The window’s curtains had been tied back, allowing the sun’s rays to flood the room, bringing it’s light and warmth to her. Allura barely felt the sun’s warmth, a chill having settled bone deep within her, making her cold and miserable, shivering as she gazed out the window. The room’s view was of the forest that separated the castle from the nearest town, the canopy of the trees extending for miles that seemed endless.
It was summer time, and thus the trees were at the height of their fertile brilliance, an emerald sea that guarded the secret life that existed within the forest. Allura couldn’t help but think that if the Keraclon came and had their way, the trees would wither, their leaves turning a mottled gray, signaling the death of the planet. It wouldn’t just be her people who suffered, the whole world would be in peril, the animals hunted, the very heart of nature in peril as the oceans dried up, and the land turned barren.
She had seen the reports on worlds that the Keraclon had left their mark on, the alliance sending garrison soldiers to investigate planets that had long since been abandoned by the Keraclon. No bit of life had been left, the earth salted and scorched, rendering it unusable to all. There would be no miraculous recoveries, no rebirths of those worlds, the Keraclon like lethal parasites that had leeched all the good out of the heart of the planet.
Allura couldn’t bear to think her own world might suffer the same fate, that she might die or become homeless from the Keraclon’s attack. It might be worse to survive the onslaught, Allura having to live with the knowledge that she could have saved her people and planet, all at the cost of her own future happiness. She heaved a sigh, just one of a million, the expelled breath doing nothing to make her feel better.
Nor could she concentrate on anything but the choice she had to make, the book she had brought with her, a bit of recreational reading, sitting unopened on her lap. She normally favored romances, Allura having day dream of a love worth envying. A love that was begginning to look like would be denied to her, Lotor’s smug face appearing in her thoughts. His smirk made her shiver, Allura biting back a growl, once again damning him in her mind.
It had been twenty-four hours since that moment in her gardens, and Allura was aware of the time in a way that was almost unnatural. Each second of the clock ticking, bringing the Keraclon one step closer to discovering Lotor’s current whereabouts. She couldn’t delay indefinitely, time was simply against her, much in the manner that fate had seemed to turn away from her.
Allura was mourning the loss of her future, seeing the hopes and dreams she had had for herself being dashed against the rocks. Gone, and all because of Lotor’s obsession, an obsession that made him selfish and ruthless when it came to getting the woman that he wanted. Allura hadn’t always expected to be able to marry for love, her position as princess and heir to her father’s legacy such that she could not afford that hope. But she had deluded herself into believing she would marry someone who would not only be beneficial to her people and world, but someone kind and caring, someone she’d be able to grow to love.
It wasn’t lost on her that Lotor had said similar to her, the prince harboring some twisted delusion that she’d eventually get over the marriage he had forced her into. She was just as certain as she would not, Allura forever hating Lotor for what he had engineered. She knew something he apparently did not, that one could not force another to love them, no matter what they tried to do to gain that love.
Love was simply not an emotion that could be forced, though it could be feigned, perhaps as easily as one could confuse it with lust. Allura was positive Lotor did not love her, that he merely desired her more than he had ever desired a woman before, which left him confused with his feelings. He clearly wasn’t used to being told no, into not getting what he wanted, and up to a point Allura had managed to do just that to him.
But the longer the time stretched on, the more it looked like her success at denying him was about to be put at an end. And that left her angry, Allura fighting the urge to fling her book at the window. It wouldn’t have solved anything, save to give her a twisted satisfaction to hear the glass shatter.
She uncurled her legs from beneath her, Allura setting the book aside, and rising from her seat. She strode over to stand before the window, arms hugging around her for the warmth she could not attain. She didn’t know how long she stood there, but after a while a second reflection joined her own, Lotor having entered the room. Allura held in her sighs, not surprised he had sought her out.
Especially when she had left the relative safety of her own bedroom, Allura not wanting to spend another minute cooped up inside those walls. Allura had known she was taking a risk in entering such a common area, but the princess had refused to become a prisoner in her own home. Even if it meant enduring another unpleasant conversation with Lotor.
