Allura sighed and rolled over. She couldn't sleep-- the room wasjust too quiet. She looked at the now vacant half of the bed and sighed again.
As soon as Nanny found out about the spell being broken, she had forbidden Lotor from entering Allura's chambers. Allura had wanted her friend close by, so she talked Nanny into giving him the room across the hall.
I wonder if he's still up? She hadn't had a chance to really speak with Lotor since she had gone off in search of Keith. Allura pulled on a robe and crept quietly to her door. She opened it just as the door across the hall opened as well.
"Hey," Lotor grinned, "couldn't sleep?"
"Nope," Allura shook her head, eyes twinkling. "I'm so used to having you around, that it just felt..." she searched for a word.
"Empty," both said at the same time. They laughed.
"As long as we're up, you want to talk?"
"Where? Nanny would skin you alive if she found out you were in my room again. I don't think she'd approve of your room, either."
Lotor simply walked out into the hall and sat with his back propped against the wall. He smiled and patted a spot on the floor beside him. "Come on," he teased when she paused, "I promise I won't bite. Besides, the hallway is neutral ground."
Allura rolled her eyes, but took the proffered seat, hugging her knees to her chest and leaning her head on Lotor's shoulder. They spent several moments in companionable silence.
"So," Lotor began, tone carefully neutral, "how'd it go with Keith?"
Allura sighed. "It seems like every conversation we have turns into a lecture. So, sorry, no juicy details."
"Gee, how could you tell?"
"Well, it's his loss if he wasted alone time with you on a lecture."
Allura snorted. "I'll give you one guess what the lecture subject was."
"Hmm," Lotor stroked his chin, "could it be... The state of the economy?"
That got him a laugh. How he loved that sound! Lotor knew he would do whatever it took to keep Allura happy-- even if it meant they were only friends. Even if HE wasn't totally haappy himself. That's what he kept telling himself anyway. Had he changed so much?
"Hey!" A rather sharp elbow broke his reverie. "are you even listening, anymore?"
"I was ranting about the lecture," she rolled her eyes, "maybe it's better that you missed it."
"Keith thinks you've been a bad influence on me. Apparently Koran agrees."
"Well," he never got to finish.
"I think they couldn't be more wrong!"
"I mean, I have more self-confidence. I'm not afraid to let everyone know what I think. Of course, that may be because I had you for back-up."
"Hey." He turned her face toward him. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but, what if I am?"
"A bad influence, I mean."
"Then, I'm happy to have you and to heck with their opinions!"
"Good," Lotor took a deep breath, "because I'm about to be a VERY bad influence." With that, he pressed his lips to hers.
Allura's eyes widened. What was he doing? Her mind was a jumble of disconnected thoughts.
I thought he wanted to be friends? This feels SO nice! But, I love Keith... Don't I? Doesn't he need air?
Finally, she pushed him gently away. The look in his eyes almost prompted Allura to pull him into another kiss. She bit her lip and turned her face away.
He cursed under his breath. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
"No! I mean, it was nice, but..." She hugged her knees close again.
"I should go back to bed." She stood and stumbled numbly to her door. "Goodnight, Lotor."
Lotor's response was lost in the sound of the door sliding closed.
Allura paced beside her bed, the events of the previous evening replaying themselves. How could she not have seen it coming? Then again, WHY should she have? After all, they had an agreement-- right?
One thing she knew for certain: she hadn't handled the situation very well at all. There she'd been, boasting about standing up for herself, and one little kiss had sent her running! Now, she was hiding from the inevitable confrontation.
Come on, Allura, she wrung her hands as she gazed at the door, you know the longer you wait, the harder it'll be...
Taking a deep breath, she began the longest trip right across the hall that she'd ever taken. With a very audible gulp, she mustered the courage to knock. There was no response.
"Lotor?" Another knock. "We need to talk. May I come in?"
Nothing. Allura's hesitation changed to irritation and then to anger. If he wouldn't open the door, she'd make the first move! She punched the override code into the electronic lock and the door slid open to reveal an empty room.
"Lotor," she whispered.
A lone envelope sat on the neatly made bed. "Allura" was written across it in familiar, neat handwriting. Next to it lay the old guard uniform, carefully folded. Allura collapsed onto the bed and opened the letter with trembling fingers.
"By the time you read this, if all goes well, I will be long gone. I realize I have taken the coward's way out, and I hope you can forgive me.
"For a time, I tried to convince myself that my love for you was like that for a sister. I also told myself that if I truly loved you, your happiness would make me happy as well. If only that were so!
