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Story [Voltron] "The Warmth of Suns", Ensemble Cast, Complete on 2/01!

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade , Dec 5, 2017.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    "The Warmth of Suns"

    Fandom: Voltron: Legendary Defender
    Author: Mira_Jade
    Genre: Friendship, Drama
    Rating: PG
    Time Frame: Season 2, pre-Blade of Marmora
    Characters: Ensemble Cast

    Summary: It's official: the Castle of Lions was trying to kill them . . . again. (Or, at least Lance was quick to claim it was - but he had experience on the matter.)

    Yet, through the course of one cold night, the paladins of Voltron and their Altean allies learn more about themselves, and each other, than, perhaps they did before. It makes it easier to get up and carry on come morning.


    Notes: This entire story started as a thin excuse to write six chapters (each update is an almost-stand-alone vignette - originally, this was supposed to be just a one-shot, can't you tell? :rolleyes: :oops:) of team bonding and, ultimately, a group dog-pile of paladin cuddling. (You can guess that Lance started it, of course. ;)) But then introspection and banter and fleshing out the narrative with backstories and relationship development butted in . . . and now here we are.

    That said, I thank you guys for reading, as always, and I hope that you enjoy. :)


    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words!



    OoOoO


    "The Warmth of Suns"
    by Mira_Jade​


    I. Lance

    Simply put: Lance McClain had zero tolerance for cold temperatures.

    (He had even less tolerance for their enchanted space castle trying to kill them, but one nearly fatal experience with a cyro pod – and an airlock – had left him gun-shy. Understandably so.)

    In his defense, he'd never really had to cultivate a thick skin where the cold was concerned - home was all white sands and salt on the breeze as the warm Gulf air ruffled the fronds of the palm trees. He'd only ever really left home to enlist in the Galaxy Garrison, and the rocky high desert surrounding the base was warm during the day – scathingly so during the summer, even. The nights tended to get cool, sure, but that was nothing proper attire couldn't fix.

    Space, however, was cold, and the Castle – after taking on heavy fire from yet another do-or-die Galra fleet – had suffered a direct hit to its environmental systems while the particle barrier was redirected to lend more power to the forward weapons array. There was a more technical explanation as to how and why the damage was done, but Lance had a very effective Pidge and Hunk filter that took away only the key words required for comprehension as far as he was concerned. (e.g: Damage. Life support. Bad.) Landing on the nearest sustainable planet to cut down on the Castle's need to protect them from the unforgiving elements of outer space was their first order of priority while repairs were made. To conserve power, every 'unnecessary' circuit was cut back down to idling – and first and foremost amongst those circuits were the climate controls. The air was kept warm enough for survival, not comfort – and he was quickly becoming suspicious as to what their fellow Alteans found minimally necessary, at that. . . . because Lance was freezing.

    The little heating unit Pidge had wired for him was doing next to nothing to ward off the chill on the air, it seemed. His breath still puffed in a noticeably vaporous haze, and his skin ran amok with goosebumps. He was wearing every piece of clothing he owned – which was slightly less than the shirt on his back he'd arrived with thanks to an impromptu shopping run courtesy of Coran, but still. He looked like a frozen mummy - a very attractive frozen mummy, sure, but a mummy nonetheless. His discomfort was getting harder and harder to suppress, even curled up in bed as he was, trying to ignore the world by blasting his music and pulling his sleeping mask down tight over his eyes . . . even when taking such tried and true measures, he was getting nowhere.

    (Which was alarming, in of itself. His face required a solid eight hours of sleep – at least. He had to salvage what he could of the night cycle – and fast.)

    One last violent bout of shivering catapulted his intention to move from vague consideration to a full-realized decision. He was done with this.

    Lance initially only intended to slip down to Pidge's room and see if she could give his heater any more juice. Honest. But . . . her room was so far, all the way at the end of the very long corridor of rooms that all the paladins were housed in, and he already couldn't feel his toes deep inside his lion slippers. Lance despaired of making the rest of the trip without collapsing. In the end, he only passed by one door before feeling a (now familiar) flicker inside the part of his mind that was reserved for the Red lion. Keith was awake, he knew with a hazy whisper of intuition (after all, the strange connection between their minds was more like looking through a window when the blinds were drawn and the lights were low than anything more clear-cut) and just as miserable as he was.

    Perfect. Well . . . perfect with desperate times calling for desperate measures, and all that. Lance would take what he could get.

    He didn't even have to raise his hand to the door chime – the Castle read his intentions before he even fully formed the thought in his own mind. Quick, don't let the heat out! he 'thought' at the Castle anyway, and the door hissed closed just as soon as he slipped in.

    It was unfair, Lance thought as he stood, gaping, just within the doorway: Keith's room was ten times warmer than his! The Castle clearly had its favorites, and its taste in paladins totally sucked.

    The aforementioned Red paladin glanced up at him in surprise – with his eyes first going wide and then squinting to see him through the (admittedly) many layers of jackets and blankets he was bundled in. The surprise lasted for barely a second before Keith's brow furrowed and a more familiar scowl took its place. He was curled up on his own bunk with his comforter drawn tight around his shoulders. His knees were tucked up to his chest and his heater was as close to the bed as possible without it becoming a fire hazard. (They'd already been there, done that, and Lance never wanted to suffer Coran's fury like that again.) Sweat gleamed on his pale brow, but not from an excess of warmth – it was a cold sweat, Lance snorted to see. Of course.

    “How long were you up fighting the gladiator 'bot before you got sick of it kicking your butt?” Lance asked. He was proud that his teeth didn't chatter.

    Keith just stared at him for a long, long moment. At first, Lance didn't think he would bother with a response at all. Until: “I thought that sparring would keep me warm. But now I'm just tired.” The and still cold went unspoken. “What are you doing in here?” Keith changed the subject with a suspicious furrowing of his brows. “It's already bad enough that I have to put up with you during working hours.”

    But Lance McClain was one child out of seven - with a whopping thirty-nine cousins to boot. He didn't rise so easily to such transparent bait.

    “My room is cold,” he answered, ignoring the dig at his character. (Some people had no taste.) “I thought it'd be obvious.”

    Keith gave him a decidedly unimpressed look. If he could have withstood freeing his hands from his cocoon of blankets, Lance was sure he would have gestured to the heater and back. Same here, his raised brow seemed to say. Lance may have heard a punctuating whisper of thought from his mind, only less polite.

    “My heater's not working – well, not as good as yours is, at least.”

    The look continued. Lance was going to have to spell this out for him.

    “Pidge's room is too far,” Lance heaved a deep, long-suffering sigh to explain, “so you're going to have to do.”

    And so, without further ado, he scrambled from awkwardly loitering by the doorway to burrowing underneath the covers on the opposite side of Keith's bed in one smooth, practiced maneuver.

    “What the – Lance?! What are you doing?” Keith's voice had an oddly strangled quality to it, one that Lance did not understand at all. “Seriously, man, personal space!

    Lance huffed out a breath through his – admittedly still chattering – teeth, and rolled his eyes. “Honestly, I'm not doing this because I like you. So don't get confused.”

    “Good,” Keith snapped. “Then we're on the same page. Get out of my bed!”

    He sounded serious – unreasonably so; Lance was going to have to work fast to keep his place. “Aw, c'mon,” he gave his best cajoling not-quite-a-whine, “help out a paladin in need! My room is freezing, and I can't stand it any more. I think my nose is turning blue – blue, and not in a good way! I'm not appreciating the irony here.”

    “Lance,” Keith closed his eyes, and sighed through his nose, “I'm giving you the next ten seconds to - ”

    “ - could you please stop making this weird?” Lance didn't understand why Keith was the one who was frustrated. “I can finally feel my toes again. Why do you want to take that away from me?”

    “Yes, your toes are freezing!” Keith agreed with a yelp. Lance unrepentantly refused to draw his feet away. “Could you please keep them to yourself?”

    “And you're all bony angles and bad hair – but you don't hear me complaining! Because that would be rude.”

    “I can complain all I want - it's my bed, in my room! Can't you go and bother anyone else? Wouldn't Hunk be a warmer choice if you need to cuddle? Heck, Allura, even - ”

    “ - what? No – just no! Not Allura!” Lance's voice was a horrified squeak of sound at merely the thought. “I can't let her see me like this. She's honest to goodness space royalty – our very own Princess Leia. Seriously, dude, where's your cool?”

    That drew Keith up short; he paused, even as his mouth still worked in quiet protest. He may have been the angry, emo porcupine of their group, but he was still privy to the bro-code. He had to have a heart underneath all of those quills – he had to! At least, Lance hoped he did – he truly was able to feel his toes again . . . just barely, but it was enough.

    Distantly, uncomfortably even, he knew that back on Earth it would have been the toss of a coin between him crawling into bed with his older siblings, and waiting to have his younger siblings come in and bunk down with him on a night like this. Between thunderstorms and bad dreams and him just being the best brother ever, few of them ever kept to their own beds in the McClain household. Not really.

    But that was then. There.

    . . . here and now, some two dozen galaxies away from their good ol' Milky Way (he always had Coran show him where Earth was on the star-charts whenever they settled down on a planet) . . . well, he was really far from home. Really, really far from home.

    As his thoughts tumbled down a path he normally tried to leash them from, something about the stiff, unyielding lines of Keith's body seemed to lessen - just slightly, at least. Lance scrunched his nose, wondering what had changed before - oh, the whole windows and blinds thing between them went more ways than one. Lance was still getting used to that. But . . . at least Keith was hesitating due to what he'd seen - he could definitely build on that.

    Veradera, Florida, just outside of Tampa Bay, never got cold – not really, anyway. But he remembered one January, a few years before he left for the Garrison, when they had a freak dip in temperature – enough so that there were even snowflakes flurrying down from the dreary grey skies hovering over the ocean. Their house was old - it had character, his mamá was always fond of saying - but on top of their squeaky hardwood floors and old style arched ceilings, the decades old furnace was nothing to write home about. They'd passed that evening drinking his Tia León's chili spiced hot chocolate before all seven of them piled into Sofia's – the oldest of the McClain brood – bed to pass the cold night together. They'd been a tangle of arms and legs and heartbeats, and the memory alone was enough to spark a deep, contented warmth within him now.

    Lance was clumsy to share it – but he tried to pull the window-shades up to let Keith see . . . if he cared to look, that was. The process was difficult without their lions to act as a conduit between them, when they were instinctively engrossed in the reaction and reflex of battle and needed to think as a single being, but Lance wasn't one to question his impulses when he had them – as always, he simply acted.

    (Even so, he held a tight, expectant breath within his lungs without realizing it - not that he understood why, really. He could care less what Keith thought of him, after all. Honest to goodness.)

    My mamá was a pilot too – cargo ships, though, not fighters, the thoughts spun without him consciously summoning them, one about the other, as entwined as they were to his heart. My dad is a wiz with numbers - he was a lunar air-lanes dispatcher back in the day; together, they run a small shipping gig now, and they don't do too bad for themselves. My oldest brother and sister are pilots too, working for the family business, but my youngest brother Aidan can already fly circles around us all – he reminds me a bit of you, actually; he can be a bit of a cocky little brat at times. It was my Abuela León who made me want to reach out for the stars, though – she sat reserve for the Neptune mission back in the day, but never got to fly past the Garrison's asteroid bases. My Tio Valdes has a restaurant on Seventh Street in Ybor City that I bussed tables at before enlisting, but everyone knows that my cousin Victor makes the best buñuelos – if you ask him nicely, he'll make them for special occasions during the year, not just for Christmas. He reminds me so much of Hunk that it hurts sometimes.

    Then, there were things that were harder to define: such as how nine voices sounded when laughing together, or the glint in his mamá's eyes when her righteous temper flared up for her ornery offspring . . . or the gentle hum in the back of his father's throat when he was dispensing his 'life wisdom' to his children. His favourite color was the way the bright palate his mamá painted their house with combined with the soft woods and earthy decor of his father's Gaelic roots behind his closed eyes. If he inhaled too deeply, he could remember the way Elena – the first sibling younger than him – smelled when she came home from the hospital. He remembered how pink her blanket was; it was almost as bright as the yellow ribbons his baby-baby sister wore in her hair, no matter how old she grew. Then, there was the soul-blend of pepperoni pizza and rolling ocean waves and silly evenings of step-dancing to salsa music, while -

    “ - who's the little one?” Keith's voice was soft to acknowledge the flow of memories – almost awkwardly so. “She's . . . kinda cute.”

    Unexpectedly, it took Lance a moment to speak around the lump in his throat. It was easier to share some things without words, it seemed.

    “Alicia . . . her name's Alicia. She's my youngest sister.” His voice was hoarse to his own ears, and he tried to swallow his rise of feeling away. He hadn't seen her in almost a year now – not since he went home to visit during the Garrison's last winter leave. The McClain baby she may have been, but she was growing up so, so fast, even before he left. Now . . .

    . . . he remembered the way she had curled into him that cold winter's night, with her head of dark umber curls tucked in under his chin and her small limbs wrapped around his torso as if she were a monkey on its favorite perch. Little leech, he called her then, but he'd never bothered pushing her away. It felt good to be the older brother when he had been the McClain baby for so long. Alicia sent him the most letters of his siblings when he was away from home - with her big, ungainly handwriting and guess-work spelling, and he wrote her back as faithfully as he did his parents and abuela. He still sometimes did, in the deep of space, on the other side of the known universe . . . hopefully, someday, he'd be able to send those letters to her. He hoped that she knew that he was safe, and thinking of her - missing her, even as he protected her and everyone else he cared for, from an unthinkable threat. An unimaginable horror.

    Just like Luke Skywalker, she'd say with her big brown eyes blown wide, and he'd scoff and respond: Just like Han Solo, you mean? Seriously, nene, as if!

    Not that he could quite say anything of the sort to Keith – letting him sneak a look through his head-hole was one thing. Talking about it was something else entirely. He wasn't cold enough to put himself through that.

    Thankfully, Keith didn't seem inclined to say anything else – instead he was quiet; pensive, even. Brooding, as per usual.

    But, strangely, Lance didn't feel the need to tease his teammate for his reticence. Instead, it brought an odd sort of pang then, and he wanted . . .

    . . . he caught only a glimpse of silence and empty rooms and an overwhelming sense of waiting. He saw a flickering book of families and homes, one after another, but couldn't catch one memory in particular before the pages paused on the light of some rich sunset spilling over a small, rustic cabin. The rays of the dying sun caught over a dark, curved metal blade, sporting a strange sort of symbol -

    - but then the shades were drawn tight and Lance was no longer welcome to look. Keith pushed him away – almost possessively so as he protected his memories, causing a dull throbbing to pulse in Lance's temples from the abrupt severance. Yes, he definitely needed to leave this to Blue in the future. She knew how to handle Red.

    It wasn't as if he wanted to look in the first place, Lance firmly told himself as he hooked his jaw. What Keith did and did not feel had no relevance to him; not one bit. The emotion churning in his gut was an odd, foreign one, however, and he didn't much care to put a name to it. He was slowly warming up, and that was all that mattered.

    After a long, uncomfortable moment, Keith huffed out a breath through his nose. “I'm letting you stay,” he still sounded sour about it – but at least he was resigned in his defeat. Lance would take what he could get. “That doesn't mean we have to talk. So . . . relax,” he finished lamely.

    And Lance, brother of six and cousin to many, understood an apology when he heard one. Something in his chest sparked for his understanding, then warmer than his body's slow thawing.

    With a huff, Keith finally gave in and laid down, hugging his arms tight to his chest to warm his hands. Lance could still see his breath puff on the air, but the cold no longer felt unbearable – it no longer had the power to bite through his bones. Keith let loose a deep sigh, and though the other boy kept a careful space between them – seriously, he was making this so awkward – Lance thought that maybe he too was beginning to know warmth.




    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2018
    Chyntuck likes this.
  2. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    LOL on the snark between Lance and Keith. The reluctant and unasked for bond between them makes their interaction more awkward. But [face_shhh] they are really like scrapping siblings more than they would like to admit!

    Wonderful memories from Lance! I love his mixed heritage: Gaelic mixed with Hispanic, seems like. Bet the food they eat in their house is some kind of incredible! Their home sounds very rustic and in a gorgeous setting and full of lively bustle and family warmth. :)

    Love the Leia, Luke, & Han references.

    I was struck also by Keith's silent sharing. It was totally different in tone from Lance's. Guarded and sad/grieving perhaps. [face_thinking]

    I am enjoying this glimpse of characters and relationship development. The latter is something of which I am particularly fond.

    :cool:

    @};-
     
  3. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Nice story, not knowing the series. Lance and Keith are nice characters bringing comfort to each other
     
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  4. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha - I just adore the relationship between Lance and Keith. It definitely has its antagonistic side, and they are fiercely competitive, but there's so much love there as well (kinda, eventually :p). I love watching their bond grow - it really has sibling quality, you hit that spot on! Lance certainly has a fun heritage to explore, as well - the fandom likes to place him from a huge Cuban family, but his surname is Gaelic, so one thing led to another and now here we are. ;) You're right; I bet the food was awesome. :p

    As always, I thank you so much for following me into another fandom, my friend! I'm having so much fun building sandcastles in this box. :p [face_love][:D]

    earlybird-obi-wan - You're such a dear! Thanks so much for reading, even when being unfamiliar with the show! [:D]


    Alrighty, we're on with more here, featuring the most kick-butt space princess since Leia herself. ;)


    OoOoO


    II. Allura

    There was a chill in the air that night. The cool temperature was a whispering nuisance, ghosting across her skin, but the discomfort it inspired wasn't yet enough to keep her bound to her bed. Not quite.

    Even without the current situation plaguing them, her nightly wanderings of the Castle were not terribly uncommon. After sleeping for so many centuries, Allura found it difficult to close her eyes on her own volition, especially when dreams – memories, awaited her natural sleep cycles now. All too often during the long, lonely vargas before the third movement, she would walk the empty corridors, silent and alone and yet pretending she was not. If she but blinked, she could fool herself into imagining her father rounding the next corner with his advisers yapping like bythe-hounds at his heels. King Alfor would catch her eye and make a long-suffering expression, and she'd smile in return – sharing his good humor and empathizing with his pains before they passed ways again. Or perhaps she'd walk across the spiraling corridors gilding the edges of the grand banquet hall and look down to see her mother discussing matters of the household with the palace chamberlain. Queen Fala would see her shadow and wave up at her before promising to join her as soon as she was free of her duties. Allura passed an uncountable many on her nightly sojourns; her memories were endless within these walls, both those that lifted her spirits and pierced them to the quick.

    Her memories remained her own, however. The universe had since passed her by; time had moved on, neither hesitating or yielding in its restless course. Most of what her spirit knew - or had known, was simply forgotten by the vast majority of the universe. By some twist of ironic fate, she had opened her eyes to life anew while the very ashes of Altea had long since been lost to cosmic dust. There was nothing left of her home, of her life and loved ones, as she'd known them to be.

    Her wounds were still too fresh to process with any sort of clarity, she was self-aware enough to admit. She'd scarce allowed herself a moment to to reflect on what she'd lost, yet alone properly process and grieve for its passing. (This, the part of her inner-consciousness that sounded like her mother liked to whisper whenever her mind quieted enough to allow her to hear.) But Allura knew that she yet could not take the time to go through the rites of mourning – she yet would not . . . not until Zarkon was destroyed and everything he'd taken from her honored in it's full. Her sense of pride, of justice and duty, refused to accept anything else.

    For her family and for her people . . . for Altea and their sister star-systems and the entire universe itself . . . it was the least she could do.

    Yet, while ghosts ever dogged her steps, she did not walk in search of specters that night. Instead, her path took her to the main environmental chamber, where the runoff air from the engines was separated into both hot and cold vapors before mixing again for dispensation into the ventilation shafts. Here in the bowels of the ship, Coran was still hard at work, no matter the late hour – and he would yet continue to be so until the Castle was once again up and running to his exacting standards. The Castle wouldn't fly without him, in more ways than one, and Allura had to assure herself that her father's adviser was not running beyond his own operational limits to see the work done. (This wouldn't be the first time she found him toeing that particular line, of course – which was an unfortunately circular accusation, with he oftentimes having the same worry where she was concerned.)

    The deeper she went into the service tunnels, the more the blue panels lining the walls seemed to pulse with a tired, faded light. When she entered the access corridor, just before the main chamber, she could feel the weariness of the Castle pulse alongside her own bones, and she set her jaw to feel its pain – this was yet another crime to lay at Zarkon's feet, there to rest alongside an uncountable many. But her simmering contemplations of righteous vengeance were pushed aside when she smelled something metallic – the scorch of burnt ozone, tickling at her nose while sparks flew from the deep shadows up ahead.

    “I know, old girl,” she could hear Coran consoling the Castle before she could properly see him. “Just show me where it hurts and I'll have you patched up in no time. Just a little bit more, and – oh, quiznak!”

