Freedom 23

 

Allura stirred, the sweet sound of chirping in her ears. She identified it as birds singing, a sweet melody that had her smiling. She listened to the sounds of them, half lulled back to sleep as she lay relaxed in the bed. It was more than just the birds calming her. Allura felt the sun on her face, warm and inviting. It was a welcome change after being trapped in the cold darkness of Planet Doom.

Thinking of Doom made her sigh, half memories trying to float to the surface, trying to force her awake. Allura wouldn’t let them, letting out a sleepy murmur as she snuggled closer to her pillow. Only, it wasn’t the softness of feathers she felt beneath her cheek, but the firmness of hard muscle.

Alarmed, her eyes snapped open, offering her the sight of azure skin. A broad chest was before her, her arm across his waist, hand resting on one pectoral muscle. Slowly, without making a sound, she lifted her head, glancing upwards. Golden cat’s eyes looked back at her, Lotor awake and smiling at her. His eyes were tender, and she got the impression that he had been watching her for a while.

“Morning.” He said, voice sounding husky as he shook off the remains of sleep.

Allura blinked, slow to respond. “Morning.” She said back at last, moving to sit up. That was when she became aware of his arms around her, strong muscles crushing her gently to him. “Are you going to let me up?” She asked, shooting a pointed glance at the hands resting on her waist.

“Eventually.” Lotor smiled, his arms seeming to tighten around her. She was left frowning, Lotor chuckling at the expression on her face.

“Lotor!” Allura exclaimed, annoyed. She began to push against him, hands on his skin, wondering at what point had he removed his shirt. “Let me up!”

“Don’t want to.” Lotor said, and with only a twinkle of his golden eyes to warn her, he moved, sudden and fast. Allura let out a gasp, finding him rolling them over so that she ended up on her back, pinned beneath him. He settled on top of her, being careful to keep from distributing his full weight on her slender frame.

But even without it, she was aware of him, her senses full of him. His scent surrounded her, musky and pleasant, that unidentifiable spice tickling her nose. His hair was falling forward to brush against her, it tickled where it touched her skin. And his body, long and lean, with finely honed muscles that she was all to conscious of.

She tried to show she wasn’t affected by him, frowning up at Lotor. But she feared her eyes gave her away, they were too wide as she looked at him. Her hands were still pressing against his skin, Allura not kidding herself about holding him off of her. It was Lotor who controlled their movements, his eyes twinkling with mischief and mirth.

Allura sighed, resigning herself to his playful mood, Lotor’s hands touching her face. His fingers handled her carefully, as though she was delicate porcelain that might break under his touch. Cheeks and chin were brushed over with fingertips, Lotor seeming to want to memorize the feel of her. A thumb brushed her lips, fingers extended as he tried to press the corners of her mouth upwards.

“Just what are you doing?” Allura asked, forcing exasperation into her voice.

He smiled, bowing his head so that their foreheads touched. “I just want to remember this moment.”

“This moment?” Allura asked, feeling confused. “What is so special about this moment?”

“Everything…” Lotor said, then sighed, his eyes on her lips. “Or perhaps its nothing but….I can’t help wanting to remember the morning after you slept in my arms. Not because I forced you to, or because you were scarred but because you wanted to.”

“You read too much into it.” Allura said, embarrassed by his words. “It was just sleep.”

“It was a gesture…one step closer to us being true husband and wife.” Lotor said, steadily lowering himself with each word. She could feel his breath on her face, warm and heavy, and she knew, KNEW he was going to kiss her.

“Lotor…” Her voice came out whisper soft, lips brushing against his. “Husband and wife in name only.” Her reminder gave him pause, his lips still so close that speaking caused them to touch with every word uttered.

“That can change at any time.” Lotor said at last, his hands leaving her face to touch her shoulders. It was a brief touch, his hands transferring to her body, gliding down the side of it in a teasing caress. It made Allura shift, staring at him but conscious of his hands going ever lower.

