Actions

Work Header

Fear the Night Again

Chapter Text

It had been a long fucking day, and one Katie Holt was entirely done with everything.

It wasn’t that she didn’t love getting to raise up a new generation of defenders and teach other people how to use alien tech and build the future. She really did love her job and all the amazing opportunities it afforded her; it was the kind of life young pre-teen Pidge would have drooled over, if she’d ever thought it was a possibility – being a hero of the universe, working as a well-respected scientist and war hero, her family safe (and expanded to include at least an extra seven people). She loved having excuses to mess around with tech and work long hours in the shop with her brother and parents. She loved being Dr. Holt, with her shiny new honorary PhD and white lab coat that was almost always grubby by the end of the day.

She loved the tech, the job, the life. She just didn’t always love the people.

It wasn’t even that they were bad people, she just . . . didn’t feel like working with them some days. Some days had more meetings and talking and interacting than she cared for. And today was one of those days. So when she came home to an empty apartment and had no one around to bother calling or checking in with . . . it felt good.

Matt was away on honeymoon with his partner, Lei’loph, an Olkari who’d come to work with them a few years ago and had gotten close with the Holts, and Matt in particular, while working on a project to produce hardy, affordable food for all the people whose homes and livelihoods had been ruined by the war. Lei-loph was nice, but also full of enough sass and salt to keep up with their new family, and Pidge knew they made Matt happy, and the two of them always tended to include Pidge in things if possible; but they needed time to themselves, so they were off-planet to finally celebrate their recent nuptials.

Shiro was also off-planet, helping to set up a flight-school on the recently dubbed “New Diabazaal”. Hunk was working long hours setting up a new chain of diners specifically designed to cater to anyone – human or alien – with dietary restrictions not normally accommodated in restaurants, as well as teaching cooking classes to the newly-built intergalactic schools the Garrison had been supporting. Lance and Allura were busy working on both settling down and commuting off-planet to support the new schools being built, even with their wedding coming up just around the corner. Allura had proposed almost two full years ago, but they’d decided to take things slowly after the war. They’d even spent some time apart from each other, receiving counselling and learning how to be happy as individuals after everything the war had changed for them (although the being apart thing didn’t last too long; neither one of them wanted to be too far away from each other for too long). It was sickening to be around them, they were so in love, but Pidge couldn’t help being happy for them when she saw the quiet glow in Lance’s eyes or the pride and happiness in Allura’s smile.

And as for Keith. . . well, Pidge had no idea where he was, to be honest. Somewhere doing Blade work with his mom and Kolivan, last she’d heard. He checked in with them all frequently enough, and he came back several times a year to stay with Shiro for a weeks at a time; but he’d also disappear from their radar, and by now they’d all become used to his radio silences. He was in the midst of a lengthy one now – it had been months since he’d last checked in; but Pidge wasn’t too worried. She was sure she’d hear from Krolia or Kolivan if anything was amiss with him. He was probably just busy; when Keith was on a mission, he seemed to fall out of normal time-keeping and into his own zone; he could go six months without saying a word and enter back into their lives as if he’d never left, and somehow it never occurred to him that this was strange or required explanation.

Pidge sighed as she kicked off her shoes in the front porch of her apartment and began undressing before she even got to the bedroom, slinging off shirt, pants, binder, and hopping from foot to foot as she tugged off her gross, sweaty day-socks and tossed their limp forms into the corner to be forgotten about until she decided to do laundry again. She staggered around the sofa and flopped on the soft carpet of her living room – it was an obnoxious teal green and Matt joked that it looked as if someone had skinned a Muppet and turned them into a rug – enjoying the feeling of being almost entirely naked in the middle of the room. God, she was glad to be home.

After taking a sufficient amount of time to bask in the glory of being naked in her own home, she finally got up and trudged to her room to pull on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt and her fuzzy blue socks. She let her hair down and shook it out, then pushed it back in a loose headband, gathering the long pieces up in a scrunchie. She never bothered to do much with her hair, despite growing it out a little the last year – enough that most of it could be held back in the scrunchie, anyway. She’d been considering getting an undercut; Matt had laughed and told her that the cute girl from the lab – Marcella? – would definitely ask her out if she got a haircut that gay. Pidge had thought about that.

“I mean, she’s very cute,” she’d confessed. “But I think she’d want to do a little more than just Netflix, you know? I feel like she might want the chill.”

“Ah yes, the infamous chill,” Matt said, subconsciously looking down at the picture of Lei’loph on his phone screen. Pidge groaned and smacked him with a pillow.

“Stop thinking about sex in my living room!”

Matt had blushed furiously and closed his phone. “I’m not!” he protested.

“Denying it just looks worse, buddy.”

Honestly, she liked the idea of dating someone like Marcella – she was cute, smart, and knew her way around the lab. The idea of having someone like that to come home to – having anyone to come home to – was kinda nice. But Pidge had heard her the other day talking to a coworker about “needing to get laid” since she’d been single for six months, and Pidge . . .

Wasn’t going to be able to provide that kind of relationship service.

She heaved a contented sigh as she curled up on the sofa. She had a stack of books next to her on the coffee table – she wasn’t in the mood for reading, really, but liked the idea of being able to; there was a sort of luxury to it, having the time to open a book and read it if she so chose, but not needing to. She had her TV turned on and set to Netflix, but she didn’t select a show. She had the kettle going to make something warm to drink – tea, or maybe hot cocoa – but she made no move to actually make it. She’d bought groceries yesterday, so she had plenty of food to prepare when she decided she felt like it – but that could come later. She lolled back in her seat, stretching her legs obscenely wide and cracking her neck as she writhed like a tired puppy settling in for a nap. Having so many comforting things to be doing, but being in no rush to do them, was a good feeling. Maybe . . . maybe she’d just sit here, for a while . . .

The intrusion of the apartment buzzer broke her reverie. She sat up, both confused and seriously annoyed. No one she knew had made plans to stop by, and her family and friends always let her know if they were going to come over – they knew that she could be at the lab late on any given night. They also knew her intense dislike of surprises. The only time she’d had unexpected guests was when the media decided to drop by for a special “former Paladin interview”. She got up, decidedly pissy about the whole thing, to answer the buzzer.

“If you’re a reporter, kindly fuck off, compliments of the Green Paladin, etc. Stalking me at my favourite coffee shop was shitty, coming to my house is decidedly shittier. Have a really crappy night.”

There was a stunned silence, and then the voice on the other end – “Uh. It’s – not a reporter. Um, it’s me.” A pause. “Uh, Keith.”

Pidge didn’t give herself the luxury of answering; she buzzed him in without another word. She knew if she started talking she’d have a full rant right then and there, and while the idea of Keith standing at the front of her apartment listening to her yelling at him through the speaker and no doubt blushing as other people stared at him was funny, she’d give him a chance to come into her home first. She glanced around the apartment; it wasn’t too messy, she decided. Besides, Keith knew she didn’t clean up for company.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Pidge swung it open to reveal Keith, standing awkwardly in the doorway, dressed in his brown leather jacket and holding a single black duffel bag.

“What the hell, Kogane.”

