Author's Note: This short fic takes place shortly after the Voltron Force arrived on Arus. Keith and Allura are still getting to know each other, and Sven is the pilot of Blue Lion. It is a precursor to a much longer story I've written called Bonds of Love ( in case that title sounds familiar, I am the same 'Lynne' that wrote it- the 'Kitty' part was added for this site.) Anyway, that epic, which continues the story of the Voltron Force with an emphasis on Keith and Allura's relationship, can be found in its entirety at The Lion's Keep.

A Ray of Hope

A Bonds of Love Prequel

by (Kitty)Lynne

(I do not own Voltron, World Events Productions does. I have only borrowed it for the purposes of providing non profit entertainment for fellow fans...)

It wasn't a palace. It was a giant tombstone, a cold and lifeless monument to better, gentler times on Planet Arus.

Two of the five Alliance space explorers now living on war-torn Planet Arus were scouting the upper passages of the Castle of Lions. The rest of the team had stayed in Ops, keeping a close watch out for further enemy raids. It was hoped it would take the Doomians some time to dispatch another RoBeast to replace the one the Super Robot Voltron had destroyed. The golden opportunity to explore the bombed out edifice had fired the imaginations of the battle weary pilots, who were going to look for and salvage anything useful or of sentimental value, in hopes of providing comfort for the embattled Princess Allura and her advisor and Royal statesman, Coran.

Sadly enough, the sole survivors of the Royal Court could not accompany them on this mission; Coran was still recovering from a nasty leg injury and the Princess needed to tend to her official duties, sparse as they were these days. She had thoughtfully given them information regarding the Castle's layout, looking almost pathetically eager at the thought of retrieving a memento or two, and thanked them for their effort with humble gratitude. Coupled with her radiant smile, the gesture had gone straight to the hearts of the two men, who vowed on the spot they'd be sure to bring her something special. Allura had blushed prettily under their appreciative gazes, and then wished them luck, her gaze lingering noticeably on the handsome pilot in red.

The pilot in blue smiled knowingly as he observed the undercurrent between his leader and the Princess. He gently prodded the Captain who gave a slight start, and then politely took his leave of the young woman. His companion followed in the wake of his besotted comrade, giving the crimson- cheeked monarch a flirtatious wink before exiting the room.

They headed for the upper echelons of the Castle with high expectations. Among the Voltron Force, confidence was now running high; after all, they just had gnawed off a big chunk of Zarkon's tough hide, chewed on it, and then spat it away with aplomb. That was an achievement that the team should take pride in. The rebirth of Voltron was bringing Arus a sense of renewed hope, and enough of a breather to take time to assess how to restore some semblance of order and security to the planet. The Voltron force leader and his second in command had eagerly volunteered to be the first to inspect the damaged stronghold, feeling highly confident that the majority of the Arusian landmark could be repaired in record time with the help of the five lion ships. The Castle of Lions could once more be a haven for the besieged Arusian citizens.

Unfortunately, that optimism was crushed beneath stone cold reality moments after the two men climbed the steep flight of stairs leading to the West wing. For the brash young pilots who were still relishing Voltron's victory over the best of Zarkon's armada, the sight that met their eyes was both sobering and daunting.

The place looked more ramshackle than a haunted house at a second rate carnival. Cobwebs were everywhere. The crumbling limestone walls of the corridor were dank and dingy, the faded paint on them peeling, and in some spots, severely scarred with blaster marks. The explorers stepped cautiously around ornately carved beams that had plummeted down from the vaulted ceilings, all the while wondering how the structure could possibly survive another direct blast. Marbled tabletops were covered with more than dust, they also held slivers of rock and mortar. Furniture was smashed, or missing, the darker patches on the rigs providing clues to the absence of certain pieces and the possible looting that may have occurred.

If the rest of the planet resembled the condition of this section of the Royal compound, the odds against achieving a complete recovery would be steep...but still surmountable, the two men kept reminding Princess' ancestral home would be but the first dwelling to rise from the ashes. With that resolve in mind they pressed onward, taking comfort in the fact that they hadn't yet come across any decomposing bodies.

Considering the abysmal appearance of the wing, and the fact that since their arrival, they hadn't had a chance to peruse this sector, it wouldn't have been a surprise to find a fallen Arusian. Thankfully, there were no decomposed bodies to be seen... but despite the absence of bodily proof, brownish red stains on the walls and carpets provided testimony to the widespread barrage of terror and carnage that had been imparted on the former occupants of these rooms.

