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The Adventures of Babysitting a Pidgeon

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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.

“What’s that?”

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.”

“Hunk.”

“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.”

Chapter Text

The dining hall had fallen silent, save for Katie poking at her food with a spork from the opposite end of the table. Her nose scrunched up in disgust the more she shoved it from one side to the other. This is not a waffle, her eyes glared at them for a moment. Not even eggs. Or bacon or toast or cereal. Is this supposed to be oatmeal?

Elbows resting on the table and chins propped on palms, Allura and Coran stared unblinkingly at the human child suddenly in their care.

Probably not the best way to get a kid to warm up to you. Especially a shy one.

“So, uh,” Coran asked, leaning toward the Princess’s ear, “our Number Five is actually…?”

“Five,” answered Lance without looking up from his plate. The Paladins had accepted the news quicker than the Alteans. Or so it seemed. It was strange, no doubt, but being thrust into the roles of being the Defenders of the Universe, the only hope of stopping the Galra, was an entirely different level of strange. Didn’t mean that they were freaking out, though. Maybe the guys were following his lead and keeping the questions and screaming internalized. It was alarming how easy that was becoming. “Yes. Pidge is five, going by her real name. Call her anything other than ‘Katie’ and she will correct you, trust me.”

Allura rubbed at her temple. “This is deeply disturbing.” Her gaze cut to Lance. “Care to explain the situation?”

He squinted, pointing his goo-covered spork at her, flinging some across the table in the process. “Hey. I found her like that, got it? Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Maybe she ate something weird,” suggested Hunk, watching Coran quickly clean up the mess with a cloth and a scowl.

“We’re all on the same diet, though,” Shiro countered. “And Pidge knows better than to eat something she doesn’t know is safe.”

“Yeah, unlike a certain someone.”

Lance pointed his utensil at Keith, accidentally flinging bits of goo at him as well. “You dared me!”

“No, I didn’t.” Accepting the napkin Coran handed to him and wiping off his jacket sleeve, Keith explained, “You said it smelled like a pineapple. I told you not to eat it. Then you told me that I wasn’t the boss of you and you ate it anyway.” He returned the cloth to the Altean. “Your face, hands, and feet swelled up and your tongue turned purple for ten days. And you puked in Hunk’s Lion, three times.”

“Yeah, and I haven’t even done that. Not cool, man.”

“Hunk, you puked in Blue the first time I flew her, and -”

Coran interrupted Lance before more disagreements started. “Um, could we - oh, I dunno, just thinking out loud here - not talk about purging our gastrointestinal tract of food and its secretions while eating breakfast, hmm?”

Five pairs of eyes turned to him, in unison, as if to silently beg: Could you please not word it that way while we’re eating?

He blinked. Cleared his throat under the sudden attention. “Right, sorry - manners. Could we please not-”

“That’s - we get it, thank you, Coran,” said Allura. She straightened her back, placing her hands in her lap, and glanced at her Paladins. “What do we do? How do we fix this?”

Hunk leaned forward, finished with his meal. “Coran and I could check the video feeds of the castle. See what Pidge’s been up to the last few days.”

Shiro nodded, and stole a peek at Katie from the corner of his eye. She had completely given up on eating the food in front of her, opting to use it as building material for the goo-mountain she was forming in the center of her plate. It was impressively tall, but obviously not sturdy. “Check her personal laptop, too, and see what projects she’s recently been working on.”

“Whoa, you want me to hack Pidge’s computer?”

“Yes.” He raised an eyebrow. “Is there a problem?”

“Oh, I can do it. No promises on how long it’ll take me to do it considering its Pidge’s. Seriously. The Galra’s systems are easier to hack.” Hunk lazily jabbed his thumb in Katie’s direction. “My main concern is when we do get her back to normal and she finds out that I snooped through her computer.”

“That’s never - you snoop through her things all the time,” Lance pointed out.

“Well yeah, but snooping has its boundaries. If you have to force your way through to the point where you make your presence known, that’s not snooping. That’s criminal activity, and I’ll have no part in that.”

“Didn’t you just say that the Garla-?”

“They’re the bad guys, Keith. Personal codes mean nothing when taking down the empire of an evil mutant purple turtle with an unhealthy obsession with quintessence and Voltron.” Hunk noted the odd looks given to him. “What? Tell me I’m wrong.”

Shiro sighed, rubbing the space between his eyebrows. This was his team; these were his choices. “I’ll - I’ll take the heat for that later. Just do what you can and report back. The rest of us can backtrack to the places we’ve been to in the last few days. Ask questions, scan for possible anomalies - stuff like that.”

Allura stood, signaling the end of the meeting. “Sounds like a plan. Let’s get going then.”

Everyone began following the princess’s example, standing and gathering their empty cups and plates. Except for Keith, who lingered in his seat. “Wait. Who’s going to watch Pidge?”

Collectively, they froze, having an Oh yeah… moment between them, and turned to stare at Katie. She had abandoned the goo-mountain project and was halfway through creating a goo-man, humming to herself and shifting to her knees for a better angle. A green pajama shirt still drowned her, they noted, and she had not eaten breakfast yet. She still needed appropriate clothes, to brush her hair and teeth - get ready for the day. Pidge was stubbornly independent, but Katie? Katie was still a child that needed to be looked after. The Castle of Lions was not child-proof, barely even human-teenager-proof on a good day, so who was gonna play babysitter?

Gazes shifted from one person to the next. Allura looked to her left. Coran passed it to Keith. Shiro continued the look across the table to Hunk. To his right, it landed on Lance. His eyebrows shot up to his hairline, pointing to himself in question; the group solemnly nodded.

Of course it was him. He always got the work no one wanted.

Shiro shrugged, as if to say: You’re the only one who can do it, Lance.

Okay. So maybe he felt a little better about it. Katie did seem to like him better than the others, for now. Plus, he actually had experience handling little kids, and he’d worry if she was left in the care of someone else so soon after “meeting new people.”

Lance sighed. “Okay, fine. I’ll do it.”

“Thank you.” Stacking their dirty dishes, Shiro promised while ignoring the stares he was receiving, “We’ll take turns watching her.”

“Wait, do what now?” asked Hunk.

“Don’t volunteer me,” groaned Keith. “Shiro, what did you mean by that? Shiro - Shiro?! I’m not doing it - hey!”

-------

With the table cleared and dishes - minus Katie’s - washed and put away, it was time to start their separate missions. Keith, Shiro, and Allura discussed who would go where; Hunk and Coran helped in recalling specifically which star systems and planets and who they encountered while there. They’ve been busy, the team realized. Not with fighting the Galra, but helping with the victims of the war. There was a lot of ground to cover.

Lance leaned against the side of Katie’s chair. “Whatcha doin’, kid?”

“Making a robot outta this stuff,” she answered, focusing on her work.

“Uh-huh,” he nodded. It didn’t look much like a robot to him. “Thought you were hungry?”

Katie paused to fiddle with her too long sleeves. “I don’t like it.”

He squatted to be at her level. “Aw, c’mon, it’s good. Just try it.”

“No.”

“One bite. If you don’t like it, I’ll get Hunk to make you something else,” he compromised.

She shook her head. “It looks like a big booger. I’m not eating that, that’s gross.”

Lance covered his mouth with his hand and bit the inside of his cheek, repeatedly telling himself not to laugh. Because she was right: It did look like a giant booger. Body shaking from smothering the laughter, he swore he was going to blackmail Pidge with this and more when she returned to normal. Pictures and videos and stories. Oh, he was going to have fun with this while he could.

He took a breath, and nearly choked on another laughing fit. Laugh and you lose, he reminded himself; that’s how kids got away with crap. They were cute and they knew it. He tried again. “Katie…,” he warned, but she simply pouted.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Lance sighed. Why were kids like this? So much willfulness in such tiny bodies; opinions on food they’ve never tried. Then again...all of the Paladins were hesitant to eat the strange food Coran put on their plates. He couldn’t blame her for turning her nose up at it. But they didn’t have Earth food to give her, so how was he going to get her to eat? Force never worked. Neither did reasoning. So that left the underhanded tactic of tricking.

Question was: How to do it? What would get her to eat? He thought of what Pidge liked - robots and other tech, animals, her Lion (the perfect combo of both), her family, peanut butter, and them on most days. But that was Pidge - what did Katie like?

Lance looked around for inspiration, for help, and found it in Shiro. Of course - Shiro. It was impossible to miss how her golden eyes glittered with interest when she spotted his Galra arm. An idea formed.

“You know, Katie,” he began his tall tale, examining his nails nonchalantly, “things are different here in space. Aliens have different rules, see.”

Warily, she poked her head around the back of her chair to study Allura and Coran, absentmindedly tugging at the tips of her ears. Half-truths were given to her to pacify her questions: They were in space under her father’s request to see her, and the Paladins and Alteans were the crew to see that order through. It wasn’t the best, logical answer, but it was enough to lull Katie into compliance. Sort of.

Either way, it was amazing, and terrifying, what kids would believe if you faked sincerity and authority.

“Why are their ears like that?” she whispered to him.

Lance had to actively tell himself to not paraphrase Mean Girls. Oh my God, Katie, you can’t just ask why someone’s ears are like that.’ Katie wouldn’t get it. A pity, really.

“Her hair looks like a cloud.” She narrowed her eyes as Coran twisted his mustache between his fingers and spouted out odd, not-entirely-useful facts about a planet they had visited. “And he looks like the man on the Pringles can.”

Coran, Coran the Pringles man, the thought ping-ponged in Lance’s brain.

He choked on his own saliva from that, from how serious she was about it, coughing into his fist with tears forming in the corners. Holy crow, why was he just now seeing that?! He was never going to look at Allura or Coran the same way again.

Clearing his throat, Lance told himself to breathe, to not draw attention. The others were busy with planning their missions, and he had his. “Focus, Katie, please. You know how your mom says to eat your food or vegetables or whatever, or you’ll get in trouble if you don’t?” He continued when she nodded. “Back home that usually meant no desert or no toys, right? Well, in space, they’re a little bit...harsher with their punishments.” His eyes flicked over to Shiro; Katie followed his look for a moment. “You see Shiro over there?” he asked, glancing back at the girl from the corner of his eye. “You noticed his arm, right?”

Her eyes grew wider, cheeks flushing. “Yeah….”

He paused dramatically before stage whispering, “Some other aliens took his arm ‘cause he wouldn’t eat their food.”

She gasped, covering the lower half of her face with her excess sleeve. “Nuh-uh.”

“Yah-huh. True story.”

“Lance,” scolded Shiro, having overheard the amusing, not-very-subtle conversation. “Don’t tell her that.”

He shrugged; Katie sat in her chair properly, staring as she flexed her fingers in thought for a while. The attention had returned to her, everyone wondering how she would respond. To their collected surprise, no tears or questions came. She merely lifted her head to face the group flocking around her, sparkly eyes the size of saucers and a toothy grin splitting across her face. A green-sleeved hand reached out to push away her full plate. She breathed, “So. Cool.”

Well.

That backfired.

Chapter Text

Every kid had a thing that would transform them into the model of obedience if dangled under their nose - presented correctly, that is. His niece’s was her princess toys and horses; his nephew’s was race cars and superheroes; his was videogames and model rockets. If Lance wanted to get through this without committing something on par with a crime against a child, he knew he needed to recruit the mice.

Though it was mind numbingly close, not even Shiro could get Katie to eat. No promises of checking out his Galra arm if she ate her breakfast worked. Neither did threats of not seeing his arm if she didn’t.

So. Freaking. Stubborn.

No. What worked was the mice.

They had scurried onto the table during the Breakfast Negotiation and dug into her food like they normally did. Katie, upon noticing the four rodents, squealed a high pitch, sanity-testing shriek of what the team figured to be delight considering she immediately scooped them up and smothered them against her cheeks and kissed their heads in turn.

Witnessing Katie openly give affection and receive it was a new, bizarre experience. Who knew Pidge was like that, even as a child? They were used to snark and sarcasm and teasing as her choice of affection. Then again, these were the mice - animals - and one of a short list of things that turned Pidge into a puddle of doting sap.

Either way, it was adorable.

Lance smirked as he saved the picture he took of the mice offering Katie food, her giggles replaying in his head, to the file he thought he’d never create:

Blackmail: Pidge/Katie

He was going to have way too much fun with this.

“You’re sure you’re okay with this?” asked Shiro. “I don’t want to force you.”

“I mean, yeah. It’s not a big deal. I’m just looking after Katie.” The role of babysitter was an easy one for him to step into; he’d helped taken care of his niece and nephew since they were born. Once his siblings grew too old to play kiddie games in the streets, he became the cool older brother of his neighborhood, parents and little kids adored and trusted him. Watching Katie was pure reflex at this point. “We’ll be fine. Besides, I’m great with kids, and Coran and Hunk will be here if I need them.”

“Right. Well. Comm us if anything comes up. We’ll be back soon.”

“I will, I will. Don’t worry.” Lance pocketed his phone and shrugged. “How hard could it be?”

-------

Being raised as a Princess of Altea, Allura had wanted for nothing...with one, tiny, completely reasonable request of her parents: a sibling. Preferably a sister, but she could work with a brother if she must. Her parents laughed, saying a baby wasn’t something one just got. Babies weren’t new toys or clothes - or even a pet. This was another person with wants and needs and demanded nearly constant attention and care; a baby was a colossal responsibility that could not be taken lightly. They had her, and she was all they ever wanted or needed.

Allura accepted this eventually, but being an only child was lonely nonetheless.

Then the Paladins arrived, and she had friends turned brothers and, finally, a sister that...was the opposite of her and she wasn’t even sure Pidge liked her half the time, especially at first. But now, with this happy accident, they had a second chance to change that. Allura could finally have the little sister she’s always wanted and she could bond with Pidge properly. She heard it was easier to bond with children than with teenagers, and she was not going to waste this opportunity.

Only problem was: Allura didn’t know how to handle kids, and Katie was equally as stubborn as Pidge, and it fully clicked as to why her parents only had her.

After the tenth - or was it the twelfth? - time of her clothing suggestions being bluntly rejected by a five-year-old, Allura gave up on her silly dream of dressing Katie as a doll and called Lance into her room. She rubbed her temple. Dressing a child should not be this difficult.

“Whoa, what the heck happened in here?”

Dresses from her childhood of every color were scattered across the floor. Fond memories of her past were sewn into their seams, and they were rejected one after the next because they were too “frilly” and “puffy.” Weren’t little girls supposed to like these dresses, to feel like a princess? Was she wrong about that? She didn’t have many casual clothes for Katie to play in, either.

“Do not ask,” Allura groaned. She should’ve known this would happen. Afterall, this was the younger version of Pidge and she had never gotten Pidge into a gown.

Carefully, Lance tiptoed around the lavish materials littering the floor to join Allura on the edge of the bed. It didn’t take long for him to understand what was going on. He leaned back on his hands, watching Katie give the mice scratches and belly rubs and kisses amongst the clothes. “Mind if I give you some advice?”

She shifted to face him. “Yes, please do. It would be much appreciated.”

“You’re giving her too many options.”

Her spine straightened. “What?”

“And you’re not listening to what she’s telling you.”

“How -? All she’s done is turn up her nose and say ‘no.’”

Lance hummed and tapped his nails against the mattress in thought. “Hey, Katie?”

She didn’t look up from cooing at Platt. “Hmm?”

“Do you want to wear pants or a dress?”

Katie eyed the dresses around her, deciding, “Pants.”

“Okay. What’s your favorite color?”

“Purple,” she answered instantly.

“Purple?” he echoed, looking to Allura. “I thought it was green!”

“I like green,” she said defensively. “But I like purple more.”

“Alright then,” said Allura, rising to her feet, “something that’s purple and not a dress. I’ll see what I can find.”

Into the closet she went, followed by Chulatt and Plachu, to search anew. Mutters to herself and to the mice, clanging and huffing, and the distinct sound of clothes being thrown with a grumbled “Quiznak!” could be heard. Lance wondered, after five or so dobashes, if it was really so terrible to leave Katie in her oversized pajama shirt all day.

Cradling the remaining mice in her arms, Katie approached Lance, whispering in a way that could never be classified as whispering, “Is she okay in there?”

“Probably not.”

“I am fine!” huffed Allura, emerging victorious from what Lance was fairly certain was the closet equivalent of Mary Poppins’ purse. She laid out three outfits across her bed, the mice immediately inspecting what their princess presented to them. “Will this do?”

Lance nodded his approval. They fit the criteria: purple and/or green, not a dress, and in her relative size. Yet there was Katie, standing on his right, scrunching up her nose as she studied her options. They were probably nicer clothes than what she was used to playing in, and the dominant color was white. Not exactly the best choice to put a kid in, but pickings were, well, this, princess gowns, or baggy shirts made dresses. “Pick one,” he prompted, “or I will.”

Katie pouted, but looked over her options again. Her gaze gravitated toward the mice, smiling as they squeaked and pointed at the outfit of their choosing. It was a simple set with purple short-sleeves, a white chest and shorts, and a green and pink hem. “You guys like this one? Are you sure?” she asked them as she squatted down to their level. They nodded enthusiastically. “Okay, okay - this one!”

Lance never thought he could love rodents as much as he did in that moment. He made a mental note to do something special for them later.

Allura collapsed with relief on the mattress as Lance helped Katie change. The mice began chattering away as they hurried onto her knees with questions. Well, Lance assumed they had questions with the way Allura was replying.

She laughed. “No, I don’t think her armor would shrink - well, of course, it has the ability to, but that does not mean it can. Not down to her current size.”

More squeaking. “I would like that, too. Maybe we can try that another time. Have either of you noticed anything strange lately?” There was a silent pause. “Oh. Oh, I see. Well, could you please keep an eye on things for a while for me?” Excited chattering erupted again; Lance glanced over his shoulder to see the mice jumping on Allura’s knees as she smiled. “Thank you, my friends.”

Straightening Katie’s clothes, Lance noticed that the shirt was a touch too long and the shorts were a bit too large in the waist and Katie had been staring and listening to the conversation next to her. The moment he noticed all this, the material began to adjust itself to the wearer’s body. Altean clothes were amazing.

“She’s like...a real princess,” concluded Katie, wide-eyed and unaware, or uncaring, of the changes happening to her outfit.

“I am a real princess” and “She is a real princess” were said in unison by Allura and Lance.

He smothered a laugh. “I think she means you’re a real Disney princess.”

“Yeah,” Katie added, “they can sing and talk to animals and are really pretty and cool! And you have mice like Cinderella!”

“Disney films are what we grew up watching on Earth,” Lance explained. “It’s impossible to not know about Disney, and everyone has a favorite princess. Mine’s Ariel, for obvious reasons...that you don’t  know ‘cause you’ve never seen a Disney movie. She’s a mermaid; I love mermaids.”

“I like Ariel, too! But I like Belle and Mulan more, though Mulan’s not really a princess.”

That explained so much, honestly. “Yeah, they’re amazing, too!” Lance noticed that Allura was lost in their conversation. “Take it as a compliment, Princess. Being compared to a Disney princess by a kid is probably one of the highest, unofficial, honors there is. We’ll have to show you the movies sometime.”

Pink dusting her cheeks, Allura nodded, “Yes. I would like that every much.”

Katie began to bounce in place. “Oh! Oh! Can we watch The Little Mermaid tonight? Please, please, please, Lance? I’ll be good.”

Lance thought about it. He wasn’t planning on it to be so soon. He’d have to have Hunk find the movie - he knew Pidge had it saved somewhere. Because watching Disney movies totally took priority over figuring out why Pidge suddenly de-aged and returning her to normal. Katie will have to be present when he discussed this with Shiro and Keith. But it was just a movie, and they couldn’t be a mission all the time, right? “Um, well, if everyone else says it’s okay, then...sure?”

“Yay!” she squealed, hugging and startling him in doing so. He was the hugger, not her. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Releasing him, Katie turned to Allura, beaming. “So do you really know what the mouses are saying?”

“Mice,” she corrected, “and, yes, I do and they can understand me as well.”

“That’s so cool,” she breathed, slumping against the end of the bed between Lance and Allura. “I wish I knew what they were saying, too.”

Allura smoothed back the hair that had fallen into Katie’s eyes. “Though you cannot understand them, I do know that they can understand you.”

“Really?” She lifted her head to look at the mice, suddenly worried. “Do they like me?”

The mice answered by chattering and jumping onto Katie’s hair and shoulders, nuzzling her. She replied in kind as Allura confirmed, “Of course, they adore you.”

Her earrings began to light up. “We’re ready when you are, Princess,” came Keith’s voice.

She looked to Lance; he nodded. “I’ll be right there,” she told him as she stood. “Katie, can you do me a favor and keep the mice company while I am away?”

Katie followed Lance’s example and climbed to her feet as well. “I’d love to, Space Princess!”

She smiled, correcting, “Allura.”

“Allura,” she repeated, following her and Lance out of the room. “That’s a pretty name.”

“Thank you, your name is pretty as well.”

Katie beamed and thanked her.

Smirking, Lance nudged Allura with his elbow when the mice captured Katie’s attention again. “See? You’re getting the hang of this,” he complemented.

“Maybe so. Not as well as you, though.” She playfully shoved him, thinking that maybe her hope of bonding with Pidge wasn’t too far fetched.

-------

BONUS CONTENT.

LOCATION: THE GREEN LION’S HANGER.

 

“Hey, Hunk? Could you do me a small favor?”

Hunk peeked around Pidge’s computer, narrowing his eyes. “Be careful of what you request from me right now, Lance. I’m starting to understand why people turn on each other.”

He gulped, ready to bolt because this was Hunk, and the nice ones were the scariest when angry. Lance asked in one quick breath, “Could you find The Little Mermaid for our movie night? That’s night, by the way. Katie wants to watch it and show it to Allura. Oh, and I haven’t asked Shiro or Keith yet, so don’t tell them. Okay? Thanks, bye, buddy!”

Staring at the space where his best friend once was, he grumbled to himself when everything finally sunk in, “You have got to be kidding me.” Hunk turned to the Green Lion, asking, “He’s kidding, right, Green?! Tell me he’s not serious!”

Silence met him.

“Too ridiculous to even respond, huh? I can get that.”

Chapter Text

Entertain a kid. Simple enough.

Nothing dangerous or painful like he’s been doing with the other Paladins. Nothing mentally or physically or emotionally draining about that. Nothing major.

Entertain a kid, entertain little Pidge. Something fun. Lance was used to this, being child-like minded himself and all that, if he admitted it. So why, pray tell, was he drawing a blank?

In Voltron or his Lion, he was quick to follow orders and help come up with solutions while hell rained down on them and innocent lives on the line. On his own, being a sniper was more than simply pulling the trigger: There was thought and careful planning, steadiness, a quick sureness that his bullet would hit his mark and nothing else. A blink between life and death, destroying and saving.

Lance wasn’t a complete goofball. He was serious when it mattered, smarter than he let on. But there was a switch. He knew when to flip it. So - why? Why was this so hard? Katie, as far as he knew, was an easy kid to handle. Fun was his thing, the class clown of the team. It wouldn’t take much to keep her occupied until everyone returned or took a break from their missions.

Maybe he was thinking too much into this. Maybe his head was still reeling from the de-aging of a teammate. Having the smartest one of them, the one that would be extremely useful to have at the moment, out of the fight. Not having a five-year-old to babysit -

No. No, he had to get it together. It wasn’t Katie’s fault or Pidge’s. It was no one’s fault. This happened and now they had to deal with it. Plain and simple. The team wasn’t made up of dumbasses; they would figure this out without Pidge’s brain. All he had to do was just...entertain her for now.

“Now what?” Katie asked, innocently cocking her head to the side, cat-like curiosity glittering in her honey-colored eyes.

Now what, indeed. It was just the two of them for the next few vargas. In a colossal alien castleship in some far off corner of the galaxy. No tv or internet. No toys or paper and crayons. No playground or pets-

Pets. The mice! He was so wrapped up in saying goodbye to Keith, Shiro, and Allura and shooed away by Coran and Hunk that he had forgotten that the four rodents were nestled in her arms and hair. “Oh! Hey, how about we head to the lounge and play with the mice,” he offered, “and go from there?”

“Okay! I’ll race ya,” she challenged.

Lance arched an eyebrow, put his hands on his hips and bent forward at the waist. “Oh yeah? You sure about that, shortstack? I’ve got long legs, it’s science that I’ll win.”

A simple tease and Katie transformed into Pidge - the glare, the set of her mouth, the way she angled her body toward him, ready. It was cute, like having a kitten hiss at you. It was unnerving, because she was serious and in clear range of everything below the belt. He sidestepped in case she got impulsive and punchy, so...basically a child-sized Keith. Now there was a thought.

“Nuh-uh!” Tilting up her chin, she declared, “I’ll win.”

He grinned. “Really? And why do you think that?”

“‘Cause! Adults always let little kids win.”

She was so matter-of-fact, so self-assured, in her statement it made him laugh; her calling him an adult didn’t help that, either. Him, an adult? Please. He still shouldn’t be left unsupervised for too long. Honestly, it was a miracle he was considered a Paladin. If he wasn’t absolutely in love with his beautiful Blue, he’d question her judgement, most days.

“I dunno,” he shrugged, standing up straight. “I’m more of a big kid myself. Might not let you win.”

Her brow scrunched together, offended and confused. “But you have to let me win, I’m little. That - That’s how it works.”

True to the Pidge they all knew and loved, Katie wasn’t going to drop this until she was satisfied. Noted.

“Alright, how ‘bout this? I’ll give myself a handicap and run backwards. Seem fair?”

She pondered the proposal. “What’s ‘handicap’ mean?”

“Aahhh….” Katie would ask that, of course. Lance crossed his arms in thought. Okay. How could he explain this without having to explain a bunch of other stuff so she could understand this? Less details were usually better, to start with at least. “It...means that...I’m, uh...going to...make it harder for me to win, so it’s fair?”

Guess that explanation was enough for her, because all she said was, “Okay!” and got ready.

Relieved, Lance lined up to the right of her. “Ready? Go on the count of three. One - wait, you don’t know how to get to the lounge. How were you going to beat me if you didn’t know where you were going?”

Katie blinked up at him. Then the mice. Then the floor. Then the wall. Then back to him again before she finally answered with a shrug. “I dunno know? I’d just” - she waved her hand in the direction they were facing - “run that way.”

I dunno know? I’d just...run that way.

I dunno know? I’d just...run that way.

I dunno know? I’d just...run that way.

Lance took a deep breath through his nose. Rubbed the creases between his eyebrows, eyes squeezed shut. Let the air out his mouth in a long suffering sigh.

He wondered if this was what Shiro felt like, like, daily. If so, man, he probably owned him an apology.

“Katie,” he said, squatting down. “If you ever get lost in the castleship, please - please - ask the mice for help. They know this place better than anyone and its too big to wander around alone.”

“Maybe it should be smaller,” she muttered the suggestion.

“I’ll talk to Coran and Allura about that. Anyway, to get to the lounge - do you know your left from your right?”

“Of course, I do,” she scoffed, making L’s with her fingers. “See? ‘L’ is for my left hand, and the other one is my right hand ‘cause that’s the one I write with.”

“Um, same pronunciation, different spelling and meaning entirely, but close enough.”

“And,” she continued, proudly, as if Lance hadn’t spoken, “‘left’ starts with the letter ‘L.’”

He squinted at that. Could he read by five? He could write letters and numbers and his name, poorly, but read? That was questionable. “Wait. You can read?”

Katie rolled her eyes as her hands dropped to her sides. “I’m not four.”

Well. Excuse him.

Standing, he grunted, “Okay then, smartypants. But can you follow directions? To get to the lounge, you have to take a left at the end of this hallway, take the third hall on the right, and then it’s another right.” She had nodded before, but he wasn’t convinced. He repeated, “Take a left, the third right, and another right. Got it?”

“Left,” she parrotted, “then the third right, and another right.”

“Good. Say it again.”

“Left, the third right, and another right.”

“Again.”

“Left, third right, right!”

