Freedom 43

The sound of the dirt hitting the coffin made Allura flinch, the noise seeming to echo loudly across the cemetery. It reached to where she stood, some distance away from the grave site, Allura surrounded by the girls that worked at the castle. There was tears all around her, some of the maids breaking down into a weeping fit, the others quiet as they turned to soothe each other with hugs and murmured words.

Her own hands was hugging a brown haired maid, her eyes wet with silent tears as Allura tried listening to anything other than the sobbing and the sound of more dirt being piled into the grave. A priest was present before the open grave, leather bound book in his hands as he read from the pages. He voice was deep, a soothing baritone that was neither too loud nor too quiet. Allura concentrated on him now, letting his words comfort her as he spoke about death and the afterlife expected for a good soul.

She stared into the open grave, seeing how the dirt spilled across the coffin’s lid, slowly starting to obscure it from sight. There had been no viewing of the body, Marie had simply been too disfigured, too horrific a sight to inflict on anyone. But it was too late for Allura, the moment of the maid’s death forever ingrained in her mind. She envied the ignorance the other girls held, envied and felt ashamed for feeling that way.

Allura held back her sighs, her voice saying words meant to reassure the woman in her arms. Elizabeth couldn’t even stand on her own, her face buried in Allura’s chest as she sobbed and turned away from the sight of the grave. Such was her suffering that Allura feared the girl would pass out in her arms, Allura already casting about for some place to sit Elizabeth down.

Her glance fell across an approaching man in the distance, his dark form walking at an unhurried pace towards the funeral party. Allura studied him for an instant, noting he was Drule but unable to tell just yet who he was. He seemed to notice her attention, looking straight at her, his steps quickening. She turned away, redirecting her attention towards the grave, seeing it was more than half full now.

The priest was gesturing over the grave site, his hand moving as he chanted out a blessing. He called upon the Gods the people of Arus worshipped, asking them to watch over Marie’s soul, and to guide her to the heavens where paradise surely awaited her. He even called upon Allura’s father to be waiting at the gates of paradise, wanting the man to be a welcoming sight to the girl.

The gathered women crossed themselves as he prayed, even the ones who were sobbing messes paused long enough to whisper out a tearful prayer for Marie and Alfor’s souls. The dirt continued to pile into the grave site, the men using their shovels to smooth down the topmost layer. A small, nondescript headstone was situated in the grass, it merely held Marie’s name and her birth and death carved on it.

The priest stepped back, his voice falling silent, and now Allura moved. She was careful to hand the sobbing Elizabeth over to one of the other maids, Allura approaching the grave. “I’m sorry…” She said softly, kneeling down to press fresh white lilies into the soil.

Other girls came forward, each carrying a flower or some kind of trinket, weeping out heart felt good-byes as they deposited their gifts onto the soil. Allura turned away, eyes seeking out the Drule she had seen, and nearly startled with fright to realize it was Lotor. He was standing as close to the funeral party as he dared, silent and watching, respecting their practices by not intruding on the ceremony.

She studied him, noting he had taken the time to clean up since last she saw him. The blood was gone from his hands and neck, his jacket which had been ruined by it, removed. Allura wondered if the jacket was even salvageable after the mess it had sustained, noticing there was some traces of blood on the legs of his pants. She supposed he hadn’t had time to change his clothes, not in the aftermath of all that excitement.

She became aware of how quiet it was around her, Allura tearing her eyes away from Lotor to glance around her. The maids were looking towards him, their faces showing their surprise at his arrival. Allura wondered what they were thinking, knowing that many of them had not been at the party, had not witnessed the terrorists’ cruel actions firsthand. She wondered if they blamed Lotor for Marie’s death, or if they were grateful he had punished those responsible.

Lotor glanced at Allura, his eyes locking onto hers, and she sighed. Allura knew she had no right to ask the women to leave in the midst of their grieving, the princess squaring her shoulders and taking a step forward. It got easier with each step, Allura walking at a calm pace towards Lotor. He didn’t move, waiting for her to come to him, his face wearing as serious an expression as hers.

“Lotor…” Allura spoke softly, her voice carrying to his ears alone. “What are you doing out here?”

“I wanted to see you.” Came his answer, Lotor glancing at the grave site. “But if you’re not done here, I can wait….or come back at a later time.”

“No…no. I am done here.” She told him, nervously tucking hair behind her ear. “You wanted to see me? About?”

He hesitated, mouth opening and closing as though Lotor wasn’t quite sure what to say. “About last night I guess.”

“Oh.” Dejection in her answer, Allura sighing.

“Not just last night…” He hurried to clarify. “I mean….I want to talk about us…and where things stand between us.” She just looked at him, making Lotor shift uncomfortably. “Can we go somewhere?” He asked, giving a meaningful nod towards the funeral party. “Where we can have some privacy to talk?” Allura hesitated, not sure she wanted to be alone with Lotor. “Please.” He added earnestly, eyes looking hopeful.

