He could hear the faint sound of laughter which seemed to echo it’s way through the house. It was a nice sound, happy and warm, matching none of the memories Lotor had of this place. He liked that someone could be happy here, liked that their pleasure wasn’t born out of the suffering of another. The happy laughter was almost enough to chase away his memories of that other sound, Lotor faintly recalling the cruel jeering sound of his father’s voice.
It wasn’t a voice easily dismissed. Especially not in this place, a house full of a lifetime of memories. Lotor tried to tell himself the things that had happened here, had happened to a whole other Lotor. A Lotor who had been weak and unable to do anything but watch. Certainly that Lotor hadn’t been able to protect anyone, let alone himself. Not like he was able to do now, Lotor taking a sidelong glance at the girl walking besides him.
She was Allura of Arus. Beautiful and kind, she was one of the bravest women he had ever known. He admired her for that, for the spirit that filled her. He loved her. It was a love that made him go to great lengths to protect her, had allowed him to endure unbelievable pain and punishment in her name. He’d do just about anything for her, including the things Allura would not agree with. She certainly didn’t agree with being brought here. Nor did she like the thought of turning her back on everything she had ever known. But Lotor couldn’t leave her behind. Couldn’t risk the fate that would befall her if he wasn’t there to run interference. He knew, had always known Zarkon would KILL Allura at the first available chance. And though Allura insisted she would fearlessly face her death if it meant standing up for what she believed in, Lotor felt he knew better.
Lotor had to keep telling himself that someday Allura would understand why he had needed to do what he had done. Why he had had to take away her options. Why it was better to lose some of her freedoms, than for Lotor to leave her behind to suffer at Zarkon’s hands. Lotor had already lost one woman he had loved, to that monster. He wasn’t about to lose a second.
His fingers tightened possessively on Allura’s hand, a sign of his unspoken resolve in the moment. Allura made a sound of discomfort, Lotor having held her hand to tightly. He turned sheepish immediately, offering an apologetic word that she seemed to ignore. That was all right with him, Lotor continuing to hold her hand, to lead her through the slowly being restored mansion.
It wasn’t all that different from his memories. Abandoned for years, there had been little to any change done to decor, to the many rooms that made up the building. The most noticeable difference about this house, was the atmosphere of the people inside it. The people here changed the very feel of the building, made it feel more like a home than it ever had before. It was still strange to be back here, but the strangeness was eased by the fact he was surrounded by friends. By people he trusted rather than those who had sought to make this building a prison and a nightmare for the young prince of Doom.
Lotor shook his head again, trying not to let any bad memories come forth and overwhelm him. He did not want to give the past any more power than it already had on him, Lotor fighting to concentrate on the here and now. To that end he focused on the hand he held, the soft skin of Allura clasped against his. She was warm where he touched, and her small hand offered such comfort to the Drule prince.
He looked at her often, paying more attention to Allura than to their actual surroundings. Even as he led her on a small tour of the house, he was more taken with her appearance than any of the rooms he showed to her. Maybe someday soon, he’d be ready to look at the mansion through Allura’s eyes, but for now he was content to let her distract him from it.
That included fielding her questions, Allura as inquisitive as ever. She wasn’t letting her fear of him, or her upset over her situation stop her from being curious. Mainly her questions was about the planet, Allura wanting to know any and everything she could about Simestia and it’s people. Lotor enjoyed this chance to talk with her, noting she didn’t tremble so long as all he held was her hand.
“Simestia is a self sufficient world.” Lotor said to her. “Fertile if a bit backwards when it comes to technological advancements.”
“I suppose years of isolation are to blame for that.” Allura muttered. He nodded.
“It’s true. Contact between worlds has always played a part in a planet’s people advancing. Was it not Earth, who benefited most of all from those first contacts with alien life forms?” Lotor asked her.
“I didn’t study Earth’s developing years that closely, but I do recall reading mention of how they made an astonishing leap in technology from studying the things left behind by those first visitors to their planet.” She eyed him then, look almost challenging. “Of course, those first visitors were a friendly sort. They wanted to help the Earthlings. Simestia had no such luck when the Drule came to their world.”
He didn’t deny it. “Zarkon wasn’t interested in developing the planet, in helping the people. He took everything he could get his hands on, from the people, to the food and resources they relied on.”
“It’s a wonder Simestia even recovered…” Allura sighed.
“The Simestians proved a sturdier people than first thought.” Lotor smiled, a kind of wistful look in his eyes. “They are survivors, first and foremost. They were determined to cling to their lives here on this planet. To recover it and themselves from Zarkon’s abuse…” His eyes darkened then, Lotor thinking of how there had been many wrongs committed to the planet and it’s people.
