Vida closed her bedroom door and locked it, then winced. She never used to lock her door. Her parents were good about knocking first, and Madison had always had a free pass to walk on in whenever she wanted. Since becoming a Ranger, she'd always kept the door locked whenever she was practicing her magic or chatting with Madison or her friends, simply because she couldn't risk her parents walking in on her. Yet this was the first time she'd locked her door not just to keep out her parents, but to keep out her sister.
She turned to regard her room thoughtfully, wincing at the new color scheme. It had originally been done in a lot of black with no real desire to make everything match; the furniture was wood, the walls white, the carpet and curtains black. Her funky collectible items—a monkey statue here, a dragonfly poster there, a large figurine of Jasla, Mistress of the Sword there (gift from Chip; he'd mentioned something about a novel and how the character Jasla reminded him of Vida). Within two weeks of becoming a Ranger, however, the room had been turned pink with magic. (Much to her parents' shock; they'd left for a weekend and come home to find Vida's belongings pink and Madison's blue. Madison had helped Vida play it off as actual paint, dye and hard work.) The funky knickknacks were still there, but they seemed much less noticeable amongst the pink walls, carpet, bedding, curtains…
It seemed like the past was getting lost, replaced by the present, by everything related to their powers. Toby had gotten suspicious and jumpy, Chip had started drinking Mello Yello instead of Dr. Pepper, Xander was eating more green vegetables, Madison made more trips to the beach in a week than she'd made in years, and Vida was struggling not to repaint her beloved car.
She was okay with most of it. The pink still made her squick a bit—not because she didn't like it, but because she did like it—but otherwise, the change didn't bother her. A new habit here, a new friend there. But one thing she was not going to let change was her relationship with Chip. Chip was her best friend, knew her even better than Madison did sometimes. There would be no altering of her friendship. Ever.
She flipped open her morpher and dialed Chip. He answered almost at once. "'Lo?"
"This is not going to become a thing," Vida told him firmly.
"I mean it. It's not."
Still slightly suspicious, Vida decided to drop the subject. "I need your help."
"With what?" Chip asked, his tone casual, a little excited—truly as if nothing had happened.
"With Madison. I've got to help her. I know her, Chip. She won't go out and… and… I don't know, find a guy to end this spell. She's too shy for that.
Chip thought about it for a moment. "I'm thinking blind date."
"That wouldn't work," Vida said, shaking her head. "Madison would smell it coming a mile off. She knows I don't want to wait to the last minute about this. Besides, it needs to be someone she cares about, not a stranger, remember?"
"Hmm." There was another thoughtful pause. "Well… if you want my advice, you need to find someone to get her to like them. Someone who already has a crush on her. You know, like Ben."
Vida shook her head again. "That's a good plan, but Ben wouldn't work. He's too shy; it was hard enough for him to make the first move with Madison the first time. A second time would be beyond him, and she really doesn't seem all that interested in him anymore."
"Well, I could pretend to be madly in love with her so she'd humor me and kiss me out of pity," Chip offered jokingly.
"She wouldn't believe you," Vida said, smiling at his attempt to lighten the mood. Then her eyes widened as realization hit her. "But I might know someone she would believe."
"So… let me get this straight," Xander said slowly. Vida nodded at him impatiently. "Clare tried to do magic, and it went like it always does, and you and Madison got put under a spell. And the only way to break this spell is a passionate kiss."
"Not the only way, but close enough," Vida said, motioning for him to continue. After spending the whole of last night planning, Vida had decided to waylay Xander the following day at work. The five of them had been working for about twenty minutes before Vida had snapped under the suspense and basically dragged Xander into Toby's office to talk.
"So… you just asked Chip to drop by, made out with him for a minute or two, and then you tried to get Madison to make out with him, and she said no, that she wasn't kissing anyone she didn't have romantic feelings for and that she'd never be able to look him in the eye again, blah, blah, blah…"
"Cut to the chase, would you?"
"Right, sorry. So you want me to seduce Madison—"
"Not seduce. Just get her to like her enough that she'll kiss you to break the spell."
"Okay, then. Madison's been affected by one of Clare's backfired spells, and if I don't get her to let me kiss her, then she's doomed to become a frog."
"…Nope, sorry. I'm still stuck back on the part where you made out with Chip."
Vida threw up her hands. "Get over it, would you? It was no big deal. It was Chip, for crying out loud."
