She felt like she had been suckered punched in the gut, her grief hitting her hard and fast, making Allura gag on her very breath. She knew she was the picture of utter misery, tears streaming down her face, flowing faster than she thought possible. She shook as she sobbed, trembling as she wrapped her arms around her, Allura hugging herself for comfort.
It wasn’t enough, she needed the touch of another, and right now it seemed it didn’t matter who. Just as long as that touch was soothing, she’d accept solace from even her enemy, the enemy of her people. She let out a choked sound when Lotor wrapped his arms around her, the Drule seeming to sense what she needed. She sagged in his embrace, Allura leaning into him, burying her face against his shirt.
Lotor adjust his grip on her, a hand being lifted to stroke through her hair. He was making sounds, soft soothing ones, speaking nonsense words meant to offer her comfort. She tried to take it from him, letting him rock her back and forth in his embrace, Allura crying harder. Not even when she sniffled, and said Keith’s name, did the Drule stop trying to comfort her, the man far more patient and kind than she had ever imagined.
It was a weak thought that, Allura stiffening in his arms, not liking the thought of thinking nice things about the enemy of her people. It didn’t matter that twenty years had gone by, that her people were no longer hers to rule. She still thought of Lotor as the enemy, and knew she should be horrified and disgusted by all he had told her. Even if he hadn’t been the one to do it, Allura wondering just how true the story of his breakdown had been.
Not that Lotor was very forthcoming with the details of that particular part of the story, the Drule leaving it off that he had been unwell and not present for the events that followed Arus’ fall. At best she had been told that Lotor had not been very lucid, and Allura filed that away for future study. For now she had her grief to deal with, Allura starting to struggle in Lotor’s arms.
Of course the Drule had noticed when she stiffened, though he chose not to relax his hold on her. She felt a thrill of fear go through her at his insistence to hold on to her, Allura struggling harder, jerking herself back so violently she fell off her chair. Lotor immediately moved to help her stand, but she shied away from the offered hand, her voice coming out a tad too panicked.
“I’m all right!” She said, grabbing onto the chair’s side, and pulling herself up right. “I’m fine.”
“No, you are not.” Lotor said, rising when it became apparent she was not going to retake her seat. “You’ve had a lot of shocks in a short amount of time. You’re grieving too many deaths, trying to cope with the reality I’ve presented to you.”
It had been too much for her, Allura grudgingly admitted to herself. Too much and too soon, too many bad things happening to the people she had loved like family. It was a reminder to her that nothing good ever came of the Drule, Allura holding back her sniffles as she glared in Looter’s direction.
“You’re angry.” He noted, cocking his head to the side. She nodded, and he sighed. “Angry at me?” Another nod of her head, Lotor looking troubled to see it. “Why? I had nothing to do with the treatment of your friends. They would be dead long before I…”
“Before you what?” Allura interrupted him, hands gripping the chair’s back so tight, her knuckles bled of all color. “Before you could hope to continue their tortures?!” He did a slow blinking of his eyes, Lotor using that time to slip an indifferent mask onto his face. She thought she knew he was trying to hide the guilty admission from her, Allura growing angry.
That was good, angry kept her from crying, kept her from breaking down completely. “Admit it Lotor.” She sneered, giving a haughty toss of her head. “You would have reveled in their murders. You would have enjoyed wringing out every bit of misery you could, before ending their lives!”
“I may very well have.” He threw her with his agreement, Allura gaping at him with her jaw dropped down. “I was a different man back then, a more…cold blooded, ruthless being.”
“Are you saying you’re not now?” Allura demanded, and Lotor hesitated.
“There’s much that has changed. Including me.” She scoffed at that, giving him a slow once over from head to toe, and back again. “It’s true.” Lotor insisted, and took a step towards her.
“Don’t!” Allura cried out, dragging the chair with her as she back away from him. He sighed and lifted a hand to his hair, rustling it and the crown a top his head.
“Loss makes everyone change…” Lotor said at last. “For better or for worse. It’s up to my subjects which one I became.”
“That means what?” She asked, cautious for any sudden moves from him.
“You have to realize, if I became a better man in your eyes, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing to the Drule.” Lotor explained. “They have expectations of me…things they would demand a true Drule King do.”
“And you do those things, don’t you?” Allura demanded, and Lotor shook his head no.
“I do what I deem is right for me.” That seemed all he would say on that manner, Lotor trying to inch closer to her. Her breath hissed out sharply, Allura clutching the chair to her like a shield.
“You always do…” Allura couldn’t help the bitter tone in her voice, continuing to back up until she hit a solid object. She didn’t take her eyes off Lotor to see what she had bumped her back against, too wary of him lunging the final distance to her. “You never acted like a true prince. You were always about getting what you wanted, people and their feelings be damned!”
“Yes.” Lotor nodded, surprising her with his agreement. “That was very much how I was…”
“Are.” She tried to correct him. “How you are!”
“I can see you’re prepared to argue the point all day, but I’d rather think about something else.” Lotor told her.
“Like what?” Allura asked.
