Chapter 1: The Setup
It was late in the evening when the door to the Holt household slowly opened, and the youngest member of the family stumbled inside with a happy sigh. Katie Holt, known to some as Pidge, had just returned from a local trinkets shop with a few more spare parts that she could hopefully use for her current project. Of course, she'd made the excuse that she was picking them up for her brother. While Matt would probably be interested, she mostly intended to keep them for herself--she just wouldn't let the shop owner know that. People tended to get confused when a girl like her said she ever wanted to do something interesting.
Pidge was hoping that she'd been sneaky, but apparently her parents knew her better than she thought. As soon as she closed the door, she was met with her mother and father's patient, but obviously displeased, expressions.
"Good evening, Katie," Colleen Holt greeted when her daughter appeared. "Did you have a good time?"
Pidge hesitated. It wasn't as if her parents didn't know about her hobbies, but usually the most they would give her is a passing sigh. This, on the other hand, felt like an intervention and she didn't like it.
"Yes...?" Pidge relied hesitantly. "Um, I managed to find those gears I was looking for. Hopefully they fit into Rover."
Pidge's father Sam nodded with a slight smile. "Yes, of course, your mechanical man." He paused. "You're still working on that thing?"
"Well, yeah, he's obviously not going to be done in a day," Pidge hurried to take off her shoes as she spoke, hoping to convey that she wasn't in the mood for this right now.
Her parents didn't get the message.
"Of course," Colleen replied. "But, now that you're back, there's something we would like to talk to you about."
Pidge rolled her eyes. They'd had this conversation plenty of times before. "Are you going to tell me about how I should quit building things and focus on becoming more like a lady?"
Colleen seemed surprised. "Well, I--that wasn't quite what I meant..."
"You are an adult now, Katie," Sam picked up for her. "We don't want to stop you from having fun, but there are some, uh, responsibilities you should be thinking about now."
Pidge just frowned further. "What responsibilities? I have my job. I do my part to support the family. I should be able to do what I want in my free time."
Her parents glanced at each other, suddenly looking very nervous.
Pidge sighed. "Look, I'm sorry, can we maybe just...have this conversation later? I just got home, and I'm tired. I need some rest if we're going to argue about my future."
This drew a chuckle from Sam, but his wife silenced him with an annoyed glare. Sam cleared his throat. "Okay, okay, fine, Katie. You go ahead and sleep. We'll talk tomorrow."
Pidge nodded at them gratefully and bid them good night. Then she disappeared in her room.
Colleen once again turned to Sam with a frown. "Dear, the Reyeses are coming over here tomorrow. When exactly do you plan on telling her? I don't think she'd react too well to this being a surprise."
Sam gave a half hearted shrug. "Hey, maybe we don't have to tell her right away. Maybe if she meets the boy first and likes him, the whole marriage thing won't sound so bad to her."
"And if she doesn't? Our finances are as good as sunk."
"Now, darling, no need to jump to conclusions. We'll see how tomorrow goes and then we'll panic if we need to."
Pidge had fallen asleep too quickly last night to get any work done on Rover, which was a bummer. She'd wanted to get some work done so she could show Matt when he came home for the weekend. Maybe she could get some work done tonight. Her father had sprung some news on her at breakfast that he had some friends coming over this evening, but if she played her cards right, she might be able to weasel out of it and retreat to her room.
And so, as soon as Pidge left her job at the local diner, she headed straight home. It was still pretty early in the evening compared to the usual time she got out, so maybe she could squeeze in some time to herself.
Rover was a mechanical man that Pidge had started work on after the family dog Bei Bei had died a few years ago. Pidge had always liked tinkering with machinery, but after their dog's death, she'd gone all in on building a new companion. As far as she knew, this had never been accomplished before, which only motivated her even more.
Pidge got to her room and immediately started working. Her parents would come ask her any minute now why she didn't have any friends to spend time with after work, and she would ignore them, just like always. They didn't get it.
She got some decent work done in the hour she had, and then she started hearing voices from out in the living room. Must be those friends that her father had told her about this morning. Pidge sighed and stood up. She covered Rover back up and changed into something more presentable, just as she heard a knock on the door.
"Katie," Colleen's voice called gently. "The guests are here. Come out and say hi."
"I'm coming," Pidge replied. "Just give me a second."
Once Pidge was done, she quietly exited her room. The living room was already occupied with five other people--her parents, and a family of strangers she'd never seen. Pidge's dad smiled and waved her over.
"This is my daughter Katie," Sam introduced her, and she shook hands with them, a polite smile on her face. "Katie, this is Miguel and Elena Reyes, and their son Lance."
The couple greeted her joyfully. They seemed nice enough. Lance appeared to be around her age, but taller, with floppy brown hair, blue eyes, and a confident grin.
"Katie Holt," Lance greeted. He took her hand and kissed it, to the amusement of their parents, that cocky smile still on his face. "It is a pleasure."
She hated him already.
Pidge sat quietly on the couch, talking as little as possible without seeming impolite. The Reyes family was loud, almost to the point of obnoxious, and her own parents didn't seem to have a problem with it. Lance was bragging about various adventures he'd gone on in the last year, and Pidge managed to tune him out. He didn't seem like a bad person, per se. He was probably friendly, but he wasn't someone she wanted to hang around for too long. Pidge wondered when she could drop this whole thing and go back to her room without making it too obvious.
Miguel and Elena were now discussing something about finances with Pidge's parents, which just made everything more awkward. Pidge's eyes were darting around, looking for any excuse to escape, when she caught Lance glancing at her.
She raised an eyebrow, and he responded with a sheepish but still wide, grin. Pidge forced herself to smile back.
"You know, it is getting a little stuffy in here," Sam suddenly piped up. "What do you say we take this conversation out to the yard?"
"Sounds like a plan," Miguel replied. "The weather is great outside anyway."
Oh, thank goodness, this could be Pidge's chance to escape. "Mom, I'll catch up with you guys in a little bit, I just need to go grab something from my room--"
"Oh come on now, sweetheart, you can't walk out on our guests," her mother insisted. She grabbed her hand and led her outside, with Lance following in tow. "I know the old adult talk is pretty boring for you, but just give it a few more minutes." She turned to Pidge with a sweet, innocent smile. "Why don't you and Lance get to know each other better? You'd probably have more fun talking to each other than to us."
Pidge hoped her desperate expression got across that no, I don't want to talk to Lance, I don't care about Lance at all, I don't like him, but her mother seemed oblivious. What had Pidge done to deserve this, exactly?
Lance himself, on the other hand, seemed to love the idea. "Yeah, that sounds great," he said. "I don't think you've said anything at all to me, Katie."
There's a reason for that.
"Although, for the record, Mrs. Holt, I don't think listening to you talk is boring at all."
Colleen chuckled as they walked outside, before practically pushing Pidge and Lance together and joining the others.
Pidge tried not to scream as she turned to look up at Lance. Just a few more minutes, she told herself, and he'd be gone from her life forever.
Lance was apparently looking her over, and gave her that stupid grin again. "So...Pidge, right? I've heard that people call you Pidge."
"Only my friends," Pidge replied.
He smiled wider. "Of course. So, Pidge--"
"Call me Katie."
That one seemed to catch him by surprise, and Pidge had only a moment to feel satisfied at his expression before he quickly bounced back. "Right, right, sorry. We barely know each other, after all. Tell me about yourself."
Pidge crossed her arms across her chest and looked at the ground, shrugging. "I mean. Not much to tell. I work at a local diner. I have a brother who comes to visit on the weekends. I, um..." Should I tell him about Rover? Nah, he doesn't need to know. "I like to....take...walks."
The words coming out of her mouth were completely dull, but somehow Lance at least seemed interested. Either he was an amazing actor, or the idea of going on walks was the most exciting thing this boy had ever heard. Considering the supposed dazzling adventures he'd been bragging about earlier, Pidge supposed it was the former. He must think she's boring. Not that she cared what he thought of her.
"Hmm. Sounds like fun," Lance said simply. "Going on walks, seeing the town, meeting people. I enjoy that too." He was still staring at her. "What else? Got any hobbies? Dreams? Aspirations?"
Pidge blinked, hoping that her weariness of this conversation wasn't showing on her face. "Um. People don't usually ask me about that."
Lance seemed to count that as a victory, as his eyes lit up. "Well, I'm interested."
She narrowed her eyes at him, once again wondering if he was sincere, and pondered how to answer the question. She could always just lie to him, it's not like it mattered.
"Well, I...guess I enjoy....creating things."
Lance smiled again. "Ooh, I've never met an artist before."
"Yeah, I guess. But not the regular kind. Like...I like to take old things and tinker with them."
"That's pretty cool. I knew there was something interesting underneath your plain exterior. Show me your work sometime."
Pidge tried not to roll her eyes. "Yeah, sure, of course." She cleared her throat and swerved the conversation away from herself. "So anyway, you mentioned that you like to travel. Have you gone anywhere recently?"
Lance perked up at the chance to talk about himself again. "Oh yeah! This last summer an old schoolmate of mine offered to take me to Europe for some kind of food tour, I think. My parents refused because they didn't want me to go overseas, but then..."
Pidge nodded along, letting him talk and feigning interest until it was finally time for them to leave.
She was relieved. Having guests over was always a drag for her, even if they were nice. The sooner they were gone, the sooner she could be alone to do what she wanted again.
That night, Pidge had covered up her mechanical man and was getting ready for bed, when her mother came into her room.
Colleen was smiling as she came closer. "Sorry from keeping you away from your work," she began, slightly cheeky. "I hope you're not too mad at us."
Pidge shook her head in amusement. "I'm not mad at you, mom. It's not like I can stop you from seeing your friends."
Colleen nodded slowly. She turned toward the door, where Sam also entered.
"There you are," Sam began. "Done working for the night, Pidgeon?"
Pidge smiled back. "Only because you guys won't let me stay up past midnight."
Colleen scoffed, but Sam laughed. "Well, when you get married and move out, you can do whatever you want."
Her parents were quiet, glancing nervously at each other just as they had the day before. Pidge had a sneaking suspicion they were keeping something from her, and it was confirmed as soon as Sam cleared his throat.
"So, honey, I've been meaning to ask," Sam began. "What did you think of our guests?"
Pidge turned to him slowly, trying to decipher his expression. "They were....fine."
"That Lance fellow sure was something, huh?"
"I...guess he was okay. Loud and intrusive and self-centered, but at least he wasn't mean." She raised an eyebrow at them. "Why?"
Colleen clicked her tongue. "Well, the Reyes family and us, we've been...talking about something," she said slowly. "You know how times have been a little hard for us lately. They've been going through the same thing, and we've decided that a good solution for it would be, well, an arranged marriage."
"You and Lance."
Sam tried to dispel the situation. "Now, just think about it for a second, sweetie--"
"No!" Pidge cried. "No way! You didn't even ask me about this! I don't want to marry him! I don't want to get married at all yet! How could you do this??"
"Katie, it's really not as bad as you make it sound--"
"No, you can't just do something like that without asking me first! I don't even like him! He's annoying and cocky and obnoxious! A-and he doesn't even like me either, he called me plain! No, I refuse! The marriage isn't happening!"
Her parents stood back and let her finish ranting, apparently having expected this. Colleen shot a look at her husband.
Sam sighed. "Okay, fine, fine. We'll talk about this again in the morning."
"We won't talk about it again because it's not happening!" Pidge snapped. "It's over! Tell them it's over!"
"Good night, Katie."
Her parents swiftly left the room and closed the door, leaving a distraught Pidge behind them. "I'm not going to marry him!" She yelled at the door.
Her parents didn't respond, but she could hear them quietly arguing from outside her room. They weren't going to consult her about his at all, were they? They were just hoping she'd calm down and accept whatever they threw at her. As if their financial troubles couldn't possibly be solved any other way.
But no. She wasn't going to take this lying down. Katie Holt wouldn't be forced to do anything against her will. She'd convince them to call off the marriage somehow, but who would listen to her?
Pidge layed awake in bed for what felt like forever, when suddenly she remembered that she still had one last hope. Someone who had always had her back ever since they were children.
Chapter 2: Allies
That Saturday was one of the brightest that Pidge had seen in a long time, and the weather hadn't even changed.
Matt usually arrived sometime in the morning, so when she heard the voices and the knock on the door, Pidge jumped out of her seat and made a beeline for it. These past couple of days had dragged, what with her parents dropping that awful news on her and her avoiding them ever since. She never thought she'd miss her brother this badly.
Matt wasn't alone when he came in, but Pidge didn't care. She immediately ran right past everyone else and gave Matt the biggest hug, practically tackling him in the process. "Maaaaatt!" She whined. "I'm so glad you're heeeere!"
"Oh my God, Pidge." Matt gasped. "What the hell, it's only been a week, are you trying to kill me?"
"No, I missed you! You have no idea what I've been through these past couple of days!"
"Yeah, yeah, you can tell me about it later. Can I please at least say hello to mom and dad?"
Pidge pouted as Matt peeled her off of him, earning a laugh from the person standing next to him. It was a familiar person, one that Pidge trusted as much as her own brother and had known for almost as long.
Shiro was an old friend of Matt's who was practically part of the family. As far as Pidge knew, he didn't have much of a family of his own to go back to, so it wasn't uncommon for him to show up at their house with Matt. As Matt went to greet his parents, Shiro stayed behind to ruffle Pidge's hair affectionately.
"You suddenly develop a brother complex??" Shiro asked her playfully. "You didn't even say hi to me, Pidge."
Pidge scoffed but stood on her toes to give him a hug. "Hi, you big dummy. Are you here to mooch off of us again?"
"Why else would I be here?"
Matt was still hugging his parents, when he turned around and clapped his hands together. "Well! I am starving! Who's ready for lunch?"
"God, Matt, you're always thinking about food." Pidge quipped.
"Well, excuse me for being a normal functioning human being."
Thank goodness these two had arrived, because this was the only meal Pidge had in days that wasn't laced in awkward tension. She was tired of dinners where her parents tried to discuss marriage with her and she had to shut them down every time. The thought caused an unpleasant lurch in Pidge's stomach, and she forced it down until she could get a chance to talk to Matt alone.
After lunch, Pidge walked up to her brother and childishly tugged on his sleeve. And good old Matt, the best brother ever, understood that she had something horribly urgent to tell him. "Hey, Pidge, have you gotten anything done with Rover? Show me!"
"Duh, you idiot, I wasn't lazing around while you were gone."
Shiro looked up. "Hey, I want to see the robot too. Am I allowed to interrupt the private sibling bonding or no?"
Pidge laughed. "Yes, you can come too." She grabbed both their arms and led them to her room, lowering her voice as they got further away from her parents. "I have something to tell you guys, you're not going to believe what mom and dad did to me."
They got into her room, shut the door, and waited as Pidge uncovered her project. Matt's eyes lit up and he kneeled closer to it. "Oh, sweet! You finally managed to find gears that fit!"
"Yeah, picked them up at Old Man Sal's just the other day," Pidge said proudly.
"That gruff old guy? How'd you convince him to give them to you?"
"I just told him they were for you. You can't say no to a good, obedient girl doing favors for her family, right?"
Shiro laughed. "You're a dangerous woman, Pidge."
"I'm proud of you," said Matt. "You're gonna finish this guy without my help at all, aren't you? Should I be proud or disappointed?"
"How about both?"
"No way. Don't need that kind of conflict in my life." As if automatically, he picked up one of Pidge's tools and started experimenting with the parts. He was the only person who Pidge would allow to do such a thing.
Pidge hopped onto her bed with a loud sigh. Shiro raised an eyebrow at her. "Long week for you, huh?"
"You have no idea!" Pidge threw her hands up in the air. "Shiro, you're not going to believe this! Mom and dad are making me get married!"
Matt nearly dropped the screwdriver in his hand. "Wait, what??"
"Yeah! You heard me! Married! And an arranged marriage too, without even asking me first!! Can't you believe they'd do that??"
Matt stood up and rubbed the back of his head. "Holy--well, who is it, who are they trying to marry you off to?"
"Some tool named Lance Reyes. Never seen him before in my life."
"Reyes," Matt mumbled. "I think I've heard them mentioned before. Old friends of dad's I think. They go way back."
"Well, I've never seen them before," Pidge snapped back. "And now they just want me to marry this guy! I just met him, like two days ago!"
Shiro was frowning. "But why?"
"Something about finances, I don't know." She turned to Matt desperately. "I don't want to marry him, Matt, he's annoying and self-centered! By mom and dad won't listen to me, please, you've got to convince them to call this off!"
Matt huffed a breath, glancing at Shiro awkwardly. "Aw man. I had a feeling something like this would happen. I don't know what I can do, Pidge..."
"Is there anything wrong with him?" Shiro asked.
"He's loud and rude and obnoxious and he called me plain and--!"
"No, I mean, ethically. Is he a womanizer, has he done anything illegal?"
Pidge paused, clicking her tongue. "I-I don't know. I just met him!"
Matt sighed again, still contemplating what to do, "Well, I mean, we could keep an eye on him to find out, but if we don't find anything then--"
"We'll help you," Shiro interrupted. "We'll break apart this marriage."
Pidge beamed at him. "You will?"
"They can't force you to marry someone if you don't want to," Shiro declared firmly. "We're going to get you out of this, Pidge, I promise."
Matt gawked at him, but Pidge jumped off her bed with glee and threw her arms around Shiro. "Oh my god, thank you Shiro, you're the best, I knew I could sound on you guys!" She turned to Matt, elated smile still on her face, and her brother gave in.
"Fine. I'll do what I can."
Pidge hugged him too. "I knew it!" She pulled back and looked at both of them eagerly. "So, how are we going to do it?"
Shiro grinned. "Well, you're not going to like it," he told her. "But you need to spend some time with your new fiancé."
Pidge looked betrayed.
"Find out about him," Shiro continued. "Use your wit and charm, make him talk about himself. Get some self-incriminating evidence."
Pidge rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "Well, he sure does love talking about himself."
"Great. Matt and I will do some investigating of our own, maybe find his friends."
