"Obligation."

Story by Adele
Story Copyright 2003
A story based on the series, "Voltron, The Third Dimension"

The characters of Voltron are the property of World Event Productions. All other  haracters are the copyright of Adele.   Please do not use them without asking for permission.  Thank you.

Enjoy!


Chapter 24
The Long Night

The four remaining members of the Voltron force gathered at the Palace; forced to give up searching for Keith and Allura.  The cold temperature made it nearly impossible to continue any further.

King Augusta had Anserrot detained until further notice, for his stunt with the Princess.

The Force sat quietly in the lounge area, their thoughts lingering on the fate of their missing friends.

"If only we had more time..." Pidge said solemnly.  "Just another half hour or more."

"Well, hopefully they found shelter for the night." Lance thought aloud. "If they stay in the lion, they'll freeze to death."

"With no power for heat...it won't take long either." Pidge added.

"If they even survived the crash in the first place,"
Hunk added sadly, hoping that they didn't perish.

"If only dere were some way to contact dem."
Sven said, his arms crossed in front of him.
"If we only knew for sure dat dey were
alright."

"Yeah...if only there were some way."
Pidge said, his voice still quiet. "And we
were unable to reach them in Black Lion.
So, either they moved to shelter, or they're
...they're..." Pidge paused, afraid
to suggest the possibility that Keith and the
Princess might be dead.

"Hey, guys!  Remember, this is Keith we're
talking about!  If it were anyone else, I'd say
we'd have something to worry about!  But this is
Keith...our resourceful Commander!" Lance
cheered.  "If anyone can keep them safe
for the night, it's Keith!"

"Unless...Keith died in the crash, and
Allura's still alive." Hunk said, daring
to utter the unthinkable.

The room fell deathly silent.


"Well...we'll just hope for the first scenario.  That Keith and the Princess ARE alive...and that they found shelter for the night." Lance replied.  "Besides...we picked up the humanoid readings of two warm-blooded people heading for cover.  That's got to have been them,
Hunk!"

"Yeah, I suppose you're right, Lance." Hunk sighed.

Lance kept the smile on his face as he rose to his feet and walked to the window. "Sure I'm right!" he repeated.

With his back to everyone, the smile disappeared as he tried to make himself believe his own words...

"You've got to make it, buddy," Lance thought of his best friend. "You can do it, Keith. I know you can!  You've got to rely on every stitch of training we've ever received."

Lance tilted his head up and allowed his gaze to fall on the night sky.  Tears formed in eyes, and he made no attempt to wipe them away.

"You've just got to survive, Keith.  You both do..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The air was warmer now that the fire was going... finally.

Keith's body was numb from the injury, settling to the thought that maybe it wasn't broken ribs after all, but maybe just very badly bruised ribs.

But still tender, nevertheless.

He had helped Allura gather wood that had been lying around in the cave that they had luckily found. Once in place, he used his blaster to ignite the dead wood.  It erupted into a raging fire almost instantly.

Allura sat near the fire, as close as she could without burning herself.  She was feeling warmer now, although she still hadn't quite stopped shivering.

Keith sat opposite of her...trying to maintain a gentlemanly distance.

"How are you feeling now?" he asked from the other side.

"A bit warmer, thank you." She said, her teeth still chattering.  "Although I don't mind telling you that I wish I were on a warm beach somewhere right about now!"

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Keith replied with a half smile.

The air grew silent.  Only the fire's crackle could be heard.

Several minutes went by before Keith finally said something.

"I wonder if everyone else made it to safety,"

Allura bowed her head.  "I was thinking the same thing.  I thought surely someone would have come looking for us, though."

"Not likely, " he said, his hand rubbing his chest. "They'd freeze to death if they tried.  And I'm sure they knew that.  They probably sought shelter at the Palace, if they made it close enough.  Otherwise..."

"Otherwise?" she asked him.

Keith sighed aloud. "Otherwise.. they should hopefully have found shelter similar to this."

Allura gave Keith a look of concern, as he continued to rub his chest.  "Are you alright, Keith?" she asked winsomely.

"Yeah, I will be.  The pain isn't as bad as it was.  I guess I'm just bruised up pretty good, that's all." He replied.

"Keith,"

"Yes, Princess..."

Allura's eyes failed to meet his. "I want to thank you for coming to my rescue today.  If you hadn't shown up when you did, Anserrot would have turned me over to Lotor."

Keith suddenly stopped rubbing his chest. He looked up at Allura. "I couldn't let that happen, you know that, don't you?"

"Still, I want to thank you once again, for coming to my rescue.  I'm sure I'd be in Lotor's hands once again, if you hadn't been there to stop it." Allura gently reminded him.