Satisfied, Lance nodded his approval and got into position. “You got it! Now, go on the count of three. One...two...thr-”

With a giggled “Left, third right, right, and straight on ‘til morning!” Katie went darting down the hall before the mark, hair flying and limbs pumping.

Dumbfounded, he stood in place, watching mice wave and snicker at him over her shoulder. It wasn’t until more of her laughter reached his ears he finally escaped from his stupor and joined the race. “He-hey! You cheater! There are rules!”

Katie flung her hands up over her head, decreeing, “I make the rules!”

“Yeah, I don’t doubt that,” he mumbled, glancing over his shoulder just in time to see Katie, at the end of the hall, taking a right.

Correction: Lance definitely owned Shiro an apology.

-------

Had Katie been Pidge - honestly, that sounded weird, but it made perfect sense in his head - Lance carrying her to the lounge under his arm would not had gone as well as it had.

She bounced, grinning, when he tossed her onto to the castleship version of a couch; he then threw himself down a little down from her. How could someone with such short legs run so fast, for so long? It was a mystery only children knew the answer to.

Lance had just closed his eyes when suddenly Katie flopped half of her body onto his chest, expelling whatever air he had in his lungs. “Katie,” he groaned, cracking an lid open to find her nose inches from his.

All he saw was Pidge, so young and with long hair, and had to stop himself from calling her that. This was fun and cute and hilarious, but he worried. Oh, he worried. How long would she be forced to stay this way? Would it wear off, whatever this was? Would she remember everything or nothing? Would she be the same Pidge as before? Would she really, truly, be stuck this way and have to grow up all over again? What if they failed Pidge - the universe, Voltron, everyone?

His fingers found their way into her hair as she propped her chin onto his ribcage. “Play with me,” she whined. The mice gathered on his chest as well, chattering away and signaling that they also agreed with Katie. “Please.”

Ah. The magic word. And a pout and batting of eyelashes to go along with it. Now he had to play with her.

“Alright, alright,” he sat up. “You win.”

The mice were great entertainers, having put on many shows for Allura, and every trick had Katie oohing and awing and squealing with delight. Once she grew bored and unable to sit still, she decided to mimic the mice. Cartwheels and handstands and jumping from one section of the couch to the next and just sprinting in circles when she couldn’t pick her next “trick” for her audience.

With that energy burned, Lance coaxed her into sitting, reminding her to breathe and drink some water for a while. He taught her simple hand games - pattycake, thumb wars, and rock-paper-scissors - anything to return the usual color to her skin. Somewhat to his surprise, Katie happily learned and listened to whatever he had to teach, quickly begging for a story. A fairytale of some kind, with magic and dragons, and he had to do the voices. It wasn’t a real story unless you did the voices!

Before he launched into the story, an idea struck Lance. A sly grin formed. “Hey, Katie?”

Her knee bounced in anticipation. “Mm-hmm?”

He glanced around, as if someone would overhear him, and leaned forward. Whispering, he asked, “Have you ever built a fort before?”

-------

A castle-fort. It was going to be a castle-fort, as commanded by the overlord, Katie. If he was going to tell a fairytale and build a fort, it was going to be a castle-fort.

Lance, along with Katie at his heels and the mice in his pockets, stuck to the shadows of the halls of the Castle of Lions to commandeer the necessary building supplies. He didn’t know why he was sneaking every find in their possession back to the lounge. Maybe it’s because Coran and Hunk were still in the castle and could bust them at any moment. Maybe it was the cameras and knowing that both were in the perfect places to spy on them. Maybe it’s because he knew he was causing a mess and no one would be happy about it. And maybe it was...purely fun.

Either way: Beds and pillows were turned over and striped, cushions and blankets taken, and those weird self-hovering serving plates were swiped from the kitchen. The den in the lounge was steadily transformed into a castle-fort. Beds lined the floor. Cushions and pillows soften the edges of the couches and stairs, the extras providing comfort. A waterfall of blankets and sheets, clung together by knots, hung from the floating plates to create the walls. An entrance was made at the stairs, a giant cushion acting as a gate. As a final touch, Lance smuggled something from Pidge’s things: A star projector. Among the pillows and blankets, he turned on the device to cast constellations overhead as he theatrically weaved the fairytale requested.

Midway, a message from Hunk, saying that lunch would be done soon, popped up on his notification screen. Lance glanced at it, reading that the others were returning to the castle for a lunch break and to (probably) share what they found. His acknowledgment was simple: Come to the lounge.

“Katie!” he gasped, several dobashes later. “I sense enemies approaching!”

With a seriousness he failed to believe a five-year-old could possibly possess, Katie responded with, “How many?”

He squeezed his eyes shut in mock concentration. “At least four - no, five!” Lance began crawling to every side of the castle-fort, carefully lifting the edge of the blanket-wall to peek at the outside world. “We must hurry, they will reach us soon.”

She nodded gravely. “Get to your post.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lance saluted.

Sure enough, a few dobashes later, in came Shiro, Keith, Allura, Hunk, and Coran. Eyebrows went to hairlines, unspoken questions on their lips, at the sight of the lounge.

“Seriously, man?” sighed Hunk while Coran and Allura cast curious glances at each other and the odd mound of blankets before them. He caught the looks and wondered if blanket forts were ever a thing on Altea. “A fort, really?”

“Castle-fort,” Lance corrected, poking his nose out just above the cushion-gate and shealthly taking a picture of their faces.

Hunk hesitated. “Can I...can I come in?”

Katie’s head popped up next to Lance’s. “Enemies aren’t allowed inside my castle-fort.”

His eyes flickered from one spot of the room to the next before asking, “What if I bring snacks?”

They glanced at each other before Katie answered. “What’s the password?”

“Not another password,” he deflated.

“Then, no, you can’t come in, Hunk,” snickered Lance.

Hunk whined as Keith stepped forward. “Okay, seriously, what is going on here? What is all of this? And why are you being so childish? I thought Pidge was the kid, not you.”

Lance leaned closer to Katie, dropping his voice, “There’s jealousy in his heart.”

“My name’s Katie, and it’s a castle-fort,” snapped the girl. “Pay attention!”

“And jello in his brain.” He admired his nails. “Pity.”

“Lance,” Shiro tiredly chided, holding Keith back by the shoulder.

As Keith was talked down from storming the castle-fort, Lance and Katie ducked deeper inside. She turned to him, placing a small hand on his forearm, her fingers cool and stubby. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you just like the knight did for the princess in the story. I’ll take ‘em with my bare hands.”

His gaze softened, smiling at the thought for her even trying that. A kitten against a pride of lions. Then he sat up straighter. “Wait. Shouldn’t I be the knight and you be the princess?”

“It’s okay,” she blinked at him, patting his arm. “You’re pretty enough to be a princess, Lance.”

Instantly, his chest squeezed, his heart melting. She was so freaking cute, he couldn’t take it. No words came from his mouth as she turned away to fulfil her promise. And, better yet, he had gotten the entire conversation on video, having accidentally switching it on after taking a picture earlier. Lance curled into a ball of blissful happiness, slightly embarrassed of being called pretty, and bit his bottom lip to keep himself from screaming with glee.

The blackmail. Oh, the blackmail was amazing!

Pidge was so going to kill him later.

“Um, excuse me,” came Shiro’s voice from the outside. Katie poked her head out cautiously, glaring up at him. “I’m, ah, here for...a peace talk?” He held up his hands in surrender. She did say that they were enemies, right? “May I come in?”

She narrowed her eyes more, studying him. “What’s the password?”

Password. Right. He looked back at Hunk paling at the word alone. What was her deal with passwords? What kind of peace talk started with a password? “Is it -?” Shiro stopped himself to think about it. It had to be simple. Something she loved. Shrugging, he went with his gut. “Is it...peanut butter?”

Katie’s scowl dropped to a deadpan as she opened the cushion-gate, grumbling, “You may enter….”

Chapter Text

The castle-fort stood tall until the following day. To Lance’s surprise, everyone huddled inside it for the projection of The Little Mermaid on the lounge’s wall without too much begging, complete with puppy-dog eyes and crocodile tears, from Katie. She sang every song, quoted her favorite lines, and behaved through the entire movie nuzzled against Lance’s side.

When Eric and Ariel kissed and the music played, Katie blinked tiredly at Allura. “Did you like it?”

“Yes, very much,” the Princess smiled. “I’d like to watch more of these...Disney movies.”

Katie rubbed her eyes. “Okay, we’ll watch them tomorrow.” Laying her head back on Lance’s abdomen, she listed with a yawn, “Beauty and the Beast or Mulan or Aladdin or Moana or Tangled or 101 Dalmatians or Hercules or The Lion King or The Aristocats or Lilo and Stitch or ….”

Before the movie credits ended, Katie was fast asleep.

Allura broke the comfortable silence that had fallen between them. “You’re great with her,” she complimented.

“I’ve just had a lot of practice,” he shrugged.

Shiro squeezed Lance’s shoulder. “But still, thanks for taking care of her.”

“Yeah, and thanks for holding down the fort,” chuckled Hunk. The team stared blankly at him. “What? That was funny and you know it.” He hugged a pillow against his chest, resting his chin on the top of it. “Pidge would’ve laughed.”

“Speaking of,” Shiro began, “who’s going to watch Katie tomorrow?”

Keith sighed in relief when Coran raised his hand. “I can watch her! I’ve tracked Pidge’s movements from the last few quintants and I’ve come up with nothing. So next, I’d like to scan her for foreign substances and the like. It’d be easiest if she were in my care.”

“And I’ll be in the castle, too, so I can help,” spoke up Hunk. “I think I’m close to cracking her computer. Tomorrow afternoon, maybe? If I’m lucky?”

“Sounds like a plan. Lance, you can help Keith, Allura, and I with the locations we couldn’t reach today.” Shiro stood, thankful for having Lance join. He was better at getting information out of people in a calmer manner than a certain hothead he knew. “Everyone rest up. We leave after breakfast.”

-------

In the hall of the Paladin’s Quarters, Lance stood, swaying his weight from one foot to the other, torn. He absentmindedly rubbed Katie’s back when her fingers clutched the collar of his pajamas. Which room should he go to? Her eyes had cracked open, only to quickly slip close again, when he scooped her up to go to bed. What if she woke up when he put her down? Then he’d be back at square one. What if he left her in her room, alone, and then she woke up? Then he’d really be at something worse than square one, if his past experiences were worth anything.

He opted for his room. Sharing a bed with a kid was nothing; he could sleep through anything, be it kicking, blanket hogging, or snoring.

With one knee on the mattress, Lance carefully lowered Katie to the bed. He hovered, lips tilting upward at the corners as he pried her fingers away from his wrinkled pajama shirt. She didn’t stir when he tugged Pidge’s oversized shirt down to the girl’s shins, nor when he poked her squishy cheek and brushed back her bangs to press a kiss against her forehead.

Lance pulled back, hand over his mouth.

Routine had taken over. It felt so nice, so normal, he’d lost sight of reality.

Katie was not his niece. This was not his real home.

The lights shut off as he quickly, silently, settled under the blanket next to his de-aged teammate, the homesickness from that morning panging in his chest. Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he turned his head to watch her breathe for a few dobashes, envious at how easily she could sleep so soundly in this messed up situation. Before turning his back to her, he whispered as his mind reeled and heart ached, “Goodnight, Katie.”

Oh, how he missed home.

-------

Though Pidge was Katie, Hunk was pretty sure Pidge was still deep inside, very conscious of her surroundings somehow, and laughing at him. Her firewalls were no joke, and he feared if he keep digging through them, he’d trip something that would have all her files deleted with no way of retrieval. It sounded like something Pidge would do, for safety purposes - which he understood, but this was quiznaking ridiculous. So that left him with doing it old-school: Guessing the password.

Another fail attempt had him groaning and smashing his forehead against the table.

“That bad, huh?”

Hunk rolled his head to the side, spotting Lance with Katie at his heels. “You have no idea, man.” Sighing, he pulled himself up and propped his elbows on the table to rest his head in his hands. Everything hurt: His back, his eyes, his head. He thought he knew Pidge, but, man, was he wrong. Well, he knew this was be crazy difficult, but this was just out right excessive. “I have tried every - and I do mean every - variation of every single password I could think of that Pidge would use.” His hands slid down his face, groaning, “And I’ve got nothing. I’m an engineer, not a hacker!”

“Hey, don’t worry. You’ll figure it out, y’know, eventually.”

To be honest, Hunk doubted the cause of Pidge’s de-agement would be found on her computer. He was nosy enough to know a fraction of her projects and what she tended to gravitate toward; a makeshift fountain of youth something or other was not on that list. But they had to cover their bases.

He regarded Katie from the corner of his eye. A silly idea hit him. Pidge and Katie were very different, but were also the same person. Maybe - just maybe…? “Hey, Katie?” She perked up as he turned to her. “If you could pick an awesome password for this computer, what would it be?”

Lance arched an eyebrow at his friend as the kid worked her bottom lip in thought. “I’d...pick…‘open, says me.’”

“It’s ‘open sesame,’” Lance corrected.

She shook her head, “No. ‘Open, says me!’”

Hunk grunted as he turned his attention to the computer screen. It was something he hadn’t thought to try yet, and what did he have to lose? She beamed when he thanked her for the help.

“Well, I gotta get going,” announced Lance. He knew that look. Hunk was focusing and interrupting the focus was a delicate process he did not have time for. “I just wanted to check in on you before I handed her off to Coran.” They bumped fists, Katie eagerly copying them. “See you at lunch. Good luck!”

-------

Like a newborn duflax, Katie followed Coran wherever he went, curious and easily awed.

Up until he pointed a scanner at her, that is.

“Like I’ve said, it’s just a scanner. It’s not going to hurt you.”

She glared at him from behind a pillar in the med bay. “That’s what they always say, then I get a shot! It hurts! I don’t like shots!”

Coran crouched, lazily holding the scanner in his palm. “Will you please come out?”

“No! I don’t wanna and you can’t make me!”

Princess Allura, Coran slowly recalled, had been the same way at this age. It usually ended when King Alfor held her for the tick it took to complete the simple health scan. Every time. Coran briefly considered his options. Hunk was busy and the rest were away from the Castle of Lions; there was no one to hold her, no one but the mice to calm her.

But the mice were traitors and cowering themselves behind the pillar along with Katie, snickering at his dilemma. You scold them a few times because they messed with your things and suddenly they go rogue! He’d have to have a word with Princess Allura about that.

He rubbed the back of his neck, thinking that, as sprightly as he was, he was too old for this. “Alright, let’s try this: I’ll go first. You can scan me and see that there’s nothing to be afraid of. If you still have your doubts, then I won’t make you do it. Seem fair?”

She ventured out from her hiding spot, only to dart back to it with a glare. “You promise?”

A gloved hand rested over his heart, the other held up as he vowed, “I, Coran Hieronymus Wimbleton Smythe, am a man of my word. Now, are you a man of yours?”

Her gaze shifted to the side, then snapped back to him, narrowing. “I’m a girl.”

“Right! Apologies, young miss!” Coran bowed before clearing his throat. “Are you a lady of your word?”

Shuffling out from behind the pillar, Katie mimicked Coran - well, tried to. Her left hand was over her heart while the right was raised, the opposite of him. “I, Katherine Marie Holt, am a lady of my word.”

“Very good,” he nodded, watching her cautiously approach  him.

Katie picked up the scanner resting in his open palm with both hands. The instructions were simple, he swore: “Aim and squeeze the handle! It’ll be over in a tick!” Not that she knew what a tick was. Actually, she did - a tick was a bug that sucked your blood and wouldn’t come off, but she doubted that that was what he was referring to. She did as she was told regardless.

And Coran collapsed without warning.

Katie froze, eyes widening at the strange device in her hands and the crumbled form of the alien at her feet. The scanner clattered to the floor as she stepped forward for a better look.

Suddenly, Coran flopped to his back, arm stretching to the bright lights above; Katie jumped back with a small squeak of surprise. “Pop-pop Wimbleton, I’ll - I’ll see you...soon.” His arm went limp and slumped to the ground.  

Gulping, Katie took another tentative step, only to jump and squeal again when Coran suddenly lurched forward, dramatically gasping, “I’m comin’ home, Pop-pop!” His entire body slacked again, his head rolling to the side while his tongue hung out of the corner of his mouth.

She waited for more, and when none came, she snatched up the scanner with a huff and chucked it at Coran’s stomach, finding that he was still very much alive. “That’s not funny!”

He sat up with a grunt. Funny how Princess Allura had done similar to him the only time he pulled this stunt on her. “It was a little funny.”

Crossing her arms, she argued, “No, it wasn’t.”

“Yes, it was.”

“It wasn’t!”

“Okay. It wasn’t,” he relented, standing and dusting himself off. “But did it hurt?”

She blinked. “Did what hurt?”

The scanner was pulled out from behind Coran’s back with a sly grin. He then pointed over his shoulder at the holographic screen showing not only his health assessment, but hers as well. Katie put the pieces together, shouting, “HEY!”

Footage of Katie chasing and smacking her angry fists against Coran all the while him screaming, “None of that, now!” somehow were erased from the castle’s video logs.

-------

0P3n$@ySm3!

Access granted. Welcome, Pidge!

Hunk straightened up, unable to believe what he was seeing. The bolded password at the near bottom of his list of possible passwords worked. The dumb idea of asking Katie for a password worked.

“It worked,” he whispered in awe. “It - it worked. IT WORKED!”

And he was running, laptop hooked under his arm, before he realized it to find Coran.

Sliding into the med bay, Hunk roared in victory, raising his prize overhead, “IT WORKED! I am a genius!” His attention slipped to Katie; he quickly set the laptop down and rushed to her side. After planting a quick kiss to her cheek, he threw her into the air. “No, you’re the genius! It worked - HAHA!”

Katie laughed, joining his excitement and asking, “Higher, higher!” And who was Hunk to deny her? Because it worked! The password worked! He now had access to all of Pidge’s files and just - it freaking worked! He couldn’t believe it!

“I see congratulations are in order,” commented Coran.

Setting Katie back on the floor, much to her displeasure, Hunk ushered Coran over to the laptop. “Yeah, Katie helped me with the password and I’m finally in and-”

He stopped short, gut dropping to into a blackhole when a blank screen greeted him. “No. No, no, no,” he muttered, moving the cursor. His hope of the screen timing out quickly vanished. “No, no, c’mon!” Fingers flew over the keyboard in vain. Finally, he pressed the power button.

Nothing.

Katie stood on her toes to see what had him so anxious. “Did you charge it?”

Hunk sank to his knees with a whimper; Coran and Katie patted his back in solidarity.

No. No, he did not.

Chapter Text

This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.

Blood roared in his veins, air labored in and out of his lungs, as light but quick footsteps destroyed the silence of the dimly lit hallway. His gaze shifted as he pushed forward. He had to hide, quickly, or else -

The whoosh of a door and faint steps trailing far behind him had Keith ducking into the closest room.

Hunk quirked an eyebrow from the kitchen counter, the makings of their lunch neatly spread before him. “Aahh…,” he drug out, watching Keith’s boots scuff the newly clean floor as if he couldn’t decide which direction he wanted to go. “What’re you -?”

“Hide me,” was he said, feet and eyes shifting in tatum now and reminding Hunk of that one time Lance had three of those giant pixie-sticks and chased it with Red Bull during a study all-nighter that had exactly zero studying involved. That did not end well, and he doubted this would either.

Hunk deflated, not necessarily minding Keith’s surprise company, but he’d rather be alone at the moment. As he had foretold to Lance and Katie, rifling through Pidge’s computer resulted in a big fat nothing waste of his time and energy. Cooking was his decompressing time and his friends were kind of ruining it.

But Keith - lone-wolf, antisocial quiznaking Keith - was coming to him for something, so Hunk didn’t have the heart to kick him out.

Hunk barely sighed a “Fine” before Keith was rushing toward a cabinet to hide in. “I don’t know what you two are doing, but could you please not drag me into this right now?”

“Uh-huh, yeah, sure,” was muttered absentmindedly before he paused. His hand pulling the handle, Keith turned to Hunk as the words “you two” flagged in his head. “Wait….”

“Find your own hiding spot, mullet.”

Keith yelped in surprise, finding what Hunk meant squirrelled away in a cabinet and grinning at him. Quiznak, how the hell did he get himself involved in this stupid game? “Damn it, Lance!”

“Hey, watch your mouth! There’re little ears present.”

A twitch developed in Keith’s eyebrow. “She’s - she’s not even in here!”

“Well, she will be!” Lance smirked as he snatched the cabinet’s door from Keith’s grasp and slammed it closed. “Now, go get your own spot!”

The door opened and there was no time for pointless arguing. Keith launched himself to the opposite end of the kitchen counter, pressing his back to the cold metal and drawing his legs close. This may be a stupid game, but he was not going to get caught.

“Oh, yeah,” whispered Lance, “that’s a real nice hiding spot. She’ll never find you there.”

“Shut. Up,” growled Keith. He panicked! Where else was he supposed to go?!

Katie skipped into the kitchen, casually scanning the room for her targets. “Hey, Hunk! Whatcha ya doin’?”

“Making lunch,” he answered as she approached his side of the counter. “You hungry?”

Standing on her toes, she surveyed the meal coming together, failing to keep the questioning look of mild disgust from appearing. “Yeah,” she said at length.

Though Katie was getting better, it was still more or less difficult to get her to eat alien food. Lunch was probably going to follow the same flow as past meals - lots of creative coaxing and bribes. Hunk was determined to get her to eat as before, when she was Pidge, and make the food as close to Earth food as possible. If someone didn’t like his food, then he failed and, much like his anxiety on a full stomach combined Lance’s unique way of piloting, that didn’t sit well with him.

“It’ll be done soon,” Hunk promised. His aim was to make a burrito - Pidge liked those, right? Everyone on the team did, so why not? “Can you help me and tell everyone that lunch is almost ready?”

She perked up. Without more prompting, she darted over to the door and walked out just far enough into the hallway, cupping her hands around her mouth, to yell, “HUNK SAYS THAT LUNCH IS ALMOST READY!”

Hunk blinked, ignoring the snickering from the space behind him. Yeah, he...should’ve saw that one coming. “Katie, sweetheart, um, that’s not what I - I could’ve done that.”

“Oh,” she said innocently. “Then why didn’t you?”

What was that thing Keith’s always saying to calm himself down? Patience yields focus? He didn’t need the focus, but patience was appreciated at the moment. “I meant to go find them and tell them, not yell down the hall.”

“But I like yelling,” she pouted, crossing her arms.

“So I’ve noticed,” he mumbled to himself. Hunk also noticed Keith poking his nose around the edge of the counter, probably to keep track of his target. An idea formed, a grin spreading across the Yellow Paladin’s face. “Hey, do you want to help me with lunch?”

Keith’s eyes grew wide, ducking back into his “hiding” spot, as Katie shifted her weight from foot to foot in indecisiveness. For someone that didn’t want to play, Hunk thought, Keith was taking this very seriously. “But I have to find Lance and Keith. We’re playing a game.”

“Well, you’ll have to finish the game after lunch,” Hunk told her, sensing two pairs of eyes watching as she skirted the counter to join him. “So what game are you guys playing?”

“Hide and Go Shriek.”

He paused. He had to have heard her wrong. “Hide and Go Seek?”

“No,” she sighed. “Hide and Go -”

Suddenly, the cabinet door banged open as Lance flung himself out of his hiding spot; Keith a beat behind him, springing from behind the counter’s end. It was odd how in sync they were - the sudden reveal, both lifting their arms up with fingers turned to claws and yelling, a touch too loudly, “BOO!”

Ah.

Hide and Go Shriek, indeed.

Wonderful.

Hunk hated this game already.

Katie literally jumped in surprise, squealing equally as loud as Lance and Keith had, if not more so and a bit longer. Tiny fingers dug into Hunk’s pant leg in her attempt to shield herself from their teammates. A grin broke across her face as she laughed, “Hey! You scared me!”

“Well, that’s the game,” teased Lance, ruffling her hair before darting from the kitchen.

“Hey, tell everyone it’s time for lunch!” Hunk called after him.

A distanced “Okay” echoed when Hunk looked down at Katie, hoping to reclaim his pants so he could finish up lunch, only to find her eyeing Keith with a crooked grin. Crouched to the ground, there he sat, smirking as he wiggled his fingers threateningly at her; she ducked behind Hunk’s leg, only to peek out a moment later and giggle when he mock-glared at her, “Boo.”

Oh yeah. He totally wasn’t enjoying this. Nope. Never. Not Keith. No, that’s just crazy.

“Seems you’re having fun,” Hunk commented.

Keith’s hands and smirk dropped instantly, eyes narrowing as he shot upward. “I’m not,” he argued.

Hunk grinned, noticing the blush creeping into his face, and teased, “Yes, you are.”

“Yes, you are,” Katie parroted.

“I am not,” he grumbled, marching from the room in a normal, totally-not-embarrassed way.

-------

After a somewhat successful attempt of getting Katie to eat alien burritos, Hunk promised to let her help him bake cookies for the team while they were on their missions.

It was simple stuff - pour in this and that, mix this, pass that - all the while she was safely perched on the countertop. It was going well. She was helpful and asked questions and only tried to sneak some raw dough once. He caught her in the act, but was happy that she was at least willing to eat it though the color was not normal.

That’s when things took a turn.

Waiting for cookies to bake was frustrating - they smelled so good, but you can’t eat them and its unfair. The boredom and the less than ideal ideas of how to handle that frustrating boredom was worse.

Katie flopped herself on the floor, glaring at the ceiling, as if it were to blame for her whole four minutes of waiting so far. “Hhhuuuuuuunnnnnnkk,” she whined.

Hunk sighed, before echoing back, “Kaaaaaaattttiiiiieeeeee.”

“I’m bored!”

“I know.”

“I wanna eat them now!”

“Me, too, but we have to wait a little longer.” And then they have to cool, but he wasn’t going to tell her that just yet.

She pouted some more, rolling to her side to give the wall a piece of her anger.

Leaning against the counter, Hunk lowered his head for a moment. He didn’t know what to do to elevate her boredom - he wasn’t Lance or Shiro. Maybe the castle had something for children. It had to, right? It’s massive and there had to have been at least a few kids walking these halls at some point. He’d have to ask Coran or the Princess. “You guys got any ideas?” he asked the mice.

The four exchanged glances, quietly squeaking among themselves. After a moment of discussion, they turned back to Hunk, thumped a fisted paw against their chest, and nodded with a confident squeak.

He smiled. “Thanks, guys. Think you could keep an eye on her while I get Coran?”

They shooed at him to go, that they had Katie, and began making their way to her.

“Hey, Katie?”

She lifted her head, just enough to turn it to cast her glare his way.

“I’m gonna go get Coran for something, okay? I’ll be back in less than five minutes. Can you be good?”

She returned to her pouting with a shrug.

Okay then. “If you’re good, I’ll let you have two cookies,” he prompted.

The promise of more cookies had her glare softening. “Okay. I’ll be good.”

-------

It took three minutes for Hunk to locate Coran, pitch his idea of finding toys or something relatively kid-friendly to him, and make their way back to fetch Katie so she could pick out what she wanted from whatever Coran had stashed away somewhere in the castle.

“I’m not sure what you Earthlings had as children,” Coran was saying as the kitchen door opened, “but there should be - QUIZNAK!”

Chaos had broken out in the kitchen within the three minutes Hunk was gone. Three. That had to be a record, right? Blobs of food goo were splattered on every surface, including the ceiling. More flung from the raging food dispenser within the wall as Hunk spotted Katie, crying and clutching the mice to her chest, poking her head out from behind the counter.

“I’m coming, Katie,” Hunk promised. “Just stay right there, okay? I’m coming.”

He dove right into it, dodging and ducking and weaving through the green goo flying until he reached the wall. Much to Coran’s disapproval, the dispenser was jerked into a tight knot, piles of goo collecting where the hose hung in a defeated clog.

They sighed in relief for a moment, only to have it ruined when a voice from down the hall asked, “Coran. Do you know where the gift for the-?”

