Pairing: // (Mentions of Shiro/Keith)
Word Count: 4700 (Fidipù)
Scritta per il COWT 8, Missione 2 Inganno
Riassunto: He knows there's something wrong with him. They call him Shiro, but that feels wrong.
When he wakes up there is fear running through his veins, an electrifying energy that makes him sprang into action. He recognizes where he is, of course he does, this same room has been plaguing his nightmares ever since his rescue.
He looks at his arm first thing, finding it unchanged, still made of metal and galra. It doesn't seem like they have added anything, but how can he know? The druids have powers beyond his imagination and he shivers thinking of what they could have done to him.
Still, staying here isn't a good idea so he rushes to get out of the chair he's strapped in (why is this so easy?) and stands up, looking around (why there's no one here?).
He runs, breath coming shallow to his lungs, like he hasn't moved in a while. He wonders how much time has passed now, how much time he has lost this time around.
The corridors are familiar and he looks at them with increasing worry building in his guts. There is something wrong here, but he doesn't know what it is, and yet it's a knowledge that takes a firm hold of his guts and doesn't relent.
Visions swarm inside his mind, images that don't make sense, of doctors and his body lying on a table unmoving, apparently dead. He sees experiments, and words that he can’t make out. He sees people he has never seen before and it looks a lot like what had happened to him when he was a champion, but still completely different.
He wonders if he's going crazy.
The first sign of resistance, soldiers that try to stop him, make him feel better. He springs into action, relieved to be able to stop thinking (but there aren't enough, why aren't there enough?). So he punches and shoots his way to the hangar and he takes one of their shuttles.
They shoot at him while he leaves and damage the ship enough that he has no other choice but to crash land in the planet below and he worries that they will send someone for him. That's what they should do, right? That's what it would make sense.
So he walks away, hurt and bleeding. He doesn't let himself stop.
He wants to survive, wants to go back to his team, see them again, and that's the only thing that matters.
When he gets taken again by two aliens they ask him who he is. He asks them if they have news of Voltron, but they insist:
"Who are you? I'm telling you, he's a spy," they growl and he looks at them.
"I'm Shiro," he says, "I'm not a-- I'm the black paladin of Voltron! Have you heard from my team?" everything sounds right, everything seems like exactly what he should say. So why it sits so wrongly in him?
He knows who he is, right? Takashi Shirogane, black paladin of Voltron.
They don't seem convinced, but he doesn't have time to waste here. He needs to go to his team, see if they are all right. His last memory is of an incredibly brutal fight against Zarkon and now he fears they might have get taken in too.
Why hadn't he searched more for them?
So, he frees himself and forces the two aliens to help him escape the planet and go after his friends.
"You're crazy," they tell him and they might be right. Still, he would probably describe himself as desperate.
He arrives to his team just in time to see Voltron fly away, leaving him behind and trailing after them like a lost dog who only wants to go home.
There is nothing more important than reaching Voltron, nothing that ever come close in his mind. It’s a feverish need, a drive that powers his every action.
It’s worrying. Of course, going back to his team is a normal response, but the desperation inside of him isn’t normal, that he knows. It’s like his entire being depends on this, like his only purpose in life is going back to Voltron.
He worries, but he keeps going.
While he's traveling in the deep nothing of space, watching his resources of oxygen decrease to an alarming degree, he wonders what meaning his life has.
He knows there is something wrong with him, can feel it in his guts, but he doesn't know what it is. He's probably afraid of knowing, if he has to be honest with himself.
All the things he has already lost because of the Galra block his vision and he finds himself chocked up.
He's going to die in space, a lonely ship floating in nothingness and forgotten to the universe. A part of him thinks that it might be for the better.
His team will be the only thing he'll miss. His grandfather had died a long time ago, and he doesn't think there is a life for him back on earth.
So he closes his eyes and thinks that maybe, maybe he won't get to discover what's wrong with him, what they have done. It might be a blessing.
When he opens his eyes again he sees Black in front of him, as imposing and beautiful than ever. He knows that the only one capable of driving her in his absence is Keith, the only one he trusts enough, and he smiles at him, tries to make him understand how glad he is to see him.
He will live.
At this point he’s still not sure this is a good thing or not.
