It was shaping up to be one of those days. Conner hated "those days." The second his alarm went off, it was like a timer had gone off, ending his good mood and sinking him deep into crankiness. It was too early to get up; he had been up late last night finishing his homework. He'd been late doing his homework because he'd had to go out and save the stupid world from that idiot Mesogog.
So now he was up early, with a pulsating headache threatening to ruin a day that hadn't even started yet. He crawled out of bed, pressing the heel of his hand to his temple. He stumbled into the bathroom and gazed at himself in the mirror--he was suffering from a case of incredible bed head, and red-scratched eyes. He looked like hell. He looked like he'd been through hell, more accurately, and he felt it, too. Conner stripped out of his boxers and tripped climbing into the shower, slamming his shoulder painfully into the side of the shower. "That's gonna leave a mark," he groaned, and turned on the water. It was screaming cold, then it boiled his flesh, then it fell into a steady drum on his skin. He relaxed in the stream a moment, then squirted a dollop of shampoo into his hand and began to massage his scalp.
His bracelet flashed.
"You're kidding me..." he groaned, and though it was waterproof, he moved to the side of the shower so as to avoid water running onto it, and answered the call. "Conner."
"We've got trouble," Dr. Oliver said.
Suds were dripping onto his shoulders and sliding down his chest and back. "How can we have trouble? Doesn't Mesogog usually take a week or so to recuperate?"
"It's not him, it's the White Ranger."
"Not Trent again," Conner said with a heavy sigh. He was sick and tired of their ex-friend kicking their butts constantly. Sure, they were able to get an advantage when they went into Super Dino Mode, but it was probably only a matter of time before Trent developed his own super mode and then he was going to trounce them for certain.
"He got an early start, and he's going on a bit of a rampage," Dr. O said.
Suddenly the floor rumbled beneath Conner, and he nearly slid on the soapy puddle pooling beneath his feet. "What was that?" he asked himself, sticking his head underneath the water in an attempt to remove the last of the shampoo before shutting off the water and jumping out of the shower. He threw a towel haphazardly around his waist and darted back into his room to peer out the window. The bright California sunshine was gleaming over his street, until a shadow blocked the rays. "Holy shit," Conner blurted, then quickly contacted the main line. "Dr. O, he's on his way here."
"He's on my street! He's brought out the big guns, and he's about to make my parents' mortgage worth squat. Actually, he's about to make my living room squat. He's like a big, mechanic Godzilla with an agenda."
"I'm sending out Brachio and the auxiliary Zords, I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Oh, yeah, that's a wise move," Conner said as the com went dead between red and black. "Offer him some more Zords. He's getting quite the collection."
Outside, the Dragozord and whatever attachments Trent had siphoned from the team that day were on a collision course for Conner's home. It was time to go to work. "Oh, I'm more than ready," he muttered to himself, as his bracelet changed into his morpher. "Dino Thunder, power up!"
Morphed, he ran outside, thanking every higher power he could think of that his mom had left early this morning. Fewer questions to answer. He saw Dr. Oliver's Zord coming over the horizon, and releasing Conner's own Zord. Conner got into the cockpit. "Hope you're having a pleasant morning, Conner," the White Ranger sneered.
"What are you doing here?" Conner spat.
"I thought maybe you could use some help renovating your kitchen. And when I'm done here, I'm going to perform the same service for Kira and Ethan, and then Dr. Oliver. My little gift to the Power Rangers. My little... how shall we say... community service. Rangers are all about giving back to the community, aren't you?" Conner could hear the smirk that was concealed by his opponent's helmet.
"You don't have to do this," Conner said, although he no longer believed that anything he said to the White Ranger would ever get through. Especially not after they'd discovered who the White Ranger really was, especially now that Trent was finally allowing the evil flow freely through him, without a care. Mostly, Conner was just stalling for time until Kira and Ethan got here.
The Pterazord came screeching into view, the Tricerazord galumphing along the ground, trumpeting right behind Kira. "The cavalry's here, Con," Ethan announced grandly.
"Good, because I didn't ask for a contractor," Conner said. The three Zords came together, and immediately Kira launched a Ptera-rang at the White Ranger. He took the hit, but retaliated with the Dimetrozord, and the fight went on for awhile. Conner was privately asking an exhausted Kira and Ethan how much longer this would go on before Trent laughed. "I guess I'm through with you today," he said. "Have to get to class, after all."
"Is he serious?" Ethan said. But the White Ranger was already packing up his Zords and going home, moderately damaged. When he finally disappeared from sight, the Rangers ejected themselves and stood on the street in front of Conner's house. "That was..." Conner started.
"Just plain weird," Kira offered.
"Yeah, something like that."
As the Zords were returned to the Brachiozord, and that went lumbering back to its holding bay, the three teenage Rangers ducked inside Conner's house to de-morph. Conner was worried that too many people had seen the fight, and had seen the Rangers run into the McKnight house, but there was nothing he could do about it. If his neighbors were smart, they would have gotten their butts out of the way the second they saw the Dragozord coming. That was what most people in Reefside did.
In Conner's living room, he issued the command to power down. Ethan immediately started laughing. Confused, Conner looked to Kira, whose face was burning red, and she quickly looked away. "What's..." he started, then realized that his wet hair was still plastered to his head, and he was standing in the middle of his living room wearing nothing but a red towel. "Um... I was in the shower... Dr. O messaged me... next thing I knew, Trent was..." Neither of them were listening. Kira was carefully examining the pattern of the living room wallpaper, and Ethan was doubled over, laughing. "I'm gonna go finish getting ready for school," Conner said, running upstairs. Yep, definitely one of those days.
Another thing that Conner felt he would never get used to was Anton Mercer, High School Teacher. As a teacher, he wasn't half bad. He was fairly stiff, and didn't understand the concept of a joke, and he didn't connect with the other kids like Dr. O. had. However, the subject matter was always interesting, even to someone like Conner. But it just bothered Conner --all three of them, actually-- that the replacement chosen was Anton Mercer. There was something incredibly...off about the whole situation, even though Dr. O. didn't seem to think so.
That particular morning, Mercer was doing his best to make Conner's day progressively worse. He gave them a pop quiz on the parts of a flower, which Conner blanked out on. Yesterday when they'd been covering this, he'd been busy glaring at the back of Trent's head and trying to figure out some kind of strategy. Dr. O. had been big on his teen Rangers maintaining as normal of lives as possible, so as not to arouse suspicion. But it was hard to concentrate on pollination and the like when you were trying to deal with Mesogog wanting you dead, and now the White Ranger wanting you dead. Conner had the paranoia that at any moment, Trent would forgo his secret identity, morph into the white Ranger, and attack them right in the middle of class.
"Do you have soccer practice this afternoon?" Ethan asked as the three of them left class.
"Nope. Coach is sick."
"Sick sick, or stuck-in-morph sick?"
Conner cast his friend a look. "What do you think."
Ethan just grinned. "Whatever, dude. At least you're wearing pants now, that's all I gotta say."
"What kind of segue is that?" Conner asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"You know what, we're so not talking about this," Kira said.
"I'm with her on that one," Conner agreed. "I already explained everything this morning."
"That counts as still talking about it!" Kira said with a note of hysteria in her voice.
Ethan laughed. "Fine. We'll never discuss Conner's pants again. Or lack thereof," he added after a pause, complete with evil grin.
Kira clamped her hands over her ears. "Shut up, shut up, shut up..." she muttered.
"Conner's pants, Conner's pants, Conner's pants!" Ethan retorted obnoxiously. He began to chase a shrieking Kira down the hall, chanting. Conner laughed to himself and shook his head, ducking into his next class.
Much to his surprise, the desk next to Conner's seat, one that was normally occupied by Greg Fellows, was instead filled by Trent, who fixed a heavy-lidded smirk on Conner as the Red Ranger sat down.
"Having an interesting morning, McKnight?" Trent said coolly.
"What do you want, Trent," Conner said, not even pretending to be nice for the benefit of the other students.
"I want to issue a challenge," Trent said, "White to Red." Conner instantly cast a fleeting glance around the class to see if anyone was listening in. Fortunately, Cassidy Cornell, normally in this class, was absent today.
"Didn't you already have your little pissing contest this morning?" Conner asked bitterly.
"You brought in the others. I wanted it to be between me and you."
"I think you know why." When Conner answered this statement with only a bemused look, Trent gave an exaggerated sigh. "Kira."
"I know you're not exactly a brainchild, McKnight, but even you can't be this stupid. I know that you think you have Kira wrapped around your little finger. And long story short, I want her back."
"'Back'? You never had her. And I don't have her, either."
"Yes, but you want her. Don't bother lying about that."
"She doesn't want a thing to do with you," Conner said hotly, trying to ignore the unsettling fact that Trent had picked up on Conner's crush on his teammate. "Not after all the crap you've pulled."
"Don't be so sure of that," Trent said, his lazy, casual attitude infuriating Conner. "She turned against you once already, have you forgotten about that?"
"That wasn't her fault and you know it," Conner hissed. "Kira's not evil."
"Not yet, anyway. You and me after school today, in the quarry." The location of one of their previous battles, one of many one-on-one altercations. "Winner takes all."
"How do I know this isn't a trap?" Conner said. He would be an idiot to assume that Trent had any sort of honor, but it was a mistake he'd made times before.
"You know perfectly well that I'm not in league with Mesogog or his idiot minions," Trent said sourly. "They won't show up. Besides, when I win, I'm keeping Kira for myself."
"Yeah, we'll just see about that," Conner muttered to himself as class started.
Conner knew perfectly well that he shouldn't go. He knew that it could be a trap, that he'd been stupid enough to fall for Trent's traps before. But he was worried that Trent might pull something, might kidnap Kira or do something drastic and ridiculous. Conner wasn't really sure of what Trent was capable of these days.
He also knew that he should tell the others. So they could keep an eye on him in case it was a trap. But they would try to talk him out of it, he knew. And he didn't want to be talked out of it. Because he had been hoping for this grudge match to end all matches for some time now. He had been burning for this fight ever since he'd first found out that Trent was really the White Ranger.
As he drove towards the soccer field at the park, planning to park his car in the parking lot and walk to the quarry, Conner wondered how Trent had found out about his crush on Kira. Conner had concealed it as best as he could; not even Ethan knew about it. He kept it hidden because he knew that while Kira denied it fervently, she still had feelings for Trent. It wasn't as though she could help them, because she liked him long before he turned on them. Conner both stepped back out of honoring those feelings, and disappointed that she was still able to maintain them, no matter how small.
Conner strolled into the quarry, adopting a casual manner, though every muscle was tense and ready, and his mind was working overtime. He scanned the place; the sleek gray rock walls surrounded him on three sides, small patches of trampled grass littering the ground. No sign of Trent. On the bright side, no sign of anyone else, either.
"I'm here," Conner barked out.
"Right on time," Trent said, stepping out of the wall, or so it would seem. With a wince, Conner remembered that camouflage was Trent's additional power. "Are you ready to start this?"
"I'm ready to end this," Conner said, lifting his wrist and turning his bracelet into his morpher. "Dino Thunder, power up!" he said, as Trent morphed with "White Ranger, dino power."
They came to a standoff, White versus Red. "No Zords," Conner said.
"Just you and me," Trent agreed. There was a split second before the two Rangers charged at each other, going hand against fist, punching and kicking, matching each other move for move. Occasionally one of them would land a spectacular blow on the other, but neither went down. Conner felt every single injury, throbbing in perfect, surround-sound synchronization, but he stood his ground proudly. He could only hope that the same was holding true for Trent.
At the same time, the two of them delivered powerful roundhouse kicks that caught against each other, rendering the opponents off-balance and sending them sprawling. Conner clutched at the stitch in his side, breathing heavily, staring the White Ranger down.
"You know," Trent said, stumbling to his feet, "Kira never really liked you."
"That may be true," Conner said, following suit as quickly as he could. "But at least I can say that I'm her friend. What are you to her? Just some annoying little bug that needs to be squashed."
Trent was just releasing a barrage of energy arrows as Conner was pulling his laser out and firing. Some of the opposing attacks connected in midair, eliminating each other with a show of sparks; some of them went wildly off course, though doing no real damage; and most of them made their marks. Conner flipped through the air and crashed to the ground heavily. He was relieved to see that Trent was no longer on his feet, either.
"Had enough yet?" Conner asked, grateful that his voice didn't betray the exhaustion he was feeling.
"I'm just getting warmed up," the White Ranger promised, and charged at Conner, sword at the ready.
Conner was only just getting to his feet when the White Ranger attacked, and was still in the process of converting the Thunder Max from laser to saber. Naturally, he was blindsided and went down hard--though he was only about halfway up and therefore didn't have as far to fall. He sprung back up with catlike grace that caught him by surprise as much as it did Trent. He jabbed his sword out, and caught Trent's side.
"Is this why you hate the Rangers so much?" Conner asked, standing over Trent's prone form. He knew it wasn't the wisest of plans, and he knew he was going to regret it in no more than a minute, but all the same, he couldn't resist the chance to gloat. "Because you realized that we meant more to Kira than you ever could?"
"Zeltrax is the one with a stupid vendetta, not me," Trent answered, and as Conner had more or less predicted, the White Ranger swept the Red Ranger off his feet so they were both on the gravel. "I just torture you guys because it's so easy and so fun."
At that, Trent abandoned any sort of Ranger etiquette, giving up on the graceful martial arts and settling for pure playground moves, half-crawling on top of Conner and punching him repeatedly in the gut. Conner coughed, and felt blood sloshing against the interior of his helmet. He knew the suit was stronger than it looked, and was able to withstand a lot of things, but he'd just been subjected to all kinds of pain this afternoon.
His eyes started to close, the pain in his head too much, the pain in his gut worse. He wasn't thinking clearly, and was just eager to embrace the blackness. Then Kira's face flashed in his mind, and he remembered what he was fighting for. Her.
Okay, if Kira ever found out the real reason that Conner had agreed to this particular head-to-head, she'd kill him--provided of course that Trent didn't do it first. But Conner wanted to just off this loser completely, and Kira was his primary motivation. His knee-jerk reaction was just that: his knee rising off the ground to sharply connect with the White Ranger's groin. Trent rolled off of him instantly, but his suit withstood a lot as well, and when Red clamored to his feet, so did White.
"I love her," Conner muttered, more to himself, but Trent heard it.
"I said I love her! Super Dino Mode!" Spikes extended from his suit, and an extra boost of energy rushed through him. It didn't heal anything, but it strengthened him somewhat. He rushed at his adversary, giving Trent everything he had as he fought furiously. He was so intent on the strength of his attack that he didn't even realize that he had no energy to support it. He was running on fumes, but his brain was so hazy with fury that he didn't notice. If he stopped to think about it, his brain would most likely realize what was going on and he would feel the aches and pains, would be too fatigued to move.
His fists and feet moved so quickly that Trent couldn't come up with a system for blocking them, and he was soon reduced to just taking the blows until at last he collapsed on the ground, losing his morph.
Conner towered over him, taking labored breaths, but still standing. "I win," he said. Trent gazed up at him, the expression in his narrowed eyes unreadable. No matter, because they rolled back in his head, his head and shoulders falling back fully on the gravel as he lost consciousness.
Conner moved a distance away and waited for awhile, still in morph, just to ensure that Trent wasn't playing possum. It was a trick he had fallen for before. Then Conner left the quarry, powered down unseen, and threw up in the bushes.
He reached his car and drove home, the corner of his mouth bleeding, bruises making themselves apparent on his arms and gut. He stumbled into his foyer and winced as he tripped and fell into the wall. "Conner, honey, is that you?"
"Yeah, I'm home, Mom," he croaked out, and heard her footsteps as she came in to see him.
"Conner, I--oh my God." She rushed over, and pushed his hair back off his forehead, inspecting him. "Sweetie, what happened?"
"Nothing," he said. "I got into an accident."
"An accident? Is the car okay?"
"The car's fine," he said impatiently, waving her hand off. "It wasn't a car accident."
"Then what was it, Conner?" she said, staring at him now, the concern seeping out of her eyes, and her tone adopting a hard edge. But Conner was too tired to care much.
"It was nothing."
"Have you been fighting?"
"No, I haven't been--"
"It's those new kids you've been hanging out with, isn't it," she said. "You didn't get into fights when you hung out with soccer players..."
"Mom!" Conner interrupted loudly, something that had taken much more strength than he'd been capable of giving. "Ethan and Kira don't fight. Come on. Kira plays guitar, and Ethan's in the computer club. Get real." He sighed. "This one guy was talking trash about Kira, so I decided to do something about it."
"Am I going to get an angry call from this boy's parents?" his mom said, sighing in resignation.
"No, trust me on that," Conner said ruefully. Anton Mercer would probably be thrilled that his son had gotten the crap beat out of him. Something about building character or something, he guessed. "His dad won't even care, if he notices at all. And we did it off school grounds, so no one knows about it."
Mrs. McKnight sighed again. "I sent your brother to that damn ninja school, Conner, not you. Try to stay out of trouble, please, okay? Go get yourself cleaned up."
"Yeah," he muttered, heading towards the stairs.
In the security of his bathroom, stripping out of his sweat-soaked and dirt-stained clothes, Conner steamed up the room as he filled the tub with hot water. While he waited for it to fill, he cleaned the blood from the corner of his mouth, wincing at the sting from the alcohol. All he really wanted right now was a boiling hot soak, no matter how girly it seemed. He just wouldn't ever mention it to anyone. Ever.
He slipped into the bath, and the water scalded his skin at first, then he developed a tolerance for it to the point where it felt quite soothing. While he eagerly anticipated the extra-long sleep he was going to treat himself to soon, he dreaded waking up afterwards, with his every muscle aching.
Then it flooded into his consciousness, that hated little blip of his communicator. He had taken it off, but it only rested on the edge of the tub. His arm groaned with the effort of trying to pull itself out of the heavy water and answer the call.
"This is Conner."
"Conner," it was Dr. O., "we found Trent's body."
"Body?" Conner echoed. "What do you...what..."
"You better get over here fast."
"I'm on my way," Conner said, shutting off transmission with a numb feeling in his bones that wasn't a result of the water. He launched himself out of the tub, miraculously not spilling any water. The only liquid that splashed onto the floor was the water running off his own body as he hastily dried himself off. He then ducked into his bedroom to change, pulling a long-sleeved shirt from the bottom his drawer, even though it was unseasonably warm outside.
Dr. O. had said 'body.' Which translated into absolutely nothing good. Conner had stayed behind to make sure that Trent didn't attack him while his back was turned, but had it occurred to Conner to check and make sure that Trent wasn't dead?
No. Trent wasn't dead. Conner hadn't held back, that was true, but he wasn't capable of killing someone. Not physically, and certainly not morally, no matter how much he hated Trent.
He couldn't have.
"Conner?" he heard his mother call from the kitchen as he thundered down the stairs.
"I'm going out, Mom," Conner yelled back.
"Oh, like hell you are." She dashed into the foyer to intercept him. Conner was taller than most people that he knew, and his mother was no exception. He towered over her, but she still provided an intimidating form, with her hands on her hips and a no-nonsense look in her eyes. "You just came back in here, bruised and bleeding, and you think you're just going to head out again? You're going off to get in another fight, aren't you?"
He couldn't ever remember his mom being like this before. She was usually a very casual mom, something that had suited his needs quite well. But he didn't have time for this. "Kira called me. Her car died and she needs a ride."
She softened somewhat. "Fine. Go. But don't be too long, okay? And Conner, do me a favor and one of these days, I want to actually meet this girl that you get into fights for and go rushing out to rescue."
"Sure, Mom," he promised absently, already out the door.
He couldn't be dead.
Oh, God, what if he was? What would Conner say? He was pretty sure it was against the Power Ranger code to go out killing your enemies. Especially if your enemy was another Ranger.
Conner broke the speed limit consistently on the drive to Dr. O.'s, and he was in the basement in only a matter of minutes. A new record, to be sure.
An interesting sight was greeting him. Ethan was manning the console, and though he faced the many screens, he wasn't watching any of them, his eyes trained on Kira, who was slumped over in a chair. Dr. O. and Hayley were circling around one of the cots Dr. O. kept stored. Prone on the cot was none other than Trent.
"What's going on?" Conner asked.
All four of them looked up at him, as though somewhat surprised to see him there. "You made good time," Dr. O. said blankly, then shook his head, a deadly serious look returning to his eye. "We found Trent in the quarry when we were doing a scan of the area," Dr. O. explained.
"He's okay," Hayley confirmed quickly, and Conner felt a rush of relief. "He's just unconscious, and pretty banged up. We're cleaning him up."
"It's a bad idea having him here," Ethan said grimly.
"I'm with Ethan on this one," Kira piped up, and Conner shot a quick glance in her direction, fortified by her words.
"He could be faking it," Ethan continued, "trying to sneak his way in here."
"Look. If we didn't take care of him, no one would," Dr. O. said. "And you can't fake those stats," he added, sweeping his hand at a monitor reading Trent's vitals.
"Stupid Ranger ethics," Ethan grumbled, turning to face the console once more. "Gonna get us all killed."
"You weren't wearing that this morning," Kira said, and Conner realized she was staring at him.
"You weren't wearing that this morning. Why'd you change?"
"Oh, you're noticing his clothes now?" Ethan teased. "Happen to check what kind of pants he's wearing?"
"I dislike you," she said, rolling her eyes.
"I had to change after practice," Conner said.
"You didn't have practice today," Ethan said. "Coach was sick, remember?"
"Just 'cause he was sick doesn't mean that I couldn't practice on my own," Conner retorted hotly. "I don't get much chance to play soccer anymore, in case you forgot."
"How could I forget? You only remind me every five seconds."
"Would you three shut it?" Dr. O. said, and though his words were irritable, his tone was not. "He's waking up."
Ethan looked away from the computer screens, Kira stood up and moved closer, Conner just stared. Trent was indeed stirring, his eyelids fluttering. He groaned, and sat up slightly. "Kira..?"
Kira looked as though she might faint; she was pale and casting confused glances at her friends in turn. "Um, I'm here?"
His eyes opened, alighting on her. "Hey."
"Hey..." she said softly, and Conner thought he detected a note in her voice that he didn't like, one that suggested evidence of her former (or perhaps current) crush on him.
Trent blinked. "What's going on? Where am I? Why are you guys here? What happened?"
"How much do you remember, Trent?" Dr. O. said.
"What's the Black Ranger doing here?" Trent said, finally seeing Dr. O. "What's going on?"
"I don't think he remembers," Kira said. "Any of it."
"Remember what?" Trent said, his voice raising consistently as the other five in the room all exchanged worried glances. "Guys..?"
The group had disbanded not ten minutes before, after Kira had announced that she had to get to dinner. Hayley had offered to drop her and Ethan off, and Conner had begged off, having, of course, his own car. Dr. O. wanted to keep Trent a little longer for observation, and Conner had agreed to watch their adversary while Dr. O. went upstairs.
"For the record, I'm not buying it," Conner said, once their mentor had left.
"Then you're smarter than I ever gave you credit for," Trent said, immediately falling back into his lazy voice and superior tone. "Too bad Kira's falling for it." A huge smirk crossed his features. "Hook, line, and sinker."
"Our agreement was that loser would back off," Conner hissed.
"Yeah, it was, wasn't it? And if you'll recall, I'm evil, you idiot."
Conner gritted his teeth. He wanted to beat Trent to a pulp, but he knew that if he so much as raised a fist against the kid, Dr. O. would choose that inopportune moment to walk in. Plus, he was still somewhat weakened from their little brawl that afternoon, Ranger healing powers be damned.
"You're not going to get away with this, you know that, right?"
"Yeah, I'm just so freaking scared of you, McKnight. What are you going to do, hairspray me to death? Don't you think I had this all planned from the get-go? Did you really think you could defeat me?"
At the time, Conner would have bet everything he had that Trent had in fact been defeated. But the truth was, he had been tricked. It was a trap, and he'd stepped right into it, even though he'd been trying his hardest to not fall in a variety of different traps.
He needed to talk to Dr. O. alone. But that would mean leaving Trent alone. Instead, he just sat down and tried to puzzle things out, one question repeatedly pushing itself to the forefront of his mind. Kira couldn't possibly think that Trent was good again, could she?
Dr. O. returned, still in Black Ranger guise, thanks to Trent. Trent was pretending to not know the Rangers' true identities, even though he knew perfectly well. The only thing they had going for them was that he didn't know where he was. Well, he knew he was in the base, but he didn't know where the base was. "How are you feeling, Trent?" Dr. O. asked kindly.
Trent coughed. "I have a bit of a headache," he said in a pathetic voice.
"I imagine you would," Dr. O. said. "You were in quite a state."
Conner smirked behind the Black Ranger's back. Trent saw this and narrowed his eyes slightly, but he said nothing.
"I think I'm doing fine now, though," he said.
Conner couldn't take it any more, and grabbed Dr. O.'s arm. "Can I talk to you, Dr. O.?"
"Sure, Conner," Dr. O. said, following Conner into a corner of the room, where Conner was fairly certain that Trent couldn't overhear. "Could you not call me Dr. O.? Trent doesn't remember finding out who we are."
Conner wondered why that mattered at all. Since Dr. O. believed that Trent was on the verge of being healed, then wouldn't it make sense that he recruit the White Ranger to their side, anyway? But no matter--Trent wasn't going to be joining the team. "He's faking it."