Pidge was grinning again. "You mean, like spies?"
"If you want to think of it that way."
"Katie!" Colleen suddenly called from outside. "Come on out, dear! I need your help cleaning the living room!"
Pidge's shoulders sagged a little as she headed toward the door. "Thank you soooo much. I'm counting on you guys," she told them, before going out to see her mother.
Matt heaved a sigh. He turned away from Shiro and went back to Rover, taking the blanket used to cover the robot in his hand. "Can't believe this. Pidge. Marriage. My own baby sister..."
"There won't be a marriage, remember?" Shiro replied. "We just told her we'd break it."
"Why do you always make promises you can't keep?" Matt asked him. "We can't just jump in and demand they drop it. What exactly do you plan to do if we don't find anything wrong with the Reyes guy, huh?"
Shiro hesitated. "Uh. I don't know. But we can't sit by and do nothing. Pidge shouldn't be forced into a marriage. It's wrong."
"Your resolve is admirable, Shiro, but my parents are just as stubborn as you." Matt covered up Rover at last and turned to face his friend. "And what kind of investigating do you plan to do, exactly? I'd love to hear it."
At this, Shiro smiled. "Public records, Matt. They're everywhere. You said his name is Lance Reyes, right?"
"Yes..." Matt tried to decipher Shiro's expression, as his tone was making him a little uneasy.
Shiro opened the door. "Give me a few hours. I'll be right back."
Chapter 3: Small Victories
To say that her parents were ecstatic when Pidge told them she had scheduled a date with Lance would be a massive understatement. Colleen had basically flown out of her seat and insisted that she help Pidge get ready herself.
She looked so happy. Pidge hated lying to her.
Well, the date was real. Pidge had spoken to Lance over the phone yesterday, asking if he would like to meet her for lunch at a nearby cafe. He'd sounded oddly relieved, but it didn't do him any favors when he replied with, "I'd be honored to, milady."
No, the date itself wasn't the lie. But Pidge's intention certainly wasn't romantic.
When noon rolled around, Pidge was dressed from head to toe in a white and green dress, makeup done and hair curled by her mother, and she shouted a hasty goodbye as she left home.
Matt stood next to his smiling mother as he watched his sister leave. "Wow. So, this is actually happening, huh?"
"I know," Colleen replied softly. "She's...so grown up now. I can't help but be a little sad."
Matt clicked his tongue, shifting in his spot. "Are we really sure about this? You know, arranged marriage and all?"
Colleen turned to him, and nodded solemnly. "Yes. We've been discussing this with the Reyeses for a while. We don't know what else to do."
"I get that, it's just...I want Pidge to be happy."
Colleen hesitated for a moment, but then smiled at him. "She will be. Don't worry, Matt. The Reyeses are trusted friends. Lance will be good to her, you can be sure of it."
Matt nodded. "Okay."
He had no idea how this would go, and Shiro hadn't said anything about it since yesterday. All he could really do was hope for the best.
The cafe they'd selected was a nice little place by the sea, cute decorated tables outside for guests to sit. The salty breeze played with Pidge's hair and skirt as she waited, and it was exactly what she needed to calm her nerves. Pidge would have loved to be here if it was under literally any other circumstance.
Lance arrived with his hair combed back, wearing both a sports jacket and that same stupid smile. He spotted Pidge almost immediately and marched over, drawing attention from the others sitting nearby.
"My beautiful Katie," he greeted, kissing her hand like he was some kind of gentleman. "I'm so happy you called me, I've been waiting to see you again."
Pidge forced a smile, pulling her hand away. "Haha yeah....me too."
He pulled out a chair for her. "Shall we?"
Pidge didn't answer as she sat. She discreetly fiddled with the tablecloth as Lance sat across from her, calling over a waiter to bring their menus. Should she do something? Talk? That was the whole point of this, after all. She cleared her throat and decided to start some form of conversation.
"Um, I'm sorry I was kind of rude last time," she said. "My parents hadn't told me yet. You know, about the...arrangement."
Lance laughed. "Yeah, I heard. They've got an odd sense of timing, don't they?" The waiter arrived with their menus and Lance passed one over to her. "I guess I can kind of see where they were coming from. They probably wanted us to meet first. I mean, if you're going to have to marry someone, it would be nicer for it to be someone you've already met, at least, right?"
"Haha. Yeah." At least he'd confirmed that he had no choice in the matter either. Made her feel less bad about trying to weasel out of it.
For now, Pidge took a breather and looked over the menu. Nothing here was too pricey, and it's not like she was trying to throw her money around anyway. They could just go for some sandwiches and call it a day.
"Get whatever you want, alright, Katie?" Lance called to her over his own menu. "Even if it's the most expensive. I don't mind spending extra money for you."
Pidge put her menu down in confusion. "I...uh, you're paying for my meal?"
"U-uh, but...I'm the one who invited you here, so, I should take the bill, right?"
Lance laughed again. "You're so sweet. But nah, don't worry about it. I'll take care of it this time." He winked, and went back to his menu.
Pidge didn't move. What was she supposed to do in this situation? Insist on paying the bill? Thank him? She had no experience with this sort of thing. In the end she just sat back in her chair and said, "okay."
They both ended up getting a chicken plate and didn't talk much the whole time they were eating. This was going splendidly. She came here to make him talk, but there wasn't much talk happening beyond usual small talk, was there? How exactly was she supposed to get into his deep, dirty secrets? Ugh, she was the worst at this.
Hopefully Matt and Shiro would be faring a little better.
Shiro had practically dragged Matt away from the house with nothing more than a few words and a piece of paper that was shoved into Matt's hands. He looked dead serious about this, but Matt was just insanely confused.
"So, we're going to a sweets shop somewhere uptown," Matt repeated, trying to keep up with Shiro's strides. "Am I getting this right? And the owner's name was....Hunk?"
"Yep," Shiro replied simply, staring straight ahead.
"This Hunk guy is connected to Lance somehow, right? Is he a relative?"
"No, not that I can see," said Shiro. "But they're definitely best friends. Spend a lot of time together, probably tell each other everything. If anybody might know something bad about Lance, it's him."
"H-how do you know all this, exactly?"
Shiro hesitated, but then simply shrugged. "I told you. Public records."
Matt highly doubted that was all to it, but he kept his mouth shut. Sometimes it was best not to question. One of these days he'd find out that Shiro was actually a professional spy and it wouldn't surprise him in the least.
Matt hadn't been uptown since he'd moved away, and he'd forgotten how lively it was. Stores of all kinds lining the streets, the smell of different foods mixing in the air, everyone bustling about having fun. Ladies and men were dressed for a night out even if it wasn't night time. Matt felt a little out of place, if he was being honest.
But he couldn't focus on the atmosphere now, he had make sure he didn't lose Shiro in the crowd. Thankfully, he'd at least given him the address of the place on that paper, but he still didn't want to get lost.
Shiro stopped in front of an apparently semi-popular sweets shop. Matt could already see the cakes and candies lining the shelves inside, as as soon as they opened the door, the smell was almost enough to knock him over.
There were several people behind the counter taking orders. Matt had no idea what this Hunk character was supposed to look like--were they supposed to just ask?
Shiro took a look around, then casually went to stand in the line with Matt in tow.
"He owns the place, right?" Matt asked quietly. "Maybe we could complain about something stupid and ask to see the manager?"
Shiro gave him a look, but shook his head. "Nah. We don't want to make a scene. We need Hunk to trust us, not hate us."
Matt thought for a moment. "Maybe we could just be so blown away by the cakes we eat, that we just have to see the chef and compliment him ourselves."
"Hmm. That might work. But you're buying your own."
"Asshole, you're the one who dragged me here."
When it was their turn, they got a couple slices of cake, and got ready to pretend that it was the best thing they'd ever eaten in their life--and luckily for them, the didn't really have to pretend.
"Oh my gosh," Matt whispered. He needed to take a second after his first bite just to savor the flavor of it. There's no way sweet and spicy flavors should be together in the same dessert and actually taste good. But they did. Hunk, whoever he was, must be some kind of miracle worker.
Shiro looked surprised too. "This is seriously good. How have I never heard of this place before?"
Matt shrugged and took an even bigger bite, stuffing it in his face like a starved animal.
"Ok, you don't have to look that into it."
"This isn't an act, Shiro, I've just tasted heaven."
They cleaned their plates, walked back to the counter, and Matt demanded as politely as possible to know who was responsible for the glory he had just eaten. The woman, apparently used to this, just smiled and pointed to the other end of the counter.
Serving customers at the other end was a large man with a larger smile. His hair was tied back with an orange headband, and he was currently engaged in an animated conversation with a pretty silver-haired young woman. That must be their guy.
Hunk spotted them walking over and said goodbye to the girl he was talking to. His smile was almost blinding as he greeted them. "Hey there! What can I get for you guys?"
"You're Hunk, right?" Shiro asked pleasantly. "I'm Shiro, this is my friend Matt. This is our first time here, and we just wanted to tell you that your cakes are absolutely fantastic."
"Best I've ever had," Matt agreed.
Hunk's eyes lit up. "Aw, really? Thank you so much!"
"Yeah, no problem. I can see why this place gets so much business."
Hunk waved his hand. "Eh, yeah, the money is nice, but I'm just here to bake, you know? Been my dream ever since I was a little kid."
Shiro's smile softened. "That's amazing. Good for you."
"You wouldn't happen to be willing to share a recipe or two, would you?" asked Matt.
At this, Hunk laughed. "Sorry, but that's a trade secret. I can make it up to you though—how about a couple of free items for the road? You can take your pick."
"Really?" Matt glanced over at Shiro.
Shiro shrugged. "Sure, we'll take you up on that. Matt, you should get something for your sister."
Matt paused. Right. They were still on a mission here. "Yeah, uh, my sister...she uh, could use some sweet stuff." He turned back to Hunk with the most inconspicuous smile he could manage. "She's been pretty nervous these days, cause, she's getting married soon."
That was probably an awkward and abrupt delivery. Hunk raised an eyebrow but didn't ask.
"Aww, congratulations, man! That's so funny, a good friend of mine is getting married pretty soon too."
"What a coincidence," Shiro replied pointedly.
"Yeah, he's been bugging me to make the wedding cake for him," Hunk paused. "Which, I guess means I'm taking orders for that, if you're interested."
Matt almost snorted at the image of Hunk unintentionally baking two cakes for the same wedding, but he held it in. "I'll have to ask my sister," he told him. "After she tastes your sample."
"No problem." Hunk handed them the free slices as he spoke, tucked nicely in a yellow box, and waved over the next customer. "So, uh, anyway, I'm gonna have to get back to work. It was good talking to you guys, come back soon, okay?"
Matt's eyes widened. They'd only just gotten started on getting information out of him, they weren't done yet! Matt turned to Shiro, but his friend was just smiling in agreement.
"We'll be sure to," Shiro told him. "Bye, Hunk." He grabbed Matt's shoulder and pulled him away, going out the door of the shop as if they had no other reason to be there.
Matt gave Shiro an annoyed frown as soon as they were back outside. "Was that it??" He demanded. "I didn't come here for some free cake, Shiro, I thought we were going to get information out of him!"
"Matt, we just met the guy," Shiro explained to him. "We can't go pumping him for information yet, that would be too obvious."
Matt blinked, and nodded slowly. "I guess that makes sense..." he muttered. "So, what, are we going to have to come back here again?"
"Yeah, looks like it," Shiro shrugged. "We can dig deeper next time. Or after that. Whenever it feels natural." He walked past a gawking Matt and headed off in the direction they came.
"Natural??" Matt sputtered. "Are you trying to actually become friends with this guy? How many cakes are you going to make me buy, exactly??"
After lunch, they'd decided to take a walk.
Lance was still talking, and he still wasn't saying anything useful. Pidge was starting to get tired of hearing his voice. If she wanted answers, she'd have to ask him herself.
Pidge turned to look up at him, smiling sweetly and putting her hands behind her back. "So, Lance..." she began. "Since we're going to be, you know, up close and personal, I was wondering. Do you have any...secrets?"
Lance's cheeks seemed to turn a slight shade of pink, but he kept his composure. "Secrets? Uh, what kinds of secrets?"
"Any kind," Pidge shrugged. "You got anything you don't want anybody to know? I mean, since we're getting married and all, we should be able to trust each other with these things."
For the first time since Pidge had met him, Lance's cocky smile was gone. He looked thoughtful for a moment, almost calculating, but Pidge didn't think he could be that smart.
"So, like what, do you want me to tell you about the scar I have on my bottom, or...?"
Pidge's smile disappeared. "Wha--no! Not that kind of secret! Gross!"
Lance burst out laughing, and that dumb grin was back. "Hey you said any kind! But don't worry, I was joking. My bottom is perfectly smooth, you'll love it."
"I don't care about your bottom!!' Pidge shouted. Her face was practically on fire. "I meant...non-physical secrets. Here, I'll start." She thought for a moment, wondering what she could tell him that wasn't too embarrassing. "When I was a little girl, someone convinced me that if I danced in the middle of the school yard and shouted loud enough, I could make a fairy appear."
Lance snorted. "And did you?"
"Of course. No fairies showed up, but the teachers sure did."
"Pfft, you must have been a fun kid."
"Sure, yeah. Your turn."
Lance looked up at the sky and clicked his tongue. "Well, if we're talking embarrassing schoolyard incidents, I was once pressured into eating a bug."
"Yeah. And then another friend told me that it had been poisonous and that I would die in three hours. I panicked and cried, and they had to send me home."
Pidge snorted. "That's sad." She turned to him again. "Okay, let's up the ante a little. Have you ever done anything...bad?"
Lance paused, and gulped. His dumb smile was looking a little more strained now. Interesting. "What do you mean?"
Pidge shrugged nonchalantly. "You know, a dark secret that's been haunting you. I once stole a favorite toy from a girl I didn't like. Or those times I got tips from my job but conveniently forgot to report them. Things like that."
Lance stopped walking, and bit his lip. "Um..."
Ah, now they were getting somewhere. Pidge took a few steps closer, backing him into a wall and and batting her eyelashes at him sweetly. "Don't worry Lance, I won't tell," she said softly. "But since we're getting married, we should agree not to keep anything from each other...right?"
Lance's eyes darted around. He opened his mouth a couple times and closed it again. Then, finally, he just smiled. "Ah, well gee Pidge, I-I don't think I've ever done anything like that," he laughed hollowly. "Y-you know me, I'm talkative, I'm an open book. I've got nothing to hide."
Pidge frowned. Damn. She was certain there was something he wasn't telling her, but his guard was up too high right now for her to push. "Oh. Okay."
"Hey, I won't tell anyone about the tips, promise," Lance told her, managing to go back to his confident posture. "I get it, hard financial times and all. But, you should probably stop."
"Oh, yeah, sure, it was a long time ago anyway."
Her frustration probably showed in her voice, because Lance raised an eyebrow at her and cleared his throat.
"Well, uh. This has been a lot of fun, Pidge. I had a good time, but I'm going to have to head back home. Shall I walk you back to your house?"
The cocky grin was back, and Pidge rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure. Let's go."
She didn't say anything on their way back, and weirdly enough, neither did Lance. She must have shaken him up with her interrogation, and now he must not think very well of her. Good. At least now she knew that both of them would be miserable in this marriage.
A quick goodbye later, Pidge was back home. She sighed loudly as she shut the door behind her, thankful that her parents weren't around to pester her about how it went. Pidge headed to her room, changed her clothes, and got some work done on Rover while she waited for someone else to get home.
Matt appeared in her room a few minutes later, a nice-smelling yellow box in his hand. "Hey, Pidgey! You're back!"
He sat down next to her and ruffled her hair. "How'd it go? Get him to say anything good?"
Pidge groaned. "I was close. But he didn't say anything." She bit her lip. "I have a feeling he's hiding something. But I don't know if he'll say it. He seems like he's consciously trying to keep it in the dark." She turned to her brother. "What about you? Did you and Shiro find anything?"
"Kind of." Matt settled on the floor next to her. "Shiro--somehow--managed to track down a friend of Lance's. I'm not sure what he's doing, but I think he's trying to poke into the guy's head somehow. Make him trust us enough to gossip."
Pidge grinned. "Sounds cool."
"Yeah, who knows how long it will take though." He sighed. "But I guess secretly saobotaging an arranged marriage can't be easy, huh? Lance's friend does make some amazing cakes, though, you want a slice?"
Pidge obliged, scarfing down the cake as if she hadn't just eaten lunch just half an hour ago. She had to admit it was delicious, but she wished it had less nuts on it.
"We sure are getting a lot of innocent people involved in this, aren't we?" Pidge asked, as she finished off the pastry in her hands. "Hope it's worth it..."
"It will be," Matt reassured her. "As long as you're happy, Pidge."
Chapter 4: Trial and Error
"I don't know what the hell I'm doing wrong, Hunk. We've been going on dates for weeks, I've been using all of my usual tricks, but nothings been happening."
Hunk sighed on the other end of the telephone, as Lance played nervously with the cable. His friend probably didn't want to spend his lunch break listening to him rant about his fiancée, but Lance was a ball of nerves and needed to talk to someone, so this would have to do.
"She absolutely refuses to open up, even when I'm trying my hardest to form a connection," Lance continued. "She's so stubborn. The wedding's in a month and I barely know anything about her! Half the time I don't even understand what she's saying!"
"Oh man, is she really that bad?" Hunk asked pitifully. "Have you told your parents? They might think it over."
"They insist that she's the sweetest girl they've ever met, but she sure hasn't shown that to me," he sighed, staring sadly up at the ceiling. "I was so excited, too, I thought this would be my chance to change for the better, you know. Meet a sweet girl, settle down, stop being so wild. But this isn't what I bargained for. I mean, it's okay that she doesn't look like a model, but I thought she'd be nice at least."
"Wow, Lance, you didn't have to make a dig at her looks. Maybe that's why she's being mean, she can tell that you think she's ugly."
"H-hey, I didn't say she was ugly! She's just not...you know..."
"Bombastically sexy like the other girls you've known?"
