Working on her mother's plants hadn't really been her idea, but at least it was a distraction from Lance's perpetual flirting with Allura.
Back turned to the door, Pidge taps on her computer to input the data from the plants in front of her. They've grown at least three millimetres in the past twelve hours, which is much faster than any of the other plants in their lab, and Pidge and Colleen have yet to figure out why.
"Could the feed be contaminated with something?" Pidge asks, calling over to her mother. Colleen looks up from where she's making notes and diagrams on an alien plant Hunk brought back from Vrepit Sal's. It's similar to a potato in how it grows, but, in Pidge's opinion, it doesn't taste as good.
Colleen puts her pencil down and looks over. "I don't think so," she says doubtfully, shaking her head. "I've checked at least three times, both the feeding fluid itself and the tube it goes through. It could be the soil, I suppose. Can you check the pH? I haven't done that yet."
Pidge sets her computer down and starts to sample the soil. The other plants have been using neutral soil. A perfect seven. This soil, however, is an eight. Barely, but it's there.
"The soil here is more alkaline," Pidge confirms, back still to her mother and the door to the lab. "Not by much, but it is. Are there any more of these plants? I want to try something."
"Over there," Colleen says, pointing without looking. Pidge is forced to turn around to see where the seeds are. "And if you happen to find any pH fourteen soil, let me know, would you?"
Pidge glares. Her mother is needlessly sarcastic sometimes. Colleen knows Pidge isn't the best at plants. Her preference is definitely robotics.
"Surely if I just pour sodium hydroxide onto the soul it would have the same effect?" Pidge asks, fairly sure that's now how soil works. But that's science, so she tries it.
The lab next door warily lends her the chemical. She carefully takes the glass bottle, NaOH written on it hastily in a permanent marker, and starts to measure it out onto the soil. Fifty milliliters later she nearly drops the bottle in shock.
Leaping backwards with an embarrassing shriek, Pidge watches in a mix of horror and fascination as the plant in front of her begins to grow at an alarming rate. Branches grow outwards, scratching at her uniform, and they don't seem to want to stop. That is, of course, until Colleen comes to the rescue and pulls the roots out of the soil.
Pidge sits on the floor, breathing heavily. When she recovers, there's an impressive shit-eating grin on her face. She was right. The more alkaline the soil, the faster the plant grows. She looks up at Colleen, smirking. Colleen rolls her eyes and walks away, dragging the dead bush with her.
Pidge gleefully starts to input the results from her "experiment" into her computer. A few minutes later, the lab is calm again, and Pidge is stuck plotting data. Again.
Just before Pidge is due her lunch break, the lab door opens and Allura and Romelle enter. Pidge's heart falls as the two Alteans enter, smiling and giggling. Allura looks positively radiant, and Pidge can guess what's happened whilst she's been locked in Greenhouse Laboratory Two.
Lance finally got the balls to ask Allura out.
She said yes.
Pidge's heart crumbles a little and it feels like she's been punched in the gut. But what was she supposed to do when she knew Lance had liked Allura all along?
Ugh. Romance, she thinks. It's not worth it. Why does anyone bother with it, really?
"Pidge," Allura says, breathless with excitement. "I need your help. Please."
"She has a date!" Romelle squeals, grabbing Allura in a hug. Allura flushes, a huge smile on her face. "She needs courting vestments. Where do we obtain those?"
"A date?" Pidge asks, trying to keep her face from falling. "With Lance? Congratulations."
"Yes," Allura says, and stands up straight, every inch the princess she is. "I was hoping you would accompany me to find the proper attire- Earth attire, of course."
Behind Pidge, there's a hearty laugh. Her mother, ever curious, is now stood a row or two behind the group of girls. Pidge feels her eyes widening in horror. "You want Katie to go clothes shopping?" Colleen laughs. "Nice try."
Pidge cringes in on herself and tries to ignore the sinking feeling and the tightening of her chest. In that moment, she hates her mother a little. "Apparently the mall is open again," she suggests, unable to look Allura in the eyes. "I've been meaning to go, but... I'm grounded."
The response she gets is not what she expected. She expects sympathy and then for the Alteans to walk away, but instead she is met with confusion.
"Grounded?" Romelle asks, raising her eyebrows. Her perplexed expression matches Allura's. "I didn't think you could fly."
Pidge sighs, and already regrets the conversation that is about to occur. She will end up shouting at her mother somehow and she will feel guilty about it for a long time. "Being grounded is when you've done something wrong and your parents confine you to the house- or the lab, in this case- so you can't do anything else."
"But what are you being punished for?" Allura asks, immediately moving from excited to sympathetic. Pidge forces herself not to glare. The Princess means well, Pidge reminds herself. It is not her fault that things are like this. But oh, she can be insufferable sometimes! And doesn't she know when to leave well enough alone?
