Legal Disclaimer: The Life and Death series has almost reached it's end. I had intended this to be the last one, but the way this wound up being written made me realize it needs one more fic to straighten things out. The characters belong to Saban...but the series is mine. I warn you: it's taking a very sharp turn in this, into the realms of SERIOUS continuity and reality breaking. It's also weird as all get out, and I place full blame for this weirdness straight on the shoulders of my muse Windflame. When I began this fic, I had no idea it was going to happen like this. Then it turned out . ..well, you'll see. I had to do a bit of repair work on something I'd done in one of the previous fics of this series to get this to fit in, but I think it's okay.

Phantom Love
by Cynthia

Tanya toyed with a strand of her hair and watched as Adam danced across the floor with Sarah Diaz. The two of them had dated on and off since before she'd ever come to Angel Grove, and if there was one person Tanya Sloan could be said to either hate or envy, it was that girl.

They do look beautiful together, though, she admitted, trying not to watch too noticeably. It hurt to think that all of her teammates had found love, except for her. Billy and Kat had each other, Rocky and Trini were sealed to one another, and Adam was with Sarah. But she didn't have anyone.

She'd almost had someone. She and Shawn had dated for a while, but that had went sour when she had joined the baseball team. Adam had been so supportive of her. . .she'd almost thought they would get together after that. . .they had went on a few dates, but nothing had come of it. Nothing but a good, strong friendship.

"May I have this dance?" she looked up to see Skull looking down at her, and her eyes widened. She'd heard the stories from her friends about how he and Bulk had been punks and bullies when they were younger, but she had never seen them as anything but the somewhat inept junior police patrol officers they were. Skull looked very nice tonight, as well, dressed in his formal outfit, with his hand held out politely.

Tanya smiled softly as she stood up and took that hand. "It would be my privilege," she said. As the two of them moved out onto the dance floor, she was surprised to find out Skull was a very good dancer, moving with a rhythm she hadn't really expected to find in him.

"So what do you do when you're not drooling over Adam?" Skull's voice was friendly in her ear, and she smiled.

"Is it that obvious?"

The young man shook his head. "I've been watching you all night though," a faint blush touched his cheeks. "And you looked almost green when he and Sarah started dancing."

Tanya smiled. Somehow, that didn't seem important as she danced. What in the world am I doing? some part of her mind tried to scream at her. I'm dancing with Skull, and having a good time, another part replied calmly. Now shut up and enjoy yourself.

Following her own internal advice, the Yellow Ranger was enjoying herself. Belatedly, she remembered her partner had just asked her a question. "I sing," she replied. "I'm on the baseball team too."

"Cool," the ex-punk smiled warmly at her. "I'm not much for sports, but I love music."

This was something she hadn't expected. "You do?"

"Yeah," Skull blushed a bit more. "I play classical piano," he said softly, so low if she hadn't been as close to him as she was, she might not have heard him. "I don't tell many people. Even Bulk doesn't know."

Tanya smiled. "I think that's wonderful. Could I listen to you play sometime?" she asked.

"You really want to hear me?" his eyes widened as she nodded. Never before had someone asked to hear him play! Then again, he hadn't ever told anyone he knew how. He wondered if more people would want to hear him. . .maybe someday, he thought. In the meantime, he was enjoying dancing with her.

* * *
Kat and Trini sat at their usual table in the Youth Center a couple of days after the dance, watching their companions. Rocky and Billy were working out in the middle of the athletics area; ever since his elevation to Red Rangerhood and the leadership of the team, Billy had taken it on himself to develop his physical as well as mental muscles. Rocky was helping him.

Adam hadn't yet joined them, he had to attend a family gathering that day and would be with them later. Tanya was there. . .sort of.

"Has she moved yet?" Kat asked, flicking her eyes briefly over to the Yellow Ranger. Trini shook her head.

"She's still got that dreamy look in her eyes, too," the Gold Ranger reported. "And when she walks, it's like her feet aren't even touching the ground. You know what that means."

