Word Count: 7853 (Fidipù)
Scritta per il COWT 8, Redenzione
Summary: Shiro finally starts to find himself, just when he looses Keith
Shiro can see the shock in the eyes of Sendak, the moment his words register and the way he goes rigid, unbelieving. A moment later he growls, a guttural sound that travels in Shiro’s body, shaking his whole being. He feels it in his bones, trembling in an unconscious response.
Once, this would have meant a world of pain for Shiro, a punishment that would have gone for hours without release. Now, he doesn’t really care for it. Normally there would be pain, unimaginable pain, coursing through his body. He has just refused a Master's orders. And while he feels some discomfort growing, it's dulled out, easily ignorable.
He senses Keith, Sir, position himself behind him, ready to attack, and he hears Allura advance to reach them.
Sendak roars, and repeats, his voice carrying inside the corridor of the ship. "Destroy them, Champion."
Shiro thinks about how much this would have scared him once, left him whimpering on the floor at the mere thought that he had been bad enough to cause this. He even hears Allura and Sir pause, surprised by the force of the other's scream.
"No," Shiro repeats with more force, feeling a strength he had almost forgotten was there.
Before the implants and after his capture he had been strong, fighting for his life in the arena every day, never backing down. He can be just as strong.
Shiro activates his own arm and dashes forward, attacking Sendak's throat, going for the kill. The other reacts immediately, blocking his hand and holding it. "You'll pay dearly for this," Sendak tells him, his face mere inches from Shiro's.
It's possible he will, after all he knows that Sendak is strong, he has tasted it on his own skin, but he finds that he doesn't care.
"Let him go!" He hears someone scream and the next second Sir's sword lunges at Sendak, forcing the other to let go of Shiro's arm.
Behind Sendak some of his surviving soldiers start advancing towards them, obviously ready to fight them. They are outnumbered, Shiro realizes immediately, and their chances of winning are low if they fight head on. The best strategy would be to remove threat of the sentinels and only then face Sendak, but Sir is already engaging in a heated battle with him, while Allura is providing him assistance from afar, afraid to hit Sir by mistake.
If he leaves them to keep Sendak occupied, then maybe he can take care of the sentinels on his own, but the idea of leaving Sir's side during a fight makes bile rise in his stomach.
In the end, Shiro has to make a decision and, as always, it's driven by the only thing he cares about: Sir's safety.
As much as his mind is screaming at him to protect Sir, to fight at his side, he knows what would better in the long run and he has to trust his gut.
So he pushes forward, dashing to the side of Sendak and he powers up his hand. It feels rusty after having being idle for so long, but it comes back to life with a hum and a familiarity that Shiro recognizes. He was the champion of the arena, and he will show them why.
He's outnumbered, but that is not an entirely new situation. In the arena he had covers to use to his advantage, here he only has his enemies. Shiro ducks and uses the other sentinels' bodies as shields when he doesn't have other choices. They are slow, and methodical, their movements easy to predict.
He's destroying them all one by one, making actual progress and assuring himself that no one of them reaches the other fight, when something slams on his back strong enough to knock the air out of his lungs.
When he feels the same thing grip his middle section and pull him backwards, he realizes it's Sendak's hand. His former Master throws him towards the wall and keeps him pinned there.
His hand is hot, Shiro knows this very well, and it heats up his skin unpleasantly. Soon, it will become unbearable.
A quick look around makes him notice that Keith and Allura are on the ground, struggling to get up. It seems he had miscalculated and that Sendak was stronger than he remembered.
"You've been bad," Sendak tells him, "bad enough that I should kill you right here. But I'm sure the Druids would love to have you back and fix you properly," he smiles, all teeth and no warm, "and I have missed you."
Shiro tries to get free, struggle as much as he can, when he sees Sir trying to get up but being pushed back down by one of the sentinels. He wants to rush there and help him, destroy that robot and everything else.
It's not just the implants, there is something feral in him now, that only wants to reach Sir. Keith.
"No," he repeats, trying to give himself strength. As long as he has the power to refuse Master's orders then there is a chance. He can do something.
Shiro struggles more, but Sendak's grip is too strong. He tries to kick at Sendak's arm, but it's futile.
Today, maybe for the first time, he thinks he has done Sir proud. He thinks that maybe Sir would have been happy now, seeing Shiro stand up against an order. Shiro will never know if that's true, having failed his one mission so completely.
He's ready to let go, admits defeat, when he hears a whizzing sound and a moment later Sendak's hold weakens. Not by much, but enough that Shiro can push back with his own metallic arm and force the other to release him completely.
