Jen pulled her jacket tighter around her shoulders as a cold gust of wind blew through the street. Clutching the pizza boxes closer to her chest she hurried towards the apartment building that loomed like a great black sentinel against the dismal morning.
As she reached the door way and made her way to the elevator she nearly ran into an exiting figure.
"S-sorry," she stammered, trying to keep the boxes from toppling to the floor.
"Whoa, easy," said Alex as he reached out a hand to steady her.
She smiled gratefully up at him as she turned slightly pink. He took the top two boxes and held the door open for her.
With a silent thud, the pair was trapped inside the steel cage as it made its slow ascension to Jen's floor. A few seconds passed in silence before Alex cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Jen," he began slowly, his voice measured as he chose his words with care. "There was something I wanted to…talk to you about."
Jen shifted her weight from one foot to the other and made a show of rearranging the pizza box she was holding.
Finally, "what was that?"
Alex glanced over at his brunette companion. "I wanted to talk about…us."
He heard Jen sigh, but he rushed on, determined to get it all out now that he had started.
"I know what you said before, about us being just friends, and I can live with that. It's just…I think we're making a big mistake." He held up his free hand to silence Jen, "please, just hear me out."
She nodded and contained to stare at their reflections in the cold steel doors.
"We-we were good together."
It was a question and Jen merely nodded again. "Yes, we were."
Alex sigh, "Jen," he said quietly, but at the moment the doors slid open and they were face to face with a beaming Trip.
"Hey guys, guess what!"
Annoyed at the intrusion Alex glared mutely at the green ranger. He masked his disappointment well, however, by walking slowly towards Jen's apartment and staring at pizza boxes he was carrying as if trying to divine Jen's answer to his unasked question from the red and black lettering that arched across the topmost portion of the box. He blocked out the sound of their voices until they were arranged on the couch again, the gang happily munching on pizza, and Jen quietly reading the next set of rules out loud….
441. Unless you are on the Mystic Force team...you are hereby banned from ever riding Fireheart again. (Udonna and Lianbow were not amused when Connor decided to take him out for a "joyride" and the poor dragon is still having nightmares!)
442. Having your heart broken by a villainess isn't a good excuse for you to sit out. (Dax, your teammates are still angry with you for playing pool at the mansion instead of helping out.)
443. Should you feel the urge to break into song, don't! (A singing Tommy is not a pretty Tommy….)
444. Don't make fun of a person's accents, slang or country of origin. (Can't you play nice with each other for once?! Your mentors are starting to feel as if they are running a day care instead of a base of operations!)
445. Who ever stole Ethan's computer, please return it immediately! He's starting to have withdrawals from SNSW. (That's Super Ninja Space Warriors for all of you non-geeks.)
446. Yes, Jenji is a genie. No, he will not grant you 3 wishes. (The Mystic Force team already tried that and we all know how badly that ended.)
447. Shane, if you bring the skateboard into Ops one more time Cam will take it and toss it into toxic waste. (Just be glad he hasn't thrown you into it yet!)
448. Never use the words 'letter' or 'short' around Kimberly. (Unless you want to see her come completely uncorked. Frying pans will spontaneously grew wings and make a beeline for your face.)
449. Just because you are red ranger it doesn't make you God. (Be nice to your teammates, they know where you sleep.)
450. Do not go to conventions in uniform! Fans aren't as clueless as we like to think. (Ahem, Rocky and Xander!)
451. Just because Maya dresses like a hooker does not mean you can point and ask "how much is a lap dance?" (As funny as it is, you will be slapped.)
452. Quit making Sims of each other, Cam's nose is not that big and I don't think Conner would choose politics as a career… (But you never know…)
453. Justin isn't a bratty little kid anymore, so stop teasing him! (Yeah, or else! – Rocky)
454. Quit playing "Animal I Have Become" around Tommy, becoming the Evil Green Ranger was not his choice! (Ethan you've been banned from Tommy's house for a week.)
455. Nick…please just come back for Maddie already. EVERYBODY knew that you two had been dancing around each other...and when you decide to return...ACTION will be taken. (How does trapping you two in closet sound?)
456. If you are suddenly seeing a double of yourself…don't look like want to piss yourself...be very lucky that he helped save your father's life after taking the red ranger powers back. (It's still a sore spot for Wes.)
457. Wardrobes reflect who we are, that does not mean we have to change the entire wardrobe out when people change colors. (Do you know how much money you have wasted because of this Tommy!)
458. When returning from the future to see the man you act on those feelings and do more than just huddle by a fire? (Wes and Jen this means you! We all saw the looks you were giving each other!)
459. The Megaship is NOT, I repeat, NOT, the Millennium Falcon! (You people just think you're so clever, don't you?!)
460. Firecrackers are now banned for all rangers! No exceptions. (This rule mysteriously appeared after a stray firecracker landed in Mr. Andrew's fish tank and blew his prized fish sky high.)
