Baby's First Coffin
Part Five
by foggynitef

Fandom: Power Rangers Ninja Storm
Pairing: Cam/Hunter (finally), Blake/Tori
Warning: Strong language and violent imagery.
Summary: The fourth chapter in the Warlock AU.
Disclaimer: Concepts borrowed from LJ Smith's Nightworld and Dark Visions series, as well as White Wolf's Hunter: The Reckoning. This AU follows the events of the original PRNS episodes up through "Return of Thunder." Chances are, if you recognize it, it's not mine.


Cam pushed away from the computers with a sigh, rolling his chair back until he could rest his elbows on his knees and massage his temples. Too many hours in front of the screen, but he couldn't afford to take a break. They'd come too far for him to slow down now.

A clang from the dojo kitchen surprised him. Cam realized Hunter had been back from his first shift at Storm Chargers for at least an hour. Blake wasn't anywhere nearby, but Dad was sleeping up in the apartment.

Two days since they'd received Skyla's intel, and Cam wasn't any closer to Lothor's base of operations. The Mariana was a difficult ship to track. Obviously, it was no ordinary fishing trawler. Someone had systematically purged it from all government records -- but Cam was painstakingly recreating its path from any tidbit of information he could find in the records.

Finding information on the ship from the docks, the Aglaia, was proving to be as difficult, but Cam had accessed the port authority back-up servers and found that a few files on the ship that hadn't been deleted yet. Enough for him to figure out the last two routes and destinations. Unfortunately, the Aglaia was looking more like a holding ship for their operations, and not transport to any mysterious or remote locations.

When he had taken over the report system from his father, Cam had created several databases that allowed him to easily reference the rangers' patrol and incident reports against any file on his system. He also had a separate protocol for monitoring specific types of incidents and the frequencies in the reports.

Right now, he had spent the past forty-eight hours creating new databases and connecting all the systems, trying to sort the data into coherent patterns, something manageable that he could decode.

There had been a sharp decline in kidnappings attempts around the same time the two brothers had returned, and Cam was wondering if it was just coincidence. Increased ranger manpower meant wider, more thorough patrols, but that hadn't seemed to deter Lothor's small army in the past.

Or did it mean that Lothor had enough bodies for his experiments now? Was he gearing up for something big?

There were no official mentions of the corpse being pulled from the ocean, either, but if the Mariana had switched crews since then, Cam might be able to find someone who knew something. If he couldn't find anyone, that told a story unto itself.

If they really had fished the body out of the water and not created the corpse themselves, that was unusual enough that maybe a crewmember had called someone on shore? Did fishing trawlers allow cell-phones onboard--

You eat yet?

Why do you bother asking me anymore?

Hunter constantly asked him questions when he already knew the answer. If Cam could tell that Hunter was hungry for human food (finally), then Hunter could tell that Cam had eaten a power bar after his last class of the day and not much else. And, while Cam was secretly amused at the other man's constant determination to feed everyone in the building, it bugged the hell out of him when he was trying to work.

Train of thought broken, Cam leaned back in his chair. With a yawn, he pulled up an old coding file and tried to get something useful done while he was waiting on hits from his search parameters.

The heavy tread of Hunter's boots on the stairwell was rapidly becoming a portent of interruptions.

"Here," Hunter said quietly at his elbow. A plate of sandwiches scraped across Cam's desk.

"Thanks."

Trying not to think about how they were establishing a familiar routine, Cam grabbed a sandwich off the plate without looking away from his computer screen. Devouring the sandwich in four bites, Cam resumed coding.

His typing faltered when he realized Hunter was still looming over his shoulder. The other man knew how much he hated that. But when he looked up to call him on it, Cam realized Hunter wasn't looking at him at all. He was staring at the family picture Cam had placed on top of the computer hutch earlier.

When Cam studied the picture, he saw his parents, young and full of hope and determination, and himself, neatly belonging there between them. The photo and frame used to be in his father's study, but after his father's recent revelations about his mother and Cam's own heritage, Cam had wanted the tangible reminder of her.

From the dark tangle of emotions behind Hunter's shields, Cam had the feeling Hunter had a different reaction and that genuinely confused him. Surely Hunter, as an orphan and a ranger, could understand Cam wanting--

"I don't get it," Hunter muttered quietly, breaking into Cam's thoughts. "Why would Lothor disguise himself as your dad to kill our parents? Why Sensei?"

