There had once been a time when Matt found the Castle of Lions a strange and confusing place that was far too easy to get lost in. But after several tours from a variety of sources (Shiro and Coran were the most common, but sometimes Lance took him around and made up ridiculous facts about everything), he began to navigate the castle with ease. However, living in the castle never lost the surreal feeling for Matt. Here he was, living in an incredibly beautiful and technologically advanced alien warship. Sometimes, he could hardly believe it.
However, there were downsides to living in the castle. Aside from the possibility of death at the hands of any lingering Galra ships determined to get revenge for their dead leader, there was the fact that Matt detested being woken up earlier than necessary, whether it was because Shiro wanted to get up and exercise, or because an alarm was going off somewhere in the castle. One specific day, they were awoken extra early by a very loud alarm. Startled, Matt fell off the bed and landed hard on the floor, the thunk echoing loudly.
Shiro sat up and rubbed his eyes sleepily. "You okay, babe?" he yawned.
"I'm fine," Matt groaned. "Go ahead and see what's wrong; I'll be there in a minute."
Shiro lingered for a minute to give Matt a quick kiss before jogging off to attend to his duties as a paladin.
Matt sighed and hauled himself off the floor, his muscles still sore from a paladin workout he had joined yesterday, at Shiro's insistence. He quickly changed into casual clothes and began heading towards the bridge of the castle. By the time he had arrived, Allura had already informed the paladins what was happening. The five paladins were running towards where their lions were waiting, but Pidge and Shiro lingered when they saw Matt.
Matt pulled Pidge into a quick hug. "Please stay safe."
"I will," Pidge promised, hugging back. "Don't disappear, okay?"
"I won't," Matt promised. Matt gave his little sibling a squeeze, then let them go. He turned towards Shiro and pulled him into a hug too. "Please come back."
"I always will," Shiro reassured him. "Don't worry too much, okay?"
Matt nodded. "Okay. I'll see you soon." The two exchanged a kiss, then Shiro started jogging towards his lion.
At the last minute, Shiro turned and waved at Matt. "I love you."
He smiled and waved back. "I love you, too." With that, Shiro disappeared out of Matt's sight.
Matt took a breath, then turned to Allura and Coran. "So what's going on?" he asked. An explosion rocked the ship, and Matt nearly fell over.
"One of the remaining Galra ships is invading a nearby planet," Allura explained. "They have threatened to blow the planet up if we don't leave the system immediately. I doubt they have the firepower, but it's best to not take chances. We have to strike fast, before they can do any damage to the planet."
Matt nodded in agreement, then made his way to one of the castle operating stations. He started rapidly typing, and within seconds the weapons system was prepped for attack. "Ready to attack on your signal, Princess."
"Fire!" Allura shouted.
The castle began firing at the Galra ship, distracting them from continuing their attack on the defenseless planet. While the castle continued firing, the lions flew out of their hangers and also began attacking the ship. Under the combined power of the Castle of Lions and each of the lions, the Galra ship was outmatched. They went down easy. Almost too easily, but Matt pushed the paranoia out of his mind. He watched the lions flying back towards the castle, each and every one save and sound.
When the five paladins had finally made their way back to the ship and to the control room, Matt felt like he could breathe again. He gave a small smile to Shiro as the black paladin stood next to him and grabbed his hand.
Allura turned from where she was discussing something with Coran to smile at the group. "That was good work, everyone." She turned back to Coran. "Coran, send a message to the people of Treogird, and inform them that the threat on their people has been destroyed."
Just as Coran began to patch the call through, a holographic blue face appeared in front of them. "Hello," the person said pleasantly. They had an angular somewhat-human face, blue skin, and red eyes. When they smiled, their teeth looked like rounded stumps. "I am the Monarch Sri of Treogird, and I thank you for saving my people. May I ask who you are?"
Lance opened his mouth, looking a little offended at her not knowing who they were after spending the last five years protecting the universe, but Shiro stepped forward. "We're the paladins of Voltron, defenders of the universe," he answered. "We're glad we were able to help."
"I always thought Voltron was a myth," the Monarch said quietly. "I suppose it doesn't matter. You saved our planet, and I and my people would like to extend our thanks. We shall be throwing a festival in your honor, and we would be delighted if you could join us."
