The first thing he noticed was the merciless ache that pulsed behind his eyes.
He took a sharp breath, pain writhing through his chest as his throat constricted. Where Keith was, he had no idea. Head pounding and concentration in knots, he opened a pair of purple eyes. Everything around him melded into an indistinguishable blur and panic seized him. His stomach flipped as he attempted to focus on steadying his breathing.
Come on, Keith.
Patient yields focus.
Slowly, his vision crept back into reality. Keith blinked a few times, accustoming his eyes to the illuminating light. Everything was still a mess of blur, the corners especially, but at least now he could attempt to figure out where he was. From what Keith could tell, either he was moving, or the walls were. It didn't take a genius to know that walls couldn't move, Keith knew that, but he couldn't feel his legs moving underneath him, and at this point, he was willing to consider anything. Head still pounding, he struggled to wiggle his stiff neck side to side. Amtheyst eyes met a blurry face standing directly above him. The face had a familiar build, strong cheekbones, and pale skin, but Keith couldn't tell who it was. From what he could tell, the man didn't seem to notice that he was awake. He kept his chin up, focused on something Keith couldn't make out. Keith turned his head, a shock of pain electrifying through his skull, as he strived to see what the man was looking onto. White was all Keith could make out, white everywhere. Somewhere, in the back of his frazzled mind, Keith labeled the room as a hallway with a doorway that seemed to be coming towards them. That's when Keith realized that the door wasn't moving, they were- and he wasn't the one doing the walking. Immediately Keith squirmed in the man's arms, ignoring the agonizing, white-hot fire that tore through his limbs.
He could recognize that voice anywhere.
The deep yet soft tune of its rhythm was so comfortably familiar that Keith wanted nothing more than to crawl into its depths and never leave. 'h'ro?"
"Yeah, buddy, it's me. I need you to stay awake, ok?"
Keith tried, he really did. But the gentle urge of sleep frothed at the back of his mind, pulling him into its sheltering arms. He closed his tired eyes, lulling his throbbing head against Shiro's chest.
"No, no, no, Keith. Please! Stay awake, Keith. Please." Keith could hear Shiro's voice crack at its seams. So, despite the pain, he forced his eyelids open, locking eyes with Shiro for just a moment.
"Hey, buddy." Shiro's smile didn't quite reach his features, but Keith didn't mind. He turned inwards towards Shiro's chest, noticing an angry scarlet stain on his shirt. Panic flared through
his chest and he bit back a shout.
"S'i'o, 're you bleedi'g?" He slurred, slumping further into his brother's arms as exhaustion washed over him.
Shiro's face softened and his eyes reflected a pettiness Keith had never seen before. He shook his head, pain in his heart, "no, Keith, I'm ok."
Keith sighed a breath of relief, feeling himself relax. Something warm trickled down his cheek and Keith watched as the red liquid landed next to the stain on his brother's shirt.
"Oh," he stammered, "'t's m' bl'd." Keith heard the words escape him in a much calmer manner than he felt. In actuality, he was panicking. He had no idea where he was, why Shiro was here (not that he minded, of course), and why he was bleeding. But at the same, he felt oddly safe; he trusted Shiro, and if Shiro said he was gonna be ok, then Keith would have to believe him.
With one more exasperated sigh, Keith couldn't control his body any longer. He let the gentle arms of sleep steal his vision, the last thought on his mind being Shiro was safe.
Shiro wasn't per se proud of the way he'd entered the castle.
He'd stumbled out of Black, pulling Keith's lifeless body in tow. The hanger was quite, the lights dimmed to a soft glow. With as much coherent thought as Shiro could manage, he figured that everyone was asleep. Keith's fitful breaths dulled against his chest and to say Shiro panicked would be an understatement. He scooped the younger boy into his arms, cradling him as gently as he could before dashing from the hanger. It was quite a sight, really; Shiro running through the quiet halls of the ship, Keith's damaged body dangling loosely in his arms, as copper liquid seeped into between both boys' clothes.