Ah. The emotional minefield they'd avoided since Hunter returned.

"He wasn't disguising himself," Cam said simply. "That was his real form, back before he was turned into a vampire. He can revert to it if he wants, but it costs him a great deal of energy."

Hunter frowned down at him, still standing close. "But that means Lothor and Sensei are--?"

Cam realized that he had told the rangers about his uncle and cousins, but not all the details.

"Were identical twins, yes. Back when Lothor was known as Kiya." Cam stared at his mother's smiling face. "They haven't spoken on civil terms for almost twenty years, though. Not since Lothor survived his turning."

Snorting, Hunter said bitterly, "So because he became a vampire, he just--"

"There's more to it than that," Cam interrupted sharply. His eyes unconsciously flickered to the picture again, his mother smiling, and Hunter followed his gaze.

"Oh," the blonde said after a moment of silence.

"Yeah."

I know how you feel.

I know.

And maybe that was what scared him. They were tangled in this web of intrigue and violence, and Cam was connecting with someone -- with Hunter -- deeper than he ever had with anyone before…

He had a split-second of warning before his chair creaked backwards under the weight of Hunter's arms, pulling Cam's hands away from his keyboard in the process.

Tilting his head back against the headrest, Cam glared up at Hunter's smirking face over his glasses.

"Was there anything else you needed?"

Hunter pursed his lips thoughtfully, gazing down at Cam with a considering expression.

"If I said yes, would you care?"

The words were playful enough, only Cam recognized the underlying vulnerability. Hunter's specific thoughts may have been shielded from him, but the longer Cam knew the lamia, the easier it was to decipher his moods.

"I care," he said simply, knowing the blunt response would throw Hunter off more than any joking.

But Hunter didn't even blink. He just grinned wickedly.

"Awesome. Come spar with me. I wanna try out a new move."

"I'm working."

"For hours. Seriously, you've only been out of here for jazzercise and karate. You'll end up a hunchback." Hunter poked him in the shoulder. "All work and no play makes Cam really tasty vampire fodder."

Cam was torn, but the poke to the shoulder settled it.

"Fine. I'll spar with you, but only for half an hour and if we do points. I have the most points at the end, you promise not to interrupt my work for the rest of the night."

Smirking, Hunter stood back as Cam rose from his chair. "And if I win?"

With a roll of his eyes, Cam ignored the flirting in Hunter's voice and brushed past the lamia. He led the way to the sparring area next to the weapons room, removing his glasses and shoes while Hunter toed off his sneakers.

Deciding he'd play it safe (and completely not admitting Hunter might have been right about the hunchback), Cam stretched out his legs and arms, bending over to work his sore thighs. He could feel Hunter's appreciation of his physical form leaking out from behind the other ranger's shields. He just wasn't sure if Hunter was doing it on purpose to distract him or not.

Would I do that? Hunter sent innocently.

Cam snorted and straightened out, walking towards the center of the room. Hunter gave no warning as he lashed out with a straight punch to Cam's left side.

Seeing the move coming a mile away, Cam dodged, sweeping his own arm up to turn an easy block into a grapple. Hunter had been expecting the grip and shifted his own, dropping his weight low to clear Cam's feet out from under him.

Slamming down on his shoulders and rolling with it, Cam released his hold on Hunter's wrist and twisted away before he could be pinned. He settled in a low crouch, fists coming up in a defensive form.

"First point to me," Hunter grinned, eyes bright and vibrant.

Cam didn't allow himself time to enjoy the view. He launched himself forward, a sharp kick snapping out, followed with an elbow jab as Hunter tried to redirect his momentum.

To Cam's satisfaction, Hunter was taking the sparring seriously. The smirk faded as Hunter had to concentrate on blocking the flurry of blows Cam sent at him. Cam wanted to empty his mind of the pride that stirred, that Hunter treated him as an equal, but it colored his moves, made him hit harder, faster, than he would with the other rangers.

Hunter just absorbed the power and put more of his own behind his strikes.

Their punches and kicks connected with solid thumps, glancing off each other as they twisted and turned in constant motion. Cam said nothing when Hunter hit the mats, keeping a silent tally of points in his head.

