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WARNING: This fic is both dark and violent, and contains scenes of physical and psychological abuse.
Takes place two to three years after Descend from Grace.
We'll see how brave you are
We'll see how fast you'll be running
We'll see how brave you are
- Tori Amos, Yes, Anastasia
And just for the record
Just so you know
I did not believe
That you could sink so low.
- Nine Inch Nails, No, You Don't
I can't believe I'm doing this.
Granted, there are a lot of things I can't believe lately. Zarcon's surrender, for instance. I don't think anyone saw that one coming, really - we just figured he'd fight to the bitter end. I guess the constant attacks on Arus must have been a bigger drain on his resources than even he realized. Not that I'm going to complain - well, not about that, anyway. I could do without these endless treaty negotiations, though. I mean, I always expected to die from injuries sustained in battle, not boredom sustained in meetings.
That's another thing I can't believe - the boredom. I mean, suddenly it's like I'm back at the Academy suffering though Professor Kerl's endless poli-sci lectures, except that I'm not allowed to sleep through them this time. This seems patently unfair to me, but Allura remains adamant that at least two members of the Voltron Force be present at these things at any time, and more often than not that means Our Illustrious Captain and His Loyal Second-in-Command. Joy. I'm told this sort of thing builds character, though usually by people who don't actually have to sit through this sort of thing.
One of these days I'm going to have to get Keith to teach me how to sleep with my eyes open the way he can. It'd make the proceedings a lot more bearable.
Actually, I'm surprised that I can even entertain the thought of sleeping at these meetings at all, given the circumstances. Honestly, I would have thought I'd be a lot, well, twitchier, after everything Zarcon and his Drules did to my people - did to me. Certainly, that's been on everyone else's minds as well: Allura's been very careful with the seating arrangements, making sure I'm safely away from anyone who even looks faintly bluish. And Keith practically glued himself to my side for the first week or so of negotiations, something that definitely did not go unappreciated. Even Nanny's been hovering a bit more than usual, which is somehow comforting and unnerving at the same time. But somehow it all feels so... unnecessary.
I don't know - maybe I'd be more nervous if everyone weren't trying so hard to make sure I feel safe around all these Drules. And it's not as if I've forgotten everything that's happened since that terrible morning when their ships swarmed over my homeworld. But it all seems so distant now. It's hard to conjure up all the old anger these days... maybe you can only be so angry for so long. In a way, I'm a bit frightened of that - it almost feels like a betrayal of sorts, a slap in the face to everyone who died that day. Still, it's kind of nice to be able to look at a Drule and not necessarily see a potential rapist or murderer for a change. I wonder when that shift occurred.
Maybe this is one of those 'signs of progress' Keith keeps going on about.
Of course, not everyone is quite this sanguine. I know Pidge is still hurting from the destruction of his own homeworld. He hides it pretty well, but he's been noticeably absent from the treaty negotiations, and nobody's begrudging him that. At least Hunk is keeping an eye on him, though - I'd hate to see him get short shrift while everyone's fussing over me. It's bad enough that we've all been ignoring Sven.
Not that Sven makes it difficult. He's never been the most talkative of people in all the years I've known him - he's more content to sit back and let everyone else make all the noise for him. And he seems almost preternaturally calm, almost sphinxlike. But ever since his escape from the Pit of Skulls, that calm has taken on the subtlest of edges, easy to miss but still readily apparent if you know to look for it. And even before, I can remember his eyes occasionally taking on an odd cast, as if there were something else, something almost dangerous, lurking behind them. I never saw more than a fleeting glimpse of it, but I can remember at least one upperclassman who must have gotten a very good look, judging by the expression on his face afterwards. Not pleasant at all.
Still, Sven has always been a good friend to me. In fact, if it weren't for him, I probably never would have made it through the Academy - the culture shock was simply too overwhelming for me and let's face it - even without that, I haven't got the best temperament for the military anyway. Sure, Sven and I have argued in the past, but we've always tried to look out for each other. Though usually he's wound up looking out for me more often than the other way around... not something I'm particularly proud of. I think it's about time I start pulling my weight as far as our friendship goes.
