Author's Notes: Finally! I'm sorry for the long wait, guys, but school was really bumming me out. I don't believe I've said this before though, but this will be a five-part story, and depending on the feedback, I might continue the story (possibly filling in from between the end of Forever Red to the start of Dino Thunder) - but we'll see how that goes. Again, if you enjoy my writing, I'll really appreciate if you take the time to read my other PR fic as well (World Spins Madly On, a four-parter and its sequel, Draw Down The Stars) because I've got crazy, big, and hopefully awesome plans for that story too. Anyway, enough babbling, here's the next chapter of Forever Rangers!
Disclaimer: Power Rangers and its entire franchise belong to Disney now.
Chapter Three: Until Sunset
Saturday, 5 October 2002
Silver Hills, CA
"We need a new car."
Eric Myers watched in amusement as his friend slammed the heel of his hand on the steering wheel, frustration clearly etched on his face.
"You've been saying that since the day we were assigned to it."
"Yes, and in all that time we've wasted hours trying to get this rusty junk bucket to start," he all but growled and gave up on trying to start the car for the moment as he leaned back, against the headrest. Eric hid the smile as he reached over to twist the key, and much to Wes' annoyance, the engine purred to life.
"Cars are like women. You just need to know how to steer them," Eric said nonchalantly, adjusting his shades as Wes rolled his eyes and stepped down on the pedal. Silver Hills was relatively quiet, and the Silver Guardians were thankful for that. Sure, it wasn't exciting, but the peace was appreciated after the mutants had torn the city apart just a year ago.
"Just like you know how to 'steer' Taylor. Right."
Eric didn't miss the tinged sarcasm. He suppressed a smile at the mention of the Yellow Wild Force Ranger. Not that he had willingly discussed his growing affection for Taylor with Wes. He'd put himself through the grinder before he would do that, but there was a mutual understanding between them. That Eric cared deeply for Taylor, more than any other girl in his life was a big indicator that he was scared, frankly. They had a push-pull, are-we-are-we-not? relationship for a while before Wes had sat him down and refused to leave until he was forced to evaluate his feelings for her.
And despite what he'd just said about women, he didn't understand Taylor.
That scared him as much as he thought it might.
Their lives were separated by that thin veil of duty that Taylor had to uphold, as part of the active team at Turtle Cove, so they had put off any discussion about anything at all until they were sure that Master Org was gone. He had the Silver Guardian, and then after her stint as a Ranger was over, he was certain that she'd go back to the Air Force. A life without excitement wasn't worth existing for either of them, he mused.
He cast a quick glance at Wes. As usual, everything looked fine. And on the surface, maybe they were. He was helping people out by heading the Silver Guardians and with his chronomorpher, upholding justice in the way he knew how. Maybe he was happy, for a while. But Eric understood that underneath the brave front, there was a part of Wes that couldn't be mended.
Of all girls, trust Wes to fall in love with one from the future.
He let out a dry chuckle.
"As far as car analogies go? She's driving me crazy."
Wes raised his eyebrow at him, looking doubtful at the assessment when his cellphone rang and vibrated, and he nodded at the other man who lifted the phone out of his pocket and answered it. Only hearing Eric's end of the conversation, Wes had to wonder just who was on the other line.
"Who? What? NASADA sp- spaceport? What for? Why? ... Oh, okay. Where? No, that's alright. We'll be there."
Clicking a button and tossing the phone onto the dashboard, he started rummaging through the side pockets for a map while Wes looked at him quizzically.
"Carter Grayson from Lightspeed. There's a mission and we're required to be at the NASADA spaceport as soon as possible. It sounded really urgent," he finally said when he found the book and placed it on his lap. "NASADA's in Angel Grove. How long do you think we'll take?"
"Uh, four hours, maybe? Wait." Wes tried to stop his mind from racing to points beyond where he couldn't come back from. "What kind of mission? Is the entire team going to be there?"
"Red Rangers only. You don't see any big-ass Time Flyers or ships coming out from a portal, do you?"
Wes sighed a little, feeling a little let down. He had all but given up hope on ever seeing the women he loved again, but it was moments like those that he couldn't help but grasp on to the tiniest of glimmers. A mission was a mission, though, and if they were all going to be called for duty, then they were going to excel in it. The car picked up on its speed, the steady hum of the engine pushing Wes to go faster.
"Let's make a stop for donuts first. I'm starving."
