Disclaimer: I don't own the Power Rangers.
Notes: This is actually a prequel to "Beyond a Glimmer of Hope", though the reason why isn't apparent yet, but it stands as its own story, too.
The line "I wanna play on a rainbow" is utterly the fault of Tsukino Akume. Blame her. But she also provided me with a title that sucked less than "The Bedtime Story", so maybe we can forgive her.
A brief explanation of Andros's family: In the audio flashbacks at the beginning of "Astronema Thinks Twice", you hear echoes of Karone's childhood. At first listen, it appears to be her mother's voice first calling her to dinner, then telling her it's getting dark, and finally telling her to go on and play with Andros. But after watching that clip upwards of thirty times (I had a lot of free time that day, okay), I realized that there are clearly two different women speaking and obviously, this means that Andros has two mommies. And a daddy, 'cause... I don't know, I think he mentioned a father.
This disc he didn't keep in his locket anymore. He had at first, when the complex was still unfamiliar and DECA hadn't been an instant away. Then he had kept the disc with him always and every night he'd slide it into the holoplayer and turn it on repeat. His trainers wouldn't let him sleep with a light on, but the glow from the projection was enough.
And when it wasn't, the voice were.
Andros set the player down carefully onto his pillow, his head next to it as he turned onto his side. His parents had done this years ago, to soothe him and Karone to sleep when Mama was gone with her team, but he hadn't played it so much then as he did now.
He hit the button and the moment snapped to life--Mama on his bed with one arm wrapped around Karone's middle and a reader in the other hand. Her focus wasn't on the camera; it was on him, and she was calling after him to come back and join the rest of them.
"I never liked this story," Mom murmured, just loudly enough that she was heard over the ambient noise of the recording. "It's depressing."
"It's dramatic." Dad's voice was louder.
The picture wavered, then shook wildly. Over Mom's yelps of protest and Dad's laughter, the camera swept upwards to the ceiling, and Andros found himself staring into the night sky. Dad had done the painting. Mama had put the stars in the sky--she'd wanted them placed to scale.
Mom was laughing, too, when the camera steadied itself. Did Karone laugh like that now, wherever she was? She'd always looked more like Mom than Dad.
Andros's hand went to his chest.
"It's their favorite. So set that thing down before you break it again and get over here." Mama glared straight into the camera just for a second, and Andros's eyes widened. He'd forgotten that look.
His fingers curled around his locket when he saw himself with Karone. By the time the five of them were settled, him in Dad's lap and Karone in Mom's, each of them on one side of Mama, he was clenching it so tightly his fingers ached. He hardly cared.
He and Karone must have been five, then. No, six--she had vanished not long after this.
Half his life now, he'd been without her. It was harder to ignore that than he'd hoped it might be.
"When the stars were newly born," Mama began, and Andros tried so hard to let her voice wash over him, "there was a world, far from this place we are now. And in this world, there were people, like you and like me, and the spirits that had befriended them."
He'd watched this so many times before he'd realized that the reader in her hand was for the pictures, for him and Karone. He could remember that first one more clearly than he could their faces most days, down to the detail in each blade of grass.
"And these people, they lived in the great green valley that was their kingdom. These were people of peace; they loved food and drink and song, and they honored the world they shared with their animal spirits.
"But outside of the valley and beyond the world, there was trouble. Dark Spectre was young then, but ambitious, and he wished to control not only the spirits of the valley, but the entire world and all of its people. He--"
The knock on his door startled him. Andros paused the recording just as the door slid open, and he froze with the player still in his hand.
"DECA said you were still awake," Zhane said as he plopped down at the foot of Andros's bed. His hair was tousled and his pajamas wrinkled--he, at least, had attempted sleep tonight. "I thought we--"
"No!" Andros blurted out, still clutching the player and hoping that somehow Zhane just wouldn't notice. "I was--I--I wanted to be alone."
"You've been alone all day," Zhane said, frowning at him. "You haven't eaten since breakfast."
"I wasn't hungry." Andros glared down at his lap. "I'm fine."
"You're not--hey." Zhane sat up suddenly, leaning closer to stare at the player clutched in Andros's hand. "What are you watching?"
"It's nothing," he muttered. "It's not important."
"That's not Karone again, is it?" Zhane had tugged the player out of his hands before Andros could stop him. "Because if it is--oh."
Andros closed his eyes as Zhane recognized the holo for what it was.
"Ohh," Zhane whispered. He looked stricken as he glanced from Andros to the holo and back again, his eyes wide. "I--I'm sorry."
Andros snatched the player away from Zhane and cradled it in his palm. "No," he mumbled. "It's okay."
The tears that suddenly burned his eyes infuriated him. He hadn't cried in years.
"Andros." Zhane's hand on his shoulder grounded him as he grit his teeth together and fought for his composure. He would not cry. Not again.
"Andros, I'm sorry." Zhane looked so near to tears himself that Andros managed a weak smile.
"I know," he said quietly. Zhane had been orphaned, too; he would understand. Andros let out a deep breath as he scooted closer to the wall to make room for Zhane to sit beside him. "I can start it over for you."
"No," Zhane said, shaking his head as he settled himself beside Andros. "Just keep going."
"--but the entire world and all of its people. He was not strong enough on his own and the people of the valley, unaware of the threat that lurked just beyond them, lived on in happiness.
