The last of the meat had been cooked, the plate piles of it browned and smelling absolutely delicious. The smell alone was almost enough to get Ryder to reach for another helping of the lamb, even with his stomach’s protests that it was more than full. It was a pity, but he like many of the others present, simply couldn’t eat any more. There had just been too much food made, more than even what several healthy Drule males could eat. There was a reason for the overabundance of food. With the wiring in the mansion damaged, they didn’t have the power to freeze and preserve things. The meat they had brought with them, would have surely spoiled, and so they had thought to cook and more importantly eat as much of it as they could.
There was still enough left over that it was a sad waste. Ryder couldn’t help but think of the people on planet Doom who would have done just about anything to sample this feast. The starving lower class would have even risked sickness to dine on foods that were spoiled. The situation for them was simply that bad, many of the people dying from starvation.
It was almost enough to make Ryder feel guilt for the amount of food he had enjoyed. He wondered if it was the same for the others present at the tables. They all knew the situation on Doom, knew of the terrible things their people suffered on a daily basis. It wasn’t like what the rest of the Denubian Galaxy believed, the slaves weren’t the only ones who suffered. Sometimes Ryder thought the slaves had it better, for at least they were fed, limited though the meal might be. And all because the slave masters didn’t want to lose their investments, making sure to do whatever it took to keep their slaves alive.
It was grim times on Doom, people scrambling and scraping to get by. Even Lotor with his genorsoity, hadn’t been able to help everyone. The princess of Arus was right. The money wasn’t the solution to the Drules’ problems. What Doom needed was a change, a total reworking of the system. It would help to abolish slavery, would force those who had money to put it back into the economy by having to hire legitimate workers to do the jobs the slaves did for free.
Ryder also knew that so long as Zarkon kept his claws on the throne, this kind of change would NEVER happen. They needed that tyrant gone, and Doom needed to be assured that the person who took his place was someone they could count on. Someone like Lotor.
He glanced up across the lawn, eyes seeking out the solitary form of the prince. He hadn’t come back to sit among his people ever since that argument with Allura. Ryder could guess as to why Lotor needed the time alone. And all because Allura had been saying things he didn’t want to acknowledge. But it was things he needed to hear, things Ryder and the other Drules had avoided bringing to his attention. Sometimes Ryder wondered if they were going about this all wrong, if they should have tried to use different tactics to help Lotor heal.
He sighed then, the sound loud even amidst the conversation at his table. Most chose to ignore him, but the man to his right spoke up. Ryder found himself the focus of silver eyes, Vorlac raising a ridged brow in question. “What’s wrong?”
“Just thinking.” Ryder answered. “It feels like we have a long way to go before we can help anyone. Let alone Lotor…”
“We got time though.” Vorlac said, his tone hopeful.
“We’ve got a little.” Ryder pointed out. “And even that may not be enough time to get Lotor to be where we need him to be.” He didn’t even want to bring up mention of the fact that Haggar hadn’t been able to get a hold of the fake prince’s body. Vorlac knew as well as Ryder did, that the longer that body went without being destroyed, the bigger the chance of their deception being discovered by King Zarkon.
“That kind of healing doesn’t happen in one night.” Vorlac reminded him. “Especially when you’ve suffered such abuse for so many years. And for so often!”
“I know that. Just as I know the prince in some ways has suffered the worst out of all of us.” Ryder shook his head, frowning. “Zarkon’s damaged him. You know how Lotor was at the academy…how different he acted. He was confidant and capable, leading his crew on to many successful invasions.”
“And then Arus happened.” Now Vorlac sighed.
“Or rather, then Allura happened.” Ryder corrected. “I can’t say I see what is so special about her, but she matters to the prince. Has mattered to him almost from the first time he saw her.”
“Yeah.” Vorlac agreed. “He may have been unprepared for those first encounters with Voltron, but the defeats he suffered? They were all his own doing, Lotor intent on keeping Allura safe. Even at the cost of himself.”
