A/N: This is just a bit of "in between" stuff that should have happened between Astronema and Zhane (but understandably, Power Rangers is a kid's show...). Set after "Zhane's Destiny".
I don't own PR, and the lyrics at the beginning are from Stone Sour's "Miracles".
I've known your black and white intentions, and there's no room for shades of grey
I never asked you to conform to me, I only begged for you to stay
It's the stillness of the night that unsettles her most. This forsaken planet, with its thick leafy foliage and horizon of mountains, is vast and empty. A yellow moon looms above her, swollen in the darkness.
Astronema stands, silent and waiting at the camp. It's a pathetic camp, she thinks with mild disdain, with its hanging tarpaulins and metal poles, tents to house the fugitives. Glass lanterns have been placed around the tents for light and in the dead of night they illuminate a campfire, cooling embers dying on what remains of the wood.
Pathetic. Yet some buried part of her finds the place entirely endearing.
She balls her fist, the leather of her glove tightening as her fingers curl over.
With a sigh she settles, standing still but calm, breathing in the crisp air. Waiting.
After a long while she hears a rustle in the closest tent, shadows cast from the inside, and he emerges with a stifled exhale of breath. His blond hair is unkempt, having just woken. He's not wearing a shirt, only faded grey pants for modesty.
He hasn't seen her, takes a few steps out of the tent and stretches quickly before tucking his thumbs into the sides of his pants.
Astronema clears her throat and it startles him. Zhane looks over to her, eyes locked on hers, astounded. Quickly he glances back to the camp, then fixes his gaze again and meets her steely look.
He takes a step, not to be closer to her but to be further from the camp. "What... what are you doing here?"
Zhane's voice is croaky, uncertain. Astronema watches as he looks at her, takes her in. Her hair in light blonde curls, her suit without battle armour.
She hasn't come here to fight, then, Zhane thinks when Astronema doesn't answer him.
"I... don't know," she finally says and the words tumble out. "Aren't you cold?"
Zhane looks down at himself and shrugs. "Not really. Do you want me to put something on?"
Suggestiveness. Astronema hates him for that, that he can make her blush. She tries not to let her gaze linger on him, tries hard to find his eyes again. "No, that's okay."
He begins to smile. With renewed confidence Zhane walks over to her. "You know, this could count as stalking. And you were the one who wanted to stay away from me, remember?"
She remembers. It isn't that she wants to be here, after all. Astronema watches as he walks closer to her, one of his hands running through his hair absently, his eyes not leaving her. She shivers as she wonders if he's being cautious, or if he's staring at her for some other reason.
Without realising it, Astronema walks back with every one of Zhane's steps forward. Her boot catches on an upturned root and she stumbles, her hand finding the hard bark of a large tree. She rights herself, curses mentally and looks up to find a thin smirk beginning at the edges of Zhane's mouth.
"Graceful," he quips, before raising his head and glancing quickly at the full moon. "It'll be sunup in just a few hours. Sure you want to be around for that?"
"Pretty sure I don't," Astronema replies evenly.
"Okay, then tell me: what are you doing here?" Zhane remembers she didn't have an answer for him before, so he offers her something to ponder. "You're not attacking my friends. You haven't come here to attack me, you have no armour and no staff. What do you want with me?"
He's being direct, something Astronema hadn't prepared for. Her heart beats a little faster. She's usually adept at improvisation but something about Zhane's manner puts her off. He's exuding confidence, unafraid to unnerve her, no longer tentative around her. Something has changed.
"Maybe... I just wanted to see you," she replies, not quite forcing her words. "I did burn you to a crisp the last time we saw each other."
No dramatic irony or clever metaphor, since that was really what happened. Zhane remembers how it scorched him, to have her power run through him. It had taken him hours in that lake to rub off the marks.
He feels a sudden chill and wishes he had more clothes on. Still, he can't not notice the way Astronema's eyes lower on occasion, how they slip, and then she catches herself.
"You make a good point," he says, playing with an emerging grin. He's so close to her now. "Can't say that didn't hurt."
His words sting her, and feeling suddenly slack Astronema leans back completely against the tree. "I—I didn't mean to hurt you. I never mean-"
"It's okay," Zhane interjects, feeling sympathy at the way her eyes soften with guilt. "No harm done, really."
She takes a moment to swallow, her mouth dry. He's close enough that she can feel his breath, soft on her face, his eyes finding hers again. She can feel the heat from his skin through her leather. Her cheeks flush as her own body heats.
