They hadn’t been able to find a restaurant close to the space port that was still open. The surroundings areas had all been evacuated, a sign of how strong Drule paranoia was. No one had wanted to believe the Drule would NOT attack, nor had they wanted to risk those who lived in the area.
It had been a surreal experience to ride through streets that were empty. With buildings still standing, no dead laying in the streets, no soldiers marching. Normally when the Drule came through so deserted a city, it was after King Zarkon had devastated it.
This city had not been attacked, but it still had been marked by Zarkon. By the simple but effective fear of him. The fear of what he could do. It was a fear that extended to associate with the Drule people. The people of Kirentya like the rest of the galaxy, simply didn’t know any better. They took at face value that the Drule did these things because they were evil, and not because a tyrant forced them into it.
Mara tried not to let her mind wander to the past. She honestly did. But the memories were not so easily thwarted, the empty streets calling to mind a different city. Different streets, different circumstances. Where the few survivors of the bombardments were quickly run down but slowly killed. She could almost taste the smoke, feel the distant flames warming her. But most of all, she could feel the stare of the frightened child’s eyes boring into her, the little human screaming.
She hadn’t been able to do it. Hadn’t been able to look at that little girl, and give her over to the horrors that made up Zarkon’s idea of amusement. Mara hadn’t been able to kill the girl, neither quick nor slow. Her conscience cost them both, a less feeling, less hesitant soldier doing what Mara couldn’t. What Mara would be punished for refusing to do.
Somehow she managed not to flinch, recalling the way the back of her soldier’s uniform had been torn open. The whipping that followed was nothing compared to that which had happened next, Zarkon ordering the soldiers to beat what woman’s compassion still remained, out of Mara.
In the present, Mara’s hands noticeably clenched, her nails digging into her lap. Tension coiled through her, though there was no reason now for her to be so scared. Still she flinched when a hand touched her shoulder.
“Easy there.” Keith’s now familiar voice said from besides her. His dark eyes were concerned for Keith hadn’t failed to notice Mara’s upset.
“Sorry Keith.” Mara murmured. “Just thinking about something General Grants said.” It was the only thing she could think of that could possibly explain her mood.
“Forget about him.” Keith urged. “He won’t really be able to talk the Alliance into abandoning Arus.”
Mara hoped Keith was right about that. “Still I antagonized him when I shouldn’t have.” But Mara didn’t regret her threats to the General.
“So maybe you weren’t as careful as you should have been.” Keith was saying. “But neither did you back down from him. It was impressive and I’m proud of you.”
“We’re all proud.” Added Hunk from the seat across from Mara’s. He hadn’t been physically present for the confrontation. But Hunk, along with Lance and Pidge had been able to listen in, via a radio.
“Thanks Hunk.” Mara couldn’t manage a genuine smile, the memories of her past life as a soldier still haunting her.
“I, for one, would have loved to have been close enough to see the look on Grant’s face!” Lance exclaimed with a chortle. Mara knew from the files she had studied, that Lance was the pilot known for having a lack of respect for those in authority. Especially when it came to men like General Grants, who made more enemies than friends. “He sounded as though he was having a coronary, after you walked away from him, princess.”
“He didn’t like being reminded that Princess Allura has a back bone.” Pidge said from besides red lion’s pilot. The young man dressed in the green and white spandex of his pilot’s uniform, had a data pad in his hands. His fingers flew over the board, Pidge’s eyes intent on the data on it’s screen. Earlier, he had looked up restaurants and diners, trying to find a suitable eating establishment that was still open for business.
The cruiser was heading towards one of the places Pidge had found, the Voltron Force due to arrive at their destination in the next five or so minutes. It couldn’t come soon enough for Mara, the Drule female eager to leave behind the empty streets for a more populated part of the city.
“I think a lot of people don’t like that kind of reminder.” Lance was saying. “Can you imagine how Nanny, or even Coran would react if Allura stood up to them?!”
“Nanny would have a fit!” Pidge exclaimed. “You know how she is. Always gotta have the last word, doesn’t take any back talk.”
To Mara it just sounded like Nanny was a bully, plain and simple. Which only succeeded in depressing her as Mara thought to how long she would have to suffer under the overbearing woman’s care.
“I mean, she even throws her weight around Coran!” Pidge had set down his data pad, apparently finding Nanny a far more interesting topic than anything on the news channels. “And nine times out of ten, he lets her get away with it!”
“I think the problem is too many people do that.” Lance grumbled. “If someone would speak up, maybe she would learn to control herself.”
