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Between Wind and Water

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As he stands over his father’s body, literal smoking gun in his hands, he realizes that while he might finally be free of his father, it doesn’t matter. He’s cut off the head of the hydra, and soon three more will spring up in its place. There’s the faint buzzing sound coming from his father’s pocket of his phone going off, which means someone knows he isn’t answering his phone. And that means someone will come looking for him, sooner rather than later.

Two shots in the chest took the old bastard down and three more in the back finished him off, making a gory mess of his ribcage. Blood runs rivulets down his arm, and his father’s weapon in his hand is sticky with it. He wants to cry with relief, but there’s no time. He has to go. He has to go now if he wants any chance of getting out of here alive and staying alive. Because someone is probably already looking for Zarkon, and as soon as they find him...

When they find him…well. The head of the empire has fallen, and a power vacuum can only create chaos.

He could step in. Maybe. Probably. But that’s what had gotten him into this mess in the first place, over a decade of arguing with his father that he wanted nothing to do with the so-called family business. There are plenty of others that want it, too many shot-callers vying for center stage. Staying is a surefire way to get killed. Best case scenario, he gets turned over to the police, and then locked up and left to rot.

Lotor knows one thing.

He is well and truly fucked.

He’s over an hour away when his phone buzzes in the cupholder, and he half jumps out of his own skin. It lights up with the old hag’s number and he can’t decide if he should answer it or not. If he plays this right, he can buy himself more time, more miles, before anyone comes looking for him. What would he do in response if nothing had changed?

It comes to him as he’s flying down 90, headed for the state border, that he’s already fucked up. The toll transponder on his vehicle has tracked him headed east, but hopefully nobody will think to look at that info for awhile. By then he’ll either be well away or dead.

The right side of his face aches, and he can see in the rearview mirror that it’s already starting to purple. The gash on his arm where the broken glass had cut it is jagged under the makeshift bandage he’s tied together out of a t-shirt from in the backseat, but he’ll need to stop somewhere and get in the trunk for the first aid kit and a change of clothes. The knuckles of his good hand are white from gripping the wheel so hard, and his other hand is starting to feel numb. It doesn’t hurt much anymore, so it’s easier to think through the pain.

He feels achy and scattered, and he’s only got half a plan. He needs to get all the supplies he can and then drop off the grid. No contacts that know anything about his involvement with his father, no credit cards, no social media, nothing that can be tied to him. If and when the cops come looking for him, he might be able to plead self-defense. Which is what it was, of course, but he’s got to stay alive long enough for it to get to court, and that’s the difficult part.

He’s pulled over at a familiar gas station to change into his only spare clothes and get gas, and for the first time it occurs to him that his signature look is likely to get him spotted. The gas station is near a shop that serves as a front for one of his father’s associates, and they know him on sight.

When his phone buzzes for the fourth time, he knows he’s going to need to answer it to belay suspicion and give himself another couple hours head start. He takes a deep breath and tries to adopt the usual irritated tone he takes with people he doesn’t want to talk to, and then he sells it like his life depends on it. Which it does.

“What do you want, I’m a bit busy at the moment.” Flat, annoyed at being bothered.

It’s her on the other end, of course. Haggar. His father’s right hand, the one who can work numbers like magic. “Lotor. You need to come home, at once. Your father…”

Sell the alibi, sell the alibi. He tries to sound as aloof and irritated as he can. “As I said, I’m a bit busy at the moment, you can tell my father I’ll be back on Thursday, he can wait until than. And if he can’t, he can find someone else to deal with it.”

There’s a deep breath on the other end. “He’s dead.”

Think fast, come on, what’s an appropriate reaction? He pauses, takes a couple breaths. Then he drops his phone for good measure. It clatters to the cement, protected by the case. When he finally picks it up, he’s ready. “What happened?” He lets his voice crack a bit.

“He was shot.”

“Who? How?”

“We don’t know, we’re trying to work out all the details. You need to come home. We need you here.” Haggar’s voice is almost sympathetic. It’s not a good sound for her. She doesn’t have a sympathetic bone in her body.

He gulps a breath, and it’s not hard to feign distress in his voice. “I’m at Tony’s, I’ve got…there’s…I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Tony’s, the place just across the street. He needs to be seen there, pure and simple. He finishes getting gas, then walks over. He’s got a surprising amount of cash on hand already, several thousand dollars in an envelope stashed in the trunk with the spare, and for the hell of it he withdraws another grand from the ATM. He’s going to need to go cardless for awhile, so the more cash he can get now, the better. Besides, they’ll be able to find out his card was used here. He runs into another casual of his father’s associates and quells the urge to crawl out of his own skin, forcing himself to talk to her like nothing is wrong. At least it’ll support his alibi. He’s at Tony’s place. He’s got a witness that can vouch for him and a credit card purchase proving he was there.

