The days passed without incident, Adaline and the children left to their own devices, living in their own isolated world amidst the busy chaos of the castle. They had little contact with the Drules, and even less with their tormentor, the King busy with other, more lucrative pursuits. Not even whispers reached them, all news trickling to a stop, the people hushed and hurried as they made preparations for something, something that was big.
Adaline knew she could have found out, but that would have required a great deal of caring, the woman too wrapped up in her own recovery and that of her son’s. She felt it was fine that her husband was so busy, the King so occupied with whatever was going on that he dare not set one foot in their world. Adaline and the children were all but beneath his notice, and they liked it that way.
Still it was strange, this odd lack of attention. Adaline could not remember a time when she was so ignored by her husband, for even during their worst arguments he had still made it a point to visit her at least once a week. She tried to shrug it off, not wanting to over examine things when she had so much to be glad about. Her son was awake, and though his body still pained him at the most inconvenient of times, he was on his way to a full recovery.
They never did discover the reason behind Lotor’s sudden awakening. It was as though a miracle had occurred, some benevolent God answering Adaline’s prayers and restoring her son to her. It was no less whimsical than Allura’s insistence that her kiss had done it, the child positive there was magic in her blood. Adaline could only smile at the girl, holding back comments about how unlikely that was.
There was smiles all around, warm expressions that were tinted with their relief, all three glad to be alive and together. Adaline did not tell Lotor the extent of his father’s wickedness, not wanting to upset the boy any further. She kept him blissfully unaware of the fact his father had beat his mother, covering her sorrow as being tied to the fears she had had when Lotor was sleeping.
The boy’s memories of what led him to the coma were foggy at best, Lotor only half remembering his father’s attack. But it was enough to make him fearful, his nights filled with dreams that forced him to relive the experience. Lotor’s screams would often wake everyone on the floor, Adaline hurrying to him to soothe him with hugs and words she wished with all her heart could be true.
It was always a good morning that followed a night without Lotor’s panicked crying. The boy would be in good spirits, a smile on his face to greet his mother and friend as they came to join him for breakfast. Lotor, who had always had a voracious appetite, now nibbled and fussed at his food, his stomach prone to upset due to nerves and the stress of his dreams.
“Come now Lotor…” Adaline urged him gently, watching him as he set down his spoon, and pushed the bowl of cereal away from him. “Just two more bites.”
“I’m not hungry mommy…” Lotor told her, shunning the meal before him.
“You need to eat more Lotor.” Adaline told him, holding back a sigh. “You’re so skinny and frail. Don’t you want to grow up big and strong?” The boy seemed to consider her words, then reached for the bowl, scooping up a spoonful of the soggy flakes. “That’s it.” She smiled encouragingly at him.
“If I do get big..maybe then I can protect mommy!” Lotor decided, chewing with his mouth open.
“I want to get big and strong too!” Allura decided, eating so fast that half her cereal fell down her chin and onto her clothes. “Then I can protect Addy AND Lotor!”
“Hmph.” Lotor made a scoffing sound, fixing Allura with a condescending look. “You’re a girl! I’m supposed to protect you, not the other way around!”
“Nu uh!” Allura retorted, waving her spoon around, milk drops flying everywhere. “I can too protect you. And I will! You’ll see!” Adaline had to smile as she listened to the two playfully bicker, the woman leaning over Allura to dab at the spilt cereal with a napkin. Allura squirmed about, trying to avoid Adaline’s hands, still arguing heatedly with Lotor.
“You’ve barely got any muscle on you.” Lotor pointed out with a smirk. “Just a lot of baby fat.”
Allura gasped, giving a vigorous shake of her head, twin braids lashing about in the process. “I do not! Take that back!” Lotor just stuck out his tongue at Allura, making her huff and fume before turning to Adaline. “Addy! Make him take it back!”
“You can’t even fight your own battles.” The eight year old laughed. “If you keep running to mommy for help, you’ll never be able to save anyone else.”
Allura fell quiet at that, holding still long enough for Adaline to clean her up. Adaline wondered what the girl could be thinking, her blue eyes looking so serious in the moment. “Sometimes…” Adaline began, smiling down at Allura. “We can’t do things on our own. There is no shame in getting help from friends and family.”