Hunter was starting to sweat, shaggy blond hair sticking to his neck and forehead. Their harsh pants and grunts were loud in the training room, bouncing off the concrete walls and barely muffled by the tatami mats on the floors.

Cam flowed into the rhythm of their sparring and just let himself be. He cleared his thoughts of everything except Hunter's eyes, the telegraph of movements, the feel of solid muscle and warm skin under his hands, the rough texture of the mats under his feet.

Hunter's gaze was focused. Determined. Cam kept pushing. He could feel Hunter's attention narrowed down to him and only him, but here it didn't shake him to the core.

Here, it made his blood sing.

When Hunter lunged, leaving his right flank vulnerable, and Cam seized the opportunity with a sharp kick to Hunter's shin, an open palm to his shoulder, fingers curled around his wrist--

When Cam felt Hunter make the decision to be brought down-- When Cam knew that Hunter felt it, too--

They hit the mat hard, Hunter pinned beneath Cam but neither of them caring. Cam let go of his grapple and pushed up on his elbow, swaying over Hunter's heaving chest.

It wasn't the sparring that made their hearts beat frantically now, and Cam had that same wild urge as the previous night, to claim and mark and devour. He was waiting for the moment he hit his limit, where he would start to resist, and it just--

Wasn't coming. Hunter stared up at him with intense blue eyes, studying his expression, mind pressing at his shields. Cam let his guard down, let his head dip closer, brushed his lips across Hunter's. Close as he was, he could feel the full body shudder at the contact, and did it again, his breath ghosting across Hunter's skin.

Pressing closer, he let his hips settle against Hunter's thigh. Hunter's eyes fluttered shut, breath freezing in his chest. Tentatively, Cam spread his hand across Hunter's sweat damp stomach, feeling the abdominal muscles tighten under his finger tips. He marveled at the reactions he was causing. It was a heady feeling, having that sort of power over Hunter and the other man obviously not caring, just wanting more of his touch.

If this was Hunter's desire beating in his veins, making him hyper-aware of every inch of flushed skin and aching muscles, Cam didn't care either. He wanted to lose himself in Hunter, and if it was fighting or fucking, Cam just didn't care.

Hunter inhaled sharply, picking up the thought, and his grip tightened on Cam as his hands pushed greedily under Cam's t-shirt.

"Tell me you mean that," Hunter whispered against Cam's lips. "Say it out loud."

Cam swallowed. Closed his eyes and let his forehead rest against Hunter's.

"I want you," he finally said, the barest whisper.

When Hunter hungrily reclaimed his lips -- when he surged upwards and tore at their clothes and pressed Cam down on his back like he'd just been waiting for permission -- Cam kissed fiercely back and let himself feel.

The world could wait, long enough for him to have this…

***

Cam woke slowly, fighting sleep until he could open his eyes. Hunter exhaled against the back of his neck, and Cam was too comfortable to move.

They were in his room off of main Ops, crammed on his twin-size mattress. Cam hadn't realized how much body heat lamias created. He wasn't chilled despite the fact that they had only thrown on their pants before crawling into bed. He was sore in novel places, probably a little sticky in others, but he was warm.

Hunter's arm tightened around his chest.

"We're supposed to be napping," the blond murmured against Cam's skin.

"Nrm," Cam protested, but didn't even twitch. I was in the middle of something…

Nope, Hunter sent smugly. I won on points. I claim an hour nap as prize.

Frowning, Cam felt his eyes slide shut. You totally cheated. Somehow.

He felt Hunter's smile against his neck.

You contesting my victory?

Cam yawned. Later.

The rumble of Hunter's laugh followed him back into sleep.

***

The next time Cam woke, his mind was off and running, like usual.

Kapri has a Gem shard. I have a Gem shard. They have to be connected, or resonate with each other somehow. If she visits Lothor's base, I can trace it, I'm sure I can -- She has to visit the base, she and Marah have been spotty in our surveillance since the art museum but no other rangers have seen them, they have to be going somewhere and if Lothor needs magickal support to drain his victims, they would be his first choice -- but could she feel my spell -- Or could Lothor be using the shard itself in his spells--

"Dude," Hunter groaned. "You're making my brain hurt. Quit thinking so much."

Cam snorted and rolled over in his arms with a wry grin. "Hmm. Someone thinking in your head. New experience?"

