Altered Perception
By: Pink-Green-White-4ever
Last Revised: November 3, 2006

Summary: A surprise attack on the Co-Captain of the Silver Guardian's leaves a certain former Wild Force Ranger floundering for control of her runaway emotions.
Rating: M. There is a MA version at my website.
Ship: Eric/Taylor
Disclaimer: I don't own Power Rangers, wish I did, because then lots of stuff that happened wouldn't have, and lots of stuff that should have would have. grins Say that five times fast!

AN: This story wouldn't have been possible with out Etcetera Kit and BloomingViolets. Both of you have been amazing friends, wonderful peers, and outstanding fans! --grins and winks—

AN2: And mucho thanks Angela for being persistent in asking me when this was going to be finished!

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. --Nelson Mandela--

--

The Pentagon
Washington D.C.

She felt like she was going to scream. General Boggs was going on and on in his monotone voice about what it would take for them to move to Major and about what it would be like to lead troops into battle. 'Try six different personalities charged with saving the world' she thought with a grin. While she'd been annoyed as hell to deal with Danny, Max, Cole, Merrick, and even Alyssa and Princess Shayla, they'd become family. Her return to the Air Force after a year-long absence had been equal parts relief and heart break. She was ready to be normal again but they were her family, the only one she'd ever really known. Sometimes she really missed them.

"Captain Earhardt!" General Boggs snapped, causing her attention to immediately come back to the task at hand.

"Yes sir?"

"You have an important phone call, Ma'am," one of General Boggs' aides spoke up. The former Wild Force Ranger looked startled for a moment before she stood and exited the room behind the aide.

"Molly, who is it?" Taylor asked the woman behind the receptionist's desk who was handing her the phone.

"A Mr. Wesley Collins," Molly responded.

Taylor's face darkened as she took the receiver. The only reason Wes should be calling her is if something major was going on that involved Power Rangers. "Wes?"

"Taylor, thank God!"

A low growl sounded from Taylor's throat, causing the aides around her to scatter. "Why are you calling me? How the hell did you talk Eric into telling you where I was?"

There was a sigh and a muffled curse on the other end. "I didn't talk him into anything. I called McChord. You've got to come home, it's an emergency."

"What?"

"Eric's in critical condition. They've got him in ICU right now, but they won't do anything until you get here and we sign papers."

Taylor's mind was racing with a million thoughts as to what his words really meant. "Excuse me?" she croaked, unsure why she had to sign papers for Eric.

Wes seemed to sigh impatiently, but began explaining. "You and I are listed as next of kin for Eric. They can't do anything to him without both of our consents."

"Wes, is he…?" she trailed off, closing her eyes. For the first time since the conversation had started, she realized he could already be dead, and that if he was, there was so much she wanted to say to him and couldn't – particularly how pissed off she was that he'd gotten himself hurt while she was away.

"No, he's still alive, but they aren't going to be able to keep him that way for long. You need to come home."

Clenching her eyes shut even tighter, Taylor fought off her grief, using the slowly rising anger toward Eric and his idiotic antics to choke it down. "Put whoever's in charge on the phone right this instant."

"Alright."

Taylor heard the shuffle before a familiar and soothing voice came on the line. "Captain Earhardt?"

The blonde-haired former Ranger let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. Dr. Storm had treated enough of Eric's battle injuries over the years for her to feel marginally comfortable with him being on the phone with her. "Dr. Storm, do what you need to. I'll sign any papers I need to when I get there. You just keep that idiot alive long enough for me to murder him with my bare hands, okay?"

There was a small pause followed by a light chuckle. "Of course. Have a safe trip."

"Tell Wes I'm on my way." The former Yellow Ranger didn't utter a goodbye or wait for one; she just hung up the phone before turning her gaze to Molly.

"Captain?"

"I need to be on the next flight back to McChord, Molly; I have a family emergency."

--

"Captain, our ETA to McChord Air Force Base is approximately four and a half hours," the pilot informed Taylor, who nodded and headed back for her seat. Molly had gotten her on the first plane leaving Washington after the call from Wes. General Boggs had given her the go ahead, and had told her that her things would be sent back to McChord as soon as possible. The only things she'd brought with her were her purse and her laptop.

'Damn it, Eric! What the hell did you do this time?' she thought angrily, biting back the burning she felt in her chest and lungs. She hadn't had a panic attack in a long time – she wasn't about to experience one at thirty-five thousand feet.

Without realizing it, she was leaning back in her seat, her eyes closed, as memories washed over her, particularly her last night home nearly a week ago.

"You know what, be an ass if you like, but do it on the couch!" she yelled at him, throwing his pillow and a blanket at where he was standing in the doorway to their bedroom.

"Excuse me, but you knew the kind of mood I was in when I got home! Did you have to nit pick at every little thing I did from the moment I changed?"

"You're an asshole!" she yelled again, her voice rising in pitch.

"And you're being bitchy! What else is new?"

The pair began to inch closer and closer to each other, faces red and hand fisted at their sides. 'I swear to God, if he hits me, I'm so gone' Taylor thought as Eric raised a hand up. Before she had time to blink, Eric was cupping her cheeks and slanting his lips against hers. One thing led to another, and soon they were pulling each other's clothes off and tumbling down on the bed.

Hours later, they lay quietly together, spent. "Eric?"

"Hmm?"

"You're still an asshole," she told him cheekily, grinning to soften the comment.

"Shut-up and go to sleep, babe," he responded, knowing how much she hated being called babe.

"Are you going to miss me while I'm gone?" she teased, resting her head on his shoulder while her fingers danced back and forth across his smooth, hard chest, teasing his nipples into hardness, before she let her hand wander down his toned stomach and under the sheet to caress him.

"Not really. I'll finally get some peace and quiet. Besides, there are plenty of girls in Silver Hills I can lure into my bed," he teased her, stroking a hand up and down her back.

Taylor only growled lightly from the back of her throat. She knew he was kidding, but sometimes it annoyed her. "That's fine. I'm sure Washington is full of single, dateable men who would jump at the chance to be with me."