“All right.” Allura agreed, and was moving, gesturing for him to follow her. “Let’s go for a walk….” He fell into step next to her, his body not quite brushing the side of hers. She led him past various headstones and graves, leaving the grassy ground to favor a stone pathway that led out of the cemetery gates. The pathway continued, winding around a meadow that bordered the thick forest that surrounded the castle.

“It’s been a while since I walked the castle grounds.” Allura confessed, glancing at Lotor through the corner of her eye. “Everything’s been so hectic lately….with the rebels and the party plans…”

“It just hasn’t been safe.” Lotor added, his eyes scouting the terrain as though he expected some hidden threat to make itself known. But aside from them and a lone guard patrolling close to the trees, there was nothing to see but the flowers spilled across the bright green grass.

“Is it safe now?” She wondered out loud. “I mean….with Adamus and the rest of the terrorists dead, is there really any danger left on Arus?”

“I hope not.” Lotor said. “These next few weeks will be a time of waiting. A time to see if a new threat will arise to replace Adamus’ crew. We’ll have to be extra vigilant. Allura….if you must wander outside the castle, please, take a guard with you. I…I don’t want to risk anything happening to you.”

“I can do that.” She nodded, glancing down at the path. The stones were weathered with age, grass sprouting up through the cracks in their surface. She touched one such crack with her toes, using her shoe to smoosh down the grass. “Nanny left the castle not too long ago.”

“Oh?” Lotor sighed. “I would have thought she’d linger on the premises until nightfall. At the very least I expected to have to escort her off the grounds.”

“She wouldn’t make a scene like that.” Allura protested, glancing at him sharply. He flashed her a doubting look, Allura letting out an insistent word. “She’s wouldn’t!”

“If you say so Allura.”

“I do.” Allura said. “And if you had gotten to know her, to really know her, you’d know the truth behind my words.”

“Nanny didn’t want to get to know me.” Lotor pointed out. “She made up her mind long before she ever met me about the kind of person I am.” She fell silent at that, knowing that he was right. “Are you angry?” He asked, and she shrugged her shoulders. “Come now Allura, if you’re angry let me know. Don’t hide your true emotions from me.”

“I’m upset.” She admitted with a sigh. “I think I understand why you had to send her away. But!” She whirled around to face him, hands on her hips. “Don’t think I accept this decision as final! Nanny will return to the castle….someday.”

“That’s not a good idea.” Lotor said, and she narrowed her eyes at him.

“It wasn’t a good idea to send her away without even asking me about how I felt about it!” Allura retorted. “Yes, Nanny has made some mistakes, but…But she has reasons for the way she acts!”

“And what are those reasons?” demanded Lotor, interest in his eyes. “What could she possibly say to make me look over her acts of insubordination.”

“It’s….complicated.” Allura said, looking away. She couldn’t, wouldn’t betray Nanny’s confidence to Lotor. It wasn’t something she could share with him, wasn’t sure she wanted to know how he’d react to the news of what his people had done all those years ago.

“Complicated?” He made a tsking noise, Lotor scoffing as he spoke. “Not from where I stand. It just sounds like you’re making excuses for her.”

“I’m not.” She insisted. “But it’s not my story to share. I think…If you knew, if Nanny suspected that I told you, she’d never come back. She’d never forgive me.” A sigh then, Allura risking looking at him once more. “It’s bad Lotor. Very bad. Your people have done a lot of terrible things to my people….some would say unforgivable things.”

“But the sins of others shouldn’t be put upon me!” Lotor said, voice heated. “I was not the one who first came to your planet over fifteen years ago. Hell, I was still a child when Doom laid eyes on Arus. Would you blame me for my father’s actions and the actions of his armies?”

“No….but…your hands are not entirely clean either.” She pointed out. “You’ve done your own fair share of damage these last two years. True it wasn’t anywhere on the level of what your father did. But that’s because we had Voltron. What would you have done if you had defeated the lions, destroyed Voltron?”

“We’ll never know because that didn’t happen.” Lotor told her, frowning as he shook his head. “You can’t blame me for things I didn’t even do. Things you suspect I might have done if the situation had turned different. I won’t have you punish me for fanciful what ifs!”

“Then you would have me focus on things you have done?” Allura asked, seeing his frown deepen. “Shall we start with last night?”

“Why not?” Lotor shrugged. “It’s what is really behind your anger is it not. I took care of a problem, and you hate me for it.”

“No.” Now it was her turn to frown, Allura shaking her head no. “I don’t hate you. I just…”

“Just what?”

“I’m just…scared.” She admitted softly.

“Scared? Of me?” He looked pained as he asked that question, eyes staring searchingly at him.

“I…” Now she turned away from him, turning to stare off into the woods. “I don’t know. Maybe just a little. That you could do such a thing so easily…it shocked me. Made me wonder which is the real you?”

“The real me?” He asked, and she nodded.

“The you I’ve gotten to know these past few weeks, or the you I saw last night…the one that reminds me of the enemy I fought against these past years.”

