Keith feels his head loll to the side, then drop onto his chest. Instinctively he knows he should be up and moving. He’d been on a mission, hadn’t he? There’s no stopping for a break on a mission.
Kolivan will mad, he thinks dimly. Might kick me off the team…
But his body won’t cooperate. He tries to force his eyes open but finds he can’t. He groans, bothered. He thinks he hears voices, but he’s too busy trying to get his eyelids to move to concentrate on them.
It doesn’t work. It’s almost like there’s cloth tied over his eyes, keeping them shut.
Well, if that’s the case…
Keith shifts, tugs his hand out from behind his back –
It’s stuck. He grits his teeth and tries again, but all he succeeds in doing is creating pain in his wrists and the opposite arm. It’s same kind of resistance he faced when trying to open his eyes just before. Firm, decisive resistance. Whatever’s binding him isn’t going to let him go.
Keith tries to think, tries to get himself together, but it’s near impossible. His thoughts are in disarray. Somewhere in the back of his mind the realisation of what’s happening dawns on him, but it’s confusing and it doesn’t make sense. He tugs hands again to double check.
No, his wrists are definitely lashed together. He tests moving his legs to find his ankles bound in the same manner. He can’t see what’s binding him, but through the material of his suit it feels like some kind of thin rope. It’s also what’s tied around his head as a blindfold.
He’s been captured. Though it’s hard to think straight, that much Keith can gather. He doesn’t even remember getting caught, though the pounding in his head – more specifically his left temple – could explain the reason why.
I was on a mission…with the Blades…gathering intel…and then we were running…
Whatever happened, Keith was caught, and judging by the dizziness and fogginess of his mind, he was also given something while he was knocked out.
Whatever they drugged him up with sure is effective.
“…take it to B3. We’ll be there promptly.” Galran. The strange voice is accompanied by retreating footsteps. “Make sure it’s secure. Don’t want it escaping like the last one.”
A much closer voice, sounding both right next to his ear and far away, murmurs acknowledgement.
There’s no warning given. Hands grab him and hoist him out of the seat he’d been placed on. Keith’s breath is driven out of him as a shoulder is driven into his gut.
The voice mutters something in a language different than the last one that was spoken. The translator embedded in the collar of Keith’s Blade suit picks it up as, “Fast wake, this.”
Keith’s carried through somewhere cold. It feel like concrete-cold, and the way footsteps echo makes it sound like concrete too. Are they underground, maybe? Underground is bad. His mind’s too foggy to think of the exact reason why, but something about transmitter reception and poor quality and unable to reach people.
It doesn’t really matter. Or maybe it does. It doesn’t because it’s just another bad in an already bad situation, but it does because if it means he can’t reach people – meaning no one will be able to pick up on his location – then no one will know where to look if anyone comes to rescue him.
Which basically means he’s screwed.
They walk for a while. Keith’s jostled with every turn and stride the person carrying him takes. The blood is rushing to his head from being slung over the person’s shoulder, and his arms hurt from being pulled taunt behind his back. The person carrying him has their clawed fingers locked around Keith’s bound wrists in a vice grip, the claws digging into his flesh and stabbing him every single step of the way to where they’re going.
It’s almost a relief when they stop. He’s looking forward to being able to breathe again – to not being carried hanging half upside down – but all this is before he finds out what the alternative is.
A heavy door is unlocked with a keypad. It opens with a high-pitched beep and Keith’s carried inside. It’s even colder in here. Keith’s not sure if he’d rather keep his foggy brain or let his mind keep clearing as it seems to be doing. He’s not sure he likes the idea of being aware of what’s about to happen.
The person dumps him on the ground unceremoniously. Keith’s head hits a wall on the way down. He gasps as more pain fills his head. There’s little time to register it before his arms are yanked backwards, fingers smacking into the wall and something protruding from it, and the clawed fingers are back with extra rope to tie his wrists to that something. Keith’s fingers twitch and he realises it’s a metal ring bolted into the base of the wall.
“Hey youngling,” says the captor beside him. “Move around a little for me, will you?”
