Stuck in Voltron hell, it was only a matter of time before I wrote something.

There isn't supposed to be anything shippy in this fic, just family fluff and gen, but you do you, I guess.

Nighttime was the thing Shiro always dreaded.

The paladins saw it as a gifted opportunity to rest and recuperate from their training, to create codes or cook food or strike up conversations or polish some weapons. Or do whatever suited them at the moment. Then eventually, they slept, sometimes in bed, other times in anywhere but the bed.

Shiro had instead taken up the task of doing nightly rounds rather than retreating to bed himself. He'd lifted Lance from the floor to his bed on multiple occasions. He'd roused Hunk from his faceplant into half finished food. He'd guided Keith from the training room, the red paladin half asleep. He'd retrieved Pidge from small crannies and nooks the mice even complained about being in.

And then he stayed awake.

Sleeping was torture. Shiro hated every second, endured the long hours within suffocating darkness before the alarm signaled his freedom. Waking moments were guilt ridden, flashes of Sam and Matt and his family back home flitting through his mind in rapid and upsetting flashbacks. The few times he could drift off to sleep, it was fitful and frightening, life back in Galra prison, before he finally jarred awake gasping for breath and a hand to hold.

The air was there. Unfortunately, the hand was not.

The rest of the paladins sometimes seemed to understand the gist of Shiro's condition. There were times during training that the black paladin's body couldn't take anymore. He'd drop where he was, scaring the hell out of anyone within eyesight, until they found he was only asleep. Those times, he was secretly grateful for, because those naps were dreamless and empty and blissfully peaceful.

But no one bothered to approach him about it. And he never quite knew if maybe it was lack of familiarity...or if they just didn't care.

He often hoped it was the former.

But things change. And within their ragtag team of somewhat experienced pilots, the family bond was becoming stronger as the days went by, as the exercises grew more personal. Hunk's declare of them as "brothers" had made Shiro feel a pleasant fondness in his chest, a swell of pride and hope and security.

But he was still alone. Not during the day, his rare episodes were typically comforted by whoever was nearby to see it, but night was lonely. Night was terrifying. Sleep was terrifying.

And eventually, Shiro began to develop a new habit. Instead of sleeping, instead of turning to the comfortable and enticing bedsheets and pillows, he turned to the kitchen. Food became a distraction, an acceptable excuse for being up in ungodly hours of the night.

It was often subtle, a plate of food goo here, some leftovers of Hunk's concoctions there. Nothing to make a difference in his health, but maybe just raise a pound or two. At least he hoped. Scales weren't exactly common in alien spaceships.

It had already been a week of his newfound habit. Shiro had pored over documents Allura had handed him, reports of early Altean missions, roughly translated. Battle tactics and piloting methods were racing through his head, his eyes checking and rechecking the chicken scratch on his notes until his eyes watered. His role of the black paladin, of the team's leader, of the quite literal head, was a big responsibility. But he enjoyed it, for the most part.

Time had ticked by until it was three o' clock in the morning, and he hadn't slept more than a half hour before waking in a panic. The air conditioner above his head rumbled, the dim blue lights of the room glowed, and he felt himself nodding off. His mind was fuzzy, the papers in his hand becoming unreadable as the words blurred together.

He was exhausted.

But he refused to go to bed. He couldn't sleep, not with the nightmares that plagued him. He'd had a fresh one that very night; memories of being strapped down to that table in Garrison, forbidden from even greeting his family, reuniting with his brother and sister and mother, but the dream steered its way into a nightmare with the men in hazmat suits drilling into him and tearing his arm apart. He'd lost the benefit that was anesthetic, and when he'd finally woken, he had to bite his tongue to keep from screaming aloud.

"Okay..." Shiro set down the papers, keeping them in respective stacks for organization, before his shoulders slumped. His limbs felt heavy, and it would've been entirely easy to lay down where he was and fall asleep. But the terror gripped hard, cold and unyielding, and his heart beat erratically in his chest at the very thought of being plunged back into his past that he preferred forgotten.

