Lance looks good.
The months of farm work has gone well for him, she supposes. The short-sleeve that he's wearing shows off his biceps, which are more defined than she remembers. Not that Lance hadn't been muscular before, because oh, he had, but it had been a different sort of thing. He'd been all lean muscle, never ... beefy, but that's the only way to describe his arms now. Does he work out, or does he get all of that just from working on a farm? He's talking to Veronica, and Pidge watches his mouth move, watches the syllables form off of his lips. His lips quirk at the end of his sentence, as if he's excited just to be talking to people again, and oh, it must have been so lonely out there. She wonders what he's saying, what he feels as he's saying it, and-
Pidge reaches up to touch her own lips, hiding the shock that she feels at her own revelation. It's not that she hadn't found him attractive before - she had, in some distant, no-feelings-attached sort of way. It's the same way that she knows that Allura
is had been beautiful, the same way she knows that whatever guy ends up with Keith is a lucky one. This is the first time that she's ever been affected by any of it, though. Oh, jeez, he's been back for like five seconds, and she's been ogling him for all of them like some weirdo.
She swallows down her brief panic (I can't have a crush on my old teammate whose girlfriend died saving all of us, I just can’t) and musters up the biggest smile that she can. "Lance," she calls, waving at him. He turns away from Veronica for just a second, grin increasing in size as he sees her.
"Pidgey!" He takes a few strides towards her and they meet in the middle, his arms wrapping tightly around her upper back. She waves at Veronica over his shoulder, mouthing a greeting that is immediately returned. "Oh, man, am I excited to see you. You're looking good!"
"Thanks," she says, wondering why that statement is something that makes her insides feel weird. Not to float her own boat or anything, but it's something she's started to hear pretty frequently - "Pidge, I swear, I'm fighting off every teenager in the Garrison for your honor these days. Rizavi pressured me for any 'brother knowledge' for thirteen minutes!" - ever since she finally scrapped Matt's hand-me-downs for stuff that she actually likes. "You, uh, look good too. How long are you staying for?"
"If I get the offer, I'll be here all year," he says. Coincidentally, Pidge starts to feel her pulse in her ears. "I have an interview with Iverson in two hours. Wish me luck?"
"Eh, you won't need it," Pidge tells him, finding that she likes the way that he grins in response. "But good luck anyway. You'll do great. Hey, wanna go surprise Hunk? Can I film it?"
His responding laugh is a very pretty yes.
There are times where Pidge thinks that maybe, just maybe, her abhorrent crush on him might be reciprocated.
“You have an admirer,” Nadia says out of the blue, halfway through their conversation in the cafeteria about some of the cadets in training. The others look at her as if they’re all expecting her to spill some outrageous secret, but Pidge just raises her eyebrow. “I’m serious! Your six-o’clock. Don’t be obvious.”
“Alright, alright,” Pidge says through a laugh, grabbing her glass of water. “I’m a pro at subtlety, guys, watch this.” (It’s one of the biggest lies she’s told so far today – she’s the least subtle person that she knows. And she knows Keith.) She’s assuming that it’s one of the cadets (nothing had been unparalleled to Hunk’s huge, long-suffering crush on one of the senior officers: until he’d met Shay, of course) and the thought of catching an easily embarrassed teenager in the act of gawking is plenty satisfying. She makes a show of sipping her drink as she tilts her head to the side with a faux air of indifference, peering back over her shoulder and –
There’s Lance, with some odd look on his face, staring directly at her. His eyebrows raise when he realizes that he’s been caught, his lips quirking into a soft but genuine smile. Pidge chokes on her glass of water and gives him a wave.
“Yeah,” James says, stabbing his food with an intensity that truly is not necessary, “real subtle.” She almost asks him what’s crawled up his ass and died, but the words die somewhere in her throat.
“What do you mean an admirer?” Pidge demands when she turns back around. “That’s just a figure of speech, right? He was probably just zoning off, right?”
“Either you’re in denial because you have mad feelings for him, or you’re in denial because you’re disgusted by it,” Nadia points out. “God, I wish Veronica were here right now. She’d crack up at the look on your face.”
“Please don’t tell Veronica,” Pidge replies. She can think of nothing more mortifying than Lance’s own sister being present for the discussion of who has feelings for who. “I’m not – jeez, I’m not disgusted by it. But it doesn’t count as denial if there’s nothing to be in denial from in the first place, right? Right?”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
Pidge starts cataloging all the times that he makes her flustered without even noticing.
At 08:34, he laughs at her joke about wanting one of the shitty Voltron-inspired action figures. His smile is all teeth and open-mouthed, and it displays an air of genuine relaxation that she hasn’t seen on his features in a very, very long time.
At 12:09, she unintentionally spots him as he’s reading a textbook. He’s tapping a pen against his lips, humming to a tune that only he knows, his eyebrows furrowed as he comprehends what he’s reading. It’s the same look that he used to get during his training on the Castle, and she has to look away.
At 15:20, he puts a hand on her shoulder as he passes by her in the hall. He lingers for just a moment longer than would be socially appropriate, his fingers trailing across her sleeve when he finally moves away. She’s sure that he’d just spaced out for a second, but that doesn’t make the touch burn into her skin any less.
At 20:11, she bumps into him on her way to her suite. He must do his exercising in the evenings, because he’s in his workout gear. His hair is messy, his cheeks are flushed and oh, quiznak.
Pidge wants him so bad that she thinks that it might kill her.
Lance is pressed up against her on the couch, his arm resting on the couch behind her back in an attempt for more room. He would do it to anybody and anyone that was comfortable with it, but the knowledge that his arm is around her is something that swallows and chokes her. She doesn't mean that in a way that is creepy or sexual, but he is all-encompassing. He's always been that way - the loudest voice in every room, the person that eyes draw to when he makes a movement. He's vivacious and beautiful and the fact that everybody sees him like Pidge does but nobody is affected quite the way that she becomes is the most baffling fact that she's ever known.
