Apparently, the phrase ‘once a ranger, always a ranger’ only really applied if you were an active ranger at the time. Because as far as Rocky could tell, the second you stopped being an active ranger, it was like your teammates forgot that you existed. They didn’t bother to do things like call you if the world was going to end, or let you know that they had handed in their own powers and were no longer rangers themselves. In fact, it was even as though their friendship hadn’t existed, even if they had been friends for years before they had even been selected to be rangers.
Either that or Adam Park was just an insensitive jackass. Which, considering that he had made his career of being the sensitive shy artist type, didn’t really strike Rocky as likely, even if he was acting like the textbook definition of jerk at the moment.
You were supposed to call your best friend if you’d almost gotten yourself killed. You were not supposed to let the aforementioned best friend find out that you almost got yourself killed from a twelve year old.
It was a pretty serious insult, as far as Rocky was concerned. Especially considering that the aforementioned twelve year old was the kid who had replaced him on the team, and in Adam’s life.
He shouldn’t care. Adam hadn’t shown him any respect or bothered to let him know that he was hurt, so Rocky was under no obligation to go visit him while he was recovering. But he found himself standing outside the Park’s house anyway, trying to decide if he should ring the bell or not.
There was a time when he would have just walked right in without thinking about it. It was amazing what a difference six months had made.
“Rocky?” a voice said from behind him, and Rocky whirled around to see Adam’s mother standing behind him, holding a grocery bag. He put a hand out to catch onto the house to steady himself, cursing his stupid back injury that had left him sidelined for so long.
“Hi, Mrs. Park,” Rocky said. “Do you want a hand with that bag?” Not the smartest move in the world considering his back, but it didn’t look that heavy.
“Thank you, dear,” Adam’s mother said as she passed it over to him. “I appreciate it.” She reached for her keys. “I guess you heard what happened to Adam?”
Rocky nodded. “Some sort of monster attack? I heard it in passing, he didn’t call…” the bitter words escaped from Rocky’s mouth before he could stop them. He didn’t need to take the bitterness out on Adam’s parents. They weren’t the ones responsible.
“I’m surprised you heard it at all,” Mrs. Park said as she finally got the door open and gestured for him to come inside. “We didn’t really call anyone to let them know. Adam needed his rest, not for everyone to stop by. He’s just so easily exhausted, the poor dear. I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you. He’s been asking for you.”
”He has?” Rocky was surprised. He hadn’t thought that Adam was thinking of him at all. “Then why…”
”We didn’t want to worry anyone, really. I’m beginning to think that was a mistake, but the Power Rangers who brought him by after he got caught in the crossfire were insistent that he would be okay only if he rested. And I know you and your friends – Adam would be up trying to prove that he was completely fine and could handle anything, that he didn’t need to stay in bed. You know my son – isolating him can be the only way to keep him quiet when he needs to rest.”
That made a scary amount of sense.
“So he wanted to call?” Rocky was sure that he sounded desperate and pathetic.
”Whenever he was awake he asked, actually. We’ve told him that he can see you as soon as he recovered. It’s been fairly good incentive, actually.”
“Is he well enough for visitors yet?”
Adam’s mother shook her head. “I’m afraid not, Rocky. Whatever that monster did to him, he still needs to sleep. But I promise – as soon as he’s okay, you’ll be the first person I call.”
“Thanks,” Rocky said.
It was another three days before Rocky’s phone rang.
“Hello?” he barked into the phone.
“Hey, Rocky,” Adam’s familiar voice said at the other end of the line. “Sorry it took me so long to call.” Adam sounded more drained than Rocky had ever heard him before. Whatever monster attack he’d been caught in had apparently been way more serious than Rocky had thought. He couldn’t believe that Adam had tried to take on a monster all by himself without any powers.
“How are you feeling?” Rocky asked.
“Still pretty exhausted,” Adam admitted. “This took a lot out of me.”
”What the hell were you thinking?”
“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “But you don’t understand what happened… Look, why don’t you come over? I can tell you all about it then.”
“I’ll be right over,” Rocky promised, hanging up the phone. He grabbed his jacket and made his way to Adam’s parents within minutes.
