"I know he's out there somewhere," she murmured. It wasn't an idle wish; she knew it, the reports of the last battle had shown him being with the Blue Senturion on a distant planet. Where he might've went after that, no one knew, or if they did, they weren't talking. "I just wish he was here."
"The Phantom?" She knew who it was who had spoken. He had taken to watching her whenever she looked for the Phantom, and she knew there were some things unsaid between the two of them. But she had made up her mind long since, and even the vast gulf of silence had done nothing to change that.
She nodded at T.J. "He has to be there, I just wish I knew where he was."
The Blue Ranger nodded. It was easy to see where Cassie's heart lay, and he didn't begrudge her. All that irritated him was that the Phantom wasn't there to receive her love and return it. T.J. had a very good notion that the bond between the two was mutual; after all, Phantom had left that message for Cassie, and in all the time that they had known of the mysterious Ranger, the Pink Ranger was the only one that he had called by name. There was definitely something going on there.
"I'm sure he's going to turn up." T.J. put a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. "Just be patient."
Cassie nodded and smiled a little. "Thanks, Teej. For everything."
What's taking so long, Cassie? The Phantom Ranger wondered. It had been so long since they had seen each other, and the Phantom could hardly wait. That was why after the conflict back home, Phantom had returned to Earth as swiftly as possible. I've been waiting for you since the end...and you haven't come. For a moment, the gloved hands trembled, and the mysterious Ranger had to concentrate to get it to stop.
The Phantom was of Cassie's age, eighteen, and had spent every moment of life since learning to walk in learning how to fight. The family legacy, passed down from parent to child, was to battle the forces of evil, and this present Phantom had never intended to stop. The family line had been bred simply for the cause of fighting, with each generation having a mate chosen who was the ultimate of battle skill. Despite not yet being twenty, this current Phantom Ranger was the literal product of thirty generations of fighters on both sides of the family.
But with the destruction of all evil, Phantom could do something that all of their ancestors could not: choose a mate for love.
Phantom glanced up suddenly, and a smile creased the face under the mask. "They're here!"
Or someone. He's waiting for me, he really is, he loves me! Her mind gibbered in joyous panic at the very thought. Only the fact she was needed to help settle the MegaShip into it's final position kept her from teleporting down right away and throwing herself into his arms. Besides, I've waited this long I can wait another five minutes.
"I think she's glad to see him," T.J. muttered to Karone as the two of them watched Cassie's barely held back enthusiasm.
"She hasn't seen him yet, though." the ex-Queen of Evil pointed out. The two of them had grown very close over the last week, a friendship that he would never have imagined was possible before Zordon's sacrifice. T.J. rather enjoyed knowing that while he had been wrong on not trusting Astronema, he was one hundred percent right on trusting Karone. She looks the way I felt when I was getting ready to see Zhane again.
The Blue Ranger shrugged. "That's never mattered to her. The two of them share something. I don't know what it is, but they were made for each other."
As soon as the MegaShip had settled into place, Cassie flew out of the bridge and headed for the tubes. She was going to get down to him if she had to walk! Andros, Ashley, Zhane, Karone, Carlos, and T.J. watched as she swept out, each with slightly indulgent smiles on their faces. It looked as if Cassie was about to finally get the happiness that she deserved.
"Phantom?" she murmured softly, taking an uncertain step forward. Now that her dreams were unexpectedly coming alive before her, she found herself filled with fright. "Are...you all right? I mean..."
"I'm fine." Phantom stepped towards her and reached out a gloved hand to take hers. "I've been waiting for you to get here. I've missed you."
Cassie nodded slowly. "I've missed you too. Will you..tell me who you are?" The words flew out of her, as if she were scared if she didn't say them swiftly enough, she wouldn't be able to say them at all.
"Yes." Phantom agreed. "I have been waiting for some time." A hand was raised to the ruby the center of Phantom's chest, and a wash of light rippled across the armor, which faded as the ripple moved across. Cassie stared, in shock, as the helmet melted away and brilliant waves of bright gold hair and summer-sky eyes appeared. "My name is Audria, Cassie Chan, and I love you."
