2/22/2005

Disclaimer: Power Rangers belongs to Disney, which considering their non-violence stance seems hypocritical, but who am I to judge?

Relationship: T/K, C/K

Summary: Trent deals with the loss of his father in a world that knows nothing about it.

Hi all! Well, here we are again, another interlude to give you some back story as DH goes on. This time I want to address exactly what's going on with Trent right after AAR ends. He's lost his father… now what? That's what we're going to find out. And now, let's get to the story. . .

Empty Houses - a Duty Honor Interlude

-x-

Trent wandered the vast space of the lavish house on the hill, passing sculptures and paintings, ignoring the stunning view through the patio doors overlooking the small lake, his heart filled with a melancholy feeling. The house was more empty than usual. Certainly in years previous to now he had spent days, weeks, sometimes a month alone with caretakers and staff, never even seeing or speaking a word in person with his father…

Looking up, Trent realized his aimless wandering had led him straight to his father's office, and he stopped in his tracks, frozen by the memories that had haunted him for the last week.

The planned wedding of Dr. O and Kim. Her kidnapping by Zeltrax. The organization of the largest ranger team in known history to rescue her and stop… his father. The moment when he had to reveal his secret… that Mesogog was his father, Anton Mercer, and that he'd know since his evil ranger days and said nothing.

And then the most painful event - the fiery death of his father. He had been determined to save him, rescue him somehow in return for the time he'd been saved. Instead, his father had taken control of Mesogog at the last minute and urged Trent to leave the compound. He had pleaded with his father to come with him, and that once they were safe outside Mesogog's island Dr. O and the others could help him find a cure. But he'd been unable to sway him. Anton Mercer's final sole thoughts had been of his son, and making sure that the people that Mesogog had hurt could stay safe and escape.

So he'd said goodbye and told Trent to leave.

There had been a long moment of indecision, but when his father had shoved him away from him, towards the back corridor that Mesogog had arrived into the lab from, Trent had realized that he wasn't going to get his way this time. As the room rocked with one more large explosion, Trent had told his father that he loved him and run for his life, hearing the room collapse along with his father's final words of love following behind him with a ball of flame.

He had crossed a few more paths when he'd finally found what he was looking for – the portal to Earth and dived head first as the sound of twisting metal rang in his ears. He'd rolled to his feet on the pavement outside the front of Dr. O's house… a location that he'd never mentioned to anyone before, as he'd used it more than once during his evil ranger days.

Quickly he'd made his way through the house and down the basement stairs to find Hayley informing the rest of the team, Kim, and the other rangers arriving in the forest behind the basement lair safe and sound. After revealing himself to Hayley, she'd sent him back towards the seats to wait for the others. So when they'd come in, he'd unmorphed and come to meet them, being engulfed by the team…

But it wasn't the same as being with his father.

The days following had been filled with Kim and Dr. O's wedding and school… he hadn't really been alone much.

Now though he'd had his first real opportunity to feel how alone he was.

-x-

"Are you sure you're up to being back to work?" asked Hayley, slightly concerned at the worn look around Trent's eyes as he came to the bar to get another round of lattes for the girls at the table by the stage.

"I'm okay. It keeps me busy, you know?" he remarked, his voice tired sounding.

"Look, I know you promised to take on a few extra shifts so Bill and I could spend some extra time together before he leaves again, but…"

"It's okay Hayley. I promise nothing will happen. I'm fine. Besides, if things get hectic, I'll call Sarah and have her come in. She's been hounding you for extra hours anyway."

"I know, but I'm still worried about you. Have you talked to anyone about 'it'?"

"Not really," he replied, and saw her glare at him. His answer didn't please her, and he knew he'd have to give her something that she'd be more okay with that just that. "But I will. I promise."

"Alright. I'll hold you to it."

Placing the lattes on the tray, Hayley nodded and turned back to the coffee maker. Picking up the serving platter, Trent turned towards the stage and the table of chattering girls. They were all from the high school and had never looked his way. They fell into the Cassidy mold more than the Kira mold.

Setting the drinks on the table, he took the proffered money and checked they'd given him enough to cover them all, and pocketed the cash in his apron. Letting the tray dangle from one hand, he wandered over to check on Ethan over at the computer terminals. He'd noticed that Conner had been less conspicuous around the blue ranger, and wondered what was up.

"Hey, how's it going?" Trent asked, pulling up a spare chair beside Ethan.

