I don't know what I am hoping for, as I reach to take the hand Lotor offers me. Why I don't just assume he will once again live up to expectations. Certainly given our history, the knowledge of how Lotor conducted the Empire's affairs, and even what has been happening in the last few days should all have screamed a warning at me. I have experienced first hand his ruthlessness, his lack of mercy, his cruelty. It seemed absurd that I would dare entertain the idea that he might prove me wrong where at least Arus was concerned.

But there had been something about his eyes. Some gleaming emotion that seemed out of place on Lotor's face. He had been many things, angry, frustrated, exasperated. But the sincere appeal I had seen was new, unexpected. It wasn't enough to get me to believe, to even entertain the idea that things could be different, no matter how much I might wish it otherwise. But perhaps it was enough to motivate me to at least humor him, to indulge in a moment that might be nothing more than the latest cruel game of his.

I was prepared to play it, to be the brunt of his joke if it meant I could finally get some confirmation on just what was happening on Arus. Though I was sure I already knew, my people enslaved and killed, tortured and toyed with for the amusement of the Drules. But to know the happenings as fact, would at least spare me the torture of wondering. But it would never absolve me of my sins to my people, and not just of the crime of inviting Lotor back into our lives. No, my hands were dirty, as stained as Lotor's but for different reasons.

I was responsible for much where Arus was concerned. Lotor had gotten that right at least. If I had been a wiser, more capable ruler, perhaps then I would have been able to help Arus recover from the damage the war with the Drule had caused it. I wasn't absolving Lotor or the Drules for their role in Arus' misfortunes, but a part of me knew it was my own inadequacies that had helped the planet decline. I wish it wasn't so, wished it could have been different in some way. I wish for many things, but know it is useless. Wishes and dreams do nothing, only money and power make a true difference.

Lotor has an abundance of both, the worlds under his rule flourishing. It's why I came to him in the first place, why in my most desperate hour, I sought his help for Arus. I've bartered with the only coin I had left to me, and even that hasn't seemed valuable enough to gain anything more than false promises where Arus is concerned. For all intents and purposes, I have gambled and I have lost, and yet I take his hand anyway. Wanting him to prove me wrong, but yet not daring to so much as dream.

Lotor's face is carefully blank as his closes his fingers around my hand. His grip is firm, but lacks the crushing strength he previously used. And still my other arm throbs, a persistent pain that focus much of it's hurt in my wrist. I am sure that lingering pain is the signal of something more severe, but neither one of us has put true thought to seeing to it's care.

Even the steady trickle of blood that drips out of the claw marks Lotor left in my arm, is ignored for the moment. Both of us are too intent on what he wants to show me, on whatever truth Arus will reveal of it's situation. When I think about what could be happening, on what I assume has already started to happen, the pain in my arm is little compared to the pain in my heart.

Lotor has gone quiet as he leads me across the room. I don't try to second guess his reasons, as he sits me down in front of his computer that doubles as a way to connect to other worlds. Instead I just watch as Lotor leans over me, his arms on either side of my body, as his fingers begin tapping out commands, pressing buttons, and inputting codes. I don't even realize it at first, but I've begun to hold my breath, my heart beginning to beat faster. Ready to break at the first sign of abuse, I'm resigned but not happy at the thought of what Lotor has probably already done to Arus.

I am unprepared for the writing that fills the screen, pages and pages of the Drule language, with few if any photographs to accompany the writing. I actually frown, and shift in my seat, conscious that I brush against Lotor's front as I turn to look at him.

"What's this?" I ask, pleased my voice manages a calm quality to it.

"Plans." He answers, his eyes more intent on the screen than on me. "Proposals, and actual projects, some of which are already underway."

"Oh?"

"It'll take some time for the computer to finish translating these documents into your language." continues Lotor. "But it's all there...every last detail, including what has already begun on Arus."

"Begun?" I ask, trying to keep from shaking.

"The saving of your people." At last his gaze is on me, gold eyes boring into me with a dark intensity. It's a look that keeps me from scoffing in reply, leaving me frozen in my seat as I wait for him to keep on talking.

"I won't lie and say it will be easy." Lotor at last continues. "Arus and it's people's situation is severe. And not all of it can be blamed just on the war that had been waged between our two kingdoms." He held up a hand, as though to stave off the protests he expected me to make. "It's going to take a lot, and not just money, to get that world restored to even a shadow of it's past glory."

