At last! I FINISHED SOMETHING I DON'T PLAN TO IMMEDIATELY REWRITE! -Throws confetti in the air-
Daisuki: Japanese for I like you - often used in a romantic sense
Aishiteru: Japanese for I love you
Sara is pronounced 'Saw-rah'
This chapter is dedicated to phantom_blue, challon86, and BlackCrimsonLight for multiple help with beta work and support, and purplestripe66, who instigated the whole story in the first place. I love and adore you all.
"So, tell me something," Sky began. "You guys kidnapped my cat, as an excuse to get me and Zhane back together, and Cruger found out about it. So why are we here helping all of you with your punishment?"
"Because you love us," Syd informed him sweetly.
"Because we made you," Z put in.
"Because you were bored?" Bridge offered.
"Because it's your day off and you have nothing better to do," Jack informed him.
Zhane glanced at his Promised. "All of the above," he said with a shrug.
Sky rolled his eyes. "We did have better things to do," he grumbled. "In fact, we have somewhere we were supposed to be right now. We just ended up doing this instead for some reason." He stepped back to survey the wall in front of him critically. "One more coat should do it."
"It looks fine!" Jack argued. "We've already gone through four buckets all ready!"
"Well, we were painting the entire Zord bay," Bridge pointed out.
"Cruger doesn't do punishments halfway, you've gotta give him that," Z remarked.
"This actually isn't that bad for what he usually does," Syd agreed.
Jack grinned. "You think he takes requests?"
"Hardly," Sky snorted.
"Oh, I don't know about that ... " Zhane grinned when the others looked at him. "I know how to make sure we get to repaint the zord bay again."
Z raised her eyebrows. "Do I want to know?"
He reached behind one of the paint ladders, fumbled for a moment, and withdrew his prize with a flourish. "Ta dah!"
They stared at him blankly. "More paint?" Z asked skeptically.
He rolled his eyes. "Not just more paint - colored paint. Paint that isn't gray." He removed the lid, holding it out for them to see. "Paint in specific colors."
Slowly Syd began to smile. "But what about silver?"
"Got it covered," he promised, taking a tube of glittery silver paint from his pocket. He surveyed them all with a triumphant grin. "So. Shall we make sure that S.P.D. remembers that B Squad rules?"
"They already know that," Jack dismissed, even as he reached for a brush for the watercolor paints Zhane was holding out. Then he shrugged a shoulder, looking smug. "But it couldn't hurt to remind them."
Zhane stared at Sky as the others took brushes of their own. "Scared?" he taunted.
Sky's eyes narrowed. "You wish," he snapped, snatching one of the last brushes from Zhane's hand.
Everyone turned to the wall expectantly and paused. "So ... what are we painting?" Bridge asked brightly.
Zhane shrugged. "Whatever you want." He squeezed some paint onto an empty area of the plastic pallet, dabbed his brush, and slashed a giant 'z' on the wall.
Z added yellow streaks around it, making the letter seem to glow. She smirked at Zhane, and he laughed.
"You're in my space, man," Jack insisted, elbowing Sky a little further down from them.
"There's an entire wall," Sky argued back. "And I was here first. Go paint somewhere else."
Syd watched them for several minutes, scowling with paint brush in hand. "Zhane?" she asked abruptly. "Are these paints non-toxic?"
He blinked over at her. "Non-what?"
"I got it," Z spoke up, reaching into his pocket to grab the tube of silver paint. She examined it closely. "Yes."
"What's that mean? And how do you know?" Zhane asked curiously.
She leaned in closer for him to see, pointing on the label. "See it here? It means that - "
Jack's yell made them both look up. He was staring at Syd with a scandalized expression, a single streak of pink paint dripping down his right cheek. Beside him, Sky was laughing so hard he'd doubled over.
"It means that it's not going to make Jack sick when she does that," Z continued mildly, looking amused.
Syd looked smug.