Pidge knows that she'll always remember him like this, even when they're both old and grey. He's peaceful, calm, but his youth thrums so visibly within him, the same way that her own does. His presence next to her is such an electrifying thing that all she can focus on is the warmth of his arm barely touching her shoulders, the vibrations of his leg moving as he bounces his foot. She can feel him, in every way, and she doesn't quite think that she would exchange this for anything.
She doesn't remember falling in love with him - it had been such a long and quiet process, not dissimilar to waking up in the morning - but she wonders if it had started because of a gentle moment like this. Had her brain silently clicked as he'd bounced his leg, full of an energy that seems as though it will never cease? Had he leaned against her the way that he is wont to do, and had the warmth of him pushed her over the precipice? Pidge doesn't think that she'll ever know, but the mystery if half of the fun. If she never remembers, she'll just assume that it was enough moments of admiration like this that had tugged at her heart.
She wonders if she ever tugs at his. Does he notice the way that her eyes follow him sometimes? Does he ever look at her that way too, when she's not looking? Does he daydream about morning kisses and dinners at restaurants the way that she does? Has he ever considered the two of them at all?
And most importantly, will she ever know the answer to any of these questions? Or will these feelings slip her by, and will they become completely different people? Will they miss their chance?
(Is there even a chance to miss?)
“Hey, Pidgey,” Lance says, right there in the middle of the hallway, “do you know what this is?”
Pidge reaches out and touches it, feeling the petals against the pads of her fingers. “Is that a trick question?” she teases, pretending that her cheeks don’t feel as though they’re burning right off her face. She doesn’t quite understand how he has the confidence to do this right here, where anybody could possibly see him. What if she’d told him something snarky, like, oh, is it something that will make you leave me alone? She’s definitely used ruder comments in the past to ward off unwanted visitors.
“Who knows,” Lance says, with a shrug that’s so unnecessarily overemphasized that he uses his whole body to do it. “Maybe if you tap it four times, it’ll turn into a bomb?”
Pidge taps it four times. Nothing happens.
“Ah, well,” he continues, sounding as though he’s suddenly realized how awkward his entire approach to this has been. He’s lucky that she thinks that it’s endearing. “It was worth a try.”
“Thanks for the rose,” she tells him, a bit too soft. She’s never really been one to truly enjoy receiving flowers as presents, if she’s being completely honest. They wilt so easily, no matter how hard you try to keep them alive.
“No problem,” he says, just as fond. “I saw it and I just had to get it for you, so…”
… Okay, sure, roses wilt easily. But the feeling in her chest as Lance confesses that he’d gotten it just for her, simply because he’d felt like it? She doesn’t know if that feeling will ever quite go away.
She doesn’t realize that anybody else had witnessed the encounter until a few moments later, when Matt purposefully bumps shoulders with her. “Lance, huh?”
(She keeps it on her bedside table for a week, even when all of the leaves end up shriveled on the wooden surface.)
The tension shatters.
She knows that he’s about to do something before he even does it. He stares at her unabashedly all evening, even when multiple people call her out on it. Whenever they’re near each other, he’s touching on her in some way – his hand on her back, his arm brushing against hers. It’s so much more than they usually do, and it gets to the point where Pidge simply cannot bear it anymore.
The next time that he brushes against her, she reaches out and wraps her fingers around his bicep. He turns back and looks at her, as if every emotion that she’s feeling is right there on her face for him to see. Whatever he sees, he must like, because he beams a bedazzling smile at the officer that she’s been talking to. It’s a smile that she knows he learned from intergalactic politics three years ago, when he’d been trying to sweet talk a representative into joining the Coalition. She wonders if he’s as stressed right now as he had been on that day.
“Excuse me, sir,” he says, bowing his head a little, “I need to steal Miss Holt for a minute. Thank you for your patience.” Before he can even get a response, he’s tugging her out of the holiday party and into the hallway.
Pidge almost asks him where they’re going, but decides against it, since she has a pretty good idea of what they’re about to do. Her hand slips from his arm to his own hand, and he squeezes it as he continues to yank her along. “There’s gotta be a – oh, there we go,” Lance mutters. He opens the door to a conference room, and-
She squeaks when he hoists her onto the table, laughing against his lips as he kisses her. It’s not her first kiss, no, but it’s the first one to make her stomach twist and heart tingle. His body is flush against hers, his hands rubbing circles into her sides, and oh, God, how long has she been missing out on this –
“I’ve been thinking about you,” he whispers, and then kisses her again instead of continuing his sentence. “For the past six months.” The next kiss takes the breath out of her. “I’ve been going crazy.” The one after that makes her heart beat so hard that she can hear it pounding in her ears.
“Yeah, how do you think I felt when you came back with rippling biceps and- mmph!”
“Sorry,” Lance says, even though he doesn’t sound very sorry at all. “I’m a hundred-percent down to talk about all of this later, but I really just want to kiss you right now.”
Pidge doesn’t even get the chance to say okay.
Here are the differences between the New Years party and the Christmas Eve one – it’s later, everyone’s drunker, and formal pleasantries went out the door two or three hours ago. She’s not quite twenty-one yet, but people keep handing her drinks and she keeps drinking them. Matt had handed her the first two (screwdrivers that were strong enough to make her head spin) and Shiro had handed her the last one, probably operating under the assumption that it was her first and only one of the night. She hadn’t corrected him.
Nadia slides up to her at some point, offering up a red Solo cup. Pidge debates the consequences for a solid two seconds before deciding that one more can’t possibly hurt. “Thanks,” she says, and then laughs at the way that it sounds to her own ears. Distant and echoey, as if she’s not the one saying it. “What is it?”
