Duty 16

Night had finally fallen, and with it’s arrival came a drastic decrease in temperature. It was cool enough now, that her summer dress left her shivering, even with it’s matching sweater buttoned up over it. Allura found herself inching closer to the fire, trying to leech some of it’s warmth for herself. She tried not to be obvious about what she was doing, arms held by her sides rather than hugged around her.

She stared into the heart of the fire, watching the flames dance trapped in the stone pit. All around her, she could hear voices talking. Laughing. They were friendly people, seeming happy and carefree. The conversations came easy to them, a mix of basic and Drule being spoken. Allura appreciated that they didn’t try to shut her completely out of the conversation. Even as she wondered just what was being said behind her back, Allura having an extremely limited grasp of the Drule language. She knew only a few phrases, curses and ways to demand their surrender.

Certainly she didn’t know enough to ascertain any of the secrets that might be potentially spilled before her. It grated on her nerves, the thought that the Drules might be discussing their plans, maybe even laughing at how they kept Allura in the dark about their schemes. Plans that would affect not only their future, but Allura’s and Arus’ as well. Of course, Allura could understand why they kept the information from her. If she could, she would have used that information against them. Tried to thwart their plans before they could be implemented. As it was now, she was floundering in the dark, with little true purpose other than to escape and return to her home world.

She missed Arus. She missed her home, and Allura missed her people. Even before she had been kidnapped, Allura had been gone for too long. The journey to planet Kirentya had taken several days. She had barely been settled into her hotel, before Allura had had to go to the embassy for what was supposed to be the first of many long meetings. That meeting had ended in disaster, Allura whisked away by Lotor, while some kind of violent shoot out had happened at the embassy.

She could only be relieved that the casualties on the Alliance side had been minimal at best. It would have been pure chaos if more world leaders had died that day. Even the two that had passed on, was an unacceptable loss to Allura. But she didn’t spend much time wondering what would happen to those worlds, now that their rulers were dead. Not when the more pressing problem of her own kidnapping loomed over her.

She worried for herself, but more than that Allura worried for Arus. She knew there was an impostor ruling over the planet now, and feared what that meant for her people. What kind of decisions would this Mara make? Allura didn’t know, but what she imagined was bad enough. Money wasted, lives ruined. And that was before the Doom Empire came a calling. Allura couldn’t imagine a Drule truly fighting against Zarkon’s might. She thought this Mara would turn tail at the first sign of trouble, leaving Arus to flounder in an attempt to save itself.

The only benefit to such a desertion, was the fact that everyone would realize that Mara was not the true princess of Arus. But she couldn’t be cheered at the thought that once Mara abandoned Arus to it’s fate, the Voltron Force would come looking for Allura. She didn’t want to sit around, waiting for a rescue Arus did not have time to devote to. She HAD to escape. And Allura knew she had to do it soon.

A shiver then, Allura thinking it might not be soon enough for her liking. She didn’t trust Lotor. Didn’t trust his intentions towards her. It was one of the reasons she was insisting on remaining outside, even though she was chilled to the bone. Allura feared what would happen once they went back into the house, worrying Lotor would finally make good on the threat that she would be with him. Be with him in ways she wasn’t prepared for, anymore than Allura was prepared to leave the Denubian Galaxy and start her life over elsewhere with Lotor.

Even as she feared his plans, Allura’s mind turned over his scheme. Trying to understand what would make Lotor come up with such an insane idea. She had meant it when earlier she had pointed out that the Lotor she knew would never just abandon his empire. It just didn’t fit her image of him, Allura thinking him a power hungry despot who was greedy and grasping for more gold, slaves, and territory. Never would she have thought Lotor would turn his back on the luxurious life of an empire’s crowned prince.

To Allura, Lotor was a spoiled man. Used to getting what he wanted. It conflicted with the image the Drules gathered here tried to paint of him. That of a charitable prince, one who gave out of his own pocket to help those in need. She remembered the stories told to her, the pain some of the Drules had been willing to share with her. Their pain had been real, Allura sure the Drules weren’t lying to her about that. And yet for all the realness of their stories, she still couldn’t buy the idea of Lotor as a hero. How could someone who invaded worlds, also care enough to help others? It just didn’t match up, and that made Allura sure she was missing something.

She was no fool. Allura had noticed the slip ups, the fervent desire some of the more hostile Drules had had to share with Allura some truth. A truth Lotor didn’t want them talking about, judging by the way he, and even Ryder and Vorlac, worked to stop and remind the others to keep quiet about. But Allura’s curiosity was roused, the girl wanting, needing to know the missing piece to the puzzle presented before her.

Once again Allura wished she had bothered to study the Drule language beyond the few words she had picked up in dealing with them. The conversations continued around her, more and more people switching to their native tongue. It only fueled her suspicions that they were plotting something. She had to fight not to turn and glare at the nearest group of Drules, Allura instead pretending to be oblivious to the talk around her. This time when she heard laughter, it set Allura on edge, the princess’ hands curling into fists at her sides.