He tries to tell Keith there is something that doesn't add up about his survival, something that makes no sense of the way he had awoken.
Keith tries to reassure him, tries to say that he's overthinking it. But it's obvious in the tight slope of his shoulders and in how tense he is, that Keith needs to believe that. He doesn't want to be in charge, fears the pressure, probably thinks he can't measure up to Shiro.
"They need you, Shiro," Keith says, but he can hear the undertone, the things he has left unsaid.
'I need you,' Keith is trying to say, and as much as he doesn't want to return to the fight, he doesn't have a choice after that.
So he cuts his own hair, tries to make them as similar to the one he remembers, but his hand is shaking and he messes it up, cutting it much shorter than before.
When he looks back at himself in the mirror, he doesn't look like Takashi Shirogane, and something in his guts settles. It feels better, it feels right.
He chooses other clothes too, tries to make himself look as different from what they expect as he can. It makes him feel better in a way, because he doesn’t feel like the Shiro they remember.
Black doesn't respond to him. He tries to make her move, but she stays unmovable, unresponsive.
He holds her control a little tighter and asks, whispers, "who am I?" but no one answers. Black doesn't even seem to have heard him. Is he just paranoid? Is he just going crazy?
There is something going on, he knows it in his guts, and it seems Black feels it too. And yet he doesn’t know what it is.
He closes his eyes and when Keith asks "Shiro? What's going on?" he knows what he has to do.
"Suit up," he says, leaving Black’s cockpit. "You're going to pilot Black."
"Why?" Keith sounds scandalized, scared.
Well, he can get in line.
He knows he's harsh towards Keith in that battle, but he feels lost, scared and unbalanced.
After the mission he tries to make amends, tells him he's proud of him and does his best to mean it (a part of him thinks it shouldn't be this hard).
It's obvious something still plagues Keith's mind, but that he's trying to do his best to overcome it.
He needs to do the exact same thing, overcome this wall of self-doubt that has been building in his mind, it would probably help if he started calling himself Shiro in his own head too.
Shiro stops fighting it. Even if there is something wrong in him, he doesn't think worrying about it constantly will make it better. He had tried to tell Keith, but the other had brushed off his concerns readily.
So Shiro lets it go.
He tries to adapt to his new life as well as he can. Monitoring the growth of the coalition is a tiring job and Shiro appreciates the possibility of taking his mind off his own problems.
Keith, on the other hand, becomes an increasing problem.
He knows how important heritage is to Keith, the chance to know something more about his mother, to feel closer to her. He supports his training with the Blades, but he can't help but resent how much Keith is prioritizing that over his work with Voltron.
Sometimes he thinks that Voltron is weaker with Keith at the helm, and the he grimaces at his own thoughts.
How can he think that of Keith? He knows he's doing his best and he has always supported him in everything he tried to do.
And yet this terrible feeling festers in his gut.
When Keith doesn't appear in time for another mission and Shiro hears the panicked cry of his teammates, he makes a decision and runs towards Black. He doesn't know what to say to her, doesn't even know why she doesn't accept him.
Had she read the doubts into his own mind? Had she reacted to the feverish nightmares that he has every night? He has no idea, he just knows that what Shiro would do is help his team.
Or at least try the best he can.
"Please," he says to Black, begging her as much as himself, "You trusted me once, trust me once again. We need to help them."
He closes his eyes, and thinks that he can do this. He's Takashi Shirogane and he can be him.
Black roars to life under his hands, strength flowing through them and he smiles.
(And he tries not to think about how wrong all of this feels.)
Keith leaves them for the Blades, says their work is too important. Shiro lets him go and it feels less of an anguish than he would have thought.
Having Black back with him has filled a void he didn't know he had. It's like he feels accomplished for the first time since he came back, like he finally reached his purpose.
That night he dreams, but he doesn't remember what he dreams about, only that when he wakes up he's more rested than ever. There are no more nightmares to plague his nights, and every night he feels better than the last.
The coalition grows, faster and faster. A force to be reckoned with, even for the empire.
Taking them out won't be easy.
He stops, frozen in place. HIs last thought is gone before he can even reach it, and it leaves a bitter taste in his mind. Still, it was there, and he can’t pretend that it wasn’t.
He shakes his head and keeps moving, trying to assure himself that it was nothing. A strategical mind needs to analyze everything from every perspective.
