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The Ice Cream Discourse

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Three of the biggest lies Hunk has been told:

  1. This won’t hurt a bit.
  2. It’ll turn out just fine.
  3. Yes, Hunk, this is exactly the kind of ice cream astronauts eat up in space.

The last one occurred when he was eight, shortly after he had his one (and only) experience with freeze-dried ice cream. Objectively speaking, it wasn’t terrible; there was some novelty in biting into a Styrofoam brick and having it melt in your mouth, tasting passably like strawberries and dusty chocolate.

As an ice cream replacement, though? It sucked.

And Hunk, who even at that age was in possession of, you know, functioning taste buds, had had to stop and reevaluate his life plans. Namely: can I ever go into space when I’m going to have to live off of stuff like this?

Later, he’d Googled things and found that they actually did have freezers in the space station, so it was a very real possibility that the astronauts were up there enjoying their slow-churned, velvety smooth ice cream, laughing at the little kids being conned into buying the crummy substitutes stocked in planetarium gift shops.

His faith in the world had been restored.

 

*

 

“You know what I would kill for?” Lance flops backward on the couch before rotating so that he can use Hunk’s lap as a pillow. “Two cold scoops of raspberry sorbet, my god, I’m drooling just thinking about it.”

Lance makes these sorts of proclamations frequently: “10/10 would kill for a Swiffer right now,” and “God, I wonder if Timmy and Kara finally hooked up in that one show,” and “Hunk, is it bad that I’ve forgotten what melted cheese tastes like?”

Hunk doesn’t mind. He’s grateful, even, because some days it feels like he has a whole list of things he misses written on the inside of his chest and it’s—comforting, to know he’s not the only one.

“That’s your favorite flavor?” asks Keith, making his way over to join them.

Lance not-so-subtly stretches out further on the couch. Unfazed, Keith picks him up by the ankles and sits down; lightning-fast, Lance kicks out of the grip, thrusting his feet dangerously close to Keith’s face.

In a heartbeat, Keith has an arm locked around Lance’s knees.

“Let go!” Lance squawks, bucking his hips in an attempt to get free.

“Fine.” Keith stands up.

Smugly, Lance moves to settle back into position. The victorious grin on his face quickly fades, however, when Keith unceremoniously sits back down, this time on top of Lance’s legs.

Lance’s eye twitches, but he doesn’t do anything, and Hunk wonders what it says that Lance would rather lose all blood flow to his feet than make any concessions when it comes to Keith.

“Anyways, to answer your question, raspberry is but one of my favorite flavors. I also dig a good piña colada, or blackberry, or sometimes a simple strawberries-and-cream—”

“So basically,” Pidge cuts in, “Lance is about as choosy with his ice cream flavors as he is with potential love interests.”

“I am a connoisseur,” Lance fires back. “Also, that thing’s not going to, like, blow up when you’re done with it, is it?”

Pidge looks up. She and Shiro are on the floor working on some sort of Altean puzzle box that Coran gave them—apparently if they perform the right sequence of touches, it’ll unlock. What’s inside is anyone’s guess, though knowing Coran, it’s probably just air.

“Maybe try sliding your thumb over there?” Pidge suggests to Shiro, before telling Lance: “It’d be a pretty crappy child’s toy if it were explosive.”

“I don’t know, man. Space is weird. Also, fine, if you’re going to roast me for my taste in ice cream, let’s hear Keith’s, then!”

“Why are you bringing me into this?” protests the red paladin.

“Just answer the question, mullet.”

To Hunk’s surprise, Keith brings a hand to his chin and actually seems to mull it over.

“I guess…mint chocolate chip?”

Lance makes a choked noise.

“What?” Keith snaps. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“Of course I have a problem with it. I’m not a heathen.

“It’s—” Keith scowls, looking to Hunk for help.

“Refreshing?” Hunk suggests.

“Yes. That. It’s refreshing.”

“To barbarians, maybe.”

“I think, seeing as we’re on a mission to stop the Galra empire from asserting its dominance over the entire galaxy, it’s kind of hypocritical for you to be imposing your opinion of certain ice cream flavors on others, Lance,” Pidge says.

“There were too many words in that sentence for me to digest, Pidge.”

