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Crossing Paths

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They had failed. Repeatedly they had failed. Elsa and Zeltrax - so eager to get ahead, so eager for the Master's attention - dealt crushing defeat by the Power Rangers over and over.

He wouldn't fail. He wouldn't rush impulsively to Mesagog with a poorly formed plan only to watch it crumble at his feet. And then be punished.

Fealdor shuddered. The mind searing pain was something not to be forgotten, or courted. Which was why he didn't understand the others' heedless rush to prove themselves only to fail again and again.

The boasting and postruing; the competition between the other two was something Fealdor did not strive for. Sometimes it was as if they'd forgotten he existed. But Mesagog forgot nothing, and on the day the Master approached him for a plan, Fealdor would be ready.

He could do it, he knew. He was close to success; he could feel it in his bones. The idea had come to him when the Tyranadrones had captured Tommy Oliver. Mesagog had the man in the strapped into the Life Force Extractor, but decided to talk the human into submission instead of using the machine. Don't think that too loudly, Fealdor...he might hear you.

After the Rangers rescued Oliver and stolen the black power gem, Fealdor's mind began to race. A human would only last a few minutes in the Life Force Extractor on full power. But what about a Ranger? Would there be a difference if the Ranger wasn't morphed? Fealdor did not pursue that line of thinking for too long - the Rangers were hard enough to fight, let alone to capture.

So what of former Rangers? There were a number of teams that were no longer active. Would those humans have greater energy potential...perhaps enough to suit Mesagog's needs? Fealdor turned his attention to what he did best - research. So, while Elsa and Zeltrax wore themselves out fighting Rangers, Fealdor would find a solution - a successful solution - that would gain the admiration of Mesagog, and a place for him far above Elsa and Zeltrax in their new world order.

Chapter Text

Dustin watched silently as Tori wrapped up her afternoon class. He’d finished a little earlier because his group of Earth ninja students was much smaller compared to Tori’s Water ninja class. He smiled a little to himself – it wasn’t so long ago that they were students…and not very good ones at that. But after a year spent as Power Rangers fighting evil Space Ninjas they’d all grown up pretty fast. And their skills had grown exponentially. Dustin was gratified that even after they lost their Ranger power to Lothor, they still had their Ninja skills and were able to defeat him. Nothing would ever compare to being a Ranger, but being a Ninja teacher was pretty cool too.

Dustin turned his head slightly as someone approached. He nodded a silent greeting to Shane, not wanting to disturb Tori’s class. They were just at the part where students were attempting to walk on the surface of the lake. Even a small distraction could land someone in the water. Shane came to stand by him. He pitched his voice low as he asked Dustin, “Did you tell her yet?”

“Nope, I was just waiting for her to finish.”

Both young men turned their attention back to the class as Tori congratulated the successful students, and handed towels to those who needed more practice. As she dismissed the students she noticed her friends standing there. She waved to them and began to make her way over. Shane looked at her critically. She looked fine, or at least anyone who didn't know her well would think so. The sun reflecting off of her loosely braided hair gave her a corona that looked almost angelic. But she carried with her a constant sadness – missing Blake. That’s where this little surprise of Dustin’s came in.

“Hey, Tor!” Dustin greeted her. “Done torturing your students for the day? How was the class?”

“Well, no one drowned. That’s always a good start.”

Shane and Dustin chuckled. They turned as one and headed back toward the main building; Tori easily fell into step between them. “Listen, Tor. What have you got planned for this weekend?”

Tori shrugged noncommittally. “Nothing much, I was going to…”

“Great!” Dustin interrupted her. He thrust a flyer into her hands. “Shane and I are going to whisk you away for the weekend.”

Tori arched an eyebrow at him. “Whisk?”

Shane chuckled again at Dustin’s enthusiasm – then he joined in. He didn’t mind making a fool of himself for Tori. She needed some distraction, and Dustin had found just the thing to shake her out of her self-imposed pity party. Shane leaped ahead of the other two and turned to face them. In a super-smarmy announcer voice he started to pronounce.

“That’s right, Tori! You, and two of your best friends, will spend the weekend in Reefside. Home of the Reefside Surfing Exhibition.” Tori smiled as she glanced at the flyer Dustin handed her as Shane continued. “Take in the beach! Work on your tan! Leave your worries behind!”

Tori stopped walking as she read, and Dustin moved to join Shane facing her. “What do you think, Tori? We can leave tomorrow after Shane’s last class, then spend the whole weekend at Reefside.” Tori looked up. Shane was grinning at her because he knew he didn’t have to say anything. Dustin’s puppy-eyed look would win the day. That, and the fact that he so sincerely wanted to do this for her.

Tori looked down at the flyer again – not because she needed to read it, but because she wanted a moment to think. It was really sweet of the guys to plan a weekend like this, and she knew why they’d done it. That fact that she was missing Blake was no surprise to anyone, but she thought she’d been handling it better than this. She must be projecting a truly miserable aura if Dustin thought she needed a whole weekend of cheering up.

She looked up at her expectant friends and smiled brilliantly at them. “I think it sounds great.” Dustin clapped and leaped into the air. Shane grinned and slung an arm around Tori’s shoulders as they began to walk again.

Dustin fell into step with them again. “And hey, you know…maybe we’ll meet those new Rangers.”

“Dustin!” Tori shook her head with fond exaspiration.

“Seriously dude…how cool would that be?”

Chapter Text

Cassidy Cornell watched with great suspicion as Conner McKnight, Kira Ford and Ethan James gathered with their trays at a lunch table. Despite Devin’s protests, there was definitely something weird about the combination of those three. Mr. “I’m-such-a-jock" hanging out with the “Captain of the Computer Club”? And Kira was definitely not Conner’s type. Cassidy unconsciously primped as she watched the three students.

Conner looked as cool and confident as ever. He was wearing his favorite red soccer jersey over black jeans. Cassidy loved those jeans. Kira was doing her grunge musician look – twin pigtails cascaded over her yellow tank top worn over a long sleeved black shirt. Her jeans were ripped and there was some crazy black and yellow pattern on the piping. Cassidy’s nose crinkled in distaste. That girl’s got no fashion sense. And Ethan, he was a completely lost cause. Blue shirt, blue pants, blue cap – the boy was a monotone blueberry. What did Conner see in those two?

Cassidy looked up as Devin arrived with her lunch, then turned her attention back to the trio at the other table. She gave a determined sniff. She was going to unravel this mystery. Mystery…yes, that’s what it was. And what sort of investigative reporter would she be if she couldn’t get to the bottom of it?

~

“She’s watching us again.”

Kira kicked Ethan under the table as he swiveled around to look. “Don’t let her know we know!” she hissed.

“What’s the big deal?” Ethan groused. “She watches everybody. And she always gets everything wrong. Nobody listens to her.”

“Well,” Conner injected, “I about had a heart attack when she came out with that “special report” about a superhero at Reefside.”

Kira nodded her agreement. “Me too.”

“But that was wrong too,” Ethan argued. “I mean seriously…Principal Randell? A superhero?”

Ethan, focused on getting exactly the right amount of ketchup on his fries, did not catch the warning glances Conner and Kira were trying to give him. He continued. “Now if she was doing a report on a love connection…”

A strong hand clamped down on Ethan’s shoulder. He yelped in surprise. Kira and Conner both pretended to look elsewhere. “I thought we’d finished with that topic of conversation.”

Ethan laughed weakly. “Oh you know Dr. O. Just speculating on what ridiculous, crazy story Cassidy might come up with next."

“Ridiculous.” Kira repeated.

“Crazy.” Conner added seriously.

Tommy smiled as he looked at his team. “I just wanted to let you guys know that Haley’s doing some upgrades this weekend, so aside from some light training, I’m giving you the weekend off.” He was thrilled by the enthusiastic response of his young friends. “That is of course, barring any unforeseen circumstances.” They all nodded in understanding.

“That’s great, Dr. O.! There’s a new game I’ve been dying to get my hands on.”

“No way,” Conner interrupted. “If we’ve got some free time, I’m dragging you out into some fresh air.” Ethan started to protest, but Conner ran right over him. “There’s a surfing exhibition this weekend – we’re going to the beach.”

“Since when do you surf?” asked Kira, “You can’t even swim.”

Conner grimaced; they were just never going to let that go. “I don’t surf, but do you know who does? Hot chicks in small bathing suits.” Kira rolled her eyes, but Ethan was definitely looking more enthusiastic.

“I’ll let you guys work out the details.” said Tommy. He walked away as Conner and Ethan got into a heated debate on which part of the beach would have the best view. He was glad the team was bonding outside of “work”. He was pleased he was able to give them some time to themselves. It was so important that they stay connected to the things in “real” life. Being a Ranger took so much out of you, it would be easy to lose it all and become disconnected. But with the three of them looking out for each other, and keeping one another grounded, that was less likely to happen.

Fond memories of another team kept Dr. Oliver company on the way back to his classroom.

Chapter Text

The research was going slowly, but Fealdor didn’t mind. He would much rather spend his time in pursuit of something real than randomly create genetic mutations for the Rangers to blow up. The methodical work was a tiny shred left of his life from before, and he was grateful that his mind was unchanged though his physical appearance was radically altered. Fealdor started his research by investigating the human’s newspapers. The Rangers past and present were big news. Rampaging monsters always make for a good headline.

Fealdor was surprised to learn that so many of the Ranger teams were based in California – maybe there was something in the water, or in the general environment that produced Rangers – but, that was a topic to investigate at another time.

The concentration of Ranger teams in California made the next step of Fealdor's slightly easier. Assuming that many of the former Rangers still lived in California, Fealdor began to scan the inhabitants of the towns where the Rangers were most often spotted. True, looking for specific energy signatures in such large populations was something like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but at least he wasn’t doing a global search.

Fealdor started by scanning the energy readings of the Dino Thunder Rangers when they were engaged in battle. Then he scanned them in civilian form for a comparison. These readings he used as his base line. There were some discrepancies in the team. Most notably, Tommy Oliver’s energy readings did not match the readings of his younger teammates. Fealdor chalked that up to his age and previous experience. He wasn’t sure yet which information would serve him better to find former Rangers, but at this point every piece of information was valuable. It was all saved in his encrypted database, and backed up by a redundant system.

Fealdor read the scans he’d taken from the night before. He realized early on in his research that humans moved around far too much during the day to get accurate readings; he could scan the same person four or five times in a day at different locations and never know it. The best time to do his scans was at night when most of the population was sleeping. The Angel Grove and Stone Canyon scans had not registered anything unusual. Blue Bay Harbor on the other hand…there was definitely something going on there.

It wasn’t that any one person there registered a different energy signature; it was that a large portion of the population didn’t register at all. It had peaked Fealdor’s interest, and that was the report he was reading at the time Elsa slinked in.

“What are you reading there, Fealdor?” she growled condescendingly.

Fealdor tried not to appear startled at her appearance. He quickly scanned the room to make sure nothing of a sensitive nature was out in the open for her to see. What is she doing here? Why now?

“Nothing of any interest to you, Elsa.” Fealdor replied as he closed the report he’d been reading and held it close to his chest.

Elsa was not put off. Something was going on with the Master’s lowest-level lackey, and she was determined to find out what he was up to. At this point she’d do anything to take the focus off of her own failures – maybe then Mesogog wouldn’t insist she stick so close to Tommy Oliver. She darted behind Fealdor and peeked over his shoulder. “Would it be of interest to the Master?” she purred.

Fealdor tried to hedge his answer. “I have nothing of any significance to report at this time.” He pulled away from Elsa and turned to face her. He tried to sound much more confident than he felt. “I’m still doing research.” He broke eye-contact and clutched the report more tightly to his chest.

Elsa’s eyes narrowed in speculation. She decided to let Fealdor stew in his own juices; it was enough that he knew that she knew he was up to something. “Fine. Do your silly research.” She turned and started to slink toward the door. She paused before she walked out. “I’ll make sure Mesogog knows you’ve got something underway…maybe he’ll ask you to show it off for us one of these days.” Elsa grinned maliciously as she turned and left.

Fealdor felt a knot of dread take up residence in his stomach. Elsa would rat him out to the Master in a heartbeat. That meant he had much less time to perfect his plan than he’d anticipated; and he hadn’t even found a former Ranger to suit his needs yet. Damn that woman! He turned his attention back to the Blue Bay Harbor report hoping he would find what he needed there.

Chapter Text

So far the trip had been uneventful. The drive from Blue Bay Harbor to Reefside had been pleasant. There was no traffic and the weather was gorgeous. They had no problems checking in at the hotel even though the place was full of people who were in town for the surfing exhibition. Everyone had a good night’s sleep, and they were ready to spend some time in town window shopping before heading down to the beach. Everything was great. It was making Shane very nervous.

If this had been a year ago, it would be about this time that his communicator would go off. He just kept waiting for it to happen. I guess old habits are hard to break Shane thought to himself. He tried to make himself relax as he looked around the hotel lobby and waited for his teammates. Tori had promised to buy Dustin whatever he wanted for breakfast to make up for the way they woke him up earlier.

Shane and Tori had made a secret pact the night before to steamroll Dustin if he tried to sleep in. Dustin had promised he’d be ready to go when Tori wanted to leave, but his teammates knew enough about his sleeping habits to know that would never happen. Tori had come quietly knocking at their door at 7:00am. Shane roused instantly and peeked over at the other twin bed to see if Dustin had been awakened. The Yellow Wind Ranger hadn’t even moved a muscle at Tori’s knock. Shane crept over and opened the door. Tori was still in her powder blue pajamas.

“He’s not up, is he?” she whispered. Shane shook his head negatively. He cautioned her to stay quiet as they crept up on Dustin.

Tori paused speculatively, as she looked their sleeping friend. Dustin was a messy sleeper. The blankets had been tossed haphazardly off the bed. The sheet that he’d managed to keep on the bed was wrapped around his torso and legs, leaving his feet free. He was sprawled on his stomach, with his head under one of the pillows, and one hands curled up near his face.

“He looks so sweet. I almost feel bad waking him.” Tori said softly.

Shane gave her a look. She snorted. “I said almost.”

As one, Tori and Shane launched themselves at Dustin’s sleeping form. Tori crashed across his back and Shane landed on his legs. “WAKE UP, DUSTIN!” Tori yelled in his ear, as Shane began to violently roll him back and forth. Dustin struggled beneath the other two ninjas, yelling something indecipherable into the pillows covering his face.

Laughing, Tori grabbed the pillows one by one and tossed them in the direction of Shane’s bed. Shane managed to grab a good hunk of the sheet Dustin was wrapped in and gave it a mighty yank. The momentum landed Dustin in a heap on the floor between the two beds. “I’m up!” he grumbled. “Dude, that was harsh.”

Dustin attempted to curl up on one of the blankets that had landed on the floor in the mêlée. “No way, man!” Shane intervened by snatching the blanket, but he wasn’t quick enough. Dustin wrapped himself around the blanket and refused to let go. Tori, standing on Shane’s bed began pelting him with the pillows she’s grabbed away from him, and when those ran out she used Shane’s.

Shane was laughing so hard at the look on Dustin’s face that he let go of the blanket and stumbled backward into the TV. Seeing that he was off guard, Dustin hurled one of the pillows Tori had tossed, and hit him square in the face. Taking advantage of being surrounded by all of the handy weapons, Dustin began to fire pillows at Tori and Shane who had nowhere to hide. Tori, totally exposed on the bed, jumped off and ran for cover behind Shane. She was caught between shrieking and laughing as the boys continued to toss the pillows back and forth.

Shane, having the height advantage, pelted Dustin mercilessly. When Dustin was buried in pillows he raised his hands weakly from under the pile and called out “truce”. Laughing, Shane reached in to give him a hand up. Dustin stood and shook the pillows off. He wasn’t happy to be awake, but he took his “wakeup call” with good humor. It had been a long time since he’d heard Tori laugh so hard, or seen Shane doubled over laughing. He couldn’t remember when he himself had felt so good - especially this early in the morning. The “rude awakening” was definitely worth it.

In order to forestall any attempt on Dustin’s part at sneaking back into bed, Shane gave him the bathroom first, to shower and whatnot. He spent that time putting the room back in some kind of order. By the time Dustin was finished, Tori was ready to take him down to get breakfast. They would meet Shane in the lobby with something portable when he was done.

Shane grinned as he saw Tori and Dustin approaching. Dustin handed him one of the biggest egg and cheese sandwiches he'd ever seen. Tori handed him some coffee. "So what's the plan?" he asked around a mouthful of sandwich.

"Well, once we eat, we'll go exploring. Look around and maybe find a nice place to eat dinner later." Tori explained. Dustin simply nodded, having heard the plan already, and being more interested in attending to his own sandwich. "Today's exhibitions are for the junior surfers. Tomorrow is the serious stuff. I got some information at the desk earlier."

There was silence for a moment as the three sat together eating. "Guys... I just want to thank you..."

"Don't even go there, Tor." Dustin interrupted around a mouthful of egg. "When's the last time we all hung out like this? It's for all of us. I mean, I sort of miss you guys." Shane looked slightly surprised, but Tori nodded in understanding.

Dustin shook his head and tried to get off the melancholy track he'd unwillingly jumped on.

Shane saved the moment by gathering up his garbage and slapping Dustin on the leg. "Well, if we're going to get going, we should go. Before Dustin goes back to sleep...it is still kind of early for him." Dustin stuck out his tongue in response and Tori giggled. The three of them rose, tossed out their trash, and headed out to explore Reefside.

Chapter Text

The day was hot, and although the wind off the water kept the temperature on the beach comfortable, it was still plenty warm enough for a bathing suit. Or a bikini. Or a thong. Conner was certainly appreciative of the view. He himself was sporting long red shorts with black stripes on the outside leg, and a red tank. After all, he was here to see, not to be seen. Ethan was similarly attired in black shorts with blue pockets and a blue t-shirt.

Though Conner and Ethan had privately debated the merits of their teammate in a bathing suit of her own, Kira had chosen to wear a long sleeved yellow shirt over a black and yellow skirt over black leggings. She’d grumbled something about “meat markets” and “not conforming to the media ideal” when she’d arrived, but her protests were generally ignored by her male counterparts.

In spite of her unconventional beach wear, Kira was enjoying the free day as much as the boys. It wasn’t often the three of them hung out, outside of Ranger duties or school. And for Conner to pick something as random as surfing to bond over – well it was just weird. Not one of the three of them knew the first thing about surfing, so the afternoon was turning into a chance to get to know each other. It was strange, but fun.

Once Kira managed to turn the conversation away from the relative merits of a bikini versus bathing suits, she learned some things about her teammates. Behind all of his snarky humor and gameboy-geek speak; Ethan had a lot to say. He was almost philosophical. But she didn’t see that side of him until Conner had gone to grab them some drinks. And Conner, in spite of his thoughtless demeanor, gave a lot more thought to things than Kira had ever given him credit for. But he didn’t demonstrate it until Ethan had gone on a snack run.

“Hey Kira?”

“Yes?” Kira looked over at Conner who was propped up on his elbows leaning back on the towel he’d brought to sit on. His attention was fixated on a surfer in the water; she was a beautiful girl, of course. Kira was afraid he was going to launch into another ode to bathing suits, but stopped herself from cutting him off when she noticed the thoughtful expression on his face.

“Do you think that girl chose to be a surfer? I mean…did she choose it, or did it choose her?” Kira heard the echo of what Dr. Oliver had told them about bonding with the dino gems – where was Conner going with this? Conner turned to look at Kira only to be met with a look of expectation. “It’s not just surfing…it’s us too. I mean, Dr. O. said the gems chose us, right?” He sat up, pulling his knees up and crossing his arms across them, and turned his attention back to the surfer in the water who was now swimming with her board toward the shore. “I made my choice; I know you and Ethan did too. But, is it enough? What if the gems chose wrong?”

Kira almost didn’t hear that last part because Conner’s voice had dropped so low. She sat in stunned silence. This is so not where I saw this conversation going. I think the bathing suit debate was better. Then she shook herself out of it and thought about how to respond. He was being serious, so she was going to take it seriously too. Kira decided not to over think and just responded from her heart. She scooted a little closer to Conner and laid a hand on his arm.

“Seriously, Conner I don’t think the gems can be wrong. And it will be enough. We can do whatever needs to be done if we do it together. Besides, the good guys always win, right?” She smiled up at him. Conner smiled back.

“Hey! Am I breaking something up here?” interrupted Ethan as he crash landed on the blanket, dropping bags of chips and pretzels everywhere, and knocking Kira into Conner, toppling them both. “Sorry!” But the grin on his was anything but apologetic.

“The only thing that’ll be broken will be you.” growled Conner as he crawled up out of the sand. Ethan scooted away holding his hands up in a warding off gesture. “I’m just the delivery guy.” Conner lunged, but his feet got tangled up in the towels and he landed heavily on one knee showering sand all over Kira.

“Hey!” she yelled in protest. So much for our though provoking moment…

Conner only had eyes for Ethan who’d taken advantage of the Red Ranger's fall to get up and start sprinting away. Conner practically climbed over Kira who continued to protest vehemently as he took off running after Ethan.

Kira stood up, brushed off the sand and watched the whole mess go down. It was like watching a train wreck. A train wreck in slow-motion where there’s nothing you can do about it except try to find survivors when it’s done. Ethan and Conner took off from their place on the beach, both of them laughing like lunatics. Ethan initially tried to put as much distance between himself and Conner as possible, but then he changed his game plan. It was clear he’d never outrun Conner, so he tried to be evasive instead.

Conner knew immediately what Ethan was trying to do, and deliberately dropped out of Ethan’s line of sight, dodging behind groups of tourists, but getting ever closer. As Ethan took a wide loop closer to the water - Conner stayed inland, always moving and getting closer to his target. Kira could see that Ethan was trying to get back to her position, as if she were on home base or something. What did she know, maybe in the minds of the boys she was.

Ethan, having lost sight of Conner, made a break for their towels. At the same time, Conner made his move, sprinting from Ethan’s right. “GOTCHA!” Conner executed a beautiful flying tackle, Ethan never saw him coming. It would’ve been spectacular if Conner had taken into consideration that one last group of tourists between Ethan and Kira – they never saw him coming either. As it was, Conner knocked down Ethan and both of the guys in the group. The girl was spared, but fought to keep her balance as she crashed into Kira. Kira steadied them both, but the girl was unable to maintain her grip on the very large soda she’d been carrying.

Train wreck. Grape flavored.

Chapter Text

Reefside was not a huge town, but it did have a very lively downtown area. Shane was not clear on the attraction, but apparently “quaint” was quite a draw in this neck of the woods. It was established very early on in their spontaneous walking tour of the town that Tori was on point and he and Dustin were merely sheep to be led around. Personally, Shane found nothing interesting about dried flowers, smelly candles or hand-made jewelry, but Tori felt the need to inspect every item she came across. It didn’t help that the shopkeepers, wishing to draw in the tourist trade for the weekend, had tables set up for display outside nearly every store. On the plus side, they didn’t have to actually go inside the stores which made it a little easier to move Tori along from one shop to another. All Dustin had to do was to move slightly ahead and call out, “Hey Tor, what do you think of this?” and they moved on.

Luckily, there were enough stores with things that would interest Shane and Dustin to prevent them from wanting to throw themselves into oncoming traffic. And, Tori was a good judge of when they’d just about had enough. She called a halt outside of a Dairy Queen where they’d picked up some sodas.

“I think we’ve hit most of the sites in town,” she stated as she pushed her hair out of her face and over her shoulder. “What do you guys say about heading down to the beach?”

“Sounds good.” Dustin agreed enthusiastically.

“Let’s go.” answered Shane.

“Which way’s the beach?” Dustin inquired looking around.

Tori, having thought ahead, had planned their walking tour to move them in the direction of the beach. She chuckled indulgently – the two of them would never get anywhere without her. “It’s this way.” She looped her arm casually through Dustin’s and turned him around. Shane fell into step on Dustin’s left. They walked for a few minutes in companionable silence.

The downtown district gradually gave way to a small neighborhood. The homes were well tended and the lawns manicured. Decorations favoring starfish, seashells and dolphins gave the first clues of proximity to the beach. A gust of wind brought the smell of sea and sand to the trio.

Shane was the first to break the silence. “Hey uh, Dustin? I’ve been wondering about something you said this morning.”

“Was it before or after I was actually conscious? You know how I am in the morning, dude.”

Shane chuckled. “It was when we were eating. You said you missed us.” Tori could feel Dustin tense next to her. “What was that about? You see us every day.” Shane looked over to see Dustin’s expression.

Dustin glanced sideways at Shane and took a deep breath. He let it out slowly and stopped walking. Tori and Shane stopped slightly ahead and turned so they could both see him. Dustin ran a hand through his already unruly hair. “It’s like…” he held out his hands and looked at Tori; she had seemed to pick up on his vibe at breakfast. “I know I see you guys all the time, but it’s different. I miss this…I miss us. When’s the last time we really hung out like this?”

Dustin sighed; it wasn’t coming out right, what he wanted to say. “Hanging out” was not what Dustin missed. What he missed was the presence of his friends in a more immediate way. Tori and Shane were more important to him than he’d ever be able to express. Even now, the words were not nearly enough, and Shane looked like he was on the verge of freaking out.

Shane shifted his weight. He knew what Dustin was saying, but as a guy it felt a little weird to him to actually say it. It skirted too close to the “I love you-you love me” touchy-feely relationship conversation. Those conversations were hard enough to have with a girl, but with a girl AND a guy? At the same time?

“I know what you mean, Dustin.” Tori nodded at him then looked guiltily at the sidewalk. “I’ve been so wrapped up in my own…stuff…I’ve sort of lost track of you guys.” She looked up imploringly. “I never meant to do that. You’re both so important to me.” She reached out to touch both of them on their arms. “I mean, just look at what you’ve done for me this weekend.”

Shane shifted uncomfortably again. Pretty soon he’d have to participate in this conversation. Oh hell, if I can’t tell these two people how I feel about them, who can I tell? Might as well jump in with both feet.

“You know I love you guys, right?” Shane ventured. Dustin looked stunned and Tori’s hand flew to her mouth. Were those tears gathering in her eyes?

Shane mentally congratulated himself for being first to use the "L" word. He reached out to his right to grasp Dustin’s shoulder, and slid his arm so Tori was now holding his hand.

Dustin looked so relieved that it was almost funny. He grinned at Shane as he reached out to pull Tori closer for a hug. “You love us, huh? Not as much as we love you.”

Tori pulled Shane close enough so she could slide her arm around his waist. Shane in turn placed his arm across Dustin’s shoulders as Dustin slid his arm around his back. They stood there for a moment – in perfect balance – in perfect harmony with each other and the world.

It lasted until a honking horn and a yell of “Get a room!” broke the mood. Laughing they broke apart and began walking again, this time Tori took the middle position with her arms linked with Dustin and Shane. Tori felt a lightness in her step that she hadn’t realized had been missing until she got it back. She resolved not to lose it again.

~~

The beach was crowded, but the three Ninjas threaded their way through the crowd easily. The sodas they’d picked up at DQ were long gone, and they’d resupplied at a stand on the beach. They paid very little attention to the surfers in the water; their attention was more focused on each other. It was a little strange, having these very serious conversations surrounded by so many people, but they moved along in their own little bubble. Unconsciously they grouped themselves so that the speaker was in the center of the group, and the other two listened intently from the side.

At the moment, Tori and Shane were focused on Dustin. He was talking about missing his dad; something they both knew weighed heavily on him, but had little idea how much. The three were so focused that they never saw disaster hurling toward them. The yell of “GOTCHA!” grabbed Shane’s attention, but he had no time to react before a boy in blue was thrown into him. Shane, attempting to catch the boy, lost his balance and fell into Dustin. Like a domino he fell into Tori. Tori had enough time and space to leap away before the tangle of boys hit the sand. She was not however able to retain her grip on her very large grape soda. A helpful hand helped to steady her, but the soda was a lost cause.

Tori watched as the soda flew in slow motion through the air. The cup flipped bottom over top and remained intact until the impact with Dustin’s head caused the plastic lid to separate from the rim. Grape soda splashed like a purple wave over the knot of boys sprawled on the sand. A collective yell rose from the group as they tried to take cover. Then everyone froze in a moment of stunned silence.

Chapter Text

Conner was the first to move being on top of the pile. He scrambled backward pulling Ethan with him. Ethan rolled to his left as Conner got to his feet. Both of them were desperately apologizing. With a groan, Shane shook soda out of his face and sat up giving Dustin some space to move.

“Dustin, I’m so sorry…I couldn’t catch it.” Tori explained with a mournful expression.

“…never saw you guys there, I was just trying to get back to the blanket.” Ethan babbled. He reached over and retrieved the empty soda cup. He passed it back to the girl with Kira, and for the first time got a good look at her face. “Sorry…” he managed to squeak out before he stopped in shock.

At the same time, Conner was reaching to give the guy in red a hand up. “…all my fault, I wasn’t looking…” Conner apologized frantically. Shane grasped they boy’s right hand with his own and let himself be pulled to his feet. He was about to say something when he looked at the boy’s face. Whatever he’d meant to say was replaced by “Eric?”

Conner stepped back in surprise. For the second time in two minutes, most of the group was frozen in shock. From his position on the ground, Dustin looked at the group around him – clearly, he was missing something. He swung around and looked at the girl standing behind Tori as if to say "You know what’s gotten into them?" She stared at him with an expression of dawning recognition on her face.

Conner was the first to recover. “Not Eric…Conner. Eric’s my brother.” He shared a look with Ethan and Kira. There was something going on here that Conner was just not getting. It was on the edge of his awareness, but it seemed Ethan and Kira had already figured it out. “Do you know him?”

Ethan was practically dancing with excitement. He moved around Shane and threw an arm around Conner’s shoulders. He spoke in a conspiratorial whisper when he replied, “They know Eric because they were his teachers.” Conner rewarded him with a blank look.

Kira tried to help. “Ninja teachers.” She raised her eyebrows and looked significantly at the others.

“Oh. OH!” Conner’s face lit up with understanding. The primary color wardrobe of the three others finally sunk in and he made the connection.

Dustin scrambled to his feet and stood by Tori and Kira, facing the trio of other boys. It struck him how similarly Shane and Conner were dressed; then he realized he was standing next to a girl dressed primarily in yellow. Jumping to a huge conclusion he exclaimed, “Dude! I know who you guys are!” Dustin stared to laugh. “I knew this would happen!”

Conner, Ethan and Kira wore matching expressions of panic and started to look around to see if they were drawing any attention.

Shane looked over at Dustin. “What, bro?” Dustin just continued to laugh and shaking his head as if to say, “yes, I told you so.” Shane exchanged a look with Tori who’d been making the same color connections Conner and Dustin had.

“No way…” Shane stated in disbelief.

“It was so worth being covered in grape soda to run into you guys…totally!” Dustin, completely disregarding his soda covered shirt reached over to pull Kira into a one-armed hug. She had to laugh at his enthusiasm – he was just like he’d been on Dr. O.’s video.

“Listen,” Conner intervened, “This is really not the best place to have a discussion like this.” Shane nodded in agreement.

“And we probably want to let you guys shower before you start attracting bees.” Tori added.

“Hey! I have a gig tonight…at the Cyber Café. You guys could meet us there and we could talk.” Kira blurted out. Then suddenly she felt self-conscious. “I’m Kira, by the way.”

“I can find it.” Tori assured Kira. She reached out her hand in greeting. “I’m Tori.” The rest of the introductions were made, and plans were made to meet later in the evening.

It seemed to take all of Shane and Tori’s combined effort to get Dustin moving in spite of his grape-flavored essence. He was so excited at the prospect of hanging out with another group of Rangers he just couldn’t think straight. And he kept trying to talk about it without talking about it or using the word “Ranger”. Tori was afraid he would choke because he was trying so hard to speak in code.

The Dino Thunder Rangers watched the retreating backs of the Wind Ninjas. “This is so cool!” Ethan whispered excitedly. “Actually getting to talk to another set of Rangers. It’s sick!”

“It’s cool, right?” Conner asked as he started to pick up his towel. “I mean…we can talk with them…Dr. O. won’t be mad, will he?”

Kira bit her lip thoughtfully. What Dr. O. would think had never crossed her mind. "I guess we’ll just find out when he meets them for himself."

Chapter Text

Fealdor skittered nervously down the empty corridor. He tightly clutched selected reports in his hands as he made his way to the main lab, all the while silently cursing Elsa’s interference in his head. She knows I’m not ready. That snake is just trying to undermine me! For although Elsa had retained the most human appearance, she was the most cold-blooded of Mesogog’s underlings.

Fealdor appearance was the most reptilian of the minions. His green scaled head and limbs most closely resembled an overgrown iguana. He was grateful that he had retained opposable thumbs in the transformation, otherwise holding something as ordinary as the reports in his hands would be difficult. He was also grateful that the dexterity in his hands allowed him to continue to use computers for his research. He did not know how he would manage otherwise.

He chose to garb himself in a simple robe, in a similar style to the one Mesogog wore, but brown in color. Finding shirts and pants to fit his oddly shaped limbs was not worth the time or effort. And though clothing was no longer necessary for warmth, it allowed him to maintain a level of modesty that helped him hold on to some part of being human. But, it was best not to linger on that train of thought.

When Fealdor entered the lab, Mesogog, Elsa and Zeltrax were waiting; Mesogog was seated in his throne-like chair with Elsa and Zeltrax standing to his right. Elsa wore a smug smile, anticipating the enjoyment of watching someone else fail for a change. Zeltrax stood by impassively with his arms folded across his chest. Fealdor paid them no attention, choosing instead to be wholly focused on Mesogog and what he had to present – which was precious little thanks to Elsa’s interference. Maybe with some luck, Mesogog will be satisfied with what little I can show him…and he’ll let me continue.

Fealdor made a sketchy bow. “My Lord Mesogog…”

Mesogog tipped his head to the right and intoned in his raspy voice, “Elsa tells me you have been working on something, Fealdor. Why have you not shown me?” There was menace and warning in the simple question.

Fealdor skittered over to a console. Bobbing his head in an obsequious manner and keeping his eyes downcast, he replied, “My lord, my research is incomplete. I did not want to approach you until I was sure I had developed a plan that would not fail. You deserve nothing less, my lord.”

Fealdor snuck a glance at Elsa and Zeltrax to see if that verbal volley had made any impact. Zeltrax growled softly and Elsa grimaced; neither wanted to be reminded of their repeated failures.

“You are correct in your assessment, Fealdor. Failure is unacceptable…and will be severely punished, as these two can tell you.” Zeltrax shifted uncomfortably. Elsa attempted to keep her expression neutral – it was unwise to anger the Master with a display of disapproval. She crossed her arms and leveled an icy glare at Fealdor, practically daring him to succeed where she had failed.

“Yes, my lord.” Fealdor wasn’t sure exactly what he was agreeing to there, but keeping Mesogog appeased was always a good thing.

“What is this research you have been doing? And how will it help us overthrow the Rangers?” Mesogog asked impatiently.

Fealdor swallowed nervously. He was starting on shaky ground – he was not trying to overthrow the Rangers, but to circumvent them. He launched into his explanation hoping he would get far enough to engage Mesogog without angering him. “Master…I have been researching the energy potential of the Rangers in order to power the crystals you’ve gathered and create a new world order. The energy output of an average human is nothing compared to an active Ranger. Rangers are a potentially more potent power source than the dino gems you’ve been seeking for so long. After all, it’s the gems that unlock the power potential that the humans who become Rangers already possess.”

Mesogog hissed and cocked his head to the left, but did not interrupt. Fealdor pushed on. “The experience we’ve had with the Rangers has demonstrated that they are difficult to beat, and nearly impossible to catch. Elsa and Zeltrax have proven that.” Fealdor couldn’t resist throwing that in there.

“Continue!” demanded Mesogog impatiently.

Fealdor shifted through his files and pulled out the ones for Angel Grove and Stone Canyon. “I have begun to scan the humans in the towns were the former Ranger teams were most active. By comparing those scans to the scans of the current Rangers, I should be able to identify former Rangers by their energy signatures. They won’t be as strong as the active Rangers, but they should still be there.”

Elsa could contain herself no longer. “'Should' be able to identify? 'Should' be as strong? Have you nothing to present other than things that “might” or “could” be?” She sneered at him.

Mesogog did not reprimand Elsa for her outburst; Fealdor did not take that as a good sign. He decided to be frank. “This is exactly the reason I had not approached you with this plan, my lord. It is incomplete and not ready for demonstration.”

Mesogog nodded. “Incomplete though your plan may be, it does have some merit.” He waved a hand imperiously at the view screen. “Show me. I want you to scan the Rangers and the humans around them. I want to see the differences in the energy signatures you speak of for myself.”

Fealdor nodded in acquiescence, and tried not to visibly show his overwhelming relief. It helped his morale tremendously to note that Elsa looked about ready to spit bricks. He turned his attention to locating the Rangers. From the looks of it they had gathered to listen to the Yellow one sing. Again. Could they find nothing better to do with their time? Human teens were a mystery.

Fealdor focused on the Red and Blue Rangers – they were seated at a table together, though not next to each other. He called up the energy scan readings on an adjacent screen. “You can see here, “ he pointed out, “that even when they are powered-down the Rangers have extremely high energy readings.” Fealdor turned his attention to the others at the table. “Now for comparison, I’ll scan the humans they’re seated with, and you’ll be able to see the difference for yourselves.”

Fealdor scanned the other two boys and the girl seated with the Rangers. Their readings came up on the screen in a split view next to the Ranger readings. Fealdor blinked in confusion, and his heart began to hammer in his chest. He redid the scan quickly, but the results came up the same. It was not possible.

Elsa slunk closer. “What? Did you scan the Rangers twice? I don’t see the difference.”

“Wait. Hold on…” Fealdor excitedly targeted another table of humans – a very blond girl and her dopey looking companion. Their readings came up in another, smaller screen next to the Ranger’s scan. “This one…these two…this is what “normal” humans register as.” Fealdor pointed to the screen with a shaky hand. “But these – the two boys and the girl…I can’t believe it…” After all the research he’d done on all the towns where former Rangers could potentially be, Fealdor couldn’t believe that these three just fell into his lap.

Mesogog oozed out of his chair and glided over to the viewing screen. On closer inspection one could see a difference between the Ranger scans and these others. But the differences were not great – the energy potential was enormous. “Interesting…” was Mesogog’s comment. “It appears fate has stepped in to assist you with your plan, Fealdor. Perhaps success has been waiting for you.”

For a moment, Fealdor was thrilled. Then reality came crashing in. He’d spent all of his time attempting to find former Rangers, so he was unprepared for what to do with one once he’d found them. And the readings on these three, they were far stronger than he’d anticipated former Rangers to be. It made no sense – they were no longer active…where was all of that Power coming from?

Mesogog turned to Zeltrax. “I want you to capture those three…”

“Wait, my lord!” Mesogog executed a dizzying turn and peered directly into Fealdor’s face. He was not pleased at being contradicted. Fealdor gasped and took an involuntary step back. “Please, my lord. Give me one more night. This turn of events…I was never expecting…” Fealdor took a deep breath to try and get a hold of himself.

“If you can just give me until the morning…" he continued anxiously, "I’ll know much more about these three. Now that we know who they are, we can track them. Please, my lord…this close to success, I don’t want to rush in…”

Though Mesogog would never admit it aloud, Fealdor’s caution did have merit. The potential energy that the three teens possessed was enormous, but it would be wasted if they were not ready to harness it. “You have until morning, Fealdor. Learn what you can. Tomorrow we attack.”

Chapter Text

It had been one of those days. A day when everything that was supposed to happen, actually happened. A day when everything got done, leaving one with a perfect sense of accomplishment. Tommy ran down the list in his head: morning training with the team, upgrades to the lab’s computers, maintenance on the Zords, lesson plans finished and ready to hand in. As he prepared to sit down to enjoy some pizza and a beer, he thought he should’ve been feeling better, more satisfied. Instead, he was feeling a growing sense of unease.

Things were far too quiet. There’d been not even a whisper of activity from Mesogog in over two days. His team had been cooperative and attentive in the morning. Haley had been available to help organize in the lab. Tommy couldn’t put his finger on it, but it smelled like trouble.

The phone ringing jarred Tommy out of his thoughts. That feeling of premonition became exponentially stronger as he moved to grab the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Dr. O. It’s Kira.”

She sounded okay, but Tommy was suspicious. Why was she calling when she knew she’d see him later that night? And was that Conner and Ethan he heard whispering in the background? Something was definitely up.

“Hi, Kira. What’s going on?” he prompted.

Kira paused. “Well, we just wanted to let you know we invited some people to come hang with us tonight at the café.” There was a whispered conference going on and Tommy heard Kira mutter “hold on, I’m getting to it”. The insistent whispering continued and Tommy sat silently waiting for a decision to be reached. An impatient Kira finally said, “Excuse me, Dr. O…” then in exasperation exclaimed, “Do YOU want to tell him?” The whispering ceased and Kira came back on the line.

“Sorry about that. Um…” Tommy could hear Kira take a deep breath, and then she said all in a rush, “we met a group of rangers at the beach we knew who they were because of the tape and they recognized us too and since they know who we are we though we could get together and talk at the Cyber Café because we’ve never met any other rangers besides you and you don’t really count because you’re on our team and we were hoping you wouldn’t mind because we don’t have to keep secrets from other rangers do we?”

Tommy sat in stunned silence and heard Ethan exclaim through the line, “I could’ve done THAT!”

Conner chimed in, “Weren’t you supposed to play it a little cooler than that?”

Kira shushed them both. “Dr. O.? You still there?”

“Still here, Kira. Want to try that again?”

As Tommy listened the knot in his stomach eased. He’d been waiting for something out of the ordinary to happen, and this certainly qualified. He could sense the team’s relief that he was willing to get together with the other rangers, and that he wasn’t mad. They didn’t know enough ranger history to know that this wasn’t the first time teams had met, but it was certainly under the most casual circumstances. Usually Rangers came to help out when the active team was under extreme duress. This chance encounter was a nice change of tradition. By the end of the conversation with Kira, Tommy himself was looking forward to hanging out with both teams.

~~

Kira, Conner and Ethan arrived at the Cyber Cafe first. Kira needed to get squared away for the evening’s performance. She insisted that Conner and Ethan grab a large table so that everyone would have a place to sit once they all got together. If there was going to be a large crowd, there would be no guarantee of seating later on. She made them promise on pain of death to stay with the table until the other Rangers arrived, and then ran off backstage to get ready.

Though Ethan gazed longingly at the computers nearby, he remained with Conner. “She’s wound a little tight, isn’t she?” he asked.

“Just excited, I guess. I am too to tell you the truth.” answered Conner.

“I know!” Ethan practically squeaked. He leaned across the table to whisper to Conner. “I can’t believe we’re going to talk with another team of Rangers!”

I just hope we measure up. was Conner’s unvoiced reply.

Conner didn’t have much time to dwell on his insecurities because shortly after Kira rejoined them, the Wind Ninjas arrived. Clearly both Shane and Dustin had taken the time to shower – though Dustin seemed to think dry hair was not a necessity. All three were dressed casually. Shane was sporting a red basketball jersey over a red t-shirt; Dustin was wearing a long-sleeved yellow shirt proclaiming his motocross affiliation. Both were wearing black jeans. Tori was wearing one of her favorite blue half-shirts. Kira admired the light blue shawl/belt that Tori had looped around her low-slung blue jeans. I wonder if I could find that in yellow?

Tori spotted the teens first and raised a hand to wave. Kira waved back and gestured them over. Any nervousness or intimidation the Dino Rangers felt about hanging out with their predecessors was immediately dispelled by Dustin’s enthusiastic greeting. “Dudes! I am so totally stoked to be hanging out with you guys! I’ll be so bummed if you have to, you know…” he pointed to their wrists, “deal with an emergency.”

He looked so crestfallen at the very idea that the Dino team laughed, and the ice was broken. Haley arrived unbidden with a round of sodas, and both teams settled down to talk.

~~

The Cyber Café was pretty crowded by the time Tommy arrived. Kira’s band had developed a nice word-of-mouth following, and the tourists in town for the weekend filled out the crowd. In spite of the number of people, the “Ranger table” was easy to spot. Sometimes Tommy wondered about just what it was that made most people unable to connect the ranger’s “civilian” wardrobe with the Ranger’s themselves. Was it only Rangers past and present that would be so drawn to the obvious conclusion? How was it that all of the people in the room missed the large concentration of primary colors at that table?

Conner was dressed in a long sleeved red t-shirt over blue jeans. On his right sat a boy who, according to his wardrobe, could only be Shane. Next to Shane was Ethan, and on his right was a blonde girl. That must be Tori. Hmm…her shade of blue’s a little easier on the eyes than the rest of the colors. Across from Ethan, but seated turned around with his back to the Blue Dino Ranger in order to have a view of the stage was a boy in yellow. That’s Dustin…and the empty spot next to him is for Kira, leaving one left for me.

Tommy approached the table unseen because all of the teens were giving their attention to the band. The song ended and the crowd burst into applause. Kira, having spotted Tommy smiled in greeting. Conner turned and waved as he saw Tommy approaching.

“Hi everyone.” greeted Tommy casually. “Hey Dr. O.” responded Ethan. “The gang’s all here!” added Conner.

Introductions were made around the table as Tommy was included in the group. It struck him immediately how at ease they all were with each other, and he was not surprised how they were seated by color affiliation, leaving him the single chair at the head of the table. Ranger Sociology 101…wouldn’t that be something to look into?

Almost before he was finished being seated, Dustin started peppering him with questions about his Ranger past. Tori looked slightly apologetic at his badgering, but the rest of the rangers, his team included, just seemed interested. But Tommy didn’t want this to turn into a retelling of his Ranger history, and made sure to ask just as many questions in return. After Kira had rejoined the group it evolved into a rundown of each team’s “monster-of-the-week” and a series of “what’s the most ridiculous thing that ever happened to you as a Ranger” stories. Silly and serious – all of it was covered.

Tommy was glad that the Wind Ninja Rangers felt comfortable enough to be so honest in their description. Not all Ranger challenges were silly or goofy, some were painful and had long-lasting consequences. But it was important for his team to understand that, and see the living proof that they’d make it through stronger as a team in the end.

Chapter Text

As the night wound down, and the crowd thinned out, the Rangers rearranged themselves in smaller groups. Tommy was not surprised to see that Shane and Conner had grabbed a small table for themselves and were involved in an intense discussion about fighting styles and leadership qualities. He was able to overhear a little of what was said and was grateful that Shane was not trying to impose 'rules' of leadership on Conner. Instead he emphasized listening to others and trusting the rest of the team. Conner seemed to be taking it all in.

Ethan and Dustin had paired off as well. They looked like two poorly trained conspirators. Hunched over a small table they exchanged information in excited whispers. They seemed to be engrossed in a deeply detailed retelling of Ranger history - Ethan sharing what he had gleaned from Tommy’s video, as well as his own internet research; Dustin sharing his comic book information. Surprisingly, both sources were accurate on many counts. The occasional exclamations of, “Dude…no way!” or “Man that’s sick!” from their corner made Tommy smile at their enthusiasm.

That left Tommy with Kira and Tori. Tori had given Kira a rundown of 'helpful hints' for dealing with hormonal, teenage boy teammates. Tommy had actually learned a lot from that discussion. Then the girls had moved on to exchanging fashion hints. Tommy was about to call it a night and leave it to the rangers to find their own ways home when a commotion by the computers caught his attention.

Dustin had left his and Ethan’s corner on his way to the coffee bar for some refills when he was cornered by Reefside’s own Cassidy Cornell. She’d been intrigued all evening by the group who’d joined Conner, Kira and Ethan. They didn’t seem to belong with the group any more than the original three. Cassidy wanted some answers, and she decided she needed a fresh angle.

“Cassidy Cornell,” she announced as she thrust a mini tape recorder in front of Dustin’s face. “Reefside’s roaming reporter. Are you here for the surfing exhibition? How do you like Reefside? You seem to be very friendly with a number of the locals. Have you made any new friends in your short visit to our lovely hamlet?”

Dustin seemed stunned by the aggressiveness of this young woman who was so insistently in his space. Then he got a good look at her face. “Whoa. No way.” He didn’t say it loudly, but Tommy noticed that both Shane and Tori were instantly attentive. Shane was already halfway out of his seat, and Tori had risen as well. It struck Tommy as odd – Cassidy was annoying, but she wasn’t a threat.

“No time for that, Cassidy.” Haley intervened. “I’m closing up now. There’ll be time for more investigative reports tomorrow.” Cassidy looked irritated but was not put off.

“Oh that’s alright, we can take it outside.” Cassidy grabbed Dustin by the arm and steered him toward the door. He threw a look over his shoulder at Tori; Tommy thought he looked like a drowning man caught in a strong current. At that point, everyone pretty much headed for the door. Tommy managed to toss off a “g’night Haley” before getting outside.

Dustin did not strike Tommy as a person who was deliberately rude, and therefore was unable to shake off Cassidy’s attention. Tori and Kira however had no such issues. In a spontaneous display of girl-power they squared off against Cassidy. Tori, not so gently, disengaged Cassidy’s grip on Dustin’s arm, gave the reporter a slight shove and moved forward to take her place. Kira moved to stand supportively on Dustin’s left side.

Tori’s mask of righteous indignation cracked slightly when she got a good look at Cassidy’s face. No wonder Dustin’s so freaked out. She looks just like Marah! With a toss of her hair, Tori put her 'face' firmly back in place. “Excuse me? Where do you think you’re going with our friend?”

Cassidy’s eye’s narrowed. Hmm…she didn’t strike me as his girlfriend earlier. I wonder why she’s so possessive? Cassidy tossed her own hair before responding to Tori. “I’m doing a report on “The Tourist’s View of Reefside”…I was just trying to get an interview.” Her face lit with a brilliant, yet overdone smile. “Perhaps you’d like to be interviewed as well.”

Cassidy gestured imperiously to Devin. “Devin! Set up the video camera over there.” She pointed vaguely to a spot. “Make sure you can get us all in the shot.”

Devin, startled out of his stupor, hastened to obey but seemed confused about exactly where to go. Kira chimed in, “Are you sure this is the best time? Night lighting can be so tricky…” she pointed to some imaginary spots on Cassidy’s face. “You’re looking blotchy under the streetlight.”

Cassidy squealed in alarm, her desire to maintain her appearance won out over her desire to chat with these mysterious strangers. She dove into her bag for a compact mirror. Tommy decided to step in. “It’s getting late, Cassidy. Everyone’s headed home. I suggest you do too. Maybe you can find some other tourists to talk to tomorrow.”

With that Tommy herded the Dino and Wind Ninja Rangers in the direction of his jeep. Cassidy was too distracted by her own reflection to notice them moving off. “Do you guys need a ride anywhere? I’m sure we could manage to squeeze you all in.” Tommy offered.

“No thanks.” Shane replied. “The hotel’s not far at all, we’ll just walk over.”

“Hey, what time are you guys leaving tomorrow?” inquired Conner as he slid his seat belt on.

“Not until after the exhibition.” answered Tori, “We didn’t really get to see much of the surfing this afternoon.” The Ninjas exchanged looks. The Dino Rangers misinterpreted it to mean they missed the surfing due to the unusual way the teams had met.

“Let us make it up to you,” Kira offered. “We can get together in the morning. We’ll show you the best spots on the beach. You’ll be all set before anyone else gets there.”

“That sounds great!” Tori smiled. She wasn’t about to turn down that kind of offer.

“Let’s meet here for breakfast, since you guys know how to get here and everything. And we’ll go from there.” Ethan said. It was agreed on by all.

Tommy waited to pull out until Kira and Ethan were settled in the back of the jeep. The Wind Ninja’s waved good-night, and started walking back to the hotel. His team was excitedly chatting and exchanging information about the other Rangers. They couldn’t see what he saw in the rearview mirror – Tori and Shane closing ranks on a rather dejected looking Dustin. Shane had an arm around Dustin's shoulders, and from the way Tori was walking, she had an arm around his back. Tommy wasn’t clear on just what exactly got Dustin down so out of the blue, but it made his heart glad to see such strength in the team on the sidewalk.

His thoughts turned fondly toward his own team. If these guys can develop the strength of team anywhere close to what those guys have, we can handle anything Mesogog throws at us.

Chapter Text

Fealdor watched with great impatience. What he wanted, what he needed was for these three humans to go to sleep; but they seemed to be inclined to talk all night. Mesogog had only given him until the morning to gather data on the three former Rangers, and though the data he’d already gathered was intriguing, what he wanted was to scan them in-depth. And for that, he preferred for them to be asleep. Pacing, he continued to watch the viewing monitors for any sign that the Rangers were headed to bed.

~~~~~~~~

The walk back to the hotel was not far, but it was long enough for Dustin to regain his equilibrium. Seeing that girl with Marah’s face was just too weird; Dustin just wasn’t prepared for it. For a split second, he thought Marah had put on one of those wacky disguises she used to use so she could spy on them this weekend. It wouldn’t have been totally out of character for her, although it seemed she was trying to change.

Dustin been right in his assessment of Marah’s true nature, as evidenced by her change of heart and attendance at the Wind Ninja Academy. But, he’d never gotten over the way she’d betrayed him. Even after a year, he wasn’t comfortable around her. She tried to be low-key and let him have his space, but the academy wasn’t large and whenever they’d run into each other, it was awkward. Dustin was pretty mellow about a lot of things, but dealing with Marah was something he’d never been able to work out.

“That was pretty freaky,” offered Shane. He didn’t need to explain – they knew what he was talking about.

Tori made an exasperated face at him. “The whole day’s been weird.”

Dustin grunted noncommittally, then stated, “Yeah, but…weird in a good way.”

Tori grinned to herself, all they had to do was get Dustin to start talking about the other Rangers. His 'Marah moment' would be far overshadowed by his excitement about them. She wondered how long it would take.

“Can you believe we just ran into them like that?” Dustin asked.

Tori stifled a giggle. Apparently it wouldn't take long at all. “It was kind of cool,” she responded, “and, it was just what you were hoping for.”

“Yeah, I’m kinda glad…because I kinda wondered, you know?”

Shane and Tori exchanged glances. Tori gave him a look that said 'your turn'. Shane dove in. “Wondered about what, dude?”

“Would they like us? I mean, I thought they kind of would, but what if they didn’t? That would’ve been harsh.” Tori nodded thoughtfully.
“I don’t know,” she said, “Maybe we’re programmed to like each other.” She made a face. “That’s not the right word. But you know what I mean.”

Shane nodded as well. “Yeah. Not programmed…more like fated. Destiny, you know?”

A grin had spread across Dustin’s face as he listened to Shane. “That’s it, yeah. Destined to connect – maybe that’s why I knew this would happen. I’m like, psychic.” Tori giggled and Shane let out a loud guffaw. “What?” said Dustin looking perplexed. “Sensei can do it…”

That pronouncement led Tori and Shane to laugh even harder. It was contagious - Dustin gave in and laughed along with them. The desk clerk gave them an accusatory look as they crossed the lobby. That made Shane laugh even more. The three of them hustled into the elevator, but the doors were very slow to close. In fact, it took so long Tori wondered if the elevator was broken. This gave the desk clerk ample time to glare at the trio. Shane was laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. Dustin tried to turn away to avoid the desk clerk’s gaze, but found himself staring at his reflection and the reflection of the clerk in the mirrored back wall. With nowhere else to look, Dustin raised an eyebrow and waved half-heartedly. Tori, seeing this, was sent into a fit of giggles.

By the time the doors finally closed the three of them were holding each other up and waiting for the desk clerk to call security. When they arrived at their floor, the three sprinted to Shane and Dustin’s room. Crashing through the door Dustin hurled himself across the room and onto his neatly made bed. “Did you see the look that guy was giving us? I thought he was going to call out the National Guard or something. Like laughing is a crime against the state or something.”

Shane had managed to get to his own bed and lay there as he laughed himself out. Tori was attempting to get herself under control sitting on the end of Shane’s bed. “That was too funny…” she gasped. “I wonder if he’ll call the police for us starting a riot.”

“Yeah…a laugh riot.” added Shane. That sent everyone off again.

After a few false starts, and a number of infectious episodes later, silence reigned in the room. Tori listened to Dustin and Shane breathing and thought to herself just how grateful she was for these friends and this day. But if we don’t get some sleep, we’ll never get Dustin up in the morning. Unfortunately, I’ve got to be the one who moves. Too bad I’m not already in my own room like the guys.

Tori levered herself up from her position on the foot of Shane’s bed. “Well, I’m going to bed. Someone’s got to get enough sleep to get us up in the morning.”

Shane winked at her. “Think you’ll need another 'special' wake-up call, Dustin?”

A hurled pillow was the only response from Dustin’s side of the room. “I think that’s a no.” smiled Tori.

“You’re not getting this back,” Shane tossed over his shoulder as he got up to walk Tori out.

Tori glanced across the room – it appeared the Dustin was already asleep. Shane knew better. “G’night Tor.” he said as he gallantly opened the door for her. “G’night!” she responded and gave him a quick half-hug before scooting out the door. “See you bright and early!”

Shane watched until Tori’s door had closed behind her, then he closed the door he’d been holding open. He knew without even looking that though Dustin hadn’t moved, he wasn’t sleeping. Shane could tell he was awake and lost in his own thoughts. To give him time, Shane went about his routine getting ready for bed – Dustin would start talking when he was ready.

As much as the three of them could talk about everything, Dustin was a little hesitant to talk about Marah in front of Tori. Tori got weirdly protective and more than a little hostile when it came to Marah. It wasn’t easy for Dustin to talk about trying to forgive Marah when any mention of her caused Tori’s teeth to clench in anger on his behalf. So, he tried not to bring her up often, at least not when the three of them were together. But talking to Shane alone was a different story.

Shane walked out of the bathroom and saw that Dustin had changed into cut-off sweats and a shirt to sleep in. At least Dustin was up and moving. Shane took it as a good sign. Dustin quietly went about his routine, and Shane left the silence alone – it was not the time for more banter.

By the time Dustin was finished, Shane had already climbed into bed. Dustin turned out the light and settled down. Shane waited; it didn’t take very long. In the dark he could hear Dustin rolling onto his side to face him; Shane rolled as well so they could talk to each other over the gap between the beds.

“That was so weird tonight,” began Dustin softly. “That girl had Marah’s face.” He sighed softly. “You know, at first I thought it was her. Like she was trying to join us for the weekend. I felt kind of sad for her, and angry, and happy too. Then I realized it wasn’t her, but I was still frozen, you know? Then Tori got involved…” Dustin sighed again. “I mean, I’m glad she did, but still…Tori and Marah. Even Tori and girl-who-isn’t-Marah…not a good mix.”

Shane nodded though Dustin couldn’t see him in the dark. This wasn’t the first time Dustin had expressed feeling upset about the Tori/Marah dynamic. And not for the first time Shane wondered if Dustin really *had* forgiven Marah, but couldn’t tell her because he didn’t want to make Tori mad. Or, if he hadn’t even acknowledged to himself that he’d forgiven her, for the same reason.

Shane pondered exactly what he wanted to ask. “Well, if it had turned out to be Marah, how would that have made you feel?”

“Oh,” Dustin snorted, “Tori would’ve freaked!”

“That’s not what I asked you. If it really had been Marah at the café tonight, how would you have felt?” Shane waited. He could almost feel Dustin’s tension. He could also sense that Dustin was really thinking about what he asked, not blowing the question off.

Shane could hear Dustin roll onto his back and guessed that he was staring at the ceiling. “I think…I think I would’ve been mad that she was being sneaky and trying to intrude on our special weekend. But maybe…”

Shane waited again wondering if Dustin would actually verbalize what Shane had guessed. “I don’t know….” Dustin admitted softly. He sighed much more deeply. “I really liked her, Shane…but after what she did…” Dustin rolled back in his direction. “I know, better than anyone, the bad things she’s done. It still hurts when I think about it. I don’t know if I can ever really forgive her…but then, what sort of Ninja teacher would I be if I can’t deal and move on?”

That surprised Shane – this particular train of thought had never occurred to him. He snapped his attention back to Dustin who was still talking. “I don’t know if we can ever be more than just casual friends, but casual friends is way better than weird 'not talking to each other in the hallway'. I just don’t know how to do it. When it comes to her, I have a hard time trusting my heart.” Dustin fell silent.

That last statement led Shane to believe that Dustin’s heart was prompting him to forgive Marah. He silently vowed to talk to Tori about backing off. It was time for a little healing, all the way around. And Dustin would probably be the one to put things in motion once he got a little breathing room from his blue teammate.

“Dude, if there’s anyone who should be able to trust his heart, it’s you.” Shane attempted to lighten the mood by sniffing loudly and feigning wiping away a tear. “That was a total Sensei moment…he would be so proud…”

Dustin chuckled softly. “Thanks, Shane.”

Shane answered seriously, “Anytime, Dustin.”

Lost in their own thoughts, the boys eventually fell asleep.

~~~~~~

Fealdor was practically dancing with excitement. The information he was getting from the data analysis was phenomenal. He’d started with the girl because the boys were chatting like old ladies and he thought they’d never fall asleep. The girl on the other hand was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.

The readings he’d done earlier were surface scans – just used to compare the energy output of regular people compared to Rangers. He’d hit the jackpot scanning these three. Fealdor had learned while listening to their conversation with the Dino Rangers that they were from Blue Bay Harbor. It intrigued him that they might be from the number of people he’d scanned there but had not registered on his instruments. Why did they register at Reefside? Or on the other hand, what was interfering with the scans in Blue Bay Harbor? Fealdor privately cursed Elsa again for rushing this project; he fervently wished he had more time to research to find out the answers to those very questions.

Something interesting had happened once the girl fell asleep, and Fealdor was eager to see if it happened with the boys as well. Not only were her energy readings stronger while she was asleep, which was unusual in itself, but the energy seemed to move around her in a soft blue haze. The power around her swirled in waves and eddies. It was a spectacular light show to watch.

Fealdor switched his focus to the boys. The darker-skinned boy had fallen asleep, though the other was still awake in the dark. The power around the sleeping boy acted much like it had with the girl. His power potential was even greater while he was unconscious, and the power moved around him in red swirls as if being moved by a gentle breeze.

After some time, the last former Ranger drifted off to sleep. Fealdor was pleased to see that his energy readings were similar to his friends. All three were very strong, but the power behind this boy seemed to be the strongest. The power around him did not fluctuate as it did with the other two – it was a steady, glowing yellow force around him. The potential energy behind all three was staggering – Mesogog could take his pick, or take all three for a smorgasbord of energy.

Satisfied with his work for the night, Fealdor was eager to make his report in the morning. He spoke aloud to the empty lab with growing excitement, "We’re going to have a big day tomorrow."

Chapter Text

The day dawned bright and clear. And, in spite of a late night, all three Wind Ninjas were awake bright and early, eager to meet with the Dino team for breakfast. Tori grumbled slightly, “If I’d known this was the way to motivate Dustin, I’d arrange a meeting with a new Ranger team for every day of the week.”

“Aw, c’mon Tor! We’re only going to be in town a few more hours. I can’t waste them in bed when there’s Rangers to hang with…” was Dustin’s casual explanation of his miraculous ability to get up and dressed before Shane.

The trio quickly packed and loaded Tori’s van so they wouldn’t have to make an extra trip back to the hotel after the surfing exhibition. Shane was elected to pay the bill because neither Dustin nor Tori wanted to deal with the clerk at the desk who was apparently pulling a double shift. A meaningful eye-roll from Shane was enough to get the other two laughing when he rejoined them at the van.

It was early enough that Tori had no trouble finding a place to park near Haley’s Cyber Café. The three Wind Ninjas went inside and headed to the table they’d occupied the night before to wait for the Dino team. “Do you think Tommy’s coming too?” asked Dustin as they waited.

“I doubt it,” Tori replied. “I mean, it’s great that he came to hang out last night. I guess he’s really supportive of Kira’s band and all, but you know he’s so…” Tori choked a little as she rephrased, “…he’s probably got other stuff to do.”

Shane could practically see the edit Tori made trying to skirt around the fact that Tommy was easily 10 years older than them and might not want to spend his time hanging with a bunch of teens.

“Yeah,” Dustin agreed completely missing the vibe Shane had caught, “but it was so cool that we got to talk to him last night.” Shane and Tori agreed. They ordered some juice while waiting for the others, completely unaware of the fact that they were being watched.

~~

Fealdor had presented his data analysis to Mesogog who was now watching the Wind Ninjas with great avarice. Fealdor continued speaking as Mesogog gazed at the former Rangers. “…if Zeltrax managed to snatch all three there would almost be more power than I’d know what to do with. But, according to my research and the results of the scans last night, just one would be more than sufficient for your needs. Their power potential is just amazing.” Fealdor looked fondly at the Wind Ninjas like a proud papa.

“Excellent work, Fealdor. If what you say about their power is true, we could be looking at a brave new world before the sun sets tonight.” Mesogog turned away from the monitors practically purring with pleasure.

“Yes, my lord.” Fealdor practically beamed. His plan was ready to be set in motion. All that was left now was for Zeltrax and Elsa to snatch one of the Wind Ninjas. Fealdor was not counting on that to go smoothly, but as long as they got one of them…

Fealdor was privately hoping that the snatch and grab did not go smoothly. He was hoping against hope that when backed into a corner the three ex-Rangers would call upon the power within their reach. Then, he would be able to tell with far more accuracy which one would serve the Master’s needs the best. So he sat quietly by, adjusting his instruments to be ready at a moment’s notice, while Mesogog gave final orders and a warning to Elsa and Zeltrax.

“Do not fail me. If you do, there will be no second chances.”

~~

Breakfast at the Cyber Café was a boisterous affair. The camaraderie that had begun to develop the night before was just as strong the morning after. Unconsciously, the group had seated themselves again by color affiliation. But at such a small table, no one felt excluded. The topics of conversation ranged from comparisons of favorite and least liked school subjects (chemistry was not high on anyone’s list), favorite types of music and musicians, and hobbies. By unspoken agreement, neither team brought up the topic of girlfriends and boyfriends; it made for a very pleasant morning.

Once they were finished eating, everyone piled into Tori’s van. After parking, the walk to the beach was quick. Each Ranger had a towel or blanket in hand. Almost as soon as their feet hit the sand, Conner and Ethan started arguing about the best place to stake out their spot for watching the competition later that day. Conner preferred a spot near the judging stand, but Ethan argued that it would be far too crowded and everyone would get in their way. Ethan proposed a slightly isolated cove, but Conner complained that they’d be too far from the action. Kira decided to step in. She turned to Tori.

“You know much more about watching this kind of thing than we do. Is there a 'best' place to be?”

Tori looked thoughtful. “Well the judges are usually set up where they can get a good look at everything.” Conner beamed. “But I like to watch the beginning of the run. If a surfer gets a good start on the board, the run will usually be pretty good. Plus, most people like to set themselves up to catch the end of the run. So going over there will give us a good place to watch, and a little breathing room.” Now it was Ethan’s turn to beam.

Following Tori’s lead, the group headed toward the cove Ethan had pointed out earlier. Conner grumbled something about “blue bonds” as they walked along. “This looks like a good spot!” Tori announced as she snapped her towel and expertly laid it down. No one else managed to make it look as easy as Tori did.

“Cool!” Dustin clapped his hands together. “Who wants to take a snack run with me?”

“Dustin!” Tori yelled exasperated, “We just ate!”

“I just want to be prepared, Tor.”

“It seems you failed that little test, Ranger.” snarled a gravely, bass voice behind them.

Dustin spun around. The others jumped into fighting stances. Standing between them and the water was a strange assortment of creatures. A woman clad in black leather, worthy of any of Kapri’s most outrageous get-ups, a man completely encased in black armor, and a gang of bird-like, lizard creatures.

“What do you want, Zeltrax?” Conner snapped at the warrior.

“Them.” Zeltrax pointed at the Ninja rangers. Wasting no time Elsa called on the Tyranodrones. “Attack!” she screamed as she rushed forward herself.

Rangers, old and new, instinctively grouped by color to deal with the onslaught from the enemy. Zeltrax rushed Shane and Conner; Elsa went for Tori and Ethan; Dustin and Kira were surrounded by a pack of Tyranodrones.

~~

Fealdor leaned forward. He could hardly contain his glee. He hadn’t been this excited about anything since before the change. This could be it. We could really pull this off. Then Mesogog will rule, dinosaurs will roam the earth, and I’ll no longer be a freak...I'll be one of the Elite.

He gasped with anxiety as Shane avoided a decapitating blow from Zeltrax. “You’re supposed to CATCH him not KILL him you idiot!” escaped him before he could censor himself. He turned in horror to await Mesogog’s reaction.

“So little faith in your peers, Fealdor?” Mesogog practically chuckled. “They will not fail, the price is too high. They’ll bring a Ranger home for you, and then you can play.”

~~

Shane dove to his right and rolled in the sand. He immediately jumped back to his feet to run to Conner’s aid. He was fairly impressed with how well Conner was holding his own against this metal dude, but they would not be able to hold out long against these odds.

Tori and Ethan met Elsa blow for blow. But every time one of them seemed to gain an advantage, a Tyranodrone would interfere. “Don’t think you can get away from me that easily, girl.” Elsa threatened as Tori flipped out of her reach. “I will be the one Mesogog rewards.”

“Whatever that means!” Tori tossed back as Ethan covered her with a flying kick to Elsa’s head.

Kira and Dustin were fighting in tandem surrounded by a circle of Tyranodrones. Kira was astonished at how easily they mirrored each other’s moves. But for every Tyranodrone they took down, two more took its place. This was not good.

Elsa, Zeltrax and the Tyranodrones maneuvered the fight around until their forces surrounded all of the rangers. Kira landed in a sprawled heap at the feet of Conner and Shane after she was sent flying by a vicious kick. They helped her to her feet as Dustin skidded to a halt in front of her.

“Are you okay?” asked Conner concerned.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” she answered as she grabbed her arm.

Tori and Ethan joined the small circle as everyone regrouped and tried to catch their breath. Conner looked to Ethan and Kira. “Ready?” he called.

“Ready!” they responded. In unison they shouted “Dino Thunder! Power Up!”

“That’s so cool!” Dustin laughed in glee. “I’ve never seen anyone else do that!”

“I think we can add a little something of our own to the mix,” stated Shane resolutely. With a nod to Dustin and Tori, Shane moved into position between them. Together they reached with their right hands to their left shoulders. They pulled away the clothes they’d been wearing to reveal their ninja uniforms.

“Power of Air!”

“Power of Earth!”

“Power of Water!”

Ethan echoed Dustin’s exclamation. “That’s so cool!”

~~

As they called on their ninja elements, Fealdor nearly fell over with excitement. “My Lord!” he exclaimed, forgetting to be restrained with Mesogog. “It is as I suspected. Look! Look at the readings now!”

Fealdor gestured wildly to the scans that were registering on the screen assuming Mesogog would know what he meant. “The power they are tapping into is enormous! It is unbelievable!” Fealdor hunched over the console as he tried to calculate how much potential energy the ninjas could now tap into.

The individual scans showed something Fealdor had suspected the night before, but had just been proven true. Though all three ninjas were powerful, one had more power at his disposal than the others. His power was solid. It was vast.

“The Yellow one!” Fealdor practically screamed. “They need to capture the Yellow one!” Fealdor turned to the screen nearly jumping up and down in his agitation. “Do it…do it NOW!” he yelled at the Zeltrax.

Mesogog was intrigued by Fealdor’s excitement, but far be it for him to appear to take orders from an underling. Mentally he sent a message to Zeltrax. The Yellow Ninja. He is the one I want. Bring him to me now.

~~

Tommy was in the lab, flat on his back under a console wishing he had anything remotely resembling a sledgehammer when the “monster alarms” went off. "Saved by the bell you lousy computer," he muttered.

Levering himself up from his position on the floor, Tommy glanced at the screen. The Dino and Wind Ninja teams had both powered up – at least as far as the ninjas could power up. They were surrounded and seemed heavily pressed by Mesogog’s minions. Without hesitation Tommy yelled, “Dino Thunder! Power Up!” and quickly headed to the beach to join the fray.

~~

Zeltrax circled the group, waiting to make his move. The Tyranodrones and Elsa were pushing hard. The Rangers were fighting back just as hard. Weapon blasts split the air on both sides. Shane landed with a thud and a groan near Tori where she lay winded. “Dude, we’re getting crushed!”

“Tell me about it.” She replied. “At least Dustin’s still…” she was cut off as he came flying at his two teammates and landed flat on his back. “…on his feet.”

The Dino Rangers created a loose perimeter around the fallen ninjas. “I don’t know what those guys are about, but we need to help them!” Dustin gestured to their spandex clad friends as the three climbed back to their feet.

“Just what I was thinking!”

Kira and Ethan called out in relief. “Dr. O!”

“Nice of you to join us,” Conner added with a smirk in his voice. Tommy nodded in response.

Elsa’s eyes squinted in response to Tommy’s arrival. “Dino Rangers party of four. Meet Tyranodrones, party of twenty!” From out of an invisaportal, more Tyranodrones appeared on the beach. “Dang! These guys just won’t give up.” Conner yelled.

Zeltrax was watching the Rangers carefully. He noticed that the color pairs stayed close together. He hadn’t been able to get close to the Yellow ninja, but the Yellow Ranger had left herself open. Zeltrax made a decision and attacked. With a yell, he focused all of his attention on Kira. Zeltrax directed the Tyranodrones to cut off their engagement from the main party.

Kira realized immediately how much trouble she was in. She’s fought against Zeltrax before, but never alone. Most often, he seemed bent on fighting Dr. O. one-on-one. This was a whole new experience for her, and already she was in a world of hurt. Kira hit the sand and rolled. With the breath knocked out of her, she barely had enough strength to look up as Zeltrax loomed over her. He raised his sword, and she knew it was the end.

From somewhere that seemed very far away, she could hear Conner and Ethan yelling her name. She tried to get a knee up to support herself. It was no use. Then from out of nowhere, the sand in front of her exploded, and up through the loose earth rose Dustin. He used Zeltrax’s moment of shock to throw him off balance and onto his face. “Dustin!” Kira exclaimed. Dustin gave her a hand up.

Zeltrax rose and turned. “Now!” he ordered. The Tyranodrones that had been keeping the yellow fighters separated from the main fight descended upon them. They were not looking to injure but to immobilize. Zeltrax opened an invisaportal above them.

Kira screamed, “NO!” but even her ptera-yell had little effect on the Tyranodrones surrounding her, there were just too many.

Tommy, from far across the sand heard Kira’s scream. He could see the struggling Yellow rangers and recognized the tactic Zeltrax was employing from his own capture. Heedless of the rest of the fighting, Tommy hurled himself headlong toward the knot of Tyranodrones surrounding Dustin. I have to reach them. I have to help him! Tommy gathered himself for a massive leap, and landed square on the knot of Tyranodrones holding a struggling Dustin.

Elsa, seeing Zeltrax gain the upper hand with the Yellow Rangers shot off a series of blasts that knocked the remaining rangers off their feet. A searing burst of light temporarily blinded the Rangers on the beach, and when they looked up all of the Tyranodrones were gone, along with Zeltrax, Elsa, Tommy and Dustin.

Kira’s faceplate snapped up. Her distress was clear in her tone and on her features. “Oh no…” she gasped. She reached out ineffectively. They were gone.

Chapter Text

The group left on the beach was frozen in shock for a moment. Only Kira spoke murmuring “oh no”.

“What was *that*?” Shane yelled explosively as he climbed to his feet. He looked at the Dino Rangers expectantly. Kira and Ethan looked to Conner. Inside his helmet, Conner was grateful they couldn’t see his face and his growing expression of panic. He was supposed to be the leader, but he sure didn’t feel like one. He hoped his voice didn’t sound too shaky when he answered Shane.

“That was an invisaportal…” he held up a hand to forestall Shane as Ethan helped Kira to her feet. “We obviously can’t stay here, we’re too exposed and don’t know what Mesogog wants with you. Let’s head back to Dr.O.’s lab and regroup.” Conner was surprised and relieved that he received no argument from Kira and Ethan. The former Rangers were harder to convince.

“No way!” Shane snapped. “We can’t just leave like this…” Tori nodded in agreement. “We can’t leave Dustin!”

Conner opened his faceplate. He needed to look Shane in the eye. “Look. We’re not abandoning Dustin, or Dr. O. There’s nothing we can do here.” He took a step closer to Shane and placed his hand on Shane’s arm. “We need help, Shane. And we’re not going to find it here on this beach.”

Shane looked at Tori. They shared some silent communication and Shane nodded reluctantly. “Okay…we’ll go back to the lab. You call in whatever help you think we’ll need.” He and Tori exchanged looks again. “Then we’ll make some calls of our own.”

~~

The trip through the invisaportal was quick and disorienting. The momentum of Tommy’s leap and the instability of the group of Tyranodrones around Dustin caused all of them to lose their footing as they were dropped into the hallway outside of Mesogog’s lab. Zeltrax, who was not in contact with the group, simply took a step back and watched them all fall. Because Tommy knew a little about what to expect going through the invisaportal, he recovered more quickly from his disorientation than Dustin and immediately sprang to his feet. He reached to give Dustin a hand up, but Zeltrax was quicker.

Ignoring the heap of Tyranodrones, Zeltrax reached down, grabbed Dustin by his collar and hauled him to his feet. He snatched Dustin out of Tommy’s range and brought up his sword in front of the young ninja.

“Let him go, Zeltrax!” Tommy ordered. He knew how dumb that sounded; he was certainly in no position to make demands – he was heavily outnumbered and on the enemy’s home ground. Tommy had a split second to frantically calculate the odds of a successful maneuver in the hallway before Zeltrax took away his options.

Zeltrax brought his sword up further and laid the flat of the blade against Dustin’s throat. Dustin tried to back away but he had no room to maneuver. He flinched as Zeltrax began to speak. “Black Ranger…” Zeltrax intoned, “Power down and hand me your morpher.”

Dustin gasped and tried to tell Tommy “no” but his attempt at speech was cut off by increased pressure of the blade on his throat. He could feel a trickle of blood where Zeltrax broke the skin. Dustin struggled against Zeltrax’s grasp, and tried to indicate with his eyes to Tommy that he should save himself.

Tommy knew it was a bluff. There was no way Zeltrax went through all the effort to get Dustin to Mesogog’s fortress only to kill him in the hallway. But he couldn’t take the risk that Zeltrax would follow through. Reluctantly he dropped his fighting stance and let go of the Power. His Ranger form exploded around him, and Tommy was left standing, exposed in his human form.

As he unhooked his morpher from his wrist, Tommy made eye-contact with Dustin. He willed the teen to understand that no matter how bad things looked they would get out of this situation. Dustin seemed to understand and gave Tommy a nearly imperceptible nod. Whatever was about to happen, they’d be in it together.

Zeltrax ordered the Tyranodrones that had been transported with them to grab Tommy; one of them snatched his morpher out of his hand. Zeltrax took charge of Dustin himself. He sheathed his sword and ruthlessly dragged Dustin along by the scruff of his neck into the lab with Dustin fighting him every step of the way. The Tyranodrones in charge of Tommy followed closely behind.

Dustin actually stopped short in the doorway when he got his first good look at Mesogog’s lab. The stories they’d shared with the Dino Rangers the night before had not prepared him for the reality. It was like something out of some weird sci-fi movie – the colored tubes with random stuff in them; the computers; and Mesogog himself seated on his pseudo-throne. It was like falling into a dream. Cyber Cam would be in heaven in this place. I wonder what all of this stuff does. Dustin spied a large chair in a back corner of the lab that looked like something out of a dental-phobic’s nightmare. I think I don’t want to know what that thing does.

A rough shove from Zeltrax got Dustin moving again. Dustin and Tommy were dragged to stand in front of Mesogog’s chair. Dustin couldn’t help himself from wondering - does he think he’s Captain Kirk or King Arthur?

“My lord, I have captured the boy as you requested.”

“You have done well, Zeltrax.” stated Mesogog.

“Is he injured? Did you hurt him? Why is he bleeding!?” A shrieking lizard-like creature came careening from around the side of Mesogog’s chair and nearly threw himself at Dustin. Dustin tried to hold up his hands in a warding-off gesture. “Settle down, dude.” Fealdor grabbed Dustin’s chin in his left hand pulling it to the side so he could examine the wound. There was bruising, but the cut was shallow and had already stopped bleeding.

“You fool!” Fealdor whirled and glared at Zeltrax. Now that his plan was about to come to fruition, he no longer cared about maintaining a low profile around Zeltrax or Elsa. They were playing his game now, and had better understand that he was making the rules. “We have no idea how his physical state will affect the energy he taps into. Is success in this mission worth nothing to you?”

Zeltrax ignored Fealdor completely, leaving Dustin in the care of a group of Tyranodrones. He approached Mesogog and bowed deeply. “My lord…the black dino gem.” He passed Tommy’s morpher to Mesogog and bowed again.

Mesogog inclined his head, acknowledging Zeltrax. “It appears this will be a day of more than one success.” He turned his gaze to Dustin. “Put him in the chair.”

~~

Conner was extremely worried. Though he had known the Wind Ninjas for less than twenty-four hours, he got the feeling from them that they’d be up to any challenge - after all, they were Rangers. They’d spent nearly a year fighting evil space ninjas; so to them, what was one psychotic dinosaur, more or less? Apparently it was more than they could handle because they both seemed to be falling apart.

As soon as they got back to Tommy’s lab, the various team members reached out to those who could help. Conner called Haley and Shane called Cam. Tori tried to call Hunter and Blake, but was unable to reach them. Since the moment she’d hung up the phone, Tori had practically been in tears. Kira had gravitated to her side, sitting beside her, murmuring words of encouragement and comfort. Shane, on the other hand, paced like a caged animal and snapped at anyone who even breathed too hard in his general area. Conner could understand that they were both worried and scared, but their level of agitation was not what he’d expected.

Conner had never been happier to see an adult than when Haley walked through the door not long after he’d called her. Before he had a chance to greet her, a shimmering form encased in red light appeared in the center of the lab. Conner felt a tightening in is chest and could sense without seeing that Ethan had moved to stand behind him and to his left, ready to back him up.

The form coalesced and cleared – standing before them was an older Asian man, bald and dressed in an archaic robe. The robe was black, but trimmed with red piping. The man immediately addressed Conner and Ethan who had assumed fighting stances. “Forgive my unexpected entrance. This was the fastest way to get here.”

Before either could reply, Tori rushed past them and uncharacteristically threw herself into the man’s arms. “Sensei!” she cried. He hugged her gently in return.

Shane approached their sensei with less speed. Though he didn’t throw himself at the man for a hug, it was clear he wanted to be in his physical proximity. Conner could see Shane looked as relived as he’d felt when Haley walked in – he was carrying a lot less tension, and only a few seconds had passed.

“I believe some introductions are in order, Rangers.”

Shane complied immediately. “Sensei, these are the Dino Thunder Rangers: Conner, Ethan and Kira.” The three teens stood together facing the older man. There was something about him that was extremely comforting, yet at the same time intimidating. Conner, retrieving from somewhere in his brain something his brother had mentioned about addressing his ninja teachers, put his hands at his sides and bowed slightly. Ethan and Kira followed his lead.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Rangers. I only wish it was under better circumstances. I am Sensei Kanoi Watanabe.” He bowed his head to them in return though he still had an arm around Tori.

“Where’s Cam?” Tori asked.

“He is driving the mobile operations unit here. He believes we will need more technology than what these Rangers have available in order to retrieve our friends. He will be here in only a few hours.”

“A few hours!” Shane just barely kept his voice under a yell. Conner was shocked – even he knew that this man was not someone to be yelled at. Shane was immediately contrite. He ran his fingers through is short hair as he tried to pull himself together. “I’m sorry, Sensei. But even a few hours is a few hours too long…”

Tori agreed. “I’ve never felt like this before, Sensei. Something is very wrong.” She looked up with great concern in her blue eyes. “And I think it is going to get worse.” Tori was trying very hard not to cry.

Haley gently cleared her throat. “Not to interrupt…but if someone can bring me up to speed…?”

Hastily, Conner introduced Haley and Sensei Watanabe, and filled them both in on what had happened at the beach. “…Then Zeltrax and his goons disappeared through an invisaportal with Dustin and Tommy. We came back here to regroup and get reinforcements.”

Sensei nodded his approval. “With the enemy acting uncharacteristically, it was wise for you to seek out support from your allies.” Sensei looked around the group that was standing in a loose circle in the middle of Tommy’s lab. “I believe together we…”

He was cut off by a scream from Tori and a gasp from Shane. Tori crumpled to her knees and would’ve fallen over completely if not for Kira’s support. Haley rushed to the girls. Shane grabbed his chest like a man having a heart attack and was struggling to breathe. Conner and Ethan supported him on either side.

"What’s happening?” Ethan demanded.

Sensei Watanabe stood stock still. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be listening hard to something only he could hear. After a few frozen moments he drew in a deep breath. “Tori! Shane!” He commanded. “Listen to me!” Even in their shaken states they were unable to disobey their sensei’s command. “You must center yourselves – for Dustin’s sake.”

With some help from Kira, Tori got herself seated in a cross-legged position. Sensei directed the boys to help Shane sit opposite her. Shane pulled himself close enough that their knees touched. On one knee between them on Tori’s left and Shane’s right, Sensei placed a hand on each of their shoulders.

Kira climbed to her feet and scooted over to stand by her teammates. The three of them looked on the trio on the floor in bewilderment. No one was willing to break the silence for fear of causing harm or interrupting the silent communion between them. But their fears about Dustin and Dr. O were compounded by the strange events that had just occurred.

~~

Tommy had never felt so vulnerable in all his years as a Ranger. The lack of his morpher made him feel naked. But feeling vulnerable was not as devastating as feeling helpless. What was worse, at the moment he was not the one in any danger. He was almost forgotten. Surrounded by a group of Tyranodrones, Tommy was a threat no longer worthy of notice. Dustin was the one in trouble, and not only could Tommy not help, he was forced to stand by and watch.

Tommy couldn’t help but admire Dustin’s effort. He did not go into that chair easily. But he was entirely outnumbered and in a short amount of time he was strapped in. Even bound to the chair, Dustin struggled to break himself free. As Mesogog slid out of his chair and made his way over to Dustin, Tommy could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He prayed the Rangers would find a way to intervene before he got a chance to see what the chair could really do.

“Wind Ranger…Fealdor tells me you are the answer I have been seeking.” Mesogog leaned in close to Dustin’s face. “Do you know that you are the first step in creating a new world order?”

Dustin made a face,”Dude, all I know is that you could use a mint.”

Mesogog growled and stood erect. “Ah, more Ranger humor. I suppose it comes with the uniform.” Mesogog turned to address Fealdor. “Begin.”

Fealdor nodded, “Yes, my lord.” Tommy watched with growing despair was Fealdor pushed the buttons on the console in front of him, powering up the machinery around Dustin. The life-force extractor sprang into life; the pink rings of power began to run up and down the barrel of the arm. Fealdor amended, “It needs a moment to warm up.”

Desperately Tommy began to fight against the Tyranodrones holding him. He’d been quiet for long enough for a few of them to be lulled into inattentiveness. He actually broke free and managed to move a few feet before he was subdued again. Tommy wanted to scream in frustration.

Mesogog, noticing the scuffle, deigned to address Tommy. “Struggle all you wish, Dr. Oliver. There is nothing you can do now. This boy is the key to my plans. Unlike you, he will not get away.”

Tommy shook his head in negation. There had to be something he could do. Some way he could help. He struggled against the Tyranodrones holding him. Tommy looked at Dustin. Something passed between them, and Tommy knew that Dustin knew everything he was feeling. And he knew that Dustin didn’t hold him responsible. That might have been the worst part of all. The look on Dustin’s face broke Tommy’s heart.

Mesogog reached over across Fealdor. Tommy’s struggles became frantic. He yelled, “NO! STOP!” but it was all in vain. Mesogog pushed a large red button on the console. Dustin screamed.

Tommy watched horrified as Dustin thrashed in pain. The lizard-man behind the console had begun to recite a commentary to Mesogog, as if sucking the life out of Dustin was an experiment. It didn’t appear that things were going the way he’d planned.

“This is interesting, my lord. Do you see this?” He pointed to something Tommy couldn’t see. Mesogog moved closer to the console for a better look. “The machine has tapped into the boy’s life force…treating him like any human. I wasn’t expecting that…if this keeps up…”

Mesogog growled menacingly. “This is not what you were expecting?”

“No, it’s just…wait…” Fealdor’s gaze rested on Dustin, who had ceased screaming and struggling. He darted around the console and approached the boy. Tommy’s heart was in his throat waiting for the lizard to announce that Dustin was dead. Fealdor dashed back to read the scans flashing on the screens before him.

He gasped and turned toward Mesogog with glee. “We’ve done it! My lord, we’ve done it! The machine has been able to go beyond tapping into his life force and has tapped into the force behind him. This is amazing…” Fealdor was so caught up in his excitement that he stopped talking.

“What does that mean? What have you done?” Tommy demanded.

“It means that before the sun sets, I will have enough power to destroy your Rangers and recreate the world.” Mesogog gloated. “Fealdor, keep me updated on your progress. I have plans to make.” He opened an invisaportal above his head and slid through.

“Why should my lord Mesogog have to wait?” intoned Zeltrax. Striding over to stand by Fealdor, he pushed the switch increasing the power on the life force extractor.

“No!” Fealdor cried. “The machine cannot handle the influx of that much power.” He tried to reach over, but Zeltrax barred his way.

Tommy’s heart lurched in his chest again. Though the pink pulsing rings of power on the machine flickered rapidly faster and faster, Dustin didn’t seem to be affected. It looked like he was sleeping peacefully.

The machinery began to whine as Zeltrax continued to prevent Fealdor from making adjustments. “You fool!” Fealdor screamed. “We need to take his power slowly or he’ll burn out.”

“Then we’ll throw away his useless shell and drain the others.” Zeltrax argued.

While they fought, Tommy noticed that Dustin no longer appeared peaceful. Lines of pain were drawn on his face, and his muscles began to strain against the bindings as they had before. “Stop!” he shouted. “Look what’s happening to him.”

Zeltrax ignored him, but Tommy continued and tried to address Fealdor. “If what you’ve said is right, you’ve got to stop now. Look at Dustin…he’s no good to you dead.”

It was clear to everyone in the room that Dustin was in extreme pain. Suddenly there was an explosion around him and his ninja training suit gave way to ordinary street clothing. Dustin gave an agonizing scream and arched in pain.

All of the readings on the monitors went wild. Fealdor gave Zeltrax a mighty shove, and hit the power button, shutting the power off completely. All of the power in the lab went off momentarily, then slowly flickered back on. Sparks of energy shot out from the console behind which Fealdor and Zeltrax had been standing.

In the confusion, Tommy managed to break free from the Tyranodrones and ran; not to seek his own freedom but to free Dustin from the life force extractor. Tommy undid the bindings that Dustin hadn’t snapped in his last seizure and pulled the boy gently toward him. Ignoring the threats of Zeltrax and the hysterical babbling of Fealdor, Tommy checked for a pulse.

He couldn’t find one.

Chapter Text

“Put him in the chair.”

Those were words Dustin had no desire to hear. He did try to break away from the Tyranodrones surrounding him, but he was totally outnumbered. He struggled against the bonds of the chair, but even as he did it, he knew it was no use. He tried not to give up hope, but it was hard.

As the machine powered up, and the pink rings of energy began to race down the arm reaching toward him, Dustin felt a strange calm wash over him in spite of his pounding heart. He looked over at Tommy and tried to make him understand that it wasn’t his fault; he wished for a moment his power lent itself to telepathy... If Sensei can do it… That made Dustin think of Shane and Tori and the hysteria in the hotel the night before. He almost cracked a smile, then Mesogog hit the switch.

Dustin screamed. He’d never felt anything like it before. It was as if all the cells in his body were being individually ripped apart – and he could feel the death of each one. Each individual burst of electricity that powered his body was being drawn away and leaving him empty. Dustin struggled to hold on to consciousness, instinctively knowing it was important to do so.

Then suddenly, through no effort of his own, the pain was not so close. It was more like being wrapped in warmth, and though he could feel the warmth being taken from him, he was drawing it to himself in same measure. There was a balance to it, so the pain disappeared.

Dustin let out a deep breath, or at least he thought he did – he didn’t seem quite as connected to his body as he had been mere moments before. It was strange to be so isolated from oneself yet be in your own company. Dustin didn’t ponder too long the ramifications of being lost in his own mind and just decided to enjoy the ride.

What was foremost in this thinking, rather, *who* was foremost in his thinking were Shane and Tori. Not unusual considering they’d been who he’d been thinking of just before he got zapped. Dustin was tickled by how his brain worked. Connections and stories, things he hadn’t thought of in ages floated past his awareness. He gravitated toward random thoughts, and all of them gave him comfort and hope.

~~Shane, Tori and me walking on the beach at Reefside~~

~~grape soda~~

~~Dino Rangers…cool~~

~~talking about my dad~~

~~introducing my dad to Shane and the guys~~pride~~love~~

~~how weird when Shane said he loved us~~

~~happy~~comfort~~secure~~

~~Tori and me sleeping over at her house~~waking up super early to watch cartoons and eat Cap’n Crunch out of the box~~

~~pizza with Shane~~

~~fighting Lothor~~PRIDE~~DETERMINATION~~

~~TEAM~~SOLID~~

Was that pain creeping back in? Dustin tried to ignore it and refocus on thoughts of his friends. It was harder this time to catch his nebulous thoughts.

~~riding and racing with Blake and Hunter~~

~~camping with all the guys~~

~~the look on Cam’s face when…~~

The pain was getting harder to ignore, and Dustin had a strong feeling that was a very bad sign. Beginning to panic, Dustin desperately tried to latch onto any of his fleeting thoughts - to regain some balance. He reached…grabbed…missed. Instinctively Dustin drew himself as far into himself as he could before ---

The pain returned explosively. All other awareness was gone. Then awareness was gone as well.

~~

Tommy slid into a seated position, pulling Dustin’s limp form with him and settling him on his lap. Tommy pulled the boy closer willing him to demonstrate some sign of life. His mind babbled at him They can’t have killed him. This can’t be happening.

Tommy ignored the general hubbub around him until one of the Tyranodrones tried to take Dustin away. Tommy snatched the hand that had tried to remove Dustin from his grasp. With a flip and a twist the hand snapped and Tommy flung the offensive creature away.

“You can’t have him.” he growled. And even in unmorphed human form, completely defenseless and in an indefensible position on the floor, the menace in his voice was clear and made the Tyranodrones hesitant to approach him.

“Oh please…oh please…” Fealdor approached Tommy with a scanner. “He can’t be dead…all in vain…please let him not be dead…”

Tommy didn’t know whether to feel disgusted or hopeful at the thing’s whiny mantra. Since Fealdor didn’t actually attempt to remove Dustin from his lap in order to do the scan, Tommy didn’t interfere. He just silently prayed that the creature would find some sign of life.

Fealdor gave out a gasp and went limp with relief. “He’s not dead. He’s not dead! Just dreadfully weak.”

Tommy checked Dustin’s pulse once more – this time he did find it, it was feathery and weak, but it was there.

“Put him back in the chair.” Zeltrax demanded.

Fealdor jumped fully upright. He stood between Zeltrax and the two Rangers. “You listen to me you armor-clad lackey. I think the lack of oxygen is finally getting to your brain. You nearly destroyed all my work today, and if I manage to salvage anything from this fiasco it’ll be to see you slow roasted in that suit of yours.”

“What is going on here?” Fealdor whirled aghast. He’d hoped he would’ve had some time for damage control before Mesogog returned. But the smirking form of Elsa in the doorway was a clear indicator of why he’d returned so soon.

“Fealdor?” Mesogog demanded.