Keith shrugged his shoulders. "Princess, I will always be your champion. And your friend."

"And... my love?" she added shyly. "Or was...all of that just talk during a desperate situation?"

A smile suddenly found its way to Keith's face. "No, Princess.  I mean what I said.  My heart belongs to no other."

She finally brought her gaze up to meet his, and the smile on his face brought a smile to hers as well. "I'm sorry that I keep causing you such trouble.  I mean...I'll bet none of your girlfriends on Earth made you work this hard, did they?"

Keith shyly rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't have time for many girlfriends, I'm afraid. I've never really felt this seriously about any girl...until now."

Allura's eyes radiated with love for Keith.  "Me either...you're the first for me too."

"Oh come on, now!" Keith teased. "A beautiful woman like you?  Didn't you ever find yourself attracted to some handsome prince before?"

"Only...you." She replied shyly.  "You're prince enough for me."

The smile on Keith's face suddenly disappeared.  He subconsciously reminded himself of that fact...the fact that he wasn't a prince.  He suddenly felt very unworthy of her love and devotion.  She deserved better...someone of her own kind.  Someone of royal blood...

She sensed something was wrong, "Keith, what is it?  Please, tell me what you're thinking..."

Keith leaned back against the wall, his arms above his head, and he stared into the fire... "I'm not a prince, Allura.  I never will be.  And it's not in my nature to be something I'm not."

"I don't understand, Keith." she said, her face portraying a puzzled look.

"Allura, if we play this thing out the way I think its going to go, I'll be crowned your Prince-consort.  Then eventually, King of Arus.  And although I'm not afraid of that title, I am concerned with the restrictions that come along with it."

"What do you mean?" she asked again.

Keith gingerly rose to his feet, feeling the need to pace suddenly.  "Allura, as King, Coran will want to restrict my freedom, much the same way he tries to restrict yours.  I'm not sure I can do that.  I like my freedom.  I like being the Commander of the Voltron Force.  I
like protecting and watching over you, not someone protecting and watching over my every move."

Keith walked over to another part of the wall and leaned up against, tilting his head so that he could stare at the ground.  "I don't like the idea of being cooped up...confined...restricted from doing what I want to do."

"Now you see how I feel." Allura said, watching him from where she sat.

Keith suddenly brought his gaze to hers...and a revelation came to him.  "Yeah, I guess I do understand..."



His mind drifted back to a time when he first came to Arus... just after Sven had been injured, but before Allura took over as pilot of Blue Lion...



A then nineteen-year old Keith had been following a then seventeen-year old Princess Allura around the Castle grounds. Up to thatpoint, he had followed her in shadows, unwilling to reveal to her that he was watching over her.

But when she had it in her mind to go horseback riding without escort, he had to disrupt her plans.  Especially after the recent incident between Witch Hagar and Sven, Keith's then, second-in-command, which sent Sven to the intensive care unit on Planet Ebb.
The Princess's safety was top priority, by order of her Chief Magistrate, Coran Anderson.

As Allura began to saddle up, she turned and gasped, her facereflecting a look like that of a frightened deer, when she heard a rustling noise behind her. When she saw it was the Captain for the Voltron Force behind her, she relaxed a bit, but suddenly became
infuriated that he had followed her.

"Good afternoon, Captain Keith." she said smugly. "And to what do I owe the honor of your visit?"

Keith cleared his throat. "Princess, I'm sorry to intrude, but I must insist that you not go riding today without an escort."

Allura threw back her head in disgust. "Coran put you up to this, didn't he?"

"No Princess..." Keith started, but was immediately cut off by the fuming royal beauty.

"Captain, I am not a baby, contrary to what my advisor might think!  And I can assure you that I am quiet capable of taking care of myself, thank you!" she flamed at him.

Now, it was Keith's turn to 'flame' at her.

"With all do respect, Your Highness, you are Planet Arus's primary weakness in the eyes of King Zarkon. If he captures you, he's captured not only Arus, but also this whole quadrant! Haven't you stopped to consider the consequences of your actions, Princess?"

"Captain Keith, I appreciate your concern, but I assure you that I was not going out today unarmed!"

She reached into her saddlebag that was already mounted on the horse, and pulled out a blaster handgun.

She smiled insincerely. "You see, Captain...I know how to use this."

"I would never question whether or not you knew how to use that weapon. Using it, and losing it, are two very different things, Princess. It only takes a split second of distraction to catch you off guard, and then..."

