
I'm gonna be bringing the True Blue Paladin back.