After the defeat of Emperor Grumm, the members of Space Patrol Delta became even more of an asset as ambassadors of Earth and Alpha Team was at the forefront of making inroads with new planets hoping to join the peaceful, galactic federation. With their unique talents, Alpha team was particularly suited to meeting representatives of newly formed governments who were nervous about plots against fledgling republics. Syd and Z were exceptionally suitable for hand-to-hand combat; particularly when the assailant underestimated two such pretty body guards. Sky's distinctive talent helped keep long range weapons from reaching their target. And though Bridge's talent was unspecified to the general public, he was a vital source of information for SPD.
No one ever expected Bridge to unearth the devastating circumstances he was faced with today. No one questioned Sky about the actions he took in response.
Back on the ship that sailed in a silent orbit around the deceptively serene planet below, Sky was literally working himself into a lather. Z had all of the doors to the gym covered, preventing random SPD crew members from interrupting Sky's violent workout. With laser focus, Sky determinedly vented all of his anger, frustration, horror and disgust on the unassuming punching bag. Any time he stopped to catch his breath he repeated a mental mantra focusing on how he had done all the right things; taken all the right steps to address the situation on the planet below. Galactic despots were no longer his concern – he'd turned all of that over to much higher authorities; the only thing he had to focus on now was Bridge.
The soft tread of light feet caught Sky's attention as he leaned against the bag. Syd approached cautiously, not out of fear, but out of respect for what Sky was trying to accomplish. He gave her a slight smile and nodded; Syd covered the rest of the space between them.
"Are you ready, Sky?" Syd's grip on his arm was feather-light. The concern on her face was for him and the state he'd worked himself into, but he knew that like him, her underlying concern was Bridge.
"I am. Just need to hit the shower first." Sky released the punching bag and was surprised to find it was the only thing holding him up. Syd instantly scooted under one arm and a moment later Z was on the other side. Sky smiled; he knew in an instant it was Z and not a replica. He accepted their help without a murmur of complaint – no room for negative or selfish thoughts now; he had to focus on Bridge.
Sky had gained enough equilibrium by the time they reached the shower to insist he go in alone. That didn't stop the girls from sending in Teig, Alpha Squad's newest member, to make sure he was upright. Sky assured him he could manage to change into his t-shirt and sweatpants unassisted. A short time later the four of them were standing in the corridor leading to the room Sky shared with Bridge. Teig quickly excused himself to take up a post at the end of the hallway; a replicate of Z was already at the other end making sure to dissuade any well-meaning visitors.
At an unspoken signal, both girls wrapped their arms tightly around Sky. He leaned forward into their embrace, soaking up all of their positive energy and strength. Z was the first to pull away, leaving to join Teig at his station. Syd stayed a moment longer, arms like steel bands around Sky's waist as she leaned up to whisper in his ear, "Make sure he knows how much we love him."
"I will," Sky whispered into her hair then with a kiss Syd was gone too. Sky took a deep breath and centered his thoughts, and then he walked down the hallway and into the room.
Sky automatically reached up and touched the permanent shields he'd erected around the cabin; he had no doubt they'd be intact, but this was not the time to shirk double checking his work. The noise of the ship's inner workings was loud so close to the engine room, but Sky's shields helped to filter most of that out. Their room's proximity to the noisiest part of the ship was deliberate – it discouraged casual visitors and cut down on the amount of human transfer Bridge might run into. Also, there was very little down in the bowels of the ship that Bridge would accidentally pick up on, unlike the crew quarters or general meeting areas. The noise was an acceptable trade-off for peace of mind.
Bridge looked up as Sky entered and Sky did his best not to react overtly to the Blue Ranger's haggard appearance. It was obvious from Bridge's state of undress that he'd been trying to get himself ready for bed but he had only managed to remove one boot and his jacket before losing all forward momentum. Bridge held on to this crazy idea that if he could put himself to bed before Sky intervened that Sky wouldn't crawl in there with him.
