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“Well?”

Allura held her breath, watching the quiet man before her.  After a moment, his sapphire gaze slid to her.  She swallowed.

“Well?”  He inquired politely, returning the question back to her.

“Oh, quiznack, you know what I mean!  You’ve been here for vargas. What have you been doing in here for so long?”  Her eyes lit up at the faint curl of a smile at the half-Galran’s lips.   Without saying a word, he deftly set down the data screen he had been holding and regarded the princess fully.

He glanced briefly around the room in her castle he had quickly made a second home – the Library.  Screens full of information and shelves full of ancient volumes, many that had never been preserved digitally much less holographically, records from ancient civilizations – both Altean and otherwise – long thought lost.  It was a repository of information, artifacts and scrolls that would have never survived within the Galra Empire under his father’s command.

“What is it that you wish to know?”  He tilted his head to the side, studying the woman before him.  She only smiled weakly in response, folding her hands in front of her.  The intensity of his gaze stirred something strange within her.

I always believed it to be adrenaline…

Before her stood the Emperor himself, his features soft yet his stare remained hard.  Every moment she made eye contact with him, her pulse raced.  Allura had believed the sensation to be the hum of impending conflict – the rush of a battle to come or a challenge yet to be conquered.

And yet, without the threat of Zarkon, the emanating evil of Haggar’s lair or the dying gasps of her Paladins aboard the Castleship… her heart still thrummed.  With no calculable threat or drive of urgency, her blood pounded.  Allura exhaled to regain her composure, refocusing on her objective.

“You… rather vanished after Oriande.  You’ve been… alone.  I’m… is there anything you’d like to talk about?” Her eyes glanced up to him gently.  “…are you alright?”

He parted his lips to speak, but the taste of defeat was too fresh upon his tongue to utter in her presence.  He closed them again and looked back to the sprawl of information on the desktop before him.

“Just research,” he diverted.

Allura stayed quiet, averting her gaze to the same tomes and terminals that caught his eye.  A taut silence settled between them and she shifted uncomfortably.  In nearly no time at all, she had learned so much about the man standing near her, cloaked in his own solitude, and yet she realized she still knew so little in comparison.  He wore his isolation like a second skin, seemingly thriving in the environment he carved for himself.

She breathed, corralling her courage.  It took only two steps to close the brief distance between them.

The princess’s palm pressed over the back of his hand.  Her keen eye noticed the visible stiffen that rolled through his body at her touch, but he yielded no other movement.

“You don’t have to talk.  I won’t press my curiosity upon you.  But… if you ever did, just… know that I’ll listen.  I’ll be there for you,” she said softly, withdrawing her palm.

His own hand inverted and his fingers curled through hers.  He caught just the tips of her own digits between his, stilling her retreat as he turned to face her fully.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely.

She smiled brightly in response, raising her eyes to meet his.  The moment that hung between them lingered just long enough for a warmth to caress Allura’s cheeks before she tore her eyes from him.

“I… I was thinking,” she began uneasily, slowly redirecting to the reason for her visit in the first place, beyond her insatiable concern for his wellbeing.  “About Oriande.”

Her eyes flashed to his, checking his reaction.  The dyad had been so pressed by the impending danger on the Paladins that she had never truly gotten a moment to speak with him about his trial.  They had fled the alchemic paradise with very little exchanged between them on the prayer that her friends still had breaths left. She had surmised by his demeanor that it had not gone well, but with so much riding on their quick escape, they hadn’t had the moment to discuss it.  Upon restoring power, he had quickly distanced himself from the rest of the team, burying himself within the walls of the library for the last several quintants.

Gemstone irises focused on her wordlessly, his lips impassive and unmoving.  He waited for her to continue; the only encouragement he offered was a cant of his head and a faint, subtle squeeze of her fingers still laced between his own.

“Nevermind it,” she murmured apologetically, turning away from him.  Foolish.  She closed her eyes in frustration.  An odd sensation settled in her chest – an emptiness as if she were walking away from something she needed; not unlike being close to finding something lost. It is not fair to press that upon him.  He has his own-

Her eyes widened suddenly when his fingertips curled around hers, once more stopping her from withdrawing her touch entirely.  Despite his aloofness, Lotor seemed reluctant to let her give him space.

“Tell me,” he encouraged softly.

Her heart thrummed with what had become a familiar intimacy at the touch.  Heat flourished across her skin and her pulse escalated.

What is this magic, she thought.  The sensation had been building since the Kral Zera – a fleeting thought that she couldn’t interpret, a feeling that she couldn’t translate, a thrall that she couldn’t evade.  At least, she had first noticed it as he took his throne.  Perhaps the hum had been festering long before that.

She swallowed.

Allura turned back to face him, feeling painfully conscious of the fact he did not release her fingers.  Her own digits curled delicately around his in response as she stepped closer to him.  He took the moment to slide his palm more fully around hers. Perhaps his self-imposed isolation isn’t out of desire… but necessity.

“I…” She faltered, suddenly questioning if telling him what was on her mind would harm or help.  She frowned, but ultimately offered the truth.  “I’d like to go back.”

His face stayed unreadable, studying her expression carefully.  After a moment passed, he released her hand and nodded politely.  The wall between them was up once more, and Allura felt a chill flood her body at the absence of his touch.

“Understandable, of course.”

“I… I know it’s only been a movement since we were just there, but I… I wanted to know if you would come with me,” she blurted out, unable to word the next thought in her mind delicately.  He grew still in response.  “If… I mean… if you wanted to,” she added quickly, her cheeks heating crimson.  “I welcome your company and expertise,” she finished, scraping together a meager remnant of dignity, flushed by her fumbling.

He stared at her wordlessly, the faint hint of disbelief etched into his expression.

“It would be my pleasure,” he murmured softly.

“Truly?”  Her eyes lit up like the dawn, all traces of doubt or concern erased.

“Yes,” he affirmed.  “You would… want me to join you again?”

“Of course!  You’re the only reason we were able to go there and back.  I would have never known to even look for Oriande on my own, much less how to find it,” she gasped out in shock. “Why wouldn’t I want you to go?”

His fingertips touched his cheekbone doubtfully.

“I am… not certain I am still… Chosen, Allura,” he hedged quietly.

She softened.

“Oh.”  A breathless reply was all she could muster.  She hesitated a moment and chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully.  “…the trial?”

He graced over the question delicately rather than answering it directly.

“I don’t believe that I will be able to enter Oriande again.”

“Well,” Allura began gently, pausing to contemplate the situation in full.  After a moment’s silence, she responded with a truly academic approach.  “Perhaps that is reason enough to satisfy our curiosity and find out?”  She tilted her head to the side, a playful smile ghosting at her lips as she attempted to appeal to his scientific mindset.

Lotor’s stoic demeanor melted marginally at the spark in her eyes.

“I suppose so,” he conceded, his own faint smile manifesting, finding himself utterly unable to deny her.


 

“Are you certain of this?”

Allura paused and looked over her shoulder as she stood on the ramp into Blue’s mouth.  Lotor watched her with hesitance from the ground as she held her helmet between her palms.  She smiled and nodded once.

“Of course.”

For only the second time, Lotor stepped over the threshold and into one of the mythical ships.  As his eyes skimmed over the interior that matched the Black Lion, he noticed two pilot stations.  Allura gracefully dropped into one and secured her helmet over her head.

