Keith sighed as he entered the cockpit, pulling down his hood and deactivating his mask. Kosmo wagged his tail at him from his cushion in the corner, and Keith gave him a pat before taking a seat in the pilot's chair.
Another day, another successful drop of supplies to a recovering planet. Keith was glad the war was over, but he had to admit that since then he'd become little more than a glorified cargo pilot, working for the Coalition and the Blades to drop off supplies and help with rebuilding efforts on the many planets that had been affected by the war.
Maybe things would've been more exciting had he taken a leadership position that Kolivan had offered from the Blades, which still tended to use its skills to suss out dissent and potential problems, but Keith had had more than his fair share of leadership when he had piloted Black.
He had been stressed out enough with his friends' lives in his hands, he didn't want the responsibility of reforming and rebuilding the entire Galra people.
Luckily, Allura had offered him a position in the Coalition-Blade joint organization to help give aide and deal with any problems that came up. It was a lot more his speed even if it did get a bit boring whenever troubles were few in his area of space.
Keith flipped some switches to initiate take off and he launched back through the stratosphere.
With how quiet things had been, maybe he could afford to take a trip to Earth. Shiro, Pidge, and Lance had settled there and it'd be good to see them all. Pidge worked to develop better tech with the Olkari and was forbidden from going off-planet by her mom, Shiro taught new pilots at the Garrison, and Lance split his time between teaching at the Garrison and working on getting his degree, but they always made time whenever someone was planetside. Hunk might be able to take a break from his diplomatic duties for the Coalition and Allura and Coran could come from New Altea and it would be just like the old days.
Or maybe he'd just go visit Lance. Of his Earthbound friends, he was the one who kept in contact with him the most anyway. He usually had the most free time, and he always welcomed Keith with a big smile and open arms. And Keith would be happy to see him though he always thought things wouldn't be as boring out here if Lance would just -
Keith scowled. He was beginning to sound like Shiro. Old and wistful.
Keith did a quick scan of the near-by planets and his scowl turned into a confused frown. He could've sworn that he saw a distress beacon right before landing, but he hadn't had the time to check it out.
Briefly, he wondered how mad Allura would be if he diverted his course from his next drop point to just take a quick look.
Well, it wouldn't take too long -
Keith's comm blinked with an incoming call. He recognized the signal from New Altea.
Speak of the alien and she will come.
"I wasn't doing anything!" He said immediately as Allura's smiling face popped up on screen.
Allura's mouth closed from when she opened it to greet him and she narrowed her eyes at him instead. They flicked over him and Keith tried really hard not to move and convey his innocence like he wasn't just about to make a huge detour to his scheduled route. It was harder than his friends made it look.
Allura apparently decided to disregard his weirdness. "How was your last stop?" She asked instead.
"Good. All of their shelters and stuff have been built, so they're doing quite well. But the supplies were very welcome." Keith reported with a smile. There was some satisfaction in getting people the help they needed.
"Excellent." Allura sat back with a smile of her own. "Now, I don't need to tell you but your next stop is - "
"Actually, I noticed a distress beacon that activated just before I touched down." Keith interrupted.
"Ah, yes, on Keilanto." She pulled out a pad and tapped at it to bring up whatever information she needed. "However - "
"It seems to have turned off, but I was thinking that I should probably stop by and make sure that everything is okay, you know, just in case." Keith attempted to keep his excitement of actually physically doing something to help. Relief efforts were great and all, but there was still that constant itch under his skin to do something. To chase, to hunt, to fight, it was all he'd ever known and now that he didn't have to do all that constantly, it left an ache in his very bones.
Though that could be an entirely different sort of ache.
Allura looked up and frowned. "Well, it's already - " She suddenly stopped and blinked as if something popped into her mind. Keith blinked back, wondering what could've made her stop.
And then Allura's lips curled up and Keith's blood ran cold.
Because that was Allura's Plotting Smirk. And not plotting as in I'm-About-to-Ruin-This-Enemy's-Day Plotting, but I'm-About-to-Enjoy-Meddling-in-Your-Personal-Life Plotting. She'd worn it when she tried to get Pidge to admit her gender, she frequently wore it when she and Hunk got to gossiping, and to see it now filled Keith with dread.