"Someone help! Please!" Shiro cried, stumbling to his knees. In a panicked burst, he made a break for the control room, figuring it was the fastest way to wake everyone up. Without a hint of hesitation, Shiro pressed the giant red button in the center if the command table. A raucous alarm electrified through the castle. Shiro winced- he was sure the unruly sound was enough to wake his Paladins. Shiro looked down at Keith, whose body still remained unconscious in his arms. Shiro took a moment to examine the boy, deciding he couldn't do anything further without his team. Keith's face was battered and bruised, a giant cut began at the top of his cheek, straying to his neck. His hair was a matted mess, slicked back with a thick layer of grease. He was covered in dirt and grime, the clothes he'd been-
Shiro stopped himself. He had Keith back, that was all that mattered. The white of his shirt was stained crimson and Shiro delicately pulled the fabric up. Keith's torso was a mess of bruises, cuts, and blood; Shiro grimaced, realizing that a lot of those gashes would scar. That wasn't even the worst of it, though- under his right rib cage, Keith had a large wound overbrimming with angry, scarlet liquid. The skin around the laceration was torn and agitated, his flesh pale. Shiro's stomach capsized and he quickly covered the wound back up. He placed a hand softly over the injury, pressing a gentle hand against the boy's side to slow the bleeding. Keith subconsciously winced, groaning as he attempted to slither away from the pain. Shiro wrapped his free hand- the prosthetic one- around Keith's shoulders, gently pulling the raven-haired boy onto his lap. With a hiss, the control rooms doors opened.
"Not to worry, Paladins; I'm sure it was just a slight malfunction of the mainfram-" Coran's easy voice slid to an abrupt halt. His eye's widened as soon as he caught a glimpse of Shiro. He was on the floor, covered head to toe in blood, and there was someone in his lap.
Coran rushed to their side, locking eyes with a shell shocked Shiro before tending to Keith.
"Coran... are you alright?" came Lance's uneasy voice.
"Don't come in! Go to the infirmary, take the others; wait there. Allura, come here, I need some assistance." Shiro was grateful for Coran's presence but he wasn't sure why he'd sent away the paladins. As if reading his mind, Coran said, "we don't need them to panic. I'm going to go set up a healing pod - bring him immediately." With that, he was off.
The look on Allura's face as she rounded the control panel was not one Shiro would not soon forget. Her face visibly paled at least two hues, and she rushed to his side. Shy of a single a word, Allura helped Keith into Shiro's arms, and they quickly made their way out of the room.
After getting Keith into a pod, Shiro had refused to leave his side. He'd been there for almost four quintants, the only time leaving to go shower after Pidge had practically pushed him out the door, calming he must at least change out of his blood covered shirt.
"You ok, my boy." Coran's gentle voice broke Shiro out of his trance. He clutched a glass of water between his palms, holding it out for Shiro to take. The boy made no effort towards it and Coran sighed, taking a seat next to him.
"Number 1, you really should drink," he prodded, gently offering the water back up.
Shiro ignored him, eyes locking on the pod his little brother was in. " You said he'd be out today," he started, " day's almost over."
Coran sighed, "he will be, I promise."
The infirmary doors sprung open, greeting three bubbly paladins and one exhausted looking Allura.
"We brought soup!" Hunk chimed, handing a warm bowl to Shiro.
"Well, I don't know if I'd consider it soup, per se," Lance said, digging his spoon into his bowl.
Pidge snorted, "you're still eating it!"
"Hey, I never said I wasn't gonna!"
Shiro smiled down sadly at his bowl, "thanks, guys. I'm not that hungry, but maybe later."
The Paladians shared a look. Shiro hadn't been eating or even functioning since Keith had gotten home. Not that he was really doing that before either...
With a hiss and a bout of smoke, a glass door slid open.
I've decided to continue this story for now, and will do my best to update at least once weekly!
Thank you for all the kind words you said about my last chapter, I love feedback- both things you like, and ways to improve my writing and/or develop the plot, so please don't hesitate to do so! This chapter gets a little dark so viewer discretion is advised- if you are sensitive to this skip to the next chapter- you should miss too much. Also, quick question, there will be a lot of flashbacks throughout the chapters so is it easier for you if I italic it (like I did in the last chapter) or leave it (like I did in this chapter)?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
With a hiss and a bout of smoke, a glass door slid open.
Keith's vision was fuzzy, head clouded with a void of unsystematic nothingness. He could feel his delicate frame shake, frail bones moments away from shattering into a pitiful mound of char and dust. His legs began to falter under him, everything slipping into a bizarre, slow-motion state. Keith felt as though he was observing from the sidelines, not an ounce of consent over his puny body. He watched as a brawny figure emerged through the smoke, wrapping a fuzzy, red blanket over Keith's own trembling shoulders.
Keith's senses began to trickle back into his mind, allowing him to feel the figure enclose him in an impenetrable hug.
From the moment the man wrapped his familiar arms around Keith, he knew it was Shiro.
