It had become routine for Lance to call Pidge for breakfast.
For good reason. Through trial and error, they learned that having a night owl in a castleship of morning people was...a challenge.
Shiro was too gentle. Sure, he was strict with them on certain things, but when it came to Pidge, his soft spot became alarmingly evident and that gremlin took advantage of it. She’d usually come up with some sob story: “I was up late looking for Matt and Dad. I’m so tired, Shiro, please” or “I was working on an upgrade that’ll help the team and I lost track of time. I won’t do it again, I promise, please let me sleep.” Then she’d bat her eyelashes and yawn and look so miserably tired and warm, tucked in her mountain of blankets. And it’d work - the big softy.
Hunk was the smart one, excusing himself from her sight in favor of keeping his life and limbs when she merely glared at him from her nest of blankets, tech, and trash. Mission failed, but he came back safely, dang it.
Keith was probably the worst. It usually ended in a screaming match and a physical separation of the two. The last time he was caught, in full Paladin armor, dragging Pidge by her ankles, her fingernails clawing into her mattress and blankets that trailed after them, down the hall. The two didn’t speak for a week, and Keith was banned from wake-up duty.
Coran and Allura had decided, upon witnessing these events (ie Keith’s ), that they’d leave the task of fetching Pidge in the mornings to the Paladins. Not even the mice were allowed to try, though they had better odds than anyone. So that left Lance.
Being the youngest of four, he had mastered the art of waking a person with just enough annoyance to get them out of bed without consequence. Well, sorta. It was an art, not a science. Point was: He took this job very seriously.
Lance planted himself in front of her bedroom door, arms crossed with a mischievous grin on his face, and picked through his go-to wake-up calls. Running into her room and either jumping on her bed or tackling her were classics, but he noticed she’s been staying up later than usual. He discarded the idea, not wanting to risk a punch or kick to whatever she could reach. You only make that mistake once.
Another classic was yelling her name in different octaves and tapping a beat on her door. It was safer, less invasive. Perfectly annoying. He went with it.
“Pidge - Pidge. Wake up, wake up, wake up! Hey, Pidge!” Lance began pounding his fists against the door to match his tone. “Pi-pi-pi-pi- dge. Piiiiiddddgggggeeeeyyyyyy, get up! Pidgey-pie - hey, Pidge! PIDGE! Pidge, Pidge, Pidgey-Pidge-Pidge, Pidge, Pidge, Pidgey-Pidge-Pidge. PIDGE, WAKE UP.” He paused. “PIDGEOTTO, I CHOOSE YOU!”
Huffing, Lance stepped away from the door. That always got a reaction out of her. By now, normally, she’d at least groan or there’d be shuffling on the other side. But not a sound was heard, not a “Lance, shut up!” or a shoe being flung at the door. Nothing.
He scratched his head. Maybe she was more tired than he originally thought - or not here. But he could have sworn he saw her go to her room before he went to sleep. “Pidge, I’m coming in,” he announced, praying she was decent or not even a healing pod could save him.
The door whoosed open on its own, revealing Pidge’s dirty room. Suspicious, he glanced around to find only the light left on. Maybe he had missed her, which would be strange because this was Pidge and she would only be up on her own for reasons she deemed of the utmost importance. Or, maybe, she hadn’t stayed in her room, but Green’s hangar instead. Great. Either way, he felt like an idiot for banging on the door of an empty room for the last few minutes.
Pouting as he turned to leave, a small voice sniffled, “Who’re you?”
Lance jumped and let out a less than dignified squeal when he looked down, way down. His jaw dropped, eyes wide and mind blank. At his feet there was a child. A child that looked to be the tinier version of Pidge, round glasses too large for her face, the green pajama shirt drowning her body and pants - well, they were in a wad behind her. He rubbed his eyes until he saw stars. Maybe he had gotten bold and tackled Pidge in her sleep to wake her and this was a coma-dream. Yeah, he was in a coma via Pidge’s wrath. That made more sense. Not a tiny-baby Pidge, no. That - that was crazy.
“Do you know where my mommy is?” She used her sleeve to wipe her face, but more tears spilled out. “And why my hair is short? Wh-why is m-m-my hair so short? I want my mommy and m-my daddy an-an-and my bro-ther. Did-did they - did they leave me?”
