Actions

Work Header

Under the Redwoods

Chapter Text

The wind whistled around and through the vents on Hiro's dark blue helmet, feeling very chilling and unforgiving. Immediately below, the dark forested mountains covered in wisps of morning fog came up very fast. Uncomfortably fast! But the durable nylon fabric attachments connecting from under his arms and all along his sides to his knees did wonders in slowing down his freefall, and restoring his peace of mind. The boy wonder could manage to glide to safety like a flying squirrel now, if he wanted to. However, he rather not ruin his luck by failing at navigating through the tangle of branches in the forest canopy below.

"Get in position, Baymax!" he called out to his large, red, robotic guardian ascending in a more controlled manner close by. Baymax rocketed underneath the gliding superhero enough so that the pull from the activated magnetic ports made it easier for Hiro to latch on to his robot's back.

"This should work," Hiro said, more for his own sake. The special wing like attribute he added to his armored supersuit came as more of a safeguard to put the others at ease more than anything. The one thing they had feared, had actually happened after one pursuit of a particularly clever cat burglar. The burglar had used some kind of specialized EMP on Baymax, while he was flying with Hiro. Thankfully, Fredzilla was quick enough to jump up and use his acrobatics to catch Hiro before he hit the ground. Baymax sustained damage from the crash landing, but he was repairable. Hiro, he would not be so lucky if he crashed.

Aptly nicknamed by Fred, these 'flying squirrel wings' were best for falling from a high up situation. He wasn't to sure about mid range heights, like a couple stories up, or from an out of control discharge from Baymax. The engineer had other plans for that: making a mini jet pack, and perhaps jet boots too, to add to his suit.

The two hovered a minute more over the wooded national park that stretched along the mountainous cost if northern California. Baymax awaited his next order, glancing at the brightening horizon of dawn. They had been out all night testing this, something that Baymax frequently reminded him about in addition to the vibrating buzz coming from his phone every other hour. The fifteen year old prodigy reassured him each time that today was Saturday, which meant no classes and he could sleep in later.

"Can you locate an unoccupied fire tower? Just so we can take a break before flying back," Hiro sighed, feeling his phone on the case attached to his belt buzz again.

Of course, the time it took them fly to the mountains upstate only added to the total time he was out for the night. He preferred that wooded area, apart from what San Fransokyo had, just because it was more secluded and out of the way of most air traffic. It was also perfect for flying and testing his limits.

The majestic Redwood forests were simply beautiful as well, and didn't have the kind of fire damage as the forests further south. Flying out there helped him clear his mind from all the demands of his SFIT projects, unsettling superhero calls, and everything else in between. It was over a year since the accident at the convention center, but sometimes those thoughts still haunted him. Finding acceptance about that may never happen. Yet… fire somehow still brought life, he would remind himself, upon seeing how quickly the scorched forests were reclaimed with new vegetation.

Baymax smoothly came down to land lightly on the narrow porch that skirted the small shack sitting atop a tall tower. The red robot didn't scan any signs of life there, but Hiro found himself glancing inside just to be sure so they won't get in trouble. Hiro tapped on his guardian's right wrist, the one that wasn't a rocket fist, to open the small storage space there. On these long expeditions, he learned to bring a car battery for Baymax to rechargethat way, lest they end up stranded in a bad way. That was Wasabi's idea, actually. He also put a bag of teriyaki beef jerky and a vitamin energy drink for himself, a tried effort after the persistence from Baymax to make somewhat healthier choices.

Leaning on the railing, a mouthful of jerky, the teen finally decided to let Aunt Cass know he was okay. He pulled out his phone and pushed the speed dial. "Good morning, Aunt Cass."

"Hiro! Seriously... why aren't you home yet?! All I kept getting were texts from Baymax, explaining that you were busy and would call soon."

"I'm sorry.. I was, um, doing some tests. Got a little caught up—"

"But you're not at the lab. The others told me you left the campus last night… where are you?"

"Jackson State Forest," he stretched the truth a little, as he was actually further up north in the Humboldt Redwood State Forest.

"Wh-why? Were you on a superhero run? Did you get any sleep?" her voice became more strained, instead of understanding. He wished she would understand that no news meant good news at times like this. If it was anything serious, Baymax and his teammates would be sure to let her know if things got so bad he had to go to the ER. While she knew that he moonlighted as a superhero now, he rarely explained exactly what they did on their outings.

"No, I really was just.. testing some things out. Don't worry, Aunt Cass… Baymax is making sure I'm okay," Hiro said, around another mouth full of jerky. "I brought breakfast."

"Hello, Aunt Cass," Baymax felt the need to supply as well, to prove he was with Hiro.

"I'm coming straight home after this, I promise," the youngest Hamada continued to reassure her.

"That would be in an hour, I hope."

"Yeah, about that much."

After the formal well wishes, Hiro pocketed his phone with a sigh. Nimble fingers popped open his can of energy juice, and he took a long drink. His tired eyes stared out at the darker grey horizon, opposite of the glowing sunrise, and tried to make out where the sky ended and ocean began.

Until something unnaturally small and bright marked itself higher up in the indigo colored sky. Something too big to be an incoming plane.

"Baymax, is that.. a meteor?" Hiro decided to ask, noticing how much bigger it was becoming the longer he watched it.

"My scanners indicate it is not. It resembles a space ship."

"What?" Hiro squinted his eyes, trying to make it out as it came in closer some distance away on his left.

"A metallic feline.. space ship."

Upon hearing his more detailed description, the boy genius finally could see the legs and head on the giant robotic cat. It was curled up on itself, keeping its back against the burn up from the friction of the atmosphere.

"But.. why?" he had to ask next. In all practicality, designing a ship to be a four limbed creature with a head and tail did not make sound sense.

"Should we ask it?" Baymax looked to Hiro, tilting his head.

Hiro looked back at his tall red companion, narrowing his gaze. "Are you trying to be funny?"

"I am a robot, I do not know how to be funny."

"Sure…" the teen shifted his dark eyes back to watching the glowing bright UFO ascending closer to earth, briefly reminding him of those movies about giant alien transforming robots. He was very certain now it was going to crash land somewhere in the forested mountains south of them.

"We should check it out though," Hiro put his helmet back on and grabbed his other things to pack them away. He also found it ironic how the watch tower served its purpose well for them.

Thin trails of smoke rose from a peak from one of the sparsely wooded mountain ranges, marking the UFO's location. Hiro banked Baymax in to the right as he circled over to look at the small crater it formed. The mixed smell of the smaller burnt pine trees and something else he couldn't identify filled his nostrils. Fortunately, there wasn't much actual fire around it now. He and Baymax weren't exactly equipped to put out major fires.

"The surface is too hot to touch," Baymax advised him when Hiro unlatched and jumped down. He nodded, stepping over the disheveled terrain to get closer to it. When he was a few feet away, the young superhero pulled out his phone to take a couple pictures. Just in case he had to alert the rest of his team, and, for some reason, they did not believe him. It was barely seven in the morning, afterall.

The robotic cat was huge, like about the size of a metro bus. A bus curled up on its side, more like. Despite the black scorching, he could see that most of it was a green color, with some accents of white and silver around the head and legs. The darkened eyes on it started to glow a soft amber, brightening for a moment and otherwise giving him a start when he noticed a weird blue grid shimmering around them. Then all of it faded away.

"How is this a space ship?" he backed up a little. Hopefully the creature's eyes weren't also lasers.

"I detect two life signatures. One is from a human inside, the other is unknown," Baymax responded, staying where he stood to keep watch. That statement could meant two things… either the human was eaten, or the human was the controller. He hoped for the latter, since Baymax insisted it was a space craft.

"Could this be something top secret?" Hiro wondered out loud, looking out around the area. If this was an alien craft, that alone should make it highly sought after. He did not hear anything like helicopters or sirens coming after this yet. "I wonder who else saw this?"

"The park rangers will see the smoke."

Hiro crept closer to it and crouched low to study how each panel connected along the side of the body. Where was the access port located to get inside? If there was someone inside, and if he has not come out yet, then was he too injured to do so? In observance of health privacy laws, Hiro had tweaked Baymax's programming to not immediately announce people's health information and ailments until prompted by the patient. Of course, in the event of an emergency, the healthcare bot would supply general data for Hiro's sake.

"Baymax, is the.. person hu-" Hiro could not finish his sentence when the cat's angular eyes glowed a bright yellow again. The giant robotic feline moved, rolling slightly to shift its weight to its front feet and rock back onto its haunches. He backed away quickly, just in case lasers started to fly. But then the sudden presence of a blue net-like force field stopped him from going further.

The startled superhero was trapped inside the translucent dome when he found he could not get though it. "Baymax!" Hiro turned, pounding on the shimmering field between them.

Baymax had taken action by firing up his rocket fist, but had just as suddenly stopped and stood at ease outside the grid.

"What's happening? Baymax?!" Hiro did his best to appear calm, even though he was completely freaking out as he turned to face the alien craft again. At that moment, the teen became captivated by the intensity of the robot's yellow eyes. Through this way, the Green Lion introduced itself through a series of mental images. It was part of a team of four other robotic lions, that combined to form a powerful robot warrior called Voltron.

Hiro blinked, shaking his head clear when the strange hallucinations ended. It was absolutely awesome to know now that there was this great robotic savior to rescue worlds from the evil in the universe, but he still had to deal with this situation at hand. He also decided the force field dome was a form of protection from whomever else may come to investigate. The lion did not wish for any harm to be done to him.

"So you are an alien…" Hiro whispered. But before he spoke his next thought that he was there to help, the lion crouched down to ground level and opened her mouth. A ramp came out next, inviting him to come inside.

Hiro rubbed his neck, stepping back just to look towards Baymax first. Hopefully he was still functioning properly after how he acted earlier. He tested that with a question. "Baymax, can you stand watch outside there. Just let me know if someone is coming, okay buddy?"

"Yes, I will, Hiro," the red robot complied, his voice also echoing through the comm-link in Hiro's helmet.

Here goes nothing… he thought before climbing up the ramp that went up inside the Green Lion's head. Maybe his thought about the pilot being eaten wasn't that much from being a far fetched idea.

After reaching the top, Hiro turned around to see a large cockpit area with wrap-around control panels. Some of the view screens were translucent, and the touch panels glowed a with green back-lighting and neon-esque buttons. An LED kind of blue-white light glowed from a strip circling overhead, so he could see clearly the real reason why he was there. In front of the white pilot's chair, on the floor against the base of the control panel, lay someone who looked smaller than he had expected. Much to his relief, he also looked very much human.

Hiro moved over quickly, taking note that the person wore a helmet, and white armor with green highlights worn on top of a black body suit. The pilot looked surprisingly young, but there was no sign of bleeding from anywhere at least.

"Hey, are you okay?" he shook the boy's shoulder. Since he didn't get an immediate response, Hiro pulled off his bulky gloves to check the pulse on the pilot's neck. There was one, fortunately.

Hiro decided to move the kid from the tight spot between the chair and the controls by pulling him out with his hands under the armpits. That action had finally stirred the pilot awake.

"Wh-what happened?" the pilot weakly asked, eyes squinting now.

"You crash landed," Hiro held the boy up on his legs as he knelt on the floor. The young superhero still had his helmet on, the visor still darkened, which could explain the fearfully uncertain look on the pilot's face.

"Who are you… Keith?"

"Just someone who wants to help," he responded with the scripted answer he gave whenever he was in his supersuit.

The pilot sat up more, away from Hiro. "Wait… how'd you get in here…? Where am I?"

"The.. um, your Lion? It.. uh, she invited me to come in," Hiro stayed in his kneeling position as he explained himself. 

The young pilot seemingly ignored him then, calling out to something else. Maybe a radio in the cockpit, or something in the helmet. "Allura? Shiro… Keith?! Anyone? Guys, can you hear me?" After no response, he thunked his helmet on the side a couple times, "Anyone able to hear this?"

Hiro just watched, trying to understand this himself, when the pilot took off the helmet to look at it. Medium-length, wavy, red hair was matted down all over, some sweat evident on the boy's forehead now. The longer Hiro looked at him, the more he started to second guess himself about this one's gender. "What's your name?"

The pilot looked up at him, looking evermore flustered and annoyed. "Pidge. But who are you and where are we?"

Hiro sighed, not really able to figure out the gender with that name. So much for that idea. He finally gave in and turned off his visor so his face was visible. He, she? Either way, the pilot sounded like a legit person he could trust. However, he wasn't willing to give his own name yet. "Um, we're in northern California."

"California!" Pidge stood up in surprise. "I'm back on Earth!"

"A helicopter is approaching," Baymax's voice echoed in Hiro's helmet.

"Who was that?"

Wow, this one doesn't miss a beat. Hiro also rose up, smiling hesitantly. "Baymax… one of my friends. He's outside standing watch. Who are you with?"

Pidge knit his brows, more concerned about what was going on outside. "Who's coming? Can he tell?"

"Probably the authorities," Hiro responded right away with a guess. His other internal debate still continued, only because he was not going to ask that question. Okay, maybe Pidge's a girl. The voice sounded really feminine there, and then her cheeks, and lips… Baymax could verify that though.

The young pilot slid back into the chair and quickly touched a series of buttons before grabbing two handles in front of the seat. "Doesn't sound good either way. I can't let them see my lion."

The biggest screen in front of them revealed a clear view of the forest surrounding, and the morning sun rising higher over the tree tops. Hiro quickly grabbed the back of the padded chair when it lurched backward and sideways a little as the Lion rose up on its feet. It occurred to him again just how super insane this was, to be inside a giant alien robot.

"I know… I know, girl. You need to run damage diagnostics, but we gotta hide. Like, now."

Pidge must be talking to the lion, Hiro concluded. He followed suit with his guardian too, "We're moving, Baymax. Take cover!"

The motion became shifty again when the robotic lion began a low crawl through the tall trees for a few minutes. Once the woods looked dense enough, the lion lowered to the ground. "I have the invisibility cloak up... should be okay now. Maybe," she sat back into the chair, rubbing the bridge of her nose now.

Hiro moved to one side, leaning back against the edge of the controls (but without touching them) so he could face the pilot better. "Seriously though, are you okay?"

There was noticeable silence for a moment before Pidge responded. He saw her wince sharply after she tried to exhale after holding her breath. "I got to find the others… hopefully they are not clear on the other side of the galaxy!"

Hiro nodded, gripping the side of the console he half sat on. The vision from earlier gave him insight about that. "Your teammates?"

"Yeah…" the pilot looked over to him, straightening up now. "You haven't said who you are yet… or are you part of a secret service?"

"Eh, not really," Hiro smiled modestly, showing his gap-toothed grin. He was fully aware that he avoided giving her his own name again. "I'm the leader of a scientific superhero team, Big Hero 6. Baymax is my robot… his primary directive is a medical nursebot. He can check you for injuries."

If Pidge wasn't sitting at attention well enough before, she was now. "A medical.. robot?"

"Yep!" Hiro stood up as his dark eyes meet with her intrigued ones, then thumbed to the exit. "We should probably get going… maybe leave this area."

"And walk..?"

"Baymax can fly," the teen said rather nonchalantly. He paused long enough to pick up his large magnetic gloves. "Just in case they are looking for us, using scanners… so we should get out of here."

"Wow…" despite her unmistakable curiosity about Baymax, Pidge still looked hesitant about leaving. It could also be that she wasn't been able to reach the others too. "We will be back later, right?"

"Of course… will your Lion's cloaking shield hold up that long?"

"It has before," she stood up more slowly now.

"Can you walk?" Hiro was quick to offer a hand for her support, noticing how she didn't want to put weight on her right leg. He stood a little taller than her, but he himself wasn't nearly as big as most other fifteen year olds yet.

"I'm okay… I must have been thrown into my control handles," Pidge feigned a brief smile, her hazel eyes wanted to dart away from making contact with his again. She stopped and knelt down by the back to grab a khaki green backpack tucked away there before continuing on.

"What happened to your team?" Hiro still shadowed closely after her down the ramp. He couldn't blame her for being upset about that. The young genius would be just as distraught, if not more, if his teammates just disappeared.

"We went through a wormhole.. that was warped by something unknown… which spun us out of control," came her paced reply.

"And so you ended up here?"

"Yep. The last place I want to be… really."

"How come?"

"Just… a lot of reasons," she kept her answer purposely short.

Hiro could only imagine what that could be. If Pidge was part of Voltron, then obviously she would need to be with the others, where the action was. Not here, sitting like a duck.

Outside the lion, Hiro noticed that the grid was invisible too. It displayed a weird shimmer when the wind blew across it though.

Stepping off the ramp had caused Pidge to buckle in, when her knee gave out. She breathed an obscenity in pain while straightening up again, this time allowing Hiro to put his arm around her.

"Baymax, we're going to need a lift out if here," Hiro alerted his robotic counterpart. Before he asked, again, the lion dropped the force field long enough so Baymax could come inside.

"Wow," she commented when the robot flew down vertically and landed. He walked toward them as the grid reappeared, only noted by the slight shimmer before it went completely invisible.

The tall, red healthcare robot automatically greeted the pilot in his scripted way, before proceeding with diagnosis. Except Pidge interrupted him when she moved in closer with her own prodding.

"What kind of armor is this? Is he hollow, or is the extra space inside for storage?" she was practically under Baymax's armpit, looking at the joints on his arm before walking around the back. Her hands ran over the surface of the red armor and electromagnetic ports as she spoke. If she was still hurting from her injuries, Hiro couldn't tell now. In fact, he never really seen anyone (well, someone who wasn't a five year old) be that interested in Baymax before.

Baymax appeared amused (or more accurately, curious), looking down at the small pilot person inspecting him. "It is protective armor that Hiro made for superhero missions. My original body is a non-threatening, huggable design."

"Ooh.. an interactive A.I. as well," she noticed how engaged the robot was with her queries.

Hiro cleared his throat, trying to get them back on track. "Yeah, he's crazy awesome. But we really should get going."

Regardless of this fact, Baymax concluded that Pidge shouldn't be standing, let alone walking, in more or less words. "You have injured the Posterior Cruciate Ligament.. also known as the PCL.. in your right knee. Possibly a grade 2 sprain, since there is some tearing and bruising that happened from hard blow to your bent knees."

Pidge just raised her eyebrow, looking over to Hiro. "At least it's not broken."

"It is recommended to apply the RICE method: rest, ice, gentle compression and elevation." Baymax continued.

"Can you dispense an ice pack?" Pidge asked him, rather expectantly.

"No, but I can apply a cold compress," the red robot began to pull off one of his red fists. The palms of his own hands underneath could become very cold for that purpose.

"Oh, no, no! Not now, buddy!" Hiro suddenly interrupted them, stopping Baymax in his tracks. He also gave Pidge an apologetic look, only because the sound of the helicopter hovering near that area was making him nervous. "Sorry… We should get away from here first, then we can take care of that."

"Would they see us if we flew out?" Pidge didn't wait to ask her other concern. The younger leaned a little bit on Baymax to take the weigh off her affected knee.

"Yes," Hiro nodded, looking once at his bulky gloves that he still carried. "We'll walk to the other side of the ridge before taking off. You can ride on Baymax's back, using these."

"Electromagnetics," she accepted his gloves, recognizing the connection between the ports on the robot's back and the circular conduits on the palms of his purple-blue gloves.

"Exactly," he tried to not smile in just realizing how much she knew about that. The teen also had his shoes, but he wasn't going to go that far in asking her to swap shoes with him. Even if it looked like that they practically wore the same size. "Just to lock you on."

"Are these blasters too?" the pilot already had one glove on and was looking at it closely.

"Um, yes. Careful," Hiro eyes grew wide with some concern, lowering them away from her face. That came as a cautionary habit after experiencing Fred's overzealous curiosity, combined with Wasaibi's paranoia. "Electro-blasters. I designed it so the blast was not as dangerous as laser fire, but still can stun an attacker."

"You made these?" Pidge looked at him.

"Yes..?" Hiro smiled modestly.

She just nodded further approval and pulled on the other glove. After getting into position, and otherwise not requesting his help, she activated her jet thrusters on her back to lift herself up onto Baymax's back.

"Let's go then."

Sweet.. I want- no, I need those! Hiro thought after noticing the thrusters on her suit.

Chapter Text

The three hid under a group of dense evergreen shrubbery sticking out from a cliff. Pidge fervently hoped that was enough to hide the large red robot that she rode on. Fortunately, it was also misty in places, which helped limit visibility. The cool dampness of the fog hung around them, giving her chills and otherwise making her wonder if the thermo-regulator on her paladin suit had malfunctioned. That, and the reality from all the sudden sequence of events was finally catching up with her, bringing on a state of shock. Much to her delight, the trembling made the pain in her ribs ache even more whenever her muscles contracted. No doubt she probably fractured a couple, which also was just wonderful. In fact, everything was starting to ache all over now from getting knocked around during the crash.

Drawing in a breath in an effort to calm herself, Pidge tried to relax her body as she lay on the back of the robot's smooth red armor. Her hands were held in place by bulky, almost-black gloves, electrically charged to hold fast in two magnetic portals. Her feet were fitted inside foot holds to give her more stability too. The foot holds must have also been magnetic, because she felt the metal in her armor attract to it. Not as strong as the electro-charge, but it was there. Sometimes she had to readjust her position to keep the pressure off her bruised knees though.

Somehow, after all the things she experienced over the last few weeks, all this didn't strike her as strange. What did make her wonder was how the robot felt much warmer against her body. She was certain his armor did not feel that warm to the touch earlier. Maybe that was what was messing up the thermo-regulation of her suit.

What bugged her more was how this superhero teen insisted that they leave the safe confines of her cloaked lion to creep around in the brush. And then she went along with it. Hopefully this wasn't a sign that she'd put up with Lance's escapades one time too many, and had become immune to the nonsense. Green was not positive about the idea of them leaving her there, but as long as the cloak stayed up, she was hopeful her lion should be safe. If they got by Galra sensors without detection, the human variety really shouldn't be of no concern.

"Is it clear?" Pidge finally broke the silence to ask them.

"Not yet. Thought I saw something..." the teen whispered from below, where Baymax bent down over him protectively. He thumbed over to his right, where some mist swirled around larger tree trunks.

Their hiding spot was near a dried up creek bed that was covered in shale and otherwise very little mud for any tracks to be left. She had heard some voices shouting to each other earlier about not seeing anything around the site. The Green Paladin still hoped it remained that way, for the sake of her lion.

It occurred to her that she hadn't been in woods like this since the time she found her Green Lion, covered under a plethora of shrubbery and thick vines on some unfamiliar planet. Pidge didn't realize how much she missed trees, let alone grass, and now she somehow ended up in a forest full of the biggest ones on earth.

Hopefully the energy from the sun and this forested wilderness provided enough life force for her lion. Quintessence. The youngest Paladin had wondered at first what it was that kept the Lions replenished and able to recover after a hard battle. It wasn't until she made the connection between the crystal in the castle and the energy that living planets held.

Pidge finally convinced herself that her mind was not playing tricks. The robot did become warmer for her sake. Baymax must have detected her discomfort, and she felt a little grateful. The warmth stopped her shaking enough so that she didn't ache so much. But her suit still tried to contradict the heat by trying to also keep her cool. She pulled her right hand free and pulled up a holographic display to disable the thermo-regulator. That made her wonder if she could tweak it later so it could localize regions of her body, and make it really cold where she had injuries. Pidge sighed, finally admitting that she actually missed the idea of a healing pod... as well as that flying castle, and her teammates.

For the love of Pete, where were the others anyway? Why can I contact them?

The paladin exhaled, but hopefully not very loudly as to not make her current company notice. It worried her when she heard Hunk say something about a witch attacking Shiro when they were escaping the ship. The way the Galra kept torturing him haunted her whenever she thought about it too long. Pidge gritted her teeth, blocking out the Black Paladin's anguished cries from when Sendak attacked the castle. Letting her emotions take over was not something she wanted now. She needed another distraction before her thoughts were consumed.

"You never told me your name," Pidge whispered to the boy again, hoping conversation would quiet her unease.

"Um… Hiro."

A straight answer, finally!

"Hiro?" she had to check, just to make sure she heard that right. Hiro, and not Shiro…. because there was a striking semblance, apart from the long strands of dark hair framing his face, much like Keith's hair. And because the way things have been going around here, also getting sent back in time was a possibility she was not going to rule out.

"Yeah, Hiro," the teen glanced up her way, before looking back out into the woods. He didn't seem very talkative right now. "Baymax, do another scan to see if anyone is near."

After a moment of long silence, the robot reported his results. "I detect someone. The life signature is: not human."

"Not human..?" Pidge echoed. She definitely had been in space too long, because her next thought was of something alien.

The sound of a small twig cracking from the cliff right above and behind her, combined with a noticeable snuffling sound, caused the green Paladin to react immediately. She slipped out of the gloves to scramble around to the front of Baymax, hanging from his neck. Baymax responded by bringing his arms up for support, to keep her from losing her grip on his helmet.

"What was that?" Hiro whispered, turning in place to look above them where roots hung down from the earthy ledge. At worst, it could be a search and rescue hound, and they would have no escape from its uncanny sense of smell.

"You are fast," Baymax told Pidge, and she could have sworn he sounded amused.

She held her tongue though, also realizing she was holding her bayard as it illuminated its soft green light into the mist surrounding them. Pidge quickly subspaced it and hoped that the glow didn't give them away.

The paladin still noticed Hiro's eyes shift back to her when she did, but his expression was more of curiosity rather than disapproval. Well, of course that would happen, but now she agreed that there was no room for idle chit chat. The Green paladin did feel a little silly now holding on to the red robot the way she was, and slid down out of Baymax's arms to crouch next to Hiro. Nevermind the fact her one knee was all stiff and swollen now.

The sound of an animal huffing and walking on leaves and branches continued above them. She couldn't tell what kind of animal, but it didn't sound like something small. Then a short guttural cry, something best described as sounding like a Wookie, had come from the lower ground in front of them.

Hiro stepped back against her, moving them under Baymax's cover.

"It is: a large, hairy baby," Baymax responded, possibly wondering why they were freaking out. Apparently there were some things about wildlife that the robot did not know yet. "Why are you afraid?"

"That is the reason to be afraid," Pidge corrected the robot once they recognized the furry, black bear cub amble closer to them. It could as well have been an unidentified alien, because the danger factor felt just the same.

"Yeah, the cub's mom might get protective and angry at us," Hiro further explained to Baymax. It was unanimously decided by the two of them that the sounds they heard from above was the mom. "No bear… go away. Shoo!" he whispered at the cub when it came closer.

Pidge groaned. This was getting evermore ridiculous.

"Oh... this might work," Hiro turned to access the storage compartment to pull out his bag of teriyaki.

"You're going to feed it?" Pidge blurted out. Okay, her trust in this kid's judgement just plummeted further. Only because Hiro didn't seem to be the type to have stress eating habits, like Hunk. And why did she keep comparing him to her teammates?

"No, I'm going to use it as bait, to lure him away," he was just as quick with his response.

Pidge still didn't think that would be to good of an idea, and crossed her arms.

"Then how about this, as soon as I get the cub away, we make a break for it. So.. can you get back up on Baymax?" Hiro suggested instead.

"Our patient needs to receive treatment as soon as possible," Baymax also reminded him of his top priority.

"Yes.. thank you, Baymax," Hiro sighed.

"And hopefully we will not be spotted..." Pidge reminded him also. But before they proceeded with this plan, there was one more thing that wasn't discussed yet. "Can I ask exactly where it is we're going to?"

"Yeah, it's San Fransokyo.. if you're okay with that," he shifted his stance, looking around them again to check on the bear(s).

"How long would it take?"

"About an hour?" he sounded rather questioning at that point.

She raised any eyebrow, because that did sound far away. What if the others came here in search of her? Hopefully they would be tracking the Lion first, and would try to contact her afterwards.. provided that the communication link on her helmet wasn't broken. And… well, the more she thought about it, the messier all of that became.

"Well, uhm... just no hospitals. Not ready for that level of 'what the heck?!' yet. But we are coming back here after I get fixed up, right?"

"Of course… yeah," Hiro nodded, but somehow he didn't sound as confident that time.

Rather than inquiring as to why that would be a problem, she let it slide. There wasn't a whole lot if time to waste right now anyway.

Finally picking up on her subtle message to 'move it', Hiro stepped out while opening the bag. "Here bear," the boy whispered, waving it at the curious cub. "Here, bear… yes.."

After mounting up on Baymax's back, Pidge looked around the red robot's bulbous wing to check on Hiro's awkward attempt to be a distraction. Here, bear? Seriously...

Finally he gave up on trying to draw away the cub, and just tossed the contents of the bag far away from them. The presence of mama bear coming into view very likely was the motivator. "Okay, it's a go!" she took that as the signal, and Hiro's alert came a few seconds later to confirm it.