"But there was another. His name has been lost to time, but he was a destroyer. He leeched and polluted and defiled, and together, they attacked the valley kingdom and caught them unprepared."
They should have been prepared, Andros thought, as he watched himself snuggle deeper into his father's lap. Even in a time of peace, they should have known that there was a possibility of attack. They should have been ready.
Their leader should have known better.
Mama should have known better, too.
"All was not yet lost, however." Mama's voice always changed here. Dad had told him once that it was pride. Warriors were close enough to Rangers, he said. "The spirits and their people joined forces to defend their kingdom. The guardian of the spirits chose six of the kingdom to lead them in battle, and from the spirits these brave warrios gained their powers: Silver, Red, Pink, Violet, Yellow, and Blue."
"I always liked this story," Zhane whispered, nudging Andros in the side. "I always thought it was right that it was the Silver who was the lead--sorry." He quieted under Andros's glare.
"They fought endlessly with the leader of the spirits to force the evil from their world. But their enemies were relentless, and when the leader of the spirits fell in battle, it looked to be hopeless."
Karone hadn't ever liked this part. She turned away from watching Mama scroll through the pictures and hid her face against Mom's arm. Mama laid a hand on Karone's knee as she kept talking.
"The Silver Warrior, the leader of the team, knew that something had to be done before it was too late," Mama continued, still rubbing Karone's leg. Her smile had faded. "He had heard rumors there was a great power to be found in the ancient city beyond the valley, and he left his teammates to journey in search of it.
"He found it, as he'd hoped, but all was not well. The power would answer if he called upon it, but it would exact a price in return--it would curse him. But from where he stood, the Silver Warrior saw no other choice. The guardian of the spirits had ascended--"
"That means climb, Mama," Karone said, squirming against Mom's arms. "Dad told me it did."
"That's right, love." Mama smiled again as she brushed a hand against Karone's cheek. "The guardian of the spirits had ascended into the sky to safety and could not aid them. Their people were fleeing the valley. Time was running short."
"How do you climb into the sky?" Karone wondered. "The trees don't go high enough."
"This was an ancient kingdom, remember." Dad leaned forward to touch her hair. "The trees had been growing for years and years and years--they were probably tall enough. So if you'd climbed for long enough, I'm sure you could reach the sky."
"And the clouds?" Karone demanded. "Could I touch them?"
"Absolutely," Mom said, smiling down at her.
"I wanna play on a rainbow!"
He'd forgotten about that, too, and winced at his younger self's exclamation. Andros heard Zhane chuckle quietly over the laughter from the recording, but he only shrugged and said, "I always wondered what they tasted like."
"Rainbows," Zhane explained. "I always wanted to taste one."
Mama picked up the story again, saving Andros from having to form a response to that. "So the Silver Warrior made his choice. He--" She stopped again, but she was smiling as she glanced at Mom. "Ilarion wants to do his voices. Should we let him?"
"Mmm..." Mom kissed the top of Karone's head. "I suppose if he must, he must."
"He must," Dad said gleefully, as he bounced Andros in his lap. "Gimme that. Please."
"Better," Mama said, as she relinquished the reader to him.
"Thank you." He grinned at her. "Now, let's see, where were we--ah, yes. Right here. So the Silver Warrior made his choice. He would sacrifice himself in hopes that it would be enough. 'Evil spirits'," Dad intoned, causing Karone to squeal as his voice sank several pitches below normal, "'fill me with absolute power." And the power he received in exchange was mighty, and at first it seemed that his plan had worked. But as Silver Warrior tired, the curse overcame him.
"As he turned on his team, they had no choice but to stop him. 'Forgive us, friend,' they implored him. 'Your sacrifice has saved us all'--you know, this story really ought to have more dialogue."
"You can read the next one," Mama informed him, as she plucked the reader out of his hands. "Well," she added to Mom, "would you like to finish, or shall I?"
"I'm rather comfortable how I am, thanks," Mom said, resting her chin atop Karone's head. "I'll take my turn after Illy."
"He was brave," Zhane said quietly, over the sound of Dad protesting the nickname.
"He was stupid," Andros said harshly, startling the both of them with his anger. "He'd have done them more good alive."
"It was soon apparent," Mama said, silencing Mom and Dad's bickering, "that the Silver Warrior's sacrifice had been in vain--their enemies had grown stronger and without their Silver, the other Warriors were not strong enough."
"They'd have stood a better chance with him," Andros insisted. "If he'd stayed, they would have been strong enough."
"You can't know that," Zhane said, but relented anyway. "Maybe."
"And so the people of the kingdom of the valley had no choice. If they wished to remain free, they would need to flee their homes. Their animal spirits took them away from their world to safety, but the spirits were bound to their guardian, and she, in turn, was bound to her world. The spirits could not travel with them, but instead left them in the care of friends and returned home where they did battle on their own. And as the years passed, they, too, fell in battle and their enemies grew stronger. But so did the people of the valley, who through many battles and many generations and many homes have yet to surrender.
"And so it goes on."
Andros stopped the player then, and sat beside Zhane in darkness when the glow from the projection died. "I--I used to like that story," he said softly.
"Yeah." Zhane lay down as a yawn stifled his voice. "Me too."