The sniffles were the first clue.

Lance squinted at Shiro across the table as they dug into their respective breakfasts. "Hey, man, you got a cold or something? You sound a little stuffy."

"A cold? No, I'm fine. How could I catch an Earth illness in space?" Shiro tried to grin but sneezed violently instead, barely getting his hand up in time to cover his face. "Ah, sorry…"

The blue paladin raised an eyebrow. "Y'know, usually I'm super impressed by your epic dad sneezes—"

"My what?"

"—But that's the fifth one this morning. Are you sure you're not sick?"

"Maybe I've got a touch of something, but really, I'm fine." Shiro waved it off. "I'll get a cup of tea or something hot before we go to the bridge. That always clears me up."

"You sure? 'Cause if you want to get some extra rest or something—"

"Really, Lance, I'm fine." Shiro bolted down the rest of his food and deposited his plate in the automated dishwasher. Yay advanced alien tech. "Thanks for the concern, but I've pushed through worse."

He headed to his room to change, feeling Lance's suspicious eyes on him all the way out the door.

He did have that cup of tea, some sort of herbal blend they'd picked up on some planet that tasted vaguely like mint and orange, but the sniffles and sneezing didn't stop. As he dressed he discreetly tucked some tissues into a pocket. Better safe than sorry.

Once they were on the bridge he didn't engage with the rest of the team as much as usual, feeling sluggish and out of sorts. They were circling a planet that had recently joined the coalition as they figured out their next move, but the region had remained calm, so everyone was startled when they received an emergency transmission from a ship close by. The other paladins and Coran clustered around Allura as she opened the transmission. Shiro opted to stay in his seat. His head was starting to feel like it had been stuffed full of cotton, and his awareness of up and down was getting a bit wobbly.

A green alien appeared on the screen, six pale eyes wide with terror. "We're under attack from two Galra cruisers, and we don't have weapons, they're going to kill us all—!"

"Voltron will be there right away." Allura swept her gaze over the others. "Get to your Lions now! We need to help them!"

The others sprinted for their bays. Shiro thought he saw Lance frown over his shoulder at him before the blue paladin disappeared into the elevator, but he had to blink to clear his vision and by the time he did so Lance had vanished from sight. He caught Allura looking at him with some concern and tried for a shrug. "Sorry, just… thinking about how to handle things. Good luck here."

She weighed him in her gaze, then nodded. "Good luck to you too."

He could feel Black's disapproval before he even stepped into the bay. She seemed reluctant to open up to him, projecting clearly her dissatisfaction with his condition. Shiro sighed. "I know, but it's just a cold. I'll be fine."

If a mechanical lion could snort, Black did, but she opened her mouth and let him take his seat in the cockpit. She launched at a far gentler rate than she was wont to do, and Shiro tried not to roll his eyes. "Come on now, you don't have to… atchoo!... You don't have to baby me. Let's get this fight over with."

It wasn't quite that easy.

Shiro found himself lagging behind in the fight, with Black making up for his deficits far more than usual. Lance didn't say anything about it, but the younger paladin stuck as close as circumstances permitted, which was frustrating but also necessary; twice he handled incoming fighters that Shiro just couldn't seem to respond to in time, and once took a hit meant for Black. Keith kept yelling at Shiro to engage, which started a verbal sparring match between the red and blue paladins that Shiro wasn't up to stopping. Then Pidge took a serious hit and Hunk had to cover for her as she fell back to reorient.

"Guys, this isn't working," Keith rasped over the comms. "We need Voltron."

"Right. Voltron." Shiro hitched a breath, shaking his head. Keith shouldn't have to call the shots for him! "Pidge, you ready?"

"As I'll ever be. Let's do this."

They pulled it off. That, at least, was a relief. But it took longer than usual, and even after the Lions were combined Voltron didn't seem to be functioning at full capacity. Shiro could feel his energy draining more than he was used to, and by the time the fight was over and the surviving cruiser had fallen back the world was spinning. Black nudged him, concern humming through the controls beneath his hands, and he sighed.