“Ah! Shiro!” shouted Coran, his behaviour flagging abnormal. His voice was too loud, too high pitched, movements too stiff or too fidgety, eyes too shifty. “Oh, it’s you, Shiro! Good ole Shiro! Didn’t know you were still in the castle. What can I do you for?”

Shiro raised an eyebrow at the man that stopped him the middle of the hall. Something was off. Part of him wanted to know it was about. The other part - the little sane part of him - didn’t want to be a part of it; he had a mission and sometimes Coran’s crazy was tiring. “I’ve been looking for the gift for the people of Xelnovaria and can’t find it. Do you know where it is?”

Or what exactly it is? he wanted to add. It was, apparently, rude to ask or see what he was offering as a greeting gift for them. According to Coran, it was an unspoken thing that all knew and gave in a box. A box that Shiro and the rest of his friends weren’t allow to be told the contents of. That was equally as rude (and frustrating) to Shiro, in his opinion, but he didn’t want to offend the people he was seeking information from, so he keep his mouth shut like the good little delivery man he was.

“It’s not here!” Coran replied, again, too loud to be considered normal.

“Then where-?”

Hands spun Shiro around and pushed on his back before he realized what was happening. “Now we don’t have time for niceties, Shiro! We are in a bit of a crisis! They don't need a gift!”

Shiro allowed himself to be marched away from the kitchen. "But I don't want to offend them. Is everything okay?” he caved.

“What? Oh, yeah, everything’s okay! Don’t be silly, everything’s fine. Completely fine.”

Somehow, he highly doubted that. “Are you sure?”

“Would you stop with the questions?! We have a gift to find - hop to!”

Hunk listened to their fading footsteps and voices before peering out of the kitchen to make sure everything was clear. Breathing easier, he looked to Katie in his arms, smearing snot and tears on his shirt. She was calmer now, not sobbing about how sorry she was or how it was accident anymore, but she was still very much upset. The mice had acted it out for him: Katie was playing with them, tripped and hit the button on the wall, and couldn’t get the goo to stop. It’s been glitchy lately, so this wasn’t too much of a shock. He only wished it hadn’t happened while he was gone - for three minutes.

Like, really? The one three minutes he’s gone and this happens?! The universe clearly hated him.

“I’m not mad,” he told her. “I know it was an accident, so now we gotta clean it up. It’s not a big deal and everything is going to be fine. Understand?” Katie simply nodded as he pulled out his phone and called the one person he could trust with this. “Lance! How far from the castle are you?”

“Not too far.” He paused. “Why? Did something happen? Is everything okay? Is Katie okay?”

“Yeah, she’s...fine? Sort of?” Her sniffling into his shoulder had him telling the truth. “Okay, no. Well, she’s not hurt, but there was an accident-”

“I’m on my way now.”

-------

Lance didn’t know what he expected to find when he reached the Castle of Lions. Didn’t know what the “accident” was exactly, having ended the call prematurely and gunning Blue back to her bay. Didn’t really need to know anything other than Hunk needed his help and Katie was upset. So when he stormed his way to them, he couldn’t help but gape at the state of the kitchen.

He turned to Hunk, as if to ask if he was truly seeing what he was seeing. His friend soberly nodded as he passed Katie over to him. Food goo covered clothes and hair greeted him when she clung to his neck, nibbling on the cookie she and Hunk had made; one was passed to him as well.

Okay. Okay, yeah, they could handle this. It was just food. Nothing was outright broken, no one was harmed. This was a simple cleanup job. It wouldn’t be his first, nor his last. Sure, it was messier than his usual, but they could do it before Shiro, Keith, and Allura returned. No problem. He worked best under pressure anyway.

Swallowing the last bite, Lance surveyed the room one last time before clapping his hand on Hunk’s shoulder. “Don’t tell Shiro.”

Hunk rolled up his sleeves, agreeing, “Don’t tell Shiro.”

Chapter Text

After swearing each other to secrecy and a beast-mode level of cleaning, not a smear of food goo could be spotted. Lance swore he could eat off the kitchen floor; Hunk didn’t recommend it, but, yes, no sign of the disaster was in sight. Well, except for themselves, Katie being the worst of the trio. Hunk and Lance exchanged looks and, with her in tow, headed to the showers.

That’s when they realized two things.

One. Katie didn’t have many clothing choices. Changing into one of the outfits still draped across Allura’s bed would raise suspicion. Hunk suggested they do laundry after taking showers; Lance suggested they put Katie in Pidge’s too-large nightshirt until the laundry was done.

Two. Katie, as the boys quickly realized, had never taken a shower before and they doubt there was a normal bathtub in the castle that could be located quickly and quietly. Wait. Were Altean bathtubs, like their swimming pools, on the ceiling as well? Or did they look normal but actually try to flush you down the drain, like a massive toilet? Did Alteans even have bathtubs? Did they have to go through life without experiencing the blissful joy of a warm bubble bath?

Quiznak, that would be so sad.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Lance asked, running a towel through his hair.

Though he hadn’t gotten blasted by the goo dispenser per say, cleaning it up still resulted in a fair amount clinging to his skin and clothes. The process also made him sweaty and gross and he was so not squeezing himself into a near vacuum-packed suit of space armor like that, mission be damned. Besides, teenage boy body odor had to be offensive, even out in deep space, right? Showering and looking pretty was protecting Voltron’s alliances. The team should be proud of him, being so diplomatic and forward-thinking and all that crap.

Katie nodded, giddily rushing into the shower, “Uh-huh, I’m big now.”

“Throw your clothes under the door,” said Hunk, hearing the shower’s lock slide into place. “I’ll be out here if you need me.”

Piece by piece, tiny clothes formed in a pile under the gap of the door. “Okay!”

“Man, shouldn’t you be heading out?”

Lance shrugged. “Nah. I can hang out for a bit longer.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Hunk speculated. “If anyone thinks something’s up, they can track the Blue Lion and find you goofing off here and you’ll get Shiro’s look of disappointment - you know the one.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, “I know the one.”

“And Keith and Allura will yell at you.”

“I know, I know. I’ll leave soon.” Lance thought for a moment. “If they ask why it took me so long to leave the castle, just tell them...that I had gastrointestinal issues - yeah, from the burritos.”

“Hey. Leave my burritos out of your lies.”

“You don’t have go into specifics,” he continued. “Keep it vague ‘cause I didn’t tell you. Got it?”

Hunk ran a hand down his face. “Fine. Just leave soon so we don’t have to come up with stories.”

“I’ll take the heat for this, you know. It’s nothing new.”

“Yeah, don’t, okay? I called you back here, I’m at fault, too. I left her alone, and you were just being a good friend.” He paused for a second. “Thanks for coming back, really. She was freaking out and I just….” His chest rose and fell for a long breath, shaking off the anxiety of his screw-up. Shiro probably wouldn’t be mad about the mess, but he would be disappointed in him for leaving Katie alone and them going to great lengths to cover it up. He’d take the fall for this one, Hunk decided, if the others found out. “Thanks, Lance.”

He meekly smiled at the floor. It was a new and awkward feeling being sincerely thanked for disobeying an order. The mission came first; Hunk could’ve handled it, but what kind of friend would he have been to leave them like that? He didn’t care what consequence, if there was one, awaited him, Lance knew that he made the right decision. “No problem.”

It was then that the boys noticed the lack of water flow coming from the shower stall Katie was holed up in.

“Katie,” asked Hunk, “is everything okay in there?”

A beat passed and the shower door cracked open. Embarrassment painting her round face, Katie looked off to the side, mumbling, “I don’t know how to turn on the water.”

Lance and Hunk blinked at each other. Fools. They were fools. Of course she wouldn’t know how to work the shower. Was she even tall enough to reach the knobs? Pidge had been asked that once, when they first arrived, and she smacked all of them for it. They’d rather not have a repeated of that, so they didn’t ask.

Because he was wearing armor, Lance stepped forward to volunteer. “Want me to help?”

She nodded as she pulled the door open, only to slam it into his chest. “But you can’t look!”

“Ow! I’m not going to look,” he swore, casting his eyes to the ceiling. Rubbing his nose and wishing for his helmet, Lance blindly stepped into the shower and began fiddling with the knobs. Water hit his armor - first, too hot, then it was too cold - as he adjusted the temperature to her liking. “Alright, just push the knobs in once you’re done,” he told her as he exited her space, gaze still fixed on a smudge on the ceiling. “It’ll turn the water off.”

The door clattered shut the moment he cleared its frame and overstepped her pile of clothes with four snickering mice nestled within. A bright “Thank you!” came from the other side.

With a huff, Lance flicked droplets of water at the mice, only to have them laugh some more and hide. He looked up to find Hunk stifling a grin of his own. Ignoring that and standing in a growing puddle of water, he said, “Yeah...I’m gonna need a towel.”

-------

Hunk wasn’t one to record videos in secret, but the occasion called for it. This needed to be documented and shared.

Lance had hightailed it out of the castle before the others caught wind of their misadventures in the kitchen while Katie was still showering. Singing came from her stall, soft and unsure at first, until she asked Hunk to sing with her. “That song from The Little Mermaid,” she said.

He had figured she meant “A Part of Your World” and began singing, “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat-?”

“No,” she interrupted with a sigh. “Not that one - the other one.”

Confused, he crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow at the shower door. “The other one?”

“Yeah! You know, ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ - that one.”

An...odd choice of song to sing in the shower, or at all, but who was he to judge? So, Hunk started anew, quickly followed by Katie, “I admit that in the past I’ve been a nasty….”

Not far into the song, a Lance-worthy idea came to mind. Phone quickly in hand, he pointed the camera at himself and began recording.

It did not disappoint.

Katie’s voice rose and fell in time as it should with the song. Cute and impressive, she knew every word. Around the part of “...and dear lady, please don’t laugh, I use it on behalf, of the miserable, the lonely, and depressed” - her voice suddenly laced with disgust - “pathetic,” Hunk snorted, but managed to keep going. But when they got to “...they come flocking to my cauldron, crying, ‘Spells, Ursula, please!’” her voice shifted to a shrill helplessness for a moment, Hunk barely keep it together while the camera shook from his stifled laughter. “And I help them, yes I do,” she sang to the mice at her feet.

Her voice dropped as did his phone and ability to contain himself.

He choked back tears and laughter as she continued, unaware. The rest of the video was of Katie singing with the camera focused on Hunk resting his head into his elbow, grinning like a blushing fool and muffled giggling.

Pidge was going to kill him, and he couldn’t bring himself to regret it.

-------

Snacking and napping and movie-watching filled their time until the others returned.

“Why are you in your pajamas?” asked Keith, the first to return.

Hunk, half-asleep and belly full of cookies, blurted, “Why aren’t you?”

He didn’t know how to respond to that.

Some Disney movie Keith had never seen played on the wall of the lounge as he blinked down at Hunk, slumped on the couch, and Katie, curled up against his side. First the blanket-fort, now this. Was every afternoon he returned from his mission going to be like this? Weird and not what he was expecting? What was tomorrow going to be like? Wait, Shiro was taking over babysitting, so maybe it’d be normal. Whatever. He just wanted things to go back to the way they were.

Keith rubbed his forehead with a sigh. He had to go on missions that shouldn’t even be considered missions, and they got to take naps. He had to be social, with people he didn’t know or like, and they got to chill out on the couch. He wanted this ordeal to be over. He wanted Pidge back. “Ya know, nevermind - just, go back to sleep.”

Katie sat up with a yawn, her hair a tangled mess. “Maybe you should take a nap.”

Maybe he should.

“You’re cranky.”

Maybe he was.

“I’m not cranky.”

She looked to Hunk. “That sounded cranky to me.”

“Yeah,” he yawned, rubbing the back of his neck, “it did.”

“I’m not taking a nap,” Keith grumbled.

“We’re taking naps? Alright!” shouted Lance, running up to and swinging an arm around Keith’s shoulder. “I call the middle couch. I’m gonna go change and get my pillow and blanket - don’t start without me.”

“This isn’t a-”

“I would like to join, too,” came Allura’s voice as she hurried out of the lounge with Lance.

“Yay,” bounced Katie from the couch, “we’re having a sleepover. Sleepover! Sleepover!”

Exasperated and stunned, Keith stood there, lip curled up and brow pinched in confusion. What the - no, no, no, this was not - “This isn’t a sleepover!”

“Yes, it is!”

He looked down at her. “I’m not doing it.”

“Yes, you are,” she smiled.

That sounded like a challenge, he thought, glaring at the ceiling, as he laid in the center of the lounge area, in red pajamas he was forced into, under a blanket he was forcibly tucked in, and surrounded by pillows and friends. How the hell did he end up like this?

“Hey, Allura,” Hunk asked, “do Alteans having bathtubs?”

Damn, were sleepovers like this? He’s never had one, or been to one. Unless crashing at Shiro’s counted, which he doubted.

“Bathtubs?” she echoed.

“Yeah, you know, like, um, little pools in the bathroom that you bathe in,” explained Lance.

The Princess pondered this information, her fingers gently combing through Katie’s hair in thought. “I...do not believe so. Why?”

“Whoa, wait, wait, wait, you don’t have bathtubs?”

“I guess not?”

Hunk leaned forward. “So...you’ve never had a bubble bath before?”

Allura shrank under the stares of the humans around her. “No? What’s a bubble bath?”

Hunk and Lance turned to each other, whispering about how unfortunate it to be a princess but to never have had experienced such a heavenly luxury.

She flushed pink, huffed, and quickly asked if they had something Keith couldn’t try to repeat back on Earth. He tried to tune them out when Katie plopped down next to him with a toothy grin, asking if she could lay there while already arranging her things. “Whatever,” he told her and settled in himself; he wasn’t going to escape anyway, might as well be comfortable. The questions, he quickly noticed, snowballed into the little things they had at home and compared them, the special memories of specific things you didn’t realize you missed until you couldn’t have anymore, until they fell still and quiet.

Later, arms crossed, Shiro took in the sight below with a soft smile: Limbs flopped across another person, drool on pillows, blankets spread out and bunched up, light snores and steady breathing. Not what he was expecting to find...in the early evening, especially.

“What about dinner?” he quietly asked, taking a picture. Not for blackmail, but for memories.

Coran shrugged. “I could make dinner.”

Shiro side-eyed him, thinly veiling his disapproval of the suggestion. “Or I could.”

Blankly, Coran blinked at him, as if recalling something horrible. “Um…well….” Their stomachs growled, demanding food and attention. Avoiding eye contact and making a snap decision, his hand slapped Shiro’s shoulder, declaring, “Food goo packets it is!”

Chapter Text

“She sleeps like an angel,” they said. “You’ll hardly know she’s there,” they said.

Lies, his mind whispered. Since when do angels kick like donkeys?!

Shiro carefully shifted to his side, putting his back to Katie and forming a higher wall between her and the edge of the bed. The new space and sudden lack of warmth was too much for her, apparently, because she immediately wiggled her way to him. He lifted his head to peek over his shoulder, noting all of that room she had and yet she decided that him lying uncomfortably on the edge and her burying herself into his spine was the only way to sleep. Not to mention the kicking and ice-toes digging into his skin.

His head dropped back to his pillow in defeat. This was going to be a long night.

He blinked tiredly at the wall and let the day’s events takeover his attention. It...hadn’t gone as well as he had hoped. Sure, it started out normal, but then….

-------

“Quiznak!”

Shiro paused, startled by the sudden noise and accurate usage of the word. He did not just hear - she did not just say that.

He lowered the tablet in his hand and looked at the child playing at his feet. The small screen in her lap blinked Altean words, images of frowny faces and those of mocking accompanying the faint music of that only meant failure. She pouted and huffed at the display, mumbling the word again as the game she lost reloaded.

“Katie,” he said carefully. The tablet rested on the couch, the information he was overlooking forgotten as she continued to focus on her game. “Where did you hear that word?”

She glanced up at him for a moment, answering, “Uncle Coran.”

“Uncle Coran,” he grunted under his breath. Of course - he was the worst of them, Princess Allura, Lance, and Hunk, respectively, the runner-ups. Keith was the only one he didn’t have to worry about, for once. Shiro patted her head. “Let’s...not say that word, okay?”

“Quiznak?” she asked innocently.

He flinched. “Yes, that word. It’s a bad word.”

She paused her game to look at him. “What’s so wrong with ‘quiznak’? It’s a funny word.”

“It’s a bad word,” he repeated, a touch firmer. “Please stop saying it.”

Sighing, Katie’s attention returned to her game. “Everyone else gets to say it,” she pouted, “but not me and that’s not fair.”

“Well, no one should be saying it.”

Shiro went back to his work, drowning himself in data and strategies and check-offs. Only the music from her game filled the silence for a while. That was until the upbeat tune was replaced with an explosion and went back to what caused her to curse in the first place.

“Quiznak!” she growled again.

Closing his eyes and slumping into the couch, Shiro knocked the tablet against his forehead with a groan. The team - yes, including Coran - was going to pay for this in training later, mark his words.

------

His smile pleasant and Katie hanging off his metal arm, they found Coran on the bridge. Calmly, Shiro requested he pull up a group video link. Because Coran was polite, he did as he was asked. Because he was also not an idiot, Coran noticed the way Shiro’s smile was too forced, noted the dark undertone behind the mask, and sweat began to bead on his brow.

Confusion greeted those stationed in the Castle of Lions. Shiro stepped forward without so much as a real greeting and lifted his arm, Katie along with it, higher. “What new word did you learn, Katie?”

He watched the team’s reactions, and before she even answered, he had already pegged three of them - Coran, Lance, and Hunk - as guilty.

“What word?” she questioned, dangling from his arm and swinging her legs. “Oh! That word.” She dropped her voice to a whisper, “Quiznak. But you told me not to say that word.”

And Princess Allura joined the party of the guilty, as Shiro predicted. “Yes, thank you, Katie.” He lowered her back to the ground, her fingers slipping around his, as the four refused to meet his gaze. “And who taught you that word?”

“I already told you,” she whined, testing how far she could bend his fingers. “It was Uncle Coran.”

“Now look here, little miss,” pointed the accused. “That was not intentional!”

“And we will not be saying it anymore. So,” Shiro smiled. “Coran, you will be running laps, along with Lance, Hunk, and Allura once they get back to the castleship.”

Hanging their heads low, the group grumbled that they understood.

But ending it like that - so clean, so simple - would be too easy, right? Because this was his team, this was Voltron, “easy” was unheard of. Because it was Lance that had to comment, “Why isn’t Keith being punished too?”

Keith straightened in his seat, glaring. “Hey. I don’t say ‘quiznak’ every damn day like you guys do. So leave me out of this.”

Lance snickered. Hunk lowered his head into his hands. Allura quietly mumbled, “Oh, Keith….” while Coran pinched the bridge of his nose.

When Shiro drew in a deep breath, Keith’s eyes widened and stuttered, “No, no - Lance, damn you - shit, I -” He growled, clenched his teeth to keep himself from saying more.

“You can join them, Keith.”

With an exasperated sigh, he looked to Shiro, grunting, “Yeah, I know.” He then turned to Lance, who was still giggling, and scratched under his eye with his middle finger.

-------

Allura was the first to return, eyes lowered the moment she spotted Shiro and Katie waiting for her in the bay. Had she known Katie would have repeated what she heard, Allura would have controlled her tongue. “Shiro, I apologize for….” She looked to Katie, a bit embarrassed. “I shouldn’t have….”

“It’s okay, Princess. I apologize, too. My reaction was too harsh.”

The look in his eye told her that, though he admitted this and clearly cooled his head since the last they’d spoken, running laps was still in everyone’s future regardless. Shiro was never one to go back on his word anyway.

“Perhaps,” she said, taking the chattering mice Katie offered her. Much had happened, they said, climbing to her shoulders; they missed her, Platt was hungry. “Setting that aside, my mission -”

“Did you have fun?” Katie asked, interrupting.

Was it fun? Well, it was a mission, work. But she enjoyed speaking with the people. She was a - what did Hunk call it again? - oh, a “people-person.” “Yes, I had fun. Did you have fun today with Shiro and the mice?”

“Yup!” Katie nodded. “I played games! I lost a lot though.”

“Oh, well, I’m sure you’ll get better at it.” Allura looked back up to Shiro. “So -”

“What did you do on your mission?”

With a sigh, Shiro held up his hand to stop Allura for a moment. “Katie.” He squatted down. “I’m trying to have a conversation with Allura. It’s not nice to interrupt.”

“I just want to know what happened! I’m bored,” she whined.

“I understand that, and we’ll play in a minute,” he reasoned. “Let me hear what she has to say first please.”

“Shiro,” Katie glared, her hands gently smacking and then gripping the sides of his face.

“Katie,” he mimicked her tone and actions.

She pressed her forehead against his with a growl before huffing, “Fine.”

He copied her again before ruffling her hair and standing up. “You were saying, Allura?”

The Princess did her best to keep herself from laughing. “I’m sorry to say that it was uneventful and I found no new leads.”

“Oh.” The news did nothing to stop Katie from smiling as she tugged and clung to Shiro’s Galra-tech arm. Giving into the unspoken demands, he picked her up and presented his arm for her to inspected. “Maybe the guys will have something?”

They were running out of options and clues. How much time did they have? Could they fix this? Was Pidge going to return to them? So many questions, so few answers. “Maybe,” she said, forcing a smile.

-------

Katie’s idea of playing was basically treating him like a science experiment or a personal taxi, maybe a horse. She poked and eyed his arm as he strolled through the halls, the only directions he received as to where they were going was from her pointing.

Pointing. No real words other than grunting. Just...pointing.

When they came to a crossroads, he paused like he had been, patiently waiting for orders. One way lead to the Lions, the other lead to back to the center of the castleship and the bridge. She hesitated in her decision, but he knew what she’d pick before she pointed.

“Mmm!” she grunted, pointing toward the Lions’ Bay.

“Can you use your words, please?”

“I want to go that way.” An eyebrow was raised at her. “Please.”

Seeing the Lions was probably not the best idea. How would they react? How would she react? Actually, he knew she’d be excited, but that wasn’t the point. The point was: Was it a good idea bring them together? He wasn’t sure of the outcome of it. The Lions were special beings, and Katie wasn’t Pidge. What if Green rejected not only Katie but Pidge? If there was even a slight chance of it, he’s rather avoid that happening. A few days a part, until they returned Katie to Pidge, wasn’t the worst thing they’ve been through.

“How about we go the other way?” Shiro suggested. “The guys will be back soon, don’t you want to see them?”

“Well...yeah. But I want to go that way.”

Why did she have to be so stubborn? “Katie….”

“I’ll pay you!”

“Oh really?” he chuckled. “With what?”

“With raspberries! Now - go!”

Shiro turned his head to follow the line her hand stretched out to point to and, in the moment, Katie payed him. Her hands gripped his face before he knew what was happening. Wet lips pressed against his cheek and air from her lungs was forcefully pushed between the two, a loud and familiar sound following.

Ah.

That kind of raspberry.

She pulled away, giggling more when he mock-glared at her. Tiny hands set to work on wiping away the spit on his left cheek in an attempt of an apology.

“Thank you for wiping that off,” he told her once she was done.

“I was rubbing it in,” she corrected with a grin and a playful smack. “You have my cooties now.”

Shiro told himself to remember this moment for later. Now, he wasn’t one for revenge, but Pidge was going to pay for this, somehow, someway. Tricking Katie would have to hold him over for the time being.

Wide-eyed, he froze in place. “Did you just say ‘cooties’? Oh no. Not - not cooties. Th-they” - his arm began to tremble - “make my arm...my arm….”

“Your arm, what?” she gasped.

“They make it...do... this.”

Holding her firm, his arm lost control - or so he told her - and began tickling her relentlessly. Screaming and laughing filled the silent halls of the Castle of Lions. Wiggly and giggly, Katie tried to escape his grasp. But the damage was done. The cooties had gotten to his arm and were controlling Shiro. To his credit, he did his best to resist it, setting her on the ground at some point and telling her to run, to save herself. Breathless, she bolted, happily screaming when he lunged and chased after her all the way to the bridge.

Tickling her, laughing while doing so, purged him of the dreadful cooties, and, in his right mind, he suggested they rest until the guys returned. Face red and sweating and panting, Katie agreed and picked a nice spot to cool down.

The bridge of the Castle of Lions was a place Shiro had always thought of as a command center, a place for attacking and defending, a place of strategy. So when Katie flopped down in front of the observation panels and the vastness of space before her took her attention, he paused at the spark of wonder and awe in her eyes and lowered himself next to her.

Space had become the norm, a background. They were so busy with their duties as Voltron Paladins that simply looking at the stars never crossed their minds. Space was beyond words, obviously, but their main focus was the war and the hardships that came with it. Marveling at every new thing they came across would slow their progress, get them killed. Stargazing was a luxury they couldn’t have.

Peace he hadn’t known for some time washed over him. The vastness of space was breathtaking, overwhelming, oddly calming. He was so small. The universe he was trying to save didn’t care about him or his friends, and he found that to be a bizarre comfort. If he stared long enough, he felt like...everything was going to be okay.

“When am I going to see my Daddy?” asked Katie.

Shiro stiffened for a moment before he smiled, promising, “Soon.” He told himself that that wasn’t a lie. He hoped it wasn’t a lie, couldn’t live with himself if it was.

Her gaze shifted back to the stars. “Does he get to see this every day?”

“It’s hard not to notice this when you’re in space,” he said, taking the coward’s route with a neutral answer.

“That’s so cool,” she sighed dreamily. “When I get big, I’m gonna go to space, too!”

“Can I come?”

Smile more radiant than any star, Katie nodded, “Uh-huh! You can be on my crew!”

“I’d like that,” he laughed.

-------

In all honesty, to put it painfully blunt, Shiro’s entire butt was numb, as were his toes and legs and his left arm. Numb - all of it. From sitting. He miscalculated how long the guys would take to return to the ship and the price for that was numb everything.

Could he have prevented this? Yes, of course.

Did he? No.

Why? Because he was enjoying the light-headed feeling of being a complete insignificant bone and meatwad of a speck compared to the void of the universe.

Because Katie wasn’t asking hard-to-answer questions and he feared moving would restart them.

Also, because he was a dumbass.

So when Keith stepped into the bridge to tell him all of them were back from their missions and Shiro got the brilliant idea of getting up to greet him, much like Katie had done without trouble, Shiro instantly regretted it. Numb limbs do not cooperate. Blood and muscles being forced to move from their stagnant state was not going to end well. Everything tingled and pricked when he stood and he swore he was creaking like a rusted machine from a junkyard when he took four steps.

That was as far as he got, the static white noise of his muscles and blood and bones protesting. The head of Voltron stumbled into the corner of a control panel or some such thing, pain and numbness singing from his thigh, and crashed knees first to the floor. Keith rushed to him, Katie not far behind, with concern and questions on his lips.

But stopped when a certain word fell from Shiro’s. It started with “F” and rhymed with “duck” and several other simple, non-cuss words.

Pulling himself to his feet and rubbing away the numbness, Shiro looked to Keith, who was gobsmacked into wide-eyed silence, and raised an eyebrow. “What?” he demanded, stomping blood and feeling back into his feet. “I’m fine.”

Hands that had cupped over Katie’s mouth slowly lowered. “Ooooooohhhh,” she whispered. “Shiro said a bad word.”

Shiro glanced between the two. “What?” he repeated, and then it hit him. He did say a bad word. Aloud. In front of Katie. He flushed red and groaned. Of course, it had to be that one. And of course she had to know that one, too. “Katie, I am - I am so sorry. I -”

“You can join us, Shiro,” Keith smirked.

-------

Lance was curious as to why Shiro was running alongside the other potty-mouths of Team Voltron. Despite sweat rolling down his face and labored breathing, Keith’s smirk never wavered and he found that to be equally curious. Surely, Shiro would never….

Jogging backwards to look his leader in the eye, Lance asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Why are you running with us?”

Katie sat on Shiro’s shoulders, his hands securated around her ankles, and answered, “Because he said-”

“Katie,” Shiro warned, stubbornly keeping his eyes ahead.