So here I am, standing outside the door to Sven's room and wondering if I'm not making a big mistake in trying to talk with him about what happened on Doom. I mean, I'm not the most articulate person to begin with, and I have an uncanny knack for saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the worst time. By rights, I should leave this to Keith or the Blonde - um, Romelle. Except that Keith's absolutely buried under mounds of paperwork, and Romelle... well, she's not exactly stable, herself. And nobody else seems to be available at present, so I guess that leaves me.
The ringing sound of my knuckles against the door is terribly loud to my ears and I find myself wondering yet again if this is really such a good idea. After all, Sven's injury and imprisonment were my fault in the first place. How do I know he'll even want to talk to me about it? I'm sure that Allura, among others, would chalk that sentiment up to general paranoia and residual guilt, but while that may be true, it also doesn't preclude the possibility that I'm right. And I've certainly known Sven to hold a grudge or three in the past.
I somehow manage to ignore the suspiciously Keith-like voice in the back of my head whispering, "Pot, kettle, black."
I'm so caught up in this latest round of "what ifs" that I'm caught off-guard when the door opens with a soft rush of air. Sven blinks down at me, looking equally surprised, as I try vainly to cover my own startlement. I hadn't really expected him to be in, to be honest - I figured he'd be off somewhere with Romelle or the others.
After a beat, Sven smiles warmly. "Lance! This is unexpected... I thought you and Keith would be in bed at this hour."
I cannot believe he just said that. I'm sure my face is redder than my Lion. "Captain Keith is wrestling with the dreaded Paperwork Monster this evening and is therefore unable to partake of such luxuries." Sven winces in sympathy and I grin ruefully while trying to suppress a sudden urge to turn tail and run. "Um... may I come in?"
Sven's eyes widen briefly - this seems to be my night for catching him by surprise - but he nods anyway, stepping aside and motioning me into the dimly lit room. I smother an inexplicable urge to panic as the door slides shut behind us, instead concentrating on figuring out what to say as Sven eyes me curiously.
After a moment, Sven takes pity on me and breaks the now rather awkward silence. "Is everything all right, Lance? You seem...troubled."
"Hm? Oh, I'm fine," I reply somewhat absently. My mouth has gone completely dry - not a good sign. Still, now or never, I guess. "Actually, I...uh... kind of wanted to ask you the same question," I stammer, forcing myself not to stare at the carpet as I speak.
Sven actually looks puzzled. "Of course, I'm all right. Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well..." Shit - I am SO not good at this kind of thing. "It's just that you seem - um, tense lately. I mean, it can't be easy being around for the negotiations with Doom after what happened to you and all..." I let my voice trail off, mortified. Do I sound this stupid to him too?
"It's not an issue," he replies evenly. "It's over and done with. I've moved on."
Sometimes I really hate being a walking lie detector.
My disbelief must be written all over my face, because his voice immediately takes on that vaguely condescending tone he uses whenever he wants to convince me I don't know what I'm talking about. "Really, Lance, there's nothing to worry about. It was a terrible ordeal, yes, but it's over now. Everything's fine - I'm over it."
I can feel my eyes widening of their own volition. He can't possibly believe that, can he?
Apparently he can. He smiles at me in what I'm sure he means to be reassurance while actually being quite the opposite and gently rests his hands on my shoulders. "I do appreciate your concern, but you really don't need to worry." His smile widens a bit as he tightens his grip and whispers soothingly, "I'm all right... everything's all right... see?"
I want so much to believe him - and I probably would, if his smile weren't quite so... calcified. If it actually reached his eyes. If I couldn't see that indefinable something in his gaze that would probably frighten all hells out of me if I could only clearly see what it was.
Besides which, he's talking to me as if I was a recalcitrant child, which, all appearances to the contrary, I most assuredly am not.
Come to think of it, when hasn't he spoken to me this way?
Sven falls silent, his face expectant, and I realize that this must be where I'm supposed to tell him that yes, of course I can see now that everything is fine and please excuse my earlier delusions. Except that I can't quite bring myself to form the words. And I find myself wondering if this is how Sven felt whenever I'd rebuff him after one of my "anniversary binges." I mean, I couldn't even say the word 'rape' for over ten years, so who am I to try to talk to Sven about The Importance of Confronting One's Demons?