    There was a blinding flash of bright blue sparks, fast on the heels of a loud crash and resounding clatter. Alarmed, Allura picked up the skirt of her nightgown and darted around the corner to see -

    - Coran, dejectedly sitting on the rim of the depression in the floor where the heating core and cooling turbines were housed, with a clearly frustrated expression marring his usually cheerful features. He held a power-rod in one hand while he rubbed an alarming looking bump on his head with the other. Allura frowned, glancing from the service pit with its nest of open wires to Coran and back again, wondering how -

    “ - you don't even want to know, Princess,” Coran's voice was dark as he glared at the power-rod. “I don't particularly want to relive the moment myself, at that.”

    Allura winced in sympathy, but chose to honor his wishes when it seemed no lasting damage was done. “Are you alright, Coran?” she hedged her words, biting her lip to inquire instead.

    “Oh, I'm just ship-shape,” Coran gave a beaming grin to assure her. The expression didn't wholly reach his eyes, however; not truly. “Well, perhaps that's a poor choice of words. The ol' Castle of Lions is just feeling a bit ornery tonight, and I have to confess that I'm not faring much better myself.”

    “She deserves to feel so,” Allura breathed out a sigh as she held up a hand to the nearest support column. With a flicker of her will, she opened herself to the pulse of quintessence flowing within. The Castle was indeed weary – wounded and worn down in spirit, and yet quite put out for being so. “After the brunt of the battle she took, I'm merely glad that a few environmental glitches are the worst of our worries.”

    “We have Voltron to thank for that,” Coran ruffled his mustache to say. For a quick moment, a black sort of satisfaction shadowed his gaze, and the markings beneath his eyes flushed a shade of teal. “I imagine that the Galra ships are worse off than us; environmental concerns should be the least of their problems.”

    “Yes; you're quite right,” Allura's voice was low to agree - and she felt the Castle pulse in answer to her emotions. Feeling her own thrum of righteous satisfaction echo back at her, she tried to lighten her spirit. They, and the Castle in particular, needed to focus on rejuvenation and healing – if only so they would be ready to meet and triumph over the next battle as it was surely soon to follow. And so, with a familiarity born by practice more so than ease, she swallowed her own emotions and cast her eye around the chamber in an effort to distract her thoughts. There was something missing, a stray observation nagged at her before finally blooming into a full realization. Something -

    “ - Coran,” she felt her ears unwittingly twitch, “where are Pidge and Hunk?”

    Coran had tugged his smith's goggles down over his eyes, and was once again focused on repairing the power rod; it took a moment for her question to register.

    “Oh, Two and Five?” he echoed. “I sent them to bed about a varga ago – the poor things were shivering to the point where they couldn't even hold a welding wand, let alone do anything useful with it. I fear they were doing more harm than good in the end.”

    Allura blinked, startled.“Is it truly that cold?” There was a chill in the air, true, but nothing that should have been unbearable - uncomfortable, perhaps, but not oppressively so.

    “Well, for them,” Coran met her bewilderment with a baffled shrug of his own, “I do suppose it is.”

    For that, they shared a look, and Coran did smile – perhaps truly so. “You don't have to tell me, Princess,” he answered the unspoken. “The Earthlings are a . . . strange breed. But they're still a young species; perhaps in a few millennia they'll have gotten the hang of it.”

    “Yes,” Allura agreed with a wry grin. “Perhaps by then they shall.”

    Coran held her gaze for a moment more before turning back to his task, still smiling all the while.

    With such a natural lull in the conversation then presenting itself, she took the opportunity to sit down on the plasteel plating of the floor, swinging her legs over so that her feet dangled over the pit the same as Coran's did. She peered down at the pulse of the heating and cooling cores, far below, where the light seemed to pulse as if shivering, reflecting the weariness of the Castle around them. The condensation of moisture on the pale beams had turned to frozen water crystals from the cool temperature of the air. Allura traced one delicate shape with a single fingertip, and felt the frost melt underneath the heat of her skin.

    “This reminds me of visiting the frozen arches of Aushella . . . at the summit of the Blue Mountains,” her memories bubbled up and over without conscious thought, and she spoke without first registering her intention to do so. Once said aloud, however, she could not draw her words back in. Allura held her breath, feeling as if she walked on narrow footing over some vast void, stretching fathomless and deep far beneath her.

    She did not have to wait long for a reaction: Coran went very, very still next to her. He scarce even drew breath. The welding rod he held flickered in his hands; his grip about the tool slackened, even as she fought the urge to form her own fingers into fists.

    Since awakening, they did not talk about Altea overly much – not even between themselves. There was simply not the time, she was ever quick to reason with herself, and yet, Allura knew . . .

    (A part of her felt that by breathing her memories aloud, it would be admitting that they were truly gone – undeniably so. By speaking in the past tense, she was admitting her loved ones as ghosts, when, as if yesterday to her senses, Altea and all she held dear were still alive and well. Then, she couldn't even imagine such a void as she knew now.)

    But, now . . .

    Perhaps there was something craven about her silence, or perhaps she quite simply could not speak. But she was not one to bow down to fear . . . or shy away from that which needed to be done.

    So.

    “Remember the last time we were all together?” Allura tilted up her chin, and boldly pushed on. Her heart thundered as if it was attempting to escape her chest, but still she forced herself to shape the words; she decided to speak. “We all holidayed in the Blue Mountains, to welcome the cold season with the Festivals of Winter? It was only the pheeb before . . .”

    - before the experiments with the Rift were taken beyond sanity and reason . . . before her father lost two of his dearest friends in one fell swoop and had to make an impossible decision regarding the fate of their planet . . . before the destruction of Daibazaal and Zarkon's twisted resurrection . . . before her mother fell; before her father . . . and Altea . . .

    . . . before she slept for ten thousand years. (For an eternity, it may as well have been.)

    “ . . . before everything.” No matter her bravery, Allura could not quite give such particular memories a voice. Not then. (Perhaps not ever.)

    When she at last found the strength to do so, she darted a glance to see that Coran's eyes were soft and unfocused - almost as far away as she imagined her own to be. For a moment, neither of them said anything more, and the Castle's light continued to pulse around them.

    “I remember skating on the Lake of Mirrors with you and your mother,” yet, Coran at last breathed on an exhale, honoring her bravery with a leap of his own. His hand about the welding rod clenched, and then unclenched, but he would not hold their silence as they'd too long kept it. Not when she first moved to break it.

    Skating on the Lake of Mirrors, she recalled with a pang. Her father had never much cared for the pastime, but both her mother and she had – dearly so. Allura blinked, remembering the elegant leaps and twirls Coran and Fala would glide through, while the frozen lake perfectly reflected the polar lights above. The ice never seemed to have any hold on them; it was as if they danced upon any ballroom floor of solid ground – upon air, even, as synchronized as their movements were by both a deep affection and the ease of long knowing.

    (How beautiful she'd thought them to be, once.)

    Her lungs felt tight within her chest – too tight, but Allura pushed on. “I remember that Gyrgan brought that warm spiced ale, and insisted on preparing a feast for us.” (In some ways, they were unerringly alike, the new paladins and the old, she thought with a further pang - but the Yellow lion ever knew what he wanted, as all the lions did, and he'd reached out to choose a warrior with the warmest of hearts, both then and now.)

    “We all drank too much, perhaps,” Allura continued, “but Gyrgan wouldn't accept a demurral; he insisted that it would be an insult to Rygnirathin hospitality to do anything otherwise. By the time the moons rose, Blaytz and Father were deep enough into their cups to sing the solstice songs horribly off key.” For that memory, she could not keep from huffing out with a smirk, “Which I do believe you instigated - did you not, Coran?”

    “I had a weakness for Rygnirathin ale,” Coran solemnly stated, neither denying or confirming her accusation. “I reckon I still do.”

    (Or would, if Rygnirath still existed.)

    Allura's mouth thinned, and her eyes burned with a tell-tale heat. But no . . . no.

    “Trigel refused to sing,” Allura continued, tightening her jaw so as to keep it from trembling, “but she danced with Mother and I without prompting. Even - ”

    - but she could not bring herself to mention his name aloud, not from the fondness of her memories. She swallowed to remember the way her father sang: “ ~ When harpers once in wooden halls, a shining chord would strike, ~ ” all the while holding out a hand to the hulking Galra shadow and trying to get the Black paladin to join in on their merry-making. That pheeb, Zarkon had attended Alfor's solstice retreat alone, with his lady wife being unable to leave her work on the Rift behind. He'd been pensive and brooding due to her absence – a state of being that her father had been determined to fix . . . even if that meant making a fool of himself.

    “ ~ their songs like arrows pierced the soul, of great and low alike! ~”

    “ - you are clearly intoxicated, Alfor, and making a display,” Zarkon had to project his voice to be heard over Alfor's attempts at song, yet fond amusement rested, soft in the yellow of his eyes.

    To recall that expression, Allura felt her spirit threaten to tremble underneath the ice she'd encased it in. She made a fist of her hands.

    “You say 'intoxicated', my friend, yet I say that you clearly have not had enough of Gyrgan's fine brew!” Alfor brightly countered before continuing to sing, loudly and out of tune: “ ~ Aglow by hearth and candle flame, from burning branch of ember ~”

    “Dear one, you may as well join him – you know he'll never rest, otherwise,” Fala had gently cajoled, the pale pink markings beneath her eyes bright with contentment. “Come now, and honor us with a dance.”

    “ ~ the midst of all their music sang, as if to ask in wonder ~ ”

    “Yes, Zarkon, please – do whatever he says, else Alfor may never cease assaulting our ears,” Trigel joined in, her slanted eyes sparkling. (Her wry, sometimes cutting humor was ever a reminder of Pidge; and vice versa, throughout the course of ever day she grew to know the new paladins of Voltron.)

    “ ~ is there a moment quite as keen, or memory as bright – wait, what? What was that?” Alfor's song faltered. His eyes widened, and he dramatically held up a hand to his heart. ”Is that truly what you think of me, Trigel? Clearly, you have no appreciation for art, else you'd know - ”

    “ - indeed, friend Trigel,” Gyrgan gave a deep belly-laugh to interrupt. Alfor beamed, thinking he'd found an ally, yet his hopes were quickly crushed when Gyrgan continued, “The dulcet tones of Alfor are almost sweet when compared to Blaytz's dreadful bleating! Please, do not give him reason to cease, else all our ears shall suffer!”

    “Hey!” it was harder to discern who sounded more affronted: Alfor or Blaytz as their voices rose in perfect protest together. (Both were mischief makers and fierce competitors all at once; brothers in arms, quite literally, Red and Blue would always be.)

    “Traitors,” Alfor wagged a finger before exaggeratedly looping an arm through Blaytz's to console his fellow paladin. “Each and every last one of you are traitors. Thank the ancients I have you, Blaytz.”

    Alfor looked ready to sing again – this time with even more verve and volume, Allura had been sure at the time. (Meanwhile, Coran had already finished the verse himself and had started the entire song over, seemingly oblivious to the goings on around him.)

    Clearly, a touch of diplomacy was needed, Allura had decided at the time. “Here.” Somehow, she'd swallowed her laughter long enough to place her own tankard down and step forward. “You may be able to refuse my father, but you are always agreeable to a properly phrased request – are you not, Lord Zarkon? Please, would you do me the honor?”

    (Even before the quintessence of the Rift had corrupted him, Zarkon had towered over her; yet she'd never once felt small in his shadow, not even during her youngest years. Instead, his presence comforted her, the same as relying on the mass of a star for stability and light. Once, she had thought to love him for her own self, not merely because her father loved him also.)

    A tick had passed while Zarkon looked down at her pro-offered hand, and then his eyes slid to Alfor. Just barely, he smiled. “If it would please you, Princess, then dance I shall.”

    “Indeed, it would please me,” Allura had smiled brightly to say, and that was that. Zarkon put aside his own worries for the night and gave a formal bow to accept her hand. Even when moving gently, her dark fingers were completely swallowed by his own, she had thought so absently then.

    Alfor's response, of course, was immediate and transparent: he made a startled noise, and gaped. “I knew it! You love my daughter more than me, Zarkon! Truly, I am cut to the quick.”

    “I merely appreciate her grace, Alfor - look closely; there is much you may learn from her.” Zarkon could not pass the opportunity to rile his friend by. Yet his words took on a note of frank honesty, then so typical of the Galra, to say: “You and Fala have raised a fine queen for Altea - she will do the House of Airell proud when her time comes. Honestly, I dare suspect that she will surpass even your own reign, my friend.”

    For all the levity of that night, there had been no jesting for those words; not then. Even Alfor tilted his mug of ale in silent agreement – not even bothering to deny his friend's claim as Trigel and Gyrgan echoed Zarkon's words with a resounding, “Hear, hear!” Blaytz gave a whooping sound, and raised his tankard. Softer than the paladins in her mannerisms, Fala's eyes had gone bright in a way Allura cherished in her memories; it was a look that ever warmed her.

    Then, sober and serious, Alfor met her eyes, his expression fond. “Indeed; she is the best part of me, of that there can be no doubt.”

    But then his ears twitched as he heard Coran lap them on the verse, and with a smile he turned to grab Blaytz's hands and twirl his fellow paladin about. His voice rose to find his place in the song again: “ ~ is there a moment quite as keen, or memory as bright . . . ~”

    “ ~ . . . as light and fire and music, sweet . . . ~”

    “ ~ . . . to warm the winter's night?”

    . . . and Allura remembered. Oh, she remembered everything.

    Her closed fists then clenched. For a moment, her lungs hurt to expand in her chest. Her every heartbeat burned.

    Scarce day cycles had passed since her being held hostage for Voltron by the Galra. Being forced to stand there before the creature who wore Zarkon's skin and his witch, she remembered how her painbetrayalrage had bubbled over, great and terrible and overwhelming in shape. You monster! had been all she was able to exclaim before laying the destruction of Altea at his feet, and he hadn't even blinked in response to her fury. She'd held on to her abhorrence then, trusting her righteous fervor to warm her and lend her focus – otherwise, who knew for how long she would have been able to remain standing? Yet she had so much she had wanted to say; needed to say, even. My father loved you! she had so desperately wanted to scream and rail – yet, once she started, she feared she would never stop. My father loved you as you loved him – as you loved us all . . . or, at least we thought.

    Why . . . how could you have . . .

    If she dared to unclench her fists, she knew they would tremble. She could feel her nails bite into her palms.

    And then, a sense of warmth encompassed her, startling her from the icy, downward spiral of her thoughts.

    Slowly, gently, as if trying to move around a spooked ceffyl without startling it into bolting, Coran's white gloved hands reached out and gently rested atop her own. She looked up, and saw that while she tried to hold down the rise of feeling bubbling within her, Coran's eyes watered openly with tears. But even he would only shed them in silence; the time for mourning was not quite upon them. Not yet.

    “I remember how we all danced that night,” Coran's voice was soft to echo her memories. His thumb passed over the fine bones atop of her hand, slowly moving from her wrist to her knuckles and back again, and she found comfort in the gesture. “The Defenders of the Universe, they called us . . . then a bunch of fools who could hardly stay upright for laughing so.”

    Distantly, Allura remembered spinning and twirling through the festive steps as music and laughter and the warm light from the hearth-fire blurred before her eyes. How it seemed their happiness would never end, then.

    “Yes,” her voice was tight, “ . . . we were a bunch of fools.”

    They were so, so foolish. But they'd never be caught unaware by a false friend again; not ever.

    Now, she acknowledged to herself, the Castle was quiet – too quiet, perhaps. Once a home to hundreds and a revolving door for so many more . . . no matter how loud, how bright, how beautiful her six comrades were, even they could not wholly fill this space with light and life. Sometimes, her memories felt as a weight – a burden, keeping her from sleep. Other nights, she turned them over and over again in her mind, as if to convince herself that they truly happened; they'd all been there together once, and they'd known happiness.

    (Once.)

    “ . . . some things,” Coran whispered distantly, “still feel like yesterday, do they not?”

    Yes . . . almost beyond the point of pain, they did. But . . . at the very least, she did not suffer that pain alone.

    “I miss them too, Coran,” Allura finally breathed outright. She gently uncurled her fists so that she could better fold her hands about his own; she squeezed, and let herself both share and find warmth in her turn. “I miss them so, so much. Sometimes, it's hard to breathe with my missing.”

    “And all the more so with every passing day, it seems . . . it never seems to fades,” Coran echoed her inner-most self to say. How comparatively simple, he had always found voicing his every thought and emotion. The weight of his regard was heavy in his eyes then; he'd always loved her parents so dearly, she knew, as they had loved him. He was more than an extension of their family; he was a part of their family.

    He was her family now.

    “Your father would have been proud of what you've accomplished - of what you will accomplish,” Coran continued. “He knew that you were more than the universe's best hope when he hid you away; you were his best hope.”

    Alarmingly, she felt her stone facade waver; her eyes burned, and a telling wetness traced down her cheek.

    “But who knows?” Coran infused his voice with a forced lightness for seeing her grief crack; her attempts for stoicism at last failed her. Tenderly, he untangled one of his hands from hers just long enough to wipe the remnants of her tears away; his touch lingered on her cheek for a moment after, comfortingly brushing over one of her markings to share what warmth he could. “We may sing the solstice songs again, Princess; they are not forgotten - not as long as we remember them.”

    And yet, for what winter season? Allura wondered, but did not say. No matter how they fought, Altea would never be restored to them. It would always be gone.

    “I hear that Earth has a few . . . traditions of its own it celebrates,” Coran continued. “I'll admit that they were a little non-linear, and, honestly, hard to keep straight when Lance tried to explain them, but they are there. Perhaps we'll just have to learn some new songs.”

    “You're right,” Allura used the heel of her free hand to scrub at her eyes. She refused to cry any longer; not any more. “There will be a time for singing again; for all of us.” For her dear, nascent paladins; for her loved ones, now gone; and the untold trillions of star-systems languishing under an unforgiving dictator's yoke now.

    Yet, that was still a distant day, in the future to come. Until then . . .

    “Well,” Coran finally shook his head, and shot her a rueful grin, “the heating core will not fix itself. Best I get back to work before our poor Terran allies freeze in their sleep.”

    “I will stay with you,” Allura leaned forward to offer, her voice earnest. “I can help.”

    “No, Princess,” Coran's voice was soft – yet surprisingly firm. “I know that this last battle drained you too. Go and rest – sleep if you can. No doubt there will be another fight waiting for us tomorrow.” His voice darkened with a low anticipation, and his eyes flashed as if to say: let it come. It was a feeling she understood in its entirety.

    Even so, she hesitated. Allura understood a dismissal when she heard it – and while she understood, she still didn't quite care for her understanding at all. Coran would never ask her to leave outright, but she well knew the need to process one's emotions in private as well as with others . . . and she would honor that.

    She had only one course left to her, then. “Goodnight, Coran,” she breathed, before leaning forward to kiss his brow the same way she would have her father. She lingered for a moment, pressing her forehead to his own, unwilling to let the contact go. “Don't exhaust yourself too much, you hear? You are truly vital to us, you must know.”

    Feather soft, so much so that she thought she first imagined it, she felt his gloved hands pass over the tips of her ears as he patted the curls of her hair. “Goodnight . . . Allura,” she next felt his words more than she heard them aloud. In that moment, her spirit no longer felt quite as heavy.

    She exhaled one last time, breathing in tandem with him, and then drew away.

    Slowly, she found her feet, and with one last sad, shared smile, she took her leave. Her steps carried her away, but she was hardly swallowed by the dark tunnels before she heard Coran's voice echo from the chamber follow her: “ ~ Is there a moment quite as keen, or memory as bright . . . as light and fire and music, sweet . . . ~”

    “. . . to warm the winter's night?” Allura finished the verse under her breath, her voice barely an audible sound to whisper. She paused for only a heartbeat more before turning to leave her memories behind. Feeling her heart seize in her chest, she walked on in search of warmth.



    OoOoO

    Note: Alfor's song is taken from Adam Christianson's poem, "A Leaf from the Book of Songs". :)


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2018
    Chyntuck likes this.
  5. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    I love Allura's memories of her parents & the fun times. Altea sounds a lovely lovely place! To be asleep 10,000 years... wow. And the treachery of one whom one thought was a friend. Nothing cuts deeper.

    I am happy Coran has those same sweet memories and they can share their grief and give mutual support. I am confident one day she will be able to find joy, love, and purpose again. @};- She is very much like Leia, in the best of ways. =D=
     
  6. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Allura and Coran are nice sharing the same sweet memories. Great songs
     
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  7. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha - Allura's entire backstory (and the story of the original paladins themselves) checks off all my notes as both a reader and writer, so it was all sorts of interesting for me to delve into her mindset here. I'm glad you enjoyed! There was a lot of love and beauty in her past, even for how things eventually went wrong. :( And, in her own way, she is finding a new purpose and belonging now, you're too right! [face_love][:D]

    earlybird-obi-wan - Thanks! :D



    OoOoO


    III. Pidge

    All of her efforts to get her heater to work past its intended operational settings were finding increasingly quick and frustrating ends. She'd hit a wall, and if she wanted to solve her quandary she needed to go and rummage for additional parts.

