Shiro woke up again, in an unfamiliar place with piercingly loud voices pummeling into his ear. He could remember Haggar whispering to him, and he was aware of her when he was fighting Keith. But he hadn't tried fighting against her, instead his will and hers had merged together, to try and kill. . .Keith.
". . .his body is barely living, but Shiro's spirit is alive. It's inside the Black lion, I've already talked to hi -"
Shiro groaned, his mind racing to connected with what Keith was saying. Shiro? He was Shiro, what did it mean, that his spirit was alive? That it was inside the Black lion? Keith gasped, and Shiro heard mutters elsewhere. The other paladins, most likely. Shiro couldn't move yet, but his mind was sluggishly catching up.
It was hot, and he couldn't feel the other arm anymore. Keith spoke again. "Is that you? Are you alive?"
Slowly Shiro opened his eyes, and while his vision was still groggy, it was clear that the bold red stripes belonged to Keith. His vision stabilized, and he saw the worried face peering down at him. A blue sky and red land. Staring into Keith's grey-blue eyes, everything came back. He felt empty. He didn't move except to stare and to blink at Keith. He felt sick, and belatedly realized that Keith hadn't called him by his name. Keith was staring at him conflictedly, as if he were a stranger. And he was.
The nonsensical things that Hagger whispered to him, that she had carelessly revealed within his own mind. The fight with Keith at that place with thousands of fake bodies. It made sense that he was one of them himself. The revelation came to him without any fanfare.
All the memories of Keith, of all the other members, they were faded. Almost grey, as if they didn't exist. As if they were never meant to exist. As he reminisced, he realized he had the memories of himself, but he didn't have the emotions. He could remember, but he couldn't feel the things that should accompany them. It had been this way for a very long time. He had overlooked it, believing that the memories could state him enough, that the loss of emotions were just another cause of trauma. He had told himself that every morning, every night. Yet, he knew himself, that the memories were like a loose wrapping of paper. If he reached out he could tear through them to see his true self.
And now Hagger's influence, the thoughts of the weak must die filled him. She was in sense, his creator, the person who resembled the form of his mother, even though he was used and abandoned by her. He was just a tool; a replaceable fake meant to infiltrate the heart of Voltron and tear it down. His use was singular, and he had outlived and failed the purpose. Now all that was left was his termination.
The other paladins started to whisper amongst themselves, and Shiro, or the not real Shiro, forced himself to speak. "Are you going to kill me?"
Keith was frozen, all his conflicted emotions disappeared underneath a layer of shock and disbelief. Everything became still. Even the others stopped whispering. It had become so still it was a moment where nobody breathed.
He was just a clone, an unfitting insert of who the real Shiro was. He was not the leader like Shiro, he didn't feel like Shiro. That man was a stranger, a stranger that this clone could never be. He wasn't Shiro and he could never understand him, he was only borrowing the body.
And it made sense.
How he felt like he didn't belong, his brusque mannerisms, his lack of concern for a great many of things. How he treated Keith. He felt awkward towards Keith, like he was compensating for something he never had, that he was too forceful, not enough whenever they interacted. He didn'tfeel like Shiro whenever Keith was around because henever was.
While he was facing this discovery, he noticed that none of them had responded. So, Shiro, a name he had begun to detest, spoke again, "I'm not the real Shiro, so what are you going to do? Are you going to kill me?" He turned to face Keith, who had started to shake, his gaze horrified and distant. "It's fine if you are."
"What?!" That snapped Keith out of his shock. Rage and horrified fury along with a small tinge of guilty relief washed over his face. Unconsciously he reached out to grab the not Shiro's singular arm. "I can't do that! Even if, even if-"
"I'm not Shiro?" supplied the not-Shiro roughly. Keith nodded as he swallowed, sweat starting to bead at his forehead.
"Yeah, even if you aren't, I can't just kill you. You feel things, and you also have a personality. To kill you, even if you are a clone, it'd be. . . .murder." Keith finished quietly, as he let go of the not-Shiro's hand while not-Shiro watched him with calm, almost empty eyes. The not-Shiro sighed. He didn't understand these meaningless sentients. He had outlived his purpose; his question was implicitly stating that he didn't want to live.
"He's right." Broke in Lance's voice, unusually solemn and grave. The not-Shiro couldn't see his face, but he could imagine Lance's face stoic with something pitiful growing in his gaze. "You may not be the real Shiro"- not-Shiro inwardly flinched, - "but you still are living," Lance's voice turned watery, and not-Shiro could imagine the tears growing in his brown eyes. It was surprisingly easy to imagine it. After all, Lance was crying for the real Shiro. This entire dilemma, the clone felt distanced from it. Nothing could reach him in his state, the worry the whispers, the tears, he had risen above it all. The truth had struck him, "To kill you to return Shiro would be wrong."
The clone felt irritated, they were all pretending to care for him, it was obvious they liked the real Shiro, they had always followed him and acted alongside him,because they thought he was Shiro.
But he WASN'T THAT PERSON! HE WASN'T SHIRO, SO WHY WERE THEY PRETENDING?