"It took all the self-control I could muster to keep my true feelings secret. Watching you with Keith was more torturesome than any punishment I can imagine. Whoever said it is better to have loved and lost must not have been speaking from experience. Our kiss last night made that painfully clear to me.
"My running away is selfish, but not nearly as selfish as it would be to expect you to love me in return just because I wish it were true. Only you can decide whom you love. I will not interfere. My absence is the only guarantee of this.
"I also need some time to myself. I have abused Arus's fine hospitality long enough. Perhaps I can make a new start.
"I will write again when I have a more permanent location. Know that should you ever need me, you have only to ask.
"Take care and remember to trust yourself.
Allura placed the letter back in the envelope, not sure what to think. She took a few moments to compose herself, dried her eyes, scooped up the uniform and letter, then headed resolutely for the control room.
As she expected, Allura found Koran seated at the main console. She wasn't quite certain just what he did each morning, but she would rectify that shortly. It was time to begin truly ruling her planet.
"He's gone," she stated simply and without preamble.
"I know," he old friend sighed, "castle surveillance recorded his departure. I don't wish to sound callous, but I think it's for the best."
"Actually, so do I. We both needed some space. That's not really what I would like to discuss, however."
"Oh?" Koran let his surprise show. He was quite certain Allura would be upset. Her composure baffled him.
"Since the death of my parents, the brunt of Arus's administration has rested on your shoulders. You have sheltered me from many of the pressures and pains of being a ruler and I am grateful, but the time for that has passed. I am no longer a child and I want to take a more active leadership role." She halted an attempted interruption with a raised hand.
"This does NOT mean I will relinquish my position as the pilot f Blue Lion. I also do not plan to marry any time soon.
"Even though you will have fewer duties, I would be honored if you would continue to provide your valuable insight as long as you care to stay."
"My dear Allura," Koran smiled warmly, "it is I who would be honored to stay for as long as you will have me."
"I'm pleased to hear you say that," Allura smiled in return. "There are many things I want to ask you. Despite your best efforts, I know a great deal was omitted from my Arusian history lessons. I feel I should know even the ugly parts of my planet's past."
"Even though I would rather forget many past events, I suppose I can understand your interest." Koran gestured toward the uniform that Allura still carried. "I think I know where I'll start. You saw my reaction to this outfit. Care to guess why?"
"Because Lotor was in it?"
"I guess that is partly correct, but it was more the uniform itself than the man in it. The memories that t sparked are not all bad..." There was a long pause. Finally, Koran continued. "How much do you know about your grandfather?"
"I know he was a very proud man."
"That," Koran smiled wryly, "is putting it nicely." The old man ran his fingers over the embroidered name on the uniform. "Let me tell you the story of a young guard named Tarsus Memnon..."
"... And if you'll just sign here. Good! Welcome to Wagner Mining."
Lotor looked around the small, untidy office and sighed. This hadn't been his first choice, but it was better than nothing and they didn't ask too many questions. The short man behind the desk reminded Lotor of some sort of vermin-- a rat perhaps.
"This is the key to your quarters. You start at the beginning of the week."
"I look forward to it." Lotor couldn't help the sarcastic tone of the words.
He set off in search of his company provided housing. Wagner Mining owned the small moon where they had set up mining operations for valuable ores. The compound was a self-comtained community. A perfect place to disappear for a while.
Lotor hadn't gotten far when his attention was drawn to a small group of men gathered around something, jeering and taunting. He moved closer, hoping to see what was holding everyone's attention. Finally, one man shifted to the side. It was a kid! A Drule kid...
"You guys had better get out of my way and let me go home!" The boy stuck out his chin defiantly. He couldn't have been more than twelve and was probably younger. Lotor noted that the boy had yellow eyes, like his own.
"Or what," a burly miner laughed, "ya gonna do somethin' about it? Ya stinkin' little Drule half-breed! If you weren't Wagner's little dog, I'd..."
The boy retorted with an extremely rude comment in flawless Drule.
"What'd you call me?!" The man stepped forward menacingly.
"Easy, Jake," another man soothed, "he's just a kid."
"I wanna know what he said! It was in that dang gibberish o' theirs!"
"He didn't say anything about you," Lotor stated simply. It wasn't a lie. The insult was aimed at the man's mother.
All eyes were now on Lotor. The boy used the opportunity to stick his tongue out at the backs of his tormentors.
"Just great," Jake scowled, "looks like ol' Wagner's hired more Drule scum!"
