It was the window that kept drawing Lance back.
He had been wandering through unused parts of the castle on a restless night, finding nothing but empty rooms and dust, hoping not to run into anyone. He was lonely all the time, and sometimes being with the team helped, and sometimes it didn’t. On the days it didn’t help, it was almost harder to be around them then away from them. It was hard to be alone in a crowd.
The room was probably some kind of lounge for the crew. It wasn’t very big, and if it had had furniture, it had all been emptied out, but what had caught Lance’s attention was the shuttered window.
It took up almost the whole outer wall, maybe to make up for how unimpressive what was probably a low ranking crew lounge was. He wasn’t sure it would open. They only used a small portion of the castle, and while the rest wasn’t exactly locked up, the only systems that ran there were life support, so the shutter might be locked.
It had opened though, and when it did, Lance remembered why he had wanted to go to space in the first place. They were passing along the edge of a spiral galaxy, just far enough away that the stars flowed past like a river.
Lance’s breath caught in his throat, and he didn’t even realize he had sat down, practically pressed to the window. His parents would sometimes take he and his siblings to the beach on clear nights to stargaze. They had taught them the constellations, and how to navigate a ship by the stars.
These weren’t their stars, not his stars, but they were breathtaking. Dazzling, spinning, flashing with colors he couldn’t even put a name to, so close he felt like he could stretch his hand out and touch them, pull it back and find his fingers covered with glittering stardust.
He wanted home more than he wanted anything else in the universe, but in that moment, with a different kind of sea spread out at his feet, he wanted to bring home here, to show them all the beauty and splendor that they were fighting for.
In that moment, he felt like he could breath.
Lance woke to sunlight on his face and turned his head towards the light lazily, basking in it for a moment before opening his eyes.
He was cold, and stiff from sleeping on the hard floor, but they were passing close enough to a star that its light was filtering through the window, warm and yellow.
He had no idea what time it was, and he was probably late for something, but it didn’t matter. It had been so long since he had woken to sunlight, that it made the stiffness, and the lectures, and the extra chores for being late worth it.
He had finally found a part of the castle that he wanted to be in.
The next time he brought a blanket. The time after that a blanket and a pillow.
Allura gave them an allowance of sorts when they had time to wander around a city, which wasn’t often. While most of the team stuck to the main shop areas, Lance tended to be drawn towards thrift shops and junk stands. He always found more interesting things there than in normal shops, and it cost less.
Keith was the other member of the team who seemed to gravitate towards the junk shops, mostly out of force of habit, apparently; he wasn’t much of a shopper overall. Sometimes, he bought books and ran them through the translator, and Lance had seen him sneaking art supplies when he thought no one was looking. Who knew why he thought he had to hide them.
Lance was mostly poking through for more blankets and pillows. He felt bad about squirreling away so many in the window room, and he was a little worried if he took too many, someone would notice and start looking for them, and if they looked, they might actually find the room and tell him he couldn’t be there.
Better for it just to not come up at all.
Lance had managed to find a stall piled high with blankets and rug, most a little on the worn side, but there were some nice soft ones that looked like they would be really warm.
“You looking for anything in particular?” the stall owner asked, blankets draped over four of his six arms and the other two busy folding.
“Just something warm,” Lance shrugged.
“I’ve got the perfect thing!” the merchant tossed the blankets onto a pile and disappeared into the back.
Lance waited, still pushing through the stacks and piles. He felt a particularly soft one at the bottom of a stack and managed to pull it out without toppling the whole pile. It was a beautiful cobalt blue blanket with stars scattered across it. Lance thought he recognized some of the star groupings from the night before when he and Hunk had been sitting outside waiting for negotiations to finish up. They had started making up constellations to pass the time.
He added it to the heavy, thick woven rug he had already set aside, then went back to poking.
“Here it is!” the merchant returned.
He held a crystal out to Lance; it was a warm golden orange and about half a meter long. It reminded him of the save crystals on a video game.
“It’s pretty,” Lance took it from him, turning it over in his hands “what is it?”
“It’s a heat stone,” the merchant grinned wide, “here, I’ll show you.”
He cleared a flat spot on a table and set the crystal on one of its points. It balanced there easily, and with a quick turn of his wrist, he set it spinning. Nothing seems to change, but when Lance held his hand out towards it, he could feel a comfortable warmth radiating off of it.
“That’s really cool,” Lance smiled.
“It’s perfect for small rooms that get chilly,” the merchant stopped it with his hand, “the faster you spin it, the warmer it gets.”
“Is it a fire hazard?” Lance laid a careful hand against it and found it only slightly warmer than the air.
“Nah,” the merchant shook his head, “you could spin as fast as you can and stick it under a pile of yarma soaked blankets, and nothing would catch fire. Of course, that will stop it from spinning, so it wouldn’t keep you warm.”
“Right,” Lance snorted, “how long will it keep spinning?”
“Five or six hours, depending on how fast it’s going,” the merchant shrugged, “just give it a little twist when it starts to slow down, and you can keep it going all day.”
“That is really cool,” Lance repeated, “how much?”
“570,” the merchant started it spinning again, “it’s a real bargain at that price. It only cost less because people like the red ones better.”
That was just about all the money Lance had. He glanced over that the rug and blanket thoughtfully. The crystal was much better, but he really liked the blue blanket.
“You like those, I’ll toss them in too,” the merchant waved two of his arms around, picking up the crystal with a third, “650 for all of them.”
“I don’t have that much,” Lance shrugged, “what about 600 for the crystal and the blue blanket?”
The merchant looked like he was about to disagree, then narrowed his eyes and leaned closer to get a good look at Lance.
“Aren’t you one of those paladins?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Lance rubbed the back of his head self-consciously.
He wasn’t wearing his armor, but even without it, they still got recognized occasionally. Sometimes it was a good thing, and sometimes it wasn’t. He had his bayard in his pocket, and Keith was only a few stalls down if this turned out to be one of those not good times, but he didn’t have any reason to think it would be.
