For anyone who read the original post of this, this chapter actually takes place before Holiday, because Wes Muse was being difficult. Basically, the triplets aren't born yet, and Wes has been kidnapped by Time Force to the future. The rest of the story is explained in A Darker Shade of Red; this is just Wes' side of what's happening.
"I don't care what excuse he's got today, he's going to school," Alex grumbled as he headed for the stairs.
"Come on, Alex. Have a heart," Wes coaxed. "It's not every day you get to meet your dad from nine hundred and seventy-three years ago."
Alex paused in mid-step, turning to glare at him. "Stop trying to corrupt my little brother."
Wes just grinned back. Alex was too much fun to tease sometimes.
"You're from 2029, Wes?" Trip spoke up, looking puzzled.
Wes watched Alex disappear up the stairs for a moment before turning to offer his friend a smile. "That's right," he confirmed. "January 4th, 2029." He sighed, shaking his head. "Everyone's probably freaking out over me being gone."
"Actually Wes, once we return you to the same day you left, it'll be like you just took a really long walk," Trip explained. He smiled brightly. "So they won't really be too worried about you at all."
Wes managed a smile. "Right. Gotta love time travel," he quipped, making the others laugh.
But Trip was wrong. And as much as part of him wanted to tell them that, another stronger part refused.
This wasn't about Time Force Technology. This was about Ranger Loyalty. About S.P.D. Ranger Loyalty. And no one was more loyal then the Newtech Rangers.
And Space Patrol Delta wasn't as behind on time travel technology as the Time Force Rangers would like to believe.
He watched Katie bustling around the kitchen as she made breakfast, something that amused him for reasons he couldn't explain. He watched Jen go over the day's itinerary with Lucas as she sipped her coffee, Lucas' eyes occasionally wandering over to Trip even as he kept up with the conversation. Trip was chattering at Circuit at the table, absently working on some project he'd produced out of thin air.
It was almost like stepping back in time.
But then at the same time, it wasn't.
They were older now, only a year older than he'd last seen them, but the changes were there. The closeness between Lucas and Trip. The way Jen kept checking the clock, while Katie told her they had plenty of time. The way Alex had looked so at home in the kitchen in a way he'd never seen him before.
The fact that that he felt so out of place.
Jen whined at his side, pawing carefully at his leg, and he reached down to scratch her ears. His moods had been all over the place since they'd been ambushed by the guys in Time Force uniforms yesterday, and it was upsetting her. But at the same time, he was grateful they hadn't been able to separate her from him; in a way, it was like having at least one friend on his side.
Which was stupid and he knew it. The Time Force Rangers were his friends. Always had been, and always would be. No matter how strange or awkward he felt, he knew he could count on them for anything.
But at the same time, he kept expecting to see R.J. as the one making breakfast, humming to himself and wearing that hideous zebra print bandana and orange apron he had. Vanessa should be glaring at Eric as they fought over the newspaper and the pot of coffee. Sky should be running circles around all of them, grabbing breakfast from R.J. one moment, snatching the comics the next, scooping Sheep up off the floor before someone stepped on him.
He should be in fresh from his morning jog, Jen happy and bouncing at his side, waiting patiently for Eric to finish up so they could head into work together. He should be greeted by co-workers, friends, and teammates. He should be chatting with Justin while teasing Sky to lighten up on his Squad: it's only drill, not life or death.
It was all wrong, and that hurt.
"What's taking them so long?" Jen demanded finally, glaring up the stairs. "Ben's going to be late to school if he doesn't hurry up, and then we'll be late to court."
"I'll go see what's keeping them," Wes offered quickly, eager both for the chance to escape and for another chance to talk to his boys. He was on his feet before anyone could object, slapping a hand against his thigh. "Come, Jen."
She scrambled up and to his side, paws scratching at the hardwood floors with a noise he barely noticed, pressing close against his side. For all that she dealt with every day at S.P.D., she was a very brave dog. But that didn't mean she liked being in new situations any more than he did.
