“Oh, here’s a thought,” Sam Holt said, a few minutes into scanning over the newspaper. It was a rather outdated method of finding things out, as everyone in his family had pointed out, but he always maintained that there was just something better about reading the news from the paper rather than on a screen. He was a dad after all.
“Oh my god, dad has a thought!”
“The fairs coming to town today and tomorrow,” Sam continued over his daughter, electing to ignore her snide remarks for now. He hadn’t had enough coffee to offer up any retaliating remark. “We should go! We haven’t done anything like that as a family in a long time.”
He was met with immediate and enthusiastic agreement from the rest of his family. It was true- the most time they spent as an actual family since Matt and Sam had left for space all those years ago was in the Atlas’ cafeteria for meals. Now they were all temporarily back on Earth for a time, and they wanted to make the most of it. A trip to a fair sounded like just the thing to do together on a pleasant summer day.
As they went about getting ready for the day, Pidge could almost imagine she was twelve again. The vaguely excited energy in the air that happens when four people are looking forward to something reminded them all of a time before three quarters of them had become stranded, for lack of a better word, out in space. Simple. Familiar. Welcome. It was as though nothing had changed.
Even loading into the car was the same. The playful fight for shotgun that Colleen always won, the awkward hustle of everyone trying to cram in together-
“Everyone got their seatbelts on?” Even the same question Sam always asked before the car shifted into drive.
“You don’t need to check every time, dear.”
“Col, these are our children. We need to make sure they’re safe!”
“Sam, our children are adults, I’m sure they‘re smart enough to remember to buckle up. Right you two?” Colleen asked, turning to smile at her kids in the back seat.
Both of the younger Holts nodded, grinning at the old argument in front of them. There was absolutely no heat behind it- no more than playful teasing between two people so in-tuned to one another that they hadn’t had a real fight in ages. In fact, the last time Matt could remember raised voices between his parents was when his mother had been eight months pregnant with Pidge and they were trying to decide between pizza or gyros for dinner (Colleen was wanting both, but Sam had suggested that perhaps one would be enough, dear, both would be a little excessive. She had not agreed. It didn’t go over very well.) They were all wearing their seatbelts already- Colleen included- but no one saw fit to point that out. After so long, regular was actually kind of nice.
They had all been trying to get back to one another for so long. Now they knew how easy it was to lose someone- or several someone’s- and the thought of fighting for real was almost unthinkable. Spending time getting truly angry with someone and making them feel bad about themselves was just a waste of time in the Holt’s book. Much better to try and remain positive.
It was a beautiful day out. Sunny, not too hot, with a gentle breeze- the perfect day for a family excursion to the fairgrounds.
That changed rather quickly as soon as they neared the gate and all at once, Pidge’s senses started insisting that this place was bad. That bad things happened here. That bad things would happen to her and her newly reunited family. It came over her so suddenly she almost stopped dead in her tracks, only barely making it look like she’d just stumbled over her own feet in case anyone in her family was watching.
Something wasn’t right. Her stomach was starting to turn, her shoulders started to shake, and her knees felt like they were turning to jelly beneath her. Every part of her was on high alert, screaming that she was in danger. It came over her so quickly it scared her even more. Some irrational part of her insisted that there were unseen threats here that would gladly end her life if given the chance. It was such an unreasonable assumption, with no backing whatsoever, and she was left guessing what led her to it. Was it the noise? Voices, shouts, and various recorded blasts and bangs from the rides filled the air and sent her head spinning. Or maybe it was the smells, body odor and faint traces of vomit heavy in the hot summer air, horribly reminiscent of long, exhausting battles that always ended with countless dead and injured from both sides. She had no idea how to ignore her most basic instincts that were practically screaming for her to turn tail and run. Already, she was dripping sweat, and suddenly felt terribly vulnerable without her armor on.
“Mom?” Her voice was small, and she seriously doubted that her mother could hear her over the continuous roar around them. Sure enough, Colleen didn’t answer, and Pidge resigned herself to suffering in silence as best she could. Maybe she would acclimate to it if she gave herself a chance.
Shit truly hit the fan as soon as a child- no older than four or five- went sprinting by her with the slightly deranged screech of a little one desperately in need of a nap. The youngster was closely chased by an older boy, around twelve, who clipped her side and almost knocked Pidge forward. He hardly acknowledged her, simply waving a hand with a lame “sorry!”
But the damage was done.
She was back in space, surrounded by dead bodies that just seemed to keep piling and piling. Even as she watched, three young aliens- no more than children, by human standards- were shot down by a surge of Galran soldiers. People kept colliding with her, it was a struggle just to stay standing, let alone make it back to her Lion. If she could just get there, she would be okay, her Lion would protect her, shield her from all the bloodshed- how many of these aliens had died already? How many were permanently injured, how many displaced, how many left all alone in the universe thanks to the Galra’s ceaseless colonization?