“550 for all three,” the merchant said firmly, “take it or leave it.”
“I…” Lance hesitated, then relaxed and smiled; sometimes it was best just to accept what people wanted to give, “I’ll take it. Thank you.”
“I’ll bag it up for you,” the merchant used two hands to shake both of Lance’s, “you want it sent somewhere?”
“No, I’ve got it,” Lance shook his head, “thanks thought.
A few stalls down, Keith tried to hide a set of paints behind the books he was carrying and eyed the huge bags Lance was collecting curiously.
The blue blanket didn’t actually make it to the window room. It made it as far as the lounge, where Lance and Pidge both huddled under it on movie nights.
The heat stone gave of a steady, comfortably heat, but the window room was too big, and maybe too cold, for it to really warm things up. Lance set it spinning near his nest of blankets and pillows and huddled under them with only his head peeking out so he could watch the stars passing by.
He was sleeping more often here now then in his own room. If felt safer somehow, even though he knew it wasn’t really, and more inviting, which he supposed was a matter of opinion, but his growing collection of cozy and colorful blankets and the great view made him feel like he wasn’t being unreasonable in thinking that.
There were downsides, of course. He was farther from the control room now then anyone else, and even though Allura had calmed down considerable with late night emergency drills, she still called them on occasion. More and more often, Lance was the last one there and getting the stink eye from her for it. Shiro was starting to give him concerned glances too.
He tried sleeping in his room, but he never slept as well as he did in the window room, and after a few nights, he would get too restless, and find himself back in front of the window, burrowed under his nest and watching a sea of star and planets flow past him.
He wasn’t hurting anything, and no one was using the room, so he didn’t see why it would be a problem for him to sleep here, but just in case, he still didn’t want to tell anyone.
It would be kind of nice if he could get the room warmer though. He knew how to adjust the climate controls, but if he turned on the heat, it would kick the controls for the area over from the dormant life support setting they were on to a habituated area and Coran would notice.
Lance wiggled in his cocoon until he was staring up at the ceiling. The heat crystal didn’t give off any light, but there was just enough light from the stars that he could see the cold metal ceiling. He had found a woven blanket with stripes and zigzags in all sorts of bright colors a few stops ago, and it would have been cool to put a pattern like that on the ceiling instead of the cold grey.
Or he could just hang the blanket from the ceiling.
A slow grin spread across Lance’s face. If the room was too big for his little heat stone, then maybe all he needed to do was make the room a little smaller.
Lance was up to something, Pidge was sure of it. It seemed like every time they found time to stop at a market or shopping center, she would spot Lance lugging back huge bags and trying to tuck then into the shuttle or sneak them onto the ship with no one noticing. She had caught him more than once poking through their scrap pile too. It was mostly junk left over from the projects she and Hunk worked on, and there was no reason he couldn’t use some of it, but it was weird.
She had peeked into Lance’s room while he was distracted helping Hunk cook dinner, thinking whatever was in all those bags must be there, but Lance’s room was empty, almost unnervingly so. Their rooms weren’t exactly cozy, but it was like no one lived in Lance’s room, or it was a hotel room. That or Lance was expecting room inspections like at the Garrison or something and kept his room extra tidy. Pidge didn’t actually know if that was normal for Lance or not. She hadn’t shared a room with him at the Garrison.
Pidge got the clue she needed by chance. She was waiting for the lift, and it showed that it had been all the way down on a level of the castle no one used. When the lift door opened, Lance was inside. She was careful not to say anything about it or ask any questions as they rode up to the training room together.
It was a few days before Pidge got her chance. Hunk roped Lance into helping him test a slew of new ingredients he had come across. He wanted to try cooking them a bunch of different ways, and he had put Lance on chopping and stirring duty. It should keep Lance busy for a couple hours.
The level the lift took her to was one of the ones that was still shut down. It was chilly, and the automatic lights didn’t come on in response to her, but she almost always had a small flashlight on her. She had found it indispensable for poking around in mechanical things and also for exploring a castle that was about 70% shut down.
It didn’t look like there was anything there. It was all just crew cabins, and even smaller ones then theirs. The bunk rooms looked like they had been meant to be shared by at least two people. They had probably been for lower deck hands or grunts or something equally unimpressive. Not for the first time, Pidge wondered just how many people had crewed the Castle when it was at peak capacity. She knew it had much more potential than they could actually use with only their small team to crew it.
It might be worth looking into. Maybe she could automate some of the systems to allow them too…
Pidge opened up another door, one that looked like all the others, and found herself looking at a structure that looked very much like a tent. Not just a tent, she realized as she crept closer, a blanket fort. Assuming it hadn’t been left behind by Altean children 10 millennia ago, why in the world would Lance build a blanket fort here, in the cold and dark and shoved against a blank wall in an empty room?
Pidge crept carefully into the room, as if expecting something to jump out at her any moment. Maybe Lance hadn’t built it, maybe it was left over from some long forgotten crew’s children. Maybe it was haunted; not that she believed in ghost, of course.
She pulled back the blanket and stepped inside, expecting to see a dark, cramped space. Instead, the universe opened out in front of her.
Nearly the entire wall, floor to ceiling, was taken up by a massive window. They were passing through an asteroid belt, and far from the uniform grey-white that every asteroid in every sci-fi show ever seemed to be, these were a dazzling array of colors. Bright sparkling greens, dusty rich reds, turquoise marbled, buttery yellow.
They were amazing, and Pidge wanted to know what they were made of, why their colors were so bright, if they were being drawn into orbit around a central point of gravity or just drifting.
She sat down on a pile of blankets that were undeniably Lance’s because she had seen him buy the fleecy one with the little angler looking fish printed on it, and pulled out the small data tablet she kept in her pocket, using it to look up their location and any information she could glean on the asteroids.
Pidge jumped, wondering just how long she had been sitting there, immersed in learning about the world passing them by outside the window. Lance was staring down at her, wide-eyed and distressed, looking as if he had just been caught doing something terrible and was going to be punished accordingly for it.