    What she wouldn't give for an Altean power-rod right then, Pidge thought wistfully; that would be perfect. Her deep sigh vaporized on the air, and she went cross-eyed while grumpily staring at the visible puff of breath. She could turn her room into a sauna if she had access to one of those . . . but she wasn't about to leave the relative comfort of her quarters behind to search for one. She'd already lost feeling in her fingertips long before Coran sent them away; pulling up the floorboards to harvest the parts she needed wasn't exactly an appealing option at the moment, either.

    So . . . for the time being, she was stuck.

    Glaring at the useless scrap of metal in her lap, she drew her hands to her mouth and huffed a warm breath into her cupped palms. Rationally, she knew that the comfort of the motion would be short lived, but for the moment it felt good, and she could bend her fingers again.

    It was official, Pidge concluded. She was feeling somewhat miserable.

    She just hated being cold – and she caught chills easily, even back on Earth; she was too small not to. Unfortunately for her, she usually didn't notice that she was cold until she'd gone past uncomfortable chilly to freezing. (Sometimes, she could be one track-minded, she could admit. Just the tiniest bit.)

    “Face it, Pidge: you'd freeze to death if it wasn't for me.” She could feel the ghostly sensation of Matt running up behind her on the newly shoveled path to tug a knit winter hat down over her head with perhaps more force than was necessary. His beanie was too big on her, and the wool slipped down over her eyes, blocking her view of the screen she was trying to walk and read at the same time. Her face had scrunched up in annoyance - she could still feel the cold tugging at her skin to make that expression - before Matt gently tucked the rim of the cap up and out of her eyes. His own gaze turned soft to add: “You gotta take care of yourself while we're gone, sis – if you don't, you'll never join us out here. And I will never forgive you for that. Space just won't be the same without you.”

    She couldn't stay mad at Matt when he was leaving in just a few months; not even if she tried. With an exaggerated sigh, she'd put the clunky gloves on too - just to make him happy. They were running out of time together, and she wouldn't waste the moments they did have on grumbling. Come springtime . . .

    “That means scarves and hats – and button up your coat! Protect your hands; what will your big brain matter if you can't put any of your thoughts into action, huh?”

    But, now . . .

    “Ah, ah, ah! No buts, or I'm telling Mom. She still has the power to ground you, and with one kid gone something tells me she'll be all the more trigger-happy to use that card. Don't test her!”

    Pidge took a deep breath in through her mouth, and held it. She exhaled slowly, and watched as her breath clouded on the air.

    The edge of the solar system, she thought distantly – what an amazing novelty that had seemed at the time. Her father had been ecstatic; her brother beyond words for the honor of fielding the mission to Kerberos and back. Yet . . . that was then. Then.

    Not too long ago, the moons of Pluto had been the furthest mankind had traveled, and, if anything, the exploration of their solar system only solidified their singular presence in the universe. Humanity had existed alone, they'd thought. Now . . .

    . . . now, the universe was teeming with life and Earth was so, so insignificant on the grand scale of things that it wasn't even worth conquering in the eyes of the Galra. (Well, not yet, anyway.) The boundary of their solar system was no longer a tether, leashing them to their little yellow sun, and she'd flown many, several galaxies away from the Milky Way itself. Yet, no matter how far she traveled, she was still no closer to finding her father . . . or her brother. (No matter that there were times when she felt as if Matt was so close that she could reach out to a passing star and touch him. He was out there, and she was going to bring him home. She was.)

    Pidge glared down at her useless heater and her cold hands, before shoving the parts aside. With a low growl of sound, she got to her feet, her mind made up. She was cold, and she was going to do something about it. It was always as simple as that.

    (Righteous fervor would only go so far in warming her, she knew from experience. She had to move now, and finish her task quickly.)

    She needed a power supply; one close by. Her brain worked, calling to mind what she knew of the Castle and wishing – for the umpteenth time – that it was built on a smaller scale. There was no way that the bridge and their hangars and the kitchen should have been so far apart; just the daily routine of traversing that route alone would have counted as her exercise for an entire month back on Earth, let alone -

    Oh – oh. Perfect! Why didn't she think of that earlier?

    The kitchens. If anything had a quick and ready power source she could borrow, it was there. And it was, by virtue of necessity, relatively close to their quarters. She could make that walk, no matter how miserable the temperature was.

    Pidge scraped up her dismantled heater and shoved the extra pieces into her pack before shouldering the bag. Then, with one last determined huff of breath, she turned to brave her way through the halls.

    Ai ya! She hadn't realized how much her heater had done for her room before she decided to try and improve on its thermal output. The long, cavernous corridors were frigid; icy patterns of frost had bloomed on the elegant white-grey support columns, and everything from the panels to the floorboards had even more of a blue tint than usual. The air that did manage to wisp through the vents came out in voluminous clouds of translucent vapor, giving the Castle an ethereal, haunted look that late in the night cycle. The haze of condensation seemingly writhed with a life of its own, and the creaks and moans of the infrastructure were all the louder without the constant droning of the engines. This certainly wasn't a good time to remember Coran's spookier tales from Altea – not at all. On Earth, Pidge could brush all of that paranormal garbage aside as complete and utter nonsense; it was too illogical to believe as real. Here, however . . .

    Well, the Castle was made from science so advanced that it at times seemed inexplicable to the untrained eye, not to mention the seemingly supernatural components it used with its space-crystals and mystical quintessence and an honest to goodness organic interface in Allura's ability to manipulate that quintessence as if she was a Jedi with the Force. Some stories were now admittedly difficult to cast aside when she had solid proof of something more existing in the universe; something else.

    . . . so she was definitely not thinking of King Iolo the Headless or Priestess Eimlyn the Bloody as she darted through the billowing curtains of mist, she was not.

    Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that Matt would have laughed himself silly over this – the same as when he'd shown her Alien when she was still in second grade, and she hadn't been able to sleep in her own bed for a month. Ha ha, Matt, very funny, she rolled her eyes. She wasn't scared of the dark anymore.

    . . . and Alien wasn't nearly as terrifying as the reality of life beyond Earth. Not even close.

    With that sobering thought in mind, she made it to the kitchens and ducked inside, her heart still hammering in her chest, no matter how she rolled her eyes at herself and told her brain to knock it off.

    With a wave of thought, the Castle closed the door behind her, and she turned to rest her head against the icy panels covering the wall. See, Pidge? she snorted at her own foolishness. You're being ridiculous. There's nothing -

    - but a heavy hand suddenly fell on her shoulder, and a shadow blocked out the dim, faint blue emergency lighting pulsating behind her. Cursing herself for not bringing her bayard, Pidge did the next best thing:

    She jumped a good foot in the air, and shrieked: “No! It's my head and you can't have it!”

    She landed and fell to her knees, where she then curled herself into as small a target as possible. Her heart felt fit to beat right out of her chest as her hands came up to defensively shield her head. Yep: the Green Paladin of Voltron, ladies and gentlemen. That was her.

    “Um . . . Pidge?”

    . . . wait a minute. Was that -

    - Hunk?

    Slowly, she opened one eye, and then the other. She blinked, and squinted through her crossed arms to see that, sure enough . . .

    “Oh, it's just you,” she breathed out a deep sigh of relief. “I thought you were Iolo the Headless coming to get me.”

    Her cheeks burned, and she ducked her gaze away as she bashfully found her feet again. She was more embarrassed by her reaction than words could say - but she didn't need to worry too much. This was Hunk she was talking to.

    “King Iolo, huh?” Hunk parroted, before he gave an equal shudder to match. “Yeah that'd do it; I'd have screamed too. And here I just thought that you were Priestess Eimlyn the Bloody coming for my soul. Yikes.”

    Thank-you! She wasn't alone in letting Coran's stupid stories get to her head.

    “Tell me about it!” Pidge rolled her eyes, feeling infinitely better about her outburst. “It was all the mist in the halls that did it for me.”

    “And the chilling sub-zero temperatures of imminent death,” Hunk added solemnly. “I know how to add two and two, and in this case I got four.”

    Because, obviously.

    . . . but their conclusions wouldn't mean a thing where their teammates were concerned. They weren't always the most logical bunch; reasoning just didn't work on them.

    “So . . .” Pidge narrowed her eyes from underneath her glasses. “We won't tell anyone about this, right . . . ever?”

    “Oh, mum's the word,” Hunk nodded, and that was that. He mimed zipping his mouth shut and throwing away the key. “This is most definitely our little secret.”

    They stared at each other, and something unspoken passed. Lance would have been insufferable with this knowledge, she knew. Pidge already grappled with a daily urge to shove him back in that cyro-pod – or the air-lock, on really bad days. He didn't need any fuel to add to that fire for his own sake.

    “Okay then,” Pidge gave one last deep exhale as her pulse returned to normal. At least her flood of adrenaline had helped her to warm up; it was the little things that mattered. “Anyways - what are you doing here, Hunk?”

    “I thought it would be obvious.” Hunk beamed to gesture to one of the prep counters. “I couldn't sleep – it was way too cold in my room, so I decided to create; that always keeps me warm. I'm glad you're here, actually; come and see what I made!”

    Pidge looked, and, sure enough, there were four mugs out and waiting by the one working stove-top Hunk had been able to rig to start from the back-up power. There, a pot of something liquid boiled. It was vaguely blue in color, and very thick and opaque. Was that -

    “It's the last of the blue milk from Arus,” Hunk puffed up proudly to say. “Or at least I think it's milk. It . . . it came from that, well, that thing. It was very cow-like, wasn't it? Well, goat-like, maybe? Sheep-like? It was some sort of herd animal . . . or I think it was. It was in a pasture, at least.”

    Pidge raised a brow, and patiently waited for him to finish.

    “Well, anyway, I'm calling it milk,” Hunk shrugged to conclude. “And on cold nights there's nothing better than drinking something warm and yummy. So I made hot chocolate.”

    Hot chocolate, huh?

    “What are you using for the chocolate?” Pidge asked, curious.

    As always, Hunk was all too happy to share his secrets. He picked up a freeze dried package, and passed it to her. She squinted through her glasses to read the label as he explained aloud, “I found this bit called Rygnirathin grythar root. When ground to a powder it's sweet and very smooth in texture – almost chocolaty, I would say. I think it's going to be a perfect substitute.”

    “Hunk,” Pidge was more leery of trying strange alien ingredients, “that root has been preserved for ten thousand years; and it's left over from a now extinct planet. Do you really think that - ”

    “ - Allura said she didn't want it,” Hunk quietly interrupted. “Any of it. Though I won't touch the stuff from Altea, obviously . . . I'm trying to build up to making her something traditional from home - when she'll be able to enjoy it, of course. Not now.”

    Yep, that was Hunk. Pidge shook her head, and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. Alright then: hot chocolate whipped together from what may or may not have been sorta-milk, flavored with an ancient preserved root from a long destroyed planet. It couldn't be any worse than the rest of Coran's paladin-diet. Eugh.

    “And I found this,” Hunk next brandished a packet of crushed red flakes. “It's a spice, and it's - ” this, he crouched down to dramatically stage-whisper into her ear, “ - Galran. I recognized the symbols, but I had to try it anyway. It's probably back from when they were, you know, still friends.” He stood back up, and clapped his hands together. “But never mind where it came from! It's spicy, thank goodness. Alteans were very conservative with their seasonings, I can tell you that! They keep a very sad pantry! Seriously, Pidge, it's distressing!”

    Pidge snorted. “Great; we're all going to turn purple and blood-thirsty now.”

    “Now that's just speciest and scientifically impossible,” Hunk wagged a finger at her. “Shame on you.”

    Pidge gave him an unimpressed look. “It wouldn't be the strangest thing we've seen out here.” She wasn't ruling anything out. “Why do you need something spicy for hot chocolate, anyway? That's just gross.”

    Hunk had turned back to stir the not-milk, and something about his demeanor softened. She watched the strong, broad line of his shoulders dip. “It's not for us . . . it's for Lance.”

    . . . oh.

    While they all had their . . . windows and blinds - Pidge still couldn't think of a better way to phrase it, thank-you, Lance - their friend really was the worst at keeping his shades drawn. She'd glimpsed uncomfortably clear flashes of memory from him a few times that night, and she knew that he was in a low place, missing his family. His bouts of homesickness weren't an altogether rare occurrence - or something she could really fault him for, either. She understood how he felt . . . oh, she understood.

    “I wanted to make something that'll remind him of home - especially since I can't get anything even vaguely resembling pizza to work with the ingredients I have,” for that Hunk sighed - a thwarted and forlorn sound. “Sometimes it's just . . . overwhelming, being out here, you know? I know how he feels; I mean . . . I'm just a guy with a knack for building things. I never wanted to fly missions - I wanted to be safe on the ground after I graduated from the Garrison, safe on Earth, and now . . .”

    Pidge felt something deep inside of her twinge; she bit her lip, and glanced down at her feet.

    “ . . . now you're one of the five paladins of an ancient, semi-supernatural alien superweapon, charged with the safety of the entire universe and expected to defeat an evil emperor who makes all of our childhood dark lords look like low tier crooks back on Earth?” she finished for him. It sounded outlandish – impossible, even – but it was the truth as plainly as she could put it.

    Voldemort couldn't conquer a single high school, they'd laughed about it once, long before that fateful night in the mountains. Sauron let a single world slip through his fingertips, time and time again; Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader couldn't stifle out the light in their galaxy for more than a few decades. But, Zarkon . . . he'd controlled much of the known universe for ten thousand years. Pidge was good with numbers; she understood the odds . . . and these were staggering. The original paladins, with all their years of experience and intimate knowledge of the enemy, hadn't been able to touch Zarkon's reign in its infancy . . . and their hodge-podge group of misfit teenagers from Earth (plus Shiro and Allura and Coran, of course) was supposed to do what, exactly?

    “Uh . . . yeah. Just like you said,” Hunk's shoulders fell even further to agree. “You got it in one. And, me? I love Yellow – in some ways he's the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I can't imagine life without him, so don't get me wrong . . . but . . .”

    “Other times . . . you just miss pizza,” Pidge concluded, in the simplest terms she could.

    “Mmm, pizza . . . you too, huh?” Hunk gave a wistful chuckle, but his expression was stretched thin at the edges.

    Pidge stared at his slumped shoulders, and shifted her weight from foot to foot, trying her best to summon a sincere smile for her friend - which was sometimes difficult for her on her best days. Besides Keith - and Shiro, in a different way - she kept her windows drawn and her mind-rooms dark more so than any of her teammates. It wasn't anything personal - it was just out of habit for hiding who she was for so long. She herself couldn't look at parts of her own mind too closely; if she did, if she really lingered on what she'd lost, she didn't know if she'd be able to remain standing, to remain fighting. Even then, she felt something tight and constricting squeeze about her throat, and her eyes turned hot – alarmingly so.

    “Yeah . . . I do miss pizza,” Pidge forced herself to say next, firming her jaw as determination to lift her friend's spirits filled her. She would if she could; she'd try for Hunk – Hunk, who was always doting and fretting over everyone else in the group. He was their mother-hen, she liked to tease him, but it was true, in the best of ways. “I miss pizza, and my video games, and my mom,” she pushed forward. “I . . . I know she's okay, at least, that she's safe at home and thinking of me. I miss her as much as I miss my dad . . . and Matt. And I'm going to get them back, I know I am . . . I'm just . . .”

    “ . . . tired?” Hunk offered, but the word was so tiny. “All of this can all be . . . a bit overwhelming.”

    “Yeah,” Pidge dropped her chin to say. She hugged her arms about her chest, and felt the weight of her pack stretch across her back. “I guess it is.”

    And, for all their efforts, they'd barely put a dent in Zarkon's rule; they wouldn't even be alive if it wasn't for a traitor in his own ranks. Though she didn't feel like it, she was only fifteen; she'd hardly lived yet, and she'd already been in so many close calls, where it all could have been over, just like that. (And she was nowhere closer to finding Matt, or her father, no matter how she tried.)

    But they were still alive, and they were still fighting, she firmly reminded herself. They weren't nearly done yet. Though she found it difficult to open her shades, she tried her best. She didn't have anything in particular to show Hunk - she just wanted to remind him that she was there for him, that they were both a part of this new team-sorta-family they were building. She never really had to try harder than that with Hunk – he understood even what was inferred, as he always did.

    And, in return she could glimpse sands even whiter than in Lance's memories, with the ocean surf impossibly blue underneath an equally clear blue sky. The tropical fauna was verdant and rich with pops of jewel-toned color around his childhood home, right at the base of a great volcanic mountain. He truly had grown up in paradise, just north of Hilo on the Big Island, and to have left that behind for the cold ways of outer space now . . .

    “You know,” Hunk tilted his head thoughtfully, before he spoke in time with the images Pidge could glimpse, “it was just me and my mom for years, and I liked it that way – we were all each other had for so long. We were all each other needed, I thought. It was hard for me when she found Ken . . . it took me a long time to warm up to him; I didn't want to warm up to him. But with Ken, I got a little sister in Moani – and I wouldn't have her in my life if Mom hadn't remarried. I wouldn't have been able to know her if things hadn't changed . . . if I didn't allow myself to love my family as it grew.”

    Pidge caught a glimpse of a smiling little girl with flowers braided in her thick black hair – which she just knew Hunk had helped with, splashing in the frothy ocean waves and asking Hunk if she was old enough to use his surfboard yet. She was cute, even Pidge had to admit – and she'd never much cared for the sand, or even the ocean itself. Sand and salt-water and tech didn't mix, after all, and her pale skin ached for just imagining the burns that inevitably accompanied a beach-day for her. But she liked the softness of Hunk's memories; she liked the warmth they shared, and inspired in return.

    Distantly, she thought to understand what Hunk was trying to say: none of this was according to plan. Everything that had happened since rescuing Shiro was so far beyond what they had expected, or even wanted, but . . .

    . . . she'd never have known this ridiculous team so well if life had just gone on the same. For everything that had changed, she had gained as much as she had lost.

    And she yet stood to gain so much more.

    “I'd like to meet Moani,” after a long moment of silence, Pidge offered a hesitant smile to say. “If we ever make our way back to Earth, that is.”

    When we make it back to Earth,” Hunk firmly stated, “I'm sure she'd love to meet you too. She's the smartest person I know; you'll love her.”

    Saying that in front of Pidge was quite the claim. Her mouth quirked up in a more honest expression to playfully accept his challenge. “That, of course," she smirked, "I will have to see for myself.”

    “And you'll have to tell me what Matt and Captain Holt like, in the meantime,” Hunk nodded smartly, with a gesture to his kitchen. “It's hard mixing up alien fare to taste normal, and I'll need the time to practice.”

    For that, Pidge couldn't quite find the words; her memories were close enough to touch, then, more real in shape than any imagined ghost in the halls beyond. Her eyes burned, but she squeezed them closed and refused to let her tears fall. Shedding them felt too much felt like grief; like mourning. And she wasn't mourning; she was determined.

    An old, familiar flame stoked to life underneath her heart, and she stubbornly took off her glasses so that she could scrub the heel of her opposite palm over her eyes. No, she wasn't ready to admit defeat. Not nearly.

    “So,” if Hunk felt the weight of her emotions, he was kind enough not to mention it outright. Instead, he changed the subject to say, “What brings you to the kitchen anyway? You forget to eat on normal days, and now it's the middle of the night and it's freezing.”

    Oh, right; the power-rod! How could she have forgotten so quickly?

    - but she couldn't exactly tell Hunk that she was there to cannibalize one of his stoves to get her heater to work on overdrive. She didn't think he would take that well.

    And, of course, he didn't.

    “You're here to do what!? Katie Marie Holt, you wouldn't dare!”

    Right, right, right: the windows and blinds thing between them, the windows and her wide open blinds! She'd forgotten! With a snap of mental effort, she darkened the rooms of her mind and jammed her shades back in place. This everyone being able to look inside of everyone else's head-holes thing really sucked sometimes, and she still wanted no part of it; no matter the short-term benefits of their bond.

    “Heh, heh,” she breathed awkwardly, fighting not to cower back as Hunk propped his hands up on his hips and bent down to loom oppressively over her. She'd gotten into Matt's things often enough as a child to not read that pose loud and clear, and Hunk was huge compared to her lanky brother; he could be intimidating when he wanted to be. “Right, about that, you see -”

    “ - no, I don't see!” Hunk shrieked. “Pidge, how could you!?”

    “Okay, okay – I'm sorry. I won't touch your ovens, I swear,” Pidge huffed. She held her hands up to get him to back off. “There's no need to get so worked up about it, seriously.”

