|Eric the Red
Author: NeoVenus22 PM
PRDT. Conner falls ill, and the team need a quick replacement Red Ranger. Who better to assign than Conner's twin brother Eric?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Chapters: 6 - Words: 11,331 - Reviews: 42 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 20 - Updated: 07-04-06 - Published: 02-09-05 - id: 2256085
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Summary: What if something happened to Conner, and the Rangers needed another teammate, and fast? Can Eric McKnight finally step out of his twin brother's shadow?
Eric was chilling in his brother's room, after his mom's repeat assurances that Eric would not catch mono from prolonged exposure. She wasn't a doctor, but she was at the least plying the boys with hourly sandwich deliveries, so Eric didn't mind sucking it up and watching still more ESPN. At least the day had been filled with some cheerleading competition. After the national title was bestowed upon the team from Mississippi, who, in Eric's eyes, had been wholly undeserving, Conner flicked off the TV and wriggled restlessly.
"You need something, bro?" said Eric.
"I need to be anywhere but here," answered Conner. "My body feels like it's dead from the neck down or something. I'm going to be so out of shape for the season."
Eric would've commented, but he was too busy thinking about how he hadn't been keeping up with his ninja training. Then again, fighting off Tyrannodrones regularly was giving him a workout, and he didn't have the bonus of extra powers like the rest of his teammates. He decided it evened out.
"Bro?" Conner's voice brought Eric back. "Are you in there?"
"Just thinking about the Rangers," said Eric quickly.
Conner nodded seriously. "I hear you."
"Thanks for letting me do this, dude. It's really cool of you."
"Hey man, I trust you." Eric tried to keep his face appropriately impassive, but actually he was surprised at Conner's admission. The boys' relationship had been strained for years, owing to large egos, strong alpha male personalities, and distance. It was only recently that Conner and Eric had begun behaving like brothers, although it was a transition that was difficult.
"Well, thanks. I won't let you down." They exchanged a smile, both clearly feeling uncomfortable about their moment of brotherly love.
"Hey," said Conner, breaking the awkward silence. "Did I ever tell you about the time I met Kylee Stiles?"
Eric straightened, sharply turning to stare at his bedridden brother. "No way. You serious?"
"Yeah. Check on the desk," he said, with a nod and a point.
Eric squirmed in his chair, twisting around to scan Conner's minimal CD collection, before locating the Kylee Stiles album in question. He pulled it, turning back around. "'To Connor, thanks for everything, love, Kylee.'" He glanced up, laughing in the face of Conner's smug expression. "She spelled your name with an O."
Conner's smile dropped, and he narrowed his eyes. "Details."
Smiling innocently, Eric replaced the CD.
"Really, it's a common mistake," said Conner, his voice rising ever-so-slightly. "I mean, Connor with an O is a much more popular spelling, it's easy to get confused..."
"Uh-huh," said Eric indulgently. He fought to keep the smirk from his face, knowing that having his name misspelled was one of Conner's top five pet peeves, along with other people driving his car, and having anyone be better-looking, better with women, or better at soccer than he was.
"Who was the last celebrity you met?" said Conner. "And don't tell me you aren't totally jealous, because I know you have her poster hanging over your bed, you sicko."
"That was totally last year," Eric defended himself, wondering how Conner managed to turn the tables so quickly.
"Sure, dude," said Conner, now grinning widely.
Eric tried to think up a good comeback, but was saved by the obnoxious beep of the bracelet on his wrist. He tried not to show his relief at the interruption. "You've got Eric, what's up?"
"Eric, we need you down by the TV station," said Dr. O.
"Time for my close-up?"
"Yeah. There are a couple of Drones whose fists are begging for a close-up with your face."
Conner grinned. "Oh snap. You were asking for that."
Eric ignored his brother. "Sure thing, Doc. I'm on my way."
"Don't get beat too hard, bro," offered Conner as Eric got up. "Actually, do. Then I'll be the pretty one in the family."
"Con Man, even with two black eyes and a busted jaw, I'd still be better-looking than you."