He frowned, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, looking more like his awkward teenaged self than she’d seen since . . . well, since he was an awkward pre-Black-Paladin teenager. “I know, sorry, I didn’t mean to be late, I just – er, traffic.” His frown deepened. “You normally don’t care about stuff like that. You said you prefer it when people are at least fifteen minutes late and it’s rude to – ”

“Up-bup-bup-bup,” Pidge interrupted him, silencing him by placing her finger against his lip. Keith went cross-eyed for a moment to look at it, then looked back to her, incredibly confused. “What the heck do you mean by late? Late for what?”

Keith blinked. “Um. Late to . . . come over? At 7:45? Wait, did I get the time zone wrong or something when I got back to earth? I thought – ”

“Keith. First of all, come inside, the neighbours are nosy as hell and at least one teenager down the hall has a massive crush on you and asks me weekly if you ever visit because they want to get your autograph.” She held open the door and let him shuffle inside, still holding his duffle bag out in front of him. She closed the door and locked it before turning back to him. “Set your bag down. Doesn’t matter where. And explain to me why you’re here.”

A look of understanding passed over his face suddenly. “Matt didn’t tell you.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“Um, no? He’s off-planet with Lei’loph.”

Keith nodded, finally setting down his bag. “Yeah, I know, I – didn’t have your number, so I contacted him to see if I could crash with him for a bit while I’m back on earth, since Shiro is away and everyone else is, you know, pretty busy.” Now that he’d put down the bag he didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, and finally shoved them into his pockets. “He said he’d text you and let you know I was coming. He said – he said not to bother texting you, since you’d be super busy for a few days, and that if you had any questions you’d text me.” His eyes went comically large as the realization hit him, and he and Pidge both groaned at the same time.

“Asshole,” Pidge muttered. “Not you,” she clarified quickly. “My brother.”

Keith shrugged, already awkwardly picking up his bag again. “It’s fine if you’re busy, I’ll find somewhere else to go for a while, don’t worry about it – ”

“No, no,” Pidge argued, waving her hand dismissively. She gestured for Keith to follow her out of the entrance and into the kitchen. “It’s just – I’ve been really busy with work and getting – ” she fashioned air-quotes with her fingers – “ ‘antisocial’. Matt’s been trying to force me to see people and stuff. He probably decided to just send you here to make sure I don’t end up pulling another Gollum.” She opened the fridge. “Water, juice, or something stronger?”

Keith frowned, watching as she set the orange juice on the counter and began searching the cupboards for clean glasses. “Uh, water is fine, thanks. What do you mean by Gollum?”

She sighed, filling his glass with water and her own plastic superhero-themed cup with orange juice. “I just – I get really invested in things. You know that. And last year I was looking into these chemical forms from Olkari, they’re really similar to cycloalkanes here in our solar system – you know, carbon-hydrogen bonds and stuff? – anyway, I was so focussed on figuring out these cyclo-something-or-others that I kinda . . . didn’t eat or drink much, got super antisocial, anemic, et cetera, et cetera.” She shrugged and gulped her drink. “I ended up hissing at people and Matt had to stage an intervention because apparently that isn’t ‘normal behaviour’. He said I was going from Smeagol to Gollum because – I mean, cycloalkanes are like, in a ring shape, right? So I was . . . obsessed with a ring.” She set down her cup and hoisted herself onto the counter, swinging her sock feet back and forth. “He sent you here without telling me to make sure you actually came and I didn’t try to back out of it. He’s trying to make sure I don’t go all antisocial hermit creature again by forcing me to see people.”

This was the wrong thing to say, because Keith’s expression immediately shifted. “I don’t have to stay,” he insisted again. He looked distinctly uncomfortable, and Pidge realized why.

“God, no, Keith. I wouldn’t have tried to make other arrangements even if I had known you were coming. Matt’s just being Matt. Seriously. I’ve missed you. Besides, you aren’t a people. You’re a Keith.”

“I’m at least half a people,” he grumbled, crossing his arms and pretending to glare.

Pidge let out a short laugh and pushed herself off the counter, motioning for him to follow her as she walked over to the spare bedroom. “Come on. Let’s get you settled in, Mr. Half a People, and then you can explain what you’re doing here.”

Keith looked dubious again, though. “Are you sure? I mean – ”

“Keith,” she barked. “Shut up and trust me, okay?”

Keith’s mouth quirked up into an unexpected smile as she turned his own words back on him. The phrase had become somewhat of a “meme” among their group; Lance loved to retell the story of how their space adventure began, recounting it as colourfully as possible to anyone who would listen – this was why interviewers loved him – and he always included that first night – (“And then this guy, this weird emo kid with the mullet – he gets on this hoverbike, right? And we’re way over the weight limit already and like, honestly, I’m pretty sure we were half an inch away from one of us getting thrown right off – and then this mullet revs up and makes to head for the edge of this cliff, and what does he say? What does he say?” “Shut up and trust me!” someone who’d already heard the story would call out, and Lance would nod. “Shut up and trust me. Ah, yes, random eighteen year old mullet child, I trust you to drive me over the edge of a McFreaking cliff. Of course.”) Keith found it moderately annoying but mostly amusing. It had become an oft-repeated phrase among their group now. Hearing it from Pidge seemed to finally ease his mind, remind him that they were old friends; he really wasn’t just a people, he was family. He followed Pidge into the guest room obediently.

Getting Keith “set up” simply meant having him drop his bag in the bedroom. Pidge moved around the room easily, running a hand over the quilt and punching pillows around, trying to do things her mother had always done – the little welcoming gestures that made being a hostess look so easy and made people feel at ease, things Pidge was not good at. But she knew she’d made Keith feel bad with her interrogation, as if he were intruding, and that was the last thing she wanted him to feel. She really had missed him, a lot. She wanted him to feel like he could stay for as long as he needed and know that she actually didn’t mind. That she was glad to see him.

She looked him up and down, surveying the dark jeans and leather jacket, which only served to make his stiff, awkward posture more stiff and awkward.

“You wanna change into something more comfortable and freshen up and join me in the living room?” she asked. “I was just chilling out and doing . . . well, literally nothing. I’ll wait out there and you can take your time.”

Keith nodded, still looking around the bedroom. “Yeah, that sounds . . . that sounds good. Uh, thanks, Pidge.” Finally his eyes came to rest on her and met her gaze, just as intense as ever. “Thanks. Really. I – I really appreciate it.”

She just punched his arm, maybe a little too hard, and grinned up at him. “Fuck off, Keith.”

He gave her a small, almost incredulous smile, and shook his head. “Request duly noted.”

Pidge scoffed and turned away, giving a wave over her shoulder as she walked out and closed the door behind her. “I’m ordering pizza,” she called at the door. “I already know what you want.”

A pause, and then – “Uh, okay. Thanks.”

She ambled back to the living room, pulling out her phone as she walked, typing in an order for pizza – Hawaiian for Keith, like the heathen he was. She set up her own order and settled down on the couch to wait for him to finish. She opened her messaging app while she waited.

What the hell, Matthew

There were a few moments before the ellipses appeared at the bottom of the screen, indicating that he was already replying.

I assume you received my little package?

