"In here," Allura snapped curtly as she opened the door to the storage room. She tapped her foot impatiently as Lotor looked inside and then glanced at her skeptically. She just glared back at him.
"Hey," Lotor frowned in indignation, "Just because you're having a bad day and are mad at your friends, don't take it out on me! If you would like to vent, go right ahead. But, I haven't done anything to warrant punishment." An unsaid 'yet' hung in the air.
"Sorry," Allura muttered hurriedly, "but let's get this over with, okay?"
She switched on the light and they walked into the long, thin room lined with shelves full of boxes. The door swung shut behind them with a click. They paid it no mind. Allura read the labels as the walked past. Where was that box? Then, she saw the one she wanted:
RETIRED ROYAL GUARD UNIFORMS
"Help me lift it down, Lotor," she grunted as she tried to pull the box down. It should just be old clothing- why was it so heavy? Together, they dragged the large box off the shelf and onto the floor.
Allura pulled off the lid and sighed- no wonder! Not only were the regulation uniforms in the box, but also the dress uniforms, with accompanying helmets and sabres. The gold accents and braiding of the dress uniforms glinted in the light.
Allura rifled through the neatly folded stacks of clothing. They had been arranged in order of size. One uniform set off to the side caught her eye. Why wasn't it with the rest? She scanned the embroidered name, it didn't ring any bells. She checked the tags.
"Lotor, what size am I looking for?"
"Why don't you just let me look?" He crouched next to her and glanced at the uniform she was holding. "That one might work, but I won't know unless I try it on."
"Okay, you can look now, just don't laugh..."
Allura turned around and just stared. The royal blue of the uniform was actually quite striking next to Lotor's Drule features. The cut nicely accented his figure. The brass buttons brought out the deeped gold hues of his eyes.
She shook her head. "Looks good on you. I can see why they used to call those uniforms 'bellhop blues' though."
"Yeah," Lotor agreed, "but it's pretty comfortable, actually."
"Good, now let's get out of this oversized closet." She turned to open the door, only to find that there was no knob on the inside! "Uh oh..."
"What?" Lotor had just finished pushing the uniform box to the side and under a shelf.
"We're locked in."
"Fun. So what do we do?"
"We wait," Allura sat down facing the door, "when some one notices we're gone, they'll come looking for us."
Lotor sat down beside her. "Did you tell anyone where we were going?"
"Well, no," she admitted, "but they're bound to check here sooner or later."
"Oh, Allura," Nanny called in a sing-song voice as she knocked on the princess's door, "I just came by to ask what you would like for lunch." No response. She knocked again.
Cautiously, Nanny pushed open the door and peeked inside. Empty! Where could that girl have gone, now?
"I hope that ruffian hasn't harmed my darling princess!"
Allura was getting bored. "Hey Lotor," she finally broke the silence, "have you ever played 'Truth or Dare'?"
"Never heard of it."
Allura explained the rules as she had learned them at a ball when she was a young girl. Lotor snickered, but was eventually convinced it would help to pass the time.
"I'll even let you go first!"
"Fine," Lotor relented, "might be interesting."
"Okay, Lotor, Truth or Dare?"
"Say something nice about Keith."
The Prince of Doom rolled his eyes. "That's a pretty lame dare."
"He has very healthy self-esteem. I mean, he wears those awful white boots..."
"Hey," Allura broke in, "I think they're cute boots!"
"Whatever. Your turn, Truth or Dare?"
"Who is cuter, Keith or me?"
Allura gasped. "I can't believe you just asked that! If I say Keith, you'll keep bugging me; and, if I say you, you'll be impossible to live with!"
"I can't answer that!"
"You asked that on purpose! I get to go first this time."
"Geez, you're a sore loser! Truth or Dare?"
Allura thought for a moment. "I'll take a dare this time."
"I win again! Either this game is really easy, or you're really bad at it."
"Quit rubbing it in! Let's think of something else to do."
Upon their return from practise, the Voltron Force were met by a distraught Nanny. When they were told Allura was missing, Keith came up with a now very familiar plan- split up.
"We all saw how upset she was earlier," Keith told them, "she's probably off somewhere calming down. We won't worry until we've turned this castle inside-out."
