Disclaimer: These characters, along with their world and their story, are based on the characters and premise of Power Rangers Ninja Storm. Buena Vista Entertainment owns PRNS, and I make no claim on, nor receive any profit from, their copyrighted material.
Note: In this universe, christened "girl!NS" by mysty kitty, all of the PRNS characters happen to be of the opposite sex, with the notable exception of Sensei Miko and Mayu (Lothar). Rather than gender switching Kanoi and Kiya, Cam's mother and her fictional twin sister fill those roles. No particular reason. Also, pretty much everything I write is an open universe, so if for some reason you want to use these versions of the Ninja Storm characters you're welcome to do so.
on the Second Date
Chapter 1: Birthday Ban
It might have been easier for everyone involved if Toni had skipped his eighteenth birthday altogether. Between the evil zord and the alien bounty hunter, not to mention Shay's disappearance, trying to celebrate the occasion had turned out to be almost impossible. Cam didn't think it was unreasonable to ask, at the end of a long and trying day with a lot of repairs left to complete, whether he wanted to postpone the party until the following weekend.
Toni raised an eyebrow at her over top of the backup cake Dusty had rescued from the freezer in the kitchen. "Camille Watanabe," he drawled, slapping one of Dusty's hands away before she could steal a burnt-out candle. "Did you forget to get me a birthday present?"
Cam sighed. As if anyone could stand between a teenage boy and his cake. Or birthday presents. "I'm not talking about the presents," she said patiently. "Or the cake. Obviously. You're welcome, by the way."
"Yeah, why do you have a spare ice cream cake just lying around?" Dusty wanted to know. She had gotten a candle anyway, licked the holder off, and was now reaching for another one.
"Because Shay's been distracted lately," Cam informed her, "and I didn't trust her to remember it."
"Hey, I resent that," Shay commented. The protest lacked any real indignation, though, and Cam hoped they weren't going to have to counsel her through the loss of her Carmanian friend. None of the Rangers were really good at that kind of thing.
"I was talking about going out afterward," Cam persisted. "I'm really not going to have time, not with all the work that needs to be done around here. I just thought you might want to... extend your party a little."
"Nope." Toni was now competing with Dusty to see who could pull out and lick off the remaining candles fastest, and he pointed one at Cam to emphasize his words. "We are going out tonight, and you are coming with us. It's my birthday. End of discussion."
"Do you not wish to spend some time with your family, Toni?" A white tail with brown splotches twitched curiously as their sensei regarded the Blue Ranger.
It was a fair question, Cam realized. She had gotten so used to the team's presence lately that she sometimes forgot they had lives outside of Ninja Ops. She didn't, of course, not anymore. But they had other friends, supposedly, and siblings, some of them, and parents who weren't cats.
All right. Again. Some of them.
"My dad's out of town," Toni said, offhand. He was looking around like he wasn't quite sure where to set the cake. Or the candles he was still holding. "And my brother's off on some hiking trip. We're celebrating next weekend."
"Which is why," Heather interrupted, before anyone else could respond, "we have to get in all our partying this weekend."
"Yeah!" Blaze crowed, snatching the cake away from Toni and spinning over to the table. "First things first. We need plates, forks, and someone's gotta bring all those presents over here!"
They had known, Cam realized. Or at least, Blaze had known, and she must have told Heather that Toni's family wasn't around. For whatever reason. Now the all-day beach party, and maybe even his disappointment over Sensei's spontaneous retreat, made more sense.
"Plates," Heather announced. She was digging through the pile of beach stuff that had been unceremoniously dropped on the floor in between trouncing the kelzaks and destroying the evil zord. Brandishing a box of plastic utensils, she added, "And forks!"
Shay clapped Dusty on the shoulder. "Guess that leaves us with the--"
She paused briefly, pointing at Dusty, and they both exclaimed, "Presents!"
Cam sighed as the two of them cheered with entirely too much enthusiasm. "Just try not to drop any of them, okay?"
Predictably, they ignored her completely. But they were walking in one direction while Heather was walking in the other, and luckily for them, her eye followed the girl in the skintight crimson exercise top. She'd actually worn a bikini to the beach, and, cutoffs notwithstanding, that was an image Cam would have a hard time forgetting.
