"Tommy!" Raymond exclaimed, sighting his former classmate entering the Juice Bar. "I haven't seen you in ages! You missed the last reunion, man."
"Yeah," Tommy said, rubbing his arm sheepishly, "I had a lot going on at the time and couldn't make it."
"I feel ya, man." Raymond said. "I hear you have a PhD now though, so I bet that was totally worth it. I mean that is totally crazy awesome. Are you like a professor now, or...?"
"I'm actually teaching science at Reefside High."
"Reefside?" Raymond asked, giving Tommy a strange look. "Like where those dinosaur Rangers were a couple years ago?"
"Yeah," Tommy said. "Yeah, that Reefside. It's a pretty great place though, besides that year."
"Hey man I get it," Raymond said. "I grew up in Angel Grove too, y'know."
"Heh, yeah. I've gotten used to being around people who haven't, sorry."
"Nah, it's cool." Raymond's phone pinged. "Oh hey, Adam and Tanya are here! I'm sure you wanna say hey. Come with me while I let them in?" Raymond asked, heading toward the back room.
"Let them in?" Tommy asked.
"Well I mean they could come in the front like everyone else," Raymond said, opening the back door and casting a look around, before nodding, "but she shook the paps to keep them from interfering with the reunion."
"But," Tommy said, as Raymond pulled out his phone again and fired off a quick text, "she's not out here?"
"Had to make sure the coast was clear, man." Raymond said, as suddenly a pair of Galaxy Gliders swooped down, startling Tommy.
"Raymond!" Tanya exclaimed, hopping off Ashley's Glider and rushing over for a hug. "It's been too long!"
"Hey," Adam said, climbing down from Carlos's Glider less ebulliently, but equally happy to see an old friend.
"Come on in you two! Ernie really outdid himself this time."
"I'm sure he has," Adam said, before turning back to Carlos and Ashley. "Thanks for the ride, guys. I wish we could use you to avoid the press all the time, but that wouldn't be fair."
"I keep telling DECA to just build you two Gliders of your own," Ashley said, "but she says that would be a 'frivolous use of ranger resources.'" She shook her head dismissively. "Like we're even fighting evil right now!"
"I could be wrong," said Raymond, "since I'm just a civilian and all, but that sounds like it might be a valid point? I mean even just bringing these two here seems like kind of an abuse of ranger powers. Not that I'm complaining!"
"It's fine, man," Carlos said. "We're just a couple former classmates doing these two a small favor. Tanya insisted on performing at our reunion next year so we're even."
"Oh, cool!" Raymond said. "Not to be presumptuous, but are we getting a performance this year?"
"Nothing planned," Tanya said, "but if Ernie is mixing some of his 'adult smoothies,' and there's a mic and music..." She grinned conspiratorially.
"Just make sure this guy doesn't join you," Adam said, nudging Tommy, before turning to scold him. "It's nice to see you, too."
"Aw, man," Tommy said, snapping out of his surprise, "I didn't mean to just stand there like a goon, but... you've kept up with Raymond?"
"Not all of us dropped off the face of the earth to rush through doctoral programs, Tommy," Tanya said. "But we should really head inside before someone with a camera catches up if they saw the Gliders landing."
"Right, right," Raymond said, holding the door open for everyone.
"Thanks again for the ride," Adam said. "We really need to catch up sometime. Tanya and I know some pretty quiet places if you don't want to be seen on a double date with us."
"Double...?" Ashley said.
"But we're not-" Carlos added.
"You should be." Adam said, heading inside.
"You should have been ages ago," Tanya added, following him.
"For what it's worth," Raymond said, "I thought you already were back in high school." He shrugged, then shut the door, leaving the two with their Gliders and a lot to discuss.
"Hey so Tommy," Raymond said, feeling the buzz of a couple smoothies, "even though we're all adults now I've never been able to ask any of our old teachers this: what do you all talk about in the teachers' lounge?"
"Hey yeah," Marge added from her husband's side, "I've wondered that too."
"Well a lot of it is pretty boring to outsiders," Tommy said, "Y'know, stuff like how awful our workload is and frustration with people who don't really understand how hard teachers have it. Normal coworker chat, really."
"Okay," Raymond said, "but what do you say about students? I mean, there's no way they never come up."
Tommy sighed. "Yeah, I figured that's what you meant. It's kind of funny, actually. I mean there's some of the complaining about disruptive kids and the ones who just refuse to live up to their potential, but most of the talk about students? You probably won't believe this, honestly."