Lance had almost walked past the storage room without checking. After all, why would they be in there? Then, he thought he heard a laugh.
He pulled the door open to find Lotor and Allura starng intently into each other's eyes.
"Sorry," he grinned and began to shut the door again, "I didn't mean to interrupt anything."
"No wait," they yelled simultaneously, "don't go!"
"Staring contest," Lotor explained, "we got locked in here."
"S'true," Allura agreed, "no knob on the inside."
They were still maintaining unblinking eye contact. Lance leaned against the door-jamb to watch.
"Anyways, Allura," Lance continued, "Nanny was worried about you when you weren't in your room and she couldn't find you."
Allura snorted. "That woman is like a vulture, always watching! I love her to death, but she's just too overprotective!"
"But, Allura," Lotor said in a very good Nanny impression, "you're her BABY!"
Allura laughed and then blinked. "No fair! You made me laugh!"
"If you two are done playing in the closet," Lance interjected, "we'd better go check in. Call off the alarm, so to speak."
"Might as well," Allura sighed, "it's about lunchtime anyway."
"Oh good," Lotor smiled, "food!"
Allura realized then that she was quite hungry. They had come directly to the storage room after the incident in Castle Control. The hadn't even had breakfast!
When Koran had first seen Lotor in the old guard uniform, he had gone very pale. He had regained his usual composure quickly; but everyone had seen his impassive mask slip. Allura was concerned.
Is he upset about the uniform? Oh dear, she thought, Maybe I should have run the idea by him first.
Then, to make it all worse, Lance began teasing her. He kept asking what they had done while locked in the storage room.
"Come on," he snickered, "I KNOW you weren't just staring at each other the whole time."
"We played a few games to help pass the time," she sighed in frustration,"I already told you! That was it!"
"Ooh," Lance grinned, "what kind of games?"
Much to her annoyance, Allura found herself blushing. "Lance! You know I would never..."
"Tisk tisk," he cut her off, eyes twinkling,"I don't think Nanny would approve."
"Probably not," Lotor agreed, "but does she approve of ANYTHING?"
Allura gave a small smile. "Not much that's fun."
Lunch would have been far more enjoyable if it hadn't been for Koran's lecture to Allura about always letting someone know where she would be. Allura had tried very hard to pretend like she was paying attention and taking it seriously. She did a good job of it until Lotor elbowed her, mouthed "I knew where you were," and winked. Allura had snorted and then tried to cover it up by clearing her throat. Koran had just glared at her sternly and continued.
After lunch, and, of course, informing Koran of her plans, Allura dragged Lotor off to the royal library.
"We need to learn more about these shackles," Allura explained as she browsed through thick volumes, "I want to know exactly how they work."
Lotor looked around at the shelves of books. "Where do we start?"
"Um," Allura shrugged, "what was that king's name again?"
"I'm pretty sure it started with a 'U'."
"You mean you don't remember either?"
"I wasn't exactly fully awake and functioning at the time, remember?"
"Let's start searching the indexes in the biography collection."
"And what? Read all the U biographies until we find it? Do you have an encyclopedia?"
They quickly found several sets, took the S and U volumes, and began searching.
Hmm... Lotor read to himself, Shackles, shackles (see torture), Shackles, Rudolph...
"Have you found something?"
"The 'Shackles of King Ukala'! I'm sure that's them!"
"Well, what does it say?"
"'King Ukala was known for his wisdom and problem solving skills. The Shackles were designed to help settle a dispute with his daughter, Elma.
'The Princess Elma had a fabled independence and stubbornness.' Hey, kind of sounds like you!"
"Just keep reading!"
"'King Ukala had no sons, and planned to leave his kingdom to his daughter. However, according to laws at the time, the princess had to be married before her coronation.
'Ukala knew his daughter resented the law, so the made a bargain. If the king could find the one nobleman his daughter didn't hate, and within three months, she would agree to be married and inherit the throne.
'Ukala wanted to be certain that his daughter would be loved in return by the nobleman. He also wanted to be sure it was a lasting love. Thus, he designed his legendary Shackles.
