Run to You
The southeastern coast of Norway...
It was no good.
She found her way to him irrevocably, a gentle brush against his relaxed consciousness when he let his guard down. He spent his hours filled with the affairs of his family and old friends, anything that kept his thoughts from her. It mattered not at all. She moved past his defenses despite all his resolve and fortitude, softly and sweetly took up residence in the deepest part of his mind. She filled his night with dreams and haunted his bedchamber with her tender, unseen presence, tempting him, cajoling him with her smoke and honey voice, back to a life that for all its fantastic circumstances had somehow become more real to him than this foreign world he moved about in now.
Once when he was dreaming he was so certain he caught the lavender and vanilla scent of her that he woke reaching for her, only to find the side of the bed she usually occupied empty and cold. With a groan he rolled over, clenching his teeth against his thwarted desire.
He could not return to sleep for his dreams now were invariably of her-the spill of her silken hair as she tilted her head to smile at him, that small, shy, rosebud smile that seared to his soul.
At last, with a strangled, frustrated cry he tore the coverlets aside, swung to his feet, and marched out of his room, pulling on his sweater and boots as he went.
Rolf lay in the shadows by the hearth, a huge mound of night darkened fur. Sven whistled for him, forgetting for a moment, but Rolf only lifted his massive, shaggy head and regarded him doubtfully, so Sven shrugged, grabbed up his jacket from the hanger in the hall, and walked out into the night.
The air was surprisingly bright. Norway held a semi-permanent cloud coverage, but this night the sky boiled over with stars. He lifted his gaze, found the faint white band of the Milky Way easily. A crisp, wintry breeze lifted the hair before his eyes, rustled down over his shoulders and spine. He shivered and pulled his long woolen coat more tightly about him.
He'd had no plan in coming out here so he let his feet carry him where they would. They seemed intent on leading him down the rough earthen path to the seashore, so he shrugged again, too tired to argue, and gave them free reign. He could look at nothing save that fine spill of stars, and he stumbled more than once on unexpected, forgotten turns in the path.
It was not long before his steps were slowed by sand beneath his soles and he heard the whisper of black waves. He turned once again, half-expecting to see a familiar dark shadow bound from the undergrowth to join him on the strand. But Loki, like so much of his youth, existed now only in his memory.
Reluctantly he turned away from the path and strode out to lean against one of the craggy, salt-encrusted black rocks that dotted the shore. The waves came almost to his toes. Farther out, the stars made a path of shimmering silver against the water.
Alone now, away from the clamor of his family-whom he loved and was desperately happy to see again, but whom he found stifling after his years in isolation-with the salt breezes filling his hair and lungs and the waves flickering like licks of black flame against the sand, he could think, could call to mind the ghosts of his past.
His life seemed to him as a series of episodes, each one a blur of days and faces and hours coalescing so that they ran through his mind with few specific details, little to grasp. His boyhood on Planet Altea, a dream better-recalled while he lay sleeping than waking; his tutelage in Japan and then his years at the Academy; his brief, heartbreakingly brief month on the Voltron Force… The dead chill of his years in the Pit of Skulls, when he had lost sense of the passage of time, of days and nights. There had been sleeping and there had been waking, and not much difference between the two. While awake, he'd had to fight living demons to stay alive. Asleep…the demons that had stalked his dreams had been even crueler.
The days, the short months between his escape and that mad rush of a showdown at Galra Castle were a dizzying blur. What he remembered mostly of that time was taking shower after shower-as though any amount of washing could dislodge the grime of two years of despair and madness!-and the almost-constant presence of Romelle. At first he had resented her companionship, grateful as he had been for her persistence in freeing him. Though he was far too polite (and shy) to say so, it had angered him that she seemed to have taken him in as a project, like some lost puppy. Then he had still blamed himself for the fall of Planet Ebb and wanted no one's pity, leastwise that of a beautiful, proud woman.
Then he had learned, discreetly, through her brother, of the pain and degradation she had suffered as Lotor's captive. That had changed everything. If helping him could in some way ease away some small measure of what she had endured, that was something he would most willingly give her.
And then…somehow, quite accidentally and altogether unintentionally, he fell in love with her. At first he mistook it for dependence. She was his buffer, his shield. He would never have gotten through the spring on Pollux had she not been by his side through the cruel sunshine, the heavy scents and the hum of wildlife, through the merciless assault of the flowers that had swept over the fields in the night like an invading army. Accustomed as he had grown to a world of grim grey and black streaked occasionally with red, yellow had been a difficult concept for him. Purple had been almost unbearable, and green…forget green. They rocked his resolve and at that time it would almost have been easier, far easier, to return to the uncolored unlife he hated, but knew.
