Cassie ambled into her room and slumped into her desk chair. It had been an exhausting, depressing day, and she needed some time to rest and recover herself. Three Megazords were down already, the MegaWinger, the Delta Megazord and the MegaVoyager. All that was left now was the AstroMegaship, and if they lost that...
"How much more of this can we take?" she asked herself. "We don't have much left to lose!"
She sighed. She felt in desperate need of some moral support, much as she hated to admit it. She thought of the stone hidden in her desk drawer, tucked in a box and hidden away like a guilty secret. It was a guilty secret, one that would mortify her if any of her friends ever found it and discovered its purpose. After all, it was a gift from him, and even that was suspect in and of itself. She sighed. She knew she shouldn't try to use it, not on board the ship where anyone might drop in unexpectedly, but she was too tired and heartsick and lonely to care.
"DECA," she said, "activate the lock on my door."
"Activating lock," answered the computer.
"You aren't going to see any of what happens next, do you understand?" asked Cassie sharply.
"What are you going to do?"
"It's no one's business but mine. I don't want anyone watching, and that includes you."
"Affirmed," DECA agreed. Cassie thought the computer sounded sulky, but the optical sensor mounted on her wall shut itself off with a quiet click.
With her preparations made, Cassie pulled the drawer open and took out her box. It was a nothing fancy too look at, just a pink plastic pencil case. What could be more innocent than that? If anyone were to be rude enough to go through her things, they would never stop to think that the box contained anything of importance.
What it actually contained was a jewel - a brooch, actually, consisting of a deep blue gem in a silver setting rimmed with discreet patterns of vines and flowers. It was a beautiful thing, but Cassie never wore it. It was too precious, not to mention mildly dangerous. It had been a gift from him, the only thing he had ever given her, and it was practical as well as beautiful.
"This is for when we are apart," he had told her. "You have only to touch the stone and think of me, and I will come to you if I can."
Gently, she lifted the brooch out of its cotton-lined box and pressed her hands around it. It felt warm and comforting, and made her feel a little better about what she was doing. She closed her eyes, calling up the memory of him, his face, his eyes, his voice...
"I was wondering if you would call me today," he said, even before he had fully materialized.
Cassie jumped; she hadn't been expecting him to arrive that quickly. He must have been waiting for her call. She immediately opened her eyes and looked up at him, and he smiled back, enigmatically and a trifle sadly.
"Did I startle you, my lady? I apologize," he said. "I should have been more careful. I was aware of what happened today, so I should have known you'd be feeling stressed..."
"It's all right, really," Cassie assured him, managing to smile back. That was so like him, wanting to do everything in the universe to please her, apologizing if he did the least thing to upset her. Well, you really couldn't blame him for walking on eggshells; it was nothing short of a miracle that she had learned to care for him, and he had never really forgotten the gulf that separated them both. It was endearing, actually. "How did you know what happened today?"
"Word travels fast among monsters," he answered. "Actually, I heard it from my sister. She's quite livid about this."
"Does that bother you?" asked Cassie.
"It bothers me more that you are unhappy," he replied.
Cassie got up to go to him, and he met her with open arms, pulling her close, and she sighed contentedly.
"That's better," she said. "I'm so glad you're here. These last few days have been the worst. I think everything that could go wrong, did go wrong."
"I will always be here for you, when I can be. You know I can't always come, but I will try."
"I know, I know, and I'm really grateful," Cassie replied. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"No, no," he whispered softly, "it is I who must be grateful to you. There will always be someone else for you, if I am gone, but if I were to lose you..."
"Why would I want someone else?" asked Cassie. "I know this is... different, but I've always been different. Nobody should be able to tell me who I should love, and I do love you. You know that. I'm not going to leave you."
"I know you don't want to, dearest, but you know it may happen someday that we may be separated," he replied. "This is more than just different, Cassie. It is... unnatural, really. I'm not even human, no matter how much I may look like one. You are a flower to me. I can love you for your grace and beauty and sweetness, but I was alive when your seed was planted, and I will still be here when you are gone to dust. How is there any chance that we can make this last?"
"It will work," Cassie replied positively. "I know it will. This never could have happened at all if there wasn't a purpose in it. We may not understand it, but I know it's right. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. We love each other. There can't be anything more real than that."
