Chapter Four

Family Secrets

"What do we got?" Ethan asked Tommy in a low voice as Ethan, Tommy and Kira carelessly tossed their belongings in Tommy's Jeep before dashing out of the parking lot.

"Tyrannodrones," Tommy replied tersely. "Downtown, in Santa Luisa Square. It's only about a mile from here."

"No monster yet?" Kira asked.

"No, just Tyrannodrones. Speaking of which—Ethan, what were you thinking?"

Ethan cringed. "It was back before we became Rangers. We were on our way back from that field trip, we'd just gotten the Gems, I was freaked. So I posted on the same urban legend site that I heard about the sinkholes. I didn't mention anything about the Gems, Dr. O."

"Even so, there are a lot of people who will say, 'Freaky lizard monsters? Cool!' and go running off to search those sinkholes now," Tommy said grimly. "There's a good chance someone could stumble onto the lab. Someone else."

"I made that post back in September," Ethan pointed out. "It's almost February. No one's found us yet."

"But someone could," Tommy said with a sigh. "Did either of you tell anyone else?"

"No," Kira assured him. "Not even the band."

"Me either."

"All right," Tommy said with a sigh. "Who's this Eric guy that Conner told about the sinkholes? The one who asked Sam and Dean if they'd heard anything. Do you know him?"

"Eric? He's Conner's identical twin," Ethan explained. "He used to come to the DDR tournaments at Cyberspace before he got transferred to private school. Wasn't into any other games, though; apparently he's just into dancing. He got kicked out of the private school right before we became Rangers, but Conner told me he got back in a couple weeks later."

"It wasn't a private school, remember?" Kira pointed out. "Eric's in some secret school for ninjas or something. Conner told us when we were watching that tape on ex-Rangers, back when Dr. O was kidnapped. Dr. O, there's an alley up ahead. Should we slip in there and m—Dr. O?"

Ethan and Kira skidded to a halt. Tommy was no longer beside them. He had completely frozen half a block behind them. "Dr. O?" Kira called as she and Ethan jogged back to him. "You okay?"

Tommy had a somewhat horrified look on his face. "Are you—" Tommy paused and swallowed heavily. "Are you telling me that there's two of Conner?"

Ethan clapped a sympathetic hand on Tommy's shoulder. "We know, Dr. O. We know."

"Work past the pain," Kira added dryly. "And realize that Conner's evil twin didn't write you love poems for the entirety of eighth grade."

Tommy's jaw dropped at this tale of woe, and he spontaneously threw his arms around her in a hug, a hug full of all the support, sympathy and compassion that Tommy could muster. He held her for a few moments while Ethan smiled brightly at a group of kids from their first period science class who were currently walking by and staring at the strange scene in open-mouthed shock. Tommy finally pulled back and sniffed, his body language firmly stating, "That didn't just happen. Honest." "Okay. Dealing," Tommy said calmly.

"We good?" Kira asked in the same clear, calm tone.


"And off we go," Ethan said as the three of them darted into the alley and went through their morphing sequences.

Shortly thereafter, the Blue, Yellow and Black Rangers arrived in Santa Luisa Square, where pedestrians were panicking or gawking at the thirty or so Tyrannodrones, who were chasing the civilians or knocking over trashcans and newsstands, obviously just waiting until the Dino Rangers responded to their call of, "Hey, we're here to draw you out so the monster can get you, hurry it up, please." Tommy dove straight into the largest group near the center of the square, while Kira and Ethan split up and started attacking the Drones scattered around the edges, forcing them back to the center. The few pedestrians dumb enough to hang around and watch retreated to the safety of the surrounding buildings.

They still had roughly twenty-five drones to go when an energy blast hit Tommy in the back, sending him flying. He landed hard in the Santa Louisa fountain, sending water splashing out into the courtyard. Tommy quickly pushed himself up, grimacing at the slight twinge in his back which he knew he'd be feeling once he demorphed, probably for days. He turned to see Zeltrax standing several feet away, sword braced on his shoulder.

"We meet again, Dr. Oliver," Zeltrax growled.