Keith suddenly and swiftly, reached down to the ground and grabbed some dirt in his hand, throwing it at the Princess.  Startled, she brought her free hand up to protect her eyes from the oncoming dirt, dropping her guard long enough for Keith to thrust forward and grab
the blaster from her hand.

Allura jumped back, appalled by his actions, and a bit frightened by them too.

"...and then suddenly...you are left defenseless, Your Highness." Keith finished, now holding the blaster in his hand.  "It could happen that quick. And that's why you should take someone with you, trained in combat, to protect you whenever you leave the Castle."

Allura's gaze fell upon the young Captain. "I see..." she said slowly, embarrassed that she allowed herself to be tricked in that fashion. "Well, it would seem that you have proven your point here, Captain."

"Princess...please forgive me. I am merely trying to get you to see that no matter how prepared you believe that you are for the unexpected, something can always throw you off your guard. Zarkon is no dummy. He's spent years terrorizing your planet and its people.
He knows very well what will work against you.  For the sake of Planet Arus...and for your own good...please take someone with you!" Keith pleaded, reaching forward to hand her back the blaster.

Allura thought for a moment as she accepted it, then sighed. "I'm sorry, Captain. It's just...oh never mind. I shouldn't burden you with my problems."

"Go on..." Keith encouraged. "Besides being a strict leader, I'm also a great listener."

"Sven used to be my listening ear...before...before he..."

Keith quickly averted her thoughts... "I can do one better,"

She paused and looked at him. "Such as?"

"Not only am I a great listener, but I can smile too! Then disagree with you!" Keith joked.

Allura chuckled a the comment. "I'm sure you can, Captain!"

"Now, what's on your mind?" Keith asked her again.

She looked intensely at the young man before her.

He was handsome, strong, and very, very wise for his age.  She sighed again, turning to walk a few steps toward the edge of the stable.

"Keith...oh, may I call you by your first name?" she asked, not wanting to assume he wouldn't mind.

Keith smiled. "Of course, Your Highness."

Allura turned. "You may call me Allura, if you'd like." She then through him a smile.

"Thank you...Allura." Keith replied graciously.

She leaned up against a nearby beam, sighing once again. "You see, Keith... ever since I could remember, my father, the late King Alfor, has always shielded me from our people. He protected me from a great many things. At the time, there was a need, for he knew that if Zarkon had kidnapped his only daughter, then Planet Arus would be a the mercy of Planet Doom."

She began to pace a bit as she continued. "The problem is that because of this, I had very few friends, and very few real life experiences. You see, I've never had the luxury or the joy of experiencing just being able to go outside and play. Or even to run through a field of wildflowers. I also had to stay in the Castle.  Yes, I had a constructive life. Coran and Nanny made sure that I was well trained in the responsibilities of being a Princess. But I
never had the opportunity to just...be a child. When my father was killed during a battle with King Zarkon, I was forced at the age of 11, to become the sole ruler of this planet. And whether I liked it or not, my life was over at age 11. What little freedom I had...I lost with the death of my father. Do you understand what I am trying to say?"

Keith had listened to her intently. He found himself thrusted back to his own childhood, and recalling how much fun he had...playing baseball, kickball, picking on the girls...all the experiences that made up who he was.

Not realizing what it would have been like to miss out on all of those great adventures, he suddenly felt a sense of pity for the young princess...saddened that she was forced to miss out on all of that.

"Princess," Keith sighed, walking toward her. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize how hard it's been for you. It's difficult alone, I'm sure, to bear the weight of Crown Princess. But to not have had experienced the freedom that I so much take for granted sometimes..."

"I wasn't looking for sympathy, Captain." Allura said defensively. "I just wanted you to know why it is that I desire to risk my safety for a few short minutes of freedom...away from Coran, the Castle guards... and nowà you. You must understand that it's nothing personal. I just wish I had your life."

Keith suddenly broke into laughter, catching Allura off guard. When he had composed himself, he explained his sudden outburst. "I'm sorry, Allura. I didn't mean for you to think that I was laughing at you. It's just...when you said you wished you had my life...I
couldn't help myself!"

"What do you mean, Keith?" she asked, her eyebrows knitting together.

"Princess, I have seen it all, and done it all.  But you don't want to wish to walk a mile in my shoes!  Trust me on that, Princess."

"Oh really?" she said coyly. "Tell me... tell me what its like being Captain Keith Hunter, a space explorer mission leader."

Keith bowed his head. "It's not easy. That's for sure. Much like you, I have to keep tabs on my team. I have the weight of leadership to bear...but, I bear it of my own free will. No one has forced me to choose the path I've chosen."

"And what of your parents?" she asked innocently. "Were they influential in your decision to join the Space Academy?"