Keith felt himself return the gesture, tucking his cheek gently against his brother's chest. They stayed like that for a long time, reunited at last. Keith racked his still groggy brain for an explanation as to what the hell was going on, but as soon as he did, he'd wished he hadn't. The memories came flooding back like a tsunami, carrying away Keith's naiveness in the depths of its merciless current.
The first thing that came to his mind was that godforsaken purple. The color of the walls he spent hours screaming with until his throat tore raw, the skin of his brutal captors who taunted his every diminishing breath. The hostile glow of their yellow eyes would surely haunt his dreams for years to come. The cold that lingered throughout their heart was almost as cruel as the too small handcuffs they forced around Keith's wrists, which dug into his flesh with a painful flinch.
Above all else, the thing that prowled Keith's brain most, drowning the rest of his thoughts, suffocating his mind, was the pain.
The agony the blade inflicted as it penetrated through his tender flesh, blood overflowing from its lacerated seams. The torture that turned his blood cold every time he lost himself more and more in the abyss of darkness. The needle the Galra sank into his neck, igniting every vein in his body with unbearable anguish.
Keith would wake up, chained to the wall by a dark cage that had been placed over his head. It was very difficult to see out of, only a cramped slit near his eyes allowed little light in, the weight was heavy on his shoulders, but the chain dug harsher into the back of his skull if he squirmed. That wasn't the worst part, though.
The drugs that had been forced into Keith's blood lead him to hallucinate from the darkest abyss his conscious- all part of the Galra's sick mind games.
The visions usually started off well, most likely because the Galra enjoyed tearing happiness away from him.
Occasionally he'd see his parents. In the beginning, he'd relive the very best parts of his childhood. Perhaps it was the very rare homemade breakfast on his birthday, or when he'd gotten straight A's on his second-grade report card; the very best one was when Keith had received his very first dog, Saturn. This didn't last very long however, it seemed the universe didn't like it when he was happy.
Usually, the floor would open up and swallow his house whole, he'd relive his mother's arrest, his parent's divorce.
The most common vision, however, included his team- his family.
It'd start off back at the castle, everyone smiling and bantering as they cooked in the kitchen with Hunk, watched a movie with Pidge, or maybe even trained together. Then, in the space of a second, everything would change. The room would deteriorate from the bright walls of the castle to that godforsaken purple. Keith would be changed back to the wall by that thing around his head. He'd watch, uselessly, as giant, bloody holes appeared in each member of his team's torso one by one. Their lifeless bodies would fall to the ground, blood splattering, pouring out of their mouths.
The last one was Shiro.
His best friend, his mentor.
"No, no, no! Please..." Keith's broken voice cried. The moment Shiro's body fell with a thud, was the moment Keith lost himself.
His hearing faded into a high pitch flatline, blood pounding through his trembling body, everything slow motion. He looked down at his quivering hands, they were coated with thick, scarlet liquid. He thrashed against that fucking helmet, ignoring the feeling of the chain as it thrust into his skull. He screamed until his throat tore raw-
Keith realized he was screaming against Shiro's chest, fingers digging into the fabric of the man's shirt. He stopped, untangling the cotton from between his hands, and pulling away.
The smoke had now cleared, allowing Keith to see every member of his family. The concern on their faces burned through his chest-
His heart stopped.
What if it was just another hallucination- a cruel mind game sent in the form of his family. His breath hitched, and he stumbled back, eyes wide.
Shiro placed a steady hand on Keith's shoulder and he flinched at the touch.
"Keith?" Shiro's voice was gentle, tone soft, concern racked across his features.
Tears welled in Keith's eyes and he collapsed back against Shiro. He didn't care if it wasn't real, he was too exhausted, too broken.
"Please, be real," he pleaded, "please."
The room was silent, the only sound being Keith's undefined sobs, and fitful breathing.
After a few moments, and a lot of convincing himself, Shiro pulled away from Keith softly, still keeping an arm wrapped firmly around the boy.
Keith was covered in dry blood, all over his flesh and matting his hair. He was much skinnier than he was before his capture- which is saying a lot seeing as he was skinny in the first place. His eyes were dull, and he kept his eyes to his feet. Shiro could tell the gash from earlier, the one from under Keith's right eye to his neck, had formed a scar.
Shiro couldn't stand to look at him like that for another moment, covered in grime, blood, dirt, bruise, and pain.
"Let's go get cleaned up, alright, Keith?"