“Vodka soda,” Nadia says, taking a sip of her own. Pidge is kind of jealous of how good everybody is at acting sober when they’re not, because she always has to put every ounce of her energy into walking straight. “Please don’t chug it. I would hate to be the person who gave you the drink that makes you puke.”
“I’m not a dumbass,” Pidge points out, as if puking only affects the academically disadvantaged, placing her hand against her chest in mock offense and then snorting at her own antics. “Do you know how many planets I’ve saved?”
“No, Pidge, how many planets have you saved?”
She thinks about it for a moment, trying to count on the fingers of her free hand. “I actually don’t know. Most of them, right?”
“Right,” Nadia confirms, ruffling her hand through Pidge’s hair. It’s an action that she would find condescending most of the time, but she just laughs through it. “Hey, it’s midnight in three minutes. Do you have someone to kiss? I volunteer if you promise not to vomit on me.”
Pidge wrinkles her nose. “I’m not that drunk. And, um… I think Lance is around here somewhere.”
“Ooh, Lance,” Nadia teases. “Go get it, girl.”
Pidge opens her mouth to say that her kissing Lance would be nothing new, but she spots him the second that she can get the first word out. He’s standing by himself, drink in hand, smiling at something that isn’t quite tangible. “I see him! See ya later, Nadia, you should ask Ryan to kiss you! Or Veronica!”
She almost knocks her drink over with every person that she bumps into, so moving over to Lance is a highly engaging process. “Lance!”
He smiles at her when he sees her, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Hey, Pidge. How many drinks have you had?”
“None,” she lies, vodka soda in hand. He raises an eyebrow at her. “What’s alcohol?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” he replies, just as teasingly. “But I know you’ve had a lot of it.”
“You look really good right now,” Lance says, his voice hushed as if it’s their own secret to share. She stares at his mouth as he says it, fighting the urge to reach out and touch his lips with her finger. That's probably too clingy, though she clutches her hand around her cup instead.
She smiles, still not used to the romantic attention from him. She hopes it’s something that will keep coming and coming until it’s not something she needs to ‘get used to’ anymore. “Oh, really-”
“-what are you going to do about it?”
He gets that smile again, the one that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, and -
He turns away.
Mortification curls Pidge’s gut into something cruel and sickening. She’d really thought that he would have…
“Happy new year!”
Pidge never brings it up. He never does, either.
It’s probably better that way.
He sends her a text a little past two in the morning. Are you awake? There are no references to why he’s asking, or if he’s okay, which troubles Pidge more than it probably should. She spent so much time in space analyzing every encounter, fearing for the worst, and now… now it’s hard to remember that sometimes a late-night text is only that.
She sends back a quick confirmation, and before she can double text to ask if he’s okay, her phone buzzes with another one. Want to meet me at the back entrance in 15?
Pidge kind of wants to go to sleep, but something wakes up inside of her when she comprehends the message. An adventure sounds… fun. She hasn’t really had one since the last time she was in space. I’ll be there in 10!
He’s waiting for her when she gets there. He somehow manages to look sleepy and excited at the same time, which is a facial expression that Pidge wants to burn into her memory forever. The squint of his eyes, the wideness of his grin – God, he’s so beautiful that she is kind of aflame with it.
“Where are we going?” she asks, trying to think of her own ideas but coming up short. She can’t imagine what would be open at this hour, anyway. She’s never out this late – on the off-chance that she’s awake, she’s usually holed up somewhere and working on something.
Lance doesn’t answer. His grin just gets wider, and he offers his hand. “Do you trust me?” he asks, instead of telling her anything concrete.
A surprise that holds out a high probability of a happy ending – one with no bayards or weapons or hostiles. A surprise that she doesn’t have to worry about the outcome of. A surprise with a happy ending.
She places her hand in his own. “I trust you.”
It’s not a big deal or anything.
It’s not like they’re really all that serious, right? So, it doesn’t matter. It’s fine.
It’s really her fault for expecting him to get her anything when they hadn’t talked about it. She’d gotten her hopes up all on her own, so she has only herself to blame.
Pidge gives Matt the chocolates that she’d originally bought for Lance and resolves to pretend that she hadn’t gotten him anything at all.
“Oh, please, please, please,” Romelle had begged, once she’d finally cornered all of her “willing” participants. “I just want one night to go dancing, all of us! It’ll be so much fun. It’s in all of your Earth movies, but I’ve never done it.”
Pidge has never done it, either. Her teenage years have been spent in space and she’s never been very keen on it. It seems like exercise disguised as entertainment, which she’d rather not do in front of all of her friends as everybody gets progressively drunker and drunker.
But Lance had nudged her shoulder and whispered come on, at least save me a dance, so… here she is, in a nightclub full to the brim. The bass is too loud, enough to annoy her, but it’s easy enough to distract herself. She and Romelle spin around on the dance floor for two or three songs, enough to ease her reservations and tear a giggle or two out of her. It’s not until a different type of song comes on, more sensual, almost – that Romelle abandons her in favor of seeking out someone that she deems hasn’t danced enough.
It’s all for the better, Pidge supposes, when she feels a hand on her shoulder. “Hey,” Lance says, his voice barely carrying over the pulse of the music. “Feel like a dance?”
“Only with you,” she teases, allowing him to pull her close. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to realize that dancing with him is really overwhelming, so she keeps her eyes trained on her feet. She tells herself that it's because she's clumsy, because she doesn't want to step on his toes, but she knows that it's because she's scared of what she'll see if she looks Lance in the eye. The music is slow - much slower than the beat of her heart, which is pounding at a truly alarming rate.
Lance dances as if it's something he was born to do. He dances with the same confidence that he pilots, with the same bite of his lip as he concentrates on his moves. Heat radiates between them, and Pidge wonders how much of it is from their movements and how much is from the blush on her cheeks. She lifts her head up to look at him, and it's both a blessing and a curse that she did. He is so, so close to her. She can feel his breath, warm on her face, and oh, it would be so easy to kiss him like this, to just reach up and close the distance. But they're in public, and Lance isn't the same boy that he once was. He's not the type for public displays of affection anymore, at least not with her.
