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Neurodivergent Week

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Lance has never been very good at paying attention.

He’s the sort of person who has five apps open at once on his phone, and constantly switches between them when he loses interest. He’s the sort of person who stares out of the window in class and gets yelled at for daydreaming. He’s the sort of person who never seems to get tired and can stay up really late, but then is so tired in the morning that he has to be practically dragged out of bed. He’s the sort of person who notices the strangest things in the world around him, getting mesmerised by a leaf with the coolest patterns on it or the way the sunlight reflecting off of the roof of a truck makes the air shimmer. He’s the sort of person who gets called ‘scatterbrained’ and ‘silly’, and people say “he’s always in a world of his own”, because he loses focus so easily.

But, at certain times, his concentration focuses. Lance can be reading a book about something that he finds really interesting and his concentration just snaps into place and he can read and read for ages. To the point that when he looks up a whole hour has gone by and his neck is stiff.

Lots of people find this funny, including Lance. Because to see such a drastic change in his behaviour is actually quite amusing. But it’s also weird, because no one else he knows acts like this. People tell him that’s just who he is, but Lance thinks there might be something more to it. After all, being eccentric is a personality trait, but having such a hard time focusing isn’t just a trait, is it?

---

Growing up in a big family means sometimes you might not get as much attention as you need, but Lance never has that problem. With his ‘behaviour problems’ and habit of constantly getting distracted or accidentally breaking things, it means someone is always looking out for him.

Sometimes he feels sorry for his siblings, because they don’t always get enough attention because of him. Of course, it isn’t his fault, but Lance still feels bad. And he sometimes wishes that people wouldn’t always look out for him, because having people always checking up on him is really annoying. He just wants to be himself – but he also sort of wants to blend in with everyone else.

---

He gets a diagnosis of ADHD when he’s eleven. He probably could have been diagnosed sooner, but Mom thinks racism has something to do with it (it’s harder to get a diagnosis of things like ADHD and autism if you’re not white), but they’re all still grateful for the diagnosis. It means he can get help at school, and the pills his doctor puts him on really help him focus. Some of the parents at school don’t like pills (they think they make your brain go weird or something), but Lance’s family don’t care what they think. Because the meds help Lance, and that’s all that’s important.

The diagnosis also means that all of his symptoms suddenly make sense. Now they know he’s got ADHD and isn’t just a naughty kid (teachers always used to tell Mom that Lance was a nightmare in class, but she says she always knew that he wasn’t just a naughty kid), so much of Lance’s behaviour suddenly has an explanation. And because of the understanding and his medication, he starts doing better at school and it’s easier to sleep and he can actually focus without having to force it. Everything seems better now.

Some people might wonder why Lance (and his whole family, for that matter) is so pleased to have a diagnosis, but it makes perfect sense to him. He now understands how and why his brain works the way it does, and he’s so glad that he isn’t the only person in the world like him.

---

He meets Hunk and Pidge at the Garrison. They quickly become the best of friends, even though they bicker a lot during training exercises. They are both friendly and great fun, and a bit eccentric, just like Lance – which explains why they don’t have many other friends at the Garrison.

It is one afternoon after a disastrous training exercise that the three of them start talking about home. And he isn’t sure why he says it, but Lance brings up his ADHD diagnosis – and Pidge and Hunk’s eyes widen almost comically.

“Really?” Pidge says, smiling. “That’s so cool! I’m autistic. I’ve never met anyone Neurodivergent before.”

Lance grins and gives Pidge a high-five, but he’s a bit confused. “Neurodivergent?”

“You know, developmentally disabled or mentally ill,” Pidge explains.

“I get you,” Lance says, smiling.

“Mentally ill?” Hunk says. “Does that mean someone with anxiety is neurodivergent too?”

Pidge nods. “Yep. Why, is there someone you know?”

“Sort of,” Hunk says, wringing his hands together. “It’s me. I’ve got anxiety.”

“Ah, so that’s what your pills are for,” Pidge says, obviously remembering that Hunk takes two tablets at breakfast.

Hunk smiles bashfully. “Yeah, that’s it. So I’m Neurodivergent too?”

Pidge grins and Lance squeezes Hunk’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Pidge says. “If you want to be.”

Hunk grins. “Yeah, I want to be.”

And that’s when Lance understands why the three of them first bonded. Because they are all Neurodivergent, and they all know what it’s like to be different.

---

The Blue Lion understands him. Within seconds of sitting inside his Lion, Lance feels a connection. Apparently that’s normal for Paladins, but this still feels different.

Blue seems to know how his brain works, understanding that Lance loses focus easily and doesn’t have the best short term memory. She always gets him focused again if he gets sidetracked, connecting with him inside his head like a person nudging his arm and saying, “Remember what we were talking about! It’s important!”

But it’s still hard to focus on what Blue is telling him, because there are just so many thoughts in his brain. Still, at least Lance isn’t the only one having trouble learning how to communicate with his Lion, because the other Paladins all have their own issues. But they’re all getting there, and every time Lance flies with Blue, he feels their bond getting stronger.

---

One of the biggest problems of living in the Castle (other than the homesickness and the constant stress that comes with being a member of Voltron) is that Lance doesn’t have access to his meds any more. Without them, his concentration plummets and he spends most of his time stimming (Pidge taught him that word too) to try and keep himself focused. Basically, he feels like he used to years ago: inattentive and fidgety and unable to concentrate on things even though he really wants (and needs) to.

A few days after he runs out of meds, Lance makes a mistake that almost costs them their mission. The others respond with understanding, but Lance feels guilty. He wants to be the responsible Paladin he is supposed to be, but he can’t keep making mistakes like this. He needs his meds. But he doesn’t have them.

The guilt and worry (not to mention the hyperactivity) keeps him from sleeping, so Lance isn’t surprised to find himself wandering the Castle in the middle of the night, when everyone else has gone to bed. he walks into the kitchen, swinging his arms, and hopes that Hunk has some of those amazing cookies he baked left over.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t find any cookies. He does, however, find Coran – because he nearly trips over Coran as he kneels on the floor.