"I can't! You made out with Chip! That's something people just don't do! No human, animal or vegetable has ever made out with Chip. You realize that, don't you? I mean, to think that I missed something as record-breaking as you and Chip… hey, did Madison have her camera on?"
"No." Vida glared at him. "Are you going to seduce my sister or what?" she demanded, just as the door opened and Nick walked in.
Xander and Vida jumped and turned to look guiltily at him. He stared at them, eyebrows raised almost to his hairline.
"Okay," Nick said carefully, "there are just some conversations you don't want to walk in on."
"It gets better, mate," Xander said eagerly. "Vida here—"
"Shut the door!" Vida snarled, diving at it. Nick jumped into the office and out of the way as she slammed it shut and spun the lock (Toby had ordered them never to lock it again after that incident with Chip and the chocolate and the raccoon, but Toby's wrath about locking the door—provided he actually found out—would be a lot easier to deal with than Madison's wrath if she found out what they were up to).
"What's going on?" Nick asked suspiciously.
"Do you think anyone heard us?" Vida asked worriedly.
"I think if Madison had heard you, she'd have said something," Nick said dryly. "Besides, she's out front, helping Chip understand why one shouldn't practice flying leaps near delivery trucks. Toby's manning the counter and the only customers are in the back, arguing about Nirvana. Now what are you guys talking about?"
"It's a secret," Vida said uncomfortably.
"What happened to no more secrets, Vi?" Xander asked reproachfully. "I thought we were going to be honest with each other from now on."
"You just want to tell him that I made out with Chip," Vida said accusingly.
"What?" Nick demanded, actually stumbling from pure shock.
"I made out with Chip," Vida repeated resignedly.
"Okay, I'm going to have to go with Xander on the no secrets approach to this," Nick choked out. No words could describe the look on his face.
"I had to make out with Chip. It was unavoidable."
"Could've called one of us," Xander said, looking a bit pouty.
"Oh, get over yourself," Vida snapped contemptuously.
"I'm just saying—"
"I'm sorry," Nick cut in, holding up his hand, "maybe I'm missing something, but how does kissing Chip become mandatory?"
"Madison and I were at Root Core and—"
"If I have to kiss Chip to be a Power Ranger, I'm handing in my morpher," Nick interrupted vehemently.
"No, no, no! Look, Madison and I were at Root Core and one of Clare's spells backfired. Turns out we either had to reanimate a supremely strong evil zombie and do battle with it, eat a live frog, or share a passionate kiss with someone we cared about. Obviously, the third option sounded the best. So I called Chip—"
"Why Chip?" Nick interrupted cautiously.
"No, I want to know too," Xander said firmly. "Why him? Why not me? Or Nick? If 'cared about' meant you just had to grab a friend, why not me? Or Nick?"
"Because I knew you'd never let me forget it—"
"What, like I'm ever going to let you forget this?"
"—and I figured Nick probably wouldn't be comfortable with it."
"You're right there. No offense," Nick added hastily.
"I've known Chip since… well, since before he wanted to be a superhero, if that's any indication. I knew he'd do it, and he wouldn't gloat like Xander. Besides, I wanted the spell ended. It royally sucked."
"So that's why—" Nick began.
"Why Chip's been so cheerful today?" Xander finished. "Yep. All makes sense now, doesn't it?"
Nick stared at him in disgust. "I was gonna say, that's why Maddy's seemed so out of it today. I asked her if she was okay, but she wouldn't tell me much. What does the spell do, anyway?"
"It'll turn her into a frog within four weeks."
"What?" Nick spluttered.
Vida nodded wearily. "That's why I kissed Chip, to end the spell. And I shoved Chip at her but she said she didn't want her first kiss to be something she did because of a spell. Went on and on about how she wanted to have feelings for the first guy she kissed. Possibly even be in love." Vida shuddered, as if the concept of love was akin to going a month without showering.
"Madison's never been kissed before?" Xander repeated incredulously.
"And you want her first kiss to be Xander?" Nick added, staring at her in horror.
"Unless you want to do it?" Vida asked him. Nick cleared his throat and shook his head quickly. "Good. Now we're all agreed. Xander will get Madison to like him enough to kiss him as fast as possible, which will break the spell and—"
"Hey! I didn't say I agreed to that yet!"
"Well, tell me yes or no, then! If you don't do it, I'm going to have to find somebody else."