The wind could be heard through the gaping holes in several rooms where Skull ships had penetrated the citadel with their deadly laser beams. The blackened fissures showed the grimfaced visitors anything from glimpses of an azure sky to an entire view of the surrounding landscape. As each soft gust of air rushed in, a mournful wail echoed through the shadowy hallways, in a disturbing imitation of the cries of innocents who had been cut down by the forces of evil. The sorrowful sound and the numerous personal belongings scattered wildly throughout the corridor underscored the ruthless intensity with which the enemy had attacked.

"So much for fairy tales, " Lieutenant Commander Sven Rolvaag remarked softly to his leader, "anybody that is thinking this particular castle is romantic hasn't been on Planet Arus for the last few decades!"

Captain Keith Powell, who had been glancing around him with a growing sense of futility, grimaced in response to his best friend's comment. "It must have been a really beautiful place before Zarkon decided to trash it."

Walking over to a small room, he gazed sadly at all of the furnishings it contained, at the stained carpets and smashed paintings and objects 'd art that must have breathtaking in their formerly pristine condition. As he moved on to the next room, the sight that met his gaze was even harder to take; it obviously had been some type of play room for the children. Little chairs were scattered everywhere, and a long, overturned table lay next to them. Toys were scattered everywhere, most of them beyond repair.

Keith tried to quell the rage that rose in him when he spotted the charred remains of a child's storybook and the torn remnants of a stuffed lamb lying next to a splintered rocking horse. He closed his eyes briefly, not wanting to think about what might have happened to the children that had occupied this room. Instead he tried to focus on the positive; in his mind's eye he pictured the grandeur behind the squalor and for a moment the corridor seemed to warm with the presence of the Royal court and its staff. The chipped whitewash on the walls brightened, the scent of roses filled the air, and the cheery sounds of children's voices echoed through the deserted passageways. Contentment and peace had been the true ruling powers here until Planet Doom loosed its ugly destructive force upon the realm. It could be a haven again, if they could defeat that reptilian Drule, once and for all.

The stirring, determined thought jolted the Commander back to reality. He opened his eyes, and took in the scene around him. Most of the fine trappings around him lay in shreds, or were charred beyond recognition. The only scent was one of dampness and mildew mixed with despair. Stillness reigned here; the happy voices of Arus' future had been brutally silenced. He felt the sting of angry tears as he bitterly reflected on the brilliant civilization that, at present, was reduced to mere rubble. He had witnessed countless sights like this one, but it never failed to deeply disturb him. The day it did, the day that he became impervious to the horrors of war, would be the day he resigned from the Garrison. Battle hardened or not, never would he let himself become as unfeeling, as callous, as the monster named Zarkon. Seeped in despair, he barely took heed when a comforting hand firmly grasped his shoulder.

Sven met the anguished eyes of his best friend, his own clear blue gaze shining with kindly optimism. "We can still help, you know. Many are hiding in the caves; Yurak hasn't taken them all! There are children still alive in those caves!"

Keith swallowed hard, and his hands clenched into fists. "If only we could have gotten here sooner... if only the Garrison had been quicker to act!"

Sven gave his shoulder a sympathetic squeeze before removing his hand and gave silent thanks that his commanding officer trusted him enough to show his true feelings on occasion. Although Keith was renowned for his incredible self-control, Sven knew the aftermath of a war probably affected his friend more profoundly than any of them. The man carried a lot of personal and professional heartache underneath his cool veneer, and that wasn't ever a healthy thing to keep bottled up. "Ja, it is nice to tink that ve could've made a difference. But it didn't happen that vay, and now ve must deal vith the problems of the present, not the regrets of the past. Pointing the finger of blame vill get us nowhere." The lilting brogue of the lieutenant grew thicker than ever, as it always did when he was deeply moved.

The Captain of Voltron turned to fully face his comrade-in-arms and inclined his head in acknowledgement of the statement's simple logic. Both men felt their steadfast resolve to aid the beleaguered Arusians increase tenfold in that moment. Then Keith's eyes lost a little of their anguish as he said, "Thanks, my friend; you always know what to say at a time like this."