“Sorry!” he says, narrowly avoiding kicking Coran in the head.

Coran jumps when he sees him, but then he smiles. “Hello, Paladin. What are you doing up at this hour?”

“I could say the same to you,” Lance says, staring at Coran, who is scrubbing the cabinet doors with some sort of cleaning device.

“It’s far too late for you to be awake,” Coran says, totally avoiding Lance’s comment. “You need to rest.”

“I know,” he mutters, leaning against the counter. “But I can’t sleep.”

Coran looks confused, and Lance sighs heavily. And he isn’t sure why (maybe it’s because of the guilt that’s eating away at him, or the fact he hasn’t slept properly in days, or maybe it’s just because he trusts the man who tried to reassure him when he was homesick), but he ends up telling the Altean everything. About his ADHD, about the symptoms he deals with, and about his meds and how they help him – and how he has been forced to stop taking his meds.

And Coran stops cleaning and just sits and listens, nodding his head as Lance talks and talks. When Lance has finished, he sits there for a few more seconds, and then smiles.

“Would you happen to have any of your medication left?” Coran asks.

“Well, yeah, I do actually,” he says; there are a few bits of broken pills rattling around in the bottom of the bottle. “Why?”

“I was thinking that I could analyse it and then synthesise an Altean version for you,” Coran says, and Lance is reminded of the time when Coran and Pidge managed to make Hunk’s favourite chewing gum based on a piece of it he found in his pocket.

Lance stares at him. “You’d really do that?”

“Of course,” Coran says, nodding. “We need to help our resident Sharpshooter, don’t we?”

Lance grins and slaps Coran on the shoulder. Coran looks puzzled, but then does it back.

“Thanks, Coran,” he says, and he pulls Coran into a hug.

Chapter Text

Hunk has always been an anxious person. For as long as he can remember, he has been one of those people who jumps easily, the slightest thing making him worry when it doesn’t bother anyone else.

He hates watching scary movies, and even ones that no one else finds scary really freak him out. When the other kids at school tell silly scary stories that obviously aren’t true (like about Bloody Mary, who can supposedly come out of the bathroom mirror and attack you when you say her name), Hunk laughs along with them, but then can’t sleep without his light on for weeks. He’s scared of the dark, and has to have a nightlight on when he is in bed. And he has more bad dreams than most people he knows, to the point that he often crawls into bed with his Moms at least once a week.

He has always been like this (in fact, it seems to be getting worse as he gets older), but he doesn’t know why. And he doesn’t tell anyone, because he doesn’t think they will understand. After all, it’s just silly to get worried about scary movies and the dark and stuff like that. Isn’t it?

---

When he is nine, he has his first panic attack. Hunk doesn’t really know what causes it, because nothing makes him jump or makes him worry, but it happens nevertheless.

He is walking through the park with his Moms, walking between them and holding their hands. And they’re chatting about Mom Stuff and telling Lance about a new movie out at the theatre, and they’re all so happy and content and relaxed… until something goes wrong.

Hunk’s first clue that there’s something wrong is his chest feels all tight. His chest always goes tight when he gets anxious, making it difficult to take deep breaths and making his ribs feel like they are being pressed on. And then his heart starts racing, drumming against his ribcage like he has just run a marathon. And his breathing gets faster and everything seems so loud and he doesn’t know what’s going on…

And then he just starts panicking. He has never felt anything like it, his whole body overloading as panic just overwhelms him. And the worst part is that he doesn’t know what is going on. He doesn’t know it’s a panic attack (or even what a panic attack is, period), so Hunk, being the worrier he is, manages to convince himself that he’s having a heart attack or something and he’s going to die.

Everything is hazy as he panics, his heart beating so loud he can hear it inside his ears, his fingers tingling and starting to go numb from hyperventilating, and tears running down his face as he cries and panics and feels more terrified than he has ever been in his life. He doesn’t process much of what happens, his body more focused on panicking for no reason rather than registering his surroundings, but he does notice one thing – his Moms kneeling down beside him and wrapping their arms around him and telling him that he’s all right, and that it’ll be over soon.

And it is. Despite how the time slows down and Hunk feels like his body has been doing this forever, it takes less than five minutes for it to stop.

But even though it’s over, he can’t stop crying. And his Moms are crying too, because none of them know what’s wrong, and if it’ll happen again.

---

A few weeks after the panic attack, Hunk gets sent to see a doctor. Seeing doctors is expensive as hell, so Hunk knows his Moms are really worried about him. And he’s worried about himself too.

Doctors make him anxious, so he feels tense and panicky in the waiting room. But because the doctor is a child psychologist, at least there are toys and books in the waiting room so he can distract himself. But he still feels really anxious, and his heart races and he fidgets and he keeps begging his Moms to let him go home.

When he eventually meets the doctor, Hunk doesn’t exactly relax. He introduces himself as Doctor Meadows, and he is just the kind of doctor Hunk hates. He talks too loud and his presence feels imposing, and Hunk hates being the centre of attention.

The doctor keeps asking him questions—

“Can you tell me about your anxiety, Hunk?”

“When did you start feeling panicked?”

“Have you always felt anxious, or did your anxiety begin recently?”

—But Hunk barely says two words to him. He hunches up in his horrible plastic chair, rubbing his sweaty hands against his pant legs and staring down at the floor, longing to disappear and for the doctor to stop talking to him; this is so painfully embarrassing.

So it is up to his Moms to tell Doctor Meadows about Hunk and his past and his anxiety, telling the doctor about his worries and his fears and the panic attack. And when the doctor finally ends the session, he doesn’t exactly look sad to see them go.

Doctor Meadows sees Hunk for several more sessions (much to his Moms’ frustration, because Hunk gets real anxious whenever they go to the doctors and his prices are extortionate) before finally deciding to diagnose him.

---

Not that long after joining the Galaxy Garrison, Hunk’s anxiety starts getting worse. There are probably lots of reasons why (like how he doesn’t have very many friends, and he’s found out that flying makes him really motion sick), but none of them really matter to Hunk. All he knows is that he feels so anxious all the time and he’s struggling to sleep and he’s having a panic attack at least once a day and he hates it.