Baymax hovered a couple seconds before coasting over to pick up Hiro. He held the teen close in his arms, and then the speed really picked up. Instead of going straight up right away, the robot continued his flight through the forest, zipping and weaving through the trunks as they traveled along the mountain side. That was just short of scary.

Pidge likened this to riding at top speed on a hover bike, due to how she felt like she was going to go airborne when the robot bobbed. Even with the magnets! That was absolutely not a feeling she enjoyed – at least not as terrifying as taking a nosedive off a cliff on an overloaded hover bike (no thanks to Keith).

Then Baymax took a sharp turn that just continued right into a barrel roll in between a couple close tree trunks that had the girth of a whale.

"Holyshitohmygod.. really?!" the words flew from her mouth but she doubted they were actually heard. The Green paladin clenched her fists tighter, and feeling very thankful for the magnetized gloves at this point, not to mention fully understanding why there were magnetic ports holding her in place. The upper cuff of the gloves also had become more snug so she did not slip out of them, something she was sure Hiro had activated with a wireless link after they took off. It was like that in her lion too. Some type of magnetic connection with their armored suits also held the paladins securely in their pilot seat so that they didn't get all jostled around during the crazy maneuvers.

But this was not at all like piloting a lion. Not even close… how was she even supposed control the robot?

Just when she had become aware of a small clearing in the trees, and hoped that this would let up, Baymax suddenly banked upwards toward the sky. The red robot really began to pick up speed and she was literally breathless from the wind blowing over her partial visor. She activated her visor to completely cover her face to remedy that.

Once reaching a satisfactory altitude over the Pacific coast, Baymax leveled out. Their altitude had dropped gradually as they moved further out over the coastline. That made sense though, just to stay out of the range of major air traffic. Or being picked up on radar. Pidge tried to relax, feeling a little more positive that they would maintain their cruising speed at this point.

She did not have the frequency with Hiro's com-link, but she could imagine the two were talking with each other. The robot turned his head slightly as if to check on her a couple times already. Then she saw just the hand of the boy giving her a thumbs up as if to say things were okay. She couldn't see or hear very much of him, since he still was down below in Baymax's arms. But if she was daring enough to let go, she would have gave Hiro a thumbs down. Or worse.

This was going to be a long flight.

After rocking back so she could lay against the robot's back and take the weigh off her knees, Pidge gazed out at the mountainous seaside below. Some places looked very rugged and unforgiving, while other shores were edged with narrow, sandy beaches. The smell of the ocean was noticeable from time to time, causing her to remember a particular conversation with the guys. Or more specifically, it was one that had turned into another competition of who had the best 'insert the blank here'. This time it was about beaches. Lance grew up in Cuba, and Hunk's family was from Hawaii. Keith rolled his eyes and left that argument, since he always lived in a big city inland, from LA to Las Vegas, before going to the Garrison. Unless you wanted to be funny and say that a desert was just one big beach without water. The same held true for herself, and she got up and went to find a quieter location to work on her laptop.

The whole thing was awfully ironic, really. The two paladins who wanted to go back to earth the most were not here, but instead she was. She shook her head, wondering why.

This wasn't her first time there either. A few years ago, her family went on a vacation driving along the coastline of California, from the Big Sur up towards Oregon. Since she had lived most of her life in the desert region of Nevada, seeing such mountains, trees, and rocky shores was amazing. Just being all together with her family made it even more memorable. That was the last real time she could remember feeling so connected with each of her family members, with no worries from school or work. Pidge closed her eyes and swallowed, in an effort to push back her emotions. Being back on earth stood as a unfriendly reminder of her first mission, to find her dad and her brother. This was not fair, being right back where she didn't want to be. The Green Paladin was so much more hopeful of finding them when she was out in space, hot on the tail of the Galra.

÷:÷:÷:÷:÷:÷:÷:

Hiro readjusted his body again, growing stiff from his cramped position in Baymax's arms. Traveling like this for a long time was anything short of comfortable, but considering the circumstances, he didn't have a choice. Fortunately, San Fransokyo wasn't that far away now.

He did wonder if Baymax was holding up on energy reserves too. There wasn't much time to check on that before shuttling out of the forest, and now he's carrying extra weight.

"Your battery level okay, buddy?" the young genius spoke through his comm-link.

"Battery level is: 42%."

"Not good… is that enough to make it? We're almost there," he frowned, noticing that they have been dropping in elevation significantly.

"Marginally."

That was not reassuring. Hiro bit his lip, considering his options again. Earlier, he had texted his first picture of the Green Lion in the crash site to his teammates, on his secured Big Hero 6 channel. Of course, GoGo in her snide level of sarcasm, wondered what the emergency was if he already rescued the space pilot. Hiro figured she wasn't in the mood to get up for something that trivial. Then Wasabi had to ask if space pilots were better known as astronauts. All Hiro wanted to know was where he could take her. He was hoping for Fred's place.

The fact he slipped up and indicated 'she' in his text, that got Fred talking (just when Hiro thought he was ignoring them because he was asleep). Trying to explain that Hiro wasn't sure if the space pilot was a 'she' only made that conversation even more awkward.

Then in mid-text, his aunt called. He let that go to voicemail, because a couple beats later it was followed up with a text in all caps asking why he still wasn't home yet.

So, the younger Hamada conceded and told his teammates he'll have to talk with them later in the day about this. Aunt Cass was ordering him to come home first. He has learned now that not minding his Aunt, when she was already pretty upset, was really not a Good Idea.

Then to make matters worse, Baymax's battery was scary low. If by a miracle they make it to the San Fransokyo docks, then that could be another thirty or forty minutes to lose their super suits, and take the subway and a bus line back to the Lucky Cat. That can't be an option, especially when Pidge can't walk.

How quickly could he get Heathcliff to intercept them in the helicopter instead?

Hiro pulled out his cell phone again to alert the team, hoping someone would respond again, quickly! It was rather humiliating to admit to this, but he really had no other choice.

G: This better be legit

F: Is ur space pilot actually an evil alien? And now she's attacking u?

G: Seriously, Fred

Hiro paused a second to think of the best way to explain this. If they were in range of his comm-link circuit, he would just have asked them to grab their helmets so he could explain better. Hopefully they would understand the urgency just from the texts.

Hiro: I need your help Fred… I know its sudden but its an emergency. Can Heathcliff come get me w the chopper?

HL: What happened?

Hiro: Baymax is loosing power. We r not gonna make it to SF

W: What did I tell you about the car battery?

Hiro: I have 1. Its just.. its a really long story. I need u to get us please Fred. My rescue can't walk well.

Fred wasn't responding so Hiro hoped he was busy negotiating things with the parties involved.

G: Unbelievable…

Hiro: Shut up GoGo

HL: Where are you?

Hiro: North of SF, near the coast

G: Fly to the shore before u crash into the ocean, genius!

W: Near Bodega or Point Reyes?

Hiro: Baymax will send a GPS point

Hiro lowered his phone, glancing up to Baymax to ask over the comm-link. "Baymax, Fred's going to come with the chopper. I need you to send them your GPS location."

"Battery level is: 29%."

"Yeah, I know buddy," Hiro sighed, patting his guardian's arm. "Hang in there… if you can't make it, just fly to the nearest land."

Hiro: Did you get the coordinates?

F: We R coming!

"Electro-magnetic ports are: disabled.. to r-re-serve eneergee," Baymax's voice was starting to sound distorted as well.

"Great…" Hiro set his jaw as his anxiety levels increased. This rescue was going to be such a spectacular epic fail at this rate. He squinted to the shore line some distance away. "Okay, you gotta fly over there to set down, Baymax. Now."

"Weeeee!" Baymax responded by banking hard to the left. And while stretching out his right arm that had been holding up Hiro 's feet.

"And don't let go of me!" Hiro added, clinging tighter to the big red arm. He also prayed at this point Pidge was able to hang on through all this.

Chapter Text

To entertain her restless mind as they flew, the Green Paladin decided to find the radio signal that the teen used with his robot. She held on with one hand while analyzing the frequency of her own signal on the holographic screen coming from her right wrist, with what she picked up from theirs. Pidge was getting close when she grew increasingly aware of the change in Baymax's flight pattern. The altitude had been dropping gradually as they neared the urbanized coastline.

She managed to catch some chatter about low battery levels before the magnetic charge suddenly released. Pidge's lightening quick reflexes kicked in and she grabbed ahold of Baymax's wing. Since her backpack was blocking her jetpack, she had to improvise. Even though it was entirely an unsophisticated way to use her bayard, Pidge had no other choice. She wrapped the glowing strand around the base of Baymax's wings to have something more to hold on to. Then the paladin secured her backpack in the bayard rope so her jet pack was free for use.

It was then Pidge remembered again how much stronger earth's gravitational pull was in comparison to being out in space. Or even when compared to the anti-gravity of the space ships. But when the robot-craft had taken a sudden nosedive toward the shore, that practically felt like a quiznaking bloody freefall.

The beach below looked narrow and was fortunately not a public one, but Pidge no longer had the time to think about that. Baymax came up short and barreled into the water a couple meters shy of the shore. The girl pilot quickly let go, but still got dosed in the spray of the water. Her legs hung into the water as she hovered close to them, just so that she was ready to help as needed.

The large red robot still managed to float, face down, possibly due to the air contained within his body. The armored teen also came up to the surface on the other side of Baymax. He sputtered and flailed a bit before finally grabbing onto the robot's arm, because the water was still very deep there.

"Hey, are you okay?" Pidge tested a frequency she found to talk to Hiro. She hovered closer by Baymax, holding onto his wing while using the jetpacks to keep her weight light so she didn't cause the robot to sink. Already she was assessing their situation.

"Yeah.. I'm really sorry about that," the sound of his voice crackled and hissed. "Are you— wait, how are you talking to me?"

"Found your radio frequency," she could still tweak the clarity of it, but getting them out of the water was more important. "I can push you guys back to shore."

"Those are jetpacks!" Hiro apparently was confirming another suspicion he had.

"Yep," Pidge positioned herself more into the water while bracing against Baymax's wing and body as she fired up the jetpacks to full power. It took a moment for the momentum to build, but as soon as it did she finally got them moving. Slowly.

Hiro started kicking his legs in the water too as he gripped the Baymax's right arm, to help in getting closer to shore. Because yes, the resistance to the law of inertia sucked at times like this.

"Are his batteries dead?" Pidge attempted conversation again, just to confirm what she heard. But who was she kidding, she was also itching to find out more about how this robot worked.

"Yes," Hiro kept his sights set on the shore. His tone started to sound a little more defensive. "I had a backup battery too, but.. something.. happened."

"How long do his batteries last?" she wondered, out of curiosity's sake. The whump of helicopter blades coming closer to where they were had froze her train of thought. That sound made her nervous again, since there wasn't very much brush or trees to hide in on the beach.

"Usually twelve hours, give or take," Hiro answered, hardly bothered by the noise. They finally got to a place where he could stand easily when he finally noticed her staring upwards over the coast. He looked up to the horizon to spot the helicopter in question. "That one's us, don't worry. My friends are coming to help."

"Oh… that's good then," Pidge breathed. She looked over to him, as he picked up the limp robotic arm to continue pulling the robot onto shore. He had more of that annoyed but nervous manner about him again. She took up the rear, and now pushed with her feet and hands instead, despite the ache in her knee.

"My saves normally don't end up like this," Hiro added, sounding a little more angry with himself than he did remorseful.

"I'm okay. Don't worry," Pidge sighed, filing it away that he might also be the emotional type when things don't go his way. "Just let me know how I can help."

He didn't get the chance to respond. They were interrupted with a new transmission from someone else.

"Hey good buddy! We need to airlift you out of there. Heathcliff said there isn't a place to land."

"No problem," Hiro stopped pulling all together. He looked up as the black Sikorsky helicopter with golden highlights as it hovered closer.

The side door was open now, and a colorful blue-green lizard monster with crazy eyes and a large toothy grin leaned out the opening. He had lowered a large harness attached to a cable for them.

"What the quiznak…?" Pidge looked back to Hiro. Hopefully this wasn't also some kind of circus act.

"That's Fredzilla," Hiro explained, reluctantly. "He honestly believes he's a kaiju monster."

"For real?" Pidge smiled briefly, just a little amused by the bizarre geeky nature in that.

"Are you okay, Hiro?" a more perky feminine voice chimed in next. "We came as fast as we could."

"We're okay. Baymax is out cold… but thanks for coming," Hiro responded in kind.

"It's all in a day's work," Fredzilla added.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

"Your visor's up" the tall, slender girl in various shades of pink and yellow superhero attire was surprised to see that about him when Hiro climbed into the helicopter.

The younger Hamada released her hand and slid over into the seat, sitting next to Fred. "It's okay, Honey… I already dropped my cover."

Hiro also saw that it was just her and Fred in the cabin space of the helicopter, with Heathcliff at the controls. He was expecting Fred, but was a little surprised that Honey Lemon had come also. His other teammates obviously would not have made it over in time. Hiro did know that Fred and Honey Lemon started dating over the summer. Regardless, he still had to scrub his mind after the next thought that popped into his head for as to why she was with Fred so early on a Saturday morning. There must have been a late Friday night 'something' involved.

"So, are you.. Paige?" Honey Lemon turned to greet the Green Paladin sitting by Baymax, who was laying on the floor between the two facing seats. The paladin had knelt with her injured knee stretched out, very likely because it hurt to bend it.

"My name's Pidge," she was quick to correct. Her name was mentioned briefly over the comms as they were coming up.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I somehow heard wrong," her Spanish accent was a little more noticeable, and she smiled apologetically. The tinted half visor on her pink helmet still masked her kind blue eyes underneath. "Are you doing okay?"

"Well… a lot better than our robot friend here…" the green and white armored pilot unwound her glowing green bayard rope from Baymax wings. She had started to pull at the harness next, and Honey moved in then to help lift up the robot.

"I'm Honey Lemon," the older woman smiled, sweeping her long blonde hair aside. "Are you from a space program?"

"Ooh.. she looks to be closer to your age," Fred whispered to Hiro, practically taunting him. His friend had understood that the cover was no longer needed around their new guest, and already had pushed back the head from his suit.

"Noo…" Hiro had suddenly become even more self-conscious, and hoped he wasn't blushing. Not only was she a teenager, but apparently a damn smart one too. Like him. "I'm not totally sure if Pidge is a 'she'!" he responded with an even more hushed tone.

"You keep referring to Pidge as a 'she', so..." Fred nudged him with his arm, bobbing both of his eyebrows.

"Cause… it just sounds better than 'he', or.. 'they'," Hiro reasoned. Fred had him so distracted now. "But.. I've seen enough pop culture that sometimes guys also want to look feminine."

"Heh.. right, buddy. Just go with your instincts," Fred just smiled, all too knowingly. He could be right. Usually was eyeliner and makeup involved with the Asian pop-star wanna-be's. They didn't see any on Pidge. Then there was that whole transgender thing.

The only irony about this was that Hiro had found himself, against his wishes, going undercover as a girl a few times in the past. All in the annoying pain of being a late bloomer. But finally, finally, he put his foot down on that. Now Hiro has to make an effort to shave every day, so that disguise fortunately no longer is an option. .

"I just, don't know how else to find out. Without bluntly just asking," Hiro crossed his arms, secretly hoping that this conversation wasn't being overheard. The two girls were chatting idly about Baymax, but he suddenly straightened up upon seeing that Pidge already had popped open the compartment in his robot's arm. She was in the process of getting him hooked up to the battery.

"Ah, and see! She's a techie like you," Fred mused, patting Hiro on the back. His friend meant well, but he really could shut-up with the match-maker act right about now. They tried that with Karmi, the last smart girl close to his age that he met, and that didn't go well either.

It just because science had shown that two polar positives will always repel each other. (Nevermind that Karmi was more into his make-believe superhero persona anyway.)

That is, in relation to chemistry and electromagnetics, that was. Because the attraction somehow reversed on him with the team's speedster. In reluctant agreement with GoGo's wishes, Hiro had conceded to take a break from being her casual boyfriend. She wanted to see other people, and thought Hiro should also do the same with someone closer to his age. That, and the fact she thought they needed to cool off, because he wanted to go further beyond just innocent kissing. That's the reason he kept going back on, that she didn't think they were ready for that. That he was going too fast, but she didn't have the heart to completely break up with him. It sucked not being 'old enough', sometimes.

GoGo reassured him she would stay on the team, and that she would still be a his friend when he needed someone to talk too, but he still felt unsure. Hiro remained doubtful about his chances, because he was not good about getting out to make new friends. Then being in college where practically everyone was older than him reduced his chances to null.

Yeah, and it was obvious that this pilot was only going to be here just long enough for the rest of her team to find her. What chance did he have anyway? It was a stupid idea.

"Um, here," Hiro finally snapped back to his senses and kneeled down next to Pidge, to show a more direct access port at one of Baymax's feet.

"Thanks," the Green Paladin glanced to him. She finally took off her helmet, and then swept a hand back through the matted, damp strands to put them more back in place.

Thankfully, Fred did not say anything out loud about her medium-length, untamed hair being like his too. He did see Pidge look at Fred, almost a double take, since it was the first she saw him after he had unmasked himself.

"Name's Fred," the older redhead with a tousled mullet pleasantly greeted the younger redhead.

"Hi," she responded, but turned back to her work.

"Just give him a moment.." Hiro said out loud, in response to how long it would take for Baymax to revive.

There were buzzing and clicking sounds as the fans inside of Baymax kicked back on. Pretty soon, the robot jerked, as if suddenly realizing his current status.

"It appears: I have fallen," the robot stated, but had not tried moving from his awkward position yet.

"Fallen is an understatement, but yes. Yes, you did," Hiro could not help but be sarcastic with his answer.

"I apologize for any distress I might have caused."

"It's okay. We're all intact," Pidge responded, albeit looking significantly amused again. It was clear now she also was greatly fascinated by robots. Like him.

Hiro felt his phone vibrate again, and then he suddenly realized what time it was. Fortunately, and unfortunately, his phone was the waterproof type.

He was also way late now.

"Hi, Aunt Cass," the teen answered gingerly.

"Hiro, what happened? It's already been two hours past, and you aren't home yet!"

Hiro winced slightly, holding his phone away from his ear. Apparently she was loud enough for Fred to also hear. His friend regarded him with a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

"Is that the sound of the helicopter I hear?!"

"Y-yes," Hiro sighed, trying to think of some story to tell this time. Or if he should actually just go with the truth instead. Except there were some details about the pilot that he wasn't sure about though, and ended up settling with a simple and direct approach. "Just ran into a snag… and Baymax wasn't able to ma—"

"Are you okay?" her voice actually softened for a beat.

"Kind of.. yes," Hiro blankly stared as the two girls trying to help Baymax sit upright without making too much noise.

"Then I want you to come straight home! I'm short handed as it is!"

"Yes, I will.. I really promise this time."

"There will be repercussions if you don't!"

"I'm sorry, Aunt Cass," he tried to sound as sympathic as possible.

Hiro ended the phone call and furrowed his brow in thought as he rested his head in his hand. His aunt certainly had learned to up the anty since the absence of his brother, just to keep him in line. The other three plus Baymax had noticed his pensive silence, looking at him with increasing concern.

"That was your.. Aunt?" Pidge finally wondered.

"Uhm.. yeah," Hiro rubbed the back of his neck, trying to not look that much rattled, and nervous. Again. "Long story.. but she's my guardian. Both of my parents died a long time ago."

"Oh, sorry," she seemed to have back-pedaled at that.

"It's okay," Hiro said automatically while he put away his phone.

"So, air drop over the Lucky Cat?" Fred confirmed with Hiro.

"Not quite..." Hiro made brief eye contact with Pidge with the intent that would let her know he had remembered her wishes. "Pidge is part of something that can't be found out. Something the government can't know—"

"The government?" Fred raised his eyebrow, a little unsure know.

"SHIELD isn't exactly 'the government'." Hiro sighed.

"They weren't 'government' enough to pull the Avengers together to ward off Thanos' troops," Fred pouted, almost teasingly, for being disregarded as not important. "And then write that all off as some kind of terrorist attack?"

"Shield?" Pidge wondered.

"Are you a super villian, or something.. 'not human'?" The older redhead answered her question with one of his own.

"No," she scoffed, finding that to be a weird approach.

"Then you have nothing to worry about!" Fred nodded.

"The SHIELD is a secret government organization that monitors and apprehends criminals that aren't exactly your run-of-the-mill human being," Hiro explained a little more on Pidge's behalf.

She just nodded, showing a little more understanding.

"And they also work with superheroes like us," Fred added, smiling proudly. "So, what got you in so much hot water? Are you a super of some sort also?"

"Eh, not.. exactly. I'm a paladin of Voltron, which is a giant robot weapon that consisting five robotic lions."

"Oh, that's the cool part. Pidge pilots a huge green lion… it was sick! They're like defenders of the universe!" Hiro chimed in, because just trying to imagine the full size combined robot still gave him shivers. It was like every one of his wildest robotic dreams, come true! A part of him secretly hoped he might get to see that. Totally.

"But before that, I was enlisted at the Garrison Galaxy, an aerospace institute in Arizona. Then one night I was outside with a couple classmates when an UFO from space crashed near there. Turns out said UFO was an alien escape pod that had one of Garrison's pilots – a pilot who had been abducted by aliens on a mission to Kerberos earlier! Except the Garrison didn't want anyone to know that, so they went after us when we intervened."

Fred's eyes suddenly got big, and he snapped his fingers and pointed to her. "Hey… I actually read a blurb about a conspiracy theory regarding some weird sightings in that area!"

"What did the news say?" Pidge's face suddenly brightened, showing more of her interest on this topic. And the fact that Fred wasn't nearly as tight-lipped as Hiro was.

"Wait.. guys? Sorry to interrupt," Hiro jumped in to cut their conversation short. Never mind how much he purposely used her name instead of a pronoun. "Since I have to go home first, I decided it'll be better for Pidge stay with you guys and Baymax. I'll go alone to the Lucky Cat to help Aunt Cass, okay?"

"Sure, that's not a problem," Fred nodded.

"Pidge will need medical treatment for numerous injuries," Baymax informed them, apparently agreed.

"Don't worry Hiro. We'll keep in touch," Honey Lemon nodded as well.

"I'll let you know when I can come back over too," Hiro smiled sheepishly. Hopefully he could appease his aunt enough to avoid being grounded. Because getting grounded would totally suck right now.

"Oh yeah.. Healthcliff, take a side trip to the Lucky Cat," Fred suddenly remembered to tell his butler pilot as well.

"How are you getting down without Baymax?" Honey Lemon voiced her next concern. She hadn't really heard too much about the new features Hiro had been adding to his suit yet.

"He's got flying squirrel wings," Fred nodded, slowly. "Dude can now fall, with style."

"Yup," Hiro was fitting on his gloves and then with a quick snapping action from pressing two ports on his belt, the flaps along his sides came loose. Of ciurse, Baymax had no concerns at this time, since it wasn't proven that the apparatus worked. "It'll work for now. See ya!"

"Be careful, Hiro!" Honey Lemon called after him.

Hiro pulled the door open and only took the time to look at the terrain below before pushing off the edge of the helicopter into a controlled free fall. It only took a fee long seconds for his flaps to billow up enough to catch the air pushing up against him. He wasn't exactly above his house, because it was too populated in that residential area. People would be sure to notice him. So he aimed for a more wooded area to the top of the hill, which left him a little unsure about being to close to the trees. Great cover, but so easy to get stuck in like a wayward kite. If not just hanging, in an unfortunate way, like a scared cat.

The tree dilemma was skirted all together, because having an excited five year old boy scream and laugh at him sounded better now than dangling from a tree branch with a possible broken arm. Aunt Cass was already beside herself as is.

Hiro quickly ran to the road, ducking behind a garage to pull off his armor and bundle it with his helmet behind a small shack by the garage in the alley way. He planned to get that later. The San Fransokyo hill from that point was straight down, and about five city blocks away from the Lucky Cat. This used to be the Hamada Brown favorite hill, when it came to testing out new go-cart styles, and jet-powered skate boards. He wished at that moment he had a jet-powered anything to get him to his destination quicker.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::

Pidge was mildly impressed, after watching that boy just casually leap from the helicopter with nothing but fabric between his arms and legs to glide down to earth with. He was becoming very hard for her to easily figure out. What she was not expecting to witness was the subtle level of respect that both Fred and Honey Lemon gave Hiro. They acted in a manner that shown that they were used to taking direction from him, despite how young he was. Pidge was sure the other two looked to be in their early twenty's.

"So how did you become a paladin?" Fred asked her, still very much curious about the whole thing. Her overall understanding of him was changing, for the better. The older redhead didn't seem to act much his age – how seriously could you take a frat boy in a giant monster suit? – but his willingness to help her with what he knew put her more at ease. Maybe that was because she had likened him to a younger version of Coran.

"Well, after rescuing the pilot from the Garrison, we decided to go look for more answers. That led us to a giant robotic lion, hiding in a cavern."

"Oh, hey! Was it blue?" Fred asked, much to her surprise.

"Yes! How—"

"That was in the article I read the other day!"

"What did it say about the Garrison?" she wanted to know. "Because since they were after us, and that Blue, the lion, showed us that the Galra were headed toward earth. That's when we went through this wormhole to bait them," Pidge supplied him more details.

"Were there three of you?" Fred continued to ask more questions. "It said you went missing in the desert."

"I was afraid of that. The Garrison covered up everything," Pidge furrowed her brow. She decided to leave the names of her teammates off for now. "There were my two classmates, and then the pilot and his friend. Five of us total," "

"What did the news say about you?" the tall blonde also wondered.

"It didn't say," Fred frowned.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they said we had died in a crash, cause it wasn't the first time the Garrison used that excuse," Pidge spoke in disdain as she sat back on the edge of the seat. She still sat on the floor in between them. Her knee was bothering her again, and she felt it would hurt too much to move up into the padded seat.

"That's usually how these things go down," Fred nodded, also making brief eye contact with Honey. She picked up on that, realizing that this group she was with also had to operate in secret.

"But it still doesn't make sense when you think about it… how the powers that be want to hide from the world the very reality that other alien civilizations actually exist, and want to harm us!"

"Isn't it?" Honey agreed on that point.

"You've heard of the Avengers, right? Like Ironman, Captain America… Thor?" Fred asked even another question, this time something entirely unexpected. Pidge finally concluded this one must have some kind of obsession for superheroes in general, because he keeps bringing them up. Honey Lemon looked much more contrite for Fred's numerous questions at this point. Baymax seemed to have stopped trying to follow the conversation a long time ago.

"They're real?" she responded to his prompt.

"As real as the aliens they fought! Thor is from Asgard, and his so-called brother, Loki, summoned the Chintauri aliens with a wormhole he created with the power of a tesseract crystal! But you haven't heard of the Chintauri yet? Or Thanos?"

"Not.. yet… but space is a big place," Pidge sighed wearily. She had seen all kinds of listed civilizations and charted planets in the data banks of the Altean castle-ship. The thought that the Galra weren't the only trouble in the universe that they had to worry about was just a little disheartening. However, it sounded like earth did have other allies to help them. Fortunately. "Our current focus is on stopping the Galra empire."

"The Galra..?"

"Yes. Have you heard of them, or Zarkon?" Pidge echoed the same question back to them.

Chapter Text

 

Being at the mercy of others wasn't always something Pidge had felt comfortable with, especially when the other people were ones she did not know well. Fred, however, did his best to make-up for that by talking with her about relatable subjects. He was definitely one of a kind in that his nerdy level of knowledge in science fiction - and how much of it was actually reality - came close to bordering on obsessed. That much was confirmed after they came to his personal quarters in the sizable mansion.

Okay, so she was a little surprised to see a life-sized wax figure of his alter ego riding a sabre tooth tiger – even if Fred was the only child of some wealthy millionaire.

Lance had nothing over this. Neither did her brother. Sigh.

At least Pidge was in like company, one that was accepting of her equally unusual situation and willing to help. Honey Lemon also held that sort of air about her which caused Pidge to believe that the tall fashionista had a level of authority as well. Allura left that much of an lasting effect on her 1to think this way, she decided. The tall blonde was much more amicable in comparison, however.

Baymax was far more fascinating to the green paladin, however. 'He' was a robot, and yet he seemed to contradict that fact by showing genuine concern for her well being. The healthcare robot came across as being personable, like he had feelings. But he was a healthcare robot after all, and it would be natural to assume that Baymax was programmed to respond to a patient like a human caretaker. Whoever programmed him must be an amazing inventor, and she wanted to meet him (or her) just to learn how they did it. She felt it wasn't Hiro, because he had not made any indication that he built this robot. However, she had figured that Hiro was a prodigy of some sort, since he was already going to college.