"Trent. He's faking it. Well, I mean, not that he's injured, but that he doesn't know what's going on. He knows exactly what's going on, he knows who you are, he knows who we are, he remembers everything. He's not 'cured' or whatever it is you're thinking. He..." Conner bit his lip, knowing that he was going to be in the worst kind of trouble, but also knowing that he had to own up to what he'd done. "I've gotta come clean. This morning he--"
Behind them, Trent started coughing violently.
"This can wait, Conner," Dr. O. said, heading back to check on his charge.
"Are you crazy, dude?" Conner said. "No it can't! Trent's evil!"
"Evil or not, he's injured and he needs our help."
"When did you become so magnanimous?" Conner blurted. "He's been nothing but trouble for us! He's tried to kill Kira; he's tried to kill all of us," he added pointedly. "Hell, he's frozen you in your suit! Why are you helping him? Screw Ranger ethics, it works only so far, and this is too far!"
With an audible sigh, Dr. O. turned around to face Conner. "Conner, I don't think--" He was cut off, however, by the Trent swinging a heavy object and connecting with his helmet. The helmet protected Dr. O. from any major damage, but before he could say, do, or likely even think anything, the object was swung again, catching him in the gut, winding him, and knocking him down.
"He knew too much," Trent said with a shrug.
"You son of a--"
Trent swung again, cutting Conner off, and he only barely jumped out of the way.
"Gotta finish what I started, right?" Trent said, a maniacal look to him.
"Kira! Ethan!" Conner barked into his wrist, bending back to avoid another swing. In the back of his mind, he was surprised at his agility and flexibility. "We've got trouble at the base!"
Trent didn't have enough energy to morph, but he had enough to charge after Conner, swinging his blunt object furiously as he tried to connect with Conner's vitals. The Red Ranger vaguely recognized the object as a spare part to one of the Raptor Cycles. Conner lifted a stool out of the corner, the one that one could usually see Kira sitting on during down time, strumming on her guitar. He used it to block Trent's advances, but it was hefty and difficult to maneuver effectively.
Conner swung hard, in an attempt to knock Trent's weapon down, but momentum made him spin slightly, exposing his back to Trent. It was only for a fraction of a second, but in his effort to correct this, Conner was rendered off balance, giving Trent the upper hand.
The last thing Conner saw was black.
When Conner came to, he ached all over. More than ached--his entire body was screaming in pain. Dust and smoke blurred his vision, and he blinked furiously to clear it.
"Ethan, he's waking up!" he heard a voice saying. Soft, strong hands helped pull him to a seated position. "Conner, can you hear me?"
"I can hear you," he said. There was a hazy figure of a person in his line of sight, a cloud of gold surrounding them. "Holy shit, am I dead?"
"Conner. Conner, no, you're not dead. Stay with me, would you?" He heard a snapping sound, and suddenly everything came into focus. The haloed figure in front of him wasn't an angel--well, not exactly. It was Kira, her dirty blond hair illuminated from behind by flickering lights. She was kneeling at his side, Ethan hovering behind her.
Then Conner saw the damage.
The Rangers' headquarters was completely trashed. Completely and utterly. Sparks flew from loose wires and cords that spilled from the remains of Dr. O.'s six-screen computer console, as though it had been gutted. They were providing a portion of the spasmodic light, as only one bulb in the whole of the room had been left in tact. Tables were toppled, debris of all shapes and sizes and forms was littering the floor. Conner couldn't even begin to imagine what everything was.
"How do you feel?" Ethan asked, peering at Conner with concern.
"Like I've been hit by a Mack truck," he groaned.
"Conner, this is important," Kira said, her tone deadly serious. "Do you feel any pain?"
"Tons. All over."
She looked relieved. "That's good. Means you're not paralyzed. One of the Cycles fell on you, we had to pull it off. I'm pretty sure nothing's broken, though."
"How long have I been out?" Conner asked.
"You put in the call to us half an hour ago," Ethan said.
Kira sighed. "It was Trent, wasn't it." It was not a question.
"I'm sorry, Kira. This is all my fault," Conner babbled. "I tried to warn...I didn't mean for...I never thought he was capable of..."
"Whoa, dude, complete sentences, would you?" Ethan said. "Tell us from the beginning."
And so he did. He told them everything, everything he'd tried to tell Dr. O. before being interrupted. He wasn't sure what sort of reaction he could expect, but his friends sat in silence, amidst the rubble, listening to his tale with Trent long gone. When he was done (the part where Trent knocked him out and apparently destroyed Dr. O.'s basement), Kira sat back on her heels and Ethan needed to find a clear space on the ground to sit.
"Why didn't you tell us this?" Ethan asked.
"Because I'm an idiot?" Conner offered.
"No arguments here," Ethan said.
"More importantly than that, why did you ever agree to go?" Kira said.
Conner looked away, opting to survey the wreckage rather than having to meet Kira's penetrating stare. The thing he'd neglected to leave out of his story was his love for Kira, and Trent's knowledge of that. "He was threatening you," Conner said simply. "I was worried he might try something, so I thought I'd cut him off before he could."
"We're a team, Conner, we make group decisions because we work best when we work together," she said, and she sounded ticked.
"You sound like Dr. O.," he grumbled, knowing she was right. Then it hit him: "Where's Dr. O.?"
"He's okay," Ethan volunteered. "He woke up a few minutes before you. He went out to see if the outside entrance is damaged or not. He kept muttering about his insurance premiums."
"This is all my fault," Conner groaned, thinking about how Hayley was going to kill him.
"Yeah, it kinda is," Kira snapped, and he looked at her sharply, wondering what the hell had happened to her patient tone. "The place is destroyed, Conner. Nothing is working. The Cycles are broken, he stole the Raptor Riders, it's only a sheer stroke of luck that he didn't gain access to the few Zords we have left. The only thing operable right now are our morphers, not that it makes much difference, as you're practically out of commission."
"I'm not out of commission!" Conner said hotly, though he found standing up to be far more difficult than he remembered. "Would you calm the hell down, Kira? I was doing it for you!"
"You were doing it for me?" she echoed. "You must have gotten a lot more head damage than I thought, if you think that I need protecting."
Conner stared at the dust that had settled onto his jeans. There was both a fresh sprinkling of it, and some dust and dirt already caked in. Screwing up all of his concentration, he managed to get himself to a standing position, with only moderate assistance from the stacked debris around him. "He was threatening you," Conner grumbled. He knew he was repeating himself, and that made him wonder whether or not he had received any brain damage.
"So what? Let him talk."
Easy for her to say. She hadn't been there, she hadn't seen the way Trent had drooled over her, how he'd spoken of her with such a disgusting, possessive tone. "I'm not about to lose you to that idiot," he yelled. He wondered if Dr. O. was mad--probably, although Conner had tried to explain himself.
"Lose me?" Kira said, and she wasn't yelling. "What are you talking about?"
Conner turned around to find the both of them staring at him. Kira with confusion and apprehension, and Ethan with what looked like a sudden bout of understanding.
Had he said it aloud? Was he that idiotic? Conner had done stupid things in his time, the stupidest ones all pulled off today, but even he didn't think he was capable of a mistake this big. No winning smile and McKnight charm was going to talk him out of what he'd gotten himself into now.
"What are you talking about, Conner, 'losing' me?"
"I, uh..." Conner stammered, buckling under the weight of Kira's stare. "Nothing," he lied, and it was a bad lie, the haste of his use of the word and the quaver in his voice dead giveaways. "Nothing," he added again for good measure.
"Conner McKnight," she said slowly, sounding not unlike his mother when severely pissed, "all of this," she gestured frantically at the carnage, "was because of whatever stupid reason got you to fight Trent this afternoon. Seeing as how this is my home away from home, and now it's my rubble away from home, I'd kind of like to know exactly why it's rubble. Tell. Me."
"I can't just tell you, okay?" Conner said helplessly. "It's something that needs...I mean, I have to...it isn't the right time..."
"You know, Dr. O.'s been gone awhile," Ethan said. "Maybe we should go look for him."
"You go," Kira said, not taking her eyes off the Red Ranger. "I'd like to stay and chat with Conner."
"Actually, I was thinking that Conner should come with, get a chance to stretch his legs and make sure everything's in working order." Ethan grabbed hold of Conner's arm and practically dragged him away.
"Con?" he asked when they were out of earshot of Kira, who was no doubt fuming.
"This isn't the time, dude," Conner said. "Not with the place trashed, and it being my fault and everything."
"Oh, no way, I think this is the time. Considering she's the reason. I take it Trent found out, and he wasn't happy about it?"
"Something like that."
"She doesn't love him or anything, you know," Ethan said carefully. "I think she's over that."
"I dunno, dude, she seemed pretty eager when she thought Trent was back to normal." Conner sighed. He couldn't believe he and Ethan were having this conversation here and now, squeezing through the underground passages to the woods entrance of their destroyed headquarters.
"Look, Conner, dude, I don't know how she feels about you. But I can tell you that the way things are right now, you're going to regret it that you weren't more open and honest with her. Regardless of the consequences."
"You make it sound like he's going to kill us all," Conner said.
"I don't doubt that he'll try," Ethan said in a dark tone that was hardly his style. "And in case you hadn't noticed, Conner, but even though we usually go at him three against one, he kicks our butts every freaking time."
"Don't I know it," Conner said bitterly. "Listen, whatever I have to say can wait until after we resolve this."
"If you say so..." They came to the entrance, which was open. Dr. Oliver was prowling around. He looked up when he saw them coming. "Conner."
That one word had Conner nervous. "Listen, Dr. O., I--"
Their mentor held up his black gloved hand. "I just wanted to know if you were okay," he said in an almost gentle tone.
"Yeah," Conner said, surprised. "I'm all right."
"I'm glad," Dr. O. said, and even though he was wearing a helmet, Conner could tell by his tone that he was smiling. The Red Ranger wondered if there was going to be a lecture, but none came, and he wisely decided not to press the issue.
"How's everything looking?" Ethan asked.
"Everything's okay. I don't think he knows about the cave entrance; I think he left through the house entrance."
"The door was open when we got here," Ethan admitted.
"Great. Now he knows where the base is," Conner groaned.
"Bit late to be worrying about that, wouldn't you say?" Ethan said.
"Not that it matters," Dr. O. said, "he already trashed it."
"Has this sort of stuff ever happened before?" Conner asked.
"Oh, it happens all the time," Dr. O. said, almost loftily. "Hell, one of my first assignments as the Green Ranger was to do some serious damage to the Command Center. I think I did worse than Trent did, though."
"You're an inspiration to us all," Conner said dryly, and the three of them retreated back into the cave, watching as Dr. O. sealed it off. "Uh...just so you know, Kira's kind of crazy right now."
"Yeah, whose fault is that?" Ethan remarked.
"Now, Ethan, Conner did a very stupid thing--" Ah, here's the lecture, Conner thought, "--but he tried his best to rectify it. It was my fault for not listening to him. As it is, it was my fault in the first place for bringing Trent into the base. You were right, it was a stupid move." Ethan beamed with the thrill of being right. Conner kept quiet for the rest of the walk, humbled. He could have hugged Dr. O. for the man's faith in him, and his willingness to share the blame. He only wished Kira would have the same attitude about the whole situation.
When they had returned, Kira had restored some sense of order to the basement. Tables had been righted, debris had been swept into a heaping garbage can. Kira was sitting in a chair, waiting patiently for her teammates. "I don't know the first thing about computers, so if you want that fixed--" she gestured at the console "--you're on your own."
"I think Hayley and I can handle it," Dr. O. said. "You three should head home."
"And leave you here alone?" Conner found himself blurting. "Nothing doing."
Kira smirked. "Conner, this is Tommy Oliver," she said, as if introducing them for the first time. Then she shattered the illusion by smacking the back of his head lightly. "I think if anyone is okay by themselves, it's gonna be Dr. O., you idiot."
"He got what he wanted," Ethan said logically, the 'he' of course being Trent. "He got into our base and it's unlikely that we'll be able to use much of anything for awhile. He left you two for dead, pretty much. His goal in all of this was to put a chink in our armor, and he's put a huge chink in there. He ain't coming back."
Conner ran a hand through his hair, and it came out dusty. He sighed. They were right. "Okay, we'll go."
"Be careful," Dr. O. called as the trio headed for the stairs. "I'm almost positive that Trent's done messing with us for the day, but it's not outside of the realm of possibility for him to attack you again. Be on your guard."
"Sure thing," Kira said, while Conner nodded and Ethan answered the Black Ranger with a mock salute.
"Do you guys need a ride?" Conner asked as they passed through the house and into the sweet outdoors. He took a deep breath of fresh air, clearing the dirt and dust particles from his nasal passages. He'd only been on the brink of recovering when he'd come to the base not so long ago. And now he was feeling every bruise from every one of his three battles with Trent in the course of that day. His mother was going to be pissed. Kira was already pissed. The basement where Conner spent most of his time was one loose stone away from being rubble. It was not a good day, not at all.
"What we need is an explanation," Kira said. "Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on with you?"
"I told you the whole story," Conner said. "I don't know why you're pissed."
"I know you hate Trent, but that's not a good enough reason to go into a one-on-one with him. There is a reason that you didn't ask us for backup, and I'd like to know what that is."
Conner sighed. "Because of you." He stared at his shoes. "Because we agreed that the loser would back off of you."
He was greeted by silence, and when he finally dared to look up, Kira was fixing him with a stunned stare. "What?" she said slowly.
"I just didn't--"
"You were fighting over me?" she cut him off. Then her eyes narrowed as the puzzlement faded and was replaced with righteous indignation. "Like I'm some piece of property? You had an agreement?"
"Kira, it's not like that," he said, though it was like that, and he knew it.
"Don't even speak," she said. "Just...just shut up." Kira backed a few steps away from him. "I can't be listening to this right now. This is insane."
"Hey, listen, calm down," Ethan said soothingly, but she glared at him. "Don't you start. Don't you dare." Ethan wisely backed off.
"C'mon," Conner said with a weak smile. "Let me just drive us home, and then you can kill me tomorrow." He was eternally grateful that Trent had spared Conner's Mustang.
"I'll walk, thanks," she said coldly. He tried to protest, but Kira had already stalked off down the road. Ethan shot his friend a 'sorry, dude' glance, and then chased after Kira, most likely in an attempt to calm her down.
Conner rested himself wearily on the hood of his car, watching as the last rays of sun flitted below the horizon and twilight settled like a thick blanket. Hayley pulled into the driveway. "Why are you still here? Tommy said he'd kicked you all out."
"Did you happen to pass Kira and Ethan on the way here?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Nope."
"Then I'm out of here," he said, hopping off his hood and gingerly getting in the car.
When he returned home, his mother was sitting in the kitchen, staring into the fruit bowl. Conner decided to take his punishment now rather than run up to his room and risk intensifying his mom's anger. He stood at the entrance to the kitchen. "Hi."
"I said not to be long," she said.
"We had to wait for the tow truck to show up," he said. "I'm sorry."
"And you couldn't call?"
Hard to make phone calls when you were unconscious. He decided to go for the 'egotistical Conner' approach. "Mom, how lame would I have been if I had to call you?"
She rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Conner. Between you and Eric, I don't know what to do with myself some days. I'd throttle the both of you, but that's illegal."
Suddenly, Conner got it. He pulled out a chair and sat opposite his mom. "He hasn't called in awhile, has he," he said quietly.
"I just worry about him," his mother sighed plaintively.
"Mom, if there's anyone who can take care of himself, it's Eric," Conner said, sandwiching her hands between his. She flashed him a watery smile. "He's okay. I promise."
"Right." She got a 'motherly' look to her again. "Conner, go to bed. I haven't decided what to do with you yet."
"Sure," he said, and dragged himself upstairs. He wanted to take another boiling hot soak, but his track record with water today had left a little something to be desired. Instead, he disrobed and crawled slowly into bed. Even the soft down pillows and thick comforter felt oppressive against his many aches and pains.
He lay in the dark, staring up at the endless black of his ceiling. He was trying so hard. He had to protect Reefside. He had to protect his mother. He had to (well, he wanted to) protect Kira. But judging from today's events, he couldn't even protect himself. Unbidden, he felt hot tears welling in his eyes and exploding down his cheeks. He never asked to be a superhero. And he was wanting to be one less and less.
His healing powers, minimal though they were, had kicked in overnight. Combining that with some ibuprofen, Conner was feeling more or less normal by the time he got to school that morning. Trent was not in science, much to his relief. But to his alarm, neither was Kira. He exchanged worried looks with Ethan as the spot next to the Blue Ranger remained empty by the late bell.
Conner didn't have a chance to be terribly concerned by the two missing students, as Mercer was handing back yesterday's quizzes. Predictably, Conner had flunked. He was trying to figure out if his mom really needed to know about his poor grade, when the intercom crackled to life, demanding, "Conner McKnight and Ethan James, please report to the principal's office."
Mercer cocked an eyebrow, but merely nodded that they should go meet their destiny. Cassidy tried to intercept the two boys as they made their exit. "What did you two do?" she said.
"Nothing, Cassidy," Conner said, pushing past her gently.
"I want the exclusive!" she called after them, and they escaped to the sanctity of the hall.
"What do you suppose Randall wants with us?" Conner mused.
"Nothing good," was Ethan's guess.
When they got to the principal's office, however, the principal in question wasn't there. Instead, Trent was sitting in Randall's chair, wearing his usual smirk. "Mr. James, Mr. McKnight," he said grandly, obviously getting great amusement out of the whole situation, "I've called you in here because I'm afraid there have been issues with your performance as of late." Suddenly the smirk was gone, and he was glaring at Conner. "Like you were supposed to be dead, for example," he snarled.
"Did you really think you could defeat me?" Conner retorted, borrowing Trent's phrase from the previous day.
"Not that this isn't all just so entertaining, but what's really going on here," Ethan said coldly.
The smirk returned. "I have something of yours."
"Couple of Zords, the Raptor Riders...yeah, I'd say so."
It erupted into a full-blown grin, just oozing with attitude. There was nothing kind about Trent's smile, and if it was happy at all, it was the bitter happiness of being evil. "That, too. But I meant something that I'm sure you find a lot more valuable."
Cold panic seized at Conner's gut as he pieced everything together. Therefore, he wasn't surprised, just devastated, when Kira emerged, ragged, from the closet.
Though they had been aching for a battle upon laying eyes on Trent, Conner and Ethan both chose this moment to fall into ready stances. "Kira?" Conner said. He was wondering why Kira looked so glazed.
That mystery was solved in a matter of seconds, as Trent morphed instantly and was standing with his weapon in saber mode, the blade at Kira's throat. Whatever spell had been cast over her was broken, as confusion, and then terror seeped into her expression. She cast an alarmed look at her teammates. Conner had never in the tenure of his relationship with Kira seen her look as scared as she did now, save for perhaps their first encounter with Tyrannodrones on that day that they'd picked up the gems.
Kira's alarm made Conner's own fear grow, but it had the same effect with his determination. He would do anything to ensure Kira's safety.
"Why do you have her?" Conner demanded.
"I've brought her here to say goodbye."
"He's going to kill her!" Ethan said.
The White Ranger laughed. "Kill her? Don't be ridiculous. She's saying goodbye because she's coming with me."
"Like hell!" Kira spat.
"Let her go, Trent!" Conner said.
"Let her go?" Trent said. "Fat chance of that happening, Conner. You may have won our little spat, but don't for a second think that means that you won Kira."
"No one won me," Kira spat, and she struggled fiercely against her captor.
The blade sank into her skin, droplets of red welling to the surface. Immediately Kira paled and stilled. Conner's heart constricted as twin expressions of horror crossed the faces of both Red and Yellow Rangers.
"Don't do anything, man," Ethan said slowly, trying to placate Trent with 'calm down' motions. "Just let her go."
"You Rangers just aren't all that smart, are you," Trent sneered. "I'm not letting her go."
"Then how about an exchange?" Conner said, stepping forward slightly. "Me for her."
Ethan cast him a 'what the hell?' look, and Kira stared him down with penetrating, tear-filled eyes. Trent just laughed. "How stupid do you think I am, Conner?"
Conner wisely didn't answer that question. "Look, take me. Take my Zord. Whatever you want. Just let Kira go, and don't hurt her." He didn't dare meet Kira's eyes, instead just staring into the bottomless black of Trent's faceplate.
"Love is a weakness, Conner. I hope you realize that." Conner disagreed; had he not realized yesterday that he loved Kira, he wouldn't have had the strength to make it through his battle with Trent, nor his second one. Of course, it was that very love for Kira that was putting him in this position.
"Well, it's definitely putting you in a compromising position," Conner retorted.
"I'm the one with the girl and the sword. Seems to me that you're the one in the compromising position."
Conner did what only a rage-blinded, love-struck, idiot-slash-Ranger would do: he charged. Unmorphed, more or less defenseless save his training, he rushed the White Ranger, tackling him in a spectacular move that if Reefside's gym teacher had seen him, he would have recruited him for football on the spot.
He collided with Trent and Kira, and the three of them fell --them backwards, him forwards-- into the green invisoportal that opened up behind them.
"What the hell?" Conner said as they landed in a heap. He'd only been here once before, but it had left a lasting impression. The green-black color, the low humming sound, the sloping walls--this was Mesogog's lair. "You said that you weren't working for Mesogog!"
"I'm not," Trent hissed fiercely. "I don't work for anyone."
The raspy sound of Mesogog mouth-breathing made Conner wish he'd thought to morph when Trent had. The lizard or whatever he was leaned over and got uncomfortably close to Conner's face. "Well, well, well," he said, eyeballing the three of them. Conner reached out and grabbed for Kira's hand. She clutched at it, stepping closer to her teammate slightly, her eyes still on Mesogog. They had no idea what to expect.
Mesogog straightened. "The Red, White, and Yellow Rangers," he said. "This has worked out far better than I had anticipated. Surely, if I had left Zeltrax in charge, he would have brought me no Rangers at all. If you want something done right...do it yourself."
"You kidnapped us," Conner said. He glared at the White Ranger. "Did you know about this?"
"No," Trent answered with a dark and pompous tone. Conner had the feeling Trent was just as confused as he was, but didn't want Mesogog to misinterpret that confusion as fear. Conner was surprised to find that he wasn't scared, either. Worried, confused, anxious, but not scared. He'd taken on the beast before, and he could do it again. Kira's hand was still squeezed in his. That made him feel a thousand times better than wearing his uniform ever could.
"I was originally hoping to recruit the White Ranger whilst he was distracted," Mesogog said, explaining things for them with a lazy, slow air. He knew they had nowhere to go, that they had no choice but to listen to him. "His loathing of the Power Rangers, while not unlike my own, is his downfall. I never would have imagined that things would turn out the way they have." A grotesque smile made his mouth gape open. "Now I have split the Ranger team in half, and they won't be a team much longer."
Simplistic, but effective. Conner knew that Ethan, Hayley, and Dr. O. would pool their resources into trying to find him and Kira, so intent on the rescue mission that they might become distracted, sloppy. They would run themselves ragged, and with the team cut down, they wouldn't have enough force to take on any assault Mesogog might throw their way.
"We're stronger than you think," Kira said, the first words she'd spoken since their arrival.
"You won't be that strong without your Dino Gems," Mesogog said, amused.
Conner neglected to mention that he wouldn't be able to use the gem's powers so long as their owners were still alive, and he hoped that Kira had the good sense to keep this fact to herself, as well. He was fairly certain that the lizard didn't know about the 'you must be destroyed' clause, or else he would have done so on the spot, the teens being defenseless.
"Give them to me now, and I shall spare you a score of pain later," Mesogog bargained.
Conner and Kira exchanged a glance, communicating with their eyes what they could not say. If they complied, it would buy them a little bit of time to figure out a plan. Not giving up the gems willingly meant that Mesogog would probably injure them in some way, and that would hamper any escape attempts. Besides, it wasn't as though the gems would do the mastermind any good anyway.
Conner sighed deeply, letting go of Kira's hand and detaching his bracelet from his wrist. He and Kira handed them over. Mesogog would have been beaming if he was capable of doing so. "Excellent." He turned to Trent. "I don't suppose I could persuade you to do the same."
"Not a chance," the White Ranger snarled. "You can fight me for it."
Conner swallowed his smirk. Mesogog didn't look the type for hand-to-hand combat, and he didn't see Elsa, Zeltrax or any drones anywhere. "I didn't think so," Trent said, slashing Mesogog with his weapon and camouflaging into the wall. He was probably making his way to the nearest portal out of there.
"He infuriates me," Mesogog said. "But I appreciate the challenge he leaves for me." He fixed his creepy stare on his two remaining captives. "Don't worry, Rangers. Since you were so kind, I shall do you a kindness in return. You may stay together as my prisoners."
Conner bit back a scathing retort, out of respect for their less-than-stellar situation. Next thing the two knew, they were thrown in a small, cold cell. The stone ceiling was just tall enough that Conner could stand without stooping, though there wasn't enough floor space that they could both fit comfortably.
"It won't be too long before he realizes he can't use the gems' powers," Kira pointed out. She was seated on the floor while Conner paced and tried to think things out. "Sit down; you're driving me crazy."
"You're not still mad at me, are you?" Conner asked irritably.
She looked away, fixing her eyes on the thick bars. Conner sighed and sat down. "I'm sorry."
Kira didn't say anything for a long time. Then softly, Conner heard her say, "It's not your fault."
"It is," Conner said. "If I hadn't..."
"Look, you did a stupid, stupid thing, but it's not your fault that we're here now. Mesogog had this planned for us. Not even for us--for Trent." Conner drew his knees to his chest and sat sullenly.