Lance growled at him, and Hunk just snickered.
"She's cute," Lance conceded. "But she obviously hates me. It's like she's not even giving me a chance." He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Maybe you have a point though. She does seem pretty smart. I guess she can tell there's something wrong with me."
"There's nothing wrong with you, Lance. Look, you've absolved to put your mistakes behind you. If she really is smart, she'll realize that you're sincere eventually. I mean, you do have the rest of your lives."
Lance snorted. "I guess."
"Hey, I hate to leave you, but I need to get back to work. Why don't you call your girl and take her out to see a show or something? Just keep trying to form a connection, you know?"
"Alright. I'll try again. See you later, Hunk."
Lance hit the phone button with his hand, taking a moment to listen to the dial tone. It was getting tedious, taking Katie out on all these dates that went nowhere. But, maybe there would be some hope this time, some kind of miracle that would set off a spark. That hope dwindled in him every time they went out, but it was still just alive enough to push him back toward the phone to dial Katie's number.
All of her tactics were failing. Lance was so dodgy and so fake half the time that it was hard to make him talk about how he actually felt at the moment, let alone any dark secrets that he might have. Pidge suspected that he could tell she was trying to play him, and that just made everything worse on various levels.
Both she and her brother were making tiny steps of progress in their plan over the past few weeks, but that wasn't enough. There was no way they'd be able to find something to ruin Lance's reputation with her family before the wedding if they kept going at this rate. Pidge didn't want to lose hope, but it was looking pretty bleak. And convincing her parents to give up on it was out of the question at this point.
She would still be going out on dates though, just in case. If nothing else, it gave her the opportunity to get used to Lance before they were officially stuck together for the rest of their lives.
Pidge arrived in front of the theater to see Lance happily waving her over to a table. They had some time before the next show, so Lance bought them a snack. Pidge was grateful, but she still didn't look at him, instead staring st the table as she ate.
Lance was unusually quiet for a couple of seconds. Then he cleared his throat, catching Pidge's attention.
"Listen," he began slowly, looking serious for once. "I-I understand that this isn't....your ideal situation."
Pidge blinked. He was deciding to say this to her now? After all this time?
"You didn't choose this, I didn't choose this, and you probably don't want to be around me at all." He paused to take a breath. "But I just--Katie, I'm trying to make the most of it, okay? I'm really trying. But I need you to meet me halfway. We can't change this, but at the very least we can try to be happy." He was smiling again, still obviously fake. "So, can we just try to start over?"
Pidge stared at him, expressionless, not really knowing what to do now. "Fine," she said flatly. "We'll start over. Tell me about yourself."
Lance tapped his fingers together, looking her over as if trying to figure out what she was thinking. "Uh, y-you first."
"I'm always talking about me!" Lance replied, exasperated. "All I know about you is that you danced for a fairy once!"
Pidge's face twisted into an annoyed frown. She didn't want to talk about herself. She didn't want to tell him that she was a weirdo who had no friends and just built robots all the time. She was miserable enough as she was, thank you very much. "I like to cook sometimes," she said finally. "There. Now you."
Lance was frowning at her just as incredulously. "I like to run."
"Yeah. You know. For sport."
Silence. They just kept staring at each other. Lance's plea from before had sounded sincere, Pidge had to admit, but she was just too tired to put any effort into this anymore. They were just sick of each other, that was all there was to it.
An announcer came out to let them all know that the show was starting. Lance and Pidge dropped their conversation and went into that theater.
When Pidge returned home, she didn't smile upon seeing her brother.
"You know, you'd better have something good by now, Shirogane," Matt snapped as he followed Shiro through the uptown streets for the umpteenth time. "Pidge is getting more and more miserable by the minute."
"Hunk invited us to go drinking with him," Shiro replied simply.
"That's great, you made a drinking buddy. But is that really going to help us?? I feel like we should be looking for another lead, Shiro, this is going to get us nowhere."
Shiro frowned at the ground. "This is the best we've got, Matt. Lance's siblings all live halfway across the country and his parents are out of the question. Plus, I just feel like Hunk knows....more. It's just a hunch, but..."
Shiro trailed off, and Matt sighed. This whole idea had been doomed from the start.
The two of them stepped through the door of Hunk's shop. Shiro waved to him happily, as if absolutely nothing was wrong, and Matt tried to follow suit.
"Hey guys," Hunk greeted pleasantly. "I'll be closing up in a second, I'm just waiting for one more person to pick up her order."
"No problem, we can wait," said Shiro.
Matt glanced at him and rolled his eyes. Hunk seemed to notice and raised an eyebrow. "You okay, Matt?"
"I'm fine. I'm just in a bad mood. Nothing a drink won't fix."
Hunk frowned. "Aw, man. You wanna talk about it? I've got some time."
Matt shrugged. "It's nothing, I'm just worried about my sister. She's getting married, but she's upset about it because she doesn't like her fiance, and it's just a mess," he stared down at his shoes, growing more angry as he spoke. How could their parents do this to Pidge??
Shiro cleared his throat. "Matt..."
Hunk's eyebrows shot upward. "She doesn't like her fiancé? Then why is she marrying him?"
"It's arranged, she has no choice," Matt snapped. "It's so messed up, we're supposed to be past this, I can't believe my parents are doing this to her--"
Matt was interrupted when Shiro gave him a hard shove with his elbow. "Matt. Don't bother Hunk with your family problems." The look he was giving him was one of warning.
"Shiro, dude, let the man talk," Hunk piped up. He leaned forward on the counter toward Matt, eager for the gossip. "So what's wrong with the fiancé, is he, like, abusive?"
"N-no, not that I've seen," Matt replied slowly. He'd almost forgotten why they'd been meeting up with Hunk in the first place. He couldn't blow their cover now. "Actually, I've only seen him a couple times. I think it's just a personality clash."
Thankfully, before Hunk could pry any more, the bell by the door rang, and someone else walked into the store. Hunk brightened when he saw the woman, and waved her over just as he had with Shiro and Matt.
The new guest was a woman that they'd seen around the store a couple of times but had never gotten a good look at. She was...striking. Her hair was long and silver, but she was still very young, probably no older than Matt. Her eyes were bright blue and her smile was poised and pretty. She looked rich, though that wasn't very different from many other people in the area.
"Hello Hunk," the newcomer spoke softly. "I hope I'm not too late."
"No worries, I was just talking to a couple of friends," Hunk gestured to Matt and Shiro with a smile. "This is Matt and Shiro, they've been coming here a lot lately. Guys, this is Allura. She's the daughter of Alfor Altea, you know that big businessman? And a good friend of mine."
Allura laughed sheepishly. "Hunk, did you have to tell them that right away? I prefer they get to meet me as myself first." She smiled at Shiro and Matt. "It's nice to meet you boys."
"Nice to meet you too," Shiro replied politely.
"Ah. Yeah. Hi." Matt's throat was suddenly very dry.
"Here's your order, Allura," Hunk handed her a bag full of goodies with a grin, and Allura snatched it from him like an eager child.
"Thank you, Hunk." She looked over the sweets in the bag, then looked up again with a curious smile. "Hey, by the way, is that a wedding cake back there? I didn't know you were making those now."
Hunk scoffed. "I mean, it's just the one for now. It's for Lance."
"Lance??" Allura's jaw dropped as if it was the most stunning news she'd ever heard. "Lance, the self-proclaimed Ladies' Man? He's getting married?"
Hunk laughed and started getting ready to leave. "Yeah, isn't it crazy? Though I thought you of all people would be happy about it, now he won't be flirting with you all the time anymore."
"Well, sure, but...how on Earth did he finally settle for someone? I thought it would never happen."
"Eh, it's kind of complicated. I'll have to tell you about it some other time, I'm taking these guys out to the Galra Saloon for some drinks."
Allura frowned. "You still go there?"
"Only occasionally." As Hunk spoke, he finally turned the lights off on his shop and ushered everyone outside. "Anyway, we should get going. I'll talk to you later, okay, Allura?"
Allura looked disappointed, as if she wanted to continue gossiping, but sighed and waved at them anyway. "Alright. Good night, Hunk. And you two, boys, be careful not to drink too much, I've seen what that place does to people."
Allura took her leave. Matt and Shiro, he hadn't spoken at all during that exchange, fell into step behind Hunk as he happily led them along. Matt's face was pale and his eyes were wide. Shiro didn't trust him right now to bring up the subject, so he decided to take a prod at it himself.
"Uh, who...who is Lance the ladies' man?"
He worried that it was a bit too forward, but Hunk just shrugged. "He's a friend of mine," the baker answered. "You know, the guy who's getting married? He used to come to this place with me all the time, he loved the drinks and the girls." Hunk laughed. "I mean, every single guy around here goes at some point or another, but I guess Lance was a bit...addicted? Not anymore, though, you know, marriage and all." He turned to grin cheekily at them. "But I'm not getting married yet, so I'm free to do what I want! You boys are both single, right?"
"Yeah," Matt squeaked.
"Good! Let's hurry up though, I don't want to miss the happy hour."
Chapter 5: Deep Dark Secrets
That last date was pretty depressing, Lance had said to her. I know it's soon, but can we try again? Please? I promise it will be better this time.
Pidge couldn't figure out for the life of her why Lance was so desperate to make this work. Hadn't they just agreed to be miserable together?
But, well, perhaps there was still hope. If Lance was determined to spend time with her, then she had more chances to get into his head. Matt and Shiro were apparently following their lead again, so she should do her part as well. At the very least, it kept her parents from getting suspicious.
So they found themselves going for a walk downtown, Pidge doing her best not to let her growing frustration with the situation show. But how could she, when her plan was just plain not working? There was nothing wrong with Lance. He wasn't mean, he wasn't doing anything wrong, he was just...fine. Heck, he could even be funny sometimes, despite his loudness. If Pidge wasn't so angry with her parents and the universe she might have laughed.
That didn't matter though, because she knew this would never work out. Lance lived in a completely different world from her. He had a circle of friends, he had an interesting life. He was normal. Not like her. If he found out about her unconventional way of life and hobbies, he'd find her weird just like everyone else. There was no way they'd be happy in this marriage, which is why she had to stop it from happening.
"Helloooo?" Lance called. "Earth to Katie? Whatcha thinking about, doll?"
Pidge blinked out of her daze and just looked away. "Nothing."
Lance raised an eyebrow. "You sure? You were staring off into space like a zombie, I thought you'd fallen asleep. You didn't even laugh at my ice cream joke."
"Mm. Sorry. Bet it was funny."
Lance was quiet, then stopped by a corner and sighed. "Katie, come on, I'm really trying here. I thought we agreed that we'd make this date more fun than the last one."
Pidge turned to look at him and gave him the biggest, fakest smile she could. Lance just frowned further, clearly annoyed.
"Can't you at least try to like me?"
"Well, sorry for not being as good of an actress as you!" Pidge finally snapped. "I was trying, but it's not working! Just forget it, it's not like it makes a difference anyway!"
Lance seemed to bristle. "It does make a difference! I don't want to be stuck with someone I barely know, but you've been so hostile ever since I met you!"
"Oh, look who's talking!" Pidge's voice was taking on a higher pitch now and they were escalating into a fight. But at that moment, she didn't care. She just wanted this to end. "You keep talking about knowing each other and trusting each other, but I know you're hiding something from me! What is it with you, Lance?? Why do you always have that shitty fake grin on your face?? What are you keeping??"
Lance looked almost alarmed for a minute but didn't back down. "I'm not keeping anything! You're making up assumptions, you're just--just looking for some way to make me the bad guy, aren't you? I'm over here doing my best to form a connection, and you just refuse! Why? Why do you want to make my life miserable, why do you hate me so much? What did I ever do to you??"
"Because you're trying to force me to love you!" Pidge stomped her foot in anger, probably looking like a small child throwing a tantrum. "Y-you--! You took away my chance! If I'm going to get married, I wanted it to be with someone who would like me! W-who would be like me! I wanted someone else, I wanted someone who wouldn't think I'm weird just like everyone else does, I wanted to meet that person, but I can't now, because I have to be with you!"
She stopped suddenly to take a breath. Where the heck had that come from? That wasn't what she'd meant to say at all.
Lance was staring at her as if she was speaking a different language. Then he pinched the bridge of his nose and gave another long sigh. "Okay, look--I-I'm sorry," he said softly. "Just--please don't cry."
Pidge's hand flew to her face, where she finally noticed a stray tear and hastily wiped it away. "I'm not crying..."
Lance gently put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her aside. He guided her to a table by a random store and she begrudgingly sat down. Lance was quiet, thinking of a way to respond to that outburst.
"...I never thought of it that way," he finally said. "Taking away your chance to meet someone else." He scoffed. "No wonder you hate me."
Pidge sniffled, and also spoke quietly. "I mean, don't you feel the same?" she asked. "You probably could have been with another girl. Someone prettier, probably. Someone who understands you. Because I sure don't."
Another pause. Lance seemed to be calculating what to say next, as if he was afraid that this would fall apart into something unsalvageable. Then he simply asked, "What's not to understand?"
"I don't know. You're so...different from me."
"I always thought I was pretty simple," he shrugged. "Just a guy who wants a good future. Doing what I can for my family. Hangong out with friends...what's different?"
Pidge laughed hollowly. "Yeah, I guess from your perspective it makes no sense. You're....normal."
"...and you're not?"
Pidge should have jumped, should have been afraid. But she was too tired for that. Too tired of the mind games. "Mmmm, I'm considered a bit weird. I do things that some people think a girl should do. I have engineering tools in my room. I'm trying to build a robot to replace our old dog. People gossip about me and they're too scared to be my friend."
She never thought that she'd be telling this to Lance of all people. Perhaps a bit of an emotional outburst to bring down her walls was all she needed to stop feeling self conscious. But what was he going to do now? Laugh at her? Tell his friends?
Lance was simply quiet for a moment. Then he gave a soft chuckle. "Well, I mean...that is different. Wouldn't exactly call it weird, just...different."
Pidge didn't look at him.
"Can I see it?"
Pidge blinked. "Uh, what?"
"Your robot. Can I see it?"
He had a small smile on his face again, but to her confusion, this one was devoid of cockiness or fakeness. He did seem confused but also...a little intrigued? No, it couldn't be. She was just imagining things. Besides, this was a good excuse to go home.
"Sure. I can show him to you. And my parents will be glad to see you again."
"Shiro, I'm going to seriously murder someone."
Shiro should have probably stopped Matt from that third drink. His friend was tiny, and currently at the very end of his wits. He didn't usually act this way drunk, but Shiro could understand that he was in an awful mood right now.
The saloon itself wasn't all that bad. It was obviously well-maintained and fairly clean, better than a lot of places he'd seen. Shiro could definitely see the rich uptown citizens coming here for a good time. But what made Matt angry was the crowd of women who had practically jumped Hunk when they'd walked in with only one question on their lips: where's Lance?
One blonde girl, Shiro recalled, had been particularly upset when given the news.
"It's not faaaaair, he used to hang out with us all the time!" Blond complained angrily. "Are we just, like, not good enough anymore??"
"That's not it," Hunk replied calmly. "He's getting married now. He wants to settle down."
"Hmph. Well, whoever she is, she probably doesn't deserve him. I bet I can sneak him out sometime and she'll never know."
"Haha," Hunk replied sarcastically. "That's not funny." He took a swig of his drink and gestured to himself and his two friends. "Besides, I'm still here! And I brought a couple of friends too, they're pretty fun!"
The girls had all turned to look at them, putting them under a spotlight they didn't ask for.
"Well..." said one of them with long, red hair. "That buff dark-haired one is pretty cute."
Shiro decided that was the best time to duck out.
They'd retreated to another part of the room, where Shiro was trying to keep Matt from ranting too loudly and drawing too much attention.
"Lance is a fucking womanizing bastard drunk sex addict and if he touches my sister I'm going to fucking kill him in his sleep--" Matt slurred.
Shiro tried to hold him upright and calm him down. "Matt, hey buddy, it's okay--"
"No, it's not okay! Lance is supposed to marry my sister!! I'm not going to let him anywhere near her, I swear to God, he is dead."
"Look, Matt, nothing's going to happen to her," Shiro reassured him. "We got what we came for, remember? We're going to tell Pidge, she'll tell your parents and the marriage will fall apart. We did it."
Matt took a second to understand, but when he did, a wide smile appeared on his face. "Yes! We did. We're gonna make sure his reputation is ruined. Let's go find Pidge."
"Yep. But maybe grab some water before we get out of here, okay?"
Shiro forced Matt to chug down a few glasses, then hurriedly said goodbye to Hunk.
"What? You're going already??" Hunk asked. "It's not even ten yet!"
"Sorry, I need to get this idiot home before he starts a fight," Shiro snorted. "He's such a lightweight."
"Pffft. Okay, fine. But you better stay later next time, okay?"
"Bye, Shiro," the red-head from before sing-songed. She slipped him a piece of paper and walked away with a wink, and by that point Shiro was more than ready to get the hell out of here.
Pidge probably should have questioned why the house was dark before they went inside, but as it was her mind was still racing. It wasn't until she was in her living room with Lance in tow did she realize that her parents weren't home.
Meaning she was in the house with her fiancé. Alone.
Lance clicked his tongue. "Huh. Are your parents usually out this late?"
"They must have gotten stuck in some traffic. This happens sometimes," Pidge responded. She then turned to Lance with a stern look and an accusatory finger. "You're just here to see Rover, got it??"
Lance raised his hands up innocently. "Yes, I got it."
"Don't get any funny ideas. I can kick real hard you know."
"Absolutely no funny ideas here."
Pidge made sure she didn't have her back to him as she led him into her room. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the blanket off of Rover and stepped back so Lance could take a look.
"Ooh," Lance looked it over with a grin. "That looks...pretty interesting. You made him yourself?"
"My brother helped. But yeah, it's mostly been me."
Lance leaned closer, trying to understand what was going on, and turned to her again. "So, what does he do?"
Pidge laughed sheepishly. "Welll, I'm hoping eventually he'll be able to walk and help out around the house. But, for now...well, he can turn his head and wave." She pushed a button on Rover to demonstrate, and the robot did just that.
