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The first time Keith believed in aliens he was with Shiro.  It had become routine for his mentor to take him into the desert.  'It's official 'Garrison business'' Shiro had joked as they sat in the inky blackness of the night, but the younger boy had always known that his brother yearned to visit the stars.  It was understandable; Keith himself had always felt a connection to the starlit abyss above him.  Perhaps it was the echo of his father's voice he felt in the back of his mind whenever he was out in the unclouded desert 'Your mother is up there Keith'. 

He'd assumed that was his father's way of telling him that mother had passed.  

 

The second time Keith believed in aliens Shiro had left him. He found himself stood in front of his dorm room mirror in the Galaxy Garrison.  

The words forced themselves into his brain; 'Kerberos Mission Missing: Pilot error.' He guessed that the physical changes were adaptive, maybe the yellowed second eyelids that forced themselves to cover the ghostly whites of his eyes showed up to stop the tears.

They made things worse.

Calloused fingers met too sharp teeth, puffy red rimmed eyes corrupted with a thick golden sclera; his violet irises small and slit.  It was the shattering of glass that left a deep purple scar to decorate the side of his face.  He pulled on black gloves to hide the clawed tips of his fingers.  he could pass for human; hide the external anomalies, but the blood coursing through his veins was decisively otherworldly.  

 

Although creating a mountain of insecurities, his newfound heritage formed the foundations of greater motivation to explore the galaxies.  There was always the shred of hope that he would find his mother that made hiding his eyes and claws worth it.  His persistence in keeping his lips tightly shut to hide canine peaks drove people away, though not speaking made it far easier to avoid eye contact with fellow cadets. 

Looking back he should have known that the worst place to be a secret alien was in the middle of the US' largest space exploration programme.  

 

__

 

Katie Holt watched the news regularly.  The garrison did not allow the interpretation of non government authorised signals, though underground networks still held a strong broadcast frequency for her to stream.  Although perhaps slightly illegal, Katie decided, for all intensive purposes, that she was in fact watching the news: the garrison didn't have to know the details. 

The rush she once found in the underground news had become exasperatingly mundane, in all the trawls of cryptid sightings, government scandal and spacecraft traffic, she only sought three names.

 

Matthew Holt,

Samuel Holt,

Takashi Shirogane.

 

Her brother, her father, the pilot of the Kerberos mission.

 

One word in hideous red was burned into her vision.

 

Missing.

 

She hadn't been able to find anything deeper than theories, conspiracy boards seemed to have made a unanimous agreement that the apparent pilot error that lead the mission to disaster was a government cover up for something much bigger.  If the situation had not been so morbid, perhaps Katie would have found herself smirking at the revelation.  

 

Aliens were bullshit.  

 

She had made the decision to accept the possibility of cryptids on Earth; even after the closure of NASA to make room for the further reaching, military funded Galaxy Garrison programme, humans had failed to fully explore a solid ninety percent of the world's oceans. It would just make sense for there to be species on Earth that were yet to be discovered.

 

She shuddered, the sea had always given her the heebie jeebies. 

 

 Matt had always been into cryptozoology: she blamed him for the shred of belief she had for the mysterious creatures.  Her own irrational beliefs probably began when their father had taken them on a research trip somewhere in Australia; Matt spent the entire month stressing that he had seen a Bunyip a waterhole, though their  father ressured them both that it was extremely unlikely that a cryptid would go unnoticed so close to garrison led research.

 

God, she missed her family so much.

 

Maybe it was a disturbing thought, but she could rest somewhat peacefully knowing that Matt would have been completely open to the idea of being abducted by aliens.  However, no matter how much of reach the so called 'pilot error' was, given the pilot was the legendary Takashi Shirogane, the alien theory was a reach too far.

Katie Holt was a girl who liked to stick with concrete evidence.  She would not find herself fraternizing with ufologists who's data seemed nothing more than what you'd find on a poorly funded history channel documentary.

 

She managed only a few more minutes streaming before she was interrupted by the harsh buzzing

 

'Hey Pigeon!' 

 

'Lance, hush,  you know he hates being called that...' a softer voice pleaded.

 

Great.  Her roommates were back.

 

It wasn't that she hated them; Hunk was without doubt one of the softest people she had ever met.  His attention to her wellbeing was acute, she couldn't help but feel a conditioned excitement whenever he would bring the room freshly baked goods and kind words; so much of her wanted to make a  Pavlov's dogs reference whenever he did that but the big guy would probably freak at the mention of animal research. 

 

Then there was Lance.

 

Lance: how could she put it lightly? Lance was Lance. 

 

He was loud, obnoxious, but she knew he was hardworking and meant the best.  She often found him collapsed on their dorm room desk over pages of astrophysics homework, pencil still in hand.

 

She couldn't hate him.

 

She just didn't like the barrier that her secrets forced between the three of them.

 

'...I don't think he's listening Lance'

 

Katie felt warmth against her face, Lance's spindly fingers clasped her headphones. 