Voltron keeps going and keeps winning. Their tactic is being careful, never exposing themselves too much. They hide and strike and then run away before they can be taken out.
He thinks they can do better. There are so many of them, they can do more.
"We can free this entire quadrant," he says, looking at the map. "We only need to take down this last planet."
He sees the risks, knows that it's too guarded. It's a perfect place for a trap, and yet he doesn't tell them that.
They believe him, and they are high on success. He sees it in their faces, sees the belief that they have practically already won.
So they agree with him. Trust his words.
Ulaz had once said that he had saved him because he was a leader, because he inspired people and they needed men like that to win this war.
He wonders, now, if maybe they needed men like him to lose it too.
Shiro knows they won't make it in time to reach the ship where Haggar is controlling the bomb. Even Voltron isn't fast enough and with a single boom the entire coalition will be turned into dust.
He doesn't know if this was his fault. A part of him, the same one that has never let go of the doubts, of the scared thoughts in the night, think it is. He pushed for this, or at least he insisted enough that everyone else thought it was a good idea.
They will say that everyone agreed on it but the truth is that he had wanted this mission, had dreamed of it and of i's success.
"The bomb has been defused," he hears out of the blue and he looks up, startled.
"Good job, Keith," he says, and he's smiling even if there is something unsettling inside of him, some kind of strange feeling that makes him nauseous. It’s feels like someone is punishing him for something.
"It wasn't me," Keith replies after a second. He sounds out of breath and shaken in a way that makes Shiro grow worried. "Lotor did it," Keith continues and it shocks everyone.
"Team Voltron, Coalition," Lotor says, and he can almost see the smirk, "I think it's time we talk."
They let Lotor into the castle, closing him in a guarded room from where he can't escape. They keep him monitored all the time, but his presence still makes them uncomfortable.
It feels like he's watching them even when they are watching him.
"We have to give it to him, without him this mission would have been a disaster," Pidge says, looking at the monitor.
She's right, obviously, but he can't help but feel like that's exactly the problem.
"Still, we can't trust him one bit," he says, and he sees Keith nodding beside him.
"Yeah, okay, the dude is a douche," Lance says, looking at them, "but I mean we know he and his father were fighting. I'm not saying we trust him, but maybe we at least hear him out."
"I agree with Lance," Allura says, nodding, "we were outsmarted this time and it can't happen again. Someone who knows what the Empire is capable of is a resource we can't afford to lose."
"Did you all forget who he is?" Keith asks, looking at them. His eyes are burning with a fury and an anguish that Shiro doesn't recognize. He wonders how long this has been going on, how much Keith has been hurting lately.
He knows what he should do, take Keith somewhere they can be alone and make him see reason. Calm him down, listen to what it's making him react this way and make him see reason. Instead, he just says: "Keith has a good point. We can't forget that Lotor recaptured a planet for the empire. He might not like his father, but doesn't seem opposed to his politics."
"Really, Shiro? I expected this from Keith, not from you!" Lance says, with a little frown.
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," Pidge points out, fixing her glasses, "is basic strategy. We're not saying we trust him, we're saying we use him."
"Then you're all idiots," Keith hisses, low and dangerous. He's acting on instincts and he will regret what he's saying later, but Shiro doesn't stop him as he normally would. He watches the situation unfold and thinks.
He sees Lance's hackle rising and the way Allura's eyes harden with a resolution that only a war leader has. He sees the distance between the team and Keith grow in front of his eyes.
"Maybe we can see what he has to say," Shiro amends, feeling Keith looking back at him with a betrayed look. "I want to be inside, just to be sure he doesn't try anything."
"I'm going in with you," Allura replies immediately, "our fathers were friends, maybe it will be useful."
"I want to go too," Keith says, immediately, but Allura shaker her head.
"You're too volatile now, Keith. You're angry and we need him to cooperate," she explains to him. Keith looks shocked for a second.
"You're all ready to trust him, and he's going to take advantage of that!" he says, looking then at Shiro. "Tell them!"
He looks around and sees them all looking at him. They are all untrusting towards each other, and he can see that this might be the moment that makes or breaks the team.
So he says: "I'm sorry, Keith. They are right."
Keith looks affronted and then betrayed. And then, then something else takes over his face, something sadder. It looks like resignation.