Lance suddenly perked up. "A festival? Sounds fun!"
Shiro shrugged. "Well, I guess we could use a day off. What do you think, Allura?"
"We would be honored," Allura told the Monarch. "We will be landing shortly."
The hologram flickered, then disappeared. Allura turned towards Coran and Matt. "Is there any safe place to land?"
Matt turned his attention towards the screen in front of him. "It looks like there's a plain a short distance from the capital city. It'll be a little bit of a walk, but at least we won't accidentally crush any homes or crops."
Allura nodded. "Coran, land us in the plain Matt found. Paladins, you should probably stay in your uniform, just in case. We have no idea if any other Galra ships will be attacking while we're here. And Matt, if you could wear those Altean robes Coran lended you, simply to give a good impression, I would appreciate it."
Matt nodded. "Sure thing. I'll go change." He left the bridge and started walking back towards his room. He understood, of course. The paladins looked put-together and professional in their uniforms, and Coran and Allura looked regal in their Altean clothes. Matt, on the other hand, looked ordinary at best in the comfy old clothes they had scrounged up for him. He'd never tried on the Altean robes Coran had given him, but he was certain they wouldn't fit right. But perhaps he could pretend that that was just the style from where he came from.
He quickly changed into the Altean clothes, then jogged back to the bridge, not stopping to see how they looked. It didn't really matter, after all. Besides, nothing could be more embarrassing than that outfit he wore all the time in fifth grade. He hurried back to the bridge to help land the castle, as Coran was currently teaching him how to land and he didn't want to miss another opportunity to practice.
With the assistance of Matt, the ship was landed safely in an empty field near the capital city. Lance and Pidge grumbled about having to trek to the city in their suits that easily overheated, but were quickly silenced by Shiro's fatherly stare.
The festival was a grand occasion, with decorations and food being thrown together at the last minute yet still being amazing. The Monarch of Treogird came down to the town square to welcome them personally as well as recognize them for their bravery. This was the first time that Matt had gotten a proper look at a Treogird, as they generally stuck to their own planet instead of traveling the galaxy.
Much like most of the other species they had met during their travels, the Treogirdians were a unique people. Their skin was as blue as the ocean, and their eyes glowed red- a red that was warm and inviting rather than harsh and cruel. Their basic body structure was similar to that of a human, but they had very non-human and angular faces and long limbs, with the average height of their people being twice that of Pidge. They were a strange-looking and intimidating people, yes, but they were also incredibly beautiful and graceful. Every move they made looked like a small part of some intricate dance; with even mundane movements like walking being completely entrancing.
During the festival, most of the attention was naturally focused on the paladins, with Allura and Coran being heavily respected for their battle strategies. Matt was used to this by now, and it didn't bother him at all. The seven of them did most of the work and were more in danger than he was, and while Matt did help wherever he could, he didn't think it was all that worthy of praise. Still, he did appreciate it whenever a Treogirdian thanked him for assisting in saving them.
While the others mainly stayed in the area around the main square, Matt decided that he wanted to explore the city a little. After telling the others he was going for a walk, he slipped away, and started wandering around.
The capital city was beautiful, with at least one park on every street, beautiful architecture, and strange flowers growing in flower boxes near the sidewalks. Once he got farther from the heart of the city, though, things gradually started to change. First, there were no more flower boxes. Then, once he got farther out, parks became less and less common until there was only one every ten streets. However, the real shocker came after.
Matt stood still, staring at a building that was crumbling, debris still smoking. A Treogirdian wearing singed clothing sat on the curb, their face holding deep sadness.
"Excuse me," Matt asked, approaching them. "What happened here?"
"The interior of the city managed to be saved before they were attacked," the Treogirdian answered, not looking up. "We were not so lucky. I suppose at least I escaped with my life. Others had even less luck."
Matt wasn't sure how to respond. He had no idea what was considered polite or rude to Treogirdians, and he didn't want to risk offending them by patting them on the back. He slowly continued his walk, eyes taking in the broken buildings.
Eventually, he found himself in what used to be a cul-de-sac, with a broken fountain in the middle. The fountain was still somehow working, spewing what looked like liquid diamonds into the street. However, Matt didn't pay attention to that.