She was becoming hysterical, tears flowing more complete with sobbing and snot. Not good. Not good at all. He dropped to his knees to make himself less intimidating. “Hey. Hey, now, it’s alright. We’ll figure this out, okay? Don’t cry. Can you do that for me?”
Red-rimmed eyes peeked up at him; she shook her head.
Okay then. “Do you remember me, Pidge?” She shook her head again, tears swelling up. “That’s okay, it’s okay. I’m Lance,” he said with a gentle smile. There wasn’t much he could do, not that he knew what to do at all, but he did know he could fix one of her problems. Maybe that would be enough to calm her down so he could figure out what to do next. “I’m your friend and I’ll make sure we get you to your parents, safe and sound. But first, how ‘bout we do something with your hair? You don’t like it short, right?”
Pidge mumbled, slightly calmer now, “No.”
“Okay, listen to me, Pidge, I need you to-”
“Katie,” she corrected.
He blinked. “Huh?”
She wiped her sleeve under her nose, regarding him through her bangs and large glasses. “My name is Katie. Katie Holt, and I’m five.” She held up five fingers, wiggling them as she counted, “One, two, three, four, five.” For emphasis, she thrusted her hand closer to his face. “Five.”
“R-right, sorry, Katie.” The name was foreign on his tongue; she was Pidge to him. This new name - her real name - felt too private for him to know, especially like this. It was Pidge’s secret to tell when she was ready, not...Katie’s - if that made any sense. Forget it, none of this made sense and it hurt his head. “I’m going to go get something to fix your hair, alright? Can you stay here and wait for me? I’ll be right back, I promise.”
Pidge - no, Katie thought about her answer. “Okay,” she nodded. “I can do that.”
Storming through the halls, the only thing going through Lance’s mind - aside from quickly and quietly finding a stash of nunvill somewhere in the kitchen - was his screaming. He was proud of himself for keeping it together around Katie, but now? Now he had the freedom to freak out.
What the quiznak was he going to do?! What happened to Pidge? What was going to happen to Pidge? How was he going to tell the others? Was she going to stay like that? Was this temporary, or would they have to raise their own teammate? They were in the middle of intergalactic war, they couldn’t safely raise a child! They can’t form Voltron. They’d - they’d have to find a new Green Paladin. But - no, no one was as smart and great as Pidge; no one could replace her, there had to be another way.
If he ran passed anyone, he didn’t notice. If anyone was in the kitchen while he raided the cabinets, he also didn’t notice. Nunvill in hand and panting, Lance backtracked to the Paladin Quarters - in record time, no less. Usually, he would’ve boasted about it to Pidge, had she been her normal self. But that was difficult to do when your body felt like lead, your sides cramped, and you felt like you on the verge of puking from breathing so hard.
This crap was why he was the handsome sharpshooter of the group.
“Pi-Katie?” he wheezed. The bedroom door opened. She was still small, unfortunately, and had removed the glasses. He’d hoped she had changed back for some reason before he got back. “Follow...follow me, please.”
Lance lead her to the closest bathroom and sat her on the countertop with the nunvill. Gulping air and slumping against the wall, he eyed the drink and thought better of it. He’d drink recycled tap water over something that tasted like hotdog water and feet.
He stepped to the sink and slurped up water from his palms, thinking of how to respond. What answer would satisfy the curiosity of a five-year-old Pidge? “That’s...ah, a magic potion to make your hair grow. Scoot over here,” he said, tapping the spot next to the sink. She did so while he snatched a towel hanging from a rack. “Ready?”
Katie tugged at the material he had draped around her shoulders, sceptical. “Is this really gonna make my hair grow?”
“Just trust me, squirt. Now bend your head and close your eyes.”
She scrunched up her nose, complaining, “It smells funny.”
“And it tastes worse, so hush, bend your head, and close your eyes please.”
Huffing, she did as she was told, mumbling something he didn’t catch. Lance poured the pink liquid into his palm and began working it into Katie’s hair. It thickened and curled between his fingers. He was suddenly stuck with the memories of bathing his niece, washing her long dark-brown hair and molding it into odd angles with the shampoo to make her giggle while he sang. It came in waves - this homesickness, but Pidge needed him, so he locked it away.