"If they don't want my Quantum Defender shoved up their asses, they'll steer clear of you," he told her, holding her a little tighter.

His comment, and the fierce way he said it made her smile. "Heaven forbid the Quantum Ranger remembers that I can take care of myself."

"It's not that I don't remember you can take care of yourself, it's them I don't trust. What time do you leave?" he asked, smoothly changing the subject to something a little less heavy.

"I have to be back at base at 0900. Why?"

"Because," Eric grinned, rolling her off of him. Taylor was disgruntled for all of two seconds, and then gasped as Eric slid his fully erect manhood into her body.

"Oh nice!" she called out, her voice hitching.

"My sentiments exactly," Eric responded, leaning down to kiss her.

"Captain?"

"Y-yes?" Taylor called back to the pilot, her heart pounding. She felt the burning sensation in her eyes, but blinked it away.

"We're just about ready to land."

"Good," Taylor murmured, gathering her things up.

"There's a jeep waiting for you when we touch down." Taylor could only nod, her anger gone for the moment as memories of the last time they'd made love continued to assault her senses.

--

The second she stormed into the ICU, all hell broke loose. Taylor heard Dr. Storm shouting orders even as he ran into a room. Her eyes followed him, and then widened when she saw Wes practically being shoved out of the room. "Taylor!"

"Wes," she spoke, striding toward him. She was still dressed in her uniform, so she still walked and acted as if she were in business mode. "What's going on?"

Wes looked tired, more than Taylor had ever seen the former Red Ranger look. "He keeps having seizures. There's been a lot of swelling on his brain. It's not looking good. They're talking about surgery if he doesn't get better." Wes told her, knowing that Taylor needed the complete truth before she saw Eric. While Taylor Earhardt presented the image of a woman who was cool as ice, those who knew her had seen the softness hidden deep within.

Taylor's lips thinned and her eyes narrowed. "That pompous, idiotic, asshole! I leave for a week and he tries to get himself killed! What the hell happened?" she demanded angrily, her voice resonating through the small hallway, causing nurses and doctors to stare at the upset woman in the Air Force dress uniform.

Wes winced. Next to Jen, Taylor knew she was the only other woman in the world he didn't want to piss off. When she was in a pissy mood, she was scary, and right now, she was bordering hysterical, and they both knew it.

"We were asked to join a squad of Silver Guardians who'd gone down to Olympia to help out their SWAT team," Wes started. "We thought everything was fine, that the mission went off without a hitch. A couple of guys had gotten away, but they had cops looking for them. And then I got a call from Eric late last night. Seems someone was prowling around outside your guys' house. Said he thought it was one of the guys who'd escaped. I told him to wait for backup, because we'd learned that they were rejects from Ransik being back here in 2001. He didn't listen."

Wes' voice trailed off. Having been a Ranger herself, Taylor was cued in to what had happened next. "Did he even get the chance to morph?" she asked, the tone of her voice low.

"No. By the time I got to him, he'd suffered head injuries, a broken collar bone, a broken leg and a bunch of bruises."

Wes winced again. Taylor's body language said she was pissed off, her eyes said she was terrified. Taylor could only nod and then switched her attention to Dr. Storm when the gray-haired man came out of Eric's room looking worn. "Taylor."

"Dr. Storm."

"He's stable. We came close to losing him," he told her, taking off his glasses to rub his fingers in tired eyes. "Taylor, I want you to go in, sit with him, and talk to him. He keeps thrashing around. I think you're going to be the only one to calm him down. If we can't get him to stop moving around, the swelling and the bleeding aren't going to go away, and we're going to lose him."

Taylor swallowed hard and nodded. She turned from the two men and entered Eric's room. Carefully, she took her hat off and sat it on a chair before moving toward the bed where Eric lay and a nurse stood writing in a chart.

The former Yellow Ranger was sick to her stomach when she saw him. His face was swollen, and a sick blackish purple color from the bruises. His collar bone was being stabilized by a contraption underneath his hospital gown and his hands were cut and just as buried as his face.

The two women shared a look before the nurse quietly left the room. Taking a deep breath, Taylor sat on the edge of Eric's bed. "Of all the stupid, idiotic, just like a man type of things to do, you just had to do this. Eric, you asshole!" she hissed, reaching out to take his hand. On the outside, she remained calm, but inside she was shaking. 'He's so still and cold' she thought, closing her eyes. "I swear to God, Eric, if you don't make it out of this, I'm going to see that you're buried with your Quantum Defender shoved up your ass!"

There was a quiet chuckle behind her that snapped Taylor's attention away from Eric's battered face. She looked in the doorway where Wes was standing. "What the hell are you laughing about, Wes?"

The former Red Time Force Ranger tried not to grin, given the situation. Leaning against the door, he shook his head at her. "Eric told me on the ride down to Olympia that he threatened to do the same to any man coming onto you."

Taylor glared but nodded, turning her gaze back to Eric. "He's got to be okay," she murmured.

"You love him, don't you?"

"That's not it. He's got to make it so I can murder him with my bare hands."

Wes shook his head. They were so in love with each other, it was too bad neither would admit it.

--

Sighing heavily, Taylor shifted in her seat for the millionth time, trying to get comfortable. Wes had gone to get something to eat but she had opted to stay with Eric. She hadn't admitted it to Wes, but to see Eric hooked up to all the machines and so still and lifeless, had unnerved her when she'd first arrived. She was so use to seeing him surly and full of life, that to see him pale and unmoving was just…it had freaked her out, worse than anything else ever had.

Since the day she'd met him, he'd always seemed larger than life. She could remember setting out to prove he was human, just like everyone else, under that calm, infuriating exterior of his. He'd been so smug during those first couple of days, so much so that it had irritated her to no ends. But eventually, they'd found common ground in their shared military pasts. Shaking her head and fighting back a wistful smile, Taylor remembered when she'd been assigned to McChord and had gotten it into her head to show up on Eric's doorstep unannounced.