He paused at the top of the stairs to take in what they'd called Alex's Library on the tour he'd been given earlier. It was beautiful, decorated in wood paneling with gold lights shaped like candles along the wall. Bookshelves lined every wall that didn't have a window, while a desk that would have been considered an antique even in his time and a couch and chaise sat in front of the massive window that let light down over it all.
There were more antiques all over the place: masks and instruments and paintings. There was even an upright piano along the set of windows that led out to the porch. Alex was fascinated by history and culture, and everything he could collect he kept here, in his own personal space. He always insisted the library was for everyone, but no one else used it. Our of a lack of interest or a respect for his son's passion, Wes wasn't sure.
He could see from where he was that the door to Alex and Ben's room was open, and he hesitated, not wanting to intrude. He'd meant what he'd said to Alex the night before, about not taking Ben away from him. But that didn't mean he didn't want to.
He closed his eyes for a moment, leaning against the wall as he ran a shaking hand over his face. God, this was hard. His boys were here, right in front of him. He could touch them, hold them. He wanted to gather them into his arms and never let them go. He wanted to steal a timeship before anyone could stop him and take them home, where they belonged.
Where they were wanted. Loved.
Where he could keep them safe.
Jen whined softly at him.
He slid down the wall to pull her close, hugging tight and kissing her head. "Sorry, girl," he murmured. He tilted his head back, closing his eyes again as tears burned. "Eric, I need you," he whispered. "Please. Hurry. I don't know how much longer I can do this."
He stared at his morpher for several minutes, willing it to go off. But it stayed silent, and Jen whined again anxiously.
At last he sighed, squeezing her gently. "Sorry, sweetheart. I'll stop, I promise."
He climbed to his feet with another sigh, scrubbing a hand over his eyes. He couldn't hear any voices from the bedroom, but he approached slowly, just in case. He didn't want to startle them, either.
What he found made his heart ache.
Alex and Ben sat on the edge of the far bed together, heads leaning against one another as Ben curled up against Alex's side. He had one arm wrapped around Alex's waist, while Alex had a hand gently stroking his brother's hair. Wes wasn't sure if Alex had even noticed he was doing it.
He closed his eyes again, swallowing back tears. Because he knew if he tried to hug them, they'd be uncomfortable. They were right in front of him, and he couldn't hold them close and tell them how much he loved them, how proud he was.
How he was sorry.
Alex only allowed himself to be held when he was desperate for affection and falling apart, and Wes knew he could only get away with it because he knew all of his son's tricks for pushing people away. It was one of the few times he was actually grateful to have Alex's memories: he knew that when Alex was at his rudest and nastiest, it was when he needed a hug the most.
Ben wasn't like that, according to Alex. Ben did not allow touching at all - unless it came from Alex. Alex was the one person he trusted implicitly, and the one person he craved attention and affection from. Allowing Wes to hold him the night before had been a fluke as much as it was shock.
He let out a slow sigh, forcing himself to raise a hand and knock softly on the doorframe. "Hey ... " he said softly. "Sorry to interrupt, but Jen's complaining that we're either going to be late to school or court, and Katie won't let anybody leave until they've eaten."
"Sounds about right," Alex muttered. He glanced at his brother and sighed. "All right. You don't have to go to school today."
Ben whooped, tackling him back onto the bed in a hug. "You're the best, A!"
"Benji, you're heavy!" Alex groaned.
Wes laughed, because they were adorable and beautiful and they were his, and his heart ached.
-- "Alex already knows everything about you. He doesn't even have to ask anything. He just ... knows." --
-- "Do you hate it, too?"
"Sometimes. But more for you two than for me."
"Why not for you?"
"Because as much as this morpher has made so many people suffer, it's brought me a lot of joy, too. I've made and lost a lot of good friends because of being a Ranger. I'm not even sure who I'd be any more if I didn't have it. Everything I am now ... it's happened because I was a Power Ranger." --
He let out a long, slow sigh as he stared over the landscape. Eventually he scrubbed a hand over his face. "Eric, where are you?" he whispered, frustrated. "What's taking so long?" He shook his head as Jen whined at him, reaching down to rub her ears as he closed his eyes, tears burning. "I can't do this alone."