"Let's just go," it was the peacemaker again, "no need to cause a big scene." Most of the group mumbled agreement and began to wander away.
Suddenly without back-up, Jake seemed to deflate a bit. Wiht a final condescending look, he stormed after his friends.
"Thanks," the kid smiled up at Lotor, "but ya didn't hafta do that."
Lotor shrugged. "Seemed like the thing to do. What's your name, kid?"
"Vallahi Silva'ar. You?"
"Lotor. So, Silva'ar, eh? That's a Drule name."
"Well, duh," the boy snickered, "my dad was Drule. Mom was human though..."
Lotor felt a pang of sympathy. "They both dead, then?"
"Mining accident," Vallahi sighed, "Wagner convinced the authorities that my parents made him my guardian. I think he only did it so he doesn't have to pay me, anymore. I'm the courier 'round here."
"You live with Wagner?"
"Naw. So long as I check in every morning, he couldn't care less about me. I usually camp out in the empty quarters."
"Well then, Mr. Silva'ar, maybe you can help me find my new place."
"No problem," Vallahi grinned at the man he was quickly beginning to like. "By the way, you can call me Val."
Keith frowned at the woman in front of him. Allura was staring out the window at the night sky, one palm pressed to the glass. It wasn't hard to guess of whom she was thinking. Lotor had been gone almost a week.
"You really miss him, don't you?"
"Yes," she replied softly, "he was a close friend. We connected on a different level that I do with most people."
"Did you love him?" Nothing like the direct approach!
"I still do." Allura sighed heavily. "There are many degrees of love... I'm not certain how to classify my feelings."
"What about me?"
"It's confusing, Keith. Lotor and I have different common ground. No matter how hard we try, there are some things you can never understand about me because you haven't experienced them. The same goes for me regarding you. On the other hand, you're very dear to me and have done more for Arus and myself than I could ever repay."
Keith was silent a moment. When he spoke, his voice was bitter.
"Was that the key to those shackles? Love?" He spat out the word as though it left a foul taste in his mouth.
"Partly, perhaps. I'm certain there was more to it. King Ukala wanted his daughter to have a lasting bond. I think trust and loyalty were also important."
She paused, as though reminiscing. Finally, she turned to face Keith.
"You know, the night of the ball was the first time I ever really stood up for Lotor? It makes me feel so guilty! He was always there to listen to me, to comfort. I never returned the favor. Now it's too late..."
Keith pulled her into a comforting embrace as she began to cry.
"I'm here," he reassured, "and I promise not to leave."
"I know," Allura whispered, "but I'm not sure if that's enough."
Lotor's mouth curved into a small smile as he heard his door open. There was only one person he knew that would march right in without knocking.
"How was school, Val?"
The boy shrugged and grunted noncommitally in reply. Lotor had grown quite attached to the young man. Val was good company and keeping an eye on him had been a welcome distraction from Lotor's own troubles. Lotor had no siblings, but he thought his relationship with Vallahi must be similar.
It had been months since his departure from Arus. True to his word, Lotor had kept up a correspondence with Allura. He saved all her replies. Lotor had hoped a separation would clear his head-- give him a new perspective. He shook his head as he looked down at the letter he was currently writing. Well, the best laid plans...
"Whatcha writin'?" Vallahi peered over Lotor's shoulder. "Ooh, is that another 'NOT love letter' to your princess?"
Lotor rolled his eyes. "If you MUST know, yes, this is a letter to Allura."
Val clucked his tongue in disapproval. "I swear that you two are the only people who can write five page letters that don't really say anything! They're like reports or somethin'. 'Last Tuesday I did laundry.' Boring stuff like that. Why don't you ever ask about each other, say how you're feeling, anything personal?"
"Have you finished? I left after an... awkward situation. I wouldn't know what to say! Someday though, someday I'll be able to bring it up again."
"I'm just sayin'," Val put his hands up defensively, "somebody's gotta make the first move. May as well be you."
Lotor felt a change of subject was in order. "Did you stop by the dining hall on your way over?"
Vallahi fidgeted nervously. "Um... Yeah!"
"You haven't eaten dinner, have you?"
"Hey, you only asked if I stopped by there!" They locked gazes for a moment, then Val looked away with a sigh. "They were serving 'mystery meat surprise.' No WAY I'm even touchin' that!"
Lotor chuckled. "Me either. You need to eat, though. After all, you're still growing, eh, 'Munchkin?'"
Val glared at his friend. The elderly lady who worked in the dining hall always called him that. "At least I'm not OLD," he retorted with a smirk. Name-calling and teasing were some of their favorite pasttimes.
