A calm voice, with just the tiniest thread of pain, was her response. "My companion and I require medical attention, and repairs," he told her. His head turned momentarily to the Blue Senturion, who was trying to hold a couple of wires in that had slid out from his battle-injuries. "Might we acquire them here?"
"Come to the Medical Center," the White Ranger told him. "We will see to all your needs there."
The Phantom nodded, terminating the communication as he did so. He knew Delphine wouldn't be offended; he was often short of words and in his injured condition, he was short of courtesy as well. He glanced again at the enforcer of justice next to him. "I cannot thank you enough for aiding me in the defense of my world," he said quietly. He had been searching for Zordon when the Blue Senturion had caught up with him, telling him that his planet was under severe attack by the forces of the Machine Empire. Together, they had went to deal with the situation, and together they had stood when Zordon's powerful energy destroyed their enemies.
"It was my pleasure," the Blue Senturion told him. "What will you do now?"
The Phantom shrugged as he piloted the ship into the docking bay. "There is much rebuilding everywhere to be done, and those who survived will need to be taken care of somehow. What of you?"
"I will return to Earth," the robot told him, and if he had had a face with expressions, Phantom would have seen a faraway one just then. "There is a friend there I vastly miss."
The mystery Ranger made no reply as he slid his vessel into the specified berth. They could see various Aquitians gathering in the corners, probably waiting for them. He sighed. The only reason he came to Aquitar for healing was because their technology was purely mechanical. He could demorph without fear of anyone seeing who he really was. Quietly, he prepared for yet another session of healing.
Why is it I can't remain in love with someone for more than a few months? he sighed. That was how it had been with him for as far back as he could remember. He and whoever his love interest was would remain in love with one another for only a few months. . .six months was his record with humans . .and then things faded. . .things changed. . .and he was single again, off looking for another girlfriend. That was the real reason, beyond any "Casanova" jokes, that he had dated so many different girls over the years.
He'd really thought Cestria was the one to change all that. Indeed, their relationship had lasted longer than he'd thought it would, two years and rising. ..or had it already fallen? He really couldn't be sure. He just knew that he no longer felt the same way about her as he had. That somehow, something inside of him had changed, that they no longer really related to each other as they once had.
The ex-Ranger's eyes darkened briefly as he realized what it was. It was time. Time. . .and realizing that as much as he cared about Cestria as a friend. ..this was not his world. He glanced at himself briefly in the mirror, and winced. Mirrors, for some obscure cultural reason that he'd never had explained to him, were taboo in Aquitian society. Along with a thousand little things that he'd never realized he'd had until he'd lost them by coming here. He couldn't remember when he'd last eaten meat, and the vegetables here were rather bland to his tastebuds. He'd lost a great deal of weight since his arrival, and his skin by now was a fairly pale white, not the healthy tan it had been before he'd come here.
Well, mostly healthy, he winced faintly to himself, remembering how he'd arrived there. Billy sighed. There was one other thing that had changed since his arrival. One thing that had shattered his entire view of the cosmos, and reshaped things into something he wasn't certain he recognized.
Zordon's dead, he remembered the glittering wash of golden light that had changed everything forever. He'd been a captive of Divatox's; her forces had swept into Saylon quickly and crushed it mercilessly. The Aquitian Rangers had managed to teleport out and were involved in a battle with Divatox's main forces soon. Billy and Cestria had been taken captive in the initial invasion, and been separated. In the four days since the end, however, he still hadn't seen her. Though Divatox's forces had all collapsed into dust, and she herself had been reformed and was now on Earth, many Aquitian prisoners had been in the process of being taken off-planet during the attack, and no one knew what had happened to them. Cestria was one of them.
The former Ranger realized he himself had been lucky not to be one. But he had come face to face with Divatox for the first time, and she had decided that he would make an excellent addition to her personal stable. He had been taken aboard her SpaceBase, and locked up in a cell far too close to her private chambers for comfort. When the reformation had occurred, he had been released. But many of the prisoner-ships had been being piloted by Piranatrons, who had faded into dust at the moment of Zordon's passing. No one knew yet what had become of those ships.
"Billy?" it was the voice of Cestro, his best friend on this planet, and Cestria's guardian since the death of her parents many years before. Billy's eyes widened at the stricken look on his face.
"What is it?" he asked, rising from his seat. "Cestro, what's wrong?" he knew something had to be wrong, with the way Cestro was looking at him.
Quietly, the Blue Aquitian Ranger spoke. "We have found the ship that Cestria was on. It had crash-landed onto the surface of planet Debros."
Billy nodded, biting his lip. Something must have happened to Cestria, or his friend wouldn't look like this. Slowly, Cestro continued. "There were . . .no survivors."
Besides, staying here gave him both time to think and to concentrate on things he'd been neglecting for far too long. To think about her. The beautiful goddess who had invaded his mind, heart, and soul to the point he almost couldn't think about anything except her. About Cassie Chan, the Pink Astro Ranger.
He wandered through several of the back corridors of the main complex, trying to avoid it, however. In disaccord with his wishes, his rebellious thoughts wandered firmly back to her long black hair, her sparkling eyes, the way their fingers had brushed so briefly on Hercuron. . .had she survived the war, he wondered. He was almost positive she had; not only would the death of a Ranger made the intergalactic news, but he would have known. Without being told, he would have known if anything had happened to her.
As he walked, it suddenly occurred to him that he was hearing the sounds of someone crying. Checking to make certain he was still morphed, a habit he wasn't losing no matter how peaceful the universe looked, he headed over to where the sounds were coming from.
