Chapter 1: Heart By Heart
Allura was still in awe of what was happening. She had been courting Lotor for several phoebs now, but it still felt unreal to her. Whether that was because they were both constantly busy with making sure that the Sincline ships could travel between realities, or her duties with Voltron and his duties within the Galran Empire, it was hard to tell.
They had barely seen each other since the movement before when she had been worried that Lance, Hunk and Pidge had embarrassed her with their reckless behaviour on his Castle Ship. And then they had travelled to Oriande shortly after which had been too intense for them to get a moment to themselves to just talk.
It had been far too long since she had last seen him without any obligations hanging over their heads. So, for Lotor to contact her and inform her that he wanted to invite her to his Castle Ship for a date was a huge relief to her. He had assured her that she wouldn’t have to do any hard work involving Sincline, and there would be no discussion of their alchemical work. It would just be about them.
It had made her giddy, and the minute she had told the Paladins that they had a free day to do as they wished they were just as excited as her. Lance, Pidge and Hunk had all immediately started to discuss a video game tournament that Hunk provided the snacks for. She slipped past their rooms down to the Blue Lion’s hangar, surprised by the fact that Shiro was in the training room as opposed to calling Keith at the Blade of Marmora base.
He always called Keith when they had a day off.
Dismissing it as something that Shiro might do after he had finished training, she slipped into the Blue Lion, smiling at the purr she gained from the mechanical beast. It was a familiar sound to her by now, Blue usually greeting her with it now that they had bonded. Although Allura still thought it was because all of the Lions hated being cooped up in the castle for extended periods of time. They liked to stretch, and Blue had started to realise that if her paladin was om her hangar, she was probably going for a flight.
Allura smiles to herself as she sits in the pilot’s chair, Blue immediately moving the seat forward without waiting for the Princess to ask. Not that she minded, she liked it when Blue was eager to take off. It usually meant she would fly faster, and since she was eager to see Lotor; this worked in her favour.
“Come on girl, to the Galran ship.” She said as she inputted the coordinates while waiting for the hangar doors to open. Another purr came from the beast before they took off and Allura glanced at the display telling her it would take them half a varga to get there.
She would be there in no time.
Allura was pleasantly surprised to see that Lotor was meeting her when she landed within the hangar where the Black Lion had once been stored. But she was also a little bit upset he hadn’t told her that he planned on doing that. She had planned on getting changed out of her armour before disembarking Blue, and now she was very acutely aware that he was waiting for her. Biting her lip, she decides to get changed regardless because she has no clue what Lotor had in store for them, and she would rather be comfortable.
Once her armour is discarded and she’s at home in her dress; she lets out a deep breath. She felt a lot more comfortable in her dress, yet her heart was still pounding with nerves and her stomach was fluttering.
What was it the earthlings had called it again?
Hunk used to say it was like butterflies in his stomach. Allura had no clue what ‘butterflies’ were but there was definitely something causing the fluttering in her stomach.
She just thought it was nerves though.
“Allura.” Lotor smiled seeing her emerge from the Blue Lion and offered her his hand, his smile only widening when she takes his hand without questioning it. He liked how her hand fit perfectly in his own, enough so that he had decided to dress in the formal Galran clothes he had found within the Command Ship.
They were a rich purple in colour, and unlike Allura’s dress which was accented in gold, his were accented in silver. The only exception to that being his cape which was lined in lavender instead with only the clasps being silver. They were an almost perfect fit, but he couldn’t remember ever wearing anything like this when he was growing up.
“Lotor.” Allura says softly as she gently squeezes his hand. She had been admiring his outfit for a little too long, noting the slight Altean tailoring choices in the style of the outfit. It suited the Emperor’s dual heritage and she was glad to see him embracing that side of him after Zarkon had spent so long denying him that opportunity. “You look good.” She adds as they start to walk out the hangar.
“As do you Allura, as usual.” Lotor responds, noting how it makes her cheeks flush. He had forgot just how flustered she could get from a simple compliment and he feels his heart beat a little faster at that.
“I thought for today we could indulge in an old Altean custom I found.” He finds himself unable to look at her after he’s talked, knowing that if she hated the idea of it that he would feel foolish. Instead he focuses ahead on the route that they were taking through the Command Ship to calm his nervous heartbeat.
“Oh? Which custom?” She sounds surprised and Lotor can only imagine why. His father had wiped out most of the Altean culture when he had wiped out Altea, only little remnants surviving that had been adopted by other planets. The idea that ten thousand deca-phoebs later someone would want to perform such a custom with her again must be surprising.
