Thursday, 4:01 p.m.
It felt good to be back in uniform.
She'd forgotten how addicting it was, how much the adrenaline rush got to her.
Being a Ranger had always been about responsibility, about duty, and more often than not it had been a burden, but holding the power was also a lot of fun.
Sometimes she wondered if that was why they'd been chosen, because they could love it.
Anyone could pick up a morpher and fight the forces of evil if they had to, but being a Ranger was all about danger and risk, two things that a skater, a surfer and a couple of motocross gearheads were compulsively drawn to.
The loss of their powers had hit them all hard at first, but over time that ache had faded.
Over the course of a few short years, they'd all moved on with their lives, found other better things to keep them busy, but now Tori found herself missing it.
Maybe it would be different if they'd actually had a choice in the matter.
After all, nobody could be a Ranger forever.
Except for Tommy Oliver apparently, but he was a special case.
But it hadn't been their decision to give up the power, the power had been stolen from them, and, Tori was suddenly realizing, she'd been carrying around a touch of bitterness over that fact ever since.
Now the only question is, she thought somberly. Do I want it back?
She'd loved it in the old days, but she loved her new life, too.
The Wind Academy was, if possible, even more dear to her now than it had been during her days as a student. She loved teaching and she loved her students, who she was constantly learning from as much as they were learning from her. When Sensei Watanabe first asked her to stay on at the school after graduating, she'd been uncertain, not because she didn't want to, but because she wasn't sure what she could give to future generations of ninjas.
After all, she wasn't a leader like Shane, subtly wise like Dustin.
But Sensei had a way of seeing into them all.
Together you are three points of a triangle, strong and unyielding, but without one the triangle is broken...
Or, as Hunter had simplified, you don't split up a winning team.
In a way, though, they had split up the team, mostly because with the loss of their powers there was no need for the team to stay in one place.
Hunter had returned to the Thunder Academy to teach, but ninja streaking meant he was just a short trip away whenever she felt the need to have lunch or see a movie. But Blake had gone off to chase his dream with Factory Blue, and his hectic schedule made streaking home at night downright impossible, so Tori went weeks at a time during the circuit's peek season without seeing her husband in person.
And even with Cam, Dustin and Shane teaching at the Academy with her, that didn't mean they were always around.
Personal lives had been a luxury they couldn't afford during their Ranger days.
Now it was a different story.
"Hey," Connor's voice caught her ears over the jubilant cheering of victory and she turned her head to see him laying a hand on Shane's shoulder. "Nice moves, you guys."
"Back at you, bro," Shane laughed, clapping him on the back.
Despite herself, Tori smiled behind her faceplate as all of the boys, her husband and brother-in-law included, slapped hands in a display of that youthful macho bravado that she suspected they would never fully grow out of.
"Dude, did you see the way that monster blew up?"
"That was a pretty sick maneuver you guys pulled, you'll have to teach it to me."
"Wow," a female voice said, and Tori looked up to see the Yellow Dino Ranger, Kira, moving up beside her, likewise staring at the boys. "So it's not just my teammates, it's all male Rangers."
"Afraid so," Tori agreed with a laugh.
"How did you do it?" Kira asked, groaning. "Most days I feel like they're going to drive me insane."
Tori smiled, knowing that feeling all too well.
"You two better watch it," Blake drawled, coming over with his arms folded over his chest and his head titled at a wry angle. "Don't forget that us guys outnumber you."
"I think we can handle it," Tori retorted.
Even with the helmets on, she could see the smirk tugging its way onto her husband's lips, could picture that familiar mixture of cockiness and amusement shining in his dark eyes. "Oh, really?" he asked dryly. "Is that so?"
Tori opened her mouth to answer when a sharp, high-pitched noise filled the air, drawing their attention back to the clearing ahead where they'd destroyed Lothor's new goons.
A flash of bright energy shot down from the sky, slamming into the ground.
And in its wake two figures tumbled into sight.
Tori blinked in surprise, recognizing the outfits before she saw the faces, and she drew a sharp breath, glancing in Dustin's direction to see his reaction.
"Marah?" she heard him murmur in confusion.
It was Marah, all right, along with Kapri, but the sisters hardly looked like themselves.
At least, not the Marah and Kapri that Tori had come to know over the past few years, who she considered friends. The women in front of her now were a bad memory, of days when their allegiance had been to a decidedly less pleasant side of the fight.
"Oh!" Marah cried, spotting them. "Oh, guys!"
Tori exchanged a startled look with Blake, who shrugged his shoulders in response.