It’s not exactly a lie, he’s just not telling the full truth.

It’s nearly midnight. He’s halfway to Bay City and three-quarters of the way through a cup of gas station coffee, which just might be the worst coffee he’s ever been subjected to, when he has a sudden, horrifying revelation.

The security cameras outside.

His father had always insisted on not having any cameras inside, which makes perfect sense when organized crime makes up most of your income, but there are security cameras outside.

He’d completely forgotten about them. But Haggar won’t have forgotten.

So he has to assume they already know it was him. It doesn’t matter how well he’s constructed his story, they know, and they’re coming after him. He’s short on time, he already knew that, but now he’s got to move faster, get off the grid before dawn if he wants any chance of really making this work. It all feels surreal. He’s had a plan to disappear for awhile since he was 18, but it’s bizarre to realize he’s actually using it.

And then it’s 4am and he’s sitting in a 24/7 McDonalds, slumped in a corner booth and nursing some bullshit excuse for a sugary blended coffee. The creamer sits clotting on his tongue as he works to activate the burner phone he’s had stashed in the trunk with the rest of his emergency supplies. It takes two fake accounts, set up years ago in case of emergency, to get the thing activated, but it’ll do. It’s an older pixel, but it’ll do what he needs it to.

He sends a text, pulling the number from his own phone, which he’s put on airplane mode. It’s not much, but giving Marcus a heads up will at least ensure he’s there. Marcus doesn’t know or care who he is, or what he does, but he’s got four pole-barns and plenty of land. He doesn’t ask questions, and Lotor should be able to hide out there for a day or two until he can come up with a more cohesive long term plan.

He orders another coffee from the dead-eyed man behind the counter as the only other employee behind the counter gives him a doubtful once-over. He’s grateful for the beanie he’s pulled his hair up into, but he’s still got a very definitive Look. It’s hard to blend in when pushing 6’6, and he’s never been what one might call ‘inconspicuous’.

Another coffee in hand, he retreats back to the corner booth to pull up wifi on his burner. There are developing updates about the case on ABC7, and it’s a bit of a shock to find that it’s being investigated as an arson. Of all things he’d been expecting, he hadn’t expected them to burn the entire house to the ground.

There’s an address, but no names. Just a simple list of casualties. One missing, presumed dead. One missing, wanted for questioning. And then there’s a picture of his own face, a description, and a hotline number to call if anyone has any information about his whereabouts. Thinking it through doesn’t put a positive spin on it. Any evidence of murder is almost certainly gone, which means it’s not the police he’s running from. This is going to be an internal affair. If he gets taken in for questioning about the fire, he’ll almost certainly be leaving with one of his father’s shot-callers. Of course, they’ll likely be calling a single shot at that point, straight to his head. And after? It won’t matter, because he’ll be dead and that’ll be that.

He would practically kill for his customary caramel macchiato with three shots, but fantasizing over caffeine isn’t going to help him. Getting back on the road will.

Next stop is Marcus’s place, about 20 minutes southeast of Bay City. He’s a fairly simple man with a simple life and a simple farm, but most importantly, plenty of space. People assume that his money comes from the land he leased to the wind farm, but in reality Marcus was doing pretty well for himself long before that.

Lotor has the passcode for one door to the pole barn, and that’s all he needs. A quick cleanout of his Lexus and he’s out of there with nothing but a backpack of his stuff and the clothes on his back. He’d ditched the bloody shirt in the garbage outside of McDonalds, but his pants are mostly clean and he can probably scrub out the couple tiny spots of his own blood.

Inside the farmhouse, he does the best he can with the makeshift t-shirt bandage, gritting his teeth and wincing over the laundry room wash basin as he tries to clean the wound. He dumps half the small bottle of rubbing alcohol from the first aid kit over it and hisses as it burns, but there’s no getting around it. That done, he does the best he can with butterfly bandages and athletic tape from the kit before cutting off the bloodiest part of the old t-shirt and rewrapping his arm. Marcus takes one look at him and shakes his head, holding his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Nope, you know me. Don’t tell me so I can claim ignorance if I have to.”

Marcus lets him crash in a guest bedroom for the night, but there’s a time limit. “Three days, and if you don’t have your ass off my property, I’m not storing your property,” he’d said when they’d first been introduced. The second day, Lotor hitches a ride into town and gets a room in a crappy motel that makes his skin crawl, but he pays cash and the desk attendant doesn’t look too hard at his fake ID. It’s not one of the better ones, so he’s glad it works.