He suddenly didn't like where this was going, despite wishing for her to let him go mere moments before.
"Yes, go ahead and check it out." Allura said with a grin that was so wide that it was menacing. "Apparently, some creature attacked their main village and they require some assistance in dealing with it. So go on!" She waved him on.
Keith narrowed his eyes and tried to ignore the way his nerves settled in his stomach. "Thanks, I will." He finally said. "Give Coran and Romelle my regards."
"I will! And Keith," she leaned closer to her screen, "tell me everything when you're done."
And with that, Allura clicked off.
Well, that wasn't suspicious at all.
Still, Keith wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He typed in the coordinates and headed off towards Keilanto.
As he flew, his mind once more drifted, as it often did, back to Lance. It would be great to see him again, it'd actually been awhile since he'd talked to him. The last time Keith had talked to Lance was after his graduation a couple months ago and Lance said that the next time they saw each other, he had a surprise for him.
Personally, Keith had been surprised when Lance had decided to stay on Earth and insisted on getting an official degree. Lance had taken to the stars like a fish to water, so it had seemed strange for him to stay even if he wanted to be closer to his family. Plus, all of them, except for Shiro who had already graduated, had been given honorary degrees and rankings within the Garrison. And based off their work in space, other universities and colleges had handed over degrees as well: all of them got ones in astronomy; Pidge in computer science and engineering; Hunk in engineering, the culinary arts, and sociology; and Keith in aviation.
Lance, to everyone's shock, earned the most degrees. He'd gotten astronomy ones like everyone else and the linguistics and communications ones had been no surprise, as everyone knew that Lance liked to talk and occasionally he'd hyperfocus and learn an entire language in just a day. But apparently, over the course of their journey, Lance had been taking notes on his pad about the places they'd been: the different people, cultures, histories, the animals, the planets themselves, how different star systems formed and worked. It was a gold mine of information for the now intergalactically-involved Earth and their scientists. Sociology, Anthropology, Biology, Geology, etc. the degrees and accolades had almost seemed endless to Keith, even as Lance seemed baffled at the attention he was getting.
"Why were you keeping a journal of this stuff anyway?" Keith had asked him.
Lance just raised an eyebrow. "Dude, I joined the Garrison because I wanted to explore space and see the stars, like in Star Trek. This is the kinda stuff they'd make sure to take note of, and if I didn't write it down, I knew I would forget it." Lance snorted. "Like, as much as I love it, I didn't exactly expect ending up in Star Wars when I finally went to space."
"But…" Keith had been confused. "You wanted to be a fighter pilot?"
"Fighter pilots were sent on more exploratory missions, like the one to Kerberos, and they had a more regular schedule that I'd get to see my family more than if I were in cargo."
And that had been that.
Lance hadn't been satisfied with just being given all his degrees. He felt he had to actually work and earn one, despite having nothing to prove. "Listen Keith, my mamá didn't raise a quitter. I'm going to properly finish my education." He told him. So, he stayed behind.
And he had refused to tell Keith what degree he was working on, though Keith was pretty sure everyone else was aware.
It was infuriating.
Keith had supported his friend though, leaving him behind as he himself returned to soar through the stars. It hadn't been the same though. Keith had spent practically his whole life wishing to leave Earth, and now that he could, and he didn't have to fight a war while doing so, he found himself… unsatisfied.
It was like he was off balanced. He was stepping away from the stairs, sure that there were no more steps, and yet his foot was finding thin air, telling him he'd missed something even as he tumbled down. Sometimes there was an ache in his chest, a gaping hole, that just wouldn't go away, especially when he hadn't seen or talked to Lance in awhile. Keith had never felt like this before.
Worried, he'd once told Shiro about it, excluding the part about Lance as he knew better, and gotten laughed in his face for his troubles. And then Adam had walked into the room, Shiro told him what he had said, and he too laughed.
Keith had not been as amused.
Finally, Shiro had wiped away the tears that had gathered in the corners of his eyes and said, still snorting, "You're homesick, you goober."
And like the mature adult that he was, Keith had flipped him off in an outrage and ended the video chat.