Colleen interrupts, a smug smile on her face. "She is grounded because apparently someone thinks it's a good idea to run away to the far side of the other side of the universe without asking her mother. That is not what most fifteen year olds would consider an acceptable activity."
"Year?" Romelle hisses.
"Decaphoeb," Allura hisses back. Romelle looks shocked.
"You let an infant into Voltron?" Romelle whispers, trying to draw attention away from a frustrated Pidge. It doesn't work.
Pidge feels the anger of the past few days reach a tipping point. Stupid Lance asking out stupid Allura and stupid Colleen grounding her. Pidge squares her shoulders and turns, pointing an accusative finger at her mother.
"Well apparently saving the lives of my brother and father from an intergalactic dictator isn't a good enough reason," she shouts. Oh, she needed that. Shouting is good. Shouting is therapeutic. Anger can be nice sometimes.
Pidge soon realises her mistake as she remembers where she gets her temper from. "Not a chance in hell, young lady," Colleen hisses, her look nowhere near as angry as Pidge's but still somehow more intimidating.
"Please, Mrs. Holt," Allura says, stepping forward. She holds her hands out, palms down, in a placating gesture. "I really could use her help."
"She will not leave the ground," Romelle promises from where she hides behind Allura.
Colleen pauses, her face unreadable. Pidge curses her out inside her head, silently yelling at her for not letting her leave the lab. Colleen looks at Allura's pleading face and softens. "Okay. But only because I know how much you hate shopping," she says to Pidge.
"Thank you," Allura says, smiling, and wraps an arm around a seething Pidge's shoulders and steering her away. Romelle follows the pair awkwardly, muttering about floating.
"Do you know of anyone else who could join us?" Allura asks, removing her hand from the youngest Paladin's shoulders.
Pidge pauses, tilting her head and biting her nails as she runs through a mental list of the people she knows. Lord knows where Matt is- probably with N-7 or something. Her dad is too busy with the Alteans pilot, and he's useless at shopping anyway. Hunk prefers cooking, Keith hates fashion, and Shiro is spending the day with a man he seems to have taken a fancy to. What's his name... Connor? Cameron? It's the same name as the villain from Maths favourite musical. Curtis! That's it.
"There's always the MFE pilots," Pidge suggests slowly. "Veronica is with her parents, but Nadia and Ina might help. I suppose we could ask Ryan and James as well, but they probably won't want to help us."
"Why not?" Allura asks.
"Ryan seems like a bit or an introvert, and you've met James, right? I doubt he cares much for clothes shopping."
"Nadia and Ina it is, then," Allura decides, and confidently strides away from where the MFEs are staying.
Pidge giggles. "Other way, Allura."
"I knew that," Allura huffs, spinning on a heel and walking in the other direction.
When they get to the MFE quarters, Nadia is the one to answer the door. Pidge isn't sure what she thinks of the tall girl. She's loud and bubbly, and a little too enthusiastic for Pidge's taste. Ina, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Distant and quiet, she speaks with a confident voice and a blunt manner. Definitely the person to go to for brutal honesty.
"You got a date?" Nadia screams triumphantly, tying her hair back. "Finally! Lance has been moping about you for ages."
"You only realised a few days ago," Ina points out, ignoring the shhh from her friend.
"Do you need help finding cool date clothes?" Nadia asks, eyes sparkling. "I have some! Although you're really tall so they might not for you."
"I can shrink," Allura says, and demonstrates. Nadia's jaw practically falls on the floor, and Pidge wishes she was filming it.
"No way," Nadia breathes. "That's so freaking awesome! Can you get really tall? Is it only height you can change? Oh, can you shapeshift into James?"
Pidge ignores her firing questions at a mile a minute and walks over to the sofa in the middle of the common space. She flops down onto it, barely noticing the figure next to her.
"Oh my god," Pidge mutters, taking off Matt's glasses and rubbing her eyes. "Is she always like this?"
"Unfortunately," says James, and Pidge squawks in surprise.
"Oh my god!" She yells. "I'm so sorry. I didn't notice you."
"Don't worry," James says, dismissively waving a hand. "It happens. I'd ask what brought you here but Nadia's screaming gave it away."
"Allura has a date with Lance," Pidge says, unable to hide her sadness any longer.
James looks at her sunken shoulders and hanging head, and asks her softly: "which one is it?"
"Lance," Pidge says. "At least the universe wasn't cruel enough to make him come to me for fashion advice."
"That's rough," James says, patting Pidge on the shoulder. "You'll find someone, don't worry."
