Zhane sighed darkly to himself, staring at the picture he held in his hand. He didn't know how he could. He just knew that he did. He'd never felt this way about anyone that he'd ever met before his two-year coma or after. He'd never been able to even talk to a girl in his 'first life', as he tended to think of it. The events that had happened with Astronema had completely blown his mind. Completely and utterly.
He had no intentions of telling anyone else on the team about it, of course. He sincerely doubted anyone would understand. Not even Andros, his best friend since childhood, could really be trusted with this secret, and he hadn't really gotten to know any of the others yet. I've only been out of the stasis for about two weeks now, he reminded himself. I haven't had time to get to know any of them. We've had to fight off monsters almost every day.
The Silver Ranger glanced back down at the picture of the Princess of Evil, and his fingers touched her face delicately. Maybe someday I can tell them, he thought. Maybe some day we can be together. But I don't know how. I'm good, and you're evil, and I don't see either one of us changing.
He frowned briefly. Maybe she wasn't evil. She hadn't really seemed evil when she was with him at the campsite, and she had been the one who had invited him there for a second visit. That had been screwed up by the monster he'd had to fight in order to save the others, but she had tried. There had to be a speck of goodness in her somewhere. No one was completely evil, that was one of the things that their belief system on KO-35 had taught. In every living creature there is both good and evil. Some just have greater amounts than others, creating the great heroes and villains of the cosmos.
Zhane tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the edge of his bunk for a few moments, then his resolve firmed. Somewhere, somehow, the two of them would be together. He didn't know how it would happen, but he knew it would. It couldn't be any other way. He wouldn't say the words out loud; he didn't want DECA to hear him and possibly blab to one of the others. But in his heart, he said it.
"I love you, Astronema. And we'll be together someday. Somehow."
He quietly pulled out a small roll of tape from a drawer, and taped the picture to the wall over his bunk. Luckily no one ever came in here; he'd been told by one and all that his quarters were a deathtrap that no sane person would enter. They would never see this. As he looked at it, he felt something inside his heart change. At long last, with this one tiny addition, this small room felt like home.
She closed her eyes, shaking her head. He hadn't lied, she reminded herself of what she had learned. Ecliptor had sent a monster to Earth, and Zhane had shown up just in time to save his friends. His loyalty to them was remarkable. I wish he were that loyal to me, she thought, running her fingers through her long locks of hair. But we're enemies. A..aren't we?
Even her thoughts trembled at that. They were supposed to be enemies, they were supposed to fight each other and destroy each other if the chance arose. So why hadn't she? Why had she not only spared his life, but then tried to set up a date with him? Could she possibly love a Power Ranger?
"No," she practically hissed the word out, slamming a fist into the wall. "I don't love anyone! I can't!"
She silenced herself almost at once. The last thing she wanted was to have Ecliptor or Elgar trying to talk to her right now. She was angry enough at Ecliptor for inadvertently ruining her date, and Elgar was simply hopeless anyway. His idiocy was to the point he wouldn't even know love if it slapped right between the eyes!
Astronema paced back and forth, trying to force all thoughts of the Silver Ranger out of her mind. She couldn't care about him. He was just a Ranger, just one of those annoying little twerps who had dedicated their lives to stopping her and Dark Spectre and all the rest of the United Alliance of Evil from taking over the entire universe, as was their destiny. He was to be destroyed, just like all the rest. He meant nothing to her. None of them did. None of them could.
He sure did have nice eyes, though. And hair. And a body that wouldn't quit. Damn! She swore mentally. Why can't I get him out of my head? Why can't I stop thinking about him? I can't go soft, if I do, I'll be destroyed! She clearly remembered the fate of Juna, the girl who had been raised with her as her sister in Dark Spectre's secret hideaway. Juna had fallen in love with a young man, and had let herself go lax in her training. Dark Spectre had found out about it, and had destroyed both her and her beloved.