Oh. Oh, there was no way Lance was going to let this go now. With encouraging nods from the others, he pressed on. “What did he say, kiddo?”

“Katie,” he nearly begged, “don’t.”

She sighed. “I can’t say it.”

“Then,” he thought, “what does it rhyme with?”

“Lance,” Shiro warned again.

The innocent child, pony-tailed hair bouncing and swinging carelessly with each step Shiro took, looked him in eye and matter of a factly said, “Fuck.”

Lance’s feet went stupid and he stumbled, taking Hunk, Allura, and Coran along with him to the ground in a pile of stunned limbs. Never before had they heard Keith laugh so hard. Never before had they seen Shiro face turn that shade of red and shame.

-------

Shiro groaned into his pillow at the memory. He couldn’t believe he said that, a word he so rarely used aloud. The team was never going to let him live this down.

Movement at his back had him checking on Katie. She had decided, still half-asleep, to sit up and look around the room and mumble some nonsense before landing her eyes on him. He rolled to his back, quietly telling her to go back to sleep, and she dropped and cuddled around his shoulder in an instant. Her head knocked against his as he pulled the blanket over her again.

Sleeping was a good idea. He had a mission early in the morning. He had to talk Keith into taking over babysitting, which he doubted would go well. He had to make sure the others were good to go before he left. He had reports to go over once he got back. He had to come up with the next step to take if they found nothing again. He had to -

A little hand pawed its way up to Shiro’s cheek. Sleepily, Katie mumbled with a soothing pat, “Sleep, sleep, Shiro.”

He told himself to release the tension from his body the best he could. He would do tomorrow’s things tomorrow. For now, he needed to follow his own advice and sleep. Pushing hair from her face, he breathed out, “Sleep, sleep, Katie.”

Chapter Text

Warm and comfortable in his bunk, Keith grunted at the sound of his name.

It was too early for this. The castle was still in sleep-mode, and if the castle was in that state, so should he.

“Keith,” whispered a voice he’d rather not hear, particularly because he knew what this disburance meant.

He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t doing it. Nope, nope. Screw what Shiro said, he was not babysitting.

“Keith. I know you’re awake.”

An annoyed groan escaped him as he rolled over to crack open a glaring eye at Shiro. “What?”

Katie was asleep in his arms in a too-large green shirt, head resting on his shoulder and hair draping down his arm and back. Pidge was the smallest among the team, but now? It was astonishing how easily dwarfed she was by everything. How easily everyone adapted to this change. How easily everyone coddled her.

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Keith wondered how the hell he was going to do this. Coddling wasn’t something he was familiar with - same with kids or what they wanted or how to handle them. He didn’t know! He didn’t understand! He wasn’t Lance or Hunk. This was a responsibility he was not ready for, nor wanted. Why did he have to do this? Lance or Hunk could take another shift and watch her. He wasn’t fit for this.

With a measured breath, Shiro began with, “You’ll be fine.”

Keith shook his head, pulling himself into a sitting position. “No. No, I won’t. Shiro, I - I can’t do this. I’m not good with kids.”

“I’ve seen you with her, playing, and everything was okay. She adores you and everyone here. You’ll be fine, I promise.”

“That’s because I had Lance and Hunk with me,” he argued. “It wasn’t a big deal then. If something happened, they could take care of it, but just me? Shiro, c’mon. Leaving me alone is a bad idea, I’ve proven that time and again, and with a kid is even worse.”

“We wouldn’t leave her with you if we didn’t trust you, Keith.”

He averted his gaze. Of course Shiro would pull the Trust Card. He always had more faith in him than he had in himself. “What am I supposed to do with her?”

Shiro snorted. “It’s Pidge. Do what you normally do with her.”

Which was what exactly? They were the introverts of the group. They didn’t have much in common or much to talk about that didn’t end in a fight. She was so incredibly smart, half of the things she explained went over his head. He trained more than anything while she worked on tech stuff. They had their own things and their own way of doing things. What the hell was their normal?

“That’s not Pidge,” he argued, losing his footing in this fight. “That’s Katie. I don’t know her. I don’t know kids. I don’t know -”

“Just play with her,” Shiro soothed. “Ask her what she wants to do and do it. Don’t overthink it so much.”

Apparently, with Pidge gone, the overthinking fell to him. Odd. You’d think it’d be Hunk. “I hope you know that this isn’t going to end well,” sighed Keith as he pushed himself off the bunk. “Don’t be mad when it does.”

Carefully, so shockingly gentle, Shiro passed Katie to him. She stirred for a moment, lifting her head to survey her surroundings. “You’re going to stay with Keith today, okay? I have to go now,” he told her, smoothing down her bedhead. A sleepy nod and a yawn and she was snuggling into Keith’s neck and nightshirt. Shiro smiled encouragingly. “You’ll be fine. Remember: Patience yields focus.”

The advice hung in the air even after Shiro disappeared from his room.

Keith glanced down at Katie, wondering how any of that normally helpful advice would be of use to him for this, and crawled back into bed. Once awkwardly settled, he stared at the ceiling with a furrowed brow, the phrase circling in his head.

In his best Shiro-like voice, Keith repeated to the silence of the castleship, “Patience yields focus,” and went to back to sleep.

-------

Pixels of light showered and dissipated around Keith’s sword. Combat levels of The Gladiator, even ones he had already cleared, were getting tougher and he suspected Allura for that. Sounded like something she’d do. Paladins couldn’t stay at the same level as Altean children, could they?

Panting, sweat glueing his shirt to his chest and back, Keith sheathed his knife. Katie had been quiet the entire time, coloring on a tablet Coran had found for her. So quiet in fact, he thought she had left the room and he nearly lost his head for it. She hadn’t moved, thankfully. Using his jacket as a pathetic cushion, Katie laid on her stomach, slowly kicking her feet, as she hummed to herself and drew pictures.

Retrieving his water bottle, Keith wondered if she was bored. Watching him fight a training robot and coloring had to be boring for a kid, right? Well. Maybe watching him get this close to having his butt handed to him by said robot would be entertaining for her. He had heard her laugh at least once and he was fairly sure it was at him.

He took a sip. Then another. And then another. What the hell was he supposed to do now? They couldn’t do this all day.

“Hey, Keith!” Katie said brightly and pushed herself to her knees. “Wanna see what I drew?”

“Aahhh,” he drug out, fidgeting with the lid of his drink. “Sure?”

She held the tablet up over her head and he leaned down for a better look. It was scribbles, at best. Something a parent would put on the fridge to appease their child. He squinted, not entirely sure what he was looking at. Asking felt rude and would upset her, probably.

That’s when it clicked - the colors, the number of people-like shapes, the tiniest details. It was the Paladins, one solid color for each of them - their colors in Voltron formation, no less. She even got Shiro’s arm right, it purple instead of black. Off to the side, the orange blob with what he assumed to be a mustache was Coran and the pink, very long haired blob with a big crown was Allura. But what was more surprising than Katie getting Keith’s knife correct was the little green scribble in the corner of the screen.

“That’s, ah, really nice, squirt.”

“Squirt?” she parrotted, annoyed.

Keith blinked and tried again. Maybe she didn’t like being called that. “Halfpint?”

Lowering the tablet, she wrinkled up her nose. “No.”

“Ah...pipsqueak?”

“Nuh-uh,” she glared.

“Brat?”

“No!”

He thought about it and said a nickname he hadn’t heard or been called in years. “Little bit.”

Tilting her head with a growing smile, she repeated with a laugh, “Little bit?”

“Yeah. Little bit.” It was something his dad used to call him. He’d almost forgotten it. “So, what’s that?”

The green blot looked too familiar for him to ignore. He also couldn’t deny that he had caught her spacing out or staring at the general direction of the Lions. If he was right, then she still had, somehow, some connection to the Green Lion.

Katie looked to where Keith had pointed. “It’s a kitty!”

“A green one?”

“I like green,” she defended, hugging the tablet to her chest. “It felt right.”

Damn. He had to tell the others about this. “Okay, okay,” he said, standing up straight.

“Can I play with the robot, too?”

It took him a bit to process that. Play with the robot? That robot was designed to kick your ass on repeat until you killed it. No. No, she could not “play with the robot, too.” “I...no, that’s not a good idea.”

She set the tablet on his jacket. “Why not?”

“It’s not a toy,” he sighed. “It’s supposed to try to kill you.”

Katie blinked up at him. “Well, that’s not nice.”

“Tell me about it,” he grumbled.

“You should aim for the head,” she advised him, as if she knew how to beat it.

The Gladiator was bigger, taller, and faster than him. There was no “aiming for it’s head,” only dodge and try not to get sliced into pieces. The head was too protected, so he had to go for easier targets like the joints. “Aiming for the knees and ankles is smarter. Take one of those out and your chances of winning improves,” Keith explained. “I don’t care how good something is - a person or robot - if you take out their ability to move, they’re done for.”

When Katie stared at him, he wondered if that was too much, too over her head. He was talking to a five-year-old, not a fifteen-year-old, after all. Then again, this was Pidge - wait, Katie - so, maybe-?

“Can you teach me?”

Again, Keith had to process that. He had to have heard her wrong. “What?”

“Can you teach me how to do that?”

She wanted to…?

What good would this…?

Huh?

He scratched the back of head. Shiro had told him to ask her want she wanted to do, to not overthinking things, and, well, she was outright telling him what she wanted, so…. “O-okay.”

A grin spread across her face as she darted to where The Gladiator once stood, brimming with excitement. Still in shock and less enthused, though he opened the door for this, Keith followed. “Um,” he ellegantly began. “Because you’re so small-”

“Hey!”

“-you should aim for the back of the knees.” He smirked, dropping his hand to knee level. “Since you’re about this tall.”

She gasped, offended, “Am not!”

Katie was clearly a head or so taller, but this was...fun. Keeping his hand where it was, he leaned down, arguing, “Are to, little bit.” A wrinkled nose and glare were sent his way, and he decided that he’d let up on the teasing for now. “Alright, best way to do this is learn by doing,” he told her. “Try to kick me in the back of the knee and knock me down.”

She hesitated. “You won’t get mad?”

“No, I won’t get mad.”

“Even if I kick you somewhere else?”

“No.” Like he was going to just stand there and take a beating. “Let me worry about that.”

Stepping to him, Katie swung her leg at the general area he told her to, and Keith sidestepped. Her eyebrows drew together, confused, and tried again. Again, Keith moved away and shrugged when she glared, “Hey.”

A few more rounds of this and Katie actually started to try to hit him, not just swing her leg near him. She had to run to keep up because Keith was skipping on his toes around her, playfully nudging her forehead when she got close enough every now and then. Not impossible to catch, but he wasn’t making it easy. When the toe of her shoe grazed him, he slowed a fraction, wanting her to hit him, wanting her to know what it felt like, wanting her to thrive on the fact she “got him.”

It took a couple more tries, but a hit - a good hit - landed and Keith collapsed to the training deck floor. Astonished, Katie stared at him and a smile slide into place, mimicking his reaction, and washed away her frustrations. “I did it! I did it! I did it!” She chanted, “Ninja kick, ninja kick!”

“Good job,” he grunted, pulling himself to his feet. There would be bruises if they keep this up. “Want to try again?”

Laughing, she gave chase and he continued with his footwork to keep himself on his feet, failing to not laugh along. He gave her a few pointers - keep your leg straight, use your shin, watch your balance - and he met the floor a few more times. Getting winded and noticing she had gotten the hang of it, he asked if she wanted to learn something else: punching and blocking. A gleeful “Yes!” echoed off the walls.

Dropping to his knees, he moved her in front him and walked her through it. He was going to swat at her, open-handed and gentle, and she had to use her hands and arms to block. Slow at first, Keith began: Cheek, arm, side, stomach, chin. Repeat, repeat, repeat, each time getting a touch faster. She laughed when he got her, laughed when she blocked him, laughed when she went off script and swatted at his nose.

So he moved on to punching. Using the heel of her palm would be best for her size - she only stuck her tongue out at him for that comment - and he held up his open hands to be her punching targets. It took several rounds for his palms to began to sting and he told her to throw her weight into it, hit him like she meant it.

Which had the opposite effect. Her hits didn’t get harder, only faster. But she was laughing and too riled up and that’s when a mistake was made. She completely missed his hand and Keith was too focused on making sure she did not use her legs that he didn’t notice until her palm crushed into his face.

Both stunned, Katie pulled back and Keith’s hand went to his nose, blinking away the sudden shock and water collecting in his eyes.

“I’m sorry!” she cried. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

He stood, feeling blood trickle between his fingers. “No, it’s fine. It was a good hit.”

“I’m sorry, Keith,” she repeated, following after him. “Are you bleeding?”

A bloody nose wasn’t something so easily hidden. Reluctantly and heading toward the bathroom to get tissues and clean himself up, he nodded, “Yeah, but I’m okay. It’s just a little blood.”

Katie keep up with the crying apologies to the point he wanted to beg her to stop. Doubtful she would; she was still upset and he really didn’t know what to do about it. And that’s when he heard a thud! behind him and her crying changed from upset to hurt. When he turned, she was on the floor and holding her right knee, fat tears streaming down her face. Damn it, this was why he shouldn’t have been left in charge of her.

Without much thought or grace, Keith scooped her and changed his destination with her clutching his neck and sobbing into his sweaty collar.

The medical bay was farther than the bathroom, but at least by the time they arrived and he set her on a table, she had stop bawling. After cramming some tissue up his nose, Keith inspected her knee and both palms. They were scratched and bleeding a little, but hardly worth all the tears and sniffles coming from her. He told himself that he didn’t do crying or whining well as he gathered the necessary medical supplies, wishing for someone - anyone - to come back and take over.

He caught her staring mid-task. “I look weird, don’t I?” He had tissue up a nostril, of course he looked ridiculous.

“Yes,” she sniffled.

At least she was honest about it.

“What are you going to do with that?”

Keith looked at the can of salve in his hand. “Um, I’m gonna...rub it on your knee and hands?”

She drew her legs to her chest, hands went into her armpits. “It’s gonna hurt.”

Great. He really wasn’t right for this. “It’s not going to hurt.”

“It will,” she stubbornly insisted.

An idea hit him, a fairly dumb one, and he pulled out his knife. “It won’t,” he sighed, and made a small, shallow cut on the outside of his left forearm. Blood bidded at the surface, quickly wiped away with some gauze, and he didn’t blink at it or the slight sting of pain. Katie gaped as he spread a small amount of salve over the fresh wound and slapped a bandage on it. “See? Didn’t hurt.”

Stunned and mostly dry-eyed, she allowed her legs to dangle over the edge of the table, hands limp in her lap. “You’re crazy,” she whispered, and he simply said, “Yup,” and gingerly applied the salve and bandages.

Bloody hands, arm, nose, and face were cleaned and the bloody tissues were thrown away once she was taken care of. But Katie was still quiet. “I’m okay. I’m not mad,” he told her. “You...you didn’t do anything wrong, y’know. I should’ve been - I shouldn’t have...it’s my fault.”

“I’m still sorry,” she mumbled, using a tissue to wipe away her tears and snot.

Using his fingernails, he threw that away, too. “I know. Are you okay now?”

Embarrassed, her eyes darted to different spots of the medical bay. “You didn’t kiss it.” When his eyebrows went to his hairline, she explained, “To make it feel better. You didn’t kiss my knee or hands.”

Kiss it to make it feel better, huh? People actually did that?

“I’m - I’m not - I don’t, uh, do that,” he stuttered.

“Then I’m not okay.” She crossed her arms, eyes threatening more tears. “Shiro would do it.”

This felt like a trap.

“Hunk would do it,” she listed.

Yup, this was a trap.

“Lance would do it,” she added.

Damn it.

He gritted his teeth, not wanting her to start up the waterworks again. She honestly expected - no, demanded - him to do this. Growling, he scratched his head and eyed the room, the exits, to be sure they were alone. This was so embarrassing.

“Just this once,” he told her and she brightened instantly, “but never speak of this - to anyone. Promise?”

“Promise!”

He couldn’t believe he was doing this, agreeing to this insanity, as his lips met her bandaged knee. Beaming and clearly pleased, Katie presented her open hands to him. For a moment, he glanced at her, silently asking if he had to do this. But she wasn’t crying anymore, all because he agreed to this childish wish, and there was his answer. A ginger kiss went to each palm and suddenly she was flinging herself into his arms, planting a quick peck to his cheek.

“You’re the best, Keith,” she sighed, and, for a brief moment, he believed her.

When they left the medical bay, he asked her what she wanted to do next and she quietly thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it some more. Her hand slipped into his, a bright and mischievous grin telling him she had something in mind, and she tugged him down the hall.

Chapter Text

“Do you know where you’re going?”

Katie stopped to decide which hall she should take, humming. “This way,” she announced with a tug on his arm. They made it a few steps before she stopped them again and did an aboutface, correcting herself, “No, this way. It’s this way - c’mon.”

That was a strong “maybe” at best.

The one day Keith needed the mice and Allura had to take all of them on a mission. “These people have a soft spot for the mice, Keith” - who cares! He needed them to talk some sense in a fiver-year-old, to entertain her, something. Figuring out the labyrinth of the castle wasn’t fun for him, nor could he understand why it was for her.

But at least he knew where they were, so he told himself not to complain too much.

After several more turns and turnarounds, Katie was becoming more confident in her decisions, each one, Keith noticed, leading them strangely closer to the Lions. He wondered if it was a coincidence or if she knew somehow.

The Lions were restless as of late. Sensed something different about her and not seeing Pidge but the rest of the team did not go too well. They knew something was up, especially with the lack of fighting and separately revisiting too recent starsystems; the Lions weren’t stupid. Maybe Green was calling out to her Paladin and Katie simply went with her gut and unknowingly listened. That mysterious connection was ever present in the back of their minds, in their chests, an invisible thread not only to their Lions but to each other. It was something not even time could erase.

Her hand squeezed his when they approached the bay entrance. Hesitation had her rooted in place, and Keith waited patiently. “Do you hear that?” she blinked up at him, confused and awed.

The roars and rumbling and purring. The peace and encouragement and knowledge. The constant mental link of it all, a pride of Voltron Lions and four other Paladins at your back. Yes, he knew it well; they all did. “Yeah.” He attempted to smile, press some reassurance through his fingers to her. It was overwhelming in the beginning, the Lions were a force not easily understood. “It’s okay.”

Slowly, Katie nodded and took a few deep breaths before opening the doors.

Keith stepped when she stepped, keeping pace, and stopped when she stopped. He never forced her, only carefully nudged her and gauged her reactions when she hesitated. For a moment, he wondered if this was a good idea, then thought better of it. If Green was calling, then he trusted the Lion’s decision.

Mesmerized, jaw hanging and eyes wide, Katie eventually stood before the Green Lion. “That’s the…Keith.” She tapped his thigh and tugged at his fingers. “Keith. That’s my green kitty.”

Green’s eyes lit up in response, a gentle rumble settling within the bay.

A sharp breath was taken, but Katie stood firm, to Keith’s surprise. “You scared?”

“Nope,” said the girl inching herself closer to him. “That’s my cat.”

The more Katie talked, the more she confirmed that Green was somehow hers, the Lion responded. This time, Green moved, lowering herself to the bay floor and opening her jaws. Little Katie was not expecting that and quickly hid her face and koala-ed herself around Keith’s leg with a yelp.

He bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from laughing or grinning. “It’s okay. She’s not going to hurt you,” he told her, putting a hand on her head. “This is the Green Lion, your Lion, and you’re her Pala - uh, person.”

That got her to relax a bit for some reason, her grip on his leg loosening. “I have a Lion, too,” he continued, uncharacteristically chatty. He wanted her to relax, enjoy visiting the Lions, and information was the only way to get her to do that. “Red. She’s in another bay. Shiro has the Black Lion, Lance’s with Blue, and Yellow belongs to Hunk. They’re, uh, they’re...like ships? With their own thoughts and ideas and only let one person pilot them, usually. And, um….”

When Keith glanced down at Katie and she was staring at him like he really was insane, he realized that he was not good at this explanation thing. Or babysitting thing. What babysitter, in their right mind, brought a kid to see a giant, cosmic, sentient lion-shaped battle-robot made of the ore from another reality?

This was a mistake. A big one. Like, a really, really bad one and in way over his head. He knew he should’ve denied Shiro’s request and gone on a mission instead. He knew it -

“So, like a cat?”

Keith blinked. “Huh?”

“Like a cat,” repeated Katie, carefully stepping away from him. “A big, robot one.”

“Uh,” he responded brilliantly, “I guess so.”

She twiddled her fingers and stole a few glances at Green. “And...she’s mine?”

“Yeah.”

The Lion was patient, jaws still open, sending comforting rumbles to Katie in an attempt to sooth her unease. Emotions shimmered across Katie’s face - fear, excitement, suspicion, curiosity, and longing. Questions on her lips too afraid to ask, didn’t know how to ask. Torn between comfort and adventure.

“Do you...want to go inside?” Keith asked for her. There was no harm in looking.

Her entire attitude changed, brightened. “Can I?!” she gasped.

“She’s your Lion,” he snorted. Inclining his head toward Green, he added, “Go on.”

With a squeal of delight and vibrating with too much energy, Katie rocketed up the ramp. Keith quietly followed, amused, and found her dancing, ohing, and awing around the cockpit. Fingers pressed buttons, fascinated by the information screens that popped up. Questions were asked and forgotten faster than Keith could answer, Katie eager to learn but too excited to wait for a real answer. He didn’t mind it; Pidge was notorious for logical questions, bizarre answers, information rants, and robot obsession. Him being able to answer her questions was an odd but welcomed turn of events.

Calmer now, her excitement simmering down to a hum, Katie stood with her back facing the pilot’s seat and wiggled the control levers. “What are these for?”

It wasn’t the first time she’d asked that specific question - or several others. Keith had figured out that, at first, Katie didn’t want an answer, she just spoke what came to mind, but now, after soaking up the sights of the cockpit, she thought more carefully and actually wanted answers. He did his best to appease her curiosity. “They’re the controls,” he explained. “You use them to pilot the Lion.”

He said that, but honestly? Keith knew that the Lion was in control, he was simply a co-pilot. Somedays, his “orders” were suggestions to Red. Piloting a Lion - hell, Voltron - was teamwork, no way around it. Not one being had full control over anything, and that was difficult to understand and accept at first. As frustrating as it was at times, he wouldn’t change it, though.

Katie hummed thoughtfully and climbed into the pilot’s seat. Too quickly she realized after some grunting and stretching that she could not sit in the chair and play with the control levers. She slouched, half sliding to the floor with a dramatic groan of disappointment. “I’m too little,” she complained. “How am I supposed to fly?”

“Maybe you should ask your Lion nicely,” Keith suggested offhandedly, searching the back of the cockpit for something to hold her interest. Pidge liked to squirrel away weird stuff in random places; Green was the perfect hiding spot for some odd finding of hers. “Or get a booster seat,” he mumbled. “There’s bound to be one here somewhere.”

He half-expected Katie to say something about the comment, half-expected Pidge, magically aged-up again, to come up behind and smack him on the top of the head. Of course, it’s hard to hit a target you’ve never seen before, but the blow never came.

What he would have given to have had that happen - or just about anything else - instead of what occured next.

“Good idea!” he heard her say, followed by “I’d like to fly, please!” and the sudden, all too distinct feeling of a Lion raising their head. Keith stumbled and grabbed the wall, the cockpit momentarially shaking, when Green reached her full height. Stiffly, breath caught in his lungs, he turned around to find Katie smiling as her hands gripped the right control lever and the view of the Lion’s bay to be much higher than last he checked.

His stomach dropped into the void. “Katie-!”

Katie pushed her weight against the control and the Green Lion, purring, turned toward the exit, to open space. “Alright, let’s go!”

Before he could react, could even voice a warning or his concern, they were soaring amongst the stars. Shrieks of excited laughter, a stark contrast to the hollow wrongness in Keith’s chest, replaced the silence of the cockpit. Patience yields focus, he repeatedly told himself and forced his organs back where they belonged, forced his heart to pump blood and lungs to take in and push out air, forced his body to move.

Panicking solved nothing. Calm down. Think it through. Everything was going to be okay.

Green would never purposely put them, specifically Pidge - Katie, in danger, and if he was in danger, Red would come for him and he hadn’t spotted her yet. They were...safe, in a sense. The Green Lion was in control, mostly, and following the wishes of a young Pidge and then there was Keith, who had zero control over the Lion that wasn’t his. That meant he couldn’t pilot them back, Katie had to.

He could do this. He would fix this.

“I’m the best pilot ever!” she giggled, sending them into a spinning dive.

Keith made his way to Katie and settled into the too small pilot chair. “Hey, best pilot ever,” he said, forcing himself to be nonchalant. Her freaking out would solve nothing, too. “Think you can get us back to the castleship?”

The disappointed look she gave cut him deeper than he thought it would. “But I’m having fun.”

Beating down the anxiety clawing at him, Keith reasoned, “I can see that, but we shouldn’t have left in the first place.” Not once did the thought of Green actually listening to Katie cross his mind. “It can be dangerous out here.”

“But I want to be the best pilot ever,” she whined, batting her eyelashes as if hoping it would have some effect on him.

It didn’t. He told himself it didn’t.

Keith did his best not to sound too exasperated or irritated. “I know, but we have to go back - you have to get us back, okay?”

She mulled it over, the distance between them and the Castle of Lions increasing by the tick. “Okay,” she relented with a pout.

When she grasped both control levers and Keith put her on his knee and settled his hands over hers to guide them home, he breathed a touch easier. He promised he’d make the short trip back fun for the brave little pilot - with loops and barrel rolls and the like - and her starry-eyed excitement returned.  

Though they were safe, he still keep an eye out for danger even as he set them on the long about way to the castleship through sudden twists and spiraling dives and rocketed ascends. Laughing and screaming to go faster, for more, came to a halt when a bing! and a communication’s request link popped up on the screen.

Everything within Keith froze.

It was over.

It was all over.

Whoever that was could wait. He was not about to be lectured for the same thing in two locations. Especially when he knew full well what he should and should not be doing, how dangerous this little five minute adventure could’ve been, and how reckless and irresponsible he was being. He knew. He knew it and he was kicking himself for it already.

“Don’t answer that,” he told her.

She answered anyway. “Hey, Shiro!”

And Keith could’ve died right then.

Of course it was Shiro. It had to be Shiro.

It was not the highlight of his life when Keith ducked his head behind Katie’s back to avoid the eminent wrath seeping through the video comm link.

He’d never before feared the consequences of his actions. It was simply never a big deal to him. Sure, it sucked at times, but it wasn’t enough to stop him. So he had nothing to compare to this moment. Not the laundry list of times and reasons he got punished in school, resulting in either detention or expulsion. Not when he got into stupid fights and Shiro was called in. Not even when he stole Shiro’s vehicle and was detained by the police. Nothing - absolutely nothing - compared to this.

Because this was big.

This was Pidge. This was Katie Holt.

All of them had a soft spot for her. She was the genius, little sister of the group, annoying and loving at once. They protected her, cared for her, and she returned everything in full.

But Shiro was a different story. His reasons were too personal. Keith knew it stemmed from guilt from what happened on the Kerberos mission. Shiro couldn’t protect Commander Holt from being separated from them. He barely saved Matt from the Gladiator Ring. To make it worse, Shiro abandoned them and returned to Earth alone with no information on where the Holts were. Pidge’s wellbeing became his self-appointed duty, a form of redemption, for his so-called past sins. He refused to fail her and her family again. He was soft on her, looked out for her, and favored her, if Keith was being honest.

So this lapse of judgement, this idiotic idea of checking out the Lions? This was...this was beyond bad. Even if he explained himself, he knew Shiro would argue that Keith knew better.

Angering Shiro was no easy feat. Disappointing him was soul-crushing, especially if he had faith in you. Yet, here Keith was - having done both. Shiro was everything to him - his brother, his closest friend, the one person he did not want to keep letting down, and Keith dreaded to met Shiro’s eyes and hear what he had to say about this situation.