'Whatcha listening to Pidgeotto?'

 

Her alias was just one of the many complications in their friendship, there was a very thin line between insult and pride at the fact she:

 

A. made an incredibly convincing boy.

or

B. Her roommates were anywhere between too polite or too stupid to figure out that she was in fact a girl.

 

It was honestly a blessing when she'd been placed with the pair; it almost made up for the shock of discovering that the organisation that took up the greatest proportion of government funding was unable to provide the option of non shared housing.

 

Swiping her laptop shut she forced herself to stand up, brushing her uniform down.  'I'm not listening to anything anymore.  What do you want, Lance.'

There was a thin line between acidity and humor in her tone.

 

Lance shot her a smirk, hands twisting into, oh God. Finger guns.

Obnoxious.

 

'Now that you've asked, Hunk and I were sent here by Iverson.  Turns out your little jam session here has overran into chemistry by ten whole minutes.'

 

'Trust me', Hunk continued, 'He's not happy'

 

Lance proceeded with his lecture 'Now, if you don't mind we really have to escort you to chemistry now. It might not seem like a riot, but as our beloved Hunk said, Iverson is seriouslyyy fuming and i'm pretty sure if we leave him waiting any longer he's going to start a riot of his own.'

 

'Come on Pidge, like when I say Iverson's bit unhappy i'm talking edge of making us all take his night class.'

 

Katie began to pull on her black, garrison issued combat boots.

 

Lance paled at the idea 'Pidge, buddy, please.  I don't think I  could ever do another hour at the night class; it's full of weirdos like ewww Keith.'

 

Katie braced herself; if there was anything shed learnt from Lance in her past few months boarding at the Garrison, it was that Lance had a  serious problem with Keith.

 

Hunk seemed to experience the same feeling of dread at the name's mention.  'Lance, you've never even spoken to the guy, for all you know he could be lovely.'

 

'Lovely is as Lovely does' Lance flaunted.  'its difficult to talk to the guy who makes a point to avoid looking at me.'

 

Katie scoffed, 'Maybe that's just the effect you have on people'

 

Lance visibly recoiled at the comment. 'You take that back young man, my mama raised me to have confidence in myself and i've decided to live by that motto.'  His tone shifted.  'Anyway, it's not just me that Keith ignores- remember when Hunk made churros for my birthday? Like he totally ignored us when offered him some.'

 

Hunk nodded.  'His entire crew are bitching about how he's been ditching them recently.'

 

'Anyone who rejects my Hunk is a cold turd' Lance flashed.

 

Hunk flushed a little 'Uhh as flattered as I am that's an interesting comparison Lance...'

 

Lance ignored him. 'He's always brooding in the bleachers when I'm at cheer practice. Like I get he's emo but the lone wolf thing is pretty boring at this point. Talk about 2011 wolf pack kid...'

 

Katie wasn't sure what a 2011 wolf pack kid was but it sounded like something Matt would have laughed at. 

As she spoke she fiddled with the buttons of her, very ugly, orange uniform. 'I mean it's a bit harsh to have beef with a guy you don't even know Lance. You talk like he's some desert cryptid or something, as Hunk said, he could be lovely' 

 

Lance jauntily raised an eyebrow 'Okayyyy so  mullet boy has emotions, I get it, it's part of the emo vibe, but Pidge, one thing- what the ever flying fuck is a desert cryptid?'

 

'You know, cryptozoology, the study of undiscovered animals; like Bigfo...'  She sighed, they didn't have time for her to explain the history of finding monsters and shit.  'Actually, you know what, that can wait; didn't you come to collect me when I was 10 minutes late? What's the time now'

 

Hunk looked down at his watch, bless his soul for always being prepared with a watch.  He only needed to say one word for their deaths to be confirmed.  

'Shit'

 

---

 

The walk to room 146 was practically the green mile; Hunk's nervous chatter plagued the hallways.  Katie shot daggers at him, thanks for being a stress merchant.

 

It was hardly surprising after arriving in chemistry 30 mins late that they were issued seats in Iverson's night class.   

What did come as a surprise, however, was Lance's reaction- or lack thereof.  Nonchalance was a word many believed McClain had never heard but the way the guy walked so casually into chemistry, apologised for her, Hunk's and his own lateness and immediately went back to making his salt crystals was exactly that.

 

When she asked Hunk if that was unusual Lance behaviour he just shrugged. 'Lance is a creature of mystery sometimes.'

 

By the time Iverson had finished lecturing her, regular class was over. 

It made sense to go back to her dorm room, she'd already got Lance and Hunk into enough shit: it was unlikely they'd want to see her until forced to in night class.

 

Lance's gloating about how he'd 'expertly' avoided Iverson's wrath captured the attention of her classmates and  paved the perfect pathway of escape.