She looked down at the address on the envelope again to make sure she had the right house. She was sitting in the driveway of a modest house on the outskirts of Silver Hills. There was a couple of kids running around at one of the houses next to the one she was parked in front of, and in the side yard of the other, she saw a little girl looking at a cage, which Taylor assumed held a pair of birds. 'Eric's birds if what Wes mentioned was correct' she thought with a grin. The Red Time Force Ranger had once mentioned something about a little girl watching Eric's birds for him when he was out of town. 'The truck's in the driveway, so he must be home.'

She couldn't help but grin evilly. She had told Eric a few weeks before during one of their numerous phone conversations that she was getting reassigned and that she'd let him know when she arrived at wherever she was going. She hadn't known she'd be getting reassigned to McChord Air Force Base, which was about forty five minutes north of Silver Hills. Today was her first day off since her reassignment, so she'd decided to take a drive and see if the former Ranger and current Silver Guardian wanted to go out to dinner and possibly go shoot some pool.

Shaking her head, Taylor stepped from her car, and walked toward the front door. "Can I help you?" the little girl from next door asked, running across the lawn.

Taylor raised an eyebrow at her and stopped halfway up the sidewalk. "I don't think so, kiddo," she told her, turning back toward the house.

"If you're looking for Eric, he's in the garage working on a new cage for the birds," the little girl told her, grinning. Taylor turned back toward her. "Want me to go get him for you?"

"No, that's okay; I think I can find him. Besides, I'm here to surprise him; I don't want to ruin the surprise."

"Cool!" the little girl laughed before racing back toward the birdcage. Taylor started off around the corner of the house toward the garage in back, where she could hear what sounded like a drill.

With a few long strides, she found herself staring at a well toned, tanned back, hunched over a work table with sparks flying. Taylor took a few minutes to appreciate the view, knowing it was rare for anyone to see Eric like this, or to be able to watch him without him knowing. "Alice, I told you, I'm working with power tools, go back out front. This is no place for you. I'll be up front to play tea party with you as soon as I'm done."

"That's all well and good, but I'm not Alice, and last I checked, you didn't mind having me around all that much. And gee, Eric, I didn't know you liked tea parties?"

Taylor laughed when he stood up and spun around, an eyebrow cocked at her. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were getting settled into your reassignment?" he demanded, not once asking how she was.

"I did. I'm stationed at McChord. I figured, since it is my day off that I might take a drive south, to visit an old friend. But if you really don't want me here, that's fine. I can take off. I'm sure there's plenty to do in Tacoma."

Eric narrowed his eyes at her and strode forward until they were less that a foot apart. "Lose the attitude, blondie, it doesn't suit you."

Taylor just grinned before she let him pull her into his arms for a hug. "Admit it; you missed me, didn't you?"

"Hell no, I didn't miss you. Who could miss a mouthy, thinks-she-knows-it-all, blonde-haired former Power Ranger?"

The former Wild Force Ranger chuckled at her companion. "Who indeed? You up to dinner and a couple rounds of pool or maybe a couple rounds of hot, sweaty sex?" she teased, pulling away from him.

"I wish I could, but I'm busy."

"I see. How busy is busy?" Taylor grumbled.

"Babysitting busy, otherwise I'd take you up on the offer. I promised Alice's parents I'd watch her for tonight, while they're out on their bi-weekly date."

As his words seeped in, Taylor couldn't help the warm sensation that built in her chest. She could handle an evening with a munchkin, as long as Eric was there. "Okay, how about pizza and a movie?"

"Taylor, really, I wish I could, but..."

"I think there's a pretty good kid movie playing at the theater and if I remember correctly, there's a Chuck E Cheese across the street from it."

Eric's eyebrows rose in surprise. He really didn't want to go see the little kid movie, but they very well couldn't take Alice to one of the adult films, and he didn't mind the pizza place, but what surprised him the most was that Taylor was suggesting all of it like it was second nature to her. "Are you sure?"

"I think I can handle sharing you with a little girl for one evening. I think the question is, can she handle me?"

The former Time Force Ranger chuckled. "Let's go find out."

"God Eric, I've never had as much fun babysitting as I did that night," Taylor whispered to the man who was still unconscious on the hospital bed as she came back from her memories. If she didn't know any better, she'd have thought he looked worse now than when she'd first arrived that afternoon.

Before Taylor could react, Eric began making gagging sounds and started to have another seizure. "Eric!" she yelled, lunging for the call button to alert the nurse that something was wrong.

"Captain, I'm going to have to ask you to leave," Dr. Storm ordered as he and a group of three nurses moved in to take care of their patient. Taylor didn't say anything, though she desperately wanted to argue about staying in the room. Instead, she let herself be showed to the door, her mind numb and her heart held in icy fear.

--

The house was eerily quiet when she opened the door. None of the lights were on, and as she slammed the door behind her, she didn't bother to turn them on. It felt strange for her, to be in the house, this late at night, and to know that Eric wouldn't be coming home or coming down the stairs to meet her. Drained, both emotionally and physically, Taylor unbuttoned her jacket and the blouse beneath, her feet automatically taking her through the modest ranch house she and Eric had purchased a year an a half before.

Her journey took her up the stairs to their bedroom. She stopped just inside the bedroom door and took a deep breath, hoping to calm herself. Everywhere she looked, every time she breathed in, she was reminded of Eric and his absence. "This is ridiculous! He's going to be fine!" she muttered angrily to herself. She quickly flipped on one of the bedside lamps. With jerky movements, she rounded up a pair of pajamas (which was really one of Eric's shirts and a pair of her old gym shorts) and headed for the bathroom.

"I need a bath," she muttered to herself, stripping off her uniform and tossing it on the sink. With practiced ease, she started the water for her bath, poured in her scented bath gel, and lit the candles that were haphazardly lying around the room. Once the whir-pool tub was filled to her liking, Taylor pulled her hair back into a ponytail and then slid into the water, sighing as she did so. The hot water worked its magic on her quickly, causing her tired eyes to close and her mind to wander.

"Well, at least getting the tub was a good investment."