So many questions he couldn't answer. So many things he wanted to say, but it was too hard. He'd gotten used to Eric running interference for him when he was uncomfortable, giving answers so he wouldn't have to.
He looked down at his wedding ring with another sigh. They'd been partners for too long now. He wasn't used to working in a group anymore. Even with the Newtech Rangers, there was always someone working at his side with answers he didn't have.
He'd never realized how long it had been since he'd been on his own.
He shook his head, taking a deep breath. Eric had always had faith in him when he needed it most. It was his turn to have faith in Eric.
"He'll be here," he whispered to himself, trying to sound more confident than he felt. "He'll be here."
He heard the sound of the door sliding open before he recognized her footsteps, automatically moving to placate Jen as she started to growl in warning. "Easy, girl," he murmured. "Stay. Friend."
She subsided, but he knew she was watching the intruder warily.
Eric would be proud of her, he reflected with a sad smile.
He glanced up and smiled as Jen joined him. "Hey," he greeted quietly.
"Sorry to bother you, but it's almost time for the trial to restart." She came to lean against the railing beside him anyway. "I didn't realize you knew about this place," she commented.
He winced slightly. "Sorry. I know it's your and Alex's spot. I just needed to get away for awhile."
"Wes, it's fine," she promised gently. "I'm just surprised you know about it. It's not exactly easy to get to."
He gave her a lopsided smile, pointing at his temple. "I have Alex's memories of how you found it downloaded in my brain, remember?"
She closed her eyes for a moment. "Sorry."
He shook his head, reaching out to squeeze her hands. "No, I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "I'm not exactly being the best guest right now, and it's not fair to any of you."
She smiled faintly, squeezing back. "I think I can understand that," she reminded him.
He chuckled slightly, shaking his head. "I guess you can."
They looked out over the city in silence together, shoulder to shoulder now as they leaned on the rail again. "Is it very different?" Jen asked suddenly, her voice soft. "I always loved Silver Hills, but ... It wasn't Newtech City."
"It's a little different," he answered absently, watching the skyline. "It's taller, for one. Everything seems to have gone up, rather than out. But most things are in the same place. Like that, right over there." He pointed into the distance. "See that silver building, with the blue logo on the side? That bank's been there since Newtech City was built. And that bakery two blocks east of it? It used to be a family business, but it's always been in that spot. Just ... smaller than it is now."
"So where's home?" she asked quietly.
He smiled, looking down for a moment. "Technically we're standing on it," he told her wryly. "S.P.D. was a smaller building, but this is the same place it's always been." He paused, hesitating. "If you mean Vanessa's house, it used to be over there." He pointed again, this time to an area of buildings he didn't know.
"Vanessa's house?" Jen repeated. "Not 'our house'?"
He shrugged a little. "She bought it to raise Sky in, but he's always spent most of his time at S.P.D. whether we wanted him to or not. I live there because they do, and Eric lives there because I do. R.J. - " He stopped and smiled again. "R.J. does what he wants. I'm still a little surprised he managed to commit to marriage. If he goes out into the world again someday, I won't really be shocked. I'll miss him until he comes back to see us again, but ... " He shrugged. "He's too much of a free spirit to really stay in one place."
" ... Has Time Force changed much since it was S.P.D.?"
He closed his eyes, because that was a question he really didn't want to answer. "Well ... this used to be a break room, actually. Um, at the end of the Drill Sergeant offices. Ranger Tower wasn't there - S.P.D. Newtech wasn't that tall - but the Command Center's in the same place. The courtroom actually used to be the war room." Which was ironic for many reasons.
Her hand came up to squeeze his arm gently. "That wasn't what I meant, Wes."
He sighed. "Honestly?" He shook his head. "I don't see how Time Force was ever S.P.D. It's all so ... wrong."
He felt rather than saw her frown. "Wrong how?"
He reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Space Patrol Delta ... was an intergalactic police academy," he said eventually. "S.P.D. Earth was built by Power Rangers. We have civilian staff, but the core of who we are and what we do is based around the Ranger Etiquette Laws. S.P.D. Earth's never been on the 'good list' for S.P.D., I guess you could say. But Time Force ... " He shook his head again. "Even if it wasn't as military as it is, I'd still hate it."
