The west coast was...okay.
The beach was nice, sure. But he was more proficient on a skateboard, not a surfboard, so there wasn’t much reason for him to be in the ocean. Besides the seaweed that would jump out of the Pacific foam to entangle his legs, the salt in the ocean air rusted Shiro’s already very old car, curled and frizzed Keith’s hair, and the seagulls.
Keith stared at a bunch of them outside his window with malice in his icy heart. Seagulls were spawn of the devil, nothing could convince him otherwise.
“Are you glaring at them again?” Shiro’s disembodied voice echoed from another room in their small apartment near the beach. Keith had no idea how Shiro managed to land real estate in such a high demand area, but he assumed it was perks from being enrolled at the Garrison’s Marine core.
“...No?” Keith threw one more glare at the demon birds of the sea before he went to the kitchen to start lunch for himself and pack something for Shiro.
Shiro had unofficially adopted Keith for a large period of his life. Unofficially, because he was not old enough to do so by the time Keith was seventeen. He’d still lived through Foster care, but his last foster parents and Shiro had an understanding that he was grateful for. Now, at 18, he still followed his “big brother” everywhere.
Which meant that he was now living with Shiro in the west coast after he got promoted to both Security and Transport.
He sighed as he cut the cucumbers he was going to put into their sandwiches. The kitchen island looked like a piece of art; Keith was very methodical when it came to cooking and prepping.
“You know…-ow,” Shiro came into the kitchen and tried to snag a cucumber slice from the cutting board, to no avail. Keith was pointing the knife at him, and Shiro put his hands up in surrender. “Jeez, fine. You know you didn’t have to come with me. Here, I mean.”
“Right.” Keith raised his eyebrow momentarily. “Like I was going to stay in Michigan where I didn’t know anyone but you.”
“You knew people! Okay, I mean, besides your foster family. But they count too.”
There was a brief silence. Keith had stopped utilizing the cutting board and instead stared at the even slices of vegetable. This wasn’t the first time they talked about this, although this was the first time Shiro has said it so frankly.
Shiro was his family- has been his family- since he was 6 years old. He’s been the only person Keith needed in his life, and he didn’t see it changing any time soon.
Not that Keith would ever express himself out loud. “No, it’s fine here.”
“Mmm...Alright, that answer is good enough for now.” Shiro smirked and grabbed a coke from the fridge. He’d only downed a sip before emitting an excited noise.
“I know what you can do today,” Shiro just about slammed his can down on the island and Keith looked at it in disdain. “Why don’t you come with me on my transport shift?”
“Is that...even allowed?”
Shiro shrugged. “What’re they gunna do, police me? I’m the only one going that fast on the water, no one’s going to even think about looking for a person who isn’t supposed to be on my boat.”
Keith snorted. “You haven’t even worked there for a full week and you’re trying to get fired? Shiro, the scandal.”
“Don’t be a drama queen, it’ll be fine.” Shiro took out both lunch boxes and a bag to pack them in. “Maybe I can sneak you into the facilities so you can meet some of my coworkers. Maybe you’ll even meet some cute guys-”
“Oh my god, Shiro. No. Stop.” Keith’s face became rosy at the idea of Shiro trying to set him up with someone again. He knew Shiro had good intentions, and he was mostly joking. But Keith would never forget the first and last date he let Shiro set up for him.
“I’m only joking.” Shiro smirked and got two seconds of messing with Keith’s hair before it was smacked. “Most of the guys are twice my age anyway. So unless you’re into that…”
Keith looked unimpressed. Shiro smiled at him regardless and said “Don’t worry, I’m sure the sea will appreciate you. Be ready in 10, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” Keith went along with the motions of packing both their lunches, now inwardly excited about going on an outing with Shiro. At the very least he’d be in his company and would be able to see the coast from facility to facility.
Maybe he would get to see some cute guys on the beach?
Keith’s face flushed and he lightly slapped his cheeks with both hands. There’d be none of that on this trip, Shiro would never let him live it down.
The drive to the SDG was uneventful, if not full of traffic. Shiro’s tiny and very old car was doing it’s best; It didn’t shudder once on the way to the coast.