His fingers caught the edge of her nightgown, slowly starting to lift the ruffles up. She made a grab for his wrists, Lotor going still at her touch. “Lotor…” She began, still continuing that intimate way of talking. “Don’t. It’ll…”

“It’ll what….?” Lotor asked, his eyes searching hers.

She blushed, words coming out reluctantly. “It will never go anywhere. It’ll just leave the both of us…” She hesitated, wanting and needing on the tip of her tongue. “Frustrated.” She said, settling on what seemed a safe word.

He smiled, a wry twisting of his lips. “Are you feeling frustrated Allura?” He still played with the ruffles of her night dress. “Do you yearn to do something about that feeling?”

“N…no…” She denied, turning her face to the side. That landed his mouth on her cheek, lips depositing a soft kiss on her skin.

“No?”

“No.” She said more firmly, trying to ignore his kisses. “The feelings will pass. They always do.”

“Do they now?” Lotor asked, his hands easily breaking hold of her grip on his wrists. “Or do you merely shove them aside, locking them deep inside you? Hiding them away from sight?” He shook his head, a soft chuckling sound escaping him. “That never works, they only come out more strongly”

“You speak as though you know what you are talking about.” Allura noted, resting her hands by her sides.

“I do.” Lotor said, letting go of her nightie to place his hands on her hips. “I spent weeks trying to deny what I felt for you. Such attempts only magnified the emotion, made me all too aware of the love and desire I feel for you.”

He was moving down her face, lips touching the side of her neck. Allura fought to keep from leaning into that satin touch, never more tempted than now to offer her throat to Lotor. “The feelings won’t go away…” He murmured into her flesh. “You can only seek to appease them for a time.”

“You’re just trying to trick me into having sex with you.” Allura sighed, finding his mouth was now hovering over her collarbone. She glanced at him, Lotor trying for an innocent expression. It failed, he was the devil himself, a blue skinned temptation she could not give into.

“I’ve given up on trying to trick you.” Lotor said in between licks of her skin. “I’m being honest now.”

“Honest?” She gave a short sound of laughter. “You’d say anything to get me to give into you.”

“Yes…and no.” Lotor said, pulling up to look her in the eyes. “I want to prove to you that this can be more than a marriage of convenience. That we can be happy…together.”

“And you think that happiness is found through sex?” She asked, Lotor sighing in response. “Sex without love is meaningless.” Allura added, watching Lotor stiffen.

“And you don’t love me. Is that what you’re going to say?” He was rolling off her, hands gone from her hips so abruptly that she found herself missing the feel of them.

“You know I don’t.” Allura whispered, seeing him grow all the more agitated. “This is not news, you’ve known from the start I did not love you….that I did not marry you with any feelings in my heart.”

He looked pained by her words, Lotor shifting on the bed, the mattress groaning with the removal of his weight. “It doesn’t get any easier to hear.” Lotor grumbled, turning his back to her.

“I…” She stopped herself from apologizing, willing herself to be stone in the face of his pain. “I don’t set out to do it on purpose, to get your hopes up. Because I….I could never love a man like you.”

“Why not?!” He demanded, whirling around, leveling a heated glare at her. “What’s wrong with me?”

“You’re everything I was told to avoid. You’re arrogant and cruel, you do bad things….you’re…you’re not a very nice person!” Allura said, trying not to fidget as he glared at her.

“You barely know me.” Scoffed Lotor, beginning to pace back and forth before the foot of the bed. Occasionally he gestured angrily. “You only know me from my reputation as conqueror. I thought…damn it, I thought you were beginning to see another side to me Allura! Was I wrong to think that?!”

She paused, thinking on his words. Indeed he had been surprising her with his behavior, especially these last few days. He had helped her to negotiate a treaty that was favorable to her people, respected her wishes when she told him no, even held back when she was prepared to give herself to him to save Nanny’s life. And yet, she still felt herself being hung up by his status as a villain, knowing he had terrorized a countless number of people, the Denubian Galaxy quaking in fear at the mere mention of his name. How could she ever come to love a man like that?