“Mommy no!” Lotor protested, thumping his fist lightly against the table. “That’s not what father says! Father…” He suddenly broke off with a gasp, eyes troubled that he had mentioned Zarkon. It wasn’t rare of Lotor to try and spout words of Zarkon’s supposed wisdom, the lessons the Drule had drilled into Lotor’s head difficult for the boy to completely let go.
“You father is wrong.” Adaline said firmly. “The love and support of your friends and family can help you achieve greatness, make you a better person than if you were all alone.”
Allura was nodding, firm agreement in her eyes. “It’s true! It’s just like Addy’s stories….love makes everything better!” Lotor continued to look down, his eyes so upset Adaline feared her son would start to cry.
“Love…makes everything better?” Lotor repeated with a whisper, and Allura nodded again.
“Yes!” She grinned. “Why do you think Addy’s kisses make the pain go away when you fall and hurt your knee? It’s because she loves us!” To the six year old it made perfect sense, Allura gazing up at Adaline adoringly. “There’s magic in love, I know there is!”
“You’re a very smart little girl.” Adaline told her, reaching around Allura in order to give her a hug. Allura hummed happily, returning the embrace, Lotor watching in silence. Adaline couldn’t begin to fathom his thoughts, the boy looking gloomy and depressed. “Finish up your breakfast, and then we can play.”
Lotor sighed heavily, pushing around the flakes with his spoon, hardly looking thrilled at the prospect. She knew he was restless, Adaline having limited the children’s play to toys that wouldn’t overexert Lotor. She wanted nothing to cause the boy a relapse, the woman worried about how his ribs were healing.
“Hurry Lotor, hurry!” Allura urged him, tapping her spoon against the side of her bowl in a rhythm that was as fast as her words wanted him to be. Lotor listlessly ate a few bites more, than pushed aside his bowl, and nothing Adaline said could get him to finish off his breakfast.
Allura practically fell off her chair when Adaline declared the meal over with, the girl skipping quickly to the toy chest. Lotor followed at a more sedate pace, Adaline worrying his injuries were acting up again. She kept watch over them out the corner of her eye, the woman working to clean up the table from the day’s messy meal. Slaves would be by soon to pick up the dishes, Adaline feeling she could make their job easier by neatly stacking the bowls on a tray.
For once Lotor wasn’t bossing Allura around, allowing the little girl free reign to choose their activities. She soon gathered up several board games, recognizing their type by the colorful pictures on the boxes. “Can we play this one?” Allure wanted to know, having picked out a game where one’s tokens traveled a fantasy setting made up entirely of candy.
Lotor shrugged, neither agreeing or disagreeing, leaving Allura to frown at him. “Well, I want to play!” She dropped down to the floor, and began pulling the game pieces out of the box, cards spilling all over the place in the process. Lotor sat down next to her, and began picking up the cards, Allura letting out a warning. “No cheating now!”
“I don’t cheat!” Lotor retorted, giving a haughty toss of his head. “I’m just better at this game than you are.”
Allura made a face, opening her mouth to issue out a retort, Adaline hurrying to speak over her. “Now, now. Don’t start bickering you two.”
“We won’t!” Both children chorused, and continued their preparations of the game. Adaline finished up with her cleaning, and drew a chair closer to the children, content to watch them play.
“Addy…” Allura was handing the cards to her, a serious look on her face. “You be the…be the…” She stumbled over the word, at last choosing a far simpler one to convey her idea. “The score keeper.”
“All right.” agreed Adaline, shuffling the cards. Within a few minutes the game was all set up, Lotor and Allura’s tokens chosen, and the kids playing a game to decide who would go first. Lotor won, which pleased him, the boy smirking as he threw the dice down onto the board. Soon his earlier upset seemed all but forgotten, Lotor laughing, his eyes sparkling with good humor.
He teased Allura, and was made fun of in return, the two keeping up good-natured squabbling as they moved their tokens around the board. They were soon in a tie, racing for the game’s finish when the door to the room opened. Adaline didn’t turn right away, making an assumption that it was the slaves come to clean up the remains of their breakfast.
“I’ve got everything ready for you…” She said, keeping an eye on the cards to make sure neither child tried to sneak one into their own pile.