The ability for the robot to scan her with his hyperspectral optics coupled with electromagnetic radio imaging, like an MRI, to study the damage in her knee was very impressive. This method did not present the hazard that x-rays possessed, and the hyperspectral cameras looked to be effective enough if the electromagnetic waves may cause problems with those who had pacemakers. Fortunately, her knee injuries weren't that severe and didn't require surgery. Regardless, she had decided to tough it out with the hope that she would find the others soon. Then the healing pod could take care of that and the rest of her trivial aches.

The green paladin currently sat on a curved, crème colored leather couch. She had changed into her green and white shirt, and her baggy shorts. The others had made comment about finding some clothes for her, but Pidge had reassured them she had her own in her backpack. But since it was late September, and a lot more chiller than the castle-ship, she accepted someone's blue SFIT hoodie sweatshirt. The rest of her paladin armor was put inside a reusable shopping bag. Her helmet sat next to her on the couch, just in case one of the other paladins had by chance found Green and tried to contact her.

"Does it hurt when I touch here?"

"No.. okay, yes," she winced after the living version of the Pillsbury Doughboy shifted his finger to press lightly on a more bruised section near the top of her kneecap. The redhead promptly pushed the finger away, just to make that clear how much it hurt the more he prodded there. "Yes, that hurts.. thankyouverymuch!"

"My apologies. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?" Baymax had responded by now displaying a series of emoji faces ranging from happy for one to red hot angry for ten.

Was this really a question? Is it possible to express her emotion apart from the pain? To be honest, mediocre aches rarely slowed her down, but the sharp pain coming from her knee did make her stop and take notice. "An.. eight," paladin said as she curled her lip in disapproval, as if to match the emoji's expression.

"You also have: subperiosteal contusions," Baymax had turned away from her now, looking to see if Heathcliff had returned with the icepacks yet.

No shit, Sherlock, Pidge mentally cursed, finding it hard to not be sarcastic about the obvious. Her knee did look swollen where the bone bruising was, and she frowned again because the pain still lingered after being touched.

"If you're hungry, you are in luck! Breakfast will be served shortly too," Fred rubbed his hands together as he approached. He rested his elbows as he leaned on the back of his couch next to Pidge. She hadn't felt especially hungry though, even though she was aware of how much time had passed. The young paladin was more tired and worried than anything.

"Wonderful," she glanced slightly over her shoulder, then back to Honey Lemon. The blonde was preoccupied with texting someone about something on her phone.

Baymax relinquished by placing a cooling port in each his palms gently on top of her knees.

"So, is 'Pidge' like your nickname?" Fred wondered, trying to keep from smiling too much at her reactions from what Baymax was doing.

"Yes," she sighed, a little hesitant in going into that explanation. They knew about her dislike for the Garrison now, so was it that important to explain exactly why? "It's kind of a long story.. for why."

"Long backstories are what makes us unique," Fred quirked a more sincere smile in response. His tone was not insistent, as to not push her beyond her comfort level. But she could tell they used nicknames too, so it was also a valid question on his behalf.

"My real name is Katie, but I'm okay with being called 'Pidge'," the Green paladin admitted that much to them.

Fred's face seemed to have brightened after she told them this, oddly enough. He looked away, changing his expression. "I still find it flattering that half our team still goes by the nicknames I gave them."

"Especially Wasabi," Honey Lemon spoke up to agree.

"Heh, yeah!"

The new name did create a different mindset, an original idea of who she wanted to become. 'Pidge' became synonymous with bravery, determination, and a paladin that wouldn't stop at anything to find her family, all while defending the universe too. Shiro and Hunk were the same, keeping their Garrison nick names when introducing themselves to the Alteans for the first time.

Hunk explained once to her and Lance that he went by 'Hunk' because his real name was hard to say, and remember. Plus the name 'Hunk' reminded him of his little brother, who had called him that. As for Shiro, she figured it must have been his pilot name, like a shortened version of his last name. Though, it was interesting watching that phased reaction cross the older pilot's face the first handful of times Keith addressed him as such. It was like he had forgotten that identity.

Pidge sighed, reminded by the circumstances that she was in. It had been only a short period of time, but those guys have grown on her. Now Pidge felt just as driven to find her second family as much as her first. She also needed to get a hold of equipment capable of sending and receiving long range signals from space.

Heathcliff finally had returned with the icepacks, gauze, and some bottles of water for all if them.

"Thank you, sir," Baymax rose up and turned toward the butler to accept the medical items. Honey Lemon took the bottle of water from the cart, nodding politely.

"Breakfast is now ready," the butler formally told them.

"You're the best!" Fred added his appreciation while Heathcliff left.

"Apply the ice packs in fifteen minute intervals," Baymax advised her when he placed one on top of both knees.

"Thank you," she took the extra one to place on her tender ribs and held it there by pressing her left arms against it. They had also given her ibuprofen earlier for the pain and swelling.

"Do you need anything else? If not, I will deactivate once you say 'I am satisfied with your care.'" Baymax explained to her.

"That's just his way of saying he's tired, and needs a nap," Fred added, with a teasing grin.

She just looked at Fred with a cocked eyebrow, then turned back to Baymax. "No.. thank you. I am satisfied with my care."

He was programmed by verbal and auditory cues, and the artificial intelligence adapted to respond to the patients needs. Made perfect sense to her that the robot would want to go into 'sleep-mode' when his services were no longer needed. Especially after Baymax had practically crash landed with them on a small, rocky beach, due to a low battery.

"So.. Hiro said that you are also students at the University of San Fransokyo, right?" Pidge used the question to change the topic. Hopefully the IT Department had the tech she had in mind to reach the outer limits of space.

"Yes, that we are," Fred nodded.

"Even you?" Pidge realized too late she said that thought out loud.

Honey Lemon actually had to stifle a laugh.

"Yeah, even me," Fred stood more upright to puff himself up more. "English major, with a side of criminal forensics, right here."

Pidge just bobbed her eyebrows. Well, take that back then. The spoiled rich kid probably needed college to get a foot up on the real world, just to have something practical to do.

"Why do you ask?" he wondered.

"I'm not able to reach my team with the radio in my helmet, or through my Lion. So I will need to find a long range signal that can reach deep space. Does the university have this kind of equipment?" she turned in her seat to ask.

"Possibly," the older redhead scrunched his face in thought. "If not, I'm sure it could be built."

"That's what I am hoping for," Pidge sighed.

"Okay, I arranged for all of us to meet later for lunch. Except GoGo still has a few deliveries to make, and Hiro said he wouldn't be done with his shift until one o'clock, but he said it was okay to not wait for him," Honey Lemon spoke up as she pocketed her phone.

"So.. we'll start with breakfast first? Because I am totally starving!" Fred confirmed her news with his own statement.

"Well, of course, my darling," she humored him while standing up. The tall chemist walked toward Pidge, holding a hand out. "Here, do you need help?"

"Um, maybe," Pidge picked up her ice packs and stacked them together first, before taking her hand to be lifted to her feet. Yes, Pidge wasn't really used to this, but what choice did she have?

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::

A feeling of regret loomed over Pidge again as she quietly chewed the piece of savory bacon. She gazed at the plates full of sliced fresh fruit, muffins, and the nearly empty platter that held the scrambled eggs and bacon. All this was basic breakfast food, but it was food that she thought she would never see again in a long time. Especially bacon, because apparently Allura thought the way humans eat so much animal meat was rather barbaric. The discussions about food between Coran and Hunk got rather dicey sometimes, until the Altean finally conceded that the yellow Paladin really did know what he was doing when it came to food. Hunk still wasn't allowed to take anything from the planets they visited that wasn't considered some sort of non-sentient plant safe for human consumption, however. That didn't stop the big guy, after asking her to help in making equipment to test the composition of all sorts of flora. Her Dad would be so impressed of what she remembered of his scientific lectures on this kind of research .

Bacon, on the other hand, just couldn't be substituted, especially since Coran wouldn't allow anything resembling a wood-burning stove to smoke food on the castle-ship. So this crispy, smoked meat item on her plate was something that she enjoyed with some remorse. Maybe she could buy a few bags of jerkied meat she could take back with her?

Pidge also wondered when the others came to find her, if they would be able to stay just long enough to visit their families before heading back out? Would that even be possible, after all the misinformation their parents might have received beforehand? She still felt reluctant toward the idea of calling her mom. A visit in person would be better, but… the trip to get there would take even more time. There was no way she was going to risk the safety of Green by flying anywhere near the Garrison either!

The other two sitting on the opposite side at the end of the banquet table were having a hushed conversation about projects they were working on. Pidge didn't pay too much close attention, as she was caught up in her own thoughts. Because knowing what to do after this was something she wanted to be ready for.

When Fred's voice rose, asking the blonde chemist about the development of a serum that could alter DNA and enhance strength, Pidge couldn't help but listen a little more closely.

"Hiro's still working out the details to ensure stability before we test it," Honey Lemon explained. "On a lab rat."

"It would be so awesome if you two can make it work!" Fred crooned. "Instead of relying on that temperamental 'ol suit, I could instantly turn into a thirty foot monster, Hulk-style!"

"Yes, and having you rage around town like the Hulk is the last thing any of us wants!" Honey looked him square in the eyes.

"I don't really have much of a temper though," he smiled sweetly at her.

"Can't rush science.. okay, Freddie-bear," she responded in kind, tracing a couple fingers along her cheek.

Ugh. Pidge rolled her eyes, looking away before they noticed she was listening. But did she just hear them right? The redheaded kid wanted to be able to morph into a giant monster upon will? That.. that was unbelievable.

They have the ability to do that?

:::::::::::::::::::::::::

Hiro walked to the front if the café, after finally getting the okay from Aunt Cass to leave thirty minutes earlier than she intended.

Well, maybe he got a little help from GoGo as well.

She came by on her motorcycle to stop by for a 'visit', with the objective to give Hiro a ride over to Fred's. Of course, the thought of having to wait over half an hour more until one clock really tested her patience. So with much cleverness and plotting with Hiro, the two of them came up with a viable reason that Aunt Cass could not argue with.

Hiro finally put on his brother's helmet as he followed after GoGo to her shiny black motorcycle with yellow accents. His own helmet was getting too small to get on, so he had to settle with the slight bigness of Tadashi's. He planned to save up some money to get his own, because this wasn't going to work long term. Yet, GoGo wasn't going to give him a ride without a helmet (nor did he want to risk wearing his superhero one).

Hiro also looked forward to motorcycle rides with GoGo, just because it still hadn't lost its charm since she got the bike earlier that summer. This time though, he acted a little more reserved about it.

The younger Hamada was a little more careful about how he wrapped his arms around her waist, before he rested his helmeted head against her shoulder.

"Rough day?"

"Tired.. headache... plus Aunt Cass threatened to ground me again," he mumbled. How did his morning go downhill so fast anyway?

"Your fault, y'know."

"Hnn.." the younger Hamada didn't have much desire to say anything else. He did feel, at the least, thankful that she came to his rescue.

"I can't be held responsible if you fall off after zonking out," she continued to tease him, despite his heavy silence.

Hiro did not have it in him to snap back at her banter this time. He just sighed, his headache making it hard for him to want to sleep anyway. Nothing did not feel like it used to, anymore.

At the next stop light, the speedster turned her head to glance at him. "Okay.. what is it, really?"

Well, yes… there were a lot of things that he had been more hesitant about lately, like talking to her. He wanted to talk to her, but how candid could he be if she was wanting space. Now he wasn't even sure where to start, because at this point it felt like too many things to consider. So far, over a year had passed since his brother's accident, and now they were coming up on the first year anniversary that the five of them came together as superheroes to help him. Then there were annoying professors and challenging assignments at school, peer pressure from some of the jerks in his general classes… and an unnatural, stretch of quiet on the crime scene. Now, he happened across a young pilot who crashed down from the heavens, and talking about a possible alien invasion.

"Just tired," he responded instead, giving up all together on her offer to talk. Now wasn't a really good time anyway.

"Well, maybe.. you should get more sleep. At night?" she spoke loudly over the roar of her engine accelerating.

"I know…" Hiro sighed, but I miss you.. wrapping my arms around you.. when we sleep together. Those were words he could not tell her, lonely feelings he had to get over by himself. He really didn't want to open that issue up again either.

Hiro lifted his head up and repositioned his hands to her shoulders. The young genius exhaled, to refocus his attention on the scenery that whipped by to distract his thoughts.

In the slower traffic, she brought a hand to one of his, squeezing it slightly, as if to say 'I'm sorry'.

Chapter Text

 

Hiro walked beside GoGo as they entered Fred's mansion from the four car garage where she parked. They left their helmets back on her motorcycle, leaving their hands free. Except Hiro shoved his deep into the pockets of his maroon-colored hoodie jacket. He was as tall as her now, and sometimes wondered how much taller he would get. GoGo was wearing her black leather jacket, over a white, graphic t-shirt and a new black pair of full-length leather pants. She started wearing those more often now, otherwise making it hard for Hiro to not think how good she looked (aka not getting caught looking at her). Deep down, he still hadn't fully accepted her request for them to stop dating each other.

"Did you eat lunch?" her sudden question jarred his random thoughts.

"Um.. kind of."

"How do you 'kind of' eat lunch?" She still worried about his tendency to put his school projects, video gaming, and vigilante work over just taking care of himself.

"It was really busy!"

She just shook her head, loudly popping her bubble gum.

Hiro sighed as they started up the wide, flowing set of stairs. He couldn't blame his aunt, because she did her part to make sure he had three meals a day. It was just that he didn't feel like eating much earlier. His stomach was in knots from worrying about how much his morning sucked, and what the young pilot thought of him after that. Then the triple shot espresso latte that he drank at the café just made him feel worse.

All he wanted right now was something for his headache.

Two short buzzes came from his phone, alerting him of a text. Hiro paused on the steps to check it, just because. Honey Lemon certainly did her part in keeping him filled in with what he was missing while he was at the Lucky Cat. Fortunately, it wasn't much.

This time it was Fred, just Fred, telling him that the pilot's name was 'Katie'. Nice.

How? the young robotics genius texted back. Even though he felt satisfaction in knowing that the space pilot was indeed a 'she', Hiro was reminded again just how socially inept he was when it came to that kind of small talk, with new people.

"I'm the nickname guru - I kno 1 when I hear 1!" came Fred's response. Then an emoji of a cartoon character smiling with a twinkling wink and two finger guns popped up next.

"Shut up…" Hiro groaned audibly as he texted the same sentiment.

"Now what?" GoGo had paused also, noticing that he had stopped walking.

"Nothing.. important," Hiro muttered, pocketing his phone before starting up the stairs. The last thing he wanted to tell GoGo was about the girl space pilot, who was as smart as him and close to his age.

The speed queen just looked at Hiro a beat longer before picking up stride behind him.

Hiro felt that menacing anxiety take over more of him the closer they got to Fred's room. He couldn't explain it, and he felt irrational for suddenly feeling so jittery. Maybe it was because he felt threatened, self-conscious, that there literally was someone else who was a tech genius. She probably thought he was a complete idiot now, or something.

They walked into Fred's spacious room, and Hiro spotted Wasabi there too. The four of them were talking casually, stopping to look up and acknowledge himself and GoGo. Hiro ran his hand through his hair to sweep back his long bangs, something the young genius tended to do more of when he was nervous.

Fred stood up to greet him, casually draping an arm around Hiro's shoulders. He must have noticed his troubled expression as well. "Hey, buddy, you got nothing to worry about. We've been taking good care of the Pidge."

"Yeah, thanks…"

"Or did you have another fight with GoGo?" Fred whispered, leaning into his ear as he gripped the younger Hamada's shoulder. The older fanboy had become his best friend over the year, and despite all his weirdness, Hiro had come to appreciate the laid-back redhead's friendship.

"No.. she actually helped bail me out," he responded just as quietly. "Just running on fumes now."

"Cuz sleep's for the weak, right?" he just chuckled, letting the small noodle have more space.

"Yeah…" Hiro half smiled, before admitting to how he really felt. "Um.. you have anything for headaches?"

"Yeah.. sure."

"Thanks," his attention was averted to the others. Honey Lemon had approached GoGo to fill her in, while Wasabi sat opposite to Pidge at the end of Fred's crème colored couch.

"Hey," the team's swordsman acknowledged Hiro with a nod when he walked over. His long thick dreads where held back with a hair tie. With the cooler weather setting in, Wasabi had on his favorite green Irish wool sweater again, contrasting against his dark complexion.

Hiro nodded to the big guy, then turned to the smaller girl pilot who had her legs propped up on the coffee table with ice packs all over her knobby knees. He realized she was wearing his old SFIT sweatshirt too. Geez, why? Well, he did stash some of his clothes at Fred's now, but… ugh. The younger Hamada swept aside his dark bangs again, hoping he wasn't looking even more awkward, and cleared his throat.

"Ar- are your knees going to be okay?" he asked, standing next to her. Baymax wasn't around now, so it must not have been that bad.

"Yeah. But it's not anything I can't handle," Pidge said that in a way that sounded like she was getting tired of explaining herself. He must be one of the last to ask. Yet, her expression softened, looking like she wondered the same about how he was. She didn't ask though.

Hiro decided to shift topics anyway. "I take it you met Wasabi also?" he glanced to his other teammate in question.

She nodded.

"Why.. do you keep introducing me as 'Wasabi' to every new person we meet, out of costume?" Hiro heard him whisper his question to Fred, standing close behind him. The relentless fan boy just responded by smiling smugly.

"The name's GoGo," GoGo took lead in introducing herself next, looking at Pidge from the far end of the couch. She finished that statement with a pop of her gum and crossed her arms.

Hiro thought she saw Pidge raise an eyebrow from behind her round, rimless glasses she was now wearing. "I'm Pidge, your resident 'space nerd'," she said in return, with about as much satire. "Or, more formally, the Green Paladin of Voltron."

"Voltron?" GoGo echoed, sweeping aside the purple-red strands of her long bangs.

Hiro mentally facepalmed. Somehow she must have missed that memo.

"It's a big, giant space robot who fights—" Fred jumped in, face aglow.

"A robot which is formed when five mechanical lions combine," Pidge cut in to elaborate.

"Yeah, a huge robot made from five robotic cats, who guards the g—" Fred nodded, explaining with his hands open wide now.

"Defends…" the green paladin felt to correct him.

"—the galaxy from evil aliens!"

"Zarkon, in particular," Pidge supplemented again. Only because she probably didn't want to be aligned with Star Lord's bunch. At least that was what Hiro guessed, knowing what Fred must've been telling her.

GoGo shifted her gaze between Fred the super fan, and back to Pidge, chewing her gum in thought and arms still crossed. "Right."

"Didn't you see Hiro's picture of her robo-cat?" Fred stepped in closer to ask GoGo.

"I haven't looked at all your texts yet, so.. no."

Fred pretty much took over in his behalf as the redhead debriefed GoGo on everything else, despite her stand-offish attitude.

Hiro nearly jumped from surprise when Heathcliff had touched him lightly on his arm to get his attention.

"Excedrin, sir," he offered the young genius a small, paper cup with the pills and a bottle of water.

"Um.. thank you.. sir," Hiro smiled modestly as he took the items.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Pidge did not feel the need to say much more, as it seemed they knew already that she was a 'space pilot' with a unique designation. Yet, the way Fred used the 'space' adjective to describe things in itself secretly amused her, only because Lance and Keith made that descriptive tag a running gag when they couldn't think of a better term. So utterly scientific.

Fred and Honey had already gave her a rundown of the others as well. Honey introduced herself as a chemist specializing in industrial applications , Wasabi was a quantum physicist who welded duo plasma swords, and then GoGo was their mechanical engineer with a knack for speed. She also had a deadly accurate aim with her disks and remarkable close combat skills, but it was her unwelcoming attitude that turned Pidge off right away.

While she wasn't much of a conversationalist, the Green paladin took some pride in her observational abilities and ability to decipher all kinds of programming code. Maybe that was why Shiro and Allura opted to designate her as the team's infiltration specialist. She was the youngest, albeit also the smallest, but it was her veracious calculations that had earned the respect from the others.

Fred didn't say much more about Hiro, apart from describing him as the team's young genius. Maybe it was because they thought he already explained himself, which in reality was not much. The teen's long bangs framed his dark eyes, somehow reminding her of Keith. But unlike Keith, Hiro's tousled hair was shorter in the back. When and if he smiled, she noticed Hiro also had a gap between his front teeth. She wasn't ever going to openly admit to it, but that feature was kind of cute.

Pidge glanced at the Asian genius again, a little more worried about his condition now. His sour expression made her wonder if he was not well, or if he just tended to be like that. But when the butler came by with some medicine, Pidge went with her first guess.

Hiro set the water bottle on the table, after pocketing the crumbled, paper cup in his sweatshirt. "Okay.. um.. here's what we are going to do," he spoke a little louder to get everyone's attention.

For some reason, it still amused her how young the boy was, and yet he presented himself as the one in charge of all these older college kids. Were his smarts that impressive too?

"Since Pidge needs to contact her team, we're going to the labs first to see if there's something there she can use, or make, to reach them. Then… she needs to get back to her lion.. which is in the Humboldt woods," Hiro continued.

"Humboldt? You were all the way up there?" Wasabi suddenly questioned in surprise. Pidge silently wondered again the same, since he hadn't really told her a whole lot about why either.

"Yeah," Hiro apparently wasn't in the mood to expand on that prompt, and stayed on topic. "Her lion has a force field type of shield around it to keep people out, but it's not that well hidden."

"Green has a cloaking device, making her invisible," Pidge supplemented. She didn't want them to worry about her lion being in plain view, but the Green paladin still felt that urgency of not wanting to be away for long. "She also sustained a lot of damage, so I hope she is able to hold up."

"Makes sense," Wasabi nodded.

"She? How is a robot a 'she'?" Fred whispered, but he was still audible enough for her to overhear him. The others had ignored his question. That was, she decided , something that can't exactly be explained simply anyway. It was just the feeling that she got when she linked with Green and the others. Like Black and Yellow felt more masculine, due to their designations. Green and Red were more feminine in their personalities, but she wasn't quite sure about Blue. That one felt like either gender, depending in the situation, just to keep the peace. It was all those different qualities that helps them stay balanced mentally and emotionally when things get dicey in battle, from what Coran was telling them.

"For now, we'll break up too. Wasabi and GoGo, come with me to the labs… and you and Fred, you're on standby, with Baymax. Take a break, unless a call comes in for something," Hiro finished by talking directly to Honey Lemon.

That was the spoken part of it though. Pidge decided the helicopter would attract the wrong kind of attention, and there was no doubt he was going to test Baymax's limits flying back up there again with more of the others. They had no choice but to drive back.

"If it's okay, can we take out your Green Machine?" Hiro then turned to ask Fred. "Wasabi and GoGo would take turns driving… unless Heathcliff prefer they not."

Pidge pressed her lips together, to suppress her smirk when Hiro made the call that she guessed. But… green machine? What?

"Y'know.. maybe Heathcliff should drive. I'm not very comfortable about driving someone else's SUV, high up in the mountains," Wasabi feigned a smile while declining that suggestion. He glanced nervously to GoGo, and didn't really want to say anything more in her behalf. That exchange did not look very friendly, however.

"Uhm, I can see if he's free for the rest of the day," Fred didn't sound very positive. "But I could drive, if no—"

"No. No way," GoGo immediately pushed Fred back, then turned to face Hiro and Wasabi. "Really, I can drive. Get over it, Wasabi."

Apparently there was something that had happened in the past that was strongly affecting this call. Wasabi let more of his apprehension show as he protested. "Is it necessary that I go?"

Pidge glanced to Hiro for his decision, recognizing the all too familiar, cowardly response. Was it common for many big guys to be big babies about ridiculous stuff?

"Aish.. we're driving this time, and not flying on Baymax! What's the problem?" GoGo yelled at Wasabi, taking the matter into her own hands.

"It's in the mountains, it'll get dark, and going into inhabited territory - perfect for ending up in some ravine!" he contested just as strongly in response. "And, how.. trustworthy are you?"

The shorter Asian woman narrowed her eyes to a menacing glare. "Really?! That happened a year ago!"

"I'm still paying for it, no thanks to my crappy insurance company raising my rates..." he muttered.

Pidge wondered if she should say something now about them not even worrying about this if it was going to be such an issue. She just needed to get supplies, and to head back to her lion somehow. Everything else she could manage on her own.

"Which is why we have the Green Machine for these kind of missions!" Fred interjected in his own way to defuse the petty argument.

"Yeah, c'mon guys. Stop fighting!" Hiro spoke up to voice his opinion while he placed a hand on GoGo's shoulder. He shifted his gaze between Wasabi and GoGo. "It's because I will need your mechanical expertise for this one."

Wasabi finally sighed, conceding to the terms of at least going. "When are we leaving?"

"Now," Hiro volleyed. "But we're going to the labs first to get supplies."

"Right."

As the others turned to get ready to leave, Hiro stayed to ask if Pidge needed help standing up and carrying her belongings. She found herself hesitating a moment before agreeing to let him, after piling all the ice packs on the table.

"I know it probably sounds like a stupid question, but I have to ask. Just what is a 'Green Machine?'" the red headed pilot asked him, meekly. Only because she was imagining this armored army tank for a vehicle, that hopefully does not also shoot blackened large pizzas for defense.

The fair-skinned teen snorted in response, smiling slightly before answering. "It does sound like a dumb name… Fred's idea! But it's a Range Rover all of us rebuilt over the summer. Fred and his dad are also into eco-friendly stuff, so the SUV uses alternative fuel sources to reduce emissions ."

"So that's what makes it 'green'," she steadied herself after Hiro pulled her up.

"Yeah… it runs on the old deep frying oil from my aunt's café. We added a few other features too, but nothing like the Bat Mobile or anything," Hiro didn't hold eye contact with her very long.

It was her turn to laugh, strangely a little more nervously than intended. Why Pidge asked this next question, she did not know. She definitely did not have the time for that. "Can it cloak itself too?"

"Eh.. no," Hiro shouldered her back pack and picked up the other bag carrying her armor.

"Would you like it to become invisible to radar?" Argh, her mouth was not shutting up! In all reality, she was able to accomplish how to make cloaking possible on Green after sensing the Lion's clues on what she could upgrade.

"You know how?" His eyes lit up, smiling enough so that his gap between his front teeth showed again.

"I do now," Pidge just smiled, feeling heat suddenly rise in her cheeks for some ungodly reason. Maybe it was because she spoke his 'language'. Yes, that's it.

Hiro kept smiling as they headed out, which alone was significantly different after how he looked when this whole meeting started. He was such a dork!

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

So that new idea from the space pilot somehow turned Hiro's fretful mood upside down. An invisible car! Wow… even Fred had mused that concept a while ago (because he still teased them about his invisible sandwich), but they hadn't fully thought about it seriously before since it was just that much of a challenge to figure out.

The whole argument that erupted between Wasabi and GoGo did surprise him though. GoGo was right. It was a year ago now after that whole incident from being chased by microbots, where she inadvertently deep sixed all of them inside Wasabi's van, into the San Fransokyo bay. He didn't like to think too much about that anymore, but at least her efforts stopped Callaghan from trying to kill them though, right?

But really, if he was old enough to finally drive, Hiro would do it himself. It did annoy him having to ask for a ride when the public transportation system, or Baymax, wasn't an option. From the time he turned fifteen, Hiro made it one of his primary objectives to learn how to drive so he can get his driver's permit by the time he was sixteen. 'Hiro behind the wheel' was too much of a scary thought for Wasabi to accept, let alone allow, but GoGo agreed to show him how to drive and maintain Tadashi's old moped at least (well, as far as what a fifteen year old with a death wish for blazing speed would be allowed). Aunt Cass also conceded in signing him up for driver's ed school in January, only because she wanted him to be a little bit older. It was the question she'd been asking him a lot lately, 'Shouldn't you be a little bit older before x, y, z?' What else was his aunt going to expect when he's always the youngest in his class?

The four of them were in the Range Rover now, heading out to SFIT. GoGo had taken shotgun, after Wasabi redeemed his dignity by taking the pilot seat. Hiro secretly bet to himself that would change when they would drive up north after the labs.

His phone buzzed, and he pulled it out to see why. It was Fred again, to some relief. A part of him expected his aunt. At some point soon, Hiro felt he would need to tell her he was going to be out late again. If he didn't, that was when the threat about being grounded loomed over his conscious.

"U forgot Baymax," his text said.

"S ok, I left him w you guys n case you get a call or something," Hiro sent back his response.

"Or if u need re n FORCE ments?"

"Hope not," Hiro scrunched his face as he texted his response. He also had planned to take one of his other robots he had at SFIT for this trip too.