Taylor's eyes snapped open. She found Eric leaning against the door frame, shirtless, arms crossed over his bare chest. His jean clad legs were crossed at the ankles and he was still barefoot. Taylor could only grin behind the cover of the bubbles she was sitting amongst.

"In the long run, the whole house will be an investment," she pointedly told him for the millionth time.

Eric just shook his head, his inky black bangs falling into his eyes before he brushed them away. "Are you going to spend all night in here?"

"I'm thinking about it. Why, do you want to take your own bubble bath, tough guy?"

Eric's eyes narrowed. "I wouldn't be caught dead smelling like whatever you poured in there," he announced.

"Is that a challenge?" Taylor asked, her mind whirling.

"No, it's a fact."

Taylor arched an eyebrow and debated her course of action. Grinning, she pushed up from the tub and stood before Eric, dripping wet, bubbles covering her so that only little patches of tanned, smooth skin peeked out at him. Carefully, she stepped out of the tub and walked across the room to where Eric stood, transfixed, in the door way.

The former Time Force Ranger cocked an eyebrow at her, trying to decipher what exactly was going through her mind. "Taylor?"

She didn't speak; she just reached out to touch him – her fingers caressing his arm. Taylor couldn't help but smile at the goose bumps that appeared on his arms and chest. In a matter of seconds, she had unhooked his jeans and had them pooling at his feet. Shooting him one saucy look, she dove down, her knees hitting the titled floor, and proceeded to treat him like a lollipop.

Eric groaned, his hands shooting out to brace his upper body against the door frame. Taylor was devouring him as if she couldn't get enough of him. "Taylor!" he gasped softly and had to struggle to stay standing when she abruptly let him go and moved back toward the now cooling water of her bath.

Laughter bubbled up in her throat at the sight of Eric standing in the door way, his hands pressed against the frame, his pants around his ankles, and the dark expression on his face.

"You're going to pay for that," he growled, kicking his jeans off the rest of the way.

"Not if I'm in the tub," she teased, sinking back into the water.

"We'll see about that." The next thing Taylor knew, Eric was slipping into the bath with her. Before she had time to react, he was pulling her onto his lap, impaling her on his hardness. She squeaked in surprise, her hands flying to his shoulders to steady herself.

"I thought you wouldn't be caught dead in my bubble bath?" she asked, gasping softly, her legs working almost on instinct to help Eric's hands to make her body move.

"You'd better finish what you started!" he grunted, his mind shutting down as it always did when he found himself inside of her.

"Really?" Taylor quipped.

"Don't test me," Eric argued back, his lips seeking out her neck.

It wasn't much longer before Taylor was sinking her teeth into his shoulder while her body tightened around his. Meanwhile, Eric cursed loudly, his body seemingly exploding in release inside of Taylor's.

Like a rag doll, Taylor slumped forward against Eric's chest, her own chest heaving even as her breathing tried to return to normal. "Jesus Eric!" Taylor breathed against his skin, her body still humming.

"You started it," Eric teased her, his arms holding her close. "Are you okay, you're still trembling?"

Taylor merely sighed and lay quietly against his chest. "I'm fine," she spoke. The soft sigh that followed turned to a moan of appreciation when Eric's hands smoothed up and down her back in a light, massaging caress. "I don't want to move."

"I know, but I'm not sitting here while you go to sleep. I refused to go to bed smelling like wild flowers," Eric grumbled.

Taylor sat up, looking confused. They'd been dating since just after Time Force had come to help out Wild Force against the MutOrgs. That was almost three years ago. They'd only been living together for two weeks. It amazed her that Eric had actually learned what scent she was fondest of, since she hadn't thought he was all that sentimental about things. Shaking her head, Taylor quickly thought of a come back.

"You're the one who climbed in the bath with me."

"Yeah, and I'm the one who's getting both of us out," Eric told her even as he lifted her off his lap and helped her to her feet before climbing to his own. Taylor sputtered in indignation, but Eric silenced her with a look. Taylor gritted her teeth and stayed quiet but she was pleasantly surprised when he led her over to the shower stall, turned on the water, and pulled her into it with him.

"What are you doing?"

"Rinsing us off. I don't know about you, but I don't want to go to bed with soap suds all over me," he murmured, kissing her shoulder while his hands smoothed over her body, helping the water rid her skin of the scented soap.

The phone ringing shrilly knocked her back into consciousness. Taylor grimaced at the coolness of the water and hurried to get out and answer the phone. She managed to grab the call before the answering machine picked up. "Hello?" she asked, out of breath.

"Taylor?"

The former Yellow Ranger felt the tears pricking her eyes and blinked them back. "Alyssa?"

"Are you alright? Cole and I just got Wes' message, we've been out of town. Is Eric alright? Do you need anything?"

Taylor swallowed hard. She hadn't lost the tight hold she had on her emotions the entire day; she wasn't about to now when she heard Alyssa's soothing voice on the other end of the phone. "No, no, I'm fine. He's…well, he's still breathing. I'm sorry Wes called and worried you, everything's okay," Taylor told her former teammate. Alyssa was like the sister she'd never had, and quite possibly was her best friend, if she'd ever had one. She didn't want to bug her, not when Taylor knew she could handle the situation.

"Cole and I will be on the first flight out tomorrow. Which hospital is he at?" Alyssa spoke, her voice brooking no argument from the argument prone former Ranger.

"Silver Hills General," Taylor told her, her voice cracking on the last word.

"Ok. I'll call you as soon as we get in. Your cell phone is still the same, yes?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, see you tomorrow. And Taylor?"

"Hmm?"

"Hang in there, we love you."

Taylor couldn't reply, her throat closing a little with emotion. "See you tomorrow." When the line went dead, the blonde hung the phone up and sat on the bed. Taking a deep breath, she rolled over, grabbed one of Eric's pillows, buried her face in it and cried.

--

The second the red digits of the clock turned from 5:59 to 6:00 A.M., Taylor decided she didn't want to lie in bed any longer. Tossing the covers back, she carefully put Eric's pillow back in its place and proceeded to make the bed. She hadn't slept all night and figured there was no reason to waste anymore time in bed when all it was doing was making her relive happier times in her life.