“It is much the same with Arus.” Allura pointed out. “It took years for my people to heal as much as they have. Sometimes, they still return to the caves when Doom’s ships appear in the sky.” Her own dark look, and then Allura was shaking her head no, as though trying to break free of some memory.
“You’re people are to be commended.” Lotor told her. “Much like the Simestians, you Arusians had no one to rely on. You fought off Zarkon, restored your cities, and you did it without the help of the Galaxy Alliance.”
“You’re forgetting it was the Alliance’s own Garrison that sent a special task force to Arus. Those men helped to find and revive Voltron.”
“And what were their motives for doing such a thing?” Lotor demanded. She frowned at him, Lotor hurrying to explain. “Where was Garrison, where was the Alliance during the sixteen years Zarkon had control of Arus? Why did they not try to help you? Why wait until they realized your people had something they could use?”
“The Galaxy Alliance was busy. Fighting the threat of the Doom Empire as your father tried to invade new worlds.” She retorted.
“The Galaxy Alliance is huge. It’s military vast. Surely they had the resources to lend aid to Arus. But they didn’t. Not until Arus had something they wanted.” Lotor words only made Allura glare harder. “It all comes down to money.” He continued. “The Alliance can be as greedy as Zarkon, choking out stiff fees from those worlds who can pay for membership.”
Allura was upset, but unable to deny it. Lotor remembered the day at the embassy, how he and Mara had overhead Allura’s conversation with Keith and that one Garrison General. “The Alliance would use and toss aside Arus just as quickly…no even faster than Zarkon would. They’d take Voltron and leave your people with nothing…no way to defend themselves against Zarkon.”
“Isn’t it the same for you as well? Wouldn’t you take what you want from Arus, and damn the rest to slavery and misery?” Allura demanded, voice heated. She might know he was speaking the truth about the Alliance where Voltron was concerned, but Allura didn’t have to like it.
“Don’t try to deny it.” Allura interrupted him. “It’s practically what you’re doing now!” Her blue eyes blazed with angry emotion, Allura trying to jerk her hand free of his grip. “You’ve taken me from my people, and left some impostor in my place. What is left to Arus, but to become enslaved by your father’s empire?!”
“I’m sure Arus will manage….” Lotor said the words, but even to himself they were unconvincing.
“Manage how?” Allura demanded. “Does that impostor even know how to pilot a ship? And what happens when she tires of her charade? Will she just leave Arus, leave my people vulnerable to Doom’s invasion?!”
He hesitated. “Are you discounting the other four pilots so quickly?”
“I don’t even know if Keith and the others are still alive!” Allura exclaimed, tone bitter. “No one will tell me anything about what happened at the embassy. Why is it such a big secret? I deserve to know at least that much!”
“It’s no secret.” Lotor told her. “The other just thought they’d leave it up to me to tell you.”
“Then tell me already!” Allura cried out impatiently. “Please.” She added at his hesitation.
“There was a shoot out at the embassy.” She seemed to wilt at hearing that, but Allura did not cry, did not look away.
“Go on.” She ordered, bravely ready to hear the rest of it.
“There was casualties on both sides.” Lotor continued. “Mostly, it was the soldiers who died.”
“Mostly?” She questioned sharply.
“There was a casualty or two among the world leaders. That was before the rest were taken to safety, leaving their guards to battle the Empire’s soldiers. Your friends, the pilots of Voltron? They were not among the casualties.”
“Thank the gods!” Allura breathed out, closing her eyes for one moment. He wondered what thoughts she had in the moment, if Allura thought the fact that the pilots had survived, meant her chances at rescue was increased. She might simply be relieved to hear her friends were not dead, but Lotor didn’t believe for a moment that Allura had given up all hope of escape or a rescue.
It was cruel of him, but Lotor wanted–had to dash those hopes of hers. He knew the sooner Allura gave up all thoughts of getting away from him, the better it would be for them both. The easier it would be for Allura to accept the idea of a life with Lotor far away from Arus and Doom, and the troubles of the Denubian Galaxy.
“My body was found among the dead Drules.” Lotor said, studying her reaction to the words. Allura’s eyes snapped open, her shaken expression troubled. “You can thank Mara for that.” He managed not to smile then. “And Haggar, for it was she that enchanted one of the necklaces to give the illusion that the wearer looks like the crown prince of Doom.”
Allura opened and closed her mouth several times before speaking. “So that’s it then.” She finally said. “The whole galaxy thinks you’re dead, and that the princess of Arus is safe among her friends.”
