Chapter 1: loss
He woke to cold and faces crowded around him, hovering, poking, prodding. He recognized none of them, and his silent cry for the one person he wanted, needed, hadn't been answered. The panic that overwhelmed him was instinctive, as was the telekinetic burst that sent them all flying. He was on his feet in an instant, stumbling down corridors he didn't know past people he barely registered, the mental cry becoming a continuous scream for help.
He vaguely remembered fighting his way past guards and people who wore bright colors. The Colors seemed vaguely familiar, so he made sure to only leave them disabled. It wasn't like he actually wanted to *hurt* anyone, anyway. He just wanted to get out of this strange place so he could go home.
But his escape from the Poking/Corridors/Guards/ColoredPeople left him out in what he recognized as fresh air, but nothing more. His eyes flickered wildly from building to building, past the people on the sidewalks who stared back at him. This wasn't KO-35. This wasn't even Eltar. It was too cold, too much metal and stone. Too much tension in the air, not enough calm and clarity.
Later he would realize that he was in shock, that it wasn't like him to react this way, but for now he kept running. He tried to call his Galaxy Glider but received no answer, which meant that D.E.C.A. wasn't here. No Andros, no D.E.C.A. He was all alone, and he didn't know where or why.
Running had eventually gotten him to the top of this building, staring down at the people below. He wasn't sure why he'd come back to this building in particular, but he didn't really know anywhere else *to* go. Even if they'd kidnapped him or something, if they had the technology to contain him, that meant they would have the technology for him to call for help.
Wherever help was.
The view from up here wasn't too bad. You could see the entire city sprawling across the landscape. Not the greatest place to be if you had a fear of heights, but it was peaceful.
He wished it was an endless sea of grass, with buildings in the far distance. That the tiny people below wore capes and had duo-toned hair, and their children carried telekinesis balls with them. He wished for the spaceport dock and the soothing atmosphere of people greeting one another softly as they moved through their lives.
It didn't really matter how much he wished for it, though. It couldn't change what it was. And wishing wasn't going to do anything but make him upset again.
The barest whisper of a footstep came from behind him, and he whirled. "Super Silverizer!"
The dark-skinned teen across from him instantly held up his hands. "Whoa, hey. Take it easy," he said slowly.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Jack Landors, S.P.D." The teen eyed him. "I'd show you my badge, but I'd rather not get shot."
The corner of his mouth threatened to twitch. "Where am I?"
"The top of the S.P.D. Earth headquarters in Newtech City. Although why you came back here after the fight you put up to get away ... " Jack raised his eyebrows.
The urge to lower his weapon was strong, and he had to fight it. This kid wasn't a threat, but that didn't mean whoever he worked for wasn't. Or that he was really alone.
"Why am I here?" he asked instead.
"We were sort of hoping you could tell us," Jack returned with a shrug. "I haven't even gotten the full story on what happened yet. All the commander told us was that you had escaped, and we needed to get you back to S.P.D. before you got hurt."
"Before I get hurt?" he repeated, mildly annoyed. Who did these people think he was? Some rookie amateur? He was the Silver Ranger. "I can take care of myself, thanks."
"Never said you couldn't," Jack shot back. "But it helps to know what's going on first, doesn't it?"
"It might," he acknowledged. "But I don't have any reason to trust you. I don't even know you."
Jack took something from his belt, moving slowly enough to keep from making him anxious. "Here. Take my morpher."
He froze, staring down at the device being offered to him so casually. It wasn't one he recognized, but even from here he could tell that it was the genuine article. "You're a Ranger?"
"S.P.D. Red Ranger," Jack confirmed with a nod, still watching him carefully. "Go on. Take it."
He shook his head, lowering his Silverizer at last. "No. You're a Ranger. I already know I can trust you."
For some reason that seemed to surprise Jack, but at last he nodded. "Will you come with me to meet Commander Cruger, so he can explain things? No one's gonna to hurt you, I promise."
He raised his eyebrows behind his helmet, somewhat amused. "I think you guys should be more worried about what *I* might do to *you*."
"Nah. That's what my second-in-command's for," Jack said easily. "Him being a paranoid freak makes my life a lot easier."
He laughed outright. "That's what - " He paused in mid-sentence, a sudden wave of loneliness sweeping over him. "That was my partner's job," he finished quietly.
Jack's gaze was sympathetic, but all he said was "Follow me. We can take the long way down this time, instead of, uh ... " He glanced warily at the railing behind him. "Your way."
He finally managed a smile he knew the other wouldn't see. "But that was the fun part."
The walk down to wherever Jack was leading him was silent and filled with startled people staring at them as they passed. He gave them only a cursory glance, more interested in understanding where he was and what was going on. "You said you're a Ranger, right?" he asked suddenly.
Jack glanced back at him. "Yeah. Why?"
"If this base of yours is used to Rangers, why is everyone staring at me?"
Jack grinned a little. "Well, I'd imagine they're not so used to us bringing in the people who attacked us without them wearing handcuffs. Speaking from personal experience," he added, making him wonder. "Besides, most of our Rangers don't go cruising around the base in uniform."
He frowned. "I attacked you?" He paused as he remembered something about guards and Colored People being in the way. "Oh. Oh! Um, sorry? I wasn't, uh - "
"It's cool," Jack interrupted, giving him an easy smile. "It wasn't like anybody was seriously hurt, anyway. Even my squadmate said that you were just trying to get out, and we were in the way."
He wondered what significance the opinion of Jack's squadmate made, and what exactly a squadmate was. He looked at Jack and shrugged a little. "I didn't know where I was."
Jack just nodded. "And it's not like anyone took the time to explain things to you yet, I figure." He shook his head with a dramatic sigh. "Typical S.P.D. Induce panic first, answer questions later."
He laughed without meaning to. "I take it you're not part of the recruitment?"
"I got told I join S.P.D. or go to jail," Jack snorted. "So, yeah. No. Not really."
"Sounds like a fun place," he said wryly.
Jack shrugged. "It's not so bad," he admitted to his surprise. "I didn't want to be here - still don't, really - but there are worse places I could have ended up. And at least this time I know what the other side of the law is really doing."
The more Jack talked, the more interesting he became. It was too bad he'd be leaving soon.
Although he did wonder why Jack hadn't said anything about him needing to power down - not that he would have.
At last they stopped outside a set of double doors that slid open automatically, revealing dozens of computers and what looked like some surveillance equipment. It was also strangely empty, except for the large Syrian that was obviously waiting for him, a small Dosian woman at his side. Just how stupid where these people? If those two were all that was supposed to be keeping him from breaking out of here, they were in for a serious surprise.
"Commander Cruger, Sir. The Silver Ranger as ordered, Sir," Jack announced, and there was something subtly mocking in his tone that amused him. Problems with authority, huh? Jack was definitely his kind of guy.
"Thank you, Cadet Landors," the Syrian returned with a rather pointed stare. "You are dismissed."
Jack turned to leave, flashing a wink at him as he did. "Good luck," he murmured.
The thought of using him as a hostage flashed through his mind briefly, but he liked Jack too much to honestly consider it.
His thoughts were interrupted by the Syrian clearing his throat loudly. "Greetings, Zhane of KO-35. I am Commander Anubis Cruger of S.P.D. Earth. This is Dr. Kat Manx." The commander's greeting was calm and cold, followed by a brief nod of acknowledgement in his direction. Apparently he was assuming anything that came after his name was supposed to mean something. "I understand that you are very confused right now, and I apologize. I was asked to give you this should you awake while under my care."
He eyed the disk being offered to him warily, his eyes flickering up to Cruger's and back as his hands remained at his sides.
"I'll play it for you," Dr. Manx spoke up. He noticed that she moved to take the disk from Cruger with both hands where he could see them, watching him carefully as she took it - a beautiful woman, but not a stupid one. He didn't stop her, although his eyes followed her without ever letting Cruger out of his line of sight.
His head came up at the painfully familiar voice, staring at the image of Andros being projected for him. His partner looked ... old. Older, at any rate. There were lines around his eyes that hadn't been there before, as well as a relaxed look in his eyes and stance. Geez, his hair was even loose. What was going *on* here?
"I wish I could be there to explain all this to you in person," Andros began, looking guilty. "But I promise you can trust these people. I wouldn't have left you with them if you couldn't."
Andros hesitated, at last looking down with a pained expression. "Zhane ... there's no easy way to tell you this. You ... Do you remember the fight for KO-35, when Dark Specter invaded? Do you remember stepping in to take on that monster for me?" There was a deliberate pause, and the grief in his friend's eyes increased. "You nearly died, Zhane. There was nothing anyone could do ... so I put you in cryogenic stasis, hoping you'd wake up one day." He managed a smile, but it was so fake it was painful to look at. "And now you finally have."
Zhane knew Andros. They'd known each other since the Collegiate, back when they were only children. He knew, better than *anyone*, just how to read his best friend.
Andros didn't think he was going to wake up.
This message ... whatever it was ... had been an attempt for Andros to convince *himself* that Zhane wasn't really dead. Because by the time he'd recorded it - or maybe even when he first put him in stasis - he'd given up hope that he ever would.
This message was Andros' last goodbye.
He swallowed hard. The video was still playing, but he no longer cared. "How long?" he asked hoarsely.
"Forty-nine years." Dr. Manx's voice was soft as she watched him with sympathy. "The invasion of KO-35 where you were assumed dead was in 437 A.C. Earth standard time has been twenty-four years."
Almost fifty years. He swayed, groping behind him for a chair as he stumbled. He ended up leaning against a console instead. " ... Andros?" he managed weakly.
"Is alive," she promised gently. "He currently lives on Earth with his wife Ashley Hammond, the former Yellow Space Ranger. They live not far from here." She hesitated. "It was Andros' wish that he be nearby if you ever woke up."
Another attempt at clinging to hope. "Why ... how did I get here?" he wondered eventually, more to himself than her. "Why am I not on KO-35?"
"KO-35 was invaded during the battle in which you were injured," she explained. "Your stasis chamber was on the Astro Megaship, with the Astro Rangers. The ship was donated to the Galaxy Rangers during their journey to Mirinoi with the space colony Terra Venture. You remained with it until shortly after the founding of the S.P.D. base on Earth, at which point Andros thought it might be best if you were left with people who might be better able to care for your needs. That's where you are now," she added as he stared at her blankly. "Space Patrol Delta, in Newtech City on the planet Earth, in the Milky Way Galaxy - formerly known as Galaxy 1542-B."
His coffin was being passed around between random Rangers because Andros didn't want to admit he might not ever wake up again? The thought made him sick, and he fought the urge to put his head between his knees. The urge to unbuckle his helmet was overwhelming, and his fingers fumbled with the clasps. He took in several deep breaths as he lowered it, trying to force his stomach to settle.
"I understand this has been a massive shock to you," Cruger spoke up, and he nearly jumped. He'd forgotten he was there. "If you'd like, Ms. Manx can show you to a room - "
"No," he interrupted, forcing air into his lungs. He swallowed again, took another breath, and made himself stand up straight. "I want to know more about S.P.D."
They both stared at him.
"My best friend thinks I died fifty years ago," he reminded them flatly, and the words hurt. "If I'm alive, then I'm going to start living again. I want to know more about this place, and why Andros would have left me here. He wouldn't have if he didn't think there was something I could do."
Cruger and Ms. Manx exchanged glances. "If you wish ... " Cruger said warily.
It took a moment, but at last he managed a smile that didn't look completely fake. "Hey, I'm the Silver Ranger. I sit around when there's chores to be done and show up when there's a fight to win. Now what fight can you throw me into?"
"Are you sure we should be doing this so soon?" he asked, watching the doorway to the 'rec room' as they'd called it, suspiciously. "I don't even have a uniform yet. Shouldn't this wait until I'm official or something?"
"I see no reason to put off the inevitable," Cruger told him. He tilted his head, raising what was apparently his eyebrows. "Have you changed your mind?"
"Of course not." He pushed away the indignant feeling and shrugged. "It just seems ... I dunno. Sudden. They probably won't appreciate this."
"I'm not asking for their approval. Placing you with the Rangers is the most logical choice in our situation. They will simply have to adjust."
And I'll just bet they'll *love* that ... he sighed to himself. Instead he nodded. "After you, big guy," he said cheerfully, flashing a cheeky grin. Something about Cruger rubbed him the wrong way, and he was determined to make the feeling mutual.
He didn't think it would take long.
Cruger sighed, striding forward with the confidence of a man who was used to having everyone follow his orders. Zhane waited a good minute before following along at a lazy stroll, helmet tucked under one arm. He wanted to make a good impression on these other Rangers, after all.
"I don't trust him," he heard someone say stubbornly as he neared the door. "He comes out of nowhere, *attacks* us, we drag him back here, and now we're inviting him to join S.P.D.? It's an invitation for trouble, Sir."
"Of course it is," he announced brightly as he walked in. "Trouble and I are best friends. We like to make life interesting for everyone else."
He clearly heard Jack snicker, and saw most of the others fighting grins.
He turned to the only one who hadn't smiled, a tall, grumpy-looking blond. "You must be Jack's second. I hear you're the stiff, awkward, responsible one. I'm Zhane. Congratulations. You're going to hate me," he informed him cheerfully, holding out a hand.
The others snickered wildly as the blond stared back at him, unamused, and ignored his hand. "You're not funny," he growled.
"Popular opinion says otherwise. Maybe you just need a better sense of humor," he returned. He turned abruptly to offer his hand to the rumpled looking guy in green behind the grumpy one instead. "Hi. Nice to meet you."
The other boy waved, offering a reluctant smile. "Hi. I'm Bridge. Sorry I uh, don't shake hands. It's nothing personal, I just ... can't. It's sort of a ... thing. Not as in a I don't like people thing, or an I'm anti-social thing, but more like a - "
"Bridge!" the pretty blond girl to his left interrupted, rolling his eyes. She stepped forward with a flirtatious smile of her own as she offered her hand. "I'm Syd. It's nice to meet you. Don't mind Sky - he's just Sky. And Bridge is always like that."
He took her hand and leaned forward to delicately kiss the back instead of shaking it, glancing up to meet her eyes with an enamored smile. "It's an honor, Miss Syd. I've never met a female Ranger before." It was one of his best lines, and it always caught the ladies hook, line, and sinker. Even if it wasn't *necessarily* true ...
She flushed and giggled, batting her eyes at him coyly. "Then I'm glad to be your first," she cooed back, practically oozing pheromones.
Ooh, he liked this one. She knew how to play the game. Come to mention it, she was rather easy on the eyes, too.
"Oh, please," grumbled the other girl, this one a brunette with eyes that challenged his when he looked at her. "Spare the rest of us, would you? I'm Z," she added. She seized his hand in a firm grip before he could kiss hers, giving it a brief, hard shake.
He grinned and winked at her as he shook out his hand when she released him. "Nice to meet you too, Z," he said wryly. She wasn't half bad, either. Reminded him a lot of one of the academy girls ... What was her name again? The one with the cute twin sister who liked to show off her legs ...
After a moment he realized he couldn't remember, and frowned a little. That was ... odd. Hadn't they all spent time together? He could have *sworn* -
"I hope you remember me," a vaguely familiar voice announced, sounding far too close, and he instinctively took a step back. He blinked when he realized the boy from the roof - Jack, right? - was nearly in his face, grinning and making an slightly less-than-subtle attempt to catch his attention. Had he been that out of it?
He nodded solemnly in response, holding out his hand again. "The guy who doesn't appreciate the value of a good building climb. We'll have to work on that." He kissed Jack's answering hand with the same amount of flare as he'd given Syd's, releasing him swiftly and glancing back towards Sky, who looked startled and scandalized all at once. "You were right about him," he noted. "Paranoid definitely sums him up in a nutshell."
The others laughed, only to hurriedly quiet themselves when Cruger cleared his throat loudly. "I hope you will all do your best to make Zhane feel at home Rangers," he began, and Zhane was amused at how much it almost sounded like a threat. "From now on he will be a part of your Squad and your Ranger team, and I expect you to treat him as such. That is all."
"Sir!" they chorused, sliding into some weird sort of arm-jerk reaction.
Zhane stared blankly at them all as Cruger nodded and left them to their own devices. After a moment, he glanced around the room again. "Talk about ironic," he commented at last. "I just barely *left* the academy, and now here I am, back at another Ranger Collegiate. Apparently getting yourself blown up is grounds for re-education," he remarked mildly.
Bridge laughed loudly and awkwardly before abruptly falling silent, as if he wasn't sure if he was expected to or not. Z frowned, Syd looked slightly concerned, and Jack raised his eyebrows. "You went to S.P.D.?"
"Nah. S.P.D.'s a new thing," he explained, moving to slump back on the couch as he absently began to toss his helmet in the air. "I graduated from the Eltarian Ranger Collegiate, Silver Series First Class. The only person who could ever keep up with me was my partner."
"I don't care *how* good you think you are," Sky snarled. "We take things seriously here. We're at war, if you hadn't noticed. We don't have time to retrain some old has-been Ranger with nothing better to do. So either shape up, or ship out."
Zhane watched Sky thoughtfully as the other teen stormed out of the room, ignoring Z's indignant shout after him, and Syd and Bridge's hurried apologies and explanations. "I take it I crushed his ego when I kicked your butts semi-coherent?" he asked Jack.
Jack snorted, but he sounded amused. "Never beat Sky at anything. Take it from me - he'll hate you forever."
He just nodded, still watching where the other had been. It was like looking at a younger Andros all over again - just a taller one. There was something about Sky that called out to him and demanded to be examined and understood, no matter what. And just like with Andros, Sky wouldn't be able to resist for too long - they never did.
And hey, he was kinda cute.
Chapter 2: thrill
List of 22: 20 ~ thrill
Author's Notes: Trying to write Zhane/Sky conflict was somehow harder than I thought it'd be. Love to BlackCrimsonLight for beta.
"In an effort to help Zhane adjust to life at S.P.D., I've decided to assign each of you a subject to tutor him in. It is my hope that this exercise will also help you to bond as a team," Cuger informed the assembled line. "Cadet Tate, you will be testing Zhane's physical and fighting abilities. Cadets Carson and Drew, your job will be to assist him with understanding our technology and surveylance equipment. Cadet Delgado, I want you to go over pop culture. Cadet Landors, you will be in charge of teaching Zhane about S.P.D. policy and updating him on our fight with Grumm." He paused. "Any questions?"
Zhane raised a hand. "Is this really necessary?" he asked, annoyed. "I slept for a few years. I'm not a first year academy student."
"S.P.D. is not the Eltarian Ranger Collegient," Cruger returned, and it was hard not to glare at the somewhat condescending tone he used. "And this exercise is not optional. Dismissed."
"Of course it isn't," he muttered under his breath as he fumbled through the salute.
He followed the others out of the Command Center, turning to give Jack a long-suffering look. "Look, I know you're supposed to be keeping an eye on me and all, but why don't we ignore him and pretend we actually followed orders?" he suggested hopefully.
Jack grinned. "Sorry, buddy. But what the big dog says, goes."
"Since when are you so obedient?" he grumbled irritably, glaring at him. "I just lost so much respect for you."
"This isn't something to joke about," Sky snapped at him. "Don't you take *anything* seriously?"
He raised his eyebrows at him. "I take everything seriously. Do you ever lighten up?" he retorted.
Sky glared, Zhane stared back, and Jack stepped between them, clearing his throat loudly. "Hey, settle down guys. We're supposed to be bonding, remember?" He glanced at Zhane. "So what do you want to cover first?"
Zhane smiled, folding his arms as his eyes remained on Sky. "Physical and fighting tests sounds good to me. What do you think, Sky?"
Sky glowered, but raised his head slightly in acknowledgement. "Fine by me."
He gestured grandly down the hall. "Lead on."
As he followed Sky and grinned at how stiff and tense his shoulders were, he could hear Syd behind them asking "Are we sure they won't kill each other?"
"Don't worry. I promise to return him in large pieces!" he called back, smirking as Sky stopped for a brief moment, let out a barely audible growl, and kept going.
"This, is a standard S.P.D.-issue blaster," Sky lectured, demonstrating how to hold it. "Use your left hand to brace for accuracy, squeeze the trigger to fire. Got it?"
Zhane raised an eyebrow at the blaster he'd been handed. What a weird way to hold a weapon. "Yeah, I think so," he said casually. He hefted it in his hand for a moment, judging the weight. "So when do I get to shoot at something?"
Sky scowled at him. "Bringing training course online," he returned shortly.
He watched the three hovering balls of light as they appeared with a flash and swirled around the room. He raised his right hand, leaving his left at his side, squinted, and fired rapidly.
Perfect Score! New Record!
Zhane laughed openly at the expression on Sky's face. "That was fun," he said innocently. "Sort of like using the blaster mode on my Silverizer," he added, smirking as Sky's stunned expression faded to another dark glare. "I'm a little rusty, though - usually I'm faster than that. Must be the new weapon. What's next?" he asked innocently.
He emerged from the obstacle course covered in mud with leaves in his hair, whooping and throwing his hands up in triumph. "That was fun! Can I go again?" he asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Sky was too busy gaping at his stopwatch to answer.
He glanced around at the pile of sparking Krybots around him as the simulation ended, then flashed Sky a bright smile. "So. Should I try morphing now?"
"So how am I supposed to be getting around this place, anyway?" Zhane asked, glancing at Kat as Sky trailed after them, still sulking. "I haven't seen your teleport platforms anywhere. Do you have them in a more secure location?"
"We only use teleportation in extreme emergencies," Kat told him. "Instead, B Squad has been given the Delta Cruiser, and the boys use their Patrol Cycles to get around."
"No cycles for the girls?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "That doesn't seem to be your style, Dr. Manx."
He could see the fangs in her smile, but her eyes were amused. "Cadet Drew doesn't have a driver's license, and I wouldn't exactly trust Z with one."
He laughed. "So do I hitch a ride in the jeep, or do you have something else for me?"
Her smile faded a little, softening. "I've got something special in mind for you," she promised.
He was about to make another joke when the doors to the hanger slid open. He froze, eyes widening.
"Andros insisted that it be kept ready for you," Kat explained softly. "He wanted to make sure you would have everything you'd need."
He could feel Sky's puzzled stare at his back, but he ignored him, walking towards his Silver Cycle with a feeling of nostalgia. His hands ran along the front end tenderly, and he swallowed hard. Taking a step back, he reached for his morpher. "Let's Rocket!"
When the silver light faded from his vision, he raised a hand. "Galaxy Glider, Hang Ten!"
The transformation from Cycle to Glider was slower than it should have been - he'd have to do some maintenance - but it still worked. He jumped on, executing an easy flip in the process. He only went for a short trip around the hanger, testing its reflexes to check for damage. He couldn't be sure how often it had been checked while he was ... out, or how competent the people doing it were. It was serviceable for now, but he'd have work to do when he had the chance.
He slid to a halt, leaning back on the tail and raising the nose to brake. He dismounted and powered down in the same easy motion, reaching out to pat the Glider fondly. "We'll get you back in shape old girl, don't worry," he murmured, blinking back the sudden wetness to his eyes.
"His bike turns into a surfboard?" he heard Sky demand.
He grinned faintly before turning to offer Kat a sincere smile. "Thanks for taking care of her."
Kat just nodded. "There's more, Zhane."
"More?" he echoed, surprised. All he'd ever needed was his morpher, Glider, and -
He swallowed. No. D.E.C.A. wouldn't be here. Andros wouldn't just leave her sitting around like that. She deserved better, and they both knew it.
"Andros had it prepared for you - he said he thought you'd need it."
He blinked. What was ... ? Oh. Right. Kat.
"He said it's called the MegaWinger," she went on.
He turned to where she was pointing and stared.
She actually looked a bit like the Astro Megaship, only more streamlined. Done in his colors, silver, gold, and black, with -
He swallowed hard. KO-35's symbol had been painted on each of the wings. She was a Kerovian jet.
She was from home.
"She's beautiful," he said softly, his eyes never leaving the Zord. "Mind if I take her out for a spin?"
"I'll go with you."
He glanced back at Sky and saw that for once, he couldn't read the other teen's expression. Then Sky's eyes narrowed again. "Just to see that you don't cause trouble."
"You can fly?"
Sky raised an eyebrow, nodding to the blue Zord perched above the others before leveling him with another stare. "Can you?"
He smiled a little. "See if you can keep up," he returned cockily.
Nothing could ever compare to the feeling of being in the air. There was just something ... open and free about it. The only thing that could ever beat the feeling of flying a ship was his Galaxy Glider - and even that wasn't quite the same thing.
He executed a lazy loop just for the feel of it, and laughed delightedly at how easily the MegaWinger responded. She was a dream, all right. Whoever had built her had known exactly what they were doing.
He spared a moment to wonder if she'd been commissioned, or if Andros had just picked her up somewhere.
He glanced down as his communications console beeped. "This is Silver!" he answered brightly.
"Are we racing or what?" came Sky's voice. "Or are you just gonna fly around doing manuvers all day?"
He grinned. "I'll show you manuvers!" he retorted. "First one to Tokyo and back. There's another S.P.D. base there, right?"
"Wait, what? We can't leave Newtech City for that long - "
"Wait - what - *Zhane*!"
He snickered as he shot up into the atmosphere, leaving Delta Runner 2 behind him. Finally getting Sky to call him by name: point to him. The fact that Sky was actually chasing him, point two. Maybe getting him to lighten up wouldn't be so hard after all.
Pinning a jet against a helicoptor wasn't much of a race, but he had to admit Sky made it more of one than anyone else would have. He had the speed, but Sky had better knowledge of the terrain and better handling capability. And it seemed, Zhane mused, Sky wasn't afraid to cheat - he made a point to cut off the MegaWinger as the two Zords circled back around toward Newtech City.
He retaliated by flying in loops around Delta Runner 2 as soon as he recovered.
He was laughing by the time they finally landed, launching himself over the side of the MegaWinger with one hand and powering down when he landed. He jogged over to meet Sky as the other left his own Zord. "Great race!" he told him cheerfully, offering a hand.
Sky looked at him for a moment. Finally a small, reluctant smile slipped across his face as he accepted the handshake. "You, too."
Chapter 3: losing control
List of 22: 12 ~ losing control
Author's Notes: This is not the prompt I was planning to write, but for some reason I really love this chapter anyway. Love to BlackCrimsonLight, purplestripe66, rosabelle, and Starlit Purple for all their input.
"Gold, cash, and jewelry, all taken in broad daylight, while people were present and *no one* saw anything."
"Maybe the thieves are invisible," Zhane offered innocently. He saw Jack and the girls hiding smirks while Bridge looked thoughtful. Sky and Cruger just glared at him,
"The thefts have been going on for *weeks*," Cruger continued. "And - "
The alarm cut him off, red lights flashing. Zhane flinched and tried not to cover his ears at the sound. Dang, that was loud.
"Where is it, Sir?" Jack asked.
Cruger turned to glance down at the computer readout in front of him. "411 West Road. Zhane, I want you to go and make sure - "
"We'll *all* go," Jack interrupted. "Sir."
Zhane eyed him, but said nothing. Who was he to complain about a group get-together?
The race down to the hanger amused him, if only for the fact that no one else seemed to think anything of Jack's insistence that they all accompany him. "Don't trust me, Jack?" he murmured as he jogged beside him.
Jack gave him a funny look. "Actually, I was thinking that you're new in town so you don't know the area, and no one knows you. It wouldn't be the first time someone's impersonated an S.P.D. officer."
He grinned faintly. "Looking out for me? That's so sweet!" he cooed as he reached for his morpher. "Let's Rocket!"
He almost missed Jack's eyes rolling through the bright flash of light.
"Why'd you morph?" Syd asked from behind him as they rounded the corner.
He glanced back at her. "I prefer my own rides, and my Galaxy Glider doesn't work as well without the Power. Besides, Jack has a point. This way people will at least recognize me as a Ranger, if not S.P.D."
"Huh," Z said thoughtfully, grabbing the back of the Delta Cruiser and throwing herself over the side. Jack and Syd followed, Bridge taking the wheel. Sky went for the patrol bike without the fancy colors, he noted.
"Galaxy Glider, Hang Ten!"
The Cycle may have been more practical on the streets, but something about the feel of his Glider made him feel just a little bit more rebellious as he shot past the Cruiser to the front of the caravan and hovered just in Sky's line of sight.
"S.P.D. Which way did the thieves go?" Sky demanded as the rest of the group jogged up to question the man who'd shouted. Silver Ranger lagged behind, glancing after Bridge, who'd detoured to the right. He debated following him for a moment.
"It's hard to say, really. I ... I didn't actually see them. I just saw cash floating out of my store," he heard distantly.
"Guys! I got one over here!"
He cursed silently, racing to see. The others crowded around him just in time for them all to see Bridge flail his arms wildly and go flying back into a table with a cry.
"Bridge, what are you doing?" Jack shouted.
Bridge's answer was to climb back to his feet and launch himself at something, swinging his fists. He knocked it back into a pole with a loud 'clang'. There was a shower of sparks, and a large, reptilian creature appeared.
"Hah!" Silver Ranger crowed. "Invisible thieves! Told you!"
He could practically *see* Sky glaring from behind him.
Almost as if in answer, a large crowd of Krybots appeared between them and Bridge, lead by a Bluehead.
"Okay, Sky. You and Zhane take the big lizard," Jack ordered. "Syd, Z, and I will take the rest."
"Right!" Sky agreed.
"Ready!" the others chorused. "S.P.D., Emergency!"
He was only slightly distracted by the multicolored flashes of light. Their morph took a little longer than his, he noted. Something to keep in mind later.
Red, Pink, and Yellow launched themselves into the Krybots, while Blue followed him to help Bridge. He got there just in time to see Bridge go flying and the giant lizard cry "I'm out of here!" before running off giggling to itself.
"Oh, no you don't," he growled under his breath.
"There he is!" Blue shouted, pointing as they closed in on the guy.
"Let's do it!" he agreed, raising his fist.
Cornered, the alien swung at them wildly. He found himself exchanging blows for several minutes. Just when he thought he was gaining the upper hand, a large fist snuck into his defenses, knocking him flying into a wall. He cried out without meaning to, curling into a ball as he dropped to the ground.
"Zhane! You all right?" he heard Blue demand.
"Yeah," he forced out, trying to blink the spots from his vision.
He climbed to his feet, pushing back the pain searing through his left shoulder. The Power would take care of it soon enough.
"Come on!" the lizard goaded, making a 'come here' gesture.
"Super Silverizer!" he shouted. He leapt into the air, slashing hard across the alien's shoulder. Hey, a little payback here and there couldn't hurt, could it?
He saw Blue snag the guy's shoulder, and made a point to squeeze the injured one painfully tight as he lowered his Silverizer.
"You are under arrest!" Blue lectured. "You have the right to remain silent."
"Yeah, yeah. Like I haven't heard that one before," the guy sneered back as he continued to recite.
Bringing 'Al' back to S.P.D. was the easy part, once they'd put him in cuffs and stuffed him into the back seat of the Cruiser with a Z on either side him - and Zhane would really *love* to know how she'd learned to do that. Syd had given her seat up to Jack, electing to ride on the back of Sky's bike instead. He felt strangely disappointed for some reason.
"Let's get him into interrogation," Sky spoke up as soon as they arrived back at the base.
"You guys go on ahead," he spoke up, offering an easy grin as he finally powered down. "Interrogation isn't exactly my strong point. I'll catch up with you later. Besides, my Glider could use some maintenance. Can't have Sky thinking he can beat me, after all," he added with a teasing grin in Sky's direction.
Jack nodded as the two Zs and Sky began to move Al along toward the elevator, and paused tilting his head with a slight frown. "Hey. How'd you know he was invisible, anyway?"
He shrugged a shoulder, grin widening. "Lucky guess," he returned cheerily.
Jack shook his head with a smile, rolling his eyes. Bridge seemed to consider his answer seriously, giving him a thoughtful look. "Later," Jack told him as he followed the others.
He waited until they were all gone before his smile faded. He had no desire to tell any of them that when you live in a war zone, on a planet constantly on the verge of being invaded, you tended to learn to expect the unexpected. Sometimes you learned to even expect the obvious. But that wasn't something he wanted any of them to learn the way he had.
At last he took a slow, deep breath, setting his hands on either side of his Glider, flicking off the safety, and slowly maneuvering it toward one of the work areas. The moment he was out of sight of the cameras, he let the wince he'd been fighting show on his face as he lightly touched his left shoulder. The skin was tender to the touch, and he knew there'd be an impressive bruise there by morning.
Why hadn't the Power healed it already? It should have been gone before he even made it back to S.P.D. Why was his shoulder still throbbing like he'd just hit the wall?
He frowned down at his morpher. This ... could not be good.
He was on his way back up to find the rest of his team when he happened to see them through the glass wall of the elevator - on their way back down. And they were dressed in civilian clothes. He tried to wave to catch someone's attention, but they were too busy talking to notice him.
He stopped the elevator on the next floor, frowning. "What are they doing?" he muttered, heading for the stairs to follow them.
He bumped into someone and heard a sharp cry, followed by the sound of multiple objects falling to the floor.
He glanced down with a sigh, offering a smile. "Hi, Boom. You all right?"
The young tech blinked rapidly, at last looking up at him. "Oh. Zhane. Hi. Did I walk into you? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to - "
"I'm fine," he cut in, grinning a little. "No bruises." He crouch down to help pick up the data pads Boom had dropped. "Hey, do you know where B Squad's going? I just saw them all take off."
"Oh, the commander told them to investigate the benefit for Newtech University's Science Center. Mysticon - the one that Al guy was working with - is supposed to be putting on a special show there," Boom said immediately. He paused, looking up wide-eyed. "Was I supposed to tell you that?"
Zhane shrugged and offered him another smile. "Well, it's a mission for B Squad, right? And I'm supposed to be part of B Squad."
Boom frowned a little. "That's true ... "
He clapped him on the shoulder. "Thanks for the tip, Boom. I appreciate it."
As he headed off, he could hear Boom muttering behind him "Why do I get the feeling I just did something really bad?"
Now. Where to find clothes ... Sky was about his size, right?
Zhane growled as he saw Syd standing frozen, her eyes blank as Krybots surrounded her. He recognized that glazed expression: brainwashing. Someone had taken away Syd's freewill.