Two females came closer to the fire. In their hands were some kind of meat, spitted and seasoned. They would position the meat onto the make shift grill that stood situated over the fire, occasionally rotating it so that all sides would get cooked. It wasn’t the first time Allura watched these two women work the grill, and sometimes a man joined them. The three were the designated cooks for this barbecue, and the results of their hard work was a mouth watering display, the gathered Drules extremely appreciative of the dinner.

Allura had had little appetite. The food wasn’t the problem. Even the company wasn’t enough to put her off eating. It was her situation. Hers and Arus, that she worried about. How could she even think of siting back and enjoying herself, when so much was at stake? Even the galaxy was in danger, because if Arus fell, Voltron would end up in Zarkon’s hands. And she shuddered to think of the evil he would use her father’s robot for.

She was still in the midst of shuddering, when arms came around her. Allura actually started in fright, feeling as though her feet would have left the ground if not for the arms holding her against a muscled front. A soothing whisper of sound breathed into her ear, but Allura hardly relaxed. Not even when Prince Lotor tried to offer her reassurances, telling her there was no one here that would actually hurt her.

“That remains to be seen.” Allura murmured, stiff in his embrace. Lotor had not let go of her, pressing into her back with his chin resting on top of her head. He had them stand like this, facing the fire. Allura didn’t know what sort of expression he wore, but it must have been a content one for the two female cooks kept smiling as they looked towards their prince with his captive.

Lotor was quiet a moment, seeming to digest the words she had whispered. She felt the tensing of his arms around her, Lotor not quite fierce as he asked her a question. “Has anyone here been unkind to you?” He demanded. “Has anyone threatened to hurt you?”

She didn’t answer in the manner he wanted. “YOU’RE hurting me, just by keeping me here!” Allura pointed out. She didn’t even want to get into the details of how much it would hurt her, if he forced her into his bed.

“I know it seems that way.” Lotor said with a sigh. “But someday…you’ll understand. This was done to protect you!”

“Protect me all you want, but it still doesn’t justify what you’re attempting to do.” A stubborn lift of her chin, Allura staring hostile at the flames that eagerly licked at the cooking meat. “Lotor…protecting one person while endangering millions of others? It’s not right! It’s not right at all!”

“I can’t protect everyone.” Lotor said, after a moment’s pause.

“The galaxy’s too big for that.” She agreed. “But you have to try to protect those you can. It’s what I do everyday! Or at least, what I did do before you kidnapped me!”

“There will be others to keep the galaxy safe. Captain Akira….”

“They need me Lotor.” Allura interrupted. “They can’t form Voltron if they’re short one pilot.”

“They have Mara.” Lotor retorted.

“But for how long?” Allura demanded. “From what I’ve heard, it was never a long term goal for her to remain on Arus. What then?”

“There’s a million things that can happen during that time. Empires can form, change, even be crushed.”

“Do you honestly believe that the Doom Empire will be destroyed before that impostor gets tired of living my life?!” Allura struggled in his hold, wanting to be free of his arms. Wanting to look him in the eyes, and force him to face the harsh realties her questions presented.

“I can’t know what the future holds.” He allowed her enough freedom to turn in his embrace. Allura immediately put her hands on his arms, glaring up at him. “But no…I don’t believe anything will happen to Zarkon, any time soon. He’ll continue to terrorize the galaxy.”

“From what your friends tell me, the people of Doom will suffer just as much as the rest of the Denubian Galaxy!” Allura exclaimed. Was that a guilty look that flashed into his eyes? But Lotor quickly smothered it into an expression devoid of emotions. “If you really are half the man they claim you are, why would you abandon your own people?”

“It’s hopeless Allura.” Lotor snapped, abruptly letting go of her. If not for her hands gripping his arms, she would have surely stumbled. “There is no stopping Zarkon or his brand of evil.”

“It’s only hopeless when you give up on believing things can be better!” She argued. “Lotor, I’ve lived for nearly eighteen years under the threat of your father. I’ve endured hardship and loss, and yet I never gave up hope that one day things would improve. For me, and for Arus! Good prevails…it’s just sometimes it takes time for it to win!”

“Bad things happen all the time.” Was his argument. “To good people, to undeserving people. You can’t stop it, you can only watch. Hope it doesn’t touch you, or the people you care for.”

“If bad does happen, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue the fight! You tend to those who have been hurt. You don’t turn your back because it’s uncomfortable or because it’s more convenient!” Allura told him. She frowned when he frowned, Lotor shaking his head no. “You have to keep trying. Otherwise you’re already half dead!”

“It’s better than the alternatives.” Lotor muttered darkly. Allura cocked her head to the side, studying him.

“What does that mean? What do you know that makes you think running away is the answer?” He tried to turn from her, Allura gripping his arms as hard as she could manage. “Is Zarkon planning something?”

