Don't own. Don't sell. Just here for the complimentary dinner mint. Enjoy!
"Man, do I sound like Tori?" Shane laughed, switching the phone to his left hand. "Blake, what's up? How's Factory Blue going?"
There was a lengthy pause on the line. "Shane, can you tell Tori and the guys to meet me at our place? Tori will know where it is."
Shane straightened and his voice dropped into the register of his alter ego, the Red Ranger. "What's going on? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Blake assured him. "But I don't want to leave Hunter alone for longer than I can help."
"Blake, where are you? I thought you were on tour. What's happened to your brother?…Blake? Blake!" The operator came on then to let him know the call had been disconnected. Shane hung up the phone slowly, trying to figure out what all that had been about. Blake should have been training for Factory Blue on the other side of the state. Hunter was teaching at the Thunder Ninja Academy. Blake wasn't even supposed to see his brother for another two weeks. The two Bradley brothers were going to stop by the Wind Ninja Academy for a visit then. Shane needed to talk to Cam about this. He raced away from of Storm Chargers, grabbing Dustin on his way out.
The three Wind ninjas gathered around their fourth member, who was typing furiously at the massive computer that dominated one wall of Ninja Ops. Cam pushed his chair away from his keyboard and adjusted his glasses with an impatient gesture.
"I'm not finding anything on Blake or Hunter. Factory Blue said Blake asked for an extended stay to go home for an emergency, but they have no idea what the emergency was." Cam's eyes sought out his father, who was standing apart from the group. "I wasn't able to get an answer back from the Thunder Academy."
Tori started forward then. "Fine, we go find Blake then and figure out what's going on, like we should have done in the first place."
"I know you're worried Tori, but I don't want us to go in blind." Shane argued quietly. "That's why I asked Cam to check things out."
"Things have been checked out. Let's go" Tori urged Shane.
Shane paused before nodding his assent. His position as the de-facto leader meant that everyone looked to him before heading off on their own. He wondered, if he had said no, would Tori have listened this time. He knew how close Tori was to Blake, almost as close as Cam was to Hunter.
"Cam, no word from Hunter at all?"
Cam sighed. "Not since he would have started teaching." Cam seemed fairly calm about the whole situation, but Shane could see the tight lines around his eyes that usually meant he was worried about something. With two of the four so emotionally involved with this mission, Shane would be lucky if nobody on the team did anything stupid.
"Alright. Cam is Cyber Cam up and running yet?" Shane got a nod of affirmative and then Cyber Cam sprung to life in front of Sensei Watanabe. Cam quickly gave the AI program its instructions. "Tori, where is this place Blake wanted us to meet him at?"
"This beach I know." She actually blushed before she went on. "It was the first place we kissed."
"TMI dude!" Dustin laughed, but stopped when he realized no one was laughing with him. "Tori, don't worry. After Lothor, there's nothing we can't handle. Blake will be fine."
Tori smiled back at him, but the smile didn't reach her eyes.
"Cam, I want you to have Cyber Cam keep a teleportation lock on us at all times, got it? We may need to get out of there in a hurry."
"Already done" Cam replied. He tightened the black gauntlets on his hands. "I'm going to go prep the Med Room, and pack a few supplies, but then we'll be ready to go."
"Good thinking Cam."
"Dustin, why don't you go help Cam. Tori and I will go round up some food and blankets just in case." He motioned Tori and Cam to go ahead without them. "Dustin, I want you to keep a close eye on Cam for me. Make sure he doesn't do anything crazy. I'll take Tori."
Dustin slicked a hand over his hair, leaving it a messier tangle than usual. "Dude, I get you. You got your morpher on? I'll let you know if we run into any trouble."
Shane held up his wrist. "Yeah, thanks Dustin."
He watched the Yellow Ranger run to catch up with Cam before turning to find Tori.
When they found Blake, he was pacing the edges of the tiny beach with his arms crossed tight across his chest. From a distance Cam was reminded of the first time he met Hunter, the older of the two brothers. Cam sent a silent prayer to his mother to watch over the impulsive youth.
"Blake!" Tori shouted. Blake started violently and then ran to meet them. He stopped just a few yards shy of them.
"Thanks for coming guys, Tori."
Tori didn't wait for him to cross the distance between them. She flung her arms around him and pulled him tightly to her. "We were so worried" she whispered. She rubbed one hand down his back to comfort the shivers she could feel radiating from the tense form. "We have some blankets, you want one? You have to be cold."
She motioned to Dustin to bring her one out of his pack. Nobody spoke until Tori had wrapped Blake up in the navy wool blanket. "What happened?"
Blake's legs finally gave out on him and he sat down hard on the sand. "I couldn't….I don't know."
Patiently Tori crouched down beside him. "Where's Hunter?"
Blake swallowed, turning his face away from Tori's. "I had to leave him at the Thunder Academy. They kicked me out and I couldn't stay with him."
Cam pushed himself forward. He grabbed Blake by the chin and forced him to look him in the eye. "Why did they kick you out? Why not Hunter too?"
"Because I broke my ties to the Thunder Academy and Sensei Omino."
Cam shuddered in a sudden cold wash of fear. "They forced you to choose." No ninja was meant to have an allegiance to two schools. Sure, the various schools cooperated with each other, but until Blake and Hunter, no one had ever been allowed to train with more than one school. It wouldn't matter that the circumstances were unusual; with the Thunder Academy destroyed and the teachers captured by Lothor, Blake and Hunter had had no where else to go. Sensei Omino would demand that the brothers demonstrate whom their loyalties lay with, Wind or Thunder. "You were cleansed."
Blake laughed bitterly, jerking his head out of Cam's grasp. "See how well it worked." He tightened his hold on Tori to stay upright.
Cam swore silently. He threw his bag on the sand and grabbed the food and water he had packed. "Eat slowly" he told Blake when he handed him a granola bar and his water bottle. "How long were you kept alone?"
"Cam what's going on? What the heck happened to Blake?"
"A cleansing, Shane. I'm sure you remember reading about those." The three Wind ninjas watched him blankly. He rolled his eyes in irritation. "A ninja whose loyalty is suspect must demonstrate where their loyalties lie. They are put through a purification or cleansing process until they can prove their choice is true to the Academy teachers' satisfaction. It involves days of meditation without pause. You aren't allowed food and only small sips of water. They let Blake go because he renounced them for us."
"Sensei Omino told me Hunter won't choose. He refuses."
"Typical Hunter." Cam shook his head. Blake only had the strength to shoot him a black look for the slam on Hunter. Cam ignored him.
"Shane, we need to get Hunter out of there." Dustin bobbed up and down like he did when he was anxious. "You know Hunter man, he won't give up. He's always been a stubborn…" Dustin trailed off, glancing at Blake.