“Yeah? Then how come you don’t do that, Lance?” Keith looked to be smirking, his tone teasing insolence as he looked at his second in command. The brown hair pilot of red lion turned flustered, the faintest coloring appearing on his cheeks as he tried to sputter out excuses. The group inside the cruiser began to laugh, amused by Lance’s upset.
“Hey, I know when to pick my battles.”
“In other words, Nanny is a fight you don’t want.” Mara said, and Lance looked embarrassed.
“Princess! That’s not, I mean it’s…”
“It’s what, Lance?” Hunk joined in on the teasing. “Someone has to stand up to her at some point. Or is it you want to let someone else be the first to pave the way for the rest of us?”
“Better them than me!” Lance retorted, crossing his arms over his chest. “I mean, I get enough of a workout fighting the Drule. I don’t need Nanny on top of all my problems!”
More laughter from the group, even Mara’s lips were twitching with a smile. She could feel the tension easing away from the men inside the cruiser, the laughter a distraction from all that had happened today. From the confrontation with General Grants, to the constant worry that the Drules would back stab them all and attack, the group had been on edge for hours now. This laughter was good for them, helped them to relax a little by little, even as Lance pretended to scowl and be angry over their teasing.
“I always did say Nanny is scarier than a hundred of Haggar’s robeasts put together.” Pidge told them.
“I think even Voltron would lose if Nanny was turned into one of Haggar’s robeasts!” Hunk’s words seemed to make them all shudder as they tried to imagine Nanny like that.
“Frankly, I don’t know how you put up with her, princess.” Lance was looking at Mara now, asking a question that she herself had wondered about. How did Allura endure spending so much time under Nanny’s watchful eye? Mara had only spent a few days like this, and she was slowly suffocating from Nanny’s attentions. “If I was you, I would have already gone crazy.”
“Nanny can be a little overbearing…” Mara said in diplomatic tones.
“A little?” snorted Lance in disbelief.
“But she means well.” Mara continued. She hoped she wouldn’t have to say more than this, not wanting to have to actually defend a woman she couldn’t really stand. “She only wants what’s best for me…”
“That best doesn’t include piloting blue lion.” Keith pointed out. “She’d keep you locked in the castle all day, and let the rest of us be the ones to face the danger.”
“When Zarkon comes, there is little place on the planet that is safe.” Mara’s eyes had darkened. “I’d rather be out fighting, than hiding in the castle because someone believed it was safer.”
“No one will ever accuse you of being a coward, that’s for damn sure.” Lance praised.
“Still, I’ll be glad to get back to Arus.” Mara told them. “Maybe then I won’t have to spend quite so much time under Nanny’s watchful eyes.”
“Yeah with a whole castle to run, a full staff to terrorize, you’ll be able to get a breather from her.” Keith smiled.
“Small though it may be.” Lance added. “Better enjoy this lunch princess. It’ll be the last bit of freedom you have from her, for a while yet!”
“Oh I intend too.” Mara promised them. She meant it too, Mara absolutely delighting in the chance to escape Nanny for even a few minutes more. The thought of spending an hour at lunch was like a dream, Mara hoping the Voltron Force pilots would eat slow so that they could linger longer in the restaurant.
“She’s going to be mad though.” Warned Hunk.
“I’m prepared to deal with the consequences of her anger.” Mara told him.
“You really are brave.” Lance said, but in the moment it wasn’t admiring. “Risking it like that.”
“What’s the worse she could do?” Mara wondered, assuming it would just be a lot of nagging and shouting that Nanny would do.
“She could spank you again.”
Somehow Mara managed to control her shocked reaction. Nanny had spanked the princess of Arus? And she still had her job? It was unbelievable! “That will not be happening to me.” Mara said firmly. Cover or no, if Nanny tried to go that far with Mara, the Drule would put her in place. Preferably with a few slaps to the older woman’s ass!
“Standing up to Grants has really made you bold, if you think to stop Nanny!” Lance exclaimed.
“There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to make a stand.” Mara stated. “Nanny will just have to learn to accept the boundaries I put in place.”
“Yeah, good luck with that.” A disbelieving Lance muttered.
“Well, I for one think it’s wonderful.” Keith was smiling at her again. “You’re going to be Queen one day. Nanny has to not only understand that, but respect you and the power of your position.”
“That’s right.” Nodded Mara, smiling back at him. “Maybe now is the time to start making her understand that.”
“Couldn’t hurt. Although…” he hesitated a moment. “I’d ease her in slowly to the idea.”
“Just don’t do anything too outrageous.” Keith advised. “Start out small.”
“Small.” She repeated thoughtfully. “Like going to this lunch.”
