Out in the Cold

Disclaimer: I do not own Voltron or any of its characters.

Okay, you know me by now… 2nd response to KAEX Challenge Lights Out in the Cold. And yes, I spend more time than is reasonable doing this. But in reality this story only took me a few hours. So it was like… watch Survivor or write the story. I went with the story. Hope you like it.

Rating/Setting: Rating is T. Setting is DotU

"Coran, you're breaking up." Keith said over the video com in Black Lion.

"Comander, we are operating under emergency power in the castle." Behind Coran something sparked and people shouted. The screen was fuzzy with black and white snow… which was ironic because of the epic snowstorm and sub-freezing temps taking place outside the castle. After a brief moment, Coran's face popped back into view. "There has also been a short in the communication system and I'm afraid that internal coms will be down as the wireless system inside will fail. Communication outside the castle will also be non-existent once we shut down the system and it will remain that way until we fix the short in the system."

Allura came up on the monitor, having listened in from Blue Lion. "Coran, we have to have those systems online. We are sitting ducks for Doom without the ability to communicate."

"We should be all right, Princess," Keith answered. "Our communications gear inside our uniforms and the coms in the Lions operate on a different wireless network and power base. If we have to form Voltron, we'll still be able to communicate. Getting to the Lions will be the problem."

"That's right, Comander. The power-" SHHHHHHHHH "- that run the-" SHHHHHHHH

"Coran, you're breaking up. Don't worry about us. We'll be in once we walk back through the tubes and up the stairs. It'll take us awhile, so don't send out a search party too early." Keith joked.

"Roger, Com-" Coran's voice and form blinked in and out. "- see you when you get here."

Whatever short had caused the communication problem decided to end all communication between the Lions and the castle at that point.

Allura filled Keith's video screen. "Well, Commander, looks like we'll both have a long cold walk through the tubes."

Smiling back at her, he agreed and said, "Make sure you grab your winter parka and flashlight from the storage area before leaving the cockpit."

"I wouldn't dream of leaving Blue without them! And if I did leave them, I bet I'd be climbing back in to retrieve them," Allura laughingly said. "I'm just glad that Blue's connector from the cockpit to the shuttle tube has its own battery back-up." Then a new thought occurred to her. "Wait, Black's connector doesn't have a back-up does it?"

Grimacing slightly, Keith said, "No, it doesn't. However, the thought that the power system and a snowstorm occurring while Black was out on patrol didn't seem likely to the builders I guess."

"Maybe you should forgo landing on the pedestal and land closer to the castle so that you don't have to climb down Black." Concern was obvious in her voice.

Shrugging, Keith said, "I'll be fine. Once I'm on the pedestal, I just need to clear off the emergency hatch to climb down the stairs to the tube."

Still not certain, Allura replied, "Okay, but I want you to contact me when you get in the tube so I'll know you're safe."

Chuckling at her mothering of him, he saluted and said, "Yes, Mam, will do."

As the two Lions approached the castle, Blue broke through the thin layer of ice that had already reformed over her exit point from earlier. Allura was extremely grateful that the icy waters wouldn't touch her as she rode her command chair down to the shuttle tube. Pulling her fur-lined parka hood over her head, she activated the wrist flashlight and commenced her trek out. They were all lucky that it was her and Keith on patrol when the power outage occurred. For any of the other pilots to walk back would have taken double or even triple the time it would take her and Keith. At a moderate pace, she should be back to the wagon wheel in about 20 minutes.

After about ten minutes of walking, she frowned at her com unit. Keith should have had plenty of time to get to the tube. Just as she was about to call him, her unit activated.

Earlier, after Keith landed…

After making sure that he had his wrist light securely attached and his parka zipped all the way up, Keith exited the hatch under Black's head. Securing the magnetized repelling rope, he carefully swung out and then closed the hatch behind him. This had seemed like a good idea earlier, but now he felt the full force of the gale winds whipping around the exposed Lion. And of course he had left Black sitting completely upright. He swore at little at his own lack of foresight as he began lowering himself. Completely at the mercy of the winds, Keith began to be buffeted. Concerned at how far he was starting to swing, Keith began lowering himself faster. He was about fifteen feet above the pedestal when a particularly violent gust pushed him into Black's leg and jarred his grip on the line. Unable to reestablish his hold on the line, Keith fell the remaining distance. There was no good way to fall in this situation and equally no good way to land. The pedestal had ice with snow over top and when his left boot landed, it quickly skidded to the side wrenching his knee. However, that pain was nothing to pain in the arm he landed on. Most likely he had broken something. He lay there a moment in the snow and just concentrated on breathing as the winter flakes fell in a continuous stream on his body.