“Do you now?” Her husband’s voice had her stiffening, Adaline meeting the startled eyes of her son. He shook his head, panicked and frightened, nearly knocking over the game board as he scrambled backwards.
“Zarkon!” Adaline rose so fast her chair toppled backwards, the woman’s skirts swishing as she turned to face her husband. She was relieved to see he was in control of himself, looking far more calm and less angry than the last time she had seen him. Even with that collected manner, she still echoed her son’s fear, Adaline forcing herself to remain impassive for all outward appearances.
“Wh..” She cursed herself for that stutter, for it betrayed that she wasn’t as composed as she’d like to be. “What are you doing here?!”
“Is it so strange that I come to visit my wife and my son?” He asked, moving closer to them. Adaline put herself purposefully in his path, blocking his view of the children.
“It is when you haven’t come by not once in the last three weeks!” Adaline retorted, placing her hands on her hips. Zarkon came to a stop before her, the toes of his boots touching the hem of her floor length skirt.
“It’s been a busy time Adaline.”
“Too busy to see to your son?” She demanded, arching an eyebrow at him. He smiled at her, the grin all teeth and feral looking, her husband in an exceedingly good mood. She wondered why, and feared what repercussions his good humor would have on her and the children.
“The needs of a kingdom outweigh that of one soul.” Came his reply, his tone such that Adaline felt he was laughing at her. “You’re looking well.” His eyes raked over her form, Adaline fighting a shudder. It felt as though Zarkon was undressing her with his eyes, the man out right leering as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“No thanks to you.” Adaline retorted, and he snorted.
“You may think I overreacted, but your behavior that day, and your outright refusal to do as I commanded warranted such a punishment.” Zarkon reached out to touch her, and it was all Adaline could do to remain rooted in the spot, enduring that solicitous hand of his. “Besides…” His voice practically purred out, Zarkon caressing his fingers up her right arm. “I wasn’t nearly as violent as I could be…”
“Yes, I know….” She whispered, images of the scenes in his dungeon and court playing out in her mind. “You held yourself back.”
“Because of my great affection for you.” Zarkon’s hand rested on her shoulder now, the man playing with the strap of her gown.
“And was it affection that had you treat our son in that same manner?” An angry question, Adaline trying to choose her words carefully so as not to upset the children who were watching wide eyed and silent. He ignored that question of hers, Zarkon moving to step around Adaline. Both children gasped, the woman moving to block him once more from approaching them.
“Really Adaline….there’s no need to bar me from my son.” Zarkon complained, and none too gently took her by the arm, jerking her out of his way. He smiled that toothy grin at Lotor and Allura, his eyes looking the boy over from head to toe. “Hello son.”
Lotor made a sound, not quite a whimper, and it was Allura who answered, the girl bravely stepping up to Zarkon. “Go away! You’re a very bad man!”
Zarkon made a sound of displeasure, turning to cock one eyebrow in Adaline’s direction. “The brat is talking now?” He frowned at Adaline’s confirming nod. “You’d do well to teach her some manners, especially when talking to her betters.”
“Go away!” Allura repeated, and made a move to kick at Zarkon’s shin. Lotor and Adaline both gasped, Adaline scooping the child up before her foot could make the connection.
Zarkon let out a low growl, the very sound causing the hair on the back of her neck to rise, Adaline clinging to Allura protectively. “She’s still just a child…” Adaline began nervously. “She doesn’t realize the enormity of her actions.”
“There’s a quick way to give her that knowledge!” Zarkon snarled, his hands dropping to the belt around his waist. Adaline fought not to close her eyes, flashing back to the moment when the belt buckle first bit into her back.
“Please no…” Adaline whispered, shaking her head and backing up.
“It’s the quickest way for the brat to learn!” Zarkon snapped, Allura beginning to cry. She had spied his fiddling with his belt, the girl growing fearful.
“Addy!” Allura sniffled, twisting about to hug the woman back.
“No…no that.” Adaline said, voice turning pleading. “Zarkon, please….we can work out an arrangement…”
“You’re always making bargains for that brat.” He actually sounded sullen, his hands stilling for the moment on his belt buckle. “When will you tire of her?”
