"Karla...." Zhane whispered tears streaming down his cheeks. "I'm so sorry..." He remembered his own words, 'I'll protect you and let nothing hurt you ever.' Oh how wrong he'd been. He wasn't able to protect her at the last battle. Fresh tears streaked down. "Where would you be now if you had survived?"
The door to his room opened and Karone burst in. She was full of some kind of news. "Have you heard about th...... Zhane?" She asked surprised at seeing him cry. "I'm sorry, I didn't know....I'll come back." She backed out and left, the door closing.
He looked moodily at the picture he held. Karone reminded him of Karla in every way imaginable. They could've been twins. The same way they talked, the gestures they made when saying a certain thing.... The light that shone in their eyes each time they were excited about something.... And the way they were always so full of life. He sniffed as he caught a song come on in one of the female ranger's room. Most likely Sirena's, or maybe even Ashley's.
She hoped with all her heart that Andros hadn't told. Hadn't told him about how she'd already created a life. One better than the one on KO-35. How she'd found love, not in him, but in someone else..... She didn't want to go back, she didn't want to look back, her life was perfect now with no flaws or mistakes. Everything was perfect, except for that one mistake.
Karla closed her eyes remembering the last battle. She had seen Zhane destroy that monster, and hurt maybe even killed himself. She had seen the way Andros carried him to the Megaship. The look in his eyes as he returned..... to say that the silver ranger was gone. And the way he returned to the ship to mourn. Already she was half-way gone from him. Thinking he was dead had cut the cord entirely. "What am I turning into?" Karla had asked herself a few weeks later. She hadn't gone to see his body, nor given him one last parting kiss. His last words were, 'I love you....' And hers...? Did she say anything to tell him she loved him?
To fill the void in my life, in my heart. To lift my spirits again..... Was all that true? Was she the one who always lifted him. Who brought him the happiness he had always desired. Or was she just another, another obstacle to get through before finding true happiness? And if so, who was he meant for???
She opened her eyes and hit the send for the transmission. The click of the button almost broke her heart. She sat for a little longer thinking of what she did. "I do hope I did the right thing..... I know I did....."
Behind, in the doorway, Karone watched. Now, everything clicked together for her. Why he was crying in his room, how he felt, and everything else. She longed to go in and comfort him. But didn't know if her presence would be wanted or not. She'd never thought Zhane had something like this hidden. He was always so happy and chatty about things. She sighed and leaned against the wall of the TurboLift.
"Who's there?" Zhane quickly wiped the tears from his eyes standing up. He had heard a sound. "I said who's there?!" He demanded again.
Karone stepped out lowering her head in shame. "I didn't really mean to eavesdrop...." She whispered silently. "It couldn't have been helped. I was just walking by, when I heard... well, you know." She gestured towards the screen where a freeze frame of Karla's face was still present.
Zhane nodded quickly, he could see how sorry she was in her face. It was open, just as Karla's always was. "It's alright." He sat back down. 'Do not look at her...' He ordered himself mentally. 'All she's gonna do is remind you of Karla.'
"Are you all right? Do you wanna talk about it?" Karone walked in anyways pulling up a chair next to him. "I mean, it's probably not the first time you've cried or even thought about her...." She added shamefully remembering her first intrusion into his room earlier. "Or even the last....." She added mentally.
Zhane shrugged. "If you must know," He kept his face carefully turned away. "She was my girlfriend before KO-35 was attacked. We had been going out for almost a year. Everything was perfect. We knew what we wanted in life, in the future. I loved her so much, I think even more than my own life. Then Dark Specter attacked, a lot of things were different afterwards. When Andros cryo-genically froze me, I guess she believed me to be dead, and went on with her life." Unconsciously, he was hurting that she would even think he'd leave her like that. His fingers fiddled with the controls, the freeze frame of her face disappearing, and he then deleted her transmission not really thinking about it.
Karone gave him a sympathetic look. "I wish we'd overlook KO-35, spared it from attacks..... and just given it an order to follow Dark Specter's liege.... It's partly my fault.... I led the attack against KO-35, my home-world, myself....." She almost started to cry herself thinking of herself as Astronema, the Princess of Evil. Dark Specter's pawn. She also remembered her order..... 'Destroy KO-35!' It was so vivid in her mind. Like it had happened just yesterday.
"Hey, don't worry about it...." Zhane continued to look away. "I'm not blaming you for everything that happened. You were confused, you didn't know what you were doing then. Where you belonged. Which side you belonged to. You did what you thought was right, following Dark Specter's orders...."