Any thoughts she had had of teasing him vanished.
“This is really cool,” she said instead, then motioned to the asteroids still passing by the window, “the green in those asteroids is malachite according to the castle’s scans. That means these must have come from a planet with copper content.”
Lance was still staring at her nervously, but he came all the way into the blanket fort, letting the flap close behind him.
“Don’t you need water for malachite to form?” he asked hesitantly.
“Yeah,” Pidge nodded, scooting over on the blanket pile to make room for him, “they must have come from a planet with water and some kind of ecosystem, although I guess, technically, there wouldn’t have to be any organic life for malachite to form, just the right erosion conditions…”
As Pidge rambled, Lance came closer, slowly sitting down beside her as if he expected her to bite. She immediately pressed up against his side, seeking out his warmth.
“You know, the view is great, but it’s cold in here,” she tugged on a blanket to pull it over their laps, “you’re always complaining about how cold it is; I’m surprised you picked here for a blanket fort.”
“Oh,” Lance blinked at her, still looking slightly dazed, “here.”
He reached out for a crystal laying on the ground, sitting it upright on its tip, then starting it rotating. Immediately, a pleasant warmth started radiating from it.
“What is that?” Pidge crawled half way across Lance’s lap to get a better look at it, “and more importantly, how does it work?”
“I don’t know,” some of the tension started to drop from Lance’s shoulders finally, “it’s called a heat stone. I found it in a thrift shop.”
“I have to start following you and Keith around when you go junk shopping,” Pidge cautiously touched the crystal, grinning when she found it a comfortable temperature, “you know he found a toasting knife?”
“A what?” Lance gave her a puzzled look.
“A toasting knife,” she repeated, rolling on her back to look up at him, “like in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy It toasts bread as you cut it.”
“Did he get any bread to go with it?” Lance didn’t sound too hopefully.
“No,” Pidge pouted, “he didn’t even think to ask. Hunk was so mad.”
Lance laughed, and Pidge smiled up at him, glad he didn’t look so scared anymore. Really, all he had done was build a blanket fort in a room no one had any use for. She didn’t see why he would be so worried about it.
“This is a really nice blanket fort,” Pidge stared up at the colorful blankets that made up the ceiling.
“Thanks,” Lance gave her a shy smile, “I used to build them for my little sisters and brother when we had big storms come through and they were scared. We would even build them in hotel rooms or my aunt’s living room if we had to evacuate.”
“Did that happen a lot?” Pidge pushed herself up right so she could lean more comfortably against Lance’s side.
“No,” Lance shook his head, “just a few times. We lived near the beach, so we were in the storm surge zone, but we didn’t get too many storms that were bad enough for that. The first time we had to go to my aunt’s house for one I was really little, and my older brother and sister built a fort with me, and we all slept there together. It made it seem a lot less scary.”
“Matt and I used to build blanket forts during thunder storms, or when we wanted to have scary movie marathons,” despite what a good job the heat stone was doing warming them up, Pidge still reached for a blanket to pull around both their shoulders, “sometimes, we’d watch too many scary movies, and we’d make mom and dad come sleep in it with us.”
Lance adjusted the blanket more snugly around them, then gave Pidge’s shoulders a squeeze. They sat together, watching as the ship finally cleared the asteroid field and an expanse of shining stars filled their view.
“Would it be okay if I came here sometimes?” Pidge asked tentatively, “it’s really nice.”
“Yeah,” Lance let out a slow breath, “anytime.”
They were planetside for almost a full week, which was the most exciting thing that had happened in a while, even if they were only there because the castle needed repairs. While the natives seemed friendly, they were scattered sparsely across the planet, and there weren’t any settlements near where they had set the castle down.
Just forests and mountains and lovely clear skies.
Lance had been out with the others earlier ‘training’. Mostly they had chased each other around in the grass and climbed trees. Shiro told Allura it was a traditional human bonding exercise, and the rest of the team had managed to keep a straight face, just barely.
It had been a good day, and technically, it was still day. The planet’s sun was dipping towards the mountains slowly, but there was probably another two or three hours before it set. They usually stayed on castle time when they had stops like this, and it was actually really late for them.
It was so nice to sit in the sun though, even if it was a bit more orange than their own star. Lance hadn’t been able to convince himself yet to close the shutter and try to sleep.
Instead, he was sitting on his nest of blankets, listening to a playlist made by Blue and untangling and sorting a pile of string and embroidery floss he had gotten for free from a market because it was so tangled. He liked making friendship bracelets, but he didn’t really feel much urge to do anything with them. His sisters had liked making them, and when the younger ones had gotten frustrated because they had trouble figuring it out, he had learned so he could help them.
Mostly it was just nice to have something to do with his hands, and sometimes Hunk would spot one he liked and take it.
With his headphones on and absorbed in his task, he actually didn’t hear anything until Keith poked his head in between two blankets.
Lance yelped, jerking his headphones off and looking up at him wide-eyed.
“Oh,” Keith glanced down at him, looking thoroughly unimpressed, “it’s just you.”
“Who were you expecting?” Lance’s heart felt like it was about to burst out of his chest.
“I don’t know,” Keith shrugged, coming inside, “Shiro maybe.”
“Shiro? Really?” Shiro had never struck Lance as the blanket fort building type.
“He gets restless at night sometimes and wanders around,” Keith said as if this was completely normal.
Given that Keith was also wandering around late at night, maybe he thought it was.
“Nope, no Shiro here,” Lance shook his head vehemently, hoping in the absence of their illustrious leader, Keith would just wander away again and forget he had ever seen Lance.
“Obviously,” Keith muttered distractedly, wandering towards the window, careful to step over the tablet Pidge had left in the middle of the floor.
Lance watched him press a hand to the window, clearly absorbed by the view, and he felt like he was watching a shark circle, gauging it for any sign of danger.
“These are really beautiful colors,” Keith murmured.