Whatever he was expecting to see, it wasn't a young man of about his own age, curled up into a corner and sobbing his heart out. Phantom recognized the human almost immediately; no one on Aquitar could fail to. This was Billy Cranston, former Blue Ranger of Earth, who had come here to be with his beloved Cestria. That's right, she was one of the casualties, the Phantom thought, his fists clenching suddenly. When Zordon's wave had washed through reality, it had erased the Piranatrons piloting the prisoner vessel that had been ferrying captives away from the water planet. Cestria had been one of those killed in the crashing of it.
Phantom's heart, always sensitive to the needs of others, quickly urged him to take the young man in his arms. To a human watching, that might have been odd, but on his world, seeking comfort, of any kind, from anyone, was never looked down on. Knowing some of the more peculiar customs of his people, Phantom only did the gentle, innocent type of holding that his research told him Billy probably needed.
A terrible wolf-like howl lifted up from the very bottom of Billy's soul as Phantom held him. Billy's tears, somewhat restrained, now burst full forth. He didn't recognize the person there, didn't feel the slick armored arm around him, but a part of his mind told him that it was now safe to truly let loose.
Neither of them knew just how long it was they sat there, Billy crying and the Phantom being as supportive as he could be. But when the tears finally ceased, the former Ranger glanced over, a frown on his face. "Who are you...wait," he looked even more confused. "Phantom Ranger?"
"Yes," the warrior nodded. "And you are Billy Cranston of Earth."
Billy nodded in his own turn. "I'm sorry for crying on you like that," he apologized. He'd seen the Phantom from afar before, but they had never formally been introduced, or spent much time together. "I should've went to my room to fall apart like that."
"I have heard of your loss," Phantom said somewhat diplomatically. "I have known what it is to lose all that you love."
The ex-Ranger felt his curiosity light on fire at that, but kept it under control. He wouldn't interfere in another's grief, though he didn't resent Phantom's comfort either. "You probably think I'm an idiot to be crying like this two months after. ..it."
"No, I do not," Phantom replied quietly. He glanced deeply into Billy's eyes, then frowned, knowing the expression would be hidden beneath his helmet. "If you wish to talk, it might be best to do so in private. The outer hallways are not a suitable place for such a conversation."
Billy got to his feet, with his strange new companion doing the same. "Let's go to my quarters," was all he said.
"The really strange thing," Billy suddenly said, no longer able to bear the silence, "Is that I wasn't even sure if I loved her anymore. As a girlfriend, that is. I always knew I cared about her as a friend. But anything more. . .I wasn't sure anymore. I was hoping we'd have a chance to talk about it afterwards. . .but then. . ." his voice trailed off into silence.
Phantom nodded quietly. "With the question unresolved, it eats away at you," he said. Oh, how well he knew that feeling! "You cannot mourn and end it, because there was no ending with her."
Billy's eyes went wide. That had pegged exactly how he was feeling! Phantom wasn't finished, though. "You no longer are certain if you belong where you are, nor if you ever belonged there in the beginning. You want to belong somewhere. . .but where it is, you do not know."
"Who do you belong with, Phantom?" Billy asked quietly. Something told him the mysterious warrior spoke from experience.
"There is a girl. No, a woman. A very beautiful, very strong, very loving woman." His new friend described Cassie Chan to him, and Billy nodded. He could see love told in every word, every motion, every utterance of her name. It was as if Phantom's voice caressed her name, and at the same time, was too terrified to speak it.
Billy had been like that once. When he had first met Cestria, the two of them had clicked almost at once. He had not really wanted to leave Aquitar, but he knew his friends had needed him, and he had promised her that he would be back one day. He had kept that promise, though not in a fashion that they had expected.
And now, I don't have anything else keeping me here. He looked at Phantom, still caught up in a vision of Cassie, and smiled. "Why don't you go to her?"
"She's on Earth." The excuse was just that, and they both knew it. Phantom shook his head. "After so much time and so many broken promises to her, I do not believe that she still cares."
Billy faced him. "There's only one way to find out. There's a legend back on Earth, kind of a silly one, but maybe it's true somehow anyway. It says love conquers all. Maybe it doesn't conquer everything, but maybe in your case it can. If you love her, and if she loves you, then you're supposed to be together. But how will you know if you don't give it one last try? What will it cost you if she doesn't love you?"
"Everything I've ever wanted since I first met her." The black-clad warrior replied tartly. Then he appeared to think. "But perhaps...love is worth the risk."
The ex-Ranger nodded. He had risked everything when he came to Aquitar, and for a time at least, it had been worth it. No, not for a time. It had always been worth it, because even if he and Cestria had just been friends, the precious gift of that friendship was more than enough. Just to know her had made his life richer, and as he thought that, he felt what he had wanted to ever since learning of her death.
A sense of closure.
Good-bye, Cestria. He thought, and for a moment, he felt as if she were listening to him. Good-bye, and I'll always love you. But it's time for me to move on.
Phantom glanced at him, and smiled just the smallest bit, the expression invisible as all of his were beneath the helmet. "You have begun to heal." He said simply, and Billy couldn't, and wouldn't, deny it.
"Yes." Billy stood up. "And I think you should too." He glanced out the window to the whirling seas of Aquitar. "I love Aquitar, but it's not my home. Without Cestria, it could never be. I want to go home, Phantom. Think your spaceship has room for one more?"
The warrior stood as well, glancing out. Both men appeared to see something more than just the endless waves and fish of all types swimming by. They both saw faces of those they loved and those they had lost. As one, they put the past behind them. The future was what they had to deal with now.
"Yes, it does. When do you want to leave?"
"Would immediately be too soon?"
Several hours later, the ship shot out of the docking bay and took to space. Phantom and Billy sat in the cockpit together, their eyes all on the stars ahead of them. Earth was where they belonged: and Earth was where they were going.
They were going home.