Thankfully, he has Lance. His friend and roommate is so wonderfully accepting, looking out for him and trying to help whenever he can. Lance has ADHD, and so knows what it’s like when everything starts to overwhelm you. And they both learn about each other’s issues and try to help each other cope when things get really bad.

And Lance is there to help when he has panic attacks. He can’t make them stop, but he puts his arms around Hunk and helps him do his breathing exercises and reassures him that this will end. And he might be imagining it, but the panic attacks don’t seem to be quite so horrible when Lance is around.

---

One night, when the anxiety is keeping him awake, Hunk rolls over and whispers Lance’s name. To his relief, his friend sits up and turns the light on.

“Did I wake you?” Hunk asks.

Lance shakes his head and starts clicking his fingers. “Nah, I was awake. What’s wrong?”

“Can’t sleep,” he says, sighing. “I’m anxious.”

“Would a hug help?”

Hunk shrugs his shoulders, smiling. “It might.”

Lance smiles too and gets out of bed. “Come on then. Budge over.”

Hunk shuffles over and lets Lance get into bed with him. Lance puts his arm around his shoulders, and says, “If you want to talk about what’s worrying you, I’m all ears.”

“Thanks,” Hunk says.

And that’s how Hunk ends up sharing a bed with Lance, cuddling all night long in his best friend’s arms. And they both have the best sleep they have had since joining the Garrison – and, in Hunk’s mind, that can’t be a coincidence.

---

After a particularly dangerous and stressful meeting, when he should be celebrating the amazing manoeuvres he did with his Lion and how Voltron saved yet another planet from the clutches of the Galra, Hunk finds himself feeling dreadful. Adrenaline is still surging through him, and he feels jittery and tense. But that is normal after a mission – so something feels different.

It is when his heart starts pounding and the whole room seems to close in on him that Hunk realises the obvious: he’s having a panic attack. And Lance spots the signs almost as quickly as he does.

“Hunk, buddy?” he says, racing across the Bridge. He puts his hands on Hunk’s shoulders, and the sensation makes his skin tingle uncomfortably. “It’s all right. Come on, sit down.”

Lance helps him sit down, and Hunk hunches forwards, wrapping his arms around his chest. As he gasps for breathes that his lungs won’t let him take, Hunk hears Lance asking the others to leave. And so he is left alone with Lance, and his best friend soothes him and holds him in his arms, letting him break down without the others watching.

“It’s all right,” Lance keeps saying, and tears run down Hunk’s face. “It’s all right.”

Later, when the panic attack is over and he has calmed down, Hunk decides to tell the others about his anxiety. And when they all react in a kind and supportive way (such as Allura giving him a hug and Shiro offering to teach him some different ways to manage anxiety and Keith reassuring him that he isn’t the only mentally ill person around here), Hunk knows he has the best space family ever.

Chapter Text

Katie Holt’s earliest memory is watching sunlight shine through a crystal, casting rainbows across the wall. She stares at it, fascinated by the patterns and colours and how the sunlight just makes the crystal sparkle. Her hands flap and flail with delight, and she doesn’t look away until the sun moves and the rainbows disappear.

And as she grows up, she never loses her love of sparkling crystals.

---

Katie doesn’t like going outside. The outside world is too big and bright and loud and scary and she hates it. She doesn’t know how to articulate this, but she knows her own thoughts: the outside world is horrible. And there are other kids out there, and she doesn’t like other kids; they are all bigger than her and can talk and are just intimidating.

So she stays indoors. Indoors is safe. She is in control inside her home.

And she has a lot of fun indoors. She learns to read much earlier than normal, and often spends hours tucked up on the couch, reading picture books designed for kids years older than her. But, like all kids, she also loves the TV. She and Matt get a bit obsessed with shows like Spongebob Squarepants, watching so many episodes that Mom and Dad get annoyed with them. Matt likes to sing along with the theme tune and Katie hums along with him (because she knows the words but she can’t get her mouth to say them).

But Katie’s obsession with the cartoon goes further than Matt’s ever does. She thinks about it all the time, and gets quite upset when she isn’t able to watch it. Years later, she learns her obsessions are called special interests.

---

She is three years old when people start worrying about the fact that she can’t speak. Everyone else’s kids talk a lot, but Katie doesn’t say a word. Mom and Dad aren’t really worried (they think she might a late bloomer), but Mom’s obnoxious friend (you know the sort – gossipy and donates money to Autism Speaks for some reason) keeps going on about taking her to see a doctor. Katie struggles to process spoken words, but she hears ‘autism’ and ‘warning signs’ and ‘early intervention’. Mom tells her to stop scaremongering, but she and Dad still think she should see a doctor.

So Katie ends up sitting in the office of their local paediatrician, swinging her legs and twisting her fingers and trying not to freak out in the company of a complete stranger. She zones out for most of the session, but hears the doctor talk about autism. He thinks she might end up being diagnosed with it. Which means she has to go back for session after session before he finally gives her the diagnosis.

When he does, he says it like he is giving Mom and Dad very bad news. Katie wants to hit him, hating how he is making her brain into a disaster or something like that. There isn’t anything wrong with her; her brain just works differently.

At the end of their final session, the doctor recommends something called Applied Behaviour Analysis. He says it could help Katie with her social skills, but Mom and Dad seem suspicious. When they get home, they look up ABA on the computer. It turns out that it’s a horrible type of ‘therapy’ designed to stamp out autistic traits, and is so traumatic for the poor kids that lots of them end up with PTSD. Katie only hears bits of their whispered conversation, but it is enough to get worried.

But she doesn’t have to worry. Mom and Dad completely reject the horrible thing and promise Katie they don’t ever want to try and make her ‘normal’.

“We love you just the way you are,” Dad says, and he and Mom are both crying.

Katie doesn’t know why they are crying, but she likes what he said and gives them both a cuddle.

Not that long after her diagnosis, Mom and Dad get her an AAC machine. It has lots of buttons with pictures on and when she presses them the machine says the words. It basically speaks for her. She spends all day playing with it, delighted by the way it says words that have been programmed into it when all she does is press a button. It makes her laugh, and Mom and Dad smile as they watch her.