"Hey, Cam," Kapri called, as he moved forward from the rest of the Rangers to intercept his cousins, although Tori wasn't sure if that was for Marah and Kapri's benefit, or theirs.
"What are you guys doing here?" Cam demanded.
"Is that any way to greet family?" Kapri retorted, giving him an annoyed look.
"Yeah," Marah agreed, positively bubbly as she held up a strange purple bottle. "Especially since we brought you a present! Look..."
With that she uncorked the bottle, and a purple mist rose out of the top, lifting into the air and wafting a few yards away before it began to spiral down to the ground, spreading out across the earth as solid forms began to take shape.
Tori's heart surged in her throat, not daring to hope...
"It's our students!" Shane cried.
Sure enough, as the mist fell away it left behind a large number of confused and disoriented ninjas, and Tori sighed in relief. "Thank God," she whispered.
"Hey," Shane called out to their students, jogging over. "Everybody okay?"
Tori hurried after him, with the rest of the Rangers on her heels, and hurried over the younger students, who were looking around nervously. "You guys all right?" she asked, touching their heads one by one as her faceplate retracted. "No one's hurt, are they?"
"We're okay, Sensei," one of Dustin's students answered, then bit his lip. "Uh... are you?"
Despite everything that had happened that day, Tori couldn't help laughing, and she gave the boy a warm squeeze, which, being a prepubescent kid, he promptly squirmed away from. "We're fine now," she assured them all. "Lothor's spell was broken, you guys don't have to worry, he can't control us anymore."
"Where's Sensei?" the boy asked, looking around.
It took Tori only a moment to realize he was asking about Dustin, not Sensei Watanabe.
She glanced over her shoulder and found Cam talking with Kapri, shaking his head at whatever his cousin was saying, but Marah was nowhere in sight.
Unsurprisingly, neither was Dustin.
"I think he needed a minute alone," she said carefully.
The kid made a face. "Oh, he's kissing Marah again, isn't he?"
Without waiting for an answer, the boy scurried off in the direction of his friends, and Tori shook her head, marveling at how unaffected the younger students were by their captivity. Most of the older students had been at the Academy when Lothor first attacked, so a few hours imprisoned in a mystical bottle was nothing compared to the long months they'd spent as Lothor's hostages the last time.
Tori looked up, and was amused to see Hunter's head jerking up, as well, as one of the younger students approached. "Yes, Kai?" she asked.
"Can we eat soon?" the boy pleaded. "I'm starving."
"Being trapped in a bottle works up quite the appetite, huh?" Blake asked with a wink.
"We'll get you some food as soon as possible, okay?" Tori promised, fixing the boy with a warm smile. "Why don't you go round up the rest of your classmates so we can get you guys home before your parents start to worry too much?"
They watched Kai trot off, and Hunter shook his head. "You know, bro, it's a good thing you decided not to teach," he told Blake. "Your wife is one Sensei Bradley too many."
"Hey," Tori protested, swatting him in the chest.
It was Kira who spoke, and Tori turned to see her tugging off her helmet, brown hair tumbling over her shoulders in waves. Kira glanced at her, then back to Blake, raising an eyebrow inquisitively.
"You guys are married?"
"A year next month," Blake answered, draping an arm around Tori's shoulders. "And then the honeymoon's over."
"What honeymoon?" Tori laughed. "You left for the circuit right after the wedding."
"Hey, we went to Hawaii for two weeks last summer," Blake protested. "Remember that? Remember how you ditched me to surf the Pipeline?"
"First of all, it was the Pipeline," Tori retorted. "And it's not a real honeymoon when your brother and the guys tag along." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hunter open his mouth, and she rolled her eyes. "Even if they did get their own hotel room," she added, giving him a pointed look before turning her smirk back on Blake. "Hawaii doesn't cut it, mister, you still owe me."
"Hate to tell you, bro," Hunter chuckled. "But you're not going to win this one."
"How come I never get to win one?" Blake muttered, but the corner of his mouth lifted of its own accord even as he tried to hide a smile.
"You gave up your right to win the day you said your vows," Hunter quipped.
"It was worth it," Blake said, and Tori's heart skipped a beat, as it always did, when he flashed her that shy half-smile she loved so much, the one he reserved just for her. His brother, upon seeing that smile, coughed something into his hand that sounded suspiciously like the word 'whipped', but Tori ignored him.
"Yeah?" she asked, with a smile of her own.
"Well," Blake replied dryly, his smile turning into a smirk. "I didn't really have much of a choice. See my wife's this badass ninja. I had to marry her, or she would have kicked my ass."