Keith walked toward her until he was standing right next to her. "My parents...disappeared during a mission when I was young." Keith sighed. "I was raised by my grandparents after that."

Allura cupped her hand over her mouth, anguished that she had introduced a subject that would bring back such painful memories to him. "Oh Keith," she sadly whispered. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

Keith looked up and smiled at her. "Of course you didn't. You barely know any of us. We're just a bunch of rag-tag space explorers. You know nothing about us...about our backgrounds."

"Still, I didn't mean to introduce such a painful topic." She said, nearly moved to tears.

Keith waved his hand in the air. "Don't worry about it, Princess. It's a part of my past that has served to make me a stronger person."

"But to lose both of your parents..."she said, her eyes full of compassion for the young captain.

"I know...but what about you? You lost both of your parents too.  And you were forced to step in as ruler at such a young age." Keith spoke out. "At least I got to choose my destiny. Yours was chosen for you by birth right." Keith then turned his head to gaze out over
the land. "That must have been very difficult to deal with all at onceà the death of your mother, then your father, and then becoming ruler of Arus."

"Well," she sighed. "I had plenty of help dealing with it all.  My advisor, Coran, stepped in and acted on my father's behalf.  He raised me, and for the first few years, basically ran the planet for me. I was far too young to rule alone."

"You sure have progressed as time went on. You're a very strong leader, Princess." Keith complimented.

"Thank you, Captain." She humbly replied, a blush coming over her face. "And you...your wisdom is what has saved us from destruction."

"I'm only one man." Keith pointed out. "I have a great team that works well together."

"Yes, and you command them well. Although, at the risk of sounding crass, what are we going to do without Sven piloting Blue Lion?" she asked.

"Well, I've already sent word to Galaxy Garrison about sending a replacement. We will probably hear by morning." Keith said.

Allura stepped backward, and took a few paces away from him. "You know, Keith.... you could teach me how to fly the Blue Lion. Then I could take Sven's place."

"What?" Keith shouted, suddenly stepping up to her. "Are you kidding? Didn't I just get finished telling you that you are too important to Planet Arus? Now, you're talking about risking your life, piloting one of the lion ships?"

"No you said that I should take an escort if I leave the Castle grounds!" she smirked back at him playfully. "You said nothing about piloting the Blue Lion."

"I didn't, because the subject didn't come up until now!" Keith said firmly. "And no, I will not teach you to fly the Blue Lion! The last thing I need is to play guard dog over you in the air as well as on the ground!"

"I beg your pardon, Captain!" Allura raised her voice to Keith, becoming angry once again. "I never asked you to be my personal watch dog!"

"I don't need your permission to do the job I was sent here to do, Princess!" Keith hissed. "Besides...I couldn't bear seeing something happen to you."

Allura's mouth was open to respond, but suddenlyà nothing came out.  The last sentence that her Captain had uttered took the wind right out of sails. She bowed her head, cracking a smile.

"Keith, I appreciate your concern.
But I can be trusted to pilot one
of the lions." Allura said, her voice
more steady and calm as she spoke.
"Besides, I can't expect that you
and the boys will be staying here on
Planet Arus forever. I must know
how to operate the Lions, so that
when you do return to Earth, I am
not left totally defenseless."

Keith pressed his lips together as he thought for a moment about what she had just said. It was certainly true that he and his team wouldn't be here forever.  She did have a point about that.  But to risk her life to fly one of the lions...

"Well, I suppose you have point, Princess."
Keith said. "But I still am not sure that
piloting in combat is the wisest thing for
you.  You're the only surviving ruler of
Planet Arus.  And I doubt very much that
Coran will agree to allowing you to do it."

"I am not a baby anymore. I can make
decisions for myself." Allura said
matter-of-factly. "Besides, you can back
me up."

"Now hold on, Princess!" Keith sternly
objected. "I'm not sure if I believe this
is the right thing for you to do!  And I
haven't yet consented to train you!"

Allura leaned into him, flirtatiously
batting her eyelids at him. "But you
ARE thinking about it, aren't you?"

Keith sighed forcefully. "I'm thinking about it...only because it makes sense that you should know how to operate the lions... for, 'just in case' purposes only! Not for real combat!"

"Keith, I can be a team player! I can! I will do everything you say! I promise! Please, you can't turn me down on this! I must pilot the Blue Lion and protect my people.  If you deny me of this, then you're denying the people of Arus their future." Allura said, making a convincing argument. "Besides, what better way to keep tabs on me, then to have me fly with you? That way, you will never be distracted wondering if I'm safe in the Castle during an attack."