    “Oh, you think I'm 'worked up' right now? That's like me deciding that: hey, I don't exactly like how this stove distributes heat. So, I know: let me just take some of my good buddy Pidge's parts from whatever project she's working on, and use that instead. She doesn't really need them anyway; who cares about what makes her happy. It's just bad manners, and I can't believe - ”

    “ - okay!” Pidge knew that her voice was tinged with more exasperation than remorse – almost childishly so, but she couldn't help it. Next he'd be saying that he was going to run and tell Shiro on her! “I get it – seriously, Hunk, you can knock it off.”

    Hunk huffed out a deep breath through his nose, not nearly appeased. If he was a cartoon character, Pidge was certain that he'd have steam blowing out from his ears. Instead of backing down, he continued to glower at her, his eyes narrowing suspiciously – as if she was about to leap forward and dismantle an oven right then and there. She wasn't sure she would have escaped another tirade from him if not for -

    - a timer on the stove went off behind him.

    Pidge let loose a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, and fought the counter-productive urge she had to make a shooing motion. It wouldn't have been the first time her more . . . sarcastic tendencies got her into further trouble.

    “You,” Hunk breathed darkly, “are a lucky paladin.”

    But, thus summoned by his art, Hunk turned to tend to the boiling pot on the burner. Pidge breathed another sigh of relief, and wiped her forehead. She already had one brother, she had wanted to protest before they were interrupted, and she didn't need another.

    Yet . . .

    Watching Hunk arrange a cup for Lance just so with its dusting of not-quite-chili-powder did make something deep down inside of her warm. She was kinda glad she didn't say that . . . even if she would never admit anything even vaguely similar to anyone on the team aloud. Not ever.

    Finally, after each cup had its portion of whip cream (where he got that from, Pidge didn't want to know), Hunk turned back to pin her with a solemn look. “I forgive you, Pidge. Don't even think about dismantling my kitchen again.”

    Pidge couldn't help but roll her eyes. “Fine. I promise that I will never steal parts from your precious kitchen. Are you happy now?”

    “Yes. Very,” Hunk nodded sharply, and that was that. She was forgiven. “Now,” his eyes scrunched up with a beaming smile, “I'm sure we can find a power-rod for you somewhere while we head back. Until then: this Arus-milk and Rygnirathin-root-hot-chocolate with Galra-chili-spice isn't going to drink itself. Let's go.”



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2018
    Chyntuck likes this.
  8. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    I adore meeting these new characters -- Pidge is very likeable and Hunk is so nurturing and caring. You get a sense of the solidarity that is building in this team/family but also of all the things/people they miss and wonder if they'll ever see again. Even if they do return home, how much will be familiar of what was left behind? [face_thinking] That number is indeed staggering -- 10,000 years of tyranny that was never toppled?! :eek: I agree with Pidge. The odds of victory seem eentsy weentsy. [face_nail_biting] Which make the losses even harder to deal with. @};-

    What is even more fascinating is the glimpse we have of Zarkon in "Erebrean Period" -- he does not feel like an insane power crazed despot there. [face_thinking]
     
  9. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Old movies and books and memories. Alien scaring her. Voldemort, Sidious and now Zarkon. Love the discussion between Pidge and Hunk. And glad she didn't dismantle his kitchen
     
  10. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    I just love this cast to pieces, so I'm glad that you're enjoying getting to know them, too! They definitely hit all of my 'team as family' buttons, both out of necessity and prior friendships building, and I love exploring their bonds.

    And Zarkon! No he most certainly did not start as a power-hungry despot - quite the opposite, actually! His fall from grace fascinates me, and his backstory definitely upgrades him from the typical cartoon bad-guy in my book. But the worst villains oftentimes start from good intentions, I think Gandalf had something to say about that once. ;) :(

    As always, I thank-you so much for reading! [:D] :D


    I'm glad that you enjoyed the hodge-podge of characters and references! It certainly was a fun mix-up to write. [face_love]


    Alrighty, here we are with more. And, of course my muse slipped and the chapter got wordy . . . and even a bit shippy at the end. This was supposed to be a completely gen fic, but I couldn't seem to help myself. ;)

    Enjoy! [:D]



    OoO



    IV. Shiro
    The Castle was cold that night; or, at least, Takashi Shirogane supposed it was.

    Admittedly, he still had a hard time sensitizing himself to certain things. Hot and cold; thirst and hunger; the need for rest; acknowledging certain levels of discomfort, even pain – his brain failed to notice most physiological triggers until they seized his attention and absolutely refused to be ignored. He'd grown used to simply existing for so long . . . perhaps for too long. Physical comfort had long since failed to factor into consideration when struggling to survive from one day to the next.

    Sometimes it was difficult to remember that things were different now. He didn't have to claw his way - hour by hour, minute by minute - just to stay alive. There was a tomorrow waiting for him; there was a future to look forward to. It didn't matter how uncertain that future was - in comparison to what he'd left behind, the possibilities were endless simply because those possibilities existed.

    . . . but that was one thought amongst many that Shiro didn't wholly allow himself to process – not then; not completely. He couldn't . . . and so he did not.

    Instead, he registered the way his breath clouded on the air and told himself that yes: he was cold. It was okay to do something about that; to seek out warmth was to be human - and he was still human, no matter how much of himself he'd lost during his year of captivity.

    His Galran arm twitched for the thought. There were still times when he had trouble acknowledging the limb as his own. The interfaces on the metal grafts itched at odd moments, as if the ability to feel and transmit discomfort to his brain was an afterthought added by the druids - or maybe it had nothing to do with the alien tech at all, perhaps it was simply his own mind missing what was lost and processing an intrusive addition to his body as a foreign invader. Those phantom sensations were difficult to ignore – infinitely more so than such transient sensations such as fatigue or the cold.

    So, as he did on most nights when he felt stretched in his own skin, Shiro wandered the empty corridors of the Castle. He didn't have the know-how to aid Coran, and he'd been shooed away by the more technically minded of their team hours ago for 'awkwardly loitering' – thanks, Pidge. He hadn't been ready to turn in, and instead passed a few rounds in the training ring with Keith before leaving the kid with firm instructions not to stay up too late with the gladiator 'bot. Then he'd cleaned himself up and just . . . walked. He didn't have a destination in mind, nor was he necessarily looking for something. He was just trying to wear himself out to the point where he could crash and find a few hours of – hopefully – dreamless sleep.

    Shiro felt like a ghost in the corridors at night. It was easy enough to lose himself in the Castle during the day, but at night, with everything so hushed and quiet to simulate a true rest-cycle, it was somehow more sobering to imagine the ship as a home for hundreds of individuals, now all long gone. Sometimes, he saw Allura on his nightly wanderings, and they would walk together. Mostly, they kept each other company in silence; other times, they chatted softly; sometimes, they merely nodded at each other before continuing on their separate ways. He wasn't a stranger to personal demons, and he knew what it took to battle them; they understood each other in that regard.

    Rarer still did Keith join him. Shiro suspected that Keith had as many sleepless nights as he did, but he preferred to find a perch and stay in one spot, alone, whenever his thoughts overtook him - if he wasn't exhausting himself training, that was. Sometimes, he'd find Lance in the lounge, listlessly watching the movies from Earth Pidge had downloaded before they were catapulted into space. On those nights, he rarely blinked, or even much acknowledged Shiro when his thoughts were clearly lightyears away. Sometimes he'd find Hunk in the kitchens for much the same reason – but Shiro had long ago been dubbed a 'bad omen' for Hunk's culinary pursuits, and he knew better than to linger there.

    But, just as he did every night, his long, lonely path took him to the Black lion's hangar. He couldn't go to sleep without seeing her first.

    If Lance had been the first amongst them to so easily accept that a giant robot lion had chosen him as its paladin . . . its pilotinterfacepartner, then, in some ways, Shiro had most easily accepted the further reaching implications of that bond without blinking or looking back. Even that first time, he'd submerged himself in Black's mind with the same ease of dipping into a pool of water; the idea of sinking hadn't even been a thought. It'd felt second-nature, natural even, to allow his mind to exist as an extension of her own. He saw through her eyes, he drew on her years of experience and ethereal knowledge, and she flew through his heart and hands in return. After existing by himself, for himself, for so long . . .

    For him, Black was that first gulp of fresh air after nearly drowning; she was his chance for a new life and a beginning. She was the same freedom that the blackness of space had initially promised him, all those years ago. With her, he learned to love the thing that had fascinated him since childhood all over again. Each day he spent at her helm erased one more day with the Galra, and, through her, he attempted to heal.

    When this was all said and done, most of the team had families of their own to return to. He knew how much the kids missed Earth – he really did; he'd know that even without glimpsing their thoughts though Voltron. Yet, all that awaited him back on Earth amounted to . . . well, not very much. He'd fit the stereotypical mold for most pilots seeking deep-space, interplanetary missions to begin with: he didn't have anyone to leave behind. There was no one for him to lose, nor was there anyone who would miss him while he was gone; it was just him, by himself.

    . . . until the Holts came along.

    After moving his family to the Garrison proper to prepare for their upcoming mission, Captain Holt had taken a clear liking to him – a liking that turned to more than the typical bond between a commanding officer and his highest ranking subordinate. The captain's mentoring took on an edge of something paternal, just as Shiro quickly came to view Matt as the little brother he'd never had. His time with the Holts filled in a gap he hadn't even realized existed, and he further entrenched himself with mentoring the up and coming young pilots at the Garrison while he prepared for his own mission to the edge of the solar system. He was the only child of the Sora Shirogane; he carried a legend through her name even before he excelled on his own skills, his own merits. For both the exploits of his mother and his own achievements thereafter he was regarded with a sort of wide-eyed awe amongst the junior ranks. Each and every star-struck cadet viewed it as a validation to even approach his top scores, and none had ever beaten them.

    (Well, there was one who'd come closer than most. If he'd stayed on with the Garrison, Shiro had no doubt that he would have broken a record or two. In time.)

    “You say that you don't have a family to fly away from, but I see no evidence to support that claim,” Captain Holt had been affable to tease after he spent yet another extended session with Keith in the simulators – and then cut it close to attend a briefing for the Kerberos team just after as a result. “You need proof to support your conclusions.”

    “You're like Batman,” had been Matt's more succinct summary later. “You take in strays and have a big, bustling batcave, but you still brood in the shadows. For being the loner hero, Bruce Wayne is more surrounded by family than anyone – even Superman!”

    Yet, especially if that were true . . . Shiro had failed that family, just when they needed him the most.

    It didn't matter that he'd been able to save Matt in the arena - he hadn't been able to keep up with him afterward . . . and if he did know what happened to the captain, then that knowledge was lost to the holes in his mind, all scraped into his memory like mines. He could hardly remember the broad strokes of his captivity, let alone recall any details that could actually help find the Holts and return them home. Sometimes, he could hardly look Pidge in the eye for knowing how he'd let her down; that guilt alone was still enough to choke him whenever he dwelled on it for too long. He just . . . he couldn't understand why she looked on him in such adoration for helping Matt survive in the small way he had, when he'd failed her in so much more.

    (His guilt was irrational, perhaps, but his higher reasoning couldn't override his heart – not on this. Never on this.)

    So, the only choice left for him was to do better, to be better. He would force himself to be stronger for his team; he would excel. He had a mission before him, and failure was not an option – for both his teammates and the Holts and the human race itself, for the universe . . . for Allura and Coran, and all they had lost.

    (And maybe, just maybe, for himself – and the hesitant idea of finding some semblance of peace at the end of all this.)

    Currently, their success hinged on him figuring out how to deepen his bond with Black. In so short a time, she'd become everything to him; this mission, this team was everything to him. For him, in return, not to mean everything to her . . . for it to turn out that Zarkon, their enemy, the villain in their story, had a bond with Black that superseded his own . . . to know that he could be pushed aside so easily . . .

    Perhaps it was irrational to be hurt by the choices of an inorganic being – the preferences of an inorganic quasi-sentient alien super-weapon, but . . . if he was honest with himself, he was. He adored this inorganic quasi-sentient alien super-weapon, and he wanted her complete and undivided affection as well.

    He would simply have to work to earn her acceptance, then. Shiro had never been one to wallow, not when there was work to be done instead. He would do whatever it took to succeed. And if that meant sleeping in his pilot's chair and finding what dreams he could while Black distantly purred in the back of his mind . . .

    Well then. So be it.

    The only way to deepen a bond with anyone was to get to know them – perhaps it was overly simple of him to reason. It may have been silly to break their connection down into human dynamics he could more easily process and understand - it felt juvenile and . . . unprofessional, to say the least. But, clearly, he and Black had tumbled into a quick and serious relationship without fully knowing each other. She was willing to let their bond grow, at least; she'd chosen him. But, no matter the spark between them, she was still trying, in some ways, to move on from her first love. Zarkon still had a hold on her heart, and she remembered their bond. Shiro could be patient and understanding while she sorted their connection out. He could wait.

    Because, the other lions . . . their original paladins were all long gone. They'd been dead for thousands of years; there was no going back for them, only forward. For Black . . . her paladin was there, right there and calling to her - or, a twisted version of him was attempting to summon her, at least. Clearly, the Zarkon that had led Voltron through the original legends, whom King Alfor had called friend and Black bonded with first was, in some ways, as unreachable as all the paladins of old were.

    Black understood that, he knew. She was mourning what had been . . . that didn't mean she was denying what she had with him. So, when she was ready to accept him completely, he would be there.

    To reach that end, Shiro had a nightly routine of welcoming Black into his mind and simply chatting with her. He talked about anything and everything he could – from reporting on the events of his day to sharing his memories from Earth to, once in a while, whispering of the things that plagued him at night and refused to let him sleep. Other times he just sat there in the pilot's seat and let his mind drift, free from his demons as Black safely cradled him deep within her own consciousness. He felt the closest to her during those moments, and he liked to imagine that maybe, just maybe, she felt the same.

    After the close call they had earlier that day, Shiro didn't have much to say. Instead, he was leaning back against his headrest and closing his eyes when he felt, more so than heard, Black give a welcoming rumble into his mind. He was no longer alone in the hangar – and there was only one visitor whom Black reserved that particular growl for.

    Sure enough, he opened his eyes to see Allura approaching through the viewport.

    From the beginning, it didn't take him - or any of his teammates, really - long to understand how fond their lions were of Allura. She was the daughter of their creator; the cub, they referred to her as collectively. Yet for Red, her father's lion, and then Black, to a lesser extent . . . their bond was something special. It was more.

    Shiro could well understand: Allura really was an amazing woman.

    (For the thought, he could feel Black's purr as a physical sensation deep within his bones. She agreed with him completely.)

    He knew that the princess had a nightly routine, much the same as his own, of checking on each of the lions in their hangars before retiring. She usually came to visit Black last – in case he was there, he liked to think, though she never said so outright. Before he even consciously thought to join her, Black was kneeling down to release him, and Shiro walked out to meet Allura's expectant eyes.

    “You're keeping late hours tonight, Princess,” it was rote between them for him to greet.

    “I could say the same to you, paladin,” her mouth quirked as she cast a pointed look at the armor he still wore. She, at least, had changed into her nightdress. “I believe that we've already established that the Human body requires more rest than an Altean one – yet still you would counsel me?”

    Shiro didn't bother saying that he couldn't sleep - she already knew. And he . . . he understood for her as well. (Pot, meet kettle, his grandfather would roll his eyes to their teasing. They were cut from the same cloth.)

    But there were no nightmares, nor memories to talk through that night – for either of them. Neither had given sleep a chance to allow their dreams to take hold. Instead, Allura sat down on the steps leading up to the Black lion, and with a wave of her hand she called up a spherical star-map to fill the chamber. Out of habit, Shiro sat down next to her and looked up as she spun through the galaxies – not as many as on some nights, but more so than others – to call up the Milky Way's place in the night sky above them.

    “There, your Milky Way,” she gave a ghost of a smile for the name. Altean explorers only had a string of numbers and symbols assigned to their galaxy – and the designation had stuck for ten thousand years with the Galra only fleetingly acknowledging their presence in the universe. Their self-designated name for their mother-galaxy had initially amused her, but she always used it, regardless.

    There, on the nameless planet that sheltered them that night, he couldn't even see the bright lights of Sirius or the Pistol star – the entire Milky Way was just a small blip near the distorting edge of the horizon. But it was there, for those who knew where to look.

    “Earth would be closer to this pole,” Allura motioned to the right and downwards. “It's a stubbornly bright light – your galaxy.”

    She gestured, and Shiro reached out to touch the tiny pinpoint and magnify it. The Castle answered his intention, and the speck exploded into the beautiful wheel of starlight he better knew. Shiro traced the familiar spiraling arms and clusters of constellations, and he spun the galaxy to find . . . there. Their solar system. He felt his mouth tug as their yellow dwarf star came into view - tiny when compared to the neighboring giants in the universe, but large when compared to other stars of its class. It's familiar light spilled across his palms, and he spread his fingers to better catch the rays.

    All the while, Allura watched him. The simulated starlight caught in her eyes, turning their unique shades of blue and violet bright in the shadows. As he turned Earth over his fingertips, he wanted to ask her where Altea was – or would have been – on the map, but, the same as with every night, he lost his nerve. He didn't want to be a source of pain to her – not when she was seeking out peace before resting. And so, he held his silence.

    Instead, he released the flare of light that represented home, and watched as it floated back to the enormity of the cosmos. The map spun lazily around them, setting the hangar aglow with its light, and for a moment they watched the universe turn in silence.

    Until: “I saw you in Black's memories tonight,” the words slipped out of his mouth like water. “You were really young, a little older than a child - what I guess we'd call a pre-teen back on Earth.” She'd been all awkwardly coltish legs, and long, long ears peeking out from the unruly mass of her hair in Black's eyes – endearingly so. But Shiro wisely knew to keep those details to himself. “You were trying to steal a ride while the adults had their backs turned – Black was very amused.”

    “Amused, was she?” Allura huffed out a delicate snort – a rare sound of almost-laughter that had Black's ears perking up in Shiro's consciousness. “Stars, it took me forever to grow into my ears – I wish you hadn't seen that,” she seemingly read his mind to say. “At that age, I despaired of them ever properly matching my face. That was . . . so long ago.”

    But her - now very proportional - ears drooped in a sign of despondency, and the tell-tale markings beneath her eyes lost their brilliant glow. Her mirth sobered, and her gaze turned glassy – looking far away. Shiro shifted in his seat, wishing that he'd kept his thoughts to himself. “I'm sorry,” he offered, somewhat awkwardly. “Black can transmit images only – ideas, rather than words . . . I couldn't get the whole story from her, and I was curious.”

    “No, please don't apologize,” Allura shook her head. “I'm quite alright.” The right corner of her mouth turned upwards, just slightly, but the expression did not nearly reach her eyes. “It's a good memory . . . from a happy time during my life. I'm glad to be reminded of it.”

    Even so, she could not immediately speak to share the story. Patiently, Shiro waited, content to either listen or let the subject drop if she needed to let it go.

    But, as always, Allura was braver than him. “From the time I could walk I was groomed to someday assume my father's responsibilities with the crown. One of the perks of the original paladins being planetary leaders, each in their own right, was that I was able to observe their systems of government up close and in person. I spent a portion of my youth with each of them.”

    “You lived with the Galra?” Shiro could not help the surprise in his voice as he filled in the blanks, no matter that it made sense . . . for the time.

    “Yes,” she answered after a pause. “For a short time . . . I did.” She took in a deep breath, and continued, “I was a poor student for the science of alchemy, much to my father's dismay . . . but I always loved piloting. It was a frustrating love at the time, for my father was a bit of a worrier when it came to my safety – he wouldn't let me sit the helm of anything more daring than a planetary shuttle . . . and my ambition quickly outgrew his caution. While my father and Coran were distracted, I tried to commune with Black – I knew I would never get anywhere with Red, you see. But she tattled on me.”

    Though the memory was centuries old, Allura glared up at the deceivingly quiet lion, regally standing her post high above them. In the back of his mind, Shiro heard a low, rumbling growl that sounded suspiciously like laughter.

    “What happened next?” Shiro couldn't help his own amused expression – catching a glimpse from Black of a much younger Allura blinking back tears as an imposing figure in red knelt down to look her eye to eye. Shiro felt a protective instinct rise in him, but he couldn't glimpse anything cruelly stern or even properly chastising about the memory. Rather . . .

    Instead of answering him outright, Allura's eyes glittered mischievously to say: “Galra fighters are amazingly maneuverable ships; they were even ten thousand years ago.” A wistful note rose in her voice before her timbre turned crisp and practical once more. “I do believe that my father and Coran fought for who was most agitated - and embarrassingly fretful - when we landed, but Zarkon told my father that I would be piloting battle-class ships in no time - if only I was allowed to reach my full potential, that was. That is one of the rare times I witnessed my father losing his temper in front of me. Yet, when we returned home, I started training with my mother, Queen Fala, and the fleet commanders, and I worked up to piloting the Castle – even before . . . before her passing, my skills were said to rival her own, and she was one of the most powerful sacred Alteans of her generation. She still had so much to teach me before she died.”

