“You guys aren’t as gross as I thought you’d be,” Pidge remarked as Lance sat on the floor of her lab.
Adela sprawled out on her back, rocking back and forth on the large, soft blanket covering a section of Pidge’s space. The tiny girl was struggling to flip over onto her belly, her little brow furrowed in concentration.
Lance cheered her on, taking a break to reply to Pidge. “What, me and my baby girl here? She’s plenty gross, trust me. Remember when she wasn’t keeping any food down? And changing her diapers changed me. Holy crap, alien baby poop is a whole experience. A life-changing one.”
Pidge abandoned her computer program, getting down on the floor next to Lance so she could nudge him with her shoulder. “I mean you and Keith, doofus.”
“Oh … yeah.” He grinned with a blush. “We’re still figuring stuff out? Keeping it behind closed doors is mostly because we’re still novices.”
“I don’t like the implication that once you get good at whatever, you’ll morph into a pair of exhibitionists.” Pidge tickled Adela’s belly, and the baby obliged her with a giggle. “I was just worried. It’s a bit much at once, right? You and Keith raising her … You’re not just doing this out of obligation?”
“You mean like … we’re both her dads on paper, so I’m just going along with the ready-made family?” Lance stared at Pidge. “No? I love Adela.” That might have been his first time saying that out loud. He glanced over at the baby, who seemed resigned to stay on her back and tug on the blankets beneath her. He grabbed onto a tiny hand, completely overtaken by how much adoration he could have for someone so very small and new. “I love her, and I want to help raise her. This stuff with Keith … it might have come about because of close proximity,” Lance admitted. “But not out of obligation. I promise.”
“I really want this to work,” Pidge said after a minute of playing silently with Adela. She wriggled her fingers, played keep away with them, let Adela capture them after a few seconds. Lance noticed that her hands, normally stained with either oil or grease or some mysterious substance, were spotless. She looked over at Lance from the corner of her eyes, keeping most of her focus on the baby. “I don’t want you to feel trapped. There’s already so much we don’t have control over, that we don’t have a choice in …”
“Pidge, hermana mía,” Lance said, reaching out to tug her in close. She allowed it, glancing up at him through her messy fringe. “I promise that I want this. All of it. Keith, Adela … they’re a choice that I didn’t feel forced to make. Well, I did have a minor freak-out after the fact, ‘cause I didn’t really think this whole thing through. Plus, deciding to be a parent is entirely different from actually being one, forever …”
Pidge poked him hard in the side, and Lance squeaked. She grinned. “Yeah, all right, you’re a typical first-time dad, and first-time husband, all at once.”
Lance blanched at the word husband. “Okay, cool it with the marriage talk. Keith and I are very much in the early stages. We haven’t even discussed … being official.”
The look Pidge gave him was probably the most unimpressed stare he’d gotten from her to date, and that was saying a lot. “Should I tell Shiro you’re banging his brother out of wedlock?”
“Pidge, I swear, I am not above murder in front of the baby. Also, Shiro is totally cool with this.” Shiro didn’t know specifics. Who knew what Keith told him, but Lance didn’t think Keith would spill all the details, and Shiro himself had said he didn’t particularly want any.
“Fine, I’ll stop. Mostly because … I think Adela needs a diaper change.” Pidge was making a face, scooting away from the now smelly baby.
Adela screeched, somewhat happily, probably because whatever poison was in her body was now out of it, and she felt very good about that.
Lance sighed, scooping her up and telling her, “Querida, you seriously need to come with a warning label. Maybe we’ll have Coran print one up, and we’ll stick it to the bottom of every outfit you have.”
Adela just burbled, patting his chest as he tucked her in close, waving good-bye to Pidge, and heading for his room. They had a neat little changing table in Adela’s room — with a strap that Hunk had retrofitted the first time Adela tried to roll off it. She hadn’t succeeded, still not capable of shifting herself that far, but neither Lance nor Keith wanted to wait for the moment when she could fling herself into the void.
Lance hummed as he changed her diaper, groaning out loud when Adela … didn’t quite finish emptying her intestines. For the first time since he’d been doing this, some of her poop landed on his bare skin, and he winced.
Then he gasped. Then he yelped.
“Holy shit, that burns!” He cussed a wild streak in Spanish, reaching for a nearby bottle of warm water, pouring it over his burning hand.
He stared at his skin, still feeling that searing pain, though slightly less so. He quickly finished up with Adela, now being extra careful as he disposed of her diaper and wipes in the convenient slot that lead to the Castle incinerator. Then he wrapped her up in a blanket and rushed to find Coran.
Lance reached the medical wing, and hit the comm in the wall, yelling, “Coran! I need you in the med wing now.”