As thanks, he went out of his way to help her out when he could. She seemed overworked with a business to run and So he went out of his way to be extra nice to her, his own way of saying thanks for never once judging him.
One afternoon, nearing closing time, Eric was spinning on a bar stool, sipping the last of his third smoothie. "Hey, Hales, do you need help closing up?"
Hayley looked up from the cash register, where she was making notes on a legal pad. "Thanks for the offer, Eric, but I have Trent. He's getting paid, remember?" she said with a gentle smile.
Eric glanced across the room at Trent, who was mopping up one of the tables. He leaned in closer, so that Trent couldn't overhear. There were all of four lingering patrons to absorb the sound. "Listen, I think that Trent's feeling a little out of the loop. Ever since he joined the team, he hasn't had a chance to battle much, or hang out much, and I know it bugs him. The kid's rich enough that he doesn't need the job, let him have the afternoon off."
Hayley stared at Eric for a long moment. "If you insist. Trent!" she yelled across the room.
He looked up. "What?"
"Why don't you take off? Go hang out with your girlfriend."
"What about the rest of my shift? And I'm closing tonight."
"Eric's going to cover for you," she said. "Go on, get out of here."
Trent gave the table a halfhearted swipe, and then went to join them at the bar. "You're seriously going to take my shift?" he asked Eric.
"You don't need the money," said Eric with a shrug. "I'm not doing anything anyway. Really, you'll be doing me a favor, because I'll get to hang out with the beautiful Hayley here." He wiggled his eyebrows at her, and she laughed.
"Okay," Trent answered, nodding slightly and wisely deciding not to press his luck. "Thanks, man."
"No prob," said Eric cheerfully. Trent passed him his cleaning rag, and with a bright smile, dashed out the door. Eric dropped the rag on the bar and flexed playfully at Hayley. "So what do you want me to do? Kick people out? I'll be your muscle."
"How about you finish what he started," she said, pushing the rag across the counter at him. "When you're done with that, you can stack the chairs, and it wouldn't hurt if you gave the bathrooms a good scrub down..."
"Aw, man," said Eric.
"What were you expecting, exactly?" she asked, laughing.
Eric rolled his eyes at her, but dutifully scampered off to do her bidding. He was just emerging from the men's bathroom, feeling utterly disgusted on behalf of his entire gender, when he saw someone coming in the doors. "Oh, dude, sorry, we're closed," he said, when he realized that Hayley had gone to her office. Then he stopped dead. "Sensei Cam."
"I didn't realize you had a job, Eric," said Cam, looking around the space.
"I don't," he said. "I'm just helping out a friend. What are you doing here?"
"Your mom said you'd be here."
Cam had been to his mom's house? Oh no, they really were going to kick him out of the Academy. Apparently, he hadn't explained things to Sensei Watanabe as well as he'd thought. "What are you doing in Reefside, I mean," he stammered. Both the Watanabes sort of scared him, but Sensei seemed like a nice enough old dude underneath it all, whereas Cam was smug and mean and didn't like much of anyone.
"My father said you were going to be on extended leave from the Academy. He explained the... circumstances surrounding it, and suggested that we send a representative of the school to come down and help you keep up with your training. Seeing as how you probably need it more now than ever."
"You know?" said Eric in a small voice. Oh, crap, if the others found out...
"Don't worry," said Cam, and he then floored Eric by smiling. "If anyone can keep your secret, it's my father and me."
"Eric, who are you talking to?" said Hayley, her voice reaching the room before she did. "We're supposed to be closed..." Hayley had frozen in the doorway. "Cam?"
"Hayley?" said Cam. "I thought it seemed too big a coincidence that there was a place called Hayley's Cyberspace in Reefside." He crossed the room to her, actually grinning. Eric didn't think Sensei Cam even knew how to smile. "How are you?"