"I won't let that happen to me," Astronema murmured, flinching at the thought of Zhane writhing in the dark grip of her master's evil power. She wouldn't let it happen to him, either. Two things happened just then. She admitted in her heart that she loved Zhane, and she committed herself with all that heart to evil. She would show no sign of weakness in any fashion, no hint of her emotion towards Zhane. And she would do it to save his life. If somehow the Rangers defeated Dark Spectre, an act she sincerely doubted they were capable of doing, then maybe then she would be able to admit it to the universe at large. But until that time, should it ever come, she would block off all feeling. She would be the true Princess of Evil she had been raised to be.
For a moment, she let herself feel all the love and joy she had every time she had looked into Zhane's eyes. Then, a mask of blankness dropped itself over her. She gripped the Wrath Staff firmly in both hands, and marched out of her quarters. She had plans to make. And Rangers to defeat.
And one Ranger to protect. No matter the cost. Until the day when they could be together. She would not permit herself to hope, however. Hope was a weakness, and she could afford none any longer. But she could dream, just for a little bit. Her eyes flicked to the scanners, where the Astro MegaShip was being observed.
One day we'll be together, she promised herself and him. No matter how long it took, there would be a way. She couldn't bring it about herself, and no one would believe it in the first place, that a Ranger and the Princess of Evil would be in love. But they were, and so it would ever be. She was firmly on the other side, but her heart was his. Even if she could never show it.
Of course, having to explain everything to Zhane's fellow Rangers hadn't been easy. Andros had known that they had almost had a date before they had discovered their relationship, but he hadn't known that in both of them, the love had still glowed strong. Zhane still hadn't quite felt like admitting it once he had returned from helping the rebels, and Karone had been so nervous at just being good again, she hadn't quite known how to say anything. Then before she'd had the chance to get comfortable with them, she had been taken away again.
"Do you want to stay here?" he asked quietly. "I know Andros is thinking about going back with the others," he chuckled. "He doesn't know he's thinking about it. But I can see it in his eyes every time he looks at Ashley."
Karone nodded. "Those two love each other very much," she murmured. She'd seen it before, when she had impersonated Ashley. "I think he's going to wind up going back with them to Earth. I don't know where I want to go though. I've caused so much trouble everywhere. .."
He touched her hand softly. "No, you didn't. Astronema did. You're Karone now, and Karone hasn't done anything wrong. Everyone knows it wasn't your fault."
"I guess," she shrugged a little. "I just don't know, Zhane. I . ..guess I'll go wherever Andros does. He's the only family I have left anymore," her eyes darkened as she remembered they still didn't know where their parents were. Groups of rebels had scattered all over the universe from KO-35, and the one that Zhane had helped was the only one that had returned so far. The call was going out though, and there would be others returning.
Zhane nodded quietly. "Then that's where I'll go. Wherever you two go. You are my only family. Andros is like a brother to me, and the other Rangers are good friends. I don't have any other family."
"What happened to them?" she asked before she could think, then blushed furiously to realize that he might not want to tell her.
"They died," his voice was almost clipped, and she pulled an arm around him automatically. It felt good to do that, and she felt even better when he didn't pull away. "It was a long time ago, when I was a boy. Andros' parents raised me from then on. That's why we're so close."
She nodded. "I wish I could remember them," she said. "But it's been so long since I saw them, all I've got are the very vaguest impressions, and some things Andros told me."
"They would be proud of you," he promised. He could see she was about to protest, when he stopped her. "Not because you were Astronema. Because you were able to choose to not be her any longer. Zordon's energy purified you the second time, but Andros told me about when you first found out who you are. You chose to return to the side of good. Willingly. You overcame all your upbringing, to go back to your roots. To where you belong."
She blushed a fiery red as he took her into his arms and gazed deeply into her eyes. "Karone," he continued. "I love you, and I'll always love you, no matter what."
"And I love you, Zhane," she said, leaning against him. "Come on. Let's go talk with my brother."
Hand in hand, they headed back to the landing pad where the Earth-born Rangers would be leaving shortly. Andros would be there waiting for them, they knew. They would have a lot to tell him.