Sitting up, a few colorful metaphors flew from his mouth as black spots and stars vied for dominance in his vision. There was no way he could even try to stand on the icy platform. He'd have to crawl to the hatch and work to clear the two feet of snow that currently lay on top of it. But before that, he'd have to call Allura like he promised. Pressing the button on his wrist com, Keith inadvertently swore as he activated the unit.

"Keith? Are you okay?"

Hell, he had hoped she hadn't heard that. "Um, not really."

Allura heard his heavy breathing and the hiss he left out when he stopped speaking. "What do you mean, 'not really?' Are you hurt?" Even though she was talking, she picked up her pace. "Are you in the tube?"

"The wind was stronger than I expected and the platform was icier than expected. And I'm feeling a lot worse than I expected."

"Are you in the tube?"

"No. But I plan to have the hatch open soon." What the hell he was going to do when he got it open, he wasn't sure. There was no way he could hop all the way down the stairs and through the tube to the castle.

"I'm on my way."

He drew a breath to tell her not to come, but he realized he couldn't. He would need her help. There was no guarantee that he could get the hatch open with his injuries. He should probably send her to control and Lance and Hunk would come assist him. "I think you should go get Hunk and Lance."

"No way, Comander. By the time I climb up to them and they climb down, you could be a popsicle if you haven't gotten inside."

"It's not going to do any good to order you not to come is it?"

"Don't waste your breath, Keith."

Dragging himself toward the hatch, he replied, "Well, if you're determined to come. Hurry up."

Smiling in spite of herself, she keyed off her com. Breaking into a jog, she headed towards him.

Keith smiled. She was always feisty and protective. It was nice to be on the receiving end of her protection. Usually he was getting an earful of things she didn't like. Maybe she'd take it a little easy on him since he was injured.

Groaning, he pushed/pulled his body towards the hatch and then began clearing the snow the best way he could. It was damn hard. He'd push the snow off and the wind would blow it back. Keith was pleased that he had managed to clear off the access panel so that he could use his handprint to unlock the hatch. However, that didn't do anything for the difficulty of trying to lift the heavy hatch while sitting and having a broken arm. What all these things added together gave you was one hell of a situation. A long fifteen minutes later, Keith glared at the unmoving hatch. He needed Allura to push from the inside while he pulled. Shivering, he realized he had violated one of the cardinal rules of cold weather survival. He had allowed himself to get sweaty and now that he was cooling off, he was colder than ever.

Allura alternated between jogging and walking as she headed towards the pedestal stairway. It wouldn't do for her to get sweaty with the cold temps in the tube and outside. If Keith had taught her anything, it was survival skills. As much as it pained her, she stopped at the bottom of the stairwell to let her heart rate return to something more normal and for her body temp to regulate.

While she waited, she keyed her com to see if Keith had made it inside. She began to sprint up the stairs when he didn't answer.

The snow had drifted up against Keith's back as he lay on the platform near the hatch. It would have been best to have sheltered behind one of the mecha's legs. However, he wasn't sure he could move there and get back to help Allura open the hatch. So he had waited. At first, he didn't hear Allura call him on the communicator. Sounds of someone yelling and perhaps beating on the metal in front of him registered in his mind and his eyes slowly opened. Finally, his mind focused enough for him to realize that Allura had arrived. Pushing himself to a seated position, he keyed his com unit. "I'm here, Allura! I hear you!"

"I'm glad! I've been down here calling for you for the last five minutes."

Grimacing at the fear in her voice, he stuttered out, "Well, let's get this hatch open so I can warm up. On the count of three, you push and I'll pull." He heard her acknowledgement and began the count. "One… two… three!" He pulled awkwardly with his good arm and felt more than heard the hatch groan against the ice and snow that had held it closed. He fell back into the snow as the hatch opened. Moments later he saw Allura's concerned face hover over him. As he closed his eyes, he thought he saw her leaning in over him. And he would have sworn he felt warm soft lips on his… but then, his mind was addled by the cold.

