In a small, dark room lined with computer screens and gadgets scattered around, five young spies have made themselves at home. There are backpacks, framed photos, knick knacks in between the gear: they live here, and they have for a while. It’d almost be cozy, if the youngest wasn’t digging through a pile of weaponry and preparing to storm a highly-armored mansion in the middle of what’s supposed to be a war room.
Jones’s back is to her friends, Ren, Ava, and Riley huddled together on a small couch. Taylor stands just a foot behind her, pleading with her to stay.
“Jones, wait. You don’t have to go right now. We should stop, make a plan, a strategy!”
Her words don’t have the desired effect. If anything, Jones speeds up her hasty packing.
Taylor turns, frantically waving at the seated trio, silently requesting backup. Riley stands and approaches Taylor and Jones, placing a gentle hand on Taylor’s lower back.
”We don’t even know what defenses he has, how to approach this. It’s way too dangerous to just run into a rescue mission with no intel—“
”I’m going to get intel. I’m not about to risk my life getting into a stupid fight,” she says, firm confidence covering a hint of defiance.
Ren raises their eyebrows and shoots a look at a slightly-less-surprised Ava. Riley mouths “stupid fight” behind Jones’s back, stunned.
“I’m just going so I can check out the perimeter. I know those coordinates— it’s a place of my grandparents’.” She turns to face them, a stuffed backpack dangling from her hand. “I’ve— I’ve never been, but I know their M.O. If I can get in, I can find a way to get into their work and maybe... find a blueprint, or something. My grandparents are organized, precise. There’s always a paper trail.”
Taylor and Riley’s faces have softened. This isn’t the reckless, rage-fueled Jones they were expecting.
“Do you think his new guy’s the same way? This whole thing has felt pretty rogue,” Ren asks.
”It’s also felt like my grandparents. They trained him. It’ll be the same.”
“I mean, it seems like a good place to start...,” Riley ventures.
“Do you think you’re ready now?” The concern has mostly faded from Taylor’s voice, replaced by grave contemplation.
“There’s no reason to wait,” Jones replies.
“We are on a time limit...,“ Ren offers.
Riley swallows, steeling her nerves. “I vote yes.”
“Me too.” Ren gets off the couch and stands behind Riley and Taylor. Jones meets their eyes, a look of silent understanding passing between them.
“It’s a good plan,” Jones says softly.
“I know.” Taylor says, matching her tone. Jones gives her a small smile.
“No, it isn’t.” Ava’s voice, strong and sure, breaks the trance her friends are in.
Taylor and Riley whirl around to stare at her. Ren freezes. The smile on Jones’s face drops off, her expression broadcasting her shock— her fear.
“Jones, what types of encryptions do they have on their network?”
”I don’t know. Each place is different.”
As Ava stands, her friends’ eyes follow her. The power in the room shifts, Ava commanding their attention.
“Exactly. It’ll take too long for you to get in. You’ll get caught, and if you get caught you’ll get—“ Her confidence falters and the words catch in her throat. “It’s too risky.”
“But what’s the other option?” Ren presses, “I’m no better than Jones at computer stuff.” Jones glares at them. Ren quickly corrects themself. “I mean, I’m much worse than Jones at computer stuff.”
”Right. This is our best option,” Jones argues.
“Unless I go.”
“No!” Ren’s reaction is immediate.
”What?” Ava looks directly at Ren, something simmering behind her expression as she locks eyes with them. Ren’s breath skips, so subtle only Jones notices the exchange, quietly observing the subliminal battle happening between them.
“But...” Riley trails off.
“I thought Her— I thought the Power Rangers told you not to, y’know...” Taylor echoes.
“‘Ever even think about trying to hack as much as a fucking Tamagotchi while you’re at the Academy’?” Jones finishes.
“Well, we’re not at the Academy! And Hera cleared us for recon missions!”
”It’s too dangerous!” Ren’s dug their heels in.
”It’s much less dangerous than if Jones goes!” Ava shoots back.
“It would be a lot faster if Ava did it...” Ren elbows Riley in the ribs.
“Jones knows the site better!”
