"Hey there, Reefsiders!" came the shout, punctuated by a bright orange backpack thrown unceremoniously on top of one of Hayley's tables. Kira and Ethan looked up and saw double.
"Dudes," Conner proclaimed, and added hastily, "and, uh, Kira...this is my brother Eric."
"Oh, you're brothers?" said Ethan caustically. "Never would've guessed. Not with the identical thing or anything like that."
Conner leaned over and punched his friend's arm lightly. "Dude."
"Who's the hottie?" Eric McKnight asked, plopping into the empty seat next to Kira, Conner's reserved seat. Kira arched an eyebrow, and Ethan looked surprised at the other brother's boldness, not to mention slightly scared for him.
"You so don't want to go there, dude," Conner cautioned his twin quietly, but it was too late, and the damage had been done.
"Apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it," Kira said darkly. "You're both sexist, chauvinist pigs with egos too big for your tiny, tiny heads."
Ethan gave a low whistle. "Dude, I didn't say anything!" Conner whined. He pulled up a chair, flipping it around and straddling it to make it four instead of the usual three. "So anyway, Eric's in town for the weekend, and I was thinking the bunch of us should totally go to the carnival this weekend."
"Wait, how come when I suggested we hit the carnival, you said I was 'so totally uncool'?" Ethan accused.
Conner ignored this statement. "So, you guys in?"
Kira shrugged. "I've heard worse suggestions. Mostly from you. I'm in."
"Cool," Conner proclaimed with a bright, satisfied smile, and then began to chat with Ethan about something that had happened in their Spanish class that morning. Eric took the moment to lean closer to Kira. "Listen, I'm sorry about the 'hottie' thing. I mean, I don't mean I'm sorry like that, because I totally do think you're hot, but I mean, I'm sorry I said it the way I did, because I think I offended you."
Kira stared him down a moment before a smile crossed her lips. "And I'm sorry I said the things I did. You probably didn't deserve them at the moment--but if you're anything at all like Conner, you'll deserve them in the future."
Eric laughed. "You sorta remind me of my friend Tally. Although she's not half as vicious as you. No wonder Conner's such a changed man."
"Changed man? How, exactly?" she asked, although she had a good idea. Still, she wanted to see evidence of Conner's personality morph --no pun intended-- through the eyes of someone who'd known him all his life.
"He's a lot less egotistical now, you know? He's definitely a lot quieter, more mature, maybe even a little smarter..."
"I'm not so sure about that," she cracked, and they both smiled.
"But he's definitely a lot different, and that has everything to do with you. And Ethan," he added quickly, the transition smooth enough that she didn't notice. "I guess I kinda want to say thanks."
"Hmm," Kira murmured noncommittally, having just noticed Conner looking in their direction, and throwing him a small smile. Eric took this all in, and grinned to himself, suddenly very much looking forward to the carnival.
"Oh, come on, please?"
"No way in hell."
"Come on, Kira. It's no worse than the Meg--I mean, it's not any worse than doing that thing...that we do...almost daily." Conner cast a nervous glance at his brother, but Eric was eyeing the 'you must be this tall' display, which he was taller than, with considerable interest.
"I am not going on any ride that threatens to go so fast that it peels flesh from my bones. How stupid do you think I am?" said Kira.
"They don't really mean that," Ethan interjected diplomatically. "The Ultra-Crusher is perfectly safe."
"Its name features the word 'crush'. 'Crush' is a word I tend to stay away from when it comes to my vitals."
Eric sauntered back over to the group, and settled a hand on Kira's shoulder. "You are definitely this tall to ride the ride," he said, raising his eyebrows suggestively. The voice and expression were so ridiculously comedic that Kira burst out laughing. "C'mon," said Eric. "Just come on this one ride, and I promise you I'll win you a hideous, overpriced, fluorescent, ugly stuffed animal that you'll get rid of a month later. And also, if you puke post-ride, I'll let you do it on my shoes. But that's my final offer."