"That may be so, but I can't forget about it. I can't not worry about it. Each night, I see the faces in my mind, the faces of those dead under my hand.... I could have stopped all of it. With only one word...." Karone set a hand on his shoulder. The touch was like electricity, Zhane immediately pulled away. "Uh....." Karone didn't really know what to say. 'Does he still despise me for when I was evil?' She asked herself mentally. "I'll leave you alone..." She said out loud getting up and left.
"You don't love her." Zhane mentally warned himself watching her leave out of the corner of his eye. "She's Andros' little sister. He won't like it one bit so just lay off." He sighed. Karla's words played itself over and over in his head. "Will I ever find someone to love truthfully?"
Later that week, the entire ranger team was having some time on the simu-deck enjoying themselves. Zhane was feeling a lot better and Karone never brought up the subject again. He raised a lazy eye watching the girls try and have a friendly game of volleyball. Karone was laughing and giggling along with them. She looked almost exactly like Karla.... "Stop it!" He yelled at himself. "If you keep comparing her to Karla, you'll never forget about her!"
"Yoo-hoo, Earth to Zhane...." TJ called beside him. "Or maybe I should say, 'ship to Zhane.' Wouldn't it suit our situation right now better?" He asked laughing at his joke. "Anyway, c'mon Zhane! Snap out of it!"
"Huh? What's going on?" He shook himself out of his little daydream. "What do you want?" He asked irritated.
Carlos gave him a funny look. "We've been trying to get your attention for the last five minutes. What do you say we go over and show the girls how us, guys, play volleyball? Well?"
He shrugged. "I don't care. I doubt we'll do much better though." He looked back over to where Karone was diving for the ball and missing.
"Look, if you've got your mind on something else, then do you wanna talk about it or something?" TJ's voice brought him back.
"Nah, don't want to bother you guys." Zhane reached over for his drink.
"Heads up!" Karone called getting their attention.
Zhane looked up a second too late just as the volleyball hit his drink spilling it all over him. He sputtered wiping the coke from his face. There were several giggles in the air around him that no doubt came from the girls. He set his now-empty glass back on the cooler reaching for a towel to wipe his face.
Karone walked over. "Oops, sorry. I tried to warn you." She said trying to sound sincere, but her eyes still looked like she was laughing.
"Well, how about that game?" He asked looking over at TJ, Carlos, and Andros who were trying to contain their amused laughs. Zhane tossed the ball casually over towards TJ before standing up and pulling his wet shirt off.
"All right!" TJ jumped up grinning. "Girls against guys!" He called out running towards the net followed by his team mates.
"You're on!" Cassie cried giggling.
Throughout the entire game, Zhane found he lost his concentration on the ball each time Karone hit it towards him. Or even when she laughed and looked in his direction. Even telling himself to focus didn't work. The game ended with a score of 45 to 29, in favor of the guys.
Andros groaned. "It's too early. Plus, if anyone catches you, it'll be question and answer time during breakfast." He complained pulling the sheets over his head. "And it's not like we have to talk now. If it's about us, it can wait."
Sirena pulled the sheets off him dropping them on the floor. "Don't worry, nobody's crazy enough to get up this early. Plus, I'll be out before they even begin to awake from their deep slumbers. It's about Zhane and Karone."
"Well what's wrong with them?" Andros asked finally giving Sirena his attention. "Are they sick or something?"
"Oh no, nothing like that." She grinned. "Don't you think they'd make the perfect couple?" She asked innocently.
"My sister and my best friend?" Andros inquired moving over so Si could sit down. "Oh c'mon, it's not like they love each other. Do they?"
Si giggled. "I don't know, but did you see the way Zhane was watching Karone during the volleyball game yesterday? He couldn't take his eyes off her! And then when it was girls against guys, each time Karone would look at him, or laugh, or even hit the ball towards him, he'd miss. That's how we scored those last 10 points."
"So? That doesn't mean they love each other." He protested after trying in vain to picture Zhane and Karone together.
"Well yeah, but won't they make a cute couple?" Sirena asked again.
Andros tried to picture once more. "No way. I wouldn't trust Zhane with Karone even if my life depended on it."
"Hey, you're lucky she didn't fall for Elgar, or even Darkonda." Sirena pointed out. "How would you like Darkonda as a brother-in-law? Or even Elgar?" She asked shuddering herself at the thought.
Andros had to laugh. "You have the weirdest imagination. Oh all right, they might look cute together. Well, a lot cuter than Darkonda or Elgar." He added wrinkling his nose at the thought.