Shane looked grim. "We'll just have to make the choice for him."
In the end, the choice remained Hunter's.
Dustin, Cam, and Shane were poised outside of the clearing which housed the Thunder Academy. Tori had taken Blake back to Ninja Ops with strict instructions to make him drink plenty of fluids and no pacing. If the boys needed back up, they were to contact Tori on her morpher.
The Thunder Academy certainly seemed different from the Wind Academy at first glance. Where the Wind school would be a buzz of student activity at this hour of the evening, here there was no one walking about. The only people the boys could see were what appeared to be sentries at the entrance to the main building and a small group conferring by a huge bonfire. Although, what ninjas needed with a fire, Dustin couldn't guess. Most ninjas knew how to keep themselves warm. Maybe they were students at the novice level.
"There goes the plan of stealing some uniforms," Cam sighed. Shane clapped him on the back.
"It'll be just like the old days. We bum rush 'em, grab Hunter while they're confused, and streak out of there as fast as our little ninja legs will carry us." Shane's grin took on a decidedly shark-like gleam. "They won't know what hit them."
Cam spun on his heel to yell at Shane, but Dustin stopped them. "Quiet, company's coming."
As one, they knelt behind some nearby fallen trees and waited for the sentry to pass. When the coast was clear Cam hissed at Shane "Did you forget they are probably expecting a rescue attempt? Especially after Blake left and I contacted them asking about Hunter. Plus, oh there's the fact that we're dealing with trained ninjas here. The element of surprise won't last long enough for us to get in the door."
Tori's voice startled all three of them out of their heated debated and nearly out of their skin. "Guys, return to Ninja Ops. We found Hunter."
All Hunter could feel was pain. The elements he had called on to escape the Thunder Academy were still battling at the core of his control. His skin felt strained from the inside, like overripe fruit that would burst at the seam if someone touched it. He fought to remaining kneeling, in meditation position, even when every muscle in his body knotted in response to the energy surges attacking it. His field of vision had narrowed to the pond and the waterfall outside of Ninja Ops.
He hadn't consciously willed himself here; he had been following Blake. He had been following Blake's presence since their trial began. The part of him that was still monitoring Blake realized that Blake was in Ninja Ops and relaxed to know he was being taken care of. The rest of him fought to disperse the lightening he had foolishly thought to claim for his own.
"Hunter!" Blake ran to be at his brother's side.
"Blake, stop!" Tori yelled. "Look at the grass." Blake stopped abruptly and only then did he notice the large circle of dead grass around Hunter. His brother was white as a sheet and shaking. His eyes were glazed over as if he was focusing everything he had on something the others could not see. It would be a miracle if he noticed their presence.
"Don't. Touch. Me," Hunter growled out. Blake took a step back in shock; Hunter never talked to him like that. Then he remembered the dead greenery around Hunter and decided to heed his warning.
A sudden rush of warmer air announced the arrival of the rest of the team. Cam eyed Hunter, eyed Blake (as if he was to blame for this!), and then back to Hunter. Carefully he kneeled next to Hunter, making sure to stay outside of the brown circle slowly growing around Hunter. "You idiot. What did you do?"
Hunter choked out a laugh. "Not much." He paused to breathe through a particularly hard muscle spasm. "Just organized a jailbreak."
Tori moved to stand behind Blake and take his hand. Blake squeezed it for reassurance. "What's wrong with him?"
"Besides his unfortunate hair and fashion choices?" Cam rooted around in his knapsack for a second before emerging with a scanner. He actually growled when the results from his scan printed out. "I take it back. You aren't an idiot. You're a suicidal megalomaniac."
"That's like a contradiction in terms, dude," Dustin volunteered.
"I'll remember that next time Hunter does something so enormously stupid."
Cam was punching frantically away at his scanner even as he spoke. The corners of his mouth tightened like he was trying not to frown. That was not a good sign Blake decided. "Can you fix whatever's wrong with him?"
"I don't know. Bright boy over here decided to see how much of his lightening element he could absorb without going up like a firecracker and it doesn't look like he is having much luck getting rid of the energy now that he's done with it." Cam reached a tentative hand towards Hunter, but stopped before he would actually touch him. Hunter's eyes were looking decidedly more glassy. Cam tried waving his hands in front of Hunter's face to attract his attention. "Can Blake help with this?"
Hunter was seized by another spasm that had him arching his back in pain. "No" he panted. "Too much. Wrong element."
Blake had shaken his head at the same time. "I'm thunder and he's lightening dude. Different abilities."
Everyone was so focused on Cam, Blake included, that nobody noticed Dustin approach Hunter's tense frame. "Dustin! No!" Shane commanded.
Dustin ignored him and instead thrust one hand into his element, the Earth, and then wrapped one long, graceful hand around Hunter's throat. Both bodies jerked with the contact. Dustin's eyes closed in concentration, while Hunter's slammed wide open. His head was flung back in a cry that never escaped his mouth.
"Dustin stop it! You're hurting him!" Blake yelled, moving to jerk the Earth ninja away from his brother. Cam grabbed him by the arm.
"He's siphoning the energy off, Blake. He's grounding Hunter. It might work."
Blake stayed where he was, but his hands tightened on the fabric of his jeans so hard that later he would remember hearing a ripping sound. "Hunter?"
Hunter didn't respond. He was frozen in his position; eyes and mouth open, staring at the sky. He didn't move until Dustin jerked his hand away a moment later. He curled in on himself then, letting his forehead touch the grass beneath him.
Next to him, Dustin was panting like he had run a marathon. "Give me a minute and then I'll finish." His breath whistled in and out shrilly. Shane was quick to run into Ninja Ops and grab Dustin's inhaler. When he returned with it, he held it up to the younger boy's mouth and triggered it. "Breathe deep, Dustin."
It took a few moments for Dustin's breathing to even out. By then, Hunter had quietly passed out.
Cam pulled Hunter the rest of the way through the portal into Ninja Ops. Hunter was slowly regaining consciousness, but between the enforced fasting and his recent abuse of his ninja abilities, he was lucky he could blink on his own. When they managed to make it down the last flight of stairs, Cam looked up to see the entire team waiting for them. "Later, ok?"
Apparently they didn't understand the term later because four determined ninjas and one ninja master followed them into the infirmary. Hunter practically melted onto the padded exam chair when Cam lowered him off his shoulder. His face was starting to get back some of its color, but his hands were still shaking with faint tremors. The gauntness of Hunter's cheeks struck him when he passed another modified scanner over Hunter's body. Without thought, Cam reached out to brush a hand across one prominent cheekbone. Hunter jerked away from the contact before opening his eyes in alarm. He relaxed when he realized who exactly was touching him. He tried a smile, but his eyes quickly slid shut again in fatigue.
"Hunter, do you think you could eat something?" Cam prompted him quietly.