"I know, I know, we're heading back now. I'll be fine."

They were the last ones to dock at the Castle, and again Black glided to a sedate halt with as little jarring as she could manage. Shiro slumped against his control panel for a moment after landing, trying to get his scrambled senses back into some order. Huffiness over his lack of care for his health jabbed at his thoughts, and he gave a breathless laugh. "Maybe you're right, but it couldn't be helped. I'll get some rest now, okay?"

He braced his hands against the panel and hauled himself to his feet, only to find hands gripping his arm and shoulder. Startled, he looked around and saw Lance bracing his left side, face all concern if a bit embarrassed. "Hey, man, you were taking a while to come out, and you seemed kinda out of it during the fight, so I thought—"

"No, no, it's okay." Shiro realized that he'd unconsciously leaned on the other paladin's shoulder, and decided that gravity was getting a little too unstable to stand upright again. "Thanks, Lance. I'm… You were right, earlier. About being sick."

Lance looked sharply at him, then hauled his leader out into the bay. Shiro was too tired to resist, and he wasn't surprised to see that the others were gathering there too. As soon as they emerged Lance barked something at Hunk, who stripped off his glove and felt Shiro's forehead. The yellow paladin bit his lip. "Oh, man, you're burning. Uh, Coran, do you guys have thermometers in the infirmary?"

Alteans apparently didn't use Earth-like thermometers for fevers, but they did locate another device that Hunk declared did approximately the same thing. He tested Shiro's temperature and announced that the black paladin had a fever of a hundred and two and was to stay in bed until further notice, with a prescription of chicken soup and lots of hot tea.

"Can't he go in a healing pod?" Pidge asked Coran.

"They don't work for illnesses," the Altean replied. "They're more for injuries and that sort of thing. Sorry!"

Shiro wasn't about to complain, even if he'd had the energy to do so, and found himself in his pajamas in the middle of a pile of pillows and blankets in very short order. Hunk bustled about making sure he was comfortable, then disappeared muttering something about soup. The others lingered, apparently loath to leave, until Coran shooed them away and told Shiro to "just yell if you need anything and we'll be here in two hops of a kylacker!"

"Thanks, Coran," Shiro called back as the door closed.

He curled slightly beneath the blankets, feeling hot and stuffy and horribly out of sorts. His head felt like it had been crammed full of bees and cotton, and his thoughts would not put themselves into any kind of coherent order. His eyelids seemed thick and heavy.

Hunk had said he needed sleep…

Shiro woke to the sound of his door sliding shut and footsteps padding quietly toward the bed.

He stirred and blinked, eyes oddly gummy and his throat rough, with a wetness in his chest that took several hacking coughs to clear. The air trapped with him beneath the blankets was way too hot, and his skin felt sticky. "Uh… hi," he rasped, squinting up at the intruder.

"Oh, man, you sound awful." Hunk deposited a tray beside the bed, looking down at his patient with sympathy. "Feeling any better than you did earlier?"

Shiro shook his head, the motion stunted by his pillows. "Not really. How long was I out?"

"Almost six hours. Vargas? Whatever it is." The yellow paladin, in his casual clothes and an apron, crouched down to be more on Shiro's eye level, expression open and sympathetic. "You really need to get something in your system. I whipped up what I think is kinda like Earth chicken soup. It's what my mom always made when I was sick." He lifted a bowl from the tray. "You don't have to eat it all, but… just some of it?"

Shiro squinted at the concoction, and sighed. "It doesn't have any of those worm things in it, right?"

"Cross my heart, those things weren't even in the room when I was cooking. Didn't let Coran within ten feet of it."

With a groan, Shiro heaved himself into a sitting position, leaning back against the pillows as he accepted the bowl. The brew actually didn't smell too bad, and when he took a hesitant sip at the broth he felt his eyebrows rise. "This tastes… really good. Thank you, Hunk."