"Great!" Sirena jumped up and ran out for hell knows where.
"Just don't mention my name in this!" He called after her as the door slid shut. He yawned and grabbed his sheets. "Now back to bed."
"Weeeeeell..... I was thinking, you know how Zhane's been kinda depressed lately? Well, why don't you go talk with him, take him out, and maybe cheer him up." Sirena glanced at Karone's expression under her lashes. "So?"
Karone shrugged. "Now why would I want to do that? He's not so depressed anymore. A lot better than earlier this week."
"I just think that since you know, he seems to like you it'd make him feel better if you were the one talking with him and trying to make him feel better." Sirena used a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "But since you don't want to, I'm sure he'll still feel better if Andros talked with him."
Karone started to giggle. "Whoa! Wait a minute, he seems to like me? Excuse me, now where did that come from? I've never been his favorite person in the world from what I know!"
"Yeah well, you did see the way he was starring at you during the volleyball game did you? Only someone in love would stare like that.... I mean, only someone really depressed for attention would stare like that."
"I caught the first part you know..." Karone set down her drink. The two were talking on the simu-deck enjoying a Hawaiian setting. "By the way, where did you get the idea that he was in love?"
Sirena brought her glass up to her mouth hoping it would muffle her talk. "I mmmm mmmhmm mhmmm hmm mmm mmmhmmm....." Sirena set down her glass hoping no more questions would be asked.
"What did you say?" Karone asked.
"Gee, you should get your hearing checked." Sirena commented.
"Sirena!" Karone said with a hint of a warning in her voice.
Sirena sighed. "I deducted it from the eye contact and body language yesterday....."
"Well, no matter what you deduct, I won't go out with him." Karone signaled for one of the simu-people to fill her glass again.
Sirena sat up. "But it's not really a date date... You're just taking him out to have some fun and try and make him feel better. That's not really considered a date date. It's a date, but it's not a date date. You know what I mean, right?"
"I get your point but I'm still not going out with him."
"Well," Sirena searched her mind for an answer. "What if me and Andros came with you guys? Then you two won't be alone."
Karone's eyes widened. "Andros? You're kidding right? I've always dreamed of going out alone on my first date. Not with my brother chaperoning."
"Andros won't really be chaperoning, just coming along so you two won't be alone and awkward. So you think of it as your first date?" Sirena asked smiling.
"Did I say first date?" Karone asked. "I think I did cause I consider it a date right? And with Andros there it'd be even more awkward. Imagine going on a date with your brother tagging along."
Sirena closed her eyes. "Yeah, I forgot that. But we can conveniently leave you two along for an hour or so." Her eyes flew open. "So what do ya think?"
Si pouted. "No? Oh c'mon please??? It's not like I'm asking you to go out with a complete and total stranger. Especially one of those perverts that hang around the Surf Spot hoping a girl would notice him. Please?"
Karone plugged her ears. "I can't hear you.... la laa la la laa laa la." Sirena sighed and slumped down. "Besides, even if I did say yes, I wouldn't even think of going out on a date with anyone while Andros came along."
Sirena pretended to think. "What if Ashley and Carlos came instead of me and Andros? Puh-leaze............?? Go out with Zhane."
"I thought you wanted me to take him out for some fun.... Now you're changing your words to 'go out with Zhane?' Didn't you say you didn't consider it a date date?" Karone raised an eye.
Sirena shrugged. "Call it what you want, but will you please go out with Zhane??? It won't be that bad. Think about it, would you rather go with Zhane, or a complete idiot like Bulk and Skull?"
"I don't think I'll ever be that desperate."
"Don't even think of changing the subject to something else. It's staying on Zhane until you agreed to go out with him. So will you go out with Zhane or not?" Sirena asked hopefully. Karone shook her head no. "Well at least tell me how you feel about him... like what do you think of him. Rate him on a 'Nice Guy' chart with one being the best and ten being the worse."
Karone shrugged. "I think I'd rate him a two.... maybe a one."
"See?" Sirena said triumphantly. "You didn't rate him lower than a two, that means you like him. And if you're still not satisfied. Be honest and rate him on a 'Cute Guy' chart one to five with one being the best and so forth."
"Um...... well, I guess probably a two. One's reserved for a, quote quote, major hottie!"
"You still rated him good." Sirena protested. "C'mon, why don't you just give in and admit you like him? It's not like Andros would blow up. I already cleared it with him only you didn't hear it from me."