"That point, I'll grant you," he answered, with a trace of his old sense of humor showing. "This is quite an impossible situation. One has to wonder how it ever came to be."
Cassie nodded. "Yeah, it was so weird... who would have thought? We could have been enemies if I'd never gotten to know you..."
And I'm so grateful to you.
I'd have lived my whole life through
if I never knew you...
It had started in the most inauspicious way possible. As with nearly everything in the life of a Power Ranger, it had begun with a battle - several battles, actually, all centering around the mysterious, dangerous Phantom Ranger.
*I should have won, too,* the general complained to himself. He was prowling around on Earth, sulking. After all, where else did he have to go? He was obviously not in favor with his sister anymore... which was really unfair, he told himself. He had done his best, after all. He sighed. Divatox could be so demanding at times. When she had been younger, he could enjoy playing the part of the benevolent older brother, making her happy with gifts of pretty things, but now... now she would only be satisfied with perfection, and perfection was awfully hard to deliver.
"I could have made it," he muttered to himself. "I almost had it, just for a minute. If only those Power Rangers weren't so stubborn..."
The sound of approaching footsteps cut short what might have been a lengthy monologue, and he ducked behind a bush. A battle wasn't on his agenda today, and anyway, what were conniving generals for if not to spy on people? Even if whoever was approaching was harmless, just the mere sight of an armored monster wandering around was liable to cause panic, and that would be more than a little annoying.
*I don't need any more stress today.*
The person who walked slowly into view, however, was no innocent bystander. Havoc frowned a little as he recognized the young woman in pink. She was, to his mind, the most annoying of them all. It had been so easy to lead her astray! All it had taken was a brief note, a few illusions, and she had played right into his hands, all on account of an armored warrior who she didn't even know! And just look at her now, walking around in a daze. He would bet almost anything she was thinking of him again, that Phantom Ranger person. How could such a weak, foolish creature have thwarted such well-laid plans as those which had been laid to snare her?
*Perhaps it would be interesting to play with her emotions a bit,* he thought. *Exploiting upon her foolish infatuation would be a pleasant way to take out a few frustrations. She certainly deserves it...*
At the same time, Cassie was drifting aimlessly around the park, thinking. The Phantom had gone home. After all that they had gone through, after she had risked her life for him, he was gone. She found a park bench and collapsed into it, sighing a little. She had never even learned his name. Now he had vanished, probably for the last time, and she might never see him again... except if he had to come back for another emergency, but that would mean he'd be busy on the field of battle. There wouldn't be much time for getting to know him. Oh, she knew it was strange to be so occupied with someone who was still so much a stranger, but love was many things, none of them rational, and she had given her heart to him the moment she had first seen him.
There was a rustling in the bushes. Cassie looked up, hardly daring to even wish. A glance upwards confirmed her hopes.
"Phantom?" she asked breathlessly.
Behind his assumed disguise, Havoc smiled cruelly as he answered in the Phantom's voice, "Of course it is, Cassie! You knew I couldn't leave you alone here."
"I don't believe it," she said, still staring. "Are you really for real, or am I dreaming?"
"Of course its real!" he answered, moving a little closer to her. Cassie rose and came to meet him, still watching with that wide-eyed, starstruck look. She resisted not at all, letting herself be drawn into his arms, so trustingly.
*Starblazes! Does she not have a mind? She's already fallen for the same trick once before, and now she's doing it again!* he thought, even as his hand moved mechanically to stroke her hair. She sighed contentedly and settled closer to him. He realized what he was doing and was momentarily nonplused, but he quickly shook off the sensation.
"I'm so happy you came back," Cassie murmured.
"I knew you were unhappy," he replied. "I plan to make sure you are never unhappy again."
"Really?" she asked, turning to gaze up into his eyes.
"Oh, yes," he said in his own voice. "It's all over for you!"
Cassie could only get out one confused syllable before a fist jammed forcefully into her stomach rendered speaking momentarily impossible. The Pink Ranger staggered backwards with the wind knocked out of her, looking stricken. With a laugh, Havoc let his disguise fall away, enjoying the pain in her expression, both emotional and physical.
"Havoc!" she managed to gasp furiously. "You slimeball! What do you think you're doing?"
