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Breaking Space-Time

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“In case you were wondering-”

“I wasn’t.”

“Oh, I know,” the voice replied, unperturbed.  Almost civil, even.  “But in case you were-

“Because I don’t care-”

“-wondering, in a hypothetical world where you are not an asshole-”

“Because you are irritating-”

“Difficult to conceive, I know, but bear with me here-”

“If life had a mute button I would use it, repeatedly-”

“Then I would say-”

“Solely on you-”

“-and you would hear-

“You are that obnoxious-”

“-that you’re doing it wrong.”

At that Alex paused, hands posed above his head, one gripping his makeshift lock pick, the other firmly holding his datapad, which was doing its very best to explain the basics of breaking and entering.  Trying, and falling woefully short; as it would seem the theory was much different than the actual practice.

Instead of asking the obvious question, because that would only goad the teen and Alex rather valued his sanity, the brunette deflected, rocking back on his heels as he risked a glance in the other ranger’s direction, the familiar feeling of regret a steady and constant companion.

Unsurprising, considering the company he now kept.

“And you would know this how?” Alex asked, allowing an eyebrow to raise suggestively, the slight inference that one should not possess such criminal skill sets as loud and brazen as the blond’s usual sarcastic bite.

For the most part, the blond looked unimpressed. 

With a weary sigh, Hunter pointed to himself.  “Ninja.”

He let the one word speak for itself.

At that point, Alex didn’t bother trying to argue (he wouldn’t have; it would have just been perceived as arguing, and then it would be fifteen minutes later and nothing would be done).  Instead he moved on, changing the course of the conversation slightly while still continuing his assigned task.

“It’s a window lock,” Alex said, frowning at the worn down object that dared to hamper their mission.  “Hardly the most complicated of mechanisms.”

“And yet,” Hunter began, making impatient grabby hands at Alex’s tool.  “Still one of the first things they taught us to break into.”

Begrudgingly, Alex allowed himself to be relieved of his equipment and moved, taking over Hunter’s old position of lookout.

The fact that Hunter hadn’t ended the sentence with “And yet, you seem remarkably incompetent” would indicate a certain amount of tolerance that Alex should attempt to emulate.  As the more mature one.

“Just give me a few seconds,” Hunter said, tongue peaking out the side of his mouth, the picture of utter concentration.  “And we can go back to screwing with people’s lives.”

“Mending the time stream.”  The correction was habitual more than it was effective; Alex having long given up on actually conveying this concept to the crimson ranger.

“Whatever,” Hunter replied, flippant and uncaring.  “You do what you need to cope.”

“Can I-?”

“Except for murder me.”

Damn it.

Alex said nothing after that, ignoring Hunter’s gleeful smile at his (totally veiled annoyance), keeping quiet even when the blond began a jaunty whistle.

Because that was just…the best thing to do when trying to be stealthy.

Alex didn’t rise to the bait.  He didn’t rise to it and he didn’t indulge in the useless exercise of wondering how his life had come to be this way, knowing too well from previous perusals that he was completely aware of the moment things had gone downhill.

Alex was unfairly honest with himself that way.

-:-:-:-:-:-

There could have been, at one point, a time where Alex appreciated Hunter Bradley.  For his skills, if not the company he provided.  The blond was a strong fighter who adapted to his surroundings with the fluidity and grace of an accustomed professional, and bore a strong potential for future works.

Their initial meeting had not been under the best circumstances, so Alex had not been foolish enough to assume that their… arrangement would be smoothly transitioned to, but he had hopes that both their maturity and their duty as rangers would outweigh any petty squabbles they might have.

He had been wrong.

Very wrong.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Alex didn’t like his tagalong. 

