Towel and caddy in hand, Lance was merrily making his way down the hall for his routine morning shower when a hiss stopped him short.
“Shit! Shit shit shit.”
He blinked sleepily at Pidge’s closed door, uncertainty gnawing at his gut. Pidge swearing wasn’t really anything new - he’d known her since his first days as a fighter pilot and her language had only deteriorated from that point on. But there was something about the string of curses that set off tiny alarm bells in Lance’s muddled brain. An edge -but not just of frustration. She sounded…afraid.
And that wasn’t normal at all.
“Pidge?” Lance called awkwardly, shifting his shower caddy onto his hip and lifting his free hand. He knocked lightly, feeling out of place and maybe a little paranoid. “Hey, I, uh... is everything all right?”
There was another muttered curse and what sounded like ungraceful shuffling before the door slid away to reveal a disheveled Pidge, sagging against the doorway with her lips pulled into a grimace and dark bags hanging under her eyes. She looked at him blandly, her eyes sharp but her gaze twitchy. Sweat glistened on her forehead and her green pajamas clung to her awkwardly. “Do you need something?” she asked, squinting.
“Pidge, you look terrible!” Lance exclaimed bluntly, heart rate rising. “What the hell happened? Are you okay?”
Pidge looked away at that, her eyes sliding to the floor. Huh?
“I’m fine,” she replied, pushing herself shakily off the doorframe as if that would prove her point. “’S just a cold, or- or something. I never got this year’s flu shot, so maybe…?” She trailed off, shrugging.
Lance gave her a long incredulous look, eyes scanning her face as if the answer would suddenly emblazon itself on her forehead. “Pidge, we’re in space, millions of miles away from Earth, which, by the way, we left in April, so no one’s gotten their flu shot.” He shook his head, eyes tight with worry. “I’m no genius, and even I can see that that doesn’t make any sense.”
Pidge looked like she was about to argue further - or perhaps just shuffle back and shut the door on him - but then she was tipping forward and into Lance’s chest, knees buckling beneath her.
“Whoa there!” Lance blurted, his arms instinctively wrapping around the small body and halting her descent. Pidge was already attempting to right herself, palms flat against the chest of his Paladin robe, but her arms lacked the strength to push off. And even if she were successful, Lance doubted that her legs were up to the task of bearing her full weight. So he tightened his grip, a feeling of wrong wrong wrong roiling in his stomach. “First things first,” he settled, careful to keep his voice as soothing as possible. “Let’s get you back to bed, okay?”
With an almost palpable reluctance, Pidge’s weak attempts stilled, the cessation eventually followed by a stiff nod against his breast.
“Good choice,” Lance reassured lightly, squatting a bit to slide his other arm under her knees. Strengthening into a bridal carry, he felt the younger Paladin go rim rod stiff in his grasp. “You still good?” he questioned, worried he was somehow aggravating her condition.
Pidge didn’t respond, instead seeming to grow even tenser.
“Pidge?” Lance prodded, but then she was launching herself out of his arms like a wild animal, unable to crawl more than a few frantic shuffles away before her stomach emptied itself with violent force.
“Holy crap, Pidge!” Lance yelped, collapsing beside her and rubbing small circles on her back as she continued to heave.
“I’m sorry,” Pidge mewled in between bouts. Her entire body was shaking uncontrollably, and Lance suddenly doubted she’d be able to maintain her position for much longer. “I’m sorry, I tried, I tried to-” Her apology was cut short by another powerful heave. Yellow bile trickled to the floor.
“Shh,” Lance murmured, his voice much calmer than he felt. “None of that. Everything’ll be fine. Just try to relax.”
But everything wasn’t fine, not at all. It wasn’t fine that Pidge was so weak, sickly chills wracking her body with enough force to nearly claim her balance. It wasn’t fine that she was frantically forcing apologies between uncontrollable cramps and retches. But most of all, it most definitely was not fine that, when Lance leaned over to scoop Pidge’s short locks from her face, he didn’t just see the typical mess of half-digested brown and green.
No. He saw bright, bright red.
Judging by the shocked terror on Pidge’s face, she saw it too. Her breath caught in her throat, fingers curling on the floor. “Lance?” she whispered.
Lance felt his heart slam in his chest.
And then he was scooping her up without another word, cradling her closely to his chest as he ran to the med bay, praying Coran would be there when he arrived. Pidge’s startled yelp quickly morphed into a low moan, the fast movement likely further aggravating her stomach. A sharp shudder and the smell of acid beneath his nose confirmed his suspicions. A small hand curled itself into his shirt.
He ran faster, slippers flying in his haste.
“Coran!” he screamed as he burst into the sickbay, nearly sending the older man to the floor in shock. He turned around, mouth open in confusion and potential reprimand, but fear immediately prevailed when he set eyes on Pidge.