'Someone' was going to pay.
"*You're* coming with *me*," he heard someone declare, and suddenly Syd was moving away from him. There were people in the way, and that same voice shouting "Out of my way!"
"Hold it right there!" another voice shouted. He thought it was familiar.
Syd was still frozen and blank, a short distance away from him. There were things in his way. He summoned his Silverizer, slashing blindly. He growled in annoyance when something struck his shoulder, throwing it out of his path.
There was a flash of pink light in the corner of his vision, and the Pink Ranger was staring at her hands. Good. She was okay.
But that didn't change what they had done to her.
The alien who had dragged Syd off was trying to run away, but he grabbed the back of his cape and yanked - hard. The moment the guy was on the ground, he shoved his knee into his rib cage and hovered over him. The silver danced around the edges of his visor again, and distantly he saw his hands closing around the alien's throat and squeezing.
Someone was pulling at him, trying to shake him away. He shrugged them off, leaning forward and pressing harder against the throat in front of him.
The next thing he knew, he was flat on his back and staring up at the sky.
He squinted. No, wait. That was ... Sky?
"Did you know that your eyes are the same color as the Sky, sky?" he asked muzzily. His head was ringing.
"You back with us now?" Red did not sound amused. At all.
" ... Yes?" he guessed, sitting up slowly. He groaned, putting a hand to his helmet. When had he morphed? "Ow. Did I go somewhere?"
"You tell us," Yellow said shortly. She was crouched down beside him, her helmet resting against one hand. "You tried to kill Mysticon. He got away while we were all trying to calm you down. Sky finally had to hit you to bring you out of it."
"That's probably why your head hurts," Green added helpfully. "He punched you really hard, and then your helmet sort of bounced of the ground. It looked kind of painful, actually. You might want to get that looked at later."
"I'll keep it mind," he muttered, still blinking the stars from his eyes. He glanced up at Blue again. "Seriously. Ow."
"Are you going to be all right?" Pink asked, sounding concerned.
He blinked again, finally turning to look at her and frowning a little. "Shouldn't we be asking *you* that?"
"I'm fine. It's *you* I'm worried about," she argued, setting a hand lightly on his arm.
His response was cut off by the sound of something very large, and very loud moving through downtown Newtech City. He looked up. "Oh. Zord battle. Great."
"You should sit this one out, Zhane," Red told him.
He snorted. "Yeah, right."
Red folded his arms. "That wasn't a suggestion."
He raised his eyebrows behind his helmet, pushing himself to his feet. Man, where was the Power when you needed a pick-me-up these days? What did they *do* to it in fifty years? "And I'm not taking it as an order, either. See Jack, if you haven't figured out by now that I do my own thing when it comes to the rules, you really don't know me at all." He raised his morpher. "MegaWinger, Online!"
The line-of-sight teleport to his Zord cockpit wasn't exactly something he'd done recently, and he hadn't really had a Zord of his own since the Astro Megazord. He was glad that the other Rangers weren't there to see him land behind his pilot's chair and stumble, falling on his butt. "Ow," he muttered, pride bruised. He scrambled into his seat just in time to see the robot dancing around the Delta Megazord.
"You can't capture the Great Mysticon!" taunted the robot's speakers.
"That's what you think!" Red retorted.
"My turn!" Silver declared. He kicked in the turbo boost, setting the MegaWinger in a tight spin around the robot. The ensuing whirlwind was enough to make it stumble and flail wildly, but not enough to bring it down. He growled and fired his wing lasers at it in frustration. "MegaWinger, Transform!"
The moment the transformation was complete, he removed the jet wings from the MegaWinger's back and shot again. This time he was rewarded with return fire. He tried to dodge and nearly slammed into the Delta Squad Megazord. "Hey, watch the paint!" he protested.
"Me?" Red exclaimed. "It wasn't my fault! You should have followed - "
"Guys!" Blue interjected. "Come on. Let's rush him both at once!"
"You got it!" he agreed.
"You don't scare me!" came from the robot. It fired a blast of blue electricity.
Silver launched the MegaWinger to the left- the Delta Squad Megazord went to the right. The robot spun in confusion. He shot into its back right as the other Megazord fired their blaster at the very same spot. The robot staggered, and the voice inside cried out.
"Judgment Time!" Blue called.
The world went dark, and he was dimly aware of the others declaring 'guilty'. But by that point, he wasn't really sure *what* was going on. The MegaWinger could tell him the robot and the Zord were still there, but there was some sort of containment field around them both keeping him out.
All he knew was when it was over, and Cruger's voice came over his comm system. "Zhane. I wish to see you in the Command Center immediately."
"Oh, great," he muttered to himself.
"You deliberately avoided reporting in with your team!" Cruger snarled from behind him, circling him like he was some sort of prey. It was making him twitchy. "What's more, you decided to join in a mission that I did *not* send you on without any notice whatsoever to myself, your team leader, or Kat. And most especially, you actually tried to *strangle* the criminal you were supposed to be bringing in. If your fellow Rangers had not stopped you, he would not be alive to even be in containment. I have half a mind to dismiss you from S.P.D. entirely. I have no room for Rangers who do not respect my authority, or the lives of others!"
His fists clenched so tightly he could feel the silver bangles he'd borrowed from Syd jingling from the tension. The sound no longer amused him. "My team left without me," he said softly, deliberately. His tone was like ice. "That is not acceptable under *any* circumstance. My job here is to protect them, and to protect Newtech City. *That's* what I joined S.P.D. for. Syd lost her freewill today - do you have any idea what that's like? Do you even *care*? I went after Mysticon because he hurt my teammate. Maybe I lost control, but I am *not* ashamed of myself for protecting her!"
"Cadet Drew can handle herself," Cruger snarled into his face.
He glared right back up at him. "She has a team. She doesn't have to. And as far as I'm concerned, feel free to fire me. I don't care. I don't need you to monitor what I do. My morpher has nothing to do with S.P.D., and you can't take it away from me. So either I work for you, or I become a Rogue Ranger. Either way works for me."
He literally could smell the lunch on Cruger's breath as the commander growled at him. "Get out of my sight before I throw you in containment!"
"Fine by me," he snapped back. He headed for the door, ignoring the stares around him.
He paused just inside the doorway, staring at the hallway rather than looking back. "And let me make one thing perfectly clear," he spoke up, his voice deadly quiet again. "The S.P.D. Rangers are my friends. My team leader, is *Andros*."
He walked on, silently regretting the fact that automatic doors couldn't slam shut behind him.
Chapter 4: photograph
List of 22: 16 ~ photograph
Author's Notes: Lots of angst ahead. I wanted Zhane's reunion with Andros to be emotional, and I think I got it.
On a side note for those who are confused, I'm going off the thought that the invasion on KO-35 wasn't something that happened overnight.
Whatever he'd thought he'd find when he came here, he didn't think this was it.
It was a two story house, with green grass and a fence around it that apparently kept in the large animal running around. Yellow, with white wood around the windows and framing the porch, and a painfully red front door. There was some sort of metal contraption just behind the house that looked like it was made for climbing, and some sort of cooking thing nearby. A bench on the front porch, facing out towards the street.
They'd said he married the Yellow Ranger, didn't they? Apparently she'd managed to domesticate the unchangeable Andros in the process.
He'd been watching the place for roughly two days now, and he was still amazed that Andros hadn't come out to confront him yet. His friend must be getting slow in his old age. Old age. Was Andros really nearly seventy years old? They were about twenty when they received their morphers. Man ... where did the time go?
Was *he* really that old? Maybe he'd have to start using Earth years after all. According to *them*, he was only eighteen. Still older than B - than them, but only by a few months.
Andros had aged well, he'd noticed. He laughed a lot. Left his hair down. The first night he'd sat outside, just in front of the bench on the porch, and let a young woman who far looked too much like him play with it. Another woman had joined them, leaning against Andros' side and talking softly to him. It was disgustingly perfect, really.
And he had no place in it.
He'd stayed another day because he was curious, because he couldn't seem to drag himself away. He'd ignored the messages on his Digimorpher, setting it to cloak mode to keep Kat away for at least a little while. He didn't want S.P.D. right now. He didn't want their rules, their demands, their accusations. He didn't want their structure.
He wanted an easy and tight friendship with the closest thing he had to a brother. He wanted long nights studying at the academy, sparring sessions that left him completely exhausted, and falling asleep to the sound of his best friend's breathing. He wanted dark nights filled with fear and terror, never knowing what was out there, planning to take them down in their sleep - just that his partner was beside him. He missed fighting for his life in battles so loud he couldn't hear clearly for days, getting glimpses of that red uniform every so often out of the corner of his eye.
And he wanted it back.
All the drama, all the pain and fighting ... He'd endure all of it, just to have his life back. To have Andros back.
He leaned his head back against the trunk of the tree he was sitting in with a pained sigh. Why did he wake up? Why couldn't he have gone out in that battle, down in a blaze of glory protecting his teammate? There was no better way to go, no other way he'd *wanted* to end his life.
But his life hadn't ended. He'd lingered on, and now he was wandering around like some sort of rogue spirit. He didn't have anything worth fighting for anymore. The only thing he could do now was join the fight against Grumm, but he wasn't sure anymore if he even had the strength to do that.
He let out another long sigh. He still didn't want to go back to S.P.D., but waiting here for Andros to ... notice him, call out to him, do ... *something*. He didn't even know what he wanted from him now. And whatever it was, sitting in this tree wasn't going to accomplish anything. Brooding like this wasn't like him, and if he did it for too much longer, he'd have to strangle himself.
He dropped down quietly, stopping to close his eyes and rub his forehead in irritation as he tried to think of what to do now. If he went back into the city, he'd have a better chance of keeping an eye out for any criminal activity. He'd have to find somewhere to sleep, but it wasn't like he hadn't been forced to camp out with what was available before.
"So how long are you planning to wait outside?"
He spun around, S.P.D. blaster held out in front of him.
But Andros just watched him, tilting his head, waiting. A small, faint smile slipped across his face. "You know that's only going to fire at the ground, right?" he pointed out.
His eyes flickered briefly to his blaster. He had extended his arm completely on instinct, forgetting that it wasn't his Silverizer he was holding, or even a standard Kerovian model. Stupid S.P.D. Didn't even know how to make a decent weapon.
Andros' expression softened slightly, his eyes sympathetic. "The war is over, Zhane," he said quietly. "KO-35 is free, and Dark Specter is gone. You don't have to fight anymore." He paused, his forehead creasing into a worried frown that he knew all too well. "How long are you planning to wait outside?" he asked again.
His hand shook. It took a moment to force himself to lower the blaster, and even then he wasn't sure if he'd done it on his own, or it had been Andros' gentle hand forcing his down. His eyes burned as he stared into brown eyes that were so familiar and so wrong all at once. It was Andros, but it wasn't. *His* Andros, the one he'd known since he was a child, was gone.
*Everything* he'd known was gone.
He didn't remember moving forward, or seeing Andros step toward him. All he knew was that his arms were around his old friend, and he was sobbing hysterically into his shoulder. And that Andros was holding him painfully tight, while his shoulder was starting to feel wet.
"Would you like anything to drink?" Ashley asked, giving him a sweet smile. She was pretty; the moment Andros had introduced them and she'd given him a bright smile and a hug he hadn't seen coming, he'd known why his friend had married her.
"No, that's - " He paused, blinking as he found a glass of water pressed firmly into his hand. "Thanks," he finished wryly. He shot Andros an amused look and found it returned.
The familiar gesture was comforting and painful all at once, and he looked down at his glass, forcing a smile. "So, uh. How long have you two been married?"
"Twenty years now." The expression on Andros' face was disgustingly content. He smiled up at his wife, reaching up to place his hand on hers where it rested on his shoulder. "I can't believe she still puts up with me."
"I can't either," he muttered under his breath.
Ashley burst into giggles, while Andros gave him another irritated look. "It's been hard," she confessed, eyes sparkling mischievously. "But I've managed."
Andros glanced between the two of them, scowling. "You know, I always knew this would happen if you two met. I was really hoping I was wrong."
Ashley gave him another one of those smiles. "Sorry, sweetie. We can't help it - you're just so much fun to tease." She squeezed Andros' shoulder briefly, turning to take a frame from a shelf and offer it to Zhane. "That's our daughter, Marinda," she explained. "She's going to Newtech University this fall."
The girl he was looking at was Ashley, through and through. Her striped hair came from Andros, but the warmth of her eyes and smile were definitely from her mother. Each picture the frame flickered through showed her smiling and laughing. "You must be so proud - she doesn't look a thing like Andros," he told her solemnly, dodging Andros' kick to his shin as he handed the frame back.
Ashley giggled again. "We get that a lot," she admitted. "Carlos used to tease me about letting my genes smother Andros'."
He tilted his head, his answering smile a little strange. "Carlos?"
She blinked, startled, and then looked slightly horrified. "Oh! I'm sorry, I thought you knew everyone. Carlos is our Black Ranger."
"T.J. is Blue, Cassie is Pink, Ash is Yellow, and Ko-lin is the Phantom Ranger," Andros explained.
"Phantom Ranger?" he repeated, feeling like a broken record. He also felt slightly guilty; he'd been so focused on figuring out his own life, he hadn't looked into Andros' at all.
"Our Sixth." The look Andros gave him now was measured and seemed to see right through him. "Apparently she'd been helping out Ash's team back when they were the Turbo Rangers, and she joined us after they left their planet and met me."
"More like ambushed you," Ashley teased, nudging him lightly. "You hated us all for ages."
"I didn't hate you," he protested. "I just didn't know you. And you were ... strange."
Zhane watched them with a growing sense of ache. They were so at ease with each other, so casual. Andros really had moved on a long time ago, hadn't he? Ashley and his team had helped him do that.
And they had a Sixth Ranger.
One of the things they'd first learned at the Eltarian Ranger Collegiate was about team dynamics. Every Ranger team, no matter what Colors their morphers had, had a place for each Ranger in that team. The leader, the caretaker, the brain, the strength, the healer, the heart ... there were a lot of names. But each team - the most successful ones, anyway - also had a Sixth. Someone who existed as a part of the team, outside the team. The Sixth was there to protect the others, to give them an extra boost of strength right when they needed it most.
He'd always been told he was the Sixth Kerova Ranger. It hadn't mattered that it was just him and Andros - it was still *their* team, and his job was to keep Andros safe. It was what he'd always done.
But ... he wasn't Andros' Sixth? He wasn't ... He didn't have ....
There was a hand on his arm. "Zhane, look at me," someone ordered.
He forced himself to look up, wondering why his chest hurt so much. Was the Power still being stubborn? It had taken *days* for the ache in his shoulder to die down. Maybe this was part of that? But then why was everything blurry ... ?
There was something cold on his face, and people hovering above him with anxious looks on their faces. "Zhane?" he heard someone call.
He blinked slowly. What was he .... ? "Where am I?" he forced out.
The faces exchanged looks. "I'm getting a doctor," the woman declared.
"No," he managed, reaching for her blindly. "I'm fine. Really."
"Zhane, you need to get looked at," another voice insisted. This one was familiar.
He frowned, trying to place it. " ... Andros?" he mumbled. No ... that couldn't be right. Andros was still holed up in his quarters over that big exam, wasn't he? Wait ... or was he on patrol?
"I can't remember," he murmured. "I ... where ... What's going on?"
"Zhane?" It was that voice again. "Zhane, look at me. *Please*."
Whoever it was, they sounded really worried about him. He opened his eyes and squinted up at the man again. "Oh. There you are, Andros," he said fuzzily. He pushed himself up, rubbing at his eyes and holding his head in his hands. Man, his head hurt. What was he doing again?
Something about Andros. His wife. There was a picture ...
Wow, did he really tell Cruger that Andros was his team leader to his face? That was gonna hurt later. There was no way the big dog was just gonna let that go. Let alone his team.
He winced. "Man, I gotta apologize to Jack," he muttered. Just because it was true didn't mean Jack had needed to hear it. That was more than just slightly cruel.
... Wait, was his morpher beeping?
He blinked at it for a moment before at last answering. "This is Zhane."
"Zhane, we need you. An extremely dangerous criminal has escaped from prison, and we have every reason to believe he'll come after Sky and the other Rangers," Kat said shortly.
His eyes widened, then narrowed. "What would he want with Sky?"
There was a pause. "Mirloc is the one who took out Sky's father. He may want to finish what he started."
His fists clenched. "Not if I can help it," he growled. "I'm on my way, Kat."
Andros caught his arm as he stood. "Zhane - "
He looked back at him and paused as their eyes met. "I have to go," he said quietly.
Andros swallowed. "I know. Just ... be careful, all right?"
He smiled a little. "Who, me?"
Andros scowled and raised an arm. He mirrored him, and the series of movements made him laugh, because they were so familiar it was like no time had passed at all. It was only when he looked up into brown eyes with light wrinkles around them and a face softened by age, that he remembered it had.
"We'll vow to fight as a team forever," he whispered, his heart clenching.
Andros' hands tightened on his. "Forever," he echoed solemnly.
"Zhane?" Andros added as he turned toward the door.
He glanced back over his shoulder. "Yeah?"
"Every Ranger has a team," Andros reminded him softly, his eyes serious. "But no one ever said there only had to be one."
He smiled as his eyes burned again and headed out the door, because if he didn't, he'd cry.
Chapter 5: commitment
List of 22: 4 ~ commitment
Author's Notes: This chapter is dedicated to one of the most useless Zords ever by cannon definition: the MegaWinger, which apparently only has *one* attack. And it's not even deadly. I plan to fix this in the future.
Love to BlackCrimsonLight, rosabelle, and purplestripe66 for input.
He hesitated just outside the Command Center door. Should he really be here? Sure Kat had called, but ... Did the Rangers really want him to come back?
"I've issued an all-points bulletin for Mirloc," he heard Cruger announce through the door.
"Unfortunately, with his ability to transport through reflective surfaces he's going to be very tough to find," Kat pointed out.
"Great," he muttered. "Just what we need." He paused at the sound of footsteps, and turned.
He and Sky stared at one another for several moments.
"You came back," Sky said at last, his expression strangely blank.
He shrugged a little. "Kat said you needed help."
Sky's eyes narrowed a little more. "Is that all?"
He glared back. "*Should* there be more?" he retorted.
Sky humphed and stormed past him into the Command Center. "Commander. *You* should have told me about Mirloc and my father," he declared. It was the closest he'd ever heard Sky come to snapping at Cruger.
Cruger looked at Kat. "I didn't say anything," she protested.
"I didn't feel it was in your best interest at the time," Cruger said at last.
"Well, that's just an invitation for disaster," he spoke up as he finally came inside just enough to lean on the doorframe. His eyes settled on Cruger's. "You keep information from your Rangers, it always comes back to get you."
"Zhane," Sky cut in sharply. "I don't need your help on this." His eyes remained on Cruger. "You're probably right. Fact is, I blew it. I let my feelings get the best of me and Mirloc got away. I should be demoted back to D Squad."
Zhane scowled. "Hey, if anybody's getting kicked off the team here, it should be me," he argued. "I'm the loose cannon who has issues with authority, remember? If we're downsizing, soldier boy over there is the *last* person you want to see go."
Sky shot him another glare. He stuck his tongue out in response.
Behind Sky, Cruger was shaking his head and obviously trying not to roll his eyes. "That's the decision for your team leader," he said after a moment, glancing to Jack.
Zhane tried not to flinch at the reminder.
Jack turned, staring straight up at Sky. His eyes narrowed. "You told me your father fought to the end. And now you wanna quit because you messed up once?! I guess you're not much like your father after all," he sneered. He turned to point at Zhane. "And you. You said yourself that you lost control because you were protecting Syd. You said you weren't ashamed of it, but then you take off without so much as a word to anyone. In my book, that means you *are* ashamed of yourself - which means you're ashamed that you wanted to help her."
"That's not true," he protested. "I - I just - "
He faltered. Sky was staring at the floor in thought, jaw clenched; everyone else was watching him. "Zhane?" Syd asked softly, taking a step in his direction. She smiled gently when he looked at her. "You never let me say thank you, for trying to save me."
He blinked for a moment, and swallowed hard.
"I say we split up," Sky said abruptly. "Hit the streets." His eyes met Zhane's, challenging.
There was a brief moment where he debated telling Sky he had beautiful eyes, and then he nodded. "Sounds like a good plan to me."
"All right," Jack agreed, sounding pleased as he glanced between them. "Sky, you and Syd take the city plaza. Bridge, Z, check out Newtech Center. Zhane and I'll take the west side."
Cruger nodded. "Excellent. Be careful, all of you."
"Yes, Sir!" they chorused as they turned for the door. For once, even Zhane found himself joining in.
His eyes flickered to Jack as he fell in step with him. "Jack ... ?" he began. "I - "
"Save it," Jack cut in. "I don't need to hear it." After a moment he glanced over, giving him a slight smile. "After all, you still came back to help your friends, didn't you?"
He slowly smiled back. "Yeah," he agreed quietly. "Now let's go kick some alien butt!"
Zhane sighed in frustration as he and Jack wandered down yet another empty street. "Nothing here, either. Why does it feel like he's playing with us?"
"Probably because he is," Jack said grimly. "I don't even know where to start looking."
"Let me save you some time," came a husky voice.
They both spun around just in time to see someone step out of the window beside him. They scrambled back, raising their fists. It was hard for Zhane to keep from moving protectively in front of Jack.
Mirloc laughed at them. "This is too easy," he taunted.
"I'll show you easy," Zhane growled.
"Freeze!" someone shouted behind them. "S.P.D.!"
"Commander!" Jack cried in surprise.
A Ranger Zhane had never seen before, riding some sort of small, four-wheeled vehicle, launched himself at Mirloc, weapons blazing. "Hi - yah!"
Mirloc went flying into a wall with a cry, and the vehicle screeched to a stop in front of them. "Get out of here!" the Ranger ordered.
"Who are - " Zhane began.
"But Sir, we can help!" Jack protested.
"Let's Rocket!" Zhane shouted. "Galaxy Glider, Hang Ten!" He grabbed Jack as the Glider raced towards them, glancing back to see Mirloc struggling to get to his feet. Holding tight to his teammate, he jumped on, shoving Jack down as he leaned forward.
Behind them, he could hear Mirloc howling "Come back!"
The ride back to S.P.D. after Cruger rescued them had been stonily silent. So had the brisk walk to the Command Center.
"Report,” Cruger ordered as they came in.
"No trace of them at all," Kat said immediately. "And no response from their morphers."
"I'm certain Mirloc's got them, but how?" Cruger muttered in frustration.
"I've gotta go back out there," Zhane and Jack said in unison. They didn't even bother to look at one another.
"No!" Cruger ordered sharply, spinning to glare at them. "We can't afford to lose you both as well."
"Sir, we can't just leave the others like this!" Jack argued.
Zhane glowered. Who did Cruger think he was? Didn't he know anything about team dynamics at all? It was his *job* to -
It was his job to protect the other Rangers. It was his job to protect the other Rangers. He was ... *he* was ....
Andros had been right.
He cursed silently at the thought. Man, Andros was *never* supposed to be right. It defied the laws of physics - or at least the laws of the universe itself. It was just wrong.
But if Andros *was* right, that meant he had to get out of here *now*. The others were counting on him - they just didn't know it yet.
Jack was still arguing with Cruger, who was busy staring down at a computer. Kat was on the other side of the room, which meant that if he moved quick enough, they wouldn't see him leaving. The trick would be getting out of S.P.D. before they noticed.
He'd retreated as far as the doorway when Jack looked up suddenly. He froze, caught, as they stared at one another. A moment passed as neither of them moved. At last Zhane lifted his head just slightly, and gave Jack the weird arm-jerk S.P.D. salute.
Jack nodded back solemnly.
He slipped out the door as Jack raised his voice to argue with Cruger again. No one saw him leave, and no one stopped him by the time he'd morphed, grabbed his Silver Cycle, and moved out.
He hadn't gotten far before his morpher beeped. "Zhane, we've got trouble," Cruger informed him, just a hint of steel to his voice to show his irritation. "We need you to cover Jack for backup assistance."
"You got it," he promised. He pulled his feet up under him and jumped high into the air in one swift movement. "Galaxy Glider, Hang Ten!"
The moment he landed, he leaned forward, shooting down the street. At the last moment, he leaned back on the tail just enough to send it higher into the air. He didn't have time to deal with buildings.
When he found the Zord battle, he almost wished he hadn't.
For one, Jack was very obviously not a pilot. And despite how long he and Sky had been teammates, he apparently hadn't asked for any tips. "Aw, man," Silver Ranger whimpered as the jet swung a little too close to the robot and nearly clipped a wing.
It transformed to Megazord mode, but that didn't seem to be much of an improvement. "Watch the wings, would you?" he whined to himself as he hovered just beyond the battle site, waiting.
His morpher beeped again. "Zhane!" Red snapped out as the MegaWinger tried to wrestle for the robot's staff. "What sort of attacks does this thing have?"
"The Wing Blaster," he answered, wincing again.
There was a pause. " ... And?"
"And the Wing Blaster. That's it."
"Are you kidding me?" Red demanded. "Who the heck makes a Zord with only one attack?!"
"Hey, you don't like it, don't steal her next time."
"I'm *borrowing*. There's a difference. And seriously. What am I supposed to do to take this guy down?"
"Tackle it and blast it," he advised. "It's always worked for me."
"That explains so much," Red muttered.
He watched as the MegaWinger suddenly launched itself onto the robot, flattening it to the ground. It struggled, only to have the Wing Blaster physically knock the staff flying before blasting it in the face at point-blank range.
Silver dropped his head in his hands with a groan. "Well, at least he got rid of the thing," he muttered, silently bemoaning the state of his Zord.
He looked up just in time to see Mirloc step out of the windows on the building beside the MegaWinger. "Jack, look out!" he cried in warning.
But it was too late. Mirloc did ... something with his hands in front of his chest. There was a blinding flash of light, and the MegaWinger - and the Red Ranger - were gone.
Silver stared in horror at where they'd been. "He's got *all* of them now," he said softly, fist clenching. "I'm the only one left ... "
In the distance, he could hear Mirloc laughing again.
Something about the sound clicked in his mind. His hands ... he had opened some sort of ... mirrors? It happened so fast, it was hard to remember what he did exactly.
He tried to replay it in his head. When Mirloc's hands moved, there had been some sort of reflective surface embedded in his chest. The light from the mirrors flashed against the building's windows, the MegaWinger seemed to multiply for a split second, and then -
"I get it," he murmured. The reflective surfaces on his chest work together to make an infinite reflection that traps the people inside. Which means ... the Rangers are *inside* Mirloc! "But not for long," he growled softly. "*Nobody* takes my team and gets away with it."
"Was that directed toward me?" that hoarse voice he'd heard before crooned.
He turned to find Mirloc standing barely twenty feet from him, his head tilted mockingly. "Let the other Rangers go, Mirloc. *Now*," he ordered quietly. "Or you won't like what I do to get them out of there."
"You seem to know who I am, but I've never met you," Mirloc returned, obviously unimpressed by his threat.
"You don't know? Maybe you should study up on your history," he retorted, slightly offended. He hadn't had to introduce himself in *years*. "And you don't need to know my name for me to kick your butt from here to the moon."
"History, eh? A Ranger from the past?" Mirloc mused. "What a prize. No wonder Grumm wants me to capture you."
He snorted. "Capture me? I don't *think* so. I've beaten a lot worse than you. Now let my friends *go*."
Why don't you come and get them?" Mirloc shot back.
He smirked under his helmet. "Not a problem. Super Silverizer!"
When Mirloc raised his own sword from out of nowhere, he knew this wasn't going to be easy. And Mirloc was *good*. They were evenly matched as they traded blows. Another hard swing made Mirloc stumble back, and he raised his Silverizer triumphantly.
He strike landed on dead air.
"Nice try," Mirloc chuckled, already safely inside another conveniently nearby window. He vanished instantly.
Zhane swore under his breath. Forcing himself to close his eyes, he slipped into the regulated breathing he'd been taught as a child. Mirloc was still here ... he knew that much. But where was he hiding?
"Look Ranger ... " Mirloc crooned from somewhere. "Look at your fate."
He kept his eyes closed, fists clenching as he heard pained gasps. He knew without bothering to look who it was - he could sense them easily. It wasn't *really* the other Rangers... more like a shadow of them. But it was enough to tell him that they were alive, they were hurting, and they needed him.
Mirloc had just made a *serious* mistake.
He knew the instant the alien reappeared, and he swung his Silverizer to meet him. Mirloc cried out, and he opened his eyes with a satisfied smile. "Lesson number one, Mirloc? *Never* underestimate me," he said smugly.
"It appears so," Mirloc snarled back. "But I won't be so easily defeated."
Silver just grinned darkly beneath his helmet. "I love a challenge," he commented in return.
The silver haze that had taken over him when Syd was brainwashed was gone now. Now, he was in his element. Protecting others was what he did. The cries of warning and encouragement from the other Rangers echoing around him only strengthened his drive to win.
It had never been more clear to him just where his place was.
Mirloc had abandoned his sword by this point, and was proving to be just as efficient at hand-to-hand. Out of practice or not, the Silver Ranger still matched him. He wouldn't lose - he *refused*.
A high kick to Mirloc's chest resulted in his ankle being grabbed, and he found himself flung into something solid. He cried out in pain as he crumpled, his hand already on his left shoulder. What was *with* aliens and those darn *walls*?
"Come on, Zhane! You can do it!" he heard Sky shout.
"Sorry, Rangers," Mirloc sneered. "Now, he'll be joining *you*."
The plan came to mind suddenly and without warning. And he went with it before he had time to think through the variables, the same way he always did. He waited impatiently as Mirloc moved towards him, taking his time and savoring the moment he thought was coming.
Silver clenched a fist. "This better work, or we're all history," he muttered under his breath. "Here goes nothin'!"
The moment he caught the first glimmer of Mirloc's mirrors, he leapt forward, crying "Super Silverizer!"
The sound of shattering glass was heaven.
He heard cries of alarm as the Rangers appeared out of nowhere, landing facedown on the ground, followed by a resounding 'boom' as the MegaWinger showed up in the middle of downtown. He winced at the sound. "Don't worry, girl. I won't let ever Jack drive you again," he promised mournfully.
He glanced around as B Squad jogged over to join him. "You guys okay?"
Sky smacked him upside the back of the head. "Here goes *nothin'*? he demanded.
He grinned behind his helmet, raising a hand to touch the back where Sky'd smacked him sheepishly. "Hey, at least it worked," he protested.
"Next time, gamble with your own life," Sky grumbled.
He shook his head. "I will never, *ever* not come after you guys," he informed Sky solemnly, turning to include the others in his gaze. He locked eyes with Jack briefly and got an understanding nod while Bridge and the girls smiled happily at him. When he looked at Sky again, he found the other staring at him with that expression he couldn't read again.
"You mean it?" Sky asked at last, but it wasn't quite a question.
He responded by powering down and offering Sky his Digimorpher. "My place is with this team, *my* team," he informed him seriously. "My job is to keep all of you safe. That's what I do."
There was a curious look in Sky's eyes now, but whatever he was about to say was cut off my Mirloc's harsh coughing.
"Foolish Rangers," Mirloc wheezed. He was still standing, but a fist remained clenched over his chest. "Don't you realize, if you catch me, I'll only escape again. Ask him. He's worthless. Just like his father was."
Zhane fired off a shot from his blaster barely half a second before Syd snapped "That's just the lowest. Sky's dad was an amazing Ranger."
"Yeah, and so is Sky!" Bridge added fiercely. "He's the best!"
"We're *all* proud to fight by his side," Z put in, still glaring at Mirloc.
But it was him Mirloc was staring at, and his answer glare was cold. "*Never* insult another Ranger in font of me," he warned. "Especially not my teammate."
Sky's hand touched his arm lightly, and his eyes flickered to him. "Seriously, Zhane. Stop helping." He sounded exasperated, but there was a hint of warmth to his eyes that Zhane hadn't seen before.
"How touching," Mirloc sneered. "But he still doesn't have what it takes to defeat me."
"We'll see about that," Jack murmured, almost to himself. He turned to Sky, reaching behind his back to offering his morpher. "Here. Take it."
"What?" Sky repeated, frowning in confusion.
"Why?" Zhane echoed, equally confused.
"It only seems right that you bring him in," Jack insisted.
"But ... he already has a morpher," Zhane tried to point out.
They were either ignoring him or just hadn't heard, because Sky was eyeing the Red Morpher hesitantly. "You sure?" he asked finally.
Zhane stared at them incredulously.
But Jack just smiled. "Go for it."
Sky nodded, taking the morpher and stepping forward in front of them all. "This one's for you, Dad," he promised softly. "SPD, Emergency!"
Chapter 6: hallways
List of 22: 9 ~ hallways
Author's Notes: Zhane/Sky bonding is fun. It was also very hard not to make them start making out already; apparently ZhaneMuse was very eager.
Zhane's parents being Rangers is a reference to my Fade to Darkness story, because I love his family background in that too much. ^.^;; And Zhane being trapped in ice is a nod to rosabelle and Starlit Purple being silly.
"Zhane! *Zhane!* Would you wait up already?"
He stopped with a sigh, leaning against the wall as Sky jogged up to him. "What?"
Sky shot him an irritated look. "Are you actually avoiding me?" he demanded. "I've been trying to track you down for hours!"
"Mopping every single non-carpeted floor of the base with a sponge is sort of time consuming," Zhane informed him, feeling tired and annoyed. "Cruger needs a better hobby. It's going to take me months of planning to find the right prank to get him back for this."
Sky leaned in close, keeping his voice low. "Some advice, Ranger to Ranger? *Never* prank Cruger. It's not worth it."
"You almost sound like you're speaking from experience," he said warily.
Sky merely shrugged, and he raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "Let's just say I have some experience with punishment duties," Sky said lightly.
Zhane shook his head. "You'd better be careful Sky, or I might start thinking you have a sense of humor."
"I'm talking to you, aren't I?" Sky shot back.
He laughed, surprised. "Okay, good point. So what did you want?" he added, reaching down to drop his sponge in the bucket he'd been carrying around. He paused to stretch his arms over his head, arching his back briefly before dropping his left arm with a wince.