"Eric McKnight, you might be insane," said Kira, clearly amused. "Okay, you're on. But nothing Spongebob-related."
"As if," the boy scoffed, and the two of them got in line.
Ethan and Conner gaped. "What just happened here?" said Ethan.
"Oh, he is so dead," grumbled Conner.
"Why, because he got Kira to go on the Ultra-Crusher?" Ethan glanced at his best friend, who was staring after Kira and Eric with a non-friendly expression. "Dude, speaking of 'crushing'..."
"What?" Conner blinked and shook his head, finally noticing Ethan staring at him. "Dude, what."
"You and Kira?"
Conner laughed. "Don't be stupid, man. C'mon, we're going to lose our place." He jogged over to the other members of their group, and Ethan shook his head with a rush of sympathy.
The four got a car to themselves, Ethan and Conner in the back, with Kira and Eric in the front, much to Conner's barely-disguised dismay. Kira's eyes were shut firmly throughout the entire ride, and while she shrieked almost continuously, she had been trained very well at controlling her powers, so there was nothing dangerous --or telltale-- about her scream. She held the safety bar in a death grip, but Eric's hands were in the air, while he triumphantly shouted "Whoo-hoo!" the entire time.
Kira's step was a bit wobbly as they disembarked, and both McKnight twins immediately rushed to flank her, with careful hands steadying her. "Are you okay?" asked Conner softly, genuine concern in his voice.
"I feel sick."
"My offer still stands," said Eric. "My shoes are plenty dry and absorbent."
"Please don't make me laugh," she mumbled. Conner glared at Eric, hitting his brother's arm off of Kira and leading her with careful steps over to a garbage can. He swept her hair out of her face and held it out of the way, rubbing her back in slow strokes as she bent over the can.
Eric joined up with Ethan, and the two watched from a bench a few yards away. "So," said Eric.
"He's pissed at you."
"He's in love with her."
"So you know," said Ethan flatly.
"Of course I know."
"But you're still flirting with her." Some anger was creeping into the black boy's voice, and Eric didn't know Ethan well enough to know that Ethan rarely got mad, so he didn't know enough to be fearful. "Those two are my best friends, and if you do anything to screw up what they have and what we have, I can't be held responsible for what I do to you."
Eric nodded seriously. "I'm only flirting with her because I'm hoping it'll provoke Conner into doing something Conner-rifically stupid. She is all he ever talks about whenever either of us calls each other, and it's about damn time he gets around to doing something about it."
Ethan looked at Eric with new respect. The boy, for all of his similarities to Conner, was remarkably perceptive, cunning, and with obvious love for his brother, no matter how distant the twins might have been. "So what's your plan?" he asked, regarding Eric now as a confidante and partner in crime.
Eric shrugged. "You're kinda looking at it." He nodded over at where Conner was rubbing at Kira's back tenderly, murmuring something to her in soothing tones.
"So your plan was to make her puke?"
"Not exactly. I figured I'd play on the jealousy thing, because obviously, who can resist the McKnight charm? And it seems to be working..."
"Dude, I admire your initiative, but she's barfing."
"I don't see you coming up with any better."
"Obviously, we have to get them alone somewhere," said Ethan confidently. "And I think I know where..."
But where he had in mind was never expressed, as Kira and Conner came over to the bench then, the former smiling wanly, the latter watching over her with a pained expression that she didn't see. Eric immediately jumped to his feet so that Kira could sit down. "How're you feeling?" said Ethan. "Did you puke?"
She shook her head. "Close, but no cigar, thank god."
"Scared a few small kids though with retching sounds," Conner teased. She rolled her eyes at him, and he shifted into a serious face. "Listen, do you want anything? A soda or something? Settle your stomach?"
"A ginger ale should hit the spot," she said quietly, but her smile was sincere. "Thanks, Con."
"Sure thing," he said, and obediently scampered off to fetch it.
Eric smiled. "You wouldn't take me up on the shoe offer, but a McKnight never goes back on his word. I believe I owe you the world's ugliest stuffed animal."