Almost…but for Romelle.
She had been there, at his side through it all, ready to take his hand when she somehow sensed he needed support, there to guide him back to the shaded safety of the castle when he had reached the edge of his endurance. He couldn't recall her words, but her sweet, deep voice resounded in his mind, her soothing tones dampening the lively noises that buzzed, her honey-dark hair like a veil over his beleaguered eyes…
And yet, to love her! How absolutely out of his mind had he truly been to dare, to hope, to dream-?
Oh, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was a mere pilot and she a royal princess. Sven had been brought up with the strict understanding that he was equal to anyone, and probably better than most. It had, rather, everything to do with the fact that he still felt a profound sense of shame for his failure at Ebb and his cowardly willingness to hide away with his guilt in the Pit of Skulls forever. His sense of self and honor had been tainted past repair, he felt, and the fact that she seemed not to care only made his self-loathing more profound.
Perhaps that had been the real reason he had gone back to fight Lotor. Surely he had meant what he had told Romelle before he plunged back into the crumbling Galra Castle, that he had to avenge the harm done to both of them. That thought had been first in his mind when he stood before Lotor in the ruined throne room and spat, "You'll never make anyone a slave again." But deep down he knew it had all been to cleanse his own soul and when Lotor had ambushed him and used him as a hostage to hold the Voltron Force at bay he had meant it desperately when he had said it didn't matter about him, anymore. He wanted to die, and when he woke after that fearful plummet from the exploding castle tower to find himself in the witch's clutches he had cursed her for not letting him remain in his watery grave.
After that, though, everything had changed. Somehow he had escaped from Haggar. But again, that had nothing to do with himself. He had willed himself free only because his friends were in danger and he was to blame for it. But on Altea, that distant, frozen, forgotten world of his childhood, he had confronted his enemies again…and that time he had not given in to his own pride and anger. And he had won. Love-for his friends, for his brother who had almost died for him, but mostly for Romelle-had won out over hatred. He had enough sense to realize it could not have been otherwise. Haggar had offered him the choice between killing Lotor (which every fiber of his body hungered for) and saving Romelle (which every hope in his heart and soul knew to be right). He had realized then that he was utterly incapable of going against the wishes of his heart, and so he had forgotten his anger.
Forgotten, but perhaps not ended. Yet it had all seemed so simple to him, after that. Haggar and Lotor had escaped, but that was all right. The Denubian Galaxy was still not safe and he might have done something about that, but again, that was all right. It was the only decision he could have lived with, and for the world and his soul he would not dream of having done otherwise.
So, why this confusion, now? He still loved her-madly-and no longer out of respect and gratitude alone. Living with her for three months on Altea, as close as husband and wife, he had discovered, with her help, parts of himself he had thought buried, or never to have existed at all. She was ren'ai-love-in everything that word had ever embodied for him. He had learned to laugh again in her presence, and not with the bitter, sarcastic humor he had adopted after his escape from the Pit of Skulls. Genuine laughter that came from the heart and for no other reason than that he was happy, and that he made her happy! And that was it, truly. It was not that he had experienced happiness with her that he had thought could not exist in the Pit of Skulls. It was that he had known a happiness with her that he could not have imagined to exist in all his life.
And he had let her go! Out of anger and idiotic pride! He lifted his eyes to the sea once more. The moon had sunk lower in the hemisphere, no longer made a path across the water. The edge of the horizon was beginning to lighten with coming dawn. How far away was the sunrise? He had been away so long he had forgotten. What time was it on Altea, on Paxa? Would she be awake, now?
He stood up too quickly. His stiff, cold limbs buckled under him and he had to lean against the rock to steady himself. For the first time since leaving the house he realized it was cold out on the shore. Nor, he realized in mild bewilderment, had he even been aware of the rolling crash of the surf, or the briny taste in the air. He tilted his head back to look at the stars one last time. They were dimming, fading away with the night. He made one last desperate attempt to locate one constellation he knew, and couldn't. He sighed, drew his coat about him more tightly, and turned from the sea.
There was no question-as there had been none, before-of what he had to do.
He would not realize it until he replayed the scene in retrospect, but Mariana did not appear the least bit surprised by his declaration. She only lifted her dark-blue glance from the rim of her teacup and said, simply, "That won't be easy."