The Australian nodded. Both of them had been through this, and not that long ago, either. Love had touched the Yellow Ranger.

"Tanya," Trini leaned over and tapped Tanya's shoulder gently. "Earth to Tanya, come in!"

"Uh?" Tanya jerked herself out of the dream she'd been in and blushed severely, looking at her friends. "What's up, guys?"

Kat giggled just the littlest bit. "Who were you thinking about?" she asked.

"Yeah, who's the lucky guy?" Trini wanted to know. "We know you were thinking about someone!"

Tanya flushed deeply, glancing around the Youth Center to see if Skull was there. She knew that they were going to have to say or do something about their unofficial relationship sometime soon, because she had no intentions of keeping it a secret she liked him. Some relationship, the cynical part of her said dryly. You danced all night, and you had a date yesterday. Wow.

"Umm. . .," she hoped to forestall things until she had a chance to talk with Skull, but from the sudden light that went on in Kat's eyes, she knew she couldn't.

"It's Skull!" the Pink Ranger breathed. "You and he were dancing the other night, I saw you! You looked like you were having a good time, too!"

Trini was shocked, and even more so shocked when Tanya nodded her agreement. The Gold Ranger knew Skull and Bulk had both changed, but she had never thought to see anyone she knew actually dating one of them! "What's he like. . .now?" she found herself asking.

"He's really sweet, really funny, and I really like him," Tanya replied immediately. Her face brightened suddenly as she saw Skull coming in the door with Bulk next to him. "And I think I'm going to go talk to--"

Her words were unexpectedly cut off by the beeping of their communicators. Trini and Kat both were disappointed; they'd been looking forward to hearing a bit more about this 'new' Skull, the nice guy that was fun to be with that they'd never really met before.

"Let's go guys," Billy came over, the familiar nervous look in his eyes. There was more worry in it this time, which was made clear when he continued, softly, "Adam's in trouble. He was on the way over here when he got jumped by Cogs."

Trini, Kat, and Tanya were all on their feet in a moment. Whatever Mondo was up to, he wasn't going to get away with it.

* * *
Adam was almost down and out, and was in serious agonizing pain as another Cog slammed a foot into him, nearly shattering several of his ribs. He'd tried to morph as soon as the Cogs had attacked, but before he could bring his Zeonizers together, one of the metal soldiers had knocked them away from him. Now they were being held by Klank, who stood next to Mondo, Machina, and Sprocket as they watched the Green Ranger being kicked around by their Cogs.

"This is so much fun, Daddy!" Sprocket bounced around and cackled wickedly. "I've never had so much fun in my whole life!"

Mondo nodded. "I think we've had enough fun, though, don't you, my dear Queen Machina?"

"Yes, dear," the elegant metallic lady nodded, waving her fan lightly. "I believe we should take our captive back to the Skybase, the sooner we have begun his reprogramming the better."

Those words made it through the haze of pain surrounding Adam, and he managed to look up at the Machine Royal Family. "Never!" he grunted. "Never!"

"That's what you think!" Mondo chuckled. "Cogs, bring him along!" the Machine King ordered. His warriors wrapped firm hands around Adam and started dragging him closer to where the king was going to warp them all away.

It had to have been a miracle. One sent by who knew what, but one Adam wasn't going to argue with. A black shadow crossed in between his slowly darkening vision and the Cogs holding him, and a powerful voice shouted out a challenge even as the owner of it knocked his captors away, and he collapsed on the road, no longer able to stand due to his injuries.

The last thing he saw was a strange figure in solid black armor, and a gleaming ruby in the center that seemed to grow larger and larger as he watched. . .

Then, his mind completely shut down.

* * *
Pale rose-red light glowed all around him, warm and accepting and loving. No...loving wasn't the right word. Caring, as of a friend to another. Respect. As of one warrior to another. He heard a voice, coming as from a long way away. ..