Shiro stood, his muscles aching in protest, but he only strode to his door, punching in the key and watching the metal barriers slide open with a very light hiss. He was already on the path towards the kitchen before he'd even settled on the decision, his brain forcing him forward just to avoid sleeping.

Brain food, Shiro figured, and it felt like enough of an excuse. Just gotta eat a bit. Skipped dinner anyway.

He walked down the dim hallways, footsteps silent enough for him to slink through the halls without being noticed. If any of the paladins found out about his nighttime trips...well, truthfully, he didn't have a clue what they'd do. Yell, maybe. Tell him to get to bed. They wouldn't understand, surely.

They wouldn't.

All but Keith had come from typical lifestyles, or at the very least, not Galra ships. They'd pass off his nightmares as usual...that he needed to relax, that he was overreacting. He never felt coherent during his daytime episodes, where he stumbled down the halls in a fit of panic, but he felt sure that he only received odd looks and clicks of the tongue. Maybe. Maybe he was being far too negative, but he didn't want to be optimistic to himself. He wanted to be honest.

Allura, maybe, would be the closest to understanding, but he knew she'd only force him back to bed anyway. His health came first, because without a healthy paladin, Voltron couldn't be formed. Coran...was Coran, and as much as Shiro adored the royal advisor's friendliness, he wouldn't pour his heart out to him.

So...he'd keep things to himself.

He passed a door, Lance's room, and even as he walked, Shiro tilted his head as if straining to hear anything unusual within. Nothing but blissful silence, which meant the blue paladin was asleep. Shiro didn't dare open the door now, not when it was so late, but he felt good instinct Lance was okay. Dreaming away in his bed.

Bed...the thought almost made Shiro backtrack, but his prosthetic hand clinking against the hall wall made him move forward.

Hunk had made Shiro's plate even when the black paladin missed dinner, having fallen dead asleep during training in the morning. Hunk had informed him he'd placed it in the kitchen, ready when Shiro was, and that it'd had positive reviews from the rest of the crew. Whatever it was, but Shiro was still planning to eat it.

That's what'd he do. Engage himself in the task of digging through Hunk's mysterious, yet oddly tasty food, and keep his mind off of the mere thought of nightmares and sleeping. Then maybe he'd feel energized enough to continue reading through documents and wait for the alarm-


Shiro froze, one foot shifted out in front of him, and he automatically turned with his prosthetic arm up at the ready. He worried he'd been caught sneaking around, but when no one came out to scold him, he felt his training kick in.

Something slammed within the kitchen. Something far too big to be the mice was rooting around in there. The noise echoed through the halls, whoever had intruded into the castle too clumsy to be stealthy.

Silently, Shiro activated his arm, the prosthetic glowing purple and bathing the hall walls in a dark hue. He was fully awake now, his heart feeling like it had leapt to his throat. The thought of Lance only a little ways down the hall, vulnerable, made the black paladin swallow down his fear and dive into the kitchen.

"In the name of Princess Allura, surrender at once!" Shiro screamed, raising his glowing arm in defense as his free hand switched on the light. The dark kitchen was lit up instantly, the figure standing by the counter twisting around in surprise. A sharp scream escaped them, and it took Shiro a few seconds to recognize the person before he hastily dropped his arm.

Pidge stared back from only a few feet away. Her hair was wild with bedhead, her clothes rumpled in what showed evidence of sleep, but her eyes were as wide as they could get, bright brown clouded over with startling fear. Her shoulders shook, but her arms were wrapped tightly around something, a container of sorts. She sighed out harshly, reaching up to push up her glasses, and the word "Cookies" was neatly printed on the surface of the container.

It didn't take a genius to understand, Shiro found in amusment. Pidge had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

Shiro froze, Pidge's deer-in-the-headlights expression apparent in the bright light. Her guilty expression morphed to one of hopefulness as she reached into the cookie jar and held one out to the black paladin. "...cookie?" Her voice still trembled, but Shiro couldn't catch what emotion it conveyed.