Because that couldn't be it. Keith had never been homesick in his life. And he certainly wouldn't be homesick over a singular person, instead of a place, or a planet, or a familiar group like a normal person. Nope, he certainly didn't miss Lance and almost constantly wish he were here or, at least, safe in the knowledge that he was out somewhere among the stars doing what he loved just like Keith. No, that couldn't be it.
Then Keith realized that he had just spent his entire trip to Keilanto thinking about Lance.
Keith scowled, even as Kosmo popped up by his side, clearly excited, as he entered the atmosphere.
Lance had made his choice, he shouldn't dwell on it.
And Keith was way too young to keep thinking like Shiro and wishing for what wasn't.
"What do you mean the problem's already been taken care of?" Keith frowned at the Keilantian chief before him.
Was this why Allura had been been acting so strange? Why would she have sent him here if she already knew everything had been solved?
He nodded back at him, his forked tongue flickering out briefly. "Yes, the Blue One managed to catch the paltotrax that has been attacking us."
Keith's heart skipped a beat. There was one person who had always been and always would be tied to the color blue in his mind.
Keith shook his head. It couldn't be Lance; he was light years away.
"Uh, who?" Keith decided to go with that. Maybe Allura wanted him to meet this person. "I don't think I've met this 'Blue One.'"
"I can show you!" A child popped up from behind the chief, their red scales catching the light as both of their eyes fixed upon Keith. Their eyes darted back again as they tugged Keith's hand on their clawed one. "C'mon!"
Keith frowned, even as he was tugged along. "So what happened anyway?"
One of the child's eyes turned to look at him. "Oh, it was amazing! The paltotrax are dangerous, but they usually keep to themselves, keeping to the pools of water in the forest. But this one was attacking us, and we had no idea why. It was destroying our homes and it's only a miracle that no one had gotten hurt.
"And the Blue One just - swooped in and calmed it mid-attack! He wasn't scared at all!" The child practically had stars in their eyes. "He figured out that it was just injured and lashing out! And then he calmed it and fixed it!"
"Huh." That did sound pretty awesome. Keith wondered what sort of person this could be.
"See? Not too bad, right? Probably feels a lot better now, right?" A soft, almost familiar voice cooed from up ahead. Next to Keith, Kosmo perked up a bit and his tail began to wag, drawing Keith's eyes to him.
"There he is!" The child pointed up ahead. Keith glanced up and jerked a bit at the sight.
The paltotrax was huge; Keith could see why the Keilantians were intimidated by them usually. Its body and legs reminded Keith of a horse: a stocky body and six spindly legs, though these legs ended in wicked sharp claws. It seemed to be covered in dark teal scales with armored plating along its body and head. A thick tail curled around its body while its elongated neck was raised, fangs protruding from its mouth. Bandages covered its one side, slipping under the armored plating.
And on its neck, rubbing softly, was a hand gloved in a black flight suit.
The Blue One, obviously, though the rest of him was obscured by the paltotrax.
Before Keith could call out, Kosmo barked and ran up to the paltotrax. "Hey!" Keith called out to bring him back, but he stopped as the Blue One stepped into his vision, still facing the paltotrax and petting it.
"It's all good now… You were such a good girl. You just needed some help." The Blue One continued to murmur yet all Keith could do was take in his form: a distinctly humanoid figure in dark blue space armor over a black flight suit. He had short brown hair that curled at the ends, broad shoulders, and incredibly gentle hands.
Keith's breath stopped.
This… this wasn't possible.
Kosmo ran up and the Blue One finally turned around, eyes lighting up and grin spreading across his face. "Kosmo? Hey, boy!"
Keith would recognize that smile anywhere.
But… but he was on Earth. He chose to stay with his family, to work to find himself after the war.
Despite the evidence before him, he had to be mistaken.
And yet, the name still fell from his lips.
Lance looked up and Keith could see his smile soften. "Keith! Hey, man!" He straightened up from petting Kosmo. "What're you guys doing here? I figured I wouldn't be seeing you until you finished your relief runs and we could meet up on New Altea."
"Me? What are you doing here?" Keith sputtered a bit as he walked closer, the Keilantian child slipping away. "I thought - you were on Earth?"