A jab in the shoulder. Keith grunts but doesn’t move. He can’t move. Why are they asking him to move if they want him tied up anyway?
The captor tsks. “Guess this is fine. Ain’t like you’re getting away, anyway. We have your magical knife.” Fingers wrap around Keith’s chin and angle his face in the direction of the voice. “The last ninja we caught got away because we didn’t realise you bunch have magical blades. Now we do, and since I have it right here, I don’t think we have anything to worry about this time.”
Keith thinks they’re bluffing, but then the edge of something sharp digs into the corner of his brow and swipes downwards. The blade cuts cleanly through the rope around his head – as well as cutting a line of red down the side of Keith’s face that makes him hiss – and the blindfold falls away from his eyes.
Everything’s blurry. He realises with a shiver that the knife that was just used is his knife, his luxite blade, and his stomach churns. When he sees who’s holding it, that churning turns to cold dread.
Not only are his captor’s Galra, their Galra pirates. Half-blooded Galra angered by the way they’re automatically stripped of their right to advance in ranks in the Empire, to the point that they went and created a crude version of the higher ranks for themselves in the rougher parts of space.
This means they’re more ruthless than the interrogators at Galra HQ. More reckless, less systematic and prone to making mistakes – which can mean having captives escape them on one hand and accidentally killing them on the other.
Keith swallows. He hopes his fate won’t be the latter.
The Galra’s eyes gleam. “Nothing to say?”
Keith doesn’t answer. He narrows his eyes and blinks hard to clear his vision, then fixes the best glare he can right at them.
“That’s fine. But we expect you talk. That’s why we brought you here. We need information, and we’ll take that information by force if necessary. Usually it is necessary. Do you understand?”
He’s not giving them the satisfaction of hearing his voice. One word might invite many, and with the drug still in his system he doesn’t fully trust himself to be able to stop himself from speaking if he starts. The Galra sees his decision not to speak in his expression and tears their hand away from his face in mild annoyance.
“Never been good at getting them to talk,” they – she – mutters.
The door swings open. Two more Galra walk in, lacking the uniforms of the Empire. More pirates. Their gazes are hard and gleam with determination as they run their eyes over their captive.
The first Galra gets to their feet. “All yours.”
“Thanks,” says the second one. She nods and then turns to the third Galra, taking something from them. “Guess we’ll get started.”
All of them are Galra women, Keith realises. He’s not sure how that makes him feel. From what he’s heard, the female interrogators of any Galra organisation are the worst – more methodical and more willing to take their time to get the results they want.
He’s heard of this group too, now that he can think a little clearer. They’re a band of all-female half-blooded Galra. A fellow Blade had been captured by them on a recon mission a few months back. They’d been beaten and violated before managing to sneak their knife out from where they’d hidden it in their armour and flee.
That Blade’s still out of action, as far as Keith’s aware.
The second Galra approached with a rod in her hands. Keith swallows. He’s shaking now, but it’s not at the thought of getting hit or even with the cold. He’s scared of how far their methods will progress if he keeps to his decision not to talk.
When he gets hit with that rod, he should answer right? Because if he doesn’t answer a single word, they might find other uses for him before the violence kills him. If they did it to the other Blade, who’s to say these aren’t the same people who hurt the other guy? Who’s to say they won’t do the same to him?
The second Galra smirks. “Now there’s a healthy dose of fear I like to see.”
“W-what d’you want?” Keith forces out. The words sound slurred in his ears.
“Information. Thought Dae would’ve gone over that with you already.”
The first Galra grunts. “Thought it didn’t need to be explicitly stated.”
Keith clenches his jaw. He shifts himself a little closer to the wall at his back and curls a little in on himself. He’s straining his neck keeping his head up to face them like this, but it helps him feel slightly less vulnerable. As slightly less vulnerable as he can get with his hands and feet bound and at the mercy of three Galra not looking to deal with him kindly.
Just keep them distracted. If they want you to talk, then talk in a way that just delays anything else for as long as you can, he tells himself. Maybe someone will come for you by then.