Lance looked a bit weirded out, but once again, intruigued. "Damn," he whispered. "I have to admit, that's pretty cool." He rubbed the back of his head. "I mean, I'll be honest, I don't understand anything about how this works, so I won't be able to offer much help but...I'm impressed."
Against all odds, Pidge gave a tiny smile. "Thanks. I'm glad you don't think it's weird."
"Not sure why anyone would. People are just closed-minded and probably envy your intelligence." He chuckled. "I'd definitely call it unique, though. I'm gonna confess, I thought you were kinda boring when we first met, but obviously I was wrong."
Pidge looked at the floor. "Th-thank you..." she was quiet for a moment. Then she tossed the blanket back on Rover and smiled up at Lance. "Do you want something to drink before you leave? Tea or something?"
Lance smirked. "I thought you just wanted me to see the robot and then leave."
"Pff, well if you don't want any, you can just say so."
Lance laughed. "Gee, you're still desperate to get rid of me, aren't you? Alright fine. Tea. You got the rose petal kind?"
"Yeah, my mom loves that stuff. Come on."
The tea was fairly quick to make, and they stayed in amicable silence until Pidge sat down next to Lance on the couch, cups in hand.
"Thank you, Katie," he said. He waited until Pidge sat down, took a few sips, and then hesitated. When he spoke again, he sounded nervous. "So, uh. This robot. Rover. He's a pretty big deal, huh?"
"And you haven't told anyone about it. Big secret?"
Pidge raised an eyebrow. "Yes. I'm--I'm trusting you with it, okay? It's a--fiancée thing." She stared downward, suddenly second-guessing her decision, but Lance quickly jumped in to stop her.
"Oh, yeah, I get that, I won't tell anybody, I promise. It's just--" he stopped, staring at the floor one more time. "If we're in the middle of a secret-sharing hour, then...there is something I've been keeping from you."
He actually looked a little bit afraid. What was going on?
"But it's not like, a harmless hobby like yours," Lance continued. "I'm actually afraid you might hate me. More than you already do, anyway."
He looked up at her, but Pidge just stared back expressionlessly. "...I don't think I can," she replied. Though she herself wasn't sure what she meant by that.
Lance swirled the liquid around him his cup. "Alright. I guess you deserve to know. I, uh...I have a history of, well, being with a lot of girls."
Pidge frowned, confused, as Lance gouged down his tea. Then he kept going.
"I mean, more than necessary. I was what my parents called wild...or untamed. I went out to drink on a regular basis and stayed with women as a sort of stress relief. I didn't hurt anyone, but. I was reluctant to give it up. I thought commitment would take away my freedom. And I relied on it way, way too much and...." he paused, trying to reel it in before he got too heated. "And I just. I was kind of a mess--but not anymore," he gulped. "I've been away from that for months now. I was actually hoping it would just...stop mattering and I'd never have to tell you, but, I think it's something you should know about. We shouldn't keep secrets from each other."
Lance finally stopped, and looked up pitifully at Pidge's wide-eyed face.
Pidge wasn't sure what to say. "O-oh, so. Are you a sex addict?"
"No! I--no, not anymore. I've stopped. It's been hard but I stopped. I had my family and friends, and..." he took another breath. "And when I heard I was going to get married, I decided to put a stop to it for good. For the sake of my wife--for you."
He actually looked genuine. He looked...vulnerable.
Pidge took too long to answer and any hope in Lance's expression disappeared.
"You hate me," he moaned.
"No, no I don't--"
"Yes you do. Shit, I knew I should have saved it until after the wedding, I'm an idiot--"
"Hey, stop it," Pidge snapped. "You already said it, so just deal with it."
More quiet. Then Lance spoke quietly again. "Do you hate me?"
"No," Pidge replied instantly, surprised by how much truth there was in her answer. "How can I hate you if you're trying to get better?"
Lance looked surprised, and eagerly turned to face her. "Y-yeah, I really am. Believe me, Katie. I don't want you to think I'm a bad person. It's part of my past, something I'm trying to let die." He gave her a pleading look. "You're going to give me a chance...right?"
Pidge pressed her lips together. This was it. This was what she was waiting for. He deep dark secret that she could use to destroy him, along with this marriage she never asked for. But, he was looking at her so desperately. He was trusting her. She couldn't do it.
"Y-yeah," Pidge spoke softly. She reached out and squeezed his hand, trying to wipe that pathetic look off his face. "I will, and. I'll try to help you in any way I can."
It took a second, but Lance gave her a huge smile. A real smile.
"Thank you, that...that means so much to me, you have no idea. Uh--can I hug you? Is that okay?"
Pidge sighed. "Sure..."
Lance leaned forward and hugged her tightly, as if he was a you child and she was his favorite teddy bear. Pidge was taken aback for a moment before she lightly hugged back. He was warmer than she'd expected.
"Ugh, I'm so relieved," Lance was saying. "You won't regret this, Katie, I promise."
"I hope so," Pidge quipped. "And uh...you can call me Pidge, by the way."
Lance gulped. "Okay, Pidge. Thanks. You're the best." He paused again, loosening his embrace a little. "You know, maybe our parents were on to something when they put us together."
Pidge smiled. Oh, she was in huge trouble.
And then, she was snapped out of her trance by frantic banging and keys jangling at the door. Pidge quickly pulled away from Lance and was startled for a moment, but then realized that it was probably just Matt.
"Ah, that would be my brother," she muttered.
Lance scoffed, looking sheepish. "Ah, whoops. I guess that means I'd better get going."
Matt practically barreled through the door as soon as he got it open, his steps looping around each other as he looked around the living room. "Pidge are you here??" He shouted. "I have to tell you something, you--!"
He spotted Lance. He froze. Pidge wanted to question him, but the look of sheer hatred on Matt's face shut her up. Matt jabbed an accusatory finger in Lance's direction and hissed, "Wh-what the hell is he doing here?"
Oh boy. Pidge got up to intercept him. She had no idea what was going on with Matt, but she had to stop it before it escalated. "It's okay Matt, I just invited him over to come see Rover," she explained slowly. "And then we had tea. That's it."
"Yeah, and I was actually just about to leave," Lance added. He put his teacup down and stood, managing to scoot past Matt's relentless glare. "Good night, Pidge! I'll see you soon, okay?"
Lance quickly slipped out the door, almost bumping into Shiro on his way out.
As soon as Lance was gone, Matt turned back to Pidge in a panic. "What happened?? Why was he here? Did he touch you?? Did he hurt you??"
"No, he didn't—Matt, are you drunk?"
"Yes," Shiro replied to her. He pulled Matt away from her in exasperation. "Matt, go drink more water, I'll handle this."
Matt was still angry, but listened to Shiro, grumbling angrily as he stomped into their kitchen.
"Sorry, Pidge," Shiro said. "I should have stopped him." He then turned to Pidge in concern. "Are you sure you're okay though?"
"Yes. I told you, nothing happened. He saw Rover and then we had tea. That's it."
"You showed him Rover?" Matt cried from the kitchen, sounding betrayed. "Our Rover??"
"Keep drinking water, Matt!" Shiro snapped.
Pidge laughed softly and seated herself back on the couch. She picked up the teacups from the table, noting to herself that she should go clean them soon, and took a whiff of the smell. Rose petal tea. She suddenly liked it a lot more than she used to.
Shiro was staring. She'd been smiling too much. Pidge set the cups back down and grinned up at him innocently. "So, uhh...how did your snooping go?"
Chapter 6: A Decision
Pidge stared at the floor. She was still seated on the couch, slumped forward, hands folded in her lap, staring downward. Shiro was standing nearby, arms crossed and being watchful as always, while Matt rambled away.
"So in short, Lance Reyes is a womanizer and possibly an alcoholic," Matt snapped. He had sobered up a little, but was obviously still angry. "And there is absolutely no way we can responsibly let you marry him."
"We're afraid he might be unfaithful to you, Pidge," Shiro added.
"Yes, exactly!" Matt agreed. "Once he gets bored with you he'll probably sneak off back to that saloon."
Pidge merely hummed in response.
Matt finally stopped. Now that he had blown off steam, he seemed to be calmer. Shiro was giving him a look.
"So," Matt began again, a smile forming on his face this time. "All you have to do is expose his ass to mom and dad, and the marriage will fall to pieces. It's perfect. We did it, Pidge."
Pidge was quiet, looking back and forth between them. Then she looked downward and sighed. "Well, that's true, there's no way mom and dad would allow me to marry someone like him."
"Exactly!" Said Matt. "That's what you wanted, right?"
"We can get proof if you need us to," Shiro added. "In case your parents don't believe you."
"So do you want to tell mom and dad yourself?" Matt asked eagerly. "Or do you want us to join you? They'll be home in like ten minutes probably."
Pidge didn't respond for a moment, still staring at the ground. "...I can't do it."
She didn't hear the other two speak for a while, and for a second she thought she'd have to repeat herself when Matt spoke again.
"I--what? What do you mean you can't do it??"
"I can't do it!" Pidge snapped at him. She stood up."Look, I--Lance told me, okay? Everything you just said, he told me before you got here!"
"And you're okay with it?" Shiro asked, frowning.
"I--no, it's just--it's old news! It's in his past, Matt! He said he's trying to get better."
"And you believe him?" Matt argued. "Pidge, he was probably just saying that to win you over! How can you trust him??"
"Because he trusted me!" yelled Pidge. "He trusted me with his biggest secret, and I can't just turn around and use that against him! It's just wrong!"
"Wrong, are you serious--and this isn't wrong?" Matt retorted. "Pidge, you're the one who asked us to do this!"
Even Shiro looked annoyed, and that was rare. "Yeah, Pidge, we've been trying for weeks to dig something up," he said. "And only now you decide to change your mind?"
Pidge bit her lip. "I'm sorry, Shiro, it's just--not like this, okay? I can't just go blabbing out his secret after he trusted me with it. I'd probably feel bad about it for the rest of my life." She paused. "And besides, he...he's not as bad as I thought he was, initially..."
Matt grumbled something under his breath and kicked a chair. "Unbelievable--is this just because he liked Rover? Is that it? Pidge, you know there's probably a million more decent guys out there who would be fine with Rover, right?"
Pidge didn't respond.
Finally, Shiro sighed. "Fine, okay. It's your choice, Pidge. But I say you should think about it, at least. We don't want you getting hurt."
"...I will," Pidge replied quietly. The doorknob began rattling and she heard her parents' familiar voices from outside, but she didn't feel like talking to them right now. "There's more tea in the kitchen if you want some." And with that, she turned to go disappear in her room again.
They were supposed to leave early the next morning, but Matt obviously still hadn't fully recovered from their night out. Shiro found him sprawled out over the kitchen table, drinking bottles of water and looking like he was going to be sick.
"Uh, are you okay?" Shiro asked him.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine, I just. My head hurts."
Shiro rolled his eyes. "Of course if does. Come on, get up, we're going to miss the train."
Matt groaned. "I don't know if I can move around too much right now. Can't we catch the next one?"
"The next one isn't until one in the afternoon."
Matt waved his hand. "Eh. Classes don't start until tomorrow anyway. We can go whenever."
Shiro didn't move for a moment, then tossed his bag on the floor. "Alright, fine. I'm not hanging around you when you're like this though. I'm going up to Hunk's for some breakfast."
Matt managed to lift his head off the table with a frown. "Hunk? Why? Weren't you paying attention? Pidge doesn't care anymore."
"Who said anything about Pidge? Maybe I just genuinely enjoy the guy's company. And his baking."
Matt snorted. "Fair enough. Fine, see you later I guess. I might go for a walk or something when I feel like it."
Shiro shut the door behind him and walked briskly through the streets. It was still pretty early, so not many people were out and about in the streets, even when he got uptown. Not that he was complaining, he appreciated the peace and quiet every now and then.
Apparently Hunk wasn't around this early, but some of the employees were already there. Shiro ordered something small, then sat by one of the large windows to quietly enjoy his breakfast.
After about ten minutes, a familiar face walked slowly through the door, grinning from ear to ear. Shiro was surprised to see him here and kept his head low. He didn't want to get further tangled up in this now that Pidge had told them to stop, but that didn't mean he could listen.
Thankfully, Lance didn't seem to notice him as he made his way to the counter. "Hey Rosita," he greeted cheerfully. "Is Hunk in yet?"
"No, but he should be here soon," the girl replied. "He said he was going out last night but I don't know if--oh wait, never mind, here he is."
As if on cue, Hunk barreled through the door with a giant box in his arms--also apparently not noticing Shiro there--and Lance beamed at him.
"Well, speak of the devil!" Lance called after him as Hunk walked in around the counter. "Did I summon you here with my radiant presence, old buddy?"
"Lance, it's eight in the morning," Hunk grumbled. "Can you at least give me a minute to get set up before you go all sunshine and rainbows on me?"
Lance chuckled, sliding over to stand in front of Hunk. "Fine, fine, fine. I'm surprised you're here this early since you went out last night."
"Yeah, my friends left at like ten, so there wasn't much point in staying longer, you know?"
Lance rolled his eyes. "Glad you found some new bar buddies to replace me."
"Yeah, what was I supposed to do? Go by myself?"
Hunk took a couple more minutes to set himself up, tying the orange headband around his head. "So," he said to his friend. "What's got you so chipper today, anyway?"
Lance perked up in excitement and drummed his fingers on the counter. "Oh yeah! Hunk, my dude, you're not going to believe this, but it actually happened. Yesterday, I was out with my fiancée again and there was an actual spark."
Hunk's eyes widened with interest, and he leaned toward Lance. "What? Oh my gosh, and I thought you were losing hope. Give me the details."
"Okay so--first she yelled at me for not being what she wanted, which, I mean, that's not the good part, but it was kind of good because then we started being honest with each other. And I just...I think that's what we needed, you know? I actually told her about....about me, and she was okay with it!"
"Whoa, really? She liked it?"
"She liked that I trusted her. And she trusted me too, with a secret that I'm not going to tell you."
Lance was smiling softly now, tracing circles with his finger on the counter. "You know, I really wasn't expecting this to work. I don't know how this happened, but it did."
Hunk was still listening, while working on getting enough pastries out on the shelves for people to buy. "Maybe it's just fate, you know?" he mused. "If your parents hadn't set you up, you probably would have been looking in saloons forever without realizing that the perfect girl was somewhere else entirely."
"Maybe, I don't know," Lance sighed. "I don't think it's so much that she's normal, in fact she really isn't. She's smart, she's unique, she's interesting. And she's so small! I never thought tiny would be attractive, but I can just hug her with my whole body and she fits! It's adorable."
"Whoa, okay, too much information there, bud," Hunk laughed. "But I'm happy for you, man. You've got it bad for her now, don't you?"
"Pssh, please Hunk, we're just getting started. I'll probably have it bad by next time."
Hunk said something else, teasing Lance about his newfound romance while Lance just took it in stride and continued gushing over Pidge.
Shiro, still unnoticed at the table near the window, took a sip of his beverage with a smile. Maybe he didn't need to worry. It looked like things would turn out just fine.
Chapter 7: A Turn For the Worse
Only a couple of nights after their heart-to-heart at Pidge's home, Lance invited her out yet again. He said something about wanting to keep up the momentum, and surprisingly, Pidge found that she was happy to oblige.
Lance hadn't changed, he was still going on and telling her long stories about whatever was on his mind, but it wasn't uncomfortable now. His smiles were genuine, he held nothing back. Pidge also held nothing back, interrupting him, asking questions and sharing silly anecdotes of her own. Sure, she still wasn't happy about being essentially forced into this, but at the very least she didn't despise Lance's company anymore. It was as if something had just clicked, and Pidge didn't really want to fight against it anymore.
It was getting late, and Lance was walking her home while telling her some ridiculous family tales.
"My older brother, Marco? I think I mentioned him before--anyway, he used to sneak up behind me when we were kids and just drape himself over my shoulders to bug me. All the time. In front of my friends, too."
Pidge laughed. "Matt used to do that too. I never wanted to be near him at school, he's always embarrassed me. He was the worst."
"I know, right? They must have been doing it on purpose."
"Must be a big brother thing."
Lance snorted, then stopped walking. "Well, looks like we're here..."
Pidge smiled up at him. "Sorry to cut it short."
"Pff, nah, we've been out for a while already. You probably want a break from me."
"Kinda, yeah," she smirked.
Lance pouted comically. "You wound me, Pidge, but I know you don't mean it." He grinned. "I'll see you soon, then?"
"Definitely. Bye, Lance."
Pidge turned the key and slipped inside, waving goodbye to her fiancé one last time.
Once she was in her house, Pidge flipped on the light switch and sighed to herself. She was tired, but she had to admit she'd enjoyed herself. It really was nicer to be with the guy now that they were open with each other.
Nobody else seemed to be home at the moment. Matt and Shiro had returned to their university town yesterday, and her parents were probably still working. She was alone for now.
Pidge changed into more comfortable clothing, and made herself something to eat before settling in her room. She hummed to herself thoughtfully, wondering whether she should work on Rover or just laze around for the rest of the evening.
Then, she heard a noise.
Pidge looked up curiously, leaning over to see if anything was in the living room. Had her parents come home? She thought she would have heard them talking. When she didn't see anything, Pidge figured it was just her imagination and leaned back into her comfortable position.
But then she heard another noise.
Frowning, Pidge stood up, plate in hand, and walked outside. She froze in alarm.
"Who the hell are you--"
Something hit her in the head. Pidge didn't remember what happened after that.
The place Shiro lived was not exactly homey, despite technically being his home. Every day he was here he lamented the fact that he hadn't been able to get an apartment with Matt, and was instead forced to share with two men who never spoke to him unless absolutely necessary. They reminded him of his parents.
Usually, he managed to distract himself by throwing himself into whatever work he had, but today was a different matter. He'd finished his work, and now he found himself staring down at the telephone on his desk.