Allura continued to stare out the window, watching as Lotor limped forward with his crutch. He had to know she was aware of him, and yet he didn’t speak, leaving it up to Allura to break the silence. She did so with a sigh, arms still crossed over her chest. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” She inquired, a nod of her head at the forest beyond the window. “The forest I mean.”
He drew up besides her, the side of his body brushing hers as he followed her gaze. “Yes.” He agreed, tone softer than she was used to. “It is.”
“It’s painful to think all this could be destroyed…” Allura continued, keeping her melancholy expression in place. “That the very life of the planet is in danger…” Lotor said nothing to that, Allura risking a side long glance at him. “It would be criminal to allow that to happen. Lotor…”
“Allura don’t….” He turned to her then, his good arm raising so he could press a finger against her lips. She endured that touch, searching his face for some kind of understanding. “Don’t waste your breath. You won’t change my mind. Not from this.”
“How can you say that?!” Allura demanded, taking a step back from him. “How can you look at this landscape and not want to save it?!” She gestured with her arn at the forest, her emotions swirling, a desperate kind of anger rising to the forefront. “What must I do? What must I show you of Arus, to convince you to save it?!”
“You know what you must do.” Lotor replied. “You’ve always known…”
“Why?! Why must it be THAT!?”
“Because I love you.” He answered bluntly. and she shook her head. “Yes, I do.”
“You don’t even know what the word means!” She exclaimed. “Lotor, have you ever loved anything or anyone in your entire life?!” She took his silence to mean yes, Allura continuing. “See, you don’t know…you can’t know….”
“Just because I’ve never been in love before…” interrupted Lotor with a frown. “Doesn’t mean I can’t recognize what I feel now!”
“It’s not love!” An adamant Allura insisted. “It’s only obsession and a sick lust. And do you know how I know? Because if you loved me, you wouldn’t take away my choice. You wouldn’t try to force me to be with you!”
She had shouted the last, Lotor staring at her, his eyes turning unreadable. “There are many kinds of love.” Lotor said at last. “Some are more powerful than others. I’m not the type of man to sit back and pine away for someone. Maybe your captain would, but not me. I go to extremes to take what I want, and that doesn’t lessen my love in anyone’s eyes but your own!”
She had a feeling this was a conversation that would go nowhere, and yet Allura couldn’t seem to drop it. “Your idea of love HURTS me.” Another shake of her head, Allura’s voice lowered but no less heated. “Love isn’t supposed to cause pain, not to the one you love! But everything you do, seems designed to do just that!”
“I think you don’t understand love anymore than you claim I don’t.” Lotor muttered in retort.
“At least I can say I’ve felt love!” She snapped back. “I feel it everyday, for my friends, my family. I give it and receive love in return. Who could ever love you?!” Allura saw Lotor’s jaw clench, her words had struck a blow to his heart. “Lotor…” She stepped back towards him, Allura daring to risk touching his arm. “Don’t consign us to both be miserable….end this…..tell me what you know, so we can fight back our enemy!”
“If I had to choose between two miseries, I would choose to spend an eternity of torment with you by my side, rather than the anguish of doing without you in my life!” Came Lotor’s stubborn answer.
Allura dropped her hand from his arm, unnerved by the look in his eyes. He had been heated yes, but he had spoken with conviction, as though he truly believed in what he was saying. “It seems we are at an impasse…” She said out loud. “Neither one of us is truly willing to budge…”
“But one of us will have to.” Lotor pointed out. “And it won’t be me!”
Allura feared he was right, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of agreeing with him. It left her quiet, just staring at him, the waves of hopelessness coming over her. She resumed hugging herself, hands rubbing her arms in an attempt to ward off the chill Lotor had caused. He didn’t seem bothered by her silence, content to just gaze back at her. It was how Lance found them, the brown haired pilot bursting into the room.
“Princess I….” He trailed off, looking at how close they stood to one another, their gazes heated and locked on one another. “Whoah, didn’t mean to interrupt
anything…” Lance added, when Lotor turned and openly growled at him.
“You’re not.” Allura assured him, moving to step away from the window. Lotor grabbed her by the arm, his touch drawing her to a stop. “Lotor…”
“I know you don’t believe in what I feel…but at least consider the possibility of being more open minded towards me.”