Then she paused, tilting her head. "Jack, hold still," she commanded, reaching for his face again.
"Get away from me with that thing!" he shot back.
"Don't be such a baby," she snapped, grabbing his chin. "I'm just fixing it." She swiped his face with her brush two more times, then released him with a triumphant smile. "See? All done."
Z looked mildly impressed. "Not bad, Syd. Now if only that number was in red, instead of pink," she teased.
Syd frowned. "Darn. You're right. Jack, give me your brush."
Jack backed away. "Hey, wait a minute. I'm not going around with a number on my face all day! We've got that party this afternoon!"
"All the more reason to let Syd fix it," Sky pointed out, still snickering. "Unless you want to walk around as the number one Pink Ranger."
Jack hesitated, groaned, and held out his brush with a sigh of defeat. Syd snatched it up with a gleeful squeal.
Bridge considered his own brush for a moment. Then he turned to offer it to Z. "Will you do the honors?" he asked politely.
She blinked, then gave him a grin. "I'll do yours if you do mine," she promised, reaching out to trace a green number '3' on his cheek.
Zhane looked to Sky in amusement. "So does that mean I get to paint you, too?" he asked, looking innocent.
Sky hesitated before finally letting out a long sigh as his shoulders sagged. "I'm guessing I don't have much of a choice," he muttered.
"Not really," Z piped up cheerfully as she checked over her work on Bridge.
Zhane grinned at him, leaning in to give him a light kiss. "Promise to drive you crazy," he murmured as he reached for Sky's paint brush.
Sky humphed, but the corner of his mouth was twitching. "Don't need you to do that," he whispered back. "I've got them."
Zhane snickered, dipping the brush in blue. "True enough. But who knows what you'd do without me?"
"I don't think I want to find out." Sky's tone was irritated, but he smiled when he said it.
"So what does Zhane get?" Syd piped up, peering out from behind Jack with a bright pink number five on her face to watch Zhane finish his number two for Sky. "I mean, he doesn't really have a number."
"An 'S'?" Z offered, leaning over Zhane's shoulder.
"Nah." Bridge shook his head. "He's B Squad. Everyone on B Squad gets a number. Even Cruger and Boom had one."
"So we give him one," Jack agreed, as if Zhane wasn't standing right in front of him. "What number, though? Boom was 0, but Cruger's 100." He paused, frowning. "Does Kat even have a number?"
Sky snorted. "Isn't it obvious what his number is?" He reached for Zhane's brush and swiftly painted a long swirl on his face. Zhane tried not to flinch when it tickled.
The others leaned in to see and slowly smiled. "Perfect," Syd declared happily.
Zhane was about to ask what was so perfect when Bridge's morpher beeped. He reached for it, hastily wiping his hands on a towel before he touched it. "This is Bridge," he said quickly.
" ... Are you coming today?" The voice was soft, hesitant and unsure, like she wasn't sure if she should really be calling him.
Bridge's entire face lit up. "Of course we are, Ran!" He paused. "Why? Are we late? Or are we going to be late. Is there something I forgot that I was supposed to bring? Or did we - "
"Bridge!" A-Squad Pink's laughter was musical, even over the comm. "I was just wondering if you would mind bringing a watermelon with you. Charlie was craving one, and you know how Sara loves them ... "
"Not a problem," he assured her easily. "We can probably head out ... almost immediately. If we pretend the paint was still drying when we left." He eyed the rest of his team, who shrugged. No one was going to argue with him.
"Thank you, Bridge," her voice was warm. There was a pause, and a very soft, hesitant "Daisuki."
Bridge's answering smile made Zhane smile back automatically at the sight. "Aishiteru," he returned warmly.
Another pause, and a soft click as Ran ended things on her end.
Bridge kept watching his morpher for a moment, still smiling contentedly. Eventually he shook his head, tucking his morpher away, and looked up with an even brighter smile. "So. The paint's drying?" he asked hopefully.