By the time they arrived to the facility the sun was high and hot, and the ocean was sending the land cool and humid breezes. Shiro’s matte black Mercury Bobcat stopped at the entrance gate, the guard at the post asked for his ID through the window.
After inspecting Shiro’s badge, the guard’s dark brown eyes surveyed Keith for a split second and gave them the go-ahead.
Keith felt like it should have been a little harder to sneak in with someone who didn’t have a working badge for a facility owned by the Garrison. Maybe people were just more laid back in California? Who knew. Keith shifted his weight and tightened his grip around their lunch cooler as they got closer to the Pier.
The parking lot was small and the pier was quaint. Obviously there were only a choice few who were tasked with the responsibility that Shiro had because there were only four boats in the water.
The car dinged and chimed for all of two seconds while the two men got out of the vehicle.
“Over this way,” Shiro waved lazily to Keith, motioning to the only door connected to the large building nearby. “I have to clock in and get the keys. We also have to gear up.”
Keith scrunched his face. “Gear up?” Did he even want to know?
“Unless you feel okay with getting your clothes wet, yeah.” Shiro lead him through the door, waving to a coworker a couple feet away. They stopped at a desk where Shiro signed a poorly printed chart with various names on it. Keith was then shepherded to a series of rusty lockers which were apparently stocked with wetsuits.
So far Keith was unimpressed, and it showed on his face. Did the Garrison seriously run this place? One of the most technologically advanced companies couldn't even provide computers for clocking? They couldn't even provide non-rusting lockers. Though he supposed the salty air didn't help.
“This… should fit you. There's a bathroom through the door on your left, just holler if it doesn't feel right.” Shiro held out a wetsuit for Keith. It was a typical black neoprene, but it had streamline red stripes running down the sides. Keith couldn't tell if they were reflective or if the lighting in the room was weird. Honestly, the second option was pretty viable.
Keith closed the wooden bathroom door behind him, and was struggling with the dead bolt lock. He ignored Shiro’s laughter from the hall and instead focused on getting into a neoprene suit for the first time in his life.
After some minor tugs and pulls to ensure that the groin of the suit was on his actual crotch area, Keith took a glance in the half body mirror on the wall to his right. He...didn’t look bad? The red stripes were absolutely reflective, now that they contoured his sides it was easy to notice. There was no way he was zipping up the back, though. He’d have to go to Shiro for that.
Gingerly picking up his clothes and slipping his vans over his non-socked feet, Keith opened the door to find Shiro speaking with a few people. They had to be related because they looked way too similar to each other. Maybe that was the secret of the Garrison, maybe they were into cloning.
“-well no, we- oh! Keith, come over here and meet Samuel Holt.” Samuel in question, the eldest man, held his right hand out to Keith accompanied with a coy smile. Keith shook the offered hand and was surprised at it’s strength. “He’s in charge of the specimens and bio matter that get brought in for research. He’s actually the one who gives me my transport runs.”
“Um. Nice to meet you Samuel.” Keith was curt in greeting the man, and his eyes strayed to the other two bodies in the room.
“Nice to meet you, Keith! Sam’s just fine, lad, just fine. We’ve heard a lot about you. Ah! How rude of me,” Sam motioned to his smaller clones with auburn hair. “These are my kids! Taller one’s Matt, freckled one’s Katie!”
“Pidge is fine, lad, just fine.” Katie now Pidge smirked at her dad who was going off about how she never used to like that name. Oh boy. Keith could tell this family did pun-offs at home over a good casserole.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Keith,” Matt started. “Like dad said, we’ve heard stories.”
Keith side-eyed Shiro. “Stories, huh?”
Shiro looked like he was sentenced to eat a plate of flies. He waved his right hand “Nothing bad! Or anything like that, just, you know. Who you are.”
The side eye continued for a second longer, just because Keith felt like being a little shit. He turned to address the Holt kids. “It’s nice to meet you both.”
“So,” Sam rifled through a packet of papers he brought with him. “What brings you here to our luxurious office?”
Keith shrugged. “I had nothing else to do.”
