She stared at Keith shocked, his words of love seeming to echo in her mind, playing out like a recording stuck on a loop. Allura could scarcely believe what she had heard him say, and yet once voiced, she could not deny the life altering power of his admission. Slowly, she exhaled, a nervous kind of laughter escaping her, Keith seeming to wince at the sound of it. She immediately felt bad, not having meant to laugh in his face.
“Keith…” She began, aware of the fact he still held her hand, still stood kissing close to her. Her own hand was on his chest, a flimsy attempt to hold him at bay, though he was no longer trying to kiss her. “What did you say?”
“Don’t make me say it again.” Was Keith’s reply, his expression hurting. “Not if you’re going to laugh.”
“I didn’t mean to laugh at you. It was more nerves than any humor I take out of this situation.” Allura told him, keeping her hand frozen still on his body. “It was just so unexpected….and sudden…”
“Sudden I can believe, but could you really be so blind to how I feel about you?” Keith asked, causing her to shrug helplessly. “I guess I hid it too well then, if you’re so shocked.”
“You…” A nervous licking of her lips, Allura not failing to notice the way he watched her tongue move. “You love me?”
“Yes, Allura, I do.” He nodded, expression so solemn.
“Why have you never told me this?” Her question got him to let go of her hand, Keith taking a step back from her.
“Never seemed like a good time.” A shrug of his shoulders, Keith looking frustrated. “Never had the courage too…”
“Until now? Until you had a few to drink?” She could still taste the alcohol on her tongue, remembering how full of liquor his kiss had been.
“So maybe I needed a little bit of liquid courage to do it…Maybe I’ll regret telling you this come tomorrow morning when the effects have worn off. But..”
“But what?” Allura watched Keith pulled at his bow tie, slowly unwinding it from around his neck. He flung it in the direction of the dresser, the velvet ribbon fluttering to the floor.
“I knew there could never be anything between us.” Keith began, slumping down in one of the room’s arm chairs. He rested his elbows on his lap, hands laced together before his face. “You’re a princess for goodness sake. You needed to marry royalty. I was prepared for that eventuality….I was content to love you from afar….or at least….I thought I was.”
“Lotor’s changed everything.” Allura said, seeing Keith bob his head in agreement.
“Yeah. He’s having an effect on all of us, you, me, Arus…I hate seeing him around you. I can’t stand to see him even talk to you, let alone the way he looks at you. Or the way he sneaks touches, or forces you to kiss him.” He had been gazing off at the wall, almost as though he wasn’t aware of her nearness. But now he lifted his gaze, locking eyes with Allura. “I almost lost it completely the other evening when I came to check in on you, and saw you passed out in his bed.”
Allura couldn’t help but shiver at the intensity of his eyes, dark with his emotions. “You saw me?”
“Yeah.” A grimace, Keith angry at Lotor. “He let me into the room long enough to see you and the wrecked state of the surroundings. Clothes scattered everywhere. As if that wasn’t enough, he told me in no uncertain terms that you had slept with him.”
She winced, imagining the kind of hurt Keith must have experienced at hearing that. “Oh Keith…I’m sorry…”
“Yeah…so am I.” He sighed then, leaning back in his seat. “I argued with him. I couldn’t believe you would do that kind of thing. Not without coercion of some kind. We exchanged words. He…he wasn’t vulgar mind you. He didn’t give me the details of just how it went down. Lotor protected your privacy at least that much.”
Allura was relieved, knowing she’d die of mortification if Keith knew every dirty little detail of her drunken tryst with Lotor. “And that’s when I woke up?”
“Yeah. It made me so mad to hear you say you did sleep with him willingly. Angry, but more than that I was jealous! I kept thinking why couldn’t it have been me you ended up with. Why does Lotor who has done so many evil things, why does he get the good fortune to marry you?”
“I don’t know. I’m still trying to understand why I act the way I do when I have too much to drink.” She lowered her eyes, unable to look at him. Allura could feel the heat rushing to her cheeks, the girl fidgeting with her fingers. “Don’t tell anyone this…or what you learned at the club but I…I’ve since remembered the events of that night. All of it. Even the feelings associated with my actions.”
“And what are your feelings?” Keith asked, and she knew she blushed harder to admit this.
“Right now? They’re confused. But that night…I was happy to see Lotor. Excited…I wanted to be with him. And I don’t understand why!” She trembled, wanting to pace agitatedly before him. “I wasn’t scared of him, I didn’t feel hate or anger. I just…” A shrug then, Allura feeling helpless. “Saw an attractive man that I wanted to be with. A man that made me feel things, good emotions.”
