Tannen sighed heavily as he powered down in the safety of his own room. The elusive Phantom ranger felt the hardships of the day and the strain of his predicament come rolling off his shoulder in waves of heavy agony as the black armor slowly melted away, and he felt the extreme fatigue he had been expecting, came rushing at him like a train. After trying to be what the rangers envisioned the Phantom ranger to be for so long, he was tried from the pretense. Two weeks of being surrounded by happy and rather boisterous teenagers had done nothing to ease the lonely ache in his heart. But then, that was the way things were meant to be, he had remained aloof and morphed, neither of which endeared him to any invitations to join in with the rest of the group. _Well, I guess that's what I get for staying morphed for two weeks straight. Why did I let her come along? This only complicates matters further._ He ran a hand through his straight, dark auburn hair at the thought of the one teenager on the ship who had been stubborn enough to invite herself along.
He let out another sigh as he felt silky strands brush against the bottoms of his ears. _I need another haircut. But that can wait. I have to be there as Carone goes through the Change. Damn visions are more of a hassle than what they're worth. Maybe I'll have time for a quick trim once this is over with._ He walked wearily over to the small porthole-like window on the far wall and rested his forearms against the sill. _Chance and Destiny. Where does one end and the other begin? Does *every* decision I make define what will become in the future? They say every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Do things occur merely by chance, or are they truly destined to be?_ Tannen shook his head, amused at the wanderings his sleep deprived brain had taken. _I know the answer to those questions. And they certainly weren't easy to come by._ Tiredly, he shoved himself away from the sill and walked over to his bed. He plopped himself down onto the familiar mattress without bothering to change the clothes he was wearing.
Haphazardly, he pulled the covers up to his chin. _Cassie Chan. I finally have a last name to go with the first. How does so much energy get inside such a tiny person? She couldn't seem to keep still once we boarded. She couldn't seem to keep quiet either. I didn't have any problems with that though. I invite a beautiful, vivacious girl to come along with me on my ship, and what do I do? I turn into a clam._ He sighed and flipped over as he remembered the questions he'd seen lingering in her chocolate eyes. _She wants answers. I just don't know if I'm ready to give them._ He let out a final sigh, and closed his eyes. Just before sleep claimed his weary body, the picture of a raven haired woman cradling a tiny baby lovingly in her arms, flashed through his mind with unmistakable clarity. A small, sad grin graced his usually serious countenance at the whimsical happy picture the image created. However, he knew that things like that were never destined for him.
He didn't deserve them.
Without a second thought, he threw off the covers, and stumbled sleepily into the cavernous hallways of his ship. The corridor was empty, and the screaming had mysteriously stopped, but that fact didn't seem to penetrate his groggy conscious. His legs seemed to move with a will of their own, and he found himself walking down the hall to the spare room Cassie had chosen. He cringed as he was suddenly assaulted with a wall of furiously intense colors. His pet was not happy. Hesitantly, he knocked on the door.
"Phantom, you better hope to all that's holy that it's you behind that door, because if it's not . . . well, then I guess I'll have to wait until you do come." Cassie's voice floated from behind the gray door. Phantom's brow furrowed in confusion. _Okay, I might be only half awake, but that made absolutely no sense what so ever. Who was she expecting to knock on the door?_ Curious, he opened the door slightly, and peered in. Tiana, his overweight pet, was sitting on top of the petite Asian girl, blowing fire in every direction she could move her small bluish-green head.
However, when both females caught a glimpse of him in the doorway, he'd almost wished he'd stayed in bed. Cassie let out a small yelp as Tiana launched her pudgy little body into the air using the pink ranger's stomach as a spring board. He tried not to groan as his pet dragon attempted to fly across the room towards him.
"Be careful! It spits fire, and let me tell you, it is not a happy camper." Cassie said as she jumped off the bed in one fluid motion. In one huge leap, Cassie tackled the distracted dragon in mid-flight before Tiana could reach him. Tannen's eyebrows lifted to his hairline as Cassie grabbed his dragon's snout and held it shut as she hauled the plump creature closer into her arms. Tannen was suddenly overwhelmed by a rush of red and green swirling patterns from his tiny little dragon.
"Listen Tiana, this is your own fault. I told you this would happen if you weren't more polite to strangers." He added as he moved closer to Cassie. His dragon glared at him with her purple eyes. Cassie merely looked at him like he'd lost his mind.
"Phantom?" She asked in disbelief as she instantly recognized the voice. The last remnants of sleep vanished from the recesses of his mind, as he quickly came to the realization that he had forgotten to morph before leaving his room. _Damn. I'm not ready for this, especially not this early in the morning._
"You were expecting someone else to show up?" He asked, joking to cover up his growing discomfort as the girl in pink simply stared at him in shock. Tiana, taking advantage of Cassie's momentary loss of concentration, managed to free herself from the girl's grasp. The small dragon hit the floor with a thud, and Tannen blinked as the miffed creature sent him a vast array of colors to display her displeasure.
