Early first shift on the Castle of Lions usually meant that Allura would be walking a lonely patrol after having chased Shiro to his quarters to at least get some sleep. Coran would likely have taken the shift himself, if Allura hadn’t ordered her to leave it in her hands. While she was the Princess of Altea, and Commander of Voltron, it did not mean she was above her duties as a part of this military force.
Of course as the force consisted entirely of five humans, four Altean mice, and two Alteans, with no official sovereignty’s protection and guidance aside from her own as the last ruler of Planet Altea, she supposed they could be taken as a guerilla para-military force. Any way you described it, they were against the cruel and merciless Galran Empire.
Lingering just outside the Command Deck, she let her gaze shift down the hall where her father’s hologram had once resided. She wished in part that she could still spend time with him, remembering a time before duty became a focal point of her life. However, she knew that the time for that had passed and she needed to stand on her own without relying on her father’s memory. Even if their parting hadn’t been what she wished for, it was necessary and she would do it over again should the need arise. No matter how much her heart prayed to never have to face that particular challenge again.
Steeling her resolve, she paused as a soft tugging at her combat suit’s legging was accompanied by the faint mental tug she had come to know fairly well since emerging from the stasis pods. Looking down, she saw the four mice trying to get her attention, motioning for her to follow them quietly. Kneeling, she offered her hand for them to climb onto so they could guide her without wearing themselves out.
The mice guided her swiftly to the engine room, pointing to a small access hatch that still bore some scars from where Pidge had sliced through them on their daring counter-assault. It was oddly open just the barest of slivers, and the mice where urging her to look inside. What she found inside was hardly surprising, or at least it was no longer as surprising as it might have once been. Pidge was inside with a secondary access hatch open as they appeared to be working on the systems; however Pidge seemed to have finally succumbed to their body’s exhaustion and drifted off.
Oddly enough, she couldn’t find any wiring, tools, or even the diagnostic laptop Pidge always used. Tilting her head, she reached in to begin the slow process of working Pidge free from their sleeping nest to move them to somewhere a bit more comfortable. She would have to remember to ask them about this after they got some more sleep.
Before she could grab hold of Pidge, the mice pulled a strange object out of the hole Pidge was working in and placed it firmly into her hands. Frowning in confusion, she pulled back to look at the thing in better detail of the muted light of the hallway. It was barely larger than her hand and about as thick as her one of her fingers. Along one side was a spiral of metal wire which she assumed could be used as a hinge for the flimsy sheets of material between the two slightly firmer covers. On the one cover was a line of the human language ‘English’ that she had been learning to read with help from her Paladins. She didn’t know what ‘Journal’ meant, but she assumed it was the title of what this object should be called.
She was about to set it down and go back for her Paladin, when the smallest mouse leaped up onto her hand and flipped open the object, revealing more of the English inside. It was the rushed hurried scribbling of Pidge’s when they were forced to write outside of the computers they loved so much. But she couldn’t help but notice her name mentioned several times on the two sheets she had been opened to. Her name had been one of the first things that Shiro had taught her after getting the basics of the lettering down, and she counted no less than five mentions of her. Was Pidge taking notes about her? How strange… perhaps she should run this through that translation program Pidge had created for them. But something felt… invasive about this.
Snapping the object shut, she pointed for the mice to return it where it belonged. They refused at first, before complying. That was odd, they never refused her outright like that before; so perhaps it was important that she read it? Instead of worrying about it, she reached in and shook the Green Paladin’s foot softly. “Pidge? It’s Allura, can you come out?”
There was a soft grumble of discontent from the sleeping paladin, however the foot pushed back against her hand, followed shortly after by the rest of the leg, and the body it was attached to. Pidge blinked at Allura for a moment before mumbling something about fixing latency issues, sleep causing their voice to be a bit softer than perhaps was normal. Allura didn’t really think much about things before motioning for Pidge to get moving.
As the sleepy Paladin moved, Allura knelt to close the access hatch. As she looked inside, she couldn’t help but notice the mice were standing on the now smooth surface of the access tube where the object had been pulled out of. Had Pidge closed that with her Journal inside? Turning to ask, she found the Paladin out of range already and frowned. They weren’t carrying it, so it must still be inside. Why would Pidge be hiding something like this?
Sliding the hatch back closed, she looked at the mice that had stopped at her feet with a wary look. “I think we’ll leave this to Pidge,” she suggested to the mice, which looked at each other before sighing heavily and nodding in agreement. “Come along; let’s go make sure they at least find something suitable to sleep on.”
To her surprise the Green Paladin didn’t go straight to the first surface they could lay on, moving towards the wing the Paladins had claimed as their own. It was rare for them to go to their room; in fact Allura wondered if this was the first time they’d been in there outside of personal hygiene. As she poked her head in, she looked at the room curiously, having refrained from pressuring Pidge about her desires to get closer to them only made her more interested in seeing what they were like in private.
The sight that greeted her was hardly what she expected, it looked like pure chaos, but as she looked, it felt like there was a pattern to this madness. The bed was perfectly made; much like all the rooms had been after Coran ensured they were clean enough for the Paladins to use. But that was the only tidy thing about the area. There were piles of computer parts to one side of the room, a nest of blankets and sheets across the room from that, Pidge’s armor and Bayard were next to the bedding pile, between it and the door. Then her eyes travelled up to take in the sight of the walls, and her jaw hung open. Most of them had been converted to display several things that appeared to be connected bits of information. They were pinned to the wall with needles off one of the plants off of Arus, and written on more of those thin sheets of crinkly material. Most of it was lost to her, but over the bed nest, she noticed something that made her smile.
It was a simple pair of pictures that seemed to be drawn by Pidge themself at some point. The one on the right appeared to be a technical schematic of Voltron and the lions. The one that was to the left appeared to be a bit more… speculative in nature?
It looked like some grand Robeast crying out to Voltron in challenge with an adorably evil expression and giant sword. She could read enough of the English language to make out that word in bold letters on the top of the page. There was a woman of some description smiling at the Robeast? Behind her was a crude missile aiming past a crescent moon, a scribbled out smiling face, and… a giant beetle creature?
Perhaps if she was ever invited back, she might ask about it, however at the time a strange noise reached her ears drawing her attention back to the Paladin she was watching over. It had sounded like ripping fabric, and as she watched Pidge pulled out a strange vestment they had been wearing from under their other clothes. It appeared to have some stretch to it, but not much. Something about it seemed to cause Pidge discomfort as they spent a few minutes stretching before folding the piece up and setting it carefully on their armor.