    For the most part, her memories were clearly fond ones, but Allura related them as if they happened to someone else - to a stranger, even. In his own way, Shiro understood her need for disassociation. Most of his life on Earth before his captivity felt like a surreal experience to him - a strange, almost distant dream. It was hard being himself at times, when he wasn't really sure who, exactly, that was.

    With her story finished, Allura fell silent, and her markings seemed to dim even further. She clasped her hands together in her lap as if to keep from awkwardly worrying them – a trait that any would-be monarch would have schooled out of them at a young age, Shiro could well imagine. He watched her, and felt the distant urge to place a hand on her shoulder – or even take both of her hands in his own to comfort her. But he didn't know her well enough for that; he wasn't sure what she needed – or even wanted – from him in that moment. He didn't want to presume, or intrude.

    So: “My parents were pilots,” he found himself blurting instead. If she could be brave, then so could he. He could answer her memories with those of his own.

    Allura went very, very still for hearing him speak. Unlike the other paladins, he was quiet about his history. Even Keith had more to say than he did – even if it was to say that he had nothing to say. He knew that hadn't gone beyond her notice.

    Shiro took in a deep breath, as if to steel himself, and then continued, “I wasn't born on Earth – I was born on Ceres, a dwarf planet in our mid-system asteroid belt. The Garrison has a base there, where my parents were stationed. My parents . . . they weren't married, and they certainly didn't plan for - or want, a child. Neither were willing to give up their careers to raise me, and the base was no place for a baby, so I was adopted by my maternal grandfather back on Earth. Grandpa Takashi had a farm in White River valley, for both livestock and crops. I enjoyed working the land with him, but I suppose that I was always looking up to the stars . . . I idolized my parents as a kid, and I learned how to ride anything I could to be like them - from horses to repulsor-tractors to hovercycles; you name it, I was on it.”

    “Horses?” Allura gave him a puzzled look to ask. But her eyes had regained some of their light, he was happy to see.

    “Um, a beast of burden, I guess you could say,” Shiro was thrown from his story as he wondered how best to explain something so commonplace for him. “They're herd creatures – livestock, but more domesticated than that. They have four legs, fur, manes and tails. Humans have used them for transportation and battle for ages.” Then, more softly he added, “They're beautiful.”

    “Oh, that sounds like a ceffyl!” as always, Allura was delighted to find a correlation between their worlds. With a flick of her fingers, she drew up a hovering picture of a creature that was indeed . . . horse-like . . . kinda – if he didn't count the resting third eye and the honest to goodness fangs peeking down from its mouth like a sabertooth tiger back on Earth, that was.

    Shiro blinked. “Yeah . . . minus the teeth, that's pretty much it.”

    “Minus the teeth?” Allura's nose crinkled to repeat. “How do they fend off predators, then?”

    This isn't a predator? Shiro swallowed to keep from saying. Altea, for all of its pristine beauty and grace, could be downright terrifying at times.

    “Um, they tend to just . . . run away from danger. Their hooves can mean business, too.” He still had a scar from where one of his grandpa's grumpy paint geldings tried to take a bite out of his shoulder when he failed to pay attention to his surroundings and spooked the old-timer.

    Allura raised a silvery-white brow. “Well that doesn't make any sense at all. So much about Earth tends to make little sense, though,” and for saying so her eyes darkened. Her markings regained their light to pulse with an angry glow. It took a moment for Shiro to realize that she was upset – and not in a general sense . . . but upset for him. “Children are - they were, rare on Altea,” she shared with him. “They were considered a blessing, one that was fought for by couples and then cherished once born. Entire partners were added to marriages to increase the odds of genetic capability. The idea of taking one's offspring for granted is . . . well, it's monstrous – for that I cannot apologize to say.”

    “Maybe that should be true, but it's all too common back on Earth. My story isn't anything special,” Shiro shrugged. But he didn't really want to talk about that then . . . he didn't want to talk about the way his mother hadn't attended his grandfather's funeral for being away from Ceres on a deep-space mission to Pluto at the time. Nor did he want to share how his father shook his hand at the launch of the Kerberos mission but looked through him, as if he was just a passing acquaintance - a distant comrade in arms. “I never considered my childhood lacking - I had my grandfather, and he was all I needed. I couldn't have asked for a better role-model than him.”

    “I'm glad to hear it,” after a pause, Allura spoke softly. His words had mollified her – but only just. “You joined your planet's exploratory fleet to be closer to your parents, then?” she could not completely hide the distaste in her voice, even so.

    “I suppose that was part of the draw for me in the beginning, at least. My love for the stars may have started with my parents, but it was all for myself in the end.”

    Sora Shirogane had died in the line of duty on that same mission to reach Pluto - a hero's death to save her crew, and his father kept only sparing communication with him throughout his life. Anton Vasin hadn't even attended his graduation from the academy - his grandpa had, and that had been one of the last times Shiro had seen him alive before . . .

    . . . but he couldn't complete that thought within his mind, let alone say it out loud. There was so much he couldn't say, and there where times when it felt like those words were eating him them from the inside out. He wasn't consciously trying to bury things . . . he was just trying to deal with what had happened to him as best he could. How easy, the theoretical aspects of a soldier's mind had seemed during the classes he took during training. He knew what he had to do to successfully take care of his psyche . . . but he just couldn't seem to get the words out. He was surprised he'd said as much as he had.

    “In the end,” Shiro's throat was tight to say, “it just mattered that my grandpa was proud of me. He was all I needed.”

    If Allura caught on to the past tense in his words, she did not comment on it aloud. For that, Shiro was grateful.

    “I understand,” she said instead, leaning towards him so that there were just a few inches left between their shoulders. There was a comfort to be found in her closeness; he could feel the warmth radiating from her body. “I feel the same way about my father.”

    “I just want to do him proud – my grandfather,” Shiro whispered. The words were small, yet weighty. He wondered, sometimes, what his grandfather would say about his decision to accept the Kerberos assignment in the first place; he could better imagine what he would think about the stray band of misfits he was trying to hold together now; about the Holts and Keith and Allura -

    “It can be overwhelming,” Allura sighed, “living up to the legacy of those who came before us. What my father accomplished with Voltron was amazing in his time; and, for the one battle he could not win . . . I want to succeed and honor his sacrifice – his memory. I want it so much that I can hardly breathe with it at times. It frightens me . . . knowing everything we have to lose. So much hinges on our success, for so many.”

    Everything hinged on them winning this war: Lance's infectious grins; Keith's hesitant trust; the way Pidge finally grouped them into the family she was still trying to find and the no-string's acceptance of Hunk's affection. Then there was Coran's silliness and surprising depth of wisdom . . . and Allura's star-bright determination and zeal. If history had so soon hushed over the deeds of Alfor and his fellow paladins, Shiro could only imagine how quickly they would be snuffed out and forgotten.

    . . . but they were not done yet. Not nearly.

    “We shall figure this out,” Allura echoed his thoughts to conclude. “All of us. Together.”

    Shiro looked up at the underside of Black's strong jaw, and inclined his head as she growled protectively in the back of his mind. “Yes,” he agreed in a low voice, “we will.”

    In time.

    Allura followed his gaze, before looking back to meet his eyes again, and the concern she carried within her expression was palpable. She lifted her hands as if to reach out and physically comfort him, before clearly thinking better of the idea. His own hands, both the organic and the inorganic one, twitched.

    “You wouldn't have been chosen if she didn't think you capable,” Allura firmly stated. She held his eyes as if daring him to disagree with her. “The lions are . . . they are not capable of experiencing pity; they are not sentient in that regard. The Black lion, in particular, knows what it means to be the head of Voltron - she would only chose a paladin capable of assuming the burden of leadership. Even if you do not feel equal to your command . . . she knows you. Perhaps she has seen something in you that you are not yet able to see in yourself.”

    “Mostly,” Shiro dully conceded. “She's . . . mostly chosen me.”

    There was a faint growl in the back of his mind; Black, apparently, did not appreciate his self-pity in the slightest.

    “I don't think she appreciates you questioning her taste,” Allura remarked drolly, glancing up at the towering monolith standing guard over them. Apparently, Black's annoyance had vocalized in more than just his own mind. “It's an honor that she's chosen you, Shiro. It's okay to accept that.”

    He was trying – truly he was. Yet, at the same time, it seemed like only yesterday that he was the cadet, and then the lieutenant taking orders from his commanding officers. No matter that he felt much too old for his body at times, the fact remained that he wasn't much older than the group of teenagers he was trying to lead. All too often, he felt woefully under-prepared for the task before him. He tried to tell himself – as Allura did, that it didn't matter, that Black had chosen him, but Black had also, once been partial to . . .

    “Does it bother you,” he started carefully – delicately, even, “that I need to have traits in common with Zarkon to pilot Black?”

    Her reply was quicker, and more succinct than Shiro first expected: “You are no more Zarkon than Keith is my father,” Allura replied drolly. Amusement sparked in her eyes. “You need not worry yourself over that.”

    Well, when it was put to him that way . . . he felt a grudging grin pull at his own mouth. He couldn't quickly tuck the expression away.

    But Allura understood his question, and she sobered to say, “But, no . . . your loyalty does not bother me – neither does your ability to selflessly put the needs of others before yourself. Your determination, your perseverance in the face of adversity . . . people are drawn to you; you are a born leader. No . . . these are not abhorrent qualities to me in the slightest.”

    He . . . he hadn't realized how much he'd needed to hear that. Shiro swallowed, but felt something thick rise up in his throat – as if one of the burdens weighing down on his chest was trying to escape with his breath. He closed his eyes, and fought to regain his equilibrium after being so thoroughly spun on his axis.

    His eyes were still closed as he worked to better control his breathing, but he could nevertheless feel the warmth of her palms as she reached out to cover his hands with her own. Even his metal hand registered the touch of her flesh against his synthetic fingers. “You spend so much time building up others,” Allura whispered, a rueful note filling her voice. “It's easy to forget that you too require that same encouragement.”

    For that, Shiro blinked, and found her eyes again. “I could say the same thing about you, Princess.” She stood so strong for so many, and he worried for her at times. Even pillars needed a strong foundation, else they'd crumble.

    The look she gave him in answer was soft . . . and fond. “Allura.”

    His brow furrowed. “Princess?” he didn't quite understand.

    She drew in a breath. Shiro could feel her fingers flex against his skin – such a strength she held, in more ways than one, but still she hesitated. “It would be . . . refreshing to have one person on this ship, at least, use my name . . . not my title. Allura, if you please, Shiro.”

    It was an instinct born from years of military training for him to pause, and consider her request. He was at ease with a chain of command, and he did not want, in any way, to cast a shadow on her authority. This was still her ship, and her crusade – even more so than theirs, in a way. He may have been the head of Voltron, but she was clearly its heart. Yet -

    “ - if it would please you to use my title in front of the others, I understand,” Allura seemingly read his mind to amend. “I ask only that here, between us . . .” but her words faltered. She had a need, one she'd vocalized to him, but she would not ask him twice. She was too proud for that.

    And Shiro remembered the soft, contented look she'd given him when sacrificing herself for his safety - locking eyes with him until his pod had sped away and he could see her no more. How reckless, going after her had been – it was a foolish decision to storm the lair of the beast, but a necessary choice, regardless. Not without her, he'd vowed, and meant every word of it. If she asked it of him, he'd follow her anywhere.

    She was still holding his hands. Carefully – mindful of the strength of his Galran hand, he turned his palms so that he could wind his fingers through her own and return the pressure of her touch. Even his organic skin was cool compared to her own.

    “Are you warm?” she asked then, noticing the differences between them just as he did. “The others . . . apparently we are trying to freeze them out.” This, her eyes glittered to say.

    “Yes, I am warm.” Even though his body may have still felt the cold, his answer was solely the truth. “Thank-you . . . Allura.”

    “No,” her voice was heavy with emotion as she met his eyes. “Thank you.”


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2018
    Chyntuck likes this.
  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    @Mira_Jade -- how absolutely fascinating is Takashi Shiro's back-story. Multi-layered as it is with his abandonment by his parents; being loved and accepted by his grandfather and the Holts. Being held captive :eek: and shaped by that experience. And now being the leader of the team. [face_thinking]

    I adored his talk with Allura: frank and vulnerable on each side.

    Her list of his admirable qualities are so like Luke Skywalker's :cool: as is strangely enough the prosthetic hand. [face_thinking]

    Takashi, like Luke, needs and deserves, an empathic partner to share the joys and burdens of leadership.

    And SQUEEEEEE! out loud for what you call the "shippy moment" at the end LOL [face_dancing]

    ~~~!
    I am totally fascinated by the Lions -- they are very much like the dragons of Pern in some respects, forming telepathic/empathic bonds with particular individuals :cool:

    ~~~!

    I eagerly, and I do mean it, look forward to your Shiro/Allura centered fic! [face_batting]

    [:D] !!!!!
     
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  12. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Great story to really know all about Shiro, the lion and Allura, Fascinating characters
     
  13. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    LOL!!!! Is it a Mira-istic thingy, or a Voltron, or both? [face_laugh] ^:)^ Feels longer than 10 days since an update. ;) [face_love] !!! [face_laugh]
     
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  14. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    You really are such a dear - thank-you so much for the kind words and the wonderful support. It always does make posting a treat, looking forward to what you will say. :D [face_dancing][:D]

    And I just knew you'd like Shiro - he's such a brave, good-hearted cinnamon roll and I want all of the happiness in the world for him! And for Allura too! (And all the better if that happiness is together, of course. [face_mischief][face_whistling]) They really are a wonderful pair of characters, and I adore them. [face_love]

    And the LIONS. You know what a sucker I am for telepathic bonds, so this hit all of my buttons and then some! - much to my surprise, because I've never really been a robot kinda gal before this. ;) They are a lot like the dragons of Pern - you definitely hit that right on there, and Shiro and Black's relationship, in particular, fascinates me to no ends. It was a lot of fun exploring their bond here. :D


    [face_laugh][face_blush][:D]

    I had the double whammy of this awful flu season and an unyielding work schedule hit me, but I'm back now - with an update in just a second. :D [:D]


    Thank-you so much! As always, it's great to have you following me into a new fandom - I really appreciate your reading, and support. :) [face_love][:D]



    OoOoO

    V. Hunk

    For all that the Alteans had terrible taste in food – or, Hunk would be fair and admit that Coran's paladin-diet could have been the equivalent of similar such healthy alternatives back on Earth – they did have rather ingenious solutions when it came to keeping their food and beverages either hot or cold. He wasn't sure what the mugs he carried were made out of, exactly, but he was grateful for them. Steam continued to stubbornly waft up from the hot chocolate, no matter how cold the air beyond the kitchens was - and the Castle halls were freezing, even compared to the chilly temperature he thought he'd left behind in his room. His teeth threatened to chatter, and he fought not to shiver - unwilling as he was to slosh even a single drop of his precious cargo onto the tray.

    Even though he was island bred and born, he was usually pretty good at handling anything less than the balmy warmth of the tropics. Sure, he didn't like the cold, but he wasn't as bad as Lance was - running to layer thermals and sweaters underneath his hoodies and coats as soon as the sun threatened to go down. His biggest complaint about the Garrison had been that it was so dry – too dry. The arid landscape ate at his skin and turned his hair brittle, and outer space was no better. There was no water here except for what they artificially introduced into the Castle's atmosphere, and while Altean humidifiers were nice and all, they definitely weren't the dew soaked, verdant mountains of Hilo he'd known and loved.

    (Then again, nothing was Hilo's equal. No matter every wondrous and awesome thing he saw in the universe, his childhood home still held an unmatched place in his heart. Space just couldn't compare.)

    Now, that being said, even if he could get over the relatively cool, dry environment of the Castle on a normal day, this was just plain ridiculous. It didn't help that his vision was blurry to boot – he was just so tired . . . so, so tired. He never seemed to be anything else as of late, and there wasn't even a promise of rest to come anywhere in sight. They'd hardly had a time to breathe between episodes, let alone step back and rightly process everything that had happened over the last few months, and as a result he was beyond exhausted – to the point where he could happily fall asleep standing up if only he had the chance.

    He just wasn't made for battle, Hunk was slowly coming to accept – which wasn't really news to him, or anybody else, for that matter. His hope at the Garrison, even, had been to make tech sergeant – and maybe someday achieve the rank of master engineer, that way he could stay safe and happy on good ol' solid Earth, building the ships that his classmates would fly into space. His mother was a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Hawaii; Hunk had grown up holding a wrench in hand – he liked building things and figuring out how the different pieces fit together . . . but actually manning the ships he loved to tinker with? Nah; not so much.

    (And he couldn’t think of, let alone fully process that it didn't matter that he was flying a huge awesome robot against evil alien spaceships - war was war was war was war. It took hours for his stress levels to recover after even the smallest of skirmishes, and he couldn't yet stomach admitting that those were manned fighters they faced on his best days. This wasn't a video game; people were living and dying out there - both those he fought against and those he defended . . . and he . . . he had a hand in their fates, for better or worse. No . . . no, he couldn't think of that overly long without his heart twisting and him losing what little sleep he was able to catch . . . so he just didn't acknowledge that truth most of the time.)

    Yellow helped, of course; Yellow helped big time. The Yellow lion was strong and dependable and relatively slow when compared to his more nimble siblings – comfortingly so. He wasn't flashy like Blue or quick and daring like Red; he wasn't the awesome, unstoppable force that Black was. Instead, Yellow was an anchor, a battering ram, and if Hunk had to fly that was the way to do it. His insides still churned just remembering being aboard Blue while Lance was at the helm, and even the few times Shiro had taken him flying to give him well-intentioned lessons, he hadn't been able to keep the contents of his stomach down – embarrassingly so, because Shiro was the Takashi Shirogane, son of the legendary Sora Shirogane herself. If there was one time Hunk desperately wanted to keep his cool, it was then.

    Shiro had been awesome and understanding about his bad mix of anxiety, vertigo and . . . gastrointestinal issues, of course . . . but Hunk had a sneaking suspicion that Black wasn't nearly as magnanimous as her pilot. Hunk was still trying to make that incident up to her . . . but how one made peace with a semi-sentient giant space-cat was anyone's guess. He was still trying to figure that one out.

    It wasn't like he could just cook his way into her heart – as Hunk did with everyone else. Cooking wasn't much different from engineering: you figured out how the pieces best fit together, then you combined them. Easy peasy, nice and easy. Hunk was too nervous for stillness, and the kitchen calmed his mind when he was too far from the ocean to indulge in his other preferred forms of stress-relief. He'd learned early on that a homemade treat was a tried and true way to make friends, and the mess hall monitors at the Garrison had quickly learned to give him free range of the kitchens so long as he shared the spoils of his culinary pursuits with them.

    That was how he'd first made friends with Lance – real friends, and not just randomly assigned sim-partners. He'd tried his hand at making buñuelos after Lance made a passing comment about missing home, and he'd been rewarded with the praise that they were almost as good as Cousin Victor's. Pidge had been a harder nut to crack – she hardly ate anything at all on a good day, and when she did eat she was picky and fussy. But Hunk had practice with stubborn little sisters, and he made sure that she got the nutrients she needed. He made sure she at least got in a banana for breakfast and harped on her to eat something more than a candy bar for dinner. Eventually, he recruited Lance for his mission to make sure Pidge took care of herself, and together they had more success than apart – for while Lance was on the lanky and lean side of the body spectrum, he'd been raised to love food, and Hunk was only too happy to provide.

    Which was admittedly part of Hunk's mission now. Out of all their . . . windows and blinds, Lance let the most light shine through his, and they'd all grown used to gleaning flashes of memory from his mind. Usually, they were uplifting flashes – Lance didn't just act like a happy person, he genuinely was a happy person. He'd grown up in a healthy and loving home, and if something did bother him he was used to talking it out until both parties felt better about the subject. He didn't hold on to things like too many on their team did, (cough: Keith Pidge Shiro), and he was equally adapt at wheedling emotions from their teammates who did keep things too close to the chest. It was why he was one of the legs of Voltron, just opposite of Hunk – he was perfect for the role.

    It was all due to him being the middle child, Lance had once breezily explained. As number four out of seven, he was as used to confiding in his older brother and sisters as he was proud to stand as a bulwark for his younger siblings. He didn't subscribe to the middle-child syndrome, not one bit – in fact, he usually took offense to the stereotype . . . which meant that when Lance was sad and withdrawn about something, it meant that something was hurting him, and hurting him bad.