“I make no promises.” Allura retorted, extracting her arm from his grip. She hurried towards Lance, the pilot gesturing for her to follow him out of the room. It was only once they were in the hall, that she drew a relieved breath, Allura smiling at Lance. “Thanks Lance…I needed the break from him.” Lance didn’t smile back at her, nor did he make any jokes. In fact his expression was worried, the pilot barely able to meet her eyes. “What is it?” She asked, fear gripping her insides suddenly.
“It’s Keith. Lance said, and she instantly paled. “He’s…”
“He’s what?” She prodded him, when he fell silent.
“Damn it, he’s encountered the Keraclon!”
Allura instantly paled at Lance’s words, a hand coming up to cover her open mouth. “What?! How?! When?”
“Just a few minutes ago!” Lance explained, and grabbed hold of her hand. He pulled her into a run, and soon enough Allura realized he was leading her to the castle command center. “He was in the middle of one of his reports, when the a whole armada of ships appeared on the horizon!”
“Oh no!” She cried out, running even faster. “Did they see him?!”
“He was kinda hard to miss…” Lance said, the doors to the castle command center within view. Already the guards were pulling them open for the pair, Allura and Lance running into the room. Coran did not turn to greet them, standing with his hands clasped behind his back as he gravely watched the scene on the view screen. Hunk and Pidge were also present, and they glanced at her arrival, but said nothing. There was simply no words, the room filled with the sounds of lasers being fired, and explosions occurring in mid air.
Through out it all, they could hear Keith moaning, at time babbling in a fear stricken panic. Apparently out of respect for the captain, Coran had cut the view of the inside of black lion’s cockpit, to spare Keith the embarrassment of being seen so frightened. But his voice was enough to convey that fear, Allura wanting to clamp her hands over her ears, to block it out.
“How many are there?!” She demanded, staring at the ship filled screen.
“The armada is composed of seventeen smaller fleets.” Answered Coran. “Each capable of holding thousands upon thousands of fighter craft…”
“Thousands?!” Allura gasped, and her pity and fear for Keith increased. She had been up against perhaps a handful of Keraclon, how much worse must it be to face thousands of them?! If even only half of them were projecting the fear, it might be enough to drive one man insane, and it left her amazed that Keith hadn’t already crashed black lion into the asteroid belt he was currently weaving his lion in and out of.
“Keith!” Hunk was shouting, trying to get through to the captain. “Damn it, calm down and listen to me! You have to get out of there. Engage hyper drive at once!” Keith never answered him, the captain continuing his screams, the pilot haunted by hallucinations. Even with the fear driving him, he continued to fight and fly, though his attacks weren’t coming close to hitting the Keraclon’s ships. Keith was simply too focused on shooting down those fear driven hallucinations, and Allura feared it wouldn’t be long before he came to a messy end.
“Keith!” Allura screamed when a photon beam hit him, black lion veering off it’s erratic path to slam into an incoming asteroid. For one long moment, black lion just lay there, the smaller fighter craft of the Keraclon circling the moving asteroid. They fired lasers at black lion, mercilessly in their attacks. “GET UP! GET UP!” She urged him, taking a step towards the view screen as if she could somehow join him on the battle field.
But it was his private battle to fight, Allura and her lion too far away to help him. The Keraclon ships continued to blast black lion, the rocky surface exploding into dust around him. When Keith moaned, it was then that Allura realized the crash had silenced his voice, rendering him unconscious. With his return to wakefulness, his screams and fears resumed, black lion moving jerkily to rise up off the asteroid.
“Come on Keith!” Lance was shouting encouragement. “You gotta get away. You can do it. Just engage the hyperdrive…”
“Lance…?” Keith’s voice startled them all, a rare moment of clarity within all the fear he was experiencing.
“I’m here man! Just type in the coordinates, and make the jump!” urged Lance.
“I don’t know if I can…they’re here…they’re all around me…” Keith moaned, and then screamed. “Oh Gods, I want to die!”
Allura had a morbid fascination that was urging her to find out just what exactly Keith was seeing. He had always been her brave captain, seeming unflappable, laughing in the face of terrors that would turn others away. That even he could be so scared of something made her frightened. For him and for them, Allura realizing all their hopes were indeed lost.