There was someone he'd been meaning to call for a while, but it had been so long. Would that person even want to hear from him? Over the phone? His hand reached out and hovered over the headset, but then the voice of one of his roommates passed by the door, and Shiro retracted his hand. No, he didn't want them to hear.
Shiro nearly jumped out of his chair as the phone's loud ringing startled him out of his concentration. He took a second to calm himself, sighed, and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Matt? Yeah it's me."
"Oh my god, thank goodness, I--I-I need your help, I don't know what happened, but I--my parents just called, it's terrible, oh my god--"
Shiro frowned. "Matt, buddy, it's okay," he tried to reassure him. "Can you please just explain what happened?"
"It's not okay, Shiro!" Matt cried. "I--okay, I just got off the phone with my mother--P-Pidge is missing. She disappeared."
Shiro's jaw dropped. "Disappeared??"
"Shiro, I'm panicking, I--I don't know what to do, what do I do?? Why would Pidge go missing??"
"I'm coming over. Hang on."
Shiro found Matt in front of his apartment building, pacing back and forth with the phone still to his ear. As he got closer, Shiro heard him talking, apparently to his mom. Matt looked relieved when he saw his friend.
"Ok mom, look--don't worry. Shiro just got here. We'll get there as soon as possible. Okay. I'll call you back later."
Matt hung the phone back up and turned to Shiro, worry apparent in his expression. "They want me to come home. Like, right now, if possible."
"Of course," Shiro replied, taking Matt's arm and leading him away. "We can catch the next train if we hurry--what happened, exactly?"
"I don't know, they were too shaken to speak clearly," Matt gulped. "All I heard was that they got home last night, the lock was open, there was broken glass all over the living room, and Pidge was gone."
Shiro grit his teeth. "She was kidnapped."
"But by who?? And why??"
Shiro held his arm tighter to keep him from panicking. "We'll find out. She's going to be okay, buddy, we'll find her. She's going to be fine."
Waiting for the train for a few minutes felt like an eternity. Shiro didn't have any suitcases with him, so he kept his hands busy by putting them in his pockets and occasionally patting Matt on the shoulder to console him. He had to do his best not to freak out himself. It was going to be okay. He knew Pidge, she wouldn't go down without a fight.
It was night when they finally arrived at Matt's hometown. Matt fiddled with his keys, to the door, and they both went inside.
Colleen was seated on the couch, looking like a deer in headlights when the two young men burst through her door. Her eyes were red and swollen with tears, so different from her usual demeanor that even Matt froze for a second.
Colleen stood up after a moment, making a whimpering noise as she tightly hugged her son. Matt quietly whispered reassurances to her, and Shiro stood back, looking around the room as he gave them some space. They'd apparently cleaned the place up, which for some reason made Shiro frown further. He'd hoped the scene of he crime would remain untouched for investigation for a while.
"...they just left a couple hours ago," Colleen was saying. "Your father went out to look for her."
"We'll go out to find her too," Matt declared. "Come on, Shiro, we--"
"No, no," his mother interrupted. "Don't leave me by myself again. Just stay for a few minutes."
Matt hesitated but couldn't say no. The three of them sat on the couch, quiet until Colleen's sniffles stopped.
"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Holt," Shiro said softly. "Listen, Pidge is a smart girl, okay? She'll be fine. And I'll help in any way I can."
Colleen managed a smile. "Th-thank you, Shiro. I'm so sorry to make you miss your classes like this."
"Hey, don't say that. You guys are like family to me, classes can wait. I want to help--who was the last person to see her?"
Colleen thought for a moment. "Uh, I said goodbye to her right before I left yesterday, so it was—wait, no," her eyes lit up. "That's right, she went out with Lance."
Matt stiffened. "Lance?"
"Yes. He was talking to the police earlier, he said that he brought her home last night and everything was normal. Sam and I came home a couple hours later, and she was gone."
Matt stared gravely up at Shiro, who could tell exactly what he was thinking.
"That bastard," Matt whispered. "I don't trust him for a damn second." He stood up, stomping toward the door. Shiro immediately stood up to follow him.
Colleen sat up. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid," replied Shiro. "We'll be back soon, I promise."
Matt was running as fast as he could down the roads to the Reyes' house. Shiro could hear him cursing under his breath as he caught up.
Matt was out of breath by the time he reached his destination, but that didn't stop him from banging on the door. Shiro put a hand on his shoulder in a futile attempt to calm him down. "Matt, listen, I don't think he had anything to do with it—"
"You don't know that!!"
There were voices on the other side of the door, and it opened to reveal not Lance, but Hunk.
Shiro paused for a second, surprised, but Matt was unfazed. He pushed past Hunk and scanned the room until he spotted a distraught Lance seated nearby.
"You!" Matt marched toward Lance and jabbed a finger at him. "What the hell did you do to my sister?!"
Lance gaped up at him. "What are you talking about? I didn't do anything!"
Shiro managed to pull Matt back a bit so Lance could stand up, but Matt continued rambling. "I don't believe you, you snake! You were the last person who saw her before she disappeared, if anything happens to her, I am holding you responsible!"
"Wait, sister?" Hunk asked from behind them. "Your sister is..." he stopped, a look of realization crossing his face as he put together what was going on.
Lance and Matt were still glaring at each other. "I didn't do anything!" Lance insisted. "Whoever took her did it after I left, and I had nothing to do with it!"
"Liar! I know you're a liar, I know everything about you, I knew Pidge shouldn't have given you a chance--!"
"Why would I take her, huh? We're literally engaged, what reason would I possibly have to kidnap her?"
Matt paused, panting as his anger was seeming to fizzle out. He could feel Shiro staring at him in concern, as well as Hunk glaring at both of them.
"I-I wouldn't know, you're the secretive one around here--" Matt gulped, dropping his arms and looking down in defeat. "Where...where's my sister, Lance? Where's Pidge?"
Lance's expression softened and he mirrored Matt's movements. "I don't know. I don't know, Matt. I'm so sorry."
Matt didn't respond, and Shiro tugged his arm again. "Matt, we should go," he said softly. "We left your mom by herself, she's probably still waiting for us."
"Wait," Lance piped up again. "Before you guys go--Hunk and I were talking about what we should do. We were going to start investigating this ourselves, and we could use all the help we could get."
Matt blinked. "I--really?"
Hunk stood next to Lance, still looking slightly annoyed after figuring out that he'd been played. "I dunno, Lance," he said. "I feel like we should just leave this to the police."
"No way, they don't care nearly as much as we do," Lance insisted. "This is just another missing person case to them. And besides," he stuffed his hands in his pockets guiltily. "I...do feel kind of responsible for this. I didn't stay to make sure she was safe. I won't make that mistake again."
Matt gulped and took a step closer. "So, what do plan on doing?"
Lance looked up. "Well, I thought we could first get Allura's help."
"Allura?" Hunk asked. "What would she do?"
"She's rich!" Lance replied. "I dunno, she probably has a bunch of resources. She could hire a private detective or something, I'm not sure, but I think she'd be able to help."
"I could probably do a bit of searching myself," Shiro added, drawing a scoff from Matt. "But I don't know how much I could find without any leads."
"Yeah, okay." Lance crossed his arms and paused. "I'll call Allura in the morning, and...I guess I'll see you guys soon."
Matt was a lot calmer when they left, but his shoulders sagged as he walked home, and there wasn't much that Shiro could do to console him.
Allura did agree to help, but unfortunately that didn't mean much. Even with all of their efforts combined, they found nothing about Pidge's whereabouts within the next three weeks. There were no fingerprints, no witnesses, no connections. The police were starting to give up.
Matt and Shiro had met up with Lance and Hunk in the large house where Allura lived, as they'd been doing since the start of their investigation. None of them were giving up, of course, but there was a heavy air of disappointment hanging over all of them when they met up. Shiro was unusually quiet.
The living room was enormous and lavishly decorated with various shades of gold and red, and the quiet sound of a running fountain was the only noise in the room. That is, until Allura's quick footsteps started getting closer, prompting all of them to look up.
She had a sympathetic but pleasant smile on her face as she approached, and sat down on a nearby couch slowly. "Did you, ah, want anything to drink?" she asked politely.
"No thanks, Allura," said Lance, not bothering to look up at her.
Everyone was quiet again for a moment.
"So, uh," said Hunk. "I assume everyone else is empty-handed too?"
"I'm sorry," Allura said solemnly. "I spent as much as my father would let me on this. I had at least three detectives on the case, and I asked everyone I could. Nobody seems to know anything about her."
"Nobody knows her well enough," Matt replied. "She was never much of a social person."
Allura frowned. "That poor girl..."
Matt turned to Shiro with a frown. "What about you?" he asked. "I know you've got some shady ways of finding people. Do that public records thing you did with Lance."
Hunk gave them a weak frown from across the table, but Shiro ignored him and rubbed his head.
"It's not that simple, Matt. I can't find anybody connected to this case. Nobody knows who could have possibly taken her, and I can only do so much." He paused, as everyone else just stared at the floor again. "But, listen--"
Shiro stopped, wondering if he should really tell them about this, but everyone was already looking at him.
"I know someone who's even better at tracking down people than I am. I know he could pick up from where I left off."
Lance sat up a little, hopeful.
Matt raised an eyebrow. "Who? And what could he do that we haven't already done?"
"I'm not sure what exactly he does, but if anybody can find Pidge, it's him." Shiro stood up and ran a hand through his hair, licking his lips nervously. "He lives on the far edge of town, so if you guys are up for it, we could probably make it over there by sundown."
Lance was the first to stand up. "Sounds as good as any other plan," he declared. "Allura, Hunk, you coming?"
Allura nodded and stood up enthusiastically. "Of course. I'm already involved in this as it is, I may as well see it through to the end and make sure your girl is alright."
Hunk nodded. "Yeah, I mean...can't say I completely trust Shiro after what he did, but I'm with you, Lance."
Matt stood up as well. "Alright, let's go. Who is this master tracker, anyway? Don't think I've ever met him."
Shiro clicked his tongue. "You don't know him, he's...an old friend of mine." He cleared his throat and headed for the door. "Come on, let's get going."
Chapter 8: Unlikely Help
"So, basically, I'm understanding that you and Shiro somehow found me through Lance, and gained my trust to dig up some dirt on him."
Matt shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked down the sidewalk, nodding sheepishly. "Well, yeah. But--we did it for Pidge. She's the most important person in the world to us, we had to make sure my parents weren't going to shove her into a miserable marriage."
Lance said nothing, and Shiro was walking further ahead, apparently oblivious to their conversation.
"And I fell for it like a damn fool," Hunk lamented, kicking a rock against the ground. "And here I am, following Shiro to wherever he's leading us again. The things I do for you, Lance."
Lance shot him a grin.
"For what it's worth, I wasn't lying about the quality of your baking," Matt relied. "It's fantastic."
Hunk scoffed, but thankfully didn't seem too upset.
Allura, walking down the road next to Matt, surprisingly comfortable walking this distance in heels, watched their conversation with amusement. "Well, I can't say I distrust these two just yet," she said. "If we're going to find Pidge, I'm sure Shiro knows what he's doing--after all, he must have been pretty clever if he could fool you, Hunk."
"I guess so," said Hunk.
Matt turned to her and smiled kind of goofily. "Hey, you know, I fooled Hunk too."
Allura raised an eyebrow, still amused. "Hmm. Yes, it seems that you did."
"...seriously, this is our bragging point now?"
The four of them continued to talk, as their surroundings soon changed the further they went. There were less lights around the streets now, less stores and houses, and it seemed like they were heading more toward wildlife. Allura subconsciously started walking closer to the men for safety, and all their voices dropped to a whisper.
Matt frowned, and picked up his pace a bit to catch up to Shiro. "Hey Shiro, where exactly does this uh, friend of yours live?"
Shiro pulled out a flashlight to light the way and gave Matt an apologetic smile. "Sorry. We're almost there. He's just kind of a solitary person, that's all."
Matt wasn't comforted, and just narrowed his eyes at his friend even more. "Y'know, for someone who's been your friend for so many years, I'm realizing there's a lot I don't know about you."
Shiro gripped the flashlight tighter and didn't respond. Instead he just turned to the others. "Just a couple more blocks. We'll be there in a few more minutes."
Matt fell back into step with the rest of the group.
Finally, after what felt like forever, Shiro stopped in front of an old house. Well, not really a house. It was more like a shack that was being held together by a thread, and the only sign of an occupant was the small light coming through the window. That certainly didn't help anyone's unease, but this tiny shack was the only hope of finding Pidge they had left.
Shiro turned to them again. "Okay, we're here. Just, uh...let me talk to him first." He softly knocked on the door, while the others watched intently.
There were noises from inside the house, frazzled ones as if the occupant wasn't expecting a visitor. Heavy footsteps toward the door. Matt instinctively stepped in front of the others protectively. A gruff voice came through the cracks. "Who's there?"
"Hey," Shiro greeted, way more softly than the situation seemed to require. "It's me. Listen, I need a favor, can you let--"
Before Shiro could finish talking, the locks on the door started to click. Matt gulped, steeling himself for a huge, ugly, terrifying man who would demand their entire life's savings in exchange for finding Pidge. The door flew open and--
"Holy shit, he's normal," Lance blurted.
The man who opened the door was jarringly tiny, violet eyes wide, black hair all over the place and dressed in comfortable, if not rather cheap looking, clothes. He seemed to almost smile when he saw Shiro (though with the light behind him, it was hard to tell), but then he noticed the others, and his face fell.
Allura waved at him politely, and the man's pose and expression both hardened. He looked at Shiro again. "Who are they?"
Shiro gave him a tiny smile. "They're my friends. And we really need your help."
The man didn't reply, and Shiro kept going. He put a hand on his shoulder and diplomatically turned to the others, gesturing at him. "Guys, this is my friend Keith. And Keith, this is Matt, Lance, Hunk and Allura."
"It's very nice to meet you, Keith," Allura said softly.
"A pleasure," Keith snapped. "Why are you here?"
Matt didn't move for a second, then cleared his throat. "My, uh, sister is missing," he said. "Shiro said you could find her."
Keith raised an eyebrow at Shiro.
"Listen, Keith, we're desperate." Shiro told him softly. "This girl is like family to me, we can't find her anywhere, and I know you're the only one who can find her. Please?"
Keith's expression didn't change, but he huffed and turned back into his house. "Well, don't fucking stand there in the cold, get in here."
Hunk blinked. "Uh. Is that a yes?"
Shiro nodded and followed Keith in. The rest paused for a second, but quickly went inside.
The tiny house somehow had room for all six of them in the living room, but so far, nobody was sitting down. Keith had put on a red jacket and was looking them all over with crossed arms, somehow intimidating despite his tiny doe-eyed appearance.
"So, what exactly is the deal?" Keith asked.
"Um," Lance started. He looked to the others for some kind of clue on where to start.
"My sister," Matt picked up. "Katie Holt. We call her Pidge. Uh, she's gone missing, we're pretty sure she was kidnapped. But nobody knows who could have taken her."
Keith turned to the other three. "And the rest of you are...her friends?"
"I'm her fiancé," Lance piped up. "See, I...walked her home after a date one night, then left. Everything seemed normal. Then next thing I know her parents are calling me saying that she disappeared and they called the police."
"There was broken glass on the floor and the door was open," Matt added. "But nobody's been able to find any clues. We have no idea who would want to kidnap her."
"We've all done everything we could," said Allura, drawing nods from the rest. "Shiro told us you can track her down. We'll do whatever we can to help you."
"Yes, just...please help us find my sister."
Keith was listening, but his eyes were glued on Shiro, and he didn't look happy.
"I see," Keith replied dryly. He took a breath, turned away from them and shrugged. "Unfortunately, I can't help you."
Jaws dropped. "What?"
"I'm already in a lot of hot water as it is," Keith snapped. "I can't go around getting involved in random missing person cases, not when I'm trying to stay hidden. Sorry. No dice. Good night." He started to leave the room, as if the conversation was over.
Lance grit his teeth angrily. "What the hell? What kind of selfish bullshit is that? You're saying that you can help us, but you just won't?!"
"Didn't you hear what we said?" Allura snapped. "A young woman is missing! She could be in huge danger!"
"Not my problem!" yelled Keith. "I don't know her, and I don't care about you! Now get out of my house!"
He was gone, leaving everyone, including Shiro, staring after him in shock.
Lance whirled to Shiro with an accusing point. "You said he would help us!!"
Shiro didn't move, still stunned. "I--yeah, he--he was supposed to."
"Supposed to?" Matt snapped. "So what the hell just happened, then? Something not go according to plan, Shiro? Who the fuck even is that guy?"
"Are you kidding me, we just walked all the way out here for nothing!" cried an annoyed Hunk.
"Screw this," Lance declared. "Come on, guys, let's get out of here. This guy's a waste of our time."
Lance was the first one out the door, followed closely by Hunk and a disappointed Allura. Matt was leaving as well, until Shiro called out to him. "Matt..."
Matt glared at him. "What?"
"Wait outside. I just--I'll take care of this."
Matt paused, but didn't say anything as he walked outside.
Shiro's felt his heart sink, but instead turned his attention to the clattering noises coming from the next room. He sighed heavily, walking slowly in to find Keith trying to re-organize some supplies that he'd apparently kicked over.
Shiro frowned. "Listen, I know you're mad at me, but you didn't have to take it out on them."
Keith slammed something on the floor and didn't look up. "Who is them?" He snapped. "I don't know them."
"Keith, they're my friends, they need your help, I don't understand why you had to kick them out like that!"
Keith finished whatever he was doing and looked at Shiro, finally, a mix of anger and heartbreak written all over his face. "You don't get it, do you? Do you know how long it's been since you've spoken to me, Shiro? Almost a year." He blinked back the pain as he spoke, hands balled up into fists under his jacket sleeves. "I've been waiting for you to call, or do something for that long! And when you do finally show up, it's not to see me! It's because you need a favor for your friends! Is that all you think of me now? Do you only care if I can do you a favor?!"
Shiro was taken aback, and it took a minute for him to find his voice. "Keith, I--I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to make you wait for so long, it's just--I was--"
"You were busy," Keith finished bitterly. "Yeah, I got that. Too busy for me but not for them."