Pidge rolled her eyes. Yes, and while I appreciate the thought and I’m more than happy to have a Keith in my apartment, your methods were less than tactful

Tact, my dear sister, is for the weak

She sighed. Make sure you and Lei’loph talk about using protection before tonight

PIDGE

She sent an innocent smiley face before slumping back into the couch. If it had been anyone else, she would have been getting into peopling-mode, preparing to be moderately social or at least deal with fending off any social advances the other might make. But with Keith, she felt comfortable. They’d once had a sleepover where they didn’t speak more than a dozen words between the two of them, until after dark when they were lying in bed; then they’d had deep conversation about cryptids (“I would have taken you to be more of a skeptic, Keith.” “My mom is an alien, my dog teleports, and my best friend is a clone. It’s hard to be skeptical after all that.”) and which of their childhood TV shows they’d be okay with seeing rebooted (“I’m generally against reboots on principle, but I’d really like to see a live-action remake of The Magic Schoolbus. With Coran as Miss Frizzle.” “What the actual heck, Pidge.”). He understood her need to hermit-crab, and he didn’t expect her to be a host. He was just as happy sitting on the floor playing a video game or drawing while she worked on her latest project.

But . . . she hadn’t seen him in ages. And there was that strange edge to him, that brand-new company first-time-staying-overnight-at-your-friend’s-house kind of vibe. Maybe it had just been too long since they’d hung out. Maybe they’d grown apart. They’d always kinda of fit naturally into place with each other. Hopefully they wouldn’t end up trying to force that kind of easy comfort and end up ruining it and pushing each other away . . .

Pidge shook her head. No use stressing over it. She was just surprised at having company. It would be fine.

A few minutes later, the door opened, and Keith came out, the edges of his hair clinging to his face, which looked freshly washed. He was wearing a grey hoodie and black sweatpants with a worn red stripe down one leg. Pidge squawked when she saw his feet. She got up and bustled into her room.

“No bare feet in my house!” she called from her bedroom, grabbing her second-favourite pair of oversized fuzzy socks and throwing them at Keith. “How could you forget, you heathen? I can’t – ”

“ – stand the sound of bare feet on the floor and you don’t want to see them within ten feet of you. I remember,” Keith promised, pulling on the socks. He offered a small grin. “I just wanted you to bring out the fuzzy socks. None of mine are this cozy.”

Pidge made a grumbling noise and flopped back onto her chair, gesturing for him to join her on the opposite couch. “Have a seat, sock-stealer. Pizza is on its way.”

Keith tread softly in his fuzzy socks and sat on the edge of the proffered couch; sock jokes aside, he still looked like a guest. Pidge didn’t like guests, but she liked Keith. She turned to face him, hoping to use sheer force of bluntness to get him to chill out.

“So. Whatcha doing on earth right now? I’m assuming you have Blade bases where you can stay if you need to and you haven’t been around in ages. To what do I owe the distinct pleasure of having the leader of Voltron and head of the Blade of Marmora’s Humanitarian Division sitting on my couch?”

Keith played with the edge of his overly-long hoodie sleeves and shrugged. “Just taking a break. Mom said I needed to take some time away from everything for a while, learn how to be a civilian again and stuff. I don’t . . . have my own place, I’ve just been travelling from base to base, so I figured, if one of you guys was free . . . ” he broke off and frowned. “Listen, if you need me to leave tomorrow, I can figure something out, I’ll head to the Garrison and ask Iverson if they can spare a dorm or something, I – ”

Pidge threw a pillow at him. He ducked to avoid it, his hands going up instinctively to shield himself. She shook her head. “Fuck right off, Keith. You’re staying here. I’ve got an extra key, you can stick around tomorrow while I go to the lab. Wifi password is on the fridge, it’s ‘gremlin05’, no caps. There’s food in the fridge and I have a Netflix account, you can help yourself to socks, snacks, and alcohol, you can sleep in as late as you want.” She shook a finger in his face. “Don’t ask me again if it’s really okay for you to stay. I said it was, and I don’t want you to mention it again. I have nothing going on – like, nothing aside from work. Everyone is off-planet or doing something important, and all I do is work all day and come home to lounge on the couch. If I need some alone time, I’ll go in my room and slam the door, or I’ll growl at you and you can go to your room. It’s literally no trouble at all, Keith. I don’t have a social life or a significant other or anything else that might get in the way.” She leaned over and smacked him with an extra pillow.

Keith rubbed his arm, even though it definitely wouldn’t have hurt him. “Okay,” he agreed quietly. He fixed her with a sharp look. “But if that’s the case, then you have to promise to kick me out if you want me away. Okay? Even if you just need a night with me gone. I won’t ask if it’s okay if you promise to tell me when I’m not wanted.”

Pidge nodded and held out her hand to shake on it, even though she felt a little pang in her heart at his words. “You’re always wanted, Keith,” she said simply. “We’re family.”

He flushed and pulled his hand away. “ ‘Kay,” he agreed.

She settled back in her chair. “So how are all the Blades? Krolia, Kolivan?”

Keith smiled a little. “Mom is doing well. She doesn’t like to take time off when there’s still work to do, but she’s been trying to do some learning and reading about Earth culture in her spare time – she says it makes her feel closer to Dad, coming across things she heard him talking about. We even did karaoke one night, few months back. Kolivan is still Kolivan. He’s mellowed out a little, honestly. He and Mom act like siblings when they’re off-mission. I found some kind of Galran alcohol and got them drinking one night, and Kolivan grinned. Not just a smile, a real grin, pointy teeth and all. He didn’t get around to laughing, but Mom and I have a bet going to see which one of us can make it happen first.”

Pidge chuckled, trying to picture the austere Blade leader actually grinning. “I’m surprised his muscles know how to make a grin.”

Keith nodded. “It was terrifying.”

“And what about Kosmo?”

“He’s staying with Mom. I didn’t want to bring him if I was going to be staying with someone – me plus an extra-large teleporting dog is a lot to dump on anyone.”

Pidge pouted. “Honestly, I’d have been even more willing to take you in if you’d brought him. He’s soooo cuddly.”

Keith smiled. “That he is. I miss him already.”

“Text Krolia, then. Tell her to get him to teleport here.”

Keith looked surprised, then hopeful. “Uh, you really want him around?” he asked carefully.

Pidge rolled her eyes. “I wouldn’t have said so if I didn’t mean it. God, Keith, you’re acting like you’re a guest.”

“I mean . . . ”

Pidge cocked her head at him. “Keith. Think about what you’re about to say. Consider it carefully, and then ask yourself what you think I’m going to say back and if I won’t beat the shit out of you for saying it.”

Keith broke into a small smile. “Yessir,” he finally agreed, saluting. “I’ll get Kosmo when Mom comes by the Garrison in a couple days.”

Pidge nodded. “There you go. You’re learning, kid.”

Keith looked amused, but he finally settled back into the couch, making himself comfortable and folding his legs up under him. “So, what about you? How’s life going?”

“Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary. Working at my dream job, getting to see my family all the time and working to build the future of science using all the resources the universe has to offer. I’ve been taking some courses in my spare time, just completed a few online last week. Nothing new aside from that, though. I go to work in the morning, come home in the evenings and watch Netflix. Sometimes the research is really exciting so I don’t come home till early morning, some nights I go have supper with my parents or Matt. Sometimes I hang out with the others when they’re around. I started dating a girl last year but that didn’t last too long, we ended it amicably because we wanted different things.” She shrugged. “Life is good but pretty regular. I’m happy.”