"Bonus utensil," Heather told Toni as she dropped everything she was carrying on the table beside the cake. She handed over some sort of spatula-like serving thing, with edges that were apparently sharp enough to slice through ice cream.
Sharp enough when Toni was wielding it to make the ice cream look half-melted, which it couldn't possibly be. Cam couldn't tell if that was Ranger strength or something else, but she wasn't the only one to notice. Blaze was watching the initial cake-cutting with disturbing intensity, and it was hard to tell whether the cake or the person cutting it was the cause.
"So, that's my piece, right?" Blaze cajoled, holding out a plate as Toni lifted the first piece free.
"You wish," Toni told her. He tipped the cake onto the plate and pulled the plate away from Blaze at the same time. "My cake, my piece. You can have the next one."
"All right, but don't make it too skimpy," Blaze warned. "I don't mess around when it comes to ice cream cake."
"Happy birthday to you," Shay was singing, as she deposited the two biggest presents on the table. "Happy birthday to you..."
"Hey, do you want these presents arranged in order of size or, you know, awesomeness?" Dusty interrupted. "Because, if it's awesomeness, mine has to be first."
"Ooh," Shay teased, apparently happy to abandon her song in favor of stirring up trouble. "Are you dissing the girlfriend?"
"Dude, I have two words for you," Dusty said. She was moving the presents around on the table so that hers was closest to Toni, apparently oblivious to the look she was getting from Blaze. "Socket wrench set."
Toni cut off any response from Blaze by shoving a piece of cake at her and telling Dusty, "If you bring up that love spell one more time, you'll be getting exactly none of this cake. Clear?"
"Whereas you are allowed to mention it as often as you want," Shay observed.
Toni pointed at the cake, giving Shay a meaningful look. Shay held up her hands in surrender, and Toni turned to smile politely at Cam. "Can I interest you in some cake?" he inquired.
She inclined her head, partly in formal thanks and partly to hide her smile at Shay and Dusty's obvious dismay. "Don't mind if I do," she agreed. She knelt down on one of the cushions opposite Toni, resting her hands on her knees while she waited.
A soft touch on her head made her look up, and Heather gave her a half-smile. The Crimson Ranger was standing right behind her, stroking her hair once before she dropped down to sit cross-legged on the cushion beside Cam. "I'm not giving you my cake," Cam informed her.
Heather's face lit with a genuine grin, and only then did it occur to Cam that she had just allowed a full-out caress in front of the rest of the team. "Well," Heather replied, obviously pleased with herself even as Cam accepted a plate from Toni with thanks. "Maybe I'll give you some of mine anyway."
Cam just stared at her, because what was that supposed to mean? Heather pouted prettily, wide pleading eyes replacing her smile with a speed that made her insincerity theatrical, and Cam sighed. Apparently it was supposed to mean, give me some cake or I'll embarrass you in front of all our friends. Cam handed her a fork without another word.
"Okay," Toni said, keeping one eye on them as he cut another slice of cake. "Time to put the rumors to rest and tell us what's going on with you guys. Dating or just friends?"
"Yeah, like, the best friends ever," Dusty put in. "I mean, when was the last time you saw Cam share something? Ow!" she complained when Shay cuffed her. "I'm just saying. They're all, you know. With the, and the--" She batted her eyes, pouted, sighed, and generally looked ridiculous.
"I don't sigh like that," Cam snapped.
"Actually," Heather said, taking another bite of her cake, "you kind of do."
Cam frowned at her, and she added hastily, "But, you know, I'm obviously the one pouting, so. No big deal."
Shay was making a completely futile effort to muffle her laughter behind her hand, and Dusty was grinning at them. "So," Toni said, passing Shay the next piece of cake. Possibly in an effort to shut her up. "Dating, then?"
"For almost a month," Heather agreed. Matter-of-fact. Like she had been the one wearing a rainbow necklace on Flag Day, not Cam. No one had asked her about it. But it had made Heather smile, and she'd gotten an extra kiss out of it when no one was looking.
Right now, though, all she was getting was a lot less cake, and that was easier to focus on than everyone else's reaction. "Am I going to actually get any of this cake?" Cam wanted to know, watching Heather steal another forkful.
"I said you could have some of mine," Heather protested. Then she added, as Dusty received her plate, "If Toni ever gives me any."