What happened next caused Allura to pause as she watched Pidge move over next to the pile of computer components and kneel down to pick up a sheet with a drawing of a familiar pyramid next to a grinning green human that Allura could recognize as Pidge. It was a loving and detailed drawing, and rent the princess’s heart as she realized it was all Pidge had to remember Rover by.
“Hey Rover, long day,” Pidge mumbled tiredly as they picked up a quill from a small container in a drawer. Pushing the quill through the sheet, they pinned the drawing to the wall over the pile of components. “But I finally got the stealth program decoded enough I think I can replicate it.”
Even though it was just Pidge talking to a drawing, which seemed odd the Princess, she felt that it was meant to be a private moment between the two. Stepping back while Pidge let out a yawn, she moved swiftly towards the Command Deck feeling that Pidge would be safe to find their way to their bed without her watching over.
While her mind was stuck on the situation with Pidge, she could be forgiven for not noticing that the mice had leaped off of her shoulder to hang out on an air vent, sharing a look. At the nod from the smallest one, they zipped into the air ducts, tiny clawed feet clattering against the metal of the ducting.
A second later, the door reopened, and a familiar bushy head of brown hair looked out in confusion at the now empty hall. Pushing their glasses up on their face, they decided to add looking at the door’s servos to the repair tasks they would do with Hunk tomorrow.
The sound of birds chirping from a tiny speaker brought a soft groan of dismay as a hand dug around for the source of the annoyance that had dragged the owner of said hand from the sweet embrace of sleep. It had been such a great dream too, Matt and Dad had been found and a wormhole back home brought them to Earth, and they could eat peanut butter sandwiches with peanut butter cookies for dessert while telling their mom how they had saved their family with the help of their friends.
They had even convinced Allura to come down to Earth with them, and try some of the delicious peanut butter Pidge loved so much. The lingering images of the Princess leaning over to hug Pidge in gratitude while using a subtle thumb to wipe away a smear of peanut butter before Shiro could chide her burned into her mind.
Speaking of burning, Pidge realized their cheeks were very warm all of a sudden. Maybe the castle was suffering some lingering effects from Sendak’s invasion of their systems, after all with all that happened during the attack, things like fluctuating temperature controls and delayed door servos were entirely possible, right?
Settling that in their mind, they rolled out of the bed and looked at the suit of armor they had laid out the night before. Since it was maintenance day, they didn’t technically need to wear their armor, as the Princess had agreed to minimalize training until they recovered from the invasion. Missions would still be carried out if the need arose, but today was more about making sure the thing that kept them safe and alive in space wasn’t about to fall apart.
To that end, Hunk and Coran were joining them in working on a few systems that needed additional work, or just a good thorough inspection. Hunk’s engineering prowess was often overlooked by the others, especially since Hunk seemed to focus on making sure their food tasted better than the goop Coran made, but Pidge had come to appreciate the brilliant mind behind the friendly and caring Yellow paladin.
Coran had an insight into the design and layout of the alien hardware that Pidge and Hunk both lacked, and some of his stories were a good way to pass the time as they held parts together until their weld or adhesive had set. They especially liked the ones about little Princess Allura getting lost in the castle, or gathering flowers, or maybe Pidge could get him to tell them about the time Allura walked in on a council of her father’s advisors, told them to stop shouting so she could get some sleep, and then stormed out, while dragging around some stuffed animal that Pidge had trouble remembering what it was called. But Coran’s description of it made it sound almost like a cross between a lion and one of the space mice.
Maybe they could try their hand at craft making again.
The thought caused their chest to get tight, and they leaned off the nest they had constructed to dig a framed picture of her and her brother out from under the bed. Matt had always enjoyed spending time with her doing those silly craft projects their mother insisted on doing during their homeschooling days. She said it was to ensure that they were well-rounded, but after catching her trying to figure out the next part of their lessons while they worked, Katie had realized that it was more for her than them.
Pidge’s intense stare down with their past life as the memories of what had been flooded their mind was cut off by a tiny little tugging sensation of their ear. Turning their head slowly, they found one of the Castle’s mice staring at them with concerned, shining eyes. “Hey?” they asked curiously trying to wipe the tears away without knocking the mouse off their shoulder.
The mouse, for their part, didn’t seem to mind the hand that had passed between them, instead scampering down to their other hand and settled in on the thumb. They looked between the picture and Pidge for a few minutes before tapping Matt and looking back with expectant eyes. “You want me to tell you about Matt?” they asked in honest surprise, getting a nod in response. Biting their lip, they glanced at the clock on their tablet, they should be getting to the maintenance tasks, and it was painful talking about Matt. Turning back, they got the feeling the mouse wouldn’t take no lightly. “How about later?”
This seemed to placate the mouse, as it nodded before scrambling up to settle in at Pidge’s neckline. A soft laugh escaped the small paladin as velvety smooth fur brushed against the back of their neck. “Hey, that tickles! Come on, let me get changed and we can see about breakfast?”
Since they were going to be working on the systems, they chose to wear their Paladin uniform since it would be safer should the ship turn on them again. That they were moderately shielded from stray electricity, fire, or other such environmental concerns was just the cherry on top. Ten minutes later they walked into the kitchen area to spot Hunk there slicing up a new fruit they had picked up on a planet a few days ago, the initially bitter and gritty fruit was found to be far better when cooked.
The first attempt at boiling it had brought about an applesauce-like concoction that tasted like pumpkin pie, with an extra dash of cinnamon, and something that none of the paladins could place. It was a good alternative to the green goop, but it wasn’t something they could have regularly.
The next attempted had been baking them, which made chips that tasted like mustard and ketchup. It was voted as a good snack-food, and after a few tests decided that they would make a few batches for their rations since it apparently at a shelf life measured in years.
This was to be the third attempt, and Pidge was thrilled to see what the chemical reactions of panfrying the sliced fruit would bring about. Even for a technology specialist, the biological implications of this fruit had fascinated them. How were they able to make such varied flavor differences by just changing the way that they were cooked? They had to know more.