I felt anxious just listening to him, ignoring the pain of my arm as I waited. I didn't yet believe, didn't dare hope Arus' salvation was what he was truly implying in the moment.

"The people of Arus are going to have to WANT to save it."

"Oh they do!" I quickly blurted out, my tone almost breathless. "They want it more than anything..."

"Clearly that is not the case."

"You mean what's left of Arus nobility..."

"Not just those overly ambitious lords." Lotor told me, and then shook his head. "Allura, you've got to realize. You lost control of your planet long before you ever gave it over to me."

A hot flush of anger colored my cheeks, but could I really deny what he had just said?

"No..." continued Lotor. "If the people of your planet had stood in support of your rule, rather than divide themselves up to fight the nobles' many wars, perhaps then you would have had the support you needed to try and improve the situation."

"I don't blame them!" I quickly said. "They were scared, hungry, desperate..."

"And only making the situation worse by dividing themselves among so many power hungry factions!" Lotor growled back. I tried to keep from recoiling from the anger he displayed, Lotor's eyes glinting with a harsh light as he gazed down at me. "War is a quick way to ruin a people, even a rich kingdom suffers from fighting that is drawn out over years. Arus was already dealt a disabling enough blow from the war with the Drule...I can't imagine what those fools thought to accomplish by plunging Arus into a civil war at this time. All your efforts should have been focused on recovery, NOT on trying to fight off those with their eyes on your crown!"

"You'll get no argument from me on that!" I told him. "What little we had left, was quickly lost in the war that followed the one with Doom. What the Drules didn't destroy, my own people did. And the more we lost, the more supporters the other nobles gained."

"You were all incredibly foolish." grumbled Lotor. "Even if the Arusians were so unhappy with your rule, they should have banded together under only one leader. Not the sixteen different factions that currently exist in one form or the other on Arus!" He made a scoffing noise then. "No wonder you can't feed your own people. They're all too busy fighting to farm what viable land is left!"

"They were scared." I tried to defend them. "And desperate. They saw their homes destroyed, their cities turned to rubble. They wanted peace, a security I could not provide them..."

"They wanted what you turned your back on." The knowing look in his eyes had me flush redder, my face unbearably hot in the moment.

"The past can't be changed." I told him. "I've made many mistakes...I've even accepted most of them. I'm doing what I can for Arus...trying to get it help in the only way I can." A lift of my chin, my gaze steady as I met his glare. "And have I succeeded?"

"You may not like all of what I intend to do..." A cool response from him, Lotor maintaining the glare. "But I will get you results you can live with. To that end, the first order of business is to stop the fighting."

"What about the feeding of the people?"

"That will come soon enough. The estimates I've received, show we are just days away from capturing and executing the leaders of those sixteen factions." He had paused, and I realized he was waiting for the expected protests he thought I would make.

"I am not as...naive as I once was." I told him. "I know those men and women cannot be allowed to live, not if we don't want the Arusians to keep banding together under them. They need to be eliminated, and the people united under one rule."

"You surprise me Allura." He almost smiled, though it was a darkly grim expression on Lotor. "I never thought you'd mature to be so practical when it came to killing."

"I take no pleasure or pride in what must be done." Came my reply. "But I would do just about anything for the well being of Arus and it's people." I gave him a dark look of my own. "As you are well aware of by now."

That almost smile vanished in an instant, something very much like annoyance in his eyes. "Yes, I know." He said, staring at me with that harsh look in his eyes. "It's one of your most consistent traits, that willingness to sacrifice ALMOST anything for the good of Arus."

"Then why does it feel more like a chastisement then praise?" I ask, but I already knew. Lotor was referring to the one sacrifice I had refused to make, the crushing rejection I had given him roughly ten years ago,

It was an open wound between us, raw and bleeding, hurting us both but for different reasons. Where as Lotor saw it as the crushing of his dreams, the breaking of his heart and the end of his belief in love, I saw the rejection for what it had meant for Arus. For furthering it's decline, for the starvation, even death of my people. I even recognized that for all my self sacrificing nature, in that one instant I had been selfish. More concerned with my own well being and sanity, not wanting to be abused, degraded, sullied, I had cost my people so much in my unwillingness to pay Lotor's price back then.

