Run to You
It was a two-hour flight by aircar from Trondheim to Hoshi Shirogane's cottage on the southeastern coast of Norway. During that flight nobody, not even the usually vivacious Greta, spoke a word. They were all tired, Romelle especially. She looked as though she had not slept since she fled Paxa four days earlier and whatever inner fire had sustained her all that time had nearly burnt itself out, and all her energy as well. She spent the ride cradled against Sven's shoulder, her long, uncombed golden hair spilling over both of them. He held her close, hoping she slept, but once or twice she sighed slightly, wriggled against him, then forced her head back to regard him with her wide, night-filled eyes, as though to assure herself that he was still there.
They reached the house shortly before midnight. Hoshi had gone to bed long before, but she had left the light on in the kitchen and a mound of freshly baked bread cooling on the counter.
Hunk eyed it hungrily, but a little warily. "Is it…" He bit his lip.
Greta tore off a piece and popped it into her mouth. "Well, it's not enchanted," she said, rolling her eyes. "Have some." She thrust the bread at Hunk and he took it…hesitantly.
"Sobo made it fresh this afternoon, Hunk," Mariana assured him and laughed.
Blushing faintly, Hunk accepted the proffered morsel and, after having inspected it surreptitiously, shoved a large piece into his mouth with obvious relish.
Sven turned to his eldest sister. "You'll set up the couch for him-"
"I can sleep in the Lion," Hunk protested, swallowing hastily.
"Where is the Lion?" Greta asked excitedly.
"You'll sleep in the house," Sven said, ignoring her. "And if you need anything at all, you are more than welcome…" He shook his head in wonderment. "I can not thank you enough…"
"Just go to bed," Mariana said, gesturing him away with a flick of her graceful hand. "I feel even more tired just looking at the two of you." She was pointing at him, but her dark blue eyes were on Romelle, who had neither spoken nor moved from his side since falling into his arms at the spaceport.
Before they had gone, though, Greta called out, "Are you really a princess?"
Romelle stirred and turned to favor the much younger girl with a tired, but kindly smile. "Yes, I am."
"Where's your crown?"
Hunk chuckled, and Mariana smiled. She sounded so indignant!
"I hardly ever wear it," Romelle replied. "And I had to be disguised, or else I'd never have gotten away to your brother."
Greta stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as though Juliet had just waltzed in to say she was off to meet Romeo and might be back by dawn.
"Once again I've run off and forgotten to bring any clothes with me. Why do I always do that?" Romelle was seated on Sven's bed, buttoning the nightgown Mariana had laid out for her. It was too long in the skirt and sleeves, but the amethyst color was becoming. Still, there was a lost look about her. The voluminous folds of the gown emphasized the very delicacy of her neck and shoulders, made her appear vaguely childlike. "It's cold, here."
"Here, then." Sven retrieved his own robe from his closet and knelt to drape it about her, squeezing her shoulders and hands as he did.
"Won't you be cold?"
Brushing the tumbling hair away from her face and kissing her pale, furrowed brow, "I'll be fine, ren'ai."
"Oh, Sven." Her arms went about his neck and she held him close against her soft breast. He felt the shudder that passed through her body and he looked up.
"We have to talk, ren'ai."
"But not tonight."
"Yes, tonight." She sighed and tried to put him from her, but her hands lingered in his hair. He covered her hands with his and nodded solemnly. She drew a long, unsteady breath and tucked her legs up beneath her on the bed before she began. "I want you to know," she said, "that I refused Brahal. Absolutely. I never meant to accept him in the first place, but now he can have no doubt as to my mind." Despairingly: "I tried to do it gently, because he was polite, at first, and because I did not want to hurt my brother, but I could not. He would not listen and he tried to keep me from coming to you." She shivered and looked away. He stroked her hand, gently. "But-as damaging as that might be to my brother, I don't regret it." She swung back to face him suddenly, and her dark blue eyes were wet with tears. "I love you. I love you so much that it doesn't make one bit of difference if my planet loses a powerful ally. That's the other thing I had to tell you. That, and I'm so sorry, so very sorry for making you doubt, but I would never, never…." She choked on a sob and broke off.
Sven closed his eyes against the ragged pain in her voice. "I don't deserve you," he whispered. It was the only time had ever said it, ever meant it, and her reaction was violent. She pulled away from him and he looked up, horrified by the stark pallor in her face. The warm glow of the night lamp glanced along the stream of tears that ran down her cheeks.
"Don't say that," she pleaded in a torn voice. "Please, don't ever say that…" Her pupils had grown so dilated that her eyes appeared completely black. She put out a hand to his cheek, but drew away, trembling as though a touch might brand her. "Do you know what it means to me to hear you say that?"