“A-are you here to interrogate me?” Keith asks, trying to ignore the way his voice sounds so weak.
The second Galra chuckles. “Me? Oh, I’m just here to break things.”
The rod slams into shoulder. Keith cries out, instantly ducking his head to try shield it. The rod comes down again, on his ribs this time, and hits him over and over and over. Keith flinches each time, yanks on the rope tying his wrists to the ring in the wall, tries to tug his legs free of the rope around his ankles. His hood ends up bunched beneath his cheek, but it’s little reprieve when his ribs are taking the blows.
No questions get asked. It’s just the rod, coming down so many times that Keith loses track of the number. For some reason he feels like there’s more eyes watching him, like the three Galra subjecting him to this hurt aren’t the only ones witnessing all this. Maybe he’s just losing his mind in the rhythm of the blows. That rhythm helps distract him, but only marginally.
After a minute or two, the Galra decides to change things up a little and varies the intensity and distribution of the blows.
That’s when things start breaking.
First it’s his armour. The plate doesn’t shatter, but instead dents, caving in to dig into Keith’s side. The blows keep raining down and the bruise forming over his ribs becomes more and more painful. And then, after the delivery of one particular hit that feels like it has all the Galra’s strength put into it, there’s a loud crack and Keith’s chest erupts in pain.
They stop then, but only to continue elsewhere. His hip gets bruised, his knee almost gets shattered, his toes get bruised and fractured in his shoes. Still no questions are asked, and he has no idea how long it’s been when the rod beatings finally stop.
He’s kicked in the stomach once and the second Galra finally steps away.
The third Galra steps up then. “You ready to talk?”
Keith’s only answer is a whimper. He’s struggling to breathe through the pain. The drug is wearing off now, and with it he’s made more away of everything – including every single bruise and break on his body. He yells when the first Galra’s hands grab him by the shoulders and haul him upright.
The first Galra shakes him, pulling another shout from his throat. “We’ll keep going, if you’d prefer that. We’ve got time. We’ve got resources.”
Not telling you anything!
“We’ve stopped to give you an opportunity to speak. All we want is information about your ninja group. Comprehensive information. It’s your choice when you give that, but we’re willing to wait for it. It won’t be a pleasant waiting time for you, though.”
In other words, they’ll torture him to death and they’ll do it slowly. Maybe he’ll get lucky and his broken rib will puncture a lung and kill him before they have a chance to…
“Other side then.”
Keith’s manhandled to lie on the side that just got beaten. He thrashes, panic seizing his throat as the pain doubles and his broken ribs shifts inside of him. He struggles to get his hands free, to get his weight off his chest but there’s no looseness in the rope around his wrists. He tries to alleviate the pain as best he can by rolling onto his arms yet even that sends pain tearing through his ribs. He groans.
The third Galra lets out an exasperated sigh. “Will you stop moaning already? If it hurts, just quit and give us the information we want already.”
Keith’s trembling. He finds himself writhing, trying to get comfortable enough to breathe properly through the pain and failing. Noises escape him without him voluntarily letting them, occasional whimpers and grunts and panicked gasps. He thinks he feels his broken rib crack a little more.
I can’t breathe, he wants to say, but if he starts talking they might encourage him to keep going. If he willingly talks now, they’ll know he’s not so stubborn as to resist speaking altogether. They might switch to other methods, thinking they’ve already succeeded in breaking him a little and then…
The second Galra raises her rod again. Keith braces himself for the fall.
The third Galra marches forward, brow furrowed in a deep V. She looks irritated. Keith’s unnerved by the annoyance he sees in her eyes. Her upper lip twitches a little.
“Hmm? What’s up?” the second Galra asks, lowering her rod.
“It’s just…the noises are really getting on my nerves. Can we shut him up already?”
The first Galra tilts her head. She glances down at Keith and raises an eyebrow. “Well, if he ain’t gonna talk…”
It’s an invitation. Keith knows that. A last chance. Still, information about the Blades is something he’ll take to the grave with him. It doesn’t matter if he has to endure pain. He swore an oath.