He didn’t like the fact he was there; he didn’t like the company, and he certainly didn’t like the lack of dedication to subtle stealth tactics, despite his tagalong repeatedly claiming his training had specialized in them.  Alex had been doubtful of the existence of ninjas – despite Time Force’s insistence – so when he had been given his mission he’d simply nodded and accepted any run-ins with said quasi-suppositional stealth forces as a distant possibility.  Alex had never expected it to go beyond the hypothetical.  Mostly because Alex’s mission emphasized quick and efficient problem solving, rendering any interactions with the locals not only unnecessary, but undesired. 

Not that this differed from how Alex normally approached things; on top of minimizing his effect on the time stream, he could easily admit he wasn’t the biggest fan of people. 

Until this point that had always worked to his advantage, considering his occupation.

He hadn’t expected he would have to entertain company. 

Captain Logan was going to kill him.  Alex wasn’t sure how his current predicament could have been avoided - even in retrospect he couldn’t find a way - but the simple fact remained that it had been his responsibility to carry out mission plans undetected, and he had failed.  That was all it came down to.

It was supposed to be a basic mission.  The circumstances were new, but the goal was the same as any of his other assignments.  There were small discrepancies in the time stream; fluctuations, actual events differing from their historical logs.  It was little things, only small alterations, but they were snow balling.   Normally Time Force wouldn’t feel the need to intervene, but all of these events seemed to be focusing on Ranger teams, especially those in the few years prior to and after Jen and the others fought Ransik back in 2001.  Eventually they figured out a pattern, and decided a criminal specializing in time manipulation was the most probable culprit.  Maybe a new mutant had stolen some of Time Force’s equipment, but whatever the cause, Captain Logan had immediately ordered their team into action, issuing Jen and the others the task of locating and neutralizing the threat, and Alex the job of correcting whatever alterations it had made.

The unfortunate fact of the matter - and the other primary cause to his current predicament - was that time travel took time.  Extensively long periods of preparing a time ship, setting course, and actually traveling to said destination took time they simply didn’t have.  The alterations the criminal had made were already starting to affect the future, and if they didn’t act soon there might not be a time ship to use.  It wasn’t just the one change; it was the buildup, and Alex didn’t have the time to wait for the ship to be prepared between each and every stop.

The solution to this problem came from Trip.  The green ranger had fastened a device that worked with Alex’s morpher, designed to take him to the designated periods requiring his adjustments.  Once there, Alex would be on a timer, given only a brief period to make whatever corrections were necessary before the device automatically transported him to the next spot, and so on.  Without the burden of a ship, Alex’s trips would be much faster (if more dangerous).  The program was designed to go to the period most affected by the criminal, so Alex wouldn’t need to check in with Time Force after every stop.  Before the mission had started, he had considered this feature resourceful and practical. 

Unfortunately, he had become intimately acquainted with the downsides of this almost immediately.

It hadn’t helped that he had acquired his tagalong on his first stop.

There was a certain degree of shame he should probably be feeling because of this fact, but in the end, Alex could only process the overwhelming feelings of anxiety. 

Even he had his limits.

-:-:-:-:-:-

Aside from the mild stinging – which was to be expected; Trip had pulled off quite a remarkable feat so some side effects were bound to arise – Alex’s first trip hadn’t been too disorienting.  Once he had activated the device, there was merely a flash and the pain, and then a soft landing; the sterile white floors of Time Force replaced with smooth wooden ones, a common mark of the twentieth to early twenty-first century building design.  According to Time Force’s databases, he was in an underground stronghold known as ‘Ninja Ops’, utilized by the Ninja Storm team during their brief period of activity.  Based on the information Trip had given him, the base should be empty of its usual occupants, giving Alex enough time to…

Alex tilted his head, realizing with a slight start he couldn’t actually remember what his first task had been.  Another side effect, perhaps? 

No matter, despite the fact he was dressed to blend in with the locals, Alex still possessed some of his more basic Time Force equipment, designed to fit in with the technological aesthetics of last millennium.  The data pad was small, framed to look like a PDA (more likely to fit into the earlier ranger years of the late nineteen-nineties), and pulled up his assignment for this period easily.

