Pidge made a mental note to make Coran update his knowledge of different planets and their species. Or maybe she would just do it. That might be the better way to go- if you want something done right, you had to do it yourself after all. So far, it seemed like the only place he’d been even remotely accurate about was the very first planet that she and Shiro had ventured to in order to find her Lion. Every other ‘peaceful’ planet that ‘should be a safe place to catch a break’ and ‘would never side with the Galra’ had always wound up either war-torn, totally devoid of sentient life, or 100% on the Galra’s side.
So far, this planet was turning out to be empty. Huge trees with vivid blue bark and purple foliage sprawled out in front of them as far as the eye could see, reminding Pidge of photos she had seen of redwood forests. The ground below them was a lighter purple than what the trees boasted. What little smaller plants they saw were all similarly bright, with colors that could never be found on Earth. Were the lack of sound not so eerie, it would’ve been absolutely breathtaking. As it was, Pidge was having a very hard time not stopping and collecting a few small samples- she might not have been a huge fan of the outdoors, but her mother would’ve absolutely loved to see these.
To be honest, Pidge was secretly relieved that it seemed to be abandoned- she wasn’t sure she had the energy to do much fighting. They had visited two other planets in the past three days, and there were no shortage of fights to be had on either planet. And the scarce bit of time that they’d had in between fights was spent traveling. They all needed a break. Her especially though. She’d been working nonstop for around a week and a half now. But it was all necessary. There was always something more important to do than sleep. Research, projects, planning- none of it could get done if she was conked out. It drove Shiro nuts whenever he caught her foregoing sleep in favor of work, and right about now, she was starting to kick herself for it as well. Maybe he had a point.
But how much had she managed to accomplish by losing a few measly hours of sleep? She had done much of her best work when she was supposed to be asleep.
That didn’t change the fact she really needed to fix her sleep schedule. If for no other reason than that she might soon be dragging the others back, and that wasn’t fair. She couldn’t stand being a liability. No sir, not this Holt. This Holt was going to keep up with her team no matter what it took. Even if it meant giving up valuable time. Maybe.
Maybe they could just find some coffee.
Pidge was jolted back to reality when she heard Shiro shout. Kicking herself for not paying more attention, she jumped into action and tried to run to him. She only got a few steps towards him when she was suddenly being scooped up and was dangling several feet above the ground in... in a trap. Naturally. It was always a trap. One of the bars had smacked her head when it was closing around her, and she was momentarily seeing stars. It took several seconds for her vision to clear entirely, and when it did she realized that she wasn’t the only one who had gotten caught trying to reach Shiro. From the sound of it, Lance, Hunk, and Allura were all suspended in the air as well. She wasn’t in a position to see them clearly. In fact, the only thing she could see clearly was the ground. There wasn’t much room for her to wiggle around, and she could only imagine the miserable time the rest of the (bigger) people were having. If the cage was this tight around her, then they all had to be almost totally immobile.
“Um... is anyone else caught in a cage?” Lance’s question caused a few eye rolls, but Shiro replied anyway.
“Yes, Lance. Is everyone alright?” He was answered with various grumbles of affirmation. “These things don’t look Galran- they must be some hunter’s traps. We’re in the middle of the woods. I’m sure once they come around and see that we aren’t food, they’ll just let us go.”
“You’re always so optimistic, Shiro. When is it ever that easy? We haven’t even seen anyone on this planet- how do we know these aren’t some old abandon traps that no one bothers to check anymore?” Hunk almost sounded bitter. He had a point though. Things were never simple for them. There was always a catch somewhere. Anything from a mild inconvenience to... well to getting caught and hung in cages from giant trees.
“We gotta catch a break sometime. Can anyone reach their bayard?” Shiro asked. His arm was pressed uncomfortably against his side, and he risked serious injury to himself if he tried activating it. “Pidge?”
“Why are you asking me?” Pidge was glad that she hadn’t hit her head hard enough to knock her out, but it was still enough to tick her off and slow her down.
“You’re smaller! I just thought you might have a little extra room. Do you?”
There was an indignant pause where Pidge could be heard squirming around. “I- think I got it- is anyone else trying for theirs in case I can’t?”
“I am,” Allura said. “I’m not having much luck though. My arm is stuck- I think I may have sprained my wrist. And I'm upside down.”
A moment later, Pidge’s cage had rotated enough for her to see that the rest of her team had indeed been captured, and were all dangling in similar positions (except for Allura, who had actually somehow managed to get flipped upside down). She wiggled around even more, trying to find a way out. She was surprised when the cage popped open and spilled her to the ground without her actually doing anything. Once again, her head was smacked, this time against the ground. She realized why she had been released all too soon when she saw that a figure was standing in front of her, smirking. Why did he look familiar? Pidge was wracking her brain to try and remember, but nothing was coming to her.
“What a pleasant surprise. I come to check my traps and see what I caught, and I find none other than the Paladins of Voltron. Today must be my lucky day. I’m sure the clients I’m meeting will be interested in at least one of you.”
Even the voice was familiar. It wasn’t a friendly voice, but that wasn’t surprising. They generally met more hostile people than friendly ones. Pidge was pushing herself up to face her opponent and tried reaching for her bayard. Her hand was almost to her leg when the stranger was suddenly in front of her and shoving her back down. So Shiro had been wrong- this wasn’t just some friendly hunter’s trap. How shocking.
“What do you want?”