"I wanted to ask you why you were so against me using Jack's morpher." Sky's eyes narrowed. "What was that?"
"What was what?" he returned, leaning back against the wall casually.
"When you were stretching. You made a weird face," Sky informed him suspiciously. "What's wrong with your arm?"
He gave him a puzzled look. "Nothing's wrong with - *ow*!" He jerked back, clutching his left shoulder and glaring at Sky. "What is *wrong* with you?" he demanded. "You don't just go around grabbing people!"
"I live with Bridge. I'm used to having to find hidden injuries," Sky retorted, looking annoyed. "What did you do?"
"Nothing. Just a little too long polishing floors is all."
"You're right handed," Sky said flatly.
He rolled his eyes. "Man, who knew you were such a worrywart? I'm *fine*, okay? Nothing to worry about. And what do you mean about Jack's morpher?"
"Somehow I doubt that," Sky muttered, looking irritated. He sighed. "When Jack offered me his morpher earlier, you asked why and said I already had one. I wanted to know why you didn't think I could handle it."
Zhane blinked. "Wait, you heard me? I thought you guys were just ignoring - " He stopped, frowned, and gave Sky a weird look. "Why *wouldn't* you be able to handle it?"
"I didn't say I couldn't," Sky snapped back, looking really annoyed now. "You did."
"No, I said you already had a morpher," he countered. "I never said you couldn't handle Jack's."
Sky scowled. "Then why didn't you want me using it?"
He blinked at him, genuinely startled by the question. "Because it's not yours," he said simply. He sighed at the look on Sky's face, shaking his head. "You were given the Blue Morpher for a reason, Sky. You're meant to be the *Blue* Ranger - not Red. Taking Jack's morpher didn't change anything about you that wasn't already there."
Sky blinked slowly. "I wasn't keeping it," he said finally. "Jack lent it to me because my father was Red."Zhane stared back blankly. "So? What does that have to do with anything?"
There was a long moment of silence as they stared at one another. "You really don't get it, do you?" Sky murmured, more to himself than Zhane.
"Honestly? No," Zhane informed him bluntly. "My parents were Rangers too, but you don't see me complaining over my position on the team."
Sky jerked in surprise, eyes widening. "Wait, your parents were Rangers, too?"
He nodded. "Yellow and Blue Kerova Rangers. But I'm not a Healer or a Tactician - I'm me." He sighed as Sky started to shake his head in confusion. "Let me try and simplify it for you. At the Eltarian Ranger Collegiate, where I was taught what it means to be a Ranger, they told us that every Ranger has a team, and every Ranger has a place on that team."
"But wouldn't that mean that their place wouldn't change if they changed their color?" Sky argued.
He shook his head. "Each Color is a place. We have all different names for it, but it means the same thing. Your place is the Blue S.P.D. Ranger. You're the strength of the team. That's just who you are. You can't let Jack offer you his morpher and become someone else - it doesn't work that way."
Sky's eyebrows went up. "You tried to offer me *your* morpher," he pointed out.
He grinned briefly before shaking his head again. "Different concept. Jack gave you his morpher to use it. I was offering you mine as a sign of trust, to show that this is my team."
For some reason, that seemed to startle Sky even more. He gave Zhane a considering look. "You really believe that now?"
Zhane sighed as his smile faded, glancing to the side for a moment. "Andros was my partner," he said at last, his voice quiet. "I gave my life for his. But when I went to see him, before I came back here to help ... I realized that ... my place was never supposed to be with him." He turned met Sky's eyes, swallowing once. "My place is here. With you."
There was a long silence as they stared at one another. Zhane wondered what Sky was thinking and tried not to fidget. It wasn't like him to put himself on the line like this. But Sky deserved to know what had changed his mind.
"Well, we're glad to have you," Sky said finally.
For some reason, Zhane felt a little disappointed by his response.
At last he shrugged and offered Sky a bright grin, reaching down to grab his bucket and sponge. "Well, I'd better back to work and stop blocking the hallway," he said cheerfully. "See ya around, if I don't pass out from the fumes in a small closet somewhere. Start looking for me in a week or so, would you?"
Sky rolled his eyes. "See Kat about that shoulder!" he called after him.
Zhane raised a hand in acknowledgement, having absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort.
Exhausted and sore, he slouched against a wall, battered sponge and empty bucket on the ground beside him. His head lolled back, and he let out a weary sigh. "Cruger, you will *pay* for this," he muttered under his breath.
He didn't know what time it was, just that the sun had gone down hours ago. The other Rangers had wandered by at various points to see how he was doing and exchanged pleasant conversation before heading off again. But Bridge had finally wandered away ages ago, and he hadn't seen anyone since. It had to be nearly morning by now.
His stomach rumbled loudly, and he glared down at it. "Yes, I know we missed dinner. But unless you plan on convincing our legs to move, we're not going anywhere."
There was a soft chuckle, and he looked up to see Sky watching him in amusement. "Long day?"
He moaned pitifully. "I can't feel my hands, and I'm too hungry to move." He turned mournful eyes on Sky. "Carry me?"
Sky snorted. "I doubt I could carry you if I tried - which I wouldn't. You'll have to move yourself."
"Come on, I don't weigh that much," he wheedled.
Sky actually smiled. "Nice try. But I don't encourage Syd's princess act, so why would I put up with yours?"
"It's not a princess act," he protested. "It's a plea for help from your wounded teammate." He pouted at him. "You're so cruel, Sky."
"Yeah, I get that a lot," Sky humphed, reaching down to pull him to his feet.
He'd grabbed his right hand, not the left, Zhane noted with interest. "Why?" he asked.
Sky held on until he steadied himself. "Why what?"
"Why do you get that a lot?" he repeated. "You're not cruel."
Sky raised his eyebrows. "Have you been paying attention at all? I'm not exactly a nice guy."
He laughed. "Of course you are. You're one of the nicest guys I know." He reached down to grab his bucket and winced at the ache in his back. "I've been paying attention to all of you. Watching people is the easiest way to get to know them."
"Your observational skills could use some work," Sky informed him.
He grinned. "You want to be the perfect cadet, so you can be the perfect Ranger," he began, "Never mind that there's no such thing. So you go out of your way to be just like Cruger: strict, law-abiding, disciplined, stand-offish. But the reason you want to be a Ranger is to help people, because you admire what your dad was doing when you were growing up. But you don't want anyone to know how much you actually care, so you act like a real jerk even though you're actually concerned. And deep down, you like to goof around and have fun just as much as the rest of us - you just bury that because you're afraid it won't help advance your goal."
Sky stared at him. "I want to honor my father's legacy," he said eventually. "Not just that I admired him."
Zhane shrugged. "Not much of a difference. I admired my parents for what they did, which is why I joined the collegiate." He swung the bucket around on his right shoulder, turning to face Sky and walking backwards toward the elevator. "But the fact that you showed up to check on me just now shows that you're not as heartless as you want me to think," he pointed out.
The corner of Sky's mouth was threatening to twitch. "I'm on night duty."
"And that includes checking up on me?" Zhane shot back. He smirked. "Face it. You were worried."
"How would you know?" Sky retorted.
The smirk faded a little and he shrugged, turning to face forward as he walked. "Andros was the same way. You remind me of him a lot."
Sky remained silent as he pressed the button for the lift. "What was he like?" he asked finally.
Zhane sighed quietly, a reluctant smile crossing his face. "A workaholic. He wanted to be a Ranger because he thought it would help him meet his goals, so he was determined to be the best student and Ranger the collegiate had ever seen. About ran himself into the ground to do it, to." He sighed again as the door opened at last, moving into the lift and leaning against the wall. "But he was the most loyal guy I ever knew. He went on the most dangerous missions to prove himself, but he'd never leave a teammate behind. The sort of guy you want at your back, you know? He was always so serious, but ... " He grinned a little. "Once you figured out the way inside his defenses, he could be really fun. He'd never admit it, but we had some pretty wild times back then." The smile remained for several moments before fading again.
"Were you together?"
He blinked, turning to give Sky an odd look. "Why do you ask?"
Sky shrugged, shifting a little uncomfortably. "Something about the way you talk about him, I guess."
He shook his head slowly. "No ... But everyone else thought we were. We were close, and I don't mind people knowing when I love someone - even if it's like a brother. It doesn't matter to me how they see it." He shrugged a little. "It used to drive Andros nuts at first when I'd kiss him in public, but he got used to it."
Sky started a little. "You kissed your brother?"
"I'm an affectionate guy," he returned flippantly. "I'd kiss you if I didn't think you'd hit me for it."
He was rewarded with a bright flush and Sky coughing awkwardly.
He grinned. "Don't worry. Like I said, I'd rather not get hit for it," he teased, unexpectedly pleased by Sky's reaction.
Sky muttered something under his breath.
"What was that?" he asked sweetly.
"What'd you do to your shoulder?" Sky asked abruptly.
He blinked at the change of subject and sighed. "Do you ever let anything go?"
"No," Sky returned. "What'd you do to it?"
He shrugged his right shoulder. "Don't remember."
Sky's eyebrows went up again. "You remember being at the Eltarian Ranger Collegiate, but you can't remember how you hurt your shoulder a few hours ago?"
"My memory's a little spotty lately," he said lightly, ignoring the way his heart pounded at the thought. "Must be a side effect of being trapped in ice for so long."
Sky frowned. "Side effect?" There was a pause, and suddenly he was glaring. "You still haven't had a physical with Kat yet, have you?"
"Don't need one," he retorted. "I'm in perfect shape - you saw for yourself."
Sky's scowl didn't fade. "You need a complete standard physical through S.P.D. Testing your skills isn't the same. Who knows what happened to your Powers while you were asleep?"
He paused, blinking. "Wait, what?"
"I *said*, who knows what happened to your Powers while you were - "
He grabbed either side of Sky's face, yanked him close, and kissed his cheek, cutting him off in mid-sentence. "You're a genius," he declared happily. "I owe you. Seriously, I do."
Sky's cheeks flamed as he stumbled back, staring at him. "What was *that* for?" he demanded.
Zhane grinned wildly, grabbing his bucket as the elevator doors swung open at last. "I just figured something out. You're the best, Sky. I'll get back to you on that favor, okay?" he called, pointing at him before he turned and ran for Kat's lab.
Chapter 7: warmth
List of 22: 21 ~ warmth
Author's Notes: While only Vitri is mention by name, all characters shown in flashback (excluding Andros and Zhane, obviously) are snagged from my story Fade to Darkness.
"Are you *sure* you know what you're doing?" Kat asked suspiciously, hovering just beyond his shoulder. "I know that Bridge has been tutoring you in recent technology, but I can still - "
"Relax, Kat," he interrupted. "I'm a fast learner. And no offense, but I'd rather do this myself."
"Working with the Power Ranger Technology is what I *do*," she pointed out irritably.
"Of course it is," he agreed easily. "It's just that it's my morpher and, well ... I'd kind of rather hold on to it, you know? After I worked so hard to get it, and all."
She folded her arms with a scowl, and he could see a hint of fang as she spoke. "You've offered it to both Jack and Sky without so much as a second thought."
"That's because they're my teammates," he told her, looking back down at the screen he was working on. "I know you're tech support, but it's really not the same thing. I wouldn't offer it to anyone else."
The computer beeped and displayed the results of the general analysis test he'd been running. His eyes widened at the result. "Geez ... No wonder it's been acting up ... " he muttered under his breath. The Power Levels of his morpher were ridiculously low, and fluctuating. It was like the morpher was trying to find energy and failing, only managing to give him what it could in short bursts. Which would explain why the Power had failed to heal him, and why he had some days where he was fine, and others where his mood was all over the place - the energy from his morpher bouncing around was wreaking havoc on his body.
"What was that?" Kat demanded sharply.
"Nothing, nothing," he said absently.
So he needed energy for his morpher. But he couldn't exactly hook it back up to the Morphin' Grid: for one, it wasn't the connection that had been damaged, and for another, he knew his way around basic repairs, but he wasn't a Power Tech. But what else could he do? Where was he supposed to find a pure, untainted energy source to recharge his morpher, especially on twenty-first century Earth?
There was one way ... It was risky, but it might work. And since when did he back down from a solution because it was too dangerous?
"What are you doing?" Kat asked warily as he brought up a weather map.
"I need to find a lightning storm," he murmured distantly, scanning the result.
"For what?" she demanded.
"Just a little experiment. Nothing to worry about," he assured her as he snagged his morpher from the testing area and strapped it back on his wrist. "If anybody needs me, I'll be back in an hour or so, okay?"
"Zhane - "
"Later Kat!" he called over his shoulder as he jogged out of the lab.
He thought he heard her growl behind him.
He stared up at the giant metal spire in the center of the building he'd chosen for his 'experiment'. "Well, that's convenient," he remarked. "I can just tie my morpher on that, and let it do the rest."
The storm he'd located was in some place called Angel Grove. A quiet place by the looks of it, but there was an undercurrent of energy he could feel running through the whole place. If he was lucky, it'd go a long way in helping to recharge his morpher.
He was halfway up the spire when he thought he heard someone calling his name. He stopped, frowned, and looked down.
B Squad was staring up at him, racing across the rooftop. "It's not worth it!" he heard Z yell.
"Zhane, we love you!" Syd screamed. "Don't do it!"
He blinked. What were they doing ... ?
"Zhane, get down here!" Jack shouted. "That's an order!"
He shook his head slightly in confusion, waved to let them know he was fine, and went back to climbing. "Almost there," he muttered to himself. "Just a little higher ... "
His foot slipped about a foot from the top, and he yelped out loud, clinging tightly until he could wrap his ankle around the spire again. "That was close," he mumbled, heart racing as a bolt of lighting struck a little closer to the building than he'd expected it to.
He fumbled for a moment as he tied his morpher to the tip of the spire. He added some wiring he'd snagged from Kat slightly above it, just as an added attraction for the lightning. Once both the morpher and the wires were secure, he slid back down to the bottom and stepped back to wait.
He was immediately ambushed by B Squad, Syd latching on to his arm while Jack and Sky moved to restrain him. Bridge and Z crowded in on either side of Syd. He blinked at them. "Hey, guys. Something wrong?"
"Zhane, you can't," Syd begged, tears in her eyes. "We just started to get to know you! You can't leave us now!"
"Leave?" he repeated blankly.
"We know you're going through some rough times right now, but that doesn't mean you have to just give up. We're here for you," Z insisted.
Bridge was studying him curiously. Then he glanced back to the spire Zhane had just attached his morpher to, tilting his head and frowning a little. "Uh, guys ... ?"
"You're going into observation the moment we get back to S.P.D.," Sky growled at him.
"I don't think - " Bridge tried.
"I thought you said you were a part of this team from now on!" Jack snarled in his face, looking furious. "Is this your idea of helping your teammates?!"
"Yes," he replied, frowning. "What else am I supposed to do? This is the best solution I could think of. It may not be ideal, but - "
Sky hit him.
He stumbled back, clutching his jaw and staring at Sky wide-eyed. "What was that for?!"
"Guys!" Bridge shouted. "I think we've got it all - "
There was a blinding flash of light at the top of the tower, sending sparks flying everywhere. The loudest crack of thunder he'd ever heard split the sky, making his ears ring. He could see Bridge's lips moving, but he had no idea what he was saying.
After blinking rapidly for several minutes and giving up on waiting for his hearing to return, he turned expectantly toward the spire. His morpher wasn't shooting off sparks anymore, which had to be a good sign. He walked over to the spire, ignoring his teammates trying to figure out what was going on behind him. He tested the heat of the metal experimentally and smiled brightly when he found it already cool. His senses must have been out longer than he'd thought. Pleased, he wrapped his hands around it and began to climb.
At one point his ankle caught on something, but he easily kicked it free and continued his ascent.
He could practically feel the energy from his morpher humming through the air. Eager to try it and see, he reached blindly to untie it from the metal.
The last thing he remembered was PAIN and falling on something soft.
"Of all the stupid stunts to pull," Kat snapped at him as she bandaged his hands with a surprising amount of gentleness.
Zhane hadn't remembered much after trying to get his morpher down. From what he'd gathered, he'd been hit by the residual energy still in his morpher, which had knocked him unconscious. Z had given him an odd glance when she'd mentioned that Sky had caught him as he fell.
The moment they'd all made it back to S.P.D. they'd been dragged into Kat's lab so that all six of them could have their hearing checked. She'd given them shots to prevent exposure, because apparently it had started to rain shortly after he passed out. And then while she'd grabbed the supplies to take care of the burns he'd suffered, the lectures had started.
"How could you make us think that, Zhane?" Syd sulked. He still wasn't sure if she was upset about the mix-up, or something else.
"I wasn't trying to - " he tried to protest.
"Kat found a bunch of tests saying your morpher was almost dead, and then you go off and climb the highest building you can find in the middle of a massive thunderstorm? What else were we *supposed* to think?" Z snapped at him. From what he could tell, she was more upset that they'd misjudged the situation than anything.
"I'm sorry, Zhane," Bridge said regretfully. "I mean, for thinking you were suicidal, obviously. But for not saying anything sooner, too. And for not stopping you before you uh, fried yourself. And - "
"How dumb do you have to be to not know that metal objects hold an electric charge?" Jack demanded irritably, and Zhane tried not to wince, because that one actually kinda hurt.
"Actually, I can answer that one," Kat admitted reluctantly. She frowned down at the cream she was putting on his hands. "With the energy levels in the Digimorpher so low, Zhane has been suffering from a form of temporary bi-polar disorder. With his moods bounding around, it's affected his judgment. Obviously."
There was a pause, and Zhane frowned at her. "Thanks for trying to spare my feelings, Kat," he grumbled.
"And as I've said before, I'm more than qualified to perform repairs on that morpher," she shot back. "I've studied the Astro and Kerovian Ranger technologies for years. What do you think A Squad's morphers were based from?"
He blinked and frowned a little again. "A Squad?" he echoed uncertainly. Jack had mentioned something about another team that was missing, that they'd been covering Earth while they were gone, but he'd never really gone into detail about it.
"The A Squad are Newtech's first Power Rangers. The technology they use was developed from what was learned from the Astro Rangers," Kat told him, seeming almost reluctant. "When S.P.D. first came to Earth, the Astro Rangers were instrumental in getting the organization acclimated to Earth. As a sign of gratitude, the scientists who developed the Morpher Project designed a portion of their Powers and uniforms after them."
His head still felt fuzzy - apparently the shock he'd gotten had been pretty bad. Something about that statement was off, like there was some part of it he should recognize that wasn't clicking yet. So the Astro Rangers had helped get S.P.D. settled on Earth. So Andros and his Rangers had ... had ....
-- "I'm Zhane, of KO-35. What's your name?"
" ... I'm Andros."
"So what planet are you from? What do you like to do? What track are you? Got any hobbies? Hey, we should go out for a holovid later. There's gotta be someone in the upper classes who can show us somewhere fun to go, right? Maybe we - "
"Do you *ever* shut up?" --
-- A chuckle. "Looking forward to going to school, I take it?"
Yeah! I can't *wait*! I’ll show everyone just what a Kerovian Ranger can do!"
A sniff. "Of course you will."
"I wanna go to the Collegiate, too! Why does *Zhane* get to do *everything*?" --
-- "So ... why does Andros put up with you again?"
"'Cause I don't give him a choice."
Muttering. "It's true. He doesn't."
"You must be lucky then, Andros, to have someone who cares about you so much."
"Don't be so dramatic, Vitri! I *know* you care about me. But you have to - Mother said so."
An irritable sigh. "I knew I should have killed you in the womb."
"Why do we spend all our time with them again?"
" ... Because they're the only Kerovians in the Collegiate?" A pause. "Well, that or it's because Andros makes the best grades, and we like to study off him."
"Ah, right. That was it."
"Hey! *I'm* the only one who gets to cheat off Andros!" --
-- "Andros, look out!"
His eyes widened and his stomach lurched. He clapped a hand over his mouth, scrambling off the table he was sitting on and running for the door. There were footsteps behind him and people shouting his name, but he only had eyes for the bathroom door down the hall.
After several minutes of retching, he was distantly aware of a cold cloth on his forehead and hot tears streaming down his cheeks. Someone had their arms around him, supporting him as he gasped for air. He looked up into concerned blue eyes.
"It's all gone," he choked out. A ragged sob went through him, and the arm on his waist tightened. "My family, my friends, my *home* ... It's all *gone* .... " He stared into those eyes, his fists coming up to cling to the shirt in front of him. "I died almost fifty years ago. Why am I still alive?"
The arms pulled him closer, tighter, and a soothing voice made noises of comfort as those hands rubbed his back.
"I'm supposed to be dead," he sobbed again. "Why? Why am I not dead?!"
"Because every Ranger has team," a voice murmured in his ear, breath warm against his cheek. "And your place is here, Zhane. With me."
Chapter 8: friendship
List of 22: 8 ~ friendship
Author's Notes: Not entirely happy with this chapter, but it is what it is. All parents mentioned are borrowed from Bright Skies, because I love the family backgrounds in that too much to be original in this one. ^.^;;
He wasn't sulking. He was just feeling a little down, was all. It had been a rough few days: first he'd been grounded to the base after his 'stunt' recharging his morpher while Kat worked out how to repair the 'damage' he'd done to it and spent a great deal of time making him feel like a new recruit again. Cruger had taken some sort of twisted pleasure in forcing him through a psych evaluation after his 'willingness to put his own life in danger as a sign of his refusal to accept help from those around him'. He was diagnosed with several different phobias and disorders, but after reading that he had a fear of garlic, flowering plants, and toads, Cruger had thrown out the entire list in disgust and yelled at him for not taking things seriously before assigning him trash duty - for the entire base.
It was amazing to see the sort of information people threw away without a second thought.
Sometime during his groundation, he'd heard B Squad breaking out into petty fights. He thought it was odd, but he wasn't sure if he should get himself involved. Kat had said something to Cruger about teenagers in a small living space, but personally he thought that was ridiculous; they were Rangers. Rangers were used to operating in small quarters.
Before he could think of any way to help them, Cruger had shipped out all five cadets to some 'team building retreat' on Zantor.
He remembered Zantor. He hadn't spent a lot of time there - just a small mission, where he and Andros had to 'rescue' yet another transmission device that was supposed to serve as the ugliest stranded civilian he'd ever seen. There hadn't been a lot to the place: just sand. Lots, and lots of sand. They'd registered trees somewhere, but those were in the middle of nowhere and not even remotely close to their mission objective.
What sand was supposed to do to bring B Squad together, he wasn't really sure.
Apparently sand had magical qualities though, because B Squad had come back tighter, more complete as a team, and wielding a new Team Power Up that came with giant guns. They rescued him and Cruger when they'd gotten in over their heads - which was entirely *Cruger's* fault thank you; stupid old dog could never listen to anyone *else's* ideas - and were now gathered in B Squad's Rec Lounge, being sickeningly sweet and friendly with each other.
He wasn't jealous. Okay, maybe a *little* ... But that was only because they'd spent their time bonding, and he got stuck with Kat and Cruger doing their best to make him miserable. So much for teamwork.
He sighed, lifting a hand from folded arms to trace on the desk he was currently occupying. His chin remained braced on his other arm as he stared blankly at his fingertips, tracing Kerovian and Eltarian symbols into the tabletop. Brooding in his room wasn't really going to help anything, but he couldn't think of anything better to do at the moment.
"Hey, Zhane!" Jack called cheerfully. "What are you doing in here?"
He glanced back over his shoulder, still slouched over the desk. "Nothing. Just thinking."
"Well, stop thinking. You'll hurt yourself. Come play lightball with us instead," Jack informed him.
He made a face at him. "Thanks. And no thanks."
"Come on," Jack wheedled. "Just one game? Don't make me send Bridge to get you. Or Syd. I can always send Syd." He paused, raised his eyebrows in a strangely threatening way, and added "Or I can tell Z to ambush you. And trust me, with the whole cloning thing? That's no picnic."
He smiled a little. "I'm fine, Jack. Thanks for the offer, but I'm still pretty worn out from today."
"What'd Cruger make you do while we were gone? Floss all the toilets?" Jack demanded. "Come on. Spend some time with us!"
"Too tired," he sighed, doing his best to look pathetic. "Rain check?"
"Leave him alone, Jack" came a voice by the door. "Let the old timer get his rest."
He turned to give Sky a pointed look. "Old timer?" he repeated.
Sky shrugged lightly. "Hey, if you're too exhausted to play, I understand. We wouldn't want you to break a hip or anything."
He knew he was being played. He knew it, saw right through what Sky was doing - because hey, he'd done it to Andros all the time - but still. *Old timer*? Seriously?
He pushed himself to his feet with a glare. "You," he informed Sky calmly as he pointed at him. "Are going down."
Sky smirked dangerously. "Bring it on."
The tiny ball of light rocketed back towards his face at high velocity. He dropped to the floor, rolled over and back to his feet, and snagged the ball just before it got out of reach. Grinning wildly, he spun in a circle and flung it wide, watching with a certain satisfaction as it pinballed off each of the walls, snagging Bridge and Syd along the way. Z cheated by cloning herself to avoid it.
He dodged the return fire, ducking behind the couch to plan for a moment. Z could easily be taken down as long as there was a way to fire so rapidly she couldn't clone herself quick enough. Sky, on the other hand, was more of a challenge. He'd have to go head to head with him.
He somersaulted over the couch, stealing the ball just before Jack could catch it and turning to catch him by surprise before he realized what was happening. Jack glared, but he was already moving on.
Z tried to back out of the corner he trapped her in by replicating again, but he retaliated by telekinetically snagging all of the couch pillows and beating each of the clones back into the corner. The ball rebounded off of each pillow as he directed it, tagging all four clones before darting back into his hand. Z gave him a nasty look, and he winked.
Sky was waiting for him. They stared one another down, moving slowly as they assessed their opponent's weaknesses. Sky was arrogant, he decided, but also easily flustered. He wasn't used to fighting dirty; Zhane was.
He'd just have to step up the distractions a notch.
He stepped back a little, mentally calculating the angles. It was a tricky move, but if he timed it just right ... it *might* work.
He feigned left, threw right, and tensed, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he waited for the return. Sky sent it back fast and hard, and he took advantage of the momentum to throw wide.
The sight of the smug look on Sky's face when he missed him melting into total and absolute shock when the ball hit him in the butt was absolutely worth it.
"Did you just ... " a grin was beginning to creep over Z's face.
"Zhane!" Syd protested, but she was trying not to smile herself. "That was mean!"
He shrugged easily, catching the ball as it finally bounced back to his hand. "All's fair in war and video games," he informed her.
"I thought you said you'd never played this game before," Jack grumbled, pushing his braids out of his face as he moved to grab one of the scattered pillows.
"I'm a fast learner. Oh, let me get that," he interrupted. He telekinetically snagged the pillow from Jack's hand, directing his thoughts to grab a few more and move them back to the couches where they belonged. "I'm the one who threw them in the first place," he added as the last one settled into place. He paused to shift it to a better position and smiled in satisfaction.
"You have a genetic power too, Zhane?" Syd asked, looking curious.
"But that doesn't make any sense," Bridge protested, frowning. "If Zhane was born more than twenty years ago, his parents couldn't have been involved in the morpher project the way ours were."
"Whoa, hey," Zhane interrupted, giving them both an odd look. "What's a genetic power?"
Z immediately responded by cloning herself. "We all have some sort of special ability from when our parents were part of S.P.D.," she informed him as both Zs folded their arms.
"Jack walks through walls, Sky makes forcefields, Syd turns her hand into, well, stuff, and I'm ... me?" Bridge offered, shrugging. "I'm sort of hard to explain."
Zhane raised his eyebrows at him. "Try me."
Bridge sighed a little. "I read auras," he explained. "That's why I have um - " he gestured towards one hand with the other, pausing to tug on his glove. "It sort of manifests when I don't have these on. And uh, I sort of started learning telepathy awhile ago."
He blinked. "You're Kerovian?"
Bridge blinked back. "Um ... no?" he tried. "I don't think so. I mean, I'm pretty sure my parents would have said something. I think." He frowned.
"Why would you think he's Kerovian?" Sky asked suspiciously.
Zhane shrugged. "Most Kerovians are selectively telepathic. We're all telekinetic, too." He glanced at Bridge. "I'm kinda surprised we haven't been able to read each other then, actually."
"My gloves are made of dampening material," Bridge said apologetically. "So I uh, can't. Otherwise I sense people by accident. And animals. And plants. And sometimes buildings - "
"Bridge!" Sky interrupted irritably.
"So what's my aura look like?" Zhane asked curiously.
Bridge hesitated for the briefest of moments before slowly removing the glove on his right hand and running through the air in front of him. Then he paused, frowning a little and tilting his head. "Huh."
"Huh, what?" Zhane asked. He grinned. "Am I that strange to look at?"
"More like familiar, actually," Bridge said absently. "Your aura's all sparkly and silver, but something about the colors in it remind me of ... someone."
"Someone?" he echoed.
Bridge hesitated. "It feels like my dad," he murmured at last, ducking his head as he quickly pulled his glove back on. "You remind me of him sometimes."
"I'm flattered," he said honestly. He gave Bridge a lopsided smile.
"So why didn't you tell us you were Kerovian, Zhane?" Syd asked in the sudden silence, moving to sit beside him on the couch.
He glanced down at her, surprised. "It didn't come up?" he tried. He shrugged when she frowned at him. "I've never assumed you're all Earthians, so I figured you'd see it the same way. Besides, what does it matter? It's not like I use it all the time - just when it's useful."
"When's that?" Jack asked, raising an eyebrow.
He squinted over at the synthetron for a moment. His eyes settled on a pen on a nearby table, and he levitated it up and over, pressing the numbers he needed for paopu juice. He set the pen down as the machine released his cup, and directed the glass towards himself until he was able to snag it out of the air. "See? Useful," he said brightly, taking a long sip as everyone laughed.
Sky on the other hand, was watching him with another one of those unreadable expressions.
He looked directly at him, smirked, and toasted him with his glass. Sky rolled his eyes, and he grinned.
"So how was Zantor? he asked abruptly.
Syd wrinkled her nose. "Terrible. I'm still trying to get the sand out from under my nails."
He nodded sympathetically. "Try soaking them," he suggested. "It worked for me."
"You've been to Zantor?" Z asked, frowning.
"Unfortunately," he agreed. "Long story short, it was a very boring training mission while we were still at the Collegiate. What'd you guys do?"
Syd was more than happy to tell him the whole story, with the others interrupting when she 'missed' a particular detail. Which of course, lead into a round of good-natured bickering. But even as they argued, the atmosphere was so relaxed he couldn't help but wonder what the problem had been to begin with.
"Zhane? You still with us?" Jack asked, prodding him with his foot.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah," he said absently. "Sorry. Thinking."
"Don't strain yourself," Jack teased, shifting out of the way when he went to kick him. "Seriously. What's on your mind?"
He shrugged. "What was the problem earlier?" he asked, looking around. "I mean, I've never seen you guys fight like that. What happened?"
More than one person shifted uncomfortably. "Syd was nitpicking," Z said finally. "So I started trying to give her something to get upset over."
Syd nodded miserably. "I was. And I'm sorry," she added, looking over at Z.
Z smiled and waved a hand dismissively. "Forget about it."
"Sky was brooding, so I tried to piss him off," Jack admitted. "And Bridge said something about how he was holding back when we spar, so I wanted to show him he wasn't *that* good."
"He does," Zhane said, just as Bridge said "I do."
They exchanged glances, Bridge surprised and Zhane amused. "I've seen it," he said, nodding to Bridge. "You don't want everyone to know what you're really capable of."
"My parents are all martial artists," Bridge said reluctantly. "They've been teaching me since I was a kid."
Zhane tilted his head, curious. "Rangers?"
Bridge blinked. "How'd you know?"
He grinned as everyone else started in surprise. "As one Ranger Kid to another, I recognize the signs. My parents were the Kerovian Rangers before Andros and I got our morphers. My mother was Blue, Father was Yellow."
"Um, the second Red, Black, and Yellow Rangers of Earth," Bridge said after a moment. "Well, technically Red, Black, Yellow, and the first Black. But I'm not actually related to my dad - he married my mom, who gave birth to me for my other dads."
Zhane nodded as Jack, Z, and Syd looked confused, Jack mouthing what Bridge had said to himself as he tried to figure it out.
"My dad was Time Force Red," Sky said after a long moment of silence. He stared at the ground, his eyes dark. "His partner helped my mom raise me after he ... " He cut himself off, shaking his head. "He was the Quantum Ranger."
"So all three of you have parents who were Rangers?" Z asked, frowning. "That's a little convenient, don't you think?"
"Not really," Zhane told her as Sky and Bridge shrugged. "A lot of families have Rangering in their genes. It's sort of like racing stock: you know you've got a good sample, so why not offer a morpher to the child and see what happens?"
There was a moment of silence.
"Thanks for that image, Zhane," Jack groused, rubbing his temples.
He shrugged. "Hey, I didn't say *I* agree with it. It's just the way some people think. Why do you think someone like me got into the Eltarian Ranger Collegiate so easily? That's one of the best Ranger Collegiates ever built. If my parents weren't Rangers, I never would have gotten in."
"That's not true," Sky argued. "You're better than you let people see - just like Bridge. You both hold back so no one knows what you're really capable of."
He blinked in surprise, strangely pleased by the compliment. He forced a light shrug. "Well, why let everyone see what you can do? Then you don't have any secret moves left later."
"Very true," Bridge agreed, nodding solemnly.
"Honestly, I'm kind of surprised the rest of you aren't Ranger Kids, too," he told them. "I mean, it'd make sense. Why your parents were involved with S.P.D., why you all have special abilities ... "
"Wouldn't know." Jack's tone was suddenly sharp, his eyes dark with warning.
Syd shrugged lightly. "I know my dad travels a lot for his job, but I don't think he's a Power Ranger. He's too ... " She wrinkled her nose. "Flakey."
There was a noticeable pause.
"Well, it's getting pretty late," Jack announced, stretching with an exaggerated yawn. "I'm thinking bed. You coming, Zhane?"
