The day should have been festive, but she wasn't there.
None of them were, actually. Not Ethan, not Trent, not Dr. O. Not even Cassidy or Devin.
He missed Kira the most, with her recording career and everything. She was on the other side of the country, and him? He was attending Stanford. Stuck there.
Conner took a deep breath. His parents had been impressed when he'd gotten in, and he didn't mind that they were, but he wanted to impress somebody else.
His teammate. His friend. If Trent hadn't happened, maybe... something more?
He knew Trent and Kira had rotated around each other like planets orbiting each other.
Conner snorted. Now he was getting poetic. Or maybe had too much science homework.
Come to think of it, he hadn't heard how the two of them were doing together, lately. He should check out some of her sites... they'd probably know.
He shouldn't have to be checking out websites to know how his teammates were doing. It was depressing.
Here he was, sitting in the cafe, so busy studying that he'd lost touch with everything. This was so not Conner McKnight.
Maybe he wasn't so impressive. Losing touch with his friends. Losing touch with the others.
His email had probably fallen down a black hole. He probably didn't even have the right email address for her. For any of them.
Stupid, stupid. Doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
He stared at his laptop, browser open, prepared to catch up with the world. Catch up with his friends. At least read the sites.
He wasn't ready to do it. He should really call. Email. Ethan should have had everybody's email addresses, or Hayley.
A chair dragged across the floor. He looked up.
"Hi," Kira said.
California still got cold in the winter, even if it rarely snowed at Stanford. "So, whatcha been doing?" he asked as the two of them sat at the table.
Kira shrugged. "This and that. The recording industry's really hard to break into, so I got myself a job in customer service."
"You? Customer service?" Conner asked, not quite believing what he heard. "You?"
"Call center work's not pretty, but the pay's pretty good," Kira said. "And the bosses are flexible enough to let me go out and deal with my budding career."
"Wow," Conner said. He tried to visualize Kira in a headset and totally failed. "I guess that's not quite what you were planning, huh?"
Kira shook her head. "Not really. You?"
"Well, Stanford's going okay..." Conner said, trailing off in an attempt not to sound awkward. Him, Conner McKnight, at Stanford, and Kira not even going to college. Things couldn't get any weirder.
"You declared a major yet?" Kira asked. Conner tried not to get distracted by her eyelashes. One year a teammate, two years apart, and he still wasn't sure how to treat her.
"Thinking of one." He leaned back in the chair. "Probably Philosophy."
She smiled a little. How he'd missed that smile. He wondered if he could get her to come to California more often.
"Conner, the Philosopher?" she asked lightly. "Isn't that one of those majors you take when you can't decide on anything else?"
"Hey," Conner protested. "Yeah, I'd rather not declare one, but I've taken a few Philosophy classes, and you know what? They're rather cool."
Kira continued smiling. "It's still..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Conner said. "You know what? College might be tough, but at least you can choose your classes. I guess I like it a bit better this way."
Kira nodded. "I guess so. I should be taking classes, but..."
"Yeah, getting your career in place is a good thing too." Conner studied her. "So, you and Trent? How's he doing in art school?"
Shrugging, Kira started tracing patterns in the top of the table. "Fine, I guess."
"You guess?" Conner asked, raising his eyebrows. "I thought you two were like..."
"Well, we still live together, but it's more a rent thing than anything else," Kira said. "He keeps his schedule, and I keep mine."
Conner leaned forward. "So you're... okay?" he asked awkwardly. This was relationship stuff. Sensitive guy stuff. But what kind of teammate would he be if he didn't ask?
"Yeah," she said, looking up at him. "We're still friends, Conner. It's just... I think we finally realized that we weren't meant to be."
"Oh," Conner said. "You know I don't follow that relationship stuff. I mean, gossip stuff."
She gave him a wry grin. "How about you and Krista?"
"Um. She went her way, I went mine, never the twain shall meet." He shifted uncomfortably. It sounded like Kira's breakup with Trent had gone far more smoothly than his with Krista.
"I'm sorry," she said, and Conner wished he could be so smooth in his relationships.
"It's okay. So, Trent?" Conner asked, wanting details. If Kira was hurt...
"We're still friends. Teammates. We get along together, it's just that we kinda realized that he was no longer who he was when we first met."
Conner nodded, understanding. "Yeah, I bet he isn't." Different would be an understatement, with what had happened to the artist son of Anton Mercer.
