He no longer had a fancy computer screen to tell him someone was coming down to his secret hide away. He didn’t even have a security system anymore. All he had were his ninja senses, and the vague nagging in the back of his mind that sooner or later someone would come looking for him.
That someone was standing on the last step leading him into what had once been Ninja Ops, as though stepping into the debris would be a mistake.
Maybe it would be.
“This place is trashed.” The broody figure stated matter-of-factly. Cam resisted the urge to scoff.
“Yeah.” He agreed instead.
“Huh.” Hunter’s looming figure never moved from the doorway. “Guess it’s all pretty much over then.”
Cam met his eyes for the first time since graduation that morning. “Yeah. Guess it is.”
He was packing when he heard the footsteps coming up the rickety stairs to his apartment. He had opened the door before the green clad figure had even reached it, and he waited patiently to be acknowledged.
Cam’s eyes met his, and Hunter stepped aside casually to let him in. Cam stayed by the door, even as Hunter retreated to his bedroom to continue what he’d been doing. Cam’s long, shadowed figure appeared in the badly lit room a moment later.
“How far away is the Thunder Academy, again?” Cam’s neutral voice intoned from behind him.
Hunter glanced over his shoulder at the samurai, who was glowering pathetically at Hunter’s suitcase.
He wasn’t even sure that question deserved an answer. Cam knew the academy system and the places they’d chosen better than he did. Just the other day he’d been explaining the locations of the academies to Dustin, who the information had regrettably but not unexpectedly been lost upon.
Cam knew very well where the Thunder Academy was. He could probably recite its distance from the Wind Academy in miles, feet, or inches. Hunter measured distance by time, one of the things that drove Cam crazy, so to him the Thunder Academy was 3 hours away.
But that wasn’t what Cam was asking. He wasn’t talking about the distance between the academies. He wasn’t asking how long the commute would be, or how many miles it was. He knew that.
He was asking how far away they were from each other, right now, in this room.
And Hunter couldn’t figure out what to say, even when Cam was looking at him, slightly wounded and maybe a bit hopeful.
So with a sigh he settled for, “Not too far.”
He’d never been good with students. Only a year ago Shane, Tori, and Dustin had all been students and he hadn’t been able to stand them. Now they were his allies on this new warfront, and he was glad to hear he was not the only one having trouble.
“I’m telling you,” Dustin was waving his glass of juice around dangerously. “It like, I could just strangle this kid. He’s been in training longer than me, and he’s like, so mad I’m teaching him. I can’t do anything right in this class, guys. He calls me on everything!”
“I know what you mean,” Tori agreed from her slumped position on the sofa. “I’ve got these two kids, Eric and Krista, and Krista is a ninja kid born and raised, and Eric is a total newb, and Krista keeps trying to show him all her advanced elemental tricks, but Eric only knows Tai Kwan Do, and she learned in Jiu Jitsu, and the two of them have been sent to the nurses office about 7 times already.”
Shane was grinning somewhat sheepishly at both of them. “Sometimes I think, ‘I’d take a couple thousand Kelzacks to these kids any day’, you know?”
“The grass is always greener,” Cam agreed, and for some reason this made the three of them break into grins.
“I wonder if Hunter’s doing any better at the Thunder Academy.” Tori wondered idly.
Cam just took a sip of the beer in his hand. “Yeah, me too.”
He was good at this. He hadn’t expected it, but he was damn good at what he’d chosen to do. No one else had wanted to believe it either, especially not the teachers he’d been training under a little over a year ago, but none of them knew what had gone on down here while they’d been trapped in their bubbles, and something about that uncertainty worked in his advantage.
That was the problem, he supposed. He knew what had happened down here, and he was the only one. He could make up any courageous story he wanted and they’d all eat it up because he’d been a ranger, but it was never quite as satisfying as it should have been. Despite all the admiration he now received from the students and even some of the younger teachers, telling them his stories (true or false), was never quite as enjoyable as sitting around with his team, his rangers, his friends, and reminiscing.
He hadn’t been able to do it nearly enough, lately.
On his fridge was a postcard from Blake, of a snowy mountain top. His messy chicken scratch on the back read, Be in town soon. Be sure to bring the whole gang. Love.
On his answering machine was a message from Tori with the actual date and time of the event the postcard referred to, making him wonder when Tori had become more important to Blake than he was.
“It’s never easy, is it?” Leanne was his sole connection here at the Thunder Academy, and she intruded upon his privacy more often than not.
“What’s not?” He asked, uncertain of her intention.
She just looked at him knowingly. “Moving on.”
Hunter glanced at the postcard, then at the answering machine, and finally at his bare wrist hanging by his side. “I guess it didn’t turn out how I expected it to.”
“Yeah! Way to go Blake!” Tori’s shrill voice next to his ear made him cringe, but he couldn’t help the smile that he wore on his face as Blake crossed the finish line first and Hunter let out an enthusiastic whoop from his other side.
They all rushed down to the finish line to greet him, and Cam was nearly swept away in the jumble of confusion. Only when he hung back did he realize that Hunter wasn’t with them, and a quick glance over his shoulder showed the crimson ninja still leaning on the railings.
Cam turned back, walking with purpose yet unsure what to say when he’d reached the younger man.
“Blake won.” He stated easily, the uncomfortable smile playing on his lips.
Hunter turned his head to look at Cam, confusion registering in his eyes at the same time the grin crossed his lips. “Yeah, he did.”
Cam waited, but Hunter didn’t move. He scuffed his feet, glanced at their friends on the track and shrugged. “We should be happy.”
He’d meant to say ‘you’. You should be happy. It had come out as we before he’d been able to stop himself, and the tiny syllable along with its immense relevance was not lost on Hunter.