Hunter's eyes fluttered open for a second. "Not really hungry. Could go for some water though."
Blake jumped up from his spot at Hunter's side, clearly glad to be doing something. "I've got it."
Shane watched Cam and Hunter from the area near Hunter's feet. "So what exactly did you do Hunter?"
Dustin scratched half-heartedly at an itch behind his ear. "Shane, don't you think this can wait? We don't even know how Hunter's doing yet."
Cam looked up from his diagnostic. "Hunter should be fine with some rest. I'll have to do some more scans to be sure though."
Shane shrugged in apology, but pressed his point. "I want to know if we should be expecting some retaliation from the Thunder Academy."
Hunter's laugh came out more like a sigh. Tori looked at Shane in shock. "What, you want to know if he like blew up the school on his way out?"
Cam smiled. "Well, it's not like the man is known for his subtlety."
Hunter slapped at the hands near his face. "No fair picking on the injured."
"No pity for those who injure themselves."
"Guys?" Shane reminded them.
"No, the Thunder Academy was still there when I left, I think." Hunter finally submitted to having Cam poking and prodding him.
"Is anyone going to be coming after you two?"
"I honestly don't know Shane."
"Ok. Cam, I'm going to go get Cyber Cam started on some defensive measures, just in case. Let me know what you find out." Shane reached over to clap Hunter on the shoulder. "Feel better bro."
Cam's father stood up as well. "I will go with you Shane. We may be able to coordinate some of the students into patrol groups." Together they walked out, already talking about counter measures and tactics.
Tori elbowed Dustin. "What?"
"I'm gonna go see what's keeping Blake." Tori stared holes into Dustin.
"Oh, um, I'm gonna go lay down for awhile. I'm wiped."
"Ask Blake what he wants for dinner, would you?" Two nods were his only answer. Cam chuckled after the two had left. "I wonder what that was about."
"I don't know what they think we're going to do."
Cam put down the tool he had been using on a table nearby and took a precarious seat on the edge of the chair near Hunter's hip. "How are you feeling?" Cam asked him. He ran a gentle hand over Hunter's forehead to brush his bangs out of his eyes.
Hunter stared at him for a moment. "Honestly? I hurt." Hunter pushed his head into Cam's hand. "But I'll get over it."
"Do you want a painkiller?"
"Naw." Hunter reached up to toy with one of the buttons on Cam's shirt. "I just want to sleep it off."
"You need to eat something Hunter."
"I certainly hope not, otherwise, this would be weird."
"Like being super human secret ninjas in love and spandex wasn't weird enough?"
Cam had to laugh out loud at that. He ran a thumb over Hunter's jaw before leaning down to kiss him on the forehead. Hunter wrinkled his nose in distaste. "What kinda kiss was that?"
"Oh, I'm sorry your highness." Cam leaned over to give him a small kiss on the lips. "Better?"
"Much." The boy in the chair slumped further down and closed his eyes again. Cam had to smile to himself even as he stood.
"I'm going to start an I.V., ok?"
"Whatever you think is best Cam." Hunter didn't bother moving. "Where's Blake?"
"Getting your water. He'll be back soon."
"Good." Hunter flinched when the IV needle broke the skin.
Soon enough the IV was set up and hopefully Hunter was receiving some much-needed nutrients. Cam slipped a sedative in with the IV solution to ensure Hunter slept through the night. He was just finishing that up, when Blake and Tori appeared in the doorway. He walked over to meet them and warned them not to keep Hunter up. Blake slapped him on the back as he was leaving.
"Thanks for taking care of my bro, man. We owe you one."
Cam nodded in return, not trusting his voice for the moment. As quickly as he could, he made his way to the kitchen to start dinner. He figured most of the others would be staying for a few hours at least. They would be hungry and Cam definitely wanted to get some more food in Blake before he went to bed. Besides, cooking calmed his nerves, something he desperately needed right now. And if, by chance, someone noticed his eyes watering, he could blame it on the extra onions Blake preferred.
When Tori went looking for Blake, she was surprised when she almost stumbled over him in the hallway. Blake caught her elbow before she could knock into him and favored her with a small smile. "Looking for me?"
"Kinda. More like wanting to give Cam and Hunter some time, ya know?"
Blake smiled. "Yeah, I know." He held up the glass of water in salute. The ice cubes in it were already melting. "Plus, I just wanted a second."
Tori nodded even though no response was needed. She slouched against the wall next to her boyfriend. "You feeling any better?"
"Yeah. Cam promised to cook later, so bonus."
"Do you think he'd mind the rest of us staying for dinner?" Tori joked. Cam's cooking skills were legendary. He made a mean Wok-Everything dinner, and a meaner dessert.
"Naw. You know he secretly loves the attention."
Tori smiled. "I know."
They slouched together, holding up the wall and barely touching for several long minutes before Tori turned to look Blake over. "He's ok you know. Dr. Cam gave him the green light."
"I know." Blake shifted so their bodies were aligned from shoulder to hip. He took a sudden interest in his shoes. I just can't help feeling a little guilty."
"Oh Blake, why?"
Blake stood up suddenly. "I should get back." He started to move towards the infirmary, but Tori simply grabbed his arm and watched him until he broke down. Blake pulled his arm out of Tori's grip in frustration. "It's just, I don't know. It's like when we were kids, before the team and everything. The only really stupid stuff Hunter got up to was when he was trying to protect me."
With that, Blake walked away. Tori was barely able to catch him before he reached Hunter's room and by then it was too late to talk to him about what he had said.
The next morning, when Cam went to check on Hunter, he was greeted with a very disgruntled Hunter. His hair was sticking up oddly behind his ears, giving the appearance of horns, and he had lines from the sheets crossing one cheek. Cam glanced sideways at him as he checked the IV drip and had to laugh. Hunter was trying to glare at him, but he couldn't seem to get his eyes to focus.
"You slipped me a mickey."
"You needed to sleep."
"Fine, I've slept. No more drugs."
"No more drugs" Cam promised. "I am actually going to take out the IV now, if that's ok?"
After Cam removed the IV needle and had finished bandaging up Hunter, he brought over the breakfast tray he had made up. Of course, Hunter had to protest.
"I'm not hungry Cam; I just woke up."
"Humor me. Eat anyway."
"Cam, I know my body better than you do. If I eat this, I'll throw up."
"Fine, but you're stuck in bed until you finish it." Cam moved quickly to the infirmary door. "See you in a couple of hours." He shut the door behind him, locking it as he left.
"Sonnova bitch." Hunter flung his head back on the chair to glare the ceiling tiles into submission. "I'm never living this down."
Blake found Cam back in the kitchen clearing up the breakfast dishes. "What's the code for the Med-lab door?"
"Hunter needs to go to the bathroom." Blake smiled.