Anger and disgust brewed inside him, but his emotional detachment made him far more logical than before. While those emotions stewed potently inside him, he spoke tranquilly, forcefully clamping back his true feelings with an impenetrable facade. "The real Shiro is alive. You should put me under and bring him back."
The clone hated the idea of Shiro coming back inside his body. That his body would only be a carrier for the Shiro, that it would become his purpose. Haggar gave him purpose, and now that she was absent, it was natural for the real one to come back. But it felt wrong to give in to the real one. He didn't want to live, per se, but he didn't want to give his body to anybody else. He wanted to be himself, he didn't want this to happen!
HE DIDN'T WANT TO BECOME FORGOTTEN AS JUST A CLONE, AND FOR SHIRO TO COME BACK INSTEAD. It was a selfish desire, but he had lost, lost to Keith who loved Shiro and wanted him back.
He stared up to Keith whose eyes started to water. Biting his lip, he shook his head. "No, I can't do that."
Shiro stared with incomprehensible disgust at Keith. This boy who was family to Shiro, who loved him. The clone only stoked disgust and hatred towards him.
He hated Shiro.
He could move slightly now, his body responded to him. Pain still lanced through every movement, but he could bear it. Slowly he sat up, and when Keith tried to help him, he glared him down. He was facing the entire crew now. On a desert-like land with the hot wind passing by gently, the silence was approving his demise. The lions stared down, almost vengeful, condemning. He felt something like fear within him, he felt trapped.
He saw a clear blue sky, and the looks on the paladin's faces. Lance looked betrayed and regretful, Hunk was shocked but mournful, Pidge looked fearful and terribly grief-stricken, Allura was radiating wretchedness and self-loathing, a galran and an atleanan entity with apathy and confusion buried underneath false empathy, and finally Coran with worry and caution.
"Could you all give me some time with Keith?" the clone asked gently, ignoring the looks. He tried to smile like the Shiro would smile. Comforting, calm, real. Their expressions grew hesitant, fearful, worried, distrustful. None of it hurt him anymore. So, he tried for another empty expression. He pleaded, "This is my last request to you all. I'm in no state to move. So please, give us some privacy."
They all hesitated. The clone stared into the princess's eyes. She seemed to hold the most authority after Keith. With the clone's best Shiro-look and after what seemed to be a standstill in time she faltered and nodded, "Fine, we'll stand at a distance, but we'll still be watching."
She seemed resigned and suspicious, but considerate. The clone gave her another weak smile. After that they all walked away, whispering amongst themselves to the distance next to the lions. The clone turned to face Keith.
There was no place between them, not that the truth was revealed.
"Keith, I'd like it if you could help to walk to a farther distance." Keith looked up, unable to refuse Shiro's face. The clone tried to act warmly like Shiro would, to lull him into a false sense of security. It must have been working since Keith's face turned guilty right after. Yet the clone felt nothing except that the whole situation was tasteless.
Perhaps he had some galra added into him. He was acting so inhumane. Then again Keith was galra too, but he seemed very human-like. Saving him-no he saved him because he looked like Shiro. Even though he had tried to kill him, his face was enough to save him. His body was both his savior and enemy. Because to Keith, Shiro was everything. He wanted it gone.
"Where would you like to go?" asked Keith quietly, looking at everywhere but his face. The clone understood the sentiment.
"Not far, just a little distance off, I'd like to enjoy the sunset by the edge of the cliff." Shiro forged a smile. Keith lifted his armless side, helped him limp to the distance Shiro desired. He made sure to check where Keith had placed the knife. Once they were a considerable distance away from the lions and the others, the clone sat down a few meters away from the cliff. The air was so dry, comparable to that of Arizona. Faded memories that no longer had any meaning to the clone. The memories of Shiro's unwillingly taken away and given to him. His body still ached yet it was responding to him quite well, but he feigned weakness. With acting he pretended as if his limbs were still stiff as he moved into a cross legged position. Keith was silent. The sunset was indeed nice.
"I'd like it if you sat in front of me."
Keith rigidly moved to sit down in front of him, unable to meet his eyes. The clone pulled up everything he could fabricate about Shiro to pretend to be him.
"Hey, buddy." He spoke gently and with a smile. Keith stiffened even more, growing uncomfortable. The clone could relate. He felt nothing but hatred towards Shiro, Keith, and by extension himself. "You won the fight. Shiro should come back. The princess-Allura can find a way to bring him back." No response. Keith lowered his head even more. Silence. Impatient the clone drudged up everything he knew about himself, about Shiro, to become him, one last time. "Keith. Shiro would want this."
"How would you know?" Keith spat out softly. His fists clenched, and his voice had gained a slight tremor, like a fraying rope. He suddenly looked up, shocking Shiro with the abruptness. Tears were forming in his eyes, and his iris had narrowed, to a cat-like point. Hurt was shining fiercely in his face. He all but roared, "YOU'RE NOT HIM!"