"I'm hoping for something in a grotesque neon orange," she said with a slight laugh. He stood up, and looked down at her expectantly, but she offered him an apologetic glance. "Sorry, I might have to sit here for a bit."
"I can handle that," he said good-naturedly.
As he departed, Kira turned to look at Ethan. "Sorry."
"So am I. A little vomit might have made this more entertaining."
She hit his arm, laughing. "Dork."
"Hey, that might be an upgrade--usually I get 'geek'." They exchanged goofy smiles. "So what's the deal with you and Eric? You two are mighty chummy."
"He's sweet," was all she said. She didn't notice the anxious expression on Ethan's face, but she didn't have a chance to, as Conner returned, touting a ginger ale, and Eric hurried behind him, clutching a large, neon-orange octopus. "Here," the boys said in unison, both thrusting their offerings at her.
Kira eyed the octopus with trepidation, several feet in length, with swaying tentacles. "That is the ugliest thing I've ever seen."
"I know, right?" said Eric proudly. "I am a whack-a-mole master."
Conner rolled his eyes, and Kira accepted the soda he held at out, taking a laborious sip. "I feel much better now. Thanks, Conner," she said warmly. There was no mistaking his beaming smile.
"Hey, I'm feeling up for more rides," said Ethan, jumping to his feet. "Wanna hit the Ultra-Crusher again, dudes?"
Kira shook her head. "Ethan, no."
"I'm so in," said Eric enthusiastically.
"Con, maybe you can sit this one out and keep Kira company," said Ethan, with a pointed look. Conner eyed him for a few desperate seconds, but his voice was even as he said, "Yeah, sure."
"Cool. Catch you guys later." And the two raced each other to the line at the Ultra-Crusher.
Conner sat down on the bench, the orange octopus between them. Ethan wasn't very subtle or very smooth, and Conner wasn't sure whether he should kill his friend or not. Fortunately, Kira didn't seem to pick up on the unnatural tone Ethan had used, and was just sitting, quietly sipping her ginger ale.
"How do you like Eric?" asked Conner finally.
She lowered the straw from her lips and smiled. "I'm beginning to think we got saddled with the wrong twin."
Conner winced, her words stabbing him viciously. His pain must have been evident on his face, because Kira looked at him, horrified, and put a placating hand on his shoulder. "Oh, Conner, I didn't mean that...I was just joking..." There was a twinge of sadness in her hazel eyes. "Oh, please don't be mad. I didn't mean that, really."
He looked away, but it was just a posturing move, because he was already sated. He was thrown off by Kira's backpedaling, something she never did, certainly not concerning him. He wondered what she'd seen in his gaze that made her do that. He worried that she had figured out the truth and now felt sorry for him.
"You know you mean a lot to me," she continued, and he turned to give her a slight smile.
"Well, I can see how you'd want two of me in your life," he said with his usual cocky air. "After all, one is just not enough." He flashed her a impish grin to let her know it was okay, and she laughed, her warm hand on his shoulder turning into a light slap. He missed the presence of her touch, but he was glad that things were no longer awkward. "Hey, are you feeling any better?"
She nodded, finishing the last of her soda with a long and loud slurp. "Much."
"Great." He stood up. "Let's get moving. We can't spend the entire carnival sitting around."
"You do have the attention span of a seven-year-old, you realize this."
"Yep." He tugged at her hand insistently, but she paused to retrieve the orange octopus. "Aw, c'mon, Kira, leave it. That thing is ugly as hell."
"Eric went to a lot of trouble to get this for me," she said stubbornly. "I like it."
"Well, of course, if it's from Eric," he said sullenly.
She thwacked him with one of the octopus tentacles. "Play nice, Conner. He's your brother and you love him."
"Uh-huh," Conner drawled unconvincingly.
"What's up with you, anyway? Eric gives me a dorky present, and you suddenly get all annoyed. What gives?"