“No…” She said at last. “You were not wrong. I am getting to see how…nice you can be when you put your mind to it. I look at you, and I think I can see the little boy your mother tried to raise to do right. But….a few days of trying to do good do not make up for a lifetime of misdeeds.”

“So that’s it then.” Lotor paused, staring at her. “You’ve deemed me unworthy, written me off before I ever had a chance to win you?”

“I….I didn’t say that!” Allura said. “I just….” She sighed, drawing her knees up to her chest, resting her cheek against them. “I wish you would try to put yourself in my place. Try and understand how I feel about all this.”

“I’m trying Allura. But honestly….you’re making this far harder than it need to be.” A hand was lifted up to his unruly hair, easing back that white curtain from his face.

“I don’t mean too….” Allura whispered.

“Yeah?” Lotor arched an eyebrow at her. “I’m beginning to think you don’t know what you mean to do anymore.” He strode over to the closet, retrieving a change of pants and a fresh shirt. “Get dressed.” He said, not looking at her. “I’ll order us up some breakfast.”

“Lotor…” She said his name, but he was already stalking from the room, yanking his shirt on in the process. The door slammed shut behind him, Allura wincing at the force he used to close it. Letting out a sigh, Allura slowly stretched out her legs, turning to slide them off the bed. Her toes felt around for her slippers, Allura sliding her feet into them.

She walked over to the closet, pulling open the doors. Colors caught her eye, each new gown begging for the chance to be worn, though Allura halfheartedly rifled through them. She was too busy thinking on the words she had exchanged with her husband, finding she wished she hadn’t hurt him. The look he had given her just before he walked out of the room, it left her heart aching, an unfamiliar pang that worried and gnawed at her.

Sighing, she pulled out a blue dress, it’s color the same exact shade of her eyes when she was happy. Allura knew that at the moment her eyes had darkened with her upset, her mood pained, thoughts scattered about as she tried to get a reign on them. She refused to let herself be confused by feelings for Lotor, refused to let the feelings her body was starting to feel in response to his actions mean anything more than something primal.

Muttering under her breath, Allura gave a fierce tug on her nightie, yanking it over her head in one swift movement. She folded it up, setting it neatly on the bureau’s countertop, years of coaching by Nanny instilling a need to be neat at all times. She then pulled on the dress, hands reaching behind her to struggle with the laces of her bodice.

She found matching shoes, slipping the sapphire toned heels on as she perched on the edge of the bed. A brush in hand, she set to work taming her blond tresses, counting out one hundred strokes in all. It helped to distract her, Allura trying to push thoughts of Lotor to the back of her mind as she focused on getting herself presentable. It wasn’t as easy as she thought, he seemed to fight to come to the forefront, demanding she take a hard look at their relationship.

She was left wondering if perhaps she wasn’t giving him a fair shot at winning her heart. If she wasn”t setting them both up for more heart break than they needed. He was her husband now, shouldn’t she try to learn to love him? She sighed, knowing she didn’t want to have to learn to love someone, not wanting to have to learn to settle for what she had been handed.

Allura didn’t realize that love was often about learning to love someone. She had always been told by her nanny that she would know when she was in love. That she would meet the right man, a good man, and it would just happen. She didn’t think it was about struggle and compromise, working to overcome obstacles in order to develop a deeper bond. She didn’t quite realize she was harboring illusions, not knowing that a relationship was all about working together to strengthen it.

With one last rather vicious stroke of her hair, Allura was setting the brush down. She stood, smoothing her hands down her bodice, easing out non existent wrinkles as she moved towards the door. She cautiously opened it, finding Lotor sitting down before the table, some sort of document in hand. Wordlessly she walked over to join him, carefully draping her skirt tight around her legs as she sat down.

