Chapter 1: Collapsing Stars
Keith’s missing still, and it’s been fifty-three hours and counting, nevermind the quintents or ticks. She hasn’t slept and Lance hasn’t slept and his voice cracks when he asks if there’s anything he can do to help, Pidge and she just -
Pauses, then, because it sounded like he wanted to say something different, but she pauses and blinks and shakes her head and cracks the tension from her neck and finally says (because he’s fidgeting the way he does when a panic attack is soon in coming) “you could read me something” and brandishes her phone.
He blinks, and pauses, but takes it and starts scrolling through the library. “You like poetry?”
for poetry” she says and laughs a little bit, because it’s almost that X-Files line about Bach, but not. “Today I’m kinda feeling e.e. cummings.”
“Sure,” he says, and scrolls further, past all of Atwood and down to Spicer (he quirks an eyebrow and she realizes with a weird salty-copper anxiety thrill that isn’t just her own that he’s seen certain old cartoons, too) to Twentieth Century Poets, A Treasury , and he doesn’t mention that she’s weird to have kept their Eng-lit texts. He kicks off the floor, then, carefully, so he ends up floating horizontal and she has to kick off the console she was floating by a little bit to make herself level with him.
Micrograv is good for cuddling, and that’s exactly what they both need, though right now neither one of them is anything but macho-butch-prickly and not able to ask for it in words. She ends up resting her head against his belly while he reads, feeling the rise and fall as he breathes and speaks. “...nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands,” he finishes, and she doesn’t know how long it’s been, but there’s a part of her that doesn’t want that to matter and she doesn’t know how to feel about that.
There’s been a weirdness between them in the past few weeks - the past sixteen months, honestly, if not the past three-ish years.
He’s kind and he’s gentle with her without being patronizing, and only when she needs it and never anytime else.
She’s always thought she liked girls, only girls, always girls, that was just there, but... he’s there, too. Or he has been. He's noodly in a weirdly elegant way, capable of being graceful and a klutz in the same breath’s span, and it isn't just that but he's starting to make her thing about things. Maybe it’s just femme people in general she likes. Allura’s honestly less careful about her makeup and skincare routine than Lance is about his, and views dressing up as a weapon of diplomatic warfare instead of a way of moving through the world as something to be admired and fought over -
And before she can figure out what it means that Lance is more femme than Allura and that the crush she had on one seems to have swerved towards the other, the console lights up and before the picture catches up with it she can hear Keith speaking.
He can hear Keith speaking, too, of course, and they both sort of flail back down towards the floor and she manages to grab the console just as he hits a tuneless “seventy-nine bottles of beer” and his voice cracks and he gives up and starts in again on “can anyone read - ”
“Yes! Yes, we read you, Black Lion, we hear you loud and clear,” she says, and behind her Lance makes a noise that’s half relieved sigh and half sob, and Keith makes an almost identical noise, only a little muffled behind the Blade of Marmora mask he’s got up. She’ll worry about why later, for now he’s home, and alive, and that’s more than perfect.
“Welcome home, man, we missed you,” Lance says, voice thick with what’s got to be a regular hurricane of tears.
She palms the switches to open the comm to the castle as a whole, not caring that they’ve got crew past the seven of them now, wanting everyone to hear that he’s
and he’s - if he isn’t already he’s
and if she’s honest she wants Green and Red and Yellow and Blue to know Mother is home and her Paladin with her, too. Keith laughs, wildly - “How long was I gone? You sound like - did you even sleep?!”
She laughs, too, then, and it seems whatever face weather Lance is having has spread because there are tears that come loose with it. “Nope. Maybe Hunk did but I think he just kept making layers of cake.” She scrubs at her face and it doesn’t seem to do anything at all. Lance drifts over and puts his arms around her shoulders and there’s a warmness in her that has nothing to do with physical contact in a big cold room. She doesn’t want to be thinking about that right now.
“Guess you gotta find someone to marry, man, he’ll be disappointed if Cake Orthanc goes to waste,” Lance drawls, and she can tell he’s grinning and then the way Keith laughs has a weird strangled tone to it and he’s got to be crying. Lord of the Rings was always his thing, wasn’t it? Trust Lance to remember that, with Hunk elsewhere and distracting himself.