Elsa arrived then, holding a tray with a questionable gray glob perched on top. "Mealtime for the prisoners," she announced. "You should know, we're having quite a party upstairs in your honor. Too bad you're missing it." She flashed them a nasty grin. When neither Ranger responded to her taunts, Elsa only snarled. "You won't be here long. Mesogog will soon tire of your uselessness and dispose of you." With that, she flounced off.
"I don't like her," Kira said.
"That makes two of us," Conner answered. He leaned over to inspect what Elsa had stuffed through the bars. "She said this was food?" he said, cocking an eyebrow. The glob wriggled, and he scrambled backwards. "That's disgusting."
Kira laughed, and Conner felt warmth in the pit of his stomach, happy to hear the sound. "What's so funny?"
"You." Of course. Only Conner's stupidity could provide her with amusement in such dire circumstances.
Even so, he grinned. "Yeah, well." With the toe of his shoe, he shoved the tray back out of their cell. He rested his back against the wall, trying to make himself comfortable. The smile had vanished from Kira's face, and she seemed distressed. He touched her arm lightly, trying to draw her out. "What's wrong?"
"Trent...he doesn't really care about me, does he," she said flatly.
Conner chose his words carefully. "I think that on some level, he still remembers how he used to care about you. But I think he's just playing on those former feelings because he thinks it'll weaken us."
Kira looked as though she might cry. "I think you're right."
"Kira..." Conner said, and he felt his heart breaking at how utterly miserable she looked. He slid over on the cold stone floor and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, trying to comfort her. "Don't...don't cry. It's okay, it'll be okay. I promise."
She allowed herself to cry, but didn't allow herself to display her weakness to a degree where she was completely reliant on him. She didn't so much as lean into him, merely sitting there and weeping, as though he wasn't even there.
Conner didn't know how much time had passed. He had a feeling he'd dropped off for awhile, and when he came to, Kira was staring forlornly at the bars. He shifted, his shoulder aching. The motion caught her eye and she turned to look at him. "You're awake."
"Listen, Conner, I've been thinking. I wanted to say thank you."
He stood up and stretched, rolling his shoulder to try and get the kinks out. "For?"
"For trying to save me. You did a crappy job, but your heart was in it."
Conner was grateful his back was to her, so she couldn't see him blushing. "You're welcome."
"You were prepared to offer him anything," Kira said slowly. "For me." She stood up, and he could hear her pacing behind him.
"You mean a lot to me," was all he would commit to.
"Conner, do you...like me, or something?"
Conner would have liked to ignore the question. And normally he would have. But they were trapped in a dungeon, powerless, out of contact of the only people that could save them, having not yet found a way out, and quite possibly facing their doom. It was the lesser of two evils. Conner turned around and stared at her directly. She met his gaze. "Yeah, I do." He couldn't help but grin slightly. "I thought that was kind of obvious, after yesterday."
To his surprise, she actually smiled a little bit. "Yeah, well, I didn't really want to think about it yesterday."
"And you want to think about it now?"
"Well..." she trailed off, and he knew that she was thinking along the same lines as him, that maybe they weren't going to get out of this.
He wanted to tell her the truth. Yesterday, the thought terrified him, but when Mesogog learned the way he had to activate the gems' powers --and he would find out-- they were as good as dead, anyway. What did he have to lose?
"Actually, Kira, I don't like you," he found himself blurting. Her brow furrowed in confusion. "I love you." It was fascinating watching her, always, but now was especially interesting. Her eyes widened as she realized what he was saying, her cheeks flushed a tint of pink, her hands knotted for a second and fell still as she froze.
"You heard me," Conner said, the quietness returning. "I don't think I have to repeat myself." He flashed her a small grin. "I'm not asking you to love me back. You can still like Trent, if that's what you really want. I can't stop you, and I'm not going to try. What you do with your feelings is your business. I think you're wrong for liking him, I'll tell you that much, but I never asked to fall for you, so I understand what it's like." He paused for breath, for thought. "Yesterday Ethan told me that with things being the way they were, that I should just come out with the truth. And he's right. I don't know what's going to become of us tomorrow...I don't know what's going to happen in the next five minutes. But if we live for a long time, and Trent never returns your affections, at least you can still go to bed at night knowing that someone out there loves you. Maybe not the guy you want, but it's better than nothing."
She stared at him for a long time, and just when Conner had thought he had a handle on reading Kira, she always surprised him. Now was one of those times; they were engaged in a staring contest, and he couldn't even begin to guess what she might be thinking.
Then she crossed the tiny enclosure and embraced him. Her arms stretched up to his shoulders, clasping behind his neck, her head against his chest. For a moment, Conner paused to try and puzzle this maneuver out, then he simply thought, Screw it, and returned the hug. The two fed off of each other, drawing strength from their closest friend in dark times, and Conner felt a rush of emotion that was neither the agony of his crush on her or his normal feelings of great friendship.
"Well, well, well," Elsa's voice drawled. "Isn't this lovely."
"No!" Ethan cried, diving towards the trio and grabbing for Conner and Kira. But it was too late. They'd already been sucked in, and the portal was closed. Ethan dove through empty air and landed on his face on the floor of the principal's office.
He had to get out of there, he had to get to the base and to Dr. O. so they could figure out what to do. He turned, put his hand on the doorknob to leave, but saw Dr. Mercer coming down the hallway towards Randall's office. Bad news--if he saw Ethan here, he would ask that Ethan go back to class. Not happening. Ethan dove into the closet that Trent had held Kira in, and pulled the door shut, just as Mercer opened the door to the office.
Ethan counted out five minutes, but he never heard Mercer leave. Tentatively, he poked the closet door open and peered out through the crack. He saw nothing. His brow furrowed, Ethan opened the door further, and even stuck his head into the room fully. Mercer wasn't there; Ethan was in the clear.
Ethan ran out of the room, down the hall, and out to the parking lot. When he was sure no one could overhear, he got a hold of Dr. O. "It's Ethan. We have a major situation, and I'm on my way there."
At the base, Ethan filled Dr. O. in as best he could. Their mentor didn't know the whole story about Conner's series of altercations with the White Ranger the previous day, so Ethan had to explain that, but the long and short of it was that the White Ranger had kidnapped Conner and Kira.
"Trent doesn't know how to work invisoportals, does he?" Ethan asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Dr. O. said. "Although, who knows how far Mesogog's influence reaches."
"Trent always makes it a point to announce that he works alone. But that could just be to fake us out," Ethan puzzled out.
"Well, whether or not Trent knows how to operate portals, Mesogog is definitely involved in this to some degree," Dr. O. said. The Black Ranger got up and began to pace. Though it was early still, he'd spent a good portion of time cleaning the place up. Hayley had come over the previous night, and had, according to Dr. O., worked until the wee hours of the morning fixing up the console. Only two screens were currently on-line of the six, but it wasn't bad. While she'd done that, Dr. O. had fixed up the Cycles so that they were operable again. That was a good thing, because Ethan had the feeling they would be of use soon.
Dr. O. was running a scan, looking for recent instances of the frequency used for portal activity. His hands stilled on the keyboard suddenly, and he leaned in closer to the screen. Ethan could just imagine the 'that's weird' frown that he knew so well taking place underneath the helmet. "That's weird," Dr. O. said, and Ethan tried hard not to smile.
"Two portals opened today, in the same location. Only about a minute apart."
Ethan frowned. He knew enough about the portal network to know that opening portals wasn't as easy as one would think, so that there weren't going to be a ton of invisoportals opening up around Reefside. Obviously, that meant that one of the two was the one that Conner and Kira had fallen into. "But that means that the second--"
His communicator flashed, blue light reflecting off of the Black Ranger's helmet. They still hadn't fixed the lights in the base, so his communicator seemed abnormally bright and conspicuous. Eagerly, he answered the call. "Conner, Kira, is that you? Where are you guys?"
"I'm sorry, but the Rangers can't come to the phone right now," a voice hissed. Ethan had only heard that voice once in his life, but there was no mistaking it, and he couldn't quell the shiver that slimed its way down his back.
Dr. O. went rigid, and turned on his own communicator. "Mesogog."
"Tommy Oliver," Mesogog answered, amusement apparent in his voice.
"What have you done to them?" the Black Ranger demanded.
"I've done nothing to them, Black Ranger," came the blood-curdling reply. "They gave up their gems willingly."
Ethan couldn't conceive of any reason that Conner and Kira would willingly give up the source of their powers. Mesogog had their bracelets, which meant that Mesogog had Conner and Kira. Or what was left of them.
He felt a sickening wrench. Conner and Kira were his best friends, and the only people who'd ever really understood him--or at least attempted to. Ethan felt a burning hot rage surfing over his body. "I am going to make you pay, you scummy lizard!" he yelled.
Ethan suddenly became aware of Dr. O.'s hand on his arm, an attempt to still the Blue Ranger. The communication between the Rangers and Mesogog had gone dead.
"Ethan," Dr. O. said quietly.
Ethan took a deep breath to calm himself. "We know that they've been taken to the island fortress," he said in a dark tone. "We need to figure out how to manipulate the network so that we can get inside. We can't afford to wait around for another one to open that we can borrow."
"It might be too late, you know," Dr. O. said, the voice of reason.
Ethan paid him no heed. "Get Hayley," he said. "We're two of the best computer whizzes in the state of California. I want her here for this."
Dr. O., Tommy Oliver, the man with the longest history as a Power Ranger of any of the Rangers in existence, sat back and took his orders from this teenage newbie. He knew from experience that losing your friends to the big bad was a horrific thing, something that provoked powerful responses in even the most reserved of Rangers, like Ethan. It was entirely possible that Conner and Kira were lost to the team in a way far more permanent than simply not being found. But the Black Ranger knew that Ethan wasn't going to stop until he had them back.
Ethan had never acted more like a Power Ranger than he did today.
Which was good, considering he might be one of the only ones left.
Conner released Kira, but grabbed her hand again, wanting to maintain some sort of physical contact with her, to lessen his fear and help him remain calm. It had worked when he had faced Mesogog earlier. Any skills Conner possessed as a leader, he attributed to the fact that he had people he wanted to lead and protect.
"What do you want," he said slowly, careful not to make his voice too angry. Elsa was probably itching for a fight, and he didn't want to provoke her if that was the case.
"You didn't eat," Elsa observed, picking up the discarded tray.
"Would you?" Kira asked, and Conner swallowed his smile.
Elsa smirked. "What do you think keeps me in top form?" she said. "Oh, well, your loss. Watching you wither away into nothing via malnutrition isn't my top choice for your demise, Rangers, but it will be entertaining all the same. Ciao!"
And she sauntered down the hall, leaving the Red and Yellow Rangers alone in the dungeon. Conner sighed deeply, his entire body going loose once Mesogog's minion had left.
"That does it," he said. "We're getting out of here."
"And how do you propose we do that, Conner?" Kira said, disdain in her tone.
He shrugged. "Our powers."
She stared at him. "You're an idiot."
"What?" he asked, all innocence.
"Duh, Conner! Mesogog has our morphers. We're powerless."
"Remember how Dr. O. told us that the gems were bonding to us? We don't have our gems, but I think we might still have our gem powers. Bonded to our DNA."
"And if we break out of the cell, then what?" Kira asked, and by her question, he knew that she was agreeing with his plan. He felt fortified.
"Well, I haven't thought of that yet."
"He's got our morphers. We can't leave without them," she pointed out.
Conner was fixated on the hefty padlock holding them captive. "We'll have to get them," he said loftily, obviously distracted.
"Conner, we need a plan, we should have some sort of idea at least of what the hell we're dong before we just--"
He held up his hand for her silence, finally turning to look at her again. "Mesogog didn't have a plan when he kidnapped us. He didn't expect to get what he got. And now he's saddled with more than he's equipped to handle. Do you honestly believe he thought he was doing us a 'favor' when he shoved us in here together? Do you think for half a second that he would be kind to the people that keep thwarting him? No. He doesn't have the facilities to hold us separately. He's not ready to deal with the both of us, so we can whomp his ass to kingdom come."
Kira stared at him thoughtfully. "You were beginning to sound like a real leader...until you used the phrase 'whomp his ass.'" She cracked a smile, and he laughed quickly.
"Yeah, well." The moment of mirth passed, and he again slipped into 'leadership' mode. "Dr. O.'s been training you on concentrating your scream, right?" he said.
"I've broken locks smaller than that," she said, catching onto his plan. "But the scary lizard dude and friends are going to come see what all the hubbub is."
"That's where I come in," he said. "I'm the one with the super-speed, I can probably get us out of here in enough time."
"Do you know that your power works on me?" she asked.
He shrugged. "We'll just have to try. It's not like we have much time for anything else." He nodded at her resolutely. "Hit it."
Conner covered his ears just in time as she released a scream, rippling the air and hitting the padlock with force enough to shatter it. Conner let out a small whoop of triumph as he swung the heavy gate open. "Way to go, Kira! Now it's time for phase two. Do you trust me?"
"Yeah," she said, without hesitation. He then grabbed her up into his arms, concentrated on kicking up his power, and took off down the dank hall at a blur.
As he tore through the corridors, one thought kept running through his mind. It wasn't about escape, it wasn't about trying to find the morphers, it wasn't about trying to find a portal out, it wasn't about contacting Ethan and Dr. O. It was the simple, delirious thought that he was holding Kira, that she was pressing herself against him to make them smaller and therefore faster, that they were close. She trusted him and was relying on him, and he was the rescuer. It made him giddier than the thought of escape.
They turned a corner, and the green circle hovered in the air before them, beckoning. Conner stopped and put Kira down. They glanced at each other. "Shall we?" he asked.
She shrugged. "It's the only way to travel." With their inner hands clasped, they stretched out their outer hands and were sucked in, as though a magnet were pulling them through. It was a disconcerting feeling, but it was over fast, and they landed, stumbling. Conner dusted off the front of his shirt out of nervous habit, though he wasn't paying attention to whether or not he was actually dirty.
"Um," Kira said, "where are we?"
"Not in the fortress anymore," he remarked. "Outside it."
That was his best guess. They were up on a hill, a cliff, with the shadows of a black building looming behind them, and the water glistening in the distance in front of them. To the left and right of them were trees, lots of trees.
"Damn," Conner said, "I was hoping we'd get farther away than this." He kicked at the dirt. "What's the point of having a teleportation portal that just takes you into your own backyard?"
"This is great," Kira groaned, collapsing on the ground and leaning against the base of one of the trees. "We're no closer to home, and we're still without our morphers."
He dropped his head and leaned against a different tree. He had only wanted to save them, and now they were still screwed, just in a different location. This was not turning out the way he'd planned at all.
Of course, what had he planned? He'd gotten them out of the cell, sure, but had he really expected to just charge into the heart of Mesogog's lair, steal their morphers, and just magically get them off the island?
Actually, yeah, he kind of had.
He felt miserable. He had probably doomed them both. And now Mesogog would be even more furious, because they had tried to escape, and he'd just hasten the whole killing-them thing--which worked out well for him, anyway, because that was the only way he could access their powers. Conner was okay with this by himself, he wouldn't be half as concerned. But Kira was here.
"Conner." Her hand was on his arm, and he opened his eyes to see her staring at him. "It's okay."
He shook his head resolutely. "It's really not."
"Ethan and Dr. O. will get us out of here," she said earnestly.
"That's good in theory, but in case you'd forgotten, the base is totally trashed--which, by the way, is also my fault." Conner sighed, feeling miserable. He knew he was whining, and he knew how stupid he sounded, but he couldn't help it.
"It's not like there's anything you can do now."
"Why are you being so nice about this?" he grumbled, shrugging off her comforting gesture.
"Because. You're a much better leader than I give you credit for," she said slowly, looking away. "You're doing your best here, and it's not like I've done anything..." She sighed. "I don't give you credit for a lot of things, Con, and I'm sorry."
"Look, if this is about what I said back in the cave..."
She shook her head, her hair bouncing off her shoulders. "No. It's not. Well, maybe it is...I don't know. The thing is, I'm seeing you in a new light."
"Yeah, the creepy light of a creepy island forest," he cracked.
She didn't smile, only kept staring at him with that penetrating, thoughtful look that made his insides twist up in a weird way. "We fight. Like, all the time. But you've never broken my heart, Conner."
"I never would," he said thickly. He was just now beginning to realize how close she was. Painfully close. She shouldn't be standing that near to him if she wasn't going to be his.
And the way she was staring at him...he was hypnotized. In the back of his mind, he knew, he knew that they were doing this only because they were worried they might not make it until tomorrow. But as his lips slowly met hers, he didn't care. He almost wished that Mesogog would show up, because now he had something huge to fight for.
The portal opened up right by the Rangers. "I keep coming upon you two in compromising positions," Elsa said, sounding amused. "Normally, I'd use that to my advantage, but you two don't have long left on this earth, so I'll let you make the most of it."
Conner wasn't happy to have his moment with Kira interrupted, and he glared at Elsa. "What do you want," he spat, his arm secured around Kira's waist in a fierce display of affection.
"It's not what I want; it's what the Master wants. And he wants you two."
Conner wasn't going to go without a fight. "Yeah, well, he's gonna have to work for us," he said, releasing Kira so he could fall into a ready stance. Beside him, she did the same.
Elsa only smirked. "I was hoping you'd say that," she said, and raised her weapon.
The two Rangers lurched forward, knocking into Elsa with their fists and feet. Conner moved without thinking, only vaguely aware of the excellent timing he and Kira had, evident of a lot of practices together. Or maybe something more. No, he wasn't going to dwell on that. There would be plenty of time to think about their relationship or whatever it was between them once he had gotten them the hell out of here.
But she was ready for them. She was more than ready for them, and she was more than a match for the two of them unmorphed. They put up a good fight, but it didn't last long. Battered, breathing heavily, Conner and Kira stumbled back. Elsa was looking like she hadn't even broken a sweat. "Are you done yet?" she asked, bored.
"I'm only getting started," Conner panted, and he rushed her again, slamming into her with a burst of super-speed. She flew backwards, slamming against a tree trunk. Conner skidded to a stop, grinning slightly. "Still got powers, though. Didn't see that coming, didja?"
"Good idea, Conner," Kira said, and when Elsa began to stalk towards them, finally looking mad, Kira released a ptera-scream louder than anything Conner had ever heard. He covered his ears right before it struck, having known it was coming, but Elsa was literally bowled over. Her helmet --or was it her hair?-- hit against the trunk of the same tree she had just pushed off of, and she crumpled to the ground.
"Now we move," Conner said.
"Yeah," Kira agreed quickly, grabbing his outstretched hand as the two of them darted off into the thick of the woods.
Twigs snapped beneath them, fallen leaves shuffled loudly as the two teenagers clamored through, and Conner's breaths were coming so few and far between, and so raggedly so, that he thought his chest would explode. When he was beginning to think he couldn't run anymore, they came into a clearing. Conner all but collapsed on the ground, gasping for air.
"She's going to find us," Kira said weakly. "We left a trail."
"We also left her unconscious," Conner pointed out. He pulled himself to a more dignified sitting position. "We have to come up with a plan."
"Right. What sort of plan?"
"I don't know." Conner knew that by running, they weren't saving themselves, they were only prolonging the inevitable. Furious, he punched a nearby tree trunk, too angry to even feel the pain in his knuckles. "This sucks!" he cried.
"Calm down. We'll think of something." How quickly the tables had turned, how quickly he had run out of ideas. He was probably facing his last moments, and all he wanted was to just stay here, in this quiet, cool clearing, with Kira.
What kind of leader am I? He kept endangering her life, the person that he cared about most. He stood up, taking Kira's shoulder in his hand gently. "You go."
She cocked her head, frowning up at him. "What?"
"You go. The water's that way--get to it. Get yourself back to Reefside any way you can."
"And you?" she asked.
He cracked a smile. "I can't swim, remember?"
She didn't return the smile. "No. I mean, what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to turn myself in. I'm going to go and find Elsa, and I'm going to go back to the fortress, and I'm going to be a distraction that'll get you out of here. Mesogog has your morpher, but if you get back to Ethan and Dr. O., they should be able to keep you safe."
"And how are you going to escape again?" she asked. He didn't answer for awhile, but the pause was enough to convey what words couldn't. "You don't think you'll be coming back."
"This is crazy, Conner. That's not a plan."
"That's a perfectly good plan," he argued. "And you're going to do it."
"Like hell!" she said. "You think I'm gonna run off while you let yourself get killed?"
"You think I'm going to risk your life yet again?" he countered. "Nothing doing, Kira."
She shook her head, pure determination in her eyes. "I'm not going. More importantly, I'm not leaving you alone. Not again. We go big or we go home, Conner. Either we work together, or we don't do anything at all."
"We can't win, Kira," he said. "You know that, right? We can't make it out of here, not both of us. This is the only way that either of us could."
"Why do you think I kissed you, Conner?"
He shrugged. If he allowed himself to think about the kiss, he was only going to make himself more miserable. "Because we're about to die?"
"No, you idiot. Because I care about you. Listen, you do stupid things, you don't ever think--because you're acting from your heart. And yeah, that's probably going to get you killed one of these days, but it's not going to be today, if I have anything to say about it." She cracked a weary half smile. "All or nothing."
After a pause, his own lips curled up. "All or nothing."
They bumped fists tiredly. "Okay, so now what?" Kira asked.
"We need to find another portal," Conner said. "And for that, we need--"
"You need me," a deep voice broke in behind them, and Conner felt a wave of annoyance and trepidation rush over him.
Trent was back.
"What'd you come back for?" Conner said darkly.
The White Ranger shrugged. "What makes you think I ever left?"
"Okay, fine, why are you here," Conner said.
"I have what you're looking for," he said simply. "A portal."
"Oh, and we're just supposed to trust you?" Kira said angrily.
"You're Rangers," Trent said loftily. "Aren't you all big on the whole trust issue?"
"When it comes to anyone except you," she spat.
Conner got to the point of things: "Why would you want to help us?"
"Easy. The only way you Rangers have ever been able to be a match for me is working together. You know it, I know it, Mesogog knows it. Once he figures out how to work your powers, he's going to use them for himself, combine them with his powers, and then I'm history. Simple self-preservation is what I'm going for here."
"So what's your plan," Conner asked reluctantly, still on guard.
"I've found two portals of use--one that goes back into the fortress, just outside Mesogog's main chamber, and one that takes you to the middle of the warehouse district. We three go in together. I provide a significant enough distraction that you two are able to go in and rescue your morphers. You get out. I'll be fine on my own."
Conner shared a glance with Kira. "How do we know this isn't a trap?" Kira said cautiously. "Mesogog wants us back in there, too. How do we know you're not just lining us up for the slaughter?"
"So I guess the trust thing only goes so far," Trent said.
"Yeah, something like that," Conner said with biting sarcasm. "How about a little bit of collateral, Trent?"
"What do you have in mind?" Trent said, and apprehension was in his tone. Apparently he was as hesitant about this plan as they were. Whether it was because he didn't want to face Mesogog and Zeltrax alone, or because he was working for them and didn't want to screw up the lizard's plan, Conner couldn't be sure. But he wasn't taking any chances.
What he wanted to ask for was Trent's Drago Saber, which would put Trent at a disadvantage if this was a plot, but which would put Trent at a disadvantage if it wasn't. Conner had to choose his battles, and if Trent's role was to play a distraction, then Conner wanted his distraction armed to the teeth.
"Your Zord," Conner decided on.
"My Zord?" asked Trent, sounding like he was about to laugh. "Are you serious?"
"Why not?" Conner said. "You already have about eighty of ours, can't you make do without?"
"Conner--" Kira started.
"Don't like it? Fine. Then when Mesogog captures us --and he's getting to it-- we'll just tell him how to get rid of you. Fine as far as I'm concerned. Neither of us likes you much. In fact, no one does, really. No skin off my nose if Mesogog just obliterates you."
Conner wished he was talking to Trent in human guise, rather than in Ranger form. But it wouldn't have mattered, because human Trent had two expressions: lazy, sadistic joy, the pride of being evil; and fury. Conner wouldn't have been able to judge how Trent felt about this whole situation.
He decided to try one more time: "I just want the Dragozord. On loan. We're the good guys--you'll get it back. I just want proof that you're not going to double-cross us." Trent wouldn't have the authority to man the three stolen Zords without the Dragozord in his arsenal.
"You're out of your mind," Trent declared. "To get my Zord, we'd have to go back to Reefside so you could hand it over to your geeky little friends. Wasting valuable time."
"Mesogog knows you're still on this island, I can almost guarantee it," Conner said calmly. "He's probably expecting a siege from you at any moment, especially since Elsa's out of commission, and he thinks that we're incapable of battle without our morphers. He's waiting for you, and if you come with us, you'll have more time to catch him by surprise."
"I don't like it," Trent said.
"You don't have to like it," Conner answered. "You just have to do it. Take us to the warehouse district, give us your Zord, and then we'll go along with your little part of the plan."
"This is ludicrous," Trent muttered to himself, and his sigh was audible. "Okay, fine, let's do your crazy plan, and we'll all get killed."
Just as Ethan had known she would, Hayley had located in record time an invisoportal that would land them on the island fortress. Of course, he hadn't had doubts that they could have created their own. While she'd been studying the area for telltale signatures, he'd been studying all of the readings that they had on portals, and was in the process of writing out a code. It was lucky that Hayley had found a working portal, because the base simply didn't have the technological capabilities to create a portal from scratch in enough time. Trent had trashed the hell out of the system, that was for sure.