'The most powerful scorcerors in the land were summoned to forge the shackles with these qualities:
'1.) They must be unbreakable.' There goes that idea!
'2.) They could only bind those with some affection for each other. Two who hate on another cannot be bound.' "Aha!" Lotor was smirking.
"I KNEW you didn't hate me!"
"So," Allura blushed,"I don't hate anyone!"
"Sure you don't. C'mon, admit it, you think I'm cute!"
"Is there any more to the article," she changed the subject.
Lotor chuckled to himself, but kept reading. "'3.) The chain between the Shackles must b exactly 3 feet (0.9 meters) long.'"
"When does it get to the part where it tells us how to get them off?" Allura was getting impatient.
"Maybe, if you let me finish, we'll find out. '4.) They would be of such a nature that once fastened they would be both invisible and permeable, but still binding.
'5.) The shall not reopen until the wearers are bound by and even stronger bond.
'It is said that every noble in the land attempted to be bound to the princess, but only one succeeded. The shackles closed for only a few moments, then reopened.'"
"Lucky them," Allura sighed, "we'll probably be stuck like this forever!"
Lotor nodded in agreement. "The rest just talks about how Elma's first act as the new queen was to have the Shackles placed in the royal vault so they couldn't be used again."
"So," Allura mused, "the question is, what is a really strong bond between two people?"
Allura didn't want to admit that was what she had been thinking, too. "I'm sure there are other ones."
"Well," she was searching desperately for a response when Keith walked into the room. She was saved! "Let's ask Keith!"
"Ask me what?"
"What's a strong bond between two people?"
"Oh, I don't know," he shrugged, "blood?"
Lotor and Allura looked at each other. Lotor started laughing.
"I hate to admit it, Lotor," Allura couldn't help giggling herself, "but your idea is more likely!"
Keith, utterly confused by the conversation, cleared his throat. The laughter slowly subsided. "Allura, Koran would like to speak with you about the masquerade ball planned for later this month."
Allura paled. She had completely forgotten! She looked over at Lotor. This could be a problem...
Koran had just gone over a few details and given one announcement. "Due to recent resignations, none of the staff can be spared to help set up the ballroom. I'm afraid you're on your own."
Allura had recruited the four resident space explorers to help with the decorating. The grand ballroom was vast; and, with only six workers, the task took almost a week.
On the final day, most of the small group were putting final touches on the decorating scheme. Allura and Lotor had gone to test the microphones on the dais.
Suddenly, two voices were heard over the sound system. It was a running commentary.
"Well, Allura, it's a beautiful day here in the ballroom."
"Yes, Lotor, it is, and there's lots of decorating action going on as we speak."
Keith rolled his eyes and began walking toward the dais.
"Uh oh. Keith is coming this way."
"That's right, Allura, and he DOESN'T look happy!"
"Well," he berated them, "having fun?"
"No sir," Lotor said with mock seriousness.
"At least you're not doing karaoke."
"I hadn't thought of that!" Lotor grinned and spoke into one of the mikes. "Do I have any requests?"
"You shouldn't encourage him, you know," Allura said sternly, though she couldn't suppress a smile.
Meanwhile, someone, Keith was almost certain it was Lance, yelled, "'I'm Too Sexy'!"
Lotor's grin broadened and he began to sing in an exaggerated and melodramatic way.
"I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts!"
Allura laughed, but joined in the chorus when Lotor asked her.
"I'm a model, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the catwalk, yeah, the catwalk!"
Then, Lotor began making up his own words:
"Keith is too sexy for his boots, too sexy for his boots, but Allura thinks they're cute!"
Keith, glowing a bright red but laughing himself, took Lotor's microphone away.
"I think it's safe to say they work."
"Party pooper," Lotor stuck out his tongue.
"I think we're about finished," Allura commented, scanning the room. "So, um, Keith? Do you have an escort, yet?"
Keith suddenly seemed nervous and wouldn't make eye contact. "Well, an old friend is coming, and I kind of offered to bring her, so..."
"Oh," Allura's heart sank, "Okay. I hope she has a wonderful time." She gave a deep sigh as she watched Keith walk over to join the others.