The jaw of the beast closed, plunging the command station into darkness, save the glow from their suits and hibernating control panels.

“What is it?”  She looked at his tense form, standing near her.  He shook his head, dismissing the strange sensation that he stood within the very vehicle that had bested him on Thayserix.  Allura watched him with wide, curious eyes, her hands curled around the mechanical controls, her features cast into stark relief in the minimal lighting.

“Nothing,” he said gently, his face softening as he eased himself into the second chair, startled by the screens that illuminated before him. “These are the spatial readings,” he commented.

“I’ll be focused on flying and using the teludav, having an extra set of eyes on the readings and charts would be… very helpful to me,” she explained.

“Of course,” he agreed… then frowned.  “I worry that I will endanger you,” he added after a moment. “The gatekeeper may attack us if I am with you.  I-”

“Princess, the castle is on the edge of the event horizon now, we cannot get you any closer,” Coran’s voice cut in. Allura turned and looked over the back of her seat at Lotor. She eyed him warmly for a tick before speaking.

“I think we’ll be fine,” she said.  His breath caught at the stunning look of her glowing marks and it took him a dobosh to catch her statement.

“How are you so certain?”

She tilted her head to the side but said nothing, a knowing smile on her face.  Lotor blinked in shock, realizing the glow within his helmet did not come from his flight suit.

“I…”

“Let’s go!”  Allura didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence as Blue Lion roared and came to life.  It took only a blink and a breath before the sinewy lion was weaving around the broken ships in the debris field, guided by the meticulous skill of the pilot’s slender hands.

Allura’s body swayed in her seat as she moved the beast, her left hand releasing the control to tap something on a panel before quickly retaking the mechanism.

The lion came to a stop at the edge of the white hole, and before them the arcing magnificence of the Altean gateway appeared.  Allura studied the wormhole for a moment before turning to look at him once more.

“Are you ready?”

He nodded once and watched with rapt fascination as her eyes lit up brighter than her crescent marks.  She said nothing but quickly spun around in her seat and exhaled once.  With vigor, she thrust the controls forward and Blue Lion sprang to life, diving into the wormhole.

“We got this, Blue,” she murmured, guiding the mechanical cat out of the warp and into the heart of the energy source.  As she predicted, the gatekeeper roared at their presence.  “This is it!” 

“Systems look stable, readings are normal,” he confirmed, looking over the numbers on the panels before him, welcoming the strategic distraction.  He tapped the screen, flipping to another chart.  “Everything… is normal. …We’re…fine,” he repeated in disbelief, as if the statement were foreign to him.

Allura felt the thrum of excitement race through her blood as they pierced the entrance and the shifting hues of the mythical landscape came into focus.

“You did it,” Lotor exhaled, quickly realizing he had been holding his breath.

We did it,” she corrected cheerfully, her body relaxing into her chair as the vessel coasted uninterrupted through the atmosphere.  Lotor had no words to offer in the wake of the pride that swelled in his chest at the remarkable woman sitting nonchalantly in front of him, completely oblivious to her own magnificence.


 “You know, that was easier than I expected,” Allura murmured as she exited Blue Lion. “The last time we came it seemed much more difficult.”

“That is because more was riding on your success,” he replied as he followed behind her.  With a flourish, he removed his helmet, silvered locks floating down his back as if they heralded their own laws of gravity.

He tilted his head to the side in a curious question once his eyes found hers locked on him in fascination.  She blinked, her cheeks flushing as she shook her head once, removing her own helmet.  She extended her hand to him, offering to take his helm.  He obliged.

“What do you mean?  The gateway was just the same as before.  The White Lion was there,” she said, setting the headwear inside Blue as the mouth closed.  She looked his way just in time to briefly catch a dark shadow over his face before he hid it swiftly.  She bit down on her bottom lip worriedly.  It simply has to be something that happened with his trial… did he see the same thing I did?

“Your Paladins are not in danger and your ship is not out of energy,” he explained gently.  She nodded in realization; knowing how to enter Oriande – and by extension who could enter Oriande – had saved the rest of the crew from repeating their prior mistakes and jeopardizing the ship’s energy core.

“As long as they don’t attempt to follow us or move in closer, they are safe,” he added, stepping forward into the lush terrain.  “We are not under duress to meet an objective within a certain amount of time.”

She exhaled in relief, looking around the flowers blooming about their ankles.

“Thank you for coming with me.  I wanted to explore more.  To… to see more that which time did not afford us before.”

“By all means,” he said quietly, raising his eyes to the prismatic sky.  “Lead the way, Allura.”

Her eyes widened and the bubbling warmth thrummed through her veins once more at the sound of her name on his lips.  She stared at the flora for a tick to steady her heart before raising her eyes to the landscape around them.

Even though she turned away from him, Allura was acutely aware that he was still there.  Lotor’s presence burned in her mind like a point on radar.  It wasn’t because she could hear the faintest of wiffs as his hair moved in the breeze, nor was it that she could scent his natural fragrance, dark and strong among the flowers.

Stars.

She could feel his presence, practically taste –

“Allura?”

She nearly jumped out of her skin when Lotor’s voice pierced her thoughts.

“I… I was just… debating where to go,” she stumbled, the fog in her mind evaporating.  Regrouping her faculties, Allura began striding through the soft foliage toward a line of trees.  Her skin blushed when the man said nothing but seemed content to follow behind her.


He watched with fascination as Allura came to a stop.  She planted her hands on her hips and took the reprieve to catch her breath.  She exhaled and turned to face him.  Sweat shined on her skin, evidence of their expedition.  Lotor was certain they had been hiking for at least a varga if not two.  His own heart raced from the exertion, but his fascination with the wonderland around them mirrored her own.

Allura stretched, reaching up and digging her nails into the bun on the top of her head.  With effort, the cloud-like tendrils tumbled down and she shook them out, massaging her scalp briefly.

“I need a breath,” she admitted, easing herself down onto a nearby fallen tree.  Her back bowed out in a gentle stretch and Lotor stared openly.  “Thank you for joining me,” she continued, startling him from his thoughts, her head turning sideways to look at him as she rested her elbows on her knees.

“Of course,” he replied, easing himself down onto the mossy wood beside her.  His gaze studied her profile for a moment before eyeing the landscape around them. 

They had steadily been moving up in elevation – while trees flanked them, there was a sharp cliffside nearby.  From their vantage point, the temple hovered on the skyline.

He frowned at the memory.

Electricity flashed through him and he just stopped himself from flinching when her hand clasped his gently without warning.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He could feel her eyes on him, even as he stared across the skyscape, eyeing the remnants of a broken promise – a lifetime of research lost. One more thing stolen by his father.  It seemed even death could not keep the man from haunting him – from taking the things most precious.

“I failed my trial, that’s all,” he said quietly after a moment’s contemplation.

Allura remained silent at his side, but her hold on his hand tightened briefly, imparting a reassuring squeeze.

“I’m certain it was difficult,” she murmured gently.  She turned her eyes on the temple in the distance, allowing him the respite from her gaze.

“It wouldn’t have been, if I hadn’t…” He trailed off, releasing a choked exhale.

“It’s called a trial for a reason,” Allura offered.  “Perhaps the hardest part wasn’t the ordeal itself, but the aftermath…”

His eyes widened slightly and he glanced down to her, but her own gaze remained focused on the distance.