"Self sacrifice is not always a good trait. Often people can use that against you." Lotor told me. "They can make promises, threats and in no way live up to their part of the agreement should you give up what they wanted. But I am sure it is a lesson you have already learned." He gestured for my attention to return to the computer screen, giving me the much needed excuse to turn away from his unsettling stare. But I couldn't escape his nearness, Lotor leaning forward, pressing against the back of my chair. I could smell the faint scent of his cologne, felt his long hair brush my shoulders as he bent forward to input more commands into the computer.

His arms on either side of me, I stared at what was a live feed of the planet Arus, with many Drule ships floating just out of reach of it's gravitational pull. They weren't all war ships, I could see smaller craft, the kind devoted to carrying supplies.

"It's been a long time since Arus has seen such a...large number of Drule ships." I said, trying not to shiver at the sight. Even with the supply ships, the old fear still roused itself in me, to see the war vessels of Doom in Arus' orbit.

"And more will be coming." Lotor told me. "I've sent soldiers, food, medicines, fuel, the things needed to rebuild your cities. Those supply ships will land just as soon as the last of the nobles' resistance falls."

I could hear the satisfaction in his voice as Lotor continued to talk. "There's not only supplies, but doctors and scientists coming to Arus."

"Scientists?"

A tapping of the control panel's buttons, cut the video short, a document opening up in it's place. There was even a few charts drawn, though what they were attempting to estimate the percentages of, I could not figure out.

"It's too early to say for sure, but from the few soil samples Doom's scientists have analyzed, they hope to recover the use of over seventy percent of the farm land thought ruined by the pollution and fires. Arus may yet be restored to it's fertile glory."

"Arus...a green paradise once more?" I breathed out in disbelief.

"If the Arusians are able to farm the land once again, it would cut down on costs." He explained. "Less food to import, and in time Arus might become able to make an importable resource out of the extra food they grow."

"And of course..." He added as though it was a mere after thought. "That money would go a long way towards them paying off their debt to me."

"To you?" I repeated, letting a hope build in me that I hoped he would not dash. "Then...you will be giving them the chance? You won't just enslave them...?"

"They won't become slaves, though at times they may protest the hard work they will have to do." Lotor told me as I turned in my seat to look at him. "They'll be paid for their time, though it will be a while yet before they earn a true monetary wage for their efforts. For now they will have to be content with the food, the medicines, the clothing they are given in return for helping to rebuild their cities. Every able bodied man and woman will be expected to work, with a day off for rest every six days."

"The elderly, the disabled, will not be killed." He continued, which had once been a common practice of the Drules. "Their needs will be seen to, the children will spend their days playing and being educated." Another one of those grim half smiles from him. "They'll need to learn a tool or trade, in order to become productive members of the Empire in their future years."

A life for the people, a future for their children, was what I had wanted for Arus. It was what had brought me to Doom, chasing after the mere possibility of securing such a thing for the people of Arus. To hear that I might be succeeding, that I hadn't thrown away my pride and dignity for nothing? It was overwhelming, tears not only coming to my eyes, but starting to overflow. Lotor's expression was almost comical, the dismay he expressed at the sight of my weeping.

I began brushing at my eyes, trying to stop a flow that seemed unending. Lotor stood before me, wearing a look that strongly hinted he did not understand the reason for my tears.

"It's everything I've always wanted and then some." I said in a voice that was both sob and laughter. "For my people to finally get the chance they need to do something more than just survive."

"Then why do you cry?" Lotor asked me, and I nearly choked on the sobbing laughter.

"I'm just happy." But as soon as I said it, I realized it wasn't true. I wasn't completely happy, not knowing for certain what my own future held save for the fact that my nights would be spent in Lotor's bed. I didn't even know for how long such a thing would continue, but knew it was part of the price I had to pay for Arus' salvation.

He watched that realization chase away what little happiness might have been in my eyes. His own gaze darkened, Lotor's jaw clenching. But what did he expect from me? I couldn't feign true enthusiasm for my duty, couldn't look forward to the fact he would continue to force himself on me night after night, and even some days. I could only be grateful, and gratitude wasn't enough, it never was with him.

Knowing this, I still had to try to at least convey to him that gratitude. I couldn't, wouldn't let him think me so unfeeling, so heartless as to not recognize what he was attempting to do for Arus. I took in a deep breath, trying to calm the worst of my tears. The exhalation held a shaky quality to it as I nerved myself to touch his arm.

