At the Garrison, they call him a prodigy. Say he has a talent that comes around only once in a century. They watch him maneuver the simulator and weave through the sky with an ease the other cadets lack and tell him he must have been a bird in another life because it seems like he was just born to fly. And maybe they’re right.
He doesn’t feel like a prodigy though. Flying is just something he’s good at, and only because he’s grown up moving from Garrison base to Garrison base, stuck in the custody of one officer after the next. And, well, there’s only so much a kid can do in a military base other than to sit in on the cadet classes and learn flight maneuvers he won’t even get to use for another six years, when he turns sixteen and can enlist as a cadet. Everything he and the other cadets are learning in class now he started learning at the age of ten, and he’s pretty sure that’s the only reason he can pick it all up so quickly while the other cadets lag behind. It’s not that he’s a prodigy or anything, like all the officers think. He just had a head start.
That advantage kind of isolates him from the rest of the cadets though. Oh, they all have their opinions of him, ranging anywhere from reverence and admiration to outright fury and jealousy. Keith hears all their gossip and rumors as he walks down the hallways, whether they want him to or not, and he knows his flying skills play a key role in how they all react to him, rather than his actual personality or quiet nature. He thinks that should maybe make it easier for the others, all those that actually want to interact with him, to start up a conversation, but time shows him differently. None of them ever approach him. And they never, ever talk to him. Not directly. Not if they can help it.
Which is why he’s so surprised when one of the cadets— a tall, dark-skinned boy Keith recognizes from one of their weekly lectures— sits across from him at the usually-empty mess hall table Keith occupies during lunch break and holds out a large, calloused hand.
“I’m Lance McClain,” he says, voice loud and direct and purposeful. “First year cadet. Cargo pilot.”
He grimaces just a bit at that last statement, tiny wrinkles forming in the dark skin at the bridge of his nose, but otherwise doesn’t show any of the reactions Keith’s come to expect during conversations with the other cadets. No cagey twitches or shifty eyes. No glowers or unconscious cringing away, even when Keith slowly shifts to take the hand offered to him. Lance’s grip is strong and steady, and his long, thin face is set in an expression of determination. Of challenge, almost.
It’s… refreshing, if Keith is being honest. A breath of fresh air in this place he’s felt smothered by for months.
Keith closes his hand around Lance’s and looks up into his unwavering gaze. “Keith Kogane,” he answers. “First year. Fighter class.”
“Yes. I know.” Lance smiles at him then. Sardonic, and yet still more welcoming and honest than many of the expressions other cadets send his way. It is, without doubt, a smile he can trust, even if it carries more animosity than Keith should be comfortable seeing.
Maybe that says something about him.
He doesn’t linger on it, though. Just pulls his hand back to lace together with his other hand beneath the surface of the table and asks, “Did you need something?” Because why else would this boy who so obviously views Keith as something to beat seek him out for a conversation if not for a specific purpose? Lance might seem like the type to start talking with anybody, but Keith isn’t just anybody. Not to Lance. Not to anyone on this Garrison base except maybe Keith himself.
Lance shrugs and leans back in his chair, folding his long, lanky arms behind his head in a posture of complete ease. For just a moment, Keith feels a spark of jealousy. Wishes he could be as relaxed as Lance in this place that observes and idolizes and expects more from him. Wishes, for just a second, to be a nobody at the bottom of the pack, where he could slip into the shadows without anyone noticing or caring for just once in his life. Wishes, at the same time, to not be so alone.
“Oh, nothing really,” Lance says. “I just hope you aren’t attached to your position at the top of our class, because pretty soon it’ll belong to me. I’m gonna be the one to surpass you.”
Keith doesn’t bother telling Lance that’s exactly what he wants, but it is. It’s what Keith desires above all else right now. Maybe if someone else takes his spot, then everyone will stop looking at him with such hostile and distant eyes. Maybe they’ll stop treating him like some sort of gift from the heavens and start acting like normal human beings in his presence. Maybe it’ll make him approachable enough for the other cadets to finally talk to him instead of about him.
But Keith doesn’t reveal all that. Instead, he quietly says, “Good luck,” to Lance, and, for once, he actually means it.