This time, he went right in.
“Hey, Rocky,” Adam called from the living room. He was sitting in a chair, and from the look of it, he wouldn’t be able to get up any time.
“You look like shit,” Rocky observed. Adam really did look like he’d been through hell. There weren’t any obvious bruises that Rocky could see – it didn’t look like he had been in a fight or anything, but it was more that Adam just looked drained. There were enormous shadows under his eyes, and he looked like he would fall over if he tried to get up out of the chair.
“Feel like it too,” Adam said. “Come and have a seat,” he suggested.
Rocky dragged over a chair from the dining room, until he was sitting right next to him. “So what happened?” he asked.
”I morphed,” Adam said, before he started coughing uncontrollably.
Rocky ran over to the kitchen and got him some water.
“Thank you,” Adam said after he drank it.
“You morphed?” Rocky said finally. “But that isn’t… how did you pull that off? Our morphers were destroyed!”
Adam winced. “Yeah, about that…”
“Oh, Adam,” Rocky said. “I can’t believe that you did that.”
Adam shrugged. “Well, I mean, you weren’t there at the time. Carlos didn’t have his morpher, and we were under attack. Without morphin we would have… it was necessary at the time!”
“The Space Rangers didn’t show up? And why didn’t Carlos have his morpher?” Rocky had other questions, like why was Adam there in the first place, but he decided it would probably be better to wait.
“Well, they did show up eventually,” Adam admitted “And the Carlos thing is complicated. I’ll tell you about it after.” He coughed again, and took another sip of the water. “But they weren’t there at the time, and I couldn’t handle it all on my own.”
”So you morphed,” Rocky prompted.
“Why did you even have your morpher with you? It hasn’t worked for years. Not since we got turned into kids by Master Vile’s orb.”
“I know that,” Adam said. “But I mean… didn’t you carry around any of it?” He glanced over at Rocky’s bare wrist, and Rocky realized for the first time that Adam still had his communicator on his wrist.
“We aren’t rangers anymore,” Rocky pointed out gently. “We haven’t been for a while now.”
“I know,” Adam admitted. “But some things are hard to let go of, you know?”
“Oh, I know exactly how hard it was,” Rocky said, teeth grinding as he tried to control his temper. “I gave up my powers long before you did. But it wasn’t like you even noticed. It was like I just stopped existing after I got hurt.”
Adam had the decency to look ashamed of himself. “We didn’t mean to hurt you, Rocky,” he said.
Rocky snorted. “Sure.”
”We didn’t!” Adam protested. “Really, we just… you were hurt, and you never seemed to want to talk about it. And we didn’t want to seem to be rubbing your nose in it, and… you remember what it was like. You protect the civilians. We didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“I was a ranger, not a civilian,” Rocky pointed out.
“I know,” Adam said, lowering his eyes. “But you were so badly hurt – how many surgeries did you have? Three? I couldn’t… if something had happened to you, I’d never have forgiven myself.”
“Just trying to protect me?” Rocky said incredulously. “That sounds like the same sort of crap Tommy used to say about Kim.”
”I didn’t…” Adam started to protest, but then he winced. “Okay, so you have a point,” he admitted. “But you didn’t… when you were lying there after you fell, I thought… if I lost you. I just couldn’t.”
“You’d already lost me, Adam,” Rocky said. “You dumped me, remember? You couldn’t deal with everything and just… went to Tanya.”
Adam started to cough, and Rocky looked in on Adam in concern until Adam managed to catch his breath again.
“Sorry,” Adam apologized. “I’m still just…” He took a few deep breaths before continuing. “I made a mistake. It doesn’t excuse what I did to you. I was just scared.”
”So you used Tanya,” Rocky accused.
“I did,” Adam said. “And well, we’re not together anymore. We haven’t been since we left Angel Grove. She… well, she says she understands and she forgives me.” He paused for a moment. “I wish I could have loved her,” he said, and Rocky recoiled. “It would have been easier,” Adam continued. “But… I couldn’t.” He met Rocky’s eyes. “She wasn’t you.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Rocky asked.
“No,” Adam said. “I just… wanted to make you understand.”