Wes nodded, noting the rumbling of his stomach too. We gotta do something about these 6 AM patrols.
Neither of them noticed the Time Flyer rippling through the space-time continuum in the distance, hovering in the air before making its descent.
Saturday, 5 October 2002
Angel Grove, CA
Cole Evans was not a silent passenger.
That was the first observation Carter made. In the six hours drive from Turtle Cove to the NASADA spaceport, he had learned more about Cole than he had any other stranger. Granted, some of what he said was very interesting, like their current battle against the Orgs, but it was like the other red-clad boy had no filter whatsoever, saying whatever came to his mind and still sounding jovial about it.
He was relieved when they finally pulled in the loading bay of the spaceport.
"Wes! Eric!" Cole exclaimed as the two men climbed out of the car and he recognized their features. Bounding out of the car and towards the Silver Guardians, he grasped their hands into a grip as a greeting.
Wes spoke up first, pleased to see a familiar face besides Eric around. "Cole, it's good to see you again."
"What are you guys doing here?"
"Well, we got a call that said meet here at the NASADA spaceport," Eric informed, as he took his shades off and placed them into his breast pocket. The four-hour drive down was made bearable only with the presence of Wes, although he'd never admit that. And then of course Taylor called; demanding to know what kind of egoistical display of macho power was going on, and he'd smirked before giving his girl a brief rundown of what he knew, which wasn't much anyway.
The man who had given Wes the call interrupted his thoughts. "I see you've already met the Silver Guardians." As he gave a brief introduction for the three of them, Eric thought it would be polite not to interrupt and tell him that they already knew each other rather extensively.
"And that's the red Turbo Ranger," Carter pointed at the sleek, red sports car as an affable African-American man stepped out of the vehicle and gave them a casual salute before walking over to where they were.
"Please, just call me T.J," he smiled when Carter introduced him to the three new faces with his full name. He hadn't been called back to action ever since they defeated Psycho Pink with the Galaxy Rangers, and then they had retired their Astro Morphers for proper while settling back on Earth. It was even longer since he had been the Red Ranger, so this outing held much nostalgia for him. Speaking of the Astro Morphers, though…
"And that's Andros."
Andros gave him a silent nod in acknowledgement – they had seen each other just days prior, anyway, at Ashley's get-together; something they tried to do every few months to keep in touch with the rest of the team. It felt only right, since they had spent so much of their formative years together battling the evils of the universe.
"Glad you can join us all the way from Turtle Cove."
"You guys are all Red Rangers too?" Cole asked, and Wes struggled to keep the smile off his face. He liked Cole well enough, thought he was a good guy and a worthy friend, but sometimes he could ask the darndest questions ever. When no one answered he followed up with another question. "What's going on?"
"We're all assembled by a veteran Ranger," Andros finally spoke, looking earnestly at the four other Rangers in front of him. "A leader, for this mission."
"Leader?" Cole asked again. If all Reds were leaders and all of them were here, then it had better not mean a power struggle, he thought, but then brushed that thought aside when he justified to himself that no one in this place was as petty as that. Power struggles were a thing of the past, anyway, and if he could handle Taylor… Well.
When Andros swiveled around to the entrance of the spaceport, the other men turned their heads there, wanting to see who the assigned leader was. T.J had to chuckle to himself. If this were a movie, this would be accompanied by some swelling music. But then Tommy Oliver rounded the corner, and T.J had to laugh for real.
"Who's that?" The rookie Red Ranger inquired again, and T.J chuckled, man-handling the Wild Force Ranger next to him.
"That's Tommy, the Red Zeo Ranger. He's a legend!"
Behind him, the dawn of realization got to both Eric and Wes. Tommy's reputation definitely preceded him. T.J noted with some amusement that gone was Tommy's trademark ponytail, only to be replaced by short crop spikes. But the way he moved, the way he spoke – it was just like T.J remembered when he was still in middle school and looked up to the Power Rangers as his personal heroes.
"Thank you, guys, for coming on short notice," Tommy started, nodding at the assembly of Red Rangers in front of him. Maybe after this mission he could set up some sort of roundabout organization of the Red Rangers to provide back-up for any more missions in the future, he thought, but filed that thought at the back of his mind.
"So what's going on?" Wes was the one to speak up now. "The call sounded urgent."
"I was hoping this day would never come." Nodding at Andros, who stood beside him, he continued. "Andros has recently tracked down the remains of the evil Machine Empire."
