Notes: As Quill blamed me in part for “Little White Lies”, so I am blaming her in part for this.  Title adapted from Lee Kernaghan’s “Freedom Road”.

Warning: Angst.  Sequel-ish thing to Quill’s “Little White Lies”.  Now you know what to expect.

Disclaimer: WEP owns Voltron.

Freedom’s Road

Running.  Keith’s whole world was running, pushing himself to his utmost and then reaching just that little bit further . . . His boots rang against the cobblestones and echoed down the corridor, heralding his approach.

Behind and above him, he could hear weapons fire and shouting, and dimly, he remembered that he’d come here with others, but he knew, he knew they didn’t need him as much as Lance did.  Lance needed him and he had to hurry.

Just the sound of Lance’s voice when he’d been able to sneak that transmission through earlier told him he was running out of time.

Urgency kept humming in his blood, telling him he had to find Lance now.  He doesn’t have a lot of time.  He probably would never have said . . . that . . .otherwise.  He skidded around a corner, slipped against the damp floor, scrambled for balance and ran on.

Come on . . . come on . . .

He stopped, panting, and looked around.  There were four cell doors near him.  There was nothing to do but peer through the grates in the doors and hope.

In the second one he checked, he found Lance slumped against the wall, eyes closed.

Keith pulled out his laser pistol and blew the lock away.  Before the sound had even faded, he was in the cell, his hand against Lance’s cool cheek.

Anger bloomed hot within him as he took in his friend’s condition, clothing torn and nearly useless, livid bruises shadowing his pale face, blood speckling swollen lips.  With some effort, he shoved his rage aside and shook Lance very gently.  “Lance?” he called.  “Lance, wake up.”

No response.

He hardly dared shake him any harder, fearing that it would exacerbate any internal injuries.  “Lance?  Come on, let me see those bright blue eyes . . .”

That was when he noticed that Lance’s chest was not moving, that he could not feel a pulse beneath his fingers . . .

With a cry, Keith sat bolt upright.  Darkness pressed in on him from all sides, unrelieved by the slightest sliver of light.  For a minute or two, he simply sat, heaving in great shuddering breaths, staring blindly.  Something crystallized within him, and he flung himself off the bed, toward the door.  His foot collided painfully with an object on the floor, and he spared enough attention to pick it up, but his mind was already fixed on his destination.

“Keith!”  His com bracelet chirruped at him, and he tried to swallow back the tears so he could answer clearly.

“I’m here, Hunk.”

“Sven and I chased down a real prize . . .”

Like most dungeons, the ones in the Castle of Lions were a dank, unpleasant place, much at odds with the rest of the building, a holdover from archaic, brutal times, when rulers thought nothing about torturing prisoners to obtain information. 

Or even just to hear them scream, Keith thought almost idly, opening the cell door.

Lotor lifted his head warily as he entered.  His long white hair tangled over his shoulders, and his pale blue skin was mottled with bruises, easily visible through the tatters of his uniform.  He was chained, thick manacles encircling his wrists and ankles, spaced so that he was spread-eagled against the wall.  “Here for another round, Captain Virtue?” he asked snidely, giving no hint that he favored his split lip.  “What a fabulous way for you to work out all the stress you must accumulate defending Arus: beating up on a prisoner who is bound and weaponless and completely unable to defend himself!”

Keith felt his mouth curl into a sneer.  “And is that any better than what you and your father did?” he retorted.  “Or is it better to actually intend to end someone’s suffering by torturing them to death?”

Lotor sniffed.  “At least we had the excuse of looking for information.”

He smiled at the Doom Prince, and reveled in the sight of Lotor shifting nervously in his chains.  He took a step closer, almost absently counting the number of ways he could inflict agony . . .

He deserves it, Lance, he thought, almost as if there was some part of him protesting.

He watched the other’s serpent-like eyes dart around the small bare cell, searching for an escape.  Then one graceful white eyebrow arched, and Lotor’s voice was carefully cool as he said, “Taken to drinking to find your courage, have you?  Tsk, tsk.”

Puzzled at his words, Keith looked down, and found that what he’d tripped over and picked up was a nearly empty bottle of brandy; a quarter-inch of liquid sloshed in the bottom.

“However did we get defeated so many times by such a band of misfits, lead by someone who isn’t brave enough to face one prisoner without some kind of liquid reinforce-urk!”

Keith grinned at him over the fist he planted in the taller man’s stomach.  “Keep talking, Lotor,” he purred, pulling his arm back.  “Hunk isn’t here to pull me off you this time.”

His next blow struck the Prince in the face, rocking his head back, and Keith could hear the satisfying crack of skull against stone.  His smile widened at the sound.

Lotor hung limply in his bonds for a second, then straightened and gingerly shook his head.  But though he glared darkly at Keith, he said nothing further, mindful, perhaps, of the warning that Hunk wasn’t around to save him this time.

All he could see was Lotor’s face, and his own fists striking it again and again, until his knuckles were stained with blood.  Allura and Pidge called out to him, their voices horrified, but the words were meaningless noise, drowned in the roar of his blood, in the need for vengeance.