“Allura…”

“The White Lion attacked me,” she said softly, continuing.   “I… I made a decision many would consider foolish.  I offered my life in exchange for knowledge.”

He studied her profile intently, attempting to divine meaning from her fatigued expression.

“I placed all the hope on the belief that I was not meant to fight.  That this… entity before me was not an adversary, despite how it appeared.  Had I been wrong – had it… harmed me, I would have endangered everyone.” She trailed off and shook her head.  “By making that offer, I wasn’t just offering to trade my life – but all the Paladins’… even yours,” she added.  “I offered that which was not entirely mine to give.”

When Lotor didn’t respond right away, she continued, as if mulling through it for the first time.

“I truly believed in my heart that it was the right thing to do.  But I based this entirely off a feeling and the belief that this place of legends and magic is designed to protect, not harm.”  She frowned. “It was a place I did not even believe existed, and suddenly I put all my faith in it.  I did not have time to think it through… I merely reacted on pure instinct and prayed for the best.”

Silence settled between them and emboldened by her own admission, he offered his.

“I, too, reacted with impulse.  …Though… I chose to fight,” he said softly.

Allura blinked, her wide eyes snapping to his.

“Then you saw the White Lion as well?”

“It seems we endured the same trial,” he said.  “I… fought back.  I won the battle – but lost everything else,” he murmured, never taking his eyes from her. “It-”

He froze, his body steeling like armor as her hands squeezed his and she rested her head against his shoulder.

“We survived.  That is what’s important.  I have been so grateful that you’re safe,” she admitted, peering up at him softly before looking back across the meadow at the temple.

What strange warmth…

No words.

Lotor had no words to reply to the princess.  He forced an exhale through his body, pausing to collect his thoughts with an inhale.  With each mechanical, conscientious breath, he willed himself to relax.  If Allura noticed the seemingly arduous process, she gave no indication, content to not only sit beside him, but against him in a way that was wholly foreign, staggeringly unnatural and… pleasing.

He studied the top of her head blankly before following her eyes to the temple.  His jaw was the last to unclench, but it mattered not – he had no language to reply to the sentiment that he had never heard before.  In all his millennia – safety had never been a wish imparted his way.

“Perhaps that is the curse of the trial.  To win – you give everything.  To lose, you keep it all,” she murmured absentmindedly.

He looked back down to the bob of Cumulus against his bicep, her slender hands curling around his own on his thigh.

“I’m glad you’re here with me,” she continued, reiterating her earlier sentiment as her hands tightened around his once more.  He swallowed. “Thank you.  Thank you for coming with me the first time, and also this time.  I can’t… I don’t believe I can stress that enough.”

“Allura,” his voice sounded off – there was a hoarseness he wasn’t used to hearing as he struggled to maintain himself.

Without warning, her head tilted up and he stared into her eyes.  Her face was just a breath from his own and her eyes were utterly endless.  As he watched her watching him, time felt like it slowed around him.

“What… is this?”  She murmured softly.  He stared and she continued as one of her hands released his and reached up to touch his cheek deftly.  “What are we now,” Allura whispered.

“I…” he trailed off.  “What would you like us to be, Allura?”  That foreign warmth was humming with blinding energy in his veins.

“…friends,” she whispered, caught by his gaze.  “I’d like us to be… good friends,” she reiterated, startling herself as she spoke to the man she had once hunted across the stars – and who hunted her, in turn.

“I would like that, too,” he agreed softly.  “Shall we?”  He gestured to the uncharted territory before them, not entirely certain he meant Oriande or each other.  Allura blinked and nodded, leaning away and rising to her feet.

Wordlessly, she began picking her way past the trees, the cliffside dropoff vanishing as the foliage became thicker around them.  Her mind raced as fast as her heart.  She mulled over everything that had transpired in only a matter of phoebs.

Weaving through the woods, Allura came to a stop before a crystal-clear lake staring back at her.  She stared, stunned by the view.

“Beautiful,” she murmured, taking in the smooth gemstones reflecting off the basin and the surreal sky overhead, piercing the trees.  White flowers dotted the long, willowy branches, curtaining around the reservoir.

“Indeed,” he replied softly.  Allura’s eyes snapped to him, curious what had caught his attention.  Her voice was stunned into submission when she found his eyes fixated on her.

“Allura,” he murmured softly.

“Shall we sit by the water?”  The flutter of a caged bird in her chest alarmed her.  What could possibly elicit such a chaotic reaction?

“As you desire.”  His voice nearly purred, the sapphire gaze tracking her as she tore herself from his side and clumsily made her way through the branches to climb upon a boulder overlooking the deeper part of the reservoir. Lotor lingered in place for an extra moment, regathering himself before he followed.

As he settled beside her, Allura was already making quick work of her boots.  It took some effort, dislodging the snaps and clasps from her suit to remove the single piece of armor, but once she succeeded, she dangled her feet over the stone and let the water beset her calves.  It quickly dampened the stirrup leggings of her flight suit, but she seemed to care little, pleased as her bare toes submerged.

She exhaled.

“It’s lovely,”she murmured, closing her eyes and tilting her head back. While the water was unsurprisingly warm given the paradise – she expected nothing less – the sensation of encompassing potential was unnerving.

Her eyes opened without warning and she cast him a playful look from the corner of her eye.

“Are you going to try the water,” she teased.

Lotor stared a moment longer, swallowing almost uncomfortably in the fire that burned behind her gaze.

“I’ll be fine,” he supplied, his heels hooked on the rock above the water.  He folded his hands politely between his knees and returned his gaze back across the glassy surface.

Allura studied him for a moment longer before deciding she was unimpressed by his response.

“Wrong answer,” she declared, her palm curling into the small of his back.

His eyes widened at the strength of the Altean, and in a single, fluid movement, his backside had left the stone purchase he had taken near her and he found himself treading water unceremoniously.

He stared up at the waifish woman grinning down at him playfully.

“How’s the water?”

Her breath hitched when his eyes turned to ice as he calculated his next move carefully.

“Why don’t you come find out?”

The unrelenting power of his form displayed itself as he rose out of the water in a precise, controlled manner, hovering before her as he treaded in place.  Emboldened by her own lack of decorum, he closed his palms irreverently over her thighs. His eyes never left hers as heat scorched through her body at the touch of his tendrils coiling around her muscles.

Before her lips could utter a rebuttal, he launched backwards, pulling her into the star-reflecting depths with him.

Water surged around her and for only a fraction of a second, Allura worried.  Her armor was heavy.  Despite the kick from her legs, she could feel it pulling her down.  She struggled to reorient herself in the shifting light.

Digits clasped her waist and before she realized it, Allura was breathing air once more, her frame leaning against Lotor’s as he held both her weight and his – armor included – afloat in the water. 

Only a moment of reveling in the strength and control passed before she realized the burden she had placed upon him. Allura quickly pressed off and swam near the shore where she began detaching the pieces of metal.  She stood halfway out of the water, bare toes comfortable in the smooth glass lining the earth while waves lapped at her calves.

When she glanced his direction and caught his fathomless eyes, she tilted her head to the side and smiled, tossing another of the white and pink metal plates aside.

“It’s not supposed to be a training exercise, you know,” she murmured.  With a hesitance, he joined her near the water’s edge.  He watched as the shield over her shoulder popped free under her hands.