"Is it doing that?" Cassie asked, motioning to the disgruntled dragon, as a tidal wave of colors assaulted her senses. For a moment, the swirling wall of mixed tints clouded out everything in her line of sight with their intensity. Then the hues receded slightly, merely giving her the effect of seeing the world through color tinted glasses. The effect however, was beginning to give her a headache. Some things she saw in splotches of dark red, while other things she saw in brilliant shades of green, and she could swear that there was a hazy pink tint to all of it. She eyed the dragon with distrust as the teen in front of her nodded.
"Each color signifies an emotion. Right now, she's feeling a lot of things." Tannen said wearily as he bent down and scooped the blue-green reptile into his arms. Tiana immediately let out a warbling trill from deep inside her throat. Cassie blinked as a wave of soft pink hit, nearly blinding her once more. As the world slowly came back into focus, she watched as the plump reptile that had been trying to single handedly flambee her to death only a few short minutes ago, affectionately bump her small head against Phantom's chin in total contentment.
"Is she always this. . . bright?" The Asian teen asked as she tried to find the right word to describe the intensity of what she was seeing. Phantom cracked a smile, and the whole surrealness of finally meeting him unmorphed came rushing at her. _I don't know the first thing about this guy. I don't even know his name. He *sounds* like Phantom, but he isn't anything like what I'd pictured him to be in my head._ Cassie stared up at him for a moment as he stroked Tiana's smooth stomach. _He's a little bit taller than I thought he'd be, and I certainty didn't expect him to have auburn hair, or such blue eyes. Its like looking into the depths of the ocean._ It was strange, but she felt as if she'd seen his features before, or features like them on a face of another. She just couldn't place them. Then, there was the color of his hair, which for some reason, struck another chord of familiarity within her, even though there weren't very many people with auburn hair that she actually knew.
"You get used to it, in a couple of days, you'll hardly notice the colors." Tannen said as he looked up to catch Cassie staring at him with an odd look on her face. He felt his cheeks flush slightly under the scruntity. _She was probably expecting someone quite a bit different from me. I never can quite seem to live up to people's expectations. I should have just stayed in my room this morning._
Tiana flicked her long tail, and smacked him in the back of his head, effectively gaining his attention. _ _ Tannen feed Tiana._ _
Cassie looked at the purple eyed dragon in amazement as the childlike words penetrated her mind. "A telepathic dragon?" She asked incredulously. Tiana's head flipped around, and Cassie felt herself staring right into the small reptile's gaze. _ _ My room. Not yours. Mine._ _ The words were accompanied with a bright green glow.
"Feed you? What the heck would I want to feed you for? You already figured out how the synthetron works you little half-wit. If anything, you need to go on a diet. You can't even fly two feet off the ground because your wings can't bear the added weight you've gained." Tannen said in consternation. "I really need to work on your manners. This is Cassie's room for now. You can sleep in my room, but if I catch you spitting fire one more time, you, my dear fat little dragon, are going to sleep in the hanger bay." Tannen glared at his pet as she flicked her tongue out at him. Cassie managed a weak grin at the interplay between the two.
"So you have an intelligent, flying, fire-spitting dragon. . . for a pet?" She asked hesitantly as Phantom put the dragon down on the floor in front of him. The tiny reptile gave them both one last look, and then waddled clumsily out of the room.
"Semi-intelligent." Tannen answered wryly as the door slid shut behind Tiana's forked tail. "She has the vocabulary of about a two or three year old child. Although she did figure out how to use the synthetron, I'm going to have to reconfigure that machine before she turns into a basketball with wings." He muttered nervously as he ran a hand through his hair. Cassie stared at him in, what she hoped was concealed, fascination as he self consciously walked to the door. "Listen, about this whole thing, I'm sorry. I'm going to go and see how close we are to Utoba on the galactical maps." He added, and then made a beeline out of the room. He hesitated before he hitting the door release mechanism. _Once again, I'm running away. Sanjan was right. When things begin to look like they're going to get tough, I run. Great. Just great. What a way to start the morning._ He shook his head slightly and then hit the control panel, activating the door.
"Wait a second!" Cassie called as the door slid shut. "Who's Tannen?" She asked in the now empty room. She listened as his footsteps echoed down the hallway, and it was obvious that he wasn't coming back to explain. Frustrated, she shoved a wayward tendril out of her eyes, and moved over to the small bag she had picked for the trip. _I *am* going to get some answers out of him, but I'm going to change first. What a way to start a morning. I just hope the bat from hell doesn't decide to suddenly come back._ Wryly, she looked over to the closed door. _I have a funny feeling that my life is just about to take a really dramatic turn._
"You know what Tiana, Sanjan used to always tell me that if you looked far enough out into space, you could see the entire universe. And he said, that if you tried hard enough, you could touch the stars." Tannen said distantly, fully aware of the fact that his pet couldn't understand what he was talking about. "I used to laugh at him so much for saying that. I mean, from wherever you are in space, most stars are millions of light years away. The pure science of thing made what he suggested impossible." He added with a sigh as he dragged both of his hands through his overly long hair.
"I didn't understand what he was talking about then, and I never got the chance to tell him that I finally figured out where he was coming from once I did."