It was located in the warehouse district, so Ethan morphed, and he and Dr. O. took the Cycles out for a spin. Dr. O., having been unable to finish repairs on his ATV, borrowed the red Raptor Cycle. Hayley stayed back at the base, monitoring on the two remaining screens and talking to them via the com system.
They parked the Cycles, and Hayley instructed them that the portal was inside the storage facility immediately to their left. Ethan took one end of the large metal door, Dr. O. taking the other, and they heaved it upwards. It was unlocked, presumably so that whomever was using the portal could come and go without fear of being trapped inside an ugly, large, metal prison.
"Hey, Hayley?" asked Ethan curiously as he and Dr. O. stepped inside. "Who owns this space?"
"Let me check." Over his communicator, Ethan heard the sounds of Hayley tapping away at the keyboard. He could just picture her squint as she looked over the records. "That's odd, it's registered under Dr. Anton Mercer."
"Why would--" Dr. O. began, but Ethan had seen the shimmer of green in the corner.
"There it is!" he said, pointing.
"Be careful!" Hayley barked over the line. Ethan and Dr. O. darted around the various dusty boxes, approaching the portal slowly. Dr. O. lifted his hand.
Then the portal roared to life, and a flurry of bodies fell through, just barely avoiding the two Rangers standing there. Assuming naturally that they were Elsa, Zeltrax, and a few Tyrannodrones, Black and Blue Rangers fell back immediately into ready stances.
"Ethan?" asked a male voice.
"Dr. O.?" said a female voice.
It was Conner and Kira. Jubilant, Ethan forgot who he was for a moment and threw an arm around the each of them, drawing them to him in a hug.
"Isn't this charming," said a third voice, "a Ranger reunion."
Ethan stiffened. That voice could only belong to Trent.
He saw the White Ranger looming over Conner's shoulder, looking like he was thinking of kicking their butts in a major league way. Ethan released his friends, and demanded of them, "Why is he here?"
"Why does Mesogog have your bracelets?" Dr. O. said.
"How did you know Mesogog had our bracelets?" Conner asked, frowning at the teacher.
"Because he contacted us through them," Dr. O. said.
"That's all nice, but evil White Ranger, standing right next to us. Would someone please explain what's going on here?" Ethan said, powering down.
Kira took a seat on one of the nearby boxes. Conner hovered near her protectively, and Trent kept his distance from the other four. Conner filled his teammates in on the situation as briefly as possible.
"Wait, he's defected to our side now?" Hayley asked over Ethan's bracelet.
"You wish," Trent snarled.
Ethan's eyes widened slightly. "Whoa, guess not so much."
"So where's the Dragozord?" Conner asked. "Not that I'm not glad to see you guys again," he said to Ethan and Dr. O., "but we're not exactly here to chitchat."
"I'd like to make this fast, myself," Trent said. He lifted up his morpher, prepared to call his Zord, but two hands emerged from the portal, and pulled Ethan and Dr. O. in.
"You fools! You were supposed to get the escapees," hissed Mesogog.
"Our apologies, Master," Elsa said in a simpering tone. "The prisoners had only just gotten through the portal. We weren't expecting a Ranger convention."
"We'll just have to make do, I suppose," Mesogog said. He gestured at Ethan. "Take his gem. Lock him up. Leave me to deal with Doctor Oliver."
Ethan assumed the position: "Dino Thun--" but he was cut off when a mass of Triptoids cascaded over him, babbling incoherently in his ear, stripping him of his bracelet before he even quite realized it was gone, and dragging him down the hall. He tried to fight them off, but they seemed to be multiplying. There were so many on him that he was no longer being dragged, but carried, and he couldn't even see the ceiling, just a mass of black and white writhing bodies. Next thing he knew, he was being thrown in a cell.
Elsa glared down at him. "Your little friends proved to be too much trouble, so now you're under surveillance." Ethan noted the shattered lock. "I hope you had a pleasant last moment with your teammates, because it's the last time you'll see them."
Elsa stalked off. He wasn't sure if by her parting words she meant that she was going to kill Conner and Kira, or that she was going to kill him. He guessed both.
Three Triptoids stood sentry in front of Ethan's cell, blocking his view through the bars. Not that there was much to watch in the dank hallway, but it gave him a feeling of claustrophobia that he wasn't terribly fond of.
Ethan sat down, trying to figure out how he was going to get himself out of this one.
Three powerless Power Rangers. Three separate factions, all with different agendas, and the only side with a worthwhile cause was the only one who could do nothing about it.
Ethan awaited fate.
"Ethan!" shouted Kira, as Conner spoke simultaneously, "Dr. O.!" Conner jumped to his feet and started to run for the portal, but Kira grabbed hold of his hand at the last second, stalling him. "Are you out of your mind?"
"I'm going after them," he said, trying to wrestle himself free, but not trying very hard.
"Oh, sure, that's a great plan. So then he has four Rangers, ripe for killing and power-stealing," Trent drawled in his nastiest, most sarcastic tone.
Conner whirled on the still-morphed White Ranger, furious. "You had something to do with this, didn't you," he said. "I knew I shouldn't have agreed to your ridiculous plan!"
"Hey, I had no idea your dorky little friends were waiting," Trent said.
"You could show a little concern," Kira said. "This affects you too, in case you've forgotten. That means that Mesogog has four gems in his possession. You were worried about just two? You're pretty much screwed now."
"Kira, believe me, there's nothing I'd enjoy more than watching Trent get creamed. But now isn't the time or the place to think about this loser. We have to rescue them."
"And how do you propose we do that?" she said, conceding to the fact that he was right. She turned to face Conner, but Trent remained in her periphery. "'Cause we're powerless."
"Our deal with Trent still stands," Conner said firmly. "He's going to get us in, he's going to distract Mesogog, we're going to grab our morphers and the other Rangers. Then we'll help him."
"You're going to what?" Trent said, as Kira said, "We're gonna what?"
"We. Are going to. Help. Trent," Conner said slowly. "Am I speaking a foreign language? Listen, you're going to be fighting Mesogog anyway, right? You don't want him defeating you, we don't want him defeating us, if we work together, neither will happen."
"What makes you think I want to be working with you?"
"I'm not any happier about this than you are," Conner said. "But that's what's gonna happen."
They stood in thoughtful silence, then with a loud, reluctant sigh, Trent said, "Fine, we go in."
"We go in," Kira echoed.
"We go in," Conner said firmly.
They had all committed to the plan, the crazy, stupid, suicidal plan. They had all voiced agreement, and yet, here they stood, not doing anything yet. Kira looked to Conner; she was waiting to follow his lead. She hadn't trusted Conner when she'd first met him, but when she'd first met him, he was an arrogant jock who probably couldn't do simple addition. But she'd watched him morph into a respectable human being, a good Ranger, and a great leader. And she trusted him.
He'd done some stupid things. Namely, getting them into this whole mess in the first place. But he was committed to seeing it through to the end, he was committed to getting them out. She trusted him with her life.
She did care about Conner a lot. Which was why she was so terrified, to see him continually risk his life for her. There was no conceivable way this plan would work. They were going to fail.
They were going to fail, they were probably going to die. They'd managed to drag Ethan and Dr. O. into this mess, and they were probably going to die, too. Trent was probably going to die. Kira hadn't felt the same way about him for a little while now, but that didn't mean she wanted him to be another casualty.
Then when the five Rangers had died, there would be nothing standing in Mesogog's way. He would have his own resources, his own evil, maniacal plans, and then he would have the Ranger powers. He wouldn't be able to be stopped. No one could even try. Scores of people were going to perish in this war.
Conner shook his head, as though clearing his hesitance from his brain. "Okay, let's kick it," he said. He glanced at her nervously for a second, before taking Kira's hand. She felt a little better, a little less scared, as they gripped anxiously at each other. All three of them lifted their hands at the same time to touch the portal, provoking it to suck them in.
"Conner! Kira! Are you there? Come in!"
The hands dropped. The unmorphed Rangers cast confused looks at each other, recognizing Hayley's voice, but unable to pinpoint it. "Hayley?" Conner called out.
"Conner, Kira, come in!"
"The bikes," Kira said, pointing at where the Red and Blue Raptor Cycles lurked in the shadows. They ran over.
"I forgot...Hayley installed a prototype com system on my Cycle," Conner said. "I didn't even know they were over here." He swung his leg over the side of the bike, and answered the call. "Hayley?"
"Conner, what a relief. We've all been frantic looking for you two."
"We got out," Conner said.
"But Mesogog got Ethan and Dr. O.," Kira filled in the blanks, "and he has our morphers, too."
"Then this problem is even bigger than I realized," Hayley said with a weighted tone. "Guys, Mesogog's released a monster on the city."
Conner stared at the bike between his legs, more specifically, at the communication device through which Hayley had just informed him that the city was under attack, and Conner and Kira couldn't morph. He could not think of any words to answer her, could not think of much of anything.
"Conner?" Hayley was waiting for an answer. Kira was looking at Conner expectantly. Trent was glancing across the warehouse at them, bored and annoyed.
They needed him to lead. But he didn't have any leader left in him. He'd made several potentially stupid decisions lately, and they were now in so deep that there seemed to be no hope.
He had to save Ethan. Ethan was his best friend. He would be in the middle of the fortress right now, attempting to save Ethan, if Hayley hadn't contacted them.
But he'd been chosen to help defend the city and the people. It was his duty. He had sacrificed so much already to the cause. Could he sacrifice one of the people he cared most about?
Ethan, however, could take care of himself. As could the Black Ranger. And Conner knew that Dr. O. would do anything to protect Ethan, having seen any and all possibilities throughout his duration as a Ranger. Based on his past and horrors endured in it, Dr. O. felt more responsible for the three of them than Conner could even begin to fathom.
Conner didn't want to risk Kira again. He loved her, and he'd done too much to her already. But she would go where he led, he knew that. She was having her own issues struggling with wanting to save Ethan and wanting to save Reefside. But she would agree with his decision, she would follow his lead.
The city needed the Rangers' help. Always. Whether or not the Rangers were actually capable of helping. He had to do something. He had to maintain the integrity of the name and the legacy of the Power Rangers, he had to keep his home safe from the reptilian psycho.
"We're coming back to the base," he said. "We need to regroup."
"I'm waiting for you," Hayley said, and ended communication.
Conner exchanged worried glances with Kira, who nodded her understanding at his decision, then turned his attention to Trent. "Trent, do you want to come with us, or--"
But Trent was already gone. The portal swelled slightly in the manner of one that had been recently used. "He went to Mesogog's," Kira observed tonelessly.
Conner shrugged. "It's his funeral. He doesn't want to help save his own city, that's his problem. We've got bigger fish to fry."
Kira climbed on Ethan's Cycle, but she kept casting a wistful gaze at the corner with the portal. "I just figured he'd come with us..."
"Why?" Conner said bitterly. "Because he helped us get out? He's just looking to save himself, Kira. He said as much. He wants nothing to do with you or me or the Rangers or hell, not even Reefside, apparently. Just forget the White Ranger. We have things we need to do."
Kira nodded resolutely, and she followed Conner as the Cycles roared and took them out of the warehouse and possibly to their doom.
"Could the warehouse district be any farther away from Dr. O.'s neck of the woods?" Conner complained as he and Kira sped down the long and winding road into the heart of town.
Kira said nothing, at least nothing that could be distinguished over the roar of the engines.
Traffic was desperately trying to get out of town as they came into it, the populace having realized that the Power Rangers had not yet arrived on the scene. If this much time had passed since the attack started, it was entirely conceivable that the Rangers might not even show. Conner felt almost sick as he saw the panic that he was unable to stop. He and Kira darted the bikes through the congested traffic, but were halted by a roadblock.
"We're not letting any traffic into the city," the cop informed them.
"But we have to--" Conner said, and was cut off when the cop asked, "Why aren't you kids wearing helmets?" Then his eyes scanned down to see what the duo was riding. Color drained from his face. "Where did you get those?"
"Uh...we found them..?" Conner said nervously.
"Can I ask you where?"
"I don't know...somewhere in the..." Conner gestured lamely over his shoulder, unable to come up with a convincing lie. If he directed the cop to the warehouse district, they might find the portal.
"By the side of the road," Kira filled in for them.
"Where?" the cop asked suspiciously.
She shrugged, opting for the 'clueless teen' routine to save their identities. "I dunno, back a couple of miles on Green Road. Why, what's the big deal?"
"Those belong to the Power Rangers, miss," the cop said darkly. "Traffic is backed up here, people are falling all over themselves to get out of the city because there's been another attack and no one knows where the Power Rangers are. And here I am, finding two punk kids with vehicles that I know belong to the missing Rangers. I'd like some answers."
Conner knew that he was going to be going against Ranger ethics for what he was about to do, but at this point, it wasn't like he had much choice. "Sir," he said carefully, "these bikes belong to us. We're the Power Rangers."
"Conner," Kira hissed, looking appalled, but Conner ignored her.
"I'm Red," he continued, "and she's Yellow."
The cop looked unamused. As a matter of fact, he looked quite angry. "And you expect me to believe that?" he scoffed. "Two high school kids are Power Rangers. Why aren't you out there, fighting the good fight, saving the city?"
"Mesogog stole our morphers," Conner said simply. "He's the one that let the monster loose."
"That's a made-up name if ever I've heard one," the cop said. "Tell you what. If you two are Rangers...prove it."
Conner and Kira exchanged a glance. They couldn't. Not because they were bound to keeping their identities secret --which they were-- but because they very simply couldn't, not physically.
The cop smirked. "I thought as much." Suddenly the smirk was gone, replaced with a deadly seriousness. "Do you two know anything about the missing rangers?"
"No, nothing," Kira assured him hastily.
"You two are coming with me to the station."
"What? Why?" Conner demanded.
"I don't think two punks like you kids are capable of taking out the Power Rangers. But you're playing with stolen goods." He leveled them with a beady-eyed stare. "You're under arrest."
Outside of Ethan's cell, past the wall of Triptoids, so that he couldn't see, there was a bit of a commotion. He heard the distinctive battle cries of Dr. O., and the unmistakable sounds of a fight, a struggle, and then confusing and distressing silence. He heard the thud of a body to a floor, and the sound of something heavy being dragged.
A chill spread through Ethan's body.
"We're in jail," Conner marveled. Then again: "We're in jail."
"I can't believe you were telling him we're the Power Rangers."
"Um, just so you know, we are the Power Rangers," Conner said, as if it was the biggest 'no duh' statement in the world. Which, by rights, it was.
"Yeah, but we're not supposed to tell people, McKnight!" she cried, hitting his arm.
He rubbed the spot. "Jeez, Kira, I was trying to not get us in trouble."
"And you got us arrested."
"I don't see you doing anything!" he retorted.
"Me doing nothing is better than everything you've been doing," she said.
"You're infuriating," he sighed, shaking his head.
"You wrote the book on that!" she retorted, and next thing he knew, he was grabbing her to him, however stupidly, and kissing her with all the fervor of a man who had narrowly escaped death several times in the past two days, and yet still couldn't manage to catch a break.
She pushed him off of her. "God, Conner, are you out of your mind? This is not the time or place for that."
He arched an eyebrow, wearing a cocky smile. "Oh yeah? When is the time? And where is the place? Because I want to be there for this."
She sighed, sitting down on the uncomfortable stone bench. "We can't break out of here. Not like the fortress." He was a bit upset that she didn't want to kiss him, but he could, of course, understand. He sat next to her, feeling a little ashamed about earlier.
"I know. I'm sorry. Hey, have we gotten our call yet?"
"No. Things are a bit too crazy outside for anyone to pay us much notice. Even though we 'stole' the Raptor cycles. But when we finally get our call, I'm calling Hayley."
Conner nodded, not wanting to imagine how his mother would react if she heard that Conner was in jail. She already was beginning to think of him as a delinquent. He sighed.
"Well, there's nothing we can do about our situation right now," Kira said slowly.
"Nope," he agreed, and after a moment of silence, he bit the bullet. "Kira?"
"How do you feel about me?"
She looked up sharply. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Conner shrugged. "Valid question. We've got nothing better to do now than discuss it, so let's discuss it. We kissed, Kira, and it definitely meant something to me. I laid my cards on the table for you. But now I want to know how you feel about me."
"I'm not asking you to fall head over heels in love with me," he said casually, although he was hoping that very thing would be true. "I just want to know if I even make an appearance as a blip on your radar." Unable to help himself, he added loftily, "Trent's more or less made his true colors known."
"Don't even start that."
"Kira, please. He turned tail and ran when it came down to saving the city. Sure, I can understand him wanting to destroy us, but Reefside is his home, for crying out loud. He's the only Ranger around who actually has powers, and he just left. And you're in love with this guy?"
"For your information, Conner, I have never been in love with him. I haven't had a crush on him in some time."
"So what about me?" said Conner.
"What about you, Conner," said Kira levelly, and to Conner, it was obvious she was just stalling for time. To help aid her decision, he pulled her to him slowly, and was thrilled when she melted into the kiss.
"I love you," he said quietly. "That might not mean anything to you, but..."
"It means a lot to me," she assured him. She pushed some of his hair out of his face in a gesture more tender than anything he'd ever witnessed Kira doing. "If things were different, Conner--"
"Don't say it if you don't mean it," he cautioned her.
"I do mean it. If things were different, you and I could be something. I...I care about you. It's not what you want, exactly, and I'm sorry about that, but I can't do any better than that. Not right now."
He nodded. It was stupid to be worrying about this now, when there were much bigger things at stake, but he couldn't help himself. Still...'not right now' held promise. If they made it out of this (if that was even possible), he was going to try again.
"One more kiss?" he found himself asking, almost shyly, which was weird, considering that Conner had never in his life been shy. "For fortitude," he added with a quick grin that was more his style.
Kira snorted a laugh. "Sure." And they kissed again, worried and afraid and confused.
Until a bright light flashed, distracting them. "Dr. O.!" they chorused, jumping to their feet as the Black Ranger arrived via glowing invisoportal. "You're okay!" Conner said, relieved. They rushed over. "How did you get out?" asked Kira.
"No time for that," Dr. O. said curtly. "We have to get you out of here."
Without warning, he grabbed each of their hands, and the portal shimmered behind him as he sucked them in.
"What the--" Conner said as they landed, because he'd been expecting Dr. O.'s house or at the very least, some place in Reefside for their final destination. But that was not the case.
The Black Ranger didn't seem concerned or even surprised when they arrived. He'd known precisely where they were going.
"Good work, Doctor Oliver," hissed Mesogog, stepping out of the shadows.
Conner and Kira fell into ready stances out of instinct, but they stiffened when the surprises piled upon themselves: Dr. O. got to one knee and bowed his head reverently before the lizard. "As you requested," he said. "My lord."
As the Red and Yellow Rangers were kissing in their jail cell, the Blue Ranger was in a cell of his own still. He was awakened from his fitful, restless sleep by the sounds of a scuffle. Something in the back of his subconscious jumped to the irrational conclusion that maybe Dr. O. was okay, and he jolted awake, sitting upright. He blinked at the door to his cell, where the Triptoids slowly tumbled to the ground, to reveal the White Ranger.
"Get up. We're getting you out of here," Trent said. A flurry of motion, and the flimsy replacement lock was shattered, the metal door swinging slowly, creakily open.
"Uh..." Ethan said. "Um, some sort of explanation, please?"
Trent sighed. "Jeez, you guys have gotten a few too many knocks to the head; you're all idiots. I'm here to get you out. Mesogog and Elsa are somewhere in the fortress with the Black Ranger, and--"
"Wait, he's not dead?" Ethan interrupted.
"No," Trent said irritably. "At least, not yet. Anyway, they're doing that, and Zeltrax is wreaking havoc on Reefside. No one's watching the Dino Gems. You go in, get the morphers, get out."
"Why are you helping me?" said Ethan suspiciously. "We're not exactly pals, in case you'd forgotten."
"Because I want Mesogog to get his as much as you guys do. I don't like you. Any of you. At all. I can take you losers down, no problem. But I can't take down Mesogog, and you might be able to. If you defeat him, then I can defeat you, then I'm the winner. Simple."
He said it in such a cold, calculating tone that Ethan didn't for a second doubt that Trent believed every word he said. He didn't care about the Rangers. He didn't want to help them. He wanted only to help himself.
But he was getting Ethan out. And at the moment, that was all that mattered. "You're sure about all of this, right?" he said, stepping out of the cell.
"For the record, I don't trust you."
"That makes you smarter than I thought. Let's go."
"What are they doing to Dr. O., do you know?" Ethan asked as they darted down the hall, on their way to the main chamber.
"I'm going for stealth here," Trent grumbled. "And no, I don't know what they're doing to him, nor do I care. So shut up already, would you?"
They reached the main chamber, where the morphers sat on a pedestal in the open, unwatched. It was too easy. Way too easy, but Ethan didn't have much of a choice. He entered, grabbed them. Red, blue, yellow. He fixed his own bracelet back to his wrist, and jammed Conner's and Kira's into his large pockets. "Done and done. Where's the invisoportal?"
"In the hall there. Same one that brought you in. Back to the warehouse."
Ethan started for the hall, then stopped. "Hey, Trent...thanks."
"Don't thank me," Trent said gruffly.
"Fine, whatever, I won't. But there was something weird...that warehouse belongs to your dad. Anton Mercer. Do you know why he would have a portal opening there?"
The White Ranger was completely impassive, as Ethan had expected. He decided to let it go, and get going himself. He jumped into the portal and landed in the warehouse he'd been taken from. He activated the communicator. "Hayley? It's Ethan."
"Ethan! Where are you?" she demanded.
"I'm back in the warehouse district," he said. "Where are the Cycles?"
"No time for that. Please tell me you have a morpher on you."
"Yeah, I've got--"
"Great. There's trouble, and Reefside needs you more than ever."
"'My lord?'" Conner repeated incredulously. "What's going on here?"
"Dr. O..?" said Kira uncertainly.
Mesogog stepped out of the shadows, Elsa hovering at his elbow. "Your beloved Doctor Oliver has defected to my side," he hissed, sneering grotesquely. "And he's come in quite handy. Now I have all the Rangers I need to complete my collection."
"You could just collect action figures like a normal person," Conner spat. "Dr. O., you can't be serious...you're not in league with Mesogog."
"I live only to serve my lord," the Black Ranger said, his voice thick with worship. Conner could only stare, flabbergasted. Kira looked disgusted and horrified, then settled on sad.
"I can't decide if that's better or worse than Trent," Conner said. "He may be a slime-sucking scumbag, but at least he has a mind of his own."
"This is a very touching reunion, Lord Mesogog," Elsa said, "and I'm enjoying the betrayal and emotional pain thing, but shouldn't we get around to destroying the Rangers so we can claim the power of the gems for ourselves?"
Mesogog flashed her a 'don't-try-to-upstage-me' glare, but he conceded. "Yes, that would be excellent. Retrieve the Gems."
Elsa went to the side of the room, and stood with her back to the group for a long moment, as if composing herself. Then she returned, head bowed in anticipation of the severe rebuke she was about to receive. "Master, the Gems are gone."
"What?" Mesogog hissed, whirling on his subordinate. Conner hid a smile at the knowledge that Mesogog wasn't as unflappable as Conner had originally thought. The Red Ranger exchanged a confused glance with Kira as they both silently wondered what had happened to the gems. And Ethan, for that matter...Mesogog had brainwashed Dr. O., but where was the Blue Ranger?
"This is unacceptable!" Mesogog roared. "Where is Zeltrax?"
"Monitoring the monster, my lord," Elsa said, nodding submissively.
"Take our prisoners to join their friend," Mesogog said, and Conner was relieved to know that they still had Ethan. Well, not so much that he was still in the clutches of the bad guys, but at least they knew where he was now. The Rangers were going to be reunited.
The monster was a hideous owl-type creature with a torso composed of a stereo speaker. Unfortunately, this owl had night vision in the form of lasers, and the sonic bellows of the speaker were destroying buildings left and right.
"I have no idea where Conner and Kira are," Hayley admitted as she and Ethan watched from the basement. "I haven't heard from them since they left the warehouse. How did you get out of Mesogog's fortress, by the way?"
"There's time for that later," Ethan said, handing over the red and yellow Gems. "Keep these safe. I have to go keep everyone else safe. I just hope it's not too late." He stepped off the platform, turning his bracelet into his morpher with the 'ready' command. "Dino Thunder, power up!"
Ethan charged the Tricerazord into battle, flanked by the Ankylo and Parasaur Zords. He couldn't get the Megazord without his friends, but he still had authority enough to command the auxiliary Zords that the Rangers. Plus, he was hoping the three-against-one odds would be beneficial.
He and the monster exchanged a few choice insults before launching into a furious battle. Parasaur and Ankylo double-teamed the beast with two tail whips, and Ethan lunged forward to butt his horns into the speaker, trashing the sound system. "That should cut you down to size," Ethan said, smirking behind his helmet. But his smile didn't last, because the monster responded by shooting at Ethan with his laser eyes. "Where is the Ptera-rang when you need it?" grumbled Ethan.
"Ethan," said Hayley over the communicator, "get behind Ankylozord. When he fires again, the beams should bounce off Ankylo's armor."
"And strike down speaker boy with his own weapon," Ethan finished. "Brilliant, Hayley. On it."
Ethan provoked the monster into firing again, by jabbing him once more with his horns. The owl eyes glowed, and Ankylo moved to the forefront to shield from the attack. As Hayley predicted, the laser beams bounced off Ankylo's armor, destroying the monster. Ethan whooped victoriously, disembarking from the Tricerazord, and finding himself face-to-face with a police officer.
"I wanted to say thank you for your assistance in saving the city," the cop said.