But Keith wasn’t a coward and lifted his head anyway, choking down the sickness rising within his throat.

A deep, measured breath accompanied a steeled gaze. “Return to the castleship. Now.”

And the screen went blank.

-------

Keith went quiet. Didn’t do anymore fun flying maneuvers like he promised. Just silently guided Katie’s hand to take them home.

She wasn’t stupid.

Something was wrong. Shiro was upset about something, which made Keith upset, which in turn was making her upset.

Before they made it back to the castleship, Katie glanced in her co-pilot’s direction. “Are...are we in trouble?”

He forced a tired smile and ruffled her hair. “No...we’re not in trouble.”

Katie found it hard to believe him, but said nothing more on the matter.

Shiro was already waiting for them in the Lion’s bay when Keith helped Katie land Green, arms crossed over his chest with an aura rarely shown. One look at him and Katie thought better of running up him to gush about her flying experience; this was a time to keep quiet. She stuck to Keith’s side, confused because he said that they weren’t in trouble, but she felt like they were, and held his hand as they slowly descended the ramp.

“Shiro, I -” Keith began.

Holding up a hand, Shiro snapped, “Don’t. I don’t even want to know what you were thinking - Keith, just….” He huffed and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment. “How could you-? That was so-”

“Dangerous, stupid, and reckless,” he weakly offered. “I know.”

“No. No, you don’t know. I can’t even begin to -”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, okay. I didn’t think -”

“That’s right - you didn’t think, Keith.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, absentmindedly smoothing down Katie’s hair when she buried her face into his thigh.

“‘Sorry’ isn’t going to cut it.” Shiro shook his head in bewilderment, in disappointment. There was so much he wanted to say, but couldn’t string together the right words. Speaking to him right then was not the best course of action because no good would come of it. “I can’t - I can’t even believe you did that. I...I….” With a defeated huff, Shiro turned from Keith and walked away.

“You said,” Keith started to defend himself, voice on the verge of breaking, and Shiro paused to listen. “You said that...you trusted me, that you wouldn’t have left her with me if you didn’t.”

His chest carefully rose and fell in thought; Keith held his breath. Without looking back, Shiro called, “We’ll talk about this later. Let’s go, Katie,” and continued on his way.

Watching Shiro’s back and a reluctant, teary-eyed girl following behind, Keith realized that there was something far more devastating, far more crushing than any lecture, any punishment, any glance or words of disappointment or disapproval that Shiro could give.

And that was silence.

Chapter Text

Not even the void of space could dissipate the tension within the Castle of Lions. Subtlety was never one of Keith’s strong points and Shiro was being obviously distant; both too quiet. Add Katie, face blotchy and drained of her usual energy, into that shitstorm of emo and it wasn’t difficult for Lance and Hunk to piece together just enough for a rough idea of what happened.

At first, they thought it would work itself out as per usual, but as lunch came and went - Keith failing to show his face at the table, Shiro only speaking single syllable answers when spoken to, and Katie refusing to say what was wrong - and the later parts of the afternoon approached, something had to be done. Just a nudge in the right direction, a guiding hand.

Hunk sighed, shook his head. “I’ll take Keith.”

“And I’ll take Shiro,” said Lance, bumping his fist against his friend’s before parting ways.

-------

Hunting down Shiro went about as well as finding Pidge when she didn’t want to be found: You didn’t, not until she let you. They were frustratingly similar in that way. However, they differed in their go-to hiding spots: Pidge was random, usually high up or cramped or drowning herself in broken machinery in some odd corner while Shiro was routine, patrolled the halls to keep himself moving and busy. If you knew the route he tended to stick to, he was easier, in a sense, to track if you were quick enough.

About the time Hunk’s message of “Have you found Shiro yet?” pinged on Lance’s phone, he spotted a Shiro-shaped shadow on the wall receding around a corner. Hastily, he typed back a reply and jogged after him. He wasn’t worried if Hunk had found Keith. Sure, Keith was impulsive, but that hothead favored familiarity and movement and adrenaline, which meant he was without a doubt on the training deck, running himself into the ground and sulking. He was a wildcard of the predictable nature.

Shiro was leaning against the wall when he found him, arms crossed and staring at the floor. “You’ve been following me for some time now. What do you want, Lance?”

Lance paused to catch his breath, organize his thoughts. Slowly, oh-so casually, he approached with his hands in his pockets. “You know why I’m here.” An arm’s length away and back to the wall, he sat down next to Shiro and patted the ground. “Sit.”

He exhaled slowly before obediently sliding his back down the wall. “I was afraid you were going to say that.”

“What happened? I mean, Hunk and I have a general idea, but what’s your side?” Keeping his eyes forward, because it was easier to explain and question the difficult stuff honestly without staring a person in the face, he added, “And don’t say it’s ‘nothing.’ We can tell it’s not nothing.”

Silence stretched on to the point Lance figured Shiro wasn’t going to talk to him and he was toying with the thought of switching places with Hunk. Not that would go well either; as if he had a better chance with Keith.

“I got back from my mission early,” Shiro quietly started. “And when I got out of my Lion, I noticed that Green was missing, so I, uh, tracked her location and hailed the pilot.” He ran a hand down his face. “I...never thought an answer would come. I thought maybe Green was searching for Pidge or something, that there was no one piloting.”

Lance’s eyes grew wide. He didn’t like where this was going. He had theories of what happened, but this...wasn’t one of them.

“So you can imagine my surprise when Katie answered the call.”

“Katie?!” He looked to Shiro to see if there was a trace of lies in his story and found none. “Katie - how?! Why-?”

“That’s what I’d like to know. Keith was with her, though,” Shiro sighed. “When they got back...I just - I just lost it, panicked, took it out on Keith. Didn’t even ask what happened. Refused to listen to him. I just...scolded him and left with Katie.”

Dumbfounded into silence, several doboshes passed before Lance spoke again, his mind riling with this new information. He understood Shiro’s reasons for being upset. Coming back from a mission to find the Green Lion missing to only figure out that the de-aged Green Paladin and, from what he understood from what little he could drag out of Katie, an armorless Keith flying around in space with a Lion neither of them could really control? Yeah. Of course, Shiro would be freaking out. It’s what he did when no one’s looking. So much could have gone wrong. Lance understood that - really, he did.

But Keith….

This wasn’t adding up.

“What I’m about to say, I’ll deny it to the grave if you ever repeat it to anyone,” said Lance at long last. “You’re close to Keith - you know him. Well, I’ve gotten to know him, too, and I know, as much as it pains me to say, Keith isn’t stupid. He’s a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. He’s impulsive and hot-tempered and headstrong and constantly puts himself in danger and makes us worry about him ‘cause he’s an idiot in that sense.” He paused to fidget with a loose string on the sleeve of his jacket. “But. He’s not stupid. He...he doesn’t put others in danger, if he can help it - especially Pidge. You know he’d do anything to protect her, protect any of us, really. So...what I’m getting at is this: I don’t think Keith took Green for a joyride with only Katie being able to pilot them back on purpose.”

Silence settled in again, Lance’s thoughts soaking into Shiro. “I’m...an ass.”

The quiet usage of a cuss word coming from Shiro surprised him into laughing, which he quickly muffled with his hand. “Sorry, sorry,” he apologized, but he had nothing to be sorry for; Shiro was smiling a little and it felt like everything was going to be okay now. “That’s one way to put it, yes.”

Shiro rested his head in his hands, breathing out, “I messed up.”

“Hey,” Lance said gently, nudging his side. “It’s okay. We all mess up. Heck, I’m the king of it.”

He weakly cracked a smile. “Well, I think I’ve stolen your crown for this one, your majesty.”

“I want it back,” he chuckled and climbed to his feet, “It doesn’t suit you. Now let’s go fix this.”

Shiro grasped the hand Lance offered, pulling himself up. “It doesn’t suit you either, you know.” He cocked his head to the side, trying to catch his eye when he looked away. “You’re not a screw up, Lance. Definitely not the king of it.”

“Shiro….”
“I mean it.”

“Th-thanks, man.” Shyly, Lance scratched the back of his neck as they began making their way back to the others. “That reminds me. I should probably apologize.”

“For?” he prompted.

“When I was watching Katie and she wasn’t listening at times or just running around and I had to make sure she didn’t hurt herself, I realized that...that is probably how you feel - and my parents - like, every single day when dealing with me - us, the team.” He bumped his shoulder into Shiro’s upper arm. “So, sorry for that. I’ll try to do better.”

Shiro paused at the sudden, unnecessary apology and confession before smiling a bit and ruffling Lance’s hair, him protesting with a squawk of displeasure. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t mind it.”

Flatting down his hair the best he could without a mirror or brush, he snorted, “Okay, yeah. Remember that the next you have to scold me on a mission.”

“Thought you said you’d do better?” he countered.

“Try,” he corrected. “I said I’d try. No promises, though.”

Shiro groaned goodnaturedly before hooking an arm around Lance’s neck, bringing him in close for a headlock, and thoroughly turning his hair into a wild bird’s nest.

-------

Now that Lance had located Shiro, Hunk felt it was time to approach Keith. Finding him was the easy part - the training deck, sweat soaking his clothes and hair, as they had figured he’d be. Getting him to talk, however, was not. The Gladiator in front of him had his full attention, which Hunk couldn’t blame because, well, it’s main focus was to fight without mercy and getting in touch with one’s feelings was a huge distraction and distractions would lead to injuries, so he waited.

As soon as Keith defeated a simulation and before the next level could drop from the ceiling, Hunk barked, “End training sequence!”

Keith lowered his knife with a huff, almost relieved for the sudden break. “What is it, Hunk?”

“Look, man,” he said, easing his way over to his friend, “we need to talk about what happened.” There was no way Keith wanted to talk about it or would seek out a person to talk to, so that left Hunk with this somewhat use of force. It was for his own good, the good of the team.

He used the bottom of his shirt to wipe away the sweat collected on his face. “No, we don’t,” he grunted, taking the water pouch Hunk offered. Chugging down nearly half of it, he coughed and panted, “Thanks.”

Hunk spotted the bandage on Keith’s left forearm when he wiped some water from his chin. He cocked his head, pointing at the area on his own arm. “What happened there?”

“What?” He glanced at the spot Hunk was referring to as if he had forgotten it was there. “Oh, that.” Keith shrugged, taking another sip of water and avoiding eye contact. “The Gladiator got me earlier. It’s - it’s just a scratch. It’s nothing.”

A scratch, huh? The Gladiator did not leave scratches. It left gashes, trauma, if the safety settings were off . Hunk knew that those were always on for their safety, so that was a lie. And Keith? Keith has to be forced into a healing pod, all the while claiming he’s fine when he clearly was so not fine at all. He didn’t do bandages, especially not for a scratch, unless absolutely necessary, so that was lie number two. Hunk recalled then that Katie had bandages, too, on her knee and palms, and Coran had told them how poorly she reacted to the idea of a health scan. And it clicked.

Keith, you dumb softy.

“Right, right,” Hunk said slowly, doing his best not to call him out on his boldface lies. Had he not known Keith better, he would’ve been insulted, hurt. “You and Shiro hardly ever fight and when you do, you guys never take this long to make up. So what’s wrong, what happened?” Still, Keith remained tight lipped. He glanced at the little bandage again. “It’s upsetting Katie, y’know.”

The mention of Katie made him flinch, white-knuckle his blade’s handle. “I...I messed up.”

He blinked at that. “Well, yeah. Kinda already figured that out and -”

“No, Hunk,” he sighed, frustrated. “I really, really messed up.”

“We all mess up, dude. That’s life. You do it, you deal with it, and you move on.”

Keith shook his head. “Not like this.”

“Then tell me,” he pleaded. “Vent to me. I’m not here to judge, I’m here to help you, please.”

It took several quiet doboshes to collect his thoughts, sort out his feelings and facts. But Keith talked, explained everything - every detail, every reaction from Katie and Green, every raw emotion coursing through his body when things went sour, when Shiro found out. Hunk listened in amusement, awe, and terror throughout the story. It made sense now, their reactions and sulking. It was all a misunderstanding on Shiro’s part while Keith was clearly trying to correct his mistake.

Hunk gaped in stunned silence, unable to think of an appropriate response. “If it helps,” he blurted anyway, “when I was watching Katie, I left her alone with the mice in the kitchen for a few minutes. The food goo dispenser was going haywire when I got back - goo was literally everywhere - and Katie was crying behind the counter.”

It was Keith’s turn to stare at Hunk. Finding only honesty, he fiddled with his knife, turning it over and over in his hands. “That’s been glitching for a while,” he finally offered after wiping at a smug on the blade. It was a low priority on the repairs list, so they just dealt with it. “It was bound to happen eventually.”

“Well, it happened when I left her alone.”

“That’s not your fault, Hunk.”

He half shrugged. “Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Doesn’t change what I did, or how much it upset Katie for thinking she broke something. But I fixed it - I got her and the mice out of there, Coran distracted Shiro, I asked Lance to come back and up me clean up the mess I made, and we swore each other to secrecy. That was my fault, but, Keith, this? This isn’t your fault. Katie was drawn to Green, and you couldn’t have know what either of them were thinking. You and I both know that you can’t make a Lion do anything.”

He thought about it before mumbling, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”

Hunk told himself to be the guiding hand, not the backhand of a reality check. Force never healed anything. “So now we fix this.”

“How?”

“Talk to Shiro.”

Keith shook his head, stubborn. “No, he doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“Yes, he does.”

“How do you know-?”
Hunk held up his phone, showing Keith his messages from Lance. The most recent one said that they were on their way to the lounge and that Shiro wanted to talk, as Hunk had promised. “Yes, he does.”

-------

Keith and Hunk made it to the lounge first, but they were not alone. Katie made her presence known when she squealed their names and slammed head first into Keith’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him, and wrapped herself around his leg in a way that reminded him of a python. Apologies and promises and tears soaked into his pants as he tried and failed to pull her off.

He looked to Hunk and Allura - even the mice - and found no help in them. Resigning himself to the situation, Keith patted Katie’s head and awkwardly bent down to her level. “You’re not in trouble, little bit. Why are you crying?”

“Be-because,” she sobbed, “Shiro’s - Shiro’s mad at ya-you a-and it’s...my fa-faul-t.” He rubbed away the tears streaming down her cheeks and she sniffled and breathed deep for a moment to calm herself. She paused. Hand over her nose, Katie pulled away, commenting, “And you stink, Keith.”

His nose wrinkled in disgusted when he sniffed the inside of his shirt and ignored the snickering coming from Allura and Hunk. He’d been training for hours, he wasn’t going to smell nice and Hunk didn’t give him time to shower beforehand. “Thanks,” he said dryly. “Listen, this isn’t your fault, and Shiro isn’t -”

“Yes, he is. Don’t lie,” she said, chest heaving and voice cracking.

“I’m not mad at him, Katie.”

The group turned to find Shiro and Lance lingering at the entrance of the lounge. Katie took it upon herself then to completely detangle from Keith and march her way over and plant herself, hands on her hips and chin high, in front of Shiro. “I’m sorry, Shiro. Don’t be mad at Keith,” she demanded with a glare and wavering bottom lip.

That felt more like a threat than an apology somehow.

Shiro squatted. “I’m not mad at you or him,” gingerly thumbing away wayward tears on her scrunched up face. He made sure to make eye contact with Keith when he repeated, “I’m not mad. I was in the wrong on this.”

“Then say you’re sorry!” Katie grabbed his hand, not giving him much choice in the matter, and pulled him the short distance to Keith; she grabbed his hand, too. Looking up at the both of them expectantly, she tugged at their fingers and stomped her foot as more tears threatened to spill over. “Say you’re sorry.”

Before she could breakdown to more hiccuped sobs and forced apologies were made to appease her, Lance stepped in and easily scooped her up. “Let’s give Keith and Shiro a moment, kiddo.” His gaze shifted between the two, wordlessly telling them that he had Katie. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “They’re not good with emotions.”

Katie rubbed at her eyes, sucked up some snot, then mumbled, “Emotional constipation.”

The newly dubbed emotionally constipated pair blinked at that. Shiro was doing a impression of a fish when Keith cocked his head, that wording oddly familiar, asking, “Do you even know what that means?”

“Yes. Hunk told me so.”

Hunk and Lance looked away guilty and - they totally watched Tarzan without him.

“I think he means,” said Shiro, regaining his senses, “do you know what ‘constipation’ means?”

With a straight face, somewhat smugly despite the tear-stained cheeks and snotty nose, Katie shared her wisdom with the group. “It means you can’t poop.”

Allura rubbed at her temple while Lance and Hunk bit back their laughter from Shiro’s shocked and mildly alarmed expression. Keith, on the other hand, nodded slowly, eyes slightly wide, and told himself not to be impressed. He was, though, but refused to announce it, a little peeved that they watched one of the few Disney movies he actually enjoyed without him.

“Yeah, so, if we’re done sharing new words” - Lance dropped his voice to mumbled - “that you probably shouldn’t be saying.” He shooed Shiro and Keith with his hand - and his foot a few times. “You two should go poop out your emotions.”

“There has to be a better way to say that,” Allura groaned to herself, to the mice, to the universe.

He ignored that comment, enjoying the vein bulging on Keith’s forehead a little too much. “Hunk, get the tissues. This could get messy.”

Shiro and Keith glanced at each other, sighed, and went off to talk somewhat privately on the other side of the lounge. All the while Allura smothered her face into her palms, groaning louder and longer, because Lance and Hunk decided to draw up questions. If you compared emotional constipation to real constipation, does that mean suppressed emotions are like poop? Did that mean talking things out was equal to drinking prune juice? That tears were the same release as finally taking a dump?

Katie found the subject to be gross and fascinating all in one, at long last smiling and giggling.

Not too long after the philosophy lesson concluded, and Allura was thoroughly done with the legs of Voltron, Shiro and Keith hugged, signalling the end of their own talk. The tension present earlier that day was gone when they returned to their collected relief.

Katie wasted no time in re-greeting them, sensing that everything was fine now. She flung herself at Shiro’s neck first when he got close enough to Lance and then stretched out an arm to hook Keith into the hug as well. Humming contently, she nuzzled her head against theirs, ignoring the lingering sweat from Keith’s hair and prickly and itchy feeling from Shiro’s, and give them each a kiss on the cheek. Just as quickly, she pulled away and turned to bear-hug Lance, planting a kiss on his cheek, too. Hunk was next - him giving her one in return - and then Allura, who’s heart clearly melted and took the longest to break the sudden embrace. Not to leave anyone out that were actually present in the room and after being set on the floor, Katie scooped up the mice and placed a little peck on the top of their heads.

“You’re oddly affectionate today,” commented Hunk.

She blinked up at them as the mice crawl onto her shoulders, excitedly chattering away. “Because we’re friends again. I love you guys.” Katie smiled so radiantly no one would have known she had cried and sulked most of the day. “I’m happy!”

Chapter Text

For the second morning in a row, Keith was awoken to the sound of his name being whispered, in what he considered to be the predawn hours. He grunted and ignored it, ignored her. It was too early. His body ached from exhaustion and overexertion. No way, nope. She’d go back to sleep soon.

Katie nudged his shoulder, shifting the blanket. “Keith. Wake up. Keith, hey. Keith…. Keith.”

Or not.

Keith swallowed the thick saliva in his mouth. “Katie, please,” he mumbled, his words somewhat slurring together. His eyes remained closed, keep his sleeping position. He refused to be awake at this hour. Refused to allow his body to think it was awake. “It’s still too early. Go back to sleep.”

“But I want to play.” Her pouting was tangible.

How could she possibly be awake? Last night was the latest she’s stayed up - well, since she de-aged, that is - watching movie after movie. First it was Atlantis: The Lost Empire, then Treasure Planet, and most of The Aristocats - Katie fell asleep singing about how she wanted to be a cat. So how was she willingly up right now?

He missed Pidge. She’d let him sleep. “We’ll play later,” he mumbled into his pillow.

“I want to play now,” she whined, putting her weight - all thirty-two pounds of it - on his shoulder. Katie leaned over and stared at him upside down, hair falling where it may. It didn’t seem to bother him, weight and bony limbs pressing into him or being smothered with hair, and had fallen back to sleep. “Keith,” she growled, impatient.

A little finger being stuck into his ear jolted him awake. Katie backed off in time to keep herself from falling head first off the bed and being swatted or knocked over by Keith, who grumbled her name and glared sleepily in her direction. “I want to play now, please,” she repeated slowly, politely.

As if that helped.

The only manners that mattered at this ungodly hour were the ones that allowed a sleeping person to continue sleeping and to keep noise to a minimum to keep said sleeping person from waking.

Keith rolled over to his other side to face her, grunting, “Fine.”

“Really?! What should we play first?” He was tired and they had done what she want to do yesterday. It was only fair to let him pick.

“I’ve got a game.”

“You do?”

He nodded, eyelids fighting to stay open and humming a reply in the back of his throat.

Curious, she watched his hand fumble around until he found her head. “What’s it called?”

“The Go-Back-to-Sleep game,” answered Keith, gently pushing her back to the mattress. It didn’t take much effort; she had done most of it herself, falling over in frustration. Katie groaned a few ticks into laying still and tried to get up, only to have Keith’s entire hand go to her face and nudge her back to the comfort of the pillows and sheets and warmth of the bed. “Shhh,” he told her. “We’re playing the game.”

Flopping down in defeat, a stray hand smacking Keith on the cheek in doing so, Katie whined, “This isn’t a game!”

He shushed her again, unfazed. “Yes, it is, and I’m winning.”

Winning or not meant nothing to her. She wanted to play - a real game - and when she finally looked over at Keith to tell him so, after pouting at the ceiling for a while, she found him fast asleep. Huffing, Katie realized that Keith was not going to play with her, though she had asked politely and let him decide what fun game they should do. Once his breathing had slowed and deepened, Katie lovely patted the arm he had flung over her to keep her in place before wiggling herself free of him and the tangled blankets.

Keith never reacted to her absence, nor to her telling him to have sweet dreams as she tiptoed out of his room.

The hallway was dark, with pockets of voids where the ground should be and outstretched shadows from the dimmest of blue lights located on pillars high above, and Katie let herself into Lance’s room without hesitation. Panting, she padded her way through a midfield of clothes on the floor and crawled onto the mattress. It was safe - there were blankets and pillows and another person, no bad things could reach her.

Chills subsiding, she crawled closer to Lance to ask if he’d play with her - surely, he would. But no matter how much she shook him or called his name, he never fully woke up. Mumbling and grunting answered her instead, the only coherent thing she heard was him telling her to go back to bed and calling her by a different name. She wanted to correct him, say that her name was “Katie,” not “Nadia,” but Lance was lightly snoring again, headphones secured over his ears and eyelids closed to the world.

Katie pouted as she eased herself off the bed and exited the room the same way she had Keith’s, more determined than ever to wake up someone to play.

Hunk’s room was much farther down than Lance’s. She had to pass Keith’s and Shiro’s and some other room to do so. Her steps were light but quick as cold shadows followed behind just shy of touching her, just shy of spiriting her away. The closing of Hunk’s door severed that prickling feeling of being watched and chased, her wiping at the back of her neck finished the job.

Hunk had slept weird, she noticed. He liked to sleep in the opposite direction of how he should, having his head at the foot of the bed, so that’s where she went. Standing on her toes, Katie got a good look at his peaceful, loudly snoring face. She almost didn’t have the heart to wake him.

Almost.

“Hunk,” she called. When no reaction came, she pinched his nose closed. A funny sound came out in place of the snores and Hunk’s face contorted into something equally as silly. “Hunk, wake up.”

And he did.

Gasping and sputtering, he flailed around until his eyes popped open. He nearly fell off the bed when he spotted Katie ever-so innocently staring at him a bit too close. Groggily, Hunk ran a hand down his face, asking, “What’s wrong, Katie? Why are you - where’s Keith?”

“He’s asleep and won’t play with me,” she grumbled, crossing her arms.

Oh, how dare he. It was only the middle of the night, a perfectly reasonable time to wake up after training most of the day to appease the whims of a child. “And so should you,” he pointed out. “It’s still night time, go back to sleep.”

Katie paused, thought about it. “We’re in space. It’s always night time.”

Why did she have to not only be smart, but be a smartass as well? “People got to sleep, too, kid - even in space.” Hunk laid back down on his side and nudged her with his hand toward the door. “Now go before he wakes up and freaks out that you’re not there.”

Doubtful of that, she stuck out her bottom lip on her way out the door, Hunk’s already growing snores following close behind. There was one room left. She turned her head to the direction she had just came from. A dim light peeked from under his door that hadn’t been there before. Maybe that meant….

Her feet took where she needed, eyes trained on the light and nothing else, and before she knew it, she was tapping on the door and wiggling her toes and rocking back and forth on her heels in anticipation. For some reason, it felt...wrong to simply walk in like she had with Hunk and Lance, so she raised her hand again and -

Light carved a path in the darkness, a large shadow overtaking hers as she blinked and rubbed her eyes against the sudden brightness.

Shiro squatted down at the shock of seeing her at his door. “Katie? What’re you -? Where’s -?”

“He’s asleep,” she sighed, as if repeating the information he didn’t know was a chore. “I wanna play.”

“Play?” Questions swirled in his head as he tried to tame her wild bedhead when she stepped closer. It was - well, it felt like it was -  roughly between five and six in the morning. Why-? “Why are you awake?”

She shrugged. “‘Cause I am.”

Simple as that, huh?

“Why are you awake?”

That wasn’t as simple.

“To, uh...play with you?”

Katie smiled and patted his arm as she squeezed between him and the door frame. “You’re my favorite, Shiro.”

He both believed and doubted that, but he smiled all the same. “You’re my favorite, too.” The door closed behind him when he stood and followed her. “Does Keith know you’re here?”

Flinging herself into the bunk, she began to bounce on the bed. “What should we play first?”

That was a “no,” then.

He caught her in midair, receiving a snorted giggle, and held her at arm’s length, thin legs swaying idly. “No jumping on the bed, little monkey. Don’t wanna fall off and bump your head.”

Setting her on the floor, he turned to the shelf he had placed the tablet she left in the lounge and handed it to her. It wasn’t exactly what she wanted, but she didn’t complain and climbed into the bunk again. This time, she destroyed the perfectly made bed and rearranged the blanket and pillow into a cozy nest in the corner. He cocked an eyebrow at that, but followed her lead and didn’t complain, going back to what he was doing before: push-ups.

It wasn’t long before Katie grew bored of the nest and the silence and felt the need to stretch her legs. She eyed Shiro. Up, pause. Down, pause. Back up, pause, and down again, over and over. She’d been told before what push-ups were and why one did them, but she couldn’t wrap her head around it. They were hard to do - she’d know because she tried to do a few the first time she saw Shiro doing them - and they were supposed to make you stronger, but Shiro was already strong as it was. It was weird - he was weird. She didn’t get it. She just didn’t get it.

The tablet alerted her that her gaming avatar had died, due to her distraction, and Shiro’s attention drifted to her, eyebrow raised as if daring her to growl out a certain word she shouldn’t say. But she didn’t, to his surprise. Instead, Katie clambered off the bed and settled herself onto Shiro’s back, hers aligned with his. Dumbfounded into compliance, he blew the hair spilling over his shoulder out of his face and continued his steady push-ups until it felt right to stop, until his muscles were lead, until his head was his version of clear.

Not really sure what was happening or why, Shiro asked, “Wanna count for me?”

A familiar sound told him that the game had restarted. Katie hummed and jiggled one of her feet, the other pressed into his lower back. “Can’t you count?”

For some reason that made him snort. “I’m not that good at it.”

She paused the game. “Nuh-uh. Daddy says that you have to be good at numbers to go to space.”

“Oh, really? Well, maybe I want to see how well you can count.”

Her hand pawed its way to his face - it was always his face - and lovingly patted his cheek. “I’m a good counter. The best counter.”

“Then count,” he said, pushing up and starting it off with her until she had a rhythm.

Katie picked it up with him and immediately stopped, her fingers lingering on his left cheekbone. “Why is your face scratchy?”