The younger paladin's face split in a wide grin. "I just hope you feel better soon. I wrote down the recipe so I can make it again if you want more."

"I just might." Shiro spooned down the soup, grateful that his stomach wasn't rejecting sustenance. Nausea on top of a fever was awful. "Did you learn how to do all this from your mom?"

"Yeah, I guess." Hunk's smile wavered a bit, and he looked away. "She'd always do this sorta thing for me, and I helped with my siblings when they got sick, so… I just picked it up, I guess."

"You don't talk about them much."

"Yeah, well…" The younger paladin shrugged, and the smile slipped completely. "It's kinda salt in the wound, y'know? Especially for Lance. He was real close with his family, and… I don't wanna remind him too much. There just doesn't seem to be much point in talking about family, not when we're out here. Cooking helps me think of them, though."

"Did you guys cook together?"

"Oh yeah, all the time. My family has a restaurant, back home. All of us work there, and my grandma and cousins, too." A wistful expression stole over Hunk's face, and he tipped his head back against the bedframe as he stared into memory. "We were always trying to come up with new recipes that we could serve. But my grandma, she makes the best sauce in the universe. It's got mango and rosemary and I don't even know what in it—no one else knows the recipe. But she promised me she'd tell it to me when I graduated from the academy." He sighed, and slanted a glance back at Shiro. "Think I'll get to do that, someday?"

Shiro blinked and set aside his bowl. He hadn't given the academy much thought, not for a long time, and certainly not in respect to any of the others. Keith a little bit, maybe, but he'd never seen the others at the academy before he'd left on the Kerberos mission, so even though he knew they'd attended there before everything it didn't feel quite concrete. "Well… I don't know. That might depend on a lot of things. I mean, who knows, when they see what good pilots you guys have become they might even just give you the diploma without making you go back to school."

"Oh, man, would that be great." Hunk grinned, then realized what he'd said. "I mean, not that I don't like the academy, but… I'm not really the academic type, y'know? Class work's never really been my thing."

Shiro grinned wryly. "I know what you mean. I was the same way, actually."

Hunk twisted around to stare at him. "Seriously? But you're, like, the Garrison's star pilot!"

"Pilot, maybe. Student, definitely not." Shiro rubbed his raw throat, remembering the days when a stint in the simulator was the most exciting thing to happen in any given week. "Matt Holt tutored me in almost everything. He's pretty much the only reason I graduated."

"Man." The yellow paladin flopped back against the bedframe with an expression that spoke of his basic assumptions about the world being turned upside down. "You… you really were bad at classes?"

"Remember Professor Montgomery?"

"Oh, yeah. His physics class was scarier than fighting the Galra."

"I had to take it twice."

"Ooh, man." Hunk winced in sympathy. "That must've been awful."

"Hey, I'm pretty sure I got the survival skills necessary to last a year with the Galra from that class." Shiro leaned back against the pillows, surprised to find himself feeling better than he had. "The Garrison kept all that pretty hush-hush during the publicity for the Kerberos mission, I guess. Wanted to paint the picture of humanity's best and brightest going where no man has gone before."

Hunk blinked, and gave his leader a disbelieving look. "Oh, you did not just quote Star Trek."

Shiro grinned. "Hey, I saw the opportunity, I took it. Blame Matt Holt. He got me hooked." He paused as something occurred to him. "Wait, how do you know that line? That's an old show."

"My dad's been a Trekkie since he was a kid." Hunk's wide, honest face split into a happy smile. "All we kids know the good lines."

"We've got to have a marathon when all this is over."

"I'm game. And I'll bring snacks."

They lapsed into comfortable silence, Shiro sticking a foot out from under his covers to even out the temperature (it still made no sense to him why that always fixed the problem). Hunk sat with his back against the bed, eyes closed with a small, wistful smile on his face. Neither felt any interest in or need to disturb that silence, the only sound their breathing and the faint hum of Castle circuitry, the air scented faintly with Hunk's soup.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a sick day.

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