“Did you want to keep yours?”  She glanced to him fully.

The strange look returned to his face before he glanced sideways.  Lotor’s eyes swiveled around the curtain-esque trees concealing them from any nearby eyes – or blades.

Madness, he thought markedly. What other soul would be here?

After a moment’s contemplation, he delicately unclasped the guard over his chest.  Allura blinked, watching in fascination as the layered pieces of the ensemble she had always found him in peeled away.

Lotor’s bulwark shattered, piece by piece, as crafted fingers unlatched their weakness and set them aside. His deft digits unlocked every guardpiece he had known, setting the heavy, worn aegis aside next to hers.

After a moment’s consideration, he stood delicately before her, both explorers finding themselves in a grey bodysuit, devoid of armaments, clinging to their very skin.

“Shall we?”  She offered her hand to his and carefully, he curled his long digits around her as she led him back into the water. 

“How does it feel?” Allura pressed the question curiously.

“Like the stars and the moon are conspiring against me,” he murmured, never taking his hooded gaze off of her.

“Whatever does that mean?”  The princess tilted her head to the side as she shifted from walking to swimming when the water became deep enough, a sprawl of white floating behind her.  Allura spiraled in a circle in the center of the pond, delighting in the free feeling of weightlessness.  She paused in her playful exploration when he didn’t reply.  As she turned to look at him, he tilted his head to the side.

“I don’t make it a habit to remove that which keeps me alive,” he said quietly.

Allura froze so still she nearly sank beneath the water before the muscles in her arms flexed in a strong arc to press up against gravity.

“Oh,” she whispered.  “I didn’t… I didn’t even think.  I suppose I’ve never seen you… in anything else, have I?”  Slowly she bobbed to his location, studying his features.

“You have not,” he affirmed, a faint smile on his lips.

“Do you not have anything else you like to wear?  I’ll admit, lately I haven’t found time to wear my dresses, but…” 

A shadow flickered over his features that melted quickly when she paused in front of him in the water.

“Armor has been the… most pragmatic choice for me for a very long time.”

She swallowed, her eyes widening slightly.

“Don’t you ever take it off?  Isn’t it heavy?”

“Rarely, and yes.”  It was exhausting to always hold a shield.  He had done it for so long, he had almost forgotten what it felt like to be without it.

“If you prefer, we can return to the shore, I apologize for pressing you and I shouldn’t have-”

“It’s fine,” he interrupted her quietly, his eyes seeming to sparkle like the stars glittering in the iridescent sky above them.

“Are you certain?”

“I am, I… that is…” He took a deep breath in his stuttering, realizing what he was about to tell her.  He didn’t realize that the words were on his lips before they hung in the air. Lotor hadn’t understood what the painful knot in his throat was until the moment that Allura’s vibrant blue eyes studied him intently, still worried about his armor.  He grasped painfully at the thought in his mind, too terrified to articulate it – not because he feared her reaction, but because he feared it to be true.

I trust you.

Never had such a foolish whimsy been rewarded with any modicum of kindness, he had learned all too well.  And despite it all, he found himself swimming with the Altean princess, his hard shell of armor left on the bank.  Did he dare?

“It’s alright, as long as you’re fine,” she offered after a moment of silence passed.  She reached up and placed her hand on his shoulder, freezing at the jolt that rippled between them.  Her eyes glanced to the slick, conforming texture of his suit, realizing that it was the closest she had ever been to his body.  Layers of plate and protection didn’t stand between them; only two thin flight ensembles.

She floated back from him, letting her hand fall back into the water, affording him some space.  He stayed perfectly still, save the gentle bob of his body with the languid strokes required to remain afloat.  Allura found herself struggling to keep her eyes from dropping from his face.

In an effort to distract herself, she turned away and inhaled deeply before plunging beneath the water.  Allura skimmed the bottom of the pool elegantly, her hands grasping at the iridescent stones and hauled a handful to the surface.

While treading water with only her legs, she studied the jewels.  To her surprise, Lotor deftly covered the distance between them to examine her salvage.

“Don’t you think they’re lovely?”  She dropped a few of them into his open hands, blushing when the pads of his fingers brushed against hers.  Despite their gloves, the touch still felt strangely intimate.

“Absolutely,” he agreed gingerly, watching as the ethereal light around them glinted off the surfaces in his palms.

He grew very still when Allura reached out to touch him.

She didn’t grasp his palm openly, she didn’t take a gentle embrace.  Instead the delicate, curious pad of her finger brushed over the sharpened points at the tips of his fingers that stretched the protective fabric.

His hands quickly curled into defensive fists, hiding the intrinsic Galran trait from the Altean princess.  She didn’t need to be reminded-

“I like them,” she said softly after a moment, freezing his core.  He stared at her, azure eyes wide, pupils narrow in shock.

A heartbeat passed between them.

Allura continued to smile at him, her fingers curled around his closed palm encouragingly, his own expression warring between suspicion and need.

Surrendering at last, he unfurled his digits and Allura happily traced her fingertips over the contours of his palm, not shying away from the defense mechanism so quiescently housed within him.  Her eyes flashed to his and she smiled gently, giving him a reassuring squeeze before releasing his hand back into the water.

“They could hurt you,” he admonished darkly, glancing to her out of the corner of his eye, unable to meet her gaze fully as he struggled to find himself worthy of her.

“I don’t believe you would do that,” she murmured after a thoughtful moment, swimming closer to him.  She reached up, touching the slender strand of hair that hovered between them curiously.  “I don’t believe you would ever hurt me,” she reiterated openly, a blush staining her cheeks at the confession.

“Allura,” he began, his words choking at her gentle trust.  He wanted to push her away.  He wanted to protect her from himself – and in turn protect himself from her - to save her from the reaper that hunted him.  He calculated which words he could use – descriptions of their lethal tango on Thayserix, of his designs for the trans-reality comet.  He could put her mind into such turmoil so easily, shatter the bridge and rebuild the shield between them.

He didn’t.

He couldn’t.

He wouldn’t.

His fingertips gently laced between hers and squeezed delicately, eliciting a delightful coloring of her flesh in response.  The brilliant, blinding smile bestowed his way was unrelenting in its course to undermine all he had ever built.

All the shieldwalls, all the bunkers, contingency plans and ultimate designs melted away as she turned and smiled at him.

How?

How could one enchantress unravel him so easily?  After enduring Haggar for so long, he had come to think of himself as relatively untouchable magically.

And yet.

“What are you thinking, Lotor?”

The ripple in the water harkened her movement toward him as she smiled curiously.

Strange, dark thoughts plagued his mind. For the first time in thousands of years, he found himself navigating uncharted territory, and it alarmed him.

“Nothing, Princess,” he murmured offhandedly.

He missed the narrowing of her eyes as she studied him intently.  Her hand tightened around his without warning.

“I don’t believe you,” she threatened.

His golden gaze snapped back to her in shock.

“What makes you think-“

“You haven’t called me that in quite a while,” she challenged, drawing his hand close to her body, a playful smile lacing her lips.  “So… you’re thinking about something, because for once – you’re not thinking about what you’re saying.”

Caught by surprise by her observation and acute awareness to detail, he fumbled with the only answer he could – the truth.

“I was thinking about you.”