“You’re the one with a brother, right?” the voice asked out of the blue without answering her. She was still seeing doubles, but she was with-it enough to know that she didn’t like it talking about Matt. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”
That threw her off. Who would have a bone to pick with her? Clearly a good chunk of the universe held a vendetta against them all- she could kind of understand that. They had caused trouble all over the place. But why would this person know- or care- that she had a brother?
“What are you talking about?” That sounded like Shiro, and he sounded scared. Odd- Shiro didn’t get scared very often. “What could you possibly want with Pidge?”
“The three of us had a run in a while back. If I recall, it was during a very touching reunion between you and the rebel.”
The realization of who was talking hit her like a brick. Shit, he had been the one to catch them? He looked down on her coldly, and then the back of his hand was swinging down to strike her cheek. Pidge gasped and reached up to rest a hand on the tender pink skin. No. She couldn’t let herself be distracted with some measly pain. Her hands were still free, she could do something to stop him. Or at least, something to slow him down. She only had a moment to take in and process her surroundings before she saw a fist flying towards her face. Suddenly grateful for Shiro and Allura for having them run self defense drills, Pidge rolled onto her back and kicked up hard. She felt her foot drive into his chin, and was gratified by the surprised grunt. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough. He had her pinned down before she could get away.
Although she didn’t want him to know that she was scared, she couldn’t help the tremor than ran through her when he pulled out what looked to be some sort of taser. Without any prompting, he held it up then brought the handle down hard on Pidge’s head with an upsetting whack that she hardly heard. Her brain was taking one hell of a pounding today. That was what, the third time she’d been struck? She desperately hoped that there wasn’t going to be any lasting damage. She was still swaying when he grabbed her by her upper arm and started pulling her along towards a spot where all the others could see her, dragging her cage behind them. “We need to be sure we give them a show. Let them know what happens to things that don’t obey.”
So she was going to be a lesson. Pidge had a feeling that lessons (and payback for that matter) meant that she was going to be used as a punching bag for a little while. At least for now he wasn’t carrying her or dragging her by her hair. There was still some dignity in being allowed to try and keep up on her feet. Not much, given that his legs were much longer than hers and forced her to do an awkward half-jog to keep up, but it was something.
She was staring around them, trying to find something in their surroundings that she could use to her advantage. Trees. Of course they were surrounded by trees when it was the Green Paladin that was going to get her ass handed to her. The setting that she was supposed to have the most power in, or some bullshit like that. Not for the first time, Pidge thought about how much she didn’t like that she got the forest. Sure, she’d been able to reconcile with that on Olkarion, but it didn’t change the fact that she still wasn’t fond of the great outdoors. About the only thing Pidge could really think was ‘climb’ and that was about as useful as nipples on a man. Sure, it was possible that she could climb faster, but then what?
She didn’t have any of the advantages she’d had last time she’d encountered him. She didn’t have a weapon, she didn’t have a partner, and she didn’t even have a useful environment. And if she could get away, there was no doubt in her mind that he would use one of the others to lure her back. She was the one he wanted- if she had her way, he wasn’t going to touch them.
“Now, do they know what happened between us?”
Pidge didn’t like the way he phrased that. It made it sound like there had been some sordid love affair between them, rather than a fight. And the fact that she hadn’t said much about him to the others probably didn’t help that impression. The thought that they could all be thinking of her hooking up with this guy made her snort and threw him for a loop. “Not really. Didn’t really come up.”
He actually looked offended, and Pidge laughed out loud. It was true- she’d been so caught up in the excitement of having found Matt that she’d only mentioned the bounty hunter as a vague side-note. Apparently he’d been way more hooked on their encounter than she had. Which, if she thought about it, made sense. She had managed to cheat him out of what she could only imagine would’ve been a good chunk of money.
Instead of saying anything right away, he shoved her down to the ground and punched her, this time in her eye. Her vision in her left eye went black- that could cause some issues later when it came time to escape. This time she had seen the hit coming, and managed to brace herself. It didn’t hurt any less, but she was able to hold back any reaction she might’ve had otherwise in favor of glaring daggers at him. Or at least, one dagger. If there was one thing she detested, it was showing weakness to the enemy. It was absolutely humiliating. She wasn’t about to let a simple punch break her.
“She cheated me out of my bounty on her brother a while back. Where is he anyway? I’ve been wanting to pay him a visit. Some people like collecting families. Maybe my client would be willing to buy him too. Come on,” he added at her deepened scowl, “wouldn’t you rather have some company when you’re-“
“Not if you’re profiting off of it! No way in hell will I tell you where he is!”
“No way in hell, huh?” Pidge clamped her mouth shut and shook her head stubbornly in response to his question. She would face torture and laugh to keep Matt safe. To keep any of her family safe. “I assure you, if I wanted that information, I would get it. But now I have you- that’s quite the consolation prize. A Paladin, and a cute little thing to boot. I’m sure you’ll sell for a gac or so more than the rebel. You’re going to be my way to the top.”
“Bold of you to assume I’ll be sold off. I’ll act like I have rabies,” Pidge spat up at him. “Oh- rabies is a disease that makes animals on Earth act super violent and look super crazy. Like, frothing at the mouth,” she added at his confused expression. Probably should’ve thought of an example an alien could understand. She made no move to get up yet- that would wait until she came up with a plan.
That cleared things up enough to make the bounty hunter laugh. He was bent over and had taken her chin in his hand, grinning evilly down at her. “Oh, you think you’ll be conscious for the sale? We’re going to be putting you under so you just look like some sweet, docile little creature that’ll make a great pet for the kiddos at home. And you should know, I don’t give refunds. You’re going to be stuck with whoever buys you- it would save you some pain if you were that creature. They wouldn’t have to waste energy in training you to behave. You might even be treated well if you’re a good girl.”