“Hey dude,” Hunk greeted, dumping the sliced fruit into a pan with a nearly flavorless oil that Coran had said was common for Altean cooking. The sizzling filling the air was drowned out shortly after as the hood vent kicked into high to save the main air filters for the ship. “Give me a couple and I’ll have a plate for you. I have the goo dispenser ready if this turns out like those Kemblar fruits…”
That got a snort from Pidge as they remembered that particular fruit, they looked much like an ordinary cherry, if it was the size of a watermelon. However a single bite of it was enough to even make Keith’s cast iron survivalist stomach turn. The taste could only be described as Bad without making a relapse occur.
Thankfully, their scanners helped to remove the lethal options from their attempts to supplement their diets, and left just the things that tasted like the bottom of a garbage scow preparing for retirement. The sight of the sliced fruit dancing in the oil brought them back to the current situation, which apparently was that they had just volunteered to be Hunk’s guinea pig.
“Where’s everyone else?” they asked while going to get a juice pack from the fridge, grateful that these seemed fairly safe. Even if they tasted like a strange mix of apple and orange juice, it was better than nothing.
“Sleeping, it’s only a few minutes past second shift,” Hunk answered while flicking the slices into the air and flipping them over in the pan. “Lance and Keith were training well into first shift according to Allura, and Shiro had to be chased to bed. She mentioned that you fell asleep in your civvies again dude…”
Oh no, not that tone. It meant that Hunk was worried about them, and that they had screwed up, but he wanted them to address it first. Being able to hide the wince by looking down at their juice pack meant that they could buy time to explain. “I didn’t mean to Hunk… I was working on something, and just drifted off.”
“Did you loosen the binder first?” he asked, his eyes focused on the fruit in the pan, though they caught him glancing over occasionally.
“Yeah… I know I screwed up not taking it off entirely first, but I wasn’t meaning to fall asleep in it, and I was just going to work on that project for a few minutes before going to my room to change. I took it off after I made it back to my room,” Pidge began to ramble before stopping and pausing in thought. That seemed to remind them of something. “Oh, can we add checking in on our door servos to our list today? I think mine stayed open too long last night and when I checked the hall, no one was out there…”
“Yeah, wouldn’t do for us to be trapped in our rooms during an alert,” Hunk agreed, taking up the new topic readily. He smiled to the smaller paladin and took one of the slices off onto a plate where he sliced it and looked at the inside. It was the same vibrant blue or the raw fruit, but it lacked the streaks of grey that vanished as it cooked.
Dumping the entire collection of the slices onto a plate, he set them before Pidge to cool, though a spork was nearby if they chose to skip the waiting. Instead of pulling a Lance and popping the still scalding hot fruit into their mouth, they paused to take in the scent and found something strangely familiar about it. Their mind flashed back to their first week at the Garrison, when they had been running late for class and borrowed the smoothie blender to make a breakfast smoothie.
Perhaps dumping scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, a bagel, and butter into the blender hadn’t been their brightest moments, especially when they used coffee as the main liquid additive. The resulting sludge had been edible, and… not entirely disgusting?
No, they weren’t going to lie, it was horrible.
Picking up the spork, they cut one of the slices into a bite-sized piece and brought it to their mouth. The bite was… surprisingly good. It tasted like one of those breakfast sandwiches the Garrison broke out once a month for variety, only without the radioactive yellow cheese slices. Giving him a thumbs-up of approval, they watched as he picked up his own piece and tentatively took a bite. It seemed that he was just as surprised by how it tasted.
The pair of them passed the rest of breakfast eating the Banja Fruit, which Pidge was about ready to call the magical mystery fruit if it continued to surprise them with the flavors it came in, or perhaps it was Hunk working the magic.
He was pretty awesome, and when he wasn’t snooping in their stuff, pretty reliable. There was something comforting in knowing that he was there; supportive, warm, comforting, and steady. A faint blush dusted their cheek as they thought about the last time he had pulled them into one of his massive bear hugs. It had been after a long day of training, and they were nearly ready to rip Lance’s head off from some joke of his, when suddenly they were surrounded by warmth and tender embrace. The fight left them as exhaustion and comfort washed over them. The next thing they knew, Hunk was sitting with their head on one lap, Lance’s on the other, looking content and at peace with his efforts. Keith seemed oddly subdued as he sat opposite them, his eyes questioning and unsure.
Thankfully, their musings about how wonderful Hunk was were cut off as another person joined them. Turning to the door where they expected Coran to be standing ready for a day of taking care of the castle, full of his usual gusto and enthusiasm, they were instead greeted by the elegant and graceful curves of Allura in her service armor, hair done up in the bun she wore with it. Pidge would never admit it, but they were jealous of how those long, flowing, luscious locks managed to shrink down into such a small bun on top of her head. Human hair could never manage to copy that, and Pidge could only imagine that Allura’s hair was softer than clouds.
“I hope you don’t mind the exchange, but Coran wasn’t feeling the best, so I ordered him to trade duties with me. He’s on the Command Deck for now, but Shiro should be along shortly,” the princess offered, slashing through Pidge’s random thoughts about cloud hair like Voltron’s blade through Galra ships. “I may not be quite the mechanic he is, but I hope that we can work well together.”
Having Allura along instead of Coran was very different, and Pidge couldn’t quite place why. She was just as useful, though they might have to explain a few extra steps than they were used to. In place of Coran’s tales of Princess Allura as a young child, there was tales of the castle during its glory days, and the wonderful people that had once roamed the very halls that were now abandoned save for when a the paladins wanted to lose themselves to their thoughts and privacy. It seemed almost as if there was this tension building up in the air around them, though neither of the other two seemed to even notice it. They chose not to mention it, since there were no physical signs of the charge, just… a weird feeling in their stomach.
If it kept up, they’d go to the medical ward and run themselves through the auto-doc to make sure things were alright; nothing to worry others about unless there was a major problem on the horizon. The three of them had finished up on the check of the shields and weapons, which took an obvious precedence since their lives depended on them, and right now Pidge was inside the air vent right near to the processing unit, hanging from their banyard while they worked at the annoyingly difficult access point. According to the schematics that Allura had pulled up, the usual procedure would be to remove the entire section of ducting to get at this panel, but Pidge and Hunk both agreed for the check, which was mostly just Pidge plugging a datapad into a port and running a diagnostic, the overhaul wasn’t worth it.