Not that it hasn't helped, of course, though I'd certainly be the last to publicly admit it.
The silence lingers long past the point of discomfort and I realize I'd better say something, though damned if I know what. "Sven, I - " I stop, slowly shake my head, try to let the words take shape in my mind before I start over. "It's not as if I don't want to believe you..." Sven opens his mouth to interrupt but I raise a hand to stop him. This is going to be hard enough for me to spit out without him making me lose my train of thought. "I know you want me to just take your word for it. And... and maybe you even believe what you're saying. But believing something doesn't make it true. And I - I don't think what you're saying is true."
Those last words hang in the air between us for an impossibly long instant, and I swear I can feel the temperature in the room drop at least fifteen degrees. Sven actually looks frozen, staring at me in shock as if he can't believe I'd ever challenge him like this. Hells, I can't believe I'm challenging him like this! Nobody challenges him like this!
After another long, uncomfortable moment, Sven sighs, the faintest trace of annoyance flickering briefly across his face, so quickly it's as if I imagine it. "May I ask how you've come to this conclusion?" he asks coolly, gazing at me like a predator sizing up his prey.
"I..." I'm not going to let him throw me. I'm not. "It just... feels wrong." Sven says nothing, merely raises one eyebrow skeptically, and I wince inwardly, feeling both incredibly stupid and perversely angry with him for not stopping me from making an idiot of myself. So of course I keep talking. "Besides, I'm jumpy too, and it's been well over ten years since I was - um, attacked. So I can imagine how difficult it must be - "
"Perhaps that's the problem, then."
He smiles at me again, almost warmly, though his eyes are like black ice. "Perhaps the problem is with you, not me."
Oh, he's not going to bring projection into this, is he?
He is. "It is entirely understandable, of course, that you'd be... 'jumpy,' as you put it, given your own ordeal at Zarcon's hands. Perhaps this is causing you to see conflicts where none exist?"
I can't believe this. "Sven, look, this isn't about me - "
"I think it is."
"No, it's not!" I squeeze my eyes shut and clench my fists almost involuntarily, struggling to maintain some semblance of control. How does he always manage to do this to me? Why does everything have to be my problem? "It is not about me this time, no matter what you want to think," I hiss through gritted teeth.
"If it's not about you," Sven responds smoothly, "then why are you so upset?"
For a brief, hysterical moment I can only stare blankly at him and wonder if I've somehow managed to fall into some bizarre parallel universe where logic runs backward. Or if I'm just going crazy. "I'm upset," I finally manage, "because I was worried about you and I wanted to make sure you were all right - "
"And I am," he interjects, practically oozing unctuousness. "Really, Lance, you're making too much out of nothing again..."
I take a certain amount of perverse pleasure in watching Sven's jaw drop, no matter how slightly, despite the circumstances. I don't think I've ever seen him outright speechless before - silent, yes, but never from an actual loss for words. To be honest, it's a little eerie.
"I know this sort of thing isn't easy to talk about, Sven, believe me, but not dealing with it isn't going to make things any better."
"And you, of course, are an expert in such matters," he sneers, fabled calm deserting him for once.
I'm not going to take the bait, not this time. "I know what it did to me, if that's what you mean. And I don't want to see that happen to you."
He turns away, jaw clenching. "There is... nothing... wrong... with me," he grates, his voice just shy of a snarl.
"Then why are you so upset?"
I always say the wrong thing at the worst time.