There was a…console, somewhere, in the wall he had to tamper with.  Some experiment he had to make go awry.  The fine text beneath the main objective elaborated the necessity for this, the phrases “switching bodies” and “energy transfer” possibly floating to the surface, but Alex paid it little attention.  It would be better, ultimately, if he knew less.  It was likely he would have to have his mind erased anyway, but it never hurt to exercise caution.  Such tactics had proven valuable to Alex in the past.

Pun unintended, though Lucas – had he heard – would probably assume it was.

With the help of his datapad, the brunette located the designated panel and got down to business, disconnecting a few key wires and putting everything back in complete order just as he was intended to.  Odd, that the villain in this case would correct a malfunctioning experiment for the rangers, but perhaps there was more to this than it seemed.  It was just as likely that the experiment going wrong greatly assisted the rangers, as opposed to hindering them.

It was irrelevant, at the end of it.  Alex’s job was done, his device counting down the seconds until his next teleportation, and everything was as it should be.

Assuming it was intentional for one of the Ninja Storm Rangers to make an appearance.

Alex didn’t have much time to process it; he had been too busy staring at his timer, mentally preparing himself for the flare of pain just three seconds in the future, when another body charged into view with inhuman speed, on the offensive.  Long, slender limbs made the trip all that quicker, the person tall and narrow, though obviously well-conditioned.  His – and it was definitely a ‘him’ despite the shaggy, unkempt hair falling about him in mad disarray – movements were determined, threatening and somehow fluid and smooth all at once.  Dangerous was the most prominent feature Alex’s mind digested, and then he was right before Alex, hands grabbing at his battered jacket, expression twisted in a snarl, body poised to shove the Time Force Ranger back against the wall for daring to intrude upon his lair.

He had moved with such agility that it took Alex a moment to process there was, in fact, a person in front of him, clearly as displeased with his presence as Alex was, and worse still, that was not a moment Alex actually had to waste.

Time waited for no man; timers existed for a reason – parameters – limitations existed because seconds could not be spared

The blond opened his mouth, movements prolonged and muscles contracted as he began his push, began his interrogation, neither of which he would ever get to finish because the place where Alex stood was about to be filled with a whole lot of nothingness. 

The lights flashed, just as the ranger’s expression took a furious turn, and the world was alight with pure brightness, the time warp painfully dazzling against Alex’s eyelids.  It was enough to almost distract the Time Force agent from the jolt of pain flooding through his being, but neither were unbearable, and in a second, it had all passed.

Alex was at his next location.

That was the good news, Trip’s device worked as planned.

The bad news slightly outweighed the effectiveness of the good news.

Because as it just so happened, the other ranger – who was still gripping onto Alex’s jacket – had been transported too.

And he did not look pleased about it.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“Where the hell-?” the scraggly blond began to ask, lips curled back in a snarl, giving no indication that the sudden teleportation had affected him in any way save for a slight shifting of his weight, rocking from one foot to another as though unable to find his center.

Were he a ninja - and the situation previously demonstrated was enough to suggest he was - things like grounding yourself and balance were probably important.  A constant awareness of your surroundings was vital to properly hide away from the world.  At the moment, the blond before Alex was lacking both of these things and his patience, had it ever existed, was in short supply.

Though he could understand, it was ultimately irrelevant; Alex had a job to do.

With this in mind, Alex took no guilt from interrupting the teen.

“Quiet,” Alex murmured, spinning them so that the blond’s back was pressed against what appeared to be the side of a weathered building, the old bricks and metal trashcans hovering off in the peripheral of his vision confirming they were in an alley. 

The red ranger’s actions earned a glare and an actual snarl.  “Don’t you-”

Quiet,” Alex repeated, eyes darting to the mouth of the alley to see if they had drawn the attention of any pedestrians.  To this point, they remained unnoticed.  “My name’s Alex Collins,” the brunette continued, knowing the ranger before him wouldn’t be satisfied unless he got some information, and quickly. 

