"Dustin, hello, are you listening?"
Dustin's head snapped up, his eyes meeting Kelly's with such a guilty expression, it made Storm Charger's owner smile despite her mild irritation.
"Sorry, Kel, I was..."
"...thinking about something. I know. You've been thinking for the past few hours," Kelly said, stepping around the cash register. Ever since Shane left, she added in her mind, trying not to let her amusement at Dustin's fidgetiness show. Kelly had picked up on Dustin's attraction to Shane a long time ago and had been hoping the skateboarder would come around one day and reciprocate his friend's feelings. She didn't know what Shane's preferences in that matter were, but she had never seen him with a girl in here and that should mean something since he practically seemed to live on the couch in the alcove off the side of the cash counter. From where, Kelly mused, he just happened to have a nice, unobstructed view of Dustin whenever he was behind the counter.
"Uhm, what were you saying again, Kelly?"
"I asked if you wanted to leave a little early. Since you seem to be eager to get out of here today," she said with a grin. "Blake can take over until closing."
Dustin looked ecstatic and concerned at the same time. "But Blake doesn't know how to work the register."
"Well, today just turned out to be the day I'll be teaching him, then." Kelly nodded towards the checkout counter. "Besides, if he ever wants to make a career out of retail he needs to know about all this stuff anyways," she grinned.
Dustin snorted a laugh and enveloped her in a quick hug. "Have I ever told you..."
"…what a wonderful boss I am?" Kelly laughed. "Yes. Repeatedly."
Dustin gave her a dazzling smile, grabbed his backpack from behind the counter and turned towards the door with a last wave goodbye. He didn't catch Kelly's knowing smile as she watched him sprint out of the store.
"Dustin, Shane's here!"
His mother's voice from downstairs jolted Dustin out of his reverie and he almost fell off his sofa. For the better part of the last half hour he had been staring into space, a sports magazine lying forgotten in his lap. None of the articles could hold his attention – the nervous anticipation in his stomach was way too distracting. Now he hopped off the couch and went out into the hallway, where he found Shane already halfway up the stairs, grinning at him. Dustin wished fervently he could just grab the Air ninja and give him a proper hello kiss, but his mother was still standing in the foyer, gazing up at them, so he settled for a heated look and their usual knuckle-rapping and back-slapping routine.
“Whazzup, man.” They turned towards his room.
"Dustin, do you guys want anything? I can make you some sandwiches," Mrs. Brooks’ voice drifted up to them from the bottom of the stairs. Dustin gave Shane an enquiring glance, but the look in his friend's eyes told him that it wasn't food he was hungry for.
"No, mom, we're good," he called back, "We're just gonna...study."
There was a short pause before his mom's voice came again. "Studying, huh? Sure!" She sounded amused "I know you guys are playing video games up there."
Dustin's face had taken on a shocked expression at her first words, but now he let out a relieved laugh. "Guilty as charged, mom. Guess you know us too well." He grinned at Shane as the Air ninja chuckled softly. Dustin pulled him into his room, kicking the door closed with his heel.
Or maybe you don't know as that well at all.
Shane drew him into a tight embrace as soon as the door fell shut and an instant surge of heat washed over Dustin. Without thinking he leaned forward and took the hello kiss he had been wanting to take back in the hallway. Shane was quick to respond, one hand snaking up and down Dustin’s back while the other stayed around his waist, keeping them firmly locked together. Before his brain became entirely hormone-clogged, however, Dustin remembered the dangers of unexpected intrusions. With his mouth still glued to Shane’s, Dustin blindly reached out, fumbling until his hand found the door handle and turned the lock inside the knob. There. Area secured!
Feeling somewhat safer now, Dustin vehemently returned his attention to Shane’s tongue, and especially the things it was doing to the inside of his mouth. Kissing consumed them for long moments – until the air between them started to take on a recirculated quality. They broke apart, grinning sheepishly at each other.
“So, when's your test?” Shane suddenly asked.
The question threw Dustin somewhat, but he replied, “Day after tomorrow, why?”
Shane smiled a wolfish grin. “Good. That gives you all day tomorrow to read your textbook. Today we're doing hands-on studies.”