Ethan nodded. "You're welcome. Sorry it couldn't have been sooner, there were...ah...other matters to be dealt with."
The cop waved off Ethan's apology. "Understandable. Think nothing of it. The important thing is that you came at all. But if I may ask...where are the other Rangers?"
Ethan found himself blurting honestly, "I have no idea."
"Erm, sir, if I may..." the cop said hesitantly, and Ethan raised his unseen eyebrows at the idea of being called 'sir' by a law enforcement official, "earlier today we arrested two perps who were seen with red and blue bikes that we believe to belong to the Power Rangers." The Raptor Cycles that Ethan and Dr. O. had left at the warehouse. Conner and Kira had taken them back, Hayley had said...that explained where the missing Rangers were, in jail!
"Male, seventeen or eighteen, brown hair, brown eyes, six-one, and female, sixteen or seventeen, blond hair, hazel eyes, five-two." Definitely Conner and Kira. "They were claiming to be the Red and Yellow Rangers." Not good; very, very not good. With the real Red and Yellow Rangers 'missing', and Conner and Kira's names no doubt on file by now.
"Where are they now?" Ethan asked.
"I'd like to see them, if I may," Ethan said. "To thank them for retrieving our bikes."
"But sir..." the cop said, clearly still clinging to the belief that the 'perps' had stolen the bikes.
"I do need the bikes back, don't I?" Ethan said. "When the other Rangers return from their mission, they could come in handy." He had to make sure that Conner and Kira got released. He didn't need them in jail, that was for sure.
At the station, the cops fell all over themselves to return the Raptor Cycles and lead Ethan to the cell where Conner and Kira were being held. A windowless, locked room. An empty, windowless, locked room. The police were flabbergasted. Ethan was just worried.
Conner and Kira were more missing than ever.
Elsa was about to lead Conner and Kira to their cell once more, but Zeltrax chose that moment to come in the room. "Master," he began.
"Zeltrax," Mesogog said. "Please tell me you have some good news about the fate of Reefside."
"Sir, the Tweeter monster has been defeated," Zeltrax reported. Conner and Kira exchanged the briefest of smiles; as far as they were concerned, that was great news about the fate of Reefside.
"How can that be?" Elsa said.
"The Blue Ranger escaped," the cyborg said shortly. The Dino Gems were missing, Ethan was missing, and that could only mean that Ethan had their morphers and was back with Hayley. Conner gripped Kira's hand excitedly.
"Zeltrax, that is twice now you've failed me," Mesogog said. He turned to Elsa. "Throw him in the dungeon with our prisoners. Perhaps this time, they will not escape. And perhaps this time, Zeltrax might actually be of some use." Now he looked to Dr. O. "Come with me, Number Two," he said extra dramatically, obviously wanting to cut down Zeltrax. They left through one door, and Elsa pushed Conner and Kira through another.
"Don't screw up this time, Zeltrax," Elsa said, as she shoved the three of them in the cell, now with two shattered locks littering the floor in front of it. "The Master will have your head."
As her heels clacked down the hallway, Zeltrax let out a wail. "I have been demoted!" he cried in an agonized tone, whirling on the Rangers. "Once again, your pathetic teacher has taken my place. This is the last time, though! Never again will Dr. Tommy Oliver win the hearts of my teammates."
Kira raised her eyebrows at this statement, and Conner summed it up more bluntly, "Ew."
If Zeltrax had eyes that Conner and Kira could see, they would have been flashing dangerously. He unsheathed his sword and advanced on the Rangers slowly in the cramped cell. "I shall destroy you," he said menacingly. He raised his sword, and Conner pushed Kira behind him. "This is for the Master," Zeltrax said. The blade glinted as it lowered.
"Zeltrax! Are you out of your mind?"
Conner had never thought he'd be happy to hear Elsa's voice, but the leather-clad minion was storming over to the cell, her presence halting the blade of Zeltrax's sword far too close to body parts that Conner wanted to keep in tact.
"Put that sword away, you insufferable simpleton," Elsa hissed, opening the lock and wrenching the door open. "The Master is saving the Rangers for Tommy."
"He is 'Tommy' now?" Zeltrax said furiously, spinning to face his teammate. Conner took this opportunity to usher Kira back farther from the psychotic couple. They were blocking the exit, so there was no chance for escape, but the farther he got her from them, the better he felt. "What is your relationship with the Black Ranger, Elsa?" demanded Zeltrax.
"He is number two in the ranks," Elsa said calmly. "I am number three. I answer to him, when necessary."
"And you're in love with him! You were beside yourself with ecstasy at the prospect of turning him to our side. What does that pompous science teacher have that I do not, Elsa?"
"If anyone here is pompous, it's you, Zeltrax. But I'm not here to discuss the merits of the Black Ranger, versus your utter lack of them. Now that all of the pieces are coming together, we can afford to set aside some more...responsible sentry for our captives. I'm here to make sure that they don't escape, and that you don't do anything foolish."
"Destroying our enemies hardly constitutes foolishness," Zeltrax bit out.
"Their deaths now will do us no good, you bungling boob," she snarled back, venom in her eyes. "The Blue Ranger and Dr. Oliver's concubine are in possession of the gems, and so when the Rangers are destroyed, the powers are free again...free to choose two new Rangers. We want the gems in our power before we kill these two sniveling wastes!" She paused, a nasty smirk crossing her face. "Besides, Mesogog has delegated the task of the Rangers' destruction to Dr. Oliver. He wants to prove the Black Ranger's loyalty. While your incompetence is staggering, Zeltrax, your loyalty is unquestioned."
Conner couldn't help himself: "Dr. O.'s loyalty isn't, wasn't, and never will be to you guys."
Elsa laughed, amused and yet hollow. "You keep thinking that, Red Ranger."
"Though it pains me, I am inclined to agree with the red one," Zeltrax said in his gravelly voice. "Dr. Oliver would never have allegiance to our side. He is too noble of spirit." He made that sound like a disease.
"Concede defeat, you little pukes," Elsa said. "Your game is up."
"Heard that before," retorted Kira sharply. "You're all talk, Elsa."
Elsa's face twitched, and she was clearly fighting the desire to yank Zeltrax's sword from him and finish off the Rangers herself.
"So let me get this straight," Conner said. "We're trapped here with you clowns until Meso-goon gets the Gems back?"
"Yes," Elsa said guardedly.
"Oh, great, so forever, then," he said, rolling his eyes. "Fantastic."
"Bite your tongue!" Elsa snarled, and she in fact chucked logic aside in favor of desire, grabbing Zeltrax's sword from his hands and holding the point of it to Conner's throat. "I will not hesitate to kill you."
Even with the sharp metal prodding his skin, Conner was not as scared as he'd been when Zeltrax had pulled the same move. He was fairly certain that Elsa was just threatening them --all talk, as Kira had said-- whereas Zeltrax, on the other hand, was severely unhinged.
He met Elsa's heavy-rimmed eyes steadily, with no trace of fear in his gaze. Finally, she lowered the sword. "Lord Mesogog would be displeased," she offered as her excuse for not following through. She shot a scathing, 'try me' at Kira, who was biting back her scornful smirk.
Elsa stalked out of the cell, locking it behind her, and stood on the opposite side of the bars, no doubt to torture the prisoners with the feeble thought of escape. Zeltrax stood and paced in front of the door, and Conner and Kira sat down against the back wall. "'If things were different,'" Conner said.
"Don't I wish," Kira answered with a note of disgust.
"No, it was what you said back in jail," Conner said, not quite able to ignore his use of the phrase 'in jail' and the weirdness of having been in jail and broken out of it. "You said if things were different, things could happen between us. What things need to be different?"
Kira rolled her eyes. "You're so not doing this now."
"What else am I supposed to do? Listen to those two freaks bicker like some old married couple?" he countered, gesturing uselessly at their captors. "I want to know."
"Well, for starters, we wouldn't be in Mesogog's dungeon," Kira said. "We'd have our morphers, Dr. O. would be out of his suit, Trent wouldn't be evil--"
"I knew this was about that poser!" Conner interrupted with a groan.
"Oh, for crying out loud, Conner, could you get over your vendetta for five seconds?" said Kira irritably. "Seriously, you have a one-track mind."
"Well, c'mon, Kira, every time I bring up the subject of you and me, you bring him up. What am I supposed to think? I don't like him. And may I remind you that you're the one who wants things to be 'different'. They'd be 'different' if he hadn't kidnapped you and gotten us into this whole mess in the first place!"
"This is the different I was talking about, Conner! A different place where you weren't a jealous jackass."
"Oh, so I'm a jackass now?" he said, standing up.
She stood up, too, facing off against him and far more intimidating at a foot shorter than him than Elsa had been at his height, leather-clad and armed. How would it look for the mighty Red Ranger if he was scared of his own petite teammate?
But the thing was, she looked utterly furious. It wasn't even as though she had just cause, because he couldn't remember anything particularly heinous he'd done lately to deserve her wrath, but she started into her rant regardless. "You are so freaking full of yourself, you seem to think that you're the big strong man type, that everyone around you needs saving--"
"Kira, I don't think you need protecting. I have never thought that. You are the most capable out of any of us, save for Dr. O., but only because he has the age thing and the experience thing, and, like, sixty million karate trophies. And the only reason I go around 'protecting' everybody is because it's my job. I'm the leader of the team, your guys' safety is on my head. You used to complain that I wasn't a good leader, and now that I'm trying to be, it's still not good enough. What gives? I just want you guys to be okay. You especially. Not because I think you're weak, but because--" he glanced out of the corner of his eye at their captors, who weren't paying attention to them, "--well, you know."
To his surprise, Kira backed down. "I guess you're right. I shouldn't waste this time bickering with you..."
"Waste this time?" he echoed. "Kira, you love fighting with me."
"But it's not like we have much--"
"Don't even," he cut her off, grabbing her arm abruptly. "Don't say anything like that, don't even think that. This is not the end. We're going to come out of this, okay?"
She blinked up at him with watery eyes, but he recognized the determination lurking beneath the liquid surfaces. And then he thought he understood. In addition to everything else that was happening to them, Conner had also thrown in the twist of his feelings for her. Which just left her more confused than ever, most likely. She had felt it, too, when they had kissed. The spark. The potential for something incredible. But she didn't know how she felt about him, at least not fully, at least not yet. And with all of that swirling around in her mind, making her feel completely helpless, the only way she could take control of the situation was if she got pissed at Conner. Being mad at Conner was the way she dealt with him a good share of the time.
Whether or not his assumptions were right, he would probably never know, but it made the most sense about her outrageous mood swings. He was satisfied.
But then, as if Zeltrax and Elsa weren't enough, Mesogog chose that moment to make his presence known. "My lord," Elsa said. "How much closer are we to obtaining the gems?"
"As much as I regret taking you from your post, Elsa, your presence is requested. Doctor Oliver has left the fortress."
"Conner and Kira are missing," Ethan announced as he walked into the basement.
"No kidding," said Hayley.
"No, I mean, it's worse than that. They got arrested."
"They got what?" Hayley said, whirling around to stare at him. "Please tell me you're kidding!"
"You didn't know?"
"I haven't been monitoring them. We don't have the facilities currently, so I was watching the monster attack, trying to find weaknesses and the like. How'd they get themselves arrested?"
Ethan flashed his most sarcastic smile, one usually reserved for Conner. "They were driving the Raptor Cycles. The police thought they stole them. They have their names on file--think you can hack in, change that?" Hayley nodded. "Great. Anyway, I went to go get them, and they were gone. Cops were clueless."
"Mesogog," Hayley said.
"Has to be."
"I'll check the portal feed, just in case, but I think we both know where they ended up."
"There's something else," Ethan hedged.
She cocked an eyebrow. "How can there be more?"
"Mesogog has Dr. O.," Ethan said. "I mean, you already knew that he took us both, but the thing is, he...has Dr. O. They're doing something to him."
"What do you mean by something?"
"I don't know. I thought they'd killed him. But I guess not. I guess maybe they thought he'd have other uses..?"
"The only reason I can conceive of," Hayley mused, "is--"
The sound of something crashing alerted the two computer geniuses to another presence in the room. A still-morphed Dr. O. was stumbling into the basement, clutching at the railing on the stairs to maintain his balance, but falling to his knees.
"Tommy!" Hayley said, jumping to her feet as the two of them rushed over to help Dr. O. up. "You're okay!"
"You got out," Ethan marveled. "How?"
Dr. O. spoke ruefully, "It wasn't easy. Mesogog has Conner and Kira now."
"We know," Hayley said. "Here, sit down." She pushed him onto a stool.
"The portal that got me here should be able to get me and Ethan back in," Dr. O. said, shaking his head. He looked up at Ethan. "We need to get back there and rescue them."
"No arguments here," Ethan said. "Ready!" His bracelet flashed into his morphed, and he stood to transform, but Hayley held up her hand.
"Not just yet. We need to run a scan on Tommy and make sure he's okay." She put a hand on Dr. O.'s shoulder. "Ethan said they were doing something to you."
"I don't know what they told you they were doing, but they never touched me," Dr. O. insisted. "But I can't say that they won't do something to Conner and Kira. So we should get going, before it's too late."
"He's right," Ethan said to Hayley. Because Dr. O. was right; who knew how much time they had left? Any information he'd received about Dr. O.'s condition had come from Trent, besides. And even though he'd helped get Ethan out, Ethan still didn't trust the White Ranger.
Hayley wore a troubled expression, but she nodded. "If you're sure."
"Dino Thunder, power up!"
"Don't forget the gems," the Black Ranger cautioned the Blue, and Ethan scooped up his friends' Dino Gems. The team was going to be back and better than ever. Things were beginning to look up.
"What does he mean, 'left the fortress'?" Conner asked Zeltrax once the lizard and his number two --three?-- minion had evacuated the premises. "Did Dr. O. escape?"
"Regrettably, I am not privy to that information," Zeltrax said, still staring between the bars at where his compatriots had long since vanished. Then he turned his head, presumably to glare at the Rangers with eyes that they could not see. "And even if I knew, I certainly wouldn't share with the likes of you."
"Oh, and after we've gotten along so well in the past," Conner sneered.
"Bite your tongue, boy," Zeltrax said. "Only my loyalty to my Master, whom has given me life again, has kept me from killing you for your insolence."
"Yeah, I'll believe that," Conner said. He didn't know why he was provoking the guy with the sword; it wasn't like he had any sort of plan for getting them out of here.
"You know, a fat lot of good your loyalty has done you so far," Kira said in a calm, cool, rational voice. Conner cast her a slightly panicked look; because provocation wasn't good from one of them, much less from two of them. But maybe where Conner failed at having a plan, Kira was developing one. "I mean, Mesogog doesn't seem to like you much. He even prefers Elsa over you, and weren't you ranking higher than her?"
"I am a more competent fighter than Elsa," Zeltrax said, but Conner thought he detected a note of uncertainty in the cyborg's voice.
"I've gone against the both of you," Conner said carefully, "and no offense, dude, you leave me pretty out of it, but she absolutely creamed me the last time we fought." He waited for an enraged Zeltrax to lunge at him, but it didn't happen. Their adversary merely stood there.
"I'm sure Mesogog knows about this," Kira continued. "He's probably ashamed that his so-called 'elite' warrior gets his ass kicked by a high school jock."
"Watch it," Conner said. He didn't care what Kira's plan was, personal digs were unnecessary.
"What are you getting at," Zeltrax said.
"Join up with us," she said. "Be one of the winners."
"I will never defy my lord," Zeltrax snarled.
"Because he's done so much for you already," Conner said bitingly. "He's replaced you. By the guy you hate most. Now you can get Dr. Oliver back by taking over his team, the way he's taken over yours."
"You will let me have control?" said Zeltrax dubiously.
"No way," Conner said, at the same time Kira said, "Of course not; Conner's still in charge."
"I will not take orders from a teenager."
"So you won't join us. Fine. How about an exchange?" said Kira. "You help us out of here, and we'll give you what you've always wanted."
"The destruction of Dr. Tommy Oliver?"
"Jeez, one-track mind," Conner mumbled to himself.
"No," Kira said. "Elsa."
Trying not to think about the disturbing mutant tryst, Conner nodded. "That's right. Women happen to be a specialty of mine."
Zeltrax made a harrumphing sound. "I am sure."
"No, really, dude. C'mon, what have you got to lose?"
"Elsa hates me," the cyborg informed them unnecessarily.
"So? Kira used to hate me. Then I worked her over, and check us out now." He slung an arm possessively around her waist, praying she'd play along. "We're madly in love."
"That's right," Kira said, nodding emphatically and leaning into Conner.
"Check that," Conner said proudly. "I've got a gift, dude. Let me work my magic on Elsa, and you two will live freakily ever after."
"I would not betray my lord," Zeltrax said again, but there was the tiniest flicker of hesitance in his voice. "The punishment would be too severe."
"Screw the punishment. Once you have Elsa, the two of you can run off together or something."
"You are sure that this plan of yours will work?"
"Totally," Conner said, giving Kira another squeeze for good measure.
"Then I shall help you. It will be the ultimate betrayal against Dr. Oliver," Zeltrax said, nodding decisively. Conner neglected to mention that he seriously doubted Dr. O. gave a crap about Elsa.
Zeltrax lifted his sword, and through it, released an enormous blast of light that blew the door clear off its hinges. Conner swallowed hard, remembering how the sword had been at his neck not too long ago. He was glad that Zeltrax had opted for the more traditional method of execution.
"After you, babe," Conner said grandly to Kira, sweeping his arm at the exit.
"Don't call me babe," she snapped automatically. Conner just laughed and cast Zeltrax an 'aren't I lucky?' look. The three of them left the cell, and Conner segued into leader mode: "We need an invisoportal the hell out of this freaky fortress. Can you find us one, Zeltrax?"
"There is still an active portal in the main chamber, that should allow you access to downtown Reefside," Zeltrax said. He stepped in front of them. "I am coming with you."
"No way you are," Conner said.
"We have cut a deal, Red Ranger. I do not want you backing out."
"Hey, I'm on the good side. You have my word, dude."
"Do not call me dude." Zeltrax spoke haltingly when he said, "If I remain here after your escape, it will be far less beneficial to your cause."
"You mean that Mesogog is going to beat the living crap out of you," Kira translated. The cyborg didn't dignify this with a response, only confirming their suspicions.
"We can discuss this later," Conner said shortly. "Right now we just have to get out."
And so the motley crew made its way to the main chamber of Mesogog's island fortress.
The Black and Blue Rangers' invisoportal landed exactly where both of them expected it would. Ethan had suspected that one of the goons would be waiting for them, and sure enough, Mesogog and Elsa were waiting. "I see you've brought back the missing Ranger," Mesogog said. "I knew he would trust you."
It took Ethan a moment to process this statement, but when he figured out the implications of it, his heart sank. "Dr. O..."
At that moment, Conner, Kira, and Zeltrax came running in the room. "Ethan!" the two teenagers shouted together. "Don't trust Dr. O.," Conner added.
"Little late for that," Ethan admitted, then tossed his friends their gems. "Here!"
"No!" Mesogog hissed.
Conner and Kira affixed their bracelets to their wrists. "Just like old times," Conner said fondly. He smiled over at Kira. "Ready?"
"Dino Thunder, power up!"
"No!" Mesogog wailed this time. "Fools!"
Everything was happening at once: Zeltrax's betrayal of Mesogog, Dr. O.'s betrayal of the Rangers, and the transfer of power back to its rightful owners. But before anyone could fully process all of the pieces of the puzzle, the wall behind Mesogog shimmered, and Trent stepped away from it unmorphed, having used his civilian power of camouflage. "White Ranger, dino power," he said calmly.
"What are you doing here," Elsa, Conner, and Mesogog all demanded at once.
The smirk was as obvious as ever in the White Ranger's voice. "I've come for a little father-son reunion," he said, nodding at Mesogog. "Dad."
"Dad?" the three free-willed Rangers chorused disbelievingly. Halfway between Ethan and Mesogog, the Black Ranger cocked his head slightly.
"I'd always had my suspicions, since I found the gem in your lair," Trent continued. "But it was Ethan who made the final connection for me. All of the invisoportals --in one of your warehouses, in the museum, in our house-- how could Anton Mercer not be Mesogog?"
"Anton," said Dr. Oliver so softly that no one heard him.
"And here's something I bet you three didn't know," the White Ranger said lazily. "Elsa is Randall."
"That actually...doesn't surprise me at all," Conner said, shaking his head.
"I'm flattered," Elsa said flatly.
"So you've figured it out," Mesogog said. "Congratulations, son. Now with this knowledge in mind, I am confident you will declare your allegiance to our side."
"We had a deal, Trent!" Ethan yelled. "You said you wanted to take down Mesogog."
"I did," Trent said. "I do."
"Surely you wouldn't kill your own father," Mesogog said calmly, as though he knew perfectly well what Trent was going to do, even if Trent seemed uncertain.
"You're not my father," he spat. "Not by birth, and definitely not while you're some mutant freak. I told the Rangers I'd help them destroy you, then I'm destroying them myself. Reefside will soon be under my control."
"You are really starting to piss me off, dude," Conner said finally. "Super Dino Mode!" As his more powerful form revved up, he charged at Trent, knocking the surprised White Ranger to the ground.
"Conner!" Kira called as Trent bashed Conner's helmet repeatedly into the hard floor. But Conner kicked out, catching Trent in the shin. Trent groaned and relented just enough that Conner was able to roll the White Ranger off of him. If not restricted by his helmet, the now-standing Conner would have flashed the Yellow Ranger a cocky smile. "I've had worse," he said, and naturally in his moment of arrogance, Trent opted to rise to his feet behind him, and kick Conner in the gut with an impressive roundhouse.
"Dude, that was brutal," a winded Conner complained, then recovered a second later and once lunged for Trent.
"I will not stand for this," Mesogog said, and performed his mind-scrambling move on the first person he came across, who happened to be Zeltrax. "I do not tolerate betrayal," the lizard hissed, and Zeltrax felt to his knees, screaming in the throes of agony as his master ordered, "Elsa! Doctor Oliver! Dispose of the extra Rangers."
"As you wish, my lord," said Elsa with a quick nod, and she charged at Kira.
"Whoa!" Kira said, jumping back just in time to avoid the swing of Elsa's sword. The one thing she missed about being in morph was that she couldn't use her ptera-scream. But she was so happy to be in the spandex again that it didn't matter much. She commanded her Ptera Grips, and she met Elsa, blow for blow.
Dr. O., meanwhile, was taking on Ethan. He was putting up a fierce fight, and Ethan was struggling to keep up with his mentor. Tommy Oliver was the Ranger longest in uniform and most often put in a leading position for good reason: he was an amazing fighter. Ethan had always been grateful to be under Dr. O.'s tutelage, but he had never realized how hard Zeltrax had it, fighting the Black Ranger every day. As he tried to hold off Dr. O. as best he could with his Tricera Shield, and attempting not to fight back against his teacher and friend, Ethan was trying to talk the Black Ranger down. "Dr. O., it's me, it's Ethan! I'm a Ranger, just like you! You don't want to be working for Mesogog, why would you want to work for someone that pits Ranger against Ranger?" he said, ducking just in time to avoid a spinning kick to the head that was apparently Dr. O.'s answer.
Conner was getting winded, and he was unable to maintain Super Dino Mode, so he resorted to his normal form with a slight renewed vigor. It did take a little extra work to maintain Super Dino, so now he had that spare energy to concentrate to other matters. Out of the corner of his eye, he observed Ethan trying to talk Dr. O. out of kicking his ass, Kira rapidly growing tired against Elsa's endless assault. Conner ducked one of Trent's flying fists and spun around the White Ranger, this time getting a view of Zeltrax on the ground, falling to his hands and his knees, panting for air, for release, as an orange glow haloed around him, penetrating the thick cyborg skull. Conner didn't envy his adversary any time, particularly now.
Conner pummeled Trent into the ground, and for the second time in only a few days, he held the advantage over the Ranger in white, who lost his morph. It was time to end this. Not just his struggle with Trent, but all of this nonsense. He was through.
"Kira, Ethan!" Conner barked from his position on the floor. "Lasers! Aim for anything --and anyone-- that looks large and in charge! We're taking this place to the ground!"
Ethan tilted his head questioningly, but he trusted the Red Ranger's judgment. Conner had gotten them into a few scrapes in their duration in duty, but he'd gotten them out of far more. In the beginning, he'd been utterly incompetent, but he'd proven to have a good head on his shoulders.
The Yellow and Blue Rangers drew their lasers and fired. Kira at Elsa, Ethan at the wall of DNA samples behind the various battles. Glass shattered, green goo flew about the room. Elsa went down like a sack of bricks from a direct hit at close range. Kira and Ethan continued their siege on the main chamber while Conner rose to his feet, Trent wheezing on the ground, battered but not broken. Conner began firing his own laser, taking potshots at Mesogog, and anything that looked science-y, deeming it dangerous to society.
The shelves of experiments were falling to the ground, there was general chaos as vials and test tubes smashed everywhere, as various villains moaned in pain, as things exploded from laser fire. Conner took aim at what he thought to be the main security system; it fizzled from the shot, smoke rising and electricity crackling before it burst into flame, and suddenly the room began to shake. Clearly, whatever apparatus Conner had destroyed was tied to the entire fortress.
"Time to move," he barked, hoping that the invisoportal was still triggered. "Ethan, grab Dr. O."