And suddenly it was just Keith again, and Lance felt silly for being so worried. Keith who couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast that morning, and fell asleep with his shoes on half the time, and didn’t care if they were watching when he made baby noises at adorable and vicious animals. He wasn’t going to care if Lance had built a blanket fort.
“Do you have the right colors to paint it?” Lance asked.
Keith sucked in a sharp breath, his back going ridged. This was also Keith who thought none of them noticed him squirrelling away art supplies and trying to hide small sketch pads under his jacket.
“We’re heading back to that weird pink outpost again after we leave here,” Lance continued, “I think I saw some paint sets at a few of the shops there if you don’t, not that that will help you right now.”
“I…” Keith traced his fingers hesitantly over the window, mapping out the shape of mountains and clouds, then glanced over at Lance, “can I go get my stuff and come back?”
“Sure,” Lance shrugged.
It was dark by the time Lance fell asleep, and Keith was still sitting on the floor hunched over his work, paint smeared across his cheek and the small twinkling lights Pidge had attached to the ceiling filling the blanket fort with a warm glow.
They both slept through morning training the next day.
Hunk couldn’t find Lance. Again.
He wasn’t in the commons room, or the kitchen, or the training room, or with Blue, or in his own room, which looked oddly sterile and unused.
Hunk had shared a dorm room with Lance at the Garrison, and the walls around the top bunk had always been covered with photos and knickknacks, things he had collected, people he wanted to remember. Never mind the mound of blankets and pillows. Hunk had sometimes wondered how there was any room for Lance left on his bed.
So it was strange to walk into a room that was supposed to belong to Lance and see it look so empty. Even the blanket on the bed was the standard, sort of soft, but not Lance soft, blanket that had been on the bed when they had first gotten there.
Hunk could only conclude that Lance wasn’t really using his room.
Maybe there was something wrong with it; it smelt funny, or there were weird noises, or it was so small it felt claustrophobic, or it was too quiet, or there was something about it that scared him, or Lance just didn’t like it, or…
It was easy to imagine all the possible terrible things that had driven Lance from his room, but Lance hadn’t said anything about it, and he definitely seemed to be getting enough sleep, as much as any of them were, anyway. It was always really obvious when Lance didn’t get enough sleep. Hunk had learned during high school that sleep deprivation and Lance were a bad, bad combination.
But that still left the question of what was going on. Something strange was happening. Lance was usually so social, and now he never seemed to be around. As much as snooping was Hunk’s usual solution to things like this, and Lance was far more tolerant of that then most, Lance’s room was practically empty; there was really nothing to snoop.
He would just have to ask. Usually that went okay with Lance. At least, it went okay when Hunk was the one doing the asking. It didn’t always turn out well when it was someone else, but there were advantages to having best friend status.
It took a couple days for him to catch Lance in a relatively private setting, where they could talk without getting interrupted or Lance getting twitchy. He’d like to have said it was planned, but the reality was, he and Lance apparently both thought after dinner snacks were important. Hunk came across him in the kitchen, standing on the counter and rummaging around the top shelf of a cupboard for something.
“You know, we have a step stool,” Hunk made sure he was close enough to steady Lance before opening his mouth.
Lance yelped and flailed a bit even with Hunk’s hand on the small of his back to keep him from falling backwards.
“Could you not sneak up on people?” Lance steadied himself and straightened, going back to rummaging, “it’s rude.”
“Right,” Hunk snorted, “what are you looking for?”
“Those salty-crispy things we picked up at that market with all the orange jello people,” Lance came up on his toes, “they tasted like chicharrones, except totally different.”
Which, sadly, was the description of pretty much everything they ate these days.
“I stashed them,” Hunk motioned for Lance to get down, “Pidge will dig through the top shelves if she’s feeling munchie.”
“Is that why all the healthy snacks are up here?” Lance snickered.
“Not all of them. Just the ones that look like junk food so she’ll actually eat them,” Hunk held his hands out, wanting Lance off the counter before he fell and died.
It would be an inauspicious way for a defender of the universe to die.
Lance rolled his eyes, but braced his hands on Hunk’s shoulders and jumped down, “so can I have them?”
“Yeah, sure,” Hunk ducked down, pushing aside the stuff he used for baking. “I think there’s still a bag left if Shiro didn’t eat them all. He seemed to really like them.”
“I’ll leave some for him then,” Lance leaned back against the counter.
“We should have gotten more,” Hunk lamented, finally finding the bag and pulling it out.
The hard part about finding food they liked that was most of it they would never see again.
“Got to enjoy it while we have it, I guess,” Lance accepted the bag eagerly from him, “thanks.”
“So, I was going to ask you,” Hunk pulled out a handful of the crispy chunks for himself, “is everything alright with your room? It seems like you’re never in there anymore.”
Lance froze, his hand halfway to his mouth, giving Hunk a completely blank look. This was not the look of someone who was hiding a dark secret or living in agonizing terror, which was a comfort to Hunk.
“Oh!” Lance laughed and shoved a handful of not- chicharrones in his mouth, then kept talking with his mouth full, “I didn’t tell you.”
“Tell me what?” Hunk frowned at him, “also, that’s gross. Swallow, dude.”
Lance obeyed, then closed up the bag and tucked it under his arm, “I built a blanket fort.”
“Like when we were kids?” Hunk couldn’t help but be a little puzzled by that.
Although, he supposed it made sense. Blanket forts were a McClain family tradition, but also, during finals time at the Garrison, Lance would hang blankets from the ceiling around the top bunk to make himself a hide away, somehow, in defiance of the laws of gravity, because Hunk had never been able to figure out how they didn’t fall down.
“Better than that,” Lance grabbed his wrist, tugging him out of the room, “come on, I’ll show you.”
Hunk let himself be dragged down the hall and to the lifts, snatching the bag of snacks from Lance so he could munch while they descended into the unused parts of the castle. He wasn’t even surprised when the lift opened, and Lance pulled him along a dark, cold corridor.
“You know, if you’re using this part of the ship, you could always switch it over to active,” Hunk pointed out.