Well, there was a question he never, ever wanted to answer. 'I'm pissed because I'm kind of in love with you, only you like my brother better than me.' Yeah, he could just see himself telling her that. "Eric and I were never really close," he said in a cautious, guarded tone as they walked. "Life was always sort of a competition between us, that no one ever really won. And then my parents got divorced, my dad moved to Blue Bay Harbor, and Eric decided to go with him. It was just better that way. It sounds really bad to say, but really, neither of us really missed each other that much."
Kira nodded. "You're closer now though, obviously."
"We get along better when we don't have to deal with each other," Conner admitted.
"Like you and me?" she said with a smirk.
Conner was visibly wounded. "You and I get along fine," he said in a hurt, defensive voice.
"Of course we do," she said immediately. "Well, sometimes. Conner, seriously, what is wrong? I really hate seeing you like this--I wish you'd tell me. Is it Eric?"
"It's nothing," he insisted. "Really. I swear. Hey, let's go on a ride or something."
"I don't know if I'm feeling up to it," she said.
"A slow ride," he amended. "Something that you could take your grandmother on."
Kira grinned. "Then you obviously don't know my grandmother. She's a feisty woman--she'd totally be in line for the Ultra-Crusher."
He smiled. "If not for your weak stomach, you sound a lot like her."
To his surprise, Kira went a little pink and looked away. "You know what I hate?" she said after awhile, gazing at one of the swing rides. "Those things. They're so lame."
Conner nodded in agreement. "I can think of better ways to defy gravity." He suddenly grabbed the octopus out from under Kira's arm, and flung it overhead while she yelped.
It crashed to the pavement a few feet away, and she hit him. "Dammit, Conner, behave!" she said, rushing over and grabbing it up. "You are so freaking immature--" she muttered, but when she looked up, Conner had disappeared. "Conner?" She scanned the fairgrounds, but couldn't spot the boy in red anywhere.
"Looking for me?" She turned around, and he was standing there casually, his hands behind his back, obviously trying to pretend like he'd been there all along. His hair was mussed like he'd been running.
She narrowed her eyes at him. "If Dr. O. finds out you've been using your powers--"
Conner interrupted to show his hands, and place something in hers. "Here."
Kira looked down at what he'd produced, a small stuffed raccoon, only a few inches tall, blindingly yellow, with a cheap plastic guitar tied to its tiny, poorly-crafted paws. "Is this for me?"
"Yeah," he coughed, and he when she looked up, he was staring at his feet. She put her hand on his arm to get his attention, and she met his eyes with a warm smile. "Thanks, Conner. This is really sweet."
"Yeah, well." He ran a hand through his hair nervously, flattening it back down. "So, listen, the line at the Ferris wheel is really short, if you still feel up to going on a ride."
"Sounds cool. Let's go," she said, and they headed off.
They didn't talk at all while waiting in line, and it was only after their bucket started to arc towards the sky that Kira broke the awkward silence awkwardly. "Hey, there's the Crusher," she said, pointing. The octopus was settled between them on the bench, a peculiar but nonetheless imposing barrier that did the opposite of lighten the mood.
"Hey, Kira, you don't like Eric, do you?"
Kira turned to Conner, raising her eyebrows, but he was gazing out over the fairgrounds. "Of course I like Eric."
"No. I mean, like, do you like him like him, like you used to like Trent."
Kira laughed. "You're officially forbidden from using the word 'like' ever again," she said. But Conner wasn't laughing, he wasn't even smiling, just staring at her anxiously. She frowned. "No, I don't."
He exhaled. "Good."
"Why is it any of your business, anyway?" she asked archly.
"Because I--" he cut himself off, shaking his head. "Never mind. Let's just watch the view." They were not quite at the apex of the Ferris wheel, but at such an angle that they couldn't see the buckets below them. It was like they were suspended in the air by nothing, separate from the world around and below them.
"Why are you acting so weird, Conner?" she asked quietly after a tense moment of silence. She stared out absently at the metal slopes of the Ultra-Crusher, up and down and tangled and twisted as her own life.
