Chapter 1: Prologue
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.”
“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…!”
Chapter 2: 1: Safe Harbor
Lotor takes a surprised half-step back at the vehemence of it and catches his foot on the welcome mat. If she’s an angel, she’s an avenging angel. He’s never seen her so angry. “Allura?”
“Of course it’s me, what the hell are you doing here?” she snaps.
"Can you maybe lower your voice??" he says desperately. There’s noone here that could put him at direct risk, but if someone were to call the cops...
“You have the gall to ask for anything from me after what your father-!”
“My father is dead,” he says. “And they’re after me now.” It’s not a lie, exactly. It sounds like the others are simply after the family, rather than just him. It doesn’t actually implicate him in the crime, and it doesn’t put Allura in danger if she doesn’t know the truth of what happened.
It’s enough to give her pause. “What? How?”
“The police are looking into it as an arson.”
She stares at him for a long minute, and he has the unsettling feeling she knows he isn’t telling the whole truth. “When?”
“Five days ago. Please, I just need somewhere to lie low for a bit.”
“Was it you?” Her voice is quiet. In the dim light of the porch, it’s impossible to read her expression and judge the best course of action. He could lie and claim innocence, but somehow he doesn’t think she’ll have any pity on him if he appears complicit in his father’s affairs. But if he tells the entire truth, and she decides to turn him in, he’ll have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide when they come for him.
“I didn’t set the fire.” Still not a lie.
Allura stares him down, her entire manner as unbending as steel. “Tell me the truth.”
There’s no room for argument, and of all people, she’s his last real hope. He can’t bring himself to lie to her. He simply nods, a nondescript yes. She exhales, a decompression that runs through her shoulders. He hadn’t realized she was holding her breath, but now her silhouette looks eerily small in the doorway.
“Please. I just...I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
She hesitates and looks around outside, as if someone that was after him would be clumsy enough to let themselves be seen. She takes a slow breath and jerks her head, ushering him inside.
He can sort of see the room in the low light. It’s got the same picture-perfect sort of HGTV quality as the outside has, although there are more signs the space is lived in, like a set of headphones sitting on the otherwise empty coffee table and a rumpled blanket draped over the arm of the couch.
“Shoes off.” She points to his feet as he goes to step off the mat in the entryway, and he ditches them by the row of other shoes sitting by the door. It takes him a moment to register that not all the shoes there are Allura’s, and there’s an uncomfortable pang of some unnamed emotion in his chest as he takes in the larger pair of boots and the gym shoes.
Lotor squashes the feeling swiftly. It’s been years, he has no right to feel jealous. He just wants somewhere to hide until things blow over. That’s it. No strings, no attachments. Still, he can’t help but give the boots another suspicious glance as he shrugs his backpack off his shoulder and drops it by the wall. He turns to find Allura watching him warily. “Alright, you’re going to tell me the story. The full story.”
“I told you, my father-”
“He can rot in hell for all I care,” she snaps. “I want to know how you got here.”
“Allura? Who is it?” the voice comes from the hall, and Lotor half-sucks in a breath as the owner comes from the room on the left. The man takes one tired glance at Allura’s expression and immediately shifts into a guarded stance. He’s tall and broad-shouldered and cut, and Lotor isn’t entirely sure he could take him in a fight, particularly considering the scars that lash across his skin. He looks like he’s been through hell. His left arm twists unnaturally under the damage and what can be seen of his chest under the his tight black tank is mottled by patches of warped, waxy-looking scar tissue. One particularly nasty scar ropes its way across his face, having narrowly missed his eyes.
He’s striking, and Lotor stands there lost for words for a moment before he glances at Allura. “Boyfriend? Fiance?” He looks pointedly at her hand, which is tellingly bare. “Friend with benefits?”
“None of your damn business,” she snaps, even as the man says, “Roommate. Who are you?”
“Childhood friend,” Lotor says,
“Shiro, this is Lotor, and he was just getting around to telling me the how and why he’s here.”
Shiro leans on the kitchen table and crosses his arms, then nods to him. “Don’t mind me, I’m just here to listen.”
It takes Lotor awhile to explain the last few days, omitting the more distasteful details, particularly the fight. He tries to sidle around the historical details of things, but Allura cuts him off. “If you can trust me, you can trust him. What happened with your father?”
“Right. I fought him, and I won.”
Shiro looks him up and down with an observant eye. “If that’s winning, I don’t want to know what shape you’d be in if you’d lost.”
“I’d be dead. Bruised and a bit cut up is preferable though.” Lotor turns his head, giving them the best view of the ugly purple bruising spread across the right side of his face, and then he stands up and slowly works his jacket off to show them the makeshift bandage that spans the lower portion of his arm. Shiro’s expression doesn’t change, but he shifts uncomfortably, unfolding and refolding his arms across his chest.