“Well…the fact that you’re alive…” His mask slipped, his eyes taking on a dreamy expression. It left her uneasy, and all the more so when he hardened his expression, trying to act as if he hadn’t been making love sick eyes at her. “You’re here…you’re real. I can touch you…” She didn’t want to be reminded of that fact, Allura’s skin breaking out into goose bumps.
He noticed her distressed expression, Lotor stepping hurriedly towards her. “Allura….I don’t mean to upset you…but…it’s been so long…”
“Stay back!” She warned, wishing the chair wasn’t so heavy. She’d swing it like a weapon if she could, anything to block off Lotor’s approach.
“Allura…” He snatched the chair out of her grip, and with the effortless strength of his race, tossed it behind him. She gasped, and suddenly Lotor was pressing against her, right hand raised towards her face. She braced herself for his touch, trying to keep a hold of her anger and defiance, even though all she felt like doing in the moment was breaking down and crying.
“It’s been too long…” He sighed then, his fingers touching her lips so carefully, as though he feared he could break her with the slightest of touches. “I never dared dreamed I’d get to see you again. To talk to you, to touch you..”
“You have no right…” Allura began, Lotor crooking his head to the side. “To any of it!”
“Maybe you’re right…” He abruptly pulled away, though she noted he brought the hand that had touched her to his mouth. He seemed to shiver as he caressed his fingertips over his lips, Lotor closing his eyes for one brief moment.
He opened them when she tried to shift past him, his golden gaze rooting her to the spot with a gasp. “I always felt I played a small part in your death. If I had convinced you to marry me, you’d never have needed to fight. If I could have made peace between our worlds…or if I would have talked Haggar out of equipping that robeast with such
a deadly weapon….”
He had lowered his hand, but never did he take his eyes off of Allura. “I doubt she would have listened. But at least I could have rest easy knowing I tried to stop her!” Such raw emotion in his voice then, Allura realizing he had lived with this guilt for a long time. It didn’t begin to make up for the death of her friends, or the suffering of her people.
“Lotor..” She interrupted him, not wanting to hear any more about the guilt he had felt. “What about my people…? What was their fate?”
“Their fate…?” He echoed with a frown. “I’m sure you can guess…”
“I believe I can.” Allura agreed. “But I want to hear it from you. What was it like, those early days. How many died fighting the Drule?”
“At least several thousand died.” Lotor shrugged his shoulders. “I can get the actual statistics if you like, but it would only serve to add on to your grief.”
“Several thousand?!” She exclaimed, ignoring the rest of what Lotor had said.
“Yes. Not all of the Arusians accepted Coran’s surrender. They tried to fight, but…what good is a farmer’s scythe against lasers and warships?” Allura tried not to picture it, shuddering as she realized how easily the Drule would have cut down the people who tried to fight against them. “Those were the brave ones, many of your people fled to the caves, hoping to hide and avoid their fate.”
“But they didn’t, did they?” Allura asked, voice a soft whisper.
“No. My father wasn’t content to let a single Arusian escape this time around.” He stepped away from her, Allura relaxing just a notch. “He sent our soldiers to search for them, and set fires to smoke them out.” Lotor grimaced then. “I suppose it won’t surprise you to know there was many that chose to burn to death, to choke on the flame’s smoke rather than be captured and made a slave of. Oh…oh…..you’re crying again.” A concerned Lotor said.
“Please…..go on…” Allura insisted, ignoring her tears for the most part. “What happened next?’
He stared at her a long minute, enough time to make Allura think he wasn’t going to answer. “What always happens when Doom captures a planet’s people? They were made slaves, stripped of their rights, their very dignity. Many were shipped off of Arus, sent to Doom, or to other worlds, sent to toil under the whips of the slave keepers. Those that were fortunate to remain on their home world had little to be thankful for, the work as back breaking here on Arus as it was elsewhere.”
“There was much to do, you see…” Lotor continued. “Arus needed a total rehaul, cities rebuilt from scratch. My father didn’t want Arus to remain a pathetic farm planet, he wanted it to be a Mecca of advanced civilization. He wanted it to be worthy to be part of the Doom Empire.”
She continued to say nothing, just staring at Lotor with an unreadable expression on her face. Her silence seemed to unnerve him, Lotor speaking more and more without her prodding.
“We also had many worlds to recapture. Voltron cost us a lot of territory in the years before the lion’s defeat. My father set about to ensuring that those planets were returned to us. Doom began to flourish once more, gold and slaves a steady product that kept the empire running at maximum efficiency.”
“Did Galaxy Garrison not try to stop you?” She asked, and Lotor shook his head no.
“They had their hands full. I’m not sure you’re familiar with the Drule Empire. Emperor Hazar was at the same time expanding the Drule influence across the Milkyway Galaxy. Between that and Doom’s press on the Denubian Galaxy, Garrison was torn in half trying to hold off both threats. They proved easy enough to crush…”
“So there’s no one.” Allura whispered, sagging in place, a hand to her forehead. “No one to stop the Drule…”
“No, there isn’t.” Confirmed Lotor, and she began crying harder. “Oh no…Allura…don’t be sad…it’s not as bad as you think….”
“Not as bad!?” She exclaimed, tone sarcastic. “Please, tell me how it could possibly worse?!”