Sighing, the former Ranger moved to her dresser and began pulling out clothes. A pair of black jeans, her yellow lace bra, and a pair of yellow socks were tossed on the bed before she moved to the closet. Old habits had her tugging a pale yellow button-up blouse and a darker yellow vest from the rack.

Quickly, she donned the nearly familiar outfit, all the while secretly wishing the vest bore her Wild Force emblems. She didn't consider herself sentimental, but her time as a Ranger had given her a different kind of confidence, and it was that confidence she felt she could use at this point in her life.

After lacing up a pair of tennis shoes, Taylor moved into the bathroom. Quickly and efficiently, she tied her hair up in a half ponytail and brushed her teeth. Once she was done, she went downstairs, grabbed a banana, her keys, and her sunglasses and headed out.

She was just getting into her convertible when she head a loud cry that sped up her heart rate and caused an ache in her stomach, one she hadn't had since she'd given up her Ranger powers. Scrambling from her seat, Taylor turned her face to the skies and began to scan the treetops, hoping to find the source of the call. She heard it a second time, but again didn't see anything. When it sounded for a third time, Taylor simply closed her eyes, and opened her mind and heart and let the reassurance she felt from the familiar sound wash over her. 'The Soaring Eagle' she thought to herself, tilting her face to the sky. 'I refuse to give up on the situation, especially if you're with me.'

With a renewed sense of hope, Taylor got back in the car and headed out.

--

"Wes," Taylor spoke, shaking her head. Wes had practically shoved her out of Eric's room the night before, saying she needed rest, and here he was having spent the entire night at Eric's side. "Collins, I ought to murder you too," she grumbled.

"Good morning to you too, Taylor," Wes shot back, yawning and stretching.

"You, go home, shower, sleep a few hours, and eat something. When you've done that, you can come back. I don't want to see you before three o'clock this afternoon, understood?"

"What about…?" Wes started to argue, only to be silence with a raised hand and Taylor's glare.

"Alyssa called me last night," she told him, watching him blush. "They're on their way here as we speak. I'll be fine. Now go, before I kick your ass."

Wes didn't say anything, simply opting to nod and head for the door. "Taylor?"

"What?"

"Don't be surprised if Dad stops by sometime today," Wes told her before he turned and left.

Taylor found herself perched on Eric's bed a half hour after Wes had gone home. She held one of his scraped and bruised hands in hers, every so often brushing reaching up with one hand to brush the hair from his face and caress his swollen cheek. He looked like he'd gained some of his color back, but it was no where near his usual healthy tan.

"I never realized how empty the house would seem without you there," she whispered softly, her fingers intertwining with his as she fought back the panic rising inside of her. "Eric, you've got to get better, I can't do this without you."

Giving voice to her fear not only made her feel weak, it also made her feel stupid. She'd been a Power Ranger and she was in the Air Force; she didn't have the time or the inclination to feel stupid or weak, but that's exactly what she felt sitting there watching him. Not to mention, she was starting to feel useless and in the way every time the doctors or nurses came in to check on him.

"Taylor?"

The blonde-haired woman jerked her head at the sound of her name. Turning, she saw Alyssa and Cole standing in the doorway, and just beyond them were Max and Danny, standing near the nurse's station talking to Dr. Storm.

"Guys," Taylor croaked, her voice breathy. Alyssa hurried forward and wrapped Taylor in a fierce hug, keeping her former teammate close.

"How is he?" Cole's soothing voice sounded.

Taylor let out a careful breath, her mind mentally ticking off her not so professional prognosis before she began to speak. "He's got some more color, but he still hasn't woken up yet," she managed to get out before she wrapped her arms around Alyssa and held on, burying her face in her friend's shoulder for comfort.

"Shh. It's going to be okay, Taylor. He's strong, he'll get through this, you both will," Alyssa murmured, trying to reassure the blonde.

"I feel stupid! All I seem to want to do is cry!" Taylor forced out, her chest heaving.

Cole came forward then and gripped Taylor's shoulder. "That's a natural reaction when someone you love is hurt. So is anger."

Taylor's head came up then from its resting spot on Alyssa's shoulder. She'd never really thought about it before, but Cole's words struck a cord in her. She'd always told herself she'd never fall, not like that; she didn't want nor need to depend on anyone but herself, but her friend's honest opinion and advice told her she had. She was in love with Eric.

"Oh God!" she hissed before pushing away from Alyssa and running from the room.

Danny and Max were startled when a streak of yellow flew passed them. "Was that Taylor?" Max asked Alyssa, who was coming out of Eric's room, Cole streaking past her.

"Yes," Alyssa told them, coming to a stop by them.

"Where's Cole going?" Danny questioned.

"After Taylor. Something he said to her upset her," Alyssa supplied, but left it at that. If and when the time came, it was Taylor's choice to let her friends know she was in love with Eric.

The former Black and Blue Rangers nodded, knowing it was best to steer clear of Taylor until Cole had a chance to calm her down. Shaking their heads, the trio went back in to sit with Eric just in case.

--

Sighing, Cole found himself looking through the glass windows of two doors a half hour later. What he found was Taylor, facing the front of the small room. Taking a deep breath, Cole entered the hospital's chapel.

"Taylor?"

"Go away Cole," her voice hissed out.

Cole just shook his head and moved down the small aisle to the pew she was sitting on. "I didn't know you were religious," he started, thinking it was a safer subject to talk about for the moment then to bring up what happened in Eric's room.

"I was raised Baptist, but as a teen I drifted from it. As a fighter pilot, I've had enough close calls to start believing there was something or someone out there watching over me, something bigger than myself."

Cole only nodded, understanding her perfectly. "Taylor, why did my telling you that you love Eric freak you out so badly?" Cole broached softly. "You do love him, don't you?"