Lotor didn’t glance up from his papers, leaning back in his seat, the only sound between them the occasionally turning of the pages. She studied him discreetly, noticing the way he glared at the papers, eyes narrowed as he silently read off the words written down before him. Allura waited for him to acknowledge her, waiting for compliments to spill from his lips. But he kept on reading, all but ignoring her for the moment.

She held back a sigh, surprised to find herself feeling annoyed at his disinterest in her. Minutes passed by, and at last she could take it no more. “What are you reading that’s so fascinating?”

Lotor finally looked up, just a brief glance in her direction before returning his attention to the papers. “Incident reports.” Lotor told her.

“Oh?” She waited for him to say more, but he seemed against being drawn into conversation with her. “What kind of incident reports?”

“….attacks on Drule soldiers.” Lotor said, the details coming from him reluctantly. “There’s been some trouble in the kingdoms scattered throughout Arus.”

“What kind of trouble?” Allura asked.

“Riots, sabotage….theft of supllies….It’s been escalating, getting worse as the days go by.” Lotor said, and the doors to the room opened. A soldier was standing there, holding the door open as a maid and Nanny entered wheeling a cart. Lotor didn’t turn to acknowledge the two women, speaking to Allura. “They are getting bolder.”

“Who is?” Allura said, nodding her hellos at the two women. Nanny wheeled the cart over to the table, and together with the younger woman began setting breakfast down on its table top.

“The Arusians.” Lotor said, watching as the maid spooned an egg souffle onto the plate before him. “The attacks are from natives of the planet Arus.”

“I..I see…” Allura said, Nanny wordlessly setting an omelet down before her.

“You don’t seem surprise.” Lotor noted, beginning to eat his souffle.

“Coran mentioned something to me about the people being….difficult about the change in power.” Allura admitted. “I just hadn’t realized how serious a threat they were becoming.”

“They are more than a threat, they are a danger to everyone with their actions.” Lotor was eating rapidly, souffle disappearing. Nanny went to spoon the remains of the egg souffle onto Allura’s plate, but somehow the woman slipped, the bowl overturning, the contents ending up dumped on Allura’s lap. The princess gasped in surprise, and Lotor growled, infuriated by Nanny’s clumsiness.

“Clumsy oaf! Watch what you’re doing, or I’ll have you cleaning all the bathrooms in the castle!”

“Lotor, it’s all right.” Allura said calmly. “Nanny didn’t mean to do it, did you Nanny?”

“Of course not.” The woman said affronted. “My hands just lost their grip on the bowl.” She turned to Allura. “Princess I am so sorry. I ruined your dress.”

“Nonsense Nanny. It just needs a little soap and water and it’ll be fine.” Allura assured her.

“For your sake I should hope so.” Muttered Lotor. “That dress cost several hundred Ridrubien rubies!” Allura gasped, shocked at the price he had named, and even Nanny looked impressed.

“Come child…let us get you out of this dress.” Nanny said, helping Allura to stand. She fussed over her skirts, seeing the huge stain the souffle had left. “I need to set it in water before the stain gets any more ingrained.”

“All right Nanny.” Allura said, moving to follow the woman towards the bedroom. Lotor resumed eating, his eyes on the nervous maid who was now kneeling as she tried to clean up the mess on the floor.

“Ack, that terrible man.” Nanny said when the bedroom door was closed. “Must he always be threatening me?”

“I’m sorry Nanny.” Allura apologized for Lotor. “He overreacts at times.”

“Don’t make excuses for him!” Nanny snapped. “His is a terrible nature, and I am glad you can see him for what he really is!”

“………..” Allura turned her back on Nanny, pulling her hair forward so that it didn’t obscure the laces on her back. “He’s not….all bad.” Allura finally said, hearing Nanny grunt in disaproval. “I mean he’s…nice to me.”