"Aw, did ya miss me, Zeltrax?" Tommy asked, smirking inside his helmet. With that, he leaped out of the fountain and went straight into a jump-kick that Zeltrax dodged just at the right moment. Tommy went sailing past, landing lightly and summoning his Brachio Staff.

Tommy was just about to call for an Energy Orb when something large and yellow came out of nowhere, slamming into him and sending him skittering across the tiled courtyard. It wasn't until Kira landed next to him with a groan that he realized she'd been thrown into him.

"Kira! You okay?"

"Monster's over there," she replied sourly. He helped her up, regarding the monster of the moment—it was large, purple and brown, and covered in fur with four large whip-like vines for each arm; Tommy would guess octopus mixed with grizzly bear, but he couldn't be sure. Kira rubbed her shoulder for a moment before whipping out her Ptera Grips and rushing at it. Tommy glanced at Ethan, but he was now surrounded by close to twenty Tyrannodrones. With a sigh, Tommy smacked at his communicator through his suit to contact Conner; they were too divided as it was. Tommy could probably handle Zeltrax, but there were a few too many Drones on Ethan and the monster was a bit much for just Kira. He doubted he'd be able to switch places with either of the other Rangers; Zeltrax only had eyes for the Black Ranger, so if Tommy ordered Kira or Ethan to fight him, Zeltrax would get past them the moment he had a chance and Tommy would be sucker-punched or worse. It didn't really matter; he didn't like the thought of leaving one of the others alone against Zeltrax, they'd probably need the Z-Rex Blaster at some point, and they'd have to call Conner for that anyway. Better to eliminate the risk, now that things had gone sour.

Tommy attacked Zeltrax again, and was locked sword-hilt-to-staff when Conner beeped in. "Dr. O?"

Tommy used the momentary distraction to slam his foot into Zeltrax's kneecap and shove him away. "Conner! I'm sorry, but—"

"It's cool. Where?"

"Santa Luisa Square."

"I'm on my way," Conner said quickly. Tommy breathed a sigh of relief and threw himself back at Zeltrax.

Conner arrived as a red blur a few moments later, knocking out three of Ethan's Tyrannodrones as he blew by before running full-speed into the monster sparring with Kira.

"About time!" Kira called gratefully.

"You're welcome," Conner replied cheerfully. "Go help Ethan!"

From there on out, it was a short fight. Kira and Ethan incapacitated the last twelve Drones and ran to help with Zeltrax, who quickly booked the moment it became three-on-one.

"Let's make this quick, guys," Conner called as he motioned for Kira and Ethan to combine their weapons with his. "My mom's making fried potatoes for dinner."

Tommy raised his wrist to his mouth and prepared to call for his Brachiozord. They waited expectantly for the sky to darken, waited for the Hydro-Regenerator's strange acid rain to reform the monster, waited for the usual. And waited. And waited some more.

"Um… what part of 'make this quick' does Mesogog not get?" Conner demanded, looking up at the sky in irritation and confusion.

Tommy shrugged. "Must not be coming this time."

The three teens paused and stared at him doubtfully.

"That can't happen," Conner said uncertainly. "Can it?"

"Believe me, it can," Tommy said. "It's rare, though." He gestured at the remains. "Let's blast these up and get out of here."

The others muttered to themselves as they blasted apart the large purple blobs. "If this'll stop him from using that rainmaker thingy, why don't we do this all the time?" Ethan asked.

"Don't think it will stop him," Tommy replied. "But if he's not planning to use it any time soon, we need to break up the remnants. All we need is an innocent bystander deciding it might be fun to take home a chunk of monster meat and having god knows what eating them alive after Mesogog activates the Regenerator."

"Who in their right minds would want to take home a chunk of monster?" Ethan demanded.

"Gross," Kira added, shaking her hands as if trying to throw off something slimy.

"Come on, follow me, let's find a place to power down at," Tommy said, watching warily as several onlookers began to venture back out into the square.

"I need to get home," Conner pointed out.

"We need to have a little chat first," Tommy told him grimly. Conner sighed; as Tommy had guessed, Conner had been hoping to use his cousins to get out of being chastised.

