While this is the end of Little Brother, I'm probably going to have a side story about the part this skips over, when Casey's been poisoned. It really just didn't fit into this fic.
Eric sighed, stretching as they watched from a distance. The monster of the day was defeated - although that crawling-face thing was nasty. The Jungle Fury Rangers, as R.J. said they were called, had saved the day with ease.
"Conner?" he asked softly, noticing the distant look in his twin's eyes. He waited a moment, then waved a hand in front of his face. "Dude. You in there?"
Conner blinked, shaking his head. "Yeah," he muttered. "Yeah, I'm fine."
Yeah, like he believed that. "What is it?"
Eric kept staring as Conner hesitated, then sighed at last. "Their Megazord," he said finally. "I think they said it was Jungle Pride? It ... it reminded me of Thundersaurus. The way it was mostly Red? Thundersaurus was like that." He forced a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "It was pretty cool - real agile, huh? Wonder what the cockpit's like."
Eric said nothing. Part of him, a part buried deep enough to keep his brothers from ever noticing, was jealous. Two Red Rangers in the McKnight Brothers now. Both of them were so obviously Body-Type, protective and self-sacrificing to a fault. Both Power Rangers.
Something he would never be.
He'd been jealous and angry when he first learned about Conner. Because dude, his brother was a Power Ranger. He was saving the world - what better calling was there than that?
His brother was a Power Ranger. Complete with superpowers, quirky color fetishes, and best friends for life. Battle stories he wouldn't believe, injuries he didn't want to know about. Experiences he's never dream of. Conner was something he could never be, never understand.
And now Casey was, too.
There would always be a part of each of them that he could never reach. No matter what he did as a Ninja, it couldn't compare to what they went through. Or would go through, in Casey's case, which made him shudder as his mind automatically filled in situations for him.
Judging by the look on his brother's face, Conner didn't have to imagine them.
Getting the call had been one thing. It had been almost fun then, laughing at the idea of their baby brother running around saving the world as they tried not to think too hard on the details. They'd worried, which is what brought them both there in the first place, but they hadn't really known what Casey was getting into.
Until last night, when they'd snuck into R.J.'s place and found him pale and twitching. R.J. had assured them it was a mild poison, nothing fatal, but enough for some serious discomfort. He'd called Sensei Tori anyway, practically begging her to streak to Ocean Bluff to help Casey.
With Sensei Cam's rebuilt teleportation system, she'd arrived in minutes. She promised them again that it was true the sting wasn't serious, but had still managed to help dilute the venom in his bloodstream. He hadn't asked how; Kyle tried to explain Water Ninja healing techniques to him once and all he got out of it was a headache.
Casey was fine now; they could both see that as they watched him demorph and laugh with his friends. But that was fine now. In the future he was going to be hurt, again and again. And even with all his skills and training, he couldn't do anything about it. For the first time in his life, he couldn't protect his little brother.
And it hurt.
"Sunglasses?" Conner spoke up suddenly, raising an eyebrow. "They morph with sunglasses?"
Eric rolled his eyes. "Yeah dude, that's so much worse than bracelets."
"Hey, I didn't make the stupid bracelets, Dr. O did."
He smirked. "Well, I guess it's not so bad that you have a jewelry fetish. I mean, it fits you now and all."
Conner stared at him with wide eyes, completely scandalized. "Dude, did you just say that my morpher made me gay?" he demanded incredulously.
Eric laughed, because making it funny meant it didn't hurt so much. "It gave you Ethan, didn't it?"
"That's got nothing to do with it!"
"But you never would have gotten together with Ethan if you didn't have the bracelet morpher." he pointed out, waving a finger at him and smirking.
"How do you know?!"
He gave him an exasperated look. "Dude. Would you have so much as looked at him if you weren't Rangers together?"
That was something else he envied them. Because he couldn't keep a relationship to save his life, and Conner had pretty much found his soul mate. Not exactly who any of them had expected, but even he had to admit that they fit together because they understood things about each other no one else could. Soon Casey would find that too, and he'd be the odd-man-out again.