His phone alerted him of another text from Aunt Cass coming in.

"Will you be home for dinner, sweetie?"

"No. Can you make something for the road?"

"Literally"

"For 4 ppl"

"Where are you going?"

"Just testing something new on the Green Machine," he bended the truth. Mainly because Pidge didn't want him talking about her, and that it did sound like a possibility that she may work on a cloaking device for Fred's SUV.

"When will you stop by for it?"

"Prolly…. Im not sure yet," Hiro pressed his lips together as he knitted his eyebrows in thought. It was almost two in the afternoon and he wasn't sure how long they really would take at the lab.

"6pm?"

"I will let u know," his fingers typed the words. Hopefully Aunt Cass was okay with this, since she was going along with his request.

Hiro sighed, looking away from his phone, and just so happened to glance over to Pidge at the other side of that middle passenger seat. The redhead must have been looking at him, because she quickly looked up to the front the moment he lifted his eyes in her direction.

 

Chapter Text

 

Since they were going to SFIT first, everyone stayed in their street clothes for the drive into campus. Sitting in the backseat with Hiro, Pidge noticed he was texting someone. He was scrunching his face slightly and running his hand back through his hair as he looked at his phone. Just the way he was acting made her wonder briefly what the concern was.

In all actuality, seeing everyone on their tech caused her to itch for her own again. Pidge had already looked at her old schematics on her laptop when they were at Fred's place. She felt it was not necessary to look at them again for the equipment needed to send transmissions into deep space. She had updated the changes earlier, but there was not much more she could do until she had the parts.

Her own phone, however, she hadn't looked at that for some time now since the Altean hand-held devices were fair more advanced. Its battery was definitely dead now, and she hadn't made the effort to charge it yet.

Even though Lance didn't say it outright, the Green paladin noticed that their resident loudmouth was having a hard time accepting the fact his cellphone had devolved into a glorified iPod, out in the depths of space. He asked once if she could find a way to transmit anything to earth. That was a big if. Without access to internet or cellular satellites, there was no easy way to be in touch with their earth families.

But all she wanted was a way to find out if her Dad and brother were okay, so that many of her growing fears would be eased. Getting in touch with her mom weighed heavy on her mind. Just to let her know they had found Shiro, and that she was looking for the rest of their family. Then she wondered how many texts and emails would blow up her phone once she charged it up, now that she was back within range of service.

Pidge suddenly became aware of Hiro looking at her, some curiosity evident in his dark eyes. She realized she must have been caught up in her thoughts, her gaze locked in his direction. Feeling embarrassment for staring, the redhead looked away. Hiro's eye contact was brief, just to show he had noticed her, but the boy genius seemed to let it slide as he turned off his cell.

"Hey guys," Hiro leaned forward to grip the driver's seat in front of him. "Aunt Cass is gonna make us something to eat later, so we'll need to stop by there after leaving the labs."

"Sounds like a plan," Wasabi acknowledged him.

"Any preference, like sandwiches or bento boxes?"

It took a moment for Pidge to remember what a bento box was, but it was then she realized she was more grateful just to be eating recognizable food. She thought she was a picky eater before, but after having her food choices limited drastically, she felt like just giving up on eating at times.

"Kimbap bento?" GoGo suggested.

"Sure," Hiro shrugged.

"Bento," Wasabi said.

Hiro glanced over to Pidge, again.

"Whatever is easiest," she just smiled politely. "After the 'food goo' I've been eating for the last couple weeks, anything else would be a welcome change!"

"Food.. goo?" Wasabi made a face as he looked away from the road to her.

"Well, its Altean name was hard to remember, so that's what the guys called it. The goo is like.. green pudding that tastes like a lot of different vegetables pureed together," she elaborated.

"Tasty…" Hiro twisted his face, very much sounding sarcastic.

"So.. there are aliens out there.. who are like us?" It finally seemed like everything they have been telling the big physicist was finally sinking in.

"Yeah… it's true. I mean, you have to go beyond our own galaxy, but there are so many other civilizations – whole worlds out there – with inhabitants who look similar to humans, and have equivalent cultures and food types," Pidge opened up a little more with what she experienced, because it also dawned on her that what she had seen were things the typical person on earth had never been aware of before. Yes, a lot of it has been a cover up just because the governments of Earth, for some reason, thought the truth would be too alarming for humankind to comprehend. It was so very stupid, after she had seen how knowledgeable the Alteans were about all reaches of the universe. The funny thing was that she didn't even think of Allura and Coran as what one would expect as an 'alien' now.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, Hunk was the first to be so bold in testing some of the new alien plant types to expand their menu. Needless to say, not all of it went down smoothly if it smelled or tasted downright revolting. "There were some things that we had to be careful about though… caused some gastrointestinal issues afterwards, but.. yeah, there's a lot of edible substances."

Wasabi nodded, and further explained himself also. "Sorry for asking all these questions. I just want to know what we're getting into, before we get into it."

"Understandable," she shrugged, shifting in her seat to stretch out her stiffening legs. These details she had become accustomed to talking about, and actually found it to be a interesting topic that she did not mind discussing.

"Oh... how do you communicate with them?" the physicist rebounded with yet another question.

"Our Paladin suits have built in translators. It's hard to explain how that tech works… or even how the Alteans knew how to speak English too, but it hasn't been an issue.. yet," Pidge had found his questions to be really thought provoking. They were ideas only she and Hunk tossed around with Shiro sometimes, but Allura or Coran never cared to elaborate on. The Green Paladin hadn't really taken the time to dig that much into the castle-ships logs yet either. "But since we found the Blue Lion in Nevada a month ago, it's possible that Earth was tied into Voltron's past.. somehow."

"They have been here before? Like when?" Hiro took a turn asking a question.

"I'm not positive since we weren't able to run tests on how old the drawings in the cave were... but it could have been anytime when we were primitives to the Native American Indians. I do know the Alteans had their planet destroyed ten thousand years ago… not sure if the Lions were moving around to different hiding spots after that," it was a question they never got a direct answer from Allura or Coran. Probably because they themselves were just as clueless since being in cryosleep all that time.

"What were they hiding from?"

Didn't she explain that earlier? Or maybe Hiro missed that part.

"Zarkon. He wanted the power of Voltron under his command," Pidge elaborated a little more. "Even though Zarkon had the Black Lion, King Alfor sent the others to different corners of the universe."

"Did that work?" Hiro looked to her.

"Yes and no… Zarkon had fought and killed King Alfor to take control. The Galra were able to find the Red lion somehow... we had to rescue her from a Galra warship," Pidge speculated. To be honest, it was a question all of her team mates wondered about. What really happened to the other Paladins? Who were they, and did they get killed protecting the lions, or were they taken as prisoners… or what? It was natural to worry, because sometimes.. that fear of the same happening to them was haunting.

"Do those aliens really live that long of a time?" Hiro asked. It was a valid question, even though it occurred to her she had not thought of the Alteans as 'alien'. They just seemed more like a different race of people from earth, if that was even possible!

Hiro continued, deciding to expand on his first question for Pidge. "They sounded like a really advanced civilization.. in comparison to us humans. So how is it they picked you? Did your teammates all come from Earth?"

Pidge wasn't sure if she liked the nature of that question or not. It was a fair question, because he was right. All of them for Voltron this time were from Earth, and at a fairly young, inexperienced age, no less. She didn't even have a drivers license, let alone any piloting experience, before she was told she was going to be Green's Paladin. "It all happened kind of fast, to be honest. But.. maybe I should start all over with this… I— well, okay, I told you that my dad's space mission to Kerberos had failed, right?" Pidge looked to Hiro. She was getting a little more fatigued at this point, and couldn't recall clearly what she said earlier on the helicopter before Hiro had the leave.

"Uhm… you told us there was a UFO that crashed near the Garrison school you go to, and your classmates helped rescue a pilot that was from the Kerberos mission. Wait, was.. that pilot your dad?" Hiro looked a little more surprised.

"No… Takashi Shirogane was his pilot. My dad and my brother were space scientists. The Garrison had reported that they died in space due to a pilot error.. but.. I refused to believe it," Pidge explained, her tone softening as she did. And yet, she noticed Hiro's expression become a little more sullen.

"After hacking into the Garrison's computers, I saw footage of what really happened to the three of them. Aliens," that was all she cared to say about that, before getting back on topic. "So I build equipment to listen in from anything that comes from space, kind of like SETI. That's when my other two teammates followed me out to see what I was doing, and strangely enough… that's when the UFO crashed down."

The others actually didn't have anything to say when she paused for a moment. The Green Paladin sighed, deciding to add a little more. "After the crash, we had to see what was going on, because it was causing a lot of alarm. Turns out there was this other guy who used to be at the Garrison, who had some kind of weird foresight about all this. Keith knew the UFO was going to crash, and he had felt the energy coming from a Lion hidden in a cave out in the desert. That's pretty much when it all started… we didn't have the chance to say our goodbyes before the Blue Lion flew us into deep space. Otherwise, the Galra would have come to earth, looking for the awakened Lion's signal."

"Does the Galra know your lion got worm-holed back here?" Hiro asked. Wasabi also glanced back, seemingly sharing the worry.

'Worm-holed'. Was that even a verb? Regardless, it was a valid question, and something else she would have to factor in. Is her lion that significant to Zarkon, or would Earth be? This planet was teeming with all kinds of life and natural resources too. "I really hope not…"

"When you send out your signal, it won't attract them, right?" Wasabi finally voiced his concerns.

"That's a chance I'll have to make," she replied after a moments pause of uncertainty. "But if it brings my teammates, we should have Voltron's protection."

A big 'if' on 'should have' as well, she thought to herself, because they would need all five Paladins, piloting their lions to form Voltron. Hopefully the others are okay. The 'not knowing' felt nerve-wracking when she dwelled on those thoughts too long.

"How badly damaged was your lion?" the boy genius asked after a moment's pause.

"Hopefully it was something Green's self repair systems could handle," Pidge sighed. "If she has enough energy."

"What type of energy does your lion use?" Wasabi wondered.

"Yeah, is it something we can bring?"

That concept stirred up more curiosity, apparently. "It's hard to explain, but the Alteans call it quintessence: a kind of essence, life energy. This is something the Galra want to harvest in great quantity."

"Oh, kind of like.. energon?" Hiro actually asked, showing his robo-nerdy side.

Pidge also heard GoGo snort, which made her want to stifle a laugh in response. Wasn't this boy supposed to be as smart as an astrophysicist?

"Uh, yeah. Kind of… it's a form of planetary energy," Pidge nodded, really trying hard to keep from smiling about his fictional reference. Hiro suddenly took interest in something outside the window to his left, turning his face away from them.

The others let the conversation die as well since they had reached the SFIT campus. Or more like, the matter of debating where to park became more important, since it was Saturday and the lots wouldn't be as full.

Pidge noticed the names of many of the buildings they drive by, and felt the strong Japanese influence even in the founders of this university. The hybrid city had been renowned for its technological advances in many things, like architecture and energy.

She had heard about San Fransokyo and the reputation of its university back when she had researched prestigious schools for college. When she was younger, it had been her dream to attend a place as prominent as the California Institute of Technology, or even Berkley, but her parent's subtle hints for her to follow in her family's footsteps at the Garrison squashed that.

Then the Garrison threw the biggest curve ball in her life, and everything she originally hoped for had changed for the worse after that. Pilot error, right.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Once they entered the big lab area inside the R&D building, the next task was underway. Wasabi and GoGo offered to find supplies needed to fabricate what Pidge needed. From the main lab, Hiro suggested he could check his own lab upstairs for anything else. She wasn't comfortable with just sitting idle, and insisted going with Hiro (even if his lab was upstairs). This was thanks to a set of crutches Fred happened to have in storage.

"You have your own lab?" Pidge mused as she became more adjusted to traveling with her crutches as they walked toward an elevator.

"Yeah.. it um, used to be ani— my brother's," he simply responded as they went inside the steel paneled lift. The fact he admitted to having a brother was new information.

"Older brother?" Pidge decided to check. If his brother had already graduated and moved on, that would explain the past tense.

"Yeah."

They approached the lab door, and Hiro slid his ID card on the slot to unlock it. The Green paladin's keen powers of observation noticed the last name on his ID card had said 'Hamada'. She had recalled seeing that name somewhere earlier, on a convention hall in campus earlier. Hiro's relatives must really have made that much of a impact on this university.

However, her thoughts about that immediately froze once she followed Hiro into the lab. Pidge had a hunch his lab would be awesome, but this… she had walked into robot utopia!

To be frank, most of it was robot parts in various stages of assembly. Maybe they were there as replacements also, if not part of a production line. The first area that caught her attention was the set of similar looking hydraulic limbs and like parts hanging on a rack to the left of a large picturesque circular window. Next to that was a taller file cabinet with a navy colored ball cap perched on top of some kind of rotary machining instrument.

Pidge glanced to her left to notice a desk (or she assumed it to be a desk, because of the large holographic computer monitor sitting amongst the clutter there) that had a small black metal bot with stubby limbs and a painted-on face leaning against the monitor, along side some documents and publications detailing DARPA's previous Robotic Challenges. There were also a couple framed photos of family behind the monitor, and a couple different types of video game controllers amongst scraps of paper and stacks of notebooks. On a rolling work table more toward the center, Pidge saw a multi-jointed robotic snake with one end taken apart, and surrounded by a handful of tools and containers. She remembered seeing something like that robot before, from a company who had created a snake-like design for search and rescue purposes. Because reading about all the kinds of topical uses for robots was one of her favorite past times.

Did Hiro get a hold of one of their robots, to take apart and study? She actually felt a pang of jealousy now! But then something unexpected caught her eye, something like a Roomba rolling across the floor with a feather duster affixed to the top.

"Why does it have a duster?" she finally had to ask about his cleaning bot.

"'Cuz the flamethrower idea was too dangerous," Hiro said, matter of factly, but not really looking up as he pulled out a large steel case from under a cabinet.

Pidge raised her eyebrow, not even sure if that was supposed to be a joke. "… what?"

"It sweeps the spider webs from under shelves and stuff," the teen straightened up, glancing once her way, but his bangs hung low over his eyes. He wasn't smiling though, to imply if he was teasing.

She twisted her mouth, connecting the dots. "And the spiders too?"

"Kind of… it gets those with the built-in lasers."

Yep, he really does not like spiders… which was kind of ironic, considering the whole superhero angle going on here.

Hiro seemed more focused on the case he had unlocked though. After saying something that sounded like a command in Japanese, the robotics genius stepped back.

That was when the boxy case began to transform, the outer shell of the case turning into pellet sized particles of a metallic substance that swarmed and glided around a skeletal frame. The particles shaped steel colored armor on a robot that now stood significantly taller than them. Well, about six feet in height, but due to their short stature, that was tall. It was human-like in design, with wheels on the knees and on the outside of the feet. The arms were still materializing, as they did not have internal framework like the rest of his body. The limbs they did form were more solid, and possessed three fingered robotic hands. Ronin's face appeared very humanized, looking like that of a fire fighter wearing his helmet. She had noticed some other things in the lab indicating that he had been testing metals for heat resistance and durability, so it would make sense if this robot was designed for those circumstances.

"It's a type of nanotechnology I'm developing, based off a previous design I had that used electromagnetics and neurotransmissions," Hiro rubbed the back of his neck, stealing a glance from here before fixating back on Ronin.

"Wow. You built all of this?" she set her crutches aside next to a tall cabinet.

"Yep. I call him Ronin, which is an acronym for Remote On-site Intelligent Nanotech. He's a new type of search and rescue robot I've been working on for the last year," Hiro swept his hand through his dark untamed hair, pushing his long bangs back. They stayed up for a few long seconds before settling back down over his bright eyes. "What do you think?"

Ronin? Did he think of that name first, then searched up the words to make it an acronym?

Pidge had more important questions to ask, however. "He looks like a fire fighter. What makes him different from previous rescue robots?" she immediately moved closer to touch the now smooth surfaces on the robot's midsection and arm.

"He can resist extreme heat, and is able to lift up to five thousand pounds. Ronin can also provide cover from blasts or falling debris," Hiro explained, albeit sounding a little more nervous. "Hiis arms are versatile and can change to—"

Ronin decided he had enough of being prodded, and both of his hands had turned into thin tendrils that wrapped snugly around her wrists. "What is: your designation?" his authoritative voice rumbled. The grip wasn't tight, but it still surprised her a bit from the abruptness of his actions.

"Hey, no! Yamete, Ronin!" Hiro stammered out his order as he stepped forward. "It- it's okay.. she's a friend."

The robot let her go and took a step back from the redhead. For a brief moment, Ronin reminded her of Galran sentry. One that needed a swift kick in its programming.

"Sorry about that... he's not as friendly as Baymax," he apologized.

"Should he be?" Pidge really didn't mean to sound blunt when she asked that, so she back pedaled to better explain herself. For his sake, to keep him from further freaking out. Afterall, Hiro should adhere to the Laws of Robotics with his programming, right? "I mean, it's okay. He didn't hurt me or anything."

"O-okay. Good," Hiro drew in a sharp breath, and held it a second before releasing it. The way he sounded in response didn't sound very reassuring. She had gotten familiar with Hunk's nervousness, but his was usually from lack of confidence. Hiro's unease seemed to go deeper than that. "Ronin is programmed to function like a soldier, and to also be on guard for danger. In contrast, Baymax was originally designed to be as gentle as a nurse, like those at a children's hospital."

Pidge nodded, even though her next curiosity was why Baymax was donned in battle-ready armor over a less durable balloon-like body, if he was really supposed to be a nursebot. The armor design seemed like an afterthought. "Did you built Baymax too?"

"Uhm, no," Hiro looked like that question caught him guard, and turned away to pick up something from the table. "My brother did. But… I- I just work on making more of the prototypes. For the clinics who are interested."

"Is that what those are for?" Pidge didn't mean to be nosy, but, well, okay, she was being nosy as she limped over to the rack of hydraulic limbs.

"Yeah," Hiro rubbed the back of his neck again, tapping the tool on the table. "I have to hand build each one.. since they're kind of tricky, with all the pressurized medications and stuff that goes into each healthcare companion bot."

She lifted up the 'hand' on one limb, noticing its unique design, even if Hiro seemed a little on edge about something. The Green paladin had noticed this time Hiro avoided saying anything more about his older brother, not even a mention about his name or why he wasn't around. "Your brother doesn't help?"

"He's not here anymore," the robotics specialist said quickly, but his back was to her as he faced Ronin. Then he changed the topic again. "So with Ronin, I'm going to take him with us too. He can help with any repairs."

"Okay," Pidge nodded, turning in his direction. She didn't think she would need that kind of help, but she decided refusing his offer wouldn't be helpful. She watched as Hiro gave another command in Japanese, causing Ronin to fold back down upon himself as the steel case reformed around his frame. It became apparent he used Japanese commands to override Ronin's primary functions.

'Not here anymore'.. what do you mean by that? She wondered, but this time didn't ask him. Maybe later she will. Pidge realized she hadn't been wanting to think too much about her own brother that much either because of the anxiety it brought.

"Is there anything else from here you might need?" Hiro's words sounded a little clipped and cold when he turned to face her. He looked tired and a little pale too. It was that kind of expression she'd seen come over Shiro a few times, causing a reaction from Keith.

"I think Green will be okay.. thank you for your help," she smiled slightly.

"Okay.. then let's head back down," Hiro sighed. He lifted Ronin onto a hand cart to take him down with them.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::

That really didn't go well, Hiro swallowed again as he waited at the elevator. His headache was threatening to be a menace at this point. She had so many more questions now, and he didn't have the energy to come up with good answers for all of them.

He especially didn't want to talk about his brother. Not now.

The young pilot's situation was much more serious, so Hiro didn't want to burden her with the weight of his own drama. There was more he did want to talk about, in regards to Ronin, or if Pidge needed to make any phone calls, but something in him shut down. He didn't want to try to anymore, for fear of what else she would ask. At least she did not ask the question of why he was so fascinated with search and rescue robots.

In fact, Pidge had not said anything else after they left the lab. The redhead probably picked up on his desire to not talk. Now they walked in silence, until the creak from her crutches and the squeaking from the hand cart sounded overwhelming. Dwelling on his reaction from before made him feel guilty again, since she had told all of them her background without hesitation. He had to get over himself, and at least ask about something else.

"Have you found anything more about your dad?" Hiro asked, his voice a little softer that normal just to show that he really did care.

"A little, from Shiro.. his pilot," Pidge explained without hesitation. "I'm hoping they are held prisoner by the Galra somewhere."

Hiro nodded, silent for a few more steps, before mustering the courage to ask his next question. Mostly because he hoped his questions would not lead to more directed toward himself. "Does— does your mom know where you are… do you need to call her? Now that you're back?"

"No…" Pidge sounded a little unsure of herself this time. "I still have my phone… I can call her. I just need some more time to figure out what to say. Thanks for asking, though."

Hiro shrugged, pressing his lips together before responding. "That makes sense, though."

They continued a little further before the Green paladin asked a new question of her own. "Are you feeling okay?" she asked, gingerly.

Hiro glanced over to her, then back down the hallway. So she had noticed his current state of mind. "I'm okay. Just got a headache," the younger Hamada forced himself to smile in response, hoping to put her mind at ease.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::

After the majority of parts and supplies were gathered and roughly assembled, the group of four decided to head out right away. Part of the reason was rain forecasted for the weather up north, causing some concern from Wasabi. Pidge concluded that the physicist's worrisome insecurities in a way made them more open to other possibilities in their planning. Hiro managed to come up with yet another compromise to resolve their dilemma. Since the Rover (yes, she realized the irony… but calling it the Green Machine wasn't any better, since it was actually white) had adequate space in the back after its modifications, it was possible for her to finish her assembly on their way up.

Hiro said Ronin could help her with assembly. He was roughly like a large robotic version of a Leatherman, and could form almost any type of tool with the nanotechnology in his arms. The genius was not kidding. The tools did not detach from the robot though, but she can instruct him on what to do. Maybe she might be able to also work on the cloaking device to put into the Land Rover if there was time afterwards.

The floor behind the second row of gray leather seats had been modified in its redesign so that it was a few inches lower. It still felt like close fit from the back seat to the hatch, but she still managed to find the room. Ronin also just came halfway out of the case. His 'legs' were still in box form as he 'sat' behind the passenger seat where Hiro was. There were fold-out tables and AC/DC power outlets for electronics on the other side that Pidge was. She sat on the floor, her laptop perched on the little table while she organized her other equipment on the floor. Ronin watched her intently, learning her motives by watching her actions.

Hiro was in the backseat behind the driver (which was Gogo this time) and positioned himself sideways. He had practically pulled out the head rest of the seat he sat in so he could watch the two. Sometimes the young genius had to supply the occasional explanation on Ronin's behalf.

The AI for Ronin, like that in Baymax, was following along well with most of her requests. She still was impressed with how well Hiro and his brother developed the AI programming for these robots. They responded so naturally, she sometimes forgot she could not use idioms and slang with them.

That was when the redhead dropped an F-bomb, by accident, when the tip of the solder iron bumped her finger. The slip of tongue resulted in having to explain what it meant, and that it wasn't something she was asking for. Heaven forbid!

"I understand. Do you need: a bandage?" Ronin asked. He did not move since he still held the circuit board that she was working on. The solder iron was one of the tools she brought separately.

Pidge glanced to her right up toward Hiro, noticing that he hadn't said anything yet. His head was resting against his arm along the top of the seat, because he had fallen asleep. That caused her to quirk her mouth with some mutual understanding. More than a few times that Shiro or somebody had woke her up after she fell asleep at her work station, just to be told to go to bed.

"I'm fine. Thank you," Pidge smiled briefly to the robot.

She did have to be very clear with her instruction for him so Ronin would follow. Hiro said something about using a neurotransmitter if she wanted to be more precise with her instruction, but she didn't think that was necessary. It was one thing to mind link with Green and her teammates, but for some reason she didn't feel comfortable 'hooking up' with this robot.

"Okay Ronin," Pidge pointed to the metal computer housing and spoke precisely, "Slide the circuit board into this slot here. There are 2 tiny screws with bolts, screw them into the circuit board, here and here."

"Yes, ma'am," Ronin promptly positioned the board, his hands actually looking like human hands as he did so. But when she handed him a screw and bolt to insert, his left hand became a fine tip screw driver. Magnetism in his hand and tool kept the tiny hardware from falling from his hands.

She remembered once a conversation with Matt about a This or That kind of game. Just those kind of crazy questions you would ask random people as an ice breaker for parties. Her dear brother asked if she wanted to spend the rest of her life on an island with a robot, or with a (human) friend. That question was not an easy one, and she had to clarify who said friend was. This could be anyone who was not in her family, and the friend could be best friend or a lover. Well, in that case, a robot it was. Matt just patted her on her head, shaking his own as he smiled. Yep, good ol Katie.

She was serious though… robots were capable of being the best friend a person could ever have. People just can't be trusted all the time.

To be honest, she still felt sad about loosing Rover. She didn't think that little reprogrammed Galra hover bot would become so dedicated to her like it did. She felt so thankful for its efforts, because she could have been the one falling to her death with that Galra if it wasn't for Rover 's help. A chill ran down her spine, and she bit her lip.

Earlier in the lab, she sensed that from Ronin. That he also had the ability to defend, to be a guardian of Hiro and keep them safe from her. Like she was being a real danger to that nerd. Tsk.

Once the robot finished his task, she decided to ask him her question directly. "Ronin, what is your primary purpose?"

The robot lifted his optics to her, and paused. "To help you with your project."

"Ah no, I mean.. what did Hiro build you for?"

"To search and protect living organisms.. from life threatening situations," Ronin replied more promptly.

"Of course," she nodded, looking over the parts to find the one to work on next.

Since it was getting clouded outside, and the tinted windows added to the darkness, she reached up to turn on the enhanced dome light above them. For a moment she became aware of the music playing, which sounded like Imagine Dragons, only because it was turned down a couple clicks. Wasabi explained to GoGo it was because he didn't want it to disturb Hiro. She protested by turning it back up, telling him it takes an earthquake to wake the genius up after he crashes.

Regardless of this, the robot prompted the next question on his own. "What is: your name, Hiro's friend?"

The redhead laughed once, amused by that question. Somehow, Ronin was bothered by the fact he didn't know what to call her. The thought of being called a friend to a boy she barely got to know yet was a little awkward too. "My name is Pidge."

"Pidge, what is: your designation?" he asked that familiar question again, but this time his voice held its same neutral tone.

Was Ronin actually trying to carry a conversation, or was this just his way of building a file on her. Even though the answer came to her quickly, she hesitated before telling him. The cold hard reality was that becoming a Paladin of Voltron was a new life thrust upon her unexpectedly. It was not her choosing, and it was the hardest decision she had to make. Harder than the one where she gave up her dream to attend an ivy league tech school to attend the Garrison.

Now all she did was for her family.

Everything was driven with that one goal of finding everyone she lost, her teammates included. But once she had found her own family, would she still want to stay on as the Green Paladin? The redhead sighed, "I guess I am the same. I also search for people, and will fight to protect them from life threatening situations."

"Are you: a soldier?"

The word hit her, making her curse under her breath.

"Yes.. a space soldier," she muttered. Whether or not she actually followed orders like a cadet, that was a whole other matter. The battles were hard, trying and praying that the other paladins would cooperate to achieve the same goal if defeating their enemy. Making that dividing line of evil aliens versus the innocent civilians kept it black and white. The Arusians, the Balmera, her team wished to not harm any of them. But the Galra, whole ships were destroyed to save those planets. Massive warships full of them, and yet… she secretly prayed there weren't any innocent prisoners (namely her dad and brother) also on those ships that they destroyed.

She couldn't think about her equipment in front of her anymore, as her fears seized more of her weary soul.

"Have you.. killed anyone?" the Green paladin whispered to the robot. She didn't know why she was asking him that. Robots don't have a conscience. They just obediently follow their programming, like a soldier who follows orders.

"No," Ronin did not hesitate.

"Have you been ordered to fight?" Pidge asked, only because she wondered if he did follow the Laws.

"I am instructed to defend myself, Hiro, and other life forms from harmful situations," he responded. The way he said 'myself' was interesting. It sounded like could kill if he had too. "Have you: killed?"

Pidge cast her eyes down from his unwavering gaze. That was information the robot did not need to know, even though with the music playing the others could not hear their discussion. She saw this as more of a way to understand her own self better. She had a more important question for this robot, however, since he was made by humans and not a Galra guard. A question that plagued her thoughts many times since becoming a paladin.

"Ronin, how are you able to recognize a harmful person?" she whispered.