“Don’t let him trick you with a nice guy act!” Nanny said heatedly, her hands reaching to grasp the laces on Allura’s bodice. “Nice men don’t kidnap women and force them to get married. Nice men don’t threaten to kill others! Nice men don’t manipulate girls into sleeping with them!”

“But…” Allura said, feeling her dress start to loosen. “He turned me down when I offered to…to…” She blushed, finding it difficult to say this to her nanny. “When I offered him my body in return for your life, he turned me down. Why?”

“That I don’t know.” Nanny admitted. “But thank the Gods he didn’t force you to go through with it!”

“Yeah…” Allura said, shocked to hear her voice held a wistful quality to it. Her nanny didn’t seem to notice, getting the last of the laces undone. She was moving to help Allura tug off the dress, when a scream sounded, high pitched and female in origin.

“That’s Sabrina!” Nanny exclaimed, pulling Allura’s dress back into place. “What is that fiend doing to her?!” Allura didn’t answer, already running towards the door, skirts gathered in her hands as she moved. She threw open the door at the same the soldier did, his blaster gun in his hands and aimed at the screaming maid.

“STOP!!” Allura cried, wondering where Lotor was. She heard him groan, and realized he was behind the table, on the floor crumpled in a heap. Sabrina was standing a few feet away, her eyes fearful, her mouth hanging open as she prepared to let loose with another shrill scream.

The solider looked uncertain at Allura’s command, keeping his weapon trained on Sabrina. Nanny hurried over to the shrieking girl, slapping her across the fact in order to calm her down. Red-faced and teary eyed, Sabrina collapsed to her knees, sobbing.

“He…He just collapsed. He finished his food, and he just….he suddenly groaned and toppled out of his chair!”

Allura hurried over to her husband’s side, heart beat thumping frantically in her chest. She dropped down besides him, touching him to pull him onto his back. “Lotor!” Again he groaned, his eyes tightly shut closed, and he seemed to be sweating an awful lot. “Nanny quick! Fetch Doctor Gorma!”

The woman hesitated, standing by the other maid. Allura narrowed her eyes at her, and in her most commanding voice shouted, “Get Doctor Gorma now!” Her reluctance was clear, Nanny moving slowly to do as Allura had ordered.

Allura sighed, and turned her eyes towards the solider. “You there! You have a com unit, use it! Order Doctor Gorma to be brought here immediately.”

‘Yes, your highness.” The Drule said, reaching one handed for the communicator at his side. It crackled into life, and he began speaking in Drule, the name Gorma being repeated several times. And all the while he kept his blaster trained on Sabrina as though she had had something to do with the prince’s present condition.

Allura glared at Nanny. “If you’re not going to help me, than at least fetch me some fresh water!” That the woman seemed capable of doing, hurrying towards the bathroom. Allura turned her attention back to Lotor, easing his head onto her lap as she gazed down at him. She frowned, wondering if his azure skin had turned a shade paler, unable to tell for certain.

He started to shiver, teeth chattering, and Allura offered him a half hug, snapping at Sabrina. “Get me some blankets!”

“Yes, princess.” Sabrina hurried into the bedroom, returning with the covers torn right off the bed. She helped Allura to wrap Lotor up in the sheets, Nanny returning with a glass of water. Allura took it from her without offering any thanks, trying to get Lotor to drink some of the liquid. He shook too badly, most of it ended up down the sides of his face rather than in his mouth.

“Damn it where is Doctor Gorma?!” Allura shouted, feeling helpless in the face of Lotor’s sudden illness.

“He’s coming.” The solider spoke up, having been listening for word on the communicator. It was just a few minutes more, but it felt like an eternity to Allura, the princess petting her husband’s hair, whispering soothing sounds to him. He never once opened his eyes, not even when Doctor Gorma came storming into the room with an escort of half a dozen Drules.

Doctor Gorma paused, taking in the sight of a shivering prince Lotor. “All right, everyone give me room to work.” Doctor Gorma set down his medical bag on the table, and bent down next to Lotor. Behind him the soldiers took Sabrina into custody, the girl looking pale and frightened as they dragged her out of the room.