“You’ve had encounters with him in the past.” Noted Keith, Allura nodding along with his words. “I think you might have to explore those moments, and see if you can’t find a pattern with regard to your feelings towards him. I know you’ve never liked to talk about those times you were alone with him but….clearly he got through to you on some level if the subconscious you that comes out when you’re drunk, responds to him.”
“The subconscious me…” Allura repeated softly. “There was always a part of me that felt…sorry for him. That thought if only he had had a different up bringing he would have turned out different. Could there be more in those feelings than just pity…?”
“Only you can answer that Allura.” Keith sighed. “Maybe you like the excitement he brings, the element of danger. I don’t know.”
She stood there, staring down at her hands, digesting his words. “It’s risky.” She said at last, seeing Keith nod. “I mean…what if I do discover I have some kind of hidden feelings for him? Won’t that just lead us somewhere neither one of us is prepared to go?”
“You’re talking about loving him….”
“Yeah. Keith, I don’t want to lose you.” She stepped towards him, eyes sad as she looked at the captain.
“I can’t promise you, you won’t.” He took her hand when she offered it to him, giving her a light squeeze. “I don’t know, maybe it’s best if I leave right from the start. I can always return to Garrison and have them send a replacement pilot for the team.”
“No, Keith, I don’t want that!” protested Allura. “The team needs you. I need you. Please….stay…” She was clinging to his hand, eyes desperate as she implored him to remain.
“All right Allura. For a little while at least.” Keith agreed, and she nearly shook with her relieved sigh.
“Thank you Keith. I appreciate it.” She released her hold on his hand, turning towards the door. “Keith…how long have you known? I mean…how long have you had these feelings for me?”
“I think I realized I loved you the day you succumbed to the witch’s poison knife. The day you died on us.” Keith explained, Allura shivering as she remembered how close she had come to waking up on planet Doom.
“That long ago?” She wondered out loud.
“Yeah.” Keith said. “That long.”
“It must have been hard on you to keep quiet…”
“Not as half as hard as it’s been watching you with Lotor!” Keith exclaimed, his words making her wince.
“I’m sorry again Keith. I never meant to hurt anyone.” Allura had reached the door, hand on the knob.
“I know you didn’t Allura.” Keith said as she opened the door. “That might just make it worse.”
She had nothing to stay to that, Allura all but fleeing into the hall, closing the door behind her. She hesitated out in the hall, leaning against Keith’s door, staring at the floor. He had given her a lot to think about, Allura wondering where she should begin if she wanted to examine her relationship with Lotor.
“Can’t do it out in the hall.” She muttered, and walked towards her room’s door. It was slightly ajar, Allura frowning as she cautiously pushed open the door. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but what she got was Lotor, sitting before the view screen, watching some sort of news holo. He held the remote in his hand, but at the sound of her entrance he turned, already shutting off the program.
“Allura.” He came forward, eyes looking her over, quietly noting the bits of dried cake and pastry on her gown.
“I’m back.” She said weakly, letting the door fall close. “Anything interesting on the news?”
“Not really.” Lotor answered with a shrug. “They haven’t even broken the story of our marriage yet. No doubt Arus is waiting for their princess to return. I don’t know what my father’s excuse is.”
“I’m sure he’s too busy planning his invasion….ah excuse me, his…merger with Arus. No doubt they are things to plan, people to organize if he wants to get them down on Arus within the next few days.”
“True.” Agreed Lotor. “Though with how long he’s waited to get his hands on Arus, you’d think he’d have all that already prepared. I know I would if I was in his shoes. It would just be a matter of moving the Drules onto the ships to get to Arus.”
“Oh.” Allura had conflicting feelings at hearing that, not sure she liked hearing how ready Doom should have been to move in on Arus.
“Did the ceremony go well?” Lotor asked, leaving her to wonder if he was trying to steer the conversation elsewhere. “No last minute protests from those in attendance?” He had a teasing smile on his face, but she didn’t share in his amusement.
“Not a one. No one would have dared to ruin this day for my cousin.” Allura told him, and he nodded.
“That’s good to hear. Let them say what they will, but I really bear no ill will towards that cousin of yours.” Allura’s eyes widened at that, Lotor letting out a laugh. “What? I speak the truth!”
“How can you say that? You tossed her into the pit of skulls!” Allura exclaimed, noting with surprise that Lotor had the good grace to look embarrassed.
“I acted foolishly back then. I was angry and not thinking clearly. Besides…” His lips twitched, Lotor trying to hold back a smile. “She would have never encountered Sven if I hadn’t done that. So if anything, she and her husband owe me a debt of gratitude.”
“Gratitude?!” Allura scoffed, shaking her head no. “That’s an insane way of viewing what happened.”
That made Lotor frown. “Maybe it’s best if we leave the past buried. It’s our present day and our future we should concern ourselves with. Think about it Allura….ours will be a glorious future, one free of the past hurts and memories of the war.”