Those words had sent a shiver down her spine though. Pet? Training? Docile? No way any of that could ever apply to her. And like hell would she go quietly. She didn’t care that things looked bleak now- they always did, it wasn’t anything new. Things always worked out. Maybe with a scratch or two, but still. “You’re not going to go through with this.”
Apparently that wasn’t worth responding to. It was hard to make out what the bounty hunter was doing. Her left eye had swollen shut already, so she only had one eye to watch through. All she could see was that he had something in his hands that he’d cracked in half and was moving towards her face. She tried scrambling away, but there was nowhere to go. The hunter held whatever the bitter-smelling drug was underneath her nose, and she immediately started to feel all her strength slip away. Starting at her toes and fingertips and spreading through her body, whatever substance he had made her inhale was causing her muscles to stop responding. Had he just chloroformed her? Unfortunately it didn’t do anything to stop the pounding in her head.
Her mouth opened, but no words came out. Only a deep, shuddering breath before she started to fall over. Rather than letting her down though, he grabbed her and stood her up by the collar.
“You’re going to regret stealing from me. And then you’re going to go home with your buyers and do whatever they want. The sooner you accept that, the better.” Without releasing her, the bounty hunter was holding up the taser once again and pressing buttons. She tried jerking back when it lit up and sparked an electric blue, but either she was too weak, or his grip was too strong because nothing happened.
Not that it mattered. He didn’t give her any warning before he jabbed the super-charged taser into her right shoulder. He laughed when it drew out a pathetic scream and let her drop to her knees, but grabbed her hair to keep her from falling all the way over.
That thing was either a lot sharper or a lot stronger than it appeared, because when she looked down, she saw that there was blood seeping out from where it had touched her. The skin around it was sizzling, and she managed to put together that he had essentially cauterized the wound as soon as it was inflicted. The scent of burning flesh reached her soon and made her stomach roll. It wasn’t exactly a new smell, but it still wasn’t pleasant; especially since it was her own skin.
The hunter swung the taser up and this time brought it down butt-end first on her shoulder, hard enough for her to completely lose feeling in her left arm. She could practically feel the bruise forming there, and she knew that she was going to be in a world of hurt tomorrow. He repeated the motion again on her right side. But this time, he struck close to her collar and everyone could hear the sickening crack of her bone beneath the hard handle.
She was suddenly aware of the others yelling. ‘Some good they’re doing.’
Okay, maybe that wasn’t fair. She was sure they were trying their best. It wasn’t like they had too awfully much to work with. In those cages, there was nothing that they could do but watch. Still, she was finding it hard to be sympathetic when she was the one having the absolute shit beat out of her.
“Do you know how much your brother would’ve gotten me? I would’ve been set for life! But you came along and ruined that.” The bounty hunter grabbed her by the hair as he spoke, and jerked her up to glare at her face-to-face. Pidge was tearing up against her will, unable to do a single damn thing in her own defense. “I had to go back to the gutters after that. All because of you.”
“Please stop!” Allura begged as they watched the taser morph into a whip. Her voice stood out among the others in that it was about three octaves higher than normal, and no longer held any of it’s regality. It had disappeared in her desperation.
“I’ll stop when I feel like giving her a break,” he jeered, giving everyone the impression that it may be awhile. Pidge was thrown back to the day she had found Matt. She knew all too well what that whip could do. But this time there wasn’t much she could do when she was dropped to the ground. “It won’t be too much longer though. I’m meeting with some clients to discuss business.”
Through some burst of strength, one arm went up in self-defense, but that backfired when the end of the whip wrapped around her wrist and lit up. Jolts of electricity shot down her arm. It had been a while since she’d been seriously electrocuted, but she hadn’t remembered it hurting this badly. Or maybe it had, and her mind was just repressing things. Her nerves were set on fire as a burning current washed through her body. She knew that if she looked at her arm where the whip had encircled, the skin would be darker, if not totally black by now. That thing was awful. It wasn’t often that she regretted going into space- she could count on one hand the number of times she’d felt that- but this was absolutely one of those times. Sure she had amazing adventures, learned incredible new things, and saved countless lives. But it was only after she had left Earth that she had experienced torture like this.
“Come on, she’s just a kid!” Pidge could hear Shiro pleading for her from his cramped little cage. “She can’t-“
He cut off with a wince when a boot smashed into Pidge’s jaw, drawing out a yelp and knocking her flat. It didn’t seem like the bounty hunter wanted to hear that her body couldn’t stand up to as much abuse as one of theirs could. Or more likely, he knew and just didn’t care.
“She’s already down! Just leave her be!” Hunk was reaching through the bars of his cage like he was trying to grab her and pull her to safety. But the bounty hunter wasn’t having any of it. He remained out of arms reach of everyone who was locked up.
He landed a series of kicks to her stomach and chest until a particularly vicious kick to her upper chest knocked the air from her lungs, and she coughed harshly. It was a nasty, wet cough, and for whatever absurd reason, her first thought was ‘I hope I’m not getting sick.’ But when her eyes focused, she saw that the ground in front of her mouth was stained red. Blinking, Pidge licked her lip and found it tasted coppery. So she was coughing up blood now. Great. How did that happen? Had he really kicked her that hard?
She coughed again. Her chest was killing her, and the coughing wasn’t helping any. She was wheezing, frantically trying to catch her breath before the next hit. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could last. Sure, she was tough, and her time in space had only made her tougher. But no matter how tough she was, she could only take so much. Everyone had their limits after all. And she was about one hit away from just phoning it in.
