I return to the party, my heart bursting with inexplicable joy. The change that has come over me is surely noticeable, my eyes sparkling with warmth and happiness. A happiness I had not felt all evening. Not until Lotor had come to me, and explained the reason for his distance. I have to struggle not to let my grin over take me, thinking back on the warmth he had showed me. His desire to be reunited with a childhood friend, away from the gossips and the expectations of the people around us. It is an explanation that make sense to me, and I nearly laugh to think how I overreacted earlier.
I am dazzling in the moment, the men of the ball hurrying towards me. Their eyes are appreciative, they enjoy seeing how happy I am. I do not care that they steal me away from Prince Lotor. I know these men can have as many dances as they want, and it will change nothing. I will still see Lotor later, in a private setting of my own choosing. And there we will talk, laugh, and get reacquainted. I shall impress upon him the woman I’ve become, the schooled princess who now knows of responsibility and the troubles of Arus and the worlds it neighbors.
I am half expecting to dazzle Lotor with my transformation. I want him to like me. Not just as a friend, but as a woman worthy of his attentions. I want him to appreciate all I have to offer. And most important of all, I want him to leave with the memory of me seared into his mind so that he never forgets me. Our separation this time will be different. He will have no reason to ignore me, to spend the long months apart without so much as a word exchanged between us.
I continue to wear smiles, my partners alternating for every song. I don’t even catch all of their names, so many are there who want to dance with the princess of Arus. Some might even desire me for myself, and not the position and wealth I hold. But I do not bother to try and learn about these men, do not care to differentiate from the social climbers and the earnest suits. My interest is only for Lotor, my anticipation mounting for tonight.
The party cannot end fast enough for me. I am almost impatient to put an end to things. But the dances continue, men clamoring for my attention even when it is time for me to cut the cake. Present opening gives me a break from the constant press of men. I smile many smiles, opening present after present. Thanking each person for their thoughtfulness. The gifts don’t all suit my taste, but all are expensive. I get many jewels, and even a few new gowns. But it is a diamond and sapphire necklace that holds my interest. And all because it is a gift from Lotor.
He actually meets my eyes when I lift the necklace from the velvet case. We exchange nods. I am sure my face is glowing with happiness. It is not proper to show any one gift favor over the others. And yet I want to put on the necklace Lotor has bought for me. I resist the impulse, returning it to it’s velvet case, moving on to open the next gift. For a time the mountain of gifts seem endless, but eventually an end is reach. I know in the coming days I will be busy writing thank you notes, but for now it is time to return to the festivities.
A few more dances are exchanged, and then the party gravitates towards the balconies and windows. From this vantage point, we can see the fireworks that have been unleashed into the sky. A dazzling array of colors, they burst and sparkle, lighting up the night sky. It is an awe inspiring sight, but once again I am searching for Lotor. I find his gaze on me, and we share a secret smile unseen by those who watch the fireworks display.
The fireworks signal the end of the party. It is well past midnight, close to one in the morning as we leave the ball room. Many of my guests will be spending the night inside the castle, but there are a few who have chosen to ride a carriage to a nearby city. Lotor is not one of them. I know he and his entourage of Drules have lodgings on the third floor, in a wing opposite my fourth floor apartment.
The maids are waiting for me when I return to my chambers. They help me out of my gown, help brush my hair and settle me into bed. I shrug off the need for a shower, saying I will take one first thing in the morning. Right now I just want them gone. As if sensing my mood, my urgent need, they linger. They want to tend to my needs, but more than that they want to talk about the party. I am impatient, and it affects my mood. I am curt enough to rudely dismiss them from the room. I can tell they are offended, but there is no time to make amends. Not if I don’t want to be late to the meeting I set with Prince Lotor.
I wait perhaps five minutes, then leap out of bed. I hurriedly change out of my nightgown, pulling on a simple dress. It is predominately white, with a few salamander pink accents to it. It is plain compared to the gown I wore for my birthday celebration, but I am certain Prince Lotor will not care. He has seen what I look like all dressed up. Now it is time to dazzle him with my personality and intelligence.
My feet wear soft sole slippers, perfect for sneaking about. They make no noise on the floor, my footsteps muffled by the silk. It is a bit more difficult to evade the castle guards, but in the last four years, I have become an expert at avoiding them. I know the time schedules they keep, know when they change positions. I am able to avoid detection but it is not without cost. My heart is racing, pounding as though it would burst through my chest. I am nervous, more afraid of being caught and sent back to my room than anything that could happen with Lotor.