He wasn’t ready to tell her about the problems that had popped up, the Alliance holding onto the dead, including that of the supposed prince of Doom’s body. It was all because Lotor didn’t want Allura building up her hopes that the deception would be discovered, though truthfully he would remain uneasy until word came that Haggar had disposed of the body.
“There’s no one to suspect the truth.” He said out loud. “Mara is too good an actress to ever make a mistake….By the time her charade is at an end, we’ll be long gone from this galaxy.”
“No one is that good an actress!” protested Allura. “She won’t be able to take over my life so completely. There are things she won’t know…things that will alert the others that something is wrong.”
“And what are those things?” questioned Lotor. “No…don’t bother. I can’t trust that you’ll be truthful with this.” He smiled slightly at the wide eyed look she gave him, Allura feigning innocence. “I know enough to know you’ll try to trick me. To tell me something in the hopes I’ll contact Mara. That she’ll then adjust her behavior to take on the traits you provided. No doubt whatever information you gave me to give to her, it would be something that would immediately alert everyone to the fact Mara is an impostor.”
She didn’t try to deny it, nor did Allura praise him for his skills in deducing a supposed plan of hers. “You think you’ve thought of everything.” She huffed out angrily. “But you are not perfect, Lotor!”
“I never claimed to be.” He smiled then, thinking of his friends. “Fortunately, with Haggar and the others helping me, I’m sure we’ve covered all the bases.”
She frowned at him, seeming to grow even angrier. “Someone is going to make a mistake. This many people involved, someone is bound to slip up.”
“No one is going to.” Lotor replied, tone still calm. “You haven’t been paying much attention if you underestimate the desire these people have to escape the trials of Doom. They want to be free of Zarkon’s reach. So much they are risking their very lives in coming with us on this journey. If someone messes up, we all pay. We’re all going to be dead men…Zarkon won’t show anyone mercy, not even me, his own son.”
Allura shivered then. Was she any closer to understanding just what was at stake for everyone involved in this scheme of his? “Surely…he won’t kill you.” She began, tone hesitantly. “You’re his son…” Her look turned uncertain in response to his shrug. “He needs his only heir…”
“He needs nothing and no one.” Lotor said, and turned his back to her, fighting to control his expression as memories struggled to overwhelm him. Zarkon’s words came to him, echoing in his ears. Telling him he was worthless, that he should die for his many failures. And with those words, Lotor swore he could feel the pain of claws scratching along his skin, a whip tearing him open. He shuddered, but managed to keep from clamping his hands over his ears, Lotor remaining as composed as he could manage given the intensity of the memories. The memories made him positive Zarkon had given up on him, that he had been ready to kill Lotor should the prince fail one more time.
Shuddering again, Lotor told himself he had removed himself from that situation just barely in time. Zarkon’s last whipping had nearly succeeded in killing Lotor. The prince had been so weak, so beaten in the moment. He was positive he wouldn’t have survived another session at that torturer’s hands. Just as Lotor had known that once he died, everything he had fought to protect, would have been destroyed. Allura captured, tortured beyond belief until death would have been a mercy to her. The one mercy Zarkon would grant her, the King furious with the princess, and wanting her destroyed for all he blamed her for.
An uncertain touch on his arm, Lotor actually flinching before he could stop himself. It was better than lashing out at her, Lotor relieved he hadn’t struck out in a violent motion to avoid her touch. Still Allura gasped, taking several steps away from him. He turned to look at her, and saw how she stared, wide eyed and confused.
“It’s nothing.” Lotor said, though it was a lie. The pains he had suffered, the abuses done to him, the countless fears he had harbored? They would always be there. Always matter, always leave their impact on him. The scars on his soul were dredged in deep, might be as permanent as the marks on his back. He’d always be affected by them, so long as he remained within Zarkon’s reach. Even as far out as planet Simestia was, Zarkon lingered, his corruption having left memories that haunted this very building.
Suddenly it didn’t matter that this house was full of friendly laughter. This building was too big a reminder, Lotor remembering the feelings of a young, horrified boy. His skin seemed to crawl with unease, Lotor drawing in a ragged breath.
“It doesn’t seem like nothing.” Allura quietly observed.
He could have cursed then. This house, the memories were making him vulnerable. Weakening him. He never wanted Allura to know about the abuse he had gone through, the many inventive ways Zarkon had tortured him and his mother. She would pity him if she knew, and pity wasn’t love.
“I just…just need some air.” He finally said. What he needed was her, Lotor feeling as though the touch of Allura’s skin against his would help to chase away much of the demons that haunted him. But as upset as he was, Lotor knew better than to make a grab for Allura. Not when such a move would only serve to frighten and upset her.