They ran off, running as fast as possible for the closest bit of forest, where Tommy motioned for them to demorph as soon as they were far enough inside the cover of the trees. "Okay, before you say anything, I want to point out that I'm really sorry about the sinkhole post," Ethan said, with a "please don't scold me" sort of tone.

"I know. Back then, you all weren't aware of how serious something like that could be." Tommy sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You need to delete that post as soon as possible; hopefully, if they look at that page again, they'll think they were mistaken."

"Most people who surf that site don't look at the legends anymore. They're all talking in the Power Ranger forum now," Ethan said. "Even I haven't been out of the PR forum since then."

"Good. Hopefully there haven't been a whole lot of people looking for fun in a sinkhole since then."

"They're actually harder to find than you'd think," Conner said. "When I was thinking about quitting, it took us a while to find that entrance. Back before you told us about the real way to get in."

"Yeah, and even then those tunnels are confusing," Kira added. "So once someone got in them, they'd still have a hard time finding the lab."

"I'm surprised we did," Ethan said.

"That's destiny for you," Tommy said with a smile. "Always letting random kids in my basement." The others chuckled.

"Maybe you should just seal off the back exit to the lab," Conner said. "You know, just to be safe."

Tommy shook his head. "Too risky."

"How is that risky?" Ethan asked.

"I built that exit for a reason. The Command Center and the Power Chamber from my old days got breached often enough to make it obvious that we needed a second exit. Especially since we don't have the ability to teleport—teleporting was all that saved our lives the first time the Command Center blew. This way, there's another way out if something happens, and another way in if the lab is ever taken over."

"How likely is that?" Kira asked, slightly alarmed.

Tommy shrugged. "I broke into the Command Center twice before Rita's spell was broken. Did some serious damage, too. It's not all that likely, and I've got a lot of security, but it's possible enough to warrant consideration." Tommy sighed again and sat down on a rock. "I've taken just about every precaution I can with them. Removed the skeleton and put in that hidden keypad, for instance. But once someone gets into the tunnels, they'll know something is down there, and there's no hiding that. The main problem is that the tunnels are obviously manmade. The sinkholes aren't extremely common, but they're not exactly rare. As soon as someone falls in, they'll probably guess the tunnels are there for a reason, especially if they're looking for it, like your cousins, Conner."

"Hey," Ethan said, "do you know anything about that guy who fell in a giant sinkhole out there?"

Tommy pursed his lips. "Yeah. That was me. Anton and a few of our colleagues were walking through the woods by the museum, discussing a business proposal, and I fell into what was probably the only natural sinkhole out there. Anton freaked out and called the fire department. I suppose it's just as well; we weren't alone, and people might have wondered if I'd jumped or even climbed out. Where do you think I got the idea for those tunnels?"

"You built them?" Kira asked, surprised.

"Yeah. Back before Anton 'disappeared,' when we were still working on our experiments together, we built the underground lab and the house above it. Anton and I were having a lot of problems with storms keeping us from getting out to the island or forcing us to evacuate at inconvenient times. Anton figured we could take small projects there and work on them when we couldn't use the island base. Anything dangerous—like the Tyrannodrones—were better left on the island, but basic computer work and whatnot could be done from anywhere. After he disappeared, a lawyer came to me and told me that the house and land were to go to me should anything happen to Anton. When the island sank, we hadn't brought in a lot of the experiments yet; the lab was barely finished. Hayley helped me complete it and transform it into my own little base."

"That's why you got a job in Reefside," Ethan finished. "So you could be closer to your experiments."

Tommy nodded. "Yeah. I wasn't comfortable leaving the Gems unguarded in the basement for days on end, and I was looking for a teaching job anyway—that's where most paleontologists end up." He smiled sardonically. "Not a whole lot of people are looking to hire when your last employer 'disappeared' and your entire facility sank into the ocean. I was lucky to get in here at all, especially since I had to go back to racing after the island blew."

"Racing?" Conner asked blankly.