Keith was watching her face as she finished speaking, interpreting her silence. He looked as if he wanted to ask something, but then her phone started playing the X-Files theme and interrupted. She glanced at the number before answering it.

“Hey, Brendon. I’ll be right down.” She shrugged at Keith’s questioning look as she hung up. “Pizza guy. He . . . comes here a lot.” Keith’s mouth quirked up into a funny little smirk, and Pidge shrieked with outrage as she grasped the meaning of the look. She smacked him, hard, with another pillow. “Oh my gosh, Keith, you’re disgusting.”

Keith looked up at her innocently. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Should I stay out of your way? Is Brendon coming upstairs, or will you guys complete the transaction in the porch?”

Pidge glared at him. “I’ll be revoking your guest privileges in a second, boy. I’d expect that from Lance, but I thought better of you.”

Keith shrugged, his mouth still twisted up in a smug look. “Guess you expected a little too much from me, Pidgeon.”

Pidge shook her head and slipped into a pair of green Crocs. “I’ll be back for you, emo child.”

Keith ignored her in favour of pointing at the Crocs and whispering dramatically, “What are those?”

Pidge shook her head even as a swell of affection filled her with warmth. “Shiro’s been sending you too many archaic memes,” she sighed as she headed out the door.

“He raised me right,” Keith called as she stepped out.

Pidge rolled her eyes as she trudged down the stairs, but it was with fondness. It was nice to see Keith being . . . more chill. Finally.

At the door, Brendon eyed the boxes of pizza as she paid with her debit card. “More pizza than usual,” he commented casually.

Pidge hummed. “Yeah, got a friend over.”

Brendon nodded, trying badly to disguise his interest. “Someone from work, or . . . ”

Pidge knew what he was after. “Voltron friend,” she confirmed. “Keith.”

Brendon’s eyes lit up. “The Black paladin?” he exclaimed.

“That would be the one.”

“Oh, my gosh – I mean, uh. I’m glad you two get to see each other.”

“Mmhm,” Pidge agreed, turning away with the pizza boxes. “Have a good night, Brendon.”

“Is he, uh, gonna be here for a while?”

Pidge smirked. “Why, you wanna ask him out?”

Brendon flushed brilliant red. “No, that would be weird, I don’t even know if he’s into guys, he doesn’t know me, I just – it’s cool. Like, super cool. I just delivered pizza to two out of five paladins, I – ” he stopped himself. “Sorry. I’m being weird. I’m going to, uh, leave, and we’ll pretend this never happened, okay?”

Pidge hugged her pizza close. “We might. We might not.” She grinned and sing-songed, “Have a good night, Brendon. I’ll tell Keith you said hi, okay?”

The rest of Brendon’s already-pink face flushed red to the roots of his hair. “Y-yeah, okay. Uh, thanks, Pidge.”

God, it was fun to torture the pizza delivery kid.

Keith jumped a little when she let herself into the apartment. She looked appraisingly at the blank TV screen.

“You just sitting here staring at the wall?” she asked, kicking the door shut and walking over. Keith flushed and shrugged.

“I mean – you weren’t gone that long.”

“Well, grab the remote and let’s put something on. Fair warning, if we watch sci-fi I might end up criticizing the accuracy of the science.”

Keith nodded, picking up the remote. “Sci-fi it is.” He shrugged at her look. “I’ve missed Pidge-rants. Let’s put on something real bad so I can get a good long one.”

“You’re better off to find something half-decent. If the whole show is awful I don’t care as much, but when they make a really good sci-fi and then ruin it by getting lazy on their research . . . that drives me nuts.”

Keith selected a show and settled back on the couch, accepting his box of pizza. “Rabid-pigeon-mode activated,” he grinned as he pulled out a piece of pizza, tugging at a long string of cheese.

Pidge grumbled and crawled over the edge of the couch. Keith looked over with surprise as she slumped next to him and put her legs up in his lap, reclining against the arm of the couch. He flicked her toe, not hard enough to hurt, and she nudged him with her foot. Then she tugged the throw blanket over his lap, grabbed a piece of pizza, and settled in just like they were back on the castle watching Coran’s crazy old Altean movies.

And it was just about perfect, if she ignored the small, unobtrusive Something in the corner of her mind, a Something that just wasn’t right.

“Oh, by the way,” she added, around a mouthful of pizza, “Brendon says hi.”

Chapter Text

It felt like things progressed pretty naturally from there. As soon as the next morning it felt normal, waking up to find Keith already in the kitchen, drinking a cup of black coffee and staring out the window, lost in his own headspace until Pidge came in, yawning and grumbling and being her morning self. He’d smile gently, despite the strangely haunted look that, even in her early morning stupor, she managed to notice on his face; there was a strange, very un-Keith-like fragility to him, as if he were spun sugar and would dissolve in a spring shower. But he pretended to be okay; he’d ruffle her hair, maybe, knowing how she hated it but how she also kind of liked it when he turned the ruffle into a little head massage to wake her up. She would eat while he sipped his coffee – he still didn’t eat breakfast – and then she’d get ready and head off to work.

She wasn’t entirely sure how he spent his days, aside from cleaning the house; she’d come home in the evenings to find the place tidy, aside from her room – he knew to leave that alone – all the dishes done, the pillows arranged in the living room, the floor vacuumed, the bathroom cleaned, the laundry freshly done. It was strange to come home to her place actually tidy, but she wasn’t complaining. Her room was still an “organized chaos”, as she liked to call it, but it was nice to have the rest of the place neat.

“You know you don’t have to earn your keep, right?” she finally asked him, after about a week of him being there, as they shared the supper he’d prepared – a simple meal of canned soup, salad, and grilled cheese. It wasn’t as fancy as the meals Hunk made when he stayed, but it was still more than she usually prepared for herself.

Keith glanced up from his food. He flushed, as if embarrassed, but nodded. “I know I don’t. It just . . . feels good to help out. Don’t want to take without giving back. You know?”

Pidge shrugged and took another bite of her food. “I get that. But we’re family. So, like, I’m not gonna be mad if I come home from work and the place is a mess and you’re still in last night’s pyjamas watching Netflix and getting crumbs on the floor. That’s okay sometimes, too. That being said,” she quickly added, “I do appreciate coming home to a clean house and dinner on the table, so . . . thanks.”

Keith smiled a little and shrugged. “Least I could do.”

“You could be doing a lot less,” Pidge grumbled, but let it be at that.

They continued to eat in silence for a while, the soft clinking of their spoons against their bowls and the crunch of crispy sandwich crusts the only sound between them. The strange tension that had been occasionally coming up between them was there again; Keith would be relaxed, easy – and then suddenly it was as if someone inside his brain had flipped a switch. He looked like a kid on stage trying to remember his lines in the school play, working up the nerve to say his piece for his audience of one. And then he would realize he was doing it, and just as suddenly enter back into the conversation, pretending he’d never zoned out.

The quiet continued between them, tense but not unpleasant, until Keith set his spoon down. Pidge paused with a spoonful halfway to her mouth.

“Something up?” she asked. Keith opened his mouth to answer, then shut it. He shook his head and picked up his spoon again.

“No,” he said. “It’s nothing. I’m just tired – I think I was going to ask you about that new show we were going to watch. I don’t know. I forgot what I was going to say.” He offered half an awkward laugh and shrugged, finishing the last bite of his sandwich.