Fealdor took a deep breath. “I can fix it, my lord. I can finish the energy transfer. As long as Zeltrax doesn’t interfere.” he glared. “Though… we may have to use the energy chamber instead of the chair. And…” he pointed down at Tommy and Dustin. “we’ll need to give the boy some time to recover.”

“See to it, Fealdor. You will give me a full report later.” Mesogog made one of his trademark, whip-quick turns into Zeltrax’s face. “You will report to me now.”

“Yes, my lord.” Zeltrax replied with trepidation. He didn’t even bother to protest or defend himself. Tommy silently wished as he watched them leave that in a short while there’d be one less of Mesogog’s minions to deal with.

A short time later, Tommy found himself locked in a dank cell in the bottom of Mesogog’s fortress. He never relinquished his hold on Dustin, just grimly followed the Tyranodrones and Fealdor. He couldn’t imagine how they thought Dustin could recover in a place like this, but maybe if they waited long enough, the other Rangers would develop a plan to bust them out. He believed with all his heart that they could. It was only a matter of time.

Chapter Text

Sensei Watanabe stood stock still. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be listening hard to something only he could hear. After a few frozen moments he drew in a deep breath. “Tori! Shane!” He commanded. “Listen to me!” Even in their shaken states they were unable to disobey their sensei’s command. “You must center yourselves – for Dustin’s sake.”

Sensei Kanoi Watanabe barely noticed as the Dino Rangers positioned Shane and Tori on the floor. He knelt between them and listened to the voice within. Kanoi was poised somewhere between conscious thought and the blank depths of unconsciousness. It was not his own awareness that had drawn him here, but Dustin’s agonizing need for help. He knew he must not succumb to the darkness if any of the three former Rangers were to survive. Kanoi had always sensed the bond between the former Wind Rangers, and had nurtured its development, but he had grossly underestimated the depth of the connection between them.

Dustin’s desperation had reached Kanoi more clearly than it had reached his teammates. Kanoi’s supremely trained mind and centered spirit understood much more quickly what Dustin needed to survive. It wasn’t the mind touch of his friends Dustin required; it was the touch of their spirits. And though they were physically separated, they could lend their strength to his fight.

Kanoi had never felt anything as powerful as the entity that was attacking Dustin. It was drawing power off of him at a phenomenal rate. Shane and Tori were also caught in its wake, protected somewhat by the presence of Kanoi between them and it. The currents of energy being ripped from Dustin were unfathomable, and Kanoi knew the Yellow Ranger would not be able to withstand much more. And there was nothing Kanoi could do to prevent it.

Then suddenly there was a shift. Kanoi could almost hear an audible click when Dustin opened himself wholly to the Earth power that was his birthright. He’d never been so open to the power within him, deliberately or accidentally. Kanoi had always known that the combination of Wind Ranger and earth elemental powers was bound to be incalculable, but to experience it in connection with his former students was almost completely overwhelming.

Taking advantage of the reprieve, Kanoi directed his thoughts toward Shane and Tori. Shane, as a Red Ranger and ninja, was open to mind speech with his sensei, a red ninja himself. Tori, as the Blue ranger and “mind” of the group was also open to mind speech. Both of them more so than Dustin whose strength was his emotion rather than pure thought.

Rangers of Body and Mind…your Heart needs your strength. Focus your thoughts. Focus your emotions. You must be ready to catch him if he falls. Kanoi commanded.

Kanoi withdrew slightly, pulling back from the maelstrom of emotion and energy that was the Wind Rangers. But before he could develop a plan of action the situation changed again. The balance between energy absorption and energy withdrawal Dustin had achieved by opening himself fully as a channel of Earth energy was in flux again. The enemy’s demand had increased, and Dustin was unable to compensate. Even with the support of Shane and Tori, Dustin was unable to maintain his inner focus and “slipped” out of balance.

Kanoi desperately threw himself back into the fray. With no time to warn them, Kanoi ruthlessly gathered Tori and Shane to himself and threw up a mental shield between them and the entity attacking Dustin. There was no way to cut them off completely from Dustin, but he frantically shielded them as much as he could.