I’m so in love with you, Pidge thinks, but she doesn’t say a thing.
“Oh my God, Pidge, stop screaming!”
The second that she realizes who exactly has covered her eyes and pulled her into a quiet room, she immediately shoves him. “You can’t just kidnap me, jackass!”
Lance scoffs at her antics, but he’s smiling, too. “I’m not kidnapping you, jeez, you’re so dramatic. I just wanted to get you alone for a minute, that’s all.”
That’s fair. She’s been pushed in about fifty different directions all day. She’s had birthday breakfast with her parents, a “surprise” party from some of the cadets, and some celebratory video game time with Matt, all on top of her normal work schedule. “Well, you got me,” she says. “Do I need to pay a hallway tax or something?”
“Oh, yes,” he says. “It costs one kiss to go through the east wing. Pay up.”
Pidge rolls her eyes but obliges, grabbing him by the collar and tugging him down into a kiss. He’s smiling so wide that it almost ruins it, but then she’s grinning right into it, too. “Alright, sharpshooter. As fun as this is, I have a class that I need to teach.”
“Wait, I got you something! Don’t move!” She wrangles her smile into something seemingly indifferent as he bends under the table for something. Wow, he’d really planned all of this out. He straightens back up and hands her a gift bag, with a bright green bow at the top. “Open it!”
“Um, Lance,” she says, “there is definitely more than one thing in here.”
“What can I say, I’m a gentleman. Open it! Open it!”
“Alright, jeez, stop yelling at me,” her voice is flat, but excitement is thrumming in her veins.
The first thing that she opens is a thermos, black and with PIDGE engraved into it. “I know it might seem kinda lame,” Lance says, before she can say how much she likes it, “but I know you like your coffee, like, so hot that it’s actually kind of weird, and I didn’t think you had one, so…”
“You’re rambling,” she says, popping open the lid. There are a bunch of candies inside. “Aww, thanks, Lance. I love it.”
She snorts once she opens the second gift. “Oh my God, it’s so hideous, I love it.” It’s one of the action figures that had been released alongside the Voltron series – the one that had made her a boy and put Keith and Allura together. The action figure is her, technically, except it’s of particularly poor craftmanship and obviously operating under the impression that she is not a girl. She’d made a joke about wanting one of these, way back when, right? And he’d remembered?
The final gift is the smallest and hidden at the bottom, to the point where she hadn’t even noticed it at first. She opens the packaging slowly to reveal a jewelry box. Too big to be for a ring, she notes, and then feels embarrassed that the thought had even crossed her mind. She pushes it open to reveal a necklace, with a golden rose pendant at the bottom. It’s beautiful, and definitely worth more than anything that she owns.
“Lance,” she breathes. “This is beautiful, I – you don’t need to get this for me.”
“Too late,” he jokes. “I wanted to. It’s like that rose that I got you before, remember?”
“I remember,” she confirms. It’s a very precious memory. It’s one of the first times that he’d shown any interest in her. “Will you put it on me?”
Lance has been quiet all day.
It’s not too unusual – sometimes he just gets a little distant, as if not every part of him is present. He’s not the only one who gets that way. Sometimes Shiro blinks away tears from events that happened years ago, and sometimes Hunk says six of us instead of five and his whole face falls afterwards, as if he’d forgotten how much it hurts.
Pidge’s usually result in nightmares that she can’t quite remember. Her sheets soak with her own sweat and she shakes her head to push out memories that aren’t even there anymore. It never gets less scary.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Pidge asks, once the two of them are finally alone together. She thinks that maybe she should do something soothing, like rub circles into his arm or draw him into a hug, but she doesn’t do either of those. She’s never been the one that people go to for comfort. It’s never been her expertise.
“No,” Lance says, and the wince that he makes after shows that it’s blunter than he had meant it to be. “No, Pidge, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” she says. “Do you want to go do something? Watch a movie?”
“No,” he says again. “I think I just want to … ugh, I don’t know.” He rubs his face with his hands, and she just wishes that she knew who he was frustrated with.
Lance leans in, and she meets him halfway. She doesn’t know how to portray her feelings in a kiss – doesn’t know how to make her concern something tangible and real – but she sure tries.
It must not be enough, in the end, because he pulls back. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, and something seems almost vacant about him, as if he doesn’t quite know why he’s saying it. “I can’t … do this. I’m sorry. I’ll see you around.”
“Wait, Lance, what?” She feels like she’s on a rollercoaster. She takes one, two, three steps after him, but he’s already ducking out of the room and into the hallway. She squeezes her eyes shut so tight that it almost hurts, feeling as though following him into the public eye is something she’s not quite sure that she’s prepared for.
I’ll see you around. What does that even mean? It sounds so unattached and vague, as if he’s talking to an old friend he’d bumped into at the supermarket and not her. She’s not quite sure what she is to him – even after all this time – but she has to mean something to him. Lance isn’t the type to lead people on so that he can fool around with them – he’s just not, and he never has been. The fact that he’s never labeled or told anybody about the fact that they’re an item doesn’t have to mean anything at all.
Lance stops answering her texts.
It’s not even like she regularly blows his phone up or anything. She’d sent him a hey, just making sure you’re okay the day that he’d run out on her, and then, a few days after, a Lance????
She knows that he needs his personal time sometimes, but God, would it really kill him to send back a I’m fine? There’s also the fact that she hasn’t seen him around the Garrison campus, not once, and it’s been a week. They usually bump into each other unintentionally at least once a day, so the fact that he’s been a ghost must mean that he’s been avoiding her, right?
Pidge just wishes that she knew why.