"I can't tell you."
"And why not?"
"Because it involves you."
"Then I think I have a right to know, don't you?" she said. Kira turned to look at him, and was surprised to find his lips pressed to hers without warning. She was too stunned to react, and Conner pulled back. "Sorry."
"What the hell was that?" she asked.
"I said I was sorry."
"What aren't you telling me, Conner?"
"I thought it was kind of obvious," he said in a little boy sort of tone. "I like you, Kira. A lot, really. And I don't like the way Eric's been hitting on you, and I don't like the way you've been letting him. That's why I've been acting so weird."
"'Oh'? That's all I get, 'oh'?"
"Well, what do you want me to say?"
"Something. Anything. Preferably a declaration of undying love, but that seems unlikely, so I'll settle for you at least telling me you don't hate me and you aren't going to throw me off the Ferris wheel for kissing you."
"If I was going to throw you off, I would've done it by now," she pointed out.
"I guess." He sighed. "Do you hate me?"
"Of course I don't hate you."
"But you're not madly in love with me."
"The only one who's madly in love with you is you."
"Not according to the girls' locker room..."
She hit his arm, and they both laughed, finally slipping into something familiar and comfortable. "You're something else, Conner."
"Listen, I'm sorry I kissed you. That was way out of line."
"Oh, you think?"
"Are you mad?"
"Only a little."
"Why not more?" he asked, both pained and hopeful. She went a little pink, and he laughed in pleased disbelief. "You liked it."
"I never said that."
"You didn't have to. I can tell."
"Oh, you can, can you?" she said.
He smirked annoyingly. "You liked it and you want to do it again."
"Shut up." She moved to hit him, but he intercepted her fist easily and swooped in to kiss her. She closed her eyes and was kissing him back, the both of them unaware that the ride had started moving again, and they were now approaching the bottom.
"Are you two done, or do you need to go around again," the attendant said flatly, in a tone that suggested he'd seen this a million times, and was annoyed every time. Kira drew away from Conner sharply, her face red with equal parts embarrassment and pleasure. Before she could protest, the attendant had pulled the lever and they were going back up again.
"Damn," she muttered. "What happens now?"
"I don't know," he said. He smiled. "We've got some more time to kill..."
"Conner, no. We can't."
Conner sighed, the smile gone. "Right. I know. I don't understand, really, but I know."
"Besides, wouldn't you feel guilty if it turns out your brother did like me?"
"No," he said without hesitation. "I've liked you for ages, and he's only known you two days and is going back to Blue Bay in another two. He can go make out with Tally, for all I care."
"Huh." She stared at her hands. The ride stopped again, and the bucket swung back and forth. "Have you really liked me for ages?"
"Practically since day one. You're smart, you're beautiful, you're funny, you're talented, and damn if you don't make my life interesting..."
"Kira..." he returned mockingly. "Hey. Maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to give this a chance. You know. Us? I mean, we both know I'm totally gorgeous. And so maybe I'm not the smartest guy in the world. But I make you laugh. Plus, we spend every day together and you haven't killed me yet. And come on, the way you kissed me? Obviously, you think there's potential. So give it a shot."
"We have nothing in common."
He smiled delightedly with the knowledge that her argument was a feeble one. "We have Ranger stuff in common. Can you talk to Eric about that?"
"For the love of all that is holy, Conner, I'm not interested in Eric!"
"What's wrong with him!" said Conner defensively.
"What, so now you want me to want him?"
"I want to know what's wrong with a guy that's practically me."
"What's wrong with him is that he's not you, Conner!"
Eric and Ethan stared up at the Ferris wheel. "What's going on up there?" asked Ethan.
"Dunno...they're talking...dude!" Eric clutched at Ethan's arm excitably. "Check that! He so just kissed her."
"And she didn't throw him off," Ethan marveled. "This is huger than huge. Whoa," he said softly, as the two boys witnessed their friends suddenly kissing again, and quite passionately. The wheel started turning again, and their bucket came back to the base--but they didn't get off.