Shiro winced. "No, that's not it, but..." he stopped, realizing this was pointless and sighed. "You're right. I shouldn't have stayed away for so long. It was always something. I'd get distracted. I wouldn't want any one to hear us. It kept going until I figured you just didn't want to hear from me."
Keith stared at him. "Why the hell wouldn't I want to hear from you?"
"It had been too long already."
"I don't care if it's been forever," Keith snapped. "I don't care how long I have to wait for you, but just for you!" Now it was his turn to stop, trying to reel in his thoughts. He continued quietly. "I was so happy when I heard your voice at the door just now, and you just--" he huffed. "Shiro," he said, staring him in the eye. "Just tell me the truth. Do you not care about me anymore?"
"Of course I still care about you."
"Then why didn't you come talk to me until you needed a favor??"
"Because I was afraid, okay?" Shiro yelled back. "I knew you'd get angry, I thought you'd want to break it off." He gulped. "After a few months, I thought the next call would be our last. So I thought I could drag it on for as long as possible. But that was selfish, and mean. I took you for granted, and I shouldn't have done that to you. I'm sorry."
Keith said nothing.
"But Keith," Shiro continued shakily. "I need you now. My friend is gone, she's in trouble, she alone, and you're the only one who can help her." He paused for a breath. "And... once we find her, if you're still mad, if you want me to leave, I will. I won't bother you anymore."
"No, you idiot," Keith hissed. "I don't want you to leave. I want to know if I'm still important to you. If you still...want me in your life."
Shiro's breath hitched, and he found himself crossing the room until he was inches away from Keith. Hesitantly, he reached toward his face, expecting to be slapped away, but Keith didn't move. He just stared up at Shiro with those big, sad eyes, gaze softening when Shiro's hand touched his face.
Shiro leaned forward and kissed him, hesitantly, still unsure of how Keith would react, but hoping his answer came across loud and clear. Keith kissed him back, just as soft, before pulling away.
"...I'll help," Keith said quietly. "But only if you promise never to stay away like that again."
At last, a tiny smile. Keith pulled Shiro down for another kiss, deeper this time, as if making up for all those months they'd missed.
Matt, meanwhile, was peeking in from the window, sliding down as he tried to process what he was seeing. Yeah there was definitely...a lot he didn't know about Shiro.
"How long are you going to keep us waiting here, Matt?" Lance called from a few feet off. He and his two friends were waiting in front of the house after Matt had somehow managed to convince them to wait. But Allura was starting to shiver now, and it was obvious that all of them were getting impatient.
Matt stood up, still slightly dazed, and made his way over to them. "I...think they should be out in a minute."
"Do you really think anything is going to change?" Allura asked in annoyance. "Why are we still here if he already kicked us out?"
"Yeah, we should just leave," Hunk agreed. "I doubt either of them are going to be any help to us."
"I-I can't," Matt said quietly. "You guys can go if you want. But I'm staying. They're my only hope to find Pidge."
Lance sighed. "Matt, listen. I know you and me haven't been seeing eye to eye, but I want to find Pidge as much as you do. And I'm telling you, this is a waste of time. The more we stay here, the more Pidge is going to stay lost." He paused. "How long have you known Shiro for, again?"
"...since we were kids."
"Good--reel him in. You should keep him from getting involved with shady people like this. This Keith person does not seem like the kind of guy who can lead an investigation. If anything, he seems more like the type who'd be the kidnapper!"
"Watch your fucking mouth," Keith growled from the doorway.
Lance jumped, apparently having not noticed Keith opening the door and coming out with Shiro. Keith ignored him, and instead addressed the group, arms crossed again.
"I've changed my mind," Keith declared. "It's still risky for me, but you caught me in a good mood. So don't do anything to change that," he gave Lance a sidelong glare, and Lance just stared back coldly.
"Get back inside," Keith told them. "And tell me everything."
Chapter 9: Investigation
The first day, she'd asked what they were going to do with her.
"We haven't decided yet," one of them had giggled creepily. "Be a good girl and maybe we'll be nice and not hurt you as much."
So Pidge had stayed quiet. Acting up was a risk she didn't want to take right now. Someone would notice she was gone and get her out of this mess soon enough. Her parents. Matt. Shiro. Lance, even. They'd find her.
During the first week or so of capture, Pidge learned. She learned that she was in some sort of basement, though she didn't know where, and that the gang was led by a gangly looking man with black hair, and his busty blonde sidekick lady. From the looks of it, these guys were like a scrappy gang of teenagers who just wanted money to spend on some drugs. If that was the case, they had the wrong girl--Pidge's family wasn't exactly the richest. But she kept her mouth shut.
It was torture down here. They kept her locked in one room and fed her a plate of scraps every day. What the hell did they even want from her?
But Pidge also noticed something else. They didn't seem to pay attention to her unless the busty blonde chick was around. Whenever she was gone, Pidge was basically left alone and ignored in the room...which gave her plenty of time to plan an escape.
Pidge wasn't sure how many days it had been since she was taken, but it seemed like her family wasn't going to figure out where she was anytime soon. She'd have to deal with this herself.
So Pidge waited, taking mental notes of everyone who came in and out, and stealing whatever she could off them. She could pick the lock and sneak out when Busty Blonde wasn't around. Or she could use the items she stole to break out of here and somehow mow down everyone in her way. It didn't matter how she did it, but she was certainly going to get out of here.
Shiro was quiet on the train ride back to their university town. Their meeting with Keith the other day had left an awkwardness between Shiro and Matt that neither of them quite knew how to approach. They'd told their story to Keith, from the beginning, and as they'd left, Matt had caught Shiro lingering behind, whispering something that Matt didn't care to know.
How long had Shiro been keeping this from them? How was he supposed to bring it up?
Shiro seemed to be waiting for the inevitable, arms crossed and body tense. It looked like he was preparing for anger and rejection, Matt thought, and it wouldn't surprise him. He wasn't sure how long he could stand this silence before. It was time to rip the bandage off and hope for the best.
"So. You and Keith. You're like...that, huh?"
Even though Matt's voice was quiet, Shiro winced. He didn't reply.
Matt looked at the floor of the train with a frown. "Shiro, you and me have known each other since middle school. When did you even meet him? Why didn't you tell me?"
At this, Shiro scoffed and finally answered. "Why do you think? Keith is a man." He stopped, looking away in shame and not saying any more.
Matt pressed his lips together. "You thought I'd be disgusted."
"Everyone else was."
Matt looked out the window with a deep, long sigh. Yeah, okay. He as a little weirded out. It was...unexpected to say the least. And he had a million different questions. But when he turned back to Shiro, noticing the pathetic, vulnerable look on his face, all that came out was, "Can he find Pidge?"
Shiro blinked, confused. "What?"
"Your...boyfriend," Matt said, trying not to dwell on the oddness of it. "Can he find Pidge?"
Shiro stared, a thousand thoughts seeming to race through his head, and then relaxed. He nodded quickly. "Yes. If anyone can find her, Keith definitely can. I trust him more than anyone else."
Matt couldn't help but smile and nudge his friend. "I think you might be a little biased."
Shiro smiled too, the relief obvious on his face. "Maybe." The silence that followed was comfortable this time, as if the train itself was breathing a sigh of relief. "Hey. Do me a favor and keep quiet about this, okay?"
"Sure thing, old pal."
Hunk wasn't sure who he expected when he heard knocking on his door that random evening, but it certainly wasn't Keith, decked out completely in black with only a bright red jacket for contrast. Hunk almost yelped out in surprise when he saw him. He hadn't seen Keith since that night at his shack a few days ago, and he certainly didn't consider him enough of a chum to just randomly show up at his house unannounced.
Keith, however, seemed unfazed by this. He stood on the porch with a deadpan stare as he waited for Hunk to collect himself and offer an awkward smile.
"Uh, hey. Keith, right? I, uh...how did you get here?"
"You still go down to the Galra saloon, right?" Keith asked without missing a beat.
Hunk was still confused. "Uh...yeah. But only occasionally...why?"
"Are you free right now? I need you to go there with me."
Keith looked slightly annoyed. "I'm investigating," he said. "I was thinking about what you all told me the other night, and I have a hunch about that place. So are you coming or not?"
"...how did you find out where I live?"
Keith stared at him for a long time, no expression on his face. "Public records," he stated simply. This didn't help Hunk's unease, but maybe it was best not to ask. "So, what? Are you coming?"
Hunk squinted at him, but sighed and went to grab his coat. "I don't think you'd find the kidnapper there, but alright," he muttered. Keith waiter for him to lock up the front door, and then they were off, walking down to the heart of the town at a brisk pace and with little talk.
"...so, if this is part of your investigation, why do you need me?" Hunk asked. "Can't you go yourself?"
Keith shrugged. "I thought that going in alone would attract too much attention from the regulars," he replied. "And I also need someone who knows the social environment there. Shiro and Matt aren't around, Allura refuses to go anywhere near there, and Lance couldn't come for obvious reasons."
Hunk scoffed. "Yeah, you wouldn't stop getting attention if Lance showed up."
When they entered the bar, a few familiar girls greeted Hunk eagerly, before he and Keith sat down to grab some drinks. Keith didn't speak for a while, just took a few sips of his drink as if trying to pretend everything was normal. Hunk had no idea what to do, so he just stuck to what he usually did around here and socialized with some of the familiar faces.
"Huuuuunk!" Florona shouted cutely as she made her way over to hug him. "Good to see you again!"
"Good to see you too, Flo," Hunk replied. "You too, Plaxum. Nyma."
The three girls in question, as well as a couple others, gathered around them with drinks in hand and with a few giggles. Some of them gave Keith the occasional curious glance, but for now they kept their focus on Hunk and making a bit of small talk.
"So how's the sweets shop doing? Do you get overrun by bratty kids every day?"
"Sometimes. But most people are pretty friendly. The worst part is mostly how crowded it gets."
"Aww, is that why you haven't been showing up here lately?"
Hunk clicked his tongue. "Uh, no, it's uh...something came up. Been busy helping out a friend, the girl he loves just went mi--"
Hunk was interrupted by a swift kick from under the table, and turned to see Keith shaking his head at him pointedly. Hunk winced in slight pain, glared at him, but listened. "H-he's just going through something and I needed to be there," he finished.
The ladies looks confused, but moved on. "Oh, I hope it all works out then," said Florona. Then she leaned on the table next to him. "But speaking of friends, where's that smoking hot buddy of yours you brought here last time?"
"You know, tall, black hair, jawline that could cut steel?"
Hunk coughed as the other girls giggled again. "Ah, you mean Shiro? He's out of town right now, he's usually just here on weekends."
"Aww," Florona pouted. "I wanted to see him again. He didn't even call me!"
"Yeah, don't think he's interested, Flo," Hunk told her. "Better find someone else."
Keith scoffed. Hunk thought he looked more annoyed than before, but it wasn't like he was going to ask.
"Well, your new friend isn't bad-looking either, actually," Nyma piped up, a smug grin on her face.
"Quiet and brooding," said another lady named Merla. "I like him."
Keith looked up at the sudden attention, and for the first time since Hunk had met him, he actually seemed to have an emotion other than perpetual annoyance. He looked like a deer in headlights for a second, as if he wasn't at all used to getting attention from girls like this. It was kind of adorable. "Um."
Hunk snorted. "This is Keith. Go easy on him though, he's kinda shy."
Merla slinked over to the other side to sit next to Keith, leaning coyly on her arm and trying to get a better look at his face as he stared at the wall again. "So where are you from, Keith?" She asked.
"Edge of town," Keith replied without looking at her.
"What do you do?"
Keith paused and clicked his tongue. "Journalist," he replied, finally looking at her. "You?"
Hunk was watching curiously, wondering if this too was part of Keith's investigation, but then another one of the girls tugged on his arm and pulled his attention away.
They continued on like this for a couple more hours, with Hunk trying to act as normal as possible so as not arouse any suspicion about...whatever Keith was doing. Honestly, he still couldn't believe he'd been roped into this.
Occasionally, Hunk glanced over his shoulder to where Keith was engaged in deep, whispered discussion with Merla. This just left him more confused but he left them to it.
"Oh, Hunk!" Nyma called him teasingly. "I think I just saw your two girlfriends walk in!"
Hunk blinked at her. "What? Who?"
"Kuvyr and Kalar," Nyma replied, pointing at the two sisters who just walked in the door.
Hunk cursed under his breath and turned back to tap Keith's shoulder. "Hey man, are you done?" He asked. "If we don't get out of here, those two will never let me leave." He pointed his thumb at the sisters, but Keith was too busy writing on a piece of paper to look.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm done," Keith replied. He looked back up at Merla. "Thanks for your help."
"No problem," Merla said coolly. "But you didn't hear anything from me." With that, she got up and walked away, as Keith stood as well.
"Ok. Let's go."
They somehow managed to exit the bar without Hunk having to confront anyone. But now he was struggling to keep up with Keith as they headed back in the direction of Hunk's place.
"So, uh, did you find anything??" Hunk panted.
"Are you...gonna tell me?"
Keith slowed down a little. "Yes, but not here," he said quietly. "I still have to make sure of some things. And I want to gather everyone else first."
Hunk nodded, figuring that was enough confusion for now. They both walked in silence until they were at Hunk's front porch again, and Keith paused for a moment.
"Hey, uh. Thanks for coming with me," Keith finally said. "Sorry I just dragged you out with no warning."
Hunk blinked, surprised by the change in demeanor. "Uh...yeah, no problem, dude. See you later."
Keith nodded and went on his way. Hunk closed the door behind him, still shaking his head at what had just transpired.
After he left Hunk, Keith hurriedly found the nearest phone booth and all but sealed himself inside. He only had a few coins in his pocket, but it was just enough for what he needed to say. Keith stood there for a few minutes as the phone rang.
An unfamiliar voice answered the other end. "Hello?"
"Hi. Is Takashi Shirogane there?"
There was murmuring on the other end. "It's for you."
After a second, Shiro's voice finally answered him. "Hello?"
It sent a light and happy feeling into the very depths of Keith's soul, but they didn't have time to dwell on it now. "Shiro? It's me."
"Yeah. Listen, I think I have a lead. When's the soonest you can get here?"
"First off, I'd like to preface this," Keith began, "by telling you that you're all idiots."
Lance and Matt looked at him in annoyance, Hunk and Allura looked confused, and Shiro just looked surprised, but amused at the same time.
"Once you guys told me about the saloon, I had a suspicion," Keith continued. "I'm surprised none of you figured out the obvious motive for someone to kidnap a fiancée."
"Well are you going to enlighten us about this motive?" Lance snapped. "Or are you just gonna rub your greatness in our faces all day?"
Keith stared at him incredulously. "You of all people should know, Ladies' Man Lance. Does the name Danielle Huntley ring a bell to you?"
Lance froze, eyes widening. "I--how did--"
"Who's Danielle Huntley?" asked Shiro.
"Let's just say she's an old friend of Lance's," Keith replied, causing Matt to shoot Lance a glare.
"A very intimate friend," Allura added with a roll of her eyes. "But Keith, how do you know about her? What does she have to do with anything?"
"I got a tip," Keith replied simply. "After thinking about what you all told me, I figured that the kidnapper might be a jealous old lover. So I asked Hunk to take me to the Galra saloon and asked around. Found out from a regular that Danielle Huntley was Lance's favorite and she hadn't been seen for a while." He paused, looking at each of them pointedly. "I think she might be our person."
"That's not exactly solid evidence," Matt remarked.
"Seems like enough suspicion to investigate, though," Shiro responded.
"I-I remember Danielle seemed awfully upset when I broke it off with her," Lance stammered. "But I didn't think she'd resort to kidnapping. Are you sure about this?"
"No, but it's a lead," Keith replied. "Only one way to find out. Just tell me where she lives, and we can get this settled."
Chapter 10: Belly of the Beast
TW for guns in these next two chapters
The glimmering white mansion stood tall, pure and stunning before them. It was the last place anybody would look for a missing person. Therefore, it was the perfect place to hide one.
It was night time, but that didn't really make a difference. Danielle never slept.
Lance, Hunk, and Allura stopped right in front of the porch. It was quiet for a moment save for the water running from the fountain. Lance gulped. "You think the other three managed to sneak in by now?"
"They're probably still waiting for us to get inside," Allura replied. "We do need to distract the host before they can investigate, remember?"
"Right, right." They had to go in, be the most demanding guests ever and distract everyone in there, so that Matt, Shiro and Keith could sneak in and snoop around.
"Here goes nothing, I guess," Lance murmured, before stepping up to the door and ringing the bell."
After a moment, the door opened to reveal a pretty blonde woman with a huge smile on her face. "Lancey Lance!" The woman shouted, practically throwing herself into his arms.
"Danielle!" Lance cried, hugging her back. He somehow managed to sound just as jolly and carefree as usual. "I've missed you girl, how have you been?"
"Awful without you," Danielle pouted. "I'm so happy you came back to see me." She then turned to the other two. "Oh my gosh, Hunk, you came too?"
"Heh, yeah," Hunk said. "Figured it would be a nice reunion get together, you know?"
"And Danielle, this is Allura," Lance said, gesturing to his friend. "Allura Altea, she's Alfor's daughter."
Danielle's jaw dropped. "No way! I-it's an honor to meet you! Lance, you never told me you were friends with such famous people!"
"Oh, please, I'm not that famous," Allura chuckled. "But thanks for having me. Lance told me he was coming to see an old friend, and I can never pass up a chance to socialize."
Danielle giggled. "Alright. Well, let's go inside. I'll get Filipe to mix you guys some drinks. Allura, what are you in the mood for, sweetie?"
"Just some lemonade is fine."
Hunk and Lance glanced at each other. They were in, and everything was going smoothly so far. Hopefully the others would pull through.
It had been as easy as pretending to faint and snatching a key from someone's waist without them noticing. These guys really didn't seem to give a shit about their prisoner aside from what was absolutely necessary, and Pidge used that to her advantage. They hardly gave her any food too, so her fainting act was perfectly believable. She couldn't wait to get back to her mom's cooking while these guys ate prison food themselves.