"Neither am I, you scrawny runt! Besides, I'm not a mooching parasite." The words sounded harsh, but they both had wide grins plastered on their faces.
"Well my head fits through the door and I'm not always tripping over my own ego!"
"I can reach the mine signal bell pull without jumping, unlike this munchkin I know."
"At least I'm not hopelessly love-sick-" Val clapped his hands over his mouth. He knew that was a touchy subject with Lotor. He had really been pushing his luck earlier about the letter, and now Lotor's expression had darkened.
"I'm sorry," Val began.
"Don't worry about it," Lotor sighed. "I guess sometimes the truth hurts, eh?" There was a long, awkward pause. "Look, I made some pasta. Saved you a plate in the kitchen if-"
"Cool! Thanks," Val called back over his shoulder, already halfway to the small kitchenette.
Lotor looked down at his letter again. He picked up his pen with a new resolve and added a post script.
"P.S. I miss you. How have you been?"
To the outside observer, it appeared as though Allura had come out of her "funk." She was now deeply involved in all aspects of planetary management. The Princess had also set a date for her coronation. Doom had not attacked for weeks; and, for many of her people, all seemed right in the world.
The Voltron force knew better. Very few of her smiles reached her eyes. Left to herself, Allura would often brood. The only times she really seemed to brighten were when she was doing hands-on work with her people, flying her lion, and the arrival of the mail every week or so.
Everyone knew whom the writer of the favored letters was. Lance spent a lot of time speculating on their content, but no one ever actually asked and Allura offered nothing. She always read them in private, often sending a reply right away. Today Allura had locked herself away lunger than usual.
"Envelope didn't seem any thicker'n usual," Lance mused aloud, "what do you suppose he wrote?"
"Maybe something happened to him," Pidge suggested.
"It's really none of our business," Keith reprimanded, but they all knew he was probably the most curious of them all.
Just then, Allura walked past with an envelope, presumably containing her response. This envelope WAS thicker than usual, and Allura's eyes were red.
"You okay," Lance called after her. She appeared in the doorway again.
"What? Oh. Um... Yes, I'm alright. I just got a little emotional."
"Did somethin' happen?" Hunk nodded toward the envelope Allura was clutching tightly. One corner of her mouth quirked into a small half-smile.
"I guess you could say that." With that cryptic comment, she turned to leave again.
"Does he know about your coronation?" Keith's eyes narrowed as Allura's hand spasmed around the envelope.
"I-I'm sure I mentioned it..."
"Is he coming?"
Allura's shoulders slumped and her face fell. "Well, it would be difficult for him to get the time off from his new job, and it would just be so awkward," she trailed off.
"So, no?" Keith cursed himself for being so callous as Allura bit her lip.
"No." It was barely audible. The princess hurried away before anything else could be said.
"That was COLD, Keith," Lance frowned at his friend. "You know how much she misses him!"
Keith wasn't listening. The wheels in his head were turning furiously. Had Lotor refused for those reasons, or had Allura never officially invited him? It had sounded like she was rationalizing to herself. If she wanted Lotor there, and it was obvious she did, then why...?
Lightbulb. She thought HE, Keith, would object. Keith scowled. He didn't like it of course, but if that was what she wanted...
"Hey you guys," Keith was using his I've-got-a-plan-and-you're-gonna-help voice, "I just thought of the perfect coronation gift for Allura."
Lotor was going to be there if Keith had to drag him kicking and screaming.
"Why am I doing this again?"
Keith sighed and massaged his temples. "Because we need to find out where Lotor is so we can drag him back here and make Allura happy. You want Allura to be happy, right?"
Lance looked from Keith to Allura's door and back. "Let me rephrase. Why am I, Lance, and not someone else, breaking into the Princess's room?"
"We all agreed-"
"Nuh-uh," Lance interrupted, "I distinctly recall protesting!"
"Okay, fine. The MAJORITY of the group decided you were the most qualified."
"Why am I always the most qualified when the activity is borderline illegal? Just because I have a criminal record? It was one minor incident-"
Keith cut off his friend's rant. "You ARE the only one of us who can pick a lock. Speaking of which, we don't have a very big window of time here."
Lance grumbled but turned his attention back to the door lock. Keith looked around nervously. At the moment, his ingenious plan was looking steadily less and less brilliant. Allura was currently in a meeting with Koran. Hunk and Pidge were posted at either end of the hall as lookouts and Keith would serve as a diversion if necessary.