"Cookie." The black paladin only repeated her just to hear his voice, to confirm his wasn't shaking. He stepped forward, his own mission now forgotten. He stared at the cookie in her small hand, catching the whiff of peanut butter. Or whatever passed as such under Hunk's food-magic. He lifted his eyes to a nervous-looking Pidge, her shaky smile faltering just a bit when he didn't respond.

Not an intruder. Just a peckish paladin.

"Pidge..." Even as Shiro began, Pidge quickly dropped her arm and stared at the floor in muted shame. Shiro let his breath even out, giving a steady exhale before he resumed. "Why are you up so late? You oughta be asleep."

"I could ask the same of you," the green paladin suddenly retaliated, taking a bite of the offered cookie. Her voice garbled, Shiro catching a stronger whiff of peanut butter as she spoke. "You're the one wandering around the castle."

Judging from her triumphant expression at the statement, Shiro had given a tell that he'd been caught. He rubbed the back of his neck, choosing to direct the conversation elsewhere. "And you're the one stealing cookies out of the cookie jar." Shiro's tone was fond, but his gaze was hard, and Pidge guiltily stopped chewing. "You need to go to bed."

"Not until you do," She snapped arrogantly.

"Pidge." Shiro placed his hands on his hips, his no-nonsense tone usually reserved for orders seeping in. Her indignant glare softened, her jaw tightening as she realized she probably couldn't win this battle. "Put the cookies away, and go to bed."

Her grip tightened around the container, the painted words covered by her small fingers. She swallowed hard, the remainder of her cookie seeming to catch in her throat. "I..." Another swallow. "I can't."

Silence. Shiro blinked, lifting his shoulders a bit higher, but Pidge didn't move from her spot. Her eyes were locked towards the floor, fresh fear beginning to overtake her expression. She was hugging the cookie jar now, like a poor alternative to a teddy bear.

Shiro approached the young paladin, gently taking the jar from her and stowing it back in its high cabinet. With a humored look on his face, he glanced quizzically back at her and pointed to the cabinet.

"I climbed," Pidge explained, before softly adding, "I always used to do it."

That fully explained the noise. Shiro nodded, closing the cabinet door and sealing the jar from sight. He turned to the fridge, lifting out a see-through carton of water and handing it to the green paladin. Pidge didn't seem to realize, her hands instinctively accepting it and squeezing at the sides before she took a long sip.

"So." Shiro crossed his arms over his chest, a silent reprimand. "Why can't you go back to bed?" To the other paladins, he would've pointed out the multiple disadvantages to the team lack of sleep brought, but he wouldn't guilt her. Not Pidge.

Pidge put down the water, her content look vanishing and replaced by an expression far more stricken. "...I can't sleep."

"See, I told you not to go on your laptop so late. The screen isn't good for your eyes-"

"No, not that!" Pidge's nose wrinkled at the argument she'd heard a million times before something flickered in her eyes. "It's. Something else." Her shoulders rose to her ears, a blush creeping on her cheeks as if she were even ashamed to admit it. "It's nightmares."

Shiro remained silent, but he felt something tug within his chest.

"About Matt. A-and Dad. About where they are." Pidge elaborated, but kept her gaze from Shiro's eyes. "I kept waking up, so I decided to come down here instead." She gestured to the kitchen, then to the cabinet Shiro was near that contained the cookies. "I felt I needed something to remind myself where I was. That I wasn't still dreaming. So I took some of the cookies Hunk made earlier."

Shiro smiled, his head turning towards the cabinet. "Are they good?"

"Yeah." Pidge offered a crooked smile. "But the fact they're space cookies kinda helped ground me. And calm me. I love peanut butter."

"So I've heard."

"And peanut butter cookies!" Pidge's grin widened. "But...not peanuts. They're too dry."