"Taking advantage of a foolish weakness," he retorted. "Let's see if your precious Phantom will save you from this! Robot warriors, eliminate this pathetic Pink Ranger!"
In a flash, the general was surrounded by his peculiar multicolored soldiers, mechanical creatures colored in bizarre shades of green, blue, and pink. Cassie wasn't so impressed.
"Ha! You think I'm scared of a troop of walking jellybeans?" she scoffed. "Think again, Havoc. You're going to pay for this one! Wind Chaser Turbo Power!"
In a storm of pink light, Cassie shifted to her armored alter-ego and struck a battle pose. The robots leaped enthusiastically at her, and she began ducking and dodging their blows while the general looked on in satisfaction.
*I knew it. She'll never fend them all off,* he thought as he observed the melee. *She's barely even defending herself! Perhaps Divatox will forget the fiasco with the Metallasaurus if I can eliminate this little pest...*
Just then, Cassie made a swift gesture and produced a bow with a glowing pink arrow nocked and ready. She fired it at the nearest mechanical fighter, who immediately fell in a shower of sparks with a bolt of pink light through its chest. A second arrow followed the first, and then a third, until it seemed to be raining them, and the warriors fell in droves. When the smoke and noise faded, all that was left was the Pink Ranger and the general.
"Well," she said, aiming her weapon, "do you surrender?"
"Now is not the time to make decisions, I think," he said. "This is by no means over. Until we meet again, Pink Ranger." The air warped and rippled around him, and then he was gone.
"Well, that was successful, wasn't it?" he muttered as he re-manifested himself. He was in the deep woods now, and no one could hear him if he chose to rant at himself. "A brilliant idea, and you had to go and botch it. This is the second time you let her slip through your fingers. You should have destroyed her then and there, while you had her in your arms..."
He trailed off. That was an uncomfortable thought, to say the least. Being that close to your enemy was nothing if not unsettling. And the way she'd been staring at him... at the Phantom, he corrected quickly, before that thought could finish itself. During the battle, there had been nothing there but icy hatred, and that was the reality - as it should be. Even if she had managed to get the better of him in the fight.
*Perhaps she's not so weak as I first thought,* he reflected. *Why does anyone with that kind of skill and strength waste her time moping over someone like that Phantom? Females have got to be the most complicated things in the universe. I'll never understand any of them.*
This whole morning had been strange. He'd never known what it was like to have someone in his arms like that, and certainly no one had ever looked at him that way before.
*I wonder if I could make it happen again?*
It took Cassie a while to realize she had company. It started with just a vague uneasiness, an itchy feeling of eyes following her wherever she went. Her senses alerted by curiosity, she was gradually able to discern quiet footsteps, a rustling of motion that vanished as soon as she paused to try to locate it. She took a few more steps, listening. Yes, something was definitely there. She abruptly whirled in place, and a flit of motion quickly disappeared behind a tree.
"All right, you. I know you're there," she called. "Come out where I can see you."
A pause. Then, sheepishly, Havoc stepped out of hiding. Cassie glared at him.
"You again? Don't you people ever give up?" she demanded. "What do you want now?"
Havoc shrugged and looked at the ground.
"Well? Don't just stand there," said Cassie, a bit annoyed. "Say something, do something, or go away. I don't mind fighting you again, if that's what you want."
"I think I would rather not do that," he managed, still not meeting her angry stare. "I think perhaps I'll even apologize for that last. I don't know what I thought I was doing."
Cassie gave him a look of puzzlement, as he continued to stare at his feet, nervously toying with the fencing foil he carried, bending and unbending it. His mask was blank, its painted features showing her nothing.
"Is there anything behind that mask of yours?" she asked him. "If you're going to talk to me, let me at least be able to look you in the eye."
The general looked up at her - seeming surprised, she thought. Then, with a wave of his hand, he made the mask and armor vanish.
"Does this form suit you better?" he asked. His voice sounded a bit different without the robotic suit interfering, still accented, but somewhat less ridiculously distinct.
Cassie gave this new visage of his a careful examination, thinking, *You know, he's not bad looking, for a monster... Well, he's Divatox's brother. You should expect something like that - she is beautiful, the awful woman.* There was a slight family resemblance there, the same tan skin, brown eyes, but his hair was more brown than purple. He was dressed in a black suit trimmed liberally in white, and he was still looking sheepish and fidgety.