“By the Ancients!” he exclaimed, dropping his rag at the foot of a half-cleaned cryo-pod and rushing over. He led Lance over to an empty cot and helped him lower Pidge onto its crisp white sheets. “What happened?”
“I don’t know!” Lance sputtered, clasping hands with the sick girl after another pained moan bubbled forth. “I was just on my way to the showers and I heard her curse at something but it didn’t sound right so I knocked on her door and-”
“Lance, my boy,” Coran interrupted, pausing his ministrations to grip his shoulders, spinning him forward. “I need you to take a deep breath for me, all right?”
Blinking, Lance did as he was asked, and the lightheadedness he hadn’t even noticed yet started to fade away. “I’m okay,” he breathed, nodding jerkily.
“Good,” Coran answered, returning to the other side of the semi-conscious girl and shining a light no bigger than a penny into her peeled-opened eyes. Lance resumed his earlier position, focus and determination having beaten back the wild fear. Pidge groaned again.
“Her pupils look normal. Do you have any idea what could be causing this?” Coran inquired calmly, raising what looked like a compact traffic gun to her limp bicep.
Lance shook his head. “No, not really. She said it might be the flu, but-” he worried his lip, “that’s really unlikely, and if that was the case, it still wouldn’t be affecting her like this.”
Coran frowned, removing the device and laying a gentle hand on her glistening forehead. Lance started when the same hand rested above his own brows. “She’s warm,” he determined (likely from the comparison), “and her blood strength is dropping rapidly. Find something to put under her legs, that should help at least a little.”
Lance raced to do as he was instructed, wanting desperately to ask what he meant by “blood strength” but unwilling to risk distracting the man. Within a few moments, he returned with two pillows from the remaining cots and what looked like a thick cryo-pod instruction manual. He hastily positioned the items under Pidge’s legs, raising them to a rough thirty degrees.
Coran, meanwhile, was hunched over Pidge’s small chest, eyes widened in alarm. Lance didn’t need to ask why; he could clearly see the change in her breathing, how she now took violent gasps for air. Spinning away, Coran made to snatch for the oxygen mask sitting at the far wall, but Lance stopped him.
“No!” he protested, ocean eyes wide with fear. “She was just throwing up a minute ago – a mask like that could kill her!” As if in confirmation, Pidge shuddered, a mixture of bile and the last ruminants of food spilling from her mouth. Lance quickly tilted her head to the side, lifting her opposite shoulder just enough for the vomit to flow out.
Coran sucked a harsh breath through his nose, acknowledging Lance’s words with a sharp nod. “Right, good call Number Three!” he replied, gears visibly spinning. “Remove that pillow from under her head as well!” he added, dashing to a closet on the other side of the room. “I’ll- I’ll have to figure out something else for her breathing!”
“Hey Coran!” came a cheery call from down the hall. Hunk, Lance recognized immediately as he removed the pillow and shoved it beneath her raised shoulder. “Breakfast is ready, and I think you were right about adding the fornip root! Do you-”
Lance heard a bowl clatter to the ground as Hunk entered the med bay not to the jovial greeting of Coran but a crisis quickly spinning out of control. Then the heavy footfalls as the Yellow Paladin ran to his friends.
“Oh my god!” Hunk choked, hands fluttering above Pidge’s prone form but not daring to actually touch least she shatter. “Oh my god, what happened?”
“I don’t know!” Lance replied helplessly. Without a task to serve as a distraction, Lance could feel the panic from earlier begin to bubble up once more. “At first she just looked a little sick but then she started throwing up and now Coran’s trying to find something to help her breathe!” He tried to ignore how his voice cracked on the last word as fear coiled around his throat.
But Hunk’s face wasn’t frozen with the same terror. Instead, his amber eyes seemed to shine with recognition as he lowered his ear to Pidge’s mouth and then to her chest. Righting himself, Hunk suddenly seized Pidge’s left arm, finger pads alighting on the flushed skin.
“L-Lance,” he whispered, breath stuttering. “Her b-breath is whistling, her heartb-beat is all over the p-place, and,” he continued, tracing his fingers over the raised skin of her arm, “I-I think these are hives.”
Lance blinked, mind whirring as he attempted to make sense of the new information. He gulped. “Hives? I don’t- What do you mean?” Lance jabbered back, breathing accelerating. “I don’t know what you’re saying! What does that mean? What does that mean?”
Hunk’s typical dark complexion looked several shades lighter as he held Pidge’s arm almost reverently. Finally, he lifted his gaze to meet Lance’s. “I t-think this is anaphylactic shock!”
