Word Count: 11084 (Fidipù)
Rating: SAFE; Warnings: Temporary Character Death
Scritta per il COWT 8, Missione 3 Bring me to life
Riassunto: Paladin Shiro loses his life in an ambush. Keith will defy the law of Altea and life itself to bring him back
Keith hears the bells from afar, daunting and solemn. Their sounds carries, so much so that he thinks they might have heard them from the nearby village.
He hopes so.
If he was a better person he would have hears them from the square, where everyone had gathered to mourn together. Instead Keith has hidden himself on the top of the castle, in a place that only he knows.
He's sure Allura has searched for him all over, trying to convince him to join her. He feels a sick satisfaction at the idea of avoiding her.
He doesn't know how long he will be able to hide from her, or from the rest of the world, but he's going to try and do it for as long as he can.
When the bells stop ringing a heavy silence permeates the air. Keith isn't able to hear what they are saying in the square, nor he can distinguish the little dots he's seeing. He wonders who is talking in his stead.
Allura, probably, shouldering this responsibility like all the others.
She's probably going to do a better job that Keith would have, anyway. She's going to share some lovely memory, make someone laugh, someone else cry, but everyone is gonna leave and remember only the good things about Shiro.
Keith would have been angry.
He hadn't prepared a speech, hadn't been able to even think about it, but he knows it would have been harsh and disrespectful, and Shiro deserved better than that.
Shiro deserved better than this.
His body, they say, is almost completely unrecognizable. He had put up a fight, they say, but they had killed him and left him there to be devoured by the beasts of the forest.
Keith had tried to leave the moment he had hears the news, his anger and desire for revenge growing stronger every second. Allura had stopped him, reminding him that he couldn't fight an entire empire on his own.
'Watch me' he had said, his vision filled with red.
She's still his queen, however, and as much as Keith wants to send this all to hell, he can't do it. Shiro loved this nation too much. And Keith loves Shiro too much.
Altea is in mourning today, in a gloomy morning where the life of one of the best Paladins of the royal army is being released to the quintessence.
Shiro had gone with a little medical team to assist a nearby village, inside Altea's territory, names Kerberos. They had been plagued by a terrible malade and a shortage of food and Allura had decided to send two of her finest doctors to assist with the situation. Shiro had been chosen as their escort.
It should have been an easy expedition, inside the borders of their territory, safe from ambushes.
In the beginning, they had thought it had been an animal attack. Their lacerated and mangled bodies had been enough of a clue, but once the medics had started working on repairing their flesh, to give them a proper and honored burial, the slashes of metal had come to light.
Bandits, they had hoped in the beginning, but Keith knew better. Shiro would have never been overcome by simple bandits.
They still don't know who they were, or how they got in the borders, pass the watch towers, but they had found traces of Galra magic on them.
Keith hates to think about the party they would have thrown, defeating one of Altea's generals. After the departure of the Altea's kind, Alfor, by the hand of the Galra Emperor, another loss of this caliber feels like a heavy wound.
But Shiro had always felt like someone too good to really exist.
The bells ring again, signaling the end of the ceremony, and Keith looks down again watching as everyone starts leaving the square to go back to their ordinary life.
How long will it take them to forget Shiro? Most of them didn't even know him that well. He was just a soldier they passed on the street and waved at from afar.
Some, maybe, remembered him because he always stopped to help them. Some others didn't even know his face.
Keith doesn't think he will ever be able to forget it, haunting his dreams every night.
He closes his eyes, letting the bell chimes resonate inside his heart, a macabre rhythm of death and mourning.
He can stay here for as long as he likes, he realizes, hiding from the rest of the world for the rest of time. No one alive knew of it anymore.
Keith leaves his hiding place four hours later, when the sun has already set over the horizon and the sky is colored in crimson slashes.
He hopes to avoid meeting anyone while he goes back to his own chambers. He doesn't know what he'll do once there, but he hopes to stop thinking for a while, maybe forget for a moment the state of his life. The loss that seems to big to overcome.
There is someone in front of his door however, dressed in sadness and bright pink.
She notices him immediately and she looks at him with an expression he doesn't know how to decypher. Allura has always been a mystery for him, a hard shell with a too soft core and an even harder center.
She's queen forged in war and loss, who has wore pink almost all her life. The color of the fallens.
"Keith," she says, a call that he can't ignore. He reaches her soon, unable to look her in the eyes.
A part of him knows that he should apologize for the position he put her in, that Shiro had been a precious existence to her too, but the words don't come to him, stuck in his throat.
He stays silent then, vulnerable in front of her. As much as he wants to pretend otherwise, Keith knows that he's wearing his anguish on his sleeve, parading it for everyone to see.
It makes him feel uncomfortable to have his weakness so completely exposed.
"Have dinner with me," Allura says in the end. She's smiling, an expression born more out of sadness that real happiness. "We haven't done it in a long time."
They have eaten together two days before Shiro's departure, laughing at the table about Coran's latest architectural disaster. It had been fun.
Shiro and Allura always had a special bond, ever since Shiro had come to Altea an orphan in search of a possibility and had been taken under the wing of the royal guards.
She and Shiro had grown together, a duo long before Keith had came into the picture, and she had been gracious to him. Careful in the beginning, but warming up to him quickly.
Still, he opens his mouth to decline. He feels still too raw, and he just wants to cure his wounds in privacy, not compare them with someone who is as hurt as him.
Allura must see it because she raises an hand to stop him from talking. "I can make it a order from your Queen if that will get you to show up," she says, and Keith immediately realizes she's not kidding.
He wonders if she needs this more than Keith does.
In the end, he concedes. He nods at her, extending his arm for her to take, like Shiro had always done.
Her eyes glaze over with an anguish that rivals Keith's own, but she brushes off her tears quickly, taking his arm.
They'll have to adapt to this new life soon enough.
When Keith had reached Altea, he had been a fourteen year old boy, hungry and alone. He's the son of an Altean farmer, who lived in a village near the border, and a Galra soldier who had found herself drawn to him. Their love, from what his father had told him, had been good.
Keith doesn't remember much. His mother had left them before Keith had reached ten years old and then the war had begun.