"They're not getting off," Eric narrated unnecessarily. "They're going around again."
"But they stopped making out."
Eric nudged Ethan with an ecstatic grin. "Dude, the plan worked, the plan so worked."
"Don't be so sure," Ethan said cautiously. "I know these two really well, and even money says that when they get off the ride, Kira will ask to be taken home, and she will spend the entire car ride not talking to any of us. Then when we drop her off, Conner will tell us everything and complain."
"You want to bet on that?" said Eric.
Ethan raised an eyebrow at this, suddenly more intrigued by this McKnight than the other. "What do you have in mind?"
"What do I have that interests you?"
"How close a relationship do you have with the car?"
"Conner's Mustang?" Eric smirked. "I could arrange something. But for me...if I win, I wanna know what secret you guys are clearly hiding."
"What makes you think we're hiding a secret?"
"I know everyone thinks I'm stupid, but really, I'm not. Give me some credit."
It was dangerous, but Ethan liked danger. He stuck out his hand. "You're on."
"You used to think that someone not being me was a good thing," said Conner.
"Don't rub it in," she muttered. "It was a bad choice of words."
"You wouldn't've said it if you didn't mean it..." he argued.
"Drop it, Conner. Please. This was a mistake."
"It was my mistake to make, not yours."
"I shouldn't have kissed you back."
"I disagree. That was pretty hot."
"You're not helping."
"I don't want to help. Your idea of me 'helping' is me being a jackass so you can feel justified in hating me and therefore never allow yourself to think about the fact that you liked kissing me, and you want to do it again, and that maybe pursuing something a little deeper isn't the worst thing in the world."
"I hate you thinking that it's something like the best thing in the world. It could just as easily be disaster, but you, in typical narrow-minded Conner fashion, fail to see that."
"How is it disaster?" he said. "We get along really well, most of the time. We make each other laugh, we can have long conversations about pretty much anything. You're attracted to me; I'm attracted to you; we have chemistry. People have built relationships on much less." Kira sighed. "C'mon, you're not interested in Trent anymore, we both know that." He nudged her shoulder with his, wearing a gentle smile. "Give me a week. If you're not satisfied, kick me to the curb."
Kira cocked an eyebrow. "A week of boyfriend boot camp?"
"Yeah. If that doesn't do it for you, we go back to being friends, no hard feelings. I'm willing to give up my pride."
The Ferris wheel was reaching the end of its revolution, which she equated with the need for her to make a decision. "Fine. You get a week. Starting now."
Conner absolutely lit up. "You mean that?"
She couldn't help but be touched by his eagerness. "Yeah, I mean that."
"Do I get the special boyfriend benefits?"
"If you play your cards right."
The Ferris wheel touched down, and Conner hopped from the bucket, scooping up the octopus and arranging it promptly on top of his head, the tentacles hanging all around him like a neon wig. He couldn't erase the bright smile from his face, even as Kira buried her face in her hands. "Please stop that."
"Dude, there's Eric and Ethan!" said Conner, waving enthusiastically.
"Nice hat," Eric nodded at it, laughing.
"There's something we gotta tell you guys," said Conner cautiously. Then he abandoned his careful tone to the wind, throwing his arm around Kira's shoulders, while she melted into a horrified expression. "We're going out."
"YES!" Eric shouted, as Ethan's face fell. "No."
"What's 'no,' dude?" said Conner. "You were the one who made me realize that I should tell her."
"Yeah. Unintentionally. You totally called me on crushing on her, and that was when I realized that if you could tell, she probably could, and I could save myself a lot of pain if I just admitted it."
Kira squirmed slightly under the weight of Conner's arm and under her friends' penetrating stares. She wasn't expecting Conner to be so affectionate--at least, not this much and not this soon. This must have been what he meant when he referred to 'special boyfriend benefits'. What had she gotten herself into?
"Anyway, dude, I figured you'd be happy for us."
"I am, I am," said Ethan hastily. "It's just that--"
"We made a bet," Eric piped up cheerfully.