He shook his head, fighting down tears of his own. He wanted to take the words back, wanted to take her in his arms again and comfort her, but she was burning so brightly, lit by an inner riot that frightened him.
Her gaze to his never wavered, but her jaw trembled as she spoke, and the blue began to come back to her eyes-and with it, more tears. She said: "I thought you knew… But we never spoke of it, before. You know, though, that I was not happy on Pollux." Her lips twisted in sudden anger. "There are rumors that my father had my mother put to death on grounds of adultery and treason. I told you that. I told you as well that while I did not know what those terms meant as a young girl, still I was a little afraid of my father. My brother Avoc sought to protect me, and there was my mother's former attendants, Lady Brinnie and her husband, but there was no one else. The court of Pollux was such a cold place. I was afraid of the men my father trusted. They…never did anything to me, never actually said anything to make me afraid, but they would look at me sometimes as though…as though I were a tool, a piece they might use to achieve some end in a game of chess. So I was relieved when I was finally sent away from the court to live with my mother's family." She shrugged and again he found himself marveling at and appalled by how young she looked. "I thought I would find friends there, among my mother's kin, but I did not. They believed the rumors, you see, and hated my father. And I suppose, even if they did not mean it, they disliked me for being a part of him. I did have friends, growing up," she said with a brittle laugh. "I would have gone mad if I hadn't. Some were good friends. My ladies of court-well, some of them. Others hung about me, I suspect, because they found Avoc attractive. But I was always lonely. Then I was sent back to Pollux. And-I was happy at first." She frowned, and her gaze went oddly distant, as though she were in another place altogether. "Whatever my father had done wrong by Avoc and me he did well by Bandor. We were friends almost at once. But Avoc…had changed. He had grown distant, and I no longer knew him. And my father was even more secretive, even colder than I remembered. Still, they tried to make me welcome. His counselors protested-Drak most of all-but he and Avoc let me sit in on their councils-not the most secret ones, naturally, but the ones that did not matter. Like the reports from Arus." A small smile touched her lips briefly, as she seemed to recall that she was on Terra and in his bed. "That was how I knew you-I told you that, didn't I? From the reports my father's spies sent back. I saw your picture and I loved you from the start." Some of the color returned to her stark cheeks as she blushed. "I never told anyone, not any of my ladies or Brinnie. But you died." The color was gone as swiftly as it had come. "And I was alone again. Then my father and brother made no secret of their dealings with Zarkon and I knew-I knew what they had brought me back for." There was no hint of color in her face anymore, no warmth in her voice. Sven wanted desperately to touch her, but she sat so still and she was so white it was as though she had turned to ice. She was no longer looking at him, but out past him, to some distance he knew he would never see. Shadows leaped and sputtered in her cold eyes. "I died, too," she whispered. "I did," she insisted, at his involuntary cry of denial. "Once I was Lotor's, I stopped being myself, stopped being a person at all." She closed her eyes. "It was so dark and I was so cold…" Tears squeezed out from under her downcast eyelids, spilled over her cheeks and onto the hands that hung limply in her lap. "And I was dead." She looked up, her eyes finding his. "Until you found me. When your torch warmed my cheek…." She brought one small hand to her cheek. "…And you touched my hand and I saw your eyes…then I wasn't dead, anymore. Because I knew you. In the Pit of Skulls where no one has a name and everything is dead, I knew you. And you were alive, so I had to be, too."
Tears were running down his own cheeks, now, but he made no move to wipe them away. Instead he reached out, seized her hand, and held it tightly.
"And I loved you," she said, touching his hand with her free one. "I loved you on Pollux and on Altea, when we were free to love. And I wasn't lonely. I was happy." She stroked his wet cheek tenderly. "When I woke that morning after we first made love…" She blushed and her long lashes swept downward shyly, "And you still had your arms around me, I had never been happier in my life. Never. I was wanted and loved, and I wasn't even a princess, or my father's daughter. I was myself alone for the first time in my life. You gave that to me. And so I want you, only." Her lashes lifted. "And when you tell me that I don't deserve the one thing in all the galaxy that I want, that lets me be me, it breaks my heart." She finished with a limp shrug and a lop-sided smile that he did not for one moment believe.
Thoroughly shamed, he brought the little hand he still held to his lips and kissed it softly. "I love you, too, ren'ai," he murmured, "more than anything. And there is nothing I would not do for you. Nothing. I wish I were a prince so I could give you the courtship you deserve."
"I don't want a prince," she insisted. "I only want you."
"Then, I'm yours," he promised her, softly. "Don't ever doubt that, min elskling."
"Is that Norwegian?"
She sighed. "You speak three languages, and I only speak one. How am I to know when you're making fun of me if I don't know what you're saying?"
"I won't ever do that, dummen."