Had she said something wrong? Had she tried to make him move faster than he’s ready for? She understands that he’s been through the wringer when it comes to his romantic life, she gets that, but isn’t that why they’ve been keeping things so lowkey?
When she finally does find him, he’s in the cafeteria, but he’s not eating. She contemplates leaving him alone until he’s ready to talk to her, but she ends up dismissing it. At this rate, he’ll never speak to her, and she deserves better than being ghosted, right?
“Hey, can I talk to you?” she asks, and she knows that she startles him by the way that he jolts, tugging his clipboard close to his chest. How many of his recent days as he been spending in a totally different world?
“Oh, uh, I’m actually on my way out-“
“Lance,” Pidge says, voice sharper than intended. “That’s bullshit. Talk to me.”
“I really need to enter these grades, my deadline is at 2:40,” he tells her, raising his free arm as if in self-defense. Pidge glances at the analog clock on the wall – 12:11- and gives him an unimpressed glare.
Pidge grits her teeth, trying to hold back from saying something that she’ll regret. She fails. “Are you seriously making stupid excuses right now? If you don’t want to be with me, just tell me, don’t string me along like some fucking-“
“You’re making a scene,” he tells her, as if she’s not aware. It doesn’t take a genius to know that there are eyes on their backs right now. She’s just too pissed at him to care.
“Of course I’m fucking making a scene! You can’t just blow people off and expect them not to care!”
“Look, can we just do this later? Please?” Good on him for showing manners, she supposes, but it’s way too late to calm down how mad she is.
“No, because you won’t talk to me later!”
“Just drop it, Pidge,” Lance demands, and there’s something in his voice that wrangles her next words out of her. He sounds so mad, as if she’s acting crazy or something.
“Fuck you,” she says, and she doesn’t give herself enough time to regret it before she storms off.
Pidge gnaws on her lip. Don't cry, she tells herself. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry. Maybe it's the fact that the internal plea is a reminder of the fact that she is near tears, or maybe it's the fact that she can't stop herself, not this time, because she feels something hot and itchy go down her cheeks anyway.
"You're leaving again," she says, as if he isn't already aware. Nobody had told her, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out - the cardboard boxes in the trunk of his car, the way he'd been wringing his hands all week, and most significantly, the guilty way that he's looking at her now. His hand is still on the car door handle, but he's not closing it, no, he's just staring at her, as if he hadn't expected her to show up. As if he'd thought that he'd gotten away with it.
"Yeah," Lance confirms, voice awkward. He sounds the way that he had when they'd been kids at the Garrison, not at all like the man that he's grown into. He looks exactly the same as he had when he'd left the first time, when Allura's death was so fresh that everybody still burned with it. She'd been sad to see him go, then, but it didn't hurt like this. "I was just about to head out."
Pidge wipes at her eyes, frantically, wishing that he wasn't getting the satisfaction of seeing her cry. Mammina always says that boys aren't worth crying over, but if you gotta do it, don't waste any more tears than you have to. She doesn't know what to say in response - why didn't you tell me? Did anybody know? Didn't you care about me? Don't you still? "Okay," she says after a moment, desperate to exit the tense silence that had barely begun. "Why?"
He opens his mouth and then closes it, as if he isn't sure if she can handle the answer, or maybe he just doesn't know what the answer is himself. She doesn't know what is scarier. "There's nothing for me here," he settles on after a moment. She thinks that he might mean the words to be harsh – a firm goodbye, perhaps - but all she hears is the ache of loneliness that echoes throughout his tone. She wants to tell him that he doesn’t have to do this, that they can just talk it through so they don’t leave on bad terms, but his mind is so clearly made up. She’s too stubborn to beg for somebody who doesn’t want her, anyway.
The tears that she had just squashed down come back with a vengeance, but they're accompanied with a white-hot flash of anger this time. How can he-? "I read you loud and clear," she says, taking a step backwards. Being this close to him is too much to handle - looking at him is too much to handle. How dare he look so tormented by the fact that she's angry with him when he has just said something like that? "Have a safe trip."
When she walks away, she hears his car door slamming shut. He doesn't say a single damn thing, and Pidge supposes that roses really do wilt after all.
She lets the tears fall.
Matt takes one look at her - in his doorway, red-eyed and biting her lip - and his whole expression sobers. "Keith, I'm gonna have to call you back," he says, the dial tone ringing before Keith's answer can even come through. He draws her into a hug without saying anything, cradling her into his shoulder. The dam breaks, and all Pidge can do is sob into his shirt. He rubs her back as if she's a little kid scared of nightmares again, and the gesture is so, so familiar. It's coming home from school with trembling lips and shaky shoulders. It's waking up with Allura's name on her tongue and wanting the comfort of her older brother.
She tries to force the tears back after a while, her cries turning into small, hyperventilating gasps as she tries to get it under control. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry-" For what feels like the hundredth time in just thirty minutes, she wipes fruitlessly at her eyes.
"It's okay, it's fine, don't even worry about it," Matt soothes. He's always been good at calming her down in a way that nobody else ever has been - whenever she goes quiet and vacant-eyed, remembering something four or five galaxies away, he's the one that everybody sends in. "Do you wanna sit down on the couch? I can make hot chocolate."
"Yes please," Pidge replies, voice barely a whisper. Her lungs and throat feel burned out, as if each word that Lance had said to her had lacerated her insides. She takes off her lab coat, folding it neatly just so she can have something to do with her hands. She slumps into the couch cushions, pulling up her legs so that she can rest her chin on her knees. This sucks. Exhale. She wonders how far Lance has gotten by now. Inhale. Is he still on Garrison premises? Exhale. Is he a town or two away? Inhale. Where is he even going? Exhale. Nevada or Colorado or farther than that, all the way to the Eastern edges of America?