Allura, however, takes one look at the makeshift bandage wrapped around his arm and something in her manner changes rapidly, going from irritated to concerned to consummate professional. “Stay still. Shiro, I need space at the table please.”
It’s almost startling how quickly they both spring into action, and Lotor’s first thought is ‘it’s too late for this shit, just deal with it in the morning’. He finds himself being hauled over the kitchen sink and the makeshift bandage being quickly unwrapped to reveal the ugly gash. It’s still raw and mostly open under the butterfly bandages, and blood seeps sluggishly from the wound as Allura peels everything away.
“My father happened. Oh, don’t look so surprised.”
“No, specifically, what happened?”
“...I shoved him into a china cabinet and smashed up the glass, and he slammed my arm in it at some point.” If he’s honest with himself, he can’t remember exactly how it all went. He was so focused on not dying, he’d noticed the pain at some point but it hadn’t been until everything was silent and still that he’d registered just how beat up he was.
“How many days has it been?”
“Five days? Almost six?”
“Good. At least it looks clean.” She works quickly and easily, as though she’s done this a thousand times before.
“Good? Why is that good? Ow, fuck fuck fuck stop it-!” She has an iron grip on his arm but he swears up a storm as she cleans the gash.
As she works, she talks in an easy, level voice. “You’ve cleaned it with what, alcohol? Hydrogen peroxide? Either way, you’ve been really lucky, most of the time a cut like this left untreated gets infected and this looks...pretty good, in that respect. Or there might be some glass left in it, and that’ll cause infection pretty often too. Typically, something like this either needs to be stitched up right away to prevent infection or you have to wait awhile to make sure it’s cleaned itself out. The scarring’s going to be rough at this point, but there’s not much that can be done about that, it’s already started healing.”
“I’m not going to a hospital.”
“I figured. So we need to get it cleaned up and closed.”
“Wait, what? You’ve done stitches before?”
She gives him a look like he’s an idiot, then pauses. “You really have no idea. Lovely.” She sighs, rifling through the bag that Shiro has brought her. “So not to be a bitch about it, but I’m a doctor. I’m almost finished with my residency, Emergency medicine. I’ve got seven months left.”
He gapes at her. “You what?” As kids, she’d always wanted to be an architect, and before that she’d wanted to be a ballerina, and before that she’d wanted to be Padme from Star Wars because she was the best, obviously, and he couldn’t remember much before that. The absolute last thing she’d wanted to do was follow in her father’s footsteps.
“Don’t look so surprised,” she mirrors his own sentiment back at him, “and here, take these,” she hands him a couple of pinkish-red pills from her bag and grabs a glass from the cabinet, half filling it with water. “Not going to lie to you, it’s going to suck without a local anesthetic. Start with these. How well can you deal with pain?”
“Good. It’s a delayed primary closure, don’t worry, I’ve done this so many times I’ve lost count, but as I said, no local anaesthetic, so you’re just going to have to suck it up and stay still. In the meantime, try to relax while I get things ready.”
Lotor sits on the bench at the table where she directs him and watches as she does something with a kettle and a bottle of bleach from under the sink. It’s not until she pulls out a scalpel and some other unidentifiable metal implements from her bag that his stomach turns. “You think this is karma, don’t you?”
She sighs, pulling on rubber gloves. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.”
“So much for a professional bedside manner.”
“Do me a favor, shut up and let me work? You’ll thank me later.”
By the time she’s sterilized all the tools from her bag, Lotor is fighting to stay calm. Needles are nothing. Stitches are nothing. He’s been shot before, for fuck’s sake. Sure, he’d only been grazed, but this can’t possibly be worse. It’s a tiny knife and a needle, and whatever she’s doing, she’s a medical professional.
The idea of Allura being a doctor still feels strange, although it’s not all that surprising that she followed in her father’s footsteps. He tries not to think about it as she sits down across from the bench in a chair and looks at him, assessing. “You going to faint on me?”
“No. Of course not.”
“I’m not asking because I’m going to make fun of you, I’m asking because this is going to be really difficult if you pass out mid-suture.”
Lotor takes a deep breath. “I’m good.”
She clearly doesn’t believe him. “Shiro? I’m going to need some help here.”
He does as she directs, straddling the bench and sitting between them to hold Lotor’s arm and shoulder still, partly by pinning him against the table. Allura positions his arm where she wants it and asks, “You going to be better if you can see, or no?”