Sorry this is so short, it takes a long time to write and I was trying to get something out there! Thank you for reading- let me know what you think!
Hi, babies. I'm so sorry for my absents, I've been unbelievably busy lately- I'll try to update soon- updates will hopefully be very frequent in March.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Keith...you finished?" Shiro's tone was soft, patient.
He stood outside the bathroom door, arms crossed, posture hard. Shiro hadn't heard the shower for a few minutes, indicating that Keith had turned the water off. It was strange, however, that the boy hadn't emerged through the small door yet.
Shiro waited for an answer but it never arrived. Without hesitation, he pulled open the door, taking a daring step onto the tile.
Keith stood in front of the mirror, staring at his reflection lifelessly, a towel wrapped around his waist.
Shiro winced. Now that his skin was clean, it was easy to see the more permanent abrasions that lingered on the boy's flesh. There were quite a few scars around his torso, perhaps six or seven little ones, and a large one that stretched from his top left rib cage to his bottom right.
That's what had caused all of the blood on Keith's shirt that Shiro had seen earlier.
That wasn't what Keith was staring at, however. Shiro followed the reflection of his amethyst eyes' gaze, halting once they'd reached the scar across Keith's face.
Continuing to stare at his reflection, Keith spoke, the first coherent words Shiro had heard him say since his return, "I remember how I got this, you know."
Shiro's breath hitched- that look on Keith's face, that cold, dull, vacant look, so unlike anything he'd ever seen on the boy; Shiro didn't dare step closer.
"... he came in..." Keith spoke with such a quiet, shaky tone, the voice so unrecognizable,"...it was one of the last days I was there, I-I think; he hadn't come in before then." Keith paused, swallowing hard.
"Keith, you don't have to-"
"He came in- I was strapped to the table- and he came really close to my face, I could taste his breath; t-there was a metal bar in my mouth, a gag, so I couldn't move away. He put a blade," Keith winced, pushing closed his eyes as a tear rolled down his cheek. "... my blade at the top of my cheek, and he looked me straight in the eyes- I wanted to look away, but I couldn't. He said 'every time you look at your face, " Keith paused, his stone cold glare staring its own reflection dead on, "' I want you to remember-' then he pressed the blade down and started cutting across my cheek- 'I want you to remember, that I'm the one who broke you.'"
Shiro froze, every hair on the back of neck sticking up. He felt sick, disgusted, stomach twisting in anxious knots. A wave of emotions he couldn't quite dissect washed over him: pain, anger, fear, he didn't know.
"I-I'm so sorry, Keith," he chocked, stumbling over his own thoughts.
Keith swallowed, turning his face away from both the mirror and Shiro, "its ok."
"No, it's not," Shiro urged, taking a brave step toward Keith. He placed a grounding hand upon the teen's shoulder, who immediately shriveled away. "Keith, look at me," Shiro prompted softly. Keith had never flinched at Shiro's touch before, he had always been a rock to the neglected boy. "come on, please. I want to see your face."
At those words, those simple, six words, Keith let out a broken sob. "I don't, he hiccuped, "I-I'm a coward. I don't deserve the r-red lion or this team; I don't deserve you. I'm s-s-sorry." Keith was crying miserably now, still faced away from Shiro, failed gasps of air rupturing from his lungs.
Shiro's heart shattered, unshed tears welding at his eyes. Keith, his little brother, his best friend, was here, right in front of him, sobbing uncontrollably, broken, and there was nothing he could do to fix him.
"You are not a coward, Keith. You are my little brother, the strongest person I know. You're going to get through this, we're going to get through this."
Finally, the boy turned his head, face red with tears, scar shining under the bright lights. "S'ro," he chocked, collapsing into his brother's warm embrace. Sobs writhed from his chest, getting caught somewhere between his throat and mouth. He and Shiro stayed like that for a long time, and hidden under the dark, thick layer of emotions, Keith had a glimmer of faith.
Wow. I hate myself. I'm so so so sorry, this is absolutely horrendous, it was a very difficult chapter to write. I had it semi-written, and then I got slammed with a lot of work, left it, then just picked it up tonight. Next chapter, when I start fresh, it will hopefully be much better. I have a new-ish style of writing in mind, so I'm curious what you'll all think. I apologize this chapter is so short (I swear, this apology is longer) I just felt as though the chapter wasn't written well and wanted to end it. Okay, I've justified myself enough, sorry. Anyways, please let me know what you think. I really appreciate comments as it really gives me the confidence to keep writing. Love you with all my heart, thanks for reading.