She laughed. "None of us are the same, Conner. It's just... Trent has some stuff he has to work out, you know?"
He nodded. He felt absurdly pleased that Kira had come to him, given all that seemed to be happening. The team seemed to be drifting apart, despite their best of intentions.
"Well, I'm glad you came to visit me," Conner said lightly.
She laughed once more. "Somebody had to."
Conner felt ashamed that Kira had come out all the way to see him. It should have been the other way around. "Sorry about not keeping in touch. It's just..."
Just that he didn't want to deal with the specter of Kira and Trent. He took a sip of his coffee - addictive stuff, especially for a Stanford student.
"I know," Kira said. "It's me and Trent, right?"
Conner gulped his sip of coffee. "Right. It's..."
He was so not good at this stuff.
"It's okay, Conner," she said, leaning back. "I know you didn't approve in the beginning."
"It's not that," Conner protested. "It's just... well..." He was going to get the words out of his mouth sometime. Really.
"Right," she said, smiling. "I guess you really have been busy. The guys and Hayley say you never talk with them, either."
"Guilty as charged," Conner admitted. Man, he hadn't even been really in touch with Ethan.
She smiled more at him. "Hayley says that Dr. O might pop the question at any time."
"Oookay," Conner said. "If she says so."
Actually, Conner wondered if those two had been doing things other than monitoring the computers when they were alone. He'd never worked out the courage to ask.
"You know what?" Kira asked.
"What?" Conner responded automatically, watching the steam of the coffee play past Kira's hair.
"It's time we all got back together. At least you, me, Ethan, and Trent."
"And Doctor O?" Conner asked, noticing the omission.
"Hayley said he was pretty busy teaching," Kira said. "But this would be a good time for both of them to take a vacation. They both need it."
Conner could only nod. Kira's eyes were lit up; she seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of putting the team together again.
And boy, did the six of them - counting Hayley - need it.
"Not a problem here," Conner said.
"Good," Kira said, her eyes dancing.
Conner had taken Kira out into the fresh air. She was still distracted, and had wandered off a bit, but he was still watching her. She was on her cellphone, talking to Hayley. She'd left a voicemail on the line she shared with Trent; he wondered if the other would deign to reply, and then reminded himself that, whether or not he'd liked it, the two had been in love. Plus, love life or not, Trent was still a teammate.
Kira finished up with Hayley and came back to him. "Ethan was in town anyway, so Hayley said she'd talk to him and Doctor O."
"And Trent?" Conner asked.
"Hey, if I can't get him over here, Hayley will," Kira said determinedly. "He's been almost as bad as you about keeping in touch, and trust me, that's hard to do when you live in the same place."
"Um. Yeah." Conner wondered if he'd ever say something witty to her. Or something useful. Something. He was better at his studies than speaking to a girl he cared about. So Mr. Suave there.
"I'm surprised you didn't go home for break," Kira said casually, after what seemed like an eternity but was only a half hour, according to his watch. They'd strolled across Stanford's campus, which Conner had to admit, didn't look its best in the winter weather. He wished she'd come during the spring, when he could really impress her. They'd exchanged small talk, nothing important, just the kind of stuff that two friends would.
Friends. Conner felt that twinge again. "Mom and Dad are outta town," Conner said. "I couldn't go with them. And Eric's up trying another ninja school, up in San Francisco." He felt another brief pang of guilt for not keeping up with his twin brother. "And you had to stay in New York."
"Conner, even call center workers get vacation," Kira teased. "I needed a break, I hadn't heard from you for a while, I came."
Conner tried desperately to suppress a blush. "Thanks." He paused. "I needed it."
"Hey, I think we all need to get back in touch here," Kira said. "Trent and I hardly see each other, Ethan gets tied up in his tech, Doctor O in his school teaching, and Hayley in her cafe. It's like we've all forgotten each other, and that shouldn't happen."
"No," Conner echoed. "It shouldn't." He paused. "We shouldn't."
They shouldn't have. And he knew it.
Kira's phone rang, and she walked off again, almost absentmindedly. She looked so pretty, even in the winter. He watched as she answered it, smiled at whatever the caller was saying, exchanged words briefly, and hung up the phone. "That was Trent," she said. "He's coming. He said Hayley threatened to pop over there if he didn't and give him a talk. And Ethan's coming too."