Maybe it's because she's teetering on the edge of lucidity, but it feels like only a few moments pass before Matt is handing her a mug that's overflowing with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. She pushes a smile onto her face and utters a thank you, cradling it in her hands. It's just cool enough not to burn her, but it's still warm and comforting. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asks.
Pidge nods jerkily, taking a sip of her hot chocolate in order to delay the inevitable. "Lance, he - he left. He told Hunk and Keith and Shiro but - I didn't - he didn't -"
"He left?" Matt repeats, and, well, at least Lance didn't tell her fucking brother. "Where'd he go?"
"I don't know," she says, and her voice cracks to the point where the words come out raspy, barely audible to even her own ears. "He just - he had all of his boxes packed and he told me that there was nothing for him here. What does that even mean? He and I - I thought - I thought he loved me."
"I'm so sorry, Katie," Matt tells her. "I can't believe that he just left like that."
Pidge shrugs and huffs a laugh, even though nothing is funny. "Me neither. God, me neither."
Here's the thing.
When they'd originally given Pidge her saving-the-universe compensation, she'd thought holy shit, that could get me at least eight Doctorate degrees, and then had promptly shoved it all away into savings. Her current job, establishing the next generation of Legendary Defenders with her friends and family, is more than enough, especially since she's been living on Garrison premises.
But living in an assigned suite with her parents and Bae Bae isn't what she wants anymore. Sure, she likes being able to go there after work and scratch her dog behind the ears, but she's an adult. She could always make off like Matt and get her own quarters on the Garrison premises, but...
What does she want? What does she really want for her and her future? Five, ten years from now, where does she want to be?
There are apartments that catch her eyes, sleek and modern with just enough space for her. There are condos with pretty views and townhouses in safe communities. She bookmarks a lot of them, but a lot of them come and go before she can give them a second look. She's not entirely sure what she wants, but she knows that it's more than this. She wants a space that she can properly call her own, not her parents' or the Garrison's or the government's. She wants to make her own decisions with her own money and commute with her own car and do things herself.
It feels like the best way to put a foot forward, after all that happened. How is she supposed to linger throughout Garrison hallways any longer than she needs to, correlating each room to places that she had been with Lance? How is she supposed to have meetings in conference rooms without remembering the way that Lance had grinned, sharp and wicked, when he'd pulled her into one? How is she supposed to walk past the cafeteria without remembering the big, blow-out fight they'd had before he'd left?
It's not that she doesn't want to work here anymore, because of course she does. This is where the last remaining members of her family live, and where all of her friends are. But she needs some place else to go when the day is done. She needs to figure out how to live on her own in a world that has a preference for moving on without her.
Pidge swallows and presses request tour.
“I still don’t understand how somebody so small can have so much stuff. Or such a big house,” Matt says, grunting as he lifts one of the cardboard boxes from the truck. “Seriously, Pidgey, what are you gonna do with four bedrooms?”
“I’ll convert one into a work station and one into a video game rig,” Pidge says, automatic, since she’s had this plan forever. “I can always move stuff around if I’m still living here when I want to start a family.”
“I’m just saying – when I moved into my place, I didn’t have nearly as many boxes as you do.”
Beside him, Shiro laughs. He’s carrying the box that Pidge knows has all of her heavy gadgets and devices, but he’s carrying it as if it’s nothing. “You say that as if your suite isn’t full of the most random knick-knacks. I don’t think anybody really needs four socket wrenches.”
“Screw you, Shiro, you’re just jealous that you don’t have a wrench with daisies on it.”
Keith huffs with the impatience of someone who has been witness to many, many of these arguments. “They never stop,” he says. “Hey, Pidge, wanna help me with the big one?”
“Of course,” Pidge agrees. She’s lucky enough that they all agreed to help her move into her new house, so she’s definitely not going to make them do all of the dirty work. She helps Ketih get the box out of the backseat, swallowing her grunt as she takes on half of the weight. “If we could move this one into the living room, that would be great. I’d rather not have to drag it across the floor later.”
“Sure,” Keith agrees. They carry the box in silence for a moment, but then – “Hey, uh, look… good on you for getting your own place. I know I was away while most of everything went down but, uh, I heard about it.”
Pidge smiles humorlessly. “Who told you? Shiro?”
“Matt wanted to know if I knew all of Lance’s weaknesses. I told him that you were the one with files on all of us.”
“Good answer,” she says. “And, um, thanks, Keith.”
Pidge drafts out a happy birthday, Lance, but deletes it before she can do anything stupid.
It’s all for the best.
When Pidge first walks into the animal shelter, she’s not really expecting anything. She’s just a dog person through and through, so of course, she wants to say hi to a few of the ones there and then be on her way. She greets the attendant – a girl about her age who looks as though she’s excited to finally have some activity in here – and scans the surrounding area. There’s a Boxer that’s currently rolling around on its back, a Chihuahua that’s currently yapping at her, and –
There’s a Great Dane in one of the cages, taking up more than half of it with just his body. He looks… sad, and scared, similar to the way that shelter dogs on TV usually appear. Something in Pidge’s heart twists and tugs. Had she looked that way, her first night in her new house? All alone, with nobody to talk to when she got scared of a bump in the night? “What’s his name?” she asks the attendant.
“Bear. He’s one of our senior dogs.”
“Seems fitting,” Pidge says, and then sits down right in front of the cage. Even though there’s a barrier in between the two of them, Bear still stays near the back of the cage. “Hey, Bear. You okay back there?”
“If you want, I can open the door for you,” the attendant offers. “He’s a shy boy, but he’s not aggressive or anything. Just a little rough around the edges.”
“That’d be great, thank you,” Pidge says, moving back so that the attendant can do so. Bear’s eyes never leave her the entire time, and her heart aches for him. “I’m not gonna hurt you, sweetheart,” she promises. “I’m just going to sit right here, and you can come up to me if you want, okay? It’s alright.”