"Why thank you, Captain! I only vish I could be as silver tongued with the ladies- they yust don't appreciate me the way you do!" Sven chuckled, hoping the change of subject to something lighter would also lighten his friend's morose mood.

Keith flashed his rare grin, for a moment becoming the mischievous boy from their academy days. "Don't worry, Lieutenant, I have a feeling you'll run into some female around this galaxy who can tolerate your warped humor!"

"Hmmm..." The Lieutenant's shrewd blue eyes narrowed in speculation. "Right now I'd say that isn't likely since the only woman here is the Princess... and somehow I yust can't see myself cracking jokes with such a charming, but very solemn young lady." He watched his commander closely as he spoke, trying to gauge the younger man's reaction to a casual mention of the remarkable Princess Allura. The Norseman had developed certain suspicions in regards to how his friend really felt about the dazzling blonde royal...and the expression on Keith's face confirmed them all in a heartbeat.

Keith cursed silently as images of the golden haired Allura danced through his thoughts despite his best efforts to quell them. Even worse, his traitorous body was tightening in ways that had become all too frequent and familiar in the last couple of weeks since he had met her. The feelings he stubbornly refused to define had not needed even that brief span of time to blossom, they had been there the instant he laid eyes on her. He couldn't shake the notion that she was the key to his future, although it was beyond him how one could determine that in the space of a few seconds.

In any case, her shy friendliness and gracious words of welcome had been rays of hope for all, helping them to emerge from the pit of ugliness that war had wrought. Her tears of loss and longing for her people had given all of them, but especially him, an intensely personal reason to fight for Arus.

In subsequent days, he had quickly come to value her extraordinary intelligence, courage and intrinsic goodness as well.

The Princess had proven herself to be more than just a figurehead for the planet, Keith thought proudly. She manned the Ops panel like a pro, was constantly looking for ways to fortify their position, and he had no doubt that if she was given the opportunity, she'd gladly battle the enemy, using any means necessary. Her compassion for her suffering people had no bounds. She was amazing...and that soft, doe-like gaze of hers had a way of making a man want to wrap himself around her and never let go. Not to mention the incredibly sweet smile and her gorgeous shape...

"Hey there...halll-ooo! Are you still vit me, Captain?"

As Sven's amused tones knifed into his commander's meditations. Keith gave a guilty start. "Sorry. Got distracted for a second." He replied, feeling a telltale blush rising from under the white neckband of his uniform.

"I know what you were thinking, and I concur, my friend," Sven said, sounding a bit wistful, "she's beautiful, smart, and courageous. I confess I have nothing but the highest regard for her."

"We all do," The Voltron captain replied shortly, his expression giving away none of the strange new yearnings that coursed through him whenever he thought of the fair Allura. When the feeling became too intense to conceal, he turned away on the pretext of scanning the hallway.

It didn't fool Sven for a minute. "Yah, but I think that only one of us actually has a chance to be with her," he replied slyly.

"Who?" Keith spun around quickly, his dark eyes fierce with an unnamed emotion as he glared at the smiling pilot of blue Lion.

The dark haired Scandinavian paused for a moment, all of a sudden wondering how much he should say; after all, it wasn't his place to push them together. If it were meant to be, then it would happen in time. Besides that, how could he explain to his no-nonsense, occasionally obstinate friend the particulars of love at first sight? How could he explain the concept of karma? It would be more prudent to just relate his observations regarding the Princess and let the Captain draw his own conclusions.

"Well, it was clear to me that she had eyes for only one man vhen we first met her," he began.

Keith interrupted, making sure to keep his expression neutral.. "Yeah, I saw the way she looked at you when you kissed her hand," he challenged the Norseman, "she was glowing to the point I swear I could see these twinkling sparkly things around her head! So what, if anything, are you going to do about it?'

"Twinkly sparkly things? For me?" Sven started to shake with half-repressed mirth. "You can't be seri-"

He stopped chuckling as he noticed the dangerous glint in the Commander's eyes. Time to tread carefully, his instincts advised. After all, a man had to keep his pride in dealing with these things, in spite of the fact that the confident Captain was often reduced to the edgy behavior of an infatuated schoolboy whenever Princess Allura got anywhere near him- only a rigid military bearing and training saved him from total mortification.