"Race-car driving. Dr. O used to be a stock car driver," Ethan explained. Tommy shot him a questioning look. Ethan coughed, slightly wide-eyed. "Not that I happened to hack into any records or anything. I just asked Hayley. Honest."

"Right." Tommy shook his head ruefully.

"Wait, so, our lab was all built by Trent's dad? Why not just use his big old mansion for your experiments?" Kira asked.

"He didn't have one in Reefside back then. I was pretty shocked to find out that he lived here; I hadn't seen or heard from him since the island sank until that day he came to pick Trent up from the café. I thought he was dead and the company had been sold, until I saw the company logo at the museum. Maybe he just didn't know how to contact me or something," Tommy said with a shrug.

"Sounds a little weird," Conner said.

"Anton's a lot weird. He's brilliant, but he's as eccentric as they come. Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Conner's got family in town, and family who's a little too curious for comfort. Conner, have you told them anything else Ranger-related?"

"Nothing. I didn't even tell them about the sinkholes."

"You told Eric," Tommy said sternly.

"Well, yeah," Conner said, rubbing the back of his neck. "But… it's not like I told him everything. And I don't see why I couldn't. He's my twin; I can trust him. Besides, it's not like he can't keep secrets. He's going to a super-secret ninja school."

Tommy cocked his head at him. "A super-secret ninja school that he told you about?"

"Well, he had to tell us. He wasn't eighteen, and the school talks to the parents of anyone who isn't a legal adult that they want to let in to the program."

"And you told Kira and Ethan about this school?"

"Yeah. And Hayley. So?"

"You told people you could trust," Tommy pointed out. "But you still told people. If one of us hadn't been trustworthy, then it wouldn't still be a secret ninja school. The point I'm trying to make here is this—knowing who to trust, and who not to trust, isn't always easy. Jason, for example, thought I was trustworthy when he invited me to hang out after school. But I'd become evil by that point, and I betrayed him, captured him, and tried to kill him. I might have succeeded, too, if the others hadn't saved him. I was seconds away from murdering the first Red Power Ranger ever to walk the earth." The three teens stared at him, looking slightly pale at this sobering story. Tommy had to fight off a smile, knowing he'd gotten through to them. "I'm not saying your brother would tell anyone, Conner. Or your cousins. Or your parents. But if one of them did, it would be disastrous. We can't tell anyone, understand?"

Tommy stood up and brushed the dirt off the seat of his pants. "We should be getting back. Conner's late for dinner, and I've got a few things I need to do before helping Hayley with the truck tonight." He paused and looked at them each in turn. "Until Conner's cousins are gone, be very careful. Parents are one thing—they're not around eighty percent of the time. But I'm guessing these two are going to be hanging out with you a lot, Conner?"

"They're almost like brothers," he confirmed.

"Whenever you're around them, be careful," Tommy warned. "They're already suspicious of us; I can tell. I don't think they have much of an idea that we're Power Rangers, but this sinkhole business can get tricky. Now, I won't lie to you—sometimes people find out. People make mistakes. But family members and friends of Rangers are targets—even more so when they know about the Rangers. The bad guys will use anything to get to us. So stay on your guard, and keep these guys at a distance. Any luck, our identities will still be secret by the time they leave."

"So you think Aunt Becky knows Conner's deep dark secret?" Dean asked as he parked the Impala in McKnight's driveway. For the thirtieth time, Dean glanced at the sky, watching for giant robot feet. Tommy's line about cars getting stepped on had deeply affected Dean, especially after they'd had to take quite a detour; part of downtown had been sectioned off and a traffic cop near Santa Luisa Square had told them there'd been a monster attack, and they'd just missed the Power Rangers. Dean had grumbled the whole way back to the house about pseudo-superheroes, which, in Sam's opinion, wasted a lot of valuable theory time—one of their last chances to discuss things without Conner around.

"Maybe. She's pretty insightful," Sam said. He smiled. "I wonder if she knows Dad's deep dark secret."

"Well, I wouldn't go asking," Dean said darkly. "He'd kill us if he thought we'd slipped in front of her."

"Yeah, if he ever plans on speaking to us again," Sam muttered irritably.