 

Chapter Text

The question Pidge asked Ronin about how to recognize a harmful person was more than a test of his own programming. She just wanted to challenge her own morale, that unlike a robot who had no choice but to follow orders, she had the choice. At the same time, maybe.. just maybe the genius had found a way for his robots to understand this dilemma.

"A harmful person is someone who wants to hurt others," Ronin responded with a straightforward definition of her question. Not quite the answer she had hoped for. So, clarification.

"Yes, that is true if they show aggression right away. But sometimes people don't… instead they are deceptive. Or they're just crazy!" Pidge elaborated further for the stoic for before her.

"In that event, I am instructed to apprehend the person until further instruction," his voice rumbled with more certainty.

"Right.. that makes sense," Pidge sighed, leaning back against the vehicle's side. That was how he responded to her prodding earlier. Except she was just passionate, not crazy. Superhero robot or not, it made sense though that it really shouldn't be Ronin's call to determine those gray areas.

Her own role as a paladin, the thought of being regarded as a soldier, still left her feeling cold. Yes, she would be the one they asked to collect information, for Shiro and Allura to make the final call. Or with her knowledge to crack the enemy security walls, they could gain further access. They would use her as just another tool, but.. it was her own observations and quick thinking that saved her and her teammates from trouble. The young Holt admitted this to Shiro when she spoke with him about her uncertainty about being a paladin. He did tell her he was very thankful to have gotten to know her, to work with her for this greater cause. They all needed her, not just her skills.

"Baymax can scan people to find out if they are angry," Ronin added, almost unexpectedly. At the same time, she thought there was a hint of regret to his tone.

"Baymax is a nursebot, so I imagine he has that function," Pidge nodded, while also choosing her words carefully. She pressed her lips together, deciding they have been off topic for too long. "But.. back to work."

The redhead looked over what was left to do, and was about to speak when Robin started talking with more urgency.

"The weather forecast is calling for heavy rain. This can cause flooding in low lying areas and landslides," Ronin's optics glowed brighter, intensifying his message. "Pidge, I advise for you to sit in the seat and put your seat belt on."

"Really?" she understood the situation but it seemed a little silly to stop now for that reason. It wasn't like this was a tornado producing storm or a hurricane.

"For your safety, Pidge, please put on your seat belt," he repeated his order. Naturally, this was his primary directive to protect those in his keep. She sighed, figuring that he would not follow any further instruction from her until his first request was met.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::

Earlier when the four had stopped by the Lucky Cat to pickup food for the road, Hiro went inside alone. Pidge was reluctant about going inside with all of them as a group, despite the other's reassurances that Aunt Cass would not make a big deal about it all. Of course, there was also the other matter that the café was still open to the public. So the three stayed inside the Green Machine that was parked along the road, while Hiro had the honors. He hoped this would be brief.

The worn out genius also did his best to look as chipper as possible, as to not cause his aunt any further worry. Because apparently he looked like the walking dead to his teammates.

Once the chatty brunette finished with a customer, she stepped through the curtains to the back as Hiro followed after her.

"So who is the fourth person?" his aunt asked him, almost too sweetly. And if almost reading the bewildered expression on his face, she further explained her question. "It was just that Honey called me earlier today, explaining that she and Fred were not with you. She just wondered if they should bring Baymax back here."

"Well.. if you need Baymax to help you, they can bring him back. I got Ronin with me," Hiro answered the latter question instead, rubbing his neck. Of course, she would find out in that way.

"Your robot doesn't need to eat, sweetie," Aunt Cass was so bold to tease him about his answer, all while putting her arm around his shoulder to hug him close.

Hiro hesitated, almost wanting to say the fourth 'lunch' was just in case someone was extra hungry. However, he realized lately his little white lies were hard to keep straight if they got too far from the truth. Plus, it didn't help how one time during a sorted conversation that Hiro's teammates admitted to his Aunt that he fidgets and smiles way too much when he was hiding something. The younger Hamada sighed in surrender before looking over to her.

"Um, yeah.. so one of my new classmates are also coming with us. It's for this astronomy project we have, and.. since no one can see the night sky here, we have to go where there isn't much light pollution," Hiro feigned his smile.

"Where are you going?"

"Back up north.. where the redwood forests are," he was afraid to give specifics though.

"Between that, and working on the SUV, it sounds like you're going be out all night again," Aunt Cass stepped back, putting a hand on her hip.

"So, yeah… I guess it's also like... an impromptu camping trip?" Hiro realized he had to man up to his new story now that he said it. That, and it just seemed like the best solution on where Pidge would stay for the first night with them. That was something else he had worried about too. "Is that.. okay?"

"Since I'm hearing about this now, instead of three hours past curfew - when you haven't come home yet…" the brunette walked over to the door for the cooler and opened it.

"So, you're okay with it..?" Hiro leaned on the outside frame of the metal door. He watched his aunt bag up the bento boxes she made earlier, along with some bottled water that was on another shelf.

"Yes. Only because you are with your friends this time.. and that you have made the effort to tell me first," she paused in front of him, making steady eye contact. "Now if I end up short on staff again tomorrow, I have Honey 'on call' to come in with Baymax so they could help me."

It turned out that Baymax also did a good job helping Aunt Cass with basic prep work. As long as it didn't involve anything that would damage his vinyl exterior – and that he also didn't need his guardian robot for anything else – Hiro was fine with it.

"O-okay… gotcha. Sorry, Aunt Cass," he smiled sheepishly.

"That's why I got you the phone – for communication!" She reiterated, handing over the two full plastic bags.

He just sighed, taking the bags from her.

"Who's your new friend?'

"Uhm…" Oh god, why can't he avoid this topic? Hiro kept it decidedly short, but he ended up blurting his words out faster than necessary. "Uh, Pidge.. some space nerd. Not really that much of a friend yet – the prof just put us together."

"I see. Okay…" Aunt Cass quirked a knowing smile. Because yeah, the fact he was even interacting with new people was still news to her. "Oh, would you need blankets then? I heard it was going to be chilly tonight."

"Probably..?" he had paused from leaving.

"Let me get you some more water too, and a jug of coffee to go. Would you also need a camp stove and a lantern?" his aunt was pretty much going full den mom on him now.

"Thanks, but we need to get going," Hiro told her as he glanced at the wall clock. It was nice having her help, but he also didn't have that much space in the SUV.

"So some day-old pastries and fruit for breakfast instead?" Aunt Cass stepped back out to the front counters to bag some sweet breads and cups of fruit. "Don't worry, I can help you carry this."

"I, uh.. no, no. It's okay, I got this!" the younger Hamada exclaimed suddenly.

"Really?" Aunt Cass looked at him in disbelief. "Hiro, sweetie, I can carry the blankets."

"Just tuck them under both my arms. It's no problem, oba," Hiro did his best to reassure her with that big dumb smile again. Cause really, if she went out, then his aunt would see Pidge and end up trying to start a conversation with her. Ugh.

"Well, here, I'll get you the small cooler to put everything inside. Oh, do you need bug repellent?"

"Yeah, Wasabi brought some," he was really trying to keep his patience.

"Good," she paused, then also finally noticed how long this was taking. Because she was now giving him that 'what are you trying to hide?' look, even though she didn't ask about it. "Please go out and help at the counter while I run upstairs to get the blankets and things?"

"Uh.. I- Yeah, okay," he nodded. Hiro quickly realized he could use her request to his advantage.

"Thank you!" she patted his shoulder before turning to go.

As soon as she did, the younger Hamada pulled out his phone and quickly texted a message to GoGo and Wasabi to hide Pidge. That sounded crazy, but hopefully they understood. Then Hiro grabbed his black barista apron from a hook and quickly tied it on as he passed through the curtains. It was an hour before closing so it couldn't be that busy anyway.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Hiro woke up abruptly when he felt a body fall into his chest, followed by cursing and a quick apology as the hands pushed off. The sound of rain pounded on the roof of the Green Machine, and he could feel the vibrations of the water hitting against the underside of the vehicle from the puddling on the road. The boy genius attempted to straighten himself up, and felt the tightness of a seat belt strapped across his chest.

Pidge slid into the seat next to him, clicking her seat belt into place. He figured it was her who must have fallen into him, because now she avoided looking his way. The girl sat with her legs perched on top of the supplies and blankets on the floor in front of her seat. The redhead had long since taken off the blue hoodie since it was warmer inside the vehicle, showing her white and green shirt. Hiro quickly glanced behind him to notice Ronin back in case mode too.

"Oh man.. oh man, where is the road? I can't see the road!" Wasabi cried out, his right hand tightly gripping the handle on the ceiling above his window. A wall of water had enveloped them when a big pickup truck passed on their left. The SUV was headed downhill with lots of the run off streaming across the road in places, causing more of the splash-up. It looked like they were almost to their destination, since they were going through a sparsely forested area of large pine trees.

GoGo just growled at the white wash as the SUV's sensors chimed again. Soon a holographic display of bright gold and green lines and symbols integrated into the windshield appeared to help her 'see' the road. That was a feature that Hiro and GoGo upgraded on the Land Rover. Originally it just displayed the MPH and other small alerts, but why not also include bigger details like GPS guidance and autopilot assistance? This seemed safer this way than having everything on smaller display down below the dash as well.

"Deep breaths, 'Sabi," Hiro told the big guy out of habit. The young genius still had faith that GoGo could handle this, and in fact had actually thought the whole experience was exhilarating.

Hiro looked back over to Pidge, smirking slightly. "Oh yeah.. thank you for the seatbelt."

The redhead made brief eye contact, then looked out the front again. "Sorry for waking you up like that."

"Tsk.. not like this would have woken me up!" the younger Hamada shrugged. He turned back to watch as the windshield wipers swished furiously at the onslaught of pounding rain for a second more.

"I didn't know it could rain so hard!" Pidge remarked as she leaned against the middle armrest as she watched it come down. "It's like going down a log flume ride!"

"Hah.. for real! It rains a lot here, this time of year," Hiro remarked. Yet another smile played at his lips after thinking about how this was like a log flume.

"If we don't end up flooding out the engine.. our chances of making out of this alive are reduced dramatically!" Wasabi moaned.

"We are not going to die," GoGo told him firmly. "This is an SUV, and the water is not that deep!"

She was right about that, but what they weren't prepared for was the pine tree that came down across the road in front of them. With a barrage of profanities that were unabashedly said, the Green Machine came to an abrupt halt as it skidded into the branches. Hiro felt the force as his belt locked across his chest and the weight of Ronin's case knocked into the back of his seat. Pidge ducked her head under her arms when smaller items from the back flew up at them.

"Wh-where did that come from?" Wasabi sputtered, still bracing himself with one hand against the dash and another tightly holding the handle on the door. "This storm isn't that strong!"

GoGo glared at the Rover's smaller display on the dash, going through its settings in an attempt to shut off its warning alarm. "How do you turn this f'ing alarm off?"

Between everyone's distressed shouting, the abrupt motions, and the increasingly annoying beeping from the Green Machine, it was enough drama to activate Ronin as well. After his top half transformed, he spoke authoritatively to them. "Everyone, please stay calm. Does anyone need assistance?"

"I think we're okay.. just shaken," Hiro told him.

"It's Green!" Pidge alerted them suddenly. She rolled down the window halfway, despite the rain, trying to get a better look.

::::::::::::::::::::::::

The Green Paladin squinted through the droplets of rain on her glasses as she leaned out of the window. She noticed more bush move unnaturally, because some large and invisible force was pushing though them. The floating leafy branch a few yards up in the air was the other giveaway.

But she didn't need those visuals to tell her. Pidge just knew, from her connection with the Lion. It did take her a moment earlier to realize where the strange feeling of alarm and confusion was coming from. For some reason, Green was trying to find her now. Fortunately, she was alone. Pidge didn't see anything else out there following her.

It's okay, girl… I'm here. I'm back.

"Green? Wait.. where are we?" Hiro asked, leaning in closer behind Pidge to see out the window. Hovering, more like, because he wasn't at all touching her.

"Not where her lion was supposed to be," GoGo muttered, finally getting the beeping noise to stop.

"She's looking for me—"

"How come Green didn't stay where we left her?" Hiro interrupted.

"She didn't feel safe ...?" Pidge looked back to the curious teen. While the Lions did need paladins for the more advanced maneuvers, she found that they were very much capable of moving on their own for the purpose of their protection. "Maybe someone did find her and was trying to break in."

Hiro sat back, furrowing his brows. "Which means we have to keep watch."

"No doubt!" the Green paladin was already on the move, scrambling over the back seat to locate her suit and get it on.

Hiro noticed this, quickly redirecting his gaze to Gogo and Wasabi the instant he saw Pidge pulling her shirt over her head. She had a tank top on underneath, so she wasn't at all worried about him seeing too much. 

"So, uhm.. time to suit up and head out!" he told his teammates. 

"What, in this?"

"Yes!"

Pidge did notice the superhero method of getting suited up was much more technologically advanced. Hiro had pushed a button on his smart watch, and then started to make these weird faces for the next few seconds. Then something inky black had spread out from his long sleeve shirt to cover his hands, and also formed a high collar around his neck. After he peeled off his shirt, she realized it was his black skin tight suit with the red stripes down his arms. Apparently his suit was similar to hers, with armor than had to be put on separately. But the fact his body suit just came out of nowhere complete fascinated her!

Chapter Text

Hiro's body suit armor was another new design the young genius had developed, with some of the insightful expertise of Fred's dad (who had been on working terms with Stark Industries). So far Hiro had made the nanotechnology suit for himself and GoGo, since the others had more loose clothing for their outfits. Quite literally, this body armor poured out from a source point that was under their clothing, truly acting like an underarmor body suit. He also was working on a beta helmet design that included his neurotechnology so that the scanner and other functions were activated by thought alone.

The cool, tingling sensation of the liquefied nanotech crawling across his skin really tickled in places as it spread down over his body and legs. The only saving grace about it was that they didn't have to strip down to their undies just to get their bodysuits on anymore. All that he and GoGo had to do afterwards was take off their street clothes once the suit was on. Figuring out how to stream-line Wasabi's and Honey Lemon's outfits into a portable package like this was next on his to-do list.

"Here!" Hiro tossed Wasabi his gear and GoGo her helmet from where it was stashed by him on the floor. With Wasabi, his outfit was more bulky, with very little slim-fitting clothing. However, the big guy completely passed on the nanotech body armor option for obvious reasons!

Pidge was piecing on her outer armor now, so Hiro asked Ronin if there was anyone coming. Between Ronin's readings and his own short range scanner that he added to the SUV, no one was detected in the near vicinity.

"Okay.. Pidge, go out and check on Green, while the rest of us will work on getting this tree off the road," Hiro told them.

"Sure," she acknowledged his request. Pidge lifted a leg over the backseat to half roll, half slide down into her seat next to Hiro.

"And how are we tackling that?" Wasabi asked, as he pointed to the tree.

"I need you and Ronin to cut it up in pieces, and then we'll pull it out of the way with the Green Machine," Hiro gestured as he spoke. Fortunately, the tree was a normal size, not one of the huge sequoias, so it should be fast work.

Wasabi didn't complain, but he currently wore a scowl at the thought of being the one out in the cold rain. Between him and the bear-sized robot, however, the work should go quickly. Ronin's arms had the ability to shift between reciprocating saw-blades, then into claw-like hands to grasp logs.

Hiro soon remembered that Pidge may not be able to walk well, and quickly made mental adjustments to his plans. "Pidge, I can tell Ronin to go with you instead, if you need help getting around," Hiro made eye contact with her. For a moment, he noticed she didn't have eyeglasses on now.

"Actually, I'll be okay. I got the jet pack.. and if I could borrow some climbing rope, I can use that with my Bayard," Pidge smiled politely to them.

"By… swinging around?" It took a moment before her suggested idea made sense to Hiro.

"Something like that," she smiled once more before sliding her helmet on.

Thank god Fred's not here.. because there would be Spiderman jokes… the young superhero ducked his head, to hide his smile that came in response to that crazy thought.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Pidge silently reassured herself that she could handle this, because she didn't want to further complicate the situation as it was. Funny as it may seem, she never thought the rock climbing excursions when younger would have a practical application. That, combined with her increased strength from Allura's training regime, using aerial maneuvers through these trees should be something easy to do now.

Yet, the Green Paladin also shared Wasabi's displeasure in having to go out in the rain. Her suit did keep her dry and warm, but the thought of slopping though the elements in search of her lion just did not thrill her. Taking in a breath, Pidge gripped the bundle of rope and stepped out onto the wet road, then softly closed the door behind her.

The quicker, the better…

Between the readings on her suit and her own intuition, she had a good sense of where Green was. The clever paladin studied the trees around her, and took in account their proximity. Right away, she formulated the angles, distance, and trajectory of her path in order to reach the Lion quickly. The trickiest part was in getting started, as she would need some height to make the first move. Pidge stepped off the road to approach the first largest tree with branches strong enough to hold her weight.

After shouldering the extra rope to use as backup, she took aim at her chosen branch with her Bayard line so that the hooked end of it wrapped firm around the base of the branch. And then, with the help from the thrust her jet pack, she propelled herself upwards to said branch.

Once hefting her leg over the branch to straddle it, Pidge took a moment to survey her surroundings one more time before setting off.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

As the two waited in the Rover for Wasabi and Ronin to finish, GoGo decided to ask Hiro about how moody he had been since she brought him over to Fred's.

The younger Hamada shook his head again. "Just a lot of stuff… nothing major," he kept his eyes focused outside the windshield. If she thought now was a good time to talk to him, it wasn't. He would rather just stay focused on the action outside, watching the flashes of blue from Wasabi's plasma blades as he cut through the trunk. Ronin was on the other side of the tree now, pulling aside some of the smaller branches.

"You shouldn't be afraid to open up more to Pidge. The way she's making you smile is—"

"Is nothing! I told you!" Hiro protested, his eyes flashed with a sudden surge of angered embarrassment on this annoying topic. "Why should I tell her about my past anyway. She doesn't need to know."

GoGo clicked her tongue, disagreeing. Even though she could be sympathetic when she needed to be, the speedster was also good at being painfully honest as well. "It's only a burden if you make it that way, genius."

"Plus she's going to be leaving real soon... so why bother?"

"It'll be good practice—"

"Practice?! Are you fuck—"

"Language," GoGo immediately frowned at his choice of words, and otherwise sounding like an older sister reprimanding him again.

"Nyrgh… Are you kidding me!" he finished yelling at her.

"You certainly could use it, nerd boy," her unchanging glare and deadpan answers further irritated his churning emotions.

"Right…" Hiro muttered, still very angry at her. He hated feeling so vulnerable and out of control like this. The heat from his raised body temperature and his pounding heart bothered him too. He needed air, and decided to leave the Rover to escape.

Hiro gritted his teeth, trying to calm down, but what he told GoGo ran a lot deeper. He couldn't simply explain his reasons, but much of it had to do with trust. Obviously, a good part was due to the fact he had always been younger than all the other students. It became troublesome when it soon became the trend that some kids bullied him into doing their homework and stuff. So as a result, he had distanced himself to focus just on his own homework and inventions. After entering high school, he never really thought of anyone as a dependable friend, apart from his older brother.

As his own self-defense mechanism, Hiro learned how to be just as manipulative as those bullies. In turn, his deceptive nature was also how he got away with so many victories at different underground bot fights. He set up his own firewalls to protect who he really was, because he didn't like being led astray with false friendship anymore.

It simply had hurt too much losing his brother, then Baymax… and now, GoGo was turning him away. He was done with making friends, cause all that did was wound him. Or simply backfire, like now. After he had opened up to someone, they would know his schemes and it became even harder to fool them.

"Hey man, the tree's ready for you guys," Wasabi touched him on his shoulder to get his attention, otherwise making Hiro jump. He realized (in a strangely good way), that he had not turned on his com-link yet and prayed GoGo's had been off too.

"Oh yeah.. good," Hiro said automatically as he tried to get his thoughts back on track. They would have to help in guiding the tree trunk off the road next. "Sorry, my com-link was off."

"S'kay," the big guy nodded, but the concerned look about him said otherwise. GoGo's tiny voice was audible from Wasabi headset, saying something about pulling out the cables already. "Right, will do!"

Hiro made the mental command to turn on his com-link with broadcast to everyone. Pretending to not be further irked about GoGo taking matters into her hands, he went with Wasabi to help pull out the cables from under the front bumper of the Rover. There were two ports, one on each side. Wasabi took one hook, and Hiro held on the other, to wrap and hook the cables around one end of the biggest section of the trunk. As he did this, he wondered if GoGo knew just how they planned to move it off the road. Just dragging it won't be enough.

"Okay, start pulling it out until it's almost parallel with the road. Then the three of us can unhook the chains and roll it off," Hiro told them, to be sure they were all on the same page.

Ronin finished moving aside the smaller branches into the woods and maneuvered through the brush to meet up with Hiro. "I detect a vehicle eighteen miles south from our location, approaching at forty-four miles an hour," the tall robot informed his young master.

"Nice… thanks," Hiro sighed. Obviously, the reason why they were moving the tree was because it was a public road. He just wistfully hoped they had gotten it out of the way before someone else came.

"Then let's get moving," Wasabi made quick work in removing the first cable.

"Another vehicle is approaching us from the north, twenty-three miles away. It is traveling faster at fifty-two miles an hour," Ronin reported his additionally.

"And fast!"

Once they started making headway on pushing the trunk off the road, Pidge's voice broadcasted over their coms. "Hey guys... there's some repairs that need to be done n Green and I'm going to need an extra hand."

"Sure.. okay, what kind of help do you need?" Hiro responded, a little hesitantly.

"Just need someone to do some maintenance while I'm pilot her out of here," she explained further.

That was when Wasabi and Ronin both looked at Hiro, expecting him to be the one to acknowledge her request.

"It's okay, we got this," Wasabi reassured their unspoken decision to him.

Why.. me?

"I'll help…" Hiro told Pidge, all the while trying to not sound indisposed to the suggestion. He had thought of sending Ronin in to help her, but he wasn't sure of Green would go for that. At that point, he switched his com to a private line between himself and Pidge. Regardless, the idea of working on a giant (invisible) space robot became his motivator. Nevermind that Hiro was also going to be alone with her.. in a confined area. A confined area, in an invisible robo-cat!

"Good!"

"Um.. where are you?" Hiro turned to stare blankly into the forest. Time was running out, and he just didn't have the patience for this now.

"About… ten yards south east from your position."

Hiro frowned, because that still didn't do him much good, visually speaking. Then he decided to see if his scanner could detect anything. It wasn't as strong as what was on his robots for picking up life signals though.

"Can you step on some more bushes or something?" Hiro stepped off the road into the woods. Time was running short with the threat of other people heading this way.

"Pidge is in that direction," Ronin gestured to the area that he was able to pick up on the young space pilot's life signature.

"Yeah, but.. how far?" his voice cracked as it raised an octave. Hiro didn't want to make this difficult, but he really wasn't in the mood for games.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Pidge sighed, favoring his petty request and asked Green to side-step over one.

"Hiro, just walk a little more away from the trees and I'll get you," she told him next.

"Heeeh?" Pidge heard his confused exasperation.

Well, he's just going to find out himself. She sensed the urgency of the situation from Green, and felt further explanation was no longer necessary.

"Hey guys, we're going to head off whoever's coming, like play the decoy, while you take a break for it, okay?" GoGo spoke to them very the com.

"Okay.. thank you," Pidge replied to show that she agreed with the suggestion. Green's read-outs had warned her about two other entities in pursuit, one of which she felt was a threat.

Even though the Lion had been cloaked and otherwise hard to detect by common radars, she wondered Green's unique energy signature could still be picked up with a specialized gigameter. Coran told her once that the Lions were made from a special metal mined from a comet. That combined with the type of quintessence from the crystal which powered the castle, she imagined someone must have been able to pick up on trace signals from Green. Especially if they were not using any instruments at all, like how it was with Keith. Their rebellious pilot had been gifted with the ability to sense the presence of any of the Lions within a certain proximity, using only his senses.

The thought of some clairvoyant predator coming after Green creeped her out even more. Once again coaxing her Lion, they stepped over to where Hiro was and snatched him up into Green's mouth.

That action, of course, caused a different set of expletives to come out of the small, flustered teen until he figured out what happened. Pidge couldn't help it, but a sadistic smile crept across her face. Payback was so satisfying, after her own harrowing experience riding on Baymax.

"You okay, little man?" Wasabi's voice came over their comms, because apparently everyone heard him yelling too.

"Yeah.. I think… it's dark."

"I've got him," Pidge told the others, before providing further instruction to her keep. "Hiro, once you can see it, there's a stair ladder above you that you can climb up," the Green Paladin explained.

"Coulda warned me first…" she heard him mutter as the sound of footsteps against metal echoed from the back of the cockpit.

He was airing on the side of Hunk again, with a bit of Lance's sass, and she had to bite her lower lip for a moment to keep her poker face. A part of her hopelessly admitted to missing those two and their insane antics. "Welcome aboard, Hiro," Pidge stood up from the pilot's chair once she heard him behind her.

"Yeah," the young genius responded bluntly. "So what did you need help with?"

"Can you pilot Green while I work below the deck? The repairs are kind of complicated, and it would be better if I worked on them."

"…What?" he asked after a moment's hesitation, in apparent shock.

"I know, it sounds crazy.. but she'll tell you what to do," the green paladin stepped aside and made the motion for him to have a seat.

"She will?"

"It just comes to you," the Green paladin pointed to her head, a smile playing at her lips.

"L-like.. visions? Like in VR gaming?"

There we go... he's freaking. God, was that what I looked like?

"It's a lot easier than driving, if that helps any," because yes, she was a just computer science major who hadn't even piloted anything before this.

"But this okay.. right? I thought you were specially selected—"

"Yes.. but this is an emergency situation. Easier for you to pilot while I fix," Pidge dropped the sass to sincerely explain the situation to the young genius more. "She's had enough damage that the self-repair is down. I have to hold some circuits together in order to fly out of here, and keep the shields up.

"Okay," Hiro stepped around to sit down in the chair. After a moment, he reached out to grab the pair of hand controls. "Got it."

"Don't worry about it.. you'll be great," she smiled with a thumbs up, before stepping below deck. She wasn't able to pull off her dad's inspiration in the same way, but hopefully she was able to instill some kind of confidence into the young superhero.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Hiro still felt shook from being asked to pilot a large, robotic alien cat. A dream come true! Or… another scary way to mess up royally again. All he could feel was his heart pounding, and his hands becoming sweaty against the hard grips of the control handles.

Deep breaths.. calm downIt's not like I flown a robot before!

However, the robotics engineer was at a lost for words in trying to compare the new sensation that came over him to anything else he had known, not even his neurotransmitters. The best thing he could liken it to was suddenly getting a bunch of good ideas.

Inspirations with feelings. A sense of reassurance seeped into his core and calmed his rapid heartbeat. Despite this, he got a different feeling of urgency that also demanded action.

"We have to go, now," Hiro told her with more clarity.

"Hold on … almost got it.." her muffled voice instructed. "Okay! Go!"

Pidge's words were all that Green needed to take off. Just think 'up' was the thought that occurred to him, and he pulled back on both of the control handles. Green had literally rocked back, to set herself up, and then he pushed forward. Hiro literally found himself almost hanging onto the handles from the force of the sudden upward thrust pushing him backwards against the chair. This felt like one of those roller coaster rides that shot straight upwards, as the forest canopy and clouds blurred past.

An elated cry escaped his lips when the greatest of the G forces seized him, just as they came to an abrupt stop. Hiro hovered over the thick cloud cover, tinted pink and purple by the fading sunlight on the horizon.

"Be sure to stay out of the air traffic zone," Pidge spoke out, still from below the deck.

"I know. I come out here a lot.. to test things with Baymax," Hiro glanced over the control panels again, trying to familiarize himself with them.

"Okay."

"What's your situation?" Hiro opened up his transmission to the others.

"One of them is in pursuit," GoGo was first to answer. "Big, black, official looking SUV."

"He's flashing his lights! We should just pull over and—" Wasabi jumped in.

"Get arrested? Not gonna have that!"

"On what grounds? Pulling a tree off the road?!"

There was abrupt radio silence after that, because they obviously had decided to not air their dispute between all of them.

"Unbelievable…" Hiro groaned. Sometimes he wondered if they locked GoGo and Wasabi in a room together, would they finally learn how to get over their differences and figure out how to get out? Or worse, would they end up making out because they actually had feelings for each other?

That last thought alone made the younger Hamada shudder. Even more so, they already were 'locked' into a small space together.

"Do you have duct tape, or even electrical tape?" Pidge's annoyed voice from below caught his attention.

"..no, not with me," Hiro responded, wondering what for now. He really did happen to have a roll, but it was down inside the Green Machine. "Why? I thought this was superior alien technology?"