He nodded quickly. "Sounds like a good idea. I'm all worn out from that lightball game."
"You know, me too," Z said, standing up herself.
Bridge was already halfway to the door with Sky lagging just behind him. "Good night, guys!" he called cheerfully.
" ... *Hey*!" Syd shouted after them.
"Zhane," Sky said abruptly as they all headed toward their respective rooms. "You got a minute?"
He stopped, waving Jack on ahead. "Don't turn the light out on me," he called.
Jack waved in acknowledgement, and he turned to face Sky. "What is it?"
Sky just looked at him for a moment. "You play lightball like it's a training sim."
He shrugged it off. "I guess it kind of reminds me of one."
There was another moment of silence as Sky continued to stare at him. "KO-35 was under attack for a full year before you died," he said eventually.
He stiffened. If it had been *anyone* but Sky, he would have ignored the question. But Sky took him more seriously than anyone else did, and he'd been there when he ... when everything hit him all at once. And he'd never brought it up again afterwards.
And Sky was the only one - beside him - who would actually say that he'd died. With everyone else he'd been 'out', 'sleeping', or his personal favorite 'when you were ... y'know'. But Sky said it exactly the way it was: he'd died, and come back to life.
"It was a warzone," he said finally. "That's not something you forget."
Sky nodded, hesitated, and reached out to pat his shoulder lightly. "Night," he murmured.
Zhane watched him walk away thoughtfully. Sky never seemed to fail to surprise him. Whenever he thought he'd figured the other teen out, he did something completely out of the ordinary.
"He's the one who thought of you, you know," Syd said from behind him.
He turned to blink at her. "What?"
"When we were in the lounge? Sky realized you weren't there, and said we should get you to spend some time with us," she explained. She gave him a soft smile. "We all love spending time with you, but Sky was the one who thought we might be ignoring you. He won't admit it, but he was worried."
"Thanks, Syd." He wasn't quite sure what he was thanking her for, but it seemed like he should say it anyway.
Her answering smile was warm. "Good night, Zhane," she murmured, standing up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
He stayed in the hallway for a long time, lost in thought. Eventually he let out a long sigh, and went to his room. Jack was already asleep, but the lamp between their beds remained on, waiting for him.
For some reason, it made him smile.
Chapter 9: children
List of 22: 3 ~ children
Author's Notes: Another chapter I'm not sure of, although I do like parts of it. Love to Starlit Purple for encouragement and beta.
"When your monsters of the day are a cloud in a jar and an eyeball being eaten by a can opener, you know you need some vacation time," Zhane muttered, slouched against a wall as the other Rangers sprawled in various places around the room.
"Ahem," Cruger said loudly as he strode in, Kat just behind him.
Everyone scrambled to attention. Zhane winced as he noticed Bridge was still passed out against the console in front of him. The poor guy had looked increasingly more exhausted as the day wore on.
Cruger came to Bridge's side, leaning down next to his ear. "Cadet Carson ... " he crooned. "Bridge?"
"Five more minutes, Sky," Bridge sighed in his sleep, vaguely waving a hand.
Jack and Sky rolled their eyes at each other, while the girls exchanged glances. Kat seemed amused. Zhane held his breath and cringed in anticipation.
"All right," Cruger promised soothingly. "You just sleep as long as you want ... "
"Thanks," Bridge mumbled.
Zhane winced and stepped forward, raising a hand. "Uh, Sir? I can - "
But Cruger had already straightened up, staring down at Bridge. "Cadet Carson! On your feet! Now!" he bellowed.
Bridge yelped, fell to the floor, and scrambled back up to attention, yanking on his coat in the process.
"You think the Command Center is a place for you to take a nap?" Cruger demanded.
"No, Sir," Bridge said quickly.
"You think that fighting two robots is tiring?"
"No, Sir. But five is."
"And how is it that you fought five and everyone else here fought two?" Cruger snapped back.
Sky winced. "Don't answer Bridge," he murmured.
Zhane frowned at him. Why wouldn't Bridge answer?
"Dream fighting, Sir," Bridge finished.
"He answered," Syd and Z sighed in unison.
"There was a Cyclops robot, and one with a satellite on its head, and another with two horns," Bridge explained earnestly. "And they were beating us."
"I see," Cruger returned. "And - "
"Wait a minute, Sir," Kat interrupted, frowning. "I received a report from S.P.D. Command. Robots with that exact description just decimated Alpha 5. What if Bridge somehow picked up on their energy?"
"Interesting," Cruger murmured, turning away to pace as Bridge shrugged a little. "Cadets," he announced finally. "Grumm is undoubtedly staging an all-out assault. We must be prepared for anything. I suggest you get some rest while you can."
"Thanks," Bridge said gratefully as they began to file out.
The alarms sounded.
"None of that," Cruger snapped as Bridge and Zhane both audibly groaned. "You're Rangers."
"Ready! S.P.D., Emergency!"
From the back of the group, Zhane stuck his tongue out at Cruger as he held up his Digimorpher. "Let's Rocket!"
"Sleep ... " Bridge mumbled as they wandered into the Rec Lounge.
Zhane already had a hand on his back, directing him down the hall toward his room. "Don't worry buddy, we'll wake you if we need you," he promised. "Just let us know if you have anymore premonitions, okay?"
Bridge offered him a sleepy smile over his shoulder. "Thanks, Zhane."
He patted his shoulder. "Anytime. Now get some rest, okay?"
"Mmm," Bridge agreed, plodding to his room with half-closed eyes.
Zhane waited until he was safely inside before turning back to the lounge with a sigh of relief.
"Why are you encouraging him?" Sky asked, frowning at him.
Zhane blinked. "Sorry?"
"The whole ... dream fighting thing," Sky waved a hand vaguely. "Why are you encouraging Bridge that it's more than just a dream?"
Something in his tone made Zhane pause, suddenly suspicious. "Why do you think it's *not*?" he asked warily.
"Are you kidding me?" Jack laughed, giving him an amused look. "Come on, Zhane! I mean, seriously. I could see it if Bridge is just tired because he's not getting enough sleep, but 'dream fighting'. Come on," he scoffed.
"Come on what?" Zhane returned quietly, watching them all now.
"It's just ... " Z looked at Syd for help.
"Silly," the other girl supplied finally, shrugging. "I mean, I know Bridge means well and all, and maybe Kat's right - maybe he is picking up on their energy in his sleep. But that wouldn't mean that he's actually fighting them while he's sleeping."
"How would you know?" he countered. "Since when are you an expert on foresight, Syd? When are *any* of you an expert?"
"Zhane - " Sky tried.
He shook his head. "I don't believe this. What happened to all that bonding you said you did on Zentor? Didn't that mean anything to you? Bridge does something you can't understand, so that automatically means he's blowing it out of proportion?"
"That's not what - " Jack began.
He held up a hand. "You know what? I don't want to know what you're thinking. I really don't. I thought you guys had finally grown up after Zentor, that you were finally starting to see the bigger picture. But you're still just a bunch of stupid children who are in over their heads and don't even know it," he said, shaking his head again in disgust.
"Hey!" Z objected. "How dare you! We've been at this a *lot* longer than you have!"
He snorted. "I was a Ranger for five years before I died. You've been doing this less than a year. And Newtech City isn't exactly a warzone."
"You're out of line," Jack snapped at him, eyes flashing.
"No, *you're* out of line," he shot back. "What kind of team leader doesn't trust the abilities of his team? If Bridge hadn't seen those robots in his dreams, we wouldn't have even known they were coming to Earth. I *saw* you making fun of him earlier, Jack. Don't even try to pretend you ever believed what he was trying to say." He sighed in frustration, turning away from them all. "Seems like no matter where you go, prejudice doesn't die," he muttered.
"*Excuse* me?" Z hissed, her voice like ice.
He didn't even look back at her. "You don't trust Bridge because he's psychic. I know the signs. I was hoping the future would be different, but ... " He sighed again. "I guess I was wrong."
He left the lounge without another word.
Zhane looked up from his fifth attempt at reading the S.P.D. manual without falling asleep, if only so that he could taunt Sky and Cruger with the fact that he actually knew it. Unfortunately, his great plan wasn't working so well: he'd read status reports that were more interesting. Status reports written by *Andros*.
Bridge passed his perch in the lobby where he'd been avoiding B Squad, looking just as rumpled and sleep-deprived as he'd been all day. But now there was a sense of purpose in his eyes as he shrugged on his jacket.
"Need company?" he called.
Bridge turned to blink at him and abruptly smiled. "Sure."
He tossed the manual to a table without a second thought. "Let's go."
"Yes, but this is different!" one of the aliens insisted.
"Yes! Yes it is!" agreed the second. "Uh, Gineka? Destroying the Alpha 5 Star System was one thing. But ...taking on the Power Rangers?"
"Broodwing is smart. They've been engaged in battle *all day*. They're tired. They're worn. They're just *ready* to be defeated."
"We are?" Zhane asked, raising his eyebrows at Bridge as they finally stepped out of hiding.
"Nice plan," Bridge complimented, applauding. "There's only one problem with it." He pointed at them triumphantly. "I'm on to you! S.P.D., Emergency!"
"Let's Rocket!" Zhane echoed.
They raced after the three criminals as they tried to lose them by turning into a fully-stocked warehouse. "Halt!" Green shouted as they finally caught up again. "S.P.D.!"
"I don't know how you found us, but it doesn't matter," snarled Gineka.
"Oh contraire, my three amigos," Green returned easily. "That's where you're mistaken."
"Oh. Am I?" Gineka sneered.
"Judgment!" Green shouted, raising his morpher. "You are charged with purchasing and commanding three dangerous robots, and, trespassing in my dreams!"
Silver tried not to snicker. Bridge was too much sometimes.
"And you're guilty," Green finished.
"Don't make me laugh," Gineka shot back.
Silver blinked as the odd fog that always surrounded the S.P.D. Rangers and the criminals they were judging dissipated. That was new.
"Okay. Somehow you caught us," Gineka went on as the second alien behind him giggled. "But there's *three* of us. What can *you* two do?"
"Oh, I love it when they underestimate us," Silver laughed.
Green nodded in agreement. "They never learn." He turned to look back at the three criminals again. "We're taking you in!"
"What fools you are!" Gineka shouted.
"Make your move!" Green returned.
"They think they can beat all of us," Gineka sneered again, and he and his companions laughed.
"We don't think," Silver shot back. "We *know*. Come on, Bridge!"
Green raised a fist. "Let's do it!"
They charged. Green nearly head-butted the first alien, grabbing the second by the arm and twisting as the guy cried out in pain. A punch sent him flying. It only took Silver three quick strikes to take down Gineka: one to the head, chest, and stomach.
"Do something!" someone shouted in the background.
Out of nowhere, Silver was blinded by a flare of light and a shower of sparks, followed by Green crying out in pain. "Bridge!" he shouted furiously. He whirled to face the Orangehead that had struck his teammate. "Super Silverizer!" But the Orangehead moved faster than he'd expected, and he went down with a cry of his own.
"Knowing Broodwing sure comes in handy," Gineka boasted, coming forward to pat the Orangehead's shoulder as Silver moved protectively in front of Green as best he could. He was amazed Gineka didn't lose an arm for touching the Orangehead. "Now take care of them, while we make a getaway," the alien ordered.
The two Rangers scrambled to their feet as the three aliens scurried away. Instead, they found themselves blocked by two more Orangeheads and three Blueheads, all backing up the first Orangehead.
"This doesn't look good," Silver muttered uncomfortably.
"Tell me about it," Green said reluctantly.
They tried to stay back to back as they were charged, but Silver found himself pushed against one of the large pipes against the wall by an Orangehead. He could hear Green fighting somewhere nearby, but this guy seemed to have it in for him. "Get *off* me already!" he growled. "I don't kiss strange guys that are trying to take over the world, okay?!"
"I hope not," came a familiar voice. A hand closed on the Orangeheads shoulder, grabbing and tossing him harshly to one side. "You all right, Zhane?" Blue Ranger continued.
He took a deep breath, and grinned beneath his helmet. "My hero!" he cooed, miming blowing a kiss to his teammate.
Blue shook his head, clearly exasperated.
"Bridge! Zhane!" he heard Red call. "You guys all right?"
"Never better!" Silver shot back.
"These are the guys with the dream robots," Green explained as the others gathered around him. "Three criminals just ran out of here. Zhane, you go after them while we finish these bots, okay?"
"You got it," he returned, saluting cockily.
Flipping over the Orange and Blueheads, Silver charged after the three retreating criminals. There was no time or space to call for the Silver Cycle when the trio kept darting down every narrow alley they saw just when he caught sight of them again. "Will you give up already?" Silver grumbled in frustration.
He turned another corner just in time to hear Gineka shout "To our robots!"
He skidded to a stop as the three aliens shot beyond his sight, and three robots rose above Newtech City in their places. The exact three robots that Bridge had seen. "Great," he huffed, putting his hands on his hips as he paused to catch his breath. "Well, isn't that helpful?"
"Rangers?" Kat called over the comm. "The three wanted robots are attacking the city. Report to Delta Base. Since you're in S.W.A.T. mode, I thought you could use some new S.W.A.T. equipment."
"Roger that!" the other five chorused.
"You'll find your S.W.A.T. Flyers in Bay 4."
"All right!" Red cheered a few minutes later.
"S.W.A.T. Flyers operational. Exit ports in transition." A pause. "You like my presents?" she continued smugly.
"You rock, Kat!"
Silver sighed, folding his arms in irritation. “I’m just the unwanted step-child, aren't I?" he griped quietly, unable to help himself.
He heard Kat's snort. "Try again, Zhane. I've upgraded your MegaWinger. Now you have a great deal more firepower, and the WingBlaster has the potential to do even more damage then before."
"So ... Does that mean no more tackling?"
"Only if you want to," she sighed, but he could hear the smile in her voice.
He whooped. "MegaWinger, Online!"
While the S.W.A.T. Flyers weren't his MegaWinger, they definitely had one-up on Sky's helicopter. He caught up with them just in time to hear Pink exclaim "I *love* it!"
"So I take it you guys finally see what's so great about having a flying Zord?" Silver teased.
"Excuse me?" Blue retorted.
The horned robot released a round of laser missiles after the S.W.A.T. Flyers, while the other two fell back under fire from the MegaWinger. Distantly Silver was aware of the S.W.A.T. Flyers dodging, followed by Red asking if they'd gotten 'them'. He was too busy flying circles around the feet of the other two robots, trying to trip them up.
He kept them distracted while the others formed the S.W.A.T. Megazord. He blinked when he saw it, even as he moved back to let his teammates try out their new Zord. "Hello, MosquitoZord ... " he muttered to himself.
"Chiaggo! Delapoo!" Gineka cried as his accomplices' robots when down in a shower of sparks. "You may have them, but you'll never catch me," he growled.
Silver rolled his eyes. "That's what they *all* say," he complained as the horned robot transformed into a sleek jet.
"That's what you think!" Green shouted after the jet as it shot up into the sky.
"Zhane, stay here and take care of the other two!" Red ordered. "We've got this guy!"
"You got it," he agreed. He paused as the MosquitoZord took off. " ... Now how am I supposed to do that?" he mumbled.
"Zhane ... ?" Sky sounded uncertain, something even he knew by now that Sky rarely was.
He didn't move, leaning against the railing as he watched the sunset. "Yeah?" he asked finally.
Sky hesitated, and he thought he heard him fidget a little. "It's just that ... we all apologized to Bridge for not believing him sooner ... and I sort of got the impression that I needed to apologize to you, too."
After a moment of deliberation he let out a long sigh, closing his eyes for a moment. "I'm psychic, Sky."
"It's not like Bridge," he explained quietly. "Bridge is an aura empath, with limited telepathy and foresight, apparently. It seems like his Powers are still growing, although I'm not really sure why. Me ... I sense when people I'm close to are in danger. I get feelings about whether or not I can trust someone. I'm a little sensitive to energy, but not enough for it to be useful. It's not a lot, but still enough to get me the label."
"I'm sorry." Sky's voice was soft, stricken. "I didn't ... I'm sorry."
He smiled bitterly. "I know you didn't know. That's sort of the point."
Another pause, and he felt Sky come to stand beside him. "You've been discriminated against?"
He nodded. "I hide it pretty well, but at the Collegiate ... Let's just say I got pretty close to Andros pretty fast. And when things when wrong and I knew ... people noticed." He let out another sigh, turning around to rest his elbows on the railing as he leaned back to look up at the darkening sky. "Bridge ... can't help being what he is anymore than I can. And when you're different ... you learn to protect each other."
"We're all different," Sky pointed out. "We each have something that makes us stand out from other people."
He wasn't talking about their morphers, and they both knew it.
"But you still treat Bridge like he's different from you," he returned. "Like being psychic is worse than what any of you can do. But it's not."
"No. It's not," Sky agreed softly. He paused again. "I'm sorry, Zhane," he said again, solemnly.
He let out one more sigh, and forced himself to let it go. It wasn't worth being hurt and angry. Not anymore. "I forgive you."
An arm came around his shoulders hesitantly. He leaned into it almost without thinking, and had to fight off another sigh - of contentment. "This is cheating," he muttered.
"You said you forgave me," Sky countered.
"I do. But that doesn't mean I can't pretend to still be mad."
"You could. But it's not like you."
"When did you get to know me so well?" he grumbled.
He felt Sky's free shoulder shrug lightly. "Honestly? Sometimes it feels like I've known you forever."
He smiled unwillingly. "Yeah. I know what you mean."
Sky was solid, and warm. He had a surprising sense of humor despite how deep he tried to bury it, and he was never afraid to back down from a challenge. He was fire incased in ice, and there were days when Zhane wondered how he'd ever not known him.
There were others when he wondered if it was worth loosing Andros to find him. To find B Squad, and S.P.D. He still wasn't sure if he was ready for the answer.
"What if ... what if I said I wouldn't hit you?" Sky asked hesitantly.
He blinked. He slowly grinned as his brain caught up. Turning just slightly, he leaned forward and pressed his lips firmly and deliberately to Sky's cheek, near the corner of his mouth. Then he pulled away and returned his head to Sky's shoulder.
Sky remained stiff and awkward for at least a minute. At last the tension slowly began to fade from his body, his head turning a little to rest against Zhane's. The arm around him squeezed gently.
Chapter 10: dream
Warm milk, Zhane decided as he returned his glass to the synthetron, was disgusting. He'd heard Syd mention the old Earth 'remedy' for sleep trouble before, and figured it couldn't hurt to give it a try. After fifteen minutes of trying to force the stuff down, he'd given up.
He returned to the couch with a sigh, regarding his paopu juice in silent contemplation. He'd also been secretly hoping that something warm in his stomach would help shake the memories of the dream, but all it'd done was make him nauseous. So much for Earth remedies, and nothing he'd done as a child would work here. Which meant that he'd have to find some other way to pass the time.
"What are you doing up?"
"Raiding the synthetron," he answered, glancing up. "You?"
Sky shrugged. "Couldn't sleep," he muttered, wandering over to get his own glass.
Zhane gestured to the couches. "Pull up a cushion. Tell me what's on your mind," he invited.
Sky just raised his eyebrows as he sat down across from him. "Shouldn't I be asking *you* that question?"
He blinked. "You're the one who can't sleep," he pointed out. "I was just hungry."
But Sky's stare didn't change. "New uniform?" he asked finally, nodding to Zhane.
Zhane looked down and winced. "Uh ... just ... feeling nostalgic."
He'd woken up cold and trying not to scream. He'd reached his closet, pushing his way to the back, and pulled out his old Megaship uniform. He hadn't worn it since the day they'd given him his S.P.D. uniform, and to be honest, he was still a little surprised it'd survived cyrosleep intact. But wearing it, even in the middle of the night with no one else around while he sipped his favorite juice, brought him a sense of comfort.
"Nostalgic. Right," Sky said sarcastically. "For the first time in the month and a half you've been here, you suddenly felt like wearing your old uniform for no reason at all."
"Hey, at least I don't *sleep* in mine!" Zhane shot back. "I woke up and I was cold, so I grabbed the first thing I saw. You got a problem with that?"
"Apparently you do," Sky returned, oddly calm.
Sky stared at him.
"I had a nightmare, okay?" he snapped finally. He scowled down at his paopu juice, taking a long drink before setting it down and folding his arms petulantly. "I woke up, I was cold, and I grabbed my Megaship uniform. It's not a big deal."
There was a long silence.
"I'm guessing that means you don't want to talk about it," Sky remarked.
Zhane gave him a withering look.
Sky held up his hands defensively. "Just asking. You seem like you need to."
"Your people skills need work," he grumbled, feeling unusually irritable. He wrapped his arms around himself, pulling the sleeves of his jacket over his hands and bringing his legs up to his chest. "What I *need* is to get warm."
He glared at the floor for several minutes, too annoyed and embarrassed to look at Sky. He was angry: at himself, for being so upset over a stupid dream. At Sky, for caring. At S.P.D. for being there when he woke up. At Andros, for refusing to let him die.
He was so angry he wanted to cry.
The couch shifted beside him, and an arm slowly came around his shoulders as he jumped. But Sky persisted, pulling him against his side and forcing his head down on the other teen's shoulder. A hand came up to rest briefly against his forehead before moving down to touch his cheek. "You're not cold, Zhane," he said after a moment.
"On the outside," he whispered, eyes burning.
He didn't know when the first tear finally fell. All he knew was that his face was buried against Sky's shoulder now, his hands fisting in blue t-shirt. And Sky's arms were wrapped around him, holding him close while he shuddered. Whether it was from cold or sobs, he didn't know.
For a guy with a reputation of being unemotional - and he honestly didn't understand where that had come from - Sky was surprisingly sensitive. He didn't say anything to placate him, didn't even make any soothing noises. Instead he quietly requested for the central computer to raise the room's temperature and pulled Zhane into his lap and as close to him as possible. And when Zhane's tears finally stopped, he stayed silent, and made no attempts to move.
"It was ice," Zhane mumbled finally, his head still tucked against Sky's shoulder. "I was trapped in ice, and I couldn't move. There were people ... outside, but they couldn't hear me. I kept screaming for help, but ... no one ever came."
He felt Sky swallow awkwardly. "Were you self-aware while you were in cryogenic stasis?" he asked finally.
He shrugged a shoulder. "Don't know. I think ... I might have been. Maybe a little, towards the end. I think I tried to block it from my mind, though."
"Forcing the memories to resurface in your dreams," Sky murmured understandingly. His arms tightened a little.
Zhane sighed, turning his head just enough to rest against Sky's neck. "I think I hate him sometimes," he remarked suddenly. "I shouldn't - he was trying to save my life. I mean, I get that."
"But you didn't want it to be saved," Sky finished.
He blinked harshly again, and swallowed. For some reason, saying it felt like a betrayal to Sky, and he wasn't sure why. "Yeah," he said softly.
There was a pause. "And what about the rest of the time?"
He frowned, pulling away just enough to lift his head. "Huh?"
Sky stared back at him solemnly. "You said you hate him sometimes," he repeated. "What about the rest of the time?"
Zhane started to answer and stopped, frowning deeper. "I ... " He paused and shook his head. "I don't know," he mumbled finally.
"Do you hate S.P.D.?"
"As in the Rangers, or the organization?" he asked warily.
Sky shrugged. "Either."
"The organization, sure." He shook his head. "This isn't the way Rangers are supposed to be. I understand what else it is that we do here, and I respect that. But S.P.D. shouldn't have Rangers." He paused, glancing back at Sky. "But for the Rangers themselves ... " He shrugged a little. "You're my team."
"So you like us because you have to?"
He threw a light punch against Sky's shoulder without stopping to think about it, scowling at the way Sky smirked for the weak attempt and awkward angle. "I don't like anyone because I have to," he informed him shortly. "Why do you think Cruger and I can't stand each other?"
"Because you're anti-authority, and he's your boss?" Sky asked wryly.
He rolled his eyes. "Well yes, obviously. But Cruger makes me mad because I don't like his expectations for me, especially when he doesn't meet mine. But how I feel about him has nothing to do with how I feel about you guys."
Sky frowned. "You have expectations for Cruger?"
"Of course. Don't you?" he returned flippantly. He sighed at Sky's expression. "Cruger serves as the mentor for this team, but he's also a Ranger. What I expect from him is to treat me as an equal as a Ranger, but also be supportive as a mentor. And for him to find a balance between mentor and teammate. So far all he's managed to do is drive me crazy, so I decided to return the favor."
Sky looked thoughtful for some reason. "Do you have expectations for the rest of us?" he asked.
Zhane shrugged. "I expect you to respect me and each other. I expect you to have my back. Other than that ... I guess not."
There was a long pause as Sky seemed to think this over. Zhane let him, feeling worn out from everything, even if he wasn't actually tired. He was about to put his head back on Sky's shoulder when he spoke. "Do you have expectations for me?"
He paused. Trying not to show how hard his heart was beginning to pound, he turned to give Sky a measured look. "Expectations as what?" he asked slowly.
Sky had gone stiff and awkward on him again, which was only emphasized more when he swallowed. "As me."
Zhane looked down, considering his answer. "I already told you what I expect of you as a teammate," he said finally. "As a friend, I expect you to be whatever I need you to be when I need it."
He looked up then, meeting Sky's eyes directly. "As more than a friend, I would expect you to know that I'm me, and that's not going to change anymore than I'd want you to." He hesitated when Sky just kept staring at him. "I'm not subtle, Sky," he reminded him. "If we ... if you wanted ... " He hadn't felt this awkward in years. What was *wrong* with him tonight? "I'm not going to hide it. I'm an affectionate guy."
Sky was still staring at him, which he was really hoping was a good thing. "The S.P.D. Manual - "
"Doesn't apply to Rangers," he interrupted. "And the Code of Rangers is always above the rules of everyone else."
"Code of Rangers?" Sky repeated, raising his eyebrows. "Seriously?"
He made a face, shoving lightly against Sky's chest as he felt some of the weight lift off of his shoulders. "Hey, I don't make this stuff up, okay? That's what they told me when I was still in training."
"I was going to say," Sky began, and suddenly his hand was on Zhane's cheek and he was leaning in so close he could feel warm breath against his face. "That the S.P.D. Manual states that while all types of relationships are allowed in S.P.D., they are frowned upon between members of the same squad. It also has a subtext about being discreet."
Zhane's hand closed around the front of Sky's shirt, and he smirked faintly. "Ranger Code *encourages* relationships between teammates," he murmured, his lips nearly touching Sky's. "Better another Ranger than a civilian. And Ranger Code ... " He leaned forward, lightly brushing their lips together and pulling away. "Always," he breathed, leaning in again, "Trumps - "
Sky cut him off, yanking him close for another kiss.
Sky's kisses were hot and demanding, and left Zhane feeling a bit lightheaded, like he'd just had the breath sucked out of him. It was a feeling he could *definitely* get used to, and he had no problems encouraging his ... whatever Sky was. Labels were for people who had self-image issues, anyway.
He wasn't sure when he ended up with his back on the couch and Sky leaning over him, but he wasn't exactly protesting the view. "You," he panted, trying to regain his mental footing. Man, Sky was distracting when he was feeling ambitious. "Are enjoying this, *entirely* too much."
He tilted his head as Sky leaned down to kiss the side of his neck, chuckling. "Well, you're not cold anymore, are you?"
He hit him.
"You love me," Syd informed Zhane as he joined her at their regular table in the mess hall.
He blinked. "Yes, I do," he said slowly. "What in particular do I love you for at this moment?"
She placed something in his hand, folding his fingers over to wrap around it. "Save it. Treasure it," she said solemnly. "And remember that if you break his heart, there will be no place in this universe for you to hide from my wrath."
With that she leaned forward to kiss his cheek, smiled brightly, and stood up. "Congratulations," she told him cheerfully, patting his head. She grabbed her tray and walked off whistling.
He sat for a moment, trying to figure out why he felt like he should spend the rest of the morning hiding from the wrath of B Squad. He dismissed the idea, and looked down at his hand to see what she'd given him.
It was a picture, probably snagged with the Polaroid camera he'd seen Z with before. He and Sky in the Rec Lounge, after the sudden make-out session had cooled, and they'd started talking until they fell asleep. Sky had nodded off more or less sitting up, slouched down on the couch in a very not-Sky position. Zhane had curled up in his lap at some point, and by the time the picture was taken, had his knees pulled up, left arm trailing along the ground. The important part of the picture however, was the fact that Sky's arms had wrapped around him protectively in the night, holding him close, while his right hand had come up to rest lightly against Sky's cheek.
He stared down at it for several minutes. Well, he had told Sky he wasn't subtle. At least he'd been able to warn him before the word got out that they were ... something. And with Syd around it undoubtedly would, if only because she wanted everyone to know that her friends were off limits to everyone else.
"Morning," Sky yawned as he and Bridge joined him, looking unusually tired. He nodded to Zhane's hand. "What's that?"
Zhane looked up, smiled, and tucked the picture into his inner jacket pocket. "Just something. Morning, Bridge." He leaned over without warning and kissed Sky directly on the lips - in front of the entire mess hall. "Morning, Blue," he said cheerfully, snagging the apple off of Sky's tray as he headed for the door. He paused to wave to Jack and Z as they stood frozen, gaping at him, and left the mess hall whistling Syd's tune to himself.
Whatever it was, it was kind of catchy.
Chapter 11: public dining
List of 22: 17 ~ public dining
Author's Notes: Rangers being able to do things for free is blatantly borrowed from starandrea, and has probably been mentioned by other people I can't remember at the moment. It makes far too much sense that Earth is just backward.
Love to BlackCrimsonLight and rosabelle for help with Kerovian currency and Bridge's arguments for a temporary morpher.
Zhane glanced up from his book at the knock on his door. His eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion. "Yeah?"
The door slid open, and Bridge peeked around the frame. "Um, hi. The others sent me to find out if you were still mad. Apparently they assumed that I'm the least likely to be attacked if you are. Which I tried to tell them technically isn't true, since you're mad at everybody, but they kept saying you wouldn't hurt me. So um, if you are planning to do something, I'd like to know so I can run away really fast and hopefully avoid getting injured. 'Cause you know, pain is bad and all." He fidgeted slightly.
Zhane tried not to smile. "Yes, I'm still mad, but no, I'm not going to hurt you, Bridge. You can come in."
Bridge blinked. "Oh. Okay." He came to sit at the end of Zhane's bed, folding his hands in his lap and nervously twiddling his thumbs. "So um, see, we were all thinking that we'd like to go out and get something to eat, but not from Piggy's because we've already learned better than that, but we were sort of kind of maybe wondering if you'd sort of like to come with us." He paused. "I told the others that Sky should be the one to ask you, since you're like, you know, together? But Sky said he wanted to keep his head, and then Jack said he wanted to know if he at least has a place to sleep tonight even though I told him he could sleep in my bed, but then he sort of looked at me funny, and I think he may have gotten the wrong idea."
He waited patiently for Bridge to finish, and smiled at him. "Sure. I'll go."
Bridge brightened immediately. "Really? I'll go tell the others, and we can wait for you to get ready." He paused. "Oh, and um, what should I tell Jack? 'Cause I'd still be willing to share my bed with him, but I don't think he's okay with that." He tilted his head in thought. "Which is sort of funny, when you think about it."
He shook his head, amused. "Jack can stay here. I'm not going to take him out in his sleep." He paused, and grinned. "That's too obvious. If I was going to do something, I'd make sure no one would be able to link it back to me."
Bridge paused, giving him a measuring look. "That's ... kind of creepy," he remarked.
Zhane just grinned at him and said nothing.
"Yeah ... I'm ... gonna go now," Bridge said slowly, moving to stand and inching toward the door. "We'll uh, meet you by the Cruiser?"
"Sure," he answered, still grinning. He held in his laughter until Bridge was gone.
He *was* mad at them all, but he wasn't going to track people down and start causing damage. For one, that wasn't his style. But S.P.D. hadn't really seen much of him angry before, and most of them didn't even know he had a mood beyond 'happy-go-lucky'. He supposed he could see why that might make them nervous.
He found B Squad waiting at the Delta Cruiser fifteen minutes later, talking amongst themselves. He raised a hand in greeting. "So, where are we going?" he asked.
"My bangles!" Syd squawked. "I thought Z stole those weeks ago!"
He lifted his eyebrows, glancing at the silver bracelets on his raised hand. "I needed something silver when I was trying to go undercover," he explained. "They're shiny and they make lots of noise."
"Just like you," Z commented, looking amused.
Sky was squinting at him. " ... Are you wearing my clothes?" he asked warily.
Zhane shrugged. "You were the closest to me in size. I figured you wouldn't mind, since it was for a good cause." He glanced down at his black jeans and button-up shirt. "I'm still trying to figure out why you have a silver shirt, though."
Sky frowned. "Syd got it for me. I never wear it." He paused. "You can keep it."
"Thanks. So where are we going?" he repeated. "Or are we just going to stand around talking about food, 'cause if we are, I'd rather get some food first."
The others all laughed nervously, like they weren't sure if they were supposed to or not. Sky just rolled his eyes. "We're trying to figure out where we're going," he informed him. "Syd's throwing a fit."
Syd glared at him and stomped her foot. "I'm just *saying*, if we're all going out to eat together, I want some place where I can eat, too!"
"Syd doesn't eat red meat," Bridge explained. "So going to a place that just serves burgers, she won't be able to eat anything."
Zhane frowned in thought. "Well, where can we find both?"
"Nowhere we can all afford on an S.P.D. salary," Jack muttered bitterly.
"And I *told* you, I'll pay!" Syd argued.
"I don't need charity," Z snapped at her. "I can pay for my own food."
"I can't," Zhane spoke up.
Everyone looked at him.
He shrugged. "Kat said something about setting up a ... 'bank' account? Something to do with depositing money ... " He shook his head and shrugged again. "I don't have any euquel or gems, and I don't know anything about Earth currency. But they accept morphers here, right?"
Jack frowned and shook his head slightly. "Um ... what?"
Zhane stared at him. "Earth doesn't accept morphers as Ranger status?"
"Of course they do," Syd said quickly. "But what does that have to going out to eat?"
He had the feeling he was missing something. "Having your morpher shows that you're a Power Ranger, and they accept that as currency," he said slowly. "Doesn't Earth do that?"