Aunt Becky came out onto the porch just as they were heading up the sidewalk. She was a tall, willowy woman who almost always dressed in long, flowing skirts, gauzy shirts and sandals. Her hair was long, the same color as her sons', and she usually kept it braided or let it hang down in loose waves past her waist. She was a total hippy, all about meditation and love and saving Mother Earth. It was odd to think of this ditsy, sweet, and laidback woman as their father's sister.

"My boys!" she exclaimed, smiling. "It's so good to see you!"

"Hi, Aunt Becky!" they chorused, allowing her to pull them into a group hug.

"Come on in, dinner's on the table," she said. "I figured I'd make steak and corn on the cob to go with the potatoes. Conner's already here."

"Yeah, he said he'd meet us here," Sam said, surprised. They had swung by the school, on the off-chance that Conner had walked there, but the school was deserted save for a janitor who was on his way out the door and claimed he hadn't seen Conner since he'd locked up after detention had let out. Sam and Dean shared a glance, wondering how Conner had beaten them home, especially without taking his car; they knew he hadn't retrieved it, as it hadn't been in the driveway when they'd pulled up.

"Steak?" Dean asked, looking fairly close to tears. Sam rolled his eyes; it appeared mysteries could wait until after dinner, as far as Dean was concerned.

"Dude!" Conner called. He was already sitting at the kitchen table, bouncing in his chair and eyeing the dishes of food laid out on the table.

"Go ahead and sit down, boys," Aunt Becky told Sam and Dean. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"You got beer?" Dean asked hopefully as they sat down, waiting for Aunt Becky to join them before serving themselves (which took more willpower than either boy had used on anything in a long time).

"Sure do. Went to the corner store and got your favorite as soon as you called," she replied. Sam blinked, startled; Aunt Becky had never let them drink before, with the occasional exception on New Year's when they were in their teens. He reminded himself, however, that he hadn't made a visit to the McKnights with Dean after Dean's twenty-first birthday, as Sam had left home halfway through his senior year, staying with friends to finish out high school and then leaving for Stanford. Aunt Becky was extremely laidback, but she didn't believe in drug use, smoking or underage drinking; she was fond of saying that if one wanted an unhealthy addiction, there was always chocolate. "Sam, you want one, too?"

"Nah, I'll take whatever Conner's having."

"Red Kool-Aid," Conner said promptly. Sam grinned. At least some things didn't change.

"So what took you guys so long? Did you guys get stuck in the detour?" asked Conner, still bouncing excitedly in his chair.

"Yeah. Took us a while to find a way around it."

"You have to know where to go," Conner told them.

"What road did you take?" Sam asked as he and Dean pulled out chairs.

"I didn't. Figured I'd leave my car at the café, since I have to go back tonight and help with the truck."

"You walked all the way here?" Sam asked incredulously. Though Conner probably could have made the trip shorter as far as distance went, it was still quite a ways from Conner's house to the café. Sam guessed it to be about seven or eight miles, though it was hard to tell, as Hayley's Cyberspace was on the edge of downtown so there was a lot of zigzagging down one-way streets. Regardless of how long the drive took, the walk should have been longer.

Conner paused in his bouncing for a second, then went right back to it. "Nah, I caught a ride with Dr. O when he was dropping Kira and Ethan back off at the café," Conner explained. "I figured I'd just ride with you guys back, since you offered to help with the truck."

"I can't believe he beat us here," Sam said, frowning. "How'd he get around the detour?"

Conner paused again, then shrugged. "It was kind of a blur. Dr. O drives pretty fast. He used to race stock cars."

"Really? What's he doing teaching high school?" Dean asked, frowning.

Conner shrugged again. "I don't know. He's a dinosaur fanatic; that probably had something to do with it."

"So you hang out with Dr. O a lot?" Sam asked, accepting his cup of Kool-Aid.

"Yeah, well, he's been friends with Hayley since college, and Ethan idolizes Hayley, so we all got to talking a lot."

Dean started to ask something, but Aunt Becky interrupted him by handing him his beer. "Thank god," he muttered. Despite the tastiness of his frappuccino, a lack of beer when he first wanted one made him extra grateful for its arrival.

