Note-I decided to write the sequel; this explains why Billy was back on Earth in my first fanfic, All in the Mind.
"I love you, Kim," he whispered, breathing the words out of as if they were a lifeline. "I've always loved you."
She said nothing, but he didn't mind. He could feel her heart racing, and just the way she held him, and the way she gazed into his eyes as she lifted her head, told him all that he needed to know. It made his return to Earth completely worthwhile in that moment.
When he'd went to Aquitar for his age-treatments, he'd really thought he was going to be staying there forever with Cestria. He'd returned briefly just long enough to tell his parents what was going on, and then had returned, with every intention of never again setting foot on Earth soil. He hadn't thought he had a reason to be there. All of his close friends had moved on, the girl he'd been in love with since he was five years old had found someone else, and he wasn't on the team anymore. He had stuck it out as long as he could, but had in the end decided it was just time for him to go. He'd considered college, but stacked up against the chance to explore new worlds and new cultures, six A.M. math classes just didn't hold the same appeal.
A week had passed, and he had grown accustomed to his new life. The food was unusual, but delicious and unique, a pure delight to his taste buds, though it held not one bit of meat to it; to eat meat was a taboo against Aquitian society. Billy figured that had quite a lot to do with the fact that the only animals on the entire planet that could provide anything like meat were fish, and that was something that the Aquitians wouldn't stand for, having evolved from them. He didn't really miss it, though.
"Billy, I need to talk to you," he had been researching some obscure facts about Aquitian culture when Cestria had come to him. "It is very important."
Their mating had not yet occurred, so they currently lived in separate structures. They wouldn't live together until after the wedding, which would be one year after he had arrived on Aquitar and they had met. It was tradition, and Cestria was a very traditional Aquitian young woman.
"What is it?" he hoped she hadn't fallen out of love with him, he didn't think he could cope with losing another girlfriend because they loved someone else. Kim was bad enough.
She sat next to him and took his hand gently. "Billy, I have just returned from my regular examination at the physician."
"And?" something about how she was looking at him was causing his stomach to feel as if it were dropping several thousand feet, at near-fatal speeds.
She paused for a moment, obviously not wanting to say what she was going to, but feeling it her duty to let him know. "I'm dying, Billy."
It took him a few seconds to register what she had just said. "What?"
"I'm dying," she repeated. Slowly, she began to explain. There was little disease on Aquitar, since their long lives and naturally high intelligence had given them the time and the means to combat practically everything. However, there were certain genetic flaws in some Aquitians that they hadn't been able to ferret out and fix yet. One of those genetic flaws cropped up from time to time in Cestria's family line, not in every member, but in some. It appeared now that Cestria was one of them.
He stared at her in total disbelief. Was fate laughing at him, was it playing some form of cruel joke on him? Was it funny to the forces that ruled the universe that all that he loved be ripped away from him somehow? "How long do you have?" he managed to ask. It didn't even occur to him she might be lying. That just wasn't what she would do.
"Not long. The disease works very fast, and I have already begun to feel weaker," she told him. With a pang, he remembered how she had returned home early the night before, cutting short their walk together. He had thought she simply hadn't rested enough the night before. Now he knew better. "A few days, perhaps a week at most. The speed with which it strikes is one of the reasons that my people have never been able to find a cure for it."
Slowly, he wrapped his arms around her. "You saved my life," he whispered, his voice thick with unexpected and sudden tears. "How I wish I could save yours."
"It's all right," she leaned her head against him softly. "I've known all my life I had a chance to have it. I should have told you of it when we met."
"I'm glad you didn't. At least we had a little time together," he told her. "What do we do now?"
Cestria looked calmly into his eyes. "Now we enjoy what time we can."
It wasn't much time, either. When she had said the disease struck with great speed, she hadn't been joking. By the time another two days had passed, she couldn't even get out of bed she was so weak. Billy sat by her constantly, reading her the Aquitian version of fairy tales, telling her things from his past, listening to her talk when she managed to save enough strength.
"You love Kimberly," she whispered softly. It had been almost a week since she had told him of the disease, and she hadn't left her bed in four days. He had told her everything, as she had told him everything. "Don't you?"
"Yes," he admitted it freely now. "But I could never do anything about it. She loved Tommy, and then when she moved to Florida, she fell in love with someone else. She'd never love me."
Cestria smiled weakly. He was the only person she saw these days. Everyone knew she was dying, and they respected her final privacy. "She is missing out on something wonderful. Loving you is the best thing that ever happened to me."
A tear ran down his cheek as he squeezed her hand. "I love you, too, Cestria. I'm sorry I couldn't do anything for you. .. all my intelligence, and I can't do anything to help the person who means the most to me in the world. ..in any world."
Her fingers pressed against his weakly. "It's not your fault. . .we weren't meant to be," she told him. "When I am gone, don't mourn forever. Go to your world. Go to Earth, find your love there. It's where you belong. .."
Something in the tone of her voice jerked his head downward to look at her. Her eyes were slowly closing, yet she kept speaking. "Don't ever forget me, Billy. . .I will always be watching over you. .."
"Cestria," he whispered, sensing without knowing how what was happening. "Don't leave me. .."
"I must, my love. Farewell, my wolf. . .my heart. ..my soul...my love...."
Her eyes slid shut all the way, and her chest no longer rose and fell with her breathing. Billy threw back his head, and howled like the wolf she had named him, like the spirit animal that watched over him. He howled in pain and in grief and in loss. He howled to honor the woman he had loved, if only for a brief time.
Events after that were jumbled. He attended the funeral services for Cestria, and accepted the condolences that the Aquitian Rangers and all who knew of her gave to him. After the traditional period of mourning, he returned to Earth while the Rangers were still on the island of Murianthus, and immured himself in his room almost at once. He hadn't wanted to see or speak with anyone.
Not long after the martial arts tournament, however, he had a visitor: Tommy. The two of them had talked long into the night, the leader of the Rangers wanting to know just why he had returned. Billy had thought of not saying anything, of retreating into a dark shell, but the offer of a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on had broken his resolve. By the time he was finished, he felt cleansed and renewed.
He had told Tommy how he felt about Kimberly, and had expected to hear that the two had reconciled after Murianthus. He had been surprised to hear that they had not; that Tommy was dating Kat now. He could tell that his friend still had a few doubts, however.
Billy had stayed out of the fights between the Rangers and Divatox, staying curled up in his room most of the time. That had been what he had been doing when Tommy had called, and with two simple words, had changed his life forever.
He would never know what had galvanized him into leaping out of his
bed and running to Tommy's house as fast as he could. Perhaps it was
the spirit of Cestria, ensuring that he didn't throw away a chance at
happiness. Perhaps it was his own loneliness, not wanting him to be
alone forever. But whatever it was, he sensed in a deep part of his
soul that the tragic tale of his life had finally ended, that at long
last, a new and better beginning was coming, for him and for all that he