    . . . such as being a few dozen galaxies away from home and unable to return to that same deep pool of support he'd long since grown and thrived from. For the time being, Earth was a closed door to them: as soon as they'd dare try and return home screaming: aliens are coming! – or worse, touched down with an actual alien spaceship, or made a splash landing aboard their personalized quasi-sentient alien super-weapons – they'd be packed off and picked apart and never seen again. Shiro himself had come within inches of that fate thanks to his Galran arm; they'd simply have to save Earth before Earth was even aware of the threat posed against it.

    Still . . . space was vast, and it was lonely for how comparatively empty it was. Earth itself was one of the few habitable systems within their entire galaxy, Allura had revealed. That was one of the main reasons their system had never been properly explored, and then fully exploited by the Galra . . . and they were a very, very long way from the Milky Way now.

    That same warm foundation that had so long succored Lance now crippled him so far away from home - more so than Pidge, who was away from Earth expressly to find her family . . . and Shiro and Keith, who didn't have much to return to even if they could go home. Hunk understood Lance more so than most. He missed his mom and grandmother just as much as Lance missed his, and he missed little Moani like breathing. He even missed Ken – but he'd come a long way with his step-father, and their relationship had grown once he'd allowed it room to thrive. He'd even honored Ken's request to adopt him before he left for the Garrison, and he now carried both the name of his late father and Garett with pride. In the end, he was better off for allowing the circle of his family to expand; he was happier now than he ever could have been before, on his own.

    Now, he was simply allowing that family to grow again. He'd meant it when he said he'd gained brothers through this misadventure – and even another sister or two . . . and a weird sort of quirky space-uncle in Coran. And he had Yellow, who was indefinable to his heart. He liked the nest he'd made for himself; he could depend on those bonds to sustain his spirit until he made his way home. His grandmother had impressed the meaning of 'ohana on him from a very young age – she'd reminded him of that sacred principle when his mother married Ken, even if he'd only truly understood it when Moani was born . . . now, he embraced the concept openly and completely.

    . . . because he would go home, eventually . . . someday. (Hopefully someday sooner, rather than later.) He'd go home to an Earth that was safer for his being gone, and he clung to that; it was the only way he kept his own homesickness from boiling up and over and overwhelming him.

    Yet, until that day came, he had a brother in arms who was down in the dumps, and Hunk could help with that. So, he would.

    By his side, Pidge was quiet as they walked – she'd wrapped her arms tightly around herself and was trying in vain not to shiver. Poor thing – the cold always went right through her, even back on Earth. Hunk stayed as close to her side as he could without tripping her, hoping to share as much of his warmth as he could. He could feel the cold bite through his own skin, at that, and its sting was bitter.

    But his determination lent him focus through the frigid hallways, at least, and before long they made it to Lance's room . . . Lance's empty room.

    Ah.

    “Keith's room, then,” Pidge deducted, her chattering teeth clipping her syllables.

    “He's the closest,” Hunk nodded sensibly. “We should have looked there first, honestly.”

    “Poor guy,” she snickered, delight spiking through her misery. “Keith must have loved that.”

    Lance was very . . . well, tactile with his affections, even when he wasn't fighting a bone-deep cold and trying to seek out warmth. Hunk had lost count of how many times Lance had bunked with him back at the Garrison – especially on days when his homesickness was worse than usual. Keith, however, was the complete opposite of Lance: he hid to lick his wounds in private like a wounded animal refusing to show weakness, even to his pack. Hunk would have paid good money to have seen that scenario play out.

    But, anyway, he did make hot chocolate for everyone – including Keith, so that fit his plans just fine.

    They walked just a little bit further, and then slipped into Keith's room without bothering to knock.

    “Aww,” Pidge was the first to croon as soon as the door slid shut behind them, a wicked glint slipping out from behind her glasses. “You guys are just adorable.”

    The reactions they gained from the dozing pair – well, the dozing Lance, at least; Keith, contrarily, was wide eyed and holding himself uncomfortably stiff as a board – were as opposite from each other as they were wholly expected by their teammates.

    “This is not what it looks like!” Keith defended as he half sat upright – he was prevented from wholly doing so by Lance commandeering his arm as a pillow to hug. But he snapped his mouth shut when the comforter slipped down from his shoulders with the motion and a shiver wracked through his body. His teeth audibly chattered, interrupting him from saying anything else.

    Lance, however, ignored Keith in favor of squinting at the steaming mugs Hunk held in hand. He gave a beaming grin to say groggily, but then with more gusto: “Hokuao Tsuyoshi Garett! You big, beautiful hunk of a man – if that is what I think it is, then, seriously: I love you, dude.”

    “Oh, this is exactly what you think, mi amigo!” Hunk beamed. “Made special, just for you.”

    He was a step slower than Pidge as she darted over to the bed and unceremoniously burrowed underneath the covers alongside Lance. “What a great idea!” she praised. “Why didn't I think of this earlier? Group paladin pile!”

    “Oh great,” Keith bit out scathingly, trying to squirm away from Pidge as she claimed her spot right between him and Lance with all the force of a planet following its orbital path. “Why doesn't everyone just come right on in? Make yourselves at home.”

    “Awesome, sounds good,” Hunk chirped, blithely ignoring the umbrage in Keith's voice to follow right behind Pidge. He just sat on the edge of the bed, however, mindful of the tray he still balanced in his hands. “Thanks, man – that's nice of you.”

    “No, I didn't mean - ” Keith huffed and then snapped to turn on Pidge. “What gives?!” he growled at her. “Your feet are freezing!”

    Ooh – bad move. Hunk had a little sister, and he knew that was exactly the wrong thing to say. Keith gave a yelp as Pidge unrepentantly dug her toes into his skin. “And your knees are bony, but you don't hear me complaining,” she vengefully retorted. “Don't be rude, Kogane.”

    Keith's face scrunched. “You too? What's wrong with my knees?” he muttered, more to himself than anyone else. Frustration pitched his voice high as he scrubbed the heels of his hands over his eyes - apparently, that wasn't the first time he'd had that exchange that night. Hunk snorted – the poor guy hung out on the training deck as if he could battle and defeat all of his demons right then and there. But his teenage body could only bulk up so much – he had some time to go before he was Shiro's match, and he knew that frustrated Keith. Privately, he blamed what were clearly lean, hard years in Keith's life for contributing to his whip-like build – and so, Hunk would do his best to help with that, as much as he could.

    “Shut-up, mullet,” Pidge swatted at Keith's shoulder. “Your knees are bony, but you make a surprisingly good pillow. Don't ruin that.” And, just like a determined cat, she pillowed her head on his chest and released a deep, contented sigh. She closed her eyes, a blissful look blooming over her face as she snuggled into his warmth. “It's simple thermal conductivity . . . you've got good thermodynamics.”

    For her words, something about Keith went very still . . . and then tentatively melted. “Um . . . thanks?” He shifted awkwardly, as if he had the impulse to pat Pidge on the back but was prevented from doing so by Lance still refusing to give up his hold on his arm. He stared down at Pidge with an unreadable expression, and, slowly, his mouth closed to swallow whatever protest he was originally going to give next.

    Aw, look at that - bonding.

    “As cute a scene as this is,” Hunk drawled, raising a brow high, “I need you all to sit up so you can drink this. I promise that you won't regret it.”

    Predictably, Pidge and Lance both groaned. Less predictably, however, Keith, rather than taking the opportunity to shake his intrusive teammates loose, was oddly silent as he waited to see what they would do next.

    Dramatically, Hunk sighed. “Fine,” he shrugged in resignation. “I guess I'll just have to drink all of this by myself. Even this spicy one that - ”

    “ - spicy? Oh no you don't!” Lance found it within himself to sit upright with a sudden burst of energy. His moving disturbed Pidge in the process, who made a whining sound in protest. “Hand over the goods, Hunk my man, if you please!”

    Hunk tucked a victorious grin away, and handed Lance his mug. No matter that he gave up his place in the snuggle pile, he still somehow managed to take a good portion of the comforter with him – drawing annoyed glances from both Pidge and Keith as they too followed suit to sit upright. They had no choice if they wanted to retain any sort of warmth.

    “I was just getting comfortable,” Pidge grumbled, but she eagerly reached out to take her mug from Hunk when he offered it to her. She inhaled the steam with a blissful expression before narrowing her eyes at Keith over the rim of her drink. “Don't think this is over – we're not through here.” She somehow managed to make the promise of cuddling sound like a threat – but that was Pidge. For being the smallest of their team, she was also the most terrifying.

    “Roger that, ma'am,” Keith dutifully agreed, his voice sapped of all rancor. Hunk fought the urge he had to snort - little sisters had a way of doing that.

    The last time they all stayed up late showing Allura and Coran the Alien series, Pidge had fallen asleep on Keith, too, Hunk remembered. Keith had held himself carefully still throughout the rest of the movie so as not to disturb her – not even to move what had to be a completely numb arm into a more comfortable position for himself. He'd been unable to look away from the screen, at that – he was as grossly fascinated as the Alteans were by the films. Keith had serious holes in his knowledge of pop culture, it hadn't taken them long to discover, and he was learning as much as their new-found extraterrestrial friends were as they went through the history of Earth's best and endearingly not-so-best. Pidge had become his self proclaimed spirit animal as they went through the ins and outs of geek culture, and, strangely, Keith let her with only minimal protest.

    Well, it wasn't so strange to Hunk – and he felt a pang in his chest then, thinking of Moani. His little sister had just turned ten, a little over a week ago now – and he'd missed out on experiencing that milestone with her for being away in space. Hunk had a surfboard he'd started to carve, and he'd planned on unveiling it to her when he next visited home. A true surfer should always have a hand on the board they used, and he was going to complete the project with Moani by his side. She said before that she wanted colors to match his board, and he wondered if she still would . . . or was she growing out of him . . . growing away from him while he was gone? It was a thought he still couldn't wholly process, and so he brushed it aside before it could seep out of his mind and affect his teammates. They were all finally just smiling again.

    So, instead of thinking about Moani as Pidge playfully elbowed Keith's side, he said to Lance: “So: the chili-ish spice. Do you like it?”

    Lance's expression was all ease and contentment, and he sported a whip-cream mustache over his top lip when he said, “It's not my Tia León's hot chocolate, but it's really good, Hunk, thanks. Whatever you used is more smokey than spicy, but the heat is smooth. How did you manage that?”

    Hunk waited for Lance to take another long draw from his drink before casually saying: “Oh, it was just a little Galran something or other that I found lying around.”

    He waited for it to sink in. Three . . . two . . . one -

    “ - what?! Galran?!” Lance spluttered, and then choked as he fought to swallow his drink without spitting it out. “Oh great, I'm going to turn purple and blood-thirsty now! Why are you trying to poison me, Hunk? I thought you were my friend?!”

    “That's what I said! It's weird, right?” Pidge punctuated Lance's outburst, drawing a narrowed look from Hunk and a slow, piercing expression from Keith. (Which Hunk would stop and more carefully consider later: weird.)

    “To that I will say, again, that you are both being speciest and unreasonable!” Hunk wagged a finger at them both. “Seriously. We have honest to goodness aliens on our team – shame on you!”

    “Well, whatever its side effects, it can't be much worse than the rest of what Coran tries to feed us,” Keith mumbled, and Hunk gave a triumphant expression.

    “See?” Hunk gestured back and forth between them. “That's the same as what I said!”

    “Yeah, yeah,” Pidge rolled her eyes, but cradled her mug close with a shrug. “Whatever.”

    Lance, meanwhile, was suspiciously staring at his hot chocolate – no mater that he was enjoying the drink just fine a moment before. He lifted the mug to his nose, and gave a long, dramatic sniff.

    “You aren't going to be able to smell the Galra cooties, genius,” Pidge dryly pointed out. “And if you keep doing that you're only going to make yourself - ”

    But, just then, Lance started coughing as some of the spice went up his nose, and she sighed. “Make yourself sneeze, I was going to say,” she finished. “There, there – get it out of your system.” She patted Lance on the back to help him get over his fit, a sympathetic expression creeping over her face.

    “Don't worry, buddy.” Hunk placed a hand on Lance's opposite shoulder as his bout of sneezing ebbed, and then finally subsided. “We'd still be your friend even if you did start turning purple.”

    Once he recovered, Lance made a face, his eyes still watering. “No thanks, man – blue's my color, you know? I'd rather stick to a theme if I can.” But he narrowed his eyes with one last suspicious expression before he took another long sip of his hot chocolate again, and that was that. He was committed to his course for better or worse.

    All the while, Keith continued to watch them, some thought lurking deep within his expression that Hunk couldn't even begin to try and figure out. He was holding himself even stiller than usual, to boot - in a way that usually meant that he wanted to ask something, but was denying himself the impulse. Hunk wouldn't have that.

    “What's up, Keith?” he finally asked outright, instead of trying to figure it out himself. “Is something on your mind?”

    “No, no . . . it's nothing,” Keith quickly – but quietly, defended himself. “This is just really good . . . I'm enjoying the drink.”

    But.

    Hunk waited, expectant.

    Keith took in a deep breath, as if preparing to take a leap, and then he asked, “Do you have any more of that spice left over? I'd like to try it.”

    . . . huh.

    Was that it? Hunk was unsure just why that would take so much for Keith to ask. Sure – he could be a bit Spartan in his tastes, which, once again, Hunk understood with his background, but he thought that they were growing from there. He hid his frown, but was beat to answering by Lance.

    “Really? You want to try?” he perked up to beam at Keith. “Oh, you're just going to love this!” He took the extra packet of spice Hunk had brought along and happily reached over to share his portion with Keith. “Just be careful – a little bit goes a long way, especially for newbies.”

    “Ew,” Pidge crinkled her nose. “That's just gross. I don't understand you guys.”

    “Just because you are too uncultured to have any taste, don't mock those of us who do,” Lance ignored her. “Now, be quiet and let him form his own opinion!”

    “My mom's parents were from Corisca!” Pidge retorted. “That's like the best of France and Italy combined – two cultures which some would consider to be the epitome of culinary taste!”

    “Then they'd be ashamed that you're hating on our alien chili pepper this way! My Tio Valdes could take them any day.”

    “You were just hating on that same spice just a moment ago! Chilli does not belong with chocolate – end of story.”

    Lance made a horrified sound, and whispered, “blasphemy” under his breath, but Pidge's next retort was lost to Hunk as he watched the way Keith carefully sprinkled the powder on his drink the same way he'd set a last wire to arm a live explosive. He stared at the innocuous red spice for a long moment, and his mouth pressed in a thin line before determination steeled in his eyes and he bravely took a sip. He paused afterward, his expression giving nothing away as Hunk waited, and then -

    “ - it's good,” he sounded strangely resigned to admit. “Really, really good, actually.”

    Keith took another slow, pondering sip, and for all the world Hunk couldn't figure out why his doing so seemed like an act of battle, rather than the simple enjoyment of a well-deserved treat.

    “Hah!” Lance exclaimed in victory. “That's one more for Team Chile!”

    “Yeah, you have Keith on your side. Big deal,” Pidge rolled her eyes. “I wouldn't crow too loudly about that.”

    But Hunk mostly tuned them out in favor of continuing to study Keith as he fell into a quiet state of contemplation again. He'd been oddly withdrawn since his one-on-one fight (well, his mostly butt-kicking) with Zarkon – even more so than usual, and that was saying something. At first Hunk just thought it was the stress of falling through that worm-hole, and the aftermath of his standing to defend Shiro while he was nursing his wounds from Haggar's dark quintessence on that planet . . . but, now . . .

    There was something going on with Keith, and it bothered Hunk that he couldn't help . . . that he couldn't tinker and figure it out and fix it. Not just then . . . not right away, at least. Instead, he resolved to continue and pay attention, the same as he always did. Then, when he could lend a shoulder, he would.

    It was always as simple as that.

    “Alright,” Pidge declared after her bickering with Lance wound down to a cease-fire, and a calm, contented moment of silence passed. “I'm losing feeling in my fingers again. Let's get back to the cuddle-pile!”

    She passed her empty mug to Hunk, and he took Lance's, too – Lance never needed to be told that twice.

    Slowly but surely, Keith too had finished his drink, and Hunk reached over to take his mug back. His expression was still quiet and withdrawn, but at least it was more resigned than troubled then.

    “Keith, are you okay with this?” Hunk had to ask in all seriousness first. “We can leave if you're not comfortable with us invading your space – it's really no problem.”

    The sincerity of his words drew a bashful look from Lance, who's mouth snapped closed as he realized that he should have asked that earlier – much earlier. Pidge too had matching rosy spots flush high on her cheeks as she came to the same conclusion as Lance. Instead of immediately diving back for the pillows - as had clearly been her first intention, she paused and looked at Keith. She too waited for his answer.

    “I'm sorry – was I really bothering you?” Lance tacked an apology on to Hunk's words. “It's just kinda . . . well, it's a tradition for us now.”

    “Lance got homesick a lot at the Garrison,” Pidge revealed. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Keith hadn't been there with them since the beginning. Their team had fallen into each other so quickly that it felt bizarre to remember that they were a trio, first, before anything more. “We all bunked together on those bad days.”

    “And then there was that one time Hunk had to get shots when there was that outbreak of Jupiter flu – that was a bad night,” Pidge smiled ruefully to remember.

    “Yep. I had a full blown panic attack right there in front of the CMO,” Hunk nodded somberly to recall. “I have a thing about needles. They all stayed with me that night, though.”

    “Or there was the time that Pidge thought that she caught chatter from Kerberos and she didn't sleep or eat for days - and we got her through that cold she caught as a result. We basically both slept with an arm over her to make sure she stayed in bed.”

    “And then we all shared her cold and were down for a week?” Hunk muttered darkly. “Yeah, I remember that.”

    “I've said a hundred times before that I'm sorry for getting you guys sick!” Pidge crossed her arms to glower. “I'm not saying it again.” Even so, there was affection lurking in her eyes as she grumbled at them.

    “What we're trying to say is that we've all kinda lost boundaries with each other,” Hunk gently concluded. “But we understand if you want your space – we'll respect your wishes. It's really okay.”

    All eyes turned to Keith, and he blinked owlishly to glance between them. When he realized that they were patiently waiting for his answer, his gaze broke away to stare down at his hands. He fiddled his fingers together in his lap for a long, quiet moment before he looked up again.

    “No, you don't have to go . . . it's okay,” his words were soft but deliberate as he moved one of his barriers aside to make a sliver of room for them. He affirmed, then with more ease, “You guys can stay.”

    While their memories were all winding alongside each others' just then – the feeling of their history shared more so than any one moment in particular rising higher than the rest, Keith still didn't open his windows to let their light in; his shades remained tightly drawn. But Hunk thought that he could feel a light of his own peeking out from around the edges. It was bright, for all that it was veiled; someday, it would be beautiful to see in full.

    But, for the time being, just that little bit was enough.

    “Alright then – Hunk, you're in first,” Pidge smartly took charge. “It's simple schematics if we want to make the most of our space.”

    It was a tricky thing to maneuver four people in a relatively small bunk – and what Pidge lacked in body mass Hunk more than made up for - but they worked the equation out the same way they would any other. In the end, only Hunk and Keith had their heads on actual pillows, and Pidge was almost completely atop them both while Lance's limbs somehow managed to go everywhere all at once, just like a human octopus . . . but it worked. Between their shared body heat and the blankets and the one, stubbornly working little heater in the room, Hunk imagined that, for just a moment, the Castle didn't seem quite as cold.

    Warmer still was the drowsy sort of light still ebbing and flowing between their mind-windows, just like the surf against the shore on a lazy summer's day. Hunk could distantly feel Lance's memories of his family's reaction the day he'd been accepted into the Garrison - how proud his abuela had been as she told him to travel farther than she herself had gone . . . Pidge remembered the first time her father showed her the stars through a telescope as a child - how she'd wanted to reach out and touch them, if only to follow where he and Matt were determined to go . . . Hunk, meanwhile, shared his mother guiding him through building his first engine. The same basic schematics bound everything in the universe together – from a tiny microchip to the perfect pot of saimin to the biochemistry of even the most bizarre alien to Voltron itself. He'd wanted to figure out how it all fit together; everything.

    And this, Hunk thought . . . this fit too.

    This fit perfectly.

    “I really, really miss the Atlantic . . . Blue smells like the ocean to me,” Lance finally mumbled aloud to say. His voice echoed the light lazily peeking out from behind his fluttering mental shades. “The last Blue paladin was from a water world, Coran told me. Maybe that's what drew him to hide Blue on Earth when Allura's dad split up Voltron . . . if he had to end out his days somewhere in exile, maybe Earth reminded him of home? I like thinking that the ocean brought us together, too . . . Blue loves the water, just like I do.”

    Hunk thought he could understand exactly what Lance was saying; he felt it too. “Yellow feels like the island back home – he reminds me of the volcano underneath the jungle; the fire and the stone and the life.” It felt only right to honor Lance's offering with one of his own. “He's the only place I don't feel off balance . . . clumsy and worried and dried out. Yellow has good mana, my grandmother would say – she still follows the old ways, and I can understand most of what she was trying to teach me as a kid better with Yellow. The last Yellow paladin liked to cook too, Coran told me; I betcha Yellow would have the best taste if he could, you know . . . taste.”