A very small Treogirdian, presumably a child, sat on a nearby bench, staring at something in their hands and crying. Matt felt torn. He didn't want to offend them, but he hated children crying. When Pidge was young, he used to try to calm them down however he could, even if that meant doing ridiculous stunts or tricks. He sat down on the curb, about a foot and a half space between them. "Hi," he said softly, not wanting to startle them. "My name is Matt. What's yours?"
The child looked over at him, blue cheeks stained with silver tears. "I am Jlaop."
"Why are you crying? Is something wrong, Jlaop?"
Jlaop's bottom lip quivered. "My parents are dead and I'm all alone."
"What?" Matt understood now. It was terrifying to be alone, especially when you were as young as he believed Jlaop was and witnessed lasers being fired on your city.
The child sniffled. "I went outside to play in a park and then I heard a loud noise and something bright hit our house. Then our house exploded." They rubbed their eyes, tears once again spilling down their face.
Matt felt his heart being torn in two. He knew what it was like to lose your family. But then again, at least he had Pidge and Shiro; Jlaop had no one. "I'm not sure what," Matt said slowly, "but I think I can do something to help. Let's go talk to the Monarch."
Jlaop rubbed their eyes. "You know the Monarch?"
He nodded. "My friends are the paladins of Voltron; they stopped the Galra from destroying this planet. They care about every single person on this planet, and if they care, I'm sure the Monarch will too."
The two began the trek back to the center of the capital city, Jlaop's face still wet with tears. Within a few minutes, they reentered the center of the city. There was dancing, and Jlaop stopped walking to stare in awe. Matt tried to find Shiro through the crowd, but was much too short to see over the heads of the Treogirdians. He sighed in frustration and was just about to try to trek through the crowd when a hand touched his shoulder. Matt turned and saw Shiro looking at him with concern.
"What happened?" Shiro asked. "You look like something's bothering you."
"I met this orphan Jlaop," he said quietly, "and I was thinking we could go to the Monarch and find out if there's a place for them to live. They seem pretty scared."
"I'll get the others. You go ahead and take Jlaop to the base steps of the palace. We'll meet you there." Shiro turned and walked away, determination in his gait.
Matt turned to face Jlaop and held out his hand for the child to take. "We're going to meet my friends at the palace," he said. "There, we can talk to the Monarch. They can help out."
Jlaop took Matt's hand and followed him through the crowd, the small Treogirdian being jostled around a bit. By the time they reached the palace, the others were already waiting.
"Hi, Jlaop," Shiro said kindly. "My name is Shiro. Matt told me about you. These are Lance, Keith, Pidge, Hunk, Allura, and Coran. We're going to help you."
Jlaop nodded, staring at the group in awe. They probably knew who the paladins were by now.
The group was lead into the palace, where they were met by the Monarch. Upon seeing Jlaop, the Monarch frowned. "I have the feeling I know what this is about," they said. "Let me explain our customs first, so that you do not judge us for them. We are a peaceful planet, in a quiet and hardly noticeable galaxy. Our people do not believe in war and have developed medicines so advanced that we hardly get sick. Because of these factors, orphans are incredibly uncommon. Because of these factors, we do not have any homes for orphans."
"What about children who lost their parents in the Galra attack?" Matt challenged. "What happens to them?"
"I have already looked into the casualties," they stated calmly. "Only seven children lost their families. All of those children were taken in by other families, except for Jlaop. We simply cannot build an orphanage for one child."
No one could argue with that reasoning. "Hey, Jlaop," Pidge said suddenly, "why don't I show you some cool little trinkets I found at the market? Come on!" The two left the room, Pidge shooting Matt a look to say whatever was on his mind. However, someone beat Matt to the punch.
"On our planet, there's a thing called the foster system," Keith said, stepping forward. "It's where families get paid to take in orphans and take care of them. It's not the best system, trust me, it's hardly good sometimes, but it's better than letting a kid starve on the streets."
"Jlaop will not starve," the Monarch promised. "If they are smart, they will quickly befriend a rich family who will take them in as a companion for their child."