T.J stepped forward, a look of confusion etched on his face. "But I thought the Zeo Rangers destroyed them years ago."
"We destroyed their leaders," Tommy started, expecting the questions to flow in as the information was dispatched. Pacing the length of the space between him and the other Rangers, he carried on. "But some of their generals managed to survive. They've been hiding all these years. They've finally regrouped their forces and are amassing on the moon…" His voice trailed off, as he turned to look at the other men. "Preparing to invade Earth."
"The moon?" the newest Ranger asked. "So, how are we supposed to get there to stop them?"
"In this." Andros held his hand up – he'd been waiting for this moment, to present the pride and joy of his planet's construction capabilities. When the lights came on and the space ship hummed to life, he laughed silently at how the other Rangers sans Tommy appeared startled. "I present, the Astro Megaship Mark II. Fresh off the construction yards of KO-35, the fastest spaceship in the galaxy."
"Guys," Tommy intoned, and the attention towards the space ship was momentarily diverted. "This is going to be a very dangerous mission. But I can't force you to go. This is a decision you have to make on your own."
Inwardly, he was hoping that nobody would back down from this. It might as well have been in the Ranger creed – never back down from protecting your planet, or helping your allies. When Cole stepped forward, his answer brought a small smile on Tommy's face.
"I don't know much about spaceships, or this Machine Empire. But I will go where I must to save the earth."
Always one for theatrics, Eric thought and almost sniggered. He wasn't going to go back to Silver Hills after that long car ride without getting involved in this though, so he glanced at Wes' direction and nodded, firmly.
"Same goes for us."
"Count me in," Carter added.
T.J looked at both his predecessor and his leader during their stint as the Space Rangers. As far as he was concerned, most, if not all of them had silently agreed to protecting the Earth – or the universe – from the moment they received their first morpher. "It's not even a question."
"Then it's settled."
"Let's do it." Tommy was pleased with the outcome, although not entirely unexpectedly. Striding forward towards the spaceship, his mind was running full of thoughts about the hastily put-together plans of attack. They would have to refine it, no doubt.
"Wait." Andros' command made all of them stop in their tracks. "Wasn't there another Red Ranger here on Earth?"
Tommy let out a sigh, feeling the weight on his shoulders.
"Two, actually. One of them is in New York and can't make it for the mission," he explained, "And he can't sustain a full morph besides his Ninjetti robes." Add that on to the fact that Rocky's back still frequently gave him grievous problems. Tommy had advised him to sit out on this mission, even though Rocky had wanted to hop on the fastest plane and join them in a heartbeat.
It was the other missing man that disappointed him.
"I was hoping the other would show up," he said, with regret lacing his very words. "But I guess he couldn't make it. We'd have to go on without him."
Not even five seconds after he spoke those words, the purring of the motorcycle and a few other vehicles sounded to their ears. Cole bounded out excitedly, wanting to see if the arrival was someone they had been expecting. Following his lead, the others ran out after him.
It wasn't the motorcycle that was leaving him perplexed. Tommy frowned and squinted in the distance, counting three cars full of people that he couldn't quite see yet from the distance, making their way behind what was inevitably Jason on his motorcycle.
He felt his heart thud as the occupants of the cars started to file out, as he recognized the faces of those he had known before.
"This is a Red mission," Tommy started, pacing in front of the others in the compound, his face crunched up in a frown as he felt increasingly annoyed at the sudden appearances of their pink counterparts.
On his left, the woman whose heart he'd broken.
On his right, the woman who'd broken his heart.
He might appreciate the poetic justice in the situation eventually, but now was not the time.
If he thought it was bad enough looking at Kat and feeling bad about how horrible he was while dating her, then it was infinitely worse just looking at Kim and feeling the familiar, unwanted tug at his heart. He steadfastly ignored her gaze and instead looked at Andros for backup. "If we wanted or needed the help, I'd have arranged for more Rangers to meet up here or drafted you in our plans in the first place."
"Tracking Serpentera has been our priority for the past few years. No one else knew of our involvement in this," Andros added. When Tommy had approached him a few months after he had retired from official Ranger duties, he couldn't turn his request down.
Life had really treated him kindly ever since they returned to Earth after their victory, all things considered. It was a series of amazing things one after another through the years – he got his sister back by his side, for real this time, after years being torn apart by the cosmic forces of good and evil.