He didn’t like it, but allowing the ranger classified details was an excusable tradeoff to ensure they remained unseen.

“I’m a Red Time Force Ranger from the year 3001.  I was tasked with correcting time permutations that were committed by a villain the rest of my team is currently hunting down.”  Alex held up his morpher to the other man’s face, knowing the blond would pick up the similarities between their morphing devices.  “I’m on a timer,” Alex continued, voice low and controlled. 

Exposing this much of the future to someone one thousand years his junior fought against every instinct Time Force had ingrained into him, but it was necessary.  Alex just had to keep reminding himself of that.  “It seems like you were picked up as well.  I suspect it has something to do with the nearness of our morphers at the time of transportation.”

Alex gave it a moment to sink in, watched the dirty blond process his words for a few seconds, still studying the Time Force Ranger through narrowed eyes, before allowing the teen some space.  He backed away, making sure to keep a hold of the teen’s shoulder, and tried to asses his next move.  Calling in to Headquarters seemed like the obvious choice. 

“So let me get this straight.” The tone was drenched in sarcasm strong enough to break Alex from his thoughts, almost enough to cover up a mild disbelief.  “You were helping us by breaking Cam’s computer setup?”

“Yes.” Alex was sure to keep his face stern and unreadable. “There’s supposed to be a malfunction.”

“Oh really,” the blond drawled, a statement more than a question, and he lounged back against the dirty bricks behind him, slow and languid even under Alex’s hold.  “And what exactly was your next task, breaking someone’s morpher?”

Unlikely, but Alex doubted such a vague answer would satisfy his new charge.

Without taking his eyes from the blond, Alex pulled up his datapad, holding it up to eyelevel so that both it and the kid were in his view.  “I need to relocate some items.”

“You have got to be the most helpful person in the world,” the teen deadpanned, eyes half-lidded.

Alex did not rise to the obvious bait.

“I don’t dictate the missions,” Alex replied, tone even.  “Nor do I dictate history; I’m just trying to preserve it.”

“And what about me then?” the kid asked, head tilting forward, eyes flashing an obvious challenge.  “If your little device is jumping you through history, haven’t you just displaced me?”  He batted his eyes, almost playful to the untrained eye.  Fortunately, Alex was familiar with the concept of mockery, and would not be so mistaken.  “Looks like you might be breaking time more than fixing it.”

“A minor setback,” Alex deflected, smooth, calm.  “I went to your time once; you can be returned.”

Trip, Captain Logan, and the rest of Time Force be willing, that was.

There was no need for Alex to elaborate on that particular front, fortunately.

The fact that the teen snorted in response was no comment on Alex’s neutral expression, or actual ability to discern something was wrong.  He was merely grumpy, upset…hormonal, whatever teenagers usually were. 

He had been one, at one point.  Not that long ago.  He understood the trepidation of-

Those were times Alex was generally better off not thinking about.

 “Whatever,” the kid snorted, tiny smirk playing on his lips.  “Call your boss, send me home.  Just- make it so I don’t have to talk to you anymore.”

Alex would have been offended, if he didn’t entirely agree with this sentiment. 

This kid was too…erratic, to maintain civil conversation with.  The faster Alex could return him to his time, the better it would be for the mission.

-:-:-:-:-:-

One less-than-successful call in to Time Force later, Alex was gifted with a new set of mission parameters. 

The general gist of them were, as far as he could discern, ‘Take care of your mistake because we don’t have time to fix it for you’.  Were Alex prone to dramatics, he would feel mildly wounded, maybe even embarrassed by how little support he was receiving, but ultimately such feelings were irrelevant to the job at hand.  In essence, his superiors did have a point. He was a seasoned agent who knew what needed to be done to manage his missions.  Suffering the consequences of his own miscalculations seemed a just enough fate, if not ideal.

The newest challenge then, would be the task of informing his recruit on the new information.