He hadn’t realized that this would sound vaguely alarming to everyone else until Coran, Allura, Shiro, Keith, Hunk, and Pidge all ended up appearing at more or less the same time, some of them out of breath.
Keith looked frantic. “What, what’s wrong with Adela?”
The baby in question babbled excitedly at seeing Keith, stretching her tiny arms out to him. Keith grabbed her up, examining her with intense focus.
Lance just turned to Coran, sticking out his now free, injured hand. “So, she did this to me.”
Coran immediately rushed to his side, bending in close to his burned skin — the burns were uneven splotches, red, swelling, blisters already forming. Coran hissed in sympathy, then asked, “How on earth did she manage? She doesn’t spit some kind of acid, does she? Couldn’t be, that’s not common in either species … Neither has venomous saliva nor …”
“Well, I was changing her diaper and, ah, some of her … waste? Got on my hand.”
Keith had marched over to see the burns himself, his expression somewhat concerned, and as Lance explained, his eyebrows climbed higher and higher. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Dude, your kid has literally lethal poops?” Hunk stared at Lance incredulously. “Man, that is some shit luck.” He snorted to himself.
Pidge smothered a laugh with one hand, and then used her other hand to smack Hunk’s arm. “C’mon, Hunk, we shouldn’t be mean. Lance looks pretty down in the dumps.”
“Wow, this is so hilarious,” Lance deadpanned. “Might I remind you that you’re all part of this family, and at some point, you will be changing diapers. Just saying.”
“I’ve avoided it so far.” Pidge rolled her eyes when Lance glared at her. “But when said avoidance fails, I was planning on designing special gloves for the occasion, and this just reinforces that idea,” Pidge said with a grimace. But soon after, her expression went pensive. "Hm, corrosive crap could be interesting ... and have some fascinating applications."
Hunk suddenly became excited. "Oh man, that's a thought ... We should absolutely design—"
"How about we don't weaponize any of my kid's bodily excretions?" Keith requested dryly, but with a hint of underlying firmness.
Both Pidge and Hunk raised their hands in surrender.
Shiro had been trying (and mostly succeeding) at holding back a smile; his expression grew serious as Coran bustled about, slathering Lance’s burns with a thick gel, and then gathering Adela up to submit her to yet more scans. Shiro put a hand on Lance’s shoulders. “I assume, since you’re not a total mess, that Adela is fine?”
“Oh yeah, this was just a regular day for her,” Lance said gratefully. “I’m the one who may have just taught her a whole bunch of words that my mamá would smack me for.”
“According to my notes on Syluwen development, she’s at least five phoebs from forming words of her own,” Coran informed them. “I believe you’re safe.”
Keith carefully gripped Lance’s wrist, taking a closer look at the burns. “I can’t believe we just noticed this. Why weren’t her diapers melting? Or the wipes we use?”
“It might have to do with the chemical compounds inherent in skin, particularly human skin?” Coran posited, stroking slowly through his mustache. “Hm. It may also have to do with her ever-changing diet. We have been experimenting frequently with her foods … I’ll be needing a sample next time you defecate, young lady.” He leaned in close, and Adela squealed, grabbing at the orange mustache. “Yes, I see you understand.”
He passed her back to Keith, who took her in one arm while still holding Lance’s wrist, gentle and reassuring. “So we keep her next dirty diaper.”
“Yes, please,” Coran said while distractedly typing up some notes.
Allura patted Lance on the back as Shiro pulled away to make faces at Adela. “Well, parenting is certainly a never-ceasing adventure.”
“I could do with a little less adventure,” Lance said fervently. “Boring would be great.”
Keith stared down at Adela. “Yeah, somehow, I don’t think that’s in the cards for us.”
Lance looked over at his … boyfriend? Partner? He studied the concerned lines appearing, and glanced down at the fingers carefully holding his wrist. Well, at least he had this, whatever label they chose, on his side. And of all the weirdness he’d expected from raising an alien baby, maybe poisonous poops weren’t too weird or awful to deal with?
However, Lance had a sneaking suspicion that this wasn’t all Adela had in store for them.
After the latest fiasco with Adela, Keith expected more strangeness to follow — and when it inevitably showed up, he told himself he would keep his cool. He would maintain a level head that Lance apparently didn’t possess at all. One of them had to be the calm parent.
His resolve lasted until Adela did what she always did — absolutely turn all of their expectations on their heads.
They’d solved the “acidic burning poop” problem by adjusting her diet. Again. (It turned out one of Hunk’s concoctions, combined with Adela’s biology, created some pretty lethal stuff.) And so with that issue laid to rest, Keith relaxed.
Which was a mistake.