The KO-35 government had appointed him as the ambassador and liaison on Earth, allowing him to primarily reside on the foreign planet with Ashley; while she attended college and went on to create her own clothing brand, Andros had been keeping busy, setting up governmental contact between the other worlds with Earth. It wasn't hard to get settled into some sort of normalcy with her.
He hadn't been lying when he told her that his home was with her.
Two months ago he'd been stunned with the news that he was going to be a father. That was just the first inkling that life as they knew it was going to change drastically. There would be no more rushing into battle without a care for the world, because now his responsibility extended to the unborn child. His unborn child. If they were on KO-35, this notion would have been dismissed and looked down upon – their culture simply did not allow for such careful displays of affection, much like the other human races on the other planets. Earth was the only planet where prolonged touches weren't frowned upon; where over-protectiveness was a sign of love.
"I don't know if we have enough room for everyone in the spaceship," Tommy spoke up again, almost grunting in frustration. That was a lie, since the Astro Megaship was definitely big enough to accommodate more people than the crowd here. It was just that he hadn't calculated for the addition of the Pink Rangers, or even expected them, and it had thrown him off the loop for a while.
It was definitely going to take time to recover from the shock.
Meanwhile, Wes eyed Jen nervously. He knew when she was going to explode and this certainly looked like one of those moments that not even he could stop. There was a buzz around the loading bay, which only grew louder and louder as the points of discussion went around.
"Alright, everybody! Listen up." Jen all but shouted, finally, and almost instantaneously, everybody went quiet. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes only for a moment, preparing her speech to get their attention.
"As some of you might know, I'm from the year 3001." More than a pair of surprised eyebrows shot up. "I got together the Pink Rangers, not to upstage you Red Rangers, but to provide you with assistance. The databanks in my time have showed that most of you will die on the moon, protecting Earth."
Stunned silence from the men permeated through the air.
"Before coming here, we have worked out a few battle strategies, should you wish to hear them on the Astro Megaship," she continued, looking directly at Tommy, who she could tell was the leader of this mission, even if she hadn't read the files.
"Who is he, then?" Eric gestured to Billy, who had so far just hung around the background and not said a word at all. Billy looked over at Jen, who nodded at him.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Billy Cranston, and some of you will know me as the Blue Mighty Morphin Ranger..."
"You came back. Again."
The voice reached her ears and she didn't know how to react. The Rangers had about fifteen minutes to regroup, and in some cases call their loved ones to report in. Jen's abrupt announcement that they might die today, on the moon, had startled a few of them and it suddenly seemed important that they were to tie up loose ends before it was too late.
All that flurry of actions led up to her staring wistfully across the horizon alone; the archaic-looking buildings lending to her some comfort of memories of the year spent in 2001.
She turned around, feeling the small smile tug at her face before she could really think or worry about her reaction.
"You taught me all I need to know about thwarting destiny's plans."
Striding over, Wes closed the gap between them, hooking his arm around her waist as he looked out over the buildings too. She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, thoughts of the farewell that would happen sooner or later after this mission running through her mind. Silently she wondered if it was all worth it for her to be possibly stripped off her duties, or worse, to face more serious penalties for messing with time.
Of course it's worth it, she berated herself, Wes would die if I hadn't come back.
She hastily pushed the thread forming in her mind that people could still die even with a much bigger army and better arsenal.
"I wonder what's up with the two over there," Wes gestured right to the other side of the bunker where Tommy and Kimberly were engaged in a serious conversation that was interspersed with Tommy's occasional pacing and Kimberly looking as exasperated as she felt.
"I think they have some old issues to iron out," Jen said, lightly, and turned her attention back to him. "Ranger romances never come easy."
"They never do, do they?" He asked quietly, rhetorically, staring into her eyes and Jen felt her pulse quicken. It had been months since her last visit to this year. Months since the two of them had met again, had slipped away quietly after the defeat of the Mut-orgs and went straight back to Wes' place, culminating in a night of feverish display of love and lust.
When love took over, there was no rationality. No rules to uphold, no lines to blur. It just was.
Kim fought the urge to squeeze her eyes shut and open them to find that this had all been a terrible nightmare-esque dream. She could feel the migraine forming and it wasn't bad enough that she could feel the waves of worry (and the occasional flutter of excitement) from everyone present in the spaceport; Tommy was currently looking at her like he wanted to either murder whoever dared come near him, or kill himself while doing so.