“S-stop... Please,” Pidge managed to choke out before her self-respect cut her off. Those were the first words she’d said that even resembled begging. Her voice was hard to understand; it was a struggle to move her mouth just to speak. She knew that she was quite the pathetic picture right now, and she hated that. But if it got her any sort of pity...
It didn’t work. One second later and the whip was wrapped around her neck.
Another powerful zap permeated through her entire body, leaving her twitching and panting raggedly. Distantly, she felt the rope that had been around her neck disappear and she tried to see what he was doing next. For now, it looked like he was just staring down at her.
Some small part of her was still trying to cling to her remaining pride. There wasn’t much left- she’d cried and pleaded, but had still been beaten to a pulp despite it all. But now it was clear that it wasn’t working, so she put everything she had in her to push herself up to her knees to glare at him with all the fierceness she could muster. Then she did the only thing her brain could think of to show defiance- she spat as best she could onto his shoe. It didn’t do too much, as she had trouble gathering the strength to spit very far and wound up just spraying blood and saliva at him. Gross, but she liked to think that she got a message across. He frowned down at her, looking more confused than upset. Like he couldn’t comprehend that she could show this little bit of resistance. Then he barked out a laugh.
“Ha! I sure hope these buyers bring you around again sometime. I’d love to see how well your hostile little face holds up against what they’ll do to you when you don’t obey. It’ll be quite the sight to see you behaving like you should- just imagining you bowing your head whenever I walk by is enough for me to consider lowering your asking price.” Pidge shuddered at the thought. She would never, in a million years, bow to him, or any other bounty-trading aliens. They’d have to kill her first. But as though he could hear her thoughts, he laughed again. “It looks like we’ll need to give you just a little something more to help you relax.”
He took her upper arm and pulled her into a sitting position. Pidge’s head spun and her vision went black momentarily while she was being jerked around. She tried to move back again when she saw him splitting another capsule of whatever it was he’d drugged her with earlier in two, but like before, she couldn’t move fast enough to avoid another sour whiff of the stuff. Her head tipped back as she tried to suck in a desperate breath. It felt like any minute now she would lose the strength to breathe, and in her dazed state, it made sense to her that she should try and take in as much oxygen as she could before that happened.
Pangs of pain still radiated through her, making it hard to let her mind slip away. But as the drug continued to work, she found that the unbearable ache was finally starting to lessen along with her control over her body.
“You stay put. I’ll be back soon with some potential buyers,” he said smoothly, propping her up and leaving her in a sitting position inside her cage. He didn’t even bother closing it, let alone locking it.
Whatever he’d implied had flown over her head. Staying put wasn’t much of a choice- her body wasn’t listening to her anymore. Pidge’s eyes closed even as she tried to stay present. Now probably wasn’t the best time to be drifting off. She could hear the others calling her name, but her mouth just wouldn’t answer. Not that she could think of what to say anyway. ‘I’m fine’? ‘It’s okay’? ‘Shut up, you’re making my headache even worse’? Out of all of those, Pidge felt that the last one would’ve been the one to go with. But it was getting harder to even think of words, let alone sentences, and moving her mouth was completely out of the quest. The pain was ebbing away until the only thing left bothering her was her head, and it all but disappeared when she closed her eyes.
Fuck it. Screw lucidity. She was shutting down.
“Lance- Lance, have you got that knife that Keith gave you?”
“Oh! Yeah,” Lance said, hurrying to retrieve it from out of nowhere, “here it is.”
“Where were you keeping that?” Hunk asked.
Lance didn’t answer as he started sawing away at the bars on his trap, and no one said anything else. They didn’t want to distract him. It took about a minute to saw through one bar, and he marveled at how they had been dumb enough to get caught by something this primitive. This really had to be some sort of record for them in terms of falling into obvious traps. Unfortunately this time it had been Pidge who paid the price. Beaten for revenge and drugged to be sold off. Then, as if to add insult to injury, she’d just been left on the ground. She hadn’t even been taken seriously enough to warrant being restrained again.
“Wait, Lance stop- do you hear that?” Everyone stilled as they heard footsteps approaching.
“I’m sure you’ll find at least one of these specimens to be useful in some way or another. They all have their selling points- even the little one. She’s stronger than she looks, if you’re looking to put something to work- and if nothing else, she works wonders to take out some stress on. She’s very entertaining. That one is already subdued and ready for transportation. Of course, the others would be more suitable for manual labor, if that’s what you’re looking for. However, they would take some prepping.”
“We aren’t in need of laborers. We have plenty of those. We’re looking for something to give to our child,” a new voice said pompously. “How well behaved is the little one?”
Lance’s stomach turned when he realized that they were talking about Pidge. This wasn’t turning in a bounty. This was straight up slave trading.
“She would need some training,” the trader admitted as they walked into view. He was accompanied by two lanky aliens that carried themselves like royalty. They were shaped like the stereotypical aliens back on Earth, and for one absurd second Lance wondered if they knew the shop clerk that he and Pidge had purchased their game from. He shook that thought off quickly. Not all aliens knew each other. And the one that they had met was a good guy, doing honest work for a living. He got the feeling that these two were something akin to trust fund babies, if their sheer cocky aura was anything to go by. “But I have no doubt that she would submit soon enough, if treated accordingly.”