“It might help if I could just...not see.” There’s a sick feeling, as she gets to work. Lotor grits his teeth against the pain, which is bad, but tolerable. Worse is the disorienting feeling of something going through his skin. It shouldn’t bother him, he has a handful of tattoos and used to have piercings, but there’s a cold, sick feeling that settles in his stomach as she works. It’s easiest enough to duck his face to Shiro’s chest and close his eyes, breathing slowly. There aren’t many other options that won’t twist his shoulder horribly. “You want to tell me what you’re doing though?”
Allura makes a skeptical noise. “What, do you want a lesson in how to do stitches?”
“To be honest I’ll take any sort of distraction.”
“Ah.” She starts in on some textbook drivel about debridement and dead tissue and needles and needle drivers and forceps and sutures and-
It all turns into background noise. The pain really isn’t all that bad, it’s more the weirdness of being able to feel what she’s doing that makes him want to throw up. Shiro is a welcome distraction. Warm and solid and...fuck, he can see why Allura keeps him around. He even smells nice, clean like soap and toothpaste.
He blinks, brought back to reality by Allura’s voice. “Hm?”
“How are you doing? You hanging in there alright?”
“Mhm.” He nods and presses his face further into Shiro’s shoulder. “Do me a favor and tell me when you’re done.”
“About halfway through. You going to faint on me?”
It all blurs a bit after that. Shiro is sturdy and comforting and Lotor is utterly exhausted, despite pretending otherwise. He’s not entirely sure how he wound up here, but he feels safe for the first time in a long time. Even when they were kids, Allura’s house had always felt safe, and it seems nothing has changed.
“Alright, you’re done.”
He wavers, disoriented, as he sits up. There are pale marks in his skin where Shiro held his arm still, and the skin around the neat stitches is raw and red. Allura sits back in her chair with a deep sigh. “Anything else you haven’t told me about?”
“Mostly just bruising.”
“Anything that doesn’t seem to be healing?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Good,” she says, standing up and rolling her neck with a series of audible cracks. “I need sleep, my shift tomorrow is going to do a number on me. You can stay up if you want, but I can’t. Bathroom is the second door on the right in the hall.” She blinks slowly and for the first time Lotor realizes that she’s tired as well. “Shiro, what am I forgetting?”
“I’ll handle things, go get some sleep.”
She smiles at him softly as she turns to go and for an instant, it’s like she’s jammed the scalpel, the one that’s on the table with her other tools, up under his ribs. The feeling is overruled as Lotor’s stomach growls angrily. Shiro glances at him. “I think I’m going to make something to eat. You hungry?”
“I mean, after that, do you have to ask?”
For the first time, Shiro almost grins at him. “Grilled cheese?”
His stomach gives another rumble and he sighs. “Yeah. That’d be great. Thanks.”
As Shiro starts pulling stuff out of the fridge, Lotor goes to the bathroom to try and clean up. He’s disgusting, and he does the best he can with a hand towel. He should probably go ask if he can take a real shower, but he’s too tired, and even trying to wipe down with a washcloth makes the mottled indigo-green bruises ache sharply.
When he comes back out, he drops into a chair at the table and tries to think. The grilled cheese sandwich Shiro places in front of him feels like a test, but Lotor doesn’t have the bandwidth to think it through. He grabs half and wolfs it down so fast his chest seems to compress like he’s having a heart attack, and he takes a minute to breathe through it before taking the other half.
Shiro eats while walking around, retrieving things. Before Lotor really registers what’s going on, there’s a pillow and blankets on the couch, and a couple fresh towels are put on the coffee table. He talks, but none of it really sinks in to Lotor’s senses. The world narrows down to the grilled cheese and the stinging jealousy that Allura and Shiro have their home so put together that they can accommodate a guest with zero warning. The normalcy of their lives tastes like bile in his throat, and he washes away the taste of jealousy with the last bite of his sandwich.
When he finally bundles up in a blanket on the couch, he sleeps like the dead, deep and dreamless.
It’s early when he wakes enough to hear soft footsteps pad into the living room, then stop. Lotor blinks his eyes open, but he’s still mostly asleep. There’s a disconnect between his brain and his body, and his brain distantly recognizes that Allura’s roommate is looking at him from the hallway with an unreadable expression. It isn’t hostile though, so even as the man mutters, “Right.” Lotor closes his eyes and drifts back to sleep.
This time around, it’s not dreamless, and he wakes up more than once to the knowledge that something is after him, only to realize he’s safe and sound on Allura’s couch. Someone put a couple more blankets over him in the night, and they’ve gotten tangled in his legs.
He drifts in and out of sleep from then on, vaguely registering the sounds of people getting ready for the day, and he’s eventually shaken into wakefulness by Allura. “I’m going to work but Shiro’s remote today. Don’t do anything stupid, and if you bother him I’ll kick you out myself when I get home.”
“A couple more hours, please,” he begs through the blur of sleep.
