Allura imagines his aloofness stems from whatever he experienced during his absence. Her chest clenches at the thought of what might have happened to him. Those few weeks after their battle with Zarkon had been a nightmare manifested into reality. Yet another person she cared for, torn away from her, another piece of her heart broken off.
But Shiro is back now. So why is it that the pain has yet to cease?
He doesn't – won’t – open up to her anymore, and all Allura can do is wonder if he ever will. She longs for their small conversations late in the night, when there were no rules or expectations, and he would reveal parts of himself to her, and she would do the same. Now their exchanges are always one-sided and open-ended.
She’s tired of pretending it doesn't hurt.
Allura can only hope that the man her heart so clearly yearns for is still alive behind that emotionless mask he's intent on wearing. Of course Allura respects Shiro's privacy, but lately her curiosity has been affecting her ability to concentrate. She can’t help but wonder what thoughts run wild through his mind, and what it would feel like to know what they are. She can’t stand it anymore.
So she makes her decision. No more walls and stifled emotions to keep them apart. She has to fix this. She has to try before he slips away again.
Allura steps into the crowd and immediately people part for her, making a clear path amongst the chaos and bowing or saluting as she passes them. These people, the entire coalition looks to her as a source of courage and bravery. During this time of revolution, she can’t afford to let herself be swept away by something so small as the annoying ache in her chest at the thought of Shiro.
All the more reason to talk with him and ease her mind.
She finds him standing near a group of diplomats and generals, but he’s not immersed in whatever it is they’re discussing. Instead he’s staring right back at her, emotionless and stoic, following her as she moves towards the group. His gaze is slightly unnerving, as his eyes seem to bore right through hers, and Allura is reminded once again of how much he's changed. She swallows down her nervousness and straightens her shoulders, stopping in front of the group of varied people and clearing her throat to catch their attention.
"Shiro, can you spare a moment?"
He turns to face her completely and straightens up as well, as though he were talking to a high-ranking official rather than his friend. At least, Allura hopes he considers her a friend after all they’ve been through.
"Of course, Princess."
Oh, how she wishes Shiro would say her name. Despite her inner turmoil, Allura gives him a smile. She politely nods to the others, an apology for interrupting them, and begins the trek back to her private booth overlooking the entire stadium.
As she climbs the steep stairway, Allura is painfully aware of his presence behind her. She tries to keep her pace calm, steady and dignified, as a princess should be. At the moment, it's harder than she'd like to admit.
When they reach the much quieter room, Allura closes the door behind them and walks over to the open balcony. Shiro takes his position in the middle of the room, dutifully awaiting her explanation for bringing him up here. Allura leans over the railing and sighs heavily. The chaos of the crowds seems easier to navigate than Shiro.
"Is everything alright, Princess?"
Allura returns her attention to him but keeps her gaze fixated on the ground so far below. She doesn't entirely trust herself to keep up the facade of bravery.
"Well, I'm not sure exactly."
He's quiet, an indication for her to continue.
"Are you alright Shiro?"
Silence stretches out for a few painful ticks before he clears his throat.
"Yes . . ."
That sounded more like a question than a statement.
Allura takes a deep breath and tries to sound professional as she turns to face him. "Do not lie to me."
The change in Shiro's expression is subtle, but unmistakably present in the form of discomfort. His eyebrows push together ever so slightly, his jaw clenches and lips form the beginning of a frown. His eyes seek refuge from her gaze in the texture of the cold metal floor. She steps forward, leaving very little space between his body and hers.
"Shiro . . ." Allura gently places her hand on Shiro's cheek to turn his face towards hers. His eyes remain downcast, unwilling to meet her stare.
"Takashi, look at me."
She uses his first name unabashedly, remembering how he'd blushed when sharing it with her so many long nights ago. Allura found herself using his first name when they were alone together, when he so clearly needed comfort and something solid to hold onto. She uses it now in a desperate attempt to ground him, and free him from his distress. The tone of her voice is stern, urging him to trust her. Slowly, he obliges.
As he does, Allura catches a glint of something different in his eyes. Something foreign, unsettling and completely unexpected that stirs up a mix of feelings she'd never thought would arise in his presence. It's absolutely terrifying, yet undeniably captivating. She rubs her thumb along his cheekbone, on the place where his markings would be if he were Altean.
"Tell me what troubles you. Please." His skin is hot beneath her touch.
Shiro breathes deeply, “I don't know- ”, then stops abruptly.
His whole body visibly tenses, then his human hand grabs her wrist, a little too tightly, and draws her hand away from his face. The skin touching her exposed wrist is shockingly cold now, as if the warmth she felt only moments before has been drained and replaced with an ice-cold tingle. It sends shivers up Allura's arm and down her spine. She waits for his hold to release, but it doesn't. His eyes become unfocused and distant.
What's wrong? Why is he acting this way? What had she done to upset him?
The questions race through her mind as she tries to find the source of his sudden change in demeanor. His grasp only tightens when she tries to back away. Allura uses her free hand to push and pull at his arm, restraining herself because she doesn't want to hurt him.
"Shiro, that hurts!"
The pressure is bone crushing now, and Allura resorts to pushing at his firm chest to unsuccessfully gain some distance.
Why is he doing this?
"Shiro stop!" She practically cries his name out, but the more she says it and the longer she looks into his eyes, the faster the realization that this isn't her Shiro comes crashing down.
There had been a flicker of uncertainty in the back of her mind when they'd conveniently found him floating in an old spacecraft in the middle of nowhere. It was too easy. Nothing is ever easy. What if it's a trap? A lie? An illusion? Allura had wanted so badly to believe that everything was going to be fine, so she simply ignored the doubt and reveled in his return.
But now it's clear. There is no doubt, no uncertainty.
This isn't Shiro.
Allura finds the voice she hadn't realized she'd lost.
"Let go of me!"
And he does.
For a fraction of a tick, his hand lets go of her wrist and his eyes clear as he blinks. Then it's over all too quickly and this imposter's aura is even more formidable than before.
His metal hand, the one Allura had memories with tender touches of, now grips her slender neck, effectively cutting off her voice and airway. Her hands grab at his arm, trying to pull him off. Everything is happening too fast, and despite her anger Allura can't fully process that she's under attack. No matter how much she tries to deny it, the situation is just too real. The little bit of voice she does have won't work. Her whole body falters under the weight of the situation. This imposter is trying to kill her, and there's no one around to help.
Stand your ground, Allura scolds herself, frustrated by her lack of bravery. But she can't even stand. Her feet dangle above the ground as she's lifted up by her neck. If Allura could concentrate, she might be able to shapeshift and overpower this alternate Shiro, but she can't breathe.
His grip tightens.
Still, no one notices.
While her fingers pry uselessly at his own, desperate for release, Allura tries to kick his legs out from underneath him. He's fast, faster than he should be, and sidesteps. In one quick movement, he slams Allura against the nearest wall and closes the distance between them. If Allura could scream, she would have.
Her body begins to convulse against the wall from the lack of air.
Her lungs burn.
And no one notices. Not one person.
Her senses dull as she’s forced into unconsciousness.
The last thing Allura sees, is a horrendous, cruel smile and glowing yellow eyes.
Come back to me.