Shiro remembers, distantly, how it felt to fly on an open field. The wind in his hair and feathers; the smells and the air , fresh and cold.
He remembers how good it felt to race against Keith, pushing himself to the limits, while Keith tried his best to surpass him. He remembers how good it felt to let his wingspan reach its full potential, and Keith—with his beautiful but small red-ish wings—calling him a show off.
Now, he plunges into his enemy from above, feeling the natural instincts of a born predator resurface, and he kills him with a swoop of his lance. Blood spatters from the wound, touching his feathers and clogging them together. He will have to clean them later, once he's back in his cell.
The crowds cheers at his victory, and Shiro looks around.
He remembers the wind, and the blue sky. He remembers Keith's hands in his wings, grooming them. It was a long job, sometimes tedious, but Keith had always done it without a single complain.
Shiro does remember all of this, but it's starting to fade, little by little, every time he enters the arena.
His wings have given him a fair advantage in battle. Not many of his enemies are able to fly, stuck to the ground, and his training has helped him dodge most of the projectiles they use.
It is, he thinks, one of the reasons why he's doing so well inside the arena. They call him Champion and sometimes the Winged Death , and he hates them all so much.
The cell they have given him isn't big enough to stretch his wings completely, but it's enough for him to try and clean his feathers when he can.
The blood, especially once it has dried out, it's hard to remove and Shiro has to scrub hard. Too hard. He knows there won't be a way for him to get out of here, that all the memories he's starting to lose won't ever come back.
He'll die here, and he won't ever be able to fly outside again.
The moment Shiro feels a light discomfort in his left wing, he looks down at his hands and sees the loose feathers he has just pulled out.
A part of him wants to convince himself that he had just scrubbed too hard while cleaning them, that it's nothing for him to worry about, but he knows better.
There had been courses at the Galaxy Garrison, teachers and psychologists talking about the effect that a prolonged mission could have one one's mind. Pluckering your own feathers, they said, can happen in a stressful situation, but it's important to address it the moment it starts, so that one can alleviate the symptoms.
Shiro had scored really high on the test they had given them. It will never happen to you , they had told him, bright smiles and confidence, you're gonna be great .
He looks at his own feathers, once white and now smeared with green blood, and he wonders what the fuck did they know.
It doesn't stop. He tries to resist, but his hands do it before he even notices. It starts small, a couple of feathers every week, and then it happens daily.
Soon, the damages are starting to show, and he's not as agile in the air during fight. His wings don't respond to the air as fast as usual, or as readily as he would like.
His arm gets pierced with an arrow, and the shock sends him barrelling to the ground.
Shiro manages to win that fight, but only barely. He knows that it won't happen again; the next time he'll enter the arena, might very well be the last.
The Galra leave him to recuperate in his cell, and Shiro doesn't even hesitate before he starts ripping off feathers from his left wing—the one most damaged. He needs to fly, needs to extend both of his wings at the same time and feel like himself again. But nothing like that will happen if not in the arena, fighting for his life.
The memory of Keith's hands on his wings have already faded some times ago, but the shame of what Keith would think, looking at him now, burns inside him.
Look how fat down they fall.
A bird without wings, the druid tell him, is useless to them.
Shiro wonders what kind of animals Galra know, if birds are some kind of universal constant or if they have studied him and his planet. He never asks.
He tries to fight them, fluffes up the feathers he has left to intimidate them and pushes against the restraints as much as he can, but Shiro is hurt and tired. It doesn't take much for them to overpower him and Haggar smiles, satisfied.
"We'll make you better," she tells him, touching his left wing. "We'll make you whole again. And then you'll be ours."
The druids give him a new arm, to substitute the one that was slowly being eaten away by infection and gangrene from his wound in the arena, but they also give him a new wing.
Metallic feathers should be heavier than this ones are, should make it impossible for him to fly, but while he doesn't know what metal have they used, his new wing responds perfectly to Shiro's orders.
In a way, this wing is almost better than his real one.
He tries to remove it, to pick the metallic feathers, but they don't come lose, doesn't matter how much he pulls. For a moment, he thinks about starting to work on the other, his real one, but he shivers at the thought of them giving him another one there as well.
There is nothing he can do.
He gets saved, in the end, even if the details are fuzzy in his mind. He remembers someone helping him and an explosion, and the next thing he knows he's back on Earth.
Shiro also remembers a name, echoed in his mind, Voltron . He tries to warn whomever is listening, but they don't believe him. They are more interested in his wing than in his words.
They have strapped his real wing wit the rest of his body, so that it's unable to open, but have placed his metallic one on the table, forcing him to stretch her to her full span.
It feels like a different kind of hell than his cell.
"Please," Shiro tries, hoping that maybe they will listen to him. They don't however, too lost in fear and curiosity to really listen to him. Trapped once again.
Keith keeps looking at his wings.