He had Kyle and Tally, but they weren't ... they weren't connected in the same way Conner was to Ethan, Kira, Trent, and even Dr. Oliver. The way he could already see the bonds forming between Casey and the two on either side of him. He had friends, but without that shared sense of fighting to survive together, it just wasn't the same.
He wasn't a Heart Ninja for nothing.
He ignored Conner's weak attempts to protest, watching the three young Rangers as they slowly walked back into town. "Huh," he muttered, carefully sensing them out with his ninja intuition. "That's an interesting setup."
Conner hesitated, but curiosity won. "What?"
"Case is an Earth-Body, and his Blue's Water-Mind, like Ethan. But his Yellow is Air-Heart - you don't see a lot of those. It's kind of a dangerous combination."
Conner raised an eyebrow. "How's that?"
"Energy and Heart in the same Ninja? She'll never leave anyone alone."
Conner laughed, then looked at him speculatively. "It's kinda funny, isn't it? That he's like both of us?"
He smiled, because he knew exactly what he meant. Casey shared the patient, open personality that he had with the physical nature of Conner. A very happy, friendly, and touchy-feely person if ever there was one. Somehow he thought it fit Case better than he would have liked to know. "Not really," he answered finally. "He's our baby brother after all."
"Little," Conner corrected softly, staring after where they'd disappeared as well. "He's not a baby anymore."
He hmmed in agreement, even if he didn't want to. "He really doesn't need us here, does he? He just thinks he does."
Conner shook his head. "It's scary when you first start out. He wants us anyway because he doesn't trust himself enough."
"Do you Reds ever trust yourselves?" he retorted.
Conner cuffed him lightly upside the head. "That's why we have a sensible Yellow like you to keep us going."
Sensei Dustin had called him a Yellow once. Privately, when he'd stayed after class for a few questions. He said that if he ever needed a replacement for the Yellow Wind Ranger, Eric was the only person he'd ever ask.
Not that it would happen. But the gesture had been nice.
"So we let him be?" Eric asked finally, looking at his twin. "Leave a message so he knows we came, but we're not interfering?"
Conner hesitated, then nodded at last with a heavy sigh. "It's best for him if we do it that way."
"Sucks for us," he grumbled, snagging Conner's phone out of his back pocket and ducking the swat he received for doing so. He paused as he started to dial, frowning. "Dude, where's your jacket?"
Conner blinked, then made a face. "Aw, man. I must have left it with Case before we took off this morning."
He rolled his eyes because he knew Conner wouldn't have done something like that on accident, and because he actually seemed to think he could get away with such a lousy excuse. "Whatever, dude. Just don't whine to me when I won't let you turn up the heater on the way back."
"Dude, it's my car!"
Casey blinked at his cell as the voicemail notice flashed. When had he missed that? He could have sworn he'd had it on him earlier.
"Hey, Case. Ocean Bluff is nice - got a lot more beach than Reefside. Reminds me of Blue Bay Harbor, whenever I actually manage to get into town. A new team Power Rangers, huh? We caught part of a fight earlier today. You're right, Dude: the Red Ranger's awesome. Conner's already whining about wanting a Megazord."
Fainter, in the background, an indignant cry of "I am not!"
"You don't need any advice, Case. You're doing just fine. You know where there's a shoulder if you need it Dude, but you'll work things out on your own. You're a lot stronger than you think you are."
Slowly, Casey began to smile. He picked up the red jacket he'd found on top of himself when he'd woken up that morning, taking a deep breath and letting out a long sigh. His senses had improved drastically since he'd become a Ranger, particularly his sense of smell. The jacket smelled like sweat, leather, and grass, and he wrinkled his nose even as he grinned, because it smelled like Conner.
He saved the message to his inbox, waiting patiently as the next one played.
This time it was Conner. "Hey Case, I didn't know you liked 'em short."
He jerked away, staring at the phone in horror as he frantically pressed delete.
"Casey? You feeling all right?"
He jumped, staring at his friends. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." He gave them an awkward smile, silently praying neither of them ever ran into Conner. "Just, uh ... message from one of my big brothers. Nothing important."