“Listening to you gives me indigestion,” Keith offers, deadpan.

Son of a—”

“Lance.”

“Come on, Shiro, I’m totally being ganged up on.”

“You kind of started it,” says Hunk, grinning when Lance looks up at him, mouth open in betrayal.

“I can’t believe you, Hunk, of all people, are leaving me out in the cold like this.”

“I like vanilla,” Shiro says randomly, attempting to redirect the conversation.

“Double chocolate!” volunteers Pidge. “What about you, Hunk?”

“Huh?”

Lance shifts his head in Hunk’s lap, and Keith leans closer on the couch, dark eyes curious. Hunk realizes he has his whole team’s attention: Pidge has put down the puzzle box, hands in her lap and head tilted as she waits for an answer, and Shiro raises an eyebrow, encouraging.

“Right now, honeycomb,” he says, recalling the sticky texture of the little golden bits, blended with that vanilla smoothness, and there’s this sudden ache in his chest, for all the things he wishes he could have trapped in amber and transported with him, if only he’d known—

Pidge meets his eyes, and Hunk knows their minds are already firing down the same channels.

“Could we—”

“We definitely could.”

 

*

 

Making the machine isn’t the hard part; it just requires appropriating some of the castle’s cooking tubes for other services. It’s gathering the right ingredients that proves to be the challenge, especially when statements like “What’s the Altean equivalent for vanilla extract?” are met with a blank face.

They try their best, though. Shiro accidentally discovers that Nunvill congeals into a sweeter syrup when left out for a while (“Which begs the question,” Lance says later, “of why anyone in their right mind would drink its other form, which tastes utterly deplorable.

“Ooh, nice vocab.”

“Shut up, Pidge!”

“Hey Lance, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

“What, like you? Oh wait, that’s right, I’m taller.

Keith, put the knife away.

Fine, Shiro.”)

Coran happily bequeaths them a wide range of Altean cookbooks, and Pidge and Hunk busy themselves with inventory (Hunk almost has an allergic reaction to some weird yellow spice, but in the process they manage to find something like cinnamon powder—arrakine, Allura specifies). On Arcadius, they make friends with a group of herders and manage to procure some sort of heavy cream. And on the planet Myar, they watch Keith shimmy up a tree to cut down bunches of soft, magenta-fleshed fruit.

“We’re really doing this,” Lance says in awe once they’re all back at the Castle of Lions, their haul spread out in front of them in the castle’s kitchen.

Hunk touches the sides of the bowl. He’s piloted a sentient robotic lion, dodged giant laser beams, traveled across the universe. Here, though—

“I finally get to be the head,” Hunk realizes.

Shiro chuckles. “Lead the way, Hunk.”

“Awesome. Shiro, mix these. Pidge, you can do those. Keith, I need you to crush these for me, and Lance…just don’t knock anything over.”

“Hey!”

*

 

Recipe for Disaster: 

  • 1 Pidge + 2 melted saucepans (“I don’t think we estimated the boiling point of this correctly.”)
  • 1 Shiro + a dose of confusion (“Was it supposed to turn this color?”)
  • 1 bored Lance (“Can robotic arms get cramps? Shiro?”)
  • 1 Keith, murderous:

          (“What if Keith gets hair in our ice cream because of his stupid mullet?”

          “What the fuck, Lance, I don’t shed like some sort of dog—

          “I’m just saying, it’s a valid hygienic concern.”

          “How do you feel about blood in your mouth.”

          “Was that a threat?

          Pidge: “Just punch him already, Keith.”)

 

*

 

Depending on how you look at it, by letting him be the taste tester, the team is either bestowing an honor upon him or, you know, electing him the first to die.

Hunk likes to believe in the first option.

Crowding around, they watch him bring the spoon to his mouth. Hunk’s tongue curls, the first few ice crystals melting on its tip; the texture’s right, at least.

“Well?” Lance asks. “How does it taste?”

There’s a knot in Hunk’s throat. The truth is, he’s not like the others—there are flavors he gravitates towards, sure, but Hunk doesn’t have a constant. He keeps an open mind.