I tip toe through the palace gardens. It’s nearly triple the size of what it had been when last Lotor visited Arus. There are rows and rows of trimmed shrubbery and bushes of flowers. They form pleasing shapes, and the flowers were planted with mind to the colors they would show in full bloom. Even now at night, there are a few blooming. The gardens have been planted so that at any time, night or day, there will be color seen.
It is beautiful, and fragrant. The flowers’ perfumes mask many smells, the breeze carrying the scents to me. I see the gazebo in the center of the garden, but I don’t see Lotor. I nearly panic, wondering if he has changed his mind. If he has decided this is foolishness, if I am foolish. My walk slows, my heart disappointed. My mind is contemplating reasons why he is not here, including the fear that he was caught attempting to leave the castle. It’s been years, he might no longer remember how to evade the guards.
I am crushed, I am despondent. Not knowing for sure what has happened. Only knowing I’ve missed my chance. He will be gone in the morning. I draw near to the gazebo, seeing that white birch wood building is empty. I want to cry. And then, I hear it. His voice, an amused whisper of my name. I have to fight to not call out his name in loud exclamation, struggling to keep the insane grin off my face.
He is standing by a grouping of white chrysanthemums, his fingers carefully stroking the petals of one. He smiles at me, and I smile back. It is dark out here, only the light inside the gazebo allows me to see him so clearly. I know even without the proper lighting, Lotor is having no such difficulty. Not with his Drule eyes, that are enhanced for both light and dark situations.
He has changed out of his military uniform into something infinitely more comfortable looking. It is a simple tunic over loose pants, but he looks wonderful in them. I give him a once over, and at his smile realize he’s noticed what I’ve done. I start to blush, and fumble for something to say, something that won’t seem stupid or silly.
“I didn’t see you there at first.”
“Did you think I hadn’t shown?” His tone is teasing, Lotor still stroking the flowers. I hesitate long enough for his smile to widen. “I would never miss this chance with you…”
His words warm my cheeks farther. Do I dare hope his words mean more to it than just two childhood friends reconnecting? Or am I being foolish with that kind of hope? “I’m glad.” I say out loud, walking towards him. He doesn’t move away from the flowers, just watches my approach. “Were you waiting long for me?”
“Not too long.” He assures me. Again that teasing smile. “Or maybe I’ve been waiting a lot longer than tonight for this moment.”
I want to believe in what he says. Is that naive of me? To believe that Lotor might have been thinking even half as much about me as I have about him? Whatever the case, truth or lie, I am flattered all the same. I smile even more, coming to stop just a foot away from him. “It feels likes a lifetime since we last met.”
“It’s only been a few hours since that moment on the balcony.”
“That is not what I meant.” I say. “That moment was nice, but it doesn’t make up for the years of separation we endured.”
“That it doesn’t.” He agrees, and breaks off one of the flowers from it’s stem. He then approaches me with it, reaching out to gently wind my hair around the broken stem. The flower is secured in my hair, and I am left surprised. Blinking owlishly up at Lotor, who looks far too pleased with his actions.
“You didn’t write…” I point out. I am almost chiding, pouting a little. I had written him over a dozen letters, and had not once gotten a reply back. It bothered me. A part of me was even wondering why he was so eager to reconnect when he hadn’t bothered to write me even one time. Perhaps I should have let my suspicions fester, but I was easily dazzled by his smooth talking ways.
“Neither did you.” He answers quick enough. I frown.
“I wrote you plenty of letters!”
“I never got even one.” His answer upsets me, and I step away from him. I actually turn my back to Lotor, wondering if it was possible for so many of my letters to have gotten lost.
“Really?” I whisper, then turn to look at him. “Truly? Honestly?” My eyes search his. His eyes are exotic, alien gold that seem sincere enough. Certainly they are too different from the humans I am used to. If he lies to me, I would not be able to tell. I am simply too inexperienced with reading an alien face.
“Truly.” Lotor swears. “If I had known you were trying to get in contact with me…”
“You would have what?” I am curious as to his answer, but can’t help but turn teasing. “Surely you wouldn’t have relished them. Not when you disliked my childish antics.”
“Childish antics would have been a welcome relief to the rigors and hardships of the Drule Military Academy.” His expression darkens, and I feel a chill.
“Do I even want to know how bad it got for you?” I ask.
“You do not.” He answers. “Besides, I would not darken our reunion with such talk. Not when they are so much more pleasant topics to be had.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“Like Arus for one.” Lotor walks towards me, offering his arm. I hesitate, then take it. I allow him to lead me up the gazebo stairs, and towards one of the benches inside. But I don’t sit. I am too focused on him, on the warmth of his arm.
“It’s been three years since I visited. Surely much has changed!” He exclaims.