"Why?" she asked softly.
His fist clenched, and his Jen whined at his side again. He forced out a slow breath, reaching down to scratch her ears. "Because they stole my family from me."
There was a long moment of silence. There was nothing she could really say to that, and he didn't want her to.
Eventually he found himself chuckling softly. "I never thought I'd have to have this talk with you, you know," he said at last.
She glanced at him, frowning. "About Time Force?"
He shook his head. "No. About Alex."
She raised her eyebrows at him. "Alex?"
He turned to face her fully, his smile gone now. "I may not have been able to raise him, but that doesn't mean he's any less my son," he told seriously. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him and Ben, and wonder if they're doing okay." He hesitated. "To be honest, I think about them even more than you and the guys."
She blinked for a moment, and her eyes seemed suspiciously shiny. "I guess we couldn't expect you not to," she admitted.
He nodded. "I'm always going to worry about if they're safe and happy." He paused, tilting his head a little as he looked at her. "So I never thought I'd have to warn you that you'd better take good care of him."
She blinked again, then suddenly broke into a smile. "Wes ... are you giving me the overprotective father speech?"
"That's exactly what I'm doing," he affirmed, and while she was grinning at him, he wasn't kidding. "Only it's worse for you, because I won't be able to check up on you guys the way I can with Sky. Which means that if you make my little boy cry for any reason ... " He shook his head. "You're my best friend Jen, and I love you ... but Alex comes first."
Her grin finally faded as she watched him carefully, finally seeming to understand how serious he was. "Wes ... " She trailed off, finally swallowing hard and reaching to take his hands again. Her eyes met his, and when she spoke her tone was solemn. "I promise you, Wes. I will always take care of Alex. I'll protect him, love him, and keep him safe as much as I can. And I promise the same for Ben, because even I know they come as a set."
When she smiled again, it was warm and understanding.
He managed to smile back, swallowing down the tears that welled in his eyes. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
She leaned in and hugged him tightly. "I wish I could give him back to you, Wes," she murmured in his ear. "But at the same time, I don't want to lose him, either."
He laughed softly, and even he could hear how choked it sounded. "Now you know how I feel."
"I'm sorry." Her words were soft, but he knew she meant it. And he knew she finally had an idea of what he was feeling. She couldn't really know - not without having lost a child herself - but she was starting to understand how hard this was for him.
"Me, too," he mumbled, resting his chin on her shoulder.
Something caught his eye, so brief he almost thought he imagined it. He stared for a moment, trying to decide if it was real or not. And then he realized he knew better.
He pulled away with a watery smile, because he was still fighting to get his emotions back under control even as his mind raced. "Well, at least there's one thing I can be glad isn't still here," he quipped, heart pounding.
She frowned. "What's that?"
"The Memorial Statue." He shook his head. "I know it wasn't S.P.D. Newtech's idea, but it always creeps me out to walk past it into the building. I started taking side entrances just so I won't have to look at it.
"Memorial Statue?" she repeated.
He nodded. "Big gold thing? Has ten Rangers standing in a group, facing different directions?" He hesitated. "I'm the one standing at the front of it."
She stared at him. "It's not gone," she said finally, biting her lip uncertainly. "It was moved. No one's ...no one's ever known what it was for, but ... it was one of the inspirations for the Time Force Rangers."
He blinked for a moment. "Oh," he said at last. "Do you think ... do you think you could take me to it?" He hesitated. "It's ... it's like a piece of home, you know?"
Her face softened. "I'll take you," she promised. "We can go right now."
He smiled at her as he grabbed his Jen's leash again, even as guilt flared. "Thanks, Jen."
The years had not been kind to the Newtech Ranger Memorial, and Wes couldn't be sure if he was glad or not about it. The entire statue was rusted and badly cared for, and the words that had once graced the plaque had worn down beyond all recognition. The foundation had seen better days, and he was fairly certain if the metal used to make it had been any softer, the figures themselves would have been missing weapons and body parts.
