Author's Notes: Grammar fix. Thanks for all the reviews!
Spells and Illusions
Chapter 9: Belonging
Jason touched down in the park, sword drawn and on his toes to meet any danger.
And then he was no longer on his toes. Then he was on his back.
"Ow…" he groaned. He looked to his right to see a gray fin sliding smoothly through the ground, throwing aside rocks and tufts of grass, but otherwise slicing through the hard earth as easily as if it were water.
Jason scrambled to his feet as the shark doubled back for another pass. This monster was quick, and in order to have any chance against it he'd have to get it above ground. He stared steadily at the fin as it shot toward him, and at the last second stepped out of the way and swung his sword down to cut the shark. Sparks flew. Jason was thrown back. Yet his objective was accomplished: a Hammerhead-style shark monster faced him.
"Hello, ugly," Jason muttered, settling into a guard stance.
"Greetings, Red Ranger!" the shark monster exclaimed. "I am Slippery Shark. I have been waiting on 'fins' and needles for you."
Jason dropped his sword a fraction of an inch. "Dude, did you just say 'fins and needles?'"
The monster seemed to falter. "Why not? It's a perfectly legitimate pun."
Jason shrugged. "I'm just saying, a monster who knows words like 'legitimate' should be able to say something more clever than 'fins and needles.' It doesn't even make sense."
"But, you say, I replaced the word 'pins' with…" The monster paused. "You're trying to mess with me and get me all mad!"
"Just because someone can't take a little constructive criticism…"
The monster yelled and attacked… sloppily. Jason grinned behind his mask and countered neatly, sending the monster sprawling. Round one to the Rangers.
The Lizzinator monster towered over Angel Grove. It hadn't done any serious damage, preferring to wait for the Power Rangers to be drawn out.
Said Power Rangers—Billy, Zack, Trini, Kimberly, and Tommy—were congregated on a hill overlooking the town: the perfect vantage point to assess the monster and call their Zords.
"That's an ugly one, all right," Zack remarked.
A passing V of Canada geese winged past the monster's head. The monster reared back, opened its mouth, and burped out a great gout of flame. The geese were instantly incinerated.
"And it can breathe fire," Kimberly commented.
Trini was livid. "How dare that thing kill those geese! They weren't even hurting it!"
"Let's just be glad it wasn't people," Tommy said grimly. "Billy, you sure this is going to work?"
"Positive," Billy answered. "We'll still have a difficult fight ahead of us, but the odds will be more in our favor."
"Let's get it started, then," Zack said.
Their Zords answered to their call, and they expertly leapt into their cockpits… and Tommy, for the first time, leapt into his.
Tommy took a minute to gaze at his surroundings. He'd been in the cockpit of the Megazord on one memorable occasion. This place was different. It was darker, for one thing. It seemed… older. Tommy had the feeling that his Dragonzord was not from the same place as the other five. He rubbed the dashboard. He liked the remote access his Dragon Dagger afforded, but this seemed somehow more satisfying.
The Dragonzord shrieked. Tommy grinned. "Nice to see you, too."
A voice crackled over his controls. "Tommy, we're ready," Zack said. "You need to initiate the transformation."
"Right," Tommy agreed. His hands began moving of their own, keying in the proper commands. It still marveled him how all this technical information came so easily to him when he was morphed. "One Dragonzord in Battle Mode coming up," he muttered to himself.
Rita quickly adjusted her telescope. None of the Rangers were following predictable patterns. And what the hell were the Zords doing?
No one was in the throne room. They were all hiding after Rita's last fit of rage before she'd deployed the monsters. Goldar and Scorpina weren't back yet, and in her ire Rita was starting not to care whether they came back or not.
In the meantime, it looked like the Rangers had lost no time in using their newfound powers, powers which Rita could not entirely calculate.
"Well, shit," Rita said as the Zord combination formed in front of her. "This day just keeps getting better and better."
Jason spared a glance up. The new Zord was formed, and it looked awesome. He watched as it swept aside a gout of fire from the Lizzinator and counterattacked with a staff that seemed to be made from the Dragonzord's tail. Jason grinned. That was all going according to plan, it seemed.
He felt something smash into his stomach, and he toppled to the ground. He'd taken his eyes off the Slippy Shark and had paid for it. He cursed under his breath and got up.
"Do I have your attention, now?" the Slippery Shark said, calling back the blade it had thrown.
Jason chuckled. "You're gonna be sorry you did that." He charged at the monster. All he had to do was get it into position…
Tommy found himself at the combat controls of the new Zord… the place Jason usually stood. Behind him the other Rangers were yelling readings and reports. It was giving him a headache just to keep up with that and with the fight outside.