Without question, Ethan holstered his laser gun and grabbed a stunned Black Ranger, shoving him through the glowing green oval. "Kira! Go!" Conner yelled, firing randomly around the room. He had wanted complete demolition of the lair, and he intended to get it.
Kira moved towards the portal. Conner had been waiting for her to get through safely before he went through himself, but after he had finished blasting the hell out of the self-destructing main chamber, he looked at Trent, prone at his feet.
Trent, who wanted to obliterate the Rangers.
Who had claimed that Reefside would be under his control.
Whose dad was Mesogog.
Who had moments ago been beating the living crap out of Conner.
Who was a Ranger.
Who had once been a friend.
Although for selfish purposes, he had helped all three of his fellow Rangers throughout this ordeal. Conner hated his guts. But one thing he had learned about himself was that no matter how much he loathed the kid --and oh, how he detested Trent Fernandez-- Conner was incapable of killing him. And leaving him here would be as good as death.
Conner bent and lifted Trent into his arms, intending to perform the ultimate act of heroism, as was his Ranger duty, and help his fellow man. The walls were crumbling around the individuals still packed inside the chamber. Conner could vaguely make out the lumpy shapes of Mesogog and his goons, trapped somewhere within the evidence of their lost experiments. Kira was hovering near the portal. The place was moments from collapsing upon itself.
"Go, go, go!" he ordered at Kira. One might think that seeing the girl he loved clad in yellow spandex day after day might be something exciting, something sexy, but it had only ever sparked terror in Conner. Every time she was in the spandex, she was risking her life for the populace, under Conner's command to do something potentially life-threatening. Every time he saw the petite girl in the tight, uncomfortable outfit, he felt nothing but worry. He prayed after this, he'd never have to deal with that again. That he would be able to look at Kira with only fear that she might kick his butt for being an idiot, not fear that she might not live through the battle.
"Con--" she began urgently, and Conner fell forward, Trent weighing him down, as something stabbed him sharply in the back.
"Conner!" Kira shrieked desperately, as Conner fell to the ground and lost his morph. Heat was spreading through his back, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elsa standing over him triumphantly.
"I would never let you win," she declared, and he saw the glint of her sword in the flickering lights of the crumbling lair, saw the dark stain at the point. He pieced together this information very slowly, a certain blackness creeping into his brain, begging to cover up the pain like a thick, dark blanket.
"Kira, stop her," he said, his voice sounding foreign. "Don't let her through the portal."
He blinked furiously, trying to keep his eyes open, something in the back of his mind demanding that he keep conscious, that he not fall victim to the same sinister shroud that had claimed Trent. He heard from far away Kira's command for her weapon, he saw the blurry yellow shape rushing towards the blurry black shape, he heard a terrifying, final slice, he saw one of the shapes fall. He couldn't tell what was falling, however, because it was too late for him.
Conner wanted an escape from the overwhelming pain.
He succumbed to the dark.
The first face he saw was Kira's. Her cheeks were wet and shining, and she threw her arms around him. "Oh, thank God."
"What..?" he asked tiredly, and sudden shooting pain up and down his body made him cut off sharply with an injured wail.
"She stabbed you," Kira explained.
"Elsa?" he asked, once stars stopped dancing in front of his eyes. He was beginning to piece things together: he was lying on the medic cot at the Rangers' headquarters. Kira was perched on a stool next to him on one side, Hayley standing over him on the other, checking his vitals. His entire body was in screaming pain, and he met Kira's eyes to distract himself.
She was nodding. "How much do you remember?"
"The fortress was self-destructing," Conner said softly. "I was trying to get you and Trent out. Elsa stabbed me with her sword." He swallowed hard and winced. "Who made it out?"
"We all did," Kira said. "You, me, Ethan. Dr. O. But he's still under Mesogog's mind control; we had to put him in custody. Trent." He couldn't read the expression in Kira's face, it was still darker than average in the basement thanks to Trent's sabotage. "You risked your life for him, Conner. He's been trying to kill us, you in particular, and you almost died saving him." She sighed, and it was shaky. "I'm so proud of you," she breathed, and whatever painkillers Hayley had administered made him numb to the pain, so he only felt the momentary pleasure of her sweet kiss.
It only lasted for a few seconds, though, and he keenly felt the loss. "Kira--"
"He's okay," she continued. "Unconscious still; you really did a number on him. But you're worse off." She frowned, trying to order all the facts in her mind. "The portal took us back to that one intersection about a mile from Dr. O.'s. Remember? The one where we first fought Zeltrax?"
"When you escaped from Mesogog," he remembered. "The day we met." He had to close his eyes, as he still felt some pain. He wondered what she must think of him. "Where's Ethan?" he asked finally.
"Ethan and Hayley are trying to figure out a way to reverse Mesogog's work on Dr. O.," she said. He didn't recall seeing Hayley leave. Of course, since he'd woken up, he'd only had tired eyes for Kira.
"Kira," he tried again, "what happened? When I got hurt."
She looked away. "Elsa stabbed you. She was trying to stop you from getting out, she was trying to get out herself. You asked me to stop her." He'd ordered her to, as the team leader. She'd listened to every command he'd given her in the past few days, no matter how crazy. "So I did."
"Did she get out?"
"When I saw you get hurt, Conner, I was so scared. You were bleeding, and I had to drag you and Trent through myself, and you wouldn't wake up, and I was just so scared..." She still wouldn't meet his eyes. "I hated her so much. I still do."
Kira pushed his hair out of his face. "You should sleep." She stood up, brushing her lips across his forehead very slightly. Conner felt a small smile tug at his face from the gesture, but his eyes were already closed.
Ethan put his hand on her arm. "How's he doing?"
She shook her head, misery in her eyes. "He's holding on, but it's...he's sort of disjointed. I don't know. He remembers. He's not totally with it, though. He didn't really follow the conversation." She pounded her fist into her hand. "I should've killed her. I had the chance."
"No, you shouldn't have. Conner never would've forgiven you."
"If he doesn't make it out of this, I'm never going to forgive myself," she said, her voice shaking. Ethan moved to embrace her tightly. "Do you think I should have told him how bad he is?"
"Of course not. He doesn't need to know that. Listen, Conner's going to make it through this, okay? He's tough. You don't get to wear the red suit if you don't have something to put in it, you know?"
Kira nodded, and Ethan relaxed his grip on her. Hayley came over to join them. "How's Trent?" asked Ethan.
"Better than Conner," Hayley admitted reluctantly. She flashed Ethan a wan smile. "How's Tommy?"
"It's a good thing we had some of that amber left over," Ethan said. "It's holding him down. Mostly he just keeps muttering Anton Mercer's name."
"Tommy really respected Mercer," Hayley said. "It must be hard for him to come to grips with the idea that Mercer and Mesogog are one and the same. It's not that easy for me. But there's some good out of that--it means that Tommy isn't too far gone into the mind control."
"Silver lining, huh," Ethan muttered.
Hayley touched Kira's shoulder. "Are you doing okay?"
The Yellow Ranger didn't answer for a long time, then finally mumbled her "Yes."
"He'll be fine."
"I wish people would stop saying that." She sighed. "We have a lot to do. I shouldn't be thinking about this." Kira looked to Hayley, resolve in her eyes. "Mesogog killed Zeltrax. And Elsa died when the island exploded. But what about Mesogog?"
"I didn't see him," Ethan said.
"I think he was trapped under the rubble."
"There was only one portal used, according to my readings," Hayley said. "And five Rangers went through it."
"Trent's never going to join us now," Kira said. "We're essentially responsible for killing his dad."
"He wanted to kill Mesogog himself," Ethan reminded her.
"That was before we knew he was Mercer."
"Was it? Trent said he'd suspected for awhile..."
"Suspected, Ethan, not knew. I know Anton Mercer hasn't exactly been the shining example of fatherly love, but Trent couldn't possibly want him dead."
"There's nothing we can do," Ethan said, and Kira stared across the room at Conner, who wasn't even aware that he was fighting for his life. With Hayley's and Ethan's hands on either of her shoulders, Kira repeated the useless mantra to herself: There's nothing we can do.
With Hayley keeping an eye on the two injured Rangers, it was up to Ethan to try and figure out how to un-brainwash Dr. O. Kira certainly wasn't much use in the ideas department, spending most of her time hovering by Conner's bedside with a tortured expression. Ethan was worried about his best friend as well, but Kira seemed at an utter loss.
"Hey, Dr. O.," Ethan said conversationally, coming up to where the Black Ranger's wrists were soldered to the wall with some of the leftover amber.
"Ethan," the teacher said in a resigned tone, "could you let me down from here?" Ethan would be inclined to believe him, if not for the fact that Dr. O. had seemed perfectly normal when tricking Ethan into bringing the gems to Mesogog. Plus, Kira had said that he seemed normal when breaking her and Conner out of jail. So Ethan wasn't taking any chances.
"Mesogog's dead, you know. You don't have to serve him anymore. You never had to," he added pointedly. "There's a fine line between reverence and naivety, Dr. O." He straddled a stool. "How're you coping with the Mercer-Mesogog thing?"
"I can't believe it," Dr. O. said. "I mean, of course I can...it explains what happened to Anton when the island exploded."
"Speaking of which, we blew up another island," Ethan informed his teacher. He was about to play mother-therapist and ask how that made Dr. O. feel, but he had a feeling he wouldn't like the response.
Dr. O. was only just barely tolerating Ethan's existence, just like Zeltrax had only barely tolerated his. The man was programmed to hate the Rangers. Ethan wondered how he would take the news he was about to receive.
"Dr. O., there's something I have to tell you," Ethan said darkly. "Hayley was working on a plan to get you out of your suit. You know she's been trying for awhile to develop something." Dr. O.'s helmet jerked once in a slight nod of recognition. "But it backfired. We don't know what went wrong, but..."
"Hayley..?" Dr. O. asked.
Ethan shook his head. "I'm sorry, Dr. O."
Kira sat in Dr. O.'s kitchen, staring into a mug of tea and not drinking. She didn't even drink tea; she wasn't sure why she'd prepared it for herself. It was warm against her hands.
She'd gone home briefly to change, glad that her mother was out of town so that she might not have to answer questions about her whereabouts over the last few days. Kira just wanted it to all be over, but it wasn't and there was nothing she could do to speed up the process. Going home had been a mistake, just as going upstairs had been a mistake, because there was only one place she wanted to be.
Kira dumped the contents of her untouched mug in the sink and went back downstairs, over to Conner's cot. His eyes opened when she approached, and she suspected he'd heard her coming. "Hey."
"Hi," she said quietly.
"I'm not doing too hot, am I, Kira," Conner said flatly.
"Where are you getting that from?"
"You haven't told me that I'm going to be okay. Hayley and Ethan both were spewing the whole 'you're gonna be okay' thing, but you never said the words."
"Conner..." She was struck with the impulse of wanting to laugh, to cry, to smack him, to kiss him, to hold him tightly, to run away, all at once. She looked away. "It's complicated."
He barked out a cynical laugh, one that rapidly deteriorated into a weak cough. "Complicated? Not really. Either I'm going to be fine, or I'm on death's door and I don't even know it. Which is it, Kira? Please."
"I can't play God for you, Conner," she told him sadly. She put her hand on his shoulder, but drew it back quickly. "You need to get some rest."
"Kira," he said, but she wouldn't meet his eyes.
"You'll feel better if you do," she said, and walked away. She settled herself in a corner of the basement where she could see Conner without him seeing her. He stared off, looking distressed, looking in pain, looking lost and alone and she wished she could have been there for him. But she couldn't. He only wanted her to be honest, and she couldn't even do that for him. She watched, miserable, as he drifted back to sleep, and she hoped she was a better person in his dreams than she was here. She returned to her stool and gripped his hand tightly, trying to pass some of her strength to him. It wasn't fair that she'd escaped with only a few scratches, when she'd done nothing and he was the real hero.
Conner coughed, the wretched sound exploding from him, wracking his body, and the tiniest bit of blood poured from the corner of his mouth. Kira pressed her fist to her mouth fiercely, trying to keep the strangled sob from escaping, unable to keep the tears out of her eyes as she watched Conner cling to life. If anything happened to him...
Kira was reluctant to abandon his side, even for a second, because he was in a state right now where she honestly didn't know if each weak breath would be his last. Still, she got up and found Hayley. "Hayley, Conner's doing worse. We have to get him to a hospital. We don't have the facilities to keep him here," Kira said desperately.
Hayley sighed. "I know, I know. Believe me, there's nothing I'd like more. But I know you and Ethan want to be around him, and I don't want to leave the base while Trent and Tommy are still here." The woman shook her head. "We should call Conner's mother. We should...we should, I don't even know anymore what we should do." She looked like she might cry.
Kira froze. She relied on Hayley to be the calm one in any and all situations, the one who always had the answers, the one who came in at the last minute with butt-saving devices. That was Hayley's role in the team, and to watch her crumble was going to make Kira lose whatever sliver of sanity she had left. She rubbed Hayley's shoulder comfortingly. "It's going to be okay," she said, though she didn't believe it, and she had a feeling Hayley could pick up on that fact. "We'll figure out something. We always do."
Hayley nodded, flashing Kira a weak smile. "Right."
"I'll borrow Dr. O.'s Jeep --not like he'll be using it any time soon-- and take Conner to the emergency room. You guys stay here and take care of the others."
"Are you sure?" Hayley asked. "I could take him."
"We need your brain working on a way to deprogram Dr. O. I'm not much use to the team right now, you guys don't need me and won't miss me."
"Conner needs you," Hayley said, peering at her.
Kira nodded. Every time she sighed, it reminded her of Conner's labored, ragged breaths, so she was trying to refrain. "Help me get him upstairs?"
The two women struggled to get Conner upstairs, and he must have fallen into unconsciousness for them to have not woken him. They loaded him into the Jeep, and Hayley hovered by the driver's side door as Kira started the engine. "When you get the chance, call his mom, will you?" Kira asked.
"Of course. We'll join you at the hospital as soon as we can."
"It'll all be okay," Hayley said, words meant to comfort, although there wasn't conviction behind them, and they both were conscious of the truth. But Kira appreciated it. "Everything will work out," she in turn promised to the other woman, and backed out of the driveway. "Please hold on, Conner," she murmured as she sped madcap down Valencia Road.
There was a long moment of silence, and finally Dr. O. lowered his head with a choked sound. "Dr. Oliver..?" asked Ethan cautiously.
"I'm sorry, Ethan. I never should have dragged any of you into this. Especially not Hayley. I can't..." He sighed, the sound trembling with the weight of his tears.
"Do you need a moment?" Ethan said gently. "Want me to let you out of the amber?"
The Black Ranger shook his head. "No. It's safer for everyone if I'm here."
"Dude, don't beat yourself up over it," Ethan said. "It's not your fault." It felt weird to be comforting his teacher.
"Hayley wasn't even a Ranger, she was a civilian. I've spent my entire life trying to protect civilians, and I've failed, and the person I've failed was one of my closest friends. She sacrificed herself in my name, and the last memory she has of me is me betraying the team and her." His voice wavered, "I haven't seen Kira or Conner or Trent either, how are they?"
"Trent's out cold, Conner's not doing so hot either," Ethan said. "Kira's worried sick."
"At least you're okay," Dr. O. said.
"Here, dude, let me get that amber off of you. Hayley!"
"What?" the genius called from elsewhere in the basement. Dr. O.'s helmet lifted.
"Can you help me here? It's time."
Hayley bustled in, a smile on her face. "We've got him back?"
"We've got him back," Ethan confirmed. "He asked to stay in the amber."
She shook her head, amused. "How Tommy of him."
"Hayley, you're okay," Dr. O. said.
"Ethan said you were..."
Ethan smirked mischievously. "I figured that was the chink in the gray matter, so to speak. Mesogog programmed you to hate us, but he didn't account for your relationship with Hayley. If anyone could make you feel remorse, it'd be her."
"Sneaky," Dr. O. said in an approving tone.
"I'm glad you're okay now, Tommy," Hayley said happily, melting the amber restraints from his body. Once he was freed, she gave him a brief hug, which he firmly returned. "This is the best news I've heard all day."
"We should tell Kira, she could use some good news about now," Ethan said. "Where is she?"
"Oh!" Hayley gasped as she remembered. "Kira borrowed the Jeep. She's taken Conner to the hospital."
"It's that bad?" Dr. O. asked in a choked voice.
The genius looked troubled. "Unfortunately. But he's in good hands as long as Kira's watching out for him. They should be able to fix him at the hospital. We can't go to him until Trent wakes up, though. And Tommy can't go at all until we figure out how to get him out of that suit."
"Let me make your problem easier for you," came a fourth voice, and they all turned to see Trent standing in the doorway.
"Trent," Hayley breathed. "You're okay. I'm so glad."
"Thanks to you," he said softly, and there was a flicker of something in his eyes. He shook his head, and it was gone. "The island blew up, didn't it."
"I'm sorry," she said. "Mesogog didn't make it out."
"Mesogog's not my father."
"But Mercer is," Dr. O. said.
"And now he's dead," Trent said with aggravating, unnatural calm.
"Trent, I'm sorry," Hayley said gently. She stepped close to him, and put a hand on his shoulder. "If we'd known..."
"You would've tried to save him?" scoffed Trent.
"Yes," she said firmly. "We would have."
"That means nothing coming from someone who isn't even a Ranger," he said coldly.
"Just because she doesn't wear the suit doesn't mean she isn't one of us," Ethan broke in. "She's more of a Ranger than you are."
"Ethan, that's enough," Dr. O. cut in. "Hayley's right, though, Trent. We would've tried to save him. Anton Mercer was a friend of mine."
"If that's how you measure your friendships, then it's a very good thing I'm not on this team," Trent sneered. He started towards the stairs.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?" Ethan demanded, jumping up.
Trent paused, his hand on the railing, glancing over his shoulder at Ethan with empty eyes. "I'm leaving."
"I don't think so," Ethan said. "We need your help."
Trent laughed, and it was the first time in awhile that any of them had seen him display a real emotion. "Yeah, right."
"You have some of that meteor rock still, don't you," Ethan said, recalling the boy who'd been fighting the power of the gem once upon a time.
Trent's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What do you want with it."
"We need it to get Dr. O. back to his normal self."
"And why should I help you?" the White Ranger demanded.
Something in Ethan snapped. "Why? Why? Are you out of your mind? The city was being destroyed, and you ran away. You're a coward."
"Oh yeah?" asked Trent, but Ethan had operated with lightning fast reflexes, taking Dr. O.'s blaster from its holster and aiming it at Trent. "You don't have Mesogog to run and hide behind now," he said calmly. "You're going to give us that meteor rock."
Kira had long since checked Conner into the hospital. When she'd gotten hold of Hayley via communicator, perched in an empty bathroom stall, the tech whiz had informed her that she'd called Conner's mother, but Kira hadn't seen her.
Kira couldn't stay in Conner's room a minute longer. Watching the doctors flocking around him like vultures, stabbing needles into him, threading tubes through his body, it was all too much. She'd abandoned the room ages ago and had been wandering the floor like a ghost for she didn't even know how long. She debated getting something to drink. She wasn't thirsty, but all of the patients' relatives drifting through the halls were clutching coffee mugs or soda cans, and she suspected it might be the only key to their sanity.
Conner was standing by the Coke machine.
"Conner--?" she started, then didn't know how to finish, instead running to him and embracing him tightly. "Conner, oh thank God..."
He gently disentangled himself. "You must be Kira."
"Eric," she realized, flushing with embarrassment and stepping back. "I'm sorry, I--"
The boy held up his hand with a gentle smile. "No worries. Not the first time, won't be the last."
Gazing at Eric McKnight for the first time now, she was surprised that she could have made the mistake. Sure, the boys were identical twins, but Eric's hair was shorter, darker, and flatter to his head, his stance was not as tall as Conner's, and his smell was completely different.
"How'd you know who I was?" she asked suspiciously.
He shrugged. "Conner talks a lot about you when I talk to him," he said. "Keeps babbling on about this smart, funny, talented, beautiful girl he'd met. I got the impression that you two really cared about each other, and the way you hugged me just now...had to be you." Eric flashed her a kind grin, and said, "You're here alone, right?" She didn't know how he knew, but she nodded. "Come sit with me, then."
Eric put his arm around her shoulders and steered the numb Kira down the hall. She couldn't help thinking that the last time someone had bestowed this gesture on her, it was Conner, trying to comfort her. It had worked then. It wasn't working now.
In one of the waiting rooms, a man and a woman were sitting in the corner, not looking at each other. The strong resemblance of the man to both McKnight twins confirmed that these were Conner's parents. "Mom, Dad, this is Kira," Eric announced.
Mrs. McKnight looked up sharply. "Kira? Conner's Kira?"
"Yeah..." Kira said uncertainly.
"He's always running off, he was getting into fights, he said it was for you...he comes home bruised and bleeding...I just don't know what to think," the woman said in a voice that was angry and desperate all at once.
"He should come back to Blue Bay with me and Eric," Mr. McKnight said. "A more structured environment is all the boy needs--"
"He is not going back with you, Roger!" Mrs. McKnight said. "He's perfectly fine here!"
"He's not all that fine if he's lying in a hospital bed," her ex-husband argued.
Kira looked over at Eric and saw the pain on his face. Clearly, he'd thought that his family was going to be united in the face of this tragedy, but it was not the case. Conner was the one that Kira wanted to help more than anything, but his situation was out of her hands. She could help Eric now.
She decided that Dr. O., Ethan, and Hayley would agree with her. Conner's future was too uncertain, and if the inevitable were to happen, Kira wanted his family to know the truth. What their son and brother had been fighting for, what he might die for.
"Mrs. McKnight, Mr. McKnight, could you sit down, please?" she asked in her most placating tone. "Eric, you too. I have something important to tell you about Conner."
Eric knew the most about Kira, but even that was very little, and none of them could possibly have guessed whatever it was Kira wanted to tell them. But even though she was a stranger to them, they recognized the seriousness in her eyes and complied.
Kira arranged herself in one of the uncomfortable chairs and faced Conner's family. "The thing is, Conner is a...well, he's a Power Ranger."
They gaped at her wordlessly, and she plowed ahead, "He's the Red Ranger, the leader. He first got the power back in September. That's why he's so secretive, that's why he runs off without explanation, that's why he comes home injured."
"How do you know this?" Mr. McKnight asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
"Because I'm a Ranger too," Kira said calmly. She pushed her sleeve up, revealing her bracelet. "Ready," she issued the command, and before their eyes it shifted into morpher mode, the yellow Ptera head staring up at them with one red eye. "I'm not going to morph here for obvious reasons, but rest assured that I'm not kidding." She sighed, and launched into an explanation of the hell that her team had gone through in the past few days, making sure to emphasize how Conner had come through for the Rangers again and again. At the end of her tale, she was crying, and Eric switched seats so that he could give her a hug.
"Conner is a Ranger," Mrs. McKnight marveled. "I can't believe it."
"I can," Eric said. "Man, that's so awesome."
"He's the Red one," Mr. McKnight said, puffing up proudly. "That's my boy."
"Conner is very brave," Kira said, and she spoke quietly, but they immediately stilled in order to hear her words. "He wasn't always he best Ranger, but he's gotten better. He's strong, and he's smart...ish, and very dedicated. He takes care of us. We are so incredibly lucky to have him as a leader, and I'm very lucky to know him as a person and have him as a friend." She choked on the words, tears flooding her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry to spring this on you. I'm--"
Eric's arm was warm across Kira's back, and Mrs. McKnight patted her hand. "I'm glad you told us," his mother said carefully. "I'm glad you felt you could trust us with this."
"We won't tell anyone," Mr. McKnight assured her.
Kira nodded her thanks. "I should go," she murmured, and they let her stand, but she just returned to Conner's room. There were no doctors or nurses around, and Conner was asleep still. She sat down next to him. "I'm scared for you, Conner," she admitted. "You asked me to tell you the truth, and I couldn't. Because the truth is, I don't know if you're going to make it out of this. I didn't tell you you're going to be okay because I don't really believe it. I'm a horrible person for thinking that. I should've done something. I should've fought her harder the first time. If I'd been a better Ranger when it had really counted, you would've gotten out in one piece. I'm really sorry, Conner, and I'm so scared."
"You should be scared."
Kira looked up sharply; standing in the doorway, brandishing her sword, was Elsa.
Trent stared at Ethan, and stared at the laser gun in Ethan's hands. Dr. O. and Hayley were both regarding the exchange with trepidation; they'd never known Ethan to be like this. "We need that rock, Trent," Ethan continued evenly. He was so sick and tired of getting trounced by this hack.
Trent dug in his pocket, and produced a small chunk of rock. "That's the biggest piece I could get," he said. He stared at it; they all stared at it, realizing the implications of Trent still possessing the meteor fragment. Once upon a time, he'd wanted to be saved. Not by the Rangers, he'd continually refused their offers to help free him form the gem's control, but the rock he held out to Ethan now was a testament to there being some good in him still, somewhere. Or at the very least, the desire to change. Perhaps he'd intended to use the meteor to help Mesogog. Either way, the fact that Trent still had the rock came with huge implications.
And it was now in Ethan's hands.
He gave it to Hayley. "I believe you know what to do with this," he said.
She nodded with a grateful smile. "This will help a lot, Ethan."
"I can't let you do that," rasped Dr. O., grabbing Hayley's arm and stopping her in her tracks.
"Tommy..?" she asked, confused, her fingers clutched tightly around the rock.
"How stupid are you people?" he scoffed. "All I have to do is play nice for half a second, and you guys would give me anything."
