Swan Princess by Margo Ryor
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Inspired by Ayako's Production Diary Entry 18; 'Speed Race Through Hell', (am I the only one who thinks these titles are incredibly corny?). All characters, barring a few extras, the property of Tatsunoko Co. The concept of the royal ball is Ayako's.

It wasn't the toughest assignment they'd ever had, basically all they had to do was go to a party. Unfortunately the 'party' in question was an ultra-formal Royal Ball which meant white tie and tails for Ken and Joe. Costuming'd wanted them to cut their hair too but they rebelled at that.

Ryu and Jinpei were luckier, they were to stay with the God-Phoenix and act as backup if needed. They watched smugly as the two older boys tried on their monkey suits.

"This damn collar's gonna choke me!" Joe snarled, struggling with it.

"Could have been worse," Ken said, trying to look on the bright side, "they could have insisted on knee breeches."

Joe looked at him in horror. "Over my dead body!"

Ryu and Jinpei visualized the Condor so attired and broke into snickers.

A furious voice from the doorway prevented mayhem. "Will you look at this!"

They looked, stared, at a vision in filmy pink chiffon with big puffy sleeves, long fitted bodice and extravagently full skirts all glittering with thousands of tiny crystal beads. The vision's dark hair was mussed and her green eyes blazed.

"I said white!" Jun snarled, "I said sleek and sexy! Look at this! I'm a damn prom queen!"

Ken's mouth opened but nothing came out. Joe and Ryu were also struck speechless.

Not Jinpei. "It's not that bad, sis." he said giving her a critical once over, "makes you look like a real girl."

Not the happiest choice of words. "Ooooooh!" Jun sputtered, finding no other weapon to hand she tore off a slipper and flung it with intent to maim at her kid brother who took hasty evasive action behind Ken.

Jun spun, stalked back to her own dressing room slamming both doors behind her.

"Touchy, touchy." shrugged Jinpei.

Ryu cleared his throat, "I thought she looked pretty."

"Yeah," Ken managed, "real pretty."

"Try gorgeous!" grinned Joe, recovering.

Was that a jealous glare from Ken? Ryu slid out quietly, knocked on Jun's door.

"Come!" she snarled, he entered with due caution. The dress hung over the back of a chair, Jun herself was seated at the dressing table in a negligee angrily experimenting with make-up. "What do you want?"

"Y'know Jinpei's right, it's not that bad." he ventured.

She opened her mouth to yell.

"Ken liked it."

She closed her mouth, frowned uncertainly at Ryu's reflection in her mirror. "He did?"

"Hell yes! his eyes practically popped out of his head!"

"They did?"

"Ask Joe if you don't believe me. *He* said you were gorgeous."

"Joe said that?" she asked, a pink not due to rouge rising in her cheeks.

"Sure did," Ryu answered, added artfully, "and did Ken ever glare!"

"Weeeellll," she said slowly, begining to smile, "I guess I'll just have to make the best of it. It's too late for them to make me another dress."

Jun studied her reflection in the full length mirror, didn't quite purr. It wasn't what she'd had in mind, but it'd do. The neckline was cut low, baring her shoulders and a provacative hint of cleavage emphasized by the big emerald drop suspended from a chain of tiny diamonds around her neck. Slightly smaller emeralds hung from her ears and her hair had been swept up and crowned with a dainty diamond tiara shaped like a rising swan. Still more diamonds and emeralds clasped her wrists over long white evening gloves. She wasn't sure where Doctor had gotten the jewelry from, he'd just handed her the boxes 'for her cover', but suspected he'd had the pieces made especially for her. Billowing skirts set off her sleander waist and to top it off - she lifted the hem for another look. Glass slippers, just like Cinderella! Actually they were synthetic crystal, faceted to reflect the light but transparent enough to display shapely little feet.

*Sure beats the hell out of a numbered T-shirt and stiped bell bottoms!*

"Why can't we just wear clip-ons?" Ken wondered despairingly as he studied the lopsided bow of his tie.

"Clip-ons are declassee." Nambu informed him drily, turning him around and undoing the straggly bow.