Bear just keeps looking at her with his big, wary eyes, as if he doesn’t trust her not to breach his privacy. He’s a handsome guy, and oh, he deserves so much more than spending the rest of his days in a shelter…
“I think that I love him,” she tells the attendant, only partially joking. “Do you think… do you think that he’ll get taken sometime soon, or…?”
“That’s probably unlikely. He’s been here for months,” the attendant says. “Since March, I think? They found him in a squat house. We think that his owner had dropped him off there and just left.”
“I’m sorry, Bear,” Pidge tells him. He blinks at her, and the timing almost makes it seem like he understands. She smiles at the absurdity of the thought. “I don’t know why anybody would leave you behind. You’re such a cutie, aren’t you?”
Bear, very slowly, pushes himself onto his feet. Pidge stills, not wanting to scare him off or cause him to bite, but he doesn’t do anything volatile. All he does is take a few steps forward and bury his head into her still-outstretched hand.
“Oh, honey,” she coos, scratching his chin, realizing how foolish she had been for thinking that she could come in here without falling in love. “You’re just a big darling, aren’t you?” To the attendant, she says – “could I maybe, uh, reserve him for a bit?”
“Of course,” the attendant says, pleased, as if this is the outcome that she’s been hoping for. “For how long?”
Pidge makes a few quick calculations in her head – paperwork length, amount of dog supplies, her upcoming availability, and then says - “Three days?”
“It’s okay, honey,” Pidge says, rubbing soothing circles into Bear’s fur. He does not seem soothed. “You can come out. It’s okay.”
Matt snorts from beside her. Predictably, when he’d heard that she’s in the process of getting a dog, he’d immediately invited himself over to be there for the move-in date. “I’m pretty sure you said the same thing to me once.”
“You are so not helping,” she huffs in response, but her lips quirk up. “His stranger danger senses are probably going off, and that’s why he’s not getting out of the car.”
Matt reaches a tentative hand towards Bear, who reaches out to smell it. “I still can’t believe you just got a dog because you felt like it. And such an old one, too.”
“I dunno, I think he needed me,” Pidge says, fully aware of how cheesy it is. And I needed him. She turns her attention back to Bear, who is firmly seated in the backseat. Pidge huffs. “Do you want me to carry you? Is that it?”
Slowly, so that Bear can bark at her if he wants to, Pidge reaches in and picks him up, scooping a hand around his butt so that she can carry him like a baby. He’s a really, really big dog, so her muscles are not very happy with the decision, but she is. “Good boy,” she hums, leaning down so that she can place him on the ground.
“Ugh, I wish I’d taken a picture of that,” Matt says. “Mom and Dad would probably make it their new Facebook profile pictures.”
“They change their profile pictures whenever we send them anything, so yeah, you’re not wrong.”
(Matt does end up taking a picture when Pidge needs to pick Bear up again so that they can go up the short set of stairs to the front door. Pidge is grinning in it, sincere and lively, and she likes the picture so much that she makes it her profile picture, instead.)
The stars are so pretty here. They’re so much more visible than in the city or on Garrison premises. There’s so many of them – Pidge had tried to count, that one night that she’d snuck out with Lance, but it had simply been impossible. It’s hard not to look at these fields and trees and skies and not think about him. How he’d taken her here that night that they’d snuck out, how they’d made up constellations even when they already knew what each one was. How he’d kissed her, slow and soft, as if she was the only person he’d ever touched. Bear sniffs at the grass as if he knows the stories that have played out here, as if he knows that she’d laid down here and breathed in this air.
She’s spent so much time lately trying to forget him, trying to bury down the memory of the chaos that had been their relationship. She’s worked herself to death and hung out with all of her friends a hundred times to give herself something else to focus on, and somewhere along the way, she’d forgotten to actually come to terms with it.
Lance had come back into her life like a thunderstorm, beautiful and dangerous, and she had let herself be dragged along for the ride. He loved her, and he left her, and she doesn’t even really blame him for it anymore. He’d just gotten scared.
She’s so tired of being angry, so tired of victimizing herself -
“Come on, Bear,” she says, gentle. “Let’s go home, okay?”
- so she lets it go.
“Keith, if you keep taking your helmet off, it’s gonna ruin all the immersion,” Hunk insists for what must be the third or forth time that evening. Pidge shares an amused smile with Shiro.
“We’re the fucking Power Rangers,” Keith says, though there’s no heat behind the swear. He’s smiling, which would be obvious even if he had been wearing his red helmet. “There’s no immersion. It’s a costume!”
“Still, I think we should go around ‘arresting’ people, like this,” Hunk says, making pew-pew noises as he points an imaginary gun at an unsuspecting Romelle, who is currently dressed up as some Altean film star. “She could be under arrest for … being in too many movies!”
“Or for having too cute of a fashion sense,” Pidge adds. She takes off her own helmet, then, propping it under her arm. Hunk scoffs disbelievingly at her.
“For being too nice!”
Keith snorts into his drink. “We are the worst Power Rangers ever.”
“You clearly did not see Megaforce.” Hunk points out. “Hey, let’s reboot the Power Rangers! We’re already famous, so we’re totally viable options!”
“I think my TV days are over,” Shiro points out, and Pidge remembers when he used to be on the news every other day – from being a promising pilot on an exciting mission to being lost in space, thought dead. She cringes at the memory and pushes it aside.
“Plus, there’s only four of us,” Keith points out. “Aren’t there six Power Rangers? Who would we get to join us?”
Hunk immediately starts scanning the room for two willing victims, and Pidge can only wonder if anyone else is thinking about Allura and Lance. Are they wondering the same thing about her, or have they finally learned to leave the past in the past, no matter how cherished it is?
“Ooh! Shay! Shay! Come join our Power Rangers reboot!”