He hung his head for a moment before answering, “Because I haven’t shaved yet.”

“Oh.” She flipped over to her stomach, as if she needed to see his face when she asked her next question. “Will my face be scratchy like yours when I’m big?”

“No,” he chuckled, “probably not.”

She made a noise that sounded like she understood, yet he found it hard to believe that she was satisfied with his answer because she was still touching his face. Actually, it was more like rubbing his face, with both hands - up, down, up, down, up, down, up -

“Do you have to do that?”

“It feels funny,” she told him, only slowing her pace.

“Yeah...yeah, it does. Can you please stop?”

“But it’s scratchy.” She ran her hand upward, announcing, “rough,” and then ran her hand downward, “smooth,” and repeated the motions again, continuing, “rough, smooth, rough, smooth.”

“Katie,” he warned.

Her hands disappeared from his face and reappeared on the sides and back of his head - the shaved part, to be specific. “This is scratchy, too! More scratchy.” Her fingers scrubbed their way through his hair in a way that reminded him of how one would rubbed a dog’s exposed belly. “Scratchy, scratchy, scratchy,” she chanted all the while before shifting her attention to the top of his head. “And this is” - she thoroughly ruffled the white part of his hair - “fluffy, fluffy, fluffy!”

Shiro failed to suppress a laugh. “Okay, okay, you’re messing up my hair.”

“I like it,” Katie confessed before flipping onto her back again, paused game in hand.

“Thank you.”

And they - then Katie alone - counted every time he pushed himself from the floor. Her voice and game converted to white noise in his head, the weight on his back was nothing but warmth. Shiro wasn’t sure when he stopped noticing her steady counting, or when she had stopped counting all together. Only when his body told him it was enough, that he had done enough to ease some of his anxiety, did he realize the silence in the room and Katie’s soft breathing.

Chapter Text

There’s a moment of blissful peace between sleeping and waking. And cruelly and too quickly, that moment is shattered by reality.

That’s where Keith found himself, jolting out of an empty bed with a black hole in his chest.

That’s where Lance found himself, jumping awake from Keith’s fist pounding on his door.

That’s where Hunk found himself, falling off his mattress when the right side of Voltron rushed to his room.

That crushing morning bitchslap of wakefulness and awareness would fade eventually, maybe, after breathing and forcing yourself to get up and face what laid ahead for the day.

It didn’t for them.

Anxiety was a peculiar thing. It keep you aware of your surroundings, of details, of important things. In small doses, it was helpful, lifesaving in some cases. In large doses? The opposite - panic, blind panic. A massive, miserable buzzing, suffocating, twisted yarn ball of dread and doom trapped in the too-small space of your chest and gut that would infect other parts if left to fester.

And that’s how the primary-colored, pajama cladded trio began their morning, storming the Castle of Lions in the search and safe recovery of their favorite brat of a de-aged teammate. High and low, odd places and obvious ones. Keith’s stunt the day before too fresh in their minds, they charged to the Lions’ Bays to find what they had and had not hoped - Black, Yellow, Blue, Red, and Green accounted for with no sign of Katie.

Breathing a minute fraction easier, they retraced their steps to the places Katie knew. Empty halls, empty kitchen and dining room, empty bedrooms, empty lounge and bridge and training deck - empty here and empty there, empty, empty, empty. Their collected anxiety endless when they regrouped empty handed and empty headed on what to do next.

Until….

“Where’s Shiro?”

Lance and Keith looked to Hunk as if he was crazy. Hiding things from Shiro was a terrible idea, but Keith could not deal with disappointing him again so soon. Just a bit longer, they could search for a bit longer before bringing Shiro into this. “No,” Keith shook his head, trying to clear it. But his mind wasn’t an Etch-A-Sketch, so the tangled scribbles remained and continued to grow. “No, we’ve had to have missed her somewhere. She’s tiny, maybe we - maybe we missed her?”

“I’ve only seen you guys, the Lions, and Coran,” Lance answered slowly. There were only seven of them aboard the titanic castleship, it wasn’t uncommon to wonder around for a while without running into another person.

“And I spotted Allura heading to the showers earlier.” Hunk looked to Keith. “What about you?”

“I haven’t seen anyone.”

“So, no one’s seen Shiro?”

“You know how he patrols the halls before breakfast,” Lance pointed out. It wasn’t difficult to lose a tail in these halls of a maze, either. “What’re you getting at, Hunk?”

The big guy huffed. “Don’t you get it? Don’t you find it weird that no one has seen Shiro anywhere, especially after all of the running around we’ve been doing?” He counted off his fingers as Keith and Lance exchanged glances. “So that means we have no Katie and no Shiro, but we have the Lions and empty common places to find them.” Shrugging, Hunk concluded his deduction with, “I’m going to stay on the positive side of this for once and say that they’re together. Has anyone checked Shiro’s room? ‘Cause I haven’t.”

Check Shiro’s room? That was so absurd. They knew Shiro. They knew he woke up long before they ever hoped to. They knew he had to do...something - patrol the halls, train, meditate - to work off his mental energy to relax. His room was, like the vast majority of the day and night, empty. Checking was a waste of time they did not have.

But as Hunk’s reasoning soaked in, that...didn’t seem so pointless after all.

Hope and dread mingled as Shiro’s bedroom door opened. Invading his space did not settle well with them - Shiro was private and gave them their space and so rarely stepped in theirs without a solid reason, but the guys had to know, had to be sure. Just to the left, in the dark bunk, laid a Shiro-shaped mass. It only shifted when a tiny figure popped up, rubbing her eyes with a yawn, to see what disturbed her slumber. Shiro lifted his head just enough to glare over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow in question and warning, at the trio of invaders before gently nudging Katie back down to the bed and she disappeared behind her guardian’s frame. When Shiro turned back to probably re-cover up Katie, the guys took that as a sign to promptly - quietly - make their exit with relief-induced jello legs.

-------

Later, once the chills and relief and anxiety faded and everyone was ready for the day, the team gathered at the dining table for the meeting all had been dreading.

There were no more options. No more places to visit, no star systems to comb through. No more people to ask about Pidge. No more files or computers or experiments to hack.

Nothing.

And still no answers.

“Surely, there’s something we’ve overlooked,” said Allura, breaking the silence that had fallen. “A person doesn’t just….” Her eyes landed on Katie at the far end of the table for a tick. Much like Pidge, Katie’s attention was focused onto a screen, the sound a bit louder than necessary, while she ate breakfast without complaint or encouragement from the mice gathered on her thin shoulders. “De-age like this,” she finished with a sigh.

“We’ve revisited every single location, going as far back as a week before this happened.” Shiro rubbed his forehead with his thumbs, elbows on the table in front him. “I don’t see how we missed anything.” He told himself to breathe, that patience yields focus. There was something. There had to be and they just weren’t seeing it. “But you’re right, Princess. This doesn’t just happen without reason.”

Keith latched onto that phrasing - this doesn’t just happen without reason. Revenge, payback, prank, karma - call it what you will, this suddenly felt intentional. “What if...somebody did this to her?” Everyone looked to Keith and he elaborated, though he had no room to talk. “Look, Pidge isn’t exactly… Pidge is Pidge, okay. She has an attitude and a smart mouth, maybe she snapped at the wrong person while on a mission and they….”

“Turned her into a little kid as a punishment?” guested Lance. “That’s stupid.”

“I don’t see you coming up with anything!”

“I’m not saying she isn’t those things, but she isn’t one to pick a fight with someone she doesn’t know.” She’d pick a fight with them, though, but only when she had a reason and the odds of winning were in her favor. Pidge wasn’t stupid.

“Maybe they started it,” Keith countered, “and Pidge defended herself.”

“She would’ve said something,” Hunk butted in. Pidge would always rant - uh, give a mission report once she returned and things calmed down a bit. But it’s been five days and counting, the verbal details of several missions in frustrated passing were fading. “Details and all that. I mean, the girl keeps tabs on everything and everyone and it’s all color-coded - she even has the exact shade of our Lions in her notes and tracks us with it.”

“Every mission?” questioned Shiro, daring to hope.

Hunk typed something onto Pidge’s laptop before spinning it around to show them an up-to-date, carefully color-coded map of their travels. “Yes, every mission and every stop and who went where and with who, for how long - nothing escapes her. No detail is too small. It’s a complete log of our movements, maybe not our personal interactions, but it’s still…a lot.”

Pidge was...unique. Information was her lifeblood, however dangerous that could be in the wrong hands. But knowledge and details calmed her, helped her take control of what she could, so they left her to her oddities. It’s saved their backsides on a number of occasions.

It was then Katie decided to remind everyone of her presence by turning up the volume on her tablet. Judging by the subtle music and speaker’s tone, it was an advertisement bragging about how great this new product was - the quickest results, the most satisfied customers, the best out there. Lance had a request for her to please turn it down on the tip of his tongue when a set of words caught his attention:

Youth serum.

After a wide-eyed blink and quick glance at one another, they were out of their seats and crowding around the small screen Lance took from Katie’s hands with an apology. Huffing a growl, Katie climbed onto the table and stood on her toes to peer down over Lance’s shoulder at the tablet to see what had everyone so curious.

Clips of before and after images flashed across the screen, an Unilu taking their place to discuss more while holding a small lilac vial in one of his hands. “Just a dab here, a dab there,” he was saying, presenting a practiced smile to the camera, “and you’re done. You’ll look and feel deca-phoebs younger! But don’t just take my word for, come on down and try it for yourself! Buy one, get the second one half price. If you’re not satisfied, get your money back guaranteed. We’re loc-”

The rest of the commercial went largely ignored when Shiro asked, “Hunk, when was the last time Pidge went to the Space Mall?”

“Who’s Pidge?” asked Katie, taking back her tablet while Hunk searched the laptop again.

A few beats passed, then a gasp. “The day before she turned into, you know….” They eyed the girl for a moment. “You don’t think…?”

“It’s safe to assume, I would think,” said Allura.

“That’s our girl,” Shiro breathed. “Search her room,” he told them, and the group raced to do what was asked of them. “You’re amazing, Hunk!”

“Aw, thanks,” he blushed. “I try.”

“I don’t remember her saying she was going there,” commented Keith, jogging along side Shiro. “What would she need? We don’t get our supplies from there.”

“Hey, hey,” Katie pestered impatiently, tugging on Lance’s sleeve when he scooped her up to follow. “Who’s Pidge? They your friend?”

Lance hesitated. He didn’t know whether to lie or tell her the truth at this point. Would she understand? Would she even believe him? “Um. Well. You see….”

And then she blinked up at him with those big hazel eyes and cocked her head to the side in the cutest possible way and -

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t bring himself to lie or tell the truth. Didn’t know how to. “Yeah,” he finally said, coming to a stop with the team in front of Pidge’s bedroom door. “Yeah, she is.”

“Make way, make way!” said Coran as he wormed his way to the front. “We don’t know what’s going on in there, and we can’t have anymore children running a muck in the castle.” Though Katie glared at that, no one protested and he, far too boldly and dramatically, squared his shoulders and marched into the war zone of Pidge’s room with his head held high. “Crazy Earthling biology,” was mumbled as the door closed.

Comment ignored, the Paladins and Allura waited patiently in the hall.

And by patiently, that meant they were either pacing or statue-still, fist clenching and foot tapping, cut glances and held breathes until Coran emerged with a backpack in hand. A crystal vial, much smaller than what the commercial had made it seem, was pulled out and carelessly laid in his open palm. There were a few drops worth of lilac serum at the bottom. To further prove this was what they believed it to be, Coran dabbed it to the corners of his eyes.

“Oh! It smells quite lovely,” he informed them, waving the open vial under his nose.

Allura edged closer with the guys at her back, tilting her head this way and that, eyes narrowed. Did Coran always have this many wrinkles? “Is it working? Do you feel anything?”

“It tingles a bit.”

“That could be a reaction,” commented Hunk. “Doesn’t mean it’s working.”

“Or it could mean it is working,” she argued.

“But he’s so old we can’t tell the difference,” Lance added, readjusting Katie on his hip. She giggled at that.

Coran did not.

“But why would Pidge have that stuff?” asked Keith. What fifteen-year-old - that looked younger than her age - would want or need youth serum? Maybe someone did do this to her. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“And why did she go to the Space Mall in the first place?” Shiro brought up.

“Oh, that reminds me!” Coran picked up the backpack he had dropped at his feet. “I found this as well,” he said, fishing out a box.

It was a colorful box. A very...Earth-like box, with familiar letters and designs. Collectively, the guys sighed and rolled their eyes. Of course. Of course that would be why Pidge went to the Space Mall alone.

For a video game.

Shiro grasped the worn box, flipping it over and correcting himself. It wasn’t a video game, but a video game piece. An extra glove for Killbot Phantasm. He didn’t even know that the glove alone was available. “Well, that answers why she was there.”

“I wanna see,” Katie begged, and Shiro passed it to her to inspect.

Hunk looked to Keith, asking, “How did she even get the GAC for that?” When Keith shrugged his answer, Hunk looked to Lance. “How did you two pay for it the first time?”

Shiro glanced in his direction, silently echoing the question, and Lance suddenly wondered if stealing money from the bottom of mall fountains was legal. It probably wasn’t. It felt like it wasn’t. But they had zero money and Pidge really, really quiznaking wanted the video game and they were missing home, so...fountain diving they went. “I-I have my ways,” he said too quickly, too high pitched.

“What kind of ways?” asked Katie, and once again, Shiro eyed him.

Thankfully, Lance didn’t have to incriminate himself or Pidge because Allura interrupted the interrogation. “We don’t have time for that. Let’s go to the mall and see if we can figure out exactly what happened to Pidge while she was there.”

“Great idea!” Lance, again, said too loudly. “Let’s do that, Princess!” And he lead the charge to the bridge for a wormhole jump, all failing to notice the increasing lack of wrinkles around Coran’s eyes.

-------

“Mall’s closed.”

The team balked at the security guard’s statement, but what surprised them more was Allura. “Excuse me?” she demanded in such a way that the Paladin’s spines instantly straightened. Pleasant and diplomatic as she was, Princess Allura had the commanding power of a general, the will-breaking expectations of a drill sergeant. She was radiant as she was terrifying. One did not simply deny her of what she requested. “It’s early evening. How is the mall closed?”

Unfortunately, they were quite far from the Space Mall and the castleship couldn’t wormhole the entire distance. It was decided they’d travel what was left in leisure, doing what was needed or wanted to be done around the castle - train, cooking and clean, maintenance, relax with movies. The slight change of plan was nothing but a welcomed break. But this? This was not.

“Explain yourself,” Allura demanded when the guard lazily blinked up at her from his seat.

He rubbed the sleep from his eye. “Look, lady,” he yawned. “Like I said, mall’s closed. Nothing’s gonna change that.” His blurry gaze shifted back to the security video feeds in front of him. “Come back tomorrow.”

Allura drew in a breath; the Paladin’s held theirs. “I understand, but…” Eyebrow ticking and forehead vein popping, she smacked her fist against the counter separating them, startling the poor guard, and wildly gestured to Katie behind her. “We need to go inside. This is a serious situation!”

The security guard eyed the slightly cracked counter a moment before looking at the group behind her, then at Allura. “Ma’am,” he exhaled with tired patience, “I just work here. Please don’t make me call for backup.”

“I will gladly-!"

“Leave,” interrupted Shiro with a smile, placing a firm hand on Allura’s shoulder before she got them all arrested by mall cops. He had stupidly forgotten Allura could be as hot-headed as Keith. “Thank you, sir. We’ll be leaving now.” Carefully, he guided her away, ignoring her glaring and grumbled swearing, and the team followed in stunned silence. Well, except for Katie, who leaned over Hunk’s shoulder and stuck her tongue out at the man doing his job. “Sorry for the trouble.”

-------

The task of calming down Princess Allura fell to the mice and Katie.

Camaraderie between the girls was formed through the mutual dislike of a single security guard denying them entry to the mall. They ranted and scoffed until the anger bled from their systems. The mice began to play with their hair to soothe them from the high of their frustrations. It working, Allura hummed contently and combed and braided and re-braided Katie’s hair; the mice helped her do the same for the Princess, though, not as nicely done.

Later, once everyone was in their pajamas, Lance and Hunk and Coran spied that the venting was over and quickly dragged Keith and Shiro with them. They brought along extra blankets and pillows and settled into the mattresses once again lining the flooring of the lounge. No one spoke of Allura’s outburst and she didn’t apologize out right for it, though she was embarrassed by her behavior.

Instead, they sprawled out in comfort and helped tell stories to Katie at her request.

“Okay, okay,” appeased Shiro, “I have a story I think you’ll like.”

“Really?” Katie asked in awe, snuggling into her blanket and hugging a small pillow. “What’s it about?”

He glanced at the others, each quietly nodding their approval. They had talked about this while Katie was in the shower; it was right to tell her now. He hoped she understood their reasons for waiting, hoped it wouldn’t upset her. “Well,” he began, smiling softly, “it’s a story about Pidge.”

She perked up. “Your friend Pidge?”

“Yes, our friend Pidge.” He paused for a tick, wondering how to start, if there was a way to start. “She’s brave and strong and the smartest person I know - smallest and most sarcastic, too. But Pidge is an amazing person, a great friend. She’s...a Paladin of Voltron, the pilot of the Green Lion….”

Chapter Text

Kids are amazing.

Sure, they could be loud and obnoxious and relentless and restless and so many, many things that tested one’s sanity and resolve on a daily - sometimes hourly - biases -

But.

They were ultimately, in simple summary, awing . Carefree and open-minded and accepting and so incredibly resilient.

And that’s where Katie was. The following morning, after unloading the truth bomb of her situation to her, she was laughing and smiling and running around the Lions’ Bay. Questions ran faster than her feet could carry her, eyes sparkled brighter than any light off polished Paladin armor, and giggles that reminded them of a home far, far away. And there she was, unfazed by it all.

There were questions - hard questions and some tears - but when asked if she was upset, she said that she wasn’t and when later asked if she understood, she nodded that she did. They weren’t completely convinced if she understood it all, but she was trying and she knew enough. Kids were smart and picked up on things most wouldn’t, Katie included, and they couldn’t help but marvel.

When Lance called her for to come back, that they had to get going, Katie skipped back to the group with a smile. “Can we take my Lion?” she asked, breathless and face flushed pink. “Please?”

A collected pause, followed by a “No” had all the joy sucked out of her. Looking back at the Lions she just fawned over, after telling them how pretty and big and strong and good they were and how much she loved them all - not just Green, Katie pouted and turned back to bat her eyelashes at the guys. “Please?” she tried again, summoning all of her cuteness. “Keith said I’m the best pilot ever.”

All eyes turned to Keith and heat crawled up his neck.

He told himself to ignore the stares, ignore the big pleading eyes of her underhanded tactic. Katie was not going to fly Green until she was Pidge again. There was not going to be a repeat of that. “We’ll take Red.”

Her jaw dropped, insulted and betrayed. Slowly, she lowered herself to the floor in disbelief and laid on her back, crossing her arms with a “Hmph!” and refused to look at anyone.

At a lose, Keith glanced at Lance, wordlessly asking him to do something. To which Lance gave him a You-Did-It-You-Fix-It look. Annoyed with Lance’s face and Katie’s unreasonableness, Keith looked to Hunk and Shiro, and then Allura and Coran, only to get the same silent answer.

He should’ve known telling her that was going to come back and bite him.

There was a quiet tension, a quiet standoff - or maybe stubborn-off was a better word - between the arms of Voltron. But neither would budge. Not when Keith snatched Katie up by her ankles and gently swung her side to side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock as he carried her toward the Red Lion’s open mouth. Not when Lance and Hunk poked at her sides, though she did giggle, briefly, and clamped a hand of her mouth, remembering that she was angry. Not when Keith set her back on her feet inside the cockpit. Nope, she crawled into his lap and put her hands over his like he had done for her with Green.

“I’m your co-pilot,” she stated when he raised an eyebrow her, head held high as if she hadn’t just thrown a small tantrum.

Keith looked to the team for guidance again, only to receive teasing shrugs. He looked to his Lion for wisdom, only to receive amused silence. He looked to the girl perched on his knee. “Fine,” he relented, “whatever.”

Katie might not have gotten her way completely, but she was still a little too smug. Everyone simply shook their heads and, as Red soared through open space to their destination, they came to a dawning conclusion:

They had quiznaking spoiled her.

-------

Turns out that parking at a space mall was equally as horrible as a Earth mall. Maybe even worse, depending on who you asked. Toss in Katie vibrantly, repeatedly and mercilessly, singing: “We’re going on a trip in our favorite rocketship! Zooming through the sky, little Paladins!” and having to land Red so far away that they had to take a shuttle pod to get inside, Keith swore that the Trials of Marmora were less stressful. It was the first, and therefore the busiest, day of a new movement and, again, Keith wondered how could space be so vast, yet have so many people gather to the same location, at the same time for - what? Shopping and lame background music? Cheap games and crappy food? He never understood the appeal of it, and the rest of the guys made the smart choice of letting Keith brood himself out of his introverting mood.

But while the Paladins, for the most part, suffered through their endeavours, Katie was bouncing around in excitement over how cool every little thing she saw. Holding her hand didn’t seem to be enough to keep track of her, especially with it being so crowded and her tendency to get distracted and wander off. To ease their collected anxieties and sanities, Shiro decided that the best way to carry out Operation Turn-Katie-Back-Into-Pidge-While-Allura-Hunts-For-Something-Shiny-And-Never-Let-Lance-Name-Anything-Ever-Again was to have her perched on Hunk’s shoulders.

She also liked feeling tall, which, apparently, was something not even age could change.

“Anyone else feel like we’ve, ya know, wasted the last couple of days?” The team looked to Lance to elaborate as they maneuvered through an ocean of bodies. The more they walked, the more Lance began to understand Keith’s pisspoor mood. He liked people, but this was excessive. Also, it was hot and people keep bumping into him. “Well,” - he quickly glanced up at Katie - “maybe not wasted it wasted it but - I mean, it feels like we did all that searching and stuff for nothing. The answer was right under our noses if we’d just...looked closer.”

“Yeah, I get what you mean,” agreed Hunk. “I was expecting something - I dunno - weirder? Spacey-er? Like some random time-pocket-thingy got Pidge, or a space curse, or she ate a space fruit, or something not, you know, alien youth serum from a mall.”

Ever the wise leader, Shiro commented, “Not every extraordinary problem requires an extraordinary solution.” He shrugged, studying the storefronts. “We made a mistake, it happens. Learn from it.”

Hunk narrowed his eyes and stared at the back of Shiro’s head until it became too much for him to take and made eye contact with Hunk to make it freaking stop. “What comic book did you get that from?”

He simply rolled his eyes and continued to walk.

“Movie?” Hunk pressed on, then snapped his fingers. “Anime! It’s from an anime or manga, isn’t it? Man, Pidge was right. You and Matt-”

“I didn’t get it from anything,” Shiro said calmly, willing his right eyebrow to stop twitching in annoyance at the guy basically wearing a ninja headband. Today was not going as planned. But he refused to snap at his team over something so trivial.

“Alright then,” mumbled Hunk, “keep your secrets.”

“Secrets don’t make friends,” Katie scolded.

When Hunk echoed the phrase back, Lance teasingly echoing it as well, Shiro reminded himself that patience was a virtue. That he was the oldest, the leader, that he needed to be the level-headed, mature one and to guide and support the team. But when Lance, followed by Hunk and Katie, started singing about the magic of friendship, Shiro wondered it he should get himself a vial of the youth serum that started this mess. And when Keith snapped at the guys to stop, which started an argument between him and Lance - “If you’d just searched her room, we wouldn’t be in this situation!” and “Oh, I’m sorry! I was a bit busy freaking out that Pidge was turned into a kid! But, sure, my first reaction should’ve been to check her garbage room, not keep her from crying. You’re so right, Keith, my bad!” Shiro decided through the squabbling at his back that he should get at least two vials because these kids were aging him faster than any Galra prison ever did.

-------

Once they finally stood in front of the quiet store, it emiating a perfume-like odor with the doors closed, Shiro looked every one of them in the eye, carefully stating, “Let me do the talking. No fighting,” he looked to Keith, then to Lance, “no flirting. No touching anything,” he finished, eyeing Katie and Hunk. “Got it?”

They grumbled that they got it and obediently entered the store in a line.

“Welcome, welcome!” greeted the very same Unilu from the commercial. “What can I do you for?”

Shiro plastered a pleasant smile on his face as he approached the countertop of the front register littered with various testing samples. “Hi, my friend was in here a few days ago and, well, I think she used your youth serum and it worked a little too well on her.” He casually pointed a finger at Katie, who shyly waved before tucking herself behind Hunk. “I was wondering if you could...help me? Do you have an aging serum or something similar?”

The Unilu lazily scratched at his scraggly beard, gaze jumping between the humans before him. “Hmm, I’ll see what I can do. What did she look like before?”

Retrieving his phone from a pocket, sensing Lance and Keith shift uncomfortably behind him, Shiro scrolled and scrolled and scrolled before pulling up a decent picture of Pidge. He didn’t take pictures often, but when he did, they were mostly goofy ones, fun ones, so a group selfie would have to do. Pidge had taken it, only achieving this by sitting on Shiro’s right shoulder and having the others gathered around and looking directly up. None of them were really smiling, annoyance or indifference clear on their faces and a few mouths were caught open mid-sentence; Pidge was smirking at the camera, pleased with herself for whatever she had said to work them up. Too many pictures were taken to get this not-even-half-decent one, but Shiro hadn’t had the heart to delete them.

“Like this,” Shiro said, showing him the photo. “Do you have anything that can help her?”

Uponing closely studying the picture of Pidge, the Unilu’s demeanor changed. He straightened his spine, crossed his too many arms, and...was that a smirk? “Not for her I don’t.”

“Not for her you don’t?” demeaned Keith as he stepped forward, the only thing keeping him from grabbing the guy by the collar was Shiro using his arm as a barrier.

Diplomacy. Shiro needed to be diplomatic. Violence wouldn’t solve this. Quiznak, he wished Allura had stayed with them. “What you do you mean by that?”

“I meant what I said,” the alien replied, as if that alone was a sufficient answer. “Yeah, that brat,” jabbing one of his numerous fingers at Katie, who yelled back that she was not a brat, “was in here the other day. Came in here to hide from security and destroyed my shop!”

There was too much to unpack from that, so Shiro went with, upon briefly inspecting the clean and fully intact store, “She wouldn’t do that, and your shop looks fine.” Though, there was time to patch it up if Pidge had so-called “destroyed” it. But he knew Pidge. She wouldn’t...would she?

He wavered. “Well. She - she tracked a ton of water in here! There were puddles - lots of them, everywhere. Someone could’ve slipped, someone could’ve gotten hurt - and sue me.” Flicking a wrist dismissively, he sneered, “Take your problems elsewhere.”

Statue-still and flanking him, Keith and Lance and Hunk simmered with rage. Shiro was with them in spirit, but he ordered himself to talk this out. He could still fix this, he had to. “Okay,” he slowly began, raising an open hand in a non-threatening way, “let’s say she did ruin your shop -”

“She did!”

Biting back a groan, Shiro continued, “Why is she de-aged if she clearly wasn’t your customer?” When the man started to sweat, he pressed, “C’mon, I know you have something to reverse this. Let us pay for it and we’ll be on our way and never step foot in here again. Sound good?”

Yellow eyes flickered to somewhere behind Shiro, narrowing. “Or I could call security for shoplifting.”

Instinctively, shamefully, Shiro turned to Keith, as did the others. It wouldn’t be the first time, if what the Unilu was implying was correct. He didn’t want to believe it, he really didn’t. But….

Keith scowled right back, crossing his arms. “I didn’t steal anything.”

“Then empty out your pockets.”

Grudgingly, after a tense dobash of glaring, Keith turned out his pant pockets, then the ones in his jacket. Empty hands and pockets were shown to all. “Why would I steal something when I have the money to pay for it?”

