He finds Lance waiting on his bed for him when he returns to his room, and can tell from a single glance that Lance knows. That somehow— either because Matt or Coran told him, or because he just understands Keith that well, even after so many months apart— Lance knows exactly what happened while Voltron was fleeing Naxzela. What Keith had been prepared to sacrifice. What he’d nearly done.
Lance looks up at the hiss of the door sliding shut. He hasn’t even changed out of his paladin armor. Not fully. His arm guards and chest plate have been removed and discarded on the floor, but otherwise he looks just as he did when Voltron finally reached the Castle again— singed, disheveled, and staring at Keith with large, mournful eyes.
Keith can’t bring himself to meet those eyes. They’re even more blue than Keith remembers, and so full of hurt it makes Keith’s chest ache. Lance should never have to look that way about anything. Particularly not because of him.
Keith turns away and takes his time removing his black, Marmora armor. He can’t bear to see Lance so upset. Can’t stand the heavy silence between them. The thick tension just waiting to snap. Can’t stand it at all, but also can’t think of anything to say to dispel it. Words were never his forte, after all. He was much better with actions. Except, this time, his actions are what’s causing this situation, and he doesn’t quite know how to handle it.
He hangs his armor in his closet— the one spot of black among all the red and white he’s so used to wearing. A visual reminder of all he’s left behind. All he’s given up so his team can keep moving forward. Across the room, Lance shifts. He shifts, and he clears his throat, and Keith closes his eyes, waiting, as always, for Lance to cut through the tension. For the berate that’s surely on his tongue. For the angry words and endless rants he’s come to expect from Lance.
It doesn’t come, though. When Lance finally speaks, it isn’t loud, or enraged, or anything Keith’s used to. It’s soft, instead. So soft he barely hears it. And so rough and broken it nearly breaks his heart.
“Keith,” Lance murmurs, voice shaking even over that single word. “Why?” Why did you leave? Why did you abandon us? Why did you give up? “You glorious, reckless idiot. Why did you do it?”
Why did you almost let yourself die?
Keith swallows thickly. “Something had to be done,” he answers. “It was the only choice.” He glances over his shoulder at Lance and gives him a sad smile. “After all, the universe needs Voltron. It doesn’t need me.”
“We need you,” Lance protests, standing. He crosses the room in three quick strides and turns Keith to face him, hands gripping Keith’s shoulders like iron vices, and the most serious expression Keith’s ever seen across his face. “I need you.”
And if that isn’t the most ridiculous thing Keith’s ever heard. Because if either of them needs the other, it’s not Lance. It’s not this boy who shines so brilliantly, who is everything Keith has ever wanted to be and more, who could probably charm the whole universe into peace if he really put his mind to it.
Keith’s smile turns wry and he shakes his head. “No you don’t, Lance,” he says, emphatically because he needs Lance to understand. “You don’t need me. Just look at everything you’ve done.” Look at all the people you’ve saved and inspired and encouraged in a way that I never could.
It’s not enough to convey everything Keith thinks about Lance, of course, but he honestly doesn’t think any words in the English language (or any language, even) will ever be enough. There’s no way to describe the way Lance shines in his element. The obvious joy he brings to his flying, and the fierce passion that flares through his fighting. The excitement he exhibits whenever they find a new ally. The way he draws people to him without any actual effort. The way he cares and protects and gives hope wherever he goes.
He’s a much better paladin than he gives himself credit for, and much more valuable to the team than Keith ever could be. Keith’s absence over the past few months has proven that. Has shown Voltron can continue, and even thrive, without him. That they would continue to do so even if Keith had died. They’d still have their heart, after all— it’s right there inside Lance. He’s the drive that pushes them all forward, and the glue that holds them all together, and if Keith can keep that alive by sacrificing himself, he doesn’t consider death too great a loss.
Clearly, however, Lance doesn’t agree. “That’s not what I meant,” he chokes out, voice watery and blue eyes shining with unshed tears. “That’s not what I meant at all, you idiot. This isn’t about the team, or Voltron, or even the whole goddamn universe.” His hands shift, sliding across Keith’s shoulders and up his neck to cup his face. Keith fights not to lean into the warmth of Lance’s hands, but when Lance gently tilts his head back he knows it’s a lost cause. He’s so weak to the man standing in front of him. Weaker still to the way his bright blue eyes bore into Keith, more intense than they’ve ever been before. More urgent. More desperate. More filled with longing.
“I’m your right-hand man, aren’t I?” Lance asks softly, so close now that Keith can feel his warm breath against this skin. “We’re in this together, you and me. I’d follow you to ends of the universe. So just please,” he pleads. “Please. Promise me you won’t go where I can’t follow.”
And how can Keith say no to that?
The tears are falling down Lance’s cheeks now, wet streaks against his dark skin. And, this time, seeing Lance so upset over him, over the near loss of him, Keith’s heart does break. It cracks and shatters under the weight of Lance’s grief, and Keith already knows it will never fully recover. Even if he tries to tape it back together and pretend it’s all alright, there will still be fragments missing— little shards that will belong to Lance, and Lance alone, whether Lance realizes that or not.
Keith closes his eyes and lets out a long breath. He turns his head into Lance’s hand, pressing his lips lightly against Lance’s skin, and if Lance is surprised by the gesture, he doesn’t show it. Doesn’t try to pull away or even protest.
“Ok,” he murmurs against Lance’s hand. “Ok, Lance. I promise.”
He’d do much more for Lance if Lance ever asked it of him, but supposes this promise is a good place to start. And when Lance smiles for the first time all day, and then pulls Keith into a tight embrace, he wonders why he ever thought leaving was a good idea. Lance’s arms are warm around him, more comforting than anything Keith’s ever known, and beneath the palm Keith’s spread flat against Lance’s back, he feels the faint, steady thump of Lance’s heart. Takes comfort in the fact that Lance is alive and well and right there with him. Takes comfort in the fact that Keith himself is still alive to feel it.
And, for now, that is enough.