The explosion of energy that followed was nothing like anything Kanoi had ever experienced. His own pain and the residual shockwaves of pain experienced by the Wind Rangers sent every nerve in his body thrumming.

~~~~~~~~

Haley stood slightly off to the side taking in the scene in the lab. The Dino Rangers stood silently watching the tableau at their feet. Something was clearly happening between the trio before them, the likes of which they had never experienced. As intriguing as that was, it wasn’t nearly as fascinating to Haley as how her team was being affected. Haley wondered if they realized what they were doing, or if it was completely unconscious. She supposed it was the latter.

Kira had joined the boys after getting Tori settled on the floor. She stood on Conner’s left, and at some point had taken hold of his hand. Ethan had taken up a similar position on Conner’s right; though he wasn’t holding Conner's hand, he was standing as close to Conner as possible without physically being in the same space. Though the three of them were standing side by side, Conner somehow gave the impression that he was in front of the other two; not in a position of arrogance, but one of protection.

Fascinating.

If Haley hadn’t been watching the Dino Rangers when it happened she wouldn’t have believed it was possible. There was a look on Conner’s face. An expression like she’d never seen before on him. Like he knew something was coming. Then he moved.

It was impossible to track Conner’s movement with the human eye, but the impact he was having on those around him was clear. Kira was yanked from her position and thrust into Ethan’s arms. The two of them were then shoved so hard they didn’t stop moving until they crashed together into the wall.

Conner stopped moving at the speed of light and knelt on his left knee slightly behind and between Shane and Sensei Kanoi. His arms were open as though welcoming and embrace from a toddler. From her position across the room Haley had a clear view of Conner’s face, and again she could see anticipation. Anticipation and bracing for impact.

Haley dove behind a bookcase.

Simultaneously the Wind Rangers and their sensei began to scream. An explosion of energy rocked the space between the three and sent them flying. Conner took the impact of Sensei Watanabe and Shane. Tori was flung in the opposite direction and landed atop Ethan and Kira. Then the room was filled with an ominous silence.

Haley cautiously peeked out from behind the bookcase. She could see Kira gently cradling a stunned and shaking Tori. Ethan was supporting them both. Conner had been rocked back by the impact of the two ninjas. They had crash landed at the base of one of the computer banks; Shane was cradled against Conner’s left side, Kanoi on his right.

Shane, though still shaking with pain, looked up at Conner with gratitude. “Nice catch, bro,” he croaked out.

Well done, Red Ranger said the sensei’s voice inside Conner’s head. Conner could only nod in reply and pray that someone would be able to explain what just happened. And fast.

Chapter Text

For a moment, no one moved. Haley called out softly from behind the bookcase, “Is everyone okay?” All she got in response were some muted groans. Being the one least affected by the explosion of energy that had just occurred, Haley was the first to move. She was somewhat surprised to see that the others weren’t even attempting to get themselves off the floor. There was something happening here that Haley didn’t understand; that she couldn’t put her finger on. And whatever it was, it was no longer simply affecting the Wind Rangers and their sensei. The Dino Rangers has become involved as well.

Kanoi had pushed himself slightly away from Conner and Shane, and appeared to be concentrating…listening. He looked much the same way he had just a short time ago kneeling between Tori and Shane. Though he had moved away, he still had a hand on Conner’s leg, near the ankle. Conner seemed not to notice this; he was too focused on Shane. Shane was trembling in the circle of Conner’s arm, obviously in an extreme amount of pain, and seemed neither embarrassed nor ashamed to seek the physical comfort Conner could give. Conner, who could offer nothing but his physical presence, did just that. Haley could see the intense concentration on Conner’s face, as if he was willing Shane’s pain away. Something about the two of them together gave Haley the impression that it was working.

Haley shifted her gaze to the trio of Rangers across the room. Tori looked like a child caught in the grip of a night terror – neither fully awake nor asleep, but still being tormented by demons in the dark. Tears coursed down her cheeks as she wept, weakly calling Dustin’s name over and over. Ethan had propped himself up against the wall with Tori pulled tight against his side. Though Ethan had the most physical contact with her, Kira was the one who seemed to be getting through to the shaken ninja. Kira had caught Tori’s trembling hands gently in her grasp, and was crooning words of comfort and encouragement to her.

Haley climbed to her feet at a loss about what to do next. She needed more information. She hated not knowing what was going on or how to help. Something massive had just occurred that seemed to involve everyone else in the room, but without some understanding of what had occurred, she couldn’t formulate a plan of attack. And, she had a horrible sinking feeling in her gut from the way Tori was reacting, that their new plan might involve a rescue of one, not two.

Kanoi took in a deep, shuddering breath and let it out with a sigh. The others turned their attention to him, as if this was what they had been waiting for. Shane levered himself off the floor slightly, but Tori closed her eyes as if anticipating a blow. Kanoi opened his eyes and fixed Haley with his gaze. “We have much to do, and have won a slight reprieve. When help arrives, I believe we will be successful rescuing our friends.” He turned and looked meaningfully at Shane. “Both of them.”

Shane collapsed in utter relief onto Conner’s shoulder. Conner hugged him tightly. They wore matching grins of delight. Tori’s tears of grief gave way to tears of joy. Kira gave a squeal, launched herself at Tori, and enveloped her and Ethan in a three-way hug.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A short time later, the Rangers has regrouped. At Kanoi’s suggestion, Haley had gone on a hunt for provisions and returned with sandwiches and soda. Everyone including Kanoi ate as if they hadn’t eaten in days. Haley watched them perplexed. The strange behavior of the Rangers baffled her, and she wanted some answers.

All of the Rangers, new and old seemed needy for physical contact; Shane and Conner in particular. Haley knew how boys acted; she’d observed teenage boys long enough at the café to know that what was going on here was not normal. When boys hung out together there was a lot of pushing, shoving and back slapping, particularly when there were pretty girls around. Physical contact and proximity to another male might be misinterpreted, so it was always good to make it perfectly clear to members of the opposite sex that the male in question was very male and interested in females; this often involved wrestling of some sort. But any kind of sustained physical contact with another boy was just not done; even with very good friends. It was one of those unwritten rules of the universe.

But from the time Conner had caught Shane and Kanoi after the explosion he’d been in constant physical contact with Shane. A hand up from the floor; a steadying arm around the shoulder to get to the couch; and now the two of them were sitting so close together an outside observer might get the impression that they were dating. But it wasn’t like that at all and the two of them seemed completely at ease and unselfconscious about their proximity. Shane, for his part, seemed to be recovering from the effect of what had happened, much more quickly than Tori. Haley had the distinct impression that his recovery had something to do with Conner, but she didn’t know why.

Tori, though still looking pale and shaken, had calmed down considerably. Ethan, in a manner very similar to Conner, maintained close proximity to Tori. It just didn’t strike Haley as so odd with Ethan as it did with Conner. Kira hovered nearby the pair. Initially when they all sat down to eat, Kira looked somewhat lost without a color partner to sit with. But Shane and Tori themselves intervened and pulled her down on the couch between them. It didn’t seem to matter to any of them that the couch could comfortably seat three. The five of them sat squished and ate in companionable silence.

Haley turned her attention to Kanoi. It occurred to her that he knew much more than he was letting on. All of the Rangers accepted as fact that Tommy and Dustin were safe. If not safe, at least alive and in need of rescue. All on the word of this man. Not that Haley didn’t trust Kanoi, she did. He fairly exuded honor and trustworthiness. What irked her was how. How did he know what he knew? And when was he going to fill the rest of them in? If she was being honest with herself, Haley could admit that the rest of them didn’t seem to need to know – but she did. Information was her area. It was what she did best. And this nebulous “I’ll meditate and get my information” was just not working for her.

Kanoi glanced at Haley, again with that knowing look. She blushed slightly but did not look away. She opened her mouth to speak what was on her mind, but he spoke over her. “Rangers, we have much to discuss.”

As one, the present and former Rangers gave their attention to Kanoi, though Shane and Conner continued eating. “Our friends are in grave peril, but for the moment they are safe.”

“How do you…?” Haley blurted accusingly. Kanoi held up his hand to forestall Haley’s question. “It is enough to know that they are. But before we continue, you Rangers should ask yourselves a different question. Not how do I know, but how do you?”

The Dino Rangers looked utterly bewildered; even Haley looked confused. Conner didn’t even pretend to try to understand, he simply looked to Ethan and Kira, waiting for one of them to jump in and catch him up later. Ethan took the lead – Kanoi’s placid expression belayed the fact that this was what he expected.

“How do we know…what?” Ethan asked. He didn’t let it rest there though. He continued to puzzle out what Kanoi was asking by thinking aloud. “That Dr. O and Dustin are safe? Or more specifically, that Dustin isn’t dead?”

Tori’s gasp and the shocked reactions of the other Rangers brought Ethan out of his musings. “Sorry Tori.” His apology was sincere; he was genuinely abashed at his thoughtlessness, but he was too caught up in his train of thought to stop completely. As he tried to develop a way to rephrase, Kira jumped in.

She leaned forward slightly, placing her hands on Shane and Tori for support. “Something happened. Shane and Tori helped Dustin, didn’t they? But you were the one who…who heard him, I guess. Why you and not them?”

“An excellent question, Kira.” Kanoi cocked his head to the side, not answering; waiting for the former Rangers to continue the lesson themselves.

Tori looked thoughtful, and Haley thought she suddenly looked like her old self – or at least, the self Haley had met last night at the cafe. “Sensei can do it…” she murmured under her breath. She shot a sad, sideways glance at Shane, and then seemed to collect herself and shake off her melancholy. “I never really thought about it before, Kira. What happened just now…I’ve never felt anything like it.” Tori answered.

Kira shook her head to indicate she didn’t understand. Tori looked to the others. Conner simply shrugged, but Ethan looked intensely interested. Tori then looked to Kanoi. He nodded to her, indicating that she should continue.

“Shane, Dustin and I were friends before we became Rangers. I think there was always something there between us. As students at the Academy…there was something right about us together.”

“Balanced.” Shane interjected softly.

“Balanced…” Tori nodded as she repeated the phrase. “That’s more like it…balanced. After we became Rangers, that feeling just grew and got stronger. By the end, we’d pick up things about each other…we’d just know what the other ones were thinking without having to talk.”

Shane looked thoughtful. “That’s not it exactly, Tor.” She looked over at him, not defensive, just interested in what he had to say. “I could always pick up on your thinking pretty quickly, and I think you did the same with me. But with Dustin…it was more like knowing how he felt. Not the words, the feelings.”

Tori nodded in agreement, and then looked toward Kanoi. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

“Yes Rangers. You have come to the heart of it.” Kanoi sat back in his chair, and addressed all of them. “Rangers throughout history have always had strong color affiliations. Many have animal or spirit affiliations as well. But the key to what makes a good Ranger team is balance. Have you ever noticed that though Ranger teams may start off as an odd number, they always end as six?”

Ethan nodded enthusiastically. The others shrugged or shook their heads.

Kanoi continued, but seemed to drastically change direction. “Do you know what the strongest geometric shape to build with is, Rangers?”

“A triangle!” Ethan blurted immediately.

Kanoi smiled at the enthusiastic Blue Ranger. “Correct, Ethan.”

“So the three sides to a triangle…two sets of three, make six Rangers. Right?” Ethan continued.

Kanoi nodded. “The three sides of the triangle are always connected. One serves as a base for the other two, but the positions can be changed depending on the situation.”

“So, it’s not a color thing, because not all of the Ranger teams have the same colors. I mean…there were Navy and Crimson with you guys, sometimes Pink, sometimes White…and there was that Titanium guy…”

“It’s about heart.” Ethan stopped rambling and looked at Conner. Everyone looked at Conner, but he ignored them and looked at Kanoi. “That’s what you said before, that we’d come to the heart of it. But that’s not right either because he…Dustin…is only one part.” Conner floundered feeling the weight of everyone staring at him. It wasn’t often he was philosophical and less often that he was right, but he felt strongly that he was on the right track and wanted to get through it before he was interrupted.

“So if Dustin is the heart…my guess is that Tori is the mind and Shane the body. If one of the three can’t work with the other two…they all go down. But in the same way, if one of the three is in trouble, the other two can support him and get through. Is that right?” Conner felt a little like Dorothy talking to the Wizard at the end of The Wizard of Oz.

Conner scanned the faces of those on the couch with him. Shane and Tori both looked thunderstruck. Like they’d been hit with a revelation that had never occurred to them before; Conner guessed they had. But what surprised him most (and pleased him, he could secretly admit) was the pride on the faces of his teammates. He smiled at them and leaned back on the couch. McKnight…GOAL!!

“You are correct, Conner. The triangles that give Rangers their internal team structure consist of three parts: body, mind and heart.”

“We’ve known it all along…” Tori interrupted. “You told us on that very first day. I can’t believe I never made the connection.”

“It would have come to you in time. You never needed to articulate it; you just always knew it was there. Because you had no label for how your team works doesn’t mean it worked less well. The bonds you depended on were always there, and still are. Naming them doesn’t make a difference.” Kanoi stated.

For the first time since the conversation began, Haley chimed in. She looked somewhat relieved. “It makes sense now.” She was nodding as she spoke, as if confirming for herself something she had figured out. Kanoi simply smiled; she reminded him strongly of Cam working on a particularly irksome problem.

“What makes sense, Haley?” Kira asked.

“All the strange behavior. Well, not strange really, just different.”

“Huh?” was Ethan’s articulate reply.

“I’ve been watching you Rangers ever since you got back from the beach. At first, Shane and Tori were freaking out completely. Tori was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and Shane was ready to pick a fight with anyone. The mind and body were way out of balance because their heart had been ripped from them.”

The Rangers on the couch looked at Haley, fascinated.

“Then Sensei Kanoi showed up. Shane and Tori got some equilibrium back. That I’m not clear on … you somehow connected them more clearly to Dustin…” Haley’s eyes squinted as she tried to make the leap from intuition to logic. “They…” she pointed at the Wind Rangers, “have the mind speech pretty strong, but Dustin doesn’t. Emotions are a more nebulous thing to connect to.” Haley was nodding again. It was making sense as she stated it out loud.

Kanoi nodded in agreement and she continued.

“You all had some kind of, I don’t know…communion with Dustin. Then everything got shot to Hell. But…” she pointed a finger at Conner. “he knew it was coming. Conner knew what was going to happen and was prepared to catch…Hey!” Haley looked piercingly at Kanoi. “You’re a Red Ranger too, aren’t you?”

The Wind Rangers looked startled. Kanoi smiled self-depreciatingly. “No Haley, not a Red Ranger, a red ninja which in this case I believe is close enough.”

Haley nodded once in the affirmative, now clearly in her area of expertise, putting information together. She continued, “Conner caught Shane and Sensei Kanoi and put Ethan and Kira in a place where they could catch Tori. Both of you," now she pointed accusingly at Kanoi and Shane, “have been drawing on Conner’s strength to get yourselves together.” Now it was Conner’s turn to look startled. “That’s why Shane recovered more quickly than Tori. The “body” types transfer energy through physical contact…and that’s why that whole thing,” Haley pointed and twirled her finger between Shane and Conner, “makes sense.”

“I wasn’t…” Shane protested.

“What are you…?” Conner asked Haley.

“You are correct, Haley, though not exactly right. I did consciously draw on Conner’s strength after the explosion. I needed to determine if Dustin had survived, and could not do it on my own. It would’ve taken too long to discuss and explain…so I did use Conner without his knowledge. I do apologize.” This last was addressed to Conner who didn’t know how to respond. Haley was making it sound like something bad had happened, but in Conner’s mind, if there was any way he could help he’d be available to anyone who needed him, not just his own team.

“It’s okay. Really.” Conner stated aloud, more to acknowledge Haley’s point than anything else. Then he looked at Kanoi, took a deep breath and tried to calm his racing heart. Anytime you need me…you can have my strength, all you need.

Kanoi smiled and nodded in acceptance. Thank you, Conner. Your offer is gratefully accepted. Conner grinned; he hadn’t been sure that would work.

Kanoi picked up the discussion as if the exchange between him and Conner never happened. “I believe the exchange of strength between Conner and Shane has been unconscious and certainly not malicious. Like calls to like, and one answers the call from need. Conner as a Red Ranger and “body” type would naturally tend to help Shane. Shane, of course, would do the same for him.”

Now it was Shane’s turn to nod. Haley seemed to accept this explanation and continued with her observation of events. “Ethan has been helping Tori, in much the same way Conner’s been helping Shane. But Tori didn’t seem to really get back on her feet until we started talking…and she had something to think about.” Even as she said it, it made perfect sense to Haley. Tori as a “mind” type needed a puzzle to solve or a problem to work out.

“That leaves Kira.” Haley and Kanoi looked at where Kira was sitting; squished between the Red and Blue Wind Rangers. “I guess it’s no surprise that Kira ended up where she is.”

“The heart of any team is almost always at the center.” Kanoi agreed.

Kira blushed at the unusual amount of attention. It wasn’t even that really; she was used to being the center of attention on stage. It was the regard they were showing to her that had her flustered.

“Okay,” stated Tori, “now that we’ve established how we’re all connected how does that help us? If Dustin is attacked again, Shane and I can help sustain him. But that doesn’t help us get him or Tommy out of there.”

“I have a plan to rescue our friends, but I believe we will need more help than the resources we have available.” stated Kanoi.

“We already called Blake and Hunter. And Cam is on the way.” answered Shane.

“It is a good start. But I believe Dr. Oliver has resources at his command that even he does not recognize. It is that source of power we must tap, to confound Mesogog. He will never see it coming.”

Though the Rangers pestered Kanoi with questions, he would not discuss his plan further, insisting they must regain their strength while they waited for Cam to arrive, and Blake and Hunter to respond to the message the others had left for them.

Chapter Text

Fealdor glanced anxiously at the readouts he’d assembled after the morning’s disastrous events. He’d been studying them for hours; what he’d discovered was disturbing, and not anything he wanted to report to Mesogog. Fealdor pushed the stacks of paper away from himself as he pushed his chair back and rose from the table. He began to pace nervously around his lab as he mentally reviewed the information he had gathered.

The energy that they’d gathered from the former Yellow Ranger was contained and viable, but not enough for Mesogog’s purposes, so some choices had to be made. The seemingly obvious solution was the one presented by Zeltrax - capture one of the other former Rangers and subject him or her to the energy chamber, then combine that energy with what they’d already collected. But this scenario posed two problems: first, it was possible that the energy from one Ranger would not “mix” with the energy from another, similar to oil and water; and second, neither former Ranger could be found on any of the scans of Reefside.

Fealdor clenched his fists in frustration as his circuit brought him closer to the monitors where he’s observed the Rangers only the night before. I scanned them all last night when they were sleeping…and now they’ve vanished! They would never abandon their friend…so where are they?

It wasn’t simply that the Wind Rangers had gone to ground. It would make sense that they were under the protection of the Dino Rangers, wherever their hidden lair might be. What was of concern to Fealdor was that even if he couldn’t get a visual scan of the Rangers, he should be able to pick up their unique energy signatures. But they were gone. They were shielded from his scans the same way that portions of Blue Bay Harbor were shielded. And that indicated that the Dino Rangers had already called in some powerful reinforcements.

Fealdor growled to himself and turned deliberately away from the screens. If the other Rangers were out of reach, he had to stay focused on the Rangers within his grasp. But that posed its own problems as well. The readouts indicated that before tapping into the source of energy behind the Yellow Ranger, the chair drew on his natural human energy. The energy chamber worked much the same way as the chair, except instead of drawing energy out gradually, it purged the victim entirely of energy all at once. The problem that caused was this – if the energy chamber purged the former Yellow Ranger's human energy before the boy could tap into the vast energy behind him, all they would have is a dead ex-Ranger and only half the energy they needed to put Mesogog’s plan into action.

Fealdor returned to the table and stared miserably at the charts and graphs before him. Six of one, half a dozen of the other…it’s all bad news, and Mesogog won’t be pleased to hear it.

A creak of a floorboard alerted Fealdor to the presence of another. He whirled not knowing who to expect. A rather subdued Elsa hovered halfway in the doorway. “The Master wishes to see you immediately. He told me to give you this.” Elsa brought her left hand into view. It in she held Zeltrax’s helmet. As she tossed it in Fealdor’s direction all he could think was please let it be empty please let it be empty.

Fealdor caught the helmet with a gasp, and was immediately relieved that it weighed far less than he’d anticipated. He stared down at in uncomprehendingly, and then looked to Elsa for some direction. She was clearly shaken and fighting hard not to show it. “I must return to the Master. Waste no time Fealdor,” she demanded. Elsa turned on her heel and stalked back toward the main lab.

Fealdor fought back a rising tide of panic. His time had run out, and clearly Mesogog was not in a forgiving mood. Warily, Fealdor placed Zeltrax's empty helmet on his desk. Gathering all of his courage, he followed Elsa’s fading footsteps, and made his way to Mesogog.

Chapter Text

It was late afternoon by the time Cam arrived in Reefside. The Ninja Ops tractor trailer was quite a spectacle parked in Tommy’s driveway, but the lack of neighbors made hiding the vehicle unnecessary. Introductions were made all around – Haley and Cam were quite interested to meet each other. There was a sense of anticipation about the two of them, as if they each couldn’t wait to test the mental boundaries of the other.

The Dino Rangers had called their respective parents and asked for permission to stay at each other’s houses to “work on a project”. It took some heavy questioning from the Fords and James before they were convinced that staying the night at a classmate’s house would be necessary, but permission was finally granted. If the lack of interest on behalf of the McKnight household about Conner’s whereabouts bothered him, he didn’t say anything. If the situation continued past the weekend, the Dino Rangers would have to deal with school, but for the moment they were focused on working on the plan at hand.

As the Rangers gathered around Cam, he looked to Kanoi to begin. Kanoi simply looked sedately back at his son.

“Father…” Cam rolled his eyes somewhat impatiently. “Didn’t you tell them what you were planning to do? Or why you were waiting for me?”

“No Cam,” Kanoi replied patiently, “that’s your job.”

Cam sighed in exasperation. “Let me show you.” He gestured to the assembled Rangers as he walked toward one of the crates he’d brought in, but it was Haley and Ethan who followed hot on his heels. “While the Wind and Thunder Rangers held their power, I developed a method of transporting them instantaneously.”

“Teleportation…cool!” Ethan interrupted.

“Yes, teleportation. But as any of the Wind Rangers will tell you, it wasn’t their favorite form of travel.”

Shane shook his head vehemently. “Almost anything was better than that! Give me a good ol’ ninja streak any day!”

Tori looked at Shane speculatively, as if seeing him in a new light. “You and Hunter were always the ones who complained the most about teleporting. I guess you “body” types don’t like being broken down molecule by molecule and reconstructed in a new spot, huh?” At Tori’s description Shane face actually drained of color and he looked like he might be ill. Conner looked uncomfortable as well. Tori dropped the subject.

Cam looked over at Shane knowingly, and continued “Well, even after the Rangers lost their powers to Lothor, I continued to work on the various technologies that I’d developed. Why let all that knowledge go to waste? But it seems that the teleportation works best with strong or unusual energy signatures – not with your run-of-the-mill citizen. It doesn’t even work with most of the ninjas at the Academy.”

“So that won’t be a money maker for you.” Conner smirked.

Cam didn’t even acknowledge him with a response. “But it will work with former Rangers. And it will probably work the best with the Rangers who currently hold power.”

“It’ll work with former Rangers?” pressed Ethan. “Would they be Dr. O’s “unknown resources”, Sensei?”

Kanoi smiled slightly and bowed in Ethan’s direction. “They would be, Ethan. I believe even they do not know of the power still in their possession. However, I will need Doctor Oliver’s help contacting them.”

Conner raised his hand as if asking permission to speak. “I though we needed them to get him out. But if we can’t contact them before we get Dr. O…” Conner looked confused. “How does that work?”

“I will show you, Rangers. Come with me,” he gestured over toward the couches where they’d been eating. “Let Cam and Haley do their work while we do ours.” Ethan looked a little disappointed that he would be unable to watch Cam at work, but he was also intrigued about how Sensei Kanoi meant to “contact” Dr. Oliver.

Cam held up a string of devices hooked together with wire and turned toward Haley. “If you show me an outlet with enough power to set this up, we can get ready. We’ll start with Blake and Hunter while Father contacts Dr. Oliver and the others.”

Ethan tried to keep half an ear on the conversation Cam and Haley were having, but he was unsuccessful; so he turned his full attention to Sensei Kanoi, who started their discussion with a question that seemed totally out of left-field. “What do you know of the power behind the Power Rangers?”

Not surprisingly, the Dino Rangers looked to Ethan for an answer. He’d become somewhat obsessive about Ranger history after viewing Dr. O’s tape, so he was the most qualified person in their group to answer. The Wind Rangers looked to him as well; in other circumstances Dustin would’ve jumped in, and the reminder of his absence caused them both to ache terribly.

“Well, “ Ethan began, “some of my facts may be a little murky…Dr. O hasn’t been totally forthcoming on some of the teams. I think that’s just because he didn’t know himself…” he said as an aside to Kira who was seated between him and Tori. “The first team got their power from Zordon, an intergalactic being who recruited a team of teenagers with attitude…”

“I guess that tradition has continued…” added Kira in her own aside. Conner choked on a laugh. Ethan mock scowled at the interruption, then continued.

“The original team went through a bunch of incarnations. Mighty Morphin’… Ninjetti…Zeo…Turbo…Then after they turned the Turbo power over to the new team, those guys became the Power Rangers in Space.” Ethan looked thoughtful. “The first Rangers got their power from Power Coins; then the Rangers got new powers from…well, it gets a little confusing there, but they became Ninjetti Rangers. Then they had Zeo crystals, but when those weren’t strong enough they upgraded to Turbo Ranger power.”

“Where does the power go when it’s gone?” inquired Kanoi.

Ethan’s brows creased in concentration. “Well sometimes the power is passed to the next generation of Rangers, and sometimes it’s destroyed or used up fighting the enemy.” It was a sobering thought for the three Dino Rangers. Holding and using the power gave the Rangers a sense of invincibility, but sitting beside them were two living examples of Rangers who’d lost their powers. It was not something they wanted to think about for long.

“Ethan, you are correct about the power being lost or passed on. But there has been one exception. One team who’s beginning and end has always been “murky”.”

“It’s the Ninjetti Rangers, isn’t it?” asked Tori thoughtfully. “They’re kind of like us.” She gestured to herself and Shane. “We don’t hold the Power anymore, but our ninja power never left us.”

“And it can never be taken from you.” answered Kanoi even as he nodded in agreement of Tori’s assessment. Or at least, that was what I always believed before Mesogog attacked Dustin, he thought to himself. He continued aloud, “Dr. Oliver was a Ninjetti Ranger – the white falcon. I believe that because he had, and still has, ninja powers, and because he was once a Red Ranger as well as being a “body” type, I should be able to reach him in much the same way I reached Dustin. I will need all of you to assist.”

As one the Rangers, new and old, nodded their assent. It felt good to be doing something. And they were all ready to help in any way possible. Kanoi smiled at their eagerness. “We will sit here, on the floor. Conner and Shane, come on either side of me; Tori next to Shane; Ethan next to Conner; and Kira across from me.” In a moment the Rangers had assembled themselves into a circle on the floor.

Kira looked around the circle. The discussion they had had earlier resonated in her head. This circle certainly didn’t look balanced. There was a heavy red/body concentration at Sensei’s end; but she supposed that Kanoi would need Shane and Conner to support him the most during whatever it was they were about to do.

“Rangers, I need you to relax. Center yourselves. Concentrate on your breathing.” Kira could see Shane and Tori easily slip into a meditative state, the way their sensei had earlier. She exchanged wary looks with Ethan and Conner. Meditation was not one of the areas of training Dr. O had insisted on. Kira took the plunge first and hoped her teammates would follow her example. She closed her eyes, and tried to relax while remaining alert.

Kira wasn’t sure when it happened, but at some point both Tori and Ethan had taken her hands in theirs. Kira felt safe and warm, buoyed by the strength of the friends around her. And she knew, she knew, they were all feeling the same. Kira wanted to test this new awareness, but understood that forcing what she was feeling would be contradictory to what Sensei needed; instead she relaxed further into the feeling of friendship and safety and let herself float away.

Kanoi could immediately sense when Tori and Shane reached the level of meditation he needed from them. They waited in patient silence for him to begin. Kira was surprisingly able to find her center as well; Kanoi could sense her openness to the experience and was grateful that she had such a giving heart. Ethan and Conner, on the other hand, were struggling.

Kanoi could almost hear every thought and question racing through Ethan’s head. He was trying to analyze the experience, predict what might happen next, and connect this new experience to past ones. He was simply thinking too much. Kanoi nudged him with a thought; Ethan, reach out to Kira. Let her help you. Reach out to Tori through Kira, she can guide you and help you still your thoughts.

Kanoi stifled a mental chuckle at Ethan’s Huh…wha? response to the voice in his head. But he did as he was asked, and in a short time Tori’s calm and Kira’s balance got through to him and he was centered as well.

Getting Conner to a centered state was much more difficult. It was contradictory that the Rangers strongest in body would also have the strongest mental voices. Very often, “body” type Rangers focused solely on the desire to strengthen the body and ignored exercising their minds. Meditating and achieving perfect stillness of the body was contrary to their nature and impeded the ability to practice this talent. It had taken many long hours of arduous practice to teach Shane how to reach a centered state, but Kanoi didn’t have that kind of time with Conner. He would have to go a different route.

Conner…

I can’t do it! I’ll wreck everything!

His thinking was so similar to Shane’s – it was scary. Conner, relax. I can help if you let me.

Conner stopped berating himself and realized that Kanoi was speaking to him in his head, like he had done earlier. What do I have to do?

Just relax and let me take control. Kanoi was about to explain further, but Conner interrupted with his reply.

Okay.

And just like that, all that was Conner was open to Kanoi. He gave himself over completely to Kanoi’s control – not even Shane had been able to do that initially. The level of trust Conner was displaying was both humbling and frightening. Kanoi literally held Conner’s life in his hands…and Conner was okay with that.

Kanoi took a moment to re-center himself. What Conner offered to him was staggering – not only was Kanoi able to manipulate his thoughts to a centered state, but the power behind the young Dino Ranger was his for the taking.

Once Kanoi had Conner settled, he kept a mental hand on him and addressed the others. We must seek Dr. Oliver. If he is resting or asleep it will be easier to contact him. If he is otherwise engaged he may just ignore us, but we must keep trying. Once he understands what we are trying to do we can make further plans. Follow my lead, Rangers. May the Power protect us.

Chapter Text

Tommy wasn’t wearing a watch so he had no way to determine how long he and Dustin had been in the dank cell they’d been left in. It couldn’t have been more than a few hours, it was probably only late afternoon or early evening, though it seemed much longer to Tommy.

Initially, Tommy had investigated the cell to see if there was any means of escape. Unfortunately for them Mesogog took his dungeons seriously; there wasn’t a crack or chink anywhere in the floor or walls. The only opening was the heavy steel door they’d been escorted through; and since they’d been here, no one had been by to check on them. Tommy wasn’t concerned about himself, he’d gone for longer than this without food or water, but he was concerned about Dustin.

In the hours they’d spent in the cell, Dustin hadn’t roused anywhere close to consciousness. Tommy hadn’t been able to get a single response out of him, though that didn’t surprise him. After what Dustin had been through, his body needed time to recover, but this was not the place for it. What had Tommy worried was that Dustin would go into shock, and the dank, damp cell they were in was not going to help him recover his strength.

It was clear to Tommy immediately that he couldn’t leave Dustin on the floor. So he propped himself up in the corner of the cell farthest from the door, and pulled Dustin across his lap. He pulled Dustin close to his chest and wrapped his arm around Dustin’s shoulders. When Dustin started to shiver, Tommy transferred his shirt to him, hoping the long-sleeved button down would give Dustin a little more warmth than his beach clothes were providing. And that was all he could do. He felt like pounding his head on the wall in frustration.

As the minutes ticked away into hours, Tommy alternated between focusing himself on trying to come up with an escape plan; hoping the other Rangers would somehow figure a way to get them out; and giving as much of his strength and support as he could to Dustin. If Dustin didn’t seem to be any better, at least he didn’t seem any worse.

Tommy pondered the young man in his arms. He’d known Dustin for less than a day, but for some reason, the young man reminded him strongly of Kimberly. They looked nothing alike, even their Ranger colors were different. But there was something about Dustin, something in his nature, which seemed so reminiscent of Kim. It tickled something in the back of Tommy’s mind, but he just couldn’t latch onto it.

Tommy let his thoughts drift away, hoping the connection would come to him on its own if he didn’t try to force it. Thinking of Kim brought other Rangers to mind. And thinking of them reminded him of bad spots he’d been in before… but his team had always pulled through. Actually, now that he was thinking about it, this cell reminded him strongly of Rita’s castle on the moon. Maybe it was just an evil dictator thing – they needed to have fortresses with dank dungeons. Didn’t King Mondo have a weird, dank castle too?

Realizing he had almost started to doze, Tommy snapped his thoughts back to the present. What am I doing? I can’t fall asleep! It’s bad enough that I’ve been sitting still for so long...what if that lizard guy, Fealdor, comes in and I’m sleeping? How would I protect Dustin?

Tommy looked down at Dustin. Did his cheeks have a little more color, or was that just wishful thinking? At least he had stopped shivering; Tommy’s shirt seemed to be doing some good.

Tommy strained his ears, listening for any kind of movement outside the door. Nothing. It concerned him that they’d been left alone so long. If Dustin was as vital to their plans as they’d made out, why had he just been tossed aside? Had the plan failed completely and they’d just been left here to rot? Tommy didn’t think so. He was determined to be prepared when someone returned.

Tommy let his body relax while keeping his mind alert. He decided to run through a kata in his mind that Jason had taught him years before. It always helped him to clear his head, and he found he could think more clearly when he was through. Tommy closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. Dustin’s solid weight and steady breathing helped Tommy to focus. Tommy matched his breathing to Dustin’s, and let himself spiral down into a meditative state.

Tommy found his center easily; his years of martial arts training with Jason and other teachers made meditation almost second nature, though he was seriously out of practice. The trick was going to be remaining alert enough to know if the cell was being approached, while also being able to focus on the kata long enough for it to be effective.

Envisioning the initial movements of the kata, Tommy’s body automatically responded to them. Though he was not physically moving, he focused on the muscle group for each movement. The familiarity and routine of the kata brought Tommy even more into focus. Tommy was surprised as the strong pang of loneliness the old exercise brought out in him; but the feelings that came to mind when he did this exercise could not be denied. There were so many strong memories of Jason and Kim, and all of the other Rangers associated with the kata, and every one seemed to come flooding back to him as he sat trapped in Mesogog’s dungeon.

Suddenly, Tommy was hit with a feeling – like missing a step in a dream when you’re not quite asleep. Tommy’s stomach reacted with a lurch and he realized that it didn’t feel like he was falling, it felt like he was flying. He was no longer burdened by anything; he couldn’t feel Dustin’s weight on his lap, or even his own human body. All he could feel was the strength of his wings and the powerful push of a warm thermal as he flew over an unknown forest.

For a moment Tommy reveled in the feeling of his own power and freedom. It was like nothing he’d ever experienced, but after a few moments he began to wonder why he was experiencing it now. The answer to his question was flying below him and slightly to the right. The figure of a red-banded hawk flew majestically before him. Tommy could sense the crackle of energy in the aura around the hawk, and wondered if he could believe what he was seeing.

White Falcon, the hawk addressed him. Brother, we must speak. Follow me.

Tommy got no sense of deceit or treachery from the red-banded hawk. Instinctively he knew that the hawk, and the voice attached to it, could be trusted. He banked hard to his right and followed the hawk down in a tight spiral to a clearing in the forest below. The expanse of grass near a crystal clear lake looked impossibly green in Tommy’s enhanced falcon vision. The air smelled incredibly clean, and the waterfall trickling down the jutting rock face played soothing counterpoint to the air rushing through the trees around the clearing.

With a powerful backstroke of wings, both the falcon and hawk landed. As Tommy watched, the hawk transformed into a man of slight of stature but imposing in power. Through no volition of his own, Tommy could feel himself changing as well. His own weight and form returned first. He found himself balanced on his left knee and right foot. As he looked up at the stranger, he found himself struggling to keep his balance, as Dustin’s weight and form joined his.

For a brief moment, Tommy was aware of a circle of power that had been raised around him and Dustin; Conner and Shane sat on either side of where the man stood. He could see Tori and Ethan in his peripheral vision on the right and left. And he had no doubt that Kira sat behind him. But the circle was shattered as soon as Shane and Tori caught sight of Dustin. As one they rose and ran to where Tommy cradled Dustin in his arms.

When the Wind Rangers broke the circle, the intense power that had been raised was shattered; though clearly, there was still plenty of power in the air around them. “Oh Dustin…” was Tori’s soft cry as she approached the fallen Yellow Ranger. Her left hand lit delicately on Tommy’s shoulder as with her right she gently touched Dustin’s hair. Tommy had to look away from the exquisite grief etched on her face. Shane, gently yet deliberately, knelt before Tommy. He didn’t have to say anything – Tommy simply gave Dustin over to him. It felt strange to Tommy to be without Dustin’s weight, but if there was one person in the world he’d give him up to, it’d be Shane.

Effortlessly, Shane stood, carrying Dustin as carefully as one would a newborn. Shane’s face was much harder to read, though Tommy felt he was much closer to despair than his expression would reveal. Now unable to look away, Tommy watched the trio move away from the circle. Shane carried Dustin over to a large boulder that was nestled on the edge of the lake across from the waterfall. He seated Dustin against the large rock, as he seated himself facing Dustin. Tori took up her place on Dustin’s other side.

Tommy noticed that Shane and Tori were wearing their ninja outfits, though he would’ve sworn that’s not what they’d been wearing just moments before. Shane reached out and laid his right hand on Dustin’s chest while he took Dustin’s right hand and held it to his own chest. He bowed his head and a swirling red aura began to pulse around him, even as the breeze picked up the dust and leaves to swirl in a gentle vortex around him. Similarly, Tori reached out and laid her left hand on Dustin’s chest and placed Dustin’s left hand over her heart. She reached her right foot, now unclad, to rest in the water of the lake. She too bowed her head and her blue aura sprung up and undulated in waves and eddies around her.

It is a good start.

Startled, Tommy’s attention was drawn back to the man standing before him. Before he could address him, his young teammates bombarded him with their enthusiastic greetings.

“Dr. O.! You’re okay!” Tommy couldn’t even brace himself for impact before Kira grabbed him for a hug from behind. He swung her around to his left side and hugged her back.

“I’m okay Kira.” He smiled at the vivacious young woman at his side; again, he was strongly reminded of Kim.

Ethan didn’t run up for a hug, but he was bounding with excitement. “Dr. O…you have no idea what’s been going on!” Words failed Ethan, but the expression on his face indicated some serious geek-speak was about to ensue.

“How about some introductions first?” With a look, Tommy indicated the man before him.

“This is Sensei Watanabe…the Wind Ranger’s teacher.” Kira stated. “He came to help us.”

“Sensei Watanabe…” Tommy met Kanoi’s eyes. An understanding of respect and equality was shared. Then Tommy’s brow creased in concern. “What’s wrong with Conner? Not that I was expecting a hug…” Conner hadn’t moved from his initial position in the circle. If he didn’t know better, Tommy would say he looked as if he was in a deep meditative state.

“There are many things to discuss, and very little time.” Kanoi stated. “We gathered together to try to reach you – call you with mind speech. Conner had other ideas.”

“Conner had an idea?” interjected Ethan. Kira backhanded him in the arm. Ethan winced, but knew he deserved it.

Kanoi continued. “Conner allowed me to move his mind to a meditative state, and offered me the power at his disposal. When I shared with him what I planned to do, he suggested meeting in a place instead of speaking to you purely in your mind because, as he said, it sort of freaked him out when I did it to him.”

Tommy chuckled. “I can appreciate the sentiment.”

“This clearing is a construct I built because it is familiar to the Wind Rangers. But it is just as good a place for us to meet as well. Right now, Conner is the one holding the construct together, allowing us to talk face to face.” Ethan looked impressed. “Please, share with us what has been happening to you.” Kanoi and the others settled themselves in a loose circle on the ground, including Conner in their arrangement.

In short order, Tommy shared his story, and the Dino Thunder Rangers filled him in on what had been happening on their end. “From what I understand, “ Kanoi was saying, “Mesogog’s fortress is virtually unassailable - he has superior technology and sole control of the invisaportal network.”

Tommy nodded in agreement. “Haley’s good, but every time she cracks a firewall in his defenses, we get shut down by a backup, or another firewall.”

“Then perhaps it is time to fight with something other than technology.” Kanoi stated.

“Secret weapon time, Sensei?” asked Ethan excitedly.

Kanoi nodded indulgently. “I believe, Dr. Oliver, that you have much more power at your disposal than you know.”

Tommy sighed disheartened. “I don’t even have my dino gem. Zeltrax took it off me when we got to the fortress.”

Kanoi shook his head. “You have the power of a Ranger, the power of your team. and the power of your past. It is that power we must call upon now. Just as the Wind Rangers continue to be ninjas, so do you.” Tommy looked startled. “The power of a ninja doesn’t come from a coin or a gem, it comes from within. You never lost it, White Falcon.”

“What are you saying?” Tommy’s face showed confusion, but in his voice was rising hope.

“Mesogog is prepared to counter any technology we have. He is unprepared to battle ninjas. Shane and Tori must to all they can to strengthen and aide Dustin in mind and spirit. You shall continue to protect him in body. But your team, the Ninjetti Rangers, they are the ones we must ask for aide to free you and Dustin before Mesogog’s plan can come to fruition.”

Tommy was staggered by all that Kanoi had implied. Could it be possible? He quickly came to a decision. “If what you say is accurate, then we really might have a fighting chance. I have everyone’s phone number in my phone, though it might take a while to contact everybody…”

“There is a faster way.” Kanoi stated and gestured for Tommy to stand.

Once again, Tommy took up his position in the center of the circle. He stood facing Kanoi, with Ethan on his right and Conner on his left. Kira took her position behind him; Tommy couldn’t see her, but he could feel her presence. It was strange, how much more aware of things he was here. Not so strange, white falcon, once you open your mind.

Conner was right…that does freak me out a little.

Kanoi ignored that comment. Focus your mind, brother. Call to your friends. Seek them with your spirit.

Tommy closed his eyes and pictured his friends. He did spare a fleeting thought for friends who were the original Rangers, but hadn’t been Ninjetti. Oh Jase, boy could I use your help now. Jason’s power, Zak’s energy and enthusiasm as well as Trini’s steadying calm all flashed through his mind before he fully focused on those former Rangers he sought now.

Tommy felt a little self-conscious knowing Sensei Watanabe was able to hear his thoughts, but he shoved that self-serving emotion aside and focused on the task at hand. He pictured each ranger in turn, and found that it helped to see them with their spirit animals: Kim, the pink crane; Billy, the wolf; Rocky, the ape; Aisha, the bear; and Adam, the frog. Tommy smiled – remembering Adam’s consternation when he was chosen by the frog always brought a smile to his face.

Focusing his thoughts, Tommy reached out to his friends, praying they would sense his need. Guys…I need your help. Please, help me. Tommy felt that his plea was ridiculously inept. Before he could berate himself for not composing a more flowery appeal, they began to respond.

Tommy didn’t see anything happening at first, but he thought he felt a change in the presence around him. Whirling, he looked over his shoulder at Kira. Coalescing in the air behind her was a large pink crane. Out of the form of the crane stepped Kimberly wearing a slightly dazed and concerned look. Tommy’s heart leaped in his throat It’s actually working! He bent his thoughts to repeating his plea, drawing more Rangers to this meeting place.

Out of the shadow of the forest behind Ethan appeared the silent blue wolf; Billy stepped forward and raised his hand in a half wave. Tommy nodded his greeting. Aisha, through the form of the yellow bear, appeared behind Kira next to Kim at the same time Rocky stepped out of the red ape behind Conner. All of the new arrivals acknowledged each other without speaking. A few moments passed. A minute. Two. After what felt like an eternity to Tommy, a large black frog coalesced over the lake and hopped behind Ethan. Adam walked forward with an apologetic look on his face.

Tommy let out the breath he didn’t know he’s been holding. “What took you so long?”

Adam smiled self-depreciatingly. “I heard you… calling. I knew something was up, but I was driving home and didn’t want to cause an accident. I had to find a place to pull over and park. I hope I’m not late.” Tommy just shook his head and laughed. Seeing his friends filled him with fierce confidence.

“Tommy” demanded Kim, “what’s wrong?”

“You were ever one to cut to the chase, Kim.”

“Talk about cut…what happened to your hair?” asked Rocky.

Before Tommy could respond, he felt an intense surge of joy…but it hadn’t come from him. Looking at those in the circle around him, Tommy could see the joy reflected in every face; Kira and Kim actually had tears running down their cheeks. As one the Ranger’s looked to the edge of the lake where the Wind Rangers were seated. That was the source of the joy – Dustin had awakened.

Chapter Text

Fealdor tried to walk with confidence into Mesogog’s lab. But the “gift” of Zeltrax’s helmet had shaken him badly. As he was sure it was intended to do. Only with this plan of draining ex-Ranger energy had Fealdor ever gained Mesogog’s notice, and that was the way he always wanted it. Up until now only Elsa and Zeltrax, Mesogog’s faithful lieutenants, had been in his inner circle - targets of his praise and his wrath. Fealdor had always faded into the background, waiting for his opportunity to present a foolproof plan to the Master. But Elsa’s interference had disrupted his strategy; and Zeltrax’s reckless impatience had nearly destroyed all that had been accomplished. Apparently, Zeltrax had paid for that mistake.

Fealdor approached the doors of the lab sick with anticipation. It occurred to him that fleeing might be a good idea, then the motion sensors caused the doors to open on their own, and he had no choice but to enter. Fealdor tried to draw himself up and consciously tried to relax his shoulders, but he couldn’t and they remained hunched as if anticipating a blow.

“Fealdor” rasped Mesogog hidden in shadows on his throne.

Fealdor twitched in response and moved closer. “Yes, my lord?” The shadows enclosing Mesogog moved and Fealdor could see him gesture for him to move closer. Fealdor looked warily at the throne and saw Elsa standing on Mesogog’s left – she looked ill. Almost against his will, Fealdor inched closer until he could see Mesogog clearly.

“What have you to report, Fealdor?” Mesogog asked in a conversational growl, and tilted his head in inquiry.

Fealdor’s heart began to hammer in his chest; all of his reptilian instincts to fight or flee were screaming at him to run. But he was caught in Mesogog’s intense gaze and was compelled to answer.

“My lord, all was not lost when Zeltrax interfered.” That seemed to be the best way to start – share what little good news there was. “The former Yellow Ranger was indeed a phenomenal power source. What was taken from him has been stored and is still viable.”

Fealdor stopped, hoping the limited information would satisfy Mesogog, knowing in his heart that it would not.

“Was it enough?” Mesogog asked in that maddeningly conversational tone.

Fealdor swallowed hard. “No.”

Mesogog tilted his head to the other side and leaned forward in his chair. “What are you going to do about that, Fealdor?”

It was the question he’d been dreading. He’d spent all afternoon in his own lab trying to come up with a solution, but he had nothing. Focus on the Rangers in your possession rather than on the ones you can’t find he told himself.

“We still have the Yellow Ranger…” Fealdor swallowed convulsively again hoping that the boy would live long enough to make another plan feasible. “I think we can…”

“You think?” Mesogog growled. “You think?!” He launched himself out of his throne and advanced on Fealdor. Fealdor rapidly backpedaled until he crashed into a console and had nowhere to go. He held his hands up in a futile warding-off gesture. “I have found that it can be dangerous when those around me start to think.” Mesagog turned whip-quick toward Elsa. “Isn’t that right, Elsa?” he purred.

“Yes, my lord.” was her meek reply.

What is going ON here? Fealdor wondered. He’d never seen Elsa so cowed. Had Zeltrax’s destruction affected her so profoundly?

Mesogog turned his attention back to Fealdor. He dipped his head to the side once more, and shot forward until he was as close as a lover telling an intimate secret. His breath puffed hot and humid in Fealdor’s ear. Fealdor tried not to cringe away. “I’ve decided that not all of my underlings should be able to think for themselves. What do you think of my handiwork, Fealdor?”

From out of a dark corner of the lab, beyond the ruined life-force extractor, a figure stepped forward. Fealdor looked on it with dawning horror, because he recognized it. It was Zeltrax. But he had been …changed.

Mesogog hovered behind Fealdor, placing his hands on his shoulders, not allowing him to move away from the oncoming form. Zeltrax remained unchanged from the neck down – all of his body armor was intact and untouched. As he moved closer, Fealdor could see the changes that had been wrought after the removal of the helmet. He shuddered, but could not look away.

A grotesque parody of the former helmet had replaced the old. It was larger, much larger – so much so that Zeltrax seemed nearly ready to topple because of the imbalance. The larger helmet appeared to be cobbled together and was not enough to fully cover the grossly enlarged head. At some of the seams pink flesh squeezed through, trying to escape the confines of the metal surrounding it. Near the top of the helmet, grey not pink, could be seen, and it made Fealdor nauseous to think what was leaking through there.

Mesogog’s finger’s tightened on Fealdor’s shoulders, and his fetid breath warmed Fealdor’s face. “Now Zeltrax will be the perfect warrior. He will follow every order; be single minded in every mission. No distractions or impulsive displays of emotions because…I will be thinking for him.”

Fealdor wanted to shriek in dismay. Was this what was waiting for him? As if reading his thoughts, Mesogog began to speak. “Now, now Fealdor.” soothed Mesogog artificially, “It would hardly be feasible for me to have to think for all those around me. There is still much work for you to do.”

Fealdor shuddered. Whether it was in relief or horror was hard to determine.

Mesogog released Fealdor. “Get your equipment,” he stated. “It is time to pay our guests a visit.”

Chapter Text

Awareness came slowly to Dustin. He knew he wasn’t dreaming – that involved more linear thought, and what he was experiencing didn’t have much to do with thinking - it was all about feeling. Whatever had happened or was going to happen had no impact on the moment. All awareness, all knowledge, all experience was present in what he was feeling right now. And what he was feeling was ::safe::.

Dustin luxuriated in the feeling for – a moment? – an eternity? – before a new awareness caught his attention. He became conscious of himself, and at the same time aware of others. The feeling of safety was good, but Dustin knew he’d feel even better once he could join with those others. He pondered and let his attentiveness radiate outward from his core. There seemed to be a great distance between where he was and where the others were. He could feel them stronger now, but incredibly distant.

In his place of safety, all was still and black; void, but not threatening. It would be simple to stay here. He could let his awareness recede, back into himself, and ignore the others. It would be easiest to do that. And Dustin knew, if that was the path he chose, he would be forever safe – no pain or fear could threaten him ever again.

The presence of the others called to him, though. As if they wanted to remind him of their presence. They made it clear they didn’t believe receding was an option. They were right, of course. Dustin struggled to move toward the others, but how does a person move in a void? He had no body, no momentum, and no gravity to propel him forward. A brief flare of panic coursed through him – what if the others left him here? Now that he had chosen to join them he didn’t think he could stay here alone.

He looked toward the pulsing light of the others that seemed to beckon him and he could feel their resolve – they would never abandon him. ::Relief:: coursed through his awareness, and it seemed that somehow the others were closer. ::Surprise:: and ::happiness:: propelled him a little more.

So that’s the trick.

Dustin focused his awareness and aimed his emotions at the others like a grappling hook.

::relief::

::need::

::determination::

It wasn’t his imagination or wishful thinking. The others were closer now.

::affection::

::fondness::

::Love::

Whoa! That was a big jump! Love had given him the strongest push so far. Dustin could feel his momentum and as he drew closer he continued to pick up speed. The presence of the others was much clearer now. He could make out individual light surrounding each one. The red light gave him feelings of ::friend:: ::strength:: and ::Love:: The blue light called to him with ::intelligence:: ::determination:: and ::Love::

They both called him ::Brother::

Now that he was close, their feelings joined with his and gave his soul wings. Dustin was overwhelmed with all that these two offered to him, and what he could offer them in return. All that mattered was reaching them, returning to them. He never noticed when his own light returned and steadied in the glow of the others.

Dustin's speed was so fast that the impact with the other two was going to be tremendous. There was no way to stop it, and no reason to want to. He reached out with his spirit to embrace the others and overwhelmed them with his feeling of ::JOY:: when he finally made contact.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dustin’s eyes flew open. His hands seized what was in his grasp and pulled it reflexively closer. Solid. They were solid. Dustin took in a gasping breath and stared to laugh as he pulled Shane and Tori even closer. Shane had fallen across Dustin's chest, and Tori lay on top of them both. Dustin had his arms around the two of them, and all three were laughing in unrestrained joy.

The moment was pure ecstasy. There was no way to differentiate the feeling of one from another. The trio was once again in harmony – balanced. There was no feeling like it, and all three savored it in perfect accord.

That is until Shane’s need for air overpowered his desire to maintain the moment. Still laughing, Shane tried to lever himself up off of Dustin and out from under Tori. “Dude…air…”

Shane squirmed around until he was seated with his back against the rock with Dustin’s arm slung around his shoulders. Tori had chosen to remain pretty much where she was, curled up slightly against Dustin with his left arm around her.

Dustin’s face remained lit with the light of joy he felt rejoining Shane and Tori. When he spoke, he seemed aware only of their presence. “I could feel you guys. You wouldn’t give up…wouldn’t let me give up. I was safe…but that wasn’t as important to me as being back with the two of you.” He tightened his grip on them again, and his voice dropped to a poignant whisper. “I love you guys.”

Neither Tori nor Shane could respond verbally – they just let their emotions speak for themselves, knowing that especially in this place, Dustin would understand that better than anything. Again, a wave of ::joy:: was the response from Dustin.

Slowly the intensity of the moment receded, but Dustin felt deeply that he would always be able to recall it and draw upon the strength the reunion had given him.

Dustin looked around to see where they were, and he recognized it. “We’re home?” He craned his neck to look beyond the rock he was leaning against to see the waterfall crashing into the lake behind them. “You brought me home?” Shane and Tori could feel his question reinforced with all of the emotions associated with ::home::

“Not exactly, Dustin.” Kanoi explained as he moved forward to join the three Wind Rangers.

“Sensei!” Dustin’s ::relief:: and ::happiness:: at seeing Sensei was a little overwhelming to Tori and Shane. Kanoi knelt near Dustin’s feet and placed a hand on his leg.

“Dustin, can you feel Shane and Tori’s discomfort?” Kanoi asked.

Dustin’s brows creased as he processed what Kanoi had asked, then he immediately dialed down his emotional output. The other Wind Rangers let out involuntary sighs as Dustin’s volume decreased. “Sorry guys, I didn’t realize…” Dustin looked distressed, but Kanoi calmed him.

“It is a new gift you are learning to control, Dustin. Adjustments have to be made.”

Adjustments went out the window when Dustin looked up and realized they were not alone. In this place it was easy to tell that though they were strangers to him, every new person was an old Ranger. ::AWE:: at the realization that he was surrounded by Rangers was quickly channeled into ::Concern:: when he spotted Tommy.

“Dr. O!” Dustin called, and struggled to get to his feet. Shane and Tori kept him seated, but Tommy quickly came over alleviate the need for Dustin to move. He hunkered down in front of where the Wind Rangers were seated.

“It’s okay, Dustin. I’m fine. We both are, for now.” Tommy turned to look at Kanoi. “So what do we do now?”

“I believe the key to defeating Mesogog is the Ninjetti Rangers.” Kanoi began.

“Mesa – who?” asked Rocky. Aisha shushed him.

“There is much to explain, and very little time. I do not believe Conner can hold this construct together much longer. The additional minds and energy are becoming too much for him to handle.”

Kira gasped and rushed to Conner’s side. Ethan looked concerned, but didn’t seem to be able to figure out how he could help. So he hovered near Conner though Conner looked just as calm and relaxed as when they’d first arrived.

“Now that Shane and Tori have called Dustin back, they are reconnected and will be able to help sustain him if Dustin is attacked again. But we must seek to free you both before that happens.”

“Guys," Tommy stood and turned to address the Ninjetti Rangers who had gathered silently in a group between the Wind and Dino Rangers. “I know this is strange…but we’ve been through weird stuff before.” Rocky snorted but said nothing aloud. “I need your help again. I know if we work together…if we all work together we can get through this and defeat Mesogog.”

Billy shook his head and clasped Tommy’s shoulder. “Tommy, you don’t even have to ask.” Kim moved to stand on Tommy’s other side and took his hand. Instinctively, the Ninjetti Rangers drew themselves into a circle, clasping hands. As they stood together they could feel the long-slumbering Power well up within them. Kimberly whispered, “May the Power protect us.”

Without warning the landscape lurched beneath their feet. Rocky kept Aisha and Adam from falling, as Tommy stabilized Billy and Kim. “What was that?” Tommy demanded.

Kanoi rushed to Conner’s side. “We must leave this place, before Conner loses the ability to sustain it.” He turned to address the Ninjetti. “If you are able to help us, make whatever arrangements you need to and call Dr. Oliver’s house. Once you are ready we can transport you to Reefside.”

Aisha, Rocky and Adam nodded in understanding. Simultaneously they vanished. Billy touched Tommy again on his shoulder and raised an eyebrow at him, “What was it you guys used to say… back to action?” With a wink he was gone as well.

Tommy was left standing with Kim, and he realized he was still holding her hand. “Kim…”

The ground shifted beneath their feet again, this time more violently. Kim released Tommy’s hand and took a step away. “See you soon…” She vanished as well.

Shane and Tori had gotten Dustin to his feet. They steadied him as they walked over to Tommy. Tori let Tommy slide in where she was standing so he could hold him up with Shane. “Wind Rangers” Kanoi called. “We must leave.”

Shane and Tori both looked pained, but Dustin reassured them. “It’s not leave, guys. You’re still here with me.” He placed a hand over his heart. “Go, make sure Conner is safe.” They nodded their assent and turned to walk away. “And hey, “ Dustin called after them, “I want to you tell me everything about those new Rangers…” They laughed, but by the time they turned back, Tommy and Dustin were gone.

A violent tremor shook the landscape once more. “Hurry Rangers!” Kanoi called. “We must leave!” Shane and Tori ran to where the others had already situated themselves in their circle with Conner as the anchor. As soon as they were settled, awareness shifted. They were back in Dr. O's lab, and they were not alone.

Chapter Text

Ethan’s eyes popped open and he scanned the lab from his position on the floor. Cam and Haley were engrossed, standing by the bank of computer consoles in the main part of the room. Seated behind and between Tori and Kira was a young man with dark hair and tawny skin, wearing navy accented motocross clothing. Although he wasn’t part of their circle, he looked as though he was also meditating. Pacing behind Shane, Sensei Watanabe and Conner was a tall, blonde guy wearing clothing very much like the guy who was seated, but with crimson accents. Ethan knew immediately who they were – Blake and Hunter, the Navy and Crimson Rangers.

Ethan watched as the others in the circle came back to awareness. Tori and Kira both looked serene; when Tori opened her eyes, she immediately looked behind her, as if she knew Blake was waiting there. Before a word was spoken, his eyes opened as well, and he gave her a welcoming smile. She scooted back as he scooted forward, and Tori grabbed him in an enthusiastic hug. Ethan caught Kira’s eye and they grinned at each other.

Shane was the next to rouse. He blinked and rubbed at his eyes, and then he uncrossed his legs and stretched them out in front of him. Watching Shane made Ethan aware that he’d been sitting on the floor for a long time. He shifted to find a more comfortable position, and the aches that accompanied the movement made him wonder just how long they’d been sitting on the floor.

Sensei Kanoi stirred. The movement caught Ethan’s eye, and he felt a growing concern that Conner hadn’t moved at all. Not one inch. And Conner wasn’t one for sitting still. Kira had gotten to her feet and walked over to hunker down between Ethan and Conner. She looked as though she wanted to reach out to him, but was afraid to disturb whatever was going on between him and Sensei.

“Do you think he’s okay?” Kira whispered, as if speaking too loudly would give weight to her worries.

“I’m sure he is,” answered Ethan in an equally low tone, “or he will be…” Both Dino Rangers watched Sensei Watanabe intently, as did Hunter who had paused in his pacing behind the Red Dino Ranger. Kanoi reached out a hand and placed it on Conner’s head – it looked almost like he was giving a benediction. With a deep sigh, Conner opened his eyes. Kanoi moved back a bit, allowing Conner the room he needed to execute a joint popping stretch. Ethan considered that his own aches and pains were nothing compared to what Conner was apparently feeling.

With a groan, Conner stretched out his legs in front of him and flexed his toes; then he reached forward and grabbed them. After holding this pose for a moment, he released his feet and reaching his arms over his head, arched his back. The backward movement carried him to the floor, where he let his arms relax. Then his eyes rolled back into his head, and every muscle in his body went slack.

Hunter reacted immediately; Shane was only a moment behind. Both the former Crimson and Red Rangers reached out to Conner, but seemed at a loss for what to do for him.

Alarmed, Kira reached for him as well, and this time did not hold herself back. “Conner!” she called. She grabbed his forearm and shook it hard but got no response. Kira’s distress attracted the attention of the others. The small group gathered around the unconscious Red Ranger.

Kanoi hastened to reassure them. “Do not fear, Rangers. Conner is not injured, merely exhausted. What was a dream for us was like running a marathon for him. He needs to rest, but he will be fine.”

“Are you sure, Sensei?” asked Kira. She was more disturbed by seeing Conner in a complete state of vulnerability than she was able to express.

“I am sure, Yellow Ranger.” Kanoi turned his attention to Hunter. “Can you move him to the couch, Hunter? He will be more comfortable there than on the floor.”

“Sure, Sensei.” Hunter looked relieved that someone had given him a job.

“I can help.” Shane offered, but when he shifted his weight to get to his knees he fought unsuccessfully to maintain his balance. Kanoi firmly pushed him back to a seated position. “Though Conner did the lion’s share of the work, you were fundamental as well, Shane. You too need to rest. Hunter can take care of Conner.”

Ethan struggled to hide a pang of resentment as Hunter gathered up Conner and moved him to the couch. Not that he would have been able to lift Conner by himself, or make it look half as easy as Hunter did, but Kanoi didn’t even ask. Conner was his teammate; he should’ve been the one to help.

Almost immediately, Ethan’s common sense took over. Hunter was easily as tall as Conner, and broader, whereas Ethan was shorter and would’ve had trouble maneuvering his taller teammate. Also, as Hunter was a body type of Ranger – at least that’s what Ethan assumed – he probably was stronger than your average guy, and able to lift Conner’s weight. Instead of being resentful, Ethan knew he should be grateful for Hunter’s help, and once he thought it through he was appreciative.

The gathered Rangers watched silently as Hunter settled Conner on the couch. It was as if they were waiting to make sure he was settled before they could move forward. Just as Hunter turned back to the group, and Kanoi opened his mouth to speak, Ethan’s watch started beeping.

“Wha…?” Ethan looked down at his wrist with uncomprehendingly. Then he jumped to his feet in a panic. “Oh man! Oh man! Have we been out of it for that long?! Kira, we are so dead!”

Kira jumped to her feet as well. “Ethan, what’s wrong?”

“That beep! That’s the emergency you-were- on- the-computer-too-long-and-you’ll-be-late-for-first-period beep.” Kira just stared at Ethan as if he was speaking Klingon.

Ethan started looking around frantically while keeping up his panicked commentary. “That’s the alarm I set for Monday mornings because I’m always up too late on Sunday night. If I sleep through the other alarms, the two clocks and my mom yelling, that beep gets me up because I know there’s no time left!” He snatched his backpack off the ground near where Tori and Blake were watching him with wide eyes. “We’ve been a little busy this weekend and I never finished that assignment Mr. Post gave us in History, so I’ll have detention, and what if something happens…with Dr. O and Conner out of commission, what are we going to do?” Ethan was so worked up he couldn’t figure out how to work the straps on his backpack.

“First of all, you need to relax,” stated Haley as she plucked the backpack out of Ethan’s hand and put it on the floor.

“Haley? School.” Duh was Ethan’s implied tone as he tried to snatch the bag back from Haley.

“Not today.” Haley smiled with satisfaction. “It’s a snow day.”

Kira looked incredulous. “Snow day? In Reefside? On the coldest day in January it barely gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit…and it’s June.”

Haley shrugged, “Figure of speech. Let’s just say school’s been cancelled. You and Ethan can stay here with no worries about being late, absent or missing anything.”

Ethan looked at Haley with some suspicion, but he was intrigued. “What did you do?”

Haley had the grace to look a little uncomfortable under Ethan’s scrutiny. “Well I knew that it was unlikely that we’d get Tommy and Dustin back before you had to go to school. And I knew we’d need you here. But there was no way we’d be able to convince your parents you’d need a day off – not without Tommy to invent a “field trip” for you guys to go on.”

“But what did you do?” Ethan persisted, nearly squeaking with excitement.

“According to the California Code of Regulation – Title 19, chapter …well you get the idea…” Haley actually seemed flustered. Cam, ever the gentleman, stepped in to help her out. “We shut down the fire alarm system. Without it, they can’t open the school.”

Kira’s jaw dropped. Ethan’s eyes started to glow, fascinated by the idea of engineering his own “snow day”. “Ethan…” stated Haley warningly, as she switched moods from embarrassed to determined. “Don’t get any ideas! This was an extreme emergency. And any day you get off now you have to make up later. So don’t fool around unless you still want to been in school in August.”

“No, of course not.” But it was plain to see, Ethan was lost in his own mind. He wandered away from the group, absentmindedly picking up his backpack and ambling over toward Conner.

Kira watched him go then turned back toward Haley. “Not to add any fuel to the fire…” she dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “but what if we need another “snow day” tomorrow?”

“We take out the plumbing.” Cam answered deadpan.

Kira looked at him not sure if she could take him seriously or not. Then she just raised her eyebrows in agreement and walked over to see if she could talk some sense into Ethan.

The Wind and Thunder Rangers gathered with Sensei Watanabe, Cam and Haley near the computer bank. Kanoi quickly filled Cam and Haley in on the information they had exchanged with Tommy, and the plan to involve the Ninjetti Rangers.

“It’s brilliant, Father.” Cam shook his head, but his expression was full of admiration.

Haley agreed. “We’ve focused so long on attempting to beat Mesogog through increasing technology…I can only imagine that that’s the only avenue he sees as a threat. And all of these Rangers are willing to help?” Kanoi didn’t even have to respond. Haley could see something on the faces of the Rangers around her. This mission wasn’t just about saving Dustin and Tommy. It was about Rangers helping Rangers – no matter how long ago they served the Power.

A shrilly ringing telephone was the only answer Haley needed. She jogged upstairs to grab the portable phone. Kanoi turned to Cam, “Is the teleporter ready, son?”

“Yes, that’s how Blake and Hunter got here. Once the other Rangers start to call in, they can give me their locations. I should be able to pinpoint their energy signatures fairly quickly. Ninjas who were also Rangers have unique energy signatures, which will help.” Kanoi nodded his understanding then removed himself from the immediate area. He knew from long experience that Cam did not like to be crowded while he worked. This work was for the young people – he would have his own tasks to do in the days ahead.

Chapter Text

Kanoi chose to remove himself from the main section of the lab, finding a spot off to the side, but with a vantage point of the whole room. The main computer bank was off to his right; the "seating area" currently occupied by the Dino Rangers was off to his left. The entrance from Dr. Oliver's residence to the lab was directly before him. Kanoi settled himself in a meditative pose on the floor, knowing that his former students and Rangers would be hesitant to approach him unless there was a dire emergency.

As adamantly as he would to refuse to admit it, the evening's activities had taken a lot out of him. He hadn't been called upon to use this level of ninja skills since his battle with Lothor. And though Cam might see through the serene facade, he would not say anything to undermine his father's projection of confidence and competency. Kanoi needed to rejuvenate himself in spite of the massive outpouring of energy Conner had contributed to the dream construct.

The Rangers, while engaged in other pursuits, would most likely respect his desire to be alone as long as he appeared to be meditating But the need to gather his resources was not the only reason Kanoi had removed himself from the main group. Kanoi was also using the time as an opportunity to observe the Rangers. He needed to see how they interacted; get a feel for how they worked together. So when he rejoined the group to help formulate a plan of action, he would have a little understanding of how best to organize the attack.

Kanoi deliberately cultivated the impression of knowing more than he did – he let the others chalk it up to his age and experience. In reality, much of his “knowledge” came from knowing his students well, and allowing them to work to their strengths. It made no sense for him to attempt to do anything computer related; Cam was far more suited to those tasks - Kanoi was not. His strength lay in his ability to “see” where the talents of others would be put to the best use, and to guide them in the growth of their skills.

With this in mind, Kanoi discreetly turned his attention to the Dino Rangers. Ethan had settled on the floor, leaning against the couch where Conner lay sleeping. He unpacked his backpack, scattering the contents in a rough semi-circle around him. He had disengaged his laptop from the bag and was busy connecting wires to it. Kira joined him on the floor facing the couch, but she was more interested in Conner than Ethan’s laptop.

While untangling the power cords that had been knotted in his backpack, Ethan kept up a low-tone monologue. He was not speaking loudly, but with only a little effort, Kanoi could hear the Dino Ranger’s conversation.

“A snow day…in June. This is so sick! Fire alarms…why didn’t I ever think of that? The sprinklers were good, but if I could pull this off I’d go down in the hacker Hall of Fame!”

Kanoi was a little disturbed by the obsessive tone in Ethan’s voice and thought that he might have to intervene, when the “heart” of the group did it for him.

Without taking her attention from Conner even to look in Ethan’s direction, Kira asked, “Do you think we can help him?” She let the question hang there knowing that Ethan would need a moment to switch gears. But she was patient; she knew he would come around.

“What? Who?” Ethan asked distractedly. His eyes were still glued to his computer screen.

Kira inched forward until her knee bumped Ethan’s leg, disturbing the balance of the computer on his lap. He was about to snap at her until he saw the expression on her face. She was still deeply worried about Conner, no matter that Sensei Kanoi had reassured them that he was going to be okay. Ethan flushed guiltily. His excitement over the “snow day” had overcome his concern for his teammate. He turned his attention to Conner.

Conner was still unconscious and hadn’t moved from the position Hunter had placed him on the couch. He lay on his back, his long legs hanging over the arm of the couch closest to Ethan. And though Ethan couldn’t really explain it, it didn’t look to him as though Conner was having a restful sleep. A glance at Kira was all he needed to confirm that this was what had been bothering her all along.

“Do you think we can do for Conner what Shane and Tori did for Dustin…or something like it? I mean, I know we’re not ninjas but, we’re our own triangle, right?” Kira asked hopefully.

Ethan shifted the laptop carefully to the floor and turned to face Kira. “I don’t see why not. We are Rangers, and the Dino gems are connected. We are our own triangle…but what does that make Dr. O.?” Ethan’s voice trailed off as he examined that train of thought. Kira shifted so she was facing Ethan, and crossed her legs until they were sitting knee to knee. Kira snaked her hand under Conner’s right arm until she had wrapped it around his wrist. Ethan simply reached out and laid his right hand on the hand Kira was holding. Then they reached out their free hands to each other.

A moment passed, and then Ethan asked. “What are we supposed to do?”

“I think we just need to think of Conner and lend him our strength,” was Kira’s response. She squeezed Ethan’s hand in encouragement, then closed her eyes. Ethan mimicked her actions and fell silent.

Kanoi looked on with pride. The Dino Rangers showed considerable resilience in the face of the many challenges they had encountered in the past day. And the fact that they were so quick to absorb the things they had learned from himself and the Wind Ninjas and apply it to their own lives was nothing short of amazing. I suppose that is why those who are Rangers are so young…they are the most adaptable, they do it as naturally as breathing.

Kanoi focused on his own breathing for a few moments. His own meditation brought to mind how they had begun their group meditation earlier. It had surprised him how flexible the Dino Rangers had been and how willing they’d been to listen to him. Conner in particular was unexpected. Never in all his years as a student and then a teacher at the Wind Ninja Academy had Kanoi experienced what had happened with Conner. The boy was a complete novice at meditation, yet had been able to utterly open his mind to Kanoi and hand over control. Most people had a natural defensiveness against allowing others to see their minds that exposed; it took months, sometimes years to develop a rapport strong enough to support the level of sharing that Conner instinctively assumed. He was a puzzle.

Allowing his attention to drift while maintaining his meditative pose, Kanoi turned his attention to the other Rangers in the lab. Instinctively the Rangers had paired off, each finding the place where he was most needed. Cam was working untiringly at the bank of computers, listening to directions given by Haley who was talking on the phone and typing simultaneously. Kanoi felt a surge of pride for his son. Though he had feared losing Cam in the fight against Lothor, it was clear that he was always meant to be a Ranger.

Shane and Hunter had found a place to sit in a niche near the house entrance to the lab. Hunter instinctively stayed physically close to Shane giving support to a fellow red and “body” type Ranger. In the past, Shane might have misinterpreted Hunter’s proximity as a challenge, but now he knew better. He was grateful for Hunter’s support, and better for it. They spoke in low tones – Shane outlining what had occurred in the attack on the beach; Hunter asking probing questions about the enemy they had faced, in order to prepare for the eventual fight. Kanoi was pleased to hear Shane share with Hunter about Ranger “types”. It wasn’t that far in the past when Shane wouldn’t have been so forthcoming with the Crimson Ranger. Kanoi was glad to see the level of trust the two Rangers now shared.

Tori and Blake had found a place for themselves as well. Though the Dino Rangers occupied most of the “seating area”, the two former blue Rangers had dragged a well worn and supremely comfortable loveseat off to the side and settled themselves on it. In spite of the circumstances, Tori looked the happiest Kanoi had seen her in quite some time. The knowledge that Dustin was safe, and the comfort of Blake’s arms was all that she needed at the moment to be totally content.

The two rangers sat quietly for a while, enjoying each other’s company. Tori had curled up, cradled in Blake’s arms and leaning against his chest. It didn’t surprise Kanoi that Blake was the first to speak, after all, he was the “heart” of his own triangle. “I’ve missed you so much, Tor.” He spoke softly into her hair as he absently played with the long strands wrapped around his fingers.

Tori snuggled closer. “I’ve missed you too. More than you know.”

Blake sighed deeply. “Do you think we can get Cam to teleport me home on the weekends or something? I can’t believe we never thought of that before.” He paused as he considered what to say, but Kanoi didn’t miss Tori’s misty eyes as Blake equated her with home. “This seeing you every couple of months and chatting in texts is killing me. It’s not enough. I need you, Tori, not your picture or screen name.”

Kanoi was glad to hear Blake express himself so forthrightly. Tori tended to mull over and dissect their relationship. Without seeing him for so long, she tended to allow uncertainties to creep into her thinking. Not that she ever doubted Blake’s faithfulness to their relationship, but she did allow herself to wonder if his exciting life of racing made her placid life of teaching unappealing to return to. Though Blake reassured her repeatedly in e-mail and on the phone, it just wasn’t the same as hearing it from him in person.

“Cam did say that the teleporter works best with former Rangers. Since it won’t work with the general public, why let it go to waste?” She grinned delighted, pondering the possibility of seeing Blake much more often. Then she pushed away from him so she could sit up and look him in the face. Kanoi saw her hesitate – not because she didn’t want to express how she was feeling, but because it did not come as easily to her as it did to Blake.

Tori slid her hand into Blake’s, and gazed at his face as she spoke as if she was trying to memorize it. “I need you too, Blake. I’ve missed you so terribly.” Tori’s eyes filled with tears, “I love having you here…but I hate the fact that it’s this horrible emergency that’s brought us together.”

“I know, Tor.” Blake responded immediately, scooting closer to her to wrap her in a gentle embrace. “But now that we know we can teleport…well we’ll just sic Hunter on Cam until he has no choice but to give in to our every demand.”

Tori chuckled into Blake’s shoulder. The image of Hunter hounding Cam around Ninja Ops struck her as exceedingly funny. Her laugh made Blake start to laugh as well, and he continued. “Can you just see it? Cam will write up a schedule…’be at the coordinates by six o’clock Blue Bay Harbor time…I don’t care what time it is in you’re part of the world. Do you think I’m going to get up at 2:00am just to be your travel agent?’”

Blake’s dead on impersonation of Cam had Tori giggling uncontrollably. Kanoi had to admit to himself that Blake had Cam’s “voice” down just right. Blake joined in with Tori’s laughter, and when their giddiness ebbed, they looked at each other again. Blake gently touched Tori’s face, she leaned into his touch. “We’ll make this work, Tor. We’ll make it better. I promise.” As he sealed his vow with a kiss, Kanoi turned his attention away, allowing for as much privacy as the two could get in such an open room.

Though the time he had taken for meditation and observation was not long, Kanoi felt much more centered and grounded than he had just a short time ago. Cam’s call of “Here they come!” got his attention. As three beams of red, yellow and black light lit the center of the lab, Kanoi climbed to his feet to meet the new arrivals.

Chapter Text

Elsa watched as Mesogog and Fealdor left the main lab with Zeltrax following like a well trained puppy. Maybe Frankenstein’s puppy… she amended to herself. Just watching Zeltrax’s retreating back made Elsa nauseous all over again. Never before had Mesogog punished one of them so irreversibly. She didn’t know what made Mesogog take such drastic action – was it purely to punish Zeltrax, or was there a message in it for herself and Fealdor?

Elsa counted herself lucky not to have been involved in the fiasco with the life force extractor. But now she was at something of a loss. Obviously Mesogog meant to pursue the plan Fealdor had laid out. Even now they were going down to the cell where the Rangers were being held. And she had been left out. She hated second and triple guessing herself, but the situation with Zeltrax made it clear that she was not able to anticipate what Mesogog was thinking. Should she follow them down to the dungeon? Should she remain in the lab? And do what? she thought bitterly to herself.

Ever since Mesogog had given her new life and a new name; ever since she gratefully called him Master, Elsa had made herself valuable to his cause. She was not necessarily smarter than Zeltrax, but she was slicker. She was able to turn even bad situations to her advantage. She had to figure out a way to turn this one, or when they were through it would be Fealdor sitting at Mesogog’s right hand, not her. And after all this time, Elsa was not about to go down without a fight.

Predicting that the others would have to make a side trip to Fealdor’s lab, Elsa caught up with them in the hallway heading down to the cell. She said nothing, willing for the time being to be silent and observe. Now was not the time for impulsivity. Fealdor was so nervous Elsa could smell the stink of his anxiety though she walked a number of paces behind. She could almost feel sorry for him if he weren’t so damned pathetic. There was no way she would lose her place beside Mesogog to such a sniveling weakling.

The clanking of the cell door brought Elsa’s focus back to the task at hand. She was the last to enter the room, and stationed herself close to the doorway. The smell of a human was bad enough, but the smell of two humans who’d been locked in a room for a day was so much worse. Not wanting to appear weak, Elsa struck an aggressive pose in the doorway, as if preparing to prevent an escape.

She was somewhat surprised to see both rangers on their feet. Dr. Oliver was, not surprisingly, positioned protectively in front of the boy. But the fact that the boy was even conscious, let alone standing, seemed to be a testament to his recuperative Ranger powers.

Fealdor advanced on the pair with his scanner. “This is amazing…just amazing.” Tommy eyed Fealdor warily as he got closer, but since he didn’t seem to be armed with anything more than his scanner, he let him pass. Dustin flinched visibly when Fealdor waved the wand of the scanner too close to his face. Tommy put out a hand to steady him.

Elsa couldn’t understand it – even under these dire circumstances, Tommy carried himself like he was the one in charge. His protectiveness toward the boy was touching, if in her opinion, misguided. There was no way he would be able to prevent Mesogog from draining the boy dry, and once he did, Tommy Oliver would be a historical footnote. Yet he persisted in his role as protector, and stood implacably before Mesogog as though he wore a cloak of power around him.

Neither Mesogog nor Tommy spoke. The only sound in the room was Fealdor muttering to himself as he calculated the readings on the scanner. Mesogog finally grew impatient. “What have you to report, Fealdor?” Both Tommy and the boy looked warily at the lizard-man.

“My Lord, the boy has recovered much more quickly than I anticipated. It must have something to do with his Ranger powers. I need…”

Mesogog cut him off. He motioned to Zeltrax, “Take him. Leave Dr. Oliver here.” Without hesitation Zeltrax moved forward. Tommy moved to intercept him. Elsa could see his eyes go wide as he got his first good look at Zeltrax’s “improvements”. In the small quarters, Tommy had very little room to maneuver as he was already backed into the corner with Dustin behind him. Perhaps Tommy was expecting banter or something preliminary to the fight giving him a little more time to formulate a plan, but Zeltrax wasted no time. He simply grabbed Tommy by the shirt and threw him against the wall. Before Tommy could gain his feet, Zeltrax had grabbed Dustin by this throat, lifted him off his feet, and headed for the door.

“Stop!” Tommy yelled. He watched as Dustin struggled ineffectively against Zeltrax’s grip. Elsa moved in to intercept Tommy, keeping him at bay with her sword

“My Lord, stop him!” implored Fealdor. “The boy can’t take that kind of damage.”

“Zeltrax,” stated Mesogog, obviously pleased with the immediacy of his minion’s response. “put the boy down.” Zeltrax stopped moving immediately and released Dustin. Dustin landed hard and couldn’t keep his feet under him. He crashed to the floor hitting his head on the wall in the process. He groaned softly in response. Elsa chuckled at the look of panic on Tommy’s face.

Fealdor gasped with alarm. He ran over and began to scan Dustin again. “Just a few moments…and so much energy already lost.” Dustin sat looking dazed. “My Lord,” Fealdor began, “as I tried to say before, I need more time to assess how to help the boy recover his power. Even this encounter with Zeltrax has taxed him more than it should.” Fealdor looked over his shoulder trying to get a read on how Mesogog was taking his comments. As he swung around to address Mesogog, the scanner pointed away from Dustin toward Tommy. The energy spike that caused got Fealdor’s attention.

Getting to his feet, Fealdor approached Tommy. Elsa didn’t see what good that would do; it wasn’t Tommy’s energy they needed. Fealdor said nothing as he swung the scanner back and forth between Tommy and Dustin. After a moment he demanded of Tommy, “Help him up.”

Tommy needed no encouragement and shouldered between Fealdor and Elsa. Elsa rolled her eyes as Tommy asked Dustin with concern, “Are you alright?”

Dustin nodded in response, and then realized that was a bad idea. “Alright as I can be.”

Fealdor watched the readings on his scanner intently as Tommy gave Dustin a hand up. “Now walk over there.” Fealdor pointed across the cell where he wanted Tommy to go. Dustin propped himself up against the wall without Tommy’s support to keep him upright.

“They’re connected…” Fealdor didn’t seem to be speaking to anyone in particular. Then he turned his attention to Mesogog. “My Lord, I don’t understand how…but the boy seems to be drawing strength from the Black Ranger. The closer they are, the more energy that is transferred. We cannot separate them – the boy will recover much more quickly if the Black Ranger is present.”

“Is that so?” rasped Mesogog. “Then it seems that you both will be getting better accommodations.” Mesogog reached out to Dustin and ran a scaly finger down his arm. “After all, the quicker you recover Yellow Ranger, the quicker I will drain you dry.”

Tommy strode back across the room, interposing himself between Dustin and Mesogog. “I guess you’ll still have to deal with me for a while.” he stated challengingly.

“Not as long as you think, Dr. Oliver.” Mesogog spat back. “You’ve got twenty-four hours, Fealdor. Do what you can to increase the boy’s energy. Tomorrow morning we put him in the Energy Chamber.”

Chapter Text

Standing in the center of the lab were three of the Ninjetti Rangers Tommy had called in the dream construct. The two young men flanked the shorter, young woman. Though it had been many years since they held Ranger powers, their clothing still reflected their color associations. Kanoi considered that it might have more to do with their long-slumbering ninja power than a preference for a closet full of clothing in all the same shade

The young woman was dressed in white Capri pants and a yellow print shirt with an African flavor. A yellow woven belt worn low on her hips accented her trim figure. The Asian man was striking, dressed in black from head to toe: from his jeans to his t-shirt to his cropped black hair.
The Hispanic young man in blue jeans and a red work shirt over a white t-shirt was the first to make a move. He smiled engagingly as he looked around for a familiar face, and settled on Kanoi. “Hi!” He allowed his gaze to sweep over those who had gathered, but he continued to move toward the older man with his hand outstretched. “I’m Rocky, Rocky DeSantos.”

Kanoi grasped his hand warmly; unsurprised that this young man would seek physical contact with the one he perceived as the leader of the group right off the bat. Though the young man did not yet understand that he was still connected to his Ninjetti powers, confidence and determination exuded from him, as though they had never been lost. It made Kanoi wonder what these young people had chosen to do with their lives, and if they were influenced by the power they thought they had had to leave behind.

Rocky turned back and with a sweep of his hand indicating his friends, introduced them as well. “This is Aisha Campbell and Adam Park. We’ve sort of met…well we’ve met some of you anyway.”

Kanoi bowed toward Adam and Aisha, welcoming them, and including Rocky who had moved to stand with them again. Kanoi quickly introduced the others who had assembled near the computer bank; giving names to those who they’d seen briefly in the dream, and introducing the others. They exchanged greetings with the Wind and Thunder ninjas as well as Haley.

Before the Ninjetti could bring up what was surely on their minds, Kanoi stated, “I am sure you have many questions, but I would like to suggest that we wait to discuss our current situation until the others have arrived.”

Adam and Aisha nodded, but Rocky spoke up anyway. “Where are the kids?” He let out a whoof as Aisha jabbed him in the ribs. “’Sha!” he complained, rubbing his side. “That kid, the one in red…he wasn’t doing so well when we “left”. Is he okay?”

Aisha, regretting her impulsive jab, threaded her arm around Rocky’s waist and patted his side conciliatorily. “The Dino Rangers…yes, they are over there.” Kanoi pointed beyond where Tori and Blake were standing to the couch where Conner was sleeping. “Conner is the Red Ranger, he is doing much better.”

“He does look better,” mumbled Hunter under his breath. Kira and Ethan hadn’t moved since taking up their positions to lend their strength to Conner, but Conner had. He’d curled onto his side, facing Kira and Ethan, and he appeared to be having a much more restful sleep.

“Kira is the Yellow Dino Ranger, and Ethan is Blue. I am sure we will have time for more formal introductions later.” Kanoi continued.

“It’s pretty early, and I know none of us have had a chance to eat. What do you say we go raid Tommy’s kitchen. At the very least, we can make some coffee.” Haley suggested.

All of the Rangers agreed heartily. Cam stayed in the lab, monitoring the situation and waiting for calls from the other Ninjetti Rangers. The Dino Rangers were left undisturbed as it appeared that they were helping Conner. But Haley made a mental note to make sure she saved breakfast for them.

~

The Rangers descended on Tommy’s spacious and airy kitchen. There was a large, inviting table where Blake, Tori, Hunter and Shane seated themselves. Aisha and Adam perched on stools at the butcher block island in the center of the kitchen. Rocky and Haley busied themselves getting the meal together. Haley privately thanked whatever higher being had motivated Tommy to recently stock his kitchen. Maybe it was the fact that the Dino Rangers spent so much time raiding his fridge, but he was much better supplied than he ever was in grad school.

Kanoi took a position near the table, watching the Rangers, much like he had in the lab. He learned a lot about the Ninjetti Rangers as they became acquainted with his own team of rangers; the more he learned, the more confident he became that not only would they be able to rescue Tommy and Dustin, but they would have a good chance to defeat their foe completely.

“You know,” Aisha teased Rocky as he inspected the drawers to find the utensils he needed, “there was a time not that long ago when we wouldn’t have let you near a kitchen.”

“Not unless it was to find anything other than cereal or a box of cookies.” Adam added.

“Yes, but that was before I worked in the firehouse. Now, I am a master chef!” Rocky stated grandly.

“You’re a firefighter?” Tori asked, interested.

“Firemen cook?” asked Blake simultaneously.

Rocky nodded as he began to whisk eggs in a large bowl. “Yup. I think it was the red trucks that appealed to me…I just can’t seem to get away from the color.” He smiled self-depreciatingly. “And I’ve spent a lot of time at the station waiting for calls learning how to cook at the hands of some great guys. Now I can make a lot more than smoothies.”

“Red trucks weren’t all that appealed to you,” Aisha interjected, “you needed to find a job where you could climb stuff and rescue people.” She paused and looked at Adam. There was a silent exchange, they grinned and then they burst out simultaneously, “LADDER MONKEY!”

Rocky pointedly ignored them as he poured the egg mixture into the heated frying pan, and turned to the group at the table. “I’ll be feeding you folks, but I don’t know what my friends here are going to eat.”

“C’mon Rock…you know you can’t let us starve.” Adam gave Rocky the puppy dog look. Aisha propped her chin on her steepled hands and exaggeratedly batted her eyelashes at him. Rocky could not withstand the onslaught. He turned back to the stove muttering in a sotto voice, “I’m best friends with a frog and dating a bear. There’s no hope for me.”

The Rangers at the table clearly did not understanding the comments that were being made. Aisha chuckled at their confused expressions. “When we were given the Ninjetti Ranger powers, each of us was chosen by a spirit animal. Rocky’s is the ape, mine is the bear, and Adam’s is the frog.”

“Frog, dude?” Blake made a face to express his sympathy.

“I used to think that too.” Adam smiled, but did not explain further.

Those were the animals that appeared in the dream, before you guys…” Tori struggled to find the words to explain what she’d seen. “Before you 'came through'.”

“Is that what it looked like to you guys? For me it was just – hearing Tommy, and knowing I had to get to where he was.” Aisha explained. Adam nodded in agreement and Rocky threw out a “me too” from over by the stove. Aisha, used to Adam’s silences, continued. “It was so weird to see everyone like that. I mean, well I see you guys a lot,” she waved toward Adam and Rocky, “but I haven’t seen Tommy or Kim in ages - let alone Billy.”

“Did you see Tommy’s hair?” Rocky exclaimed from the stove. “I’ve never seen it that short!” He deftly managed the bacon and sausage while keeping a watchful eye on the eggs.

Aisha chuckled. “Why are you so hung up on that? It’s all you’ve talked about since we got together last night.”

Rocky shrugged. “It’s just different. He looks so much older, you know?”

“We’re all “so much older”.” Adam reminded him.

“Yeah, but I see you guys so much…it’s like we’re all the same.” Rocky moved the eggs off the heat and lowered the flames under the meat. “I know that’s not right, obviously we’ve all changed, but since I’ve seen you guys through all of our changes…it’s not the same.” He shrugged again frustrated with his inability to express himself the way he wanted. But he saw the thoughtful look on Adam’s face and knew that he’d be able to explain it better to the group.

“I know what you mean.” Adam stated. “The three of us have stayed so close…”

“Three ninjas!” Aisha called out with a grin. The ninjas gathered around the table smiled at her enthusiasm and warmth.

Adam smiled at her. “We’ve been there for each other as our lives have moved on. So even though we’ve all changed dramatically, the changes have been gradual to us, and it’s like that’s the way we’ve always been.” Rocky nodded as he listened agreeing with Adam’s statement. “But not having seen the others for so long, it appears that their changes are more abrupt, more startling.”

Now Aisha nodded in agreement, and for a moment the Ninjetti Rangers were lost in their own thoughts. Then Rocky disengaged the eggs from the frying pan, and swung around with the heaping platter. “Who’s ready to eat?” The enthusiastic affirmation from the seated Rangers was the response he was looking for

Rocky set the eggs, bacon and sausage along the counter that ran adjacent to the sink. Haley added the toast and biscuits she’d prepared. Everyone assembled grabbed a plate and served themselves buffet style. Haley spared a fleeting thought for the Dino Rangers; the way Hunter and Shane descended on the food, it was unlikely there’d be anything left. I hope Tommy’s got some cereal stashed in a cabinet somewhere.

Haley needn’t have worried. Whether it was just good timing, or the innate ability of teenage boys to follow the scent of a meal that’s about to be served, the Dino Rangers appeared in the kitchen. They didn’t even wait for introductions: Conner made a beeline for the food with Ethan hot on his heels. Kira entered more sedately and managed to secure some fruit and a biscuit for herself.

Shortly, everyone had served themselves and was seated once again. Rocky joined Adam and Aisha perched on stools near the island, as did Haley. The Wind and Thunder Rangers made room for Ethan, Conner and Kira. Everyone dug into the meal enthusiastically. Aside from the glowing complements tossed to Rocky and Haley for a job well done, silence reigned as breakfast was devoured.

After a few silent minutes, conversation resumed again. Blake looked at the Ninjetti Rangers. “We know that Rocky’s a fireman, but what do the rest of you do?”

“Rocky’s a fireman?” whispered Ethan. “Which one’s Rocky?”

Conner nodded approvingly. “It’s got to be the red guy,” he stated knowingly.

“Sorry guys…I should’ve caught you up, but you were a little busy eating…” Haley apologized. Introductions were made, and Conner repeatedly assured everyone assembled that he was feeling fine, just hungry. Hunter seemed particularly concerned, but the more Conner ate the more reassured he felt.

Rocky, never one to let an opportunity to chat get away from him began to sing the praises of his teammates. “Tommy’s not the only Ranger to get a PhD…though I’m sure Billy’s got 6 or 7 by now. Aisha’s a doctor too. Dr. Campbell!” His eyes shone with obvious pride and affection.

“Not a medical doctor…” Aisha shook her head at the question she knew was coming from Ethan.

“Nope, our ‘Sha is a Doctor of Environmental Education. She’s gonna save the world, one giraffe at a time.” Aisha chuckled at what was surely a familiar joke. Her affection for Rocky was as clear as his for her.

“I spent some time in Africa helping save animals from a devastating plague.” She explained.

“That’s why you left the Rangers in the first place,” Ethan stated.

Aisha seemed surprised that he knew. “That’s right…how did you…?”

“I’ve done some research.” Ethan answered. “Ranger history is a hobby of mine.”

Kira intervened before Ethan could take over the conversation; she wanted to hear what Aisha had to say. “Did you go to school in Africa?”

“No, the time I spent there was like an internship. I learned so much about the need for a balanced ecosystem. And, I realized that one of the biggest problems we face is that so many people believe that what they do is isolated – not realizing that everything we do affects everyone else.” Aisha’s passion for her topic was clear. “So I came back to California, got my masters in Psychology and Sociology. Then I went for my Doctorate in Environmental Ed. Now I split my time lecturing to raise money and awareness of the issues we face, and volunteering in national parks like the one I started in.”

Kira’s face shone with awe. “That’s so amazing. You’re changing the world.”

“I do what I can.” Aisha smiled self-depreciatingly, her expression matched the one Rocky wore when he spoke about his own career choice.

“What about you, Adam?” Blake asked.

Adam paused, gathering his thoughts. Rocky seemed ready to jump in, but held back. “In college and for a little bit after, I did some stunt work.”

“Like in the movies?” Conner exclaimed. Shane and Hunter both perked up. Adam nodded. “That’ so cool!” Ethan added.

“It was cool – very cool. But it wasn’t enough for me. I mean, I was busy and everything, but I was looking for something more.” The black clad young man paused again. He gave the impression that he was pondering how much to share with this group of people he’d known for just a few hours. But the common bond of Ranger power made him comfortable enough to continue.

“I opened my own dojo in L.A., but I found myself working more in the street – trying to help people; trying to give young people an option other than joining a gang. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I need to do more.” He paused again, giving weight to his words. But Rocky was nearly bouncing on his stool trying to contain himself and spoiled the solemnity of the moment.

Adam stated serenely, “I’m going to become a priest.”

Chapter Text

Adam waited for the inevitable shock to wear off. Before he settled on this life path he never would have guessed the range of emotions his choice would evoke. It was funny - some people in his family acted like he’d lost his mind; others as if he was going to prison. He understood how deeply blessed he was that his parents and his best friends understood why he was drawn to make this choice.

As he watched the assembled Rangers, Adam made an observation – not one of them responded like the idea of being a priest was crazy. In fact, Kanoi was nodding as if it was what he expected. He caught Adam’s eye, and he gave him a glance full of understanding. It was very comforting to Adam, though he didn’t know why the opinion of these virtual strangers should matter so much to him. I suppose it’s because they’re Rangers…so why am I surprised that they get it?

After the initial shock wore off, most of the others wore expressions of interest, as opposed to horror, which was a nice change from the reception Adam had received from most of his extended family. Ethan was the first to speak up. “You mean…like a Catholic priest?”

Rocky jumped in before Adam could answer. “No, a Shaolin priest – a monk actually. How cool is that?” Rocky clapped Adam warmly on his shoulder and Adam could feel the strength of his presence. Aisha reached over from her stool and grasped his hand as well. He didn’t know what he would’ve done if either of the two hadn’t backed him up. But they responded with support and enthusiasm, as he knew they would.

“Wow,” gasped Blake, “like Kung Fu?” Then his expression froze as if he wasn’t sure if that was the “politically correct” way to say it.

Adam smiled reassuringly. “Yes, like Kung Fu, Grasshopper.” Blake blushed as Adam continued. “I’ve thought a lot about this choice, and I feel that I need to learn more about myself, so I can better help others. I have much to learn.” Now it was Adam’s turn to blush; it wasn’t easy for him to talk about himself. Aisha and Rocky had no trouble speaking for him.

“You know you’ll be a natural.” Aisha squeezed his hand gently. “You embody so much of what they’re about already. We will miss you though.”

A quick expression of sadness flashed across Rocky’s face, but was quickly replaced by an enthusiastic smile. “Hey, if we could all stay tight with Aisha when she was in Africa, we can do it again when you’re in China.”

“You have to go to China, man?” asked Shane.

“There is a Shaolin temple there, it’s small but ancient. Being there felt like…” he paused trying to fully express himself, “it felt like home to me. That’s where I’m called to go. There are many great dojos here in the States where I could learn martial arts, but I think to really be Shaolin I need to be fully immersed in the spirit of that ancient place.”

Everyone became caught up in Adam’s soft-spoken but impassioned description of the temple he had visited. Rocky and Aisha had heard him speak of his calling before, but they were just as moved as the rest. All of the Ninjas present felt a response in their souls – maybe none of them was at a place where they could make a commitment like Adam, but they all understood the call, and admired him deeply for answering it.

“Wow,” Shane breathed, as Adam finished speaking, “That’s intense.” A silence fell over the sunny kitchen. The Dino Rangers were simply awed by the career choices of their predecessors; but the Wind and Thunder Ranger’s thoughts turned inward, thinking about their own career choices. Hunter caught an undertone of Blake’s pensive feelings, but was unable to pursue it because Cam’s entrance into the kitchen precipitated some excitement.

Aisha was the first to realize Cam was not alone. She jumped off her stool emitting an excited “Oh!” and ran right at him. But he was not the object of her attention. Cam, not wanting to be in Aisha’s way, smoothly stepped to the side and gave her a direct path to the petite brunette who’d followed him up the stairs.

“Kim!” Aisha’s enthusiastic greeting would’ve caused both women to tumble down the stairs if it hadn’t been for the sandy haired man right behind them neatly catching them both up in a hug of his own.

“Billy!” Adam and Rocky cried simultaneously as they rushed forward to greet their former teammates as well.

The next few minutes were dedicated to a mini-reunion and introductions all the way around. Cam only grumbled a little bit about having nothing to eat. He was mollified when Rocky whipped up an egg and cheese sandwich for him, but that didn’t stop him from shooting Hunter and Shane dirty looks. Billy and Kim both insisted they didn’t need to eat because they’d eaten before Cam transported them in.

The gathered Rangers moved from the kitchen to the living room. Conner, Ethan and Kira settled on the floor in front of the love seat occupied by Tori and Shane. Aisha, Rocky and Adam took up the couch. Hunter and Blake brought chairs and settled on either side of the Wind Rangers; Blake was close by Tori’s side. Cam took up a position in the doorway behind them, facing the chair Kanoi occupied; Haley brought in a stool and sat near Cam. Kim settled on the floor near Aisha, while Billy sat in the chair nearest the front door. Unconsciously all of the teams deferred to Sensei Kanoi waiting for him to indicate that he was ready begin.

“Rangers, you are all welcome…though I feel somewhat awkward welcoming you into Dr. Oliver’s home in his absence. But, if all goes well, he will soon be able to greet you himself.”

The Rangers sat mesmerized as Kanoi outlined the situation at hand, sharing the information that had been gathered between Kanoi, Tommy and Haley – Tommy and Dustin’s capture, and Mesogog’s plan to use Dustin’s earth energy to power his machine enabling him to change everything on earth back into the era of the dinosaur.

The Ninjetti Rangers were stunned by the breadth of Mesogog’s plan. “So let me get this straight…” Rocky stated as he held up his hands. “This Mesogog’ is going to use the energy he has harnessed to change the whole planet, so it will be like it was when the dinosaurs roamed the earth?” He looked around to check the expressions on the faces of the people around him, as if to reassure himself that what he was hearing wasn’t some giant hoax.

“Yes, Rocky. And, he will have the power to do it if we do not rescue Dustin and Tommy in time.” Kanoi stated gravely. Rocky sat back, speechless, as Kim drew her knees up toward her chest and rested her chin on them wearing a distressed expression. Aisha leaned forward from her position on the couch. “So what do you need us for? You really went out of your way to call us here, and obviously we’ll help. But what can we do?”

“Secret weapon time, Sensei,” called Ethan gleefully from his spot on the floor near Tori and Blake.

Kanoi acknowledged Ethan with a nod, and then turned his attention to the assembled Ninjetti Rangers. “You all felt Tommy when he called you, but from what you said earlier in the kitchen, you are unaware of how you arrived. The rest of us could see that each of you manifested your presence in the dream construct through the spirit animal that chose you when you were Ninjetti Rangers.” This was news to Kimberly and Billy who had missed the earlier conversation.

“You, my friends, are very similar to the Wind and Thunder Rangers, in that you all accessed ninja powers in your terms as Rangers. But unlike them, your ninja power…your Ninjetti power was also linked to your Ranger power. You have been led to believe that that power was lost to you. It is not. You are as able today to call upon your Ninjetti powers as you were when you first received them. It is that power you must call upon now. It is that power that will save not only Tommy and Dustin, but the very Earth itself.”

Chapter Text

Ethan was watching the group of Ninjetti rangers as Sensei Kanoi explained the situation to them. He couldn’t read from their expressions what stunned them more – that they still had access to their Ranger power, or that they had to save the world…again.

Ethan found himself utterly fascinated by the other Rangers. He had been intrigued by other ranger teams ever since seeing Dr. O’s video diary. But watching history on tape was nothing like meeting rangers in person. Crashing into the Wind Ninja Rangers at the beach had been a stroke of unbelievable luck; and hanging out with them at Haley’s had been a blast.

But as more and more Rangers joined the mission, Ethan found himself trying to figure out the connections between the teams. He thought he had most of the triangles figured out, and was pretty sure he had pegged the “types” as well. He was itching to get his ideas down in his laptop, or if he had to be really primitive, down on paper. There was so much information floating around in his head and he wanted to get it all in a hard copy somewhere before he forgot it.

It had all started to connect for Ethan the night before when Conner had identified Dustin as the heart of the Wind Ninja’s triangle – he’d been juggling permutations of the idea in his head ever since. Hunter, Blake and Cam were fairly easy to figure out – body, heart and mind - though it was interesting that in the ninja group there were two male hearts; that was unusual compared to other ranger groups. Rocky, Aisha and Adam made sense too – body, heart and mind. Though, Ethan argued with himself, Aisha could be argued as a mind with all of her education, and Adam could certainly be a heart. But that wouldn’t jive with their placement of where they came through in the dream Conner constructed.

That left Kim and Billy of the Ninjetti Rangers. It was obvious from Ranger lore that Billy was not only a “mind” type…he was the prototype “MIND” type. In all of Ranger history there had never been a Ranger more intelligent. I bet if Haley were a Ranger she’d give him a run for his money. And, they’d learned last night that Dr. O was a “body” type, leaving Kim as the “heart”. That made sense, and it fit the more traditional model of having a girl as the heart of any given triangle.

But knowing what he knew (or what he thought he knew), the behavior of the newest arrivals didn’t make sense to Ethan. When Rocky, Adam and Aisha had arrived, they’d come together and obviously gelled as a team. They were so tight; they practically finished each other’s sentences. Ethan didn’t know if Billy and Kim had transported in together, but they seemed to be avoiding any kind of closeness. They reminded him of similarly charged magnets that repelled each other. It just didn’t make sense.

Kimberly had chosen to sit close to the “whole” set of Ninjetti Rangers, but didn’t include herself in the group. She seemed most drawn to Aisha, and maybe that made sense because they were both heart types. The petite brunette seemed anxious and worried, but it didn’t seem to Ethan that it was Mesogog was the cause for her concern – it seemed to be something internal.

Billy too, seemed to separate himself from the group. He sat on an isolated chair, not near the couch inhabited by the other Ninjettis and closest to the door, as if he needed easy access to the exit. They were not acting at all like Ethan would’ve expected. He understood that their “triangle” was broken; missing a man in the form of Dr. O. But Shane and Tori were “missing” Dustin, and in his absence has drawn much closer to each other. Over the course of less than a day Ethan had watched the Wind Ninjas become so close that they barely needed to use words to communicate. Billy and Kim, on the other hand, were not communicating at all.

Weird - I just wish I could write it all down.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kanoi was watching the Ninjetti Rangers as closely as Ethan, trying to read their reactions to the news that they still had access to their powers. The shock gave way to either awe or disbelief. Of the five, only Adam seemed unsurprised. That made sense to Kanoi; of the Ninjetti rangers, only Adam had continued to listen to the promptings of his inner ninja. It had caused some searching in his life, but he was probably connected more strongly to his ninja spirit than the others, and could certainly draw Rocky and Aisha into balance with their ninja spirits relatively quickly. Theirs were the faces etched with awe.

It was Billy and Kim who were expressing disbelief and doubt. Though Kim did not seem inclined to speak, Billy seemed to be preparing himself for an argument. Kanoi didn’t miss the glance Billy threw Kim’s way, but Kim did as she actively avoided eye contact with Billy. Kanoi had noticed the strain between the Blue and Pink Ninjetti Rangers when they’d arrived, and it didn’t seem to be getting any better. However, this was not the time to address past wrongs or misunderstandings – there was something larger at stake. He believed they understood that, which was why they had agreed to come. He only hoped that the tension he felt would not interfere with the mission; failure was not an option.

As was his habit, Kanoi waited until Billy opened his mouth to speak, and spoke to forestall him. “I know it is difficult for you to accept, but it is crucial at this time for you all to understand and believe in the power you possess. Dr. Oliver would not have been able to reach you otherwise.” Kanoi drew Billy into eye contact as he spoke, putting the force of his will behind his words.

Billy’s mouth snapped shut. He tried again to get some support from Kimberly, and this time she shared a glance with him. Her look was inscrutable, but Billy seemed to get something from it; he relaxed slightly and sat back in his chair. He nodded toward Kanoi indicating that he was ready to listen.

“It is clear,” Kanoi stated outlining his plan, “the Mesogog believes he has a technological advantage over the Dino Rangers. His control of the invisaportal network allows him to drop his minions anywhere, and also keeps the Rangers away from his lair. This will no longer be an advantage to him with our ability to teleport Rangers.” Kanoi nodded proudly in Cam’s direction.

“We have another advantage in that though Mesogog knows that the Wind Rangers are in Reefside, he doesn’t know about the Thunder ninjas, Ninjetti Rangers or myself.” stated Cam. “How much help Hunter, Blake and I will be without powers…we’ll have to see.”

“I believe you will all have a part to play in the conflict, Cam.” Kanoi responded.

“So what’s the plan, Sensei?” asked Shane.

“The plan is three-fold. Undoubtedly Mesogog will attempt to draw out and distract the Dino Rangers with a monster attack. I am somewhat surprised he has waited this long. The Dino Rangers must protect the city.” Kanoi stated forcefully; for no matter how strongly he felt about the welfare of Dustin and Tommy, the job of the current Rangers was to protect innocent citizens from harm. The Dino Rangers nodded resolutely in agreement. “This is where Cam, Hunter and Blake will assist. You are all experienced ninjas, and can help the Dino Rangers with ground attacks, as well as making sure the citizens of Reefside are safe.”

Kanoi turned to the group on the couch. “The Ninjetti Rangers, with the advantage of stealth, will infiltrate Mesogog’s fortress and attempt to free Tommy and Dustin before Mesogog can attack again.” Kanoi’s expression turned grim as he continued. “If we are unable to reach our friends before the next attack, it is imperative that Mesogog’s plan does not come to fruition. No matter what the cost.”

The Ninjetti Rangers knew what Kanoi was saying – lives were at risk, not only theirs, but Tommy and Dustin’s as well - but one life was not worth the cost of the greater good when the Earth itself was at stake.

“We know, from what Tommy explained, the Mesogog will probably attempt to steal Dustin’s energy again. He didn’t get what he needed on the first try. Shane, Tori and I will sustain and assist Dustin in resisting this attack.”

“Sensei…we won’t even get to fight?” Shane stated angrily.

“Shane, yours is the greatest fight of all.” Kanoi decided it was better to be brutally frank than to sugarcoat the situation. “Dustin is the key to Mesogog’s plan. He chose well when he decided which one of you to grab. If there is any ninja’s energy most suited to Mesogog’s plan, it is Dustin’s. Mesogog plans to subvert the earth itself, and with Dustin’s earth energy he has a very good chance of success. The Earth will not resist a change initiated by an Earth ninja, its how his power works. If it comes down to saving Dustin or saving the Earth, a sacrifice may have to be made.”

Kanoi sat quietly, letting his words sink in. Shane and Tori were both horrified beyond words. Hunter and Conner each reached out to Shane, as Blake, Ethan and Kira supported Tori.

It was Rocky who broke the stunned silence by rising and crossing the room to add his physical presence to the group on the couch. He knelt before Shane and Tori, and placed his left hand on Shane’s knee. “We won’t let that happen, Shane. We’ll bring them both back. I promise.” He turned to gaze intently at Tori, deeply touched by the unshed tears in her eyes; he took her hand in his. “I promise, Tori.” he repeated. “We’ll bring them back.”

Tori blinked back her tears and smiled gratefully as she squeezed his hand. “I’m gonna hold you to that.” she whispered brokenly.

At that moment an alarm sounded loudly. Haley looked startled, then concerned. “Looks like you spoke a little too soon about Mesogog holding off on the monster attacks, Sensei.” She whirled on her heel and dashed off toward the door to the basement lab. The Dino Rangers were right behind her with the rest causing something of a traffic jam near the top of the stairs.

By the time Kanoi joined the assembled teams, Haley was busily calling up information on the computer screen with everyone crowded around behind her. “It looks like an isolated monster in the quarry.” she stated.

“I guess it’s time for us to get to work.” Conner replied. He moved through the assembled crowd to a clear spot in the center of the room. He felt a little self-conscious calling on the power in front of so many people, but it wasn’t like they had a choice. “Ready?” he asked his team as they took their positions flanking him.

“Ready!” was the immediate reply.

In unison they shouted, “Dino Thunder! Power up! HA!”

The others watched with fascination as the Power came over their new friends. Only Haley kept her eyes on the screen, no longer awed by the transformation. Not stopping to chat, the Dino Rangers took off for their cycles and headed off to the quarry.

Chapter Text

Mesogog gathered with Elsa, Fealdor and Zeltrax in the main laboratory chamber. The three underlings stood side by side and Mesogog paced restlessly before them. Fealdor winced visibly whenever the Master got too close; Elsa shot him barely disguised looks of disgust. It was important for her to maintain her superiority and sense of position, though inside she was growing more anxious that her services would soon no longer be needed.

“It is time” Mesogog intoned, “to deal with the Power Rangers once and for all. We have the tools within our grasp, and this time we will not fail.” Mesogog made his way to his throne and seated himself with a flourish. “The time of the change is very near. The new world order can be ours in less than a day. I will not let it slip from my grasp!” He pounded the arms of his chair to emphasize his point.

Fealdor let out a small whimper; Elsa rolled her eyes. If a little yelling and fist pounding was going to scare him, he would never survive an encounter with Mesogog in full temper. Zeltrax was the proof of that.

“We have much work to do. Each part of the plan must be played out to perfection. If all goes well, tomorrow we will all be living in paradise. Fealdor, you will maintain surveillance of the Rangers in our possession. See that nothing interferes with the boy regaining his strength. Make sure he is ready for the chamber in the morning.” Fealdor bobbed his head in acquiescence.

“Elsa,” Mesogog continued, “it will fall to you to keep the Rangers occupied. Undoubtedly they will join with their new friends and attempt to rescue the ones we are holding. You will keep them busy enough that they will never have a chance to even think of mounting a rescue mission. Use whatever materials you have to, just keep them fighting.” He inclined his head slightly and rasped with a chuckle, “And if one or two should happen to be killed in an engagement, so much the better for us.”