*He looks like a zebra,* Cassie thought flippantly. *A nervous zebra.* She couldn't help it; she began to giggle. Havoc looked hurt.
"Oh, come on now! Don't look at me like that," she said. "I'm not laughing on purpose."
"It's not polite to laugh at people," he said primly. "I'm doing you a special favor, you know. It's not often I let people see my face."
"I'm sure I don't deserve the honor," Cassie answered sarcastically. "What are you doing, following me around like that, if your so worried about manners? That's not very polite, either."
"Hmm," said Havoc. He looked up - not directly at her, but at the surroundings, still avoiding her gaze. "Perhaps I'm lonely."
"If you're lonely, go home," said Cassie. "I'm not the one you should be talking to. Go back to Divatox and her people."
"That would not be in my best interests. I've been kicked out, you see."
"Kicked out?" Cassie repeated. "What for?"
"For failing. I was given a task to do, and I failed," answered Havoc. "When soldiers fail to complete their orders, they often find themselves unemployed."
"But you're her brother!" said Cassie in shock.
"So what? Do you really think she cares?" Havoc asked. "She doesn't. She might have, once, but that was a long time ago. I'm afraid she's become... rather spoiled in recent years."
"You can say that again," Cassie muttered.
"Yes, well... you know how it goes: she's the youngest, the darling of the family, and so forth," said Havoc, a bit sheepishly. "I'll admit, a bit of it's my fault, giving in to her demands all the time. I suppose it was wrong, but it was fun making her happy..."
*I think he really is lonely,* thought Cassie in faint amazement. She felt a stab of pity for him - he obviously loved his sister, and yet she'd thrown him out in the cold. Cassie wasn't one to wish that on anyone. She was snapped out of her sympathy when she realized that he was, for the first time, looking directly at her. His expression was one of pleading, an uncomfortable thing to be seeing on the face of her enemy.
"Quit looking at me like that!" she said.
"Like - like I'm some legendary savior you've come to plead with for your life," Cassie replied.
Havoc gave her a sly smile. "My lady, you forget - you are a legendary savior," he said. "I ask you for very little. You can spare an hour or two of companionship, even for your enemy. If I displease you too much, send me away, but at least give me a chance to prove I'm not as bad as you think I am."
Cassie considered. The offer, so far as it went, was as generous as you could expect a monster to make. She had been selected to be a Power Ranger because of her compassionate nature, but what good was compassion if it only extended to her friends? She had the funny feeling she was being put on trial here for something, and she wasn't about to let herself down. Well, so be it. She would be nice to Havoc for a little while, and then he would go away, and that would be that. He couldn't possibly ask for more than that, and even if he did, she would be in no way constrained to show him any more kindnesses, not after he had come so close to flattening her and her friends.
"All right," she said. "A couple of hours, and then you leave. First, though... will you do something for me? As a personal favor?"
"Find yourself some normal clothes!"
Havoc looked puzzled. "What's wrong with my clothes?"
Cassie sighed and pressed her face into her hand in a gesture of defeat. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Cassie sighed with relief as she closed the door to her room, collapsing on her bed in utter exhaustion. Of all the weird hours of all the weird days of her life, these last few had to be the weirdest. She had been completely occupied with just surviving them without losing her mind or her temper, and now she had to stop and unwind for a little while and mull over what had been going on.
One thing she was sure of: she was glad it was over. Despite assurances that he'd be on his best behavior, Havoc had still proven to be arrogant, sometimes insulting, and generally irritating. He had sarcastic or scornful remarks for much of what she'd shown and told him as they made their tour of Angel Grove, and they had spent a fair part of their time snapping at each other. Oddly enough, he didn't seem to mind being snapped at; he actually seemed to find it amusing when she proved she could out-fence him with her words. She had to admit, a lot of the remarks he had made weren't too far off the mark, and some of them were hauntingly like the kind of sarcasm she would have used herself. He had at least had the good manners to be tolerant of the cheeseburgers they'd bought for a dinner on the go, and he'd even made the meal an enjoyable one, making her laugh with funny stories about the patrons of someplace called the Onyx Tavern, evidently a place that served monsters as the Youth Center had always served Rangers. There were times when she'd almost been able to forget he wasn't just another guy like T.J. and Carlos. It was very confusing. This morning, she would have said she hated him. Now all she could be sure of was that she certainly felt something, though whether it was friendship or enmity was uncertain.