"Has Hunter finished his breakfast yet?" Cam smiled back.
Blake shifted uncomfortably against the counter he was leaning on. "About that." He paused for a breath. "Hunter kinda has a stomach condition. He can't eat first thing in the morning."
Cam rolled his eyes. "Blake, he needs to eat something solid. Making up stories for him isn't going to help him get better."
Blake leaned dangerously far into Cam's personal space. "I'm not. Call Leann if you don't believe me. Or ask Tori. She eats over at our place enough to know."
"Fine." Cam finished putting the dried dishes away in the cupboards.
Blake backed away when it looked like Cam believed him and started pacing the kitchen floor. "He just, you know, has a sensitive stomach. That's all."
"That's fine, Blake. I understand."
"Just, you know, don't bring it up. He's kinda sensitive about it."
Cam restrained himself from commenting. His only response was to raise his eyebrows.
"I didn't say anything."
"Oh for the love of…Ok, but don't tell him I told you anything."
"What are we talking about?"
"Hunter's stomach condition."
"Oh, right, sorry. It's alright if you don't want to tell me. I wouldn't want to get you in trouble."
"Fine! I'll tell you already. Stop it with the interrogation."
Blake stopped pacing and jumped up to sit on the counter. "Hunter's birth mom and dad didn't take such good care of him. That's how our parents ended up getting him. Dad had Hunter in his second grade class. He said Hunter was pretty scrawny and his stomach was always growling, but he would tell Dad that he forgot his lunch when Dad asked. Dad found out from the librarian that Hunter was hiding out in the library during lunch."
Cam nodded more to himself than to Blake. "So he wasn't eating lunch at all, am I right?"
"Right." Blake sighed. "Mom found out later from him that he did the same thing in first grade too, just nobody ever caught him at it. Dad talked to him about it. Typical Hunter, he says nothing's wrong and stops hanging out in the library. Dad spends two weeks trying to find his new hiding spot, because he knows Hunter isn't in the lunchroom."
"So where did your dad end up finding him?"
"He didn't." Blake winced in sympathy for his brother. "Hunter got sick at school one day. Couldn't stop throwing up. The office tried calling his parents to come get him, but the phone was disconnected, so Dad offered to drive him home. They got there and Hunter's mom was drugged out of her mind. There was like no food in the house, except for a can of opened peppers."
"Hunter didn't eat those, did he?" Cam looked a little green around the gills at the thought.
"I told you he had a stomach condition. Those peppers seriously did a number on him. Dad had to take him to the hospital. Social services took Hunter away from his parents. They got charged with child neglect and he came to live with us."
Cam's hands were slowly twisting the towel in his hands tight. "That must have been weird for him."
Blake jumped off the counter, clearly done with story time. "You have no idea. Do you know how long it took Mom and Dad to get him to stop hoarding food in his room? He still…," Blake cut himself off, feeling like he had said too much. "He's probably peed his pants already. I should go let him out."
Cam decided to drop the subject for the moment. He tried to be nonchalant about his next question. "Blake, have you talked much to Hunter recently?"
"A little last night before he fell asleep, why?"
"I was just wondering if you'd talked, that's all. He was wondering where you were before."
"I'll go talk to him now," Blake promised.
Blake kept putting off his talk with Hunter. When he did see Hunter, he tried to keep the conversation light. He talked about Tori's latest surfing lesson or how Sensei had melted Cam's hard drive again. He talked about anything, but the overwhelming guilt that was slowly eating out a hollow space near his spine. Hunter, who was usually perceptive of changes in his younger bro, either didn't notice or chose not to comment on Blake's sudden chattiness. Both Tori and Cam noticed, but neither was willing to call Blake on it yet.
"Oh! Ha! Ahhh yeah, baby!" Dustin crowed. "Eat my dust!" He leaned sharply right as his character turned a corner of the track.
"The only way you could beat me at moto is in a game!" Hunter threw the controller down in disgust as Dustin's rider sailed across the finish line.
"Learned men say ninja never a sore loser."
"Maybe in your school."
"Your school now too."
Hunter pushed to his feet from their seated position on the floor. "Do you want something to drink, bro?"
Dustin paused before answering, his hand coming up to scratch the back of his head as if he was having to think particularly difficult thoughts. "Does Cam have cream soda?"
"Dude, Cam has everything," Hunter smirked. He turned towards the kitchen without looking back.
Dustin watched him go for a moment, still caught up In his thoughts. He fingered the black and red controller in his hands disinterestedly. He couldn't decide whether he should say something or not. This was more of the kind of thing Blake or Cam would handle. Hunter probably wouldn't even listen to him, anyway.
"Earth to Dustin." A can of cold cream soda appeared in front of his face. "This ok?"
"Yeah man, thanks." Dustin played with the top of the pop can, looked sideways at Hunter, and then sighed. He supposed he had to do it. "Speaking of hurting yourself." Hunter groaned before Dustin was able to push on. "When do you get the all-clear to practice again?"
Hunter shrugged, his interest in his own soda intensifying. "You'd have to ask Nurse Cam."
"What kind of time frame are we talking about here? Weeks, months, days?" pressed Dustin.
"I dunno, maybe a couple of weeks, tops." Nervous hands rubbed over crimson-sleeved arms. "Least until the nerve sensitivity goes away."
"Cool bro. Then Cam can go back to beating on you, instead of wiping the floor with the rest of us."
Playfully, Hunter punched Dustin in the arm. "I see how it is. You just want me back for the human sacrifice."
Dustin very carefully punched him back and still there was the slightest wince from Hunter. "Dude, what, you like think we keep you here for the scenery? We gotta make you earn your keep somehow."
Hunter's answering smile was weak at best. "I thought that was Shane's job, martyr and all that. I wouldn't want to horn in on his gig."
Dustin laughed out loud at that. "Hunter, seriously, you've been horning in on his gig since you got here. The competition's good for him."
"Hey man, the rangers were always his to lead."
"Yeah, but you made him earn that right. We all did." Dustin shrugged. "You know Shane. If we don't burst his ego once and awhile, his head gets too big to fit through doors."
"Nice way to talk about me when I'm not here to defend myself!" Shane strolled down the last two steps in to Ninja Ops to fix Dustin with a suitably angry glare.
"Shane!" Dustin's head whipped around to look at the man coming in. "Didn't see you there?"
Shane ignored him in favor of the game currently frozen on Cam's oversized computer monitor. "You beat Hunter?"
"Hey, it does happen occasionally."
"Just not in the real world" Hunter shot back in response to Dustin's defensive retort. Hunter took another long drag of his soda, before standing. Shane and Dustin were already locked in a heated debate over the merits of video game skateboarding versus motor-cross. He doubted they would miss him, but let them know he was leaving anyway. "Night guys."
