Disclaimer: Don't own anything you recognize.
Author's Note: Well, this has been in the works for a few months. I just now finished it and decided to share with the world. Honest opinions are appreciated -- good, bad or indifferent, doesn't matter to me. This is a one-shot. Details are fuzzy and will remain so for all eternity. You can fill in the blanks on the details of what happened yourself. So, on with the story! Enjoy! (Or not, really, it's up to you.)
Dedication: For Pink-Green-White-4Ever and BloomingViolets. Thanks for being cheerleaders about my writing, for the entertaining IM conversations and for being awesome writers yourselves! Also, thanks for being the test audience for this piece!
A FOOL'S HOPE
By Etcetera Kit
There never was much hope—only a fool's hope.
Time… it seemed like such a simple thing, so easy to define, to place into a box and to forget about. For most of his life, he had assumed time was on his side, unconsciously, of course, but still on his side. He was young, just starting a promising career, engaged to the perfect woman. Had he really forgotten his father? His father had all the same things and had been ripped away from his family in a cruel twist of fate. He should have been more careful. He should have remembered. He shouldn't have been afraid to live.
That truth seeped into his consciousness like a dark cloud. For so long, he had been afraid to live. Life had been about joining SPD and working steadily to become the next Red Ranger. There were no variations—everything was set, planned and executed. Even when he had been friends with Dru, nights out on the town were rare. Rarer still were the times that he actually enjoyed himself—got into the movie they were going to see, ordered something that wasn't compulsively healthy at a restaurant, did anything the least little bit outside of what people expected of him. Even cadets and officers at SPD had to have a life, to live, but he had just assumed that life was one of duty, discipline and honor.
Until he met her…
His entire outlook changed the moment he met Syd. The petite blonde assigned to his squad, wanting to prove herself, but used to getting everything handed to her on a silver platter… he hadn't known what to make of her. She also proved to be made of tougher stuff than she appeared. Off duty, she whined about fluorescent lighting, breaking her nails, how her hair was falling flat… but never on duty. He still had the scars from the sparring match that ended in her using her nails to clinch her victory. For a long time, he hadn't been able to figure her out—nothing she did made sense.
He was not a stupid person. His training at SPD told him that the situation was dire. His ship had gone light-years off course—the search parties that would be sent would never be able to locate him. Bridge would not be able to sense him with his powers. Eventually, with no ship and no body, he would be declared missing in action—not dead, not yet. This planet had a thin atmosphere. His oxygen and food were running out. He would not last much longer. The ship was not flyable and the communications system had been damaged in the crash.
Hissing as he tried to move into a more comfortable position, he studied his right leg. It had been mangled in the crash. He had tried to splint it, but knew his only real hope was the regenerators in the SPD clinic. Much longer here and the leg would have to be amputated. For the first few days, the pain had been unbearable. Now, the pain only resurfaced when he tried to move. His ranger powers gave him a little extra healing, but the injury was too serious.
Everyone would move on. Their wedding was soon… the event would be cancelled and replaced with a funeral. Syd would mourn—probably for a long time—but she would move on, find someone else, and continue her life. His mother was used to loss… she, too, would cope and continue living. SPD would wait a period of time out of respect, but someone else would be appointed to Red Ranger. He would remain a name on a dusty plaque in a glass case—becoming nothing more than a distant memory.
But there was one crucial item.
He had not given up on himself yet.
Hissing as he dragged his bad leg behind him, he made his way to the cargo hold of the ship. There had to be something that was not damaged that would allow him to send out an SOS signal. Someone would find him. There was still hope. It might have been foolish, but it was his one chance—and he was going to take it.
With renewed purpose, he ignored the pain and set to work.
"He's gone, Sydney. You need to start letting him go."
"How can you say that? He's missing in action! He could be anywhere!"
"There was no energy signal from his ship."
"Because he knows how to mask it—basic pilot training!"
"Sydney, he's missing. He's probably not going to come back."
"Fine. Give up! I'm not."
Sydney Drew let out a long breath, staring at the paperwork in front of her. Her heated conversation with Jack had been the result of several people badgering him. He hadn't wanted to argue with her—hell, he probably hadn't even wanted to try to convince her that Sky was actually dead. He was just as broken up about this in his own way. But no… Cruger let her continue to work because she insisted upon it. The commander had asked her to take some time off to re-center herself, to mourn… there was nothing to mourn about. Sky was missing in action—he was not dead. Soon enough he'd get together an SOS signal and Cruger would have to send someone and then he would be home.