She blinked, staring at him intently, appearing wholly confused by the statement.  Her impish expression vanished at his serious tone.

“What… what about me,” she murmured softly, transfixed, releasing his hand in her surprise.

“You.  Us.  This,” he explained, gesturing to the magical paradise around them.  As her eyes focused on him curiously, pressing him to continue, he exhaled and acquiesced.  A few broad, powerful strokes later, and he eased himself into the shallows.  Water continued to lap at the side of his hips; his legs and feet submerged, but no longer required him to keep himself afloat as he sat upon the bank.

Allura was swift to join his side, settling onto the shore.  Her eyes studied him wordlessly, gently waiting for him to elaborate.

“I was… struck… by how different we are, and yet we’re both here.  In Oriande. ...Again.”

Her brow furrowed slightly as she thought about his words.

“I’m not so certain we’re as different as you may like to believe,” she hedged gently. “…as I once believed,” she added softly.

“Allura.  I…  You know what kind of people I come from.  I murdered my own father. I-”

“And you tried to save a colony you cared for.  You consistently fight against oppression.  You have seen and lost so very much. I – while it is by no means nearly as lethal as your situation was – in a very small way, I can empathize with what you felt when you killed your father.”

It was Lotor’s turn to display curiosity as he turned his attention back to her.  Her eyes had settled on the water, but feeling his gaze, she glanced back to him.

Despite his hair smooth and slick down his back, the single strand bounced between them with a vitality of its own.  Allura couldn’t help but smile as she reached up and once more touched it delicately.

“Your father,” he urged gently, keeping his face impassive, but the concern glinting behind his eyes didn’t miss her gaze.  She exhaled, dropping her hands back to her lap as she refocused on the lake.

“On the ship – before you joined us, anyway – there was an AI system… my father’s thoughts and memories had been uploaded into it.  I could still… talk to him in a way, even though he had… left this plane of existence…”

Allura fell silent, her eyes becoming drawn to a single, violet stone glittering beneath the water.  The silence dragged on, but Lotor’s patience was infinite.  While she could feel the hardened cobalt of his eyes burning her flesh, he said nothing and simply waited for the princess to gather her thoughts.

“I… had to destroy it,” she finally whispered, a soft choke catching in her throat at the memory. While the Paladins had known of the decision, she had never spoken of it since.  Ticks dragged into doboshes and Lotor’s curiosity failed him.

“Allura,” he murmured, reaching out to touch her forearm gently.

“It had become corrupted.  It was… destroying the ship.  It blinded me to what was going on – I was so… enamored with my father’s presence that I failed to see it at first.  In the end, I did, and I… shattered it.  We would have perished had I not.”

She released a shaky exhale, finding strange comfort in the large, masculine hand touching her arm.  Regathering her composure, she glanced to him and smiled weakly.

“I don’t mean to say that I understand what it’s like to battle with someone who has haunted you, and in reality my experience pales compared to what you’ve endured-”

“Quite the contrary,” he interjected suddenly, catching her by surprise.  Allura frowned.

“What… what do you mean? Surely you’re not implying that your battle with Zarkon was easier than what I had to do?  That would be ridiculous!  I only meant to say that on some small level I can respect-”

“I had the opportunity to end an adversary.  He only happened to be my father, too.  I shattered a connection to someone I hated with every fiber of my being – who hated me.  I was able to overcome something that had always attempted to end me.  You – you had to willingly decide to destroy your very last link to the person you loved most.  He had already been taken from you once, and you still had to face that trial again.  Only that time, you were forced to make the choice.  You don’t think that sounds harder than what I did?  At least – just as difficult?”

He tilted his head to the side, his snow-colored locks looking nearly silver in the Oriande light.

“I cannot imagine what agony it would be to make the decision to sever the very last ties to someone I cared most for,” he added when she remained silent.  His eyes shifted back across the horizon, leaving the princess to her contemplations, wincing internally at how close to false his statement was.

Narti.

He exhaled deeply.

Yet another comfortable quietude descended over them, and Allura found a delicate pleasure in her ability to sit in silence with the man.  Most of the Paladins – perhaps excluding Keith – would have been driven mad by the vacuum and after mere doboshes would’ve begun peppering her with questions.

Lotor’s company was pleasant and inoffensive – a strange sentiment she found herself thinking as she looked back on their short history.  He never pressed himself upon her private thoughts and never felt troubled if she had nothing to say – by the same token, he never seemed offput if she did trouble him with her concerns.

She blushed, realizing his hand was still comfortably on her arm.  She wondered vaguely if he even realized he had left it.

“Lotor…”  She began, breaking into the gentle reprieve between them.

“Yes, Allura?” He turned and looked down at her beside him, that frustratingly elegant strand of hair moving with its own personality with the turn.

“Do you recall earlier when I said I’d like us to be friends?”  Her eyes flitted away shyly, once more returning to her lap.

“I do,” he agreed, watching her closely.

She fidgeted.

He frowned, concerned.

“I… I have a bit of a confession, I’m afraid,” she said after a moment.

Once more, he remained patiently quiet, waiting for her to continue, but she felt distinctly aware of the slightest of pinpricks against the arm he held.

“I… I don’t think I was entirely accurate when I said that,” she hedged uncomfortably.  “I…  I think I might like it if we were… more… than just friends,” she said, throwing all her cards onto the table.

The wind left Lotor’s lungs and he blinked.  Surely he wasn’t hearing what he thought he was hearing…

“You see… I feel… comfortable around you.  We have discussions on politics and exploration which are wildly fascinating, but we can also sit quietly.  We can debate strategy and chess, but also talk of books and fairytales.  I… have never had that before and I find I rather enjoy the time we spend together… however we choose to spend it,” she explained, feeling her cheeks grow darker as his silence continued.

“At any rate, wherever it ends up – or doesn’t, for that matter, I am very grateful to have had the chance to get to know you.  I’m truly humbled that I’ve had the opportunity to not only cross paths – and even swords; as I have learned a lot from you – but to also truly meet and have a hand in returning your Empire to you,” she said genuinely, her eyes flashing to his profile.  “While I did have my doubts at first, it has been my absolute honor to have transcended my preconceptions.  I have never been more pleased to have been so terribly wrong about a person before.”

The sensation that swelled in his chest was akin to that of the birth of a star system.  He turned to face her, stunned by the praise.

It was one of the few times the silence edged Allura.  She smiled uncomfortably and turned back out across the water, feeling completely out of her sorts.

“Pay it no mind, I just… I felt I wanted to clear the air.  I’ve been trying to sort things out for a bit and, coalition, Empire and whatnot, it won’t change-”

Allura fell silent when his hand left her arm and with the deftness of a butterfly, touched her jaw.  He articulated virtually no strength in an effort to turn her toward him, but the princess put up no resistance.

She blinked in surprise when she met his wide, vibrant eyes.

“I would like that, too, Allura,” he murmured softly, his irises shifting as he took in all her face.

“Oh,” she murmured in surprise.  “I… I didn’t expect…you…”

“Neither did I.”

She swallowed as a heat dropped into her chest.

“Lotor, may I… ask for something quite personal?”  Allura’s voice was soft and filled with self-doubt, but she clutched her courage like a martyr.

“Of course,” he replied, his fingertips still touching her jawbone delicately.