“Arus may be free of Doom’s many attempts to take over the planet, but what about my cousin?” She demanded. “What about planet Pollux, and the many other planets in the Denubian Galaxy that your father wants to conquer?”
“They’re not really your concern.” Lotor said, and she couldn’t help herself, she glared at him.
“Not my concern?! Lotor, there are innocent people on those planets. People who should by all rights be able to live their lives free of worry and of Doom’s attacks. You cannot expect me to turn a blind eye to what goes on in the galaxy around me!”
“But Allura…” He looked like he didn’t understand her. “There’s nothing you can do about them. You’ll needlessly worry yourself, and for what? Sympathy for those people’s suffering? A suffering they need not even undergo if they would simply surrender to Doom when asked.”
“To surrender to Doom is to be enslaved.” Allura pointed out. “There is no peaceful coexistence between the Doom Empire and those they seek to subjugate!”
“Maybe the Doom Empire can change. After all…Arus is about to learn firsthand how to flourish as part of the Doom Empire.” Lotor said, looking frustrated when she scoffed.
“We will see just how benevolent Doom really will be towards my people in these coming days.”
“You doubt my word? The word of my people?” Lotor asked, and she didn’t even hesitate.
“I doubt your king!” She walked past him, her movements agitated. “Zarkon lies. He steals and he kills, he commits countless crimes. What is one more in the grand scheme of things?”
“That’s because no one has tried to keep him in check.” Lotor had turned to track her movements, she could feel the weight of his gaze on her back. “But I will make him adhere to the treaty.”
“And you think he will listen to you?!” She whirled around, gesturing wildly. Allura was less then pleased when Lotor nodded, sinking down in a chair. “I wish I had half your confidence, I really do.”
Lotor approached her, kneeling down before Allura. “It’s okay. I have more than enough confidence for the both of us.” He reached to take her hands, lacing his fingers with hers when she didn’t fight him.
“You’ll need it.” She told him, feeling Lotor squeeze her hands. “My people won’t make it easy for your people. You cannot expect the Arusians to forget a lifetime of hardships done to us by planet Doom.”
“I don’t expect them too.” Lotor said. “I’m sure there will be resistance, and we will have to work hard to mend relations between the two people. But I don’t doubt we can do it….together.”
“Together?” She echoed, and he nodded, smiling at her.
“Yes. If they see their rulers united in thought and in action, they will be bound to follow our example.”
“I don’t know…” Allura was doubtful, watching as Lotor brought her right hand towards his mouth. He continued to smile, brushing a kiss across her knuckles. “It can’t be that easy. I mean…I’m not even sure we’ll get along…”
“We will. I’m sure of it.” Lotor insisted, making her sigh.
“You can’t make something happen just because you will it to happen.” Allura protested, seeing him frown. He didn’t seem to understand, looking confused at her words. “It’ll take work. Lots of it, and it’ll be a long and hard road to travel. It’s not something you can go into half hearted. You can’t just give up because it becomes difficult. Are you prepared to do that?”
“I am.” Lotor assured her. “It doesn’t sound much different from the hard work associated with trying to win your heart. And we both know that’s something I will never give up on.”
She stared at him for just a second, seeing the apparent sincerity in his eyes. “Lotor….I think it best if you save that energy for helping my people accept Doom, and all it offers Arus.”
“I can do both.” Lotor insisted.
“Can you?” She wondered out loud.
“I can. You’ll see.” A grin then, Lotor pressing another kiss into the back of her hand. “And maybe through my actions towards helping your people, I will be able to win your affections.”
Allura didn’t want to give him false hope, the princess sighing as she pulled her hands free of his grip. “Just don’t build your hopes up like that. I shudder to think of how you will deal with the disappointment when I do not come to return your love.”
“You’re so sure you can’t love me.” He pushed up off the floor, rising to stand before her. “I mean to prove you wrong Allura. All you need to do is sit back and watch me.”
“I’ll be watching you all right.” Allura told him, also getting up from her chair. “But it’s to see that you conduct yourself the way a prince should. The way a gentleman would. Now….if you’ll excuse me….I need to get out of this gown.”
“All right Allura.” Lotor said, stepping aside as she swept past him. She walked over to the closet, and pulled out a jumpsuit, eager to ditch the gown for the comfort of cotton pants. She folded the outfit over her arm, careful to not get any of the cake remains on the fabric and headed for the bathroom door.
“Allura…” Lotor was speaking again, his voice giving her pause. “I will prove myself to you. I will become the kind of man you can love.”
“You may just attempt the impossible.” She retorted as she stepped into the bathroom. She closed the door, surprised to find she was shaking, his words having an affect on her. It left Allura wondering how she would survive Lotor’s determined attempts to impress her.