With that, Shane grabbed a fistful of Dustin’s mustard-colored shirt and pulled him the few steps along towards the sofa. They fell into the cushions and Shane was about to nibble on Dustin’s earlobe, when the other boy suddenly pulled away.
“Shane, don't get me wrong,” he wheezed, breathless. “It's not like I'm not enjoying this – believe me, I do - but I need to know something...”
Shane fixed him with a serious gaze. "You're wondering why," he stated flatly. "Why I'm suddenly here - and all over you."
Dustin nodded. “Yeah. I mean...what changed your mind?”
"More like who," Shane muttered and Dustin's brows furrowed in confusion.
Shane was staring at his hands in his lap. "Tina."
"Tina?" Dustin echoed incredulously. He vividly remembered the pretty, brown-haired Latino girl Shane met at the skate park about two weeks ago. He had quietly observed their flirtations and when Shane told him he was thinking about asking her out, Dustin had burned inside. Outside, though, he had grinned, slapped his friend on the back and told him to go for it. Since then, they had gone out twice.
"But I thought you two had such a good time together a few days ago," Dustin said, genuinely puzzled. "At least that's what you said."
"Might have been what I said, but it wasn't really the truth." Shane sighed before he continued. "Don't get me wrong, she's a really nice girl and I know she likes me, but as for me..." The Air ninja's eyes took on a faraway look for a moment. "When I dropped her off at her house after our date, I...I kissed her, but it didn't do anything for me." Shane's eyes refocused and fixed on Dustin. "There I was, kissing a really hot girl, and all I could think of was how it would be to kiss you again. And I guess that's when it finally hit me. I realized then that it wasn't Tina, or any other girl, I wanted to be with; it was you."
Dustin listened breathlessly, his heart racing while Shane continued to speak.
"It wasn't so much that this whole thing changed my mind about you - us; it's more like it finally made me face something that's probably been there for a long time, but I've just never acknowledged it." Shane took a long breath, looking thoughtful as if trying to figure out how to best word his next sentence.
"Girls are interesting, they're fun," he poked Dustin's chest playfully. "They're soft," he added with a grin, "but when it comes down to either going out with a girl or hanging out with you..." he shrugged, “Pretty much a no-brainer there.”
Dustin gave him a smile that lit up the room – only to have it falter a moment later. He fixed Shane with a long look; not really wanting to ask, but needing to know.
“What about the others – Tori, Sensei…And what about your parents? Your skate buddies?”
Shane looked away, uncomfortable. “I’m not gonna lie to you; I’m kinda scared of what their reactions are going to be. I guess that’s why I haven’t faced my feelings earlier…” Shane sighed. “You’ll just have to be patient with me about that, okay?” He looked up, a silent plea in his eyes.
Dustin reached out to weave his fingers through Shane’s, giving his hand an encouraging squeeze. He wasn’t really worried about Tori – after all, they had been best friends for years. The three musketeers. But when it came to the others, he understood where Shane was coming from; they were a good team, and friends, but how they would react to him and Shane being together…there was just no way to predict that.
Parents were a very touchy subject, too, especially since Dustin had not yet confronted his parents about his preferences, either, so in this matter both of them could do little else than hope for the best once it was time to come out to them.
As for Shane’s skateboard-poser buddies – personally, Dustin didn’t give a hoot about any of them, but they were his love’s friends, and a pretty macho bunch at that. Better not tip any of them off at all.
Dustin nodded resolutely. “Cool with me, dude. We’ll just take it one day at a time. The most important thing for now is that we’re open and honest with each other.” Another heartening hand squeeze. “The rest will work out somehow, I’m sure.” Dustin hoped he sounded more confident than he felt. After all, eventually going public with their feelings for each other was new territory for him, too.
Shane looked relieved. He leaned his forehead against Dustin’s, and for a moment they sat in silence, simply enjoying their closeness.
“So, where do we go from here now?” Dustin whispered. Shane’s mouth quirked as he reached for him, obviously more inclined towards showing the Earth ninja instead of verbally elaborating on some of the things he seemed to have in mind.
Two quick tugs later, Dustin’s t-shirt was on the floor; Shane’s followed not long after.