“I just wanna watch something old,” Pidge sighed. “A comfort movie.”

“Yeah?” Keith got up, taking her now-empty bowl. “Long day at work?”

“Mm,” Pidge slumped forward. “Not a bad day. Just . . . had to have a meeting and present some research to our funders and supporters to prove that we aren’t just spending their money on making a life-size baking-powder-and-vinegar volcano. Lots of talking to people and explaining science in layman’s terms and answering the same redundant question sixty times and being a Professional Adult.”

“And you’d rather be mucking around in the lab with your equipment,” Keith nodded. “I get that. We have to do a lot of that with the Blade with the humanitarian stuff – the talking and meetings and all. I know we need to have meetings, get funding, try to work with all sorts of different peoples and systems and cultures that all have different beliefs about receiving ‘charity’ and outside help, and . . . ” he trailed off, his gaze becoming distant. “Anyway. I preferred just doing stuff. Actually getting out there and helping people.” He turned to the sink. “Why don’t you put something on the TV while I put these in the dishwasher?”

“Oh my gosh, it’s like you’re a live-in maid,” Pidge grumbled, following him into the kitchen. “But you don’t wear the sexy uniform. Come on, Jeeves, let’s do them together. And you can tell me more about this Blade stuff.” She padded into the kitchen and opened the dishwasher, which was full of clean dishes. She started to put them away while Keith relented with a roll of his eyes and began to rinse off the dirty supper dishes. “Where were we . . . ” she hummed, forcing the conversation open again. “You preferred working to talking with the people in charge about why they should put aside their cultural pride so you could work together to save lives.” Keith nodded, carefully scrubbing away the melted cheese on his plate; his gaze became distant and unfocussed as he worked. She bulldozed forward. “What kind of work did you do? What did you like best?” She gently nudged him out of the way with her hip as she reached up to put away a stack of plates. “We hang out a couple times a year, but I honestly don’t know more than the basic technicalities of what you do. Give me the Keith Kogane inside-scoop.”

Keith snorted and started to help her put away the dishes, taking the cutlery caddy out of the machine and starting to organize the spoons, forks, and knives – quite unlike Pidge herself, who tended to just dump them all in the drawer as they were. His expression was guarded but considering, as if he were organizing his words in predetermined slots just as he organized the cutlery, laying them down word by word. “Well . . . the first day on a new planet, after we finally got permission from the government to step in and stuff, we’d show up with a shipment of supplies. Food, clothing, medicine, whatever was needed. It varied from place to place – sometimes a place had enough food, but their medical facilities needed to be restocked, or they’d have plenty of food but no clean water. Sometimes we were just there to rebuild houses and hospitals, maybe bring teachers to hold school for the children while we worked with the adults to establish order . . . all kinds of things. Whatever they needed, we were there to patch up the broken places and help them back on their feet.

“The first day the people would be overwhelmed, usually – excited and relieved to be getting help, or frightened of us, or both.” He hesitated, staring sadly at his upside-down reflection in a spoon as he put it away. “Not everyone was happy to be receiving help from Galra, you know? Which is, you know. Fair enough. So sometimes that was a roadblock. Other places, not so much. It depended. But it was always kinda tense, the first day, right up until the end, when we’d look around at each other and realize how much we’d got done together. And then . . . then we could get to the good stuff. We’d have supper together, usually; I liked it best when we prepared it together, and then ate in the middle of all the work we’d done. I started bringing along my dad’s old guitar and I’d play some music for the kids, and the adults would talk together about some shared experience, and then . . . yeah. It was good.

“The second day was usually better, then. They trusted us a bit more, or had gotten used to the idea of getting help.” He broke into a small smile. “We made some good friends that way. We’d just work together – we didn’t need to talk for most of it. Our actions made us allies, not our words.” His voice dropped so low she almost missed his next words – “I loved that.”

Pidge had stopped putting away dishes and was leaning on the countertop, watching him with a smile. The soft expression on his face, the quiet satisfaction of looking back on something he was proud of . . . it was nice to see him like this. Confident about something. Happy. “It sounds wonderful,” she said, shaking her head fondly at him. She turned to put away another stack of plates, wondering if she should broach the fact that he spoke about it all in the past tense. “Do you miss it?”

Keith nodded automatically. “Yes,” he agreed, then cleared his throat. He turned away, flustered, as if he’d been caught in the middle of saying something he hadn’t meant to say. “I do.” He placed the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, squeezed in the cleaning fluid, and closed the door. He dried his hands on his shirt and headed for the living room without meeting her eyes. “Let’s go put that movie on, huh?”

Pidge followed after him with a quiet sigh. So much for Keith opening up. But . . . any progress was progress, with that boy. She’d take it – for now.

 

* * * * *

 

 

That night was the first night she was woken.

She bolted upright in bed, disoriented and confused, blinking at the darkness and trying to puzzle out what had woken her. She got her answer soon enough as a sharp, pained cry cut through the sleepy silence of the dark apartment and snipped off the last few threads of sleep holding her eyes shut.

“Keith?” she called, already rolling out of bed and hurrying to his room. She dashed around the corner, slapping her hand against the hall light switch as she swung around and opened Keith’s door. “Keith, are you okay?”

The covers had been thrown to the floor, as if he’d been thrashing around for some time, and he was lying on his side, holding a fistful of sheets, his eyes squeezed shut and his face locked in a grimace. A nightmare, then. 

“No . . . no, stop, you can’t – ” he broke off into a whimper, his words garbled with sleep but the desperation behind them crystal clear. “Please – ”

“Keith,” Pidge called, approaching carefully. She had had her fair share of the nightmares – not so much since getting an excellent therapist, but they had been bad, before. She climbed into the bed next to him and laid a hand on his arm, giving him a gentle shake. “Keith, wake up. It’s me, Pidge. You’re having a nightmare.”

As soon as she touched him, he froze; his eyes shot open. His breathing picked up, his eyes wide and trained on the darkness ahead of him.

“Pidge,” he breathed hoarsely, after taking a moment to realize where he was; he slumped a little as he came to. He squeezed his eyes shut again and tucked his chin down. “Sorry. Sorry I woke you.”

“Hey, it’s no problem,” Pidge murmured, adjusting herself to sit next to him. She kept her hand on his shoulder, hoping the simple, firm touch would keep him grounded – it had always helped her when Matt held onto her, as if keeping her in the real world, away from the nightmares and their grasping reach. “It happens.” She gave his shoulder a brief squeeze. “You wanna talk about it?”

Keith swallowed, his eyes still shut. “Not really,” he murmured. Pidge nodded.

“That’s okay. Is it alright if I stay here for a bit?”

He pursed his lips, breathing in through his nose and out again. He finally opened his eyes. “I think I wanna go sit in the living room,” he said at last, his voice still rasping. “Maybe put on the TV for a while. That’s – that’s what I usually do.”

“Sounds good,” Pidge said, taking her hand away as he sat up. She gave him a sad smile, hoping to convey understanding, hoping he knew that she really didn’t mind being woken up for something like this. “Mind if I stick around, though? If you wanna be alone that’s okay, but usually I don’t want to be by myself after a nightmare.”

Keith considered for a moment before shaking his head. “I’m okay. You need to sleep, you’ve got work in the morning. I’m just gonna put something on without the sound so I can watch it and not wake you up. You can go back to bed now, it’s fine.”