“Then Coran would know I was here,” Lance said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“And that’s a problem because…?” Hunk followed Lance through a door that was just like every other door in the hall.
Coran really didn’t seem to care where they went in the castle as long as they didn’t break anything. He had mentioned that if the door was locked and none of their codes worked, that probably meant there was something dangerous behind it or irreplaceably rare and valuable. Hunk had noticed the more he helped Coran with maintenance and repairs, the more locks his code seemed to open.
Nothing down here seemed to be locked though.
“He would tell Allura,” Lance pulled him into a room with what appeared to be a pretty impressive tent made of blankets and rugs leaning against the far wall.
“I’m still not sure why…” Hunk cut himself off when Lance pulled him through the flap of the tent.
The tent was filled with sunlight, warm and inviting, and Hunk felt the tension instantly drop from his shoulders. They were passing through a binary system, and while they weren’t particularly close to the stars, having two of them seemed to be enough to fill the little space with something very much like sunlight.
“This is cool,” Hunk grinned.
“I know!” Lance beamed happily at him, “I was just wandering around and I found the window, but it was kind of cold and the floor was hard, so I started collecting blankets, and then I got the heat stone and that was better, but…”
Hunk was only half listening as he looked around the fort. He was used to Lance babbling when he was excited about something, although, now that he thought about it, it had been a long time since he had heard him talk like this. Hunk supposed that was only natural given the amount of stress they were constantly under, but he added ‘check in with Lance more often’ to his mental to-do list.
“Is this all from the junk pile?” Hunk asked when Lance paused to take a breath, pointing to the structure of the tent.
“Yeah,” Lance sounded uncertain, “is that okay? I can put it back if you need it.”
“It’s totally fine,” Hunk assured him, “we use it for our projects. There’s no reason you can’t use it for yours.”
Lance was not an engineer, but he was a sailor, and where Hunk would have wielded pieces together, Lance had lashed and tied with sturdy, sometimes complicated knots. It wasn’t quite as sturdy as wielding, but it was prettier. There were twinkling lights clipped to the ceiling, and a scattering of odds and ends on the floor, including a handful of small robots that looked suspiciously like Pidge’s, and an open sketch pad sitting on top of an upturned crate that was being used as a table. Hunk had seen Lance’s doodles before, and the painting in the sketch pad was definitely not his.
“Is that Keith’s?” Hunk picked up the sketch pad carefully, bringing it into better light.
“Yeah,” Lance flopped down in the nest of blankets and pillows on the floor, “he left it there to dry.”
“He’s really good,” Hunk carefully set it back on the crate.
Keith was oddly secretive about his sketching and painting. They all knew he did, but he seemed so self-conscious and uncomfortable about it, that they all pretended they didn’t.
“I know, right,” Lance huffed, “Pidge and I keep telling him that, but he still doesn’t want anyone to see anything.”
“So those are Pidge’s robots,” Hunk settled on blankets next to Lance, picking a robot up and turning it over in his hands.
It was small, with spider like legs. Probably meant for spying, or knowing Pidge, for scoping out the kitchen to see if there was fresh space coffee or leftovers so she didn’t have to actually get up herself to do it.
“Yeah,” Lance rolled his eyes, “she keeps leaving them everywhere, and…”
Suddenly Lance’s eyes went wide and something akin to panic entered his expression, “Hunk, I didn’t tell them and not you, I swear. They just sort of found the fort, and I didn’t think about telling anyone, but I wasn’t leaving you out, I promise I wasn’t. It just happened, and…”
“Woah,” Hunk held up his hands, stopping the anxious outpouring of words, “dude, it’s totally fine. I didn’t think you were.”
Lance’s shoulder’s slumped in relief, and Hunk bumped ‘check on Lance more often’ up a little higher on his to-do list. It was weird for him to be this jittery.
“I’m just glad it was this,” Hunk gestured to the blanket fort around him, “I was really worried when I realized you weren’t using your bedroom at all.”
“Oh,” Lance looked away in embarrassment, “it’s just. It’s hard to sleep there, you know?”
“The rooms are pretty uninviting,” Hunk agreed, although he didn’t think that was exactly what Lance was talking about.
“And quiet,” Lance pulled his knees up and rested his chin on them, “and there’s no window. It’s like… it’s like when you’re visiting the house of a third cousin you don’t really know, and they give you a room, and it’s nice, but it feels like if you touch anything or rearrange anything, you’ll be messing things up and you’ll… I don’t know… offend them… cause them problems… does that make any sense at all?”
“It totally does,” Hunk slung an arm around Lance’s shoulders and sprawled backwards onto the pillows, dragging Lance with him, “it’s not yours, and it’s not meant to be.”
Lance nodded, squirming until he was tucked comfortably against Hunk’s side, head resting on his shoulder.
“This is really nice though,” Hunk rubbed Lance’s back, “it’s cozy.”
“It’s a lot easier to sleep here,” Lance murmured, “but Shiro and Allura are starting to get angry at me for always being the last one there when we have alarms.”
“You should really just tell them,” Hunk felt like that was the reasonable course of action.
“Don’t tell them,” Lance hid his face against Hunk’s shoulder, “they’ll think it’s stupid.”
“Keith and Pidge didn’t, right?” Hunk prodded.
“No,” Lance voice came out muffled, “but Allura is all about efficiency, and Shiro… we’re fighting a war and this is a blanket fort. It’s stupid.”
“It’s not,” Hunk said firmly, “we’re fighting a war and finding a spot you’re comfortable and can sleep well isn’t stupid; it’s important.”
Lance burrowed tighter against his side, giving him a muttered ‘okay,’ and Hunk gave him a squeeze, then relaxed. Lance gradually relaxed against him, his breathing evening out. Just when Hunk thought he had fallen asleep, he spoke up.
“Pidge is trying to build a robot that will go to the kitchen and get her coffee so she doesn’t have to leave her workstation.”
“Of course she is,” Hunk rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help the snicker that escaped him, “maybe I need to build a robot to guard the coffee.”