Knowledge or death, right?
It’s easier to accept that before something catches his sight in the far corner of the room behind the three Galra. A flicker of green, brown, black and white. Accompanying it, a wide-eyed expression of alarm and the silent mouthing of a curse before vanishing again.
Pidge. Pidge is here. Keith’s heart shatters. He cries out in disbelief, in horror. The Galra think it’s because he’s seen the contraption in the third Galra’s hands. He sees that a moment later, but it’s no way near as alarming as learning that Pidge is here.
He’s grabbed again by the first Galra, pulled up so that the third Galra has better access to his face. The first yanks his head back and keeps their hand gripping his hair. Rough hands force the muzzle over his nose and mouth. Straps are pulled and tightened behind his head. As the muzzle is buckled in place, his jaw is forced closed and pressure builds on the bridge of his nose.
All Keith can think about is Pidge. How long has she been here? She’s seen everything, hasn’t she? Heard everything? His eyes burn, his throat constricts, in fear now on top of the pain and the difficulty breathing with his broken rib stabbing him with every breath and now the muzzle restricting his ability to get enough air in. It’s a near impossible thing to remember to keep breathing at all.
Keith realises why his eyes are burning now. He’s crying. He scared. He hasn’t been this scared since Shiro first vanished. Pidge is here. She’s been cloaked, sure, but that cloaking just faltered.
Her cloaking had faltered. What if they find her? Keith saw here – what if one of the Galra saw her? What if they beat her up too, or force him to watch while they violate her like they did the other Blade – ?!
Shoot, what if they see him looking in her direction and realise something’s up?
He tears his eyes away and sobs. He’s grateful for the muzzle in that instant.
The second Galra finishes dealing with the muzzle and sits back on her heels. “If you’re not going to talk, then I suppose you won’t mind wearing this?” She grunts. “Silence is golden, isn’t it?”
The three Galra continue beating him – all three this time, taking turns with the rod. At this point he’s not sure what their purpose is. This isn’t like any typical kind of interrogation.
Maybe they hope to break him by making him suffer for a long time, try make him come to his own decision to speak so that they don’t have to try so hard to force the information out of him.
Maybe they’ll offer him pain relief in trade for him talking after they’ve finished bruising this side as much as they bruised his other side.
“This is hopeless. We’re not getting anything out of him when he’s like this.”
The first Galra grimaces. “Shall we call it a day?”
Keith doesn’t realise they’ve stopped hitting them. His body hurts too much and his bruises throb with enough pain that it feels like a fresh strike each time his heart beats or he inhales.
“Well, he ain’t going anywhere and no one’s gonna hear him even if he does try to call out. Y’all want to go get some food?”
“Sounds good.” A pause. A steel cap of a boot nudges his cheek. “You. Have another think about whether or not you want to talk. When we get back we’ll discuss some incentives, yeah?”
“Come on. Maybe he’ll be more cooperative later.”
The footsteps move to the other side of the room. The door opens and then slams shut with a loud bang that hurts Keith’s ears. He flinches and moans with the pain it causes.
Minutes pass. Keith shifts uncomfortably on the floor. He can feel the cold of the room seeping into his body now. It makes the bruises and breaks ache terribly. It makes the rope around his wrists and ankles feel stiffer, the muzzle tighter over his face.
He’s so fixated on these things, trying to alleviate the pain in any way he can (and failing), that he startles badly when warm fingers brush over his cheek. The muffled scream that escapes him leaves his throat feeling hoarse.
“Shh,” Pidge murmurs. “It’s okay. I’m going to get you out of here.”
Keith had forgotten she was here. He cracks his eyes open and looks at her in his periphery as she works on loosening the straps of the muzzle. Her hands are shaking. She’s not cloaked right now, so he can see the way her upper lip quivers too.
“Y’ ‘kay, Pi’?” he whispers as the she pulls the muzzle gently away from his face.
Pidge’s expression screws up a moment. She swallows hard and sniffs. “What do you think?”
