By:  Mark J. Hadley

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Bubbles kneeled on the ground, cradling Buttercup in her arms and crying almost nonstop.  She couldn't believe it…they had come this far, but now their sister was gone…she wouldn't have the chance to see the Earth again once they bring it back.  Blossom looked on sadly, still holding the Omega Particle in her hands and still faced with a difficult decision.

Looking up at her, Bubbles sniffed, "Y-you're going to wish Buttercup back to life, right?"

"I don't know," Blossom said, forcing her own tears back.  "We only have one wish…and if we wish Buttercup back, then the Earth will be lost forever…but if we wish the Earth back, then we've lost Buttercup…"

"No," Bubbles cried, "We gotta…we…"  She trailed off, wiping her eyes.

"It's all right, Bubbles," Blossom reassured her.  "I know how you feel…I-I feel the same way…but we have to make the choice…"

"Can't we wish them both back somehow?" Bubbles asked.  "I mean…what if we wish that the Earth wasn't destroyed in the first place?  You know…like Alyxk never sent the asteroid, or…"

Blossom shook her head, "No, we can't."

"Why not?!" Bubbles demanded.

"Because, think about it…" Blossom explained.  "If we do that, we'll undo everything that happened out here.  We'll never have met Xianea…the Hkratth and the Sanhreni would still be at war…the Gyahembu would still be at large…everything.  We've had a larger impact on the galaxy than we thought.  And worse yet, Alyxk will still be out there, doing who-knows-what to another species to get them to find the Omega Particle, never knowing that it had already been used…"

"But…it's not fair…" Bubbles sobbed.  "H-how can we choose?"

Blossom looked back at the particle and said, "I think we have to do what's right.  What's more important, Bubbles?  The life of our sister, or the lives of everyone on Earth, including everyone else we've ever known?  We've spent our entire lives as superheroes risking our lives for what's good and what's right.  I think that…that even if Buttercup were the one to make the decision, she'd choose the Earth.  And so would I…"

Bubbles looked forlornly down at Buttercup through her tears, and closed her eyes.  She said quietly, "You're right…so would I…"

Blossom lifted the Omega Particle up, and gave a last glance at Bubbles, who finally nodded.  She tried to focus on the particle, and said, "Omega Particle…our planet, the Earth, was destroyed by a collision with an asteroid…I wish for the Earth and everyone on it to be restored, as it was before its destruction."

As she finished speaking these words, the light from the particle intensified, filling the entire cavern with brilliant amber light.  She stepped back in amazement as the particle lifted up from her hands, hovering in the air in front of her.  A bright aura seemed to build up around it, and suddenly a wave of energy blasted outwards, like an expanding bubble, picking up speed and stretching outwards from that point.  She and Bubbles shielded their eyes from it, but it passed through them harmlessly.

The energy expanded out from Vahlexei.  Though only those in the immediate vicinity of the planet would have been able to see or feel it, the particle had done its job, making the desired change to the universe.  After this was done, the glow faded, and the particle, its energy spent, vanished altogether.

Blossom slowly hung her head, and said, "It's done…the Earth should be back now.  I should be happy…but I'm…I'm really going to miss Buttercup…"

"Me…too…" Bubbles said, in a soft voice.  She got up and ran over to Blossom, hugging her and crying onto her shoulder.  Blossom patted her on the back consolingly, but she felt just as bad, and didn't know what else she could say to ease things for either of them.

They felt their strength returning at that moment…absently, Blossom thought, Drax's dampening field…it must've worn off.  No…if only we had waited another five or ten minutes…things would be different…  Indeed, their powers had returned to them, but too late for them to do any good…

After a few moments of silence, they heard the sound of someone coming down the corridor towards the room.  Snapping their heads over to look in that direction, they saw Xianea running in.  She saw them and said, "Powerpuff Girls!  Are you all right?  A strange energy wave passed barely a few minu—…"

She broke off from her statement and came to a stop when she saw Buttercup lying on the ground, and the sad looks on the girls' faces.  She whispered, "…No…what happened?!"

"Drax took our powers away temporarily," Bubbles managed to say, "but we still beat him and found the Omega Particle…and then the Guardian…"

Blossom continued, "The guardian gave us a riddle…Buttercup guessed and…and it did this to her…"

"We got it right," Bubbles said.  "And…we wished the Earth back…but…"

Xianea walked over, kneeling down next to Buttercup to take a closer look…she lowered her head sadly, and said, "It's all right…don't feel bad.  You did what you knew was the right thing to do, and so did Buttercup."