“Nanny go with her.” Ordered Allura. “See that she is treated well.”

“Yah, I will.” Nanny nodded her head. “But I doubt they will listen to me…” She hurried out of the room, Allura feeling better that the young maid would have the older woman for company during her interrogation.

Doctor Gorma was unwrapping Lotor from the blankets, his hands working to loosen the buttons of his shirt. Lotor seemed to breathe a bit better once his collar was loosened, though he still kept on shaking. “He’s starting to run a fever….” Doctor Gorma said. “How long has he been out?” He held onto Lotor’s wrist, taking his pulse as he looked at his watch.

“Just for about fifteen minutes or so.” Allura said.

“This is bad.” Doctor Gorma stated the obvious. “I don’t know much about Drule illness, but I have never heard of one striking so fast, or with such extreme symptoms. I’ll have to take some of his blood.”

“Go ahead. Do whatever tests you need.” Allura told him, huddling over Lotor.

Doctor Gorma nodded, reaching for his bag. He withdrew a long needle, and some rubbing alcohol. Allura rolled up Lotor’s sleeve, revealing his arm. A swab of cotton was dabbed with the cleanser, Doctor Gorma scrubbing the Drule’s arm clean. He found a vein, quickly inserting the needle, and filled up several vials of Lotor’s blood. “I’ll run these down to the lab.” He said, Allura nodding.

“In fact, I’d like to take him down to the medical bay for observation.”

“No.” A new voice, a Drule sweeping into the room. The remaining soldiers turned and saluted him, the man nodding at them to stand at ease.

“Who are you?” demanded Doctor Gorma, a scowl on his face. “And why are you going against my medical advice?”

“I am Commander Merack.” The Drule said, Allura noticing the insignias of high office on his uniform. “I am Lotor’s second in command in a case of crisis. As such, my opinion out weighs yours.”

“Now listen here, commander.” Doctor Gorma glared at the Drule, his words terse. “This man is terribly ill. I have to get him into the castle’s care facility as soon as possible.”

“And I am here to make sure word about the crown prince’s illness does not get out beyond those of us in this room.” Merack said, walking over to peer down at Lotor. “It is a time of turmoil, and we cannot have word of this reach those who would cause us harm. You are to treat him here.”

“Please.” Allura said when she saw Doctor Gorma hesitating. “What does it matter where it is done, as long as he is helped?”

“All right princess. I’m doing this only for you.” Doctor Gorma said, reluctantly giving in to Merack’s orders. “But this man cannot remain on the floor. Help me get him into a bed!”

“Of course.” Merack said, gesturing for the soldiers to come forth. It took four of them to lift Lotor off the floor, the men staggering towards the bedroom. Her eyes shining with concern, Allura followed behind them, pausing in the doorway to watch the men lower the shivering prince onto the bed. Footsteps behind her, Merack approaching her.

“Have you ever seen symptoms like this before?” Allura asked him. He hesitated, clearly reluctant to share his knowledge. “Tell me!”

“Yes.” Merack admitted at last. “I’ve seen this once before.”

“What is it? Can it be treated?” Allura wanted to know, and Doctor Gorma stepped closer to listen to their conversation.

“Not through any conventional means.” Merack admitted, Allura falling back against the door in shock. He reached out to catch her, making sure she was steady on her feet.

“What is this illness?” Doctor Gorma demanded, packing the blood vials into his bag.

“It’s no illness.” Merack answered. “I’m afraid princess, your husband has been poisoned.”

“Poisoned?!” It was the last thing she said, before the room went dark, Allura falling to the floor. She had a moment to feel arms around her, catching her before she could

hit the floor. She had a moment to think how strange the touch was, how unfamiliar and alien it was compared to Lotor’s before she too lost consciousness of all thoughts and feelings.


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