“That,” the teen began after the red ranger had returned from his short walk around the corner. “Is not the face of a conversation that has gone well.”

“New orders,” Alex confirmed, keeping on task.  “You’re to remain with me until I’ve rectified the more pressing time alterations.”

“Are you serious?” the other ranger said, as if questioning the completeness of Alex’s mental facilities.  “Or do you have a shitty sense of humor?”

They both knew the answer; the teen’s eyes, despite his tone, were serious and hard.  It prompted Alex to continue, ignoring the expletive.  “Once I have made enough corrections, we can take you back home.  Until then, we’re on a schedule.”

“So that’s it then?” It was a challenge, slightly bitter, resentment clear as anything.  “I’m just supposed to follow you around?”

‘Yes’ seemed like the obvious answer.  It also seemed like the one least likely to satisfy the blond, so Alex cut off the teen’s frustration with a simple delivery of facts. 

“We’re in the year 1999,” he explained, watching as this dawned on the other ranger, his fists curling tight against his sides.  Alex offered up his datapad for inspection.  “You don’t have to believe me.  You could ask around, get questioning looks for wondering what year it is.”

“Perhaps I will,” the kid countered, jaw tight, defiant.

Alex shrugged.  “Perhaps.  But when it’s ultimately confirmed, you’ll have a choice.  You can stay here- out of time, unable to go to your old life because technically, you, the past version of yourself, is already here.  Already living your life.”

Alex allowed that to sink in, knowing from the way the teen’s jaw set in a frown that he knew what his best options were.

Feeling generous, or at least, empathizing the feeling of displacement, Alex finished laying out the ranger’s options.

“Or, alternatively, you can come with me, a fellow ranger, who’s just trying to save people, like you do.  I can get you home in a couple of days, maximum, instead of a couple of years.”

He took a breath, willing himself to stay patient, to fight away the nerves eating at his stomach, playing the cruel game of ‘what-ifs’ in his mind. 

They were always present, but sometimes he was more successful in sequestering them to silence than others.

“Those are your choices,” he said quietly, not as a command.  Not with derision.  He wanted the other ranger to have some power, have the chance to make his own choice, so he wouldn’t feel trapped. 

There was no point in obtaining cooperation if it was begrudging and laden with resentment.  Not for this, not with this mission and this-

It wasn’t ideal.  It wasn’t.  But it was necessary.

“If you would,” Alex began slowly, feeling the words out with care.  “Could we take the second option?”

He didn’t have time to waste for further persuasion.  He knew it wasn’t his best sell, but the brunette wasn’t really known for being the type that inspired sentimental relationships.  He was…a bit out of practice.  And that had been forced upon him.

Except for Jen, but as in many aspects of his life, Jen defied previous expectations. 

Eventually – to Alex’s relief – the blond sighed, head tilting back with a quiet thunk against the wall and eyes rolling to the sky in an example of pure exasperation. 

“Fine,” the teen huffed begrudgingly, like he was doing Alex some kind of favor.

Which, he sort of was, but seeing as Alex was returning the sentiment–

Irrelevant.  He had agreed, he would stick close to Alex, help him finish the mission and, so long as Alex kept a close watch on his timer, all would be well.

They just had to keep an eye on the time.

-:-:-:-:-:-

“So, what needs to be broken?”

“This time?  Nothing,” Alex said, taking the steady volume of the kid’s voice as a measure of his proximity, knowing that he was trailing just a few steps behind.  “We need to relocate some papers.”

Travel documents, by the look of them.  Along with the papers, the list scrolling across Alex’s datapad included a passport and few other odds and ends, small things that would build on top of one another if missing– toothbrush, keys – objects that possessed natural tendencies of being misplaced.