"But it's our sister," Blossom said.  "I don't know how we can get along without her…"

Xianea took a deep breath, and looked into Buttercup's lifeless eyes.  She said, "From the moment we met, I could see the good in the three of you.  Something deep inside of me told me that you were special, that wherever you went, you would do great things to assist people.  Helping you along since then, my feelings were confirmed…you've shown the goodness in your hearts in everything you've said and done.  You girls risked your lives to bring your world back…such nobility is a rare thing."

She looked over at the other girls and continued, "I haven't regretted a moment with you.  I feel closer to the three of you than any other soul I've encountered in all my travels.  I felt a connection between us, almost as though you were my own daughters…and I knew that I would gladly risk my own life to save yours.  I'm so very proud of you all…you persevered through even the darkest moments, the goodness within you strengthening you against it.  That is why it saddens me to see Buttercup perish in pursuit of good this way…she deserves to continue the fight, with the rest of you…"

She returned her gaze to Buttercup and spoke softly, recalling the words of Ilxanye, "I could never see such a pure spirit perish, not while I live…"  With that, she laid her hand on Buttercup, and closed her eyes.  As the girls watched in surprise through their teary eyes, a brilliant white glow surrounded Xianea and Buttercup.  The wound on her chest seemed to vanish, like it was never there…

A few seconds later, Buttercup's eyes blinked a few times, and she took in a sharp, surprised breath.  Blossom and Bubbles' mouths fell open in astonishment, as Buttercup lifted her head weakly, and groaned, "Uhhh…hh…what…happened?"  Xianea pulled her hand away finally.

"Buttercup!!!" both of the other girls shouted, flying over and each of them tackling her with a hug.

"You're alive!" Bubbles said, tears of joy streaming down her face.

Buttercup managed a grin, and said, "Never…felt better…"

Blossom smiled up at Xianea and said, "I can't believe it…you did it…"  Xianea smiled back at her, but there seemed to be a weakness showing in her eyes, and suddenly, Blossom remembered.  The smile faded from her face as she said, "Xianea…you're…"

Xianea slowly nodded…a moment later, her strength gave out, and she collapsed onto her back.  Blossom and Bubbles immediately ran over by her side, and even Buttercup managed to get to her feet. Bubbles was in tears, "Xianea!  No!"

"It's…all right…" Xianea said weakly.  "…lived a…good life…knowing…I helped…you…"  She gave a final smile…and then, the soft blue glow of her eyes faded as she closed them.  She went limp, and breathed out one last time.  A strange glow surrounded her, as each of her mechanical Centraxian cells began an automated self-destruct procedure.  Within a few seconds, she had begun to dissolve away, and when the glow finally faded, there was no trace of her left…

Blossom couldn't believe she was gone.  Looking tearfully up, she thought, Xianea…you were such a good friend.  I see now that we meant as much to you as you meant to us…all the fame and honor that you would have received at Centraxia meant nothing to you compared to keeping us safe.  We'll miss you…although you gave your life for Buttercup, you'll always live on in our hearts…

*              *                *

                The next few days were still busy, as they traveled across that section of the galaxy, tying up the last few loose ends before returning to Earth.  They first recovered their spacesuits from the temple before heading out…they had also taken Drax aboard their ship, and had caught up with Ykrsk as well, still in orbit.  They transported them both to the nearest Checkpoint Station.  It was there they learned that Mojo had been through that same station and had turned Alyxk over to the Galactic Monitors.  He wasn't still there when they arrived, though, for he had found out that the Earth had been restored, and set out for it immediately.

                The girls didn't have time to travel to Centraxia…they wanted so badly to return to the Earth again.  The three of them did send a long message to the planet, however, detailing the events of what happened, and giving them their heartfelt condolences over her loss, and praise for her sacrifice.

                Their business was completed, and they finally made their way back to Earth.  Blossom skillfully brought the ship down to sub-light speeds, bringing them out in the correct region.  Ahead of them, they saw it, growing larger as they approached…the sight of the familiar blues and greens of Earth brought tears to their eyes.  Bubbles and Buttercup were pressed up against the window, watching it with unbridled joy.

                "It worked!" Buttercup exclaimed.  "It's back!  The Earth is back!"

                "I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life…" Bubbles said breathlessly.

                Blossom was smiling with excitement, as she said, "Hang on, I'm taking us down…"

                The ship descended from the skies, towards the ground far below.  They passed through the thick cloud cover and emerged, passing over an absolutely gorgeous landscape.  As they flew in the direction of Townsville, they could see a flock of birds passing outside their window, and the waves crashing up against the shoreline bar beneath them.