"It's easy enough for anybody who's good with his hands." Joe smirked, his own tie perfect.

Ken glared at his second over Doctor's shoulder as Nambu quickly and efficiently redid his tie. Ken fingered it, eyed his guardian curiously. "You've done this before, Doctor."

"Once or twice." Nambu acknowledged, looked past him. "Ah, Jun."

She was coming down the embassy stairs, sparkling skirts held carefully, glass slippers twinkling.

Ken's mouth sagged open, face slowly turning pink as her gown.

"Woo Hoo!" said Joe appreciatively.

Nambu's eyes held both admiration and paternal pride. "You're lovely Jun, you should have no trouble catching the Prince's eye."

She smiled demurely, "Thank you, Doctor." glanced at Ken from under lowered lashes. *Gotcha!*

"Mr. Ken Washio, Miss Jun Nambu, Mr. Joe Asakura!"

To those assembled in the palace ballroom it looked like the three were posing for effect at the top of the grand staircase. Two strikingly good looking young men flanking a vision in glittering pink.

Actually they were petrified with stage-fright. When one has been trained, literally one's entire life, as a covert operative it is intimidating to suddenly find yourself the object of so many people's attention.

Ken pulled himself together and started down the steps, Jun on his arm, Joe to her right. At the foot of the stair they found a recieving line headed by the Lord High Chamberlain supported by assorted Dukes, Duchesses, Counts, etc. His Lordship gave them a pleasant if rather blank smile.

"Mr. Washio, Miss Nambu and Mr. Asakura are with the UN Mission, your excellency." a flunkey, gorgeous in satin knee breeches, murmured into his ear.

"Of course!" The LHC said brightly, "Welcome to Ruman."

Ken mumbled something about a lovely country and being glad to be there. He and Joe bowed and Jun made her best ballet school curtsey.

"Where the Hell's the Prince?" Joe muttered the second they cleared the recieving line.

"The Royal Family won't make its entrance for another fifteen or twenty minutes." Jun replied.

He snorted. "Great! what do we do in the meantime?"

"Reconnoiter." Gatchaman ordered, "Remember anybody here could be Galactor."

"Yeah," Joe eyed the glittering throng with renewed interest. "Katse might be here in disguise."

"Right." Ken agreed, "so watch yourselves!"

"Roger!" Joe and Jun acknowledged in low voiced unison.

They split up and tried to circulate but rapidly found themselves impeded by their fellow guests. In a matter of minutes Joe and Ken were surrounded by predatory females, most considerably older than themselves, and Jun found herself at the center of a crowd of admiring gentlemen.

*So much for retcon!* she thought, smiling and chatting for all she was worth, "Damn! this dress is working almost too well!*

A trumpet fanfare announced the imminent arrival of the Royal Family and suite. A pair of footmen rolled a red carpet down the grand staircase and across the dance floor to the throne dais at the far end. The guests lined themselves up on either side

Jun eluded her admirers during the reshuffling and rejoined her teamates. Ken gave an impression of tightly controlled hysteria and even Joe seemed rattled, neither was used to being mobbed by drooling females old enough to be their mothers.

Jun on the othe hand had found the discreetly lustful attentions of the distinguished gentlemen a pleasant change from being treated as 'one of the guys'.

"Not much longer now," she murmured soothingly, "all I have to do is wrangle a dance with the Prince, give him the identification code and we're out of here."

"Be careful," Ken warned, "his highness is sure to be watched."

"But that's what you and Joe are here for, to protect me." She replied, and fluttered her lashes at him.

Ken stared blankly back.

"At your service, gorgeous lady!" Joe purred, right on cue.

Jun pointedly turned her melting gaze on the second. Joe knew how to pick up a line! "I feel soooo safe!" she cooed breathlessly.

"Are you two nuts or something?" their clueless leader demanded, and recieved disgusted looks from both teamates.

Hmmmph! Maybe she was chasing the wrong Science Ninja. Jun gave Joe a considering look out of the corner of her eye before a second fanfare interupted that train of thought.
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