Disclaimer: Power Rangers is not mine. More's the pity.
Summary: Karone contributes to Carlos' education. Sequel to 'Role of a Ranger'. You'll need to read that to understand.
While Karone is on board the Megaship, Carlos follows her.
He's not really analysing his motives as he shadows her footsteps through the corridors, using every skill that Andros taught him to remain unseen and unheard. Later, he will think of wolf cubs playing games, stalking buffalo they couldn't possibly bring down, honing their skills in preparation for the true hunt.
He loses Karone somewhere between the engine room and the Simudeck. He's trying to find her when he's grabbed from behind and flung face-first into a wall. Karone's knee presses against his kidneys as she twists his arm behind his back, almost far enough to dislocate.
"You," she says. "Play a dangerous game."
He can't see her face, but she sounds like Astronema. That's Astronema's perfume tickling his nose. He's learnt to identify that rich, sensuous aroma that would linger on the air after battle; as accurate a signifier of her presence as the sparkling flash of teleportation. That scent has become as synonymous with violence to him as the smell of smoke and blood, all tangled together in a hopeless clump within his psyche.
"Do I?" He says. The presence of danger is a cold, sweet thrill through his veins.
"You're not the only one who works in the shadows."
"Andros told you?" He's not surprised. Andros tells his sister everything, even things they all kind of wish he'd keep to himself.
"He didn't need to," Karone says. "I know what to look for."
She releases him and steps back.
When he turns around, she's standing there. Not doing anything, just watching him. Her stillness holds a hint of readiness. She's not wearing armor today. The gray and purple jumpsuit is a far cry from her usual svelte style. No wrathstaff in sight. Her blonde hair curves softly about her surprisingly sweet face, held back by one of Cassie's hair clips. Without make-up there is a gentle dusting of freckles on her nose. She looks soft and innocent and wholesome. Then the corner of her mouth curves into a tiny smirk, and she tilts an eyebrow in a wicked expression he's seen a thousand times before on the battlefield. 'Bring it on,' it says.
He feints, and she slaps it aside in a move too quick to follow. Her knee slams into his stomach, forcing the air painfully from his lungs. He doubles over, gasping, as she steps gracefully out of reach, smoothing non-existent wrinkles from her clothes.
"You're broadcasting," she says. "Don't move your elbow so much."
She sounds like her brother in that moment; stern, reproving, and pedantic on details.
"You're good," Carlos manages to say through gritted teeth.
"You expected anything less?"
He is wise enough not to say what he's thinking. No matter how many times as Andros had told him not to understimate Astronema, he'd never really believed that pouting, sloe-eyed strumpet had any real ability apart from her magic or dark fortress. Apparently that had been as much a lie as the pretence to a stone-cold heart beneath the steel breastplate.
"I was trained in the arts of the assassin from the day I was given into Ecliptor's care," Karone says. "The idea being that as an assassin, I'd be less likely to fall victim to one. The head of the Shadow Academy himself oversaw my lessons."
"You didn't exactly project 'secret killer'."
"Half of being an assassin is theatricality and diversion. Andros understands that. You don't."
"I'm learning." Carlos says, and to prove his point, throws a punch. She twists it aside, and kicks him sharply in the back of the ankle. His leg gives out and he falls to one knee. Karone flows away from him once again, as unruffled as if this were a dance.
"Not very fast apparently," she sighs. "If I'd have been this sloppy on my first day, they'd have made me howl for mercy, future Princess of Evil or no."
Carlos levers himself to his feet. His ankle is killing him, and he wonders if he could get her to teach him that move.
"What's the Shadow Academy?"
Finally something he says gets to her, and a flicker of something ugly crosses her features.
"Nowhere you'd ever want to go," she says. "Forget I mentioned it."
"Forget it." Her voice is cold and flat now, and Carlos isn't stupid enough to push even a former Princess of Darkness when she doesn't want to be pushed.
"So what do you think?" He says. "Am I good enough to be included in your evil army of followers?"
It's not a serious question, and she relaxes, shoulders that had been stiff and defensive sloping to something more calm.
"Hardly," she says. "You're impulsive and cocky, and completely without discipline. Perhaps I could make something of you, given time. But as you are now? Unlikely."
"So teach me." It's a challenge. Karone's eyes go hooded.
"You're Andros' student," she says.
"So?" Carlos takes a step forward. "I'll bet you're better than him. I'll bet you know much more about working in the shadows than he ever will."
"Don't be so sure about that," she says softly. Carlos isn't listening though. He's very close to his goal. He takes another step forward, as careful as a cat stalking a bird through rustling grass.
"Teach me." He's close enough to touch her. Close enough to take her? If he can get his arm about her neck, he can hold her in place. Skilled as she is, she can't overwhelm him with sheer muscle. He's used that move with Cassie and Ashley during sparring, though they generally know better than to let the guys get close enough to grapple. He wonders whether her hair will smell like her perfume, or there will be some other, subtly different scent to it.