"Oh, give us more credit, Tommy." Marge said, giving Raymond a nudge. "We'll believe whatever you tell us." They shared a smirk.
"Well," Tommy said, after a pause where he tried to figure out if he'd forgotten an in joke he had with them, before pulling a blank, "there's a lot of talk about who's dating who, and even more about who should be dating. I don't really do much of that, myself, but if we're talking teachers in general? At least at Reefside they are way invested in the kids' personal lives."
"Really?" Tanya asked. "Maybe that's just Reefside. The teachers here never really seemed to pay much attention to us."
"Yeah," Rocky said, as Raymond and Marge burst into giggles.
"What's so funny?" Tommy asked.
"Oh, nothing." Marge said. "At least nothing you'd understand I guess."
"Actually..." Raymond said. Marge shot him a warning look, but he kept going. "What about while there were Power Rangers in Reefside?"
"What about then?" Tommy asked, searching the other rangers' faces to see if they followed. Adam and Tanya just shrugged at him, Rocky looked like didn't really care that he didn't understand (though that might just have been the smoothies), and Jason looked like a horrifying penny had just dropped and Tommy wasn't sure he wanted to ask.
"You never talked about the Rangers' identities?" Raymond asked. "Like, who to give leeway on assignments because they were saving the world?" Tommy blanched.
"Nobody in Reefside knew who the Rangers were," Tommy said, hoping he was as convincing as he was afraid he wasn't.
"Oh, come on, Tommy," Raymond said, "not even you, of all people?" Marge elbowed him fiercely.
"What..." Tommy started asking, as most of the table tried not to panic, "what makes me so special?"
"Well you were a ranger!" Raymond said, to the horror of the table. "Surely you saw like behavior you recognized or something that pinged 'this is a ranger' or whatever? Tommy?"
"You KNEW?!" Tommy, Tanya, and Adam yelled, turning heads across the Youth Center. Jason slumped in his chair, and Rocky just started laughing.
Ernie sidled up to the table, assessing the situation. "Is this about what I think it's about?" He asked Marge and Raymond.
"Yes," Marge replied, giving Raymond a stern look. "My husband here just spilled Angel Grove's actual best-kept secret." She turned back to the table briefly. "Oh! Sorry! No offense, really! Anyway, Ernie, you'll probably want to gather the other rangers and bring a round of extra-strong smoothies."
"Ahhh, gotcha," Ernie said, before turning to the crowd and ushering those nearby away. "Alright, folks! Your classmates here have a lot to process, let's give them some space! Nothin' to see here!"
"Hey, Skull," Bulk said, on the other side of the Youth Center, "what's going on over there?"
"Nothing major, Bulkie," Skull said, waving a dismissive arm at the scene before turning back to his sandwich. "I think the Rangers just found out we all knew who they were is all."
"Oh," Bulk said, "is that all?"
"Yeah." Skull laughed. "I can't believe they never realized."
"What losers," Bulk said, before looking up in shock.
"Hey man, if you're not gonna have that pizza do you mind if I-"
"Wait!" Bulk growled at Skull, pulling him close by his collar. "We knew who the rangers were and you never told me?"
Ernie had gathered the rangers in his storeroom (except Billy; after he cleared everything up and let the rangers process everything, he was going to find out what the hell they did to scare the poor boy away from home so badly that he still wasn't back), as well as Detective Stone, Ms. Appleby, and Principal Caplan, because he might have been able to help a ranger who found this out one-on-one, but he needed help to help all of them.
(Adele could have handled them on her own, but he left Raymond with her. It was maybe too strong a punishment, but Marge insisted.)
There was a strange energy in the room. Nobody had told the rangers why they'd been gathered yet (and the ones who knew were still too in shock to have shared), but they had all noticed that Ernie had gathered rangers and were sitting nervously. Most of them seemed glad for the smoothies. Zack was a more impatient kind of nervous, though, and was the first to speak.
"Ernie, man, if this is about some threat coming to Angel Grove, I appreciate the gesture and the heads-up, but despite Adam's appearance in San Angeles, we don't actually have reliable powers anymore, I'm sorry."
The room exploded.
"What the hell are you doing?" Aisha shouted, in stereo with Kim's "What is wrong with you?"
"You knew they knew?" added Adam, as Rocky let out a frustrated "CAN SOMEBODY PLEASE JUST EXPLAIN WHO KNOWS WHAT?" that silenced the room.
