A Ray Of Hope

By KittyLynne

Disclaimer: I do not claim to own any part of Voltron, or its inhabitants. WEP owns them all, kit and kaboodle.

Epilogue - A Changing of the Guard

The Princess of Arus entered the pilot's lounge with lagging steps and a heavy heart. The room was deserted. Allura gazed sadly at the carving that had been placed near the sectional as a reminder that Sven would always be a part of the team. At her request, all of Lieutenant Rolvaag's manuals, equipment and the lion statue she had given him had been moved to the pilot's gathering spot to form a sort of shrine to the man whose sacrifice would never be forgotten. Could it be that only a month ago this room had been filled with his laughter and the light of his smile?

In any case, the lounge now bore the reverent, tomblike aura of a memorial to their fallen comrade. As she gazed at the makeshift shrine and thought of the brave Norwegian, the unwanted memories came flooding back to her.

The beeping monitors and flashing lights.

White coated figures flying around a sterile, ill-equipped emergency room, trying to save a life.

Tortured breathing and the smell of blood.

The sight of an unmoving body and a grief-stricken friend.

Allura swiftly entered the Intensive Care sector, for once completely unnoticed by the staff, and looked around until she spotted the Captain leaning over the Lieutenant's bedside. She strode over to the small alcove but came to an abrupt halt just inside the doorway, not wanting to intrude on a very private moment between the two friends.

"Oh God, Sven, don't leave. You can't leave us, I won't let you die!" Keith's tortured half- whisper reached her ears and ripped right into her heart. He sat closely beside his fallen comrade, elbows propped on the hospital bed, shoulders rounded as he leaned forward. The dark eyes were full of pain, the handsome face contorted with something akin to fear.

Keith- afraid? She hurried to his side, getting her first glimpse of the death-like gray pallor on the handsome face of their critically injured teammate. Her eyes overflowed with tears. Oh dear God, it didn't look like Sven was going to make it! She hadn't wanted to believe it, but the horrible evidence was now in front of her...

Her throat suddenly felt thick and she stifled the sobs that threatened to erupt.

Dr. Gorma had said just the blood loss that Sven had suffered would've been enough to kill the average man -but the Blue Lion pilot had never, ever been average, so at first she had hoped that he'd be fine after the transfusions. Then the rest of the tests had come in; his internal injuries were extensive as well, a severely torn and ruptured lung, smashed ribs, a damaged spleen and a lacerated kidney. Life threatening injuries all, but still treatable if they could only get him stabilized long enough to get him to Dr. Lewar on Eb. There, with the proper medical equipment, he might have a chance.

She drew nearer to the battered figure in the bed, bending forward and staring fixedly at the waxen face. He looked bad. So very bad. He needed help.

Live, Sven. You must live! She desperately projected herself into his unconscious, and held fast to the soul that was slipping away. She reached out to grasp the limp, clammy fingers lying on the coverlet We love you, come back to us.

For a moment, she despaired of holding on, feeling his quicksilver essence sliding away.

She heard Keith choke out a guttural sob. He bent his head between his forearms and clasped hands, praying for all he was worth. "Please my friend, you have so much ahead of you, I know it isn't your time! Hang on!"

He gave a start as she wrapped her hand over his two enfolded ones. Slowly his head rose and he turned to look at her; her eyes looked deep into his soul and beyond...instinctively, he recoiled.

"Stay with me, Keith," she had said to the grieving Captain, "Pray with me! Pray for Sven!"

Their eyes locked, and he appeared to gain comfort from the nonverbal exchange. His hands parted to cover hers, and he rested his forehead on their entwined fingers. Together they prayed and meditated, each of them drawing strength from the other. As they did so, their injured friend had miraculously stabilized, and was quickly transported for treatment.

Sven had lived that day, but in a cruel twist of fate had disappeared after as he was recovering on Eb, once again a victim of one of Zarkon's infamous slave raids.

The Princess sighed heavily as she studied the wooden King of Beasts. Sven, dear, wherever you are, do not give up hope. We will find you.