"No, I'll just be distracted watching to make sure Blue Lion isn't shot down from the sky!" Keith snarled.

"Pardon me?" she smirked. "It seems to me that you boys were constantly getting shot down when you first activated Voltron only a month ago!"

"Yes, but we're all experienced pilots. And you're a princess." Keith pointed out.

"And a girl...come on, Keith! Say it! The reason you don't want me to fly is that you think because I'm a girl I can't do it...that I'm too defenseless. Isn't that the real reason?" she said, suddenly irritated.

"No, that's not it at all." Keith said calmly, now walking right up to her and laying his hands on her shoulders. "I worry about you. You're a prime target. And once Zarkon figures out you're piloting the Blue Lion, he'll make that a prime target too. I just don't want you to get hurt, that's all."

"But Keith, I'm a quick learner! I promise to do exactly as you say!" she begged. "You just can't turn me down, Keith! I'm begging you, please teach me to pilot the Blue Lion."

She turned and moved out away from his grasp. He could hear her sigh heavily.

"Besides, it will be the only freedom I may ever get as Princess.  You'd be doing me a favor by letting me pilot the lion.  It will give me the excuse I need to leave the Castle...even if it is to fight off Zarkon's evil forces. I still would feel like I'm really doing something for my people." she said quietly.

Then, she looked up into Keith's dark eyes, piercing right through him with her beautiful blue eyesà. "Please Keith... please let me join the teamà. Please?"

Keith suddenly found himself mesmerized by her beauty.

Those blue eyes...

Keith bowed his head, half torn between wanting to let her, and wanting to say no. But which was really for her own good? Here is a 17-year old girl, who has been cooped up in a huge Castle for years... alone,,, without friends... without parents... without freedom....

Perhaps this would be a good thing for her. Perhaps it's just what she needs to give her a feeling of self-worth.

"Alright, Princess." Keith conceded with a sigh. "I'll train you to fly the Blue Lion."

Allura's face suddenly lit up with excitement. "Oh thank you, Keith!  You won't regret this!"

"I hope not..." Keith muttered back. Then he added a serious tone to his voice. "Now Princess! You've got to promise me that you'll do EXACTLY as I say, got it?"

"I do." She replied more serious. "I will do everything you tell me to doà to the letter!"

"Good, because if you don't, I'm pulling the plug on this whole thing!" Keith sternly said.

Allura's face suddenly contorted. Her eyebrows were now turned
downward.

"Pulling the plug? I don't understand what you mean," she said innocently. "The lions are recharged by element energy...there are no plugs involved."

Keith stared at her for a moment, then suddenly was overwhelmed with laughter from her innocence. Allura took offense to his laughing.  "What?" she demanded. "What's so funny?"

He struggled to regain his composure. Taking his hand, he wiped the tears from his eyes that had formed from laughing so hard.

When he finally calmed down, he explained the statement; "I'm sorry, Princess. I forgot that you've never heard some of our Earth phrases before. 'Pulling the plug' refers to bring a halt to something. In other words, what I meant was, that if you don't follow my
instructions, I would put a halt to your training. That's all."

Allura's face straightened out, and she suddenly found the urge in herself to start giggling. Her hand flew to her mouth, covering it, as she continued to giggle. "Well, I suppose I'll have plenty of time to learn these phrases from you boys!"

"I guess so." Keith agreed. Then, looking at his digital watch on his wrist, he looked up at the Princess. "I think we should get back to the Castle. Coran has probably called out a full scale search for you by now."

"I suppose it is time to go back to reality." She sighed. "But thank you for your companionship. I appreciate your care and concern over me. It's very kind of you."

Keith bowed to her, lifting his head up to meet her gaze. "I will always watch over you, Princess. You can count on me to always be here for you...whenever you need me." Then Keith threw her a wink.

Feeling a blush come over her face again, she tilted her head down in acknowledgement. "And I will always be here for you, friend Keith."

Keith walked up to her, and extended his elbow to her. "Princess Allura, may I have the pleasure of escorting you back to your Castle?"

Allura smiled shyly, feeling very warm all of a sudden. She latched on to his awaiting elbow. "Why yes, Captain Keith, I would enjoy that very much!" she smiled.

As they walked toward the Castle...

***************


"Keith...hello? Keith are you in there?"

Keith suddenly shook himself back to the present, finding Allura standing in front of him, waving her hand in his face. "Keith, answer me!" she pleaded.

"Huh?" he said, suddenly confused.

"You blanked out for a bit," she said. "I was talking to you, and then suddenly, your mind wasn't here.  Are you okay?"