 

---

 

Even after three months studying at the Garrison it was still a labyrinth.  It was a relatively modern complex, prefabricated classrooms stacked tightly, leaving very little breathing room within the corridors.  Walking through the hallways was almost like being in an aquarium, or as Matt might have said: a human zoo.  It was interesting to see high ranking officers intermingling with those there on research scholarships; students flocked around the cantine. Made sense: it was Friday so sorbet was on the menu.  

 

Her travels through the student building were unsatisfying, students clad in orange uniform and dusty black boots felt intrusive in their masses.  

 

She snorted at the irony, the place meant to bring her closer to her family only made her more of an outcast.

Chapter Text

It had become routine for Keith to show up early to Iverson's night class: it gave him time to mark his territory, the dishevelled wooden desk at the back of room 146 was his and his alone.  He cared little 

about relationships within the Garrison; the hectic orange streams of new cadets were tiresome and frankly he'd lost all interest in helping them find their way to class; which was why when the splitting image of Matthew Holt walked into the room and placed himself near the front of the class, Keith didn't really think twice.

It had become habit for Keith to hyperfocus on his work, he'd often focus out of Iverson's gruff lectures; however the heaps of annotations within his textbook meant that catching up was never really a problem.

however, when the room turned eerily quiet and he felt the fervent gaze of a class of eyes, Keith knew to his annoyance that his routine had been broken.

 

Iverson confirmed this: "Cadet Kogane, desk, second row now."  

 

The orders were militant as ever, though this should have been unsurprising in a school specialising in military skills.  It's not that he really cared that much about his seat; but he couldn't deny that  hearing the commanding officer remove him from his usual place when there were other students far closer to the front was aggravating.  To spite the expectation that he would try and cause a conflict, he complied and moved his gloved hands over pile of paperwork that had already compiled on the back desk.  He let his eyes roam over the scrawl, noting how his writing smudged across the page.  It would be much easier to write without bloody biker gloves he supposed.

 

"Kogane," Iverson continued, "You are to work with cadets Gunderson, Garrett and McClain for this assignment......"

 

Keith shifted his focus onto his assigned group: out of the proposed trio, only two had decided to show up. Although he'd decided that he didn't donate his time to learning the names and faces of his classmates he was near certain that the cadets situated in front of him were not night class regulars.  He nearly snorted, the big guy (Cadet Garrett he guessed?) was clutching what seemed to be an espresso mocha from the cantene, look complete with dark purple lines under his dark eyes.  

Definitely not a  night class regular then.

 

The smaller cadet nearly gave him a heart attack.  Standing slouched in front of him was none other than Matt.

He snapped back when the cadet responded, in a conclusively feminine, albeit rough and tired voice "eurgh dude are we going to do this assignment or what?"

 

His eyes must have been betraying him, although it wasn't exactly impossible to have a look alike, Keith knew it was incredibly unlikely to have someone who looked exactly like a 15 year old Matt  who also happened to attend the same school as Matt had once done.

She must have been a sibling.

 

Cadet Garret broke the uncomfortable silence by offering an outstretched hand to Keith. "I don't think we've met before? I go by Hunk."

 

The formality of the introduction was kind of gruelling but he allowed his gloved fingers to intertwine with Hunk's. "Keith."

 

A snicker escaped Matt Jr.  He had no clue what could have been funny about his and Hunk's exchange.  Hunk seemed to notice the confusion and nudged the smaller cadet as if saying to introduce themselves.

 

Scowling, the tiny Matt forcefully imitates Hunk's gestures "Pidge Gunderson reporting for duty, nice to meet you... Keith."

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Hunk exhale in relief.  

He took her hand into a firm shake, Gunderson huh? Matt, to his knowledge, was not related to any Gundersons.

This was definitely uncanny territory.

 

Pidge turned to Hunk who was leaning softly against one of the rough wooden desks; the pair were radiating anxiety which was kinda pathetic if you had to ask him.  Even if it was pathetic, the  pair's reaction to their meeting made him especially self conscious, he subconsciously slid his tongue over his teeth as though to confirm that his group found him weird.

If Shiro were here he would have told him to snap out of it; he knew it was irrational- there was no way they would have seen anything unusual in just one word.  Relax.

 

\His suspicions were debunked when Hunk responded to Pidge "...no I have no clue where he is; I left the dorm as he was getting ready so like, its really really weird that he's not here."

 

They must have been talking about Cadet McClain; he couldnt put a face to the name but he was almost certain that he'd heard that name somewhere before.

It would seem intrusive to ask, he reasoned.

 

"Idiot", he heard the smaller cadet spit; maybe McClain was a nightmare student. He hoped not.  

Despite his reputation, Keith did want to pass this class.

 

"...Of course he'd run into trouble in the five minute walk from the dorms to this room.  Oh god I hope he isn't flirting with the poor hockey team again..."

 

"Please don't remind me of that Hunk, its still embarrassing to sit with any of them in class."

 

Oh, that guy.