“Not as much as you would think.” I say. “Arus and it’s kingdoms are practically stagnant.” I whisper the next, a familiar complaint coming to me. “Boring.”
“Ah so it is excitement you crave….”
I nod. “Yes. I almost think anywhere would be more exciting than this world.” I look at him, eager for knowledge. For stories of his adventures. “I understand you’ve been to many worlds during your breaks from the academy. What is it like? What adventures have you had?”
“It’s not been all fun and games.” Lotor tells me. “Many of those visits were under my father’s orders. They were business vacations, meant to further the Drules’ relations with those worlds. I’m afraid I spent far too much time cooped up inside the local embassies, doting on politicians and the like.” He laughs at my pout. “You look as though you suffered with me.”
“I know a little about doting on politicians.” I explain. “My parents are allowing me to sit in on meetings more and more often. They tend to be as tiresome as they can be boring.” I sigh. “I am learning what it takes to run a kingdom, and it seems a lot of it is enduring windbags who have a bloated sense of self importance.”
Lotor laughs at that. “You are honest at least. Though I’d mind my opinions around those self important windbags if I was you.”
I gasp, pretending to be outraged. ” I would never be so rude and uncouth as to reveal my true opinions to them! I do have some manners you know!”
“Is it those same manners that allowed you to endure dancing with so many different men at tonight’s party?” Lotor asks. I think I blush at that, actually looking away from him.
“Was it really that many?” I ask.
“I think you proved to be the most popular princess I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.” His words only make me blush more, and I try to excuse the interest those men showed in me.
“They are just interested in my wealth and title.” I say. “I am a princess after all. One day to be ruler of Arus. They are well aware of this…many would give up much for a chance to marry me and become the King of this planet.”
“You understate your appeal.” Lotor argues. “You are the next in line to the throne of Arus it’s true. But you are also beautiful.” I blush again, shaking my head no even though I have heard people gossip about my beauty. “Very beautiful.” Lotor stresses. “Some men will not see beyond that. They are fools if they don’t try to get to know you.”
I don’t know what to say to that. I am still unable to meet his gaze. This is more than I anticipated, more than I hoped for. That Lotor would be so blatant in his admiration, that he would not only tell me I am beautiful but insist on it as truth? That joyful feeling strums harder in my chest. “I think I need to sit down.” I say, and ungracefully plop down on the bench.
He joins me, sitting so close the sides of our body touches each other. “Is everything all right Allura?” He asks, and I nod.
“I’m just…” I hesitate to admit how happy he’s made me. And especially over such a foolish, vain thing.
“You must be tired.” He says, his voice dripping with understanding. “It was a busy night. Surely the celebration and all that dancing has taken it’s toll on you. You…you should return to your bed.”
Immediately I am alarmed, turning to look at him. “NO!” My voice comes out nearly too loud. It is a struggle to lower it to a more calming whisper. “No.” I repeat, shaking my head firmly. “I am not tired.” It is the truth. I am too wound up, with hope, with joy, and with excitement. There is no way I would be able to sleep. No way I could settle down any time soon. Nor do I want to make the attempt. Not if it means parting from him.
“Are you sure?” Lotor asks.
I nod. “I am sure.”
He smiles at me. “I am relieved. I didn’t want to think what I would do if I left without getting a chance to talk more with you.”
“I could not bear it.” I answer truthfully. I can barely stand the thought that come tomorrow Lotor will be gone. That months, maybe even a whole year will have pass before he gets the chance to return to Arus. The sadness I feel at that thought is almost enough to make me want to sob. I do not want to part from him. I should be frightened by how strong these emotions are that Lotor generates within me.
“You could not?” He asks, and I wonder why he sounds so surprised. “But we spent three years apart….”
“It was three years too long!” I exclaim. “And to add another year to it? No…no! I can’t stand it!” I felt like a child, throwing a tantrum over something that displeased me. But I was adamant about how much it bothered me to think that this night would be all that we would have for another year. It might seem silly to you, but I was close to tears again, so despondent over Lotor’s leaving.
My reaction was too extreme for him not to notice. His expression softened, his teasing smile fading. I should have blushed, should have looked away. But I didn’t. I saw him raise his hand towards me, and I did not gasp. Instead I held myself still, or as still as I could manage considering I had started to tremble with excitement. If I hadn’t already been sitting, I would have fallen the minute his hand cupped my cheek.
“Allura….” I close my eyes at his whispering of my name. “I wish I could change things…” He sounded frustrated. I do not believe that was purely my imagination. He truly sounded bothered by the separation that would be forced upon us.
