Disclaimer: I don't own the Power Rangers.
Notes: This chapter includes mentions of non-graphic major character death, and another character grieving. This is the hardest story I've ever written, and it may be difficult to read.
Beyond a Glimmer of Hope
Chapter III: The After
"I wish you would talk to me, Andros."
"You must really be worried, then. If you're talking like that." His bedroom lights brightened in her indignation. "Your assessment of my concern for you is accurate."
Andros almost smiled. Almost. "I'm fine, DECA."
She didn't reply.
Andros caught himself before he closed his eyes, and continued to stare up at the bottom of the bunk above him. Zhane stared back at him. Zhane and... Ashley. Her name was unfamiliar in his mouth, awkward on his tongue when he whispered it aloud, but—she had been his lover. She and Zhane both.
His Zhane had never touched him that way.
His Zhane would never touch him that way.
If he let himself, he could still hear Zhane scream. That was one memory five years had not dulled.
Remembering too closely was just one more thing he was not in the habit of doing too often. Anger he could use; he channeled that into something more productive. But grief that remained raw and shame that had seeped so deep that he would never be clean of it... that made him a liability. He could not afford to become distracted, and especially not now.
But he couldn't forget that kiss, either.
"Andros?" DECA sounded distinctly worried when he swung his legs over the side of his bunk and stood up. "Where are you going?"
She followed him down the hall when he ignored her. "Are you certain you want to do this?"
He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that she knew where he was going. "Leave me alone."
"That's an order."
She was silent.
His hands were sweaty. Andros paused with his fingertips still on the keypad, lowering his head. Don't be stupid. There were no miracles waiting for him on the other side.
And yet—he hoped.
Hoped that when the door swung open there would be more than silent monitors and a frosted over coffin. That Zhane would be waiting for him on the other side. That he could say everything he'd been too afraid to say until it was too late.
That he wouldn't have to be alone anymore.
Andros closed his eyes, and slowly lowered his hand.
"I—" He wished his voice were steadier. "I thought I told you to leave me alone."
"You did." DECA waited a beat. Waiting for him to argue, maybe, but he didn't. "Do you intend to enter the chamber?"
He thought of Zhane, so pale and cold, and his skin prickled in that way that was searingly hot and cold all at once. "No. Just—" Andros swallowed. His chest was slowly tightening in a way that made it hard to speak. "Is he really in there?"
"Yes," she said gently.
He shouldn't ask, because she would be nothing less than truthful. "Is he really dead?"
"Yes, Andros," she said, quietly now. "I'm sorry."
And like that, the smallest sparkle of hope that he had kept so carefully guarded he hadn't known it was even there quivered—maybe she was wrong, maybe if he turned the monitors on, maybe if he just went in there and saw for himself—and extinguished itself, leaving him choking for breath on his knees.
Because Zhane was dead.
Zhane had been dead all along, and Andros had known it. He'd known it every minute of the last five years and he'd mourned, and he'd wished to go back and known that it was impossible—all until that other Zhane had kissed him and made him hope.
What gave him the right?
Andros balled his fists as tears welled hot and angry in his eyes. After all these years, what gave Zhane the right to come back into his life and toy with him like this? What was this a punishment for?
I wasn't the one who went away.
Zhane should have fought harder. He should have fought better.
He should have loved Andros enough to live.
Andros tilted his head back against the wall, his chest so tight that it was all he could do to gasp for breath between sobs. Would it have mattered, he asked himself again, if he'd told Zhane how he'd felt? If he'd kissed him that morning and held him and made him swear over and over to keep the promise they'd made to each other?
We'll fight as a team forever.
Zhane wouldn't have wanted to lie to him.
He shouldn't be angry with Zhane.
Zhane wasn't the one who'd been so tired it was all he could do to stay on his feet, too slow and distracted to see the sword until it was already on a downward arc. If Andros had been a better Ranger, if he hadn't failed over and over and over again, then Zhane would be alive and their people wouldn't be lost and scattered and Dark Spectre wouldn't be within grasping reach of victory.
But now he was, and all because Andros hadn't been paying attention.
It wasn't right.
No one should have ever trusted him with this power. Had Zordon known, when he'd given Andros his dead mother's morpher? Had he known how clumsily Andros would wield the Power? Had he? Then he bore a share of the blame, and maybe he deserved it if they couldn't get to him before Dark Spectre did. Because in his own way, he'd killed Zhane too.
His eyes were so blurred by tears, he nearly missed it—the faint, quick flash of light beside him and the way the hair on his arms rose up in response to that ghostly not-quite-touch. She had no hands, and she wore bits and pieces of his parents in her face.
It had comforted him once.
"I thought I disabled your hologram." It was the easiest thing he could think to say.
"You responded well to this once," was all she said.
Andros closed his eyes. "How much longer to Eltar?"
"ETA is approximately forty minutes," she said calmly, and sat with him for a time.