"I know I should've told you before I left Earth," Audria said quietly, looking at Cassie. "But I couldn't...there was a lot I should've told you. I'm sorry."
Cassie stared in utter and complete disbelief at the Phantom. She knew it wasn't a joke; the voices were just faintly similar, the way they moved was the same, the feel of them was the same, and the attraction, odd as it was, was absolutely identical. If not more so. I never thought I was like that...I know I have that one cousin, but I didn't think it was something you inherited...
"It's all right." Her voice was somewhat wooden and flat. "Phantom...Audria..I d..I don't know what to say." She shook her head. "I honestly had no idea you were female. No one I ever met who knew you did."
"That was the way it was supposed to be." Audria said calmly. "Cassie, I know this is a shock to you. I've done research on your culture. I wanted to get to know you, and it just seemed the best way."
She looked at the other female Ranger. "I know that in your culture, same-gender pairings aren't really looked on all that favorably, and I truly will understand if you don't want to see me anymore." Audria's voice was absolute steel, and absolutely honest. "My people aren't the same way, but I won't force you into anything you don't want. I would never do that."
Cassie just stared at her, the shock still freezing her mind. She could feel the other Rangers not that far away, just watching silently. "I ...I don't know.." she whispered. "I honestly don't know. I never dreamed of anything like this happening. It's like...."
"Being betrayed?" The Phantom's tone was matter of fact. She hadn't dared to expect much else, though she had anyway.
"I.." Cassie didn't want to say no and couldn't bear to say yes. She didn't know what to say. "I don't know. I'm so confused..."
Audria turned away, then looked back. She pulled a small device out of her belt and handed it to Cassie. "When you know what you want, call me with this. No matter what your choice is."
Cassie picked up the cylinder, feeling a small trickle of electricity go through her at the contact. This is so strange. I know I shouldn't feel anything for her, but I do anyway. My parents.. She nodded. "Once I know." If I ever do.
She didn't notice as the Phantom rippled and teleported away. All she saw was the message cylinder in her hand and the ground immediately under her. "A girl...."
What she thought of was a constant circle, though. I love Phantom. Phantom is Audria. Audria is a girl. How can I love a girl like that? It was beginning to assume a cyclic quality in her mind that was on the verge of driving her insane.
Finally she came to a decision. She just wasn't going to call Audria. She would let any emotions she had die a natural death, then get on with her life, be it alone or with someone else. Sure, you can get along without the other half of your soul. Not a problem. Happens all the time.
Wanting to do something symbolic to signify her decision, Cassie made her way to the cliffs overlooking Angel Grove. In her hand was the cylinder. She glanced down at it for a moment, her fingers trembling so badly she almost dropped the device. As she steadied herself, she looked out over the crashing waves below. If she fell....she knew that would be the end of her. Even if she morphed, she'd still take a lot of damage when she hit the ground.
"I'm sorry," she whispered softly, and she didn't know if she were speaking to herself, or to Audria. Slowly she pulled her arm back, ready to cast it out and get on with her life.
"Sorry for not being honest with yourself?" A voice came from behind, and she jerked around to see Karone standing there, clad in the black leather that had become her trademark within just a few days.
"What do you mean?"
Andros' sister tilted her head slightly to the side. "You're in love with Audria, and you're going to throw it away because 'society' says it's wrong. That doesn't exactly sound like you, Cassie."
The Pink Ranger blushed faintly, glancing down. "I know. I want to love her, I honestly do, but I don't know how my parents would take it. They've never really been all that...open-minded, I guess you'd say it. They don't take very well to people who are different. That's one of the reasons I left." She sighed. "I still haven't gotten in touch with them since we got back. I think I'm sort of afraid to."