Once Shiro's feet touch ground again he sprints forward again, his arm flashing deep purple, and he slashes at Sendak's torso.
Sendaks falters, and Shiro sees the sentinels turn towards him, but he can't stop. Rage fills his vision and he needs to destroy Sendak. So he punches him again, a satisfying grunt leaving his enemy's lips.
Sendak gets pushed back, falling to the ground, and Shiro uses that opportunity to hit him in the head, knocking him out cold.
When he looks back, ready to take the remaining sentinels, he sees that they have already been disposed to and Pidge is crawling out of a vent, her bayard held high in her hand.
"That," she says, with a smile "was so cool."
He looks at her and then at his arm. She had examined it, of course, trying to see how it worked, but she had never seen him actually fight with it.
"What happened?" Shiro asks, even while he moves forward to be by Sir's side. Sir is still on the ground, out cold, and Shiro hesitates before touching him. He doesn't know how hurt the other is, and he's worried he might make it worse, but not being able to touch Sir right now feels impossible.
"I don't know how, but they managed to make the control room explode. Hunk and Coran have gone to get something to get the power back on, Keith and Allura were supposed to go and check on the village but... Keith wanted to check on you. It's a good thing, or we would have been two fighters short," Pidge explains him, crouching down beside Allura to make sure she's all right.
Shiro looks behind him at the sentinels Pidge had taken out and he thinks about Sendak and how she had saved his life too just mere seconds before.
"I think you would have managed," he tells her in the end, and she looks back at him, taken aback.
Shiro picks Sir up and then reaches Pidge and Allura, crouching down. Even for him carrying two people might be difficult, especially because he doesn't want to move Sir too much, but he will if he has to.
Pidge, however, shakes her head. "Don't worry, she's coming to. Bring Keith to the infirmary. And then maybe help me with Lance, he was hurt in the explosion and I had to leave him alone to come here."
Shiro nods, starting to walk away, before she stops him again. "Shiro?" she calls and he looks back at her, curious, "I think I see why Keith likes the real you so much."
He looks surprised at her, shocked. A part of him wants to ask her what she means, what does she sees, but Sir stirs painfully in his arms and Shiro forgets every question he has. Taking Sir to the infirmary is his first priority.
Sir recovers quickly after Hunk and Coran come back with the replacement stone, while Lance takes a little more time.
He sees the look the others give him while they wait for Lance to wake up, like they are reevaluating him, and he doesn't know what to do about it.
His mind feels clearer that it has in a long time, but he doesn't think he has done anything to warrant this kind of attention. His implants are silent in his head, but he can almost feel them rearranging themselves.
There is a top priority now in Shiro's brain, and he feels like it's just wiring itself back to how it was before, where Keith had been the most important part of his life.
Sir has been the strangest of them all since waking up. He hasn't said anything, but he keeps looking at Shiro by the corner of his eye.
It's obvious he wants to say something, but he keeps hesitating. Shiro doesn't know why.
After Lance wakes up again and they make sure he's all right, everyone retreats to their own rooms. They'll live the planet soon, but they deserve to rest a little.
Shiro follows Keith back to their room. They walk in silence, the air filled with whatever Sir isn't saying.
Shiro wonders if maybe Sir is angry with him, can't shake the feeling that maybe he did something wrong, that maybe he will be punished after all. The sick feeling in the pit of his stomach comes back, and he can recognize the working of the implants, the pain that radiates from them.
Maybe he could fight it like he did with Sendak, he doesn't know, but at the same time he doesn't want to. He wants to make Keith happy, and only a part of it comes from the things in his brain.
When they reach their room, Keith enters the room quickly, and Shiro can't do much but follow. He feels groggy, his thoughts slow to come. He has done something bad, but he doesn't know what it is.
Still, he remembers Sir's orders. To ask when he wanted to know something, to speak when he felt the need to. Maybe, if he follows some of his other orders, Keith will be pleased.
"Are you all right?" he asks, then, the most important question of them all. He knows that the pods are supposed to cure everything, but Keith had been limp in his arms and Shiro feels his weight even now.
Keith looks back at him, almost surprised, and nods quickly. Curtly.
Pain comes back and Shiro tries to push back any discomfort in his face. Sir doesn't like to see how the implants hurt him, the consequences of what they had done to him, and Shiro will always try to shield him from this.
It's what he was programmed for, after all.
"I'm sorry," he still blurts out, because he needs to say it, almost a physical need. Keith's eyes widen, and he looks taken aback by Shiro's outbursts.