“The Denubian Galaxy is thriving under the rulership of Doom.” Lotor said in reply, He reached out to catch her hands, holding them prisoner in his larger grasp. “There’s very little turmoil on the planets, and slavery is down nearly forty-five percent. More and more people go free…”
“As if Zarkon would ever allow that!” Allura scoffed.
“He has no choice.” Lotor stood up, looking proud in the moment. “I am King now.”
She stared at him a long moment, and then was skeptically speaking. “So Zarkon is dead then?”
“Er…no.” She was disappointed even as a a seed of revenge was planted in her. If Zarkon lived, there was a chance to avenge her fallen comrades, to set her friend and her people’s souls at ease. “Get that look of your face right this instant Allura. He may be old and senile, but is he still not one to be trifled with.”
“Senile?” Allura blinked rapidly, trying to play off that she hadn’t just been planning to do something horrible to Zarkon. “You mean to tell me the great king Zarkon was brought low by old age?”
“Happens to the best of us, doesn’t it?” Lotor grinned. “Most of the time he isn’t even coherent, muttering random things, or thinking he’s living his glory days on the throne. He’d still retain his crown if the court hadn’t decided to force him to step down from power. It was for the best you see…” Lotor added at her doubtful look. “He was liable to start a nuclear war on any one of a dozen planets, all due to misplaced memories.”
She shivered at that thought, glad the tyrant was in no position to do any world any more lasting harm. “And they made you king?” Allura asked out loud.
“Even though you were…heartbroken by my death?” Her question was full of her skepticism.
“I was…recovered enough to rule by that point.” Lotor said, without batting an eye.
“Right…” She eyed him, letting him see how much she didn’t believe him. He sighed in response letting go of her hands.
“It was….difficult, those early years of your death. Sometimes I still don’t think I’m completely recovered.” Lotor admitted. “The grief hits me sometimes, unexpectedly. It’s not as crippling as it once was, but I still find it difficult to concentrate during that time.”
“How do you ever function to rule then?” Allura wondered out loud.
“I have good friends…”
“Like the general?” Allura asked, and he nodded.
“Yes. Cossack’s support is invaluable to me.” He seem to be hesitating, and she almost reached out to touch him. Almost, but not quite, Allura instead asking him to voice his unspoken thoughts. “There’s a few others among my inner circle….there’s…” Another hesitation, Lotor shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter.”
She was left wondering if he fell quiet because he didn’t trust her with the information, Allura frowning slightly. “And what were you doing on Arus?” Allura asked. “Surely technology hasn’t advanced to the point where one can travel from Doom to Arus in just a few days!”
“It hasn’t.” Agreed Lotor.
“Then how did you get here so soon?” She demanded.
“I..” Another one of those paused that seemed to hint at him hiding something from her. “I happened to be on Arus at the time.” Her eyes widened at that, Allura surprised.
“Is it normal for the King of the Doom Empire to come visit Arus?”
“I was taking a vacation from my duties. Not many would think to look for me here. Not…” A poignant look from him to her, pain flashing in his eyes. “Not with the bad memories Arus holds for me.”
“So you’re hiding from someone? Who?” She wanted to know.
He rewarded her with a smile, but didn’t answer her in the manner she wanted. “Just someone of my court. They matter not in the long run.”
“They matter enough for you to hide from them.” She pointed out, and his smile turned into a frown.
“So they do.” He agreed, and that was all he would say about that. “Come Allura. You must be hungry…our meal may have gotten cold, but there is still desert…”
Her stomach practically growled at the thought of desert, but Allura shook her head. “I don’t think it’s right.” He looked confused, and she sighed. “To eat such a lavish meal when surely my people go hungry. And not just them, but all the slaves of the Doom Empire!”
“That’s where you’re wrong!” Lotor exclaimed. “Allura, no slave goes hungry in my Empire. I made sure to make changes to the way Doom does things. The very nature of slave labor has been reformed. They work an honest day’s hours, and earn the proper food and medical attention.” She knew she was staring, mouth hanging open in shock. Lotor actually reached over to touch her chin, gently pushing her mouth close. “If you like, I can bring up a list of the changes I have made. I’m sure you’ll pleased…”
“Why…why would you do that?” Allura asked, unable to shake her shock. He shrugged, then was walking towards the table, reaching to uncover the plate with desert.
“I suppose…” His tone was thoughtful, Lotor staring at the frosting covered cake. “I wanted to do something that would honor your memory, something that you would approve of. Something you might even be proud of me for….”
She dully walked over to the table, sitting down in a spare chair. Lotor glanced up at her, seeming flustered to meet her gaze. He quickly looked away, and began cutting into the cake, Allura staring at him all the while. She was barely aware of lifting up her fork, of slicing off a piece of the creamy chocolate treat. All she could think about was the things Lotor had said, especially the latest. If it was true, it was the most gallant an act Lotor could have ever performed for her short of freeing all the slaves completely. She fought not to soften her heart towards him, telling herself it was surely a trick on his part. She tried to tell herself this would change nothing between them, but Allura feared she would be proven wrong.