"A couple connectors aren't staying together on their own since Green's energy levels still aren't strong enough. It's too much of a drain using the cloak, while flying, and— wait, are you going to shoot?"

This all started to sound familiar. Too familiar. And yet, this lion was a frigging space weapon to defend the entire universe from evil forces! How could Green be having energy level problems too?

"Yeah… we need to help the others, and I just noticed something," Hiro answered defensively, continuing their descent back below the cloud cover. "Green has a way to stop those guys from going after GoGo and Wasabi."

Pidge was silent for a few moments longer, apparently connecting the dots from the unspoken vibes between him and Green. "Will that work.. in her current condition?"

"Would she 'tell' me if it wasn't?" he didn't mean to be snarky, but once again, they really didn't have the time for this.

"Hnn.. can't really argue with that…"

"Hang tight then," Hiro sighed. He pushed forward on the control handles, and out of habit, spoke his commands to Green. "Pick up speed, and get a lock in to the position of the black SUV following the white one, that we were in."

"You're going to have to point her in the direction of where the vehicles are so she can lock on," Pidge told him otherwise. "Kind of think of her as a horse."

"Honto nii?" Hiro breathed, squinting his eyes to look more closely at the floating holographic readouts to find the one for targeting. Of course, it happened to be the cyan colored, glowing digital display in front, following his eye movements.

..I thought she said this was going to be easy…

Well, it was easier that say, the complex panels for the simulator of a fighter jet's cockpit, but without having a rundown on which was what in the split second time for him to act, it was certainly a mental challenge. The genius engineer realized just how much he relied on voice control with his robots. A better way of operation too, he added to that thought.

However, Hiro wasn't going to let the alien tech get the better of him. He had a reputation to keep!

"Okay, got it.." Hiro was talking more to himself, than anyone now. He was coming in closer to the tree-tops, and had the Green Machine and the other SUV in his sight. With the SUV in target, he fired the powerful laser then abruptly pulled up back towards the sky.

"Damn, her cloak is down now.. it just shorted! Better find cover in the clouds," Pidge shouted as she struggled below with the connections during the sudden movements from his flying.

He responded in kind, skimming back down into the cloud cover and slowing the Green lion's speed.

"Sweet Momma, what was that?" Wasabi's voice came over their communication line. "Some kind of vine monster just grew out from the inside and wrapped itself around that SUV… stopping it!"

"Just helping you guys out," Hiro flaunted.

"Vine monster… what?" Pidge repeated, just as surprised. "She could do that?"

"Apparently! Sick, huh?" Hiro mused, also excited by whatever that laser weapon was. A part if him wished he could have seen it himself. The irony of it was that this type of attack wasn't fatal, since it did not cause SUV to explode. Equally as clever (and a saving grace, as his own team preferred to not kill their villains). Green was able to sense that.

Unfortunately, he didn't want to hang around there if the lion was no longer invisible and they had people after them. "Hey guys, we're gonna break for it now. Head back and we'll meet up later."

"Gotcha," GoGo acknowledged that call.

Hiro decided after he got some distance in, he would add the coordinates of the next rendezvous for them.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

"Who could be after Green?" the boy asked, twisting in the chair. "Can it be someone from the government?"

"Probably," Pidge grumbled, trying to reposition herself in a more comfortable way where she was under the floor panels. She had a pretty rough go trying to stay in one place earlier with the changes in direction throwing her position. "The government, the Garrison – either way, it's probably someone who doesn't want the general public know that aliens exist. To be honest, that makes no sense governments all over the world keep us from knowing. The reality is that not too many other planets are unaware of other civilizations like that."

"Because humans are too egocentric?"

She just snorted out a laugh in response. All scientific reasoning aside, that did seem to be the best answer for now. Thankfully, not all humans were as self-centered as the ones in higher positions. Yet, would the more militant groups on earth have that potential of also wanting domination over other worlds, like the Galra?

The Green paladin's glorified musings were soon distracted from something humming in short pulses, followed by the sound of Velcro tearing apart. She imagined that must have been Hiro's cell phone.

"They said Ronin also took pictures of the SUV, and the license plates, for us to analyze later," Hiro soon informed her. The others had called him or something, since they were out of range of the short-wave radio communication.

"Thanks," Pidge shifted to an elbow. She was more concerned that what they had originally planned may not go as intended, because the equipment she needed to reach her teammates, or even the Castle-ship, was still in his Range Rover. "Hey, is there a remote place away from the mainland that we could hide at, while waiting to regroup?"

"I can look… maybe there's some small island off coast," Hiro sounded a little more positive this time. He hesitated, looking at his phone or something, before talking to himself about realizing where he was. "Oh, yeah.. that."

Pidge smiled, remembering what that was like at first when she was getting used to all the Lion's attributes.

"Ut… is Green able to go under water…? Just in case..."

"She is."

"Oh..there are some small islands near San Fran though," he added.

"Okay.. but, isn't one of them a prison?"

"Had been. Plus another one was used for some kind of government research facility."

"What…?"

"But they are both right inside the bay… too close to everything!" Hiro finished explaining. "I was thinking about these other islands further out in the Pacific, called Akuma no Ha."

Pidge furrowed her brow. If she had something to throw at him for misleading her like that, she would've. Plus, the language translator built into her suit was equally as ironic. "Devil's.. teeth?! How's that better?"

"Heh. So.. you're okay with flying out that way? It's just a nature preserve where lots of birds nest. No humans."

At least the boy was thoughtful enough to ask her first what was best. She still felt a backseat driver though. "Yeah… just stay over the ocean, and out of the air traffic. Once her power levels are high enough, I'm hoping I can get the cloak activated again."

"Cool," Hiro acknowledged her. "Oh, in case you were wondering, the texts from between our phones are encrypted so they can't be intercepted. It's far more secure than our com links too."

She certainly hoped that was true, considering how easy it was for her to figure out his short-wave radio frequency. At the same time, what Hiro said gave her a weirdly nostalgic ache for her brother. He was really into encryption algorithms, and wanted her to learn the one he had created with their dad before they left that last time.

"So once we secure a spot on those islands to hide Green, I'll text the others. Well figure out a new plan… to get your equipment."

"Good," Pidge breathed out. Summed up, it was another round of hurry up and wait. She wondered again the range of her communication link to her teammates. Unfortunately, with her hands holding the damaged circuitry together, she wasn't free to change the radio frequencies on her helmet to check again.

More time passed as they flew. Pidge decided the boy genius was either talking to himself, or to Green, as he looked more closely over the different details on the control panel. Curiosity and the thirst for knowledge, characteristics the Green lion liked.

"It's funny how Green gets along with you," Pidge decided to start a new conversation about it.

"Well, yeah.. because she knows I just wanna help," the boy genius added his thoughts, after a moment of silence.

"Kinship?" Pidge mused. She had met lots of other guys and a handful of girls who liked robots before, that was a given. But the way she associated with them was different. Her objective was not only just to think up amazing feats in engineering, but to offer something more that wasn't expected from your typical robot.

A robot that one could relate with, a highly evolved mechanical partner who genuinely wanted to help people. The Hamada boy's robots charmed her right away with that quality. The thought did cross her mind more than once that it could be Hiro's older brother as the original inspiration, since he said Baymax was not his creation.

"Um, do you need any help down there… is it holding on its own yet?" the question, she realized, was directed at her this time.

Pidge hesitated, not really certain when, and bumped the small readout panel with her elbow to activate it again. "Not yet... the combination of being cloaked and flying is still too much of a drain."

"Do you wanna switch?"

"Oh.. I'm okay," Pidge was softened by his attempt to be more considerate of her. "Just focus on getting to that island, and she'll be able to charge back up."

"Where does she get the energy?"

"The earth and the stars," Pidge explained again, briefly reflecting on the readings she saw from the Balmera and how the Galra had some crazy ability to draw this out of a planet. "From what I could tell, it's what comes from rock and crystals possessing a concentrated level of radioactive isotopes, or from magnetic fields.. life energy sources like that."

"That's the Quintessence?"

"Yep."

"No plugging in, or having to.. 'eat' anything..?" he asked again, apparently still in disbelief.

"Yes, nothing like that.. because this is superior alien tech," Pidge teased him.

"Oh, of course."

Yes, there was so much humans could learn from Altean power sources and alternative energy. The castle-ship was ultimately the place Green could 'plug into' when she returned to her bay after a mission for a full diagnostic check and servicing. However, there was no such luxury out here, so they had to make due with the lion's own self-diagnostics once they reached a stopping point.

Hiro fell silent as they flew the rest of the way. He probably was feeling fatigued again, only because she was starting to feel the same. It had been a busy day, on top of the crazy she went through before crashing back to Earth. The green paladin's arms ached even more from the position she was in, and tried to shift over to laying on her side.

::::::::::::::::::::::::

Since the lion could fly a direct route more quickly than an SUV trying to dodge government spies through the mountains, the two of them had to wait for the others once they reached their destination.

They had been outside, walking the rugged rocky shore on one of the tiny, barren islands under the shroud of nightfall. Pidge was testing the range on her helmet through Green for any response, but there was nothing. The chill of the brisk ocean air had gotten too cold (for him, since her suit was thermal regulated), so he and Pidge went back inside the lion to wait.

After awhile, the younger Hamada realized being outside seemed more relaxed, as he didn't feel any pressure to talk. Now, they sat on the floor, on opposite sides in the back of the cockpit. She did have a small supply of food rations, such as space water in a pouch, that she shared with him.

Pidge sat on her helmet, currently looking at a small, translucent, cyan-tinted holograph projected from the gauntlet armor on her arm. She didn't have her glasses on this time, since they were left with her other belongings back in the SUV. Hopefully that wouldn't be a problem.

Not that he was really looking, but Hiro also noticed Pidge's eye color more clearly. Outside, they had looked more golden, but in the cockpit, accented by the green-blue lighting, they looked hazel-green. That was kind of cool. His aunt's eyes were more of a darker grey-green, which for some reason made him wonder what color his mom's had been.

And then Hiro suddenly froze his thoughts as soon as it registered on just how weird this whole idea was!

He also realized he had been staring at her, as she looked up in his way. Hiro nervously swept a hand through his tousled hair, hoping she hadn't noticed he was. The superhero teen turned himself so that he could lean against a small partition of wall in the back of the cockpit, so he wasn't facing her. Sighing, he picked up his water pouch for another drink. It had a flavor that tasted like sweet mineral water, which was different.

The awkward silence hung in the air around them as the teen genius beat his brain for anything interesting to talk about. To be honest, they really did not have to talk, but for some reason, he felt it was the best way to pass their time. They did all they could already to help repair whatever Green needed to be fixed, and with nothing else to tinker on… what could he do?

Hiro already had looked at his phone a dozen times for any new messages, or the time, or to play a couple rounds of Candy Crush... but he had to fight the urge now just to keep from draining the battery. Fate did this to him on purpose.

So bored… auugh!

"Mhh… my teammates were so annoying before. I can't believe I'm actually worried about them now," Pidge broke the silence with her own exasperation.

Hiro looked up, quickly deciding to make something more from her concern. For some reason, the thought also formed that if there was someone she liked, then maybe he would be 'off the hook'.

"What are they like?"

The redhead straightened up a little bit, quirking a subtle smile. "They're all guys who are older than me… but they've become the best friends I've known so far."

Hiro rocked his head back on the wall, upon hearing how her friends were older than her. Same, totally the same.

"I told you about Shiro.. he was the pilot for dad and my brother before we rescued him. He's really good at taking charge and making good decisions for the team. He flies the Black Lion, which turns into the head and Body for Voltron."

"Lance calls him Space Dad behind his back, just because of how much Shiro nags him. But that's because Lance is such a goofball… always flirting with girls and trying to act cool."

"Aren't most guys like that?" He thought out loud that time. Unless she just hates that kind of behavior.

Pidge shrugged, not really wanting to discuss that. Instead, she just stopped to drink more water. "Then there's Hunk. He's a big, nervous guy, but he's really nice. A smart engineer who also loves food, talking about food, cooking food… and unfortunately, gets motion sickness a lot too. Bleh."

Hiro looked over to her, noticing a certain fondness in her tone. Well, up until she got to the motion sickness part. "He sounds like character," he hummed, not certain if she did have any feelings for that guy.

"Maybe… then there's Keith. I'm still not sure what to make of him. He's a loner with a lot of emotional baggage.. and apparently caused trouble at the Garrison before they kicked him out, from what Lance said."

Just the way she said 'emotional baggage' pricked his subconscious, and Hiro pressed his lips together. Yep, that's what he had too, and it made his resolve stronger to keep it more to himself. Unless… she happened to have a soft-spot for that kind of thing, because this wasn't the first time he heard about that particular guy.

"Like I said before, the weird thing about Keith was that he knew about Shiro crashing to earth before it happened, and he was able to figure out what these drawings said on the walls of some caverns, with some kind of extra-sensory intuition that detected the lion's energy," Pidge said with a sigh as she stretched out her white-armored legs.

"So.. if it wasn't for him, you guys wouldn't be where you are now with Voltron?" Hiro felt to put that spin on it.

"That… is true," one of her feet scraped against the floor as she drew it back in closer. "It's still a hotly debated topic between Keith and Lance about who got the credit. Even though Keith found Blue, Lance was the one chosen to pilot him."

"Rivals?"

"Yeah, how'd you guess?"

"Similar things like that on my team..." he smiled briefly.

"It's just a front though… for Lance's insecurities," Pidge whispered. "One of the things we have to do to strengthen our bonds for Voltron, is to also be more open with each other.. we can literally feel each other's most prominent thoughts when we're all linked."

"Ehh?" Hiro had curled up his lip in distaste, imagining that. Working as a team was all well and good, but there were some things, many things, he did not ever wish to reveal to his team.

The conversation came to a stand-still though, leaving Hiro to fear if he said something stupid again. Podge finally spoke again after the long pause.

"I thought Lance was just exaggerating, about not being able to call home from space— because we were millions of miles away from Earth! But…" the Green Paladin looked up from her clasped hands, her tone sounding much more somber. "After I had charged my phone earlier, I found that my service had been disconnected."

The younger Hamada parted his lips, suddenly speechless. Again, from his own unfortunate experience, he knew what that meant. Pidge was considered 'gone', and no longer of this world. His sympathetic eyes searched out to meet hers. "I'm sorry.. if, if you need to call—"

"It's okay, I don't need— I mean, I don't know.. the damage is already done… dammit," her voice sounded strained as her gaze waivered.

"No, no… you really should call your mom. To let her know at least. Give her peace of mind, closure. Not ever knowing what really happened the worse feeling!" Hiro told her with more conviction than he originally intended.

Pidge held her eye contact with him, a brief expression of 'why was that so important?' asking him in return.

Too close, too close! Hiro's alarms went off again, mentally screaming at him, and he looked away. His eyes locked back onto his own hands and feet as he bit his lip in disapproval of himself.

But… it was important, for her to know. Hiro sighed. He scratched both sides of his head with his fingers roughing up his hair even more, just to think.

"I'll think about it.. tomorrow," she spoke up, hoping to ease his rather obvious distress at that point.

Hiro mocked a smile, before trying another change of topic. "Can you still see okay without your glasses?"

"Hm? Yeah," the redhead smiled weakly, pulling in her legs and crossing them at her ankles (all while still sitting on her helmet). "It's kind of a long, silly story, but they're more for sentimental reasons than for necessity."

"Really? How come?"

"They used to be my brother's glasses. He gave them to me before he left for Kerberos."

"Oh.. oh, okay," Hiro mentally cringed again. Why aren't there any safe topics?! Maybe some damage control, "Wait, waaait... you are wearing his glasses? How is that possible?"

Pidge snorted. "They're very expensive readers. They hardly have any prescription for sight correction, just the no-line bifocals for reading. Matt has some weird eyes!"

"Ah… and so do you, apparently," Hiro tried to be funny in return.

"Oh, shut up!" she threw her water pouch at him.

"Hey!" he raised his arm while ducking his head to block the pouch as it hit his shoulder.

"I wear them to remind myself of the promise I made to find him and Dad," Pidge was very candid with her reason for having them.

"Sorry.." he cringed. Hiro was sure she didn't mean to be that serious about why, but again, the words hit him harder than expected. It was like why he kept Tadashi's hat on a shelf in his lab at SFIT. Or why he kept his brother's wish to help so many people, by continuing the development of other Baymax models for local children's hospitals.

Of course, everything fell silent again after that. Hiro rested his head back against the wall and closed his tired eyes.

"Is it okay to ask.. what happened to your brother?" Pidge asked, more gently.

Hiro opened his eyes and turned to her, almost startled. Then he looked down and released the breath he had been holding for awhile now.

 

Chapter Text

"It's only if you want to talk about your brother, though…" Pidge added, a little more gently, now aware of the shock her first question had caused Hiro.

The younger Hamada shook his head, casting his eyes back down to the floor. "No.. I'm- I just.. I didn't want to bother you.. with that, earlier."

"I don't mind," the redhead leaned in, resting her elbows on her knees now. Her eyes went back and forth between looking at him, and looking at the floor too. "But.. sometimes it is better to talk about it."

"Yeah…" he sighed, because he had heard that before, from Baymax. It held truth, and if she was wanting to know… talking about it would be easier than continuing to avoid the subject. Pidge did tell her earlier how her mom thought she was dead by shutting off the phone service. She had to be wondering why he reacted the way he did to that. It was her trusting nature he felt earlier that caused him to drop his superhero cover, so why should he treat this differently?

Hiro drew in another breath, holding it briefly as he clenched his jaw, then exhaling, surrendering.

"It was about a year ago when it happened," his voice was quiet. Since he told this story a few times too many to local residents, Hiro hadn't realized he was telling her the abridged version. "SFIT was holding an Inventor's Convention for new and returning students to compete in… I had entered my microbots, the first invention that my nanotech designs are based from. Then later that night, after the showcase, the whole place caught on fire."

"My older brother.. Tadashi, he heard that- that his professor was still inside. He had to go inside, to find him.. then that's when the whole building blew up. The heat, it was so hot…" Hiro swallowed, struggling to keep his voice steady. "I couldn't find him... in there."

She was still quiet. Hiro could very easily imagine that everything she had learned about him before was now crashing down around her as the pieces fell into place.

"Sometimes.." his voice was barely audible now. He hesitated, biting his lip and looked down before making up his mind to tell her. "I don't want to think that he's.. really gone. Just because there was nothing found afterwards in the rubble. But, I dunno… it was really.. hot... maybe he did burn up..completely…" That last part of it was something he rarely talked about, just because he didn't want the others to worry that he hadn't gotten over what had happened. But without real proof that his brother was truly dead, what could he think? After all, Callaghan also assumed that his daughter had died in that portal experiment… but she didn't.

"I'm so sorry…" Pidge finally told him.

So was he… Hiro never felt so sorry at that time after the fire, and he really did not like the memories that came with it.

Right after that 'accident' at the convention hall, his feelings of hopelessness and heart ache were those that could only be numbed by sleep. But then sleep no longer held a safe place anymore. It kept on being stolen from him when the flames began exploding in his mind. Or, when his aunt forced him to sit up to drink something, making his headache throb even worse. Hiro hadn't gotten up to do anything for so long, like eat or even go to the bathroom... he didn't know what day it was either. He didn't really care to know.

After refusing her wishes to drink on his own, she instead forced a syringe into Hiro's mouth to make him drink the cold, fruity liquid. Even though the shades were drawn, his room still felt very warm from the lingering late summer heat. His aunt told him how much she was worried for him. But he still didn't care.

The acidic aftertaste from the Zillade had burned the back of his sore, parched throat, strongly reminding him of the burning, hot smoke. Hiro weakly pushed her away again. That was when the brunette said she was going to take him to the hospital if he didn't at least drink something. That was also the first time he hit his aunt, fighting to break free from her arms. Hiro really, really didn't want to go to the doctor… there was nothing they could do to help anyway. His brother was gone, forever. She remained at his bed, crying, while Hiro curled up upon himself on the floor under the bay window.

He just wished he could die, his heartache hurt so bad.

The younger Hamada didn't want to talk about any of that here. It was a dark part of him he carefully hid away, and hadn't even told GoGo about that part of his depression. Baymax was only able to sense whenever he really felt lost. So why should he bother this stranger with.. that?

Hiro drew in his legs and hugged them, hiding his face, forcing those horrid thoughts back down. His emotions were so easily tempted to fall apart when he hadn't been feeling his best.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The boy had been quiet for too long, and he currently was pulled up upon himself. Was Hiro crying? She couldn't hear anything, but she noticed his fingers and how tense they looked as he dug them into his arms. His last words still hung heavy on her heart, creating a sorrowful, painful feeling. That morbid feeling of loneliness she constantly guarded herself against. Green seemed to magnify this, connecting him to Pidge's awareness like the Lions do with her other teammates.

It was one thing to have parents, your family, separated from you due to being in the far reaches of space, with no guarantee to see them again. But could that be the same if someone close had died? The feeling of separation was undeniable, however. She felt for Hiro, knowing he had to cope with the unimaginable. His whole family, now dead.

Pidge felt the lump growing in her throat, sympathizing with the emptiness and the uncertainty he had to deal with. These same feelings of despair had threatened to tear her down too. Feelings she fought back, with her stubborn hope that kept her looking for her own family.

They all had their regrets, even the strongest of men and the greatest of leaders. But, what she learned from having to be more candid with her teammates, was that they didn't have to struggle with all of that alone. Otherwise, it all will just tear them apart.

Even though consoling others wasn't something she was good at, Pidge felt she had to do something. Her lion kept nudging her to go to him as well.

The Green paladin quietly crept over to Hiro's side, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She leaned her head on his shoulder too as she held the teen in her embrace, a shared unspoken empathy.

His breathing became shallow and he felt tense at first, but Pidge hoped the weight of her body helped ground him. Her brother used to do that for her whenever she had a bad day. Matt was so good about being there for her when he could, even in finding a way for them stay connected after they left for Kerberos.

Then along came Hunk and his super big, suffocating bear hugs! Either way, hugs always helped, even though her bulky armor plating was currently in the way.

After awhile, Hiro had felt more relaxed and he lifted up his head. The redhead felt his movement, and looked up to make eye contact. His glistening, brown eyes looked defeated and a little embarrassed too, before they turned back to the floor, away from her.

"Sorry… thanks," he apologized quietly.

"S'kay. It's a lot to process…" she whispered, trying to think of a way to console him and keep up his fighting spirit. She sat up more, releasing Hiro but still kept her right hand across his back.

Hiro stared at the floor, his chin resting on his arms that were still hugging his knees. Thinking. "Yeah…" he finally agreed, as if finding resolve. "But.. someone has to help."

Pidge nodded, somehow touched by those words.

"Was it a super hero mission?" That thought came to her next, just as a way to keep him talking. Because, why else would his brother go running into a burning building?

"No.. actually, um," Hiro seemed to have realized he skipped over those details. The teen straighten up and shifted a little more so that he was facing her direction. A good sign. "The superhero thing started after that."

Pidge drew back her arm when he shifted his body away. She still gave him that questioning look, gently urging him to continue.

His eyes cast down at the floor in thought when he started over again, gripping his arms. "Okay, so.. my brother had contributed a lot of break-though research that had earned himself a reputable position at SFIT. He was also collaborating with a senior professor who had been the renowned roboticist in San Fransokyo."

"Wait," the redhead touched his arm to get the younger Hamada's attention. The way he didn't want to make eye contact with her for long was curious now. "Robert Callaghan? The Robert Callaghan?"

"Y-yeah—"

"You guys knew him?"

"Yeah.. he was—" Hiro stopped, maybe because he realized she was talking in past tense as well. He looked at her now. "He was an inspiration to both of us, until—"

"Oh, I couldn't believe it when I read the news that Callaghan was revealed to have sabotaged Krei Tech Industries with some kind of tech— I mean, this was after he was thought to be dead, so why would he come back like that?" Pidge jumped in, unashamedly, but her enthusiasm about him knowing Callaghan couldn't be contained. Until recent events, that roboticist had been among the top engineers she based her knowledge from.

That was when the scornful look that surfaced on Hiro's face had stopped her in her tracks.

"Well, it was my tech that he stole," Hiro muttered, looking back to the floor space in front his feet. He also leaned back against the wall. "You probably saw only the news that had all the facts changed.. to protect our identities and the bigger mess that Professor Callaghan was in."

"No… it was?" she was serious too. It made her wonder just how much had been covered up. She also reflected back on her first meeting with Ronin, the way that robot 'trapped' her hands when her curiosity got the better of her. It was a defense mechanism against theft.

"The Krei Tech attack was just the endgame… it all started from when Professor Callaghan set the convention hall on fire," the brooding teen glanced over to her.

Pidge raised her eyebrow in surprise. After all this time, she hadn't made the connection that his brother died in the same fire as the robotics professor. Of course, at the time she read about that then, she didn't know any of the other casualties.

On the other hand, his Callaghan was like her Iverson. Rather than admit the truth and offer solutions to help locate the missing crew, the Garrison command just blamed everything on a pilot error and sent their condolences. Yes, keeping the everyday people from going into a panic was far more important to global governments, than actually facing up to the fact that there are powerful alien civilizations out there. The feeling that no one involved had truly cared was still overwhelming.

"So when my brother and I heard the fire alarms going off, we ran over to see what happened. The biggest reason was that I had left my microbots there, and I was worried about them. Then… we heard from other people that Professor Callaghan was still inside. Since the fire department hadn't arrived yet, Tadashi wanted to go in to help… I tried to hold him back, just because it looked too dangerous, but…"

Hiro paused, taking a moment as he scrunched his face as if to resist any further unfavorable thoughts, before continuing. "We all thought Callaghan died in there with my brother.. but he actually set that whole thing up just to steal my microbots!"

"How did you find out?" Pidge asked, because she still didn't see how it all tied together.

"Not right away.. God.." Hiro rubbed his face, then ran his hands through his hair. "It was over a month later, when I noticed one of the microbots I still had was acting funny. Baymax was using it like a compass in the petri dish it was in, and it lead us to this abandoned warehouse full of my microbots! Callaghan was dressed up as some kinda masked villain – we didn't know it was him until later. So after that, I went to get help.. except the police thought I just trying to prank them."

Somehow, Pidge couldn't help but chuckle at the mental image of Hiro trying to explain to a police officer that a masked villain stole a bunch of his tiny robots.

"What?" Unfortunately, he noticed that.

"Ah, just.. yeah, that was a good reason for taking matters into your own hands," she smiled warmly at him in an effort to make up for that.

Then, almost unexpectedly, that had elicited a small smile on the boy's face, and encouraging him to explain more. A lot more. "Yeah, the whole thing was just that crazy… Callaghan was acting like a yokai ghost, by wearing this kabuki mask and chasing after us with millions of my micro bots. He almost killed us! We had to do something!"

"That was when we found out Fred also had superhero connections. So with our technical knowhow and my brains, we designed our own gear to go after him.. to apprehend him. But here's the thing… he just didn't care about all the trouble he had caused, or that my brother had died… he just… " Hiro clenched his teeth, dropping his head in disgust.

"Wow... I wonder why? Callaghan was the one who implemented the Laws of Robotics… so yeah, that really doesn't make any sense at all!" she agreed with that line of thought.

The younger Hamada scratched his hair above his right ear before he propped his head on his hand, and elbow on his knee. "All that Callaghan was concerned with was the issue he had with his colleague. They were working on this huge portal experiment for the government, and his daughter was the test subject. Something went wrong and she never came back out. Callaghan blamed the failure on Krei… this was all out of vengeance!" he gestured with his hands now as he spoke.

"But after we stopped him, Baymax noticed there were signs of life coming from inside the portal. Since it was possible that the portal Callaghan built over Krei Tech might have sucked in bystanders, I offered to go inside to check, with Baymax," Hiro said, as he thumbed at the edge of his kneepad, pausing in thought. "All we found was her- his daughter, in her pod..."

The Green paladin concluded that Hiro must get fidgety and nervous when talking about these personal kind of topics. Hunk and Keith got the same way. "You found her? Was she okay?"

"I guess, she was in a kind of cryosleep. Stayed in a coma for a month after. They flew her out to the east cost where her mom lives."

"How was Callaghan after learning about that?"

"Relieved… different, but he still had to serve time in jail.. for a lot of reasons," he rubbed his neck now. "Even though he held his silence about our involvement in his affairs.. even after he was tried for a felony for my brother's death, I still- I can't understand it. Why? Why did he get his daughter back? He's the bad guy… I lost my brother.. and then the first Baymax he made got damaged when we were rescuing Callaghan's daughter. Just to save her and myself, I had to leave him behind. Never mind that his wife left him, with her..." he was starting to ramble a lot more there, not really making much sense.