The words come out harsher than she anticipated apparently, because the tone doesn’t match the horror and the concern in her eyes.
“I’m not going to ask if you’re okay,” she says. “I know you’re not.”
Keith averts his eyes. He wants to lie. For her sake, a lie wouldn’t hurt, would it? But he’s in no state to be able to lie and make it convincing. The gasp that leaves him as she accidently knocks her elbow into his bruised ribs proves it.
“Okay, I’m not sure how much time we have. I’m going to use my Bayard, okay? Just…stay still.”
There’s a flash of bright green and a hum of electricity. Before Keith can process what she means, the rope pulled taunt between his bound wrists and the ring in the wall vanishes. The hum of electricity brushes against his wrists and the tightness around them falls away. Pidge untangles the rope from his hands and then moves on to cut his ankles free.
Pidge exhales sharply. “Now we have to get you out of here…”
Keith’s not really concentrating. It’s hard to focus. He stopped letting himself try to think as soon he starting getting beaten with that rod. Better to be immersed in the fogginess of the drug affecting his mind after all.
“Keith. Hey, stay with me. This is going hurt. Really hurt. I’m sorry.”
She picks him up, and he screams.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
He clenches his teeth together as hard as he can. He thinks he feels his broken rib drive further into him. Pidge readjusts her hold on him, pulling him a little further to the side yet keeping him over both her shoulders the best she can. She tightens her grip on the back of his knees and his arm – her fingers digging right into his bruises – and his vision flashes white behind his eyes.
This…this is worse. This is agony.
Being carried into the base wasn’t anywhere near as painful as this.
Getting beaten up wasn’t anywhere near as bad as this.
The pain gets caught up in his mind. The drug messing with his awareness manipulates it, and before he knows it he’s sobbing in pain and in downright fear.
“Go back, Pidge,” he pleads when he can catch his breath. “I-I c-can’t.”
Pidge doesn’t stop moving. It’s slow going. Getting the door open with him draped over her shoulders is a mission in itself.
“Leave me! I can’t…I can’t, Pidge. They’ll f-find me...th-they’ll h-hear me…”
She should’ve left the muzzle on him. Or better yet, set him down now and go back and get it and put it back on him if she’s so insistent on carrying him out now.
But he wishes she’d just leave him on the floor and run. It’s better only one of them feels this kind of agony. It’s better if Pidge at least can get herself out without getting seen or heard, without getting caught and forced to suffer the kind of pain he’s experiencing.
Pidge doesn’t answer him. She’s too out of breath to.
Keith is too.
It starts with a dry cough. Keith tries to keep it contained, but he can’t help it. Between the odd gasp and groan that escapes him from being jostled about with Pidge’s movements, a dry, hacking cough takes over him. He strains for air with more desperation than before. Acute pain lashes his chest and shoulder.
“Pi’…” his voice dissolves in another coughing fit. He thinks it’s just panic. He thinks it’s because of the tears streaming down his face as he thinks of Pidge being subjected to the same beatings he just received back in that room.
Pidge curses. She knows it’s not. She mutters something, her voice laden with fear. Keith can’t make out her words.
Why do you sound so far away? he wonders.
His awareness is fading – which is confusing, because the pain erupting in his chest and the coughs tearing out his throat and the pain throbbing in every bruise and fracture is only getting worse by the second.
Pidge sounds panicked, terror-stricken.
He can’t breathe.
A lot of movement. But he’s fading.
I’m dying, Keith realises. And that’s the last thought he has.
“Yeah, I followed them to their hideout. They couldn’t see me since I flew after them in Green, cloaked. When they parked the transport ship, I landed and then followed them in on foot.”
Something beeps, another thing hums.
“They didn’t have any thermal sensors or anything?”
“I disabled them from Green before I went in.”
Something hurts. A vague remnant hurt is numbed, weighing on his body and his mind.
Someone starts crying. “I went in cloaked. It malfunctioned and I was getting ready to fight them if they turned and saw, but then it fixed itself…and then…and then…”
“It’s okay, Pidge. Let it out.”