Hunter mock-growled. His hands on Cam were possessive. The thought that Cam knew what his skin tasted like, what his face looked like when he came, the noises he made--

This thing between them was definitely going to take some getting used to, but it wasn't a bad thing. It was just-- New. Unfamiliar territory.

Scary as hell, Hunter provided.

Yes. Cam acknowledged, since Hunter had admitted it first.

Hunter snorted.

"You need to rest more," he murmured, finger lightly tracing the dark circles under Cam's eyes.

Huffing, Cam batted his hand away. "I'm fine."

You look like you actually slept for once, Hunter mused.

Cam rolled his eyes. That would be because I did.

Instead of snarking back, Hunter just looked self-satisfied.

Resisting the urge to look at the clock, Cam started to get twitchy. In the mornings, he was awake and he was up, and he didn't just laze around in bed. He never took naps, and there were just too many things to get done.

Hunter was basking like a cat.

There are advantages to basking, Hunter sent, the only warning Cam had before his lips were claimed. Hunter pressed until Cam opened his mouth, let him in.

Awareness ran down his skin. Cam broke away. Not the wards, but--

"Dustin and Blake are coming down the block," he murmured aloud, pushing up on his elbow.

"They won't come down here." Hunter caught him by the shoulder, gave a tug.

Cam eyed him suspiciously. Do I want to know what deal you made with them? No wait, just answer me this -- Will I be able to look them in the eye again?

Hunter snorted. No worries. I just might have mentioned to Blake that I was going to drag you away from the computer for sparring. I think he inferred the rest. He'll keep everyone clear until he hears from us.

The thought of them conspiring against him as irritating, but it was the fact that Cam hadn't picked up on it at all from Hunter's thoughts that made him uncomfortable.

Yeah, welcome to my world, Hunter drawled, propping himself up on his elbows as Cam sat up. His lips were shiny red and his shirtless chest was asking to be touched. Speaking of things we don't talk about-- You want to tell me about the whole no-Gem thing you've got going on now?

Cam shrugged. It's pretty much what you already know. I don't need the shard in my physical presence to access its powers. I have some natural telepathic abilities.

But it's different than when you are in contact with the Gem.

Startled, Cam looked up at him with a frown. Really? I hadn't noticed any difference.

Hunter blinked at him. Seriously? Cam Watanabe, super genius, didn't pick up on something that I did?

Cam let his irritation show. Hunter.

It comes from a different spot,Hunter said quickly. When you use the shard, I can feel the power going from it through you to the others. When one of the others uses it, the energy isn't as bright, as-- powerful. You give it a boost. But when you're not using the shard, the energy feels like it comes from you, like--

Hunter sent him a mess of images and feelings, steel and electricity and knowledge of technology.

From me? Cam repeated, tone wary.

Yeah. Like when you're casting a spell with the computer.

Cam frowned down at his hands and thought about it for a moment. My elemental aptitude has always been… off. I'm not really favored by any traditional elements, but I've always preferred technology…

Which is why you always taste a little metallic, I guess…

I taste like metal? Cam glared indignantly, never mind that Hunter knew him by taste.

Sharp as your tongue, Hunter laughed aloud and ducked Cam's swat.

But you can tell a difference in the energy… Cam mused, subsiding as thoughts and memories clicked into place. There was something there he could use, if he just adapted his ranger-tracking protocols--

Hunter sobered, studying Cam's profile.

"What did you just figure out?" He finally asked.

Pausing in his mental calculations, Cam couldn't contain his smile.

"Hunter, you're brilliant!" He crowed, jumping up from the bed. "That's it! That's how I can find it--"

Cam headed for the door, but Hunter rolled off the bed, catching his arm.

"Hot as I think it is, maybe you should put on a shirt first, genius," Hunter said with a grin, snagging a t-shirt off the floor for Cam.

"Thanks." Cam shrugged into it, turned towards the door, turned back. Gave Hunter an enthusiastic kiss that left him breathless, then headed back to his computer console.

Pulling out the Gem shard, Cam settled in to run some tests.

***

When the rangers reported for duty that evening, Cam felt like he had some actual progress to share for the first time in weeks.

"Hey, Cam," Tori greeted him, followed closely by Blake. "Do you want me to hit the arsenal?"

"Hm?" Cam looked over, distracted. He hadn't set up the weapons table yet. "Ah, yes, please. Thank you."