Keith could remember the hockey incident.  The cheerleading tryouts were near where the hockey team were warming up, McClain, being cheer captain had been showing the new recruits the power of having a sexy leg raise.  Of course it had resulted in the hockey team being called over and McClain somehow managing to turn a sexy leg raise into a far less sexy kick in the face, giving the hockey captain a bloody nose and a ban that prevented the cheer squad from practicing near hockey.  

He wouldn't have really called it flirting per say; no level of flirting could save the guy from the group of eleven military trained students wielding hockey sticks.

Maybe he could be described as a nightmare.

 

Shiro, the provider of all the wisdoms he had often told him 'speak of the devil and he doth appear'.

He took this as further evidence that McClain must have been a flirting monster from the depths of hell.

 

Yet the figure that entered the room was far from a nightmare.

He was a daydream.

 

It wasn't like he hadn't been made aware of McClain's attractiveness before; skin a golden tan, blue eyes sharp and alert.  His pretty face almost made up for his complete shithole of a personality.

Almost.

Anyway, Keith wouldn't exactly call him his type.

 

Lance smoothly placed himself between Pidge and Hunk, completely ignoring Keith and diving straight for the assignment.  He watched as Lance's long fingers brushed over Iverson's words, his face twisting into a particularly smug grin.

"So I guess team mullet didn't make much progress without me"  

Keith hoped Lance didn't see the flash of yellow in the death glare he shot back; he decided at that point to return his previous thoughts; Lance was pretty toxic.

 

Pidge seemed to be at a similar level of annoyance. "Lance for God's sake, if we'd started the work without you you would have broken down on the floor right in front of our desks..."

 

Lance's lips curl into a smirk "You have so much faith in me pigeon."

 

"I do."

 

"That's all you've got for me? Youre lucky im a confident guy Mr Pigeon because your nonchalance is soul crushing."

 

"I know."

 

He was glad that at this point Hunk decided to intervene.  "Well now that the whole group is here I think we should start on this." He gestures to the pile of paperwork.  "Apparently we need to design an experiment to do with finding the concentrations of different substances."

 

Keith snorted "That's such a bullshit task, god I swear we did this exact thing in first year?"

 

"Okay smart ass" Lance retorted.

"Cut it Lance", Pidge tore the pages out of Lance's hands.  "Keith is right, this is pretty much just a  rewording of the titration thing we did last year, honestly all we need to do is change the analyte we're using so that technically it qualifies as a different investigation."  

 

Lance blushed; he was probably slightly taken aback that the task was pretty much already planned out for them.  "Wow Pidge, I take back all of my comments about you being insensitive; you clearly care enough to save us from a terrible failure."  Lance appeared to be doing exaggerated, albeit slightly violent jazz hands "Honestly to me chemistry seems like some strange alien language, you know like Klingon in Star Trek."

 

Pidge wheezed "Lance, aliens are complete bullshit.  Also titration is like super simple- all we are doing is measuring volume."

 

"Your weird alien words confuse me Pidge, I cannot understand what you are saying."

 

Keith didn't know whether he should be offended that Pidge basically just denied his entire existence.

Or maybe half of it.

He wasn't sure.

"Gunderson, what evidence do you actually have to prove that there aren't aliens out there?"

 

Pidge seemed surprised at his involvement in the conversation. "Oh uh Keith" She looked down "Are you seriously trying to tell me that you believe in aliens?"

 

He grunted, deciding to focus on his leather gloves instead of Pidge's familiar eyes.  "I don't think theres enough support to truly say there's nothing out there.  We haven't even reached the edge of our own solar system yet." He would leave it at that.

 

"Fair play Kogane. Just you wait, next time I see you I will show you conclusive evidence that are not real" Pidge nodded and promptly put herself back into the titration zone.

 

Lance seemed pretty satisfied at that and began to rule out a results table on the lined paper they were given.  Keith wasn't usually one to complain about another's work style, but Lance's lack of planning threw him off.

"Hey, Lance, maybe it would be better if you didn't use lined paper; also um we haven't decided the actual method yet so maybe we shouldn't do the table without deciding that?" He braced himself. 

 

"Well obviously" Lance snapped. "I'm just planning, mullet, can't a man plan in peace?"

Keith really should have seen that coming, Lance radiated hatred for him for some unknown reason and he was already sick of it.

 

"Urgh just do what you have to do, we all want to pass this bloody class"

 

"Hey Keith" it was now Hunk's turn to speak. "Maybe it would be useful if I made a groupchat for the project?"

 

Keith forced himself to smile to appease the other boy "actually Hunk that would be really great, that way we can churn this crap out as quickly as possible."

 

"I kinda need your number to make the chat haha"

 

"Oh right, hang on let me write it out for you."  He grabbed the nearest sheet of paper, writing on the blank side. "Here you go."

 

If Keith thought the stars were not in line for him today, it was about to get a whole lot worse.

 

Lance was fuming, pencil in hand sharp enough to stab a man. "Thanks asshole."