“I almost wish they had seen me. If I made them fight me, they might’ve stopped hurting him. Instead I just stood there, invisible, while they…” A loud sniff. “They beat him, Shiro. I-I know you can see the damage, but it was…it was awful. They didn’t even ask any questions. They just beat him, over and over and over. And they put this stupid muzzle on him because he was reacting to the pain.”
“You got both of you back safely. That’s what matters.”
Safe? Pidge is safe? …that’s good.
“You got him out of there, Pidge. Yeah? You did do something. You did help him. You saved him.” In a thinner, more fragile voice, “Thank you.”
Cold air rushes around him. His mind feels clearer.
He opens his eyes. He’s disorientated to see he’s standing upright – that is, until his knees give way and he falls. Hunk catches him and Keith flinches hard before realising there’s no pain stabbing him.
“What…?” he steps away, frowning in confusion. He brings his hands over his chest, patting the sides of his ribs, the sides of his arms, his shoulders….
Lance pats him on the shoulder, grimly smiling. “Cryopod healed you up, man.”
Keith stares at him, not getting it. He mouths ‘cryopod’ and turns around to take in his surroundings. Oh, this is the cryopod…medbay… “We’re at the Castle?”
Pidge quietly comes up to his side and wraps her arms around his torso. She hides her face in the cryosuit. “Been a week.”
Keith blinks. His perception of time is definitely out. It feels like only a day has passed. “A week since…?”
“A week since we put you in the cryopod,” Shiro says from behind Hunk.
Allura, standing near Lance fidgets with her hands. “We had to make sure you were stabilised before we put you in there. You, uh…gave us quite a scare.”
“So…” Keith begins, not sure how he feels about this whole situation. His mind’s still catching up to him. “How long has it been since…?”
He was captured, right? He remembers getting beaten, but the memory isn’t all that clear. He remembers his body being filled with pain, but he can’t remember anything about getting back to the Castle, only that Pidge was with him.
“Two movements,” says Coran.
Keith raises his eyebrows. “So ten days?”
Pidge nods against him.
“You had a punctured lung,” Pidge murmurs. “I nearly wasn’t quick enough getting you back.”
“You were pretty drugged up,” Lance says. “Apparently slowed down the dying or something.”
Keith feels his face pale. He doesn’t like how solemnly everyone is talking. It’s unsettling. He clears his throat. “Well…I’m glad…”
Hunk exchanges a worried glance with Shiro. “Keith? Are you still hurting somewhere?”
“No, I’m just…it’s a lot to process…I guess.”
“If it’s of any help,” Pidge says, “We heard what those Galra pirate lady people did to your Blade teammate. They’re the one who contacted us…who contacted me. I was in the area cross-referencing some data I got regarding a lead on my brother, and I got the message you’d had a mission go wrong. Kolivan was busy dealing with something else but he gave permission for the Blade to contact us directly.”
Keith stares down at the top of her head. He doesn’t feel steady on his feet anymore – he’s started shaking slightly – and he’s sure she’s noticed. But Pidge doesn’t say anything, just continues hugging him.
He realises then that Pidge knows the whole story of what happened to the other Blade. He also remembers the talk they had a few months back – when he first learnt that asexuality and aromanticism is a thing, and for once in his life he didn’t feel like he was broken for not feeling that way about anyone.
Pidge knows. She knows one of the reasons why he’s more withdrawn than he’d usually be. She knows one of the reasons why he was so afraid back in that room – not just of what might happen to him, but what might happen to the both of them.
With a shaky exhale, Keith drops his head and returns Pidge’s embrace.
The silence around them is uncertain, respectful, perhaps a little awkward. Keith ignores it. Pidge hugs him tighter. She’s shaking too, he realises. And not just because of what they feared might happen, but because of what did happen.
Pidge had been forced to watch it all. Everything that happened to him.
She’d saved him.
Keith’s not sure if he should apologise or thank her. Both, but what word there is that encompasses both he can’t think right there and then.
He hopes this hug is enough to convey both.