The meeting finished two vargas ago, according to Coran, and yet they’re still here. Hopefully they’ll be out of here soon. Keith’s had enough.
A couple of people have tried initiating conversation with him, but Keith’s never been the type to hold conversations well. At least, not with the level of formality the aliens here speak with. Shiro and Allura are natural at it, Hunk’s managed to strike up conversation with a gardener, Pidge is talking tech with someone and Lance and Coran are either tagging along or mingling with the crowd…
Keith sighs inwardly. Maybe I’ll go outside for a bit.
He approaches Shiro and taps him on the shoulder, gesturing towards the side doors of the hall with a tilt of his head. A warning of caution flashes in Shiro’s eyes but he nods. With a sigh of relief, Keith heads outside and Shiro turns back to his conversation with one of this planet’s leaders.
The fresh air outside tastes bitter because of the vegetation surrounding the hall, but it’s so much better than being indoors. Keith’s shoulders slump.
Quiet. Cool air. A slight breeze.
…and heavy footsteps.
Keith whirls around. Four, five, six, seven people. They saunter towards the hall, holding themselves tall even though they’re already a good height taller already. The two at the back of the group are carrying something between them but it’s too dark to see what it is.
The leader raises her chin. “You call yourself a Defender of the Universe, huh?”
Translators aren’t necessary to hear the dangerous undertone in her words.
Keith narrows his eyes. “What of it?”
“Well, we were wondering if you were tough.”
“I assure you that we all are giving our all in this fight against the Empire. We – ”
“But are you tough?” the leader asks again, direct this time.
“I-I’m not sure what you…”
The aliens at the rear come forward and Keith finally sees what they’re holding: chains. He takes a step back and drops into a defensive stance, hand ready to draw his bayard.
Keith growls, low and firm. “Don’t even think about it.”
They already are.
The group surges forward, shoving Keith backwards into the wall. Keith yells. Two lean all their body weight into him, another two each taking up position crushing his arms between concrete and whatever kind of armour they’re wearing. Keith stops standing, tries to use his weight to drop down, but he’s held in place and two of the aliens pinning him to the wall have their feet down hard on his.
Keith struggles to no avail. “Get off me!”
They don’t. A fifth alien grabs him by the neck, but instead of strangling him he clamps something cold down around his neck. It snaps together, locking.
“What th- ahhHHHH!”
All the aliens let him go before the collar shocks him. Keith’s knees buckle and he crashes to the ground, eyes wide in horror. He tries to get the collar off but there’s no release mechanism, no way to break it.
He casts a frantic glance at the hall doors. “Shi- !”
His cry for help is cut off with a scream. His chest goes tight and his muscles weak, his throat burning with pain.
Keith can’t breathe. His muscles spasm. He doesn’t have his helmet, so there’s no comms; he has to call for help.
The last shock is the worst. Apparently the collar is both voice and volume of voice activated.
He tries his best to breathe lightly, but it’s hard, it’s so hard when his body is twitching aftershocks. It’s even harder when the aliens grab a hold of him again. They watch him carefully, ready to let go should he decide to electrocute himself again, but otherwise proceed to uncoil a length of chain they brought with them and tie him up in it.
In chain. They’re tying him up in chain – in metal…while he has a shock collar on.
The leader of the group smirks at him. “You tough?”
The chain is first wrapped around his wrists, then around his torso, pinning them to his back. The group hold him sitting upright while they wrap it around his chest and shoulders. They keep a firm grip on his legs the whole time, but they don’t bind them.
Instead he’s pulled to his feet, the remaining length of chain fashioned into a harness and acting as a lead. His legs are too shaky to hold him up, but there’s enough aliens around to do that for him and they don’t give him a choice.
But if they’re holding him…
The aliens drop to the ground with him. Keith writhes with shock, convulsing, the chains sparking around his paladin armour. He chokes on air and pain and electricity, but…but…
Someone’s sprinting. Shouting. Really shouting.
There’s some kind of commotion going on around him. Pidge yells out a warning not to touch him, but it’s to Lance, who yells back a confused ‘why?’. The shocks continue to lash out from the collar.
“Keith, what’s happening?”
Hunk. He speaks quietly enough that his voice doesn’t trigger another shock, but Keith’s can’t answer him. His fingers twitch and he tries to point to the collar before he remembers that his whole upper body is bound in chain.
“Coran’s getting an insulation mat, okay?” Hunk says. “As soon as we get you onto that we’ll be able to get you free, yeah?”
The spasms have started to die down, so Keith manages a nod and a grimace. He opens his eyes a fraction to see Hunk frowning in concern, probably at Keith’s lack of verbal reply. Hunk looks like he’s about to ask what’s wrong when Coran runs over with the insulating mat.
He screams involuntarily, setting off a second wave to the shock that comes. Everyone falls silent, all except Hunk.
“Oh no…” he whispers.
Waiting for Keith to stop convulsing and then rolling him onto the insulating mat is a silent matter. Coran’s got another pair of gloves on to avoid catching the shockwaves.
As soon as he’s on the mat, Shiro lights up his arm and severs several links of chain at once, freeing his wrists. Lance and Pidge work quickly to get the rest of the chain off and then Hunk’s holding him still by the shoulders for Shiro to get the collar off. Keith whimpers as Shiro’s fingers touch the collar, but the shocking mechanism is disabled the second the plasma hits it. The collar cracks and Shiro gently pries it off.
The terror hits him then. Shiro has him in his arms before the first tear slips out. The others kneel and crouch nearby but refrain from joining the hug in order to give Keith space.
“We’ll take you back to the Castle now,” Shiro murmurs, holding him close. “Allura’s inside having a firm word with the leaders, but we’ll go ahead of her. Are you alright if I carry you?”
Keith’s shaking too badly to be able to give a clear answer. He hides his face against the shoulder of Shiro’s paladin armour in the hope it’s an answer enough.
Shiro hums. “Alright then. I’m going to pick you up now, okay?”
There’s hard edge to his tone, an enraged and protective and slightly scared one. Shiro picks him up without too much trouble, but Keith’s practically a dead weight in his arms. Keith would try to help him by wrapping his arms around Shiro’s shoulders, but his muscles are weak from all the shocks and he doesn’t think he’d be able to hold on for even a second if he tried.
Coran’s footsteps head back to the hall with Hunk’s, Lance and Pidge following Keith and Shiro back to the Castle. Once back at the Castle, Shiro carries Keith to his room instead of the medbay and helps him out of his armour. He’s too shaken to change out of his flight suit. Shiro offers to help him with it but Keith just shakes head, opting simply to lie down and curl up on the bed with his arms around himself.
Shiro finds a blanket and lays it out over him. “Do you want me to stay with you?”
“Jus’ wanna be alone for a bit,” Keith whispers hoarsely. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. You don’t need to be sorry.”
He pats him on the shoulder and Keith flinches.
“I’ll come back in a little while to make sure you’re okay,” Shiro murmurs.
Keith’s only response is to curl up a little more and tug the blanket closer around him.
He waits until fifteen minutes after Shiro leaves before letting himself cry, and even then not loudly. He can still feel the weight of the collar around his neck, the burns it left, the tightness of the chains wrapped around him.
Confusion and fear haunt him the rest of the night, as does the single-worded question that plays over and over in his mind.