What they had not quite taken into consideration was that there was a lot of air moving this close to the distribution hub for this section of the castle, and while the armor blocked a good deal of the chill, their exposed face and hands still took a bit of a lashing. “Hunk, next time I do this, remind me to request we turn off the node in question,” they grumped into the headset they were using, since getting their helmet had seemed like a waste at the time.
“Perhaps you might take my advice in the future?” Allura chimed in with a bemused tone that caused the strange feeling in their stomach to get worse. Only, this time it was stronger, and more in their chest. And the blood rushing to their head from hanging upside down didn’t usually make their face feel this warm, did it?
Pidge delayed to look at the nearly completed diagnostic program on the pad, about another thirty seconds to go, and then they could go find some warmth. Maybe Hunk would give them one of those bear hugs, the ones that just enveloped their smaller frame in warmth and caring? Figuring they had waited enough, they answered, “Statement unclear, please rephrase.”
A ping from the datapad caught Pidge’s attention away from Allura’s reaction. Figuring that Hunk would explain their joke to Allura, Pidge began to read the report for any errors in the unit. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary to the program, but they’d have Allura read it over when they came out. Always good to have a second set of eyes after all, even if they were confident in their abilities to find problems.
Besides, those pale blue orbs focusing on the English language were always amazing to watch, as their sharpness and determination were often muted by a slight shimmering sparkle as she desired to learn more. And if Pidge watched, they could make out a slight pinkish gleam in her irises when she felt a sense of accomplishment at figuring out a new word.
Huh… the castle must have turned up the temperature on the wind, it wasn’t so chilly anymore.
Shaking their head, they checked the readout on the unit one more time before resealing the access panel and starting the recoil process on their Bayard. As the device rewound its cord, they allowed their body to be flipped in the vent, head returning to the upright position, and the blood returning to where gravity usually had it. Probably not the greatest thing in the universe, to purposefully make yourself dizzy while hanging off a grappling hook and rope of unknown to humanity origins over the main impeller unit for this section of the castle, but the thrill of it only added to their enjoyment of the feeling they got. But what came next was what they really enjoyed, it was a moment of clarity that the new equilibrium brought with it that allowed them to forget their family, saving the universe, even repairing the castle, for one brief moment they were allowed to just be themself.
“Taking the slow elevator today Pidge?” Hunk’s gentle voice came over the comms, bringing them back to reality for a moment. They really should speed up the process of getting back up, so they could move on to the next job or they’d never be able to finish, but they just couldn’t bring themself to kick it into the higher speed.
Watching the metal of the vent slowly scroll pass, they let a reflexive smile play out over their face as they realized that Hunk was being himself. He was worried about them being out of communications for so long probably, and likely heard the sound of the internal winch bringing the cord taut. “I’ll be up in a minute,” Pidge answered as their thumb drifted over the speed dial. “Are we still ahead of schedule?”
“We’re doing great dude, shaved another thirty ticks from our last time,” Hunk reassured them, the relief in his voice somewhat palpable to Pidge’s trained ears. Maybe they shouldn’t have taken so long?
“Cool, we could stop and get some juice packs and a snack if you wa-“ Pidge started to offer, when Allura’s voice cut them off.
“I have some waiting for you when you arrive,” Allura chimed in happily. Pidge shook their head as they hung off the edge of the ducting that led to the rest of the maintenance crew. If they knew Hunk, he would likely have something else to go with the food goo.
Sure enough, when they arrived to where Allura and Hunk waited, there was a tiny cup of cabbage green pills waiting for them. They watched as Hunk popped some sandy yellow pills of his own. Letting out a heavy sigh of resignation, they picked up the cup of pills and knocked it back before snatching up a packet of juice gulping down most of it. It had been shortly after Lance’s stay in the Cryo-pod that Hunk and Pidge found out that the medical reports they gave also showed nutritional levels. That led to Hunk finding out that they were all suffering from lack of certain vitamins, and then working with Coran to develop personal multi-vitamins for each of the paladins.
Turned out that those reports also showed Pidge’s elevated levels of estrogen and lower levels of testosterone, which would have spilled the beans about their gender to Hunk if they hadn’t done so beforehand. They still hadn’t figured out how Hunk had known before they came out.
“Don’t be like that dude,” Hunk grumbled as he held out a bowl of food goo for their snack. “At least I don’t grind them down and mix them into your snacks like I do with Lance.”
“Thanks for that,” Pidge agreed as they took the goo and settled down against the wall to eat it, wondering why Allura was staring at them like that. The warming of their cheeks was ignored as they followed Allura’s gaze which was focused on the bowl in their hands. Looking down, they saw that the food goo had little white flecks on the top. “Hunk is this…”
“Neferium shavings,” Hunk confirmed happily, getting a wince from Allura. That explained it, while the chocolate-caramel flavor was a delicacy for the humans; neferium had a side effect with the Alteans. It was similar to some allergic reactions Pidge had read about, with watery eyes, however the dilation of the pupils and spontaneous hair growth was not normal by any stretch of the imagination. Seeing Coran carting around ten pounds of Altean hair growing from his face might have been funny for the first five minutes, but after that it was a little alarming, since it wouldn’t stop growing.
They had to trim his hair thirteen times that day, but Allura managed to avoid it entirely. Pidge took a moment to imagine Allura’s already long hair flowing in an endless tidal wave of shimmering silver locks, much like Rapunzel from that old Disney movie or the ancient story books. Hey speaking of ancient stories, wasn’t there an Egyptian Pharoh or Queen, or whatever they were called, that rode in wearing nothing but a smile and her hair tastefully put to cover her bits?
ABORT THOUGHT PROCESS! No Pidge, you do not think about Princess Allura in a similar situation, even though she might be totally cool with it as an alien race and all. Lance can stop piloting their thoughts right now thank you very much.
“What do you think Pidge?” Allura asked just as the paladin’s attention returned to the current world. Looking between the two others, they decided honesty was the best option at the moment.
“Sorry, I was thinking about something and I didn’t hear anything,” they explained with a slight blush to their cheeks, perhaps they should take that trip to the pods sooner rather than later, if their mind was acting this strangely.
Allura gave Hunk a curious look, to which he shrugged, before giving her a shrug as though unsure of what was going on either. Taking a deep breath, she smiled and explained. “I was explaining to Hunk, and I had thought you as well at the time, that it might be a good idea to go to the Hangars after this and give the lions a quick diagnostic. I believe we have their old data stored on the computers in the hangars to help us understand some of the regular issues they faced. It might be good to use them to develop a baseline for future repair work.”
