She tried very hard not to look at the silver-blonde young man leaning in a chair with his feet up still on the console. Ever since she had awakened to her brother's tear-streaked face, she had been terrified to speak to him. To Zhane. To the Silver Astro Ranger.
If only I could talk to him. ..she thought, twisting another strand of hair. If only I could...say something. Anything. I don't know what. But. ..
"Karone?" T.J. was the one who had spoken to her, and she smiled faintly at the Blue Ranger. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, of course," she gave the response she'd practically rehearsed. "Why do you ask?"
T.J. followed her gaze to Zhane, and smiled briefly. "Have you said anything to Zhane since ...well, you know, since."
She was about to tell him things were fine, or that she didn't know what he was talking about. But the words died on her lips. The only thing she seemed to be able to say was, "No."
She looked at him, then over at Cassie. "Why haven't you ever told Cassie how you feel?" she asked instead. Somehow, she wasn't surprised to see T.J. blushing.
"She loves someone else," he said quietly. "I lost my chance." Karone smiled. She'd wanted to tell T.J. this for a long time, back before she'd been brainwashed into being evil once more. "I don't think so. I think you've got more of a chance than you might think."
He frowned. "What do you mean? She's in love with---"
The former Queen of Evil touched one finger to his lips softly. "No, she's not. She told me this in confidence that one night I stayed here. . .but I don't think she'd object if I told you now. She doesn't love Phantom Ranger, T.J."
"She's right," T.J. almost jumped out of his skin when he saw Cassie suddenly right beside him. "I don't. I like him a lot, I respect him, and I want to know if he's all right. ..just like I want to know if everyone else who was hurt in the war was all right."
T.J. took a deep breath, his heart thudding suddenly against his chest as she continued. "I don't love him. But there is someone I do love."
Karone smiled as the Pink Ranger lifted herself up and slowly placed a delicate and tender kiss on the Blue Ranger's lips. T.J.'s eyes filled with shock, surprise, and love as he slowly began to return the caressing of lips, then wrapped his arms around her. "I love you, too, Cassie," he whispered when they drew apart. "I've always loved you."
The two of them turned to head out of the bridge, obviously going to imitate Andros and Ashley and spend some quality time together before returning to Earth. T.J. glanced back at Karone. "You have a chance, too," he assured her. "Say something. You won't regret it."
Karone squared her shoulders, looking to where Zhane and Carlos were now in some sort of deep conversation. Slowly, she started over towards them, her feet almost feeling too heavy to move. Two voices almost seemed to be at war within her.
What are you doing? He didn't fall in love with you, he fell in love with Astronema, the Queen of Evil, the Princess of Darkness!
I am Astronema, though. I am her, and I am Karone, we're the same person. If he loved her, then he loves me.
Who said he loved you? You told him you never wanted to see him again, remember?
Shut up! I was wrong!
"Zhane?" her voice trembled as she spoke his name, and the hope-filled eyes that were turned up to her made her realize that she had done the right thing. She glanced to Carlos briefly. "Um, could we have a bit of privacy?" she asked.
The Black Astro Ranger grinned for a moment. "Sure. Good luck, Zhane," he planted a hand on his friend's shoulder, then headed for another part of the bridge. Policy was to always have at least one person there at all times, but that didn't mean Carlos had to eavesdrop on them.
"What is it?" the Silver Ranger looked up at the sister of his best friend, and smiled warmly. I have missed her. ..the last time he had really seen her, before things had went so horribly wrong, had been when he had been standing in muddy water, ruined roses in one hand, trying to explain what was going on to an uncaring Astronema.
Karone took a deep breath. "You remember that date?" she asked softly. "The one that got messed up?"
"Yes," his voice was just the same soft whisper as hers had been.
"I'm sorry. I wish I hadn't said what I did. ..," she didn't know where the courage to say what she was saying was coming from, but she wasn't going to ask any questions, either. "I . ..don't know what I'd do if I never saw you again."
Zhane slowly stood up, looking serious for one of the few times in his life, and reached out to take her hand. Karone didn't protest as he drew her closer to him. "I don't ever want to be without you, either, Karone," he whispered her name as if it were that of some divine being. "I don't care what you call yourself. ..or what you look like. ..I love you. I've loved you forever. . .I just had to find you."
"Same here," her voice didn't rise above a whisper, it didn't seem to need to as they drew together, lips brushing just the barest touch, but transmitting love and laughter undreamed of in it. Zhane smiled at her.
"You think the others have the right idea?" he asked, eyes flicking to the door. "It's going to be a couple of days before we get to Earth at this speed, you know."
Karone nodded. "And I'd love to spend them with you. .. forever."
As the two of them headed hand in hand off the bridge, Carlos sighed deeply. Andros and Ashley are together. So are T.J. and Cassie. Now Zhane and Karone are a couple. Wonder if I'll ever find someone.
He shrugged momentarily, then glanced up to DECA. There was a song he knew that fit this moment perfectly. He'd heard it once while watching old reruns, and not that long ago he had requested that DECA track it down for him. He liked to play it whenever he got a trifle romantic. "The First Time I Loved Forever, DECA, please," he asked.
"As you wish, Carlos," the computer replied. Soft strains of music filled the bridge as the doors slid shut behind the Silver Ranger and the Red Ranger's sister, and Carlos sighed.
The first time I loved forever was when you whispered my name,Andros and Ashley gazed at each other, both glad that he had chosen to come with them. His home was with them, forevermore, no matter what they faced ahead.
And I knew at once you loved me for the me of who I am.
The first time I loved forever I cast all else aside.
And I bid my heart to follow, be there no more need to hide.
And if wishes and dreams are merely for children, andCassie and T.J. stood on the Simudeck, watching the replay of how they had met one another so long before, on the bus to Angel Grove. Hand in hand they watched their lives together begin, and silently pledged their hearts to one another, now and forever more. For all my life and forever, there's a truth I'll always know. When my world divides and shatters, your love is where I'll go.
if love's a tale for fools,
I'll live the dream with you.
In the hallway, Zhane and Karone paused briefly, then drew closer for one heart-stopping kiss before continuing on. Six people, three couples. ..and peace filled seven hearts.