“The one where you paint your partner’s dominant arm? I read about it in your Castle’s files and I would very much like to explore it further with you.” He explains as he leads her into one of the empty rooms so that they wouldn’t be disturbed. He had promised her a day without their duties interrupting them after all.
“Xin’hua…” Allura’s voice is full of longing and she doesn’t care to hide it. Since discovering that Altea had been destroyed she had given up on the hope that she would one day get to do her own xin’hua with the person she loved most, and yet, Lotor was giving her the chance to have that piece of her culture once more. “I would be honoured to do so.”
“We’ll have to improvise and use Galran paint and paper instead Princess.” Lotor says as he sits at the table in front of the equipment, already rolling up the sleeve of his clothing. “I hope that isn’t an issue. Altean paints are very hard to come across now.”
“It’s okay… it makes our xin’hua more special.” She says as she takes her place kneeling at the tables side, already looking over the paints as she thought about what she could paint on Lotor’s skin.
The tradition of xin’hua meant that you painted your partner’s arm with things that reminded you of them. Her father had painted her mother’s arm with constellations from all the planets they had visited together, while her mother had painted science motifs and alchemical formulas that he had developed. Their designs seemed to come naturally and were some of the first memories she had of her parents.
She knew that she should do something similar for Lotor but the first things that come to mind when she thinks of him are all things that are too difficult to illustrate. His kindness, his compassion and his love of Altean culture. All things that Allura can’t quite figure out how to illustrate. She wished she could because she felt that he needed to be reminded that he had those qualities. Qualities that Zarkon definitely didn’t have.
Instead, she moves to pick up a brush and pulls the purple and pink paints closer. She didn’t want to use any other colours for this. They didn’t have such a strong association with Lotor for her. The colours that instantly came to her mind about their relationship was always pink and purple.
Smiling to herself, she dips the brush in the purple paint and starts to paint the small flower that reminded her of Lotor when she thought about it. It was persistent in its growth, often blooming regardless of whether it was wanted or not and it was one of her favourites. She painted it slowly, making sure the purple stood out against his skin. It was a few shades darker than him and the paint seemed to shimmer once it dried on his skin.
Once happy with how the flower turned out Allura turned her attention to painting circles of navigational code and alchemical formulas around the flower. Her brow furrowed as she painted with sweeping strokes and Lotor can’t help but find it adorable. She looked so deep in thought as she took her time painting lines of code that he recognised from Oriande and the Coalition bases they had set up together. The alchemical formulas he didn’t recognise immediately but upon closer inspection he recognised them as Honerva and Alfor’s work on Daibazaal. Work that they were still using to this day to strengthen the Coalition’s forces.
“It looks extremely beautiful Princess.” Lotor doesn’t want to interrupt Allura working the more he watches the Princess focus on the deep purple swirls of writing on his arm, but over the ten thousand deca-phoebs that he had been alive he had grown to have a strong dislike for silence.
“Thank you.” Allura offers him a small smile as she reaches for the paper so that she could curl it around his forearm to create the print. She was glad that he thought it looked beautiful, even if she wasn’t the best painter compared to the rest of her family. “It’s a shame that it won’t last though…” She adds as she uncurls the paper from his arm before moving it off so that it could dry.
“It is yes, but there’s nothing that can be done about that sadly.” He says softly as he started to roll Allura’s sleeve up so that he could paint on her skin. Not that he knew what he wanted to paint on her. She was so exquisite, and she deserved something perfect to be painted on her. Something that Lotor didn’t think he could live up to.
Furrowing his brow, he brought the blue paint closer and started by painting the Blue Lion near her wrist. He had no clue what he was going to paint after that but Allura always made his head fuzzy and his heart pound to the point that it was hard to think around her.
It was something that he usually didn’t mind because most things came naturally with her, but a xin’hua was an important ceremony and he didn’t want to disappoint her. She deserved the universe and Lotor wanted to be the one to give her it. He wanted her to know that she was loved and that he would do anything for her.
After all, that was the truth. He would do anything for Allura because he truly loved her. It was why he had researched Altean customs for their date. It was why he got overly possessive whenever her Blue Paladin made his affection clear for her. It was why he had pushed her to go to Oriande, because she deserved the universe and if he couldn’t give her it; he would give her the tools to get it herself.
He loved Princess Allura of Altea and there was nothing that could make him change his stance on that.