“Ren, she’s never been either,” Ava disagrees, anger seeping into her voice.
“This is my responsibility— he’s after me,” Jones says.
“Which is exactly why Ava should go.” All uncertainty is gone. Taylor’s confident— this is the right move. “She’s right. It’s too risky to send you.”
“But Jones knows her grandparents!” Ren insists.
“And I know their encryptions!”
“But—“ Ava’s about to respond before Taylor interrupts, calming the brewing argument before it explodes.
“Ren, it’s the safest option. Right?” She looks between Riley and Jones, expectant.
“Right,” Riley agrees. Jones just nods, expression stone cold.
“Ava, you should go now,” Riley says.
“Yeah. Jones, is the pack ready?” Jones hands it over wordlessly.
”Okay. I’ll stay on the comms as long as I can— I have a feeling they won’t be effective once I’m there, but I’ll do my best.” She’s all business.
“Six hours.” It’s a statement, not a question, from Taylor. “If you don’t check in six hours from now, we’re following you.”
“Guns ablazin’,” Riley adds.
“Ava, it’s—“ Ren tries.
“Ren, I’m going.” Without a look back at them, Ava turns on her heel and walks straight out the door, leaving both Ren and Jones completely immobile. Riley pulls Taylor further into her arms, Taylor’s thumb tracing circles on the back of Riley’s hand.
There’s a pause, Taylor and Riley stuck in quiet contemplation and Jones and Ren stuck to the floor.
Then Ren bolts to the door.
It slams shut, and Taylor and Riley are left to sit in Jones’s heavy silence.
Ren races after Ava, who’s standing thirty yards away in the abandoned underground lot that surrounds their hidden headquarters.
“Ava, wait! Where are you going?”
Ava pivots to face them, confusion quickly replaced by irritation and caution.
“What are you doing?!” She keeps her voice to a whisper, hyper aware of their vulnerable position, but her tone leaves no room for interpretation. She’s pissed.
“I’m— I’m—“ Ren stutters.
“You’re following me,” Ava states.
“Did you at least make sure no one was following you?” she demands.
“Yeah, of—“ Ren can’t finish before Ava’s snaps at them again, whisper gone.
“Then what they hell are you doing here, Ren?”
The sudden rise in volume makes Ren eyebrows shoot up, but Ava’s not done yet.
“You shouldn’t be here! This is a solo mission for a reason and—“
A car door slams in the distance. Ren glances furtively around them. “Ava.”
Ava lowers her voice with an eye roll and barrels ahead.
“—and you shouldn’t be here. Following me is dangerous, leaving without a disguise—“ she gestures to Ren’s outfit of joggers and short-sleeved shirt that is decidedly not hiding their identity. “Just— all of it! All of it is dangerous and you’re acting like a goddamned idiot.”
Ren flinches slightly but doesn’t back down. “I’m the one acting like an idiot?! Ava, you’re the one charging into a haphazard mission with barely any field training—“
“Barely any field training?! I’m third in our class, Ren!”
“But you’ve only been training for—“
“Eight months? An entire semester and summer of intensive all-day classes and weapons training with you? With Jones? Eight months of hours of after-school training between you, Hera, Jones, and Chris?”
“Chris isn’t that great!”
Ava throws her hands up, incredulous. “That’s not the point, Ren!” She turns away from them, fuming, and heads towards the corner of the lot, where a crumbling, makeshift staircase is built into the dirt walls.
“Then what is?!” Ren calls after her. She doesn’t slow down. “Ava!”
Back still turned, Ava responds.
”What’s the point other than Chris? What kind of question is that, Ren.” Not waiting for an answer, she continues on.
Behind her, Ren runs a hand through their hair, frustrated. “I don’t know. Just... please don’t go.”
Ava turns around, but doesn’t walk towards them. “What would you say if I asked you to skip out on a mission?”
Ren’s silent. “Yeah, exactly. You see?”
“I just want to protect you. I’m worried.”
“I know, Ren. I want to protect you too! All of you. Always. But we’re spies, for God’s sake. I’m a field agent. This is what we do. The risk is just part of that. God, I’m so sick of this shit.” She gestures to the space between them.