"Heard that too." Shiro turned back to the green paladin, and she was finally blinking up at him hopefully, as if spurring him on to continue his side of the conversation. But instead, the black paladin studied her, noticing the very slight bags under her eyes, the evident exhaustion she was trying too hard to hide. "You had your midnight snack. But now it's time for bed."

Pidge's smile fell hard, her eyes widening in shock behind her round glasses. "'re kidding me."

"No, Pidge. Sleep is important for a paladin of Voltron." Shiro paused, as the words seemed to have no effect. "...sleep is important for a growing girl."

"Weren't you listening!?" The green paladin nearly wailed, her brows knitted together in frustration and annoyance. "I can't sleep. I keep dreaming about my family! That's...that's hard, Shiro!"

"I know." Shiro carefully knelt down, placing a steady hand on her shaking shoulder. Now within eye level, he could catch the glistening tears in her eyes, the slightest beginning of a whimper on her lips. She was terrified at the notion of sleep. "I know it's hard...but we're going to find them Pidge. You know that."

"You're right. We could find them." Pidge's voice trembled. "Find them dead."

"Pidge!" Shiro barked out her name and felt her jump under his hold, her anger disappearing as she held back. She only looked chastised, tilting back a bit as if to get away from him, the tears in her eyes starting to slip down her cheeks. Shiro shut his eyes, taking in a breath, scolding himself before he looked back at her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap like that. But you can't think like that, Pidge."

"I can," Pidge whispered, her voice thick with tears. "I can, but I don't want to, Shiro. It's all I think's all I dream about! That...that Matt and Dad are floating in space as lifeless bodies...or were incinerated in a ship blast...or are just. Somewhere else. Trapped, never to be seen again! How do we know we won't end up like that?"

"We've got each other," Shiro pointed out. "As the paladins of Voltron, as a team."

"Matt and Dad aren't a team." A shuddering sob escaped her, her stance crumbling and Shiro quickly shifted his hold to keep her upright. "Not without me. Not without Mom and Rover. We're not a team, we're not complete."

"That doesn't mean they're not a team, Pidge." Shiro hesitated, as she scrubbed at her face with her sleeve. "It just means you're not a family yet. But you will be, because we'll find them alive, Pidge. Understand?"

The small paladin stayed quiet, small hiccups being her only answer. Emotions flickered across her face, anger and frustration and desperation before she only looked crestfallen. She turned her head away, bringing her sleeve back up in silent shame.

Shiro reached up, holding her wrist and bringing her arm down. She seemed startled by the gesture, hand curling into a fist before she let her arm relax. Shiro's pointed look bore into her, and he could see the wariness in her eyes, as if she were considering tearing away and running back to her room. Shiro's grip tightened at the thought and her foot shifted, as if he'd read her mind.

"Understand?" He asked softly.

"...I understand." The smile on her face didn't return, but she swiped at her nose, erasing the traces of her small breakdown. "M'sorry."

"Don't be. You're tired." Shiro drew his hand back and rose to his feet, happy to see her shivering had eased a bit. "Here, I'll escort you to your room."

"I don't want to." Pidge immediately abandoned the rebellious tactic upon Shiro's dark look in response. Her glare flickered to a look of helplessness. "I don't...want to sleep, Shiro."

"But you need to." The black paladin paused, before adding, "otherwise, you'll end up doing what I do."

"You mean shutting down completely and dropping to the floor like a beached whale." A corner of her mouth quirked up at the statement. "You left Lance alone to the Gladiator. He got his butt kicked."

Shiro had definitely missed that little tidbit of information, and he maintained enough resolve not to snort at it. Pidge's shoulders shook in silent laughter, as if revisiting the memory.

"But then I missed dinner." Shiro kept his voice steady. "It's not a healthy habit." None of his habits truly were, but he didn't want to admit it to her. He instead waved an arm, casually making his way to the kitchen's exit. "Let's go. You look ready to fall asleep on the spot-"

"Can I sleep with you, Shiro?"

The sentence was rapid, as if she'd worried she'd chicken out if it wasn't blurted, and it took Shiro a few seconds to process. He froze, one hand on the doorframe, before turning curiously back at her. "Pidge?"