*Well, it doesn't matter,* she told herself. *I filled my part of the bargain, and that's that, so that's the last I'm going to see of him.*
That was the wrong thing to think. It reminded her of the Phantom. Part of her felt a bit guilty for what felt like a betrayal of the man she really loved, and that weighed down her spirit. Surprisingly, though, she found herself regretting that she had lost someone else, now, and she couldn't help but think it was sort of sad...
By the next day, however, she was completely recovered from malaise. After all, she was a Power Ranger. Havoc was a monster. That was that. Rangers just didn't make friends with monsters, and they certainly didn't feel unhappy when they were gone. If a monster was gone, that was a good thing, so why worry? No reason, of course. She had been tired and stressed yesterday, not to mention lonely, and you thought strange things when you weren't feeling your best. Well, he was gone now, and good riddance to him. She'd be perfectly happy if he never came back, which was just as well, because he wouldn't. She was just strolling through the park, thinking all this, getting it all settled in her mind, when it was suddenly spoiled by the tell-tale shimmer in the air that meant someone was arriving. She didn't need to see who it was to know.
"You again," she muttered, but it didn't come out as acidic as she had meant it to sound. "I thought you said you were going to leave me alone after yesterday. Wasn't that our deal?"
"Well, if that's what you want..." he said, a bit glumly. "I don't mean to be a bother. I'll go away if you really want me to, but... I did enjoy my time with you yesterday. If it is not too much to ask, I was wondering if we might possibly... be friends?"
Cassie stared at him in shock. He stood there, wearing that sheepish expression that seemed so common with him, when it came to asking her for things. He had, at least, disguised himself to look enough like an ordinary human, perhaps only a few years older than herself, dressed in a black T-shirt and faded jeans.
"Don't hold your breath on it," Cassie replied.
Havoc sighed deeply. "As you wish. I'll take up no more of your time."
He turned to walk away, shoulders slumped dejectedly. As he was walking away, Cassie noticed something she hadn't seen yesterday, a red scar that marked most of the back of one arm. She got a sudden mental flash, an image of a warrior spending his days fighting for the lives and interests of others, enduring terrible pain for them, and then being rejected by them. And now he had come to her, and she had been kind to him, enough to make him hope that she was trustworthy, and now she was letting him down. She suddenly felt sorry for him.
"Wait," she blurted.
He froze in place, turning quickly around to look hopefully at her. She felt briefly uncomfortable, and cast around for something that wouldn't make her lose too much face.
"How did you get that scar?" she asked at last.
He gave her a suspicious look, as if he suspected what her motives in asking that question were, but he said only, "It was nothing. An old war wound, nothing more."
"Tell me," she insisted.
The found seats at a nearby picnic table. Slowly, haltingly, and then with more assurance as the tale went on, Havoc began to tell his story, and Cassie listened with rapt attention.
Some hours later, they parted company, and Cassie was amazed at how strangely happy she felt. Havoc might have been many unpleasant things, she mused, but was also a gifted storyteller. Nor did he lack personal courage; if his stories were to be believed, he had been through some scrapes that would put her and the other fledgling Power Rangers to shame. While he was being polite and wearing his human form, it was easy to forget that he was an enemy. Perhaps, just perhaps, she thought, they could, in time, become friends.
Two weeks went by. During that time, the general made periodic visits, and Cassie actually got to the point where she could look forward to the times he might arrive. Though she couldn't quite put him on the same level as her other friends, she had to admit, if only to herself, that he could be reasonably good company when he put his mind to it. At the end of the two weeks, they were on comfortable terms with each other, enough to no longer feel awkward in each other's presence. Things were falling into a pattern, but it was one that was about to be broken.
They met each other in the park, the usual place for private meetings (it would be difficult trying to explain him to the other Rangers) and exchanged a few casual words of greeting.
"And how have things been for you today?" he asked.
"Oh, you know, the usual," Cassie replied offhandedly. "Battling monsters, saving the universe, all that sort of thing. And you?"