A vicious battle sparked from the Galra Emperor's greed and his Empress desire of quintessence for her experiments, or at least that's what the farmer said, scared for their life.
Keith doesn't know if it's true, but what he knows is that his father got killed in an ambush and Keith had to run for his life.
For entire days he had traveled in the woods, trying to overrun the soldiers that had been following everyone who had tried to escape the village. Keith had been scared, true, but mostly angry.
His knowledge of the war had been scarce up to that point, just hearsay and old men's tales and he didn't understand what had happened. Didn't understand the difference.
It's why he had tried to attack the guard who had found him in the woods, unable to recognize friend from foe. Keith had used the knife his father had gifted him when he was nine years old, a gift from his mother he had said, and tried to go for the soldier's throat, just like he would an animal.
The soldier had stopped him quickly, not very threatened by a fourteen years old who hadn't eaten in days, but he had admired Keith's strength and desire to survive.
All the survivors, even if there weren't many, were taken to Altea, to find a little peace. Families had been reunited and for a moment Keith had hoped, against all odds, to find his father there.
But Keith had been alone.
The guards had helped them for weeks, but soon grew busy with war and had left them to fend for themselves. For Keith that had meant stealing more than anything else.
He had met Shiro not long after. Now a soldier working towards being one of the youngest members of the royal guards, Shiro had caught him while Keith had tried to steal a loaf of bread.
Keith had expected him to report him, maybe punish him on the spot, but Shiro had just paid for his bread and asked him to talk.
Keith's life had completely changed from that day.
Shiro said he had admired the quickness of his reflexes and his boldness even in the face of getting caught. "You didn't avert your eyes," Shiro always said, "I like that about you."
So Shiro had taken him under his wig, taking him to the castle to train as a guard before, and after as one of the members of the covert assault team. Keith had been fifteen by then, and the possibility of a place to live in and food everyday had been enough.
Then, then he had gotten to know Shiro.
Shiro who had saved him and given him a chance when Keith had thought he was already forgotten by everyone; Shiro who had trained with Keith every night, even after his own training, and had encouraged him; Shiro who had shared with Keith his entire life, welcoming him with a smile and open arms.
And Keith had fallen for him completely. In the beginning a kind of hero worshipping that had morphed and grown with them.
Keith had been nineteen when he had kissed Shiro. He had just been promoted to Captain and Keith had been proud, but also scared.
He hadn't really expected Shiro to kiss back, but he had been ecstatic when the other had. When the kiss was over, they had looked at each other, still panting and close to each other and Keith had been lost.
Keith had often wondered what his life would have been like if he hadn't met Shiro that day. He had probably ended up in jail, or died from hunger, or wasted himself in the street of the city, with no one to remember his name.
He had always thought that meeting Shiro was the best thing to happen to him. Now, with his heart shattered and the pain irradiating inside of him like daggers, he's not sure anymore.
Allura doesn't say much during dinner. She cuts the same piece of meat ten times before putting it in her mouth. Keith doesn't even pretend to be hungry and looks at the plate in front of him with detachment.
"You should eat something," Allura tells him at one point, but he looks at her plate, almost completely full. She follows his gaze and smiles, sadly, "I already ate today. At the ceremony. You would know if..." she stops, almost realizing the way her voice had started to break.
"What did you say?" he asks, because he wants to know what where the last words used to describe him.
"I said he was my friend, and one of the best knights of my guard," she says, with a sad and watery smile. "I said he was loved by many," she continues, "and that she touched all of our hearts."
He listens to her, feeling tears swelling in his eyes. This is why he hadn't gone, he thinks, why he had just listened to the ominous bell tolls. They had wanted him to speak, but he can't even listen to someone else talk about him.
"I also said," she continues, looking at him, "that he would have wanted us to be happy, even without him."
Keith blinks and he feels the tears run on his cheek and incredibly an emotion emerges from the apathy that he's feeling. He's angry, angry beyond belief.
"Who cares what he wanted," he growls, low and vicious. His words are like a snake's venom, and he wants to hurt someone, even if he's not sure who.
"Keith," Allura tries, but Keith talks over her.
"He should be here if he wants someone to give a fuck about what he wanted," he tells her, standing up.
This dinner had been a mistake, he had known it from the beginning.
Allura doesn't even try to stop him from storming out, just watches him with a resigned look. After all, their friendship had always worked with Shiro as an intermediator, mitigating their harsh characters so that they wouldn't butt heads too much.
Now they need to figure this on their own.
Keith continues his life as best as he can.
He and Allura meet in the corridors of the castle and they nod to each other. They still haven't talked about the other night, and Keith knows he should apologize, but know what he would say.
Grief still controls his emotions and as much as he tries to fight it, it's like a cloud that engulfs his very being. He keeps track of the hours since they found Shiro's bodys, how much time had passed from the moment of his death according to the medics.
He tries not to focus too much on the seconds passing them by, but he's aware of every breath he takes and Shiro doesn't.
Every time he passes the courtyard where the other paladins' train he thinks about it. Every time he passes through the warlocks' library he thinks about it.
Time flows inexorably and as much as Keith wants to stop it, he can't.
He has a decision to make, and he has less than forty hours to do it.
Altea is a flourish capital and it serves as the central of the nation. Here, people from all over come in hopes of serving the royal family.
It doesn't matter what your skill is, if you're a paladin - who fights under the blessing of the gods - or a warlock - who uses magic derived by nature and the earth itself. You can have the blessing of the shadows as a rogue, hard to see and even harder to be hears, or maybe you're a medic, well versed in the arts of healing.
Altea welcomes everyone, it's a story Keith has heard many times in his life.
Shiro had been a paladin, always ready in his full armor and blessed with powers as pure as life itself. He had shined in his armor, far more than anyone else - or maybe Keith had just never had eyes for the others.
Keith had trained as a rogue, he had always been sneakier than most, traveling in shadows. But that had never been Keith's true gift.
There is one practice that is forbidden in the fair lands of Altea. A practice that was born in the lands of Altea many years ago, but had been cultivated in the Galra Empire with an avid interest.