"You look like you're all set," Toni said dryly. "Sensei? Do you want some cake?"
"Just a little off the top, thank you." The cat had leapt up onto the table and was observing the proceedings from the far end. "I find that chocolate doesn't sit well with cats. To my great regret," she added, with exaggerated disappointment.
"You'll make up for it once you're human again," Blaze said, holding out an empty plate while Toni carved some of the vanilla top layer off and passed it over. Blaze got to her feet and carried the plate around to the other end of the table herself. "Here you are, Sensei."
Miko thanked her, eyeing the ice cream with enough appreciation that Cam didn't feel completely sorry for her. No chocolate, okay. But no ice cream? That would be a nightmare.
"Now can I have a piece?" Heather demanded. Engrossed in watching Cam scoop up some of the melted ice cream with frosting, she didn't bother to lift her gaze as she asked. But Cam did, and she saw Toni's amused look as he eyed the plate between them.
"Don't you mean, can Cam have a piece?" he suggested.
"Do you think Cam would let anyone else eat off of her plate?" Dusty was asking Shay. Cam pretended not to hear.
"No," Heather informed Toni. "I mean, can I have a piece, so I can stop eating Cam's."
"Yeah, right," Shay scoffed. "Cam doesn't even let other people eat off of her plates when she's not using them."
"Cam?" Toni pretended to ignore Heather's indignation. "Want another piece of cake?"
"Yes," Cam told him, just to get him to stop torturing Heather. "And Shay, if you ever washed the dishes you leave in the kitchen sink, you would be as welcome to use them as anyone else."
"What!" Shay exclaimed. "Everyone else gets to use the kitchen dishes? Since when?"
"Since they got them out and put them back without me noticing they'd been used," Cam replied. "There's a sponge by the sink. Put some soap on it, scrub, and rinse. That's all I ask."
"A shared privilege is a shared responsibility," Miko remarked. It was hard to tell exactly whom she was addressing, and they all glanced at her uncertainly. The little cat regarded them in return, her inscrutability marred by the effort to lick ice cream off of her whiskers.
Cam saw Shay nudge Dusty out of the corner of her eye. "Do you get to use the kitchen dishes?" she muttered under her breath.
"Yeah, dude," Dusty said in a normal tone of voice. "Of course."
"This cake is great," Toni declared, when Shay turned to him. "Thanks, Cam."
"Yeah, thanks," Blaze agreed quickly. "And hey, thanks for getting the first one, Shay. Too bad we didn't get a chance to eat it."
Shay seemed slightly mollified by that. Or at least distracted. "Yeah, well," she said with a shrug, "you do what you have to do to stop the bad guys. I get that." Neither she nor Cam had actually been there when they destroyed the cake, and Cam, for one, didn't really want to know how it had happened.
So she picked up the second piece of cake Toni had slid across the table to her and offered it to Heather with only a slight mental wince. They'd gotten one tiny step away from the "we're dating" conversation, and here she was inviting commentary all over again. "Happy?" she asked Heather.
Heather waved her fork around in a way that was probably supposed to mean something. Then she swallowed her mouthful of ice cream and added, "Help yourself."
"Okay," Dusty said as Cam put the second plate down again. The Yellow Ranger was pointing her fork at Heather like she was using it to mark her place in the conversation. "You're dating Cam? So you're, like, gay or something?"
And they were back to this. The tradeoff for avoiding the cake destruction story was a team review of their relationship. She supposed it had been coming on for weeks, and maybe that was why she'd resigned herself to letting it happen now. She was getting tired of wondering what the others thought of Heather's constant presence, the obvious flirting, and her own growing acceptance of it.
"Or something," Heather was saying with a shrug.
"The word is 'lesbian'," Cam snapped, casting a warning look around the table. "It's not that hard to say."
She'd been talking to Dusty, but it was Heather who responded, "I like 'dyke'. Can I be a dyke instead?"
Cam blinked, and their eyes met. A slow smile spread across Heather's face as she offered another shrug. "I'm just saying, I've given it some thought," she remarked. "I'm not gonna go around introducing myself as a lesbian. But dyke sounds bad. Dangerous, you know? I like it."
"Very street," Blaze agreed unexpectedly. "I can work with that."