Unfortunately, that was taking longer and longer.
She toyed with her pen and the edge of an operating report, feeling listless, despite the mass amount of work she could have been doing. She had almost let the cadets in one of her training sessions out early, but then decided against it. Sky rarely let the cadets out of class early, unless he had to get home because they were going on a date. Sky was God only knows where, so she kept them the whole time—that simulator run had been perfect the last time they ran through it.
He always had a clear division between home and work. He never brought work home unless he absolutely had to—times when their paperwork load exceeded the hours allotted in their shifts. Even then, he did the work early in the morning, before she woke up and was always back in bed when she did. The man was exceedingly bizarre—but those quirks were endearing, as if he were trying too hard to keep SPD from becoming his life again.
She let out another long breath, knowing that she wasn't going to get any work done today and she'd have to bring the work home with her.
She looked up, grateful for the distraction. Bridge was standing just inside the door to the office. The room was really a collective office that the B-Squad shared. There were two desks, a couple of filing cabinets and a water cooler. Order and organization had been in place before Sky… she let that thought trail off. Bridge had been filling in for Sky and the strain was showing. He didn't mind being Blue Ranger, but Red? The former Green Ranger was slowly drowning, in over his head.
"What's up?" she asked.
"You can go ahead and get out of here. Z and I will clean up this mess."
Translated, that meant Kat was going to help them organize things so that they could even begin to think about starting the paperwork. She nodded slowly, standing up. The promotions had come slowly over the years, but they had come. Z was the B-Squad Green Ranger, while Syd had stepped up to Yellow. No one's uniform colors were different now that Sky was missing in action, but it was only a matter of time.
"Syd," Bridge said softly, catching her arm as she headed for the door. His blue eyes were filled with pain and another emotion she couldn't quite identify. "He's not gone. I can still feel him out there, somewhere."
"Thank you," she whispered, meaning the words. If Bridge could still feel him, then there was a light at the end of the tunnel. An intuition from their current Blue Ranger would not be enough for Cruger, but it was enough for her. For now.
The apartment was dark and empty when she got there. The routine of entering, hanging her jacket on the coat rack and throwing her keys on the small table was so ingrained and familiar, yet so alien. Sky's coat wasn't there any longer nor was his keys. All of that had been on him when the shuttle crashed. She let out a long breath and moved into the bedroom, noting with some misery that it had taken them forever to agree on a decorating scheme.
Sky had wanted this place because of its close proximity to SPD—within walking distance. The bedroom and living room windows looked out across the front lawn of the building. Syd had agreed because of the spacious rooms and reasonable rent. Her father had given them a loan—gift—to buy furniture and decorate. The furniture was in wood tones or neutrals, but Syd had saved the color for the accents. The curtains were dark blue… the throw pillows were dark pink with lighter pink flowers. Sky's things were still in the bedroom—no one had been by to talk her into packing them up. Sure, her parents, his mother… no… no one knew what to think of this, how to handle it. He was missing in action. Not dead. Never…
She went to the window, pressing her head against the cool pane as she stared into the inky night. Her left hand rested on the glass. Her engagement ring… wedding ring… white gold with paraiba and rubellite tourmaline. At least that's what he had explained it was—all in a one-breath hurry—during her silence after his initial proposal. He had actually thought for a moment that she would say no… So paranoid, so Sky…
He didn't know about the house her father had bought for them as a wedding present. It was on the outskirts of town—close enough to civilization that she wouldn't feel isolated, but far enough out that he wouldn't be claustrophobic. That was her father—he thought things through and did them right. The house had large room, high ceilings, a spacious backyard and full whirlpool tub in the master bathroom. The place was perfect, where they could build a home, a family… all of that seemed like a distant haze.
"I want you home," she whispered to the night.
No one answered… no one would.
But he wasn't gone.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Syd stared at Z as the former Yellow Ranger dropped a box on the floor. The thud echoed ominously through the empty house. The place felt and looked too big with no furniture or curtains, but she needed to get away. This was the only place that was close, yet would provide her sanctuary from SPD.
"I don't want to be around for that memorial service," she replied flatly.