There was a long silence.
"You know what? Syd always picks good restaurants," Z said abruptly. "Why don't you chose, just this once?"
"Yeah, you've got great taste!" Jack agreed brightly, wrapping an arm around Syd's shoulders.
She smiled smugly and sniffed. "Of course I do. Now are we going, or not?"
Sky's voice came from just behind Zhane's ear, soft and almost shy. "You wanna ride with me?"
He was irritated, but he forced himself to smile a little. "I told you before I prefer my own rides," he pointed out.
He could feel Sky's indifferent shrug. "If that's what you want," he muttered.
Zhane caught his hand as he turned, giving it a light squeeze. "You can explain to me why everyone just changed the subject," he informed him brightly.
Sky winced a little, but nodded reluctantly as they turned towards his patrol bike.
Behind them, Zhane could hear Bridge asking "You mean Power Rangers don't normally have to pay for stuff?"
From what Zhane could tell, Syd had managed to find them all a restaurant that could make everyone happy. She picked daintily at some sort of bird she called 'grilled chicken breast' - which had left him struggling not to ask questions - while arguing with Jack over his hamburger that oozed over the sides of the bun it was supposed to be contained in. Z was backing up Jack, but strangely Syd was still holding her own.
Zhane shook his head, looking down at his own hamburger. Which was made of beef, not ham. Earth had weird food. Not bad ... just *weird*.
"So how long do you plan to stay mad?" Sky asked him suddenly.
He glanced over at him. "At least for the rest of the week, if not longer," he answered after a moment. He frowned thoughtfully. "I'm still furious, so it's hard to say."
An awkward silence fell over the table.
"You don't ... *seem* mad," Z said warily.
He smiled at her. "That's because there's no point walking around glaring at everyone, no matter how mad I am. It's not going to change anything, and it's not me. So I'm mad, but I'm not going to start screaming at anyone or try and do something to someone in their sleep." He looked directly at Jack as he finished, his smile widening as he batted his eyelashes innocently.
"That, is *really* creepy," Jack informed him.
"Told you," Bridge piped up immediately, seeming pleased with himself.
"So ... why *are* you mad?" Syd asked finally.
He stopped smiling.
He set down his hamburger, reaching for his drink and slowly stirring it with his straw. "What do you guys think of me?" he asked abruptly.
More than one person blinked.
"What do you mean?" Jack asked suspiciously.
"Do you think I'm stupid, or that I don't know anything? That I just got handed a morpher because I was there or something? That I'm as new to this as you guys are? Or maybe I lost some memories while I was in cryo sleep when my brain got all scrambled." He had started off speaking introspectively, but his tone had grown quieter and angrier the more he went on. "Because I'm really trying to figure out exactly why no one will listen to me when I say something, or just blow me off like I don't know what I'm talking about," he bit out.
Sky's hand settled lightly on his arm, and he forced himself to take a slow breath. Control, he reminded himself silently. Never lose your control in public. No civilian needs to see discord among their Rangers.
"Is that what you think we think?" Bridge asked quietly. "Because it's not what I think. I *think* it's not what everyone else thinks." He frowned. "I think."
His temper calmed again, he looked up at Bridge. "I said Kat can't go. I didn't say I didn't want her to. I didn't say she shouldn't, or that I wanted her to stay. I said she *can't*. I told you guys, I told her, I even told Cruger. And no one listened to me. Not *one* person."
Sky was frowning. "Wait, you told *Cruger*?"
He just looked at him. "I told you. She *couldn't* leave." He looked down at his drink again. "And I was right. We were lucky she came back as soon as she did."
"But ... it was a great opportunity for her," Syd protested. "We couldn't hold her back."
His fist clenched slightly around the glass, and he forced another slow breath. Control. They don't understand. Control.
"Syd," Bridge cut in. Zhane thought he saw him shake his head slightly.
"So why *couldn't* she go?" Jack asked carefully.
Zhane sighed, looking up at last. "Because she's Ranger Tech," he said simply. "Kat is the one who monitors our morphers, our Zords, even our battles. She can't give up her place on the team, even if she wants to. It throws everything out of balance. If she hadn't come back, we probably would have - " He cut himself off, shaking his head once. "We need her here," he said instead.
Everyone was frowning in confusion, but only Sky seemed to be catching on. "You mean her place?" he asked.
Zhane smiled at him. "Yes," he sighed in relief. "That's it *exactly*."
The others were giving them weird looks, but Sky just seemed puzzled. "But she isn't a Ranger."
He chuckled, amused. "Holding a morpher doesn't make you part of a team," he informed him. "Kat is as much one of us as Cruger is, morpher or no morpher. If she left, we'd be off balance. Because as much as I like Boom ... he's not Ranger Tech."
"You say that like it's a title," Bridge observed.
"That's because it is. Zordon's Rangers had Alpha 5, the Kerovian Rangers had G.I.R.A., Andros and I had D.E.C.A. ... There is always someone who has a place with the Rangers as their support, making sure that they have everything they need. For us, that's Kat," he explained. He glanced at Sky again, the only one who still seemed to be following him other than Bridge. "That's why she can't hold a morpher, either."
"But Bridge said that she had a disposable morpher," Z argued.
Zhane snorted inelegantly, then shot Bridge an apologetic look. "Uh, no. Sorry Bridge, but that's not how it works."
Bridge frowned. "But Kat said that the Kat Ranger morpher was created specifically to work for only one hour. A temporary morpher would make sense in an emergency."
"Make sense *how*?" Zhane demanded. "As opposed to an actual morpher that *didn't* lose Power?"
"Well, if you only need - " Bridge paused, blinking. "Um, the element of surprise?" he tried.
Zhane shook his head, folding his arms. "Now you're just trying to make excuses."
For several moments Bridge stared at the table cloth, deep in thought. He'd made as if to get up, but Z had caught his arm and flatly informed him "Not here."
"Wouldn't it upset the balance of Power between the team as it is, to add another morpher?" he asked finally.
Zhane smiled, but he shook his head again. "Good argument, but then Cruger would have completely thrown your team out of whack when he became Shadow Ranger. Or me, after I showed up."
"But you use a different Power Source," Bridge pointed out.
"True. But I'm your Sixth Ranger. Cruger is the Mentor for this team."
Bridge tilted his head. "Places?" he guessed.
He nodded. "Cruger is the Mentor, I'm the Sixth. Jack is Leader, Sky is Strength, Z is Attitude, Syd is Heart, and you're something between Team Tech and Strategist. It happens with Greens, sometimes," he added. "Kat, on the other hand, is our Ranger Tech."
"Attitude?" Z repeated, looking amused.
Zhane shrugged. "It's more important than you'd think," he promised. He turned back to Bridge. "Kat's morpher would have worked perfectly fine if she wasn't already Ranger Tech. Because she is, she can't hold a morpher."
"Why's that?" Jack wanted to know, frowning.
"Because a Ranger Tech works with the Power itself, sometimes in its rawest forms, to make and repair morphers and Zords," he explained patiently. "They channel the Power just as much as an actual Power Ranger does, just in a different way. If they tried to use a morpher at the same time, it would destroy them. So the morphers work as a failsafe: if someone has too much of the Power inside their body, they can only hold use it for a limited amount of time."
Stunned silence followed.
Bridge studied Zhane for several moments. "You're a lot smarter than you want people to know, aren't you?" he asked at last.
Zhane laughed. He laughed so hard he had to put a hand to his stomach as his ribs began to ache. When he was finally able to breathe again, he shot Bridge an amused grin. "I don't know about that. I'm a Ranger kid, remember? I grew up around the Power."
Bridge smiled a little. "Sky and I are Ranger kids too," he countered. "You still know more than we do."
Zhane chuckled, ducking his head. "Well, I did go through the collegiate already," he pointed out. "You guys are still cadets, and I've finished Ranger school. They don't just hand morphers to any old student, you know."
"That's funny. S.P.D. does," Sky murmured, smirking faintly. There was an audible thump from under the table, and Sky winced. Z looked smug.
"Hey, I'm the only one that gets to beat up Sky!" Zhane protested, wrapping an arm around the other teen's shoulders. "It leads to the best make-out sessions afterwards, and sorry Z, but I'm just not the sharing type."
Sky choked. Z, Jack, and Syd busted up laughing while Zhane smirked at them and pretended to fuss over Sky. He was pushed away when he started to coo and try to 'check for injuries'.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could still see Bridge watching him thoughtfully.
Sorry Bridge, but you guys just really don't need to know, he thought regretfully. I know enough to protect myself and my team. I know what I learned through Andros. And my strengths have never been in books.
He pouted at Sky for brushing him off, turning away to sulk and sniffle. Sky sighed irritably and tried to argue and apologize at the same time, while Jack, Z, and Syd laughed at how much Zhane was hamming it up.
He was still mad, and hurt. He hadn't forgiven them yet. But he'd get there ... eventually.
Chapter 12: fire
List of 22: 7 ~ fire
Author's Notes: Another one of those chapters that didn't come out the way I'd originally planned, but I'm fairly satisfied with it. Zhane and Bridge are just too much fun to write as friends. ^_^
"Rangers, be careful. Bork's a ruthless criminal. He left Alpha Centauri in ruins; he'll have no problem with destroying Earth."
"Aren't they *all* ruthless criminals?" Silver muttered as they all ducked into hiding. "I mean, at least most of them?"
He grunted as Blue elbowed him in the side.
"Thanks for the warning, Commander," Red said quickly. "We're closing in on him now."
"Follow me!" Green declared. He vaulted over the side of a railing.
Silver launched himself after him with a quiet whoop of glee, purposely ignoring the frustrated sigh from Blue as he flipped over the second railing. Green landed on a small cart, flailed for the briefest of moments, and righted himself as he went careening gracefully across the yard. Silver looked around for another, only to have Blue grab his shoulder. He glanced back at him with a pout that could be seen through his helmet.
"Okay. We don't have to do that. ... Do we?" Yellow asked warily.
"Uh, no." Red promised.
"Good. Let's go!"
"You know, *I* heard, that this Bork is wanted on like a bajillion planets." Green piped up.
"Oh, really? That many?" Yellow mocked.
"Okay. Maybe only like, ten planets," he admitted.
"But he's still wanted!" Silver put in, smirking as Yellow shot him a look.
"No sign of Bork, Commander," Blue reported in, pointedly ignoring them both.
"Keep searching, Rangers. Bork's energy reading still shows him at that location."
"Zhane, Bridge, you guys got anything?" Red asked.
"Uh, I'm not so good at picking up on things in morph," Green said sheepishly. "Cause of the whole, you know, layer of armor an' all."
"I'm getting *something*," Silver returned. "But I can't be clear on what. I'm not as accurate as Bridge is." And whatever's got Bridge's energy so crazy right now is throwing off what I *can* get, he added silently.
Green glanced back at them. "Should I demorph and try?"
"Negative," Red ordered just as Silver said "No!"
They exchanged glances. "Whatever it is, it's not a good idea to be unguarded right now," Silver finished uneasily.
"Cadets, be careful. It looks like we have lots of uninvited guests." Cruger's voice informed them.
"You guys are good," Pink murmured, glancing between Silver and Green.
Silver shrugged. "Comes with being us. Let's get this over with."
Red nodded. "We're on it, Commander," he acknowledged as they charged across the open area.
"I'm not getting anything," Silver grumbled in frustration as they looked around.
"We keep looking," Red ordered. "Cruger said he was here, and Troobians, too."
"If we split up, we could cover more territory," Blue suggested.
"Good idea," Red agreed.
Silver shook his head as chills ran down his spine. "No. We should stay together until we know what we're dealing with."
"But we'll cover more ground if we separate," Yellow argued, moving to stand closer to Blue.
Silver's fist tightened on his Silverizer. "And I'm telling you, it's a bad idea," he argued.
Green was looking at Silver; Pink seemed undecided. The other two looked at Red.
He hesitated. "We split up and meet back here in fifteen," he decided finally. "Everyone be careful."
"Right!" they chorused. Everyone but Silver saluted him.
"We'll be careful, Zhane," Green's voice promised in his ear as he ran in the opposite direction. "Don't worry."
"A little late for that," he muttered under his breath. Something was wrong, and separating had been the *last* thing they should have done. His instincts were screaming at him.
But Red had made an order, and he'd promised himself he'd follow Jack's orders from now on. No matter how wrong it felt.
Andros, where are you when I need you? he pleaded silently as he slunk through another empty alleyway. Andros had *always* listened to his intuition, even when there was no reason for it. Jack still didn't understand.
But the plea wasn't quite a call, and Andros didn't answer.
"There's Bork! I'm going in!" Green declared abruptly over his comm.
The chills ran down his spine again. "Bridge, no! Wait! Not yet!" he protested.
He didn't respond.
"No no no no no!" he moaned under his breath as raced toward his teammate's last position. Please be okay, Bridge, he prayed silently.
The feeling of danger grew stronger as he passed Pink, who called his name in surprise. He raised his wrist and turned his Silverizer way from his face as he tapped into the comm. "Bridge! Bridge, can you hear me?"
"Zhane? What's wrong?" Blue demanded as he ran alongside him.
He didn't answer. The feeling was stronger than ever now, and he knew if he didn't get to Bridge *now* -
"This way, guys!" Red called as he and Yellow joined them.
They ran onto the dock, and Silver scanned wildly around himself. "Bridge?" he called anxiously. He tapped the comm again. "Bridge!"
"Bridge! Where are you?" Red shouted to the empty air.
"Will someone please explain what happened out there?" For once, Cruger sounded more tired than angry.
"I take full responsibility, Sir," Jack answered immediately as he stepped forward. "I ordered that the team split up to search individually." His eyes flickered to the side, towards Zhane, briefly before returning to Cruger. "Zhane felt that we should stay together until we knew what we were dealing with, and I ignored his suggestion."
"Sir, I made the suggestion to Jack that we split up," Sky put in. He glanced at Jack, but avoided looking anywhere near Zhane. "If I hadn't said anything, he might have not given that order. I also ignored Zhane's argument, despite his greater experience as a Ranger."
"I appreciate you taking responsibility, Cadets." Again, Cruger's tone was oddly gentle. Something about it put Zhane's nerves on edge. "But the suggestion and the order were good ones. The job we do has many consequences. And a Ranger missing in action, is one of those consequences. Despite Zhane's experience, tactically speaking splitting up *was* the most appropriate option. You did not ignore his advice - you merely outvoted it." He glanced at Zhane for a moment before turning toward where Kat was already searching for Bridge. "Kat?" he prompted.
She turned, her expression hesitant. "I've scoured the area within a two hundred mile radius. I'm still not picking up on Bridge's communicator signal. I'm really worried about him," she confessed quietly.
Zhane clenched a fist, looking away. You have *no* idea, he thought to himself. The feeling that Bridge was in danger hadn't faded. All he had now was an increasing desperate need to go find him, and the feeling that time was running out.
It didn't help that his mind had quickly provided dozens of reasons why Kat couldn't find Bridge within two hundred miles.
"We're all worried about him, Kat," Cruger reminded her, finally starting to sound frustrated. "But worrying doesn't help us. We need to take action."
"I'll go," Jack spoke up.
"So will I," Sky put in half a beat behind him.
Cruger looked at them both. "Jack. I want you to search for Bridge. Do not come back until you find him."
"I don't plan on it, Sir," Jack returned, his eyes narrowed in determination.
"Sky, you will lead the others on a search for Bork. Do what you have to do to find him. Whatever it takes."
"Yes, Sir," Sky said sharply.
"Time is of the essence, Rangers," Cruger finished as they both saluted. "Your fellow cadet is counting on you."
But they were already out the door.
Zhane paused briefly to look at Cruger. "You know I won't be following Sky," he informed him quietly. For once, there was nothing confrontational about his tone.
Cruger stared back for a moment. "Do whatever you need to," he said at last. "I will watch over the others should they need help."
He nodded once, swallowing hard. The idea of giving over his place to Cruger while he searched for Bridge was galling and frightening. "Keep them safe for me, Commander," he said softly.
Cruger nodded in return. "Bring Bridge back to us."
For the first time since he'd joined S.P.D., Zhane left the Command Center with the feeling that he and Cruger understood one another.
He'd followed Sky and the girls for now, because until he had some sort of lead to follow, there was no reason for him to leave them alone. His nerves were fried as it was with two Rangers out of his eyesight. But he still didn't understand why they'd come ... here.
The alien yelped as he lowered the glass bowl he'd been polishing. "Oh, you scared me," he sighed.
"Sorry," Sky muttered.
"Sorry?" he repeated as Zhane glanced at his boyfriend worriedly. "You said, you're *sorry*," he repeated as Sky raised his hands irritably in a gesture of peace. "You must want something. Hey," he went on, looking at Zhane. "Why don't I know you? You're new around here, aren't you?" He paused, leaning closer to him conspiratorially. "Just a tip? Hanging around S.P.D. isn't exactly going to make you any friends."
"I‘ll keep that in mind," he returned calmly. "We need to know where we can find Bork."
"Creamed Bork? Pickled Bork? Or barbequed - "
"How 'bout galactic felon, Bork," Syd cut in, glaring at him.
The guy froze for a moment before raising his hands with a shrug. "I don't know what you're talking about," he protested innocently.
"Yes, you do. No games, Piggy," Sky growled.
"Ooh ... He talks," 'Piggy' remarked. "Something big must be going down. The well-being of the planet? Dare I say, the galaxy, is at stake?" He paused for effect. "So what's in it for me?"
:: ... ? ::
"Nothing," Syd returned flatly.
Zhane shook his head, rubbing his temple. Was that ... ? :: Andros? :: he tried.
Z hesitated. "What I'm about to tell you Piggy, is top secret, you don't say a word," she warned, pointing her finger in his face.
"Piggy!" she said sharply. "Bridge was taken by Bork. Okay, he's in a *lot* of danger."
"Oh. Oh, no. Not Bridge," he returned mildly. "He's the one of you I dislike the least."
He turned to walk away and yelped again as he walked into a furious-looking Sky. "Hello ... " he said weakly.
Sky glared down at him.
:: ... Where am I? ::
Zhane paused. :: Bridge? :: he called cautiously. :: Is that you? ::
:: ... Zhane? ::
Z moved closer, staring at Piggy. "Dock 19?"
He nodded, leaning away from her. "Yeah."
"Got it." Her eyes flickered over his shoulder to Sky. She paused to set a hand on Piggy's arm as they all began to walk away. "Thanks, Piggy," she said quietly.
"Okay. No problem. And I won't say a word!" he called after them.
Zhane glanced at Sky as soon as they were out of hearing distance. "He's going to betray us," he informed him. Mentally he was still trying to keep a hold on Bridge's thought pattern. It was shaky and confused, which meant he was probably injured.
Sky's eyes flickered to his. "Z won't believe that."
He shrugged, feeling irritated. He wasn't really surprised: none of them ever believed anything he told them. "I'm going," he said instead. His turned just enough to look at Sky fully. "Bridge is calling me."
"Calling you?" Syd echoed from behind them.
He nodded. "I'm going after him."
Sky frowned. "But Cruger said - " He stopped, shook his head, and looked at Zhane closer. "You're not going to listen to Cruger's orders," he reminded himself ruefully.
Zhane almost smiled. "No. I'm not."
Sky nodded. After a pause, he reached out to touch Zhane's elbow. "Be careful. You'd *both* better come back in one piece."
He did smile then. "I'll bring Bridge back to you, Sky," he promised. He turned away before Sky could realize what he'd said.
He wouldn't make promises he could never keep.
Dock 19 was disappointingly empty. But that didn’t mean Zhane didn’t have a trick up his sleeve. :: Bridge, can you hear me? ::
:: Well, this is interesting. I didn't realize we'd gotten so close. ::
He smiled. :: Liar. You know you're practically my second best friend. ::
:: True. Although somehow I don't think Sky would be happy about that. He's not so good at the sharing thing. ::
:: Sky's freaking out over looking for you. You'll be able to milk it for a week once we get you home. ::
:: Sounds like fun. Any pointers? ::
:: Slightly pathetic, traumatized but trying to pretend you're not, and being clingy while pretending not to notice usually works pretty well for me. So where are you? ::
:: In a room somewhere. Jack said there's a train station, church bell, foghorn, and buzzer nearby. ::
:: You got a hold of Jack? ::
:: Yup. I was able to get my communicator repaired. My morpher isn't going to work anytime soon, though. It looks like Bork sat on it. Or at least stepped on it. Maybe he hit it with a really big mallet ... that would explain why my leg hurts. ::
He tried not to wince. Scatterbrained Bridge was normal. Scatterbrained and Injured Bridge was bad sign.
:: Well, it's that or the way I'm bracing it against the wall. I'd try to adjust, but I don't think a sprained ankle is too much of a concern right now. ::
:: Why's that? :: he asked warily. Something about the way Bridge was babbling wasn't right.
:: Well, I seem to be running out of time. The room is getting ... smaller. Oh, and I'm hungry. ::
"The room is what?" he demanded sharply. He shook his head as he caught himself speaking aloud. :: The room is what? :: he tried again.
:: Shrinking. You know how the walls close in in those old monster movies? Well, you probably wouldn’t know. But they do. There's usually sand pouring in from somewhere in the ceiling, too. Although in this case, there isn't. Which is a good thing. ::
Zhane reached for his morpher. "Jack, come in," he ordered. "This is Zhane."
"I'm a little busy right now, Zhane," came the irritated reply.
"Bridge says the walls on his cell are shrinking. How close are you?"
"How close are you?" he repeated.
"Right outside the building. But there's an army of Krybots between me and him. It's gonna take me a few minutes to get to him."
"Time Bridge doesn't have," he muttered. "All right, I'll have Kat send me your coordinates. You deal with the Krybots, I'll get Bridge."
"You got it. Good luck."
"Yeah, you too." He switched frequencies even as he morphed. "Kat, this is Silver. I need Red's coordinates *now*."
Kat was nothing if not efficient. "Transmitting. I've got them locked into your Silver Cycle."
"Thanks, Kat. Silver Cycle!" he summoned.
"How's Bridge holding up?"
:: Bridge? I'm on my way to get you. And Jack's right outside the building. We're almost there. Is there anything you need me to bring you? ::
:: Something to repair my morpher would be nice. So I can, y'know, morph. Oh! And a sandwich would be *great*. I'm starving. ::
He didn't doubt it; psychics tended to get hungry the more energy they used. And he'd noticed Bridge getting cravings whenever he was uncomfortable or upset. He was lucky he had such a high metabolism. :: Got it. ::
He turned his attention back to Kat's channel. "His morpher is broken and I'm pretty sure he's injured. He also said he wants a sandwich."
"I'll see what I can do," Kat returned, sounding amused.
He flipped into the air and landed on his Cycle as it drove past him. "Silver out," he informed her. He focused his attention back on the road. "Hang on, Bridge. I'm coming," he murmured.
His morpher beeped. "Zhane, it's Sky. I hate to do this, but we've got a big problem on our hands. Think you can help us out?"
He glanced up, swerving just in time to avoid a pile of crates sent flying by the sudden tremor. The robot towering above the city looked strong, but not unstoppable. Which meant it wasn't enough to disturb the city foundations by using the Delta Command Megazord. "Can't. I'm almost to Bridge." He hesitated. "Have Kat send you the MegaWinger. Just ... just be careful with her, okay?"
There was a pause. "Thanks, Zhane. Be careful."
He smiled to himself. "I love you too, Sky," he returned, and shut off the connection before Sky could sputter at him.
The S.W.A.T. Command Truck was a blur as he drove past it. He could see laser fire and sensed that Red needed him, but he had to trust that he could handle himself for now. Green needed him more. Green needed him now.
There was an Orangehead in his way. He fired rapidly, charging straight toward it. He wasn't sure if the laser fire that got it first, or being run over by the Silver Cycle. It didn't matter.
Once he found the room, the grate in the floor to Bridge's cell was easy to spot. He didn't even bother to stop his Cycle, flipping off and running for the opening. "Bridge!" he shouted.
"Cover your eyes!" He raised his Silverizer, firing at the edges around the grate until he could see the whole thing crumbling. He yanked it away one-handed, extending his other inside the opening. "Grab my hand!"
Fingers fumbled for his, and he clamped around them the moment he had enough to hold on to. He yanked hard, dimly registering Bridge's cry of pain. Bridge threw his free arm around his other wrist as soon as he was halfway out, and he threw himself backward to get the rest of his teammate free.
The walls slammed together moments after him.
They laid there for a moment, Bridge on top of him as they both struggled to breathe. The hands on his arms moved to his neck, and he retaliated by wrapping the other up in the tightest hug he could manage. His shoulder screamed in protest, but he didn't care.
He powered down, suddenly needing to *feel* Bridge under his fingers. His friend's skin was cold and clammy and covered in dust and sweat, but there was a rapid pulse beneath it. Overwhelmed with relief and gratitude, he turned his head enough to kiss Bridge's temple reverently.
Bridge made a soft sound that could have either been a sniffle or a laugh. "Sky's gonna be jealous," he muttered into Zhane's neck.
"Don't care," he mumbled back, tightening his arms again. This time the pain registered sharp enough to make him wince. "He's gonna be pissed at both of us anyway."
"Yeah. That's true." This time it was definitely a sniffle.
At last Bridge pulled away to offered him a shaky smile, absently running a hand over his eyes. "Thanks, Zhane."
"This is one of those things I don't need to be thanked for," Zhane reminded him, reaching out to tussle Bridge's hair. He watched the cloud of dust the movement made for a moment before meeting Bridge's eyes again.
Bridge just smiled. "I know. Thanks."
The sound of barking made them both turn. "R.I.C.?" Zhane asked in surprise.
R.I.C. barked again, stopping in front of Bridge to drop something into his palm. Bridge smiled, reaching up to pat his head. "Good dog," he said admiringly.
Zhane shook his head, amused for reasons he couldn't explain at the sight of the replacement morpher. "Kat's on the ball as usual."
Bridge grinned at him faintly. His eyes were still a bit haunted, but that was something that would eventually fade with time - and nightmares. "We'd better get back to the others. S.P.D., Emergency!"
"Jack, your determination to find your fellow Ranger was extraordinary. Sky, your leadership of the Rangers was exemplary. Bridge, your coolness under duress was inspiring. Z, you have truly become a selfless member of our team. Syd, your fighting skills are honed to perfection. Zhane - " Cruger stopped, hesitating.
He turned to face him fully, and Zhane raised an eyebrow as the line of random praise seemed to be broken. "Zhane, I owe you an apology," Cruger said at last.
Zhane blinked at him. "Sir?"
He shifted uncomfortably, and it was hard not to stare at the sight. "It has come to my attention that you do not receive enough recognition as the senior member of this team, nor for your skills and loyalty to your teammates. Everything I have said to the others, applies to you as well."
Zhane raised his eyebrows. "I'm not a leader," he reminded Cruger. "And everything I've done today was part of my job as Sixth. There's nothing special about it."
"You saved my life," Bridge spoke up, even as he stared straight ahead. "I'd say that's pretty special."
He sighed and turned to look at the others. "I do what I do because it's what we'd all do. I happened to be the one who got to Bridge first, but that doesn't mean that anyone else wouldn't have worked as hard to get to him. And if I was the one who'd been kidnapped, I know you'd all do the same to find me. It's what teammates do. It's what *friends* do." He paused and looked back at Cruger. Silence lingered. "Neither of us gives the other enough credit," he said at last. "But that's because we each have our own way of doing things."
Cruger nodded slowly. "That we do," he agreed solemnly.
Zhane continued to watch him, tilting his head. "I want ice cream," he declared abruptly.
The others were giving him funny looks. Most of the few people who always seemed to linger in the Command Center turned to stare at him. Kat was fighting a smile.
Cruger stared at him. "On base or off?" he asked eventually.
"Off," he said firmly.
Cruger let out a slow sigh. "Very well. I shall have Kat make arrangements. You are all off-duty for the remainder of the evening."
Zhane nodded, and at last gave Cruger a genuine smile. "Thanks, Cruger."
He received another nod. "I expect you to uphold your end of the bargain," the commander murmured back.
Zhane turned with a wide grin, throwing an arm across each of the girl's shoulders. "So. Ice cream," he said brightly. "Syd, you know all the good places, right?"
"We're going for ice cream?" Jack repeated blankly.
"Of course I do!" Syd chirped back, smiling at Zhane.
"We're *not* going out for ice cream," Sky said firmly. "You and Bridge were just released from the hospital wing. Dr. Felix said to take it easy."
"What's strenuous about going out for ice cream?" Z shot back at him, gently easing Zhane's arm from her shoulder. She must have remembered that he'd been warned about it.
"I like ice cream," Bridge remarked. "And Syd likes ice cream. And I know Sky likes ice cream. I'm pretty sure we all like ice cream. So ... why wouldn't we want to go get ice cream?"
Sky hesitated, his eyes flickering to Bridge. "Are you sure you're up for this, Bridge? We can always bring something back to you if you want."
Jack stared at him incredulously. The girls weren't much better.
:: Pathetic and needy, but trying not to be, :: Zhane reminded him. :: Try not to overdo it or you'll lose him completely. ::
Bridge frowned a little. "Well ... ice cream does sound really good. And it'd be nice to leave the base while we're off duty ... But ... I don't want to be a bother," he murmured, shifting uncomfortably. "And I am a little tired ... you guys will probably have a lot more fun without me. I'll just wait here. You can tell me all about it when you get back." He tried to smile, and Zhane could see that the pain in his eyes wasn't completely fake.
"No, it's okay," Sky said quickly. "It's just ice cream. And spending time as friends could be beneficial to our ability to work as a team."
"'Our ability to work as a team'?" Z parroted back, rolling her eyes. "Stop quoting the S.P.D. handbook at us, Sky."
Zhane moved to wrap an arm around Bridge's shoulders as they headed toward their rooms. He tilted his head just enough to lean against Bridge as he walked.
"He'll get jealous," Bridge mumbled.
"I'm a touchy-feely guy," he returned quietly. "And I'm worried about my best friend being scared out of his mind today. I'm making him feel better."
He felt, rather than saw, Bridge's smile. "Yeah. I guess you are," he agreed softly. He leaned into Zhane's arm a little more.
He'd have to remember to thank Cruger somehow, for realizing what he meant when he‘d said he wanted ice cream. The old dog didn't seem so bad after all. For today, at least.
"Hey, guys?" he called suddenly. "Let's get some sandwiches, too. I'm hungry."
Bridge's answering smile was blinding.
Chapter 13: peace
List of 22: 15 ~ peace
Author's Notes: A surprising amount of thought and effort went into choosing the ice cream flavors of this fic. Like, more than went into the actual plot of the chapter. Even research. All flavors are taken from the Ben&Jerry's Ice Cream website.
For rosabelle and purplestripe66, because they wanted Zhane, Syd, and ice cream. I don't think this is quite what you were asking for, but it's what came out.
His finger ran down the screen, tracing the image once again. He knew no one would have noticed when he'd taken it, let alone returned it. Despite what they might think, he *was* capable of being subtle. And he hadn't damaged it or anything. Just scanned it into the computer while no one was looking and saved the file to his personal hidden folder.
Kat probably knew it was there; not much got past her. Bridge, too. Maybe Boom ... he knew Boom was smarter than anyone realized. But they hadn't called him on it, and he wasn't going to say anything until they did.
He looked up at the knock on the door, quickly stuffing the PDA under his pillow and reclining against it with his arms behind his head. "It's open!" he called.
Z raised her eyebrows as she caught sight of him. "Hey. You okay?"
He blinked. "Why wouldn't I be?"
She shrugged, moving to sit down at the end of his bed. "Oh, I don't know. Something about how freakishly quiet you were around the other Rangers today. Maybe the look on your face when Kat said she was sending them home. Or it could be the fact that you actually pick-pocketed Conner."
He frowned. "You saw that?" He must be losing his touch.
She smiled wryly. "Street kid, remember? I know the signs. You're good - but not *that* good." She shifted on the bed. "So what'd you take?" she asked casually, as if it didn't really matter to her.
He debated for a moment, then at last pulled out the PDA with a sigh. He offered it to her silently, waiting for her reaction.
She took it with another raise of her eyebrows, then smiled suddenly when she caught sight of the picture on the display. "Hey, wow! That's practically a piece of history. How many Reds are in this?"
He shrugged. "No idea. I don't know most of them."
Something about his tone made her pause, and her enthusiasm faded. She looked up with an expression that was almost sympathetic. "Which one is Andros?"
He leaned forward, tapping his finger over his best friend's face. Andros wasn't smiling as broadly as some of the others in the picture, but the relaxed, peaceful look was one Zhane had never seen on him. He wanted to say he looked good, but a streak of jealousy wouldn't let him.
Z studied the picture again, this time looking specifically at his old friend. "I like his hair," she remarked.
Zhane laughed, surprised. "Yeah. I did, too."
She looked at him for a moment, tilting her head. "Were you two like you and Sky?"
"Yes and no." He reclined back against his pillow again. "Depends on what you mean."
For some reason, that made her smile. "Okay, what *were* you like?" she teased gently.
He let out a long sigh. "Sky reminds me of him a lot," he admitted finally. "They were both driven, wanted to be the best. Born leaders. Stubborn. Acted like they didn't need anyone, even though they did. Somehow you just wanted to follow him, you know?"
He sighed again, and for a moment his eyes burned. "I could have loved him," he confessed quietly. "I mean, I did, but I could have loved him as more. He was my brother, but ... if he'd wanted it, I would have wanted more."
"He wasn't gay?"
He shrugged. "Honestly? It never came up. He was too busy with school, and then there was the war ... " he trailed off. Memories drifted idly through his mind, and he sighed softly. "We were more concerned with staying alive, staying *together*, than being anything more than that."
They were both distracted by the knock on the door. He glanced at Z. She shrugged lightly, and he smiled a little. "It's open!"
Syd walked in with a pleased smile, carrying a bag in front of her like it contained the most valuable jewels in the world. She blinked when she saw Z. "Oh, you're here. Good thing I brought extra."
"Extra what?" Z asked warily.
She sat down on Jack's bed, extracting her prize with a bright smile. "Ice cream!"