"Sneaking, spying, and stealing," he answered, in the same bantering tone. "See what I've filched for you."
So saying, he took a small, round object from his pocket and tossed it to her. She caught it and studied it. It was a brooch made of shiny silver, perfectly circular, about the size of a silver dollar, and with a deep blue stone set in its center.
"Where did this come from?" she asked in puzzlement. He had never offered to give her any gifts before. "You didn't really steal it, did you?"
"Well, technically, yes," he admitted, coloring a little. "That is, it was mine originally - I purchased it fairly, but I gave it to Divatox when we were both much younger. We were closer back then. We were not so demanding as she is now... she thought of me differently, as a brother and not a soldier. She valued it then as a gift from me. Now it is only another treasure, something to be pawned off for more gold if she feels like it. I feel justified in taking it back and giving it to one who is more worthy of it."
"Oh," said Cassie, unsure what else to say. "Well, thank you. It is beautiful..."
"It is more than that," he said. "But listen, first. This is going to be my last visit for some time now. I have been called away."
"Called?" Cassie repeated. "By whom?"
"The Dark Specter. My presence is required in his court," Havoc explained.
"But I thought you worked for Divatox," said Cassie, puzzled.
"And she works for Dark Specter. He is the master of all monsters, and all must obey when he calls, or feel his wrath - which I assure you is considerable," answered Havoc. "That is the point of this gift. It is more than just jewelry. It is an article of power."
"What do you mean?" asked Cassie. She turned the brooch over in her hands, watching the blue stone give off blinks of light, too bright to be caused just by sunlight.
"This is for when we are apart," he explained. "You have only to touch the stone and think of me, and I will come to you if I can."
"Thank you," said Cassie. "Thank you very much. I only wish I had something I could give you in return..." She trailed off, thinking. Then she looked to her hands, and pulled a simple silver band from her right middle finger. "Here, try this on."
Somewhat startled, Havoc awkwardly took the ring. It just barely fit the smallest finger of his left hand.
"Thank you," he said. "I am deeply honored."
"Consider it a gift from a friend," Cassie replied. "I... I might miss you a little while you're gone."
"I am most certainly going to miss you," he replied. "A monster has so few friends in this universe. I value you all the more for it. And now I must be going, before I get into trouble. Farewell, and be careful."
Before Cassie had a chance to reply, he shimmered and disappeared. Cassie stared at the place where he had been for a moment. She sighed and stared at the sparkling blue gemstone, wondering why it was that she could be feeling the loss of someone who had been her deadly enemy not even a month ago. Strange what happened when you took the time to get to know someone. When they had first met, she never would have thought of him as anything more than a monster. He might well still be a monster, but he could also be kind and brave and clever, when he felt like it. How strange...
There was a shimmer in the air, not quite solidifying, but recognizable.
"That's not fair, calling me back as soon as I'm gone," said Havoc, smiling to show her he was joking. "But you see that it works, now. Don't worry; I will come, if you want me too. Goodbye, now. I'll see you soon." He flashed out again.
Cassie laughed as she tucked the brooch in her pocket. Yes, it was definitely good to have a friend like him.
There were no words to describe Havoc's relief upon learning that Cassie, had, after all, escaped the destruction of the Power Chamber. He could even be glad, in a distant sort of way, that all of her friends had survived as well, because she would have been hurt deeply if they had perished. When he had first heard the news, listening to his sister brightly bragging over her victory, he had been almost blinded by the urge to beat that superior smile right off her face, and he controlled himself only with a supreme effort. Hearing that she was alive after all had been news so good that it had been hard to maintain the proper attitude of cold anger, and there had been a certain savage joy in hearing of the Rangers gaining new powers. The thought had wandered across his mind that perhaps they would teach those so-smug creatures he served a lesson or two... for now, anyway. He knew from the rumors that Rangers seldom lasted for more than a year or two before they were replaced by new ones. He would wait until Cassie's term was over, and then the forces of evil could do as they pleased. In the meantime, he had been more than happy to answer her call and come and hear her tell him, firsthand, of her escape from doom and the meeting of the Red Space Ranger.