Fire was in Kira's eyes. "You made a bet?"
"What was the bet on?" demanded Conner.
"We saw you kissing..." Ethan continued awkwardly, "and I sorta guessed that you two wouldn't work it out...and..."
"And he lost. And now he has to tell me your guys' secret," said Eric.
"Our secret?" Conner and Kira chorused, twin expressions of disbelief marring their faces. They stared at Ethan accusingly.
"Listen, I wanna know what's going on, why you three are the way you are and what's this secret thing you guys are always running off to," said Eric. "I'm not going to tell anyone or anything, dudes, you can trust me."
"Dude, the only secret I've ever had, everybody already knows now," Conner said, squeezing Kira to him a little extra-dramatically. Kira looked a little pained, but it was hard to pinpoint the source of the face: Conner's open affection, or Ethan's complete lapse in judgment, or the fact that Eric had picked up on their secret.
But they were saved --sort of-- by the telltale beep of their communicators.
"What was that?" said Eric suspiciously.
"My watch," Conner answered immediately.
"You don't wear a watch, dork brain, you operate on Conner Time, remember?"
"He meant my watch," covered Ethan.
"See what I mean? You guys suck at this covering thing."
"We gotta jet, man," said Ethan. "It was my alarm for...thing. The Star Trek marathon."
"And you two are watching it?" said Eric, nodding at his brother and his brother's apparent girlfriend.
"Of course not," said Conner instinctually.
"You guys really suck. What are you hiding? What are you, some kind of government operatives? The freaking Power Rangers or something?"
"Dude, do you wanna borrow my car?" said Conner, and the three of them stared at him, because Conner never let anyone get behind the wheel of his baby.
"You're trying to distract me with shiny objects?"
Ethan's 'alarm' blooped again, and the trio cast each other just-barely-disguised looks of panic. "Dude, I'm sorry, we gotta go," said Conner, clapping Eric on the shoulder in parting, and then leading his friends away.
"Don't think this is over," said Eric, but before the trio could make it far, the foot of a giant monster crashed down next to the Ferris wheel.
"Oh, hell," Conner grumbled. "Guys, run!"
Eric ran--he'd lived in Blue Bay Harbor around the time of the Wind Power Rangers and wasn't stupid, as he'd tried to explain to his brother. Most of the populace had already skedaddled from the fairgrounds, but Eric was surprised to find that his brother and his brother's friends were not with him. He stopped and decided to look for them. If his mom found out he had just left Conner at an attack site, she'd kill him.
He finally spotted Conner, Kira, and Ethan, standing at the base of the Ferris wheel, alone and moderately hidden in the shadows of the machinery. Eric opened his mouth to call to them. "Ready?" asked Conner.
"Ready," his friends echoed in firm voices.
"Dino Thunder, power up!" they chorused, executing a series of hand motions, and under Eric's eye, transforming into the Power Rangers.
Eric stared in shock, then a smile crossed his face. "Awesome. I knew it." Satisfied with the knowledge that they could take care of themselves, he hightailed it out of there to avoid getting squashed by the gigantic spiny thing.
"Thanks a lot, Ethe," Conner grumbled as they hopped into the Megazord to do battle.
"Yeah, now we have to figure out something to tell Eric. Thanks," said Kira.
"It's not my fault. How was I supposed to know that Kira was going to have a total lapse of judgment and decide Conner wasn't the devil incarnate? The odds were pretty much against that."
"Out of curiosity, what would you have gotten if you won this little bet at your friends' expense?" Kira asked acidly.
"I'd get to drive the Mustang," Ethan mumbled, hoping the helmet would make them think he was saying something else.
"The what?" said Conner. "He promised you my car? That little weasel...he's going down."
"Could we take this thing down first, thanks?" said Kira, employing the Ptera-rang.
"We still have to figure out what we're going to tell him our 'secret' is," Conner pointed out. "Any ideas? Ethan? Since you got us into this in the first place..."
"Dude, I don't freaking know."