“Yes, Master.” was Elsa’s smooth reply. “I will keep the Rangers so busy they won’t even have time to breathe.”

“Zeltrax will fight with you, Elsa.” added Mesogog in a raspy whisper. “It will give me a chance to test his new improvements. But for now, I shall hold him in reserve.” Elsa wasn’t pleased to be assigned as Franken-monster sitter, but she made no outward sign of displeasure in front of Mesogog.

“Now go.” Mesogog growled in dismissal. “And do not fail me.”

Fealdor was the first to skitter off, clutching his scanner in his hand and ordering a group of Tyranodrones to follow him. Elsa strode off purposefully in the direction of her own lab, her mind already whirling with the possible monsters she could throw at the Rangers.
Zeltrax stayed.

Mesogog looked at his latest creation. Though the physical signs of change were what seemed to disturb those who had seen, they had no idea what changes had truly been wrought. “So, my faithful one“ purred Mesogog as he slid off of his throne toward his silent general. “You are finally the warrior I truly need. Ruthless. Relentless. We shall see how you fare in battle; I have faith that we will emerge victorious.” Mesogog moved toward the hidden door behind the throne. “Stay here.” He ordered Zeltrax.

Mesogog left Zeltrax standing stoic and frozen in the lab. He was pleased beyond telling with the improvements he had made in his general. No longer would he have to deal with stupid mistakes made out of impulsive or emotional decisions. There was no impulse or emotion left – at least not of Zeltrax’s creation. All he could feel now was what Mesogog gave him. He was perfect.

Mesogog pushed the hidden latch on the door behind the throne and entered his most private sanctuary. The lab containing his most prized research. Though the others knew the intent of the experiment, none had seen the materials involved. They had only a nebulous understanding of his idea of turning the earth back into a dinosaur paradise, but here in this lab were the tools to make it happen.

The lab itself was very small. It was a circular room with every wall surface studded with recessed shelving. Most of the shelves were empty. Those with equipment held batteries or wiring connected to the pillar at the center of the room. That was the focus. The light above the pillar was blinding in contrast to the rest of the room, sending the shelves into gloomy shadows. Seated on the pillar beneath the circle of light was a mass of amber crystals. The crystals were the key to Mesogog’s plan.

The crystals resonated with minute amounts of earth energy. But given enough power they would resonate so strongly, as to change the world. A few of these fully charged crystals dropped into strategic fault lines or volcanoes across the globe would wreak havoc on the humans who so infested this world. Cities and civilizations would be swallowed up by the groaning earth. Lava would cleanse and wash away the stink of human habitation. Those humans who survived would be rounded up and mutated; they would live out their miserable lives wanting only to serve their Master.

The crystals that were not used to begin the transformation would be used to complete it. Once the shifting earth had settled, Mesogog would use the remaining crystals to accelerate plant growth until the earth was once again covered in rich rainforests. Then he would return reptilian animals to their rightful place of superiority over the mammals that had overrun the planet.

“Soon,” he intoned as he lovingly caressed the crystals. “Soon, paradise will be mine.”

Chapter Text

Tommy took in the view from their new prison. He and Dustin had been moved to a room on a higher level of Mesogog’s fortress – high atop one of the rocky towers, jutting out over the restless ocean. They’d been provided with cots and blankets, and there was heat coming from somewhere to alleviate the never-ending dampness of the island fortress. Food had been provided as well; it was mostly fruit and some energy bars, though Fealdor had mentioned trying to get some meat. Tommy wasn’t sure if he’d be willing to eat whatever kind of meat the lizard-man came up with.

Tommy and Dustin hadn’t had a chance to speak much since the move. Both were wary of talking in front of Mesogog or his minions, and once they’d gone the lure of the cot was too much for Dustin to resist. He’d collapsed onto the closest bed almost as soon as the mutants were gone and had been sleeping ever since. Tommy was pleased to see how much better Dustin looked already. He wondered if it was due to the improvement in conditions or of his newly reestablished connection with Shane and Tori.

Tommy was pleased that Fealdor misinterpreted his scanner readings and was led to believe that Tommy was the source of Dustin’s renewed health. It was certainly to their benefit that they were being held together; at least this way they could make some sort of plan. Tommy waited impatiently, wanting to talk with Dustin but unwilling to rob him of what little sleep he was likely to get.

Tommy paced as he thought about the confrontation with Mesogog and Zeltrax in the dungeon. Something was decidedly wrong with Zeltrax – the changes were extremely disturbing to Tommy. There was no posturing, no threats. He acted like an automaton. It was just weird. Evil flunkies usually had much more mouth than muscle. This change in Zeltrax could cause a problem.

The conversation with Mesogog in the dungeon also played over and over in Tommy’s head. “You’ve got twenty-four hours, Fealdor. Do what you can to increase the boy’s energy. Tomorrow morning we put him in the Energy Chamber.” So it seemed that the life-force extractor was no longer an option, but the energy chamber didn’t sound any better. And now they had a time limit – something the others needed to know.

Watching Dustin sleep gave Tommy an idea. He’d been drawn into the dream construct by Sensei Kanoi when he’d been trying to meditate. He wondered if it would work the other way too. If being telepathic was a ninja trick, it was never one that Tommy knew he had or tried to develop. But at this point he was willing to try anything. It couldn’t hurt.

A glance at Dustin showed he was still deeply asleep and not likely to rouse anytime soon. That decided Tommy; at least if he was trying to contact Sensei Kanoi he’d be doing something instead of staring at the wall. Since he had the opportunity and the space, Tommy decided to actually go through the kata he’d been practicing in his mind earlier. Taking up the first position brought Jason strongly to mind again. With a deep pang of regret Tommy wished his friend had been one of the ones who’d been brought in to help. Something about having Jason around just helped Tommy feel balanced. Tommy drew on that feeling, took a deep breath, and began.

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Dustin was very disoriented as he woke. He kept his eyes closed as he drifted toward awareness. He could tell he was in a bed, but it was not his own. He couldn’t put a finger on where he was. Dustin could hear someone moving around in the room, and figured it must be Shane. Were they still in the hotel? Hadn’t Tori and Shane threatened to steamroll him again if he slept too late? Wait…didn’t that already happen?

Throwing an arm across his eyes, Dustin tried to recall where he was. Something about Tori, Shane and other Rangers was tickling his memory. Other Rangers?! In an instant, all that had happened in the past 48 hours came crashing back into Dustin’s awareness and he sat up with a start. That was a bad idea.

“Whoa.” he groaned, and grabbed his head in his hands. It felt like every bruise he’d ever had was coming back to haunt him. Dustin took a few deep breaths to center himself. Once he felt like he could lift his head without falling off the cot he looked around. It wasn’t Shane he’d heard moving around, it was Tommy. He had positioned himself at the foot of Dustin’s cot. His back was to Dustin, but as he moved around Dustin could see he was deeply involved in the kata; the intense look of concentration on his face made Dustin disinclined to interrupt.

Tommy must have sensed that Dustin was awake because he snapped out of focus and greeted him. “Hey, how are you feeling?”

“Hungry.” was the succinct reply.

Tommy nodded in understanding and gestured toward a small table. “Well there’s fruit and some other stuff.”

Dustin looked torn as he climbed out of the cot onto his feet. “I feel totally like those kids in that story…you know - Hansel and Gretel.” He bent over in an imitation of a crone and adopted a wavery voice. “Come eat all my candy so I can fatten you up and shove you in my oven…or, uh energy chamber.”

Regardless of his feelings, Dustin walked over to the table and selected some energy bars and an apple to munch on. “Sorry I crashed like that.” Dustin nodded toward the bed. Tommy made a gesture of dismissal. “You needed it. It’s not like we had anywhere to go.”

“I just don’t want to help them,” Dustin gestured toward the doorway. “But for me to eat and sleep is what they need, and that’s what I’m doing.” He dropped his apple to the table with a thud.

“Dustin, you have to keep your strength up for you, not for them. When help comes, and it will, we’ve got to be able to help our friends all we can. And you can’t do that if you faint.” With a half-smile, Tommy handed the apple back to Dustin.

“I think I would pass out…it’s more manly.” Dustin stated.

Tommy, not quite used to Dustin’s non-sequitors, took a moment to catch up; then he chuckled. Dustin changed the subject. “What were you doing there? I’ve never seen that kata before.”

Tommy smiled again, a real smile. “That’s an old one, a good friend taught it to me a long time ago. I was actually trying to contact your Sensei, but I didn’t do a very good job of it.” He ran his fingers distractedly through his hair.

“Shane says it’s much harder to reach someone if they’re distracted.” Dustin paused thoughtfully. “Maybe it would be easier for you if I helped.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea." Tommy countered. "You really do need to conserve your energy.”

Dustin shook his head, “I’d just be along for the ride – you’d be doing all the work. You need a ninja teacher, and that’s what I do.” Dustin smiled at the irony of the situation – him, teaching one of the most legendary Power Rangers.

It took a little trial and error to get the first effort off the ground. Being able to speak mind-to-mind was a power Dustin had always admired, so he tried to drag up from his memory everything Shane had ever said about learning mind-speech. A lot of it stayed with him even though it didn’t relate to his own power, but it was hard to explain the trick of it to someone who had no experience at all.

Dustin and Tommy had settled on the floor, cross-legged and facing one another. Dustin, no longer feeling any qualms about eating, deposited a variety of fruit nearby to snack on while working. He took a big bite of his second apple while deciding how to begin.

“Okay…yeah…” he said around a mouthful. “From what you said, it sounds like what you were doing before was just shouting into the wind.” Tommy shrugged; it seemed a fair description of what his first attempt had felt like to him. “You’ve got to get more focused.” Dustin declared. “Try this – when Sensei called you in the dream, how did you know it was him?”

Tommy considered his answer. “I didn’t know who it was at first. I was flying and realized I was following this red-banded hawk. Then he spoke to me.”

Dustin’s eyes squinted. “You were flying?”

Tommy nodded as he answered. “Yes. I was the falcon. The white falcon.”

“Then that’s where you start. In your mind’s eye, picture yourself as the falcon again. If that’s how Sensei saw you before, he’ll recognize you if you try to call him on your own.”

At first Tommy found it difficult to picture himself as the falcon. It wasn’t until he realized that he needed to focus on how he felt as the falcon rather than how he should look externally that it started to feel right to him. Tommy took a deep centering breath, but kept his eyes closed as he felt Dustin move closer.

“Okay, now that you’ve got the picture in your head, let yourself fly. Be drawn to Sensei. If you can sense his thoughts clearly enough, he should feel like a strong magnet.”

Tommy let his falcon spirit soar and felt the exhilarating freedom of its flight. Almost immediately he lost contact with Dustin, and that pulled him out of focus. Tommy, angry at himself, opened his eyes and clenched his fists in frustration. Dustin just grinned at him. “Not bad for a first try.” He looked at Tommy encouragingly. “Try again.”

After a few faulty starts, Tommy began to get the hang of directing his thoughts through the falcon spirit without succumbing completely to it. That was when they ran into a different obstacle. “It’s so frustrating!” Tommy exclaimed. “I can send my thoughts only so far…like something’s keeping me back from getting past this damn island.”

Dustin’s eyebrows raised – he’d never heard a Ranger curse before. Tommy caught something in his expression and quickly apologized. “Let’s take a break.” Dustin suggested. “Maybe there’s something we’re not thinking of.”

Tommy quickly climbed to his feet and started pacing. “We have got to get through. We’ve got to let them know they’re working on a deadline.”

“I know I can reach Shane and Tori on some level… “ Dustin began.

“I know you can, but we can’t risk it. We don’t know what it will take out of you. And you said yourself that mind-speech isn’t your strength. We have got to be sure the message gets through!”

The discussion was interrupted by a noise at the door. Dustin quickly scrambled to his feet and Tommy moved to stand near him. The door was opened by a Tyranodrone who moved into the room followed by two others and Fealdor. The drones were carrying platters of food; Tommy hated to admit it, but the odors were enticing. It was like they’d robbed a Boston Market or something. They’d brought a huge meal, from salad to apple pie.

Fealdor ignored what the Tyranodrones were doing and immediately approached Dustin. He muttered to himself as he scanned the young man. “Excellent…excellent. You’ve gathered much more strength in these few hours than I had predicted.” Tommy was surprised when Fealdor turned the scanner his way. “Same as before…” he tweaked his instruments minutely. “Hmmm…that’s a little different.”

Tommy’s heart lurched wondering what Fealdor was seeing, and if it meant they’d separate him from Dustin. Fealdor didn’t seem inclined to act on anything, and the constriction in Tommy’s chest eased just a little. Fealdor raised his head and acknowledged the rangers directly for the first time since entering the room. “I can see that you’ve eaten a little already. We’ve brought something more substantial for you to share. Eat…eat,” he encouraged while gesturing toward the table. “You’ve got to keep up your strength you know.”

Dustin crossed his arms over his chest and got a stubborn expression on his face that concerned Tommy. This was not a time to pick a fight – they needed Fealdor and the drones to leave so they could try contacting the Rangers again. Time was not on their side.

But Dustin had had enough. If Tori or Shane had been present, they would’ve told Tommy that once Dustin had that look on his face, no amount of persuasion would deter him from his chosen course, right or wrong. There was almost nothing in their current situation that was in Dustin’s control – he’d been dragged around, nearly drained of his life, and pretty much moved like a meaningless pawn on a chessboard – but damned if he was going to be told by this lizard-dude when to eat. Even if it smelled better than almost anything that came out of his mom’s kitchen.

“Keep up my strength, yeah I know…so your boss can suck me dry tomorrow.” answered Dustin sarcastically. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

Fealdor blinked, nonplussed. He’d been counting on the appetite of a teenage boy to win the day. The aroma alone should’ve had the boy leaping toward the table, but there he stood, rock-solid, in the center of the room. Fealdor was at a loss. The Yellow Ranger needed to eat if he was continue to regain his strength, but short of having the Tyranodrones hold him down and force feeding him, there was nothing Fealdor could do about it. Even that was risky – the boy was bound to struggle and might waste more energy than he gained by eating.

“You need to eat. You’re too weak.” Fealdor’s pleading and ineffective gestures toward the table did not move Dustin at all.

Tommy could see that Dustin was in a bind. He understood on an intellectual level why Dustin refused to eat when Fealdor encouraged it; but at the same time, he and Dustin both knew that he was going to have to eat if there was any chance of helping their friends once they arrived. Tommy didn’t know why Dustin had chosen to make this particular stand, and was trying to think of a way to help him out of it without him losing face in front of Fealdor.

The notion when it struck Tommy was fairly obvious – Fealdor couldn’t order Dustin to eat, but Tommy could. He hoped that Dustin would play along. Tommy could see that Fealdor’s pleading and placating were not helping the situation, so he decided to take the opposite approach.

Tommy broke ranks with Dustin and sidestepped Fealdor to get to the heavily laden table. He took a deep breath of the mouth-watering smells then turned and looked at Dustin. Using his most authoritative “Red Ranger” voice he simply said, “Dustin, it’s time to eat.”

To Dustin’s credit, he didn’t bat an eye or take his steely gaze off of Fealdor. “Not ‘til they leave.”

Fealdor, shocked by assistance from Tommy, was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Get out! Get out!” he shrieked as he ushered the Tyranodrones out the door. He hastened to join them and slammed the door behind them.

Tommy was ready for an argument, but was surprised by Dustin’s lopsided grin as he looked over at the Black Ranger. “Dude, that wasn’t the best fight to pick, huh? I about broke down when I got a whiff of that chicken.”

Tommy chuckled, relieved that the situation was resolved so simply. Dustin joined him at the table and they set in to eat. It was unspoken between them that once they had their fill, they would set to work attempting to contact the others again.

Chapter Text

Hunter prowled his way around the periphery of the lab. He felt like everyone except him had something useful to do. It was irritating. Kanoi had gathered Shane, Tori, Rocky, Adam and Aisha together in an attempt to contact Tommy or Dustin and determine more of Mesogog’s plan. They were seated in a circle off to the side of the lab. Cam was geeking out with Billy and Haley, while Blake and Kim were off in the kitchen doing something.

Hunter watched in frustration as the Dino Rangers faced their third monster in less than three hours. He wanted desperately to help, but they had all agreed to follow Sensei’s plan, and at the moment Hunter was not part of the plan. Kanoi had outlined the strategy that Cam, Blake and Hunter would serve as sort of a “second string” – the Dino Rangers would handle any monsters Mesogog sent out, and the ninjas would handled the more general menaces of Tyranodrones. But so far, no Tyranodrones had surfaced, so all Hunter could do was pace.

At first Hunter couldn’t figure out why he was so agitated watching the Dino Rangers fight. Was it just that he couldn’t tolerate being on the sidelines? Was he regretting the loss of his Ranger power? It didn’t make any sense until the Rangers were teleported back to the lab after dispatching the first monster of the day. For some reason, Conner was disoriented by the teleporter. When the Dino Rangers had teleported in and demorphed, Conner nearly fell over, and would have if Hunter hadn’t happened to be standing nearby.

When Hunter caught Conner by his elbow to steady him, that’s when it the Crimson Ranger. Though all of the Rangers struck him as being young, it was particularly hard for Hunter to watch Conner fight. It wasn’t that Hunter thought Conner was not capable because clearly he could more than hold his own; but when Hunter reached out to steady him, and Conner responded with a glance of gratitude, the whole situation screamed “little brother” to Hunter. And that’s when everything changed.

What no one, not even Blake, knew about Hunter was how purposeless he had felt until his brother became part of his life. He had tried to explain how he felt to his father once, but his dad couldn’t understand how anyone so young could have a feeling of purpose, let alone a lack of one. So Hunter deliberately began to keep his feelings to himself; he didn’t allow himself to depend on others, only to be depended on, particularly by Blake.

After their parents were killed, Blake had become Hunter’s total purpose. That was why he still had nightmares about their time on the island when he had single-mindedly pursued Blake with every intention of killing him. Strangely, the one person who seemed to know how deeply that event affected him was Cam. Hunter never talked about it, but Cam always seemed to be awake, making tea whenever the nightmares got really bad.

Eventually, as the Wind Rangers accepted the Bradelys as team members and friends, Hunter’s sense of purpose had extended to being a Ranger, and then, teaching at the Thunder Academy. Cam and Tori’s calls for help in Reefside ignited Hunter’s feeling of purpose to a level he hadn’t felt since losing his Ranger powers. It didn’t make sense, until he caught Conner and stopped him from falling.

So he pondered his feelings as he paced around the lab. He was sure he looked like the thundercloud he drew his power from – it didn’t matter, the look tended to keep people away. Hunter’s attention was drawn to the view screen as the monster engaged the Dino Rangers again. All of his “big brother” instincts were screaming at him to help, but all he could do was stand with his fists clenched at his sides and watch.
________________________________________
Blake padded down the stairs from the kitchen to the basement - the lab was relatively quiet. A quick peek at the group off to the side established that nothing there had changed. Though it did give Blake a strange sense of repetition – it was very similar to the scene he and Hunter had walked in on earlier. Did that really happen just a few hours ago? It feels like ages.

Cam and Haley were conferencing at the bank of computer consoles, with Billy hovering close by – it looked like Cam had finally found someone other than Cyber Cam to relate to. Kim was wandering around the lab looking pensive and lost in her own thoughts; Blake didn’t want to intrude, but he felt like he almost got her to open up in the kitchen. Then she’d gotten skittish and bolted. He’d give her a few minutes and try again. That left Hunter.

Blake watched Hunter stalk around the perimeter of the lab. Though they were able to watch the Dino Thunder Rangers on the monitors and see that they were holding their own, it was frustrating not to be able to do anything. So far the Dino Rangers had dispatched two monsters, and were working on the third with no foot soldiers in sight; leaving Hunter with nothing to do – Hunter bored and anxious was a bad combination.

Hunter’s attention had been caught by the action on the screen as Conner stopped a particularly nasty blow from decapitating Ethan. Hunter sucked in his breath as Conner went flying and landed flat on his back in the gravel of the quarry. Kira and Ethan had been tossed in opposite directions and were not in Conner’s immediate vicinity. Hunter tensed up as the monster loomed over Conner. But Conner got his wind back quickly and determinedly climbed to his feet. He shouted his defiance at the monster and nailed it with his blaster.

Hunter let out the breath he’d been holding as the monster staggered back, allowing Kira and Ethan time to regroup and rejoin forces with Conner.
“It ain’t easy to watch, huh?” Blake asked quietly as he moved to stand next to Hunter. He watched the screen intently as the Dino Rangers combined their weapons and dispatched the monster. Everyone watching the battle knew the respite would be short-lived.

“It’s a lot different when you’re in it. Watching it…knowing them… knowing what could happen…not being able to help…” Hunter just shook his head. He didn’t have to finish; Blake knew what he was thinking.

The brothers silently stood side by side and watched the second half of the battle unfold. The monster was regenerated at super size; the Rangers called their Zords; and the battle began again. Everyone in the lab could hear the Rangers call upon their different Zord attachments, as well as calling out encouragement to each other. After an intense skirmish, the Rangers soundly defeated their opponent.

“Alright Rangers,” Haley called out, “we’re bringing you back to the lab.”

Kira and Ethan answered in the affirmative, but Conner groaned deeply. An instant later, three glowing pillars of light coalesced in the center of the lab – red, yellow and blue. A moment more and the three Dino Rangers were fully transported. Conner staggered and stumbled into Ethan. Hunter had been waiting, and was ready to steady Conner.

“I HATE that!” Conner cried vehemently, even before he took the time to power down. When he did power down, his knees buckled and he would have fallen if Hunter hadn’t been holding him up. “It might take me longer, but riding my Raptor cycle’s got to be better than that transporter thing!”

“Time’s not something we have a lot of today, Conner.” Haley explained for the third time, though she did look extremely concerned. “For you Rangers to be effective, you’ve got to attack as a team, and you can’t do that if you’re miles away.”

Billy cleared his throat, and softly spoke up. “It appears that transporting Conner does have a negative effect on him. And if I am reading these displays correctly, it gets worse each time.” Conner shot a triumphant, if somewhat nauseated, glance Haley’s way before allowing Hunter to guide him over to a couch. “If you don’t mind, Cam, I’d like to take a look at how you set up your transporter. Jason, Tommy and Rocky never had this sort of difficulty with teleportation. It just shouldn’t affect Conner this way.”

“Be my guest,” answered Cam as he gestured toward the components he’d jerry rigged to Tommy’s computer. He pushed his glasses down and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ve been staring at it and I still can’t figure out why Conner is being affected like this.” Billy immediately hunkered down at the configuration of computer parts with Haley settling nearby.

Continuing to rub at his eyes, Cam turned away from the computer area and looked toward the circle of Rangers. “Nothing yet?” he asked Blake.
“Not even a twitch. How long did it take them before?”

“A few hours…” he gave Blake a meaningful glance. They both knew that they might not have that kind of time.

Understanding there was nothing they could do at the moment, Cam decided to stretch his legs and get something to eat. “I’m going to grab a bite in the kitchen. Do you want anything?”

“No thanks, I was just up there.” Blake responded. He reached over and grasped Cam’s shoulder. “You look wiped. Take a break, dude. I’ll let you know if anything changes down here.”

Cam nodded, but Blake knew he wouldn’t take the opportunity for some down time. Not with his dad out of touch the way he was. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Cam smiled one of his patented half-smiles, but there was not a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “Thanks, Blake.”

It was Blake’s turn to nod. “No worries. Go eat before you pass out.” Cam turned away muttering something about Blake being as much as a mother hen as Hunter. Both young men chuckled. Blake turned his attention back to the groups in the basement.

No change in the group attempting to contact the others. The Dino Rangers were conversing with Hunter, who was attempting to convince Conner to eat something. Considering his green hue, Blake was pretty certain Hunter would not be successful. Billy was half hidden under the computer console, while Haley looked equally busy typing on her laptop.

Blake’s attention was drawn again to the Pink Ranger; and it wasn’t just because she was alone. He felt a kinship with Kimberly that he couldn’t quite explain; but, Sensei probably could. And even though she was practically a total stranger, he felt compelled to try to connect with her - if for no other reason than to try to dispel some of the sadness that she carried around her like a cloak. With one last check to see that no one else needed him, Blake approached the lonely Ranger.
________________________________________

Billy was relieved when Cam agreed to let him tinker with the transporter. Not that he really though the former Samurai ranger would refuse to let him help; Cam didn’t seem to be the type to be so obsessive about his own creations that he couldn’t accept an outside offer of help. It wasn’t that Billy thought Cam was inept – nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who could outfit the Ninja Storm Rangers the way Cam had was a solid genius in Billy’s book. Billy admired the fact that Cam knew enough to know that his transporter was flawed in some way, and that he was too close to it to see it.

Investigating the connections and wires of the makeshift transporter unit eased some of the anxiety Billy had been feeling since he’d arrived. Or more specifically, since he’d arrived with Kim. Wires and computers he could deal with – emotions and people were not so easy.

Even in the few hours they’d been planning and working in the lab, Kim had said barely two words to him. It was uncomfortable, and Billy just didn’t know how to deal with it. Internally he berated himself because the situation was over a decade old, and both of them were well beyond acting like foolish teenagers. But knowing and doing were two different things. So Billy fell back into the oldest defense mechanism he had – fixing things.

Billy firmly pushed his discomfort about Kim to the back of his mind to fully focus on the problem at hand – dealing with Kim would just have to wait. It took a few moments for Billy to orient himself to Cam’s technology. It occurred to him to revise his thinking – when he’d been creating morphers and communicators for the Rangers he’d had Zordon’s technology to build from. Cam and Haley had been making everything they had from scratch. It was beyond impressive…it was awesome! When this was all over, Billy was going to seriously pick the brains of the other two.

So where’s the problem? Is it in the technology or is it Conner? Kira and Ethan don’t seem to have any difficulty. But Cam mentioned that neither Shane nor Hunter was comfortable with transporting…could it have something to do with their color? Or more specifically, their types?>/i>

Billy ran through in his head all of the information Cam had sketched out for him about Ranger types. But as far as Cam applied that information, it pertained to Ninja Rangers…unless the Ranger “type” is universal. That was certainly an idea worth exploring, but this was not the time to do it.

What does Cam’s transporter do that is different from how Zordon’s worked? He is clearly using the Newtonian theory of energy transfer…all matter can be changed to energy. But for Conner it appears that something is getting lost. What’s he using as a conductor? I suppose it doesn’t matter, it’s not the components of the computer that are important, but the process.

Billy sat up quickly and rapped his head on the underside of the console. Haley peered over the top of her computer. “Revelation?” she asked.

Billy laughed slightly as he probed what was sure to be a nice sized bump on his head. It was so funny – Haley didn’t waste time asking him if he was okay the way most people would. She clearly understood the way he thought, and that was a nice change of pace.

“Indeed. Do you have any idea what Cam uses as a buffer when he transports the Rangers?”

Haley looked speculative. “We didn’t discuss it. Shall I go find him?”

“No need, I’m already back." Cam crouched between Billy and Haley, with a mug of tea held loosely in his hands
.
Billy, caught up in the excitement of solving the problem asked, “When you transport the Rangers, you break down their composite molecules into the smallest atoms, and change those atoms into pure energy.”

“Right,” Cam nodded as he listened to Billy. Then he looked over his shoulder to see who was in earshot. “Just don’t describe it like that around Hunter or Shane.”

“Okay…” Billy was dismissive of the Red Rangers' discomfort. “But, when you transmit the energy, what do you use as the buffer? How do you channel where the energy goes?”

“I never used a buffer. I just encapsulate the Ranger energy in an energy field I create, and move it from one place to the other.”

“I think that’s it!” Billy cried decisively as he jumped to his feet. Fingers flying, Billy input numbers and codes into Tommy’s computer. Cam and Haley hovered closely behind him. Billy spoke rapidly as he continued to make calculations. “The original Ranger technology was created by Zordon. His transporter used the Power Coins as a focus for transportation. The coins acted as a buffer for the energy that was transferred. I used Zordon’s template to update and create transporter technology for later incarnation of Rangers.”

“Now, when you developed your own transporter, you were working with no blueprints, no model to follow. What you’ve created is quite impressive.” Billy turned to Cam with a grin only a fellow inventor could bestow. “But, your Ninja Ranger energy, particularly the “body” types, just can’t handle being pulled apart and reconfigured the way you have it set up.”

“I get it…” Haley interrupted. “In the transfer, with no buffer, the body types have to expend so much energy keeping themselves together, that when they land, there’s a moment or two of disorientation while they pull themselves back together – literally.”

“Right!” Billy exclaimed.

“Okay, “ added Cam. “But Shane and Hunter didn’t suffer the effects we’re seeing with Conner. They were transported many times and didn’t have this cumulative effect we’re seeing with Conner.”

“True, but that may have more to do with the power source than anything else.”

“The transporter power source?” asked Haley.

“No, the source of their Ranger power.” explained Billy. “The ninjas were more able to control or adapt to the teleporter Cam created because they have an internal source of power that has nothing to do being a Ranger. Conner’s Dino gem is an outside source of power, or at least it started that way, and all of his Ranger power comes from there. I think…if we can use his Dino gem as a channel and a buffer…”

Now it was Haley’s turn to get excited. “So if I just modulate the frequency of the transporter to resonate with Conner’s Dino Gem…”

“I can’t believe I didn’t see it.” Cam shook his head.

Billy smiled sympathetically. “It happens to all of us. Sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes.” Cam nodded, but didn’t seem prepared to relinquish responsibility. Instead he focused intently on the changes Haley was making, in case he needed to make further repairs in the future.
Billy thought to himself as he watched the other two, At least I can do this little bit. I hope it makes a difference.
________________________________________

Kim wandered around Tommy’s basement laboratory lost in her own thoughts. She couldn’t quite wrap her mind around the fact that Tommy had a Command Center located beneath his house - it was so Bruce Wayne. And, that he’d kept is a secret from all of them for all this time. Not that he’d have any trouble keeping things from Kim – they hadn’t spoken in years…nothing past surface conversation anyway.

The Pink Ninjetti Ranger walked around the lab trying to reconcile the image of the boy she remembered with the man she barely knew. She couldn’t do it, and was nearly overwhelmed by her inability. And what made the situation worse was knowing that the lack of connection was all her fault. Oh, she could lie awake at night listing all of the ways Tommy had damaged their relationship in an attempt to validate her own actions. But in the end, she’d been the one who’d broken away. She’d been caught up in the freedom of a new life.

Going away to Florida gave Kim a chance to try to recapture something she thought she’d lost – normality. She yearned for the chance to live an ordinary life, without the potential of having to save the world again and again. She wanted to have a boyfriend who was devoted to her and wasn’t in constant mortal danger. She didn’t want secrets or hiding things from her family. She wanted a real life, so when the opportunity arrived she grabbed it with both hands.

She’d been swept away by the charms of someone who understood the passion of her sport. But when the dust finally cleared, she was alone; abandoned by the charming seducer who’d moved on to greener pastures. What she was left with was a life thousands of miles away from the best friends she’d ever known. She couldn’t bring herself to pursue reconciliation with Tommy because she was so lost in anger at him, and pity for herself. Because she couldn’t deal with him, she focused her anger on Billy for encouraging Kat to help Tommy “get over” her. She regretted the damage she’d caused to that lifelong relationship almost as keenly as losing Tommy. She hadn’t been able to make amends with Billy either; first he’d been off to Aquitar, and since his return he’d been working on top secret government projects. He was so uncomfortable around her that when they did happen to see one another, he was almost impossible to understand as he fell back into genius-speak.

So Kim did what both Tommy and Billy had done to ease the pain of the divide between them; she threw herself into school and work. After her success at the Pan Global games, Kim divided her attention between earning a degree in Health and Fitness, and developing her gymnastic skill. Eventually she’d become a coach and had assisted the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic team. Both geography and time provided Kim with perspective – her anger had long since vanished, replaced by a keen discomfort and profound shyness when it came to her old friends. However, her discomfort and shyness battled fiercely with the desire to set things right, even if that simply meant being able to sit in a room with Billy or Tommy without feeling like they hated her.

Am I crazy to think this whole situation is a sign? That it’s time to settle things, or at least clear the air so we can all breathe a little easier? Kim’s eyes started to fill with tears as she recalled how she’d felt upon entering the dreamscape the night before. Seeing Tommy standing in the small circle suffused with power brought back so many memories. Joining with the other Ninjetti Rangers reminded Kim of her own power, and there was never any question of coming to help. The question is...can I be helpful? And what do we do when it’s over?

“Kim?”

Kim started and whirled. Blake had an expression of apology on his face. “Hey, sorry…I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Oh, hey…no. I was just lost in my own thoughts, you know?” Blake nodded, and gave Kim a moment to compose herself by changing the subject. He nodded with his chin toward where Hunter had settled with the Dino Rangers. The situation on the couch had changed.

In the short time it had taken Blake to walk across the lab Conner had fallen asleep. The toll that transporting had taken on him was obvious; even asleep he appeared exhausted. He didn’t know if Conner had slid down, or if Hunter had pulled him closer, but Conner had ended up resting against Hunter’s left side tucked in under his arm. Blake’s heart swelled with pride in his brother.

“It’s funny. Ten minutes ago he was pacing like a maniac. Now he’s sitting still and looks like he’s doing more than he’s done all day.”

Kim smiled a genuine smile. “He probably is.”

In the time the Rangers had spent together throughout the day, Sensei’s discussion of Ranger “types” had been the hot topic of conversation. Things that they’d attributed to personalities made so much sense when looked through the lens of color or type association. To an outsider, Hunter’s desire for Conner to be close to him would just be weird; but the Rangers understood that Hunter and Conner’s compatibility as similar color and type Rangers made it possible for Hunter to help Conner recover more quickly from the effects of the transporter. If Rocky or Shane had been available, there was no doubt they’d end up camped out on the couch too – to literally lend a hand for support.

It was the same for the mind types - gravitating toward each other and bending their considerable brain power to planning the assault on Mesogog’s fortress as well as fixing the transporter glitch that continued to wipe Conner out. And, it was the same way Blake kept drifting back to Kimberly. She smiled a knowing smile because she understood what he was feeling, but this time she felt ready to talk.

Chapter Text

Elsa growled in frustration. The Rangers had dispatched the third monster she’d sent down to Reefside. Do they think monsters grow on trees?

Elsa pondered her options. Up until now she’d held the Tyranodrones in reserve. While they served for general search and destroy or snatch and grab missions, they were not effective fighting the Rangers for long periods. For one thing, there seemed to be some scrambled circuits in their restructured DNA that didn’t allow them to work as a cohesive unit – they always seemed to fight the Rangers one at a time instead of grouping together to overpower them. It was only under the direction of Zeltrax or Elsa that the Tyranodrones were able to sustain group unity.

But Elsa couldn’t take time away from the lab to direct the drones, and Zeltrax wasn’t able to function without direct orders from Mesogog. Elsa was not about to disturb the Master with a plea for him to send Zeltrax out with a pack of drones to distract the Rangers. It was her assignment to distract the Rangers, and she would not fail.

Elsa stalked around the lab, tapping her nails on the shelves, looking for inspiration. It wasn’t simply a matter of throwing a monster together; there was subtlety involved. But subtlety involved time, and time was lacking. Keep the Rangers busy, she instructed in her head, So busy they cannot mount a rescue.

Elsa paused in her circuit in front of a glowing blue beaker. She looked at it speculatively. It wasn’t so much what was in the beaker, but that it reminded her of another beaker that Mesogog held in his lab. Maybe I’ve been going about this all wrong. I don’t need to defeat the Rangers…just wear them down. She pulled the blue beaker from the shelf. The Master did say to use all the resources at hand. That would include any special resources he’s kept in reserve.

Elsa chucked to herself as a plan began to form. It was so utterly simple! They had all been focused for so long on building a bigger and better monster that they never beheld the solution that had been under their noses the whole time.

Elsa placed the blue beaker firmly back on the shelf. She spun on her heel and strode out of her lab toward Mesogog’s. “You there!” she snapped at a Tyranodrone, “gather the others, at least fifty, and meet me in the laboratory. Do it NOW!”

The Tyranodrone skittered off as Elsa continued on her way. Maybe Fealdor can suck the energy out of one ex-Ranger, but I will have the distinction of defeating the Dino Rangers once and for all! With that triumphant thought, Elsa hurried on her way.

Elsa’s momentum didn’t last long. It was as if thinking of Fealdor conjured him up. Suddenly there he was standing before her, all hunched shoulders and reptilian features. Of all of Mesogog’s minions, Elsa liked Fealdor the least. He was too quiet and she believed he was always out to undermine her. Well, not this time!

“Get out of my way, toad! I have business to attend to.” she snapped.

But Fealdor would not be deterred. Ever since his involvement with draining the former Ranger had begun, he’d evidenced more of a backbone than he’d ever shown before. It was irritating and a little inconvenient.

“This will just take a moment, Elsa.” He replied, refusing to rise to her bait. “And, it might be something you enjoy…” he added slyly. As he held out a cylindrical container and removed the lid, the object inside caught her eye. Almost against her will Elsa’s mouth began to quirk in an evil grin. She eyed Fealdor speculatively.

“Who’s that for?” she asked.

“Come with me and I will explain.” Fealdor cajoled.

Elsa’s curiosity got the better of her impatience. She even let Fealdor drone on a while without interrupting. He was sputtering something about the boy refusing to eat, and if he didn’t sleep through the night he might not be at full strength the following morning. So, he planned to drug the boy into a good night’s sleep. But, he didn’t have the dexterity in his hands to handle a needle successfully, especially if the boy struggled. That was why he needed Elsa’s help.

Elsa didn’t care a whit about his plans – she just wanted to see the look on Tommy’s face when, yet again, the former Yellow Ranger was subjected to the will of Mesogog and Tommy could do nothing to stop it. Elsa felt her good mood returning.

Once they arrived at the door of the prisoners’ new cell, Fealdor handed over the needle to Elsa. The two Tyranodrones who had been standing guard were given orders to enter the room first and subdue Dr. Oliver. Fealdor would demand that Dustin submit to the injection or risk mortal injury to the Black Ranger. Fealdor had no doubt that the boy’s self-sacrificing nature and inability to risk the life of his friend would make the episode relatively quick and easy.

Fealdor needn’t have worried. There was no reaction from the prisoners when the Tyranodrones entered the room. In a brief but intense moment of panic, Fealdor thought the Rangers had escaped. Then, as he scanned around the room, he realized that they were seated on the floor and appeared to be meditating.

Elsa was disappointed with the underwhelming response to their entrance – she’d been prepared with a pun about giving Dustin her “best shot” and now it was wasted. Growling slightly she pushed Fealdor aside and strode across the room toward Tommy and Dustin. “You hardly needed me for this!” she complained. “You could’ve just hit him on the head and he’d be unconscious for hours.”

Dustin, seeming to sense a hostile presence, stirred and moved instinctively away from Elsa as she grabbed his arm. He hadn’t quite come to awareness when she knelt beside him and squeezed the plunger on the needle, forcing some of the clear liquid through the top. Much more aware now, Dustin’s eye’s filled with panic as he tried to push away from Elsa, but she had the advantage of surprise and leverage.

“Sweet dreams, Ranger.” Elsa drove the needle viciously into Dustin’s arm. Maybe she hadn’t had the chance to watch Tommy squirm….but seeing the Yellow Ranger’s sincere panic was almost as satisfying.

Elsa rose to her feet, not even bothering to look back and see if Tommy had roused enough to realize what had happened. He wasn’t important now. It was time to make her own plans come to fruition.

Chapter Text

Kanoi floated, resting momentarily from the fruitless search for Tommy’s mind-touch. The energy and focus of those around him was steady and strong. Though Shane and Tori were most familiar to him, he was also able to draw strength easily from the others, particularly Adam. The five young people had centered themselves into deep meditative states, allowing Kanoi to draw on their energy to aide his search.

Kanoi concentrated his efforts on reaching Tommy, rather than Dustin, for a number of reasons. The circumstances were different than they had been earlier – Dustin was in no immediate danger so his mind and soul were not screaming with the need for Shane and Tori. Dustin couldn’t draw his teammates to him as he had earlier; even when he had first done it, it was pure instinct and was unlikely he’d be able to duplicate that achievement. Dustin was much stronger reaching others with emotion, and without an overwhelming or life-threatening situation he was simply unable to make the connection.

However, now that Tommy’s mind was familiar to Kanoi, he sought out the younger man in the same way he had before – he was the red banded hawk circling and hunting for the white falcon. It shouldn’t have taken this long, or have been this difficult. Kanoi was becoming concerned, but he kept his apprehension shielded from the others in the circle, not wanting to upset their balance.

The one obvious asset that Kanoi did not have at his disposal this time around was Conner’s strength. Kanoi hadn’t realized at the time just how deep the boy’s power went. Shane and Rocky combined didn’t even hold a candle to the power Conner had provided. Whether it was the fact that he was an active Ranger, or that he had opened his mind up to a degree Kanoi had never felt before, Conner was a key piece of the equation that Kanoi hadn’t counted on having such an impact on the attempt to reach Tommy.

But there was something else that was different in the search this time. There was definitely an active impediment denying Kanoi access to the captured Rangers that hadn’t been there before. Or if it had been present before, Conner’s sheer power was able to overwhelm it. As Kanoi gathered himself to search once again, he drew himself into the form of the red-banded hawk. His wings caught the eddies of energy created by the ninjas around him and he turned his thoughts toward those on Mesogog’s island.

In this mind state, physical structures were not necessary, but Kanoi found it easier to focus on this particular task with visual references. His visualizations were mere sketches compared to the dreamscape he had been able to create with Conner’s help, but a vast landscape was not necessary. As he narrowed his focus, the visualization of Mesogog’s fortress appeared in his mind’s eye. He didn’t bother to fly directly toward it – experience had taught him that tactic was useless.

Kanoincircled the fortress, seeking changes in energy fields or fluctuations in the light around the island, anything that might indicate a crack in the shielding around it. It was this shield that was preventing him from making contact with the others. It was as if their activities earlier had alerted someone to this avenue of communication. And now, the shield prevented Kanoi from getting through at all – everything he tried simply rolled off. He’d tried “sneaking” under the shield to no avail; he pulled deeply on Shane and Rocky to try to pound his way through; he positioned Adam and Tori a variety of positions to try to “confuse” the shield holder, but nothing worked.

A flicker of movement caught Kanoi’s attention. Something white was moving within the shield around the island fortress; not just moving, but flying! Kanoi dove toward the white blur, toward the place where it seemed to be trying to break through the shield. He hoped he could intercept the falcon before he gave up.

Tommy! Kanoi called out with his mind, using as much force as he could muster.

The falcon continued to batter itself against the shield, showing no indication that he had heard Kanoi’s call.

Kanoi stopped his forward motion, and took a moment to deliberately change his shape. He concentrated on his human form; without looking, he knew his aspect had changed. He moved forward and placed his hand on the barrier separating him from Tommy. The shield was cool and pliant as long as he wasn’t trying to force his way through.

The falcon drew back and Kanoi felt a surge of disappointment. Then Tommy’s aspect changed as well and Kanoi could see his human form behind the shield. Looking at Tommy through the barrier was like peering at him through the tank of an aquarium. The power fluctuations in the shield distorted Tommy’s image, but Kanoi could make out that he was trying to speak. In an imitation of Kanoi, Tommy reached out to touch the shield as well, but it did not allow him to make contact.

Before Kanoi could formulate a plan the situation changed drastically. From within the confines of the shield came a powerful surge of energy, strong enough to push Tommy forward. Startled, Tommy crashed through the shield and into Kanoi. For a moment, neither registered what it was that gave Tommy the power to break through, and then the feeling of Dustin’s panic overwhelmed them both.

Tommy’s immediate instinct was to draw away and return to Dustin, but Kanoi held him fast. Kanoi understood that this was likely the only time they’d be able to make contact and he didn’t want to waste the opportunity. He compelled Tommy to share whatever information he learned , and tried to give Tommy all that he knew about what was going on at the same time. He didn’t know if Tommy would be able to assimilate the information once he regained consciousness because Tommy was untrained in mind-speech and might simply be overwhelmed by the method of presentation.

In a moment, Kanoi released Tommy. His natural inclination was to return to his body and a waking state. Unfortunately, whatever agent was maintaining the shield was aware of the breech and was trying to prevent Tommy from returning to his body back on the island. But, though the entity had tried to close the gap that Dustin’s power had created, it couldn’t stand against Shane’s reaction to Dustin’s panic. The red ninja had reacted immediately and intensely to Dustin’s pain. Just as Tommy had been pushed out, Shane had been pulled in. His presence was pulled far enough to hold the gap, but Kanoi and the others as an anchor prevented him from going all the way through. Though Dustin’s panic, indeed his very presence had faded, Shane’s initial anger and growing rage kept the gap open. The fact that once more Dustin had been assaulted, and once more Shane was unable to help fueled the power Shane tapped to stand against the shield.

Kanoi reached out to the others in the circle. They all felt what had happened and were ready to assist at Kanoi’s direction. They had to work together to time it so that Tommy could return to his side of the shield while they pulled Shane out. The difficulty was that Shane had no intention to returning to their side. He was beyond rational thought; the only thing in his mind was getting to Dustin. He didn’t understand that without his body to return to, if he was drifting on the inside of the shield, he would very well be lost to them.

Quickly Kanoi drew mental images of all of the others and pulled their awareness forward. Giving them a mental picture of Shane would make it easier for them to grab hold and yank him out. The former Red Ranger stood spread-eagle in the gap straining mightily against the shield. Against all odds, he was actually making forward progress; they had to work quickly before his momentum got him through.

Together Rangers…GO!

Tommy darted through the closing gap as the others worked to tear Shane away from the shield. Kanoi and Rocky each grabbed an arm; Tori lay against his back with her arms wrapped around his torso. Aisha aided Rocky and Adam helped Kanoi. It took a moment before Shane realized he was now not only fighting against the shield, but also against the others.

NO! I can’t leave him again!

The anguish and anger that surged through Shane gave him additional momentum; but it lasted only a moment. He could not fight them all. With a wrench, Shane flew free and all of the assembled ninjas crashed back into consciousness. The explosion of energy created by the backlash resulted in an equal physical reaction when the Rangers rejoined their bodies.

All of the ninjas were flung away from the epicenter of the circle, but no one was tossed as far by the power as Shane. He was actually flung out of the circle, though Tori tried to catch a hold of him. Shane was rocked by so much power he was literally bowled over until he crashed into the wall. For a moment no one moved – no one was able. In the next instant Cam rushed to his father’s side. The other occupants of the lab were not far behind.

“Father!” Cam’s voice was full of concern.

“I am alright, Cam.” Kanoi fought to sound composed though he had been shaken by the backlash of power. He hoped to fool the others, but he knew he would never fool Cam. He allowed Cam to help him sit up, and soaked in the steady calm and strength that was his son. Cam settled on one knee by Kanoi’s side, allowing his father to draw on his strength while he assessed the situation. Kanoi scanned the circle to his left first; this was where the Ninjetti Rangers had been seated.

Of the ninjas who had been part of the circle, Adam seemed to be the least affected physically. Of the three former Ninjetti Rangers, he was the one most used to dealing with spiritual energy, and dealing with its fluctuations came naturally to him. He was able to shield Aisha greatly from the backlash, but was not so successful with Rocky who was tied more closely to Shane than she was. When the explosion had happened in the circle, Aisha crashed into Adam who was ready to catch her; Rocky who was sitting closer to Kanoi and Shane was tossed away from the other two. He had landed flat on his back with his arms flung out to the side.

As Kanoi watched, both Aisha and Adam made their way over to their unconscious teammate. Aisha flung herself across Rocky’s chest to reassure herself that he was breathing, and then remained there lending him her presence and strength. Adam took up a position near Rocky’s right shoulder and laid his hand on Rocky’s head. Though unconscious, Rocky seemed to be responding to them. Billy joined the group and stationed himself on Rocky’s left side.

Kanoi scanned the remainder of the circle, assessing how his ninja students had fared. Tori was trembling in reaction, much like she had earlier. This time it was the emotional pain of both her teammates that had her unbalanced. Kanoi was grateful to see that Kim had stepped in to help her. She took a seat on the floor beside Tori, effortlessly caught the younger woman up in her arms, and rocked her gently, helping to ease her pain. The source of that pain wasn’t far away.

Shane hadn’t moved from the position he’d crashed in against the wall. He lay with his right leg bent and leaning against the wall. Both of his hands covered his face. Every muscle in his body was rigid with tension. He looked like that devastated player you see at the end of a football game who has just missed catching the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the game that would’ve taken the team to the playoffs. But it was so much worse than that. A choked sob confirmed just how devastated Shane was feeling.

Ignoring every pain in his body, Kanoi attempted to move; he just couldn’t leave Shane to suffer that way. But his body would not respond; he simply was not able to get any closer to Shane than he already was, and Cam was not going to help him extend his taxed abilities any further. But Kanoi needn’t have worried. One of the Bradley brothers approached Shane, it just wasn’t the one Kanoi expected.

Surprised to see Blake approaching Shane, Kanoi looked to see what had become of Hunter. He had to smile at the position Hunter was in. In the time they had been meditating, Hunter had become ensconced on a couch with the Dino Rangers. Conner was laid out across his lap – Hunter had maneuvered a pillow under Conner’s head, but Conner was a messy sleeper and had Hunter pinned neatly on the couch. Kira had wormed herself around from her end of the couch and was lying against Conner’s legs. She was much more compact and had pulled herself into a tiny ball curled against the small of Conner’s back. Ethan had crashed seated on the floor, leaning against both Hunter and Conner. If Hunter had attempted to dislodge himself he would have awoken two if not all of the Dino Rangers. It was clear from the expression on his face that he wanted to aide the situation; every time Shane emitted another sound Hunter flinched. But seeing Blake taking the situation in hand seemed to ease his stress a little bit.

Kanoi could sense that all of the Rangers who were conscious were torn between wanting to be present to help Shane, and wanting to give him a little privacy. Blake didn’t seem to be aware of anyone in the room other than Shane. He didn’t reach out to embrace Shane the way Kim had done for Tori. Instead he knelt by his tormented teammate; he reached out his left hand to rest on Shane’s chest and reached out with his right to lie on his head. Blake’s position blocked Shane from the view of most of the others in the room. Kanoi couldn’t make out what Blake was saying, but a sudden increase of broken sobs from Shane was an indication that whatever Blake had said had gotten through.

It was as if that release from Shane allowed everyone else to move. Between them, Adam and Billy levered Rocky off the floor to an empty couch. Kim guided Tori off to the side, so she could have a little privacy for herself, yet be close enough to assist Blake if necessary. Kanoi let Cam guide him to yet another chair, and allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment while Cam ran to make him some tea.

And what have we accomplished? We know little more than we did before. Our enemy has the means to block our communication. And, Shane was nearly torn in two. Kanoi sighed, feeling very old. Yet, he could not help but see the good that had come from the situation. Kim had stepped in to help with no urging, and Blake had moved to help Shane when no one else could. I should not be surprised – since it is Shane’s heart that is troubled, it was a whole heart he needed to soothe him.

Kanoi tried to gather his thoughts while Cam was preparing his tea. He had received a vital piece of information from Tommy in their brief communication. The time they had was short; and Dustin’s time was even shorter. Mesogog planned to drain him of energy in the morning. It gave them only a few hours to plan. They would have to pull together quickly if they were going to have a chance of success. Kanoi prayed that Shane, Rocky and even he himself would be up to the challenge. The stakes were even greater than Dustin’s life – the fate of the world was in their hands.

Chapter Text

Kim smiled again as she motioned for Blake to join her on a nearby couch. It was the loveseat he and Tori had occupied earlier, but with the two of them being so slight, there was plenty of room for both of them to sit. Their new position gave them a handy spot to survey everyone else in the room. Cam, Billy and Haley were at the main computer station, deeply engrossed in fixing the transporter glitch that had been troubling Conner. The Dino Rangers were camped out of the big couch with Hunter opposite the computer display. Beyond them was the circle of ninjas, still in deep meditation seeking out Tommy or Dustin.

Kim noticed Blake’s gaze drifting again toward Hunter. Blake definitely felt a fierce pride in his brother…but there was something else there too. And Kim, though she was feeling more inclined to talk, found it easier to guide Blake in talking about himself than opening up about herself. So she followed her instincts as she had with countless students and friends in the past.

“You really miss him”

It was more of a statement than a question. Blake threw a half-hearted smile Kim’s way, and was preparing to make a flip response. But she didn’t miss the guilt and jealousy, however fleeting, on his face, and didn’t give him a chance to respond. Instead, she went for the kill. She had enough experience to know that going right for the heart of the matter from the start saved a lot of time in the end.

“You don’t really think Conner would be able to take your place, do you?”

Blake’s nakedly shocked expression was answer enough, but he tried to cover it up “What?! No…of course not! I…” Blake’s words were saying one thing, but his face said another. His gaze drifted over again to the couch where Hunter was attempting to make Conner more comfortable without waking him up. Kira silently passed a pillow over to him, and while he adjusted the slumbering Red Ranger she realized that her new position suited her better. She promptly drew another pillow over for herself, curled up into a ball and settled down in the space between Conner and the couch.

Kim tried to see Hunter the way his brother did. She got the feeling Hunter was rarely so solicitous of anyone other than Blake. The gentle way he was tending to Conner was something Blake had never seen him do for anyone outside of his family. Very likely, the only time Hunter ever wore that particular expression of gentle concern on his face was when Blake was sleeping or sick enough not to remember it. It was hard for Blake to see Hunter care for someone else with such concern because it brought up uncomfortable feelings for him. That in turn, made him feel guilty and angry at himself. Kim knew from her own experience that this was a situation that needed to be nipped in the bud.

Kim scooted closer to Blake to lay a hand on his arm. Her touch drew his attention and his gaze. The fleeting emotions that crossed his face were nothing compared to what she could feel from him. Immediately Kim could sense him wanting to withdraw; again, she didn’t give him the chance. Instead of insisting he share more of his own feelings, she shared her own. Without words, she passed to him her own feelings of freedom and guilt when she left her team. For her it was different because her team was still active, but all of the things she went through and had felt were the same.

Kim caught Blake’s gaze again. His expression now was one of wonder at being able to communicate using pure emotion and profound relief at finding someone who understood what he was going through. And Kim could admit between them, she was feeling the same.

“After I left for Florida,” Kim stated softly, “I was so excited just to be away. It was fun and scary and amazing and exciting. I loved my school, I loved my teammates and I loved being able to focus totally on gymnastics. I loved each and every day...but the nights were really hard.”

“I know what you mean… I love riding.” Blake said in an equally soft tone. “I love being out there racing and getting to travel all over the country. It’s really awesome!” Kim could see in his eyes how sincere his feelings were. Then he dropped his gaze. “But it’s hard too…being away from everyone. Tori…Hunter…I feel like they’re doing so much more important stuff. They’re all changing, and I’m still out there riding bikes. I’m the one who left, but I feel like I was the one left behind.”

Again, Kim understood exactly what Blake was feeling – not just because she could feel it from him, but because she’d lived through it herself. For a simple, quiet moment, they sat being comforted by a perfectly understanding heart. Kim softly withdrew her hand from Blake’s arm, no longer needing a physical touch to be bound to him. She scooted back and drew her legs into a pretzel under her. Blake turned to face her, pulling his right knee up, and folding his left leg under him.

Kim shared her feelings of loneliness and being isolated from the team. Blake couldn’t catch all of the details of the situation from her emotions, but he knew that it was an old pain and one that she wanted desperately to alleviate. It was what she had picked up from him and why she had responded so strongly. She hoped that by sharing her story with him, he would never feel the isolation from his team the way she’d felt with hers. Because of her age and experience, Kim was more adept at picking up details from Blake’s emotional state than he was with hers. She hadn’t realized in all the years she’d been teaching and coaching that the instincts she followed to counsel her students lay heavily with the “heart” type she’d always been.

Blake, so relieved to find someone who could relate to his situation, was now eager to share his feelings – if for no other reason than to get them off his chest. But being unused to communicating with pure feeling, he resorted to speaking instead. “This thing with Hunter and Conner…I just feel so stupid about it. Of course Hunter would help him. It’s what he does. He’s wicked overprotective.” He gave Kim a look to underscore his statement; it made her chuckle because behind it was all of the exasperation of a younger brother who’s unable to get his big brother off of his back.

Blake’s exasperation surged into a spike of jealousy which he ruthlessly suppressed. Kim intervened. “Blake, you’ve got to understand…it’s totally okay to feel however you feel. You’ve had Hunter basically to yourself your whole lives; it’s natural to feel jealously when someone else comes in the picture. There’s nothing wrong with how you feel.” She tried to underscore her statement with insistence and understanding. Blake was hearing her, but he wasn’t buying it. So she tried another tactic.

“Blake, we feel things all the time. You can’t put a positive or negative on how you feel anytime you think you’re feeling something “bad”. Jealousy is a natural emotion. It’s only “bad” if it takes over all of your thinking or made you want to do something to hurt Conner.”

“I would never do that!” Blake responded heatedly.

“Of course not!” Kim agreed. “That’s what I’m saying. Listen to your emotions, acknowledge them, but don’t let them take over.” Kim’s own surge of emotion as she spoke was clear enough for Blake to pick up on.

“Is that what happened to you, Kim?”

Now it was Kim’s turn to look away. Her gaze drifted over to where Billy was working. He was no longer in the thick of things; he was standing slightly off to the side watching Cam and Haley. Kim was amazed at his poise, and how confident he was. Kim pulled her gaze away and looked back at Blake who was waiting expectantly. “I listened to my emotions…but they did take over. But the time I cleared my head, I was faced with such a huge mess…” She sighed deeply. “I waited too long to try to fix things, and in the end I just ran away from my feelings…at least with the people who mattered the most.”

Kim was unable to continue to speak because she was too choked up. Unshed tears took in her big brown eyes. Blake moved instantly to close the gap between them and gave her a fierce hug. Kim was grateful for the support and hugged him fiercely in return. “Don’t let your team get away from you, Blake. They’re the most important people you’ll ever know.”

In her embrace, Blake could feel all the love and admiration Kim had for her teammates past and present. In his embrace, Kim could feel all the pride Blake had, not only in his brother, but in all of his teammates; but nearly equal to his pride was Blake’s concern for Dustin and the others and how this mission would shake out. Perhaps it was because they were so in tune with each other and through each other the others who were assembled, that Kim and Blake were the first to realize that something significant was occurring with the group working with Sensei Kanoi.

Blake could feel the strong echoes of Dustin’s panic, and Shane’s powerful reaction to it. Kim could feel Tommy’s intense need to protect Dustin against whatever agent had moved against him and guilt at his inattentiveness in his time of need. Before any of the others in the lab could react, Kim and Blake were already in motion. The explosion of power that rocked the small circle threw the ninjas in all directions. But for Blake there was only one destination. He had a sense that in this situation Hunter’s physical power was not what Shane would need and as he rushed by the couch where Hunter was seated he sent an “I got this one, bro” message to his brother. Then he put Hunter out of his mind so he could focus on Shane.

Because he’d been so open with Kim at the time he felt Shane’s distress, Blake felt so much more from Shane than he ever had before. The choked sob from Shane nearly brought Blake to his knees, but he never stopped moving. He was amazed that everyone in the room wasn’t overwhelmed with Shane’s emotions though he could sense that Tori was having a hard time. Grateful that Tori had Kim to help her, Blake dropped to Shane’s side.

Though Blake had no gift of mind-speech, Shane’s thoughts were so caught up in his emotions that he was easy to read. I let him down again! (rage) I’m helpless! (despair) I’m useless! (inadequacy) Dustin HATES needles! (FEAR) Each thought/emotion cycled through in a flash, repeating over and over. And each time, Shane became tighter and tighter with tension, attempting to quash his roiling emotions. Blake instinctively knew that if Shane continued he would be crushed under the weight of what he was carrying; he had to let it out.

Blake reached out to lay his left hand on Shane’s chest, and placed his right hand on his head. He positioned himself to give Shane as much privacy as possible because he already had a plan and knew what he had to do. Even Blake’s gentle touch had caused Shane to withdraw even more – there was no more time. Blake leaned in, speaking softly so only Shane could hear. He reinforced what he had to say with every shred of power he could muster as he whispered, “Shane…Dustin needs you more than ever now. If you give up on yourself, you’re giving up on him too. We’re going to get him back…he owes me fifty bucks.”

Blake’s completely random and inappropriate non-sequitor forced a completely involuntary laugh from Shane, which led to a more natural release as he allowed himself to cry. Once Shane stopped fighting himself, Blake became aware of movement in the room, as if everyone was waiting for that to happen. He was glad that people were starting to move away – it was bad enough for Shane to break down, he certainly didn’t need an audience for it.

Blake stayed where he was while Shane cried himself out. As Shane’s breathing became less labored and the tension left his body Blake shifted slightly in order to scope out the lay of the land. Deliberate or not, the shortest path to the steps leading up to the kitchen was free of any impediment. Now that Shane was somewhat under control, Blake could feel a growing sense of embarrassment from him. He needed to get Shane out of the lab before that became the next issue.

“Shane, if we make a break for it, we can get upstairs in two seconds.”

Shane didn’t even lift his arm off of his eyes to check for himself. “’kay.” He used the wall as a lever and pushed himself off of the floor. Blake caught him before his forward momentum caused him to fall in the other direction. Throwing Shane’s right arm over his shoulder, Blake half-pulled, half-guided Shane to the stairs. Everyone in the lab conveniently found somewhere else to look while the two of them made their way up to the kitchen.

Once the door to the kitchen was heard opening and closing, movement resumed again in the lab. Cam looked questioningly at his father. “He will be alright, Cam. Shane is in very good hands.” Neither Kanoi nor Kim missed Hunter’s beaming grin.

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Blake dropped Shane into the nearest chair at the kitchen table. Shane wearily laid his head on his arms and sat quietly. He wasn’t talking to Blake, but Blake could still sense how he was feeling. Shane was totally worn out from his emotional episode; the one good thing about it was that he was simply too exhausted to be really embarrassed. Blake hoped he’d be able to talk him around before that became a real issue.

Throughout the day Blake had noticed that whenever Hunter was attempting to get Conner back on his feet he tried to get him to eat. And now that he thought about it, Shane and Hunter always had a tendency to eat a lot especially after an arduous battle. Blake felt that Shane had pretty much been through the wringer, so he began searching for something to feed him.

I hope Dr. Oliver has a stash of junk food somewhere…Shane needs some comfort food!

Blake had only scanned two or three cabinets when he hit the jackpot. Right behind the box of granola bars was a box of graham crackers, and right behind that was the bag of marshmallows and two big bars of chocolate. “Score!” Blake cried jubilantly. The honest excitement in Blake’s voice was enough to make Shane crack a smile, but not enough for him to lift his head to see what Blake had discovered.

Blake brought his treasures over to the stove and was glad to see that Tommy had a gas range, not electric. He gathered a plate and some shish kabob forks and set the first few marshmallows up for toasting. While he kept himself busy preparing the snacks, he tried to “read” Shane and tried to plan his next move. By the time the first s’mores were assembled Blake had pretty much decided he had no plan, and that he’d speak to Shane from the heart – it always worked for him in the past, this was no time to try to be something he wasn’t.

Blake carried the plate over to the table and slid it next to Shane’s elbow. He helped himself to a s’more and sat down in the chair opposite Shane. He could feel Shane’s tension increasing, but the level wasn’t extreme. Blake took an exaggerated, noisy bite of his s’more. “Ummm…perfect! I am the master of marshmallows.”

Shane finally moved, propping his chin up on his folded arms so he could look sardonically at Blake. “Master of marshmallows?” he repeated. Unconsciously he reached for a s’more. He sat up straighter and started eating.

“Yeah, just ask Hunter. My marshmallows are never burned or undercooked. I’m a slow roaster.” Blake delivered this statement with a perfectly straight face.

Shane reached for another s’more with his left hand while licking melted marshmallow off the fingers of his right hand. “Umph…” he muttered in appreciation. Blake took it as a compliment. He didn’t know if it was the food in general or the sugar specifically, but to Blake, Shane already looked a hundred percent better.

Taking advantage of Shane’s improved state of mind, Blake decided to cut to the chase. There was no telling how much time they had so Blake dove in. Catching Shane’s eye he asked, “What happened down there?”

Immediately Shane spiked rage, despair and fear – but it was not incapacitating like it had been in the lab. And it surprised Blake to realize that Shane wasn’t carrying his own fear; the fear was really Dustin’s.

Shane grabbed another s’more and shoved the whole thing in his mouth. Blake gave him some time to eat because he could sense that Shane was trying to give himself time to gather his thoughts, not to avoid Blake’s question. Blake nibbled on his own s’more and tried to project support to Shane.

“We were all there, backing up Sensei, you know? It didn’t feel like we’d been meditating too long, but when Sensei takes the lead like that, time just sort of slips away.” Blake nodded his understanding.

“Then from out of nowhere, I could feel Dustin - he was panicked!” Blake could feel Shane surge with fear again; it was strong, but again it was like an echo because it wasn’t Shane’s own fear, it was Dustin’s. What was stronger was Shane’s anger and helplessness. Blake felt battered by the raw emotions, but didn’t have the experience to cut himself off from what Shane was feeling. So he just dug in like he would against a strong wind and listened as best as he could.

“There was a needle.” Shane shook his head like he was trying to clear the image from his mind. “It came out of nowhere…just this big needle.” Shane surged again with empathetic fear for Dustin’s panic. “It’s not just that Dustin hates needles…they completely freak him out. And he never had a chance to get away.” Shane shuddered with the memory.

Now Blake could feel how Dustin realized he wasn’t alone and when he opened his eyes all he could see was the needle. Blood surged, adrenaline poured, throat closed in panic, but he couldn’t get away. The pain caused by the injection was nothing compared to the panic that the needle was in his arm. In his mind he screamed out for Shane, the only person who’d ever been able to help him through his fear.

Blake drew in a deep breath and tried to divorce himself from the shared memory – Shane didn’t seem to realize how Blake was struggling. He continued talking. “Did you ever notice down at the track...whenever Dustin got hurt bad enough to need stitches or something he always managed to distract the medic long enough to get away?” Blake brought his attention back to what Shane was saying, it seemed to help his clear his thoughts.

He really thought about what Shane had just asked. A dawning understanding came across his face. “Now that you say that, I think I did notice that.”

“When we became Rangers it was easier for him because of our quicker healing ability. Plus, Tori with her water element was able to help ease a lot Dustin’s minor scrapes and cuts.” Blake nodded again, this time with a fond smile. Tori had eased many of his own bumps and bruises.

Shane continued quietly. “As long as I’ve known Dustin, he’s had this needle thing. One time...he had to get a tetanus shot. It was so bad…”

Blake winced sympathetically. “Ooooo….”

“It was before we met you guys, not long before we became Rangers. Dustin took a harsh fall on the track and some jerk had left some scrap parts where they had no business being. Kelly could not take the risk of Dustin getting an infection and insisted that he get the tetanus shot. His mom actually called me because Dustin said he’d only get the shot if I would be there. With his dad being gone and everything, he didn’t want his mom to see him freak out.” Shane let out a deep sigh as he recalled the incident. “I pretty much wrapped him up in a bear hug and he pounded my arm black and blue. His doctor was cool…never told his mom how bad it got.”

Blake could feel Shane’s emotions that were tied to the event and realized that the greater issue Shane was dealing with was not Dustin’s fear or his own anger – it was his inability to be physically present to help Dustin in his time of need. It made so much sense to Blake in light of “body” types – Shane’s physical distance from Dustin while at the same time knowing he was facing repeated traumas was more than he could handle.

Blake was feeling a little overwhelmed himself and at a loss for what to say next when his cavalry arrived in the forms of two lovely ladies, Kim and Tori. Tori wordlessly slipped into the seat next to Shane and place her hand in his. He squeezed it gently, “You okay, Tor? I didn’t mean to pull you out like that.”

“I’m better ‘cause you’re better.” Tori looked at Blake and graced him with the heart stopping smile she reserved only for him. “Thanks.” she whispered. Blake reached across the table for her free hand. They needed no words as his heart spoke easily to her mind.

After a moment, Blake broke contact and pushed himself away from the table. As much good as he had done for Shane, Tori could do even more, and he was feeling the need to get his own equilibrium back. He left Shane and Tori talking softly and he went back to the stove to roast a few more marshmallows. Kim was in the process of doing the same.

“Good idea.” She motioned to the fixin’s.

“It seemed to help. I’m going to make a few more to bring downstairs.” Blake skewered a few marshmallows. “Are you going to stay up here?” He nodded slightly over his shoulder. It felt important to him that Shane and Tori not be left alone.

Kim nodded in response. She understood what he was feeling because she felt the same way too. The worked in silence for a few minutes, but it wasn’t strained or awkward. As Blake put the finishing touches on the s’mores he was preparing, Kim gently reached out to touch his hand. “You did a good job, Blake.” He felt so much more than her words could convey, and he appreciated it.

When Blake returned to the lab there was a lot of muted activity. Blake worked his way around the room with the cookies. Billy and Haley politely refused the offered s’mores on the grounds that they did not want to get melted marshmallow on the sensitive computer equipment. Aisha and Adam were hovering near Rocky who was conscious and upright, but looking dazed on the couch. Rocky gladly accepted the offer of s’mores and grabbed one in each hand; Aisha seemed slightly disapproving until noticing Rocky’s almost immediate improvement after inhaling both of the snacks. She grabbed a few more to keep in reserve. Cam declined the s’mores, but Kanoi accepted them with thanks.

At last, Blake finished the circuit of the lab ending up at the couch where Hunter was still trapped beneath the Dino Rangers. “Did you save any of those for me?” he asked.

“The best ones, bro.” Blake replied grinning. He placed the plate on the arm of the couch near Hunter’s right hand. And since there was no room for him on the couch, Blake pulled a chair over and parked himself slightly behind the couch on Hunter’s right side. Then, closing his eyes, Blake leaned over and let his head drop onto his brother’s shoulder.

Finally – a port in the storm. His proximity to Hunter allowed Blake to regain a feeling of inner calm that had been blown apart by the encounter with Shane. Now I get it. I get it and I can feel it too. Blake could no longer harbor any jealousy toward Conner now that he understood just what the Red Ranger was getting out of being in contact with Hunter; it was what Blake had always taken for granted since becoming a Bradley. Hunter was his touchstone, his physical center. He was so grateful for his brother and at the moment all he wanted to do was soak him in.

To say that Hunter was startled by Blake’s movement was a gross understatement. In their lives, Hunter was the one who sought out physical contact, Blake almost never did. He was in an awkward position surrounded by the sleeping Dino Rangers, but that didn’t stop Hunter from reaching back with his right hand to place it on Blake’s neck. Blake’s deep sigh of relief was an indication that it was just what he needed.

“You okay, bro?” Hunter’s voice was low but full of concern. Blake nodded and smiled into his shoulder – some things would never change. He was feeling better already, about everything.

Chapter Text

Mesogog sat, still as a statue, on his chair in the main laboratory. Elsa and Fealdor were off working on their plans to subdue the Rangers; Zeltrax stood silent and stoic near the genome randomizer. None of his underlings were his concern at the moment - at the moment he was fighting his inner demon, Anton Mercer. Increasingly, Mesogog was the dominant personality in control of the body he shared with Mercer, but Mercer was never silent and struggled to break free at the most inopportune moments. Mesogog was too close to victory and permanent freedom from Mercer to give in to his human side now.

Those who served him knew better than to disturb Mesogog when he was so internally focused, so it was a shock to him when his awareness was invaded by an unfamiliar presence – unfamiliar but anticipated. The visitor has returned.

With utter single-mindedness, Mesogog attuned his thoughts and bent his will to preventing the unknown assailant from making contact with those inside the fortress. Earlier, Mesogog had been inattentive, not expecting the Rangers to use a mental means of communication – they had never evidenced abilities like that before. When the same unknown presence made contact with the Rangers he was unable to prevent them from communicating, but he did make it extremely difficult for them to maintain contact by pouring his own mental energies into the shield that was protecting them and preventing him from knowing what was said. Ever since that initial assault he’d been anticipating another, but this time he was prepared to stop it.

He found the futility of this new enemy somewhat amusing to watch, but was puzzled at the lack of power at hand. When contact had been made earlier, it had a different “flavor” – there was much more raw power involved. This time around there was still that feeling of the controlled mind, but it seemed lacking. And watching Tommy Oliver attempt to get past the barrier on his side was a joke; though Mercer was sympathetic to his plight and wanted him to break through.

When the power behind Tommy pushed him through the shield, Mesogog was enraged and immediately attempted to cut him off from returning to his body. But something stood in his way – again, it was unfamiliar, but it had a definite feeling of “red”. Mesogog tried repeatedly to slam the gap shut but was thwarted by the energy attempting to breech it. In the end, it wasn’t he who removed the barrier, it was the other. And Tommy had successfully managed to return to himself. Damn that human!

Screaming in inhuman frustration, Mesogog leapt to his feet and opened an invisaportal directly before him. Stepping through he vanished in an instant.

_____________________________

Elsa strode down to the main lab, confidence increasing with each step. The more she thought about her plan, the more convinced she became that not only would it work, but that it would be so successful that she would certainly retain her position as Mesogog’s right hand after the world had been returned to its former glory. She was so wrapped up in her train of thought that she never noticed Mesogog in his chair when she entered the lab. She was entirely focused on searching for the jar containing the ingredient she needed; the blue one she was reminded of when she looked at the beaker in her lab.

So intent was Elsa on finding what she was looking for that she actually jumped when Mesogog gave a guttural yell. Whirling she turned to face him. He was standing in front of his throne, and was so angry that the bone plate above and between his eyes was glowing. He always looked like that right before he inflicted one of his mental punishments on her or Zeltrax. Elsa scanned the lab in dismay; she was the only one there…but she hadn’t done anything wrong!

“My lord…” she began weakly. Mesogog ignored her completely, and opened an invisaportal directly in front of where he was standing. Without a word he stepped through and vanished.

Elsa let out the breath she’d been holding, and leaned against the table that was closest to hand. She willed her frantically beating heart to slow down. Not angry at me…he’s not angry at me. I did nothing to displease him. I will not end up like Zeltrax.

The lab’s sliding door snapped her out of her own thoughts as the Tyranodrones she had sent for began to assemble. Turning away from them determined not to show weakness; Elsa turned her mind back to the task at hand. She scanned another shelf, this one above and to her right. And there it was! The element she’d been seeking. Gently she reached up to grasp the container. As she brought it down to her eye level, the confidence that has been shaken by Mesogog’s unexpected outburst began to return. She smiled to herself as she turned toward the Tyranodrones – she would not fail.

___________________________________________

Fealdor smiled in satisfaction. The circumstances weren’t exactly what he’d envisioned, but in the end, the former Yellow Ranger was unconscious and that’s what he wanted. He ordered one drone to pick up Dustin and place him on the cot, while the other kept Dr. Oliver out of the way. Whatever the prisoners had been doing when Fealdor and Elsa had come in was apparently very disorienting. Even after the boy was drugged and moved to a bed, Tommy still hadn’t fully roused, though it was clear he was struggling to come to consciousness. But he was not Fealdor’s concern.

Fealdor was preparing to take one last reading before leaving the boy to sleep when the door to the cell crashed open revealing an enraged Mesogog standing before a shrinking invisaportal. Fealdor’s heart leapt into his throat as he tried to imagine what had brought Mesogog here in such a rage. Tommy, too, sensed the danger and attempted to stagger to his feet.

“What have you done, Black Ranger?” Mesogog intoned as he strode into the room.

Tommy was still trying to clear his head and didn’t respond. Kanoi has pretty much ripped the details about what had been going on from his head, then shoved in all the information he had about the plans the others were making. It was painful and Tommy hadn’t had enough time to process everything. Dustin’s panic attack didn’t help either. As it was, he could barely manage to make out what Mesogog was saying.

“Who have you called in to help you?” Mesogog didn’t give Tommy as chance to answer before unleashing a searing bolt of mental energy into Tommy’s brain. With his mental shields so scrambled after the encounter with Kanoi, Tommy could do nothing to defend himself. He screamed, fell back to the floor and drew himself into a ball attempting to escape the excruciating pain. Mesogog maintained the energy for a few more seconds before he severed the connection; Tommy was left gasping and panting on the floor.

“I will learn what you know, Dr. Oliver.” threatened Mesogog as he reached down and grabbed Tommy by his throat. Effortlessly he pulled Tommy off the floor and off of his feet. Helplessly Tommy dangled in Mesogog’s grasp. Black spots flooded his vision as Mesogog’s talon closed around his throat and the oxygen was cut off to his brain.

Quick as a flash, Mesogog whirled and slammed Tommy against the wall, never loosening his grip. Mesogog stood as close as a lover initiating an embrace. He dropped his voice to a sinuous whisper, “Do you think you can hide your thoughts from me?” Tommy couldn’t make a verbal response; he was too busy struggling to breathe.

Mesogog released some of the pressure pinning Tommy to the wall, enough to allow his feet to slip down and support his weight. Ignoring his victim for the moment Mesogog turned to Fealdor and the Tyranodrones still in the room. “Dr. Oliver thinks he can circumvent my plan. His allies will not be able to defeat me. I will not be denied!” he ended in a roar. He pointed to the Tyranodrone nearest to the cot. “Take the boy now and put him in the energy chamber.”

Without hesitation the drone lifted Dustin and tossed him over his shoulder like a rag doll. Fealdor worriedly input data into his scanner and followed the drone out of the room, mincing after him like a mother hen. Fealdor looked back in horror as Mesogog elicited another scream from the Black Ranger. His own thoughts were racing as he followed the drone down to the main lab.

We can’t drain the boy like this! The chamber will kill him outright and we will be no better off than we were a few hours ago. Then Mesogog will kill me! I have to make him understand…I have to make him listen. I never should’ve drugged the boy…what did the Black Ranger do to make him so mad?

_____________________________________

Mesogog unleashed bolt after bolt of mental energy into Tommy until the Black Ranger was unconscious and shuddering helplessly on the floor. Mesagog's rage had not been abated by unleashing his frustration on Tommy, and he was increasingly distracted by Mercer’s feeble attempts to get him to stop.

How DARE they think they can defeat me? How DARE they think they can infiltrate my territory? They are weak children and I hold their leader. I will no longer tolerate their interference.

But Mesogog didn’t know enough about this new enemy to fight against it. He and his minions were barely holding their own against the Power Rangers they knew, let alone the allies they didn’t know. I must know what he knows. Mesogog advanced on the limp form of the unconscious Black Ranger. Instead of unleashing pain inducing energy into his brain, Mesogog instead tried to extract what he could. He thrust mental fingers into the weak human's brain, but his repeated assaults had scrambled any information Tommy had in his short term memory, and until the man was conscious and able to reorganize his thoughts, attempting to get information this way was useless.

Grabbing Tommy by the shirt, Mesogog picked him up and slung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He opened an invisaportal back to the lab and stepped through. To his surprise the lab was very crowded. Elsa had been hard at work it seemed, but Mesogog’s focus was on Fealdor.

Fealdor was standing by the door of the energy chamber. He was frantically inputting data into the console that controlled the chamber. The Tyranodrone that had taken the boy was still holding him, though he had transferred the boy off of his shoulder and into his arms. He seemed to be waiting for directions.

Dropping Tommy at the foot of his throne, Mesogog advanced on his reptilian minion. “Begin the energy transfer now, Fealdor. I am tired of waiting.”

Fealdor audibly gulped and attempted to speak, but nothing came out. The bony ridge above Mesogog’s eye sockets began to glow an ugly orange. He advanced upon Fealdor threateningly. “What are you waiting for?”

“My lord…” Fealdor choked out as he backed away from his advancing overlord. “My lord….we can’t do the transfer yet.”

Mesogog let loose with a bolt of mental energy that brought Fealdor to his knees. The reptilian minion squealed in pain and when it was over was left gasping for breath. Mesogog motioned for the drone to place the Yellow Ranger in the energy chamber. The drone put Dustin on the floor propped up against the far wall of the cubicle chamber. There was room enough for him to sit, but not to be laid out – the chamber was not made for it’s victims to lay down, but rather to be standing during energy extraction.

As the drone closed the chamber, all that could be seen of Dustin was his shoulders and head. The lowest part of the chamber was girded in steel on all four sides and blocked the line of sight.

Mesogog turned back to Fealdor who had used the console to pull himself back to his feet. “Do it now.”

“My lord, “ Fealdor began again, even as he shrank away from the anticipated blow. “It won’t work…not like this.” He paused holding his breath; Mesogog growled but did not respond with punishment. Fealdor pressed on. “For the boy…for this to work…the power…” He took a shuddering breath and tried to calm himself. Look at the data. Present the facts. Mesogog will have to understand.

“Right now the boy is presenting his purely human nature. The power is there, but he has not accessed it. If we use the chamber now it will only draw on his human energy – he’ll be dead in two minutes.” Fealdor took a deep breath and continued. “The boy needs to be conscious to call upon his power. As long as he can maintain a balance between the power we draw and the power he calls upon we can use him indefinitely. That was what happened yesterday. When Zeltrax interfered, the power drain was too great. The boy lost the ability to maintain his connection to his power. I watched the tape. As soon as he…” he shook his head looking for words to explain what had happened. “When his ninja suit exploded and he was back in street clothes everything went crazy because the chair was only drawing on his human power and it almost killed him.”

“Then wake him.” Mesogog ordered in a lethal tone.

Fealdor shuddered. He didn’t want to say what had to be said next because he was responsible. “He’s been drugged, my lord.” he whispered. “We can’t wake him.”

“That is unfortunate for you…Fealdor.” Mesogog advanced on him menacingly. Then Fealdor heard something he never thought he’d be grateful to hear – Elsa’s voice.

“I’ve done it!” she exclaimed.

Mesogog whirled, displeased with being interrupted. And looking at Elsa’s face Fealdor got the feeling she hadn’t intended to make the exclamation aloud. But, Elsa was never one to let the opportunity of being the center of attention to get away from her. Always one to turn the situation to her advantage, she turned to address Mesogog.

“I have some good news for you, my lord. Maybe this can keep you entertained while you wait.”

Standing before her were three Tyranodrones she had put through the genome randomizer. “I do not find Tyranodrones entertaining, Elsa.” growled Mesogog.

Elsa smirked, exceedingly pleased with herself. “I’ve made some improvements, my lord.” She slunk over toward the three enhanced drones and spoke as she walked around them. “I’ve decided to use the coding flaw in the Tyranodrones to our advantage. We’ve all seen them in battle; they can’t fight as a group unless directed by myself or Zeltrax. So the Rangers pick them off and they lay injured or wounded until we disengage and bring them back here.”

She stopped walking as she came around the last drone in line. Caressing the shoulder of the nearest drone she looked at Mesogog as she continued speaking, “But what if they couldn’t be injured? What if they were virtually indestructible?”

Mesogog cocked his head speculatively. “What have you done, Elsa?” His tone was far more intrigued than angry; Elsa’s confidence soared.

She strode back to the control panel for the genome randomizer and pointed to the data as she explained. “You said earlier to use whatever resources we had at hand. I remembered something you had here in your lab. A liquid infused with elements from an acorn from the Tree of Life. I used the liquid in combination with the genome randomizer to enhance the stamina and health of the Tyranodrones. Even as we speak they are filled with life energy and will be virtually unstoppable.”

She gestured in a “what can you do” motion. “Eventually the drones’ bodies will be unable to sustain their increased energy levels and will drop dead; and I’m not sure how long each one will last. This is just the first batch, so I may have to tweak the level of the infusion.” She made a dismissive gesture with her hands. “We have enough drones…we can experiment.”

“But…” she strode toward Mesogog in her excitement. “we’ll send the drones down in groups of three. Each one will be programmed to fight just one Ranger for as long as possible. We can keep sending down replacements, but they won’t be able to take a break.”

Fealdor couldn't prevent himself from asking, “What’s to stop them from disengaging from battle?”

Elsa clapped her hands in girlish glee. “That’s the best part! Not only have the drones been programmed to fight a specific Ranger, I’ve also included a second command. If the Rangers attempt to break off from the fight, the Tyranodrone will start killing civilians!” She laughed harshly. “You know how they feel about protecting the people of Reefside. They can’t stand idly by while others are in danger.”

“Elsa…” Mesogog was practically purring with delight. “your plan is completely diabolical – using a flaw in the Tyranodrones against the very human flaws of the Rangers. It’s so simple it’s perfect.” Elsa preened under Mesogog’s gaze.

“Well it seems we’ll have something to keep us occupied while waiting for the Yellow Ranger to come around. And if by the time he wakes there are no Rangers left…our new world will be perfect and ready for the taking.”

Striding across the room, Mesogog stepped over the inert form of Tommy to ascend to his chair. Settling himself comfortably he gestured for Elsa to send down the first batch of enhanced drones. He looked down at Tommy. He hoped the Black Ranger regained consciousness soon; it wouldn’t do for him to miss the destruction of his team.

Chapter Text

Kanoi watched the others work around the lab with a growing sense of urgency. He knew they all needed time to regain their strength, but from what little information he could glean from Tommy’s mind he knew they were working on a much tighter time limit than anticipated. They didn’t have much time to finalize their plan before the Ninjetti Rangers would have to infiltrate Mesogog’s fortress.

Glancing over toward the computers, Kanoi gathered that the three who had been working on the transporter glitch had been successful in repairing it. They seemed to be making minor adjustments, not frantically scrambling to fix anything. Blake’s return to the lab with a plateful of food indicated that Shane was back on his feet – Blake wouldn’t have left him if he thought he was still needed. Rocky seemed to be rejuvenated, not only by the assistance of his team, but also by the cookies brought by Blake. Blake himself appeared more grounded and less shaken after a few minutes spent with his brother. Kanoi determined that they had all regrouped as much as they would be able; now it was time to get to work.

Placing his empty teacup on the table near his chair, Kanoi rose and approached the main computer console. His movement caught the attention of all those in the lab. They could sense their time of preparation was at an end. Wordlessly, Blake rose from his seat behind Hunter and jogged upstairs to retrieve Shane, Tori and Kim. Hunter gently shook Conner and Kira to wake them; he jostled his leg to wake Ethan as well. As soundly as Conner had been sleeping, he was alert in an instant. Conner seemed more surprised by Kira’s proximity than realizing he'd been napping laid out across Hunter's lap.

Giving Kira a chance to uncurl herself, Conner looked up at Hunter and grinned. “Thanks, bro.” he stated.

Hunter answered with a grin, “Anytime.”

Conner didn’t have any leverage where he lay and he couldn’t roll off the couch without landing on Ethan, so Hunter gave him a push into a seated position. This maneuver nearly landed Conner on top of Kira. Conner scooted back as Hunter got up in order to give her some space, but it did cross his mind to wonder if she always looked so cute and tousled in the morning.

“G’morning.” Conner grinned widely. He felt stupid saying it, but really, what else was there to say? With more room to maneuver without Hunter on the couch, Conner swung his legs over Ethan’s head – much to the Blue Ranger’s annoyance – and stood up. He gallantly offered his hand to Kira to help her off the couch, which she accepted with a smile and “Good morning!” of her own. Ethan, irritated by the unusual morning perkiness of his teammates grumbled from his spot on the floor. Conner offered him a hand up as well, and the three made there way over to where everyone had gathered.

But the time the Dino Rangers joined the group, Blake had returned with the others from the kitchen. Kanoi moved to stand by Haley, with his back to the viewing screen, facing the assembled Rangers. Tori and Shane stood close together on his right side; Cam and Hunter on his left. Billy gravitated toward Kim who remained close to the Wind Ninjas and was surprised when she reached out to take his hand. Taken aback, he looked down their clasped hands and then at her face – he could read a world of feelings there, but mostly apology and regret. Billy squeezed her hand tightly and tried to convey his own apology and acceptance. Her brilliant, grateful smile was all he needed to see to know his message had gotten through.

Aisha, standing on Billy’s right, threaded her arm through his and looked around her lanky teammate toward her petite friend. Her eyes gleamed with pride and approval as she winked at Kim – they needed to go into this situation with all of their strength – Kim’s gesture toward Billy did a lot to alleviate the tension Aisha hadn’t even realized she’d been hanging onto. Rocky and Adam completed the Ninjetti grouping. Aisha could feel the strength of the team building even stronger now that all of the hearts were whole, or at least healing.

The Dino Thunder Rangers assembled on Adam’s right. Ethan and Conner stood on either side of Kira. Not surprisingly, Conner ended up next to Hunter. Blake completed the circle by stepping in between Hunter and Cam. Kanoi nodded with approval. It was time.

“My friends,” he began, gesturing wide to include all of them, “the moment is now upon us. Mesogog has detected our ability to mind-speak with those he is holding and has successfully prevented that avenue of communication. I believe he is aware of the presence of others, but does not know our abilities or number. I do not know how long Tommy will be able to withhold this information from him. We must strike while we still have the advantage of surprise and stealth.”

“From what little information I was able to gather from Tommy, both he and Dustin are safe and well for now. But Mesogog intends to tap Dustin’s earth energy this morning leaving us very little time.”

Kanoi scanned the faces in the circle around him. They were grim and determined, but unafraid. “Ninjetti Rangers, it falls to you to infiltrate Mesogog’s fortress and attempt to rescue our friends.”

Haley stepped forward handing a small device to Billy. “With this you can track Tommy and Dustin’s energy signatures. They’ll be significantly stronger than everyone else’s. You’ll also be able to detect when anyone is coming your way.”

“Thanks Haley.” Billy smiled as he accepted the device.

“You guys ready?” Rocky asked.

The Ninjetti nodded in response and stepped back into formation. With Rocky in the center, Aisha and Adam flanked him on one side, while Billy and Kim flanked him on the other. One by one they called on the ninja power that lay dormant for so long.

“Red Ninja power!”

“Yellow Ninja power!”

“Black Ninja power!”

“Pink Ninja power!”

“Blue Ninja power!”

The other assembled Rangers watched in awe as the animal spirits of each Ninja responded to the call for power. The ape, frog, bear, crane and wolf spirits glowed bright around each Ninjetti; everyone in the room could feel the sense of welcome and return projected by the spirit animals. As the bright light coalesced around each Ranger it created the Rangers' ninja uniforms. When the transformation was complete each Ninjetti stood hooded and masked facing the others.

Ethan couldn’t control his glee. “That was so cool!”

Conner scoffed. “You do it every day, dude.”

“Not like that…and it’s not like I get to watch it happening…” Ethan grumbled and Kira thwacked Conner on the arm. Ethan shot Conner a look.

Conner caught his eye and smiled flashed a lopsided grin. “I guess it was pretty cool.” he admitted. Ethan smiled, satisfied.

Kanoi waited for the youngest rangers to settle down, and then turned his attention to the oldest. “We all have a part to play Rangers – you are the ones who will begin. Rocky, mighty and strong; Aisha, cunning and fierce; Adam, courageous in spirit; Kimberly, agile and graceful; Billy, silent and sure - I can give you no advice beyond this…listen to your inner ninja…trust one another.” Kanoi looked deeply into each Ninjetti’s face as he was speaking. They each met his gaze and nodded in affirmation as he spoke. “When you work as a team, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.”

Kanoi turned slightly toward Haley. She nodded toward him, “I’m ready whenever you are.”

Kanoi bowed solemnly toward the Ninjetti. “May the Power protect you.”

The Ninjetti returned Kanoi's bow in a silent salute. Haley pushed the transporter button on the console and they were immediately transformed into beams of colored light. In a flash they were gone.

The fight had truly begun.

Chapter Text

Only moments after the Ninjetti departed the monster alarms in Tommy’s lab began to go off. Haley immediately moved to the console and pushed some buttons to bring up the image. Her brow furrowed in suspicion at what she saw. “That’s strange.” she stated.

An invisaportal had opened up and dropped three Tyranodrones in the center of the courtyard in front of Reefside’s municipal building. The early risers who had business at the courthouse quickly scattered as they noticed the three mutants – dropped donuts, spilled coffee and scattered newspapers were all that remained as evidence of those who had swiftly fled.

The Dino Thunder Rangers gathered around and looked over her shoulder. “Where are the rest of them?” asked Ethan.

“Don’t they usually travel in packs?” asked Kira simultaneously.

“What are they doing?” added Conner after a moment of observation.

The Tyranodrones were acting peculiar, even for them. They just stood together as if waiting for something. They hadn’t even menaced those citizens who were slowest to get away. The Dino Rangers looked at each other. Haley muttered to herself as she ran a scan of the area.

“Maybe it’s some kind of trick?” Kira suggested, even as she shrugged indicating that she didn’t know.

“All the scans indicate that there are no other mutants in the area. No monsters, or anything else.” stated Haley – she almost sounded offended at the weirdness of the situation.

“Should we…do something about them?” offered Blake.

“Yeah!” agreed Hunter enthusiastically. “Those are the guys we’re supposed to take on, right?” indicating Cam, Blake and himself.

“Yes Hunter, “answered Kanoi, “but we must proceed with caution. We have initiated our opening gambit…this may be Mesogog’s.”

“Three of them, three of us…it hardly seems fair – to them.” Hunter crowed. Cam grimaced at Hunter’s grasp of odds-making.

Kanoi, sensing that this indeed was the beginning of the battle that would engage them all, nodded his assent. There was so much he wanted to say; so much knowledge he wished he had time to impart. But time was now their enemy. He had to trust that these young people had the strength and ability to see the battle through to the end. The loss of any one of them didn’t bear thinking about. And he could not allow any doubt or worry to color his thoughts lest he pass it on to them.

Kanoi gestured and gathered the Rangers to him. They stood in a circle – Wind Ninjas to his left, Cam and Thunders to his right, Dino Rangers in the middle. Automatically they all clasped hands. Kanoi deliberately called up the power in each one of the young people around him – the ninja elements responded, and even the ancient dinosaur spirits came to his call. Cam was staggered by his father’s ability and for the first time saw him truly as a Master Ninja, and not just his father.

Cam’s awe was transmitted through the circle, but was absorbed by the power that had been generated. Each Ranger had a brief taste of the power that was in the hands of the others. And overwhelming all of this was Kanoi’s faith, pride and confidence in each one to accomplish the task ahead. He gave them a moment to take it all in, and then deliberately broke the circle. “It is time. May the Power protect us all.” Kanoi bowed formally to the group, and then stepped back.

Haley’s attention was diverted from the screen and watched the small gathering with awe. When Kanoi had called upon the power, Shane, Tori, Cam and Hunter had all been powered up into their ninja training suits. Haley wasn’t clear on why Blake hadn’t changed clothing as well – maybe he hadn’t brought the suit with him? It didn’t seem to her to be that important, but Haley could tell that Blake was a little discomfited by his lack.

Hunter could sense it as well, and clasped Blake firmly on his shoulder. “Time to kick some mutant butt, bro!” The look that passed between them seemed to say It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing – I know you’ve got my back. Blake nodded at Hunter, encouraged. Cam joined the Thunder ninjas, standing by Hunter’s side and took a ready stance. He nodded to Haley. “Ready when you are.”

She nodded resolutely in return. “We’ll be in audio contact with you at all times. I’ll let you know if anything strange happens.” She glanced toward the screen where the trio of Tyranodrones still stood waiting. “Well,” she amended, “anything stranger…”

In a flash of light the ninjas were transported away, leaving the Dino Rangers and Wind Ninjas in the lab. Kanoi gestured to Shane and Tori. “One battle has begun, we must begin another. Come.”

Shane and Tori followed Kanoi toward the main seating area of the lab where they had meditated before. It’s funny Tori thought how familiar this spot is to me already. Quickly and proficiently the three ninjas settled into meditative poses. Unlike their earlier excursions where Kanoi had taken the lead, Shane and Tori took the lead in tandem with Kanoi as their anchor. They weren’t trying to mind-speak Dustin, but to reach him on a more primal, elemental level. They in turn would anchor him if the Ninjetti Rangers were unable to prevent Mesogog from attempting to leech his Earth energy from him again.

With the Ninjetti, Thunder and Wind Rangers all engaged, the Dino Rangers were left gathered around Haley at the main computer console. For a moment no one spoke.

“This is just weird.” Conner exclaimed.

Kira nodded in agreement. “Yeah…just standing here while other people are fighting…”

“…and not being able to help them out…” Ethan finished.

“Welcome to my world.” Haley muttered under her breath, echoing Ethan’s catchphrase.

-----------------------------

The ninjas teleported into Reefside in flashes of green, crimson and navy energy. They landed together on the sidewalk on the south side of the courtyard facing the municipal building. The area was still deserted though the Tyranodrones had still not made a move.

Cautiously, the three ninjas approached; Hunter took the lead. In spite of his earlier statement declaring he was ready to “kick some mutant butt”, Hunter was experienced enough not to rush thoughtlessly forward. He assessed their surroundings as they moved forward looking for possible ambushes or areas to take a stand.

Directly behind the position where the ninjas had landed was the street. At this time of the morning the traffic was light; Hunter hadn’t noticed even one car going by. Considering the size of the buildings and the number of people that must work in the municipal building alone, Hunter determined that there must be private parking somewhere out of sight on the far side or underneath each building. That was good – it would keep unnecessary civilians from getting involved. They were walking on a wide cobblestone path leading to the open area of the courtyard – the three of them easily walked abreast without crowding each other. On either side of the cobblestone path were two sets of stone chess tables with low stone benches. Trees provided shade for the small recreation area and created a park-like setting.

The end of the cobblestone path opened up to a wide courtyard area, also laid with cobblestones. The courtyard was wide and sunny, enclosed on three sides by buildings. The buildings flanking the east and west sides were a shopping center and an office building respectively. The north side of the courtyard was dominated by the stately municipal building.

The shopping center was slightly more upscale than the smaller shops lining Reefside’s main street, catering largely to the inhabitants of the office building. The two story building was faced with many windows with a variety of items on display. A large kiosk was stationed on either side of the mall’s courtyard entrance – one selling gourmet coffee, and one selling newspapers and magazines. The proprietors of each stand had wisely taken refuge inside the mall when the Tyranodrones arrived.

The office building opposite the mall was also faced with windows, but they were reflective, not transparent, and their mirrored surfaces did not allow outsiders to see in. The ground level floor of the five story office building was given over to a modestly priced and very popular restaurant. The restaurant served only lunch and dinner, so they had no patrons at this time of the morning. However, many early risers enjoyed taking their coffee and newspapers and sitting in the outdoor seating area in front of the restaurant. A low stone wall, more decorative than functional, separated the outdoor seating area from the rest of the courtyard.

The focal point of the courtyard, nestled centrally between all of the buildings, was a circular fountain. On each primary compass point, three shallow steps led down to the fountain itself. It was a popular place for those with bag lunches to sit, taking a break from their duties at work. At the secondary compass points between each set of stairs, trees again provided shade and a park-like atmosphere. The municipal building, on the north side of the courtyard, rose like a transplanted Tara, straight out of Gone with the Wind. Three sets of five shallow steps led to the main entrance. Wide, white columns flanked the main doorway, and two large flagpoles displayed the Stars and Stripes as well as California’s state flag.

Hunter took this all in as he, Blake and Cam approached the fountain. The Tyranodrones remained motionless on the far side of the fountain, ignoring the ninja’s approach. Wordlessly the group split to make their way around the fountain – Hunter and Blake moved to the left, Cam walked around to the right. They regrouped on the north side of the fountain and took up ready stances. Every instinct Hunter possessed screamed that the situation was wrong – they hadn’t been attacked…it was almost like they were invisible.

Hunter glanced to his left and caught Cam’s eye. He knew what Cam was thinking. All of their ninja training taught them to fight only in defense; they drilled their students over and over to wait for their opponent to make the first move – not to initiate a battle. All of Hunter’s experience showed that mutant alien henchmen always mindlessly attacked, so there was never any question about an appropriate response. But this situation was different.

Weirdly different – Hunter hesitated.

As Blake shifted his stance between the other two ninjas the Tyranodrones finally moved. The one in the center stepped forward, and then fell flat on its face. It didn’t even put out a hand to break the fall, just crashed to the cobblestones and lay unmoving. Almost simultaneously the other two also collapsed.

“What the...?” Blake asked incredulously. “We didn’t even touch them.”

All three ninjas exchanged looks but didn’t drop their ready stances. All three scanned the area warily. “Haley?” Cam called out. “What’s going on here?”

“They’re dead.” answered Haley’s disembodied voice. “They literally dropped dead, and there’s no other mutant activity registering in the area.”

“I don’t get it.” Hunter stated. “Is there anything going on anywhere else in the city? Was this some kind of distraction?”

“No.” answered Haley. “There’s no activity anywhere else. I…”

Haley’s report was interrupted by an invisaportal opening above the three fallen Tyranodrones. It deposited a group of twelve Tyranodrones - very much alive - and sucked up the dead ones before it closed. The Tyranodrones now facing the ninjas didn’t hesitate, they immediately attacked.

“This is more like it,” Hunter stated as he ducked below the wide-armed swing of one drone while spinning to kick the legs out from under another.

“I don’t know,” Blake retorted as he exchanged blows with his own opponent, “I think I liked it when they just died.”

Cam didn’t join in the banter. He simply focused on the fight. He had an overwhelming sense that finally, the battle had truly begun.

Chapter Text

Mesogog sat on his throne with the unconscious Black Ranger at his feet and watched the situation in Reefside unfold. Elsa’s plan to use the element extracted from the Tree of Life to enhance the Tyranodrones was pure genius. The idea that they could send wave after wave of nearly indestructible drones to fight the Rangers was utterly enthralling. Mesogog anticipated watching the Rangers drop, and wondered how long it would take for the first one to fall. He checked the digital clock on the main computer console; it read 6:15. Of course, it was immediately apparent that things were not destined to go according to plan.

Elsa hissed in frustration as the three unknown figures appeared in the courtyard to face off against the Tyranodrones. “Who are they?” she demanded of no one in particular. Two of them were dressed similarly to the former Rangers, with piping in crimson and green; the third was wearing street clothes in a navy hue.

For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, the Tyranodrones dropped dead on the courtyard.

“This won’t do, Elsa.” Mesogog hissed from his chair. “If the Tyranodrones just stand there waiting for the Rangers to show up what good is your plan?”

“We simply must draw them out, Master.” She was working frantically at the console. “Although the first three drones did not last long, I can work on improving the infusion. I will send down un-enhanced Tyranodrones to deal with those three. The principal is the same – if we overwhelm those ninja fools with drones, the others will come to their rescue. Once the Dino Rangers arrive, I’ll send down a new set of enhanced Tyranodrones…then there will be no escape.”

Elsa motioned to a group of Tyranodrones and sent them through an invisaportal dropping them directly in the courtyard of the municipal building. Almost as soon as they landed, they rushed toward the three ninjas and the fighting commenced. “That is more like it.” said Mesogog as he settled back to watch the fight.

Elsa transported the fallen drones back to the lab and began scanning the bodies to determine how better to alter the next batch of upgraded Tyranodrones. She may have had a large number of drones to experiment on, but she didn’t have unlimited time. She kept one eye on the fight in Reefside, and one on the clock. The first batch of drones she had enhanced lasted less than five minutes; and that was with no exertion at all. As soon as the Rangers showed up and she sent the next set, she’d have less than five minutes to make improvements before the Tyranodrones expired. If her plan was to succeed, she had to keep the Tyranodrones and Rangers fighting nonstop.

Elsa had already determined that the infusion she’d used to enhance the first set of Tyranodrones was too strong; it had increased their metabolism to such a great degree that their bodies had collapsed from the strain, even without fighting the Rangers. For the next set she cut the infusion in half. She would have to watch the effects carefully. Half a dose might not give the drones the invulnerability she desired. It wasn’t the drones she was worried about – she had enough of them to throw away in the fighting. What she wanted…what she needed was for the Rangers to stay engaged. They couldn’t hold out forever, and she wanted to be the one to make them fall.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Billy looked at his watch; it was 6:20 am. They’d been making their way through the levels of Mesogog’s fortress for nearly ten minutes. No one knew how much time they had before Mesogog attempted to drain Dustin of his Earth energy, but everyone felt a growing sense of urgency. Mesogog now knew about their attempts to contact Tommy and Dustin through Kanoi, but did he know about the Ninjetti and their plan to infiltrate his fortress? Had he detected their arrival when Haley transported them in?

Haley had very little information to go on when programming the scanner she’d given to Billy. The Dino Rangers had very little knowledge of the layout of the fortress beyond the level containing the main lab and holding cells. The device was building a schematic as they moved through the fortress, but there was no telling how many levels they had to traverse and what they’d find when they got there. From what Billy could tell, Tommy and Dustin were still several levels away, and were surrounded by a large number of others. Dustin’s energy signature was strong and steady; Tommy’s was too, but his neural pattern was somewhat erratic. Billy chose to keep that piece of information to himself.

With a silent gesture to the others, Billy moved forward. They followed leaving no trace of their presence behind them.

__________________________________________

Tori floated in the void – seeking, searching. Here, time was meaningless, though the analytical part of her understood that in the physical world time was a serious issue. She could feel Shane’s strong presence beside her as together they quested for Dustin. They did not seek in a particular direction; they expanded in all directions. They did not try to reach Dustin’s thoughts, instead they sought his spirit.

It seemed to Tori that they found Dustin’s presence very quickly, but time was a tricky thing. Dustin’s light was steady and strong - he was not imperiled or frightened. Rather, he was quiet and resting. He recognized them immediately and welcomed them in. Tori and Shane surrounded his light with their own. Together they waited, until it was time to fight.

===========================

Conner was growing increasingly agitated. “Haley, “he argued again, “we can’t just leave them out there to fight on their own. They’re getting crushed!”

Haley looked at the clock. It was 6:25. Hunter, Blake and Cam had been fighting the Tyranodrones for nearly ten minutes. Every time it looked like they might get a respite, more drones dropped from an invisaportal. It didn’t help matters that it was getting later in the morning and people were beginning to arrive to work in the surrounding buildings. Though most people were attentive enough to realize that the courtyard was not a safe place to be at the moment, there were still those who were not quite awake who wandered unsuspecting into the courtyard looking to buy their morning cup of coffee.

“Okay.” Haley answered resolutely. “New plan. You guys power up and take out those Tyranodrones. Cam, Blake and Hunter can make sure the civilians stay out of your way. You guys get that?” she asked the ninjas.

“Sounds good to me.” answered Blake as he flipped a drone over his shoulder and into the fountain.

“Back to the second string.” grumbled Hunter, though he wasn’t arguing too loudly about it.

Again, Cam didn’t bother to waste his breath with a verbal response. He focused on knocking out a trio of Tyranodrones attempting to menace an unfortunate businessman who was just looking to get a cup of coffee. Through the audio link Cam could hear Conner call out the command, “Ready?”

“Ready!” was the response. “Dino Thunder! Power up!”

In no time, three flashes of energy – red, yellow and blue – teleported the Rangers to the courtyard where they were fighting. Cam was pleased to note that Conner was no longer disoriented by the transporter. Conner flashed him a thumbs-up as he ran over to kick the drone closest to the coffee kiosk. “Let’s take these guys down!” Cam nodded in agreement and together they went on the offensive.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

“My Lord!” Elsa cried out, “They’ve arrived!” The viewing screen clearly showed the arrival of the Dino Rangers who had immediately come to the assistance of the ninjas in the courtyard.

“It is time.” Mesogog growled from his throne. Though he remained seated, he leaned forward expectantly as he watched the plan unfold.

Elsa noted the time on the clock; it was 6:27. The three drones she was sending down to Reefside had been given an infusion at half the power of the first set. They would certainly last longer, but might not have the level of invulnerability she was looking to achieve. She would have to monitor them carefully, and time it so that when their bodies failed, she would have the next set ready to go.

In a flash of green energy the enhanced Tyranodrones were transported and Elsa began working on the next three drones who had stepped up into the genome randomizer.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The first thing Tommy was aware of was excruciating pain. The second thing he was aware of was that all of the pain seemed to be concentrated in his head. He uttered a low groan and tried to force his eyes to open – they didn’t respond.

He had no idea where he was or how he’d gotten into such a state. Instead of trying to force his eyes to work, he focused instead on attempting to remember what had happened. It frightened him to realize that he had absolutely no idea.

Tommy had an overpowering feeling that something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Bad things were happening that he had to prevent, but he had no idea what he was supposed to do. This wasn’t his normal forgetfulness like forgetting the combination to his locker, or forgetting to meet Kim after practice. This was a total mental meltdown – Tommy felt himself starting to panic.

Again, he tried to force his eyes to open, hoping that if he got a look at his surroundings he might be able to figure out what was going on. He managed to get his eyes open a crack and had to shut them immediately. The light was blinding. Tommy rolled onto his side and threw his arm across his face, shielding his eyes in the crook of his elbow.

A voice very close by mocked him with words he couldn’t make out. Something hard nudged his shoulder causing him to roll even further onto his left side. Tommy tried hard to concentrate, but the screaming pain in his head made it very difficult. Black Ranger? Did he say Black Ranger? Is Adam here too? Is he hurt?

Tommy’s concern for his teammate overrode his pain. Slowly lowering his arm Tommy viewed the room where he was being held. The light was still painful but Tommy squinted through his tears try to make out people and shapes.

He appeared to be in some sort of laboratory – there were shelves lining the walls of the room, each lined with beakers and jars filled with unidentifiable liquids. Directly across the room from him, he could make out the shape of a woman with her back to him. She was intently focused on inputting information into the console she was standing in front of. Another burst of searing light caused Tommy to shut his eyes and turn away. The photo after-image was burned into the inside of his eyelids; it was tall and rectangular.