Chapter 2: Monster
It wasn’t meant to go like this. Allura was meant to understand why he had sacrificed the lives of some Alteans for the greater good. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t had to make some sacrifices throughout this war. Sacrifices that she had told him about during their work together, sacrifices that he would have made as well.
Sacrifices needed to be made in a war. No matter what position you were in there were always sacrifices that were made. Yes, he had used some of the remaining Alteans that had lived through the destruction of Altea to further his research into quintessence and its energy. But he didn’t get why it was such a big deal, they had been honoured to serve him that way after he had saved them from being hunted by Zarkon. Besides it hadn’t been something he had easily forgotten, he was going to reverse the effects of quintessence draining once he had tapped into the quintessence field. Something that the Princess hadn’t let him explain.
“Lotor, I don’t want to do this anymore!” Allura’s voice from the Blue Lion sends a shiver down his spine. She sounded hurt and angry, emotions that he knew all too well, but when he casts his eyes out of the Sincline ship to look at her; all he feels is rage.
He doesn’t understand why after everything they had shared she won’t let him explain what he had been doing. He understands why the rest of Team Voltron wouldn’t, especially given their disapproval to their relationship in the beginning.
But Allura had been different.
She had taken the team to get to know him and what he liked. He had fallen in love with her and been surprised when she had told him in a hushed whisper that she loved him too. They had kissed and participated in a traditional Altean ceremony for lovers. If things had continued the way that they were going; they would have surely married.
Except the Princess threw it all away without even letting him explain himself.
“What do you want me to ask for your forgiveness again? Do you want me to simply roll over and let you take me back in when you never gave me a chance to explain Princess?” He shouts back, clawed hands gripping at the levers within Sincline. He wasn’t going to be the one to attack first. He wanted to talk, not fight. “Oh no I forgot, a half breed like me isn’t allowed that right, am I?”
“You’re trying to act all humble and wise Lotor! Like you’re better than us when you used my people like batteries and then used me to make your ships overpowered! You tricked me with your words so enticing and the fake love you extended to me. After that you deserve no chance at forgiveness!” Her voice reaches a higher pitch as she shouts this team, the Blue Lion sensing her restlessness and moving forward out of the formation the over lions were in. Effectively pacing as her Paladin’s distress rose.
“There was no fake love there Allura. I love you, all of that was real.” Lotor closes his eyes as he hears the cries of outrage from the other Paladin’s that assume he’s lying and the murmurs of distrust from his own generals. He knows it doesn’t matter in the moment, that he only wants Allura’s approval of that statement, but it still hurts knowing that his own generals don’t even believe him.
“Love is free and kind Lotor! You don’t use your partner the way you used me! I don’t even think you know what it means to love or to be loved.” Her words bite into him deeper than he had thought that they would. He knew that neither of his parents had loved him growing up and his exposure to love hadn’t been the best. He knew that and yet, hearing it from someone that he loved was a lot more painful than he had ever contemplated.
“I loved you with all my heart Allura and I still do. I implore you; do not let a simple misunderstanding come between centuries of peace between the Galrans and the rest of the universe.” He pushes Sincline a little further forward as he begs to the woman he loved. He needed her to see that he was honest but from how the Blue Lion quickly pulls back he can feel any hope for the reconciliation slowly fading and being replaced with anger once more.
“Oh and of course, your words so enticing, like some messiah claiming to want nothing but peace and for no one to suffer any longer when you’ve already destroyed that claim with your actions.” Allura can feel Blue growing more and more restless the more her voice pitches with anger. The diplomat in her knows that the time for talking was slowly fading and that the time for action would be soon.
“You’re questioning my methods?” This time Allura is the one that flinches at his shout. His voice had remained level all this time, but this seemed to be the final straw for him.
Allura didn’t know if Romelle was right about what she had seen and told them. She didn’t know if her information was even credible. But that wasn’t why she had decided to sever ties with Lotor. No, that decision had come from the expression Romelle had when she expected Allura to cast her aside for her love. That heartbroken expression of someone who had lost everything they had and was about to lose something else.
When they had formed the Coalition Allura had assured herself that she would never allow someone else to lose everything when she could help them. It was what being a Paladin was all about.
“I am.” She keeps her voice eerily calm and straightens up in her seat, sending a message to the team to get ready to form Voltron when Lotor lunged for them. “You don’t imprison and make people slaves in order to fuel your research! You could have done it another way and we wouldn’t be having this argument or this fight. But as it stands I cannot stand by you anymore Lotor!”