Ren flushes. Ava starts her climb up and out of the lot. As she disappears over the top, Ren scurries up after her.
When they emerge at the top, they’re standing at the edge of a forest, the setting sun visible behind the pit.
“What do you mean?” Ren stands right at its edge, breathless, as if they’ve been holding their breath this whole time and they’re just about to burst.
Ava’s just about to step into the woods, but she stops and faces Ren once more.
Ren swallows, wavering. “What is...” They mimic Ava’s gesture, staring at the space between them that feels more like a cavern then the ten feet that’s actually there. “...this shit. We’ve... we’ve never fought before. Like, ever.”
Ava sighs, anger fading. “I know, Ren. I just mean...,” She hesitates. “I don’t mean the fight, really, but you’ve gotten worked up like this before. You get jealous.”
“Jealous? Of your mission? I’m not—“
“No, not the mission, Ren.” She sighs again, but she steps towards Ren, beginning to close the distance. “Ren, you’re my best friend.”
Ren cracks a half smile. “Don’t tell Riley.”
”There’s no one I’d rather have my back. Or have movie nights with, or grab dinner with, or... anything, really. And I love you, so much.”
The smile melts from Ren’s face. Their eyes stay fixed, unwavering, on Ava, as if they look away she’ll disappear into the woods forever.
“Like you, even.” A slight blush grows on her cheeks as she moves a little closer. “But I need you to trust me. Not just to tell the truth or with advice or what shoes you should wear, but trust me to be on my own. And I know you’re just worried, but I’m my own person. I’m not the same person I was last year. I don’t need you to be so...”
”Yeah,” Ava finishes. There’s a moment of silence as Ava waits for Ren to respond.
“I’m sorry. I just, well. Last year scared me. And I care about you. A lot. Maybe too much, for what we’re dealing with.” They take a deep, shaking breath. “But I trust you. And respect you. And I wouldn’t want anyone else to have my back, either.”
They hesitate just a moment. “You’re my best friend, too.”
Ava smiles, her usual warmth replacing the uncharacteristic steeliness that had taken over. Feeling no need to respond, she folds Ren into a hug. They let themself collapse into it, just a little, and holds on tight.
Still in Ava’s arms, Ren makes a decision that borders on a revelation.
“And I love you. And, um. I kind of think...” Behind Ava’s back, Ren squeezes their eyes shut, pushing through bubbling anxiety. “I think I like you, too.”
Ava lets out a hushed laugh. Ren pulls back a bit, arms still wrapped around her.
“What, is that— did I—?”
“No, no. You’re fine, I just...” She looks down to the space between them once more, what little there is left. Her eyes flick back up to meet Ren’s. “Can I...?”
Ren nods, frozen in disbelief. Ava’s hand drifts up from Ren’s back to rest just below their jawline, fingers grazing the back of their neck, and leans forward to press a gentle kiss against Ren’s lips.
Ren leans in, and Ava’s hand slides into their hair as Ren tightens their grip on her waist.
A car door slams.
They jump apart, immediately on guard as they remember their training. As the blaring car alarm gets clicked off, Ren relaxes, ducking their hair bashfully, Ava chewing her lip to hide her grin.
“That’s... not the first time that’s happened.”
“What?” A brief look of confusion can’t erase the joy on Ava’s face. A matching smile bursts on to Ren’s face as they laugh at their own mistake.
“The door slamming, not the um. That.”
”That.” Ava smiles in the happy silence. “I, uh. I think I gotta go. We’re cutting into those six hours,” she teases.
Ren shakes their head. “I’m not sorry.”
“Don’t be. But Riley, guns ablazin’, is not something either one of us wants to see. I gotta go.”
”I will,” she promises, dropping a gentle kiss on the corner of Ren’s smile.
She bounces on her feet for a moment before heading towards the woods once more.
“Wait!” Ava looks back.
”I adore you.”
Ava smiles, and finally disappears into the woods. Ren stays, back to the fading sun, happiness slowly draining from their expression as it dawns on them once more the reason Ava is leaving them behind.