"I know." He stood framed in the doorway, his sister's pass for the airtrain in his hand.
"What I mean is, it's going to be close to impossible to get anywhere near Paxa, even if you do find a ship that will take you that far."
"Ja." He was aware of the difficulties; he'd been watching the telecast. He'd seen the stockade the Garrison had set up around the station to protect the ambassadors. He knew that even inanimate shipments were forbidden for the duration of the council and the investigation. All these were merely obstacles. He would get through…because he had to. There wasn't any point in deliberation.
"Well, just so you know what you're up against," Mariana said, frowning. She recognized his stubborn countenance, realized that dissuading him was impossible.
"I know, søster min." He bent and kissed her quickly on the cheek.
"You know you're irresistible when you speak Norsk, bror min. It's a good thing, perhaps, that I'm your sister. I couldn't stand a man I hadn't complete power over." She laughed and waved him away. "Well, go if you have to! Go, you idiot."
"I'm going!" Grinning, as he stumbled backward out the door. "I am going!"
That had been three days ago. Now, Sven was quite depressed with the knowledge that he was going absolutely nowhere. Across the causeway the grey city of Trondheim seemed to ripple behind the unending curtain of rain. An occasional wan light flickered, brightening a dim circle of the sky as cars ferrying employees and inanimate shipments docked and took off again from the landing bay far beneath. Sven stared bleakly out the window, shifting occasionally in his seat, torn between thorough boredom and the keenest agitation he had ever experienced.
He whipped around at once as soft footsteps sounded behind him, but it was only Ander Odell. The young technician bore a half-empty cup of what smelled like very strong, very black coffee, and a wry smile. "Out of her favor where you are in love? Alas, poor Romeo! Well, I may not know much, but I guarantee you, she's not out there. You should go home, Sven."
"I can't, Ander. You have to find passage for me to Paxa. Anything. But I won't leave unless it's on a ship."
Ander sighed and shook his shaggy pale head wearily. "There's nothing I can do, Sven. And believe me, I've been trying. I've spoken to everyone I can possibly think of-even checked a few places an honest fellow shouldn't, if you won't repeat that to Mariana. Even tossed in your father's name whenever I could-thought Edvard might still have some influence with the Garrison. But there's no way in hell you're going to get near Paxa, my friend. You made it out just in time, and somebody is seeing to it nobody gets back in. When whatever's going on there is over, your princess will go back to Pollux, right? Wait for her there."
Sven leaned over and put his head in his hands.
"Anyway, your sister called."
Sven nodded dejectedly.
"So…you should call her back. And mention me."
Sven barely heard the latter statement. "Where can I find a computer?"
"Use any one. All you need is your access code. You have that, don't you? Well, good. Later, man."
Ander meant well, Sven thought gloomily, as he settled himself stiffly into a seat before one of the many computer terminals that lined the lobby, but he was beginning to tire of his inexhaustible, garrulous cheer. He didn't want to face Mariana, either, but he needed to do something, or he would truly go mad.
"Sven," she said, gently, once he had gotten through to her, "please come home. It's been three days. You are not going to find a ship and mama and papa are worried. I really think it's important you come home."
"I can't," he said bleakly. "Not if there's a chance I'll find something."
"Sven, I don't want you dealing with smugglers and pirates…"
"I don't think there are any in Norway, Mariana."
"Well, I don't want you taking it into your head to build your own ship…which is probably exactly what you're thinking."
"Nei, Mariana," he assured her with a gentle smile. He'd been wrong; it was good to talk with her. "But tomorrow I will take a shuttle to Arizona. I'll find something there, maybe."
"Sven, I really don't think you should-"
"I have to, Mariana. I hurt her before I left, and I have to show her I am sorry."
Mariana sighed audibly and her fine raven brows drew together. "Fine."
After breaking contact with his sister, Sven trudged to Ander's workstation and leaned against it wearily. Ander looked up from his console-and his omnipresent coffee cup-and raised a querying eyebrow.
"Going to call in?"
He shook his head.
"I might start charging you rent."
"What are you going to do when you find her, finally?"
"Grovel." He looked up. "Ander, I need you to arrange passage for me to Arizona Spaceport."
"Can't do it, man."
"Why not?" he glowered.
"Because you're never going to find any legal way of getting to Paxa, and I don't the hell want you getting yourself mixed up with the other kind! Your folks will kill me, your goddamn grandmother will put another curse on me, and I'll lose whatever chance I might have with your sister!"