He storms out, walking bristly and they all watch him go without moving. No one tries to follow him, no one thinks of fixing the situation.
"Don't worry, Shiro," Hunk says, "he's going to see this is the right choice soon. You know Keith."
He does know Keith, knows him better than all of them combined and a part of him wants to laugh because no one here even noticed how much Shiro screwed up right now.
They think he took the right choice and they are right, just not the right one for them.
It becomes harder now to ignore.
He has tried so valiantly, avoiding the truth with a single mindness that bordered on ridiculous. Everytime he had gotten that feeling in his chest, that forebonding knowledge that he was making the wrong choice, that this was not what he was supposed to do, he had buried it under the sand. Denial, one would call it.
He can't live in denial anymore. He knows what he's doing. WIth every lie, with every painful manouver.
Every one of his action is design, calculated. It's like there is a script he's following, pulling him towards something he doesn't want to immagine.
A part of him wants to tell them what's happening, and it's probably the part of him that's still irrevocably Takashi Shirogane. It's ptobably also the side of him that Black recognizes when she lets him piot her.
Everything else, however, is corrupted to the core. He feels it rot inside of him but he doesn't seem to be able to stop it.
At night he looks at his own reflection in the mirror and he's the same as always, he understands why they trust him, why they believe him.
It's a mistake, but they don't know that.
There are whispers in his ears now, terrible words that fill him with dread and anticipation. His headaches are gone, replaced by something far more terrible.
Will they ever realize what he's doing to them before it's too late?
The whispers reassure him that he's on the right path, that they will never know his true identity. He's their perfect creation and he will bring down every single cell of the resistance.
The problem is? He thinks the voice is right.
Keith distances himself completely from them and his absence becomes impossible to ignore. He doesn't call them anymore while he's on a mission, he answers briefly and curtly when they try and reach him.
The distrust and distance in his eyes is obvious, a sign so clear it stares them in the face every moment.
The team says he just needs time, but Shiro knows the truth. Now that he has allowed himself the freedom to face the truth about himself, he thinks he's the only one that can really see everything as it is.
They are blinded, deceiving themselves better than Shiro ever could.
He thinks about the whispers at night, that tell him how easy this will be and he loathes to think about how right it is.
Lotor's intel, in the end, proves correct.
They still don't trust him, know that they can't take anything he says at face value, but in the end everything he tells them it's true.
When they asked him why he was doing it, he says that the witch had ears everywhere, even in places that should have been impossible for her to reach. "I want to show her that she's not a step in front of me."
Shiro now lets Black land in the planet where one of the biggest facilities for the gathering of Quintessence lies and he almost wants to laugh.
"She's here," Lotor says in the comms, a new channel that Pidge had created, "this is our chance to attack her. She will never know we're here."
Shiro closes his eyes and nods to himself. There is no turning back from this, even if he was capable of stomming himself.
"Let's go team," he says then, his voice as sure as he can make it, "let's end this once and for all."
They all leave their lions, and prepare. The plan is to fing the witch Haggar and take her alive to interrogate her on their plans. She's too valuable, Allura had said, if we manage to exctact all the information she has, we'll defeat Zarkon in no time.
She's right, of course, taking down Haggar would be a move to be remembered.
They slip in unnoticed, avoiding all the guards in their route. It's not hard, Lotor seems to know the facility well, and he smiles a little cockly when they ask him how.
On the other side of the facility, the Blades are doing another strike, so that they can meet in the middle. Everyone is here, ready to face what could be one of the last battles of this interminable war.
When they reach the inner room, where Haggar should be, they find a trap that shocks them the moment they enter.
They fall to the ground, hurt and still reeling from the shock. The same thing happens when the BOM make their entrance, and even their careful planning doesn't save them.
"H-how?" Lotor asks, his teeth grinding together to stop himself from screaming.
"You sold us out!" Keith screams from the other side of the room, incensend in his hatred. He looks wild, he looks unhinged.
Shiro did that.
"I can assure you, Prince Lotor has done no such thing," a voice says, appearing out of nowhere. Haggar advances on them, composed and proud. "He's here to be punished just like the rest of you. Every threat to the empire must be crushed."
He sees everyone trying to get up and fight the energy that still shocks them every few second, keeping them in the ground, hurting.