Zhane takes one last half-step, smirks at her though his eyes remain glistening with warmth. "Am I making you blush?"
The sallow light from the moon is all they need; they see each other completely.
Astronema's cheeks burn harder, a flame running quick under her skin. Zhane places his hands either side of her, his fingertips pressing against tree-bark, and he leans his head across hers, finding her ear behind golden curls.
"Is this why you came here?"
It's all she can do to compose herself, controlling her breathing and not letting her knees buckle beneath her. She waits a brief moment until she's sure her voice will be even. "Don't flatter yourself. You're nothing special, Silver Ranger."
Zhane chuckles, a little too heartedly, and pulls back from her neck. "Most people tell me different. Guess you're one of a kind."
"Why?" she challenges darkly. "We're enemies, what did you think I would think of you?"
He doesn't answer her, just challenges her right back. "So what was that date, then?"
"A joke, obviously," she says with a smirk. "What else? I mean, I got you all wet and sizzling. All for my amusement."
Zhane smiles at her, full of excitement. It's late at night—or early in the morning—and here he is, engaged in a heated battle of wills with his sworn enemy, and loving every second of it.
Astronema laughs. Not an evil laugh, not full of mirth or disdain. A full, playful laugh that resounds around them. She isn't even concerned about who would hear it. The warmth in him is contagious, and feels dangerously good that she finally checks herself. Her cheeks, still flushed, contract as the smile thins on her lips.
"Still, no hard feelings?"
The smile fades on Zhane's face as he shakes his head slowly. He catches a glimpse of what he takes to be curiosity in her eyes. "Of course not."
She suddenly presses her gloved hands to his bare chest, and pushes hard when purple sparks of electricity shoot from her fingers. Zhane is sprung through the air, propelled backwards and lands heavily on a bed of wet leaves. He groans as he sits up, shakes his head to clear it, then looks over at her with a dark glare.
"What was that for?"
Astronema swallows again and sets her eyes mechanically. "I'm supposed to take you in, hold you prisoner on the Dark Fortress."
Zhane expels a loud breath and gathers himself off the ground, standing while brushing sticky leaves from his pants. "That's why you're here. I'm such a chump, aren't I?"
"Glad we agree," she returns evenly. She holds out her arm and her Wrath Staff appears with a crackle of energy. "No heroics, just come quietly and I won't have to hurt you."
Incredulous at the turn of events—and the change in her persona—Zhane plants his feet firmly. "Who's talking, you or Dark Spectre? I know you, Astronema. Believe it or not, I do. This isn't you."
"I'm under Dark Spectre's command," she says quietly, less convincing. "I do what he asks of me. You've separated yourself from the other Rangers, playing shepherd to your lost flock, and your sudden vulnerability is valuable to us."
"So you can destroy me? Or use me as bait? Whatever it is you want from me, you won't get it."
The resolve in his voice threatens Astronema's own determination. She had hoped for a quick confrontation, had expected a quiet argument, but she hadn't anticipated being almost seduced and reduced to submissive tendencies under his gaze. She hadn't wanted this. This complicates things.
"You were so accommodating before." Astronema sighs, lifts her staff, points it. "You leave me no choice-"
"Of course you have a choice!" Zhane walks towards her with renewed confidence as he quickly becomes enraged. "You don't have to do what he wants. Don't you want to be free from that?"
Astronema holds her staff firmly as Zhane continues toward her. "Stop—please. Please, Zhane."
He stops at her whispering his name. That's the first time he's heard her say it. She's holding her staff but her hands are shaking, unsteady. Her eyes are pleading. She's trying to hold on, to not fall apart. He won't let her, but he won't let her take him either.
Holding his hand out in front of him, Zhane walks forward again and reaches her within seconds, clutching her staff as her hand lets it go. He lets it fall to the ground.
He takes her hands in his, pushing her gently against the tree. "Just say you never saw me. Tell him you couldn't find me. Please."
Zhane holds her hands firmly and he can feel the heat between them again. He forces her eyes to steady on his, and he recognises her desperation as not wanting to surrender to him. So he doesn't kiss her, doesn't do what he wants because he knows that would destroy her.
"Please go," he says finally, quietly. He breaks his gaze and drops his eyes. "Go."
He lets go of her hands and turns away. He hears her let out a quiet, shaky breath.
"I meant it, you know," Astronema says as silence passes between them. "I don't want to hurt you."
Zhane hears the defeat in her voice and turns back suddenly, only to find a purple haze in her place. She's gone, just as he asked of her.