 

It took Keith a good few seconds to realise what he'd done wrong. 

He'd just scrawled on Lance's freaking table.

 

It wasn't exactly a difficult mistake to make, seeing as it did look like trash.

 

The remaining ten minutes of class were excruciating; Hunk was ploughing through his second cafeteria expresso  (this time caramel), Pidge's wide awake facade was also fading. It was funny how obvious it was that they were not regulars in this class.  

Despite group conflicts, they had made a fair amount of progress, a relevant hypothesis had been donated by Hunk who was also pretty sure he still had the file of work from last year's task.  If Lance had not shown up to class, however, Keith was sure that their progress would have doubled.

He didn't want to hate Lance, buy the guy already had it in for him and it was way, way beyond repair.  It was tragic that a friendship could be ruined by such an easy mistake.

What a drama queen.

 

---

 

Keith felt what must have been the greatest relief in his garrison career when Iverson announced that class was over.  He was quick to gather his pages of notes into his bag; giving only a short wave to his group before making a hasty escape.

 

He spent the last twenty minutes of free time buying some kind of unbranded chip things; he needed the junk food energy to get himself though the bloody project, he was dead set on finishing before next class so that he would no longer have to commit to the group.  It was honestly a shame that Pidge and Hunk had found themselves wrapped up in it, they seemed pretty cool aside from the whole 'Aliens are bullshit' thing.  He still hadn't decided if it was offensive that to many people he wasn't real.

 

He cursed at his weird space veins for giving him weird space blood and screwing with his relationships.

 

----

 

When he made it back to his dorm he checked his phone out of habit.  He wasn't exactly expecting to see the 300 message notifications on his screen.

 

He supposed there was not much else he could do other than conform and join the conversation:

 

‘Hunk's Dank Chemistry Chat of Bitchcraft and Misery.’

 

*Potentially-Mothman entered the chatroom*

 

PigeON: Oh my God. Oh my GOd KeITh YoUR UseRnamE.

 

Potentially-Mothman: I stan a legend.

 

He wouldn't admit in the group chat that he thought his mother might have been mothman after seeing his eyes glow in the dark.

 

PigeON: Yes you fucking do- aliens r a hoax but i can totally get behind cryptids

 

Just_Lance3: Ffs mullet- you've set him off.

 

Just_Lance3: Pidge where's my compliment? My user is cute too.

 

PigeON: Lance b quiet please, talk to me when u r a famous west Virginian monster.

 

Just_Lance3: Ok so when it's summer only Hunk and I are gonna play Just Dance on the wii.

 

PigeON: Oh My God you have a freaking wii? Those things are ancient what the heck.

 

Just_Lance3: It's a family heirloom

 

HunksNotDead: Dude, it's not exactly hard to find a wii nowadays

 

Just_Lance3: Emotional value hunk

 

Potentially-Mothman: Sorry to ruin an intimate moment but chemistry is a thing.

 

Just_Lance3: Having meaningful relationships is a thing too thanks.

 

HunksNotDead: Ouch burn

 

HunksNotDead: iM NOT tAkiNG SideS btW

 

Potentially-Mothman: Don't worry Hunk, i've known you for a solid forty minutes and youre great.

 

HunksNotDead: ://)

 

HunksNotDead: Oh lord Lance is sulking now.

 

Hunk proceeds to send a picture of a dishevelled Lance curled up into a ball with his phone.

 

Potentially-Mothman: OMG.

 

Potentially-Mothman: WAIT: why r u in the group chat when u r rooming together???

 

Keith knew he sounded exaggerated, but if Lance can hyperbolise every breath he takes, Keith was allowed to be a little self indulgent.

 

PigeON: ExPOsEd

 

PigeON: fr tho im going to sleep- iverson has pushed me to my limits.

 

Potentially-Mothman: Honestly im gonna have to join u there.

 

Just_Lance3: Get a room

 

PigeON: Lance, I'm YOUR ROOMMATE

 

Potentially-Mothman: I'm sleeping now. Goodnight.

 

HunksNotDead: Sleep well <3

 

 

Keith refused to admit that actually talking to people for once was nice, perhaps he was too stubborn to even realise it himself.  He found himself in his empty dorm room, collapsed on the bunk bed clutching his phone.  

 

'I will' he mentally responded.

Chapter Text

It was incredibly rare for Keith to wake up before 9am; he had no reason to commit to the daytime classes seeing as he would be studying later that night.  He’d found that he functioned surprisingly better at night, perhaps it was the lack of distraction from classmates. It was more likely that his newly acquired night vision was made more bearable in the dim haze of the darkened classroom but he would never accept that part of him.  Despite the routine lateness of his awakenings it was a surprise to find the surrounding desert dully lit, a telltale sign of the degree to which he’d overslept.

 

He shrugged it off; maybe he was meant to be nocturnal.