She realizes with a jolt that she doesn’t want him to let go of her, and so with a suddenness that makes him twitch a little bit she reaches up and grabs his forearms. “Let’s all get married. Tell Matt I’ve got a harem or something, later, we can have a cake fight and take pictures and he’ll totally fall for it.”
She only remembers she’d thrown the comms open Castle-wide when Olia cuts in with a gleeful yelp of “I’ll officiate!”
Chapter 2: and no feeling that's worth having/would call my heart its home
Another time, another place. What if "Shiro" wasn't Shiro? And what if two of the Paladins realized it pretty much simultaneously? Why did I put a Mountain Goats song on repeat and try to write?
(Name switching in the first part of this is intentional; Katie is vulnerable where Pidge compartmentalizes things.)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It had been a weird few days, filled with the kind of psychic bullshit that had her certain that Jacques Vallee was sitting on Gordon White’s veranda in afterlife-Australia drinking cocktails, and the two of them were laughing like suburbanite moms watching a sitcom. That the lions had seemingly taken Coran explaining things to do with their origins as a starting-gun to start dumping information was just an extra layer of crazy-making on the pressure-cooker… and that metaphor had really, really gone someplace Katie wasn’t expecting.
“She said she did what to the cat?”
“Used quintessence to cure him somehow, you heard me the first time.” It wasn’t like Alfor to look defeated. It wasn’t like any Altean to fold inwards like that, body and energy both pulled in like they were guarding a wound. “Of course I’ve read her papers, of course I’ve kept abreast of her research, but I thought ‘Effects on Life-Forms” was purely theoretical… I’ve been a damned idiot , Trigel, and in doing it I may have just let Honerva damn herself.”
Katie caught herself at the door to her room, uncertain when she’d walked the length of the corridor or started to head in. Other people’s memories would stop being so loud if she just had a chance to rest and make her own louder, surely. Maybe she did need to just sleep for about 40 - she paused, caught herself, and stubbornly thought hours .
Naturally that moment, the moment when she finally made eye contact with her bed and finally realized that she hadn’t slept in almost twice that many hours, was the same moment a tiny squeaking came from the corridor behind her. To his credit, Plachu at least looked a little bit sheepish when she slowly pivoted and blinked blearily down at him. “Can I help you with something?”
The mouse nodded, and it was with a sort of fatalistic humor that Pidge recalled playing Cinderella as a little kid, with her brother squeaking and gesturing as a mouse. If she let herself start giggling over the memory she’d never stop. Plachu cocked his head to one side, letting slip a tiny querying squeak, and Pidge shook her head. “Sorry. I haven’t slept in a while, it’s getting to me.” The mouse nodded again, and pointed back down the corridor, dashing a few steps ahead and pausing. Plainly she was meant to follow him. “Can I at least change clothes first, please?”
“Did you guys seriously pull me out here because I’m the only girl who’s not Allura?”
It was Pidge. Katie, really, but she hadn’t said she wanted anyone calling her that. Dangerous to keep remembering she had another name. He didn’t want to screw up and throw her off in the middle of a fight. Still, better her than Lance, at least. Definitely better her than Allura. It had taken years-old controlled effort not to jump when he heard her whispering, and having managed that, Keith stayed curled up.
Furious whispers and tiny paws audibly tapping away at a touchscreen continued for a few moments more, and then there was a “Fine” less whispered than grumbled and he had company. Tiny clawed hands and feet ran up Keith’s arms, the mice settling in on him as he’d seen them do for Allura. Whoever had decided to shimmy up his hair and settle nestled in it gently patted him on the crown of the head.
“Hey,” Pidge said, her voice sounding downright rough in a normal speaking range. Very cautiously, mindful of the mice, Keith shifted so he could at least look sidelong at her. “Whoa, you look like I feel.”
Given that she was visibly maybe three minutes out of a sleep-deprived crying jag and wearing (borrowed? stolen?) salvaged Altean robes that didn’t quite fit, Keith didn’t feel like it was a fair comparison. “Why are you here?” he asked, too tired to make it sound as threatening as the bits of him that had never stopped being angry and afraid wanted.