"Because until you said something, I hadn't thought so. I've never let myself fall, not that far in any case. To have one of my friends, one of my teammates, point it out to me when I'd been blind to it myself didn't sit well with me," she told him, bringing her hands up to cover her face. "I'm just…I'm scared, Cole. We've all faced things as Rangers that would terrify a normal person, we weren't ever supposed to get hurt, not like that, when we had no warning that it was coming!"

"You know that's not true," Cole told her gently. "As Rangers, the dangers come and go, whether we have powers or not, at any time of day or night."

Taylor brought her hands down and stared at the front wall where a cross with Jesus hanging on it stood for all to see. "When you're this scared to lose someone, I've found in my limited experience, that it means you have strong feelings for that person. Maybe what you feel for Eric isn't love, not yet, but maybe it's getting there."

Taylor shook her head in denial. "I can't love him."

"Why not?"

Turning, Taylor met Cole's eyes, before her voice came out in a breathy tone. "Because he's not the type of guy you can build a family with, a life with," she argued. "Even if I were so inclined to want that," she added hastily.

Cole just arched an eyebrow. "Then why are you living with him? From where I'm sitting, he'd be the perfect match for you. You're both loyal, stubborn as hell, opinionated. He always seems to challenge your mind and he's fiercely protective of you. Why don't you think you love him?

Taylor closed her eyes as tears finally spilled down her cheeks. "I can't love him because I'll lose him, just like everything else I've loved. He won't stick, guys like him rarely do."

Cole wrapped an arm around her shoulders before he pulled her to his side. She stiffened in surprise but didn't pull away, instead choosing to relax against him. "Taylor, that's not fair. Eric isn't like anyone else, and you know that. Besides, if he wasn't going to stick, you two wouldn't have bought the house together."

She laid her head against his shoulder, just like she had so many times in the past with Eric. "I really am scared, Cole, more scared than I've ever had a reason to be."

"I know, but you've got to remember, he's strong, in mind and body. He's a fighter, he won't give up."

Turning her head slightly, she looked up at one of her closest friends and saw the raw belief in his eyes. "I wish I had your faith," she told him, moving her head back to its original position.

"If you need it, it's yours."

"Thank you."

--

She felt embarrassed when she and Cole returned to the Intensive Care Unit. Danny, Max and Alyssa were sitting in the waiting room, talking quietly when the pair walked up. The former White Ranger immediately got up and hugged her. Taylor accepted the embrace, giving into the need for comfort. Danny and Max stepped up when the girls pulled apart.

Taylor smiled at them and accepted hugs she knew they wanted to give, and more importantly, she had a need to accept. "Feel better?" Danny asked, his worry genuine, as his hand rested on her shoulder.

"A little," she smiled at him, and then smiled at Max. "Thanks for coming."

Max cocked his head to the side, studying her with a serious expression before smiling. "Taylor, we're a team. You hurt, we hurt."

Alyssa smiled and nodded, rubbing her hand up and down Taylor's back. "Mr. Collins is in with him; otherwise we'd be in there still."

Taylor let out the breath she didn't know she was holding in. "That's fine. Wes said his dad would probably be by sometime today."

"Taylor?"

Turning, the group of five saw Alan Collins walk out of the double doors that led to the ICU. "Mr. Collins," Taylor spoke, striding away from her friends and toward Wes' father.

Alan frowned when he saw the condition Taylor was in. Since he'd met the feisty blonde, she'd always seemed to let nothing faze her. Now here she was with a slump to her normally straight spine and worry lines and fatigue showing in her face. "I just want you to know, you've only to worry about getting Eric better. I'll take care of everything else, alright?"

"Mr. Collins, really, you don't need to do that," Taylor protested.

"Taylor, please, it's the least I can do. Eric's like my second son. Let me take care of the expenses until he's back on his feet, both here and at the house."

The former Yellow Ranger found she couldn't argue with him, especially since he'd turned those pleading eyes on her. They were the same eyes that Wes often turned on her when he was trying to get her to gang up on Eric with him. "Thank you."

Alan nodded. "I'm going to go call Wes and start making arrangements. I'll be back later."

Taylor merely nodded and watched him walk away before she called out to her friends. "Well, let's go see how he's doing."

--

The room was dark, save for the lights on the machines and the light coming from the open door. It was eerily silent save for the hissing from the machine pumping oxygen and the steady hum of the heart monitor.

Taylor sat quietly in the chair by Eric's bed, his free hand held tightly in hers. Her eyes were glued to his face, alert for any signs of movement. "Come on, Eric, wake up," she urged softly. "I wasn't joking; I can't do this without you. As much as I hate to admit it, I love you, you idiot; you're it for me. I don't think I could stand losing you." Taylor closed her eyes and leaned her head back. She was so tired; she figured a little nap wouldn't hurt.

She never saw the slight movement of his lips as she slept, or the fluttering of his eyelids.

--

"Well, good morning," Dr. Storm announced with a smile when he entered Eric's room the next morning.

"Good morning," Eric muttered.

The doctor grinned. "You are one very lucky man."

Eric nodded. "What happened?" he croaked.

"You got beaten up according to Wes. How do you feel?"

The former Time Force Ranger smiled wryly and chuckled. "Like I've had the shit kicked out of me."

Dr. Storm laughed. Eric was, if anything, blunt. "I'd imagine so. I'm going to go round up a couple of nurses, we're going to run some tests, and we'll see about moving you to a private room."

"Thanks. Who the hell called her?" Eric grumbled, point at Taylor, though his gaze was soft when it landed on her.

"I had Wes call her. We needed her signature since she's one of your next of kin."

Eric nodded. "She doesn't look like she's slept much."

"She's been here since just after you were brought in. She hasn't left for more than four or five hours at a time, if that. I'd imagine she hasn't slept a wink."

Dr. Storm took that as his cue to leave because Eric turned his eyes fully to Taylor's face, a soft look crossing his features again, before he lifted her hand to his lips. He smiled when she started to stir and left the two of them alone.

"Taylor," Eric croaked, his voice finally protesting not being used in a few days.

"Eric!" Taylor yelped, bolting upright when she saw his eyes were open.

