Disclaimer: The usual. Don't own anything you recognize.
Note: This is the sequel to Kings and Vagabonds. I don't plan on spending much time summarizing what happened in that piece in this one, so some things might be confusing if you haven't read it. As I've said before, I do plan on exploring some of the things briefly mentioned in the prequel to this (and they should be apparent soon.) With that said, this piece will be much lighter than its predecessor! As another side note, the idea of Sky being the child of Wes and Jen did not originate with me. It originiated with White Time Ranger in her story, A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words.
BEHIND THE CLOUDS
By Etcetera Kit
Chapter One: Yellow Roses I
Year 2021 - September
Z read the data pad once more, not quite believing her eyes. The updated list of at-large criminals that the Space Patrol Delta Power Rangers were working on bringing in had just been sent and the new names shocked her, even though they shouldn't have. It hadn't been that long since she had lived on the streets, about a year. It seemed like a lifetime had passed between then and now. Now, she had found her parents, had a boyfriend who loved her, had a job, food, clothes, money – all the things she had been lacking for so long.
She closed her eyes, setting the data pad on her desk. It had been a cold, rainy night. She couldn't have been more than thirteen or fourteen, but even then, she had been on the streets since she was six and was hardened into that rough life. Pain, cold, fear – those were the sensations that were her constant companions. The alley she had gone into was like so many in Newtech City – dirty, dank and filled with the scent of rotting garbage. All she had been looking for was some food that wasn't too moldy. That wasn't what she got.
Two men were in the alley when she got there. Thinking they were nothing more than fellow street-dwellers, she ignored them, shuffling towards one of the trash cans. Their voices, jeering and sarcastic, came back to her.
"Look at the little girl!"
"Want to play with us?"
Oh – even at that young age, she had been used to selling her body for money or food. This was no different than a thousand other encounters. One of the halfway houses she frequented handed out birth control and contraception, so she wasn't worried about anything other than making a few dollars.
"There's a price!"
Even now, that simple statement sounded a lot braver than she had felt. Things happened quickly and she found herself struggling to get out of the back of a car. All of the horror stories that mothers told about being in an alley after dark – this was the epitome of those experiences. Minutes turned to hours and she wasn't sure of anything. Pain and blood… that was all she remembered when they dumped her back in that alley.
Mrs. Mancuso found her and helped her, like she always did. It was before she met Jack, before she learned about the upper crust of street living. As much as Z wanted that incident to be the only of its kind, it wasn't.
Taking a deep breath, Z tried to steady herself, concentrating on her surroundings. The warm September sunlight poured through the window of her and Syd's room. Her kitten, Inkwell, was sleeping on her pillow, curled up next to Bridge's stuffed dinosaur, Olive. Her eyes went to her nightstand and the pictures there. The one in the front was of herself and her parents at Christmas. Her father was on the floor in front of the couch, one of the cats in his lap, while she and her mother were on the couch, all of them smiling.
"I'm Elizabeth Evans," she said aloud. "Delgado was a made-up last name. I'm Z Evans – my parents are Cole and Alyssa Evans. Elizabeth Taylor Evans…"
It was almost sad that she had to tell herself that on a regular basis. SPD had changed so much from when she had joined last fall. They had a new commander, a new A-Squad and a completely new routine. Tomorrow, the new cadets for this fall would arrive. She shook her head, none of the B-Squad was cadets anymore, Doctor Oliver had graduated them.
Glancing at her desk, Z picked up the single long-stemmed yellow rose. The flower was from Bridge, the B-Squad Green Ranger and her boyfriend. He liked to leave her little gifts every so often, just to make her smile. Sighing, she allowed the smile to drift over her face. Bridge had a way of knowing what to do to cheer her up. Of course, it helped that he was psychometric and telepathic, the combination of which allowed him to read psychic residue.
She glanced to the clock. It was almost noon. The official B-Squad lunch hour was from noon to one. Thinking of Mrs. Mancuso, she had a sudden craving for Italian food.
"Hey, Z! Oh – you got the flower!"
Z grinned as Bridge stepped through the open door to her room. His uniform jacket was unzipped and he looked like his general clueless self. The only difference in his appearance from when she met him a year ago was the fact that he no longer wore thick leather gloves to block out the psychometric aspect of his powers.
"Yeah," she whispered. She closed the space between them and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. His hands went to her waist, holding on to the kiss and deepening it. God, she had been so used to being nothing more than a body that sensations Bridge caused were heaven. Gently breaking the kiss, she pressed her forehead against his. "I love you," she murmured.