She wearily stretched out on the plush sectional, cursing the inflexibility of her fight uniform, and waited for what seemed like forever. At last she heard footsteps in the corridor; the doors slid back and she sprang to her feet.

Lance, also still in uniform, appeared in the doorway looking totally exhausted. Allura ran to him, ignoring his scowl, her own expression beseeching him to speak civilly to her. "Where's Keith?"

The Red Lion pilot fixed her with a steely gaze.

"He's with Coran, who's probably ripping him a new one." Lance stated tersely. "Just what Keith needs after having to deal with Sven's disappearance, and having to train a total novice in Blue Lion, a novice who just about got us all killed today. If I were you, Princess, I'd stay out of it, you've caused him enough grief for one day!"

Allura flinched at the harsh words, but said nothing. He was lashing out in frustration, and she knew it wasn't totally directed at her, but at the dire situation the team was facing. She had wanted to intercede on the Captain's behalf with her overprotective guardian, but perhaps it was best to let well enough alone. She knew that she had forced the issue of being Sven's replacement, but the team had seemed happy to have her in Blue Lion, that is, until today, when her stupid blunders had put both the Voltron Force and Arus in serious danger.

All the same, the truth of the tactless words had hit its mark; she felt the bitter tears gathering behind her eyelids and decided to was time to clear out. "You're right. Thank you, Lieutenant." Head bowed, she stepped around him and away from his merciless stare.

A hand shot out, encircling her upper arm and halting her progress. She stood quietly, not turning, not wanting him to see the tears of hurt that she couldn't hide; Lance already thought she was an emotional and physical liability to the team- no use giving him even more ammunition to bolster that opinion.

And so she stood there, intently studying the floor as she braced herself for the diatribe about her poor flying skills that she was sure was coming. Lance didn't think much of her piloting the Blue Lion in Sven's place; as he had so succinctly phrased it to Keith that morning, 'her ineptness is only exceeded by her incompetence.' The criticism had stung, but she honestly couldn't blame him for being frustrated, for at this point in her training she was more of an albatross than an asset and they all knew it.

With that thought in mind, she finally tried to tug her arm out of his grasp, but Lance held firm.

"Princess, wait. Hear me out."

His low, apologetic tone surprised her and she turned to find his face just inches away from hers. She stiffened.

"I had no right to speak that way to you," he said with sincerity, "and I'm sorry!"

She relaxed a little. "It's all right. I know I'm not any good, but at least I can help you form Voltron!"

He sighed as he released her arm. "Although I keep getting reminded on a daily basis how terribly green you are, I haven't forgotten that you've got more courage and strength of mind than any woman I've ever known. It will get better, and you'll get better." He affectionately patted her shoulder. "Don't let my crabbiness today get you down, Princess. You've learned a lot in a short time, under extreme pressure-considering all that, you did okay, especially for a first battle!"

"Thank you, Lieutenant," she replied gravely, "after all of my rookie mistakes, I can only hope you still want me."

Lance gave a reluctant half smile. Lord, why did she always tempt him with such great straight lines? His tongue was already raw from being bitten so much.

"Of course I want you!" He replied. "I wouldn't be in my right mind if I didn't!"

Allura gave him the priceless wide-eyed look he had come to know so well, the one that said she was aware of a hidden meaning but wasn't sure of what it was. She just hadn't gotten the hang of flirting yet. He doubted she ever would get it.

She leaned toward him, and he caught a whiff of the light floral scent she wore.

"What a sweet thing for you to say," she murmured, blinking slowly- or was it more like batting her eyelashes? Lance blinked back at her. Perhaps he had a made a mistake about her not knowing how to flirt?

Petal soft lips touching his cheek were a confirmation of his error, after which the Princess then retreated with a demure smile.

"I want you to know that I won't let the team down again!" She declared, her expression becoming serious once more.

The Red Lion pilot could only nod silently, while his hand lifted to the cheek she had kissed.

Allura smiled up at him. "I have to go now. See you later?"

