The challenges can be found at Ars Amatoria's Ranger Romance Themes.

Challenge: Duty
Pair: Sky/Z
Disclaimer: Don't own the Power Rangers, not even an action figure.
Timeframe: This fic is set somewhere right before and during S.W.A.T.

Summary: Doggie has concerns.

Commander Anubis "Doggie" Cruger sat in the quiet command center. He was concerned – the Rangers were falling apart and he didn't know what to do about it. The addition of the Omega Ranger to the team had caused some disruption; that was to be expected. Sky and Jack in particular had difficulty adjusting to a new Ranger with powers that exceeded their own. If that had been the only change, perhaps the transition would have been smoother. But the new relationship developing between Cadets Tate and Delgado added a whole new dynamic to the mix, and the results weren't good.

Cruger would have been within his rights to forbid fraternizing between the Rangers, but he saw too much potential good in the relationship to deny either cadet the chance to see where it would take them. Already he could see changes in Sky. The Blue Ranger was a dedicated and focused member of the team, but at times he was so focused he couldn't see any farther than the end of his own nose. Z had begun to bring out a more relaxed, less intense side of Sky; one who considered others before himself. And, as his relationship with Z developed and his awareness expanded outside of himself, Cruger could see him growing in relationships with others as well.

Jack was an outstanding case in point. When Cruger first appointed Jack as Red Ranger Sky was understandably angry. He held his resentment close to his chest and lashed out at Jack often. But after Sky had started dating Z, things with Jack had changed – and not just on Sky's side. Cruger didn't think he had been more proud of Jack than when he offered his Battlizer to Sky in the fight against Merlock. It was a stunning moment, not just for the SPD Rangers, but as a singular event in Ranger history.

As for Z, the budding relationship with Sky was beneficial to her as well. With the resources of SPD at hand Cruger knew far more about Jack and Z's history than the two Rangers had ever voluntarily shared. As a young woman living on the streets Z had encountered violence and cruelty that the original B-squad Rangers would probably never understand; she had learned many harsh lessons about life's reality out there on her own.

Z had been lucky to encounter Jack before she had been taken down a truly dark road; and through him learned there were some men she could trust. What she learned from Sky was different. His actions, more than his words, taught her many things. Sky treated Z with respect, not because he wanted something from her, but because she deserved the respect he gave her. Sky was patient and kind; he never took anything from Z or asked for anything she wasn't willing to give. In fact, he was so reserved, Cruger was certain that when the time came to move the relationship to the next level, Z would be the one to initiate the change. But again, it was to her benefit – allowing her to be the one with the power. It was a stunning display of trust on Sky's part, and Z understood and appreciated the significance of it.

Cruger growled low in his throat as the sound of arguing voices carried from the hallway to his acutely sensitive ears. They were at it again - sniping at each other for no good reason, and seemingly without the ability to stop themselves. As the angry voices traveled down the hallway toward the rec center, Cruger pondered what had driven the Rangers to the point of near collapse. Ironically, the relationship with Sky and Z had not caused the tension one might have expected with Jack; instead, it was the original B-squad trio that was suffering the most.

Cruger was not empathic like Bridge, but his Rangers often forgot the heightened senses his canine race was gifted with. Cruger had the limited ability to sense the emotions of the human Rangers, in much the same way a dog would. Body language and smell told Cruger much of what the Rangers couldn't express for themselves. It was why he understood the tension Syd and Bridge were feeling when their teammates could not.

Syd had spent her whole life as a pampered, spoiled princess. And though her time at SPD, particularly her time served as a Ranger had brought about a less self-centered attitude in the Pink Ranger, some perceptions were hard to change. In her life, Syd had never lacked for anything – anything she needed or wanted had always been provided to her. She was content, or she had been until Z started dating Sky.

It wasn't that Syd was jealous of Z's relationship with Sky in particular. Cruger knew that Syd's feelings toward Sky were those of a sibling or littermate. Syd didn't want Sky for herself, but she wanted someone. It wasn't until Z had a relationship that Syd felt the lack of one in her own life. On the surface, Syd was happy for and supportive of Z and Sky; it was the unacknowledged feelings of jealousy and desire that drove Syd to snipe at Z constantly. Z, for her part, was still insecure in her new relationship, so took the opportunity to fight with Syd as a tension reliever. It didn't make sense, but that's what was happening.

The problem with Bridge and Sky was more subtle, but potentially more damaging. One of the reasons Cruger had originally assigned the B-squad Blue and Green Rangers as roommates was that Sky's emotional stability was something Bridge desperately needed. Bridge was a unique individual, often misunderstood by others. Sky never feared Bridge, or caused him to feel afraid to use his unusual gift. With Sky, Bridge had learned to extend his emotional boundaries in a safe environment.

But with the introduction of Z to Sky's life, the Blue Ranger's emotions were far more volatile. It was harder for Bridge to compensate for Sky's shifting moods – not that he couldn't do it. Cruger had sensed, in the short time that Sky and Z had been pursuing a relationship that Bridge's confidence had grown. He was almost using Sky's shifting emotional state as a test for himself; and he found he could handle it.

What was causing the problem then was this – Sky was working so hard to hold himself apart from Bridge in order to "protect" him, it gave Bridge the impression that Sky didn't think he could handle himself. Sky was playing the protective big brother role too hard, and Bridge had begun to resent it. But just as with the Pink Ranger, the Green Ranger's resentment was so far below the surface that even he hadn't identified it. If Bridge was asked how he felt about Z and Sky dating, his answer would have been positive and supportive.

But the tension between the Rangers was clearly there. In an unusual shift of circumstances, it was Jack who repeatedly tried to intervene when tensions rose between Sky and Bridge. At times he would side with Sky; other times with Bridge. But no matter how the fight started invariably a three-way argument would ensue, and nothing would be resolved.

Voices raised in argument again caught Cruger's attention. He shook his head in dismay. The cadets thought they had the luxury of indulging in their petty squabbles, but he had to make them understand the global view. They were humans – young humans at that – so they naturally saw the world as it revolved around their very specific feelings and needs. But Cruger had to make them see there were much bigger issues at hand. Grumm had to be their focus. If they couldn't work as a team, they would never defeat Grumm. If he caught on to the tension between the Rangers, he could exploit their weaknesses and defeat the defenses of Earth.

Cruger rose to his feet. He would not let that happen. He had shirked his duty too long hoping the Rangers would resolve their problems for themselves. Cruger knew enough to know he did not have the expertise to break the Rangers down and remold them into the effective team they needed to be, but he knew someone who did. It was time to take matters out of the hands of the Rangers and make them understand their duty too.