"Adam, come back. ..come back to the world. .. you're needed. . .," he felt that he should know the voice, but he couldn't place it. It was a good voice to listen to, to follow back to the light, however.

"He's coming back!" a female voice this time, charged with joy and life. Kat, he automatically identified the voice as he began to open his eyes.

The first thing he saw wasn't any of his friends, however. It was a mask, a helmet. Black as night, in a design he didn't recognize as any of his friends' helmets. A flicker in the back of his mind did mark it as a friend, however. This is who saved me, he remembered.

"You are all right, Green Ranger," it was a male voice he heard as he sat up, his head starting to clear at last. "I have healed you. You were badly injured by King Mondo's Cogs."

What is it about that voice? he knew it was a familiar one, but it wasn't speaking quite as he was used to hearing it, and the differences were enough, when combined with the magic of the Power that protected every Ranger's identity, so he couldn't recognize the speaker.

"Wh. .who are you?" he asked, looking at the stranger. The unusual Ranger said nothing, only rippled into invisibility. A whisper of sound came to his ears.

"The Phantom Ranger."

* * *
The Phantom Ranger. It was a name that became familiar to the Rangers over the next few weeks. Mondo also knew the name, and hated it with a deep and abiding passion, even more so than what he had felt for the Gold Ranger. But neither side had a hint as to who the person beneath the armor actually was.

Far underneath Angel Grove, almost a month after their first arrival in town, the Phantom Ranger sat quietly at a console and sighed. He did not have long to keep this up. Every attack he made drained his power even more. Quietly he touched the ruby in the center of his armor.

Twenty years I was given. Twenty years to find Her and to find my Successor, as I was found. Nineteen years and three hundred and sixty days have passed since Delion gave me the Ruby. I have four days left.

He shivered. The legacy of the Phantom Ranger was passed down from one person to the next, with each warrior holding it for twenty years. In those two decades, he had endlessly searched for a woman he had seen a thousand times in his dreams since he was nine years old. He didn't know who she was, or where she was from, but he had felt drawn to Earth recently, and hoped that she was here somewhere.

But who. ..where. ..and why can't I fin. ..his jaw dropped under his helmet, and he almost bit his lip. "It's her. .." he breathed slowly. "It's her!"

His heart sang suddenly. He'd found her. He could now choose a successor. He could be with her. He didn't even bother to entertain the notion that she might not want to be with him. If she didn't, he would withdraw from her life and live his out in misery, though leaving her in peace. If she did want him. . .he could hardly imagine the wonder and the glory of their future.

The Phantom Ranger smiled. He knew who he wanted to take his place with the power. There was only one person who had caught his eye. He wasn't a warrior in the body, but he had a courageous heart, and a great deal of soul. All that remained now was for him to ask.

* * *
Tanya had never been happier. More changes than just the Phantom had happened over the last month. She and Skull had started dating regularly, and she no longer regretted Adam and Sarah being in a firm relationship. She had one of her own now. She'd apologized to Skull for leaving so swiftly the first day the Phantom had shown up, and he'd understood. He hadn't been able to get away from Bulk to talk to her at any rate just then. The only time they were ever able to be with one another was in the afternoon and evening, when Bulk was with his own girlfriend, Connie.

Adam was totally back on his feet by now, and no one outside the Rangers had ever even known he was injured. He and Sarah were having a wonderful time at the park together, along with the rest of the team.

Except for Tanya. She was sitting outside her house, waiting for Skull to show up before going. She tapped her fingers a little nervously, wondering what was taking him so long.

Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep! The noise almost made her jump out of her skin, and she quickly brought the communicator up to her lips. This is getting old. Mondo, don't you EVER let us have a date in peace? "This is Tanya. What's going on?"

"The Rangers are under attack in the park, Tanya!" Alpha's tinny voice echoed from her communicator. "Hurry there at once!"

"I'm on the way," she was about to hit the teleportation button when a gasp made her look up. In front of her was Skull, staring at her like he'd never seen her before.