He nodded. "Later, Princess!"

He watched her walk down the hall, eyeing the delightful curves that her uniform emphasized all too well. She was so sweet and incredibly beautiful and had the innate ability to turn him into a drooling idiot. He groaned softly, thinking that of all the times he had been with a girl, nothing they had done had affected him like a simple kiss on the cheek from the Princess. He had wanted to return that kiss, with interest, but as usual, she had slipped out of range. Now if she could only manage that strategy in battle, they would have it made!

There was still hope; she had certainly mastered flirting with the enemy, maybe next time they could work on her aim. He found that he was grinning at the wicked double entendre, and felt his spirits lift for the first time in days. What a babe she was, indeed.

Keith exited Coran's office feeling as if he had just received the civilized version of being tarred and feathered. One of the great many pitfalls of being a commanding officer, he thought, with uncharacteristic bitterness, was that the bureaucrats always had the option of using you for a whipping boy.

Coran did not want Princess to fly. Period. He wanted to lock her up in the Castle until they found the perfect human specimen for her to breed with to produce an heir. Didn't the guy get it? Without Princess, there was no Voltron, and without Voltron, an heir wouldn't be needed because Planet Arus would be dust within days. The Royal Advisor seemed obsessed on the subject; as if he felt it was his sole purpose in life to see that Allura lived to carry on tradition. Keith had to admit that he could understand the man's single- minded devotion to duty, but not when it came to this line of reasoning.

The Princess had made some dangerous mistakes out there today, but there was no denying that her instincts were good, her potential was high, and her determination to learn was second to none. Still…she had given him many, many bad moments…

Keith clenched his jaw. The thought of Allura possibly being shot down, injured or perhaps killed...well, it was almost too much to bear. The old man was probably right. Even the interfering governess had made a strong, logical case for grounding Her Highness by stating that there had to be many capable men in the villages who could pilot the lion. She had also pointed out, quite candidly, that since the Captain was a Terran commoner, he couldn't be expected to understand the importance of a Monarch to her subjects. The implied insult had set his teeth on edge, but he had held his temper in check.

Thank God for military training.

"Psst, Keith, in here!"

The soft voice drifted to his ear as he trudged past an opened supply room. He stopped and looked into the area, the only possible place of hiding. Not a soul to be seen from the hallway view. He cautiously stepped through the door and scanned the area behind it.

He spotted the Princess right away. She was standing next to a crate of computer disks, looking very apprehensive.

"Hiding from Nanny?" He asked, only half-jokingly..

"Keith, I'm so sorry," she whispered. Her eyes were glistening and her gloved hands were clasped together in entreaty.

"For what?" He asked, somewhat wearily. This was one time where he would have preferred to not have had to talk to her. He just wanted to sleep and forget all about battles, his missing friend, Nanny's ranting, and a beautiful Princess for who he wasn't entitled or allowed to express his true feelings.

"I am sorry for letting you down, and for whatever Coran and Nanny said to you just now."

"Don't worry about it; I've been in the military for a long time, and I've gotten dressed down before; those sessions were much worse than what Coran or Nanny said, believe me!"

"They want you to ground me, don't they?" Her expression was mutinous.

"Yes." He replied briefly.

"They read you the list of reasons I shouldn't fly, didn't they?"

"Yes, they did." He looked angry for a moment, then wiped all expression from his face.

"Tell me… please tell me you didn't agree with them!" She begged, her eyes now taking on a haunted look.

Keith hesitated, carefully choosing his words. "Well, I hafta say that I do agree with them on one thing- I don't want to see you get hurt or killed because of lack of training. You've been thrown in at the deep end, Princess! It would be a devastating blow to m-, uh, all of Arus if something happened to you because you weren't properly prepared for combat!"

"Oh no," she whispered, her heart sinking, her dreams of liberating Arus starting to crumble, "I can't-I won't give up-"

He held up a hand and she bit off the words that were clamoring to be spoken.

"But I am not going to ground you, and I told them that in no uncertain terms!"

