Disclaimer: They're still not mine.
Ayla and Cahir returned with Roisin to the Rangerdome for three hours after dinner. They left just in time to be home before curfew kicked in, leaving behind an angry Zhane and a dejected Zoie. Andros watched the two of them moping around their rec room with a sigh, wondering why they didn't just go home as well. He really wished that they would.
"It's all right if you want to leave, you know," he told them quietly. "I don't mind."
Zoie readjusted her grip on the pillow she was hugging to her chest. "We're supposed to be here."
"You should be with your family," he retorted, though his voice was soft. "Tomorrow you might not have that chance."
"We're supposed to be here," Zoie repeated sharply. "Don't say that."
"Hey," Zhane said softly. He reached out to touch her arm gently, pulling her into a hug. To Andros, he added, "You really should stop thinking like that."
"I'm being realistic."
Zhane rolled his eyes. "Pessimistic."
He knew better than to try and convince either of them otherwise. Andros sighed and retreated to his bedroom, making sure that he locked the door behind him. He didn't bother with the lights, and just crawled into bed and curled up.
He should probably be in the gym, he knew, and everyone else should probably be there with him but he just didn't see the point. KO-35 wouldn't last, regardless of how many training sims they forced themselves through. It would be better to save their strength for when they'd need it.
Letting out a deep breath, Andros sat up and flicked on the lamp on his dresser. Rolling out of bed, he pulled open the top drawer and rummaged through it. It was easy to find what he was looking for once he'd pushed his socks and underwear out of the way, and he grabbed up both items as he fell back into bed.
The hologram projector he set to the side, balancing the album on his knees. Ayla and Cahir had made it for him when nothing had been salvageable from the wreck of his home, and they'd given him the discs for the projector with it. As he sat there staring at his long-dead family, Andros couldn't think of anything he'd ever been given that had meant more.
He turned the pages slowly, not sure what it was that he was looking for. His eyes hovered over one picture, and he paused. A small smile formed on his lips even as a lump grew in his throat. That would have been the first family picture that had been taken after Karone disappeared, Andros remembered, yet his parents were both smiling happily. He was the one who looked lost and lonely, his face half-hidden in his mother's neck.
He flipped through the photos until he found the one of his parents on their wedding day. They'd married young--Ilarion had been nineteen and Reia just a few days past twenty. Andros's smile was a little steadier this time as he stared hard at the picture. It hurt a little less to know that they'd had nearly twenty years together before they'd been killed.
He'd never asked Ayla if she knew why they'd waited ten years to have children. He knew that they had wanted several, but he supposed they just hadn't been ready. Andros closed his eyes with a sigh. He could still hear his mother laughing when he and Karone would ask why they didn't have any other siblings, telling them that the two of them were plenty. After he'd lost Karone, they must have reconsidered--his mother had been two weeks from her due date when she'd died.
He closed the album slowly and stowed it away in his drawer, along with the projector. Laying back on his bed, Andros shut his eyes and clasped his hands behind his head. He wondered sometimes if his parents would be proud of him, or if they'd wish that he'd never been chosen as a Power Ranger. His father, he knew, had hated even the idea of war. Oddly, he'd married a soldier.
Andros rolled over onto his stomach and buried his face into the pillow. There was one way to make his parents proud of him, and that was to find Karone. He would find her, somehow. Assuming he didn't die tomorrow, of course...
Maybe Zhane was right. Andros bit his lip, wondering if he was really being too pessimistic. No, he decided. He wanted to believe the way that Zhane and Zoie did. He just couldn't seem to manage it.
Andros sighed, glaring at his wrist in annoyance when his communicator beeped. "What is it?" he demanded.
"Team meeting in the rec room," Emi informed him curtly. "We need to talk."
He cut the connection from his end, frowning as he sat up and straightened his clothes. It was odd that they'd call him on their communicators; he would have expected them to just come find him. It made him wonder what they wanted to see him about.
He entered the room silently, his eyes flickering from one grim face to the next. "What's going on?"
"We've been thinking," Keelan began quietly. "And..."
Torin finished for him, his eyes trained on the floor. "We've decided that we should surrender."
He was just a little kid, really. Sometimes she thought that's all any of them were. Emi watched confusion and then outright fury flash across Andros's face, feeling more than just a twinge of guilt for her part in this.