The young paladin hung back, framed by the bright yellow lights above. He never quite realized how small she really was.

"I know it sounds...selfish. It really does. I'm really sorry." Pidge lifted her head, the tears seeming to threaten to return, but she defiantly choked them back. "But you're like the last connection I've got to Dad and Matt. Like...the last hope I've got. Maybe being with you can help me stop dreaming about them being dead. Maybe instead, it can be. I dunno, space adventures they had with you."

Shiro didn't respond, the words catching in his throat. Matt and Sam, the good times in their ship, had been pushed away in the deep recesses of his mind just like his prisoner days.

"Shiro?" Pidge's voice was thin, and she sounded regretful upon seeing the hurt look on his face. "Shiro, I'm sorry. But...please?"

Silently, Shiro shoved down the panic that nearly snuck up on him as he recalled where he was. He was being asked an important question. Dazedly, he turned to Pidge, mouth hanging open just a bit as she squared her shoulders in response.

"Just tonight," she promised full-heartedly. "Just tonight only. I want to sleep, Shiro, really. But I don't want the nightmares."

Her determined face was enough to convince him. Shiro breathed deeply, straightening up and silently composing himself. For Pidge, at the very least. Wordlessly, he held out an inviting hand.

Pidge brightened immediately, taking it and beaming in his direction like she'd been offered the world. Shiro's hand wrapped around hers, and he squeezed it reassuringly as he finally found his voice. "Why so? Do I scare away the nightmares?"

"Oh, you scare lots of people, Shiro," Pidge stated matter-of-factly, but her grin remained to show she was half-joking. "Lance wouldn't dare disobey you."

"I suppose that's a good perk." Shiro flicked off the kitchen light, leading the green paladin down the hall and back down the route to his room. Only the dim lights along the hallway lit their path, and his eyes instinctively dropped to the floor to manage his footing.

"It's a grace of the gods," Pidge quipped, slightly leaning against Shiro's side as they headed down the silent hall.

It seemed to take a bit longer to reach Shiro's room, since two people simultaneously sneaking through the halls required extra concentration. Shiro punched in the key and the doors slid open, and he felt Pidge's hand squeeze his again.

"Your room feels bigger," she declared, stepping in and surveying the area. Shiro followed, the doors sliding shut behind him, and he crouched down to her level.

"I don't see it," he stated, smiling playfully at her, and Pidge huffed and shoved at his shoulder, nearly knocking him to the floor. "Oh, shut up. It's big to me."

"You have a mess in your room," Shiro reminded, knowing her style well from all the times he'd rightfully carried her to bed. Unfinished inventions and blueprints of modifications and old tools were always scattered throughout her room. Shiro had had to have fancy footwork not to trip over anything and one nasty fall had once given him a wicked bruise on his hip.

"I like it that way," she shot back, crossing her arms across her chest. "You're just a lot neater." She gestured to the nearly empty room of the black paladin. It looked about as clean as the day they were assigned it, the only differences being the stacks of papers on the floor and...the bed sheets.

Pidge immediately shot forward and climbed into his bed, burrowing within the mass of blankets. She looked terribly small, surrounded by dark grey sheets, and she laid her head on a particularly big pile. "I like this!"

Shiro stood, as she seemed to bury herself further into the blankets like a groundhog digging a home. "Don't you have the same blankets?" He moved forward and set his prosthetic on the fabric, nothing but a collection of duplicates really. They weren't special.

Only a week ago, Allura had insisted Shiro grab more blankets, not only for his size, but because something about a strong air conditioner. Really, he wouldn't have been surprised if the princess was somewhat knowledgable about his night occurrences and lack of sleep and somehow figured it'd be better. (It wasn't. But he appreciated the gesture.)

"Of course not." Pidge was nearly hidden now, and Shiro leaned a bit to catch a glimpse of her. "Coran said it'd be wasteful. But I love forts. Even unintentional ones." Her head popped up, blankets laid across her hair and her glasses askew, but she looked thrilled.