Keith shook his head clear. "Yeah, I'm alright.  I was just thinking about what we were talking about.  Freedom...I was thinking about the time I followed you to the stable about a month after we arrived on Arus for the first time."

"When Sven was hurt," she recalled. "Yes, I remember that day.  I think it was the first time I realized that I was falling in love with you."

"I struggled with my decision to let you fly Blue Lion." He remembered.

"Are you still struggling with it now?" she asked coyly.

He shook his head with a smile. "No.  In fact, it turned out to be the best decision I've ever made." He put his hands on her shoulders.  "You are a very capable pilot, Allura.  You've grown in experience and knowledgeà you're as good as any one of us.  That's something you should be proud of."

"Not as good as you, Keith." she smiled graciously.  "You're magnificent with Black Lion. I never cease to be impressed, as you take the controls of Black Lion."

"Black Lion..." He mumbled sadly. "I can't believe we've lost the lions for good." he sighed to her.

"I know," Allura sighed too.  "It's like a bad dream.  I'm still hoping I'll wake up to see them okay and waiting for us back at the Palace."

"Yeah, me too." Keith said solemnly.  He took note that Allura was shaking once again. "You're getting cold again," he said, grasping her arms.  "You're shaking."

"A bit..." she said with an evasive tone.  "I'll be fine."

"Come on, get back to the fire where you'll be warm." He said, turning her around and walking her over to the fire.  After he sat her down, he stood up straight. "I'm going go find some more wood for the fire. I want to stoke it up more before we bed down for the night."

"Would you like me to help you?" she asked.

He put his hand out to stop her.  "No, I'll be okay.   The walk will do me good."

"But, your injured, Keith!" she said concerned for him.

"No, actually I'm feeling a lot better now." He said, hating to lie to her, but realizing he had to be strong for her.

His ribcage was aching fiercely, but it wasn't bad enough to keep him from moving around.

"Are you sure?" she asked again.

"Yeah, I'm okay.  I want you to stay by the fire and keep warm.  My uniform is insulated enough to protect me, but your gown is too light to keep the heat in for very long away from the fire.  Just stay here, I'll be back shortly."

Reluctantly, Allura nodded her head in agreement. "Don't be too long." She said as he turned to leave.

Sitting alone in the dark cave, with only the light of the fire to help her see, Allura began to think about something Keith had mentioned.

His confidence in her piloting skills warmed her heart.  But it truly was a long hard road of learning.  There were times she felt he was darn right mean to her. But she realized now it was for her own good.

Her mind drifted back to that trying time in her life...

*******************


The Blue Lion had once again coming crashing to the ground, after trying to avoid a volley of firepower sent out from Black Lion.

Over the COM, she could hear Keith's angry voice, hollering at her.

"Princess!  You've got to watch your instruments!  You can't just sit there and let me pelt you like this! You've got to move!  Now...get up and let's try it again."

Inside Blue Lion, Allura gritted her
teeth in anger.

"He's so mean!" she thought to herself.
"I didn't realize how mean he really
could be!"






Blue Lion stood up on its feet, and launched into air once again, heading up toward Black Lion. Determined not to make the same mistake again, Allura focused on her controls, instruments, and her monitors, awaiting Black Lion to start its bombardment at her once
again.

She didn't have to wait long. A round of proton missiles shot out at her. Waiting until the very last second, she quickly thrusted the lion upward with a mid-air leap. The missiles sailed by the Blue Lion without impact.

"Very good, Princess." Keith's voice rang over the COM. "That was good maneuvering! Now, we'll try a few more before we move on to the next exercise."

Allura sighed. They'd been at this for about three hours now.  She was growing tired.

"Oh, Keith.  Haven't we had enough practice for today?  I'm tired." she groaned.

"You're the one who wanted to
learn...so, we're learning!" Keith
abruptly replied. "Zarkon's Doom
Forces aren't going to just leave
Arus during an attack because
you're tired, you know!"

"I know...but this is all new
to me," she protested. "This is too
much for me at one time!"

"Are you giving up?" Keith asked
suddenly, his image now appearing on
the ultra wave.

Allura's eyes grow wide with anger
and determination. "NO!" she
shouted. "I'm not giving up, Captain!"

"Good. Then let's get busy. We've
got a lot of ground to cover before
we call it a day." He said sternly.
"Come on, let's get back
to work."

His image disappeared, and she was left
seething in anger. "How dare he even suggest..."
the thought rang out in her mind. "Who does he
think he is, anyhow?"

The COM came alive with Keith's voice once again. "Okay, Princess.  Evasive action!"

Another volley of missiles came out at her, and she commanded Blue Lion to move out of the way again.

