Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are not mine.
Author's Note: So, yes. Starting a new series is probably the last thing that I should be doing at the moment, but this one wouldn't leave me alone. This story is a short prologue type of thing, five or six chapters at the most. It can be read as a standalone, but the storyline will continue through what at the moment is looking like four fics, though that number will probably change between now and whenever.
Much angsting in future chapters, but this is the last day before KO-35 falls to Dark Spectre, so what do you expect? I can't think of anything that I'd need to slap a warning onto this fic for, so enjoy! And please, review to tell me what you think.
Zhane was the one person on the planet who could maintain some semblance of dignity while wearing fuzzy slippers, let alone pink fuzzy slippers. Pink and white fuzzy bunny slippers. Torin had presented him with the slippers as a joke a year ago, and on the nights that they spent up here, Andros had never seen the Silver Ranger without them.
Yawning, the Red Ranger rolled onto his back and gazed up into the paling sky. He watched the gray clouds roll in for awhile, then his gaze slid back and forth between Zoie's hair and Zhane's slippers. He smiled a little as he lay in between them; of everyone, the five people here he loved above all others.
Andros shifted back onto his side, propping himself up on one elbow to see over Zoie's shoulder. The Pink Ranger lay curled up in Keelan's arms, and Andros felt a momentary stab of envy at the obvious closeness between them. Behind them, Tor and Emi were in each other's arms as well, and he couldn't help smiling now.
His eyes drifted back to Zoie. Her blond hair had tangled messily in her sleep, hiding features only slightly more delicate than her brother's. Andros edged a little closer to her, laying down again to rest his head against the back of her neck.
Only now did the worry come creeping back. Three massive quantron attacks in two days, with a monster or two thrown in just for fun. Whatever Dark Spectre was up to... Andros wasn't sure how much longer KO-35 could hold without reinforcements, and Eltare was otherwise occupied.
He let out a quiet sigh, careful not to disturb his still sleeping teammates. The gods knew they deserved their rest. Andros probably should be asleep with them, but he'd been jerked out of a restless doze hours before by the familiar cold of dread. He hadn't been able to close his eyes since.
KO-35 was a small colony; two thousand at its best, mostly families. Many had fled back to Eltare or Aquitar, or wherever they had come from. Many more were preparing to. As more and more of their people lost faith, Andros wanted less and less to fight a war he couldn't win.
He knew too well what it would cost. The first major effort Dark Spectre had made to take KO-35 had been seven years before. The fledgling colony had just barely survived, and the last waves of that attack had left him an orphan.
Three years ago, Dark Spectre had tried again. This time, Andros had been lucky. His teammates hadn't been. Zhane and Zoie were the only ones to have both parents live through those two weeks, but they had lost a baby brother who had just taken his first steps. Keelan and Emi were like himself, no family to speak of, and countless friends gone for all of them.
It made his stomach churn to envision the cost a third resistance would demand. In his heart, Andros knew that it would never happen. His people were sick and tired of burying their loved ones, and the colony would sooner be abandoned than they go through that again.
He tried not to imagine it, but couldn't seem not to. Andros wondered briefly what he would do then before smiling ruefully. He'd begun his training two weeks after his parents died, and the Rangerdome had been his home since--but Ayla and Cahir had dragged him to their own home often enough.
They could never replace his own parents, and he was unspeakably grateful that they had never tried. They had simply welcomed him into their lives without question and whenever Andros couldn't stand being alone any longer, he had only to follow Zhane and Zoie home. He knew they would be more than willing to let him stay with them.
Andros let out another sigh and tried to relax. It would be at least another hour before anyone else woke, and while he could have crawled out from under the blankets, the comfort he found in having someone there to curl up against was one thing he wouldn't trade for the world. He knew that the rest of them felt the same, and it was the reason why they spent every night following a battle with each other.
"Hey," someone hissed in his ear, and Andros looked over his shoulder in annoyance when he felt a hard yank on his ponytail.
"What?" he demanded, more irritably then he'd intended.
Zhane glowered at him. "Will you stop smelling my sister's hair?"
"I--" Andros felt warmth rush through his cheeks and couldn't understand why. "I wasn't..."
"You're blushing," Zhane smirked, and his glare faded into a grin. "She's too old for you."
"You tried to seduce the Eltaran ambassador's wife," Andros retorted, fighting hard to keep his flush from deepening. It was useless. "She was ten years older than you."