"Hey." Sky greeted Bridge as he knelt to remove Bridge's other boot. Above him on the bed, Bridge started trembling.
"Not tonight, Sky…okay? Just put me to bed and turn out the light. You can't help me with this – not tonight."
Sky knew better than to address any of Bridge's babbling. There was no verbal response that was going to get through to Bridge and they both knew it. When Sky stood, he pulled Bridge up with him careful to keep his hands on the fabric of Bridge's shirt; Bridge wasn't ready for skin-to-skin contact yet. Then he waited; it was a practice Sky had worked hard to develop, he was long past the days of demanding Bridge to come around to his schedule.
Bridge tried again to assert himself, but he refused to meet Sky's eyes and he didn't have the strength to pull out of the Red Ranger's grasp. "Okay…now that you're here I feel better. I'm sure I just need to get some sleep…"
Sky was patient, but only to a point. "Bridge," he interrupted, and the smaller man fell silent. Sky took a deep breath and said, "We both know that's not how it works."
Bridge was trembling so hard in Sky's grasp that it was hard to keep him upright without initiating more contact. It killed Sky to see Bridge struggling so hard against everything when he knew it would never be possible for him to carry the burden alone.
"Sky," Bridge laid a gloved hand against Sky's chest, "you shouldn't have to do this…I know how hard it is for you."
Though Bridge couldn't see it, Sky smiled. This was always Bridge's last argument; his final attempt so spare Sky from what Bridge perceived as taking on too much. The Red Ranger couldn't understand that while Bridge was perceptive about so many other things, he couldn't let himself believe that Sky would take on the world and more for him.
Sky moved closer. "It's worse for you. Let me help you, Bridge."
Bridge finally looked Sky in the eye. Sky was concerned at how much desperation he saw there. Bridge was terrified about what he had to do, but was finally ready to accept he didn't have to face it alone. Bridge slid his arms around Sky's waist and pressed his forehead into the taller man's shoulder.
"It's so bad, Sky." Bridge gasped. "It's really bad."
"We'll get through it," Sky assured him. "We'll do it together." Sky pressed both of his hands firmly into Bridge's back. "I won't let you go."
Bridge seemed to draw some strength from Sky so when he pulled away he was less shaky. He turned back to the task of preparing for bed while Sky kicked off his slippers and sat on the edge of Bridge's bed. A few moments later, Bridge was ready as well and sat down next to him.
"You don't have to do this, you know." Bridge stated quietly trying one last time to give Sky an out.
"It's my choice. I want to help you, Bridge."
Bridge nodded silently leaning his shoulder into Sky's. "Thanks." Bridge took a trembling breath and Sky could see his tension was already escalating. Then he moved slightly away from Sky on the bed so he could turn to face him. "I think you should take your shirt off."
Sky was thunderstruck and for half a second it actually occurred to him that he might not be able to handle what was about to happen. Under other circumstances the request to strip would lead to something much more pleasant than what they were about to face, but in this situation it indicated that Bridge needed to be seriously grounded; more so than working through a "normal" overload situation. Even more astonishing was the fact that when Sky peeled off his shirt, Bridge took off his gloves. It didn't matter that Bridge was completely clothed, he always looked naked to Sky when he took his gloves off.
Sky didn't waste any more time; he stretched out on the edge of the bed while Bridge contemplated his bare hands in his lap. A moment later, Bridge stood up, walked to the end of the bed and then crawled into the space left for him between Sky and the wall. Experience had taught them both that Bridge needed to be as contained as possible in these situations. Now that they had begun, Bridge didn't hesitate to take what he needed; he laid on his side curled up against Sky's left side with his left hand on Sky's bare chest and his head tucked into Sky's shoulder. Sky's left arm lay under Bridge supporting him and with his left hand he pulled Bridge closer keeping pressure on his back. Sky closed the circuit throwing his right arm across them both and holding Bridge's arm.