Looking up from his laptop, Ethan gave the white ranger a wide smile and then tempered his enthusiasm.

"Trent man, how are you? You've been keeping a low profile, well, since the 'thing'… how are you holding up?"

Dropping his head, Trent wondered how much he could tell Ethan. While there had been no love lost between him, Conner and Ethan after the different times he'd betrayed the team, it was more Conner on his case than not. He felt that maybe, especially without Conner there, he might be able to connect a bit more with his African American team mate.

"I'm hanging in. It's been tough… the house is really empty, you know?"

"If you need a place to hang, you're always welcome at my place."

"Really?"

"Of course! What, did you think we didn't like you?" Ethan asked, somewhat taken aback.

Trent pondered the question for a while, not sure exactly how to answer it. Truth be told, besides Kira, Kim and Dr. O, he didn't think he had a whole lot of friends on the team. And his relationship with Dr. O was… strange, if he had to choose a word. The fact that he'd encased the black ranger, his teacher in amber while he was under the evil spell of the white dino gem had strained things. And he knew that no matter how much Kim looked at him and treated him with kindness, there was a part of her that resented him for what he'd done to her husband.

"You guys had good reason. More than once," remarked Trent with a sadness in his voice that Ethan thought he recognized.

"You know we talked about that after the wedding… you did what you thought you had to do. While I would have preferred you tell us sooner, maybe, you know… we could have prevented what happened."

Trent looked away. That one thought continued to gnaw at him. He had thought about telling Dr. O after his father had freed him of the spell on the dino gem, but he'd decided to keep the secret. If he hadn't, maybe they could have found a cure. Hayley and Billy seemed to be super genius smart. They could have come up with a cure if he had just said something…

"It's a bit late now, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Ethan replied in defeat.

He'd been hoping that Trent would talk with one of the team, but they hadn't heard from him. The last few days they'd seen him in class, wandering the halls of the school, but he had barely said two words to anyone the whole time.

"So, where's Conner?"

Now it was Ethan's turn to look away. Trent had missed the scene with Conner and Kira a few hours earlier, and he wondered how he'd take the news. There had been what had seemed a spark between him and Kira, but they'd never found their way to one another. And then Conner had stepped in to support Kira through the evil white ranger stuff, and they'd gotten close… closer than either of them had realized, in Ethan's opinion.

He'd ended up talking with Billy, Jason and Rocky after the wedding and realized what he'd been watching for the last few months was more than Kira and Conner becoming close friends… it had been the start of something much more serious. Kira's collapse at the end of their adventure to rescue Kim had brought his feelings to the fore, and now that he had given into them, he didn't have much of a choice but to follow his heart. So now Conner was looking for Kira to try and convince her to give him a chance for them to try and be more than what they were.

How Trent would react to that, especially under the circumstances… still, he'd find out soon enough, if Conner got his way.

"He's with Kira."

Cocking his head, Trent looked at Ethan with a puzzled expression, his bangs falling in his eyes.

"What do you mean, 'with Kira'?"

"Uh…"

"Look, I just want to know what's up."

"Conner's interested in Kira."

Once the words were out, Trent's mouth nearly fell open. He had no idea…

"They're dating?" he stammered, shocked.

"No, uh… Conner's trying to convince Kira to give him a chance. You know how stubborn she can be. I figure it's just a matter of time though…" Ethan replied, biting his lip.

"Oh."

"You okay man?"

"Yeah… that's good. I hope she'll be happy."

Once the words that he really didn't feel were out of his mouth, Trent was lucky and heard the door swing open, admitting a mass of teens talking and giggling. It meant business, which meant an excuse not to have to keep talking with Ethan and hear more about Conner… and Kira.

"Sorry, duty calls," Trent said, quickly getting out of his chair and heading for the mass of people, asking them if they wanted anything, and leaving Ethan sitting there, the frown on his face evident.

-x-

Tommy wasn't surprised to find the young white ranger at his door after just returning from their honeymoon. It had seemed that since he and Kim had been on their honeymoon, things in Reefside had been more complicated than simple. First Kira with her Conner dilemma, now Trent.

Not that Tommy hadn't been concerned for the young artist. Losing his adoptive father like he had… it had to have been difficult.

"Come in," Tommy said, waving Trent in and closing the door behind him.

"I'm sorry to be barging in like this Dr. O. I know…" Trent said, stumbling over his words.

But he really wasn't sorry. He needed to talk to someone, and the only one he could think of that cared about him even close to the way his father had was Dr. O.