"Wha-?" he tries, but Shiro isn't done.
"If I have done anything to make you mad," he says, looking at the ground, unable to meet Sir's eyes, "I didn't protect you. I went after the robots and you got-"
Before he can spiral, thinking of all the terrible decisions he had made, Keith is in his space, touching Shiro's face to make him stop.
He looks so young, now, fragile in ways that hurt Shiro deeply.
"I'm not mad," Keith says, his voice cracking at the end, like his emotions are overflowing out of him. "God, no, I... I'm happy."
Shiro stops and blinks, slowly, processing the information. It feels like something he should have recognized, but he realizes he hadn't seen Sir happy ever since he came back. He tries to remember if he had ever seen Keith happy before, but his memories of that time sometime come hazy to him.
Keith is still looking at him, brave even in a moment where he looks so FRAGILE.
"I'm used to you knowing my moods, I'm sorry. You know I'm not... I'm not good with words," Keith continues, smiling self-deprecatingly, "but you... you said No. You fought him. You're really still there."
Shiro looks at Sir, the hope shining in his eyes and he thinks back at Pidge's words before I can see why Keith likes the real you and he wonders if this is the real him.
The Takashi Shirogane that Keith searches for almost spasmodically, is he really still in him?
Still, he has to be honest, because this is Sir and he has to.
"I did it for you," he admits, because Keith had been the only thing in his mind. Protecting him had been his number one priority.
Keith nods, evidently accepting his words. "One day," Sir tells him, with a fire that ignites his every word, "you'll do it for yourself."
They leave planet Arus the next day, and their life change considerably.
While they travel, the paladins spend most of their day training, much like before, but now there are missions. The first on Balmera and then all over the galaxy.
Shiro waits in the ship, alongside Coran.
He understands their reasoning, after all they still don't know what he would do faced with a Galra. Maybe he reacted that way to Sendak because of the extreme situation and the worry for Keith, maybe he would succumb to his implants next time. It's not a risk Voltron can take.
So Shiro waits on the castle, because Keith told him to, and he still doesn't think he can say no to Sir.
He watches as they fight, as they rejoice for another victory and tend to their wounds after an hard fight.
Keith has ordered him to wait, so Shiro will do just that, but he feels the compulsion. He wants to fight with them, he wants to feel useful. He almost feels sick at the thought of disobeying Sir's orders, so he won't, but he wants to.
And isn't that a disobedience all in itself?
Voltron's fights become harder and more frequent the more the voice of Voltron's return is spread around.
Planets from every square of the universe call them in help, and it becomes clear that the day where they will have to face Zarkon is growing near.
It becomes so clear that Shiro can almost taste the nerves in the air, building up in the way the other talk to each other, in their training.
Shiro wants to help, but at the same time he doesn't think like he should. Sir doesn't let him participate in their trainings, after all, and it would feel like overstepping.
Truthfully, Keith has never really prohibited him from participating, but unlike every other activity, Keith had never really invited him either. It seems to Shiro that anything that comes close to actual fighting, Keith makes sure he doesn't get involved.
Shiro appreciates the thought, and he will always obey Sir's orders, but at the same time the itch under his skin grows with every training session.
But Sir always looks uncomfortable when someone suggests Shiro should join them someday, since he was 'so bad-ass' when he fought Sendak - Lance's actual words - so Shiro just shakes his head and says that he doesn't want to.
It doesn't matter if, sometimes, he thinks it's a lie.
When Shiro enters the control room of the castle with Hunk in tow, a new batch of cookies in his hands, he realizes immediately that something is going on.
The situation is terse, and he sees Keith and Pidge almost snarling at each other.
"I need to find my brother, Keith," she's screaming, trying to look taller than she does. She's serious, and her hands are trembling slightly.
Shiro and Hunk look at Lance and Allura, who are looking worriedly at the pair. Whatever the problem is, it seems to be serious enough judging by the others' faces.
"You will! But we need to face Zarkon, so that we can go home," Keith replies. He's angry, Shiro realizes, but mostly frustrated.
"We're not ready to face Zarkon, Keith," Pidge says immediately, shaking her head. Have you seen how difficult it was to defeat that Robobeast last time? What do you think would happen if we faced Zarkon now?"
"We'll never know if we don't try!" it's Keith impatiently answer.
Facing Zarkon? Are they thinking of actually going to Zarkon's ship? Deep inside the Empire territory?