Shiro gave Keith the dad look. “I figured it’d be nice to bring him in, show him around, take him out on the ocean. He hasn’t even been to the shore yet much less the water.”
“That’s not true, I went to the beach.” Keith crossed his arms. “I hated it.”
“Have you gone to the tidepools?” Pidge piped up out of nowhere.
Keith looked at her as if she spoke a word that wasn’t in English. “Tide...pools?” Just to be sure.
“Yeah, they’re these little pockets of ocean water in the rocks near the shore. Some minor oceanlife stay in there. Hunk, another coworker, and I go often. You should come with us next time we go,” Pidge smiled. “Hunk said he saw something weird once, but he’s dropped it a couple weeks ago.”
That’s encouraging , Keith thought. Instead, he said, “I’ll think about it.”
“In the meantime, Sam, do you have any assignments for me?” Shiro, without prompt, went behind Keith to zip him into his suit. To be honest, Keith had nearly forgotten about the unzipped zipper completely. With a quick motion, Keith’s back was straightened and the suit felt a lot better.
“Well, actually, yes I do,” Sam looked on the third page of his packet. “Northern Fac has some samples that I’d love to get down here and test with similar findings. Tissue samples similar to the ones that they found near the Alaska site, you remember?”
“Ah, yeah,” Shiro nodded and leaned on a bemused Keith. “The bioluminescent stuff.”
Matt snorted. “Stuff, he says. Look buster, this could be a new species we’re talking about. A new species with quick healing abilities by the looks of it; it’s pretty fascinating for just ‘stuff’.”
Shiro dropped his teasing expression and looked at Matt with serious eyes. Whoa. Keith hadn’t seen this expression from Shiro since he was told the’d have to amputate most of his right arm. The incredibly nimble robotic prosthetic he had now got the job done and then some; the finest the Garrison could afford after the accident.
As if it would make up for the fact that it was practically their fault..
Keith was brought back into the present by Sam hurriedly correcting his son. “Well, we don’t know for sure. That’s why we’d like you to go retrieve them today, to start on this extended research.”
Shiro turned to Keith with a vigor he didn’t have prior. “You ready to go?”
Keith didn’t understand what was going on or the significance of what had been said. But if it was enough to get Shiro that excited then Keith would go anywhere. He reflected Shiro’s smile back to him.
Keith decided that he was going to invest in a wetsuit or steal the one he was wearing this second. The summer heat felt way better, and the cool wind coming from the ocean was virtually gone.
Shiro showed him where to store his things while they were out, the only thing Keith carried with him now were their lunches and the shoes on his feet.
The crashing echo of the waves against the Garrison base grew louder as they approached the small pier. The water sparkled and swayed underneath the sunshine, causing the four boats to bob with it. Shiro lead him to the nearest speedster on his right, though Keith longingly looked to the cool red one in the back.
“This is my baby, my pride, my joy.” Shiro said while he got ready to untie the rope docking the runabout.
“I thought that was your car? Oh shit.” Keith hopped into the boat awkwardly and swayed left, unused to the ocean’s sway.
“What- oh jeez-” Shiro caught Keith by the shoulder and pushed him into the boat as he laughed. “You’re on the water now, you have to be more careful.”
“Pff. No kidding.” Keith was convinced the sea didn’t like him. Maybe it would throw a fish into his face to prove his point further. “How far is the other facility?”
Shiro hopped into the boat and stowed the mounting rope. “Not too far, about...30? 40 miles? It’s on an island not too far north, Catalina.”
“40 miles? Jeez.”
“Just be glad we’re not going further,” Shiro laughed. “ Then again, they’d give me a bigger and faster boat than this one if we were going to Monterey. You can put our stuff in that compartment in front of the passenger seat so you don’t have to hold it the entire time.”
Keith looked to where Shiro was pointing and, sure enough, there was a compartment. He slid everything behind the door as Shiro was starting the boat.
“Last chance to get on shore.” Shiro spoke loudly over the waking engine. Keith shot him a thumbs up and the boat lurched forward; they were off.