Over the years they had seen each other without their shirts countless times, but for Dustin to finally be able to touch what so far he could only admire from a distance had the Earth ninja lightheaded with excitement.
His fingers traveled over Shane's arms, feeling the silky skin and the hard muscles underneath. Shane was doing his own fair share of exploring, strong hands sliding over Dustin’s smooth chest, his fingers brushing each nipple slightly - which promptly elicited a small groan from Dustin. Those teasing fingers then went on to caress the Earth ninja’s firm abdomen, trace around his ribs to snake up his back, finally coming to rest on his shoulder.
Shane’s eyes were fixed on him, dark and hot, and Dustin surged against him, pressing their bare chests together. He pushed Shane backwards until the bigger boy was half-draped over the arm of the sofa. Previously uncatalogued feelings flooded Dustin’s mind and body, but he didn’t waste time trying to make sense of them; instead he simply let himself feel.
A long, passionate kiss consumed them for a while, then Dustin broke away and began to kiss his way down Shane’s jaw and towards the side of his neck where he playfully nipped at the Red Ranger’s pulsing main artery. That earned him an audible intake of breath from Shane, and with a complacent grin Dustin noticed the goose bumps that promptly formed on his friend’s arms.
“Damn, Dustin…” The words were no more than a hoarse whisper as Shane raised a hand to comb his fingers through Dustin’s curls. The hand that was still resting on Dustin’s shoulder dug into the Yellow Ranger’s skin, not tight enough to hurt, but Dustin shivered nevertheless. Shane shifted slightly before he leaned in to fit their mouths together again and Dustin was suddenly very aware that he was lying between Shane’s splayed legs; it felt so good, Shane felt so good, his solid body, his scent, the feel of his skin…
Dustin felt himself swelling rapidly. His need grew irrepressibly and he instinctively ground his hips into Shane's groin. By now they were both breathing hard between kisses. Shane crushed him against his chest, welcoming the contact of their heated skins. Then his mouth was on Dustin's throat, kissing and sucking on the tender flesh there. Dustin inhaled sharply, both from the delicious sensation and the feel of the hard bulge that was pressing against his thigh. Shane was definitely as excited as he was.
Hands roamed over exposed skin, kisses became more urgent as the heat between them increased and the friction built up…
And then, reality came crashing down on them.
They both jumped when the alarm on Shane’s morpher went off.
Abruptly, Shane’s face fell. “No, no, please not now!”
The two ninjas stared at each other dejectedly.
"Man, I can't believe this!” Dustin let his head fall onto Shane’s still heaving chest. “I can barely walk, how am I supposed to fight?" Shane could hear the embarrassed grin in his almost-lover’s voice and despite his irritation at the ill-timed interruption, he felt the corners of his own mouth turn upwards.
"I know how you're feeling. Literally.”
Shane’s morpher chimed again, followed by Dustin’s only an instant later.
"If this is some goofy vegetable-looking monster..." the Yellow Ranger grumbled.
"Damn you, Lothor,” Shane cursed quietly as he raised the morpher to his mouth. “Go for Shane.”
“I just got a visual of an attack in the Industrial Park,” came Cam’s no-nonsense voice over the communicator. “There are two of them this time. Tori and the Thunders are already on the way. I’m still trying to reach Dustin…”
“No need, he’s right here,” Shane injected. “We’ll be there in a minute.” Shane cut the connection and let his head fall back onto the sofa pillow with a sigh.
Dustin raised his head and the heat in his chocolate-brown eyes had not diminished. "As soon as this is over..."
"We're coming straight back here!" Shane finished the sentence for him as he reached for his shirt.
Dustin reluctantly climbed off Shane’s sprawled-out body, plucked his own t-shirt off the floor and walked stiffly towards the window while trying to tug inconspicuously at the crotch of his pants.
All the while Shane was working on conjuring up any image possible that would quickly and effectively reverse the condition of the bulging dilemma inside his own jeans. He finally settled on the memory of having to change his sister’s diapers many years ago. That yielded the desired effect and by the time Dustin finally got the window raised up, Shane felt safe enough to stand up.