Tiana let out an inquisitive chirp, and Tannen tore his gaze away from the vast reaches of space to look at his dragon. She cocked her head slightly. _ _ Tannen sad._ _ Her words and an array of blue light filtered through his conscious, and he let out a small sigh.
"Yeah. Tannen's sad." He said simply in reply.
Tannen looked up from his digital scanner, and sighed. _I just can't seem to concentrate. Not after the dream I had last night. Actually, dream isn't a very good description, nightmare is more apt._ The scenes from it just seemed to keep repeating themselves in his head, over and over again, demanding that he remember them. In all of his fourteen years, he had never experienced a dream that had seemed *that* real. He shook his head, trying to dislodge the memory from is head.
"Hey Tannen. What's up?" Sanjan asked as he quietly moved into the jump bay. Tannen jumped slightly startled by the voice. Sanjan grinned and picked up a scanner that was nearly identical to the teen in red's.
"Now why are you doing that?" The red ranger asked as regarded his yellow clad brother in consternation. "Would you make up your mind? Talk or don't talk. I'm having a real hard time trying to explain you to the guys. I try to tell them that you can talk, but that you just choose not to. Then they look at me like I've lost all rational thought. I have to confess, I'm not sure why you'd want to do it either." Tannen added with a frown, his voice cracking slightly. His older brother shrugged with indifference.
"That's just the way I am. Call it a quirk of mine."
"You're weird is what you are." Tannen said with a smirk as he shook his scanner at his older brother. Sanjan glared at the younger teen, and then rolled his eyes. Tannen cheerfully smiled back, and then rocked back on his heels thoughtfully. "Sanjan, do you believe in fate?" He asked suddenly. Sanjan was silent for a moment.
"Before we joined the team, and before we learned that we were `personalities', I would have laughed at that question and told you that fate was some sissy thing that only naive girls took real seriously. But the things we've done and gone through in the last year has definitely revised that opinion. We wouldn't be here if things were left up to chance alone. Trust me, it's too weird. I have a very healthy respect for destiny now." The yellow ranger said with certainty. "Have you ever looked out at the stars that DECA uses as her guide to the universe? She knows by their locations where she must maneuver to in order to get us to the destination that we program into her logs. I like to just sit there sometimes, and stare out the viewing screen at the stars. I know that as long as they are within my sight, I am not lost. As long as I keep them in clear in my mind, I will be able to find myself." He said solemnly. Tannen shot his brother a dubious look. Sanjan often times had a tendency to wax philosophical on him, and now was not any exception, but usually his older brother made at least some kind of sense.
"What are you talking about? You can't find yourself inside a star. At least not without burning to death. Besides, stars burn out all the time, DECA has to have some more advanced means of keeping track of where we are. Doesn't she track radioactive uranium particles? You know, the half-life of the uranium determines which portion of the galaxy or universe we're in." Tannen reminded him with his usual unfailing logic.
"I wasn't being literal, Tannen. It's a metaphor." Sanjan said with a patronized frown. "I think you've been working on repairs too long." He added as he gave his brother a gentle shove before he turned to leave. Tannen rolled his eyes, but kept his expression serious as Sanjan left. As the jump bay's door slid close, he heard as well as felt something inside of his head give an audible snap.
The nightmare, that he had been sure was the after effects of the liverwurst Zanthen had made him eat, came into view with full clarity. He reared back in shock, but the images held steady. It had seemed so real, so vivid. He could swear he smelled the acrid smoke of discharged proton blasters. Then the last gasps of his dying brother, well, the images almost seemed too palpable for his liking. _ They couldn't possibly be real, could they? . . . No, it was just a dream. Sanjan was right. I have been spending way too much time doing repairs._
Tiana hopped off the main console and waddled over to his leg on all fours. Sympathetically, she bumped her head against his uninjured foot and keened softly. Tannen felt a ghost of a smile play at his lips, and despite his mood, he picked her plump body up off the floor. Heavily, he sat down on a chair, and propped his feet up on the console in front of him. Tiana trilled contentedly as she circled twice and then curled up against his chest. He let out a long sigh as he stroked her upturned stomach. _My team or my universe. If I stayed the universe would have fallen under Dark Spectre's control and everyone would have been doomed, but my team would have survived the fall of KO-35. If I left, Dark Spectre and all the evil in the universe would be destroyed, but my brother and my friends would die in the fall of my home planet. How was I supposed to decide? This `gift' isn't a gift at all . . . it's a curse._
"Phantom?" Cassie asked uncertainly from the doorway of the bridge. Tannen jumped slightly at the voice, startling Tiana. In a fit of surprised fear, the tiny dragon emitted a long hiss of fire. Tannen, in an attempt to keep his hair from getting singed, dodged the flame, only to find himself falling off the chair. Cassie cringed as both boy and dragon crashed to the ground with a rather audible thud. "Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."
The apology barely penetrated his conscious as Tiana's body landed heavily on the middle of his stomach, effectively knocking the wind out of him for a moment. The blue-green dragon, however, was unaffected by the landing. With a happy little chirp, she hopped off the teen who had cushioned her fall.