Zhane's eyes lit up. He hadn't had many opportunities to try Earth food, because he tended to chose Kerovian when he used the synthetron, but ice cream had been something he'd discovered once and immediately enjoyed. "Syd, you're wonderful," he told her happily, sitting up to reach for it.
She handed him the small container and a plastic spoon, looking pleased. "Of course I am. Z, you want Chocolate Fudge Brownie or Raspberry Chocolate Chunk?"
Z gave her a look. "You have chocolate and you're asking what I want?"
Zhane snickered as Syd rolled her eyes with a huff and handed Z her share. "How'd you know to bring ice cream?" he asked curiously, already digging in.
Syd switched her exasperated look to him. "Because I have eyes," she retorted. "Seriously, Zhane. I saw the look on your face when Kat said she was sending the Dino Rangers home. You needed chocolate."
He wondered idly why his chocolate had vanilla and caramel in it, but decided not to complain. Instead he poked his spoon at his ice cream carton a little. "Did you guys know S.P.D. has time travel technology?" he asked finally. It came out quieter than he'd meant it to.
Z shook her head, looking sympathetic again. "No."
Syd hesitated. "Yes," she confessed softly.
Her eyes met his as he looked up, and she fidgeted guiltily. "It's been mostly experimental," she explained. She hesitated again. "But, yeah ... I knew about it."
"Why didn't you say anything?" He wasn't angry, but his tone was flat.
She sighed, setting her ice cream down on Jack's bed. She stared at her hands for a moment before reaching up to brush her hair back out of her face. When she finally looked at him again, the guilt had turned into sorrow. "Because Kat asked us not to," she admitted.
The surge of anger came at last, and he shook his head. "So ... keeping me here was just for kicks? S.P.D. didn't have anything better to do with their time?" he demanded harshly. His fingers clenched around his ice cream container.
Z extracted it carefully from his hands, looking over at Syd. She said nothing, but her eyes had darkened.
"Zhane, no. It wasn't like that," Syd pleaded, reaching out to put her hand on his knee.
He moved back, glaring. He wasn't in the mood for placating. "Then what *was* it like? Cruger didn't *feel* like sending me back where I belong? It was too expensive? What?"
"History shows that there was no Silver Astro Ranger."
He looked to the door, where Sky watched him with a blank expression, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed. Bridge was peering around him uncertainly, Jack looking hesitant as he placed a hand on the doorway. "Ice cream was supposed to be a peace offering?" he asked blandly, suddenly annoyed by the crowd.
"Actually, the ice cream was Syd's idea," Bridge spoke up hesitantly. “The ambush just sort of ... happened."
"All the data we have on the year 1998 shows five Astro Rangers, assisted by the Phantom Ranger," Sky informed him, as though he hadn't even heard. "The Silver Astro Ranger disappeared two years before they began protecting Earth. Kat couldn't send you back because you were never there."
Jack forced a smile. "So hey, that means you were meant to be here, right?"
Zhane stared down at his lap. Part of him wanted to be angry. He'd been lied to - or at least had things kept from him. He felt used, manipulated. He wanted to storm into Kat's office and scream at her, or hand Cruger his resignation. He wanted to prove he couldn't be forced into anything.
But another part of him noted absently that his ice cream was melting, and Sky had barely so much as blinked in the last two minutes.
He closed his eyes, letting out a long sigh. He let his anger go with it, and felt his shoulders relax. It was an old technique he'd learned from Andros, back when he'd finally managed to corner his friend into telling him how he kept his temper so well.
At last he looked up, raising his eyebrows at the trio still hesitating outside his door. "Are you guys coming in, or what? We have ice cream."
Jack brightened instantly. "Ice cream?" He made his way to join Syd on his bed, attempting a puppy-eyed look that made her laugh.
"Fine, I'll share, you glutton," she giggled.
Jack snorted. "You have ice cream, so I'll forgive you for that," he informed her, dragging her and her ice cream into his lap. She shrieked in surprise, wrinkling her nose at him when she'd settled.
Bridge sat across from Z, surveying the room with a frown. "I hope you have extra spoons, Syd," he remarked.
"Of course I do," Syd retorted, blushing slightly as Jack nuzzled her neck. "Knock it off! I'll share, okay?" she snapped at him, but she was grinning.
Bridge looked down at the spoon he was offered, then glanced around the room again. Z seemed to sense what he was trying to figure out, offering her ice cream with a sigh. "Don't think I'm always going to be this nice," she warned him.
"Don't worry, Z. I'd never assume that," Bridge promised solemnly. His eyes lit up as he looked down at the ice cream. "Ooh ... brownies."
Zhane looked up at Sky, who hadn't moved from the doorway. "I seem to be the only one eating this," he offered, pointing to his own ice cream. "I'm not sure what flavor it is, but it tastes good."
Sky hesitated for a moment, sighed, and moved to sit between him and Z. "This isn't exactly the healthiest team bonding exercise we've ever done," he muttered.
Syd rolled her eyes, passing him a spoon. "We're not bonding Sky, we're cheering up Zhane. Shut up and eat your ice cream."
"Yes, ma'am," he snarked back, mock saluting.
Zhane laughed, leaning against Sky's side to drop his head against his shoulder. He grinned up at Sky when he looked at him. "Never mess with the Pink Rangers. They *will* hurt you," he informed him seriously.
Sky humphed, reaching around him to retrieve the ice cream from his nightstand. His arm stayed around Zhane as he dug in with a spoon. Then he paused, frowning at the label.
"What?" Zhane asked.
Sky glanced at him, then eyed Syd. "You got him Vanilla Caramel Fudge?"
She smiled sweetly. "It's your favorite."
Sky snorted, and Zhane blinked in surprise. "Seriously?" he asked.
"Yeah," Sky admitted, shaking his head.
Zhane smiled. "Cool."
"Cool?" Jack repeated, grinning. "That's the first time I've heard you use Earth slang, Zhane."
He shrugged. "Gotta fit in sometime, right?" he drawled. He adjusted himself so that he was more leaning *on* Sky than against him, and located his spoon again. "I will say this for Earth: you guys aren't half bad with sweets," he admitted.
"Hey, Zhane," Z said suddenly. "Which one would you have chosen, if you could have?"
It took him a moment to catch up to what she was asking. When he did, he shot her a warm, lazy smile as the others gave them odd looks. "I already did."
Chapter 14: kissing in the rain
List of 22: 10 ~ kissing in the rain
Author's Notes: This is ... not what I expected either. o.O Angsty, which is good, but more so than planned. And there's a very subtle plot twist that I had *not* planned on putting in here. -Eyes ZhaneMuse-
Love and thanks to Starlit Purple for beta and plot help.
There weren't enough stars in Newtech City, he decided. It was really too bright to see many, and the city's citizens really had no idea what they were missing out on. Space was always prettiest from far away.
Of course, the clouds could also be part of the problem, but that was beside the point.
He heard footsteps, but he didn't have to turn around to see who was behind him. He leaned against the railing instead, resting his chin against his hand. "I hate cloudy days," he remarked absently. "And cities, really. It's just not the same when you can't see the stars, you know?"
"Zhane - "
"There's something to be said for looking at them planetside," he went on thoughtfully. "I mean, there's *nothing* like space itself. But it's different when you're looking up at it from the ground. It almost seems ... smaller. And sparkly. You're so busy looking at the stars you don't really think about how dangerous it is."
"Zhane ... "
He hadn't realized he was crying until the hand gently brushed the tears from his cheek. He turned away from it, shaking his head. "I'm fine," he insisted shortly. "I'm more than fine. You don't have to worry about me."
Sky sighed quietly. "That was low," he muttered.
"Was not," he shot back. "If you worried about me, you would have thought about what you were doing *before* you volunteered for a suicide mission."
"I *did* think about you," Sky insisted.
"Don't lie," he snapped. "You volunteered half a second after Cruger said someone would have to go."
Sky grit his teeth. "I volunteered so *you* wouldn't have to."
"Sure you did."
"I did!" Sky growled. "We all know that you have the most experience fighting in space, and I didn't want it to be you, all right?"
"So it's better that it was you?" he demanded. "What exactly was I supposed to do if you were the one that didn't come back, Sky? What if it wasn't Jack? What if you *didn't* make it?"
"Then I wouldn't have had to be the one to live with it!" Sky shouted at him.
There was an awkward silence.
"Exactly," Zhane hissed.
He turned to walk away, but a hand grabbed his arm and yanked him back. His protest was cut off by Sky's lips on his. The kiss was firm, demanding, and the kind of kiss someone gave when they'd been terrified.
Several minutes passed before they came up for air. Zhane panted for breath for a moment. "I hate you," he muttered bitterly.
"You would have done the same thing," Sky returned, trying not to look as winded as he was.
"Of course I would have. That's why I hate you."
Sky rolled his eyes. "You are the most frustrating person I've ever met."
"Even more than Bridge?" he challenged. He knew Bridge was Sky's best friend, but Sky was also one of the first to lose his temper with him.
"*Way* more than Bridge," Sky grumbled.
Sky looked exasperated. "It's not a compliment."
"Just because *you* don't see it that way doesn't mean it isn't," he dismissed.
Sky sighed, running a hand over his hair in agitation. "I just ... I'm not as strong as you are, okay?" he said finally. He sounded defeated.
Zhane eyed him warily. "What do you mean?"
For a moment, Sky almost seemed to fidget. "I couldn't ... If I was you ... I couldn't do it," he said finally. He was looking everywhere but at Zhane.
Zhane blinked, trying to place what Sky was saying. When it finally hit him, he stared blankly. He wasn't sure if he was flattered or offended. "And who said I can?"
*That* made Sky look at him. "You *are* doing it."
He shook his head slowly with a quiet snort. "So you never noticed how many times I get depressed or upset? How awkward I am at fitting in? How much S.P.D. isn't me?"
Sky frowned. "You fit in fine. Everyone adores you. Even the commander almost likes you now."
He laughed at him.
Sky stared. "You're serious," he said slowly. "Zhane ... "
He waved him off, not wanting to hear whatever he was trying to placate him with. "I'm *not* fine, Sky. The only thing keeping me together is you, and the team. Without you ... " he trailed off uncertainly. He hadn't meant to take the conversation this far.
Sky's hand settled lightly on his arm.
Sky wasn't the most physically demonstrative of people. He preferred to show his concern though a casual touch, or a measured look. And the look he was giving Zhane right now spoke volumes.
"I wouldn't have been able to handle it if you went, and didn't come back," he said softly. "It was selfish of me, and I'm sorry. But I couldn't stand being the one being left behind."
Zhane blinked. Hard. "What made you think I could have?" he asked, and his voice cracked.
His face was buried in Sky's shoulder before he was even aware of moving, and he wasn't sure which one of them had grabbed the other first. It didn't really matter. Sky's arms were around him, and his fists were clenched tightly in the fabric of Sky's jacket.
"Don't ever do that again," he muttered finally, his voice muffled.
"I won't," Sky said softly. "I promise."
He sniffed, and wondered when he'd become so clingy. He started to say something - the words were on the tip of his tongue - but he stopped himself. "Okay," he murmured instead.
There was a pause.
"Don't I get a promise?" Sky asked finally.
He hesitated. It's just a promise, he reminded himself. Sky doesn't know the difference.
But his mind wouldn't let him ignore what it was to *him*.
"You sure?" he asked after a moment.
He could feel Sky looking at him oddly. "Why wouldn't I be sure?"
He shook his head, pushing the thought away. "It's nothing." He took a deep breath, looking into Sky's eyes. "I promise, Sky. I will always come back to you," he swore softly.
Sky's answering smile made his breath catch.
He was waiting for the kiss when it came, and it would have been absolutely perfect if Sky understood. But Sky wasn't ready for *that*, and he didn't want to scare him. So instead he kissed Sky back with a gentleness they rarely shared, and tried to pretend to be happy instead of heartbroken.
His face was wet when they finally separated again. He panicked. "Sky, I - "
To his surprise, Sky looked upward in amusement. "What, it couldn't wait five more minutes to rain?" he asked aloud.
Zhane let out a slow breath, feeling inexplicably relieved. "Guess not," he remarked casually. He grinned abruptly. "Dance with me."
Sky turned to look at him incredulously. "Are you kidding me?"
He shook his head as the rain started to come down harder. "Nope. Dance with me," he insisted.
"You're insane," Sky retorted.
Zhane stuck his tongue out at him. "You're the one who promised to come back to me," he shot back. He turned before Sky could respond, let out a loud whoop, and jumped directly into a large puddle forming with a loud splash.
He tilted his head back to the skies above him, closing his eyes as the rain and tears streaked his face. He laughed because he was happy, and because he hurt, and because it felt right. The urge to move swept over him, and he spun around in circles.
Arms caught him as he crashed into something, and he opened his eyes at last to see Sky staring down at him in bemusement. "You're insane," he repeated, brushing some of the water from his face.
Zhane grinned at him despite the wave of dizziness. "But you love me."
Sky shook his head, chuckling softly. "Yeah. I guess I do," he admitted quietly.
Zhane's smile widened. "Dance with me," he said again. He straightened, wobbling only slightly, and held out a hand expectantly.
This time, Sky took it.
Chapter 15: rock
List of 22: 18 ~ rock
Author's Notes: For some reason, I can totally see Andros and Zhane getting into bar fights together. Which was supposed to be the focus of this chapter, but then Zhane got introspective. -Glares at ZhaneMuse- Love to BlackCrimsonLight for the idea that Kerovians wouldn't be welcome in most bars.
Dedicated to rosabelle. Congratulations, honey. You made it. ^_^
Syd's head snapped up from the magazine she was reading to glare at him. "Are you *sure* you don't have a cold?" she demanded.
He tried to look innocent as he reached for some tissues. "Who, me? Why would I have a cold?"
"Maybe the fact that you came in at almost midnight soaking wet two days ago?" Jack offered dryly. "You still need to wash those towels, by the way."
"I will," he promised. He looked at Syd. "And I'm fine. Really. I just - " He sneezed three times.
"Need some cold medicine?" Z finished dryly.
He gave her an affronted look as he sniffled. "I'm not sick. The - "
"The Legendary Silver Ranger doesn't *get* sick," a voice finished.
Zhane's eyes went wide and he spun in his seat to stare at the doorway to the rec lounge. "Andros?!"
His old friend leaned against the wall with a relaxed smile. "Zhane," he greeted.
Zhane bounded to his feet, his face lighting up as he moved to grab the older man in a tight hug. They held on for several minutes, Andros releasing him at last with another brief squeeze. "What are you *doing* here?" Zhane demanded, but he couldn't stop grinning.
"What, am I not allowed to visit my best friend anymore?" Andros returned with a smile.
"Of course you are. I'd be insulted if you didn't," he dismissed, as if it had been his idea all along. "But what are you doing here *today*? And why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"I didn't want to ruin the surprise." Andros paused, stepping back to study him. "You look good," he remarked. But there was something in his eyes that only Zhane could read; something that said he knew there was more Zhane wasn't saying.
"I *always* look good," he retorted, looking back at B Squad. He wasn't ready to answer what Andros was asking. "Have you met the guys?" he went on. "That's Jack, Z, Syd - "
"Bridge, and Sky," Andros interrupted, looking amused. "Yes, we've met. How are you both?"
Bridge waved cheerfully. "Hi, Uncle Andros! I'm fine. Well, fine as in we're still alive. Tired, and I think Sky has some sort of infection but he won't admit it. Which is kind of funny, 'cause Syd thinks Zhane has a cold - "
"We're fine, Uncle Andros," Sky cut in, rolling his eyes at Bridge. "Thanks for asking."
Zhane blinked, looking back and forth between his friends. "You all know each other?"
"I know their parents," Andros explained.
Bridge nodded. "I've known Uncle Andros since I was a kid."
"Oh." Zhane forced a smile, trying to keep from fidgeting. His best friend was friends with his friends' *parents*. This wasn't awkward at *all* ...
"So!" Andros said abruptly, turning to him with a forced smile of his own. "Do you think Cruger might be willing to give you some time off any time soon? I was thinking we could go do something."
He blinked, looking at Andros warily. "Your kind of something, or my kind of something?"
Andros rolled his eyes. "My kind. The last thing we need is to get you expelled. Again."
"Hey, I was never expelled!"
"Suspended, then. It's the same thing."
"Is not!" he shot back hotly.
"Is - "
"You know what? I'll cover you with Cruger, Zhane," Jack cut in. His hands settled on each of their shoulders, pushing them toward the door, and Zhane blinked at him, wondering when he'd learn to move that fast. "You two go have fun. Enjoy. Try and check in every once in awhile, just so we know you're alive and Sky doesn't try to organize a search party or something."
"Sky?" Andros repeated blankly.
Zhane saluted. "Aye, aye, Captain. Thanks."
The door closed behind them, and Andros turned to raise his eyebrows at Zhane. "How is it that no matter where we go, you always get us thrown out?"
"Hey, you're not exactly innocent yourself there," he retorted. "Don't make me your scapegoat."
"But it's so much easier that way."
After a moment, Andros cleared his throat. "So. You still have the MegaWinger, right?"
"Of course," he humphed. Then he paused, looking away. "Thanks, by the way. She's beautiful."
Andros smiled, but it wasn't as bright as it had been earlier. "I thought you'd like her." He shook his head. "I was thinking we could go to this place I found just outside the Sol System. They take morphers, and it's Kerovian-Friendly."
Zhane paused. He turned slowly to look at Andros. "You know a bar that accepts morphers, *and* it's Kerovian-Friendly?" he repeated slowly.
He was dragging Andros down the hall before his friend could even answer. "What are we waiting for? She's this way."
Zhane set down his glass with a satisfied belch. "Much better," he sighed blissfully. "Excuse me," he added loudly. The four people still sitting in the bar - excluding the bartender and waitress- could probably care less, but he felt he should say it anyway.
Andros watched him with an expression that said he still wasn't sure if he was going to pretend not to know him yet. "Needed that?" he asked mildly.
"You have no idea," Zhane muttered.
Andros shrugged lightly, but his eyes darkened a little. "I still watch the news reports and check in with my contacts at S.P.D., so I know a little."
He looked up, surprised. "You do?"
"They don't give me as much information as they used to now that I'm not active, but I get enough to know you were on suicide watch last month." Andros paused to stare at him. "Zhane ... why didn't you call me?"
"Oh, the suicide thing?" He rolled his eyes. "That was a completely misunderstanding, and then Cruger just decided to be a jerk about it. See, there was a problem with my morpher, and I was trying to recharge it, but I guess the guys got the wrong idea, and - "
"Zhane," Andros cut in sharply. "Why didn't you call me?" he repeated softly, sounding hurt.
Zhane let out a long sigh, reaching up to trace the condensation on the empty glass with a finger. "I saw the video you made." Andros was watching him closely, but he couldn't bring himself to look up at him. "You gave up on me, Andros." His voice cracked as he said it, and he swallowed, trying to get himself back under control. "I mean, I can't blame you. Almost fifty years ... it's a miracle I woke up at all. Sometimes ... even I'm not sure why I did." He shrugged a little. "It makes sense that you moved on. I mean, I would have wanted you to. I did. Do. It's just ... " Another shrug, and he stared at the table miserably. Why had this seemed like a good idea again?
"You never watched the whole thing, did you?"
He glanced up hesitantly. "Huh?"
It was subtle, but there was annoyance in Andros' eyes now. "You never watched the whole video," he said again. He shook his head, not bothering to wait for a response. "It had my contact information. I always kept it updated, just in case." He sighed as Zhane stared at him. "When I first made it ... yeah. I was starting to lose hope. But I couldn't just give up, because I ... I could still sense you. So I held on to that. I made sure that no matter what, you would always be able to find me." He hesitated, shrugging slightly. "In a few more years, I was planning to put Marinda's information, so you could go to her even if I was gone." He looked up, and their eyes caught. "You will *always* have a place with me, Zhane," he said firmly, his voice soft. "We'll vow to fight as a team forever."
Zhane's eyes burned, and he blinked hard as a tear escaped. "We'll vow to fight as a team forever," he echoed quietly.
Andros reached out to bump the side of his wrist against Zhane's. "So talk to me," he said gently.
Zhane let out a shaky laugh, reaching up to run a hand over his hair. "What do you want me to say?"
Andros waved for the waitress, and another glass was placed in front of each of them. "Start from the beginning," Andros suggested. "We've got plenty of time."
So he did. He told him about waking up from cryosleep and panicking. He told him that he'd joined S.P.D. because he thought Andros didn't need him anymore, and he had no where else to go. He told him about the drain on his morpher, and laughed with him about B Squad thinking he was trying to kill himself. He talked about B Squad, and how no one ever took him seriously - not even Bridge, who was the most likely to listen. He talked about how Cruger drove him nuts, but they were learning to respect each other, and how he and Kat couldn't seem to trust each other with his equipment. For Andros, and Andros alone, he admitted that he felt lost, because he didn't exactly fit S.P.D. and B Squad, but he'd become too attached to his friends to leave them.
He admitted that most of the time, he wondered why he'd lived - and wished that he hadn't.
His throat hurt by the time he was done, and he took a long drink, watching Andros warily. It was hard to say if the long speech had been a product of just the alcohol, or the opportunity. He didn't *think* Andros had done any 'nudging' to get him to talk, but it wouldn't have been the first time if he had.
Andros leaned back in his seat, playing with the handle of his glass. "You don't have to stay with S.P.D.," he said finally.
The silent offer made Zhane smile a little. "I know."
That made Andros look up. "You care about them that much?" he asked curiously.
Zhane shrugged casually. "They're my team," he said lightly.
Andros' eyes narrowed. "And?"
"And what?" he returned, taking a long swallow of his drink.
It floated away from him, Andros snagging it out of mid-air to scowl at him. "What else, Zhane?" he demanded.
He sighed, because there was no way this wouldn't be awkward. "And ... I kindofpromisedSky," he muttered at the table.
He flinched. "I - "
"Zhane! You - How could you?!" Andros ran a hand over his ponytail. "Do you realize what I'll have to do to you if something happens?" he hissed.
Zhane frowned. "Why do *you* have to do something?" he asked suspiciously. "Rangers or not, Sky's father wasn't your teammate."
"But he was my friend," Andros reminded him irritably. "And he was a Red Ranger. When Wes died ... we all promised to look after Sky. Eric raised him, but the rest of us keep an eye out for him, too."
The image of a small army of Red Rangers chasing him across the galaxy flitted through Zhane's mind. He winced, pinching his nose. "That's so not funny," he muttered.
"I'm not joking," Andros retorted. He paused, frowning. "What sort of promise was it?"
Zhane winced again. "He promised not to leave me behind, and I promised to always come back to him."
Andros groaned. "He doesn't know, does he?"
"No," he mumbled. "I didn't ... I wasn't sure if he'd want it if he knew, and I knew that wasn't what he was really asking for."
"But you knew," Andros sighed. He gave him a look that was both exasperated and sympathetic. "Zhane ... "
"I know I'm an idiot, okay?" he snapped. "I get it. You don't have to rub it in."
His glass shattered in front of him, and Andros jumped back. "Zhane - " he began worriedly.
"Who did that?!" someone shouted.
They both looked up slowly.
Not a single glass in the bar was intact. Including, Zhane realized with a distant horror, the one belonging to the crowd in the corner. In his frustration, he'd shattered them all.
There was a reason most bars didn't allow Kerovians after all.
He swallowed hard. "Sorry about that!" he called with a guilty smile. "Accidents happen, right?"
"Damn telekinetics," one of them growled, glaring in their direction.
"Hey!" Andros said sharply. "He *said* he was sorry."
"Sorry isn't going to replace my drink, now is it?" another one snapped.
Zhane slid out of his seat, raising his hands slowly. "Look buddy, I'd be happy to replace it for you, but I don't have any money on me right now. Can't you just take an IOU?"
He saw Andros give him an odd look out of the corner of his eye. What could he say? He'd heard Jack use the Earthian phrase the other day. He *thought* it was appropriate ...
Judging by the angry bellow from the third guy, apparently not.
He and Andros exchanged glances. "Just like old times, huh?" he quipped.
"You mean you getting us into fights with the locals?" Andros snorted. "Yeah, sounds about right."
"Ah, lighten up, old timer. You can use the exercise," he teased.
He was expecting the chair that came flying at his head, and stepped swiftly to the side just as Andros demanded "'Old timer'? *Excuse* me?!"
He was *not*, however, expecting the bouncer that bumped into him as he moved to avoid the chair. He looked up slowly at the very *large* creature, and smiled nervously, swallowing hard. "Hi?" he offered weakly.
The low growl sent him scrambling back. This could *not* be good.
"How many does this make it?" Zhane wondered as he retrieved the emergency kit from the back of the MegaWinger.
"Twenty-six," Andros supplied, still holding Zhane's T-shirt to his temple. "Ash is going to kill you, by the way. Just so you know."
Zhane pulled out the ice pack, cracking it open to activate it. He took the T-shirt from him to wrap it around the pack and handed it back. "There's no way it's that high," he argued. "And she'll have to get in line. Sky will take me out before anyone else so much as blinks."
"They kicked us out of Vaelin 6 three times, under different aliases. And the second time at Fortenth you only got in because they thought you were a girl."
He grinned at the memory. "Oh, yeah ... I still say you would have made a cute girl yourself."
Andros snorted, then winced and pressed the ice back tighter against his head. "No, thanks. You can do all the cross-dressing - you're good at that."
He went to stick his tongue out at him and made a face as the split in his lip decided to remind him why that was a bad idea. "Seriously. Twenty-six bars? I didn't even know we went out to drink that often."
"We don't," Andros answered, taking the disinfectant from him and going to work on his split knuckles. " At least twelve of those were border placed."
He frowned. "Oh. Do they still count then?"
"You got us kicked out of a place of business. So yes, it counts."
"Hey, you were right there beside me."
Zhane flushed slightly at the blunt answer, ducking his head a little. "If you're still trying to make me feel guilty about earlier, it's working," he muttered.
Andros smiled, but didn't look up. "So how are you going to explain this to your teammates?"
He opened his mouth to respond and stopped.
The silence finally got Andros' attention, and he glanced at Zhane with a frown. "What is it?"
Zhane stared blankly at the wall in front of him. "I was going to say that my teammate already knows," he said slowly, "Because you were right there with me."
Andros' face softened. "No one said you have to have one team, Zhane," he reminded him softly. "Every Ranger has a team, and every Ranger has a place on that team. Yours is just a little more complicated than most." He paused, grinning faintly. "But that tends to happen with you."
Zhane shook his head. "I know," he murmured, and even he could tell how distant his voice had become. "My team is you, and B Squad."
"Zhane?" Andros sat up straighter, reaching over his bandaged hand to grab his wrist. "Zhane, what is it?" he asked sharply.
"My team," he whispered. The moment he said it, his thoughts reached for them, and the color drained from his face. He could see them in the back of his mind, crying out in pain. Falling one by one, and he wasn't there to protect them. "Andros - "
"I'm on it," Andros promised, squeezing his wrist. "Finish cleaning up - you don't need any injuries right now," he warned as he headed to the pilot's seat.
Zhane stared down at his hands, one bandaged and one not. "Why didn't I notice?" he asked softly, his chest tightening. "Why didn't I know something was wrong? How could I not ... "
Why hadn't S.P.D. called him?
Chapter 16: obsessive
List of 22: 14 ~ obsessive
Author's Notes: I hate battle scenes. I really do. And for some reason, this one insisted on playing in my head with the inSpace theme song in the background ...
He felt numb. "Why didn't anyone call me?" he asked distantly, unable to tear his eyes away from Sky's bed.
"The Commander was trying to bring them all in when it happened," Kat explained softly. "He decided it was safest if you stayed where you were, so that Icthior wouldn't come after you as well. We knew that you'd come as soon as you heard about the situation."
His fists clenched.
Andros' hand settled on his shoulder, squeezing just enough to remind him to control his temper. "What's the prognosis?" he asked.
"They'll be all right, with enough rest. But Dr. Felix has ordered them all to stay put."
"And Icthior?" Zhane asked lowly. "What happened to him?"
" ... He's still on the loose," Kat admitted.
He nodded curtly, glancing at Andros. His old friend hesitated, then nodded once. He raised his arm, and they gently bumped wrists.
:: Show them what you're made of, :: Andros told him.
:: I will. Keep them safe for me. :: He hesitated briefly, unable to bring himself to lower his arm. "We'll vow to fight as a team forever."
:: "We'll vow to fight as a team forever," :: Andros echoed solemnly, and somehow hearing it aloud and in his mind made the words all the more important.
"Don't even think about it," Cruger growled weakly from the end of the line of beds. "You are our last Ranger standing, Zhane. We need you here."
He glanced down at him. "What we *need* is this guy off the streets," he retorted. "I can handle myself, Commander. I'm not going to let him hurt anyone else."
"No!" Cruger snapped. "That's what he's waiting for. You will remain here until I say so. That's an *order*, Zhane." He paused, eyes narrowing when Zhane didn't respond immediately. "Understood?"
"Yes, Sir," he returned shortly, his tone like ice. He saluted sharply, turned on his heel, and marched off.
:: Good luck, :: Andros called after him.
:: Don't need it, :: he returned cockily. :: I'm The Legendary Silver Ranger, remember? ::
He smiled grimly as he headed towards the garage where his Silver Cycle would be waiting. "It's time to show these guys just what makes me so legendary," he finished to himself.
He chose a place just outside of Newtech City, somewhere open and abandoned. He wasn't going to involve civilians in this, and he'd need room to work. Parking his cycle, he tapped a code into his digimorpher that would send out a beacon for any unfriendlies within a fifty yard radius. "Okay, Icthior. Come and get me," he said softly.
It didn't take long.
"Silver Ranger ... " a voice drawled, and the alien stepped out from behind a cliff, tapping a sword over his shoulder. "So you've come out of hiding, have you?"
He ignored the insult. "I'm bringing you in," he informed him calmly, coldly. "You can either surrender now, or I'll take you by force."
Icthior laughed at him. "I don't *think* so. You can't defeat me."
"Or me," cooed another voice. Broodwing moved to join Icthior, looking as smug as a guy who didn't make facial expressions could. "Hello, Ranger. Welcome to our little party."
"I'm not interested in pleasantries," he said flatly. "Is this a fight or not?"
"Oh, but ... not all the guests have arrived yet," Broodwing protested. He snapped his fingers.
Zhane watched warily as four Orangeheads somersaulted over their heads, chuckling darkly at him. Each one produced an orb, tossing it into the air. In minutes he was surrounded by an army of Krybots, complete with a small group of Blueheads, and the four original Orange.
"Now *that's* a party," he remarked. He smirked at Broodwing. "I was beginning to think this wouldn't even be a challenge. I might actually break a sweat."
"Attack!" Broodwing shouted.
Zhane reached for his morpher. "Let's Rocket!"
The Krybots were almost on top of him by the time the silver faded from his eyes. "Super Silverizer!" he summoned. He went for blaster mode, firing rapidly at the cannon fodder that had been dumb enough to charge in first. After about twelve they got smart enough to stumble back, waiting for an opening. He grinned beneath his helmet, switching quickly to sword mode. "Time to get some exercise," he quipped.
His Silverizer sang through the air, cutting through Krybots like butter. Years of training and instinct returned, and he became a whirling ball of destruction, spinning, kicking, slashing. He rolled across one Krybot's back to stab another through the chest, yanking his arm free to slam his elbow into a third. He spun around to remove its head from its shoulders.
He wasn't sure when it happened, but somewhere between the fourteen and twenty-second Krybots he wasn't fighting for Newtech City anymore. He was home, in the fields outside the rebel base. He couldn't see Andros, but there was a steady presence in the back of his mind that reassured him he was nearby. He was surrounded by enemies, and he'd never felt happier.
And then his enemies were lying around him in tatters, sparking and still. Only two remained, staring at him from across the pile of minions. "That's ... you just took out fifty Krybots," the guy with the sword sputtered.
"That's impossible!" growled the other.
He blinked, and his mind realigned with the present. Newtech City, not KO-35. He was fighting Krybots, not Quantrons, and that was Icthior and Broodwing - *not* Darkonda.
A slight pressure against his mind reminded him that unlike everything else, Andros was still there.
He laughed at their shock. "What, haven't you heard of The Legendary Silver Ranger of KO-35?" he mocked.
"The Silver Astro Ranger is dead," Broodwing snarled. "You may wear the uniform, but there's no way you - "
"Is that what they told you?" he interrupted, amused. "I may have taken a long nap, but I'm still around. And trust me, Grumm has *nothing* on Dark Specter. You guys are a joke."
Broodwing shifted angrily. "Why you - "
They charged him together, but he was ready for them. He ducked Icthior's swing, kicking his knee into Broodwing’s stomach. He went to hit him again, but Icthior caught his shoulder, dragging him around and kicking him in the side. He tried to move back, but the fish-face had a grip like iron. "Let ... me ... go!" he growled, stabbing wildly at Icthior's ribs.
He coughed as Icthior kicked him in a very uncomfortable place, finally jerking free and moving away to catch his breath. "Dirty fighter ... " he wheezed.
:: You all right? ::
:: Fine. Let's just say Icthior doesn't fight fair. ::
:: You need help? ::
He considered. :: Send Cruger. I can handle Broodwing myself, but he should be the one to bring in Icthior. ::
:: I'll see what I can do. ::
The sound of blaster fire made his head jerk up. But instead of Broodwing and Icthior, or even Shadow Ranger, he saw blue spandex.
"Do you *ever* do what you're told?" Blue Ranger demanded, glancing back over his shoulder at him.
He sighed. "No more than you do," he retorted. :: How long did you wait after I'd left before you sent them? :: he demanded silently.
Andros' mental voice was tinged with amusement. :: I didn't. Cruger tried to contact you ten minutes ago and didn't get an answer. They went after you on their own. ::
:: What happened to keeping them safe? ::
:: I made sure Dr. Felix didn't notice? ::
He rolled his eyes. "You guys shouldn't be here," he informed Blue, Pink, and Green as they gathered around him. "You're supposed to be in bed."
"And miss all of this?" Pink returned cheerfully.
"Not a chance," Green finished. "You said it yourself, Zhane: if you were in trouble, we'd all come after you."
"It's what friends do," Yellow agreed, touching his elbow.