Blinking furiously, Tommy willed his eyes to obey and see things more clearly. Stepping out of the rectangular box were three obviously mutated monsters. But they didn’t look anything like Putties. What is going on here?

Tommy noticed another figure to the right of the rectangular box – it was definitely not human. Though the creature’s back was also to Tommy, he could see scaly limbs and a reptilian tail peeking out beneath the robe it wore. The lizard creature was also inputting data into a console, and seemed to be focused on the chamber slightly to its right. At first all Tommy could see in the chamber was a head of dark hair. Adam!

As though he had heard Tommy, the person in the chamber moved and looked up. The somber brown eyes that met Tommy’s gaze were not Adam’s, and Tommy felt a shock of recognition go through him. Dustin.

______________________________________

Fealdor was paying very little mind to the situation in Reefside, though he was grateful for Elsa’s little distraction. He’d been certain Mesogog was going to punish him terribly, perhaps hurt him even worse than he had hurt the Black Ranger; but if he could make himself indispensable to Mesogog’s plan, maybe future punishment could be avoided.

Fealdor was monitoring the Yellow ninja’s life signs very carefully and he noticed something he’d missed earlier. He had mistakenly identified the power that had been aiding in the boy’s recovery as coming from the Black Ranger. He thought that by keeping the two Rangers together, the boy would recover more quickly. But after Mesogog had abused the Black Ranger into senselessness, it was clear that the boy was still being supported by some outside power, and that power had never wavered. If he had truly been pulling power from the Black Ranger all this time, he should’ve been affected by the state the Black Ranger was in. Not only was the ninja unaffected, he seemed to be recovering far more quickly from the effects of the drug in his system than Fealdor had anticipated.

Fealdor glanced at the clock; it read 6:30. He glanced back at the display detailing the boy’s life signs and was shocked to notice the change in his brain wave pattern. He was awake! Fealdor glanced over to where the boy was seated in the energy chamber. The boy had lifted his head and staring at something across the room. Fealdor glanced surreptitiously over his shoulder; Mesogog had not yet noticed that the ninja was conscious. Fealdor moved slightly to his right, cutting the ninja off from Mesogog’s line of sight.

I’ll tell him in a few minutes. A few minutes can’t hurt. I just need some time to make sure the boy is ready. I cannot rush now and risk failure. This is my only chance to get this right.

Fealdor tried to calm his racing heart and focus on preparing for the energy transfer. It was almost time.

===============================

Haley immediately noticed something “off” when the latest batch of Tyranodrones was dropped on the courtyard. There were three of them, not a whole group. And almost as soon as they hit the ground, they split up. One made a beeline for Conner, one headed for Kira and the last went after Ethan. It was easy to track the three newcomers in spite of the number of other Tyranodrones engaged in the fighting. Their energy signatures were different and it had Haley worried.

“Guys,” she called out, “you’ve got some incoming Tyranodrones. There’s something different about them. Be careful.”

“Different?” answered Conner. “How…?” The drone programmed to fight the Red Ranger was the first to reach him. It attacked immediately and without pause. Conner grunted as he parried each blow, but lost ground as the drone pushed him back. As he was forced up against the wall of the restaurant the air exploded out of Conner’s lungs, but he managed to choke out, “Never mind.”

“Whoa, these guys are tough!” Kira called out as she deflected blow after blow. She ducked under a blow and rolled to her right; she nearly rolled down the stairs leading to the fountain. Blake came flying in with a high kick to the drone’s shoulder. The Tyranodrone knocked him aside, but it gave Kira enough time to get back on the offensive.

“I think they’ve been taking their vitamins!” Ethan responded. He kicked the legs out from under the drone attacking him, but barely had a chance to recover before it came back at him. A kick from the Tyranodrone sent Ethan flying into the newspaper kiosk. Landing on his back, Ethan was momentarily blinded by flying newspaper. Cam leapt over the kiosk to challenge the drone. His attack had nearly no effect. The Tyranodrone paid him no more mind than it would a mosquito. It never wavered from its path to get to Ethan.

Hunter vaulted over the low stone wall separating the restaurant from the courtyard. Conner saw him coming and ducked beneath the blow the Tyranodrone had aimed at him. Hunter’s kick knocked the drone into the wall and onto its knees giving Conner a chance to regroup. But the drone got back on its feet fast. Wanting more room to maneuver, Conner ran toward the fountain before turning and taking a defensive stance.

Ethan scrambled to his feet and flipped out of the reach of the drone. Unwaveringly the Tyranodrone followed Ethan’s trajectory and ran after him.

Haley anxiously watched the fight unfold. The three Rangers were bright splashes of color around the fountain: Conner on the west, Kira in the north, and Ethan in the east. Each was being stalked by an upgraded Tyranodrone. The ninjas had their hands full keeping the other Tyranodrones otherwise engaged.

Something on the display console caught Haley’s eye. The diagnostic part of her noted that the time was 6:33. The energy signatures of the enhanced Tyranodrones were beginning to fluctuate. They spiked very high, then very low. Haley tried to catch a pattern. “Guys!” she called out. “On my signal be ready to attack.”

The Dino Rangers each called upon their Thundermax Sabers. Ethan privately hoped Haley wouldn’t wait to long with the “go” because the Tyranodrones were closing in fast.

“Now!” came the command.

Each Ranger’s saber lit up – red, yellow, blue – and sent sparks flying as they crashed into the attacking Tyranodrones. It was the first time anything the Rangers had done had inflicted any type of damage on the enhanced Tyranodrones. With renewed confidence the Dino Rangers pushed the attack; one by one the new Tyranodrones fell, and did not get back on their feet.

There was no time to celebrate. As soon as the last one fell, three more arrived. Sabers in hand, the Dino Rangers rejoined the fight.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Mesogog watched in amusement as Elsa scrambled to determine the level of infusion to give the third set of Tyranodrones. The Black Ranger let out a groan from his position on the step beneath Mesogog’s chair. “Have you decided to join us, Black Ranger? I am pleased you will witness the destruction of your precious team.” Mesogog couldn’t resist giving Tommy a hard nudge with his foot. It pleased him to no end that Tommy Oliver would be conscious and unable to prevent any of Mesogog’s plans from coming to fruition.

Mesogog turned his attention to the fight in Reefside. The foolish children and their even more foolish ninja friends were fruitlessly fighting Elsa’s enhanced drones. A movement in the lab caught Mesogog’s eye; he dismissed it when he realized it was just Fealdor doing more of his endless calculations on his computer. If the fool manages to drain the energy from the Yellow Ranger there may be a place for him yet, though I don’t know how much more of his screeching and cowering I can take. I could always “improve” him the way I improved Zeltrax. The idea was appealing.

Mesogog was drawn out of his thoughts by a change in the situation at Reefside. The Rangers had pulled their weapons and defeated the upgraded Tyranodrones. Elsa was ready and immediately sent down three more. Now that she was in the thick of the fight, Mesogog noted that she was much more relaxed and confident. She is worthy. She will serve me well when the new world has begun. He looked over his shoulder at the door to his secret room. It is only a matter of time.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Billy swore in frustration. The Ninjetti crowded around him. Though they had encountered no resistance in their infiltration of the fortress, they had had very bad luck attempting to find their way around. Though the tracking device was building a map of where they’d been, it couldn’t help predict where they were going. It seemed that the layout of each level of the fortress was different from the next. And though they were closer to their destination, there was no telling how long it would take to get to Tommy and Dustin.

Billy checked his watch. It was 6:35.

“We’re in some trouble here, guys.” he explained. “We’ve been making our way through the fortress guessing at where to go next. It doesn’t help that each level is different from the last.” Billy sighed in frustration. “We can keep going the way we have been, but we’re wasting a lot of time.”

Rocky nodded in agreement. “Anyone have any other suggestions?”

Kim and Aisha shared a glance, but had nothing to say. Adam looked inquiringly at Billy. “You can read Tommy and Dustin’s energy signatures with that thing, right?”

Billy nodded and showed the device to Adam. Adam waved it away and instead looked up toward the ceiling. “Dustin’s has changed, hasn’t it?” he asked, though his gaze was still far away. Alarmed Billy looked more closely at the device. Dustin’s energy reading wasn’t showing the drastic drop that Billy had been anticipating, but as he looked more closely he noticed that Adam was right, it had changed.

“How did you…?”

“I can feel it.” Adam answered softly. “Tori and Shane are there.” Adam lowered his gaze from the ceiling and looked at Rocky. “I can find him.”

With no hesitation Rocky ordered, “Let’s go.”

With Adam now in the lead, the others followed swiftly. Billy felt a faint stirring of hope. Maybe we will make it in time.

----------------------------------------

Ethan had lost track of how long they’d been fighting. However long it was, it was definitely the longest sustained fight they’d ever had. He promised himself he would never complain about a two-minute fight again. He was hurting and the Tyranodrones were relentless, but they had no choice but to fight. At some point earlier, Ethan had broken off from his battle after blasting his drone into a dumpster and went to help Kira. Haley’s frantic cry that the drone had gone into the mall as was attacking civilians got Ethan’s attention – fast. The ninjas had managed to hold it off long enough for Ethan to get its attention and draw it back into a fight outside. Eventually it was defeated, but another one had taken its place.

They’d used the Thundermax Sabers, sabers in laser mode, and all of their individual weapons. At one point they were lucky enough to be physically close enough to put their weapons together and make the Z-Rex blaster, but even that victory did not last for long. Blake, Hunter and Cam did all they could to try to injure or distract the Tyranodrones, and though they’d been run pretty ragged, they refused to teleport to the safety of the lab.

Haley was in constant contact – monitoring the stability of the Tyranodrone’s energy signatures and signaling the best time to strike. She warned Bradleys and Cam about incoming civilians so they could prevent them from entering the battle zone. It was late enough in the morning for the traffic to have picked up, but most people saw what was going on and headed in any other direction. A helicopter overhead also indicated that the battle was making news, and that kept even more people away.

Of the three Rangers, Conner was having the “easiest” time fighting the Tyranodrones. He had picked up the trick of using his super speed to streak out of the range of the drone fighting him; as long as he didn’t run far enough away to be seen as “leaving the fight”, the drone would diligently follow after him. He could wear his drone down running, drop in a few strategically placed blows and run again. Invariably his Tyranodrone would drop first leaving Conner free to come to the aide of Kira or Ethan since the drones were not being sent down individually – always in groups of three.

Kira also had the advantage of using her dino power at a distance. Whenever the hand to hand fighting got too intense, Kira could blast the drone with a Ptera-yell and force it to back off long enough for her to regain her footing and strength. Ethan fared less well than the others; his dino-armor only worked in close quarters, and though it gave him added protection, he could only sustain so many blows before he gave in under them.

Ethan found himself sprawled on his back under a tree near the stone chess boards. The last blow from the Tyranodrone had sent him sprawling, far away from the assistance of the others. Ethan shook his head to clear his vision. The drone was bearing down on him. Ethan barely had time to throw up his Tricera Shield before the blow struck. He could feel the force of it reverberating down his arm. The pressure didn’t let up and Ethan was forced further down onto the ground.

From somewhere far away Ethan could hear Conner yelling his name. Certainly the voice was getting closer, but even with his super speed, Ethan knew Conner wouldn’t get to him in time. I refuse to give up! Ethan thought even as he struggled against the Tyranodrone crushing the life out of him.

Then without warning, Ethan felt a surge of power pour through him. He didn’t know where it came from, but it didn’t matter. Instinctively he yelled out, “Super Dino Mode!” Suddenly he had the strength to push the shield and throw the Tyranodrone off of him. The drone crashed spread-eagle on a chess table, then rolled off. It climbed slowly to its feet.

Conner arrived at his side in the next instant. “What was that, dude?” he asked incredulously. Even wearing a helmet, Ethan could hear the grin in Conner’s voice.

“I don’t know, and I don’t know how long it will last, so I’m using it!” Ethan pounced on the still stunned drone. Haley soon identified Ethan’s drone as being the next one ready to fall. With two massive blows from the Tricera Shield and the Tyranno Staff the Tyranodrone crashed to the ground unmoving. Ethan and Conner celebrated with a quick high-five before Conner sped off to assist Kira.

================================

Elsa was growing concerned. There were many factors she hadn’t considered when she’d instituted her plan – the ninjas, while generally ineffective against her improved Tyranodrones, did provide enough of a distraction to allow the Rangers to catch their breath and get a second wind; the Red Ranger’s speed allowed him to wear his drone out, then come to the assistance of the others, speeding up the deterioration process of the remaining drones; this new display of Super Dino powers was completely unexpected and allowed the Rangers to sustain the fight far longer than anticipated.

But the factor that she hadn’t considered and concerned her the most was this – in her mind she always knew she had unlimited drones to work with; what she didn’t count on was her limited supply of infusing agent. Because of the high amounts of the element she had to use to create the enhanced drones she was already three-quarters of the way through her supply. She had enough for one, maybe two more sets of drones before she would be out. She had anticipated the defeat of the Rangers long before this. She looked at the clock nervously. It was 6:45.

Mesogog who had been watching intently yet quietly all this time seemed to intuit Elsa’s distress. He stepped down from his chair and over the still prone Black Ranger. Elsa felt him approaching and quaked a little where she stood. But Mesogog did not seem inclined to berate her. Instead he stated with loathing, “It is the Red Ranger who disturbs your plans. Always the Red one...” He recalled the feeling of red he got from those who had invaded his domain earlier; how they had thwarted him. It made him angry.

With a neck popping twist Mesogog turned to Fealdor – he had noticed the Yellow ninja’s wakeful state. “Fealdor!”

Fealdor actually jumped. “My…my lord?”

Mesogog strode sinuously over toward the console before the energy chamber. He leaned in and hissed in Fealdor’s ear, but maintained eye-contact with the boy. “What are you waiting for?”

“Uh…nothing…just checking…some final adjustments…”

Mesogog ignored Fealdor’s rambling and moved to stand before the energy chamber. The boy inside got to his feet. There was something different about him Mesogog couldn’t identify. But what did it matter. The boy’s gaze was steady and calm; his whole manner seemed to say do your worst, you can’t touch me. It infuriated Mesogog.

Whipping around, Mesogog strode back to his chair. The Black Ranger had sensed the change in the air and had already levered himself into an upright seated position. Mesogog grabbed him by the shoulder and hauled him to his feet. He whirled around intending to demand that the boy call on his power or risk further injury to Dr. Oliver. The Earth ninja was one step ahead of him – “Power of Earth!” he called out tossing his street clothes aside. He stood, steady as a rock, within the energy chamber.

Growling, Mesogog thrust Tommy away. Tommy landed sprawled on the chair, and pulled himself up until he was sitting in it. “Do it!” Mesogog demanded of Fealdor. “Do it now!”

Fealdor flipped the switch.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“We’re almost there!” Billy whispered, indicating the wide doors of the chamber that stood before them.

Adam gasped and started running, “We’re too late.”

Chapter Text

From the moment Tommy recognized Dustin, memories of what had happened came crashing down on him. Some information was solid and tied together; most was scattered and fragmented. The things he really needed to know floated tantalizingly out of reach, just beyond the grasp of his understanding.

Tommy understood that he couldn’t help himself or Dustin if he didn’t have a plan. Once Fealdor moved to block Dustin from view, Tommy concentrated on organizing his thoughts and making sense of the situation. He had immediately recognized Dustin for who he was, the Yellow Wind Ninja Ranger. But that confused him – when he’d first come to, he was sure he was an active Ranger, and that Adam was somehow involved in this scenario. So, wouldn’t that make me, either the White or Red Ranger? No…Adam was Green when I was Red… Tommy surreptitiously checked his wrists, but there was nothing on either arm to give him a clue.

He remembered with haziness someone mentioning the Black Ranger. Again, that should’ve been Adam, but he wasn’t here. And the Wind Ninjas didn’t have a Black Ranger, did they? But the Wind Ninjas were Rangers long after we were…so how does this tie in? The more Tommy tried to push himself to remember just what Adam had to do with things, the more impossible it became to pin down.

Tommy turned his thoughts instead to attempting to recall where he was and who they were fighting. He easily connected the name “Elsa” with the woman working at the computer console, but couldn’t dredge up a name for anyone else. He knew without turning around to look, that the greatest menace was seated somewhere above and behind him. Just looking at the laboratory they were in indicated that the head honcho was very intelligent and advanced in the use of technology. The chamber Dustin was seated in was frighteningly important, but again Tommy didn’t know why.

A flash of green light, swirling like a black hole in the center of the lab drew Tommy out of his thoughts. Elsa was sending another group of things (Tyranodrones, that’s what they’re called…) down to fight in the city. Tommy diverted his gaze to the viewing globe (it’s a screen, not a globe). Tommy watched the fight with an increasing sense of concern as a number of thoughts thunderously cascaded into his consciousness – those Rangers…REEFSIDE! That’s where they’re fighting! The newest Rangers – Dino Rangers… Tommy winced as the Red Ranger took a direct hit to his chest, sending sparks shooting in all directions, and sending the ranger crashing through a store front window.

As the boy struggled to his feet, Tommy felt a surge of pride and was suddenly aware why. It wasn’t just any team he was watching fight, it was his team. His Rangers! Conner, Kira, Ethan – Dino Thunder Rangers – and he was the Black Ranger!

Tommy was simultaneously overwhelmed by the intense need to help the Dino Rangers and the understanding that when it came down to it, it was Dustin who needed to be helped. On the heels of that understanding, Tommy was struck with a revelation – there was no way the Dino Rangers would be able to break off their fight to get to wherever he and Dustin were in time. But he was convinced that help was on the way, and he instinctively knew that it was getting closer. Is that where Adam fits in? How can he help? He’s not a Ranger anymore.

Tommy tried to catch Dustin’s eye again, but when the lizard-man shifted his position, the young man’s eyes were downcast. Tommy was surprised to note that Dustin didn’t seem anxious or afraid. In fact, he was exuding a totally calm and focused vibe that didn’t jive with the situation. There was something about him that gave Tommy a reason to hope, in spite of the circumstances.

Tommy was pleased to note that the Dino Rangers were not only holding their own against the Tyranodrones that Elsa kept sending against them, but that the possibility that they would eventually win was becoming an increasing concern to those in the lab. Both Ethan and Kira had called on Super Dino Mode giving them increased stamina and strength. Conner’s dino power kept him one step ahead of the Tyranodrone engineered to combat him, allowing him to wear it down and then assist the others. Tommy was not the only one to notice this.

A movement from behind him warned Tommy that the situation had changed. He drew himself tighter and watched as the figure that had been seated behind him stepped over him like one would step over a neglected pet. The creature (Mesogog! I remember) approached Elsa. “It is the Red Ranger who disturbs your plans. Always the red one...” Tommy was shocked by the utter loathing contained in that statement.

Unnoticed by the others, Tommy drew himself up to a seated position. His head was still screaming in pain and each movement caused a symphony of agony in every muscle of his body, but he could feel something approaching. The moment to act was nearly upon him, and he was determined to be ready for it.

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Dustin wasn’t sure how long he’d been unconscious. Even now, he wasn’t conscious in his physical state, yet he was profoundly aware of his emotional state. He’d latched onto Shane when he saw that needle coming at him; as if hanging onto the Red Ranger would somehow keep it away. In the end, it didn’t matter to Dustin that Shane wasn’t able to stop it from happening; what was important was that Dustin wasn’t alone.

Dustin had some idea that the drugs in his system ought to have kept him unaware for much longer, but his deepened connection to his Earth energy increased his metabolism and flushed the intrusive agent out of his system. It wouldn’t be long now before Mesogog would try to steal his power from him again, but this time he would be ready.

Dustin didn’t push himself to come to a physically wakened state; he figured it would happen when it happened. Instead he focused on centering himself and waiting for his friends. There was never any doubt that they would come.

An alteration in the texture of the light around him announced their coming. He expanded himself to greet them and welcomed them in. He could feel their light wrap around him and extended his around them as well. In this place, there was really no need to speak out loud, but Dustin didn’t communicate as clearly with his mind as the other two, and he wanted to make sure they understood what he wanted. In a way similar to what Kanoi had done with Conner, Dustin created a simple dreamscape so the three of them could meet “face to face” and talk.

They stood in a small circle facing one another. There was no elaborate landscape, no setting or form. Just as sense of standing with one another with their feet on something solid. All three wore their ninja training suits, lined with piping in their respective colors, but with an added badge showing their status as teachers.

Tori and Shane could instantly feel Dustin’s appreciation of their presence and his concern about the impending threat. Without knowing how he knew, Dustin was sure time was very short and he wasted no time getting to the point. He understood that in this space there was no privacy – what one said or felt was heard and felt by all. But he couldn’t risk not saying what needed to be said in case he never got another chance.

“Listen, I need you to talk to Marah.”

Shane spiked a feeling of shock while Tori reflexively spiked anger and resentment. Dustin was a little surprised at the depth of Tori’s feelings and was grateful to feel Shane’s understanding and support. Dustin turned slightly toward Shane, though his remarks were still addressed to both of them. “She needs to know that I’m not angry. And that I forgive her.” His mental voice dropped to a regretful whisper. “I actually forgave her a long time ago.”

Now it was Tori who flared with surprise as she felt Dustin’s intensity. She put a number of things together and instantly emitted a burst of shame. Ever since Marah had enrolled in the Wind Ninja Academy, Tori had given her the cold shoulder. Who did she think she was, invading their space like that, after what she had done to Dustin? How dare she! Of all of her friends, Dustin was the most giving with his heart – Marah had used that against him and crushed his spirit. It had taken a long time for him to recover and Tori made sure she ran interference for him at every possible opportunity. She had held onto her anger long past the point where it was useful, but she told herself it was all for Dustin’s sake. It barely crossed her mind that the team had given her the opportunity to give Blake a second chance, but it was never a courtesy she extended to Dustin regarding Marah.

But now, she could clearly feel Dustin’s regret, and she knew she was the cause of it. “You never told her. You never told her…because of me. Oh Dustin, I’m so sorry.”

Tori stepped back a little, trying to put some space between herself and Dustin. He ignored that and stepped forward to draw her into an embrace. Shane stepped closer on the other side placing his hand comfortingly on her back. She tried to resist, but Dustin’s feelings of comfort and love were overwhelming and she let herself be washed in them as she leaned into him. “I’m so grateful for you, Tori. When all that stuff first happened, I just couldn’t deal – with her, with what I was feeling – it was so much easier to let you be my anger. I never had anyone stick up for me like that, and while I was healing, I let you do it.”

Dustin stepped back slightly so he could look at Tori’s face. “I should’ve talked to you a long time ago, but I didn’t want you to be mad at me like you were mad at her.” He shook his head with a chuckle, ”I never could take you being mad at me, Tor. So I let it go. It’s my fault as much as anybody’s.”

Tori shook her head as if disagreeing with what he said, but Dustin could clearly feel her intention to talk to Marah regardless of what happened and set things straight. Dustin caught Shane’s eye over Tori’s head; Shane gave a slight nod. He’d felt it too; both young men were relieved.

Dustin felt a change in his awareness. “It’s time,” he stated. He grasped Tori’s hand firmly with his left, and Shane with the right. Suddenly words were not enough. He opened his heart and showered the other two with all that he felt for them. Any past grievances, petty arguments or negative feelings they had were lost in the tide of overwhelming emotion. Only love remained.

Dustin could feel his strength building. He felt tied to Shane and Tori with a bond that could not be severed. The only way they could be separated now would be for one of them to voluntarily let go. Dustin felt anchored on either side, and knew no matter what Mesogog did to his body, he could never touch his soul.

Dustin woke and immediately recognized where he was – he was back in Mesogog’s main lab, though he was seeing it from a different perspective. His heart gave a little lurch when he realized where he was sitting; it could only be the energy chamber. He was surrounded on all sides by glass walls girded by steel beams. The lowest portion of the chamber was paneled with steel and not glass. Dustin glanced around the lab moving only his eyes, not wanting to draw attention to himself.

Fealdor was at the console direction in front of Dustin’s position, but Dustin could see Mesogog in his throne beyond him, and Tommy lay at his feet. The Black Ranger looked to be in very bad shape. Dustin’s heart gave another lurch fearing the worst. Then he saw Tommy move, rolling to cover his eyes against the light. Dustin was relieved when Tommy looked his way and clearly recognized who he was. Then Fealdor moved and blocked Tommy from his view.

Again, not wanting to draw attention to himself, Dustin glanced down at his hands in his lap and gathered his thoughts. It was startling to wake up here; clearly Mesogog’s plan was still in effect. And since Dustin was already physically in the chamber, there was very little time left. Dustin knew he should’ve feet frightened; terrified. But he wasn’t. The strong, steady presence of his body and mind gave him confidence beyond his understanding. He could admit to himself that it was very likely he would not survive this encounter, at least not physically. It didn’t bother him as much as it should have.

Dustin couldn’t hear what was going on in the lab, but he kept a watchful eye on what was happening. Mesogog’s movement off of his chair caught his attention. Something big must’ve been happening because Tommy struggled to right himself, though no one else in the lab seemed to notice. Mesogog strode toward where Elsa was working, then turned lightning fast and noticed Dustin watching him. Whatever he yelled at Fealdor made the lizard-man jump. And although he was talking to him, he never broke eye contact with Dustin.

Mesogog moved to stand before the chamber. Dustin got to his feet. This time he’d be ready. With Tori and Shane ready to anchor him, Dustin was prepared to open himself to his Earth power before it was stolen from him. His calm acceptance seemed to infuriate Mesogog who whirled and strode back toward his chair. Dustin instantly knew what he would do – threaten to inflict more punishment on Tommy unless Dustin did what he wanted. No way would he let Tommy take any more damage on his behalf.

Mesogog hauled Tommy to his feet just as Dustin called out “Power of Earth!” The power surged through him, and he welcomed it.

Mesogog yelled at Fealdor and gestured to the console. Dustin drew his power too him just before Fealdor hit the switch. He pictured himself in his mind as a volcano ready to erupt – and when the switch was flicked, he’d be ready to allow the power flow from him instead of being ripped away.

There was no warning before the rush of power poured through Dustin’s body. Physically he couldn’t take the pain, so he mentally leapt to the protection of Shane and Tori, while remaining linked to his body by the merest of threads. Dustin gave himself wholly over to the power rushing through him, and was surprised when after only a few moments, the power started rushing back. He had the feeling from somewhere in his awareness that this was not a good turn of events.

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Tommy watched as Dustin got to his feet within the energy chamber. The young man’s calm and resolve seemed to infuriate Mesogog. Tommy tensed as Mesogog whirled and stalked toward him. Mesogog hauled Tommy to his feet then unceremoniously dumped him in the chair when Dustin beat him to be punch by calling on his power before it was demanded of him.

“Do it! Do it now!” Mesagog demanded of his minion.

Tommy’s heart jumped into his throat as Fealdor flipped the switch. Dustin appeared to be in excruciating pain – his arms were flung wide and his face wore an expression of agony. Then, somehow, he relaxed. His arms were still out to the side, but it appeared to be a welcoming gesture; and his face was at peace. So much power was being extracted from Dustin that he radiated with it. A solid, yellow glow engulfed the younger man. He was lifted nearly off of his feet and was balanced on his toes in a way that defied the laws of physics.

In spite of the fact that Mesogog had succeeded in tapping into Dustin’s Earth energy, Tommy felt a growing sense of hope and purpose. Everyone else in the lab was distracted, and he had a clear shot at the big red button that would open the doors to the lab. With a lurch, Tommy launched himself away from Mesogog’s chair and on top of the panel with the red button. He smashed his hand down upon it, and watched as the doors opened with excruciatingly slowness.

For a moment, nothing happened; no one in the noticed what he had done. But when five figures clad in bright colors flooded into the room, they were noticed very quickly. Chaos swiftly broke out.

Tommy could only laugh in relief as he watched his teammates swarm into the room. He didn’t think he’d ever seen a more awesome sight. Mesogog, Elsa, Fealdor and the Tyranodrones were all taken completely by surprise. Mesogog whirled, full of fury. Rocky immediately focused in on Mesogog; with the Ninjetti corkscrew kick, he knocked the mutant on his ass and sent him skidding across the room. Mesogog sprang to his feet with a roar of rage and attacked.

Elsa, still engaged in tweaking the final set of upgraded Tyranodrones, ordered all of those left in the room to attack. She hoped the twenty or so remaining drones would keep the intruders busy and away from the task she needed to complete. Aisha and Adam set to work and steadily made their way closer to where she was working. With one last push of a button, Elsa triumphantly opened an invisaportal and sent the final enhanced drones through. She whirled and screaming a war cry drew her sword and attacked Aisha.

Upon entering the lab, Billy and Kim made a bee-line for Tommy. “Are you okay?” Billy asked anxiously even as Kim drew Tommy’s arm around her shoulder and helped him to stand.

“Much better now that you guys are here.” Tommy grinned.

“We’ve got to get you out of here.” Kim stated.

“I’m not leaving without Dustin,” stated Tommy flatly. They both nodded in understanding. Billy left Kim supporting Tommy and dashed to the console before the energy chamber. He centered his attention on the lizard-like creature who was attempting to hide beneath it. Roughly, Billy dragged it to its feet.

“How do I stop it?” he demanded pointing his finger at the glass encased chamber.

The lizard creature babbled incoherently. Billy shook it by the shoulder to try and stop its rambling. “The feedback…I never anticipated…of course, it doesn’t work like the chair…”

Something in the lizard’s tone worried Billy. Though it was clear the energy transfer was underway, the creature seemed to be concerned that it wasn’t working correctly. Without letting go of him, Billy scanned the console to see if he could make sense of the readings. The problem became rapidly clear. The chamber was built to purge the victim of energy in one massive burst; it couldn’t do that with Dustin. The Earth energy that Dustin was part of was so boundless, that any man-made machinery built to contain it would never be able to. Whatever containment devises set up to hold the energy stolen from Dustin were immediately filled, but the machine was still working. The energy that couldn’t be contained was shuttled back to Dustin, creating an energy feedback loop.

“What will happen if we shut it down?” Billy demanded.

“I don’t know,” was the horrified response.

Billy had no further opportunity to investigate. Two drones attacked simultaneously driving him away from the lizard-man and back toward Adam and Aisha.

The battle between Rocky and Mesogog had carried them around the far side of the lab back toward Tommy and Kim. Rocky quickly discovered that Mesogog’s reptilian hide protected him from even the most powerful blows. What seemed to be working for him was to use his ninja speed to dart in and out, avoiding the larger monster’s attacks, and infuriating him at the same time. The creature’s anger made it sloppy and erratic.

Rocky noticed too late that Mesogog had gotten within grabbing distance of Kim and the still unsteady Tommy. It would be just like an evil genius to use their injured ally against them. Rocky needn’t have worried; Kim saw the battle shifting their way and was ready with her power bow to deflect the attack. The resultant blast was enough to send both Mesogog and Rocky crashing into the wall. Mesogog regained his feet first and scrambled over to where Zeltrax had stood motionless the entire time.

Kim turned to Tommy again. “Tommy,” she urged, “we have to get you out of here.”

Tommy turned his face resolutely toward where Dustin still floated in the energy chamber. “I won’t leave, Kim. It’s not right!” Purposefully he withdrew his arm from across her shoulders and stood with no support. “It’s time for me to do my part,” he declared. “White Ninja power!”

Tommy gasped as the power welled up in him. A blinding white form of the falcon rushed around the room before it coalesced around him. Though he wasn’t healed, the falcon gave him renewed strength and power. “I am the falcon, just and able.” He turned toward where Mesogog stood, “And you’re about to see just how able I am.”

“You are too late, Dr. Oliver. I already have what I need, and now I will take all you have. Zeltrax…go!”

With a blinding flash, the familiar green vortex of an invisaportal opened before them. Without hesitation, Zeltrax leapt through and it abruptly closed behind him. “Things in Reefside are about to get much…more…interesting.” Mesogog taunted. Then he rushed forward and the battle was engaged again.

Chapter Text

Never before had Dustin experienced the depth of power that now coursed through every fiber of his being. As a Ranger, even as a ninja, there was power at his disposal, but he believed it was in his control. Now he understood that the idea was laughable. The Earth power he was linked to wasn’t fully open to him until he released control - allowing himself to be open to the power instead of trying to seize it. It was overwhelming and exhilarating. It would be so easy to get lost if it were not for the twin beacons of red and blue light keeping him anchored. Though their light seemed small compared to the light now surrounding him, it was steady and strong.

Dustin instinctively realized that the power that was being fed back to him from the energy chamber was too much for him to hold, but without guidance the unchanneled power would be devastatingly destructive to everything around him. Even as he tried to think of what to do, more and more power was being returned to him, and he was simply unable to take it all in. He shunted some of the power away from himself toward Tori and Shane, but the lion’s share he kept for himself.

“Keep” was hardly the right word for what he was doing. He didn’t want to hold the power; at this point it was too much for him to do anything with. The only thing that much power would be good for was destruction and chaos – if he released it now all at once, Mesogog would get exactly what he’d been aiming for, and Dustin was determined not to let that happen.

The maelstrom of power increased exponentially each second. Dustin could feel himself losing the fight to contain the Earth energy within him. Terror began to darken his senses, and he feared not only losing his life, but taking those he loved most with him. Within his heart he cried out in desperation.

Help me!

Dustin wasn’t sure just who he was asking for help, but in this newly opened state, he strongly felt he wasn’t alone. And it wasn’t Tori or Shane he was looking for; they were there like they’d always been, though he could feel them struggling to contain the power he’d thrust upon them. The response came, not in words, but in feelings. And for the first time, Dustin was truly able to understand the words in his heart.

Courage, young cub. I will help you.

Relief surged through Dustin as he was embraced by his animal spirit. Come, cub. Follow me.

Dustin spiraled down into his mind, deeper than he’d ever dared to go. No longer frightened, he followed the Lion spirit, dragging the power of Earth like a comet’s tail behind him. Now that he was moving, the power was not as intense, and seemed content to be led to another place.

How can energy feel content?

It just needs to know where to go, cub. You must find the path of least resistance, and release the power there.

Dustin realized that they had stopped moving, or maybe his awareness was just different – how could one move in a spirit space? The power was still with him, and growing in intensity again. This was not where he’d been with Tori and Shane. It was new, yet totally familiar. The darkness surrounding him was not frightening, rather he felt welcome. Intuitively Dustin understood why. He was not in the vast reach of space, or the depths of the ocean; he was surrounded by the blackness of earth. Again, relief surged through him. This he could understand.

Within his heart, Dustin acknowledged the Earth and asked for permission to make some changes. Earth was always slower to respond than Air or Water, so Dustin utilized his time reaching out with his awareness to locate the best place to release his energy. Dustin was no student of physics, but Sensei had been diligent pounding into his head a few basic facts. Any change in one element, will affect all of the others. Earth ninjas need to be particularly careful not to disrupt slumbering giants. Just as a rock tossed into a pond creates patterns of change so to does a shift in the Earth have far reaching consequences. Translated, (and Cam had translated it for him) it simply meant “Don’t be stupid and cause a volcano to erupt or start an earthquake.” It was the one lesson that Dustin took very seriously.

A rumbling, bass tremor vibrated through Dustin as the Earth itself acknowledged him and gave permission. Dustin was awed by the massive presence and was humbled to be an instrument of its power. Slowly, in spite of the build-up of energy that begged to be released, Dustin channeled the energy that had been stolen back into the earth. The majority of the energy was poured directly to the molten core of the earth where it was absorbed within the inferno with little outward effect. But he couldn’t dump it all at once, and even as he let loose some of the energy, more power demanded to be released.

Dustin sought out the smallest faults and cracks within the earth’s crust. As carefully as a surgeon he applied the energy to these small craters, all the while encouraging the earth to accept the energy without disruption. That was the hardest part – harnessing the power and directing the flow, allowing it to return to the earth without causing a large disturbance. Dustin’s ability was strained to the limit; even with the support of the Lion spirit, he could feel more and more energy slipping out of his grasp unchecked. Those small slips caused minor shifts he then had to encourage not to avalanche into greater movement. But the movements themselves released energy of their own; that energy then had to be channeled somewhere.

Dustin came to an awareness of rising to the surface – not the surface of the exposed earth, but where the earth met the deepest channels of the ocean. While part of him was still deeply entrenched dispersing energy deep within the center of the earth, this was the place where those minor shifts could be dealt with. The energy didn’t have to stay in the earth, and the most natural place for it to be transferred was to the water. It was as effortless as breathing and Dustin knew immediately what to do.
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From the moment Dustin had grasped her hand in his, Tori felt connected to him in a way she had only glimpsed before. The three of them had always been tight – but this was something else, something deeper. Tori felt changed in a way she couldn’t put into words; something had happened this weekend, and she understood that they would never be the same. Tori could feel her anticipation rising, but she tried to remain centered and ready – she had to be prepared to sustain Dustin in the battle that was surely to come.

When it happened, Tori was unprepared. Dustin called upon his earth energy and Tori was astonished at the power which engulfed him. They had all tapped into their elemental powers before, but he was working on a totally different level. Almost instantly, the power was being drawn away from Dustin and she struggled to maintain a hold on him. She could feel Shane anchoring him on the other side, and drew some stability from the Air ninja as well.

Tori was staggered by the force of the power and part of her mind wondered just how Dustin was able to contain it all. She realized he couldn’t when he started passing some of it off to her and Shane. Again, Tori’s mind was staggered by the volume of power, even as she realized that Dustin was struggling with most of it himself and had only passed off a fraction of it to her and Shane. Tori wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to do with the power so she took her cue from Dustin. As long as he maintained a hold on the energy, she would do the same.

Then something changed – Dustin was still with them in spirit, but he seemed much farther away. The power still surrounded them all, but Tori could see that the power around Dustin was moving. That was unusual; power always moved around her and Shane because their elements were more fluid than his, but Dustin always presented as a solid, stable light. Now he was streaking like a comet. Tori realized that Dustin was moving internally and intuitively understood how he did it.

Joyfully, she followed his example. Dolphin! Help me!

The chittering squeaks and whistles of the dolphin’s call filled Tori’s mind and lightened her heart. Of the three ninjas, she had always had the strongest connection to her spirit animal. Who knew why – it didn’t really matter.

Little calf, follow me!

In her mind, Tori gladly joined with her Dolphin spirit. Together they plunged deep into the ocean, much deeper than any human or dolphin could naturally go. Tori understood what she needed to do – the power that had been harnessed had to be released carefully to avoid creating a natural catastrophe. In this, she would be of great assistance to the Earth ninja. Any changes Dustin made in the earth below would have an effect in the water above. Tori needed to make sure that the energy was widely dispersed – they had to avoid creating a situation that might cause a tidal wave that could cause devastation not just in North America, but on a global scale.

Tori began by dispersing the energy that Dustin had passed off to her originally. The Dolphin spirit helped her find deep, swift ocean currents that would easily encompass the incoming energy without creating disruptions above. The water moved all around her restlessly; it was tricky keeping track of where the energy had been dumped because of constantly moving water and currents and she had to be sure not to add too much energy to any one place. Too much in one current could cause ocean warming; too much in another could cause an increase in fresh water that would be devastating to marine life.

Tori was so caught up in her work that she was surprised to sense Dustin’s presence nearby. As soon as she felt Dustin’s presence, she knew what he needed her to do. She began to catch the excess energy from the tiny shifts in the earth below and shifted to the water all around her. It soon became clear that what she was doing would not be enough. Tori expanded her awareness beyond the Pacific Ocean to the global ocean network. Even that was not enough – the energy that had been stolen from the Earth itself wanted to get back where it belonged - it wanted to get back in a rush, the same way it was taken out and fought against the control that Dustin and Tori were trying to exert. Unless something interfered quickly with the energy drain on the other end, this was not a battle they were going to win.

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When Dustin opened himself up to the earth energy, Shane was surprised at the level of power he tapped into. None of the three of them had ever been that open before; to see Dustin like that was a little scary. As soon as the power began to be ripped from him, Shane anchored himself deeply, trying to give Dustin something to hold on to. Shane could feel Tori anchoring herself to him as well. It made him proud to be part of such a solid team, and determined to be the anchor they needed in any storm.

The influx of power from Dustin took Shane by surprise. It wasn’t that Earth energy was harder to handle than Air…it was just that there was so much of it. And if the little he had was hard to handle, how much harder was it for Dustin who was channeling most of it? Shane sensed when both Tori and Dustin contacted their spirit animals and followed their example.

Brother Hawk! I need help!

Deep within the recesses of his mind, Shane could feel Sensei respond to the call – it was the first time he’d been aware of their mentor since this spirit journey began. Then the presence of Sensei was overshadowed by the spirit of the Hawk.

Brother, follow me!

Shane leapt in his mind to join his spirit brother. It was difficult for him to stay connected to his body when following the Hawk; but he maintained the connection knowing it was vitally important for him to maintain a physical presence for Dustin and Tori. Shane’s relationship with his animal spirit had always been different than the others with theirs. The Hawk wasn’t nurturing in the way the Dolphin or Lion were; the other spirits were more solicitous of their human ninjas. Shane's relationship could be summed up in the way he addressed the Hawk. They were brothers, equals. And the Hawk treated him just like an older brother would – he would help in any way, but Shane would have to keep up.

The Hawk led Shane higher and higher. The exhilaration of flight made Shane’s spirit soar. Never before had he felt so free or flown so high – for the first time he was able to do more than keep up with the Hawk. He could sense the spirit’s approval, and it spurred him on to even more acrobatic feats.

Being so caught up in the feeling of flight, it took a moment for Shane to realize that the Hawk had stopped moving. Suddenly realizing where they were, Shane gasped. Poised on the very edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, the black depths of space had never been more close or clear.

Shane turned to the Hawk in astonishment. You’ve never taken me this far before.

You never let me, was the sardonic reply.

What are we doing here? Shane asked, still awed by the view.

The energy you need to release will do the least damage here. You can take all that you hold and jettison it into space. It will do no damage to the Earth’s atmosphere, and gravity will eventually bring it back where it belongs.

Even as the Hawk was speaking, Shane released the energy that had been passed to him by Dustin. But he didn’t feel empty; he was opened to his own Air energy to a level he’d never tried before. Thrilled with his success, Shane quickly formulated a plan. Using his physical self as an anchor, Shane swiftly drew himself back to the spirit plane where he had started with Dustin and Tori. He didn’t want to disturb whatever precarious balance Dustin had established as a conduit for the power he controlled, so he focused on finding Tori. He was surprised to find her working in concert with Dustin, but he could see that they both were struggling.

Tori! Give me whatever energy you can. I can release it above the atmosphere where it can’t cause any damage.

Tori immediately understood what Shane wanted and began to shift the energy that the minor tremors on the ocean floor had created over to him. This allowed her to relieve Dustin of some of his burden, allowing him to wield more control returning what was still in his possession back into the Earth. The three of them working together – Dustin within the Earth; Tori within the Water; Shane within the Air – created a harmonious balance. The energy was no longer overwhelming, and they had a chance of being successful, if the energy transfer was stopped on the other end. They could keep up this “bucket brigade” of energy transfer for a time, but their time was limited.

And, as hard as they tried to limit the impact they were having on the environment, the ninjas couldn’t help having an effect. Shifts in the earth stirred up the water in the ocean and currents moving more swiftly than usual increased wave heights. The energy passing through the atmosphere created unusual wind currents. The repeated shift of energy between earth, water and air was the perfect recipe for a storm. It would be like no storm Reefside had ever seen.

Chapter Text

Hunter scrambled to his feet and took a brief moment to survey the courtyard as he struggled to catch his breath. He’d been tossed away from Conner and the drone he was fighting on the southwest side of the courtyard. Conner paused briefly to make sure Hunter hadn’t sustained any serious damage, and then streaked toward the office building, leading the drone away from Hunter’s position. Hunter was glad to note the Dino Rangers seemed to be getting the upper hand on the Tyranodrones; not a big upper hand, but a slight advantage. Kira and Ethan were both using their newly discovered SuperDino Mode to their advantage, and Conner continued to use his speed against their attackers.

All three were now using the trick Conner had discovered – the Tyranodrones seemed willing to follow their particular ranger wherever they were led. As long as the ranger didn’t leave the fight, the drone would follow. Although the drones were single-minded in their attack, they were most fierce when they were first dropped through the invisaportal. The longer they fought, the more likely the Rangers could do some permanent damage. As long as they had Haley in the lab calling out the best time to attack based on energy fluctuations, the Rangers could conserve their energy running the drones around in circles and do the most damage when the time was right. Hunter could only hope that the other side didn’t have an endless supply of the drones because the Rangers could only keep up this level of fighting for so long.

Ethan and Cam were fighting on the north side of the courtyard, obscured from Hunter’s line of sight by the fountain. The sounds of their battle carried clearly over the wind that had begun to pick up. He had a better view of Kira and Blake who were fighting on the east, close by the coffee kiosk. Kira had just blasted her Tyranodrone with a Petra-yell, giving both her and Blake a chance to catch a second wind. Hunter watched as Blake turned his face to the sky and took in a deep breath. As if he could feel his brother’s eyes upon him, Blake turned toward Hunter with a grin. Hunter knew what he was feeling because he could feel it too. There was a serious storm rolling in; maybe with a little luck, soon he and Blake would have more to offer in the fight. Drawing on the power of a storm was trickier than calling on a more stationary power like Earth; but if this storm broke anywhere in their vicinity, both Bradleys would be ready.

Hunter turned his attention back to Conner, but his assistance wasn’t needed any longer. With one final blow from the Tyranno Staff the Tyranodrone lay unmoving on the cobblestones. Without needing to consult, Conner simply gave a “thumbs up” to Hunter and streaked off to help Ethan and Cam; Hunter joined Blake and Kira. In short order the two remaining drones were defeated. For a moment, nothing happened. Thirty seconds went by…then a minute.

Everyone waited expectantly. For the duration of the fight, as soon as the last of the set of three drones dropped, an invisaportal opened sucking them up and dropping another trio. Kira turned questioningly toward Hunter. “Do you think that’s it?” she asked.

Hunter shrugged. He had a growing sense of disquiet. They might be getting a breather, but the battle wasn’t over. Something was coming. He scanned the sky for any hint of a green whirlwind.

Conner, leading the others, jogged over. “You okay?” he asked of Kira as he reached out to touch her shoulder.

“Yeah. You?” she replied. Conner nodded as his faceplate snapped opened. In spite of the respite, none of the Dino Rangers unmorphed. Everyone scanned the sky.

“There’s a storm building fast.” Blake commented as he moved to stand closer to Hunter.

“Ummm…” Hunter grunted in reply.

“Articulate.” was Cam’s succinct observation.

“Haley?” Ethan inquired. “Any idea about what’s going on?”

“No idea why Mesogog …dropped any more Tyranodrones. No other … activity to report in that area. I’m worried … storm is … interfere with communication …what it will do to the teleporter. Ask Cam … ever had …problem … interference.”

Ethan put his left hand to the side of his helmet and bent over as if that would help with the reception of Haley’s message. The static was making him wince. “Did you guys get all of that?”

“I think I got most of it.” Kira replied, turning to Cam. “Haley wants to know if the storm will interfere with the use of the transporter.”

Cam held his hands out in an “I don’t know” gesture. “We didn’t use the transporter a lot…I mean, I ran a million simulations, but bad weather was never a very big factor.”

Kira was nodding as Cam explained. “Did you get that, Haley?”

“Yes.” All three Rangers were visibly relieved when Haley’s voice came through loud and clear. “I’ve tweaked the frequency on the communicators, but if the storm really hits, it’s going to be difficult to stay in contact with you.” A peal of thunder punctuated her comment.

Hunter’s sense of foreboding increased. Usually, a rapid storm rolling in like this would make him feel powerful, but today he felt like it was working against him. In spite of his apprehension, Hunter could feel the storm renewing his strength. As good as it felt, he knew he didn’t need it as much as the others. Making a snap decision, Hunter grabbed Conner by the elbow, and swung him around to face the other two Rangers.

“Wha…” was all Conner could blurt out before Hunter started barking orders.

“Grab hands.” He barked at the Rangers. Startled, everyone obeyed. “Blake – to me.” Cam, understanding Hunter’s intention, stepped back from the group and scanned the sky intently, waiting for the next assault.

Hunter situated himself behind Conner, with his hands on the younger Ranger’s shoulders. Blake was similarly positioned behind Hunter. Ethan and Kira watched Hunter expectantly. Hunter closed his eyes, and centered himself. He could feel Blake doing the same. Slowly he opened himself to the power of the storm around them; he knew what he was about to do was going to kick-start the brewing storm into an all out onslaught, but the Dino Rangers needed a boost, and the storm was where they could get it.

Hunter could feel the elements of the storm coming together – all of the pieces were there, but they hadn’t gathered enough momentum to really get things going. So he gave them a little push. Hunter could feel Blake riding the storm with him, and though his outward expression never changed, inside he shared the thrill of the storm with his brother. There was nothing else like it.

You take the wind on top…I’ll take the clouds on the bottom.

Blake didn’t hesitate; he rode an updraft into the accumulating clouds and focused his energy on pushing the moisture in the clouds to higher levels. Hunter rode another draft to the lowest level of the clouds; here he increased the temperature, causing the wind and water at the base of the cloud to move more rapidly. Once those forces had been set in motion, Blake and Hunter fed more and more energy into causing the storm to explode.

It was difficult to contain the forces building in the storm; one person would not be able to manage it. They had to create just the right amount of imbalance to keep the storm in balance. It was why the Thunder ninjas trained in pairs. It was also difficult to judge how much energy to give to the storm – too little would have no effect and be essentially wasted; too much and the storm could break totally out of control. But, energy given to cause a storm to break could be reaped a hundred fold in the right situation. Hunter had the feeling that this storm was about to give them more power than he’d ever imagined.

The early morning sky darkened to an eerie, bruised yellow tinted with grey. The grey was quickly overcome by black looming clouds. In the distance lightning streaks lit up the sky, followed by booming echoes of thunder. That was what Hunter had been waiting for. Electricity crackled along every nerve as Blake and Hunter soaked in the power of the storm. But instead of holding the power and renewing their own waning strength, Hunter passed the power through Conner to the DinoThunder Rangers.

All three of the Rangers gasped as the raw power flowed through them. Their hands clenched convulsively and they held onto each other for support. It was too much for them to handle. The power of the storm did not blend well with the power of the Dino gems. They might have had “thunder” in their name, but it wasn’t enough. Hunter could tell immediately that his plan was not going to work, at least not in the way he’d intended. The raw power of the storm was not the right source of energy for the Rangers. If it had been given to a ninja familiar with using elemental powers, they might have had more success, but as it was, Hunter needed to stop quickly or risk frying what remaining strength the Dino Rangers had.

Hunter released Conner, and the Red Ranger staggered forward two steps. Conner shook his head. “Whoa!”

Kira and Ethan were leaning on each other, both breathing in ragged gasps. Ethan managed to blurt out, “Tingly!” even as he shook his hands from Conner and Kira’s grasps and tried to rush the feeling back into his arms.

“Sorry, dude.” Hunter apologized, as he stepped forward to steady Conner. “Are you guys okay?”

“Whoa. Whoa!” exclaimed Kira as Blake came to her side. “That was just…WOW! I feel AWESOME!”

“Yeah!” Ethan agreed, “Like supercharged!”

There was no more time to compare notes as a yell from Cam – “Incoming!” – indicated the arrival of another invisaportal dropping fresh Tyranodrones on the courtyard. The Rangers split up; drawing off their individual drones, and the battle began again.

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SEVERE WEATHER ADVISORY ~ a weather advisory has been issued from the National Weather Center to all coastal regions of California. Due to sudden and severe storm activity and unusual fluctuations in the tide, LARGE AND SMALL CRAFT ADVISORIES had been issued. Citizens in coastal areas are advised to secure their homes and crafts, and seek higher ground.

SEVERE WEATHER ADVISORY ~ A GALE WARNING has been issued from the National Weather Center to the central coastal region of California. Unusual wind currents have created gale conditions in from Sonoma County down to Santa Barbara County. Citizens are urged to remain indoors.

SEVERE WEATHER ADVISORY – SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING is in effect in San Mateo County. Intense storm cells have accumulated in the San Mateo County area – rapid and repeated lightning strikes have been observed. Citizens are urged to remain indoors: avoid using the telephone, taking a shower, washing your hands, doing dishes, or having contact with conductive surfaces, including metal doors, window frames, wiring and plumbing as long as the storm persists.

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The battle in the courtyard was fierce; the fiercest it had been all morning. Both sides were impeded by the heavy rain and wind. The Rangers had some protection from the elements in their suits, and their helmets kept the wind and rain out of their faces. Of the ninjas, Cam had the most difficulty staying on his feet. Buffeted by the wind he barely managed to stay in the same general area as Ethan and the Tyranodrone he was fighting, but Cam never gave up, and managed to land the occasional blow.

Hunter and Blake were using every iota of the storm to their advantage. Because of their connection to the Thunder power they were able to move within the storm instead of being pushed around by it. It was unlikely a storm of this magnitude would last for long, so both Bradleys threw everything they had into the fight. Blake and Kira had again drifted toward the east side of the courtyard– they were fighting closer to the fountain than the kiosks in front of the department store. For the first time since they’d begun fighting Blake was actually having some effect on the Tyranodrone. His confidence soared, and the power of the storm allowed him to fight with an intensity he’d never felt before.

Conner and Hunter had taken their fight to the south side of the courtyard, nearly to the cobblestone walkway and stone chess tables. The Tyranodrone had managed to separate Hunter from Conner and with a vicious kick sent Conner sprawling against one of the stone benches. Conner had lost his Tyranno Staff, and lay stunned. The drone raised its mutated sword arm to deal a fatal blow, but an explosion of lightning knocked it flying back toward the fountain.

Conner rolled and grabbed his staff just as Hunter came running up to him. With a groan, Conner used the staff to give him some leverage for getting up off the ground. “Did you do that, dude? It was a little close…”

Hunter reached out to assist Conner. “No I…” Hunter’s reply was cut off with a gasp as he made contact with Conner. Power from the storm coursed through him into Conner – unlike earlier when the dino gem had fought the transfer, this time the power flowed easily. It didn’t make any sense, but Conner wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Thanks for the boost!” Conner called as he ran back toward the fountain to engage the drone that had recovered from the blast.

Hunter stood stunned; something had happened, but he wasn’t sure what. Ever since they were children, he’d always been able to sense Blake’s presence in a storm. They could feed off each other, and pass the power back and forth. But whatever had just happened with Conner gave him the same feeling. Although Conner was running away from him, Hunter still felt connected. He turned his full attention to the feeling of that connection – if he was right, he could feed Conner the power of the storm and make him nearly invincible as long as the storm lasted. He didn’t know why he couldn’t do the same for Ethan or Kira, but it didn’t really matter. He could feed Conner all the power he needed…and then they’d win this thing.

Hunter was so engrossed in channeling the power of the storm to Conner that he didn’t notice at first that the situation had changed. The lighting was flashing so rapidly, that the change in the light from yellow to green didn’t even register. But Cam noticed. “Incoming!” he yelled again, but his voice was lost in the storm.

The newcomer dropped from the invisaportal on the west side of the fountain. As he gained his feet, Zeltrax looked around impassively. Quickly he identified his target – the Red Ranger. Without hesitation, Zeltrax strode forward. Conner had just landed a flying kick to the Tyranodrone’s chest sending it crashing to the cobblestones. As he landed on his feet, Conner streaked away and stopped about halfway between Hunter and the drone. There he waited, expecting the drone to follow him. Seeing Zeltrax there was a surprise.

The Tyranodrone scrambled to its feet, prepared to follow Conner. Zeltrax stopped it by blocking its path with his outstretched sword. The drone, only programmed to follow two orders did not acknowledge Zeltrax’s unspoken command. Again it surged forward attempting to get to Conner.

“No need to fight over me, guys. There’s enough to go around!” called Conner. He felt so energized by the power Hunter had given him, he felt like he could take on the world.

Zeltrax grabbed the Tyranodrone by its collar plate and swung it around to face him. He then shot a searing bolt of energy into its chest sending it flying toward the low wall in front of the restaurant.

“Or not…” Conner commented. He cocked his head to the side and gestured to Zeltrax, “I guess I’m all yours.”

Zeltrax didn’t respond, he just rushed forward to engage Conner. As Zeltrax got closer, Conner could see that he had changed. His body armor was the same, but his helmet was grotesquely misshapen and appeared to be too small for his enlarged head. Conner could immediately tell that this fight was different. There would be no streaking away, no taking a break, no nothing – this fight was one on one, man against monster, until one way or another, it was finished. Conner shut his mouth and put on his game face; he had business to attend to.

Zeltrax closed in fast. Conner quickly switched from his Tyranno Staff to his Thundermax saber. He met the first blow from Zeltrax with his saber overhead; the clash of steel rang out in counterpoint to the peals of thunder overhead. Conner was a little disoriented by Zeltrax’s new style of fighting – there were no snarky comments or threats – just single-minded focus on destroying the Red Ranger. Now I know how Dr. O feels when they go at it.

Even with the power boost from Hunter, Conner was not faring well. Three direct strikes to the chest landed him on the ground. Hunter dashed in front of Conner, attempting to cover him long enough for the Red Ranger to get back on his feet.

“No, Hunter!” yelled Conner from his position. He knew there was no way Hunter could take any kind of blow from Zeltrax; without the protection of a Ranger suit, Hunter would be dead before he hit the ground.

Drawing on reserves he didn’t know he had, Conner shouted, “Super Dino Mode!” A flood of power coursed through him, revitalizing him and giving him enough energy to get up off the ground and physically tackled Hunter out of the way of the impending strike. The two of them rolled together, and Conner jumped up in a defensive position in front of Hunter.

“I can take him!” Conner yelled and before Hunter could respond he had run back into the fight.

Hunter was tense with anxiety; this was wrong, everything about this fight felt wrong. Something bad was going to happen, and he felt helpless to prevent it. He knew he would be more of a hindrance than a help in the fight against Zeltrax, so Hunter concentrated on providing Conner with as much power from the storm as possible to augment his Super Dino Mode.

Hunter was focused so intently on Conner and his battle with Zeltrax that he never saw the true danger. But Cam did.

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SEVERE WEATHER ADVISORY – FLOOD WARNING is in effect in San Mateo County. Intense storm cells have accumulated in the San Mateo County area – in the past half hour over an inch of rain has fallen in many areas. Due to the recent rains, flooding in low lying areas is likely. There is also a danger of mudslides. Citizens in flood prone or mud areas should seek shelter in higher elevations immediately.

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Fighting the Tyranodrones was difficult – fighting them in a hurricane was nearly impossible. Cam knew that technically this storm was probably not classified as a hurricane, but it didn’t really matter while standing in the middle of it. The only good thing about the storm was that the Tyranodrones were having just as much trouble fighting the elements as the Rangers were. They had to expend an awful lot of energy just staying on their feet, and any expenditure of energy on the part of the drones was good for the Rangers.

When the second invisaportal opened on the west side of the fountain, Cam yelled out “Incoming!”, but he wasn’t sure anyone could hear him over the noise of the storm. He didn’t get a look at what was dropped from the invisaportal, but as far as he could tell there was nothing new attacking Kira and Blake, and nothing had come to harass Ethan. Cam was sure that wasn’t a good thing, but he couldn’t get a good view of the opposite side of the fountain to see how Hunter and Conner were faring.

Cam turned his attention back to Ethan. The Blue Ranger was taking a pounding from the drone that had pushed him up the steps in front of the courthouse; they’d traveled as far as the second set of stairs. Ethan’s dino armor was protecting him, but he couldn’t seem to break free from the Tyranodrone’s attack. Cam dashed up the stairs, gaining as much speed as he could against the wind, and swiped the drone’s feet out from under it. The maneuver gave Ethan enough time to break away and regain his footing as the drone toppled backward down the stairs. The wind was in his favor for once, and Ethan allowed it to give him a push as he dashed away from his relentless pursuer.

A errant gust of wind knocked Cam away from Ethan; he landed inelegantly on his ass at the base of the second set of steps facing the fountain. Struggling to his feet he saw something that caused his breath to catch in his throat. From this higher elevation Cam could see Conner and Hunter clearly. Conner was fighting someone, but it wasn’t a Tyranodrone. Cam scanned the area trying to make out shapes in the storm. He didn’t see any prone figures littering the courtyard which meant Conner’s drone was somewhere on the loose.

Cam’s heart began pounding in his chest. Earlier in the fight they’d figured out that a Tyranodrone not fighting a Ranger would go after civilians. Of the six people fighting in the courtyard, only one wasn’t dressed in some type of a uniform. Even as he spotted the rogue Tyranodrone, Cam knew he was too late. Kira and Blake were too caught up in the battle with their own Tyranodrone to see the other one coming toward them.

Watching Blake and Kira fight from a distance was almost like watching a ballet. Blake stood like a conductor on the lip of the fountain, arms raised, and his back toward Cam. With Blake’s help controlling the wind currents in her immediate area, Kira was able to use her flight mode to give her a tactical advantage over the earth-bound Tyranodrone. She alternated pounding it with her ptera-grips and shooting it with her laser. The Tyranodrone programmed to fight Kira paid Blake no attention at all, not realizing that he was the reason she could take flight.

“Blake!” Cam screamed in desperation. He ran toward their position like a man caught in a nightmare – able to see every excruciating detail but powerless to change anything.

“BLAKE!” he screamed again, reinforcing it with every shred of mental power he had.

So complete was Blake’s concentration that Cam’s mental voice didn’t reach him, but his desperation did. Startled, Blake looked over his right shoulder to where Cam was running toward the fountain – waves of panic and danger emanated from the green ninja. Blake couldn’t make out where the danger was coming from, until a half-second later when the solid thunk of armor meeting flesh warned of disaster and the metal shaft of a mutated Tyranodrone arm protruded from his chest.

For a moment, there was no pain, only surprise. Blake couldn’t quite connect the bloody spear sticking out the front of his shirt as being connected to his body. Even as his fingers reached out to assess the actuality of the gaping hole in his chest it wasn’t quite real. But when the Tyranodrone picked him up off of his feet to shake him in the direction of the Red Ranger, and all of his body’s weight was crushed upon the spear, pain was all he knew.

Kira’s scream of agony echoed his own as the drone shook him again. Fruitlessly, Blake attempted to get a foothold on the fountain, desperate to take the pressure off of his chest, but he was suspended to high to do it. Something crashed into the Tyranodrone from behind – Blake supposed it was Cam – and the forward momentum allowed Blake to find some purchase with his feet on the edge of the fountain. But the transfer of weight did not ease the agony in his chest. In fact, it only made it very clear that he was no longer able to breathe.

Blake looked down again, fascinated by the bright red stain that spread across his chest. He shook his head and looked up seeking Hunter. Hunter’s pale and stricken expression was etched into Blake’s consciousness even as he gave his big brother a look saying,

Blackness covered Blake’s vision as his mind left his body. It didn’t even register when the drone planted a foot on his back and kicked him off the spear. He didn’t feel himself crash onto the fountain’s rim. He didn’t hear the screams of the people around him. He didn’t witness the storm explode.

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WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR AN IMPORTANT WEATHER BULLETIN – Good morning, this is Pete Crenshaw, meteorologist for Channel 7 News. The National Weather Service has issued a number of unusual warnings for our area for this time of year, but this is no joke, folks. As you can see on our exclusive Doppler Radar, the storm cells are concentrated in over the town of Reefside in San Mateo County. The areas of red indicate the most violent cells of the storm. As you can see in this exclusive live radar picture, the storm is expanding from the inside out. Even as we’re looking at it, the area of red and orange are increasing rapidly. I’ve never seen anything like this before. All citizens are urged to take shelter, and if you live in a flood zone, evacuate as soon as possible. If you do not live in a flood zone, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOMES. Roads should be clear for emergency vehicles only. The governor has declared a state of emergency. Stay tuned for Channel 7 news for updates and information. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Zeltrax maneuvered the fight around until his back was to the fountain. Conner was holding his own with his power up in Super Dino Mode and assistance from Hunter. But Zeltrax was about to raise the stakes. With a grunt, he tossed Conner away from him. The Red Ranger bound instantly to his feet. Zeltrax called up a shield around them. The pounding rain slid off the glowing dome giving it the appearance of an underwater shelter. Conner held up his saber warily unsure of what to expect.

About ten feet separated the fighters. Conner felt a brief flare of panic – What is this supposed to be – some sort of cage match?

For the first time in their encounter, Zeltrax spoke. “Now Red Ranger, it is finished.” He let loose with a searing bolt of orange energy aimed directly at Conner’s head. Conner had nowhere to dodge. The energy crashed into his brain as if the helmet was made of tissue paper; it didn’t dissipate after a few moments, instead the pressure grew. Zeltrax was trying to get inside his head!

Conner gave in to all out panic. He could feel Zeltrax attempting to infiltrate his mind. This wasn’t an easy sharing like with Sensei Watanabe – this was a grasping, violent, brutal attempt to find everything that was Conner and crush it out of existence. Conner threw up all the mental walls he could, blocking Zeltrax’s every attempt to reach inside his mind. His entire consciousness became focused on keeping Zeltrax out, even as Zeltrax relentlessly attempted to make his way in.

Hunter watched horrified from outside the dome. He didn’t understand what was happening, but Conner was clearly in agony and at the mercy of Zeltrax. Hunter watched helplessly as Conner fell to his knees, hands clasped against his head as Zeltrax moved slowly closer; the orange beam from his hand never wavering. The dome kept Hunter physically out, but he could still feel his connection to Conner and increased the power he was feeding him from the storm.

Something caught Hunter’s attention on the edge of his awareness. Hunter didn’t hear Cam; not exactly. No one’s voice could carry over the noise of the storm. But Cam’s anguish and tone carried clearly under the storm. It drew Hunter’s attention, but even as he turned, he knew it would be too late. His mind couldn’t process all of the information, but one thing was very clear – Kira and Blake had TWO Tyranodrones in their vicinity, and neither one saw the second one coming.

Hunter found himself in motion without willing his body to move. He’d never make it in time, he knew he never would, but that didn’t stop him from trying. The vision of the spear exploding through Blake’s chest drove Hunter to his knees and the air out of his lungs. He could see Blake scream in pain – he was sure he was screaming too, but he couldn’t hear anything. Hunter staggered back to his feet, fighting the wind and rain that were no longer in his control.

All of his awareness, all of his consciousness, all of his vision was focused on one thing – the red stain that was rapidly covering his brother’s shirt. He looked up in horror and caught Blake’s eye. Blake’s expression was more surprised than anything else. And then the light left his eyes. Hunter snapped and the world exploded.

The storm, which had been violent and unpredictable up to this point, increased in intensity to a level which none of them had ever experienced. Lightning shattered windows and pavement. Wind tore through the courtyard, uprooting two of the trees close to the fountain. All three Tyranodrones were engulfed in flames as lightning struck their armored bodies over and over again. Even when there was nothing left but piles of ash, the lightning did not cease.

Cam, Ethan, Kira – all of their cries meant nothing to Hunter. He couldn’t acknowledge their fear or pain. Blake’s lifeless form on the edge of the fountain was all he knew. He couldn’t get closer to it – walking closer, seeing that Blake’s chest no longer rose and fell – Hunter just couldn’t do it. He had failed. Failed, and lost the driving purpose in his life. The storm’s intensity increased again as Hunter’s anguish played itself out in the storm. All that drove him now was a white-hot rage and the need to finish this. The creature that had caused this disaster was still breathing, but his brother was not. Hunter was going to change that.

Whirling, Hunter strode back toward the dome encasing Zeltrax and Conner. Conner had unmorphed and drawn himself up into the fetal position, curled as close to the edge of the dome as possible. His face was hidden in his arms, but the pulsing orange light still pounded at his exposed head. Zeltrax stood over Conner implacably, knowing his power would crush the Red Ranger given enough time.

Hunter raised his arms, and once more lightning flew at his command. Each explosion rocked the dome, but did not appear to have any immediate effect. The pavement was blackened by the repeated lightning strikes; the courtyard was lit in a hyperlight by the unceasing bolts of electricity. Hunter poured more and more energy into the storm; his one and only thought was to crack the dome and annihilate the monster that had caused the death of his brother. The fact that he was pouring out all of his own life energy never gave him pause; what was his own life worth when he couldn’t even save his own brother.

The pounding was beginning to have an effect. The dome was wavering under the ceaseless assault. Even Zeltrax had noticed. His helmeted head turned toward Hunter. There was no expression, but Hunter imagined the look beneath the helmet was one of disdain. What did the opinion of the creature matter? He’d be dead soon.

Hunter noticed a fatal flaw in his plan at just about the same time Zeltrax did. Each time the lightning hit the dome it traveled down to the pavement. If the lightning actually broke through and Hunter didn’t aim the next strike precisely, Conner was just as likely to be hit by a bolt as Zeltrax. Hunter would have to pause in order to aim, giving Zeltrax the opportunity to strike first. Even as Hunter continued to pound the dome with lightning, Zeltrax drew more energy to his free hand. The orange energy never ceased tormenting Conner, but Zeltrax would be ready to launch an attack of his own the moment the dome collapsed and Hunter had to regroup.

In Hunter’s mind, everything became still. It all came down to this. He knew, if he could have given his life for Blake’s he would have. If he could trade his life for Conner’s he’d do it in an instant. This was the best he could do, and he had no regrets. He faced Zeltrax through the dome, knowing at any moment it could collapse. He would have no time before Zeltrax struck, but he was determined to make his last strike count. He would take the bastard out with him, though he knew he would die trying.

In the eye of the maelstrom all became calm. Hunter found peace in his decision. The sounds of the storm became comforting and soothing. Soon he’d join Blake and everything would be fine.

He never heard the sound of his salvation approaching from the street.

Three things happened simultaneously – the glowing dome collapsed; a motorcycle from out of nowhere crashed into the unprepared Zeltrax; and a figure in a black motorcycle jacket flung itself protectively across Conner’s limp form. Hunter didn’t hesitate. One after another, bolt after bolt of searing lightning lit up the courtyard as Zeltrax jerked spasmodically with each blast. Hunter got a deep satisfaction watching him burn.

He would have continued indefinitely if Cam hadn’t interfered. At first, Cam’s presence didn’t register at all – Hunter was too engrossed in making sure each molecule of Zeltrax’s form was toasted to a crisp. Only when Cam grabbed him by the face and pulled him close enough to scream in his ear did Hunter finally notice him there. And what he said brought Hunter up short.

“If you continue this and Blake dies…it’ll be YOUR FAULT!”

Chapter Text

He can’t hear me…he can’t hear me over the storm…and I’ll never get there in time. Then Blake turned to look toward him; He heard the warning! And, for a fraction of a second, Cam thought it might work – Blake might move fast enough to get away. But the Tyranodrone was too close and it never slowed as it closed in.

Cam didn’t know how it was possible, but the thud of the Tyranodrone impaling Blake carried clearly over the sounds of the storm. It was a sound Cam would hear echoed in his nightmares for the rest of his life.

Got to get there…have to move faster… No matter how much Cam implored his body to respond, it seemed as though everything was happening at super-slow speed, and just out of his reach.

The fact that Kira had collapsed next to the fountain barely registered with Cam. A part of him knew that her defenses were totally down and the drone attacking her would have a clear opening for a kill. But Cam couldn’t help Kira; his focus was completely on Blake. He crashed with all the force he could muster into the back of the Tyranodrone standing on the fountain. The impact didn’t knock the drone down, but it did cause it to lose its balance and forced it to lower Blake back onto the fountain.

Cam drew back preparing for another strike at the Tyranodrone when a gust of wind pushed him off the fountain causing him to lose his footing and fall to the cobblestones.

I DON’T’ HAVE TIME TO FIGHT THE WIND!

Cam found himself scrambling again to get to his feet, but the storm was working against him. Cursing fervently in Japanese, Cam struggled against the wind. He had been knocked far enough away that he could clearly see the last moment of communication between Hunter and Blake. He wasn’t a “heart” type like Blake, but you’d have to be dead not to hear Hunter’s heart breaking.

With no regard for Blake, the Tyranodrone planted its foot on the Navy Ranger's back and pushed him off his spear. Blake slid bonelessly onto the edge of the fountain; his right arm floating in the rising waters, his left dangling off the rim. Cam stared in rapt fascination at the pink waterfall falling away from Blake’s body.

This can’t be happening…

Cam didn’t have to see Hunter to understand what happened next. The whole world exploded as the storm responded to his agony and despair. Lightning engulfed the drone standing on the fountain, and the one about to strike Kira a deadly blow. Though she had remained morphed during the assault on Blake which was a purely physical attack, she couldn’t retain her morphed form dealing with the emotional fallout from Hunter. Giving voice to Hunter’s pain, Kira wailed like a banshee as she curled as far into herself as she could in an attempt to escape the emotional storm around her.

In that first moment, Cam was certain they’d all be killed – Hunter had completely lost control of himself and the storm. Windows of the buildings around them exploded as the thunder and lightning pounded the courtyard, spraying shards of glass in all directions. Two trees near the fountain were ripped up by their roots and sent crashing to the court house steps. But, Cam’s only thought was getting to Blake. It just wasn’t right leaving him there, exposed to the elements.

Cam fought his way over to where Blake lay. It grieved him to see the gaping wound in his back. Cam grabbed Blake under his arms and pulled him up against his chest. A sudden tingling warned of an impending lightning strike. Cam threw himself away from the fountain carrying Blake to the ground with him. Cam landed flat on his back with Blake cradled in his arms. There, on the ground, in the driving gale – that when Cam realized all hope was not lost. It wasn’t just the power from the lightning he was feeling, there was power in Blake as well.

It makes sense! He was drawing on the power of the storm to help Kira fly. He was still drawing on the storm when he was injured. The storm itself is keeping him alive right now!

As quickly as hope rose in Cam’s heart, it plummeted. Cam knew very little about the power of the Thunder ninjas. He knew some basic information he’d picked up from Hunter and Blake when they’d lived at Ninja Ops in the time before the Thunder Ninja Academy was restored. If there was any one person who was in a position to help Blake, it was Hunter…and he’d lost his mind.

No, he hasn’t lost his mind; he’s just crazy with grief. I can take that grief away…if he doesn’t kill me first.

Cam dragged Blake over to the meager shelter of the coffee kiosk. It was still standing against the wind, though the awning had been ripped off and offered no protection from the rain. Cam was afraid to take him inside either building and out of the storm; if it was the storm keeping him alive right now, he ought to be kept in the thick of it. Part of Cam realized that the tenor of the storm had changed; it was focused once again. The lightning was so rapid that the courtyard was in a permanent state of light, and Cam could see that Hunter was concentrated on an actual target. Cam propped Blake up against the machinery of the kiosk and peered around the edge to assess the situation.

The figure that Cam had seen Conner fighting had erected a glowing dome of power around them. Now that Cam had a closer view he came to the conclusion that it must be Zeltrax Conner was fighting – he fit the description Shane had given him earlier. Conner was clearly at a disadvantage; even as Cam watched, Conner’s morph exploded around him, and he was left curled up in his human form. The only good thing Cam could tell was that even in his unmorphed form, he still seemed to be defending himself against the energy beam that was mercilessly bearing down on him. It looked to Cam like he couldn’t withstand too much more – it was a race between Hunter with his lightning and Zeltrax with his energy beam; who could crack their target first?

Cam was distracted by a movement near his elbow – it was Ethan dragging Kira into the kiosk. Of the three Dino Rangers, Ethan was the only one still in his morphed form. Cam didn’t even attempt to speak; he just made a “stay here” gesture to Ethan. It wasn’t like Ethan had much of a choice; Kira had pretty much wrapped herself around his torso attempting to use him as a buffer against the rampant emotions flaring all around her. As much as Cam hated leaving Blake, he had to get Hunter and bring the Bradleys together. It gave him the tiniest bit of comfort that Ethan and Kira were there and Blake wasn’t alone.

But, if any more of those enhanced drones drop in, they’re all dead. Something made Cam think no more were coming. The addition of Zeltrax indicated a new level of the battle.

Cam crawled out from behind the kiosk back onto his feet. Getting across the courtyard to Hunter didn’t have the same horrific quality as the run toward Blake, but it was just as difficult. Though Hunter had harnessed all of the electrical energy from the storm and given it a focus, the wind and rain were torrential and out of control. As Cam approached Hunter and the dome, he had a clear view and understood Hunter’s strategy. It was obvious that Hunter was determined to get to Zeltrax – no matter what the cost. That concerned Cam; if Hunter used up all of his own life energy to end the battle, he would have nothing left to help Blake.

An icy fear encased Cam’s heart. He believes Blake is dead. He won’t hold anything back…why should he? Who does he think he has to live for?

With greater determination Cam fought his way toward Hunter. He could see the danger building within the dome as well. Zeltrax was building up another blast of energy; ready to let it loose against Hunter when the dome failed and Hunter had to regroup. As the dome began to waver, Cam’s journey took on that nightmarish quality again – he was moving as fast as he could impeded by the storm, but it felt like he was running in slow motion. He could see everything just before it happened, and do nothing about it.

Then, miraculously, the circumstances changed. Maybe it was coincidence; maybe it was fate; maybe the power that protected them all finally stepped in to take a hand. Just as the dome began to crumble and Zeltrax raised his free hand for a killing blast at Hunter, Cam could see a lone figure on a motorcycle fly up the pavement from the street heading directly for the battle zone. In a maneuver that would have made Dustin green with envy, the cyclist used one of the stone benches by the chessboards to get airborne, sent the motorcycle on a crash course for Zeltrax, and executed an aerobatic flip to land him within the collapsing dome between Conner and Zeltrax. The cyclist didn’t hesitate, and flung himself protectively over Conner. Hunter didn’t hesitate either - the motorcycle gave him the split-second distraction he needed to land the first blow against Zeltrax. Then he pounded him unceasingly throwing bolt after bolt of lightning at him.

Cam found that time had resumed its normal speed, as he continued his headlong rush to get to Hunter. It concerned him that Hunter was holding nothing back, even after it was very evident that Zeltrax had been destroyed.

I’ve got to get through to him. I HAVE to make him stop.

Even as Cam decided up on his drastic course of action, the moment of truth was upon him. He grabbed Hunter by the arm and screamed his name, but got no reaction. Pushing and shoving Hunter got no response either. Cam took a deep breath and went for a frontal assault. He swung himself around to face Hunter and grabbed his head. Pulling Hunter down, he got him close enough to scream in his ear, “If you continue this and Blake dies…it’ll be YOUR FAULT!”

Everything stopped. The eye of the storm passed above them. The sudden silence was deafening. The air was still and heavy with moisture. Cam could feel Hunter trembling with tension beneath his hands. Hunter stood up straight; the blank and utterly empty expression in his eyes echoed the death of the storm around them. He wasn’t breathing.

As animation returned to Hunter’s face, so did the storm resume; its fury equal in intensity to Hunter’s rage. He took a shuddering breath and grabbed Cam by the front of his jacket. All of his anger was focused at the samurai in his grasp. “NOOOO!”

Cam couldn’t give Hunter a chance to think. Instead of attempting to get away from Hunter, Cam pushed himself further into his grip. Forcing Hunter’s arms back against his chest, Cam wrapped him in an embrace. He focused every shred of his mind, every ounce of his power into making Hunter understand.

BLAKE IS NOT DEAD!

NO!

BLAKE IS NOT DEAD! YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO SAVE HIM!

No!

Cam couldn’t understand why Hunter was fighting so hard against the idea that Blake had survived; he should be ecstatic! Hunter was trembling again in Cam’s grip; Cam was reminded of the nights he had spent talking with Hunter after the Crimson Ranger woke from the recurring nightmare of trying to kill Blake on Lothor’s island. Then he understood. Hunter couldn’t allow himself to believe that Blake survived the Tyranodrone’s attack because if he tried to help now and failed his brother’s death would be on his hands. He’d chosen to help Conner because he couldn’t help Blake; or he thought he couldn’t help Blake. If Blake died now, because of the choice Hunter had made, Hunter would not be able to live with himself. A shudder wracked Cam’s slight frame – Then we just can’t let that happen.

Hunter…it’s the storm that’s keeping him alive. The power of the storm. Do you understand?

Hunter stood immobile, making no indication that he heard or understood.

Blake was using the power of the storm when he was attacked. It never left him. But he can’t channel it now – you can. Hunter?

Hunter stepped slightly away from Cam, far enough for Cam to get a good look at his face. Desolation was etched in his expression; guilt and fear waged war in his eyes. All of his mental barriers were down; for the first time, Hunter answered in Cam’s mind.

What if I can’t do it? His mental voice was heartrendingly sad.

We’ll do it together, Cam responded with all the determination he could muster.

The exchange took only a few moments. Thrilled to have broken through to Hunter, Cam led him quickly across the courtyard. With a hand on Hunter’s arm, Cam was amazed at how unimpeded they moved through the storm. I could’ve used a little of that before…

Cam was stopped short when Hunter froze at the edge of the coffee kiosk. Cam turned to him questioningly, but it was clear to see why Hunter had stopped moving. He was immobilized by the sight of Blake. Kira, who’d been quieted somewhat by Ethan, was distressed by Hunter’s arrival.

“Get her out of here, Ethan.” Cam ordered. “Get to Conner. See if you can contact Haley. We have work to do here.”

Ethan didn’t bother to respond. He expedited moving Kira by catching her up in his arms and bodily carrying her away from the ninja trio.

Hunter was shaking once again; Cam wasn’t sure if it was just a reaction to seeing Blake so badly injured, or if the older Bradley was feeling the effects of riding the storm for as long as he had. Cam prayed it was the former because if it was the latter their task was doomed to fail.

Cam guided Hunter over to Blake and pushed him into a seated position. Hunter’s gaze remained glued to Blake’s face, and he hesitantly reached out to touch Blake’s hand.

“Cam,” he whispered brokenly as he tore his gaze away and looked imploringly at Cam, “I’m not a healer.”

Cam looked back resolutely, “You’re not…but I am.”

An emotion that wasn’t laden with despair crossed Hunter’s face – honest surprise. Cam was glad to see it.

“Sit back, you need to be comfortable for this.” Hunter leaned back against the cabinet beneath the counter of the kiosk. “Make room for us to sit.” Cam ordered. Hunter was surprised again when Cam sat down within his embrace – he was expecting Blake. As Cam scooted back to lean against Hunter, he also pulled Blake over to lean against him. The two ninjas and samurai were stacked up against each other like nesting dolls, from the biggest to smallest.

Cam pulled Hunter’s arms into an embrace around both him and Blake, resting Hunter’s hands on Blake’s chest. He then wormed his own arms beneath Hunter’s. Understanding what Cam was trying to do, Hunter shifted his position to give Cam a little wiggle room – Cam laid his hands directly on the wound in Blake’s chest, and Hunter laid his hands on top. Cam could feel Hunter tighten his embrace to securely hold the other two, and his chin dropped to rest on Cam’s head. Cam took a similar position with Blake. Though Cam had no direct contact with the wound in Blake’s back, he hoped that being within the circle of the other two would be enough.

Hunter, all I need you to do is draw on the power of the storm and pass it on to me.

Hunter was beyond the ability of snappy retorts, wound so tightly with tension that Cam could feel it in everything he did. Cam got feelings of worry and doubt from Hunter before Hunter deliberately pushed them aside and focused completely on channeling the power from the storm.

The power of thunder was not easy for Cam to use; he would have had the same difficulty channeling power from the Wind Ninjas as well. He wasn’t like them, but he wouldn’t allow the difficulty of the task to deter him from his chosen course of action. He knew in his heart this had to work – if it didn’t they would lose Blake, and without a doubt, they would lose Hunter as well.

Chapter Text

“Things in Reefside are about to get much…more…interesting.” Mesogog taunted. Tommy didn’t reply he simply met Mesogog’s attack with all the strength he could muster. Having Kim fighting at his side felt so natural; he easily fell back into sync with her. Without giving it a second thought they fought Mesogog as a team.

The Falcon spirit had reenergized Tommy, but he wasn’t healed. He knew his time was limited, and his ability to fight would be short lived; he was determined to inflict as much damage as he could until his body gave out. He was driven by the need to get across the lab and get Dustin free of the energy chamber. Kim, understanding Tommy’s need, deflected many of Mesogog’s attacks and attempted to distract him from directly assaulting Tommy. But Mesogog would not be deterred. He was obsessive in his desire to engage Tommy in battle and prevent him from getting across the lab to rescue Dustin.

Elsewhere in the lab, Elsa, Adam and Aisha were engaged in battle close to the main computer console, directly across from Mesogog’s throne. Elsa had the advantage of knowing the layout of the lab, and the ability to direct the Tyranodrones. Adam and Aisha were finding themselves hard pressed until Billy’s fight brought him into their vicinity. Fighting together, the three Ninjetti found dealing with the drones more manageable and inched ever closer to Elsa.

After being flung away from Mesogog, Rocky found himself alone and ignored. He took a moment to assess the situation. All the other ninjas were engaged in battle, but were not overwhelmed. Joining in with any particular fight might not make a difference, but as long as he continued not to be noticed, he had a unique opportunity to make a move to rescue Dustin. The promise he had made to Shane and Tori rang in his ears; his decision was made.

Keeping low, Rocky stayed close to the wall and made his way counter-clockwise around the lab toward the energy chamber. Stopping for a moment behind Mesogog’s throne, Rocky again took the time to assess the situation. Mesogog, Tommy and Kim were fighting on the far left side of the lab; Elsa and the remaining Ninjetti were situated near the center. The lizard creature had resumed his crouched position under the console and seemed far more anxious about his personal safety than getting involved. Aside from whatever random drones might drift his way, the lizard man was Rocky’s greatest concern. He didn’t give the appearance of a soldier, but Rocky couldn’t count on him to stay out of the fight.

Dustin’s position in the chamber hadn’t changed. He remained suspended and surrounded by a warm and steady yellow light. He couldn’t explain why, but the steadiness of the light reassured Rocky. He had the feeling that if the light started to flicker or waver that time was running out. Rocky knew that unless there was a big-ass button labeled “POWER SWITCH” on the console in front of the energy chamber, there was no way he’d be able to figure out how to shut it down. So he decided to go for a more direct solution. He was going to pull the plug.

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Tommy crashed into the wall as he found himself thwarted once again from making his way across the chaotic lab. Surprisingly, Mesogog didn’t press his advantage, he just watched Tommy struggle to get to his feet. Tommy’s eyes narrowed in suspicion even as Kim came to his side to steady him. Their fight had carried them around the lab to the left, but Mesogog never gave up his position between them and the energy chamber.

“Your struggle is fruitless, Dr. Oliver.” Mesogog intoned.

Tommy and Kim shared a glance. Time for the maniacal gloating from the uber-evil monster. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – when evil villains gloated, they often got distracted from their goal. Tommy and Kim stood ready, but listening. If nothing else, it gave Tommy a chance to get a second wind.

“You are nearly as ineffective as your Rangers…” Mesogog gestured toward the viewing screen with a condescending nod of his scaly head.

Tommy tried to will himself not to look; he could not afford to be distracted. Dustin had to be his focus – but, he couldn’t help himself. Unwillingly Tommy glanced at the screen depicting the scene in Reefside, and couldn’t look away. Kim was similarly transfixed. They could not see they entire scene; only Hunter, Conner and Zeltrax. Conner had called on Super Dino mode, but was losing ground quickly against Zeltrax. Mesogog sensing he had caught his prey, glided slowly toward them oozing false sincerity.

“Do you see how they struggle? It would be so much easier if they would simply give up.”

Tommy shook his head in the negative, but felt his heart hammering in his chest as he watched Zeltrax throw up the shield around himself and Conner on the street side of the courtyard fountain. Zeltrax had never done that before and it chilled Tommy to his core anticipating what the warrior had in mind. He didn’t have long to wait; Zeltrax attacked Conner with a bolt of orange energy. It wasn’t a physical attack, it was mental. Tommy flinched in response. He understood far too well what an attack of that type was like; he was still reeling from the effects.

“You see?” Mesogog whispered seductively. “Zeltrax has some new skills. I gave them to him myself. You couldn’t stand against me…do you think your boy can?” Tommy looked at Mesogog, horrified. Mesogog moved to whisper directly in Tommy’s ear. “Zeltrax won’t just kill him. He’ll crush his very soul.” The satisfied chuckle caused Tommy cringe away from him.

Suddenly the support Tommy had been receiving from Kim wavered. She clutched at her chest and staggered back a step. She turned to Tommy with tears in her eyes as she whispered, “Blake.”

“Another one falls.” Mesogog chuckled. “They’re like dominos.”

“No!” Tommy protested as he moved to attack. But the few minutes of inactivity had worked to Mesogog’s advantage; Tommy had lost his momentum and the strength of the Falcon was beginning to fade.

“Yes!” shouted Mesogog with glee. He grabbed Tommy’s arm and pinned it behind his back. Swinging around, Mesogog kicked Kim full in the chest causing her to crash into the far wall. She crumbled unmoving to the floor.

Tommy struggled unsuccessfully against Mesogog’s hold. Mesogog turned him to look again at the view screen. Tommy continued to shake his head and voice his denial, but the scene unfolded unmercifully. The courtyard was lit with an eerie hyper light. Hunter was advancing upon the glowing dome Zeltrax had built. Lightning flew at his command, but at first, did not appear to have any effect on the shield. Conner, in the meantime, had unmorphed and Zeltrax continued his punishing assault. Tommy watched in anguish as Hunter continued his attack knowing the Crimson ninja would have no chance of survival once the glowing dome collapsed.

Then, beneath the sound of the storm, a sound caught Tommy’s attention. Hope flared, then died – it couldn’t be. A moment later, a motorcycle came flying into view on a crash course with Zeltrax, and the rider landed protectively near Conner. Hope flared again, and this time kindled a fierce flame in Tommy’s soul. Recognition was instant. “Jason!” Tommy yelled.

Thrusting his foot back against Mesogog’s knee, Tommy caught the dinosaur off guard and tore himself free. No longer encumbered by worry about the situation in Reefside, and reinvigorated by the arrival of his best friend, Tommy assaulted Mesogog with fresh energy and purpose. Mesogog did not understand how the arrival of one person could enliven Dr. Oliver so greatly, but he had clearly lost his psychological advantage over the Ranger, and returned his attention to the physical battle.

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In the battle with Elsa and the Tyranodrones, the tide had turned to favor the former Rangers. Though Elsa had called in reinforcements they had yet to arrive, and the drones were no match for the Ninjetti’s speed and training. They did not work well in a group, and the tight quarters of the lab made maneuvering difficult for the clumsy soldiers. Most of the drones in the lab were laid out unmoving on the floor as the Ninjetti advanced on Elsa.

“Adam!” The Black Ninjetti turned at Rocky’s call. Rocky gestured him over to where he was standing by the wall. As Adam made his way across the lab, stepping around and over fallen drones, he passed by the console where Fealdor was crouched. With as much menace as he could muster, Adam pointed at the lizard man and ordered “Stay!” similar to the way he would command his dog. Fealdor gave no indication that he intended to go anywhere.

Rocky was staring intently at a length of cording that ran from the energy chamber to the wall behind Mesogog’s chair. It seemed to be a conduit for the power that was being drawn from Dustin. But Rocky was no fool; simply reaching out and ripping the cord would likely have serious consequences for anyone attempting to handle it bare handed. And though the Ninjetti outfits were cool looking, they did not afford the wearer the protection of a Ranger suit.

“We need a buffer.” Rocky stated. “Something that won’t conduct the energy”

Adam looked around. “These drones have an awful lot of bones on their exoskeletons, don’t they?”

Rocky raised an eyebrow. “Bone’s not a conductor, is it?”

“Nope.” Adam smiled in reply.

Each Ninjetti grabbed an unconscious drone. They situated themselves on either side of the joint in the conduit – Rocky was closer to the energy chamber; Adam was closer to Mesogog’s chair. Like a puppeteer with life-sized puppets, each one maneuvered the drone to a position where they could use their hands to grab the cable. Holding the drone’s hands tightly on the conduit they prepared themselves. Adam glanced at Rocky. With a nod, they pulled together ignoring the screams from both Elsa and Mesogog

The resulting blast of energy sent both men flying. Rocky crashed into the side of the energy chamber, and Adam tumbled behind Mesogog’s chair. Though both were stunned, the Tyranodrones bore most of the brunt from the blast. Rocky rolled the drone that had landed on top of him off to the side. Glancing up, he noticed that the steady yellow light from above was starting to waver. That got him to his feet in a hurry.

Pulling his feet under him, Rocky used his shoulders as a lever to get him standing. Part of him noticed that everyone still standing in the room was now heading in his direction including the newly arrived reinforcements; but it seemed to him that they were all moving in slow motion. Only he and Dustin were moving in real time – the energy that had kept Dustin suspended was gone. The Yellow Ranger stood limp and listless surrounded by a quickly fading glow. Rocky fumbled for the latch on the energy chamber door – suddenly he was all thumbs. Cursing in Spanish, Rocky applied all of his strength to the door and nearly ripped it off its hinges. Rocky stepped into the chamber just as Dustin began to crumble, and caught him before he could fall. Dustin gave Rocky a silent look, and as his eyes slid closed the fading light abruptly left him.

All of Rocky’s training took over. Transferring Dustin’s weight, he pulled Dustin’s right arm across his left shoulder, grabbed Dustin’s right leg with his right arm and hefted the Yellow Wind Ranger into a fireman carry. Rocky gingerly stepped out of the chamber, careful not to jostle Dustin any more than he had to. Once out of the door, Rocky looked up and realized he was in trouble. Carrying Dustin the way he was left neither hand free – he was defenseless, and so was Dustin.

Instantly Aisha was standing in front of them and a grin split Rocky’s face. His friends could joke all they wanted about his ape-like qualities, but no one was more like their spirit animal than Aisha. Hadn’t Elsa ever read about mama bears protecting their young? Clearly, she didn’t know what she was in for.

-------------------------------------------

When the blast from the conduit sent him flying, Adam released the Tyranodrone and tumbled, landing behind Mesogog’s chair. His right arm was flung out to the side and his hand landed on the length of cord that snaked from the energy chamber. Adam followed the cording with his eyes. Though the conduit went into the wall, it didn’t end in a plug – it literally went through the wall through a hole that was bored in it. Adam shifted himself up onto his elbows, with his right hand still on the conduit. He closed his eyes to find his center, and then listened.

The conduit held a great deal of residual energy from the Yellow Ranger. Even as Adam tried to trace the energy it was drawn away. There was definitely a receptacle for the power somewhere close by, probably behind the wall. There was something else too; the source of power was much smaller, but it called to Adam as well. The way the Earth energy carried a feeling of Dustin, this other power source held a feeling of Tommy. It had to be his Black Dino gem.

In spite of the fact that they had managed to stop the transfer of energy from Dustin, Mesogog still had a fully charged something behind the wall. They couldn’t leave the charged power source in his possession any more than they could leave Dustin. Adam turned his attention to finding a way in.

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Billy’s head was spinning, trying to keep track of each Ranger’s location and level of imminent danger. He was too far away from Tommy and Kim to assist in their battle with Mesogog. He knew Tommy wouldn’t last for long after all the abuse he’d been through. Billy didn’t know how Tommy knew, but the addition of Jason to the battle in Reefside perked Tommy up, and Kim had staggered back to her feet. For the moment they were fine.

Billy had gotten caught up in Adam and Aisha’s battle with the Tyranodrones in the center of the lab. The three of them fighting together were more effective than each one fighting alone. It occurred to him to wonder where Rocky had gone to, when he caught a glimpse of him beside Mesogog’s chair. Billy immediately understood what Rocky was planning to do when he’d called Adam over. If Billy had been closer, or in a position to help, he never would’ve allowed the Red Ninjetti to try anything so foolish. But, if nothing else Rocky was direct, and in this case very lucky. The resultant explosion flung Rocky and Adam in opposite directions. Rocky got to his feet quickly enough, and freed Dustin from the energy chamber. Though Adam was out of Billy’s line of sight, he could only hope the Black Ninjetti had recovered just as quickly.

It seemed as though the explosion set off a chain reaction of chaos in the lab. Just as the energy chamber exploded, wild energy fluctuations caused all the equipment in the lab to spark and flicker. A few small fires broke out on the console controlling the chamber, and much of the machinery in the lab went dead. At the same time, a fresh wave of Tyranodrones entered the lab, yelling and ready to fight.

Everyone, no matter which side they were fighting for, rushed toward the side of the lab housing the energy chamber. Elsa, letting loose with a Xena-like scream, attacked Aisha who had taken up a defensive position in front of Rocky and Dustin. Aisha, responding with a scream of her own, responded with a ferocity Billy had never seen in the petite Yellow Ninjetti before. Billy decided it was time to leave Mesogog’s fortress.

Intercepting a group of Tyranodrones, Billy attempted to contact Haley while dodging and delivering a series of punches and kicks. “Haley!” he yelled, hoping she’d be able to make something out over the cacophony of noise in the lab, “We’ve got Dustin! Can you get us out of here?” Billy maneuvered himself closer to Rocky and Dustin – Aisha was handling Elsa, but Rocky needed some cover from the Tyranodrones.

The answering silence made Billy’s heart lurch. Haley may not have heard, but Mesogog did.

“There is no escape for you, Rangers! You have failed, and I still have all I need to return the world to its former glory.” With an indifferent swat, Mesogog batted Kim away as she tried to deliver a flying kick. Mesogog then grabbed Tommy by the collar of his shirt and tossed him overhand in the direction of the other Rangers. Tommy took down two Tyranodrones on his landing, but was slow to get back on his feet.

Mesogog strode away from where he’d been fighting Tommy and Kim. He dashed toward his throne and activated the hidden latch to the door of his secret lab. He paused to deliver one last comment, “The day will dawn on a brave new world, Rangers. Too bad you won’t be there to see it.” He never noticed the streak of black that swept in behind him before he closed the door to the lab.

A burst of static accompanied by Haley’s anxious voice was music to Billy’s ears. “Trying…get a lock…”

Kim hurried to get to Tommy and regroup with the other Rangers. Billy, Kim, and Tommy as much as he was able, created a loose perimeter around Rocky and Dustin. Billy had no idea if it would be helpful to Haley if they were all standing together, but he figured it couldn’t hurt. A massive kick from Aisha sent Elsa sailing away from their position.

Billy could feel the familiar tingling sensation of the transporter, just as Rocky asked in a panicked voice, “Where’s Adam?”

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The transport was unlike any other Rocky could recall. He felt pushed and stretched. It was decidedly uncomfortable. Upon landing, Rocky was momentarily disoriented; he had to overcompensate to remain balanced with Dustin across his shoulders. A steadying hand from Aisha helped him get steady. He gave her a grateful grin. Billy and Kim caught Tommy who had completely lost his footing; it looked to Rocky like Tommy might have even passed out.

Haley had transported them to the center of the lab – lots of landing space for a large group. Rocky immediately headed over to the corner of the lab where Kanoi, Tori and Shane were meditating – if you could call it that. All three looked to be under extreme duress. Tori had fallen over toward Kanoi and landed with her head resting near his knee. She was laying on her right side with her arms drawn close to her chest, as if she were holding tightly to something. Kanoi had reached out and placed a hand on her head. Shane had also fallen, and it looked like he might have rolled slightly away. His position put him out of arm's reach of Kanoi, and his back was to Tori.

Something about the position of the three in the group disturbed Rocky greatly, though he couldn’t put his finger on it. He didn’t have time to ponder it though. He had a promise to keep and a friend to retrieve. Rocky gently disengaged Dustin from his shoulders. He placed Dustin on his back in front of Kanoi. Instinctively, Tori unclenched her arms and drew Dustin into an embrace. Even that small contact seemed to relax them both. That was better.

Satisfied that his promise had been kept, Rocky turned his attention back toward the main part of the lab. Kim and Aisha were busy tending to Tommy, as Billy and Haley were frantically working the teleporter controls at the main computer. Aisha kept looking over at them anxiously.

“Send me back.” Rocky demanded.

Haley flinched and looked over her shoulder. “Everything’s a mess, Rocky. The Dino Rangers…” She hitched in a breath trying to calm herself, “…the storm…I can’t…”

It didn’t even register with Rocky that Haley had clearly been crying. He gripped her upper arm, and demanded again. “Send me back.” He glared. “You didn’t transport Adam.”

“Rocky!” Billy disengaged Haley’s arm from Rocky’s grip. “Back off!” Even the sharp tone from the former Blue Ranger didn’t get through to Rocky. His mounting distress had nothing to do with anything happening in Tommy’s lab, and everything to do with Adam. Something was very, very wrong; and Billy was keeping something from him.

Rocky’s eyes narrowed and his fists clenched at his sides. All of the Ninjetti were so tightly wound; it seemed that verbal communication was almost unnecessary. “What do you know, Billy?”

Billy’s shoulders tensed, but he turned to face Rocky. “Adam streaked into the room behind the chair. I saw him go in before Mesogog closed the door.”

“What?!” Rocky exploded. “Get him out of there!” he screamed at Haley.

Aisha left Kim with Tommy and joined the group at the computer. She tried to place a calming hand on Rocky’s arm, but he shrugged her off.

Billy intervened again, this time interposing himself in the very small space between Rocky and Haley. “We’re doing everything we can to get the transporter back online, Rocky. But you…”

“Oh no…” The soft cry from Haley got everyone’s attention. “No, no…” she continued to mutter as they gathered around her. “Do you see it?” Haley pointed. She was obviously talking to Billy because neither Rocky nor Aisha had any clue what she was referring to. “The errant energy reading?” responded Billy. Haley nodded tensely.

Haley pulled a large schematic up onto the main computer screen. It was a map from the scanner they had used to navigate Mesogog’s fortress. The schematic showed the layout of the lab they had just vacated, and a large fluctuating burst of energy located just to the north of Mesogog’s throne – the hidden lab.

“Whatever it is that Mesogog used to contain Dustin’s energy…it’s clearly unstable.”

“If it detonates…an explosion of that magnitude…” Billy looked at Haley. “It would be devastating.”

“Where’s Adam?” Rocky demanded again.

Billy turned to him looking grim. “Right there.” He pointed to a nearly insignificant speck of an energy reading just to the right of the incandescent glow.

“Get him out.” Aisha stated flatly. Her eyes never left the screen. This time when she laid her hand on Rocky’s arm, he reached over to hold it tight.

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When Mesogog made his grandiose exit from the main lab, Adam seized the opportunity to sneak into the hidden room behind the wall. His black clothing and ninja training allowed him to remain silent and hidden even in such a small and confining space. It helped that the overhead light from above the crystals in the center of the room threw everything else into shadow.

Adam didn’t have a plan. He was hoping he’d have the opportunity to hide long enough to make a plan. It didn’t exactly work that way.

Once he closed the door behind him, Mesogog began to stroll around the pillar holding the crystals, talking aloud to himself. Adam listened, hoping to get a clue about how to deactivate the crystals, but Mesogog said nothing helpful; he simply rambled on about how successful he’d been stealing Dustin’s earth energy and how soon the planet would belong once again to the dinosaurs.

Suddenly Mesogog stopped pacing. He stood on the far side of the crystals directly opposite Adam’s position and cocked his head to the side. Wait a minute; I thought reptiles had exceptionally bad vision…

Then Mesogog flicked his tongue. He did it twice more. And in that brief span of time Adam remembered that some reptiles see by tasting the air around them. Damn, I’m in trouble.

“Well Ranger…” Mesogog hissed. “Did you come to see me remake the world? Or would you like to be the first human in my army of humble servants?”

Lightning fast Mesogog snaked around the crystal base, thrust out his arm and grabbed Adam by the throat. Choking, Adam sputtered as the mutant lifted him off his feet. Blindly Adam reached out to the shelves around him to find something, anything to use as a weapon. His fingers closed around something metallic, but he immediately knew it was not something he was going to throw away.

The energy signature that emanated from the item was Tommy’s; which clearly identified it as his Dino Morpher. The briefest thought skittered across Adam’s consciousness before he did the craziest thing he’d ever done in his life.

It’s not like I’ve never used a morpher I wasn’t supposed to use before. Hell, it didn’t kill me last time…

Adam took a deep breath and yelled, “Dino Thunder! Power up!”

Chapter Text

…but, it just might kill me this time! thought Adam as he called upon the power of Tommy’s Black Dino gem.

As soon as he tried to morph, Adam could feel it wasn’t working; at least, not in the way he expected it to. The power in the gem responded to his call, but obviously recognized that it wasn’t Tommy who’d called on the power. The dino gem had bonded with Tommy’s DNA and wasn’t able to make Adam change into the Black Dino Ranger. But a morph was underway nonetheless.

Adam cried out in pain as the power coursed through his body, attempting to recognize familiar pathways, and when it found none, forging new pathways of its own. The unrestrained power cascaded through Mesogog as well, until he was smart enough to drop the struggling Ranger. The villain’s curiosity got the better of him, and instead of taking advantage of Adam’s incapacity, he simply stepped back and watched as the unproductive transformation took place.

Adam moaned and writhed in a ball on the floor, but he never released Tommy’s morpher. He held it in a death grip in spite of the pain he was in. Internally Adam attempted to allow the power to flow through him unrestricted, but the pain it caused was too great and he involuntarily fought against it. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Adam heard and recognized the Brachiosaurus spirit that gave the Black Dino gem its power trumpeting its distress. The Brachiosaurus had assessed that Adam was a worthy recipient of its power; under different circumstances, Adam could have been the holder of the gem’s power. But because the dino energy was specifically bonded to Tommy, the Brachiosaurus could not allow Adam to draw on its strength. The unrestricted power flow, unable to end in a successful morph would be the death of him.

Adam realized all this in an instant, and his body relaxed just as his mind was about to let go. Then he heard another spirit’s trumpet; it had a deeper, heavier voice than that of the Brachiosaurus. The familiar rumble overwhelmed Adam with a rush of reassurance. Mastodon! The dinosaur spirits seemed to come to some kind of agreement because suddenly the pain was gone and a true morph was underway.

The power lifted Adam from the floor, and suspended him upright above the ground with his toes nearly touching the ground. He was surrounded by a cloud of black and gold power. In a matter of moments a Ranger suit replaced his Ninjetti uniform. The helmet was reminiscent of his original helmet, displaying the Mastodon tusks on either side. The suit was basically black, patterned after the original Black Ranger costume, with a few new twists and changes. The original white diamond on the chest was now gold, as were the gloves, belt and boots; and, there was a small version of the dino footprint in black etched in the center of the belt buckle. In the center of the diamond on Adam’s chest, the frog emblem was emblazoned and gleamed in muted gold.

As the transformation was complete, Adam heard an indignant ribbit-ribbit, as if his Frog spirit wanted to make sure Adam knew he was not willing to be overlooked. As Adam landed back on his feet, he touched the frog emblem on his chest and sent a silent message of thanks to his Ninjetti spirit, who had never left him and he would never forget. At the same time there was an unmistakable feeling of support from Rocky; a mental connection on a level they hadn’t shared consciously since their Ranger days. The knowledge that he wasn’t alone in the fight gave Adam great confidence.

Adam knew Mesogog couldn’t see his face through his helmet, but he gazed at him with steely determination anyway. “I’m here to stop your ‘brave new world’, Mesogog.” Adam stated flatly.

Mesogog was dismissive. “One Ranger? Using borrowed power? How do you think you can stop me?”

“By returning the power you’ve stolen to the place it belongs!”

“I don’t…think…so!” Mesogog hissed. He darted forward and the battle was begun in earnest.

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As the situation unfolded in Tommy’s lab, Kim looked on with mounting anxiety. It was clear that Haley and Billy were doing everything within their power to get Adam out of Mesogog’s fortress, but each attempt ended in failure. They worked in tandem, fingers flying over the computer consoles and keyboards, calling out suggestions to one another as they tried over and over to teleport Adam back to the lab. Most of what they said didn’t make any sense to Kim, but it was clear to everyone that time was running out.

Rocky had stopped demanding to be returned to the fortress; he had stopped demanding for them to bring Adam back; Kim thought it was possible he had stopped breathing. He stood stoically behind Billy and Haley, watching every move they made with such intensity it was as if he thought if he wanted it bad enough, he could bring Adam back by sheer will alone. Aisha had initially moved to Rocky’s side in an attempt to calm him, but Kim could feel she was being calmed by him as well.

Movement from Tommy caught Kim’s attention. She looked down at where he lay with his head in her lap. When his eyes opened and he recognized her, she thought her heart would burst with happiness; at least one thing had gone right today – Tommy and Dustin were home.

“Hey, Beautiful.” rasped Tommy.

Kim’s eyes involuntarily filled with tears. It had been so long since Tommy had called her that. “Hey.” she whispered back. “Are you okay?”

Tommy’s face filled with pain as he struggled to sit up. He ignored her question because she wouldn’t like his answer and instead asked one of his own. “Dustin?”

Kim didn’t even try to keep Tommy from getting up. Instead, she helped him sit up and remained close beside him to give him support. “Rocky got him. He’s okay…I think.”

“Where?”

Kim shifted slightly, pushing Tommy around so he could see the Wind Ninjas where they were laying together on the floor by Kanoi. Tommy took a deep breath and nodded, satisfied. He turned back to Kim, even though that slight movement caused him more pain. “What about the Dino Rangers?”

Kim’s face clouded. She’d seen as much as Tommy had in Mesogog’s view screen. What she’d seen of the fight in Reefside wasn’t good; what she’d felt was even worse. “I don’t know.”

“Haley!” Tommy called as he struggled to get to his feet.

Kim looked worriedly toward the computers. It hadn’t occurred to her to ask about the Dino Rangers since they’d arrived at Tommy’s lab. Too much other stuff was going on. A firm grip on Tommy’s arm was all she needed to keep him seated. “Not now, Tommy. Haley’s busy.”

Tommy looked at Kim confused and angry. He responded urgently. “What? I have to find out about the Rangers, Kim. They might need me. They might need Haley.”

“Adam needs her more.” Kim stated gently.

Tommy stopped struggling against Kim’s grasp. The feelings he’d had when he’d first awoken in Mesogog’s lab assaulted him memory. Before his thinking had cleared and he realized it was Dustin in the energy chamber, Tommy had felt strongly that it was Adam who was in trouble. Those feelings came back ten times as strong now. “Tell me, Kim.”

Kim glanced at the group by the computer. Then she looked back at Tommy. “Adam streaked into Mesogog’s hidden lab. Haley wasn’t able to transport him out with the rest of us. Now he’s trapped. The energy Mesogog stole from Dustin and the intensity of the storm are interfering with the transporter. Billy and Haley are doing everything they can…”