"How soon?" Conner asked, amazed at how fast all this was happening. He felt what must have been a twinge of jealousy at Trent's name, and then reminded himself that Trent and Kira were no longer together.
"Soon," Kira said. "As soon as they all can get here."
Conner found himself nervous as Kira's planned all-team reunion drew near. He didn't mind seeing Trent or Dr. O, but he did want to see Ethan. Get the original trio back together. Remember what their friendship had been before life pulled them away from each other.
But at least it had given him a chance to be with Kira again. Kira away - far away - from Trent. It was like the good old days, when it was just him, Ethan, and Kira.
"Yeah, I miss it too," Kira said as they waited for the others. "Me and you and Ethan - I mean, I like Dr. O and Trent, but I kind of see Dr. O as a mentor, you know?"
She hadn't brought up Trent much, for which he was grateful. Trent had had his difficulties, and he had to admit he did feel sorry for the guy. But he had to admit relief when it hadn't worked out, just like he had to admit he was relieved when he and Krista hadn't worked out. Trent was a teammate, but Conner had felt absurdly like an older brother when they started flirting.
And now? Now that Trent and Kira were over, he didn't feel very much like an older brother anymore.
"Yeah, I know," Conner had responded. He felt the same way. "Hey, I should go and visit you in New York sometime, your headsetness."
Kira laughed. Conner was glad to see her laughing. It seemed to him that doing customer service would be a thankless job, even if Kira's calls were inbound and she wasn't telemarketing, as one of their classmates had done to pay for college. "Sure. If you want to."
"Hey, someone has to be there after the sucky customers," Conner offered. "And if Trent's so busy..." He was aware he was treading onto shaky ground there.
"As I said," Kira told him, "he's got his own issues, I don't like to bother him with mine." She shook her head as if to clear it. "Besides, most of the customers are pretty nice. There aren't that many sucky ones. And when there are, I just vent about it. There's a community on Livejournal that's great for that."
"Get a lot of sympathy there?" Conner asked. He had to wonder what was happening in her own life if she was venting to complete strangers.
"And it reminds me that things could be far, far worse," Kira said. "It keeps me sane."
"Oh," he said. He wished he'd been majoring in psychology instead of philosophy - but no. He had enough going on in his life that he didn't need to be analyzing every last thing. Besides, as he told Kira, philosophy was cool. Maybe he'd get to the point where he could start debating Eric's senseis.
"Nothing brilliant to say, oh great Philosophy Major?" Kira teased.
"I'm on vacation," Conner managed.
"Well, next time take a vacation over to New York," Kira said. "Me and Trent would be happy to put you up."
He considered that. Kira would put him up happily; Trent would, he'd admit, probably would too. Then distance himself the entire time so that they wouldn't have to deal with each other.
"Thanks," he said. "We'll have to do that." He paused. "You and I and Ethan should all get together some time too."
"I know," Kira said. She grinned. "Maybe we could try another music video together, the three of us. It would be great."
Conner considered. It was a great idea... and the fact that she was specifically limiting it to the three of them was also good. "Sure."
He looked over and saw the rest of their group - Ethan, Dr. O, Hayley, and Trent - approaching. He nudged Kira, regretting the loss of their private time together, for the moment.
Kira looked where he nudged. "Hey, guys!"
This is my first update on this fic in 5 years, according to my notes.
He welcomed Hayley's hug and Dr. O's pat on his shoulder, and once they'd found a spot where they could talk freely, chatted about old times, about Megazords and monsters and Mesogog. Trent didn't say much about his father's alter-ego, but Conner wasn't about to go into that either. It wasn't like Trent had chosen his foster father, and it wasn't like he'd known until late that Anton Mercer and Mesogog were the same being.
"Kira tells me you're a philosophy major, Conner," Doctor O said with a twinkle in his eyes. Conner had to wonder at how bright an idea that was, to share that particular fact with Doctor O, but it wasn't like he was going to broadcast it. And it wasn't like Conner himself was hiding the fact, so he could hardly complain, could he? Everybody had been proud that Conner had made Harvard, and he really owed it to all of them to be proud of what he had chosen to do. Even if he wasn't too sure about what teasing might come from him choosing Philosophy. For one, it was a bit hard to find a job with that degree, though not impossible.