Allura had looked at Keith's face that was red with cold. He had just closed his eyes as he lay there unmoving, seemingly exhausted from the effort to pull open the hatch. She leaned over to see the small column of vapor that escaped from his mouth. His mouth. It looked so cold. Quietly and carefully, she leaned over to softly place her lips on his. Pulling back in embarrassment that she had kissed him when he was so obviously hurt, she surveyed his position and that of the hatch. This was not going to be easy.

Shaking him gently, she called to him, "Keith. Keith. You need to open your eyes. There's no way I'm going to be able to get you down without your help."

Opening his eyes slowly, he pushed himself up on his good arm. Holding the broken one close to him, he winced.

"Where are you hurt?"

For the first time, some semblance of a smile appeared on his face. "I think it's easier to tell you what isn't hurt and that would be my right ear." Looking down at his legs, the smile faded. "I've twisted my left knee and I'm pretty sure that I've broken my left arm. Add to that, most of my body is bruised from the fall."

Allura paled at his assessment and then steeled herself for what they would need to do. Drawing a deep breath, she said, "I'll let you go down the ladder first. There's not much way for me to help you on that part, but I can close the hatch behind us."

Nodding, Keith eased his body over to the hatch and carefully placed his right foot on a rung as far down as he could. Reaching with his right arm, he grabbed a rung and pulled his body over. He immediate put his injured leg on the next rung and quickly moved down. It was agony. He leaned against the wall once he was off the eight foot ladder. The hatch clanged closed above him, but he kept his eyes shut until he heard Allura move towards him. When his eyes opened, it took a moment to adjust to the dim interior of the stairwell. One of the emergency lights blinked rapidly on and off. He'd have to speak to Coran about that.

"Keith?"

Startled out of his inconsequential revelry, he looked at her. "Allura, it's eight flights of stairs to the tube. I'm not going to make it all the way down." Seeing the fear in her eyes, he said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to croak, but we're going to need help. I'll start down the steps while you head back to the castle for help. Tell them they'll find me in the tube or the stairwell. There's nowhere else for me to go."

Looking at Keith, she realized that he was right. The longer she stayed, the longer that he would be in the cold and without medical treatment. Reluctance was evident in her tone as she answered, "Okay."

He watched her stand there, not moving. He would have been curious at her reluctance if he weren't so cold and hurt. "The sooner you leave, Princess…"

Blushing, she turned and started down the steps at a quick pace. Noticing that it warmed up slightly as entered the part of the stairwell that was underground, she hoped that Keith was able to make it down that far. The top four flights of stairs were completely encased but they were still above ground and subject to the effect of the weather on the pedestal. The lower flights of stairs had the insulation of the ground to aid in temperature regulation. It was a good thought, but she could hear a curse from Keith echoing through the stairwell. Keith had hoped to reassure her that he would be okay, but she knew he wasn't going to make it to the tube. Hunk and Lance would find him in the stairwell. The question would be just how much of a popsicle he would be when they found him.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Allura was breathing hard when she exited the stairs and burst into Castle Control.

"Princess! We were starting to worry." Coran's voice held concern and a note of reproach. "You really shouldn't have been down in the tubes so long with the Commander." Pausing, he looked behind her. "Where is Keith?"

Her haughty glare would have been so much more effective if she hadn't needed to lean over and hold her knees as she sought to catch her breath. "He's injured and in the pedestal stairwell of Black Lion." She looked to Hunk, who was the only team member in the room, and said, "Find Lance and go get him. He's twisted his knee and broken his arm." She gasped for air. As Hunk started to run from the room, she called out, "He's freezing! Get a collapsible wheelchair and thermal blankets from MedBay before you go." Allura moved to lean against the wall and continued to draw deep breaths.

"Princess, you should go to MedBay yourself to heat up with one of their emergency heaters." Coran's solicitous tone was unappreciated by the princess.

Her glare held a little more power as she responded, "I'm going down with the boys to get him."

Coran was figuring out how to best respond when his back-up arrived.

"You most certainly will not, Princess! It was bad enough you were unchaperoned with that hooligan for hours. I will not allow you to go back into those dark tunnels with three of them!" Nanny's voice was filled with command.

However, Allura wasn't going to let Nanny dictate to her about this… that is until Nanny added, "What do you think you can do to help those two strong young men? You're cold and have already climbed those stairs once. You will only slow them and the commander's treatment down. Is that what you want?"