Lance snorted with laughter.
“I can work on it in here, yeah?” Hunk asked.
“Of course,” Lance snuggled against him, “you’re always welcome in my blanket forts; you know that.”
“Yep, I do,” Hunk grinned and settled back to watch the stars drift past them.
Hunk glanced up from the device in his hand, giving the “spider-bot” that had just crawled up his knee a droll look. He picked it up and set it on its back on the ground, it’s spindly legs flailing in the air.
“Not this time!” Pidge cackled gleefully, mashing buttons on her remote control.
The spider-bot’s legs bent backwards, pushing it back over so it was upright.
“Hey, you fixed it!” Hunk grinned at her.
“Yep,” Pidge brought the robot back to her, patting it like it was a puppy, “victory in the robot wars will be mine.”
Keith snorted, but didn’t look up from the tablet he was reading.
“Hunk, are you going to put up with that?” Lance grinned up at him.
Hunk was currently using one bare foot to hold down the end of a friendship bracelet Lance was working on while he tinkered on the device in his hands.
“Probably not,” Hunk grinned.
He set down what he had been working on, and it turned out to be a robot of roughly the same size as Pidge’s, although it was on treads instead of spindly legs. He picked up the remote sitting on the floor next to him, and while Pidge watched him suspiciously, rolled the small robot in the direct of hers.
“You guys should have a robot fight club or something,” Lance suggesting, feet kicking in the air as he worked.
“No fight club,” Hunk said firmly, “this is just defensive.”
He hit a button on the control and a net fired out of his robot, falling over top of the spider-bot and tangling its legs.
“That’s cheating!” Pidge protested.
“So is being too lazy to come get coffee for yourself,” Hunk shrugged, “the walk is good for you.”
“You should build one for Shiro,” Keith still couldn’t be bothered to look up from his reading, “he would totally fight you, no matter how crummy the robot you built him was.”
“I would pay to see that,” Lance’s eyes lit up, “you totally have to build him one. He would kick both your backsides.”
“That seems like a conflict of interests for both of us,” Hunk frowned at them.
“But it’s Shiro,” Pidge grinned, “we could fight him and actually not be at a total and complete disadvantage.
“I did want to try out that design for a bot that can plant explosives in hard to reach places,” Hunk admitted, “I guess we could use that a bases, and it would be a good way to work the bugs out.”
“Oh! What if we…”
While Pidge and Hunk abandoned their robots to plot out new designs, Lance glanced sideways at Keith.
He was smirking behind his tablet.
Shiro was becoming concerned.
This was the third night in a row he had come to Lance’s room after Lance had said he was turning in for the night and found it empty. They all had the occasional sleepless night, but Lance didn’t deal well with sleep deprivation, and Shiro was beginning to worry.
Plus, he really needed to talk to him. Lance seemed to be alright. He was steadily improving in training, and he was doing well on missions, but his response time to alarms had dropped off significantly. It was strange to see a sudden drop like that when he was doing well everywhere else. Allura was starting to get frustrated with it, and Lance was dodging explanations.
When they had first started training, Lance had been consistent in not responding to alarms. It had taken them a couple weeks to figure out that it was because he slept with headphones on, and he couldn’t hear the alarm going off. It had been easy to fix after that, just a matter of making sure his wireless headphones would play the alarms when they went off, but Shiro had been frustrated that Lance hadn’t just told them that was the problem. He had been oddly embarrassed to admit that he listened to music while he slept, and Shiro still wasn’t sure why. He was hoping that whatever was going on this time would be as easy to fix.
He just had to find Lance first.
Unfortunately, he had no idea where Lance was. Not on the training deck, or in the kitchen, or in the lounge. He wasn’t with Blue, or in Hunk’s room, or even working on the inventory he helped Coran with.
It was a real problem to have to do this much looking for him. It wasn’t that Shiro felt like he needed to know where the team was at ever instant, but they had already had two major breaches in security in the castle, both of which had resulted in people nearly dying. It wasn’t safe for Lance to be this hard to find if something happened again.
Shiro was so focused on looking for Lance that he nearly tripped over the mice. They squeaked and chittered at him indignantly, and he was quick to apologize. Everyone had learned early on that it was best to stay on the good side of the mice. They knew everything that went on in the castle after all.
“Do you guys know where Lance is?” Shiro asked.
The mice held a whispered conference, clearly debating whether to tell him or not. He didn’t have the same in with the mice that Allura did, or even Lance and Hunk, who fed them every chance they got. Shiro was about to give up on them and keep looking on his own when the mice finally reached their conclusion and motioned for him to follow them.
Shiro had no idea where they were taking him. He didn’t recognize any of the passages, and it didn’t take long for them to end up in an unused part of the castle. Shiro was beginning to suspect they were taking him to something they wanted help with as opposed to taking him to Lance.
They stopped in front of a door and motioned Shiro in. He stared at them suspiciously for a moment before entering cautiously. The mice had been known to play pranks on people. The room seemed harmless enough, dimly lit like the rest of this part of the castle and empty… except for a tent leaning against the far wall. That was odd.
He glanced down at the mice again, but they only shooed him towards the tent then scurried away. Actually, building a tent out of blankets seemed like something Lance might do. He did tend to nest when they had movie nights, and he had been known to make the odd pillow fort during pillow fights.
Although, why he would do it here was a bit of a mystery. Their rooms were too small for something like this, but this seemed really far out of the way. Shiro would just have to ask.
“Lance?” Shiro kept his voice quiet, not wanting to startle Lance if he was there.
He heard movement in the tent, but no answer.
“Lance? It’s just Shiro,” he approached the tent quietly.
It seemed completely reasonable that Lance would be asleep this time of night. He usually was. Shiro didn’t want to scare him. If he was sleeping, Shiro could always talk to him later. He would just take a quick peek to make sure he was there, then head out.
Suddenly Lance yelled, and Shiro took the last few steps in a hurry, pushing apart two blankets to get into the tent.