"It's okay Trent, no harm done. Why don't you have a seat? You want some soda or water?"

"No, I'm okay…"

Tommy looked at the white ranger and saw the pain radiating off him in waves. No, no matter what he said, alright was something Trent Hernandez was far from. And judging from the way that he was staring a hole in the carpet, he got the impression that it was going to be a while before he could claim that state of being.

"So, how have things been going while we were gone?"

"I… Dr. O, I…"

"Trent, look, I know this has to be hard. Have you talked about this with anyone?"

"No… I… I had, I couldn't explain…"

"How you feel?" Tommy guessed, bringing Trent's dark eyes up to where Tommy was watching him, sympathy filling the older ranger's face.

"Yeah."

"I wish there was something I could say to you, some way to make this all go away Trent, but I can't."

Just as Trent was about to open his mouth and reply, there was a sound from the bathroom, and the door opened revealing Kim's form.

"Trent," Kim said softly, her mouth immediately taking on a frown that the young man at the couch felt was directed at his presence there.

"I'm sorry… I shouldn't have come," he began, starting to get up from the couch before both Tommy and Kim called out to him.

"Trent, don't go," said Kim, almost in unison with her husband.

"I…"

"You didn't think I wanted you to leave, did you? I was just realizing that while Tommy and I have been so happy, we had left you behind to deal with… well… Anton's passing. I'm sorry we didn't have the time before to really be there for you."

She walked to where Trent was wavering between standing and sitting, placing her hand softly on his shoulder and guiding him back to the cushions, sitting beside him.

"You guys don't have to do this now."

"We've left you alone enough already Trent. I think you coming here says you're ready to talk," explained Tommy, looking from Trent to Kim, and back again. "Whatever you want to discuss is fine by us."

Long moments ticked by before Trent could comprehend that Kim and Dr. O really were there, wanting to be there for him. And that he finally could get off his chest what he'd been keeping locked up inside.

"I… God Dr. O, I miss him… I never thought I would, I mean… I never saw him…" Trent nearly burst out, his voice raw as he shuddered under the emotions wracking him. "He's dead and I…"

Kim immediately moved to lay her hands on Trent's shoulders, offering the comfort of her touch as she had for Kira earlier. Tommy laid a hand on Trent's knee, hoping that between himself and Kim, they could offer the young white ranger some stability, compassion… understanding.

Trent gulped in deep breaths as he fought not to just turn into Kim's arms and let her hug him like his mother used to do before…

But she wasn't his mother, and he was old enough to be a man and swallow his pain and get through the talking part of the healing process. His father… the man who was his adoptive father was dead. And nothing could change that. He had to move on…

Even if the little voice that was his guilt screamed at him that it was his fault.

"You know that there was nothing you could have done, don't you Trent?" Kim said, as if reading his mind.

"How…"

"Just what you were saying, how you were saying it," remarked Tommy, understanding now exactly how much the guilt was playing into Trent's pain. "You did what you had to do in keeping his secret, and you let him go when he asked you to. No son could have done better."

"But… I could have saved him! Hayley, Billy, you… we could have ripped Mesogog out of him! I know…"

"No, we don't know."

At Dr. O's words, Trent felt the need to hit something, scream, yell… all the anger inside him was itching to get out. His father was dead… and if he believed Dr. O and Kim, there had been nothing he could have done about it.

"Don't say that! There had to be something! I could have saved him!" he yelled suddenly, jumping from the couch and stalking towards the door before Kim rose, her hand moving to land on his upper arm, freezing him in his path.

"No, you couldn't Trent. You aren't God, you can't save everyone. Even Tommy, even I and the others… we're just people, not gods. And sometimes bad things happen on our watch. Sometimes people die. People we love," Kim said gently, her own mind thinking on the day that she'd heard from Jason that Trini was dead, thinking that maybe, somehow if she had done something different her best friend would be alive instead of being buried in two days time.

"Kim's right Trent," Tommy added, getting up to join his wife, sandwiching the young man between them. "I wish I could tell you that we could have saved him, even if you had gotten him out, even if you had told us before. But there's no way to know if Hayley or Billy could have saved him, destroyed Mesogog without killing Anton. But I know the man who was your father, and he wouldn't want you to be eating yourself up with guilt over this."

"You need to let the guilt go Trent. Feel the pain and move past, or you won't ever heal," Kim told him simply, her hand moving lower to squeeze his forearm, hoping that their words were sinking in.