It felt all too real. Pidge sucked in a deep gulp of air, struggling to get a hold of herself.
This had never happened before. What was going on? She’d heard screams before, she’d heard explosions, the mechanical whirrs of machines working- why was it suddenly bothering her now? Pidge’s breath caught as another shriek pierced through the air, and then another, and another. ‘They’re having fun. It’s... happy screams. Nothing bad is happening. Nothing...’
Pidge jumped and nearly screamed herself when she felt a hand grab her shoulder. Her father was frowning down at her, and she quickly tried to force herself to smile. Judging by the concern on his face- and on her mother’s and brother’s faces- it wasn’t convincing.
“Katie, what’s wrong?”
“I-“ she couldn’t finish before another over-exaggerated crash sounded from one of the rides, accompanied by a wave of half excited, half terrified cries that cut her off. No one in her family missed the way she recoiled and whimpered that time, and the realization of what was happening struck them all simultaneously.
“Okay,” Colleen said, quickly taking charge, “let’s go. Come on.”
Firmly taking Pidge’s upper arm, Colleen began marching through the crowd, shoving people out of the way and very nearly punting every small child who dared to get in front of her. Matt and Sam hurried behind her, taking advantage of the trail she was creating before people had a chance to get in the way again.
So many innocent people caught in the crossfire.
More people shoving by her.
Running to safety while she ran to the fight.
Against her will, Pidge felt herself cry out and stumble. She would’ve landed on her knees if not for the iron grip Colleen had on her bicep. As it was, she managed to stay on her feet- the only alternative would’ve been to just let her mother literally drag her back to their car. She liked to think that her mom would stop, but Pidge knew her too well to believe that. One way or another, they were getting to the car, and if road hauling Pidge was the way to do it, then that was what would be done.
Although they had parked fairly close to the entrance, the trek back to the family vehicle felt excruciatingly long. Of course, that likely had to do with the fact that Pidge was steadily having a harder and harder time catching her breath; by the time she was there, her head was unbearably light and unbidden tears were flowing down her cheeks. Next thing she knew she was being sat down, her legs dangling out the open car door. The sudden stillness was jarring, especially since she could still hear the faint, lively sounds of the fair. Without really thinking, her legs came up to her chest, and her arms wrapped around her shins as she struggled to get her frantic gasping back under control.
“Shh,” Sam hushed, placing one hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. You’re alright.”
“I c-can’t- I don’t know-”
It was painful, watching Pidge struggle just to get a couple words out at a time. Normally she was so good at making her point and putting her thoughts into words- seeing her so hurt and afraid that she was rendered totally incapable of that was a new, terrifying experience for her family. Panic attacks had never really been a ‘Holt’ thing. Of course, they all knew what they were, and what general mechanisms of the mind caused them, but knowing about something and actually encountering it were two vastly different things. The only one with real experience in this kind of the was Pidge (who had actually gotten fairly good at talking Hunk down).
“It’s okay, Katie. Let it out. Don’t try and hold it in.” Colleen spoke softly and reached out to pull Pidge close. Her arms wrapped around Pidge’s head, and she was glad to feel Pidge’s arms cinch around her waist almost immediately.
That was what did it. A shuddering sob broke loose and Pidge broke down into her mother’s shoulder. Without further ado, she started to wail. All the death, the pain, the sheer brutality of everything she’d seen and been through was crashing over her in terrible, overwhelming waves. So much destruction and heartache- how was it that she had made it through? How had she survived among the fatalities she had seen? What made her any more deserving of life than Allura, or any of the other countless beings killed out there on the Galra’s conquest?
The sound of her cries rang through the parking lot before being lost to the sounds of the fairgrounds.
No one but her family seemed to care. Her family, standing around her, looking so helpless and lost that it made her want to cry even more. She desperately wanted to apologize, to make them forget this pathetic, sniveling version of her, but she couldn’t catch her breath long enough to form actual words. Her mind was spinning with the complete and total wrongness about this whole situation- why was she so tripped up over the past? She couldn’t change it now, she knew all too well. All she could do now was move on.
Easier said than done, apparently, she thought as yet another scream (was there always so much damn noise at these events? She couldn’t remember.) sounded off in the distance, and she flinched violently again. Pidge found herself rocking side-to-side, and strangely that helped. Her mind clung to the repetitive motion and the warm arms around her, holding her close, a gentle reminder of what was real around her. She was on Earth, safe with her family. There was no danger here aside from eating too much cotton candy.