Jack looked at the large gray wall in front of him, brushing a finger against it. "Oh, look at that. It's still wet," he said blandly. "Better let it dry before we try for awhile. And we should leave the drop cloths, just in case something drips."
"Sounds good to me," Z agreed, pulling off the bandana she'd slipped over her hair.
"Watermelon is definitely important," Syd added, already tossing the brushes into an empty paint can.
"It is important to show our support for A Squad now that they've been reformed," Sky agreed with a smirk.
"What's a watermelon?" Zhane wanted to know.
Zhane stared blankly at the round, green striped fruit Z was holding. "So ... we're going to eat it ... But we're supposed to hit it with the big stick first?"
"That's the plan," she confirmed.
" ... Why?"
Ran giggled softly from behind him. "It's a celebration for summer in my country," she explained. "I thought it might be fun."
"And for those of us that are sane and like our watermelon in more than a chunk, we're going to cut one," Syd added, hugging another, smaller fruit close.
"Think of it as stress relief," Jack offered.
Zhane gave him a look. :: Crazy Earthians, :: he thought in bewilderment, shaking his head.
"Hey!" Bridge and Sky said at once, Sky glaring while Bridge seemed to be trying not to laugh.
"Would you like to go first, Zhane?" Ran offered.
"I think I'll watch for now," he returned warily.
Charlie held out a hand for the bandana Ran was holding. "Lemme at it," she commanded. She reached up to tie it behind her head and paused, smirking suddenly at Z. "Hey. Nice melon," she called as Z moved to carry the melon to the giant plastic sheet Michael and James had already spread out on the ground.
Z rolled her eyes. "You're gonna need a better pick-up line than that!" she shouted back.
Sky frowned, coming closer to rest a hand on Zhane's shoulder. "Are they doing what I think they're doing?" he asked suspiciously, his voice low.
"You mean flirting?" Zhane supplied, turning to eye him. "You did know Z likes girls, right?"
Sky rolled his eyes with a sigh. "Yes, I knew that. I just ... Z and Charlie?" He looked skeptical.
"Why not?" Zhane questioned. "Some people would say the same thing about you and me."
Sky considered that for a moment, at last tilting his head in acknowledgement. "True."
He watched as first Charlie, then Jack, then Z were each blindfolded, spun in a circle three times with their forehead pressed against the stick as one end stayed in place on the ground, and then attempted to find and destroy the fruit they'd brought. Charlie nearly decapitated Jack, who swore it was on purpose, Jack nearly hit Charlie, who insisted that really was on purpose, and Z managed to crack the stick when she hit the ground too hard.
Zhane looked back at Sky. "You wanna try?"
He made a face. "No, thanks. You go ahead."
Five minutes later, Zhane was very sure that being blind, dizzy, and having people laughing somewhere around you was not fun. :: I can't see anything, :: he complained to Sky.
Sky's mental voice was soft from lack of experience, but amused. :: Isn't that sort of the point? ::
:: This is stupid, :: he muttered, turning again and swaying as his head moved too fast.
:: Little more to the left. ::
He swung experimentally.
:: Two steps forward. One more to your left. Now swing. ::
The resounding crack he heard echoed all the way down his arms.
"Cheating!" Jack shouted. "You did something, I know it!"
Zhane reached up to pull off the bandana, wincing at the sudden brightness. "This game is stupid," he declared flatly. "I'm not playing anymore."
He dropped the stick and returned to Sky, who wrapped his arms around his shoulder. "You okay?" Sky murmured in his ear.
:: Don't like it, :: he answered shortly. He didn't bother to explain why.
Sky nuzzled his ear, and he shivered. :: Quit it. That tickles. ::
Another loud crack split the air, and they both looked up to see Bridge standing frozen, the stick in front of him and the watermelon in pieces at his feet. "Did I get it?" he asked hesitantly.