“He’s gone to a lot of trouble, for a woman who doesn’t love him back.” Ryder grumbled, and now he looked toward the fire. The cooking was done, but the fire still remained, Allura and several other Drules standing close to it for it’s warmth. The temperature was continuing to decrease as the night darkened further, and soon even the fire would not be adequate enough to warm them.
“Love makes men foolish. Even princes.” Vorlac said, then smirked when Ryder made a scoffing sound. “Even a telecommunication expert will not be immune to love’s power.”
“I’ll keep my affairs to lust, it’s much simpler that way.” Ryder retorted.
“But you can’t keep your heart from wanting what it wants. When love hits, it always hits those who resist it the hardest.” Vorlac was still smirking, and he nodded towards the figure of Allura. “She fights with every ounce of her strength to resist Lotor’s love. When she falls, it will be most spectacular.”
“She can’t fall soon enough for my liking.” Ryder complained.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that her love will be the thing that immediately heals Lotor.” Vorlac warned. “She will have her work cut out of her, especially if Lotor still intends to keep his suffering a secret from her.”
“She’s getting frustrated.” A new voice had joined the conversation, Tesla taking a seat to the left of Ryder. “She’s not the only one. These secrets are a burden, one we shouldn’t have to keep.”
“We will keep them as long as our prince orders us to!” Ryder reminded her with a growl. “Even if we don’t agree with this, we have to respect Lotor’s decision.”
“It’s the wrong one to make!” Tesla scowled. “How can she help Lotor if she doesn’t know anything?! As it stands, all she does is upset him, making assumptions about his reasons.” She scoffed, scowling harder. “She insults him by thinking he’s a coward. But if she knew what Prince Lotor had been through, what he had purposefully invited to happen? There’s no braver a man than the one who would rather take those beatings than see his love hurt in any way.”
“Especially given how vicious Zarkon is.” Vorlac actually seemed to shudder. “There’s no one as depraved and violent a monster than that tyrant.”
“There’s not an ounce of good about that man.” Tesla hissed. “That he would hurt his own son, does not surprise me.”
“He brings pain and misery wherever he goes.” Agreed Ryder. “Which is why we have to stop him.” He then corrected himself, his words fierce now. “We WILL stop him. Somehow…someway.”
“Can’t come soon enough for me.” Vorlac announced. “If I have to live in a galaxy that is ruled by that monster, why I’d much rather run away to some place where he can’t get me.” And that was the reason why Lotor believed them when they had all agreed to come with him on this journey. Zarkon was such a terror, that Lotor could easily believe so many Drules would rather abandon their home and galaxy then stay and risk catching the King’s attention.
“Would even the next over galaxy be safe, if Zarkon conquers the Denubian?” Ryder wondered out loud.
“Geeze….I don’t even want to think about that!” Vorlac exclaimed. “I don’t want to think of constantly have to be on the move, to avoid Zarkon.”
“We’ll all be better off, once he’s dead.” Tesla stated.
“That is something everyone can agree to. Even Allura.” Ryder said. But he wasn’t looking at the princess, instead seeking out Lotor. The prince was making no move to approach Allura, seeming content to just stay apart from everyone. It made Ryder frown, the Drule coming to a decision. “Well…” He said, rising from the bench. “They’re never going to make any progress if they keep avoiding each other.”
“At this point, I think all they’d do is argue.” Vorlac said, but he moved to get up as well.
Ryder grabbed two unopened cans of beers that had had the time to grow warm. He fought not to make a face, how he hated warm beer! “They can argue all they like, but sooner or later, they will have to learn to actually talk and communicate.”
“Easier said then done.” Tesla muttered, remaining at the table.
Ryder did not bother to respond to that, instead stalking determinedly towards Prince Lotor. Vorlac followed along at his side, more curious than anything as to what Ryder was going to do. Lotor himself, didn’t even bother to look up at the sound of their footsteps, just standing there staring off in the distance. There wasn’t much to see where he looked, the mansion so deep on the property all they could truly see at this time of the city, was lights from some of the nearest houses.