The shopkeeper rounded the counter to confront Keith, ignoring the question. “I said empty out-”

“My pockets,” he reminded, stepping closer to accept the unspoken challenge, “and I did.”

Lance tentatively witnessed the situation unfold. “Not to tell you how to run your shop,” he commented, trying to defuse the tension and elbowing Hunk and, more importantly, Katie behind him. “But accusing your innocent customers of theft is bad business.”

Not unusual, Lance was ignored, for the most part - Shiro at least made eye contact for a fraction of a second, gratitude passed through the look.

But when the Unilu grabbed Keith’s arm, both growling how they did or did not do something, Shiro tried to wedge himself between them. “Whoa, whoa, hey, he didn’t take anything. Let’s talk this out.”

Keith simply grit his teeth when the shopkeeper shook him, “No fighting, no fighting, no fighting, no fighting” drumming within his head. For once, he listened and argued back when he was repeatedly accused of stealing.

Suddenly, the grip on his arm vanished, as did the Unilu’s too-close face, and he registered a moment late why:

Katie.

She had darted from behind her wall of guardians unnoticed, landed a solid, bony kick - just like how Keith had taught her - to the back of the shopkeeper’s knee, and yelled, “Leave Keith alone!”

Time stilled, disbelief and uncertainty evident.

Once time returned to normal, they wished it hadn’t.

Because, the next thing they knew, as if unaffected by the time lapse, the Unilu had regained his balance, stepped away from Keith and Shiro, and had Katie’s braided hair strangled within his grasp. He yanked on it, grunting, “You brat!”

On her toes, hands clenched defensively up around her head, Katie blinked tear filled eyes and hissed, “Ow!”

Their guts and veins arctic cold and supernova hot at once, air lodged within their chests and muscles rigid, how quickly diplomacy went out the window.

Using his now-glowing tech arm, Shiro freed Katie faster than she had been taken somewhat hostage with a solid jab to the Unilu’s wrist. He scooped her up, almost pleased with the crunch of bone and yelp of pain behind him, and was next to Hunk in one fluid motion. “Are you okay?” Shiro breathlessly asked, giving her a once-over and gently brushing back her bangs. He swallowed, cringing at the fear slipping into his tone, and tried again. “Are you alright, Katie?”

“Yeah,” she said, her voice small, fighting tears and rubbing the back of her head. “I’m okay.”

Shiro passed her to Hunk with a nod, urging him toward the exit once he deemed them okay, and turned back to retrieve the last two troublemakers of the group. What he found, in the handful of seconds he had his back turned, was nothing short of a worst case scenario:

Lance had the shopkeeper pinned to the counter while Keith had a blade to the shopkeeper’s throat. Murderous aura wafted off of the pair, and this day really, really was not going as planned.

“Shiro gets by just fine with one arm,” Keith was saying. He carelessly lifted the knife in thought. “‘Course, he has an artificial limb now, so...why can’t this guy?”

“I’m sure a stand-up guy like him could find something on the black market,” Lance encouraged.

“Which arm was it again?” He pointed with the edge of his blade, asking, “This one or this one?”

Lance nodded at a different arm. “Might be that one.”

Keith shrugged, adjusting his grip on the handle. “Guess we’ll take them all….”

Through the whimpering pleas of mercy, Shiro grabbed both Keith and Lance by the back of their jackets and jerked them away before they dismembered the poor Unilu. Not for a second did he think they’d do it, then again...they were very convincing and he wasn't going to chance it. Hands full and stumbling and biding his time to lecture, he forced them through the rest of the tiny shop.

“C’mon, c’mon, hurry,” urged Hunk and Katie, holding the doors open. A mist rained down as they burst through the exit. Which Hunk did not like, not one bit. He pointed to the left, telling himself to worry about that later, and shoved friends in that direction. “This way!”

Perfume-like liquid clinging to their skin, the Paladins disappeared into a faceless sea and ran.

Chapter Text

Being the head of Voltron was appealing.

But only in the sense that you got to be the leader. People had to listen to you, respect you. You were important without explanation or justification. To be the number one, to be the head -

It was a flame, and Hunk was the moth.

Now that he had somehow became the leader, making calls and forcing his friends down narrow alleys or hiding behind plants and large displays and in clothing racks, Hunk wanted to punch himself in the face for thinking being the head was cool. Well. It still was, in a way. But Shiro made it look easy and Hunk wanted nothing to do with it now that he’s had a taste of leadership of a bickering team while evading space mall security. He could never fill Shiro’s shoes. Okay, well, he probably could because they were about the same size, physically, but he meant filling his shoes in a different -

Point was: He liked being a leg. He wanted to stay a leg. Where it was safe and responsibilities were fairly low.

But, apparently, he was being forced to be both at the moment what with Shiro groaning everytime Lance or Keith spoke, trying to validate their questionable and very un-Paladin-like actions. They weren’t actually going to dismember the shopkeeper, only make him piss himself in fear for daring to pull Katie’s hair and denying them the aging serum and being a jerkface and accusing Keith of theft.

Which Keith swore he didn’t do.

And he was being honest.

Because Lance did it….

“You have got to be kidding me,” Shiro groaned into his hands. The poor guy was two ticks from having an existential crisis and no one blamed him for it. “We’re Paladins, not - I can’t believe you-”

Lance deadpanned, repocketing the small vial. “Yeah. We’re Paladins, defenders of the universe, the good guys, moral high ground and all that junk. I get it! But all that matters is that I got the thing we came for and we can fix Katie, so let’s go.”

“For once, I agree.”

“And I agree with Keith agreeing with me!” Lance turned with Keith, bumping his shoulder with his fist. “This is nice. Us agreeing and stuff.”

“Don’t ruin it.”

“I understand where you’re coming from, but stealing is still wrong,” said Hunk, poking his head out of their hiding spot. Katie began to lecture them in all her five-year-old wisdom of the rights and wrongs of the universe - the boys looked very alarmed and partly ashamed. It ended abruptly when Hunk reeled back, plastering his back to the alley wall, and clamped a hand over her mouth and shushed everyone.

A purple blur whizzed passed, a familiar voice shouting as it did so.

“Stop! Hey - hey, you! Stop in the name of Zarkon! I have a few questions for - oh, excuse me, ma’am, pardon me. Hey, you, wait! I said wait in the name of - hey, get back here!”

Hunk eased himself around the corner again to confirm his suspicions. “Varkon,” he grumbled the name. Quiznak, why couldn’t he be wrong for once?!

“Did you just say Zarkon?” whispered Shiro, creeping behind him to peek. “Why would he -?”

“No, Varkon,” he corrected, then made the ‘v’ sound to emphasis his point.

“Ugh, I hate this guy,” bemoaned Lance, joining in on the spying along with Katie and Keith. “Last time we barely got away from him.”

“He’s loud,” commented Katie.

Keith hummed. “I could take him out.”

“I think you’ve done enough of that for today,” Shiro reasoned. Paused. Then said, “Wait, what do you mean by ‘last time’? What did you do?”

Hunk, Keith, and Lance shared a quick glance, clarifying absolutely nothing and tailspinning Shiro’s imagination and their chances of ever going anywhere unsupervised again.

“Oh, look. He left.” Hunk chuckled nervously and avoided Shiro’s scalding and questioning gaze. “We should - we should go.”

“Yay! More cops and robbers!” Katie cheered, far too excited about this. “I love being the robbers. It’s funner.”

Well, she wasn’t wrong. “More fun,” the guys corrected, and then she mirrored with a giggle.

It was when Katie was in Hunk’s arms that he noticed something was...off. Not with her, but with himself. His clothes felt looser and his shoes a bit too big. Or maybe it’s because they just left a store that had de-aging serum and Pidge had been a victim of it that had him paranoid.

Paranoid. Yeah, that’s what he was being. He was an anxious mess, especially with their apparent crimes and evading Varkon the overzealous space mall cop. He just needed to calm down. Calm down and deal with it like he always did and press on. Just work through it and find Allura and Coran and get back to the castleship and fix Pidge and everything was going to be quiznaking fine and normal -

And...oh, quiznak, was Katie getting bigger or was Lance getting shorter?

Hunk swallowed thickly. Man, anxiety was something, huh? It made you darn near crazy -

Was Keith’s face always that round?

Rubbing his eyes until black dots swirled in his vision, Hunk told himself to please work through his delusions faster. He had things to do.

No, but, seriously, were Shiro’s muscles shrinking or was the alley expanding? Heat expanded things. Yeah, that was it - it was hot, he was hot. They were in space, it was completely reasonable that random alleys in malls expanded due to heat.

Hunk pulled at the slacking material around his waist and wiped his arm across his sweaty face. That’s when he smelled it, the same perfume of the de-aging serum Coran had praised for being quite lovely. Though he was right, all Hunk could think of was: Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no, no! “We really need to go. Now.”

-------

It didn’t take long for the others to notice their bodies regressing.

It also didn’t take long for word to spread of their presence within the mall and for security to increase thanks to Varkon’s lack of staying out of other people’s business.

Hiding and running got harder, but Hunk did his best and the rest followed obediently, quietly. Not gonna lie, it kinda creeped him out. They were almost at the meet-up location and the agreed hour was coming to an end. Quiznak, they should’ve left a phone with Allura and Coran! And they didn’t have their comms, either. This was not good, so not good at all.

Wheezing, Hunk guided everyone into a dark service hallway and almost didn’t recognize his friends. Shiro slumped himself against the wall and held his far-too-large-for-such-a-thin-body right arm and grunted from its weight. Keith was zoning out and shaking his head and blinking while he once again tightened his belt and shoelaces. Worse than the rest of them, Lance was cross-legged on the floor and drowning in his clothes, too babyfaced for Hunk to be comfortable with; he was looking closer to Katie’s age, too. Thankfully, she looked fine, aside from frantically worrying about their current appearances.

Hunk crouched next to Shiro to help remove the overbearing arm. “What do we do?”

“I don’t….” Great, now Shiro was doing that blinking thing like Keith. The jolt of disconnection cleared the sudden haze for a moment, though. “Stick together, run and find Coran and Allura.”

He overlooked his friends de-aging before his eyes again, Katie on the verge of panic and tears, at a lost. “No, I should run ahead,” he found himself saying. “I’m the least affected. I could...do something.”

Shiro’s hand found Hunk’s shoulder. “We should” - his teenaged voice cracked - “stick together.”

Quickly, he tucked in his baggy shirt and readjusted his belt and shoelaces as well. “Fine,” and he would keep his word, but he didn’t have to like it.

-------

Yeah, he didn’t like it.

He wasn’t entirely sure why , but he didn’t when he hid them again and that’s all that mattered.

Hunk rubbed his temple and squeezed his eyes shut. Confusion and familiarity warred within him. Something was wrong. Where was he? Why was he running and hiding with these people? Was that - was that Keith? Why was he here? Didn’t Keith hate, like, everybody? And who was that guy carrying a robot arm and the little girl and that other kid? What was going on?

“Hunk? Hey, Hunk?” He felt tapping on his arm. “You okay?”

He lifted his gaze and tried to blink away the cotton in his head. “Umm…no? Who are you?”

That was the wrong thing to say to the little girl. Tears swelled as she turned to Keith, asking if he remembered her. When he stiffly shook his head, warily judging his surrounds, she turned to the one-armed guy and got a similar response. She burst into tears and snot once she laid eyes on the toddler - or could they still be considered a baby? - at Hunk’s feet.

“What’s going on?” demanded Keith, edging away from the situation he had no clue how to handle. “And why’re you - we here?”

When he made eye contact, Hunk was struck with a realization: Keith, though he was in his class at the Garrison, didn’t know his name. Well, at least he knew his face, but still. “I’m - I’m Hunk. You should know your classmates’ names, Keith.”

Keith narrowed his eyes at that. “I...so what’s going on?”

“Lance is a baby!” sobbed the little girl.

Hunk jolted at the name, searching the faces around him. “Wait. Lance’s here?”

“Who?”

Hunk groaned. “Lance. My friend, our classmate,” he reminded Keith. “You tend to knock him out of flying formation during class flight simulations?”

“Oh. That guy, the loud one.”

“I’m your friend, too!”

Keith and Hunk looked at down at the kid, glanced at each other, and dropped to their knees. “What do you - ?”

Before Hunk could finish his question, the girl was crying, “I’m Katie. I’m your friend.” She began to point at each of them, naming them, “And you’re Hunk, and you’re Keith. That’s Shiro and that’s Lance. We’re friends! You don’t remember me ‘cause you got hit with some stuff that makes you little like me, so we gotta find Allura and Uncle Coran and go home and make us big again. But you don’t remember me and I don’t know where we are and I don’t know where they are and I just...I just want - I just want my mommy and daddy!”

Full blown hysterics from Katie had baby Lance on the verge of crying as well and Keith and Hunk stared like idiots in disbelief.

Until….

“Hey, you two.” They turned to the one named Shiro. There was a cagey-ness to him, a jumpy-ness that refused to settle as he clutched the robotic arm to his chest like a lifeline. But that fear, that uncertainty, didn’t stop him from bossing them around. “Make them stop crying.”

Hunk stared; Keith blinked.

Was that…? “Shiro?” gaped Keith.

“Shiro? That guy?” asked Hunk. Keith...wasn’t exactly friendly or sociable or very likeable. Not many - or even few - got close to him, except for one person named Shiro. And the only Shiro he knew of was that famous Garrison pilot, but this white-banged, one-armed toothpick in front of him was not that Shiro. “You know him?”

He swallowed, then nodded, “Yeah.” Unsteadily, Keith rose to his feet as Hunk collected and hushed the sobbing kids. White bangs, missing right arm, a robot arm in his lap, a scar across his nose, scrawny and shorter...it was Shiro, as impossible as it was. “He’s a lot younger, but I’d know him anywhere.”

Fiddling with the white hair he finally noticed, Shiro eyed Keith and Hunk. “If you’re done talking about me like I’m not sitting right in front of you,” - he drew in and released a shaky breath - “I want to know what happened to my arm, please.”

There was a lot they wanted to know.

“Some aliens took it ‘cause you didn’t eat your food,” answered Katie, pulling away from Hunk. She sniffled and wiped at her tears, collecting herself. “But it’s okay. Robot arms are cooler.”

And, apparently, the kid knew answers that they didn’t. Weird answers, but answers nonetheless.

Aliens, they mouthed, not wanting to buy her story. But she knew them all by name before they said a word and spoke with such confidence about their bizarre situation, so they had no choice but follow along.

But mostly because there was shouting and people running outside of their hideout and there was no time to think.

Katie poked her head out. “We have to go or they’ll find us. We’re the robbers!”

Shiro’s and Hunk’s eyes grew wide, mumbling, “My mom’s gonna kill me,” while Keith scolded and clicked his tongue with a defeated, “Again?”

“The coast is clear,” she whispered. “Let’s-”

Keith was already flying passed her, Shiro and Hunk tagging along. Dumbfounded, Katie glanced at Lance, who was his bubbly baby self again and cooing and tugging at her shirt. She pulled him to his feet and tried to lift him with a dramatic grunt. When she failed, she panicked and wiped around to find someone that could carry him, but her friends were gone and she was not ready for this responsibility.

Katie hugged Lance’s torso and dragged him to outside of the hideout, spotting her friends’ receding backs. “Hey!” she stomped her foot, aggravated and a little hurt at being left behind. Sucking up the threat of more snot and tears, she shouted as loud as she could, “HUNK!”

People jumped and stared and whispered, but it did the job. Hunk and Shiro skidded to a stop, begging for Keith to slow down, and Hunk backpedalled and scooped them and Lance’s clothes and shoes up.

Looking into his face and gripping his baggy shirt, Katie announced, “I’m not ready to be a mommy!” And when they caught up with Keith, she glared at all of them, warning, “Don’t do that again.”

Before they could apologize, Keith swore - Katie going, Ooooohhhhhh! I’m telling - and shoved them behind a row of large storefront carts and told them to shut up and duck. They did as he demanded purely out of shock. “Gimme that,” and Shiro subconsciously did yet again.

All gaped when Keith swung Shiro’s robotic arm at the large gut of a fast-approaching security guard like a baseball bat with all his might, grunting. Far too satisfied, he grinned wickedly, panting, as the purple-skinned alien groaned and wheezed on the ground. For a moment, he reveled in this feeling, this stupid triumph, before returning the prosthetic and jerking Shiro to his feet, Hunk following suit as the baby laughed and Katie repeated that he was in so much trouble.

A weird little daisy chain was formed as they ran aimlessly - Keith lead, pulling Shiro by his real elbow while he clutched the metal arm to his chest and side, and Hunk pushed on Shiro’s back while Katie and Lance clung to Hunk’s side like little monkeys, an arm protectively around them.

However, as with anything, the chase came to an end.

Security guards had blocked the exits and entrances to branching parts of the mall, corralling and, ultimately, capturing them. Hunk and Shiro surrendered, accepting their defeat with what was left of their dignity. It was Keith that was the problem. He fought back - kicked and punched and scratched and bucked, growling and yelling; the fight didn’t bleed from him until sometime after they forced him into handcuffs and ushered them to the security office.

-------

So, apparently, you can arrested minors and take their mugshots in space. Even a baby’s - yes, a baby’s. Oh, and they were banned from returning to the mall for a decapheob, whatever that meant.

They were lectured and questioned longer than they believed to be necessary. Or maybe it seemed so long because they were surrounded by freaking aliens, in freaking space, and had no clue what the heck was going on. But none of them spoke, not even giving their names.

“Look, kids,” sighed a tired security guard, “for the last time, we need to know your names.” He ran a hand down his face when their silence continued. “Where are your parents or guardians? At least tell me that so they can come pick you up. I’m sure they’re worried.”

Katie peeked at the guys, uncertainty evident on their young faces, and she decided to break her silence for them. Her parents weren’t here with her, but she did have an adult in mind. “Our uncle can come get us.”

He voiced the question the guys were thinking. “Uncle? What’s his name? We can page him.”

She hesitated, swinging her feet under the cold bench they all sat on. “I have to do it.”

It was his turn to hesitate, taken aback by her boldness. “N-no, I have to do it.”

“Quiznaker,” she grumbled under her breath.

He raised what could be assumed was an eyebrow at her. “Cute kid,” he dryly told the boys.

“Thank you.”

Shiro leaned a touch closer to her, whispering, “That was sarcasm. He didn’t mean it.”

“Oh.” Katie stopped kicking her feet, switching to twiddling with her thumbs. “Well.” She looked at the security officer square in the eye and said, “Un-thank you, then.” To finish it off, she stuck her tongue out and blew a raspberry at him, baby Lance mimicking her.

Curse the stars and cosmos, he did not get paid enough for this shit.

-------

“They’re late,” said Allura, beginning to pace in front of the fountain they agreed to meet up at. She even made sure to prioritize where she wanted to go before they had to leave. Had she known they were going to be late, she would have taken a tick longer to look around. Maybe she had time to go back and get those earrings? Maybe that necklace that made her think of Pidge? Her birthday was coming up, wasn’t it? If they weren’t back in two doboshes, she was going back for them. “Shiro’s with them, yet they’re late. It’s odd.”

“Don’t worry, Princess,” soothed Coran, adjusting his hold on her recent purchases. It was terrifying how much she could shop in such a short amount of time. “It’s only five doboshes passed. I’m sure they’re on their way now.”  

A two-tone chime rang throughout the mall, replacing the background music. Coran and Allura ignored it until the announcement repeated.

“Would Uncle Coran, Coran the Pringles man and Cloud Princess Zelda please come to the security office,” said a monotone voice. “Your charges are waiting for you. I repeat, would-”

Chapter Text

Katie.

It had to be Katie calling for them. Allura didn’t understand why - the girl was with four Paladins that would live, die, and kill for her, so why was she calling for them? Why was she alone? Where were her protectors? What happened to them, to her?

Allura didn’t like this at all - his dreadful pit in her gut, this hollow ache in her chest. Something was wrong with her Paladins, with little Katie. So she ran, Coran hot on her heels, before the mono-toned announcement finished repeating. Faceless bodies dove out of her way as she carved a path. Startled, warped voices ignored as her surroundings blurred into a tidal wave of colors and shapes. Her chest heaving, eyes darting, her feet skidded to a stop in front of their destination and barged inside.

She blinked through her panic, reminding herself that she was a princess of Altea, that she was to be calm and level-headed, that princesses did not panic nor waver, that -

Katie perked up. “Allura?” She slid off the edge of the bench and rushed forward. “Allura!”

Relief had Allura collapsing to her knees to hug the girl a touch tighter and longer than necessary. Her nerves, her heart, her breathing settled merely at the sight of her. “Katie! Oh, Katie.” She pulled away to inspect her, cupping her face as she asked, “Are you alright? What happened? Where-?”

“I’m fine,” she smiled and pointed over her shoulder. “I was with them.”

Allura’s gaze wandered, then widened. There sat her Paladins, far younger than she last left them. Hunk and Keith hadn’t changed much, simply shrank for the most part. Shiro’s babyface and skinny limbs didn’t fool her. As for Lance, well, he was harder to recognize as a toddler; it was his eyes, so blue, and goofy smile and the way Hunk held him protectively that confirmed her suspicions. But she knew them. They might not know her at the moment, judging by the way they eyed her with skepticism, but she’d know them anywhere, in any form.

“We’re okay,” Katie was saying.

She slowly turned her attention back to the girl before her, dumbfounded. What on Altea-? “Yes, that’s good. I’m glad you are...unharmed.” There was too much to process. But first, where was-?

“WHAT THE QUIZANK?!” gaped Coran, bursting through the doors and dropping all of her shopping bags in the process.

The boys jumped at the loud and sudden, perfect summary of their situation. “Kid,” urgently hissed one of them as Shiro held out his hand for her. She turned and strolled back to them as Coran frantically picked up shopping bags and their contents, casting glances at the children on the bench and whispering questions to Allura. The moment Katie took Shiro’s outstretched hand, he pulled her into his lap with Keith’s help and put his arm securely around her. Hunk, with Lance in his arms, and Keith shifted closer to Shiro and Katie, gazes soft for her and murderous for everyone else.

Allura marveled at the Paladin bond in action.

Then the warmth inside of her flared into a white-hot rage upon noticing two things: Shiro was missing his arm and Keith was handcuffed.

“Hey, kid, these ones your guardians?”

Before Katie could answer, Allura stood and slammed her hands on the desk between her and the security officer. It startled the children, but not the guard - oh, no, he knew it was coming, having lifted his steaming mug and lazily blinked up at her as he had the day prior.

He frowned at the splintering desk before taking a slow sip. “Ma’am,” he began patiently, tiredly, “please stop breaking the desks.”

She pointed at Shiro. “Where is his arm?!” She then pointed to Keith. “And why is he handcuffed?!” The others weren’t, not that that would’ve been better, but why only Keith? It was wrong, all of it was wrong. “How-? Why are they children? What is going on here? Explain yourself!”

“Now, now, Princess,” soothed Coran, “let’s calm down. Let the man-”

“Do not tell me to calm down! I am perfectly calm!” she snapped, the exact opposite of calm.

The security guard huffed. “Please don’t make me call for backup. It’s more paperwork.”

A vein threatened to burst within her forehead as her eyebrow twitched in rage. She stammered to find the correct word she had heard the Paladins use time and again. “Scr -screw your paperwork!”

“Diplomacy,” Coran reminded in strained sing-song voice, abandoning the shopping bags on the floor.

“Screw diplomacy,” she grumbled, fingernails digging into the edge of the desk. “I want answers, now!”

And as the boys witnessed the alien supposed-princess rage on in wide-eyed horror, Katie grinned and couldn’t help but like Princess Allura of Altea, her friend with elf-like ears and cloud-like hair, a little bit better.

-------

They were escorted from the mall’s premises, the banning taking immediate effect.

Allura fumed all the way back to the Red Lion while Coran silently trailed behind, having long given up on calming her. They were shown security footage of what lead to a group de-aging mishap. Only, it wasn’t a mishap, but intentional by the shopkeeper, and that lazy security guard really did have to call for backup once the Alteans learned the truth. No apologies were made, though - not from the Unilu for de-aging the Paladins, not from Allura for cracking desks and making a scene, nor for Lance stealing the aging serum. Coran simply paid for the vial, the fine for damages, and the release of the young humans and allowed himself and the others to be escorted out.

A simple shopping trip to the mall was too much to ask, wasn’t it?

His attention drifted to the Paladins. The boys were reluctant to go with the “scary lady” and the “weird guy with the mustache,” but Katie, much like when the guys were older or when she was Pidge, had them wrapped around her finger. Huddled together, they walked with Katie in the center while she held Keith’s and Hunk’s hand. Keith had his other hand resting on Shiro’s shoulder to keep him steady and close; Hunk continued to hold Lance, who was looking at everything curiously and occasionally babbling something to the group and pointing.

Not for the first time, it struck Coran that they were actual children. And not just because of the de-aging serum. Children - at least in his mind - were fighting this war, piloting and forming Voltron, that never should’ve began all those deca-phoebs ago. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. Yet...here they were.

As the Red Lion came into view, the Paladins froze, Keith more doe-eyed than the others.

Allura and Coran slowly turned to each other. That was when it truly clicked - all five Paladins were children. Meaning, the only way to return to the castleship was for younger-Keith to pilot the Red Lion.

They didn’t know this version of Keith. Didn’t know any of them, actually. Sure, they heard a few stories in passing, but what good would that do when the boys clearly didn’t trust them or understand what was going on? Red could probably get them home, if Keith was in the cockpit, the sole issue was getting them into a titanic, sentient, lion-shaped battleship. Their only salvation would be -

“C’mon,” said Katie, tugging on their fingers, “it’s just Red. She’s nice, but she can be a little sassy.” She giggled when the Lion playfully grumbled at her.

And maybe it was that simple, Coran thought.

Too overwhelmed with the sight of the Lion and the foreign connection that came with it, the boys blindly matched Katie’s pace after a beat. She began to ramble about Red and the other Lions, not noticing their eyes blowing wider as she easily spoke of something so alien, so impossible. But they wordlessly followed the girl anyway, even patting Red’s jaw like she had done before they stepped inside the cockpit. Red lights washed over them, somehow calming their nerves the longer they stayed.

Naturally as breathing, Keith took the pilot’s seat, the guys flanking him and Katie wedging herself between his back and the seat. He drew in a deep breath and grasped the control levers, nearly choking when an encouraging purr rolled within his mind. Katie had said that the Lion was in his head and he hadn’t really believed her until then.

“So…,” began Hunk, being the odd combination of anxiety and curiosity that he was. “How do we fly this thing?”

Another rumbling purr filled the cockpit, quieting them all for breath. Keith found himself saying, “I know what to do.”

Hunk frowned. “Keith. I know you’re at the top of our class, but - I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not - but this is not a stimulation. It’s not even from Earth! How could you possibly know what to do?”

“Red told him,” informed Katie, and Keith stiffly nodded.

“Great, now the cat-ship’s talking to him,” Shiro mumbled to Hunk. “Time on the inside made him” - he swirled a finger in circle next to his temple and crossed his eyes - “y’know.”

A poorly suppressed chuckle from Hunk was the last straw before all of them started talking and arguing at once. Allura and Coran stared, almost marveling at how quickly their peace dissolved into fighting. For the time being, they - including Red - let them hash it out amongst themselves, blow off some steam and frustrations from the bizarre day.

It was going as well as it could, until Hunk tried to put himself between Keith and Shiro and had to place Lance on the floor to do so. Adding that to the yelling and not truly knowing the people around him, it became too much for Lance and, after plopping on the floor, began to cry. Loudly, snot bubbles and hiccuped sobs included.

The fighting paused for a moment.

Then started back up again, this time on the topic of who made the baby cry.

Katie jumped to the floor before anyone could reach Lance. She did her best to soothe him with cuddles and kisses and talking to him, but nothing helped. Frowning, she changed tactics.

She covered Lance’s ears, turning to the fighting trio next to her. “Stop yelling! You’re scarin’ Lance!”