“Your team owe me their life Allura! If I hadn’t intervened at Naxzela there would be no Voltron.” She can hear the bitterness in his tone and the unbridled rage as Sincline’s other ships move closer to Lotor’s. The Black Lion immediately moves closer to Blue an act that Allura knows is due to what happened to her Black Paladin at Naxzela. Something that shouldn’t be held over his head. This argument was about her and Lotor, not her Paladins.
“I don’t belong to anyone but me!” She screams back, her hand gripping the levers as she stares down his ship. She wanted him to know that he had crossed a line trying to guilt trip them into taking him back. She wanted him to know that she was not going to put up with this anymore. She was officially cutting ties with him.
“Maybe so, but you are always going to have to live with my sacrifices Allura, no matter what you’ve chosen. Granted it won’t be too long since only one of us will leave this battle, my love, but still it will weigh on you until your dying breath.” Allura’s hand instinctively rubs at where the xin’hua painting on her arm was as he talks before instinctively pulling the Blue Lion out of the way of Lotor’s attack. She can feel her heart pound once more before she looks back at her team.
If it was a fight Lotor wanted, it was a fight he would get.
Chapter 3: Chasing Ghosts
Allura wakes with a start when she hears Romelle fall out of her bed in the Blue Lion. Looking over she blinks seeing the other Altean still asleep. Apparently, she could sleep through anything, but now Allura was awake and the guilt of what she had done to Lotor came crashing back down.
She didn’t blame Romelle. It wasn’t her fault that she had fallen for Lotor and believed his lies about not being like his father. She didn’t even blame herself for falling for his lies. Lotor was brilliant at explaining away odd details and making sure something else had always been her focus instead.
No, the guilt that was making it so hard for her to fall back to sleep was the fact that they had left him behind in the quintessence field. Yes, he was a monster, but he did not deserve to be left there. She understood that even if she had wanted to get him out – they would have perished themselves. She understood that perfectly fine, yet she still felt guilty. As a paladin she should have never left anyone behind that she could help.
Sighing, Allura kicks her blankets off herself and slips out of bed. If she was going to be awake she was at least going to be helpful and collect some of the fruit and berries they had seen growing on the trees and bushes of Ni’vern. She knew that they were safe to eat, all the records they had for this planet confirmed it, so she wasn’t worried too much. She just needed something to do.
Once she’s slipped her shoes on she slips out of the Blue Lion into the darkness that was a night on Ni’vern. The sky was littered with stars that were emitting some light to help her find her way to the fields that Hunk had first pointed out to them, but the main light seemed to be coming from a small fire.
Wondering if one of her Paladins had found themselves unable to sleep, Allura grabs one of the deep purple square fruits as she walks under the tree to investigate and stares at it. It looked so beautiful that she hesitates in eating it, her heart aching at the familiar colour. Shaking her head when she can’t bring herself to eat it, she throws it to the floor and grabs some of the light blue coloured berries instead before continuing her walk.
“Keith?” She calls out when she sees the glint of red armour sitting at the fireside. The figure flinches at the name and as Allura meets his eyes she can see the pain in them. Something was clearly keeping him up that was weighing on him and she desperately wanted to help. Not only to distract herself from her own problem, but so that she had company. “Can’t sleep either?” She asks as she sits down next to him.
“Every time I try I just relieve mine and Shiro’s fight. I’ve gotten tired of waking up screaming and having Krolia calm me back down.” He murmurs as he runs his fingers over his Marmora blade. Allura finds it odd that Keith calls Krolia by her name but decides not to comment on it given how little she knows about Earth customs. Perhaps that was the norm for them. “I just hope that if Shiro does wake up this doesn’t continue to happen.” Keith adds before Allura can start to overthink whether Earthlings had a word for their maternal family members or not.
“Why do you hope that it stops?” She asks as she takes a berry off the pile next to Keith’s feet. She didn’t want to question how long he had been awake to have a considerable pile of fruit but part of her knew it had to have been a while.
“Shiro will feel guilty for something that’s not his fault. He didn’t fight me – his clone did. Shiro shouldn’t feel guilty about that.” He sounds tired as he talks, but Allura chalks that up to him being cranky from not getting enough sleep. She had learnt the hard way that Earthlings could be cranky when they didn’t get enough sleep and coupled with the hard battle that they had just thought against Lotor it was understandable that he would be slightly cranky.
“But surely he knows that it wasn’t him doing that.”
“That’s not how guilt works.” Keith mutters as he tosses another branch onto the fire, watching the flames lick over the wood as he tries to think of how to word what he wants to say. He knew this was going to be a delicate subject. “Like, you feel guilty because you think Lotor deceived you and that if you had just seen through his lies that that fight wouldn’t have happened, right?”