Cruger had decided to organize a memorial service for Sky, seemingly ignoring the simple fact that Sky was MIA and not dead. There was no proof of his death and he would be considered alive for a requisite number of years. She did not want to take place in that macabre dance. He was alive—Bridge knew it. But Bridge was gone on a mission to KO 35 and, without their de facto Red Ranger, there was no one to temper Cruger's decision. The commander was just convinced that she was grieving and not thinking correctly.
"I know," Z whispered.
"Bridge knows he's alive."
"I know," she repeated. "Do you need help unpacking?"
Syd shook her head. "I'll be fine."
"I can stop by the grocery store if you need—"
"I'll be fine," Syd interrupted her. "Z, please, I know that you all mean well, but I just want to be left alone."
Z nodded slowly. "All right, but if you need anything—"
"—I'll call you." Syd forced herself to smile. "I know."
A few minutes later, Syd watched Z pulled the beat-up, forest green jeep out of the driveway and back onto the street. The car was Bridge's and worked intermittently, but the owner let Z borrow it all the time. Bridge tended to trust everyone, but Sky… he had trusted a select few and, with something like his car, would have trusted one, perhaps two, other people. She let out a long breath, her gaze straying to the pile of boxes, suitcases and bedding that was in the front hall. The blue duffel bag caught her gaze from its hiding spot under the multiple comforters and pillows.
So, it was ridiculous that she had packed some of Sky's things and brought them along. The apartment was still open, just locked, and contained the rest of her belongings and Sky's. She couldn't bring herself to pack up his things. He was still alive, but her hopes of him returning quickly had been diminished.
With a sigh, she began to lug the boxes and bags to the places they needed to be. In record time, it seemed, she had the air mattress set up in the master bedroom. The sun was setting and the golden rays reflected over the highly polished wooden floor. The master bath had a full-sized whirpool and large shower… Sky would have blushed at the possibilities, but would have taken full advantage of them once they were alone.
Their wedding had been scheduled for soon. Her mother and Sky's were taking care of canceling the various venues, caterers, florists and tailors. Her wedding gown was amongst the pile of boxes and bags. No one could make her sell or get rid of that. She had dragged Z to so many stores and the former Yellow Ranger had complained loudly about it. She hadn't wanted to be dragged to girly stores, but their perseverance paid off. And now…
A tear slipped down her cheek as she sank onto the air mattress. "Sky," she whispered. "Please I can't do this without you. And it's not just the wedding… it's everything." She wiped at the continuing tears.
He had to be alive. He just had to be.
"I won't make you go through with the big wedding," she cried, sobs wracked her chest and closing up her throat. "I promise… we can just have a small wedding."
Tears splashed onto the comforter.
"I'm sorry… I'm sorry."
And she couldn't even say what she was sorry for.
He was dozing. His oxygen tanks had run out the previous day and he felt like he was floating. The rations and water were gone… that bothered him in a remote sense. He knew that without rations or water, he'd die. That was something he didn't want to happen, but he also did not have the energy or strength to forage on this planet. The SOS signal had been set up and draining the last of the reserve power cells on his ship. Hope… there was some. Perhaps someone at SPD would get the signal and investigate.
No, someone had to. Policy made them check out all signals.
Minutes, hours passed as he dozed again. He couldn't feel his injured leg and the numbness seemed to be spreading to his fingers and toes. He hadn't injured his back… he knew that much before all this drowsiness set in.
Oh God, he was hallucinating now. He actually thought that Bridge was here, feeling for a pulse and shoving an oxygen mask over his face. Suddenly, fresh, pure oxygen poured into his lungs. He blinked, the swimming in his head clearing some. Bridge's face came into focus. His best friend and the other members of a team were all wearing oxygen masks. One person came rushing forward with a med kit and Bridge was yelling orders for someone to get the stretcher from their shuttle.
"Does this hurt?"
Bridge pinched his arm—hard. "Fuck, yes!"
"You're cranky—that's a good sign."
The team member came in with a stretcher and the person with the med kit descended upon him. Fingers were prodding him, checking for other broken bones. "Wiggle your fingers," someone commanded. He vaguely recognized the medic from around SPD, but was fairly certain he'd never been on a mission with her. He obeyed, wiggling his fingers. After a few more minutes of moving the body parts she commanded him to, she pronounced that just his leg was mangled. Sky let out a long breath. He could have told her that.