"Night." The two barely paused in their squabbling to utter a word goodnight, but the argument wore down quickly as they do when nobody really cares about the topic.
Shane nodded his head in the direction Hunter had gone. "How's he doing?"
Dustin's shoulders slumped now that he didn't have to be the happy guy for awhile. "Not good. Something's up."
"Tori or Cam, do you think?"
Dustin stretched and stood. "Neither maybe." He grabbed his backpack off the floor and swung it over his shoulder. "Listen, I've gotta get home. Mom's waiting."
He was halfway out the door, before he turned to look back at Shane. "Maybe you should talk to him, man." And then he walked out, leaving Shane to wonder just what the hell Dustin had meant by that.
Cam was reading on a mat on the floor, when Hunter came in to bed that night. He had to laugh at his boyfriend reading a tech manual while he was 'relaxing'. "Hey, Cam." He moved Cam's feet off of the futon so he could lie across it lengthwise, replacing his feet in his lap. Gods, he was exhausted. Never again, he vowed. Every time his powers went haywire or he ended up abusing them, he was left shaking like a leaf and unable to move for days. He would have given anything for a nice, calm power like air or earth, something that didn't feel like it would turn around and bite him if he lost his concentration for a second.
"Overdo it again?" a wry voice asked.
Hunter pushed Cam's feet out of his lap. "No, mom."
"Are you just tired, or is something else wrong?"
The lines around Hunter's mouth tightened for a minute. "No, just tired. Why do you ask?"
"Just checking. I talked to Blake today."
"Wow, holy non sequiter, Batman."
Cam merely tilted his head in reply. "Somebody put on their grumpy pants this morning."
"I'm going to bed."
"Good, you obviously need it." Cam stood up to join him on the futon. "So I talked to Blake today."
"Yeah, you mentioned that." Hunter could not get comfortable now that Cam was taking up half of the room on the futon. "Spit it out already, Cam."
Cam, in his annoyingly efficient manner, twisted Hunter around until his head was in Cam's lap and his feet dangling over the futon's arm. Hunter wanted to protest the manhandling, but then he started to massage his temples in that secret samurai technique that he had learned who knew where, and that was already easing the headache that had been lingering behind his eyes all day. "He's worried about you."
Hunter closed his eyes and wriggled a little to get comfortable. "No duh. Your point?"
"Tori's worried about Blake."
Hunter sat up so fast that the headache that had been retreating slammed back in full force. "What's wrong with Blake?"
Cam pulled him back down. "Can I ask you a question?" he asked as he continued his ministrations.
"Yes," Hunter growled impatiently.
"Why didn't you choose a school during the cleansing?"
"It was Blake's decision. I couldn't make it for him." Hunter was too tightly strung now for Cam's fingers to have any effect. "He had to decide which family he belonged to."
Cam's hands stilled. "I think he made the right choice for both of you." Cam reached to push the hair out of Hunter's face. "Hunter, I think Blake knows about what you did for him; Tori and I don't think he's ok with it."
Hunter sat up again and hunched himself into one corner of the futon, trying to make himself as small as possible. "I'll talk to him," Hunter promised.
Cam seemed to decide that was answer enough. "Let's go to bed, yeah?"
Hunter gratefully accepted the help up, glad that Cam wasn't going to give him anymore grief for the night. Silently, they both got dressed for bed and climbed in. Cam wrapped his arms around Hunter from behind. "I'm glad you guys are here."
Hunter smiled, even though Cam couldn't see it. "Me too."
After that, the two feel asleep so deeply that Cam almost didn't notice when Hunter got up and left the room. Burying his face in Hunter's abandoned pillow, Cam pounded the pillow in frustration. Nothing he did seemed to help.
Blake strode in to the main room visibly shaking in anger and holding a small box of assorted canned goods. "Where is he?"
Tori and Shane glanced at each other, then back at Blake. The answering "Who?" was almost in unison.
"My pig-headed, mentally challenged older brother. That's who."
"Did you check your guys' room?"
Blake dropped the box on the table. "Where the hell did you think I found this?"
"Blake, I get that you're upset, but drop the attitude. Ok, man? Tori and I don't deserve it."
Blake made a visible effort to breathe. "I'm sorry. Have you seen Hunter around?"
Shane and Tori both stood up from their positions around the low table. "No, what did he do, Blake?"
Blake shook his head and grabbed for the canned goods again. "I can't talk about it with you guys. It's private, Thunder Brothers' stuff."
"Hunter's ok though, right?" Tori shared a look with Shane, worried about what could make Blake lose his cool so badly.
Blake slumped against the table edge for a moment, before pushing away from it to examine the armor on the opposite wall. "I honestly don't know, Tor. Let's just say that this," he held the box aloft, "is a bad sign."
"Why don't I talk to him?" Shane offered, thinking of what Dustin had said last night.
Blake eyed Shane critically. The Wind's leader and his brother were constantly challenging each other, pushing the other to earn their place on the team. On the other hand, of them all, only Shane and Hunter really understood what being leader meant. Maybe Shane could get through to him. Lord knows his brother wasn't listening to him or Cam. "Shane, would you mind, man?"
"Not a problem."
"Good," Blake sighed. Maybe this would do the trick.
Shane wasn't able to talk to Hunter until the next practice. Hunter of course was banned from participating, but Sensei still made him come watch and meditate with the other rangers.
Hunter laughed as he watched Dustin and Cam wipe the floor with Tori and Blake. "They work surprisingly well together."
"Who? Dustin and Cam?" Shane laughed with him. "Yeah, I know man. Surprised the hell out of me too."
"Wonder if I should be worried."
"Nah. He and Marah have been seeing each other a lot lately."
Hunter winced as he tried to shift position on the hard wood bench. "I didn't know it was that serious with them."
"Very serious, dude." Shane looked out again at the fighters on the floor. Dustin took that opportunity to catch his eye and nod at Hunter. Of course, Tori took that opportunity to sweep Dustin's legs out from underneath him, landing him flat on his back.
"Quit flirting with Shane and pay attention Dustin!" was the sharp retort from Cam. Shane laughed because he could hear Dustin's muttering from over on the bench.
"Yo, Hunter, wanna take a walk? They'll be at this for awhile."
Hunter nodded and the two of them slowly made their way outside and around the lake. Shane smiled at the level of noise outside on the academy grounds. It was wonderful to have everyone back again. He wouldn't have traded his months of being a ranger for anything, but he had hated coming through here to get to Ninja Ops then. The place had felt like a morgue. He bowed his head to a couple of his beginning ninja students.
Hunter smiled a little sadly. "I'm gonna miss that."
"Miss what, bro? Teaching?" Shane shook his head. "No way are you getting out of that. I think Cam already has you signed up to do like three hours of staff technique when you're cleared for practice again."