“He always has plans.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything!” Allura cried out frustrated. “Is it some new evil? Something so horrendous, even you can’t abide by it? Whatever it is Lotor, tell me! Together we could unite. Fight him! Maybe even win!” But she could see by the look in his eyes, Lotor didn’t believe in being able to win against his father. It made her want to scream in frustrated rage. “I am no coward.”

“And you think I am?” Lotor suddenly hissed. He had seized hold of her arms, claws digging into her skin. But Allura refused to so much as gasp, bravely meeting his eyes.

“Yes.”

A simple answer, but it affected him. “You know nothing!” Lotor snapped. “The things I have…” He suddenly shook his head, but his glare remained even as he let go of her. “No…I will not let you manipulate me like this.”

“I’m not trying to manipulate you.” Allura protested. “I just want to understand! If you’re not a coward, then what are you?!”

“A survivor.” It wasn’t Lotor who spoke, but one of the women tending to the roasting meat. Allura jerked herself away from Lotor, turning to look at the Drule who had spoken. The pretty female had a serious expression, but anger flamed in her eyes. Allura wasn’t sure what caused that anger. Was it Lotor, or was this female angry with how Allura had spoken to the prince?

“Survivor?!” Allura exclaimed. “A survivor of what?”

“He…”

“That is enough Mitreena.” Lotor snapped.

“But your highness…” This Mitreena protested, an almost defiant look in her eyes. “She speaks without knowing the truth. But if she had a better understanding….”

“That is my decision to make.” Lotor retorted. “And I say the truth is better left buried.”

“You won’t be able to hide this from me forever!” Allura turned to face him. “You can try to keep the truth hidden, but it seems these people don’t agree with you as much as you liked. They WANT me to KNOW!”

“They won’t go against my orders. Not on this.” Lotor insisted, but Allura swore he looked uncertain.

“How can you be sure?” She asked. “Do they fear you that much?!”

“We do not fear the prince.” It was the other female cook who spoke. “He has always been kind, devoted, protective of us. We value him, and the friendship he’s given us.”

“And this devotion will keep you quiet?!” Allura demanded, placing her hands on her hips. “Don’t you think I have a right to know considering it’s my life you all are uprooting?!”

“That is the prince’s decision to make.” Sighed the female. “We may not all agree with it, but we’ll try to honor it.” The try was interesting, Allura eyeing the two females. Wondering if there was some way to coax the truth out of them. She made a mental note to try just that sometime in the near future, when Lotor wasn’t watching her so closely.

“Is everything all right over here?” It was Ryder who had approached the fire pit. He was looking at Lotor and Allura, expression concerned. Allura then realized all conversation had stopped, as though all the Drules had decided to watch the argumentative conversation the two royals had been having.

“Everything is fine. Just fine.” Lotor said through clenched teeth.

Ryder clearly didn’t believe it. “You were this close to shouting.”

“I need a drink.” Lotor said in response, and to Allura’s surprise, he actually walked away from her! But she didn’t try to follow him, remaining by the fire. Breathing out deep breaths in an attempt to calm her frustrations.

“I suppose you’re going to demand I not fight with him anymore?” Allura asked. To her surprise, Ryder flashed her a smile. His fangs were hinted in that grin, the Drule looking amused.

“Oh quite the opposite. I think the debate is healthy for the prince to hear.”

“You do?!” Allura was shocked, and further so when Ryder nodded, eyes twinkling with mirth. “Does that mean you agree with what I’ve been saying to him?!”

He shifted, expression losing some of his humor. She realized he wasn’t going to give her an outright answer, Ryder changing the subject. “We made inquiries in the city. There’s only one temple, and they’re busy this time of year. But they agreed they could spare at least one person to come listen to your confession.”

“Really?” She was still wound up too tight to feel relieved by what Ryder had just told her. “That’s wonderful. When will this person come? Tomorrow?”

“Yes, tomorrow.” He turned and held out a hand, Mitreena hurrying to give him a plate piled with cuts of grilled meat on it. He said a few words in Drule to the woman, the female seeming to grow flustered in response. She’d actually bat her eyes at Ryder, whose smile would return.

“Thank you.” Allura said, actually touching his arm. He looked at her as though surprised by her thanks.

“It’s no problem.” He said, then walked away from her.

Allura watched him for a few seconds, before turning back to the fire. She couldn’t smile, though she wanted to, Allura fearing the Drules would become suspicious of her grin. But Allura honestly wanted to laugh in the moment, triumph swelling in her chest. She tried to tell herself it was too soon to celebrate, and yet elation filled her. And all because the Drules had agreed to her request, so that soon some member of the city’s temple would come to meet with her. It was exactly what she wanted to happen, and Allura could only pray that her confession would go off without a hitch. For if Allura had her way, she’d be one step closer to escaping from Lotor and his friends.


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