    Even then, Yellow was a constant, solid presence in the back of his own thoughts – even when he wasn't sitting directly at the helm, and that bond was getting stronger all the time. He could feel as the dozing lion gave a rumble in his mind before turning back in for the night – content as he was to rest until he was called upon to fight another day.

    Pidge made a soft, snorting sound for that. “Green wants to know everything,” nevertheless, she sounded all too proud to share. “She's so curious, just like a real cat – Black has to tell her to knock it off sometimes. Allura told me that the old Green paladin . . . her people believed in an almost spiritual ascension, beyond their physical bodies, through understanding the mysteries of the universe. If that's true, I wonder if she's with me sometimes . . . if she's still with Green. I like to think so . . . I know how much Green misses her, and she . . . she inspires me; besides finding Dad and Matt . . . I haven't been inspired in so long.”

    After she spoke, silence fell for a long, heavy moment, and her words lingered on the air between them. Hunk had thought it would stay that way, with all of them drowsily content to let the conversation go without any further discussion and answer; there wasn't anything more that needed to be said. He was just beginning to allow his eyes to fall closed, when -

    “I don't know what King Alfor and I have in common - if anything,” a part of Keith's voice was dark with self-recrimination to share. But they all went very still to hear him speak – knowing how much it took for him to share those words. “But . . . I feel comfortable with Red. He's the only thing that really makes sense to me; I don't question Red . . . we just are. And I like that.”

    “King Alfor was a heavy hitting prodigy – and so are you,” Lance lifted his head up to draw the parallels between the two Red paladins. The blue of his eyes was very bright from behind his dark, drooping eyelashes. “Not that I'll ever say so again, of course. So shut-up about it.”

    “Maybe, I suppose . . . thanks,” Keith acknowledged the praise with an awkward sounding exhale. Even then, he didn't sound overly convinced – not really.

    But Lance wasn't inclined to express any form of praise aloud more so than once to his 'rival'. Instead, he dug an elbow into Keith's side to further punctuate his point, and he laid his head down again with a sigh. “He just wasn't as emotionally stunted as you are - and he had way better hair.”

    Yep, that was more like it. Hunk snorted, and shifted so that he nudged Lance just barely in chastisement. Then really wasn't the time.

    But Lance was right – initially, of course. King Alfor had been Voltron's sword-arm in the purest sense of the word - Hunk could definitely see that in their dynamic now. Keith adored Shiro, and nothing about his idolization held even a trace of competition or jealousy. Of course Keith was Red to Shiro's Black; he was the dominant hand following the head of Voltron - it's how it should have been. And he had the strength of character and fire of spirit for the mercurial Red himself to accept. If Keith had grown up as Alfor had, firm in knowing who he was and who he would someday be . . .

    . . . well, Hunk suspected that there would be much in common between them, then. Maybe, someday, Keith would see that about himself, too.

    Personally, Hunk was simply honored to be one of the strong legs, holding his teammates up. He couldn't imagine being anywhere else.

    Yet, just in case: “Is this okay for you, Keith?” he asked, one last time. “Because my eyes are feeling heavy and I don't want to have to move later.”

    “Just go to sleep – I'll deal,” Keith huffed out in apparent irritation - but there was the barest glimmer of fondness whispering from his mind to join the collective consciousness of their group. It was burgeoning and hesitant, but it was there, even so.

    “Okay, then,” Pidge nodded her head. “You heard him twice now, so that's that. Now everyone shut-up and go to sleep. I'm finally warm, and I'm not gonna waste that.”

    “Well – you heard the lady. I'm not one to argue with a genius,” Lance drawled, “so 'night, all.”

    “You're not one to argue this time,” Pidge retorted, but even her words were already drowsily tapering off as the need for rest overtook her. She nestled into his chest, and Hunk could feel the warmth of her breath through his sweater. Even Keith had lost a bit of steel to his posture as body relaxed for the night. Lance, as always, was boneless with contentment – and Hunk suspected that he was already asleep, just that quickly. At the thought, he couldn't help but hold his friends just a little bit closer. He was too comfortable not to.

    “Night, Keith,” he whispered, knowing that they were the last two awake.

    A heartbeat passed, until, “Goodnight, Hunk,” Keith replied, something full – and maybe a little bit open, in the softness of his voice.

    . . . perfect. There wasn't anything more he could do for his new-found friend that night, but they'd taken a step in the right direction.

    So, Hunk finally let himself exhale, and, for the first time in too long he nodded off to dream of the ocean and home – not with a sense of longing . . . but of contentment.


    ~MJ@};-
     
    Chyntuck likes this.
  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Wonderful sharing of memories and letting each other in, even a little bit, particularly Keith! :) Yuppers, if I grew up on Hawaii, I'd miss it too. [face_love] Gorgeous expressions each has about their "lions". :cool: Sweet final part there where Hunk felt content more than just a sense of loss/longing. And, natch, chocolate is the universal! literally, yummy treat to "break the ice" [face_laugh] which as cold as it is really is welcome! [face_mischief]
     
    Mira_Jade likes this.
  16. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Hilo, I have been there.
    Love the sharing of the memories and Hunk content
     
  17. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    I know, right?? The wonders of space just don't compare for Hunk - especially when there's little chance to enjoy them, yet! :p

    And you're right about the bonding power of chocolate! It's a definite peace pipe, of that there can be no doubt. [face_love] In the end, these kids are going through so much - but they're finding a family/place to belong in each other, even so.

    As always, I thank you so much for reading - it's been a blast writing this. [face_love] [:D]

    Oh, awesome!! Not to be cliché, but Hawaii is at the top of my travel list - I'm so happy you had something to relate to here. And you're right. There's nothing better than Hunk and memory sharing. [face_love]


    Now, here we are with the last part. Enjoy! :)


    OoOoO


    VI. Keith
    By the time an hour passed, his right arm was completely numb but for a painful pins and needles sensation that pulsed all the way down to his fingertips. There was an elbow jammed into the hollow between his shoulder and neck, and someone - he had no idea how - managed to keep kicking his side every few minutes or so. He was going to bruise soon if they kept that up.

    Yet, no matter his lingering discomfort, he didn't have it within himself to move and turn any of them away. So, Keith did what he did best: he held himself very, very still, and endured.

    That didn't keep him from wincing when Pidge shifted and his now bloodless arm protested being used as her pillow, of course. How someone so small could so thoroughly cut off his circulation, he had no idea - she had to be defying the laws of physics. If she was awake, Keith bet she could tell him in perfect detail just precisely how she was. But her features were soft as she slept; she looked young, then - like, her real age young, and not the ten feet tall persona she presented during waking hours. She was almost kinda cute - though Keith would never dare tell her that aloud. He knew where their lines in the sand were drawn, and while an evening of huddling together to preserve warmth wasn't pushing a boundary, that definitely would have been.

    He huffed, fighting a smile, until - not as cute as Pidge was, by a long-shot - Lance snored, and his breath caught in his throat like a congested bullfrog . . . a very loud, congested bullfrog.

    Of course, Keith rolled his eyes and blew his bangs out of his face – of course Lance would be the one keeping him awake. That was just typical enough to be expected. Keith was sensitive to scent and sound during waking hours, and at night he was acutely aware of the world around him to a near painful degree. (Too aware, he'd long ago understood; uncannily aware, even.)

    It wasn't just that Lance snored; oh no, he talked in his sleep - mumbling under his breath in as constant a chatter as he kept up during the day. Interestingly, very little of it was in English. Keith easily recognized Spanish; he understood most of the language, and even spoke it passingly himself – even if Lance's muttered half-sentences were given with a different flare and drawl than what he'd grown up with in the Southwest.

    (Distantly, abstractly, he wondered if Lance dreamed in Spanish. Keith himself had an early, hazy memory of a song whispered into his ear – the memory was so old, and so tightly woven into the marrow of him that he assumed it was a lullaby. But he couldn't give the language a name, no matter how he tried - no matter how he searched for its origin, even. He only knew that once, someone had sang to him; once, he'd known her voice even before he'd formed his own.)

    But Keith shifted, and pushed that thought aside. With a steely sort of determination, he concentrated on the stinging sensation pulsing through his arm, and let his memories pass.

    Hunk, at least, didn't snore - thank goodness. But his lungs did retract and expand like a furnace in his chest, and Keith could feel every deep motion of his breath reverberate against his senses. A part of him even imagined that he could hear the sound of his blood pulsing through his veins – pumping from his heart in an unspoken language as understandable as reading someone through the look of their eyes or the shape of their mouth. Keith didn't understand it, not fully, but the sense of it was there, nonetheless, and always just beyond his reach.

    (That got better, at least, the older he grew – he knew when he needed silence; when he needed to isolate himself from the world to find his bearings and wrangle his senses into some semblance of order. When he was little, school had been a nightmare for him – all those scents and sounds and blood-beats, braying in his ears. He couldn't filter them out; they were all so pungent and loud, and no one else could hear what he could hear. His father had tried explaining it to him, as best he could: saying that he was different, that he was special – but that was okay. He was his mother's son, and that was a good thing. He was his mother's son, his mother - )

    But Keith sucked in a breath, and let it out slow. He let his thoughts go very, very still, and then moved on.

    It was harder aboard the Castle to find peace for his senses – the Castle itself was alive with sound, and there was always some sort of noise or another humming in the background from the engines that kept them flying through space. Living on a spaceship wasn't like the soft stillness of the desert, where he had his peace and his solitude. Here, his teammates never truly left him alone, not when they could help it, and he only really found a refuge for his senses when he was droning them out on the training deck, or finding a safe-haven aboard Red – Red, who even now purred in his thoughts, helping him adjust to the sensory input around him enough to slip into the first, relaxed stages of dozing. Silly paladin, Red's presence seemed to say, always fighting a fight which should never be fought.

    What should never be fought, though? he fought the urge he had to huff in irritation. This? Because Keith had fought to find something just like this for his entire life, only to have given up on that dream as futile long ago. Even now a part of him wondered just how he'd ended up here - with Pidge's head pillowed against his arm and Hunk's elbow digging into his solar plexus while Lance kept on kicking his side. He couldn't pinpoint exactly when he'd let his guard slip, and now - somehow - from the barest of cracks in his walls this had found its way into his heart to root and bloom. (Like a weed; thorned and stubborn.)

    Well, Keith tried to think pragmatically, at least he was warm now - there was that. And he had been pleased that Hunk thought to include him when whipping up a treat for the others. The hot chocolate itself wasn't half bad – he'd had the drink made for him before as a little kid, and then a few other times at the kinder homes he'd lived in. Once, more recently, Shiro had taken him camping in the mountains and they'd poured instant cocoa into a pot of water boiling over the camp-fire to ward off the dry chill the desert took at night. Keith had never disliked the drink, it just wasn't his favourite. He'd never had much of a sweet-tooth for anything, really.

    That was, until . . .

    Whatever that not-quite-chili spice was, when added to the hot chocolate he could have drank his own weight of the resulting mix. He had to force himself not to gulp his cup down, and instead savored the treat – with he not yet having the courage to ask Hunk for more. It scared him, the further-reaching implications of something as innocent as a cup of alien hot chocolate – he didn't understand how it was that with his first taste of a different culture, maybe even the right culture, his body could instinctively know, and crave . . .

    (You fight like a Galra soldier, Zarkon had been so disinterested to muse - such an infuriatingly casual comment, given during what was only a heated battle for him - but Keith had heard those words like a blade tearing through his vital organs and thought: no. No, no, no. It couldn't be true. It wasn't . . . he wasn't . . . the very idea was mind-blowing; far-fetched; impossible, even.)

    Yet, he had a knife hidden between the mattress by his head and the wall with an alien symbol decorating its blade, and a spice on the back of his tongue that tasted like home. He'd always favored logic over sentiment, and now, simple deduction alone was telling him . . .

    I'd still be your friend, even if you did turn purple and blood-thirsty, the blithe, teasing words from earlier rang in his ears. But really, would they? Could they? . . . could they truly?

    Once again, Keith futilely tried to remember his mother – it was difficult, the memory was so old, and growing older still with each passing year. She had cool, dark skin, he recalled, and warm honey-brown eyes. (But were they gold – were they yellow?) Odd - for Keith himself was pale, and he remembered that his father had always tanned deeply from his work out of doors. Eloy Brant was an ex-pilot in the Air Force who had returned to ranch work (from repairing farming equipment to setting fences and wrangling cattle all over New Mexico and Texas and up into Utah) after being discharged. Keith, however, never seemed to gain any sort of color under the sun – not even to burn. His skin just was . . . as if it was stretched over his bones and just sat there without really belonging to him.

    (Just like he himself did.)

    (But no . . . no.)

    He knew that he had his father's stormy, grey-blue eyes, but that was about it. The shape of his jaw, his nose, and his unruly hair, even - it was all foreign. Those parts of him had to have come from his mother. His mother, who was now nothing more than a blurred image in his memories – a story his father had always promised to tell him when he was older, before they'd run out of time and Keith was left with a single knife as a clue and endless guessing.

    Keith had only just found a place where he felt comfortable again . . . he'd found a niche here with Voltron, though he knew that he was stupid for allowing himself to sink so irrevocably into this team. He may have actually found a place to belong, here with this misfit group of friends and allies, and that terrified him when he thought about it for too long. He wouldn't give that up, now that he'd found it; he couldn't.

    But still . . . his mother, his father . . . and the key to understanding his heritage, it was all right there. It was so close that he could almost reach out to a passing star and brush his fingers across it. He just couldn't make that final leap; not yet. Not until he had a few more pieces of the puzzle answered.

    - he was working himself up in a quiet panic, Keith knew from experience, and Red grumbled in the back of his thoughts to help calm him down. His lion growled, little liking that his demons could rise up with so little prompting and so easily overtake him. He puzzled Red, he knew - Red, who said that he would still be Red even if he suddenly turned a shade of pink. What changed, except for schematics? Red puzzled to ask.

    (Besides everything?)

    But still, no matter his own reservations, Red stood up for him – even to Black, and kept his innermost thoughts and concerns between them, and them alone. Keith didn't know how he'd keep all of this from the link he shared with his teammates without Red's help . . . their whole windows and blinds thing was too graceless and unpredictable between them, otherwise.

    Even now, he could feel the light from the others' mental-windows, and was slow to add to their collective presence himself. He didn't want to poison the gentle, easy emotion pulsing between them with his own insecurities and fears. On a more primal level, he appreciated the way their scents all combined in a way he rarely ever felt in a group. He liked the way their blood-beats all sounded together . . . it sounded like family . . . like home. Being with them was a rare time his heightened senses didn't cause him pain; instead, they bolstered him.

    So, hesitantly . . . slowly, Keith tried to let himself relax and accept things as they were, without worrying about what he stood to lose in the future - a future that always seemed to come to pass, no matter how hard he tried otherwise.

    He was just starting to feel comfortable enough to close his eyes when the soft blue glow of the Castle's sleep-settings flickered, and then pulsed with a renewed energy. He could hear a change in droning of the engines as power – full power, was restored.

    (Even so, he instinctively braced, with some distant part of him expecting the alarms to blare and sound an attack – a call to arms. He held his numb arm closer to Pidge and shifted so that his body bracketed Lance – a lifetime's worth of readiness to fight seeping into the gesture and turning the slash of his mouth mean as he thought to confront the threat facing him – them. Let it come.)

    But a moment later, the lighting returned to its soft, gentle night-glow and the Castle's humming turned neutral and route once more. Hot air rushed out of the vents, cutting through the cold in a race to balance the temperature – engulfing Keith with a warmth he hadn't realized he was lacking while he was so safely cocooned underneath the blankets with his friends. It wouldn't be long, now, until the Castle's environment was hospitable again.

    That was it, then – Coran had figured it out. The Castle was on the mend, and the morning wouldn't dawn quite as cold.

    He briefly considered waking the sleeping group up and reclaiming his room – and his hard-won peace and solitude. But . . . Lance was finally sleeping deeply; he wasn't even muttering by that point. Keith knew how cranky he got when he didn't get his solid eight hours, and he was honestly hesitant to move him - if only for self-preservation purposes, of course. Next to him, Pidge's face was soft and relaxed. She just looked so, so young, while Hunk . . .

    Hunk too was sleeping deeply, which was a rare thing. Keith had known guys like Hunk his entire life; he'd gotten into more than one fight - that he didn't regret, no matter the frustrated social workers shuffling through paperwork to move the problem child to yet another home - just so guys like Hunk didn't have to fight. He knew how much staying and being a part of Voltron cost Hunk, just as it cost Pidge, and Lance -

    - but, for him? It was easy to stay and fight when he had nothing to lose. Or, at least, that's what he'd initially thought. Now, he was slowly finding the other side of the coin – of learning to fight when there was everything to lose. Maybe it was that which kept him quiet in the end. He couldn't bear to move his friends when they were finally at peace . . . and so, he didn't. Instead, he closed his own eyes as the burgeoning warmth of the room enveloped him, and honestly tried to give sleep a real shot. He was just starting to let his guard down, when -

    - there was a whisper of sound at the door. He had another visitor, it would seem.

    Keith's first reaction was to groan and roll his eyes: they really needed to invest in locks on the doors, or at least have a team meeting to review the fine merits to be found in knocking. But he didn't mind so much when, a moment later, the lights in the hallway showed a familiar silhouette lingering by the now open door. His heart gave a twinge in his chest to see Shiro, with his body turned towards them but still looking back over his shoulder at someone standing just behind him. Allura – Keith identified when he saw a flutter of voluminous silver hair and pastel shades of silk. Her hand came to rest on Shiro's shoulder as a few words, too faint to be heard, passed between them. Barely, just barely, the shadows defining Shiro's expression softened in reply, and he smiled. Another heartbeat passed, and then the princess turned, and was gone.

    Perhaps it was beneath him – he knew that the emotion was small, and petty – but he felt a moment's jealousy pierce through him to watch the ease of their interaction. He knew that Shiro and Allura both had nightly routines that oftentimes overlapped with each other, and he never intruded on their time together. The higher part of his reasoning was simply glad that Shiro had someone to confide in – as much as he confided in anyone, at least. While Keith wanted nothing more than to be a point of refuge for his friend, he knew that this was Shiro's way of protecting him – he wanted to preserve whatever little youth and innocence he supposedly had left in him. It was a mark of affection, not rejection, Shiro holding himself back from him – Keith knew that. And, yet . . .

    Keith bit his lip as he felt something very small, and very young unfurl in him. The same part of himself that learned the hard way that when his father said: sit tight, I'll be home before you know it, son, or when Shiro promised: we're only going to the edge of the Solar System – I'll be back before you even have time to miss me, or when the Koganes never returned home from something as simple as a grocery store run, that people left . . . they left and they never came back. It was a truth he'd had branded on him from an early age, and he had no reason to expect that same pattern to falter now - especially with the odds stacked against them. At the thought, he had to swallow around the swell of feeling rising in his throat, threatening to choke him. Through some miracle, Shiro had returned to him, and he was trying so hard not to cling too tightly to that bond. He didn't want to lose him again; not ever.

    As he fought to get his breathing under control, a shadow fell over the bed. He could feel as Shiro fought a smile to look down on them - with each one twined about the other until it was hard to tell where one of them started and another ended. They were a mess of arms and legs and heartbeats, and Keith was over it. Really.

    “You still awake, kid?” even so, Shiro knew him all too well.

    Keith huffed out a final, shaky breath in irritation. He was all too glad that nickname had died out – he was perfectly happy to leave that to his pre-Kerberos memories. Even so, the teasing form of address managed to pop up like a weed every once in a while - much to his chagrin, which he knew that Shiro knew.

    “It's kinda hard not to be,” he answered – softly, though, so that he wouldn't disturb his teammates. If he had his arms available, he would have gestured to the pile trapping him in frustration.

    Yep - Shiro was definitely smiling then. He didn't even try to hide his amusement. “That's kind of an . . . interesting pickle you've trapped yourself in.”

    “They're a bunch of pushy barnacles,” Keith breathed out darkly. “I couldn't say no.”

    “Hm,” Shiro shrugged. “I imagine that it's not so bad.” And something about his voice turned knowing then - and Keith didn't care for his tone at all. “You guys look warm, at least. Cozy, even.”

    When he didn't bother to deign that with a reply, Shiro released a last amused chuckle, and moved on to say, “I just wanted to check on everyone before turning in – Coran just got the ship's power up and going again. The temperature should be stable within the next half hour.”

    “We're okay, I guess,” Keith's shrug was lopsided with Hunk's elbow pinning one of his shoulders down. “There's no frostbite – I'd show you my fingers and toes, but . . .”