Allura stepped forward before anyone else could respond. "Your highness, if we have your permission, could we invite Jlaop to stay with us while we're here? Just to ensure that they have a warm place to sleep and plenty of food for the time being. We would be more than happy to extend this offer to any refugees who lost their homes, as well."
"We have already made refugee camps for those who lost their homes," the Monarch informed Allura. "However, Jlaop can do whatever they please. They may go to the refugee camp, or they may go with you. It does not matter to me."
"Thank you for everything," Allura told them. "We greatly appreciate your kindness in allowing us to stay on Treogird. We've needed a small rest."
The Monarch nodded. "It is a small repayment for saving our people. We are in debt to you, paladins."
With that said, the group left the palace, stopping to pick Pidge and Jlaop up from the market. Jlaop had a few little toys that Pidge had bought them, and happily showed them to the others, explaining exactly what they did.
Allura smiled at Jlaop's happiness. "Jlaop, I was wondering if you would like to stay with us until it's time for us to leave. We would be honored."
Jlaop stared at Allura in awe. "Um, yes, please. Thank you."
"It's no problem," Lance said easily. "We love visitors! You're gonna love the castle, Jlaop. It's super big and really beautiful-" Lance continued on, Jlaop listening attentively.
When they were within sight of the castle, Jlaop gasped. The architecture of the castle was nothing like that of the building of Treogird, so their awe was understandable. "Is that your home?" Jlaop asked Matt.
Matt hesitated. "Kind of. It's where we live, but our real homes are… kind of far away."
The group entered the castle, and Allura turned to face Jlaop. "Please feel free to wander the castle as you like," she told Jalop. "We have plenty of free rooms, so go ahead and choose whichever one you want. You're welcome to stay with us until we have to leave."
Jlaop smiled shyly. "Thank you for everything. You didn't have to do all of this for me."
"We're always happy to help people out," Hunk said. "Hey, I got an idea. You heard about the lions of Voltron, right? Do you want to meet them?"
The child gasped. "They're not just robots? They're actually alive?"
Pidge stepped in. "Technically, it's more complicated than that. You see, the algorithm used to create the lions' intelligence also granted them some form of consciousness; they can only clearly communicate with their chosen paladins and each other, but it is communication."
"Come on," Hunk said. "We'll take you down to the hanger. I know they'd love to meet you."
Hunk and Pidge walked with Jlaop, both answering any questions Jlaop had on how the lions functioned.
Once they were out of earshot, Matt turned to Shiro. "Shiro, what are we gonna do? When we leave, Jlaop isn't gonna have anyone. I just… I can't abandon them like this. But we can't force the Monarch to make a whole new and technically unnecessary system just for Jlaop, and we can't take Jlaop with us. I feel like there's nothing I can do to help!"
"Why can't we take Jlaop with us?" Shiro asked, frowning.
Matt stopped still. He and Shiro wordlessly looked at Allura and Coran. "There are many good reasons for us to bring Jlaop with us, but there are also many reasons why we shouldn't," Coran explained. "We would be able to provide Jlaop with a nice place to live and plenty of food, but I'm not sure a warship is the best place for a young child."
"Neither is a street," Matt stated. "If we leave Jlaop on Treogird, that's exactly what'll happen to them, unless they meet a rich family with kids that they get along with. What will happen if there's an especially cold winter before that happens if that even happens? Jlaop would die. I can't let that happen."
"Besides, the castle is protected by shields and us," Shiro said. "I honestly can't think of a safer place."
"What about Jlaop's culture? The food they eat? The clothes they wear? Their language? Are you going to have them leave all of that behind?" Allura asked.
"Of course not!" Matt paused for a moment, having not entirely thought everything through.
"We'll buy Treogirdian books while we're here and learn the language so that Jlaop can keep their native language," Shiro answered. "We can buy them clothes, too, and material to make clothes when they outgrow those clothes. Hunk can probably easily figure out how to cook the food they like, and can teach us to make it too. We can make this work."
Matt smiled at Shiro. He grabbed his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze as a silent 'thank you'. Shiro turned towards Matt and smiled back.
Allura shrugged. "It might be interesting to have a new member on the team. Just make sure that Jlaop is okay with the idea first. They might not want to leave their home."
"Of course," Shiro assured her. "We'll probably ask Jlaop when they've had time to get used to the castle a little."