The hunter made his way over to Pidge and brushed a few loose locks of hair from her face, then pushed her head back to give the aliens a clear view. Her pathetic whimper made it almost impossible to resist the urge to throw all caution to the wind and attack him. A look around at the other cages told Lance what he already knew- they were thinking along the same lines. It wouldn’t take him much effort to get out now. But including the buyers, one Paladin wouldn’t be able to take them all. Especially not with Pidge in the middle of it.
“Let her go!” Shiro was ignored as Pidge was being picked up by her collar for them to get a closer look. The taller alien began poking and prodding at her, like he was inspecting her body, while the shorter one squeezed her bruised cheeks to carefully examine her face. Pidge hummed weakly, the only indication that she knew anything was happening.
“It is cute. How much are you selling this for?” the shorter one asked.
“168,000 GAC,” the hunter said with a greedy glint in his eye. This guy could give the Unilu a run for their money. “A steal for a specimen as rare as this one.”
Both of the other aliens looked surprised, although it was hard to say to what end. Cheaper than they had expected or more expensive? Hopefully it was too expensive and they wouldn’t go for it. If Pidge was taken away, they didn’t have any way of tracking her. And no one wanted to pass on the news to Matt that they had lost their sister.
They weren’t that lucky. After exchanging a meaningful look between each other, the two buyers nodded. They didn’t even try to barter. Apparently Pidge was worth whatever he was asking for.
This was real. Somehow this was a thing that was happening in front of them in real life.
She had just been sold to two rich aliens that looked like the little rubber ones that Lance had collected back home. How did life get so weird?
“Would you like to look at any of the others? I’ve got four more specimens like her, each with it’s own purpose. I’m sure you could find use for-“
It was when the taller buyer pulled out a leash that Lance finally lost it. A fucking leash. Like she was a pet. When she couldn’t even walk. Were they just going to drag her along the ground? It was just being tightened around her neck, when Lance kicked out the weakened bars of his cage and jumped down. “Get that thing off of her!”
“What? How?!” The moment the bounty hunter realized that he was free was clear by his tone alone. His voice jumped up an octave, almost comically. It was a struggle not to laugh. But Lance serious-ed up quickly when Pidge went crashing to the ground. Her pitiful groan wasn’t funny at all.
Lance didn’t really have a plan. Instead he just let his instincts take over. He was the Red Paladin after all. Wasn’t that what he was supposed to be about? Charging at the bounty hunter, Lance raised his knife above his head and relished the look of terror on their captor’s face. He wasn’t quite as good with a blade as Keith was (not yet, anyway), but it didn’t exactly take an expert to know that the sharp end was supposed to hit the opponent. And that was generally achieved by slashing at said opponent with said sharp end. So that’s what Lance did. He slashed and stabbed at the trader, trying to drive him off away from where Pidge was on the ground. Almost immediately he found himself wishing he’d thought this through a little more. Right now there was no way of helping Pidge or anyone still in a cage, because he needed to focus on the fight.
Then to his left, Lance was surprised to see Allura dropping to the ground out of the corner of his eye. Rather than trying to cut through the bars, she had simply used her ridiculous Altean strength to tear through them. It was easy to forget that she had that. She was normally so elegant, and not at all what most people would think of as a fighter. But damn was he glad to have her fighting alongside him. Maybe she was moving a tad bit more sluggishly than normal, and her face was darker than usual- most likely from being upside down for so long. She had still managed to summon her bayard and was wielding a crackling whip of her own. Before she could do anything more than take a step forward, the two aliens that had been planning on purchasing Pidge turned around and sprinted away. Not at all what she’d been expecting. Well, now she had time to help Lance. Before she started in on the fight though, Allura realized that Pidge was in a rather perilous position right smack in the middle of them. Lance was holding his own for now. As quickly as she could, Allura darted in and grabbed Pidge, murmuring a soft reassurance and carrying her away. Now she could join the fight.
The bounty hunter had managed to get his prod out and morphed into a whip, sending Lance on defense. He was very adept at working the weapon, and it was all Lance could do to keep from getting zapped himself. Especially since his knife gave him a much shorter reach than the hunter’s whip. But Allura had a whip too, and that gave her an advantage. She gave him no warning. Playing fair was for chumps and people who hadn’t just beaten and attempted to sell her youngest Paladin. Before he even noticed that he had a second adversary, Allura had her whip coiled around his neck and was flinging him into a tree. Lance was on him before he could react. Straddling his chest to keep him down, he started to rain blows down on the slave trader’s face until he was no longer moving below him.
“Lance! Stop, we don’t have time!” Without hesitation, Allura had scooped up and passed the knife off to the closest cage to her- Hunk- then hurried over to Pidge. She was alarmed when the younger girl didn’t open her eyes as she dropped down next to her, but breathed a sigh of relief when she moaned at Allura’s hand patting her cheek. “Pidge? Can you move?”
Another low moan, and she sighed again, bending over to touch her forehead to Pidge’s. A quick look back up and around revealed that Lance and Hunk were both kneeling down beside her, while Shiro was working furiously at his cage.
“Hey, can you look at me? Can you tell me who I am?” Hunk asked evenly. He was handling this pretty well- not panicking like anyone had expected. “Pidge?”
This time she attempted to turn her head to face him and smiled.
Pidge could hear all sorts of movement around her, but everything had become rather fuzzy, and she wasn’t sure if she was dreaming or not. When she opened her good eye, she saw a ring of light surrounding someone’s head. It was hard to tell who it was. Pidge blinked blearily to try and clear her vision a little. The halo of light didn’t go away, but the face became more defined, and she was able to make out a few details. A nice smile, a scar on his left cheek, his eyes... her eyes.