Keith understands the reason, a power like it it's extremely dangerous in the wrong hands and it's the reason why his father had made Keith promise to never use his gifts, one of the last things his mother had left him before vanishing.
Keith had kept his promise until this day.
He remembers the first time he had raised the dead. It had been a bird, freshly killed by a fox. The bird had a broken wing and his abdomen had be bitten into quite voraciously. It had been a beautiful bird once and Keith, just a baby at the time, had admired his soft feather and his many colours.
He had reached to the corpse thinking he wanted to see him fly one more time and the animal has opened his eyes.
Of course, Necromancy isn't an art as easy as that. The bird had looked at him, moved a little and then had collapsed on itself again, just a pile of dust.
That had been the day Keith had discovered that having the touch wasn't enough. You needed ingredients and favourable conditions. But what one needed more when dealing with the dark arts was always conviction and desire.
Keith, now, had plenty of both.
He's not a kid anymore, fumbling into arts he doesn't know or understand. He's older and wiser and even if he has never practiced a complete spell he has read about it. He knows what he needs, and that a body has to be dead a maximum of ten days before the ritual becomes useless.
Shiro's body would leave his corpse and leave an husk in its place. Any attempt to revive him after that would bring back only a mindless body with none of the personality or mind.
Keith has less than two days now. They had found Shiro four days ago, but his body had been left there for three days already. The news that the party hadn't reached the village had came late, and when the scouts had reached the road it had been way too late.
Keith resents this, resents the days they have took from him, Days he could have taken to think about what to do this and try to understand if he's really going to do this.
He knows the consequences that would follow his decision: he and Shiro would never be welcomed back to Altea, they would have to live on the run, looking behind their backs. Would it even be a life worth living? A life he wanted to give Shiro?
He doesn't know, but every night he lies awake and he thinks.
Keith goes out the day before he has to make a decision, trying to find all the ingredients he needs. Even if the decision hasn't been made, he needs to be prepared.
He needs a flower born of darkness, so that life can begin where there's no light. A heart that's pure, so that the rotten one of the dead can beat anew. And a sacrifice of blood, so that it can flow back in the corpse of the dead.
The blood sacrifice is the easiest part to achieve, even if the books have never been specific, Keith thinks any amount will do and he's more than willing to donate his.
The heart of a pure being is easy to find, but hard to take. He observes the deer for hours agonizing over his decision. He had killed in his life, enemies on the battlefield or bandits, but never in cold blood. He understands this is the reason why necromancy was prohibited so long ago. How far is one willing to go to resurrect a loved one? What if it was someone unable to hunt? Who else could have they sacrificed. He closes his eyes and tries to remember that this kill won't go wasted. He'll bring the meat to the kids starving in the streets, he'll create something good out of this sacrifice. In the end he strikes quickly but with precision, ending the life of the animal without causing him to suffer, and while he carves the heart from its body he tries not to think about what he's doing.
The flower is the harder to find, grown only in the deepest part of the forest, where the dense vegetation doesn't allow any light to shine. From what Keith knows this is the most magical part of the forest, and even when cut the trees grow in a matter of second, plunging the forest in complete darkness.
Keith can't use light to guide his way, as that would break the requirements of the flower.
It's in the dark, where he's alone with his thoughts, that Keith realizes that his doubts come only from what Shiro would want of him than anything else.
If Keith had to do what he wanted, without considering Shiro's last desires, he would bring Shiro back immediately. He doesn't care about the consequences, would take a life of running over even a second more without Shiro.
In the end, isn't he the monster they say necromancers are? Uncaring of others and focused only on themselves.
It doesn't take long to find the flower, shining with a red glow. It's the only light and Keith follows it dragged by a force he's unable to resist.
And it's now, in front of the last ingredient, that he hesitates. He could make the decision now and leave, learn to survive with the loss. He could reach to Allura, let her help him like she wanted.
It would be the right thing to do.
He takes the flower and puts it in the satchel with the bloody heart.
Keith returns to the castle late, after dropping the body of the deer at the orphanage. His clothes are bloody, and his heart feels heavy with doubts and suffering.
He doesn't expect to find Allura in front of his room again, but she had never been one for giving up easily.
"Keith," she calls him, scared, "what have you done? Are you okay?"
He looks down a himself, at the crusted blood on his face and hands, at his ruined clothes. He must look terrible to her, composed as always.
"I'm fine," he hurries to explain, hoping to ease her worries. Keith can't explain to her what he was doing, not yet, "I just went hunting."
"Hunting," Allura repeats, skeptical and Keith knows he has to sell it. He looks at the bad and wonders, not for the first time, how far he's willing to go for this. Apparently far enough.
"What I want to do is hunt the bastards that have done this to Shiro," Keith hisses, looking up in Allura's eyes, "but you're too busy pretending you have the situation under control to even care."
She looks shocked and hurt, just like Keith knew she would be.
"I've been mourning the same as you," she tells him, her face as hard as steel, "but I know that this country, the one Shiro gave his life for, is bigger than the life of a single person. However irreplaceable he might be."
She sounds like a queen now, aged into her role quickly but with grace. When Keith had been introduced to her, she had been a kid his age, playing with the mice of the castle and trying to spar with the boys - beating them almost every time.
The losses of her life have shaped her just like they have shaped Keith, but where she had found strength from them, he feels crippled and less.
She has responsibility and a country to lead, but what does Keith have? A home, someone would say, but Keith's home had never been Altea. The only place he had felt like he belonged had been at Shiro's side.
Keith closes his eyes. "I'm sorry," he admits, "I know you're hurting."
Allura seems mollified by his words and steps forward almost going for a hug, she must rethink it seeing the state of his clothes. "I'm here for you, Keith," she reassures him, with a sad smile, "this isn't something you have to go through on your own."
He looks at her and at his bag. And he thinks that maybe she's right.
The next day he doesn't look at the chest in the corner of his room. He's acutely aware of time passing, slowly but surely. He trains in the morning, while the sun is high and warm on his face.
He helps Allura read and analyze some reports from the borders and figure out some clues about Shiro's killers. It makes him feel better that he's doing something useful for it, like he's moving forward.
By dusk he feels that maybe he can do the right thing, let Shiro go and learn to grieve him just like he did for his father.