 

He admitted to feeling far more alien as days went on; though now his isolation felt more justified as changes to his appearance became more apparent. His purple irises were slitted and catlike; his nails had hardened into claws; dark blood clinging to his raw cuticles.   He’d considered documenting his metamorphosis, the thought of flustered government agents attempting to disprove his existence was kind of funny. Almost.

Morning classes were to start shortly, meaning he had a small window of peace before his fellow cadets would start making their way to lectures.

 

Keith paused, he could feel metallic pain make its home in his now bloody mouth.  He cursed silently, rolling his eyes as he made his way to his desktop mirror. Shiro had called it a vanity yet he felt as far from vain as humanly possible.

His deep copper blood clung to his milky cream carpet; his dorm looking like something straight out of

mouth oozing with crimzon lifeforce. The looseness of his teeth was made apparent as he inspected one of his canines with his tongue.

It wasn't as though he wasn't used to his body throwing these sudden alterations at him, ever since he was a child he'd held an inkling that something about him was a little strange. The image of  the twisted horror plastered on the faces of his foster parents’ when he lost his third set of baby teeth. Maybe he was going to become some sort of alien shark.

 

He snorted morbidly.  How the universe loved to find creative ways to screw him over.

 

Tentatively tending to his obliterated gums he found himself wincing; it was unusual for him to be so acutely aware of pain. However much it seemed that even in his broken alien state he was now able to feel more deeply, his existence was split, his dreams were plagued by Shiro’s disappearance.  He sighed, sharped tipped hands brushing his tousled hair out of his face, if anything he had become more cognizant of the importance of contact as a result of his deprived state.

 

After a few seconds he  managed to move his disheveled mass to sit down, eyes level with his reflection. As he gazed into the mirrored surface he felt himself desperately wishing this was just another of his nightmares, that the dead, yellow scleras that gaped back at him were simply an illusion  brought forth by the absence of sleep. Unsurprisingly, no matter how long he willed for it, nothing changed. He tried to suppress the caustic feelings, no matter how hard he screwed his irritated eyes closed there was still the infuriating scratch of tears pushing under his lids. There was nothing he could do stop this, everything he'd tried failed, only worsening his state.  He had to just accept that he was going through some serious weird alien shit and that the universe just really fucking hated him

 

He briefly considered asking someone to bring some antiseptic to his dorm,if he was going to face this, he was at least going to make sure he didn't get the alien equivalent of gum disease from not treating his wounds.  (Also, although he wouldn't admit it he paled at the idea of Shiro coming home and seeing what a mess he'd become). He’d always seen himself as independent, after his father had left him alone in the desert hed learnt to clean and care for his own injuries- plus explaining how his teeth had mysteriously shifted would be too much hassle to weed past the garrison matron.

 

He supposed there was still Adam, but he hasn't spoken to the superior officer since the Kerberos mission vanished.

He was better than crying at the knees of someone who he’d broken away from.

 

As he considered the potential choices he had, he moved his hands as though physically weighing out the eventualities.  Shiro had vanished, making him automatically a null option. The garrison would likely freak out and try and use him for some twisted experiment.  He’d only spoken to his classmates the day earlier, he smirked at the idea of throwing that sort of bombshell at them. ‘Hey guys, nothing much up, just casually losing my teeth again only this time they're kind of pointy and I need to put some antibacterial cleaner on them or something lol’.

He concluded that was definitely not an option right now.

 

This left him with two choices:

  1. go to class with half of his teeth, claws and slitted eyes and potentially risk an infection (which from his years in the desert he knew was not at all desirable.)

or

B: go to the supermarket, grab some cheap gloves and sunglasses and hope for the best.

 

In all honesty, both plans read pretty weak.  B, however, just ever so slightly more reasonable to carry off cleanly.  It wasn't exactly like he had the option to stroll around the galaxy garrison crowned in blood without raising questions anyway.

 

It seemed as though he wasn't able to have a single moment's peace anymore: Keith’s phone shook violently, text notifications’ screams plead for him to silence them.   It was a surprise when he would receive even a garrison issued text, his inbox was generally a pretty desolate place. He must have been dreaming when he saw 2095 messages waiting for him.

Of course: the chemistry chat was a thing.



Hunk’s Dank Chemistry chat of Bitchcraft and Misery.

 

Potentially-Mothman: Morning guys ;)

 

Potentially-Mothman: How the fuck have i missed 2095 messages.

 

He sent a screenshot of the flashing number as proof.

 

JustLance3: Unlike you we actually check the group chat.

 

Snideness resonated from the black font.

 

Potentially-Mothman: oh.

 

PidgeON: Ignore Lance- I have a free period if u wanna hang out. I’m running errands so we could go to the shopping centre or something.”

 

Keith didn’t want to hang out, especially under his current circumstances.  Pidge didn't seem to be one to let something like slowly and painfully becoming an alien go down lightly.

 

Potentially-Mothman: I'm kind of caught up in something rn.

 

PidgeON: You don’t have to say no  just to be polite you know.

