Something's wrong with Keith.
Shiro realizes it the moment he sees Keith sidestep a split-second too late to avoid getting hit by a Galra soldier's boot. Keith crashes to the ground with a cry, and Shiro's blood freezes in his veins. He rams his own opponent in the throat, and runs.
"Keith!" he shouts as he watches the Galra soldier raise his foot again in an attempt to crush Keith like a bug. "KEITH!"
Keith manages to roll out of the way and makes it to his feet, but Shiro can see him wobble. He's got his right arm pressed against his side, and even from this distance his skin looks paler than it should. Shiro puts on a burst of speed, fighting his way across the battlefield to get to Keith's side.
A drone blocking his path causes precious seconds of delay, and Shiro strikes it down with a frustrated growl. When he looks up again, an iron fist wraps itself around his heart; Keith is on his hands and knees, and the Galra soldier is standing over him with his battle axe raised, poised to bring it down onto Keith's exposed neck.
"NO!" Shiro screams. "KEITH!" He's too far away, he's TOO FAR!
A shot rings out, and the Galra soldier topples.
"Got your back, Keith!" Lance's voice crackles over the comms, and Shiro's relief is so strong it almost makes him falter in his mad dash to get to Keith. He makes a mental note to shower Lance with praise later.
Keith doesn't respond or get up, which is worrisome. Shiro takes down two more drones before he finally reaches Keith's side. He crashes to his knees and puts his hand on Keith's heaving back.
"Keith! Keith, talk to me, what's wrong? Are you hurt?"
"I- No, I don't- I don't know."
Keith has an arm pressed to his right side again, and Shiro frowns. "What's wrong with your side? Is it your ribs?"
Keith shakes his head. "N-no, it's- it's something- inside," he says. "It hurts."
Shiro's frown deepens. Something inside, but not an injury? "Keith, are you sick?" He yanks his glove off with his teeth and presses the back of his hand against Keith's cheek. "You're burning up. God, you are sick, aren't you? Why didn't you say anything?"
"Was- just a stomach ache- this morning."
Shiro wants to scold him; he definitely wouldn't have brought Keith on this mission if he'd known he wasn't in top shape, even if it was "just" a stomach ache. But the middle of a battlefield isn't the place for a lecture.
"Guys, Keith's down," Shiro says into the comms. "We need an extraction. Anyone available?"
"I'm almost back to my lion, Shiro," Hunk replies, a little breathless. "I'll come get you!"
"Thanks, Hunk. Lance, Pidge, what's your status?"
"Almost done here!" Pidge says.
"You get the thing?" Lance asks her, the sound of his blaster going off in the background.
"I do now!"
"Then let's get our tails off this planet!"
"Good job, Pidge," Shiro says, momentarily straying from Keith's side to slice down another drone. "Everyone, get back to your lions! Keith and I will ride with Hunk."
He turns his attention back to Keith, who's kneeling on the ground, doubled-over, both arms wrapped around his stomach now. "Keith, hey, think you can stand? We're sitting ducks here."
"Y-yeah," he says shakily.
Shiro helps him to his feet and slips an arm around his shoulders when he wobbles again. They manage to take cover behind an outcropping. A few minutes later a shadow falls over them and Shiro looks up to see the Yellow Lion hovering above them.
Hunk meets them halfway up the ramp, covering their backs with his shield. "What happened? Is Keith okay?"
"I'm not sure. I think he's sick," Shiro replies as he half-drags, half-carries Keith over the threshold.
Inside, Keith sinks to his knees with a groan, then leans forward and vomits all over the floor.
Hunk pales. "Oh crap," he says, slapping a hand over his own mouth, and immediately disappears into the cockpit.
"Keith!" Shiro squats beside him and carefully brushes Keith's hair out of his face while he continues to heave miserably. Shiro's own stomach twists in sympathy.
When Keith is finally spent, Shiro helps him lie down, away from the mess on the floor. Keith curls up tightly around his stomach, and Shiro pillows his head in his lap. Keith is shivering, and Shiro checks his temperature again.
Definitely burning up.
"Th-thirsty," Keith mutters, wrapping his arms around his middle again.
Shiro's first instinct is to grab one of the water pouches stored in Yellow's cargo bay, but then he hesitates. He has no idea what's wrong with Keith – giving him something to drink might make things worse.
He rubs Keith's back instead. "It's gonna be okay, Keith. We'll be back at the castle soon, and Coran'll fix you right up."
Keith keeps his eyes squeezed shut and moans a little.
Shiro frowns. This is definitely more than just a simple stomach ache. The flu maybe? No, he's seen Keith with the flu before, and he tends to just power through it. No, this is something else. Keith said something was wrong inside… God, what if he's bleeding internally?
"'M so thirsty, Shiro…" Keith mumbles.
Heart clenching, Shiro squeezes his shoulder. "I know, buddy, I know. We're almost there, I promise."
When they arrive at the castle Keith is barely able to support his own weight anymore, so Shiro wastes no time scooping him up and rushing him to the infirmary, Hunk trailing behind. Coran and Allura are already there.
Shiro carefully lays Keith down on one of the examination tables and moves aside so Coran can do his thing. He doesn't let go of Keith's hand though.
Coran performs a quick scan, and points at a clearly inflamed area on the holographic readout.
Shiro's eyes widen. "That's Keith's appendix!"
"Oh no," Hunk breathes, wringing his hands. "Keith has appendicitis? Oh man, that means he'll need surgery!"
Coran looks at him like he's sprouted a second head. "Surgery? Heavens no, whatever gives you that idea?"
"Er- well, it's how they treat appendicitis on Earth," Shiro says. "The appendix is surgically removed."
"What? That's barbaric!" Allura exclaims.
Coran pats Shiro on the shoulder. "I assure you, a few vargas in a cryopod will take care of the problem."
Shiro looks down at Keith, who is still shivering and has his eyes clenched shut. He looks so pale. "You're sure?"
"Quite sure, Number One," Coran tells him. "Come on, let's get him in a cryosuit."
A few hours later, Shiro raps on Keith's door.
The door swishes open and Shiro pokes his head in. Keith's sitting on his bed with his back against the wall, datapad in hand.
"Hey," Shiro says, stepping inside. "You're looking better. How are you feeling?"
Keith scoots over to make room, and Shiro sits down beside him on the bed.
"Better," Keith says. "Doesn't feel like someone's driving a knife into my stomach anymore."
Shiro cringes. "Ouch. Glad it doesn't feel like that anymore." He studies Keith's face. "You sure you're okay? You still look tired."
Keith shrugs. "You know those pods always kind of take it out of you. I'm fine."
Shiro nods, then clears his throat. "Next time you're not feeling a hundred percent before a mission, you tell me, alright?"
He expects Keith to protest, but to his surprise Keith nods, studying his knees. "Yeah. I'm sorry. I- I made myself a liability today. It won't happen again."
Shiro regards him for a moment, taking in the slumped shoulders and slightly bowed head.
"Hey." He bumps his shoulder against Keith's and waits for him to drag his gaze up. "I'm not mad. You just scared me today." Straightening up, he flashes a grin. "Besides, it's Lance you should be worried about. He's going to lord that sniper shot over you till the end of time."
Keith's eyes widen, and then he groans, slapping his hands over his face and dragging them down.
Shiro chuckles and gives Keith's shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. "Get some rest," he says, getting to his feet. "I'll check up on you again later."
"Shiro?" Keith says, just as Shiro's about to leave.
"I'm sorry I scared you."
Shiro smiles at him. "Just- try not to do it again, huh?"
"I will if you will," Keith says, completely serious.
Shiro blinks, startled, before nodding.
- End -