Disclaimer: I own nothing
Author Notes: This has been a wonderful ride but I'm afraid this is the last chapter. I only wanted this to be a short homage to Merrick and Princess Shayla, my favourite PR pairing. I'm so glad it's touched so many people and thanks millions for your inspiring reviews! Hope you enjoy this chapter. Notes etc at the end :- )
Silver Wolf gave a delighted howl as he caught sight of Merrick and Princess Shayla nearing his cave. Although a naturally lone creature, he liked to be near the other Zords after so long apart from them. His cave, burrowed deep into a hillside, was situated near to where Red Lion and some of the others made their resting places on the Animarium.
"He wants to know where you've been," Princess Shayla told her Protector.
"Working," replied Merrick shortly.
He couldn't ignore the leap of joy in his own heart at seeing his Zord again. Ithad been too long since they'd properly seen each other. He raised a hand in greeting which seemed to please the Wolf as he settled down at his cave entrance, head resting on his paws.
"He's missed you," the Princess murmured, her eyes fixed on the Wolf. "Being apart from you made him feel disconnected and not part of the team. Each of the other spirits have their Ranger nearby to talk to through myself or Cole but not the Wolf."
Merrick gazed at Silver Wolf who looked back, oceans of feeling in just one glance. Merrick wished, not for the first time, that he'd been blessed with the power to understand the Wild Zords. His thoughts were interrupted by a roar. To his surprise, Red Lion and White Tiger emerged from the thickening woodland to greet him. Red Lion looked down on him and let out another mighty roar. He swung his massive head to look at the Princess and tell her something silently which White Tiger seemed to agree with from the sound of own her quieter sharper roars.
"They say you belong here on the Animarium with Silver Wolf and……," the Princess trailed off as an upset look clouded her face.
She turned away stiffly. Immediately Merrick was at her side.
"What is it, Princess?" he asked urgently, worried by the troubled look on her lovely face.
"I can't tell you, Merrick, it'll only upset you," she replied avoiding his eyes.
"If it troubles you then I want to know," Merrick insisted, embracing the protective feelings that washed through his body again.
Why had he wanted to abandon this beautiful woman? His heart yearned to brush her hair from her face and take her hand again, revelling in her warm loving touch. Her eyes were so full of hurt that he felt like his heart would break if he couldn't heal her pain. Instinctively he dropped to one knee, gaining a gasp of surprise from her.
"Princess Shayla, I swore to be your Protector over 3,000 years ago on Animaria and as long as we both live, I will continue to fulfil that promise," he said quietly, his eyes fixed on the ground. "Please tell me why what Red Lion said troubled you. The Wild Zords aren't in the habit of upsetting you."
There was a silence and Merrick raised his eyes to watch her white dress flapping in the breeze. White suited her. It was a colour she loved to wear and even when she didn't, the other shades she favoured were muted and pastel, as sweet and pure as her personality. He had loved her for so long; he couldn't imagine his life without her. He realised he didn't want to.
"Red Lion said that you belong here on Animaria with Silver Wolf and that you belong here with me," her voice whispered. "He said the two of us should be together."
Merrick looked up sharply at the majestic creature which regarded him with an expectant air and growled softly. White Tiger echoed the noise as she moved to talk to Silver Wolf. The Zords were known for their wisdom and their power but Merrick at that moment wished that they weren't. It was no small wonder that the Princess that hidden their words from him.
"That is their opinion," he said at last, rising to his feet. "It doesn't mean they're right."
"Would it be so wrong?" murmured Princess Shayla, her hand twisting in front of her and her eyes fastened to White Tiger.
"Yes Princess, it would," replied Merrick, his voice soft with weariness at the same old argument they'd been avoiding but replaying over and over again in their heads. "You know why I can't allow it to happen again."
"Because Animaria fell," sighed the Princess. "Because you blame yourself for the land you loved being destroyed and for me sleeping for so long and for losing so much in such little time."
Merrick turned to look at his charge as she gazed at the grass now. Silver Wolf was still lying in his cave entrance while Red Lion and White Tiger had wandered off back into the woodland. There was a sudden piercing shriek as Yellow Eagle swooped overhead, followed closely by Red Falcon.
"That's what you think?" he said slowly, aware that his Zord, though appearing asleep, was watching the interaction closely through slitted eyes.
"That's what I know."
"Animaria fell Princess. We failed to protect it. I can't forget that."
"I'm not asking you to forget it Merrick, I could never do that. I'm reminded of it every time I wake up and look around or go to tend the Zords," the Princess stopped herself, pressing her lips together tearfully.
Merrick looked at her, waiting as she inwardly composed herself and took shaky breaths before she spoke again. He hoped she never fully suppressed that side of herself. All that emotion bundled up inside of her made her so beautiful to him. If she started to grow a cold regal shield, she wouldn't be his Princess. With a start, he corrected himself. She wasn't his Princess anymore and hadn't been for over 3,000 years.
"We both keep Animaria alive through simply living, Merrick," Princess Shayla said softly, reaching for his hand and holding it tightly when he didn't stop her. "The Animal Spirits don't want us to make each other unhappy or ignore what we had together all that time ago. It was beautiful, Merrick and I don't want to forget we ever had each other in that way. I don't want to forget it at all and in truth, I never wanted it to end."
"Your open heart is honouring, Princess," Merrick said formally, bowing his head briefly as he wildly collected his thoughts. "That's what the Animal Spirits tell you?"