"I'm doing great," said Hayley. "Business is pretty good..." Eric was staring back and forth between the two of them, completely lost. Hayley was futzing with her hair, Cam was smiling... Eric had no idea what the hell was going on. Hayley seemed to notice his confusion, and offered the simplest explanation, "Cam and I met at a programming seminar last year." She looked at Cam. "Why are you here?"
"Looking for Eric, actually."
"You're from the Academy?" said Hayley, her eyebrows raising slightly. "Of course, it makes sense..."
"You know about the Academy?" asked Cam, then cast a disapproving look back at Eric.
"What, dude?" said Eric defensively. "You know about the Ranger thing!"
"You know about the Ranger thing?" said Hayley.
"You two know each other?" said Eric.
They all stared at each other for a long moment. "Someone needs to start explaining something," said Eric. He went over and locked the door. "How did Sensei know that I was an acting Ranger?" he demanded of Cam. "I never said anything." He glanced at Hayley. "I was keeping the secret."
"I trust you were, Eric," she said gently.
"You've heard the rumors," said Cam. "About what happened last year."
"The Wind Ninja Academy chose some students to be Rangers," said Eric.
"That's not entirely it. Lothor attacked the Academy, and abducted all of the students—except three."
Three students... "Sensei Dustin," said Eric. "And Senseis Shane and Tori."
Cam nodded. "They were selected to be Power Rangers, and defend against Lothor."
"But there were six Rangers," said Eric.
"Cam and I started talking regularly after the seminar," said Hayley, and while she was apparently speaking to Eric, her eyes were trained on Cam. "But his replies just became a lot more sporadic. About the same time as the Rangers came about."
"You were fighting against the Kelzacks," said Eric. "And you wanted me out of there. Not because I was doing a bad job, but because you needed to morph, and I wasn't supposed to see... dude." He grinned. "I knew I was a good fighter!"
Cam sighed. "Yes, thank you, Eric, for picking up on the least important thing." He looked to Hayley. "I'm sorry I didn't answer your emails as often. I was... otherwise occupied."
"I understand," she said with a gentle smile.
"So how come Sensei knew that's what I was doing?" said Eric.
"My father is not a stupid man. If you've been around Rangers long enough, there are a few signs you tend to recognize. Such as disappearing with vague excuses, and color-coded wardrobe. It's a miracle that more civilians don't pick up on this." He turned to Hayley. "I'm not surprised you picked up on it."
Hayley's cheeks were a little red. "Well, I've known Tommy since college," she said dismissively.
"Tommy Oliver?" said Cam.
"One and the same." Eric couldn't even begin to interpret that one, but he figured it had everything to do with the fact that nerds sought out their own. And being a science teacher, Dr. Oliver had to be pretty big on nerd radar.
"Of course Hayley knows about the Rangers," Eric piped up cheerfully. "She's one of us."
"No!" said Cam, looking surprised and impressed. "You're a Ranger?"
She shook her head. "Not quite. I'm Ranger tech."
"The Rangers wouldn't be anything if they didn't have Hayley behind them," said Eric loyally. He smiled at her, because he'd been with the team long enough to see the absolute truth in the statement.
"I used to do that," said Cam. "Well, I still did that, after I became a Ranger."
"How can you do both?" she marveled, with wide eyes and a tiny smile.
"I had to create a virtual replicate of myself. Cyber Cam. He's actually filling in now, while I'm here."
"You're still maintaining operations?" she asked. "I thought the Ranger program was discontinued."
"The Rangers lost their powers, yes." He shrugged. "But what can I say? Old habits die hard."
"Evil does have a tendency to pop up every now and again," she agreed. "How on earth did you clone yourself?"
"Cyber Cam isn't a clone. He's—"
"Hey, enough geek chat for now," said Eric. "Why don't we take this back to HQ? I'm supposed to be interacting with the group or something. And if Sensei Cam is a Ranger, then shouldn't he meet the other Rangers?"
There was a long pause, where the two geniuses stared at each other. "He has a point," said Hayley. "We can talk tech."
"Sounds great," said Cam with a smile.
Eric rolled his eyes, unseen. "Whee."