Any further questions about Tommy, or Conner's surprisingly fast arrival, would have to wait. The moment Becky sat it was as if a gong had gone off to the three boys; Dean was quick to slap Sam's hand away from the serving spoon in the fried potatoes, but he quickly made it to the bowl of corn on the cob before Dean could finish piling on the potatoes. Conner managed to stick an arm and his entire head under Sam's arm so he could zero in on the best steak on the other side of the table. Becky smiled to herself and leaned back, waiting until the boys had stopped their little ritual fight before serving herself.

"So Sam, honey," Aunt Becky began as soon as there was more on their plates than in the serving dishes, "why'd you decide to take some time off from school? I thought you wanted to graduate as fast as you could."

Sam went still for a moment, aware that they were all watching him, Becky and Conner curious, Dean hoping he'd come up with something halfway decent to say.

Sam forced another bite of food into his mouth, refusing to let thinking about Jess ruin his meal. "My, uh, my girlfriend died."

"Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry," Becky told him, laying a hand on his arm.

"That really bites, dude," Conner added. As if trying to cheer Sam up, he took another spoonful of potatoes and put it on Sam's plate. Sam grinned at the gesture; that was probably the nicest thing Conner could have done at that point, although he doubted anyone else would have thought of it.

"Thanks," he said.

"What happened?" Aunt Becky asked gently. "If you don't mind my asking."

"Our apartment caught fire," Sam told her quietly. "She didn't make it out. So I left school, went road-tripping with Dean… needed some time, you know?"

"Of course, honey. Has your road trip been fun?"

"Oh, yeah," Sam said quickly, desperate to change the subject. "I mean, we got to go… camping."

"Yeah, in Colorado," Dean added, trying not to laugh as he tried picturing the look on her face if he continued to say that they'd been fighting a Wendigo while "camping."

"Swam in Lake Manitoc up in Wisconsin," Sam said. "Saw some cool antique stores in Toledo."

"Met this nice country family up in Minnesota just a few weeks ago."

Sam glared at Dean for that one, knowing he meant the creepy family who'd kidnapped him. "Dean got along well with their daughter."

Dean acknowledged the blow and retorted with, "And Sammy met a nice girl named Constance out in California."

"Yeah, and we went through this town with great apple pie." Before Dean could reply, Sam figured it was time to back out of their little sparring match before things got any uglier. "And we went back to Kansas, saw the old place."

"Really? Oh, wow. How was it?" Aunt Becky asked. "I haven't been back to Kansas since before the boys were born."

"It was… fine. We met Dad's friend Missouri," Sam said.

"Missouri? Oh, how's she doing? She was such a sweetheart."

"She's… fine. Unique woman," Dean said carefully.

"She threatened Dean with a spoon," Sam couldn't resist saying.

Aunt Becky laughed. "Sounds like her."

"Who's Missouri?" Conner asked.

"Old friend of Uncle Johnny's and mine," she replied. "One of the best psychics I ever met. Never liked your father."

"A psychic?" Conner repeated skeptically. Though his mother was deeply immersed in natural remedies, meditation and psychic ability, neither Conner nor Eric were believers. "Come on, Mom."

Aunt Becky smiled, shaking her head. "She told me at my wedding that one day my brother would be threatening to shoot your daddy. Boy, did she hit that nail on the head." Conner's father had left them shortly after Conner and Eric's seventh birthday, but had refused to sign divorce papers so that he could avoid paying child support. John had hunted him down—quite literally—and made him see reason. And made him see down the barrel of a shotgun. Half an hour later, Becky had her divorce papers, and he'd never missed a child support payment since.

She started asking more about Missouri and Kansas, and soon she was telling them all funny stories of the early days of her marriage and tales of John's childhood and teen years that both Sam and Dean knew their father would never admit to. They spent hours just chatting around the kitchen table, until Conner looked at the clock and sat upright with a start.

"We need to go," he blurted out. "We promised Hayley we'd help her out tonight."

"Oh, that's right, it's truck day, isn't it." Aunt Becky shook her head. "And here I thought you were just trying to get out of doing the dishes."