Pidge let out a high keen, and the noise was so desperate and pained and confused that Lance swore he felt a small part of his soul cry out in response. “Anapha…what, that thing with allergies?” Lance floundered, feeling as like he was on a sinking ship with nothing but a coriander. His hands began to shake. “How- what-” Lance let loose a frustrated growl, planting both hands in his hair and gripping it tight. “Hunk, what do we do?”
There was a moment of terrified silence, interrupted only by the pained wheezing of their smallest Paladin.
This can’t be how it ends, Lance thought suddenly. Not for a Paladin of Voltron. Not for Pidge.
Then Hunk sucked in a gasping breath. “Keith’s EpiPen!” he exclaimed, voice ringing so loudly in the silence that Lance jumped in place.
The lanky boy blinked, and had it not been for the current situation, he’s sure he would have laughed. “Keith has an EpiPen?” he asked dumbly. Keith, cool-boy Mc-lone-wolf, has allergies?
Hunk nodded. “Yeah, I asked everybody about it, remember? When I started cooking more, you know, just in case we come across something that the same proteins as food back home,” Hunk explained, already backtracking in the direction of the sleeping quarters. “Keith said he was kind of allergic to kiwi, but he had an EpiPen just in case! Hold on Pidge, I’ll be right back!”
Lance didn’t have long to meditate on this surprising tidbit before Coran reappeared from the supply closet, swinging a wad of tubing over his head like an Olympian who’d won gold. “Thank the Ancients, I’ve found it!” he cried, long legs bounding toward the cot. “I knew I had a spare wizblur in there,” he continued, unwinding the tubing and rolling the large oxygen machine over. “Thank heavens Old Pop-Pop Wimbleton still had one in the packaging! I’d hate to think of having to use…well…” He paused, shaking his head. “Ah, never mind, this one’s perfectly new so that’s not important. Righty ho!”
He fiddled a bit more with the silver coffeemaker-sized machine, energetically mashing an array of colorful buttons, before disconnecting the mask’s tubing and connecting both ends of what Lance assumed was the “wizblur” (with the help of not just a little medical tape). When he straightened, Coran presented the dually pronged middle of the tube. “I figure we could get a similar effect to the mask by placing these ever so into her nostrils and raising the pressure a wink. What do you say, Number Three?”
Lance wanted to reassure Coran, to say that he’d seen similar technology on Earth, but fear seemed to clog his throat. So instead he simply nodded.
Coran nodded in return before looping the tube under Pidge’s nose and over her ears. Lance could hear the pressured air whistle out of the prongs as he did so. Pidge twitched a bit (Lance couldn’t imagine having air shot up your nose was all that comfortable), but the wheezing stopped as her body instinctually adapted to accept the offered oxygen.
Pounding footsteps sounding from the hall were their only warning before Keith launched himself into the room, fully dressed despite an epic case of bedhead. He didn’t say anything, didn’t wait for instructions or permission or explanations. Instead, he took one calculating look at Pidge’s limp form and, with a dramatic swing of the arm, stabbed his EpiPen into her outer left thigh.
Despite understanding what Keith was doing, Lance couldn’t quite hold back a startled “Holy crap, Keith!” at the suddenness of his action. Coran, having been absent during Hunk’s assessment and lacking even a vague idea of what an EpiPen was, stared slack jawed for a long moment before wrapping his arms around Keith’s torso – pinning the boy’s arms in the process - and bodily lifting the Red Paladin away.
Keith, presumably too focused on saving Pidge to realize how freaking crazy that looked, bucked viciously in the Altean’s grip. “Coran!” he snarled, arms flexing uselessly against the alien strength as he wiggled. “Let me go! What are you doing? Get offa me!”
“Have you lost your mind?” Coran shouted in return, eyes locked on the EpiPen laying where it had rolled into Pidge’s lap. He sounded oddly choked, caught somewhere between confusion, anger and fear. “What was that? What did you do to her?”
Keith reared again, slamming his head into Coran’s chest and tucking his legs under himself to land awkward, weak blows on his shins. And despite not understanding why, Lance could see panic start to build in his eyes.
Opening his mouth, Lance found that he was at an utter loss for words. He was used to seeing Keith lose his composure, blowing his lid and stomping around and leaving in a huff - his typical grumpy loner antics. But here, in this moment, Keith wasn’t angry; no, right now, he was scared.
And Lance didn’t know what to do about it.
But apparently luck was on the Blue Paladin’s side for once, as their fearless leader, Takashi Shirogane, was the next person to bound into the room. Relief, hot and solid, flooded into Lance at the sight.
“Coran, let him go!” Shiro demanded, his voice strong and level and commanding. Admiration slid into place beside the relief already within Lance; he looked for all the world like the hero Lance had imagined him as since he was little. He also, Lance noted suddenly, looked strangely put together for someone just out of bed. And, if the deep bags under his eyes were anything to go by, tired too. Really, really tired.