"Woah!" Hunk finally says, behind Shiro, "I one hundred percent know that I'm not ready. Zarkon? No way man, the Robobeasts are scary enough."
"And we don't even know if the dude has a plan," Lance agrees, nodding, "I mean, beside the whole conquering the universe."
"If we stop him," Keith insists, looking at everyone of them, "his plan won't matter."
"Or we could die and leave the universe without Voltron," Pidge says, glaring at Keith, "good luck defeating him then."
"I think," Allura says, after everyone has been silent for a while, "that while the day of our confrontation against Zarkon grows near, it might be prudent to get some more informations. As much as I want to defeat him and take revenge on my father...." she stops with a heavy sigh, taking a moment to compose herself, "this is not the way."
Pidge nods and holds up some schematics Shiro had never seen before. "According to some scannings I've been doing lately, there will be a cargo ship passing through this section soon. It usually transports prisoners, but it's too big and well guarded to be just that. If we manage to get access to its logbook we could discover something about my brother and what Zarkon has planned."
Keith looks at the other and it's obvious he's ready to keep fighting them, he's always too stubbornly set in his own ideas, when his gaze lands on Shiro. It's like a current travels through Keith's body, and he stops moving.
A second later Keith deflates and nods. "Fine, I still think this is a bad idea."
With Keith conceding the fight, the situation becomes much more relaxed, and Pidge smiles a little, fixing her glasses back on her nose.
"Good," she says, "because I really think this is our best strategy right now. We don't really know anything about what Zarkon wants to do. We need more."
"So," Lance asks, getting closer to Pidge, "are we just gonna infiltrate the ship? Can we pretend to be pirates?"
Pidge shakes her head, pointing at the screen again. "Unfortunately this ship is going to be well guarded,. We need to be smart about this, and stealthy. We also need something to connect to a Galra computer more advanced than the ones we've encountered so far."
"Well that might be a problem," Hunk says, getting closer to Pidge. "The only thing we have that really works on Galra technology is..."
Hunk stops immediately and he looks like he's regretting even speaking.
Shiro knows full well what they are talking about, and he sees the way Pidge glances at him quickly before she squares her shoulder, ready for another fight.
"Shiro's arm. It could help."
The way Sir's shoulders tense up is impossible to miss, but Pidge doesn't back down, looks at Keith like she doesn't even realize.
"Since it's part Galra, it's perfect to operate Galra machinery. We've been trying to see if it worked like a universal key, and until now we haven't found anything that--" she starts, before Keith interrupts her.
"No," he says, and his voice is glacial. There is something dangerous there, a fury that Shiro hadn't expected. It reminds him of his other Masters, of the cruelty and the punishment and he forces himself not to take a step back.
"Keith," Hunk starts, but doesn't say anything more when he sees Sir's glare.
"You experimented on him?" Keith asks, his voice sharp enough that every word he says can be used as a weapon.
"I wouldn't call it experimenting," Pidge says, a little uncomfortable, "and he was okay with it."
"He can't say no!" Keith screams, "isn't that what you keep telling me? That I need to be careful? That he's getting there but I need to patient?"
It's strange to hear what the others have been saying about him behind his back. And he looks at all of them, at the way they are avoiding looking at either him or Sir.
He's something to be careful about?
"Shiro can say no to us," Pidge says immediately, shaking her head. "He only listens to you and..."
"And I told him to spend time with you, because you thought it would help him! And now you're using him?" Keith's voice rises up in pitch again, and he looks wild.
Shiro wants to close the gap and calm him down, tell him that Shiro had agreed, that Pidge had asked multiple times if it was really okay.
At the same time, he can't say that a part of him hadn't been happy to be able to do something to help Sir, his implants purring at the idea. But, at this point, he doesn't think that the sensation is something that's gonna go away.
"Look, Keith, we needed to know," Pidge tells him. But she looks a little unsure now, almost as if she's second guessing her decisions. "And Shiro can be useful. He..."
"He's not in the position to come with us," Keith rebuts. Sir hasn't looked in his direction even once since this conversation started, and Shiro feels lost without the contact.
"I have to agree on that," Allura says, looking at Shiro with a little bit of guilt. "He managed to refuse Sendak, but we don't know what would happen in a less stressful situation."
She's correct, obviously, because Shiro hasn't been in contact with any other Galra since that day, but at the same time he thinks that they will never know if they don't take a risk.
"What does Shiro want to do?" Lance asks, out of the blue, and Shiro feels strange at the idea of being actually asked. "I mean, he's right here. The decent thing would be to ask, don't you think?"