“May I…”  Her skin flushed dark as she realized what she was about to ask and she steeled all her fortitude quickly before she lost her nerve.  “May I kiss you?”

If the silence that dropped between them before had been loud, the one that fell at her words was deafening. 

While Lotor did not withdraw from their position, his breath did catch in his chest and his eyes blew wide with shock.

Allura released a shaky exhale and worried she had gone too far, she offered a warm smile.

“It’s-”

Please.

Allura blinked, stunned.  Recovering her surprise, she turned to face him bodily, rising to her knees beneath her in the shallow water, bringing her height to match his own.  She moved slowly – though she wasn’t entirely sure if it was for his benefit or her own.

He stayed perfectly still, dark pupils wide as he watched her, breath caught in his lungs.

Delicately, she extended her palm to his face, touching Lotor’s jaw in a manner he had done to her.  His own hand ghosted down her side before his palm settled on her waist, but it was a formality only.  His fingers did not curl into her, nor did he pull her closer.

Allura offered him a tentative smile of assurance once she realized they both wore expressions of anxiety.  The princess hesitated, but once the slightest crinkle of a smile graced the corner of his eye, she descended to him.

Her free hand touched his shoulder to steady herself as her lips brushed over his so very delicately.  She stilled as they connected, startled by the electric jolt that arced between them at the initial touch.  Allura swayed briefly, stunned as she felt his bottom lip tremble slightly against her.

Lotor’s fingers on her side tightened against her softly and Allura’s eyes widened.

“Are you alright?” She whispered against him, her lips still brushing his with her words.  She exhaled in surprise as the sensation of nails at her side returned.

“Yes,” he murmured back.  Allura allowed her lids to drape closed as she reclaimed the distance and deftly brushed her lips over his once more, testing the uncharted water before her.

The rumble in the back of his throat eased her trepidation and the hand on his cheek drifted through his hair, her fingers trailing through his locks, reveling in the silk pooling through her hands.  Her lips reclaimed his with more urgency, the intimate touch still chaste in nature as she pressed more fully into him.

Lotor’s hands grasped tighter against her waist and pulled her bodily toward him with more strength than he intended, ending the gap of air between their torsos.

Heat ripped through Allura at the sudden bodily contact, catching her by surprise, unused to the sensation of touching another.  She gasped against his lips and the muscles in her thighs flexing swiftly to try and catch her balance, but Allura was already shifting forward.

Water crashed around them and Allura found herself staring down into the wide, blue eyes beneath her.

“I… I apologize,” he stuttered, shocked by his own lack of control.  Allura burst into giggles without warning, tilting her head back in gentle laughter.

“Nothing to apologize for,” she murmured, glancing back his way before promptly realizing she was laying sprawled across his chest.  Her own eyes widened in surprise and her cheeks darkened.  When he said nothing, she cleared her throat uncomfortably.

“Yes, well, I suppose I’m… after all, ten thousand years can…” She trailed off and gently began sliding off his body, feeling her embarrassment heat through her as the silence dragged on, but a gentle squeeze to her waist stilled her movement. She looked back to him as he remained reclined in the shallow water, his hair floating like liquid silver around his face.

“I believe that was my fault,” he admitted weakly with uncharacteristic chagrin.  “Shall we try again?  I promise I won’t pull you over this time.”

Allura flushed and nodded once.  She planted a hand on either side of his shoulders as she leaned over his reclined form.  A shiver vibrated down her spine as his fingertips fluttered from her hips to her waist deftly, stalling as if reticent to move further, but unsure where to settle.

Lotor surprised them both when he lifted his head from the water to meet her halfway, his lips pressing into hers with more fullness and fervor than either had expressed before.  As he lounged back, she chased him; she had no intention of breaking the contact.

What had started out as uncertain, hesitant and completely awkward had flourished into something still tentative, but voraciously curious.  Lightning bolted down her bones to her very core.  Allura’s lips parted as she gasped for air, but Lotor was quick to bridge the connection as his hands once more tightened around her hips, pulling her closer.

The Altean’s elbows folded all the way into the water at his urging, coming to lay fully across his torso, Lotor’s fingertips rewarding her bravery by tracing gently up and down her spine, drawing a shudder from her body.

Lotor exhaled softly as Allura pulled back at last.  She continued to hover over him, her hair falling around their visages like a curtain.  She felt his chest vibrate beneath her with a near-silent laugh, and she couldn’t help but break into nervous giggles, the endorphin release seemingly contagious.

Allura felt the heat color her face from her nose to the tips of her ears and after schooling her courage, her lashes fluttered open and she glanced down to him, finding a strange and bewildered smile on his lips as he regarded her as well.

Her eyes honed in on something peculiar as she studied him.

“How can you stand to have water in your ears?”  The princess quickly sat back, allowing the Emperor to sit up, shaking his head back and forth to clear his elongated lobes of the liquid obstruction.

“I hadn’t actually noticed, to be honest.  I was a bit… distracted,” he admitted, leaning his head to the left and then the right, a playful glimmer in his eyes as he watched her.

Allura felt a weak smile bud at her lips at the moment of intimate humanity before her.  The stoic, calculating and impassive Galtean Emperor sat before her, touching an ear to a shoulder on either side in an attempt to dry the aural passageways.

She couldn’t stop the giggle that bubbled through her system once more.

“Amused, are you?”  His lips curled up in one corner, eyeing her curiously as he straightened his spine.  She coughed, reaching up to cover her mouth shyly.

“I apologize.  I know how… cumbersome… that sensation can be,” she agreed.

“I would imagine so,” he murmured, his eyes tracing her jaw to her earlobe to the tip.  She felt her skin darken everywhere his eyes touched and nodded mutely.  He shifted his weight and reached for her, pausing with his fingertips midair.  His eyes flashed to hers. “May I?”

She nodded, feeling her skin warm from her nose to her chest as he closed the distance between them.  When the pad of his fingertip – and consequently the faintest hint of a nail – touched the ridge of her lobe, molten light pooled in her abdomen without warning, causing the princess to gasp softly.

As Lotor withdrew his hand back to his lap, Allura felt herself wanting in an otherwise foreign manner.  She cleared her throat and glanced back to the water in an attempt to distract herself.

“Would you like to swim some more?  I’ll admit, while the castle does have a pool, I don’t use it nearly as often as I would like, and there certainly isn’t a view like this.”

She pushed up to her feet in the shallow water, glanced down to where he sat and extended her palm to him.  Lotor nodded in muted amusement before taking the offering and rising elegantly to his feet.  The princess was stunned when he took the lead, drawing her out toward the deeper part of the water, his hand still laced between hers.

She laughed suddenly, caught by surprise at the seemingly impossible situation.  Standing on the edge of an ethereal basin, buried deep within a mythological pocket in space at the heart of a white hole – a place where science coupled with mysticism that only the Chosen few dared whisper about.  Moreover, it was Lotor, son of Zarkon, Galran Emperor, who glanced to her curiously over his shoulder, with the lavender and magenta gradient above them both.  His face mirrored the same wonderment that she felt and without warning, both her hands clasped around his and she followed him into the depths without regard or formality.

Her gait broke from a meander to a jog, water splashing up around her thighs as she charged into the loch after him, reveling in the sensation of liberation that flooded her.

She shrieked in an undignified manner when he stopped suddenly, and Allura bodily collided with his frame, sending them both tumbling into the water.