"Ta. . .tanya?" he asked, looking confused. "Why were you talking to your watch. . and why was it talking back?"

Oh, crap, he saw me! Her mind went totally blank as she tried to figure out what to say to him. "Ummm..Skull."

The need to speak suddenly faded out: just as Phantom Ranger faded in. "Tanya Sloan. Eugene Skullovitch. I must speak with you both," he said quietly. That was more words than anyone had heard from him since he had arrived, and Tanya couldn't believe her ears.

"Uhhhhhhh," Skull's mouth moved, but nothing coherent managed to emerge from it. The Phantom Ranger touched a ruby in the center of his chest, and demorphed. A tall young man stood there, clad in unusual black clothing, but still human, with dark hair that just touched the tips of his ears, and eyes of amber.

"P. .Phantom Ranger?" Tanya muttered, trying to adjust. I can't stay here and talk, the others need me!! But. .."What are you doing?"

The Ranger smiled quietly. "I am the Phantom Ranger," he turned to Skull, the ruby in his hand now. "I have come to offer you that power, Eugene."

"M. .me? A Ranger?"

"Yes," the Phantom nodded. "I have been searching for two people for the past twenty years: my true love and my successor. Each Phantom has their own goal in life, their own task. I had dreamed of my love for years, and knew this was the only chance I could have to find her, so I took the power. Now I have located her, and I must call upon you to be my successor."

Skull blinked in surprise. In all his life he had never thought about becoming a Ranger. Finding out who they were, yes. Becoming one. ..had never crossed his mind. "I. .uh..."

"Skull," Tanya said quietly. "Being a Ranger isn't like it looks on TV. It's hard, it's dangerous, and it really cuts into your free time. But I can't choose for you."

Her boyfriend looked over at her. "How do you know what it's like to be a Ranger?" he asked curiously. At her blush and glance down at her communicator, he knew. We're going to talk about that, he decided. He also decided something else, looking back at the young man near him. "I'll do it."

The Ranger smiled, then held the Ruby out to him. Skull took a deep breath, then accepted it. There was a flash of light, and then he stood there fully morphed, feeling a charge like he'd never felt before. "Oh, wow! Bulk is never going to believe this!" he laughed out loud.

"You can't tell him," Tanya said automatically. "Rangers aren't permitted to tell who they are."

Both of them turned to look at the now ex-Phantom Ranger, only to be surprised. "He's gone," Skull gaped. Tanya shook her head. She'd become used to comings and goings like this over the last few months.

"Look, Skull," she took his hand quickly. "I know this is a big shock to you, and you probably have a million questions. . .but right now isn't the time to ask or answer them. The other Rangers need our help right now. Afterwards. ..we can all talk about it together."

The new Phantom Ranger nodded quietly, then reached out to take her hand. "So which Ranger have I been dating, Pink, Yellow, or Gold?"

Tanya grinned. "I think Yellow and . ..well, it looks like you're going to be wearing a lot of black. . .would go very well together."

Skull smiled. "I think so too."

With Tanya leading, as Skull had no communicator right now, the two of them teleported away in a double streak of yellow and black.

* * *
In Angel Grove's sister city of Stone Canyon, a young girl, not much younger than the Rangers, perhaps a year or so, not quite yet sixteen, was walking down the street, immersed in the memory of a dream. I wonder if I'll ever meet him. ..she thought. She had dreamed for as far back as she could remember about a stranger from afar, a handsome stranger who she loved with all her soul. . .

She tossed her long black hair out of her face and as it fell away, her eyes widened. Standing in front of her was the very image of her dream, alive and breathing before her.

"Are you real?" she whispered.

"Are you real?" he murmured it at the same moment, and both of them giggled in unison. He looked at her, then slowly reached out to take her by the hand. "I love you. I'm Valon of Eltar. Who are you?"

She smiled. "I love you. I'm Cassie Chan."