“Exactly!” Keith chuckled. “She’s so used to controlling every aspect of your life, right down to what you eat. This will be quite a change for both of you!”
“Right.” Mara smiled, noting the cruiser was slowing to a stop. It appeared they were arriving at the restaurant Pidge had found for them. “Is this the place, Pidge?”
The young pilot looked out the window. “Yes, this is it. Its not a very fancy place, but the food received a really high rating!”
“We don’t need fancy.” Scoffed Lance. “We get enough of that at the castle.”
“Besides, we’re not really dressed up for anything more than this.” Pidge pointed out.
“Good, because I hate having to get dressed up just to eat.” Hunk grumbled, and opened the cruiser’s door. The big man immediately climbed out, Lance and Pidge quickly following. Keith would insist on being next, Mara realizing the Voltron Force was scanning the streets to make sure there was no threat to the princes.
“Okay Allura….your turn.” Keith reached inside, offering his hand to her. Mara hesitated a moment, looking up at his smiling face. She couldn’t stop the pleased smile from spreading across her lips, Mara taking his hand. By the time he helped her from the cruiser, Pidge and Hunk were already at the doors to the restaurant. The two were direct opposites in size, and yet both had the same enthusiasm for the meal they were about to eat.
“We better hurry.” Mara murmured to Keith, having taking the opportunity to place her other hand on his arm as though she needed to regain her balance. She could feel the muscles there, Keith built though not bulging with brawn the way many Drule males were. She liked that he wasn’t overly muscled, Mara never caring for a body that was over built to extremes.
“Yes, we better.” Keith agreed, eyes twinkling with amusement. “Otherwise Pidge and Hunk will eat the restaurant out of business before we even get in the door!”
“Hey, we heard that!” complained Hunk as they approached. But he wasn’t insulted, winking at Mara as he pulled open the door. The Voltron Force would enter the restaurant’s foyer, a small entrance room that kept them out of sight of the dining area. A male waiter was standing there at a lectern, already gathering up five menus to give them.
“Table for five?” He asked, and Hunk nodded. “Follow me.”
The group trailed after him, being led into the dining area. There was plenty of people already seated, and a few glanced up to look at the newest arrivals. The reaction to seeing the uniforms of the Voltron Force was immediate, their eyes widening as they gasped. The gasps drew attention from the other diners, and soon everyone was looking at them.
“It’s the Voltron Force!” It was a line repeated, getting louder and louder. People were getting excited, some actually standing. Mara wasn’t sure what to make of this, her body tensing as though she was preparing for a fight. And then a group converged on them, the people HAPPY to see them. Wanting to shake their hands, get their autographs, even take a picture. Keith stood next to Mara the entire time, his stance protective even as he reacted with friendliness to the attention. The other three were signing autographs, and Lance was even flirting with a pretty redhead.
Suddenly Mara felt something tugging on her leg. She glanced down, and froze. There was an adorable human child looking up at her. A little girl with black hair, and brown eyes. The look in the child’s eyes was different from the one in her memories. This girl wasn’t terrified, this girl wasn’t crying. This girl was happy, eager to be noticed by Mara.
“I think she wants you to give her a hug.” Came Keith’s loud whisper from besides her. Mara blinked slowly in response, and the little girl reacted to the captain’s voice. She actually lifted her arms up, in a signal that was universal. The girl indeed wanted to be hugged, and suddenly Mara was down on one knee, opening her arms to the child. The little girl giggled, and wrapped her arms around Mara’s neck, the female Drule trembling with emotion. She was careful as she hugged the child, as though fearing she would somehow hurt the little human with her Drule strength.
“Princess, please! May we get a picture!” A man with the same eyes and hair as the little girl had appeared. Mara nodded, afraid to speak. She’d stand up, the little girl in her arms, and Keith would lean into the picture.
“Be sure to look at the camera now, little one.” He advised, and the little girl turned in time for the camera’s flash.
“Thank you!” The father exclaimed, though the little girl didn’t want to let go of Mara to return to him. He’d all but have to pry her arms from around Mara, the girl smiling adoringly at the Drule female.
The owner of the restaurant would appear, insisting on a picture with the Voltron Force that he could hang up on his wall. They smiled and posed, and listened as the owner babbled about the great honor they had done him in gracing his establishment with their presence. Mara wondered if this kind of welcome was typical for the Voltron Force, even as she made an automatic reply to the owner’s insisting their meal should be free.
“Oh we couldn’t do that!”
“She’s right.” Keith said in support. “You’d go bankrupt if Hunk and Pidge got to eat their fill for free.”