Hayley paled. Trent's eyebrow raised slightly, but he said nothing. Ethan promptly fixed the blaster on his mentor. "I won't hesitate to shoot you, Dr. O.," he said. "Let her go."
"You would never," scoffed Dr. O., standing up, his gloved hand still clamped firmly around Hayley's wrist. She was beginning to look more than a little scared.
Ethan made the shot.
The laser fire had been aimed low, so it only hit Dr. O.'s leg, but while not fatal, it was certainly painful and effective. The Black Ranger crumpled, releasing his grasp on Hayley, as Ethan had intended. She shot Ethan a worried look, but it was brief, and she was over at the machinery, trying to gauge the damage on the device that had saved Dr. O. last time. The wounded professor knelt on one good leg, while Ethan continued to train his own weapon at him. "I'll do it again if I have to," he said with cold calculation.
"You're better at this than I ever gave you credit for," Trent said, looking a little impressed.
"Shut it," Ethan said sharply. "I'm not proud. It's duty."
A loud humming sound permeated the tense silence. "Did you get it?" called Ethan.
"Bring him over," Hayley said. "I've got it."
"Get up," Ethan commanded, waving the laser gun at his teacher. Dr. O. gazed at him for a long moment, his expression unreadable behind the helmet. Then he got to his feet, stumbling as he slowly stood. "You," Ethan said, nodding at Trent. "Help him."
"Why should I--"
"Listen, dude, I like Dr. O."
Trent stared, then went over to Dr. O., looping the professor's arm around his shoulders and helping him stand up. Ethan followed them, feeling kind of sick to his stomach about what he was doing. But he kept a collected demeanor, and an impassive game face. Hayley aimed the humming machine at Dr. O., glancing anxiously at Ethan before starting the device. The hum became a roar as there was a flash of light. Ethan abandoned his guarding of his fellow Rangers long enough to throw up his arms and shield himself from the light.
When he lowered his arm, Trent stood glowering in the corner, while Hayley's eyes widened, and Ethan got to see Dr. O.'s grin for the first time in a long time. "Hayley, you did it," Dr. O. said, touching his chest briefly as to make sure it was real. "I'm free." He glanced up at her with an expression of wonderment and joy. Hayley stared at him for a long moment, then broke into a relieved smile, crossing the room in a few short steps to throw her arms around his shoulders. "You're back," she whispered, squeezing him. A perplexed-looking Dr. O. hugged her back tentatively, before Hayley released him and grinned at Ethan. "He's back to his old self. You can see it in his eyes."
"Awesome," Ethan said with a relieved sigh, lowering the laser. He stepped cautiously towards his professor, gazing at the man for a long moment before he recognized the familiar, near-paternal flicker. He smiled, and handed Dr. O. the blaster. "Here ya go."
Dr. O. flipped it over in his hands. "This is mine."
"Why do you have it?" he asked. "Why is Trent here?" he added, just noticing the boy in white still hovering. "And where are Kira and Conner? Last thing I remember, we got taken to Mesogog's fortress and got separated...what happened?"
Ethan opened his mouth to answer, but before the words could come out, his communicator beeped at him. "Ethan, trouble at the hospital NOW," came Kira's voice.
"Something's wrong with Conner," Ethan said worriedly, already backing towards the entrance. "Hayley, fill Dr. O. in. Dr. O., keep an eye on Trent. I've got to..." Worry gripped at him as he thought about the severity of Conner's condition.
"Go, go," Hayley said, waving her hands at him in a shooing motion. "We'll catch up."
"Are you sure you don't--"
"He'll be fine," she assured him with not as much conviction as he would've liked. "He can wait for us. Go."
Ethan took the stairs two at a time, heart pounding, scared sick for his best friend.
"Dino Thunder, power up!" Kira shouted without thinking. The three of them were alone in the room, and she felt better morphed. She clicked at her communicator. "Ethan, trouble at the hospital NOW." She glared at Elsa through her visor. "I thought you were dead."
"You can't get rid of me that easily," Elsa sneered.
"Huh. Had evidence to the contrary. How'd you get out? Hayley said there was only one portal used."
"Your precious Hayley isn't infallible. I was able to activate the emergency portal that Mesogog keeps for himself."
"So he got out, too?"
"No. I had to pry the control from his corpse." The lady in leather showed no remorse over the loss of her master. Loyalty only went so far, apparently. On the bright side, it was confirmation that two of their adversaries were dead.
Now, to dispose of the third.
Kira pulled her laser with quick reflexes and fired. But enough time had passed that Elsa was operating with quick reflexes again herself, lifting her sword to deflect Kira's fire with the flat of the blade. The golden beam angled sharply, returning back to Kira's side of the room, and she ducked out of instinct, though it wasn't aimed at her. It made its erratic mark somewhere north of Conner's bed, and cold panic seized at Kira as she realized how close it was to him.
They had to take this fight outside.
Kira charged at Elsa, landing a jump kick to her adversary's solar plexus, sending the woman stumbling back a few steps and thankfully, into the hall.
"What the hell?" she heard Ethan say, and she saw Ethan, Eric, and Mr. and Mrs. McKnight standing in the hallway. "When you said there was trouble, I assumed it was trouble with Conner."
"It's about to be trouble with Conner if we don't take her down fast!" Kira said. "Ethan, morph!"
"What are you talking about?" Ethan hedged, with a nervous look at the McKnights.
"They know," she said impatiently, dodging a kick from Elsa. "Morph, now!"
"Dino Thunder, power up!" Ethan commanded, and the Blue Ranger charged in to join the fight. Elsa whipped around her sword with the obvious intent of decapitating Ethan or the like, but he was quick with the Tricera Shield. "How is it possible you're tougher than ever?" he grunted, using the weight of the shield to push the sword off. Kira took advantage of this moment to strike Elsa's torso with her Ptera Grips.
Elsa stumbled away from the duo, her back to the wall, breathing heavily. She eyed them both with wild eyes, and they advanced on her slowly, Thundermax Sabers raised. Elsa let out a battle cry, suddenly plowing through them without intent to strike or block, merely to pass them. Stunned, there was nothing Kira or Ethan could do, and they realized almost too late that Elsa had retreated into Conner's room.
She had come to the hospital to finish what she'd started. Without Conner, the team was hardly a team. Kira's blood ran cold, and she exchanged a look with Ethan that was obscured by their helmets, but was nonetheless an expression of their true horror.
"Conner--!" Kira said, and the two Rangers darted into the room. Conner was still unconscious, oblivious to the demonic woman about to plunge her sword through him a second time. At this close range, she would not miss his vitals as much as before. Conner would not recover from this assault. He'd be dead almost instantaneously.
Kira clicked the release valves and removed her helmet. She let out a Ptera scream that bowled Elsa over, knocking into the IV feeding fluids into Conner's body. The tube came loose as the stand hit the ground, and liquid splashed all over the room. Kira pulled her laser. Elsa wouldn't be able to deflect the beam this time.
The blast hit Elsa's battered leather armor with a sizzle, and the woman fell still, her eyes rolling back in her head as she slumped into a horizontal position on the floor. Kira remembered to breathe. Ethan was inspecting Conner. "No worse off than he was before," he reported, and Kira sighed, relieved.
Her relief was short-lived. The crash had been loud and the presence of Power Rangers fighting in the hallway had led people to be gathering at the doorway, so there was a slew of people standing there, witnessing Kira in standby mode, helmet tucked under one arm, face exposed.
"She needs to be taken to the emergency room," Kira said tiredly, waving at Elsa's prone form. With a deep sigh, she said, "Power down," and returned to Conner's beside, casting the Blue Ranger a worried look.
The crowd flooded into the room, hospital personnel going to take care of Elsa, while some remained to fix Conner's IV. Kira ignored all of this, staring at Conner's chest, rising and falling with a steady rhythm that she perceived as a good sign. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up.
"You saved him," Eric said with a smile.
She returned it hesitantly. "This time."
"Thank you, Kira," Mrs. McKnight said, she and her ex-husband coming up behind their son.
"We owe you a lot," Mr. McKnight agreed. Kira just nodded, feeling very drained, but feeling better all the same.
"Miss, miss!" a flurry of voices began calling, and Kira saw past Conner's family to the other people now attempting to flag her down, most of whom were bearing cameras. Flashes popped in front of her eyes. "You're the Yellow Ranger!" "Can we get your name?" "What can you tell us about the other Rangers?" "Who's your friend here?"
"I--" Kira said, staring blankly at the sea of hungry reporters.
"You should all leave now," Ethan said in his most authoritative voice, stepping in front of Conner's bed to block their view of Conner and Kira, still in Blue Ranger guise.
"Your name's Ethan, isn't it?" someone in the crowd said. "I heard her calling you Ethan."
"I saw him morph!" said someone else. "Some black dude."
"Okay, that's it, everybody out of my son's room now," Mrs. McKnight commanded in such a tone that Kira understood why Conner was so afraid of his mom. The masses were taken by surprise, but they grudgingly complied, if only for the reason that there was a fully morphed Power Ranger in their midst.
When only Conner, his friends and family remained, Ethan looked to Kira. "You said they already know?"
She nodded. "I told them everything."
He powered down, offering the McKnights a sheepish smile. "Hi. I'm Ethan." He cast Kira a worried glance. "That was a stupid move, Kira."
"I'm taking a leaf out of Conner's book," she retorted. But it wasn't nearly as funny aloud. "I'm sorry. It was a ridiculous move, but...if he doesn't make it..."
"He will make it," Ethan said.
"But if he doesn't. I wanted them to know."
"Unfortunately, now everyone knows. They all saw you without the helmet."
"I had to do it."
"No one's blaming you, Kira," Ethan said gently. "It was a shrewd battle move. I would've done it, too."
"She was going to kill him."
"Hey. You don't have to defend yourself. I know. I was there. But you stopped her, and you saved him. He's going to make it, Kira, you know he will. He's Conner."
"I shouldn't have--I broke the cardinal rule. We're screwed."
"We'll fix it," he promised.
"We should call Dr. O. and Hayley."
"Hey...we freed Dr. O."
"You reversed the brainwashing?" she asked, her eyes lighting up as she straightened slightly with the good news.
"Well, we thought we did," he said. "But he was faking it so we would release him. Then he tried to attack Hayley. So I shot him."
"You shot him?"
"You revealed your secret identity!" he countered, his voice rising with anxiety. The tension evaporated in that moment, and they smiled at each other, laughing nervously before Ethan continued. "Anyway, I shot him in the leg so he'd let Hayley go, and then she fired up the machine thingy she made when we first used the meteor rock to melt Dr. O.'s amber, and it reversed the molecular bond on the gem, and had the added bonus of reversing the brainwashing. Of course, he doesn't remember anything that happened after Mesogog kidnapped us, so Hayley has to fill him in."
"Wait, what did you use in the machine?" she asked, frowning.
"A chunk from the meteor rock," he said.
"And where'd you get that? I thought the rock was fried."
Ethan coughed. "Well...Trent had a piece."
"Trent saved some of the meteor?" Something flashed in her eyes, and Ethan glanced at Conner while Kira stared at her lap. "That means he wanted to try and save himself," she reasoned. "He wanted to..." She looked up at Ethan, clearly pained. "He wanted to change. He wasn't completely evil."
"He wasn't when he took the rock," Ethan said cautiously. "But he changed."
Conner coughed, interrupting both Rangers' trains of thought. Kira's gaze immediately shot to Conner, watering slightly, loaded with concern. Ethan frowned. "Forget Trent for now," he said softly. "Is there something going on between you and Conner?"
Kira suddenly became aware of not only Ethan's eyes on her, but the eyes of Conner's family. She'd forgotten they were in the room, sitting quietly, watching Conner's friends act as sentry over their son.
Eric was witnessing the whole thing with considerable interest, looking so much like his brother that it was painful. Mr. McKnight was sitting in a chair, leaning forward slightly as he tried to take it all in. But it was Mrs. McKnight that flashed Kira a sympathetic smile. "I think you three need some team time," she said slowly. "We'll be going."
"Joanna, I want to be here when my boy wakes up," Mr. McKnight protested, but she cast him a glare.
"Let the kids be alone, Roger," she said sharply.
"Mrs. McKnight, I can't let you guys go out there," Kira said. "They're waiting, I'm sure of it, and there are going to be a lot of questions..."
"Well, there aren't going to be any answers, you can be sure of that," she said with a firm nod. "If they ask --they will ask," she amended, "I'll just tell them that Conner was injured in the attack on Reefside, and the Rangers came to pay their respects. It's not like Conner has ever brought you two home, so as far as anyone is concerned, I don't know you. And they wouldn't dare come in the room, because why on earth would they want to disturb a comatose boy?" She smiled at the two Rangers. "You two have enough to worry about. Let me deal with something as simple as this."
Kira doubted that Mrs. McKnight was fully aware of how simple this situation was not, but really, in comparison to everything the Rangers went through on a daily basis, a couple reporters were nothing. Everything was relative, after all. And Conner's relatives were top-notch.
"Thank you," she breathed, and Ethan put his hand on Kira's shoulder, flashing Conner's family a grateful smile.
"All I ask for in return is that you two come over for dinner once Conner's better, so that we can all be properly introduced."
"And you're welcome to come visit Blue Bay with Conner anytime," Mr. McKnight added, not wanting to be outdone.
Eric, however, opted to express his gratitude in a much more physical way, coming over and patting Ethan on the back, embracing Kira tightly. "He's in good hands with you two," he said loudly and proudly, and as he squeezed Kira, he leaned by her ear to whisper, "He loves you, too." He pulled away. "We'll be back," he said, again at a normal volume, and the three McKnights went into the hallway. Instantly, there was the roar of a cacophony of intrusive questions, and some bulbs flashing as the reporters attempted to get a glimpse in the room. Kira thought she saw a uniformed security guard pull the door shut behind Conner's family, setting them back into silence.
"Conner is so his dad's kid," Ethan observed with a tiny smirk, and Kira smiled back, but Ethan's expression melted quickly into a serious one. "What's going on with you and Conner," he repeated. "The last time we were all really together, you two were sniping at each other, and I seem to remember that when you and I walked home from Dr. O.'s, you were ranting and raving about how you couldn't stand that 'megalomaniacal jackass with a soccer ball for a head.' And now you're fawning all over the dude, risking your life for him--risking a hell of a lot more for him, I might add."
"I thought we agreed to drop that," she said. "I can't take it back now, and I wouldn't even, if it meant that Conner was safe."
"Is this whole 'Conner must be safe' agenda coming from a teammate perspective, or a friend perspective, or something more?" he pressed.
"Ethan, not now," she pleaded weakly.
"Do you love him?"
She looked up quickly. "What?"
"What happened when you guys were on the island?" he said, this time a little more gently.
Kira sighed, looking down at her hands. "We kissed. A few times."
"A few times?" he repeated, sounding a little too surprised at the prospect.
Kira sat back down, watching Conner sleep. The words hung over the three of them before she finally met Ethan's penetrating stare. "Yeah. A few times." She blew her bangs off her forehead. "He told me he loves me. On any number of occasions since this whole thing started, actually," she said with a rueful laugh.
"Do you love him?"
"Maybe. I don't know. That's a weird question."
"Not so weird."
"I know that I'd do anything to make sure he was safe," she said carefully.
"You already sort of have," he pointed out.
Kira laughed despite herself, but it was one without much humor. "Yeah, tell me about it. But...I just want him to be okay, and I'd do anything to make sure that happened." She frowned, thinking about what she'd sacrificed to get to this point, to ensure his protection. "Is that love? I don't know. If it is, then yes, I love him." Something shifted in her posture, though she didn't move at all, and she stared at Conner, realization striking her. "I love him," she repeated, her voice carrying a mixture of awe and fear. She reached over and touched his hair, holding the pose for a tender fraction of a second before jerking away.
Before she could say anything else, the door opened, and in walked Dr. O., Hayley, and Trent.
Dr. O. glanced at the crowd amassed outside of Conner's room, and he met Kira's eyes with discontent reflected in his. "I think you two owe us an explanation," he said.
Kira got up, and gave Dr. O. a brief hug, just grateful to see the man behind the mask for the first time in a long time. He patted her shoulder fondly, but they were all business when the moment ended. "It was an accident," she said.
"Elsa was about to kill Conner," Ethan said. "Kira needed to move her and fast, she had to use her gem power, and to do that, she needed to take off her helmet. There was no other way. But people came into the room before she had a chance to rectify it."
Kira's head dropped. "I'm so sorry, Dr. O. I've probably ruined everything for all of us."
"Is Conner okay?" he asked in a soft tone.
"Then we'll let it slide." She looked up at him hopefully. "You know why we have to keep our identities secret. It's safer that way, for everybody. But the importance of keeping a secret is relative, and this is one of those rare situations where it's all right to break the rules. It's for a greater good."
"I'm proud of you, Kira," Hayley said with a smile, putting her hand on Kira's arm.
Kira smiled at the genius with hesitance, then finally noticed Trent. "What are you doing here?" she asked, and there was a small hint of nastiness in her voice. It was clear she still blamed him for Conner's condition, and wasn't about to forget or forgive anything he'd pulled on them lately.
"We determined that it was better to keep him with us," Dr. O. said.
"Wouldn't want that running loose on the city," the Yellow Ranger said sharply.
"Kira," Hayley cautioned, but Kira couldn't turn off her glare, irrational blame placement though it may have been.
The door opened, and five tense individuals turned expectantly. A doctor was pushing through the crowd. "I'm not interested in whatever is going on with you people and what they're saying about you," he said. "Any truth or lies circulating is strictly your business. I just want to check on Conner's status."
Wordlessly, they stepped to the other side of the room and let the doctor do his job. "It's mostly press out there," Dr. O. explained to Kira and Ethan, who hadn't left the room in awhile. "They've gotten the dirt on you two already. Mrs. McKnight has gotten them off Conner's trail, but it's only a matter of time. They'll figure out my involvement next. Trent might be the only one that escapes."
"Not if Elsa makes it out," Ethan said. "She's the principal. If she wakes up, she'll give them everything. Medical background, permanent records--she's got all the paperwork they could ever possibly want. And she knows it would do huge damage to the team, so she'd be all too willing to tear us apart."
The doctor stepped away from Conner. He looked disturbed. "He's not doing very well," he confessed.
"But he seems okay," Kira said. "I mean, his breathing's fine and everything..."
"There are some internal injuries that I can't even begin to gauge the damage for."
"Would surgery be an option?" Hayley asked.
"In normal circumstances, yes. But when Conner first arrived in our hospital, we found some...abnormalities in his system. That's why I've held off on any surgical procedures that I would have proceeded with immediately otherwise. If the rumors regarding you folks are in fact true, then I suspect his condition may have as large a problem in the physical aspects as in the...mystical aspects." The doctor's brow furrowed.
"Disconnection with the grid?" Hayley said, glancing at Dr. O. He nodded.
"Correlation between the physical prowess of the Ranger and the source of the Rangers' powers is never an accurate match," he said. He frowned. "Something went wonky."
"Now there's a medical diagnosis if ever I've heard one," cracked Ethan.
"I'm going to leave you to discuss this amongst yourselves," the doctor said. "If there's anything I can help with, by all means, please page me. I'm Dr. Walsh."
Dr. O. smiled and nodded his thanks, and the medical doctor left the room. "Conner's issues with the grid would affect his rate of healing," Dr. O. said. "Something about going through the portal so soon after a forced de-morph could have affected his powers, shut them off. So he not only has to deal with civilian medical issues, he has to deal with a power flux."
"So what do we do?" Kira said quietly.
"You kids have done enough for now," he said with a gentle, if not tired, smile. "You need to rest up."
"We can't leave the hospital," Kira said. "We can't even really leave this room."
"Then, try to make yourselves comfortable in some chairs. You kids have been through a lot, and I want you rested. You're still my responsibility, after all. Sit," he said, and they sat, though Hayley had to be a buffer between Ethan, Kira and Trent, and even with that, Trent still scooted his chair far away.
Dr. O. hovered over Conner's bedside. Kira and Ethan exchanged a glance, but neither of them questioned the teacher, knowing that Dr. O. was in one of those moods where he wouldn't answer anything they asked.
He lifted his arm, his face screwed up in concentration, and the black Dino Gem in his bracelet began to glow. "Dr. O..?" Ethan began, alarm suddenly crossing his face as the strain of what Dr. O. was doing was taking its obvious toll.
"Tommy, stop!" Hayley said anxiously, jumping to her feet and pulling his arm down, breaking the connection. Dr. O. was breathing heavily. "Are you out of your mind?"
"The only way to fix Conner's problem is a power donation," he said.
"But you can't possibly take it on yourself," she said firmly, fixing him with a serious stare.
Ethan and Kira, meanwhile, had already crossed the room to check on Conner's progress. He looked no worse for wear, but what they had earlier perceived as him being all right had been a gross overestimation, according to Dr. Walsh. Biting her lip, Kira reached out for Conner's hand at the same time that Ethan was reaching across the bed for hers. They collided in midair, and then wide eyes looked up to meet each other.
All three of their gems were glowing. Blue, yellow, red, faintly but unwaveringly.
"Dr. O.?" Ethan said. He and Hayley both looked over. "I have an idea," Ethan continued. "But it's going to take all of us." He was looking at Trent as he said this. "Even you, Trent."
Trent hadn't spoken at all since arriving in the hospital room, but he suddenly became very animated. "I'm not helping him," he said flatly. "I would much rather he just died."
"Trent--" Hayley said, but the boy in white was already headed towards the door.
"Let him go," Kira said with a small amount of satisfaction, then glanced at Ethan, who looked concerned. His expression alone was enough to change her mind, so she asked reluctantly, "You're sure we need his help?"
"Yes," he said.
"Okay," she said, and followed him out.
She was expecting the throng of people, but they were more distracted by Trent having just pushed through them to notice that Kira was attempting the same. Once she'd gotten through the wall, she jogged to Trent's side, and grabbed his arm. "Trent, get back in there."
"Screw off," he said. "If Conner dies, I win."
"If Conner dies, you die," she said sharply. "Because if anything happens to him, so help me, I will come after you and you will wish he had left you to die on the island. Do you hear me?"
"I could take you," he said, sizing her up without emotion. And Kira was well aware that he'd almost killed her an several occasions. But she didn't care about that now.
"Ever hear the phrase, 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'? Well, hell hath no fury like my desire to kick your ass, should anything happen to him. Get back in there," she said, biting off the end of each word. "You will help. You have no choice."
She gripped his arm even tighter, and proceeded to drag him back. The crowd advanced on them with a flurry of questions: "Kira, what can you tell us about being a Ranger?" "What can you tell us about your teammates?" "Is Dr. Thomas Oliver connected with you at all?" "Who else is in that room with you?" Who's and what's. She brushed them off. "Move. Now," she commanded, and wisely, they parted for her to get back to the room in peace, and shove Trent through the door.
"We're all here," she said. "What's the plan?"
"Dr. O. had a good idea. What Conner needs, first and foremost, is power. And we all," he shot an apologetic glance at Hayley, who nodded her understanding, "have power."
"Group power transfer?" Kira said.
Dr. O. nodded. "A loaner, just to bring his balance back to something that his body recognizes as normal."
"All of us need to donate because too much from any individual would drain them."
"The fewer Rangers out of commission, the better," agreed Dr. O.
"Even Trent?" Kira said with a degree of skepticism.
"Yes, even Trent."
"I would like it stated for the record that the only reason I'm helping you losers is because when he's at full strength, he and I are going to end this once and for all," Trent snarled.
"You're so noble," Ethan said sarcastically. "But, you know, whatever works. Dr. O.? You wanna field this mission? You've probably done about a billion of these things."
"Thank you for your abundance of faith, Ethan," the teacher said, rolling his eyes. He moved up to the head of Conner's bed, and Trent stepped in next to him, with Ethan and Kira opposite them. "Ready," Dr. O. called the morph. "Dino Thunder, power up!" said Rangers Black, Blue, and Yellow, while Trent said, "White Ranger, dino power." They raised their arms, and Hayley watched as the four Rangers concentrated everything they had in transferring power to the comatose Conner.
The room was radiant with light as the four Rangers donated their powers to their teammate. Conner's gem flashed, and suddenly he was in morph. But the power was still dragging from the four Rangers, pulling at them so strongly that they wouldn't have been able to break it if they'd wanted to. Stripes of light went up Conner's legs and arms, zigzagging across his chest and head, as his red outfit got speckled with blue and yellow diamonds instead of the white, as gold appeared on his shoulders and helmet, as his insignia changed to incorporate five points instead of three. Conner glowed slightly, drawing from some great power, almost ethereal, and the other four Rangers promptly lost their morphs, weak and tapped for power.
"The Triassic powers," Dr. O. said. "They come from our significant contributions. Conner has never tapped into this kind of power before. None of us have."
Their leader began to convulse, his red-clad body shaking something fierce. Kira squeaked in fear, made a step towards him but no more, seeming to realize that there was nothing she could do for him. "Dr. O., what's going on?" asked Ethan.
"I don't know," Dr. O. confessed. "The power is still healing him, I think."
"It sure doesn't look that way," Kira said sharply, and even Trent looked moderately concerned as Conner convulsed.
And then he stilled.
"Is that--" Ethan began, but before he could finish the thought, the morph exploded off of Conner's body, leaving him back in his hospital gown, groaning and blinking. "The power was unstable," Dr. O. puzzled it out. "His body and the power would feed off each other, so the power made its appropriate contribution, but his body didn't have enough energy to maintain the morph."
Conner's eyes opened. "What happened," he said hoarsely, and with a choked sound, Kira hugged him. She released him before he had a chance to process the move or reciprocate.