The going was slow, at first. Shiro had to maneuver around small rocks and make sure he didn’t knock into anything in the more shallow waters. Keith always knew that Shiro was amazing at piloting things; he just had the gift for it. It showed when they played video games in their youth, and it definitely showed now.
By the time the SDG was as big as a beach ball in Keith’s vision the boat was able to reach top speeds. It was pretty exhilarating, and Keith was almost sad he dropped out of the Garrison Michigan. Maybe he’d be able to convince Shiro to let him pilot one day, if he could keep coming with him on trips.
Then again, Keith thought as the sea wind whipped past his face and around his hair. He glanced at Shiro who was focused but lax at the same time; Shiro was completely in his element. This is nice.
They were both jolted by their thoughts when something hit the bottom of the boat. Shiro stopped acceleration and turned left sharply in order to spin the boat 180 degrees. Shiro got up out of his seat and into the spacious back of the boat to peer into the shimmering ocean. Keith joined him soon after, looking from the waters, to Shiro’s stony expression, and back again.
“Was that...did we hit a rock or…?” Keith didn’t see anything, but he wasn’t the one driving the boat.
Shiro’s eyes still scoured the presumably calm waters for a second longer before he gave up. “No...wasn’t a rock. It had some give to it.” He got back into his seat and gestured for Keith go get back into his.
“Meaning...what?” Keith got comfortable and the boat took off seconds later.
“Meaning, that whatever we hit was alive, probably still is. No floating bodies are a good sign, but it could still be injured, poor thing.”
Keith hummed. He momentarily wondered about the animals that lived this far out.
Probably just really big fish.
The rest of the trip to the island was pretty smooth. Shiro started a faux game of I Spy (“I spy...something...blue.”) and they both ended up singing pretty bad versions of various pop songs. That lead to a friendly argument about Ke$ha when they pulled up to the Catalina Island Pier specifically for the Garrison research building. A man in a lab coat was already waiting for them outside, a small cooler in his grasp.
“Hey Garrett, thanks for meeting us outside.” Shiro addressed the man standing on the wooden planks after settling on the side of the pier. “We’ll take it so you can run inside, it’s gotta be freezing.”
Garrett laughed, “It is! Thanks for the speedy pick-up, as always.” He waved to Keith briefly. Keith was now convinced that no one really cared about security, despite having hired Shiro to do secure transports.
Shiro just had to lean over to sign a paper saying the pick-up was successful and they were off again to return to the San Diego bay.
Once they were out on deep waters again, Keith turned to Shiro. “Garrett. Garrett at the Garrison.”
Shiro barked with laughter. “I know! I feel so bad for him. The worst part is I brought it up to him and he didn't… what the hell?”
Puzzled by Shiro’s sudden change in behavior, Keith turned his attention to the ocean in front of him. The open blue was as bright and cerulean as it was before. The only difference was the dark, massive wall a couple miles south.
“There weren't even any rain clouds on our way up, what gives? Has this happened on any of your other runs?” Maybe this was a California thing too?
“Huh. Nope.” Shiro shifted his jaw and clicked his tongue. After a moment he turned to Keith. “Well, we have two options. Option A: we hang out or go to shore while the storm passes. Option B: we try to go around it.”
Out of nowhere, a squealing grumble was heard. Keith’s stomach was voicing its own opinion, which was to have lunch.
“Okay, option C,” Shiro smiled at Keith who wore an embarrassed expression. “The sample in the cooler is on ice and some sort of gel so there’s not really a chance of it being compromised. Why don’t we have lunch and see if the clouds move?”
Keith hummed an affirmative and took the pack out from behind the door, making sure not to jostle the cooler. “Sounds good.”
The two men on the sea ate their cucumber, cheese, and turkey sandwiches in mostly silence and watched the storm clouds that were miles off.
When around 20 minutes had passed Shiro dusted his hands together after finishing his lunch. “Does that looks like it’s moved at all to you?”
“Not even a tiny bit.” Keith’s gaze had not faltered once. If anything, it looked like it was getting worse. Thunder drummed so loudly that they could hear it from where they were sitting.