 

JustLance3: He’s onto you Kogane

 

PidgeON: thx Lance.

 

Potentially-Mothman: I mean i'm actually busy.  Can't make it.

 

PidgeON: Ok, suit urself.  I’m going to get a smoothie- the mall has the best tropical blend so like hmu if u find urself less busy.

 

Keith felt the corner of his mouth twitch upwards, the loose tip of his canine tooth caught on his lip jauntily forcing him into a smile.

 

JustLance3: Catch me coming, unlike mullet i make an effort to hang out with classmates.

 

Lance’s blunt texting read pretty repugnant, it was like the guy had a  personal vendetta against him or something. Though he had zero recollection of ever actually talking with Lance before this whole manic chemistry chat situation.  

He considered it pretty tragic that Lance, who had so so much potential to be attractive with his athletic figure and glowing skin, could be so repulsive in his mannerisms.

Sucks to his soulmate, he disparaged.

 

Despite the far than ideal group arrangement he couldn't deny that he was just a little bit proud of his milestone achievement of communicating with classmates.  

However, he’d just given himself the far greater task of braving actual shopping.  Not to mention carrying out his excuse whilst completing said shopping.

 

 

There was something arcane about the mall slightly outside of campus.  Off white isles buzzed with dim artificial lighting; soulless shop endoskeletons were juxtaposed with the sweet spiced scent of freshly baked pretzels.  It was certainly a shock to his system entering such a densely populated location, it was uncalled for for garrison cadets to bunk class in order to visit the shopping centre, yet finding himself surrounded left, right and centre with shop goers in a colour other than orange was pretty nostalgic.

Keith made a mental note to avoid the juice bar, deciding that as much as he loved the recherché atmosphere of the strangely named drinks he would much rather keep the sanctity of his friendship with Pidge.

Not to mention the hell he’d suffer if Lance spotted him...

 

The mall was large, however it was easy enough to navigate. He spent time considering the masses of branded clothing stores, ice cream bars and cafes plastering the larger building. Much of the produce sold there was outdated, it was as though the stores had not been changed since the mall had first been built, which must have been thirty years ago at least.

 

After what felt like hours trawling through the shopping centre he came to an inconspicuous looking clothing shop.  The blank articles that adorned the window mannequins brought him back to times when Matt Holt would playfully criticize the modesty of Keith’s clothing choices, suggesting more colourful graphic options.  He didn't put much thought into his choice of black T-shirt, a dark colour to mask any future blood, and red bomber jacket.

He found himself trawling through the streams of eyewear; opting for a, hopefully stylish, pair of yellow tinted aviator sunglasses.  He considered them a success in terms of covering his freaky eyes, though they probably looked a little out of place paired with his heavy winter jacket and newly purchased biker gloves.

 

He felt a new wave of confidence as he clasped the thin plastic handles of his shopping bags.  This rekindling of energy, however, was cut out abruptly when he heard an obnoxiously loud voice turn around the corner.

 

‘I mean It’s not that I don't agree with you that Brotherhood was superior to the original anime, it's just that nostalgia you get when watching the 2003 version ya know.’

 

‘As a diehard fan of the manga it really feels like you've stabbed me in the heart there Lance’ a disgruntled feminine voice responded.   

 

Of course it had to be Lance and Pidge approaching.  Why did his life feel like something straight out of a crappy B movie right now?

 

Without really thinking he lunged past a crowd of people queueing for the escalator, mentally cursing as the moving staircase way in no way moving fast enough.  He just had to pray that they didn't get a good enough look at him to recognise him. This was the kind of thing that he would never have been able to live down.

 

 

At the top of the escalator was a pair of incredibly confused garrison students, one clad in a green, the other dressed  rather inappropriately in blue swimming shorts despite it being the beginning of autumn. Lance placed his hand into the pocket of said blue shorts, brushing cleanly cut brown locks out of his face.  If there was something he had been expecting to find at the mall, it certainly was not Keith.

Although he was never one to question his own understanding of a situation, he turned to his shorter companion inquisitively:  

‘I could have sworn that was Keith just then, I mean I’d recognise that mullet anywhere.’

 

The other cadet snorted, ‘For someone that calls him a fashion disaster you sure do seem to look at his hair a lot Lance.’ Pidge retorted.

 

That was uncalled for.

 

Though he decided it was far better to keep to non verbal offense at that or Pidge would never let him live through the embarrassment.  

 

The duo had just returned from the gimmicky ‘Rocket Fuel’ juice bar, feeling much more energised just by holding the space themed smoothies.  It wasn't as though he didn’t want to SEE Keith, it was more that they'd been turned down by the other boy, therefore he could not deny his slight offense at sighting him.  He huffed, not everyone had to be as nice as himself he supposed. He retracted that thought, Hunk was better than everyone in the universe combined.

 

‘You know Pidge, with the rate our buddy ran down those stairs you’d think he was one of those, uhh what do you call them cryptic things you’re into?’

