The glass on the witch’s stand shattered. The blood it contained ran down over the old mahogany cabinet and into the floor, where it seeped down cracks and into oblivion.
Nightmare stills of scarlet and charcoal, freezing into now familiar images. Keith's red uniform. Keith's ebon hair spilled across the floor. Keith's crimson blood swallowing his fingertips, staining them red. The gun in his hand and flash of white.
Red and black. Waking, sleeping hell. Bits of cognizance.
Screaming, shouting, cursing.
Lance snapped up on the cot, mind spinning, chest heaving in manic breaths, the sweat dripping from his chin in liquid grief. His head pounded, throbbed, threatened to send him back into the dreaming, back to that hell of horrible imagery. He fought it, resisted, discarded the sheet tangled around his legs. He could overcome the pain.
He would overcome this one last time. Now, when it counted the most.
It was time to do something about Lotor, once and for all. He'd gone too far, crossed that line that a person crosses that marks them forever, plots their fate. Curses them to the pits of destruction.
He signaled the sentry that was eyeing his sudden movements. Lance fell to the floor, clutching his chest, wrenching his shirt in a gesture that he wished was his heart. He forced a cry, feigned this great pain, and waited for the guard to unlock the door to check on him.
“He thinks I’m dead?”
Keith sat up on the chilly hospital bed, his bandaged stomach ripping with pain. Not that he cared at the moment. But the other's seemed to, and Hunk was lowering him carefully back down within seconds as he talked.
“That’s right. It was smart of Pidge to say that.” Hunk nodded at Pidge and smiled approvingly. Somehow, Pidge's quick thinking always made Hunk feel incredibly proud. Pidge nodded and perched himself on the end of the bed beside Keith's feet.
“Well, the only person he ever attacked was Keith, even after Hunk spent all that time with him. So it only seemed natural to make him think Keith is dead.”
The captain shook his head, wanting to be angry but knowing it would be wrong. “I don’t like it. He’s probably going crazy right now with grief." He gestured his hand in the general direction of the confinement area, his face reddening from stress. He was feeling drowsy from pain medicine and didn't want to sleep at the moment. "Don’t you realize what this is probably doing to him? You let him think he killed me!”
Allura sighed sympathetically. She patted his arm. “What else can we do Keith? Until we find out what the matter with him is it isn’t safe for you if he thinks you’re alive.”
Keith turned his head away from them. He exhaled slowly, hands working the tubing that slipped from his inner elbow. “How is he taking it?”
“He slips in and out of consciousness, so its hard to tell. It's been about twelve hours…” Pidge's voice trailed off under Keith's intense gaze.
“Twelve hours? I don’t get it!" Keith sat up in the bed again, fighting the drug, and pushed away Hunk's attempt to steady him. "Okay, we know this all started after Lance came back from being captured on Doom by Lotor. Obviously, he’s been either drugged or bewitched.”
“What did Lance tell you happened to him?” Allura. Soft and calming.
“Nothing really more than he told you. Except…" Keith tugged at the thin sheet, "except that Lotor kissed him. I think that’s all.”
“He kissed him?”
“Yeah. So Lance spat on him." Quick reply, as though Keith needed to defend Lance's devotion to him. "That was probably when he got knocked out," he added, just to even it out, take off the defensiveness.
He swung his feet off the bed. "I want to see him."
"You can't, Keith. If he knows that you're alive—"
"Just over the security cameras. I need to see him, make sure he's alright." A dampened demand. Those inexorable black eyes.
Allura shook her head but capitulated. "Alright, I'm sure Coran can bring him up from the control room."
And Hunk helped him down and they made their way.
A dark room, the curtains drawn to shut out the blue moon glow, lamp light casting soft orange highlights on nearby furniture, throwing deep shadows.
Lotor studied himself in the large mirror that covered the wall, the golden frame gilding the sweat and slave toil that had forged such beauty. Two elegant angels watched him from both corners. Mocked him as he undid the front buttons of his shirt and lowered it over his broad shoulders. Over blue chest and hard muscle. Down to rest in the folds of his arms. He turned his back to the mirror, twisting his head around to see as best he could, gathering his white hair over one shoulder.