Everyone turns towards him, and he tries not to shrink a little at the attention.
What does he want to do?
From what he understands they need his arm to access the main computer and he wants to be useful, but Sir had been adamant in his no before.
It hadn't been directed at Shiro, but it had been clear in Shiro's mind that Sir didn't want him to go on the mission.
The implants whir inside his mind and he finds Sir's eyes, look in them for a second trying to understand what he needs to do.
Keith looks furious, true, but Shiro can see the fear behind that gaze now - a month ago he wouldn't have been able to, lost in his own mind - but it's clear as day for him now. Keith is scared and he doesn't want Shiro to fight.
So Shiro will obey.
"I don't want to go," he tells them, and he keeps his eyes fixed on Keith's so that he doesn't miss the way the other relaxes, his muscles going lax.
Sir is happy with him, and something preens inside of him at the idea - it doesn't matter if something else sags and buries itself deeper inside his mind.
Keith looks back at the others with a look that screams 'see?'. Allura and Hunk nod, shrugging, but Pidge and Lance keep looking at Shiro with something like disappointment in their eyes.
Shiro doesn't care, it's not them he needs to make happy. It's not even himself.
Keith is the only thing that matters.
So the team leaves taking one of the ships in the hangar and Shiro stays back with Coran. The man smiles at him gently and Shiro wants to tell him he's fine.
He doesn't regret his choice.
Three hours later when he hears Allura say 'Keith has been captured', he regrets everything.
They had been discovered while they were trying to infiltrate the ship's mainframe because the key Pidge and Hunk had build had been good, but not perfect. Shiro doesn't know if his presence would have changed anything, but he can't help thinking that this was his fault.
The team tries to decide what to do, but without the Black Paladin storming Zarkon's headquarters would be even more of a challenge.
Everyone looks panicked and scared, but Shiro can't listen to them. Sir is in danger, and there is nothing Shiro can do to help.
The knowledge breaks him apart, shatters him piece by piece where not even torture had been capable of.
He hears them talking, trying to think of a possible strategy, but without Voltron the possibility of even dreaming of a victory feels utopic.
Shiro, if he's being honest with himself, doesn't really care about the possibility of success. If he could he would storm Zarkon's ship immediately even with no actual possibility of success.
Still, without Keith, everyone seems to be in a panic - himself included - and he thinks about the first days, where Keith had asked him to help him lead. That he couldn't do it without him.
It's not an order, but at the same time Shiro knows what Keith would want him to do.
"We don't have time to panic," he tells them, even if he wants to curl somewhere and wait for someone to come and tell him what he has to do. But Sir won't come back on his own, so Shiro pushes himself.
Everyone turns towards him, surprised. "Shiro, buddy, Keith is missing," Hunk tells him, as if Shiro wasn't acutely aware of that, "we don't have the head of Voltron. And there can be no Voltron without a head!"
Everyone else nods, and he sees the way they hunch on each other, scared. They had just started being a team, building some kind of trust, and they aren't equipped to face something like this.
But they don't have any other choice.
"Voltron isn't just formed by the head," Shiro tells them, tries to find inside himself the strength to be convincing, "and when one of the Paladins of Voltron is in danger, the others have to rescue him. Isn't that what being a team means?"
His words seem to resonate in them, but there is still something pulling them back.
"But what can we do without Voltron?" Lance asks, looking around.
Shiro doesn't have an answer for them. He's just a broken slave with no master to serve. But he can't let that stop him.
"Pidge, Hunk, you guys are the geniuses and if we want to have a chance we need to be able to get close without being spotted. Allura, we need you to create a wormhole so that we can get close and get out the moment we have Sir. And Lance, your Lion is the fastest and without Black to take point, it's up to you to keep them occupied," he hopes his voice doesn't shake by the end. He feels spent, almost as if thinking had been too much for him.
His words, however, seem to have the effect he hoped and the others look more energetic now, hopeful.
"Yeah! I mean, who needs Mullet Head? We'll save him and then he'll have to stop being a dick half the time!" Lance says, smiling, "we can do it. We're Voltron, and we're not going to be defeated so easily."
The other nod, smiling, and get to work. Pidge and Hunk are talking animatedly, probably trying to figure out something they can use to hide the castle, while Allura says she needs to recover her strength.
Shiro watches them and feels his determination vanish, almost as if he had used all that he had on them.
"Son," someone calls him and he looks at Coran, surprised, "what are you going to do?"
It's a question he hadn't really asked himself. What can he do?
"Whatever I can," he answers, honestly, even if he doesn't know exactly what that is.