“Something’s wrong!” Haley’s urgent statement got Tommy moving again. This time Kim decided not to fight him and helped Tommy to his feet. Everyone gathered closer. Haley seemed oblivious to the crowd and spoke only to Billy. “Adam’s energy signature is fluctuating wildly.”

Even those who couldn’t understand all the techno-babble Billy and Haley had been spouting at each other could see that the tiny speck that represented Adam on the schematic was flaring and pulsing with massive amounts of energy. “That doesn’t make sense!” Billy said as he squinted trying to make sense of the readings on the screen.

“It looks like….” Haley began, “but that’s not possible!”

“What?” Rocky insisted.

Billy answered instead. “He’s trying to morph.”

“He can’t morph!” Aisha interjected, “None of us have our morphers. And if we did try, it wouldn’t work.”

“Actually, Adam did morph once with his old morpher without his power coin. But knowing what we know now, he might have been successful because of his Frog spirit…” Billy stopped himself from following that train of thought and brought his focus back to the present. “It’s taking too long…” Tommy, Kim and Aisha’s eyes were glued to the activity on the large screen.

Rocky swore fervently in Spanish. Kim didn’t think she’d ever seen him so angry. Rocky’s reaction was not what she would have expected – he seemed more like the pacing and breaking things kind of guy. But as they watched the screen showing the unexpected morph take place, Rocky drew his attention further and further into himself, until he was standing with his eyes closed with an intense look of concentration on his face. That’s when Kim realized Rocky was probably much more aware of what was going on than the rest of them. Like Shane and Tori, Rocky and Adam were the body and mind of their triangle. Though they didn’t ordinarily use mind speech, it was a latent ability for both of them. The events of the weekend had opened up new understanding of the connections all of them shared. Rocky was attempting to tap into that connection – in a best case scenario he could lend Adam his strength; worst case, he’d have an observer’s view of what was really going down.

Aisha had realized about the same time as Kim what Rocky was attempting to do. Her own anger flared, not just because he was attempting to do something so rash and dangerous, but because he didn’t include her. “Rocky!” she shook his arm hard as she called his name. Worriedly she turned her attention back to the large screen displaying Mesogog’s lab to see if anything he was doing here was having any effect on what was happening there. “Rocky?” When she got no response, Aisha stepped closer to Rocky laying her forehead against his shoulder. He might not have asked for her support, but he was going to get it.

A moment later Rocky staggered back a step drawing in a deep gulp of air at the same time Billy shouted, “He did it!” The assembled others didn’t know who to look at for more information.

Rocky’s expression was jubilant. “He did it!” he repeated. “That lucky son-of-a-Shaolin! He really pulled it off.” Rocky shook his head, as if to clear his thinking. Though he continued speaking, his expression was far away. “Mesogog’s trying to take him down, but Adam won’t let him keep the energy he stole from Dustin.” Rocky twitched as if trying to avoid a blow. The flash of pain on his face seemed to indicate that Adam hadn’t moved quickly enough.

Billy stepped over from where he’d been standing. The energy readings from Mesogog’s hidden lab disturbed him greatly. He did not want to disrupt the connection that Rocky had made with Adam, but if the communication was two-way it was imperative that they use it. Billy glanced at Aisha first, unsure if Rocky would respond better to her or him. Deciding it probably wouldn’t make a difference, Billy addressed Rocky. Reading out to touch him on the arm Billy asked softly, but with great urgency, “Rocky, can Adam hear you too?”

Billy winced when Rocky snapped back into his own awareness to look him in the face. He was afraid he had intruded too much and might have just caused Rocky to sever the one connection they had to Adam. Rocky’s gaze then immediately returned to that far away look as he answered Billy. “Yeah, he can hear me, but he’s a little busy right now…”

“Rocky, this is important. When Adam morphed the energy signature from the dino morpher caused the crystals housing Dustin’s Earth energy to resonate. The cycles of resonation are getting stronger and increasing exponentially.”

Rocky’s brow creased with dismay as he tried to maintain contact with Adam while simultaneously trying to figure out what exactly was the message Billy was trying to convey. Aisha reached over and smacked Billy in the arm. She rolled her eyes quite expressively as she demanded, “English, Billy!”

“The crystals are going to explode. If he can get back into the main lab and away from the interference of the crystals, we may be able to transport him out in time.” Billy stared into Rocky’s face not sure if the message was getting through. “He has got to get out of there! The longer he stays in there in his morphed form, the sooner the crystals will detonate.” Rocky nodded, but whether he was indicating Adam understood or he was passing the message along was hard to tell.

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Things were happening quickly in Mesogog’s hidden lab. Mesogog had attacked with an intensity and ferocity that was surprising to Adam. He’d been out of the Ranger game for quite a while, and even when he was a Ranger, it was rare to fight one on one with the man behind the monsters. Mesogog quickly demonstrated his agility, strength and intelligence in his attack, and Adam could understand why he was such a difficult opponent.

One advantage Adam possessed was that Mesogog was used to dealing with the Dino Rangers; he had no experience with any others, which was the whole reason Sensei Kanoi had called upon them in the first place. Like a smart coach who studies the moves of the other team, Mesogog had studied the Dino Rangers and could often anticipate their actions. But Adam was a Ninjetti, bolstered by the strength of the Frog as well as unconditional support from Rocky. A Dino Ranger/Ninjetti combination Ranger was nothing Mesogog had ever anticipated; he couldn’t predict what Adam would do. Mesogog understood that time was also a factor – he could wait until Adam’s borrowed morph gave out, but there was no predicting when that would happen. Mesogog couldn’t afford to allow the clock to tick down while he waited for the end game. So he made the only decision at his disposal – all out, frontal assault, no holding back, winner take all.

The fight ranged all around the small, circular room. Neither Adam nor Mesogog had much room to maneuver, so when they connected both were taking and inflicting heavy damage. Mesogog had the advantage of size and power; his heavy, scaled skin also afforded him extra protection against Adam’s blows. But Adam had Ninjetti speed and the ability to go vertical to stay out of Mesogog’s reach. This tactic of avoiding Mesogog infuriated the mutated genius, and in his anger, he left himself open to attack.

There was very little time to plan; all Adam could do was act and react. It startled him to realize that not only was Rocky lending his strength to his fight, but he was trying to impart a message as well. Adam’s distraction while attempting to decipher Rocky’s message left him open to attack. Mesogog dealt him a crushing blow to his chest sending him sprawling into a wall of shelves. Mesogog closed in fast, but not before Adam noticed the crystals on the pedestal vibrating. It could have been that so much movement in the room caused the pedestal to vibrate, but Adam believed what Billy said, and it was clear that time was short.

Adam rolled to avoid the slash of Mesogog’s claws, causing him to roar in frustration. Adam placed a hand on the pedestal to gain some leverage getting up, and he thought he could feel the crystals vibrating that much faster in proximity to his hand. That was the moment Adam knew that a decision needed to be made. Mesogog was rushing toward him on his right. If he made a break to the left, Adam could make it to the door and out into the main lab. Undoubtedly Mesogog would follow, but there was a good chance that Haley would be able to teleport him before anything else happened. What concerned Adam was this: if it was his morphed state that was exciting the crystals, if he left the room they might go back to their resting state. Then, Mesogog would still have all of Dustin’s earth energy in his possession, and they would be no better off than they were when they started. There was no question in Adam’s mind what he had to do – he would stay as long as possible to ensure that the crystals were going to explode, and deal with the consequences.

Diving and rolling toward Mesogog’s attack, Adam joined the fight again.

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“Adam! You stupid son of a…!”

Rocky’s exclamation was cut off as he reacted to an impact none of the rest of them could see. He had given up trying to split his attention, and had thrown himself totally into the fight with Adam. This left those gathered in the lab attempting to sort out what was happening based on what Rocky said and what the readout of the lab indicated. It was like trying to decipher a phone conversation when you can only hear the conversation on one end, and half of it was in Spanish. Aisha was the most closely tuned in, and could interpret her boyfriend’s expletive Spanish idioms most accurately.

Aisha had maintained her position on Rocky’s left side. She clung to his arm, and kept him steady when he wobbled from the impact of a hit on Adam. Tommy and Kim had gathered on Rocky’s right side. Kim still kept a hand on Tommy, but in crisis mode, he seemed to need less support than he had before. Tommy unconsciously put a hand on Rocky’s back; he didn’t realize what he was doing, but Kim noticed. It was that red/body thing kicking in again. Billy drifted between Rocky and the computer console. He attempted to interpret the gibberish from Rocky and make sense of what it meant in terms of what Adam was doing in the lab.

Rocky suddenly stiffened. He called out more urgently, “No Adam! You can’t!”

Billy shook his head as he watched the energy readings on the screen. “Adam has had at least two opportunities to get to the door. The crystals are vibrating much more strongly.” He turned to look back toward the group, but his comments were directed at Rocky. “He has to get out!”

Though it was clear Rocky hadn’t heard Billy, it was the same message he was attempting to impart to Adam. His voice was full of anger and frustration when he yelled, “¡Sal de ahí, rana estupida! ¿Quieres morir?”

A look of horror dawned on Rocky’s face as he caught a glimpse of what Adam was planning to do. “NO!” he yelled again as he stepped forward, hands outstretched. “Get out!”

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It was very distracting to have Rocky in his head as he was trying to fight; especially since he continually urged Adam to get out. Adam understood, he even agreed. But he had to make sure. He couldn’t leave until he was sure the crystals would detonate. They could not be left in Mesogog’s hands.

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“There’s no time left! There’s no time left!” cried Billy. “He has to get out now!” He turned to Haley. “Begin transporter sequence.”

She shook her head in the negative even as her fingers began to fly. It would never work.

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It was going to work. Adam had stayed long enough in the room to make sure the crystals would detonate. They were vibrating so fast now that he could hear them humming.

Mesogog was between him and the door. He didn’t have enough energy or power left for a frontal assault. He knew in his heart he wasn’t going to make it out. He had done his duty as a Ranger, one last time. And, that was okay.

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It wasn’t okay. Rocky struggled against the hold Aisha and Tommy now had on him. They were no longer trying to keep him upright, they were trying to stop him from running headlong into the computer.

“Adam! ADAM!”

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Rocky! Rocky, amigo, cuídate. With all the force he could muster, Adam firmly pushed Rocky out of his mind and back into his own.

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Rocky’s consciousness crashed fully back into his own body at the moment everything on the screen exploded. “NO!” Rocky’s hoarse scream was echoed by Aisha’s. He twitched spasmodically crashing into Tommy, and then collapsed to the floor; Aisha and Tommy went down with him. Kim flung herself atop the group, weeping openly with Rocky and Aisha. Tommy stared in horror at the blank screen above the computer console as Billy hung his head between slumped shoulders. Haley stood quietly shaking her head as her fingers continued to move. What she was mumbling to herself, Tommy couldn’t make out. After a moment he stopped trying and gave himself over to his heartache.

Chapter Text

In this spirit space time was a fluid thing. Kanoi's students often complained about the feeling of “lost time” – when they meditated with him, they never knew just how long they’d been detached from themselves. Kanoi always knew. The young ones had not trained enough to maintain a sense of self as well as a sense of time while meditating; that was why he guided them. It was important not to allow the passage of time to distract the self from achieving enlightenment; that was why he hadn’t pushed his students to develop their time sense. He always thought he would have more time to teach them. Now, he wasn’t sure.

Though the Wind Ninjas did not realize it, Kanoi understood that the events of the morning were unfolding rapidly, and not in the manner he anticipated. When he, Shane and Tori began to meditate in order to connect with Dustin, the former Rangers took the lead together. They did not try to read Dustin with mind-speech; instead they quested for him on a deeper, elemental level. Contact was made quickly, and together they waited; together meaning Dustin, Tori and Shane – Kanoi was not included.

Kanoi knew enough not to be insulted or feel rejected. The connection between the Wind Ninja Rangers was not something he was a part of; in this circumstance he was merely an observer. To be honest, Shane and Tori didn’t require his presence this last time to lead them into the spirit space; they followed him out of habit and deferred to his guidance out of respect. They didn’t understand yet that their innate connection with each other was more important than his knowledge and expertise, and that really, they no longer needed him. But Kanoi knew it, and felt the loss keenly.

Tori and Shane settled together with Dustin. The light from the three mingled, creating an incandescent white sphere of private, inviolate space around the three of them; yet within they retained their individual colors. Kanoi could see, as though from a great distance, the forms of the three ninjas coalesce in the center of the light, and knew that they were sharing a personal communication. Kanoi settled deeply into his thoughts, keeping part of his awareness on the light that encompassed the Wind Rangers, while maintaining and solidifying his own inner light as an anchor and beacon. He focused his feelings on the pride he felt in all the young men and women who were entrenched in this battle and his confidence that all their plans would be successful, while building and gathering his strength to add to the coming fight. For there would be a fight, of that he was certain.

When the assault on Dustin began it was immediate and intense. Tori and Shane instinctively came to his aide, anchoring and supporting him. Kanoi could see Shane flare most brightly as he entrenched his spirit self in his physical self in order to give the other two a solid foundation to work off of. It was unexpected that almost as soon as the power began to be pulled from Dustin, it rebounded back to him; he didn’t know what to do with it. Initially, he held on to it all. Kanoi wanted to break through the communion of the three and instruct Dustin to let it go – no good could come of containing the power in one place, and Dustin didn’t have the training or experience to control it.

The power building between the ninjas was incredible in its proportions; this was clear evidence that ninja training in combination with assumption of Ranger powers led to the ability to tap into heretofore uncalculated amounts of pure power. Kanoi was awed by the magnitude. Dustin began shifting power to the others, but it was not enough, and Kanoi feared Dustin would soon be overwhelmed. All three were struggling to contain the massive amounts of power coursing through them; Kanoi could feel their fear and pain. Every instinct he had as a father and a teacher screamed out for him to help, but he was unable to intervene. He attempted to break his way through the light encompassing his students, reaching out in an attempt to provide support and help, but his personal power could not dent the power surrounding the other three. Kanoi felt helpless, small and very, very old.

Kanoi had a vague sense of Dustin calling upon his Lion spirit for help, and Tori following suit with the Dolphin. It wasn’t until Shane called upon the Hawk that Kanoi truly felt reconnected for a moment, but the moment was fleeting. With the assistance of their ninja spirits, the three Wind ninjas were drawn even further away from Kanoi’s influence, and into their own spheres of power. Within the large, encompassing sphere of white light, three individual globes of light flared and whirled; Kanoi could see the yellow sphere glowing incandescently, until it released some of its power to the blue. The yellow globe still glowed intensely, but it was clear power was now being passed to and through the blue. Soon, the red sphere joined the others, glowing with equal intensity. It reassured Kanoi to see the spheres had become balanced. They had achieved equilibrium, at least for a time.

Because Kanoi had opened his awareness so greatly in attempting to help the Wind Ninjas, he could follow the path of the power they were returning to the earth, and see the impact the disruption of the elements were having in Reefside. The unusual shifts in power might not have cascaded into the monumental storm that was created if not for the influence of the Thunder ninjas. Again, Kanoi wished he could contact the ninjas he had trained. He wanted to connect with the Bradleys, Hunter in particular since he was driving the ignition of the storm, and urge caution; but the distance and interference of Hunter’s unfamiliar power were working against him. Kanoi felt impotent, and it briefly occurred to him that he might not be any help at all in the battle that was underway.

Hunter’s attempt to feed the energy of the storm to the Dino Thunder Rangers was inspired but unsuccessful. They absorbed a small burst of energy from him, but could not handle a sustained infusion of power. It did not surprise Kanoi; Thunder power was a ninja element, not tied at all to the Ranger’s dino power. Events began to unfold quickly and Kanoi tried to hold himself ready to react to any emergency. Part of his mind held awareness of the balanced Wind ninjas; the other part of him observed the ninjas and Rangers in Reefside. Kanoi was surprised when Hunter was able to make and sustain a power connection with Conner; it was just one more thing about the Red Dino Ranger that Kanoi was unable to make sense of, though he had a growing suspicion that these odd things he’d noticed about Conner were clues to a much larger picture that he just wasn’t seeing.

For a moment, Kanoi felt balanced and steady. The Wind ninjas had their elemental power under control, and the Thunders were using the storm to combat the Tyranodrones in Reefside. Then all hell broke loose. Cam was the one Kanoi heard first. The desperation, fear and horror in his son’s voice drew Kanoi like a magnet. But it wasn’t himself that Cam feared for, it was Blake. Time jumped, and Blake was suspended, impaled on the sword arm of the Tyranodrone that had attacked him. The world exploded as the storm responded to Hunter’s pain. But in the spirit space, things were just as bad; power fluctuated in dangerous spikes as Tori and Dustin reacted to the attack on Blake.

Though Tori was not a “heart” type, her connection to Blake was so deep and true, that she felt his pain like her own. Dustin responded to both her pain and Blake’s, and because of his newly expanded awareness, Hunter’s as well. The jolt of pain through both Water and Earth shook Tori and Dustin. It was only the steadying influence of their spirit animals that kept them grounded and functioning. They both had to fight intensely to regain control of the power that had escaped them in their moment of distraction. Suddenly the three were working as individuals instead of a unit; the sphere of white light around them was no longer solid. Because they struggled so greatly to exert control over their own elements, they did not realize that their connection with Shane had slipped from their grasp. But Kanoi did – though the yellow and blue spheres fluctuated with flashes of light, the red sphere was disturbingly dim. Kanoi raced toward them, full of fear that he was already too late.

Kanoi understood instinctively what had happened. Shane, as the “body” type Ranger, was the physical center for the Wind Ninja’s triangle – he was the one who was most grounded in physical reality as an anchor for the others in this spirit space. Paradoxically, as an Air ninja, Shane’s element was the least conducive to being grounded; therefore, he had to work the hardest to maintain a connection with his physical self. His problem was very similar to Conner’s difficulty with the transporter – without a buffer to help him stay contained, Shane had to be focused on holding himself together, literally.

Shane had been taking the power that was shunted to him and releasing it above the atmosphere of the earth. But before he could take up the burden of another load of energy, he had to return to his physical self to regain his center. It was during one of these return trips when Hunter unleashed the rampant power of the storm, and Shane was caught in the middle. Of the three Wind Ninjas, Shane would have the most difficulty in a storm of that magnitude, and sustain the most damage from it. He would be ripped to pieces, unable to fight the power of his own element in such an unbridled state. With Dustin and Tori rocked by the magnitude of Blake’s injury, Shane could not use them to center himself; without them, he was lost. All that was Shane, the light in his soul, the wings of his spirit, were scattered like grains of sand in a gale.

SHANE! called Kanoi as he dove out of the spirit space and into the physical maelstrom centered above Reefside. Kanoi had many more years of experience riding the wind, and drew deeply on his Air ninja training to maintain his own sense of self within the storm.

SHANE! he called again, this time reinforcing his thoughts with all of the characteristics of Shane that he could bring to mind: his stubbornness, his humor, his laugh, his insecurities – everything about Shane that made him Shane; anything that he could recognize and latch onto in the storm. Slowly, bits and pieces of the things that made up Shane’s spirit began to gather in Kanoi’s light; just as slowly, Kanoi drew those things that were Shane out of the storm, collected protectively under his wing. It was like drawing iron shavings together with a powerful magnet; the more of Shane that Kanoi collected, the greater attraction there was to the rest that had been shaken loose.

The task was agonizingly difficult, and Kanoi found it harder and harder to maintain his presence in the real world above Reefside while drawing Shane together. He did not have the internal resources of strength that came with being a Ranger, but he felt that his years of training and his experiences as an Air Master would be enough to sustain him until the task was complete. Kanoi did not falter in his resolve because he could feel that Shane’s spirit had almost completely drawn back together. With one last surge of power, Kanoi reached out for a final sweep to gather Shane in. He was unprepared for the enormous surge of Earth energy that assaulted his being, and the unexpected touch of another lost soul.

------------------------------

Kanoi awoke with a start in Tommy’s lab. He noticed without really noticing that Dustin was now situated within the group gathered before him. With a shaking hand, he reached out for Shane and realized that the Red ninja had fallen away and out of his reach. No wonder this task has been so difficult. Kanoi pushed himself to his knees and leaned over to grab Shane where he lay. The physical contact was all that was needed to return all that Kanoi had gathered back to Shane; the transfer wasn’t as gentle as Kanoi would have liked to have made it, but Shane was not the only one in desperate need of assistance.

Unsteadily, Kanoi climbed to his feet. He headed unerringly toward the grieving group of Rangers gathered in front of the main computer console. Unceremoniously he started to peel them off of each other. Tommy and Kim reacted with confusion; Aisha reacted with anger; Rocky didn’t react at all. Kanoi was not surprised.

Rocky had pulled himself up into a ball; ankles crossed and knees pulled up. His arms were crossed as though holding tightly to something against his chest. Rocky’s eyes were closed tightly in pain, and he rocked slightly as he mumbled under his breath to himself.

“What are you…?!” Aisha began to demand when Kanoi silenced her with a wave of his hand. Though his focus remained on Rocky, he spoke addressing the others. “Time is short. We must do what we can to bring Adam back.”

Billy strode over, anguish on his features. He shook his head as he addressed Kanoi, “The transporter…the explosion…it was too late.”

“You may have lost faith, Blue Ranger, but your friends have not.” Billy thought he meant Rocky, but Kanoi looked meaningfully at Haley who had never ceased her computations and typing on the transporter console.

Billy looked with incomprehension toward Haley. He continued to shake his head. “It didn’t work.” He stated again, as if saying it out loud would make it truer.

“It hasn’t worked…yet.” Kanoi rephrased.

Kanoi turned his attention back to Rocky. He looked at the struggling Red Ranger with infinite gentleness though he refrained from touching him. It wasn’t time, not yet.

“Rangers, gather around us – body, heart, mind and heart.” Kanoi instructed. Tommy looked confused, but Kim helped him to his feet. Aisha, with a look of rising hope on her face rose from the floor and faced Kim. Billy took up the position opposite Tommy and between the girls. Without coaching, the former Rangers grabbed each other’s hands. Satisfied that the circle was complete Kanoi turned his attention back to Rocky and softly stated, “It seems that this body is not quite willing to let its mind go.”

Kanoi looked over his shoulder between Aisha and Billy. “Try one last time to bring Adam in, but use Rocky as the landing point.” Kanoi was confident that though he lacked the scientific vocabulary that Haley would understand what he meant.

Haley with a zealously determined look on her face nodded in reply. “Initiating transporter sequence….NOW!” Rocky was immediately encased in a jet of crackling black light.

As Haley called out her command, Kanoi laid his hands on Rocky’s shoulders. Rocky cried out, whether in response to Kanoi’s touch or Haley’s transporter manipulations it was unclear. Rocky jerked spasmodically and his head was thrown back. Kanoi was nearly toppled as Rocky’s legs involuntarily kicked out, but did not release his hold on Rocky’s shoulders.

Billy looked over his shoulder anxiously as the transporter energy continued to encase Rocky and Kanoi. Kim and Aisha could clearly pick up on his feeling that the exchange was taking too long; his concern for Rocky and Adam was increasing exponentially.

Suddenly, the energy beam snapped. The other Rangers stared unbelievingly at the form of Adam stretched out on Rocky’s lap. The only one who seemed to understand it was quite real was Rocky himself as he clutched Adam closer to his chest. Kanoi sat back on his heels, exhausted.

Aisha was the first to break the silence, she uttered a muted cry. Jubilation over the successful transport of Adam quickly gave way to horror over the condition he was in. Lying across Rocky’s legs, Adam’s right side lay against Rocky’s chest. He had unmorphed fully to his civilian clothing. Clearly the explosion had caused heavy damage. Adam’s left side, from his head to his feet was covered in second and third degree burns. His skin was blackened and badly blistered. He was unconscious and barely breathing.

Rocky, no longer incapacitated by grief, allowed his training to take over and quickly took charge of the situation. Glancing around at the horror-struck Rangers, Rocky dismissed them as potential assistants. He directed his first orders at Haley. “Haley, I need a bunch of clean sheets. Anything Tommy has will be fine. Hurry!”

Haley spun on her heel and ran for the stairs to the kitchen.

“None of us has a car.” Rocky stated to himself. “Tommy? You have a car?”

Tommy looked at Rocky blankly, not able to process all that had happened in the last hour or so.

“Tommy!” Rocky snapped. “Car! Keys. Where are they?”

Tommy blinked and seemed to come back to himself. “In the kitchen by the back door.” Tommy turned as if to go, but Rocky stopped him.

“Kim, run and get the keys. Turn the car on. Turn the heat way up.” Kim quickly ran up the stairs to the kitchen.

“Billy, once Haley gets back with the sheets I’ll need your help to carry Adam outside. We’ve got to immobilize him as much as possible without aggravating any of the burns.” Billy nodded.

As Rocky had been issuing orders, Aisha knelt on his right side and reached over to gently take Adam’s unburned hand in her own. Rocky looked into her eyes, and the power of the glance shared between them was enough to make Tommy and Billy look away. Haley’s return shattered the intensely private moment as Rocky began issuing orders again.

In a very short space of time, Rocky and Billy had Adam firmly ensconced in Tommy’s sheets and had carried him up to the kitchen and out to the driveway. Haley wasn’t sure how they managed it, but all six former Rangers were squeezed into Tommy’s Jeep with Adam safely secured to Rocky’s satisfaction. Then they were gone, racing as fast as the weather allowed to Reefside Hospital, leaving Haley, Kanoi and the Wind Ninjas alone once again.

Chapter Text

Ethan could not process all of the events in the battle that had just happened; he hardly believed the battle was won – he kept expecting more of those drones on steroids to drop from an invisaportal at any time. At first Ethan didn’t even know anything was wrong; he was so involved with fighting his drone that Cam’s flight hardly registered. Once his drone was defeated, Ethan realized that things had changed drastically. He fought his way through the storm to Kira; he gathered her up and dragged her over to where Cam had sheltered Blake. Ethan wasn’t clear on everything that had happened – he knew Blake was badly wounded, perhaps fatally, and Kira had apparently had a mental breakdown. Ethan wasn’t sure on what was happening with Conner and Hunter, but from Cam’s reaction it was definitely bad.

It was difficult for Ethan to keep himself in a position where he could be ready to defend Blake and Kira against an attack. The three of them were holed up inside the tiny coffee kiosk; the meager walls offering slight protection against the wind and no protection against the rain. Kira had wrapped herself around his chest and was holding him in a death grip. He’d never given the petite Yellow Ranger credit for her strength, but he’d never underestimate the power in his friend again. With Kira unwilling to let him go, Ethan was unable to maneuver himself into a position where he could see an incoming attack or prepare to defend against it. He had to satisfy himself with extending his senses and attempting to rely on his sense of hearing to alert him to any potential danger; though the sounds of the storm made the task nearly impossible.

It was frustrating not to know what was going on, and the longer Cam was away, the more concerned Ethan became. It became comforting for Ethan to soothe Kira; there wasn’t a hell of a lot he could do in their situation, but helping Kira made him feel better. He kept attempting to contact Haley, but the interference from the storm was too great. Ethan hoped she’d been able to maintain at least a visual contact so she’d know what was going on and maybe send reinforcements or something. Ethan attempted to judge what was happening out of his line of sight by assessing the ferocity of the storm. He’d gathered that Hunter’s emotional state was being played out in the storm, and the incessant lightning and unrelenting wind and rain did not bode well.

Suddenly the eye of the storm passed over them. Ethan glanced up. He raised his communicator to the level of his mouth, but the storm kicked in again before he had an opportunity to reach Haley. Ethan noticed the mood of the storm had changed – the lightning was far less frequent, though the wind and rain had not let up. Kira started to whimper moments before Cam arrived dragging Hunter behind him. Ethan’s heart gave a lurch in his chest as he saw the expression on Hunter’s face when he got his first look at Blake. Kira’s distress increased dramatically.

“Get her out of here, Ethan.” Cam ordered. “Get to Conner. See if you can contact Haley. We have work to do here.”

Get to Conner. The order from Cam filled Ethan with relief and distress – relief that Conner was still out there to get to; distress about what he might find when he got there.

Instead of attempting to get Kira to walk, Ethan saved himself the trouble and simply picked her up. She transferred her grip from his waist to his shoulders and buried her face in his neck. Ethan was starting to get really worried. Kira had never struck him as the damsel in distress type- something had seriously sent her over the edge, and he had no idea what to do in order to get her back.

Ethan spared one final glance for the trio in the coffee kiosk. Cam was arranging Hunter and Blake, but Ethan was out of hearing range to quickly to hear what was being said. Turning his attention to his other teammate, Ethan scanned the courtyard for Conner. He was surprised to note that Conner wasn’t alone. From this distance and through the rain, Ethan couldn’t make out who it was. Well, whoever it is, he’s got to be one of us… Cam wouldn’t have left Conner with just anyone. But as Ethan approached, fighting the rain and staggering against the wind, he realized that he still didn’t recognize the mysterious ally. Not Dr. O. or Adam…I don’t anyone else who was wearing black…

Ethan was quickly distracted from his attempt to identify the mysterious stranger as his concern for Conner grew. The Red Ranger was unmorphed and curled up on his left side. He wasn’t bleeding or anything, but seemed to be in an extreme amount of pain. Conner’s arms were drawn up in front of his face and wrapped around his head; Ethan didn’t think he was trying to protect himself from the rain. As Ethan drew closer to Conner’s position, Kira’s whimpering increased in intensity and he was struck by a revelation. It wasn’t just Blake and Hunter Kira was responding to this whole time, it was Conner too. Ethan felt his throat tighten as he realized that the situation was far worse than he’d anticipated.

Analytically Ethan knew it didn’t make sense to expect that they – meaning the Dino Rangers – would come away from the battle unscathed. But although they’d been banged up by Mesogog and his goons in past encounters, none of them had ever sustained any lasting or serious damage. Even seeing Blake bleeding profusely didn’t bring it home for Ethan. It wasn’t quite real. It wasn’t his team. So in a way, it didn’t count. But seeing Conner curled up on the pavement rocking and twitching in pain was a serious reality check, and Kira’s distress only confirmed the gravity of the situation.

Ethan dropped to one knee close to Conner’s head; he had to get close enough to talk to the stranger, but wanted to provide some distance for Kira. The man in the motorcycle jacket hovered above Conner attempting to provide some shelter from the rain. He also had a hand on Conner’s chest. As he leaned forward to maintain contact with Conner as he moved around, Ethan could see a flash of red t-shirt beneath the black jacket. As soon as Ethan crouched down the man looked over toward him; at this close range Ethan recognized him instantly. Jason!

If the situation hadn’t been so dire, Ethan’s fanboy instincts would have kicked in big time; although Dr. O was touted in Ranger lore as “the best Ranger of all time” Ethan had a hard time equating the legend with a guy who gave him detention and graded his homework. In all of his internet and comic book research on the Rangers Ethan had definitely come up with a group of his own favorite Rangers and favorite teams, and Jason was at the top of his list.

“Ethan, right?” Jason had to talk loudly to make himself heard over the noise of the storm. It didn’t occur to Ethan to be surprised or concerned that Jason knew who he was even though he was still morphed. He just nodded.

“Help is on the way.” That was all Ethan needed to hear. It would occur to Ethan later that he should’ve stepped up, taken charge, made a plan. But at that moment, with his teammates disabled, Ethan felt very insecure and it was a relief to have a trusted adult start making decisions. And there was something about Jason that was so reassuring – the tone of his voice, the confidence he projected – that Ethan was happy to let him take over.

The wail of a siren caught Ethan’s attention. His mind started racing trying to come up with explanations that would explain the damage that had been done to the fallen Rangers. Before he could think it through Jason shouted, “Can you contact anyone at your command center?”

I don’t know if I’d call Dr. O’s basement a command center…

“I’ll try,” Ethan yelled back, “but the storm’s been causing a lot of interference.” Ethan raised his communicator to face level once again. “Haley? Haley? Can you hear me?” Both Ethan and Jason strained to hear a response, but the only response was static.

The siren came increasingly closer. “You should unmorph.” Jason suggested. “It’ll make things easier when we get to the hospital.” Ethan looked around, but the only visible people in the courtyard were the group he was in – anyone in the mall or office building wouldn’t be able to make out who he was at this distance.

“Power down!” Ethan called out. He wobbled a little as the power left him and had to put a hand out to prevent himself toppling with Kira onto the pavement.

“Are you okay?” Jason asked. Ethan could see Jason looking him over as much as he could. He tried to nod as reassuringly as he could. “I’m fine. What happened to Conner?”

“I’m not sure…” Any further attempt at an explanation was cut off as an ambulance pulled in off of the street, up on the pavement, directly to the courtyard. Jason looked over in anticipation, but did not leave his position by Conner. Again, Ethan began running through scenarios in his head – any explanation that would allow him to stay with Conner and Kira in the ambulance, but still be plausible. But nothing he was coming up with made much sense. His anxiety started to mount as the EMTs exited the vehicle.

A man in a black and red jacket immediately ran over to Jason and Conner. He crouched down on the sidewalk and placed a hand on Conner’s head. Jason immediately greeted the new arrival; with his free hand, he slapped the other man on the back.

“Carter! It’s good to see you!”

“Wish the circumstances were better.” Carter responded. With no more preamble he began to assess Conner’s physical state with assistance from Jason and the other EMT who had run over from the truck.

Ethan sat back on his haunches as relief flooded him. Another Ranger! It’s going to be okay. Conner’s going to be okay. They’ll take care of it.

Before the EMTs had finished their assessment of Conner, another ambulance pulled up onto the courtyard, and Ethan saw a group of medical personnel moving in the direction of the coffee kiosk where Cam and the Bradleys were situated. In a surprisingly short amount of time, Conner was strapped to a stretcher, though Carter and Jason had to work very hard to pull him out of the fetal position, and moved into the ambulance. Ethan, still carrying Kira, followed Jason and Carter back into the truck. Once inside it was much easier to talk.

Ethan and Kira were seated on a bench lining the wall across from the stretcher. Ethan didn’t know what kind of medication Carter had injected Conner with, but as the Red Ranger became more relaxed, so did Kira. Jason was seated by Conner’s side, occasionally moving to get out of Carter’s way, but always maintaining some kind of contact with Conner. While Carter was busy with Conner, Ethan leaned over to talk urgently with Jason. “Those EMTs – the ones who went to help Cam and the others – what if, I mean…they’re not Rangers now, but couldn’t things get a little weird?” Ethan was frustrated because he didn’t think he was making himself clear, but he felt that Jason would pick up on his meaning.

“It’s okay, Ethan.” Jason reassured him. “The Lightspeed Rescue Rangers are one of the few teams whose identities weren’t a secret. So when the monster attacks started here in Reefside, the local government called the team in Mariner Bay.” Jason chuckled at Ethan’s offended expression. “Not for Ranger backup, but for training on how to deal with fallout from monster attacks. Carter and many members of the emergency response teams from Mariner Bay are here in Reefside to train police, fire and hospital staffs on how to deal with “unusual” emergency situations. Everyone has to work together to cut down on civilian casualties.” Ethan blinked and sat back; it had honestly never occurred to him that anyone else beside the Ranger team would be involved in handling emergency situations.

Carter jumped in where Jason left off. “The guys I left back there in the courtyard understand the situation, Ethan. They worked with Rangers at Lightspeed Rescue, and they know to keep things discreet when they get back to the hospital.”

“Okay.” Suddenly Ethan felt totally drained and unable to think any more. Ensconced in the ambulance, surrounded by the reassuring presence of former Red Rangers, Ethan let his mind drift a little. He’d have to get back on the ball once they got to the hospital – contact Haley, contact parents – but for now, for a few precious minutes, he could let go of all of that and relax. As Ethan leaned his head back against the wall and let his eyes close, he missed the glance Jason and Carter shared over Conner’s head. As for the former Red Rangers, they couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough.

Chapter Text

Cam came to consciousness slowly, not wanting to jar Blake or Hunter with any sudden movement. Unlike the other Rangers, Cam had a keenly developed sense of time while meditating, and in this situation he was very much aware that time was a factor. He knew that probably less than ten minutes had passed since he’d begun his attempt to heal Blake; and though he and Hunter had greatly improved Blake’s condition, the Navy Ranger still needed medical help, and he needed it soon. There was only so much Cam could do to stabilize Blake’s injuries; he’d lost a lot of blood. Cam could mend the rips and breaks, but couldn’t replace what was no longer there.

Cam carefully freed himself from the combined consciousness of the Bradley brothers. It had always been obvious that the brothers were close, but Cam had no idea the level at which the two were connected. As he pulled himself away, Cam felt a pang of regret, or was it loss? He didn’t allow himself to dwell.

Cam made one final check before he completely pulled mentally away from Blake. Blake had been extraordinarily lucky. The power Blake had been channeling during the battle stayed with him long enough to sustain him until Cam and Hunter had arrived. Initially, Cam had difficulty channeling the Thunder power from Hunter, but then something changed. It was as if Blake’s body realized that Cam was trying to help, and instead of fighting him, it helped. After that Cam became a conduit between the brothers – once the energy was fed to Blake, Cam could then direct it inward to heal.

Cam had decided to heal Blake’s injuries from front to back – starting at the chest wound under his and Hunter’s hands. The Tyranodrone’s spear had pierced the lung, but had missed the heart. Cam had channeled massive amounts of the energy passed to him from Hunter into restructuring Blake’s injured lung. Once that was complete, Cam pulled backward toward the spine, healing bones, blood vessels, and muscles along the way. The larger side of the injury, in Blake’s lower back, caused Cam more concern. Though the spine didn’t seem to be directly injured, the spear had caused large amounts of peripheral damage. Cam could use his healing knowledge on larger injuries, but nerves were tricky. The best he could do was send wave after wave of healing energy through Blake’s lower back and spine and hope that Blake’s body would know the best place to send it.

Cam didn’t completely close the wound in Blake’s back; he was concerned about trapping alien germs from the Tyranodrones inside Blake’s body. And because Blake was no longer bleeding excessively, an open wound would be the best place to allow an infection to seep out instead of remaining in the blood and causing a septic reaction. Satisfied with his work, Cam withdrew his focus from Blake’s body, leaving the younger Bradley in a deeply unconscious but healing sleep.

As Cam withdrew from Blake and settled his consciousness within his own body he was overwhelmed with fatigue. He could sense how exhausted his body was; as though he had been intensely training for an extended period. But greater than the physical exhaustion was the very strong feeling of contentment Cam had sitting safe and secure in Hunter’s embrace.

What?

Cam’s mind had not yet begun to process what his body and heart were feeling so strongly. Though the situation was horrific and the outcome was still in doubt, the feelings of safety and contentment Cam felt sitting within the circle of Hunter’s arms was undeniable.

This is so inappropriate!

Cam’s heart was much louder than the feeble protests of his mind. And his body was so relaxed in Hunter’s embrace that it didn’t respond to the mind’s insistence that it move – twitch, run, anything!

Cam couldn’t believe that these feelings were coming to the forefront at this moment. The timing was wildly inappropriate. But, unable to make himself move, and unable to escape the insistent beat of his heart, Cam was forced to face in his mind what his body and heart already knew – he was deeply, madly in like with Hunter.

In “like”? That is ridiculous!

I’m not in love with him – that’s equally ridiculous.

Why is it so ridiculous? Just because he’s a guy and I’m a guy?

No. That’s not it. I have no problem with that. Well, maybe a little problem with that. The problem being that I’ve always known I enjoy the company of men, but I have no idea how Hunter feels. I don’t want to do anything to freak him out. Doesn’t he have enough to deal with?

That’s just an excuse – we all have “enough to deal with” – shouldn’t it be Hunter’s choice?

Cam managed to shake his head the tiniest bit attempting to dislodge the arguing voices in his head. This small movement brought him closer to consciousness in his own body. Not only was he now aware of Blake’s weight pressing on him from the front, but he could feel Hunter’s solid presence supporting him from behind. And as much as he tried to deny it, there was something undeniably wonderful about being wrapped up in Hunter’s arms.

Just stop it. Just stop it! You’ve got no right to throw these feelings all around like this! It’s the wrong time and the wrong place. There are much larger things to take care of right now, and your love life isn’t one of them! Blake. Conner. Dustin. They’re what’s important now. Get focused. Wake up!

Cam’s mind finally overpowered his heart and regained control of his body. Perhaps it was the wind in his face, but something urged him back to awareness. And once he woke up he realized they weren’t alone. Cam felt a surge of panic before he made out that the shape hunkered on his left side was definitely human and not going to attack. The black-haired man was wearing a black and red jacket and appeared to have a box of equipment at his side. The man nodded in acknowledgement of Cam’s startled look. “Didn’t mean to scare you.” he said. “Just waiting to see which one of you guys would wake up first. We need to know more about the situation and we definitely weren’t going to try to move all three of you.”

As the man was talking, Cam became more and more alert and felt better able to handle the situation. The stranger was asking for information, and that was something Cam could handle. The only concern was, how much to say without giving too much information away. The man he was talking to was clearly an EMT, and once that was understood, it made sense that he wasn’t working alone. He and Hunter might have been working longer on Blake than Cam realized because the other EMTs had enough time to get a tarp over the coffee kiosk to cut down on some of the rain falling directly on them.

The second paramedic who had been out of Cam’s line of sight lashing the tarp to the kiosk moved over to crouch down on Cam’s right side. He was taller and stockier than the first; his short blonde hair was slicked to his head from the rain. He also nodded in acknowledgement of Cam. There was a distinctive symbol on his jacket that Cam could see more clearly because the second man was closer. The second paramedic smiled when he realized what Cam understood.

“My name’s Morgan. My partner is Duncan. We work out of Lightspeed Rescue, sir. Carter Grayson was in the other ambulance and is taking care of the kids. Let us know what you want us to do.”

Lightspeed Rescue? Aren’t they out of Mariner Bay? Taking care of the kids? Cam was overwhelmed with a feeling of relief. A huge load he hadn’t realized he’d been carrying was lifted from his shoulders. He recognized the Lightspeed insignia on the jacket; and the name Carter Grayson definitely rang a bell – when the Wind Ninjas became active Rangers Cam Googled all the information he could about other Ranger teams. The most information out there was about the Lightspeed Rescue team because their identities had never been secret. If Carter sent these guys, they understood how to work with Rangers, and probably wouldn’t be surprised by much that he had to say. So he jumped right in.

“Blake,“ he indicated the younger Bradley by moving his hands and gesturing toward Blake’s chest, “was speared by a Tyranodrone. The weapon entered in his lower back, the exit wound was in his upper chest.” Cam hesitated briefly, and then decided to go for it. They might not believe what he was about to say, but they needed the facts if they were going to help Blake. “I managed to heal a lot of his injuries, but he lost a lot of blood. I did what I could for the damage to the lower back, but I was afraid of causing permanent damage to the spine if I messed around with it.”

To Cam’s surprise and relief Morgan barely blinked at hearing Cam declare that he’d healed Blake. Either he was truly unflappable, or Lightspeed trained their personnel extremely well. “That was a wise decision, sir. If you’ll just stay where you are for another minute or two, we’re going to check his vitals before we attempt to move him. Were either of you other two injured?”

Cam shook his head in the negative. “Just the usual bumps and bruises.” Cam’s brow creased with concern. “Though Hunter may have overextended himself helping Conner and Blake.”

“Okay.” said Morgan reassuringly. “We’ll take care of you guys next. Just sit tight.”

So that’s what Cam did. But his inability to move combined with his return to complete consciousness created a growing problem. The voices in his head that had been stilled when he talked with Morgan were growing louder again; he tried not to pay attention but it was difficult. The problem revolved around Hunter’s presence. In the past, Cam had very limited physical contact with Hunter – the occasional back-slap here, a hand up from a fall in training – it was a very deliberate decision on Cam’s part. But this nearly full body contact with Hunter was sending him into sensory overload. Every fleeting thought he’d ever had about what it might be like to have Hunter hold him rushed to the front of his brain, and it was making him crazy.

This is ridiculous. Just because I’m sitting here, like this, with Hunter, does not mean I should be losing my mind. I am a rational person who will not be controlled by my baser instincts.

Cam tried to take a deep breath to calm himself, but he didn’t want to dislodge Blake. It was then he realized that his breathing had fallen into sync with Hunter’s. Cam closed his eyes and resisted the urge to bash his head into the nearest wall. He deliberately took a breath that was counter to Hunter’s breathing pattern, but then decided it was childish and not worth the energy to try to keep it up.

Cam silently prayed that the EMTs would finish quickly and move Blake; but at the same time, part of him was hoping they’d talk a long time – he wanted to relish the feeling he had being so connected to Hunter. Cam understood, for the first time, a little bit about what Hunter being a “body” type really meant. He had never given it much thought; he understood his own part of the triangle and hadn’t felt the need to investigate the others. He’d always been under the impression that as a “body” type Hunter was simply stronger than most people. He had no idea it extended into an overwhelming physical presence with extended contact. It made sense as Cam tried to analyze it, and at the same time it made him weak.

Cam Watanabe, you’ve got to snap out of this. First of all, you have no idea if Hunter has any type of reciprocal feelings for you, so don’t try to read anything into this. Secondly, even if he did have feelings for you, this is neither the time nor the place to investigate it – Hunter has to be focused on Blake, not you. Third, simply because you enjoy how you feel being this close to Hunter is no excuse to take advantage of his vulnerability. He’s not even conscious!

As Cam ruthlessly analyzed the situation and shoved his emotions into the small corner of his soul where he kept them, he felt more and more in control. Just sitting with Hunter was no reason to lose his mind, and he wasn’t going to! But just when he thought he was thinking clearly again, another thought occurred to him. But what if Hunter picked up on all of this?

The very idea was enough to send Cam into a panic, and he extended his thoughts in the direction of Hunter’s consciousness. But just before he crashed into it he pulled back. If I’ve got to go this far to read if he’s picked up on anything, it’s a sure thing he hasn’t. He’s barely conscious himself, and what awareness he does have is focused on Blake. But…

Cam extended his thoughts again, but this time incorporated much more of his long ignored feelings. He just wanted to see if anywhere on Hunter’s surface thoughts there was anything that he recognized, anything that had a similar vibe to his own feelings. There was nothing. And while Cam was disappointed, he wasn’t really surprised.

See, that shows you.

Not really. Hunter’s not the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. His feelings are much more private, and I’m not about to go diving into his head. Father would kill me if he knew even the small amount I peeked at. What’s happened to me –now I’m a pervert and unethical!

Movement got Cam’s attention and he snapped out of his disturbing thoughts. Morgan and Duncan had finished assessing Blake’s condition and had moved him to a stretcher. Duncan and a third EMT who appeared to be the driver were wheeling him toward the back of the ambulance. Mike nodded at Cam again, apparently oblivious to all of Cam’s inner turmoil. “Right then, one squared away. If you’re both mobile, I’d like to get you two into the ambulance and out of this storm. Do we need another stretcher or wheelchair for him?” he asked looking at Hunter.

“No. If we can get him to his feet, he can make it to the ambulance.” Cam scooted forward away from Hunter and shunted away the pang of separation he felt. He moved over to Hunter’s right side. Placing his hands on Hunter’s shoulders Cam gave him a little shake. “Hunter. You’ve got to get up. Let’s go with Blake.”

Hunter’s eyes rolled under their lids and he opened them groggily to look at Cam. Cam continued to encourage him. “Come on, Hunter. Time to go. Let’s go with Blake.” Hunter seemed to register “go” and “Blake”. As Hunter reached out his hands, Cam supported him on one side as Mike pulled on the other. Between the two of them they got Hunter to his feet and helped him stagger toward the ambulance. If Morgan noticed how much easier it was to move through the storm with Hunter he didn’t mention it.

Once everyone was settled in the ambulance, Morgan began checking Hunter’s vital signs as Duncan continued to monitor Blake. Cam sat slightly off to the side, isolated. He tried to ignore his feeling of being left out when Hunter moved to crouch closer to Blake. He turned his head and looked out the rain spattered window in the ambulance’s back door so he wouldn’t have to watch the brothers together. Leave it alone, Cam. You’re not a part of them no matter how much you wish you were. Get back to doing your job. Let it go.

With a very deep sigh, that’s what he did.

Chapter Text

The Reefside Hospital emergency room was unusually quiet in spite of the dangerous and unexpected storm that had rolled in this morning. The time of day and the repeated warnings had successfully kept people in their homes and off the roads. There were still a few people who had ventured out and ended up in the ER, but they were not backed up the way Dana had expected they would be on a day like this. Working in the ER was funny that way; you never knew what was going to happen.

Dana had been working the 11pm -7am shift since Sunday night. Traditionally, the enemies attacking the Rangers chose to fight during the day. It was only very rarely that the Rangers had to fight a nighttime battle, but the Lightspeed staff had come to train for any situation, and that included training overnight personnel. Dana didn’t mind working the graveyard shift – it was generally quiet and gave her the opportunity to double check paperwork and procedures. Lightspeed Rescue had prepared a mountain of data that they hoped would be useful for the Reefside emergency teams; but it’d be no help at all if it weren’t clear and easy to read.

Dana had been preparing to call it a night, but then out of nowhere Jason had contacted Carter. Carter hadn’t had time to explain what was said, but Dana could tell by the look on this face that something important had passed between the former Red Rangers. Carter had rushed out with two crews made up of entirely Lightspeed personnel; that was unusual as well. Carter liked to include the trainees as much as possible, but his choice of teams made it clear to Dana that an actual Ranger emergency was underway and they needed the most experienced and discreet people to work with.

When Carter did call in from the rig he’d asked the dispatcher to make sure Dana was the doctor available for the intake – that was a sure sign that the incoming patient had a Ranger related injury. But when the dispatcher passed on the message that the victim was “red as an apple” Dana knew it was the Red Ranger himself who had been injured. She gathered the Lightspeed doctors and nurses who were available as well as the Reefside staff they had been training.

Because of the innate healing capabilities of being a Ranger, it was very rare that a Ranger would be brought to the hospital. Generally the Ranger suits offered enough protection to withstand almost anything dished out in battle. Ironically, it was usually when Rangers were off-duty that they sustained injuries that required hospitalization. And that was often because parents or other outsiders became involved – unable to explain that they’d heal on their own and unable to give no rational explanation for why a trip to the ER was unnecessary, the Rangers had to suffer through a trip to the hospital. Dana could recall the one time a very abashed looking Kelsey had ended up in the ER as a result of a rock climbing fall. Kelsey’s mother just wouldn’t go for the “I’m a Ranger, Mom. I’ll be okay!” argument. Remembering the look on Kelsey’s face still brought a smile to her face.

Dana looked at the clock and tapped her foot impatiently. Carter had called in two minutes before so they should be getting close if they storm didn’t get in their way. She turned to address the handful of nurses and doctors around her. “Carter should be rolling in at any minute. He mentioned to the dispatcher that the “banana” and “blueberry” are in transit as well as the “apple”. Dana smiled at the grins elicited by her ridiculous sounding statement. The code they’d developed was inelegant, but it got the message across about who was being brought in without sharing unnecessary information over the open airways. “At this point, none of us knows what to expect. This is a very unusual situation, and anything can happen.”

At that moment the nurse monitoring the radio called out, “They’re pulling up right now!”

With a nod to the assembled group, Dana said, “Let’s get to work!”

Dana rushed out the automatic doors to the ambulance bay. The overhanging roof kept the rain from falling directly on them, but offered no protection from the water laden wind. Carter hovered protectively over the young man on the stretcher as Jason and the other EMT wrestled the stretcher out of the ambulance and onto the pavement. Dana grabbed the foot of the stretcher and began pulling even as Carter began to talk.

“Seventeen year old male. No apparent injuries – no bleeding, nothing broken. No apparent head trauma, but he presents as non-responsive.”

Dana steered the stretcher to a private room. Carter continued to give the rundown of Conner’s condition and the entourage followed. “Blood pressure is low, and falling. Pulse and breathing are rapid.”

Dana nodded as Carter was talking. She was making her own assessments as the stretched was parked and stabilized. The boy looked athletic and might have normally had a healthy tan – now his skin was pale and waxy looking. The pulse in his neck was weak and feathery. His skin was clammy and his lips had taken on a slightly blue hue. Clearly the boy was going into shock. “What’s his name?” Dana asked as she took out her penlight and alternately flashed the light in each eye – no response.

“Conner.” replied Jason.

“Conner… Conner, can you hear me? My name is Dr. Mitchell. We’re all here to help you.” Like a well oiled machine the nurses and doctors attending the intake sprang into action. Machines were brought in and hooked up to monitor pulse and heart rate; an oxygen mask was placed over Conner’s nose and mouth; clothing was cut away and heated blankets brought in.

Dana started issuing orders. “We’ve got to stabilize his blood pressure. Get me 2 units of saline and start an I.V. I want a CAT scan and MRI of his head ASAP. I want neurology called and Dr. Riley brought in immediately. I want a tox screen to rule out any outside agents. Has anyone been able to contact his parents?” Everyone worked efficiently and soon Conner was stabilized to Dana’s satisfaction. Only then did she turn her attention to the others in the room.

Jason had managed to simultaneously stay out of everyone’s way while maintaining some sort of contact with Conner. Once most of the peripheral people had left the room, Jason had settled on Conner’s right side gently holding the boy’s hand in his own. The other two Rangers were standing silent and wide-eyed pressed up against the far wall. Dana didn’t know how they managed to stay in the room all this time; it was possible that since they were the “banana” and “blueberry” the Reefside staff assumed they should be allowed to stay. There was nothing Dana could do about that at this point; at least they might have some helpful information.

Dana approached the two Rangers. She was glad to see that someone had tossed some blankets around them as well – or, more accurately, around the boy. The girl had lodged herself so far under the boy’s arm that there was no way to get a blanket around her shoulders. It didn’t matter because the boy simply held the blanket around both of them. It was a good thing because the girl was looking shocky herself.

“Rangers?” Dana half-asked, half-stated.

Carter stepped closer to the small group to make the introductions. “This is Ethan. And this is Kira.” He placed a hand on Dana’s shoulder. “And this is my wife, Dr. Mitchell.”

Dana smiled at Carter before turning back to the Rangers. “Otherwise known as Dana; Lightspeed Rescue, Pink Ranger.”

Ethan had brightened at being introduced to yet another Ranger, but Kira didn’t act as though she’d heard any of it. She stared fixedly at Jason and Conner. “How’s Conner?” Ethan asked. Kira’s gaze flicked momentarily to Dana, and then drifted back to Conner.

“He’s stable for the moment. I won’t lie to you – there’s a lot we don’t know yet about his condition. What can you tell me about what happened?”

Ethan grimaced and shook his head. “Very little. I was on the far side of the fountain. Between my fight and the storm, I couldn’t see what was happening with Conner and Hunter. I don’t think Conner’s drone was any worse than the ones that Kira and I were fighting. But Cam said something about someone new being dropped in on the fight. By the time I got to Kira and Blake, Hunter had freaked out. The storm was out of control. There was lightning everywhere. Maybe Conner got struck by lighting?” Dana could tell that Ethan was deeply unsettled by Conner’s incapacitation and was grasping at straws to explain his state.

“It’s unlikely his injuries are the result of a lightning strike. You Rangers can withstand much more than that when morphed. Did anyone else see what happened? Kira?” Dana’s voice was gentle as she addressed Kira.

Kira shook her head minutely. Her voice barely reached above a whisper when she responded, “Didn’t see. Blake.” Two fat tears rolled down Kira’s cheeks as she squeezed her eyes shut and crushed her face into Ethan’s chest.

Ethan held Kira a little tighter. “Do we know…?” he asked Carter imploringly.

Carter shook his head “no”. “We haven’t heard from the guys in the other rig yet. I’ll let you know as soon as we know anything.”

Ethan nodded. “Cam knows more than I do about Conner. He saw what happened. He went to get Hunter. He can help you more.” Ethan looked miserable and dejected.

Dana placed a reassuring hand on Ethan’s arm. “You’ve done a good job, Ethan. And you’re taking good care of Kira.” Dana knew better than attempting to make the Rangers leave, so she settled for having them sit and taking any further discussion out of the room. “Why don’t you sit with Kira over here?” She gently maneuvered them toward an empty stretcher. Carter adjusted the height so they could sit without having to jump up onto it. The Rangers sat down simultaneously, and both of their gazes drifted back toward Conner.

With a look, Dana indicated that she wanted to speak outside of the room. By some unspoken agreement, Carter and Jason switched places. But the look on Carter’s face clearly read that he wanted to be filled in later. It actually made Dana a little more comfortable leaving Ethan and Kira in the room with Carter instead of leaving them alone with Conner.

In the hallway, Dana securely closed the door to the room and turned to face Jason. “What are you not telling me?”

“When I arrived on the scene Conner was in so much pain he’d drawn his arms around his head and his knees up to his chest. Carter and I had to wrestle him out of the hold he had on himself to get him onto the stretcher. Carter administered a mild sedative in the ambulance, but nothing that would have sent him into the state he’s in now.” Dana listened intently as Jason continued to talk. “Conner seems to be drawing away mentally, and he’s pulling back fast. It seems to help him when Carter or I are in contact with him. I haven’t worked out exactly why yet.”

“Whatever is going on with him is clearly Ranger related. As far as I can tell there is no physical injury beyond the serious bruising of an intense fight. I know you called in a neurologist, but I’m afraid we’re dealing with something even beyond that. It almost looks like he might be under some sort of spell or a mental attack. Can these Tyranodrones do spells like Rita and Zedd or make mental attacks like Queen Bansheera?” Jason’s expression was filled with deep concern.

Dana shook her head. “I have no idea. These monsters have only been in Reefside for a few weeks, there’s not a lot of data yet on what they can do”

Before they could continue, an intern approached the pair. “Excuse me, Dr. Mitchell.” The young woman stated hesitantly. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but you said to let you know if anything unusual…” she looked over her shoulder. “There’s a group of people here, some look badly hurt. And they’re all, um…” The intern made a face like she didn’t want to be laughed at for saying something stupid, but then she jumped in and said it anyway. “They’re all wearing different colors.” She said with emphasis on the colors while giving as significant look.

Jason and Dana exchanged a look of their own. “Where are they?” Dana demanded.

The intern looked relieved and pointed. “Exam room 3.” The intern scurried away as Dana took off with Jason on her heels. The announcement of the new arrivals made no sense to Dana. In Reefside there were four active Rangers, and three were currently with Carter in the room they’d just left. Dana wouldn’t have been surprised if a man wearing mostly black had burst into the ER looking for them, but an entirely new group of Rangers on the scene was not what she was expecting. On the other hand, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that another Ranger team had come in to help; but if that was true, and one of them was also badly injured, it would indicate that the enemy they faced was even greater than they feared.

Exam 3 was a larger room located off the main hallway of the emergency room. It was sectioned off from the corridor with a curtain; it wasn’t a private room like the one where they’d placed Conner. If this really was another group of Rangers, Dana would have to do something to ensure a little more privacy. Loud voices raised in argument greeted them before she or Jason could see anything. From what Dana could make out, the hospital staff was trying to clear some of the extra people out of the room, but they were loudly refusing to leave.

Dana recognized the exasperated voice of Dr. Brody; he had very little tolerance for circumstances that fell outside of the norm. She didn’t know why he insisted on working in the ER when he had so little flexibility, but she couldn’t deny that he was an excellent physician. Dana pushed the curtain aside and stepped into the room. “Can I be of assistance Dr. Brody?”

Brody grimace and waved absently at the assembled adults. In spite of the fact that Lightspeed had been brought in to train for unusual circumstances, Dr. Brody rarely took advantage of Dana’s expertise. He usually treated her as some sort of underling – it raised Carter’s hackles, but Dana simply ignored him. “Get rid of these people. I have work to do.”

Dana took a quick look around the room. On the stretcher in the center of the room lay a man who had been severely burned. Glued to his burn-free side was a man in a red shirt and a woman in yellow. Hanging back slightly to the side was another trio – two men and a woman. Dana did not recognize the woman, but she knew both of the men. Her startled “Billy?” was echoed by Jason’s “Tommy!” The former Red Ranger pushed past her to join the group near the wall. With confirmation that this was a Ranger situation, Dana had no problem taking it out of Dr. Brody’s hands.

Briskly Dana approached the dithering doctor. “Dr. Brody,” she stated firmly, “I’ll take over from here. Could you please send Lonnie and Wendy in immediately?”

“Who do you think…?” Dr Brody began to splutter.

“I think that in any Ranger related emergency I am the senior physician. You may choose to believe in Rangers or not, but I am now giving the orders. Is that clear? I need those nurses now.” The usually relaxed and calm Dr. Mitchell’s eyes flashed with dangerous intensity. Dr. Brody wisely chose to stop arguing and left to find the nurses Dana had requested.

Leaving Tommy supported by Jason and Kim, Billy stepped over toward Dana and the stretcher where Adam had been placed. Rocky was watching Dana with some suspicion after the encounter with the unpleasant Dr. Brody. Billy alleviated the tension by quickly making introductions around the room. “Adam, Rocky, Aisha, Kim,“ he stated as he pointed around the room, “Ninjetti Rangers this is Dr. Dana Mitchell, Lightspeed Rescue, Pink Ranger.”

Rocky visibly relaxed as Dana approached the stretcher. “What happened?” she asked. As she moved toward Adam’s unburned side, Rocky reluctantly stepped out of her way, but kept one arm tightly wound around Aisha’s waist.

“Explosion.” Rocky answered succinctly. “And…” He looked at Billy, but there was no simple way to explain how Adam had been stuck in transit in the aftermath. “Explosion” he repeated again.

Unlike Conner, it was clear that Adam’s injuries were physical and needed to be dealt with immediately. The nurses Dana had requested had come in while they were talking and were busily attending to Adam. Dana was most concerned about stabilizing his blood pressure and preventing organ failure due to shock. The Rangers were very lucky that Reefside Hospital had one of the leading burn units in the state. With efficiency that left the other Ranger’s breathless, Adam was swiftly assessed, stabilized and moved to the intensive care burn unit on the hospital’s third floor.

Dana, well aware that burn treatment was not her area of expertise, left Adam in the capable hands of those better trained to deal with his injuries, and turned her attention to the remaining Rangers. Of those left in the room, Tommy seemed the one most in need of medical attention. By the time Dana had turned her attention to him, he was being fully supported by Jason and Kim. It hadn’t seemed to occur to anyone to find him a place to sit down.

Dana suppressed an eye roll as she approached Tommy and pushed him onto the stretcher that was directly behind him. He seemed somewhat confused and shaken. He didn’t put up nearly the amount of fuss that Dana was expecting when she started to examine him, and she thought that was a very bad sign. She had worked with enough former Rangers to know that they usually shrugged off injures with an “I’m okay and everything’s fine” attitude. Tommy was exhibiting no false bravado; in fact, he looked nearly as lost as Rocky and Aisha. Dana’s concern was growing.

“What happened?” she asked the room at large.

Billy stepped in to answer. “No one’s really sure. By the time we arrived in Mesogog’s lab, Tommy was already in bad shape. He could barely stand and seemed to have a very difficult time getting focused. When he called on the spirit of the Falcon, it helped him for a bit, but by the time the battle was over, he was done. He passed out right after we transported.”

“Whatever it was that happened, it caused a lot of pain.” Jason paused and then amended, “A lot of mental pain.” Dana turned to Jason, surprised. She didn’t really see him as part of this grouping. Her expression was full of inquiry, but the only response Jason made was a shoulder shrug. “I could feel it.”

Dana turned back to Tommy. Some things were starting to fall together. “Tommy? Can you tell me what happened to you? How were you injured?”

It took Tommy a moment to focus on Dana’s face. Then a shudder wracked his body as he recalled the torture he’d endured at Mesogog’s hands. Kim gasped in response involuntarily, and Jason stepped closer to lay a reassuring hand on Tommy’s back. He murmured encouragingly “You’re okay, Tom. It’s all over.”

Tommy shook his head in the negative. “Not over.” Tommy seemed to regain some energy and focus. “We’ve got to track down the Rangers. Conner’s hurt bad.”

Jason and Dana exchanged a glance – Tommy missed it, but Kim did not. Suddenly, Tommy’s wardrobe caught Dana’s eye. He was not dressed in shades of red like Rocky; instead he was dressed in black. In a flash, it all made sense. “You’re the Black Ranger!” she exclaimed.

Tommy grinned with a ghost of a real smile; “So much for my “Christmas tree Ranger” title.” he said, referring to the nickname given by his teammates referencing his former color combinations.

Kim jumped in, not wanting to let the glance between Jason and Dana get away. “Do you know where the other Rangers are? Is Conner here in the hospital?”

Tommy suddenly looked much more alert. Dana knew that as soon as he got an answer, he’d want to run down the hall and see Conner for himself. So she planted herself in front of Tommy and placed her hands firmly on his legs. It took Tommy a moment to realize he was trapped. “Yes, Conner is here. Carter is with him.”

Rocky, Aisha and Billy drew closer to hear what Dana had to say. “His condition is very serious, and we’re not sure exactly how to treat it.” Tommy’s face was etched with guilt and urgency. Dana continued, “It sounds to me like you may have sustained similar injuries, I’m going to need your help, Tommy, to help Conner get better.”

Tommy was now actively trying to get off the stretcher, but Dana, Kim and Jason kept him in place. “Tommy, listen to me.” Dana demanded. She knew it was mean, and it would mess with his head, but she had to play the cards she had, and guilt was the biggest one. “I’m going to let you go down into the ER to see Conner, and then I’m going to treat your injuries. If that means I have to poke and prod you, I’ll do it. If that means you have to sleep for 3 days, you’ll do it. You’re going to tell me everything you can remember about how you were injured and how you reacted. If I can find out what makes you get better, it will help us help Conner get better. You’re not in a position to play the hero and ignore how you’re feeling. In the end, it’ll be Conner who pays if you do.”

By the time Dana had finished her impassioned speech Tommy was no longer struggling against any of them. The look of horror on his face was painful to see, but Dana needed to make it clear that she meant business. She’d do whatever she needed to do to ensure that all the rangers got well – including the self-sacrificing, pig-headed, red or black wearing leaders. With a satisfied nod Dana stepped back, giving Tommy a clear path to the door.

“Jason, can you take them down to see the others? I’m going to get a room ready with more privacy and see if anyone was able to contact Conner’s parents yet.” Jason nodded in assent and led the others quickly down the hallway.

Before Dana got two steps closer to the reception desk, the intern who had interrupted her earlier approached her again. This time she looked much more confident. “Morgan and Duncan are coming in with the other rig. They say there’s a possibly spinal injury with a possible blueberry, possible shock with a possible apple and a ride-along kiwi.” The intern smiled.

Dana jogged in the direction of the ambulance bay. Morgan and Duncan were the other EMTs Carter had sent out. Dana hoped that this was the last batch of Rangers to come in; if there were any more, she didn’t think she’d be able to keep them all straight. Morgan and Duncan were already in the hallway by the time Dana met them. She immediately steered them down the hall where the other Rangers had gathered. There was a small private room next to the one where Conner was stationed; this way they’d all be closer together and better able to share information.

The young man on the stretcher was covered with blood. But in spite of his apparent loss of blood, the color in his face was good and he seemed to be breathing easily. The tall blond man following the stretcher looked dazed yet intent. The “kiwi” seemed to be the best option to talk to for information.

“Dr. Mitchell. Lightspeed Rescue, Pink Ranger.”

The “kiwi” blinked. “Cam Watanabe. Ninja Storm, Green Samurai Ranger.” Dana’s instincts were right. This was definitely the man to talk to – Ethan indicated that he might know what had happened to Conner. Cam pointed at the stretcher, “Blake Bradley, Navy Thunder Ranger.” then at the tall man, “Hunter Bradley, Crimson Thunder Ranger.”

As Blake was being settled by the ever swarming nurses and orderlies, Dana listened to Morgan's rundown of the injuries. She was surprised to hear that Cam had healed some of the injuries, but this was not the time to investigate that; instead she needed to focus on the remaining injuries. “Okay, I need Neurology contacted. We need someone specializing in spinal cord injuries. Order a CAT scan and MRI of the spine and lower back. Get him started on an antibiotic IV, and keep and eye on his blood pressure.” Dana’s orders were followed quickly and professionally.

Dana turned her attention to the other two. She made a leap of logic and guessed that Hunter would want to stay in proximity to Blake – that seemed to be happening a lot today. “All of the other Rangers are next door with the Dino Thunder team. I suggest we join them and consolidate our information. I’m assuming you’ll want to stay here?” she asked Hunter.

Hunter simply nodded and pulled a chair up beside Blake. “They’ll have to take him out for some tests soon. When they do, just come next door. They’ll bring him back here when they’re done.” Hunter barely nodded in response to Dana.

“I’ll make sure he lets them take Blake out for the tests.” Cam said to Dana in an undertone.

“Good enough.” she replied as she led Cam to the door. It was time to sit everyone down and figure out just what had happened. No one group seemed to have a clear picture, but Dana was determined to work it all out.

Chapter Text

Kira sat inside the circle of Ethan’s arm trying to get a handle on herself and everything that had happened. She kept her eyes glued on Conner’s face waiting to see any indication that he was waking up. Anytime Carter shifted and blocked Conner from her view, Kira shifted as well. She felt that it was important that she be able to see him. So much of the stuff that had happened during the battle she didn’t see, and she had latched onto the idea that that’s why it affected her so much. So in her head, it made perfect sense – if she could keep an eye on Conner, continue to see him, nothing else would happen; well, nothing worse.

It didn’t occur to Kira that the logic in her thinking didn’t make sense. She saw everything that happened to Blake; seeing it didn’t stop it from happening. Being so close to Blake only made it worse. Kira had been in a number of battles as a Ranger, but the injuries she and the boys sustained were mostly bad bruising. All of the bad guys they destroyed were either consumed in a ball of fire or exploded. They weren’t real – they didn’t count. And…they didn’t bleed.

Kira shuddered slightly recalling the blood that saturated Blake’s shirt. But the image that was more horrifying than the spear through Blake’s chest was the pink-tinged water that cascaded over the fountain after he fell. And the worst thing was that she never even saw that. By the time Blake had fallen, Kira was curled up in a ball on the ground. From what she could figure out, that memory and the intense anguish attached to it was Cam’s.

Now that things were relatively quiet, and it was just Ethan, Conner and Carter in the room, Kira had started to sort some things out. She went back in her mind to figure out what had caused her to freak out; it disturbed her to realize that seeing Blake impaled by the Tyranodrone wasn’t what caused her the most pain, it was Hunter’s reaction to it. She’d been completely unprepared to deal with the onslaught of Hunter’s emotions. She’d never felt anything like that before. It was completely and utterly overwhelming; and it frightened Kira more than anything ever had before.

Once Hunter had lost control and crushed Kira’s emotional barriers she was open to feeling everything from all of the others. Cam, Conner and Ethan all fed into the jumble of conflicting emotions to the point where Kira could barely distinguish where she began and ended. Blake didn’t factor in at all – that in itself was terrifying. It wasn’t until Ethan had scooped her up and brought her into the coffee kiosk that she felt connected to reality. And since that moment, she’d been trying to sort out what feelings were hers and block out the feelings that weren’t. It was hard and exhausting work, and proximity to Hunter made the task far more difficult. But as time moved forward, Kira found more and more of herself, and felt more confident in her boundaries.

Kira snuggled a little closer to Ethan; he reflexively held her tighter. She closed her eyes and said a little prayer of thanks for having a friend like Ethan. She did not know what she would do without him. In the storm, in the ambulance, and now in the hospital, Ethan was a buffer for her – holding enough of everyone else away, so Kira could rediscover her own boundaries. His presence was unexpectedly solid and comforting. It wasn’t that she couldn’t feel emotions from him, but his mind was working so fast that he wasn’t concentrating on how he felt. There were large flashes of worry and anxiety, and Kira could tell they were mostly focused on Conner, but they weren’t long lasting or overwhelming.

Kira brought her gaze back to Conner. A little pang pulled at her heart. Now that was unexpected. It took Kira a moment to realize that the pang was all hers and no one else’s. She backtracked slightly to figure out what had set her off, but it wasn’t hard to determine. In the midst of attempting to unweave her own feelings free from the tapestry of all of the feelings around her, she would have to acknowledge them first; and she could finally admit, even if it was only to herself; that Conner meant much more to her then just a friend or teammate.

Ethan was solid in the friend and teammate category, so it was easy to compare the way Ethan did or didn’t make her feel to the way Conner did. Ethan didn’t make her smile with goofy attempts at being gallant. After a battle when Ethan asked “Are you okay?” she didn’t get the little flutter in her gut that the same question from Conner would cause. And she didn’t daydream about what it might feel like if Ethan unexpectedly caught her hand in his while they were walking.

A slight movement from Carter caught Kira’s attention. Conner looked exactly the same – frighteningly pale and still. Kira desperately wished she had the courage to get up from where she was sitting to reach out to hold his hand or touch his hair, but she was afraid that all of the hard won equilibrium she’d gained would be lost and she’d be no better off than she’d been out in the storm. She’d be no use to anyone as a weeping, quaking mess.

Noise and movement from the hallway got both Kira and Ethan’s attention. Moments later the doorway was filled with the last person they expected to see. Simultaneously they both exclaimed, “Dr. O.!” and as one they jumped up and ran to embrace Tommy. With a solid “thunk” the three came together as the younger Rangers nearly knocked Tommy off his feet. Support from those incoming from the hallway kept the trio from falling over. Kira didn’t mind being overwhelmed with the joy and relief emanating from the three of them; in fact, she reveled in it. She could also pick up traces of the others' joy as they watched the sweet reunion.

In a flash, the joy was overshadowed with a powerful bolt of grief, and Kira had to pull away before Tommy’s pain could unbalance her. Ethan stepped back too and Kira resumed her position under his arm, safe inside his protective presence. Carter had risen from his place by the bed when the others had entered the room. He stood facing the group, but made room for Tommy and Jason to approach the bed. Kira bit back a whimper and clung more tightly to Ethan; Tommy with Conner was almost as bad as Hunter with Blake. Suddenly a soothing, calming barrier was between Kira and Tommy as Kim took up a position on her other side. Kim absently rubbed her back; Kira sighed in relief.

For a moment no one was willing to break the silence. Carter had moved over toward the equipment monitoring Conner’s vital signs. Tommy had taken Carter’s place on Conner’s right side; Jason was supporting him on his left. Rocky, Aisha and Billy moved into the room until they along with Kira, Ethan and Kim formed a semi-circle in front of the doorway. Kira heard the rush of a group of people as they passed by and moved into the room next door. The intense emotional backwash made it clear that Hunter and Blake were close by. Kira turned to look even though she knew she wouldn’t see anything, and she saw Kim looking too. Before their gazes turned back into the room their eyes met and Kira read a promise from Kim – I’ll help you deal with all of this, Kira. It comforted Kira more than she could express.

A movement from the bed caught Kira’s eye again. Tommy’s knees had given out, and though he was still conscious, he was being supported by Jason and Carter. They moved him over toward the stretcher that Ethan and Kira had vacated. That movement seemed to have broken the stillness in the room. Rocky moved forward, not to Conner’s side, but closer to the foot of the bed. He twitched the blankets aside so he could have access to Conner’s leg and gently grasped his ankle. The gesture reminded Kira strongly of Sensei Kanoi, and it made her heart feel glad.

It wasn’t until that moment that Kira realized that Adam wasn’t with the group that had joined them – suddenly Rocky and Aisha’s lost looking expressions registered with Kira. Kira quickly glanced around thinking that in the midst of everything somehow she had missed Adam coming in. Kira did a quick head count around the room. It struck her as very wrong to see Aisha standing all alone near the door. Even when Billy came to put an arm around her shoulder, it just didn’t seem right to Kira. She felt her anxiety increase as she realized that she hadn’t been wrong; Adam was missing. Kira turned to Kim in inquiry, but Kim’s attention was on Tommy.

Tommy had lost all color in his face and was shaking under Jason’s supporting arm. He looked to Kira to be as close to passing out as anyone could be without actually fainting. Carter was checking Tommy’s pulse and breathing. Jason was encouraging him to breathe deeply. Tommy was mumbling something Kira couldn’t make out until he repeated it more loudly.

“Carter, get Dana. I have to tell her.”

Carter jumped up from his position but before he made it two steps to the door Dana appeared. She seemed ready to share some information with them, but whatever she’d been about to say went out the window when she got a look at Tommy. Instead of heading over to the stretcher like Kira thought she would, Dana turned on her heel and went back into the hallway. The only one who wasn’t surprised by the move was Carter.

Carter resumed his kneeling position by Tommy and started to rub his arm with an alcohol pad from a nearby drawer. “Dana’s going to get you something for the pain, Tommy. Just hold on a few more seconds. You’re going to be fine.” Tommy tried to ineffectively bat Carter away. Dana returned quickly with a syringe and a bottle of clear liquid. She expertly filled the syringe as she walked across the room. Tommy tried harder to get out of Carter’s grip, and when he was unsuccessful, he turned to Jason. He pleaded, “Jase…”

“Wait.” Jason held up a warning hand in front of Tommy blocking Dana’s access to him. Kira marveled at the way Jason could make something so simple sound like a command without being obnoxious about it. Dana paused. Tommy leaned into Jason while pulling his left arm away from Carter and pressing his hand to his head. It was clear that it took an extraordinary amount of effort for Tommy to pull himself together.

“Mesogog’s attack…” Tommy spat out. Kira flinched as a wave of pain, fear and despair washed over her. Her stomach dropped and her heart was in her throat as she caught the residual memories flooding from Tommy. She knew Kim and Aisha felt it too because both of them gasped. Kira clung a little tighter to Ethan.

“All mental…I had no defenses…Kanoi opened my mind …no time to regroup before Mesogog attacked.” Tommy shuddered; everyone in the room listened in rapt fascination to his choked recital. “Mesogog wanted to cause pain…I could feel…his joy at my pain.” Tommy’s expression of revulsion was echoed by all the Rangers in the room. He continued to shudder in pain, whether remembered or new. Tommy curled into Jason, and Carter had reclaimed a hold on his left arm, not to restrain him, but to give him support. Tommy closed his eyes as he continued to force himself to talk. “Nowhere to run…Mesogog forced his way into my mind…it was fun for him…pain…pain everywhere.” Tommy seemed to lose his train of thought. Dana moved in closer ready to administer the sedative and pain killer; by this time Tommy was fully curled up in Jason’s lap.

Tommy sensed her approach. Dana knelt in front of the stretcher and Tommy’s eyes opened; his gaze met hers. He knew he wouldn’t be conscious much longer. “Please help Conner.” he begged. “Please…Zeltrax did the same thing to him…”

Dana reached over and injected Tommy with the drugs she’d assembled. Then she gently caressed his head as she said soothingly, “We’ll help Conner. I promise. You did great, Tommy. You told us everything we needed to know. Just rest now. You’re going to be okay.” Between reassurances from Dana and Jason, Tommy let himself relax and escape the pain. Jason and Carter repositioned him on the stretcher, and Jason took a position near his feet, much like Rocky had with Conner. Kira felt stunned and battered by the revelation of punishment Tommy had endured at Mesogog’s hands; it was clear from the expressions of those around her, she wasn’t alone in her feelings.

A movement behind them alerted Kira to new arrivals in the room. Cam and Hunter stood like solemn ghosts in the doorway. Both were draped in the ubiquitous hospital blankets. It was clear that whatever the next step was going to be, it would have to take place in this room. No one was willing to leave. Dana seemed to have reached that conclusion as well.

“Alright, it’s time to talk. But if we all just stand around we’ll have more people passing out. Carter, round up some chairs. I’ll go grab some food. Everyone else, get yourselves settled. It’s going to be a long day.”

Chapter Text

Haley stood on the front porch of Tommy’s house staring at the empty street. She didn’t feel the wind blowing in her face or the rain soaking her clothing. She didn’t feel much of anything – she was numb.

Unthinkingly Haley turned and walked into the house. She automatically went to the kitchen, and then down the stairs to the lab. There was no reason to go down there; she just didn’t know what else to do. And that was the crux of her problem. Haley always knew what to do next. Even if she didn’t have a solution to a problem, she had an avenue to figuring it out. And by the time she had worked a problem through she would have a solution. But now, there was nothing Haley could do; she felt frozen. She had no solution that would help Blake, Conner or Adam – nothing that she could physically do to be of assistance. It made Haley feel helpless and useless.

Haley stood at the bottom of the stairs to the lab for a full five minutes staring unseeing into the empty space. Eventually Haley blinked and moved forward, automatically gravitating toward her place at the computer console, but when she got there she turned away. With her back to the console and screen, Haley scanned the rest of the lab. After all of the activity of the past few days it seemed unnaturally quiet and empty. They should have been celebrating. Tommy and Dustin were rescued. But the losses the teams had sustained were devastating; it was unlike anything the gathered teams had ever experienced.

Haley closed her eyes in pain and wrapped her arms around her torso. She knew it was all her fault. In all of Ranger history, there had never been this level of grievous injury sustained by any one Ranger, let alone three. Rocky had every right to yell at her; she’d been unable to extract Adam from the lab when he needed it the most. She’s been unable to maintain communication with the Dino Thunder rangers, and as a result Conner took on Zeltrax head on, never knowing what he really faced, and Blake had no warning about the loose Tyranodrone. I couldn’t help them when I needed it…what good am I now?

Haley shook her head and opened her eyes. Again, she scanned the lab. It looked so normal, like nothing was wrong. But something about the picture was wrong. Haley scanned again and let her arms drop to her sides; this time paying more attention. Most of the lab was empty. Some of the chairs and the couch had been moved. Haley automatically moved toward them and starting putting them back in their places, but as soon as she took action, she knew the misplaced furniture was not what was really bothering her; but, she was on the right track. Haley froze with one hand suspended above the chair she had intended to move. She knew that her instincts were right – something was in the wrong place…but what was it? She scanned the lab again, this time with much more focus and intensity. But aside from the furniture, what was there in the lab to move?

Haley’s gaze came to rest on the assembled Wind Ninjas. Kanoi had resumed his seated position near them. He sat directly behind Dustin and Tori; and though he wasn’t touching them, he was close enough to easily reach them. Haley felt a pang of sympathy for Kanoi; he looked completely wiped out. Even in his resting state, he looked drawn and pale. She could see he was totally exhausted. Haley had no idea how much energy it took to do the spiritual and mental tasks he had undertaken in the past few days, but she believed the energy expenditure was enormous, and it was obviously taking its toll.

Haley drifted closer to the group. She knew she was getting closer to realizing what was bothering her. On closer inspection, all of the Wind Ninjas, not just Kanoi looked drawn and in pain. Haley squinted as she tried to figure it out. Rocky had placed Dustin in the center of the group lying on his back. Dustin’s right arm was outstretched and Tori had curled into his left side. Both of their faces were turned toward Shane, but he was curled away from them. That’s when Haley realized what was wrong. Shane was in the right area, but he wasn’t physically with the group. If she’d learned one thing about the body type rangers this weekend it was that they needed to be physically present to give or receive support from the others.

With no further thought Haley rushed forward. She moved to kneel in front of Shane. At close range, she could see the distress on his face was far more pronounced than the others. With a shove she pushed Shane, but all she managed to do was roll him from his side to his back; he was still out of reach of the others. Taking a different tactic, Haley stood up over Shane. Grabbing the sleeves of his uniform at the shoulders, she dragged him over until he was lying on Dustin’s arm. Dustin’s response was immediate – he pulled his arm in drawing Shane closer. Tori moved at the same time reaching across Dustin to get a hold of Shane’s arm and pulling it toward her across Dustin’s chest. Though none of them had opened their eyes or regained consciousness as far as Haley could tell, the change in the feeling of the situation was definitely positive.

It was such a small thing, but Haley knew she had made a big impact. That small, successful gesture broke the paralysis Haley had been feeling. She ran up to the house to gather up pillows and blankets – there was no way she could wrestle all three Wind Ninjas off the floor, but if they were going to sleep there, at least she could make them more comfortable. Quickly Haley devised a nest of sorts for the Wind Ninjas; not that any of them appeared cold, but it was always nice to have blankets around. Haley was less sure of what to do for Kanoi. He remained seated and she wasn’t about to knock the man over. She left some pillows and a blanket within his reach in case he woke and needed them later.

Haley turned back toward the main computer console. She didn’t know what information the others might need from her later, but she was determined to be ready when they called. With new focus, Haley began organizing. She started with the data that had been automatically gathered during the fight in Reefside. Every time the Dino Thunder Rangers were morphed in a fight, the computers in the lab recorded life sign readings, energy readings, impact assessments and power fluctuations. After each fight Haley would analyze the data and make adjustments to the morphers or weapons to be more effective the next time around.

This time she called up all the information the computer had gathered about Conner during the fight. Some of the data was hard to extract because of the interference from the storm, but Haley doggedly pursued each bit of information until she was confident she had it all. She had no recorded information on Blake because the computer wasn’t calibrated to him. Haley set the computer to download any information it could extrapolate about Adam in Mesogog’s lab, and while it was working began her analysis on Conner’s data.

At first, all of the information was what she expected. Conner powered up, was fighting the drone, and then there was a huge power spike when he called upon SuperDino mode. Wait, that’s not right. Haley looked more closely at the readings, then pulled up the video playback and displayed the timestamp. Haley tried to correlate the power spike and the SuperDino mode, but the power spike happened first. Conner didn’t call on the SuperDino mode until after Hunter got between him and Zeltrax. He powered up to get the speed to knock Hunter out of harm’s way. So where did the power come from?

Haley rewound the digital image of the fight. She was glad that this part of the fight had been recorded before the electrical interference really kicked in. Watching second by second, Haley matched up Conner’s power readings to what he’d been doing in the fight. She was surprised to notice that the power spike correlated to casual contact between Hunter and Conner. That doesn’t make any sense. Hunter tried to pass the power of the storm to them before everything went to hell and it didn’t work. Why did it work later?

Haley went back to review the initial attempt at power transfer. Blake and Hunter worked together to kick-start the storm, then together they channeled the energy from the source they had created. But when they tried to pass the power to the gathered Dino Rangers it didn’t work. The Rangers got a short blast of power, but nothing that was sustained. Haley went back to the data about the Hunter and Conner incident. She noticed something she hadn’t picked up on before. Not only was Hunter able to provide Conner with a power boost, it was a sustained power boost. It carried through as far as the data Haley was able to record before the energy from the storm had completely fried her surveillance and communication circuits.

If Hunter was able to maintain that connection with Conner, he could still be maintaining it now. It was something to think about.

The limited data that was retrieved from Mesogog’s lab was not very useful or informative. They knew that Adam was able to morph with Tommy’s dino gem. How it was possible wasn’t really an issue at this point. Knowing that wouldn’t help him heal from his burns. But I wonder…

In all the excitement and the rush to get Adam to the hospital, no one noticed when he dropped Tommy’s morpher. Haley hadn’t noticed it herself until she started looking around the lab. And, it hadn’t occurred to her until now to pick it up because she was too distracted by other things. Making her way over to the spot where Adam had transported in, Haley bent over and picked up Tommy’s morpher. If Adam could get the morpher to work for him…if the dino gem bonded with him even a little…couldn’t it lend him its healing powers?

Armed with something to do that might have a real purpose, Haley dragged out her tools and got down to work. Time became meaningless as Haley diverted all of her focus and energy into recalibrating Tommy’s dino morpher. Fixing the physical shell of the morpher was no problem; she had plenty of parts around, including the original template she had used to design it. It was retuning the gem that was tricky, and she was having trouble making it work.

A noise got Haley’s attention. She looked up, but all she heard was silence. For a moment she couldn’t place what had disrupted her concentration. Then the noise happened again, and Haley was able to process the sound of a phone ringing. What with all the sirens and noises that usually went off around the lab, a normal phone ringing was somewhat unusual.

Haley located the portable phone near the main computer console.

“Hello?”

“Haley,” said a relieved Billy on the other end. “I’m glad you’re there.”

“Where else would I be?”

A beat of silence was her answer. Haley could almost see Billy shaking his head before he continued. “The doctors here are looking for as much information as you’ve got about Conner’s condition. But it’s too sensitive to talk about over the phone. Could you get down to the hospital?”

“Are you sure the doctors could…handle…that sort of information, Billy?”

“Yes, definitely. Dana Mitchell is from Lightspeed Rescue.”

“Oh…” Then Haley realized what Billy had just said. “Really? That’s great!” It would be so much easier dealing with a doctor who understood exactly what sort of injuries Conner was dealing with; she didn’t know how she could explain what happened to a civilian.

“Is everything else there okay? Dustin? The Wind Ninjas?”

Haley glanced over at the sleeping trio. They seemed much more at ease and all of them looked much improved. “They’re fine, just sleeping. Do you think I can leave them here alone? Sensei Kanoi is sleeping as well.”

Haley could hear the hesitation in Billy’s voice. “I don’t like the idea, but we really need you here, Haley. They should be fine as long as they’re together.”

“Okay.” Haley replied. “Let me gather up my laptop and some equipment. I’ll leave a note for the others and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Thanks, Haley. See you soon.”

Haley clicked the button on the phone and returned it to its cradle. She moved swiftly around the lab gathering what she would need. She only hoped she would be of help.

Chapter Text

Billy and Kim were the ones who took charge of organizing the room once Dana had given her orders and Carter returned with the chairs. The room they were situated in was off a side corridor of the emergency room which afforded them some privacy; on a quiet day like this, the other rooms in the hallway were vacant. Under normal circumstances, the room would be used to hold two patients. The room was divided down the middle with a curtain, and each bed could be completely encircled with curtains for more privacy.

Conner had been placed in the bed on the right hand side of the room as you walk in from the hallway; his bed remained located amidst all of the monitoring equipment Dana and the others had set up around him. There was room enough to walk in a circuit around Conner’s stretcher for easy access on both sides. The stretcher Tommy occupied had been pushed against the left hand wall leaving more space on that side of the room for others to gather.

Rocky waved away the chair Carter offered him and remained standing at the foot of Conner’s bed; his right hand loosely grasping Conner’s right ankle. Aisha took the chair instead and pushed it up against Conner’s bed in front of Rocky’s position, but facing the wall where Tommy had been settled. Jason remained close to Tommy, keeping contact with him also with a grip on his leg; Carter stayed close to Tommy as well. Kim had settled her chair against the wall facing the door, close to the head of Tommy’s stretcher. Kira and Ethan settled between Kim and Conner; their chairs so close together they could’ve been mistaken for one.

Cam and Hunter remained hovering in the doorway. After their silent arrival Cam had explained that Blake had been taken out for tests. It was clear from the look that passed between the two ninjas that it had taken some convincing for Cam to get Hunter out of Blake's now empty room. So Hunter stayed rooted in the doorway reluctant to miss Blake’s return, and Cam stayed, reluctant to leave Hunter. Billy drifted between the hallway and the room keeping a lookout for Haley and helping Dana deliver coffee and food to those who silently waited.

It seemed as if they were waiting for something, though none of them was quite sure what. Everyone was reluctant to break the silence, not knowing what to say. So the Rangers gathered keeping watch over their ailing friends and thinking about those not present. Haley’s arrival seemed to shatter the spell that had fallen over them bringing a breath of fresh air and a new resolve to the group. Though Haley looked dismayed at Tommy and Conner’s appearances, she looked more determined than ever to be useful to the group.

No one was more shocked than Ethan when, before doing anything else, Haley dropped his backpack into his lap. The look on his face clearly expressed that he thought she was the most wonderful woman on the planet. He unconsciously sat up straighter and looked more together as he clutched his backpack to his chest. “Thanks, Haley.” Ethan’s gratitude was so sweet and sincere that it brought smiles to more than Kim and Kira’s faces.

“You’re welcome.” Haley smiled in return. “But don’t think I brought you that stuff so you could play around. I’ll need your help.” Ethan beamed and sat up even taller.

“What’s going on?” Haley asked frankly. When no one jumped in, Haley looked at Billy.

“We’re waiting for Dana to return with some updates. We thought it better to talk all together than in disjointed chunks.”

Haley nodded absently even as she took her laptop out of its travel bag and began setting it up. “That makes sense.”

“Haley!” Kira interrupted. “Your pocket is glowing.”

“What?” Haley looked down and patted her pocket. She pulled out Tommy’s morpher in its bracelet mode. The black dino gem was glowing intensely. “I fixed Tommy’s morpher. I was hoping…oh!” Haley gasped as the bracelet flew out of her hand across the room. With an audible snap it clasped itself around Tommy’s wrist. Tommy gave a little jerk like he’d been shocked, then took a deep breath and relaxed.

Haley turned apologetically toward Rocky and Aisha. “I had no idea that would happen. I was hoping…if the gem worked for Adam before….maybe the healing properties…” Haley looked sadly at Tommy’s wrist; there was no way short of amputation they’d get the gem off of him now, and it would almost assuredly not work for Adam. Any adjustments Haley had been able to make would’ve been wiped out the moment the gem reconnected with Tommy. “Sorry.”

Haley couldn’t bear to look at the Red and Yellow Ninjetti Rangers, but at the same time, she couldn’t not look at them. She needn’t have bothered with Rocky – he was stone-faced and ignoring her. Aisha’s gaze however was far more understanding and grateful. She understood that Haley was doing all she could to help. Haley sighed; she did not feel she was off to a good start.

Dana’s return took the focus off of Haley. Quick introductions were made and Dana took up a spot close to Carter. She figured the best tactic was to be honest without overwhelming the others with “doctor speak”. At the same time, she needed to make it clear just how serious conditions were. “Here’s where we stand right now.” She took a deep breath and looked over at Rocky and Aisha. “Adam has been transferred to the burn unit. His condition is stable but critical. The next 24 hours will be crucial in his recovery. I hate to say it, but right now all I can say is we have to wait and see.”

Rocky nodded staring forlornly at a spot somewhere above Conner’s head; Dana’s report was pretty much what he expected. The hope that had sprung up in Aisha’s eyes faded by the time Dana was finished speaking. She pulled her feet up onto the chair so she could hug her knees. With her other hand she reached out for Rocky who was already reaching out for her.

“Blake has been taken down for some tests. He’s in serious condition, but not critical. His life signs are stable and have been since he was brought in. His condition is surprisingly good considering his injury.” Dana looked at Cam questioningly as she continued, “Well maybe not so surprising considering the help he received.” The look she gave Cam clearly indicated she wanted to talk to him later. “The concern about Blake is the extent of the damage the injuries may have caused. We’ll know more when the test results come back. Luckily, with the equipment we brought in from Lightspeed and the nature of the emergency, we should get the results back very quickly.”

Hunter snapped out of the daze he’d been in when Dana mentioned Blake’s name, seemed to come into focus briefly, but as she continued talking drifted back into the zone where he’d been hovering. He looked as though he were tapping into some other sense, waiting for Blake’s eventual return. When he wasn’t staring off into the hallway, he was staring intently at Conner.

“And that brings us to Conner.” Dana took a deep breath. “I’ll be honest. Most of the information we’re getting on him doesn’t make sense. He presents as unresponsive and shocky, but there is no evidence of head trauma or brain injury. From what Tommy told us, we can surmise that he’s suffering the effects of a mental attack, but his reaction to is so different from Tommy’s…”

“Zeltrax had him pinned under that beam for a good…few minutes.” Hunter rasped. Dana was surprised; she hadn’t expected Hunter to add anything to the discussion.

“What do you mean? Can you describe it?” Dana demanded.

Hunter closed his eyes, not to avoid Dana’s demands, but to give her a more accurate answer. “Zeltrax threw up a shield around the two of them. I didn’t have enough power to break through.” Hunter grimaced. “Zeltrax threw this bolt of energy right at Conner’s head. Then…Blake…” Hunter turned his head and looked up the empty corridor. His gaze then drifted back to Conner and he got refocused. “By the time I returned to the fight, Conner had unmorphed, but Zeltrax hadn’t let up.” Hunter looked away from the bed and back to Dana. “I’m a little hazy on what happened next.” he said unapologetically.

“I saw it too.” Cam added. “By the time I…was heading over to get you, Conner had unmorphed, but Zeltrax was still attacking. Conner must have still have been able to defend himself, because he clearly wasn’t defeated.” Cam looked over at Hunter then back to Dana. “It had to be at least five minutes but probably not more than ten that Conner was under attack.”

“I don’t know how much difference that would make…” Dana muttered almost to herself. “We don’t know how long or how many times Tommy was attacked so there’s no way to compare.”

“Well Conner had one advantage that Tommy didn’t have.” Haley added. “Hunter.” She said pointing to the Crimson Ranger.

By this time Haley had her laptop up and running. She walked across the room to stand between Dana and Carter who were both looking on with intense interest. “Look.” Haley pointed out. “During the fight, even before Conner tapped into SuperDino Mode, Hunter was feeding him power from the storm.” Cam crept over to get a look as well.

“How did he…?”

“I haven’t figured that out. Yet.” Haley said confidently. “Somehow, Hunter was able to pass some of his Thunder power through to Conner. Look at these readings here.” She pointed again. “There’s a sustained power boost. All of the readings I have up until the point where my circuits got fried indicate that Hunter and Conner were connected during the fight…and during Zeltrax’s attack.”

“That’s great, Haley. But what does it mean?” asked Ethan.

“Yeah,” Kira chimed in. “Can Hunter, like…give Conner a blast of energy or something and snap him out of it?” Kira’s expression was hopeful.

“No one’s blasting anyone with anything.” Dana said firmly when Hunter made a move toward the bed. Hunter looked rebellious. “We need to know more about his condition, but our hands are tied because we can’t do any more than what we’ve already done until we get parental permission.”

“What do you mean, Dana?” Kim asked.

Dana reached to push her hair behind her ear. “All of the treatment we’ve been able to give Conner up to this point has been to stabilize his condition. Any further treatment beyond that has to be approved by a parent; he’s still a minor. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to reach anybody at home and don’t have any other numbers.”

“Wait a minute!” Ethan called. He dove into his backpack urgently rummaging for something. “Yes!” he triumphantly held up a cell phone. “Conner’s phone. He wanted me to upload some soccer internet sites so he could check scores and program his phone book for him. I know I’ve got his dad’s work number in here.”

“That’s great, Ethan.” Dana smiled.

Before Ethan could pass Dana the phone they were interrupted by a technician carrying a large stack of papers entering from the hallway. “Excuse me, Dr. Mitchell? May I speak with you a moment?”

Tension rapidly filled the room as Dana conferenced in the hallway with the man who had interrupted them. After a few moments she returned dragging the other man with her. “Tell them.” She made a wide sweeping gesture including everyone in the room. The technician nervously looked around. He wasn’t used to talking to families of patients, let alone large groups of people.

“I have the test results here for Blake Bradley.” The man began indicating the sheaf of papers in his hand. Hunter tensed anticipating bad news. The technician shook his head disbelieving the results of the test that had been run. “Considering the original extend of Mr. Bradley’s injuries, it’s amazing that he’s in such good condition.”

“You can see here…” he pulled out a large x-ray to display as he pointed. “The spear. Spear?” He looked around as if seeking confirmation of the weapon that was used. “The spear penetrated the lower back and pierced the intestines, a kidney and the lung.” Hunter had gone deathly white and had Cam’s upper arm in a death grip. “It’s really miraculous that he survived the initial injury.”

“You can see here…” he pulled out another multi-colored computer image, “the trail of healed organs. There is some scaring, but the residual effects from that will be minimal.” All of the gathered Rangers were caught up in the nonchalant gory and graphic recital of Blake’s injuries.

“Our main concern was the spinal injury. With so much damage done, it was unclear if Mr. Bradley would be able to walk once he had recovered.” Hunter swayed, but Billy moved to his free side and with Cam was able to keep him upright. The technician didn’t seem to see the effect he was having on the older Bradley.

“And here’s the amazing thing…” another multi-colored computer image. “In an injury like this it’s almost impossible to tell the extent of the damage done because of swelling and fluid around the injured area. Well as you can see here, there is no swelling, no collecting fluids. If Mr. Bradley heals the way these tests seem to indicate, he’ll be walking out of here in a few days.”

That was all Hunter could take. With the hand that wasn’t holding Cam, he covered his face and sagged back against the door jam. But anyone looking at Kira’s expression could see that Hunter’s joy was nearly unrestrained though he was hesitant to share it overtly. A choked sob from Hunter finally got the technician’s attention; he had the grace to blush at the insensitive way he had delivered the news.

With his head down the technician delivered his final bit of news. “They decided not to bring Mr. Bradley back to the E.R. He’s been transferred to a room on the fourth floor. I’m not sure what the number is…” he mumbled as he shoved the papers into Dana’s hands and clumsily scooted through the doorway past Hunter and Cam.

Hunter gave a little laugh as he shook Cam a little. He removed the hand covering his face and grasped Cam’s shoulder. “Gonna be okay. He’s gonna be okay.” Cam couldn’t help but grin, caught up in Hunter’s emotional release. Unexpectedly, Hunter pulled Cam into a hug. He fiercely embraced the startled Samurai and whispered, “Thank you, Cam!”

Before Cam could react and hug him back, Hunter released him and looked at Dana. “Where is Blake? What did he say? What floor?”

Carter chuckled, “Come with me, we’ll find him.” Carter moved around Haley and Dana and steered Hunter through the doorway down the hall to the nurse’s station. Cam hesitated in the doorway, unsure whether he should stick with Hunter or remain with the others. After a moment he turned to follow Carter and Hunter.

“Well,” Dana stated, “That’s a good way to start. Let’s hope the rest works out that easily.”

Chapter Text

The morning slowly dragged on. Dana and Carter circulated between floors, keeping tabs on those who’d been injured, and sharing information with those reluctant to leave the others behind. Ethan and Kira had made multiple attempts to reach and reassure their parents, but the damage caused by the storm and continuing interference in telephone communication made making contact difficult. Ethan finally managed to leave a message on his home phone indicating that he was safe and at the hospital, and could his parents call the Fords to let them know Kira was also okay? It was the best that they could do. Dana had a nurse calling all of the phone numbers they had for Conner’s parents every 15 minutes in an attempt to make contact with them.

Everyone was concerned about everybody else, and no one was taking very good care of themselves. They all tried to get each other to eat, drink, rest – but no one had much interest in any of those activities. There were a lot of half eaten sandwiches and partially finished cups of coffee lying around. People picked at their food or held their cups in their hands more to have something to do than anything else. The only one who had any success at making the others actually consume some food was Kim, though the body type rangers were less difficult to convince than others; she was steadily making her way through the rangers left in Conner and Tommy’s room. It seemed if she sat with them one-on-one they would eat. So she approached with a plate, sat down for a talk, and didn’t leave until they were finished.

And so the morning went on; not much changed. The adrenaline of the early morning fight had worn off long ago, and the Dino Thunder Rangers were showing signs of exhaustion. But they fought sleep every step of the way, determined to be awake and alert for any important developments. Ethan tried to keep himself occupied sorting through data downloaded from Haley’s laptop. He knew that he was basically data processing, but it was better than doing nothing. Kira had a harder time finding something to keep her focused. Sitting and watching Conner – willing him to wake up or show any sign of recovery – was important to Kira, but not very stimulating.

She knew it was silly, but she found herself imposing all sorts of rules on her behavior. She could walk around the room, but not down the hall – something bad might happen if she left Conner’s side. She could hum a tune in her head, but couldn’t sing out loud – though she badly want to sing “Freak You Out” over and over just so Conner would wake up and tell her to be quiet. And she absolutely, positively, mustn’t fall asleep.

Kira looked around the room to see what everyone else was doing; just like she’d done a million times already. Carter had taken up Rocky’s position near Conner’s feet. Kira wasn’t clear on what had happened, exactly – Rocky and Dana had some kind of fight, and he stormed out with Aisha hot on his heels. That’s where the no walking in the hallway rule came from. Kira had gone to stretch her legs, and something bad happened. She was convinced that without Rocky, Conner’s face had taken on a grayish hue even though Carter had quickly taken his spot, but no one else seemed to notice this. And she felt like since she’d left the room, and then Conner seemed to worsen (at least it looked like that to her), then it was her responsibility not to let that happen again.

Carter struck Kira as very different from the Rangers she had come to know. Oh, he was a good guy, and obviously was in for the long haul trying to help, but she just didn’t feel the connection with him the way she did with the others. For one thing, he seemed kind of left out; he wasn’t surrounded by his team. Kira’s perceptions of Ranger teams had been firmly established over the last few days – the Wind and Thunder Ninjas, Ninjetti and Dino Thunder Rangers were in constant contact supporting one another – so watching Carter with only Dana to support him struck her as odd.

Kira’s gaze drifted to the corner of the room closest to Tommy’s bed. Billy and Haley were deeply engrossed in processing information from her laptop. They spoke in low tones as they worked, heads inclined toward each other. Billy sat with his left arm around the back of Haley’s chair so he could sit closer to her and see the screen with greater ease. The laptop rested on both of their legs – also very close to each other. It suddenly struck Kira that they made a totally adorable couple. She smiled at the idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if Haley got a boyfriend out of all of this mess?

Watching Haley and Billy work was about as interesting as watching Ethan type, so Kira turned her gaze further. Jason had taken up residence on the end of Tommy’s stretcher. Though Tommy was tall, he’d curled up in his sleep, giving Jason enough room to sit. Between the return of his Dino Gem and the unwavering support from Jason, Tommy looked a hundred percent better, and appeared to be in a totally natural and pain-free sleep. Kira envied him.

Jason was talking to Kim who was seated in a chair at the foot of Tommy’s stretcher. Jason was finishing off a sandwich Kim had foisted on him and she was talking earnestly with him about something Kira couldn’t make out. From the few snatches Kira could pick up without being completely obvious about eavesdropping, it seemed they were reminiscing about past relationships. From the expression on Kim’s face Kira got the feeling that she didn’t like to hear was Jason was saying, but because it was the truth, she didn’t have an argument against it.

“I’ve told you a million times, Kim. I know - I’ve been keeping track.” Jason winked at Kim and she smirked as he continued. “You can only do so much in your head. In the end what it’s going to take is one of you actually opening up your mouth to say something.” Jason turned to look at Tommy and his expression turned grave before he turned back to Kim. “You’re getting a second chance, Kim. And it’s pretty clear now there’s no time to waste. We can’t take anything or anyone for granted. Just ask Rocky and Aisha.”

Kim’s emotional response to his statement and Jason’s quiet and serious tone caught Kira off guard. He was talking like people were dying. No one was dying! Dr. O clearly wasn’t dying, he looked so much better! And Adam…that just couldn’t happen. Because if Adam could die then Conner could… Kira fought to quell a rising tide of panic, but it was impossible. Tears sprang unbidden into her eyes. She quickly turned away from Jason and Kim to check on Conner. He looked the same – quiet, pale, still. All of the machines were beeping and humming regularly. Wouldn’t they go crazy if something had gone wrong?

“Kira?”

Kira gasped and her head snapped around. Kim was standing directly in front of her with a very concerned look on her face, but Kira hadn’t heard her approaching. “Are you okay, honey?”

Kira honestly thought Kim was asking about Conner. “He’s okay. Nothing’s changed. That’s good, right?”

Kim’s concern deepened. Ethan leaned forward over his laptop to look at his teammate too. He was surprised to see the tears on her face – when had that happened? “Kira? What’s wrong?” he demanded.

“I’m…no…fine.” She explained even as she wondered where her verbal abilities had escaped to. She tried to explain herself more clearly. “No one’s going to die!” she emphatically exclaimed.

Ethan sat back stunned, unblinking. Kim reached for Kira’s hand and pulled her up from her chair. “We need to get you out of here, hon.”

Kim got Kira nearly to the doorway before Kira realized that a rule was about to be broken. She planted her feet and tried to pull away from Kimberly. “No, no! I can’t leave the room. It’s a rule!”

Carter and Jason had been tracking Kim’s progress and exchanged a glance behind the two petite women. Jason gave Kim a look with a gesture asking if she wanted him to intervene. She gave her head a slight shake indicating she had it under control. Kira noticed none of the byplay.

Kim placed her free hand on Kira’s neck with her thumb resting on the girl’s jaw line and looked into her eyes. “Kira, nothing bad will happen if you leave the room. I would just like to talk to you, and I think we could both use a change of scenery. Do you think that would be okay?”

Kira closed her eyes and two fat tears escaped from below her lids. In spite of the tears, Kira felt so much calmer standing there with Kim. Something about the older woman made her feel centered and safe. She took a deep breath and nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Drawing her arm around the younger girl, Kim led Kira from the room. Kira took a quick glance before Conner was out of sight then allowed herself to be led away.

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The burn unit was quiet; Rocky was grateful. He’d been in burn units just like this too many times. Often the men he’d been there to visit were screaming in pain – the morphine allotted to them had worn off and there was an eternity of time until the next dose. He’d seen grown men, men who were heroes to him, crying like babies. But not Adam. Not yet. That was in his future.

The machinery surrounding Adam was much like the machinery that had been hooked up to Conner; but for Adam, everything was attached on his whole, right side - the heart and lung monitors, the morphine drip he didn’t need yet. Rocky knew how the recovery would go, and his knowledge tormented him.

Adam didn’t need the morphine drip yet because all of the nerve endings that would deliver the pain of the burns had been destroyed, evaporated by the explosion. It wouldn’t be until the nerves started to regenerate that the real pain would kick in. The split-second exposure to the explosion would be nothing compared to the ceaseless torment of his own body repairing itself. Adam could look forward to days and nights of constant pain tempered only by the drugs administered by the attending hospital staff. Then there would be round after round of surgery and skin grafts, and if he was lucky, he wouldn’t be completely disfigured by the scars he would surely bear for the rest of his life.

That was, if he lived that long.

Rocky’s fists clenched at his sides as he watched the nurses tending to Adam change his bandages. The first layer of gauze came off, then the second. Adam didn’t so much as twitch. In the time since they’d brought him to the hospital, he hadn’t come anywhere close to consciousness. It was a blessing and a curse. Rocky wanted so much to be able to talk to Adam, but for purely selfish reasons. He wanted to beg Adam to forgive all the stupid things he’d been thinking in their last conversation together; he wanted to tell him how proud he was to be his friend. But if Adam was awake, Rocky would also have to tell him how irrevocably he’d been damaged, and he wasn’t strong enough to do that.