"You are definitely going on a diet." Tannen muttered as the air finally re-entered his lungs. Tiana cocked her head at him in confusion, and then let out another cheerful chirp. Turning his attention, he found Cassie standing above him with a small half smile laying at her lips.
"Are you going to be okay?" She asked as she offered him a hand. Tannen glanced at the outstretched palm for a moment, and then stood up on his own. Awkwardly, Cassie withdrew her gesture, and shoved her hand behind her back. "You know, I recall Andros doing the same thing to Ashley once. You two are a lot alike. You both hate to accept help in any form, don't you?"
Tannen shrugged his shoulders indifferently. _Well, I guess we would both be a lot alike, being red personalities and all. But so what?_ He dragged a hand through his hair in contained frustration. "I prefer to think of it as being self-sufficient." He finally said quietly before moving over to the main computer terminal. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her as she stood uncertainly in the middle of the room. Mentally, he kicked himself. _She just wants to help you, you idiot. That's probably all she's ever wanted to do. What is it with me? I can help the entire world, but they aren't allowed to help me? Why is that?_ In the back of his mind, he knew why. He didn't deserve help, not when he was still trying to atone for all the sins from his past.
_ _ Tannen idiot._ _
Tannen groaned as his dragon repeated the snachet of his thoughts that she'd managed to `over hear'. "Thank you, Tiana. I already knew that." He muttered under his breath as he avoided Cassie's inquisitive gaze.
Cassie frowned slightly as he refused to look her in the eyes and explain. "Tannen?" She asked with a certain measure of uncertainty. "You're name is Tannen isn't it. I know I've heard that name from somewhere else." She said half to herself, and half to him. _I know I've heard that name before. Where was it? Or better yet, who was it?_ Her brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to come up with the exact time and place, but nothing came.
"Yeah, my name's Tannen." He said as he shot her a haunted look. It was a name he'd once gone by, but hearing it on someone else's lips, her lips, for the first time in in years sent a chill of aprehension up his spine. Before she could ask anything though, he had pulled up the image of Utoba on the main viewing screen. Tiana immediately let out an ear piercing screech as she attempted to hop her plump body up onto the consul in front of the monitor.
"What's going on with her?" She asked, as she tried not to laugh at the overweight dragon's unsuccessful attempts to fly off the floor. Tannen merely rolled his eyes and muttered something about dieting as he caught the dragon in mid hop and dumped her onto the consul.
"She's happy to see Utoba." He answered. Tiana trilled blissfully, and Cassie was assaulted by a wall of pink light that failed to fade as quickly as she thought it should. _ _ Home!_ _ Cassie surprised gaze flew to Phantom at the dragon's childlike announcement.
"I picked Tiana up on Utoba. I was coming after you guys, to warn you that Dark Spectre had a trap planned for you, but I got there too late. Astronema, I'm sorry, Carone, had already managed to get you off the planet unharmed. I spent some time looking around on the planet to make sure that Zordon wasn't hidden somewhere, and I came across a couple of quanatrons harassing her. To make a long story short, much to my current dismay, I rescued the little brat." He said with affection as he rubbed Tiana's back. "She wouldn't leave me alone after that, and I ended up taking her with me when I left the planet." He said as he looked directly into the Asian girl's eyes. Cassie smiled at him, and reached over and gave the happy dragon a pat on the head. Tannen hesitated for a moment, and then, amazingly enough, found himself smiling back at the beautiful black haired girl beside him.
"You dork! We're here on business. Be serious, would you?" Carone said with a laugh as Zhane gave her a small pout. He then grinned, not in the least bit contrite about not concentrating on the task at hand. "Come on, Zhane. I'm serious, we have to find out if there are still any prisoners left on this planet, and that's not going to happen until we crack this security code." She reminded him gently as she turned her attention back to the stronghold matrix system in front of her. _I knew the codes at one time. But now, everything about that former life of mine is getting hazier by the day. Hopefully I'll be able to come up with something._
Zhane groaned good naturedly as he shrugged out of his jacket and walked over to where she stood at the entrance to the old dilapidated prison mines. "Man is it hot here or what?" He asked as he rolled up his sleeves and moved closer to her side to investigate the security matrix system. She rolled her eyes, but looked up at him with a half grin playing at her lips.
"It wouldn't have been so hot if you'd taken Ashley's advice and brought Earth civvies." She reminded him gently as she punched in a series of numbers into the panel. As she reached the last number in the code, the world flashed purple and then went dark. She blinked as she tried to bring the panel back into focus, but all that appeared before her eyes was a void of blackness rimmed with a faint tint of purple. "Zhane?" She asked, trying desperately to keep the panic out of her voice.
"What? Why did you stop punching in the code? Did you forget it again?" He asked innocently as he threw an arm casually around her shoulder as he peered at the security pad. She blinked for a second, and a profound look of confusion flittered across her face. "Carone, are you okay?" He asked, this time with concern.