"How do you feel?" Dr. O. said with a warm smile.
"Hey, dude, you're out of the suit," Conner said, nodding very slightly.
Dr. O. laughed. "Long story."
"I feel tired," the boy said. "But other than that...weirdly okay. I shouldn't feel okay, should I?"
"Then it worked," Dr. O. said. "We combined all of our powers, hoping to jump-start your gem and attempt to heal you, but it kicked in the Triassic powers."
"The Triassic powers, sort of a combination of all of our powers together. We all used our gems to help strengthen yours, and you went Triassic."
"All of you..?" Conner said, frowning, his eyes landing on Trent. Trent grunted and looked away. Conner glanced questioningly at Ethan, who nodded. "Hey man," Conner said quietly, looking to the White Ranger, "thanks." Sincerity was just as apparent in his voice as confusion, and Kira hugged him again. This time, Conner had the presence of mind to hug her back, however briefly. He tried to search her face for answers, but she wouldn't meet his gaze.
"Dr. O.? That left me pretty drained," Ethan admitted. "I mean, like, really drained. Like I should be in that bed myself."
"Me too," Kira said, and Trent jerked his head once in affirmation, still staring at something else.
Dr. O. frowned. "I feel it, too."
Conner noticed for the first time that they were all stumbling somewhat, leaning against things for support and breathing heavily. "Guys..." he said.
Ethan waved it off, hearing the concern in his friend's voice. "Don't worry about it, man. You would've done it for us."
Conner nodded. His fellow Rangers sat down, looking so exhausted that he couldn't help but be anxious. "Should we call a nurse or something?" he asked.
"This really isn't something we want to concern the public with," Dr. O. pointed out.
"Bit late for that, Dr. O.," Ethan said.
Conner looked to each of them for a long moment, noticing the tense expressions. "Wait...what aren't you telling me?"
"They know," Ethan said, when no one else would step up to the plate.
"Who knows what?"
"Everybody knows. About us."
"You mean...that...people know we're the Power Rangers?" Conner said, looking at each of his friends. Kira's gaze was fixed on her lap, where her fingers twisted in and out and around each other. Dr. O. looked tired. Even Trent looked edgier than usual.
"Yeah," Ethan confirmed. "Your parents, too. They're here somewhere."
"How long was I out of it?" Conner stammered finally. "What's going on, exactly? What son of a bitch exposed us?" He raised out of his bed slightly, glaring at Trent. "I bet it was you, you filthy traitor, when I get out of here, I'm going to--"
"You're going to what, exactly?" Trent snarled, tensing in his chair, ready to battle at a moment's notice.
Before Conner could answer, Kira made an incomprehensible sound, and was halfway to the door. "Kira..?" Conner asked, but she was gone, into the hallway, accompanied by a dull roar and a flash of light that he wasn't sure he understood.
Conner glanced at Ethan. "What's wrong with her?" he asked.
"You, idiot. It's always you." Ethan rolled his eyes, but didn't seem that upset. "It was Kira."
"She exposed us. It was an accident. She was saving your life."
"I don't get it."
Ethan quickly outlined everything that had happened since Conner had fallen unconscious, leaving out the detail of Kira's little confession, knowing that it was something the two of them would probably want to go over privately.
Conner threw off the sheets and attempted to stand up.
"Conner, what do you think you're doing?" demanded Dr. O., putting his hand on Conner's shoulder and attempting to push him back down. It was hard to determine whether it was the power transfer giving Conner strength in the face of Dr. O.'s tired state, or whether it was the Red Ranger's determination to follow his friend. "I have to go talk to her, Dr. O. You don't understand."
"The press is out there, Conner," Hayley attempted. "They've been out there ever since the Rangers fought Elsa. You've been in a coma for awhile now, and all reports were saying that you weren't going to make it. If they see you just walking around, they're going to know."
"They were going to figure it out sooner or later anyway," Conner said logically, though his tone was resigned. "There's nothing I can do about that. But I have to find her."
"Let him go, Dr. O.," Ethan said, and the teacher sat back down.
"Thanks, everyone," Conner said, and it took him a moment to steady himself, because he hadn't used his legs in awhile. But the moment passed, and he was out the door.
The crowd descended on him furiously. "It's the boy!" someone announced. "He's awake!"
"He's more than awake, he's fine," someone else said.
"He's a Ranger, too!" a third voice shouted from the back of the crowd. A flurry of bulbs exploded in his face, and Conner blinked. "I'm looking for the girl who came out," he said to the large man in a beige uniform next to the door. They'd given him hospital security? It was weird to suddenly get recognition for the thing he'd been doing in secret for ages.
The man blinked at him in surprise. "You're awake."
"They said you were going to die."
"I'm not dead," Conner assured the man. "Have you seen the girl? Blond hair, about yay high, wearing yellow?"
"Miss Ford went that way," the man said, pointing down the hall.
"Thanks," Conner said, clapping the guard on the shoulder with a grateful smile, and he headed off after her. Behind him, he could hear the guard trying to hold the paparazzi back from following him.
Passing a window, a flash of movement caught his eye, and he stopped, doubling back, to check in the room. It was empty, save for a pacing Kira. Conner went in and shut the door behind him. She looked up sharply at the sound, having not noticed him coming in. "Conner."
"Hi," he said softly. "Ethan told me everything. Listen, I'm sorry I was such a jerk. It just seemed like--"
He shut up when he found her arms around his waist. "I didn't think you were going to make it," she said, hugging him tightly. She let him go and stared at him. "I thought you were going to die."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"It's not that...it was..." she sighed. "I don't even know anymore. I'm glad you're okay, Conner."
"I have you to thank for that," he said. "According to Ethan, I owe you my life some three times over."
"You'd do the same for me," she insisted. He stared at her for a long moment. She looked like she hadn't slept in ages, and he knew she probably hadn't. But he still thought she looked beautiful. "Kira... Thank you. For everything." He smiled at her, but she was looking at the floor.
"I should get back," he said, realizing it was only going to get more awkward. He was too tired to keep trying with Kira at the moment. "They'll want to, you know, check me over and stuff. It's crazy out there, with all the people asking questions."
"You like attention," she said softly.
"Not like that, I don't," he said. She flinched, and he realized maybe her silent treatment was guilt. "But it's okay, you know..." he covered hastily. "I mean, it's always been out there for everyone to see and everything; we've just gotten lucky that no one's figured out the truth. It's not your fault, Kira." Still she said nothing, and Conner gave up, heading back towards the door. He was still really tired, and he wanted to talk to his parents.
"Conner, wait," she said, and he felt her hand clamping around his wrist. He stopped, turning to look at her. "I love you," she whispered, and she actually had tears in her eyes, Kira Ford crying over him. Conner didn't know which stunned him more, the tears or her admission. "I'm sorry," she said, "I didn't realize it before now, and you probably think I'm insane, but..."
Conner kissed her. It was the only thing that made sense at the moment. She didn't protest, rather, she kissed him back quite eagerly, both of them obviously thankful that they were alive, that the other was alive, that they'd somehow made it out of this whole crazy thing. Her hands were around his neck, warm against bare skin--bare skin? With horror, Conner stepped back from her to remember that he was still wearing his hospital-issue paper nightgown. Over boxers, which he discovered were not the ones he'd been wearing when this whole debacle had started, his mom must have brought him a new pair from home, thank God.
"Um, we should get back," he coughed, flushing with embarrassment. Kira attempted to hide her laughter, with moderate success. Conner winced, knowing that his picture was going to be plastered all over the paper by tomorrow morning, and it would be a photo of him in a paper dress. Fantastic. Another one of those days.
Except this time, as they headed back towards Conner's room, Kira took his hand.
Conner's parents were back in the hospital room when the two teens returned. His mother descended on him, and Kira only just barely stepped out of the line of fire. "How dare you just walk out of here like that, absolutely no regard for my feelings whatsoever, do you have any idea what I've been going through out there, trying to keep them from coming in here and bothering you?"
"Thanks, Mom," he said faintly, hugging her.
"My poor baby," she said, softening instantly as she squeezed him. "I was so worried, I'm so glad you're okay...oh, Conner, I can't believe you kept it a secret from us..."
"I had to. You understand."
"Of course, sweetie. I'm so proud of you, honey, everything you've done, it's just incredible."
"Son, we're all so proud of you..." Mr. McKnight said, coming over and clapping Conner on the shoulder with a wide grin.
"Hey, Dad. Thanks." Conner smiled at his father, whom he hadn't seen in a few months, at least. But he was soon blindsided by Eric coming over and punching him on the arm. "Dude, you are so the man of the hour."
"When am I not?" Conner said with a grin. He executed a complicated handshake with his twin. "Everything cool?"
"Always. How about you and the blond?"
Conner glanced over his shoulder at Kira, who was saying something to Ethan, but watching the twins with interest. "Things are looking up," he said with a small shrug.
"Dude, Mom totally invited her over for dinner or some junk. I think--"
"This family reunion is oh-so-touching," interrupted Trent, "but I believe that we made a deal, Rangers."
"Did you get dropped on your head or something?" Ethan demanded, stepping over to the White Ranger. "No 'deal' was made, Trent."
"Ethan, hold up," Conner said. He looked at Trent, who was glaring at him the way that Conner had come to expect. "What deal?"
"Did you think I'd actually help you because I felt all charitable? I want you at full strength, 'cause I want to end this."
"Trent, now is not the time--" Dr. O. tried, but Conner was already stepping closer to the White Ranger, resolve written all over his face.
"What's going on?" asked Mrs. McKnight.
"Conner, don't you dare," Kira said. "You're still too weak, you're both too weak."
But Conner, in typical Conner fashion, was no longer listening. "Ready," he said, and his bracelet flashed as it changed into his morpher. His eyes never left Trent's, nor did Trent's eyes leave Conner's.
"Dino Thunder, power up!"
"White Ranger, dino power."
There was a gigantic popping sound, as both teenagers reeled backwards. Trent stumbled over the metal bed frame and onto the bed, and Conner fell back, Eric and Ethan both darting out to catch him, just in time. "What happened?" Mr. McKnight demanded.
Conner, however, was looking down at his morpher, and punching the button with his finger. Nothing happened. With a flash, the morpher shifted back into bracelet mode, and the dull Dino Gem popped out. Alarmed, he looked up at the Black Ranger. "Dr. O., the gem...it's fried."
Dr. O. looked down at his bracelet, and gave the ready command. The gem glowed faintly, then with a fizzling sound, popped out. Kira and Ethan both attempted to morph, and got the same result.
"What's going on?" Conner said.
"The transfer," Dr. O. said. "It must have fried the gems."
"It was pretty strong," Kira confessed. "We lost our morphs--"
"Conner needed a lot of power, so a lot was drained from you," Hayley said. "He was repaired by the Triassic powers, but they were way too much for his body to take."
"Are you saying that Conner rejected the power?" Ethan said.
"I don't think that's the case," Dr. O. said. "His body took what it could, and the excess power went into awakening the Triassic powers. But he couldn't maintain them."
"Right, we knew all of that," Kira said. "But if he couldn't keep the power, wouldn't it have to go back to where it came from?"
"Not necessarily. It was a voluntary donation. It did what it was supposed to do, but there was nothing for it to cling on to, so it just fizzled out."
Conner was rolling the dull red rock through his fingers with an intense stare. "So what does this mean?" he asked quietly. "The gems don't work anymore? None of us can morph?"
"It's looking that way," Dr. O. said, studying his own gem.
"Someone please explain to the civilians what the hell is going on?" Mr. McKnight said.
Conner flashed his family a wan smile. "Mom, Dad, Eric...I was a Power Ranger."
"That's it," he said, his gaze falling back to the gem in his hand. "No more. There are no powers left."
"It's just as well," Hayley said. "With Mesogog and his cronies dead, there's no reason for you guys to even have powers. Now you won't have to worry about the media's demands when it comes to using them. It's for the best."
"The best," Ethan echoed, squeezing his own gem tightly, as though trying to absorb anything the rock might have had left.
"Elsa's not dead, though," Mrs. McKnight offered. They glanced at her. "Elsa? Principal Randall? She's in the ICU. If she wakes up, they're going to put her through rehabilitation."
"Hopefully in isolation," Kira muttered.
"Still," Conner said softly. "Just because Mesogog and company are dead doesn't mean we don't still have enemies." He looked over at Trent, sitting at the edge of the bed. But the malice in his eyes faded slowly as he realized that Trent was looking incredibly pale and exhausted, and was fixated upon his gem just as badly as the others were.
Kira followed Conner's gaze to the boy in white. "Trent..?"
The artist looked up slowly, with haunted eyes. "I'm me again," he said.
"Heard that one before," Ethan said, but Conner nudged his shoulder, asking for silence.
"The rock," Trent said. "It's dead. There's nothing-- ...There's nothing. No evil, no power, nothing. It's just...it's just me."
Hayley crossed the room to him and lay a hand on his shoulder. "It's good to have you back, Trent," she said warmly.
In a sudden burst of anger that had everyone in the room jumping, and Hayley falling back a step, Trent reared back his arm and hurled the useless gem across the room. It hit the wall and shattered, shards clattering to the floor. A tiny cloud of white rose into the air, as dust settled over the fragments.
Trent's shoulders slumped and his head dropped forward. He suddenly looked very young and vulnerable, in addition to tired. Hayley sat next to him and wrapped her arm around him in a gentle hug. Dr. O. stood and patted Trent's back, as the two acted as the support system the Ranger had been lacking for so long. His father dead, his powers gone, Trent had nothing left. Except those who might offer themselves to him.
They began to clean themselves up, Ethan taking care of the remnants of the white Dino Gem, the three McKnights talking quietly amongst themselves about the things they'd witnessed, while Trent, Hayley, and Dr. O. retreated to a corner of the room to sit in a quiet tableau, a surrogate family to each other. Dr. Walsh returned to begin Conner's examination, and Kira stood at Conner's side, watching over him protectively. It was over. It was finally, finally over.
Conner and Kira walked into homeroom together, holding hands. The entire room was filled with staring eyes, and Conner felt the slight tug as Kira stopped moving forward. She was unused to this sort of attention.
Conner, on the other hand, adored the spotlight in his earlier days, and was perfectly capable of dealing with it. He just smiled at no one in particular, squeezed her hand lightly, and continued to his seat. She followed.
The whispers started around them. Were Conner and Kira together? Everyone had thought it was strange that they were friends, but when the truth came out that they were Power Rangers together, the weird alliance sort of made sense. Now that the Rangers had disbanded, they had no obligations to hang out anymore, right? He was way too good for her, right? So why was he holding her hand?
Kira was poring over her science textbook without seeing the words or pictures. She was all too aware of the scrutiny they were under, and it was making her uncomfortable.
Conner tapped her forearm, and she looked up. He smiled at her gently, and she felt some of her tangled insides unravel. Conner would never change, that much was evident in his careless grin and warm brown eyes. "Hey. You wanna go to a movie this weekend?"
She blinked. The question was so...normal. She laughed slightly. "You're seriously asking that?"
He braced one arm against the table top and leaned against it in what she recognized to be one of his more compelling and seductive poses, a move that he used to use on girls in classes to get homework assistance. Back in the days before he had Kira and Ethan to help him. "Yeah," he said easily, with an infectious grin. "We never really got to have a first date, you know?"
"Oh, you mean being trapped in an island fortress by a demonic man-lizard doesn't count?"
"Clearly, you have a low ceiling on romance. This works to my advantage," he retorted.
Kira smirked and gave him a quick kiss that prompted the light buzz around them to escalate to a dull roar. She settled back on her stool with a wistful expression. "I can't believe it's over," she said softly. "I can't believe they're gone."
Conner took her hand and squeezed it tightly, but before he could offer words of comfort, Ethan came into the room wearing a full-blown, beaming smile. "What's up guys," he proclaimed loudly, clapping each of them on the shoulder.
"You're in a good mood this morning," Kira observed.
"I am loving this!" Ethan crowed. "All the major news networks have been calling me, wanting the exclusive."
"And who did you decide on?" asked Conner with a laugh. "Which network is worthy of the mighty Blue Ranger?"
Ethan cleared his throat, assuming a dignified posture and humble, restrained expression. "I've decided to give first interview rights to Cassidy and Devin. As my thank you to the little people who've given me my start."
Conner and Kira laughed. "Your start to what?" Kira said. "Having an ego as big as Conner's?"
"I resent that," the boys chorused.
"No one could have an ego as big as me," added Conner.
"Took the words right out of my mouth," Ethan said, sitting down on the other side of Kira. "Man, I feel like I haven't been to school in ages."
"Because you haven't."
"They're not gonna fault me for it though, are they? Dr. O. never got to use his Rangering as an excuse, so it's my full intention to milk it as much as I can."
"And you're doing that for Dr. O.," Conner said flatly.
"As a tribute to his legacy," Ethan agreed. His compatriots rolled their eyes at each other, giggling.
They had just gotten through a grueling ordeal together, and though the trio hadn't been complete at all times for it, their bond was stronger than ever, so they felt no reason to talk. It was good to get back to the normal things, like going over homework assignments during the dwindling moments before the first bell. Studying was almost a welcome reprieve.
Conner was temporarily benched for the season, since the coach of San Calrissian's soccer team --whom Reefside had creamed for the championship the previous year-- was crying foul and claiming that Reefside had cheated with Conner's special powers. Conner, Coach Phillips, and Dr. O. were attempting to convince the school board that Conner had been given the powers long after the win, and Ranger ethics that he not use the powers for personal gain aside, he simply didn't need super-speed to kick butt. He was just naturally fast. Conner took the entire situation with a grain of salt. His life the previous year had consisted of two passions: soccer and girls. Then it was soccer, girls, and the team. Now it was back to soccer and girls, the team disbanded. He had Kira, so he didn't need soccer as much. It was going to take a lot of work to assure that she didn't randomly decide to break up with him. She still approached him with a certain amount of hesitance.
Kira had showed up to her usual Friday night concert to find people pouring out of the doors of the Cyberspace, and a frantic Hayley attempting to refresh them all. Kira was particularly uncomfortable with the turnout, knowing full well they weren't here because they'd heard she was really good or anything like that. She put on a respectable show, considering the circumstances, and the crowd seemed impressed, or sated at the very least. She'd promptly located Hayley after the set to inform her that she wasn't going to perform for awhile, until things had calmed down. Kira's band had been a bit miffed, thinking they should capitalize on the fame as much as possible, because it was an awesome chance, but Hayley had understood.
Ethan was having a great time, playing up on his celebrity as much as he could. Random kids would bring him drinks while he hung out at Hayley's, and he'd developed a small crowd of geek followers. Conner and Kira indulged him this streak, but they were fast reaching the point where they knew his ego would rage out of control. Both ex-Rangers were privately thinking they would take Ethan aside after his interview with Cassidy and tell him to cool it.
The door opened, and Dr. O. stuck his head in. The classroom suddenly exploded in applause. When Dr. O.'s identity as a Ranger was revealed, every news source dug up his past and it wasn't long before they figured out that he'd been a Ranger for a long time. He wasn't just a Ranger legend now, he was a legend for everyone.
Dr. O. went slightly red, and the trio shared amused glances at seeing their fearless mentor blush in the face of a handful of high school kids. "Um, thanks, guys," he said with a weak smile, then shifted into the relaxed but commanding persona that had made him a favorite teacher around the school. "I'm sorry I'm late today, but I had good reason. I was called in to meet with the school board, and they just unanimously passed the vote today to assign a new principal in the wake of Elsa-er, Principal Randall's absence. And, well, they've appointed me."
The cheers erupted again --a Power Ranger for a principal, how cool was that-- and Conner, Ethan, and Kira jumped out of their seats to flock around and congratulate their teammate. "Thanks guys, thanks," he said, laughing and obligingly punching fists with Ethan. "Sit down, sit down."
"This of course means that I have to officially resign as your teacher and assign a replacement. I trust that they'll be satisfactory. You guys be nice to him, okay?" The door opened and a man walked in, clutching a briefcase with a nervous expression. He waved at them tentatively. "Hi, everybody. I'm Dr. Ed Payne, and I'm going to be your teacher for the remainder of the year. Admittedly, I'm no Power Ranger, but I'm just as qualified as Dr. Oliver--in fact, we went to graduate school together. So let's take this time to discuss what you've covered so far in this class." He stepped behind the desk, set his briefcase down on it, and smiled at them.
Cassidy Cornell raised her hand and proceeded to give Dr. Payne a detailed description of every topic covered in class so far. Dr. O. smiled to himself and ducked out of the room.
Halfway through third period, however, the trio were summoned from their respective classes to come to the principal's office. The teachers said nothing. What could they say? Special circumstances were going go hand in hand with Conner, Kira, and Ethan for the rest of their high school careers, if not for the rest of their lives. After all they'd done, though, it seemed like nothing to excuse them from class for a powwow in the office of Tommy Oliver.
But it wasn't a powwow that Dr. O. had in mind. They took seats in front of his desk, Kira in the middle of the two boys. Dr. O. folded his hands in his lap and surveyed his charges with a grave look. "Bad news, guys."
"Is it Trent?" Kira asked, and Conner shifted almost imperceptibly in his chair at the worry in Kira's voice at the mention of the former White Ranger. "Did he make it to the institute okay?" After the Rangers' powers had died, Trent was freed from the control of the white gem, but he was unstable at best. He'd undergone far too much, and in addition to that, had witnessed the death of the only family he had left. Hayley had suggested he go upstate to a rehab facility that would help him cope with his issues, and the reformed Trent had agreed that it was the best idea.
"I spoke to him earlier. He made it in fine this morning," Dr. O. assured the team. "That's not it." He sighed, biting his lip slightly and frowned as he tried to figure out how to phrase it. "The hospital called me just now," he said finally. Even before he'd said the words, the kids figured out what was coming. "Elsa died in surgery," he continued, having to deliver the news.
"Is it..." Kira began, but couldn't find the words to finish.
Conner wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest, kissing the top of her head. "No it isn't," he whispered. "It's not your fault."
"It's not," Dr. O. agreed. "Whatever Mesogog had been injecting into Elsa's system to give her the power that she had was slowly deteriorating her body. If nothing else, you saved her, Kira, by injuring her enough that doctors were able to look at her and realize something was grievously wrong." Kira nodded, though it was clear she didn't quite believe him, and Conner rubbed at her arm reassuringly.
The principal leaned back in his chair. "I just wanted to be the first to tell you," he said. "It's entirely possible you'll hear it on the news, you'll probably get bothered about it by the reporters. Better you hear the truth from someone who actually knows."
"What are they going to be doing with the body, Dr. O.?" Kira said.
"I'm not sure. But I imagine they'll let us make arrangements, if you want."
"I do," she said. "She was a nasty woman, a horrible principal, and pretty much evil to the core, but I guess underneath it all, she was still a person."
Dr. O. nodded, a benign smile on his face. "For the record, I'm extremely proud of you three. You've done amazing things in your careers as Rangers, and you've handled yourself remarkably well through it all. I've seen your personalities change drastically, and for the better." The trio exchanged smiles. "You've been exposed, and it's certainly going to be interesting, but I trust you guys to not let the fame go to your heads." Both Kira and Conner shot furtive glances at Ethan at this statement, but the boy didn't notice. "You may not have your powers anymore, but trust me when I say that you're always going to be Rangers," Dr. O. continued. "I'm very, very proud of you, and you should be proud of yourselves." He grinned, looking quite youthful. "Now get back to class."
In the hallway, they lingered a bit. The classes they were missing were all in opposite directions, and they didn't want to split up just yet. Sure, they'd see each other at lunch, and after school, and for the rest of their lives. But this was it, this was the last team meeting they'd ever have. The feeling weighed heavily over them all, and they cast each other sad smiles. "It's been pretty awesome, guys," Ethan spoke up finally.
"Only you would walk out of that hellhole and call it 'awesome,'" Kira said, rolling her eyes.
"Aw, c'mon, it wasn't all bad."
"Were you even there for any of the last week?" Conner said, an incredulous laugh in his voice.
"You know what I mean," Ethan said.
They indulged him with smiles. "It was pretty awesome sometimes," Conner said. He held out his hand, and Kira placed hers on it, Ethan stacking his on top. "This is it, guys," he said. "It's over."
"It's over," they agreed quietly, their hands twisting together before they broke apart.
"See you at lunch, huh?" Kira said, trying to make her voice cheerful.
"It's lasagna day," Conner said excitedly.
"This is why I bring my lunch," Kira said. "Do you know what all grossness they put in there?"
"Conner will eat anything," Ethan said. "You know, we should talk to Hayley about catering."
Dr. O.'s door opened, and his head popped out. "I thought I told you guys to get to class!" he admonished, though not angrily. They laughed as the door shut again. Conner punched Ethan's shoulder, gave Kira a quick kiss, and the three set off on their separate paths, the end of an era and the start of new, ordinary lives.
From the rubble rose a stench and a cloud of smoke. At the edge of the cliff stood a hunched figure, watching over Reefside's coast with malice in his mutant eyes. He'd had to reconstruct himself from scraps of Zeltrax's corpse, and while his new body creaked a bit, it was still fully functional.
A serpentine tongue flicked out, crossing over the unnatural lips of a visage that was half dinosaur and half cyborg. His face stretched into a grotesque expression, and Mesogog hissed. He spoke in a low, rasping voice, one that wasn't quite used to being used. He stared at the quiet bustle of a Monday morning in Reefside with something deeper than hatred. "Nothing," he declared, "is ever over."