“Hey!” Ryder said, voice purposefully loud. “How long are you just gonna stand here and brood?!” By the time Lotor completed his turn, Ryder tossed a can of the warm beer to the prince.
“I just felt like being alone for a while.” Lotor said, catching the beer in his hands.
“Yeah, I can respect that. Especially after that argument with the princess.” Ryder popped open the tab on his can, watching as Lotor did the same. The beer in the prince’s can fizzled and foamed, some of it overflowing onto the prince’s hand. The prince calmly shook his hand dry, while drinking some of the beer.
“She doesn’t know better.” Lotor said, as though trying to defend Allura to Ryder. “She wouldn’t say those things if she had any idea…”
“So why don’t you tell her then?” Lotor gave Ryder an angry look in response. “I know, I know. You don’t want her pity. But uh, haven’t you ever considered she might do something MORE than pity you?”
“Like what?” Lotor demanded.
“She could sympathize with you.” Vorlac spoke up.
“Isn’t that the same as pity?” Lotor asked with a frown.
“Not quite.” Both Vorlac and Ryder assured him. But Lotor continued to frown, shaking his head.
“Knowing what happened to me won’t change anything where Allura is concerned.” The prince insisted. “It won’t make her love me.”
“No, it won’t.” Agreed Ryder. “From what I hear, love is trickier than that.” Vorlac snorted, surely trying to repress a laugh at Ryder playing wise on love. “But it would get her to stop picking at you about why you’re doing this. And if she understands your reasons, Allura could stop wondering, and start getting to KNOW you. And through that knowing, maybe, just maybe, she’d see what we see. Something that would make her fall in love with you.”
“You’ll both think I’m just being too stubborn…” Lotor actually hesitated. “But I still don’t want her to know. I can’t trust that she’ll put aside what was done to me. That she won’t let the abuse color her perceptions of me, that she won’t see me as anything but a man to be pitied.”
Ryder held back his frustrated sigh, nodding as though he understood and accepted Lotor’s words. “All right but…what will you do about the scars on your back? And not just the scars, some of those wounds are still fresh! She’ll know you were hurt…and she’ll wonder why. Wonder how it happened.”
Lotor looked uncertain then. “I don’t intend to show her my back any time soon.”
“Can’t make love to a woman with your shirt on.” Vorlac interrupted. “Not all the time at any rate. Not without her getting suspicious as to what you’re hiding.”
“I don’t think she’ll let me make love to her any time soon.” Lotor said wryly. “And when the time does come, I’m sure I’ll come up with a believable excuse as to what happened to my back. I mean I am a warrior. Injuries do happen.”
“That they do.” Ryder left off that in this day and age, most injuries could be tended to quick enough that they would never even leave a scar. Allura would still be suspicious about why Lotor had allowed his back to be so marked up though Ryder knew the reason. The truth was simply Zarkon had denied both medical and magical healings to Lotor after the whippings and beatings. It was just another sign of how vicious Zarkon truly was.
“Well, now…” Vorlac said it almost causally. “Have you given any thought on HOW you will court Allura?”
“Oh, he’s been thinking about it.” Ryder answered for Lotor. “I dare say nearly every moment he can.”
“I can’t say I’ve been very successful at planning this.” Lotor admitted. “I had been so devoted to catching her, to bringing her with us, I didn’t, couldn’t think much beyond that.” He sighed then. “I was…unprepared for how she’d act. How she’d keep on about why I am doing this. She makes it so difficult to talk about anything else!” He look frustrated now.
“I don’t know how to get Allura to ease up on that short of telling her the truth.” Vorlac said, then hastily added. “Which none of us will do. But maybe in time, we can put our heads together, and come up with some plans.”
“I’d like that.” Lotor grinned.
“Until then, maybe you should ignore her when she starts in on you about the truth.” Ryder suggested. “Just…don’t respond to her picking. Turn the conversation to something else.”
“Oh that will go over well.” Vorlac said sarcastically. “Women love to be ignored.”