He's still struggling, the thought of a life alone plaguing him. In these years he had imagined a future for them and now it seems he might have to give it up and he feels, if not ready, then not completely afraid.
Keith is ready to get rid of the box so that he can go and stay by Shiro's side in the last hours of the day, while Shiro's spirit finally leaves to be at peace, when he hears voices come from one of the communal areas. Soldiers usually get sloshed there, drink away the efforts of the day, and Keith overhears them almost on accident.
"It was probably his fault, wasn't it?" someone is saying, his voice slurring thanks to his intoxication. "I mean he was never a real knight."
Someone laughs at the other's words and Keith's inside grow cold. It feels like he has been completely submerged in ice and for a second he hopes they don't continue, don't confirm his fears.
Just because the King took a shine to him," another voice says, ugly with jealousy. "In the end, we all saw what woth was his blood."
Keith knows they are talking about Shiro, had heard these words before, but everytime there had been Shiro telling him that their ugly words only motivated him on doing better.
He's alone no, with no one to mitigate the flames in his heart.
Are these the people Shiro gave his life for? This the legacy he left behind of himself?
He enters the room quickly, figuring out the owners of the voices immediately. The group in the back, drunks who never amounted to anything in their lives.
"Take it back," he says, walking towards them. They don't seem to notice him immediately, snickering between themselves. So he gets closer, makes sure they can't ignore him. He puts both hands on the table and hisses dangerously, "take it back."
They turn towards him, finally figuring out that he was talking to them.
"Why?" one of them says, laughing in Keith's face, "because Shirogane's pet project wants us to?"
Another one laughs, taking another gulp of his beer. "You're going to be next, a rotten crop just like that one."
And Keith had tried, really he had, but he realises now that he doesn't want to be alone. Doesn't want to live his life like this, facing this idiots alone.
He punches the one who had just talked in the face and draws his dagger on the other one, daring him to move forward.
The entire mess is frozen on the spot, watching the situation. Keith knows that if he tried anything the other would intervene, but he doesn't want to kill them. Their life wouldn't mean anything to him.
"Take it back," he says again, making sure they know that he's not joking. The others look at each other and for a second Keith sees the fear in their eyes. He wonders how he must look to them, how unhinged he really appears.
He's ready to violate death itself for Shiro, without missing any more sleep.
"W-we're sorry," one of the others say. He had laughed, but hadn't added anything to the discussion and he probably feels like a better person for that.
Keith hates them all.
Still, he draws back his dagger and puts it back in its place. They don't mean it, of course they don't, they are probably going to talk badly about him now.
But does he really care?
He looks at them one last time before leaving them all behind.
"Kerberos?" Keith wonders out loud, readint the parcel that Shiro had showed him.
He knows of the village, even if it's not a big one. From what he remembers it's famous for its farms and the fact that it was peaceful.
"A sickness," Shiro explains, cleaning his BRACCIALI. "They want to send some medics to help them, bring some relief."
"And why are they sending you?" Keith wonders, out loud. He hopes most of the sulk doesn't show from his voice, but he knows himself enough that he can't pretend that none of his question spur mostly from desire to have Shiro close.
The other must realize this as well because he looks back at Keith with an amused smile. "They hope my paladin powers might be of some help," he explains, unlatching his vambraces on the table. Shiro gets up, slowly walking to the bed where Keith is resting, watching him.
Shiro is a sight to behold like this, out of his armor, stripped of what makes him a paladin and completely and irremediably human. He looks approachable like this, like something Keith gets to keep.
"I feel," Shiro says, sitting on the edge of the bed, "that someone will feel lonely."
Keith feels one of Shiro's hand cose into one of Keith's calf and Keith looks straight at him, smiling. "I don't know what you're talking about. I was just worried for those poor medics," he explains, as serious as he can, "alone with you for so long."
Shiro smiles and it's small and secretive, like they are sharing a secret no one else is supposed to know. It makes Keith almost giddy.
"I know, we tried to warn them, but apparently I'm well liked. Who knew," Shiro answers, pinching Keith's skin.
Keith kicks him gently and Shiro just shrugs it off like it's nothing, the asshole. "Yeah? I don't see it."
"it must be torture being you," Shiro answers, caressing Keith's calf with a finger and tracing mindless patterns on his skin.
It makes Keith burn under his touch, starving for more attention.
"How long will you be gone?" Keith asks in the end, while Shiro's fingers travel a little bit further, reaching where the cloth of the trouser allows them.
"It shouldn't be more than a week, I think. It depends on how many people are ill," Shiro explains, "but we're there just to provide some aid."
One week is not that long, some mission have kept them apart longer, but Keith still feels unsettled by this. He tries to shrug off the melancholy, pushing it far away from his mind.
"If you get sick," Keith threatens him, "I'm not going to help. I'll leave you to the medics."
Shiro laughs out loud, finally reaching down to put his forehead on Keith's. A warmth spreads through Keith from where their faces touch. It feels like a fire burning in his soul and washing again all of his insecurities.
"I'll be back soon," Shiro promises, low and soft. It's a promise whispered in the space between their mouths and Keith believes him, as he has always believed Shiro.
"I'm going to resurrect you back from the dead to kick your sorry ass if you don't," Keith promises him, joking.
Shiro kisses him and Keith can't do much else but be silent.
He doesn't think then, of this pact. He doesn't think of the implication of his words, of the path that he's putting them that day. Shiro said he would come back, and Keith believed him.
Keith goes to his room first, and gathers the chest he had put the ingredients in. He looks at it for five minutes, and he concedes himself these last minutes to rethink this, to take the right path.
He looks back at his bed, where Shiro had been just ten days before, alive and well. He remembers now the promises he had made and wonders if a part of him already knew then. if maybe he could have stopped it from happening; fought harder.
It's useless thinking about it now, he knows, and there is no other choice for him but move forward.
The doubts from the days before seem to have washed away, cancelled by a blind rage. In truth, he realized his doubts had never been true. Would he have really killed a deer if he hadn't already made up his mind, would have he been able to find the flower, hadn't he already chosen in his heart?