It was the Red Ranger that glared them all down, but just below the surface was the little boy who had lost his entire family in just a few short years. He'd grown from eight almost to adulthood practically overnight and he was much too responsible to begin with. Because of that she knew he would never stand for their decision.
"Never. We will not surrender," he snapped at them.
Emi wasn't surprised when his eyes met hers. "We're trained soldiers," he reminded her coldly. "We can't defect because we've become discouraged."
She felt her face flush as he spat her words back to her, but she didn't look away. "No one said anything about defecting."
"Then what are we doing?"
"Retreating," Torin supplied. "We're retreating."
"That's not the same as surrendering!" Andros shouted, his hands balled into fists at his side. "Which is it?"
"Retreating," Zoie spoke up quietly. "It's retreating. We evacuate as many as we can, and then we go with them. We keep protecting our people wherever they go."
Andros deflated a little, but his anger didn't abate much. "You made this decision without me. Why?"
"Because you're too damn noble sometimes," Zhane told him bluntly. "You never would have considered it."
"I swore that I would defend KO-35 and its people," Andros snapped back, clearly on the defensive now. "It's difficult to do that if we're running all over the galaxy hiding."
"But defending KO-35 and defending our people are two different things," Zoie reminded him gently. "Which is more important?"
Emi didn't know how she expected Andros to answer. She believed with all her heart that he would never put his people in any intentional danger--but this was his home, and he tended to be highly protective of it. She could hardly blame him for it; it was all he had left.
"Andros, we don't want to abandon KO-35 anymore than you do," she ventured softly. "But we have some hard choices to make."
"You've already made them," Andros said bitterly. "And I've made mine. This is my home and I'm not leaving it."
He turned on his heel and stormed from the room, his back and shoulders straight. Zhane waited all of three seconds before running after him, and Keelan heaved a sigh.
"That went well."
"You think?" Zoie bit her lip nervously. "We didn't handle that well. At all."
"There was no good way to tell him that," Torin insisted. "Let's give him some time to cool off before we try to talk to him again."
"We don't have time." Zoie stood, pacing around in front of the couch. "We have maybe a few hours, and I don't want that to be the last thing I ever say to him."
Keelan started to speak. Emi saw him open his mouth and then close it, shaking his head. "Maybe you're right," he admitted. "But..."
"But you don't want to die here where it won't matter," Torin finished. "None of us do."
"No," Emi agreed softly. "But I don't think that he does either."
"But he will." Keelan shook his head, whether in exasperation or admiration she wasn't sure. "He really is too noble sometimes."
"Would you rather he went back on his word?" Torin shrugged to alleviate the sharpness of his voice. "I see where he's coming from. He said he'd defend KO-35 and that's what he'll do."
"No." Zoie shook her head slowly. "I think he's trying to prove something."
That certainly sounded like their Red Ranger, Emi admitted with a forced smile. "What this time?"
"That he's worthy," Zoie murmured softly. "It's always that, isn't it."
"For all of us," Torin agreed reluctantly, and Emi groaned.
"We've made a mistake, haven't we?"
Andros did nothing to acknowledge Zhane's presence at his side. A hand touched his shoulder and he stepped away, tightening his hold on the balcony railing. Silently, he waited for Zhane to either speak or leave him in peace.
"We didn't say that because we don't trust you," Zhane said finally. "If that's what you're thinking, then you're even more of an idiot than I knew."
Almost against his will, Andros felt his lips twitch into a smile. "It's not."
"Good." Zhane sounded suspiciously smug as he moved closer, joining him as they stared out over Kanith. The city was eerily silent now, almost as if it was already empty.
"You'd stay even if the rest of us didn't." Zhane said it as if he was totally sure of it, and he probably was.
Andros nodded his head slowly, tilting his head upwards until he had a better view of the stars. "I suppose I should order you all to stay."
"Probably." Zhane's voice was quiet, and Andros wondered what he was thinking. "But it wouldn't be a surrender if we didn't. We'd give our lives to win this fight. But..."
"You'd rather die in a battle that you had a chance of winning," Andros finished for him with a sigh.
"At least you know it's suicide." Zhane turned his head towards him, but Andros kept his eyes staring straight ahead. "Good. That makes it easier to talk you out of it."