The nurses were removing the final layer of gauze, and though Rocky tried to force himself to watch, in the end he had to turn away. With a strangled cry he spun around and slid down against the window and wall outside of Adam’s room. With his hands covering his face Rocky leaned his head into his knees which were drawn up toward his chest. One of the nurses who had seen Rocky’s reaction mercifully drew the curtain across the window from the inside.

Aisha, who had far less tolerance for watching Adam’s injuries exposed, was watching Rocky from her post at the nurse’s station. She strongly felt the echoes of his pain, but was quaking internally with pain of her own. Obviously they’d never been in a situation of this nature before, and Aisha was dismayed at her reaction to it. Her anger at Rocky for distancing himself from her was nearly as great as her fear of losing Adam. Who did Rocky think he was? How dare he act as if he was the only one consumed with pain and fear? Didn’t he know that if he shared his pain, his burden would be less, and so would hers? Aisha wanted to rage at him, she wanted to storm out but she knew she’d never leave; so all she could do was seethe with anger.

Without raising his face from his hands, Rocky called out brokenly, “’Sha?” and she felt the dam break at last. He finally, finally was ready to ask for help. Aisha’s anger dissipated as soon as he opened his mouth, she quickly moved to his side. Aisha slid to the floor and placed her arm around Rocky’s shoulders; she felt him quaking in her embrace. He was hanging on, but just barely.

“Es mi culpa, no puse atención. ¿Cómo pude dejarlo atrás?”

Aisha gave Rocky a little shake and commanded gently, “C’mon babe…English.”

Rocky barked out a laugh that got caught in a sob. “If I hadn’t asked him to help me in the lab…if I’d been paying more attention. I should’ve done something.”

“You did have your hands full with Dustin, remember? What, you were going to toss him aside and go hold Adam’s hand in the fight?”

Aisha’s gentle mocking startled Rocky out of his thoughts for a moment. He picked his head up and gave her an incredulous look. She had to chuckle at the expression on his face. Then she continued more seriously. “You made a promise to Tori and Shane. You swore you’d bring Dustin back to them. And you did.”

Rocky looked searchingly at Aisha’s face. “But at what cost?”

“Adam made a choice – you know that better than anyone.”

“I tried to make him get out, ‘Sha. I cursed at him and said horrible things….”

“I know, I heard. Lucky for you Adam doesn’t know that much Spanish.” Rocky smiled in spite of himself at the old joke between them, not quite sure how Aisha was able to lift him from his despair. He closed his eyes, leaned back into her embrace and soaked in her support for a moment. Then he continued to speak without looking at her.

“It’s going to be bad, Aisha. All the guys I work with…I’ve never seen anyone burned as bad as Adam. It’s going to be…” he sighed deeply, “bad.”

In spite of Rocky’s repeated description of “bad” things, Aisha took heart. At least now he was thinking beyond injury into recovery. “You know, “ he continued, “I never told Adam this…but some small part of me always kinda hoped the Shaolin priest in China thing wouldn’t work out. It’s so far away and his life would be so different…and separate. I know thinking about things doesn’t make them happen, but I almost feel…”

“No, Rocky. No, babe.” Aisha gently admonished while turning his face toward hers. “You didn’t make this happen. It’s not your fault and it has nothing to do with the fact that you’d be lonely if Adam moved to China.”

He shook his head even as emotions welled in his eyes. “It was stupid and selfish of me to think like that. I know it. Adam could live on the moon for all I care…just as long as he lives.” Unable to hold himself in check any longer, Rocky lay his head in the curve of Aisha’s neck and cried in her embrace. He didn’t cry alone.

Chapter Text

The rain was still falling outside; sometimes softly, sometimes hard. Though the thunder and lightning had passed, the rain and wind continued. Hunter found it very soothing. The thick cloud cover gave the sky the appearance of evening, though it was only late morning. Hunter somehow found the lack of sunlight appropriate to the day. Though he had much to celebrate, the other Rangers did not.

Once Carter had led them to Blake’s room, Hunter had been glued to his brother’s side. Cam seemed to have difficulty finding a place to settle; though Hunter found all the pacing and movement unusual for Cam, he was still glad that Cam was there. Hunter had pulled the chair from the corner of the room closer to Blake’s right side. He could sit there and hold Blake’s hand without having to go anywhere else; at this point, there was no place he’d rather be. Eventually, safe in the knowledge that Blake was healing and would be able to walk, Hunter lay his head down on the bed near Blake’s hip and fell asleep.

Hunter’s sleep was so hard and deep that he was startled when something woke him up. He didn’t move or open his eyes; he just extended his attention outward to see if he could pick up anything unusual in the room. There was the sound of movement, but it was only Cam, not a doctor or nurse. There was no strange sound from any of the machines hooked to Blake, so that hadn’t woken him up either. Hunter waited; sure that whatever had happened would happen again.

Blake squeezed his hand.

Desperately holding himself in check from jumping up and whooping for joy, Hunter held himself still and kept his eyes closed. He squeezed Blake’s hand in return and waited. There were rules to be followed.

After their parents had been killed and they were taken in by Sensei Omino, the brothers found that the days were hard, but the nights were much harder. Blake in particular suffered from horrible nightmares, and to fight the fear that Hunter would inexplicably taken from him too, he would crawl into his brother’s bed just to be near him. Some nights that was all he needed; Hunter was a deep sleeper and Blake joining him did not wake him up. On those nights simply being close to Hunter was enough to make Blake feel safe enough to go back to sleep.

But there were other nights too; nights when Blake felt so adrift and frightened that being close to Hunter was not enough to soothe him. On those nights, Blake had to wake him up. The younger Bradley would take one of Hunter’s hands and squeeze it; one, tight squeeze. He would wait a minute or so if he got no reaction, then squeeze again. This could go on for quite a while before Hunter responded, but eventually he would. Then the messages would begin.

One squeeze – Blake – Wake up.
One squeeze – Hunter – I’m awake.

Two squeezes – Blake – I’m scared.
Two squeezes – Hunter – You’re safe. I’m here.

Three squeezes – Blake – I want to talk.
One squeeze – Hunter – I’m way too tired, go back to sleep.
Or
Two squeezes – Hunter – Let’s talk.

The sequences of the messages weren’t always the same, but the messages themselves didn’t change. If Hunter gave the “I’m too tired” response, Blake didn’t mind. The silent communication between them was enough to comfort him and he’d roll away from Hunter feeling safe enough to return to sleep. But if Hunter gave the “let’s talk” squeeze, the brothers would turn toward each other on Hunter’s pillows and talk in urgent whispers, sharing fears and comfort until they were both ready to return to sleep.

As Hunter lay with his head on Blake’s bed, he waited to see if Blake’s squeeze had been deliberate or some kind of twitch in his sleep. His heart was hammering in his chest in anticipation of Blake’s response. He felt two squeezes on his hand. He immediately responded with two strong squeezes of his own. Then Blake squeezed his hand three times. Hunter grinned though he knew no one could see it. He squeezed Blake’s hand two times and finally looked up at his brother. Blake was looking right at him, waiting for Hunter to raise his head.

In one fluid motion, Hunter stood and leaned over Blake’s bed to hug him fiercely. Though not as strongly, Blake hugged him back. Hunter was unashamed of the tears streaming down his face. He had no qualms about leaning in to give Blake a kiss on his head. His brother was back, and he felt nothing but joy. Releasing Blake, Hunter turned and moved toward the empty bed on the other side of the room. Snatching a pillow from it, he walked around Blake’s bed until he was on the left side. As kids, Blake had always climbed into Hunter’s bed on the right side so Hunter had to be on the left when he climbed in with Blake. It wouldn’t have felt right otherwise. Letting down the guard rail, he settled the pillow next to Blake’s and climbed in.

Cam had been startled by Hunter’s sudden movement. The green Samurai was overjoyed to see that Blake was awake, and as Hunter walked past him to get around the bed, Blake gave Cam a little wave. It was nice that he’d been acknowledged, but he felt like an interloper watching something that was far too private for him to share. Mumbling something about letting the others know that Blake had awoken, Cam made a hasty exit.

Both Hunter and Blake watched Cam go, and then they turned toward each other. Blake couldn’t really roll onto his side, so he just turned his head. Hunter lay on his adopted pillow facing Blake on his left side. One last rule to follow – Blake always started.

“I hate hospitals.”

“I know- you always have. But everything’s okay. You’re going to be okay.” Hunter reached over with his right hand to squeeze Blake’s left arm reassuringly; the connection also served to assure Hunter that the conversation they were having was real and Blake really was awake.

“Thanks to you and Cam.”

Hunter nodded in agreement. “Thanks to Cam is right. Who knew that Samurai has healing powers hidden up his sleeve?”

Blake’s gaze drifted toward the ceiling. “I don’t remember what happened…not really.” His right hand unconsciously fingered the bandage on his chest. “You were so far away from me, Hunter.” Blake shivered with the memory. “But then…you came back. Cam brought you back…” Blake turned his gaze back toward Hunter and was startled by the haunted expression on his brother’s face. He reached out with his left hand to take Hunter’s left hand in his grasp. It was ice cold.

That’s when Blake realized this was one of those talks. A talk that Blake started, but Hunter finished. They were rare, and getting Hunter to the point where he would actually talk about what he was feeling was difficult. It wasn’t often that the older Bradley would seek the counsel of the younger, but on some of the darkest of their dark nights, it was Hunter who needed comforting, not Blake.

Hunter couldn’t make eye-contact with Blake; instead he looked down at their clasped hands resting between them. He didn’t respond at first, but he didn’t really have to. In this close proximity, with his defenses way down, Hunter couldn’t hide from Blake all that he was feeling. Normally the Crimson Ranger was much more reticent with his feelings; he didn’t like to share. But he had come too close to losing his brother to be shy about sharing now.

Blake waited silently, giving Hunter the time he needed to gather his thoughts and get his emotions under control. Blake wasn’t surprised to identify joy, panic and anger in the emotional tide around Hunter, but the guilt and failure did surprise him. Hunter also strongly felt that Blake would not forgive him for what he’d done, though exactly what it was that he did escaped Blake. Apparently that’s where Hunter’s thoughts were most focused, because that was where he started. Hunter’s voice was emotion choked and raspy, and even with only a few inches between them, Blake struggled to catch what he was saying.

“I thought you were dead, Blake.” Hunter twitched as if voicing the words aloud caused him physical pain – perhaps they did. “I was running to get to you…I saw the whole thing happen. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I watched you as you fell. The light went out in your eyes.” A shudder wracked Hunter’s body and a peal of thunder responded outside. Blake had to satisfy himself with tightening his grip on Hunter’s hand instead of pulling him into an embrace; Blake just didn’t have the strength to make that kind of movement, and any interruption might stop Hunter from his recitation.

“I ran toward you…but I couldn’t go all the way. I couldn’t make myself. There was blood…and water floating everywhere. I couldn’t get any closer.” Hunter took a deep shuddering breath. “I lost control of everything – the lightning, the storm, everything. I had to destroy the thing responsible for hurting you. It was all I could think of. All I could do. So I left you.” Hunter’s voice dropped to the barest whisper as he finally looked over at Blake. “I’m so sorry I left you.”

Blake looked at Hunter in confusion, not understanding why Hunter was stuck on that moment, when obviously the final result was that Blake had survived. He didn’t even know all of that had happened – how could he hold it against Hunter? But Hunter misread Blake’s confusion, and in a panicked rush, tried to explain.

“I thought you were dead.” He repeated. “All that was left to me was to make sure I put an end to the one responsible. The monster they sent down, Zeltrax, had Conner pinned in this energy dome. I couldn’t help you, but I had to help Conner.” Now things were becoming clearer to Blake, but he didn’t jump in; he just let Hunter talk himself out. “Conner was in agony. I could feel it, just like when you…” He took another deep breath. Then his tone changed; his voice carried his angry determination. “I was going to kill that son of a bitch for what he did if it was the last thing I did.”

Though Blake wasn’t a mind reader he could feel Hunter’s suicidal intentions; he was startled at the depths Hunter was willing to go to avenge him. It was a scary thing for Blake to realize; almost as scary as Hunter to admit it. Blake had always known that Hunter felt responsible for him; it was the whole big brother thing. But he had no idea the level of influence he had on Hunter’s actions until Hunter described them this way. Blake felt a great weight settle around him as he realized he was just as responsible for Hunter’s life as he was for his own.

Blake could feel Hunter’s satisfaction as he recalled the destruction of Zeltrax; but he could also feel how close Hunter was to jumping off the ledge of sanity and how little he cared about his own life without his brother. The intensity of Hunter’s anger directed at Cam also frightened Blake. Only the fact that he’d waved to Cam just a short time ago reassured Blake that the Samurai had survived the encounter.

Blake was so lost in his own thoughts and trying to decipher Hunter’s feelings that he hadn’t responded verbally to anything Hunter had said. Hunter took that as an indication that he was right, and Blake would never forgive him. In a voice that was lost and bereft, Hunter whispered, “I’m so sorry, Blake. I never should’ve left you. I gave up too soon, gave in to my anger. I’m sorry.”

Hunter tried to pull away from Blake, but Blake took the opportunity to pull Hunter in closer. Blake maneuvered Hunter until his blonde head was resting on Blake’s shoulder. Reaching over with his right hand, Blake grasped Hunter’s left shoulder and tilted his head to the side so he could lean his head against his brother’s. It was a difficult way to give at hug, but the best Blake could manage with his injuries and their awkward position on the bed.

Mustering every ounce of power that he had, Blake poured all of his energy into making sure Hunter absolutely understood what he was about to say. “I love you, Hunter. There’s nothing to forgive. You and me and Cam…we’re all here. And we’re going to be okay.”

Hunter sobbed in relief as he allowed himself to soak in the sincerity of Blake’s response. The power behind Blake’s statement left no room for residual guilt or fear. Hunter was utterly relieved to lay down that emotional load. Hunter instead allowed the positive feelings of relief and joy to overwhelm him. He was so overcome with the intensity of all of the emotions coursing through him that they quickly drew him down again into sleep. But not before he managed to give Blake’s hand a rapid succession of five quick squeezes. Translation: I love you too.

Chapter Text

Jason resettled himself after watching Kim steer Kira out of the room. A quick glance around the room established that everyone had gone back to what they were doing – Carter was standing sentry with Conner; Billy, Haley and Ethan were all engrossed in their respective computers. Jason toyed briefly with the idea of suggesting to Carter that he take a break, but Jason wasn’t ready to leave Tommy’s side, and without either Rocky or Hunter to stay with Conner…it just didn’t seem like a good idea. Jason figured Carter would speak up if he wanted to be relieved, and until then he’d just stay where he was.

It wasn’t like Jason would be going far from Tommy if he took up the vigil with Conner; he’d just be across the room. But Jason could feel how much better Tommy was doing since Haley had brought his Dino gem, and he didn’t want to mess up whatever equilibrium Tommy had gained by moving away from him and messing up the equation. Jason’s gaze returned again to his sleeping friend. Tommy appeared to be sleeping peacefully, but Jason knew better. The drugs that Dana had administered had sent him deep enough down to avoid dreams, but Jason could still feel the cycles of guilt and anguish haunting the Black Ranger.

Jason leaned his head back against the wall and pondered the events that had drawn him to Reefside. It certainly wasn’t the first time Jason had come at Tommy’s call; his stint as the Gold Ranger and the Red Ranger moon mission were proof of that. What made this different was that this time Tommy hadn’t called, but Jason had felt compelled to come anyway.

There was a kind of brotherhood among Rangers; Jason didn’t know if the other colors had similar circumstances, but he knew that the Red Rangers in particular had a connection with one another. He and Tommy used to joke about it – the feelings they’d get about what was happening with the other, particularly if one of them was in danger, or premonitions of things to come. At first, they thought it was just the two of them; the situations they’d faced together gave them a greater ability to anticipate each other’s needs. But then they found themselves getting those feelings about their successors. It was those feelings and hunches that served to bring different teams together on more than one occasion. It was a nebulous thing – no one really talked about it, they just sort of took it for granted that they’d know when they were needed and acted on the feelings when they happened.

It wasn’t until the mission to the moon that all of it came out into the open. All of the Rangers wanted to take advantage of the gathering, so Andros set his ship on autopilot and they took the long way home. Once they sat down for a meal and started talking, the subject of those weird hunches came up. Everyone from TJ to Leo had a story about getting and acting on one of those feelings; only Andros and Cole accepted them as a matter of course. Andros was the one who explained how the power connected them all, particularly those of them in leadership positions. It didn’t make sense that each time a new team was assembled that all of the experience of those who’d served before would be ignored or left behind. Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.

Who knew that would apply to Tommy more than any of the rest of us? It was ironic considering Tommy's unusual ranger origin, but Jason knew that Tommy had always been driven, not by a desire to be the best Ranger, but by the need to make up for what he’d done when he’d fought against them. No one had embraced the ideals of being a Ranger more than Tommy had; just look at where he was now.

A slight smile quirked Jason’s face. He knew about Tommy’s research with the dino gems. Jason had built at least half of the command center in Tommy’s basement (to him it would always be a command center, none of this “lab” business) – Haley set up all the computers and gadgets; Jason did the heavy lifting. So when Jason got the call from Tommy announcing his return to Rangering what surprised him was not that Tommy was “back in black”, but that Tommy was surprised by it. How he didn’t see it coming was beyond Jason, and he never let his friend hear the end of it.

It wasn’t hard to tease Tommy about being a Ranger, because he and Tommy had always stayed in touch – it was a long habit dating back to Jason’s stint at the Peace Conference. But now instead of talking about jobs and friends, Jason got regular phone calls from Tommy updating him on the team and their technology. But this weekend had been different. Tommy had been on his mind so strongly, that Jason called him Saturday night. Tommy had rolled in late but called him back to fill him in on meeting the Ninja Storm Rangers. Jason had agreed with Tommy that it was nice to have the teams meet without anyone in mortal peril… but that situation had lasted less than a day.

Sunday had been a strange day for Jason. He was struck by moments of strong feelings that Tommy was in danger, and then he’d feel totally centered and calm, and he knew Tommy was okay. The bizarre roller coaster of emotions continued through Monday. Jason became increasingly concerned as he was unable to reach Tommy at home or on his cell phone. It became clearer to Jason as the day went on that something was seriously amiss – he was unable to reach Rocky, Adam, Aisha or Billy. As a last ditch effort, Jason even reached out to Kim – Kim was probably the last person Tommy would have contacted if he was in trouble, but Jason felt strongly she was involved, so he called. Unable to reach any of his former teammates set Jason in motion.

Setting out close to midnight, Jason made his way down the coast of California, stopping only for gas. He felt increasingly concerned for and connected to Tommy. When he was about an hour outside of Reefside he’d had to pull over because he couldn’t simultaneously deal with the agony Tommy was in and drive. The abrupt end of contact with Tommy was almost more disturbing than the violent onslaught had been. Spurred on, Jason returned to the road. It was one of those feelings that guided him not to Tommy’s house, but to the center of town where the municipal building stood. The connection with Tommy was back, and Jason knew that while Tommy was out of his reach, the team was not; and they needed his help just as much as Tommy did.

That led them here, hours later. It pained Jason to see the state the kids were in; though Ethan seemed stable enough, Kira was a mess, and Conner... it was what he didn’t feel from Conner that bothered Jason. From Rocky and Carter, to Hunter who Jason didn’t even know - Jason could pick up something from all of them. Even Tommy in his deeply unconscious state gave off vibes that Jason could read. Conner was a blank slate…but no, that wasn’t an apt description either because nothing that was passed to him from Jason, Rocky or Carter stuck. He was more like a black hole. Everything the others had poured into him was simply absorbed. It disturbed Jason in a way he couldn’t explain. He had a feeling that Dana wouldn’t be able to help Conner, but he averted that line of thinking quickly just in case Tommy could pick up those feelings from him.

Jason knew that thinking in his mind I can’t dwell on Conner would only cause his thoughts to become more and more focused on that very thing. So he turned his thoughts instead to an old kata he’d taught Tommy right after Tommy had joined their team. Jason didn’t know why that kata seemed so appropriate, but as he practiced the motions in his mind he could feel his thoughts become settled. Quickly Jason achieved a meditative state; somewhere along the line he realized as he pictured the kata in his head, he was no longer practicing alone. Tommy had joined him.

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Blake dozed for a while, reassured by Hunter’s presence. He listened to the sound of the rain falling outside; it was steady and comforting. Not quite asleep, not quite awake, Blake’s thoughts drifted. He tried to make himself remember the fight in the courtyard, but could only remember events up to a certain point – mercifully, he remembered nothing of the assault against him. He could recall feeling Hunter’s anguish; the pain from his brother had eclipsed his own. Blake thought he could remember a moment of being utterly at peace and surrounded by a feeling of welcome, but couldn’t pinpoint when exactly that had happened; it made him wonder if he had actually died before Cam and Hunter returned to him. It wasn’t an avenue of conversation he was going to pursue with Hunter…but maybe Cam would have some insight.

Winding through all of his memories of the morning were his own feelings and imprints of feelings from the others. Hunter’s feelings were etched in sharp relief against the memories Blake couldn’t quite pin down. Kira and Conner left imprints of pain as well, though Kira’s pain seemed to be more reflective of the Bradleys' than her own. Blake was surprised as he sorted through the memories and feelings from the fight and the storm, that Shane was intimately wound through the storm as well, though not of his own volition.

Underneath all of the memories, real or borrowed, Blake felt a growing concern for Hunter. If his brother hadn’t been lying next to him in the bed they shared, Blake would have sent Cam to go get him, to reassure himself that Hunter was fine. He knew Hunter was okay; his brother sound asleep right next to him. But, Blake couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off…and he couldn’t pinpoint the source of his nebulous anxiety.

Blake had never been a heavy sleeper like Hunter, so the sound of soft footsteps entering the room got his attention. At first he thought it was a nurse; whoever had come in had been carrying something and took a few moments to settle things on the tray near the bed. But then the person stopped moving, and Blake found that odd.

Opening his eyes slightly, Blake was surprised to see Cam standing near the foot of his bed. What surprised him more was the expression on Cam’s face; it was etched with longing and sadness that went straight to Blake’s heart. He must have made a sound or moved or something because Cam immediately notice Blake was no longer sleeping and busied himself with gathering a blanket from the other bed. By the time he met Blake’s gaze again a neutral mask had dropped over his features. But the neutral mask couldn’t hide the tenderness with which he draped the blanket over Hunter’s slumbering form.

Now that’s interesting. Blake thought to himself, but he schooled his expression to neutrality as well. No need to tip his hand and derail Cam from the very fine line he was walking. So he pointed at the tray Cam had deposited on the bed-side table. “You brought me a snack?”

“Actually, that’s for Hunter. You know how these body types get when they haven’t eaten in a while.” Blake nodded, grinning.

“Don’t be surprised if a whole gang of nurses and doctors arrive soon.” Cam continued. “I ran into Dana and let her know you were awake.”

Cam walked back around the bed and sat in the chair Hunter had occupied earlier. “How are you feeling?” Cam asked.

Blake tried to shrug, but it was difficult with Hunter as a dead weight on his shoulder. “Not as bad as I should be, I think. I’m tired mostly…I feel weak.”

Cam nodded as though this was the answer he was expecting. “That makes sense. Even though I used the power from the storm to heal you, your body’s own energy had been seriously depleted. And, you lost a lot of blood.” Cam dropped his gaze and Blake picked up a vibe from him that confirmed his drifting thoughts from earlier. He hesitated, not sure if he wanted Cam to verbalize what he was thinking, but he figured he’d never have a better opportunity to ask, and he might not have the courage if he waited any longer.

“Cam?” Blake asked quietly, drawing the Samurai’s gaze back to him. “I died, didn’t I?”

Cam was stunned by the frankness of the question. This time when Cam looked away, it was not to avoid Blake’s intense gaze, but to reassure himself that Hunter would hear no part of this conversation. The Crimson Ranger was soundly and peacefully asleep. Cam looked back at Blake and softly responded. “I think you did.”

Blake let out a whoof of air; he hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath. He looked over to make sure that his movements hadn’t disturbed Hunter. “What happened?”

“It’s hard to explain. It happened so fast…” Cam held out his hands in an I don’t know gesture. “We got there just a little too late. Once I dragged Hunter back to the kiosk and got the three of us settled…the power that had been sustaining you just couldn’t keep you grounded anymore. I was having trouble harnessing the Thunder power and I felt you slipping away.”

Blake watched as distress flashed across Cam’s face; it was instantly replaced by wry self-mockery. “I deal with facts, data, machinery. But there was none of that out there this morning. So I thought of Father and did the only thing I could; I prayed for help – anyone, any ancestor, any power to please, please help me heal you…let you live. I could feel you slipping. And then…I’m not even sure this really happened…it was just a moment or two, but just the push we needed…”

If Blake had been sitting up he would’ve leaned in closer to Cam to hear what he was going to say next.

“I think I saw your parents.”

Blake’s jaw dropped. He took a deep, shuddering breath in. “Cam…seriously?”

“Always seriously.” Cam nodded gravely. “Your mom came and knelt with her hand over ours on your chest. I think your dad had his arm around Hunter…it was hard to see, I couldn’t really turn around…” Cam shook his head as if trying to clear his vision. “I think they just held us together long enough…helped Hunter connect to you through me. Once the power started to flow correctly, then I was really able to get to work, and they were gone.”

Blake lay back on his pillow, stunned. His right hand drifted again to lie on his chest. Mom and Dad? Was that the feeling of welcome I had? Then why didn’t they let me stay?

Cam shook Blake’s leg a little, trying to get his attention. As if Cam had read his thoughts, he said softly, “It wasn’t your time, Blake. That’s what she said.” He looked slightly off to the side, “I think that’s what she said.” Cam looked back at Blake, “She definitely said ‘Take care of your brother.’”

“Take care of your brother?” Blake repeated using the heel of his hand to grind the tears out of his eyes.

“Yes, well…she was looking at me when she said that, but being that I don’t have a brother - I think I was supposed to pass that message on to you.”

“Cam…?” Whatever it was that Blake had intended to say was interrupted by a violent twitch from Hunter. His whole body jerked and rolled; Cam leaped up, knocking over his chair, to prevent Hunter from falling on Blake. Cam’s sudden movement and Blake’s cry of surprise woke Hunter. He was disoriented, but quickly realized that he needed to roll in the opposite direction or risk hurting Blake.

Swinging his legs off the left side of the bed, Hunter sat hunched over trying to get his bearings. Waking so abruptly from such a hard nap and in strange surroundings was unsettling. Steadying hands from Blake and Cam swiftly reoriented him to his surroundings. Hunter mumbled something incoherent to Cam, but Blake, more used to Hunter’s morning temperament, translated. “He’s just looking for something to eat.”

Cam snorted and walked around to Hunter’s side of the bed. He pulled the table-tray closer to the former Crimson Ranger and removed the lid from the tray he had placed their earlier. Hunter’s smile was warm and filled with gratitude. “Thanks Cam!”

“What do I get to eat?” Blake mockingly whined from the bed.

“Water and soft foods.” said a new voice from the doorway. Dana led a phalanx of doctors and nurses into the room. “At least until we’re assured that there is no lingering stomach or intestinal damage.” Blake made a face at her. Hunter with his hands full of the sandwich Cam had brought up for him, allowed Cam to guide him over to the other bed. He peacefully munched as Dana and her team assessed Blake. By the time Dana was finished, Hunter’s sandwich, bag of chips, cupcake and soda were gone.

Satisfied that Blake was in far better shape than he had any right to be, Dana allowed him to move from the fully reclined to seated position on the bed. Blake was thrilled with this new perspective. Once the extraneous nurses and personnel had left the room, Hunter returned to his spot on the left side of Blake’s bed. The brother’s teasingly jostled for space, though Hunter was careful not to let his roughhousing go too far.

An orderly arrived with a tray of food for Blake – soup and crackers, pudding, Jell-o. Hunter immediately claimed the Jell-o and started eating. Cam gave him a look of pure disbelief, but Hunter breezily explained, “Blake doesn’t like Jell-o, never has. It’d be a shame to let it go to waste.” Blake simply nodded in agreement too wrapped up in the most delicious chicken soup he’d ever eaten to bother with a complaint.

Dana turned to leave, but Cam stopped her before she took a step toward the door. “What’s happening with the others?” he asked.

Dana turned back so she could address all of the young men in the room. “Adam is upstairs being treated in the burn unit. His condition has stabilized, but he is still critical. Tommy is doing much better since Haley returned his Dino gem to him. He’s still sleeping off the effects of the battle with Mesogog. And Conner…there’s been no change.” Both Bradleys had stopped eating. It was the first Blake had heard about the other Ranger’s injuries – he was stunned by the gravity of the situation.

Blake looked from Cam to Dana to Hunter. It was clear no one was going to fill him in unless he asked. He directed his question to Dana. “What’s wrong with Conner?”

“We’re not exactly sure, Blake. He seems to be suffering the aftereffects of a mental attack, similar to Tommy, but he’s been unresponsive since Carter and Jason brought him in. He’s not responding to any treatment.”

Blake turned slightly so he could get a good look at Hunter. His brother had lost all the color in his face and seemed determined not to meet Blake’s eye. Suddenly it clicked – he understood why Hunter felt off to him. “You should be down there with him.” The statement was nearly an order.

Hunter’s response was a disbelieving, “What?”

Blake knew he couldn’t give Hunter a chance to argue. “You should be down there helping Conner. He needs you.” With his left hand Blake tried to shove Hunter off the bed, but it was like trying to move a rock.

“Blake…” Hunter’s expression was torn somewhere between outrage and dismay. He could not believe he was being dismissed so abruptly. But Blake understood what Hunter was feeling, and he knew what Hunter needed to hear.

“Hunter, I understand.” Now instead of trying to push Hunter away, Blake laid his hand on Hunter’s arm to emphasize his feelings. “I know you never in a million years would leave me if I needed you. I know that. Without your help I wouldn’t even be here right now.” Hunter’s eyes filled with unshed tears. Blake spoke to him softly and intimately, as if they were the only two in the room.

“You’ve done everything you can do for me. I’m fine. I’m really okay. But Conner’s not. He needs you now…I’d never try to keep you away from him.” And Blake was relieved to know he sincerely meant every word he was saying – he no longer harbored any jealousy against Conner. “If your feelings of guilt kept you here, or I kept you here just because you make me feel safe…and something happened…” Blake swallowed hard around the lump that had formed in his throat. “You would never be able to live with yourself if you hadn’t tried to help him…and neither could I.”

Blake’s dark brown eyes looked searchingly into Hunter’s blue eyes; he desperately wanted Hunter to understand. He wasn’t sending Hunter away because he didn’t need him – he was sending him because Conner needed him more.

“You sure?” Hunter whispered. “I’ll stay if you need me here, Blake.”

“I’m sure, Hunter. Go help Conner.” This time when Blake gave him a little push, Hunter shifted a little. Then Hunter reached over to grab Blake in a swift hug. “Okay.” In a fluid motion Hunter swiveled and swung his legs off the side of the bed. “Is he still down in the ER?” he asked Dana.

“Yes. I’m going back down there myself. Come with me.” Dana smiled at Blake reassuringly. “Finish that soup. I’ll be back to check on you later.”

As Hunter got to the doorway he turned back, but he didn’t address Blake; instead he spoke to Cam. “You’ll stay?”

“Sure.” Cam nodded. “I’ll stay with Blake. Go ahead Hunter, he’s fine.”

Hunter looked at Blake again. “Okay.” he said again. Then like a looming shadow he followed Dana out of the room. Silence descended after their exit. But Cam heard the echo of Blake’s mother’s words in Hunter’s unspoken plea – Take care of my brother.

Chapter Text

Kanoi came back to awareness slowly. Somewhere during his centering meditation after the morning’s strenuous exertions he had fallen truly asleep. Realizing this was disconcerting to Kanoi; he had not fallen asleep during meditation since his earliest days as a student. It seemed to underscore the undeniable fact he had learned since undertaking this mission – he was getting old. And he didn’t like it.

Refusing to dwell on a situation that was out of his control, Kanoi turned his attention to the environment around him. Though he had not yet opened his eyes, he could tell that the lab was vacant except for his exhausted students. Their quiet breathing was the only sound indicating a human presence in the room. Kanoi thought it was unusual that they would be left alone in their condition, perhaps Haley was occupied somewhere else. He opened his eyes to survey the room.

His assessment of the empty lab was correct. Haley was not visible at the computer station or on any of the couches. Kanoi extended his senses further, upward. From what he could tell there was no one in the house above either. Kanoi found this disquieting; what reason could there be for Haley to have left them? It did not bode well for the state the other Rangers might be in.

Before moving, Kanoi quickly assessed the state of the slumbering Wind Ninjas. All of them were deeply asleep, ensconced in a variety of blankets – most likely, courtesy of Haley. It was then that he noticed a blanket and pillow also close at hand for his own use. If Haley had time to see to everyone’s comfort, then the situation might not be as dire as Kanoi had imagined.

Kanoi reached out a hand to rest on Shane’s head. He was worried about the Air ninja’s reaction to his experience in the storm. At the moment, Shane seemed to be the one most deeply asleep, and therefore the most difficult to read. At some point the three had been repositioned – Shane now lay almost completely across Dustin’s chest, held in place there by Dustin’s supporting arm; his right arm reaching across to encircle Tori’s waist. Tori lay facing Shane, also resting on Dustin’s chest with her free arm flung across Shane as well. Dustin seemed completely undisturbed by all the extra weight he was carrying. Kanoi supposed it was really not surprising that in spite of all the trauma he’d been through that it was Dustin who ended up supporting the other two. Earth was the most stable and grounded element – they all needed that right now.

Satisfied that his students were not in any danger, Kanoi rose from his position on the floor. He was glad that there was no one around to see him stagger slightly as he got to his feet; he did have a reputation to maintain after all. As soon as he stood, Kanoi spotted a single sheet of paper on the table nearest the group’s position. He immediately associated the cramped yet precise penmanship with Haley. The note succinctly explained her reasons for leaving, and the time that she’d gone. She included a cell phone number to call, promising a ride to the hospital whenever they were ready to join the others there.

The cell phone number initiated something of an internal debate. Kanoi was loath to leave the Wind ninjas alone and unprotected. True, they were most likely safe in Tommy’s lab, but he had been on the receiving end of one too many of Lothor’s Ninja Ops ambushes to feel comfortable leaving them. On the other hand, with Dustin’s swift recovery, he was not really needed here to watch them sleep; what if there was a greater need for his skills at the hospital?

Kanoi knew he would be no good to anyone if he didn’t get something to eat. He walked up to Tommy’s kitchen leaving the door to the lab open so he could hear any movement from down below, then set about making himself something to eat. In the course of making and eating a quick sandwich and cup of tea, Kanoi was decided. He would call the hospital and get Haley’s assessment of the situation there. If he was needed, he could wake one of the ninjas below to stand watch over the others – probably Tori, she seemed to be the one least affected by the events of the morning. Swiftly cleaning his plate from the table, Kanoi made the call.

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The familiar kata flowed easily from one movement to the next. As the mental exercise wound to a close, Jason opened his eyes to the hospital room and found Tommy looking back at him. They both smiled.

Jason couldn’t keep the elation from his face as he asked quietly, “How you doin’, bro?”

“Better.” was Tommy’s simple reply. He shook his head slightly on the pillow. “I can’t believe you’re really here, Jase. How did you know?”

Jason shrugged. “I had a feeling. You know, one of those.” The men shared a significant look. “That plus the fact that I couldn’t reach anyone on the phone. Not even Kim. I knew that meant trouble.”

Tommy didn’t answer; he just rolled onto his back and rubbed his eyes so he could get a better look at Jason. “I’m glad you called her, Tommy. It’s about time. I just can’t figure out why you didn’t call me.” Jason’s tone wasn’t offended, but Tommy took it that way.

He propped himself up on his elbows. “It wasn’t like that, Jase. It’s hard to explain.”

Billy, having heard the muted conversation between Tommy and Jason, moved to join them. “Hey Tommy, it’s good to see you awake.”

“It’s good to be awake.” Tommy gave Billy a shadow of a grin. Being surrounded by his friends and feeling much improved did not distract Tommy from remembering where he was. He immediately looked over to his left seeking Conner. His face clouded with worry and anxiety when he saw Carter standing quietly near the foot of Conner’s bed. “Any change?” he asked.

“No.” Billy replied. “He’s the same.”

Tommy looked anxiously at Jason. “Dana? Haley? Has anyone come up with anything?” Tommy pushed himself up as he was speaking into a seated position on the stretcher. Jason kept a hand on him to prevent him from jumping up and going anywhere.

“Everyone’s working on it, bro. We’ll figure it out.”

Haley interrupted the conversation bringing over a plate with an overstuffed sandwich. “Tommy, welcome back.” Haley smiled in obvious relief. “Kim left this for you. You need to eat.”

Tommy shook his head in objection, but Jason took the plate from Haley. “C’mon, Tom. You’ve got to eat. I’m not dealing with Kimmy when she gets back here and sees you haven’t eaten.”

A real smile crossed Tommy’s face as he scooted over to sit next to Jason, leaning his back against the wall. “You won’t defend me from Kim in “Mom-mode”?” Tommy teased.

“No way,” Jason joked back. “I’ll be heading for the hills.”

Unconsciously Tommy reached for the sandwich and began eating. After eating a few bites, he asked the others. “Where’s everyone else?”

Billy did the rundown for him. “Adam’s upstairs in the Burn Unit, Rocky and Aisha are with him. Blake’s been moved upstairs to a room as well; Hunter and Cam are with him. Kim took Kira out, probably to get her something to eat.” They all exchanged smiles. “And Dana is floating between everyone. I think she was going upstairs to see Blake; Cam came down a few minutes ago.”

“What about Dustin, Shane and Tori? Where’s Sensei Kanoi?” asked Tommy.

“They’re still back at the lab.” Haley responded. “They were all pretty wiped out. Even Kanoi. When I left them, everyone was sleeping.”

“Dustin’s okay?” Tommy asked intently.

“Yes.” Billy answered. “He’s going to be fine.”

Tommy took a deep breath and nodded. A shrill ring-tone from Haley’s phone startled those standing around Tommy’s stretcher. Haley fumbled for the phone and answered, but it was immediately apparent she had little to no reception. Covering her left hand with her free hand, she tried to make out what was being said. Quickly she excused herself from the room in an attempt to find a stronger signal.

Billy, Tommy and Jason watched her go. After a moment, Jason picked up the conversation from where it had been dropped earlier. “So…why didn’t you call me?”

Tommy had a mouth full of food and with a glance asked Billy to explain. “Sensei Kanoi, the Wind Ninja’s sensei, thought our best offensive strategy against Mesogog would be to use ninja stealth against him. It seems that those of us who embodied the Ninjetti power never really lost it. We called upon our power to invade Mesogog’s fortress and avoid detection.” Billy looked embarrassed as he continued. “You were never a Ninjetti, Jason.”

Jason nodded in acceptance and responded with aplomb. “That makes sense. And obviously the strategy worked.”

“For the most part.” Billy agreed. He spent the next few minutes filling Jason in on the details of the various battles as far as he understood them. Tommy ate in silence, listening to Billy’s version of the story. It was as helpful for him to hear as Jason, being that he couldn’t remember much of what had happened. Tommy was so wrapped up in Billy’s explanation that he didn’t notice when Dana and Hunter returned to the room, and Hunter took up Carter’s post by Conner’s bed.

================================================

Ethan had been nonplussed by Kira’s outburst when Kim tried to get her to leave the room. Out of nowhere, she’d been awash in tears and ranting about crazy “rules” for keeping bad things from happening. Ethan could understand the “rule” thing – but he knew that rationally, sitting in a particular spot or praying a particular prayer wasn’t going to make a difference. But, if he was honest with himself, at this point he didn’t know what would make a difference. That didn’t stop him from adopting Kira’s rule and deciding that he wouldn’t leave the room until she returned

It had been hours since Conner had been brought into the hospital. Ethan wasn’t a doctor, but as far as he could tell, nothing had changed. Ethan had become very attuned to the sounds of the machines monitoring Conner’s life signs; unconsciously he listened for the slightest indication that things had changed for better or worse. Because of the downloaded programs he now had on his laptop from Haley’s computer he could monitor Conner’s life signs in other ways too.

In a smaller window on the left hand corner of his screen was Conner’s energy reading. He knew Haley didn’t usually use this particular program when they weren’t morphed because their normal human energy readings weren’t strong enough, but Ethan thought it might come in handy now. Maybe if he kept an eye on it, he could discover something useful that the doctors might miss. He also had energy readings for Kira, Dr. O and himself minimized at the bottom of his screen; Ethan knew they weren’t ninjas, but he felt strongly that the rest of the Dino Thunder team would contribute to Conner’s recovery.

Ethan rubbed his eyes as he sat back in his chair. Stretching, he popped both shoulders and his back. Dr. O’s energy signature had changed; Ethan watched in fascination as the energy waves fluctuated in time with Dr. O’s return to wakefulness. The signature peaked just as he awoke and started talking with Jason. That’s so cool…so these energy readings can be used for something.

Heartened by this minor success, Ethan returned his attention to sifting through footage from the fight in the courtyard. His attention was caught by another changing energy signature. This time it was Conner’s. Ethan sat up straight and looked over at where Conner lay. Outwardly he looked exactly the same; he hadn’t twitched a muscle, even his eyes were still under the lids. Ethan looked at the machine measuring blood pressure. Was it slightly up? What caused the change?

The changing of the guard at the foot of Conner’s bed answered Ethan’s question. Hunter had taken over for Carter. Hadn’t Haley said something earlier about Hunter giving Conner a power boost? What was it that Hunter was doing for Conner?

Driven by the excitement of his find and determined to make a useful contribution, Ethan turned his attention back to his computer.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Kim had made the trek from the coffee shop to the ER so many times she thought she could do it in her sleep. Kira seemed more and more composed the further they got from the tension charged room, though concern for Conner still weighed heavily on her heart. Kim settled Kira in a booth close to the door and went to grab some coffee and muffins. Kira didn’t strike her as needing to eat those huge sandwiches that the boys preferred.

Upon her return, Kira greeted her with a sad smile and a heart-felt “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Kim replied. For a moment the two women sipped their coffee in silence. Kira picked at her banana chocolate-chip muffin. “How are you doing, Kira?” Kim asked.

Kira heaved a deep sigh and responded with a pat, “I’m fine.”

The look on Kim’s face clearly indicated that her answer wasn’t going to fly. Whereas Jason and Carter needed to eat; Billy and Ethan needed to work; Kim knew Kira needed to talk. So she pressed her. “Who bothers you the most?”

Kira fleetingly thought of trying to pretend she didn’t understand Kim’s question. But, if she couldn’t talk to Kim to work things out, who could she talk to? “Hunter. And, Dr. O.” She squished her face trying to weigh the degrees of pain caused by the two. “Dr. O with Conner is almost as bad as Hunter with Blake.”

“What about Rocky?”

Kira stirred her coffee considering the question. She looked up at Kim thoughtfully. “Rocky seems to be trying super hard to hold himself in check…and, Aisha helps him too. She kind of makes this buffer, you know? Except when he blew up at Dana – that was rough.” Kim nodded in agreement. As the morning drew closer to the afternoon, Rocky heard Dana reply “I just don’t know” when asked about Conner one too many times. He went off, yelling about her inability to help anyone and stormed out of the room. Dana understandably chalked up his outburst to his concern over Adam and didn’t take it personally; Carter was more difficult to soothe.

Kira sighed again, this time in frustration about not explaining herself clearly. “Rocky was accusing Dana of being useless, but really I’m the one who’s useless. I’m no kind of buffer for anybody; I can hardly get myself under control. If Ethan and you weren’t here to help me, I’d still be falling apart.” Kira’s wide eyes were filled with self-doubt and misery. Kim quickly reached across the table to hold her hands.

“Kira, this situation is beyond anything you’ve ever experienced. Half the stuff we’ve learned this weekend about how the teams work together is stuff I never even knew. I guess we all need to go back to ninja school.” She joked trying to lighten Kira’s mood.

“But we’re not ninjas.” Kira argued. “From what Kanoi said, these connections happen with ninja teams, not regular Rangers. So it doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe because Tommy was…is a Ninjetti, he’s sort of passed it all along to you.”

“I don’t know.” Kira grumbled. She pulled her hands away from Kim’s, ostensibly to pick up her coffee cup. But she didn’t take a sip; she just rolled the cup between her hands. “It still doesn’t explain why I’m such a useless mess.”

If Kira had been looking at Kim she would’ve seen the warning signs in her eyes. Kim had never taken anyone putting themselves down lightly. She wouldn’t let Tommy do it when they were Rangers together, and she wouldn’t hear it from Kira now. “Kira, you are not useless.” Kim emphasized her point by plucking Kira’s cup out of her hands and banging it firmly on the table. “Just because you don’t have a role to play at the moment doesn’t mean you won’t contribute anything in the end. But you certainly won’t be any good to anyone if you keep this pity party going.”

Kira was stunned by the vehemence of the former Pink Ranger. She blinked in surprise and then laughed out loud. “I guess it’s not really the kind of party I prefer.” Kira blushed a little, abashed.

Kim was glad that Kira had responded to her so quickly. “Okay. So we need to do something constructive. I think the most important thing we need to do for you is get you centered and balanced.”

Kira nodded with resolve. “Sounds good, but I don’t know how to do it.” She held her hands out in a helpless gesture before her on the table. “It’s like every time anyone else had a strong emotional reaction to anything, it just knocks me for a loop.” Kira couldn’t resist a little dig at Kim. “Like whatever you and Jason were talking about.”

Kim’s eyebrows quirked in surprise, but she didn’t rise to Kira’s bait. Instead her eyes took on a faraway cast. “I felt like that a lot in college, after I left the team. I was off-balance all the time…emotionally. And I reacted to every little thing other people were feeling. I guess that makes sense…” Kim’s train of thought drifted off. Kira knew Kim wasn’t talking to her anymore.

“Kim?”

Kim’s gaze snapped back to Kira. “I think what worked for me might work for you.” Kira’s face lit up with hope. “Do you play an instrument?” Kim asked.

Kira’s face lit up again, with pride and joy, yet surprised by the unexpected question. “I do. I play the guitar and sing.”

“Really?” Kim asked, pleasantly surprised by this unknown bond between herself and the younger girl. “Me too. At least, when I was younger.”

Kira smiled. “Cool. But what does that have to do with…”

“I found, in college, whenever I was feeling really off or down…but I knew it wasn’t really me feeling it, that if I sang one of my songs for a while, in my head, it made me feel better. It sort of….defined my boundaries. You know?”

Kira nodded with wonder. “I do that all the time...I just never realized…I didn’t know it had a purpose…”

Kim smiled. “I’m not just talking about having a song stuck in your head. It’s more like, deliberately making a border around yourself. Once you’re solid with your own boundaries, it’s easier to control whether or not to let anyone outside of the border affect your emotions.”

Kira nodded in understanding as Kim continued. “This morning, in the fight…no one’s ever experienced that level of injury, there was no reason to expect it to happen today. But Hunter’s reaction to Blake’s injury just crushed any defenses you had…then you were helpless to stand against any of the rest of them.”

“It was a storm within a storm.” Kira explained. “I didn’t know where I left off and the others began. Hunter was just so…” Tears fell on her cheeks at Hunter’s remembered anguish. “I couldn’t stand it.”

“But you can now,” Kim encouraged. “You’ve got your feet back under you, and a strategy to keep them there. I know it will work for you, Kira. And if you’re feeling shaky, I’ll help you.”

“Thanks, Kim.” Kira reached over to take Kim’s hands in her own. Thanks.

They ate and drank in silence for a few minutes. Then their thoughts turned to wondering how the others were doing in their absence. Kira had the strong feeling that Kim wanted to be away from Tommy just as much as she wanted to be away from Conner – which was not at all. In unspoken agreement, the two women finished eating, cleaned up and headed back to the ER. Kira looped her arm through Kim’s grateful for the older woman’s steadying presence.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ethan noticed it first. He was so attuned to listening for changes in the machines around Conner that he noticed the increased noise level in the hallway. His head popped up and he frowned trying to make out the sounds. It didn’t sound like a group of people rushing by with a new patient, like it had when the EMTs brought Blake in before. There was something falling, and definitely someone shouting.

Ethan fought against his curiosity getting the better of him. He really wanted to see what was going on, but he wasn’t going to leave Conner’s side. The noise level increased and had now gotten the attention of the group gathered around Tommy’s stretcher. It sounded like someone was throwing open doors along the hallway looking for something.

The shouting became clearer. “I demand to see my son! You can’t keep me from him!” Another crashing door; the noise was traveling closer.

“Ma’am. If you’ll just let us check list…”

Another voice. “This is a hospital! You are disturbing other patients.”

“I know what you’re trying to do!” the woman shrieked hysterically. “You think I don’t’ know?! I AM HIS MOTHER!”

“Somebody call security!” the second voice commanded.

The door to the room next to theirs swung open with a reverberating crash. The first voice tried to be diplomatic. “Ma’am…if you would just…”

“YOU called ME! You can’t keep me away from my baby!” With stunning force the door to their room was flung open. The disheveled woman in the doorway scanned the room with wild eyes until her gaze fell upon the fallen Red Ranger.

“CONNER!” she screamed dashing forward and flinging herself onto the bed. Everyone in the room was stunned by the ferocity of her entrance. Instantly the woman rebounded to her feet, though she was unsteady in her stance. She wobbled as she looked around the room at the assembled rangers. The hospital staff that had followed her into the room seemed unsure of how to respond now that she had found her son.

It was clear that Conner inherited his handsome looks from his mother. She would have been a beautiful woman if she wasn’t in disarray. Her auburn hair fell to her shoulders in raggedy clumps, but Ethan thought it looked like the result of neglect than running in the rain from the car to the hospital. Her eyes were red-rimmed and enraged, and reflected none of the good humor that usually shone in Conner’s eyes. Ethan was shocked to realize as she stood so close to him that she gave off an odor – an unwashed odor –and he could definitely smell alcohol hovering like a nasty cloud around her.

What the hell?

With complete disregard for the audience assembled in the room, Conner’s mother turned back toward the bed where her son lay motionless. “What have you done, you stupid boy? How could you do this to me?”

She raised her hand as if to strike him. Ethan was on his feet in an instant, laptop flying across the room. Hunter was immediately at Ethan's side – the two of them forming a human wall between Conner and his mother. Ethan lay a restraining hand on Hunter who was growling low in his throat and looked about ready to snap the woman’s neck. Their protection wasn’t necessary, because as soon as she made her move, Jason had catapulted himself off of the stretcher where he’d been sitting and across the room. With one hand her caught her in mid strike, and with the other he effectively pinned her left hand to her side with an arm around her waist.

The tableau was frozen for a moment before a tired voice called from the hallway. “Catherine, you know you can’t be here.”

Chapter Text

“Has anyone called Security?” asked the man in the doorway to the room at large.

Catherine tried to whirl away from Jason, but he had her pinned tight. The most she could manage was to turn her head and scream viciously. “I can be here. The hospital called me. ME, not you, Evan. So don’t try your high and mighty bullshit with me!”

The man in the doorway, who Ethan assumed was Conner’s father, approached his shrieking wife. He didn’t raise his voice or change his tired tone. “You’re in violation of your restraining order. You can’t come within 1,000 feet of me or the boys.”

“Fuck you! Conner’s dying and you can’t keep me away from him!” Ethan winced as though he’d been slapped. He was shocked and disturbed by the revelation of Conner’s home life; he had no idea Conner’s mother was so around the bend. Catherine’s language and volume were alien to the quiet that had been established in the room; and her flat out declaration that Conner was dying hit Ethan like a punch to the gut.

Kira and Kimberly slipped into the room behind Evan McKnight. Kim made a beeline for Tommy who was white-faced and struggling to stand. Kira joined the human wall by the side of Conner’s bed. Ethan thought he could hear her singing under her breath, but that might have been just a trick of his hearing. Kira too laid a restraining hand on Hunter; Ethan hoped for Conner’s mother’s sake that Jason kept a good hold on her. If she made another move for Conner, Hunter would probably kill her.

Being wrapped up in Jason’s arms didn’t keep Catherine from continuing her nasty diatribe. “What kind of father are you, letting him go out in this storm anyway? Too busy with work to keep an eye on him? Too busy with work to make the time to come to the hospital?”

“If someone could just call Security,” Evan repeated speaking over Catherine, this time addressing the hospital staff that had followed his wife into the room.

Catherine’s mood changed as if someone had flipped a switch. Instead of struggling against Jason she strained tried to catch a glimpse of Conner though she couldn’t clearly see him around Ethan. Her voice took on a weirdly crooning quality. “Conner? Mommy’s here. Time to wake up, baby.” Catherine took Conner’s lack of response as a personal offense. Her voice became louder and more insistent, like she was trying to get him up for school. “Time to get up, Conner. Do you think I’ll wait all day for you?” She seemed to think her commands would make her son to rise from his bed, and when he didn’t she became incensed again. She lurched toward the bed screaming, “You stupid, lazy piece of shit! Do you think you can just lie there when I tell you to get up?”

Evan McKnight moved to stand between his wife and the assembled rangers by the side of the bed. For the first time, Conner’s dad responded with anger as he cut her off. “You’re drunk,” he spat with disgust. “You have no rights here. You never should have come.”

Hunter was thrumming with tension next to Ethan. When Catherine lurched toward the bed, he’d moved in response. It was Kira, who’d swung around to stand directly in front of Hunter, who stopped his forward motion; though Ethan had taken a firmer hold on his arm. Hunter’s face was enraged and a peal of thunder from outside punctuated his emotional state; but Kira stood quietly before him humming. Ethan didn’t know why that got Hunter’s attention over all the screaming, but it did. Hunter didn’t lose the murderous expression on his face, but he wasn’t actively trying to do any damage.

Catherine continued to struggle against Jason. Realizing the danger from Hunter, Jason moved the two of them backward away from Conner's stretcher, closer to Tommy’s side of the room. She ignored her husband and turned her attention to Jason. “Get your hands off me, you son of a bitch! You have no right to put your hands on me. I’ll sue this hospital. I’LL SUE!” She fruitlessly tried to free her right hand from Jason’s grip; being unsuccessful, her struggles increased. She tried to elbow and kick him, but he had no difficulty avoiding her clumsy blows.

“Who are all you fucking people? Get out of this room! Only family should be in the room. I’m his mother!” She screamed at the hospital staff in the doorway and noticed they were making way for the Security personnel to come in from behind Catherine McKnight’s struggles became more frantic as Security approached. Her screaming became hysterical and incoherent. She tried to kick at them, but only succeeded in losing her balance. Jason tried to keep her on her feet and switched his grip. She took advantage of her slight freedom by striking out at those around her. A flailing elbow unexpectedly caught Jason on his cheek. He wasn’t hurt as much as he was surprised, and let out a gasp.

The gasp from Jason set Hunter in motion. Kira and Ethan both tried to impede his progress. Carter, who had returned with Dana after hearing the ruckus, grabbed Hunter from behind. But it was Evan McKnight who saved his wife from the enraged Thunder Ninja. He simply laid his hand on Hunter’s chest and meeting his gaze, shook his head. He acknowledged and understood Hunter’s impulse, but he refused to let anyone else be sucked into and damaged by his wife’s destructive behavior. Hunter stopped dead though he was still trembling in fury; all of those who had a hold on him were wise enough not to let go.

Ethan watched in dismay as the ugly scene unfolded. The security personnel had given up any pretense of trying to talk to or cajole Catherine McKnight. They swiftly interposed themselves between Jason and Catherine. When she dropped her weight to the floor, they let her. Realizing her mistake, she tried to flail and escape their grasp. With one person pinning her legs, the other knelt on her back; quickly she was handcuffed. Two other security guards joined the entourage as they hauled the screaming and weeping woman to her feet. Hurling obscenities at them and the assembled people in the room, she was dragged away. The sound of her hysterical shrieking faded gradually as she was taken away. All that was left behind was shocked and shaken silence.

Ethan’s heart was pounding and his mind was racing. He had never experienced parental discord on that level, and it profoundly disturbed him. How could anyone claiming to be a mother act like that toward her son? More than his personal dismay was Ethan’s deep embarrassment for having witnessed something so private. Conner never mentioned his mother, and now Ethan knew why. He felt ashamed for having seen Conner’s mother drunk, when Conner had gone to such lengths to hide it from them. And he berated himself for handing over all the phone numbers in Conner’s phone to Dana; but how was he supposed to know that Catherine McKnight shouldn’t have been called? Even though it was out of his hands, Ethan felt responsible for the horrible scene they had just witnessed.

Evan McKnight was the first one to move. Long experience with his wife’s irrational behavior made him somewhat immune to its effects. Dropping his hand from Hunter’s chest, he walked past Ethan to stand by Conner’s bed. Because of all of the hysteria and drama there had been when he entered, this was the first time he got a good look at his son. Because he was the only one who was moving, all eyes were on Evan as he contemplated Conner’s condition. His left hand reached shakily to cover his eyes as he reached out with his right hand to touch Conner’s motionless hand.

That was all Kira could take, she fled from the room. After a moment’s hesitation, Kim gave Tommy a little shove toward Jason, then followed the Yellow Ranger out. Kira’s flight seemed to break the paralysis of the rest of them. In unspoken agreement, Ethan, Hunter and Carter all moved toward Jason and Tommy, giving Evan a moment of relative privacy to be with his son. Jason placed a steadying hand on Tommy’s back.

Dana approached Conner’s bed with some hesitation. She wanted the family to have a moment, but now that a parent was available, there were things that needed to be done. “Mr. McKnight, I’m Dr. Mitchell. I’m in charge of Conner’s care.” As Dana approached Even took his hand from his face. His eyes never left Conner’s face as he softly said, “I’ll sign whatever you want me to sign. I’ve got sole custody of the boys; you don’t need my wife’s permission for anything.”

Ethan could see some tension leave Dana’s shoulders. She laid a hand gently on his arm. “We’re doing everything we can for him, Mr. McKnight.” Evan glanced sideways at her, but his smile was enigmatic. “I’m sure you are doing everything you can. I appreciate that.” He took the clipboard Dana offered him and began signing the various papers she handed him. When the paperwork was finished he handed the board back to Dana. She swiftly left to gather up the staff she would need to begin the next round of tests on Conner.

Alone by the bed again, Evan leaned in close to Conner and spoke softly in his ear. Ethan was glad he couldn’t hear what was said; Evan’s body language made it clear that whatever he was saying was very personal, and Ethan had had enough of Conner’s personal business for one day. Evan placed a hand on Conner’s face and gently kissed his head before straightening up and looking over at the group standing on the other side of the room.

“Is one of you Dr. Oliver?” Tommy stiffened next to Jason. Evan caught his reaction and pointed at him. “We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Kira fled from the ER attempting to retrace her steps to the coffee shop. But she was blinded by unshed tears and quickly got turned around. Her mind was filled with the image of Conner’s dad reaching out to take his hand; and more overwhelmingly, her heart was filled with the aching despair Mr. McKnight felt when he touched Conner. She frantically sang under her breath as she tried to make her way through the hospital, desperate to distance herself from his pain and reestablish her own boundaries.

Unthinking, unseeing, Kira found herself in the expansive hospital lobby. Realizing she’d lost her way to the coffee shop, all Kira wanted to do was get outside. She stumbled toward the main entrance oblivious to the glances of concern thrown at her by those she quickly passed by. So focused was Kira on achieving her goal that she stumbled headlong into a woman crossing the lobby. Before she could push herself away, the woman’s arms enfolded her. The familiar scent of vanilla encroached on Kira’s senses. And as the woman tightened her grip she began to croon the very song Kira had been singing.

For the first time since Dr. O and Dustin had been snatched on Sunday, Kira felt safe. Mom.

With a deep, shuddering breath Kira let herself go and sagged into her mother’s embrace. Sobbing, Kira wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist and nestled herself in the hollow of her mother’s neck. Feeling protected and secure, she released all of the pain and fear that she’d been carrying knowing that her mom would take care of her.

Kim had followed Kira’s erratic flight from the ER. Although Kira didn’t know where she was going, her flight was given speed by her anguish, and Kim had difficulty catching up. Kim was on the far side of the lobby when Kira crashed into the woman in front of the information desk. As Kim approached the pair, it was obvious that Kira had found a safe haven. Looking at the two of them together, Kim could only assume that Kira had found her mother. Mrs. Ford was only a little taller than her daughter, and shared her slight build. Because her head was down tending to her daughter, Kim couldn’t get a good look at her face. But from what Kim could see she seemed to favor the layered clothing look her daughter preferred, though her choices tended to earth tones and natural weaves.

Not wanting to interrupt the reunion between mother and daughter, Kim hesitated a moment before approaching and noticed the large African-American man standing behind the pair. He too seemed hesitant to interrupt, but had an air of wanting to move on. It took Kim a moment to figure out how he was connected to the Ford women; that was, until she got a good look at his face – he could only be Ethan’s father. The thought crossed Kim’s mind - either Ethan’s due for a serious growth spurt, or he takes after his much smaller mother - because Ethan’s father was a mountain of a man. He towered over the Fords, looking like he could pick the both of them up with ease. But his size was countered by his gentle demeanor; he watched the pair before him with obvious relief that they had found one another, but Kim could see in his face his concern for Ethan and his desire to also be reunited with his son.

Kira’s mother had begun to maneuver herself and Kira toward an empty couch in the lobby. Other patrons of the hospital, seeing the need for some privacy, discreetly moved away. Kim took the opportunity to approach Ethan’s father. “Mr. James?” Kim held out her hand as she approached.

He looked startled that anyone would know him, but automatically held out his hand in response. “Yes, I’m Tyrone James.”

Kim smiled as her hand was engulfed by his much larger one. “I’m Kim Hart, a friend of Kira and Ethan’s. Is this Mrs. Ford?”

Mr. James’ relief was evident. “Yes, Angie Ford.” He nodded with his chin toward the smaller pair. He did not release Kim’s hand, but instead drew her closer, placing his free hand over their clasped ones. “You know Ethan? Is he okay? Where is he?”

Kim placed her free hand on their clasped hands reassuringly. “Ethan’s fine. He’s with Conner in the ER.”

Though Mr. James’ face lit up with relief upon hearing that his son was not injured, it immediately clouded with worry hearing about Conner. “Conner? The soccer player? What happened? Ethan didn’t leave a very detailed message on the machine…”

Before Kim could reply, a jubilant “Dad!” was heard echoing through the hospital lobby. An instant later, a blue blur crashed into Mr. James’ waiting embrace. The relief and joy emanating from the pair was a welcome counterpoint to the comfort and sorrow radiating from the Fords. In a move Kim wasn’t expecting, Mr. James swung around and included the smaller Ford women in a spontaneous group hug. Kira automatically included Ethan in her embrace, and with the addition of his support, seemed far more centered than when she was holding her mother alone.

Kim watched the scene for a moment; happy to witness the joyful reunions. It struck her sharply how very young these Rangers were. They weren’t even out of high school, and they had tremendous hidden responsibilities. It didn’t matter that they saved Reefside on nearly a daily basis; at the end of the day, they still had to go home and live their lives. And their lives included their parents. After witnessing the horrifying scene created by Conner’s mother, it made Kim glad to see the warmth and love exuded by these parents toward their children.

Kira was the first to move. Though she didn’t break away from her mother or Ethan’s hold, she scooted far enough back to get a good look at Ethan’s face. “Conner?” Her unspoken question, clearly interpreted by Kim and Ethan was, You left him alone?

Ethan understanding the rules that had been established only had to answer, “Hunter.” That satisfied Kira, but left both parents mystified.

Seizing the opportunity to get people moving, Kim interjected. “How about finding a place to sit where we can all talk?” Kim took the lead and the others followed. Kira hadn’t been far off the mark in her attempt to find the coffee shop; she had just made one or two wrong turns. In short order they arrived and claimed a large booth – the James men sitting on one side; Kira very happily nestled between her mother and Kim on the other.

As they were getting settled, Kim noticed Jason, Tommy and Mr. McKnight sitting across the room at a table. The intensity level at the table was high, but no voices were raised. Kim felt confident that Jason would be able to handle anything if Tommy started to feel unsteady. Haley, Billy, Carter and Dana were nowhere to be seen. But Dana had indicated that now that she had parental permission she was going to begin a new series of tests on Conner. Most likely the rest of that group was supervising or helping in some way. And from what Ethan said, Hunter was somewhere in the middle of it, hovering like a crimson shadow.

As they were getting settled and waiting for their coffee, both parents took the time to reassure themselves that their child was none the worse for wear having been out in the vicious storm. Neither one seemed quite satisfied that though their child ended up in the hospital that they hadn’t sustained any injuries. Kim got the strong feeling that if they hadn’t been in public, there might have been a strip search involved. Tyrone James kept placing his hand on Ethan’s head, as if checking for bumps or to assure himself that there was no bleeding. Angie Ford satisfied herself by cuddling her daughter; Kira’s content acceptance of her mother’s ministrations seemed to assure her mother she really was fine.

Kim knew the domestic bliss was not going to last. Sooner or later the questions would start, and they’d be dancing on thin ice trying to explain where the kids had been over the last few days.

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Evan McKnight approached the group on Tommy’s side of the hospital room. He looked drained, yet determined. He might have passed on his height to his son, but his features did not resemble Conner's at all. His round blue eyes were his most striking feature. His hard, square jaw did not seem to fit with the very pale skin of someone who spent all of their working hours in an office. And though he wasn’t that much older than Tommy or Jason, his weariness made him appear much older than he was.

A hubbub from the hallway, much more controlled and focused than the racket the raving Mrs. McKnight had made, entered the room. Dana was surrounded by a team of orderlies and nurses hauling a variety of equipment. The room was suddenly very crowded. Stepping over toward the group of non-hospital staff she stated, “I’m going to ask you to clear the room for a few minutes. We need to do some preliminary tests. Then we’re moving Conner down to the lab for a full body CAT scan. He’ll be gone for at least half an hour, probably more.”

Jason took charge of herding the leftover rangers from the room. Though Ethan seemed reluctant to go, he was persuaded to leave when it became clear that Hunter refused to be moved. It seemed prudent to allow one of them to stay instead of creating an unnecessary power struggle about it; and Dana seemed more inclined to let Hunter stay than Ethan. Ethan seemed reassured by the Thunder Ninja’s determination not to leave Conner’s side, so once they were in the hallway, Ethan took off attempting to follow and find Kira and Kim.

It seemed like Billy and Carter would somehow be involved in either administering or interpreting the results of Conner’s tests. Haley had not yet returned with Sensei Kanoi. That left Tommy and Jason with Evan McKnight. Without speaking the trio of men made their way through the ER to the main body of the hospital. From there they followed the signs to the coffee shop. None of them were hungry, but the warm and social setting was more appealing than a sterile hospital waiting room.

Once they were seated, an uncomfortable silence descended. Though they were sitting at a round table, Jason sat closer to Tommy than Evan; the arrangement gave Tommy the support he so desperately needed, and gave Conner’s dad the ability to speak to them simultaneously instead of looking back and forth. Tommy sat, waiting, as though he expected a blow.

Evan was the first to speak. “I have to apologize for my wife.” He shook his head and sighed deeply. He stared intently at his coffee cup, not making eye-contact with the others at the table. “Actually, my therapist would tell me I don’t have to apologize for my wife. My ex. But there are things you need to understand.” He sighed again and shifted in his seat.

“Catherine has always been high strung; a high maintenance kind of person. Some people are just like that. We got married young, and I just assumed I could…I don’t know…do enough to make her happy?” He shrugged. “There was so much I didn’t know then. I was young and stupid. I was in love. Wasn’t that enough? So I worked my ass off making sure Catherine could have everything she wanted. I gave her everything she wanted. And she gave me the only thing I ever wanted…my boys.”

Evan blinked and tore his gaze away from his coffee cup and looked over at Tommy and Jason. “Eric and Conner – the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought nothing could match the way I loved Catherine…but those boys, did something to me, you know?” Jason smiled, unwilling to interject even one syllable; it was obvious Evan had a lot he needed to get off his chest.

“I didn’t know…I didn’t understand how she couldn’t feel the same way. The boys were such a joy to me. I worked twice as hard; I needed to make the world perfect for them. But their world was their mother…and she wasn’t perfect.”

“I’ve never been real clear on when the serious drinking began; when things started to change. I spent so much time at work…” Evan dragged his fingers through his short hair.

“There were a lot of things I could pretend I didn’t see – broken things, strange spending sprees, and hidden bottles of liquor around the house. But what I couldn’t miss were the bruises on my boys, Conner in particular.” Evan’s face had taken on a hard edge, echoed by Jason and Tommy. “When things really started to go bad, and the situation was investigated by the court, all Conner would say was ‘Mommy hit me.’ What I found out later from Eric was Conner took the brunt of her attacks because he was trying to protect Eric. Eric’s older, but he always got his strength from Conner.”

Evan took a deep breath, trying to reorient himself to his story. “At first, after we split, we shared joint custody of the boys. Catherine said all the right things, went to her meetings, promised to change. For a while, it looked like it might even be true. One Saturday night after I dropped the boys off for the weekend, I got the phone call from the hospital; Conner was hurt, and could I please come as quickly as possible.”

Evan’s eyes were filled with remembered pain. “Catherine had been drinking and freaked out on Eric – he left his suitcase unzipped. An unzipped suitcase, can you imagine?” His face was filled with disbelief even after all the years of retelling the story. “She went after him, and Conner went after her.” He paused and shook his head in negation; even after all these years he couldn’t believe it happened. “She pushed Conner down the stairs. Pushed him.” Tommy gave an involuntary gasp.

“When I got to the hospital…he looked so tiny lying in that big bed. He was twelve years old, but he looked like such a baby. He was broken in so many places…” Evan’s voice drifted off in a hoarse whisper. Jason reached over to lay a steadying hand on his forearm. After a moment, Evan regrouped and looked up at Tommy. “Did you know, that’s why he plays soccer?”

Jason withdrew his hand and Tommy answered, “No.”

“Yeah,” Evan continued, “his leg was broken so badly, he needed intense physical therapy just to walk again. But Conner, being Conner didn’t want to walk, he wanted to run. One of his physical therapists challenged him to go out for a town soccer team – and he’s never looked back.”

Tommy shook his head in wonder. “I never knew that.” Inside he was awash with grief about how much he didn’t know.

Evan seemed about to say something, then changed his mind and followed a different train of thought. “Soccer was great for Conner, but not so great for Eric. It was the first big thing that separated them. Eric’s never been a big sports guy, but in a way, Conner’s passion for soccer allowed Eric to have the chance to do his own thing. He even went away to school in Oregon.”

“At first I was worried; not so much about how Conner would do without Eric, but how Eric would do without Conner. As far as I can tell though, both boys have been doing fine. They talk to each other all the time; of course, my phone bill is proof of that.” He gave a slight chuckle, and Tommy and Jason joined in, grateful for a lighter tone.

“Then this year, things started to change. Conner’s always been a popular kid, and being an athlete he could be more susceptible to bad influences. I know that drugs and alcohol are available to a kid like Conner, and I’ve always talked to him about it and banked on the fact that his experience with his mother would prevent him from trying anything stupid like that. But it’s not unheard of, hell it’s not unusual at all, for a kid of an alcoholic parent to start drinking himself. After everything that happened with my ex, I pay a lot more attention to things like that.

“So after school started, Conner starts talking about a new group of friends. He runs out of the house at weird hours. He’s secretive about what he spends his free time doing. He even turned down a spot on a pro soccer team. All the warning signs are going off in my head and I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, he’s doing drugs’.”

Tommy was shaking his head, ready to jump to Conner’s defense. But Evan wasn’t finished. “One night, Conner had been home, and then ran out because he ‘left something at Ethan’s’. I waited for him, watched the news to kill some time. When he came back in, I put the TV on mute, because I wanted to talk. But Conner was so distracted he didn’t see me sitting there. He had no idea I was there at all. As he was walking through the living room, he peeled off his shirt. I had a good view of his back. There was this huge bruise on his back…this gigantic hoof print.”

Evan put his coffee cup down on the table and looked intently at the men he was facing.

Tommy and Jason wore guarded expressions, not wanting to give away any information if Evan hadn’t come to the conclusion he seemed to be leading to. “I’m very sensitive to bruises on my sons, and I couldn’t fathom anything that would leave that kind of mark on my boy. Until I looked back at the TV and saw footage of the monster the Power Rangers had just defeated.” He paused. “It had very large hooves.”

Neither Tommy nor Jason had anything to say. Evan McKnight let his story hang there as he took a sip of his coffee. “I didn’t know what to think, I couldn’t possibly be right. It was insane. Conner…a Power Ranger?” Though he was speaking intently, Evan kept his voice deliberately low. “And then I thought who better to be the Red Ranger? There’s no one I’d trust more to keep people safe – Eric would tell you that.” Tommy had to smile at the pride in Evan’s voice.

“So I watched for more signs, and once I knew what I was looking for it seemed so obvious to me. I was relieved that my whole ‘Conner’s doing drugs theory’ was totally wrong, but overcome with anxiety every time Conner had to run out, or I watched a new fight on the news.”

For the first time, Jason spoke up. “Does he know that you know?”

Evan shook his head in the negative. “No. The secret identity thing seems fairly important, so I just pretended that nothing had changed. But knowing who Conner was made it fairly easy to figure the others out as well. You were a little trickier to figure out Dr. Oliver.” Tommy met Evan’s gaze, and gave a slight nod; in his eyes was the admission of who and what he was. Evan continued, “And things have been fine. Well, as fine as things can be when your son is fighting mutants and trying to keep his grade point average up.” Though Ethan’s tone had taken on a lighter tone when telling his story, it rapidly returned to emotionally charged as he continued.

“I know what Conner’s doing is for all of us…and I know that he’s part of a team and they all put themselves at risk every day. I’ve been terrified of getting another phone call like the one I got when he was twelve. Seeing him today…in there…with all those machines…” Evan looked away and Jason could see the muscles in his cheek twitch with tension. Jason tried to reach out again, but Evan pulled his arms back and sat up straight in his chair. He stared down at his clenched fists resting n the table.

“So, I know I’ve been rambling for like twenty minutes, but what it really comes down to is this. What I wanted to talk to you about, Dr. Oliver. I’ve been addicted to the news since finding out what was going on with Conner. Even at work I’ve got a TV on all the time so I can catch any updates on the Rangers. There wasn’t a lot of footage of the fight from this morning because the storm was so bad. But one thing was clear…” Evan pinned Tommy with an angry, penetrating glare. “You weren’t there. You left those kids out there to fight on their own and now Conner’s hooked to some machines to keep him alive. I want to know why.”

Tommy couldn’t have been less prepared to deal with the demands from Evan McKnight. The man’s anger hit him like a blow leaving him paralyzed and stunned. It would’ve been easier to deal with Conner’s screaming, raving mother, because at least then he would know she was out of control and he wouldn’t take the accusations so personally. But Evan McKnight was not out of control – he was completely in command of his faculties. He knew exactly what his son had been up to, and figured out who was responsible for it. He wanted a reckoning, and Tommy couldn’t give him one.

Jason jumped in, “Mr. McKnight…”

“I don’t want to hear from you. I want to hear from him.” He glared as he pointed at Tommy. “Those kids were out there for a good long while. I know how long it takes for backup to arrive…I’ve watched other fights.” Evan was shaking with restrained fury. With no other avenue to vent his fear and frustration, Tommy was it and he would not be deterred.

“Then doesn’t it stand to reason that Tommy wasn’t there because he couldn’t be there?” Jason retorted. “Nothing like what happened this morning has ever happened before.”

“What do you know?” Evan demanded harshly.

Jason gave a hard chuckle. “Did you miss all the wardrobe clues, friend?” He plucked at his own red t-shirt. Evan’s eyes widened and he shook his head in confusion; his anger losing momentum without a steady target. “What do you mean? Other rangers?”

“There are many battles the TV cameras never see.” Jason gave a sideways glance at Tommy who was looking shaken and unsteady. It finally dawned on Evan that Conner wasn’t the only casualty of the morning’s fight, just one of the more obviously injured. But he couldn’t fully let go of his anger or pain. Tommy might have been hurting, but he was walking around and drinking coffee. Conner was not.

Any further discussion was prevented by the arrival of Carter. “Excuse me, Mr. McKnight? We’ll be bringing Conner upstairs to a room in the hospital once the tests are finished, not back to the ER. Dana asked me to show you where he’ll be.”

“Okay.” Evan nodded distractedly. “Okay.” He pushed his chair back so quickly from the table that he nearly toppled over. He didn’t make eye-contact with either Tommy or Jason, just followed close on Carter’s heels as he led the way out.

Tommy’s head had dropped down to rest in his hands. His elbows were propped up against the table and all of his muscles were tight with tension. Jason moved closer to his side and slung his arm around Tommy’s shoulders. “Tommy? Tom?” Jason gave him a little shake.

Jason shouldn’t have been surprised when Kim appeared from seemingly out of nowhere to support Tommy on the other side. Kim, understanding just as well as Jason that this was no time to confront the issues of the past, focused firmly on the present. “Tommy….everyone’s working to help Conner. He’s going to be okay. You have to believe that.”

A single choked sob escaped from Tommy’s chest. It broke Jason’s heart. Sudden movement from behind Jason got his attention. It was Kira, latching onto Ethan and attempting to drag them both behind her mother. Mr. James, didn’t understand why Kira was affected the way she was, but did understand that the best thing for her would be to leave. Making an executive decision, he made this announcement to Kim, the only adult at the table he knew, “I’m taking the kids home.”

Ethan began to protest vehemently, but he couldn’t make a good argument with Kira wrapped around his neck. Tyrone James overruled him with a look. “It’s time you got home, young man. You still have your mother to deal with.”

“But Conner…Dad, we can’t leave.”

“Son, your being here will not help the doctors do their job.”

Ethan looked helplessly at Kim. As a regular person, Ethan knew he couldn’t help. But as a Ranger…Kim shook her head. They’d managed to conceal their identities from their parents, now was not the time to expose them.

“We’ll call you if anything changes.” Kim said to Ethan.

“Kim…” Ethan pleaded. But he knew it was a lost cause. Kim wasn’t going to argue with his dad, especially if she had her hands full with Tommy.

“At least let me go back to the ER and get my stuff.” Ethan argued. His father agreed, and Ethan transferred Kira to her mother’s embrace. Jogging to the exit Ethan tossed a glance over his shoulder. Things were falling apart, and he didn’t know how to fix them.

Chapter Text

Ethan watched the windshield wipers, mesmerized. He snapped himself out of a doze more than once. He tried to keep himself alert and focused, but it was hard. None of them had caught much more than a nap over the past few days, and Ethan could feel the extended battles finally catching up with him. But he knew this was no time to give in or show weakness – he still had his mother to deal with.

In Ethan’s opinion, Kira got off easy. She was so obviously distraught and exhausted that Ethan could just imagine her mother packing her off to bed no questions asked. He did not think he would be that lucky. So, in the short drive from the Ford’s to home, Ethan tried to come up with a plausible story; anything that would make sense and explain his absence from home for the past two days. The “I’m working on a project” excuse was fine for Sunday night, but he hadn’t checked in or been home since then and now it was Tuesday afternoon. Ethan could not see how this would end well.

The lurch of the car settling into park and the disengagement of the engine woke Ethan. Disoriented he looked around at the familiar driveway. Did I fall asleep? I was sure I was working on a story to tell mom… Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Ethan blearily climbed out of the car and followed his father into the house.

“Ethan James! Where have you been? Get over here right now!” Ethan obediently crossed the bright and warm kitchen to where Beverly James stood by the kitchen table. Her laptop was surrounded by neat piles of paper; she’d obviously been working while waiting for the men to come home. Though she hadn’t gone into the office because of the storm warnings, she was still dressed as though ready to go to work. Her stern tone was tempered by the deep concern in her eyes; and when she fiercely embraced her son she was somewhat surprised at the embrace she received back.

“Oh Ethan, honey,” she whispered, all anger forgotten for a moment, “you had us so worried.” She held him a little tighter and was shocked at how strong his arms felt around her.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to make you worry.” Beverly released Ethan, marveling that she was the one to let go first; Ethan hadn’t hugged her like that since he was a little boy. She took a good long look at his face. He’d never been able to pull anything over on her, and she could read the honest regret she saw there.

“Sit down.” That tone brooked no argument, and Ethan sat. Beverly resumed her seat near her laptop; Tyrone sat on Ethan’s left, opposite his wife. “Now…where have you been?”

The unfinished plan Ethan had concocted in the car flew out of his head. There was just no way he would be able to outright lie to his mother and pull it off; he could handle the occasional evasion or omission, but he was in no shape for a frontal assault. He decided to give as much of the truth as he could, and focus on his whereabouts for today as opposed to explaining where he’s been yesterday. He didn’t think “I was hanging out in Dr. O’s secret lab between monster attacks” would go over well.

“We got caught in the storm – Conner, Kira and me.”

“And ‘I’.” his mother automatically corrected.

“And I, “ Ethan repeated. “We were on our way to school, but Kira likes the coffee from that place by the courthouse, so we went.” Ethan frantically tried to remember what happened first – the Tyranodrone attack or the storm. It was definitely the attack…the ninjas were there first, and then Hunter and Blake kicked up the storm. “Then some of those mutant freaks attacked, so all the civilians ran for shelter.” That is absolutely true, though I’m implying that we were part of that civilian crowd…

“We watched the fight for a while…” We watched from the lab, but same difference. “Everyone was told to stay inside, away from the fight. And then the storm just came out of nowhere. It wasn’t safe to go outside.” Ethan felt like he was on solid ground with this edited version of the morning’s events, but he was surprised at how hesitant he felt to continue. He really didn’t want to talk about Conner’s injury. Not because he couldn’t really explain it, but because it deeply upset him.

“But you did go outside.” His mother prompted. “You were out in that storm. What were you thinking?”

Ethan didn’t reply at first. He couldn’t express what he really wanted to: I don’t think when the fight happens, Mom. I just do what I can to protect the people of Reefside. I love this town and won’t let it be overrun by some dinosaur mutant freak! Ethan sat silently at his kitchen table, surrounded by safety and his family, and realized for the first time what the fight truly meant to him. Being a Ranger wasn’t about racking up points and beating your high score; they were fighting for something real. But the cost was high, and you couldn’t reset the game to get a new life.

Beverly was intent on getting an answer out of her son, trying to make him take responsibility for his actions and grew impatient waiting for Ethan to verbalize a response. But Tyrone sensed the change in the air. He moved his chair a little closer to Ethan’s and placed an arm around his shoulder. “Ethan?”

“Conner went out into the storm.” Ethan choked out. He stared ahead, not seeing his parents or the kitchen. “He just wanted to help. We all wanted to help. But none of us could help Conner. We still can’t.” Ethan couldn’t fight himself anymore; the lack of sleep, his overworked body, even holding himself together for Kira’s sake had taken a toll, and he couldn’t do it any more. Ethan broke down in sobs, covering his face, ashamed of acting like such a baby in front of his parents.

Beverly shared a look of concern with her husband as she pulled her chair in closer to Ethan’s too. “Oh baby…” she crooned, gathering him to her to rock him gently.

“We left him in good hands, Ethan.” His father murmured as he rubbed Ethan’s back. “The doctors will take care of Conner.”

“They can’t do it. They can’t help. We should be able to figure it out, but it’s all wrong. The triangle is broken…I don’t know why we can’t make it work.” Ethan rambled even as sobs wracked his frame.

Beverly became even more concerned. It wasn’t like Ethan at all to show such an overt display of emotion. And while she understood that he was concerned about his friend, she was startled that he was so incoherent. She had seen and heard enough. This was no time for an inquisition; getting to the bottom of Ethan’s whereabouts for the past few days would just have to wait. After a few minutes, Ethan’s sobs began to ease; his mother felt comfortable taking control of the situation again.

“Ethan, you are beside yourself exhausted. It’s time you got to bed.”

“No Mom…what if the hospital calls…what if Conner…” Beverly cut him off before he could get worked up again.

“If they call, we’ll wake you up. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of him, honey.” Beverly saw that Ethan had connected with something she had said – he seemed very concerned about helping out Conner, and seemed to buy that unless he was at the top of his game he wouldn’t be useful to anybody. Tyrone stood and pulled Ethan up with him. Ethan was wobbly, but with his father’s help, made it up the stairs and into his room with no problems. Beverly followed with Ethan’s backpack in hand.

Ethan seemed somewhat surprised to realize he was standing in his own bedroom and looked around perplexed. His father gently guided him to the bed where he made him sit while he pulled his sneakers off. Ethan rubbed his eyes distractedly and spoke, though he didn’t seem to be addressing his parents. “Hunter’s a part of it, but he wasn’t getting through either…just adding energy. What happens when it stops raining?”

“Don’t worry about that, son.” His father said as he pushed Ethan down onto his pillows. “It’s going to rain the rest of the day.” For some reason that seamed to put Ethan’s mind at ease and he closed his eyes. He was instantly asleep.

Not knowing quite what to make of the outburst or their exhausted son, the James’ left the room and took up a quiet watch for the rest of the afternoon.

Chapter Text

By the time Haley had returned to Tommy’s to pick up Kanoi he had awakened Tori and had her seated at the kitchen table with a bowl of soup. Both of them looked up when Haley entered. Haley gave Tori a genuine smile and said, “You’re looking better! How are the boys?”

“Still sleeping.” Tori replied. “How’s Blake? What’s been going on at the hospital?” Haley was the first person with any information about what had been happening outside of Tommy’s and Tori was desperate to know. Haley gave a brief synopsis of everyone’s medical conditions, repeatedly assuring Tori that Blake really was fine – better off, in fact, than the others who had been injured.

“It’s really Conner that we can’t figure out. He’s not physically injured like Adam and Blake; it seems to be a mental thing. It’s somehow tied into his energy, but Billy and I just can’t figure it out. We were hoping Sensei would have more luck understanding Conner’s condition.”

“I will do what I can, Haley.” Kanoi spoke as he rose from the table. “Tori, please keep an eye on the other Rangers. If anything changes, please call…we will do the same for you.”

“Yes, Sensei.” Tori believed the reassurances given to her by Haley about Blake’s condition; otherwise she would’ve woken up the others and dragged them into the car with them for the return trip to the hospital. But she felt strongly she would know if Blake was in distress, and she wasn’t getting any feelings like that from him. And though she knew that both Dustin and Shane were fine, she was reluctant to leave them alone. She trusted that if they were needed Sensei would let them know.

Kanoi and Haley left Tori in Tommy’s kitchen and headed out to Haley’s car. On the ride to the hospital, Kanoi pressed Haley about more information about Conner’s condition. He could sense her growing frustration about being unable to pinpoint and therefore fix Conner’s problem.

“From what Billy and I have been able to determine, Conner seems to have a steady energy signature. It’s much weaker than normal, but it is steady. But he remains totally unresponsive. Rocky, Carter and Hunter have been taking turns staying with Conner; we can’t tell how much that has or hasn’t helped him. But, it seems to make the guys in red feel better, so we figure it can’t hurt.”

“How is Doctor Oliver?”

Haley shook her head. “He’s still pretty unsteady, though right before I left he was awake and eating. Jason really seems to be good for Tommy.”

“Who is Jason?” Kanoi inquired.

“Oh…” It was hard for Haley to keep track of who knew whom and where everyone was in their understanding of the situation. “Jason was the original Red Ranger. He had Tyrannosaurus power like Conner. I guess that was twelve or thirteen years ago. Kim and Billy were original Rangers too.”

Kanoi’s brow wrinkled. “Jason was not a Ninjetti.” It was more statement than question.

Haley shook her head. “No. Jason passed on his power to Rocky before the group was given their Ninjetti power. But he and Tommy have always been close…like brothers.”

“It is interesting that Jason is the one who is supporting Tommy now, though in a way it makes sense.” Kanoi said no more, and Haley did not have a chance to push him for an explanation as she pulled into a parking spot in the hospital’s lot.

Entering the emergency room Haley swiftly led Kanoi to the room where Conner was stationed. But upon their arrival, Haley was struck by how everything had changed. Conner still lay in his bed, but he was surrounded by a team of medical personnel being directed by Dana. There were no other Rangers left in the room. Hunter was the only one left; he stood like a silent sentry in the doorway, totally fixated on Conner; he didn’t even notice that they’d arrived. Kanoi was frankly surprised that Hunter was down in the ER and not with Blake.

Haley approached Hunter and gave his arm a little shake. “Hunter? Where is everybody?”

It took Hunter a moment to refocus and realize that Haley was addressing him. “Umm…Kira ran out and Kim ran after her. Tommy and Jason went to talk to Conner’s dad. And Billy and Carter are doing something in another room getting ready for some test they want to do…” Hunter waved his hand at the assembled doctors indicating that when they were done here they had more tests to do.

“Conner’s father is here?” Haley asked.

“Yeah.” For the first time Hunter’s face became animated. “His mother was here too. They arrested her.” Hunter’s angry tone filled Haley with curiosity. Arrested? Of course something important happens when I’m not here! But she did not let herself get distracted by the desire to get more information; she needed to stay focused on the task at hand.

Kanoi observed the team working in the room. “It seems they are very involved in their medical tests. I believe I would only be in the way now.” Kanoi stated speaking aloud, but really addressing Haley. He moved backward into the hallway to allow a technician to pass him. “I will visit with Conner when they are finished. Hunter,” he addressed the tall Crimson Ranger as he laid a hand on his shoulder, “I am surprised that you are not with Blake.”

“Blake’s the one who sent me down here, Sensei. But Cam’s with him, so it’s okay.” Haley didn’t see what Hunter’s two statements had to do with one another, but they seemed to make sense to him so she let it be.

“I would like to see him.” Kanoi knew it would be useless to ask Hunter to leave Conner, particularly if he’d been charged by his brother to stay with him. “Haley, do you know where Blake is?”

“I do. I’ll take you up there. Then I’m going to try to find Tommy or Billy…see who I can help.”

Hunter didn’t seem to notice them leaving, his attention had returned once again to Conner. Together Haley and Kanoi walked to the elevator. They traveled to the fourth floor in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. When the bell announced their arrival at the fourth floor Kanoi stepped out. Holding her hand out to keep the elevator doors open Haley gave him directions. “Go down this corridor on the left until it dead ends. Make a left and Blake’s room is the second on the left.” Kanoi nodded and Haley let the doors slide shut.

Silently Kanoi made his way down the hospital corridor. Haley’s directions were accurate, and he quickly arrived at his destination. From his vantage point in the hallway he saw Blake first; though the bed was in an upright position Blake was fast asleep. To Kanoi the Thunder ninja looked terribly young. Cam was seated next to the bed on Blake’s left taking advantage of the light from the window to read. Kanoi was not surprised to see that Cam had gotten his hands on a book from somewhere.

Not wanting to wake Blake, but feeling an urgent need to make a connection, Kanoi approached the bed. His movement into the room got Cam’s attention. Cam watched quietly as Kanoi reached out to touch Blake’s face; he held his right hand against Blake’s left cheek for a long moment. Nodding silently to himself, Kanoi turned toward Cam. “Well done, Cameron.”

Cam stood awkwardly by the chair he had so recently occupied. Kanoi, knowing that Cam would never make the first move, left Blake’s side and walked purposefully around the bed. He caught Cam up in a tight embrace and was pleased to feel Cam hug him back. Holding his hand on Cam’s neck Kanoi whispered fiercely, “Well done my son. Well done. Are you alright?”

Cam nodded into his father’s shoulder and then released him. He stepped back slightly in order to see Kanoi better. “I’m fine. What about the Wind Rangers? Dustin?”

“Dustin is well. He is resting. The Ninjetti were successful in returning him to Tori and Shane.” Kanoi looked critically at his son. “You look tired.”

“You try reigning in Hunter for a day, see how you feel.” Cam stated. But his trademark sarcasm couldn’t divert Kanoi from noticing how deeply exhausted his son was, and he would not be deterred.

“Have you rested, Cam?”

Cam shrugged. “I can’t. I promised Hunter I’d stay with Blake and…” Cam looked up at his father unwilling to continue, but the expression on his face clearly indicated that he had something on his mind. A brief inner war raged then Cam gestured for Kanoi to join him in the doorway. Blake hadn’t stirred during their brief conversation, but Cam wanted to be sure not to disturb him. Kanoi was amused to see how seriously Cam was taking Hunter’s directive to stay with Blake. Though Cam walked with Kanoi to the doorway, he would not step out into the hallway.

“Father, something happened today.” Kanoi waited silently knowing Cam would reveal his thoughts in his own time. “I don’t understand it. I don’t even know if it was real.” Cam threw a glance over his shoulder toward the bed; Blake continued to sleep peacefully.

Cam turned back toward his father, measuring his reaction to what he was about to share. “After Blake was injured, only the power of the storm was keeping him alive. I thought that if I could get Hunter to him, Hunter could help. But it didn’t work…not at first. My Samurai power didn’t connect with their Thunder power – I could feel it flowing all around me, but I couldn’t get a hold of it.” Cam’s face creased with remembered frustration. “I could feel Blake slipping away and I knew I couldn’t do anything to hold onto him…”

Dropping his gaze, Cam stared down at his hands envisioning how they had looked this morning. Blood from Blake’s wound and water from the storm bathed Cam’s hands as they pressed against the hole in Blake’s chest. Cam was filled with despair as he felt Blake’s life energy being washed away with the storm. He cried out in desperation, and his plea was answered. That answer had shaken him to his core.

“Their parents were there…Blake and Hunter’s.” Cam said softly. “I…I’m sure Blake died. I could feel him go, but his mother…she said it wasn’t Blake’s time. Something they did made me part of them. I could harness the Thunder power in connection with Hunter. And once Blake was reconnected, they were gone.” Cam shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. “They were there, in that storm today. And she spoke to me.”

Kanoi continued to wait. Whatever it was that was bothering Cam about the encounter with the Bradley’s spirits, he had yet to share. “She spoke to me, Father.” he repeated. Cam looked searchingly at this father’s face as he spoke, looking for an answer there that he hadn’t been able to find for himself. “She told me to take care of my brother. At first I thought she wanted me to pass the message on to Hunter or Blake, but I don’t think that’s right. She said it to me…and she was talking about Blake.” Cam looked back at the bed again, and then turned back to his father. “I’m not a Bradley, Father.”

“Neither was Blake when he was born.” Kanoi answered. “Some families are built on more than just blood.” Kanoi looked at Cam and tried to intuit the source of his distress. “Do you not want to be a brother to Blake?”

“No,” Cam declared, “I would love to be…part of what they…” He couldn’t meet his father’s gaze as he sighed deeply. “I can’t intrude.” he finished weakly.

“You may never intrude where you are invited, my son.” Kanoi placed a gentle hand on Cam’s shoulder. “It would make my heart glad to see you with brothers.” Cam’s head snapped up surprised, and Kanoi understood that part of Cam’s hesitation was the fear of offending Kanoi as part of his blood family. He gave Cam’s shoulder a squeeze. “Very glad.” Cam’s expression was a mix of gratitude and love.

“Hey Sensei!” called out Blake from the bed. Kanoi and Cam walked back into the room together.

“Blake, “Kanoi responded. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m pretty tired considering I’ve slept all day.” Blake joked. “Didn’t mean to wipe out on you, man.” he apologized to Cam.

“Sleep is the best thing for you.” Cam replied. “Don’t worry. I found a book.” He gestured over to where the book laid on the empty chair. Blake twisted his head for a better look at the title.

Foundations of Clinical Research – Applications to Practice? Cam? Where’d you find something like that?” was Blake’s exasperated reply. “You’ll need to make yourself comfortable on the other bed because that thing will put you to sleep!”

“I’ll give it to you to put you back to sleep.” Cam mock threatened.

“No way...Dana said no heavy lifting.” Blake teased back.

Kanoi spent a few more minutes with Cam and Blake, filling them in on as much as he knew about the others, and reassuring Blake that Tori was fine. He was glad Tori was the one he’d chosen to wake; this way he could relate the actual conversation he’d had with her before he left instead of saying “she was asleep when I left”. Knowing that Tori was talking and eating was very heartening to Blake.

After only a few minutes Blake started to nod off again. Cam gave Kanoi directions to the burn unit, two floors up. When Kanoi arrived on the sixth floor he was struck by the starkness of this area of the hospital. It was cooler than either the emergency room or Blake’s floor – germs have more difficulty breeding in cool environments. The furniture was sparse and the decorations limited- fewer surfaces to collect dust and cause contamination to the patients. The only spots of color on the ward were the nurses in their brightly colored uniforms; it was as if they needed to make up for the lack of color everywhere else on the floor.

Two other bright spots of color caught Kanoi’s eye – Rocky and Aisha. Both were situated near the window of Adam’s room. Rocky was standing, and Aisha had dragged a chair over to sit next to him. Aisha spotted Kanoi first. “Sensei!” was her happy greeting. Dana, Carter and Cam had made sporadic visits to the burn ward, but as the afternoon wore Cam had stopped coming and Aisha was beginning to feel forgotten. In her mind she understood that Adam wasn’t the only person injured that morning and the Rangers needed to be with them as well, but in her heart she couldn’t help feeling isolated.

Aisha rushed toward Kanoi and he received her enthusiastic greeting with pleasure. Keeping an arm around her, Kanoi walked back with her toward where Rocky remained standing, unmoving. As Kanoi looked through the window at Adam he was profoundly grateful for the excessive amounts of bandaging that had been used. Looking only at Adam’s uninjured side it was easy to imagine that he wasn’t so grievously injured. But Kanoi had seen Adam when Haley teleported him to the lab; imagination could only go so far…it was much more difficult to forget.

Kanoi realized two things very quickly: Rocky was wound so tight he was ready to snap, if he didn’t allow himself some kind of release soon he would implode; and, as long as Aisha remained in close proximity he would never allow himself to break down. In protecting her he was damaging himself. Kanoi had the sense that Aisha was aware of the situation, but she was not willing to leave Rocky alone; so the two of them waited alone in the cold corridor. They didn’t even have the ability to be with Adam – the risk of infection was too great. So Rocky was denied the one thing he wanted most desperately to do – share his strength by making contact. Looking at Rocky looking at Adam reminded Kanoi strongly of Hunter and Conner. It was as if they wanted it badly enough they could will their injured friends back to health.

Kanoi decided to step in. He didn’t think Rocky would be happy with his directives, but over the last few days the Rangers had automatically deferred to Kanoi – heeding his suggestions and following his lead. He hoped that automatic response would kick in now. “Aisha,” he began, “you two have been up here all day, haven’t you? I hate to take you away from Rocky, but I think Kira and Kim could use you.”

Aisha turned to look at Kanoi, concern in her face. “Kira? Kim? What’s wrong?”

“I am not certain. But I do know that Conner continues to struggle and Kira is having a very hard time dealing with it. Do you think you might be able to help?”

Aisha turned back to look at Adam. There had been no change in his condition for hours. He was stabilized, but still unconscious. All of her instincts screamed at her to find something to do but she was reluctant to leave Rocky. Kanoi knew that was her sticking point and addressed it. “I will stay here with Rocky and Adam as long as you are gone. Maybe when you return you could bring Rocky something to eat?”

It was the double responsibility that got Aisha motivated. Helping Kira and Kim was important, but feeding Rocky was paramount in her mind. “You’ll be okay?” Aisha asked Rocky. She leaned across Kanoi to touch his arm. He nodded his head but didn’t respond verbally.

Aisha gave a soft sigh. “I’ll be back soon.” She said to Kanoi. She leaned in close to him to whisper, “Thanks.”

He gave her a final quick hug before letting her go. Neither Kanoi nor Rocky spoke as Aisha jogged down the hallway. The bell signaling the elevator indicated when she left. Then there was nothing left but silence. Kanoi knew that he couldn’t wait out Rocky’s silence; from all appearances he could stand there at that window all day looking at Adam. Kanoi knew in his heart it was so important to break through to the young man drowning in despair beside him – but he simply didn’t know where to start.

Chapter Text

Aisha rode the elevator back down to the ground floor alone. She was glad she didn’t have to make eye-contact or small talk with strangers. Under normal circumstances she wouldn’t have minded, but this day had been nothing close to normal and she enjoyed the solitude while she had it. Part of her attention was focused on finding Kim and Kira, wondering where they were and how she’d find them; but another part of her continued to stay focused on Adam and Rocky even though she was no longer physically with them. Aisha had been relieved when Kanoi sent her on this errand, but already she was feeling the need to return to her friends; she hoped Kim wouldn’t need her for long.

The elevator discharged Aisha on the ground floor and she followed the signs back to the emergency room. From there she wandered around for a bit searching for Conner’s room. She hadn’t spent enough time in the ER to become familiar with the layout, though she had intimate knowledge of the burn unit. After a few minutes of fruitless searching Aisha had a moment of panic where she was convinced that all the other Rangers had abandoned them. Then she spotted Dana and rushed toward her.

“Dana!” she called out.

Dana looked up distractedly from the bundle of paper in her hands. “Aisha,” she answered back, “is everything okay?”

Aisha nodded her head. “Nothing’s changed. Sensei Kanoi sent me down here to find Kim and Kira. Do you know where they are?”

“Kira rushed out of here pretty fast with Kim on her heels. I think she was having a hard time dealing with Conner’s parents. My guess is that if Kim caught up with her, they’re probably in the coffee shop or cafeteria…Kim feels the need to make sure everyone eats.”

Aisha smiled. “I know how that is. I’ve got to keep Rocky fed.” The women shared a chuckle. “Can you tell me how to get to the coffee shop?” Dana obligingly gave Aisha directions then hurried away with her nose deep in the sheaf of papers she’d been reading when Aisha caught her attention.

The coffee shop wasn’t hard to find. And the round table where Tommy, Jason and Kim were seated drew Aisha like a magnet. Though she wasn’t aware of everything that had transpired while she’d been upstairs with Rocky and Adam, it was evident that something had shaken Tommy badly. Forgetting her own bruised feelings, Aisha rushed forward. She approached the group on Kim’s side. Laying a hand on Kim’s shoulder she leaned in to speak to her friend. “Can I help?”

“Aisha.” Kim acknowledged the new arrival with a relieved yet tight smile. “I’m glad you’re here.” Kim’s expression drew Aisha in closer and she drew the former pink Ranger into a one-armed hug. Aisha caught Kim’s eye and asked in a voice she hoped was too low to carry the short distance to Tommy, “Conner?” Kim gave her head a slight shake to indicate that Conner’s status was unchanged, but she couldn’t elaborate with Tommy in such close proximity.

Jason spoke for the first time since Aisha had joined the group. “Kimmy, you’ve done the most walking around the hospital, is there anywhere we can go for a little privacy?”

Kim thought for a moment and then nodded. She and Jason rose simultaneously pulling Tommy up between them. Jason pulled Tommy’s arm across his shoulder and tried to get him steady before they started walking. Aisha was shocked at the state Tommy was in – she had never seen the former Red Ranger in such obvious emotional distress and it was devastating to see him that way. Kim tried to support Tommy on his free side, but he pulled his hand away so he could continue to cover his face. Aisha hoped Kim could find them a private retreat quickly before Tommy totally collapsed.

Understanding the need to move fast, Kim took the lead. Aisha stepped up to Tommy’s side and guided him holding his elbow; Jason was really doing most of the work keeping him upright. The trip through the hospital hallways was a blur to Aisha; she knew if she had to retrace her steps she’d never be able to find their destination, she was far too focused on keeping Tommy moving. She was therefore surprised when Kim declared that they had arrived. Aisha took a look around and was taken aback by the abundance of green. She took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of vibrant, growing things. Kim had led them to the hospital’s atrium.

From what Aisha could make out, the atrium had once been an outdoor courtyard. The trees and plants growing there were not planted in artificial beds; the ground underfoot was actual dirt and grass. At some point in the hospital’s past, someone had come up with the idea of enclosing the courtyard so that long term patients could enjoy the outdoors without the danger of being rained on. The glass paneled roof of the atrium was about four stories high, giving ample growing room for the variety of trees nestled within. Scattered throughout the wide atrium were many low benches sporadically placed near the wide wheelchair friendly paths.

“This is great, Kim. Better than I expected.” Jason said. He didn’t lead Tommy to the closest bench, which surprised Aisha. Instead he brought the group to a bench further into the courtyard. There was a tall oak nearby and a small clearing surrounded by a border of pink and purple Impatients. Jason let Tommy slump down onto the bench, but didn’t sit down next to him; instead he crouched near Tommy’s feet in front of him. Aisha slid onto the bench on the side where she’d been supporting Tommy, and Kim worked her way into the other side. Tommy hunched forward with his elbows on his knees and his face hidden once again in his hands. Sitting this closely to him, Aisha could feel the tension he was transmitting from every muscle.

Jason was busily attending to something Aisha couldn’t see. Aisha gave Jason a quizzical look; she couldn’t figure out what he was doing. She and Kim exchanged a glance; Kim gave her a little shrug. When Jason sat back onto the grass, Aisha got a better look at what he’d been doing. For some reason he had removed Tommy’s shoes. And now he was removing his own.

“Jase…what are you…?” Kim began.

Jason cut her off with a look, got up on one knee and turned his attention back to Tommy. He placed his hands on Tommy’s shoulders and said, “Tommy…listen to me, bro. You’ve got to get focused.” Tommy made no indication that he heard Jason, but that didn’t bother Jason at all; it seemed that he was expecting to get no reaction. Getting to his feet, Jason pulled Tommy to his feet as well. He pulled Tommy forward and wrapped him in a giant hug. He held one hand at the base of Tommy’s neck. Tommy’s arms were caught between him and Jason, but he did lean his head forward to rest on Jason’s shoulder. It appeared Jason was getting through after all.

“Tommy,” Jason continued as he held Tommy tightly, “I know what you’re feeling…but you can’t let it crush you. No matter what you think, those kids still need you…Conner most of all. If you give up on yourself now, you’re giving up on him too. You can’t do that Tommy. You can’t.”

Aisha could see a tremor work its way through Tommy’s body. The emotion generated between the two men was so powerful that Aisha unconsciously sought Kim as a buffer; Kim was doing the same. The women drew together on the bench and wrapped their arms around each other. Neither one spoke, they did not want to disturb what was happening between the others.

Jason had continued to speak, but now, instead of encouraging Tommy to calm down, he was directing him to breathe. Still wrapped in Jason’s embrace, it was clear Tommy was following his directions. Slowly Jason loosened his grip and he stepped back. Now face to face, he and Tommy continued to breathe together. Aisha couldn’t tell what signal Jason was looking for, but after a few moments of breathing he moved to Tommy’s left side and the directions he was giving changed. Jason called out a starting position for a complex kata that he and Tommy used to practice together. Though Tommy had his back to the bench, Aisha could tell he was already relaxing by the set of his shoulders.

For a few quiet minutes Aisha and Kim sat in companionable silence watching Jason move Tommy through the kata. Now Aisha understood why Jason was so happy Kim had brought them to this place. Here they were surrounded by living plants and running water; it was a far better place to find one’s center than the sterile setting of a hospital waiting room. Once Aisha was sure the men were so involved in the kata that some conversation wouldn’t distract them, she turned her attention to Kim.

“Sensei Kanoi sent me down here to find you and Kira. Where is she? Is everything okay?”

Kim leaned into Aisha a little. “Kira went into overload when Conner’s parents showed up. Luckily her mom arrived at nearly the same time. Between her and Ethan, and a few tricks I shared with her, I think Kira will be okay” Quietly, so as not to disturb the others, Kim relayed everything she knew about Conner’s condition, his hysterical mother and the other Dino Thunder Ranger’s parents. Aisha listened attentively; she hadn’t realized how cut off she’d felt being so far away from the others.

Kim easily picked up on her feelings. “Oh, Aisha!” she pulled the former Yellow Ranger to her in a hug. “We didn’t mean to leave you guys alone!” And Aisha, reading the sincerity in Kim’s plea hugged her back, feeling reassured and revitalized. Kim insisted on hearing everything Aisha had to relate about Adam and Rocky. Aisha was surprised at how unburdened she felt by sharing her concerns and fears. She only wished Rocky could find the same release.

“I left Rocky with Sensei Kanoi. I don’t know, Kim.” Aisha shook her head worriedly. “Rocky’s never been the type to hold back with his emotions. It’s that Latin blood in him…he’s very demonstrative.” Kim smiled at her friend knowing from past late night girl talks they’d had just how demonstrative Rocky could be. But Aisha didn’t smile back; she was worried. “It’s like he’s crushing himself with his emotions. I can see it happening, but I can’t stop it. He opened up a little, but then he shut down again. And he won’t let me in – I know it’s because he doesn’t want me to hurt too…but he just doesn’t see he’s making things worse.”

Kim didn’t have an answer, but she did have a shoulder that Aisha freely cried on for the next few minutes. As Aisha cried herself out, her attention was caught by Jason once again. She knew enough about karate to realize that he’d changed what he’d been doing. For the time when she and Kim were talking, Jason was directing Tommy in a kata meant to focus and center the person who was doing it; they stood side by side, mirroring each other’s slow movements. But now the Jason’s directions had changed; he’d moved Tommy into a combat ready position. Tommy was so focused on Jason’s voice; he was so deep within himself that Aisha didn’t think he realized how things had changed. She watched them with curiosity.

The final movements of the kata had brought Tommy to stand perpendicular to the bench. In profile, Aisha could see that the expression on his face was deeply relaxed and he stood with his eyes closed waiting Jason’s next direction. Jason started calling out attack moves, singular and in succession. Aisha recognized the movements – they were training moves you’d use with a novice. Tommy responded automatically – though his eyes were now opened, he looked like he was in the zone. He was so focused on the feeling of his own body and the sound of Jason’s voice that there was nothing else in his universe at the moment. Kim was caught up watching the display as well.

Aisha had forgotten how much she enjoyed watching Tommy and Jason spar. But she was struck with a strong pang of longing for Rocky and Adam. Jason increased the tempo, and Tommy responded. To Aisha it looked like he was much more aware of his surroundings and totally in control of his movements. On his face was a look of anticipation. It seemed now that he understood what Jason was doing he knew what was coming next.

Tommy reset his position and looked at Jason eagerly. Jason gave him a silent nod. Without warning, Tommy attacked. Jason was ready to meet his every move. Tommy was fighting all out and Jason was hard pressed to keep up with him. Aisha could see on Tommy’s face that whatever he was fighting against had nothing to do with Jason. Tommy’s yells punctuated his punches and kicks. Jason ducked and dodged. He was very much aware of Tommy’s injuries and had to hold back in order not to aggravate them. But at the moment Tommy wasn’t feeling any pain or holding back at all; it put Jason at an extreme disadvantage.

Aisha could feel that Kim shared her concern. Jason was just letting Tommy pound on him, and if something didn’t happen quickly, Jason could be seriously injured. Aisha didn’t see a signal or hear a command, but by mutual assent the fighting stopped as quickly as it has begun. Jason flashed a triumphant grin at Tommy who looked much more like his old self. Then with exaggerated care Jason lowered himself to the bench next to Aisha. “Hey man, I don’t have a Power Coin anymore, remember?” he mock complained.

Tommy eased himself gingerly to the ground near Kim and leaned against her legs for support. He didn’t see the surprised and happy expression on her face when he settled back against her, but Aisha did. “I’m not the one who engineered this spontaneous spar…” Tommy responded. After a moment, Tommy leaned forward slightly so he could catch Jason’s eye. He nodded, and his face was filled with all the emotions he was unable to express. “Thanks.”

Jason nodded in return. “Anytime, bro.”

Tommy returned to his position leaning against Kim. Aisha didn’t think either one of them noticed when Kim started to run her fingers through his hair; it was such a natural motion to the two of them, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. But Jason caught it, and then winked at Aisha. She grinned back. The atrium became silent once again. The four of them soaked in the vitality of the place and the energy of each other. In a short time they felt refreshed enough to face whatever other challenges that the rest of the day might bring them. Kim and Aisha headed back to the coffee shop to get supplies to bring up to Rocky, and Tommy and Jason went in search of Conner’s new room.

Chapter Text

What’s that noise?

Whatever it was it had to be something out of the ordinary or it wouldn’t have caught Adam’s attention. It wasn’t loud and startling; just a low, consistent something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The identity of the mysterious sound eluded Adam as sleep claimed him once again.
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There it is again. I wonder what it is.