Was there ever a path that would have spared him from this outcome? Or maybe there is a reason why keith was born with this power. Maybe this is what he's meant to be doing.
Is this really wrong to save a life that it's so important to him?
In the end he clutches the little chest in his hands and he moves.
Shiro's body had been stored in the mourning chambers: For the ten days before the spirit left the body the deceased was left in a state of preserved statis for the family to visit him and talk to him before his travel back into the Quintessence.
Keith hadn't been able to visit him. The thought of seeing Shiro's body laying there, lifeless, would have pushed him over the edge, he knew.
So he had steered clear of Shiro while making his decision, trying to force himself to resist the urge.
He had tried, he wants to say, he had fought this so hard. But how can one really live in a world where your loved ones are dead and you have the power to bring them back? It's a sacrifice too big to ask.
When he enters the mourning area there is no one there to keep watch. Everyone in the castle is trusted and there hasn't been a case of confirmed necromancy in years. Why would they keep watch?
Keith almost smiles to himself while he advances in the room.
War has taken its toll on Altea, and the numbers of occupied beds only serves to prove the point. There are more people dying every day, and even if the capital itself has been spared from any attacks, the situation outside isn't as idilliac.
Shiro has been stored in a private alcove at the end of the hall, a place for kings. Allura probably insisted and no one could really say no to the queen.
It serves Keith well, who doesn't have to worry too much about being discovered.
He's not sure of how much the ritual is going to take, but it had been mere seconds before the bird had been resurrected. And Keith wants this more than he had wanted an animal to live.
Shiro is in full regalia, dressed in his paladin armor, the one that he had always said made him feel uncomfortable. It's an armor for someone respected and honored.
Keith had thought it made him look handsome. Now it only serves to make him look even more dead. Keith avoids looking at Shiro's side, where one part of him is missing. They don't know if it was the beasts or the Galra that took Shiro's arm, but even the medics couldn't do anything to regrow a limb. Keith will have to rectify that.
He raises one hand, touching the side of Shiro's face lightly. There is no warmth on his skin, no pulse under Keith's touch. In less than an hours, there won't even be a spirit under the armor, just a body and a memory.
Keith concredes himself a second to look, to absorb and to give himself something to remember. This is why he's doing it, because Shiro is supposed to be warm. The cold grasp of death should have never touched him.
He opens his chest and takes the heart, perfectly preserved thanks to Keith's magic, and he puts it on Shiro's chest, over where his heart is. He takes the flower, next, and he puts it in Shiro's mouth so that it's root can take hold in his body.
Next he takes his dagger and he gently cuts whatever part of Shiro's skin he can reach. He makes a cut over Shiro's nose, promising himself to cure it later.
The next step, the last one, is the sacrifice of blood and Keith doesn't hesitate to cut his own hand and put the cut over the one on Shiro's face.
Blood to flow, a new heart to beat and a new life from darkness.
Keith closes his eyes and adds the final ingredient. Magic that controls death is different from other kinds, there is no need for incantations and spells, it comes from a deeper place, something buried deep inside.
it's an animalistic desire, a need that roars inside and yearns.
So Keith let's it go, unchains the deepest part of him that desired Shiro by his side more than anything else in the world.
It takes a moment but one second Shiro is a lifeless corpse in front of him and the next Keith feels the life flowing back into him. It's a surge of electricity. that shocks Shiro's body, making it spasm.
For a second Keith fears he has hurt Shiro, that he was too late, his calculation or maybe those of the medics, off by some hours. What would he do if the Shiro that he has just resurrected is just a lifeless puppet?
He waits, breath held tight in his throat and watches as Shiro's eyes open slowly. They are clouded by a fog of disorientation, but the moment Shiro's gaze land on Keith he whisper, low but still there, "Keith?"
Keith feels tears prickle at his eyes and he kisses Shiro's on the mouth immediately, without caring of the blood still smearing Shiro's face of the frankly terrible breath the other has after ten days spent as a corpse.
Shiro is back, still conscious and still human.
"Keith?" someone else calls him, but this time the voice is shaken, shocked. Betrayed.
He looks back at Allura. She's stands tall at the entrance of the room, her pink ceremony dress on. She probably has come to give her final goodbyes to Shiro.
Keith knew the consequences of his actions and if everything he gets out of resurrecting Shiro is one single final kiss, it still would have been worth it.
"What are you doing?" Allura asks, looking at Shiro behind him. The other blinks and turns towards her, still confused.
Keith sees the way Allura's body shakes. She takes a step back before settling in a battle pose. She's scared, he realizes, and when Allura gets scared she also gets aggressive, they are similar in that way.
He puts himself more firmly between Shiro and Allura, but he doesn't know what to say. How to explain to her.
"I had to," he says instead, because it's the only true thing. He had to, because as much as he had tried a life without Shiro wasn't a life he wanted to have.
Allura looks at them for a second more before she puts down her arms. She isn't relaxed, but it's obvious she has reached a decision.
"Run," she says, "you have until morning. No one know I'm here and I won't say I saw you. But they'll know by morning. I'm the queen, Keith, I won't be able to protect you."
Honestly it's more than what Keith had expected from her. He knows how many laws he has just broken, know that he should be sentenced to death for this.
"Do you want..." he starts, but doesn't even know how to finish the sentence. He looks back towards Shiro, who has his eyes open, but isn't able to follow everything that's happening. Keith doesn't know how long this confusion will continue, but he guesses coming back from death is a little unsettling.
Allura follows his gaze and she hesitates a second. She had loved Shiro, not in the way Keith had, but that didn't mean it was less intense.
They had been a team before Keith had come. Death had taken him from them too soon, and now Keith is stealing him away again. Selfish, that's what he is.
"No," Allura answers in the end, turning, "I already said my goodbyes to him. I don't know what this is."
Her words hit Keith hard. He wants to scream at her that this is Shiro, that he's back and that Keith had saved him, but he doesn't.
Hadn't he been scared of the exact same thing not many minutes ago? Of what monster could he have turned him?
"Thank you," he calls behind her. There are no apologies he can offer her, no way to rectify the situation. He can only go forward.
She doesn't look back at him and exits the mourning hall quickly.
They are alone again.