She surfaced, splashing erratically as she both gasped and laughed at the same time, Lotor breaching nearby.

“Why did you stop?”  She fixed her shimmering gaze on his worried look.

“You were laughing,” he sputtered in surprise.  Regaining his composure, he turned his nose up in a show of playful indifference.  “You know a sudden stop can actually be strategic.”

Allura’s lips twitched slightly at the bait.

“I do know.  That’s how I iced your thruster, remember?”

Lotor blinked, shocked, as Allura swam smugly past him into the center of the water.

“Touché,” he murmured as he recovered, his calculating eyes following the bob of white that swam circular laps around him.

She inhaled sharply without warning, filling her lungs before kicking her legs up.  Allura hovered on the surface, floating as her arms stretched out to either side, her torso supported by buoyancy.

“The sky is lovely here,” she whispered, her eyes tracing over the ancient celestial sphere above them.

A gentle wave in the water lapped against her and Allura tilted her head to the side to watch as Lotor approached with a single, powerful stroke.

Air blew past her lips as she released the ballast in her chest, slowly lowering her hips into the water until she floated upright to face him as he came to a stop before her.

“You seem to have gotten water in your ears,” he said simply, studying her closely.

“I hadn’t noticed.  I… was rather distracted,” she teased back, but the playful edge blurred into something… warmer.

“Lotor, I… this…”  She trailed off, unsure how to articulate whatever hung between them.

“If… this were to continue,” he hedged quietly, attempting to do the same.  “We would have to use extreme discretion.”

Allura’s ears perked and she frowned, her cheeks heating at the serious contemplation of pursuing anything more than a formal alliance.  The flutter in her heart was short lived as the impact of his words settled in.

“Because the Galran Emperor would need a Galran …partner,” she agreed wryly, fumbling with the last word, her mind still reeling in disbelief that the conversation was even happening.

His chest constricted at the dark glimmer behind her eyes.  Her expression was modest and polite, practical and attuned for business, but the emotion behind her eyes remained unguarded. He exhaled slowly, reconvening his train of thought.

“Hardly,” he murmured, his voice rasping slightly with the strange sensation flooding his veins. “I was thinking more of your coalition.  You and I are – at least I’m inclined to believe – on fairly sturdy ground.” He reached for her and gently grasped both her palms between his, pulling her closer.   She willingly obliged him. “…at least politically speaking.”  His eyes glanced uncertainly to the side before looking back to her.

She nodded in confirmation.

“I have come to trust that your intentions are also in the best interest of that of the Rebel Coalition.  Well… I suppose it’s formerly the ‘Rebel’ Coalition, as we seem to be on the same side now,” she agreed, forcing a supportive smile to her lips even as a strange frost began coiling through her chest in apprehension.  Something about his tone was… off.  “Your actions have unequivocally convinced me of your intentions… even if… some of my Paladins may still be a little wary,” she replied apologetically.

“I do not believe that the rest of your constituents feel so trusting,” he explained, lacing his fingers through hers openly, his palm clasping hers, reveling in the touch of another.  “They may even grow worried that their leader does not have their best interest at heart – or is being manipulated by the very institution they risked their lives to oppose.”

Allura’s eyes widened in understanding.

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“I don’t wish to see your power and influence weaken due to… personal indulgences.”

She bit down on her bottom lip thoughtfully, allowing the water to keep them afloat beneath the stars.

Hope is a terrible thing. Her mind rumbled.  For a fleeting moment, just a glimmer of a starburst, she had entertained the idea that a Galtean Alliance could be more than simply political.  Allura had come to the surprising conclusion that she was rather enamored with the war-bred man floating near her.  In the time of Zarkon and Honerva – it could have been possible.  Due to their very existence, however, she now found herself in an era where it was not. She closed her eyes reverently, the gravity of their situation weighing on her.  A thought struck her.

“To be honest… that blade cuts both ways,” she said, opening her eyes sadly.  When he cast her a curious look, she continued.  “What would your Galran subjects think if they saw their half-Altean Emperor consorting with the last Altean princess?”

“They might believe me to be compromised,” he murmured, understanding the reality of the picture he painted before her. The non-Galran half of his bloodline that had stirred such vitriol amongst his subjects could easily be extrapolated as a weak point in their eyes.  She reached up toward his face and gently draped a stand of hair back behind his ear, eliciting a shiver from his spine at the gentle touch.  Silence hung comfortably between them.

“Am I compromising you?” Her voice was low and she raised her eyes just enough to look into his through her lashes.

A heavy tick beat between them, dense enough to cut with a sword.

Stars, I hope so,” he whispered sharply, drawing her closer as Allura’s hand draped over his shoulder.  She murmured happily against his throat when his palms skirted up her back, cradling her relaxed form into his.

“So what happens now…?”  She allowed her ear to rest in the crook of his shoulder, enjoying the sensation of a pair of arms curling powerfully around her body.  “Shall we… be proper?”

Allura felt his form tremble briefly beneath her skin.

“If you like,” he replied stiffly.  Allura paused and pulled her head back to regard the Emperor more fully.  A frown touched at her face, unable to place the dissonance etched in his voice.

“Is that what you would like, Lotor?”  She studied him closely; every taut line in his face, every twitch of his bottom lip, all the darkness behind his eyes.  Beneath her palms rested the single entity with which she had made a profound connection to – without even realizing it.  However, if he preferred the distance and political aloofness, Allura would find a way to respect that – even if it tore apart a fragment of her very being.

His eyes narrowed on her carefully.

“What did you just ask me?”  His voice was low and Allura flinched at the strange mix of surprise and stillness within it.

“I… I asked what you wanted,” she murmured, her mind racing through what little she knew of Galran culture in an attempt to pinpoint what faux pas she had made.

He only exhaled deeply in response.

“I’ve… not heard that question before, is all,” he explained, closing his eyes.  When he opened them again, the familiar warmth was back and a weak smile on his lips.  “I find that I would…” He paused as if truly contemplating the novelty of being allowed to truthfully answer such a question.  Allura couldn’t help but beam brightly at the expression on his face.  She waited patiently for him to gather his thoughts.

“I believe that I…  it… it is important that we maintain some degree of political professionalism,” he said after a moment.  Allura forced her expression to remain open and hopeful even as her chest turned to ice.  She had no words to reply and she could only nod mutely, the smile plastered in place.  “However… that need only be in public, correct?”

When his eyes locked onto hers, there was a strange heat behind them that she had not seen before.  She swallowed.

“I… that is… correct,” she murmured, enraptured by his gaze.

“And you, Allura?  What is it that you would prefer?”

“I rather believe I would like to get to know you better – in any possible manner and –”

Allura didn’t have the chance to finish her sentence.  The affirmation was all Lotor needed to lean over and close the distance, searing her lips with his.   All manner of formality and all pretense of politeness vanished at the realization that they both craved the same thing.

Fire roared between them and Allura threaded her hands unabashedly through his hair, pulling him closer to her body.  She gasped against his lips before retaking them with more urgency than before, her body practically vibrating with the energy threading back and forth between them.

“More,” she whispered against him, her trembling hands grasping for the collar of his suit.  He choked briefly at the intimate touch as her hands clumsily opened it to his collarbone, her palms pressed against his bare skin.