"Hi-yah!" Red shouted, firing his Delta Blasters as he leapt through the air. He landed in front of them, turning to shake his head at Silver. "Very tricky, Zhane," he mocked, tilting a blaster in Silver's direction.
"Stubborn is more like it," Blue grumbled.
"Stubborn, yes," Shadow spoke up behind them. He set a hand on Silver's shoulder, patting it gently. "But brave."
"Cruger!" Broodwing snarled.
"Ready Rangers?" Shadow called.
"Doggie!" Icthior cried.
"You know it!" Red returned. "S.P.D., S.W.A.T. Mode!"
"S.P.D. Shadow Ranger!" Shadow announced as the others finished powering up.
Silver grinned behind his helmet as he joined the lineup. "And the one and only, Legendary Silver Ranger!"
It was good to be back.
"Are you *sure* they're ready to be cleared?" Zhane pushed. "I mean, you did say they'd sustained *serious* injuries."
Dr. Felix sighed. "Yes, but it seems that morphing cleared up all of those problems. The ... 'Power' healed them completely."
"But there was a tube sticking out of Sky," he argued.
Dr. Felix raised his eyebrows. "The IV? Yes, that was due to the minor infection he seemed to be suffering from. But that, as with everything else, has resolved itself." His eyes narrowed slightly. "And you have yet to explain to me, Cadet Zhane, exactly why you are so interested in Cadet Tate's medical condition."
He tried not to roll his eyes, because everyone at S.P.D. outside of B Squad and the Rangers had a tendency to forget that he *wasn't* a cadet. He started to say something and stopped, hesitating. "I ... I, uh ... "
Dr. Felix continued to stare at him. "I'm waiting ... " he drawled.
Zhane's eyes narrowed. "I'm his Promised, okay?" he hissed. "I know this isn't KO-35, but S.P.D. *does* respect the rituals of other cultures, right?"
The doctor's eyes widened. "His Promised? You - " He coughed. "Well, why didn't you say so to begin with?"
He tried not to sigh. "Are you *sure* he should be released?" he asked again. "What if his injuries act up again, or his infection comes back?"
"There's no need to worry. I can assure you, Cadet Tate has been given a clean bill of health," Dr. Felix promised. He paused, giving Zhane a once-over. "You, on the other hand, look like you could benefit some rest yourself, Cadet."
"Thanks, Doc," He managed a smile. "I'll go do that right now, okay?" He headed for the door before he could be forced into a bed.
"Congratulations, Cadet!" Dr. Felix called after him, and he tried not to cringe as the door opened.
Please don't let anyone else have heard that ...
"Since when are you so obsessed with my health?"
He jumped, turning to stare at Sky waiting for him just outside the door. "Huh?"
Sky folded his arms, frowning. "You were asking if I should be released. I heard you."
Zhane tried to shrug it off. "I asked about everyone. I don't want you guys running around if you're not ready for it, after all."
Sky's eyes narrowed. "But you said my name specifically."
"You were in the worst shape," he reminded him. "Excuse me for being concerned."
He turned to walk away and paused as his nose itched. He sneezed three times without warning, ending with a groan and a hand going to his head. "Ugh ... "
A hand landed on his forehead, and he blinked at Sky. "What?"
The corner of Sky's mouth quirked. "Congratulations. The Legendary Silver Ranger has a cold."
Chapter 17: safety
List of 22: 19 ~ safety
Author's Notes: Pure, unapologetic fluff, people. 'Cause SickZhane is just too cute for words. ^_^
He woke up dark, cold, and alone. His head was stuffy, he couldn't stop shivering, and his eyes were blurry. He was absolutely miserable, and there was no one around to pity and fuss over him.
He got up, tugging a blanket around his shoulders that felt far too thin. It took some effort to find his feet and make sure he didn't stumble. He wandered down the hall with his eyes mostly shut, mentally scanning to make sure he didn't wander into any walls or people. What he was looking for couldn't have been far, and he reached out to find them.
There was a feeling of discontent and melancoly just ahead of him, in what was either the rec lounge or a large closet - he couldn't quite remember. He headed for it, and was pleased to find empty air in front of him. Walking into the door would have been uncomfortable.
The voice was distant and fuzzy, but familiar, and he gravitated towards it. Arms caught him and held, and he smiled sleepily as he saw a blue blur. Ooh ... Sky Shirt.
"What are you doing up? You're supposed to be in bed," the voice reprimanded, but the Sky Shirt was already leading him to the couch. Or a table. It didn't really matter.
He *hated* being sick.
"'lone," he mumbled, because he thought that had been a question somewhere. "Cold."
There was a sigh, and he found himself sitting. The Sky Shirt was in front of him, and he buried his face in it, curling up around it. He made a noise of contentment. *Much* better.
"Comfortable?" the voice asked, sounding amused, and he thought he heard muffled giggling from somewhere.
People were talking softly around him now, but he felt more relaxed now that he wasn't alone. The blanket he'd brought was wrapped tighter around him, and a hand began to lightly stroke his hair. He smiled sleepily, snuggling closer.
Eventually there was a light brush against his mind, tinged with concern.
He shifted a little, frowning. :: ? ::
:: You okay? :: Bridge's mind voice was soft and soothing.
:: I'm cold, my nose hurts, and everything's a big watery blur, :: he grumbled back. :: So, no. Not really. ::
:: You need anything? ::
:: You could remove my nose, :: he offered. :: That would help. ::
Amusement now. :: Anything else I can do? ::
:: Paopu Juice? :: he asked hopefully. :: And wrap me up in Sky? He's warm. ::
There was a cough from somewhere, and he was shifted to adjust his blanket. Someone tapped his shoulder, and a drink was pressed into his hand. He made a pleased noise, coughed weakly, and moved to take a sip.
Hands took the drink from him instead, and he whined in protest.
"I'm not letting you choke to death," the voice from earlier informed him, sounding frustrated and amused at the same time.
He was pulled up to lean against something, and his drink returned. He sipped it slowly, stopping to yawn and rub a hand at his eyes. This time, he managed to crack them open enough to see that he was leaning on Sky, half in his lap, Bridge on the floor across from them munching something chocolate. Further glancing around revealed Jack and Z on other couches, watching him with half-hidden smiles.
"Morning," Jack offered. "You back among the living?"
He considered. "No," he decided at last, his voice barely a croak. "Your Earth virus killed me."
Z giggled, trying to cover up the sound by taking a drink from her mug. "It's just a cold, Zhane. You'll be fine in a couple of days."
He gave her a dirty look. "I'm dying. Some sympathy here."
"How'd you get sick anyway?" Jack asked, not bothering to hide his grin.
"Dancing," he mumbled, leaning his head against Sky's shoulder again.
There was a long pause.
"Dancing?" Z repeated skeptically.
He nodded, sniffling. Sky put a tissue in his hand, and he turned away from him long enough to blow his nose. "Dancing is fun, but hazardous to your health," he told them solemnly, handing the tissue back to Sky.
Sky made a face, tossing it to the garbage can. "Thanks," he muttered. He sighed when he realized everyone was still staring at Zhane, and explained. "We were up on the roof in the rain. Zhane didn't want to come in."
He nodded again, reaching for his drink and taking a long sip. "Dancing was more important then. Now ... not so much." He swallowed, setting his drink back down and reaching up to grab Sky's shirt in his free hand. "So what are you all doing up so late?" he yawned.
There was an awkward silence.
"We're trying to decide who's fault it is that the world is going to end," Bridge told him at last.
He frowned, confused. Something about that sentence didn't seem right, and he didn't think it was the cold talking. "Grumm's?"
Sky sighed. "We heard Cruger talking to Kat earlier, about how he wondered sometimes if Grumm would still be around if A Squad hadn't disappeared."
"So we're trying to decide who's fault it is," Bridge finished.
"Mine," sighed a voice from the doorway, and they all looked up as Syd wandered in clutching a large stuffed animal. "I can't sleep. It just keeps swirling around in my head. I'm gonna have bags tomorrow ... " she grumbled. She moved to slump beside Jack on the couch, leaning against him as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I spend too much time thinking about me. Me, me, me. *I'm* the reason that we can't win."
"Syd," Z interrupted, giving her a look. "You've also taught us *all* how to be better Rangers."
There was a long silence as everyone contemplated her words.
"I guess you're right. I am great," Syd declared brightly. Then she frowned a little. "You think that's why Cruger became Shadow Ranger? He didn't think we could do it on our own?"
Zhane rubbed at his head, trying to figure out what in the world they were talking about. No matter what way he looked at it, this conversation didn't make any sense. And he was fairly sure by now it still wasn't the cold affecting his ability to think. "What are you all talking about?" he asked grumpily.
Jack sighed, shaking his head and squeezing Syd tighter. "I guess we all let Cruger down in our own way."
"Yeah ... you're probably right," Sky admitted.
Zhane sat up, pushing away from him to look around at them all. "Seriously, what are you all talking about?" he demanded.
"Cruger said if A Squad were here, Grumm would be gone by now," Z explained for him. "And he's right."
"Based on what?" he returned irritably.
"A Squad was a tighter team, S.P.D.'s best," Sky told him. "They had more training and experience. Cruger just threw us all together. We're good, but A Squad's better."
Zhane rubbed his head again. This was giving him a headache. "It's been *my* experience, that the thrown together teams are the ones who come through in the end," he retorted. "Training is good and all, but it's the Rangers with the most heart that win the war. If that was A Squad, they'd still be here right now."
"What does it matter to you?" Syd shot back sulkily. "You're one of the best Rangers we've got. It's not your fault we haven't caught Grumm yet."
He rolled his eyes and winced at the wave of dizziness it produced. "Have we even had an opportunity to capture him yet?" He scowled at them all. "Yeah, Grumm's still out there. But Newtech City is still standing. It's people are still walking the streets without fear. Don't judge your battles by your enemies, judge it by your victories."
There was a long pause.
"That's pretty good advice," Jack admitted finally, his voice low. "Where'd you hear that?"
"My mother," he said bluntly. "The Blue Kerovian Ranger." He eyed Sky. "Blue Rangers have a habit of telling people what they don't want to hear."
That got chuckles out of everyone as Sky made a face at him. "So do Silver Rangers," he retorted.
Zhane shook his head. "Nah, we just tell people when they're being stupid. Which you all are." He leaned back against Sky again, drawing his blanket back around his shoulders with a humph and closing his eyes. "Our fault Grumm's still out there ... honestly," he grumbled to himself.
Sky chuckled, wrapping arms around him and pulling him closer.
"Guys ... " Bridge ventured eventually. "I have a question. Have you ever wondered why Grumm just hasn't destroyed Earth like he did in Alandria?"
There was another pause as everyone considered this.
"If Grumm can destroy Earth from orbit, why doesn't he?" Sky wondered aloud.
"He must need something," Jack offered.
"But what?" Syd demanded. "He already has millions of dollars worth of diamonds."
"Wait a minute, guys," Bridge spoke up, on his feet now and looking anxious. "Grumm tried to steal all that gold, remember?"
Zhane cracked an eye open.
Bridge abruptly clapped his hands together. "I got it! Grumm's master plan is to open up a mega jewelry store ... It's perfect." There was a pause as the others rolled their eyes and sighed. "Okay, maybe it's not that perfect," he admitted.
"Earthians," Zhane mumbled.
Sky poked him lightly in the ribs. "What? You've got a better idea?"
He looked up at him. "Diamonds and gold only have monetary value on Earth," he reminded him. "Other planets use them for building material, not currency. Grumm wouldn't have taken them if he was interested in money."
"So Grumm must be trying to *build* something," Z decided. She paused, looking around for support. "Like a new ship?" she offered.
Sky frowned uncertainly. "Out of gold? It's way too soft a metal."
Bridge paused in chewing on the thumb of his pjs to point at Sky. "But not if he added that iridium that he stole. Iridium can be used to harden all metals."
There was a long moment of silence as they all thought about this.
"Okay," Z declared finally. "So Grumm is looting the Earth of *our* resources to build either a ship, or a giant weapon ... "
"A weapon of that magnitude?" Sky said skeptically. "Would need radioactive material to drive the reactor."
Bridge paused, looking anxious. "What if Grumm got a piece of that meteor that Jack blew up?" he asked urgently. "The radiation would be more than enough."
Zhane shivered slightly at the reminder, and Sky's arms tightened around him again in silent apology.
"So Grumm has everything he *needs* to build ... whatever he's building?" Syd asked, frowning in confusion.
"Except," Jack began slowly. "A synthesizing agent to pull it all together."
"Hemotech Plasma!" everyone chorused.
"Newtech Labratory was raided," Jack reminded them.
Z looked worried. "This is bad. We gotta tell Cruger."
"Tell me what?" a voice demanded from the door.
Immediately everyone started talking at once, and Zhane whimpered pathetically, clutching his head. The voice above him immediately stopped as Sky pulled him close, running a hand over his head again. He buried his face back in his shirt.
"Wait!" Cruger commanded. "Slow down. Rangers, *silence*!"
They shut up, and the only sound was another whimper Zhane couldn't hold back.
"Sorry," Sky whispered in his ear. A kiss pressed lightly against his temple.
"Now, what is this about?" Cruger demanded.
"Sir," Jack began. "We heard what you said to Kat. You think if the A Squad was here we would have already defeated Grumm."
"Apparently you didn't eavesdrop on my conversation long enough," Cruger growled. "If you had, you would have heard Kat and I agree that if A Squad was that good, they would not have fallen into Grumm's hands. As you haven't."
"Told you," Zhane called smugly, his voice muffled against Sky's shirt. He smirked to himself as Sky rubbed his back in another apology.
"Will that be all?" Cruger asked, and from his tone Zhane knew he was rolling his eyes.
"No, Sir," Sky spoke up. "While we were - " He hesitated. "Feeling sorry for ourselves, we realized that Grumm is using resources from this planet to build something very large. It is *our* job as Rangers to protect the planet, and - "
"Yes," Cruger interrupted. "I too believe that Grumm is using our resources against us. The time has come to act. But we'll do it *after* you get some sleep. We need you all in the best of health."
Zhane smiled against Sky's shirt, knowing Cruger was looking at him. "But I'm comfy," he mumbled against Sky's chest.
"Uh huh." Sky sounded amused, but he still gently pushed Zhane away, pulling him to his feet. "Come on. You need rest more than any of us."
Zhane mumbled grumpily as he was led toward the door, his blanket trailing over one shoulder. "Was *trying* to sleep. Not my fault you all wandered off without me."
"And Rangers," Cruger called, making them all pause in the doorway to look back at him. "Make no mistake. The fate of the world rests in your hands."
There was a long silence.
"Thanks, Commander. Now I'll *never* get any sleep," Zhane grouched. "That's *exactly* what I needed to hear." He wandered down the hall, dragging Sky behind him as he grumbled under his breath.
"I think that's the first time I've ever heard you call him Commander," Sky remarked quietly from behind him.
"I'm too tired to care," he retorted. He stopped to sneeze, and Sky's hand came up to rub his back soothingly again.
"Hey, Sky, Zhane?" Bridge called softly.
Zhane turned back to glare at him, because if anyone kept him from crawling back into his bed and dying one more time tonight, heads would roll. As soon as he could see straight.
Jack grinned at them, coming up to wrap an arm around Bridge's shoulders. "Bridge is gonna crash with me for the rest of the night," he informed him. "We wanna have a sleepover. No sick people allowed, so go find your own room." He winked suggestively.
Sky rolled his eyes. "Funny, Jack," he retorted, but he led Zhane along toward his room anyway.
Zhane blinked, trying to figure out exactly what just happened, and slowly smiled. :: Thanks, Bridge, :: he called.
:: Try not to share your germs, and we'll call it even. ::
:: I'm not promising anything. ::
And then there was a bed in front of him, and he didn't care that it was covered in blue instead of silver, because it was *there*. He crawled in, smiling at the subtle scent of 'Sky', and sighed happily. Arms slid around him from behind, and a kiss was pressed to the back of his neck. "Comfortable?" Sky teased softly.
He was warm, loved, and safely wrapped in the arms of one of the most important people in his life. Get Andros and the rest of the team in here, and he'd be in heaven.
"Mmm," he agreed, snuggling back against him. "Am now."
He was asleep in minutes.
Chapter 18: atmosphere
List of 22: 2 ~ atmosphere
Author's Notes: Playing up the angst more than I'd meant to here. Also still debating who among B Squad will remain at S.P.D. The original plan had been to stick to cannon as close as possible, but ... I don't like B Squad without Jack. It's just not right.
"Now see, this? This is the life," Jack sighed happily, gesturing to the city around them. "No stress, no fighting ... "
"No S.P.D.?" Zhane offered.
Jack pointed at him. "Exactly."
He smiled a little, stretching and looking up at the open sky. "It's nice to see something that isn't gray," he admitted.
"Why Zhane, am I detecting a little anti-S.P.D. attitude there?" Jack teased. Zhane didn't answer immediately, and he frowned. "Zhane? You all right, man?"
"Yeah," he sighed. He hesitated, then finally shrugged. "I hate S.P.D.," he said bluntly. "I respect what it stands for, but I hate the way they do things, I hate the expectations, and I hate the rules. S.P.D. isn't me."
"Yeah ... yeah, I know what you mean," Jack muttered. He seemed to shake himself. "So why'd you join?"
He shrugged again. "I just woke up from cryosleep and my best friend had moved on with his life. I didn't have anywhere else to go." He glanced over at Jack. "You?"
Jack smiled wryly. "Cruger told me an' Z to join S.P.D. or go to jail for stealing clothes for the poor." His voice was surprisingly bitter. "She joined, I told him to blow it out his ear and escaped. Then I found out she was in trouble." He lifted a shoulder. "She's my sister, you know?"
Zhane nodded, giving a sympathetic smile. "Yeah, I get it."
"So why are you still there?" Jack asked for a moment, sliding his hands into his pockets and shrugging his jacket higher on his shoulders. "I mean, from the looks of it, you and that Andros guy are getting along again, right? So what's keeping you at S.P.D.?"
"Besides Grumm?" The light joke felt flat, and Zhane let out a long sigh. "I'm a Ranger," he said at last. "I've been a Ranger since I was fourteen years old. My parents were Rangers. It's all I ever wanted to be. I hate S.P.D., but I wouldn't give up fighting." He hesitated. "And now ... I have Sky and all of you. If I left, it wouldn't be the same anymore."
Jack hmmed in agreement, frowning at the ground.
Zhane watched him for a moment. "What about you?"
Now it was Jack's turn to sigh. "I can live without being a Ranger," he admitted. "Yeah, I like it, and yeah, it's ... it's like nothing else. But rules and regulations? Man, I *hate* that stuff. The only thing that keeps me together some days is B Squad." His face softened slightly. "Well, that and Syd."
"They baited us, you know that?" Zhane decided. "They knew we're the sort of guys who can't stand the way S.P.D. operates, so they bring us in by force and keep us there with hot blonds."
Jack cracked up, and Zhane grinned with him.
"You know, you might be right," Jack chuckled finally, wiping tears from his eyes. "That's the real secret behind S.P.D. The secret plot to set up their cadets."
"It could be true. You never know," Zhane pointed out.
After awhile Jack's smile faded, replaced with a brooding expression. "You ever think about leaving?" he asked eventually.
"Yes," Zhane returned immediately. He saw Jack glance at him out of the corner of his eye, but didn't acknowledge it. Instead he sighed again, looking back up at the sky. "Andros wants me to leave, but he won't ask. He tells me I have a home with him. It's tempting, even if I don't know his friends, just ... just because he's there. Because Andros knows me better than anyone." Another shrug. "I could always go back to KO-35, but that isn't really home anymore. The people I know are all gone. I could make new friends, but it wouldn't ... " His eyes fell to the ground with another sigh. "It wouldn't be the same."
There was a long silence.
"I miss life on the streets," Jack spoke up finally. He laughed softly, shaking his head. "Call me crazy, but I miss being out with people, you know? *Knowing* them. Helping them. Being a Ranger is great, but I don't help them day to day - I just keep them alive."
"It's not the same thing," Zhane finished softly.
"Yeah." Jack shifted again, and now they were both staring at the ground. "Yeah," he repeated quietly.
They walked on in silence for awhile, eventually stopping to watch a group of kids playing in the park. "You think you'll leave?" Jack asked suddenly.
Zhane shook his head. "I can't."
He got a curious look in return. "Can't?" Jack echoed. “Why?"
He hesitated. "I ... Sky," he said simply.
Jack frowned. "What, you think leaving would split you two up or something? Sky's not that shallow." He sounded vaguely insulted at the implication.
Zhane sighed in frustration, shaking his head. "That's not it. I just ...can't, okay?"
"Hey." Jack's voice was soft as he reached out to touch his arm, looking concerned. "What is it, Zhane? You can tell me."
He closed his eyes, debating for a moment, before at last looking away. "I promised Sky that I would always come back to him," he murmured finally. "It was after the meteor mission. He ... he said he wouldn't leave me behind again, and asked me to promise."
There was a long pause as Jack watched him for a minute. "Somehow I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me here," he said slowly.
Zhane took a breath. "What does it mean, to promise someone something on Earth?" he asked.
Jack looked at him oddly, his eyes slowly widening as it dawned on him. "Uh ... It means you'll do your best to follow through. But that's not what it was for you, was it?"
He shook his head wordlessly.
"Then what *did* you promise?" Jack asked warily.
He sighed. "On KO-35, a promise is something you make to someone very important to you. It's something you only break if you're dead. We don't ... we don't do ceremonies, like you do on Earth, but it's still considered binding." He looked up finally and Jack's stunned gaze caught his. "It means that I'll *always* come back to Sky," he finished quietly.
"You're ... you mean you're *married*?" Jack's voice squeaked at the end, and he coughed to cover it. "Uh, I mean, you uh ... you - "
"That would be the Earth equivalent," he muttered in the direction of his feet, feeling low.
"Oh, man ... " Jack breathed. He paused. "You didn't tell Sky, did you?" he accused.
Zhane winced. "Not exactly."
"Zhane! How could you do something like that?"
"It's not like I meant for it to happen, okay?" he snapped. "I *know* he wasn't asking me to be his Promised, and I know he didn't mean it that way. I *know* he doesn't think of it like that."
Someone shrieked in the distance, and they both spun to look. He cursed as he saw the shattered remains of a storefront window and rubbed his head in agitation. Why couldn't he control his temper lately? This was getting ridiculous.
He looked up to see Jack staring at him. "Sky may not think of it as being married, but you do," he said softly.
Zhane looked away.
Their morphers beeped simultaneously.
Zhane reached for his. "This is Zhane. Jack's with me. What's up?"
"We need backup in Sector 12," Kat informed him. "Hurry."
"On our way." He snapped the cover shut, looking up at Jack. "Let's go."
Jack blinked, then abruptly nodded. "Right!"
Zhane trailed after the others, just ahead of Bridge. His head hurt, and the tension he could feel from everyone in front of him wasn't helping matters. He reached up to rub his temple.
He'd seen a picture of A Squad once, back when he'd first joined S.P.D. and Jack had been teaching him about the Rangers who'd served Earth. It had been small, and Jack hadn't known them either, so he'd glossed over the details. It really didn't seem important at the time.
She was wearing his helmet.
He grit his teeth, rubbing his head again. He'd heard Kat say that the Astro Rangers' technology had been used to help create S.P.D. Earth, but he hadn't expected to see *Andros* staring at him from across that clearing. And when she'd powered down, after the shock of seeing someone who *wasn't* Andros behind that helmet, or even Uncle, he realized that she was vaguely familiar somehow.
"You've got to be kidding me. B Squad?! When was the last time Cruger called us B Squad?! I mean, we work our butts off all year. And then we're ordered to leave the command center like some D Squad newcomers?!"
He glanced up at Jack's snarl as he leaned against the doorway of the rec lounge just in time to see Sky giving Jack a dirty look. "I don't like it any better than you, Jack. None of us do. We *knew* that if A Squad returned, this was going to happen," Sky reminded him.
"That doesn't mean we have to like it," Z said quietly. Syd looked equally uncomfortable.
Bridge wandered in, staring vacantly into the distance, and Zhane eyed him for a moment.
"Bridge. How do you feel?" Jack called.
Bridge continued to stare blankly out the window.
Sky sighed. "Bridge!"
Bridge blinked, glancing back at them. "Sorry," he murmured. "I was just thinking. I have a really bad feeling guys, kinda like the feeling I had before?"
Zhane swallowed. As reassuring as that was to hear, somehow it just made things worse. Because as much as he instinctively didn't like her for what her uniform looked like, he really didn't want a reason to hate her.
"And after being gone all that time, wasn't it just a little too easy, the way we just happened to find them?" Bridge went on.
"Yeah, well, that's not our problem," Jack told him. "Our problem is that we're B Squad. The reserves. Zord cleanup detail. We do all the work, and they're probably in the Command Center, getting all these medals from Cruger."
Zhane's head continued to pound, and his temper finally snapped. "Oh, get over yourself."
Jack turned to stare at him, eyes narrowing. "Excuse me?"
"So Cruger dismissed us. So *what*? A Squad's going to need to know what's going on at some point, aren't they?" he demanded. "You should be grateful they're still alive, instead of whining about not getting enough recognition for finding them."
"Grateful?! I don't even know those people!"
"Not all teams come back!" Zhane shouted at him.
There was a long silence as everyone stared at him, and the tension in the air only grew thicker.
He shook his head slowly, bitterness and pain making him continue. "You don't get it," he told them flatly. "Not everyone gets their teammates back. Not everyone - " His voice cracked, and he forced himself to look away before they could see the tears in his eyes. "Not everyone gets to be reunited."
Sky moved toward him, looking anxious. "Zhane - "
He shook his head again, and Sky stopped. "No," he said quietly. "Not right now. I need some air."
In an instant he was out the door, heading for the roof before they could see him cry.
He didn't make it far before Kat called him with the news that A Squad had kidnapped Cruger, and B Squad was going after them. He took just enough time to calm himself and force the memories away again before he made his way back to the Command Center. He had work to do.
Chapter 19: family
List of 22: 6 ~ family
Author's Notes: In comparison to the Bright Skies version, I absolutely hate this chapter. In comparison to cannon, I still like it better. And for anyone who catches it, yes, there is a *very* random pairing hinted at here that you'll only see if you squint and look at it sideways. But it's there, I swear. Really.
The Krybots never seemed to end. He could hear the cries of the various S.P.D. personnel around him, saw Boom go down more than once, but he didn't have time to stop. He was running on too many hours without sleep, and the Power and adrenalin were the only things keeping him alive by this point. He'd lived that way once before, but it'd been a long time since the fight for KO-35.
He should have expected the attack that finally knocked him to the ground, but the fact that it came from a couple of Orangeheads was galling. He struggled to get up, staring at the blasters aimed in his direction, but there was no way he'd be able to move fast enough. Not again, he cried silently. Please, not again!
He stared in shock at the Ranger standing in front of him, sword raised as the Orangeheads went down. "A - *Andros*?" he demanded incredulously.
The Red Astro Ranger glanced back at him, saluting with his sword. "The one and only. You didn't think I'd miss watching you get your butt kicked, did you Zhane?" he teased.
He took the offered hand up with a grin he knew Andros would see through his helmet. "I'm amazed you still fit into your spandex, old timer," he mocked back.
"Very funny. You ready to show these guys what we're made of, or what?"
"You know it!" They bumped wrists, turning to face the coming Krybots together. "Super Silverizer!"
Having his partner at his side again was like coming home all over again. He knew, distantly, that B Squad was still missing, that they were in danger and he couldn't get to them. But Andros was at his side, and they moved like they knew what each other would do next - because they did. It was a feeling of completeness he'd never found with any member of B Squad, because as much as he liked them all, they weren't Andros. They didn't know him.
They couldn't keep a mental count of wins while grabbing his wrist to swing him around at yet another Orangehead.
:: That's forty-two, :: Andros announced.
:: Are you kidding me? :: he shot back. :: I landed the last blow, it's *mine*. That's forty-six. ::
:: You can't count double-team wins! That's cheating! ::
:: Why not? You do. ::
A sudden rumble sent everyone in the area stumbling. He reached out to grab Red Astro, gripping his arm as they struggled to stay on their feet. He turned, horrified, to stare up at the giant ... whatever it was ... standing over them all.
"I will claim this planet as mine!" it bellowed. It surged forward, plunging the staff in its hand into the ground.
Noise pierced through Silver's mind, sending them both to their knees in agony. "What's ... happening ... ?" he groaned.
Red Astro looked up, pointing weakly at the giant spire standing in downtown Newtech. "Whatever that thing is ... we have to get rid of it!"
"Destruction to all that try and stop me!" the creature continued.
The noise stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and both Rangers lay panting weakly. "Hey, Andros?" Silver asked weakly.
"I *really* don't like that guy."
Which was of course, the exact moment that it started shooting at them.
They stood back to back, surrounded by Krybots that never seemed to stop and cadets that were too badly injured to help anymore. "Looks like this is it," Silver quipped. I'm sorry, Sky ...
"I'm not letting you get out of your promise that easy, Zhane!" Red Astro snapped at him. They glanced over their shoulders at each other. "We can take 'em - just you and me."
"And us!" shouted a new voice.
Silver stared in shock as not one, but *six* Rangers he had never seen before came toward them, cutting a path through the Krybots. Four were Astro Rangers, perched on Galaxy Gliders with their weapons in hand. Black Astro had another Pink Ranger in a uniform he couldn't place holding on behind him, clutching a saber. Following along behind them was a Ranger in black armor, blasting Krybots aside like they were nothing.
"What ... who .... ?" Silver sputtered.
"The cavalry has arrived!" Blue Astro whooped as he flipped off his Glider to join them. "You need backup, you get backup."
"You didn't honestly think we'd let you fight all by yourself, did you Zhane?" Yellow Astro teased, tilting her head at him.
"We may be a little out of practice, but when Andros said you needed us, we came running," Black Astro agreed.
Silver stared blankly at them all. "Who *are* you people?"
That got a laugh out of Pink Astro, who stopped to place a hand on his arm. "We're family, Zhane. That's all you need to know," she promised.
"And we're here to help," agreed the second Pink.
"I believe there is a battle we are supposed to be fighting," the armored Ranger cut in, sounding as annoyed as a cybernetic voice could.
For some reason, that made Pink Astro giggle and move to pat his hand. "Go for it, sweetie. Show them what you're made of."
Silver turned back to look at Andros, too stunned to think straight. "Andros ... "
Red Astro put a hand on his shoulder and nodded. "Let's go to work."
He smiled behind his helmet, nodding back. "Right. Let's show these guys who's boss!"
With six fresh Rangers, and him and Andros fighting back to back, the Krybots didn't stand a chance. He noticed distantly the way the four Astro Rangers seemed to pair off and work in teams, the way he and Andros did, which suggested that they'd worked together for a long time. The armored Ranger worked alone, blasting and tearing his way through anything that came into his path. Just opposite him, the other Pink Ranger was deadly with her saber, leaving nothing but Krybot pieces in her wake.
Eventually Silver found himself looking around in confusion. "Where'd they all go?" he demanded.
"Easy, Tiger," Yellow Astro chuckled from somewhere to his left. "They're gone. We got them all."
He frowned, turning around in a circle. "We what?" he repeated blankly. "That can't be right."
"What is it, Zhane?" Red Astro asked, moving to catch his arm. "What did we miss?"
He stopped when Andros caught him, shaking his head. "There's still ... something isn't right. We're not done yet."
"Is it here?" Red Astro asked urgently.
He paused, because the thought honestly hadn't occurred to him. He swallowed, feeling cold. "No. It's not us." He turned slowly to look up at where the S.W.A.T. Fliers were facing off against the giant ... thing. "It's up there. Something's wrong."
Red Astro's hand came up to grip his shoulder. "Then we'll have to trust them to take care of it," he reminded him softly. "They're Rangers. They'll be fine."
But his heart clenched, because he wasn't with them and he didn't even know if the MegaWinger had survived the attack on the base intact. Please be okay, he pleaded silently as he watched the S.W.A.T. MegaZord dodge another attack. :: Sky, you promised me. ::
But all he could do was watch, wait, and pray.
"Help each other up!" Kat called as she wandered through the destruction outside S.P.D. "Report anyone who is missing!"
Zhane winced as he glanced back at her. The people he wanted to report as missing were the Rangers, and that was more than slightly obvious.
The pretty blond girl who'd appeared in place of the Pink Ranger reached out to squeeze his hand. "It'll be okay," she told him softly. "Have faith in them."
He tried to smile at her and failed. "I just can't shake this feeling that - "
"Congratulations!" a familiar voice called.
Zhane spun, wide-eyed.
Cruger and B Squad walked toward them all calmly through the rubble, a strange Syrian woman he didn't know on Cruger's arm. They were all alive, whole, and in one piece. Better yet, no one seemed to be bleeding.
He sprinted toward them, not carrying who was watching or what they thought. They were alive, they were safe, and they were here. Nothing else mattered anymore.
He grabbed Syd first, swinging her around as she squealed and hugged him back. Then he was on to Z, yanking her against him and reaching for Jack. He reached mentally for Bridge, brushing his mind with wordless concern, anxiety, and relief. Jack patted his back as Z released him, and he and Bridge exchanged a tight hug. Overwhelmed by relief and gratitude, he even turned to hug Cruger and whoever the woman next to him was.
The look on Cruger's face was priceless.
At last he turned to Sky, and was caught up in a tight hug that should have surprised him but didn't. He let himself be pulled closer than should have been physically possible, and threw his arms around Sky's neck in return. The kiss was hot, passionate and demanding. A good minute passed before they separated, both breathless, and Zhane leaned his head against Sky's. "Kept my promise," he murmured.
Sky's answering smile was heart-stopping, and a hand reached up to touch his cheek. "Me, too," he said softly.
He let out a shaky breath, and finally managed a smile. "Stop scaring me."
Sky's thumb stroked his jawline. "Sorry."
He turned, blinking, to find Andros and his group standing across from them. His old friend smiled. "Well done, guys."
Zhane grinned back, leaning into Sky's side as an arm slid around his waist. "Thanks for your help, old timer."