And Katie is happy, because she now has a way to communicate without having to try and use her mouth. She can tell people what she wants, and they can understand her. She can communicate, and that makes her so happy.

---

She says her first words when she is six. Speech doesn’t come naturally, in fact it sort of hurts her brain to force them out of her mouth, but she speaks. And when she speaks, she says the same thing over and over again.

“Hurts,” she says, her voice flat.

Her ears hurt because they are in the supermarket, and everything is so horribly loud. She clamps her hands over her ears and jumps up and down, trying to stop her ears hurting.

Mom understands and rushes her outside, letting Katie calm down in the parking lot. She doesn’t make a big deal about her talking, and instead just helps her calm down. Katie is grateful, because she knows she still can’t talk properly, and she doesn’t want anyone to take away her AAC. And Mom and Dad don’t; they know she can sometime say the odd word, but her AAC is still her voice. And Katie is relieved, because she doesn’t want anyone to take her voice away.

---

Katie is eight when she realises she is trans. And when she finally comes out as transgender, it couldn’t go better. Katie spends ages reading the book about gender she found in the library (it talks about gender identity and being transgender, and she realised how much she identified with what it said as she read it) and programming her AAC to add new speech commands (she adds transgender and gender and LGBT and anything else she can think of, just so she won’t have to spell them all out when she tells her family), before she decides she is ready to do this.

So she gathers Mom and Dad and Matt in the living room, and sits with her AAC on the arm of her chair, flapping her free hand to try and keep herself calm.

I am a girl, she types, and her AAC speaks the words.

Mom and Dad look at each other, and Katie wishes she could read facial expressions better.

“What do you mean, sweetheart?” Mom says.

I read a book. It talks about gender. I am a girl, not a boy. I am transgender.

She thinks they are all confused. She starts to get worried, but then they smile.

“You’re trans?” Matt says.

Katie nods. Transgender.

And Mom starts crying and splutters something like, “I’m so glad you’re happy, darling.”

And Katie realises that she has been so much happier since she realised it, and her family must have noticed. And that they’re happy because she is happy. And she really is happy. She’s a girl. They accept her. Everything is brilliant.

---

Over the next few months, Katie starts to transition. She starts growing her hair out and Mom takes her shopping in the girl’s section for the first time and she buys some beautiful dresses and skirts and just girly clothes that she always looked at longingly when they walked past.

And Mom and Dad help her choose a new name (Katie, obviously) and none of them ever deadname her, and they’re working on getting her gender changed on her records and she goes to school wearing a dress and everyone calls her Katie and she gets a button called Katie on her AAC and she can’t stop telling everyone her name.

And she just hasn’t felt so happy in a long time. She finally feels like herself. And seeing her reflection in the mirror these days makes her hands flap with pure happiness.

---

As she gets older, Katie finds herself able to speak more easily, but she still relies on her AAC. She can say a few words at a time, but speaking is so difficult and totally exhausts her, so she chooses her AAC over spoken words.

Her special ed teacher at school (she hates hates hates being in ‘special education’, because she hates her teacher and she hates her basic educational needs being called ‘special’) keeps telling her not to reply on ‘that machine’, because she needs to talk with her mouth in the ‘real world’. Katie tells her to leave me alone and she gets detention. She doesn’t care.

Mom and Dad have a meeting with the school, in which her teacher calls her ‘lippy’.

To which Mom says, “Well maybe if you just let her speak the way she needs to, she wouldn’t be annoying to teach.”

And Dad says, “She needs her AAC. How would you like it if we taped your mouth closed and told you to write everything instead? Because that’s what if feels like to Katie when you tell her not to use her AAC.”

And her teacher goes bright red and doesn’t say anything in reply.

To Katie’s delight, her teacher never tries to force her to speak again.

---

Matt and Dad are missing. She finds out when she creeps downstairs in the night to find Mom watching the news, crying as she sees a news report about Matt and Dad (and Shiro, Matt’s friend) and how their mission has gone wrong. They are presumed dead. Her breath catches in her throat. They are presumed dead.

She doesn’t tell Mom she has seen it, instead sneaking back upstairs without being seen. In her bedroom, she shuts the door and sinks to the floor, holding her head in her hands. And then she breaks down crying, falling into a shutdown as the world seems to crumble all around her.

When she finally stops crying, everything feels numb and she starts to think about Dad and Matt. They can’t have just vanished. Something must have happened to them. There must be information being kept hidden. And she needs to find it; she needs to find her family. She needs to know the truth.

---

Joining the Galaxy Garrison is one of the hardest things she has ever done. Mainly because she has to go back into the closet, forcing herself to pass as a boy called Pidge Gunderson. And having been out for the last six years, it hurts so much to shut her real self away. But she knows she needs to do it, because Katie Holt can’t possibly get into the Garrison, not after the amount of times they have caught her on the premises. But Pidge Gunderson can – and she needs her alias if she is ever to find her family.

Her Garrison uniform is scratchy, and she breaks down crying when she has to cut her hair. She has been growing it out ever since she came out, and she feels like she is destroying part of her identity as she takes the scissors and cuts off her beautiful hair.

But at least she has her AAC. She didn’t have it with her when they caught her on their premises, so Katie knows there won’t be any suspicion about it. So Pidge Gunderson enrols at the Garrison and uses an AAC to communicate and lives his life like any other cadet – but the real person behind the alias is constantly searching for her family and longing for a day when she can be herself again.

---

Even though Pidge was originally her male alias, Katie soon becomes attached to the name as a kind of nickname. She likes to be called Katie still, but Pidge is also fine. Soon being called Pidge doesn’t cause dysphoria anymore, and she even smiles when someone calls her that name.

She just wishes she could use she/her pronouns again. Being misgendered is so horrible.

---

After the strange series of events leading to Katie and Lance and Hunk (as well as Keith and Shiro) becoming Paladins of Voltron and meeting Allura and Coran and living in space, it takes Katie a long time to settle in after all the changes. She has always struggled with change, and changes don’t get much bigger than something like this.