"Keith?" Shiro calls and Keith bends immediately at his side. Shiro is still pale, and the wound Keith had given him for the ritual is already scarred. He has a little turf of white hair now, but the biggest change is the black arm that hadn't been there before.
Keith's magic reacts to it, calls to it. It's made of death and shadow, stuck in a limbo in between deteriorating and not existence.
"Everything will be fine," Keith reassures him, finally looking back at Shiro's face, "we'll find a way out of this."
Shiro looks up at him, but he doesn't seem to realize what's happening, not really. He seems to be lost, looking at something over Keith's head.
It seems that Keith will have to do all the work.
He takes Shiro on his shoulder, putting Shiro's human hand over his shoulders and holding him up by the waist with his free hand. it's not the most comfortable of position and it will be easy to sneak around like this, but he can do it. He would be able to do anything for Shiro.
Keith had studied the guard routes inside the castle for years, so much so that now he finds his way easily, avoiding being spotted even with Shiro as a dead weight.
Sometimes the other man tries to walk, stumbles for a second, before going limp on Keith's shoulders. Keith needs to find a place to make him rest, but he also knows that he won't be able to do it inside the city.
He needs to take Shiro outside, where he isn't so easily recognizable. And then? Keith doesn't have the time or the luxury to worry about a then.
Slowly he reaches the stable where most of the horses are sleeping for the night. Red, Keith's own horse,looks up when she hears the door open and she starts moving, excited to see him. Her agitation seems to be making all the other horses agitated and Keith can't have that. Too many noises and the horse keeper, whose room is only on the other side of the wall, will come to investigate.
He lets Shiro gently to the ground, reaching Red and trying to calm her down. Soon she subsides under his touch and Keith breathes a little easier. "I know it's late," he tells her, as soothingly as he can, "I'm sorry. We need to go now."
Keith lets her out slowly, saddling her with an ease born of practice. He wonders for a second if they should take a second horse, but Black, Shiro's horse, has been missing since the day of the accident and his goal is to attract less attention than possible and Red is his own horse, never really friendly with anyone else.
It will be hard on Red, always better built for speed than endurance, to run with both him and Shiro on her back, but Keith is out of options.
He holds her head then, looking at her in the head. It's unsure if what they say of this breed it's true: there are tales of this horses being born of fairy dust and that they form a deep connection with her rider, sometimes even hearing their thought.
He had never believed it, and Red had never been an easy horse to tame, fighting him every step of the way, but he still tries now. He looks her in the eyes and tries to make her realize how important this is.
"I need you," he murmurs, stroking her hide, "I need you, Red."
The horse doesn't react, just as he had thought, but he lets her go and goes to help Shiro up. He’s heavy and it seems that he has passed out completely. It might be better in the end, hopefully he will be responsive when he will wake up again and Keith will be able to explain.
He doesn’t know what he’ll tell Shiro. Will Shiro remember his death? Will he know who attacked him? Will he immediately realize what Keith has done for him?
In a way it might be better. Keith doesn’t know if he would have the strength to actually tell him.
The only problem is that it will be harder to travel with Shiro so limp, he'll have to make sure he doesn't fall off. Keith holds Shiro a little bit tighter and promises himself he's going to make sure nothing else happens to Shiro.
Still, climbing on Red is difficult and it takes a lot more time than he would like, with the possibility of the entire castle discovering them and killing Keith for breaking the law. He manages in the end, and he ties Shiro to the saddle to make sure he won't fall off.
Red has been impatient all this time, shuffling and moving a little, but he thinks it could have been worse. He pets her neck, gratefully, "Thank you," he murmurs to her, before giving her the go.
She runs as fast as she can, even if he tries to slow her down. Red had never been one for slow pacing after all.
Keith looks back at the city after they exit the borders. He knows that he won't be able to set foot there again, that whatever life they had there it's gone. Even if they don't figure out what Keith had done - highly improbable since Keith had left there all his equipment - they would accuse him of desertion and treason. As much as he doesn't regret his choice, he know he'll miss it.
Having a purpose and a stable home had felt good, like he could be part of something again. But he also knows that it wouldn't have felt like a real home without Shiro there.
So he turns, looking back at the road, and pushes Red a little faster. He won't look behind him again.
What is done is done.
Shiro remains unconscious for the whole ride and even while Keith rents a little room three villages over.
Keith has rode the entire night, but he feels like they are far enough away that they have a couple of days before news of Shiro reach this town. By then, hoping Shiro is good enough to travel, they'll be almost at the ovest border.
The room he has rented is small, with a single bed that he has left for Shiro, and not much else. Still, he hasn't taken a lot of money and they have to be careful.
He thinks of buying something to eat from the inn, but he's becoming crazy watching Shiro's chest - rising and falling with life - so he decides that hunting will clear his mind. The other man hasn't given any sign that he's going to wake up soon, and Keith needs something to do.
Keith kills a rabbit and hopes it's enough. He doesn't want to attract attention and bringing an animal bigger than a rabbit into town might seem suspicious.
He has to get used to this kind of thinking soon.
When they leave Altea it will be easier, he thinks, no one will know who they are, and the taboo for the dark arts is far less strict in other nations. Keith hopes to reach the Kingdom of Earth in a week at the most.
There they should be able to find a place to settle. Start a new life.
All in all Keith feels better now that the worst has passed. He's gotten Shiro out of the castle in one piece, but most importantly alive. Everything else seems to shrink in front of the massive feat he just accomplished.
He expects to find Shiro still sleeping when he comes back to the room so he freezes on the USCIO when he sees the other man seated in bed.
Shiro didn't even turn to look at Keith, too busy staring at his own hands. The one in particular.
Keith hasn't figured out what had happened there, he fears that his magic had reacted too strongly to his desire to have back Shiro, all of Shiro, and had supplied what was missing. Still, Shiro's left arm is as black as the night, it almost looks like rotten flesh.
"Shiro," Keith says, closing the door behind him, "you're all right." He looks better now, even his skin tone has changed and gone back to something you expect from a very shy alchemist and not a corpse. They can work with that.
Keith hurries close, needing to touch the other man, but before he reaches the bed Shiro's words stop him.