It was Matt. He was the only one with eyes just like hers. Matt was here. Everything would be okay. She was hurt now, but Pidge knew that he would take care of her. It felt like it had been forever since she’d seen him, and she was realizing now just how much she had missed him. She tried to reach out to him. To take his hand, to hug him, to pull herself up, she wasn’t really sure. It didn’t really matter. Her arm refused to move. It was all she could do just to twitch her finger. She squeezed her eyes shut again and winced, trying to ignore the pounding headache that was resurfacing. “Matt...”
That wasn’t Matt’s voice. Her eyes fluttered back open to see Hunk hovering above her, looking incredibly upset. Where’d Matt go? Pidge struggled to lift her head to search for him, but her body wasn’t cooperating. She groaned, partially in frustration and partially in pain. “Where’d he go... Hunk, where’d Matt go...?”
“Uh... guys? Pidge is looking for Matt, does anyone want to step in?”
What was that supposed to mean? Matt had just been right there. She just wanted her brother. Was that really so hard for them to understand? He must’ve left the room. If he’d heard her asking for him, he would be there. Were they even in a room? Once again, she tried looking around. Hope rose in her chest when she saw a figure moving to her right, but as it came into sight, she realized it was just Shiro.
“Hey Pidge. Matt isn’t here right now. I know you want to see him, but he’s somewhere else. We’re going to find out how to get you out of here though, and we can go figure out where he’s at.”
“No, I just saw him,” Pidge said around a lump in her throat. Talking was a bit of a struggle. She was well aware of how annoyingly numb her lips were, and how her tongue felt about twice its normal size. How had that happened? Nothing made sense. “He was just here- Matt? Shiro, where’d he go?”
“He- he went to go get some medical supplies to help you.” It was a lie, but it seemed to calm her down some. She was hurt, scared and confused, and he wanted to give her whatever comfort he could. Shiro cursed under his breath. This was one hell of a bad situation all around. “Alright. Who’s going to carry her?”
“I guess I will.” Hunk knelt back down and picked her up after a moment of silence, wherein Shiro had started lugging the bounty hunter towards Pidge’s cage. The only one that hadn’t been broken. Without any semblance of gentleness, he shoved the still-passed-out slaver in the cage, slammed it shut, and pulled it back up so it was hovering a good ten feet off the ground. Shiro was going to be coming back for him. No way was this guy getting off so easily for what he’d just done to Pidge. He was going to suffer. He was going to tear him apart when he came back. And judging by the look on everyone else’s faces, he was going to have some help. Good. The more the merrier with this dick. But since they had Pidge with them, they all knew that they couldn’t right now. They couldn’t risk her getting even more injured by staying and starting more trouble. Getting her back to the Castle was their first priority. Then come back and take him the fuck out.
“Um... which way is out of here again?” asked Allura as Shiro finished up. They’d been spinning in their cages, and they only moved to rush towards each other, thus losing their orientation quickly. “I’m afraid I lost track as we were spinning.”
“Yeah, we spun around too much in those cages, I forgot which direction we came from too,” Lance said, rubbing his head. No one noticed before, but he had a rather large welt forming where they could only assume he had whacked his head either when they were captured or, more likely, had been fighting.
“Don’t worry, we came from this way.” Hunk was nodding towards their left. He didn’t miss the look he got from the others. “What? It’s called situational awareness, guys. Pidge would appreciate it.”
“We appreciate it too,” Shiro said with a patient smile. “Lead the way.”
“Does someone else wanna take her if I’m leading?”
“Can walk m’self,” Pidge slurred suddenly, surprising everyone. “Don’t need to be carried. Put me down.”
“No you can’t. We need to run, not walk. You can’t even stand up,” Allura said firmly.
If Pidge could’ve pinpointed where the Altean was, she would’ve shot her a nasty glare. She loathed being useless. Needing to be carried when everyone else was running of their own accord was downright humiliating. Whenever one of them was injured, they got to limp along with someone at their side to help keep them upright. She never got that small dignity. Granted, when she was unlucky enough to be the one injured, it tended to be quite extreme as of late. Go big or go home. But that didn’t mean she needed to be picked up though. She was tough. It was beyond frustrating that the others couldn’t see that.
Lance had already been stepping forward when she spoke. She hadn’t even opened her eyes. He knew Hunk well enough to be expecting that. He didn’t multi-task under pressure very well. No, Hunk was more of a ‘hyper-focus on the task at hand and do it perfectly’ kind of guy. “I’ve got her. Let’s go.”
“Be careful. We can’t just go barreling through here. We don’t know what other traps might be laid out. Or who else might be here,” Shiro said quietly. The bounty hunter didn’t really seem like the kind of person who would have accomplices (whom he would’ve had to split the profits with), but with a team member down, you could never be too careful.
Everyone nodded, and started moving forward.
“Quit moving... ‘M tired,” Pidge mumbled suddenly in Lance’s arms. “I’m tryin’ to nap.”
Shit. Now probably wasn’t the time for naps. Not until they were able to get a better grasp on how bad of shape she was in. They didn’t even know what it was she’d been drugged with. “Pidge, I know you’re tired, but can you stay awake for a little bit? I just need you to try, okay? We’re uh- almost to your room where you can lie down and rest,” Lance asked quietly, trying his damndest to channel her brother. “Can you stay awake until then?”
She only hummed an ‘I don’t know’ sound. Lance groaned quietly.