While the others are busy with preparations he finds himself floating to the hangar where the Lions are being held. He doesn't know what brings him there, but he stops soon in front of the Black Lion, now lifeless in front of him.
He wants to imagine Keith getting out of the lion in his Black armor, smiling at him and trying to force him to do something Shiro wants to do. He wants to imagine the Keith he remembers from before, who had been happier and more carefree.
Shiro is glad his speech had helped the other, that maybe now Keith will be saved because he pushed them a little, but at the same time it feels like he's floating away, being captured by a darkness he can't escape.
He thinks it might be the implants reacting to the absence of someone to serve, but he also thinks it might be the kind of despair that has nothing to do with the implants and all to do with thinking of something happening to Keith.
He might have been able to push the others, but there is nothing pushing him.
Shiro looks up at the lifeless face of the Black Lion and wishes, more than anything else, that he could be someone better than this, someone who would be able to save Keith with his own two hands.
The Galra have taken away his free will and he had survived. He doesn't think he'll be able to survive this.
He realizes, now, that he doesn't care about what will happen to him. He'll ask Hunk to carry him in Yellow and he'll infiltrate the ship with him. He'll save Keith himself even if it's the last thing he does.
Shiro puts a hand forward, the human one, and focuses on the metal of the Lion.
"I promise," he says, his voice low almost as if he's afraid of someone listening in, "I'll bring him back. I want to bring him back. I want to be with him."
He doesn't really expect anything to happen, maybe to feel something shift in himself, like a awareness that will finally settle in his guts. He certainly doesn't expect the deafening roar.
When he looks up, scared, he sees Black come to life, her eyes flashing a deep yellow, and she looks back at him before she crouches and opens her mouth welcoming him inside.
Slowly Shiro feels something else warm his mind, beating the cold of the implants, and Black's strong presence fills him with something he hadn't felt in a long time.
It's like she's talking with him, a private conversation just for the two of them, and he walk towards her, unable to resist.
Finally, she seems to be saying, I was waiting for you. He doesn't understand, doesn't remember the other describing their connection this way, but he feels Black's spirit deep inside of him, filling the gaps and the void. Making him whole again.
Black's cockpit is big, and while he sits on the chair he thinks about Keith, sitting in the same position.
This is not for him to keep, but he will do anything to get Sir back. Even pretend to be whole enough to be a paladin of Voltron.
When he exits Black he finds the other in front if him, looking as if they have just seen a ghost. Shiro tries not to flinch and stands tall in front of them. Black is a comforting presence in his mind, and he feels better than he has in a long time.
"You..." Hunk starts, looking at the other like he can't really believe it.
Pidge is the first to recover, smiling at him with something that looks like pride. "Just wait until Keith sees this," she says, with a wink, "he's going to lose his mind."
Shiro looks at her and smiles as well because Keith will see this. They will make sure of it.
In the end they don't have a lot of time to formulate a plan, so what they come up with is simple but effective. They'll use Pidge's cloaking technology and combine it with Allura's ability to create a wormhole to reach Zarkon's main ship quickly. Once there they'll have to fight Zarkon's fleet, but while Yellow, Red, Blue and Green center the attention of the fleet on themselves Shiro will use Black to board the ship.
The others had tried protesting, saying that Shiro might not have been ready, but he had been adamant. He needed to do this himself, even if he knows deep inside that he's disobeying Sir's wishes.
He likes to think that a part of Keith would be proud of him for this.
All in all, the initial stages of the plan are a success, and they reach the center of Zarkon's fleet without a problem. It's there that the situation degenerates.
The other lions are doing their part, drawing the attention of the enemy ships on themselves, and Shiro and Black are sneaking around unnoticed when he feels something come in between him and Black.
It feels a lot like the implants, cold and calculating, something that fights him every step of the way.
Someone, he realizes, is trying to take Black away from him, their bond growing weaker by the second. He scrambles for her, trying to keep their bond, grasping at the connection that had opened up to him so easily.
He needs her to save Keith but, maybe even more, he feels like he needs her to save himself.
So he holds on and fights. He pushes the presence away from their connection and he feels that he wouldn't be able to do it if it wasn't for the implants. He has been closed out of his mind for so long that it almost becomes second nature to push something out, build impenetrable walls.
He and Black push through and the intruder disappears as quickly as it appeared. His lion is shaken, the encounter leaving her rattled, but Shiro grips his controls harder and focuses on Keith.
They don't have time to waste.