But over the weeks since she arrived here and ended up living in the Castle of Lions (which is actually a spaceship), Katie gradually starts to feel secure in her new life. She comes out as trans soon after meeting them all, and is so relieved to be called a girl again (although she has no problem with being called Pidge). And she keeps her masculine look for sheer practicality (long hair would be complete sensory hell with her helmet on), but she longs for her old hair style and her dresses.

Pidge also tells her team about her autism, soon finding that everyone else in the Castle is in some way Neurodivergent. So they all are very good at supporting her, and she knows how to support them all too.

Pidge calls them her Space Family, and she is grateful and happy to have such a good group of friends to keep her company as she struggles with being a Paladin and tries to find her family.

Chapter Text

Keith will be the first person to admit that he isn’t the easiest person to get along with. He tries his best, but his social skills leave a lot to be desired, and he often just gives up. Which is probably why he’s never had many friends.

And when he tries to be nice to people, he just ends up ruining it. He gets angry or emotional and just ruins his friendships with others over trivial things, and ends up even more of an outsider than when he started.

So, yes, Keith isn’t the easiest person to get to know. But you’re probably better just steering clear of him, because, one way or another, he just knows he’ll end up ruining the friendship. He always does.

---

He loves being at the Galaxy Garrison (he’s a very skilled pilot and has a brilliant rivalry with Lance), but he still manages to ruin it. Keith doesn’t get on well with authority figures, and he lets everyone know it. If he hates an order or even the person giving the order, he just refuses to do it.

And, eventually, the officers at the Garrison get sick of him. He gets called into a meeting, gets told to behave and do what he’s told. And Keith tells them to fuck off.

So he ends up getting thrown out. He loses the only thing he has ever really enjoyed. Just like everything else in his life, he ends up ruining it.

---

The Red Lion is the most volatile, apparently. It is the fastest of all the Voltron Lions, but is the most difficult to bond with.

Just who does that remind you of?

---

Keith’s relationships with others are just as unstable as everything else in his life. He can go from loving someone (not in a romantic way, but in a friendship way) to completely hating them in a matter of minutes, over something really fucking trivial too.

And so he often has fights with people. He has only been with his fellow Paladins for a while, but Keith knows they are all genuine, caring people, and they like him. And he likes them too – at least, he thinks he does. Which is why it hurts so much when they fight, because Keith knows what is at stake. But that doesn’t stop his fucking brain ruining everything.

Like one day, when he was already in a foul mood, but Lance’s behaviour manages to send him over the edge. Lance is prancing around the Bridge, talking too loud and too much and just getting on his nerves. Keith knows he can’t help it, that his ADHD makes Lance the hyperactive idiot he knows so well, but he still just wants to punch him across the face right them.

“Shut the fuck up, Lance!” he snaps, and the whole room falls into silence.

Lance looks wounded, and Keith feels like such a monster for still wanting to hurt him. “What did I do?”

“What’s the matter, Keith?” Allura asks.

Keith doesn’t answer. He clenches his hands into fists. He wants to hit something, to hurt himself for hurting Lance.

“That isn’t really the attitude we want around here, Keith,” Coran says, and he sounds so much like the officers back at the Garrison that Keith just wants to scream.

“I don’t fucking care,” he mutters.

“Keith?”

“Just leave me alone,” Keith says, and he walks out of the room.

And then the guilt hits him like a punch to the stomach. He feels so awful for hurting his friend like that. How could he have ever hated Lance? Why is he such a horrible person? So many emotions overwhelm him, but the self loathing is the biggest.

Part of Keith wants to go back and apologise, to promise Lance that he’ll never treat him like that again. But he knows he won’t be able to keep that promise, that he’ll swing and hate him again the next time he mildly pisses him off. And then the self hatred gets too much and he goes somewhere private to hurt himself.

---

Sometimes, Keith feels like he is destroying his life, but he can’t stop it happening. He has always felt like this to a certain extent, but it’s more prominent these days. Because now he has what Lance calls a Space Family, and he feels accepted for the first time in his life, but he still can’t just be a nice guy and get along with them all.

He just wishes he could be normal, like the others. Well, he knows the others aren’t ‘normal’ (they’re all neurodivergent in some way or other), but they’re just… well, nice. They’re nice, friendly people who try their hardest to be kind even when they’re struggling with their own issues. Basically, they’re nothing like Keith.

---

After a fight or whenever the world seems to get too much for him, Keith always finds himself leaning towards self harm. Normally, the thought of causing himself pain makes him feel sick (which is normal, he thinks, because normal people don’t want to inflict pain on themselves), but when he’s angry or sad or just numb, Keith wants – needs – to feel pain.

And so he ends up storming off into his bedroom, locking the door so no one can come in. and, with no hesitation, he starts to hurt himself.

If he’s angry, he punches the walls, and he often imagines that the wall is the face of whoever pissed him off. He punches until his knuckles split open, blood oozing down his hand as he clenches his jaw and longs for the anger to cease.

If he’s numb (sometimes, he just feels empty of all emotions and feelings), he cuts and scratches his skin, trying to cause the horrible stinging pain of his skin tearing just so he can feel something. And when he gets into the shower afterwards, his cuts sting so badly tears start to run down his face, and a warped part of Keith is just glad to have some sort of feeling back.

And if he’s sad, he doesn’t try to cause pain, as such – he just wants to make himself suffer. So he usually takes his clothes off and turns the temperature right down, sitting naked in the freezing cold so he shivers. It doesn’t leave any marks, but Keith actually finds this the most effective of all his destructive methods of self harm. Because he makes himself feel so vulnerable and weak, sitting in the cold until his fingers and toes start to go numb, deliberately cooling his body down until his brain feels groggy and he knows he’s on the verge of hypothermia. And tears run down his face and he just reminds himself of how weak and worthless he is.

Of course, he knows how wrong and dangerous self harm is. But he doesn’t care. After all, why care about the damage you are doing to your body if you hate yourself? Why care about self care when part of you always wants to die?

---

Keith is very skilled at hiding his scars. At least, he thought he was.