There they were.
Swollen and disgusting. He was marred and disfigured now.
Those horrible stripes running horizontal along his back, two stray marks crossing vertically. Whip marks ruining his once smooth flesh. It would not happen again. That he had sworn. He would show his father, destroy the Voltron Force, and once he had…he would kill the old man. He had gone too far this time, physically punishing his only son. He'd pushed the prince over the point of no return. And there would be no turning back now. Damn Zarkon to hell, Lotor would destroy him utterly.
A soft, tentative knock at the door.
The servant entered, head bowed and careful to tread lightly. She approached him and waited until he signaled her to come nearer. She did, the tray in her hands glinting softly in the dim lamplight. On it rested a jar of balm.
Lotor sat down in a chair in a corner of the room, opposite the mirror, but so that he could still covertly watch the proceedings. He straddled the back of the chair, exposing his bared back. The woman dipped out some of the emollient and carefully layered it over the scarring but still sensitive tissue. Easy, gently she touched him. She worked with painstaking care, perhaps out of fear of punishment if she caused pain, but…
The blue prince watched her concentration. Watched it as though he'd never in his life see such a thing again.
And something rolled over inside him, a great sleeping wheel creaking defiantly to life. He glanced away from the mirror.
"Ellania…how long have you served me?"
The rubbing paused. "Ten years, sire."
"Go on. And my father before me?"
Resume. "Three years, sire."
He turned to look at her then. She backed up reflexively but he grabbed her wrist. He looked at her hard. Really looked at her, golden eyes flashing.
"How old are you Ellania?"
The servant blinked and her brow creased in concern. "Thirty-eight, master."
He squinted. Studied. Counted. Too many lines marking her forehead. Too deeply sunken eyes and cheeks, lips cracking, hands callused like sand and diamond dust. She looked so much older, so worn and tired.
It was like she had aged twenty years and he'd never noticed at all.
The angles in the corners of the mirror watched him. They peered as he weighed the reflection of himself and the terrified woman clutched in his grip. So many years had she served him. Well, too. It was hard to find such good servants.
He pulled off a ring on his middle finger, shoved it into her hand.
She looked at it, puzzled.
He jerked down his shirt and kicked around the chair. "My ring will give you unquestioned permission to leave the planet. Tell one of the shuttle operators I said to take you anywhere you want to go."
He growled in frustration, slamming the chair against the wall. "Must I always repeat myself? GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND!"
She stumbled back, uttered something like a thank you, managed a confused smile and hurried out the door, hand clutching the jewelry in it.
Lotor dropped into the chair feeling drained. Such a small amount of generosity had sapped so much from him. It had almost hurt. What had he been thinking?! A moment and he wanted to call her back, smack her for even considering she could leave.
But that fraction of a smile. He could see it burned into his vision, like a sunspot that glowed even with his eyes closed.
She was best forgotten. A temporary lapse in sanity. There were thousands like her.
But he felt the tingling poultice soothing his back and wondered. Wondered what this monstrous, sleeping gear was winding to life in the depths of his shell of a soul.
The cameras scanned the various sections of the lockup. No, there was definitely no one there. Just an empty cell with a mussed up blanket the only sign anyone had *ever* been there.
“He escaped?! When?”
The guard looked apologetic and rubbed the back of his neck. "He caught me so off-guard. I thought he was dying or something."
“God damn it all!” Keith banged the control pad and the screen blinked off. "Did you check the lions?"
"It appears that he launched some ten minutes ago." Coran flipped on another screen and some numbers scrolled by. And there was the empty hanger of Red Lion.
"Why would he run off like that? Do you think he's returning to Lotor?"
Keith shook his head. "No, Allura. He's gone to kill him."
"He's going to find Lotor. Damn him, he's going to try to kill him all alone."
A message alert flashed across the main screen. Coran patched it through.
He looked up from the console, trouble weighing down his brows.
"There's a message coming in from Lotor…He wants us to surrender."