Belonged to someone who was gone. Someone who had left with nothing so much as a backwards glance. Who 'went where he was needed' and 'stayed as long as he was needed'. She felt sick at the very memory in her mind. She needed him, she needed him forever, but apparently that didn't matter to him! He had saved her life, she had saved his, and that was all there was to it, apparently!
Cassie picked up a shell and threw it angrily into the ocean, sinking down into the sand as she did so, her tears overpowering her. "I love you, Phantom," she whispered to herself. "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
There was nothing but silence in response. Nothing at all.
Of course, that was because I stopped those Piranatrons before they ever got there. Phantom's lips quirked a little bit at that. He had done everything he could to keep not just her, but the rest of her team safe. Because she valued her team, and he valued her.
No, that was the wrong phrasing. It made her sound like a jewel, an ornament, a possession of some type. That wasn't what she was. There were no words in any language that could properly describe her, and he knew many. All the flowery cadences of a trillion dialects paled when he compared them to her. He could say she resembled a sun in her beauty, but she eclipsed entire galaxies.
He touched a button, closing down the underground room that had stored the RescueZords. The wise Zordon had given them to him to give to the Turbo Rangers in a time of need, and he had fulfilled his mission. The only mission he'd ever had. He had not really lied when he told them that he journeyed to wherever he was needed. He had only held his powers a short time, and he had never expected to find someone like her on his first task.
How can I leave when I love her? he thought. He knew the answer to that one already. Because as much as he cared about her, she thought of him as only a fellow warrior. When he had said he was leaving, he had hoped that she would say something about how she didn't want him to leave. Instead, she had said nothing. It wasn't really a lie. Zordon asked me to come here and join their team, I chose to remain on the sidelines and help when I was needed. But I can't live here any longer without her. And I will never have her.
He sighed, then raised one hand briefly to touch his ruby, hanging from a cord around his neck. It had not been that long before when he had been dying for lack of it. His powers and his life-force were inextricably linked to one another, and would be for some time to come. The Turbo Rangers had helped him get it back. No, they had gotten it back for him, and Cassie had been the one to put it back in his chest compartment. The touch of her hands. . .like sweet fire. . .holy fire. . .he trembled anew at the very memory.
A tear caressed his cheek momentarily, and he brushed it away. "Cassie, why did you let me go? I love you."
But only silence answered.
From then on, Cassie had drifted from foster home to foster home, finding the only form of solace possible in her music. At the age of sixteen, she had managed to talk the social worker in charge of her case into transferring her to Stone Canyon so she could do her level best to break into the music business from there, and that trip had changed her life. It had been there she had not only met T.J., but she had also encountered Katherine Hillard and set the course for her own future as a Power Ranger.
I found a home. And a family. The Hammonds had welcomed the strange girl their daughter had brought home into their lives in a way that Cassie had been convinced at that point could never happen again. The Rangers had convened around her, forming bonds that meant the world to her. She would never give them up, she would never be without friends again.
She had thought with the advent of the Phantom that at last her life was complete. She had power, she had purpose, she had friendship and a home, and perhaps she would now have love. But that had not happened. He had left her. Just like her father and mother had. He would not be back. They had never returned.
Is that. . .could it be? He bit his lip, not wanting, not daring to hope it could be because of his leaving, and not sure what to do about it if it was. Then his course became crystal clear. Regardless of how she felt, he would not leave this world unless he told her first how he felt about her. If she turned him down, if she said she thought of him only as a friend and battle-companion, then so be it. But the attempt had to be made. He stood up, touching the ruby and mentally summoning his armor. Though Hell itself barred the way, he would go to his love and tell her how he felt once and for all.
Slowly she dragged herself to her feet and wiped her face with the back of her hand. It was time to go home; she'd wasted several hours here on the beach, it was almost sundown. She had to put the thoughts of the mysterious Phantom out of her mind and focus on what was important in her life: studying, practicing what combat skills she had, and waiting for the next battle so she could defend her planet.
She turned to start back up the beach, when she stopped suddenly. A shimmer in the air, like so many before them, appeared before her. Then, with a flicker of light, he was there. Phantom Ranger.
"Cassie." He said quietly, looking at her. "I--I think we need to talk."
She stared back at him, not sure what to say or just why he was here. Her mind and voice found refuge in something banal. "I thought you'd left."
"Not yet," he said quietly. "I wanted to talk to you first." Was he mistaken, or did she somehow go pale and flush at the same time? His people seldom did things like that, but there could be differing customs or biological responses. He was looking forward to having a chance to learn more about Earth humans. One Earth human in particular.
Cassie swallowed suddenly, her mind discarding the calm she'd forced on it and going right back into the gibbering wilds of uncertainty and fear. "About what?"
He squared his shoulders mentally. Time to face this head on. "About us. I love you, Cassie. I fell in love with you when I saw you, and I've never stopped since. Ever since that moment, you've been my only reason for staying here. I love you."
He turned away from her for a moment. "Because I thought that you didn't care about me. You never said anything to me. I didn't know. Among my people, declarations of love are very seldom stated. Marriages are frequently arranged at birth. I escaped that, however, because of my family legacy."
The Phantom touched the ruby on his chest. "This. I took it sooner than I was supposed to, however. Normally the members of my family don't get the ruby until they are," he paused, mentally translating the ages into her terms. "Twenty-five. I was given it a year ago, when I was fifteen."
Cassie frowned. "Why so early? If it's not the custom to get it until then, then why?" As she uttered the words, she wondered if she'd said something wrong when his eyes filled up with sudden tears. "Phantom?"
"Because my father died last year. He was fighting against the dark forces when they overwhelmed him and destroyed him utterly. The ruby left him at his death, and came to me. It was either claim it early, or let it fade away. I dared not let it escape. But because I am so young, my body is not yet strong enough to contain the power properly. As long as I wear the ruby, it regulates the energy the way it should be. Should it ever be removed from me, however, then I will weaken and die. You've already seen that."
The young girl nodded, and he turned to look her full in the face. "The people of my family are exempt from arranged marriages because it is our fate to defend worlds. My world pushed back it's attackers, and I was sent to Eltar to learn what I could from the great Zordon. He sent me here, to your team, to learn. I fell in love with you, however. I thought you felt nothing for me, and so I chose to leave. But I could not bring myself to leave without saying that I love you. I couldn't leave without. . .saying good-bye."
Cassie felt her heart sinking, then firmed. "Don't go." She thought she would whisper, but the words came out strong and firm. He stared at her with a thousand questions in his eyes, but only one fell from his lips.
As only one question was asked, only one answer was needed. "Because I love you."