When he leaves Black by the side entrance of the ship he feels fear for the first time since he started this rescue mission. Being inside Black, fighting with her, had made him stronger. But now, as he runs inside corridors that feel too familiar for comfort, he remembers that he's alone.
It's only his desperation and worry for Keith that pushes him forward, so he swallows his insecurities and his doubts and tries to focus.
He has been in this ship once, he knows that for certain, so it's easier for him to run towards where the cells must be. It's improbable that Zarkon would have just killed the Black Paladin, not without trying to extract some informations, but the possibility is there.
Maybe they are too late, maybe there was never any hope.
No, he can't think that. He refuses to contemplate the possibility, not after everything they have done.
He's almost arrived to his destination when he's forced to stop because he sees someone in front of the door that leads to the cells. Shiro is tired, but he's so close that he just can't give in now. He puts himself in an offensive position, ready to strike, when he realizes who is blocking his way.
Shiro falls to his knees immediately, his body shaken by violent tremors.
It's not like it was with Sendak, the first Master he ever had, because Haggar had always been different. She had created him, plasmed him to fit her ideal. He had been hers in a way that no one of the other Masters had ever competed.
Even now, with his resolve about saving Keith clear in his mind, he can't help but shiver in her presence.
"Oh, Champion," she says, while he struggles to rise his head. "What have you become."
She had been the first one to notice him in the arena, he knows. She had seen something in him, but he still isn't sure what that was. She had always been there when the druids worked on him, watching with satisfaction as they broke him over and over.
He hates her, but his implants love her. And sometimes he can't really distinguish between the two.
Still, he gets up, slowly. Too slow. She lets him, which probably means she doesn't think he's a threat.
"I..." he tries, feeling bile rise in his throat at the idea of fighting her. He closes his eyes, tries to think about Keith, Sir, and pushes through. "I need to pass. Get out of my way."
She watches him, almost as if she's studying him. Her little experiment to the very end.
"I worked so hard on you," she informs him, almost as if she's a mother scolding her child, "and you threw it all away. You could have been great, Champion. I made you great."
He shakes his head and activates his arm. It's painful, his implants screaming inside him to stop and listen to her.
Do what you want to do, Keith had ordered him once, and he takes strength from the knowledge that he's honoring his Sir's order. It's the only thing that allows him to push forward and strike at Haggar.
She evades him easily, Shiro's movement sluggish and slowed down.
"Now, you're broken beyond repair," she says, sounding almost bored, before she sends a bolt of energy that hits him in the back. He arches painfully, dark energy flowing through his body.
He knows that he doesn't have a chance, not really. But giving up now, after having come so far, would mean letting Keith down. And it's not something Shiro can bear.
So Shiro pushes through the pain and he gets up, grinding his teeth. He hears the intake of breath from Haggar, evidently surprised that Shiro even managed to get up, and he turns towards her.
She is still watching him, a glint of interest in her eyes.
He wants to attack her, but even holding himself upright is taking all of his strength. He doesn't think he can do anything more.
"Or maybe I could make you better again. I saw you piloting the Black Lion," she continues, smiling, "maybe you really can be our greatest weapon."
No, he think. "No," he says, feeling hatred fill him to his core, "never."
Haggar smiles, almost as if she feels sorry for him, and she gets ready to hit him again when someone else shoots at her. She avoids the hit, turning towards the intruder.
Hunk stands in the doorway, his bayard drawn and pointing at where Haggar had been.
"Sorry," the yellow paladin says, with a smile, "but he's taken. Shiro, buddy, are you okay?"
Shiro doesn't answer, taking advantage of the moment of distraction from Haggar to attack again. This time he gets her, and he slasher her on her side before she can completely avoid the hit.
Haggar screams, if out of pain or anger Shiro doesn't know, and a moment later a dark cloud falls in the room, covering everything. It's impossible to see through it, but Shiro tries, scared of a hit he can't see.
Nothing comes, however, and when the clouds lift Haggar is gone, leaving only him and Hunk in the room.
"Did she..." Hunk starts looking around, "wait, did we win?"
Shiro looks as surprised as Hunk, but a second later he remembers where he is and why he's there.
He's hurt and in pain, but he turns towards the cells and starts running again. Every movement is agony, but Sir - Keith - is beyond that door and he needs to see him as much as he needs air.
He pushes the door open and almost falls back on his ass when something comes swinging at him. He puts his Galra arm forward to absorb the hit and he takes a step back, ready to fight back.
He blinks, surprised, seeing that the one who had just attacked him had been Keith, that now looks at him with complete shock.