"You okay?" Lotor asked softly.
"No," she replied miserably.
"Stinks to be turned down by someone you like, doesn't it?"
"Yeah—" she suddenly remembered who she was talking to and gasped, "Oh! I mean... Sorry."
"It's okay," Lotor reassured her, "I'm used to it. By your sulking, I deduce that you don't like hearing 'no' any more than I do."
"Well, Sherlock," she grinned mischeviously, "Let's see what we can find out about Keith's date!"
She set off after the retreating forms of Keith and Lance. Lotor had little choice but to follow.
Allura peeked around a corner and swung out her arm to hold Lotor back. She watched closely as the two men walked through a door.
"They're in the rec room." She chewed her bottom lip as she thought. "We can't follow them in, it would be suspicious..."
"I must be rubbing off on you," Lotor crossed his arms and managed to look disapproving.
"Do you usually go around spying on people?"
"Well, no, but this is a special case."
"I have to know what I'm up against!"
"What!? What are you talking about? He said it was an old friend! Maybe I'm a little off here, but I don't think Keith would lie."
"So, maybe it's an old GIRLfriend. Since when do you disapprove of spying, anyway?" She started tiptoeing down the hall.
Lotor shrugged. "I'm telling you right now, though, if we get caught, it WAS all your idea."
Allura had her ear to the door, now. "Shh! They're talking!"
"I still think this was a bad idea," Lotor whispered back.
"So," it was Keith's voice, "do you remember her now?"
"Nope, sorry," Lance answered.
"You know, from the academy?"
"I'm still drawing a blank."
"Oh! Her. She's coming here?"
"She said she hears a lot about us and she wants to see how we're doing."
"I'll bet Allura was disappointed you have a date."
"She understands," was his voice getting closer? "Besides, she knows I feel awkward around her."
Allura stepped back just as the door swung open and into Lotor's face.
"Allura," Keith looked surprised, "What are you doing standing around in the hallway? Where's Lotor?" An arm slid out from behind the door and waved. Lotor stepped out into the hallway, rubbing his nose.
"I told you this was a bad idea," he mumbled.
"What?" Lotor opened his mouth to answer Keith when he saw Allura shaking her head and glaring daggers at him.
"Um," inspiration struck. Lotor was no stranger to making up excuses on the spot. "Stopping to talk in the middle of the hall."
Keith looked at him skeptically and Allura put a hand to her face.
"It blocks traffic," Lotor continued, unfased, "and, as was just demostrated, someone could be hit by a door."
Keith just blinked. "O-okay... Did you guys need something?"
"As a matter of fact," Allura had been struck by inspiration as well, "we wanted to know if you had decided on a costume for the masquerade, yet. Right, Lotor?"
Lotor nodded. "Yep, we're looking for inspiration."
"I haven't really thought about it much," Keith told them.
As they hurried down the hall away from a very confused Keith, Allura gave a sigh of relief. "That was close!"
"Can we drop the whole thing, now?"
"Only until the masquerade..."
Part EightTo their mutual surprise, Allura and Lotor quickly developed a sense of casual familiarity. There was very little tension between them anymore. Also, they had become so used to the shackles that they hardly noticed the effects.
Much to everyone's relief, Doom had launched no attacks. Lotor theorized that this was because he was missing and Hagar had made up some story to cover up what she had done. Allura was inclined to agree.
The ball was only three days away, and Lotor and Allura had yet to decide on costumes. They were sitting in the rec room discussing ideas.
"How about," Allura chewed her lip, "Alice and the white rabbit?"
Lotor rolled his eyes. "How 'bout NOT."
"Why don't you like any of my ideas?"
"Maybe because they tend to involve me being some disgustingly cute, fuzzy animal."
"Fine then," Allura sniffed indignantly. "YOU suggest something!"
"Oh, I don't know... What about Christine and the Phantom of the Opera?"
Allura thought for a few moments. "Nope," she said finally, "won't work. The mask only covers part of his face."
"Still ashamed to be attached to me?"
She sighed. "It's not that. You can be a surprisingly pleasant person at times. People just won't understand!"
At that moment, Lance, Hunk, and Pidge, who had been out costume shopping themselves, entered the room. Lance was beaming.