"I know," he replied with a grin.
"So what's going on?" she asked. "What do you want?"
"Well," Bridge started. "Doctor Oliver wants us to spend the rest of today getting ready for the new cadets." Doctor Oliver was the current commander of SPD on Earth and by us Bridge meant the B-Squad, now in a capacity as resident assistants for the cadets. "And me and Sky and Austin are done."
"Me and Syd are done too."
"So, we've got all the rest of today to ourselves."
Z smiled. Bridge always had a roundabout way of getting to his point. "Want to go out to lunch?" she asked. "I'll buy."
"What did you have in mind?"
"I know a great little Italian place…"
With that, they started on the quest of finding a ride. The restaurant was on the other side of town and Z wasn't looking forward to walking. The SPD vehicles were out of the question since they could only be used for official SPD business—Doctor Oliver was trying to cut down the gas bill. Lunch didn't qualify for that. The only other person on the B-Squad with a car was Sky, which was why Z was so surprised that Bridge appeared with the keys. Sky letting anyone other than himself drive his car?
"I had to promise not to crash into anyone," Bridge said as they headed for the parking garage. "Of course, he said it would be okay if someone crashed into me."
Z shook her head and grinned as they got into Sky's little blue car. His real parents, Wes and Jen, were billionaires and had bought him a new car last winter. Of course, Sky's last car was a junk bucket so he was even more protective of the brand new car. He also downplayed the fact that his parents could get him anything quite often, although, aside from the car, Z knew that Sky had a credit card Wes funded that was for "emergencies." Not that it was going to get any better once Sky's little sister was born.
The drive to the restaurant was quiet, as Bridge was concentrating on driving, more than he would have if he had been driving an SPD vehicle. Soon enough, the familiar storefront came into view and Z was grinning.
"You come here often?" Bridge asked as they got out of the car.
"The lady who owns this place used to give me food when I lived on the streets," she replied softly, pushing open the door. The familiar smells of tomato sauce and warm bread hit her and she inhaled deeply. It had been too long since she came here…
"Elizabeth!" Mrs. Mancuso came from the backroom, her arms open. Z accepted a hug from her, grinning. "How have you been, honey?" the older woman gushed. "I haven't seen you in such a long time! I was beginning to worry." Mrs. Mancuso held her at an arm's length and took in her SPD uniform. "You look like you're doing well." She glanced sharply at Bridge. "And who's your gentleman-friend?"
"Mrs. Mancuso, this is Bridge," she said, linking her arm through Bridge's. Bridge gave her a small wave. "He's my boyfriend," she added.
Mrs. Mancuso gave Bridge a severe look, but there was a twinkle in her eyes. "You've got the best girl in the world, young man. You better take care of her."
"Yes, m'am," Bridge replied seriously.
"Come on," the older woman said with a smile. "You can have a seat by the kitchen. I want to hear all about what's happened to you since I last saw you!"
Mrs. Mancuso sat them in a booth in the back corner of the restaurant. Bridge let out a long breath as they gave her their drink orders and she left. "And I thought your dad was intimidating," he said with a low whistle.
"My dad likes everyone," she retorted. "There's nothing to be afraid of." She paused. "Mrs. Mancuso took care of me when I was on the streets. She's kind of like an overprotective aunt."
"You should bring your parents here. They'd probably want to meet someone who helped you out so much."
Z looked away from Bridge's blue-eyed gaze. He was right. But there was so much she hadn't told her parents about her life on the streets. Oh – they probably had an idea of what she had gone through, but they weren't pushing her for answers. Just as long as they heard from her every two or three days and she came home every so often, they were happy. They wanted her to be happy and bringing up painful memories of her life on the streets, it was too much. That past didn't coincide with her present.
Bridge gently took her hand, understanding her reluctance to talk about it. He knew what had happened to her and he wanted to protect her – he didn't want anything like that to happen to her ever again.
"So what did you guys decide on for a floor theme?" he asked, effectively changing the subject to their RA duties.
"Brian Froud's fairies," Z replied, wrinkling her nose. "It was the only thing that Syd and I could agree on – and the bulletin boards are pink and yellow."
"Ours is comic books," Bridge said. "Bulletin boards are red, blue and green. Austin did this really cool thing with a comic book font for the door signs."