"Or hunt down a live frog," Xander quipped.
"I doubt that would work even if we wanted to try it. It turns out you'd have to eat it all in one bite, otherwise it'll be a dead frog by the second bite, and I don't think Maddy's mouth is that big."
"How big do you think Madison's mouth is?" Xander asked thoughtfully.
Vida's hand curled into a fist. "Want to say that again?"
"Look, are you going to do it or not? There is a time limit, you know."
"How long does she have, exactly?" Nick demanded.
"Until the next full moon phase is over. The last one was five days ago, so that's twenty-six days from now."
Nick frowned. "Wait—I thought the moon's orbit around the Earth was twenty-eight days?"
"It is. But its magical influences can be used for up to three nights after the actual moon, according to Clare." Vida paused. "Better make it twenty-three, just to be safe. So what's your decision, Xander?"
"I need to think about it for a while first."
"Well, hurry up!"
"I can't. I'm still stuck on you making out with Chip." Xander threw back his head and laughed. "Oh, god, did he faint?"
"Xander! Will you focus, please?"
"I can't! This isn't something you mention in passing, it's the story of the century! Vida… you kissed Chip."
Vida glared at him. He tried to meet her gaze, his shoulders shaking with the effort it took to suppress his laughter. It was only when Nick let out a muffled chuckle that she turned away from Xander and glowered at Nick.
"I'm sorry," Nick said, looking away quickly to grin at the opposite wall. "I just… I really can't picture it."
"Me either," Xander said, though he was obviously trying very hard.
"Fine. Fine. Let's talk about me and Chip. Obviously you're not going to get it out of your system until we do."
"Oh, thank god. Tell me everything," Xander said, hopping up on the table and leaning forward eagerly. "How long was it?"
Vida turned back to Nick, hoping he'd tell Xander to shut up and back off, but to her surprise Nick just pushed himself up next to Xander and regarded her with the sort of politely curious expression people wear when they don't want to let on that they're dying to know something.
Vida sighed heavily. "I don't know. Once I got him to stop struggling—"
"He was struggling?" Xander interrupted, stunned.
"Yes. It isn't every day one of your best friends marches up to you and kisses you."
"Ain't that a shame," Xander joked. Vida's glare intensified and he leaned away, quickly pulling his face into an apologetic, innocent expression. "Go on."
"He came in, I grabbed him, I kissed him, he freaked out, I smacked him, he quieted down, he kissed me back. End of story."
"Oh, come on. There had to be more to it than that," Xander cajoled.
"There really wasn't."
"Sure there was. There had to be—"
"What do you want? Violins? Long walks on the beach and bearskin rugs in front of the fire?"
"All right, fine. How badly did he geek out afterwards?"
Vida shrugged. "There was mostly just shock."
"Come ON! You gotta give us something!"
"Look, Xander. If you don't get Madison to kiss you, you're going to be the first one I feed to the reanimated zombie."
"Fine, fine. I'll just get the story out of Chip."
"I'd be surprised if Chip actually remembers a thing," Vida said dryly. "He was all with the numb shock."
Xander pouted. "All right. Okay. Let's move on. If anyone asks, I'll be off seducing Madison." He jumped off the desk and headed for the door, exiting out into the main part of the store.
Nick raised his eyebrows. "I don't believe it. He actually just… dropped it."
Vida snorted. "That's what he wants me to think."
They followed Xander out into the store, just as Madison came in. She walked past Xander, heading for the oldies section, which she'd been trying to sort before the delivery truck had showed up.
"Hi, Madison," Xander purred. "You look absolutely gorgeous today."
"Thanks, Xand," she said absently as she wandered past him.
Xander blinked, startled and not a little offended. Vida had to stifle a laugh.
"Maddy!" Xander called, following her. "I was wondering if you'd like to come to the movies with me tonight."
Madison shrugged listlessly, obviously upset about her frog problem. "I've kind of got a lot going on tonight. Maybe some other time."
"Please, Madison?" Xander implored, giving her his most charming grin.
"Well… who else is going?" Madison asked.
Xander cleared his throat, looking distinctly nonplussed. Girls usually weren't this dense when he tried to pick them up. They either giggled, or they told him to jump off a cliff. However, Madison had known him for so long that the idea of him trying to pick her up was ludicrous to her. Ergo, this was going to be harder than he'd originally anticipated.