“Well, if you don’t mind getting sprinkled on, we can probably drive around the border of it before it becomes a full blown storm.”
Keith shrugged. “It's fine, I trust you.”
Smiling, Shiro powered up the boat and turned it left toward the coast. They drove over the water for so long that Keith was beginning to believe the rain was an illusion and nothing more. Then it hit, like slamming into a wall.
To call this a “sprinkle” was severely undermining the ferocity and size of the raindrops. Thankfully there was no major winds to help it bite into their skin, and Keith was extremely grateful that he was wearing the wetsuit now.
“Maybe another fifteen minutes and we'll be past it,” Shiro shouted to Keith. “Just hang low in case there are big waves.”
“Okay!” Keith took Shiro’s advice and kept his head down behind the windshield. He gripped the rail on the side to steady himself and took a look out into the ocean.
The storm was very bad; you could hardly see the horizon due to the downpour and heavy clouds. Flashes of light were followed by cracking and crashes in the distance. He almost hoped that there were seagulls caught up in it. Almost.
Just as he was visualizing a seagull harassing a very pissy poseidon, there boat tilted a sharp left.
Keith steadied himself and made sure Shiro was okay. “What the hell was that?”
Shiro tried not to look worried. He didn't hide it very well, not from Keith. “I don't know, maybe-”
The noise was so loud and it happened so fast that Keith barely registered he was in the air. As soon as he did, gravity was way ahead of him and he heard roaring in his ears and felt water all around him.
Swim, swim up, swim UP Keith's thoughts were frantic as he tried to gain sense of up and down. With no time to prepare, he didn't have any air in his lungs.
Keith opened his eyes for them to burn against the salt water, but it didn't help him at all. Everything was dark. Pitch dark, the rain pounding on the surface somewhere was heard everywhere.
Something fizzled on the edge of his sight. There! Keith angled his body to swim toward the light he saw. His lungs screamed at him, but he pushed on. Another flash, and another…
Something wasn't right, where was the surface?
Keith's vision was producing spots while nausea and pain wracked his body from lack of oxygen. He barely registered the touch to his side, his legs, to his face.
Keith blinked, weak, to see a face in front of his. It took too long to realize why that was unsettling.
What was this young man doing under the water? Trying to concentrate, Keith looked at the face of the boy in front of him.
Blue, blue, blue. The worried eyes that stared at Keith's, the shining strips sitting underneath them- it was all blue. He could see more blue flashes beyond the face, flowing in ribbons behind him.
Pretty… was Keith's last thought before he passed out.
Keith’s eyelashes fluttered as he regained consciousness, gathering his surroundings. He was on a twin mattress with thin sheets. They made a soft noise as he moved his arms to gather himself. The first Keith registered was that he was alive and not in the water. The second thing he registered were the voices coming from the doorway of the room he resided in.
There was also a very rickety fan somewhere, but the voices took precedent.
“-don't know what happened, Sam…” Shiro was whispering loudly. He sounded bad, like his cat had just died. “He was flung out, I tried to reach him but… you know. My arm just…I couldn't grab him. Thank god he found the surface.
There was a low laugh. “I’m a terrible parent.”
Two pats, probably on Shiro’s shoulder. “Son, as hard as you want to be on yourself, you can't allow it. While you should have gone back to the island and called us, Keith is absolutely fine. That’s what you need to focus on now. Just make sure he’s alright.”
There was a brief, tense silence. Then, “Hey, Sam… you know the sample we got to you. You've never seen anything that looks like that in person, right? Like, a shining blue light? ”
Sam chuckled. “If I did, we would know what to look for. Did you see something out there?”
“... No, I must've just seen lighting reflecting on the water or something. Don't worry about it.”
Shining blue …? Keith's memory came back to him from his time underwater. Did his mind not make that up? Sure, his brain could have given him an attractive guy to look at before it thought he was going to die.
But Shiro had seen something too, Keith couldn’t discount that. Whatever it was, it was smart and kind enough to save his life.
By the time Shiro figured out that Keith was awake to dote on him and apologize, Keith was already making plans to solve this mystery.
The west coast was beginning to get interesting for Keith.