"Shh!" Eric hissed.

"Dr….!"

"He was just here," Eric told her, rolling his eyes at her.

His words seemed to calm her down for a few seconds before she reached up and began squeezing his fingers as hard as she could. "OW!" Eric yelped in response.

"Serves you right!" Taylor hissed angrily at him. "Of all the stupid, idiotic things you could do, you had to land yourself in the hospital, didn't you?"

Eric watched in shock as tears glittered on her lashes and her nose turned red. He tugged on the hand still gripping his and pulled her onto the bed and into his arms. Once Taylor was secure against him, she couldn't hold back the flood of emotion. Eric only winced briefly when she knocked his collar bone, but understood, instinctively, that she needed to feel him, solid and whole, and alive, against her.

"I'm okay, Taylor," he whispered into her hair. He felt his heart give a tumble when she started crying harder. If there was one thing he couldn't stand, it was watching Taylor cry. She annoyed the hell out of him more often than not, but seeing her to the point of full blown crying was almost too much to handle. He knew she must have been really worried to cry. "Come on, babe, its okay. I'm fine, I'm alive, and I'm breathing."

"I thought I was going to lose you!" she whispered, her words slurring as her crying jag caught up to her.

"You didn't, I'm right here," he spoke softly.

Doing as requested, Taylor crawled fully onto the bed and laid her head on the pillow next to him. She yawned once, closed her eyes, and started to fall asleep. "I love you, Eric."

The former Time Force Ranger looked startled at her words before he smiled. "Took you long enough to realize it," Eric mumbled, kissing her lips before he too fell asleep.

--

Taylor walked into the private room Dr. Storm had moved Eric into and frowned. Wes, Danny, Max and Cole were chuckling while Alyssa rolled her eyes at the pretty red head flirting with Eric as she checked his vitals.

"You were pretty brace, Mr. Myers."

Eric blushed before catching sight of Taylor standing in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest. The nurse turned and caught a look at Taylor, sobering as she did. The tension between Eric and the blonde told the nurse there was so much more than meets the eyes between them. "You're a very lucky Man, Mr. Meyers," the nurse grinned and winked before moving from the room.

"Are you going to come over here or are you going to stand there and glare at me?" Eric finally asked Taylor.

"You aren't my boss, back off," Taylor pointedly told him, refusing to budge.

Eric narrowed his gaze on her. "What crawled up your ass and died?"

The other occupants of the room shared looks before standing up. "Eric, we're going to go grab lunch, we'll see you later," Wes muttered, knowing neither Eric nor Taylor were paying attention to them.

"Taylor?"

"Other than I sat here for nearly a week, thinking you were going to die on me, and the second you get better you're flirting with some redhead, I don't know what the fuck could be wrong."

"Taylor, damn it, she was just being nice," Eric hotly told her. "The others were teasing me about having a pretty nurse, that's all it was."

"Whatever. I knew I was right when I told Cole guys like you don't stick."

Leaving Eric staring at her back in shock, Taylor strode from the room, his voice echoing behind her. "TAYLOR!"

--

Wes watched Eric slowly climb out of the car and stand on his crutches. "Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?"

"Wes, I'm not incapable of getting into the house. Thanks for the ride."

"No problem. You need anything, just give me a call, okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks," Eric shut the door and headed toward the stairs leading to the front door of the house. It only took him two attempts to get up the first stair before he got a rhythm going.

He heaved a sigh when he got inside and found no one home. Taylor hadn't come to see him at all since the day she stormed out of his room a week before. Eric understood she'd been mad, but couldn't understand why. And then Cole had told him about the conversation he'd had with her in the chapel.

Taylor was terrified of being in love with him. Shaking his head, Eric headed for the couch to lie down, thinking she wasn't the only one who was scared out of their mind.

--

She blinked rapidly when she moved into the living room. Wes had called her the day before to let her know Eric was getting released, she just hadn't expected him to be home. After their fight, she half expected him to stay with Wes. But there he was, sound asleep on the couch.

Sitting on the edge next to him, she watched him sleep. His color was mostly back, but there were dark smudges under his eyes telling her he hadn't been sleeping much. Taylor felt guilty for not having gone to see him, but she'd gotten stuck on base after she'd gone back to duty. She regretted what she'd said to him, because she knew Cole was right, Eric was different, solid and dependable. He'd stick. The question now was, could she?

Leaning over, Taylor caressed his cheek, and was only mildly surprised when his eyes opened. "Hi," she whispered.

"Hi. When'd you get home?"

"A few minutes ago," she told him, pulling her hand away. Eric caught it with his own and turned it over. Taylor gasped softly when he pressed a kiss to the inside of her wrist. "Eric."

He grinned at her, reaching up to cup her cheek. "Taylor, I want to know something."

"What?" she asked, dread coiling in her stomach.

"Do you love me?"

When her eyes brimmed with tears, Eric knew he'd hit a sore spot. She started to open her mouth to deny it, but the look Eric gave her had her rethinking her instinctive reaction. "I wish to God I didn't."

Eric didn't grin, he just looked at her in a serious way. "Why?"

"Because it scares the hell out of me like nothing ever has before." Taylor had come to terms with the fact that he needed the truth, and that she was sick of being terrified.

"I love you, Taylor, more than you will ever know. And it terrifies me just as much as it does you."

The former Yellow Ranger swallowed hard and laid her hand over Eric's, which was still on her cheek. "I'm sorry I wigged out."

"Apology accepted, as long as you tell me why."

Taylor closed her eyes, a pained expression drifting onto her face. Eric wasn't sure what to make of it, but he knew it had to do with her family and the reason she never mentioned them. "Because I didn't want to end up like my mother – raising a child alone because I trusted a man to step up and take care of us."

"Your dad?"

Taylor let out a breath and started her explanation. "When my mother found out she was pregnant after they had me, he flipped out and took off. He couldn't handle the idea of being tied down that much."

Eric's eyes narrowed in on her face. "But you don't have any siblings," he pointed out.