For a brief moment, Kim wondered if he was going to talk at all and not just glare at anything that moved within the vicinity.
"You have no grounds being here," he finally spoke up, as quietly as he could (which wasn't very soft at all); setting his jaw back as he looked pointedly at Kim. He had tried to keep his face as neutral as he could, but the slight quiver in his voice betrayed his real thoughts to her. She drew a deep breath and waited while he continued. "Getting involved with my mission."
She'd expected this from him, but frowned anyway at his stubbornness. "You heard what Jen said."
"Of course I did." The cold tone he used to deliver the line should have made her flinch, but she held his glare steadily, not backing down from the imminent fight she knew was going to happen. Maybe it would be beneficial if they did fight. At least that would force him to actually communicate with her, she thought, and not shut himself up like he did years ago after he'd rescued her and Jason, amongst others.
"You would die if we aren't all here."
"You know what?" He started pacing the length in front of him, now avoiding looking at her again. "You don't have the right to tell me what to do, and you certainly don't have the right to act like you care anymore."
She should have expected this too, but his words left a sting, like a hard slap across her face as those words registered in her head. The damage she caused to them, caused to their link; it was far much worse than she'd thought she had. She didn't need to reach into his emotions to know that he was angry, hurt and – the worst of all, she decided – disappointed.
"I do care – "
"The hell you do." He breathed out angrily, interrupting her.
"Believe it or not, I really do," she cut back in, trying to keep her own emotions in check before things went even more south that they already had. The waves of anger kept coming, and Kimberly knew that it was almost like Tommy thought he was entitled to throw a fit at her. As horrible as her decision to break up with him was, at the back of her mind she knew that she didn't deserved getting this extreme treatment from him without provocation.
He snorted. "I don't believe it, but fine. Whatever. I don't care if you and your Pinks are going to join us to the moon."
He turned on his heel; his mind set on assembling the Rangers and getting them on the Megaship before they missed their window of opportunity to stop the Machine Empire from acquiring Serpentera.
And then she spoke.
"I lied in that letter."
He stopped short.
It was abrupt, out of place and too random for a time like this, but Kim blurted it out anyway. The fact that the mention of the letter made the hair on the back of his neck stand was fact enough for him to know that he had never gotten over Kimberly, no matter how much he denied it.
"There was no other guy. I thought I was doing the noble thing, letting you go and pursue a fair relationship with someone else by your side." She spoke in a rush, knowing that if she paused, she would lose the nerve to continue.
He seemed to consider the new information for a split second before a hard look crossed his face again, and Kim was suddenly taken aback. This look reminded her too much of when he was the Green Ranger, and she didn't like it.
Involuntarily she took a step back, as if her logical mind was telling her to be afraid.
"You're fucking unbelievable, you know that?" said Tommy, his tone dangerously low and almost derisive, for the first time since they started talking. A ghost of a smile flitted across his face, in an almost cruel manner. "You cannot waltz back in my life with a reason as stupid as that and expect me to accept it at face value. I don't care what your reason was, Kimberly – you broke things off. I'm just upholding my side of the deal."
Her shoulders sagged as she felt her heart sink to a new low.
"End of discussion. I've heard more than I ever wanted to. Now, if you'll excuse me – " He gestured pointedly at the other people around the spaceport. "We have some work to do."
She was about to protest, about to demand that he give her a chance to explain more, but at the back of her head she also knew that it wasn't going to do anything to help. With a nod of her head and with a newfound conviction in her voice, she spoke up, softly. "Alright. It's your lead."
But when he turned and walked to the rest of the Rangers, she allowed the tears prickling at her eyes to seize control for the moment, cascading and dropping down to the floor. Taking a deep breath and swiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she strode over to the congregation. She'd said her piece, at least the tip of the iceberg, and she hoped it was enough to allow Tommy the concentration and focus he would need on the moon.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and when she turned her head she saw Kat looking at her with concern in her eyes. She gave her a small smile and raised her other hand to grip the other woman's reassuringly.
"I'll be okay."
Kat didn't look too convinced at that, but allowed it to slide.
When it was Kim's turn to board the Astro Megaship, she took a deep breath, hoping that the training she had received as the Pink Ranger by Zordon would be enough to avert the disaster.
Hoping that they wouldn't just be living on borrowed time.
She flicked her eyes skyward, closing them momentarily before she was startled by a clear voice in her head.
May the Power protect all of you, Rangers.