"Yeah, totally." Shay elbowed Dusty, who seemed to be more interested in her cake than their conversation right now.
"What?" Dusty looked up, glancing around. "Yeah? Hey, what's it like dating Cam, anyway? Is it all, you know, rules and being on time and stuff? Cause that's what she's like with everything else."
"A shock to your system, I'm sure," Cam muttered.
"You know, I'm glad we met you," Toni informed her. "I mean, obviously, but. You took my place as the responsible one. I should have thanked you for that a long time ago."
"The responsible one?" Blaze repeated. Her tone was utterly skeptical, and Toni leveled his fork at her. Blaze just smirked, smacking the fork out of the way with her own and initiating a brief fork skirmish. "Give me a break."
"No, see," Shay began, "in any group there are different types of people."
Dusty was already nodding as she pulled the fork out of her mouth. "Totally true."
"Here we go," Toni said, rolling his eyes.
"The responsible one?" Heather murmured, nudging Cam with her elbow. "You, with the...? You want that I should tell them how it really is?
She had lowered her voice, but the question hadn't gone unnoticed by the rest of the table. "Oh, yeah, I get it," Dusty complained. "Special treatment for the, uh, person you're dating."
"Girlfriend," Toni put in. "The word is girlfriend." He caught Cam's eye, offering a commiserating look as he added, "It's not that hard to say."
"Knew Cam had a wild side," Shay gloated, paying no attention. "No one is that perfect."
Cam considered the situation. The Winds were riled, and Sensei was pretending to be entranced by a spot of light on the far wall. Blaze was shaking her head as she did her best to scoop up melted ice cream with a fork. Heather was smirking. All despite the fact that Cam really hadn't done anything to justify the fuss.
There was only one conclusion that made sense. "You just deliberately tried to make them think I'm some kind of delinquent," she said, turning to Heather. She got a wink in return, and she felt a smile tugging at her lips. "Thanks."
"Anytime," Heather promised. "So, Toni," she added, gesturing with her fork again. Cam made a note never to let the Rangers have real knives if the way they were throwing those forks around was any indication of what they'd do with them. "You gonna open those presents, or what?"
"Oh, is it still my birthday?" Toni feigned surprise. Quite well, unfortunately. "I thought this was your coming out party."
"Ha ha," Heather said. "Minus ten birthday bonus points for you. Open your presents so we can go get some real food."
"I'll put the rest of the cake away." Cam offered, pushing herself to her feet. The ice cream wouldn't survive present opening, no matter how fast Toni could be when motivated. "Don't wait. I'll be right back."
On her return, she decided she might have underestimated Toni. In the amount of time it had taken her to put the cake back in the freezer, he had opened his present from Sensei and was working on the one from Shay. The former was a scroll with a single Japanese character on it: Attention. The latter turned out to be a jar of surfboard wax, which made Toni crow in delight.
"The best kind!" he declared, and Shay rolled her eyes.
"I know," she reminded her friend. "You tell us every time!"
Cam handed Heather a luna bar as she reclaimed her cushion, receiving a grin of thanks in return. Heather made no effort to be subtle, tearing the metallic wrapper and munching happily on the peppermint-flavored granola bar. This prompted complaints from both Dusty and Blaze that they hadn't gotten any food, and Cam rolled her eyes but agreed to make another trip to the kitchen if they couldn't survive without it.
"Wait," Toni interrupted. "Let me open your present first."
Cam paused, settling back on her heels as she watched Toni tear off wrapping paper and ribbon with the carelessness of someone who recycled before reusing. It didn't bother her as much as it might have, once. And when Toni blinked at the transparent plastic box underneath, clearly startled, it didn't bother her at all.
"Cam," Toni said, glancing up. Amusement lurked in his tone. "Did you get me a watch?" It was a fair reaction, given that he and Blaze were the only people on the team who already owned watches.
"Either that or something that looks exactly like one," Dusty commented, leaning over Shay to see. "Hey, look, it's all that funny color that glows in the dark!"
"It's blue," Shay said, giving her a weird look that Dusty totally missed.
"Yeah, but it's like that glow-in-the-dark blue!" Dusty insisted. "Seriously, turn out the lights or something!"