"I am!" Nick announced suddenly. "Me. Going. Movies. Vida, are you going?"
Vida stared at him. "What are you doing?" she hissed, low enough that Madison couldn't hear.
"Vida's coming, too," Nick added, as though she'd simply been whispering an affirmative to him. "Hey, Chip, you up for going to the movies tonight?"
Chip, who was limping through the rap aisle, shrugged. "Sure! What are we going to go see?"
"I haven't figured that out yet," Xander said through gritted teeth.
"Well… I suppose it would be fun," Madison said slowly, smiling. "I could use a night off from studying. I'll go check the show times in the paper."
"Try to find something around seven," Nick suggested. "You know, so we'll have time to go home and change after work."
Madison nodded and wandered off, leaving Xander to turn a murderous gaze on Nick. "What was that?" he demanded.
"You were coming on too strong," Nick whispered. "Guys, think about this. If Xander tries to kiss her tonight, it'll never work. Madison will know Vida put him up to it. You have to give her more time. Maybe even a couple weeks. You can't try to kiss her tonight."
"Well, if you're so smart, why don't you do it?" Xander asked. "If there's one thing I know how to do, it's get a girl."
"Girl, yes. Madison, no. She's shy. She doesn't respond well to pickup lines and subtle hints; complimenting her directly will probably just make her blush and withdraw. Besides, you're close friends with her, so she won't be able to figure out what you're doing; she'll think you're just saying 'nice hair' or 'cute shirt' in a platonic way. You have to play this carefully. It's not uncommon for a guy friend to develop feelings for his female friend. You have to set up a base of little moments."
"Moments of what?" Vida asked suspiciously.
"Moments where, when he finally says he likes her, she'll look back and say, 'Huh. I should have guessed.' Not, 'What the hell, where is this coming from?' or 'Yeah, right, nice joke.'"
Vida grimaced. "You're right. You'll have to draw it out a bit more, Xander."
Xander made a face. "Can't I just grab her and kiss her? It wouldn't be hard. I mean, I'm sure I could—"
"She'd never forgive you," Nick cut in quickly. "It's her first kiss. You can't just… just spring it on her. She'll be devastated."
"Yeah, but is anyone really thinking ahead here?" Xander asked. "I mean, come on. I get her to like me. She kisses me. Then I just explain that this was all just an elaborate way to save her from becoming a frog? Sounds a hell of a lot crueler to me."
There was a long silence as they all thought this over.
"Well, it's kind of the best plan we've got," Vida said reluctantly. "We have to do something. Hopefully she'll be so happy that she won't become a frog that she'll forgive us."
"Remember the good old days? When the weirdest thing we had to deal with was Chip wanting to wear a cape to prom?" Xander asked with a sigh.
"Boy did we lose that fight," Vida muttered, but she smiled faintly. Chip's weirdness was part of his charm.
"Okay, guys!" Madison called. "We've got horror, action and comedy to choose from."
"Horror," Xander said promptly. It was his preferred date movie genre; led to lots of snuggling opportunities. If he was really going for drawing it out, he could at least take a few moments to comfort her in a darkened theater; that should set the stage nicely for "Oh, he's liked me all along." Madison was never good with horror movies; whenever they'd gotten together for a movie night in Chip's basement featuring even the lamest of scary flicks, she usually ended up hiding her face behind a throw pillow the whole night, arms groping wildly for the popcorn bowl.
"Action!" Chip called eagerly, just as Nick said, "Comedy!"
"Vi?" Madison asked.
"Horror," Vida said decisively, thinking along the same lines as Xander.
Madison wrinkled her nose. "I'd… kind of prefer comedy. I could use a good laugh."
"You laughed plenty when I bashed into that van," Chip pointed out. "But since I'm going to be outvoted anyway, I'll go with comedy." Vida glowered at him, wondering what was up with his choice; Chip's movie preferences usually went science fiction/fantasy, action, horror, and then comedy.
"Okay, seven-twenty is the earliest showing," Madison said. "Meet at the theater at seven?"
"Sounds good," Nick said. The others nodded.
Madison wandered off to go replace the paper in the newsstand outside. Vida rounded on Chip, and Xander rounded on Nick.
"Why didn't you say horror?" they yelled simultaneously.
"Madison doesn't like horror," Nick replied simply.
"I figured Madison could use some cheering up," Chip said, slightly confused.
Xander and Vida looked at each other and sighed.