But that seemed like a long way away, just as his time as a Ranger had been. Though that didn't seem so far away, now that he was surrounded by teammates and friends. Really, it seemed like things had never ended, when they were all together. Yeah, he was no longer with Krista, and Trent and Kira, who he'd thought would never break up, were broken up, but they were all pursuing their dreams, in their own ways. Kira was signging, Trent was learning to be an artist, Ethan was having the best time ever in school, and he had to wonder if Doctor O and Hayley were going to hook up, finally.
"Yeah," he admitted. "I like it. I guess that time with that meteorite really opened my eyes to some things." He could have done without being turned into Mr. Bookworm, but it had not been bad, in the end. He really did enjoy classes and essays and papers, or at least as much as anybody else did. He was really good at the school thing, something he would have never thought before.
Maybe other changes were possible, he thought as he looked at Kira. Maybe he could talk her into dating him, at least someday. Maybe when she got over Trent. It wasn't impossible, as long as he respected her for who she was, instead of who someone wanted her to be.
It was an enjoyable lunch, he had to admit. "I wish I'd been changed that way," Trent said wistfully. Conner tried to remember what had happened to Trent - oh, yeah, he turned good for a while, didn't he? It didn't seem so big now, now that they were both older, and that Conner had been studying philosophy and belief, and other things that tried to understand humans and the world. He had to admit, that if Trent had hurt Kira physically, Conner would still beat him up, or what remained of him after Kira had gotten through with him. But Trent was not that way, and the fact that the two of them still lived together, even if they didn't really talk, spoke volumes about the fact that they still liked and respected each other. Just not romantically. Conner suspected that Trent had changed too, and for the better, but that hadn't stopped the two of them from breaking up.
"Yeah," Conner agreed. "Dude, of the four of us, you changed the least. With that thing, I mean." Trent had always been good, and the meteorite should have shown his hidden side, though Conner had to admit that having Trent be on the good side for that brief time was probably the best of everything.
Trent smiled, and Conner could still see the guilt in his expression. Years ago, he would have harped on Trent for it; now, he looked at his teammate, and suddenly understood what Trent had gone through. Sure, Doctor O had been evil, but it might have been in the era of the dinosaurs for as much as it seemed to affect him. With Trent, it was a different story. The pain, while not fresh, was still there, lurking. Some part of him still wanted pain for pain, but the rest of him realized that it had never, ever been Trent's fault.
It was amusing to think that he'd grown up, possibly more than the others. Or at least he was starting to realize things without the blinds of teenage hormones and instead reason things through. He wasn't sure about the whole elevator speech thing that one professor had cheekily assigned that weekend, but he was sure that he'd emphasize his skills, and his philosophical outlook, and how mature he was. Or maybe not, on that last one. He wasn't sure. He still had to do the speech, and it had taken him ten tries.
But there were worse things, and now that he was with the others, he felt much more at home, as if something had been missing. Of course, he knew that it had, but now, it was pretty apparent to him that it had been really, really missing in his life, and that he needed to get it back.
"Yeah, who knew what Trent's would have been like?" Kira teased, and Trent relaxed, a little. Conner definitely wasn't going to have to kick Trent's ass any time soon.
"Um." Trent smiled at the ground. "I don't know."
There were a lot of things that Conner could have said, but he genuinely didn't know what Trent's inner self would have been like. And, suddenly, he wanted to know, in things not involving meteorites.
It said something about him that he finally really wanted to get to know Trent. Now that the whole thing with Trent and Kira was out of the way, he could live with getting to know the other Ranger better. He knew that some of it was straight out jealousy that wasn't Trent's fault, but part of it was that Kira had been his teammate and he was protective of her like a teammate should be, especially with an outsider. Trent was part of the team, but not in a way that he, Kira, and Ethan had been. They'd been the original trio, and maybe he'd shut Trent and Doctor O out in ways he should have.
Not that he was going to say anything about that, because the past was the past, and everything was okay now.
"Probably a tough guy," Kira teased, and Trent seemed to blush a little. They might have drifted apart, but it was apparent that the two of them were still friends.
"I don't think so," Trent said, but he was still blushing.
Conner wondered if asking Kira out was a wise idea. It would probably hurt Trent's feelings, though, and he wanted to avoid that, and he didn't want to be Kira's rebound, either.
"So, what's it like being a philosophy major?" Ethan asked, and Conner felt a wave of guilt crash through him. Sure, he couldn't explain the whole thing to himself sometimes, but Ethan and Kira and the others deserved better.