"Well, yeah, I was, but I always intended to come back out." Lance rubbed the back of his head. "After all, I always wanted to explore space and now seems to be the time to do it."
Keith's brow furrowed. "But - how?"
"Oh, Coran, Allura, and Pidge gave me a ship as a graduation gift. And Pidge even tricked it out so I can do my work." Finally, Keith was close enough to see how Lance's eyes were sparkling like the ocean under the Sun, the way they always did when he talked about something he was passionate about.
"What is your work? You never told me your degree."
"Well, I like animals, you know? And I thought that if I'm helping people and exploring and stuff, I should help them, too. So actually I got my degree in veterinary medicine, coming off of my biology honorary degrees and my experience helping Coran with medical stuff." Lance's hand danced in the air as he began to explain.
Keith smiled. He should've known; that suited Lance to a T. Animals and children had always been drawn to Lance wherever they went, and Lance had loved all of them.
The more Lance talked, pausing only to pat the paltotrax or Kosmo as they nuzzled him for pets, somehow the ache in Keith's chest eased. Instead of a void, it was quickly filled with some sort of emotion the longer that Keith took Lance in, the more that Lance smiled at him.
An impulse struck Keith, suddenly and completely. It wasn't the first time that Keith had felt it, but he had always ignored it. And he knew that he had hurt Lance whenever he did so, by ignoring him, brushing him aside, snapping at him, forgetting him… Lance had never deserved that.
So this time, unlike all those times before when Keith would get nervous and ignore this feeling and mess up and inevitably screw things up between them, Keith decided to fully follow his instincts.
Before he even truly realized what he was doing, Keith scooped Lance up into a hug.
There was a moment of stunned frozenness, Lance having halted his flow of words in surprise, but before Keith could back off and apologize, sure that he'd messed up once more, Lance was melting into his embrace. Lance's arms wound around him, holding him just as tightly as he was holding Lance. "Jeez, I know it's been a while, but really," Lance chuckled, "did you really miss me that much?"
Keith couldn't help laughing in return, hiding his grin in Lance's neck though he could probably feel it on his skin. "Yeah," he admitted, "yeah, I did."
Because visiting Lance on Earth just hadn't been the same. There, Keith had had to contend with the fact that it seemed like the war had crushed Lance's old hopes and dreams of seeing the stars, leaving him grounded. There, he had to watch Lance looked wistfully at the stars on clear nights and think that Lance deserved more than just the Earth. There, he'd had to leave Lance behind, because as much as he enjoyed being in his company, Earth had never been his home.
For the first time in a long time, Lance was finally, truly back.
Back among the stars, back at Keith's side whispering a small, "Me too," somehow holding him tighter.
And Keith was finally home.
AN:Thank you to highqualititty and leggylance on Tumblr for helping inspire me. Leggy made the original post that I expanded upon on Tumblr and which led me to further flesh it out here, while Ki is who I reblogged the post from and who inspired other elements of this story. Thanks!
So in my mind, Adam never died and Allura never died but the universe was still saved. Also, Allura and Lance did go on a few dates, but they both realized that it wasn't what they wanted/needed and so they parted but remained friends. This gave time for Lance to ruminate on his feelings and what he really needed/wanted in a relationship, and he realized that he liked liked Keith but he didn't want to say anything or rush into things because he had liked him longer than he had thought but he was sure Keith didn't feel the same. Coming back to space though, he resolved to tell Keith how he felt, and Allura knew, so she decided to play ultimate wingman. Meanwhile, Keith is just over here a pining fool, but how else does one write about Keith.
Lance belongs in space doing stuff he loves, like being an alien vet and getting to meet all the animals since he seemed to have a knack with both animals and kids. (This was Ki's influence; they have several fics and art pieces on this concept and they are all great.) He deserved better than getting shuffled back onto a farm and seeming to do nothing else with his life. Like, what the frick was that? He didn't die in space just to become a farmer when he had always been implied to want to explore like in Star Trek.
Anyway, I did originally write a drabble of sorts on Leggy's original Tumblr post, but it had been bugging me lately and I wanted to make it a full story. So here it is! Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!