Conner wasn't sure how long he had been staring at the ceiling before a loud, throat clearing cough brought him back to earth. He rolled his eyes and picked up his English book. Pretending to flip to the right page he threw a glance in his friend's direction.
"What," he asked flatly.
Ethan shook his head in consternation before slamming his own book and sitting forward in his chair. It was at that precise moment, as he prepared to deliver, what Conner was sure would be a very dull and long winded speech the likes of which might even rival Dr. Oliver's, that he realized just how much Ethan resembled the aforementioned teacher. Who knew he might even make a great professor himself one day, if he could only get his head out of his precious video games long enough.
"Conner, this is really important. How do you expect to graduate if…."
The red ranger held up his hand to silence his companion. "If this is going to be another "you're going to become a failure in life if you don't study speech", save it. I've heard them all."
Ethan threw up his hands in defeat before flopping back in his chair with a small huff. "You're hopeless dude."
"Look, I'm really grateful that you took the time to come over here and help me study, but you've got nothing to worry about! Ever since I broke my leg, that's all I've had time to do! I've studied until my eyes needed Band-Aids. Relax, I hate to rain on your parade but I'm going to be more than just a "has been" soccer player one day."
The blue ranger shook his head, "wow, for you Conner, that's deep."
A pillow soared through the air and caught him full in the face as Conner crossed his arms behind his head and returned his gaze back to the ceiling.
"You know, they really should paint it a different color," he announced after a few moments of stony silence.
Ethan, his head currently buried in his history book, didn't miss a beat as he said," why? It's not like any one is going to lie around all day staring at it with rapt attention. At least, no one except you."
"It's not like I want too you know," said the red ranger, the slightest hint of a childish pout creeping into his voice. "It's excruciatingly dull, kinda like watching paint dry."
"Well, if you hadn't tried to play the hero you might be back on the soccer field by now," said Ethan with a derisive snort.
"Ha, ha, funny," said Conner, muttering silently under his breath a suggestion as to where Ethan could stick his history book.
It wasn't until darkness began to fall outside and the shadows in the room grew longer that Ethan spoke again.
"Well, I've had fun Conner, but I have to go home. See ya tomorrow."
He left though the front door and nearly ran into a dark figure who stepped aside to let him pass. Conner heard a muffled "sorry" and a low "its ok" before Ethan was gone and Jason was stepping into the room.
"Hey," he said, "how are you?"
"Oh, peachy," replied Conner with a wild gesture to his leg. "Just…peachy."
Jason cleared his throat and looked around nervously. Conner watched him fidget with the sleeves of his jacket as he looked towards the kitchen and then up towards the dark staircase. He glanced outside and saw Jason's motorcycle parked alone near the edge of the driveway.
"Tommy's not here." He said and Jason face immediately transformed into a mask of complete relief.
The former red ranger dropped into the chair that Ethan had recently vacated. "I was half-hoping that he'd be in by now, but now that I'm here…" he trailed off and gave Conner an embarrassed smile. "Maybe I should have just called…"
Conner, sensing Jason's unease cast around for a less painful topic.
"So, I see you haven't repainted your motorcycle yet," he said, jabbing his thumb towards the window and the hot pink Harley beyond the Eco-friendly glass.
"No," he said slowly, "a paint job is expensive and it's not something that a person with my humble salary can afford."
Cocking his head to one side, Conner looked bemused. "I thought paramedics made good money."
Jason gave a small chuckle, "not really. We're civil servants bro; we're not exactly on the top of the food chain."
Conner would have pursed the conversation further but a pair of headlights fell across the opposite wall and Jason began to squirm in his chair again.
Tommy walked through the door and froze at the sight of Jason lounging in his armchair. Kimberly had to step aside to avoid causing a potentially painful collision.
"Jason," he said, his voice light but lined with ice.
The man in the chair gave a non-committal grunt as Tommy suggested they retreat to the garage for a little one-on-one chat. It took Kimberly shooting him a glare from behind her husband's back to get her best friend moving. He stood and shuffled towards the garage door in Tommy's wake, pausing just long enough to inquire as to his mood before hurrying to catch up to his friend and bang the door shut behind him.
"Conner," said Kimberly, throwing off her jacket and heading towards the kitchen, "can I get you anything?"
"A glass of water."
She returned to the living room and sat the glass on the coffee table as Conner strained to hear the slightest sound from the garage.
"Don't worry" said Kim, patting his good leg reassuringly. "They're just talking. Tommy's not going to hurt him or anything."
But the muffled sound of breaking glass that issued from the dark door was none to reassuring to Conner. He crunched on a piece of ice and hoped that Kimberly was right….