Karone gave a small half smile. "You think of everything don't you? If I say yes to one date with Zhane, you will quit bothering me will you?"
"I promise, cross my heart and hope to die." Sirena clasped her hands together. She then beamed. "So when are you gonna ask him?"
"Anytime I can I guess. The sooner the better." She added.
"It's me, Karone.... Can we talk?"
"My ten hours of sleep aren't up yet." He implied. "I've still got..." He looked at his alarm clock. "Two more hours. Can you come back then?"
He could hear some whispering right through the door knowing Karone wasn't alone. The words were still a murmur so he wasn't able to catch anything. But finally Karone answered him. "No, can't you make do with just eight hours today? You could add two more hours tomorrow."
Zhane groaned. The object of getting up still with two hours of sleep waiting him was not pleasing. "Oh all right...!" He sat up nestled in his warm sheets. "DECA open the door." The door slid open and Karone ducked in. He couldn't see anyone else with her or even out there. "What do you want?"
"Hi Zhane......" She played with her hands nervously. "Well, I was wondering if...... maybe........ well.... you know, we could go out sometimes..." Karone looked down studying the floor.
"Go out....?" Zhane stared at her numbly. "You mean like a date? Cause I'm not really sure that's a good idea without...... well you know....."
"Oh no, it's not a date..... I was just thinking maybe we could go out and spend some time together and just get to know each other better."
Zhane thought for a second as everything she said registered itself in his mind somewhere. "I got that part, but what about Andros? Won't he have a moment of speechlessness or something? Especially when he finds out."
"Well......" Karone looked away. "Let's just say someone already got clearance from him...." She muttered remembering what Sirena had said.
"Um...... well, I guess so then..... When are you free?"
Karone shrugged. "It's not like we've got anything to worry about or any rangering to do. So when do you want to go out?"
"How about tonight? I know the simu-deck is open...... unless you want to go down to Angel Grove." Zhane ran a hand through his hair trying to smooth it down.
"The simu-deck's fine...." And private with no one else able to see what would be going on Karone thought to herself. "I'll have DECA reserve the simu-deck for tonight then." Karone smiled. "I'll see you then."
"Yeah...." Zhane echoed watching her go. "Heaven....." He breathed to himself once she was gone. "I'm following Karla's words exactly whether I like it or not." He fell back trying to go to sleep.
Andros raised an eyebrow wondering. "We were thinking of spending the night watching some videos on the simu-deck...." He raised the tapes he held as Cassie and Ashley argued over which one to watch first.
"Sorry, you'll have to change your plans! This deck is reserved for.... uh....... special reasons....." Sirena smiled sweetly. "You'll have to watch them on the bridge or something."
"DECA never mentioned anything to us......" Ashley protested. "Besides, what special reasons would the simu-deck be reserved for?"
"Yeah? Other people might want to use it too..... did you think of checking with us?" Cassie frowned.
Andros pretty much got the idea who was in there when he saw Sirena move in front of the door. "Well you can't go in." She said keeping her voice firm. "You'll have to spend your evening elsewhere."
"C'mon Carlos, let's go to the movies...... The girls can fight this one through." TJ and Carlos left knowing this thing will never be resolved anytime soon.
"But what's going on in there?" Ashley insisted on knowing. "If it's anything you're keeping from us, we'll find out and you'll never be able to live through it." She threatened.
"You guys'll find out soon enough......" Sirena whined. "Now can you please leave? I don't want us to be overheard....."
"Are you kicking us off this deck?" Cassie asked shocked. "Andros, she's kicking us off.....!"
Andros groaned knowing what would be coming after his words. "Can you guys just drop this or maybe leave like Carlos and TJ did?" He asked casually hoping he hadn't just dropped a bomb.
"You're kicking us off too?!" Ashley asked. "I don't believe it! Isn't this like a free ship or something?"
Cassie sighed. "Ashley, give it up, let's go join TJ and Carlos..... we can give Sirena the third degree later. I really don't want to waste my evening like this, anyways....." She threw them a dirty look before dragging Ashley out asking what she wanted to do instead.
Sirena found herself grinning a little. "Oh well, anyway, they've been in there for a total of about half an hour and I think things are going pretty well." She said in a rush updating him. "And don't worry, I didn't get too involved in getting them together." She pressed her ear against the door once more.
"Thanks Karla...." Zhane thought, even though he wasn't sure what he was thanking her for. The night was going perfect so far. He and Karone had so much in common now that they'd taken the time to talk. What was funny was that he actually found himself admitting to falling in love....