"Hey!" she laughed, tugging on his hair and smiling through her tears. "I understood that. What did the first thing you said mean?"
" 'Min elskling'? 'My love.'"
Her expression softened. " 'Min elskling.' It sounds wrong when I say it." She said, wistfully, "I have nothing to call you except 'beloved.'"
His eyes misted over again. "Ren'ai, when I said before that I did not deserve you, I meant I was sorry for ever doubting you. And you forgive me far too easily. For betraying your trust and leaving you alone I should have to grovel."
"Grovel, then!" she cried, throwing her arms around his neck. "Grovel all you want, only promise me," she breathed, planting soft kissing along his jaw and throat, "that when you're done, you'll never leave me again."
His arms tightened about her and he rose-stiffly-to sit beside her on the bed. "I promise." He kissed her brow, then her cheeks and temples and the corners of her mouth. She sank against him, limp and light as ashes. He gathered her to him, drew back the down coverlet of the bed, and laid her with infinite care against the pillows. He smoothed her hair back from her face, reached out with his free hand, and turned off the lamp. He lay down beside her in the cool, darkened room, cradling her against his side. Her breath was slowing, steadying, but her head lolled against him and her large dark eyes blinked up at him.
"Are you warm enough?" he murmured.
He wanted to ask, Are you happy? but he wasn't brave enough. So he leaned over and kissed her eyes closed, whispering, "Sleep, love. I won't leave you." And she slept.
Hours later, Sven still lay awake, watching his sleeping lover's face silently. With utmost tenderness, he reached out and smoothed back a dark gold lock that clung to her cheek. She sighed softly, but did not waken. Emboldened by her deep slumber, he leaned over and brushed her half-parted lips softly with his own. She smiled in her sleep.
Without makeup or jewels, her hair falling across them both like a veil of silk, with only the soft lilac glow of predawn to adorn her, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And he wanted to wake her, so he could tell her, show her again how much she meant to him.
He dared not. She was still so pale, so worn from her travails. He knew how strong she was. Her resilience shamed him at times. But even knowing that, he felt so overwhelmingly protective that he wanted only to hold her in his arms, and never let go.
If the heart could speak without having to bother with such limited organs as the lungs and the mouth, then he might have been able to express to her his perfect joy that she had come to him, braving the dangers of space and the unknown to reach him. As it was, when he had tried to explain how he felt, he had nearly broken her heart again. What more could he say after her impassioned declaration of love? She only wanted what he could give, while he wished that he could give all he wanted. Was it enough, then, to just be what she wanted? What of his own former dreams of valor in arms and glory? If someone were to tell him now that such fancies had always been idle, he might have believed that, might too have been satisfied. But no one spoke, and he had no answers.
Outside his room, someone was moving about. From the heaviness of the footfalls he knew it could not be his sisters or his grandmother. He knew he should thank Hunk, but he was loath to leave to warmth of Romelle's side. Duty won out in this instance, though, as Romelle appeared deeply asleep and likely to remain so for some time. (At least, he hoped she would.) He kissed her again, then rose from the bed, taking care not to rock it, nor to move the covers too much.
It was cold, but she still wore his robe, so he shrugged into the first bulky sweater he found, pulled on his slippers, and stole from the room.
He found Hunk in the kitchen, predictably, seated at the table, piecing together a sandwich with the remainder of Hoshi's bread and jam from the refrigeration unit. He looked up guiltily as Sven entered, but Sven brushed aside his apologies.
"You're our guest, Hunk. So this is your house, too." He got a glass of water and sat down at the table, opposite the Yellow rider. "I want to thank you again for bringing her here…"
Hunk's face reddened. "If I hadn't, she'd have gone on her own. I know she'd have tried. Sorry, man," he apologized hastily as Sven blanched. He flipped him an embarrassed smile. "Anyway, you know I'd do anything for the princess-or her twin."
"She does not like to be told she looks like Allura," Sven cautioned. "You shouldn't mention it in her presence."
"I know. And that's not really what I mean." The big man sighed and licked the sticky tips of his fingers. "I mean, beyond looks, sometimes they're just so much alike. Headstrong, stubborn, but generous, sweet… Sometimes I really think they-well, Allura, anyway-forgets she's even a princess."
Sven said, seriously, "She would not tell me what Brahal said to her when she refused him, only that he tried to detain her. Did she talk to you?"
Hunk shook his head. "No. And to tell you the truth, I didn't ask about that. She was so tightly wound I think she'd have jumped if I'd asked her anything. I got the impression, though, that he really scared her. I don't know if he meant to, but I think it was ugly. I'm sure he didn't hurt her," he said quickly as Sven growled and gripped the table edge. "That's not the Viceroy, for all I don't really know him. He's a jerk, I guess, and I don't think he was expecting a refusal. I don't think he's used to refusals at all. I don't even know why I'm defending the bastard. If I were there I'd have broken his pretty nose." A beat. "You shouldn't let her go back there, Sven. On the way here I thought I'd bring you both back, but now I don't think that's a good idea. The council's gone to hell, anyway, so I don't think she'll hurt Bandor by not being there. It's just that damn Colonel Tiroth making a stink, and Keith going nuts not knowing where Lance and Kat are…" He blinked at Sven's startled look. "You didn't know."