“Keith….come home to us…” She begged him, clasping her hands together. “It doesn’t matter anymore. You don’t have to keep searching, or fighting. Just come back to Arus.”
“Allura, do you mean it?” Hunk was asking, and she nodded.
“I won’t have him put himself in any more risk…I’ll….I’ll marry Lotor….” She nearly choked on that last one, watching as black lion crashed into a smaller craft, the explosion creating a dark cloud around both ships. “KEITH!”
Suddenly Lance was shouting, all but snarling. “Damn it Captain, this is an order! Engage hyperdrive at once! I don’t give a damn what war you think you’re fighting, or what you think you’re seeing, it’s not real!”
“DO IT KEITH!” commanded Lance, and Hunk and Pidge raised their voices in agreement. The three pilots began talking about their experiences at Garrison, attempting to somehow distract Keith from whatever nightmare he was seeing. Their voices formed a soft but insistent cadence, admiration apparent when they talked about some of the things Keith had accomplished.
“I remember when we ended up on Doom.” Hunk mused. “Beaten, branded as slaves, and tossed in a dungeon to be forgotten. A lesser man would have given up when faced with those things. Heavens know I almost did. I would have, we all would have, if not for you pushing us.”
“You got us through that dark moment.” Added Pidge. “You kept us going, and you got us off that planet.”
“We owe a debt of thanks to you, one that might never be able to be repaid. But damn it, we’re gonna try! So you have to get up off your ass, and get out of there!” finished Lance, his emotions strong in his voice.
Keith had seemed to quiet down to listen to them speak, and now they all held their breaths, waiting to see what would happen next. The Keraclon continued to fire on him, determined to bring down black lion. Minutes would pass, the only sound Keiths’ exaggerated breathing. And then, the tell tale glow around the lion, hyper drive being engaged.
A cheer went up through the room, Allura turning to Lance, and hugging him hard. She wanted to cry tears of joy, so happy was she that Keith had managed to think through the fear long enough to make his escape. The cheering lasted for a brief moment, the view screens going black. They could hear and see nothing, and that worried them all.
“Coran! What does this mean?” Allura demanded, hoping it was just Keith’s embarrassment that caused him to cut off communication with them.
“One moment princess.” Coran said, fingers flying over the console’s control panel. His face gave way to a frown, Coran not meeting any of their eyes.
“What is it?” Lance wanted to know. “What is it you’re not telling us?”
“Coran…” Allura prodded, and he reluctantly looked up.
“I’ve lost track of the captain.” Coran said, to gasps all around. “He didn’t manage to enter a full destination into the flight plan…”
“You mean…” Allura was unable to finish, the thought too horrific.
“He entered hyperdrive unprepared!” Pidge moaned. “Oooh that’s bad. He could end up anywhere, maybe even die!”
“Don’t say that!” exclaimed Allura. “Keith wouldn’t die…he CAN’T die!”
“Shit!” Lance swore, pounding a fist against the wall. “Coran, can you get a lock on where he might have ended up?”
“I…I don’t know…” admitted Coran. “Why?”
“Because I’m going to go look for him!” announced Lance, then turned to Allura. “Sorry princess. I know you probably need all the moral support you can get at this time, but I can’t abandon Keith. Or leave black lion out there for the Keraclon or the Drule to get their hands on!”
“I understand.” Allura assured him. “Just…just find and bring him home. Bring them both home!”
“I will.” Promised Lance, as Coran raised the chute that would lead to red lion’s lair. Allura gave Lance’s hand a squeeze, and then he was off, jumping down the chute without so much as a word.
“There he goes…” murmured Hunk, Allura nodding numbly.
“Princess…” Pidge was besides her now, eyes worried behind his glasses. “You’re not serious about marrying Lotor…are you?”
“I have no choice.” Came her whispered reply, her voice full of sadness. She was already turning away, not wanting to catch the looks of pity in her friend’s eyes. She heard Coran murmur something about getting all the paperwork ready for her signature, but she barely reacted. She was too consumed with the knowledge that she had to seek out Lotor, and give him the terms of her surrender.