Karone shifts her gaze away, just for an instant, and Carlos sees his opening. He lunges forward, arm dropping down to encircle her neck –
Only to get a painful elbow in the solar plexus. Karone twists out of his reach, and there's a hard light in her eyes as she spins round to face him. Her palm smacks into his nose. There is a crack and he staggers, almost passing out for a second as the world goes red and black.
"Well." Karone sounds a little out of breath, which would be more satisfying if his face didn't feel like she'd just shoved his nose up into his brain. "That was unexpected. Perhaps you're not entirely without hope after all."
"What the hell was that for?" Carlos spits. His voice sounds strangled and nasal. He carefully touches his nose, and jerks his fingers away at the pain that splinters through the bone.
"You asked me to teach you," Karone says. "This is how I learned."
"By breaking my fucking nose?"
"You learned that this is no game," she says calmly. "You learned that you revealed yourself too soon, and gave away an advantage. If I had been truly complacent, I certainly wouldn't be again. And you learned that I am a far superior adversary. All of these valuable lessons, worth fixing indelibly into your memory."
She ticks off her points in a calm, measured voice.
"Now, come." She lays her hand on his arm. "I will fix your nose."
Broken noses are easily fixed for rangers. Karone sets the bone with practised efficiency and applies a plaster to make the swelling go down. It still hurts, but within a few hours it no longer shows.
It's a few weeks later – only a few weeks, but enough time to lose Karone a second time – that Astronema is standing alone during a battle.
Carlos kicks aside a quatron and looks about. Andros has run off chasing Darconda. TJ is keeping Ecliptor busy. Ashley and Cassie are dealing with the monster of the week; some kind of fish alien from the Decklar system. Zhane, as usual, is not present, being with the Rebels on the other side of the galaxy.
Astronema is watching TJ and Ecliptor. Her back is to Carlos, her attention on the fight. It's the most perfect set up imaginable. He couldn't have made it better if he'd planned it. She's not aware of him, and there's a line of trees shielding him from Ecliptor's view, so the android can't shout a warning. The quatrons are too dumb to warn her, even if they had voices.
He twirls the lunar-lance in one hand, considering. Part of him is thinking of Karone's nervous smile, and her sweet uncertainty when faced with the rangers' friendship. But another, larger part of him is thinking of Andros, and how much it will destroy the red ranger to kill his sister. It will happen eventually, Carlos knows, no matter what Andros believes and what the others pretend to believe. Astronema won't stop unless she's stopped, and the job will inevitably fall to the person who loves her the most, who has already sacrificed so much for her. Killing Astronema will kill Andros.
Karone wouldn't want that.
Carlos takes a slow, careful steps forward, boots silent on the soft grass. This is a black ranger's job, the purest distillation of his work. He does the nasty, underhanded jobs that the others can't or won't touch. Andros won't forgive Carlos for this, but Carlos would rather lose a friendship than a friend. At least after this it will be over, and Andros will be able to grieve and move on without this pale mockery haunting him with his sister's visage. Carlos shifts the lunar lance to strike. One quick lunge, a strike to the neck, and this will all be over. He can already feel the relief.
He remembers the crack of his nose breaking and stops.
That hesitation saves his life.
Astronema swings suddenly, bringing the wrathstaff around in a sweeping, vicious arc. The diamond edged tip passes inches from Carlos' stomach. If he'd been any closer, she would have gutted him. He scrambles backwards, and finds himself giving ground, fending off her blows with his lance. Each impact jars up his arms and into his elbows. Their weapons lock together, and Astronema yanks him in close.
"You think you're the only one who works in the shadows?" She hisses against his visor.
He recognises the way she shifts her stance and jerks his head to the side. Her fist flies harmlessly over his helmet and he yanks his weapon free. It only takes her a moment to regain her balance, but he's already rolling to his feet several metres away.
Astronema tucks her chin in, considering him.
"Impressive," she says. "Have you ever considered switching sides?"
It startles a laugh out of him, but her face doesn't shift from it's stiff lines. She's serious. His laughter trails off into uneasy silence.
"Think about it," She says when he doesn't answer. "You know where to find me."
She disappears into a shimmer of purple light.
He stares at the space where she'd been standing and has the fleeting thought. Out my depth. He's out of his depth here. He's swimming in the dark and there are things out here with teeth. He hadn't been listening when Karone tried to teach him that day. It had taken Astronema to hammer the lesson home.
He curls his grip tighter about the lance, and thinks of freckles and pink hair clips and a soft voice outlining brutal lessons.
He will remember.
Notes: One thing you may notice is that I've stretched the time between Astronema's defection and her brainwashing. But it's never explicitly stated how long this was, so I feel comfortable making it a few weeks rather than a few days.