Keith entered the hallway and leaned against the wall beside the door he just exited. He closed his eyes and saw again the princess's frightened face.
'Damn, he knows,' Keith thought again. The speed at which Lotor had learned about Allura's replacement and that one of his tricks had reached the princess infuriated him. His clenched fists hit against the wall.
Sven emerged and looked at his friend. Keith rarely lost his cool and more rarely where he could be seen by others. Gently, Sven placed a hand on Keith's shoulder.
Keith opened his eyes and relaxed. Standing straight, Keith began to walked down the hallway, followed by Sven. They entered the empty rec room and Keith punched in the codes to lock the door. Sven sat on a couch and waited for his friend to begin.
Keith turned from the door and looked at his oldest friend. "A lot of things bother me about this, Sven. First, in his note, Lotor told Allura that he knows she is hurt and he will get her."
"He said that?"
Keith nodded. "Thank God, the princess didn't even read the note."
"Are you sure?"
"She didn't have time to. She recognized the handwriting almost immediately. This isn't the first time this trick has been pulled," Keith explained angrily. "Which brings me to the second problem. How does this keep happening?"
"Well, may I suggestion that you screen all gifts for the princess before they are given to her?" Sven was attempting to calm his friend, whose pace was becoming more and more angry.
"That's just it," he fumed. "That's our policy. Apparently, the servant was new and the person who delivered the box appeared to be a sweet old lady." Keith's jaw tightened and quickened his pace. Both realized that it was probably Hagar in disguise.
"He's just a boy, Keith," Sven offered as an excuse.
Keith stopped and gave his friend a cold look. "He is," Keith began, "but he knew better."
"What is going to happen to the boy?"
"He is to be reassigned. Coran will take care of it." Keith became lost in thought for a moment, his face darkening as the time passed.
"What else bothers you?"
Keith was jerked from his thoughts by the question. "What?"
"What else bothers you about this situation?"
"The princess," Keith admitted reluctantly. "She will not be happy with additional guards. Plus this injury has really shaken her up."
"How bad will it get?"
Keith shook his head. "I don't know. I hope she will pull out of it okay."
"She will," Sven said, raising to met Keith's eye. "The princess is a fighter. I believe she will raise to the challenge."
Giving his friend a final squeeze on the shoulder, Sven left the rec room so Keith could be alone. As the doors closed around the retreating figure, Keith whispered, "I hope you are right."
* * * * *
Allura wheeled herself as quickly as she could down the hallway toward the Control Room. Cursing under her breath, she realized that she would be the last person there. She looked at the guards who were stationed at various parts of the halls and met numerous glances of pity.
'I am not helpless,' she thought. 'No, you're just slow,' came an answering one.
She entered the Control Room flushed from the exertion. Thankfully, neither the team or Coran had the same pitying looks as the castle guards. The team nodded respectfully at her in greeting as Coran approached her.
"Good morning, Princess Allura. You're just in time. Your cousin, Princess Romelle, will be arriving shortly."
"That's great, Coran. Please have the kitchen staff prepare some of Romelle's favorite foods for dinner tonight."
"Of course, Your Highness," Coran replied. He turned his attention to one of the viewing screens as a large ship appeared. "Ah, here is the princess now."
A few moments after the ship had landed three figures entered the Control Room. The first figure pushed back the hood of her cloak, exposing her face and hair. The other two followed suit, revealing themselves to be the honor guard.
Keith's heart stopped for a moment. The likeness between Romelle and Allura was still startling to him. No wonder Lotor is obsessed with both of them, he thought.
Romelle approached Allura and hugged her cousin in greeting. She nodded to Coran and then shook the hands of the team, saving Sven for last. The look the two had for each other gave their feelings completely away.
Allura averted her eyes from the pair. A familiar sense of emptiness clutched her heart. 'Will there ever be a man for me?' she wondered. She tried to dismiss such thoughts.
"Romelle, I'm sure you're tired from your journey. Sven, will you please escort Princess Romelle to her chambers?"
Sven bowed. "Yes, Your Highness."
She watched the couple leave the Control Room. 'They seem to be floating,' she thought. The emptiness grabbed her again. 'I have to get out of here.'
"Coran, if you don't need me for anything else, I'll rest until dinner."
"Of course, Your Highness."
Allura turned and wheeled herself out of the Control Room, missing the concern looks on the men's faces.
* * * * *
Allura couldn't bear to be in her room anymore. She wheeled down a hallway until she came to a balcony. She went into the sunshine and began to relax, willing her depressing thoughts to disappear.
She instantly became alert as voices approached from the hallway. She turned and noticed that the curtains were pulled enough to hide her from anyone passing by. She strained her ears to hear the conversation.
"Man, it's great to have good ole Sven back," Hunk said.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Lance replied. "It seems like the old times again, just like he never left."
"The original gang is together again." The rest of the conversation grew too faint for Allura to hear.
She faced the landscape, but tears clouded the view. She was glad that Sven was back, too, but she thought she had become more to the team than just Sven's replacement. She had earned her spot, hadn't she?
Fighting tears, Allura returned to her room to prepare for dinner. "The original gang" repeated itself over and over again in her mind. So, I am just the replacement, huh?
'Well, that's fine with me,' Allura thought angrily, slamming her closet door. Still hurt, she left for dinner.
* * * * *
Dinner that night was strained. Allura was sullenly quiet but denied anything was wrong. Any attempt to include her in conversation failed. Finally Allura grew tired of everyone walking on eggshells around her and left before dessert.
"What's wrong with Allura?" Romelle asked after her cousin's incensed departure.
"She's in a funk," Pidge answered without thinking.
"A funk?" Romelle asked, unfamiliar with the expression.
Pidge looked sheepish. "I'm sorry, Your Highness. I meant that your cousin is depressed."
"How long has she been like this?"
"Ever since the day of the accident she has been a little moody, Your Highness," Lance replied. "But tonight has been the worst."
"What can we do to help her?"
"Nothing," Keith said. "She needs to work this out on her own. However, I will go and have a talk with her after dinner. With your permission, of course, Coran," Keith added as an afterthought.
"Yes, yes," Coran answered. "Now let's finish our dinner."
The meal continued more cheerfully, but the atmosphere was still odd without Allura's presence. Keith didn't talk much for the rest of the meal, attempting to decide what he should say to Allura. The team recognized Keith's "planning" look and Romelle caught on quickly, so much of the conversation was steered away from the captain.
As soon as dessert was finished, they went their separate ways. Sven and Romelle disappeared together, probably searching for a moment of privacy. Hunk and Pidge were heading to the rec room for a quick game of cards before bed. Lance walked with Keith toward a different wing of the castle.
"Do you know what you're going to say, Cap'n?" Lance asked, trying to lighten Keith's spirits just a little.
Keith gave a small smile. "I have a fair idea."
"You wouldn't be Keith if you didn't," Lance joked, earning a bigger smile from Keith.
The two stopped at an intersection of hallways.
"Well, good luck, man," Lance said, giving Keith a slap on the back.
"Thanks." Keith turned down a different hallway, hoping to find the princess soon. 'I may need it.'