He joined the Earth ninja by the window. Dustin was looking out over the backyard below. “Coast’s clear.”
Shane swung one leg out onto the slanted roof. “Let’s make this quick, huh?” he grinned, leaned back towards Dustin for a quick kiss, and streaked off the roof and towards the Industrial Park.
Dustin hopped onto the windowsill, crouching there for a moment. “Real quick. We sooo have more studying to do,” he mumbled and threw a last, wistful look at the couch before he followed Shane in a blur of yellow.
They found the Industrial Park in a state of chaos. Overturned cars, trucks and other equipment littered the street leading up to the main plaza. Most were badly scorched, some were still smoldering and one or two were actually still burning. Luckily, there were no people in sight anywhere.
In the midst of all the destruction were two almost identical-looking creatures, both armed with large and vicious looking canon-like weapons which they were waving around with apparent gusto, igniting more cars as they made their way around the plaza. And judging by their laughter, they were having a blast. They reminded Dustin vaguely of a character in a movie he had seen just recently. The Thing of The Fantastic Four. Only here were two Things, their brick-like skins more red than tan, and their heads on top of their tall, stocky frames were square and way out of proportion to the rest of their bodies. They were way freakier looking than any Hollywood invention, but then again, this was Lothor they were dealing with, after all. Dustin briefly wondered if the evil space ninja had seen the same movie.
On the plaza they saw Tori, Hunter and Blake moving in on the Brick Brothers from behind the cover of an overturned van. Shane and Dustin quickly morphed and hurried to join their teammates. But before they had taken three steps, one of the Thing-monsters spied the Blue, Navy and Crimson Rangers and aimed his huge weapon on them. He turned out to be an awful shot, however, and the blast fell short, the energy surge ripping into the sidewalk instead. Unfortunately, the weapon’s raw firepower made up for the untrained aim and Blake, Hunter and Tori were close enough to the point of impact to be lifted off their feet from the shockwave. The two Thunder Rangers spun around as if being yanked backwards by invisible strings. Tori was flung backwards as well, sailing through the air with a cry of pain. Shane moved purely on reflex, hurling himself towards her, arms extended. He caught her easily, but the force with which she crashed into him made him stagger, bringing him down to one knee. He was up again an instant later, pulling her up with him. “You okay, Tor?” he asked anxiously and was relieved to see the Blue Ranger nodding.
“Fine, but these brick heads are so in for it now!” came the heated reply from behind her darkened visor and Shane grinned. Tori was mad and it was not healthy for any monster to get the Blue Wind Ranger mad.
Shane cast a quick glance towards the far side of the street where Blake and Hunter had landed amidst a row of neatly lined-up garbage cans. Dustin was just helping Blake to his feet while Hunter was already standing, vigorously brushing bits of trash from his suit. Add two more ticked-off Thunder Rangers to the equation.
“All right, enough playing,” Shane decided out loud. “Time to bring out some bigger guns.” He raised his morpher wrist and depressed a button. “Battelizer!”
The reaction was instantaneous as the ultra-heavy armor began to materialize in half a dozen places on his Ranger suit and only a few seconds later he leapt into the air, the boosters on his back propelling him upwards with dizzying speed. He positioned his body so that the laser disk embedded in his now-armored chest was pointed directly at the two monsters a dozen feet below him.
The events of the next few seconds happened seemingly in slow motion.
Shane unloaded a heavy volley of concentrated energy at the two creatures at the same time as one of them pointed his canon-gun upwards and fired. The two massive energy pulses hit their targets simultaneously – and dead on. The monster’s blast caught Shane in the torso with the force of a speeding train, vaporizing his chest armor and overloading the rest of the Battelizer. Through the searing pain, Shane caught only a fraction of a glimpse of the explosion below him that instantly destroyed the Evil Twins before he was catapulted backwards in an involuntary triple somersault like a trapeze artist. Only when he started to fall, there was no net down below to safely catch him. The force of the energy blast had completely knocked the wind out of him, so he was unable to even cry out in fear as the concrete sidewalk seemingly shot up to meet him. His brain dimly registered that he was still wearing his Ranger suit and he took that small spark of hope of surviving the fall with him into unconsciousness.