"I don't think so." She said faintly, and with that her eyes rolled back in her head. He managed to slightly catch her falling, limp body before it hit the tropical forest floor. Carefully he lowered the rest of her unconscious body down, and immediately felt for a pulse. After a moment he felt the thready beat and he released her wrist to check to see if she was breathing. _She's breathing, but it's very shallow. I don't understand. She was fine one minute and then fainting the next. She hasn't been complaining or anything about not feeling well. This is getting a little weird._ "Carone? Come on Sito, wake up." He tried, using his pet name for her. There was no response. He watched her draw another shallow breath and then waited for her to breathe the next. Except for she never did.
"Come on, Sito. Don't do this to me. Dammit have a pulse!" He muttered as he felt her wrist and came up with nothing. _Oh shit. She's not breathing and she doesn't have a pulse._ "Dammit girl, don't do this to me. We just started to get to know each other, you can't leave me like this. I need you. You leave, and I'm gonna pretty much be lost. You are the one person in my life who understands. You aren't allowed to leave me now. I won't let you." He growled. As the last words were uttered, her body twitched. He felt a glimmer of hope well up in his chest and he brought her wrist up in his hand once more and felt for a pulse. This time it was there, but only very faintly. He closed his eyes and attempted to visualize the inner problem. _Nothing wrong with the circulatory system, no problems with the respiratory. This is just too weird. Come on Sito, what's the matter with you?_ The frown on his face deepened as he drew deeper into his tranced state and delved into the nervous system.
He noticed the difference almost immediately, but there was no warning as the current of electrical energy shot from her into him. He felt his body jolt and jerk away from her unconscious form as the energy surged quickly through him.
He ground out an oath as he gingerly lifted himself off the grassy terrain he had been thrown onto by the blast. _What the hell just happened?_ He looked over to Carone in just enough time to see her begin to twitch again. He watched in amazement and then in horror as the twitching increased until she was writhing in seizure like jerks. Seconds later the jerking stopped and she opened her eyes as well as her mouth. "Carone?" He asked hesitantly. "Carone? Are you . . ." He stopped in mid-question as she let out an eerie scream. Rays of purple light shot out from her opened eyes and her mouth, bathing the entrance to the prison mines in a surreal haze of purple. He reared back in shock.
Then as suddenly as it had started, it all came to a finish. Carone's eyes and mouth closed, ending the screams as well as the beams of purple. Zhane waited for a second, and then scrambled over to her side once more. As he wrapped his fingers around her slight wrist, he felt tears of regret, sorrow, and guilt well up in his eyes.
"They were here though. Half of the numbers have been punched in, but it looks like the transaction was interrupted." Tannen said quietly. Cassie gave a small grunt of understanding. He glared at the security code panel in front of him in frustration. _Once again, I'm too late. Only this time, I'm not even sure what I'm late for._ He glanced up from his thoughts then as Cassie moved away from his side to survey the surroundings. He saw the concern etched in her face, but it lacked the panicked edge of worry that he was sure was reflected on his own.
"They'll be back." She said decisively. "Their packs are still here. See? Granted some things are missing from what I can tell. But there is Carone's necklace and Zhane's communicator." Cassie said as she unearthed two packs from under a fernlike bush and began to sort through the contents.
"We should search for them." He said instantly. The vision he'd first had of Utoba and the silver and purple rangers seemed to instill a sense of urgency inside him that he just couldn't shake. Although he was at a loss at what to do at the moment, or even where to start. More than that, he didn't want to be alone . . . with her.
"No. We stay here."
He whirled around to face Cassie as the command slipped from her lips. In every situation in which he'd dealt with her before now, she had always followed his lead with an almost errie unfailing trust. But as he looked at the stubborn slant of her jaw he found himself wondering just how much of this petite girl he'd taken for granted.
"Huh?" It wasn't the most intelligent of responses he reflected, but he wasn't to terribly sure of how to proceed.
"Tannen, we are staying here. Their stuff is here, they will come back eventually." She said calmly as she slipped a back pack off her own shoulders and threw it to the ground. Reluctantly he followed her lead, and his pack fell beside hers. She shrugged out of her silver jacket to reveal an almost skin tight, pink short sleeve shirt and the jacket fell on top of her pack as she sat down in the shade of a tree. Uncertainly, he looked at her out of the corner of his eye and then he too shrugged off his black jacket to reveal an almost skin tight, red short sleeve shirt. Cautiously he sat down beside her. There was a strained silence between them for a moment, and Tannen could feel a droplet of nervous sweat trickle down the back of his neck. Up until now, he had managed to avoid being alone with her for extended periods of time.
"I want some answers, Phantom. Tannen." She said softly, using both his names. He almost flinched at the hurt he heard in her voice. She deserved answers. He knew that. It was giving those answers that was so difficult. Up until now, she didn't scorn him or think him the most yellow of cowards or the most dastardly of traitors. He was loathe to break her trust in him, he acknowledged. He had been alone for so long now, and it seemed to him that she was the one person in the entire universe that still had faith in him. God help him, but if she left him thinking he was the lowest of scum, he knew he would truly be lost to all hope. She had been the one thread in his life that had convinced him to continue even when all the reasons not to were stacking up against him.