Shay laughs, and when Pidge smiles through her explanation of what the Power Rangers are, she finds that she’s not faking it at all.
There is nothing in the universe like Nonna’s cooking. She doesn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving, but she still flies in every year to cook and bake and make everybody smile.
“So, sunshine,” she says to Pidge, once she’s finally stopped grilling Matt about his current or future romance options. Somebody must have mentioned Lance to her, because she hasn’t asked Pidge anything about love this trip. “How have you been? I hear you have a dog now.”
“Yes, I do! His name’s Bear.” He gets nervous around strangers, so she hadn’t forced him to come. He’s not anxious around her at all anymore, but it definitely shows itself in different ways – like how ever since she’s determined that he’s fully crate-trained, he’s started spending his nights patrolling the whole house. Or how he never leaves her side around people that he doesn’t know, instead opting to literally sit on her feet as she answers the door for pizza delivery. “Do you want to see a picture of him?”
“Oh, yes,” Nonna insists. “Your nonnina had the smallest little dog when I first met her, and he was the cutest little thing. He liked to sleep on the foot of our bed.”
Pidge uses her phone to show her grandmother a picture of Bear – it’s the one she’d taken just the day prior, when he had rested his head on her knee and given her the most stereotypical puppy dog eyes.
Nonna coos, and Pidge smiles, and Matt shoves so much mashed potatoes into his mouth that he gets it on his cheek – and everything is okay. Everything is more than okay.
I just saw Lance talking to Veronica???
Did you know he was in town?
Pidge frowns at her phone screen. She types out a variety of different responses (no I didn’t, and he didn’t say anything, and no but I wouldn’t know anyway) before deleting all of them and sending a simple nope. It doesn’t surprise her that he’s in town, especially since Veronica’s promotion had just become public knowledge the day before. He’s probably here to celebrate with his family – and at the same party that he’d first kissed her at, no less.
Whatever – that had been a year ago, which is weird to think about. In time, the amount of months spent since their break-up (if it can even be called that) will be even longer than the time they’d spent together in the first place. The hours and days had ticked on so slow since then, but looking back, it feels like it’s been no time at all.
Pidge almost skips the whole Christmas Eve party – either out of fear or just out of general disdain, she’s not quite sure – but she finds herself there anyway, half-drunk and laughing at everything that the MFE pilots say. Veronica’s not there, but Pidge doesn’t ask about where she is or why.
The thought of the McClain family curdles something in her throat, but she grins at them anyway. “I’ll be right back,” she says, reaching out to the nearest bicep – James’ - and squeezing it. “I’m gonna get another drink. Anybody want anything?”
She mentally notes Kinkade’s request of another screwdriver and teasingly curtsies her way out of the conversation. She laughs to herself at her own antics, and bumps straight into-
“Pidge,” Lance breathes. “Hi.”
He looks… good. Better, she supposes. He has stubble now, and his hair is gelled back, which is a look that she hasn’t seen him pull off before. And he does pull it off, surprisingly, even though she kind of thinks that he looked more approachable when his hair was fluffy and messy.
“Hey, Lance,” she says, her voice portraying her surprise. She realizes that she’s been staring at him, so she drops her eyes to her feet and then directly behind him. “How are you?”
“I’m alright,” Lance says, wringing his hands in front of her. He looks the exact same way that she feels. “Veronica just got promoted to senior analyst, so I’m here to celebrate.”
“I heard,” Pidge offers up, because even though it’s been a little weird talking to Veronica lately, the two of them are still reasonably close. “Congratulations. You must be proud.”
“Uh, yeah, I am,” he replies. “How – how have you been?”
She opens her mouth to give a generic answer, but something makes her hesitate. If she really, truly thinks about how she’s been lately… she’s been great. She has a family that continuously supports and loves her, friends who will always be there for her, a dog that knows more than anything how to love her, her own space that she can go home to at the end of the day, and a steady job that actually challenges and delights her. She has it made, and… she’s alright! She’s happy.
Pidge smiles, at first something soft and barely visible, but then it turns into a wild, uncontained thing. “I’m great,” she says. “I – I really, genuinely hope that you’re happy, Lance. Because I really am.”
He smiles back at her, and it’s not as strained as it had been a second ago. “That’s good to hear. How’s everyone else?”
So she talks about Keith’s new boyfriend and the ring in Shiro’s pocket. She talks about Hunk’s culinary empire and Matt’s latest discovery. “Everyone is just… really coming into themselves, you know? I didn’t know I could feel so proud all of the time, heh.”
“That’s great,” Lance says, and she doesn’t know how to react to the slightly sad, distant look on his face, so she ignores it. They're not lovers anymore, hell, they probably don't even classify as friends, so it's not up to her to fix his feelings. It's not up to anyone but him.
“Hey, look,” she says, “um, it’s really been great talking to you, but I told my friends that I’d get them more drinks, so I probably shouldn’t keep them waiting-“
He reaches out and grabs her arm. He doesn’t do anything stupid, like tell her that he still has feelings for her, or ask her to wait for him. And she doesn’t do anything stupid either, like kiss him or touch his face. “Pidge, I… I really hope that we can be friends again someday. I miss it.”
She nods at him and places a gentle hand on the one on her arm. “We will. I just know it.” With that, she moves his hand off, and goes to get another drink. Unlike the last conversation that she’d had with him, all of those months ago, she doesn’t feel as though she really needs one.
She leaves a little past midnight. James offers to drive her home, but she thinks that she needs the quiet of the night for a bit. The stars are so bright and beautiful, shining down and kissing the pavement. It’s the kind of night that people write poems and rom-com scenes about, and the independence of walking through it alone is almost as intoxicating as the vodka.
She finds a patch of roses growing a few feet away from the sidewalk, looking as though they’ve just bloomed. Pidge smiles at them, just the tiniest bit sad, and lets them grow on their own.