A few handfuls later and her hair was down to the middle of her back. She stared at her reflection in awe, dubbing him a wizard and admiring the magic in her hair after Lance towel-dried and brushed it.
“Lance!” Banging came from the other side of the door, causing both of them to jump. Lance quietly told her it was okay and set her back on the floor. “Lance, c’mon! Get out. No one cares what you’re hair looks like. Everyone’s waiting on us. You know how Hunk gets when-”
Lance opened the door, blocking Katie from view, and putting the attention on himself. “Keith. Buddy. You have to see this.”
Keith took note of the beaded sweat on his forehead, the irregular breathing, and added that to the fact that he had been in the bathroom for a while. “Yeah. Nope. Hard pass on that,” he said, backing away. Like hell he was going to see that. “See you at the table.”
“No, I’m serious.” He death-gripped Keith’s arm. “Pidge is...Pidge is tiny.”
He gaped in disgust. “She is going to murder you for - quiznak, you named it after-?”
“What? No! God, Keith, no. No,” releasing his arm, “ju-just listen, will you? Pidge is tiny.”
Keith raised an eyebrow, wondering how hard she knocked his head in this morning. “Pidge has always been tiny.”
“Well, yeah, but no, I mean, like, really tiny.”
He rolled his eyes. It was too early for this. “I’m getting breakfast.”
Irritated, Lance grabbed Keith by the shoulder and tried to jerk him into the bathroom. This lead to a scuffling and pushing match between them in the hallway. Keith was nearly in a headlock, his fingers digging into Lance’s torso to shove him off when a kid stepped into the doorway. The fight drained from him when he finally noticed her presence.
Katie eyed Keith, him doing the same, only more dumbfounded than curious. “Who’s he?”
“Katie,” Lance said, releasing his hold to straighten his shirt and jacket, “this is our friend, Keith. Keith, this is...Katie.”
She shuffled to hide behind Lance’s legs. Peeking around them, she added, “I’m five.”
“She’s five,” he confirmed, wanting to laugh at Keith’s shock. But he felt the same, only he was better at hiding it so as to not alarm Katie. Much like dealing with a skittish animal, the best way to keep a kid calm was to be calm yourself. They could smell fear. Lance placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, squeezing it more than necessary and forcing a smile. “Why don’t we go get some breakfast? I’m hungry - you hungry?”
“Are there waffles?”
“No, sorry, kiddo.”
She pouted and muttered how she really wanted waffles - with bacon, there had to be bacon - for breakfast when Keith snapped from his stupor. “Pidge is tiny.”
“Yes, welcome to the conversation, Keith.”
“How,” he hissed at Lance, lowering his voice so the kid couldn’t hear, “are you so calm about this? What the hell happened to Pidge?”
“Dude, trust me, I’m not and I don’t know,” Lance said through his teeth, “but I’m trying to keep her from crying again, got it? She doesn’t remember anything and she’s scared, so we gotta be cool about this or risk upsetting her. Let’s get the others and figure this out as a team.”
He glanced down at Katie shielding herself with Lance’s legs and glaring up at him. From that look, there was no doubt that was Pidge; he’d been on the receiving end of it enough to know it anywhere, in any form. It was unnerving, but he accepted it. They had to get her back to normal. “Fine. Everyone’s in the dining hall, we’ll do it there.”
The walk to the dining hall, from what Lance had imagined it to be, was a death march. Their footsteps echoed too loudly, breathing was difficult, his heart was in his ears and throat and his stomach had bottomed out somewhere closer to the quarters. Him and Keith frequently stole glances at the girl between them to be sure that, yes, this was real and, yes, she was keeping up with their pace.
Her eyes were wide with curiosity as she walked, taking in the ordinary hallway of the castleship. Though, guess it wasn’t so ordinary to her - she couldn’t remember anything; this was new. But it was still the same Pidge, curious and stubborn. They’d get to the others faster if she’d allow one of them to carry her, but no, she was a big girl and wanted to walk on her own. Lance wondered if curiosity and stubbornness were a learned trait or an inborn one. Maybe a bit of both.