“What’s that on your arm, Keith?” Shiro asks him one day, and Keith’s heart rate doubles.

Shiro is looking at his forearm, where he shirt sleeve has slipped up his arm, exposing pale, scarred skin. He gulps and ducks his head, expecting Shiro to work it out and yell at him.

“It’s nothing,” he mumbles, pulling his sleeve back down and tucking his arms behind his back.

“Keith?”

“Are you mad?” he says, and he’s well aware of how pathetic he sounds, but he can’t stop. “Please don’t be mad. I don’t—”

“No… no, Keith, it’s nothing like that,” Shiro says, and he’s probably smiling (Keith can’t bring himself to look at his face). “I’m not mad at you, I promise. I’m just concerned.”

“Well, you don’t need to—” Keith cuts himself off mid rant, letting out a weak sigh. “Sorry.”

He glances up at Shiro’s face, and sees his friend giving him the saddest smile. “Please, Keith. Let me help.”

Keith doesn’t say anything, instead rushing away before Shiro has a chance to say anything else. In his bedroom, he kicks the shit out of the wall and calls himself an idiot for not hiding his scars better.

---

Shiro doesn’t bring up the topic of Keith’s scars again, but he starts behaving differently around him. Coran does too, both of them looking at him differently whenever they are near him, almost as though they are studying him. It gets on Keith’s nerves, but he can’t be bothered to tell them to leave him alone.

Eventually, Shiro stops studying him, and Keith hopes he has forgotten all about it and things can go back to normal. But, one day, as he passes Shiro on his way to the Bridge, Shiro hands him a piece of paper.

“Please read it,” Shiro says, his voice soft.

Keith doesn’t look at him, but he forces himself to smile.

In his bedroom, he unfolds the sheet of paper and finds himself looking at a handwritten letter. He has never seen Shiro’s handwriting before, but he instantly knows it is his. And, despite his apprehension, he starts to read.

Keith,

I’ve been thinking a lot about your scars since I saw them. I know they are self harm scars. But I’m not mad at you. I understand.

You remind me a lot of my older brother. He has a mental illness called Borderline Personality Disorder. And I think you might have it too.

His eyes widening, Keith reads through the list of symptoms. He learns about unstable emotions and self harm and so many things that he does without even realising he does them. And… and it all seems to fit into place.

He thinks Shiro is right. He thinks he has BPD. And, now there’s a name for how he’s been feeling all these years, Keith starts to feel hopeful. Because now he knows what’s wrong, he might finally be able to feel better.

And as tears start to dribble down his face, Keith realises he hasn’t felt this positive in years. He finally feels positive about his future. Things might get better. He might not be stuck feeling like this forever.

Chapter Text

Even though it was only a year and a half ago, Shiro honestly can’t remember what it feels like to be mentally stable. He had quite good mental health when he was younger (well, he wasn’t mentally ill), but he can’t seem to remember what it felt like to go through his life with his brain actually working on his side.

Because that’s what mental illness feels like to him: it’s as though your brain is always conspiring against you. And in the months since he escaped the Galra, Shiro has learned all too well what having a brain like that feels like.

---

Almost every night, Shiro has nightmares. Not every night, of course, but the ratio of dreams to nightmares isn’t a good one. And he often has nightmares several times a night, until he is too worked up and anxious to sleep and gives up on the idea entirely.

It gets to the point where he starts to dread going to sleep. Shiro tries to stay awake for as long as he can, but you can’t fight sleep. He often falls asleep in the middle of the night, sat up in bed with the lights still on. And the nightmares still come.

The nightmares are always the same, but somehow different every time. They are always in the same setting, a Galra prison ship, and they always feature the same people, Galra soldiers who tortured him and the other prisoners who suffered just as much as him. And they always follow the same plot (if dreams even have a plot): being restrained and then tortured, or being restrained and then forced to watch his fellow prisoners (and friends) being tortured. But they still manage to seem different every time.

And you’d think having such similar nightmares would make him used to them after a while. Unfortunately, that’s not how nightmares work.

---

Shiro has just recently helped Keith discover his obvious Borderline Personality Disorder, and Keith is now working with the others to help him cope in less destructive ways. So it turns out that everyone in the Castle is Neurodivergent in one way or another. Coran and Allura haven’t specified exactly what their issues are, but they both said that they have the Altean equivalent of mental illnesses, and struggle. Pidge and Lance both have developmental disabilities, and Hunk deals with severe anxiety. And Shiro, of course, has PTSD.

He is very open about his PTSD, and his Space Family (Lance’s term, not his) are pretty good at supporting him. They know about triggers and flashbacks, and want to help when he is struggling. But Shiro doesn’t talk about his issues as much as he probably should, not wanting to burden the others with his emotional baggage; because the rest of his team all have their own problems, and Shiro doesn’t want them to have to worry about him too.

So despite the message he gives his team about talking about their problems (“A problem shared is a problem halved,” he told them, quoting something his mom told him long ago), Shiro is pretty awful at following his own rule. Because he doesn’t talk nearly as much as he should, bottling up his problems until he almost has a breakdown.

Because he’s the Space Dad (also Lance’s term), and a Space Dad needs to be strong. A Space Dad should be the one listening to people’s problems, not talking about his own. And he knows it isn’t a very good idea, but it’s just easier this way.

---

Sometimes, when he can’t sleep, Shiro gets up and walks around the Castle. He usually changes out of his pyjamas but stays in bare feet, and walks through the deserted ship whilst everyone else is asleep. Shiro wanders everywhere, but he usually finds himself on the Bridge. And he leans against the console usually manned by Coran and stares out into the endless blackness of space and just thinks.

On one of these nights, Allura walks onto the Bridge. Her sudden presence makes Shiro jump violently, his heart pounding as his body automatically jumps into panic mode. He tries to relax when he sees it is only Allura, but his heart races and pointless adrenaline surges through his body.

“Sorry,” Allura says. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s not a problem,” Shiro says, smiling. Yeah, it’s my overactive startle response’s fault, he adds in his head.

Allura walks across the Bridge, her hands clasped behind her back. She looks exhausted; dressed in pink pyjamas, she must have just got out of bed.