With that decided, they all went their separate ways. Matt headed down to the hanger, curious as to what Pidge, Hunk, and Jlaop were up to. When he got there, what he found made him smile.
Jlaop was sitting on Hunk's shoulders, watching curiously while Pidge showed off one of their new robots. The Green lion was sitting behind them, and Matt noticed that its shields were down, even though all the lions generally had their shields up whenever strangers were around. This was probably because the lion recognized that Jlaop was just a child and not a threat.
"Matt!" Jlaop called when they saw him. "Come see what Pidge's robot can do!"
He approached the three of them. Pidge adjusted their glasses, more of a habit than anything else as the glasses didn't have any glass in them. "Jlaop really seems to like robots. I'm thinking if I have enough time, I wanna teach them how to at least fix robots."
Matt couldn't help it. He replied, "Maybe you'll have more time than you think."
Hunk and Jlaop looked a little confused, but Pidge understood immediately. "Matt-"
"Jlaop, are you hungry?" Matt interrupted, turning to the child who was still sitting on Hunk's shoulders. They nodded wordlessly.
"Hunk, could you do me a favor and take Jlaop to the kitchen and make them something? I just need to talk to Pidge for a little bit."
Hunk nodded. "Sure thing, Matt. So tell me Jlaop, what's your favorite food?"
The two walked out of the hanger, and Pidge immediately began rewiring something on their worktable silently.
Matt took a breath. "So. What do you think? I mean, I always wanted to adopt and Shiro seemed open to the idea, but then literally everything changed and I just kinda put it to the back of my mind. But Jlaop needs a home and a family and I think me and Shiro would be great parents. Plus, the rest of you would be able to help out whenever we needed it, and-"
"You're rambling," Pidge told Matt. "Do you know why I'm rewiring a robot that I was initially going to use for scrap?"
That stopped Matt. "Uh, no, actually. I don't."
Pidge turned around on their swivel chair. "I'm going to give it as a present to my new niecew so that they can practice working on robots."
A giant smile spread across Matt's face. "So you think it's a good idea?"
"I think it's one of the best ideas you ever had," they stated. "Second only to confessing to your huge crush on Shiro."
"But do you think Jlaop's gonna want to live on the castle ship?" Matt asked. "I mean, Shiro and I agreed that we'd try to not separate Jlaop from their culture, but maybe Jlaop would just prefer to stay on Treogird."
Pidge shrugged. "I don't know. Just don't chicken out, Matt. The only way you'll know for sure is to ask."
"I won't chicken out! Why would you think I would?"
The green paladin set down the project that they were working on, and turned around to face their brother. "If it hadn't been for me, you never would have confessed to Shiro and found out that he liked you too, and you two wouldn't be in a three year long relationship. You'd probably still be sighing over him if I hadn't pushed you."
Matt nodded. "Yeah, you're probably right. But that's not gonna be necessary this time."
"Alright then." Pidge turned back to the robot. "You're planning on talking to Jlaop, though, right? You know, to make sure they want to be adopted."
"We're not going to ask them right now," Matt explained. "I think we should let them get used to the castle and us first, then maybe bring it up at some point. I'll have to ask Shiro what he thinks we should do." Matt trailed off, already trying to come up with a rough idea of what to do to discuss with Shiro later.
"Hey," Pidge said, interrupting his train of thought. "Can you help me with this? I need an extra set of hands."
"Sure thing." The two siblings worked in silence for a little while, only talking to discuss what should be done with this or that or to ask the other to pass a tool of some sort.
While Pidge was the tech genius of the family, Matt wasn't too shabby himself. Truth be told, he was much better than he gave himself credit for. He may not have Pidge's hacking skills, but he did have talent, and was quite good at engineering. That was actually how he had met Shiro at the Garrison: they were on the same simulation team, with Shiro being the pilot and Matt being the engineer.
Some time passed before someone entered the hanger. "Matt?" Shiro called. "Are you in here?"
Matt poked his head up from behind the old piece of machinery Pidge had picked up to use for spare parts. "What's up, babe?"
"I just wondered where you disappeared to." Shiro leaned against the machine Matt was working on and watched him for a few seconds. "Where's Jlaop?"