He's trying to be subtle about it, but Shiro can tell. His eyes grow holes in his wing, and the thing is: while most of the others can't help but look at his metallic wing, Keith seems to be focused more on his real one.
They haven't spent much time together ever since they have formed Voltron, and most of it is Shiro's fault. He has been avoiding Keith as much as he can without making it seem like he's avoiding Keith.
There are things he doesn't know how to explain to the other man, and a shame that curls inside of him that he doesn't know how to fight. Shiro knows why Keith is looking, and he knows that as much as he wants to pretend otherwise, there is a story written in his wing.
The metallic one is obviously the Galra's work, but even the feathers of his natural wing are ruined. His inner wings are shorter, more clipped, and it's a clear sign of pluckering.
He doesn't know if only Keith has noticed, but probably he was the only one that had seen his wings up close. The only one that could know how wrong they looked.
Somedays it felt easier to look at his metallic wing than at his real feathers.
It takes honestly more than what Shiro would have guessed for Keith to lose his patient and corner him. It seems that the year has changed both of them, made them a little more scared.
Once, Keith would have come to him the first day, demanding and angry - out of worry, not much else. But there are some wounds that don't recover as fast.
Still, it seems like Keith has run out of patience, or has just found the strength to actually do something. If it was up to Shiro, they would have probably stayed in this limbo far longer. Keith had always been the brave one.
Shiro is flexing his wings, iddly contemplating if he wants to risk running into someone while he reaches the training deck, when someone knocks on the door. He quickly fold his wings before inviting them in. He's not really surprised it's Keith.
Shiro tries to get up and ask what the other wants, but Keith talks before he can move: "Let me see it."
It's the lapidary tone and the way he's looking at Shiro with a seriousness that borders on a scowl. There will be no avoiding this, Shiro already knows, and yet he still tries.
"Keith, there is..." he starts, but the other talks over him, uninterested in his excuses.
"I know what happened. I don't know how... severe. But I can recognize the sign of self pluckering," Keith says, going directly to the point.
Shame flares inside Shiro's guts again, seeing his secret laid bare in front of him. Keith is never rude because he wants to be, but because he's incapable of not stating the truth.
For the first time in his life, Shiro resents him for it.
He stays silent under Keith's eyes. He doesn't know what kind of reply the other is expecting, but Shiro is unable to think.
Keith advances, reaching Shiro and lowering himself to his level. "I don't judge you. What you had to go through..." the other stops, almost as if it's something that hurts him too much to continue the phrase, "but your wing has been twitching more and more. And you need some grooming and I... I missed it."
Shiro has too. Although he doesn't remember how it had felt, he remembers that he had been happy. Warm. Loved .
A part of him wants to turn right now and let Keith groom him, smooth the creased feathers and caress his glands to let him have some release; but another part of him screeches at the thought.
His wing is ugly. Once his wings had been beautiful, big and strong, able to support him for miles and miles without faltering. Now, without the prosthetic, he wouldn't be able to even hover above the ground.
"You don't want to," Shiro tells him, his voice low and scared. "You don't..." But Shiro has to stop when he feels the brush of something against his wing. It's soft, familiar, and he turns to see Keith's wing extended towards him, in a presentation that would be shameful had they been in public.
It's like Keith is presenting to him, a mating dance that had once been their vocabulary, but now felt like a language he was way too rusty in.
"Of course I do," Keith whispers, a little frantic. "I've missed touching your wing, not because of them, but because it made you happy. It made you relax, and I don't know anything else that could help you."
Shiro looks at the other man, at the pleading look in his eyes. There is something desperate in Keith's plea. Shiro would give him anything just to make him happy.
Still, he wants Keith to know what he's getting into.
"It's ugly, what I did," Shiro explains, "they explained it so clinically at the Garrison, but there is nothing rational. I... I knew I was doing something bad, but I couldn't stop myself. And I ruined them."
Keith looks at him and then, again, he brushes his wings against Shiro's, in a silent invitation. One he has to reply to.
He lets his real wing unfold. Even now, his wing is much bigger than Keith, that had always been built more for speed than stamina. He engulfes the other's wing in his, and he thinks that if someone saw them now, they would run away in embarrassment.
Keith smiles at his gesture but pokes the metallic wing too, looking at Shiro with an annoyed look.
Shiro relents, opening up the left wing as well, extending it to his full span. He's engulfing Keith in his wings and the other smiles, content. They used to do this before, wrapped in each other fors hours on end.
This time, Keith closes his own wings, so that he can lean towards the inner part of Shiro's wings and starts coming through them with incredible care. The first touch sends a bolt through Shiro's sensible nerves and he almost moans an obscene sound. No one else has touched his wings in so long, and he had forgotten how Keith's touch felt.
Shiro realizes a second later that he's crying a little, tears of relief spilling out every time Keith combs through one of his feathers.
"It's all right," the other man whispers, "you're safe now." And Shiro finally starts to believe it.