"You'll never find her if you die, you know," Zhane said quietly. "You'll never know who took her, or where she is, or any of it."
"I know," he whispered. He clenched the railing hard enough that his fingers ached, but he couldn't think of anything else to say.
"You'd waste nine years of searching just for the sake of your pride?"
"It's not pride," Andros muttered. Zhane snorted quietly, and he frowned. "Well, it's not!"
"What is it, then?"
"I..." He could think of several reasons, some of them that Zhane might even believe. Andros closed his eyes, his shoulders slumping. "I don't want to leave."
"Okay." Zhane accepted that easily. "And that's enough of a reason to die?"
"I... no... yes... I don't know!" Andros shouted, the cold metal of the railing digging into his fingers. "I don't know, and no matter what I do people are going to die."
"That doesn't mean you have to be one of them."
"I..." But how could he save himself when he couldn't so many others? It wasn't right, not that it had been Karone taken, his parents killed, and now so many people dead when it should have been him!
"I know." Zhane touched his shoulder again, and this time Andros didn't flinch away. "It's not easy."
Andros didn't know if his mind was being read or if Zhane was only taking some lucky guesses, but he was too grateful for the comfort to question it. "What do I do?"
"If you won't leave, then I guess you stay," Zhane reasoned. "If you stay, you fight."
It sounded simple enough when put that way, and Andros nodded. "And you?"
Zhane was silent for a moment. "I'll do what you want me to," he said finally. "Whatever that is."
"I'm not... asking you to die for me." Andros finally sought out his friend's gaze, swallowing when Zhane met his eyes without hesitation. "If you believe that you can help more by leaving, then go."
"I believe..." Zhane stopped and to Andros's surprise, he laughed softly. "I believe that if anyone can get us out of this, it's you."
"It's too late for that now."
Everything he'd done, all the mistakes that he'd made, it all rushed to the front of his mind, and he bit down hard on his lip. There was just so much that he should have done differently, and he had no way to fix it now.
Zhane nodded slowly, expelling his breath in a slow sigh. "Then win or lose, live or die, we're in this together and you shouldn't have to die alone."
Zhane wouldn't let him look away this time, and Andros didn't know how to answer. His eyes burned as he struggled to keep them from flooding with tears. It was a wasted effort, and he felt his shoulders tremble.
"I don't want to die," he whispered, and tears spilled out of his eyes as he squeezed them shut. Andros didn't bother to wipe them away as Zhane wrapped both arms around his shoulders.
"Neither do I."
"But I don't know what else to do."
"I--I--I'm scared," he confessed painfully, his fists clenching. He shouldn't be feeling this way; the Red Ranger should know what to do. But he didn't.
Zhane was silent for a moment. "Me too," he said softly, and Andros wondered if he was only imagining that he heard a tremor in his friend's voice.
A hand stroked his hair soothingly, and Andros felt someone else's arms slide around him as Zhane shifted to make room for her. The scent of Zoie's hair filled his nose, and it occured to him that only that morning it would have been enough to have him daydreaming for hours. Now, he just wrapped one arm around her and pulled Zhane closer with the other, not knowing what else to do but hold onto them.
"We're sorry," she whispered, and he tried to pull her closer. "We're not leaving you."
"We're Rangers," he heard Keelan say from behind him. "And we fight as a team."
"Forget what we said earlier," Emi added. "We were just... scared."
"I know," he choked out, swiping at his eyes as he tried to regain some semblance of composure. "I know. It's okay."
"It's not," Torin said quietly. "We never should have..."
He left the thought unfinished, and Andros nodded his head slowly. He understood what Torin had been trying to say, and he knew the fear that they felt all too well. The world he had grown up in was fading fast and it wouldn't be long before it was gone forever. Come morning, the fight would come, one that they would be lucky to emerge from alive and Andros was glad only that he would not face it alone.
Author's Note: Well, it ends here. This story ended up a bit pointless, actually; there were a few important little details that never quite made it in there, but I've been wanting to write a short little thing about KO-35 for awhile now, so oh well... The next installment won't be posted until I finish either of the two fics that I'm currently working on, STL being the one most likely to end first. At the rate I'm going, "Wanderer" should be up sometime this summer.
That's it for now. I hope you enjoyed this little short story, and any feedback you might have is hugely appreciated. Thanks for reading. :)