Lance was obviously asleep, fighting the blankets he was cocooned in as if they were some monster.
“Lance, buddy, wake up,” Shiro sunk down to his knees next to Lance’s nest of blankets and pillows and reached out cautiously to shake his shoulder.
Lance flinched away from him, but he was too tangled in his blankets to go anywhere.
“Come on, buddy, you’re okay,” Shiro coaxed.
Lance thrashed, rolling out of his nest, and Shiro managed to get his hands under his head before he could slam it on the hard ground. Lance’s eyes snapped open with a yell, and he stared up at Shiro unblinking, clearly not quite awake yet.
“Everything is okay,” Shiro helped Lance to sit up and pulled the blankets away from him, “let’s get you untangled.”
“Shiro?” Lance blinked, rubbing a shaking arm across his eyes, “what’s going on?”
“You were having a nightmare,” Shiro settled on the ground beside him once he was free of the blankets.
“Did I wake you up?” Lance was still clearly disoriented, blinking at his surroundings like he wasn’t quite sure where he was.
“No,” Shiro kept a hand on Lance’s back to steady him, “take a nice, deep breath for me.”
Shiro took a breath, and Lance mimicked him. It took a few more breaths before Lance settled and reorient himself.
“Better?” Shiro asked.
Lance nodded, bringing his knees up to rest his chin on.
“You want to talk about it?” Shiro started rubbing his hand up and down his back.
“Not right now,” Lance shook his head, then motioned to the space around them, “how did you…?”
“The mice,” Shiro grinned, “apparently, I’m not their least favorite after all.”
“I don’t think they have a least favorite,” Lance pressed his forehead wearily against his knees, “I’ll stop.”
“Stop?” Shiro gave him a baffled look.
“This,” Lance gestured to the blanket fort without lifting his head, “it’s why I’m late on alarms. I’ll stop. It was stupid anyway. I’m sorry.”
Shiro frowned at him, his hand moving up to rest on Lance’s head. He sized up the space they were in. It was cozy and inviting, much more of a space you would actually want to relax in than their own rooms, and it was hard to beat the view. They were in orbit around a planet they were negotiating an alliance with, and it raced beneath them, its atmosphere a delicate green line surrounding it.
“Why’d you build it here?” Shiro asked.
“Mostly the window,” Lance’s voice came out muffled against his knees, “and it was far enough away from everyone that I figured no one would be bothered if I did whatever I wanted with the space.”
“You don’t like the room Allura gave you,” Shiro said gently.
“It’s fine,” Lance tensed under his hand, “I’m just being stupid.”
“You’re not,” Shiro let his hand drop back down between Lance’s shoulders and started rubbing his back again, “I don’t like the rooms either. They’re too much like a prison cell.”
Lance’s head came up sharply, and he stared at him, “you should talk to Allura. There are lots of better rooms in the castle, ones that feel like actual bedrooms. You shouldn’t have to stay somewhere that reminds you of… that.”
Shiro hummed softly, “so what does your room remind you of?”
“It’s nothing like that,” Lance protested, “it’s not like… that’s a good reason for you to switch rooms, Shiro.”
“You’re a good kid,” Shiro said with an affectionate huff, “I like being close to the rest of the team.”
“Yeah,” Lance admitted, “I liked that part, but… it doesn’t matter. It was just me being stupid.”
“You are not stupid,” Shiro dragged Lance against his side, letting his arm rest heavy around his shoulders, “and it looks like you’ve got most of the team here, anyway.”
Shiro nodded in the direction of the paintings pinned to one of the blanket walls, and the various tools and electronics scattered around too that had to belong to Pidge and Hunk.
“Yeah,” Lance admitted, “they like the view.”
“It is an awfully good view,” Shiro agreed.
They sat quietly together for a while, watching the planet turn under them. Their orbit took them over one of the poles, and the atmosphere lit up with rivers of blue and purple in their own version of the northern lights.
“You sleep better here,” Shiro prodded gently.
Lance nodded, “it feels like… it feels like it’s actually mine, even though I know it’s not really.”
“I think you should keep sleeping here,” Shiro rested his cheek against Lance’s hair.
“But…” Lance protested.
“Having a comfortable place to rest isn’t too much to ask in exchange for being dragged into a war,” Shiro said firmly.
Lance was silent for a few minutes, turning that over in his head, then he let out a long breath, and his shoulders finally relaxed.
“Does that mean you’re going to talk to Allura about changing rooms?” he asked.
“I could,” Shiro laughed, “or I could just come hang out here with everyone else.”
“Anytime,” Lance leaned heavily into his side.
As the castle continued to move through its orbit, the solar system’s star breached the curved edge of the planet, bathing them both in rosy pink light.
“Why doesn’t he just tell her?” Keith demanded in exasperation.
“It’s a soap opera,” Pidge said, squirming to get more comfortable in the curve of Lance’s body, “if he told her, there would be too much soap and not enough opera.”
Keith huffed, bouncing his legs slightly where they were hooked over Pidge and Lance’s sides, “why do they even call them that?”
“Oh! I know!” Hunk interjected.
Shiro snorted in his sleep, and everyone instantly froze. He was sprawled out on the blankets and pillows behind Pidge and Lance, head on Hunk’s lap, and making a very comfortable back rest for the pillows Keith was leaning against.
He started snoring again, and everyone let out a breath.
“They call them soap operas because the first ones were sponsored by soap companies,” Hunk finished in a whisper.
“Why?” Keith gave him a confused look.
Hunk just shrugged.
“The lack of evil twins in this is highly disappointing,” Lance mumbled sleepily, shifting his head to a less bony part of Hunk’s shin, “also that dude is totally her lover, not her son.”
They were in a dark part of space, with only distant stars twinkling at them through the window, and Pidge had set up a 3d holo projector in front of the black backdrop of space. Coran had told them about the Altean Soap operas when they had been looking for something new to watch, and it turned out, they were every bit as terrible as the earth variety.