"Well. You enjoy that, I guess." Shiro stooped down to gather the documents, a few stacks having tipped due to his clumsy sleep-deprived motions. The words still blurred, and he could feel the ghost of a headache in his temple, but he busied himself with the task.

Pidge dug around in the blankets for a bit, soon kicking off her shoes and letting them thump to the ground. Her strength eventually emptied, sleepiness taking hold of her, and her energetic motions ceased from behind Shiro's back as the black paladin resumed with the papers. His movements were slow, intentionally slow just for the distraction.

Pidge sighed and buried her face against the covers. Her eyelids fluttered and her knees drew up to her chest, successfully reducing her to nothing but a small ball. She'd proved time and time again she could fit in small spaces with ease, and she looked swallowed by the blankets around her. "Smells like you," she murmured, tugging a blanket closer around her like a makeshift cocoon.

Shiro looked up, his face a mixture of emotions, but the confusion was most prominent. Pidge bristled at the look, her head raising indignantly. " does!" She insisted. "You all have a smell."

"Really." Shiro would be lying if he didn't say he was partly amused.

"Mmhm." Pidge lowered her head again, still remaining curled up. "Hunk always smells like some kind of food, especially since he's been cooking, and maybe earth, but the good kind of earth! Lance smells like...I dunno, some kinda spice, but it's ruined by that awful cologne he always wears. Keith smells like smoke sometimes, but that's all I pick up from him. And Always flowers."

Shiro nodded, having never noticed such a detail within his crew. Pidge being Pidge, she'd always pick up on the little things. "...and what do I smell like?" He caught himself saying, curiosity getting the better of him.

Pidge turned her head, sniffing at the covers again, her eyes half-lidded. "...I dunno. I can't really explain it. Touch of motor oil. Warmth. That weird shampoo you stole from Coran...yeah, don't think I didn't notice, I recognize it...and..." Her voice stuttered, guilt flashing across her face. "Home."

Shiro felt the lightness in the air dissipate. Pidge's face tightened, and she almost looked like she'd cry again, but she instead shifted within the blankets and lay still, some of the fabric draped over her face. She had created her own little cave to worry in without interruption.

Ignoring the pang in his chest, Shiro moved the papers to the corner of the room. Crouched to the floor, he eyed his bed, where Pidge's wild locks sprung up from behind the sheets, contrasting with the white pillows. He'd let her have the bed. Let her sleep in peace, because Shiro knew for a fact he wouldn't sleep tonight. He wouldn't let himself.

"Good night," he called, laying across the chilly floor. The cold seeped through his shirt, but he only embraced it, allowing a distraction from accidentally drifting off.

"Good night?" The blankets were suddenly tossed aside, and Pidge sat up abruptly. She stared at Shiro's position, before her frown deepened and her eyes narrowed in a look of muted disappointment. "No, Shiro."

"What?" The black paladin attempted a casual shrug, but the action was tough to carry out. "You don't want me in the same bed, Pidge. I, uh...kick. A lot. I'll just sleep on the floor."

"Like an idiot," Pidge bit, propping her hands on her hips. If she weren't looking down at him, she would've looked comical rather than intimidating. "Shiro, we can just share. It is your bed."

"Nah." Shiro waved a hand dismissively, going for the humorous route. "I might crush you."

Pidge glared, but the heat in her gaze melted away. Her fists balled up the covers in silent tension, her knuckles turning white. He hadn't noticed beyond the layer of blankets, but she had still been shaking. "...please?"

Shiro didn't answer at first. Then, as if running on autopilot, he found himself sitting, then standing, then slipping into the bed beside her. She shifted to make room, the mattress sinking under his weight, but she looked content with having her way.

Shiro laid down, his back against the wall, and Pidge turned to face him with her arms drawn to her chest, as if trying to take up as little as space as possible. Her hair tickled his chin and he desperately hoped she couldn't hear his erratic heartbeat. He wasn't going to sleep. He wouldn't sleep. He refused. It wasn't happening.