“I’ve been… okay you know I basically have Batman files on you guys so I don’t need to tell you that part, but…” She trailed off, and nodded at the mice. “They don’t have my files and they still noticed something was up, and Plachu thought maybe you did too and that was why you’d gone all weird.”
There was a watery quality to her voice, like what she was dancing around saying was enough to bring her to tears. “You want me to go first, or can you say it?” His voice cracked, and he grimaced. He’d kept his face pressed to his knees when he couldn’t hold the tears back, earlier. Hopefully that didn’t show on his face.
She’d been sitting cross-legged, facing him from the side, and abruptly she shifted, pulling her legs up and clenching her hands together to hold them against her chest. “I… I know that… fuck ,” she said, bowing her head. “You aren't the only one the mice are watching. I know Black responded and I know we all want it to be him but that isn’t Shiro upstairs .”
Keith jerked his head sideways, pressing his forehead to his knees and wishing he could just vanish . Tiny little hands yanked none too gently at his hair in a scolding way, and he mumbled an apology.
“It is him but it isn’t him. I don’t know if they can make clones or if he’s a bio-android or what ,” she continued, voice shaking. “That isn’t our Shiro. I found a reason to mess around with his arm - and come on, when the hell has Shiro ever let me do that on a whim? - and nothing I changed is in there . Like, the code is back to default, or as close to default as Ulaz had it when he broke him out. The energy flow is different, too, there’s not… it’s like this is the stock model and he had a - ”
“ Stop it! ” Keith snarled, far more harshly than he meant. There was a bit of a growl he’d thought long since suppressed present in his voice, and he carefully looked up, unfolding and turning to look at Pidge with no effort to mask the level of horrified shame that surged through him as had the anger of a moment before. She was sitting cross-legged again, hands clenched on her knees, but she hadn’t moved even when he snapped. Her jaw was set with the same tension as her hands, her lower lip trembling visibly even as she tried to hide it. He’d caused that. Yet she hadn’t jumped back, or left.
“I’m sorry. I ramble when I’m scared, you’ve seen me like… staring at a squad of drones and… and if I don’t stop myself I’m going to keep doing this. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t care about anything but the programming in his arm, I just - ”
“No, I’m sorry,” he said, cutting her off. “I’m not… I’m really not cut out for this.” Two of the mice jumped ship and scurried over to fuss over Pidge, but whoever had settled on his head and right shoulder hadn’t shifted. An indignant squeak followed what he’d said. “I don’t know what that meant, but I’m calling bullshit.”
Somehow there was a shaky and tentative laugh at that, across from him. “ This being… being leader?”
“Yeah,” Keith said, surprised by how easily it fell from him. It felt like a weight lifting to admit it out loud. “I don’t know what else to do, but I’m not… I’m not like Shiro…” He didn’t want to say “was", so he just stopped speaking.
Pidge nodded, solemnly. “So what do we do?” she asked. “I mean yeah I heard what you just said, I just - do we tell Hunk first? He'll cry, but maybe we’ll get lucky and it’s as obvious as me being a girl was. Apparently.”
"You being a girl wasn't something like this."
Yeah, this just sort of fizzles out. Like I said in the work summary, this is where I'm putting the VLD stuff that I hit a wall on.
Jacques Vallee theorized that UFO phenomena and fairy/fae phenomena were coming from the same source (if you can find it, Passport to Magonia is an experience of a book; if not, his journals from the sixties through seventies are 1.published and 2. a trip). Gordon White is a frankly brilliant sorcerer with an excellent podcast, often talking about similar things (Rune Soup - it's also the title of his blog). I'll probably end up referring to his work pretty frequently in works in this fandom; his corollary to Clarke's Third Law fits Altean tech pretty neatly, and I feel like Keith's probably got a battered paperback copy of Star.Ships somewhere in his shack.
I have an entire rant about how we have occult authors right now whose work would be the Waite and Crowley of ~120 years in the future, but I'll cut myself off.