He looked at Cam, contemplating with strangely sad eyes. “Yeah. We should be.”
He paused, straightening, and Cam thought they’d turn to go congratulate his brother, but Hunter looked at him questioningly instead.
Cam paused, and suddenly he felt like a child again, answering for something he’d done wrong. The feeling was unbidden, but he couldn’t shake it. “I don’t… really know. I mean… I guess I’ve never had much for comparison.” That sounded pathetic, and he didn’t mean it to.
Hunter looked at him pathetically, as Cam had anticipated he might. Something in his gaze irked Cam. It was not the patronization his father used or the confound-ment his friends and fellow teachers were so fond of. It was just that: patient fondness.
“I know things are better than they used to be, for me. And I’m grateful. But…” Cam paused again, glancing back at Hunter. “I guess I’ll just always want more.”
Hunter accepted this with a slight nod. “Yeah, me neither.”
His reply implied he hadn’t been listening to Cam’s answer at all. Cam contemplated the question he was supposed to have been answering. He tilted his head at Hunter, who just looked at him for a moment.
“Let’s get the hell outta here.”
Suddenly they were rangers again, smiling happily and playing hooky, weight of the world on their shoulders easily ignored with a corn dog and a slushy. They were supposed to meet the others back at the Wind Academy at 3. It was almost 4.
“Blake won’t be mad?” Cam asked him, and Hunter contemplated this with a mouthful of corndog.
“Probably just be worried.” He said as he chewed.
“Chew your food, you animal.” Cam intoned dryly, and Hunter grinned.
“Just like old times, huh?” Hunter swallowed and then nudged Cam’s side as they walked along the beach.
“Not quite.” Cam slurped what was left of his slushy beside him, the sound loud even in the surf. “But I’ll take it.”
“Do you ever think?” Hunter asked thoughtfully. “What if? What if it hadn’t been us? You know? What if we’d been the ones up on that ship instead of down here fighting?”
Cam slurped in reply.
“I’m being serious here.” Hunter poked his shoulder, then reached for the slushy Cam held out of reach.
Cam glanced at him sideways, and shrugged. “That’d have been awful boring.”
“I mean, we could have been up there while some cool kids were down here fighting. Cool kids, with cooler names, and little handshakes…”
Cam’s reply surprised him. “Hunter’s a pretty cool name.”
“Yeah?” Hunter asked, staring at Cam as he smirked and nodded.
“Huh.” He finished his corn dog and reached for Cam’s slushy. Taking a sip, he couldn’t help the grin that spread across his own face. “Cam’s a pretty cool name too, actually.”
It was dark out by the time they returned to the Wind Academy. The air had settled with the dry heat that was California, and the mist off the reflecting pool was easily welcomed.
“You know,” Hunter paused, staring at the water. “Nothing’s turned out how I expected it to.”
“Funny thing, that.” Cam agreed, his mind flashing back over his entire life. And Hunter’s life. And all of their expectations.
“Yeah. It is, actually.” Hunter turned to him, and his hand reached out to his shoulder and Cam closed his eyes and waited. Hunter’s fingers barely brushed his neck, and he almost shivered.
“Cam?” Hunter’s voice sounded confused, and Cam hurriedly opened his eyes. Hunter was staring at him, his head tilted in that familiar way. “Your collar was turned up.”
Cam blushed without meaning to, feeling like a guilty preschooler. For what he wasn’t sure. But he couldn’t find his voice for the life of him, so he turned back to the reflecting pool.
Hunter’s voice was now very amused. “Were you… expecting something?”
Cam cleared his throat. “I’ve learned to expect anything around you.”
“Huh.” Hunter considered this for a moment.
And then he reached over and kissed Cam’s cheek, like a freaking grade-schooler. And Cam blushed like a schoolgirl. The universe was in order.
“I’m sorry.” Cam told him, hiding his face in the dimming light. “I never meant to get… emotionally involved.”
There was a pause. “Emotionally involved?” Hunter’s reply was incredulous, and Cam tried to shrug. “Really? You never planned on it, huh?” Hunter’s voice had softened, and turned into something like dry amusement.
Cam couldn’t answer. He felt foolish for having said anything at all.
“Cam, when my parents died Sensei Omina took me and Blake in, and I never planned on that but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Then the academies were attacked and I got handed a morpher and we joined the rest of the rangers. And I met you. And I never planned on that, either, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And well, you not planning on getting emotionally involved? I think you know where I’m going here.” Hunter turned to him, and Cam tried to hide his own grin.
Hunter grabbed his arm, his fingers warm against Cam’s skin, and Cam turned to him.
They hadn’t touched since that day on Lothor’s ship. Cam had been so happy to see Hunter that he’d grabbed his hand as soon as Hunter had set his free, and they’d looked at each other exactly as they were looking now; full of hope, anticipation, and something sort of like what love was supposed to feel like when not muddled by the fact they were on an exploding alien ship.
It was what should have happened in that moment, just delayed a while.
Hunter leaned in, and Cam did to, and their lips met. Cam smiled into the kiss and let Hunter take a step closer, and he did too, and Hunter’s arm was around his waist and Cam reached up to cradle Hunter’s face. It was soft, uncertain, and a little clumsy. When asked later Cam probably wouldn’t be able to describe it as anything but a kiss.
Their lips broke apart, and Hunter’s hand reached up to grab a hold of Cam’s.
“I’d rather be emotionally involved with you than anyone else.” Hunter grinned at him.
Cam grinned back too, because hey, they’d danced around it for long enough.
Maybe they’d never been as far away from each other as they’d thought.