"Thank you." I said, pleased my voice did not betray any sadness. "I mean it, your highness." I took another deep breath, closing my eyes for one second. "I misjudged your intentions. I took out of context the one word I had heard, and leapt to the worst of conclusions. I...I was wrong."

It seemed as though Lotor had frozen at my touch, standing so still, staring at me unblinking. It unnerved me, my hand lightly touching his arm starting to tremble in anticipation of what he might do, what he might demand.

"I was wrong..."I repeated. "And for that I am sorry." I was sorry for more than that, knowing these last days needn't have been quite so unpleasant. At the very least, I wouldn't have fought him the way I had, if I had known he was truly sincere about helping Arus no matter the reasons why he would attempt such an endeavor.

The relief, the gratefulness I felt at the knowledge that he would help Arus wasn't enough to get me to forgive him entirely. I was still aware of what a brute he was, how cruel he could be. I knew he had done me wrong, and not just where sex was concerned. He hadn't lied to me, but then he hadn't also told me the truth in no uncertain terms. He had left me to think the worst where his intentions towards Arus was concerned, and he had almost let me be raped by another man this very evening.

Upsetting things, but yet I was also aware he hadn't been able to let the rape happen. I didn't entirely understand his reasons for preventing it, or the reasons he had for covering my part in the murder of that Drule. I might even be unsettled by it, uneasy with the fact he felt strong enough for me as to not only cover up a murder, but self inflict a wound in his side. I didn't want to face what this could mean, didn't want to consider he might still be crazily obsessed with me. It was far easier to tell myself Lotor simply wasn't tired of using me for his sexual depravities, than consider I might truly mean something to him.

I was trying my best to be in denial, to not even face the truth before my eyes. Was Lotor doing the same, trying to pretend I was nothing more than an outlet for his lusts? But what would change if we both came to acknowledge I might still matter to him? The damage had already been done, Lotor having hurt me far worse than I could have ever hurt him.

It's a hurt I don't think I could ever forgive no matter what he accomplishes with Arus. Nor do I think Lotor is willing to apologize for what he has done to me. I think he probably doesn't even realize what he's done is wrong. Nor do I truly expect him to stop, though it does surprise me when accepts my apology.

"We better clean that arm." Lotor says and steps out of my reach. I glace down, and see the blood had stopped, though the claw marks are deep enough to look nasty. My skin is starting to show bruises, and I once again wonder how much damage he had done when gripping me so cruelly. I won't find out just yet, Lotor in no hurry to send for a doctor. And in truth I am more concerned with reading the documents the computer is in the midst of translating. But I let him clean and bandage my arm, gratitude welling in my chest not only for the care he shows me, but for the fact he leaves me alone after, Lotor for once too tired to make demands of my body.

To Be Continued...

I probably should be in hiding, cause I worry people will want to lynch/hurt me for some of Allura's thoughts at the end. *hides*

Also need to thank Angel Suriel for talking with me, and trying to help, give me advice on some of the Arus restoration things. She made a great suggestion that hasn't happened yet, but will most likely be used sometime in a future chapter. I don't know if I should spoil, but let's just say the Drules will find something valuable on Arus!

I like this chapter, though not too fond of the middle. They still need to have more talking too, cause I had first imagined they might start airing out their issues about the whole proposal thing more. But it didn't happen...it was too hard just with what I did write. I was going fine until Lotor had to try and explain what he was trying to do for Arus. I fear the middle is kinda sucky. *worried* Hope the middle didn't bore anyone...X_X

I have ideas for scenes I want to happen as it will be the new day. Problem is, not sure how to start the next chapter, or lead into them. I also have to start writing something that has to do with something I began setting up a while back. But it's all a frustrating thing, to try and advance the story to those scenes and things. ARGH! And I have a BORING library book I have to finish by Thursday morning. X_X

Michelle

Viciously Witty, thank you, thank you! I was pretty pleased with that chapter myself! :D I'm not sure what I am hoping for them regarding Allura's feelings either to be honest. Just know I didn't want the Arus thing to be an instant forgiveness for all he's done to her. But maybe some healing can happen as time goes on...though I still worry...*goes back into hiding now*