“By ‘relocate’ you mean steal, don’t you?” the blond noted quietly under his breath, displeasure mixed with enough annoyance to give the allusion of a collected mind.  The sarcasm must be a coping mechanism then; despite his experience as a ranger there was no way the teen should be able to pick up things so quickly, to settle into a routine and follow Alex’s lead.  There should have been more argument, Alex had expected at least a smidgeon more bitterness, some resistance but, to his credit, the teen was not so shaken.  Either he had dealt with these kinds of fluid situations before, or he was building himself up for denial and the breakdown would happen later. 

Either way, at least this newest task should be accomplished with relative ease.

“I mean nothing more than what the word infers,” Alex replied, motioning the other ranger to a halt as he glanced around the edge of the building.  Another quick look to his datapad confirmed it; that was the right one.

“But you don’t want-” the kid made a vague motion with his hand. “-whoever to find them.”

“That’s correct,” Alex replied, waiting for the foot traffic to die down so that they could cross the street.  “The details are...less important,” he began, sensing rather than seeing the displeased frown on the kid’s face.  “But,” Alex continued.  “The basic gist of it is that we need to make a ranger sneak aboard…a plane.”

And by that Alex meant ‘A shuttle to an exploratory space colony’, but in the interest of revealing as little as possible, Alex opted for the more easily assimilated alteration.

Behind him, the blond made another displeased noise, but didn’t argue, so Alex figured he was satisfied.  At least for now.

Begrudging acceptance would have to be enough because these papers, as apathetically as Alex described them, were vital to the formation of the Lost Galaxy team.  If Leo wasn’t forced to sneak aboard a shuttle he would never be marked as a stowaway which, in turn, would never have him accidentally pushed into that last-minute training run on the moon.

Beyond that it was basic history; all of which led to Leo Corbett taking up the mantel of the Red Lost Galaxy ranger, and that was the important part.  Mr. Corbett making his shuttle would lead to an unpleasant cascading effect, which Alex would rectify here and now, before it could ever fall apart.

Unfortunately, that also required sleuthing into Mr. Corbett’s apartment and effectively “misplacing” his travel documents, all the while remaining undetected, which was going to prove slightly more difficult with the added baggage of a shadow.

It was opportune then, that this particular shadow specialized in stealth tactics.

Perhaps Alex could work this to his advantage.

Getting access to the apartment building was as easy as walking in, strides purposeful, just as though they belonged there.  If you had enough confidence you could buy yourself anonymity.  It was a lesson Alex would have drilled into the teen more soundly if he hadn’t caught on without the Time Force Ranger ever having to suggest it, posture casual with a bored expression plastered across his face, the epitome of inconspicuous.  Either he was well-practiced or simply didn’t care, but either way his composure was kept, so Alex was satisfied.  It was a moot effort, perhaps, considering the lobby attendant was passed out on his desk, soft snores echoing quietly in the early morning, but still, the practice was useful.

Getting into the apartment was a different matter.

It was an early enough time period that mounted hallway cameras remained uncommon in most apartment buildings, which left one less thing for Alex to worry about, but there was still the resounding issue of the elusive door lock.

Alex only had time for Trip to run him through a brief crash course in lock picking, introducing him to the different models of door, window, and car lock Alex might encounter on his mission.  Any electronic devices could have been easily dealt with by his datapad - the future tech equipped with any of the historical data he could need - but manual things still required a delicate touch.  One Alex could openly admit he did not exactly have

Like everything else, he made do, focusing on completing his task to the best of his ability, ignoring the quiet grumbles Hunter murmured underneath his breath, arms crossed as he slouched against the wall, keeping his eyes peeled for civilians.  It was still the early hours of the morning- early enough that Leo would be sleeping- so they should be in the clear, but it never hurt to be cautious.

A few painfully prolonged minutes later and they were in, footsteps light against the carpet as they took in their surroundings, door shutting silently behind them.  The sight that greeted them was about what Alex had expected for someone preparing to make a big move.  The place was mostly empty; the furniture and knick knacks that indicated a “lived in” space had most likely been packed up or donated.  Whatever wasn’t vital, whatever wasn’t necessary was gone or in storage, leaving behind a modest duffle bag as Leo’s only luggage.