Pidge frowned. It sounded an awful lot like he was just feeling guilty for waking her up. “Seriously, Keith, I don’t mind sitting up. I’ve been there, man. We all have. You know that.”

It must have been the wrong thing to say, because Keith just hunched his shoulders up around his ears and looked even more shame-faced. “I’m okay,” he murmured. “I’m just gonna – go to the bathroom, okay?”

“ ‘Kay,” Pidge said, moving over to allow him room to get up. She watched him go, frowning deeply as he stumbled into the bright hallway, shielding his eyes from the light. Something was wrong – something more than just memories of the war. They’d all talked about those. They’d dealt with them. Sure, it still hurt, and sure, they all had their bad moments and anxious nights. But they were used to dealing with them together. This was . . . something else. She wasn’t sure what. But sure as her name was Katie “Pidge” Holt, she was going to get to the bottom of this.

“I’ve got you, Keith,” she whispered, pulling his blanket up around her shoulders and burying her face in it. “You’re gonna be okay. We won’t let you go.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, as planned, Keith went with Pidge to the Garrison, where he was to meet his mother. They drank their coffee in silence, while Pidge chewed thoughtfully on the toaster waffles Keith had made.

“I haven’t seen Krolia in a while,” she commented as she pulled on her shoes at the door, attempting to make conversation. “It’ll be good to catch up with her. And Kosmo,” she added, trying to catch his eye, get him to look at her and let her know he was okay.

He met her gaze briefly before averting his eyes, as if he couldn’t stand to look her in the face. “Yeah,” he agreed, twisting his foot into his shoe. He held the door open for her and followed behind. “It’ll be good to see him. You sure your landlord is okay with having a dog around?”

Pidge rolled her eyes. “He’s a magic teleporting space wolf. Not a dog. And he can just teleport inside, so no one needs to know he’s here.”

Keith sighed, but didn’t protest. Pidge had looked over his shoulder when he went on his phone in the evenings, and she’d seen all the pictures of Kosmo in the camera gallery; he checked them periodically, and had confessed to watching a particular video, one of the wolf chuffing in his sleep, before bed every single night.

He missed his dog. And Pidge wasn’t going to let a stupid building tenancy agreement that she hadn’t actually read keep her friend from his dog.

“You should get a doctor’s note,” she said, unlocking her vehicle and tossing her briefcase on the backseat. “Get him listed as an emotional support dog or something. Then it would be fine.”

Keith hummed thoughtful agreement and climbed in next to her. “Do you have time to come meet Krolia and Kosmo before work, or should I ask her to stick around till after you’re done? She’ll want to say hello to you while she’s here.”

Pidge took a moment to answer as she shoulder-checked and backed out of her parking spot. “Mm, I’ll make time before. But she should just come over after I’m done, too.” She glanced at Keith. “Why don’t you and your mom take a Garrison vehicle back to the apartment and hang out at home? You can use the kitchen and we can all three have supper together at my place.”

“Um, are you – are you sure?”

Pidge sighed. “Think, Keith. Would I really offer if I wasn’t?”

“Well . . .  ”

“Hush. Bring your mother over, and your dog, and have some good food ready for me, and some really strong Galran alcohol.”

Keith actually laughed at that. “Strong Galran alcohol,” he snorted. “Yeah, right. Galra are lightweights.”

Pidge felt her eyebrows shoot up at this sudden development – damn, she hadn’t realized how tense she was until she heard his little laugh and felt the wave of relief ease out her shoulders. He was okay, he was laughing, he was talking. It was all going to be okay. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Turns out the Galra can’t handle much alcohol – really sensitive systems or something. Their version of alcohol is way weaker than ours.” She could hear the grin in his voice as he went on, “They had the same basic preconceptions as you, though, when we finally went drinking together.”

“Oh?” Pidge asked, encouraging the conversation forward. It was always a relief to stumble into these random memories, things that would prompt those little moments of relaxation in Keith. And it was nice to hear from him after so long – not just status updates, but things about his life; the little, miniscule, infinitely important things. Things like drinking with the Blade and his favourite crooked whisker on Kosmo’s snout and that time Kolivan actually grinned out loud. The things that made his life his, and not just the statistics of an intergalactic humanitarian leader.

Keith went on, not noticing her silent appraisal of himself. “A bunch of us finally had a drinking night – me, and Mom, and Kolivan, and a handful of the others. Someone made a comment about the little half-breed not being able to handle his alcohol, and they started making jokes about how many teaspoons it would take to get me drunk.” He grinned quietly. “Mom had already told me about the alcohol tolerance stuff, though, because she’d found out the difference when she was with my dad. So she just sat there and looked this Blade dead-ass in the eye and made a bet on my ability to drink him under the table.”

Pidge barked a laugh. “Oh, my god,” she snorted. “That is . . . so Krolia.”

“Very Krolia,” Keith nodded. “Anyway, we went at it, and it ended as you’ve probably guessed, with this poor Blade under the table and me . . . well, I was a bit tipsy. But I guess the human genes were enough to win me that round, anyway, because I’ve never seemed to have an issue with regular human amounts of alcohol. I’m a legendary drinker among the Bades and I don’t even need to get drunk. Krolia has never said a word, and obviously I haven’t let on.”

Pidge chuckled. “So what you’re saying,” she said, “is that I, a full-blooded human, could outdrink Kolivan and Krolia, massive Galran secret-agent warriors?”

Keith flicked her arm with his index finger. “No, because you aren’t full-blooded human, you’re full-blooded gremlin.”

“Hey, just as long as you don’t feed me after midnight.”

The conversation continued sporadically from there; but the tension from the morning, at least, had bled out, leaving the tired, lukewarm camaraderie that Pidge was finding increasingly easy to settle into.

It took them a few minutes to get through the strict Garrison security, but even once they’d got through and parked, Pidge still had half an hour before her meeting.

“Let’s go, Mr. Taking-Advantage-of-My-Mixed-Heritage-to-Humiliate-My-Alien-Friends,” Pidge urged, quick-stepping into the main building. “Let’s go see your goddess of a mother.”

As soon as they stepped into the building, she felt it again – the tension, pulsing just behind her, emanating from the suddenly-silent figure just behind her. Perhaps being at the Garrison was hard for him. She didn’t turn around, not wanting to make it worse, but she kept her focus on him, chatting carelessly as she keyed in and led the way inside.

“And then I was like – oh, hey, Dr. Lee,” she greeted as they passed a petite woman wearing a Garrison medical uniform. Dr. Lee was one of the handful of psychiatrists that worked exclusively for the Garrison, and the only one who’d really been able to help Pidge. They’d had many sessions together. At first, it had felt weird, having someone who’d seen her at her lowest point run into her in the hallway at work – but they’d come to the point where they could greet each other as colleagues and still see each other in the clinic as patient and doctor.

“Hello, Dr. Holt,” Dr. Lee greeted – she always called her Dr. Holt outside the clinic, and Katie in their sessions – but her attention wasn’t really on Pidge. “Hello, Keith,” she said, with a focussed smile in his direction. “How are you doing? It’s good to see you around.”

It took Pidge longer than she would have liked to realize there had been another spike in the tension, and when she followed Dr. Lee’s gaze to Keith, he was already shutting down, folding into himself.