Sven put his head back on the desk and folded his arms over his neck.
"Hey, I'm sorry, man. I really want to help. And I'll keep trying. Promise. I'm going off duty, now, and you gotta promise me you won't do anything crazy while I'm gone."
He waited for Sven's sullen nod, then said, in his usual jovial tone, "Something will come up; you'll see."
Sven waited until the door closed behind Ander's exit, then raised his head slowly, so that he was facing the window once again. Rain shot at the window like infinite volleys of laser fire. The plastiglass was not soundproof. He could hear the minute hum of voices, the rumble of ground cars below him in the street. He wondered what sort of day it was on Paxa, wondered what Romelle was doing. If the weather there were anything like what it was here in Trondheim, she would probably be holed up in some council chamber with her cousin and the rest of the ambassadors. But if it were sunny and warm… He knew nothing short of an Altean ice storm would keep the athletic, energetic princess indoors. Unless Garrison Island were forbidden, for fear of a second infiltration by those nameless terrorists… She was no safer indoors than out, he raged, and he, her protector, could do nothing, could not even-
These thoughts were getting him nowhere, save deeper into his own desperation and misery. They were certainly not getting him to Paxa. And now his family was worried about him. He turned to glare morosely at Ander's blank screen. Could he somehow break into Ander's account and arrange-
No. In the first part, he would only get Ander into trouble, and in the second, he knew next to nothing about hacking into a system. He supposed the third problem was that he would be caught and stopped. The clack and hum of other workers buzzed in his ears, irritated him. Angrily, he turned from the console and strode again to the window. He leaned against it, welcoming its coolness against his brow. He knew he should lie down. The muscles in his back and shoulders were beginning to twist and stiffen painfully, as they still did when he had been on his feet for too long, or when he was worried. But the view was too mesmerizing. Below, ships landed, unloaded their cargo, and took off again for their myriad destinations throughout the planetary system.
But not to Paxa, he thought grimly, and closed his eyes.
He was unaware of the passage of time, so he never knew exactly how long he stood there, immobile, by the window. He barely heard the door behind him slide open. He was only torn from his misery when he heard, impossibly, the voice of a young girl who sounded very much like his sister Greta shriek, "Sven!"
He spun around, and there she was, running toward him, her dark brown braids bouncing about her slim shoulders. Her charge was arrested, however, by Ander's hand on her arm. Sven had half knelt, with his arms outstretched to embrace his youngest sister, when he caught sight of the trio in the doorway behind her.
Dimly he heard Ander drawl, "Think I may have found what you're looking for…"
The person in the middle reached up and pulled back the hood of her mantle. Sven stumbled dumbly to his feet and then was striding forward, a cry of amazement and joy on his lips. Romelle slipped past the two that framed her. An inarticulate cry that was half a sob broke from her lips as she threw herself into the room, into his arms.
For a long time he could not speak, could not even breathe. All he could do was clasp her to him as tightly as though he feared she might slip away. He couldn't even feel his body, didn't know if he were still standing or if he sank with her to the floor.
She was the first to speak, and it broke the spell on him. "You weren't at your house," she muttered against his chest. "Why weren't you there?"
"I had to find you," he whispered, stroking her hair. He looked up and blinked in astonishment that there should be anyone else in the world save the two of them. He glared accusingly at Mariana. "You might have told me." His voice cracked.
"I told her where you'd gone, and then she wanted to surprise you," she replied with a shrug, then reached out to gather the wide-eyed Greta under her arm.
"I would have been surprised, ren'ai," he murmured, still unwilling to put her from him, even so far as to look into her face.
"I take it then, that this is what you were looking for?" Ander asked gently.
He nodded then frowned as he recognized, for the first time, the third figure who stood in the doorway. He had only taken half a step into the room, as though unwilling to intrude upon such an emotional scene, but there was no mistaking the bulk that nearly filled the doorframe.
"He's the one to thank, Sven," Romelle said, raising her face. "He brought me here, at considerable risk to himself."
Still holding Romelle tightly against his side, Sven put out a hand to the big man, who stepped forward to accept it, a shy smile on his broad face. "Thank you."
"I should have brought the Lion," he apologized. "Then I'd have you all home in…" He snapped his fingers "…that."
"We have the aircar," Mariana said. "Shall we go home?"
Sven drew a ragged breath and looked again at Romelle. Her gaze met his and she nodded. "Let's go home," he said.
To: Part III
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