He buys a truck off some guy on craigslist, cash only. It’s a 2002 Chevy Silverado with a lot of mileage that the guy says was his grandpa’s and he doesn’t want it now that the ol’ man is dead. After a thorough check and testdrive, it seems to be in good working order. It’s awful and he hates it, but it’s enough to get him around and it’s not so small it crunches his legs. It’s so old it’s got a cassette player, and the guy laughs it off and tells him to listen to the radio if he doesn’t like polka or mariachi, cause the tape is stuck. There’s a bag of half-melted gummy orange slices in the passenger side cupholder that squish when he tries to remove them. If anything, it’s the little things that make him hate it all the more.

That night, he walks down the river and chucks his father’s Sig Sauer in. He couldn’t well leave the murder weapon at the house, but he doesn’t want it, doesn’t want it in his backpack, doesn’t want it anywhere in the vicinity of himself. It’s cathartic, in a way, getting rid of his father’s influences on him one at a time. Even if he knows he’ll never be entirely free of them.

Lotor does the calculations the next day, and it’s not pretty. He needs somewhere to stay where he can either work for rent under a fake name or just crash on the couch for awhile, because if he’s actually trying to pay rent somewhere, he’s going to run out of funds very quickly. His plan at this point is on a scale of weeks and months, and he doesn’t have the cash for that.

Scrolling through the contacts on his old phone while in airplane mode is enlightening. There aren’t many people he knows that won’t sell him to Satan for one corn chip, and even fewer that won’t sell him out for actual money. Which, yeah, there’s going to be money on his head. Whoever steps into his father’s place will make that call, and there’s not a single one of them he’s on good terms with.

It finally occurs to him that there’s one obvious answer. Someone completely isolated from his father’s empire that might be willing to take him in for awhile. He tries calling the number he has listed for her, but it’s a wrong number, and he’s forced to back up and reevaluate.

It takes a stupid amount of time to track her down, nearly three days, and by that time he’s sleeping in his truck. It’s still got the previous owner’s State Park pass, so he crashes for a couple nights at one that’s got public showers, going into town during the day to get wifi and search.

He doesn’t cry when he finally gets a current address for her. He absolutely doesn’t cry. There’s a big, rushing sense of relief that the world is finally cutting him a break, and his jaw prickles. But he definitely doesn’t cry.

The only reason the haul down to Cleveland feels so long is because Lotor is exhausted. It’s pure and simple, he hasn’t slept a solid four hours since he ran and he’s already tired of looking over his shoulder.

Parking near the address he has is slim to none, but he finds a spot a couple blocks away and figures he’ll walk. With his hat pulled firmly down and his backpack slung over his shoulder, he takes a good look at the map on his phone and sets off.

When he finds the right address, it’s a small condo in an area that reminds him of some of his favorite neighborhoods at home in Chicago. Cramped but respectable, but with a lot of character in the small spaces. He stops in front of the right one and double checks the number on the letterbox, 477. It’s got a small neat lawn, flower boxes, a screened-in porch with simple white wicker furniture. It’s tidy and picture perfect, and in the dark it makes his skin crawl. He rather likes the place next door, with the swaths of wildflowers encroaching on the uneven sidewalk.

At the door, he hesitates, hand on the antique brass knocker. It’s late, pushing midnight, but he desperately doesn’t want to sleep in his truck again and if he doesn’t try now, he might miss her in the morning. So he knocks, and waits a minute or two in silence before knocking again.

Eventually there’s a sound beyond the door and the porch light flicks on. “It’s almost midnight, what the heck do you want?”

“I’m looking for Allura King, does she live here?”

There’s a moment of silence, then the sound of the deadbolt and then the door is opened a crack, the chain still holding it partially shut. “Yes?”

“Allura?” The eye in the crack of the door squints at him, then goes bolt-wide. The door slams shut in his face.

In the five seconds of stark silence, he stands there spiraling. This was a pretty last ditch plan, and he’s not sure where to go now. Leaving the country doesn’t seem as extreme anymore, maybe Canada? But Canada is too obvious, unless he lives in the middle of nowhere, and there’s not much appeal to a cabin in the woods. He might just die of boredom.

Then there’s the sound of the chain and the door is flung wide, yanked so hard the handle hits the wall inside. Allura stands there like a flannel-pajama-ed angel sent from above, her hair a halo backlit by the light from inside and for a moment, he hopes.

For a moment.

“Get the hell off my front porch you bastard piece of…!”