Pidge blinked, seeing a bit of sparkle in Allura’s eyes as she explained her thoughts. Letting the words settle into their mind, they began thinking about it like any other project they might have done on their own. It was taking someone’s completed, and to be fully honest, impossibly advanced project and set up the service routines for it. It was essentially coming in and making the user manuals after production. “Sounds good, I feel like seeing Green again… oh, do they have actual names? We’ve just been calling them by their colors, but if they’re sentient, or even semi-sentient, I suppose we should call them by their names.”
“I have never heard of the Lions referred to by any particular names, perhaps you might ask them? Or it could be in the notes we are going to be going over in the hangars… Should you find out, please be sure to let me know, I would like to address them properly after all the years we’ve known each other,” Allura answered with a warm, kindly smile that made Pidge’s heart stutter for a moment. That trip to the pods definitely seemed like a smarter idea, but they didn’t want to make the others worry about them over what was probably nothing. So instead, they just swallowed the lump of food goo in their mouth and nodded an agreement.
Pidge focused on something other than Allura’s smile, her tanned skin, or the way her eyes sparkled when she talked. Unfortunately, they turned just to catch Hunk’s worried expression. His soft, warm chocolate brown eyes searching them for an answer as a stray lock of his fluffy dark hair drifted over the edge of his headband to drift just above his eyesight. The little twitch of his lips, the way his eyes flicked over Pidge’s face, they knew that he’d be talking to them about whatever he thought was bothering them soon.
He wouldn’t do it in front of Allura, they could go off somewhere quiet, probably with an excuse to go work on some side project one of them had come up with. He’d wrap an arm protectively over their shoulders, and listen as they attempted to ramble some excuse out, before asking pointed questions to get to the core of the matter.
It might be a good idea to confide in Hunk, since he wouldn’t judge them for these weird thoughts, feelings, and dreams they had been having lately, but they didn’t want to risk it. While they finished off the juice, they mentally reviewed the list of who they felt they could talk to about this. At the top had been Rover and the two of them had been making solid progress in that regards, but since he... since his departure, they hadn’t trusted anyone to let them in that far.
Tossing the pouch into one of the ship-wide recycling system, they took Hunk’s hand to help themselves up. It would be nice to see Green again, and maybe they would be able to help them figure out their problems without worrying the other paladins too much.
There were few things in the known universe that could possibly prepare Takashi Shirogane for what he saw when he came to the Command Deck, and even now he doubted that he could possibly be ready for what he was about to face. A quick double check of the medicine packet in his hand, the pink one with the white chevron on the sealing flap, and the pouch of water, from the furthest back of the cooling unit please, and he was fairly confident he had followed Coran’s wishes to the letter thus far. He had told him that he’d get his medicine after making sure Hunk and Pidge got their vitamins with a snack.
Checking his hands again for any traces of the Neferium shavings he’d put on the two engineers’ snacks, he let out a sigh before reaching out and knocking. It seemed the three times he scrubbed them had been sufficient to remove the shavings and any possible residue. It was too late to go back and get the machine to spray on one of those sterile gloves now. “Coran? I brought you the medicine you asked for,” he called out as the door slid open.
Coran didn’t look too bad; nothing like the reaction to the Neferium shavings, there was only really two major changes to the chipper and dapper royal advisor that unnerved Shiro. The first was that his usually copper mustache had taken on a distinctly purple hue with his illness. The second was a bit more noticeable, but if that and the dyed hair color were the worst of being sick as an Altean, he would much prefer it to the common cold or a flu bug.
After all, wasn’t there an entire series about people that seemed to have bathed in stardust and glitter? He wasn’t really sure as it was an old series that was more of a cult classic than anything his schooling would assign, but he had still heard about it on occasion before the Kerberos mission. Whatever this Twilight series might be, he would get a copy of it next time they were on Earth.
“Ah wonderful! That’ll fix me up faster than a rabid Rankon on smooth ice,” Coran offered with a forced enthusiasm to his voice as he lounged on the bed with a datapad in his hand and a hopeful look on his face. “Would you mind coming over and sitting with me?”
Shiro gave him a friendly smile as he settled in next to him on the bed. “That isn’t going to be work if I translate it to English is it?” Shiro asked with a stern tone to his voice as he passed over the packet and water pouch.
“This? Oh, it is just some data I’ve been meaning to review, make sure the biological elimination recycling systems are working properly,” Coran explained while setting the pad aside and taking the medicine from the black paladin. “With only the seven of us and the mice, we are not putting too much stress on the system, so it is not too vital, but it is still best to keep an eye on them.”
“Anything I should know about?” Shiro asked, understanding the idea behind what Coran was saying, however not wanting to go too in depth as to what the biological elimination really was.
“Nothing too alarming, but one of the Paladin’s wastes are higher in what appear to be your human blood. Nothing alarming, aside from the rest show no sign of blood in your wastes,” Coran explained while Shiro’s face started growing redder as one paladin in particular sprang to mind. “It only started two or three days ago, and the blood amounts of reduced, but it is still something to note.”
“Do you know anything about this?” Coran asked curiously as he turned to look at Shiro. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” Shiro answered with something akin to a cough to his voice, before swallowing and taking a deep breath. “I will prepare you and Allura a report of the details, but for now I suggest keeping the matter under wraps. It’s a little sensitive for some humans.”
“Wraps? I was unaware that it was bound in such a manner, should we warm up the cryo pods?” Coran asked, trying to leverage himself up off the bed, only to be stopped by Shiro’s hand against his shoulder.
“No, it’s perfectly normal, but I think we might want to perform preventative checks just in case. We don’t know if what you have is dangerous to humans, or if we won’t react at all, so we should cut it off at the pass,” Shiro explained, before correcting himself at the confused expression of the mustachioed alien before him. “Take care of it before it becomes an issue.”
Coran nodded as he leaned back on the bed, closing his eyes. “Right, that makes a lot of sense. Perhaps the Princess and I should get ourselves looked over as well; for much the same reasoning.”
Shiro nodded while trying to figure out how he was going to word this particular discussion. “Is there anything else you need before I leave?”
“Would you mind staying for a bit? I do not particularly enjoy being alone when sick,” Coran asked quietly, his eyes focused on the pouch of water in his hand. “We can talk a little bit before I fall asleep.”