"Wanted to, not tried. You and Emi dragged me away before I could seduce anyone," Zhane complained. "You know, I'll remember this when you want to steal some important diplomat's girlfriend."
"Fair enough," Andros agreed, eager to change the subject. "But it's not something I plan to make a habit of."
"And that's your problem," Zhane said cheerfully. "You're hopeless."
Andros smiled. "Thanks."
"It's not a compliment."
"Hmm." Ecliptor made a quiet, noncommital noise. The datapad in his hand blipped just as quietly, and his never-blinking eyes strayed towards the bed not so far from where he stood. Unlike himself, she required sleep.
He glanced towards the datapad once again, tapping the screen idly. One set of diagrams instantly became another, and he studied these as closely as the last. It seemed that there was a design flaw in the Karovans atmospheric fighters. A simple recalibration of a Velocifighter's lasers would blast through their armor in less than a second.
He gave the order for the modification and set down the datapad. Astronema slept on, unaware. Dark Spectre had commanded that they make no move to invade until reinforcements had arrived. Twice before he had nearly taken the troublesome little colony, only to lose his hold when their fighters outnumbered his. Those reinforcements would soon be coming, and it was his princess that would lead them to victory. He would see to that.
Arran. Zhane scrunched up his nose in concentration as he contemplated his slippers. The left one should be Arran. The right one was definitely a female, and it took him much longer to settle on a name. Finally he decided to go with Amynta, mostly because Andros was eavesdropping on his thoughts and couldn't hold back his laughter any longer.
"You're going to wake them up, you know," he muttered.
Andros propped himself up on one elbow, staring down at him incredulously. "They're sleeping?"
"Not them, you idiot." He jerked his head towards the rest of their teammates. "Them."
Andros shrugged. "I'm not the one naming my slippers."
Zhane shot him a sideways look. "At least I didn't name my toothbrush holder."
"That was five years ago," the Red Ranger said defensively. "And it talked."
He just shook his head. "Whatever you say, Dros."
"Will you two shut it?" Torin complained, from the other end. "Some of us are trying to sleep."
"But not all of us." Nohemi giggled, and sat up to stretch her arms.
"And some of us can sleep through a firefight," Zoie chimed in. Zhane saw her poke a finger into Keelan's chest and grinned at the look on Andros's face when he saw it too.
"I'm hungry," Andros announced to no one in particular. "If we don't eat now, we never will."
"Yeah, it's almost like Astronema doesn't care about our personal lives." Emi rolled her eyes with a grin. "Oh, and if you just jinxed us, I'll kill you."
"Me? What did I do?"
Zhane shook his head and sat up, carefully kicking off Arran and Amynta. "Race you to breakfast?"
She had to admit that Andros was better at acting like he wasn't staring at her. Zoie stirred some more brown sugar into her oatmeal and pretended not to watch Keelan watch her. She was surprised he wasn't spilling food all over himself.
"Keelan, have you talked to the soldiers yet?" Torin wanted to know, breaking the easy silence, and the three of them stopped daydreaming.
The Blue Ranger nodded his head with a sigh. "I'll do it again, but it won't do much good," he warned. "They've lost all hope that we can win."
Emi shook her head in disgust. "Then they should leave and let us do the same," she said angrily. "I'm tired of being expected to risk my life saving them. The civilians are one thing, but the army should take care of itself."
"We're Rangers," Andros said sharply, finally looking at someone other than her. "We fight for our people. No matter what the circumstances."
"They're trained soldiers," Emi reminded him, equally harsh. "They're not supposed to quit just because they're discouraged!"
"And they're not being allowed to." Andros stared down at his plate, his expression blank. "It's only a few that have defected."
"And a few more tomorrow," she said bitterly. "You know we need them."
"I know," Andros said softly. "I didn't mean... I'm scared too," he admitted, and Zoie flicked a spoonful of sugar at him.
"You're not allowed to be scared," she reminded him with a small smile. "The Red Ranger is supposed be a fearless, perfect warrior."
"And you'd better be twice as fearless to make up for all your imperfections," Zhane added, ducking automatically, though it wasn't really necessary. Andros's toast missed him by a mile.
"See?" he crowed. "There's one right there!"
"Watch where you're throwing the food," Torin complained. "I don't want to have to wash this shirt again for at least three weeks."
"Days," Emi corrected. "Three days."
"Yeah," he agreed easily. "That."