Blake trailed behind her, but paused to smirk at Cam. "Nice shirt. Crimson's your color."

Frowning, Cam looked down. Huh. He had Hunter's shirt on. When he looked up, Blake was in the arsenal with Tori, but Hunter was grinning down at a motocross magazine from his spot on the futon.

Did you--

Hunter glanced innocently up at him. I think it's your color, too.

Sighing, Cam dismissed the issue and returned to coding. But he didn't go change his shirt. Hunter was smug.

Cam managed to ignore the chaos behind him as Dustin and Shane thumped downstairs after raiding the dojo fridge. At least with Hunter and Blake living there, Cam could send them out for groceries instead of finding the time himself.

Somehow, he tuned out the play sparring going on right behind his chair, even though it was all reflected in one of his blank computer screens. He'd set aside the new bo staff for Dustin last week. Apparently Tori had discovered it.

He could sense his father coming slowly down the ducts from upstairs and frowned, typing faltering.

His dad had never really gotten sick before he was turned into a guinea pig, but he was more sensitive to temperature and the flux of the weather now. Cam wasn't used to thinking of his father as having such a fragile body. How was being transformed going to affect his health long term? If they ever managed to change him back…

We will.

Hunter's conviction flowed through their connection. Even five hours ago, Cam would have slammed the door in his face, but Cam was trying to be more open, at least with Hunter.

And I appreciate that. Shane's trying to talk to you.

Glancing up in surprise, Cam found Shane at his elbow, looking at him expectantly.

"I'm sorry, what?"

Shane had the grace not to roll his eyes, even though he obviously wanted to.

"I said, Skyla called me in to mediate at the sanctuary earlier today," the ranger said patiently. "I called here to let you know, but Sensei told me to handle it."

Obviously he'd called when Cam was-- otherwise occupied. Cam resolutely did not blush.

Instead, he opened a new report file on the computer.

"Who did it involve?"

"Old Crone Maggie and her landlord's nephew, Marcus Bledstone. She was threatening to hex him for kicking her dog; he's a werewolf and said the little yappy thing is naturally afraid of him. I talked her down, he offered to repaint her front door, and they both went away happy. Honestly, I think she was bringing out the big guns for the door painting."

Cam tried to find a politic way to include that in the report. "Anything else?"

"Yeah." Shane ducked Dustin's bo swing as Blake cackled behind them. "I got another anonymous tip while I was there."

He had everyone's attention then. Cam realized his dad had appeared on the computer hutch, too.

"There's a new gang forming," Shane said grimly. "It's a mix of everyone -- Shifters, lamia, witches, made vamps, even a couple humans. They want to stand up to the shifters and made vamps that have been tearing up the street. They've already tied it up with Lothor's goons once."

"Why didn't we hear about it?" Hunter frowned.

Shane shrugged. "It's a small group. They had their asses handed to them, but no one was killed. Skyla patched a couple up afterwards. They seem pretty determined to keep fighting the good fight, though."

"They may be an asset to us then," his dad said thoughtfully.

Cam gaped. "They're disorganized, with small numbers and apparently not a lot of training. We'd be sending them to be slaughtered. How is this a good thing?"

"The will to succeed must be found first. All else will follow." Kanoi turned to Shane. "Shane, take Dustin and seek out this new group. Evaluate their motives, and see what assistance they require. If they are in earnest and in need of formal training, provide what you can."

When Cam opened his mouth to protest again, Kanoi just held up a paw.

"We find ourselves at war, and so all resources must be leveraged. Our focus on Lothor's activities may leave other areas at risk."

That topic closed, Kanoi turned to Cam.

"Now, Cameron, have we found any further information on Lothor's operations?"

Cam spun in his chair so that he could see all the rangers as well. "I think I may have found a way to locate Lothor's base."

He called up a map of the city. There was a small circle in the middle, focused on the dojo, but a faint streak of pink went from the dojo and down a side street, to the edge of the circle.

"Okay, so you're familiar with my tracking spell I use on the rangers, right? This is the same protocols, just tuned to a different energy source. I scanned the Gem of Souls shard that we have, and set the tracking protocol to look for that trace energy. The problem is, I don't know how long it takes the shard's energy to dissipate. It registers our shard, but it's also found trace energy in the alley outside."