“Allura, they are both me. I haven’t lied to you.” She felt his hands on her shoulders, Lotor trying to turn her to face him. She moved with great reluctance, keeping her eyes on the ground. “I told you the day Tamara was killed that I was still the Prince of Doom. That I am the monster everyone claims me to be….I have to be in order to keep us alive, to keep things running smoothly. I can’t regret my actions if it means you are still here before me, alive and healthy.”

“I don’t know if I can reconcile myself to that side of you.” She kept her eyes averted from his as she spoke, Allura’s voice heavy with her sadness. “I don’t know how I can stay married to someone so cold and ruthless.”

“Not cold.” Lotor denied. “You above all people should know what a passionate man I am. Don’t confuse being practical with being cold….it’s not the same…”

“I could never be as practical as you.” Allura said. “I just don’t have it in me to kill like you do.”

“DId you think what I did was easy?!” Lotor demanded, and she glanced up at the anger in his voice. “Allura, damn it. I struggled. I fought with myself for a long time, not just last night, but for weeks. Trying to decide what would be the right course of action to deal with the rebellion.” He was growing agitated, running a hand through his hair, the white strands spilling messily around his fingers. “I fought with every instinct of mine, and I did it for you. I let things go on for as long as they did because I wanted you to be happy with my decision. A decision that nearly cost us our lives last night! Do you understand that?! Do you even know how upset I am in allowing Adamus and his twisted band of loyal followers to get so close to hurting you?!”

She stared at him, jaw dropped, Lotor continuing. “If I had acted sooner, if I had made moves to stop them, ordered my men to shoot to kill, then the disaster at the ball need never have happened. Allura, people died, good people, ones who shouldn’t have. And it’s all my fault for not doing something to prevent that scene from happening. I’m sorry if your sensibilities are having a hard time with my actions of last night, but damn it. I’d do it again and sooner if it meant avoiding the blood shed we witnessed!”

The very passion he spoke of showed on his face, Lotor staring at her, almost breathless as he waited for her to respond. “Lotor…” She licked her lips, Allura trying to think on what to say to him. “Is it foolish of me to want an outcome where no one had to die?”

“Not foolish. Naive perhaps, and a bit….hopeful for a world that doesn’t work that way.” Lotor replied. “The universe is not a nice place, and people don’t always choose to do the right thing. It’s unfortunate, but the truth.”

“So I’m starting to learn.” She sighed, the corners of her mouth drooping. “Lotor…I’m trying. I honestly am. If not to understand and accept what you did, then to get over it. But it’s so difficult…” She gestured wildly with her hands. “Did you really need to kill all of them? Couldn’t you have just taken Adamus’ head?”

Again that hesitation before he spoke, Lotor mirroring her frown. “A message needed to be sent out. One that showed we were no longer playing around. Allura, they had to die. They had to pay for their crimes, and we had to make sure there would be no others to follow in their footsteps. I suppose I could have chosen a more humane method of execution, and for that I apologize. I was thinking with my anger when I made that decree.”

She shivered, hugging her arms close to her body. “You are very scary when you let anger take you over.”

“I don’t deny that.” Lotor sighed. “I wish you hadn’t seen that part of me. But what’s done is done. I can’t change the past anymore than you can. We can only work on our future together.” He lifted a hand to her face, hovering his fingers over her skin as though he hesitated to touch her. “Do we still have a future together Allura?”

“I….I don’t know.” She had to fight not to lean forward, wanting nothing more than to feel his hand on her cheek. “I…I feel strongly about you. I don’t want these past few weeks to have been for nothing.”

“Then don’t shut me out.” Lotor urged her, his eyes pleading.

“I’ll try not to.” She conceded, Allura feeling him do a brief caress of her cheek. She inhaled sharply, closing her eye to savor the feel of him touching her. “But you’ll have to be patient with me…things….things are different now….in ways you can’t even understand.”

“Then explain them to me.” Lotor asked, expression so serious it hurt her to look at him.

“I can’t.” Allura said. “Some of it is not my story to tell.”

“Is it Nanny’s?” She hesitated a second before nodding, hearing Lotor sigh. “She makes trouble for me, for us even when she is gone from the castle!”

“She doesn’t mean to. Not in this case.” Allura protested, just as thunder boomed overhead. “What she told me…is something that I know she wouldn’t use to her advantage. It’s too horrible, too painful a secret.”

“I’ll admit I am curious….but I won’t press.” Lotor said, much to Allura’s relief. He reachd for her hand, just as the thunder rumbled once more, Lotor tugging her to follow him. “Come, let’s get out of here before the sky opens up on us.”

“All right.” Allura agreed, allowing him to lead her back along the stone pathway. Thunder sounded again, and she felt the first drops of rain pelt her hair and shoulders, the royal pair breaking into a run. The rain fell down harder as they ran through the cemetery, seeing maids scatter and shriek, their aprons held over their heads as they too made a mad dash to the castle.

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