"I knew about the bomb. What about Lance and Kat?"
So Hunk told him, as far as he knew, the nature of his teammates' disappearance and the repercussions it held for all of them. "So Tiroth is just about purple with rage, calling the Voltron Force traitors and saboteurs, and it's only Darek and Sura keeping him shut up."
"What about the Ambassador?"
Hunk shrugged. "We haven't seen him since the first council. He just stays on Tiroth's ship and lets his bloodhound do the blathering. I guess it's good Lance isn't there. There'd have been a duel by now, for sure."
"Good God." Sven put his head in his hands. "I don't suppose they took their Lions-"
"They didn't," Hunk cut in angrily. "Then we'd have been able to track them. Anyway, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you could fly the Blue and we'd have five pilots if you went back. Keith is going to beat me to death with his damned duty roster when he realizes this, but I don't care." He leaned across the table in his earnest and Sven looked up. Hunk shook his head. "No, man. You have to stay here with her. You can't bring her back to Paxa."
"I won't." His lips twitched in a humorless smile. "She won't go back to Paxa, and neither will I. I'd keep her safe here for the entire war if I could. But we both promised the Alteans we'd return. And we will. But not until she's ready."
"Sven?" Romelle said from the doorway and both men turned abruptly, guilt riddled across their features.
"I'm sorry, ren'ai," Sven said, starting from his chair. She shook her head and moved to sink into the seat beside him. Biting his lip, "We did not mean to wake you."
"It wasn't your voices," she assured him. "I just somehow sensed you were gone." That did nothing to assuage his guilt.
"I was coming back…"
"I know. But I wanted you to know I heard what you said." Her dark gaze now encompassed both him and Hunk. "And I won't go back to Paxa. Ever."
Sven reached for her hand. "The choice is yours, Romelle. But you don't have to. And I don't want you to."
"Bandor will be angry, though," she whispered, her lashes lowering.
"No, he won't," Hunk cut in quickly, sensing her need for assurances. "Keith and Allura will talk to him. Allura will smile at him and he'll forget the whole stupid alliance."
"Err-what I meant was…and this is the truth, Princess…your brother cares about your happiness much more than winning over the Viceroy. A'Lystaer is a powerful planet, but Bandor loves you. He told me so himself. And Keith, if you don't believe me."
"I do believe you, Hunk. Thank you." She smiled at him and squeezed his hand gently.
The Yellow rider blushed again and began to clear his place quickly.
"How long can you stay here, Hunk?" Sven asked.
"I'll leave tomorrow, I guess. I'd go sooner, since Keith is going to be pissed to high hell-sorry, Princess-but I promised Greta I'd take her for a ride in Yellow." He shrugged at Sven's surprised look. "The price for her cooperation, before. G'night, Sven. G'night, Princess." He inclined his head respectfully.
"Good night, Hunk," Romelle said warmly. "And thank you…so much."
He left, his cheeks and ears still burning bright scarlet.
Sven turned to Romelle after Hunk's heavy footsteps had died away down the hall. "It would have to be something that good to get my sister to behave." His smile faded and he clasped her hand across the table. "You won't go back?"
"You don't have to, ren'ai. Not ever, if you don't want to."
"Oh, Sven." She slid from her chair and went to sit on his lap. He put his arms about her at once. "But we both promised the Alteans we'd return. You said so. And we were going to ask your grandmother about Gotora. Did you, yet?"
He shook his head. "To tell you the truth, I didn't want to ask without you."
She kissed his chin. "We'll both ask her…" she yawned … "when I'm awake. But, Sven…"
"Yes, min kanelbolle?"
She pouted sleepily. "I don't want to know what you just called me. Listen, though, and promise me."
"While we're here, aside from asking Hoshi about Gotora, can we just pretend that there's nothing else-no Paxa or Altea or anything besides us. Just for a little while?"
He squeezed her gently and kissed the top of her head. "I promise, my love."
She expelled a breath and shook her head against his chest. "I just love you so much. I want to believe, just for a while, that we live in a beautiful world."
"I want that, too. And I love you-with all my heart."
She looked up at him. "Do you think that's enough, Sven?" She closed her eyes. "Please forget I said that. I want it to be enough. I do. I was just so frightened-"
He quieted her with a deep, tender kiss. "It will be enough, ren'ai. This time, I promise."
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