The manager looked at the pilots in question, though he was surely puzzled how a boy Pidge’s size could possibly eat that much. But he nodded, and gave in to their
insistence that they pay.
The people in the restaurant would have been content to hound the Voltron Force for stories and pictures all day. But the manager clapped his hands, shouting loudly over the excited crowd. Forcing them to return to their tables, and allow the Voltron Force to eat their lunch in peace. It didn’t stop everyone from staring at them, but at least the Voltron Force was finally seated in a corner table.
Mara looked at her menu, which was in both basic and the language of this planet. There was quite a selection, the food nothing like the limited fare that passed as rations on Doom. Truthfully it overwhelmed her, Mara not sure what to order. The pictures in the menu all looked so appetizing, she almost wanted to try them all! Finally she set down the menu, and announced her dilemma.
“It all looks so good, I can’t make up my mind!”
“Why don’t I pick something out for you then, princess?” suggested Keith.
“Oh would you, Keith?” She smiled at him, pleased.
“I think she should try something new.” Pidge added. “Something she couldn’t get on Arus.”
“She should get something Nanny would never allow her to have, like the rum filled steak!” Lance’s eyes were mischievous then.
“Are you hoping to get the princess drunk?” demanded Hunk.
‘What? No!” scoffed Lance. “Most of the alcohol in the steak cooks out. She’ll only get a slight buzz. Not enough for Nanny to notice.”
“Nanny notices EVERYTHING about the princess.” Pointed out Pidge. “She’ll know. Oh she’ll know.”
“I don’t see how.” Grumbled Lance.
Keith had his menu open, and was leaning into Mara with it. She liked having him so close, Mara paying more attention to Keith’s scent of after shave than the words written on the menu. “I think we all better skip the rum.” He was saying to Lance’s disappointed moan. “We all need to keep a clear head. Just in case.”
“Just in case Zarkon attacks?” asked Mara.
“Well, yes. But also, we’ll be busy once the Drules pull back their ships.” Keith told her. “We might even get the call to move out tonight.”
“The sooner, the better.” Lance said. “I’ve had enough of being trapped in one place for so long!”
“A lot of people feel that way.” Pidge spoke up. “You can bet everyone at the embassy will already be packed and waiting for the okay to leave. We’re going to be busy when that happens.”
Mara knew what Pidge meant by that. The lions would be orbiting the planet, keeping an eye out for any hostile Drule forces. The lions would guard and escort the ships leaving Kirentya, traveling with them until they got far enough away from the planet to make the hyperspace jumps. The lions themselves would then dock inside a carrier vessel, a ship that would take them the rest of the way to Arus. Even traveling in hyperspace, it would take time to get to Arus, and everyone here hoped it would be an uneventful journey.
A waitress would appear. She would take everyone’s orders, then leave to go fill them. Conversation continued between them, the pilots joking and teasing each other. It was so different a mood from anything Mara had experienced as a soldier, the teasing more mean spirited than the friendly joking these men were doing. Nor was there any nervousness or despair, no one depressed over having no other option than to fight in the military. These men weren’t upset, they knew their princess would never ask them to do something they would find morally objective.
It was nice, and it was pleasant, Mara relaxing more. But not too much, the Drule female not wanting to become soft. That was the danger in living Allura’s life, Mara being exposed to comforts and niceties she had never truly experienced before. It was the kind of living she could get used to, the kind of living she could enjoy, minus Nanny’s constant interference of course.
“Too bad, Lance.” Hunk was grinning. “That redhead who slipped you her number? She’ll be heartbroken if you have to leave tonight!”
“There will be other redheads.” Smirked Lance, fitting the image of the playboy womanizer Mara’s file had said he was. He was the type to have a different woman on every planet, dozens and dozens of them waiting on the hope that he would return to them. But a commitment wasn’t something that Lance wanted at this point in his life, the man more devoted to piloting red lion than settling down with a woman.
“Just as there are other women.” Lance continued, smiling flirtatiously at the approaching waitress.
“Come on man, leave some for the rest of us!” Hunk complained.
“It’s not my fault if they prefer me to you, right Keith?” Lance grinned. The waitress had reached their table, bending slightly to start putting down their plates. Lance continued to smile at her, his eyes staring at her hint of cleavage. Hunk looked too, though he made sure to make eye contact when the waitress glanced his way.
“Anything else?” The waitress asked, and Lance was suddenly clasping her hand with his.
“How about your number, cutie?” He asked, and she blushed in response.
“I’m not supposed to give that kind of information out.” She giggled nervously. “I’ll get in trouble with my boss.”
“Make an exception. For me.” Lance flirted. “You might find I’m worth the trouble!”