Sven stares at me, eyes very wide, very black - and very, very cold. In that fleeting instant, it occurs to me that I'm seeing the very same Look that Cadet Vix was treated to when Sven pulled him off me that day. And then this realization immediately spirals away with a resounding
- CRACK -
I honestly don't even see him move before he backhands me. Don't have time to react as he practically hurls me against the wall, hard enough to knock the wind out of me. And then he's on me, snarling out some unintelligible denial as his hands wrap around my neck and I can't pry them off and his eyes - his eyes - gods, it's like looking into Darkest Hell - and I feel the back of my head slam into the wall as he's choking me and I can't breathe can't get away get him off get him off get him off -
- And then all at once he's gone, leaving me to slide helplessly down the wall as my legs give out under me. I let my eyes slide shut as I try to force some air back into my lungs, only distantly aware of the pain in my head and the blood trickling down my chin. I can vaguely hear Sven moving around the room, but it's oddly muted, like I'm listening under... water? Is that running water I'm hearing? Is he going to drown me now? The thought would probably be enough to send me into hysterics - laughter or tears, I can't tell which - if it weren't for this all-too-familiar lethargy wrapping itself around me like a thick shroud, cutting me off from my senses one by one. I can't even hear the water anymore - no, it's stopped. Unfortunately, I can't hear Sven either.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't worry me too much - the carpeting is plush enough to muffle most footfalls anyway, and Sven is quieter than most - but now it just adds to the numb terror that's rapidly overcoming any survival instincts I still possess. Every remaining instinct is telling me to flee, to get the hell out of this room and find someplace safe instead of just lying slumped against the wall like a broken doll, but it's all I can do just to open my eyes...
...Only to find him standing right in front of me.
Oh, gods, now what?
Sven kneels, bringing himself down to my level while still managing to loom over me, and I can't quite repress a shiver of revulsion. His face is impassive, expression almost entirely unreadable as he reaches forward to cup my chin with one hand, forcing me to meet his eyes. I try to jerk free, shrink back against the wall, but he merely shifts his hold to my hair, tugging painfully as he tilts my head back up, preventing me from turning away. I can feel tears slipping from my eyes as I struggle ineffectually to break free, almost wild with fear, only to be thwarted as he effortlessly counters my every move, patiently waiting until I finally wear myself out. Harsh sobs tear their way out of my throat as I collapse in his grip, eyes tightly closed, hating myself for my weakness, wishing for deliverance or oblivion - I don't care which anymore - wishing he'd just get whatever he's going to do over with. Why is he doing this to me?
Once my tears finally start to subside, he loosens his hold on me - though still keeping his vise-like grip on my hair - and then suddenly I feel something warm and wet on my face. My eyes snap open in shock as I flinch involuntarily, which only results in Sven clutching my hair still more tightly as he continues to run what I now realize is a wet washcloth over my face.
I don't believe it - he's actually washing my face. Wiping the blood and the tears away as if it's the most normal thing in the world. As if he isn't the reason I'm bleeding all over myself to begin with.
This can't be happening. It's not real. I'm going mad...
But the stinging pain in my lip seems real enough. For that matter, so does the throbbing pain in the back of my head, to say nothing of the dull ache in my ribs and the pain in my throat. So apparently it's not me... it's the rest of the world that's gone crazy.
This is not a comforting thought.
Sven continues his ministrations, his touch oddly gentle, more reminiscent of the Sven I know, and I find it all too easy to let myself be soothed by his touch, lulled away from the harsh reality of his earlier brutality. Part of my brain is screaming at me, urging me not to let my guard down for even one second, but his touch is so gentle, almost motherly... even... sensual...
I can feel new tears pricking at my eyes as he discards the washcloth and smoothes a few stray locks of hair away from my face, absently twirling the strands around his fingers, the act so obscenely intimate that it makes my skin crawl.
No... no... please no... not this... not again... not from you...
It isn't until he places two fingers over my lips to quiet me - the gesture so reminiscent of Keith that it's nauseating - that I even realize I'm speaking aloud.
Sven's eyes bore into mine for what seems like a small eternity before he relinquishes his grasp on my hair and pulls me roughly to my feet. He hesitates then, eyes gleaming with an unholy light as they rake over me, and all I can do is shudder uncontrollably as I gaze helplessly up at him, sickeningly aware that I'm completely at his mercy and hating myself more with each passing second for it.
An interminable instant later he seems to come to a decision - I get the sudden, distinctly uncomfortable impression of a mental coin toss - and then we're moving again, Sven half-leading, half-dragging me with him. Towards the door.