“Why are you awake at this hour?” she asks.

“I can’t sleep,” Shiro says. “You?”

“The same,” Allura says. She suddenly looks at something behind Shiro, and panic flashes in her eyes. Is there something wrong with her? “The pills Coran gave me drastically improved my sleep, but I occasionally get nights where I cannot sleep. Tonight is one of those nights.”

“Why’d you take pills?” he asks. “Are you an insomniac?”

Allura nods. “Chronically. Coran too. We rely heavily on sleep inducing drugs to sleep.” She steps closer, looking at Shiro like she’s studying him. “Are sleepless nights a regular occurrence for you too?”

Shiro wants to lie, to massively under exaggerate his sleep problems, but he doesn’t see the point. Both the Alteans seem very good at noticing when people lie. He sighs. “Yes. Yeah, I’m dreadful at sleep.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Allura says. “But I may be able to help. Would you be interested in taking pills to help you sleep?”

At this point, I’d try anything, Shiro thinks.

“Yeah, I’ll give it a try,” he says, smiling. “Thanks, Princess.”

Allura smiles. “Happy to help.”

---

The sleeping pills help a lot. Shiro still has nightmares, but he only seems to have a couple a night now, and being able to sleep for several hours in a row for the first time in over a year is a wonderful feeling.

He just wishes the rest of his problems could be solved so easily.

---

On the training deck, Coran sits up in the control room while the Paladins and Allura practise various training methods. And Shiro can’t help but notice that everyone is having a bad day: Coran’s voice is too high pitched and tense whenever he speaks, like he is on edge; Hunk keeps panicking over the slightest thing and seems seconds away from a full blown panic attack; Keith’s mood is swinging erratically and Shiro thinks he saw new scabs on his arms; Lance can’t focus and his short term memory has gone, leaving him barely able to remember Coran’s instructions; Pidge had a meltdown this morning and is 100% reliant on her AAC to communicate; Allura seems jumpy and keeps flinching at things that Shiro can’t hear; and Shiro himself is horribly tense and hyper alert to the point he thinks a flashback might strike any minute.

And everyone’s bad days are rubbing off on training, leaving the whole exercise a bit of a disaster. So it doesn’t surprise Shiro when things start to go wrong.

Allura’s coordination is all over the place, constantly missing targets and tripping over her own feet. And then she accidentally hits Keith in the chest, knocking him to the floor.

“Fucking hell, Allura!” he cries, scrabbling to his feet. He sounds angry, but looks like he’s about to burst into tears.

“I’m sorry, Keith,” Allura says, and she’s on the verge of tears.

“Yeah, ‘cause that’ll stop the bruising!” Keith snaps.

“Keith!” Shiro says warningly.

Keith sighs heavily, obviously realising what he just did. And without saying anything else, he drops his Bayard and storms out of the room.

“You all right, Allura?” Lance asks, clapping his hands together repetitively in an attempt to focus.

“I think so,” Allura says shakily, wiping her eyes

“What’s going on down there?” Coran says from the control room.

“Nothing,” Hunk says. “Just the team falling apart.”

“We’re not falling apart,” Shiro says. “We’re just having a bad day.”

Lance pulls as face that just screams, you keep telling yourself that.

Stop clapping, says Pidge’s AAC.

“Huh?” Lance says.

Shiro looks at Pidge. She has sat down on the floor, and is rocking back and forth.

Stop clapping, stop clapping, stop clapping. Hurting my ears. Stop it.

Lance obeys, but he looks annoyed. He starts jumping up and down instead.

Would you like to try another exercise?” says Coran’s voice. “I notice we’re a man down. Never mind. Try this one instead.”

The others move to the sides of the room, leaving Shiro to face their new challenge. Which is fair, he supposes, given that he is the eldest person in the room.

Three… two… one.”

On the count of one, something appears in front of them. The floor doesn’t open, so it must be a hologram. But that doesn’t stop Shiro panicking.

Because the hologram is that of a Galra solider. In full armour, they walk towards him, taking their weapon from their shoulder and pointing it at him. And Shiro tries to grab his weapon and prepare himself for the attack, but he can’t seem to move. He’s frozen to the spot. Just like in his nightmares. Just like in his memories.

And it may only be a hologram, but it looks so real.

“Shiro?” he hears Lance say.

Number One?” comes Coran’s voice over the radio system.

“Shiro?”

The Paladins and Coran keep asking him questions, but Shiro doesn’t know how to respond. His heart races, and sweat breaks out across his skin. And as the Galra solider walks closer, Shiro finds his mouth tasting of blood and dirt, just like when this happened in real life. He’s starting to have a flashback.

Panic ripples through him, his heart drumming so hard he can hear it in his ears. But he can also hear weapons firing and his own voice begging for mercy and he doesn’t know if it’s actually happening or if it’s the memories coming to life.

He drops to his knees, wrapping his arms around himself in a futile attempt at comfort and protection. He feels so sick. He can barely breathe, his lungs tightening painfully when he tries to draw breath. His fingers start to tingle from hyperventilating. Tears run down his face. He screws his eyes up, but it continues to torment him even with his eyes closed. He wants this all to end, but Shiro knows he can’t stop it. Why does his brain have to do this to him? When will this stop? He’s so scared.

And then, suddenly and finally, the flashback is over. His breathing starting to slow, Shiro opens his eyes to find himself on the training deck. The awful hologram is gone and he is surrounded by the others (even Keith). They all look so worried; Pidge and Hunk are both crying.

“Shiro?” Keith says hesitantly.

Shiro looks at him, his vision still blurring with tears. “Keith.”

“How… how are you feeling?” Lance asks, his hands manipulating one of Pidge’s stim toys.

Shiro exhales slowly, his voice trembling. His muscles are trembling too, his eyes sore from crying. “Not that good, to be honest.”

Can we help? Pidge asks.

“I don’t know,” he says. And that’s not him being annoying; he genuinely doesn’t think there’s anything anyone can do to make him feel better.

“Was that a flashback?” Coran asks. He’s clearly been crying too.

Shiro nods.