    “Duly noted,” Shiro dryly acknowledged. “I'm glad you found them – really, though,” his tone sobered to comment. “I know how cold it got – it was a good idea to stick together. You guys have really come a long way as a team.”

    “They found me,” Keith whispered. He wouldn't – couldn't say anything more than that. “Lance started it – none of this was my idea.”

    “Of course he did,” Shiro didn't sound surprised. But that was Lance: Lance with his memories of his big family and his bad jokes and his warmth. Sometimes, his teammates were just so alien to him – even more so than the Galra. They, at least, made sense in an evil, villainous sort of way.

    Other times, though, Keith understood them, in what small way he could: he understood Pidge and her need to find her family (his yearning to know, too, felt fit to burn a hole through him at times). He understood Lance's affection for his numerous brothers and sisters (he'd passed through too many group homes to really keep them, but the fact was that he'd had dozens of siblings over the years), just as he understood Hunk's appreciation for found family (he thought he'd found that too when the Koganes honest to goodness adopted him, and for a few short months before the accident he thought he was happy . . . they'd accepted him into their hearts and home, scars and all, and he'd so desperately wanted to belong to them before the universe ripped that away from him too). In his own small way, he empathized with all of their hopes and fears. They all just wanted their families . . . and a place to belong in the meantime.

    After the Koganes, he'd let his heart harden, and he hadn't allowed himself to think that he could maybe, just maybe find a home like that again. Not until Shiro took an interest in mentoring him at the Garrison.

    Now almost four years ago, the Galaxy Garrison had been the judge's final attempt at straightening out his unhealthy behavior before his course took him down a path he couldn't turn back from. Commander Iverson had been an old war-buddy of his father's before their careers parted ways – Eloy Brant kept me from losing both my eyes, the least I can do is help keep my remaining one on you, he'd gruffly said once and only once, and the court had tugged on that string to grant him a placement in the very competitive environment of the Garrison's North American training facility.

    Enlisting at the Garrison had simultaneously been the best and the worst thing that had ever happened to him. The students he was paired with – and all too often against, were the best and the brightest their continent – and the entire world, even - had to offer, and he'd been a spotty student at best from his jumping around so much as a kid. The only thing he had going for him was that he was a natural in the sims. His raw talent for piloting anything and everything was his saving grace . . . and his raw talent when combined with his surly attitude had somehow led him to Shiro.

    Kogane, Iverson had growled at him after he had stolen one of the faculty's hovercraft for a joy-ride in the desert, So help me, I will not let you crash and burn until you decide that's just what you want to do with your life. Until then, if you want to fly so badly, you've won yourself extra sim-hours with Junior Instructor Shirogane. If your regularly assigned course work even begins to slip because of this, I will be forced to remember that I am not a nice man, do you hear me, Cadet?

    Slowly but slowly, Shiro had slipped through the cracks and wedged his way behind every wall he thought he'd had in place. He'd helped him chose a course in mathematics and physical science to help him on his track to eventually becoming a command pilot, and helped tutor him until he caught up to his classmates - and even began to pull ahead of them.

    Even now, he couldn't forget the joy he'd felt the first time Shiro had let him pilot his red racer. There had been such an unparalleled sense of freedom and joy that came from zipping through the sandstone cliffs and pushing both himself and the craft to new heights as they threaded through the canyons. Shiro had been the one to show him that cabin in the desert, where he himself went when he needed to decompress away from the rigors of life at the Garrison - the desert was like space, in a way, thin with life but beautiful in its severity and peaceful in its emptiness. With Shiro, he thought he'd found a kindred spirit; a brother; another being with which to belong. Honest he had.

    Until . . .

    . . . until Shiro had . . .

    . . . but he swallowed, and couldn't quite finish the thought, even within his own mind.

    Shiro was still staring while his memories overtook him. His face didn't give anything away, but Keith could hear the way his blood beat a quick clip through his veins. He was concerned, a vague understanding born by hearing scenting sensing told him, and Keith fought the urge he had to make a face for the knowledge. Sometimes, he wished that he could tune it all out – the same part of himself that knew when the other kids were laughing, even when they never did so out loud, or knew when adults were pitying him or merely tolerating him or worse as he passed through their homes. He was better off not knowing too much - so much, about the world around him.

    He'd struggled with trust his entire life . . . but he had trusted Shiro – he'd trusted him even when that connection had left him bleeding and bruised in the end. He never wanted to feel that way again . . . yet, at the same time, he couldn't keep himself from reaching out and hanging on to what few human connections he had available to him with both hands. Shiro had believed in him; had pushed and inspired and fought for him. He wasn't ready to give that up – not yet, not again.

    When Shiro was assigned the commission of pilot in command for the Kerberos mission, he'd been so, so happy for his friend. It was an auspicious honor for one so young – though the mission was full of such prodigies with Matt Holt making payload commander for the team. He'd managed to be happy for Shiro even while inwardly acknowledging what he would lose while he was gone. When he had thought him dead . . . when he admitted, even now, just how easily it all could be over, again . . .

    He thought he'd been going crazy in the desert, listening to his extra senses and following, unbeknownst to him at the time, a path that would take him right back to what he thought he'd lost . . . and so much more. All he'd known at the time was that his spirit had felt tugged upon, and he had no choice but to follow where that cord led. He was still tracing that same thread of fate now, and desperately trusting it not to lead him astray.

    . . . just as it had for his mother and father . . . and the Koganes . . . and Shiro, once already . . .

    He wasn't alone anymore, but if he blinked, he could again so easily lose -

    “ - Keith? Are you okay, buddy?” Shiro's voice was low with concern, cutting through the downward spiral threatening to overtake him. “You know, if you ever need to, you can talk to me.”

    Right: the windows and blinds thing, just when he was building himself up into a panic again. Though Shiro usually tried not to look – he usually afforded them as much privacy as he could as kids, Keith knew that he'd been projecting, even if he didn't want to be. He heard his lion's concerned rumble in the back of his mind and he knew that Red had let the barest glimpse of what he was feeling slip through to Black. Red was trying his best to protect him – all of him, even if Keith surlily just wanted to be left alone.

    Sneaky cat, Keith wanted to growl and roll his eyes, but he was too busy trying not to noticeably shiver as the lump in his throat grew and tried to overwhelm him.

    Instead of telling Shiro that he was fine, again, and thank-you I'll keep that in mind, his mouth seemingly had different ideas, contrary to his brain. “You were gone,” he slowly bit the words out – a feeling that he'd too long held inside of him then bubbling over and demanding that he give it a voice. “You said that you'd come home, but you didn't. And now you're planning for that to happen again, and I don't . . . I don't want it, I can't take over for you, so you need to stay with us.” His voice was a high, wounded slash of sound, and he knew that he was visibly shaking – but, once he started he couldn't seem to stop. “What you said about me leading if anything ever happens to you – no. No. First off: that's a terrible decision because I'm me, and everyone knows I'm me. I'll just screw that up like everything else; it would be a disaster, and I just can't . . .”

    (Everything he touched turned to ash and rot, and he would not let that spread to infect this team. His team. He would not; he'd cut himself off as Voltron's hand if it even looked like he would take them down with him. It was just how things were; he was resigned to that. )

    “I just . . . I can't stand to lose you again - so don't go, please don't go . . .” he knew he was dangerously close to hyperventilating, and his voice wobbled alarmingly on his last few babbled syllables. He was asking something impossible, at that – something that Shiro couldn't rightly promise with any sort of certainty. It didn't matter; in that moment, he desperately yearned for an assurance that Shiro couldn't wholly give. He needed to hear the words.

    “Keith,” Shiro's voice was heartbreakingly soft as he knelt down next to the bedside to look him in the eye. His flesh and blood hand came to rest on the one shoulder that was free from his teammates, and Keith took comfort in that warmth – that firmness of pressure that reminded him that he was still there, right there. He'd been lost, yes, but then found again. “I'm here, and I'm not planning on going anywhere.”

    “But you said -” his voice a whispered squeak of sound, and he swallowed, hating how pathetic the noise was to his own ears. “You said . . .” but he clamped his teeth down when his voice failed to regain any sort of normalcy. No. He was stronger than that.

    But he didn't have to find his words, not completely. In the end, Shiro understood. “I was preparing for the worst, Keith - not for what I expect to happen,” Shiro sighed to say. “And I am truly sorry that I burdened you with that. You already have more than enough on your shoulders; it wasn't fair of me to add on to that, just to set my own mind at ease.”

    Visibly weary then, Shiro passed a hand through the tuft of white in his hair, and Keith hated himself in that moment – he hated that he'd added his own insecurities to Shiro when he already held them all up through so much. His heart fell in his chest, but it never had time to bottom out. He must have communicated some of what he was feeling to the others – for, not even a second later he felt as Lance shifted and protectively tightened an arm around his midsection. Hunk too unconsciously turned towards him in his sleep, setting himself up like some great medieval shield around them all, while Pidge lifted her head and drowsily murmured, “It's okay, Keith – it's only a bad dream. We're here . . . go back to sleep,” without ever truly waking up to register what she was saying. She patted his trapped shoulder, and then slumped to lay her head back down again.

    “It'll all be okay, you'll see,” he more felt her mumble against his skin, rather than heard her say out loud, but her meaning was deafening, either way.

    . . . did she really just say all that? Keith blinked, almost certain that he had fabricated the whole thing in his mind before Shiro loosed a soft, amused sound in reply to Pidge's words. The pressure of Lance's arm had yet to lessen over his midsection. Hunk's deep, steady breathing remained a loud, comforting sound in his ears.

    In the end, it was enough. The unexpected action – and the affection it unwittingly conveyed had Keith shaking his head. Even Shiro had a grudging smile cutting through the pall of his features, and his expression lightened.

    “I hate how much I hurt you, when I didn't come home,” Shiro whispered after a long minute passed. His voice was heavy then, but not quite as weighed down as it was. “I thought about that often during that year I was gone – more often than words can say.”

    Keith took in a deep breath, and finally managed to grab a hold of himself. He wrestled his fears and his anxieties back into their proper place, and thought to let them go. “It wasn't your fault,” he used an exhale to mumble. “It was the Galra.”

    (And oh, wasn't that another twist of the blade? The universe did love its little ironies.)

    For a moment, Shiro was quiet as he looked at him, and Keith was finally going to ask him what he was thinking when he said, “Remember that one time we went camping out by the Devil's Fork?”

    Huh?

    Keith's brow furrowed, taken aback by the unexpectedness of the memory as it returned. He didn't understand its relevance. “Yeah,” he confirmed anyway. “I remember that the horse you picked hated me,” he made a face, even as he involuntarily shuddered.

    Shiro had an unnatural bond with the skittish, judgy creatures due to his own childhood – one which Keith couldn't even begin to understand. He'd ever prefer the smooth aerodynamics of a hovercraft over any more organic a mount. Even then, he still missed the red beauty he'd left back on Earth – she was a gorgeous machine.

    For that thought, Red gave a humphing sound in his mind, and for all the world the growl sounded jealous.

    Not as much as I love you, of course, he fought a smile to say – feeling no small bit like Lance then, flirting with Blue to get on her good side - not that he'd ever tell his fellow paladin that, of course. That was between him and Red.

    “Remember that slot canyon you wanted to explore?” Shiro continued. “Just below the sand pipes on Jeffries' Ridge?”

    How could he forget? They had found an honest to goodness waterfall in a similar such canyon the day before – a byproduct of the seasonal rains, and the clear water flowing between the orange and red bands in the elegant, waving curtains of sandstone underneath the cerulean blue sky above had been beautiful beyond compare. Keith had thought to find a similar such oasis then, and had been determined to investigate - even when Shiro was more leery of doing so. He alone had been slim enough to fit through the opening in the stone, and was carefully finding his handholds and footholds when the entire shelf crumbled underneath his weight. He'd slid down the rest of the way, and landed on a rattlesnake's nest amongst the sagebrush at the bottom of the canyon, of all things.

    Few things hurt more than a snakebite, Keith could report with all honesty. Especially a venomous one.

    “I try not to remember that,” Keith grimly answered, not sure where Shiro was going with calling such an old memory back to mind. He'd still been such a moody, prickly thing then; even a month later he would have listened when Shiro said there was something he'd ought not do.

    “I can't tell you how scared I was – thinking that I was going to have to report to Iverson that I killed you in one of our very first outings.” Shiro's voice held a dark note of humor. “But you lived – and you were surprisingly no worse for the wear in the end. Why do you think that was?”

    Shiro hadn't been able to fit in the slot canyon to follow him – he had to hike the long way around. In the meantime, Keith had to take care of the snakebite and his twisted ankle himself. He'd felt as a flaming arrow had gone through his leg, then, and the nausea and the resulting migraine he'd suffered were nearly overwhelming. Trying to calm himself down was the hardest part – panic was more dangerous than the toxin itself, he'd remembered Shiro saying, so he'd slowly, carefully pulled himself away from the startled snake's nest and towards the stream that he had indeed found at the bottom of the canyon. The last thing he needed was a racing heart moving the venom more speedily through his veins.

    He'd kept himself seated on the ground, unable as he was to put weight on either foot, and took off his socks and boots before the swelling started – he then washed the wound as best he could without flushing it with water, and ignored the impulse he had to try and squeeze the venom out himself. He next fashioned a splint with with the first-aid supplies from his pack without making a tourniquet – all just as Shiro had debriefed the first time they set out into the desert. Then, he pulled himself into the shade of a nearby outcropping and just . . . waited, meditating to control his breathing and decidedly not panicking the longer and longer it seemed to take Shiro to reach him. It fought every instinct he had to sit still and wait for someone to help him, but he trusted Shiro – even then.

    In the end, it was only twenty minutes or so, but it felt like the longest hour of his life when Shiro finally did reach him. He didn't remember the trip back to the Garrison so much as he remembered the weeks it had taken for the bite and his bad ankle to fully heal – he'd been on crutches and stuck outside of the sims for much longer than he cared to remember.

    “I was okay, because I remembered what you said,” Keith finally hazarded an answer. “If I would have followed my impulses, without your advice, I only would have hurt myself more.”

    Shiro inclined his head, and said, “That's true.” But he was still waiting for him to make a connection. He hadn't quite grasped the point - not yet. Keith glowered, feeling as if he was being tutored for his advanced telemetry mathematics all over again. Shiro never did his work for him outright, so much as he patiently guided him to the correct conclusion.

    So, he thought . . . and, finally he thought to understand. He tried again, in a small, quiet voice: “Your words were with me . . . even when you were not. That's all I needed in the end.”

    “Yeah,” Shiro confirmed, just as softly, “they were. I know it sounds trite . . . and it's not the same – not nearly. It may not ever be enough, but Keith, I will always be with you . . . even if I'm not actually physically here. I can't say that nothing will ever happen to me, not with any sort of honesty - but this I can assure you with full certainty: I will never, ever truly leave you. I promise.”

    He knew that . . . really, he did. Keith swallowed, but still found his throat thick to say aloud, “I know that, Shiro.”

    “Good,” Shiro inclined his head smartly – a soldier's gesture through and through. “And I won't leave you so easily – not again. I will fight with everything I have to stay here, with you guys.”

    “I know that, too.”

    “And, should the worst ever happen,” but it would seem that Shiro was not done with him – not yet, “you're selling yourself short. I fully believe that you are capable of leading this team, should the need arise. I'm amazed at how much you've grown these past few years, and you'll only continue to grow from here. I'm already so, so proud of you, Keith – I hope you know that.”

    The flare of emotion he felt in response to that was, at first, overwhelming. He didn't wholly understand the sensation as an odd mixture of pride and bolstered self-worth and happiness flooded his veins in a peculiar cocktail. He could hear his own blood pound, and he opened his mouth once, twice, but was unable to say anything in response – not right away. Not yet.

    He . . . he hadn't realized how much he needed to hear that. Once the words were spoken, he was unsure how to even communicate how much they meant to him. It went beyond his capacity to share aloud.

    Instead, he knew that his windows and blinds were open, just the slightest bit . . . and he knew that Shiro understood everything that he could not say, regardless. He always did.

    In answer, Shiro squeezed his shoulder one last time before his hand fell away. He then turned, and took a seat on the floor, with his back resting against the side of the bunk. There, it took Keith a moment to understand, it looked like Shiro was content to stay. He folded his arms over his chest, and let his head fall forward to close his eyes.

    “Shiro, what are you doing?” when his voice allowed him to speak again, he asked out loud anyway.

    “I'm going to sleep,” Shiro did not open his eyes to answer the obvious. “What's it look like I'm doing?”

    “Nice, genius,” Keith rolled his eyes. “But, here - right there?”

    “I still don't sleep well in actual beds – this will do,” Shiro muttered such a terrible sentence in such a matter-of-fact way that Keith fought the urge to flinch – feeling guilty, again, for making Shiro's year of captivity all about him, instead of supporting his friend through what he'd gone through.

    Cease, paladin, he felt Red in his mind as his brain translated the abstract thought into words. You draw strength from Black, as he draws strength from you. It is how it always has been, and how it always shall be.

    They were a symbiont circle, all of them – he understood what Red was trying to say. Yet, still . . .

    He swallowed, and fought to keep his voice light. “Well . . . if that's really where you're comfortable, I guess you can stay. But we can find room for you up here, if you want.”

    “No,” Shiro cracked one eye open as he shook his head. “I'm not going to disturb you guys. You need your rest – the morning is already right around the corner as it is.”

    Keith made a face, knowing that to be true, at least. “Around the corner? Just an hour away, I think you mean.”

    “Unfortunately,” Shiro gave a sigh to say. “Which is why you should just let me go to sleep. I'm an old man; I need my rest.”

    Like he was hardly much older than the rest of them, Keith felt fond exasperation fill him. But he was done fighting for the night. “Alright then . . . if that's really where you want to be - ”

    “ - it is, Keith,” Shiro's voice was soft – but firm to interrupt. It was the truth in more ways than one.

    Thus assured, Keith slowly nodded, and settled back against his pillow to close his eyes. Then, surrounded by the scent sound sense of his team - his pride - he felt awareness slip away from him while he found what rest he could.



    OoOoO

    End Notes: Oh, Keith, you poor dear! I didn't realize that I had such a soft spot for him until writing this - it's hard, figuring out who and what you are. (And, my theories on Galran extra senses are kinda touched on in The Erebrean Period, if you wanted to read any more of my world building. One of these days I need to write a proper fic detailing my head!canons. I just love all of the potential when writing for alien/fantasy characters - have I mentioned that before?)

    In the meantime, that's it! Some 30k plus words of character study later I am so, so happy to have finished this story, and I thank you guys for sticking with me. It's been an absolute blast writing for this fandom.

    That said, I do have a follow-up chapter for this story that will be up as soon as I can finish typing and polishing it - it's set in the future a bit, during what I hope will happen with Season 5, so look out for that. I will see you guys again soon. :D [:D]



    ~MJ @};-
     
  18. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    [:D] [:D] Beautifully poignant and intense.
    Fascinating empathic skills but double-edged that Keith has but they seem to be yielding sweet things now in a sense of belonging =D= =D=

    Like the stellar @Raissa Baiard and Rebels, you are my Voltron expert for the profound character-growth relationship oomph which I adore.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
  19. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Great insight in Keith and his reactions to the others and what the series is about.
     
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  20. Sith-I-5

    Sith-I-5 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 14, 2002
    Read to the bed sharing.

    Very reminiscent of Stargate: Atlantis, when the city was travelling between waterworlds.

    Good writing and explorations of large family dynamics, with Lance' recollections of his sibling and cousin line-up back home; and how that shapes your values, to the point that he does not get why the bed owner is bothered by his bedjacking.

    You show good understanding of your source material.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
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  21. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    As I know I came to your Voltron fics with minimal wiki-based knowledge of what the show was about, and now that I've read this I'm hesitating to jump in and watch the whole lot, or just stick with your stories because I'm worried that I'll find the show disappointing!

    It was wonderful to discover these characters through this story. They are all so different from each other and yet they have grown to have so much in common, that in this (literally) freezing situation they let go of their barriers in order to comfort each other, not only against the bitter cold but against the demons that haunt each one of them. And each one has his/her own personality, own history, own way of coping or trying to cope and own reasons for being where they are and caring for the others – even Allura, who hasn't opened up yet enough to pile up in a bed with them all, but who has opened her heart to Shiro (and that was a totally awww moment).

    I particularly liked Hunk and Pidge. They have this big brother/little sister type of relationship, and Hunk is just so endearing. I could just picture the gentle giant who is trying to make everyone feel better, even though he seems to feel that he's a bit out of his depth in this whole Voltron situation. Shiro and Keith come across as those who will turn out to be heroes, Lance and Pidge as the ones who sort out problems as they come along; but my sense is that Hunk is the one who keeps the team together, who works to make them more than a team – a family.

    Now I'm off to read the next story in this series, and I'm excited to see Lotor, who I've only met as a child so far, interact with this lot. It's going to be quite something!
     
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