It's beginning to snow.
He's never seen snow before.
More than anything else, Keith wishes he could just keep looking up at the sky, here in the forest with Katie, and watch the snow fall. That was what they'd been going to do. The Arms of Voltron, going for a walk and watching the snow fall in a forest.
But that was before these people had cornered them and dragged him to the center of a clearing where a fire was burning steadily away.
“All of the Galra I’ve met had some kind of recognizable mark.”
The leader reaches down and removes the poker from the fire.
“But you really do look human, don’t you?”
He turns towards Keith.
“Let’s help make you more...recognizable.”
The man standing guard behind the Red Paladin reaches over, grips Keith's hair, and forces the Red Paladin's chin up. With a harsh pull, Keith's head is turned towards his left.
The leader takes three slow steps forwards, and his smile is absolutely terrifying to behold.
Now the right side of Keith's face is only inches from the iron’s red hot spiked tip.
Pidge tries to kick out at the guard holding her back, but he only laughs and keeps her where she is.
Keith can’t really look back at her, but she can see that his eyes are still open, wide and scared and somehow still defiant.
The guard holding Keith in place snarls and forces Keith’s chin to turn even further away from her. Even from five feet away, she can see the way Keith’s neck muscles are straining, and she can hear the way he bites back a groan of pain when heat begins to sear his skin.
But his words are cut off when the solider shoves Keith's face against the trunk of a tree, keeping the fingers of one hand splayed over Keith's forehead, pinning him in place as the red-hot iron presses down, and then the only thing Keith knows is agony.
Keith tries to wrest free, several times, but the guards holding him in place only tighten their grips. The one holding Keith's face against the tree is the cruelest of them all. He laughs when Keith cries out that he's not a traitor, he's not, he's not, please, stop, stopstopstop -
“I lost my family during the first year of the invasion by your kind,” one of the guards holding Keith in place snarls. “If you think about it, we're really being quite merciful.”
Pidge begs the insurgents to stop, please, stop it, but they ignore her.
The brand across Keith's face was only the beginning.
The next thing they burn is the back of his neck. They carve a mark there, the mark of the Galra Empire, so that everyone who sees Keith will know he's one of the enemy.
Keith can't fight back, not held down by three men, but he tries, all the same.
They tear off his coat and burn both of his arms for that. Long, thin burns that look like witches' clawmarks.
Finally, they carve a mark onto his back.
It's a horrible, deep mark, but it's a snake, and it means...
It means traitor.
By the end of it, Keith wishes he were dead.
The hate in these men's eyes is worse than poison.
They see him as the enemy, and they'll never, ever see him as anything else.
No one will.
Not after what they've done to him.
They drag him back across the clearing and secure his arms behind a tree. He's shivering with cold, but they use the iron cuffs anyway. Without a coat, and with snow beginning to fall, it's as good as a death sentence.
Keith tries to remember what the heat of the desert felt like, but the burns on his back ache and sear and throb with pain, and all he can do is shiver and wish there were some way to retain even a scrap of warmth.
If only Red were here. She'd find a way to help.
When Keith remembers to raise his head again, he sees that Pidge is only a few feet away from him, similarly secured, but with ropes instead of cuffs. She still has her thick winter jacket on. He's glad.
It takes energy to keep warm, and she's smaller than he is.
She's more vulnerable to the cold.
But she's still crying...and that...that means...she's sad...
He should do something.
Friends do that, right?
They try to help...when they can, right...?
A cold wind cuts through the clearing, and Keith shivers again, and then he cries out, because the burned skin twists and tears with the movement and it -
His tears freeze on his skin.
It shouldn't hurt this much.
The cold should have dulled...at least...some of the pain by now...
The burns still ache and sear into his skin, relentless, unforgiving.
Pidge is asking him something.
"-s' - f-fi' - 'dge..." he manages, just before his head droops downwards and his shoulders sag forwards in unconsciousness.
All Pidge can do then is sob, because she knows the truth.
Her friend is a terrible liar.