That also meant that the only other thing occupying the apartment’s space was Leo himself, and whereas most people would have selected the bedroom as their resting place, out of habit if not for any other reason, Leo had opted to make his last stand where Alex suspected his living room used to be, curled up in a ragged sleeping bag that would most likely meet the same fate as the rest of its donated brethren.

It was nothing worth panicking about.  It didn’t matter if the red ranger-to-be was located five feet from them as opposed to a room over; the plan was malleable, they could adapt.  Stealth had always been a key factor anyway; if anything this would be a strong, solid motivator for them to take expert care.

Divide and conquer, Alex thought, sliding his finger along the front of his datapad until he accessed the part of the list he was looking for.  Target acquired.

He beckoned the blond over to his side quietly and gestured towards his intended targets.  The small things- toiletry items, Leo’s keys- were all located in the small bathroom attached to the bedroom, and with an irritated huff the teen stalked off.  Somehow he managed to convey his aggravation without emanating a sound, which was all Alex could ask for anyway, choosing for his patience’s sake to ignore the obvious body language and focus on his own task.  The papers.  They would be in the kitchen.

Considering how barren the place was now, it should have taken Alex less than a second to track down his wayward papers.  When he actually breached the kitchen area and noted how equally empty it was he immediately reconsidered this thought, and consulted his datapad.  Perhaps he had read wrong.  Maybe the papers were in Leo’s duffle bag after all.

His (minor) fears were confirmed.  Alex had read correctly.  They were in the kitchen, according to Trip’s intel.  Beyond that the green ranger hadn’t bothered to specify, but so far all of his data had been reliable, so there was no reason for Alex to start doubting him now.  The papers were there, they were simply tucked away.  In a drawer perhaps, for safe keeping.  It was a reasonable conclusion.

The good news was that Alex’s assumption had been correct, and the papers, complete with passport, were found in record time, only slightly past Alex’s original projected timeline.

The bad news was the particular drawer the papers had resided in hadn’t been the most structurally sound.  Alex pulled on the handle, expecting the drawer to halt its movement when he halted his hand, and was immediately reeducated.  The drawer stubbornly continued its journey without any heed to Alex, crashing onto the scuffed linoleum floor with enough racket that even Leo, firmly unconscious, would have heard it.

There wasn’t much to do but react after that.  Alex emptied the drawer, shoving the papers into his coat pocket carelessly with one hand while he jabbed the drawer back into place with as much care he could manage one-handedly, ducking quickly behind the kitchen counter as he heard Leo awake with a start in the living room.

Not the most ideal of circumstances, and Alex couldn’t even place the fault on his newly-acquired partner for making them as such.

“Hello?” a voice Alex decidedly placed as Leo’s called, soft but clear, and with more awareness than a man who had been unceremoniously jostled from his sleep should have.

Instant alertness would be something Alex expected from a veteran ranger with enough battle under their belt to be conditioned that way, but Leo was still a civilian.  He had no military training; no contact with other rangers.  The part of town he was in wasn’t the most developed, perhaps that had something to do with it.  A break-in could be more of a common occurrence than an extraordinary circumstance.

“Hello,” Leo echoed, inquisitive tone replaced with something more firm, more confident.  Establishing a fearless rapport with the intruder, offering them one last chance to escape without harm.  A warning, that this was a person who would not shy away from a fight.

Or maybe Alex was reading too much into it, he wasn’t the best in social situations.

Priorities, Alex thought, recognizing he was allowing his analysis to waste his precious time.  He needed a strategy to escape Leo’s notice that wasn’t direct confrontation.  Time Force had made it clear enough to Alex after his initial encounter that he was to remain unseen, undetected.  Simply rattling off his mission would not be acceptable anymore.

What other options did he have?