*A great feat, to survive a battle like that,* he thought. *She is a very brave woman, as well as intelligent and beautiful. There ought to be laws against that. It's entirely too unfair. There can never be hope for the two of us together.*
There was the Phantom, for one thing. She often asked, in all innocence as to what her confidant's feelings were, if he had heard any news of the mysterious warrior. Sometimes he had, and she would sigh dreamily and shake her head and tell him how much she wished she might meet him again.
*Well, I'll never scorn her for her emotions again. That's sure. I know the feeling all too well, for I suspect myself of falling in love with her.*
He'd tried to tell her so, subtly, hoping against hope to see some glimmer of returned affection, but she either missed his hints entirely, or was too wrapped up in her own dreams to care. It was quite possibly the latter.
"Do you think the Phantom will come back for me?" she had asked him just that afternoon.
"How could he not?" Havoc had replied. "For a woman of your spirit and charm, a man would brave any danger."
She had laughed at that, her eyes shining, looking so alive, so perfect, so completely and naturally happy. She was so beautiful it left him breathless, and she didn't know, and she never would. It was far too dangerous. Even if his fellow monsters never found him out, he couldn't bear the pain of being rejected. No, he would watch from afar, and be content in being close to perfection without ever attaining it.
*I'll not tell her. As long as she loves another, I can only hurt her by confessing my true emotions,* he thought to himself. *But oh, what I wouldn't give to be the one behind that black mask...*
It was with a certain amount of regret that Havoc answered the summons that came one afternoon. He had been trying to keep track of Cassie's doings, making sure that she was always well and safe, so he knew exactly where she had been today... and who she had been with. Divatox herself had told him about the battle on Hercuron and the untimely appearance of the Phantom Ranger. She might be annoyed at him coming so close to rescuing Zordon, but Havoc had much more personal worries. He had never completely forgotten Cassie's devotion to the mysterious dark warrior. He knew she wouldn't have forgotten him, either, no more than Havoc himself forgot her when he was away on long journeys. Months of separation didn't dim that kind of emotion, any more than ignoring hunger could lessen it, and the reunion after the parting was only made more joyous by it. There was no way around it; this summons had to do with the Phantom, and it couldn't be pleasant.
Cassie watched him materialize, feeling a little shivery inside, though she tried not to let it show on the exterior. She had something to say to her friend, and it was not going to be easy. She tried to collect herself as best she could.
"You called, my lady?" he asked.
"Yes, I need to talk to you about something, and I didn't want to put it off any longer," Cassie replied. She paused to take a steadying breath before adding, "I saw the Phantom again today."
"You did?" He was trying to sound unconcerned. He wasn't quite managing.
"I did, and it made me realize something," said Cassie. "You know, I've been waiting for him for a long time for him to come back for me, and now I finally got to see him again. You know, it made me realize something."
"That I don't know him," Cassie replied. "All this time, I've been in love with a shadow. I made up someone who is brave and kind and intelligent, and I put him behind Phantom's mask. I was never in love with him, just who I thought he was. The one I really love has been in front of me the whole time, and I never saw him." She paused and looked up at him, letting her eyes meet his. "I love you, Havoc."
He stared back at her, tears standing in his eyes.
"Oh, sweet child..." he whispered.
They fell into each others arms, then, with no words left to express their joy at finding each other at last.
A few days after their secret meeting aboard the MegaShip, Havoc came to her again unbidden and looking grim.
"Havoc, what are you doing here? You know you could get caught!" Cassie exclaimed.
"I come as the bearer of bad news. There is going to be war, you know," he told her sadly.
"War?" Cassie repeated blankly.
He nodded. "Word just came from Dark Specter himself. We are all going to have to fight in this."
"Even you?" she asked. "Can't you get out of it, somehow?"
"I have to fight, you have to fight, we all have to fight," answered Havoc, his voice strained a little with anger or fear. "That is the lot of a warrior, after all. What would I tell the Dark Specter, or Astronema, if they asked about me? That I refuse to do battle for love of you? Impossible!"
"Lie. Make up something."
"No good," he answered, shaking his head. "Dark Specter's magic will let him feel a lie a mile away, if he so chooses, and the truth obviously won't do. I'd be destroyed then and there as a traitor."
Cassie sighed. "It looks like we're trapped, then."
"We've been trapped since the beginning. All we've ever been able to do is stall for time. I think the time has come for this to end..."
"Don't say that," Cassie begged. "We'll come through this, just like we always have."