During one of her baths — the easiest, best time of day for her — Keith had been distracted. He’d been washing her mostly on instinct, his mind drifting to Lance’s jaunty wink before he’d taken off for training with Shiro. The lingering kiss Lance had bestowed on him, and then the flush on his cheeks when Keith had yanked him back in for one more.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he nearly jumped out of his skin when Adela started shrieking like she was being murdered.
Keith’s efforts to maintain his calm lasted maybe thirty seconds.
At first, Keith thought the cries had something to do with the water, but Adela’s screeching remained constant whether he attempted to sooth her in the warm bath, or outside it in his arms against the bare skin of his throat and collar. In fact, there was the tiniest subtle shift to the screaming when she was in her small bathtub, nearly fully submerged — the smallest bit of comfort.
“Fuck, oh fuck, Adela …” Keith breathed out helplessly, completely disregarding the rules about swearing around the baby.
A lump caught in his throat as Adela continued weeping, begging wordlessly for him to stop whatever was hurting her, the shrieks subsiding only when she ran out of breath, exhaustion weighing her down. Keith picked her up and out of the bath one last time, and every muscle in her little body went taut, the high-pitched screaming resuming after her short break to suck in a lungful of air.
“Okay, okay, I’ve got you,” he pleaded into her hair. “We’re going to figure this out, we are, and I’m going to make this okay.”
Except that even as he spoke, Keith had every nightmare, every vague half-formed memory of babies dying inexplicably in their cribs back on Earth, every child since who he had seen die of starvation, or disease, or because some tiny infection slipped the notice of the war trauma doctors …
He bolted to the medical wing, clutching Adela as close and firmly as possible to keep her safe. Like Lance had done just a couple of short weeks ago, Keith slammed the button for the comm. “Coran! Med wing!” He could hear Adela’s cries echoing throughout the Castle as he yelled.
In almost the exact same order as last time, Coran came sprinting in after just a few seconds, closely followed by everyone else. Since Lance had been training, he was still wearing his armour, his bayard in one hand, the rifle fading in a bright flash of light as he rushed towards Keith.
“Oh my god, Adela, querida,” Lance babbled. As he spoke, she perked up, still crying, and reached for him, while clutching tightly to the collar of Keith’s black shirt. Lance crowded in close to them both, his sweaty hair against Keith’s messy strands as they bent their heads over their wailing child.
After just a couple of seconds, Coran muscled his way into their three-way embrace, and he carefully disentangled Adela from their arms.
Lance and Keith let it happen, though Keith felt something in him rear up and growl at the thought of this child, in pain and needing him, being torn away. But he swallowed loudly and clenched his hands into fists, keeping them determinedly at his side. It helped that he could feel Shiro at his back, and could see Pidge and Hunk gathering in around Lance. Allura stood by Coran, watching the screens popping with Adela’s stats and scans, her brow furrowing in concentration, and her teeth chewing viciously on her lower lip.
“Ah — ah! Well,” Coran said over Adela’s screams, sounding very relieved, which relaxed Keith ever so slightly. “This is interesting.”
He lifted a small hypospray, gently turning Adela onto her side — he pressed it against her lower back, and within seconds, Adela’s cries tapered off into whimpers, and then seconds after that, quiet little hiccups.
Keith’s heartbeat no longer pounded in his ears, and he no longer felt like snatching Adela back into his arms. But he did reach over, putting a careful, trembling hand onto her belly. She sighed, her little hands grabbing at his fingers. Keith smiled faintly, letting out a long, slow breath.
Coran breathed out as well. “Seems like one of her Galra genes has kicked in full force. It’s giving our girl some trouble,” Coran spoke directly to Adela for that last bit, giving her a quick tickle around Keith’s hand. She giggled, albeit somewhat lethargically. “Here, have a look.” He pointed with his other hand at the nearest holographic screen.
Keith stepped in closer, Lance directly behind him now, one hand around Keith’s waist. Keith had a brief flash where he could clearly imagine the picture they presented — the very image of worried parents huddling in close over their potentially ill child. It was so … normal. So domestic. It gave his stomach a strange twist, though he couldn’t say why.
He blinked, and he was back, staring at an X-ray of Adela, and Coran jabbed a finger near the base of her imaged spine. Keith’s mouth dropped open. “Is that … a tail?” Keith blinked again. “I … what? Why now? What.”
“Not all Galra have tails,” Coran informed them. “But of those who do, they generally don’t grow them until a few weeks after birth — it’s not a pleasant process, based on our records. Not unlike, ah, teething? That’s the human word for teeth development, yes?”
“So you’re telling me that Adela’s spine is literally still growing? Outside of …” Lance stared, visibly flabbergasted. He plastered himself to Keith’s back, leaning in far over his shoulder to squint at the image of that bony, protruding nub on Adela’s spine that hadn’t been there just two weeks ago. “What in the … Why didn’t this happen in the womb? Us human kids have tails in utero, and, I mean, they fall off or get absorbed or something, but most of that freaky stuff happens, you know, when we’re all gross frogs and stuff …”
Coran and Allura both looked like they wanted to ask more questions — Allura was mouthing the word frogs and looking faintly disgusted.