Shiro relaxed into an easier sitting position, giving Coran room if he needed it, while not being too far away. The Altean gave him a grateful smile as he peeled open the medicine, revealing that it was a sticky patch which vanished under his shirt and presumably remained adhered to his chest as he drew it out. “Well then, I suppose you must have something you want to talk about. I can’t say I’ll be the best conversationalist in a short while as the medicine will make me tired, but we can talk for a while.”
“How about what life was like on Altea? If that’s not too painful of a subject, I admit when I first saw the castle it impressed me and I’ve been curious about your culture,” Shiro offered while Coran closed his eyes and took a deep sip of the water.
“That’s a rather broad topic Shiro, was there anything in specific you wish to know?” Coran asked pointedly, his face relaxed and distant as he gazed into the past. “Lance has been rather fond of talking about the little things; such as weather, food, something he called selfies. I believe he has a few on his primitive Earth datapad device, though he complained about a lack of signal strength.”
“His cellphone still has a charge?” he asked with a slight laugh to his voice. “I suppose that it charges the same way that Pidge’s laptop does.”
Coran thought about it for a moment before nodding an agreement. “Yes, I believe that was what he called it, he had a lot of pictures of his family on there. I believe the Balmera crystal of the ship is serving to power their devices batteries, as well. I remember once when my First Spouse First Husband Jaiho and I went for a picnic during our first shore leave after academy. It was a rather lovely day out, following a fire stone rain, when we noticed that the music player that he packed for us to dance to began playing halfway to our picnic spot. We found out after several hours that a shard of a Balmera Crystal had crashed about three months prior, right where we were going to eat.”
As Shiro joined him in a chuckle at that, he imagined there was more to the story, but wasn’t going to push the ill for more details than he was willing to give at the moment. There was just something odd about in the story that stuck out to Shiro. “First Spouse First Husband?” he asked curiously, his interest in history, particularly Anthropology, flaring up as he watched Coran from the side of his eyes. “Does that mean you had more than one spouse?”
“Hmm? Oh right, you humans are generally monogamous, I forgot that I explained this to Lance and it was not common knowledge. If I mention something like you should know it, please ask I’ll gladly explain, now as for that particular phrase,” Coran began as he leaned back against the pillows of his bed and let out a sigh. “Due to our rather long lifespans, Alteans have what is commonly seen as a somewhat complex relationship system in place. The First marriage is usually for political reasons, however unless it would be a happy marriage it is not enforced. The courting of that is usually around the equivalent of twenty of your Earth years. The parents of the prospective partners will observe their children for a few weeks to seek out prospective partners. The usual method is through an audio-visual transmission device given to the child for just this reason. After several of your months, the parents will approach the parents of the other for a meeting.”
“That sounds rather interesting; do you think we could go into how that started sometime? I would love to learn more when you’re feeling better,” Shiro asked while Coran paused to sip his water and gather his thoughts.
“Sounds like a grand time, I believe the library has a few books on the subject that we could review. Young Pidge’s translation program would certainly help with that matter I believe. Yes, I believe we could meet up for that sometime and other cultural discussion, of course.”
“Of course,” Shiro agreed with a friendly smile as he felt Coran leaning against him with his eyes drifting shut. “Coran?”
“Forgive me Shiro, I forgot how much this medical patch throws one for a loop,” Coran explained with a tired voice, “But let’s continue until I drift off. Now… as a general rule, First Spouses will always be the first spouse of each pair, and they are generally considered the family power seat. My First Spouse and I had served as midshipmen on the Royal fleet before my commission for the Diplomatic Corps came through, and he was assigned to the first battle fleet. As you might imagine, that was a rather prestigious position, and the two of us had ensured that one of us would be able to remain out of danger sufficient that if we chose to raise children, we would not potentially leave them abandoned.”
Shiro decided to not press for more information at how Coran had phrased that, and moved his flesh hand to rub the Altean’s arm consolingly as he imagined this must be stressing him something fierce. Before he could suggest a change of topics, Coran asked, “Jaiho used to do that too… would you mind continuing?”
“As long as you’re comfortable with it,” the black paladin agreed, keeping the slow, steady pace.
“Thank you,” Coran offered while letting out a sigh as the sparkles began to leave his skin. “Yes… well I fear I was a rather odd Altean, as I did not seek out another spouse to build our family further, content instead to allow him to take the lead. Sadly, during one of his deployments he never returned. It was while I was in mourning that I was assigned to the palace to serve as Princess Allura’s mentor and guardian. I fear that I had thrown myself into my work as a way of distracting myself, and failed to notice the machinations of those around me, as I turned out to have a suitor whose first two spouses, wife and husband in that order, were inspecting me as a potential third spouse second husband. They even got the daughter of the First Spouse First Wife’s opinion of me as she was very important to him.”
Coran paused to let out a soft laugh, a fond smile crossing his face as he pulled out the datapad from earlier, and accessed some still images of a younger version of himself with Allura on his back, next to the man that Shiro recognized as King Alfor, and two others that he presumed were the king’s spouses. “It still amazes me that Allura kept quiet about it until after Alfor asked me out for a date without bringing her along as a cover.”
Shiro joined in with the laughter as he continued rubbing Coran’s arm gently. Allura was rather adorable in the picture, clinging to Coran’s head while giving the camera a huge grin that only children seemed able to do for pictures. “So that makes you and Allura…”
“The closest you humans have would possibly be godfather? Or maybe adoptive uncle? I fear I cannot do it a better justice than those two titles,” Coran explained with a slight frown of frustration. “While we held no official ties through my marriage to her father, if anything were to happen to him and the queen, I and the other spouse would take care of her as our own child. There is a famous story of a second wife and a fifth wife settling in to care for a child of their common spouse, and then falling in love and marrying themselves. It is a rather touching romance series of books, I would love it if the library had a copy…”
“A romance novel wouldn’t be a terrible way to spend some time,” Shiro agreed as he found a potential outlet for his many sleepless nights. One could only do so much to stave off sleep after all, and exercise did little to ensure him staying awake.
“Mm… I could recommend a few…” Coran agreed before letting out a yawn as he curled into Shiro’s body a little more. “Thank you for staying Shiro.”
Shiro watched the man drift off to sleep, still holding him and stroking his arm gently. After he was sure he was out like a light, he laid him down on the bed and pulled the sheet up to his chin. “Anytime Coran, we’re your family now. It’s what we do.”