Pidge slowly opened the door, just a crack, and peeked out. Busty Blonde wasn't around, thank goodness, and there were only a couple of lazy gang members lounging at a table outside.
The basement seemed pretty big, and there were probably more gang members that she'd bump into if she ran. There had to be some stairs around here though. If Pidge could get past the others, maybe she'd be able to bolt out of here and get help.
There was a club leaning against the door, and Pidge reached out to grab it. She wasn't much of a fighter, but if push came to shove that's what she would do. All she needed now was some kind of distraction...
Matt had literally watched Keith get the window open and climb inside, but he still had no idea how he did it. Keith and Shiro were both incredibly weird and mysterious, but he wouldn't think about it now, not until he made sure his sister was safe.
Shiro helped Matt get in and shut the window after them. They were in a dark, more secluded area of the mansion, apparently an old guest room that wasn't in use. Keith was already investigating, scanning the room for clues and taking deliberate steps across the floor.
"The floor sounds hollow," Keith informed them. "There's probably a basement, a pretty big one too. Try to find a trapdoor or something."
They found nothing in this room, so it was on to the rest of the building. Even from here, they could hear the loud talking of their friends with Danielle, so hopefully they'd be enough for a distraction for Keith and his team not to get caught. Keith checked to make sure the coast was clear, and they filed into the hall.
Finding a trapdoor in this place was going to be a nightmare, but it probably wouldn't be right in the middle of a hallway, so they should probably get through here as fast as possible--
Matt froze at the sound of a maid calling out to them. Shit, shit, we've been caught.
"Are you more of Miss Danielle's guests?"
Matt turned desperately to Keith, but he also looked like a deer in the headlights. So much for being the ultimate detective.
Shiro just smiled. "Yeah! Can you help us find the restroom? This place is like a maze."
The maid laughed. "Tell me about it. I got lost all the time my first week here." She pointed down another hallway. "Just go down that corridor and take the first left. It's the room with a mat in front."
"Thank you so much." He gestured to Matt and Keith, before casually walking down the hallway in question. Keith had managed to compose himself and nodded at the woman with his usual blank face. Matt just hoped he wasn't smiling too wide.
When the maid was gone, Matt breathed out a shuddering sigh of relief. That had been too close.
"Just pretend to be confident in your position," Shiro told them quietly. "If you act like you're not supposed to be here, then people will know you're not supposed to be here."
They found the restroom and Shiro decided to check inside, just in case. Keith and Matt stayed behind, with Keith running his hands across the wall to find something. Matt went further up ahead. There was a smaller staircase in the corner, going down into another guest room with a gray curtain on the wall.
...odd. There didn't seem to be a window behind that curtain. Matt glanced around, and carefully descended down the stairs to take a look.
There was a small door behind the curtain. Matt tried the handle, but it was locked tight. His heart leapt to his throat and he quickly went back up to find Keith and Shiro.
"I-I think I found something."
The other two followed him down to the door and Keith quickly got to work.
"Cover me," he said. He began to pick the lock and was done in a matter of minutes, each one feeling like an eternity.
The room inside was dark, to the point where Keith had to pull out a flashlight after they shut the door. It looked like a storage room of some kind, all dusty and probably home to a million insects. Not the type of place they'd expect to find in a mansion like this. Matt stayed close to the others. If he got lost in this creepy room, he was sure he would actually die.
"Wonder what kind of business these Huntleys run," Keith murmured, surveying the rows and rows of brown packages lining the walls. He walked over to a closet in the corner and opened it. All three of them stepped back in surprise.
Weapons. Guns, knives, and everything else they could think of. Sitting right there in a closet.
Keith slowly shut the door and turned to the other two. "Keep your guard up."
They snooped around the storage room for a little while longer, until they got to the far right corner. There was the trapdoor they were looking for, and apparently there were people down there, judging from the noise the heard.
"They probably won't be happy to see us," Shiro said.
"Yeah," replied Keith. "Especially when they find out we stole some of their weapons."
"H-huh?" Matt stammered, but Shiro was already on his way to the closet.
Matt turned back to Keith. "Are you crazy? Who knows how many people are down there? They could be a gang of thugs! We can't take them on by ourselves! We have to get out and call the police!"
"You can't trust the police," Keith snapped. "Besides, how long do you want to keep your sister waiting?"
Matt grit his teeth, trying to think of a way to convince him that this was a bad idea. Shiro returned with some of the weapons, passing a knife to Keith and a gun to Matt.
Matt grabbed Shiro's arm desperately. "Are you seriously just going to do whatever he says??" he hissed. "We can't do this, Shiro, it's a suicide mission!"
Shiro blinked once, then simply shrugged. "Not if we survive."
Matt stared at him incredulously, and gave up. Clearly, neither of them would be backing down, and if this was what it took to save Pidge, so be it.
Keith kneeled down to open the trapdoor and they all took a peek inside.
There were people down there. Suspicious, scary looking people that just made Matt doubt the situation even more. Most of them were crowded around a table, backs to the door, and cheering over some card game going on. Matt spotted some money being passed around as well.
"Act like you're supposed to be here," Shiro murmured. Keith nodded, and was the first one to go down. Shiro followed, and Matt stayed as close as possible.
The smell of smoke and alcohol down there were so strong that it made Matt long for the relatively tame atmosphere of the Galra saloon. Had Pidge really been stuck here for so long? Her health must have fallen through the floor.
Shiro and Keith both had their hands at their sides and were glancing over at the gambling going on in the middle. That was probably better than the stiff walk Matt was doing, with his hands in his pockets and staring at the ground. He quickly changed his walk to imitate them. You're a gangster, he told himself. You do this all the time. Nothing out of the ordinary. You're just walking around this secret base that you know like the back of your hand.
They found a door. Keith grabbed the handle.
They all froze. A grudge, bearded man in the middle of the crowd pointed at Matt, as the room went quiet. "Who's the ginger haired Einstein here?"
Matt thought he would pass out.
"He's that computer geek we needed to hack into the back system, dumbass," Shiro replied, just as gruff. "Weren't you paying attention?"
Gruff Man seemed to falter, as if considering Shiro's lie. But then a woman spoke up, smaller by no less tough looking. "And who are you, exactly? I don't recall seeing you around here."
"You fuckin blind, tiny?" Keith snapped. "We've been here for months. Now shut up, we're busy."
The small woman fumed. "Tiny?" She repeated angrily. "Who the fuck are you calling Tiny?!"
Keith opened the door and hurried through. "Come on," he whispered.
"Hey! Hey wait a minute!" Tiny screeched after them. "That brown haired nerd looks like that girl!"
"They're outsiders, grab them!" Shouted another.
Keith and Shiro were already dashing off into another hallway, and Matt followed as soon as he could. He could hear the thugs continue to shout as they tried to herd themselves through the door. Wherever they were now, it was even darker than before, and Matt had to rely on listening to Shiro's footsteps. Which was tough considering all the yelling, some stray gunshots and the loud sound of his own panicked breathing. Shiro eventually had to grab his arm and pull him along.
He'd been right, they should have just called the cops. Now there was no way they were going to make it out alive.
Chapter 11: Faceoff
"And don't even get me started on what they do to my pool!" Allura ranted. "I mean, my god, you have a schedule to keep. How hard is it to clean the damn swimming pool?"
Allura was seated on the most cushiony part of the couch, surrounded by pillows, a million barely-touched snacks on the table before her. She was leaning back with her legs crossed pompously and she swirled the drink in her hand as if it was some fancy champagne rather than lemonade. It was such a jarring change of character that Lance, usually the loud one of the group, was left speechless as he watched Allura take over the conversation. He had to had it to her. The plan was to be demanding guests, and she was selling it perfectly.
Danielle, apparently, was eating it right up. She was seated next to Lance and had an arm hooked around his, but her full attention on Allura. As far as Danielle was concerned, Allura was a celebrity in her home and would get everything she wanted.
Danielle laughed. "Oh, God, you have to deal with that too? Is every maid in the world just lazy or something? I should not have to find bugs in the water every time I go swimming!"
"I know, it's gross! Do your job!" Allura gulped down the last of her lemonade and held the cup thoughtfully. "Hmm, you think I can get another one of these with more sugar? Oh, and I'm not a big fan of this hummus, can we swap it out for some aioli instead?"
"Sure thing, sweetheart," Danielle said. Then she turned to the butler standing nearby. "Filipe! You heard the lady! Get her what she wants."
Lance turned to Hunk, who was just sitting there twiddling his thumbs nervously. Their eyes met, and Lance made a few motions at him before shouting, "Whoa, Hunk! Buddy, you're looking a little green there, you okay?"
Hunk looked confused. "What? Uh, man, now that you mention it--" he gagged. "--I am feeling a little sick...must be from walking in the sun for so long."
Danielle looked alarmed, and Lance jumped to his feet. "Don't worry, bud, I'll get you to the bathroom. Sorry, ladies, you continue having fun, I'll take care of him. Be right back!"
Lance grabbed Hunk, who was still doubled over, and started leading him quickly out of the room. Lance had been here once or twice before, so he knew how to make it at least look like he was headed toward the restroom.
As soon as they were out of sight, Hunk dropped the act and started following Lance normally. "Ok, so what are you up to?"
"Allura's got the diversion covered," Lance informed him. "We should go find Matt and the other two. They might need our help."
Hunk nodded. "Got it. But, where should we look? This place is huge."
Lance frowned. "God, I don't know, they could be anywhere." He stopped, thinking back to the last time he'd been here. Did Danielle have any secret places she didn't want him to see?
"...how about that creepy looking door down there?"
Lance turned to the direction Hunk was pointing in. Down a small set of stairs, a gray door with a broken lock was slightly open, destroying the purpose of the orange curtain meant to be hiding it. Lance gulped. That door had been broken open. Probably by Keith. Which meant there was a good chance that Pidge would be down there.
"Yeah, that looks suspicious enough," Lance whispered. "Let's go."
A bigger, tougher looking butler suddenly appeared next to Danielle, and that's when Allura knew that something had gone wrong. The man leaned down to whisper something in her ear, and Danielle's smile disappeared.
"Ah...Allura, honey, you'll have to excuse me," she began politely, but Allura could see the sudden rage in her eyes. "There's, uh, something I need to take care of. I'll be back in a minute."
Allura pouted. "Well, I don't want to be here alone."
"Just watch TV or something, this is....very urgent."
Danielle sloppily tossed her the TV remote at her, before stomping away in a huff.
Allura uncrossed her legs and watched her go, an uneasy feeling in her stomach. This didn't seem good. She had to to something.
Matt hissed as something grazed past his arm, cutting open the skin and drawing blood. Shiro was still holding onto him as they ran, and they quickly ducked into a darker corridor.
"Where the hell did they go??" Matt heard a gangster shout.
Matt held his breath and presses himself against a wall. He held his wounded arm with one hand and used the other to grip the gun. He barely knew how to use the thing but he'd do what he had to.
The heavy footsteps subsided. Matt let out the breath he'd been holding.
"I think we lost them," whispered Keith. "But they'll be looking for us now, so tread carefully."
"I knew this was a bad idea," Matt hissed. "We should have never come down here by ourselves."
"Well, we're here now, Einstein," Keith snapped back. "Make yourself useful and check if the coast is clear."
Matt was about to object, but Shiro thankfully stepped in.
"I'll check," he said. Shiro pokes his head out of the narrow corridor, taking a moment to look around. There were noises coming from some of the other rooms, but their current one was empty for now. "We're good."
They filed out, and Keith tried to figure out what to do next. "This place is like a maze," he murmured. "Let's see if we can figure out where we came from, or we'll just end up going in circles."
"It was that way, I'm pretty sure," Shiro replied.
They started going in the direction he was pointing, quickly so nobody would show up and catch them. Keith decided to take a shortcut through another dark corridor, when they suddenly bumped into someone.
Keith pulled out the knife almost immediately, only to be stopped by a familiar voice.
"Whoa, hey, calm down, mullet! It's just me and Hunk."
"Lance?" Keith hissed. "What are you two doing here?? You're supposed to be upstairs distracting Danielle."
"Allura's got that. Did you find Pidge?"
"No," Shiro sighed. "We've just been stuck running from gangsters."
"Gangsters?" Hunk repeated. His voice rose about an octave on that last syllable. "Why would Danielle have a base full of gangsters under her house?"
Keith sighed. "Whatever. Now that you're here, we've at least got a fighting chance. You guys came from up there?"
Shiro passed his weapon to Lance, as the latter nodded. "Yeah. Where do we go now?"
"Don't know," Shiro said. "We didn't anticipate there would be so much to navigate. We're trying to map it out, but it's not easy when people are trying to kill us."
"Maybe we should split up and cover more ground," Matt suggested meekly.
"Uhhh, no," Hunk objected. "I-I say we stick together. Keith said we have better strength in numbers."
"Hey!" A new voice suddenly shouted.
They jumped at the sound of the thug appearing behind them. He was apparently alone.
"There you are, you shits! Hey, guys! I found them!"
"Shit, move move move!" Keith shouted, pushing Lance and Hunk back in the direction they'd come from.
They were running again. Matt tried to use the gun, but his injured arm was making it difficult. At this point it looked like they were going in circles, and Matt couldn't tell where was where anymore.
And just as they had finally gained some ground between themselves and the gangsters, someone else appeared in their path.
It was Matt who crashed into her, and he fell to the ground disoriented. Matt fumbled with his gun, ready to shoot this new person's brains out, but--
"Wait, it's me! Put that down!"
"Pidge!" Lance squeaked. He leaned down to pick her up and squeezed her tightly. "You're okay! I thought we'd never find you!"
"Run now, hug later!" Keith yelled. Shiro picked up a dazed Matt from the floor and they kept going.
"P-Pidge!" Matt gasped, finally running up to his sister. "Oh my gosh, we found you! Are you okay?? Did they hurt you?? What happened??"
"I'm fine!" Pidge replied, out of breath. "I was just in the middle of escaping!"
"Oh, good! We were in the middle of saving you!"
"You're doing a great job!"
"Come on, we need to get back to the exit!" Shiro shouted. Hunk was the first one back to that first door, and the other behind him, with the gangsters hot on their trail.
Hunk yanked the door open, and they piled inside...only to be stopped by several guns pointing in their face.
A lanky, black haired man stood poised at the front of this new group, clearly more organized than the thugs who had been chasing them this whole time. Pidge, Lance and the others all screeched to a halt. Shiro and Keith tried to react, but at at this point, they were surrounded.
Lanky man looked each one of them over with disgust. "Drop your weapons," he spat.
Nobody moved. For the first time since they'd gotten there, it was silent.
"Drop your weapons," Lanky repeated slower, "Or we're gonna have to hurt you real bad."
Before anyone could respond, there was movement in the crowd, and out popped Danielle.
"What's going on??" Danielle screeched. "I've got the princess of Altea in my living room, and you dumbasses can't keep quiet for--" she stopped short, seeing the scene in front of her and gasping. "Lance?? Hunk? And--that girl!"
Pidge slunk backward.
Lance tried to laugh it off. "D-Danielle! Hey, girl! You never told me you had a...labyrinthic criminal base under your house! Haha!"
Danielle wasn't buying it, and her face slowly turned red. She turned to Lanky man and snatched the gun from his hands, pointing it menacingly at Pidge.
"Weapons down!" she shouted.
Lance lifted his hands in the air. "Danielle, wait--"
"Weapons down, or the stupid girl dies!"
Pidge stiffened. Matt and Shiro both tried to move in. But Lance beat them to the punch.
"No!" Lance cried. He stood in front of Pidge protectively, shielding her from the gun, and stared the volatile Danielle down. "Danielle, stop! Don't do anything you'll regret."
Silence once more, aside from Lanky man scoffing.
Lance's hands were shaking, but he didn't move. "L-listen...you don't have to do this. You have nothing to gain from this."
"I have nothing to lose either," Danielle spoke lowly. "She...she took you from me. I was your favorite until she showed up."
"And do you think this is going to change anything?" Lance snapped. "I already told you, we're done. I'm not the person you knew before. You should have just let me go."
Lance paused, but nobody responded. So he continued, "Like it or not, I'm not yours anymore. Things have changed. I love Pidge now. Not you. Nothing you do is going to change that, especially now that I know who you really are."
Danielle didn't move. Lanky spoke up under his breath, "I told you this was a stupid idea."
"Shut up, Jake," Danielle hissed.
Lance gulped. "You wanna shoot, Danielle, then fine. But you'll have to take me out first."
"Lance..." Pidge gasped.
The tension in the room could be cut with a knife. Matt tried to jump forward but was pulled back by a thug. Danielle kept her gun pointed at Lance, who had his eyes closed. Her face was tight with emotion. Her hand shook. She tried to swallow her feelings and take the shot...
Then she pulled the gun away with a sob.
Lance let out a shuddering breath. Everyone else only relaxed a little.
The lanky guy, Jake, rolled his eyes and snatched his gun back as Danielle continued to snivel. "Nice job, Danielle. What the hell are we supposed to do now, lock all of them up?"
There were some muttering among the other gang members, but as it turned out, the chaos wasn't over yet.
A loud bang suddenly echoed through the room. Everyone looked up. The trapdoor fell in.
"Everyone drop your weapons! We have you surrounded!"
Danielle gasped and Jake swore under his breath and a bunch of men in uniforms flooded into the base.
"Shit, it's the cops!" Someone yelled. "We need to hide!"
And just like that, Pidge, Lance, and their whole team were dropped to the floor as if they never mattered. The gangsters all fled, running into deeper parts of the base as the police continued flowing in.
From the corner of her eye, Pidge could see Jake and Danielle being surrounded and holding their hands in the air. It all happened so quickly that by the time she composed herself and got up, the cops seemed to have everything under control.
Lance and Matt helped her to stand. Keith looked like he was going to run away like the thugs, until Shiro grabbed his arm and looked him earnestly in the eye. Hunk stood close and they huddled together, inching closer toward the trapdoor so they could get out of here at last.