“She’s not a thing to toss aside one day just because caring for her might lead to difficulties!” Adaline retorted.
“Hmph.” He scowled, glaring at her. Adaline remained poised for flight, not intent on giving Allura over to him for his punishment. “I would think you would hate her by now.”
“Hate her? Hate Allura?” Adaline was confused, the little girl looking up at her worriedly. “How could I ever hate one such as she?”
“She costs you so much, and gives you nothing in return.” Explained Zarkon. “How much more will you sacrifice, how much lower will you degrade yourself for her?” His words were a trap, she knew it, and knew enough to not respond, just standing there quietly. Allura hugged her again, the little girl disturbed by the king’s words.
Disgusted Zarkon turned from them, his hands dropping from his belt to their relief. But it didn’t last long, the King approaching his son once more. If possibly, the man’s face hardened further, tiny wrinkles appearing around his eyes as he frowned down at the boy. “So…” A long drawn out hiss, the King watching as Lotor flinched at the sound of his voice. “You survived.”
“No thanks to you!” Adaline spoke up, remembering all the anger and fear she had experienced when no one would help her tend to her injured son. Zarkon waved off her anger, reaching out to grasp Lotor by the chin. The boy started to whimper at the contact, the man allowing a displeased smile to cross his face.
“Alive and still bawling like a baby. When will you ever learn boy?” He forced Lotor to turn his head to the side, Zarkon studying his profile, eyes lingering on his fading bruises. “But still you showed some piddling amount of promise. We may just make a man of you yet.” A grin, cruel in it’s malevolent pleasure. “Your brief holiday from your lessons is over with. You’re to come with me now, we’ve much time to make up on.”
“NO!” gasped Adaline, shaking her head. “Lotor is still not recovered completely…”
“Oh, you speak for him now?” Zarkon turned to glare at her, still gripping tight hold of Lotor’s chin. “Stick to being the sole champion of the girl, and let me have my son to do with as I please.”
“Pleasing you will kill him!” Adaline retorted, taking a step forward. Zarkon gave an uncaring shrug of his shoulder, hardly disturbed by the thought.
“That’s one way to get rid of the weakness in our family.” He dropped his hold on Lotor, gesturing for the boy to follow him. Lotor shook his head, backing up into the toy chest, his hands scrambling about behind him. “You try my limited patience boy. Now come here!”
Zarkon narrowed his eyes at the boy, growling as he advanced on him. Lotor looked about frantically, Adaline’s heart seeming to clench inside her chest. “Zarkon, leave him!” He seemed to ignore her, snatching at Lotor’s arm, giving it a twist that had the boy yelping in pain. “Please! He’s not fully recovered!”
“If he can play, he’s recovered enough.” Zarkon retorted, then gave her a sly glance. “Unless you can offer me a more attractive alternative for my afternoons, I suggest you all resign yourself to the boy’s lessons.” She shivered, falling quiet, Zarkon smirking satisfied. “I thought so…”
Adaline closed her eyes, praying for strength as she lowered Allura to the floor. The girl tried to hang on to her, not trusting what Adaline was about to do. “W…we could spend time together.”
“Addy no!” Allura protested, Adaline making a shushing sound.
“You and I together…..it’s been a while since we were alone….”
“It has been a while.” Zarkon agreed, looking at her now. His eyes were appraisingly, the man studying the way the chiffon of her gown clung to her womanly curves. She held back her revulsion at the way he looked at her, Zarkon licking his lips in appreciation. “But are you sure you’re up to being with me?” A smirk then, the look practically lascivious. “It won’t be board games that you and I play at once we’re alone, I can assure you of that.”
Adaline considered the state of her health, the way her back still caused her pain, especially when she was to lay on it. Then she glanced at her son, and one look into the boy’s miserable golden eyes, and Adaline knew she would simply have to endure it. “I understand.” Bravery was in her tone, Adaline stepping past Allura who continued to make protesting sounds.
“Excellent.” Zarkon said, offering his arm to her. Adaline didn’t even hesitated, laying her hand across his flesh, the King taking a quick step towards the door. “I’ve missed you….I’ve missed our time together….” He confided to her with a purr. She said nothing to that, just continued to look straight ahead as they walked, unable, unwilling to look back and meet the children’s horrified gazes.