"I know," Pidge says. "But for now I think I'll stick to wallowing in my own sadness." James laughs.
The door hisses open and Nadia squeals again. "Ryan! Were going clothes shopping because Allura has a date and doesn't like my clothes. You wanna come?"
Ryan politely declines and goes to sit with James before noticing Pidge. She moves seats and is rewarded with a grateful grunt as a sleepy Kinkade curls up into James' side. James runs a hand through Ryan's hair. "Tough shift?" He asks. Ryan nods.
"Four thefts and two assaults. One of which was me."
"Oh, honey," James says, and kisses Ryan's head. "How're you feeling?"
"Are you dating?" Pidge blurts, and James and Nadia look over, startled.
"It's not obvious?" Nadia laughs. "I'm just glad the walls are soundproofed. You know they actually broke the bed three days ago?"
"I bet James I could jump higher than him," Ryan mutters. "He owes me ten dollars."
James sighs. "I was hoping you'd forgotten."
"Not on your life. Now, nap time," Ryan orders, rearranging himself to a more comfortable position. "Nadia, go shopping or something. I'm tired."
Nadia forcibly drags Pidge and Ina out of the room, leaving James and Ryan alone.
"Alright!" Nadia cries, turning to the small group. "Operation: Find Allura some date clothes is go!"
They've finally found the mall- if it can be called that. It's a group of tents and ragged gazebos with tired and filthy people hoping to find enough for food. Pidge notices how much cleaner she is than everyone else and cringes, refusing to meet any eyes.
Pidge begins to lead the group through the mall, looking at each stall. The first one they pass is a fabric store where an old woman is hanging up linen in an attempt to draw in customers. The second, a large man with a scowl raises his eyebrows at Romelle and whistles. She nearly knocks his teeth out when Pidge tells her what it means.
Pidge walls right past the third stand before she realises what it is. A blond man with a purple bandana sits cross-legged next to a pile of video games, and right in front of him... Is that... Is that-
"Killbot Phantasm 26: Revengifiance!" Pidge yells, eyes lighting up. "It's out?"
Nadia runs over, eyes equally as bright. "It came out, like, two days before the Galra attack! Nobody has managed to reach the end yet."
The blond man who owns the stall sits up, smiling. "That's right. This is one of the only undamaged copies left. I haven't played it myself. My console was shattered."
"We'll take it!" Nadia announces, leaning forward. The man leans back, startled by her enthusiasm.
"Okay," he says, taking a second to recover. "It's nice to meet other KBP fans. Whatever you got to trade?"
"...Trade?" Pidge asks, face falling. She didn't realise they'd have to trade. She looks over to Nadia questioningly, hoping the pilot remembered money. In turn, Nadia looks over at Ina, who turns out her pockets. They're empty. Allura and Romelle look equally as blank as Pidge feels.
"Oh," Pidge sighs. "I don't have anything." Maybe I should just leave it, she thinks, but she's desperate not to. It's one of the few things she finds joy in now.
"Sorry," the man says, looking away. "I can't give you the game if you have nothing to trade."
Pidge groans, and moves to stand, but Nadia beats her to it. She looks at the man and scoffs. "That's how you treat a paladin of Voltron?" She asks. "Pidge, we're leaving."
"Wait!" The man cries, sitting up again. "Voltron? Like, from the show?"
Pidge nods. "The show was based on me and my friends."
The man is suddenly a lot more interested. "My daughter loves that show! Hunk's her favourite, though. She says he looks cuddliest."
"He definitely is," Pidge laughs.
"You can have the game if I can get an autograph for my daughter," the man promises, and Pidge grins.
"Of course!" She says, imitating the voice of the character that's supposed to be her, but is really nothing of the sort. She pulls a pen out of her shorts and signs a piece of paper given to her by the man, adding a small doodle of herself next to it. She makes sure to put a thank you note as well. The game is soon in her hands, and she brightens as she walks away.
"I think I have an idea," Nadia sings, and Pidge nods.
"Me too," she smirks.
Instead of trading, Pidge pays for things by taking on her character's persona and voice. Everyone is suddenly more amicable when they notice an actual Paladin of Voltron is in the market. Romelle's face lights up as Pidge trades a series of autographs for candyfloss.
"This is gorgeous!" Romelle says, feeling the candyfloss dissolve on her tongue. "Allura, try some."
Eventually, Pidge has signed enough things that she has the right clothes to even look like her character. She's pretty convincing, and a young boy, barely six, almost cries when he sees her. "Tell Sven I wanna be like him when I'm older!" He insists, and Pidge promises, making a mental note to tell Shiro. Sven himself is unavailable, due to being in a parallel universe and all. It's very inconvenient.