"I don't think so," answered Havoc. "This is no ordinary war, Cassie! Dark Specter means to have the universe or die trying - or kill all of us trying. We may not both come out of this alive."
"Oh, no," said Cassie softly. "Oh, please, no..."
"All good things must come to an end," said Havoc. "Haven't I been telling you that all along? Please don't be too sad, Cassie. All I'll ever remember is how happy you've made me. You've meant so much to me. For this time I've had with you, a thousand deaths would not be too steep a price."
"Don't talk like that," said Cassie. "If... if what you're talking about really happens, let's just enjoy this last moment we have."
Havoc nodded. "I will do my utmost best to survive, I promise you that. It is not as if I am going to purposely be killed. Who knows? Perhaps the fates will be kind enough to let me live a while longer."
"Are you going to be fighting in the same place as your sister?" asked Cassie.
"No. That is one of my safety precautions," he answered. "Divatox was foolish to ask to be stationed on one of the few planets left with a full complement of Rangers and Zords. I'm bound for Eltar, which is already nearly fallen. There if anywhere, I will come through unscathed."
"Good," said Cassie, hugging him tightly. "I'll come looking for you, when it's all over."
"I'd rather you didn't," he replied. "I'll come to you if I can, and if not... don't break your heart with fruitless searching. But enough talk; we have but so much time to spare. We shouldn't waste it."
She turned her head to look into his eyes, and he leaned forward to kiss her. No more words needed to be said.
Eltar was covered in dust, hundreds of little piles of dust stretching as far as the eye could see, each an ephemeral grave marker to the monsters who had fallen in battle. Cassie walked among them, being careful not to disturb any of them, moving in complete silence. The other Rangers were in the city, telling the tale of how the final battle had been won. They thought she was here mourning the death of Zordon, and though that loss did weigh heavily on her heart, there was something much more vital on her mind. He was here somewhere, living or... No, she would hope that he had come through somehow. He had to. Hadn't he learned what it was to love someone? Hadn't he known friendship and kindness? Did he not deserve to be purified, just as others had?
Just then, a glint of light caught her eye, hard to mistake in this barren desert. She paused to look around, carefully backtracking until she could see it again. When it was set firmly in her range of vision, she began moving toward it. At last, she found what had caught her eye. It was her ring, crowing the top of a pile of dust. It was all that was left of him. Numbly, she dropped to her knees, unable to think, or even cry yet. All that was there was a sense of shock. This couldn't be real. She had been so convinced that this would be a fairy-tale come true, that love would somehow conquer all...
"Cassie? Are you all right?"
Cassie jumped, whirling in place to face the speaker, and was met by a blank black mask. It was the Phantom. Her heart, which had been in her throat a split-second before, hoping against hope, fell back into her boots. There had been a time when just the sight of him would have made her heart race, but now all she felt was dull disappointment. He meant nothing to her, now.
"I've been worried about you," the Phantom said. "You seemed so sad... so distant. I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
"No... no, it's all right," Cassie managed. "I'm just feeling kind of depressed. So much has been lost today."
"Yes, that's true," answered the Phantom solemnly. He was quiet for a moment. "Cassie, if you really want me to, I'll go away. I don't want to make you uncomfortable. It's just... It's just that, well, I never got a chance to know you, before. There was always something in the way - the battles, the search for Zordon, all of that. But that's all over, and I was wondering - hoping - that maybe we could learn to be... friends?"
Cassie stared at him, shocked. She had heard those words before, somewhere. She had looked into the blank mask of someone she had despised, and yet, she had learned to love him...
*Give him a chance,* said a little voice in her mind. *Who knows what you'll miss, if you never know him?*
"I think I'd like that," she said quietly, smiling through her tears. "I think we could be friends. You remind me so much of someone who was very dear to me."
"Can I walk you home, then?" he asked.
"I'd be honored."
And as they walked, hand in hand, off into the sunset, Cassie could feel her old sense of joy returning. Maybe Havoc had been right, that they were never meant to last. Losing him would hurt, maybe for a long time, but the lesson he had taught her would stay with her forever, and so in a way, he'd never really be gone. The pain would be worth it, just for having known him. She thought, at first, that it was her teaching him what love was, but knowing him had shown her so much more...