Of course, it wasn't like he and the other guys were impervious to the impact of big blue eyes and flowing tresses of gold- quite the opposite, he found Allura extremely appealing, in part because she greatly reminded him, in words and deed, of the spirited women of his beloved Norge.

However, feeling a little attracted to someone wasn't true love.

In contrast, Keith was totally, and in all likelihood, eternally captivated.

Now was not the time to tease the man. Maybe later. "As much as I vould like to think she favors me, that is not the case!"

"Dammit! It's Lance, isn't it?"

Sven quickly shook his head in denial, but the dejected Commander didn't notice, being intent on finishing his misguided appraisal. "Lance is a great guy, but I don't know if he feels the same way and he hasn't said anything about her, really. Which is strange, considering he has a weakness for blonds."

"And brunettes…and redheads..." the lieutenant commander added dryly, but Keith ignored the comment.

"No matter how he feels, he's going to be impossible to live with when he figures it out, you would be a major ego boost to have Allura find you worthy of her love!"

Sven rolled his eyes heavenward, and then glared at his friend in mock annoyance. "Jeg finner meg ikke i mer, dumskalle!"

Keith bristled immediately; he understood very little Norwegian, but he knew enough to know when he'd been was an unacceptable situation between a lieutenant and a captain, no matter how good the intentions behind it.

Sven returned his glare. "Yeez, man, vake up and smell the lutefisk! I vas talking about you, Drommeprins!"

Keith opened his mouth to issue a blistering reprimand and then stopped as the rest of Sven's declaration finally sunk in. His eyes went wide with astonishment, and he promptly forgot he should be chastising his friend. "B-but she's barely said anything to me, except to talk about"

Sven crossed his arms over his chest. "Exactly! She has no trouble talking to the rest of us; she's comfortable with us because we are just friends. But you are a different matter altogether, she's aware of you in the way I , Lance, Hunk or Pidge could only dream of!"

"I don't how you can know that for certain, Sven!"

"Keith, did you know she constantly watches you when you pull duty in Ops? I've caught her several times lurking outside the door, peeking in at you. She always blushes and makes up some excuse to leave when I try to question her."

"Maybe it's because she doesn't trust me."

Sven gave an inelegant snort. "Ja, right! Let's see now..." he batted his eyelashes in a fair imitation of the Princess, speaking in a soft falsetto, " Keith, please return safely," he clasped his hands together, smiling brightly, "oh Keith, you're brave and so handsome..."

"She never said that!"

"She doesn't have to; it's all in her face whenever she looks at you!"

"Well even if she does sort of like me, there's nothing I can do about it!"

"Why not?"

"Garrison regulations...Section six, paragraph three!"

"My friend, that refers to commanding officers and their subordinates, and you are not her commanding officer. In fact, I believe she outranks you!"

"Well, we did make her an honorary member of the VF, and I am the Captain, so she is under me in that regard-" Keith stopped abruptly, and blushed at the double entendre.

Sven grinned broadly in response, but much to his friend's relief, didn't take the proffered bait.

"Anyway, I have no business thinking about my personal life when there is a planet to save," the Captain added somberly, "Arus comes first!"

Sven nodded, his smile fading. There was no arguing with that fact. "Let's go, then, ve have a lot of ground to cover-"

A soft sneeze captured their attention. In a split second they had drawn their blasters.

"I think it came from down there," Keith whispered, indicating the partially open wooden door at the very end of the hallway.

"Let's check it out, but be careful; it could be looters or vorse," his companion replied in a low tone.

They crept towards the door, making sure to stay on the runner that muffled the clatter of their boots. Keith cursed the red color of his uniform for the umpteenth time; he stood out like a beacon in the shadows, whereas Sven blended in quite nicely with his navy blue attire.

They now stood outside the door, craning their necks to try to spot the room's occupant, who had sneezed several times by now. The sneezes sounded quite soft for a man, but it wasn't wise to make snap assumptions. They took up stations on each side of the doorway, blasters at the ready. The two friends exchanged glances and nodded at each other. Sven reached out a cautious hand and gave the door a gentle push, fully expecting its hinges to groan in protest. To his surprise, it swung open easily and soundlessly.

The entire room was now visible, and what Keith and Sven saw in it made them stand down. Arms dropping to their sides, they blinked at the sight before them in bewilderment.

How had she gotten here without them seeing her?

To be continued...:)