"If I may, Ernie?" Zack asked, and Ernie nodded. Ms. Appleby was rubbing Rocky's arm soothingly. Zack stood and faced the room. "Basically everyone in Angel Grove knows we were rangers. Knew we were rangers, I mean. While it was happening."
"What, and when you found out you didn't tell us this?" Kim asked. "I know you got all independent in Switzerland - and I'm not judging you or anything, we all did in our own way when we stopped Rangering - but that seems like the kind of thing you'd share."
"I, uh." Zack shrunk back. "I knew before I left. Angela told me."
"That just makes it worse, man!" Jason said.
"Well to be fair I thought I was the last to find out! I mean, you guys we were really bad at secret identities." Ernie couldn't help nodding in agreement.
"We were?" asked Tommy.
"Tommy," Ms. Appleby said gently, "your tie is green and white." Tommy looked down as though he hadn't realized. Kat tried to surreptitiously pull her jacket over her pink blouse.
"But if everyone knew, why didn't anyone tell us?" Kim asked, before gesturing in Zack's direction. "Except Angela, apparently."
"A lot of reasons," Principal Caplan piped up. "The biggest is that you all seemed so dead set on keeping your everyday life and ranger lives separate."
"And it did help keep the media off you," Detective Stone added. "I mean, if everyone had been openly talking with you about how you were saving the world all the time, do you really think we could have kept the press away?"
"Thank you," Tanya said. "I'm... still processing this a bit, but that is absolutely true. I can barely handle the press sometimes even now. If I 'd had to deal with them back in high school I don't even know what I would have done."
"Is this why all our classwork was so easy?" Aisha asked. "Because, I mean, we weren't learning about question marks at Stone Canyon High."
"No," Ms. Appleby and Principal Caplan sharply. Ms. Appleby continued. "That is an entirely different issue involving some very wrongheaded board members, but now is not the time."
"So to sum up," Trini said, "we all thought we had secret identities, which actually all of Angel Grove saw through. But, out of gratitude for our protecting you, you protected our delusion?"
"That would be it," Ernie said, smiling.
"If Zordon weren't already dead," Trini said, through gritted teeth, "I would kill him myself."
"If who what?" Principal Caplan asked.
"What he said," added Ernie.
"Zordon," Kim said, "gave us our powers and mentored us. He was a very powerful and benevolent man. But he also set the rule that we keep our identities secret. I understand why! But if I'd known that everyone else had already found out, I would not have kept hiding it, and I think everyone here is the same?" She cast a look around as the other rangers made murmurs of agreement.
"But," Tanya said, "like they said before, there probably was no way to ever talk openly about being rangers without the press catching on. Being open would have been easier in a lot of ways, but impossibly difficult in others."
"Hm." Trini considered this. "You're right. I'm still not pleased that Zordon couldn't have ever explained that, though."
"Ah!" Principal Caplan exclaimed. "So if you honestly didn't know that we knew you were rangers, you weren't just pretending in order to keep your 'normal life' normal... Well. Mr. Cranston's response to his early graduation certainly makes more sense now. I expected him to appreciate the recognition of his work on all those devices he built for you all, but he must have had no idea what I was doing! Oh, dear."
"I'm sure he'd accept your explanation," Trini said, "once he got over the shock of being contacted on Aquitar by you."
"Oh, can you imagine the look on his face?" Kim asked.
"Oh girl," Aisha said, "we've got to schedule this so everyone can be on the call at once. I am so on this. Everyone get me your plans for the next... two months? I would say we do it tonight, but I have to be sure Billy's free."
"Aquitar?" Ernie asked.
"It's another planet," Trini said. "or he'd be around more often. It's not an easy trip."
"Why on earth is he on another planet?" Detective Stone asked.
"It's a long story," Adam said, "and we have plenty of time in the future. Right now I kind of want to go clear some things up with classmates, if that's all right?"
"Well, I think we've gone over everything important," Ms. Appleby said, getting nods from Ernie, Principle Caplan, and Detective Stone. "Are there any more questions?" None of the rangers piped up. "Then... class dismissed?" The rangers all headed back out to the reunion, chattering about how unbelievable it was that everyone knew, and debating which stories they absolutely had to tell who.
"They- they didn't know," Ernie said.
"They had the least secret identities on Earth," Detective Stone said.
"And they thought nobody knew!" Principal Caplan added. "We should have died so many times."
The four stood in thought for a moment.
"I'm going to need about four smoothies, just for myself," said Ms. Appleby, "before I am even remotely comfortable with this."