"I've got you," Sky whispered. "I won't let you go."
Bridge's eyes were screwed tightly shut and he pressed his face into Sky's shoulder. His body was violently trembling, though he had barely begun. All of the Rangers with extraordinary powers had learned to use them as they went along – there was no handbook on how to build shields or replicate yourself - and Bridge had the steepest learning curve. When they were active Rangers their powers grew in strength; unlike the rest of them whose powers appeared externally, Bridge had to deal with unpredictable internal struggles. Being able to read the psychic aura of an area or object was a neat trick when the psychic imprint was mild and brief, but some objects were imbued with intense and overwhelming energy which Bridge had to process consciously or risk the information festering in his unconscious and manifesting unexpectedly.
When they had been planet-side for their first tour of the regent's new castle, none of them anticipated the feel Bridge would get from the place. Almost immediately he was uncomfortable and had taken off one glove to examine the aura of the throne room. While the regent was doing his best to impress them with tales of the peaceful overthrow of the old, corrupt government and spinning yarns about how he was going to take his people forward into the modern age, Bridge was literally spinning in circles trying to get a read on the place. The regent seemed to realize that something was going on and tried to draw attention back to himself by taking an ancient scepter off the wall and describing how it would be the link from the past to the future. Unknowing, he pushed the scepter into Bridge's outstretched hand – that's when everything fell apart.
The regent, who managed to paint a humanitarian portrait of himself and hide the true nature of his rise to power from the authorities of the planetary alliance, put his atrocities on display for an audience of one. Bridge's fingers involuntarily clenched the scepter as he was overwhelmed by the taint of evil imbued in the scepter by the one who wielded it and the emotional backlash of the innocents who died by his hand.
Bridge flung the scepter away from himself almost immediately, but the damage had been done. In the time it took for Bridge to lose his footing and stumble into Sky, Sky had already erected multiple shields – one around Bridge, to protect him from the immediate reactions of those around him; one around the regent to immobilize him and thwart any attempt at communication and one around the throne room itself to prevent unwanted witnesses to the scene. Z and Syd contacted the orbiting SPD ship requesting backup and a higher authority to deal with the situation. With Sky's assistance, Bridge was able to put his glove back on and give a terse, shaky report on what he'd witnessed when he touched the scepter, but he hadn't worked through it all; he barely even scratched the surface.
That brought them here – with Bridge shaking and whimpering in Sky's arms, and Sky desperately trying to be the foundation Bridge needed so he wouldn't lose himself. Sky was no mind reader, but he didn't need to be psychic to hear and feel what Bridge was going through; in a way, it was better that Sky didn't know exactly what Bridge was feeling because then he'd be caught up in it too and likely be overwhelmed with rage and an intense desire to exact retribution on the man who had caused all of this pain and misery.
Instead, Sky focused on doing the only thing he was able to do, he held onto Bridge as tightly as he could while he concentrated his thoughts on all things Bridge. After the first few times the team had tried to help Bridge process through overload situations, Sky started to research. He was particularly drawn to information about people with sensory issues and those who manifested symptoms of autism. In both situations, people were so overloaded with outside, sensory stimuli that they often developed "self-stim" behaviors to compensate and maintain a sense of self or an awareness of themselves in space – this was the stereotypical rocking or flapping behavior. Bridge was so overloaded by mental images and emotional feedback in these situations that he wasn't able to regulate his own self-stimming behavior – so Sky did it for him.
Sky had assured Bridge before they began that he wouldn't let him go, but it wasn't just the physical connection that Sky was responsible for. As they lay crammed together on Bridge's bunk Sky let down the internal walls that very few had been able to breech and tried to make his thoughts and feelings echo louder than the terrifying vision in Bridge's head. It was hard to ignore Bridge's cries of fear and pain, but Sky knew he had to hold out longer than Bridge or risk losing him.