*******************


Later that evening, Allura was sitting quietly in the rec. room, alone.  She had her feet up on the couch and a cup of tea in her hands.  She allowed the aroma to sooth her frazzled nerves.  Her peace was suddenly disrupted by an all-too-familiar voice echoing from the
doorway.

"Nice job today, Princess." Keith's voice rang out from behind her.

Without looking at him, she sipped her tea, and then responded. "Thank you, Captain." she simply said.

Keith entered the room and sat in an adjacent chair. "You know, I think you're going to make it."

"Thank you... again." She replied coolly with a raise of the eyebrows, refusing to meet his gaze, instead concentrating on her steaming cup of tea.

Noting the cold shoulder he was receiving from her, he stood to leave.

"I didn't mean for you to get you mad at me, Princess.  I know I seem harsh, and it might look like I'm singling you out.  My team has on more than one occasion accused me of being too strict and procedure oriented. But there's a reason I am the way that I am."

Allura continued to ignore him seemingly.  But Keith continued to explain himself.

"You see, Princess, you and the guys are not just my team...but my  friends too.  And I want everyone to come home safely after every mission. So, to ensure that, I strictly enforce the regulations."

Keith suddenly came along side of her, bending his knees to meet her face to face. "Did you hear what I said? You're my friend too, Allura.  And not just any friend.  You're special."

"Because I'm a 'princess'," she said sharply, now angrily meeting his eyes with hers.  "And I'm important to the continuance of my planet.  I know...I've heard you say it a million times since you've been here." She then suddenly looked away again.

"No, it's not just that, Princess," he replied quietly. "You're special to me.  And I don't want to see anything happen to you.  Not because you're a princess...but because, you're you.  In these last several weeks, you've become...dear to me.  And I want to make sure
you know everything you can know about combat."

She turned her head to look into his eyes once more.

Something different in them now...something softer in his tone...

"I'm sorry, Keith." she smiled to him. "I guess I was acting immaturely.  I know you're only looking out for me, and you want me to be the best I can be.  I appreciate the time you're taking to teach me.  I'll try in the future not to take it personally."

Keith smiled back. "Thank you, Princess.  Because it isn't personal at all, I just want you to learn everything that you need to learn to survive.  You're part of my team now, and I want you to come home from each battle too."

She smiled again, "Would you like to join me for a cup of tea?" she asked.

A smile broke over Keith's face at her warm gesture. "Thank you, Princess.  I'd like that very much."

She flipped her feet off of the couch,
and grabbed a cup sitting next to the
tea carafe.  She poured him a cup of
steaming tea. "Sugar and cream?"
she asked him.

"Just cream, thanks." He replied as
he rose to his feet.


She poured the cream into the tea, and mixed it with a spoon.  Then, she handed him the teacup. He accepted it graciously with a 'thank you', and took his place back in the seat adjacent to her.

They talked for hours about a great many things...two people reaching out for each other's friendship....

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Allura smiled at the memory with a gentle sigh.  She thought of how funny life can be. This was the man that she couldn't wait to get away from...nowà this same man, is the man she couldn't bear to be away from.

Suddenly, she heard the sound of footsteps approaching. She turned, and saw Keith walking toward her with more wood in his hands.

"Okay, this should do us for the night," he said, as he knelt down beside the fire.  As he began to place the wood onto the flames, Allura thought about what it would be like to kiss him.... passionately.

She twisted her head...shocked and surprised that she would even hazard the thought atall.

But he was so handsome...so gallant...

"Keith," she asked.

"Hmmm," he replied, continuing to stoke up the fire.

"Do you think that you would ever like being King of Arus?" she asked.

He stopped and looked at her with a smile.  "I thought I was suppose to be the one who proposes, Princess." he said jokingly.

"I'm serious, Keith.  It concerns me that you think your life will be nothing but restrictions if you were married to me." Allura said.

Keith threw the last piece of wood on the fire, then brushed his hands together to dust them off a bit.  He settled himself down, bringing his knees up carefully to his chest, then wrapping his arms around them.

"I don't know," he said quietly.  "I guess it is a concern." Then he turned his head to her. "But it wouldn't be enough to extinguish the love I have in my heart for you, Allura."

As the flames built up stronger, a reflection of them could be seen in her eyes.

"If I have to move heaven and earth to be with you, I will, Princess."

Allura's face softened at his words. "I feel very blessed to have your interest in me," she smiled. "There are many woman on Arus who would love to be in my place right now."

Keith just shrugged his shoulders at her. "I suppose so."

The air grew silent again.