"Guess what we found at the costume shop?"
Lotor pretended to contemplate the question. "A costume?"
Lance rolled his eyes, but it would take more than that to curb his enthusiasm. "Not just any costume," he reached into the bag he was carrying, pulled out a box, and thrust it toward Lotor, "it's YOU!"
Lotor looked quizically from the box, to Lance, and back again. Then, much like a kid at Christmas, he sat down and began tearing into the box, carefully examining each piece as it emerged.
He pulled out the tunic and clucked his tongue. "Boy, you go for very long without seeing one of these and you forget how tacky they are!"
Allura turned to Lance as Lotor continued to rummage through the box. "So, who's going as Lotor?"
"Lotor is, of course!"
The man in question had just found the boots. "Hey," he scowled, "these are just slip-covers!"
"What?" Allura entreated Lance, "I thought the idea was to hide who he is, not advertise it!"
"Don't you see? Hiding in plain sight is a perfect disguise! Who would expect Lotor to come to YOUR masquerade as himself?"
"I don't know," Allura sighed, "what do you think, Lotor?"
Lotor hadn't been paying attention. He was contemplating the ear-covers that came with the costume. "Are my ears REALLY this big?"
"Just trust me on this," Lance pleaded, "he doesn't even act like his old self anymore. Who's going to know it's really him?"
"I guess we could give it a shot," Allura grinned, "what are you three going as?"
Lance wrinkled his nose. "We all got talked into going along with a nursery rhyme theme."
"Humpty Dumpty," Hunk raised his hand.
"Wee Willy Winky," Pidge groaned.
"And," Lance finished sarcastically, "I get to be Little Jack Horner. Lucky me!"
Allura giggled, "I can't wait to see that!"
The night of the masquerade fnally arrived. Allura was coaching Lotor one last time before their big entrance. "So, who are you?"
"I am one of your guards, selected to accompany you for your safety," he answered in a bored tone. It was only about the twentieth time they'd gone over this.
"What is our goal for this evening?" Allura straightened the skirt of her gown.
"Find Keith and his escort. Invade their privacy by spying on them."
"We won't be SPYING," Allura reprimanded, "I just want to know who she is, that's all!"
"Uh huh, sure. And I'm your bodyguard."
"Come on, let's go."
After her obligatory greetings to dignitaries, Allura began scanning the crowd.
"Any sign of them?"
"Maybe," Lotor responded, "isn't that him standing next to Mother Goose?"
Allura peered at the man. "Yes, I think so. I don't think I've ever sen him in blue. Where's his date?"
Lotor grinned maliciously and grabbed her arm. "Let's go ask!" Ignoring Allura's protests, he dragged her across the room.
"Little Boy Blue?"
Keith turned around and smiled sheepishly. "Yeah. Anyway, Allura, there's someone I'd like you to meet." He gestured to a rather stern looking elderly woman standing nearby. Allura recognized her as the Mother Goose Lotor had spotted earlier. "This is Miss Eckert, my old Physics teacher and my escort for the evening."
"I've heard much about you," Miss Eckert smiled, "I'm pleased to make your aquantance, your highness."
Allura managed to splutter some pleasantry in return. She could feel her ears burning. Fortunately, Miss Eckert had turned her attention to Lotor.
"Who is this handsome young man?"
Lotor shifted uncomfortably and adjusted the mask covering the upper half of his face. "Er, I'm-"
"He's one of my guards." Allura had recovered her composure, "His name is L-" she said the first L name that popped into her head, "Larry!"
"Pleased to meet you," Lotor bowed.
"Well," Allura said in a voice she hoped didn't sound TOO desperate, "enjoy the party! I have to go greet some more guests." She dragged Lotor off out of earshot and hid her face in her hands. "I am SO embarassed! I've been acting like a jealous idiot for nothing!"
"Well," Lotor tried to cheer her up, "he did say an OLD friend! Anyway, you should be happy, Keith isn't taken."
Allura sighed. "I guess so. I can't pout about it, I have to go play hostess."
"That's the ticket," Lotor grinned, "after you."On to Parts 9-12