"He's awfully sure I'll stick around, isn't he?" Hunter had meant that as a joke, but that wasn't how Shane took it. For all the teasing he got from Dustin and Tori, he did have his moments of insight.
"Aren't you? Sure, I mean."
"Yeah, man, lighten up." Hunter took a mock swing at him. "It's not like I have anywhere else to go."
Shane decided there was no good way to answer that. He missed Hunter looking down sharply, but he did catch the movement of Hunter turning his head out of the corner of his eye.
"Besides, Blake and I still owe you guys for the save and letting me mooch for the last couple of weeks."
"No debt man. We're just happy to have you around, ya know? Especially Tori," Shane teased.
Hunter laughed out loud. "Dude, when are those two going to get together already?"
"He's your brother. Man, you tell me!" They both laughed as they continued to pace a journey around the lake. "Speaking of, how are you and Cam doing?"
"Good. Real good, I think." Hunter hugged himself across the middle. "He's been really good about this whole invalid thing, you know, letting me do stuff. Not locking me in the infirmary…well, anymore."
"That's cool," Shane sighed. "Man, I cannot wait 'til you get back."
"What did Dustin say? You need a sacrifice to throw before Cam?"
"Something like that, dude. He's brutal!"
"I'll do what I can. Got to earn my keep somehow" Hunter promised.
Shane stopped him abruptly, by grabbing his arm. Hunter must be feeling better, Shane noted, because he didn't wince that time and Shane hadn't remembered to be gentle. "No debt man. I mean it." He released Hunter's arm. "We want you here, anyway we can have you here, ok?"
"Ok." Hunter turned around to look back in the direction of Ops, but not before Shane saw the confusion lurking in Hunter's eyes. "We should probably get back."
"Yeah, Cam hasn't beat me up yet today." Shane's steps were slow following Hunter's. "Joy."
"You know he isn't that bad. You just have to know what the tricks are to dealing with him."
Shane's smile was as predatory as his zord's. "Do tell."
They spent the rest of the walk back discussing strategies for taking Cam down a notch. When they finally made it back to the practice room, all four of their friends were resting on the floor by the benches. "Where were you guys?"
"Plotting your demise," Shane answered. "Ready to go again Cam?"
Cam looked suspiciously from Hunter to Shane and back, and decided discretion was the better part of valor. "I think I'll sit this one out. Thanks."
Hunter fell down between Blake and Cam, leaning in to the sweaty samurai. Cam, seeing the confusion still clouding Hunter's gaze, hooked one arm over his shoulders, despite his no PDAs rule. "You ok?"
Hunter shrugged and smiled as if to say he was ok as he would ever be. Cam smiled back, planting a short kiss on Hunter's lips. Hunter followed him when he tried to pull away, so Cam was forced to turn his head away to end the kiss.
Hunter dropped his head on Cam's shoulder and groaned. "When I get the all clear, are you going to stop kissing me like you're my grandmother?"
Blake shot up from the ground. He motioned hurriedly to Shane. "Come on, I'll spar with you."
Tori and Cam shared a laugh over Hunter's head, despite the blush spreading over Cam's face. Tori hoped that meant the talk with Shane had helped. She sighed in relief as Hunter continued to demand a real kiss and turned to watch Blake when Cam finally decided to grant him one.
Hunter glanced up when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and sighed when he discovered it was only his imagination playing tricks on him again. Lately he'd been seeing streaks of light at the corners of his vision. Cam had slapped him on the back, told him it was normal. That last jolt, Cam had teased, must have opened his perceptions to allow him to see the base components of his element. What he was seeing was suppose to be pure energy, surges of electricity too miniscule to be traceable with machinery. Cam was happy enough about it, but Hunter was getting annoyed. He kept turning to look at nothing, especially today when he was worried about being caught at something he shouldn't be doing.
Slowly he extended an arm out in to the first position of a slow kata. Despite what Cam or his brother might say to the contrary, he was trying to take things easy. This kata was normally used as a warm-up; today, he had needed a warm-up before doing this. Hunter sighed as he stopped to shake out a cramp in his arm. He would be glad when he was up to snuff again; this feeling of being weak and dependent was getting to be old quick. That was why he was in here taking a half hour to do an exercise that normally only took him five minutes.
But after another cramp seized up the muscles in his right arm, he finally had to give up the cause as lost. He grabbed the towel he had brought with and headed to the kitchen for some water.
When he opened the cupboards for a glass, he was surprised to see the three kinds of cereal on the top shelf. Cam only ever ate Raisin Brand, but the Captain Crunch was Blake's and the box of Rice Krispies was his. He touched the box of Captain Crunch thoughtfully. He looked out the door leading in to the main room and noticed the video game was still hooked up to the main console (which was being used less and less for its intended purpose now that Lothor was gone). If he could close his eyes, he would remember seeing a place on the wall of the practice arena for his bo, even though Cam had long preferred the katana. It was something like what Blake and Hunter's mother would have done.
He swallowed convulsively and quickly moved back toward the sink. He turned the water on as cold as it would go and used it to wipe his face off with. Drying his face off with a hand towel, he thought about the boxes under his bed and the ones he would be sure to find under Blake's. When he was worried or under stress, Hunter tended to sleep walk and when he sleepwalked he tended to pilfer dry goods from the kitchen and hide them for later. His adopted parents had tried to break him of the habit, because it had been especially bad that first year with them (it had taken forever to get rid of the ant infestation problem), but they had never really understood what was causing it. How could Hunter explain that he was waiting for the time when they would leave him too? He had known from an early age that he would have to take care of himself, because he was the only one who would; stockpiling food was just part of that mentality. He still did it occasionally. He should probably clean the boxes out before Blake noticed. Although if Blake was worried enough to sic Dustin, Cam, and Shane on him, he may have already noticed. Hunter shook his head in resignation. First things first, he would need to clean up the mess. Then he could figure out how to talk to Blake about this.
Hunter had slowing been improving. He was almost up to ninja speed during streaks, but he didn't dare touch his element yet. He was still too shaky at times to even consider calling up the lightening again. He was back at work though, at Storm Chargers. Kelly was happy to regain her two favorite stock boys.
Dustin, Blake, and Hunter were actually walking back from work, when a storm started to blow up. As they climbed the hills to Ninja Ops, they could see the lightening charging in over the harbor. Blake seemed to dance with excitement. It was rare that the Thunder ninjas had direct contact with their elements like Dustin and the others did. His element sang to him as the storm rushed towards them.
Hunter on the other hand seemed to shrink in on himself. He kept sending glances over his shoulder to gauge the distance between them and the storm. Then he would start to walk even faster. Blake and Dustin, being shorter, almost had to run to stay with him. Even then, the others were still a dozen feet behind, when the lightening hit Hunter.