Colleen swayed with her while her brother and father hovered anxiously at her sides. There was nothing for them to do but wait. Wait and hope that this would pass sooner rather than later. It took an eternity for her to finally catch her shaky breath and speak again.
“I’m sorry,” Pidge mumbled after she’d been quiet for a few minutes. “Really managed to ruin the day there, didn’t I?”
Sam shook his head sadly and gently squeezed her arm. “It wasn’t your fault, sweetheart.”
“It kinda was.”
“None of us blame you.”
“Katherine Holt.” Pidge stopped and finally looked up where she found her mother frowning down at her. “You have been through so much in these past few years. Your reaction was completely warranted, and not at all your fault, do you understand me?”
With a weak laugh, Pidge nodded and sniffed again. Even though she was technically an adult, her mother still scolded her like she was a child. Which, if Pidge thought about it, made some sort of sad sense. Colleen had missed the last few years of her daughter’s childhood- Pidge had really been just a kid when she’d left for space. Her mom hadn’t seen her grow up in the way that most mothers do.
“Can- can we go?” Even now, Pidge sounded unsure and unbearably scared. “Sorry. Just don’t think I can-“ she paused when her breath hitched before finishing “- stay here.”
“Of course. Would you like me to sit back here with you?”
Colleen hadn’t even finished talking when Pidge nodded vigorously. So she jerked her head towards the front of the car, clearly telling Sam and her son to get their asses in gear and move. Matt hurried to sit in the passenger’s seat, and Sam went to start the car and take off. Colleen had just managed to scoot Pidge in far enough for her to have a seat of her own and slam the door shut when the car started to move. Neither woman in the back seat bothered with belts- they only had a few blocks to drive after all. Pidge’s hands were still shaking too much to do anything that required any fine motor skills, and Colleen would face God and flip the bird before she took her hands off of her daughter right now. She was going to hold onto her until Pidge shook her off herself.
Wisely, Sam decided not to push the matter.
The quiet car ride home seemed to help, and once they made it inside their house, Pidge surprised her family by waving them off and marching to her room where she collapsed onto her bad on her belly. It was only around four in the afternoon, but every inch of her being was completely exhausted. And yet, whenever she closed her eyes, her mind played clips of war zones and filthy prisons stuffed to the brim. Letting out a little whine, Pidge buried her face in her pillow and wrapped her arms up over her head.
It was hard to say how long she stayed like that, fighting back another onslaught of tears, before she heard her door open and felt a hand on her shoulder. “Mind if I sit?”
She shook her head, and a moment later felt the bed dip where Matt had sat down near her shoulders. It took a bit of maneuvering, but Pidge managed to roll over so that she was looking up at her brother with her head resting on his thigh. “What’s up?”
“Was just gonna ask you that same thing.”
Pidge sighed and shrugged. Her eyes closed briefly when she felt Matt rest a hand on her forehead. “I don’t know what happened.”
“You had a panic attack, Pidge.”
“Yeah, no shit,” she said, scowling up at him. “It’s never happened before though. And I don’t know...”
“How to handle them?”
She groaned and nodded again. “It wasn’t fun.”
“I get them too, you know.”
Pidge sat up and turned to face him, looking surprised. “You do?”
“Mmhm. Have ever since I first encountered the Galra.”
That made sense. Matt had been through more than his fair share of trauma as well- not only had he fought for the rebels in the war, he had also spent a good deal of time locked up in a prison, being treated far less than kindly. After the years she spent in space, Pidge had spent maybe a total of a month imprisoned when one added up all the times they’d been captured. Matt had been a prisoner far, far longer than that, with no respite whatsoever.
“Oh. I never thought...” Pidge bit her lip. “How do you handle it?”
“Not well at first, I can tell you that. But there are a lot of rebels out there who’ve been through the same things, and they taught me some ways to deal. Want me to share?”
She hesitated. The right answer, she knew, was to say yes. But saying yes would require thinking about it, about all the horrible feelings and memories she’d just spent far too long reliving, and she wasn’t sure she could stomach that again. At least, not right now. “Can I take a rain check? Right now I just want to forget about it for a bit.”
“Sitting alone in your room isn’t gonna be the best way to do that you know,” Matt pointed out patiently.
“I know, I’m just getting that now. I thought it would be a little less overwhelming in here.”
“What do you say we play a card game or something?” suggested Matt. “Get dad to make a quick store run, pick up some zoo-zoos. Make a night of it.”
Pidge couldn’t help but smile at her brother’s use of the odd old phrase their father used to refer to treats. It was such a little thing, but it meant the world to her, that there were some things that never changed. Like her family. “Yeah. That sounds good. Really good.”