He didn’t notice the slight smile that cross the face of the sleeping man as he walked towards the door, nor the slightest opening of purple eyes shining with some sort of mix of mirth and pride. He did however pause at the door when Coran’s tired voice spoke out. “We must talk more about your human families next time.”
“I believe that can be arranged,” Shiro agreed before stepping out of the doors and letting the man sleep. He had medical exams to go arrange with the Paladins and Princess Allura. After that he would work out a training schedule while they had some relative peace. He knew that the others were doing individual training, but they still needed to work on their teamwork from time to time.
It was still early in fourth shift when Allura found herself slipping into her quarters as the day caught up with her. It still amazed her that the humans adjusted to having what Pidge called a thirty-two hour day, and often lasted longer than she or Coran could manage to do. Three-fourths of the ship’s cycle later, she found herself flagging on her work, but Pidge and Hunk both assured her that she lasted longer than Coran ever did.
Moving towards her bed, she smiled as she thought back on the progress they made today. Several systems were worked on, and the paladins were bonding further with their lions while the systems compiled all of the maintenance logs from the old Paladins into an easy to read format. Letting out a wide-mouthed yawn, she shuffled over to her drawers to pull out some sleeping clothes to change into.
Her mind wandered to her paladins again, wondering how they managed to have such long-standing stamina while being so physically weak. She had noticed that they outlasted both the Alteans and Galra over longer periods of time, but weren’t as strong. Their bodies seemed to have developed to withstand so much more punishment before a catastrophic failure would occur, such as entering shock or dying. Settling down on the edge of her bed, she let her body run on automatic to change her outfit while she wondered what about their physiology could allow for such great stamina.
Lying back on her pillow, her musing was interrupted by a crinkling sound as her head pressed against something that was firmly not a pillow. Sitting back up, she found a familiar looking object resting open on her pillow. The Journal Pidge had been working on seemed to have been deposited on her bed in an obvious attempt at getting her to read it. Hearing the familiar scratching of clawed feet in the vent over her bed, she looked up just in time to see a tail zip out of view. Shaking her head she set the Journal aside and returned to stretching on her bed. Touching the wall control, the lights in her room dimmed so she could get some sleep. However, in the back of her mind the image of her name came floating unbidden to the forefront every time she tried to close her eyes.
Letting out a vexed grunt, she reached out again to turn on the light after counting to one-hundred and twenty ticks. She wasn’t going to be able to rest until she did something about that Journal business. Grabbing the Journal, she walked swiftly over to her desk and dug out a datapad. With swift and precise stylus strokes, she copied over the English letters into the datapad, noticing that there were points where Pidge had scratched something off before rewriting it. Tilting her head, she wondered if there was some sort of significances to the scribbling.
After a moment’s thought, she copied the scratched out parts in a separate section, with lines to inject them where they had been on the source material. Reviewing the copied work, she nodded before closing the Journal and turning to the vent. “Could you return this to where Pidge keeps it? I copied down the words so you don’t have to keep bringing it to me.”
At first it was just the smallest one that she saw peeking over the edge, before the others came forward with shining eyes bright and curious. As one they scampered down the wall, across the access panel near her bed and along the molding to her desk. One paused to look at her datapad, while the other three stared at her with silent, expectant eyes. “I promise, I’ll work on finding out what you are trying to show me from the copy, but if Pidge finds out their Journal project is missing, I imagine they would be upset.”
A tiny conference was held before her eyes before the mice nodded in unison and snatched up the Journal, lugging it up to the vent with a good deal of effort on their part. Once they were gone, she sighed and leaned back in the chair to stare blankly at the mess of English on the datapad. Some were massive tangents, others short little blips. There were words she could recognize, other than her name, while others she were strange even for the native English speakers to read.
Finding the shortest one, she figured her mind would quiet down a little if she at least made an attempt at translating it out. All seven words of the sentence were even ones she knew. ‘Allura’ was her name, so she probably shouldn’t even count that one.
Would – that was one of those verb things… a past tense version of will if she remembered right; which meant that she was supposed to do something in this sentence.
Never – or maybe not? That seemed confusing, but that was essentially negating the previous word, so maybe it was something she wasn’t doing, instead of forbidding her from doing something.
Look – that was the word for the act of seeing or focusing on something, or several other variations, but those were the ones she could come up with off the top of her head in her tired state. Was she supposed to notice something and was failing to do so? This might be a worrisome trait in her role as a leader of the Paladins, especially if Pidge felt the need to write it down in her Journal.
Twice – that… that meant… something about a second time, a repetition of a previous event or occurrence. So she’d done it before at least once, which might help limit her attempts at figuring out what she had performed wrong the first time.
At – this was a simple one, it was to draw attention to something, probably the last word. Good the pieces were coming into place nicely.
Me – that was the one that meant the writer, as opposed to the reader. Though the speaker would use it in much the same manner, either way, this was to be read as if Pidge were talking to her, about herself? Before the confusion could spread in her mind further, she cut off the train of thought to focus on the sentence as a whole.
Pidge felt that she had to look at them a second time, but that couldn’t be right, as she had looked at Pidge multiples times, even today alone. Quiznak, this was making her head hurt. Lowering her notes down, she rubbed the sides of her head and let her mind drift for a bit as she realized that her tiredness was indeed hindering at this point. Perhaps she should go lay down and sleep on it instead of exhausting herself further.
Even as she returned to her bed, and sleep claimed her exhausted body, her mind continued churning the sentence over and over in her head, trying to decipher some meaning behind the words that she was missing after translating them. Had she insulted Pidge by not performing some cultural aspect of looking twice? What was it to even look twice?
Groaning into her palms, she forced herself to focus on anything else so she could get some sleep. She focused on the juniberries in the early morning breeze, how their fragrance would envelope her, and soothe her in her youth. How the summer berry festival would come around, and slowly her mind drifted to how the juice of the berries stained her favorite dress, and the soothing face of her mother trying to calm her, her voice sweet and gentle, with loving overtones. Even now the tone from her memory was calming her down enough to slowly drift to sleep. She always seemed to know what to say and do when dealing with people, even when her father faltered. She had a truly diplomatic nature that was highly sought after in Altean culture.