“But you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Lotor deceived all of us and we all thought he was serious about helping us. You feel guilty about the fact part of your brain is telling you that if you had done something different that this wouldn’t have happened.” He explains as the flames dance around the small pile of sticks. “That’s the same for Shiro. He’ll know logically that it’s not his fault but part of him would make him feel guilty because there had to be some way that he could have made sure he didn’t hurt me.” He can’t bear to meet Allura’s eyes once he’s finished explaining, knowing that he’ll more than likely see pity in them.
“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand.” Her voice is soft and when Keith briefly looks up, he can’t help but watch her stare into the fire. She was giving him his space, as though she knew that this was going to be difficult to talk about. Of course, it could just be from the fact that he had brought up Lotor to her.
And given Keith’s disastrous social interaction record; he wasn’t sure which one it was.
“It’s your brain’s way of processing hindsight. You now know what all of Lotor’s goals were so now your brain makes you relieve all the memories you have of him while remembering what you know now – which makes you think you could have done something differently.” He explains after eating a few berries. He didn’t mind taking his time to explain these things to Allura. In all honesty he knew that she would need it more since she had a tendency to beat herself up over things that were never her fault. He had never had that problem and had gotten used to having to process his guilt like this.
He had done it after every Blade of Marmora mission where one of his allies had died and he had survived. He had done it at Naxzela when he had been told how much of a reckless move his sacrifice would have been by both Kolivan and Matt. He had done it during his fight with Shiro’s clone. Keith was simply used to processing his guilt and being able to move on. But this time it seemed to be a lot harder and he was hoping that helping Allura would help himself.
“That makes more sense… I do feel that maybe if I had asked him more about why he needed the quintessence fields that he would have told me about the Altean colony or about the experiments he had been running.” Allura murmurs as she looks down at her hands, her stomach churning as she thought about the Alteans that were still at the colony. She would need to make sure somebody could locate them when the Lions were recharged again.
“See that’s your brain making you feel guilty, ignore those thoughts.” Keith says softly as he passes her a bigger fruit to try before taking a bite of his own. “I’m trying to myself.” He adds as he throws another branch onto the fire before it can entirely die out.
“What’s your brain making you feel guilty for?” She asks as she takes a small bite of the rather bitter fruit.
“The fact I left the team without confirming my suspicions that that wasn’t the real Shiro.” He keeps his eyes focused on the flames once again, not needing to see the shocked look on her face to know that she thought he was insane. He had thought that too. He had thought that for a long time.
“I thought I knew. We found him rather quickly all things considered, and that long hair? Human hair doesn’t grow that long in that short of a period. You’ve known me a deca-phoeb and a half Allura, look how little my hair has grown.” He starts to explain before stopping himself. Allura didn’t need to know all the details of why he suspected that it wasn’t the real Shiro. Most of them were too private for him to be sharing. “It became a more persistent thought when he started arguing with me in front of you all and being distant in our relationship. That’s never been how Shiro is.”
“But you know this is your brain making you feel guilty, as opposed to guilt that you should be feeling?” Allura has turned to him at this point and when Keith does look up, he’s surprised to see the concern in her eyes. He had forgotten how compassionate Allura could be when she understood what you were going through.
“I do but knowing that doesn’t change the fact that I know that if I had confirmed that suspicion – I probably wouldn’t have had to kill Shiro.” She can’t help but watch Keith as he talks about the fight he had had with Shiro. She had never asked for specifics, knowing that it was something he probably didn’t want to think about, but she couldn’t hide her shock. It wasn’t like with Lotor where he had left the clone to die. From the quiet way he had said it – Keith had been the one to land the final blow.
“The clone… I had to kill it Allura. It… it was going to end up being me or him but… but the moment I went to do it was when the clone stopped being Haggar’s puppet.” Keith kept his eyes on the fire, willing himself not to cry this time. Allura didn’t need to see that, especially not when she was dealing with the loss and betrayal of Lotor.
“Oh Keith…” Allura doesn’t hesitate to put her arms around him, knowing that he probably didn’t need to drag out the conversation any further. He probably didn’t want to either. “We’ll get through it together, and we’ll get your Shiro back to being healthy, so don’t worry.”
“I know we will Allura.” Keith allows himself to slip his arms around Allura, just to make sure she felt that she wasn’t alone. He knew they would both heal from their fights, even if they did have to wait a while to feel okay again.
After all, time heals all wounds.