“Leave her alone Lance.” Keith ordered. He glanced at the waitress, whose look hinted she wasn’t sure she wanted to be left alone. “Thanks, that will be all for now.”
“All right.” She scurried off, but not before she gave Lance another look.
“Unbelievable!” Hunk grumbled in an exasperated tone.
“Just eat your food Hunk.” Keith told him.
Mara had uncovered her plate, looking down at the meal. She had some kind of fresh water fish, that had been cut and spread over a leafy green salad. The fish was nothing she recognized, but it smelt appetizing enough. She quickly dug her fork into a big bite of the fish, and then let out a soft sound of appreciation.
“Good?” Keith asked, and she nodded.
“Very.” She assured him.
They were all busying themselves eating, but the conversation didn’t stop. In between bites they talked, Mara just taking in the atmosphere of the friends. They all got along so well, and Mara would have had to be blind not to realize that it was true friendships they had formed. It was probably why they worked so well as a team, they simply cared that much about one another.
They cared about Allura too. They included her in the conversation, treating her like she was another one of the guys, or a sister they respected and admired. Mara didn’t pick up on any romantic tension coming off the men. That they reserved for other females in the restaurant. It made her curious, Mara wondering if Allura’s princess’ status is what kept them from viewing her as a viable romantic interest. Not that she wanted to deal with any crushes or romantic complications. Not even her own, Mara trying not to glance at Keith in the moment.
It took a concentrated effort not to keep looking at Keith. Her eyes kept doing side long glances, studying his handsome profile. Admiring the way his black hair fell down to his shoulders. Her fingers itched to sweep back the bangs that kept falling messily over his dark eyes, and his smile still turned her inside out every time he flashed it at her.
Just as she felt an unneeded jealousy when a woman approached the table, and ended up the focus of that smile. This woman had short brown hair, that was a mass of tiny, tight curls. She wasn’t as outstanding a beauty as the redhead that had approached Lance had been. Perhaps that is why the pilot of red lion paid her no attention. It didn’t matter, this brunette had her blue eyes on Keith, her cheeks pink as she blushed and stammered her way through an introduction.
Keith kept that dazzling smile on his lips, polite interest in his eyes as the woman nervously handed him a note. She didn’t stick around for his reaction, hurrying away. Keith barely had time to open the note, before Lance was plucking it out of his hands.
“Hey, that’s mine!” Keith protested, as Lance began announcing the woman had given her name, phone number, and address to Keith. Mara felt her jealousy spike, along with an irrational surge of anger. How dare that woman come over here, monopolize Keith’s attention, brief though the moment had been? Even worse, how dare she leave him such a note in a blatant invitation for the handsome captain to do more.
Mara angrily jabbed her fork into her fish, feeling agitated. She didn’t know what Allura would do in this type of situation. Allura might even encourage Keith to go pursue that woman. But Mara selfishly did not want Keith anywhere near that mousy looking woman!
“Give it back.” Keith was demanding, his hand making a grab for the note. Lance laughed and held it out of reach, Mara angrily chewing on her salad.
“Don’t get your shorts so twisted captain.” Lance teased. “You and I both know that woman isn’t your type. Hell, there’s no one in this restaurant exotic enough for YOUR tastes!”
Mara couldn’t help herself. “What does that mean?” She glanced at Keith who had turned a red so angry it almost matched the shade on his pilot’s uniform.
“Nothing. Lance just doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.” Keith grumbled, and no longer tried to get back the note. It was clear by the way he was angrily stabbing HIS fork into his meal, Keith didn’t want Mara to pursue this line of question. Mara couldn’t help but be intrigued, wondering just what Keith looked for in a woman. She tried to surreptitiously glance around the restaurant, her eyes taking in the women present. They were all human, and range in varied description. From blonde hair, to dark hair, even the red of Lance’s admirer, there were humans with pale skin, tanned skin, even caramel colored skin. There was thin women, fat women, even voluptuous beauties. Young, old, and everything in between, and yet Lance said none of these women were fit for Keith’s tastes. Mara didn’t know what to think, didn’t want to believe that exotic could mean something more than human. It was a mystery, and one she would love to solve, Mara thinking back on how there had been little if any mention of Keith when it came to his romantic preferences.
It just made her want to pry, to question him fully. But Mara thought this was something Allura would respect enough to leave alone. And that frustrated her, cause Mara’s curiosity was stirred almost as badly as her interest in Keith was becoming. She took another bite of her fish salad, sneaking another glance at Keith. He was an intriguing puzzle, and if she had the chance, she meant to solve some of the mystery around him!