All she could do was just nod her head agreement. It was so relatable though. "Yeah.. it never seems fair that stuff like that happens."

Hiro sighed, stretching out his legs and rocking his head back against the wall. That seemed to signify that he was done with this topic.

Just to help him feel like he wasn't alone in his struggle, Pidge decided to share her similar dilemma. "It's not exactly the same kind of situation, but.. when we joined as the new Paladins for Voltron, there were a lot of other unspoken questions about what had happened to the paladins before us. Allura had said ten thousand years had passed, so we just assumed they had died in battle. But, something seemed weird about it.. like how come the Black lion didn't have a Bayard – a weapon we get as a pilot of our assigned lion – or why was the Red lion on-board a Galra ship," Pidge took a moment to think again the point of this comparison.

"Green had let me work on her, like look into her systems and see how she was made so I could add some improvements – like the cloaking. But then I happened across something I hadn't asked about yet. In her log data, I noticed that Zarkon used to be the Black Paladin."

"Really?" Hiro whispered, pulling in his legs so he could cross them.

She nodded, continuing. "King Alfor, Allura's father, had made the Lions, and he also was the Red Paladin. The Black Paladin was Zarkon. Something had happened back then to turn them into enemies… the last thing Allura knew was that Zarkon destroyed Altea, King Alfor's planet."

"Ugh," Hiro winced. "Did he use his lion, or Voltron, to do that?"

"I don't think so… but I didn't see much more on how, just that Zarkon was researching better energy sources," she sighed, regretfully. "So, I mean.. maybe the good thing for you, for everyone, was that you did intervene. You stopped Callaghan before more people got hurt."

"Yeah… that's true..." Hiro breathed after a moment's thought. "Except… I- I wanted to kill him.. using Baymax. But.. my teammates managed to stop him... and stop me."

"That's.. that's good," Pidge whispered. Stunned. He was asleep earlier, right? Or did he have remote access to Ronin's data, to know of her earlier conversation wit the robot about the justification behind 'killing'?

"Someone cared enough to stop me," he whispered that idea again, then swallowed. He was picking at the lace on his boot.

"Not just that," Pidge realized how one-sided hus comment sounded. Because sometimes, there were people who will still do what they wanted no matter how hard others tried to stop them. "You cared enough to realize what you were doing, and that it wasn't going to make things better."

Hiro's eyes met hers, and she watched as the muscles in his jaw flexed as he processed what she said.

"That just- yeah... you're right," he whispered, his gaze redirecting up past her. "It also reminded me one of the passage's my aunt picked for my brother's memorial service: 'Whoever keeps their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will find a new one'."

"I.. I get what you mean though," Pidge nodded. She was moved. He matched her dad's advice with one from his guardian. The Paladin realized something else that didn't occur to her before. Even though Hiro's passage originally had a religious context, she also understood how it could be like a superhero's creed. Of course, killing in general is wrong and she wasn't going to justify that. But killing in cold blood for revenge while fueled by selfish anger, was the worse. On her behalf, she only fought and killed to protect the innocent. Regardless... how can one determine who really deserved to die?

"As part of Voltron, I had to kill in order to protect.. I had no choice," she admitted that much, showing how she cared about his struggle. "My biggest fear, as a Paladin of Voltron, was destroying a Galra ship or a base that had been carrying prisoners -- because my dad and brother could be among them."

"Did.. you tell the others about that?"

"No.. just Shiro. I actually wanted to leave Voltron and travel space on my own to find them, but… I changed my mind," Pidge looked at him, a lump now forming in her throat. Her new friends really had become part of her family, and they were now missing too. "I saw how much my teammates needed- appreciated my help… it's not safe going it alone."

He nodded, seemingly understanding her dilemma and resolve. Pidge felt a stronger sense of respect and admiration for him now. Hiro had said so much, and she could only barely grasp the courage it must have taken for him talk with her about his brother.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Even though the redhead engaged with his conversation, and did not get upset about what Hiro was telling her, he still felt awkward at times. A good part of him felt it was due to the fact Pidge didn't know him personally, and had no reason to provide her own personal opinion. That was the easiest answer as to why she hadn't questioned his state of denial, or shamed him for still feeling resentment.

But… but then she hugged him! He was not expecting that. He didn't deserve anything from her like that! Because.. because it meant she genuinely cared about him, and that- he wasn't ready for that yet.

What he did like, however, was that Pidge could relate with him, because she had similar regrets. Namely, how to be a hero of many while still coping with their own demons from the past.

Once he willed himself to keep his eye contact with her again, he noticed her curious and confident hazel-brown eyes were now shaded with uncertainty. Her last thought was about the others, and that had brought him around full-circle. Yes, that's why he's helping her. She looked a bit more exhausted now, making him realize maybe he should return the favor. But this time, he decided to ask first. "Hug?"

"Um.. sure," Pidge whispered, and slid closer to his side.

Hiro wrapped his arm around her shoulder, and she hooked her other arm around him in a full embrace. Much to his surprise! Yes, he did ask for this, but the awkward feelings raced through his mind again for a couple long seconds before he could calm down. He also remembered to bring his other arm around Pidge's body to hold her. His heart was pounding like crazy too, and Hiro hoped she didn't notice. 

At that moment, his phone started to vibrate too. No, no, no.. not now! I can't answer that NOW!

The younger Hamada had to focus, there was something he was going to say to her first. But Pidge's head was resting by his neck, with her red-golden hair tickling his chin. Hiro exhaled, shifting his head a little just so he wouldn't have to sweep it back with his hand. His touching of her head might come off the wrong way too! The robotics genius took a couple more subtle breaths, and then...

"We'll find them," he finally told her.

"Yeah," she sniffled lightly.

"All of us are a bunch of nerds, so your chances of success are very good." Okay, that was a lame reason, but he still said it.

As expected, the paladin snorted and pulled away to give him a look, which didn't last long. She sat back to wipe a tear trail from one of her cheeks. "Sorry."

"No, no.. it's my fault... really-- ut, wait…" Hiro felt his phone buzzing again from his phone pouch. A little more ready, he quickly pulled it out to respond. "Hey, where are—"

"Hello, this is Baymax!"

"Baymax…" Hiro sighed. Not that he didn't wanted to hear from him... he was just getting tired of all this waiting (not that talking and hugging was bad, it was just… just.. getting to be a little too much right now.)

"Is everything going okay, Hiro? I have not heard from.. you in awhile."

"Yeah, yeah. We're fine- safe!" Hiro feigned his smile while he spoke. He rubbed his neck with his other hand and left it there as he explained. "Just waiting for Gogo and Wasabi to get here with the rest of the stuff."

"Okay."

"Don't worry, Baymax.. tell Aunt Cass we're okay," Hiro continued. "It's the other guys I'm kind of worried about.. but if I do need help, you'll be the first to know!"

"Thank you, Hiro," Baymax voice echoed. "I will contact them too."

"Uhm.. okay, thanks," he did not have a problem with that idea at the moment, mostly because he did not want to attract the wrong kind of attention to their location.

Pidge just raised an eyebrow, giving him that curious look again.

"Yeah, so maybe Baymax has taken over my brother's role… in a way," he shrugged with his hands held up.

"That.. him?" Pidge pointed to the picture on the slide screen of Hiro's phone.

"Oh.. yeah," Hiro looked at the picture with a snowy backdrop of Tadashi with his arm around a bundled up Hiro, and Aunt Cass taking the selfie. It was from a ski trip a few years ago, but the picture was one of his favorites. "That's Tadashi.. and my aunt. This used to be her phone, so I got a lot of pictures of us on it."

"Cute."

"Tch… says the girl who's all sentimental about a pair of glasses!"

"Match me," she tilted her chin down and gave him a mocked sadistic look.

"Okay… so, you wanted to know more about Baymax, right…? Here's a video of my brother's presentation showcasing him," the young genius matched her smile as he pulled up said video.

The girl genius suddenly looked impressed.

Heh.

Hiro wasn't going to admit this just yet, but he already had watched many of those old videos as his personal coping mechanism. It helped so much, between hearing his brother's voice and being enveloped in Baymax hugs. But… this one and his own presentation from the convention were videos he didn't watch yet. They were hardly considered comforting, and tolerated it this time just for Pidge.

Pidge leaned in, her shoulder pressing against his, so she could see better. All this touching all of a sudden.. why? He didn't resist it though, because it was actually kind of comforting.

All Hiro could remember from that time at the convention was how nervous he was. His attention span then was not 100%, so he realized how much he didn't remember when he watched the video now.

The part that struck him the most this time was that his brother presented Baymax in honor of their father and mother. Hiro read about that before, in his brother's notations when he was rebuilding Baymax last year. But hearing it spoken from his brother in this way, that hit a chord. Baymax didn't just represent his brother, but the embodiment of his parents too. All of them, they are always with him...

His phone's power flashed at 15% and paused the playback. After exchanging glances with Pidge, Hiro sighed and decided to take the risk of playing the video to the end.

"Y' know what, you can charge your phone here. I had set up a method that works like a charging pad on that console," Pidge added when the video finished

"Really? Thanks," except he wasn't ready to do that just yet.

"Sure," she shifted away from him a bit. "What did your parents do as healthcare professionals?"

"Um, my dad was a doctor, and my mom was a nurse. She liked to work at clinics and do missionary work too, from what I was told," Hiro answered that much. But a second later he decided to let the other shoe drop. "They died in an automobile accident when coming back from a date one night.. drunk driver hit them. I was just three then, my brother just turned nine."

She shook her head, sympathetically, her eyes glancing downward.

Yep, nothing in his life made sense or was fair. Plus he felt really guilty for the pity party he thrust upon her again. Hiro gritted his teeth and pulled up his knees to hug them.

"Hey…" she tugged at his attention, waving her hand at him. "Want to see what the Altean version of a BlackBerry looks like?"

"A BlackBerry?" he looked at her, shocked by the suggestion of that obsolete form of technology. What he saw, however, was a small translucent screen that projected from her armored gauntlet.

"Yeah… so, here's a picture of my brother, Matt," she held her arm with the display out toward him. "I'm also working on a facial recognition program with this, to help search any data banks I hack into."

"He's older than you, right? …not like a twin or something?" Hiro asked. Because really, he looked a lot like her.

"No.. he's older. I used to have long hair at one point," Pidge pointed to the small picture she had on her dash, of her with her brother near a spaceship launch pad.

He hadnt seen that before because of its 'out if the way' placement, and then wondered if it was possibly their last picture together as well. Hiro hummed, but his eyes darted back to his phone as it buzzed. This time it was Wasabi, finally!

"You guys doing okay?"

"Yeah… Green's functional again. We're just waiting for you. Were you able to lose them?"

"For now… but more importantly, you got room in there for two more?"

"Uhm, yes!" Hiro stood up as he spoke. The lion's dash was darkened so he couldn't see out. "Where are you?"

"In a rowboat, rowing over. The water is not calm either!"

He noticed Pidge facepalming after hearing that much.

Chapter Text

 

Wasabi and GoGo climbed up into the small pilot's cabin inside of Green's head, their arms full with boxes of equipment and supplies.

"Just one more trip… Ronin is down below with the rest, keeping watch," Wasabi said, making eye contact with the two younger teammates. "Where do you want this?"

"Thanks, I can take it," Pidge took the box from his hands.

Wasabi turned back around to go down, leaving GoGo. The short biker girl, wearing a black cropped leather jacket, stepped over to lean against the edge of the console. She glanced around the cockpit with subtle curiosity.

Hiro felt that GoGo's eye contact with him was brief and not very reassuring. Her arms were crossed, adding to her distant mood. Even over the comms, GoGo hadn't been saying much since his outburst with her back there in the woods. He sighed and decided to not say anything to her if GoGo wasn't in the mood to talk.

"So… um, how are we going to do this? Do you need help with anything?" Hiro instead asked Pidge.

The redhead had knelt down by the two boxes, pulling out parts to sort things out. "Possibly…"

"You want Ronin to stay down here on watch, right? " Wasabi spoke over their comms.

"Yeah," Hiro told him. He was sure the lion had her own ability to sense trouble too, but it was a precaution. That, and it would be kind of cramped with all of them in the cockpit area.

The next minute as Hiro waited for Wasabi to climb up felt more like five hundred, and he hoped this awkward silence wasn't noticeable. The young hero did have questions, but he wasn't sure how to ask GoGo if she was still mad at him.

Hiro scratched his head and glanced over to see what Pidge was doing. That was when he noticed her giving him that 'Okay, what's up?' look.

He opened his mouth, preparing an explanation, when Wasabi's sudden presence stopped him.

"Here's your back pack, Pidge, and also the box with the food!" the big guy set the box on the floor, behind the pilots chair, and then slid off the bag that was on his shoulder for Pidge.

"Yey, my stuff!"

"Oh.. Pidge? Is it okay to eat in here?" Wasabi thought to ask the Green Paladin first, only because he was just that type to think about maintaining the cleanliness of other people's places.

"Yeah, you're fine," Pidge gave him a thankful grin. She took the bag and right away looked through it for some things.

"Did you get more information on those officials who were coming after you?" Hiro openly asked his first question. He sat on the floor in a spot between Pidge and her equipment and Wasabi.

"Not yet," Wasabi looked up from the cooler he lifted out. "We haven't heard back from Fred yet."

"We just heard that they were some alien watch group," GoGo finally spoke.

"Not someone connected to Krei, again.. I hope," Hiro thought out loud. That guy created so much extra trouble for his team, it was ridiculous!

The speed queen shook her head no, and went over to help Wasabi take things from the cooler.

"Thanks to GoGo's slick skills, we lost both of them!" Wasabi supplied. "The way she drove, it was like she had a built in GPS!"

"No, I'm just familiar with the roads," GoGo responded smoothly. "They're great for testing my engine designs… hardly much traffic, or law enforcement."

Hiro knew what she meant, and that was why he wanted her to come with them. GoGo also used to do a lot of street racing when she was in high school, so evading the authorities had been something she became good at. But for knowing the roads up state?

Hiro sighed reluctantly, like this was an indirect way of GoGo apologizing. Yeah, her 'doing some tests' excuse soon became his as well when he felt the need to 'run away' with Baymax. GoGo had figured earlier he must have needed space again to think, which was why she came to his rescue earlier at the Lucky Cat.

It was a complicated relationship…

(Minor spoiler warning for Big Hero 6: The Series in this italicized flashback… ) -

His helmet muffled most of the sounds from their ride while Hiro looked over GoGo's shoulder. He sat behind her on the bike, pressed close to her back with his arms wrapped around her waist. As they ascended up the winding road, he felt the increasing chill from the wind as it whipped his shirt around his body. The smell of pine mixed with rain filled the mountain air.

GoGo surprised him earlier when she invited Hiro to ride with her as she tested the extent of the MPG on her new engine design for motorbikes. Her reasoning was that she wanted to see how extra weight would affect the mileage. Hiro teased that she should have asked Wasabi for that. He hardly weighed anything himself. She just shook her head and ordered him to come with her. That left Hiro wondering if there was another reason entirely. After all, he was the master of making up tall tales to cover up the truth.

His first ride with GoGo a week ago had taken him into the northern part of California, to see some of the biggest redwoods he ever set eyes on. They were bigger than the ones back near San Fransokyo! He decided later this was their sneaky plan to get him to take a break. Or… her way of getting back for when he secretively tracked her down into the Muirahara Woods.

Where are we going?  The thought ran through his head again. Even though the motorcycle's engine ran quietly, it was still hard to talk because his words would fly out of his mouth at this speed.

They were going upwards, climbing in altitude. Soon the trees ahead seemed to have gotten thinner, and everything looked different. The canopy was gone, but it wasn't a natural clearing. The blackened tree trunks stood alone, without any green shrubbery, grass, needles or leaves anywhere. Upon first inspection, everything just looked scorched and barren from a recent forest fire.

Their speed had slowed down, and the bike rolled to a stop on a gravely spot at the side of the road. The sun was trying to peek out of the swirling overcast sky, but it didn't help the somber feeling Hiro got from this aftermath.

"Why are we stopping here..?" the younger Hamada asked with a hint of disapproval in his voice.

"You'll see," she hung her black helmet on the handle before sliding off.

Hiro sighed and took off his helmet too. He lifted up the seat of the motorcycle to drop the white helmet inside and grabbed his blue hoodie. Pulling it on, the teen followed after her as they walked further into the scarred land on the hilltop.

This was how I used to feel … the thought surfaced when he stopped to look around. He zipped up his hoodie and crossed his arms against the wind. That was why he didn't like it here. How could being reminded of 'that time' be helpful?

"Hiro.. hey!"

A small pebble hit his shoulder, grabbing his attention. He looked over to where it came from and saw that GoGo was a few yards away now.

"Hurry up!"

"Coming!" Hiro clenched his jaw, realizing his space-out, and jogged down the way toward her.

In the direction GoGo was looking, there were more little, green plants filling up the blackened space on the ground. Further out on the hillside, he even saw a scattering of light blue and yellow flowers amongst the small, green shrubs. Then on the scorched tree next to him, new green shoots were growing back on a once barren branch.

It struck him as being simply beautiful. Amazing.

And for some reason, especially when sunlight broke through the clouds to shine on that patch of green on the distant hill, he smiled.

"Nature just don't quit," GoGo said, her arm brushed up against his when she stopped next to him.

Hiro looked at her from the corner of her eye, sensing her proximity. She seemed to recognize what he was feeling, and that was one of the things he liked about her. She didn't think it was necessary to give him long-winded lectures about things. No, GoGo said just enough to make the point clear, and he filled in the gaps. He had the okay to express what he was feeling. Plants and wildlife, they always endured and survived somehow. The found a way to evolve and succeed. From the weather, fire, other animals, even damage from mankind, things just kept on going.

His fingertips reached out and curled themselves around her hand. He just needed the reassurance, and when GoGo's fingers slid between his to squeeze tight, his smile grew bigger.

Her support and this sight, all of it helped so much. Secret or not, Hiro understood more of why nature was GoGo's peace of mind. Why Wasabi liked to meditate, or why Tadashi liked sports such as karate or surfing.

The trip continued down a different route, and the two stopped again to eat and stretch their legs. They came to a ravine with a small waterfall that had a old redwood trunk that had fallen across the brook. The log was small by redwood standards, but large enough for them to easily walk across and sit on.

They sat straddling the log, back to back so they could lean against each other if they wanted to. GoGo didn't say much when she directed more of her attention on the waterfall she was sketching. Hiro gave her that peace, and glanced at his phone for something to do. But there was spotty service in that area, which kept him from playing his favorite online games, so he gave up and pocketed it.

Before all this, nature really wasn't his thing due to his pollen allergies and dislike of pesky bugs biting at him. After all, there was a reason why mankind invented electricity, central air conditioning and heat, running water, and toilets one could flush. The day she would trick him into an actual sleepover camping trip will no doubt be the end of their happy relationship!  Well, not quite.

As cool nature may be, he could only tolerate it to a degree.

Fortunately, GoGo sprayed him all over with her deep-woods bug spray so he wouldn't become mosquito fodder. Unfortunately, the skeeters still hung around his head, whining loudly.

Growling, Hiro pulled up his hood in hopes that would deafen their drone.

"Is Karmi still giving you a hard time?" GoGo suddenly interrupted his mantra of 'colorful' ways to terminate all classifications of the culicidae family.

The robo-genius just grumbled under his breath. Come to think of it, Karmi was just like a fragging mosquito.

"You told Professor Granville, right?"

"I can handle it… it's nothing really," he sighed, stabbing his stick into a hole on the log they were sitting on. The embarrassment from the failure of his first major class project still stung, even though it was a month ago. That was because Karmi had posted her video she took of him online, making it worse!

A couple seconds passed, with just the sound of paper scribbling on paper to be heard. "If Karmi's bothering you that much—"

"Granville took Karmi's phone the last time she saw her video taping me in class, then asked for us to stay afterwards," the younger Hamada told her before she had a chance to go further. Despite his annoyance about her concern, it secretly touched him that Karmi's bullish behavior bothered GoGo like this.

"What happened?"

"She told us to stop being so juvenile and learn how to resolve our differences."

"So did you talk with Karmi afterwards?"

"Hnn… she still puts on a front around the professors ," Hiro pried up bits of the rotted wood from the hole in front if him as he spoke. "It's like since her dad is the head of the Bioinformatics department, Karmi has to keep her top position for Valedictorian. But if she's going to be so competitive, she can have it."

"You're going to LET her have her way?" he felt GoGo sit up away from his back, as if she was looking back at him.

"Yeah… cause her dad's gonna disown her if she doesn't do well," Hiro still kept his attention on widening his hole. All his family was dead, so who did he have to live up to? He had already decided that he didn't have the same talents as his older brother. Trying to live up to being like Tadashi was becoming so frustrating.

"So you don't care if your grades aren't as good?" GoGo chided him.

The younger Hamada glanced over his shoulder, catching her eye. Her questions made him feel increasingly defensive, but... in all honesty, he hadn't needed to try that hard before to get good grades. "Well… yeah.. I don't," he spoke openly.

"That's not like you… why?"

"It's not… I mean.. I know I have to keep my GPA above a 3.6 to keep my scholarship," Hiro looked her way again. He remembered also that at least he had all of them to fall back on, keeping him on track. "But.. isn't it better to be a person who CARES more about others and humanity, than some smartass who doesn't?"

"Tch... if that's what you believe, more power to you…" she turned back around.

"Karmi's really not my type anyway…" he added, under his breath. Of course, he would still try to be friendly to Karmi, but beyond that? Nope, no romantic feels at all.

Not like how he felt about GoGo.

"I just want to focus on inventions that can help lots of people."

"Okay… just don't lose sight of that, Hamada," she hummed. 'Hamada' was what the group had often called his brother, so she was calling him out for taking after Tadashi. Because deep down, Hiro still held onto his promise to honor his older brother's wish.

He sighed, finally admitting to what else was bothering him. "It's just… it's hard following after my brother... especially with all the expectations everyone has."

"Yeah… there's no doubt about that," she pressed up against his back, her tone changing to be more sincere. "But you're doing pretty good at being YOU, and I like that. Keep it up, okay, genius?"

"Yeah..." Hiro tossed the stick, and leaned back more against GoGo's back. Her words helped reduce some of his anxiety, and he took in another draw of forest air to breathe out. That pressure to keep proving himself to succeed… maybe that was the other thing Professor Granville wanted him to sort out, with Karmi. Hnn.

That was also when he noticed a black ant crawling on his hand, distracting his thoughts. In most cases, Hiro would flick it off, but he didn't this time. The way these ants worked with each other reminded him of how he had also based his microbots on them. Ants are small, but certain species have a way of hooking up with each other to make bridges to help other ants get across. They also had to be one of the best examples of teamwork, hardwired to get the work done for their survival despite their small size. When he was younger, he believed they had to be the geniuses of the insect world.

It was true, he was fascinated by something like a little ant. But it wasn't a childish fascination anymore. After listening to all of Fred's stories about the Avengers, he realized how many superheroes represented respectable creatures from the natural world.

Hiro cracked a mischievous grin, when a better idea came to him about their supersuits. The whole thing of making them efficiently accessible in the event of an emergency still bugged him. His Skymax invention was a huge improvement, but Hiro felt he could do better. He also wasn't going to wait for that day when something, somehow, intercepted his rocket bot, mid-flight.

The only problem was that this idea again wasn't very original. It was a LOT like Tony Stark's design for his suits. That left Hiro wondering what he could do with his knowledge of nanobot technology to make his design more unique?

His smile came back as he studied the ant when it stopped at the end of his fingertip. It reached up its body, antennae waving in the air in hopes of finding something higher to climb onto.

"That's why I like you so much," Hiro thought out loud, to GoGo… not the ant, because that would be weird.

"… Nerd."

"Tree hugger."

"Right... if you were a triangle, you'd be acute one," she shot back, surprisingly.

"Guh, are you the square root of negative one? Because you can't be real!"

GoGo ended up nearly shoving him off the log.

He caught his balance but only to have his hand land in the ant nest that he stirred up. "Ugh, back up.. back up!"

Both of them ended up jumping off the log, shouting at each other.

"Great… ants are all over now. What'd you do to get them so mad?!"

"You pushed me into them!"

"No, you were being a smartass," GoGo crossed her arms, still holding her drawing pad in one hand. "I also wasn't done yet."

Hiro sighed, scratching his head. She just wasn't going to let him win though. "We can wait till they go away?"

GoGo bit her lip and then looked at her Fitbit watch. "Nevermind… it's getting late. Time to go," she gestured for him to head back in the direction they came.

Hiro was in full agreement with that conclusion, because now he couldn't wait to get back to his lab and start playing around with new ideas.

- (End Flashback) -

"GoGo's sense of direction is just uncanny," Wasabi agreed. It also never ceased to amaze the others that she rarely ever got lost anywhere, even out in the woods.

"Must be my super power," the speedster replied dryly.

Hiro just rubbed his neck and looked off to the side. GoGo told him once that she had an attraction to magnetism. Not just an interest or passion, she literally felt the draw from the magnetic fields. In otherwards, GoGo didn't need a compass to know which way north was. It was something hard to explain the feeling exactly, other than comparing it to knowing how to get around the familiar streets of one's home town.

"More importantly, you guys weren't taken in by them… whoever they were," Hiro closed with that thought when he finally took the bento boxes for himself and Pidge.

"Is that a small parabolic antenna?" Wasabi finally asked Pidge, after she had moved her large, unfinished piece of what looked like a satellite dish away from him. Apparently the way the big guy was almost hovering over her shoulder had bothered her.

"Yes.. you could say it's a smaller, homemade version of the radio telescope that SETI had used," Pidge explained, referring to the organization who had searched for alien life.

Hiro remembered a time he researched that concept about telescopes. There were listening instruments as well as the more common ones used to see with. Radio telescopes were the preferred instrument used in radio astronomy, to look at the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum sent off from astronomical objects in space. Then the more common optical telescopes were used to study the light wave portion of the spectrum.

"At that size, will it still be able to send and receive signals?" Wasabi had to wonder. He seemed to recognize her need for space now, and so picked up his own bento box to start eating.

Hiro sat up a little, hoping that Wasabi wasn't going to start interjecting his opinions into how the space pilot should be building her device. Yeah, that little compulsive quirk about their resident physicist, in that he had to make certain everything was to his specification, tended to get annoying fast. This he experienced first hand after being partnered with him for a project for the International Space Agency.

GoGo merely looked from Wasabi to Hiro while she chewed her bite of kimbap.

Right.

"She could be using an array…" Hiro suggested in Pidge's defense, even though he wasn't sure of the 'how'. There weren't too many other dish-like parts there.

"Bingo," Pidge agreed. "Using Green to power it, I plan to link this one electronically to other satellites in orbit."

They nodded, and things were silent for a couple beats more when Wasabi suddenly questioned that next. "Wait, other satellites?! Does that mean you're hacking into them?"

"Yes…"

"After just being chased by government officials, isn't that a little risky?" the worried physicist asked.

Pidge looked over to him, the light reflecting on the lenses of her glasses. "Do you know how many satellites are up there?"

"Just over five thousand, last I looked," Wasabi paused in thought, still holding his rice ball. "But that doesn't include all the other junk orbiting around up there like a giant swarm of gnats. It's so disturbing to think about!"

The robotics genius smirked. Attempting to tackle all that space junk was the first government-based engineering competition he participated in for SFIT, much to Granville's insistence. Of course, he had to work with Wasabi, but that success opened up other opportunities, like their current robotics contest for DARPA.

"Exactly! Anyone can go online and access information on the satellites and other stuff orbiting earth. So it's just a matter of applying the right algorithms to determine which of these satellites are good candidates for my purpose, and sending out the transmission."

Wow. Hiro just nodded, really liking the way she refuted her plan.

"Will you receive what comes back in the same way?" Wasabi apparently wasn't satisfied though.

"That's trickier, but I've gotten good at picking up on those readings. My brother and I have been doing that for years," Pidge sounded more determined to prove her method. "It's like this.. everything can be parsed into code, and described mathematically, right?" Pidge stopped what she was doing to look at all of them.

"Right… everything's made up of the same atomic energy," Wasabi couldn't argue with that. Making sense out of the chaos seemed to be his catharsis.

"So it's a matter of identifying the electromagnetic pulses that aren't like the rest," she said while pulling out her laptop from her backpack. "I can show you how it's done."

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Pidge waited for her laptop to boot up to show them what she had discovered long before she had joined Voltron. She had grown accustomed to this kind of questioning, either from being the youngest or the smartest than the others. Somehow, acting like a smart-ass helped put those nay-sayers back in their place.

The Green Paladin didn't wholly consider Wasabi to be that kind of person though. From what she's noticed so far, his seeking answers for trivial things seeming to be his coping mechanism. Hunk, on the other hand, would start to talk about food when he was anxious, and Lance would try to inflate his ego.