The sense of relief that tears almost painfully through me would likely bring me to my knees if Sven weren't still holding me up. Even so, I don't dare let my guard down completely, not until I know for certain that this isn't some sick mind game, that he's actually going to let me go.
That I actually have to wonder is terrifying in itself.
It isn't until he opens the door, until I'm actually standing outside his room, blinking in the unreal brightness of the hallway, that I allow myself to relax even slightly. Sven gradually loosens his grip on me, stepping back once it's clear that I can (barely) stand on my own, and watches me from the doorway, his expression guarded. Waiting.
For what? An apology? 'Gee, Sven, I'm sorry I made you beat the shit out of me'? The thought would almost make me laugh if he wasn't still standing in front of me, pinning me in place with his gaze as surely as if I was glued to the floor. Not that I can move at the moment, anyway - my legs are still shaking so badly I doubt I could make it three steps without collapsing.
Eventually Sven decides to break the silence himself. "You know, Lance," he remarks, the calm, almost conversational tone of his voice an unsettling contrast to the events of the past several - minutes? seconds? hours? "I really do appreciate your concern... but I do think it's perhaps misplaced."
I stare at him incredulously, stunned beyond words. How can he look me in the eyes and say this, after all that's happened tonight?
"You really don't have to worry about me," he continues. "I'm fine." His voice fades to a near-whisper. "Fine." A smile plays over his lips, as gentle as any I've seen.
But his eyes speak of hatred and madness.
Oh, gods, Sven, what have you become?
"You know, it's getting terribly late. I think I might turn in." He casts an appraising glance at me. "You're looking rather tired. Perhaps you should consider doing the same?"
Mute with shock, all I can do is shake my head numbly, not even sure exactly what I'm denying at this point. Maybe I'm the one who's going mad after all... certainly, nothing seems to be making any logical sense to me right now.
Sven regards me in silence for a moment, a slight frown marring his features, and I find myself taking an involuntary step back, bracing myself for another attack, vaguely surprised I can move at all under the circumstances. But he merely shrugs and withdraws further, apparently done with the issue... with me. "Well then, good night, Lance," he says, waving me away as he retreats into the darkness of his room, the door hissing shut between us.
Whatever spell I've been under since I first walked into that room snaps once he's gone and I stagger back against the far wall of the hallway, breathing raggedly as I struggle in vain to stop the violent tremors currently threatening to overwhelm me now that I'm free of my earlier paralysis. The hell of it is that even now, after all this, I STILL want to say something, do something, that will magically erase everything that's happened tonight, that will 'fix' whatever's wrong with Sven and make everything okay again...
But mainly I just want to run.
And maybe I do... I don't remember. All I know is that one second I'm watching the door to Sven's room close before me and the next I'm frantically punching random numbers on the keypad to my room in hopes that some of them will actually match my passcode. I guess it works because a moment later I'm stumbling inside, eyes wide in the darkness, praying for the damned door to hurry up and slide shut before - well, before nothing, really. The monster already has the run of the castle.
Even so, I find myself reaching blindly toward the control panel and keying the lock on. After all, you can't be too careful, right? Besides, the only other person who knows my passcode is Keith, and it's not like he'd ever hurt me.
Of course, I didn't think Sven would hurt me, either...
No. I don't want to think about that now. Sven can't get in here. I'm safe.
Is that even possible anymore?
Gods, but my throat aches. And I can already feel the bruises forming on my face and the back of my head. There's no way I could possibly hide this, even if I wanted to. By rights, I should be on my way to the infirmary by now, if for no other reason than to make sure I'm not really seriously injured. But that would mean leaving the relative safety of my room, and I really don't want to do that. Not now.
To be honest, all I want now is for Keith to come and kiss the hurt away. To hold me close and keep the nightmares at bay. Some 'progress,' huh? Pathetic.
It still doesn't stop me from wishing he were here.
It's funny, isn't it, Sven? So much effort put into protecting me from some hypothetical Drule bent on who-knows-what - so many precautions taken against them -
It never occurred to me that I might need protection from you.
So much time spent worrying about you, and it turned out I was worrying about the wrong things...
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