Hunter seemed to stand taller for a moment and then he was flung back at their feet. His clothing was charred and a faint smell of smoke and ionized air drifted off of his uniform.
"Hunter?" Dustin grabbed his arm without thinking and was promptly thrown backwards by an electric surge from the unconscious ninja's body. He rolled to a stop underneath an elm tree at the corner of the clearing they'd stopped in.
The discharge of energy seemed to help. Hunter was soon groaning as he tried to open his eyes. "Dustin? Blake?"
"Hunter lay still" Blake commanded, trying not to grab his brother. "I've got to go check on Dustin." Blake flinched as a bolt of crimson lightening hit the ground at his feet. "Bro, try to reign it in, ok?"
"Sorry" Hunter choked, trying to swallow around a dry, tight throat. "Did I hurt Dustin?"
"Dustin will be fine."
"You so didn't answer the question."
"I've gotta go check on him. Stay put."
"Yeah bro?" Blake turned around in impatience. "What do you need?"
"Get him away from here. Now!" Hunter's body erupted in sparks. Some flew into the ground and disappeared. Still others leaped into the air around him like sparklers on the Fourth of July. It was rare that Hunter ever lost his control to this degree, but then Hunter had only been hit by lightening one other time. The only way he'd been able to control that outburst was to turn the element back on himself. This time Dustin might be able ground him to the earth, but Dustin was hurt and Blake was moving towards him instead of away with their friend.
Hunter closed his eyes and took as deep a breath as he could manage. He knew how much this was going to hurt. He tried to prepare himself for the onslaught in the little time he had to pull this stunt off before Blake interfered. He took one more deep breath, releasing slowly. He looked to his brother and was surprised to find him closer than he expected. He needed to do this now. Hunter quickly tucked his hands into his armpits and then ducked his head to his chest. The movement completed the electrical circuit his body had become. As a consequence, no more sparks were being thrown off, but all that force was focused on his still recovering flesh. He hoped he wouldn't be conscious too long.
A frantic Dustin and Blake streaked back to Ops with Hunter's body between them. The storm had interfered with communications so there had been no way to contact Cam or the others. The boys had had to carry Hunter back and that was after they had got him breathing again.
"Cam!" Blake's voice cracked on the shout. "Get out here now!"
Cam was there in the next instant. The moment he saw Hunter strung up between his two friends, he was at their side. "What happened?"
"Can you help him?" Blake motioned for Dustin to let go, so that Cam could help move him the rest of the way. Dustin gladly folded to the ground. "He got hit by lightening. Cam, he wasn't breathing."
Cam's hands were shaking, making him struggle to hold up his end of Hunter. He didn't want to think about what could have happened to Hunter, what could still happen to Hunter, because of a stupid storm. Together, he and Blake managed to move Hunter in to the infirmary and in to the Med-chair. He was going to engrave Hunter's name on it after this; he spent enough time in the dumb thing.
Hunter's pulse was thready when Cam took it and his blood pressure wasn't much better. When Cam paused to question what information he was receiving, his hands found their way in to his hair, twisting in frustration. He turned to Blake, "Did something else happen? Being struck by lightening shouldn't be causing this level of damage."
Blake kicked the wall, muttering swear words in Chinese under his breath. "The same thing that happened the last time Hunter got struck by lightening. He basically electrocuted himself twice."
"He did this before? As in he knew what was going to happen and decided that this would be a really smart thing to do again!" Cam was screaming by the time he finished. He had known the Bradley brothers were a suicidal lot, but usually it was only for a good cause. A good cause. "Blake, why the hell would he do something like that?"
"He thought he was being noble." Blake kicked the wall again for good measure. "Hunter's electrocuted other people when his powers got out of control. Turning it on himself is the surest way he's found to prevent that from happening." Blake reached down to twine his fingers with his brother's. "When he found out he'd hurt Dustin, he musta figured it was the only thing he could do. The bastard looked me in the face, knew I was gonna try to stop him, and he still did it." Blake blinked suspicious wetness out of his eyes. "Bro, we are going to hafta talk about this hero complex you're working."
Cam smiled tiredly. "Would you mind going to get Dustin? I think we left him in the control room." Cam reached for a nearby blanket and pulled it up over Hunter's body to keep him warm. "I should probably check him out too," he told Blake as he tucked Hunter in.
Blake nodded in agreement, before squeezing Hunter's captured hand, then dropping it. He looked back over his shoulder, at Hunter on the chair, at Cam hovering nearby, and smiled to himself.
Cam found he had to sit down or risk falling down. He fought the tears that Blake's presence had kept at bay. Cam leaned over Hunter's poor, abused body to lay his head on Hunter's chest. He needed to feel that heart beat and to hear those lungs fill. He buried his face in Hunter's crimson, long sleeved T-shirt and concentrated on taking deep breaths, filling his own lungs with Hunter's scent. "You smell like motor oil," Cam muttered, "And sweat, and oranges. You always smell like oranges." Cam's hands gripped the bottom of Hunter's shirt. "You always smell like oranges." He lost the battle then; he wept until he couldn't breath anymore.
When Hunter finally woke up, it was two days later. He felt as if he had lost a battle with that Boppin' Bop'a'Roo monster; every inch of him seemed bruised and stretched out. It made him seriously reconsider just rolling over and going back to sleep. Unfortunately two things stopped him: the quiet snoring next to him and an overwhelming need to pee. Carefully he opened his eyes to see who was snoring. Cam, good to know. He closed his eyes again, took a deep breath in anticipation, and sat up. He slowly breathed out. Yeah, that had hurt every bit as much as he had thought it would. The slight tug on his arm let Hunter know that Cam had put in another IV while he was asleep. He grabbed the IV stand and wheeled it with him into the bathroom. Actually the stand came in handy, since he wasn't very steady on his feet; it gave him something to lean on. When he came back out, he noticed Cam awake and waiting for him.
Cam looked tired. He had those big, bruised bags under his eyes that he usually only got when he was up all night coding. Hunter realized he must have been out of it longer than he thought. He also realized that Cam looked slightly murderous. "What's up Doc?" Maybe, if he looked pathetic enough, he could avoid the lecture until after he was lying down.
"You apparently. Awake I see."
"Just for a bit." Hunter planted himself on the Med-chair as quickly as he could. Cam wouldn't argue with him when he was resting, right? He was concentrating so hard on seeming harmless that he didn't notice Cam moving, until he had an armful of Cam in his lap.
Cam grabbed Hunter hard around the waist, making the other man gasp in pain. "I'm sorry." Cam quickly released him and started to straighten.
"Don't be, Cam," Hunter replied, pulling Cam's arms back around his waist. "Just a little sore, 's all."
Cam gratefully sank back in to Hunter's embrace. "You might have actually had me worried for a moment." Reaching up to plant kisses on the skin just above Hunter's collar, he silently took a deep breath of that orange smell. "Why do you always smell like oranges?" Cam murmured.