The clone watched with distaste as Keith muttered out half-hearted apologizes and wiped his eyes and looked at the red sand once more. He waited until Keith had calmed down to speak. "I know, but I feel that he doesn't want this for me, I don't want this for me." He tried to channel everything resembling fondness and love to churn out words that burned in his throat, words that he wantedto destroy, to terminate, "I'm not him. Only a secondhand copy, Keith. I don't feel anything, it's only programming. You're only prolonging my pain."
He didn't mean a single quiznacking word of that. He knew he wasn't Shiro, but he felt things, and he wasn't only second-hand. He was everything that Shiro wasn't! He was everything that wasn't Shiro. Prolonging his pain? Hah, this farce was the only thing that was painful. Everything here reeked of useless sentiment, of futility. It was a world where the strong consumed the weak, yet here it was, the winner of the battle who took away his only comfort, failing to realize the answer. Internally he scoffed. If all humans were pathetic like this and unable to realize the answers needed, he was going to solve this himself.
Keith refused to answer, his shaking only grew worse. He was withholding his sobs, pretending that it didn't matter to him. Like that his words hadn't struck him at his core, at his guilty desire. He could bring Shiro back, a concept that the clone hated even thinking about, and rid a faulty being. The only thing that stopped it from becoming reality was the clone itself, that his living, his consciousness made it less humane than if he were unconscious.
"I can't," Keith spoke with finality and emptiness in his voice. His willpower to not kill another being, even for a chance to bring back Shiro, was stronger. The clone tried to act sorrowful too, his mind racing what to do in the situation. While he was thinking, he spoke on autopilot.
"I'm not him Keith." He repeated. Keith started to shake and his head drooped even further, sobs wracking his body. Gasps would be heard, and he started to curl even further into himself. The clone didn't have to feign sorrow anymore, because he felt it. Even though he hated Keith, he felt no joy in bringing him pain. Perhaps it was the only Shiro thing inside him. "But I have his face, and I have his voice. I'm everything about him but spirit. Can you handle this? Knowing that he is unable to come back? His spirit might pass over in time but-"
"I KNOW THAT! BUT I CAN'T! I-I CAN'T!" he shrieked while he wept, his body heaving. His face was sickly, and his eyes were flowing with tears. The clone didn't recognize the emotions over Keith's face. But if he had to guess, despair. Only slightly did the clone regret his choice to go down this path to convince Keith. Keith sobbed, "I c-can't. Please, jus-just stop."
At once the clone made up his mind. Keith would refuse to kill him because he felt strong feelings about his existence. He would become a living reminder of Shiro and the clone couldn't accept this. He leaned forward and wrapped his arms about Keith, ignoring his flinch at the sudden proximity. Keith sat stiffly the entire time, hugging himself. The clone felt distress at what he would do, but knew this was the only way to end this farce. The clone knew how selfish he was being, but he couldn't help it. Perhaps there was a great deal of galra inside him.
He patted Keith several times, his single hand inching towards the knife. With determination not dissimilar to when he fought Keith, he swiftly grabbed the knife, shocking Keith and ran past him to the edge of the cliff with sudden mobility. It hurt so quiznacking much, but it would all be over anyways.
He stood at the very edge of the cliff, a breath away from falling while holding the knife. It was a knife that Keith always carried, the one his parent left behind. Shiro raised it beside his neck. The tip felt cool and unbearably final. Keith immediately stood up, adopting a weak fighting stance, not bothering to hide the fear in his eyes. "Wh-what are you doing?"
The clone stared at Keith, feeling what the real Shiro would feel. Affection, maybe even love. It didn't stop the clone completely though. He realized that tears were falling from his own eyes, that his face felt hot and throat aching. Everything inside the clone told him to stop, but he tightened his grip on the knife to the point his entire arm was shaking.
The paladins were racing towards them, shouting things. Mere colorful spots in the red dusty planet. The clone didn't hear them. But still, he felt something towards them too, affection maybe.
"I know I'm not the real Shiro," Keith watched while his anxiety and terror mounted. His entire body was tensing with fear. Why was he so scared? This was only a clone. Keith couldn't even find the will to bring Shiro back, so was letting go of this stranger too much? Yet, Keith didn't move because he was transfixed to his words, anticipating the end of the sentence. "Because I don't feel anything when I hurt you."
With the golden setting sun to his back and the abyss below, the knife plunged into his neck. The clone knew the last words were a lie. His last visions were of Keith with wide eyes, spilling tears as he raced towards him with an outstretched hand.
"SHIRO!" Keith's voice was so raw and filled with desperation. 'Ah', thought the clone as he started falling backwards. He saw the infinitely blue sky above him as the black ragged rock walls of the canyon started to loom over him. 'He said Shiro'.
Keith leaped after the body and into the plunging darkness. He grabbed the clone's body once more. With the boosters on his suit, he agonizingly drew up the body. There was so much red.
They stood over the body, with Keith, Lance, Pidge kneeling over sobbing. Allura was crying facing away from the scene. Coran was repeatedly saying, "It's fine, it's fine."
What makes loss real?