Zoie laughed, and Zhane elbowed Andros in the ribs. Andros showed no hesitation in shoving him back, hard, pushing him off of his stool. Zhane stumbled into Keelan, and that was it. Emi tackled Andros from behind as he turned to watch Zhane lose an impromptu wrestling match to Keelan, propelling both of them into the fray as it quickly escalated into an all-out war.
She laughed again, but her smile faded as Tor's eyes met hers. He didn't say a word and neither did she, and for the next few minutes everyone could pretend that they weren't losing a war.
"Andros!" Ayla beamed at him as she swept him into her arms, hugging him tight before she stepped back to look at him. "You have your mother's eyes," she murmured with a sad smile. "You know how proud your parents would be of you."
"I know," Andros sighed, trying hard to smile for her. He loved her, but she had a way of making the scared little boy buried deep inside scream for his own mother.
She tucked a few strands of wayward hair behind her ear and shook her head. "I want to talk to you later," she told him. "I'm worried about you."
Andros managed a smile this time. "You always are."
Ayla just laughed and hugged him another time. "Would you watch Roisin for me?" she asked, gesturing towards her daughter's carrier. "She's asleep now but she won't be for long on the other side of the yard."
He followed her gaze to Zhane and Keelan sparring against Torin and Zoie, Emi alternately cheering them on and working her way through her katas. Cahir leaned back against the high fence the marked off the Rangers' training yard, arms crossed as he watched his children.
"Sure." Andros nodded, and Ayla left to join her husband.
He sighed and sat down on the bench that stretched along one wall. Roisin was fast asleep and he smiled slightly. She was a sweet little girl, with her mother's blue eyes and her father's white-blond hair. Like her siblings, she looked a perfect blend between both her parents. Unlike himself, who fortunately only took after his mother...
Against his will, Andros remembered another blond little girl, long gone now. Nine years, he thought with a guilty pang, his locket weighing heavily on his heart. Nine years without so much as a trace of his twin sister.
He shivered suddenly and zipped up his sweatshirt. Shoving his hands into the pockets, he leaned back against the cold wall and let out a deep breath. Even now he remembered clearly how he had run screaming into his father's arms, crying that Karone was gone. He couldn't forget the terrible look on his father's face that day, and Andros knew it would haunt him each day of the rest of his life.
Andros scrubbed his face with one sleeve, his throat aching badly as he swallowed his tears. There was no point in crying, he reminded himself sternly. It hadn't brought Karone back, it hadn't brought his parents back, and it certainly hadn't made him feel any better.
He still wondered how his parents hadn't blamed him. "Take care of Karone," his father had always told him. "Watch out for your sister." He had tried so, so hard to do as they'd asked, but it hadn't been enough. She'd been snatched from right under his nose and he hadn't done a thing to save her.
Andros let out a deep, careful breath as he reached beneath his shirt. The locket hung there as it always did, the metal warm from resting against his skin. He clutched it in his fist for a few moments before he opened it, wanting to cry all over again as the two familiar faces stared up at him. Two perfect pictures of childish innocence. Sometimes he had trouble believing that only a month later, she would be gone.
He gazed down at the little boy he hardly remembered being, his frown deepening as his eyes flickered towards a still-dozing Roisin. Strange that it should bother him only now how little resemblance there was between himself and Karone.
Her fair coloring had come from her father, her delicate build from their mother. That always brought a small smile to his face. Though it troubled him how faintly he could remember his mother's face without the aid of a photograph, Andros would never have described her as delicate. Slight of frame, maybe, but certainly not weak or frail.
His parents had been too strong to die the way they had, defenseless and without the chance to fight back. They'd been gone before the rubble of what had once been their home had settled, and Andros bit his lip at the memory. He ran his thumb along the edge of the small silver disc that held the few clues of Karone's disappearance before he tucked it safely inside his locket once again. As Ayla had helped him scatter their ashes into the wind, he'd sworn to himself that he would find his sister for them.
He'd sworn that Karone would someday know how much she was loved, how not a day had gone by that their parents didn't think of her. Some days, the only reason he had to keep fighting was not to break that promise. It was enough, and Andros slipped the locket beneath his sweatshirt as he stood.
Keeping one eye on Roisin, he slowly began the routine he had perfected over the last seven years. The moves flowed through him, easy and familiar. The only way he was ever going to find his sister was to keep fighting, and he would go to his last breath to bring her home.