"I'll answer any of your questions, Cassie. You more than anyone has a right to ask them." He finally said with a heavy heart.
"Who are you?" She asked tentatively. He drew in a deep breath as he shoved a hand through his long straight hair.
"My name is Tannen Lightfar. I once was a red power ranger. But now, now I'm more of a rogue ranger that the Masters warn their teams to keep interactions brief with. I became the Phantom ranger after I left my own team. The designs of the armor I wear are mostly my own with a few modifications of Zordon's. He was really the only Master who understood my defection from my team." He said sadly as he avoided eye contact with her. He could sense her next question and he felt the lump of emotion in the back of his throat begin to form.
"Why did you defect?" She asked softly.
"I had to. It was fated. I had to leave so another would take my place." His voice sounded unbearably strained, even to his own ears, and the defense of his actions sounded weak, pathetic. His usually hard won composure was slipping.
Cassie seemed to sense that he needed a little more time before continuing on that train of thought so she switched to the one thing that had nagged at her since she had first seen his reflection in the rearview mirror of the truck.
"Why did you help us?" She asked softly. It felt odd, questioning the boy beside her. She felt as if she knew him as if there was an invisible connection that held her to him, but she knew nothing about him until now. It was strange to have the connection she felt between them clarified by his explanation of himself.
"You and your team had to survive against all the odds in order to become stronger and closer. I helped you when I could so that you would not quite so cautious about excepting Andros into your close knit group when you met up with him. I had to make sure you were used to dealing with foreign entities, and had some experience in dealing with standoffish individuals. That, and I had to make sure you all survived, period." He broke off to look up at her. In truth, he'd helped her just to help her. It scared him to the very core to think about how much this girl meant to him, despite how little he knew about her. Her brown eyes held a trace of confusion, but he could see compassion and understanding in them as well. "I never meant to feel anything for you, Cassie. In fact I tried as hard as I could not to feel anything. But I feel more connected to you than I have felt to any other person in my entire life. I tried to make you seem like the rest of the Earth rangers. A part of a team that had to be supportive and patient when they met up with Andros. But you were different, special somehow." He said as she gave him a small smile of understanding.
"Why was it important that we be prepared to meet up with Andros? I thought that that was an accident, a chance kind of thing." She asked hesitantly, confusion marring her features slightly as she tried to comprehend what he was telling her.
"It was imperative that Andros be accepted in your team and in return accept you all. Had he been left on his own, he would have found himself killed by one end or another before he would even begin to have a chance at ridding the entire universe of evil. He is a red personality and therefore he had premonitions up to a certain point about his part in destroying Zordon as well as the evil of the universe. But it was his faith in his sister that made him the person for the job. He needed the support and love of your team to give him purpose and hope after what had happened to his old team. All of you helped to heal his wounded spirit, Ashley especially. You all protected him and helped him assuage his self destructive undeserved self hatred and guilt for what had happened to his old team. You deterred him from revenge and helped him to see things more clearly. And so things turned out the way they were destined to." He finished. Cassie gave him a startling perceptive look, as she reached down and held his hand in her own.
"You are a red personality aren't you. You were a red ranger." She stated rather than asked.
"Yes. Yes, I was." He admitted.
"You were the red ranger on the KO-35 team before Andros, weren't you? You defected from the KO-35 team." She asked as he withdrew his hand from hers and shoved them roughly through his hair in order to hold his head in his hands.
"I had to defect." He stated in a dead voice. "I had to defect so that Andros could take my place. But because I defected, Andros wasn't prepared enough and my team wasn't prepared enough for the attack on KO-35. Things happened just as I saw they would. Everyone perished except Andros. And it was only because of Andros that Zhane even had a chance of surviving." He explained in an emotionless voice. Cassie glanced at him, concerned at the change of his voice and drastic way in which he seemed to be withdrawing into himself.
"There was nothing you could have done." She said softly, knowing her reassurances were ineffective, but not understanding why.
"You don't understand." He said with a self depreciating laugh. "If I had stayed, KO-35 would never have fallen and my teammates never would have died." Her heart went out to him. "They didn't understand, and I don't either." He said softly to himself.
Cassie racked her brain for something, anything to say to him to help. It hurt her to see him like this before her. It didn't matter that up until a day ago, she hadn't even known what he'd looked like. It didn't matter to her that he had flitted in and out of her life so casually that it had hurt each time to see him leave and not know where he was going or what he was feeling. What mattered was that he held her heart in his hands and he was in pain. She opened her mouth to say something, only to be cut off as there was a rustling of branches.
Both of them looked up simultaneously to see Zhane burst through the clearing with a blaster in hand. Cassie was momentarily taken aback by the stark look in his eyes. "She's dead. Carone's dead. She left me." He stated with a stark haunted look.
"No, She's not." Tannen and Cassie responded at the same time. Zhane looked at them both with confusion and hope.
"She's not?" He asked hesitantly as he looked to Cassie for conformation. Cassie shook her head no.
A purple haze developed slightly to Zhane's left and effectively cut off whatever Cassie had in mind to say. The haze materialized into Carone, much to everyone's astonishment.