Karone giggled. She paused on what she was about to say as one of the simu-waiters filled her glass again. "So you have an older brother too?" She asked.
"Yeah, only he's not like Andros, our roles are switched..... I took care of him on KO-35 since I was a ranger and he's not. He also sometimes would takes orders from me instead of me from him." Zhane smiled as she began to laugh again.
"I wish it were like that with Andros and me. I'd love to see him do some laundry for me or even take my chores."
They both reached for the dessert menu at the same time and as their hands met, the same electric shock Zhane felt earlier went through him again. Only this time he didn't pull away but handed her the menu first. Karone looked through it taking her time of choice as everything went quiet except for the music. Zhane felt himself starring at her as she browsed through it unable to look away.
"What?" Karone said setting the menu down noticed his stares. "Do I have a spot on me or something?" She stood up looking at herself trying to figure out what he was starring at.
"No, it's nothing like that." Zhane got up too for some unknown reason to himself as he felt compelled. Everything on the simu-deck, the table, the waiters and waitresses, everything disappeared but the music continued playing, switching songs to the all familiar 'From This Moment On,' by Shania Twain. It had caused him pain in his first true love, but it would also bring him true love in his second.
"I don't remember us planning this, do you?" Karone asked sneaking a glance at him. Zhane shook his head embarrassed that she thought he would be trying to make a move on her. Especially when Andros could walk through the door at any minute. She saw him blush and felt the nervousness radiating from him.
He ran his hands through his hair getting more nervous and starting to sweat as the second ticked by. "I... I suppose this is the part where I ask you if you want to dance....?" He asked timidly.
"Love to." Karone smiled. She held out her hand as Zhane took it pulling her into his arms.
Karone had to smile ruefully thinking how right Sirena was about a few things. So maybe she had a crush on Zhane...... it had always just been a small thing to her, nothing really big. Well, big enough that she'd acted on it. Or had even thought he might return just a small percent of those feelings. "Boy how wrong have I been...." She told herself. She could just hear Sirena's voice saying "I told you so."
Some things she'd done may have been wrong, but being in Zhane's arms felt right to her. She had that right, he'd been the one to bring her in. Nothing wrong was coming out of this, nothing that seemed visible then. She closed her eyes listening to the music thinking. "Do I love him? Do I love Zhane or not?" Her small crush hardly seemed like one now. One does not go this far in a crush, or does one?
Is this right? To Andros? To Karla? To Karone? To myself? Zhane's mind was a blur as he held her. Am I just using Karone to forget about Karla? To show her that I can get on with my life? Or is Karone the one? The one that Karla mentioned....? "I know there's someone out there for you. Someone who will love and cherish you, to honor you, in sickness and in health.... forever always. Someone who'll love you even more than I did." Karla's voice echoed in his mind.
He looked down at Karone in his arms. Her eyes were closed and she looked so beautiful. Almost exactly like Karla.... no.... wait, even more beautiful than her. She looked so at peace, so serene. "Just the two of us....." Zhane found himself echoing absent-mindedly.
Karone opened her eyes hearing his voice. "Zhane...?" She whispered.
"Shhhh...." Almost feeling possessed... he bent and kissed her. Not something he would ordinarily have done. His lips moved, forming the words he had longed to say to someone, anyone with all his heart. "I love you Karone....."
In her heart, she knew he spoke the truth. Somehow, every trace of doubt she ever had seconds ago, were gone. They simply didn't exist anywhere or seemed to have ever entered her thoughts. Her mind was completely blank, as if someone had erased all the memory from it. Only four, clear, and understandable words remained, and Karone chose to say them. "I love you too, Zhane....."
Zhane found himself breaking into a smile hearing those words. A hazy cloud seemed to have lifted from him for the first time that week. He held her close. He wouldn't make the same mistake he had those three years ago. "No matter through hard times or good times, I'll be by your side.... As long as I live, I will love you, I promise you this........" He kissed her once more feeling happy. He'd made a promise, one that he intended to keep to all ends of the universe......
And now, she knew she had done the right thing in sending him off like that. She could feel it in her heart. This wonderful light feeling that some people felt when they removed a big load off of their hearts. She felt light, truly happy, for the first time ever. She rested her head on her husband's shoulder. Her two children were off to the side having fun together with other children. Everything was as it should be. Or so it looked to her. "Maybe one day..... one day Zhane and I will meet again, as friends....." She thought to herself losing her soul once more in the music.