Disclaimer: I don't own the Power Rangers.
Notes: THIS IS NOT A FLUFFY STORY. I... really cannot emphasize this enough. If (mostly off-screen, should it matter to you) major character death is in any way triggering to you, please pass over this story. :)
Also, hi! Remember me? I used to write like a fiend and post new chapters five times a day. I no longer do this, clearly. I suppose one could make an argument for quality over quantity, but... well, maybe not, heh. *grins* However, this one will not drag on for years on end. I'm aiming for about seven chapters and an epilogue, and (I know I say this every time I post with absolutely dreadful follow-through, but I really do try) I hope to have it finished completely in the next couple of months.
Beyond a Glimmer of Hope
Prologue: The In-between
The cold was of that miserable, bone-deep sort. Andros tucked his hands, already hidden in the warmest pair of gloves Phantom had been able to find, beneath his armpits and huddled below the layers of blankets wrapped around his shoulders. Just this morning he would have refused this comfort.
It seemed unimportant to continue pretending now.
Andros closed his eyes. The should-have-been had not gone; it lingered, calling out for his return, and had he been able to, he would have gone to it willingly.
He was not in the habit of wishing. It accomplished nothing and left him empty and aching for what he did not have and never would. But had he done so... It was everything he would have wished for.
To his right, the Phantom Ranger sat straight-backed in the pilot's seat, wrapped in the rest of the blankets. Andros had taken the gloves on the condition that Phantom would take the hat, and so it was.
It was so cold. He rearranged the blankets as he leaned forward to squint at the navigation screen, mostly obscured with condensation. They couldn't be too far from the Megaship now, he thought—they had only been an hour out when it had happened, and it felt far longer than he thought it should, even with their speed reduction factored in.
There was more to make him antsy—besides the loss of the environmental controls and the damaged thrusters, the shields were at half-strength and rapidly draining as Phantom had diverted anything that could be spared to the thrusters just to get them moving again, and their cloak was long gone. A single velocifighter would probably tear straight through them, should they happen upon one.
Phantom exhaled loudly enough to catch his attention. He caught himself before he jumped as a silence almost more terrible than the cold shattered, instead raising his head to eye her calmly. They had spent enough time in each other's company that even he had learned to notice when she had something to say.
Zhane would have been proud of him. Or amused. Or both, maybe.
"We're nearly there," Phantom said crisply.
"Good." He grit his teeth to keep them from chattering. "I'll notify DECA to be ready for docking."
"It's done." She tapped at the console before her before she glanced at him. "She's waiting for us. Perhaps she can confirm that this... phenomenon we've experienced was an interdimensional gateway."
If it were possible to do so, DECA would be able to. But... "No," Andros said, shaking his head. "She would only be able to do that if she'd been there herself."
Phantom made some quiet sound to acknowledge his words and, with a nod to him, turned her attention back to guiding them back. Andros studied her profile with a frown. Five years they had been allies. Nearly a year she had been in permanent residence aboard his ship, and never once had he seen her unmorphed.
He wasn't sure he'd expected her to be a woman.
He was definitely sure that he hadn't expected her to be this woman, whose face he hadn't seen three hours ago but he recognized as the face of someone he had known for years—and maybe he had, in that place he had gone to.
She had been in the company of that other woman when he had seen her. The Ranger. One of his Rangers.
Andros swallowed as an echo of laughter washed over him. He had no Rangers. There had only ever been Zhane.
Just for a moment he was warm again, surrounded—
He should have known better than to agree to this. Now there was a knee digging into his stomach and Zhane was mumbling near his ear. Something about rabbits. Andros was just sleepy enough that it made perfect sense, and closed his eyes again as someone touched his hair...
Then it was gone again and he was left reeling, shivering from another kind of cold. Andros clenched his jaw before asking, "How much longer?"
"Ten minutes," Phantom said. "Perhaps a bit longer, but not much. Andros," she added, and there was a shift in her tone that made him stiffen. "Will you—"
"Fine," he said tersely. "I'll be fine."
"I apologize." She spared him a glance. "That was intrusive of me. I'll leave it to DECA to sort you out."
He inclined his head to her, but she, already turned forward again, missed it. Unable to watch her any longer, Andros let his eyes slide forward. The view screen was damaged, as well; what he saw now were the stars as they were from here—small shimmers far beyond his reach.
"My name is not Miranda." Phantom spoke again without looking at him, and this time he did start as she caught him unaware. "It must have been, there, but though I have answered to many names Miranda is not among them."
"I..." Andros hesitated. "Do you have another one?"
"As I said," she sighed, white-knuckled as she gripped the controls, "I have many. Phantom suffices."
"Of course." He was the one who had been presumptuous this time. They were allies. They were teammates, even. But they were not friends, and he should not have questioned her. "I'm sorry."
"Thank you." White clouds hung in the air when she exhaled this time. "There," she announced, minutes later, as she slid her hands beneath her blankets, "DECA will pull us in from here. We're within teleportation range."
Andros raised his morpher, but did not activate it. He stared down at it, waiting; for what, he couldn't say, but he sat there frozen until Phantom spoke again.
"I shouldn't ask you this," she murmured, fumbling at her own morpher with stiff fingers, "but I must. Was it real, do you think? What we saw?"
"No." He was able to shake himself, then, and he tapped at his morpher. "Not for us. DECA."
Instantly, he was gone, the ship around him dissolving into a crimson haze, but Phantom's next whisper haunted him as the world re-formed. "Will you think me a fool, then, that now I will mourn the loss of a love I've never known?"