"How did you know?" Lotor asks, wondering. He doesn't look resigned, wants her to believe that he has an ace in the hole, but Shiro knows he doesn't. He made sure there wasn't anything he could do.
"The empire has ears everywhere. An you were all so blind," she's smiling and it looks ominous on her face. Even for Shiro who knows what's coming. "I was worried in the beginning," she says, "he was trying so hard to tell you, but you never realized."
"What the hell are you saying," Keith screams from the floor and Haggar looks at him, annoyed by the interruption.
"Rise, Champion. It is time to finish this," she says and he has to follow her orders, even if he doesn't want to.
He gets up, feeling the shock leaving his body. Haggar is looking at him like one looks at an object of incredible beauty. He doesn't look around to see the other's faces, doesn't have the strenght.
"Shiro?" he hears, a soft whisper that speaks of betrayal and hurt, but he doesn't look back at Keith and joins Haggar by her side.
He had suspected that the voice of the whispers was hers, even if he hadn't been sure. It had felt cold in his mind, and it made sense.
"Shiro, what are you doing?" he hears them scream behind him and he doesn't know how to face them, so he doesn't.
"This is not your black paladin," Haggar says, smiling at him with something wicked in her eyes, "this is one of our weapons. The perfect creation."
She smiles at him and he wonders why she has chosen him over and over. What made Takashi Shirogane so appealing to her?
"Where is Shiro?" he hears Keith scream from behind them, and he finally turns to them.
They are still on the ground, looking at them with a shocked face. He knows how difficult it must be for them, considering how easy deceiving them has been.
He wants to say he's sorry, that there is a part of him that never wanted this to end this way, but it feels wrong.
"He's probably dead," Haggar says, and Shiro notices it before anyone else.
Keith screams, a vicious sound originated from hurt and sadness, and stands up. He runs forward, and he doesn't falter even if he must be in a lot of pain, he keeps going, his blade morphing in his hand.
Keith has always been extraordinary.
Shiro stops him easily, however, stopping his blade with his galra hand and pushing him back to the ground.
"You deceived us," Keith is saying, "we believed you. Where is the real Shiro."
He really doesn't know, he had thought about it sometimes. Maybe the Galra had him, maybe he was lost in space just like he had been before Keith found him. Maybe he's dead.
"I'm sorry," he says to Keith anyway, because a part of him wants to make this better for him. And also much, much worse. "He loved you very much."
Keith freezes under him and then screams, trying to free himself to attack him, even if Shiro keeps him flat against the floor.
Every movement must be agony for him, but Keith doesn't stop struggling.
"Keith. Keith stop," Lance says, and his voice is chocked up, scared.
Haggar comes behind Shiro and places a hand on his shoulder. "Isn't he impressive? Project Kuron, one of my best creation."
He thinks about it for a second. Kuron. It has a nicer ring than Shiro to his ears.
He can be a Kuron.
In the end Haggar doesn't kill them immediately. She says that Zarkon has to have the pleasure.
Kuron shows her where they had parked the lions, but Black doesn't open up for him anymore. It hurts, but he knew this would happen.
The part of him that was still, and will always be, Takashi Shirogane is dormant now, and Black will never respond to his call again. He tries to remember that Black was never his to begin with.
While they bring the prisoners to Zarkon, Keith tells him, with a fervent look in his eyes: "I know he's still alive."
It's a nice thought, but naive. Born more out of blind faith than actual proof. He wants to tell him that it was this blind faith they all had in Shiro that had led them to this point.
Instead he only asks, "Where is he then?".
No one answers.
Until the end everyone holds on faith that Takashi Shirogane, the real one, will come to save them. It's incredible how much this people believe in him, almost nonsensical.
Ulaz had saved the real Shiro, a long time ago, for exactly this reason. He had known that Shiro had been capable of inspiring others this much and had seen in it a weapon to use against the empire.
How the tables have turned.
Without Voltron the coalition doesn't have a chance. Their hopes are crushed and left to die in space. Kuron knows their positions, where their headquarter is. Knows their codes and their encryptions. They can run, but they can never hide from him.
They hunt them one by one. Methodically and efficiently.
In the end, nothing is left but silence and a single chant: "Vrepit Sa".