Trent stood there, his eyes closed as he listed to them. He… God, he so badly wanted to believe them… he so wanted to give in.

And the voice that had yelled at him to be mad, be angry began to fall silent. His heart took over for his head, and he let the knowledge that Kim and Dr. O were giving him seep into the gash in his soul. He wasn't responsible. It wasn't his fault…

Suddenly he turned quickly into Kim, his arms circling her waist as he leaned into her, his quiet sobs breaking the silence that had fallen on the room, and Kim enfolded him in her embrace, giving him whatever comfort she could. Tommy soon followed suit, wrapping the young man and his new bride in his strong arms. He knew the kind of pain Trent was dealing with… and he promised himself that he and Kim would be there for Trent, however he needed them.

For long moments Trent let his pain spill out, taking the solace that his mentor, teacher, friend, and teammates were offering him. When the last of the uncontrollable sobs ended, he edged slightly away, his hands coming from Kim's waist to swipe at his eyes.

"You going to be okay now?" Kim asked as Trent pulled away, her sad smile focused on the still damp face of the white ranger.

"Yeah… I think I will be now."

"Do you need anything? Money, a place to stay? I know Anton…" Tommy began as Trent moved a bit father away from him and Kim.

"I already called his lawyer to see what I needed to do… I… he said that there's a problem," Trent rambled, his mind still reeling at the feeling of contentment he was starting to feel.

The feeling of beginning to heal.

"Like what?" asked Kim, surprised.

"There's no body."

Kim and Tommy looked at one another. With Mesogog's island destroyed, Anton's body more than likely burned in the fire. There was no way Trent could prove Mercer was dead. Therefore, he was still legally alive.

And that meant that his money was locked up tight.

"Are you going to be able…" Kim started before trailing off, looking to Tommy, her face filled with concern and hope.

"I have my own funds… more than enough to take care of expenses. I just… I don't know what I should do. Do I ask the lawyers to start the process to declare him dead? And if I do, does that mean I get sent to a foster home?"

Neither Kim or Tommy had an answer for him. They knew that Anton's death left Trent in a bad position. He was almost eighteen, but in the eyes of the state, there was no parent, no guardian… He had no one except the team…

"Maybe you could have your dad's lawyer look into a guardian for you… until you turn eighteen," suggested Tommy slowly, looking past Trent to Kim, seeing her eyes mist as she realized what he was thinking and nodded her head, acknowledging that she was in agreement with his idea.

"Okay, but who would I suggest do that?" Trent asked in confusion, the problems surrounding his father's death piling on top of the emotions he had over it were becoming overwhelming.

"You could volunteer us."

Trent's eyes jumped to Tommy's face, his mouth going slack. He turned just as quickly to look at Kim, and found a small smile on her face that he recognized from her dealings with the others… when she was proud of their accomplishments or when she felt they were living up to the ranger ideals…

They were serious.

And he was so tempted.

Since the day his real parents had died, he had always wondered what it would have been like if they had lived. If he had been able to grow up with loving, caring parents who wanted nothing but his best interests.

Who weren't always gone, giving him money but no attention.

The thought of spending the rest of the school year with Kim and Dr. O… letting them be like parents…

"I appreciate the thought Dr. O," Trent finally said, his voice thick with emotion. "But I think that I should ask for my emancipation rather than ask you and Kim to intervene any more than you already have."

"Are you sure?" Kim asked with a slight frown.

"Yeah."

"Alright, but if you change your mind…" Tommy informed him seriously.

"I'll keep it in mind."

Tommy nodded in understanding, and Kim leaned into Tommy's side, feeling his arm wrap around her. Trent watched them again, and felt the desire to take them up on their offer start to surge, and he knew he had to leave now or he might change his mind.

"Anyway… I'm sorry I barged in… you guys just got back, and are all married and all…" he stammered, backing up towards the door.

"It's all right Trent. Any time you need to…" Tommy stated, trailing off as he left the subject unfinished.

As he stood at the front door, Trent turned the knob slightly, looking at his team mates and friends. They really were offering…

"Maybe, once in a while, I could just come by?"

"That would be fine Trent. We're always happy to have an extra person for dinner…" Kim alluded, smiling at Trent's change of heart.

"Okay, well, gotta go…" he said quickly as he pulled the door open and turned to leave, stopping suddenly and looking back. "And thanks."

With that, he hurriedly closed the door behind him, hurrying to his car and heading off, feeling as if maybe he could survive after all.

-end-