On the bright side, she was starting to respond again. Or at least, it looked like she was. Hopefully that meant the inhalant was wearing off. She was quiet right now, although if it wore off too quickly and left her in pain again, then they risked her crying out and giving away their location. Was there even anyone to give their location away to? Lance didn’t particularly want to find out if there was. He was fine with living in ignorance of that fact, as long as they were left alone to help Pidge. This was just a total shit show of a situation. There was no winning. Maybe he could just talk Shiro into knocking her out. Her head had taken enough of a beating though. Honestly, it would be a miracle for her to get out of this with no brain damage. Why did it have to be her? Any one of them would’ve jumped in to save her without a second thought, no matter the consequences.
“Hey, tell me about Matt again.” Lance was trying his hardest to keep her from being jostled around too much, but given that they were running over uneven terrain, it was hard to do. He was hopeful that keeping her focused on something would help to distract her from any pain she might be in, with the added benefit of keeping her awake. “What’s your favorite memory of him?”
Pidge didn’t answer right away, and for a moment he thought that she wasn’t going to at all. But then- “Dunno. Were a lotta good ones.”
“Can you tell me one of them? The first one that comes to mind?”
“Mm. Right ’fore he left.”
“Yeah? What happened right before he left?” Lance prompted.
“We went ‘n got ice cream.”
Ice cream. The first memory she thought of with her brother was when they went and got ice cream. Lance knew that there were plenty of other deeper memories with more personal sentiments (and that this one probably only came up because it was most recent), but it reminded Lance of just how young she was- how young they all were. Too young to be countless miles away from home playing key roles in a space war. He desperately wanted to rub his head and cry a little, but he was still running.
“Can you remember what you did after that?”
Lance wasn’t sure what she meant by that. Was she cold after the ice cream? Or was she cold now? He was moving too fast to tell if she was shivering. Lord, he hoped she was talking about after the ice cream. There wasn’t anything they could do for her if she was cold right now. And putting her in a healing pod certainly wouldn’t help with that. Not that it would matter then. She wouldn’t feel a thing once they got her to a pod. Damn, did she deserve that. But Pidge hated the pods. They could be unsettling, Lance had to give her that. You couldn’t feel anything but nothingness, all around you. It wasn’t something that anyone really liked, but some of the team certainly handled them better than others. She fought against going in one at every turn, no matter how badly she was injured. If she was rational enough to understand what was going on, then it was a safe bet that she would be arguing with them. Once Keith had even suggested knocking her out to keep her from being able to wiggle out of one. Neither Pidge nor Shiro had appreciated that. Lance had privately thought that it wasn’t such a bad idea- especially after having taken a punch to the chest from her frantic struggling.
Hopefully they wouldn’t have to worry about that this time. It wasn’t looking like there was much fight in her right now.
Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Lions came into view. They’d only taken the Red and Black Lions. Luckily that saved a bit of time in taking off- there was no need to wait for all five Lions to take off. Lance, Hunk, and Pidge all loaded into the Red Lion, while Shiro and Allura hurried into Black, and they all rocketed off quickly towards the Castle.
It was actually unsettling, the sudden stillness in the Lions. There was nothing to do but sit. No running, no fighting, just sitting and waiting. Hunk was envious when he took Pidge from Lance- he got to pilot the Lion while Hunk had nothing to focus on but his grievously injured friend in front of him. This was pure tort- Hunk stopped himself from finishing that thought. How could he compare this to torture after what Pidge had just been through?
“Has anyone gotten in contact with Coran?” Lance asked from where he was sitting. Even from behind, Hunk could see how tense Lance was.
Hunk could’ve kissed him. Something to do that wasn’t sitting around worrying. “On it. Coran?” he said into his helmet, “Pidge is-“
“Already on it Hunk. Allura just reached me.”
Dang it. “Well, she’s not really responding anymore. She was earlier, but she’s not now.”
“Is she breathing?”
“Um... yes. She is.”
“Good. Hunk, are you aware of how to perform chest-pump revival? CPR?”
“Chest pump... do you mean cardiopulmonary resuscitation?” Hunk asked, bewildered. “Because I kinda know that. I’ve never done it, but I know the procedure.”
“Well, I have no idea what cardiopulmonary means, that just sounds like nonsense. CPR is a way of helping the heart to continue-“
Hunk stopped listening when he realized that he and Coran were indeed talking about the same thing. He knew CPR. Thirty chest compressions, two inches down, at least one-hundred beats per minute. Tip the head back, pinch the nose, and two quick breaths in, then right back to compressions. No point in paying Coran any further attention for now. Not when it looked like Pidge was trying to come-to again. She managed to turn her head ever-so-slightly, and the fingers on her right hand twitched. A low whine escaped, giving the impression that feeling was starting to return to her. Which given her circumstances, Hunk felt was a bad thing. He just didn’t want his friend to suffer any more than she already had. Pidge coughed weakly and a dribble of blood trickled from the side of her mouth.
“Ugh.” He almost missed her small sound of disgust, but it was there.
“Pidge? It’s okay, you’re just fine. We’re getting you to the Castle right now where we’ll get you good and healed up. You’ll be up and around in no time,” Hunk promised. Her mouth opened like she was going to say something, and he had to lean in closer to hear it.
“No pods.” Her words slurred together, but the command was clear enough.
There it was. Hunk laughed, comforted just a little by the sheer familiarity of those two words from her mouth. If she was able to summon her stubborn side in this state, surely that meant that things weren’t as bad with her as they appeared. But just a quick look at her face, of the blood that was still dripping from her nose and mouth reminded him that they still certainly weren’t good regardless.
“I can’t make any promises. You know Coran is the guy you need to talk to about them. I just don’t have the medical expertise. But hey, I’ll fight for you.”