"Tell me a story?" Pidge's voice broke through his internal mantra, and she shuffled closer, forehead pressed against his shoulder. "Just. I gotta get my mind off of it."

Carefully, Shiro lifted his arm and brought her closer, cradling her like he would a younger sibling. She curled up against him like a baby animal seeking refuge, her shoulders sinking in relaxation. He held his breath, willing his heartbeat to slow down. He needed to gather himself. Simply protect her, comfort her.

"I...think I've got one." He pondered, her head rubbing against his neck as she moved a bit to get comfortable. He could feel the small tremors running through her, and he rubbed a thumb against her arm soothingly. "One time, I tried to see if I could modify the black lion. But Lance walked in. And we all know how he loves to distract."

He dove into the tale, describing Lance's bad jokes, the wrong move Shiro had made, and the sudden explosion that rocked the chamber. Allura had scolded them for almost half an hour about safety for themselves, and the rest of that day had been spent in the healing chambers. Pidge was silent throughout the story, but Shiro still recounted how he knew she had been sitting in front of their pods the whole time along with Hunk, waiting for them to be released. By her lack of an argument, it was definitely true.

Her breath evened out, and soon she was only a sleeping child in Shiro's arms. The tension in her face was gone, her mouth hanging open just a bit as she drifted off to the rumble of the black paladin's voice. He continued to hold her, slowly becoming more worked up even as the mobility in his muscles became lost.

He had been her comfort, her security, her protection, but he felt vulnerable. His eyes began to shut closed despite his mental pleas to stay awake, his brain shutting down despite his internal swears. He wasn't going to fall asleep. He wouldn't. He refused, he wouldn't be able to stand it. He couldn't scare Pidge, make her feel unsafe just because her current guardian was terrified of nightmares of all things. He wasn't going to sleep, not tonight...

But he did.

He was swept away into the fuzzy world of darkness and a slight dizzying motion. It didn't take long for the morphing shapes before him to form familiar figures. Something rumbled in his ears, a type of engine, and he was sitting in a pilot's seat.

He turned, a nagging feeling in his gut forcing him to, and there they were. Matt and Sam, standing mere feet away, smiling serenely. Matt looked so much like Pidge, Shiro almost instinctively called her name. His smile quirked the same way Pidge's did, but Sam's face was creepily frozen.

"Shiro," Matt greeted, his orange suit glowing under the ship's lights. Repressed memories rose, and Shiro could recognize certain small aspects beyond his fellow crew, cargo and that squeaky door and the stain on the wall. His eyes flickered back to Matt, but he said nothing else.

Sam waved a hand, his mouth a grim smile, his jaw harshly set. Shiro blinked between his two crew members, feeling paralyzed, wishing he could run. His legs didn't heed his command, his arms, startlingly, both flesh and blood. He bit back a scream, biting so hard on his tongue, he tasted blood.

"Why are you here?" Shiro felt like his voice was too thick. "Why am I here?"

"It doesn't matter." Matt shrugged, swinging his arms a bit in that way he did in the midst of a conversation. "It's okay. We're in a better place now."

Somehow, those words didn't sit right. Shiro felt his breath hitch, fear spreading across his chest, through his limbs, through the entirety of his body. "Stop. Don't say that."

"But it's true." Sam's eerie smile remained. "It's okay, Shiro. We're okay. We're in a better place."

"You can't be dead." He was close to hyperventilating now, grasping for something to hold, willing himself to wake, but the nightmares always had him in a tight grip. "You can't. You can't be dead! Pidge needs you!"

"We're in a better place," Matt reiterated.

"Stop saying that! What does it mean?!" It could mean so much. They could've found a new planet, a new home. They could've found a new crew. They could be back home.

Or Pidge's mission was all for naught.

"It's okay." Sam now. "It's okay, Shiro. We forgive you. It's all okay."