 

He could hear Pidge’s eyeroll in her tone, ‘Cryptids Lance.’  She brushed some of her chestnut hair out of her glasses. ‘But yeah, it was kinda like he was trying to hide?’  

 

‘Smells like embarrassment to me.’ he half joked.

 

‘The only thing embarrassing around here are those shorts? Like what is that print? Whale sharks?’

 

Lance flushed, unsure what his (indisputably fashionable) shorts had to do with cryptid Keith. ‘I guess our friendship is built upon a throne of disagreements, you kneel before my almighty fashion sense as you are but a mere fashion gremlin, you socks with sandals wearing monster.’

 

Pidge simply responded by folding her arms, look of disappointment plaguing her entire face.  ‘Ok fine you win. Seriously though, I thought Keith was busy? He ran with such urgency.’

 

‘I vote we follow him’ Lance pressed, eyebrows raising jauntily.

 

‘A total invasion of someone else's privacy? Sounds risky: I'm in.’ Pidge coerced her hands together with cartoon mania.

 

With the achievement of confirmation, Operation Cryptid Keith was ready to commence.  

 

It took mere minutes to conclude that their companion had likely headed towards the exit of the mall, though given the size of the place it was immensely unlikely that he would have managed to leave.  Busses to the Garrison ran once every half hour, so if anything Keith would likely have plenty of time trying to evade them.

 

Pidge whipped her phone out of her pocket ‘I’ll shoot him a message in the chat, maybe then he’ll realise we’re not mad at him?’

 

It was a sound plan.

 

Hunk’s Dank Chemistry Chat of Bitchcraft and Misery.

 

PidgeON: Hey Keith, are you sure you don't want to hang out with us, we’re not mad.

 

Lance poked Pidge in the side, ‘Not very subtle.’

 

‘Got any better ideas?’

 

‘Nope.’

 

‘Then let me type.’

 

There was a moment of silence between them as they stared at the blank chemistry chat, the quietness was to be expected from Hunk who was currently in one of Iverson’s classes, yet Keith usually had something snide to say.

They didn't have long to wait for the silence to be broken, behind them they could hear the scramble of fast movement.  

 

‘As Fred would always say, we need to split up’

‘Roger that!’

 

At first it felt incredibly difficult for Lance to find a lead on Keith, after all, he’d only known the guy for like 24 hours. However, the distress that plagued his new friend’s face as he bolted past him was symptom enough that he needed the Lance treatment and he needed it fast.

 

He surveyed the area he last saw keith, there was still a minute chance that  his companion may have tried to bamboozle him by returning to a place he’d been sighted before, however the dimly lit emptiness behind the escalator told him that was not the case.  So much for that plan.

He contemplated everything he currently knew about Keith:

 

  • Wears fingerless gloves
  • Emo
  • Possibly hates him.

 

Perfect, that would definitely help in this situation.

 

 

After what felt to be an eternity of searching, Lance decided that it was likely Keith had gone home. According to Pidge, she was still searching the surrounding car park- leaving Lance as alone as he could be in such as place, to bask in his disappointments.

He moved himself towards the less populated area of the mall, known for mostly being a  storage centre for unsold merchandise.

This section of the mall was more mundane, vivid colours becoming the murky brown of dusty cardboard packaging.  The walls were lined with a fortress of shipping crates, filled to the brim with sorrowful products that he assumed were dated far before his time.

He remembered as a kid his brother had called it the shipment graveyard. ‘Where wrong orders go to die’.

It was for this reason that he did not act as shocked as one normally might have upon coming into contact with a warm, crimson liquid tainting one of the shelves.

It was sticky in his hand.  

He brought the substance closer to his face to further examine it. When he tentatively rubbed the liquid he instinctively recoiled at the strong metallic smell.

It was blood.

 

Looking more closely at the room he was in he could see the blood dotted around, as though the perpetrator had struggled into the shelves.

 

Lance was never one to shy away from something of interest, particularly when whoever had shoved their way into the room covered in blood may have encountered Keith at some point. Operation Cryptid Keith was now something far more sinister: no emo mullet was going to be harmed under Lance McClain’s watch.

 

Following the tight weaving path between boxes was not an easy task, especially with the looming fear of a potential threat lurking around any cardboard corner.  However, he soon found the vermillion taint came to an end outside the entrance to the (most likely off limits) section of the mall. He’d never ventured this far before.

 

The trail of sticky red liquid lead to a dark, uncomfortably humid store room, the vents whirred in some sort of intangible dialect, shelves packed with stock groaning, near to collapsing from the ammassing weight of cans and other abandoned produce.  If it weren't for the dull scratching of something sharp against the laminate flooring it was likely that Lance would have abandoned this room to continue his search elsewhere.

 

On the floor lay a pair of cracked yellow aviator sunglasses, a hunched figure and a set of glowing, soulless golden eyes.

 

‘...Keith?’