“I’m not saying to ignore her!” Ryder snapped. “Just avoid talking about that one thing, even if she brings it up again and again. Who knows, maybe eventually she’ll get the hint that it’s not something Lotor will ever talk to her about.”
“Women HATE secrets that they are not part of.” Vorlac told them. “They especially hate it when their partners is keeping secrets from them.”
“But what can I do?” Lotor demanded, crushing the beer can with his hand. “The truth is too awful to reveal, and we can’t progress into a true relationship if all Allura will do is talk about what my reasons are.”
That seemed to stump Vorlac, the man shrugging his shoulders. “Don’t really know what to tell you.”
“Look, it’s getting late. I wouldn’t be surprised if your princess is fighting off sleep at this point.” Ryder said. “It’s best we tackle the problems courting Allura presents come the morning. For now, you should take her to bed.”
“And do it before she freezes to death out here.” Added Vorlac. “Poor girl is shivering so violently. Stubborn that she is, she won’t admit that she’s cold and go into the house.”
“It’s not so much stubbornness as her fear of what will happen once we’re in the bedroom.” Lotor grumbled. “She’s got this unnatural fear of me, and overreacts anytime I come too close.”
“Sounds like just one more obstacle to overcome.” Ryder said with forced cheer. “Don’t worry Lotor, I’m sure once she realizes there is nothing to fear from you, it will make courting her all the easier. She’ll be able to love what she once feared.”
“I hope so.” Lotor was wistful then.
“I know so.” Ryder insisted, even though he had many doubts where Allura and her capability to fall in love were concerned. “Now go get her!”
“All right, I will.” Lotor said, beginning to walk determinedly towards the fire pit. Ryder and Vorlac remained behind, but their eyes were on Lotor as he approached the princess. They were too far away to hear what was being said, but they saw Allura start to shake her head no.
“She’s going to make things difficult as usual.” Ryder grumbled.
“Ease up on her.” Vorlac ordered. “It’s not an ideal situation for her. She has fears, unreal and unfound thought they may be. It’s bound to be a difficult night. Not just for Allura, but for Lotor as well.” He made a frown. “It’s going to be slow torture for Lotor to be that close to Allura and not be able to do anything with her.”
“Yeah, but it’s a torture he can withstand.” Argued Ryder. “I mean, if he survived all that Zarkon did to him, what’s a little denial where Allura is concerned?”
“Denying them is a sweet torture, but the fact remains it’s still a torture.” Stated Vorlac. Ryder gave him a disbelieving look. “You may not believe this, but it’s difficult for we Drules to hold back from expressing our love. It’s not just about the sex…it’s about everything, even the small comforts from touching and holding our partner. You probably think I’m making a big fuss over nothing, but Ryder…if ever the day comes that you are so fortunate as to find a real love, you will know what I allude to.”
“Yeah, right. Pardon me if I don’t rush forward for a love that will make me some codependent, overly expressive fool!” Ryder retorted. “I’m happy the way i am. A love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy. And I don’t see that changing any time soon!”
“More’s the pity for you.” Vorlac said. He had a weird look in his silver eyes, something that both pleased the gray skinned Drule, and hurt him at the same time. Ryder wondered if Vorlac was thinking about his dead wife, and the Drule fervantly hoped his friend was concentrating on the pleasant memories. Judging by the way Vorlac lacked that haunted look, he surely wasn’t thinking about the way his wife had been killed.
“I can do without the pity.” Ryder said, but Vorlac didn’t seem to hear him. Ryder shrugged, and glanced towards the fire pit in time to see Lotor take hold of Allura’s hand. Her body went stiff with displeasure, but she reluctantly moved when Lotor began leading her towards the mansion. Her face looked upset, but Ryder was too far away to know if she had tears in her eyes. He could tell Vorlac’s words were true. This night would be a troubling experience for both Allura and Lotor. It made Ryder relieved he didn’t have any such problem of his own! But then, Ryder knew he had enough to worry about, without some woman turning his head inside out. He told himself, he’d keep it that way, never suspecting that his own world was about to get an upheaval come the new day.