Once he had begun filing through his thoughts it became easier for Sky to retrieve memories of Bridge – scrapes from their days at the Academy, adventures as teammates on B Squad and as Rangers, tentative and exciting steps toward becoming partners and lovers – Sky let himself remember it all. It didn't have to be all lovey-dovey, "rainbows and unicorns" memories either because that wouldn't be accurate or true. Sky recalled annoyances, irritating habits, downright fights; though most of those were followed up with resolution and forgiveness.
Sky lost track of time. He let himself drift in his thoughts – never aimlessly, always with concentration and determination to be an anchor for Bridge. But he knew the emotional connection was more important than the physical which was why he'd worked himself until he dropped before he joined Bridge; it made it easier to divorce himself from his body and let him focus on more intangible things. Every bit of memory that he could conjure from the first time they'd met, to the hug and kiss from Syd just before in the hallway – Sky threw out every lifeline he had to make sure that Bridge could find his way through the cacophony in his head and make it back to them.
Slowly, slowly…Bridge's reactions began to ease. Bit by bit, Sky let his attention come back to the present, but still focused on Bridge. Sky could feel the damp fabric of Bridge's t-shirt under his hand and his sweat soaked hair under his chin. Bridge's weight had shifted as he'd drawn himself closer to Sky; now his legs were wrapped around Sky's leg just as his arms had would themselves completely around Sky's torso. Bridge's breath puffed raggedly against Sky's neck, but it was no longer accompanied by tortured cries or echoes of pain.
"I've got you. I've got you." Sky whispered over and over as he soothingly ran a hand down Bridge's back. He knew Bridge was too far out of it to hear him, but he kind of needed to reassure himself.
It took a while for Sky to register another presence in the room; it didn't surprise him that Syd had taken up a vigil at some point. Sky turned his head slightly to the right; Syd immediately ghosted into his line of sight.
"How long?" Sky was surprised at the hoarseness of his voice.
Her hand was soothing on his head. "It's been hours." Exhausted as he was, it was difficult for Sky to focus, but there was no mistaking the concern in Syd's voice.
"S'okay, Syd…" Sky tried to explain, "I never let go…had him the whole time."
"Still do," was the mumbled response into Sky's shoulder.
Syd's face lit up at Bridge's words, and Sky felt a lightening in his chest; he never wanted to acknowledge any doubt lest it creep in there an influence his thinking, but it always was good to have confirmation that Bridge had come through okay. Sky let his head drop back onto the pillow and wasn't ashamed of the tears of relief he let himself shed.
In the few moments Sky allowed himself, Syd called in reinforcements. With help from Z and her replicants, Syd managed to maneuver Sky and Bridge out of Bridge's sweat soaked and disheveled bed, into dry clothing and tuck them into Sky's dry, warm and neatly made bed seemingly without disengaging Bridge from Sky's protective grasp at all. It was amazing what Syd could do when she put her mind to it.
Sky was still feeling a little dazed, but secure in the knowledge that Bridge was safe. The sensation of Bridge resting at ease curled up against his side was comforting, but Sky found himself unable to relax now that the worst was over. He was the one trembling with exhaustion having pushed himself far beyond his physical limits; he was the one overcome with thoughts and concerns, mostly about what would happen next.
A not so gentle shake of his ankle got Sky's attention. It was Syd, perched at the end of the bed like a blonde, angelic gargoyle. "Hey," she admonished, "I can hear you thinking from here."
Sky managed a weak smile. Z's warm hand came to rest on top of Sky's where he was holding Bridge. Her smile was reassuring and her thumb rubbed small circles on the back of his hand. "You did a great job, Sky. Everything's fine."
Sky let his eyes slide shut and gave into the demands of his aching body. It was hard though; so hard to let it all go.
"We've got you now," Syd assured him gently as she rubbed his leg. "You hang onto Bridge, and we'll hang onto you." Her words were the last thing Sky heard as he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.