"Well, you better come up with something, and fast," said Conner, using his Red Ranger tone of voice, to let Ethan know that this was not a request, this was an order from their leader. Ethan sighed. Conner used the Tyranno tail as a drill, cutting through the monster and winning the battle for them.
"We could tell him we're part of a club," Ethan suggested, as they returned the Zords to the holding bay and demorphed. The fairgrounds were empty now.
"What, a club for pathological gambling idiots?" muttered Kira, scooping the orange octopus off the ground by the Ferris wheel where they'd left it. With a faint smile, she reached up and plopped it on top of Conner's head. His face was swallowed by his enormous grin as he straightened the tentacles, putting his hand on Kira's arm and leaning over to kiss her forehead while she smiled awkwardly, not displeased.
"A club for wannabe musicians?" Ethan retorted.
Conner's eyes narrowed. "Hey. Watch it."
"Sorry," said Ethan, ducking his head with an apologetic glance at Kira. "I don't do well under pressure."
"Obviously," she said, but she flashed him a tight smile to let him know she wasn't terribly pissed.
"I've got it," said Conner, clapping his hands together. They turned to him expectantly. "We're Trekkies."
He was met with a long silence. "You're kidding, right?" said Kira flatly.
"What?" he said innocently. "It totally makes sense. It's brilliant. He can totally believe that a geek like Ethan would get us into something like that, and naturally you and I are too cool to ever really be into it, so why else would we be running off and lying? We're trying to cover our asses from the shame of it all." Conner smiled with the pride of a job well done.
"Was there any part of that that wasn't inflammatory?" said Ethan.
"He's right, you know," said Kira. "I am too cool."
Ethan shook his head sadly at his lost ally. "Why do we hate?"
"That is so my story and I am so sticking to it," said Conner. "Besides, I don't see you guys coming up with anything better, anyway."
"He's got us there," Kira admitted to Ethan with a half-shrug. Before either of them could, however, Eric came running back up to join them.
"There you guys are!" he panted. "I've been looking everywhere for you. We got separated in the crowd. Did you guys see the Rangers coming in? Totally awesome. They're way cooler than the Rangers back home--the old Zords sucked hardcore, you know?"
"Totally," Conner agreed. He cast Ethan a pointed look, and Ethan stumbled, "Oh, yeah, man, I owe you that secret now, don't I."
Eric waved aside the comment. "Whatever, man. What's done is done."
"No, no. I bet on it. I don't go back on my word, man."
"Seriously, dude, forget it. You don't have to tell me. 'Sides, I wouldn't have been able to go through with my end, anyway. No way in hell would Conner let me near his car."
"Got that right," Conner mumbled.
Eric grinned. "C'mon, there's no line at the Ultra-Crusher. Who's in?"
"Change it to bumper cars, and I am," said Kira with a smile.
"Ditto," Ethan agreed.
"You're on," said Eric.
Ethan and Kira started off in the direction of the ride as people were just beginning to flood the carnival again, but Eric lagged back next to his twin. "Hey, for the record, man, I'm really happy for you with the Kira thing," he said, tugging at one of the octopus arms framing Conner's face.
"Thanks, bro," said Conner, warmth in his tone for only a moment before he continued. "For the record, if you ever go near her again, I'll kill you."
"Trust me, I know. I was just trying to make you jealous anyway, so that you'd go crazy and have to tell her."
"You conniving SOB," said Conner, shaking his head.
Eric grinned the roguish and charming McKnight smile they both used to their advantage as often as possible. "We share the same mom, so you're one, too."
"Whatever, dude," said Conner, hitting his arm and laughing.
"You two losers coming?" Ethan called from over by the pretzel booth.
"Yeah!" the twins chorused. Before they could follow, however, Conner grabbed at Eric's arm. "Hey, dude, where're you going? I thought you wanted to hear our secret!"
"Dude, I already said I didn't need to know."
"Aw, c'mon," whined Conner loudly, following Eric to join the others. "It's so good!"