"You're afraid of a lot of things, aren't you?" Karone asked. Cassie nodded briefly, and Karone shook her head. "You don't have to be. Cassie, you, a Power Ranger, one of the elect of your species, shouldn't concern yourself with unimportant things like gender if you love someone. Does it honestly matter who you choose to love? Are you going to let someone else's rules decide what you do and do not do with your life?"
Cassie kept her eyes on the ground, not certain just what she should do just now. She's right, I know she is, but still.. "It's the way I was raised. You can't just get away from some things."
"I know." Karone's voice was just as quiet, edged with steel. "Believe me, Cassie, I know. But you can if you try. If you want to try."
Her friend sighed, slowly raising her eyes to look at her. She knew that Karone knew of what she spoke when it came to getting away from the way you grew up. "I want to try. I love her so much it hurts! But my parents..."
"Have no business trying to dictate who you love." Karone's voice was flat and uncompromising. "I don't remember much about KO-35, but I do know that my people have never cared much for what gender a person was. If you love, you love. What form it takes doesn't matter. It never has."
Cassie sighed. "I wish I was from KO-35 then. Karone, my parents already don't care about me that much, mainly because I'm a musician. I sincerely doubt they even know I'm a Power Ranger, even with all the news reports, and if they do know, they probably just think I'm being some kind of radical or something, doing things the 'non-traditional' way again."
"Conservatives, you mean?"
"Let's just say, if fire had just been discovered, my parents would refuse to use it on the grounds it was 'new-fangled'."
Karone laughed softly, then crossed over to give her friend a hug. "Cassie, tell me honestly. Do you want to live your life out with people dictating who you are for you?"
The dark-haired girl slowly looked up. A fire in her eyes had lit that had not been seen for days, and she slowly smiled. "No, I don't. You're right, Karone. Who I love and how I love is no one's business but my own and Audria's."
"Exactly." Karone nodded. "Now, can you tell Audria that?"
Cassie paused, biting her lip. It was so easy to say those words to herself, or to someone like Karone. But to look into the face of someone like Audria right now...it sent chills down her spine. I want to talk to her, I do. I need to talk to her. And I think I'm chickening out again.
"Talk to her." The crisp command was unable to deny. "Honestly, Cassie, what have you got to lose? If you talk to her, you know you'll have a chance for a loving relationship with someone who cares about you the way you care about her. If you don't, you'll be denying yourself that chance."
The Pink Ranger sighed. Karone was right. She had nothing to lose and everything to gain. "All right. I'll try." She glanced down at the device in her hands. "I guess I call her..."
"You do that." Karone smiled and gave her a gentle hug. "Good luck, to the both of you. I'll see you later. Zhane and I have some plans made for this evening."
As she headed away, Cassie lifted the cylinder and gazed quietly at it. She wanted to talk to Audria, she sincerely did, but something almost seemed to be holding her back. It's like I'm scared of what's going to happen when I do. As if it could change everything. And it will. She imagined going to her parents with Audria and introducing the lovely blonde as her lover and beloved. The sheer shock on their faces would be well worthy anything else try said or did.
She honestly had to admit to herself that some of her more outrageous things were said and done just to shock her parents. Just so she could prove to them that things were not as staid, boring, mundane, and desperately dull as Mr. and Mrs. Chan made them out to be. The very thought of being boring drove Cassie insane. I've wondered if I'm adopted sometimes. I'm just so completely unlike them...
With a sight, she started to touch the device, suddenly wanting to see Audria's brilliant blue eyes, to smell the soft fragrance that had hovered around her, to gaze into the perfection of that face, to just...be with her. Cassie couldn't wait to feel her arms around her love, to know that she was held and holding the person she had been carved and made for, who had been made for her in return.
But her finger had barely begun to depress the activation button when everything around her began to shake violently. The device fell from her hands, and as she scrabbled to get it again, the ground beneath her cracked open suddenly. "No!!" Cassie had time just to scream that single word before falling into the newborn crevice. Long before hitting the bottom, she blacked out.