“Liar,” she said, her good eye flickering open and glaring up at him.
“Okay, maybe. But there’s not much you can do about it until after a little nap in a pod,” Hunk said, sounding smug. He knew that once she was better, he was likely going to receive the cold shoulder from her. But it wouldn’t last long; he was the only one who could really keep up with her technical talk. He wanted to keep her talking, and if teasing was the way to do that, then so be it. “You’ll be out before you know it though.”
“Better be. A short cycle- only lon’ enough to heal the worst of it. ‘Kay? Don’ need to be perfect. Can handle sore muscles,”
“I know you can, Pidge. But why would you when you don’t have to?”
“Pods suck,” Pidge answered simply. “Uncomfortable. Waste of time.”
“Not when they save your life.” Hunk had a feeling that was all he was going to get from her as her eye slid back shut. He didn’t press it though as they were about ten seconds from landing. Jeeze, Lance had really booked it back. Hunk walked Pidge over to stand right in front of the exit, ready to bolt as soon as it was open wide enough. But Coran was already there, waiting.
It was always a surprise, how fast Coran could move. He was an old guy, but man was he sprightly. Before Hunk could really register anything, Pidge had been plucked from his arms and was halfway down the corridor from him. Hunk stood there, arms out like he was still carrying her. Moving suddenly seemed much harder than it had been just minutes ago. If reaching the Lions had been anticlimactic, then arriving at the Castle and having Pidge whisked away was the equivalent of jumping out of a hot tub and straight into a freezing lake. The jarring silence when the Lions shut down, Pidge’s weight no longer resting in his arms, and the realization that now there was literally nothing more that he could do left Hunk frozen in place.
He didn’t move until he felt Lance shaking his shoulder, jolting him back to reality.
“Are you okay? Come on, man, let’s get going.” Lance was watching Hunk carefully with a concerned frown on his face. “Hunk?”
“Oh- yeah. Sorry. Let’s go.”
Lance had actually started to hold his arm to tug him along, but Hunk pulled free to follow of his own volition. There wasn’t much point in running, they both realized. It wasn’t like anything they could do now would have any effect on Pidge getting better or not. Why bother pushing their legs even harder to run further? Both Hunk and Lance’s legs were achy from running around the planet they had just been on. The past few- minutes? Hours? Weeks? That’s how long it felt like they’d been on that stupid planet. However long it had actually been had been painful beyond belief. Watching a teammate get injured was hard. Watching a teammate get beaten to within an inch of her life and almost given away to be subject to who-knows-what was impossible. And when that teammate was Pidge- no one had any idea how to process it. More and more lately, she was turning out to be the primary target of the enemy. Her ever-increasing knowledge of the Galra and Galran tech, meant that she was also an ever-increasing threat in their eyes. She was too good at trashing security systems and repurposing Galran equipment for their own needs for them to overlook her.
Of course, half the time she was chosen just because she was the little sister of the group. The one that they all had an unspoken agreement to keep safe. Hunk and Lance walked in just in time to find Coran talking slowly and patiently to Pidge, trying to find out exactly what had happened. “Can you tell me about what you inhaled? Even just basic information; appearance and smell would be great help.”
“Was in a capsule. Smelled bitter,” Pidge answered, struggling to pay attention. Although the drug was wearing off, she was still in a world of hurt, and everything was rather hazy. She was being held up by Shiro, otherwise she would no doubt be slouched over on the floor.
“Excellent, and how much did you take in?” Even though he said ‘excellent’, Coran didn’t look very pleased. Not that anyone could blame him. The description Pidge gave was no help whatsoever. From what she’d said, the drug could be damn near anything in the universe.
She shrugged. “Too much.”
Well, there was no arguing that. One quick whiff was too much, and she had gotten much more than that. So far she hadn’t shown any signs of dying though, so Coran was hopeful that that meant whatever the substance was, it wasn’t deadly. Not ideal, but not deadly.
“Alright, well, we’re going to get you loaded up into a healing pod where you can mend right up. That should take care of any dangerous substance still in your body as well.”
“No-“ was all the protest she could get out before she was being picked up and carried away by Shiro.
A heavy, exhausted silence fell over them as the pod hissed shut.
“We should try getting ahold of Matt,” Hunk said suddenly, the quiet weighing too heavily on his ears. Pidge’s pleas for her brother were still ringing in his ears, and he desperately wanted to do this one thing for her. He wasn’t totally sure when they had arrived at the infirmary, but they were there. “She was asking for him earlier.”
“That’s not a bad idea. Coran, would you contact the rebels and tell them to send Matt in our direction?” Allura asked. He nodded and was off in the blink of an eye.
Then there was nothing. Nothing more to do, to say, to think. No one moved, no one said anything- the tension in the room was so thick it almost felt like no one was breathing. Without saying a word, and without really even meaning to, Hunk found himself dropping down to the floor, trying to ignore the tightness in his chest. The silence was unbearable. Why wouldn’t anyone say anything? He almost didn’t notice Lance sitting down beside him and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. Was Lance crying? Was he crying? When Hunk finally forced himself to focus on something other than the deafening silence, he realized that is own cheeks were indeed damp.
It wasn’t fair. Pidge didn’t deserve any of that- none of them did. They were all trying so hard to live up to Voltron’s legacy, but at the end of the day, they were just a bunch of kids. A bunch of kids who, instead of going to school and having fun with friends, had become instrumental in winning a war that they had no business being a part of. A bunch of kids who had gotten too good at killing their enemies.
A bunch of kids who, at the end of the day, just wanted to go home to their families.