And Bridge was off talking about the art project that had kept the three B-Squad males up until all hours last night. Austin, Syd's older brother, was the current B-Squad Red Ranger and was spastic enough to get along with Bridge and rule-oriented enough to get along with Sky. It was entertaining how he switched modes, depending on who he was dealing with.
Mrs. Mancuso came back with their drinks and food and pulled up a chair. The rest of their lunch was spent relating tales of the B-Squad to Mrs. Mancuso.
Kira Ford glanced at the data pad. It contained her work schedule for the next three weeks. The coming week had a fairly light workload – Tommy was probably giving her a break since he knew that they had a million last minute wedding plans to deal with. The following week she and Conner were off – on a mini-honeymoon of sorts. They were spending a week in New York City. However, none of that bothered her. It was the special assignment that she had a briefing for after getting back to Newtech City.
The current A-Squad Yellow Ranger sighed and pushed her hair behind her ear. There were codes for each of them on the data pads. She was A4. It sounded like a bad role-playing game code, but the A stood for A-Squad and the 4 was code for Yellow Ranger. Of course, she wasn't the only one being briefed for this mission. A5 was the other code. That meant Paris Grayson, Austin's twin and Syd's older sister. She was the current A-Squad Pink Ranger and tended to be in on most undercover assignments, which was probably what this was.
She shouldn't be worried about it. If things went wrong, Paris generally had no problem blasting her way out – and she took more arsenal than she was supposed to. It shouldn't matter – it was just another assignment. She had bigger things to worry about right now, mainly, the wedding plans.
Conner and she were getting married in the SPD Academy chapel in a week. That, in and of itself, should have been exciting. However, she had a headache from organizing all the people involved. Paris had volunteered to be in charge of the florist, caterer and music – not to mention having planned the reception, but that still meant Kira had to deal with the tailors, the guests and the wedding party. The rehearsal dinner was Wednesday… nothing was going to be ready in time. The restaurant for the dinner had already cancelled and Kira was tearing her hair out trying to come up with a last minute replacement.
She put the data pad down and leaned her head in her hands at the kitchen table. Nothing was working out. She had never had to plan a wedding before. Then again, she had never been married. Long term relationships, yes, but marriage, no. The apartment was quiet. The girls, Madeline and Christina, were still in school. They were Conner's daughters from his first ill-fated marriage and were now nine and seven. Of course, Conner had sole custody of them and they didn't see their real mother. The pair had come to her a few weeks ago and announced their intention to start calling her 'mom.' It had made her heart melt.
Now, there was the train wreck that was her wedding.
Her cell phone rang. Kira picked it up and glanced at the caller. It was Paris. Lord, she didn't know if she could take more bad news today. She answered it. "Hello?"
"Kira, good news!" she said without preamble or identifying herself. "I just got off the phone with the tailor and the girls can come in for a final fitting tonight at seven and the boys can go in tomorrow morning before work." There was a pause and a shuffling of papers. "And the florist had given us a wedding discount and I was thinking we could do dinner after the fitting tonight."
"Okay…" she said slowly. At least that wasn't a problem anymore.
"So what's going on?"
"Aside from the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner canceling, nothing."
"What absolute bastards! Give me twenty minutes – I'll find a new place! And if I can't, we can all go to my house and my dad can barbeque for everyone."
She hung up. Kira shook her head and disconnected the call on her phone. It would be entertaining if nothing else to end up in Paris' backyard for the rehearsal dinner. Her father, Carter Grayson, was the cook in their family. Between him and Paris' Uncle Ryan, she had no doubts that the pair of them could come up with enough food for the wedding party and then some. Kira sometimes forgot that Paris was only twenty. She tended to act quite a bit older than her age would dictate. It was part of the reason Tommy had assigned her to the A-Squad.
Having Paris around was nice.
The door to the apartment slid open and Conner entered. Kira turned and gave him a brief smile before going back to the wedding plans on the table. Tonight at seven, she would have to round up Conner's daughters – Madeline was a bridesmaid and Christina was the flower girl and take them to the tailor's. Paris would no doubt round up Syd, her little sister, and Z and get them where they needed to be.
Conner came into the kitchen and pressed a kiss to her cheek before sitting down in the chair next to her. "Is there a reason Paris has been on the phone for the last half hour instead of profiling criminals like she's supposed to be doing?" Her fiancé was the A-Squad Red Ranger and, ordinarily, wouldn't have had a problem with Paris being off-task.
"I asked her to argue with the tailor for me," Kira replied. "And now she's supposed to be looking for a new restaurant for the rehearsal dinner – or we're going to be in her backyard eating barbeque."