"Oh, look!" Romelle says, spotting a clothes shop. They're so pretty!" She points at a jewellery stand, and Nadia drags her in.
"Split up and find the best clothes for Allura that you can," Nadia offers. "Meet back here in fifteen minutes."
Pidge wanders the aisles, looking for clothes for Allura. Maybe a dress would flatter her more than a pair of trousers and a shirt? But wouldn't Lance prefer the trousers?
At that thought, she stops in her tracks. She'd been having so much fun she'd almost forgotten why they were shopping for clothes in the first place. Pidge sighs and morosely looks at more clothes, hoping to find something nice for herself, too.
When the five all meet back near the entrance, Nadia pushes Allura into the nearest changing rooms and helps her put the first outfit on.
"You've got a gorgeous figure," Nadia comments. "This doesn't show it off the best, though." When the pair come out, Pidge has to stifle a laugh. That was not what she was expecting.
Allura walks out sheepishly, dressed in green and yellow running gear. She has a sweatband on her forehead and a pair of knee high yellow socks, neither of which really complement the basketball shorts or the oversized, horrifyingly ugly running jacket. Pidge looks at Nadia and shakes her head.
"Maybe not," she says. "Ina, what do you have?"
Ina's outfit is actually really nice, but it's not something Lance would like. It's also badly fitted. A white suit jacket, at least two sizes too big for Allura, and a pair of white suit trousers, at least two sizes to all. Pidge shakes her head again, shrugging in apology at Ina's disappointed look.
Romelle is next, and is so happy with what she's found, Pidge barely had the heart to tell her it's hideous. Allura stands in a pair of mismatched socks, both rainbow, and- is that a singular, green croc? Yes it is. She also has a pair of jeans, and a pink and yellow skirt over the top. On top of that is a white jumper and a blue camisole. To top that off is a pink scarf. Individually, Pidge is sure, the clothes look lovely. But together? No.
And then it's her turn. She's tried her best to cater to Lance's tastes, but she's unsure. The suit she hands over is pink, which is a colour Lance has commented on a million times. It's also plain, the only accessory being a dark pink belt. Pidge thinks Allura looks gorgeous, but the others disagree.
Finally fed up with the constant outfit changing, Allura turns around and stalks off. She draws the curtains as hard as she can, and Pidge flinches. Apparently the Princess does not like shopping. When Allura comes out, Pidge's jaw practically falls to the ground.
The dress is made of cotton and is white, with three-quarter sleeves and a brown belt. The shoes are small and gray, and for such simple clothing, Allura looks positively radiant.
Lance will love it, Pidge thinks, and ignores the feeling in her stomach, almost like she's been locked.
"Success," Nadia announces triumphantly.
At the counter, Nadia dumps the floaty fabric in front of the vendor. "This everything?" The vendor asks. Nadia nods, and he starts to add up their price. "That will cost you... One phoeb of servitude from the tiny one." He points at Pidge.
"A year?" Nadia screeches.
"A month," Pidge corrects, and smiles confidently. "I've got this," she whispers, and steps forward. "How about you give us all this and I give you an autograph?" She squeaks out, doing her best imitation of her character.
The vendor is unimpressed. "No," he snarls. "Prices just went up. That's three phoebs, now."
"Perhaps... Perhaps this wasn't the best idea," Allura says sadly. "I don't need the dress. Let's just go."
Pidge looks up at her, feeling guilty. This date means so much to her and all Pidge has done is frown and grumble. She's got to do something, both for the Princess and... And for Lance.
She turns to leave and Pidge follows, raising a hand to pat Allura's shoulder consolingly. She's stopped by a shout from the vendor. "Hold on!" He cries. "How about a friendly deal, him? If you happen to have a copy of Killbot Phantasm 26: Revengifiance, I might just consider letting you have this." He holds up the dress.
Pidge stops. "But..." I was going to play that with Lance.
"No deal!" Nadia shouts, stepping forward. "What do you need it for?"
"I've been looking for it for over three deca-phoebs," the vendor hisses. "I'm a huge KBP fan."
Pidge clutches the game to her chest. She doesn't want to let it go. She wants to keep it, to play it with Lance. It'd make him happy. But he'd be happier on a date with Allura, the voice in her head reminds her. She feels a lump in her throat and barely trusts herself to speak without shaking.
"Take it," Pidge says quietly. The game is snatched out of her hands and the dress, necklace, and shoes all thrown at Nadia, who is nearest. Pidge turns away from the shop counter, looking at the floor and trying not to cry. Before she can take more than two steps anywhere, she's swept up in a hug from Allura.
"Thank you," Allura whispers.
"It's okay. Take care of Lance," Pidge asks, and feels Allura nod.