It was Matt who spoke up first. "Wait, who...who called the police?"
As if to answer him, Allura's face suddenly appeared above the trap door, peeking in and smiling joyously when she saw them all standing there, still perfectly intact.
"Hey, you guys!" She called out. "I wasn't too late, was I?"
Chapter 12: Final Answer
The sky was starting to turn orange when they finally got outside, and everyone was surprised by just how long they had been in there. Time really flew fast when you were running for your life.
Some of the gang members had gotten away, but with Jake and Danielle caught, nobody was really worried. The police were currently talking to Lance, Hunk, and Allura, while the Holts stood a few feet away, all of them holding Pidge and crying.
Matt eventually broke away from his family, leaving Pidge with her parents. He walked over and stood next to Shiro, a tired but relieved grin on his face.
"See? I knew we should have just called the authorities right off the bat," Matt said cheekily. "Allura is a woman after my own heart."
Shiro chuckled. "Good for you buddy. It all worked out."
"Yeah. Glad it's over, honestly." Matt paused. He looked around curiously. "So, uh, where'd Keith go?"
"He left. He doesn't like being around police."
"...huh. Well, when you can, thank him for me. He really got us out of a pickle. We never would have found Pidge without him."
Shiro smiled. "Hmm, yeah. I'll be sure to pass that on to him."
Meanwhile, the police finally let Lance go, and he immediately made he way over to Pidge and her parents. Sam noticed him first and shot him a smile, then Pidge turned.
She looked happy, but Lance felt a pang in his chest when he looked at her. He hadn't had a chance to get a good look at her during her rescue, and she didn't look too good. She was thinner, tired looking, clothes dirty. Danielle's goons must have barely fed or taken care of Pidge at all, and the realization made Lance's blood boil.
Nevertheless, he put on a smile. "Hey Pidge, you..you feeling okay?"
Pidge sighed. "Yeah, I...I'll survive. I'm glad I'm out, but man, it was rough."
Lance nodded solemnly. "I can imagine. You should go home and get some rest."
"I will. I've missed home....how long was I in there?"
"Just over a month," Colleen responded. Her voice was hoarse from crying, but she held a firm hand on Pidge's shoulder. "But we never gave up on you."
"And you're safe now, don't worry," Lance told her gently. "We won't let anything happen to you again, I promise."
Pidge's smile softened and she looked back up at him, somehow still pretty despite her condition. "Thanks, Lance," she said softly. "And thanks for coming to help me. You even dragged all your friends into it."
Lance scoffed. "Well, I dragged yours in too."
"Anyway, you should get going now. I'll come see you soon."
"Don't keep me waiting long."
Predictably, the wedding was postponed for a while so everybody would recover, especially Pidge. While she usually hated being coddled, she could make an exception this time. After being locked up for who knows how long, getting to sit in bed while everyone waited on her hand and foot was a welcome change.
She'd missed fresh air. And actual food.
It took about a month or two before she started working on Rover again—both because she didn't feel well enough, and because her family wouldn't leave her alone.
Today, though, she finally had some free time. Her dad had left for work and her mom was making some lunch. Pidge was sprawled out on the floor, testing out some of Rover's functions, when a soft knock came at her bedroom door.
Matt peeked his head into her room and strode in, followed by Shiro. "Hey Pidge. What are you up to?"
"Nothing," said Pidge. She turned Rover off and turned to face them. "Just messing with Rover. Shouldn't you guys be heading back to school?"
"Yeah, we're leaving in like ten minutes," Shiro replied. "We've got a lot to catch up on after missing so much class."
Pidge scoffed. "Good luck with that. I'm gonna have to do my own catching up once I go back to work. Gotta make up for all that money mom and dad spent on trying to find me."
"Hey, come on, that's not your fault," said Shiro. "Take it easy on yourself, okay?"
"Yeah, we can worry about the money later," agreed Matt. "If push comes to shove, we might be able to ask Allura for help. She's a sweetheart, I doubt she'd be too anal about paying her back."
"Don't let your uncontrollable attraction blind you, Matt," Shiro argued. "Debt's a bitch, trust me. Keith's gotten pretty screwed over by it in the past."
Matt rolled his eyes, and Pidge tilted her head in confusion. "Who's Keith?"
"You know the shaggy haired guy who was with us when we saved you? He's the one who figured out where you were."
"Yeah? I was wondering who that was. Guess I owe him."
Shiro grinned. "Don't mention it. He's a good friend of mine, he was happy to help."
"Mm, and trust me, he's being compensated very well regardless," Matt added cheekily. Shiro shot him a glare.
Pidge's eyes widened for a second, but she laughed it off. "Alright. If you say so."
"We're just glad that you're okay," Shiro said.
They all took a collective breath, and for a second they were content to just sit and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.
Then Shiro checked his watch. "Yeah, looks like we'd better be leaving."
Pidge giggled. "Bye, guys. I'll see you in a week."
"Take care of yourself, okay?" Matt told her. "Don't go hanging around alone."
"Relax, Matt, she's got her mom with her." Shiro tugged on Matt's sleeve. "Come on, we're going to be late."
Pidge stood to hug them both goodbye, and then sat back down while they went out to do the same with her mother.
Once they left, it was quiet save for her mom's humming from outside, and the sounds of Pidge messing with her robot.
She never thought she'd miss this as much as she did.
A few minutes later, Colleen peeked in to inform her that lunch was ready. She and Pidge soon sat at the table, eating quietly and comfortably enjoying each others' presence.
"You know, Lance said he would be coming over later today," Colleen soon piped up.
Pidge snorted. "Oh, good. I was wondering when that bastard would come to see me."
"Language, dear," Colleen scolded, though she was smiling.
Pidge took another bite, chewing thoughtfully. "Are you...still going to make us get married?"
Colleen paused. She finished chewing what was in her mouth, but still hesitated. "Well...we were hoping you would, yes," she replied finally. "But--we're not going to force you into anything right now, dear. You're still recovering."
Pidge frowned slightly.
"It's really up to you what you want to do now, Pidge."
Pidge turned away and nodded. She didn't want to talk about it more right now, because in all honesty, she didn't know what she wanted. And even now, it seemed that her parents hadn't really changed their minds, just that they'd pulled back a little to let her relax after her scary experience.
And then there was Lance. He'd put himself in harm's way to protect her. For all intents and purposes, there was nothing wrong with the guy, and Pidge liked him just fine. Should she just go with it based on that, or was it a matter of principle?
Lance arrived a couple hours later before she could really decide.
Colleen opened the door and he stepped inside with the same bright smile. He was also holding a bouquet.
"Flowers for the pretty pigeon," Lance announced. He bowed slightly as he handed the flowers to Pidge, who took them and smiled in spite of herself.
"Thanks, you sap," she replied teasingly.
Colleen rolled her eyes and took over the pleasantries herself. "It's good to see you again, Lance," she said. "We've all missed you."
"Yeah, I'm sorry for the delay," he replied. "The police kept calling me in to talk about the crime, and I had a bunch of stuff to take care of with my parents...plus I just wanted to give Pidge a chance to rest."
Pidge snorted, placing the flowers in a vase. "I've been resting for an entire month, you dummy. Kind of a long time to wait."
Lance laughed. "You're right, I'm sorry--didn't realize you missed me that much."
Pidge poked her tongue out at him and snickered.
Colleen shook her head with amusement. "Lance, are you hungry, sweetheart? I still have a couple of sandwiches you can have."
"Aww, thanks, Mrs. Holt, but I've already eaten. I was actually hoping to take Pidge out on a walk, if she's feeling up for it." He looked at Pidge curiously to confirm.
Pidge smiled. "Sure, that sounds nice. Let me go get ready."
They soon said goodbye to Colleen and went on their way. The weather was nice out, another thing that Pidge had learned to appreciate. They passed by the cafe from their first date and continued onward, enjoying the cool sea breeze.
"So you're looking a lot healthier," Lance commented. "I'm happy to see that."
"Heh, yeah. My mom's been feeding me. Boy, has she been feeding me."
Lance laughed. "Why so negative? Your mom's cooking is amazing, I'd love to get to eat it all the time."
Pidge rolled her eyes. "I'll tell her you said that. She'll be very grateful."
"Good. I hope she passed that knowledge onto you, so you can--uh."
He faltered, which was new. Pidge raised an eyebrow at him. "So I can what?"
Lance coughed. "Nothing. Never mind. Sure is nice today, huh?"
Pidge frowned. "So I can cook for you when we're married, right?"
Lance paused, and shot an apologetic grin at her. "Heh. Nothing gets past you, huh? S-sorry, I won't mention it anymore."
"Why not? I mean, if is marriage is happening, I see no reason you can't joke about it." Pidge shrugged.
Lance hesitated again, clicking his tongue and rubbing the back of his head nervously. "Uh, yeah...about that."
He stopped, and Pidge paused as well.
"Pidge do you...not want to get married?"
Pidge straightened in surprise. "What?"
"I mean, if you don't want to, I can help you get it called off. I bet they'd be reluctant to go through with it if we both started fighting back."
"W-wait," Pidge put up her hands to stop him. "Why are you saying this now? What's with the sudden change? Do you not like me anymore?"
"No, that's not it." Lance insisted. "It's just--look, you've been trying to get out of this from the start, and after what happened I...I just don't think it's fair for you. You were put through so much shit because of me and my past, and you don't deserve it." He paused again, wringing his hands together. "I like you, but we don't have to go through with this if you don't want to. We can convince our parents to stop, and then move on. You can meet someone you actually want, like you told me before."
Pidge was quiet, staring up at him for a long time. Lance was being serious about this.
She slowly walks over to the side of the road, where there was a railing overlooking a nearby lake. She leaned down on it, thinking hard.
Lance watched her for a moment before joining her.
"So....what do you say?" he asked quietly.
Pidge didn't speak for a couple more seconds. Then she turned to him. Her voice came out hushed: "You said you love me."
Lance blinked. "What?"
"When we were at Danielle's," Pidge continued softly. "You said you wouldn't be with her because you love me. Did you mean it?"
Lance hesitated, eyes wide. Then he slowly nodded, eyes downcast. "Y-yeah," he replied. "Yeah, I did. That's why I'm making this offer now." He gulped. "I couldn't have cared less before, but now....now I really don't want you to be unhappy."
He stopped, waiting for her answer. When he didn't hear one, he looked up curiously.
And Pidge was smiling, red cheeks pressed against her eyes as she tried to surpass a giggle. She looked happier than Lance had ever seen her.
"Sure," she said suddenly, turning back toward the railing. "We could break up. But then you'll just have to marry me normally."
"I mean, I could go find a quirky, nerdy guy to date," Pidge continued. "But will I know for sure that he's stand in front of a loaded gun for me?"
Lance blinked, then laughed. "Yeah, I guess that would be a tough thing to test."
Pidge joined him, laughing softly with both joy and relief. Pidge stepped closer to him and took his hand.
Lance smiled. "So I guess we don't really have to do break up or anything, right?
"No," Pudge giggled. She squeezed his hand and stared up into his eyes, still smiling brightly. "Let's get married, Lance."
Chapter 13: I Do
"Oh, I forgot to mention, you're invited to the wedding."
Keith looked up from the edge of the rickety bed where he was seated, then leaned down to pick up his shirt. "What wedding?"
Shiro scoffed as he finished putting on his jacket. "Pidge and Lance. What other weddings are there?"
Keith finished putting his shirt on. "Oh, they're still doing that? Why would they want me there?"
Shiro sat down next to him and smiled. "Well, you did kinda find Pidge and help us save her life," he reminded him. "I think they consider you a friend."
Keith smirked, and turned away with a shrug. "Yeah, I guess you're right about that." He paused. "Tell them thanks but no thanks."
Shiro frowned. "Why not?"
"Come on, Shiro, you know I'm no good with social events like that. And besides...I don't even have a good suit."
"Ah, that's no problem," Shiro replied. "You can borrow one of Matt's. He's about the same size as you."
"Is Matt okay with that?"
"I'll make him do it."
Keith chuckled and turned to the floor again. "I mean...I don't know."
Shiro paused, then tentatively reached a hand toward Keith, softly running his fingers through the soft long hair around his ears.
"Hmm," Shiro began thoughtfully. "Look, I know you don't like being in public much. But...everyone there is friends and family of Lance and Pidge. They're all grateful, you know, and they really want you to be there." He paused, watching as Keith closed his eyes and leaned into his touch. "...I really want you to be there too."
Keith pressed his lips together. He wasn't fond of the idea, but the way Shiro's fingers were combing through his hair right now was just...so convincing.
"Fine," Keith conceded at last. "I'll go. For you."
Shiro beamed and gave him the tightest hug. "That's great, they're going to be really happy. Here--" he reached into his coat and pulled out the invitation. "You'll need this to get in."
Keith rolled his eyes bashfully and took the envelope. "You keep convincing me to do things for you. One of these days I'm going to put my foot down, you know?"
Shiro smiled cheekily and nuzzled into his hair. "Good luck."
The big day was here.
Matt was fidgeting with the collar of his suit, prompting his father to stand up and help him fix it. Shiro was with them, leaning against a wall while all three of them waited for Pidge to get ready.
"I can't believe this is real," Matt muttered, a little choked up.
"I know," said Sam.
"Pidge...our little Pidge..."
"Getting married. I know!"
Shiro rolled his eyes in amusement as the other two continued to babble. Then the door next to them opened, and all three men looked up.
Pidge emerged, instantly grabbing the attention of everyone in the room. Her dress was simple, but lovely, and her hair was tied up in a curly ponytail on the side. She looked happy.
Shiro smiled warmly. "You look wonderful, Pidge."
Matt and Sam erupted into sobs.
Pidge giggled, and Colleen appeared behind her with shake of her head. "Pull yourselves together, you can cry after the wedding," she jabbed. "Let's hurry up and get to the church, we can't keep everyone waiting."
"Yes, ma'am." Shiro grabbed Matt and Sam by the arms and led them out as they tried to compose themselves.
Lance was pacing in front of the altar. Pidge was late. What was going on? Should he be worried? Was he overthinking?
"Dude," Hunk called from his spot nearby. "Relax, man, you're making me nervous."
"I can't help it," Lance whined. "What's taking her so long?"
Allura, also standing nearby, grinned. "Oh, don't worry, Lance. The bride is always late. She's just trying to get everything just right."
Lance paused in his pacing and considered this. "I-I guess so. Does it really take that long, though?"
"Of course, every little detail must be perfect. It's the biggest day of her life, after all--didn't you say your sister did the same thing at her wedding?"
Lance managed a smile. "Oh yeah. The groom was seated at the altar when we came in because he was so tired of waiting." He glanced out to the congregation as he spoke, where his family was seated, chatting excitedly. His older sister, Veronica, caught his eye and waved at him with both hands.
Lance waved back at turned away before the rest of them copied her. "By the way, Allura, thanks for your help in putting this together."
Allura nodded in satisfaction. "Of course, Lance—just because you're poor doesn't mean you have to miss out on your wedding. You only get one."
"We're not...ah, never mind."
The door suddenly opened and Hunk stood up straight. "Look, Matt and Shiro are here."
Lance tensed up as the two men in question hurried up to the altar. "Where's Pidge?"
"She's coming," Matt assured him.
"She's getting out of the limo as we speak," Shiro added. He turned briefly to the crowd, smiling when he spotted Keith.
"This is still so surreal..." Matt was mumbling, apparently starting to choke up again. "Lance you better take care of her, or else..."
"Now Matt, don't start crying," Hunk told him. "Because if you cry, I'm gonna cry too, and the wedding hasn't even started yet."
The door opened again, and this time everyone stood. The music began. Lance froze.
Pidge had her hand hooked on her father's arm, and she was smiling sweetly as she stepped into the light. Her dress trailed softly behind her, long as white with hints of green at the very end. She gripped her bouquet of flowers tightly, clearly nervous but happy nonetheless.
Allura gasped. "She's beautiful."
"She's like a little flower sprite," Hunk sniffed. He patted Lance on the back. "I'm so happy for you, man."
Lance smiled widely, nerves melting away. He didn't take his eyes off her.
Eventually Sam had to give her away. Pidge whispered a cute "hi!" to Lance as she approached. Lance laughed softly and reached out . Pidge let go of her father and stepped forward to take Lance's hand.
There were many pictures taken. So many pictures. A few of the happy couple in sappy poses, a few with the families, and one with their group of friends, with Keith dragged in (which would be later captioned "rescue squad").
The reception was a whirlwind of games, songs and dancing, games, and greetings from people that Pidge honestly hadn't seen before, but they were probably relatives or something.
While Pidge was no stranger to staying up late, this amount of social interaction was alien to her. And also very exhausting.
So, when it was all over, after Lance had carried her into their hotel room in some silly display of romance, Pidge just flopped unceremoniously onto the bed, dress and all.
"God," she groaned. "What a day."
Lance only removed his jacket before flopping down next to her. "I know. Crazy. But fun."
"Fun, but exhausting," Pidge replied. Then she turned to face him apologetically. "I hate to disappoint, but I just...want to go to sleep."
Lance nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, me too."
Pidge raised an eyebrow. "Really? You didn't want to consummate our marriage?"
He scoffed. "You know, a couple hours ago I would have said 'yes, absolutely.' But now? I'm beat. We can do it tomorrow."
Pidge laughed and pulled herself off the bed. "Sounds fair."
She pulled off her shoes, grabbed some regular clothes and went to change. When she returned, Lance had done the same and was already buried under the covers. Pidge rolled her eyes and slowly went to take her spot next to him. It felt odd, but she'd get used to it in time.
She was facing him when she lied down, and he was on his back, apparently asleep.
Pidge yawned. "G'night, Lance," she said softly.
"Good night, Mrs. Reyes," he responded, surprising her. But she laughed.
And then out of nowhere, she pushed herself up and kissed him gently on the mouth. Lance's eyes went wide for just a moment, but he kissed back as they both melted into each other's arms.
As Pidge drifted off to sleep, she found herself grateful that this arrangement had worked out just fine.