"I like that idea," Conner said with a grin. "Beer and barbeque."
"You would," Kira said, rolling her eyes. "You and the rest of the boys have a final fitting tomorrow morning before work."
"That'll be fun," he replied sarcastically. "Seeing as Bridge practically has to be bombed out of bed every morning."
Of the four other men in the wedding party, Bridge would be the hardest to get up in the morning. Sky was almost always up hours before anyone else and Ethan and Trent had learned years ago how to set an alarm clock.
Her phone rang again. It was Paris – again. "I hope she found a restaurant this quickly," Kira muttered as she picked up the phone. "Hello?" she asked.
"Great news," Paris launched into her speech without an introduction first. "I found a new restaurant for the rehearsal dinner – no barbeque in my backyard." There was some shuffling on Paris' end of the phone. "Fine – I didn't find the restaurant. Z found the place. It's on the other side of town and called Little Italy."
"Good," Kira replied. At least that headache was over.
"Since when is Z in the command center with her?" Conner asked. "I left there three minutes ago and she was by herself."
"I heard that," Paris said into the phone. "Tell McKnight he's stupid."
Kira covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "She says you're stupid."
Conner rolled his eyes. He got told once a day by Paris that he was egotistical, stupid and a sexist pig. Sexist pig tended to be the favorite… Kira just shook her head as she listened to Paris rattle off a time frame for the rehearsal dinner and then a timeframe for the fitting and dinner that night. Paris was mostly hot air.
"Oh yeah – and remind McKnight that he has an appointment with my mother tomorrow afternoon to look at his ankle." There was another pause and some shuffling. "No one asked you, Corbett!" Paris snapped.
"Bye Paris!" Kira said quickly, disconnecting the call.
"I'm going to kill her," Conner muttered. "Remind me again why she's in the wedding?"
"Because when she's not boycotting something, insulting someone or rebelling against an institution, she's actually a nice person."
"That's ninety percent of the time," he grumbled.
Kira just shook her head. The A-Squad almost had more personality conflict problems than the B-Squad. Conner was a good leader, but his patience wore thin when he had to deal with Paris and her explosive personality. She smiled to herself – the more interesting aspect was not that of Paris trying to start another counterculture movement, it was Ethan and Trent and what could only be described as their personal agendas.
The pair shared one of the two-bedroom apartments at the academy – and adapted to their roommate status fairly well. Both of them were night owls, but for different reasons. Ethan stayed up all night working on projects in the SPD lab and then continued to tinker on his personal computers for hours. Trent, still having some of the 'artist' attitude, would stay up late drawing.
One of Tommy's latest projects had been to get the higher ranking officers involved in what the cadets did. It was the reason that the B-Squad was now RAs and that Trent would be teaching a drawing class once a week. Conner was trying to start intramural sports – mostly soccer and basketball, although there was a push for the SPD Academy to get a full sports program and have the cadets participate with the other local high schools. Ironically enough, they had the facilities to do most everything except tennis and swimming. He was also trying to get the drama department started again – and Bridge was still plugging away with the academy newspaper.
All in all, the SPD Academy was turning into a bona fide school and not just a place that turned out SPD officers. Sure, that was still the purpose, but the cadets now had a chance to experience the things that made high school what it was. She couldn't imagine high school without sports and school plays and band practice and journalism… Extracurricular activities were where all her fond memories were.
"Tommy's got something for her to do that doesn't involve a boycott," Conner added with a self-satisfied grin.
"What?" Kira asked, rolling her eyes.
"Oh – I'm sure you'll be able to hear the screams of protest on the moon."
"I don't want to know.
And she probably didn't. Maybe Tommy had been a teacher too long to let the academy fester without all these things, but she thought it was a little ambitious to have the SPD Rangers in charge of a lot of it. Yes – they had pushed back the Troovian forces, but that didn't mean their job took on another aspect of being hard. Elite police brought in for dangerous crimes and criminals, undercover missions and impossible to solve mysteries…
"So," she said, changing the subject. "You're on your own tonight because me and the girls have the fitting and then we're going out to dinner.""Yes," Conner grinned. "Beer and barbeque!"
To Be Continued...
Author's Note: Well, I can't promise regular updates with this piece since my schoolwork this semester has been really sporadic, but I will attempt to update once or twice a week. With that said, I'd like honest opinions on this. As a side note, I did start writing a round of romance challenges about Sky and Syd, which I may post (haven't made a decision on that.) Cheers!