Coran blinked, glancing from Shiro to the EpiPen to the top of his captive’s head, before nodding tightly at Shiro and dropping his arms. Keith growled as he was released, quickly darting away from the advisor to stand behind the Black Paladin. He was breathing heavily, looking like he was caught between retaliating, melting into the wall, and bolting from the room altogether.
Shiro took a quick moment to check over Keith in addition to a light pat on the shoulder before turning back to the center of the room. “Thank you,” Shiro said to Coran, offering the Altean a reassuring, if strained, smile. “I’m sure you’ve got some questions,” he began, gesturing vaguely to the empty injector, “and I’ll gladly explain everything as soon as we make sure Pidge is-”
As if summoned back to the land of the living, Pidge suddenly sprang upright with a cry. “Holy fucking shit!” she gasped, her eyes wide and over bright. The pillow-manual setup at her feet toppled to the floor as she scrambled backwards, the thick book landing with a thud at Shiro’s toes. “Holy fucking mother of motherfucking quiznaking shit!” she continued to spout, blinking rapidly, her fingers balled into the white sheets.
“Pidge!” Lance and Hunk (who was just now returning) cried in unison. The youngest Paladin quickly found herself sandwiched between the two boys as they both wrapped their arms around her.
“Guys, guys!” she objected quickly, feeble arms pushing against the chests on either side of her. “Too close! Can’t breathe! Why can’t I breathe? Why can’t I breathe?”
Hearing the frantic pitch of her voice, both boys rapidly retreated, their looks of relief morphing into ones of sharp concern. Lance lost sight of her for a moment as Shiro swooped in to kneel beside the bed.
“Yes, you can,” Shiro reassured, voice steady and strong. He placed a gentle hand on her back, rubbing tiny circles into the green pajama top. “It sucks, I know it sucks, but I need you to focus on taking deep breaths for me, okay?”
Knowing Pidge wouldn’t appreciate an audience, Lance took the moment to sidle awkwardly up next to Keith a few paces away, who at this point was more haunting the room than actually standing in it, and someone should probably make sure he wasn’t about to implode or something. And since Hunk had run off to inform Allura and Coran, being the cause of the issue, was clearly not an option, Lance supposed that honor fell to him. Great.
“Hey, uh, are you…?” he began with a vague roll of his hand, still keeping his eyes on Pidge because it had been too damn close and even though she was breathing again and talking again and swearing again, Lance wasn’t quite able to relax. Maybe turning away would have been the more considerate choice, but keeping her in his sights, even if from a respectful distance, was the only thing holding the panic from earlier from becoming the panic of very much right now. So, not desiring a nervous breakdown in the least, Lance allowed himself just this one comfort - privacy be damned.
In response, Keith hummed so deeply in his throat that it might as well have been a purr. “I know how it feels to be shot up with that stuff. It’s not pleasant.”
Lance blinked, momentarily so bewildered by Keith’s answer that he swore he felt his brain stutter. “What?” he blurted, now facing his fellow Paladin. “I mean- what are you talking about?”
Keith shrugged, side eyeing Lance with confusion and, under that, what Lance would guess to be paranoia induced suspicion. “I had an attack once when I was a kid from a kiwi - think my foster mom forgot I was allergic or something, but maybe my care worker never told ‘er, I dunno. In any case, I remember what it’s like.” He paused, head turning slightly so that his sharp eyes could search Lance’s face. “What of it?”
“Oh,” Lance replied, feeling more than a little unbalanced because foster mom? After a long moment of racing thoughts (in which the words ‘foster system,’ ‘orphan,’ and ‘group home’ were greatly overrepresented), he registered that Keith’s last comment had actually been a question, and dazed silence probably did not qualify as an answer. “I mean, nothing, nothing at all!” he scrambled, although in his defense, this was not the conversation he had been expecting. How the other boy had heard Are you…? and not easily filled in the okay utterly baffled Lance. What else could he have possibly been asking? Are you thinking about Pidge? A big fan of EpiPens? Allergic to kiwis?
Pushing that mystery aside for the moment, Lance refocused on the current conversation. “That, uh, sucks,” Lance finally acknowledged, hoping it sounded significantly less forced than it felt. “But I- well, I was actually asking about you, like, you now. If you’re okay, I mean.”
Keith frowned, now looking decidedly suspicious. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
Yep, Lance decided. That’s a wrap on this train wreck of a conversation. Should’ve known I’d be the last person Keith would consider letting in. Whatever.
Sympathy thoroughly soured, Lance just shrugged. “Never mind,” he muttered, turning back to face the infirmary’s only patient. “You’re clearly fine. Forget I said anything.”
Keith went still (well, stiller) next to him, as if he was somehow caught off guard by Lance’s withdrawal, before crossing his arms with a snort. “Sure, whatever. Already forgotten.”