Wes swallowed hard as he walked towards it, reaching out to trace the words that should have been there. "Hi, guys," he murmured, looking up at it. "Looks like you lasted longer than the rest of us after all ... "
After a moment, he noticed Jen standing beside him, watching him. "No one knows what it used to say," she explained quietly. "We've been able to confirm the identities of the Rangers shown, but no one knows why they were placed like this. They moved it here, to the center Time Force Housing, as an inspiration for future Time Force officers to aspire to."
"Oh, I hope not," he muttered fervently.
She kept watching him, and at last he sighed. "In honor of the Power Rangers Space Patrol Delta: The true meaning of sacrifice. We will never forget," he recited, tracing where the words were again. "This is a memorial to Rangers who fell against a criminal known as Mirloc." He swallowed hard, blinking harshly for a moment.
"The three over there," he pointed, "Are the Dino Thunder Rangers. Conner, Ethan, and Kira." He knew she'd said that she already knew who they were, but she couldn't know. Not the way she should have. "Kira was married with two kids: twins, like Alex and Ben. Conner and Ethan had been married for four years. I was at their wedding. Ethan worked in the tech department, designing software programs we still use. Dustin eventually used his technology and ideas to turn the entire base into a Zord, something that would never have been possible before. And those three," he pointed again, to the other side, "Are Chad, Joel, and Kelsey. When Ryan decided to make Syd's dream of being a model come true, Carter brought the three of them to S.P.D. to help fill in the empty places we had. Chad took over D Squad while Rocky and Adam were at the Order of Light, in the Zaq Galaxy. He loved teaching, but he missed the water. We used to tease him that he was part fish. Joel joined the Grunts. He brought such ...soul, to the whole department. He was so full of laughter, and he wanted everyone else to be too, you know? And Kelsey ... " He smiled wistfully. "If Joel was the soul of the Grunts, Kelsey was the soul of the Docs. She always skated everywhere no matter how many times Cruger yelled at her for it, and she always had a smile on her face. She could make you feel better just by being there."
His smile faded as he continued to stare up at the figures of the people he'd used to know. "They were all destroyed by Mirloc. The Dino Thunder Rangers were gone before we even knew what was going on. He attacked Lightspeed while they were off duty. Kelsey was the first ... Joel gave his own life and Chad's for Carter's."
He was crying now, and he couldn't seem to stop. Jen nudged her nose under his hand, whimpering, while her human counterpart watched him with tears in her eyes.
"Chip isn't gone, but he lost his Turbo morpher and almost his arm," he went on. "He quit S.P.D. for good after that. I still see him now and then, when he checks in on us. He always says he's still dedicated to the team, but he values his wife and son more than S.P.D. now. Dax and Tori ... " He trailed off, unable to fight back a shudder. "Mirloc drowned them both. Dax in a fountain, Tori in her own attack. I was right there, watching it happen. I can't ... I can't even tell you ... "
He swallowed down a sob, sniffling slightly instead. "They were my teammates. We fought a war together, on Aquitar. We lost so many people, so many good lives ... but I still had them. Dax was my conscience, always ready to make look at things another way. Tori ... she was the sister I never had. I wouldn't have survived it without them. The three of them kept me fighting when I had nothing else to fight for."
He brushed a hand across his eyes, trying to rein his emotions back in. At last he turned to look at Jen again, taking in the way she struggled not to cry for him. "I almost lost my life that day," he told her quietly. "This morpher is the only thing that saved me. And even then, I wasn't really saved. Just alive." He swallowed, glancing back up at the statue. "That's what this statue means to me. That's what everyone forgot."
"I won't." Her voice was thick with tears, but her tone was firm. "I won't forget what it means, Wes. I promise."
He turned to offer her a weak smile. "Thank you," he said simply.
The sound of an explosion split the air.
Jen whirled, already reaching for her morpher. "That came from Time Force!" she shouted, breaking into a sprint.
Wes remained where he was, smiling softly as he closed his eyes. "Eric," he sighed in relief.