And he knows how mint chocolate chip is supposed to taste. Sharpness tempered with the smooth slide of chocolate stuck to your back molars. The clean numbness you get after holding an ice cube in your mouth. Sleepy winter mornings when he stood with the freezer open until his mom scolded him for wasting electricity, and muggy afternoons when the dripping cone seemed like the only respite, a bright point in the sluggish heat. It isn’t supposed to taste like—

“Toothpaste,” says Hunk, and it’s such a stupid time to have an epiphany, but then again—the universe has never cared much for timing, has it?

If it had, it wouldn’t have thrown him into a galactic mess that he’s still trying to make sense of. He wouldn’t be in this alien kitchen, trying futilely to recreate pieces of home.

Futile. Because there’s only one Earth, and Hunk doesn’t know if he’ll ever see it again, and he misses it in a twisting, hollow way, like something inside of him has been scraped clean.

“Hunk?” Shiro rests a hand on his shoulder.

“Here, let me try,” says Keith, reaching around to swipe a dollop of ice cream with his finger.

Hunk watches him carefully. Waits for a furrow in Keith’s eyebrows, some expression of distaste.

Instead: “I like it,” says Keith, a stubborn edge to his voice. He takes the container from Hunk’s hands, and a look passes between them, and Hunk—

Hunk is grateful.

Pidge touches his elbow gently. “Maybe try a sorbet?”

“Yeah.” Blinking, Hunk manages a smile. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

 

*

Recipe for Apeango Sorbet:

  • 3 apeango fruits, peeled and diced into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup of Nunvill (syrup form)
  • 4 spoonfuls of marang extract
  • Blend apeango pieces and marang extract until smooth, then add Nunvill
  • Pour mixture into ice-cream machine; let freeze until firm.

 

*

 

“What is this…concoction?” Allura asks upon walking into the dining hall and seeing ten bowls lined up on the table.

Lance pushes one toward her as Shiro hands a bowl to Coran.

“It’s called ice cream, princess, and it is about to blow your mind.

Allura pokes it with her spoon. “It’s…frozen, but still soft?”

Coran, meanwhile, has already taken a bite. Immediately, he splutters: “How can you people eat something this cold?

“Hey, if we can survive Nunvill, then you can survive this,” teases Shiro, watching amusedly as the two Alteans eye their desserts.

“We made five different flavors, so tell us which one you guys like best,” Pidge explains. “For science, but also just because Lance and I made a bet.”

“Hm. I think this one’s my favorite,” says Allura, tapping her spoon against the rim of a bowl containing a reddish-brown mixture. Lance calls it “spicy chocolate,” but like with all the food they’ve had, the description falls short—there’s always an other that’s hard to put a finger on when they’re trying to pin down these flavors that don't have any earthly equivalent.

Beside Allura, Coran frowns. “With all due respect, princess, I can’t see any appeal in that one.”

Allura draws herself up higher, voice laden with diplomatic saccharinity as she asks: “Which do you prefer, then, Coran?”

Around the table, the rest of them exchange looks, smirking.

“And so the debate begins,” says Shiro, shaking his head.

 

*

 

Recipe for How Not to Be Homesick (As Much):

Total time: still in progress

Ingredients:

  • 5 paladins
  • 5 robo-lions
  • 1 castle-ship
  • 1 Princess Allura
  • 1 Coran
  • 1 evil emperor Zarkon hell-bent on taking over the galaxy
  • 5000 unnecessarily stressful maneuvers disguised as “team bonding”

Steps:

  • Remind yourself: “We are the universe’s only hope.”
  • Form Voltron. Save some planets.
  • Challenge Coran to a cook-off (lose if Allura’s judging; win if it’s Shiro)
  • Play Assassin around the Castle (DO NOT OPEN THE BLACK DOOR!!!)
  • Take a team nap (sleep between Keith and Lance so that they don’t “accidentally” elbow each other in the face)
  • Help Pidge rewire her latest pet robot (regret your decision when she uses said robot to terrorize you awake in the morning)
  • Arm-wrestle Keith
  • Try charades (“No, Allura, you can’t just shapeshift into the alien species you’re supposed to be acting out.”)
  • Look at the galaxy map with Lance. Let him fall asleep on your shoulder while talking about home.
  • Look out for your team.
  • And remember: they’re looking out for you, too.