Coran shrugged it off and said, “Because … that’s not how it works?” He raised an orange eyebrow. “Such is the developmental process of Galra. Just like how you are apparently amphibious in the womb, they grow tails outside of it. The universe is strange, wonderful, and disconcerting in highly varied ways.”
Their Altean mentor stared at them suspiciously for a moment, his narrowed eyes drifting downwards, as if they were hiding tails from him, and then he shrugged again. “Now Adela’s poor back and bottom are going to be horribly sore for nearly a phoeb, I would guess — after that, her tail will have emerged fully, and from that point on, it will simply grow at the same pace that she does. That is to say, much slower, proportional to her size, with little to no pain.”
Lance slumped fully onto Keith, heavy in all his armour. “Right. Okay. Whew.”
Keith let Adela play with his hand, glancing down at her before asking, “What do we do in the meantime? What did you give her?”
“It was a very mild pain reliever, though I’m afraid we can only give that to her once a movement?” Coran stroked his mustache as he thought out loud. “I think the most you can do is let her rest in warm water several times a day, and perhaps keep her lying on either her side or belly when she’s sleeping. And avoid touching the area where her tail is coming in as much as you can.”
“I can help you develop an even milder pain reliever,” Pidge suggested — Keith had forgotten the others were there — and she gave Lance and Keith a quick smile. “Hopefully it’ll be useful down the road when she inevitably starts carrying all the germs that little kids do.”
“And I think we need to give you guys a break,” Hunk said, reaching out to pat Lance’s back. “This is gonna be a rough month, and no way you should have to deal with that alone.”
“We’ll reintroduce the shifts,” Allura announced, looking as serious as she did in their war strategy meetings. “And we’ll exempt Coran and Pidge for now as they attempt to create a pain reliever for Adela.”
“I think it might be a good idea to schedule some vacation time for you two after this,” Shiro said with a relieved little grin. “I bet there will be no sleep for a while.”
“Assuming nothing pressing comes up for Voltron, we can definitely arrange a little get away for our two young fathers,” Allura said with a knowing little grin.
That smile seemed contagious, and there was something about the way everyone was looking at Lance and Keith together …
Keith glanced over at his blue-eyed partner, saw him staring with all fondness down at Adela, and a for moment, he was lost. Keith knew that he cared about Lance, knew that he was attracted to him, but he didn’t know where, exactly, all that was leading … He only knew where he wanted it to go. But could he want that into existence?
He shook his head, saying, “Look, we can’t go on break every time something happens with Adela. We’ve already been away too long, and we’ve been on light duty since—”
“Keith, the Galra Empire has been fairly quiet for phoebs,” Allura said firmly. “We shall take advantage of that for your sake, but trust me when I say that Shiro and I have not been idle, nor have any of the others. This has been a valuable reprieve, and a good time for reorganizing and fortifying our allies. It won’t be a detriment to the war effort, I promise.”
She spoke as though she had the last word on the subject, and, well, Keith figured that she did. And that she was probably right. Lance glanced at him now, one eyebrow arched. Keith arched one back and shrugged, but he also reached over to put a hand on Lance’s waist, a reflection of their earlier position.
“All right, I guess if you insist.”
“I do,” Allura said with a happy glint to her eyes. “Now, enjoy Adela while she’s calm, and find us when she’s no longer.”
“I think the nights will still have to be mostly yours, since our scents don’t do much to calm her down enough to sleep, or to keep her relaxed when she’s nervous,” Shiro said apologetically. “But we can help out during the day as much as possible.”
“Got it,” Lance said with a thumbs-up, and then he bent to pick up Adela, who seemed very sleepy now.
Keith worried a little over how powerful this mild pain reliever was, but all the monitoring programs were tracking her, and no alarms were blaring. He stared hard at each screen, even though he could only understand maybe a quarter of the information displayed, and then allowed Lance to lead him out of the medical wing.
Keith paused before exiting, turning to all of them, “Thanks. Especially you, Coran, I don’t know how we would survive this without you.”
“There is no thanks required between family,” Coran said easily, but his eyes were deep and there was a well of sadness there that Keith couldn’t even begin to touch on. “You go on and enjoy your temporary reprieve.”
And Keith did just that, curled up on his bed, with Adela between him and Lance.
Lance had stripped down to his shorts and a tank, an Altean book on his lap that he half-read, half-improvised, while Keith felt himself drifting away, the adrenaline completely flushed from his system, and the perfect lullaby — Lance’s soft voice, Adela’s content babbling — sending him off for at least one good, short rest.