"I'm not one yet, but it's a lot of explaining and thinking," Conner said, at a loss to say what it meant to someone other than Kira. "You kind of get a better idea of the universe. And if you get a better idea of the universe, maybe you can make things better." Like the soccer camps he wanted to open someday. Probably not what his parents had sent him to Stanford for, but he figured he'd get there eventually.
Ethan nodded. "That sounds cool, actually. Reminds me a bit of computer programming."
Conner wondered what computer programming had to do with philosophy, but maybe that was something to think about. "Maybe." It was the best answer he could give. "You? What are you up to?"
"Hayley didn't get me into CalTech for nothing," Ethan said. "And I really like Pasadena. Even if I feel like I can't throw a stone without hitting a college downtown there."
Oh, yeah. He remembered when Ethan and Hayley had been talking about the place. CalTech was only a few blocks down from the local city college, and a few miles from some religious university that he should remember the name of.
But this was him, absentminded as always. But not stupid, no matter how dumb a jock he'd sounded like back in high school. Dumb jocks didn't go to Stanford, even on soccer scholarships. He felt absurdly pleased at what he'd accomplished, something that he definitely never would have thought he'd accomplish.
Maybe getting older changed your mind on some things, or at least growing up did. Going to college. Living kind of on your own. He hadn't made that many friends in college, though that possibly had to do with being on a team with other people; kind of made things less important than they should be.
"Ethan's dating some college grad that's working over in computer support at the next college over," Trent contributed, with a grin.
It was hard to tell when Ethan blushed, but Conner was sure he was. He made a note to actually bother to keep up with those kinds of things. Couldn't have Trent get all the scoops on everyone's love lives when he was perfectly capable of doing so himself.
Okay, so asking about peoples' relationships was kind of never his thing, but other than that....
He definitely had to keep in touch. Well, of course he'd probably assumed that the others would keep in touch with him, but maybe he should have said something. Like not to forget him.
The group continued on, and he joked and asked questions and made promises to keep in touch instead of forgetting like he tended to, and finally the rest were gone and it was just him and Kira.
He gazed at her. "So… um." Yeah, he might have been a philosophy major, or at least supposed to be, but that didn't make him suave. "I guess I really should keep in touch."
"It's my fault, too," Kira admitted. "I bugged Ethan, and of course I was in touch with Haley, and I live with Trent."
"And I seriously need a way to keep in touch," Conner said. "I mean, I can't forget where I parked my zord, but...." He couldn't remember what was most important to him, apparently.
"Don't worry," Kira said with a smile. "I'm serious. Come over and stay in New York with me and Trent. I promise we don't bite." Her look was gently, but he couldn't help but hang his head. "I'm happy that you like school, Conner. And I'm sorry I thought you were so caught up in school...."
"Yeah. Well." He looked at her. "I shouldn't be that caught up. You and Ethan... we're a team." And Doctor O, and Trent, of course, but the core group had never lost importance to him.
Kira had never lost importance to him, and he wished that his philosophy classes covered things like how to ask a kickass teammate for a date. Because he was sure that he was turning red himself, trying to think of something useful and witty to say.
"Thinking of something philosophical?" Kira asked, a twinkle in her eye, and Conner had to wonder if she knew he'd always harbored something for her.
"Thinking of something foolish," he admitted. "Though that's relative in philosophy. And a matter of great debate."
She laughed, and he hoped that it was a good laugh. He had to admit that it was pleasant. "Nothing could be foolish with you."
He grinned, and that, if nothing else, had to be entirely silly. "So... um. I know you and Trent aren't together, I was wondering if I'd... I could...." If he could date her without it being a problem.
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "But Trent and I broke up a while ago. And you've always been there for me. I'm willing to give it a try."
Conner hoped she wasn't doing this just to make sure he didn't fall out of touch with her and the others. "Thanks."
"To be honest," Kira said. "It's... kind of what I came here to see if I wanted to ask. But you looked so lonely, and then... well, it's good to see you smile."
He grinned widely at that. "Then I'll try with you." He shouldn't have fallen out of touch, but he had, and even if she meant to just feel him out, it wasn't too bad. They'd saved the world together; how much more cool of a partnership could you get than that?
"Sounds good to me, Mr. Philosophy Major," Kira said, smiling, teasing him a bit.
"I'll keep that in mind, Your Headsetness," he said, teasing her right back.
And even the rain, starting to fall, couldn't dampen his smile.