Emboldened by her desire and confidence, Lotor allowed his hesitance to fall by the wayside.  His hands drew her closer, the deftness of his claws easily grasping at the zip on her suit, tugging it open to her naval.  Allura cried out in surprise against his lips and she was more than happy to assist in wiggling free of the confining garment.

His lips left hers only to latch on to her throat, allowing his fangs to trail along the exposed skin.  One palm rested on her bare waist, the other courted the length of her ribs, drawing his nails lightly along her flesh before grasping her breast openly.

Stars,” she whimpered at the touch.  “Not fair, you’re still all… Oh.” Her objection was silenced at the gentlest pinch.

He grew still, worried.

“Too far?”

Allura’s eyes blinked open and she stared at him, dazed for a moment before understanding his question.  She swallowed and shook her head.

“Not at all, though I find it unfair you’re still more dressed than I am,” she pointed out, recovering her voice.  He chuckled softly before putting some distance between them.

Lotor reached up and finished pulling his suit open all the way to his waist before he stilled, as if thinking about something intently.  Allura turned to face him as she finished tugging her arms free of her own sleeves and pushing the bodysuit unabashedly down her hips, allowing it to float unceremoniously beside her.

“What’s wrong,” she murmured, troubled by the haunted look in his eyes.  His eyes remained attached to her face before averting to the side.

“I…”

I don’t make it a habit to remove that which keeps me alive.

Allura’s eyes widened in silent understanding.

“Lotor, have you not… I mean, I know that you rarely take your armor off.  Have you ever done so… in front of another person?”

“I’ve never trusted anyone else with my life before,” he replied simply.

Allura simply stared at him.

There existed no words in any language she had ever learned that could convey the magnitude of significance that shattered her heart.

When the silence dragged on, he began to twist his shoulders free of the confines before Allura closed the distance between them.  She stilled his movements with a gentle place of her bare palm over the skin above his heart.

“You don’t have to,” she murmured comfortingly, curling into his side and tucking her head against his shoulder.

The once-broiling heat between them had melted into a near-reverent moment of unity when his arms curled around her and he bowed his head over hers.

“Has anyone ever told you how magnificent you are?”

The words he whispered against her ear popped her eyes wide in shock.

“Hardly,  I’m not really anything of the sort,” she said with a soft giggle, her palm gently tracing the contour of his clavicle thoughtfully.  “I just…  I don’t want you to ever feel put upon,” she added. 

“Allura…” his voice was hoarse as he pulled her closer, overwhelmed by the slender girl before him.

“We’re in a war, for stars’ sake.  The last thing we need to be doing is subjecting each other to even more danger and pain,” she explained before looking up to him warmly.

“Unfair,” he muttered, withdrawing from a surprised Princess.  She watched with surprise as he peeled his own body suit off his shoulders and tugged his hands free of the gloves.

Lotor reached for her and froze, his eyes widening slightly as they fell on the claw-like protrusions on his fingertips.  Before he could recoil his palm back to his chest, Allura snapped the hand between both of hers once more.

His surprise at her sudden movement yielded an extension of the defenses, but Allura seemed undaunted.  She brought his hand to her lips and delicately placed a kiss on each of his fingers before folding it back between both her palms.

“It truly doesn’t trouble you,” he murmured in disbelief.

“No,” she replied, a knowing smile on her face.

Lotor withdrew his palm and with renewed confidence, slid out of his flight suit entirely.  Allura smiled warmly at his trust in her, truly touched in a way she could never describe.

Turning over her shoulder, the Altean curled her fingers around her own garment before extending her hand toward his.

“I’m going to hang mine up so it can dry properly.  I don’t think I’ll much enjoy putting it back on wet, and we certainly can’t return to the Castleship like this,” she added with a laugh.

“What would your Paladins think?”

Allura could only laugh deeper at the prospect of strolling out of Blue dressed in nothing but her bare skin.

“It’s Coran I’d be most worried about,” she explained.  “Would you like me to hang yours, as well?”

When he nodded and pushed it toward her, Allura swam for the shore.  She hesitated only a tick before rising out of the water without a stitch of on, and she could feel the man’s gaze burning into her.

“Your confidence inspires me,” he complimented her as she tossed their accoutrements over a low-hanging branch.

“Alteans can fight just as well with or without clothing,” she replied matter-of-factly.  As she finished adjusting his garb, she hesitated before turning around.  The first threads of self consciousness laced through her as truth of the reality settled on her.

Shyly, she turned to face him just in time to see his throat pulse with a sharp inhale.  Allura’s cheeks colored darker and she demurely made her way back into the water, intentionally walking at a normal pace, despite her indecency begging her to sprint.

Her eyes traced over what she could see of his form beneath the shifting surface and found herself utterly entranced.

“You’re…” she trailed off, struggling to find the right word as the water lapped at her hips.

“Indecent?” He offered helpfully.  Allura smiled and shook her head once before surging into the water.

“Beautiful.”  Her word hung in the air as she swam up beside him and reached openly, touching his cheek with her palm.  His own hand pressed over it, cradling her touch against his flesh as his eyes draped closed in reverence.  “That word makes you shy,” she observed.

When Lotor only shrugged, feigning indifference, an impish smile curled at the Altean’s lips.

“I think you’re beautiful,” she said deliberately, delighting in the deep violet that colored his face and ears.  Lotor’s eyes stayed closed, his brow creased slightly and Allura only leaned in.  Cobalt eyes popped wide when her lips pressed fully to his cheek.  “And you’re just going to have to accept that.”

She smiled up at him smartly.

His palms slid toward her and hesitantly touched her bare waist.  A moment of hesitance flashed before he pulled her closer, tentatively bringing her slender frame to rest against his.  Allura reveled in the feel of his muscles against her own.  She boldly snaked her arms over his shoulders, linking her fingers together behind his head, toying with his hair as the quicksilver slipped between her fingers.

Lotor pressed his forehead against hers and Allura could only smile happily as they floated delicately together.

“So,” she murmured.  “I suppose this is a thing now…”

His ribcage vibrated against her own chest.

“It would appear so.”

Allura’s thick locks fell around them both, framing her bare shoulders and fanning around and behind her like a regal cloak.  She leaned back from him as the irritatingly perfect tendril of hair bobbed between their faces.  Even wet, the strand defied gravity.

“So what happens now?”

“Ever since reaching out to your Paladins, I’ve found myself in rather… uncharted territory.  In many cases, there were things I knew of, but had never experienced. The Kral Zera and Oriande, for example.  Other aspects, however, have been entirely…  new,” he mused, reaching up to brush his fingertips across the pink crescent on one of her cheeks.

Allura hid the faint smile curling at her lips in response as she waited for him to continue.

“I suggest we do what any explorer would do when they find themselves somewhere otherwise unknown.”

Allura’s eyes lit up as she caught his line of thinking.

“Research it?”

A dangerous grin split across his features and he nodded serenely.

“I was hoping you would agree,” he replied, pressing his lips to her forehead in response.

“Discreetly, of course,” she added.

“We seem fairly shrouded here,” he added, his eyes glancing around the trees before looking back to her.  She smiled brightly up at him.

“There’s plenty of research to be done in Oriande,” she replied coyly, brushing her digits through his hair still, finding herself soothed by the motion.

“Plenty, indeed,” Lotor replied before dipping his head to seal her lips once more.