"A purple personality." Tannen said as he stated what was now obvious to them all. Zhane looked at the blonde for a second, and then drew her into a fierce hug which she returned just as vehemently.
"Never do that to me again. I was so worried, Sito." He whispered into her ear. Carone smiled softly to him as she hugged him back.
"I won't. I promise." She whispered back. Tannen and Cassie regarded them both with inquisitive amazement and Carone felt her face flush slightly as she looked up at Tannen.
"Hello Tannen." She said softly with a mischievous grin on her face. "You kissed me in a different dimension." She announced as there was a rather audible squawk behind her. Before anyone could react to what she had said, a small green blur threw it self at Cassie with a happy chirp. And everyone in the clearing was assaulted with a hazy pink wall of color.
"When I passed out, I found myself in what appeared to be Angel Grove only very, very different. Almost everyone was there, Tannen included. Only in this Angel Grove the Evil had won. From what I could gather, everything in that universe was the same as it was in this one. You know, dimension hopping isn't as easy as it looks." She announced randomly as Tannen and Zhane both shot her strained looks. "Tannen had taken Andros' place on the Earth team. I didn't understand at first, and I kept asking where Andros was, only Tannen kept telling me that Andros had never become a ranger. You can be really irritating, Tannen, and real stingy with any helpful answers to *any* question." Carone said with a slightly disgruntled grin. Tannen merely looked at her blankly.
"That's the understatement of the year." Cassie muttered under her breath behind the blonde in purple and Carone was forced to stifle a giggle.
"Apparently KO-35 had never fallen under the control of Dark-Specter," she continued at Tannen's impatient look, "but no one had been able to prevent the invasion of Earth. Also, Cassie and Tannen were extremely close in that universe too, because the Tannen I met was a former shadow of the one in front of me. Cassie hadn't made it through the invasion. She had died in the first wave of attack." Carone said softly, and Tannen felt a chill permeate up his spine. "That was why Tannen kissed me. I told him that in my universe, Andros was the red ranger, he had defeated all the evil and that Cassie was still alive. He kept saying that the Tannen in my world had made the right choice and he kissed me on the forehead, and told me to tell you were much wiser than he was to have followed the premonition's warnings." Carone said as she stared compassionately at Tannen. "Oh, and he told me to take George back with me. Looking at the little guy was making his heart break." Carone finished as Cassie affectionately stroked the small green dragon perched on her shoulder.
Tiana came waddling in then, displaying a great deal of interest in the dragon that had its tail wrapped protectively around Cassie's throat. The green animal flicked out its forked tongue and everyone in the room was assaulted by shades of green. _ _ My Cassie. Not Your Cassie._ _
Tiana seemed to take exception to that so she waddled over to Tannen and threw her tail possessively around Tannen's leg and matched George's green haze with one of her own. _ _ My Tannen. Not your Tannen._ _
Cassie looked to the rest of the people in the room, and then back to the two dragons. "Its going to be a long trip back." She said with a rueful laugh.
"You have 24 hours to pack your things and leave Tannen." Tryan said harshly as the sheet of paper fluttered to the floor and then walked out the door. Tannen felt tears fill his eyes as he picked up the slip of paper.
Tannen has proven he cannot get along with the team
I move with Zanthan to allow him his defection
Maybe now I can be mute in peace
The paper crumbled in his fist and the tears flowed freely as Tannen acknowledged the fact that his life from this moment on would be forever changed. His teammates, his surrogate family would never forgive him, and he would never forgive himself.
"Yeah, my brother once said the same to me." His voice was a shadow of its former self and there was a strictly haunted quality to it that made Andros frown in concern. From the entry way of the bridge Cassie looked to her side and then looked to the two red rangers at the console.
"You need to talk to him. He won't forgive himself until you forgive him." She whispered softly as she clasped her hands together and the image of the former yellow ranger materialized in front of her. "Let me prepare him a little bit before you just jump in there and give him a heart attack. I'm am not going to get yelled at for surprising another person with people they thought they'd never get to talk to again in this life." She added with an ironic grin. Sanjan grinned back at her warmly and nodded.
Cautiously, Cassie made her way over to the two boys and came to an abrupt stop next to Andros. The red ranger seemed to sense that she needed him to leave as he scrambled instantly to his feet. "Andros, its my turn to talk to him. Beat it." She said with a playful grin as Andros rolled his eyes.
"I'm going to go and find Ashley." He said as he gave Tannen a reassuring pat on the shoulder and then left. Cassie watched him go, and then hesitantly took his seat. Tannen seemed oblivious to her presence.
"You can't keep doing this to yourself, Phantom, or that is exactly what you will become." Cassie said softly, gaining his attention. His brilliant blue eyes stared into the dark depths of hers. "You've been beating yourself up for so long over having done the right thing. I know it doesn't seem like the right thing. Its hard to lose the ones you love, and its even worse to feel as if you were responsible for their demise, but it wasn't your fault. Place the blame where it rightfully belongs with Dark Spectre and his minions." She added, tentatively reaching out and wrapping her hand in his. The desolate look in the azure depths of his eyes made her heart clench.