"So you can track Kapri's movements with this," Tori said, catching on first. "And she can lead us there?"

"Yes, if she has the shard on her."

"What if she teleports?" Blake asked with a skeptic twist to his lips. "Her and Marah like to hop around, especially when we're winning."

"That's another draw back," Cam admitted. "The search protocol I use on the rangers has had months to map the city through their activities. This new program is essentially starting from scratch, so it's taking longer than I expected to scan the city."

"Why not just scan the docks?" Dustin suggested. "See what ships she gets on?"

Cam shook his head. "I can't have it start just anywhere. It's tied into my power, and sometimes I siphon power off Ops to run the other protocols. The energy drain for it is massive, so I have to start in close physical proximity to me and work my way out. That way the energy builds on itself, too, and later all I have to do is activate it."

"This is excellent work, Cameron," Kanoi said gravely. "Can you estimate how long it will take to reach the docks?"

"At the current rate…" Cam did some quick calculations. "Probably thirty-six hours or so."

"If there is any assistance you need, please do not hesitate to ask. In the meantime, we should continue our investigation into the ships we have identified as Lothor's. Tori, Blake and Hunter, patrol the city and docks. Dustin, please join them. Shane, make inquiries about this new group."

The rangers scattered and Cam turned back to his computers.

So, Shane, Tori sent in a sly tone, Skyla called you in directly, hmm?

I gave her my number in case she needed help, Shane sent back defensively. Purely professional.

She shot him down when he asked for hers, Dustin supplied helpfully.

Harsh! Blake crowed.

Dude, whatever, Shane sent at Dustin. You think Marah is hot.

I thought she was cute, Dustin shot back. And she totally is. She's just, y'know, kind of evil.

Try very.

Tuning them out again, Cam focused on the shard tracking spell and directing the paths of its energy. He felt Hunter's attention.

Don't do anything stupid, he sent privately before Hunter could get flirty.

You, too, Hunter returned, and Cam hid his grin behind his hand.

***

Cam felt Hunter on the street long before the other man entered the dojo upstairs.

He's in Ops, Dustin sent from the front of the tae kwon do class.

Is he ever anywhere else? Hunter growled.

Cam drew in a deep breath, trying to blank his thoughts as he re-read an old report on coastal activities. The shard tracking had spread as far as the financial district now, which put them ahead of Cam's estimated schedule.

Hunter's familiar stomping down the stairs broke his concentration.

Really, there was no need for Hunter to be so worked up.

Really? Hunter echoed in a skeptical tone. So if I punched you in your stupid face, you wouldn't, oh say, pass out again?

"I didn't pass out," Cam said calmly. "I was merely dizzy. I lost my balance, finished the lesson, and took a break."

"That's not what Sensei said," Hunter snarled. "You know, when he was using his tiny guinea pig paws to call the shop. Way to start a panic, genius."

There was fear, there, looming behind the hours spent cultivating a righteous anger while Hunter was stuck covering for Dustin at the store.

Cam thought of ice, of doors and shutters and barbed wire. Hunter snorted.

"Yeah, exhausting yourself is instinctive, right?"

That-- was low.

"I have work to do."

Cam opened a document file and started typing, fingers flying over the keyboard even if he didn't really know what he was writing. With an irritated huff, Hunter stomped over and clamped onto the back of Cam's chair, turning him around.

Even with the lamia looming over him, Cam kept his expression neutral, knowing it would aggravate Hunter more than any attempts at retaliation.

"You do realize that I am in the middle of saving the city," Cam chided in his most condescending tone.

"Quit hiding behind work!" Hunter bristled, and then obviously made an effort to calm down, which surprised Cam.

"Look, I don't think you realize exactly how bad off you are right now," the blond said with determination, "But you have--"

Anything else he intended to say was waved aside by Cam.

"From my perspective, you're hardly in a position to be doling out health advice. Have any midnight cravings lately?"

It was low, and sharp, and had the desired effect of getting Hunter out of his personal space, but the lamia didn't snap back like Cam expected.

"Yeah, you're probably right. I've made some stupid decisions in the past," Hunter agreed after a moment, slouching and shoving his hands in his pockets. "But I've also watched you run yourself into the ground for weeks now, and I know it's got to have been going on for months before we got here. The Gem can't heal everything."