Andros rolled his eyes as the dark-haired guy behind him sputtered "Old timer?!"
The blond woman on his arm giggled.
"Thank you for your assistance, Astro Rangers," Cruger said solemnly. "It is thanks to you and our cadets that S.P.D. still stands."
Andros shook his head. "It's thanks to your Rangers Newtech City still stands," he returned. "Helping protect your base is the least we could do."
"Besides, we couldn't ignore one of our own," the man who'd been Blue Astro agreed, offering Zhane a warm smile.
Zhane found himself unexpectedly flushing, and he looked away as everyone laughed at his embarrassment.
"Cruger!" a voice snarled, and something leapt out of the rubble of the creature the S.W.A.T. Fliers had taken down. Everyone immediately jumped into defensive stances, staring warily at the man in front of them. "Forgive me, for being late to your celebration, Cruger," Grumm continued, inclining his head.
"Man, I *hate* it when I'm right," Zhane grumbled.
"Next time the big bad isn't dead, share with the rest of us, okay Zhane?" Ashley requested from behind him, eyeing Grumm.
"We're with you Commander," Jack spoke up, clenching his fists.
"No," Cruger ordered. "*I* will finish this."
Cruger was tired, but so was Grumm. It was still amazing to watch the old dog at work, something Zhane rarely got to see himself. For once, he might almost have admitted that Cruger could have given him a challenge. He sliced through Grumm's staff like it wasn't even there, knocking the villain to his knees, and Zhane could hear the gasps of people around him.
"Show me no mercy, Cruger," Grumm snarled as Cruger raised his sword high. "No mercy!"
One of Andros' friends moved forward in protest, but Zhane stopped him with an arm, shaking his head.
Cruger's sword came down, and one of Grumm's horns went flying. Grumm howled in fury.
"Now they match," Cruger said flatly, lifting his morpher. There was a burst of light, and Grumm was gone.
Silence reigned as Cruger slowly moved to pick up the card waiting for him in Grumm's place. "Justice is served!" Cruger shouted, holding the containment card up for them all to see.
The cheers were deafening.
Zhane let out a slow breath, feeling all the tension he'd been holding in go with it.
"Hey, Zhane." Jack put a hand on his arm, and he turned to look at him. "Is it over?" he asked with a grin.
Zhane closed his eyes for a moment, focused, and smiled at the feeling of absolutely *nothing*. "It's over," he confirmed.
Chapter 20: laughter
List of 22: 11 ~ laughter
Author's Notes: Not quite what I was originally planning to do with this prompt. Um ... oops?
"Why doesn't food ever come in silver?" Zhane wondered aloud, eyeing a purple jelly bean critically. "It comes in white, but never silver."
"Because silver isn't a flavor, it's a wrapper," Z answered, lazily popping a yellow one into her mouth. "Face it Zhane: you're just not edible enough."
Jack doubled over, hacking and gesturing frantically toward his throat. Another Z appeared behind him to thump his back hard. He coughed, choked, and finally wheezed out "Thanks, Z. You almost killed me."
"You're still alive," she dismissed. "It'll take more than that to kill you, Jack."
"She's right," Zhane agreed, finally eating the jelly bean and making a face at the flavor. He shook his head as he swallowed. "Now I know why we don't have Purple Rangers."
"Syd's kinda tasty," Jack told him, offering a pink one. "I don't think we have Sky in here, though. He doesn't come in jelly beans."
"That's too bad," he sighed, accepting it. He brightened as he munched. "Hey, you're right. She is tasty."
"Do I even want to know what you three are up to?" Syd asked suspiciously as she joined them.
"Jack's convincing Zhane that you're more edible than Sky is," Z informed her. She held out the bowl they'd been working their way through. "Jelly bean?"
"You guys are gross," Syd said flatly, wrinkling her nose.
"Yes. Yes, we are," Zhane agreed solemnly. "Now eat your jelly beans."
She rolled her eyes, grabbing a small handful. "So what are the three of you doing lazing around here? Shouldn't you be doing something?"
"Like what?" Z retorted. "Bridge is hovering outside the recovery room with Cruger to see what's going to happen with A Squad. Sky's on duty. Zhane and I are off today and Jack's only hanging around here to annoy the rest of us."
"No, he isn't," Zhane argued. "He's here to keep us entertained."
"Then he's not doing a good enough job."
"Why *are* you here, Jack?" Syd asked with a frown, looking at her boyfriend. "I thought the whole point of a leave of absence was to get *away* from S.P.D."
"No, the whole point was to see if I can have a life outside of it," he corrected. "Unfortunately, the things about S.P.D. I want to keep in it - you guys - are still here." He ate another jelly bean. "Besides, I wanna know if Bridge was right, too."
Syd's frown faded as she sighed quietly, looking worried. "I hope he is. I don't know what he'll do if he's wrong."
"I still can't believe he's *straight*," Jack muttered.
Z kicked him under the table. "That's not funny, Jack," she warned. "You saw how worried he is about Ran."
"Were they dating long?" Zhane asked Syd curiously. "He never really said anything."
She sighed again, absently eating a jelly bean. "I'm not sure how long they've been together - you know what it's like to get Bridge to actually talk about himself. But I know it's been awhile. And he and Sky always knew A Squad better than I did."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "You guys hang out in different social circles or something?"
She gave him a dirty look. "I got promoted to B Squad a couple months before we met you and Z. Sky and Bridge have been with S.P.D. practically forever."
"Why is that?" Zhane wondered. "There's more to life than S.P.D., you know."
The girls gave him odd looks as Jack nodded in agreement. "Sky's always wanted to join because of his dad," Syd said after a pause. "And with Bridge, I think it either had to do with his parents, or something about the technology. It's sort of hard to tell."
"I guess that explains why Bridge puts up with Sky, if they've known each other that long," Z mused.
"No, he puts up with him because he knows Sky isn't as much of a jerk as he pretends to be," Zhane argued.
"Zhane!" a voice bellowed.
He jumped, startled, and they all turned to the door. A few moments later Sky stormed into the cafeteria, his expression radiating fury. His eyes flickered around the room before settling on Zhane, narrowing and turning dark.
"Sky? What's wrong?" he asked, frowning.
"What's wrong? What's *wrong*?" Sky snarled. "You're just going to sit there and ask me like you don't know?!"
Zhane blinked. "Yes?" he offered hesitantly.
"When, exactly, were you planning on telling me we were *married*?!" Sky shouted.
Syd and Z looked startled. Jack grimaced, shooting Zhane a sympathetic glance. And Sky noticed.
"You knew?" he asked Jack icily, his voice low.
Jack shifted a little in his seat uncomfortably, at last settling for a shrug. "I figured it out just before Cruger was taken. I told him to tell you."
"Why didn't *you* tell me?" he demanded.
"Because it needed to come from Zhane," Jack shot back, looking offended. "This is between you two, not me."
Sky's eyes finally turned to him, and Zhane let out a soft sigh. "How'd you find out?" he asked quietly.
"Dr. Felix congratulated me on my 'promised'," Sky snapped back. "He seemed a little surprised when I asked what he was talking about."
"Promised?" Z echoed, looking confused.
Zhane sighed again, looking up at Sky. "It doesn't mean anything," he reminded him. "That's not what you meant, and I know that."
Sky hit him.
He blinked hard for a moment, moving his jaw to make sure it worked before turning back to scowl at Sky. "What was that for?!"
Sky was shaking, fists clenched as he glared. "How dare you," he hissed. "How dare you even *think* that you could - "
"Guys!" Bridge sprinted towards them, stumbling and catching himself on Sky in his haste. "They're okay!" he shouted happily, his entire face lighting up. "A Squad - it wasn't them! They're really okay!"
He paused abruptly, his eyes flickering back and forth between Sky and Zhane. "Uh ... what did I miss?" he asked hesitantly.
Sky shook his head sharply, stepping away. "Nothing," he muttered. "You didn't miss anything. There was never anything *to* miss."
"I guess there wasn't," he said lowly, staring at the wall across from him.
Sky stalked off, Bridge looking confused as Jack and the girls glanced between him and Zhane worriedly.
Several minutes passed. At last Zhane stood up slowly, staring at the table as he swallowed once to calm the pounding in his ears. His fists clenched. "Tell Cruger I resign," he stated calmly. "I'm going home."
He walked out without another word.
"Zhane?" Andros looked surprised to see him when he opened the door, but not upset.
He offered a shaky smile and felt his eyes burn. "Hi. Can I ... Is it ... " He swallowed. "That offer still open?"
Andros' face softened as he reached out to squeeze his shoulder. "Always."
Ashley's face poked out from behind him, offering a warm, sympathetic smile. "Welcome home, Zhane."
He laughed, because if he didn't he'd cry. "It's ... good to *be* home," he returned, feeling hollow.
Chapter 21: animals
List of 22: 1 ~ animals
Author's Notes: This one was fun to write, despite the occasional road blocks. Also, Sky's new ability is *not* new - it was very subtly hinted in Family, but I don't think anyone caught it before.
Love to rosabelle for ideas and encouragement.
They stared each other down, both wounded, but neither moving from their position. Zhane shifted his weight slightly, saw his opponent move, and dove forward. "Gotcha!" he shouted in triumph.
The black ball of fuzz in his arms hissed furiously, legs flailing as it tried to attack him again.
He grinned evilly, his grip remaining tight on the back of the cat's neck as he let it dangle in mid-air. "I don't *think* so," he crowed, reaching up to wipe one of the bloody scratches on his face from his last attempt.
The cat glared back, hissing and spitting.
"Watch your mouth," he retorted. "Sky would be ashamed."
Sky ... he sighed to himself, his feeling of superiority fading. Sky was the reason he was out here in the middle of the night, missing dinner no less, to chase down this demon creature so it could be returned to him. Despite the fact that he and Sky hadn't spoken since he'd quit S.P.D. nearly three weeks ago. Despite the fact that he was settling into a comfortable, peaceful life with Andros and Ashley.
Well ... *Trying* to settle was more like it. Peace wasn't something he'd ever had much of, and while it was nice and all, it was also boring. Incredibly boring, to be honest.
He didn't want to hurt Andros or Ashley by telling them he was going stir crazy, but he didn't know how much more of this 'happy home life' he could take. Ashley was trying to teach him how to *cook* for crying out loud. If he didn't find some action - and *soon* - he was going to do something drastic.
Drastic like hunting down his Promised's demon cat because Bridge and Syd showed up on his doorstep, one in tears and the other begging for his help in finding the evil thing. Surprisingly, Bridge was *not* the one he'd expected to see crying over Sky's cat. But Syd had been anxious, and swore up and down that Sky was *so* upset about it, and if he could just spare a *little* time to help look for it ...
He had a sneaking suspicion B Squad had something to do with all this. He just couldn't prove it yet.
He eyed his morpher. Crud. How was he supposed to do this now?
:: Bridge? :: he tried. :: You there? ::
:: Zhane? :: A pause. :: I'm sort of on duty right now. At this moment. Also, possibly unavailable. Can whatever urgent matter you might have wait for awhile? ::
:: Uh ... I guess? But - ::
:: Great! I'll get back to you later. :: The mental connection abruptly cut off.
Zhane groaned. This *had* to be a B Squad Conspiracy. *Had* to. Only B Squad could consistently drive him this crazy.
He eyed the demon cat creature again, thinking. Who else could he contact? Andros didn't even know he was out here - he'd said he was going for a walk. Sky was a subject they'd all been carefully avoiding since he'd showed up, and he wasn't sure how Andros would feel about him doing something involving the son of his friend. The one he'd warned Zhane not to hurt.
Though he did sort of wonder which one of them had actually been 'hurt' by their breakup - if it could be called that.
Was there anyone else he could mentally reach? He'd only ever connected to Andros and Bridge, and with Bridge he suspected that was more because of Bridge's abilities than his own. And it wasn't like he'd ever gotten that close to Sky -
"Do you realize I can hear you thinking all the way from the house?"
He glanced back over his shoulder, grimacing and turning to re-adjust his grip on the demon cat. "Hold *still*, you spawn of evil!"
"You know it could just be me, but maybe he doesn't like the way you're holding him," Andros remarked mildly.
Zhane shot him a withering glare. "I wouldn't be holding it like this if it hadn't tried to kill me when I held it the other way."
Andros started to roll his eyes and paused, frowning as he considered the cat more closely. "Is that Eric's cat?"
"No, it's Sky's," Zhane corrected. "Sheep. Syd and Bridge said it was missing and asked me to help look for it."
For some reason, that made Andros laugh. "Sheep is supposed to be Eric's cat," he explained. "But Sky adopted him and decided he was his."
"Whatever. Now can you call somebody to come and get it before I lose anymore blood?" Zhane demanded.
Andros considered him for a long moment. "No," he said at last, shaking his head slightly.
Zhane stared at him. "Excuse me?"
Andros sighed softly. "Go home, Zhane," he said bluntly. "Use the cat as an excuse if you have to, but go home already."
His eyes widened. "What are you - "
"You always have a place with me, Zhane," Andros interrupted, and his expression softened. "But we both know you're miserable. Go home and talk to Sky."
He swallowed. "You're the last person who should be giving relationship advice, Andros."
Andros quirked an eyebrow. "Twenty years and Ash has never threatened a divorce," he pointed out.
Zhane snorted. "Which is more credit to her than to you."
They looked at one another for a long moment.
"He said there was nothing to miss," Zhane said at last, and his voice sounded small even to him. "He said there never was."
"What started the fight?" Andros asked in a gentle, sympathetic tone Zhane had never heard him use before.
He sighed. "Dr. Felix congratulated him on his Promised."
"You hadn't told him yet."
"Wasn't sure if I was going to," he admitted softly.
Andros' hand settled on his shoulder, squeezing gently. "You don't give Sky enough credit," he reprimanded gently. "Maybe you should find out what he thinks once he's had time to think about it."
He swallowed again. "What if - "
But Andros was already shaking his head. "You'll never know if you don't try, Zhane. What happened to the invincible Silver Ranger?"
"He ... " He trailed off, not wanting to say the words aloud.
:: He fell in love, :: Andros finished for him. The smile he offered was warmer than he'd ever remembered Andros being capable of. :: Go home, Zhane. Tell him you're sorry, that you miss him, and you love him. Just tell him. ::
"Says the guy who had to let his girlfriend ask him out first," he grumbled, but there was no heat in it.
"Actually, Andros snuck it in at the very last minute, right before I could," Ashley's voice remarked behind him. She smiled when he looked at her, holding out a small box with a door on the front. "Thought you might like a cat carrier."
"Does it have a lock?" he asked hopefully, eyeing it.
She giggled, passing the cage to Andros. "Come here, Sheep," she cooed. "Let's get you home, huh baby?"
To Zhane's complete and utter disgust, she picked up the cat without so much as a hiss, cuddling it into her arms. And to top it off, the darn thing started *purring* when Andros reached out to scratch its ears.
"You two are going to have to learn to share, you know," Ashley informed him, grinning. "You can't ask Sky to choose between you and his cat - that's just cruel."
"Andros said it's Eric's cat," Zhane argued.
She smirked. "Yeah, that's what Eric thinks, too."
She tucked the cat away into the carrier, securing the lock before holding it out to Zhane. "Make sure the door points away from you, and you'll be fine," she advised.
Zhane took it, eyeing the cage warily as the cat made a low, warning noise. Then he oomped as Ashley's arms suddenly came around him.
"That goes for me too, you know," she told him, giving another warm smile. "You have a home with me *and* Andros, no matter what."
"Considering Andros doesn't think he's ever getting a divorce - whatever that is - I'd hope so," Zhane returned, smirking as she swatted his arm. Then he reached out with his free hand to draw her into a real hug. "Thanks, Ash."
"Good luck," she whispered, kissing his cheek.
Andros moved closer, bumping his wrist before giving a one-armed hug of his own. "Don't forget to visit us on your days off," he reminded him.
"Same to you," he retorted. :: You're not gonna wish me good luck? ::
:: You don't need it. ::
He wasn't sure how exactly he knew to come here. It was really *his* thinking spot, not Sky's. Sky liked the targeting range. Or the obstacle course, if he needed to work off some tension. But the roof ... that was Zhane's place.
But nonetheless, Sky was there, leaning against the railing and staring at the streets below the way Zhane usually did.
He turned when the door opened, and they stared at one another. Sky really did look terrible, Zhane acknowledged. Syd wasn't kidding about that. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his hair was more wild than it should have been. His uniform was *wrinkled*, for crying out loud.
Then Sky blinked, and the spell was broken.
Zhane swallowed. "Found your cat," he said finally, gesturing vaguely toward the carrier in his other hand.
"Thanks," Sky said quietly.
"I ... " He shifted his weight back and forth uncertainly, trying to find something to say. Why was this so *hard*? He was supposed to be *good* with words, wasn't he? Why couldn't he just -
And then Sky was right in front of him, and they were kissing. Sky's hand eased the cat carrier out of his hand and set it gently on the ground, moving to wrap around his waist instead. Zhane fisted his hands in the back of Sky's shirt, trying to memorize the taste of him.
Who really needed words, anyway?
Eventually they pulled apart, but Zhane couldn't have said how long. Their foreheads rested together, and he closed his eyes with a sigh of contentment he couldn't keep in.
"So ... this ... 'promised' thing," Sky began at last, his voice husky. "How does it work, exactly?"
Zhane's eyes flickered open, marveling at how large and intensely *blue* Sky's looked when they were directly in front of him. "You make a promise," he said slowly. "It doesn't really matter what exactly. You promise something of yourself to the other person, and they promise something to you."
" ... And that's it?" Sky asked after a pause.
Zhane smirked faintly. "Well, you do actually have to *keep* the promise, but yeah. That's it."
Sky nodded slowly.
Then he stepped back, and took Zhane's hand, dropping to one knee.
Zhane blinked at him, confused. What was he doing?
"On Earth, when you ask someone to marry you," Sky began hesitantly, "You get down on one knee and ask them to spend the rest of your lives together. And then you give them a ring."
Zhane blinked at him again, strangely amused. "That's it?" he quoted, smirking faintly.
Sky chuckled softly, looking down for a moment. "That's it," he confirmed. He glanced up at him again. "But rings aren't that practical for S.P.D. personel."
Then Sky shifted a little, reaching into his pocket, and slid something onto the fourth finger of Zhane's left hand. "But you're not practical," he finished with a wry smile. He looked up, catching Zhane's eyes. "I promise to never make you regret again," he said softly. "Whether it's me, or S.P.D., or when you died ... I don't want you to ever regret the way things turned out again."
Slowly, Zhane smiled.
He reached out, pulling Sky to his feet and wrapping his arms around him. He leaned forward to rest his chin on Sky's shoulder, tilting his head against his cheek. "I promise to be honest, to be myself, to drive you crazy, and to always, *always* come back to you."
Sky laughed, wrapping his arms around Zhane's waist and squeezing. "Now that's a promise I *know* you'll keep."
Zhane grinned, lifting his hand to admire the silver band on his finger for a moment. He smiled at the symbol of KO-35 etched into it. :: I love you, Sky, :: he thought.
"I love you, too," Sky murmured in his ear.
Sheep yowled loudly at their feet.
Chapter 22: watermelon
List of 22: 22 ~ watermelon
Author's Notes: At last! I FINISHED SOMETHING I DON'T PLAN TO IMMEDIATELY REWRITE! -Throws confetti in the air-
Daisuki: Japanese for I like you - often used in a romantic sense
Aishiteru: Japanese for I love you
Sara is pronounced 'Saw-rah'
This chapter is dedicated to rosabelle, starlit_purple, and BlackCrimsonLight for multiple help with beta work and support, and purplestripe66, who instigated the whole story in the first place. I love and adore you all. ♥
"So, tell me something," Sky began. "You guys kidnapped *my* cat, as an excuse to get me and Zhane back together, and Cruger found out about it. So why are *we* here helping all of *you* with *your* punishment?"
"Because you love us," Syd informed him sweetly.
"Because we made you," Z put in.
"Because you were bored?" Bridge offered.
"Because it's your day off and you have nothing better to do," Jack informed him.
Zhane glanced at his Promised. "All of the above," he said with a shrug.
Sky rolled his eyes. "We *did* have better things to do," he grumbled. "In fact, we have somewhere we were supposed to be right *now*. We just ended up doing this instead for some reason." He stepped back to survey the wall in front of him critically. "One more coat should do it."
"It looks fine!" Jack argued. "We've already gone through four buckets all ready!"
"Well, we were painting the entire Zord bay," Bridge pointed out.
"Cruger doesn't do punishments halfway, you've gotta give him that," Z remarked.
"This actually isn't that bad for what he usually does," Syd agreed.
Jack grinned. "You think he takes requests?"
"Hardly," Sky snorted.
"Oh, I don't know about that ... " Zhane grinned when the others looked at him. "I know how to make sure we get to repaint the zord bay again."
Z raised her eyebrows. "Do I want to know?"
He reached behind one of the paint ladders, fumbled for a moment, and withdrew his prize with a flourish. "Ta dah!"
They stared at him blankly. "More paint?" Z asked skeptically.
He rolled his eyes. "Not just more paint - *colored* paint. Paint that isn't gray." He removed the lid, holding it out for them to see. "Paint in specific colors."
Slowly Syd began to smile. "But what about silver?"
"Got it covered," he promised, taking a tube of glittery silver paint from his pocket. He surveyed them all with a triumphant grin. "So. Shall we make sure that S.P.D. remembers that B Squad rules?"
"They already know that," Jack dismissed, even as he reached for a brush for the watercolor paints Zhane was holding out. Then he shrugged a shoulder, looking smug. "But it couldn't hurt to remind them."
Zhane stared at Sky as the others took brushes of their own. "Scared?" he taunted.
Sky's eyes narrowed. "You wish," he snapped, snatching one of the last brushes from Zhane's hand.
Everyone turned to the wall expectantly and paused. "So ... what are we painting?" Bridge asked brightly.
Zhane shrugged. "Whatever you want." He squeezed some paint onto an empty area of the plastic pallet, dabbed his brush, and slashed a giant 'z' on the wall.
Z added yellow streaks around it, making the letter seem to glow. She smirked at Zhane, and he laughed.
"You're in my space, man," Jack insisted, elbowing Sky a little further down from them.
"There's an entire wall," Sky argued back. "And I was here first. Go paint somewhere else."
Syd watched them for several minutes, scowling with paint brush in hand. "Zhane?" she asked abruptly. "Are these paints non-toxic?"
He blinked over at her. "Non-what?"
"I got it," Z spoke up, reaching into his pocket to grab the tube of silver paint. She examined it closely. "Yes."
"What's that mean? And how do you know?" Zhane asked curiously.
She leaned in closer for him to see, pointing on the label. "See it here? It means that - "
Jack's yell made them both look up. He was staring at Syd with a scandalized expression, a single streak of pink paint dripping down his right cheek. Beside him, Sky was laughing so hard he'd doubled over.
"It means that it's not going to make Jack sick when she does that," Z continued mildly, looking amused.
Syd looked smug.
Then she paused, tilting her head. "Jack, hold still," she commanded, reaching for his face again.
"Get away from me with that thing!" he shot back.
"Don't be such a baby," she snapped, grabbing his chin. "I'm just fixing it." She swiped his face with her brush two more times, then released him with a triumphant smile. "See? All done."
Z looked mildly impressed. "Not bad, Syd. Now if only that number was in *red*, instead of pink," she teased.
Syd frowned. "Darn. You're right. Jack, give me your brush."
Jack backed away. "Hey, wait a minute. I'm not going around with a number on my face all day! We've got that party this afternoon!"
"All the more reason to let Syd fix it," Sky pointed out, still snickering. "Unless you want to walk around as the number one *Pink* Ranger."
Jack hesitated, groaned, and held out his brush with a sigh of defeat. Syd snatched it up with a gleeful squeal.
Bridge considered his own brush for a moment. Then he turned to offer it to Z. "Will you do the honors?" he asked politely.
She blinked, then gave him a grin. "I'll do yours if you do mine," she promised, reaching out to trace a green number '3' on his cheek.
Zhane looked to Sky in amusement. "So does that mean I get to paint you, too?" he asked, looking innocent.
Sky hesitated before finally letting out a long sigh as his shoulders sagged. "I'm guessing I don't have much of a choice," he muttered.
"Not really," Z piped up cheerfully as she checked over her work on Bridge.
Zhane grinned at him, leaning in to give him a light kiss. "Promise to drive you crazy," he murmured as he reached for Sky's paint brush.
Sky humphed, but the corner of his mouth was twitching. "Don't need you to do that," he whispered back. "I've got them."
Zhane snickered, dipping the brush in blue. "True enough. But who knows what you'd do without me?"
"I don't think I want to find out." Sky's tone was irritated, but he smiled when he said it.
"So what does Zhane get?" Syd piped up, peering out from behind Jack with a bright pink number five on her face to watch Zhane finish his number two for Sky. "I mean, he doesn't really have a number."
"An 'S'?" Z offered, leaning over Zhane's shoulder.
"Nah." Bridge shook his head. "He's B Squad. Everyone on B Squad gets a number. Even Cruger and Boom had one."
"So we give him one," Jack agreed, as if Zhane wasn't standing right in front of him. "What number, though? Boom was 0, but Cruger's 100." He paused, frowning. "Does Kat even *have* a number?"
Sky snorted. "Isn't it obvious what his number is?" He reached for Zhane's brush and swiftly painted a long swirl on his face. Zhane tried not to flinch when it tickled.
The others leaned in to see and slowly smiled. "Perfect," Syd declared happily.
Zhane was about to ask *what* was so perfect when Bridge's morpher beeped. He reached for it, hastily wiping his hands on a towel before he touched it. "This is Bridge," he said quickly.
" ... Are you coming today?" The voice was soft, hesitant and unsure, like she wasn't sure if she should really be calling him.
Bridge's entire face lit up. "Of course we are, Ran!" He paused. "Why? Are we late? Or are we going to be late. Is there something I forgot that I was supposed to bring? Or did we - "
"Bridge!" A-Squad Pink's laughter was musical, even over the comm. "I was just wondering if you would mind bringing a watermelon with you. Charlie was craving one, and you know how Sara loves them ... "
"Not a problem," he assured her easily. "We can probably head out ... almost immediately. If we pretend the paint was still drying when we left." He eyed the rest of his team, who shrugged. No one was going to argue with him.
"Thank you, Bridge," her voice was warm. There was a pause, and a very soft, hesitant "Daisuki."
Bridge's answering smile made Zhane smile back automatically at the sight. "Aishiteru," he returned warmly.
Another pause, and a soft click as Ran ended things on her end.
Bridge kept watching his morpher for a moment, still smiling contentedly. Eventually he shook his head, tucking his morpher away, and looked up with an even brighter smile. "So. The paint's drying?" he asked hopefully.
Jack looked at the large gray wall in front of him, brushing a finger against it. "Oh, look at that. It's still wet," he said blandly. "Better let it dry before we try for awhile. And we should leave the drop cloths, just in case something drips."
"Sounds good to me," Z agreed, pulling off the bandana she'd slipped over her hair.
"Watermelon is definitely important," Syd added, already tossing the brushes into an empty paint can.
"It is important to show our support for A Squad now that they've been reformed," Sky agreed with a smirk.
"What's a watermelon?" Zhane wanted to know.
Zhane stared blankly at the round, green striped fruit Z was holding. "So ... we're going to eat it ... But we're supposed to hit it with the big stick first?"
"That's the plan," she confirmed.
" ... Why?"
Ran giggled softly from behind him. "It's a celebration for summer in my country," she explained. "I thought it might be fun."
"And for those of us that are sane and like our watermelon in more than a chunk, we're going to cut one," Syd added, hugging another, smaller fruit close.
"Think of it as stress relief," Jack offered.
Zhane gave him a look. :: Crazy Earthians, :: he thought in bewilderment, shaking his head.
"Hey!" Bridge and Sky said at once, Sky glaring while Bridge seemed to be trying not to laugh.
"Would you like to go first, Zhane?" Ran offered.
"I think I'll watch for now," he returned warily.
Charlie held out a hand for the bandana Ran was holding. "Lemme at it," she commanded. She reached up to tie it behind her head and paused, smirking suddenly at Z. "Hey. Nice melon," she called as Z moved to carry the melon to the giant plastic sheet Michael and James had already spread out on the ground.
Z rolled her eyes. "You're gonna need a better pick-up line than that!" she shouted back.
Sky frowned, coming closer to rest a hand on Zhane's shoulder. "Are they doing what I think they're doing?" he asked suspiciously, his voice low.
"You mean flirting?" Zhane supplied, turning to eye him. "You did know Z likes girls, right?"
Sky rolled his eyes with a sigh. "Yes, I knew that. I just ... Z and *Charlie*?" He looked skeptical.
"Why not?" Zhane questioned. "Some people would say the same thing about you and me."
Sky considered that for a moment, at last tilting his head in acknowledgement. "True."
He watched as first Charlie, then Jack, then Z were each blindfolded, spun in a circle three times with their forehead pressed against the stick as one end stayed in place on the ground, and then attempted to find and destroy the fruit they'd brought. Charlie nearly decapitated Jack, who swore it was on purpose, Jack nearly hit Charlie, who insisted that really *was* on purpose, and Z managed to crack the stick when she hit the ground too hard.
Zhane looked back at Sky. "You wanna try?"
He made a face. "No, thanks. You go ahead."
Five minutes later, Zhane was very sure that being blind, dizzy, and having people laughing somewhere around you was *not* fun. :: I can't see anything, :: he complained to Sky.
Sky's mental voice was soft from lack of experience, but amused. :: Isn't that sort of the point? ::
:: This is stupid, :: he muttered, turning again and swaying as his head moved too fast.
:: Little more to the left. ::
He swung experimentally.
:: Two steps forward. One more to your left. Now *swing*. ::
The resounding *crack* he heard echoed all the way down his arms.
"Cheating!" Jack shouted. "You did something, I know it!"
Zhane reached up to pull off the bandana, wincing at the sudden brightness. "This game is stupid," he declared flatly. "I'm not playing anymore."
He dropped the stick and returned to Sky, who wrapped his arms around his shoulder. "You okay?" Sky murmured in his ear.
:: Don't like it, :: he answered shortly. He didn't bother to explain why.
Sky nuzzled his ear, and he shivered. :: Quit it. That tickles. ::
Another loud crack split the air, and they both looked up to see Bridge standing frozen, the stick in front of him and the watermelon in pieces at his feet. "Did I get it?" he asked hesitantly.
Sky grinned, glancing at Zhane. "Want to see if it tastes better than it breaks?"
He shrugged, figuring it had nothing on paopu fruit. "Sure." Then he frowned. "And Syd if she still has that little ... mirror thing she carries around."
Sky raised his eyebrows. "You mean her compact?"
He shrugged. "Whatever. The little round thing."
"Compact," Sky confirmed, giving his shoulders a quick squeeze. He wandered over to Syd, who was happily attacking the other watermelon with a very large knife.
Zhane surveyed the area for a moment. Charlie and Z were now arguing over the remains of the shattered watermelon in a way that made it look like they were about to start kissing any second. Bridge was grinning sheepishly as Ran beamed up at him, apparently congratulating him on his destruction of what was supposed to be food. Jack was arguing amiably with Michael and James, while Sara hovered just behind the table where Syd was slicing the second watermelon, several remains of ... something green-striped around him as he sucked contentedly on another one. Syd and Sky bickered over the remaining melon she had, until she began waving the large knife in her hand threateningly, forcing him to back away quickly. Cruger, Kat, and Isinia sat together at another picnic table, talking quietly and occasionally looking at them all in amusement.
A Squad, B Squad, S.P.D. Rangers ... It didn't matter what you called them. It didn't matter that A Squad had once been surgically implanted with computer chips that forced them to surve Grumm, that they'd once kidnapped Cruger and tried to destroy B Squad. It didn't matter that B Squad had been made from three cadets, two reformed thieves, and one cryogenically frozen Ranger from a border war that took place twenty-four years ago. It didn't matter that Jack was still on a leave of absence for now, although he said he'd finally decided to return to S.P.D. and take back the Red B Squad Morpher, or that Zhane had technically gone AWOL for three weeks after fighting with Sky. It didn't matter that on good days they were friends, while bad days had them at each other's throats.
They were a team. Family. Just as much as Andros had ever been, as much as the other Astro Rangers were slowly becoming to him. And he wouldn't trade any one of them for anything else in the world - not even the chance to go back and fight beside Andros instead.
A feeling of contentment settled over him.
:: You were right, Andros, :: he called. :: My team is complicated. ::
:: So are you, :: came the immediate response. :: Which is why it's appropriate. They always told us every Ranger has a team, Zhane - you just had to work for yours. ::
He smiled. :: Guess I'm just special like that. ::
He turned to blink at Sky, and the strange fruit he was being offered. "Thanks ... " he said warily, eying it as he reached for the little mirror disk instead.
"What did you want that for, anyway?" Sky asked curiously.
Zhane stared at his face in the tiny mirror, reaching up slowly to trace the silver number six on his right cheek with a finger. He blinked, swallowed, and snapped the compact closed before slipping it into his pocket. "No reason," he said abruptly, turning to look at the fruit again. He looked at it skeptically as he took it.
Sky laughed. "Eat the pink part, and pit out the black seeds," he instructed. "It's not as hard to eat as it looks."
"Eat Syd, spit out Cruger, got it," he confirmed. He leaned forward, taking a large bite. Then he chewed in silence a moment, blinking.
"Interesting," he said finally.
A loud hoot made him turn to see that Charlie and Z had finally surrendered to the inevitable, and were finally making out. Syd waved her large knife at Jack, Michael, and James when they cheered, glaring threateningly. Bridge and Ran were too busy cuddling under a tree to notice much of anything, and Sara hadn't even bothered to turn away from the watermelon.
"You're not doing it right," Sky argued behind him.
He glanced back, raising his eyebrows. "I ate Syd, and spat out Cruger, just like you said," he reminded him.
Sky shook his head. "Watermelon always tastes best when you share it," he was informed, just before Sky took a bite and leaned in to kiss him.
:: ... Huh. Guess you're right, :: Zhane said eventually.
:: You're thinking too much. :: Sky returned.
And they both proceeded to think about nothing at all.