"I'll do them when I get back, Mom, I promise." Conner pushed out his chair.

"Okay. Did you get your homework done?"

"Come on, Mom, it's Friday night," Conner said.

"Just try to get it done by Sunday," she said, smiling fondly at him. She looked at her nephews. "You two going with him?"


"Okay. I'll set some blankets out; I'll probably be asleep when you get back."

They all hugged her goodbye, and she waved at them from the porch as they left in the Impala. The moment they were out of sight, the smile faded from her face and she hurried inside.

Though she was a hopelessly disorganized person, it didn't take her long to find her brother's new phone number. He'd told her that Sam and Dean weren't to have it, that he needed to distance himself from the boys for a while, so she spent a few moments memorizing it before stuffing it out of sight, where neither boy would find it. As far as she knew, only a handful of people had his direct number—Jim Murphy, Bobby Singer and Missouri Moseley among them.

John answered on the second ring. "Becca?"

"Hey, Johnny. How's it going?"

"Fine. Look, is this important? I'm in the middle of some research."

"No. I was just wondering if your boys are in the middle of some research."

"Excuse me?"

"Sam and Dean showed up on my doorstep out of the blue. Claimed they were looking for a hot meal, but I'm wondering if they've got something else on their minds."

She could practically hear John frowning over the phone. "Well, there's not much activity out by Reefside," he said after a long pause. "Most of the weird things out there were explained when those Power Ranger lunatics showed up. I know I didn't send them out that way, if that's what you're asking."

Becky flopped on the couch and rubbed a hand over her eyes. "I don't know what I'm asking. Maybe I'm just a little too suspicious lately."

"Of what?"

"Conner. He's been acting funny, ever since Eric went back to that school. At least, since somewhere in there. He doesn't date much, hangs out with his new friends all the time, always runs off at strange moments. He's gotten secretive, started having nightmares more, making strange excuses."

"Anything else?" John asked, concerned.

"He doesn't want to go to Eric's school anymore. Said it was because of soccer, but then he went and turned down a spot with the Reefside Wave. I don't know…" She sighed. "This family's always had secrets, John. You're off hunting ghosts and demons, Eric's actually seriously studying to become a ninja, of all the things… but I can't figure out Conner. And now Sam and Dean have just wandered into town, casual as can be, and I just… I've gotten so used to strange family secrets that Conner being dishonest is worrying me. I guess I just wanted to know if Sam and Dean might be here to do some digging into the same thing Conner's into."

"Conner's probably not into anything," John assured her. "Becca, when Sammy left, I thought Dean had become a completely different person. Took me a while to realize that Dean just wasn't used to not having Sammy around. That's probably what Conner's deal is—he doesn't have his brother to play off of. Don't worry about it."

"You're probably right. But let me know if you find anything out here the boys could be into."

"I will."

They said their goodbyes and Becky hung up. True, Eric leaving had probably changed Conner. But Conner had seemed like the same old kid when Eric had been kicked out of school and come back. It wasn't until Eric had left again that Conner had started to act truly strange.

Sam and Dean's arrival had taken her totally by surprise. The boys had never known she knew all about John's ghost hunting, primarily because the subject matter wasn't something she wanted Conner and Eric to know about and because John had always tried to teach them to keep things quiet, even from people they cared about, in the hopes that they wouldn't go spilling every detail of their life to every pretty girl or any good friends. Becky also thought it was nice for the boys to have a "normal" place to go, a place that they could be without worrying about demons and vampires and so on.

She sincerely doubted they were here just to see the family. From what she understood from John, the boys hadn't "just" done anything since they'd gotten together and started hunting again. They'd been looking for their father and looking for ghosts ever since John had stopped contacting Dean. So what had prompted them to come to Reefside? And what on Earth was Conner into?

She stood up and headed for the linen closet to get blankets for her houseguests. With any luck, she'd know the answers to both questions before long.

End Notes: I might should mention that I have no idea what kind of car Conner drives, so I randomly picked on that looked similar. I'm not a bit expert on classic cars.