Keith finally made the move to retire.  "Well, its getting late.  We'd better get some sleep. We'll have only about an hour to reach the Palace once the sun comes up.  After that, it will get too hot again, making it impossible for you to travel without more protection then just your gown."

"Okay." She agreed.

Keith rose to his feet, and approached her.  She rose to her feet to meet him.

"Well, goodnight, Princess." Keith said, patting her on the shoulder.

"Goodnight, Keith." she replied.

Both of them hesitated for a few momentsà gazing into each other's eyes.

Keith suddenly felt the impulse to kiss her on the cheek...and he did.

She tilted her head toward him, allowing him to kiss her cheek.  Instead of pulling back, he suddenly found himself moving closer toward her...

Allura turned slightly to face him.  Keith awkwardly cleared his throat. T hen he took a deep breath.  "Princess, may I kiss you goodnight?  I mean...really...kiss you?" he asked her boldly.

She smiled at him, her heart beating wildly with excitement. "Yes, you may, Keith."

At first, there was hesitation...then...slowly he bent his head down toward hers.

She tilted her head up to him, offering her lips to him.

Their lips touched tenderly...

The sweetness of that moment caused Allura to suddenly forget how cold she was, and caused Keith to forget the pain he had felt in his ribcage.

Slowly, he wrapped his arms around her waist.  And she ran her hands slowly up his back. The beauty and innocence of their love, manifested itself in their shared kiss, and they wanted nothing more than to stay that way forever.

When it had ended, and they slowly separated, Keith brought his hand up to her cheek, caressing it with his fingertips.  She closed her eyes, and tears began to stream out of them.

Concerned that he had offended her in some way, he brought his hand down to her chin. "Allura?" he asked, with his voice full of compassion. "What's the matter?"

She opened her eyes, and the tears that had formed there fell like rain. "I was just thinking about what my life would be like without you."

"Yeah, me too." Keith agreed.  "I can't believe where I was eight years ago, before I was assigned to Arus.  I somehow felt that you were waiting for me."

"I don't understand," she said.  "How could you have known that I was here?"

Keith shrugged his shoulders again. "I can't explain it.  I just felt it in my heart that someone was waiting for me somewhere...not on Earth, but somewhere else.  That somewhere was on Arus.  That someone was you."

"Remember that book I gave you back on Arus, before we left for Surbain?" she suddenly remembered.

"Yes, I do.  I'm sorry, but I hadn't had a chance to read it yet." he said regretfully. "What's about it?"

"Well, my father read it to me when I was a child.  It's a beautiful love story.  I was always very fond of it," she said, straying in thought.  Then she refocused her attention to what she was trying to convey.  "I asked my father how I would know if I found the man I was
suppose to spend the rest of my life with."

Keith turned a questionable gaze to her. "And he said?"

"He said, that I would just know. That we both would know." she finished. "His exact words were, 'When he finds you, you will both know.'. That's what he said."

Keith smiled affectionately. "He was right, Allura." he replied tenderly. "I know."

"I know too." She smiled.

They embraced, holding each other for several minutes...just quietly enjoying the feeling.

"I think its time to us to retire for the night," Keith whispered into her ear. "I don't want to do something that's going to ruin this moment."

Allura pulled her head away from his. "I understand, and agree."

"Then, we also agree to wait for each other until marriage, if that is to happen." He said firmly. "I don't want anything to ruin what we share together. I want to do this right."

"Yes, of course." She nodded. "I do too."

"Good." Keith smiled. "And now, my Princess, its time for us to get
some sleep."

"If I know you, Keith, you won't sleep a wink for fear something will happen to me." She remarked.

Keith bowed melodramatically at her. "Right as usual, fair Princess Allura."

She shot him a twisted smile. "Well, at least try to allow your eyes to close every once in a while."

"No promises!" he joked. "Now, get as close as you can to fire for warmth. I'll be right over there if you need me." Keith pointed to the other side of the fire.

"I'll be fine, Keith," she reassured him.

"I'm sure you will be." He smiled back. He then leaned forward and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Goodnight, Allura."

"Goodnight, Keith." she sighed happily, as she knelt to the ground, finding a spot to lay her head.

She tucked her arm under it, using it as a pillow.

When she had settled down for the night, Keith carefully and painfully walked back over to the other side sitting down on the ground, leaning up against the wall for support.

It was going to be a long night.

He continued to watch the woman he loved so much, sleeping peacefully just a few feet away from him. He decided in that moment that no matter what happened, he would love her forever.  Even if his freedom were curtailed because of the title he would bear...

...King Keith of Planet Arus.

Looking at Allura from across the room, he decided she would be worth it all.
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