Keith burst through the dining hall’s threshold, calling the remaining Paladins’ names in a way that only meant that there was a problem. “Pidge is tiny.”
Shiro and Hunk exchanged looks, Lance facepalmed at the entrance. So much for being cool.
“Yeah,” Hunk said slowly. “And I bake, Shiro’s the leader, Allura’s a princess, Coran has a weirdly awesome mustache and -”
“Not what I -”
“Wow, Keith. I knew you were dense, but - wow . Is this a Galra thing? Feels like a Galra thing.”
“Guys, c’mon, not at the table,” called Shiro from his seat. “Keith, what do you mean?”
He threw his hands up in frustration. “Like I said: Pidge is tiny!”
“Yeah…” Shiro’s attention shifted to Lance. “What’s he talking about?”
He glared at the hothead, hoping his silent message of: Not cool, mullet was understood, and side-stepped to reveal Katie.
It went about as well as expected: Hunk dropped a tray of food, his eyes bugging in surprise, and Lance was pretty sure Shiro had stopped breathing despite his mouth hanging open. And suddenly all of them were getting up and gathering around with questions no one could answer, resulting in Katie burying her face into the back of his knees and clinging to his jeans again.
“Wow, guys, guys, guys!” said Lance, crouching to destrangle Katie’s fingers from his pants and pick her up. “You’re big and scary, give her some space.”
“We’re not -” began Keith.
“Oh, sorry. It’s just your face that’s scary.” He held Katie closer upon the glare he was given. “You can’t hit me, I’m holding a kid.”
He crossed his arms. “She can’t shield you forever.”
“Yeah, okay, and on that totally not obviously threatening note,” stepping between them to get a better look, “Hi, I’m Hunk. You don’t remember me, but we’re good friends.”
Katie’s gaze switched between Hunk’s outstretched hand and his smiling face. He was big, really big - soft big, not a bad big. Just...bigger than Lance and Keith. It was better that Lance was holding her; she didn’t feel so small. He seemed nice enough, though, like a overly friendly fluffy dog. “Hey.” Her fingers gingerly grabbed two of his fingers, shaking his hand. “I’m Katie.”
“Nice to meet you, Katie. Sorry we scared you earlier.”
Sighing, she laid her head on Lance’s shoulder. “I accept your apology.”
The guys stared at each other for a tick, wondering where a five-year-old learned to correctly use that phrase. Hunk continued, patting Shiro on the back, “And this is our other good friend.”
Shiro stayed where he was, not wanting to invade her space. He knew what it was like to not remember things, to be smaller than other people in new surroundings. Being a kid probably make that fear more difficult to handle. Briefly, he wondered if he should tell her that he worked with her father to ease her discomfort. Then thought better of it. What if she asked questioned he couldn’t answer without upsetting her or lying? He wouldn’t do that to her. “Hey, Katie,” he waved, “I’m Shiro. Don’t worry, we’ll figure this...out and find....”
Somewhere after saying his name, Katie had straightened her spine and clearly lost interest in whatever half-promise he was feeding her. Her wide eyes were glued to his Galra arm, following the motion of his wave and down to where it hung at his side. Then back up to rest on his hip, then he crossed his arms over his chest. A cat with a feathered toy, the thought passed, him finding it amusing more than anything.
After a moment of studying the tech, her gaze skip back up to blatantly stare at the scar across his nose and the white in his hair. Shiro was cool and big, too - muscle big and tall, not soft big and tall like Hunk, but still nice, she concluded. His arm was amazing. She wondered if he’d let her play with it.
A spark of a memory to mind her manners came to her. “Hello, I’m Katie,” she mumbled oh so politely, uneasy from all of the attention, before going back to burying her face into Lance’s shoulder and neck.
Rubbing her back, Lance asked, “How ‘bout some breakfast?”
Her nod was all Hunk needed. “Great, then I’ll just-” He glanced at the floor splattered with goo. “Oh. Right, yeah. Should probably clean that up later. I’ll go get some more. Keith, come help me pl-”
“By the ancients…,” Coran breathed from the dining hall’s entrance.
Princess Allura finished, “Is that... Pidge?”
Lance threw back his head with a dramatic groan. “Here we go again.”