He stepped back up to Lotor again, ran his free hand down the Prince’s flank to see if any of his ribs had been broken, and smirked at the shiver that ran though the bigger man.  “Are you wondering when we’ll let you go?” he asked his voice frighteningly calm and reasonable.  He dragged his fingers up the center of Lotor’s chest, felt the pulse quicken beneath his fingers.  “I don’t think we will, you know.” He shook his head, feigning sadness, his hand wandering, prodding the wrenched knee, poking at the fractured arm, listening to the hisses and groans that Lotor could not contain.  He glanced up in mock surprise, and asked, “Are you afraid, Lotor?”

The Prince had managed to recover some bravado, and snorted.  “Don’t make me laugh.  You humans are so weak and puny . . .” He laughed.  “Your little friend didn’t even take ten lashes before he started screaming . . .”

Keith was no longer amused.  He stood, clenching his fists until the joints popped.  “Shut up,” he ground out.

But Lotor wasn’t listening, or didn’t care about the danger he was in.  “Do you know,” he went on, as if confiding a great secret, “I don’t think he liked the attentions we gave him, my soldiers and me.  I mean, all that shrieking!  You’d think he was a virgin!”

This was the first inkling Keith had that Lance had had to undergo that in addition to everything else, and he felt the blood drain away from his face in shock.  “You’re lying,” he whispered.  The bottle, still gripped in one hand, started to shake.  But still Lotor went on.

“. . . every time we put our hands on him.  Gods, you’d think we were killing him . . .”

Keith’s vision went red, and a burning fury swept over him.  “Kyaaaa!”  In a blur of motion, he smashed the bottle against one of the iron manacles keeping Lotor pinned.  Splinters of glass sprayed out in all directions, with stinging alcohol in their wake.  One such fragment buried itself in Lotor’s cheek, perilously close to his eye, and he cried out.

Miraculously, Keith was unharmed, brandy dripping warmingly over his hand.  Lightning quick, he brought the jagged remnants of the bottle around and shoved it up under Lotor’s chin, stopping short as the longest point just grazed flesh.  Breathing shallowly, blood trickling down his face, Lotor arched his neck, trying to get as far away from the knife-sharp shards as possible.

“What . . .” the Prince’s voice quavered as Keith’s hand twitched, and he felt a tip begin to dig harder into his throat.  “What in all the hells . . .”

Controlling his anger enough to speak took a great deal of effort.  His hands were shaking, and sweat plastered his unruly hair to his forehead.  “There is absolutely nothing keeping me from killing you right now.”

“You won’t do it.”  His words were bold, but his tone was uncertain.  “You’re too bloody honorable.”

Keith pressed closer, watching Lotor try to swallow without killing himself.  “Don’t be so sure.”

Amber eyes locked with midnight for a long moment, each attempting to divine what the other was thinking.  Keith held his hand steady at the rapid pulse in Lotor’s throat.

Sudden comprehension lit Lotor’s face.  “He was your lover, wasn’t he?  That’s what this is all about—vengeance for your dead mate.”

“No, he wasn’t,” Keith replied, his voice very quiet.  Confusion clouded the Prince’s face, just for an instant, and then he finished, “We never got the chance.”

And he thrust the broken bottle home.

Lotor’s eyes bulged, and he made a strangling, gurgling sound.  Blood rushed over Keith’s fingers, warmer and stickier than the brandy, coating them red.  He felt his grip slip on the neck of the bottle, slicked by the blood, but did not pull away.  It flowed down Lotor’s body, down Keith’s arm, dripping off the point of his elbow.  Lotor thrashed, still choking, gagging, but his struggles weakened quickly, and all too soon, he was simply dangling by his wrists over a congealing puddle of blood.

He dropped the bottle, feeling nothing at all, and wiped his hand on his pajama pants.  Then, without an ounce of remorse, he walked out of the cell, footprints sticky with blood trailing him all the way back to his room.

***

The dream launched Keith from sleep to wakefulness in an instant, and he sat up, breathing heavily as if he’d run for miles.

He’d been having the same blood-soaked nightmares for months.  Ever since . . .  He covered his face with his hands.  Ever since we lost Lance.

Sven and Hunk had somehow captured Lotor before he could make it to his fighter to escape.  Before the Alliance had come to pick up the Prince of Doom to try him for war-crimes, he’d resided a few days in the dungeons.  To his shame, Keith’s temper had gotten the better of him, and when Lotor was dragged out in irons to board the Alliance’s shuttle, he’d sported several dark bruises that everyone pretended not to see.

But it wasn’t his guilt over those punches that drove his nightmares now.  That wasn’t what forced him to open the nightstand, draw out the needle he’d liberated from the infirmary and place it against the vein.

And when the cold fire of the drug raced through him, briefly freeing him from that well-traveled path, he was able to face, just for a second, the truth behind them.

He wished they were true.

***

September 5, 2004