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I Wanna Be a Paladin, Again

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He wakes up trembling and can’t seem to stop, too groggy and disoriented to get himself under control.

He desperately wants to go back to sleep, but it’s so much worse now. He can’t remember ever feeling it like this before. Like he’s dying, disintegrating from the inside out.

He digs his fingernails into his scalp, hard enough to leave crescent shaped bruises. He wants to rip his eyeballs out of their sockets and briefly wonders whether that might work. He has to do something to relieve this unbearable pressure. He’d do anything for a few seconds of calm.

The pain flares again with such vengeful determination that Shiro has to roll over and scream into his pillow, the noise muffled and wounded, quiet as he can manage.

It feels like years before the crippling torment releases him and begins to ebb, slowly trickling back down into his veins to fester for a while longer. Long enough so that he’s almost certain his head isn’t going to explode all over his pillowcase. Not tonight, anyway.

Shiro pants hoarsely into the damp fabric, slowly lifts his head and sniffs through a disgustingly clogged nose. He hadn’t even realized he’d been crying. He tries to clear his throat and ends up choking on a wet cough.

Slow it down. Breathe.

Cold nausea prickles the fine hairs along the back of his neck. Shiro swallows hard, squeezes his eyes shut and wills the feeling to go away. He doesn’t want to throw up. That always makes it worse.

He burrows down and tries to find a comfortable position, tucks his long limbs into a ball and prays that sleep will carry him away. But the nausea builds like an ocean swell until his mouth is watering and he’s shivering beneath an icy blanket of cold sweat. Shiro knows better than to fight it, knows from experience how long he can hold out. The last thing he wants is to get sick all over his sheets, again.

So he pushes up onto his elbows, expecting the monster to rear it’s head. When nothing happens, he lowers bare feet to the floor and scrubs a hand over his face, fighting the dizziness that always accompanies these fucking migraines.

He’s horribly unsteady, but he makes it to the bathroom.

“Lights to two,” he croaks, then stands as still as possible while his eyes adjust, flesh hand hovering uncertainly over his stomach. Maybe he won’t —

But already his throat is tightening, saliva flooding over his tongue before he can swallow down the urge to gag. Shiro lowers down onto his knees, belatedly wishing that he’d remembered to pull on a t-shirt or something. It’s so fucking cold down here. His fingers clamp onto the metallic edges of the bowl, bracing for the inevitable. He’s still fighting through it, won’t ever stop fighting.

The skull-crushing pain clamps down on him so abruptly it steals his breath, like someone’s squeezing his brain with a giant nutcracker, waiting for him to shatter apart. There’s a low keening, a sound he does not recognize, the noise a machine makes just before the last dregs of life flicker from its core, before everything goes dark and silent.

Shiro lets out a sob, ragged and panicked. He can’t keep quiet any longer. It’s so hard to breathe, now. The water ripples below him as he heaves frantically, in and out, struggling to fill his lungs, but it never seems to be enough.

A hot surge of bitterness scorches up his throat and spills out of him. He leans forward just in time and vomits, coughing and sputtering on a thick slurry of bile. Crying hurts too much, so the tears fall silently into the soiled water. Shiro knows he isn’t finished, can feel the sickness rolling up like a black tidal wave inside him. But he doesn’t have the strength to hold his aching body up any longer.

Shiro gives up and slides bonelessly to the floor, panting as he curls onto his side at the base of the toilet. The cold surface feels good against his flushed cheek. He retreats into himself, far away from this reality, from the voices inside his head; always whispering such awful things. Unforgivable things.

His stomach heaves again and he spits up another small mouthful, heedless of the mess he’s making and too far gone to care. He’s so fucking tired of feeling sick. Tired of hurting all the time, uncertain how much longer he can endure with a smile frozen on his face. He’s not sure it matters anymore. They’ve all noticed his shell cracking inch by inch, a mile wide now. The man, the leader they need him to be, that boy’s been gone for a long time, now, hasn’t he…

Useless. Soon, he will be useless to them.

He wants to throw up again, but there’s nothing left in his stomach. Nothing left to give.

Sticky tears roll down his cheeks and he doesn’t try to stop them. He’s lying practically naked, sick on the bathroom floor in the dead of night, and no one will ever be the wiser. In a small, forbidden corner, buried deep down in the darkest crevice of his soul, Shiro knows that his existence is irrelevant. There have been others before him, and there will be others after.

They never really needed him at all.

Coran gave him something a while ago, something to take the edge off the pain, after he’d found out about the headaches. He told Shiro to be careful; a couple would go a long way, he’d said.

In the beginning, Shiro had been adamant about managing on his own. He hid the bottle away with no intention of ever touching its contents. But now, stranded in the futile, lonely hours before dawn, with no one awake to care, he finds that he doesn’t much care, either. He just wants to feel better, if only for a little while.

Shiro drags himself up off the floor, dizzy and exhausted and incapable of maintaining eye-contact with the frighteningly hollowed figure staring back at him from the mirror. His fingers tremble as he rifles through the cabinet, scattering the few items he’s bothered to stow inside.

The bottle is small, deceptively ordinary. His vision blurs when he tries to inspect the container, struggling to read the instructions, then barks out a harsh laugh when he realizes every word is in Altean. He figures they can’t be too different from Earth painkillers. He unscrews the cap and dry-swallows two of the translucent blue pills. Then figures he might need two more to account for his body mass.

Shiro gulps a mouthful of water, then cups a few handfuls to splash his face. Already, the pain has retreated to a dull throb behind his eyes. A few seconds later, a soothing warmth floods his bloodstream, drowning the festering poison hibernating in his veins. His eyelids droop heavily as he exhales a slow, relieved breath, then another.

The floor seems to embrace him as he sinks down onto it, limbs collapsing until he’s on his ass with his legs stretched out haphazardly in front of him. He licks his swollen lips, head lolling against the wall. It feels so strange not to hurt. He’d almost forgotten…

Even while he’s floating through the numb haze, Shiro knows that he can’t stay here on the bathroom floor forever. Eventually he’s going to have to clean up and drag himself back to bed, before someone finds him like this.

But it’s still so early. He has a little time, doesn’t want to disturb the precarious silence. It’s finally quiet and he can breathe again.

Shiro inhales deeply, filling his lungs and holding for a few experimental seconds before exhaling a shaky breath of laughter.

He wonders why this newfound silence doesn’t feel completely sane.