"The stress from all of it caused her to miscarry the baby, and I grew up never being able to forget that. We had our moments, but my mother never forgave me for what she saw as my fault."

"That's bullshit," Eric snapped.

"In any case, it set the foundation for me and relationships. I've never had one last more than a year, not until you."

The two of them stared at one another, knowing what it cost Taylor to tell him. The fact that they both came from broken homes was something that would keep a normal couple apart, but the two of them were acknowledging that for them, it would be a tie to bind them.

"Taylor, you know what my family is like – my mother is demanding and whiney, my father never gave a fuck what I did with my life growing up because he always assumed I'd end up in jail. Did you honestly think we couldn't make this work because of what happened to yours?" Eric asked her, peering into her face, watching and waiting for an answer.

She answered in a shrug, her eyes leaving his face because they suddenly found the carpet under the coffee table fascinating. "Part of me did, yes, and part of me hoped we could do this."

"We are doing this," Eric grinned.

Taylor turned to look at him, saw his grin, and let one of her own shine back at him. "Eric?"

"Yeah?"

Her grin morphed into a genuine smile as her heart felt like it was going to burst open in her chest. "I love you."

He reached around her and pulled her to his chest. "That's a good thing, because I love you too."

The former Yellow Ranger took a deep breath and let his words sink in. She lay with her head on his shoulder and simply enjoyed his warmth and the security she felt from his embrace. She was also happy to see the stabilizing contraption was no longer on his shoulders.

"Babe?"

"Hmm?"

"Do me a favor?"

"What?" she asked, annoyance coming through that he couldn't be quiet for five minutes while she soaked in the silence.

Eric grinned into her hair. "Go upstairs with me and let me make love to you?"

Taylor tipped her head back and saw the mischief in his eyes, right alongside the desire, the longing, and the love. "Think you can get up the stairs?"

"I'm damn well going to try," he growled when she sat up and helped him to his feet.

"Come on, hop-a-long"

Eric tried to grab her but she danced away from him. "Come back here, Taylor!"

"Come and get me, Crutches!" she teased, waiting at the base of the steps for him. He caught up faster than she thought he would. When he did, she wrapped her arms around his waist and kissed him until they were both dizzy.

"We have to get upstairs, now!" Eric muttered against her lips.

"Oh yeah."

Reluctantly, they pulled apart and she helped him up the stairs, the pair occasionally stopping so he could rest. Once they were in their room, Eric sat on the bed and stripped while Taylor went into the bathroom and hung up her uniform. When she came back, she found him sitting on the edge of their bed waiting for her.

Gracefully, she moved to tower over him. Without a word, Taylor put her hands on his cheeks and leaned down to kiss him. Eric slid his hands up the sides of her thighs before coming to rest at her waist. She was wearing only a very racy yellow lace bra and matching yellow panties. Even as their kiss dragged on, Eric could feel her arousal in the way her hips seemed to thrust forward ever so slightly and he could smell a scent that was hers and hers alone; wildflowers and something that was strictly Taylor.

They pulled apart, chest heaving as they struggled to catch their breaths. "Taylor, as much as I want to make this last, it's been over two weeks since..."

Taylor stopped his words with one long finger to his lips. "I know. Lay back," she whispered. "Are you going to be ok with this, or do you want to try sitting up?"

"Nope, I'm fine," he whispered, watching in awe as she backed off the end of the bed, tugging his boxers with her. Eric watched her with baited breath as she reached around her body, unsnapped the clasp of her bra, letting it hit the floor before she quickly wiggled out of her panties, the lacy cloth falling to the floor with the rest of their clothes. Before he had much of a chance to say anything, Taylor was kneeling over him, and then bending over to kiss him, while her hands sought to bring him pleasure.

Eric hissed in pleasure as her sure hands hit all the right spots, causing his desire and need for her to burn out of control. "Taylor!" he gasped when she shimmied down his body and wrapped her lips around him.

Taylor grinned against him and then started the torture. When he let out a strangled cry and dug his fingers into her hair, Taylor felt like patting herself on the back. Because she was otherwise occupied, she figured she'd do something else. Her hands caressed here and there and she smiled when she felt his body stiffen and heard him cry out.

"Taylor?" Eric breathlessly called out to her. She briefly thought about ignoring him but decided not to and instead pulled back and looked up at him.

"Hmm?"

"As much as I really want you to continue…" he sighed heavily, finally getting his body back under control. "I really need to be inside of you."

Taylor felt it in the way his body shook. The poor guy was doing everything he could to hold back. She smiled serenely down at him. Careful not to jar his legs, she moved up and straddled his waist and then connected their bodies. "Allow me."

The former Time Force Ranger cried out when Taylor's hips began to move against him, fast and sharp. Any other time he'd have gone for them taking their time, but Eric knew they both needed the release more than ever. He caressed her body as she hovered over him and sought to send her over the edge. It was several long, pleasure filled minutes before her body finally came unglued, her muscles contracting around him, squeezing him, while she cried out.

With her body froze above him, Eric felt himself float for a moment. Then her muscles began to clench and unclench, and he found he only had to arch up a few more times before his own body let go, sending him over the edge to join her. He was still gasping for breath and wincing at the tightness of her when she finally crashed down on his chest, her hair sticking to their sweaty bodies as she laid her ear against his heart. He winced when she hit his collar bone but decided that having her close was worth the minor pain.

"Oh wow."

Eric managed to drum up enough energy to chuckle. "Babe..."

"I know, sorry," she murmured, lifting her body off of him, effectively breaking their connection. She rolled off to the side and snuggled against him when his arm wrapped around her, holding her close to his side. She yawned and stretched before cuddling close again, her head finding its way to his chest. "Thank you."

"For?"

"Loving me enough to not let go," she whispered.

Eric didn't say anything; he just kissed her forehead and let her drift off to sleep. He knew without a doubt that the series of events that culminated in their love making had altered both their perceptions of what they wanted out of life – they wanted each other. He didn't know what the future held, but he knew one thing was certain – whatever came their way, they'd face it together.