"It glows in the dark," Cam admitted, before anyone could get any ideas. "More importantly? It's waterproof."
She saw comprehension dawn, and the amused look turned to one of appreciation. "Oh, hey," Toni said, studying the new watch with more respect. "That's great. That's perfect, I mean, it's not like I can tell time by the waves. And 'water resistant'? Yeah, it turns out that's not as true as you'd think."
He was already pulling his old one off, sliding the surfers' knots on his right arm down to his wrist and fastening the new watch above them. It was a habit Cam had never understood, since it made the watch more like a bracelet than anything else, but somehow Toni made it work. Maybe it helped that he had classic surfer looks and, as far as any stranger could tell, a seemingly endless supply of girlfriends.
"Happy birthday," Cam answered when Toni thanked him. "I suppose you want a luna bar too," she added, getting to her feet again.
"One of your girly power bars?" Toni said, rolling his eyes. Then he flicked his gaze sideways, like he was gauging the effect of his expression. "Got any coffee-flavored ones?"
Heather snorted. "Gee," she said, "why would you think that?"
"Anyone else?" Cam asked, ignoring her. "Dusty? Blaze?"
"Yeah, thanks," Dusty said absently. She was knocking on the biggest present, apparently trying to figure out what it was by echolocation.
"S'mores, if you have it," Blaze said. "Anything chocolate if you don't."
"Done," Cam agreed. "Shay?"
"Surprise me," Shay told her.
She sighed, turning to the cat at the end of the table. "Mom?"
"No thank you, Cam." Sensei's voice sounded more like teasing than reproach. "Perhaps next time, you will remember the consequences of favoritism."
"Perhaps next time, people who are hungry will mention it before I go to the kitchen instead of after I come back," Cam countered.
"Perhaps next time," Shay called after her as she headed out of the room again, "you'll read our minds!"
It would have been more obnoxious if it hadn't been such an obvious joke. Which left Cam to wonder how she had gotten so used to the Rangers that she occasionally understood what they meant. It wasn't knowledge that she had expected, or even sought, back when they'd first started working together.
By the time she'd collected the requested snacks and made it back, Toni was working on the present from Blaze and Heather. Cam distributed luna bars as appropriate, not quite as surprised as the others when the box turned out to contain a bright blue motocross helmet. "Nice," she agreed, when all the Winds were exclaiming over it.
She sat down next to Heather again, studying the flurry of inspection and compliments for a long moment before she turned to the older Bradley sister. "So?" she whispered, when she caught Heather's eye. "Did he need a new one?"
"You're supposed to replace 'em after every crash," Heather murmured back. "But they're pretty expensive without a sponsor, so. Toni's taken a couple of hits on his old one."
Cam nodded her understanding. Flashy and practical, then. No wonder Blaze was bragging, eagerly pointing out the "latest features" on a helmet that Cam felt shouldn't have as many features as a laser pointer, let alone a laptop computer. Apparently, though, crash protection was a competitive business, and this helmet was supposedly superior in every way to the one Toni had been wearing before.
Heather reached across the table and snagged something from the pile of wrapping paper and presents. The action went mostly unnoticed by the motocross admiration society, but Cam gave her an inquiring look and Heather passed the object to her. "Check out Dusty's present," she said under her breath.
It was a keychain. Very Dusty, Cam thought, before she realized it was a keychain in the shape of a dolphin tail. She smiled faintly, turning it over--and she frowned. Really? Looking closer, she realized, yes. It really was a picture of the entire team, outside in their workout clothes with Sensei, posing for a camera on a timer after the whole city had caught Yellow fever.
"Yeah," Heather said, obviously catching her expression. "Nice, huh?"
"How did she do this?" Cam blurted out. She could print a digital image onto almost anything, but this keychain looked like enamel and plastic--sturdy enough to last years. Decades, maybe. This could be around through a lot of different keys.
"Oh, dude, it's easy," Dusty interrupted. "There's this mail-order catalogue, right, and they'll make any picture into a keychain or a mug or whatever you want--"
She kept going, but Cam had stopped listening after "catalogue." Leave it to Dusty, possibly the last person in the state to still use mail-order catalogues, to trust a friend's birthday present to one. And, true to Dusty's luck, it had worked past any reasonable expectation.