Whatever look showed on his face, it was enough to let Allura know not to question him further about his strange behavior. She simply nodded instead, though she never smiled. “Then let’s go outside.” She decided, and waited for Lotor to lead her through the house. He wanted to take her hand, and knew even that much would be enough to have him pulling her into his embrace.
“Yes.” He spoke to show he had understood her, gesturing for Allura to follow behind him. If she was surprised that he was allowing her to walk without them holding hands, Allura did not show it. She simply moved to trail behind him. Lotor forced himself not to walk faster than normal, all in order to keep up his pretense of being fine.
They walked back the way they had come, and the closer they got to the front foyer of the mansion, the more people they saw. Including Ryder, who met Lotor’s eyes with a questioning look of his own. The Drule with the blue streaked hair had noticed the tension, had noticed that Lotor was no longer holding onto Allura. And that made him wonder what had happened, the Drule shooting a dark look at the princess. Lotor shook his head, letting Ryder know with that motion it wasn’t Allura’s fault that he was upset.
The front doors of the foyer were open, Lotor making a bee line for them. He breathed better once he was outside, smelling the crisp clean air of Simestia. Already it was growing cooler, the sun not yet set on this day. Drules were outside on the lawn, setting up tables and chairs for the night’s cookout. Tesla was watching as several
began constructing a fire pit, using large stones to circle around the hole they had dug.
“Are you…okay now?” Allura asked from behind him. Her concern made him want to hug her to him, though Lotor refrained from that impulse. He merely nodded,
motion stiff as he turned to her.
“I’m sorry.” He said out loud. “We’ll have to complete the tour some other day.”
“It’s fine.” She told him. “Didn’t seem like there was much left to see. Not with so many of the rooms unprepared.”
“They’re only cleaning up the ones we’ll need.” Lotor explained. “We were never meant to remain here long.” And as far as Lotor was concerned, they couldn’t leave soon enough for his liking.
“It’s a lovely house.” Allura said. “Even in it’s run down state, with so many rooms covered in dirt and cobweb, I can see glimmers of it’s former beauty. I’m surprised the Simestians never tried to restore it.”
He ran an agitated hand through his hair. “They wouldn’t have wanted to bother.” Not after all that had happened here.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Allura asked, her question innocent. She was just curious, trying to pass the time by gaining knowledge about her surroundings.
He told a half truth then. “This building became a symbol of the Drule. It is where they held court, where many crimes were committed.” He glanced at Allura,
watching as she processed the words. She shivered then, as though imagining just what those crimes were.
“And the Simestians? They will tolerate Drules occupying this building once more?” Allura asked.
“We don’t intend to repeat any of the crimes that happened all those years ago.” He told her.
Another challenging, near defiant look from her. “No just new crimes, like kidnapping me, and faking your own death.”
“We all do what is necessary for our survival.” Was Lotor’s answer. “Just as we would all do what it takes to get free of Zarkon’s tyranny.”
“I don’t condone running away!” She exclaimed. “You and your friends should stay and face Zarkon. Fight him. Not just for yourselves, but for all the people. The people of Doom, and of the Denubian Galaxy.”
“It’s not that simple….”
“Overthrowing a tyrant never is.” Allura told him. “Lotor, you can give all the money you have to make things better for the Drule. But it’s only putting bandages on a wound that needs stitches. They won’t heal so long as Zarkon is there to keep cutting them up!”
He always known that. But to Lotor, Zarkon felt like an insurmountable problem. One he couldn’t overcome. It was better to cut his losses and run, than risk losing anything more to the fiend. Especially someone as precious as Allura!
“I can’t say I understand why you are doing this.” She continued. “And I’ll continue to not understand, so long as you won’t explain your reasons. Your TRUE reasons. Lotor, I am no fool. I can tell there is something more going on. You may not want me to know about it, but the others do.” He turned to her with an alarmed expression, Allura holding up her hands. “No one has told me anything concrete. But the way they act, and the near slips up some have had? It lets me know there is a story to be had. And I won’t stop until I know exactly what it is, you’re trying to hide from me!”
“Allura, you would dig into things better left alone.” Lotor told her.
“How can I not find out about them, when these things drive you to do this? To kidnap me and run from your responsibilities!” Allura exclaimed, frustrated. “The Lotor I know would never just give up and abandoned his empire because the going got a little too rough for him!”
“You don’t know me well enough to make that decision one way or another.” He turned bitter then. “You’ve never given me a chance to get to know me. You’ve run from me every chance you’ve gotten. Well, Allura? This time there will be no more running, not for you. You will get to know me. And through that knowing, just maybe you’ll realize I am not the monster you should have been fearing all this time!”