Which meant they were having a lot of fun watching them.
“Do Alteans even have twins?” Pidge asked curiously.
“Not really,” Lance yawned, “they hatch from eggs, so no twins.”
“You’re making that up,” Keith scoffed.
“I am not,” Lance reached over and pinched his calf, earning another thump on the hip for his troubles, “double yokes almost never happen, and even if they were actually fertilized, the eggs don’t have enough nutrition for both to survive, so either neither one makes it past the first stage of development, or only one does, and the other is absorbed.”
“Ew,” Pidge wrinkled her nose, “also, that’s really sad.”
“It only happens in like one in every 12 billion eggs, so it’s really rare,” Lance yawned again, “also, it means statistically, we can be pretty certain that neither Allura nor Coran have an evil twin.”
“Well that’s a relief,” Hunk slurped at the straw of his drink, then froze, looking down at Shiro in case he had made too much noise, but Shiro continued to snore away peacefully.
“How do you even know that?” Keith demanded.
“There’s an entire biology and medical section in the castle library,” Lance buried his face in the back of Pidge’s head sleepily, “and I actually do know how to read.”
“Altean,” Pidge groused, elbowing him in the ribs, “you know how to read Altean, and you didn’t even have to get nearly mauled by a wild animal to learn it.”
“I said I would help you learn it,” Lance dug his fingers into her side in retaliation, “but every time I try, you get distracted by something. Maybe you need a wild animal trying to maul you to keep you focused.”
Pidge squealed and twisted to get away from Lance’s tickling, and Lance followed after her, dislodging Keith. The wrestling match quickly became a pillow fight between the three of them, with Hunk both trying to save his drink and fend off any pillows that came to close to hitting Shiro. He was mostly successful, but he couldn’t do anything about the laughter and yelling that accompanied them.
Shiro sat up with a sharp gasp, blinking at them blurrily, “what’s going on?”
“We were just messing around; you can go back to sleep.”
“Alteans hatch from eggs,” Hunk concluded the chorus of apologies, and everyone turned to stare at him.
“Okay,” Shiro yawned hugely, then flopped down with his head back on Hunk’s lap, “that’s nice.”
They held their breath for as long as they could, but once Shiro started snoring again, they all collapsed into giggles. It took a few minutes of shuffling and rearranging pillows before they could get settled back into their original positions. By the time they did, they had missed almost half an episode, but since none of them were quite sure what was going on anyway, it didn’t really matter.
They were all drifting back towards sleep when one of the protagonists on screen made a dramatic entrance.
“Ha!” Lance sat up, dislodging Keith and Pidge, “I knew he was her lover!”
He was promptly buried in pillows.
It had not been a good mission. They had come under heavy fire, the castle had come under heavy fire, there was lots of damage all around, although thankfully no damage to anyone on the team. There was no adrenaline rush after, no sense of a job well done or something accomplished, just the feeling of being wrung out, and an exhausting, insurmountable pit of repairs that needed to be done, and needed to be done right now, before the next attack, before the next injury, before the next disaster.
Coran had finally chased them away to rest. They were no good if they were too exhausted to pilot.
Lance had almost followed the others back to their rooms just because they were closer, and he was so tired, he couldn’t see straight, but the pull of sleeping in his own bed, or as close to his own bed as he could get, had been too much for him, and he had headed to the window room.
He kind of wished he hadn’t.
When the ship had come under attack, the window had shuttered automatically, leaving the room nothing but a dimly lit, empty space. There was enough light though to see that the blanket fort had been completely destroyed. The castle had taken a pounding and a fort made of cloth and held together with rope had had no chance.
Lance stood in the doorway staring at the misshapen heap, his eyes burning and his breath catching painfully in his throat. He wanted… he just wanted…
He just wanted to go home.
He rubbed his arm angrily across his eyes. They were fighting a war, and there wasn’t room or time for stupid indulgences like blanket forts, or stargazing, or missing home. He would clean it up after he got some sleep and be done with it.
For now though, he was too tired to do anything with it, and much too tired to make the long trek back to his room. He curled up on top of the pile of debris and tugged at the top blanket until he could cocoon himself in it, then fell asleep.
“Ah man, the whole thing fell down.”
“How can he sleep there? That looks super uncomfortable.”
“We should at least move him someplace flat.”
“We need to rebuild it.”
“Yes, now. Let him sleep, and we’ll fix it.”
“I’ve got him. You guys try to be quiet moving things around.”
“I don’t think he’s going to wake up. He looks dead to the world.”
“Don’t say it that way!”
“Go take Lance. I need Shiro’s arm to wield things.”
“Don’t light anything on fire.”
“It shouldn’t take that long to just get the tent back up. We can fix the rest later.”
“Hey, it looks like the heat stone didn’t break.”
“I still want to know how that thing works.”
Lance was warm and pressed comfortably between two bodies. Judging by the snoring, one of them was definitely Shiro. He opened his eyes and found himself staring up at brightly colored fish. This was not where he had fallen asleep.
Except it was.
Lance felt his eyes fill with tears for a second time that day, but this time it was the good kind.
Lance turned to look at Shiro. Hunk stirred on his other side, tightening his grip around Lance, and Keith grumbled in complaint at the movement, renewing his efforts at imitating a koala against Hunk’s back.
“You alright?” Shiro asked softly.
“Yeah,” Lance swallowed, “thank you.”
“Well, it would be a shame to lose a view like this,” Shire grinned at him.
Lance smiled wetly, and Shiro curled closer to him, tucking his head under his chin.
“Are we waking up?” Pidge asked blurrily, lifting her head from where it had been rest on a pillow on Lance’s hip.
“Definitely not,” Shiro yawned.
“’s good,” Pidge grumbled and flopped back down.
“Back to sleep for you, too,” Shiro murmured, giving Lance a squeeze.
Lance nodded in agreement, closing his eyes and listening to the familiar sounds of the people sleeping around him until he drifted off again.
Outside the window, a million stars twinkled and spun, keeping watch while they slept.