“Can’t you?” I asked. I didn’t have to open my eyes to know he shook his head no. I merely sensed the movement. “Talk to your father….reason with him…”
“You don’t know my father…” And from what I had heard about King Zarkon, I did not want to know him. “He will want to know of what benefit my staying on Arus could give him….especially when he wants…needs me to facilitate relations with other worlds. Arus and Doom are allies, we are at peace. He sees my purpose here at an end….”
“It’s not fair…” I whisper.
“Life seldom is.” He answers back. I part my lips to say something more, but the words are lost between us. And all because he is kissing me. I feel both confusion, and excitement. For a second I do nothing but sit there with my lips parted. Savoring the feel of his lips on mine. They are softer than I expected, but hold a firmness that is pleasant. I make a sound, somewhere between surprise and a moan. It is that sound that gets him to pull back.
My eyes immediately snap open. I lick my lips and stare at him. It is hard to read an alien, but if I didn’t know better, I’d swear Lotor was flustered. He starts to say something, but he is stuttering. Stammering out the words. “I…I…forgive me. I don’t…I shouldn’t have done that. It’s not…”
It’s not anything I want to hear. I reached towards him, grabbing him by his tunic’s material. He is still stammering out some kind of apology, some excuse for his actions when I pull myself against him. This time I am the one to kiss him, my lips hot and needy on his. I have no real experience with kisses. The only kinds I have ever been given are chaste kisses on the cheek. But I’ve read books, and seen movies. I’ve even caught a maid with one of the castle guards. I mimic the things I have seen, and try to put all my feelings and desire into the expression of my lips.
I am a clumsy, inexpert kisser. But what I don’t know, I make up for in enthusiasm. I think I am kissing away Lotor’s protests, and for a second his lips seem to respond to mine. I am amazed at the feel of our mouths moving together, clinging and molding into a perfect fit. And then he is hauling me away, looking tortured as he stands.
“Lotor?” I feel out of breath. My chest is actually heaving. I want more, want more kisses, want more of him. “Why did you pull away?” I sound needy, almost whining.
“This is wrong.” He sounds unsteady as he paces away from the bench. “I can’t do this to you. WE can’t do this.”
“Why is it wrong?” I am truly confused. “We like each other…”
“Think of your reputation Allura!” I don’t know how to feel. He didn’t deny of acknowledge the part about us liking each other. “The scandal it would cause if we were to be discovered!”
“Then we won’t be!” I say with conviction. I rise from my seat, and move to follow. He actually avoids me, as though this giant of a man is frightened of this petite young thing. “Lotor, I LIKE you. I like kissing you.” My voice turns small, uncertain. “Don’t you like kissing me too?”
“That’s not the point!”
I am crushed. I had been too caught up in the kisses to realize my inexpertness was a turn off to him. I let out a sound, it might have been a sob. Instantly he is before me, pulling me into his arms. He makes soothing sounds, trying to keep me from crying. I just want reassurance, want to know my kisses weren’t that bad. “You hated it.” I sadly say. “You hated being kissed by me.”
“Allura, no!” He protests quick enough. “Never that!”
“Then why?” I demand. “Why do you run away?”
“I…damn it all.” He growls, and hauls me up on tip toe. For an instant I feel real fear. He is so much bigger than me, and that show of force calls to attention his strength. That sound he made held all the danger of some wild animal. And the dark look in his eyes, was some unrecognizable emotion to me. But I knew enough to be frightened. And then he kisses me. It is no longer soft, but hard, possessive. It goes beyond a pressing of the lips, he is trying to force my mouth open. I don’t know what to do, but eventually I yield.
I am unprepared for the feel of his tongue. It does a quick, determined thrust past my lips. A probing search of my own tongue. I startle at the feel of his tongue touching mine, but there is an interest there. A sensuous glide of his tongue moving over mine. I am not yet bold enough to mimic his tongue movements, but fear is starting to melt away to intrigue.
How long this kiss lasts I cannot say. But we are both breathing heavily by the time he allows us to part. I stare at him dazed, and find my arms have wound around him. My body is pressed against his, my breasts resting on his chest. I feel tingly all over, and warm. I am surely blushing, and feel the fever spike in me when my gaze lowers to his lips. He growls again, and then Lotor is speaking.
“Just remember…you asked for this.”
I don’t know what he means exactly. More kisses? Those I would gladly receive, even as he looks practically infuriated as he brings his mouth down on top of mine. I make a low keening sound, and my legs give out. He is there to catch me, scooping me up and carrying me to the bench. I am in half swoon, hardly believing this is reality and willing to do just about anything to keep this dream, this moment alive.