GoGo, at least, didn't say much. In some way, her demeanor reminded Pidge of Keith's, especially of how he hadn't felt the need to say much... unless provoked. She did notice that GoGo's presence somehow put Hiro on edge now.

Once her home screen appeared, the younger Holt lightly traced her fingertips across the small touch pad on her laptop to move the cursor. Pidge noticed Hiro watching her motions in (a more appreciative) quiet curiosity. Since he wasn't being as bothersome, she didn't mind him hovering.

"Okay, here is an example of some of the feedback I received before the whole thing with Voltron started," Pidge pointed to the screen. "From this, I noticed that other civilizations knew about Voltron, and were in search for it for a long time!"

"So how much does earth know..?" Hiro wondered.

"Enough to want to keep it a secret," GoGo grumbled. With that she took some kimbap and shoved a piece each into their mouths. "Just eat first, nerd later!"

The gesture was certainly unexpected, like being squirted in the face with a cold glop of green goo. But the flavors of the salty seaweed, sesame oil, something sweet with the smoky ham spreading through Pidge's mouth was surprising. Far tastier than any green goo! "Whoa… what is thif?"

"Kimbaph… good innit?" Hiro responded with his mouth also full. He managed to swallow before continuing though. "My aunt makes some amazing stuff!"

"Mmm, yeah. Oh… Is this one mine?" That was when Pidge noticed the lunch box for her sitting by her leg. Okay, so maybe she was a little caught up in things, and she hadn't felt that hungry.

"Yeah.. that one's a sandwich," Hiro nodded. He also glanced at GoGo, self consciously again. "But, um… if you want to trade for the kimbap, you can have mine."

"Okay.. are you sure?" Pidge rose an eyebrow. Because she also had that thought of 'what if the sandwich might really be the better option', in case her fickle taste buds changed their mind.

Hiro shrugged, despite how it looked like he was going to suggest something else. No, it actually looked the boy was blushing a little now. Yep, she decided Hiro was that socially awkward.

"Thanks," the redhead went ahead to take his lunchbox and then pushed hers over.

Her lunch was arranged to look like a very appealing bento box, with a colorful assortment of sliced kimbap positioned with its contents showing. The dark green seaweed was wrapped around the rice, and in the middle she could recognize the ham, bits of carrot, some other yellow vegetable pickle, spinach, and some other brown vegetable thing. Another set had what looked like tuna fish salad with some more of the colorful vegetable pieces. There were also some relish tray type vegetables and fruit cut into cute shapes, and some orange pumpkin-shaped mochi balls. Out of curiosity, she stole a glance of Hiro's food, to see that he was eating a sub sandwich filled with cold cuts and the customary vegetable toppings. But he had the same cutesy relish sides like she did. Obviously his aunt really likes making food art, and not just for him.

The group continue to eat in silence for awhile longer, allowing Pidge's thoughts to drift back to what she needed to do next.

"What is it like out in space?" Wasabi took a turn to ask. "Or more specifically, was it easy to adapt to?"

"I won't lie, it's different," Pidge paused from chewing. "Whenever we are out in space, it feels like it's night all the time. And if it's in space, or on some other planet with shorter days, time is almost irrelevant. The Alteans have their own time system… the increments are similar to ours, but there are times we just feel 'off', from trying to adapt to all the different expectations."

"Kind of like jet lag?"

Pidge shrugged. "That and the shifts in gravitational forces between what's on the ship and on other planets."

"Their ship has gravity?" Hiro chimed in.

"Yep," Pidge smirked, thinking back to the one time they lost gravity on the castle-ship. Gravity quickly became one of those things to not take for granted. "Alteans have gravity generators on the castle ship, and even in the Lions. We aren't floating around all the time like astronauts on the International Space Station."

"Oh yeah, I heard getting used to no gravity can make people feel weird. How sick do you feel, going back and forth?" Hiro wondered.

"I just lose my appetite, but it's not bad," she answered. Then her mouth twisted in hesitation that the others may not know exactly who she was talking about. Only Hiro did. Oh well, they'll figure it out. "Hunk's the worse though, since he already had problems with motion sickness. The others are trained pilots, so they're more tolerant."

Hiro just nodded, as the others listened also in thought. The other two who started eating first seemed about finished now.

"Out of curiosity, what are the restroom facilities like, for the.. Alte yans?" Wasabi asked thoughtfully.

"Really?" GoGo looked at him. Pidge looked at Wasabi also in silent agreement, while Hiro just stifled his laugh.

"Hey, it's a legit question! After learning that they use vacuums for that kind of thing on the ISS, my possible career opportunities were significantly reduced," the big guy quickly defended himself, cringing as he spoke.

"Fortunately, the vacuum setup is only needed for emergency situations when there wasn't gravity."

Wasabi just grimaced as he laughed nervously.

Hiro soon took over the conversation again with a more interesting question. "How much alike is Altean technology to ours.. I mean, just because you seem to have no problem figuring it out."

"As I was saying before, it's all in the coding and the algorithms behind well-known mathematical rules and principles," Pidge explained, and wasn't afraid to let her passion show.

"So how everything just follows the natural laws makes it easy to figure out alien tech?" Hiro concluded to show that he got her point.

"Yep.. just like this," she brought up an example of Altean code from the data pad integrated into her suit's gauntlet.

Not only did Hiro look, but so did Wasabi.

"Oh.. wow, yeah. I can see how that works," Wasabi agreed.

More time passed as the conversation covered more concepts about the types of engineering projects they had worked on. Finally, Pidge equipment was ready to be tested.

They took it out through a port in the back if the cock pit to set-up everything on top of Green's head. After realizing that it wasn't going to bring immediate results, GoGo and Wasabi excused themselves to go back down below to get some sleep.

"I'll let you know if anything happens," Hiro nodded.

"You didn't bring a toothbrush by chance," Pidge managed to overhear Wasabi. "My teeth feel so furry now!"

"One night is not going to kill you…" the shorter girl grumbled.

Pidge still scrunched her face, never really making the connection before that teeth could actually feel 'furry'. But yet, she never thought guys cared about skin and haircare products until she met Lance.

Hiro just watched her monitor silently as the connections between satellites dropped and reconnected. The sensitivity of the usage of each satellite had to be precise, since the dish had to be in direct line of its target.

The Green Paladin pinched her brow to fend off the fatigue. This had to work. She had to find them.. what else could she do?

For want of needing something to keep herself alert, she decided to ask random questions.

"Out of curiosity, what kind of criminals, or villains, have you.. confronted?"

Hiro blinked, seemingly being brought out if his own half-awake stupor. "Um, uh.. lots of guys. Some aren't that serious.. just people being a nuisance."

"Do you have a main villain? Or someone you can't seem to shake?"

"Oh yeah," Hiro sat up some more, "But this guy, or organization is hard to pinpoint. He's always under someone else's cover."

"But you haven't stopped them?"

"It's.. gotten complicated," Hiro hesitated, as if fishing for something better to say. "We've been told to leave the really advanced masterminds to the pros."

Pidge just raised her eyebrow.

"Yeah… SHIELD didn't think we could handle it, when we asked them for help."

"Because.. why?"

"That we were amateurs with no real superpowers, and we're too young... I mean, I'm the only minor! The rest of the team is over eighteen. But we don't even destroy half a city in the process like the Avengers do! " Hiro held his hands out in exasperation.

"They monitor what super heroes do?"

"Kind of.. yeah. It doesn't stop us though," Hiro added, smiling.

"If that wasn't made clear today," she nodded in return. "But didn't you say that SHIELD wasn't a concern?"

"That wasn't SHIELD," Hiro shook his head, directing his eyes past the monitor to the sky.

She nodded, stifling the urge to yawn. "Right… Oh, I still owe you an invisible car."

"Yeah…" he also sounded tired.

Pidge bit her lip, wondering if she should ask what also had been nagging at her thoughts since earlier. But after seeing how he was acting around GoGo earlier, she had her suspicions. Not that it mattered or anything, because she had bigger matters to worry about. Yeah.

"Is.. GoGo your girlfriend?"

"Ut? Um… no," he sputtered suddenly, sitting up. "Used to be, actually…"

The redhead glanced at him, but he seemed a lot more shifty. "Broke up?"

"Yeah.. just because.. because…" Hiro somehow seemed to be at a lost for words. "She wanted to date other people."

"Sorry," she whispered, finding it uncanny how she always asks the questions that get him into a topspin.

"It's no big deal," his eyes fell to his feet, giving her that feeling he wasn't being very honest.

There was a sigh, and the boy genius pulled in his legs to rest his folded arms on top of his knees. "You got anyone?" Hiro asked anyway. He rested his chin on his arm as he stared ahead.

Pidge snorted, wondering for a brief moment where he was going with that. Hiro clearly was not comfortable by the way he closed up on himself again. But for someone saddled with a bunch of guys, the Green Paladin hadn't considered that any of them to be boy-friend material.

Even Hunk… she figured he was hanging around her the most because the others were pilots. Pidge at least understood what he was talking about, while Lance and Keith would just nod and pretend to follow. But after Pidge saw how Hunk perked up after meeting Shay, she confirmed that he didn't like her in the same way. That actually made her feel better though, because Pidge didn't want the emotional baggage if and when she left them.

"No," Pidge said with certainty.

Was that noise he made a groan?

She looked over, curious, until he made brief eye contact. "Because of priorities," the Green Paladin added, to reassure him.

"Of course… yeah," Hiro exhaled, and leaned back on his hands.

That worked.

As expected, that topic brought on another spread of silence between them again. She yawned and ribbed her temples.

So tired now, but her hope in making contact with anyone was stronger than sleep. She had to keep thinking.

"When two pieces of the same kind of metal touch in outer space, it really does fuse together," Pidge suggested something completely at random.

"It does?"

"Yeah, the cold weld happens because there isn't any air or water molecules to keep them apart."

"Crazy, never realized that before," Hiro thought out loud. He sat up more again, but this time he asked her a more direct question. "Are you... talking just to keep from falling asleep"

"Um.. yes?"

This time she heard him laugh. "Classic…"

"It works," she responded sheepishly.

"Just that I was starting to wonder when this was going to officially turn into Truth or Dare," Hiro was actually trying to be funny.

Ah, whoops. Her hand acted on its own again to swat him upside the head. Except he somehow dodged it. "Gah!"

"Seriously though, go inside and get some sleep," Hiro thumbed back to the port behind them.

"It's okay. I got—"

"No, I got this," Hiro cut her short, not wanting to hear her out. "It's been at least twenty hours since you came here, and that didn't count the time before the crash."

Well, after he put it like that, a huge weight of exhaustion blanketed over her shoulders. His tone reminded her of Shiro, and her heart ached in worry for him. "Point..." Pidge stood up while yawning again. "Don't fall asleep."

"I won't… good night," Hiro scooted over and picked up the ear buds. Pidge had set the algorithm to run on a loop so that he didn't have to keep a close monitor on the satellite array now.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Hiro almost nodded off anyway, dulled by the soft hum of static filling his ears. But then GoGo jabbed him awake, giving him a start because he wasn't expecting her.

The older college student held her blanket tighter around her shoulders and sat down, next to him.

"Nothing yet?" GoGo looked up at the starry sky. The monitors had switched into the darkened screensaver mode, making the night sky easier to see.

"Yeah."

A few more minutes passed, and Hiro noticed her looking at him again.

"You told her..? About your brother?" she finally asked.

Hiro didn't say anything. He really was not in the mood right now to revisit this conversation.

"I could tell anyway... you're more relaxed."

"Are you trying to get an apology..?" he breathed, his eyes also focused on the sky above.

The speedster bumped her shoulder against his in response. "Tch.. you were the one who started yelling this time."

"Hnn…"

She just patted him on the back a couple times, as he way of saying it was okay.

Hiro sighed. Yeah, at least Pidge wasn't like Karmi, or anyone else he had met before. What was it about this girl from space that made him feel so nervous, so giddy?

"It's okay," GoGo whispered more softly. "What's wrong, really? You can still talk to me if you need too."

The younger Hamada shook his head, feigning a smile as he looked at her now. "I'm okay.. just tired."

Hiro knew what was wrong, and it was something he did not want to talk about with her. He could sort out what he needed to do to meet his Baymax prototype deadline, and get through the anniversary woes of his brother being gone. But he did not like the reality that it was the last year at SFIT for GoGo, Wasabi, amd Honey Lemon. And this other unwelcome feeling, one that wasn't so easy to control, it left him struggling.

I... can't.. fall for her…

"Here," GoGo shifted over some of her blanket, holding out an arm toward Hiro. "Get some sleep."

That he could not resist, and leaned into her. She wrapped the blanket around him so that both were inside. "Can you?" Hiro pulled the white ear buds out to give back to her.

"What am I listening for?" GoGo put them in her ears.

"Anything that sounds like a voice," he whispered, and let his eyelids drop.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

"Hey.. wake up!" GoGo shook him back and forth now.

"Wha.. what? Is it the Voltron team?" he asked through a yawn.

"No, not them," she sounded more urgent. "It's Honey. She said Fred's no where to be found."

"For real… is this serious?" But as soon as he said that, he realized Fred hadn't texted him since the incident yesterday. The zany redhead usually sends him crazy memes or wacky facts at least once every few hours.

"Let's get the others to talk about what to do," Hiro sighed as he balled up the blanket. He decided to leave Pidge's equipment where it was for now. "What did Honey Lemon say?"

"Well, what got her worried was when Heathcliff called her an hour ago. Fred hadn't been answering his phone at all. It's been turned off and they couldn't even use it to track his location," GoGo explained as she followed Hiro on their way back inside Green.

"Yeah, that does sound suspicious," he thought out loud. "If he was kidnapped… why would they want him?"

"How are you so sure he was kidnapped?"

"Does he strike you as the type to run away, without telling anyone?" Hiro walked backwards a couple steps to ask her.

"Not… really," GoGo frowned.

"Yeah…"

 

Chapter Text

 

Leaning his elbow on the armrest, Hiro stared out the window of the back seat of their SUV. It was still dark out, so he really wasn't looking to see anything. The young genius just couldn't sleep with all the new thoughts running through his head.

Somehow it continued to bother him that he left Pidge behind. She was okay that they had to go, and he even left Ronin with her. It was understood that Fred's situation was more important, but… Hiro still felt like she was a job left unfinished.

He rubbed his face and leaned back into the cushioned seat. Crossing his arms, Hiro glanced at GoGo asleep in the front seat, then Wasabi, both illuminated by the soft glow from the dash lighting. Wasabi was driving this time, just to give GoGo a break.

From their previous discussion, they imagined Fred's parents might be involved as well. If they were, then there would be a high chance a SHIELD agent would be too. So it was agreed to change out of their hero suits before meeting up with them. Having to explain themselves on where they came from, if they were already suited up, was quickly marked as a bad idea. Since Pidge was plenty worried about the government finding out about the Voltron lions, Hiro decided they shouldn't say anything about her to Fred's parents. Something had to be said about why it was taking them so long to show up, however, so the camping trip story became their reason.

What he said to Pidge earlier about their superhero activities being monitored was a fact. Even with the much needed pointers from Fred and his dad on how to be like superheroes, doing well on their hero work was getting harder to come by (not to mention just staying safe). Ever since their confrontation with Obake, Hiro felt like they had to validate their reasons for jumping in to resolve any high-stakes situation in San Fransokyo. He understood though, albeit reluctantly. It was dangerous work, and acting carelessly on a whim without the help from the authorities could take any of their lives. Like it did for Tadashi.

Hiro's main reason as to why he stayed involved was that being a vigilante superhero defeating actual bad guys was more challenging, rewarding, than being a bot fighter. But because it was just as dangerous, Hiro worked at getting better with stopping the bad guys as a first responder. The police aren't everywhere, as much as they would like the be.

The other reason was that undeniably awesome feeling all of them got in knowing that they had made a difference in other people's lives. Being a hero became Fred's driving purpose in life, his way to pay it forward. Even though the Fredrickson boy had no athletic talent, smarts, or superpower, Fred didn't let those details bother him. Hiro could see why his older brother liked the hopeless fanboy so much. Fred was infectious with his charm and charisma, and that desire to help no matter what.

Sometimes though, just sometimes when it had been a long, hard day, Fred would be more candid about things. Just when the others had thought finding out that Fred being rich was one surprise, learning that his dad had been a famous superhero was a whole other matter. Knowing that made more sense in why the comic book fanboy had been so worried about not having anything noteworthy to contribute. Fred's mom was high society and his dad, who even though was retired, was so often out of town to represent other charitable events or what-not. There were times that as an only child, Fred felt lonely and frustrated because of this pressure. It wasn't only his selfish wish that all of them should continue as Big Hero 6. Fred simply wanted a reason – an admirable role that he could have the confidence in. Following in his dad's footsteps as a superhero was the one thing the Fredrickson knew how to do.

Hiro could relate to his friend's feeling of being inadequate too. It bugged the younger Hamada so much that due to his young age, everyone felt as if they had to protect him from the 'adult world'.

"Wasabi," Hiro sat up, leaning his hand against the front driver seat. "Was there anything.. 'off' about Fred that you noticed recently?"

"Eh…" Wasabi made a face, somehow not sure how to answer. "Not that I noticed." Well, that answer kind of made sense. Fred's 'unclean' habits were marginally worse than Hiro's, so the big guy's desire to hang out with Fred was zero to none. GoGo would have been the better one to ask, until they met back up with Honey Lemon.

"Mhh… what was the question?" GoGo asked through a yawn. Being a light sleeper, their talking must have woke her up since the radio wasn't on either.

"Just wondering about Fred," Hiro sighed. "Like if something really was going on with him that led to his disappearance."

"Hnn… I hadn't noticed him acting weirder than usual, if that's what you mean," GoGo responded. She often played the big sister to the man child, just to make sure he didn't do anything really stupid. (After she promptly shot down his flirtatious advances the first year she knew him!)"But Fred really doesn't seem like the emo type."

"Well, what's bugging me now was how serious Fred got about making that serum to turn him into a kaiju," Hiro finally told them what he thought, sliding over more to the middle of the back seat. "After we found those old archives from the 1950's, like what they used to make those super soldiers—"

"You are actually making it?" Wasabi interrupted. GoGo just looked back at Hiro, equally concerned.

"Yeah… Honey Lemon is working out the formula," Hiro rubbed his neck, realizing the others somehow thought Fred was just joking about that. Hiro even, almost even thought of asking Karmi about the biochemical formulation behind it… in a totally round-about, theoretical way, of course. But he was afraid she would somehow see through that, so… no. "But I'm still not sure about it. Sounds really risky… cause it isn't just a super drug to make him stronger. It literally will mutate his cells to turn him into a kaiju."

"Really?" GoGo just echoed.

"Really," Hiro agreed, despite the risk of getting yelled at. "That was his suggestion for making his supersuit more… accessible."

"Where are you keeping this stuff?" Wasabi caught on to Hiro's other unspoken concern.

"Honey has it locked up at her workstation… since it is a secret, non-SFIT project," the robo-genius admitted quietly.

"But… it's a morphing transformation, right? Fred's not going to permanently stay a monster," GoGo asked, turning in her seat to look at Hiro. She didn't look thrilled at all.

"That's the idea, yeah. Which is why it's so risky," Hiro explained without trying to sound too defensive. But where were they supposed to start with this? Was the serum research really why Fred disappeared? Hiro was afraid to admit that many of the ideas and guidance they got on how to approach their 'calls' came from Fred.

"Is that going to change what we planned to do?" Wasabi asked, his anxiety showing.

"Not really sure yet," Hiro reluctantly answered. "But I still want to stop by my place to get Baymax first."

The speed-queen had her phone out to call someone again. From the following conversation, Hiro concluded she was talking to Honey Lemon.

"It's still there? Okay," GoGo confirmed. "How long ago was it since you were at the lab?"

The younger Hamada listened more closely, just as curious. He could barely hear Honey Lemon's voice coming over.

"We're almost there. Can you meet us outside the Lucky Cat… by 6:15?" GoGo asked, after looking at their estimated time of arrival on the Rover's guidance system.

Hiro mentally groaned when the reality of what time it was struck him. It was Sunday morning (the part where the sun was going to be up) already. If they don't get either situation resolved soon, he was going to have to juggle all that in with class on Monday. The exhausted genius hadn't gotten any of his homework done yet. Yep, that was the other promise he made with his aunt. She would let him do this superhero thing as long as he kept up with his studies.

"Where are we going after the Lucky Cat?" Wasabi asked again.

"SFIT, to check on something," Hiro sighed.

::::::::::::::::::::::::

It was weird, that feeling of hollowness that set in after the three had left Green's headspace. Pidge sighed, tapping her nail against the metal surface of Green's nose that she sat on. The dark sky above was filled with stars that were more visible now that the mist and clouds cleared away. This feeling was strange now, since being alone hardly ever bothered her. The young computer scientist liked having her own space, working on her own without others distracting her or telling her how to do something better. The redhead told Green it was probably because this was the first time she was void of human company since crashing to earth.

That must be what she felt, that concern for where the others on her team were. Yeah. Pidge wasn't totally alone. She had Green and the genius boy's robot to keep her company.

But the Green Paladin still missed… something. Or someone, like her brother. Talking to Hiro must have made her long for Matt all over again.

She sighed anyway, picking up her earth cell phone and turned it over in her hands. After much internal debate, she took off the back cover to hack it so she could connect to some other cellular phone service. Just in case she did need to call someone on earth.

Like Hiro.

She still wasn't sure how to start the conversation with her mom yet. Especially if…

The continued silence in the static coming from the borrowed ear buds didn't reassure the Green Paladin at all either. Pidge decided to give it five more minutes before calling it quits. Now that the others were gone, flying into the orbital zone around earth to craft something more from space junk sounded like a better option. Having Green stop the fast moving junk was a much more exciting way to past the time anyway. That fussy physicist was right, unfortunately. She needed something bigger and more powerful for better results. Her other concern for not going bigger right away was if Green had recharged enough then to provide the output.

Pidge would let Ronin know of what she had in mind, since he was still standing post on the ground below.

Hiro though. There was something else she wanted to tell him about space, and the satellites, but… it really wasn't that important now. Pidge shook her head to clear her thoughts, and drew in another breath.

No emotional baggage, remember?

Hiro was nothing but emotional baggage, not much different from Keith's. Pidge did care, but… yeah, it was more to protect herself, to make it easier to leave them behind. Her excuse was to respect them, to not meddle in their personal issues, rather than admit her unwillingness to be more open herself. That's why she had a hard time at first connecting with her teammates head spaces when they formed Voltron. With the exception the two Alteans, they all had some unpleasant memories. Pidge didn't want the guys to feel the same kind of pity or remorse for her, or why she was even hiding herself under a false identity.

Was she really a good person on the inside?

Did she really miss them?

"Ugh… let's go," told herself out loud, to stop her internal fretting. With that, she began to turn off the equipment so she could move it back inside.

:::::::::::::::::::::::

"Hello Honey Lemon," Baymax greeted after she slid in the back seat of their Green Machine. She wore her regular street clothes, but carried her chem-ball purse. Baymax now sat in the middle, with Hiro on the other side.

"Uhm…Baymax..?" Hiro groaned after being pressed against the side of the door. With the concerning matter at hand regarding Fred, he couldn't successfully convince Baymax to remain in his more compact recharging case.

"My apologies… I will let out some air," the billowy robot finally recognized the now cramped seating arrangements and promptly began to deflate a bit to give them more room.

"Thanks…" Hiro breathed.

The SUV remained parked in the dark alley behind the café. The was turned off along with the lights and any other accessories inside, dome lights included. As an added guard against anyone tracking or hacking the vehicles smart system, they turned off its GPS connection with the satellites. More accurately, that feature had been shut off since they started being followed in the forest up north. After seeing how Pidge could tap into satellites, Wasabi became more worried about how anyone with the skill could perform that level of espionage.

"Really.. thank you guys for coming to check on this!" the tall blonde started talking right away, despite the high-pitched whine from Baymax deflating. "I mean, just because it looks like you had your hands full."

That much was true. There was still some damage to the front bumper from the tree incident, on top of the clutter of supplies and other equipment at random places inside the SUV (including Baymax's armor).

"All in a days work," Hiro shrugged. He feigned his smile in the dim light just to mask how tired he really was. All of them were still dressed in their hero outfits too, sans the helmets. The way things were going, they hadn't really made the effort to change out of them yet.

"Have you heard anything more?" GoGo looked back to ask her.

"No, I haven't," Honey Lemon sighed, sitting on the edge of her seat to see the three of them better. Since Hiro nor Wasabi hadn't heard the full story, she explained everything for their behalf. "After Fred dropped me off at the apartment last night – Heathcliff was driving us in their Rolls-Royce – they went back home. But then he went out for a walk to the local convenience store because he needed to buy another gaming card, since the balance on his old one was getting low. Fred called me when he was walking back to see of I wanted to join him later to play that new comic-book style video game online. That's when his call dropped."

"I thought it was just a dead battery… that happens a lot with him," GoGo sighed.

"Yeah, I did too when I wasn't able to get through. But after thirty minutes had passed and I still hadn't heard back from him, I called his house number. Heathcliff said he could not find Fred in the house, or outside in the patio or the garden," Honey Lemon shook her head. "That's not like Freddie though, to just stay out late like that. I asked Heathcliff if he could track him with the 'find my phone' ..but all that came up was that Fred had been to the Super 7."

"Yeah, if the battery's dead, it can't be tracked anymore," Hiro nodded.

"But he wasn't anywhere on that street, or the nearby Noodle Burger… Heathcliff drove around to look, only because I had a bad feeling," she continued.

"Your heart rate is rising," Baymax commented, looking over to Honey Lemon.

It also occurred to Hiro that she's been awake all night too, due to her worry. What he was thinking about, or trying not to think about, was that gut feeling when you know that something very bad happened to someone close. If she was like that, he knew all to well this can't be good.

She was biting her lip, shaking her head as she fought back her tears. "I dunno. It's..."

"There, there…" Baymax puffed up his right side a bit more as he put his arm around Honey Lemon.

"I don't even know where to start looking for him," she sniffled, giving Baymax arm a thankful squeeze in return.

"I can find Fred," Baymax offered his solution to ease her unrest.

At that prompt, Hiro was a mix of relief and a new sense of annoyance with himself. He must have been really tired for not offering that solution sooner. No, he was too wrapped up on the 'why' Fred was missing. "Yeah, he's right. So here's the thing… we want to check our labs at SFIT for anything suspicious—"

"Like the serum?" Honey Lemon wondered.

"Yes. But if it's okay, you guys can go on to do that while I fly over the San Fransokyo area to see if Fred comes up in Baymax's scans," Hiro leaned forward in his seat to look at Honey Lemon and the others. More ideas came to him at this revelation, and hoped it didn't stir things up to much.

"Oh… right, okay," Honey nodded.

"When are going to meet up with Fred's parents then?" Wasabi asked Hiro. Because yeah, the plan was changing again. Whoops, sorry.

"After we get an answer to give them on his whereabouts," Hiro told them. "I think we could have a stronger chance of winning their favor if we have a better idea of what's going on first."

"Hm, good point," GoGo sighed. "I'm still going to get changed now though," she picked up her shirt from her clothes she had placed on the console between her and Wasabi. Once her street clothes were back on, her nanobot suit would retract back into the device she wore on her bra. (Hiro had to redirect his thoughts away from thinking about how to fine-tune the nanotech armor that went over her boobs... nevermind, he gritted his teeth.)

"How certain are you that this is connected to the kaiju serum?" Honey Lemon asked a slightly distracted Hiro.

"Uhm…" Of all the possibilities that they could have brought up to answer the 'why', this one seemed to be the most viable. It also was because Hiro felt most strongly about that as a possibility, that gut feeling he had learned to listen to.

"Just a hunch that I couldn't shake," Hiro whispered. The fact he hadn't openly discussed this with GoGo and Wasabi before now put him on edge with them. GoGo didn't look very happy again.

The younger Hamada had gotten caught up in Fred's classic copies of Japanese comics, and films he watched with Aunt Cass. While most monsters had the reputation of being destructive, there were a couple species of kaiju that were revered as guardians for the earth to protect its inhabitants, from itself or from seijin (extraterrestrials). The term kaiju was basically Japanese for 'strange beast', and pretty much applied to everything from Godzilla, Radon, and even Gamera. Fred's favorites tend to be more reptilian-like, however. Human kaiju experimentation was featured in some comic books as a popular sci-fi topic, but Fred had to point out the idea had to come from somewhere. Art imitating life, and life imitating art. "He really wanted to make it happen though…"

"Nrgh.." Gogo leaned forward, rubbing her brow.