Rocky got up. “Well, I know now.”
”You’re leaving,” Adam said.
“Why would I stay?”
”Because I love you.”
Rocky barely heard the words, and for a second he’d thought that he’d imagined them.
“What did you say?” he said, turning around.
“I said I love you,” Adam said, a little bit louder this time.
Rocky sat back down. “Then… why?”
“Why did I want to love Tanya?” Adam asked, and Rocky nodded.
“It would have been easier, and that’s not an excuse, it’s just… the way it was. I didn’t want for everything to be so hard.”
“We could have been together. It would have been enough.”
“I know that now,” Adam said. “I made a mistake. I don’t expect you to ever forgive me.”
“Then why am I here?” Rocky asked.
Adam shook his head. “I hoped because… maybe you still…”
“I will always care for you, Adam,” Rocky told him, although he avoided saying the word love.
Adam nodded. “I… thank you,” he said.
Rocky could see the pain in his eyes, but he tried to ignore it.
“So why did you do it?” he asked Adam abruptly. “Why would you morph when you knew what it would do to you?”
“I needed to,” Adam answered.
“You needed to?” Rocky’s voice grew louder, and Adam shrunk back in his chair, and Rocky was once again confronted with how frail Adam looked, and how unlike him it was. Adam had always been one of the strongest people he’d known. To see him like this was… harder than Rocky could have imagined, and he got a momentary glimpse of how Adam must have felt after Rocky had hurt his back.
Which still didn’t excuse the Tanya thing.
Rocky could actually understand the Tanya thing much more than he was letting on.
Adam sighed, and he just sounded so tired. “I needed… I needed to feel something again,” he said in a tiny voice. “I needed to remember what it was like to feel important, to have the power again. To make a difference somewhere. Even just for a moment.”
“What did you think was going to happen?” Rocky asked. “You know that the morpher was broken – Zordon and Billy both told us that it could never be safely used again. And… you know what happened to Jason with the Gold powers!”
“I do,” Adam said, and he stared straight at Rocky.
The full impact of what Adam had just said hit Rocky with a thunk.
“You were hoping it was going to kill you,” he said.
“Why?” Rocky shouted. “Why would you want that? Why would you DO that?”
“What did I have to live for?” Adam asked. “You hated me, Tanya was… well, she’s forgiven me for it, but we’re not actually friends or anything anymore, and school is… I used to be able to balance rangering, martial arts, school, and a part time job. But after losing the powers, it was like I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t concentrate. I barely passed any of my classes this semester, and you know how my family is about grades. And the worst part was that nothing actually matter anymore. Nothing I was doing was important to anyone. And I was still hiding and I just… if I’d died fighting that monster, at least I would have died doing something important.”
“So you went to the park thinking…” Rocky started to say, but he stopped, and just let Adam talk. Adam needed this, and he needed to hear it as well.
“That wasn’t why I went originally,” Adam protested. “I mean, I was thinking it. But I thought… maybe I could make myself useful to the team. Help them. And Carlos needed me, and I was helping him get his self-confidence back. I was making a difference again. But it still wasn’t enough.” Adam’s eyes closed momentarily, and Rocky could practically see him try to summon the strength to continue.
“And?” he pressed.
“And my morpher was still here in Angel Grove,” Adam said. “It was so easy – to just start bringing it with me, pretending that I was still a ranger, out to work with my teammates. And then… if I used it… Alpha told me not to. But what else was there?”
“You need serious therapy,” Rocky muttered.
“I know,” Adam said. “I don’t… I don’t like feeling like this. I really don’t. And… if I died in battle, it’s an honorable death.”
”It still would have been suicide,” Rocky said.
“I would have been killed by a monster.”
“Your morpher would have killed you, and you knew that. Just think of what it would have done – to the new kids who were fighting with you. You know they would have blamed themselves! To your family. To Tanya. To me.”
“I didn’t want to… I didn’t think.”
”No,” Rocky said quietly. “You really didn’t.”
He took Adam’s hand and raised it to his mouth, kissing the knuckles gently.
”I will always be here for you,” he promised Adam. “No matter what.”