“Hello?” Leo’s voice was drawing closer to the kitchen, but thankfully distant enough that Alex remained hidden.  Were the red ranger to describe it, he would say Leo’s approach was cautious.  “Sammy, is that you?  I told you man, breaking into someone’s apartment is not polite.”  The words sounded almost fond when he said them, mirthful in the quiet room, but the tone was gone in a second, replaced with his earlier confidence.  “Sammy, I told you I’m leaving.  I’m sorry, I can’t-”

Crashing from the bedroom interrupted the apology, sounding deceptively like a brick breaking through a window.  The tell-tale sound of heavy footsteps echoed against the wall as Leo made a beeline for the room with a quiet curse.

“Stay there Sammy,” Leo threw over his shoulder, distracted.  “We’re not finished yet.”

They were, they always had been, but Alex hadn’t the time to spare thinking about it.  His mind was already on his tagalong, knowing the blond had to have been responsible for the opportune distraction.  Quick thinking on his feet, unquestionably, which leant to Alex’s previous hypothesis of how easily the ninja took to adapting, but it still left the nagging query of what exactly the kid’s next move would have been.  He was as blocked in as Alex, so what did he-

“Ducked out the window,” the blond said by way of greeting, dropping into Alex’s sight with no kind of warning, making the red ranger jolt back against the counter.  He recovered quickly, but by that confounding smirk he knew the teen had caught it.  “Scaled the fire escape,” the other ranger continued in a low whisper, grabbing Alex’s wrist tightly.  “And ducked back in the other window; now let’s get the hell out of dodge before-”

The world lit up in the growingly familiar lights of teleportation and Alex noted, with no small amount of irony, on how appropriately timely Time Force could be.

Alex scrolled through the new information streaming across his datapad while the blond cursed, still becoming acquainted with the unpleasant tingles of individual time travel.  It certainly supported the reason why they had specified ships to carry out such tasks.

“Alright, one down,” the teen managed, coming back to Alex’s side when his temper was back in check, mitigated to a tight frown Alex could see wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.  “How many more to go?”

“A dozen, at least.” He knew the answer wouldn’t be well-received, but the teen seemed like the type that appreciated open honesty more than sugar-coating, so Alex kept to his best guess.

Awesome,” the blond huffed; bumping his shoulder against Alex’s to…properly express his sarcasm?  Alex wasn’t sure.  Or maybe it was simply because he was the only person the teen had a chance at properly conversing with, his only chance at solidarity in the world, so he made the best of it.

Good, that meant he was coping.  That was one less thing for Alex to worry about.

Alex was halfway through reading up on their next assignment when a hand poked at his shoulder.  Looking up, he found the other ranger studying him with an annoyed expression, exasperation clear through his narrowed eyes.

“Hey,” the blond began, as though he hadn’t already appropriately caught Alex’s attention.  “Is there any chance you’re going to ask me what my name is anytime soon?”

In natural conversation, the answer was ‘no’, as the teen had rendered that possibility impossible by bringing it up himself, but Alex got the point.

“Okay,” Alex said, swallowing around the conflicting feelings of frustration and unease.  “What is your name?”

“Hunter Bradley,” his companion said, hand thrusting out in an offered handshake.  A challenge, really.  The grin was cocky, all teeth and annoyance. “Crimson Thunder Ranger.”

“A pleasure,” Alex murmured, taking the proffered hand easily, returning the rough handshake with less care than he should.  “Truly.”

There was nothing pleasant about it, which was why when the teen- Hunter- threw his head back and laughed, Alex couldn’t help but feel there was a chance this would be less agonizing than he had previously assumed, because at least they were both aware of it.

After all, the more determinedly two people worked towards a goal, the more efficiently it should, hypothetically, be achieved.

Even if the goal was to be rid of each other, that concept should still hold true.

Alex had learned not to allow himself to hope for many things in his life, but in this instance, he decided that placing his faith in science wouldn’t be the most horrible thing in the world.