Cam remained silent, so Hunter smirked.

"You know I'm right. Just like I know things might have turned out differently if you hadn't been exhausted when we broke in that night."

Cam tried to repress the surge of fury. How dare he assume he--

"I know you better than you think," Hunter said quietly, expression solemn. He was quiet, letting Cam calm down for a moment. "Please let me help."

In retrospect, it was the "please" that got Cam.

Cam glared up at him belligerently. "And how exactly would you do that?"

"You're not the only one who grew up in a dojo," Hunter said with a lazy drawl, suddenly casual even if his thoughts were erratic. "I may not be able to help much with the jazzercise, but I can cover your karate classes after my shift at Storm Chargers. That would take two hours off your schedule, yeah? Free up your afternoons."

Cam was afraid to ask why he'd be willing to take on Cam's burdens.

"Call it pride, but I don't exactly enjoy sitting around on my ass while other people drive themselves into the ground. Not while I can help out."

The lopsided grin that accompanied the statement did things to Cam's chest he'd rather not think about. From the spike of excitement in Hunter, the lamia knew he'd won.

"Besides, you think it's just me?" Hunter grinned evilly. "Just wait until Tori hears about today."

Cam's heart sank at the thought. Great. He'd never hear the end of it. Bad enough his father had just had all his reservations about Cam's field readiness confirmed.

"Hey," Hunter said softly. "It's not about your abilities, all right? It's about you thinking you have to do all this alone. Which you don't. We're your friends, aren't we? So trust us."

That was what it all came down to. Trust. Something Cam never gave lightly, but easily rescinded.

You're not weak. That's why I'm saying this.

"Please, Cam. Let me help."

Cam remained resolutely silent.

"Look. Why do you do this?" Hunter finally asked, switching tactics. "The whole rangering thing."

"Why do you?" Cam deflected automatically.

Hunter shrugged. "Our parents. Our skills. It's the right thing to do. We've been training all our lives."

Cam gave him a look. "So have I."

After a moment, Hunter nodded. Even with the telepathy, Cam felt like he just missed something important.

"I'll just let you do your thing then," Hunter said, backing away. "Even if I do think you need a nap."

Cam blushed at the reminder of the previous day, and felt kind of like jerk, but he was fine.

Staring as Hunter retreated up the stairs, Cam frowned. He didn't think Hunter would be satisfied that easily.

He hated feeling like he'd missed something…

***

"Hey, Cam," Tori greeted him cheerfully.

Blinking, Cam focused on the computer's clock. He'd been cross-referencing for two hours straight, minus Hunter's interruption thirty minutes ago. Stifling a yawn, he turned to Tori.

"Hi," he said with a genuine smile. "You're here early. Patrol doesn't start for another hour."

"I know," she said sweetly, coming over to the computer hutch and idly picking up one of his screwdrivers, twirling it in her hands.

She was dressed in her beach gear, hair still wet from surfing, and the sight gave Cam a small pang. She looked so different from the hesitant fifteen-year old in his father's beginner classes. How quickly time went by.

He figured she'd shown up early for Blake, but her expression turned into an earnest, wide-eyed look she knew Cam couldn't refuse. He groaned internally. He should have known she'd have heard about the earlier incident.

"What do you want me to do?" He asked in resignation.

Tori's entire face brightened further.

"Well, Sensei said we should help you with your programming, right?" Cam opened his mouth to protest, but she talked over him. "Classes haven't started yet, so I totally have free time right now, and magick to spare, so just tell me what you need me to do!"

This is low, Hunter. Cam sent dryly. Even for you.

Hello? Ninja.

He could feel Hunter smirk from above, where the lamia was doing push ups in the apartment living room.

"Okay. All right." Cam held up his hands to ward her off.

There was no way to back out of this without looking like an ass (which Hunter damn well knew) and Cam had a crick in his neck that was actually starting to numb his right arm.

"Just. Let me show you what I'm doing..."

He tried not to sigh as Tori smiled and pulled over a chair. At least he could trust her to be technologically competent.

Hey, I know computers and I have access to your brain, I just don't get all the magick stuff…

Don't you have work soon? Cam shot back, faltering in his instructions. Tori gave him an odd look, but Cam just smiled and picked up where he left off.

Let your family fuss once in a while, man.

Cam had no response for that.

***

To be continued…

***