Her smile lit up the room. Keith would have been dazzled by it if he weren't so deep-in-the-bones tired. It did lift his spirits, enough for him to give her a small grin in return.

"You stood up to them, I knew you would!" Allura rejoiced, her eyes glowing at him with that strange intensity that she had when deeply moved. She started forward as if to make some sort of physical expression of her excitement and he hastily stepped back, hardening his heart against the sudden hurt in her expression.

"Before you get too carried away, there are a few things we've got to get straight, Princess. This is a highly unorthodox situation, and I am would like to speak to you as a commanding officer does to one of his team."

"Yes, of course," she replied, uncertainty in her tone.

Keith drew a deep breath. "If you are going to be on my team, I expect you to work hard, study the operations manuals till you know them forwards and backwards, and most importantly, I expect you to listen to and obey my orders without question when under my direct command! When you are under my command, you are no longer Royalty, you are Allura, pilot of Blue Lion! Do you understand?"

"Yes," she nodded. "when in the lion ships and Voltron, you outrank me- is that what you are saying?"

"Right! That means I'll be talking to Coran and making the decisions for the team, not you. Do you think you can handle that?" Keith watched her closely, checking for any signs of petulance or discontent. Chain of command was a tricky thing at the best of times, which this certainly wasn't.

"I understand, Captain. " She replied staunchly, then hesitated before adding, "I mean, Captain...sir." She unconsciously straightened her posture and actually looked as if she'd snap off a salute at any minute.

Keith stared at her for a full minute, trying to comprehend what had just happened. The whole foundation of their relationship had just turned upside down. It was just too strange to think of her this way right now, as a peer, and as a soldier under his direction. He wanted to laugh at her earnestness, but didn't have it in him to tease her when she was trying so hard to do the right thing, not to mention it certainly would be unprofessional of him to do so. And yet, it was sorely tempting…

"We'll work out all the logistics later, but I will say that you don't need to address me as sir-no one on the team does. First names are fine with me, Princess."

Allura looked vastly relieved and Keith's lips twitched, betraying his amusement. She spotted the slight movement and her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

"Okay then, Keith. Don't you think you should call me Allura?"

His eyes widened at the notion- calling her Princess had kept some distance between them, but calling her 'Allura' made her seem much too… attainable. And now that he was her commander, that was a definite no-zone as far as Garrison rules were concerned!

Conflict of Interest. Code of Morality. Fraternization Policy and Regulations. He had efficiently and clinically memorized them all, not realizing how much they would be impacting his life. The military chain of command had enabled him to have Allura as a comrade, but the regulations upholding his position would prevent him from getting any closer.

Was this what Joseph Heller would have termed a 'Catch-22'?

Keith rather thought so.

His weariness increased as he contemplated the torturous delight of the long hours he would be spending with her. How would he ever get over these feelings if he was constantly in her company?

He gave a small start as he suddenly realized she was asking him a question, and shook his head in response, his fatigue fully evident in his features. "I'm sorry, Princess, I didn't catch that. You were saying...?"

"Never mind...and the name's Allura, remember? I think we can talk later, you really need to get some rest, Keith." She said, smiling gently at him.

He nodded tiredly. "Yeah, I do- but I'll see you later tonight, I hope, Pr- um, Allura." As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized the statement of fact had come out all wrong, sounding too personal; as if they had a date planned or something.

If Allura noticed, she didn't let on. "All right Keith, I'll be waiting. I know I have a lot to learn... and I'm so glad you're going to be the one to teach me!"

He blinked at her in confusion. Was she still talking about flying?

Allura smiled brightly. He smiled back, a trifle warily.

The adventure had truly begun.

The end, and a beginning...

AN: This story is a Prelude to a fanfiction novel I wrote entitled 'Bonds of Love'. I have been rewriting the original Bonds, which was written for and posted on the Kaex mailing list from 1998-2001. The rewrite can be found in progress on this site, and on the awesome Voltron fansite The Lion's Keep: Next Chapter. :)