Hunter smiled to himself. "What?"
"Nothing" Cam mumbled between kisses. "Y'know I love you, right?"
"Yeah. Ditto too." Hunter laid his cheek against the cap of silky dark hair tucked under his chin.
Cam pulled away slightly to shake his head. "'Ditto', what a romantic you are." He smiled and then kissed Hunter softly on the lips. When he finally pulled away, it was to rest his forehead against Hunter's. "Blake will want to see you. Want me to let you sleep a bit before I tell him?"
Hunter yawned, his jaw cracking. "Naw, I've slept a few hours. I can hold out for a few minutes."
Cam tucked his head back under Hunter's chin. "It wasn't a few hours, it was two days."
Hunter hugged Cam tighter out of instinct. No wonder he had hurt so badly; he did not look forward to hearing the run down of his injuries. He thought about asking Cam to wait to tell Blake after all. He remembered the look on Blake's face, just before he passed out. He was in no hurry to get reamed out by his baby brother too, although Cam had been going pretty easy on him so far.
"I don't want to know, do I?"
"I'll go get Blake. Try to stay awake 'til then, ok?"
Hunter nodded mutely in reply and reluctantly released his hold on Cam. He tried very hard not to think about anything while he waited for his brother.
"Hey bro. Finally awake I see," Blake announced as he popped his head through the Infirmary doorway. "Cam said to make this quick."
Hunter stayed seated, with shoulders hunched forward and arms curled protectively over his middle. "Yeah, he thinks I should sleep some more. Guess he thinks I'm easier to deal with comatose."
"You are." Blake stole a chair from the other side of the room and straddled it from behind. The steady glare he gave his brother was something Hunter was trying his best to ignore by staring at the floor. "That was a really stupid thing you did bro."
"I had to," Hunter shrugged.
"No, you didn't. If you'd have waited ten more seconds, Dustin would have been awake enough to help you."
Hunter shook his head vehemently in denial. "How was I suppose to know that? You wouldn't even tell me that I hurt him, much less how bad off he was."
Blake grabbed Hunter's elbow and shook him gently. "Hunter, you aren't expendable, all right? Next time something like this happens, you find another way to deal with it."
"You sure about that?" Hunter muttered, trying to shrug off Blake's hand on his elbow. It was a testament to how weakened Hunter was that Blake was easily able to maintain his grip. He used it to shake his brother again.
"I know that. We've got family here now. I don't think any of the Winds would thank you for sacrificing yourself to save them. And I would never forgive you."
There was a significant pause as Hunter struggled not to say it. "We had family at the Thunder Academy too." There was a significant pause before he finally ground out, "And before that."
Blake was ready to slap Hunter. Enough was enough. "Real family doesn't make you choose between people you love. If they didn't trust us enough to make our own decisions, than they certainly didn't love us. We're better off, bro." Blake paused for a breath. "Besides, we need somebody watching our backs. I know you try, but you can't do everything. I can't do everything. The both of us, we're still kids, Hunter. We can't handle all of this on our own." The hand holding Hunter relaxed, rubbing his arm instead. "Would you look at me, Hunter?"
Reluctantly, Hunter moved to look Blake in the eye. Both he and his brother's eyes were suspiciously red-rimmed, but still dry. "Don't," Blake swallowed, then tried again. "Don't ever do something like that again, ok?"
"I'll try out other options first," Hunter promised.
Blake smiled in defeat. "I guess that's all I'm going to get." He reached over and gave his brother as gentle a hug as he could manage. He remembered the last time Hunter did this. His bro's nerves had been sore for days; it had hurt him to have people touch him. Hunter tensed a little, but allowed the hug. "I know you don't think you're worth it, but you have to take care of yourself," Blake whispered. "You have to, for your family's sake."
Hunter only nodded in reply. Satisfied, Blake let him go and headed for the door. He turned to look back, concerned, when he heard the soft sighing breaths coming from the Med-chair. He saw Hunter's hands biting deeply in to the chair's padding, his head bowed, and his chest heaving for breath. It took him a moment to realize Hunter was struggling not to cry. Blake quickly backed out the door the rest of the way. Hunter wouldn't appreciate anyone seeing him like this. Blake decided to stand guard for a few minutes, before going to get Cam. It would give Hunter a chance to regain his self-control.
As a group they were giving Dustin and Shane a hard time about being the only two unattached teachers in their little enclave. Hunter was curled up in several blankets and laying with his head in Cam's lap. He was still prone to extended bouts of exhaustion; some days he would only be up for a few hours before he wandered back to bed. Cam was laughing as he stroked Hunter's hair. He was trying to help Hunter forget about the latest headache that had pole-axed him.
Blake was quick to point out, "You two guys are the only bachelors in this group. You know what that means…"
Dustin shook his head vehemently. "No way dude, just because we're the last men standing, no way are we going to start macking on each other. Sorry, not going to happen."
Blake nearly choked he was laughing so hard. Tori was desperately trying not to laugh and, as a consequence, her face had turned a nice cherry tomato color. Shane just shook his head in resignation. "You had to go there, didn't you?"
Dustin sputtered, trying to defend himself, but it was a lost cause. Hunter was quick to point out, "Isn't it some unspoken comic book rule that rangers only date other rangers?"
Both Dustin and Shane blushed at that. Each looked at the other as if to size the other up. Shane was the first to break the standstill. A truly evil grin spread across his face, while at the same time, he spread his arms wide and puckered his lips. "Come give us a kiss, baaaabeee," which was difficult for him to get out between the puckered lips and the fact that he was almost doubled over with laughter.
Dustin looked at Shane as if he had just grown a third and a fourth head, before he realized the joke was on him. Dustin, who was always good about giving as good as he got, decided to play along. "Shane, you burning hunk of man-love. C'mere," and tackled Shane to the ground. They rolled around for a moment for the effect. Their teammates were nearly in tears.
There was some confusion later about who started the chant, but most signs pointed to Tori, or maybe Blake. Either way, soon everyone was chanting, "Kiss him, kiss him."
Shane folded his hands over his chest, "I dare you."
Dustin shrugged and promptly proceeding to kiss the living daylights out of the older boy. Shane's arms flailed crazily while he attempted to regain his balance, then finally settled on Dustin's shoulders. Dustin cut the kiss off abruptly, smiling up in to Shane's face at the dare he had just won. Shane blinked at him. His mind was still muddled by the kiss. Dustin slapped him on the arm and then prepared to return to his seat. That was until Shane grabbed him by the back of the head and used it to propel him in to another kiss. This kiss was greeted with absolute silence.
Hunter blinked slowly from his place in Cam's lap. "Congratulations Blake." He yawned. "You're our token straight guy."