"We have to get back to SPD, stat!" she called to the team. "I need to get the leg in a regenerator now!"
He was moved to the stretcher, screaming in pain as the splinted leg was jarred. "Stop being such a baby," Bridge snapped. "You're lucky we found you." Underneath the sharp words, Sky could hear the relief. The only reason the former Green Ranger was lashing out was because he had been worried beyond belief. For the first time, Sky felt himself relax as their shuttle took off and the medic opened a communication channel with SPD Earth. He heard Kat's familiar voice giving instructions to the medic and the personnel back on Earth.
He felt himself begin to doze off.
Soon, Syd, he thought. Soon…
She felt entirely too warm and comfortable for being on an air mattress on the floor. The sun must have been shining directly on her. She'd have to move the mattress to compensate for that in coming mornings. Oh well… the memorial service was today. A sick feeling settled in her stomach when she thought about that. He was not dead. He wasn't! She balled her fist into her pillow. She couldn't believe that Cruger was doing this.
The phone rang. She had set up a line in here. Deciding to ignore the phone, she buried her face into her pillow, wondering why the comforter felt so heavy around her waist. The phone stopped ringing and the answering machine picked it up.
"Syd, it's Bridge," her best friend's voice came over the machine. "Cruger's canceled the memorial service, just so you know. Oh—and have fun. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, hey, what?" There was some fumbling in the background as the phone was taken from Bridge. "Hey, Z here," Z's voice came. "I just want to say, use a condom. You don't know where he's been." There was some more fighting over the phone, before someone hung it up.
"That's pleasant," a male voice said, rumbling in the chest that was against her back.
Syd did the only thing that seemed sensible—she screamed, flinging the blankets off and rolling off the mattress and across the floor. Once she was several feet from the air mattress, she was able to identify where the voice had come from. Sky… Sky was lying on half the mattress, the half he normally would have been. He looked like death warmed over, his skin was pale and he had lost weight, but he was clean shaven and looked like he was showered recently. Her flight had pulled the comforter off both of them and he had an ace bandage around his right knee. What the…
Then it clicked. Sky. He was alive and he was in her bed.
"Oh my God," she breathed. "Why didn't you wake me up?" she shrieked, flying into the bed and wrapping her arms around his neck, holding him tightly to her.
"Because you looked really peaceful," he whispered. "I missed you too."
"You couldn't even wake me up?" She held him away, one hand stroking his cheek. "You are such a weird man!"
Before she knew it, her lips met his in a passionate, fiery kiss that she felt from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. Sky was alive and he was home where he belonged. She had told Bridge and Z where the extra key to the house was, so he would have known that. Questions tumbled through her head starting with what had happened and how he got back, when he had gotten back… but all of those questions fled as he broke the kiss, resting his forehead against hers.
A sob bubbled up in the back of her throat, followed by another. "I'm sorry," she said, her shoulders shaking.
"For what?" he asked, looking genuinely baffled.
"I don't know."
"Syd," he whispered. "If anyone should be sorry, it's me—"
"Don't start," she commanded, punctuating it with a hiccup. "You are perfect just the way you are and we both know that."
"So are you," he whispered.
Hours later, she watched him limping around their room, favoring his left leg. He had explained that the leg had been mangled in the crash and the medics wanted to see him for physical therapy so that the leg became completely usable again. "At least they didn't amputate it," he had said seriously.
"This is a nice staircase," he called from the hall.
Smiling, Syd got up, wrapping her bathrobe around herself and joining him. He looked so much like a little boy, standing there in just a pair of boxers, looking at the banister in interest. "My father picked this place out," she replied. "Only the best."
The next thing she knew, Sky had swung himself onto the banister, sliding down it and landing on his rear at the bottom of the stairs. He was laughing so hard that Syd was pretty sure he hadn't hurt himself.
"My mother never let me do that," he said.
"Learning to live?"
"I think so."
"Just don't injure yourself further." Syd came down the stairs. "We almost lost you once and I'm not going to let that happen again."
In the end, their mothers managed to put the wedding back together, but it wasn't the elaborate affair that anyone had imagined. Close friends and family were in attendance and her father paid for their honeymoon. As she looked into his eyes, as he promised never to leave her again, she realized that hope had paid off. After all, she knew Sky much better than freak accidents and strange planets did.