“Hi, Dr. Lee,” he murmured.

“Hi, Keith,” she repeated, lowing her voice to fit his cramped posture; suddenly the hallway wasn’t big enough for three people. “I’ll see you later, okay? Have a good afternoon.”

“You too,” he called softly as she continued down the hall. Pidge looked after her for a moment, then turned to Keith with what she hoped was a natural, not-forced smile. “Alright,” she said brightly. “Where are we meeting Krolia?” 

“She was just coming in a few minutes ago,” Keith said, glancing down at his communicator. “Probably just docked. We can meet her and Kosmo right at the ship. Bay . . . 7783-B.”

“Let’s-a go, Mario,” Pidge chirped, grabbing his hand and pulling him after her.

Krolia was just exiting her craft as Pidge held up her security badge to the scanner and let the two of them into the hangar. Pidge waved.

“Hi, Krolia!” she called. “How’s it going?”

Krolia walked over to them with a fond smile; but Pidge couldn’t help but notice how a spark of anxiety flickered behind her eyes as she glanced over at her son.

“Hello, Pidge,” she said as she approached, holding out her arms and inviting Pidge into a quick but firm hug. “It’s good to see you again. How are things going for you here at the Garrison?” She pulled back but kept her hands on Pidge’s arms, giving them an affectionate squeeze, looking over her face in a way that reminded Pidge of her own mother – a little sharp, subtle once-over. Krolia hid her intensity less than Colleen did, and gave Pidge a militaristic little nod when she had finished, as if to confirm that she had found nothing amiss. “You look well.”

“I’m doing very well,” Pidge affirmed, stepping back and smiling. “How are you?”

“I am tired,” Krolia confessed, with her typical casual bluntness. “Kolivan and I have been dealing with some reluctant members of the original Voltron coalition who are demanding payment for their voluntary services in the past, among other things, which are making negotiations difficult.” She shrugged one shoulder. “We settled the worst of our . . . political entanglements. We’ll be meeting with them again once they conclude a five-quintant religious festival in their capital city, so I’ve taken my leave until our next meeting. I believe a few days’ leave will be good for me.” She smirked quietly. “I do not do so well with meetings and councils as Kolivan does.”

Pidge grinned and raised an eyebrow at Keith. “Sounds like someone I know.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled. His eyes were lowered, his hands stuffed into his pockets, but as soon as Krolia stepped towards him and wrapped her arms around him, he melted into her embrace like she was hot cement and he was a dropped ice-cream. He lowered his head onto her shoulder and held her close, as if worried that, if he let her go, she’d disappear. He closed his eyes and whispered something in hear ear; Krolia made a soft noise, sort of like a short, gentle purr; Keith returned it quietly. Pidge resisted to the urge to make an untimely joke about space-cats and let them have their moment.

Finally, Keith seemed to remember where they were and pulled back; Pidge carefully ignored the redness around his eyes. “We’re holding you up,” he said abruptly, looking at her. He cleared his voice, which was suddenly quite thick. “If you need to go, Pidge . . . ”

She shook her head. “If I had to go, Kogane, I would have. I should head over to the board room now, though, so I’ll take my leave.” She smiled at Krolia. “I told Keith that you two should just take a vehicle back to my place. Hang out for the day, make some food, and – whoah!” She yelped as a pop sounded in front of her, a faint smell of ozone, and there was suddenly a massive blue wolf standing on her foot, batting her enthusiastically with his tail as he whined at Keith, putting his paws up on his chest and nearly knocking him over. Keith chuckled fondly, getting down on his knees to wrap the wolf up in a hug.

“Kosmo!” he murmured, burying his face in the fur.

Krolia grinned down at them, then gave Pidge an affirmative nod. “Thank you. We’ll go over there after Keith’s appointment and prepare something for supper.”

Pidge frowned. “Uh, appointment . . . oh, you mean with Dr. Lee?” That must’ve been what the doctor had meant when she told Keith she’d see him later.

Keith stiffened where he was still kneeling next to his dog; Kosmo whined as Keith stopped scratching behind his ears.

“Yeah,” he said at last, resuming the scratching. “I – uh, must’ve forgot to mention it.” He cleared his throat. “We’ll still be home well before you.”

Pidge shrugged. “Take your time, there’s no rush. We can just order in if we need to, you don’t have to make supper if you don’t have time.” She smiled and turned to leave, attempting to break the awkward silence that threatened to take over the conversation. “Don’t let your son do any cleaning, Krolia” she called over her shoulder. “He’s decided to go from intergalactic humanitarian to housekeeper and it doesn’t suit him.”

Krolia ruffled Keith’s hair and shook her head. “Duly noted.”

Pidge waved a she left, but her brain was turning, processing Keith’s reaction. Why didn’t he want her to know about his appointment?  Why hadn’t he mentioned it before? He hadn’t forgotten – the way he’d tensed up when they passed the doctor, and again when Krolia mentioned the appointment – he hadn’t wanted her to know he was going. But why? They’d all gotten counselling in the past. They’d all needed it. Was he ashamed to still be seeing someone for help when they’d all mostly moved on, or . . .

Pidge shook her head. She couldn’t assume anything. She’d talk to him, when she had the chance. And maybe she’d talk to Krolia, too. Keith was quiet; he could go a long time hiding his wounds. Even after all these years, he still kept the things that hurt him close, tucked up and hidden. Pidge remembered Dr. Lee talking about something like that, about how the brain tended to go back to old habits in times of stress. She knew Keith trusted them, that he didn’t mean to be so closed off; even though a small part of her was hurt that he was being so secretive, most of her was just simply concerned. She wanted to help. She wanted to be there for him. But she could only get so close if he wasn’t going to let her in.

She sighed and tapped her card on the lock outside the board room. She was a Holt, and Holts didn’t give up. She’d get through to him somehow. Sometime.

But, for now, time to argue with important people about science.

 

 

*******

 

 

 

When she got home that night, she was greeted outside the front door by Kosmo, who gave a short bark and nuzzled under her hand. Before she had time to ask him who was a good boy, she had been teleported back into her apartment.

She blinked a few times. “Welp. Forgot how weird having a teleporting wolf is.”

Krolia turned to smile at her from the kitchen. “But useful,” she shrugged. “Helps with having to balance things and open doors.” She tapped the spoon she was holding against the edge of a steaming pot of Something – a Something that smelled very good – and set it down on a small plate on the counter. “I’m almost done with supper, if you’d like to freshen up. I’ve already set the table.”

Pidge set down her stack of papers and scratched Kosmo under the chin. “Thanks, Krolia. God, that smells good.” She glanced around the room, scanning the kitchen, dining room, and living room.

“Keith is in his room, resting,” Krolia said, before she had a chance to ask. She turned around again, this time without so much of a smile. “He’s had a . . . long day.”

Pidge pursed her lips, meeting Krolia’s gaze evenly. Again, before she could speak, Krolia answered softly, “I know. You and I – we will talk. Later tonight.”

Pidge nodded, suddenly filled with a warmth that she couldn’t describe. It was similar to the rush of love she felt when her mother was being particularly motherly, but also different; something a little like the feeling of a doctor coming out to the waiting room, telling you things were going to be okay, taking the weight of immediate responsibility away. “Thanks, Krolia. I’m glad you’re here.”