"Hunk took them up to the kitchen to go get something to eat," Pidge answered, not turning around from their desk. "That was a while ago, though."
Shiro was silent for a few seconds. "I think I'm gonna go find Jlaop."
"I'll go with you." Matt moved out from behind the large piece of machinery. He handed Pidge some of the parts he'd salvaged. "This is what you were looking for, right?"
"Yup. Thanks, Matt." Pidge let the parts clang on their desk. "Go on and find your lost child, you overprotective parents."
Shiro didn't look the least bit surprised when Pidge said that. Matt was a little surprised by this, but didn't say anything until they were out of the hanger and walking up to the kitchen. When he asked, Shiro laughed. "Pidge always could see right through you, Matt. I'd only be surprised they didn't figure it out the second they saw Jlaop."
Matt gave a little chuckle, but didn't say anything. Shiro grabbed his hand, and Matt gave the taller man's hand a squeeze. The couple made their way to the kitchen, although they weren't entirely sure if Hunk and Jlaop would still be in there or not. However, they bumped into Hunk as he was exiting the kitchen, the smell of cleaner following him. He must have just finished cleaning up. Matt frowned, noticing that Jlaop was nowhere to be seen or heard. "Hunk, where's Jlaop?"
"After they ate, they fell asleep on the table, so I laid them down in one of the extra rooms," he explained. "Poor kid nearly fell asleep on top of their food."
"Thanks for helping out, Hunk," Shiro said gratefully.
"No problem," he replied easily. "If you guys ever need a babysitter, just let me know."
"We still need to decide how we're going to ask Jlaop if they want to stay," Shiro pointed out as Hunk walked away. "Should we ask them if they just want to live on the castle ship, or should we ask if they want to be our adopted child? Do they even know what adoption is?"
"I don't know," Matt admitted. "Maybe just be vague and whatever they assume we mean we just go with it?"
Matt and Shiro spun around to see Jlaop standing behind them, looking sleepy but with curiosity in their eyes.
Shiro knelt down to be on eye-level with Jlaop. "What are you doing up? Hunk told us you were sleeping."
"I wanted something to drink," they answered.
"Alright. Come on." Shiro picked Jlaop up easily and carried them into the kitchen. Matt followed, immediately noticing a note Hunk had left on one of the counters for them: a list of the foods and drinks Jlaop's species could have. He sighed in relief when he noticed when things like water and food goo were on the list. That would make things so much easier.
Shiro set Jlaop down on a chair and starting routing around the kitchen, trying to find a glass. Matt sat beside Jlaop. "So you want to know what adoption is, Jlaop?"
They nodded. "I don't think we have that on Treogird."
Matt exchanged a quick glance with Shiro, then took a breath to steel his nerves. "Well, sometimes, parents die. That happens on our planet, too. When that happens, their children are generally raised by someone else. Adoption is when a family or couple welcomes a child who lost their parents into their family. They raise the child as their own."
Jlaop's eyes widened, finally understanding. "You want to be my family?"
Shiro handed Jlaop a glass of water. "That's basically it," he agreed. "But it's up to you. If you want to stay here on Treogird, then that's that. But if you want to stay with us, you can too."
"I want to be part of your family!" Jlaop blurted out suddenly.
Matt and Shiro were surprised. This was kind of a big decision, and they had both expected Jlaop to take at least a few minutes to decide. "Are you sure?" Shiro asked. "You can take your time to think it over if you want. We just want to be sure that this is what you want."
"I don't need to think it over," Jlaop said, eyes on the floor. "Everyone here is so nice. I'll miss Treogird, but I'll also miss having a family. I want a family more than I want to stay on Treogird." Jlaop's eyes sparkled with tears that threatened to overspill.
Matt put a hand on both Shiro and Jlaop's shoulders. "We're your family now."
Silvery tears slipped down Jlaop's face. They threw their small arms around both Matt and Shiro, or at least tried to. Jlaop buried their face in Matt's shoulder and pulled Shiro into the group hug, their small hand gripping his shirt relentlessly. Matt looked over at Shiro, then at Jlaop, who was sobbing happily into his shirt. He hugged both Shiro and Jlaop tighter, determined that they would be the best family they could be.