“It looked so scary,” Hunk says, speaking a bit too fast. “Does it feel terrible, like a panic attack?”

He nods again, sighing.

“I know we may not be able to alleviate any of your physical or mental symptoms, but is there a way we can support you?” Allura asks.

“We could give you a hug?” Lance suggests.

Shiro smiles weakly. “Yeah, a hug would be nice.”

And the others don’t think twice, immediately wrapping their arms around Shiro and pulling him into a hug. And it amazes Shiro just how safe and secure you can feel in the middle of a group hug, surrounded by your Space Family. Tears run down his face again, but he doesn’t wipe them away. And they’re probably happy tears anyway, because he can’t get over just how much he loves his team.

And he may feel scared and shaky and generally like a load of shit, but Shiro feels the tiniest bit better with everyone’s arms around him. They’re here to support him. And for the first time in what feels like forever, he doesn’t have to go through this alone. He has support. He has his Space Family.

Chapter Text

For the first time in over ten thousand years, Allura thinks she might be nearing a relapse.

When she was younger, her mental health shattered and she started having terrifying hallucinations. Thankfully, she had Father and Coran to look after her, but even they were confused as to what was happening to her. And she was just so scared all of the time, not knowing what was happening to her or why, too young to really understand that they were hallucinations, and that they weren’t real. Even Father couldn’t stop her panicking, because there was nothing he could do to convince her that the hallucinations weren’t really happening. So he just used to hug her tightly and tell Allura that he would keep her safe as she sobbed into his chest.

But once she was diagnosed and put on the right type of medication, her symptoms drastically improved. It was discovered that she had a psychosis spectrum disorder that best matches symptoms with the human condition called schizophrenia, which was very rare in Alteans, especially ones as young as her. And Allura was scared to go on medication, but Coran managed to reassure her that medication isn’t a bad thing, and that he knew it would help. Apparently he was on medication for something else, and Allura was relieved to know it wouldn’t hurt her. She got some side effects, but it was worth it to see her symptoms improving.

And not that long after her treatment began, Allura felt almost as well as she had done before this all started. She still got hallucinations sometimes, but they were rare and not as convincing and she had ways to help herself cope if they happened (such as taking a picture of it; if it showed up on the picture, it wasn’t real and must have been a hallucination). And Allura knew she was still unwell, and probably would be for the rest of her life, but she felt very stable then, glad she had the right medication and a support network and just that she knew what was wrong with her.

But… things aren’t like that now. Since she came out of stasis into a world without Altea and with Zarkon still alive and ruling most of the universe, she has started to feel unstable again. And without her father to help her, Allura isn’t sure how she is going to cope.

The symptoms start to return gradually, but Allura still notices with a sense of dread. First comes the low mood and lack of interest in personal care, which hits her hard whenever she wakes up, reminding her that everything is an effort and there is no point on doing anything. It takes an awful lot of effort to shower, but she manages to make herself do it. She has less success with styling her hair, and she knows it is gradually looking more and more dishevelled and messy as the quintants go by. But if anyone notices, they don’t say anything. And Allura is grateful.

But then she starts to experience something that has never happened before: delusions. And they are not so easy to ignore.

They are ideas that get planted in her brain, things that aren’t true but she can’t help but panic about because she doesn’t know that. And even if she does work out that a delusion is false, that doesn’t stop it confusing and terrifying her. It doesn’t help that most of her delusions could be true, anyway. Such as the one about how there must be a Galra spy somewhere on board, listening to their conversations and trying to hack into the computers. Because that could very well happen, what with everything going on lately.

---

It is around this time that Coran notices something is wrong. He finds her on the Bridge in the middle of the night, doing another security scan just to check that there still isn’t a spy on board. Her hair is a mess and her eyes are too wide, and Allura hasn’t felt this scared in a long time.

“Is everything all right, Princess?” Coran asks, and she jumps.

Allura turns around and sees Coran stood behind her. Just like her, he is dressed in his pyjamas. He looks concerned, twisting the end of his moustache with his fingers. When she doesn’t say anything, he steps closer.

“Allura?”

And looking at his worried face is what finally makes Allura break. She stares at Coran and her face crumples and tears start to run down her face. And she flings her arms around him and hugs him, holding on tight to Coran, the only other Altean alive (that she knows about; she hopes, really hopes, that there might be more of them somewhere), her only tie to her family and her planet.

“Whatever is the matter?” Coran says, patting his hand against the back of her neck.

“I think… I think it is starting again,” she sobs, her voice cracking.

She is being ridiculously vague, but she thinks Coran understands her. After all, there are few things that have happened to her that make her cry like this, and her mental health is one of them.

Coran sighs and rubs her back. “I see. Are you having hallucinations?”

Allura shakes her head. “No. Not yet, anyway.”

“Delusions?” he says. Just like her father was, Coran knows a lot about her illness, including the symptoms she never experienced before.

She nods, screwing her face up. “I feel like there’s a spy in the Castle and I need to find them before they kill us all.”

Coran pulls away from the hug, but he puts his hands on her shoulders instead, looking at her. He must remember what him and Father learned about delusions (about how you should go along with the delusion rather than tell the person it isn’t true, because they probably know that but won’t be able to stop worrying), because his voice is soothing as he says, “Well, let me help you check, just to be sure.”

And so Coran keeps his arm around Allura as he runs a full scan on the Castle, checking every computer and system at least twice. And although Allura is still terrified that there might be a spy on board, watching Coran check everywhere and find nothing is wonderfully reassuring. She is still scared, but feels a lot safer now.

“Thank you, Coran,” she says, hugging him again.

“It is no problem, Princess,” Coran says with a sad smile. “But you’re welcome.”

---

The relapse carries on for several more phoebs, but Allura is pleased to say that her symptoms seem to be improving again. And she is so grateful that Coran has helped her through such a horrible time in her life, just like he and her father did all that time ago.

She may no longer have her father, but Allura still has Coran. And he knows how to help and wants to help her when she is struggling, and she trusts him enough to believe him. And Allura knows that he will be here for her again next time she has a relapse. And that helps her feel the smallest bit positive about the future.