"You don't understand. I deserted them. They knew it and I knew it. What kind of a teammate deserts his team? What kind of person deserts his own brother?" He asked softly.
"What kind of parents desert their own daughter?" Cassie retorted mildly. He looked up at her, confused. "My parents died in a car accident when I was fifteen. Right before I moved here to Angel Grove. For a while, I was very angry at them. They were my support, my stability in life and they had left me to attempt to survive on my own when I felt that I wasn't ready. It wasn't until I was a ranger for about a year that I finally realized that things had turned out for the best, despite the heartache I had suffered at their loss. Yes, they had died, but because of it, I had become a stronger person. And I had a purpose here in Angel Grove as a ranger. According to you, I even had a role in helping eliminating all Evil. Destiny can work in very strange ways." She said somewhat ruefully as he looked at her with shock and a hint of hope.
"I'm sure they never meant to leave you. I'm sure they would have wanted to watch you grow up." He offered hesitantly after a moment, and Cassie knew then why she thought he was such a unique person and a wonderful ranger. Even in the midst of his own guilt and hurt, he was attempting to offer her comfort for her loss while trying to help her heal at the same time. She felt a warm smile work its way onto her face as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
"I know. They both told me as much later." She said and then awkwardly, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she contemplated how to go about the rest of the explanation. She decided the direct approach was best. "Tannen, I'm a pink personality. Its my ability to speak with people who are dead." She winced slightly at the bluntness of what she'd just said, but Tannen didn't seem to care. All she could see was a slight hope shining in his eyes.
Sanjan materialized in front of them, and Cassie watched as Tannen's faced paled considerably at the sight of his older brother. There was a strained silence for a moment.
"Oh God. Oh God, I am so sorry, Sanjan." Tannen's voice cracked as the yellow ranger stood silent before him. "I know you can never forgive me for what I did, but I am so sorry. I never wanted for you or the rest of the guys to die. I never wanted to desert from the team. You were my family, the only group of people who ever excepted me for who I was. The only group who didn't think I was a freak of nature for being a personality, and I repaid you're acceptance with betrayal. Oh God, I'm sorry." Tannen stopped brokenly. Cassie felt tears well up in her eyes at the defeated look on his face and she looked up at Sanjan imploringly.
"Tannen, you are my brother, you will always be my brother. I forgive you for defecting from the team." The words echoed eerily over the bridge. "I didn't understand what was happening at the time, that is the only defense I can give for my actions. But I understand now, and you made the right choice, little brother. I want you to give up your guilt over this. I want you to be happy, and I want you to lead the life that I will not be able to. I love you, Tannen, I always have. I don't want you to spend the rest of your life regretting one action. Life is simply to precious to squander that way." The yellow ranger said softly.
"I love you, too." Tannen intoned softly as the spirit nodded with a smile and then faded back into nothing. Tannen then looked over to Cassie, his lifeline in everything, and instinctively knew, that everything would turn out all right in the end.
Ten years later
Tannen looked over happily at his wife as she drew their two year old daughter into a hug and then released her with an affectionate swat on the rear. His daughter giggled and then immediately made her way over to Ashley and Andros' three year old twins with glee. Tannen even managed to contain his laughter as Carone and Zhane's four year old son deigned the three other children with a contemptuous glare that was obviously a throwback to his uncle's. In the commotion that the twins were causing, George and Tiana were desperately trying to keep tabs on what they now considered their `fledgling' as his daughter joined the melee.
"Whatcha thinkin'?" Cassie asked as she sat down beside him and grabbed his hand, pulling him closer to her.
"I'm thinking that you're insatiable." He said with a laugh as he threw an arm around her. "As well as insane. Explain to me again why we agreed to baby-sit for these little hellions." He demanded dubiously as the kids began to yell and chase each other around the room in gleeful abandon. The two dragons looked hopelessly confused as they tried to corral them all into one spot.
"Ashley wanted to have a few moments alone with Andros, and Zhane was definitely looking frazzled the last time I saw him, so I volunteered us." She explained glibly. He smiled at her ruefully.
"Well, I'm sure that they will end up returning the favor when we have our son." He answered. Her face lit up in surprise and delight. He felt a satisfied grin work its way onto his own features.
"We're going to have a son? You `saw' it?" She asked excitedly. He nodded and she laughed as she hugged him with enthusiasm. "We'll name him Sanjan." She then added decisively.
"He'll like that." Tannen acknowledged with a smile. "I love you, Cassie." He then added.
"I love you, too." She answered as she cuddled close.
As the children, accompanied by two dragons, ran over to them
stumbling over themselves in laughter and childish innocence, Tannen
realized that destiny had found its course. Looking at Cassie, his life
had come full circle. She had taken him into her world, including him
in her team of friends who had accepted him without qualm. She had
helped him help himself. Destiny, along with a few of the right
decisions had brought him to this point, and he was glad as well as
grateful to have played a role in helping it unravel. He looked over at
her, and smiled at her as childlike chaos erupted around them. She
smiled lovingly back.