The tender look in her mother’s eyes seemed to quell Allura’s rebellious mind to focus on something other than the ninth entry she had just translated. She would seek out Shiro after her sleeping shift and see if he could help her with understanding the meaning behind the words before sending him to his quarters. He was very good at helping her understand the culture of the Humans, even though he kept pointing out that there were many different cultures on the planet.
How can a single planet have many different cultures? That would not make any sense with them gaining the ability to escape their planet and travel throughout their celestial system. That type of progress required many of the brightest minds working in tandem to reach for the stars.
Sleep claimed her shortly after, her mind finally quieting enough for her to sleep. Perhaps if she was lucky, she could have one of those dreams that Lance talked of. It sounded nice to have a private nightly vision that was not some premonition of doom or an omen of oncoming disaster. The corruption of her father’s memories had been the last time she’d had a vision in her sleep, and she would love it if her mind could have a different vision to remember sleep by.
A dream of her mother and fathers would be wonderful.
The rising of her lights many ticks later broke her free of the darkness of her sleep, bringing her back to the waking world. She hit the stop button before the light could get painful. It had been found that this method of waking Alteans was far more natural and less damaging than any other, however the Paladins seemed to have brought methods of countering it, if Lance was any indication. After all, the auditory alarms that the humans seemed to prefer were usually reserved for alerts on the ship’s systems. Though Allura had to admit the sound of the ‘birds’ chirping that Pidge said was their alarm wasn’t as jarring as the normal klaxons that the others used.
When Pidge had explained that there were more bird songs, which was a delightfully adorable way of naming the calls of the animals and oh so fitting, than the ones they used, Allura had been so tempted to confiscate any of their audio file players to listen to more of them, but then the conversation moved on and she lost her chance.
Lifting herself out of the bed, she staggered towards the restroom, feeling like taking a shower to finish waking up and clearing the blackness from her mind. That seemed to have been an excellent idea, until her mind woke up enough that it began cycling over the sentence from the before she slept. What could ‘look twice’ mean?
Groaning she finished up her cleaning and got dressed for duty shifts, which meant her battle armor. The gown was nice, but if she was to do more work with the others on the systems, then her armor was a better call. The emergency space suit of the armor was enough to make the decision for her.
Shiro was easy to find as always: he always spent the fourth shift in the Command Deck listening to distress calls, tracking their course, and generally ensuring things went smoothly while she and Coran were either sleeping or busy elsewhere. She had offered to set up the automated alert systems, but he mentioned that it helped him to deal with things if he was able to feel in control of a situation. She wasn’t entirely sure what he meant, but perhaps humans found command to be more comfortable than Alteans. It was not seen as a glorious position, but instead one of duty and responsibility.
She should learn more about humans; perhaps a union of their races could be fruitful and promising. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and strode across the deck to find Shiro studying a star chart with a pensive, distant expression on his face.
“Shiro?” she asked softly, approaching him carefully so he could see her the entire time. It was something that Hunk had suggested for her to do it this way, something about his time with the Galra making it hard for him to deal with people suddenly appearing. It was another difference with humans than Alteans or other races they met in this part of the universe. Her musing was interrupted by his face softening into a smile and a rising of his hand in greeting. “Do you mind waiting a few minutes before going to your quarters? I came across a phrase of English with one of the other paladins and I fear I cannot fully understand the translation. I wonder if it might be cultural.”
“Of course Princess, I’ll help as best I can, first which Paladin?” Shiro asked, his eyes sparkling slightly at the prospect of discussing cultural differences. “It might help me to narrow down the meaning you’re looking for.”
“It was not in conversation, but something written,” Allura explained as she stepped up to the counsel for the main ship’s control. She wanted to protect Pidge in case this was an insulting or controversial topic in their culture. “The phrase was ‘She would never look twice at me.’”
She didn’t know why she changed the phrase by one word, but she figured removing herself from the equation wouldn’t change the meaning at all. Watching Shiro out of the corner of her eye, she noticed his eyes focus on her for a moment before one of his eyebrows rose. “I can see where that would cause some difficulties, and this would be a part of the American culture, for future reference.”
“I’m guessing you translated the words themselves?” he asked, getting a nod from the princess before he continued. “The problem part is that we’re dealing with an alternative meaning of words when used like this. It is generally used when the person who is ‘speaking’ the phrase has feelings for the person they’re referring to.”
“Feelings for? Like… romantic interest?” Allura asked for clarification as she tried to figure out what Shiro was meaning in his explanation.
“Sometimes, others it means admiration or a great deal of respect. I would have to read more of the context to give you the details, sorry.”
Allura pursed her lips in thought as she wondered what that could mean between her and Pidge, did Pidge admire her? But they seemed to be annoyed with her most times they talked; then again they seemed annoyed whenever they talk to the other paladins as well. Was that Pidge’s method of telling others that they like them?
“But how does one look at someone twice? They see them every day, so it would be impossible to not look at them twice at the very least,” Allura asked, her eyes focused on the star map before her. As her attention was diverted between it, and the confusion, she missed Shiro’s expression of slowly dawning understanding.
“See them for who they really are, learning about their interests and hobbies. For example, did you know that Hunk loves to cook and experiment because his grandmother was the one that taught him? Or that Keith enjoys romantic comedies and romance novels?” Shiro asked while approaching her and watching her reactions to the various names he was listing off. “Lance spent years helping his sisters braid their hair and dress up.”
“What about you and Pidge?” Allura asked her eyes soft and curious as the new information was filed away. Perhaps she could ask Lance to assist her should they come upon one of the races in which the style of one’s hair was considered a mark of office or even a sign of respect for their deities or traditions. Hunk parents mother was a curious bit of information and one that might help her determine a good rest location should they come upon them. As for Keith, she could subtly nudge him towards some of the Altean romance novels in the library. It would be good for Coran to have someone else to talk to about them.
Shiro let out a soft laugh as he patted her on the shoulder. “Well I suppose that is something you have to find out for yourself, consider it homework,” he offered before turning away to head for the door. “Pidge was with their lion last I saw, I’ll go and send them to bed.”
A momentary pause, before her head lifted up and she called out to Shiro. “Why don’t I do that and let you go to sleep? I was the one that started them on working with their lion more.”
The smile he shot back at her was one she hadn’t seen before, but something told her that he knew something that she didn’t. “Let’s go together, it might take a bit of convincing to get them to come along,” he suggested with a chuckle to his voice. “We can talk more about the cultures of Earth on the way.”