"I was dead," Shiro says, like he's just making normal conversation, "I remember that. I remember..." he turns now, looking directly at Keith. He does look better, but there is also a fear in his eyes that Keith isn't used to seeing. "I was dead," he repeats, like he's begging Keith for some kind of explanation.
As much as he wants, Keith can't lie to him. It isn't an option anymore, not after the entire royal army of Altea has mourned him.
Still, he can ease him back into him. He finishes advancing then and seats on the edge of the bed, close enough to offer comfort in case Shiro needs it, but also far enough to leave him his space. "You were," he confirms, looking into his eyes, "but you're not anymore. You're fine now."
He will be fine forever, or at least until Keith dies, then he'll just fade away.
It takes a moment for Shiro to fill in the dots and his eyes turn hard, they remind him of Allura's. Keith knew this was a possibility, after all Shiro had disliked Necromancy just like any other citizen of Altea.
"What did you do?" he asks. He's whispering, like he can't even bring himself to say it out loud. Like he's scared of confirming his suspicions.
"What I had to," Keith replies immediately and Shiro flinches at his words, like Keith had just slapped him with them.
"This is not something you should... it's against the law," Shiro replies, turning to look at his own hands, "it goes against the laws life themselves. They are dark powers, Keith, the Gods..."
"The Gods gave this power to me," Keith interrupts him, trying to catch Shiro's eyes. "I couldn't do it, Shiro. You promised you would come back. You promised."
Shiro doesn't speak for a moment, and Keith lets him have this moment. He understands that it's something he needs to process, a news that was maybe a little too big to digest in a second. Coming back from the dead must be a unique experience.
"And you promised you would bring me back to life to kick my ass," Shiro replies, with the ghost of a smile. It still doesn't reach his eyes and it looks washed up, not one of Shiro's real smiles, but it's something. Keith will latch onto hope however he can.
"You should never test me, Shiro," he confirms, hoping to lighten up the mood a little bit more.
Shiro nods, still smiling, "Yeah, I should have know you wouldn't have let it go."
Happy of the progress they have made, even if he knows the situation hasn't been resolved at all, he tries to grab Shiro's good hand but the other flinches at the contact and retracts his arm fast.
It throws him Keith off and he's surprised to see the look of actual panic in Shiro's face. What did he think Keith was going to do? "Shiro?" he tries, worried and hurt, and the other just shakes his head.
"I-I'm sorry," he says, but he doesn't seem to have calmed down, "I can't right now. I can't..."
Everything was going a little too well. Still, he thinks Shiro deserves a couple of freak outs.
Keith shakes his head and tries to give his more honest smile. "It's all right," he reassures, retracting his hand as well. "You take the time you need. We're safe here."
"Safe," Shiro repeats and then looks back at his hand. "They are hunting us?"
Keith grimaces and shrugs. "I don't know how much they know in the capital. Allura... she knows, but I don't think she'll talk."
That seems to surprise Shiro, who turns toward Keith, startled. "Allura was in on this?"
Keith laughs for real this time. "No," he answers, "she arrived after... yeah. She said she would pretend she hadn't seen anything."
Shiro nods, and he looks unsettled by the news. Almost as if hearing Allura had at least partially covered up for Keith was even more shocking than Keith using necromancy to bring him back to life.
Keith kinda sees his point. He doesn't know what that says about them.
Silence falls upon them again and Keith hurries to take the rabbit from his bag.
"I caught this today. I'm gonna clean it up outside and cook it," he tells Shiro, hesitantly, "will you be all right here?"
Shiro looks at him for a second before nodding. Probably he wants to be alone with his thoughts now and Keith has to oblige him, even if he doesn't want to leave his side.
Still, he knows what he has to do.
He hadn't known what to expect from Shiro, but a part of him had hoped that they could have kissed before reality came between them. He wants a moment to appreciate Shiro being alive, he wants to close his eyes and touch his face and feel the life under the skin.
But if the price to have Shiro alive is that Keith is never going to touch him again, he'd take the deal any day of the week.
He leaves the room quickly, going to the little campfire outside of the building, left there at the disposal of the travelers and he gets to work. It's a job he has done a thousand times, so Keith can let his own mind wander to Shiro and what he might be doing alone in the room.
Is he thinking about Keith? is he disgusted by what he has done? The only thing that gives him hope is that Shiro had smiled at him. Maybe not a full smile, but something that resembled it enough that it still counts.
Whatever might have happened between them, if Shiro can smile at him then there is a chance, right?
It takes almost half an hour before the meat is ready and he takes everything back to their room, feeling more nervous now than when he and Shiro had gotten together.
Shiro is still where he had left him, seated on the bed and looking at his own black arm. He looks like he hasn't even moved ever since Keith had left the room.
"Shiro?" he calls, and the other man turns towards him. Shiro's eyes are unfocused, like he's here in the room with Keith, but also two thousand miles again. He knows what it is, that usually happens when Shiro starts tuning his paladin powers, using his celestial powers to connect with quintessence itself.
He hadn't expected Shiro to try again this soon, but he should have.
Maybe he had hoped to cleanse the flesh with his powers, not that stupid. Keith wondered what would happen if Shiro's celestial powers interacted with his necromancy. it felt like something they needed to know.
A moment later, however, Shiro's eyes refocus and nothing happens. His arm remains completely black and no white light engulfs him.
"Are you all right?" Keith asks again, and he feels like a broken record.
Shiro hesitates a second before nodding. "Yeah," he says, standing up with ease, "I was just trying something."
Keith looks at the arm again and Shiro follows his line of sight. They both look at the black skin without saying anything else.
"It didn't work?" Keith asks and Shiro just shrugs.
It's an odd reaction, but Keith lets it go when the other reaches him in the middle of the room.
Keith is holding the stick with the rabbit impaled on it in one hand, but he doesn't care how hot it is. He completely freezes, trying to measure how much distance there is between him and Shiro. It feels like entire continents.
He almost startles when Shir's normal hand touches his face, more out of pure excitement than anything else. Shiro is colder than before, where his temperature had always been ridiculously hot, but his touch still brings warmth in Keith's heart.
