Disclaimer: They're not mine, though the events more or less are my creation. (More or less.)
Well, here it is. The final instalment of the story. Many, many thanks to Gamine for all her help with this. Also many thanks to everyone else who's helped at one point or another with this story -- there are quite a few of you, so I don't want to try listing you all out in case I miss someone. Finally, many thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed. Very glad you've enjoyed it and very sorry it's taken me as long as it has to get done.
Taylor thought she'd been successful in sneaking back to the temple. It wasn't that she was ashamed of what she'd done -- or who she'd done it with; something she'd been very careful in explaining to Eric -- it was more that she knew her own team mates and knew that, if they caught her -- caught either of them, for that matter -- they were liable to be on the receiving end of an inquisition the Spanish couldn't hope to better.
"I don't know about you,"she had finished, "but I don't actually enjoy being grilled about my private life."
Eric had smirked. "Wes and Jen probably already know, so I'm safe."
"One word,"Taylor retorted. "Max."
Unfortunately for Taylor, as she stepped into the temple area, a voice said, "So was he any good?"
Taylor froze. Slowly turning round, she saw Alyssa, smirking widely. "I don't know what you mean."
Alyssa just snickered and smirked some more. "Sure you don't. Taylor. I know I'm young, but I'm not Max -- and I did walk in on you...metaphorically speaking at any rate."
And to Taylor's general disgust, she found herself blushing.
"So? Was he any good?" Alyssa persisted.
"It's none of your business."
"No," Alyssa agreed, "but I lusted after him for five years -- could you at least tell me if my fantasy's anywhere near reality."
"And how the hell am I going to know that?" Taylor demanded.
"Well, I've seen him work out," Alyssa admitted, "so I've got a pretty good idea what he looks like...I just want to know if he can..."
"Put it to use?" Taylor suggested. Alyssa nodded. For a second, Taylor debated her answer, then she smiled. "Think about the absolute best experience you've ever had, triple it...and you're kinda half way there."
Then before Alyssa could say any more, Taylor swept out of earshot and into her rooms at the temple.
In due course, everyone else returned to the temple. Plans were laid and, when the Mutorgs reappeared, those plans were put into practice. Ransik was to deal with the mutant side of the Mutorgs' DNA, while the rest of them would deal with Master Orgs' assorted lackeys and putrids, then, once the DNA was taken care of, they'd finish off the Mutorgs. Very simple, very straight forward and, somewhat to Taylor's surprise, it all worked like a dream.
From her own perspective, it had been an interesting exercise. She had, as Wes had hinted the previous night, been partnered with Eric, with Katie, the Time Force Yellow Ranger, rounding out their little group. Taylor quickly realised, though, that all she and Katie were there for was rounding out the numbers. For every one putrid she and Katie took out, Eric took out five or six. The man was very, very good.
Sitting beneath an apple tree, away from the otherwise loud celebrations at a job well done, Taylor smiled a little bit. She had a feeling that, if she were to let him, he'd get involved in the war against the Orgs on a permanent basis, protecting her. She shook her head. She could take care of herself very nicely; she didn't need a protector. On the other hand, Taylor smiled faintly again, maybe it would be nice not to have to rely on herself so completely.
Taylor started at the voice, cracking her head against the tree trunk. "Ow!" Rubbing the spot, she looked round to see Eric leaning against another tree. He looked apologetic.
"Sorry. Figured you knew I was there." He hesitated a beat, then added, "You OK?"
Taylor gave him a jaundiced look. "What do you think?" He looked even more apologetic. She relented. "I'll live. Just try not to do it again, huh?"
At that, he smiled. "I'll do my best not to."
"And to answer your question," Taylor continued, "no, I'm not avoiding you. I just wanted some peace and quiet to think."
"Sit," Taylor finished before he could offer to leave her alone. Eric's eyebrows lifted. She sighed. "We need to talk."
"Four words guaranteed to get a guy running in the other direction," Eric joked.
Taylor shook her head. "I'm serious."
"So'm I." The amusement faded from his face. "If this is going to be one of those 'bare all' conversations, I'm outta here."
Taylor sighed. "Look -- we've slept together, we've fought together...we haven't had a proper conversation yet."
Eric slowly slid down the tree trunk he was leaning against until he was squatting at its base, arms loosely wrapped around his knees. "I guess." He sighed. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Well -- us." Eric started to roll his eyes. "No; wait." Taylor held up a hand. "Hear me out." Eric nodded. "What..." Taylor swallowed. "What was last night to you?" He frowned. "I know you said you and happiness don't tend to be long time acquaintances..."
A look of understanding crossed Eric's face. "It being a one night stand would simple things up."
Taylor tried to swallow the hurt that welled up at the suggestion.
He shook his head. "Didn't mean I wanted that." He sighed. "I don't."
"What do you want out of it?" Eric asked, turning the question back on her.
"I don't know," Taylor admitted. "You're not the only one with a bad track record in this sort of thing."
"Guess we make a good pair, then." Eric smiled faintly.
Taylor matched the smile. "Guess we do."
There was silence between them at that. There was a lot still unsaid, a lot of questions that still needed answers, but there seemed to be the beginnings of an understanding between them. Taylor had the sense, from what had been said so far, that whatever else did or didn't happen, they would try to make this work.
"So, what now?" Eric asked eventually.
Taylor offered a shy smile. "Guess we could be revolutionary and try getting to know one another."
At that, Eric laughed. "I guess we have done this thing kinda backwards."
Taylor's smile turned into a grin. "Isn't that half the fun?"
More laughter. "I guess."
At that moment, the sound of running footsteps intruded. A moment later and Max crashed into the clearing, closely followed by Ransik, then Nadira and Lucas. None of the running quartet paid the slightest attention to either Eric or Taylor and a moment later, all four had vanished.
Taylor and Eric exchanged looks. "Do we want to know what that was about?" Taylor asked.
Eric shook his head. "I doubt it." He pushed to his feet and crossed the space between them to stand over Taylor. He held a hand out to her. "We probably ought to go rejoin the others, though."
Taylor sighed and took hold of his hand, letting him pull her back to her feet. "Yeah. I guess."
They started to head in the direction of the picnic, arm in arm.
"You doing anything tomorrow?" Eric asked suddenly.
Taylor looked up at his face, but it was giving nothing away, just the faintest hint of a smirk lurking around his eyes and that was it. "I didn't have any plans. Why?"
"It's my day off. We could...maybe do something."
"Are you asking me out on a date?"
The smirk broke out. "Yeah -- I guess I am."
Taylor matched the smirk. "Sounds like it could be fun, 'doing something'."
"Oh, I hope so." Eric bent to drop a light kiss on her lips. "I sure hope so."