Nanny watched with sense of well-deserved self-congratulation as the steam went out of Allura's eyes. Allura was growing too close to these young men and she would do her best to make sure that the boundaries were maintained. But she wasn't above using Allura's concern for the boys to her advantage. No matter how much the princess wanted to assert her own authority, she would never do so in a way that would cause injury to her… friends. For a moment, Nanny's eyes narrowed. Friends. They were all friendly… the question was, was that all there was to it? It would bear watching.

Hugging her arms to her chest, Allura nodded. "I'll wait in MedBay. That's where they'll be taking him when he returns. I plan to be waiting there to check on him." Turning her back on the advisor and nanny, she walked out of the room.

Coran watched Nanny watching Allura. "Don't make more of it than there is, Nanny."

"Whatever do you mean, Coran?"

"You know what I mean. They're friends. She would do the same if it were Pidge. And I'm sure that not even you would think that Princess Allura was interested in him romantically."

Nanny huffed. "We have to be on guard, Coran." She turned and followed Allura out.

Shaking his head, Coran allowed himself a smirk as he thought, oh, it's exactly what you're worried about, Nanny. The only thing is, they don't even realize it themselves.

XXXXXXXXXXX

Hunk and Lance had found Keith in the stairwell. He was not very coherent due to pain and cold. Allura was going to freak out. Then Hunk and Lance stared at each other as Keith murmured something about 'soft lips.' They hoped that as he warmed up, he'd sensor his words. If Nanny or Coran heard that… well, Keith might be in MedBay longer than expected.

After getting Keith down the stairs and into the wheelchair, they covered him in one of the self-heating blankets. As they pushed him back to the wagon wheel, he became more aware and awake.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Lance asked, "So, while you were still coming to, you mentioned something about 'soft lips.' Care to let us in on that one, Keith?"

Giving an embarrassed glare up at his friend, he said, "I wasn't really awake and the cold really messed me up. You can't take anything I said seriously."

"Sure, Keith." Lance smirked as he replied. It was obvious that he took it all way too seriously.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

As she had told Nanny and Coran, Allura was waiting in MedBay for Keith's arrival. She was relatively quiet when they brought him in and left without resisting when Dr. Gorma asked they leave. Keith needed to change out of the wet clothing and have his injuries treated.

About thirty minutes later, he was in dry warm clothes in a bed with his leg elevated and his arm in a cast. He was also frowning. That meant he was okay, just irritated.

Lance tried to bring up the bright side of the ordeal. "Just think, buddy, you get to stay in one of the few heated areas of the castle! It should be worth it to be warm while the rest of us are freezing our as-"

"Lieutenant!"

Smirking, Lance said, "Like Allura hasn't hear the word a-"

"So help me, Lance!"

Making a placating gesture as his teammates joined in the laughter, Lance said, "Okay. I won't continue to needle an injured bear."

Keith was still giving Lance an angry look when Allura spoke up. "So, you're really okay, Keith?"

"Yes. Doc wants me to stay overnight so I don't overdo and so my core body temp will get back to normal." At this, he shot Lance a meaningful glare that said, 'don't go there with any comments.' For once, Lance just smiled back.

Dr. Gorma came in and asked that they leave so his patient could rest.

After they filed out into the cool corridor outside the medical facility, Lance hung back to walk beside Allura. "So how was the kiss?"

Allura shot him an incredulous look as she asked, "What kiss?"

Not even looking at her, Lance replied, "Oh, Keith was out of his head but he mentioned something about 'soft lips.'"

Color rose in her cheeks, but she kept her tone even. "I don't know what you're talking about, Lance. He said a lot of odd things come to think about it. It must have been the cold."

"Sure, Princess. I'm sure it was just the cold. See you at dinner." Picking up his pace, he left her to her thoughts.

Glancing back to the entrance to MedBay, she wondered, do you remember it, Keith? Well, even if he did, it was just a kiss between friends. She had been worried about him. He was injured. Yes, she said to herself. It was nothing. Just a simple platonic kiss to a friend. She repeated that to herself as she walked down the hall.

Inside MedBay, Keith looked at the doors his friends had exited. Yes, they were all his friends. Including the princess. Yes, he thought to himself. It was just a kiss from a concerned friend. No special meaning. Heck, she's a princess. There's no way it could mean anything more. She probably just got too close when trying to check my breathing. Yep, that's it.

The two 'friends' continued to rationalize what that one small kiss meant. As much as they both wanted it to mean more than friendship, they weren't willing to admit to it… yet. Perhaps they were ready to come in from the cold, but like the Castle of Lions, they were still in the dark.