Sky grinned, glancing at Zhane. "Want to see if it tastes better than it breaks?"
He shrugged, figuring it had nothing on paopu fruit. "Sure." Then he frowned. "And ask her if she still has that little ... mirror thing she carries around."
Sky raised his eyebrows. "You mean her compact?"
He shrugged. "Whatever. The little round thing."
"Compact," Sky confirmed, giving his shoulders a quick squeeze. He wandered over to Syd, who was happily attacking the other watermelon with a very large knife.
Zhane surveyed the area for a moment. Charlie and Z were now arguing over the remains of the shattered watermelon in a way that made it look like they were about to start kissing any second. Bridge was grinning sheepishly as Ran beamed up at him, apparently congratulating him on his destruction of what was supposed to be food. Jack was arguing amiably with Michael and James, while Sara hovered just behind the table where Syd was slicing the second watermelon, several remains of ... something green-striped around him as he sucked contentedly on another one. Syd and Sky bickered over the remaining melon she had, until she began waving the large knife in her hand threateningly, forcing him to back away quickly. Cruger, Kat, and Isinia sat together at another picnic table, talking quietly and occasionally looking at them all in amusement.
A Squad, B Squad, S.P.D. Rangers ... It didn't matter what you called them. It didn't matter that A Squad had once been surgically implanted with computer chips that forced them to surve Grumm, that they'd once kidnapped Cruger and tried to destroy B Squad. It didn't matter that B Squad had been made from three cadets, two reformed thieves, and one cryogenically frozen Ranger from a border war that took place twenty-four years ago. It didn't matter that Jack was still on a leave of absence for now, although he said he'd finally decided to return to S.P.D. and take back the Red B Squad Morpher, or that Zhane had technically gone AWOL for three weeks after fighting with Sky. It didn't matter that on good days they were friends, while bad days had them at each other's throats.
They were a team. Family. Just as much as Andros had ever been, as much as the other Astro Rangers were slowly becoming to him. And he wouldn't trade any one of them for anything else in the world - not even the chance to go back and fight beside Andros instead.
A feeling of contentment settled over him.
:: You were right, Andros, :: he called. :: My team is complicated. ::
:: So are you, :: came the immediate response. :: Which is why it's appropriate. They always told us every Ranger had a team, Zhane - you just had to work for yours. ::
He smiled. :: Guess I'm just special like that. ::
He turned to blink at Sky, and the strange fruit he was being offered. "Thanks ... " he said warily, eying it as he reached for the little mirror disk instead.
"What did you want that for, anyway?" Sky asked curiously.
Zhane stared at his face in the tiny mirror, reaching up slowly to trace the silver number six on his right cheek with a finger. He blinked, swallowed, and snapped the compact closed before slipping it into his pocket. "No reason," he said abruptly, turning to look at the fruit again. He looked at it skeptically as he took it.
Sky laughed. "Eat the pink part, and pit out the black seeds," he instructed. "It's not as hard to eat as it looks."
"Eat Syd, spit out Cruger, got it," he confirmed. He leaned forward, taking a large bite. Then he chewed in silence a moment, blinking.
"Interesting," he said finally.
A loud hoot made him turn to see that Charlie and Z had finally surrendered to the inevitable, and were finally making out. Syd waved her large knife at Jack, Michael, and James when they cheered, glaring threateningly. Bridge and Ran were too busy cuddling under a tree to notice much of anything, and Sara hadn't even bothered to turn away from the watermelon.
"You're not doing it right," Sky argued behind him.
He glanced back, raising his eyebrows. "I ate Syd, and spat out Cruger, just like you said," he reminded him.
Sky shook his head. "Watermelon always tastes best when you share it," he was informed, just before Sky took a bite and leaned in to kiss him.
:: ... Huh. Guess you're right, :: Zhane said eventually.
:: You're thinking too much. :: Sky returned.
And they both proceeded to think about nothing at all.