"Bingo!" The door unlatched and slid open. Lance slipped inside, closing the door behind him.
"Relax," Keith chided himself under his breath, "how hard could it be to find a stack of letters?"
Lance looked around the spacious bedroom. The center of the room was occupied by a large canopied bed. A magnificent carved wardrobe and a matching dresser lined the wall to his right. There was a desk against the wall to the left and a door he presumed led to a private bathroom.
"Where would I keep my letters?" he asked himself aloud. "Better check the obvious spots first."
He walked over to the desk and scanned the surface. Papers were stacked neatly in several piles to the left of the blotter. Some hurried rifling proved these to be diplomatic paperwork in various stages of completion. Several rather unique paperweights and a snowglobe lined the back of the desk-top. A coffee mug proclaiming "Have a pheasant plucking day!" containing a collection of writing utensils sat to the right. Lance grinned-- the mug had been a sort of gag gift. He thought Allura would be too embarrassed to actually use it. Guess not!
There were three drawers down the right side of the desk. The top drawer contained stationary and a small copy of current galactic ordinances. The middle drawer held neatly filed reports, ranging from Arus's current economic status to the latest news from planet Zrebo.
"Come on! Please be in here..." Lance eyed the final drawer for a moment before pulling it open. Inside were a datebook, a small collection of holodiscs, and... an address book!
"Score!" Lance crowed, pumping his fist in the air. He began flipping through the pages. L... L... No Lotor. This might prove more difficult than he thought.
"Hmm... Maybe it's under 'P' for 'Prince Lotor?'"
"Have you completed the documentation for the trade negotiations with planet Taurus, your highness?" Koran and Allura were just leaving one of the castle's many conference rooms.
"Why, yes. Thank you for reminding me! I believe I left them on my desk. It won't take but a moment to fetch them."
Lance had given up on the address book. He instead turned his attention to the wardrobe. He opened the doors to reveal a bar for hanging clothing and a shelf above that. Maybe the letters were up there?
Keith was becoming more and more tense with each passing moment. What could possibly be taking so long? He was contemplating going in to help when he heard a voice down the hall.
"Oh, hi, ALLURA." It was Hunk, trying to give him fair warning.
Lance was at a loss. He was running out of places to look for the letters. His eyes wandered to the dresser. He would rather not paw through Allura's clothes... There was no time to deliberate, however, because he could hear voices outside the door.
"Aw, crap! I gotta hide..."
"Good afternoon, Allura." Keith could only pray he was managing to look nonchalant.
"Good afternoon, Keith. I didn't expect to find you here. Do you need something?"
Yeah, Lotor's address, he thought, but aloud he said, "No. I, uh, I was waiting for you to see if you'd like to go for a walk?"
"That sounds lovely, but I'm afraid I must retrieve some documents first. It shouldn't take long."
She deftly sidestepped him and opened her door. Keith mentally prepared himself for Allura's doubtlessly angry discovery of Lance. Much to his surprise, he heard nothing. Moments later, the princess emerged with a few papers in hand.
"Come on," she smiled brightly, "let's go drop these off with Koran."
A sigh of relief emenated from beneath Allura's bed, followed by a rustling, a noise best described as a "thwonk," and a muffled "Ouch!" Lance scuttled out from behind the bedskirt, clutching the object upon which he had bumped his head. It was an ornate, wooden box. He lifted the lid and grinned. Inside was a stack of old letters bound with a ribbon.
"It's about time!"
"Alright, Lance, where is he?" The four male pilots of Voltron were gathered in the rec room again.
"It's not that simple," Lance began.
"Whaddya mean," Hunk frowned, "I thought you found the letters?"
"I did. Unfortunately, it's a company address. They must distribute mail to the workers themselves. I could only find a general location."
"And?" Keith was projecting impatience. His walk with Allura had only made him more determined to do this. If bringing Lotor back brought the light back into Allura's eyes it was worth any hassle.
"It's a mining satellite."
"Who'd have figured Lotor for a miner?" Pidge shrugged. "So what's the problem?"
"Have any of you ever been to a mining satellite?" The others stared back at Lance blankly. "They're practically giant mazes! We can't just go wandering around and hope to run into him."
"So we go straight to the management," Keith supplied.
"It's a bad sign when I'm the voice of reason," Lance muttered. "Even IF they tell us where to find him, have you thought about what you're going to say to him? And what are we going to tell Allura and Koran to cover up this little field trip?"
Keith chose to ignore his friend's negative attitude. "Leave all that to me."On to Parts 21-23