                Finally, the gleaming city skyline of Townsville became visible.  The girls let out a cheer…it was all back the way it was!  They carefully flew over the center of the city and descended slowly towards Townsville Park.  Their approach didn't go unnoticed, and by the time they had set the ship down, a large crowd of people had gathered around.

The citizens' faces showed signs of concern at first, but their uneasiness quickly turned to excited relief when the girls emerged from the ship.  A huge cheer went up from the crowd as everyone celebrated their return.  Amongst the crowd, they saw familiar faces…the Mayor, Miss Bellum, Ms. Keane…and Professor Utonium.  Upon sight of him, the girls flew over, nearly knocking him off his feet as they hugged him, shouting, "Professor!"

"Girls!  I'm so glad you're back!" the professor exclaimed.  He hugged them back tightly.

"Oh, we thought we'd never see you again," Blossom said happily.

"Yeah!" Buttercup agreed.  "We've been traveling through space, and…"

The professor held one of his hands up and said, "I know, girls…"  Some of the people stepped aside, revealing Mojo Jojo standing along with them.  "Mojo arrived here yesterday, and he told us everything.  Until he showed up and explained the situation, all of us were wondering why the asteroid simply seemed to vanish just before it hit us."

"That is correct," Mojo said.  "I told them of our exploits in space, and the events that lead to the Earth's restoration.  I knew that you would not be too far behind me, so I told them to expect your arrival within a few days at the most."

"That's awfully nice of you, Mojo!" Bubbles said.

Mojo cracked a small grin and said, "Do not think this changes anything between us, however.  I may have cooperated with you so that you could bring our world back, but it was only so that I could once again have the opportunity to become its ruler.  And it's ruler I shall become!"

"Oh, really…" Buttercup said, not convinced.  "So then why didn't you take it over while we were gone yesterday?"

"I…er…" Mojo said, fidgeting.  "I…I must return to the observatory, to continue my planning."  He resumed a confident tone of voice and pointed at them, "Enjoy well this victory, Powerpuff Girls, for soon I will defeat you, single-handedly!"  Pulling his cape around him in a flourish, he turned and started walking off towards his volcano-top observatory.

Blossom called over, "For what it's worth…thank you, Mojo."  Mojo hesitated, but didn't turn around…a moment later, he continued walking, disappearing into the crowd.  Blossom smiled a little to herself.  Maybe there is a little good deep down inside him somewhere, she thought.  I don't think we can count on ever seeing it again…but it's nice to know that it's there.

                She looked back at the professor, who said, "I'm sure you have many stories to tell about your adventures…"

                "Do we ever!" Buttercup said, nodding.  "Do you wanna hear them?"

                "Of course I do," the professor said with a smile.  "Tell me everything…"

                As the rest of the town waved  goodbye and let up another cheer, the girls picked up the professor and started flying back home with him, each of them starting to tell him about all the things they've seen and done while in space.  They felt so happy talking to him…it was something they missed, probably more than anything else on Earth…

*              *                *

                It was great to get acquainted with everything again.  After all the time away from Earth, they had nearly forgotten how much they missed everything.  But they had to admit; they were going to miss traveling amongst the stars as well.  That night, the girls donned their spacesuits once again, and flew up into orbit, to get a look at the planet from afar once again.

                It was an astounding view.  As the three of them hovered there, watching the earth rotate slowly beneath them, Buttercup said, "Y'know, I hope we never have to go through something like this again…but if we did, and we had to travel across the galaxy and risk our lives to save everyone, I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

                "Me too," Blossom said.  "I only wish…I only wish Xianea could have seen the Earth."

                "Yeah," Buttercup agreed sadly.

                Bubbles turned around to look out at the stars and pointed, "Look…see that one on the right?  Isn't that Centraxia's star?"

                Blossom looked over and said, "Hey, I think you're right…Bubbles, you've given us a good way to remember Xianea.  Every time we look up at that star, we'll remember Centraxia, and think of her…"

                The three of them watched the star for a few moments, thinking about everything Xianea did for them.  Bubbles remembered her kindness and gentle attitude.  Blossom remembered how she taught them, and gave advice when it was needed.  And Buttercup remembered how she was there for them, when their spirits were low, and their future seemed bleak, to offer her support.

But most of all, they remembered how she had given them hope…only together were they able to overcome the incredible odds against them to succeed in doing the impossible.  It was this unity, this bond between them, that pulled them together and made them strong.

The girls took a last glimpse at Centraxia's star, and started flying back towards the Earth.  They streaked across the sky, back towards Townsville, leaving a bright rainbow-like streak of pink, blue, and green in their wake, like a highway to the stars.  For a moment, Centraxia's star twinkled, as if returning the girls' feelings, and to remind them that they would never be alone…