Krolia looked tired, but nodded, her eyes full of motherly fondness. “I’m glad, as well.” She paused, as if about to say something, but stopped herself. Before Pidge could ask what was wrong, there was the sound of a door handle turning, and Keith shuffled out of his room, looking at once both groggy and on-edge.  

“Hey, Pidge,” he greeted, coming forward to scratch Kosmo behind the ears. “How was your meeting?”

Pidge shrugged out of her jacket, while Krolia turned back to the stove. “It was fine. Got the grant, so I’ll probably be doing quite a bit of work for the next week or so. Might have some late nights, might need to bring stuff home. We’ll see. Dad is coming around the lab plenty to help out, since it’s my first time heading up something like this on my own, but it’s mostly all on me so . . . no pressure, right?”

“You’ll do great,” Keith assured her. “I’m really excited for you.”

“Thanks, Keith.” She beamed; the light of pride in his eyes made her exhaustion dissolve into a rosy-hued glow. “Ready for supper?”

He rose to his feet and glanced at the clock. His eyebrows shot up. “Damn, it’s later than I realized. I guess I’m – not used to napping during the day.”

“God, I live for napping,” Pidge sighed as she headed for her room. “I’m just gonna put on something comfortable, I’ll be right out.”

When she came out, dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, Keith and Krolia were waiting for at the table. Pidge joined them, closing her eyes and breathing in the deep, rich scent of the food. It was . . . something she didn’t recognize.

“Is this a Galra thing?” she asked, lifting the lid off the pot and sniffing some more. It looked rather like a stew, with a thick gravy-like broth and plenty of largish lumps of things that looked like vegetables.

Krolia nodded, reaching over to dish out a plate for her. “Yes, it is. I thought you might like to try it – some of the vegetables from the original dish have had to be substituted, since they didn’t grow anywhere else but the original Daibazaal, but it’s mostly all the same. I thought perhaps you’d like it, since it’s one of the . . . more earth-like dishes.”

Pidge took a large bite, chewing thoughtfully. She closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh of bliss. “My gosh, Krolia, this is amazing.” And it was. It was strange – nothing like she’d ever tasted before – but delicious – rich, and yet with a sharp edge to it. “I’m getting a lot of umami here, and some spice . . . ”

Krolia smiled, dishing out a plateful for Keith. “Yes, the umami flavour – Hunk explained that to me. It’s very prevalent in Galran dishes.” She handed a small bowl to Pidge, full of tiny dark maroon-coloured cubes. “This is pickled g’rah, you take some of it in between bites to refresh the palate.”

“Hunk would be having a foodgasm right now,” Pidge sighed around another mouthful.

“A what?” Krolia asked.

“It’s like an orgasm but for food,” Pidge said, quite frankly without thinking. Keith choked.

In her defense, she’d been living alone for a long time without having to censor herself.

Krolia just nodded, and continued eating. They all fell to eating in relative silence, sometimes opening up a thread of conversation before falling back into companionable quiet. It was strange, eating at the table like this; Pidge was more used to taking whatever she felt like eating in front of the TV or snacking while she worked. It was earlier than she usually got home, too, so they were actually eating during daylight.  The window was open, and the sounds of the city filtered in; there was a children’s event running next to the apartment complex, and the sound of the children rushing around, laughing and screaming and playing as their parents picked them up, filtered in, a soft background noise that spiked with delighted screams from time to time. There was a strange afternoon lull that Pidge honestly couldn’t tell if she liked or not. The curtain blew back and forth with the whims of the breeze; childish voices prattled against the sound of cutlery tapping against plates.

A particularly loud shriek interrupted the quiet as some unwilling child was no doubt dragged by a stressed parent to their waiting vehicle; a fork clattered against the edge of a plate. Pidge looked up reflexively at the noise; she turned to Krolia with a short laugh. “I used to live next to an elementary school, and wow, you forget how . . . loud they can be . . . ” Her voice died away as she saw that Krolia was not looking at her or even apparently listening; her eyes were trained, instead, on Keith.

His food had hardly been touched – Pidge hadn’t even noticed he hadn’t been eating. His fork had been dropped, and his eyes, wide and glazed over, were trained on the table in front of him. His hand was clenched around his dinner knife, white-knuckled and shaking; his breath came fast and harsh. His face was so pale Pidge reached out as if to catch him if he fainted.

“Keith,” Krolia said, her voice deep and soothing. “Come back, Keith. It’s okay. You’re okay.” Moving slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, Krolia got to her feet, sliding her chair back carefully as she stood. Hands up in the air, projecting her movements, she moved around the table and knelt next to him. “I’m going to put my arm around you, okay?” she murmured, holding up her hand so he could see. “Is that okay, Keith?”

He gave one short, forced nod; his jaw was so tense it looked painful. His eyes never strayed from where they stared, unblinkingly, at the table as tight shivers raced convulsively through his body.

Krolia slid her arm around his shoulders, pulling him close in a firm embrace. He flinched at first, but stayed stone-still.

“You’re okay, Keith,” Krolia crooned, her voice deep and husky. “You’re not there anymore. Come back to me. You’re safe. You’re safe, my love.”

Something seemed to crack at that; Keith squeezed his eyes shut, and a broken whimper escaped him, a whine like a wounded dog might make. He crumpled into her arms, his breathing still harsh but a flush rising in his cheeks as he broke down. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and hurt little noises as he tried and failed to keep his sobbing silent. His body was shaking so violently Pidge winced.

Carefully, as if afraid to break him, Krolia scooped him into her arms and knelt down. She settled herself on the floor, gathering her son up into her lap and holding him close, as if he were still a child. She held him tight as she rocked back and forth, one arm around his shoulders and the other pressing his head close to her body, murmuring into his ear as he trembled and sobbed, his arms held up over his head as if shielding himself from a blow. 

Pidge stayed where she stood, at a loss. “Krolia – ” she murmured, wringing her hands together.

Krolia didn’t look up at her, but she answered quietly, “It’s okay, Katie. We just need a moment, okay? It’s going to be alright. We just need a moment.”

Pidge nodded, watching for another moment, not sure what to do with herself – not wanting to leave, but not wanting to intrude on the fragile bundle of mother and son in front of her. Eventually she settled on going into the kitchen and puttering, putting things away, moving as soft and careful as she could, ears trained on the sounds from the dining room as the hyperventilating slowed and the broken sobs gave way to harsh, trembling breathing. She came around the corner once, to check on them; Krolia looked up, met her eye, gave her a small shake of the head and a sad smile – and she turned and left once again.

She ended up going to her room – leaving the door open so she could hear if anything changed – and pretended to work on her computer. She got nothing done; but a while later, she heard a shifting outside in the dining room, some more quiet murmuring, and a single set of footsteps walking slowly, heavily to the bedroom next door. There was the whisper of sheets and blankets shifting, and more talking; then a low voice, deep and husky, crooning a simple song in a language Pidge knew vaguely as Galran;  her chest ached at the sound of a last few gasping sobs being drowned out with deep, soft purring noises. More quiet as the purring faded to silence; then a creaking as someone eased out of the bed; the sound of a door being carefully shut; tired footsteps stealing out of the room.

Pidge got up and followed the footsteps into the kitchen.