Shiro seems tentative in his exploration, almost as if he's not sure about what to do. it seems like a part of him isn't sure if this is the right thing to do, but Shiro had always looked after Keith's desire more than his own.
It breaks Keith apart that it's something that has remained unchanged even after his death.
And Keith wants to tell him that he shouldn't be pushing himself, but he doesn't want to make him retract his hand. He's selfish and has been so lonely.
He closes his eyes, then, and pushes his cheek closer to the other's hand. There are tears in the corner of his eyes, but he's unable to hide them.
There had been times, when he had been younger, that he had cursed his heritage. He had seen his galra half like a burden.
Now he can't help but be glad of it.
"I'm sorry," Keith still says, unable to keep it in.
Shiro doesn't tell him that it's okay, but he doesn't remove his hand. At this point Keith doesn't dare to hope for something more.
They eat and Shiro says he's strong enough that he wants to start moving immediately. Keith tries to tell him that they can stay another day, but Shiro shrugs it off.
Shiro still only has an undershirt, undergarments and full ceremonial armor and as beautiful as it is, it's bound to attract attention. So Keith goes outside to buy some more normal clothes and when he comes back Shiro puts them on, quickly putting on his left BRACCIALE and covering up his black arm.
It's probably good thinking, but Keith can't help but think there's shame in his actions. Shame and disgust.
Still, he doesn't think there's much he can say, so he nods at the other.
There's still the problem that they have just one horse, and Red seems less friendly tonight when Shiro is awake enough to get onto her on her own. Still, Keith manages to calm her down enough that both of them can get onto her back.
They leave when night comes, knowing that while it's not the safest hour for travel it will give them an advantage from their pursuers.
Keith's plan is simple, and when he says that to Shiro the other just nods. Honestly the fact that he seems to be so compliant with everything Keith is saying scares him, but Keith tries to calm down his panic.
It takes an entire night of travel before they have to stop so that Red can catch her breathe, and they stop and they are closer to one of the villagers far ovest, almost to the border. After that it will just be a matter of crossing over to the little nearby independent nation of Balmera and after that three days and they should be in the Kingdom of Earth's territory.
"Our best shot to traverse is the Forest of the Lost," Keith says, eating some of the berries they have gathered. The Forest of the Lost would be the least guarded part of the border, mostly because no one sane enough would enter it willingly.
It is said to be a place where the souls get devoured by demon and dark creatures. No one seems to be immune to the forest's cruelty, but they have an advantage that most don't have. Shiro's paladin powers.
Celestial intervention is the only thing that really works against demons and most dark arts. Protected by Shiro's powers they should be able to enter the forest and leave it unscathed. It has always been a good part of his plan, and he's glad that Shiro recovered in time for it to work.
But Shiro says, "We can't. We'll cross over Orin, it's a small village, there won't be a lot of guards."
Keith blinks, confused, and looks up at him. "What are you saying? That's crazy. Shiro, we need to go through the forest, it's the fastest route."
"And I said we can't," Shiro tells him again. He sounds annoyed now, and it's the most emotion Keith has managed to make him express ever since he has woken up. "Trust me and let's take the-"
But Keith doesn't let him finish. "No. Look, I know we haven't encountered anyone yet, but it has been three days," he reasons, "by the time we would reach the forest another day will have passed. They'll be on high alert, Shiro. They'll be looking for us."
"I know," Shiro says, having done the same mental counts as Keith They know how fast the messages travel from the capitals, and how fast their raven are. It's impossible that there's someone who doesn't know about them by now.
"So you see why we have to pass through the forest," Keith continues, nodding, "I know it's dangerous. But you can cover us. You're a pretty good paladin last I remember," he tries to joke.
Shiro had been one of the best. His divine light had shined more than anyone else's. They had called him one of the more gifted Paladin of their time, his connection to the quintessence almost complete.
But the other doesn't smile at Keith's rib, in fact he looks distressed.
"Shiro?" Keith tries again, looking concerned. "Why don't you want to pass through the forest?"
It had seemed important for the other, and maybe there's a reason behind it beside his strange apathy.
Shiro is silent for a second before smiling. He looks sad and broken, like a doll whose pieces were still scattered on the ground. "Why did you bring me back, Keith?" he asks, in the end, and it's a strange question to ask him now of all times.
"What do you mean... I did it because I love you," Keith replies anyway, unable to lie. He doesn't know what's happening or why this feels like such an important moment, but it's like the whole world it's lying still in wait.
Shiro shakes his head. "You love me? What part of me you love?" Shiro's voice sounds cruel to Keith's hears. There's something wrong, he realizes, something incredibly wrong that he had been too happy to ignore.
He tries to get closer to Shiro, needing to touch him immediately. An itch that threatens to make him go crazy.
"What part of me?" Shiro replies, looking him straight in the eyes, "because I don't know what you brought back, but it's not me, Keith."
"What are you saying?" Keith tries, feeling a little faint. He made sure that this was Shiro. He had counted the days. But even then, he had been unsure hadn't he? In the moment of the ritual. Maybe he had been too late after all.
"You brought back a monster, Keith," Shiro roars at him, removing his gauntlet and exposing his rotten arm. "A monster who is more dead than alive!" he's shouting now, rage and so much sadness.
"You want to know why we can't pass through the forest? I'm not a paladin anymore, Keith, all my powers are gone. I feel no connection to the quintessence. Because I'm dead."
Keith is shocked silent, the realization of what Shiro is saying catching up to him quickly. Is it even possible to lose your powers? To lose such a vital part of yourself? And Shiro. Shiro had been shining in his confidence, proud in his craft.
"Maybe," Keith tries, "you need to give it time. Maybe you..." but Shiro shakes his head.
"I can't feel the universe. I can't feel the forces that drive us. I'm... crippled. I am dead still," Shiro informs him, with a calmness that chills Keith's blood.
"No," he screams at him, "I brought you back, Shiro. You're alive, with me."
Shiro looks at him and there is sadness there, like he's sorry he can't give Keith what he wanted. Like he's letting Keith down now.
"I'm sorry. You may have brought back my body," he says, rising his arm. Keith looks at it, as black as the nightmares that plague Keith's mind. It looks dead. "But I'm still dead."