"Hey, so, can we eat now?" Shay was asking. "I don't know if anyone noticed, but I was lost in the woods all day meeting aliens and fighting evil fish. I'm starving."
Her luna bar was already gone, Cam noticed. Shay could put away food almost as fast as Toni. Her own metabolism had spiked alarmingly the day she first used the amulet to morph, so it wasn't like she could blame them, but it still sometimes surprised her how much value the sports world put on eating.
"I hear that," Heather said, setting one empty cake plate on top of the other and pushing them both toward the center of the table. "Let's stack 'em up and wash 'em off."
"Like the rest of us had such an easy time fighting kelzaks," Blaze added, tossing her fork on top and putting her plate on the bottom of the pile. "We didn't get to hide in a little zord, or get an extra power boost from some passing do-gooder."
"Oh, because destroying Zurgayne's zord was no work at all," Toni scoffed. He passed the pile down the table.
"Hey, we helped with that," Blaze insisted, pulling the wrapping paper off the table.
"Yeah, and we scored eleven kelzaks to your six at the beach that first time," Toni retorted. "Don't think I didn't notice you guys slacking over there."
"We took out fifteen kelzaks," Heather informed her.
Toni gave her a skeptical look. "After we left to take on Zurgayne, maybe."
"We went eight and three the second time," Blaze pointed out.
"While Dusty was fighting a general," Toni shot back. "She was a little distracted!"
"Chooba's not a general," Blaze said with a smirk. "She's comic relief."
Cam was watching the progress of the dishes, and she saw the moment when Shay realized the only person left to pass them to was Sensei. Who, as a cat, had a perfectly valid excuse for not washing dishes. Cam smiled when Shay looked around and caught her eye. "Consider this your chance to redeem yourself," she suggested.
"Oh, hey, I'll help," Dusty offered, when she realized what was going on. "Sensei, can we take your plate, or do you want to, you know, lick it off or something?"
"I suspect I've consumed enough ice cream for several cats," Sensei admitted, her tail swishing slowly over the end of the table. "I will wish Toni a happy birthday and then retire for the evening."
"Thank you, Sensei," Toni replied, immediately polite. As though he hadn't been arguing with his teammates over who fought the hardest only seconds before.
The parti-colored cat inclined her head gravely in return. "Enjoy your evening, Rangers." She turned and leapt down from the table without a sound, ghosting silently across the floor toward the residential hallway.
"All right, let's get this show on the road," Heather declared. "Blaze, you want to at least pretend to separate the recyclable stuff from the trash?"
"Yeah, yeah," Blaze grumbled. "This is me pretending."
"Do we really have to wash plastic plates and forks?" Shay complained. "I mean, it says 'disposable' right on the box."
"Well, yeah, and paper is biodegradable," Dusty pointed out. "But you don't chuck it until you've used both sides."
That was when the the monitor lit up on the other side of the room, warning of yet another alien incursion, and they all turned to stare at it in disbelief. "You've got to be kiddingme," Toni said incredulously. "That's six in one day!"
"Yeah, and that's not even counting Skyler," Blaze put in. Shay's Carmanian visitor hadn't set off a single alarm, and Cam still wasn't sure whether that was good or bad.
"Well, duh," Dusty said. "Good aliens don't, you know. Incur. Or whatever."
"Invade," Cam corrected automatically. Dusty was trying to make a verb out of the warning on mainframe, and it just wasn't that kind of word. "But I think it's safe to say this isn't a good alien."
The alien in question was tearing through electrical lines like they were thread. There wasn't any sound on the monitor right now but the alien must have introduced itself at some point because the words "Electra Volt" were flashing at the top of the screen. Charming. Maybe the power companies could get together and sue Lothar for damages.
"This better not take all night," Toni growled, lining up between Shay and Dusty. Their morphers flashed in the bright lights of the underground ninja command center. "Ready?"
Blaze tossed the crumpled wrapping paper aside, and she and Heather exchanged glances as the Winds echoed, "Ready." Three morphers lifted to the ceiling, two aimed for the floor, and one thrust straight ahead as their feline sensei padded back into the room, leaping into Cam's chair to watch them go.
Cam's thoughts were distant as they disappeared, but it did occur to her to be grateful that at least Toni couldn't turn eighteen twice.