Shiro wants to say something, he really does, but finally seeing Keith again it's enough to make him lose his balance and he needs to lean on the wall to keep upright. There is still a fight going on outside, but he almost wants to laugh because he has done it.
He has done it.
"Are you all right?" Keith asks, moving towards him and Shiro finally lets himself look Keith over. The other looks shaken and a little beaten up, but nothing too bad, they have made it in time.
His voice serves as a balm for Shiro's nerves, and his implants stop hurting all at once. They almost sing in joy and he closes his eyes again.
Fighting them all the time is incredibly difficult, and he doesn't want to do it now. Doesn't need to. Sir is here now, and he'll take care of things.
"I'm back," he says anyway, smiling at the other and enjoys the surprise in the other's eyes. It takes a minute for Keith to recover and when he does he's smiling unabashedly, something he hasn't done in a long time.
"You made me wait, Takashi," Sir says, and Shiro can't help but laugh.
In the end they manage to leave unscathed. Shiro lets Keith sit down at Black's helm and it feels strange and right at the same time. He can tell that Keith senses that something has changed, but it's a conversation they'll need to have later.
Since Allura isn't in the Castle she had stored some of her energy in the crystal to create a wormhole out of there and Coran activates it the second they tell him to.
They manage to escape just before the wormhole turns purple and they'll never know what would have happened had they stayed in there a second more.
Shiro, in the end, is the one who needs to stay in the medical pod, while Sir seems to have just some scratches.
When Shiro comes to, there's only Sir waiting for him and Shiro smiles at him immediately, glad to have him there. Keith responds in kind. His expression seems light, almost as if a big weight has been taken off his shoulders.
"I think we need to talk," Keith says, and Shiro nods, albeit reluctantly.
Keith motions with the head for Shiro to follow him, so he does, feeling the implants sing happily at following a command.
They walk in silence for five minutes before Shiro realizes where the other is taking him.
When they enter the Black Lion's hangar, he just looks at her and smiles, feeling their connection still inside of him.
"They told me you piloted her," Keith starts, "but even if they hadn't... I can feel that there's someone else bonded to her. Even more strongly than I am."
Shiro blinks, surprised, and looks back at Keith. He knows that he and Black are bonded, but doesn't think it's stronger than what Keith and Black have. Shiro had just reached to the lion in hope of finding a way to save Keith, he doesn't think he deserve her for anything more.
"When you... What they did to you," Keith continues, looking at you, "I didn't really think you would have ever... but you did. You defeated something so horrible, fought the entire empire. Tell me why."
It's not exactly phrased as an order, but Shiro doesn't even try to fight the urge to answer. "For you," he replies, honestly. He thinks he would do it again for Keith.
Keith smiles, something far more private than before, and lowers his face.
"I'm sorry I didn't believe you could do it. I know you must have hated staying in the castle, but what if something else had happened to you? It would have been my fault," Keith tells him, "and then you went ahead and made me remember why you were the golden boy of the Garrison."
Shiro glows at the praise, knowing full well that it's not just because of the implants. "But you, you were the real talent," he replies, because he thinks it's what he would have said once. Now, now he wants to tell Keith that Shiro would be nothing without him, but he doesn't think the other would be happy to hear it.
"Maybe, but I'm not build for this. This should be you," Keith says, looking seriously up at the lion, "which is why I think you should be the new Black Paladin. It's obvious you can."
It's a shocking proposal, considering Keith hadn't trusted him to go on a single mission before this.
And Shiro is tempted.
It would be easy to accept Keith's offer, let Black fill all the gaps inside of him permanently. He could be whole again with her, he could be the paladin Voltron needs.
But would it really be fair? Would it really be what he needs? To let himself change again now that he's starting to get back who he once was?
He had taken the easy way once, when he had given in to the implants, doing things he can never take back. Becoming nothing more than a mindless slave and he wants to be better this time, he wants to be stronger.
Keith had said once that he needed him, the real Shiro, and that's who Shiro wants to be. Not whatever Black will plasm him to be.
The moment he makes the decision he's surprised to see that his implants do not protest, even if he's getting ready to disobey his Sir. It's like with Sendak and Haggar, a discomfort that he can ignore. Something he can defeat.
So he smiles, free, and says "No," with glee.
Keith looks surprised for a second, maybe realizing how incredible it is that Shiro had really refused him something, and then he smiles.
He looks younger like this. Happy.
So Shiro reaches with his human hand and takes Keith's, holding it.
This, he thinks, is the moment where he starts to rebuild himself.