They raised an eyebrow at her. “Hey, you’re yelling, too, brat,” Keith pointed out.

Glaring and stomping her foot, Katie growled, “I’m not a brat. I’mma Katie.” She glanced at the others for a moment. “A Pidge.” Then she settled on Keith again, narrowing slightly more. “A little bit.”

“Yeah? You’re a little bit alright...of a brat.”

“Allura!” She swung around to face the princess, pointing accusingly. “Change him back! I don’t like this Keith. I want big-Keith back. He’s notta butt.”

“Watch it, kid,” he warned.

Which had zero effect on Katie. She simply stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry at him. That snapped something within Keith. Never had they thought that they’d see Keith, of all people, perfectly and childishly mimicking Katie. Taken aback, she did it again, then it was his turn - back and forth they went.

Noticing that Lance wasn’t crying as hard anymore, but instead watching Katie’s and Keith’s exchange, Shiro remarked, “Wow, that’s really mature.”

Keith and Katie turned their glares to him and blew raspberries in unison.

Something must have snapped in Shiro as well, because he blew one back, and so did Hunk, because he didn’t want to be left out. A few turns of this happened before they noticed that Lance wasn’t crying at all, but laughing and clapping. They glanced at each other, nodded, and turned to Lance to blow one big raspberry at him. He squealed with glee and repaid them in kind the best he could, more spit than air.

Watching and listening to the Paladins’ laughter, the Alteans breathed easier. Allura scooped up Lance, resting him on her hip as Coran wiped his drooly face. “Let’s return home, shall we?”

Katie grinned wickedly, telling Keith, “Punch it!”

Save for the two youngest of the group and the pilot, rumors say that their collected screams could be heard from the next sector over.

-------

Upon their return, each Paladin was reintroduced to their Lion by Katie, each content to merely sit in front of their Lion’s muzzle and quietly prob at the connection the humans weren’t fully aware of or climb around the cockpit. The Lions were also content, having their Paladins with them, yet confused because they were littler than before. So there they stayed until each party was satisfied - or fell asleep.

The kids were corralled into the lounge at some point after dinner. Lance quickly became the center of attention, the others trying to get him to say their names and teasing each other when he messed it up or called them by the wrong one. He got them down, eventually - Kay-tee, Huh-k, Keef, Shido, Lura, Cooran, Bue, Red, Yewhow, Geen, and Back.

Katie was in the middle of doing cartwheels for a sleepy Lance when Allura announced that it was getting close to bedtime. She pouted, but went around the room and told everyone good-night, complete with a hug and quick peck on the cheek, and followed Allura to the exit.

“Wait, Princess,” called Coran, eyes shifting and hands wrangling out his nerves. Allura paused to pick up Katie, eyebrow arched for Coran to continue. “Who is going to watch-?”

He glanced over his shoulder at a sudden thud! Shiro and Keith began to wrestle, the former claiming that even with one arm, he would win and the other accepted the so-called challenge. Hunk shook his head, but made no attempt to stop them; he only got involved when they literally dragged him into it a few moments later.

Coran gulped and nearly begged for Allura to stay. “You can’t possibly be leaving me to look after these - these - these heathens, alone.”

The Princess smiled. “Who better to look after them but you, Coran?”

And he whimpered at the responsibility. “At least take Lance.”

“We’re having a - what is it called again? - oh, a girls’ night.”

Katie hugged Allura’s neck, pressing their cheeks together. “No boys allowed!” The mice then scampered from Allura’s hair to her shoulders, squeaking as they did so. “Except for the mice. Have a happy sleep!” Katie shouted. The boys returned the well wishes of a happy sleep, then paused in confusion, not understanding why they felt the need to do that.

“Good-night, Coran,” Allura waved, promptly leaving at a stunned Coran in her wake.

Coran took a settling breath, sharply turned on his heel, steadily rolled up his sleeves, and slicked back his hair. “WHO WANTS A PIECE OF THE CORANIC?!” he howled like a wild yalmor, diving into the wrestling match as the lounge doors closed.

-------

With their nails drying and hair twisted into braids, Allura slumped onto her bed with blissful exhaustion. “It’s been so long since I’ve last had a girl’s night,” she told Katie.

The girl looked up from inspecting her fingernails, each a different color. “I’ve never had one. This was fun! Can we do it again?”

And Allura thought she dreaming, because Pidge - well, Katie - had a girl’s night with her and had fun and wanted to do it again. Truly, this was a dream, a miracle from the ancients. Her eyes misted. She would miss this. “Of course. I would love that.”

Katie’s smile slipped. “But I’ll be big - you’re gonna make us big again, right?”

She adored her time with little Katie. But they needed Pidge, missed Pidge. Voltron was needed, and, without her, there was no Voltron. This time was never meant to last. Allura nodded, swallowing the bitter-sweetness of it. “Everyone will be big by morning.”

“Will it hurt?”

She sat up and brushed back Katie’s unruly bangs. “No. You’ll wake up tomorrow and this will all probably seem like a funny dream.”

She frowned, toying with the end of her braid. “But I don’t want that. I want to remember. We had so much fun.”

“Yes. Yes, we did.” Allura glanced around her room, at her clothes and their memories that littered her floor. It gave her an idea. “I know! The guys have been taking pictures and videos of you from the beginning, so why can’t we? You could record a message for yourself, tell big-Katie what you’ve been doing the last few days, so you don’t forget all the fun you had.”

Katie chewed on her lip in thought. There was much to say. There was too much fun to forget. She had to remember. Pidge needed to know.

And so she agreed. Allura gathered and setup the necessary equipment and began recording, prompting Katie with questions or hints of an event she could talk about. What made her laugh and cry, what she liked and didn’t, her adventures and questions. It all began with a big breath, a toothy grin and wave at Allura, and two simple words: “Dear Pidge….”

It later ended with Katie sprawled across the sheets, sound asleep. With a final kiss to the temple, Allura sprinkled the aging serum onto the girl like she was instructed and covered them up for bed. Sleep did not come easily nor quickly. Her mind raced of how Pidge would be, if she’d remember or not, would her age be correct, would she still be their Pidge, and on and on and on into spiraling worries.

Allura tiredly took one last glance at Katie’s sleeping face, knowing one thing for certain:

It would all be different come morning.

Chapter Text

Pidge knew she was not where she was supposed to be before she even woke up.

The size of the room, the space too open, too large, around her. It was the texture of the sheets, the fluff of the pillow, the softness of the mattress, the smell of it all. None of it was hers, none of it was right. But it didn’t matter until consciousness replaced sleep and questions and confusion settled in.

She rolled to her back and stretched and squinted up at the ceiling. Blinking through the fog of sleep and rubbing it out of her eyes, Pidge wondered where she was, then realized a tick later that this was Allura’s bedroom. The next were why was she there, how did she get there? She pinched the bridge of her nose, groaning at the lack of a needed memory. Maybe she had fallen asleep in some random place of the castle again and...was brought to Allura’s room? No, that wasn’t right. Pidge was always returned - either escorted or carried - to her own bed.

The mystery of her being in the Princess’s bed was replaced with another.

Her fingernails were painted.

Honestly, she couldn’t remember the last time she had painted her nails. It had to have been before she illegally joined the Garrison - heck, it might have been before Kerberos. She studied them, flexing her fingers and positioning her hands this way and that way. Voltron colors, in correct formation no less, was an odd choice. She had preferred shades of green, purple, or neutral colors. Bright, loud colors never looked right on her, she thought, and she was right. The yellow and the red and the blue on her fingers were too much.

Was this a prank?

The memory loss - or at least the fuzziness in her head - worried her, but she ordered herself to remain calm. She was obviously safe, being in Allura’s room, so there was no immediate need to freak out. Collect data and analyze what she knew and didn’t and go from there.

That in mind, Pidge sat up and pulled back the covers and frowned.

A mint green nightgown. Really? Well, at least it wasn’t white.

Then there were her toenails, perfectly matching her fingernails. Seriously?

This had to be a prank. And she already had a certain bonehead in mind for executing it.

Pidge had scooted out of bed and caught her reflection in the full-length mirror when the feeling of something against her back registered. Her eyes grew wide and she stumbled and tripped on the hem of the too-long nightgown. A messy braid slide over her left shoulder and all she could do for a few ticks was grip it and stare. Slowly, she leveled with her reflection - touched her face with painted fingernails, patted her torso and thighs covered in the foreign clothing, tugged on the braid. All of it was hers.

The hair was the last straw.

She stormed out of Allura’s room after a glance at the clock. It was roughly the tail end of breakfast and a miracle no one had woken her sooner. So it was no surprise when she met no one in the halls to dining hall.

“Lance!” Pidge growled, bursting through the threshold and marching to the table. All eyes turned to her at her entrance. She gestured at herself, gripping at the soft material in one hand and braid in the other accusingly. “What the actual quiznak is this?! What did-?”

And everyone was out of their self-appointed chairs and descending on her. All screamed her name and squashed her into a giant group hug, which surprisingly included Keith, as if hoping that would squeeze the anger out of her.

It didn’t, merely keep it at bay. The sudden affection had her more confused than before, yet oddly happy and content at the contact, though she was fairly sure Allura and Hunk were going to snap her in two.

But she still had questions. Them increasing when they said that they had “missed her” and that she was “back” and “normal.”

Pidge somewhat reluctantly wiggled free of the group hug. She looked for answers within their happy and relieved faces, fumbling for words when she found none. “What happened? Why are you guys acting so weird?” she finally managed.

They frowned, and guilt panged within her chest at the subtle disappointment. “You don’t remember?” Shiro asked quietly.

She looked at them again before shaking her head, “No.” Fear crept into her gut, up her spine. “Why? Seriously, what happened? Was it bad? Tell me.” She tried to swallow her panic. “Please.”

“It was nothing bad, Pidge,” Allura quickly reassured. “You simply…,” she trailed off, looking for help on how to finish her sentence.

She noticed the glances, the shrugs. “I what?” she demanded.

Lance caved first. He pulled out his phone and scrolled and tapped on something before showing it to her. “You...turned into a kid, Pidge.”

She blinked at the absurdity. “What?”

But she had taken the phone anyway and -

Everything stopped.

The air in the lungs, the blood in her veins, the anxiety in her chest, and the tension in her shoulders - it all halted. The picture was of her in the castle, mice in front of her on the table and her holding out a spork of food goo for them. Only...this was a child version of herself, in an outfit she’s never laid eyes on. Again, there was no memory of this being taken.

She choked back whatever emotion was clawing at her throat and handed him back his phone. “That’s pretty good,” she weakly joked. “Didn’t know you were so good at Photoshop. Almost had me there, though. The whole you-turned-into-a-kid thing really pushed it over the top.”

Shiro and Hunk and Keith pulled their phones out then, following Lance’s example and presenting more pictures of random kid versions of Pidge to her. It was too thorough to be a lie, a prank. The others wouldn’t go along with it, especially this far.

Paling, she found herself slumping into a chair surrounded by everyone. The pieces of the puzzle weren’t matching up. “How?” she began.

“Crazy alien youth serum,” answered Hunk.

Eyebrows scrunched together, she glanced up. “Huh? How did-?”

“Killbot Phantasm glove,” everyone said in perfect unison, as if rehearsed. It took Pidge a moment to string that information with what Hunk told her, and she knew she messed up, that she was in trouble in some form. “Ring any bells?” Shiro asked.

She ducked her head, feigning a headache from the shock of de-agement. “I plead the fifth?”

“That law doesn’t apply out in deep space, Pidge. Try again.”

“What does the glove for a videogame have to do with youth serum?” she diverted anyway.

“Well,” huffed Hunk, “according to the space mall shopkeeper that Keith and Lance tried to dismember-”

“Politely threatened,” corrected Lance, and Keith shrugged.

“Yeah, with a knife.”

“I’m still going to lecture you two about that,” warned Shiro.

“Aw, man,” whined Lance, and Keith clicked his tongue.

Shiro looked to Pidge, mouthing and pointing, “And you, too.”

She knew exactly why she deserved the lecture: She had left the castleship without permission and alone, the actions, not the destination, mattering. But that didn’t mean she wanted to be lectured. Pointing to herself with a hint of puppy eyes, Pidge mouthed back, “But I’m Pidge.”

“Anyway,” continued Hunk, raising his voice a touch to get their attention. “You hid in his shop, dripping water everywhere, and somehow a sample of it got into your backpack? We’re still not sure how or why or how it got onto you, though. Not sure of a lot of things, really.”

Questions were like decapitating a hydra, answer one and more fill its place. “Okay then,” Pidge breathed, picking through her questions carefully. “How long was I, you know, a kid? How old was I?”

“It’s kind of ironic, Number Five” chuckled Coran. “You were de-aged to an Earthling five-year-old. Not an Altean one, though. That’s different, and, well, you’re not Altean.”

Mental note: Pidge was not Altean, much to her and everyone else’s not surprise.

“And,” Coran continued, “you were a child for...about a movement?”

She jumped out of her seat. “What?! A week?! I was a kid for a week?” Pacing, her hands smoothed back her hair to her scalp with a groan. That braid aggravated her for some reason and she quickly undid it to the disappointment of Allura and Lance. Ponytail around her wrist, Pidge ruffled her hair, glaring at the guys. “And why is my hair like this, huh? And these clothes and the nails and my - and my head. Why can’t I remember” - she stopped to exhale a shaky breath - “anything about being a kid?”

Shiro placed a hand on her shoulder. “Breathe. It’s fine. Everything’s okay.”

“It’s a side effect of the serum,” added Lance. “You didn’t remember us as a kid, either.”

Somehow that made sense. But it didn’t help the turmoil in her head. Pidge told herself to listen to Shiro and breathe and everything was fine and her headache would fade eventually. Thankfully, he noticed her unease and suggested a new plan. “How about we eat and continue this later? Let Pidge have some time to herself and sort things out - maybe some memories will come back?”

That last bit sounded weak to her ears, but she didn’t argue and they went their separate ways.

-------

Pidge sat cross-legged on the bathroom counter with a pair of scissors in her palm. She’d lost track of how many times she had the blades to her hair and couldn’t bring herself to follow through. It was difficult to do for the Garrison - Matt would always play with her hair when she was sleepy or upset and her dad had said it was beautiful - but it was necessary to pass as a boy.

Now, with her secret out, she didn’t have to hide that she was a girl. She could grow out her hair if she wanted. She missed the length, the weight of it brushing against her back and arms. It reminded her of home.

Maybe that was the problem.

Home was galaxies away. Her father and brother were still missing. Her mother was alone on Earth. She was fighting a war. Short hair was more practical, safer. It was too painful to keep it long. It reminded her that she was a failure, that she was helpless and too young, that the universe was broken.

Pidge tugged a lock of hair between the scissor blades again, glaring at her hand in the mirror to just do it. To be done with it. It was just hair. It grows back. After all of this was over - the war, Voltron - she would grow it again, when things were safe and whole. Stop being stupid.

There was a light knock on the door, and her pathetic resolve crumbled.

Funny how she knew who it was by the knock alone. She sagged and looked down at her hands, the painted fingernails, and tapped the closed scissors against her open palm a few times. “It’s open.”

Shiro cautiously stepped in and leaned against the counter next to her. “You okay?”

She felt his eyes on her, on the scissors. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Pidge sighed after a silent moment. “I can’t bring myself to do it.”

And he stayed quiet, patient. Classic Pidge 101 was, when she was upset, the best course of action was to shut up and let her rant and listen. So he played his part, and she played hers. Ramblings broke the silence that Shiro carefully created, words joining and breath catching. She talked through her jumbled emotions the best she could, repeating and reiterating herself to clarify her points. She talked with her hands, the scissors tagging along until Shiro wordlessly, gently, took them from her mid-sentence.

Brumming tears added to her feelings of being childish and stupid - like she was that same scared girl that was delivered her worst nightmares. It was just hair. She hated it, she loved it. She wanted it, she didn’t. Hair should not carry this much weight, this much sorrow and joy. Pidge sniffled and scrubbed her face with the collar of her shirt.

Shiro quietly drummed his fingers against the edge of the counter while she collected herself. “Pidge,” he started. “I’m going to say something very obvious.” When he looked up, she averted her gaze. He noticed it, though - the tears, the redness in her eyes and cheeks. “You are one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing and befriending. You are by no means stupid for feeling. You’re human.” He placed a firm, comforting hand on her thin shoulder. “It’s okay to be confused. Just take some time to think about it. You don’t have to make a decision right now. Cut it or don’t, we’re with you.”

Still, she refused to meet his gaze and when he went to pull his hand away, she settled hers over his. “You never answered my question. Why is my hair long?”

With a final squeeze of his fingers, Pidge freed him, quietly thanking him.

“You were crying,” Shiro answered, and she finally looked at him with surprise. “Lance was the one that found you that morning. You had no memory of us, of basically anything pass your age. He said that you were crying for your parents and Matt and asking why was your hair so short. So he did what he could to get you to stop - grabbed Coran’s nunvil and grew out your hair. It worked.” He scratched the back of his head, slightly grimacing. “Then Keith found you two, then you guys found the rest of us and....well, we went from there.”

She fiddled with a lock of hair, mumbling the conclusion, “You were trying to keep me happy.”

“Of course. We care about you, Pidge.”

She swallowed hard. She knew that they loved her, but it was different hearing directly. She was a pain, she knew, and not the best teammate or friend at times, but she was trying to do better for them. “For a whole movement?”

“Yeah, well, we’ve done it longer, if we needed to. But only for, like, two movements - three max,” he teased.

Pidge snorted a laugh. “Was I that bad?”

“You had your moments. Keep touching my face. A lot.” He reached over and squeezed her face between his fingers until she smacked his hand away with a laugh. “Just like that, every time you got near me. But, overall, it wasn’t so bad - kind of interesting to watch you with everyone.”

“I wish I could remember what happened,” she sighed. “Stupid serum.”

There was a mischievous twinkle in Shiro’s eye when he said, “Oh, don’t worry about that.”

-------

When everyone regrouped in the lounge later, Pidge realized, much to her horror, what Shiro meant.

Pictures. Videos.

She could die from the embarrassment alone. Sure, she was cute and adorable, but some of it was outrageously mortifying. As they showed her more and more, she plotted each of her so-called friends doom. Well, Shiro, Coran, and Allura might be spared, but the others? Dead. Lance being the top of the list, followed by Hunk and Keith. Pidge alternated between doubling over in fits of laughter and peeking through her fingers at the pictures and videos and stories not captured by them.

No memories returned, sadly.

“I have one more video,” announced Allura. “You actually made it for yourself, Pidge.”

Questions were shushed as pixels formed on the wall. Grinning and perched on the edge of Allura’s bed, little Katie sat and waved at the camera. A deep breath was taken before she said, “Dear Pidge.”

It was...bizarre to watch and hear your younger self address your older self.

She blinked, suddenly quiet. “I don’t know what to say,” she whispered to Allura off-screen.

“Let’s start with...what do you think about the Paladins.”

Pidge sat up straighter, casting nervous glances at the Princess. She did not like where this was headed already.

“The guys?”

“Yes. What do you think about them? Do you like them?”

“Well, duh.” Katie scrunched up her nose, cheeks a tint of pink. “Boys are ew, but I like them. They’re nice and play with me and they’re cute.”

“They’re cute?” Allura echoed with a chuckle, and Pidge did her best to become one with the couch as she pressed her hands over her face. “How so?”

“They’re just - they’re just cute, okay?! They have very pretty eyes! Am I gonna marry them one day?” Katie looked directly into the camera, asking, “Hey, Pidge! Are you gonna marry them? ‘Cause you have to. I like them.”

Princess Allura was doing her best to contain her laughter behind the camera. “Katie, darling, you can’t - you can’t marry all of them. You’d have to pick one.”

Katie pouted before flopping to the mattress with a whine. “That’s too hard!”

“You have to pick just one,” Allura encouraged, and Pidge wished with everything inside of her that the Princess would as her heartbeat roared in her ears.

“I’ve kissed them all, so I have to marry them all,” Katie explained as if it was obvious. “That’s how it works. You kiss people you’re gonna marry.”

“Do you not kiss your family?”

She thought about it, humming. “But they’re so pretty.”

There were no words to explain the level of mortified Pidge was at that moment. Correction: Allura was now the queen of her hit list. Her blood red blush spread from her face to her toes and she was fairly sure she’d stopped breathing. Her only hope was that she had succeeded in becoming one with the furniture, that she did not exist as a human in this reality anymore. Couches did not feel embarrassment. Couches did not get teased for the words of their younger self innocently shared.

Alas, the universe was ever cruel and she was still human.

Pidge slowly stood without a word, without a glance. And bolted.

Lance jumped up, pointing and commanding, “Keith, I choose you!”

“Why do I have to get her?” he yelled over his shoulder, already giving chase.

Short legs lost to long legs under normal circumstances, but the embarrassment dissolving her from the inside out gave her a powerboost. She was halfway down the hall before Keith made it passed the doorway. He charged after with a growl of annoyance and Pidge squeaked at realizing her fast approaching follower. She skidded a corner, gaze focused on an open air vent above, when someone yelled something far down the hall that had her halting from shock:

“Katie Marie Holt!”

That moment of hesitation was enough for Keith to gain some ground. Pidge bolted again, putting as much power into her legs as she ran, pushing off one pillar to the next, and leapt to the square hole in the wall high above. Grunting, her fingers grasped the edge and her bare toes raked the wall for purchase. A solid mass collided into her back, arms wrapping around her middle as a chin dug into her lower back and gravity worked against her with the added weight. A few ticks passed with a circled argument of “No, you let go!” before she lost her grip and they dropped to the ground.

Keith, the half-human that he was, landed on his feet and saved her head from crashing into the floor by inches. With an exhausted, maybe an aggregated, huff, he jerked her upright and over his shoulder in one fluid motion.

Being fireman-carried was uncomfortable, Pidge realized, but the embarrassment awaiting her was worse. “Let me die in the vents,” she begged.

“Quit being dramatic.”

“Eject me from an airlock,” she bemoaned.

He adjusted his hold on her a bit. “No.”

“Feed me to the Lions, then.”

“They’re not going to eat you?”

“Gave me Shiro’s and Coran’s cooking.”

“I would never let you do that to yourself.”

Pidge groaned all the way back to the lounge, immediately trying to escape when Keith put her down. Him and Lance had to sit on her to keep her in place on the couch. The video continued, the topic blessedly changing to what she had done with the Paladins over the past movement and their collective pictures previously shown completed the stories.

Still, much to her disappointment and relief, Allura stopped the video short. The ending was for Pidge’s eyes only, and Pidge wondered why the quiznak the entire video wasn’t for her eyes only. Save her the embarrassment and the endless teasing. The need for her to bury herself face-down into the couch, covering her face with her hands and unable to look at anyone in the room.

“C’mon, Pidge, it wasn’t that bad,” remarked Hunk.

“Yeah, you just have to confess your undying love for us and it’ll all be over.”

Pidge blindly kicked Lance in the thigh, satisfied with his yelp of pain and surprise. “It was worse than bad, okay. Leave me alone.”

“But we love you, Pidgey.”

Lance was smart enough to dodge her next swing. “Well, I don’t love you.”

“Aw, c’mon,” pouted Lance. “Yes, you do.”

“No!” she grumbled into a cushion.

The guys exchanged amused glances. “Fine,” he sighed dramatically. “Then I guess you don’t care that Shiro’s arm went a little berserk a few days ago and we haven’t found the problem yet.”

Pidge slowly lifted her head and turned her heat gaze to the boys. “Excuse me?”

Why did that sound more like a threat than concern?

She jumped up and brushed by the others, grabbing Shiro’s metal arm and turning it this way and that. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? What did you do to it? How’s it been acting? Are you in pain? Is-?”

“It’s nothing, Pidge, really.”

She glared up at Shiro. “Your ‘nothing’ is always ‘something.’ Where are my tools?”

Before he could be drug along by Pidge, Shiro eyed Lance for starting this and Keith and Hunk for not stopping it. “I know what the...cause was, okay?” When she cocked her head to the side, waiting for him to explain, he relented to the situation and weakly said, “Cooties.”

Confusion washed over her face. “Did you just say...?”

His metal hand was on her belly, tickling her. Pidge squealed and giggled and backtracked, but he followed as his arm once again “lost control.” A human hand grabbed her arm and pulled her close, metal skirting against her stomach and ribs and neck. She bucked and wiggled and screamed and laughed, all the while she was batting at his arm, asking, “Where’s the off button?!” It wasn’t until she patted her way up to his face and pressed his nose did she find it.

The tickling ceased.

Breathing labored and sides aching, Pidge separated from him, trying and failing to glare. She settled for a smirk. “Found the off button.”

Lance stepped forward with a devilish grin. “It’s the on button, too.”

And he pressed Shiro’s nose.

She shrieked, “No!” But it was Lance that was the next victim, being within range, and the others scattered in fear. Hunk then Keith were next, both using her as a shield and she was subjected to the tickling along with them. Eventually, curled up on the ground, Pidge snaked her hand up and pressed Shiro’s nose again. He stopped immediately, breathless and grinning.

She slumped, panting and sweating. “I hate you.”

“Love you, too, Pidge.”

-------

It had become routine for Lance to call Pidge for breakfast. This morning was no different, now that things were back to normal. “Pidge!” he shouted, banging on her bedroom door. “It’s time to get up, sleeping beauty, c’mon.”

Nothing.

Deja vu and anxiety pinpricked his gut. “I’m coming in,” he announced and stepped inside to find nothing. No Pidge and, thankfully, no Katie. “What the…?”

Lance took off to the dining hall after checking her usual haunts along the way, nearly crashing into the doorframe. “Have you guys seen Pidge? I can’t find her.”

“Maybe she’s in the lounge?” Hunk suggested.

“Already checked. Kitch, training deck, corners, and there’s no open air vents.”

All at the table exchanged wary glances and they were jolting out of their seats in the next moment, the start of the previous week fresh on their minds. They searched and called for her and finally - quiznaking finally - Hunk found her tucked away in her Lion. Curled within a blanket and hair sprawled out, there Pidge peacefully slept in her pilot’s seat. Allura’s video on screen gave the option to exit or replay, and they kindly overlooked the dried tears on her cheeks.

She awoke while they debated to either wake her up or carry her to bed. Rubbing her face, Pidge yawned and stretched, enjoying the popping in her back and the return of blood flow to her limbs. “Hi?”

“Morning,” greeted Hunk. “Would like some breakfast before noon, sunshine?”

Carefully, she stood and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders. “It tastes better for dinner, but, sure, sounds great.”

They rolled their eyes at her sarcasm.

She waited for everyone to exit first as she tried to wake herself up more. Apparently, it was not enough and her shoulder and hip rammed into the doorframe on her way out. “Ow, ow,” she hissed, rubbing away the pain.

“Are you alright?” asked Allura, suddenly by her side.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Pidge readjusted her hold on the blanket around her shoulders and carried on with a final hiss at the soreness in her leg. “I’ll get Keith to kiss it all better and….”

Pidge looked up with wide eyes, him immediately doing the same. Many, many things were shared the day before, but that was not one of them. She wiped her palms against her thighs as she glanced at a cut that was no longer there on Keith’s forearm. Did she just...remember…?

Her suspicions must have been correct because Hunk snickered into his hand and Keith’s face turned red while the others looked very confused.

“Wait, wait, wait.” Lance turned to them, shit-eating grin forming. “Are you telling me that our Keith kissed Katie’s boo-boos away?” He cocked his head to the side. “Aw, now that’s just adorable.”

“Shut up,” Keith growled. “I did not.”

“Did so.”

He turned to Pidge. “Did not.”

“There’s video cameras in the med bay,” she smirked, then looked to Shiro. “And in the bridge.”

Narrowing his eyes, Keith threatened, “You wouldn’t.”

“I would!” Then she threw her blanket over his head and raced out of her beloved Green Lion to retrieve her laptop. Laughter and grunting trailed behind her. It was time for a taste of their own medicine. She would find every embarrassing thing not shared during her period of de-agement and present it to the team.

After all, that’s what little sisters do.