“Sleep til whenever, I need to go to work.”
He twists, trying to sleep again but it eludes him now that he’s awake, and there’s no way to get comfortable. Their couch is too small for him, which is absurd considering how tall they both are. Allura is tall for a woman and Shiro is nearly as tall as him. Yet here he is, limbs hanging off the couch no matter which way he spreads out. Why the hell they don’t have an appropriately sized couch is beyond him.
Eventually, the smell of coffee rouses him. He stretches, feeling the couch in every joint that pops. It dawns on him that Shiro watches him, nonplussed, from the kitchen table.
He feels grimy and disgusting, and wants nothing in the world more than a hot shower. The way he’d cleaned himself up in the sink at Marcus’s had been utilitarian at best, as had been last night’s attempt. The park showers had been freezing and soapless. Now he’d give almost anything to boil himself half to death and then scrub his skin off.
It’s an effort to strip down entirely, and a thorough once-over in the mirror proves what he’d suspected: the bruising is fading, but it’s fairly severe. Navy-purple splotches still pool at the worst points, blending into greyish-purple and going green around the edges. The stitches are ugly, but tidy, and he hopes Allura made the right choice opening the gash up to close it more effectively.
The water steams within a minute of him turning it on, and it quickly reaches the fulcrum between pain and pleasure. It’s blessedly hot, and a whimper gathers in the back of his throat. He breathes through it, breathes through it, he’s fine, he’s just hurting from his father’s beating and the reality of it all hits him at once.
He’s had a week to adjust, but as the heat works some of the ache out of his bones, the tension in his chest breaks, the abrupt snap of a rubber band. He bites down on it, god forbid anyone hear him. But it all spills out in an ugly rush, tears and disgust and snot and fear. He chokes on it as it comes up, but there’s nothing to do to stop it. Instead, he rides it out on a growing wave of relief.
When it passes, Lotor washes on autopilot, borrowing someone else’s shower products. He distantly hopes their water isn’t iron-heavy, and uses the nicer shampoo and conditioner after looking at the bottle of combined shampoo and conditioner with distant horror. He climbs out of the shower smelling like either Allura or Shiro or both of them, but definitely coconut. So much coconut.
Most importantly, though, he feels clean. He wraps a towel around his waist and uses the other to wrap his hair and the world...shifts. Just a little. He can handle this.
Back in the living room, the couch calls to him and he flops down, feeling drained.
Shiro glances up from the kitchen table, where he’s still stationed. himself with his laptop, a notebook, and headphones. He takes one earbud out and drily says, “In this house we wear pants like civilized people. If you don’t mind.”
“I would, but the only clothes I have at the moment are disgusting, and I’m still damp.”
To his surprise the man at the table gives him a visual once-over, measuring him up. It’s disconcerting, and he’d feel naked if he weren’t already stripped down to nothing but a towel. “Here, I should have something that’ll fit you. And give me your stuff, I was going to do laundry anyway.”
Lotor follows him to the bedroom on the right, where Shiro retrieves sweatpants and a t-shirt. The pants are baggy but long enough, and the shirt is even a bit big, which would be funny if it didn’t look so absurd.
He’s finally clean, he’s been patched up, and Shiro offers him coffee before sitting down to focus on his laptop again. And that’s...all, really. He sits there for a bit looking out the front window, watching the casual happenings of pseudo-suburbia. Joggers pass, pairs or triads of moms pushing their kids in strollers, the occasional delivery. All in all, it’s fairly quiet. An elderly woman appears in the front yard of the house next door, the one with the wildflowers in the yard. She putters about awhile, not doing much, before eventually retreating to the swing on her front porch.
When the coffee is gone, Lotor checks his phone out of habit. A senseless habit, as nobody has the number, and he can’t connect it to any social media profiles for fear of being found. If there’s an investigation looking for him, he can’t even check his email without a VPN. The remainder of the day passes in relative silence, and a future of absolute boredom rears its ugly head.
His good mood dissipates rapidly after that.
It’s late when Allura gets home. In her absence, Shiro has spent at least six hours on his laptop, watching things intently and scribbling on the notebook at hand. Otherwise, he’s cooked and cleaned and done something out in the yard and generally acted as a glorified babysitter. It’s annoying, but Lotor can’t entirely blame them.
Allura has a haggard look about her, a sort of bone-deep exhaustion that even a full eight hours of sleep won’t wash away.
“How was work?”
“Awful,” she says quietly, and leaves it at that. Shiro seems to know better than to pursue the issue, and when Lotor catches his eye, he shrugs and shakes his head. It’s only half an hour later that she declares, “I’m going to bed, I’m dead on my feet.”
Lotor almost says something. Almost.