"It's not! It's not!" Shiro wanted to scream aloud, call for someone's help, but his voice felt strangled. Something was pressing against his chest, restricting the air flow. The seatbelt across him was too tight, and alarms in the ship began to blare. The room was bathed with red light, the warning noise ringing in his ears, and his heartbeat was so rapid, it felt like nothing but a continuous drone.

"It's okay." Sam nodded, slowly backing away. "Soon, you'll be with us, Shiro."

"In a better place!" Both father and son spoke in unison before Shiro blinked and they were gone. The alarms continued to screech, ensuring he was still in the dream, and the ship shook intensely. He swiveled back to the window, watching as a planet grew closer and closer. He was frozen. He couldn't move. His right arm was suddenly gone, nonexistent, and his left arm was glued to the chair.

"No!" His scream carried unheard as the surface of the planet rapidly approached. He was going to crash. He was going to die. "No! No!"

The impact was harsh, but it woke him up.

He jerked upright, finally screaming until his lungs were on fire. The room was too dark, his breath came in ragged bursts that caused pain to lance in his chest, and his head spun as if every inhale brought no oxygen. He was shaking so badly, he felt unsteady, ready to topple over at the slightest nudge.

Without thinking, his hand shot out, reaching for something to grasp. He expected only cold air, emptiness, like it had been so many times.

Instead, small fingers suddenly intertwined with his.

He jolted, seeing Matt directly in front of him, and he screamed again, thinking he was trapped in the dream once more. But the realization came quickly, and he recognized Pidge's face, the dark lashes behind thick glasses.

She looked terrified.

Her face was coated with sweat, as if she'd been caught in the same dream. Her face was tight with worry, her shoulders quivering, the hair at the nape of her neck slicked down with sweat.

"Shiro!" She called, but her voice sounded garbled, underwater. "Shiro, breathe!"

Shiro could only gasp back, the panic overwhelming him, swallowing him whole. Something bad was going to happen, but he didn't know what. He wanted light. He wanted air. He wanted to stop having these goddamned nightmares.

Pidge's expression shifted, and her other hand wrapped around, cradling his hand, her thumb against his wrist. She'd grabbed for his flesh hand, now squeezing reassuringly, her eyes flashing with determination. "Shiro, it's me."

Shiro mutely nodded, the movement stiff and abrupt.

"Just breathe. Stay with me, ok? Breathe with me." Her chest rose, her inhale deep, so blissfully deep, before she slowly exhaled. The action seemed impossible, but Shiro tried anyway, his chest rising and falling too rapidly. But the air seemed to seep into his lungs, clearing his head just a bit.

"Good. A little slower." She repeated the movement, breathing in and breathing out in a practiced manner. Shiro replied with a distressed noise before he followed through, his stunted breath now coming in easier.

He could breathe.

Slowly but effectively, his breathing leveled out. The feeling of dread receded, and the shaking subsided to a manageable level. He eased his grip on Pidge's hand, idly wondering if he had nearly shattered her bones, but she showed no signs of pain. Only content, a soft smile upon finally getting Shiro back.

"Are you...ok?" She tilted her head, searching his face for anything unfamiliar. "Feeling better?"

Shiro nodded, but now it was a calm motion. He drew her in, letting her collapse against him as she gave a strangled sob, her composure crumbling.

Shiro gave a shaky breath, still trying to rein in the remnants of fear still lodged in his chest. Pidge was only a kid, and yet, she'd helped him immensely. His eyes wandered the dark room, still looking for any danger, before he held her tighter.

She shifted in his hold, sniffing hard before lifting her head up to look at him. Her chin set on his chest, his harsh heartbeat possibly ringing in her ears.

"It's okay," she assured, her voice strong and unwavering. Wide and childish eyes stared back up at him, still oddly innocent. But there was a dark past hidden so deeply, a mutual feeling. She dropped her head, her arms shooting forward, capturing him in a tight hug, a hug that felt like she didn't want to let him go.

It only came in whispered words, but they held the weight of the world.

"I understand."

And without warning, Shiro began to cry.