Adam had no idea how much time had elapsed between now and the first time he’d heard the sound. To him, time seemed elastic and fragmented; wholly disconnected from his experience. All that mattered at the moment was figuring out what that sound was. It wasn’t a scary sound; it was almost soothing. So comforting in fact that as he listened to it, it soothed him back to sleep.
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I want to know what it is…

The third time Adam rose to consciousness he was thinking even before he reconnected with his body. Somewhere in his unconscious state he’d been pondering the elusive noise and as he came out of sleep he was ready to determine what the noise was. More wakeful than he’d been the first two times he’d roused Adam paid particular attention to the environment around him.

He was pretty sure he was in a room and the room was in a hospital. Adam could recall some of the fight in Mesogog’s lab. He could recall what he was feeling right before the explosion, but not the explosion itself. He knew that somehow the others had gotten him out and brought him here. It was a reassuring thought.

There was no movement in the room; no hint of the people he knew must be close by. He could hear the buzzing hum of the lights and the sharp tones of the equipment measuring his heart rate. And there – there it was again, that sound. Adam held his breath as he tried to listen and realized he couldn’t. The sound that had drawn his attention coincided with his breathing – he couldn’t hold his breath because the machine was breathing for him. Forcing his lungs to expand and contract with or without his help.

Adam was struck with a stab of blind panic. Instinctively he tried to breathe against the machine and found he could not. Forcing himself to remain calm, Adam analyzed his situation. He knew he’d been hurt badly so he shouldn’t be surprised that it had taken some extreme measures to keep him alive. But knowing he’d been injured badly and actually experiencing it were two different things. He had to remind himself that all of the machines he was hooked up to indicated that he was getting help; no one had given up on him. But for some reason, he was alone. That frightened Adam even more than having a respirator breathe for him.

A sound, a movement caught his attention. There’s someone here! Adam tried desperately to move. He wanted to open his eyes to alert the person that he was awake. But his body wouldn’t respond. He was so tired, and in spite of his urgent need to communicate he couldn’t fight against the fatigue that overwhelmed him. Even as he tumbled back toward unconsciousness Adam was determined that the next time he woke he would make his presence known.
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The sounds he had identified earlier indicated to Adam his return to awareness. There was a sameness to the sounds that was reassuring to Adam, in spite of his resistance to the respirator. All of the sounds of the hospital room indicated that he had a fighting chance. And Adam wasn’t eager to leave this life now that he’d returned to it. As he had done earlier, Adam extended his senses to the room around him. He was surprised at how limited his range was. All he could tell for sure was that there were no people in the room with him, but it was hard for him to sense anything beyond.

Rocky wouldn’t leave me alone.

Adam knew without a doubt that Rocky had to be close by. Ever since they were kids, Rocky always managed to be there when Adam was feeling sick or down. No matter how hard Adam’s mother tried to convince Rocky that the best thing for Adam was getting sleep not having company, she never succeeded in deterring him. Adam could remember a time right after high school, after they’d passed on their powers to the new Turbo Rangers, when he had come down with pneumonia; with the loss of his Ranger healing powers the illness had really thrown him for a loop. It wasn’t bad enough for him to be hospitalized, but it was bad enough for him to be in bed for over a week. Rocky had managed to convince Mrs. Park to let him see Adam.

He could recall the conversation he’d had with his mother about that episode years later. No matter what I did or said, that boy just wouldn’t stay away, she related with exasperated fondness. That first day he stood there at the door asking to come in and I tried to explain that you were too sick for company. He nodded his head as if he understood me, and when I tried to close the door he asked again if he could come in. “I just want to pop in, Mrs. Park. I won’t wake him up or anything.” He wasn’t rude just persistent. He just wanted to badly to see you.

I let him go upstairs, and he was true to his word. You were sleeping and he didn’t wake you up. He just walked over to the bed and held your hand for a minute. He didn’t even say anything. I thought that seeing you might put his mind at ease and he would leave you to rest. But he was back the next day, and the day after that. I even called his mother – I was worried he might get sick too. But she brushed it off saying that the DeSantos boys are stronger than any germ and she was convinced Rocky wouldn’t pick up anything from you. It turned out she was right.

Those first few days he sat by your bed while you slept. Just sat there. It wasn’t even like he was trying to keep you company, you were too out of it to even know he was there. It seemed more important for him to be there than for you to know it. Then Mrs. Park gave her son a sharp and knowing look. You did know he was there, though, didn’t you? Adam only smiled in response.

Of course he knew. He always knew when Rocky or Aisha was nearby. It was stronger with Rocky though – it always had been. That was why Adam was so disturbed now. If he really was awake enough to sense what was in his nearby environment, then Rocky should be there, and he wasn’t. An icy tendril of dread began to wrap itself around Adam’s heart. He desperately tried to recall the sequence of events in Mesogog’s lab. He knew Rocky had freed Dustin from the energy chamber – he had a clear visual image of Dustin draped across Rocky’s shoulders and Aisha standing defensively before them. That was the last thing he saw before slipping into the hidden lab.

But that was where things got a little hazy. He could recall some of the fight in the smaller lab – Mesogog, the crystals, trying to morph. Rocky’s presence was strong with him there too. Then…what happened? Had Rocky managed to teleport in? He didn’t think that was right; he had the distinct impression that he had been teleported out. And Rocky was strong in the impression of that event too. So what had happened next? Could the energy from the explosion have affected Rocky though he hadn’t been physically present? Is that why Adam couldn’t sense him now?

The tendril of dread bloomed into full-blown despair. Adam called out with his mind as far as his exhausted and damaged body would let him – ROCKY!

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Kanoi stood quietly next to the grieving Red Ninjetti Ranger. If Rocky had been one of his students he would have had a better idea how to reach him. But, with no other information to go on, Kanoi had to rely on intuition and instinct. All of the Rangers he’d met this weekend were strong and unique individuals, but they did share some defining traits. Rocky certainly fit the red ranger/body type – he was a strong fighter and leader, and sought out physical connections with others in times of great stress. Kanoi believed that the lack of connection to Adam was one of the things that disturbed Rocky the most.

Without speaking, Kanoi reached out to lay his hand on Rocky’s shoulder. Rocky wasn’t rude enough to physically draw away, but Kanoi could sense him pulling back mentally. That surprised him – having a physical connection with Rocky should allow him to have a stronger mental connection as well, but Rocky seemed to be deliberately drawing himself inward. Kanoi pursued. Rocky needed a release – he would not allow himself to unload on Aisha, not fully, but maybe he could be persuaded to share with Kanoi; sometimes it was easier to really let go with a stranger than with someone you love

But as Kanoi followed deeper into Rocky’s psyche he came to understand something; Rocky was holding himself apart from everyone not because he was embarrassed or ashamed to be weak, but because his intense emotional response to the situation was bound to hurt the ones he loved the most if he truly let himself go. That was why he had been isolating himself from Aisha. That was why he’d drawn his thoughts away from Adam. He was deathly afraid of overwhelming his already unstable partners. He didn’t want to add his own pain to the loads they were already carrying.

What was ironic was that Rocky wasn’t the Ranger best known for having knowledge of a situation. He wasn’t a stupid person, but people like Billy, Trini and Adam far outstripped him when it came to global knowledge. Rocky’s knowledge was different – he didn’t learn so much from books as he did from experience. And he was the only one who had a real idea of what Adam was facing. Even Dana and Carter didn’t really know; they had more book knowledge of burns and how they healed than experience. Earlier in the ER, Dana knew she didn’t have enough training to deal with Adam’s injuries, so she immediately contacted someone who did.

So Rocky was left with the burden of his knowledge, and he didn’t want to impose his fears or concerns on Adam. But the harder he tried not to think about what lay ahead for his best friend the stronger the thoughts fought against him. So he did the only thing he thought he could do, he pulled away. If he kept his thoughts as tightly to himself as he could, then Adam couldn’t pick up on and feed on his fears.

The intensity of Rocky’s dilemma made Kanoi want to weep and rail on his behalf. Somehow he had to make Rocky understand that while sharing his knowledge might initially be overwhelming, it was nothing the three of them couldn’t carry together. And failing that, nothing the six or nine or twelve of them couldn’t carry. There was a much bigger support structure here that Rocky hadn’t allowed himself to see, and if he didn’t let himself vent soon, he was liable to crush those he was intending to protect.

Rocky was so caught up with corralling and squashing his own emotions and negative thoughts that he barely responded to Kanoi’s gentle mind-touch. But once he realized what Kanoi was trying to do, he began to actively push the Master Ninja out. He didn’t want help. He didn’t want to allow himself to let go; at the moment, it was all he had to keep him going. Kanoi was surprised at the strength Rocky exhibited because he had not been formally trained with ninja mind techniques; but his desperation gave him power and he was able to keep Kanoi at bay.

Kanoi pulled his mind back. There was no reason to push Rocky into a fight that neither one of them wanted to have. But he kept his hand on Rocky’s shoulder and a mental hand on him as well. He left his mind open to the Ninjetti and tried to exude support and understanding. That was why, when Adam called for Rocky, Kanoi was the one who heard him. Kanoi gasped and instinctively gripped Rocky’s shoulder tighter. When Rocky turned to look at him, annoyed, he didn’t see the sensei looking at him; instead Kanoi was looking intently into the room where Adam lay.

Rocky’s heart leaped in his chest. His pulse was pounding in his throat as he turned to look into the room as well. Everything looked the same; nothing had changed in all the hours he’d been standing there. Rocky looked more closely – he was wrong, something had changed. While Adam had been unconscious the unbandaged side of his face had a slack and relaxed look; now he looked like he was in pain.

Rocky couldn’t stand it. He started to move and his limbs jerked in response. He’d been standing so long his muscles were tight with fatigue. He stumbled forward like the Tin Man before Dorothy applied oil to his rusted joints. Up to this point, Rocky had been very mindful of the orders to stay away from Adam; he knew too well the risks of infection and did not want to take the chance that Adam might pick up an illness on top of his grievous injuries. But everything Rocky knew just didn’t match what he was feeling – he had to get to Adam; Adam needed him and if he could just make contact the way he’d been dying to all day, then he could reassure both of them that everything was going to be fine.

Rocky lurched toward the door. Kanoi had come to support him on the other side. Rocky waved him off, now that he was moving the circulation was coming back to his legs and he was gaining momentum. A nurse called out from the station located about halfway down the hall, but Rocky didn’t hear what she was saying. He knew she was trying to prevent him from going in the room, but now that the goal was so close there was no stopping him. Somewhere between the hallway and the door he lost Kanoi, who had moved to intercept the nurse. It didn’t matter – all that mattered was getting to Adam.

Rocky could see the strain on Adam’s face. His right hand twitched and he looked like he was trying to open his eyes. Rocky’s legs failed him as he stumbled and crashed to the floor; he didn’t bother trying to get back on his feet, he simply crawled forward on his knees. When he got to the bed he hauled himself up using the bedrail for leverage. With his left hand in a death grip on the rail to keep him upright, Rocky reached out with his right hand to take Adam’s hand in his own.

All of the defenses he’d worked so hard to build during the day were blown apart by that first moment of contact. Trying to keep his mind apart from Adam’s would be like trying to hide from himself. What horrified Rocky was that Adam had been calling out for him, but he had drawn himself in so tightly that he hadn’t heard him. He tried to speak, but his voice failed him.

Adam, I’m right here!

Rocky? Rocky! The Red Ninjetti Ranger was already unsteady, and Adam’s despair drove him again to his knees. The Black Ranger couldn’t quite believe that Rocky was there with him – he had convinced himself that since he couldn’t sense Rocky’s presence that he was dead.

No Adam! I’m right here. Rocky squeezed Adam’s hand fiercely and placed his left hand on Adam’s shoulder. Struggling to his feet again Rocky leaned in over the bed so he could rest his head against Adam’s, reassuring him over and over that he was there, that he wasn’t hurt, and that he was so sorry he had kept himself away. Rocky’s continued and steady presence finally got through to Adam’s frantic mind. Slowly he calmed down.

Rocky? Where’ve you been?

Right outside…I’ve been here the whole time. I wouldn’t leave you.

I know…I know you wouldn’t, but I couldn’t feel you there.

Rocky spiked an intense feeling of guilt and remorse. I didn’t want to make you worse by drowning you with my emotions. Rocky heaved a mental sigh; Looks like that plan didn’t work out.

Adam chuckled at Rocky’s consternation. His mental tone was just what Adam needed to reconnect himself with reality, and he could already feel a boost of vitality through their connected hands. Rocky, tell me what happened.

Adam finally forced his eyes to open, and was disturbed when he realized that he could only see out of one. His hand twitched in Rocky’s and Rocky could feel Adam’s desire to reach over and touch the bandage covering the left side of his face. Rocky did not release his grip. He took a step back so he could look at Adam’s face and he finally found his voice. “Don’t touch the bandages, Adam. Just leave them alone.”

He countered the wave of fear from Adam with a rush of reassurance. Now that Adam had awakened, Rocky was filled with a renewed sense of optimism. Now that he’d felt Adam’s voice in his mind and it wasn’t weak or broken, Rocky’s confidence was recharged. He passed his growing belief back to Adam. For his part, Adam soaked in Rocky’s confidence like a balm, and he let himself be carried along in his beliefs. He closed his eyes for a minute, just letting himself be soothed.

When he was ready he opened his eyes again and fixed his good eye on Rocky’s face. Not that Rocky could hide anything from him; their thoughts were too intimately connected, but he still wanted to see Rocky’s face. Tell me.

“Do you remember the fight in the lab?” Adam tried to nod, but couldn’t quite make his body respond. Instead he squeezed Rocky’s hand. “You snuck in to that smaller lab to try to…I don’t know, grab the crystals or something.” Rocky’s mental tone clearly indicated what he thought of that plan.

I don’t know either; I was hoping to make a better plan as I went along. Rocky made a face. Adam gave a mental shrug.

Before they could continue there was a commotion in the doorway. Aisha had returned to the burn ward, drawn by the intense emotions from her teammates. Ignoring the nurse who tried to bar her way, Aisha shoved a plate full of food at Kanoi and pushed her way between the two of them. Her face was radiant with joy as she barreled toward the bed. Crashing into Rocky she stopped herself before her forward momentum could jostle the bed. “Adam!” she cried as tears of joy streamed down her face and she leaned over the bed to hug his good side. Rocky and Adam responded to and resonated with her joy, and for a moment that was all there was. They were back in balance. It was all they needed.

But the intensity of the emotions, positive and negative, had taken its toll on Adam. As much as he wanted to know about his injuries and the fate of the others, he couldn’t hold onto consciousness much longer. Rocky and Aisha could feel him drifting away as well. Rocky felt a moment of fear as Adam started to drift, but Adam himself reassured him. Just sleeping, Rock. I’ll be back soon.

“I’ll be right here.” Rocky whispered. Aisha didn’t respond in words at all; she just poured forth her love and reassurance that she’d be waiting for him as well. The tiny smile on Adam’s face indicated that he heard them both.

Love you guys.

Love you too, they responded in unison.

Kanoi watched from the doorway caught up in the emotional reunion. Even the nurse who could only see and hear the physical connections that had been made was silenced by the power in the room. Kanoi smiled as he handed the nurse the plate of food; there was nothing else for him to do here. It was time to see if he could help Conner.

Chapter Text

It was raining. That was a good thing, though Ethan didn’t know why. It wasn’t raining on him, but it was raining somewhere, and that was important. Or, he thought it was important. Actually, it wasn’t the rain itself that was important – the storm was more important, and the storm was fading. That was very bad.

Ethan found himself walking forward. He recognized this place. It was the courtyard they’d fought in that very morning. But it was empty; eerie. The light was wrong, and there were no people. Ethan found that very strange.

He walked toward the fountain from the direction of the street. Everything looked like it was back to normal – no trees were ripped up; no windows were broken; both kiosks were undamaged. Everything was fine, except the quality of light. The atmosphere was heavy and the sky looked yellow, just like it does before a big storm.

Ethan could feel his pulse quicken. Something was very, very wrong and it was up to him to figure it out. On some level he understood that this job had fallen to him – Haley, Billy and Cam all had their moments in Ranger history to save the day. This moment was his.

Ethan reached the fountain. It burbled and bubbled. The rush of the water into the base of the fountain fascinated Ethan; it was hypnotic and he stood transfixed. Then a noise behind him made him whirl; the scene before him was a nightmare.

Conner stood trapped in a glowing dome of energy – it was orange and pulsed with an evil energy. No noise escaped the glowing dome, but it was clear to see that Conner was screaming in agony from within. He was trying to hold the dome at bay, but it was slowly closing in on him. Conner! Ethan’s impulse was to rush forward, but his body would not obey. All he could do from where he stood was watch impotently.

Now Ethan could see he was not the only Ranger on the scene attempting to help Conner. On one side of the dome stood Kira; her hands were placed flat against the dome’s glowing wall and she rocked back and forth to the beat of the tune she was singing over and over. Dr. O was on the opposite side of the dome from Kira – with one hand he tried to push his way in; his other hand was holding onto Jason who was supporting him from behind.

The sky was getting lighter; the storm was passing. Time was running out. Ethan could feel his anxiety growing in his chest.

A noise close by brought Ethan’s attention back to the fountain. Blake lay there, though he hadn’t been there just moments before. He was lying on his back with his knees drawn up. Blood was seeping through the bandages under his shirt and he was having trouble breathing. His eyes were transfixed on the courtyard where Conner was trapped. Cam was kneeling by the edge of the fountain trying to help Blake sit up, but at the same time he was trying to get to Hunter. The desperation on Cam’s face was heart wrenching.

Ethan’s attention turned back toward the dome. In the scant seconds Ethan had looked away, the dome had shrunk considerably. Hunter? When did Hunter get there? Hunter was on his back, stretched out on the ground in front of the dome surrounding Conner. Unlike Dr. O and Kira, Hunter had somehow managed to work his way under the shield still surrounding Conner, but now he was trapped. The arm that lay under the shield was stretched out trying to make contact with Conner, but the other was stretched out trying to get to Blake. It seemed to Ethan that Hunter’s efforts were tearing him in two, but the look on his face indicated he was strangely at peace with it.

Ethan found himself beginning to panic. There was something important here he needed to see; something he needed to make the others understand.

Conner staggered as the dome collapsed even further. “Conner!” Ethan yelled, he voice was not paralyzed like the rest of him. The bright beams of sunlight breaking through the clouds overhead and pouring into the courtyard seemed strangely out of place to Ethan; even dangerous.

As Hunter continued to struggle to reach Conner, Ethan could hear Blake’s breathing become more labored. Everything was falling apart; everyone was falling apart and Ethan had to find a way to stop it.

A realization struck Ethan as he watched Conner struggle against the force of the dome shrinking around him – no one here would be able to help. He knew it as certainly as he knew two plus two was four. But there has to be something one of us can do! he argued with himself.

Ethan struggled to move forward, to vacate the spot where it seemed his feet had been glued for this horrifying nightmare. He desperately wanted to join Kira and Dr. O in their attempts to break through to Conner. He wanted to do something!

Then it hit him. He needed to make a storm.

Ethan woke up with a gasp; his body moving in undirected motion. He’d woken in a cold sweat, his mouth was dry and his pulse was racing. Disoriented he fell off his bed as he tried to reconcile what he had to do with what he thought he understood from his nightmare. On instinct he made his way over to his backpack where his mother had left it near the foot of his bed. Groping blindly inside he reached around until his fingers curled around a cell phone. Ethan blinked and started at the phone uncomprehending as it lit up and began to ring in his hand.

I thought I was the one making the call…

On automatic, Ethan answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Hello?” said the voice on the other end. Ethan thought he recognized it.

“Hello?” Ethan repeated.

“Conner?”

Ethan blinked. “Conner?” he repeated.

“Eric,” the other boy answered automatically.

“Ethan,” replied the Blue Ranger, unprepared for the response and still not quite awake. But he asked the question that was uppermost in his mind. “I need a storm…Eric, can you make it rain?”

Eric paused and then replied. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

This is madness, Evan McKnight thought to himself as he followed Carter out of the coffee shop. He paid no attention to where they were going, just followed Carter’s lead and ignored every attempt the other man made at conversation. Eventually Carter stopped trying to engage him. Evan was not concerned at all about his rude behavior; he had enough to deal with and if people got offended, well, that was too bad. He was far too angry and confused to carry on a conversation anyway – in reality he was saving Carter from bearing the brunt of his bad temper.

A walk down a long corridor, a short elevator ride, another long hallway – it all blurred together. Carter came to a stop outside of an empty room. “This is where they’ll be bringing Conner. It should only be a few minutes.” Carter paused and seemed to be having an internal argument, then his patient good nature won and he asked Evan, “Can I get you anything while you’re waiting?”

Evan didn’t respond, he simply shook his head in the negative and walked into the room. Carter knew enough to give him some space and left for parts unknown. Evan was glad to have a few moments to himself. At first he occupied himself by looking around the room. It looked like every other hospital room he’d ever been in – stark, functional, intimidating. There were fluorescent lights overhead, but they had been left off, and the room was lit instead by the more muted lights over the bed and the standing lamp near the chair. Because the light from the window was also muted the lamps gave the room a warm and soft look. Evan wasn’t fooled.

The room was for a single occupant, but it was a large size. There were two low chairs flanking a table, as well as a table tray leaning slightly against the wall. A private bathroom was close to the hallway entrance. And after noting all the amenities the room had to offer, Evan had nothing to occupy him but his thoughts. Sliding dejectedly into one of the chairs, Evan sat with his head in his hands, and his elbows propped up on his knees. He knew he shouldn’t have taken his anger out of Dr. Oliver, but after getting the call from the hospital; the horrifying scene with Catherine; getting a good look at Conner; it was the only way he had to get his frustrations out.

What it really came down to was – he was terrified. Even after he realized Conner was the Dino Thunder Red Ranger, the situation had a bizarre, surreal feel. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around the fact that Conner was out there fighting monsters every day. And seeing how Conner was able to shake off most of the effects from the fights gave Evan a false sense of security. He knew a little bit of Ranger history – he started to look into it when he realized what Conner was doing in his free time – and it comforted him to know that no known Earth ranger was killed in the line of duty. But getting that call this morning brought back every fear, and sent him into a panic.

And listening to the others talk did nothing to ease his mind. The things the doctors told him were vague and supposedly reassuring; but it was what he overheard from them that really had him concerned. When the doctor, Dr. Mitchell, was ordering tests on Conner, they were like nothing Evan had ever heard. Was she seriously going to measure his energy readings and check his morpher? What the hell was that? What kind of a medical doctor was she?

Before Evan could become completely wrapped up in his disturbing thoughts a noise from the hall got his attention. He jumped to his feet as an orderly wheeled Conner into the room. Evan’s heart constricted in his chest as they wheeled Conner past him; he looked so tired and weak; so unlike himself that it made Evan just want to weep. An orderly who had followed the stretcher worked together with the first to transfer Conner to the bed. A very efficient nurse made sure all of the tubes and machines were properly affixed to Conner before making a few notations on a chart and leaving just as swiftly as she’d arrived. Evan was left breathless at their quick arrival and departure – apparently they had nothing new to say since none of them stopped to address him.

Evan’s anger flared again. He wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to know what these people were doing to help Conner. But no one seemed to have the time of day for him. He looked angrily at the doorway as if wishing for the doctor would make her appear, but the doctor wasn’t there; instead, it was the tall, blonde boy who’d been hovering earlier. Evan’s temper snapped. This kid could stay with Conner while he, Conner’s father, was shunted off to the side?

“What are you doing here?” Evan demanded angrily.

The boy didn’t seem to realize he was being addressed at first, and when he did respond it was clear he hadn’t picked up on Evan’s anger or resentment. “Blake sent me.” was the boy’s reply. As though speaking with Evan was an invitation to enter the room, the boy came closer and stood by the foot of Conner’s bed.

Evan was aggravated by the boy’s unclear reply – who was Blake and what did he have to do with Conner? “So you’re a ranger too?” Evan guessed bitterly.

The boy nodded distractedly. “Crimson Thunder Ranger.”

In spite of his irritation, Evan was drawn to this boy. And his curt responses made Evan want to know more. He seemed pretty free with his information, maybe he’d heard something Evan needed to know. His temper cooling slightly, Evan approached the bed. “What’s your name?”

“Hunter.” He rolled his head on his neck to release some tension and Evan realized how exhausted the boy was. Jason’s comment about battles that people never see came back to Evan, and he wondered what had happened to this boy. Then he realized that he recognized him – sort of. That morning on the news when they showed the fight in front of the municipal building it caught his attention at first because it wasn’t the Rangers fighting the Tyranodrones, it was someone else. Someone else dressed in a uniform much like this young man was wearing. And though the casual observer might not have noticed it, Evan knew that the boy with the crimson piping on his uniform was the one who fought with Conner once the Dino Thunder Rangers arrived. This kid was out there with no powers, and even after the Rangers arrived, he and his friends didn’t quit.

Evan’s attitude changed instantly. His paternal instincts took over and he wanted to help the kid out. Dragging a chair over he pushed it between the bed and the wall where it would be least likely to be in the way of a medical person trying to check on Conner. But Hunter didn’t seem to realize the chair was for him. With a hand on his elbow, Evan prodded Hunter into motion and then guided him to the chair. Hunter collapsed gratefully into it, and Evan took a good look at him.

Evan was shocked to see how drawn Hunter looked. There were deep circles under his eyes and he was very, very pale. Yet he offered Evan a wan smile. “Thanks.”

“Are you okay?” Evan asked with concern. “Did anyone check you when you came in?”

“I’m not hurt.” Hunter said dismissively. “Blake was.” An intense flash of pain lit Hunter’s eyes, but then he relaxed slightly. Evan couldn’t help being drawn in. “Who’s Blake?” he asked.

“My brother.” Hunter’s gaze had drifted back to Conner. “He said Conner needed me more. I should stay with Conner.”

Evan’s gaze drifted from Hunter to Conner. He tried to look at Conner the way Hunter was – what did he see? A flame of hope sputtered to life in Evan’s chest. He hardly dared to trust his instinct, but he couldn’t stop himself from asking Hunter, “You’re helping him…aren’t you?”

Hunter’s looked resolutely at Evan. “Think so.” He picked his feet up off the floor and rested them on the bedrail. Taking a deep breath he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. Evan swallowed hard around the lump that had closed his throat. He moved swiftly to Hunter’s side and warmly grasped his upper arm. “Thank you!” he whispered fiercely.

Hunter didn’t open his eyes, but he did reach over with his free hand to clasp Evan’s hand with his own. After a long moment, Evan released him and returned to the far side of Conner’s bed to begin a vigil of his own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kanoi felt buoyed by the reunion of the three Ninjetti Rangers. Rocky’s connection to Adam was euphoric on its own, but adding Aisha to the mix was enough to make Kanoi feel like he was floating down the hallway. After seeing Blake, and now Adam, on their way to recovery, helped along by the members of their teams, Kanoi felt great confidence about Conner as well. He retraced his steps to the emergency room, but was surprised when he found the room he was looking for was empty. Hunter was also nowhere to be found. Kanoi stepped back out into the hallway to look for a familiar face, but there were no Rangers hovering in the vicinity. He paused and then he stepped to the side of the hallway to get out of the way of oncoming traffic and closed his eyes.

Taking a deep breath Kanoi centered himself and focused on finding Conner. He wasn’t counting on being able to identify Conner’s spirit energy in a hospital filled with hundreds of people; his injuries would make him too weak for his spirit to project very far. But knowing that Hunter was close to him should make Conner easy to find – Hunter’s aura was easily recognizable to Kanoi after working with the Thunder Ninja for so long. Kanoi extended his senses seeking those most familiar to him – Cam and Blake both blazed brightly to his inner eye; though Blake’s energy was still somewhat weakened by his injuries. There were other bright auras of energy, probably associated with the other Rangers that Kanoi did not take the time to identify. He frowned. Finding Hunter should’ve been as easy as finding Cam and Blake, but for some reason Hunter’s aura was far more elusive to pinpoint.

Kanoi opened his eyes; this was a disturbing development. The only person Hunter would’ve left Conner for was Blake. Hunter wasn’t with Blake, Cam was, leaving Kanoi to reason that Hunter was still with Conner. If that was the case, and Hunter hadn’t left the hospital grounds for some reason, then something was seriously wrong. Kanoi decided to find Conner using more conventional means. There was only one person he knew the location of who would probably know where Hunter and Conner were. He returned to the elevator and pushed the button for the forth floor.

Keeping the eye of his inner ninja open, Kanoi traveled quickly to Blake’s room. Cam and Blake’s auras were easy to recognize, but as he entered the room and took a closer look Kanoi was disturbed to realize that Blake’s energy signature was not as strong as he had thought upon first impression. Cam rose at his father’s urgent entrance. Tossing a worried glance at Blake who was sleeping he hurriedly crossed the room to meet his father. With no words exchanged Cam knew that something was gravely wrong.

“Father,” he asked with no preamble, “what is it?”

As was his habit, Kanoi answered Cam’s question without answering it, but asking a question of his own. “What room has Conner been moved to? Is Hunter still with him?”

Cam frowned. He didn’t like the tone in his father’s voice at all. “Dana got him settled in a room right down the hall. Hunter’s still with him, he poked his head in on the way down.”

Kanoi was already in motion before Cam finished speaking. “Father!” Cam called after him as he moved to follow, but he halted at the threshold. He couldn’t leave Blake. He turned his head and looked back over at the bed. He’d been sitting with Blake for so long and reading while the Thunder ninja slept, that he hadn’t really looked at him for a while. What he saw was discouraging. Blake looked very pale and drawn; like he was getting weaker when he should be getting stronger. The echo of Blake’s mother whispered in his mind ‘Take care of your brother’ and Cam resolutely returned to his bedside. Ignoring his book and collection of magazines, Cam took Blake’s hand in his own while he kept a sharp eye on the door.

It was hard to ignore Cam’s urgent cry, but Kanoi felt strongly that time was of the essence. He glanced in each room as he strode down the hallway, and found Conner situated in the last one on the right. Paying no mind to the other occupants of the room, Kanoi walked swiftly forward until he reached the bed. Leaning over the prone Red Ranger, Kanoi placed his hands on either side of his face and closed his eyes. He searched with the eye of his inner ninja for the spark that was Conner, but there was very little life left in the boy. Kanoi drew deeply upon his own resources disregarding his own overtaxed power, but he was unable to pass any of his personal power on to Conner. It was as if all that he offered just slid away; Conner couldn’t tap into any of it.

Kanoi drew away with a gasp. He was stunned and dismayed to realize how far Conner had retreated. When the Dino Rangers had first joined with the Wind Ninjas to contact Dr. Oliver, Kanoi had been staggered by the depth of strength at Conner’s disposal and his utter willingness to open his mind to share that strength with him. Now, that seemingly boundless well of strength was nearly depleted. There was only one thing that continued to hold him to this life – Hunter.

Staggering away from the bed, Kanoi made his way to where Hunter was seated. The Crimson Ninja had settled himself in a chair wedged between the bed and the wall. Unlike the other Red Rangers who had attempted to lend their strength to Conner by making physical contact, Hunter was seated close to but not touching him. His feet were tucked up into the bedrail, causing his knees to tuck up toward his chest. To the untrained eye it would appear Hunter was dozing, but what Kanoi sensed was Hunter’s struggle to maintain not only Conner’s life, but his own.

Kanoi knelt by the chair; he was almost afraid to touch Hunter and disturb the precarious balance he had achieved. He placed his right hand on Hunter’s shoulder and neck. Hunter immediately responded to his touch and opened his eyes; the look on his face grieved Kanoi. It was the look of a man who knew he was drowning in a raging river, but was willing to stay in the water if it gave his friend the chance to survive.

“Blake?” Hunter croaked out in a hoarse voice.

Kanoi squeezed his neck reassuringly. “Blake is fine, he is sleeping. Cam is with him.”

“’kay.” Hunter took a deep breath and let his eyes slide closed again. Kanoi stayed there for a few long moments, attempting to bolster Hunter’s strength with his own internal source of power. But the Wind and Thunder powers didn’t mesh, and as much as Kanoi wanted to pass his power on to Hunter, he knew it was fruitless. It enraged and frustrated him – as a Master Ninja he had fantastic amounts of power to tap into, but it was nothing Hunter could use.

Kanoi withdrew his hand and stood shakily. When he turned to survey the room he was surprised to see many of the Rangers had filed in silently while he tried to connect with Hunter and Conner. Dana, Carter, Billy and Haley had clumped together; Tommy and Kim stood together flanked by a dark haired man. And another man, standing apart from the Rangers stood closer to the bed than all of the others. The group with Dana looked as grim as Kanoi felt, but the others wore expressions of guarded optimism; as if he had some kind of magic cure. Obviously the two groups had yet to converse.

Tommy was the first to speak. “Sensei, can you do anything?”

Kanoi sighed deeply, and then looked at Dana, “Tell me what you know.”

“It’s been over seven hours since Conner was brought in. He presented as shocky and unresponsive but we were able to stabilize him physically when he first came in. The tests that we were able to run this afternoon have only confirmed what I had begun to suspect…” Dana looked down unnecessarily at the pile of papers in her hands. She had the results basically memorized; no way of looking at the numbers could change what they represented. She looked back up at Kanoi. “Conner’s life force is fading, and even with the help of the other Red Rangers I don’t know how much longer we can sustain him.”

The man Kanoi didn’t recognize silently shook his head and crossed the room to stand at Conner’s side. He positioned himself in a way to interpose between the Rangers and the bed; as if by standing there he could prevent Conner from being affected by what was being said. He had to be Conner’s father; Kanoi’s heart went out to him. He was the only one in the room who could understand the fear of losing a son. Regardless of the man’s feelings, their information had to be shared. Kanoi spoke to urge the others to continue. “Haley?”

Unhappy to be put on the spot, Haley nevertheless began. “We’ve been trying to focus on determining how Conner was injured. We theorized that by determining how he was hurt we could reverse engineer a way to help him heal. Billy and I have been analyzing the data that’s been collected. It’s hard to figure out exactly how Conner was injured because the storm interfered with the feedback from the suits and surveillance equipment. But, from what Tommy was able to tell us, we think Zeltrax attacked Conner in the same way Mesogog attacked Tommy.”

Billy picked up seamlessly. “It seems that Mesogog has very advance mental abilities. Because Tommy’s defenses were so low, Mesogog was able to batter his way past his natural mental shields and invade his thoughts; get into his mind.”

Kanoi could see Tommy flinch, but he was quickly supported by Kim and the man in the red shirt who could only be Jason. Though none of them had verbalized Tommy’s experience using the word rape, it was the closest thing that could be used to describe what happened to him. He had not suffered a physical invasion, but Kanoi wondered if, in the long run, a mental invasion would leave more intense and lasting scars.

Though everyone recognized Tommy’s reaction to Billy’s recitation, it was not the time to focus on the Black Ranger, and Tommy would never think to try to pull the focus onto himself. No one was fazed when Billy continued. “From the descriptions Hunter and Cam gave of the Zeltrax’s attack, it seems he was attempting to use the same mental weapon as Mesogog. But,” he paused and his voice took on a hopeful note, “Conner was able to hold him off.”

“At least that’s what we think.” Haley picked up. “Mesogog attacked Tommy repeatedly.” She looked warily at Tommy trying to gauge his reaction, but he looked fixedly at Kanoi. Now the only indication of his distress was his tightly clenched jaw. “But Zeltrax maintained one, intense burst of energy at Conner. If we had to guess…we’d say he never got through.”

Kanoi nodded as he looked at Conner. “That would not surprise me. For someone who is not trained in the ways of the ninja, Conner has surprising mental strength. If he had not let his shields down so I could guide him in our meditation, I would have been hard pressed to force my way through.”

“So it’s possible then. He could have stood up against Zeltrax? Zeltrax didn’t get through?” Tommy’s voice was rough with emotion.

Kanoi knew how important the answer to that question was to Tommy. “I believe it is more than possible.”

Tommy nodded in acknowledgement and absently wiped away the tears that had gathered but not fallen from his eyes with the back of his hand. Kim wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled his arm around her shoulders. He gave her a slight squeeze of gratitude.

“Unfortunately,” Kanoi continued grimly “it may very well be those same shields that are hindering Conner’s recovery now. But you already knew that.” he glanced meaningfully at Dana.

Dana looked helplessly at the sheaf of papers in her hands, and then she looked at Kanoi. It was clear she didn’t want to make eye-contact with the other Rangers, Tommy in particular. “The sensors we brought from Lightspeed Rescue are very sensitive to energy readings and fluctuations, particularly in relation to Rangers. All of us emit specific energy signatures that tie into our morphers; even those of us who are retired give off these signatures to a greater degree than most people.”

Dana ran a hand through her hair as she struggled to explain herself clearly. “Energy travels outward from its source in waves, like ripples created when you drop a rock into a pool of water. Each of us has a specific signature. I did some baseline readings on Conner when he arrived – his signature was in flux but that wasn’t surprising considering the condition he was in. And, he wasn’t projecting very far. Also not surprising- he needed to conserve his energy.”

“Since Mr. McKnight arrived,” she nodded in the direction of Conner’s father, “we’ve done more intense and specific energy readings. It’s not that Conner isn’t projecting his energy because he needs to conserve his strength…he’s not conserving his energy at all – he’s pouring all of his power into the aura around himself…and it’s shrinking.”

“What does that mean?” demanded Tommy taking a step toward Dana. Jason laid a restraining hand on his arm.

“I believe Conner may think he is still under attack.” Kanoi stated quietly. The others look at him in shock and disbelief. “The only way Conner had to protect himself from Zeltrax was to withdraw behind his shields and throw all of his power into them. By doing that he became disconnected with what was happening around him. From all accounts, Zeltrax maintained his assault up until the moment Hunter broke through his shield and Jason distracted him. Somehow when Hunter killed Zeltrax, Conner was unable to realize that the fight was over and kept pouring his power into his shields. Maybe he thought he would just know when it was “safe” to come out.”

Kanoi shook his head with deep sadness. “But Conner is untrained in using his mental abilities. I believe he has passed the point where he can disengage his shields on his own, and they are far too strong for any of us to break through. He needs someone to let him know the fight is over, but he is too far away for any of us to reach him now.”

“What about Hunter?” Haley asked quietly. “He’s still connected to Conner…can’t he let him know it’s safe to let his shields down?”

Kanoi turned slightly to look at Hunter. He laid his hand gently on Hunter’s shoulder, but this time the Crimson Ranger didn’t respond to his touch. Kanoi looked wearily at the machinery attached to Conner – they had all this technology at their disposal, yet it was the unyielding strength of Hunter’s will that was keeping Conner alive. “I’m not sure how it is that Hunter is connected to Conner. I believe it has more to do with pure power than a mental connection. Conner is trapped too far behind his own shields for Hunter to reach him…at this point, Hunter is nothing but a battery to him.”

For the first time Evan McKnight spoke up. His face was a mask of distress. “But Hunter’s at the end of his strength.” He shook his head in disbelief, not understanding why he was the only one in the room who could see how depleted Hunter was; but that wasn’t right, the other man knew too – that was why he was so desperate and sad. It made Evan wonder how they were related.

Kanoi nodded at Evan’s assessment. “And the storm is nearly over.” He made a gesture toward the window. Evan didn’t understand why that statement made the others react with expressions of growing horror. It became disturbingly clear and Kanoi continued. “I am afraid when Hunter runs out of power, we will lose them both.”

Chapter Text

“I am afraid when Hunter runs out of power, we will lose them both.”

Kanoi’s statement hung on the air in the room. Nearly everyone in the room was too stunned to react; only Evan and Tommy responded at first. Evan moved closer to the bed and grabbed Conner’s arm in a futile gesture of protection. Then he changed his grip and focused on passing to his son whatever strength he had, hoping to provide Conner with the power he was so rapidly losing. For his part, Tommy shook his head in negation. He was weary, exhausted and very nearly drained himself, but the look of determination on his face was clear.

“No. There has to be something we can do…something I can do. It can’t end like this.” Tommy looked imploringly at those he depended on to solve those problems he couldn’t solve himself. But Haley’s face was a mask of dismay, and Billy didn’t look any more hopeful. Dana looked positively grim; the tests she’d run and the numbers she’d crunched all pointed in the same direction. Dana was a firm believer in data and statistics even though in this case, she wished that this one time the numbers were wrong.

“What if we get all the Red Rangers together? Jason, Rocky, Carter and I are already here in the hospital. We’ve been trading off trying to sustain Conner…what if we all tried to help simultaneously?” Tommy ignored Kanoi as he gently shook his head. His voice began to rise in agitation. “We could get Shane from my house, and we’ll bring Ethan and Kira back…”

“Tommy…” Kanoi tried to interject, but Tommy continued to ignore him.

“What about Cam?” Tommy’s eyes lit up with wild hope. “What about Cam?” Now he was looking directly at Kanoi. “He healed Blake, why can’t he do the same for Conner?” As Tommy became more agitated, Jason laid a hand on his arm and tried to keep him calm. Tommy turned to him, “It could work…it could work! Cam could do whatever it is Cam does…”

But Jason had seen the look on Kanoi’s face. It was easy to read the older man’s expression. It was obvious to everyone but Tommy that Kanoi knew that Cam was not in a position to help. Jason took a deep breath and looked Tommy in the eyes, willing him to understand. “No, Tommy…Cam can’t help Conner.”

“Yes he can…yes, he CAN!” Tommy pulled away from Jason and turned accusingly toward Kanoi. “He’s a healer, isn’t he?” Without waiting for an answer Tommy continued. “Healers heal people, they help people. So that means Cam can help. He’s just down the hall. Somebody should go get him.” Tommy pointed imperiously at the group standing around Dana. When none of them moved his temper snapped.

“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? There’s no time left! We have to help Conner! Go get Cam! GO GET CAM!” Tommy gestured for the others to go and return with Cam. He angrily pushed away calming hands from both Jason and Kim. Infuriated that no one was taking action, Tommy moved to charge his way out of the room. But Kanoi intercepted him and calmly stood in his way.

“Get out of my way!” Tommy ordered, “I’ll get him myself.”

Kanoi stood impassively in the face of the Black Ranger’s wrath. He responded in a calm yet saddened tone, “Cameron cannot help Conner.”

Tommy grabbed Kanoi by his robe and shook him violently. His unexpected gesture elicited shocked gasps from the others in the room. Jason and Kim moved quickly to intervene, but he would not release his desperate hold on the older man. “Why? WHY?” he demanded in a hysterical voice. “Are you just so afraid of losing your own son that you won’t let him take the risk?”

“Hey!” responded Jason sharply. Everyone was tense, but Tommy had stepped way over the line. Jason stepped behind Tommy and in one swift move forced Tommy to release Kanoi while simultaneously swinging him away from the older man. Jason steered Tommy in the direction of the chair where Evan had been sitting, but Tommy was too far gone in his grief to be stopped that easily.

“You’re team’s safe and sound…might as well pack it in for the day.” He yelled sarcastically over his shoulder at Kanoi. He tried ineffectively to maneuver around Jason, but a hard shove from his best friend sent him careening into the chair and table.

“Knock it off, Tommy! You’re not the only one who’s frightened and upset.” Jason glared as Tommy righted himself and slid into the chair. And in that instant, Tommy looked at Jason like he was the only one in the room. His accusatory bravado disappeared and his emotions were laid bare on his face. His voice dropped to a tremulous whisper as he implored, “But it’s Conner…I have to help him. He’s my responsibility – it’s my team. I’ll do anything. I’d trade places in a heartbeat, Jace…there has to be something I can do.” He searched Jason’s face for any hint of hope, but when he found none he dropped his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath.

Ashamed of his weakness, but unable to control himself, Tommy broke down weeping. The display of emotion from the formidable Black Ranger had an effect on everyone in the room, but none more so than Evan McKnight. Standing by Conner’s bedside he saw a new side to the leader of the Dino Rangers. He had drawn some angry conclusions when he watched the battle in the morning and the Black Ranger hadn’t shown up. But it was obvious from what he’d heard and seen that Tommy wasn’t just some pampered general who watched battles from afar and sent out his underlings to fight in his stead. He was invested in his team. He was invested in Conner. Evan could see now what losing Conner would do to Tommy, and he respected Tommy all the more for it.

Watching Tommy’s breakdown, Dana drew instinctively closer to Carter, while Haley found comfort with Billy. Billy seemed to understand that it was easy to overlook just how attached Haley was to the Rangers because she wasn’t a ranger herself; but as someone who’d logged time in the Command Center as support staff and not a ranger, Billy knew how difficult it was to stand apart and watch. He knew how desperately hard Haley was working on holding herself together – not only for her sake, but Tommy’s as well. If his blue shirt held a few salt-flavored wet spots he’d never tell.

After giving Jason and Kim a few moments to ease Tommy, Kanoi approached the trio. Tommy started apologizing even before Kanoi spoke. “I’m sorry…so sorry…” he choked out between sobs. Kanoi laid his hand on Tommy’s head; at first Tommy tensed, but then he relaxed with a deep, calming breath. Kanoi let his hand slide from Tommy’s head to his shoulder and he leaned in to look him in the face. “I understand your grief, Tommy. There are times when we all say things we do not mean.”

Tommy peered imploringly at Kanoi. “Cam can’t help?”

“No. Cam has the ability to heal injuries. Conner is not injured, he is trapped. It is not his body that is in peril, it is his mind. Do you see?” Kanoi gazed steadily at Tommy until he could see understanding bloom in his eyes. When it did, he offered an apology of his own, whispered softly enough that only those in the immediate vicinity could hear. “I’m so sorry I can’t help.” The anguish in his eyes clearly telegraphed his sincerity. Tommy reached up with his left hand to grasp Kanoi’s hand on his left shoulder. Then he leaned in against Kanoi’s arm – together they shared their grief.

Evan tore his eyes away from the tableau. There was so much he still didn’t understand about what was happening, but it was very clear that he wasn’t the only one in danger of losing someone precious to him. With his free hand, Evan wiped away the tears that had gathered in his eyes. He absently thought of Eric and wished desperately he was there – if nothing else, he should get the chance to say good-bye to his brother. That distressing thought brought a hard lump to Evan’s throat and he tried to distract himself by looking out the window. That’s why he was the only one who saw when the rain began to fall. He was the only one who heard the smattering of the water against the window as the wind picked up in earnest. He was the only one to notice Hunter’s eyes snap open as he took in a deep breath and then settle himself back into the chair where he was sitting.

“Hey. Hey!” Evan called trying to get anyone’s attention. He was pointing at Hunter and pointing out the window in random intervals. He was trying so hard to verbalize what he saw that he was making no sense. A bright flash of lightning followed about ten seconds later by a rolling boom of thunder let the others know what Evan was unable to express – a storm was rolling in. Hope lit the face of everyone gathered in the room. They might have a chance after all

Chapter Text

After watching Haley drive away with Sensei, Tori returned to the kitchen looking for some food. She’d eaten enough to be satisfied, but she knew that when Shane and Dustin woke up they’d be ravenous; over the past few days they’d pretty much eaten Tommy out of house and home. Most of the “good” food was gone – all of the fruits, cold cuts and bread; everything salty and all of the chocolate. Tori scrounged around and debated between cooking pasta or heating soup. She settled on soup; it would take less time to cook and Dustin tended to be very particular about which sauce he would eat on pasta. When he eventually woke up she needed him to eat, not complain about the sauce or lack of meatballs.

Happy with her solution, Tori left a few cans of soup out on the counter ready for the boys to choose and returned to Tommy’s lab. She felt very calm; relaxed. Talking to Haley had helped to put her mind at ease about Blake. It was hard to reconcile knowing that he was okay with the overwhelming feelings she’d had when he’d been injured; it definitely wasn’t something she’d imagined, she knew Dustin felt it too. But she knew Haley wouldn’t lie to her; and though she wasn’t as sensitive to feelings the way Dustin was, she didn’t pick up any extreme anxiety about Blake from Haley. For now, that was enough.

As she trotted down the stairs to the lab, it occurred to Tori how quiet everything was; it was so different from the way it had been over the past few days. As she hit the bottom step Tori automatically turned to walk toward Shane and Dustin, and for a moment she paused, overwhelmed by utter relief and happiness. A grin lit her face and tears of joy gathered in her eyes. He’s back – we did it. It still felt a little unreal to Tori, so she trotted over to where the boys lay and sat back down with them. She settled on Dustin’s left side, where she’d been laying before Sensei woke her, but she sat down near his feet so she could see the boys from where she was sitting.

Hugging her knees to her chest, Tori was content to sit and wait. She looked at the faces so familiar to her with new appreciation. They were both in the same position they’d been in when she left them – Dustin lay on his back and Shane lay draped across his chest. In the past, if she had caught the two of them sleeping in the position they were in now, no matter how innocent it might be, she would’ve held it over their heads as the ultimate blackmail item. Now, the thought didn’t even cross her mind; she understood things on an entirely different level. She wasn’t sure how much Dustin was conscious of what had happened, but she was frighteningly aware of how close they came to losing Shane. It shamed and distressed her that she hadn’t noticed when he’d lost his connection to them; by the time she’d realized it, it was too late to help. Tori hadn’t known how much she took Shane’s strength for granted; it was so natural for her to count on him to keep her steady that it didn’t occur to her that he’d need the same thing.

Tori swallowed hard to ease the lump in her throat. She scooted closer to Dustin’s hip and reached over to lay a hand on Shane. Physical contact helped her feel better; she was reassured that he was really there. Sensei had brought him back, and he was going to be okay.

“He’ll be all right, Tor.” Dustin reached over to squeeze her leg.

Tori’s face lit in a grin again. She gripped Dustin’s hand with both of hers. She was so filled with emotion she couldn’t talk, but it didn’t matter; Dustin knew how she was feeling. Though he still looked sleepy and dazed, Dustin’s happy, relieved grin matched Tori’s own.

Tori distractedly wiped away happy tears; now that Dustin was awake and talking she didn’t want him to go back to sleep. “What about you? Are you okay?”

Dustin didn’t respond with an automatic “I’m fine.” His gaze turned inside for a moment; that surprised Tori. Then he looked back to look at her face. “I’m really okay.” He paused. “But I feel different.” Dustin’s gaze drifted again; Tori could see him thinking hard, but she couldn’t control her gut reaction.

“Different? Are you hurt?” Her face was full of concern.

Dustin squeezed her hand gently and she could feel a wave of reassurance from him. She looked at him as though seeing him for the first time. He felt her reaction and smiled reassuringly. “Not hurt, just different.” He paused looking for the right word. “Deeper.” He gave her this look like, you know what I mean? And she was surprised to realize she did.

There was something very different about Dustin; he had this look in his eyes that spoke of wisdom gained through trial. Tori grieved for the loss of the carefree aura that Dustin had always projected. Of all of her friends, she thought he would be the one who would never really grow up; the one who’d maintain that child-like glee and wonder in his adult life. But that was gone now, replaced with something else.

He seemed somehow more settled and comfortable with himself. Though his aura wasn’t carefree, there was a new strength about him; a confidence that couldn’t be shaken. He’d been through the storm and survived. Tori wasn’t sure how she could know all of this just by sitting next to him and looking at his face, but then, that was something different about her as well. She, Dustin and Shane had tapped into levels of their power they’d never attempted to delve before, opening up new avenues of awareness – it would take some getting used to.

Dustin pulled his eyes away from Tori’s and tipped his chin down to get a better look at Shane. Tori could see him tighten his grip for a moment and then relax. Whatever connection he was seeking with Shane seemed to put his mind at ease. Then he looked back and Tori and nodded as he said again, “He’s going to be all right.” They shared a smile.

Shane didn’t seem to be in any rush to wake so Dustin settled back against the pillow Haley had left for him. “What about the others? Blake?” Dustin’s brow creased with remembered pain.

Tori was happy to report Haley’s news. “Blake’s going to be okay. He’s at the hospital. Haley said Cam healed him. Did you know he could do that?”

Dustin shook his head. “What about Hunter?” With his free hand he rubbed his forehead. It looked to Tori that Hunter’s reaction affected Dustin more than Blake’s injury. “Haley described him as a ‘looming crimson shadow’.” Dustin barked out a laugh, and then froze before his movement could disturb Shane. He looked guiltily at Shane, but when he saw that his laughter hadn’t awoken the former Red ranger he relaxed.

“I can just imagine Hunter drifting around the hospital.” He and Tori shared a look and then said simultaneously, “Scary.”

Dustin started to chuckle again, and Tori got the giggles. It was more out of relief than humor, but they found once they started, they were unable to stop. The look on Dustin’s face made Tori giggle even harder. He was trying so hard not to jostle Shane, but trying to stop laughing and remain still just made him want to laugh harder. Tori clamped both hands over her mouth in a futile attempt to get herself under control, but it was no use.

Luckily a sleepy-voiced Shane asked “Did I miss the joke?” before Dustin hyperventilated himself into unconsciousness.

Tori and Dustin both switched from giddy giggles to enthusiastic welcome. “Shane!” cried Tori as she threw herself atop the still prone ninja. Dustin welcomed her back into his embrace, and Shane wormed an arm out from under the blanket that was draped around him to hug her too. Tori was amazed at the connection she felt with the boys – it was more than the mental connection she usually felt with Shane; Dustin’s emotional connection was much clearer too. Deeper, like Dustin had said earlier. It was awesome.

Shane was the first to move. He rolled slightly so he could catch Tori up in a real hug; enthusiastically she hugged him back. “You okay?” he whispered in her ear. She nodded against his cheek. Pushing himself up away from Dustin, he wiped the sleep sand from his eyes. Seated upright he took a good look at the former Yellow Ranger. Then he placed his hand on Dustin’s chest and leaned in to get a good look at his face. “Dustin?”

Dustin pulled himself into a seated position while holding Shane’s hand in place on his chest; it seemed important for Shane to be connected. Dustin looked him square in the face. “I’m right here, Shane.” He smiled encouragingly and squeezed Shane’s hand for emphasis. “I’m really here. I’m okay.”

Shane took a deep breath and released it like he’d been holding it all day. His lopsided grin didn’t completely hide the fear he was still holding onto. Dustin peered at him intently, seeing something he didn’t like but couldn’t put his finger on. Now it was his turn to ask, “Shane?”

Shane looked away and instead scooted forward to pull Dustin into a bear hug. “You’re back, so I’m okay.” He released Dustin and before he could press him further Shane announced “I’m starving!”

Dustin’s stomach grumbled in agreement and he was distracted from pursuing the shadows of fear he’d felt in Shane. Tori immediately took them both in hand, declaring it would take nearly no time to prepare a meal and led them up to the kitchen. Dustin was surprised to see it was still light out; his sense of time was off and he felt like it should be night. Looking around he sought a clock in the kitchen. Rubbing his eyes and running a hand through his unruly hair he asked the room at large, “It’s four o’clock? What day is it?”

Shane looked perplexed and was happy to let Tori answer while he opened the cans of soup. “It’s Tuesday.”

“Doesn’t feel like Tuesday.” Dustin stated as he settled himself on a stool where Adam and Aisha had sat for breakfast what seemed like a lifetime ago.

Tori wrinkled her nose at Dustin, not sure what Tuesday should feel like. She scrounged in the cabinets for crackers while Shane put the soup on to boil. Dustin and Shane pumped Tori for all the information she’d received from Sensei and Haley before they’d gone to the hospital. Much of their conversation was filled with conjecture as they compared feelings and theories about what had happened. None of them were happy to talk about the injuries sustained by Conner and Adam; they were at a loss for what they could do for them.

After the soup was cooked and dished out, the three moved to the kitchen table. They ate in content silence, reveling in their reconnection and pondering the changes between them. Tori had more time to think as she watched the others eat. She thought she had put her finger on one of the changes she’d been feeling but hadn’t had time to identify. In the past she had only called upon the Dolphin spirit in times of great stress or need; it had never occurred to her that the Dolphin was a permanent part of her, accessible in good times and bad. Now, sitting at the kitchen table, she was surrounded by the feeling of welcome from the Dolphin. The Dolphin shared in her joyous reunion with her team, and Tori’s own deeper connection to her spirit.

Feeling this new connection with the Dolphin led Tori to wonder if the boys were feeling the same. She didn’t know how to tell, or how to see if they were more deeply connected with their spirit animals. But again, the Dolphin came to her aide. It wasn’t so much a matter of seeing anything physical; she just had to tap into the eye of her inner ninja. Tori expanded her awareness, but what she saw was confusing. Dustin was surrounded by a brilliant, bright yellow glow. He gave off a strength and confidence that astounded Tori, but it made her smile; he deserved it, he had earned it. It was Shane that had her confused. His aura was not stable; the red glow surrounding him looked repressed as though Shane was trying to hold in all of his inner light. It made no sense to Tori, why would he clamp on to his light so tightly?

She was about to ask him about it when something else came to her awareness. When she’d turned to her inner ninja to expand her vision of Shane and Dustin, she was able to reach further than she’d anticipated. Though her thoughts were not directed at Blake, her heart very naturally sought him out. Tori let out a gasp as she jumped back from the table. “Blake!”

Her cry startled both Dustin and Shane. Both of them rose as well. “What is it Tor?” asked Shane.

“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I can’t tell. Something is wrong!” As if to reinforce her fear a gust of wind whistled around the house. Shane peered out the window apprehensively.

“Is he hurt? Did something happen?” Shane asked. Dustin stood very still, looking inward.

“I think we need to get to the hospital.” Dustin stated. A crack of lightning outside made Shane flinch, and the immediate peal of thunder that followed it made him wince.

“We don’t have a car.” Tori replied. “But we can streak into town and find it from there.” She was already heading toward the door.

“No, Tor! Don’t go out!” Shane didn’t move from his spot by the table, but he held out his hands imploringly. There was an edge of panic to his voice.

Tori turned, confused and upset. “We have to go, Shane! Blake is in trouble!”

“Hunter too.” added Dustin. “And Conner.” he continued somberly.

“We can’t…there’s a storm.” Shane explained.

“So we’ll get wet!” Tori snapped. “Blake needs us and Hunter too.” As angry as Tori was, it couldn’t overcome Shane’s growing panic. Another crack of lightning directly overhead caused him to jump. He stumbled into Dustin. Tori could see a look of stunned understanding blossom on Dustin’s face, but there was no time to talk as Shane made a mad dash for the basement stairs. His hasty exit left the others breathless. And then the lights went out.

Chapter Text

Dustin’s reaction to Shane’s flight was immediate, but Shane’s panic gave him greater speed. By the time Dustin reached the doorway, he had already lost sight of Shane to the gloom below. There was a skid and thump from the inky black staircase. A sickening crash from below brought Dustin’s heart into this throat. “SHANE!” Heedless of his own uncertain footing, Dustin flung himself headlong into the darkness. Tori was close behind.

Though the lights in the house had been extinguished, the main room of the lab still glowed with its own muted light. The overhead lights and lamps were off, but the glow from the computers indicated another power source; of course Haley would have emergency power generators to power the lab. But Dustin found he didn’t need the emergency lights at all; the walls of the staircase had been carved out of the rock the house was resting on – they gave off a glow only he could see.

Taking advantage of his inner sight, Dustin pulled ahead of Tori in his haste to get to Shane. He was relieved to see that Shane had already regained his feet, but it concerned him to find the Red Ranger pacing in circles close to the foot of the stairs. As Dustin, and then Tori approached, Shane’s circuit took him further away from him as if he were a magnet repelled by a similarly charged object.

Shane was breathing deeply, whether to calm himself or simply to catch his breath after his fall was hard to tell. He held his left arm tightly to his body, holding it against him in pain. His right hand nearly covered his eyes as much to keep out the dim light as keeping the others from seeing his face. What disturbed Dustin much more than Shane’s strange behavior was the emotional surges emanating from his best friend. He’d caught a glimpse of it upstairs in the kitchen when the lightning startled Shane, but now it had developed into an all out panic attack. Wave after wave of spiraling fear and debilitating anxiety had overcome Shane, but at the same time he was trying to talk himself into going to the hospital. Shane was fighting hard, but the fear was winning.

With a glance, Dustin urged Tori to approach Shane; Dustin circled around in the opposite direction, out of Shane’s direct line of sight. True to the pattern Dustin had observed, Shane recoiled from Tori’s gentle call and stumbled blindly in the opposite direction; where Dustin was waiting for him. Not giving Shane a chance to react, Dustin caught him in an embrace pulling him into his right side. With his right arm he encircled Shane mindful of his injured left side, with his left he pushed Shane’s head down onto his right shoulder. Shane trembled and shook in Dustin’s arms.

Dustin was immediately overwhelmed by the fear and horror the encroaching storm produced in Shane. Almost as strong as the fear was Shane’s feeling of shame – he was ashamed to be weak; ashamed to let down his team; ashamed of letting his friends see him fall apart. Dustin dug deep into himself to find his own center amidst the swirling chaos that was Shane. He was not surprised to feel the Lion waiting for him there. Drawing on his own resources, Dustin extended a feeling of understanding and safety to Shane. I’ve got you Shane. Nothing can happen to you here. You’re safe. You’re safe.

Over and over Dustin reassured Shane of his safety. But it took a long time for Shane to let the feeling sink in. He was overcome by the memory of being ripped apart by the storm Hunter and Blake had created. He’d been torn away from Tori and Dustin, unable to stay connected with their light. His spirit had been shredded and lost in the storm. The pain inflicted by his own element was more than he could bear and he couldn’t stand the thought that it might happen again. He was terrified of the Hawk who in his forthright way was urgently calling Shane back to him.

Dustin’s heart broke for Shane, but there was nothing he could do other than hold him and try to soothe his fears. Tori drew closer as well, her anger forgotten, as she joined with Dustin in urging Shane to relax and believe them when they repeated over and over he was safe. Together they stood in the dark and gloomy lab comforting Shane as best they could.

Eventually their words and presences sunk in. Shane stopped trembling in Dustin’s grasp, but he made no move to break away. Instead he allowed himself to absorb the steadying auras of his friends. With his head still on Dustin’s shoulder Shane began to speak.

“I can’t go out there.” Dustin could feel Shane’s tension rising, the muscles in his back and neck became taut as he spoke. “In the…wind…” Shane became overcome again and tried unsuccessfully to hold back a sob.

Dustin gently squeezed Shane’s neck as he held him a little tighter. “Don’t worry, Shane. You don’t have to go out in the storm.” He shared a glance with Tori over Shane’s head. Her eyes flashed with distress. She knew they needed to get to the hospital; not just her, all of them. They had to get Shane out of this basement. Dustin felt, just as Tori did, that time was short. Shane knew it too and Dustin could feel a surge of self-loathing from him. He could feel Shane’s self-recrimination at his perceived cowardice and knew he had to put a stop to that immediately.

He and Tori double-teamed the distressed Air Ninja. Tori spoke to him in his mind, while Dustin addressed his heart. Over and over they expressed that they understood his fear and did not blame him for it. This weekend had changed them all and many lessons had been learned. One stood out among all the others – together they could do almost anything.

Dustin pulled slightly away from Shane; not releasing him, but stepping far enough back to look in his face. Shane tear-streaked face was a mask of dismay but the fear seemed to be losing its grip. “We’ll figure something out, Shane. We’ll figure it out.” Dustin poured as much confidence as he could into his words.

Shane nodded, but his heart wasn’t in it. “You guys shouldn’t have to carry me like this.” His face filled with shame again; he had dishonored his team with his weakness. “I should be stronger.” He looked away.

Tori moved so she was standing side by side with Dustin, able to get a good look at Shane and for him to get a look at her. “You’re wrong, Shane. We should carry you…you’ve been carrying us this whole time. Now it’s our turn.” Then Tori became apologetic and her eyes shone with unshed tears. “When Blake got hurt and the storm exploded…” Shane shuddered again. “The pain was so bad, I was only thinking of myself. I didn’t know we’d lost you, Shane.” She forced herself to look at his face expecting blame and anger from him. “I’m so sorry.”

Shane had been so wrapped up in his own feelings of guilt and fear that he couldn’t recognize those same emotions in his teammates. “No, it wasn’t you,” he argued, “I couldn’t hold on any longer.”

Tori reached out to grasp his left elbow. “You’re not the only one who has to hold on, Shane. We all have to do it.” He nodded, finally hearing her. Then Tori’s brow creased with a frown. She could feel something she didn’t like. Stepping closer to Shane, she slid her hand from his arm to his waist. She was looking at something Dustin and Shane couldn’t see. What Dustin could see was that Tori was suddenly and brilliantly surrounded by an aqua colored aura; what he could feel was her communion with the Dolphin spirit.

Tori took her left hand and placed it on Shane’s left wrist. She pulled his arm away from his injured side causing him to wince. She cocked her head to the side as if listening, and then pulled his shirt up over his waist. Dustin could see what she was trying to do and stepped in to help. Tori laid her right hand on Shane’s bare side and closed her eyes. Though Dustin couldn’t see what Tori was doing because the lab was too dark, her actions caused an immediate reaction in Shane. His face relaxed and his breathing eased.

A minute or two passed in silence. When Tori opened her eyes once again she looked satisfied. “Nasty bruise.” she said looking at Shane. “Feel better?”

“Yeah.” he answered gruffly. “Thanks, Tor.” Letting Tori help him changed something in Shane’s demeanor. They were in a difficult situation, and he understood that he couldn’t get out without Dustin and Tori’s help. He couldn’t be the leader now; he had to let himself depend on them. He was still afraid, but he knew he could count on them to get him through.

Something had occurred to Dustin while he watched Tori work. She seemed much more at ease tapping into and controlling her element. Some Water Ninjas were also trained as healers, but it was never something Tori had pursued. But just now she had identified and taken care of Shane’s injury as if it was second nature to her. She didn’t even have to think about it. Dustin wondered if this new connection was something he could apply to his element and use to his advantage as well. A plan began to form; looking around the lab only confirmed his suspicion. He had an idea, and he was pretty sure it would work.

“I think I’ve figured out a way to get to the hospital.” he stated. Tori and Shane looked at him with expectation. It was very strange to Dustin not to feel like they would immediately disregard whatever suggestion he made; the days of goofball or crackpot ideas were behind him. He wasn’t entirely sorry to let them go.

“Tori, you streak into Reefside and find the hospital. You’re gonna have to stand out in the rain for a bit so we can find you.”

Tori’s face lit in understanding. “Like a beacon.”

Dustin nodded. “If you’re standing out there in your element there’s no way we can miss you.”

Shane looked in confusion between the two. “Tori’s going to the hospital without us? I don’t understand…how are we going to get into town?”

Dustin could feel Shane’s apprehension building, but it wasn’t overwhelming, so he quickly explained. “We’re not going into Reefside, we’re going under it.”

It took Shane a moment to process what Dustin was saying. Then a grin split his face. “Under?” he asked.

“Under.” Dustin confirmed.

Satisfied that Dustin had the situation firmly under control and itching to be underway, Tori leaned in to give her teammates a hug, then jogged up the stairs to the kitchen and streaked out of the house. Shane and Dustin listened to the sounds of her moving up the stairs until they couldn’t hear her above any more.

“I figure you’ll have a better sense of when Tori gets to the hospital than I will. You guys do the whole mental conversation thing better than I do. Until then, we’ll move as far as we can through these tunnels, see how close to town we can get.” Shane nodded in agreement; his relief at not being forced to go out into the storm was palpable.

Dustin strode forward easily and was a few strides away when he realized Shane wasn’t right beside him. Growling at himself for not realizing that Shane would have difficulty, Dustin returned to him. “Here.” he said, “hold onto me.” Shane took a firm grip on Dustin’s upper left arm and they moved forward together.

To Dustin, the walls of the lab carved out of the caves under Tommy’s house gave off a low level but constant glow. To Shane, it was just dark. Dustin kept forgetting Shane couldn’t see what he did. So he kept his pace steady and even, making sure there were no obstacles in Shane’s path once they moved into the darker tunnels. Without the aide of the emergency lights and the glow of the computers, Shane was completely dependent on Dustin to guide him through the caves. Dustin was humbled at the level of trust Shane was showing, particularly after the emotional roller-coaster he’d been on just a short time ago.

Dustin kept them moving in a southward direction. Tommy’s house was well north of town so they had quite a distance to traverse. They traveled in silence not needing to fill the space between them with empty talk. So it surprised Dustin when Shane announced, “Tori’s at the hospital.”

Dustin paused and reached out for Tori. Though he didn’t have the strong mental connection with her that Shane did, he could clearly feel her yearning for them to join her amplified through her element. “Yeah, I can feel it too. It’ll give us more of a target to aim for.” Together they picked up the pace.

All too soon they arrived at the obstacle Dustin had been anticipating. He knew it wasn’t realistic to think they could travel through this cave system all the way into Reefside; and they’d just hit a dead end. Dustin could already feel Shane tensing beside him; he knew Shane was trying to ready himself for a trip to the surface and a hellish streak to the hospital. Dustin could almost read Shane’s thoughts – they were that much closer to the hospital than they’d been at Tommy’s house; at least the trip through the storm would be shorter.

But Dustin had no intention of putting Shane through that kind of torture. He turned to face the Air Ninja. Everything he was about to say was based on the assumption that his new connection to his element was just as powerful as he was imagining it to be. But he was confident that with the help of the Lion spirit, he could make this plan work.

“Okay, Shane, here’s where we do something different. How do you feel about a dirt dive?”

It was not what Shane had been expecting to hear. “What do you mean?” he asked his voice hopeful.

Dustin bit his lip even though he knew Shane could not see the gesture in the dark. “There’s no way I’m making you streak through that storm up there. Not after everything you’ve been through. But this is as far as we can go in these tunnels.” Shane waited in anticipation, but his anticipation was tinged with curiosity not fear. Dustin was glad to feel the distinction. “I’ve brought you on a dirt dive before…this’ll be just like that, only a little bit longer.”

“Can you do that?” asked Shane wonderingly.

“Yes.” answered Dustin without hesitation. But next came the tricky part – in order for the plan to work, not only would Dustin have to call on the Power of Earth, but Shane would have to call on the Power of Air, and Dustin wasn’t sure if Shane was ready to do that. Dustin privately consulted with the Lion asking if he could communicate with the Hawk. Shane was going to need a lot more help than the Hawk was used to giving. On some level, Dustin understood that it was the Hawk’s philosophy to foster independence; fledglings got pushed out of the nest and they had to fly or fall on their own. Shane was not at a point where he could do that, and if one of them had to take a different stand in their relationship it was going to have to be the Hawk. Dustin didn’t know enough to know what passed between the animal spirits; he only knew that the communication had taken place.

Only a few seconds passed before Dustin continued. “We’ll both call on our elements and when you’re ready, I’ll take you in. You’ll need to be focused on Tori to guide me to her while I’m moving us and we’ll be there in no time.” Actually, their trip through the soil would be much faster than the speed they’d been walking. Once he was fully immersed in the earth Dustin could move at nearly the speed of a streak; compensating for Shane’s additional weight would slow him down a little, but not significantly.

It made Dustin’s job a little easier because Shane was an Air Ninja. Of the three of them, Shane had the easiest time being drawn through the other elements. He never had the worry of not being able to breathe; unlike Dustin or Tori, Shane as an Air ninja never doubted his ability to draw oxygen out of the surrounding elements of earth or water. The Earth and Water ninjas, on the other hand were distinctly uncomfortable and claustrophobic when being drawn through the opposite element. So of all of them to have to drag through the earth, Shane was the best candidate; if he could call on the Power of Air without sending himself into a panic attack.

Shane nodded his understanding. He was far happier with this solution than a trip to the surface into the storm overhead. It was then that Dustin realized why Shane was so averse to call upon the Hawk – he felt strongly that he had dishonored his animal spirit and he wasn’t sure the Hawk would answer his call for power. Inwardly Dustin prayed that the Lion had been able to communicate Shane’s needs to the Hawk; the last thing he needed at this point was a dressing down or rejection from his animal spirit.

Dustin moved so he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Shane. “Ready?” he asked.

“Ready.” was the curt reply.

“Power of Earth!”

“Power of Air!”

Dustin felt the familiar and welcome power of the Lion spirit rush through him. He closed his eyes and allowed the power to fill him. Then he unabashedly “eavesdropped” on Shane to see what his power transfer had revealed. Dustin was shocked at the overwhelming remorse he was able to pick up from the Hawk spirit; Shane was equally surprised and replied with a rush of forgiveness. Dustin had to blink back tears at the reunion of the Air ninja and his spirit animal. The Hawk swooped in, fiercely protective and Shane was surrounded by depths of power unmatched in his experience. I will teach you, brother. I will help you, brother. I will never allow you to be lost again.

The air around Shane crackled with power and Dustin could see his aura blazing deep red – steady and strong. It put Dustin’s heart greatly at ease. At least this part of Shane was back on track, making the next part of the journey that much easier. A relieved grin split Dustin’s face as he reached out to grasp Shane’s right hand with his left. “Ready to go?”

Shane squeezed his hand as he answered. “Let’s do it.”

Pulling his power in a tight weave around them, Dustin strode forward into the solid rock face before them. Shane didn’t hesitate and followed right behind. Again, Dustin was awed at the level of trust Shane was displaying. For anyone other than Earth ninjas, dirt dives weren’t easy. Some people couldn’t stand the claustrophobic feelings they produced; others were convinced that somehow they’d be stuck or left behind. When those feelings caused panic, very bad things could happen. But Dustin could feel no apprehension or fear from Shane. But it wasn’t because Shane was unnaturally comfortable traveling through the earth; it was because it was Dustin who was leading him through. It was humbling to realize and Dustin was determined not to let Shane down.

Surrounded by his comforting and familiar element, not just in spirit but in fact, was greatly revitalizing to Dustin. With a sure and steady grip on Shane, Dustin moved forward effortlessly, guided by Shane’s confident connection with Tori. Quicker than he anticipated, they arrived at the hospital. Rather than drawing Shane to the surface, Dustin brought them to one of the hospital’s subterranean basements. He was relieved beyond measure when the room they emerged in was a boiler room, not the morgue. Dustin laid his hand briefly on the wall they’d come through and thanked the earth beyond it for their easy passage. Then together he and Shane searched out a staircase and headed upward looking for Tori.

They connected with her on the ground level of the hospital near the elevators where she was waiting. “Blake’s on the fourth floor.” she announced as she caught the door for an upward traveling elevator. Together they rushed forward into the elevator raising their thoughts to those above them and wondering what help they might be able to provide. A deafening roll of endless thunder shook the heavens above as the doors of the elevator slid shut.

Chapter Text

Ethan felt like his mind was moving in slow motion. He thought he heard the guy with Conner’s voice on the other end of the phone say he could make a storm, make it rain. But that didn’t really make sense. He probably just thought he heard it because it was what he wanted to hear more than anything else.

“What?” Ethan asked.

There was a pause on the other end of the line as Eric tried to make sense of Ethan’s question. He decided to skip the question and forge ahead. “Listen, I need to talk to Conner.”

Wait, he’s trying to change the subject…I can’t let him do that. “No…go back to the making it rain thing.” Ethan hated that he sounded so incoherent. He was trying to force his brain to get in gear, but it was not easy.

“I don’t have time to talk about the weather!” cried Eric, “I need to talk to Conner.”

“You can’t, he’s in the hospital.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Ethan knew he should never have said them. But Eric wasn’t reacting with surprise; in fact, he seemed more upset that his suspicions had been confirmed.

“How bad is it?” Eric asked grimly.

Ethan had finally reached a fully awake state. They were in a desperate situation and he was going to have to do some things that Dr. O probably wouldn’t approve of. Talking honestly with Eric was the first one. “It’s really bad.” Ethan responded. “But I think there’s a way to help.” he immediately added.

“How? What do we do?”

Now that Ethan was fully awake ideas were spiraling through his mind. Faster and faster he was making connections, leaps of logic and intuiting information. All this time he’s been racking his brain trying to figure out a way for the Dino Rangers to help Conner. He assumed that because their team was so closely connected in their triangle, that he and Kira would be the ones who should be able to help. But Conner was a unique part of their triangle because he didn’t completely belong to them. He’d been part of a team even before he was born. Things were starting to make sense.

“How much do you know about what Conner does in his free time, Eric?”

Eric paused knowing it was a loaded question and Ethan could almost hear him thinking over the phone. That too made perfect sense to Ethan. He and Kira teased Conner a lot about having more brawn than brains – it was an unfair depiction of him, but one that he shrugged off with easy nonchalance. But what if he took the teasing in stride because he was perfectly comfortable with it? He didn’t have to be the brainy one, the one with the plan or answer because he always knew that Eric would be there to do the heavy thinking.

“I know he spends a lot of time with you and Kira.” came the response - the nice, safe, noncommittal response.

“Because he’s a Power Ranger.” Ethan stated flatly. Eric choked on the other end of the line. “Look, we don’t have time to pretend you don’t know what I’m saying. I think you’re probably the last person on the planet Conner could keep a secret from.” Even as the words came out of his mouth, Ethan knew them to be true.

“No, he can’t keep a secret from me. He never could.” Eric was still being somewhat evasive in his answers, but indirectly he confirmed what Ethan was saying.

Ethan took another leap from intuition to fact. As the pieces of the puzzle were falling together he could feel his excitement building. This could really be it! Eric is the key to saving Conner. I know it! “Eric, did you mean what you said about making it rain?”

Eric paused again before responding. Ethan could feel him thinking again. Please trust me he urged in his mind. Please trust me…without you I don’t think this will work.

Eric was careful with how he phrased his answer. “I might be able to build a storm and send it in your direction.”

“Like a Thunder Ninja?” asked Ethan.

“What? How do you…?” was Eric’s surprised response.

YES! Eric can get through to Conner AND help Hunter! SWEET! “Where are you?” Ethan demanded. “How far away from Reefside are you?” Ethan took a deep breath and organized his thoughts. “What I’m really asking is how long will it take you to send a storm this way? The storm that Hunter and Blake kicked up this morning is almost out of juice and we need another one right now!”

“Hunter and Blake? Bradley?” The mention of the Bradleys seemed to change something in Eric. He was no longer hedging or avoiding Ethan’s questions. “I’m in Oregon. Making a storm here would do you no good. By the time it got down to Reefside it would’ve lost all of its power.”

“So how long will it take you to get down here?” Ethan asked never doubting that Eric would do whatever he had to in order to get to Conner.

“I’m already on my way. I’ll probably be there in less than an hour.”

“Really?” Ethan was overwhelmed with relief. It never occurred to him to doubt Eric’s word. No average citizen would be able to travel from somewhere in Oregon to Reefside, California in less than an hour – but Ethan had a growing suspicion that Eric was about as ordinary as his brother.

“I’ve been on the move since this morning. I knew something big had gone down. I’ve been trying to get in touch with Conner and my dad, but the storm down there knocked out so many power lines and the phones have been out.”

“Do you know how to get to Reefside Hospital?”

“Yeah…spent lots of time there.” Eric answered bitterly. Ethan recalled with a wince the story behind Conner’s hospitalization there as a child.

“Okay. I’ll get Kira. We’ll meet you at the hospital – say, three-thirty, four o’clock? We’ll be the ones in Yellow and Blue.” he added with a grin.

“See you there. Ethan…?” Suddenly Eric seemed at a loss for words. But he didn’t have to say anything – Ethan could read him loud and clear.

“He’s gonna make it, Eric. We’ll make sure of that. Just get here as fast as you can.”

“’kay.” With no further words, Eric was gone. Ethan sat on the floor at the foot of his bed for a quiet moment. His confidence was growing and he knew they were on the right track. Hunter and Conner just had to hold out long enough for Eric to arrive. They had a chance! Now all Ethan had to do was get past his parents.

Chapter Text

As soon as Mr. James pulled into their driveway, Kira was enveloped with an overwhelming sense of peace. Home! She was so exhausted her mother had to help her out of the car. But the thought of being in her own house gave renewed energy to her weary limbs and she stumbled eagerly up onto the porch. She was surprised when her mother steered her not to her bedroom, but to the bathroom.

Kira stared stupidly from her perch on the toilet seat as her mother puttered around the bathroom gathering bath items and fluffy towels. Her mother had turned the water on in the tub, and when it reached a certain temperature started adding bath oils. Kira automatically identified the scents and the associated properties: Jasmine to ease exhaustion; Sandalwood to ease grief; rose to grant peace . Breathing the familiar scents in deeply, Kira began to truly relax. Her sisters could scorn her mother’s holistic tendencies, but they never turned their noses up at a bath like this, particularly when they were feeling down or upset.

Angie Ford came to stand in front of her weary and wrung-out daughter. She gently took Kira’s face in her hands and kissed her head. “Oh my Heart, “she murmured as she gave Kira a gentle hug. Kira smiled at the familiar nickname which had taken on a whole new light after this weekend; it made her wonder if her mother knew more than she let on. Angie began to tug at the top layer of Kira’s clothing. “It’s okay, Mom. I’ve got it.” Kira reassured her.

Her mom kissed her head again. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes to make sure you haven’t fallen asleep in there, and then it’s right to bed with you.”

Kira leaned in and grabbed her mother in a spontaneous hug. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

Angie returned the hug and responded, “I love you too, my Heart. Now jump in before the water gets cold.”

Kira eagerly followed orders and allowed herself to sink into the heavenly bliss of the bath. Surrounded by a mountain of bubbles she allowed the scents to sooth and re-energize her. And slowly, she turned her focus inward and regained her center. All too soon a gentle knock on the door announced her mother’s presence. Kira gave a little jump and then laughed at herself; she really had started to doze off.

Angie poked her head into the bathroom. “Okay, kiddo, time to dry off and jump into bed.” She gave her daughter an appraising look. “Need help, honey?”

“Nope.” Kira responded sleepily. “I can manage.” And she did. Shortly she was ensconced in the oldest, rattiest, most comfortable pair of pajamas she owned, sitting comfortably on the end of her bed while her mother braided her hair. Shortly after that she was tucked in with the shades drawn and the lights out.

Kira drifted off immediately into a semi-doze, but the replay of the day’s events kept her from falling into a true sleep. As she had done in the hospital when they’d first brought Conner in, Kira found herself examining her feelings, and one was coming through loud and clear – guilt.

She was acutely aware of how the loving attention she’d received from her mom contrasted sharply with the horrific display from Conner’s mother. She felt relaxed and rested, comfortable and safe, but she was certain that Conner was not feeling that way, and it was breaking her heart. She tried desperately to come up with any way she could help him, but felt cut off and ineffective now that she was no longer at the hospital.

Restless, Kira rolled over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She began to ponder her role – if, according to Sensei Kanoi, she represented the heart of the team, there should be some tangible way she could aide in Conner’s recovery. Being the heart shouldn’t make her weak or less able. In fact, it was the heart that never stopped working…but Kira couldn’t see how that applied to her or how it helped in this situation.

Kira had watched as Red Ranger after Red Ranger made contact with Conner. She was jealous of the tangible contact they had – it seemed to help all of them even if it didn’t outwardly affect Conner. Haley, Billy and Ethan – they all had their computers and data to analyze; again, they had something tangible to work with. What did she have?

Kira’s thoughts turned to Kim, Aisha and Dana. What was it that they were doing that she could emulate? Kim was feeding everybody; Aisha stuck to Rocky’s side like glue; and Dana took care of all of them. Kira bit her lip. What it really came down to was being unafraid to love anyone who needed it. Kira would not have chosen to spend any quality time with Rocky in the mood he’d been in all day, but Aisha knew he needed her to love him. Dana acted like a bully, but only because she wanted the best for all of them.

And Kim - it was hard not to pick up on the tension between Kim and Dr. O. Kira noticed that Kim tried to defer to Jason when Dr. O was struggling. But when they were in the coffee shop with their parents, Kim sensed Dr.O’s anguish. She never hesitated from flying out of the booth and across the room to ease his pain. She gave of herself because that’s what he needed.

Can I do that for Conner?

Kira closed her eyes and let her thoughts drift to the injured Red Ranger. When she shifted slightly the scent of rose wafted up to her, her eyes popped open, and she thought of her mother. Her older sisters thought their mom was something of a kook with all of her herbal remedies and visualization techniques, but Kira felt more and more that her mom was on to something. Scooting herself up against the pillows, Kira rearranged herself into a semi-seated position. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes again.

What would Mom say? Picture some place positive - some place safe. She decided on Haley’s CyberCafe. It was familiar to both her and Conner, and was a place where they liked to relax. She pictured herself sitting on the overstuffed chair by the window. She was dressed in her favorite jeans and Avril inspired long-sleeved t-shirt. She pictured Conner relaxing on the couch opposite her. He was also dressed in jeans wearing a red work shirt over a white t-shirt. Kira was struck very suddenly by the fact that this was a memory, not just a visualization exercise. It had been last week. She and Conner were hanging out together waiting for Ethan to lose his last life on whatever video game he’d been playing. Ethan was a lot better at the game than they’d expected, so they’d spent almost the entire afternoon together hanging out.

Focus, Kira!

Kira pulled her thoughts away from the past and returned them to the task at hand. What was it she wanted to accomplish? She wanted to be like Kim and Aisha, supporting their teammates. In her mind’s eye, Kira found herself with a guitar in hand. It shouldn’t have surprised her. But it was weird, she didn’t want to sing to just Conner with him looking at her from his couch. In the visualization, Kira had Conner swing his feet up onto the couch and stretch out in an even more relaxed posture. He had his head propped up on a pillow and was looking into space. Now that he wasn’t staring at her she felt more comfortable. So she started to sing.

At first she found herself singing songs she knew Conner would know; songs he’d heard her perform. But she quickly found herself drifting into other songs, obviously heavily influenced by her mom; why else would The Mamas and The Papas pop into her head? But the song seemed awfully appropriate for the situation so she shared it with Conner.

While I’m far away from you my baby
I know it’s hard for you my baby
Because it’s hard for me my baby
And the darkest hour is just before dawn

Each night before you go to bed my baby
Whisper a little prayer for me my baby
And tell all the stars above
This is dedicated to the one I love

Over and over, Kira sang to Conner, reinforcing each verse and each phrase with all the support she could muster. She sent him wave after wave of reassurance that he was not alone, that he was not forgotten. She vowed that they would never give up fighting for him. But overriding all of these, she sent him her love. Her apprehension about loving him melted away. So caught up was she in projecting these emotions in her vision, she never noticed when Conner turned his head so he could listen to her sing.

Chapter Text

Ethan climbed to his feet feeling more awake and alert than he had in days. Talking with Eric had energized him – he was confident that together they’d be able to help Conner, but he was profoundly aware that they were working with a time limit, and time was running out. Ethan closed Conner’s phone and tucked it into his back pocket in case Eric tried to reach him again, and after slipping his feet back into his sneakers headed for his bedroom door.

Ethan had no idea what time it was, but he felt like he hadn’t slept all that long. Because of the rain it was hard to tell by the quality of light outside how deep into the afternoon they’d traveled, but Ethan was fairly sure it was not yet evening. Ethan could feel anxiety building in his chest; this building anxiety was concern about getting past his parents. Ethan didn’t have the ninja ability to streak from point A to point B. And, he was still at an age where he had to ask for the keys before he could use the car – the situation was desperate, but Ethan was not desperate enough to steal his parent’s car.

Ethan jogged lightly down the stairs to the first floor. In his head he was rehearsing his strategy. Use as few words as possible. Don’t say anything that is open to question or argument. State facts…don’t demand. Don’t use a tone that could be taken as rude or whining…that never works with Mom.

The stairs opened onto the living room, but from the landing Ethan could also easily see into the kitchen. Though his father was an avid sports fan and usually watched the games in the back room Ethan was not really surprised to find his father sitting in the living room. His father looked up and closed the book he was reading when Ethan came down the stairs. His mother, who had resumed working in the kitchen, rose from the table when she saw Ethan and walked into the living room toward him. Ethan knew he had to make a preemptive strike – he had to be the one to talk first…set the tone, or he’d never have a chance.

“I have to go back to the hospital.” he stated urgently, addressing his mother. “May I please take the keys?” Ethan focused all of his energy on Beverly, willing her to instinctively understand his need and give in without an argument or discussion. So he was totally floored when it was his father who answered.

“No.”

Ethan did a startled double-take. His father had risen from the chair where he’d been reading and moved to join his son and wife at the bottom of the stairs. Looking at the expression on his father’s face Ethan knew he was in deep, deep trouble. From the time he was old enough to argue or be defiant Ethan had always been at odds with his mother. He loved her absolutely, and knew her love was without depth in return; but he couldn’t stop the never ending wrangling between them. They were like oil and water – at odds about everything, but too similar to give in on any issue. And she was tough – a stern disciplinarian.

Tyrone James almost never directly intervened in any conflict, but was the ultimate peacekeeper between mother and son. His gentle, genial nature soothed both parties until a truce was called and peace reigned again. Ethan could always count on his father for a sympathetic ear – as long as he didn’t disrespect his mother. Dad was always able to develop a reasonable solution to any issue that arose with his mom. And on more than one occasion, Ethan got his father’s unwavering support when Mom’s expectations or demands were (in Ethan’s opinion) ridiculous.

That was why, when quickly formulating his plan of attack as he jogged down the stairs, Ethan had focused totally on his mother. She was the wall he needed to climb, the sentry he needed to get past – that was the way it had always been. So Ethan was totally unprepared when it was Dad and not Mom who responded. It took Ethan a moment to switch gears; in those precious seconds he lost even more ground.

“You’re not going anywhere, Ethan, except back to bed. And tomorrow, when you’re feeling better, you’re going to sit down with me and your mother and tell us what really went on today.” Tyrone had unconsciously folded his arms across his chest while he was speaking. His posture, imposing height and steely resolve would have sent Ethan scampering back upstairs on any other day – but not today. Ethan couldn’t see it, but Beverly would tell him later that his expression changed into a mirror of his father’s at those words. In that moment she saw something change between father and son, and it grieved her to see it. This was no little boy facing his father – what was about to pass between them was man to man.

Ethan took a deep breath, fighting to control his emotions. “I have to get back to the hospital.” he repeated trying hard to keep his voice level.

“You’re not going back out in this storm.” his father replied. Ethan glanced out the window and his heart did a little skip as he realized that the storm did indeed seem to have picked up some steam. But he missed the concern and anxiety on his father’s face because he was so concerned about his own needs.

How do I make them understand? How can I explain to him? Ethan took a step closer to his father; not to be physically threatening, but just to get closer to him. He had to somehow communicate his urgency. “I have to get to Conner, Dad. I have to help him.”

Even as he said it, Ethan knew it was a mistake – he’d left himself wide open to argument. His father took the opening and jumped right in sounding exasperated. “Conner is in a hospital surrounded by many doctors and trained people. They are the ones who can help him, not you, Ethan.” A low and distant rumble of thunder punctuated his father’s statement. Ethan could feel his control beginning to slip – he was angry that his father didn’t understand, and that he couldn’t make him. Eric was getting closer and Conner was slipping away. Ethan was convinced that Eric wouldn’t be of much use without him and Kira to help as well.

“You’re wrong, Dad.” Ethan’s eyes flashed with anger and distress. “We can help Conner - me and Kira.”

Tyrone interrupted, placing a hand on Ethan’s shoulder and squeezing slightly. His voice was rough and edged with frustration. “No, Ethan! There’s nothing you can do…you are not a doctor”

“I’m not a doctor!” Ethan shouted back as he knocked his father’s hand away and pulled out of his grip. “But I am his teammate! Conner needs me, and I won’t go to my room like some child who’s being punished!”

Tyrone’s eyes went wide when Ethan physically pushed his hand away. He had never had a physical confrontation with his son. But the stress of the day, his concern about Ethan and his friends, seeing the emotionally wrecked condition of the others in the hospital had sent Tyrone’s thoughts along a dark and scary path after he’d put his son to bed. It was frighteningly obvious that Conner was grievously injured today, and it could just have easily been Ethan. His son was safe and sound at home; Tyrone wasn’t about to let him journey back into the storm.

“You will go to your room because that’s what I’ve told you to do.” Pointing forcefully at the stairs he continued at a volume just short of a roar, “This is not up for discussion. GO!”

Ethan staggered back a step and Beverly saw a flash of something cross his face. He took a strange stance, and for a heart-stopping moment she was convinced that he was drawing his fist back to hit his father. Startling both his parents, Ethan yelled out, “Dino Thunder, Power Up – HA!”

A fantastic display of light and sound followed Ethan’s cry. In moments he was transformed, and standing at the foot of the stairs in their living room was the Blue Power Ranger. No one knew what to do. Both Beverly and Tyrone stood transfixed, not able to process what they had just witnessed. Neither one could reconcile the spandex clad figure standing before them with their son. Then he took off his helmet.

Ethan stepped toward his father again; his face was a picture of urgency and desperation. “Dad,” he pleaded, “you have to understand. I know I’m not a doctor, but what’s wrong with Conner is something a doctor cannot fix. It’s Ranger business.”

Tyrone stood silently shaking his head. Ethan tucked his helmet under his left arm and reached out to his father with his right hand. “Dad, please. There’s not much time left. I know you don’t understand…and I swear when this is over…after I help Conner… I’ll explain as much as I can. But please, I have to get Kira and get to the hospital now.”

With a shaking hand, Tyrone drew Ethan closer and pulled his son into a fierce embrace. Ethan hugged him back. Beverly wiped her eyes watching the moment between them, then turned on her heel and called out over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen, “I’ll get the keys.”

Chapter Text

Take care of your brother. The words echoed over and over in Cam’s head. He knew it wasn’t a dream or something he’d imagined. He had been given a directive by Blake’s mother, taken it to heart. And it grieved him that he had failed.

Cam thought he’d done all he could, out there in the storm. He’d healed Blake the best he could, and turned him over to Dana’s capable hands once they’d arrived at the hospital. What more was there for him to do? But after Kanoi’s abrupt arrival and departure Cam was left alone with Blake and he began to focus his frantic mind on where he’d gone wrong; it was so obvious, and he berated himself on not realizing it sooner. Blake’s physical condition was okay, far better than it should have been; it was his strength of his spirit that had been weakened.

And where did Blake find strength when he was weak – in Hunter. He was just as tied to Hunter here in the hospital as he’d been in the storm; Cam should have realized that. Instead, he had let Blake send Hunter away. He should have stopped Hunter from leaving, he should have intervened – he should have made Hunter stay because Blake needed him just as much as ever. But now it was too late. If Hunter had stayed with Blake, he would have had enough strength to sustain them both, but he had gone to help Conner. And Cam was certain, that though Hunter was physically with Conner, there was a part of him that was still with Blake. Hunter had enormous resources of power – enough to support two of them, but probably not three; at least not for long.

It was tearing Cam up inside. He desperately wanted to go and help Hunter, but he couldn’t leave Blake. Even if he did rush to Hunter’s side he didn’t know what he could do for him - he couldn’t support him as a body type and his Samurai power wouldn’t easily pass from him to Hunter – but he felt like he had to do something. Even greater than the turmoil in his mind was the ache in his heart. The thought that he might lose Hunter before he ever had a chance to act on his feelings drove Cam to the edge of despair.

Cam was so caught up in his spiraling thoughts that the entrance of the Wind Ninjas caught him by surprise. Movement in the hallway got his attention, and the sight of the three black clad ninjas brought him to his feet. In spite of Cam’s worry over Blake and Hunter, he felt a moment of pure joy at the sight of Dustin. A totally genuine smile warmed his face. “Dustin!” Cam cried in greeting.

Dustin smiled in return, and Cam was astonished when the Earth ninja swiftly crossed the room and grabbed him in a swift hug. Cam found himself doing the back-slap thing that Hunter and Shane did all the time; and he was surprised that within Dustin’s presence he felt much calmer and more centered than he had just moments ago. Cam stepped back and took a good look at Dustin; he appeared totally normal, but something had definitely changed. Dustin caught Cam’s look, and instead of shrugging it off or trying to escape scrutiny by making some goofball comment, he gazed serenely back at Cam. That in itself was different.

Tori and Shane had followed Dustin into the room, but Tori didn’t stop when she reached Cam. Striding around the ninja reunion, Tori hovered at the edge of Blake’s bed. To Tori, he appeared pale and drawn. The Wind Ninja’s entrance hadn’t caused him to stir; even when she reached out to caress his face there was no reaction. Tori, throwing inhibitions to the wind, climbed into the bed taking up the position Hunter had vacated just a few hours ago. Lying on her side, Tori curled her body around Blake’s. She drew him closer to her so he could rest on her shoulder and she could wrap her arms around him.

An idea seized Cam. “Tori? Will you stay with Blake?”

She nodded her head and closed her eyes as she gave her whole focus to Blake. Cam was relieved and distressed at the same time; it suddenly became clear to him that time was very short. Cam led the way out of the room. Crossing the threshold from the room to the hallway caused Cam a pang of anxiety, but he ruthlessly pushed it aside. He was taking care of Blake, by taking care of Hunter. Cam paused suddenly at a loss. It occurred to him that he had no idea how to find Hunter or anyone else.

“They’re down here.” Dustin stated softly as he took the lead and headed down the hallway. Shane followed without hesitation leaving Cam to trail in their wake. Cam was surprised to see the number of people gathered in the room. Kim, Jason and his father were gathered around Tommy who was sitting slumped in a chair on the left side of the room. Billy, Haley, Dana and Carter were clumped on the right side of the room, closer to the door than the bed. Evan McKnight had taken up a position on Conner’s right side, and Hunter was seated in a chair that was wedged between the wall and the bed on Conner’s left.

A flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder accompanied their arrival. Everyone in the room looked up with varying degrees of hope on their faces, except Shane. Shane visibly flinched and Dustin laid a calming hand on his arm. Cam didn’t understand any of that, but right now, Shane wasn’t his concern. Cam was torn between going to his father and checking on Hunter. Heart won out over head, and Cam crossed the room to stand by Hunter’s side. Once there he felt foolish. There was really nothing he could do. Cam looked down at Hunter and then scanned the rest of the room. It seemed that everyone was at a loss, yet at the same time they were expectant. Cam could feel it too. The storm continued to roll in.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The drive to Kira’s house was surrealistic to say the least. Through one short action, Ethan had changed everything in his world view. He was feeling okay with it because it had gotten him what he needed – a ride to the hospital, but his parents were not dealing with it as well; actually, just Dad was not dealing well. Surprisingly, Mom had taken the morph in stride. She was the one who hustled them into the car and wove them swiftly through the flooded streets to Kira’s house. Ethan was shocked by her silence; for the first time probably ever, there was no interrogation, no demand for an explanation. She just sat in the driver’s seat with an unreadable, yet not angry expression on her face. Ethan was grateful for her unspoken support because Dad seemed to be falling apart.

He hadn’t said anything to Ethan since they’d gotten in the car. Not that he wasn’t talking, because he was. He was sort of asking himself questions out loud and then answering them. Ethan had tried to jump in once, but a look from Mom in the rearview mirror and a tiny shake of her head changed his mind. He didn’t like sitting in the back seat and listening to his father lose it, but Mom didn’t seem overly concerned, so Ethan allowed himself to focus on Kira and what they would have to do next.

As soon as his mother pulled into the Ford’s driveway, Ethan jumped out of the car. He had unmorphed at home, so was wearing his street clothes as he made the dash up to the Ford’s front door. The storm was building in intensity, so the short jog from the car to the door left him soaked. Ethan didn’t mind, in fact he welcomed it; all the rain was an indication that Eric was getting closer and that meant they were closer to helping Conner. Ethan rang the bell impatiently. He started talking as soon as Angie Ford opened the door.

“Mrs. Ford! I need to get Kira. We have to go back to the hospital…it’s urgent.”

Angie pulled Ethan in out of the rain as he was talking and gave a slight wave to his parents who were still seated in the car. “What is this now, Ethan? Is everything alright? Has something happened to Conner? Our phones are still out – I haven’t heard anything.”

“It is about Conner.” Ethan hedged. He really didn’t want to lie to Mrs. Ford, and he didn’t think it was his place to share Kira’s ranger identity with her. Taking a big leap of faith, but feeling confident he was reading Kira’s mother correctly he continued, “We have to get back to the hospital. I think Kira can help.”

Angie Ford peered at Ethan with unusual intensity. He got the feeling that she was seeing things no one else could see, but he didn’t shrink from her gaze. Satisfied with whatever it was she recognized in Ethan, Angie turned her face toward the ceiling. “I think she can help too.” She turned back to Ethan. “Why don’t you run up there and get her?”

Ethan blinked in astonishment. Was that it? Angie looked at him expectantly. Ethan snapped out of his daze and made a dash for the stairs. “Second door on the left.” carried up to him from Kira’s mother as he jogged up the stairs. Ethan identified the door he was looking for and crashed through before his mind could catch up with his actions. It wasn’t until he was a few steps into the room that it occurred to him that he had just barged into Kira’s bedroom. He froze for an instant and looked around. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting to see, but there didn’t seem to be any secret girly paraphernalia out in the open that he shouldn’t be seeing, so he kept moving.

It didn’t appear to Ethan that Kira was sleeping, unless she was a fan of sleeping sitting up. She was propped up against a mountain of pillows and surrounded by a fluffy yellow comforter, but unless she could sing in her sleep he didn’t think she was sleeping. But, she hadn’t reacted to his entrance either – what was up with that? Ethan wasn’t sure how to approach Kira; should he shake her? Pull the blankets away? What if she was doing some meditative thing and he messed up her karma?

“Kira?” Ethan called out as he sat at the foot of her bed and gave her leg a little shake.

“Ethan.” she replied as she opened her eyes, not at all surprised to see him there. “You figured it out, didn’t you?” It was really more of a statement than a question. Ethan was stunned to realize he could feel how strong Kira’s faith was in him; that was new. She graced him with a glowing smile and Ethan realized that Kira was radiant with renewed energy and confidence, but Ethan didn’t think it all came from his arrival. She’d been getting herself together since they’d left the hospital. It occurred to Ethan that it was his dad’s insistence that they leave the hospital that made this radiant Kira possible.

“I did have some help.” Ethan answered. “But I think we can do this. Are you ready to go?”

Kira nodded affirmatively, “I just need a minute.” Ethan averted his eyes as Kira threw off the blankets she’d been nestled beneath – again, he wasn’t sure what he’d see, but he figured better safe than sorry. Kira chuckled as she breezed past Ethan to gather up some socks and shoes. “It’s just pajamas, Ethan.” Swiftly she pulled on her socks and sneakers, and then she grabbed a sweatshirt to throw over her pajamas. “Let’s go.” she announced when she was ready.

Together Kira and Ethan jogged down the stairs. Ethan was surprised that Mrs. Ford was waiting for them at the bottom. She handed Kira a jacket and Ethan an umbrella. “Take care of each other.” she whispered gently as she pulled Kira into a hug. Ethan was surprised again when he got a hug as well. Together they ran out into the rain toward the car. Piling into the back seat Kira greeted Ethan’s parents. “Mr. and Mrs. James, thanks for the ride.”

“No problem, honey.” replied Mrs. James. Mr. James just sat with his head in his hand and continued to talk to himself. Kira thought she heard him say something like, “she’s just a little bit of a thing…” Frowning in confusion, Kira turned to Ethan.

He could read her expression, and she’d find out soon enough that his parents knew their secret because they had to talk on the way to the hospital so he jumped right in. “I told them who we are, Kira.” Kira stared in disbelief; even in her shock, Ethan could see her trying to come up with some crazy explanation to give to his parents. Ethan got an unexpected assist from his mother.

“He showed us actually.” Kira turned unbelieving toward Mrs. James. “It was quite a light show in our living room.”

“Ethan!” Kira admonished staring at the Blue Ranger in shock, but there was nothing else to say.

“Honestly honey, there was no other way we’d let him out of the house,” Mrs. James continued,”…and Conner needs you. Don’t be mad at Ethan.”

Kira could hear the sincerity of her words, and feel the depth of her husband’s confusion and denial. In an instant, Kira was able to let go of all of her shock, and focus on the matter at hand. She turned to face Ethan. “So what do you know? What do we do?”

Ethan took a deep breath. “I think…I know …Conner is trapped. We’ve all been trying to break our way through to him in our own ways, but that’s not the help that Conner needs. He definitely needs our strength, but we can’t give it to him unless he lets us in.”

“How do we make him let us in? We’ve been trying all day!” Kira responded with concern.

“We don’t. We can’t reach him. But Eric can.” Ethan paused letting Kira process what he was saying. He knew given the pieces she’d make the connection. Her understanding was obvious when the light dawned on her face.

“Eric? Conner’s twin?” she encouraged excitedly.

Ethan answered with equal excitement. “He’s on his way…” Ethan couldn’t prevent the gleeful squeak in his voice as he announced, “Ninja streak!”

Kira’s jaw dropped. “No way! You mean…” Kira made some swift leaps of logic as she spoke aloud. “the whole…with Hunter…Eric’s a Thunder Ninja?!”

“And he’s bringing a storm!” A streak of lightning split the sky as if reinforcing Ethan’s statement. Kira jumped at the crash of thunder that accompanied it, but her face was lit with joy. “If Eric can get through to Conner…” she began.

“We can help him like Tori and Shane helped Dustin...” Ethan continued.

“And the storm can help Hunter and Blake!” Kira finished excitedly. “Ethan! That’s wonderful!” She threw herself across the space in the back seat to grab him up in a hug. He happily squeezed her back.

“Where should I drop you kids off?” asked Mrs. James from the front seat. Reefside Hospital loomed before them.

“The front entrance will be fine, Mom.” Ethan replied. “Eric will know how to find us.”

“Then I’ll find somewhere to park, and we’ll find you when we get inside.” Ethan leaned from his seat behind his father to reach out and squeeze his mother’s arm. “Thanks, Mom. You don’t know…”

She patted his hand as she turned to look at the Rangers in the back seat. “I don’t know yet, but you can tell me tomorrow. Go help Conner now.”

Needing no further encouragement, Ethan and Kira climbed out of the car. Ethan watched his mother pull away with a look of amazement on his face. Kira just grinned. Neither one of them was bothered by the whipping wind or increasing rain. They both stood expectantly at the entrance. They didn’t have long to wait. A long, low rumble of thunder announced the arrival of the one they’d been waiting for – Eric slowed from a streak to a walk and approached.

Kira was struck by how his face was exactly like Conner’s; it was eerie to see him because her mind wanted her to believe it was Conner standing there, not Eric. But though her eyes could tell her they were the same, her heart could recognize the difference. “Ethan. Kira.” he stated in acknowledgement – even his voice was an exact match for Conner’s.

“Eric.” Ethan held out his hand to Eric who clasped it firmly.

With no preamble, Eric stated, “Let’s do this.” Nodding in acknowledgement the Rangers nodded and as one they turned and entered the hospital.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eric hated hospitals, he always had. It seemed to him, that whenever he visited a hospital, it was always Conner who was on the desperate end of things. He couldn’t stand to see his brother like that, but at the same time, he understood why it happened. Conner may have been the younger brother, but his role was that of protector. It didn’t matter that Eric had been born first; Conner had naturally gravitated to the position that suited him best. He had enough strength and resolve for both of them. But not this time. This time, it was Eric who needed to be strong.

Kira asked the receptionist at the desk for Conner’s room number, and they headed up in silence. In the back of his mind, Eric could feel the storm growing as he got closer to his brother. Down a silent hallway they walked, pace quickening as they approached their goal. Walking in Conner’s room, Eric was astonished by the number of people gathered there. Without letting go of Conner with his left hand, Evan McKnight opened up his arms to his oldest son, and Eric rushed forward into his embrace. Eric was surprised by two things: somewhere along the line he’d grown as tall as his father; and Evan was trembling and crying in his arms.

“We’ll get him back, Dad.” Eric assured his father. “We can bring him back.” Eric broke away from his father’s embrace surveyed the room. It was clear to him, though it might not have been clear to the others, that there was one significant source of power in the room directed at Conner, and it emanated from the Crimson Ranger seated next to Conner’s bed. Eric walked around the bed to approach him; taking a deep breath, Eric knelt on the floor near the chair where Hunter was seated. He laid his hand on Hunter’s arm and took a deep, centering breath. Ignoring everyone assembled there, Eric concentrated on communicating with the Crimson Thunder Ranger. Hunter was much further away than Eric had anticipated; their time was very short.

Eric tried to take what information he knew and was picking up from Hunter and make a shared visualization with it. At first Eric surveyed the scene as a distant observer. There was a dark and fathomless pit. Suspended in some way above the abyss was a very small outcropping of stone that at one time might have been connected to the edge of the chasm. It was connected no longer; it was a tiny, floating island of stone. Even as Eric watched, minute particles of the stone ledge were drawn away down into the gaping darkness.

Seated on the pocket of stone was Hunter. He was balanced precariously because he was not supporting himself alone. Eric could see as he moved closer, that Conner was lying across Hunter’s crossed legs. But, because of his height, his legs were draped over Hunter’s knee and dangled over the endless nothingness. The sight of Conner suspended over the abyss caused Eric’s insides to clench with fear. He moved more quickly forward along the edge of the chasm.

As Eric got closer he could see Hunter straining to maintain his position, and Eric quickly realized why. Conner wasn’t the only person Hunter had a hold on. Slung across his back, with one arm around Hunter’s left shoulder and the other drawn up under Hunter’s right arm was another figure. Eric knew it had to be Blake. Blake was in an even worse position than Conner. The stone island had give way beneath Blake completely – he was dangling freely above the void; the only thing preventing him from slipping completely was Hunter’s fierce grip in his wrist. Hunter’s face was a mask of agony caused by his attempt to maintain a hold on both Conner and Blake but it was clear he would not release either one.

Eric took action. Drawing on the massive storm he’d begun, he used his power to extend the area where he stood in a bridge to get to Hunter. As he stepped forward onto the bridge across the abyss, the power sustained him and gave new strength to the rocks already there. Eric though he heard screams of protest from the pit below; the darkness railed against the invasion of light, but he ignored them. Carefully, he extended his own power until it reached the edge of the outcropping where Hunter was seated with both of their brothers. Eric sent wave after wave of power to Hunter, rebuilding the fragile platform on which he was seated. He made sure to first extend the area behind Hunter so Blake would have a foundation to settle on.

Once the area around Hunter was strengthened to Eric’s satisfaction, he approached the weary Thunder Ninja. Hunter looked up at him blearily, recognizing the face, but understanding that it was not Conner who came to his aide. Eric knelt before Hunter in much the same way he was kneeling beside him in the hospital room. “Hunter, “Eric began. Suddenly he was at a loss for words. How could he possibly express his gratitude to his brother ninja for saving his twin? Eric tried to keep his focus on Hunter, but he couldn’t help taking a glance at Conner; what he saw filled him with fear. Even with Eric sustaining Hunter, Conner was still slipping away.

With renewed resolve, Eric continued. “The battle is not yet over, Hunter…but we’re almost there. You have to understand, that when the time comes…you can let him go.” Eric gazed at Hunter intensely, needing to know if Hunter understood what he was saying. But Hunter looked rebelli