"Every day they say the same thing. They want to know why you aren't here on the Animarium where you belong with me. I tell them that you don't wish to since the fall and the guilt you carry. They say it's not your fault, that it's Zen-Aku who's to blame," replied Princess Shayla staring at Silver Wolf fixedly. "They want you here Merrick, you were part of Animaria and you should be part of the Animarium."
Merrick sighed and glanced at the Silver Wolf who opened an eye to gaze at him silently. The desire inside of him which he kept so carefully locked away was starting to burn silently. He was in love with her still and he knew that feeling would never leave him. He looked back at the Princess, seeing the hopeful heartbroken look in her eyes and felt the keen wanting pressure of her tiny hand squeezing his. Something inside of him crumbled.
"You know that I love you, Princess," he said softly. "More than anything I want to be with you but there's Animaria in the way and I don't think I can travel past my guilt in order to be with you."
There was a pause as Merrick squeezed his eyes shut tight. Then he heard a rustle and a gentle hand cupped his chin.
"Open your eyes, Merrick."
Obediently he did and found himself staring at the Princess. She gently took his other hand so that she clasped both of them and smiled her beautiful smile at him. He didn't know how to respond.
"The past is no longer ours to hold onto, Merrick. We only own the present; we have no right to anything else. Please allow me to be part of your own present my Silver Protector. Let me let go of my past with you. Do you truly believe that our friends, the ones who fell with Animaria, would want us both to mourn until we died?"
His friends. The Ancient Warriors whom he'd tried hard to hurt, he'd betrayed them as he fought with animalistic anger under Zen-Aku's furry skin. They'd forgiven him and had refused to kill him, merely locking him into a tomb for eternity before Nayzor had sought him out to destroy the Rangers and his hate-addled mind had desired their destruction more than anything. Did he really want to remember all of that when he could just live in the present? There was pain in his past but there was hope in his future. The Princess was in both and wanted it to stay that way. He wanted it too.
"I want to be with you Princess and I want to live in the present," he managed with a sigh. "But the past……."
"Is done," she finished boldly for him. "We have the blessing of the Wild Zords and if there were any protests, they would have told me when you first came back. I'm not expecting everything right back to the way it was before but maybe with some work, we will get there again."
She looked so hopeful. Merrick felt a smile tugging at his lips. She was his past, his present and maybe even his future. There was no one else he wanted to spend his life, his eternity with. Denying it every time he saw her was going to be tiresome anyway and if the Wild Zords had blessed them, maybe there was hope.
"We will get there, Princess," he said at last, enjoying the feel of her hands in his. "With time."
"We have that, Merrick," she smiled at him. "Come and help me find the other Zords. They haven't seen you in a long time."
The sunlight sparkled on her dress and as she walked, he noticed her necklace glowing in the bright light. He was reminded of a day so long ago when he'd clasped it around her neck for the first time and she'd danced in delight with no one but him watching. He had longed for those days for so long, it seemed almost impossible he'd have them again but as he watched Princess Shayla laughing at the Red Falcon screeching overhead, he realised that now he could have it all again with a fresh start and the blessing of his friends now gone and the Animal Spirits who watched over them. All he had to do was learn to let go and with the Princess's help, maybe he could finally learn to live again.
NOTES AND AUTHOR SHOUT-OUTS
This story has been a joy for me to write from start to finish. I have always strongly believed that Merrick and Princess Shayla are each other's destinies and though Wild Force didn't quite deliver that, I like to think that eventually they found each other again. They are my favourite pairing as they're beautiful ancient magic which never fails to make me smile. I search fruitlessly for more videos/DVDs of Wild Force eps and Merrick/Shaylaness I am yet to see but alas.
Thanks to everyone who came on the journey with me, I'm glad you all feel the same way I do about Merrick and Princess Shayla. Without you guys, I don't know if I would have continued posting so thanks for your inspiring support!
Jenny: Thanks so much for your wonderful reviews! They really made me smile. I'm so glad you like how I write the featured pairings, it's so important to me that I write them well. I don't like the 'Princess can't date her Protector' rule either but you know ancient societies! I hope this happy ending made you smile as that was my aim! Thanks for being a freaking awesome reviewer and consistently dropping me comments, it meant a lot!
Etcetera Kit: Wow, you liked my story! Thanks so much for your lovely comments, it means so much to me that you like my work as I adore your's! Merrick is my fave PR character ever (along with Eric Myers) and so I really hope I do him justice! I'm glad Max and Danny's behaviour made you laugh, made me happy to write it! Hope you like this chapter, thanks again for reviewing – you've made my day!
White Time Ranger: Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you liked how I wrote Wes/Jen, I know it was kinda sad but I figure Wes is gonna be pretty down without her. Getting a review from you for each chapter makes me smile so much, I hope I manage to do the same for you. Thanks for your constant support; it really helped me write knowing that someone enjoyed it!
Mangamaniac: Thanks for your enthusiastic reviews! They made me smile. This is the final chapter but I hope you enjoyed it as much as the rest! I'm interested in reading your TF story and I too believe that Merrick/Shayla is like a fairytale.
Finally thanks to Phillip Andrew and Ann-Marie Crouch who played Merrick Baliton and Princess Shayla so well that they became my fave cannon couple of all PR series! You guys truly enchanted me from the first moment I saw you share the screen, thank you for reinforcing my belief in fairytales. This story is inspired by you and is for all your fans who have never forgotten and celebrate Wild Force.