"Shields are holding," Trini reported. "I can't say how many direct hits we can take to our main power center, though."
"Especially since our power levels are dropping quick," Zack said. "Why are the power levels dropping?"
Billy was muttering under his breath as he worked frantically. "It's… how this thing utilizes power," Billy finally said. "It's faster and more powerful than the Megazord, and we don't have to wait for a charge to call the staff weapon like we do the Power Sword, but it also burns through power quicker as a result. It has less stamina than the Megazord."
Tommy pulled the Zord sharply out of the way of head-butt attack from the monster. "Then I guess we end this fight quickly," he said. "Hit as hard and as often as possible."
"Sounds like a plan," said Zack. "I'll try to maintain power as much as I can. I'll draw more from Titanus if I need to."
"Get what you can, and put it in the staff," Tommy said. "We just need one good, clean hit."
Jason pushed his advantage against the monster, though he couldn't get in a hit. What he could do, though, was maintain a cat-and-mouse game with the all-too-slippery monster. He'd managed to get the monster out of the park and far away from people. They were now at the cliff near the beach.
"Face it, Red Ranger," the Slippery Shark taunted. "You've been running away this whole time. You know you're completely outclassed by me. Why don't you give up? Empress Rita might even have mercy on you."
Jason laughed. "In her case, I think the quality of mercy would definitely be strained."
Jason frowned. "Sorry. English homework. The point is, you have one chance to walk away from this. This might be a good time to pull one of those famous villain retreats."
This time the monster laughed. "I have you beaten, boy. Your friends are all at the other fight. You have no one to save you. What can you do against me?"
Jason shrugged. "Don't say I didn't warn you. Okay, Kim," he said in his communicator, "he's all yours." With that, he ran to the side and dropped to the ground.
The monster stared at him, amazed. Then it heard the gentle whine of an engine behind it. It turned to see the Pterodactyl Zord rising from just below the cliff, hovering gracefully in the air.
The Pterodactyl Zord opened fire, blasting him with all lasers. In seconds, the monster was atomized.
Jason stood up and brushed himself off. "Nice going, Kim."
"I feel really guilty," Kimberly said over her communicator, though she didn't sound at all guilty. "Do you think that was overkill?"
"Maybe," Jason said. "But it was funny. And it serves Rita right for attacking us in two places."
"Hey, if I couldn't be part of the new Zord combination, at least I got to do that," Kim answered. "You think I need to go help out the others?"
"We'll both be on hand just in case," Jason answered. "But I don't think they'll need our help."
"We got about a minute of power, Tommy," Zack called over the noise of the battle. "If we keep the staff power levels like this, anyway. I had to route some to Billy for that fire problem."
"We can't draw anymore without overloading the entire system," Billy said.
Tommy cursed under his breath. That "fire problem" was what was prolonging the battle. It wasn't the metal components in the monster that was giving them trouble: it was the fire attack. As soon as Tommy could get a clear shot, the monster would blast them with fire, overheating their systems. The Rangers in the cockpit were protected by the Zord and their own uniforms, but only just. They had to back away every time.
"Trini?" Tommy said almost casually, "how much fire do you think the shields can withstand?"
"Without killing us?" Trini said. "How much fire are we talking about here?"
"Tommy, you're not about to do something crazy, are you?" Zack said.
"We just need enough time to get in one clean, strong hit," Tommy said calmly. "Anyone who's not willing to go through fire to do it, now's the time to teleport out."
There was a pause, and Tommy waited for all of them to jump out or take control of the Zord or… something.
Zack laughed a little manically. "What, and miss all the fun? Not on your life."
"If this is the only way, we're with you," Trini said.
"Let me take a fraction of the staff power for the coolant, and give Trini just as much for the shields." Billy didn't even sound fazed by the idea of throwing the Zord into a fireball. "We should be able to last for whatever you have planned, but I don't think we'll get another chance. We'll have to make this one count."
Tommy felt his throat close up a little. "Then let's make it count. I'll attack at your signal, Billy."
"Wait a minute…" Billy said. "Affirmative."
Tommy had been parrying and circling the monster. Now, he rushed head-first. The monster, predictably, sent forth a massive wave of fire. Suddenly, Tommy felt absolutely terrified that this wouldn't work. He nearly had to force his hands to keep them on course for the few steps separating them from a true attack.
The sound of fire and klaxons were deafening. Tommy could barely hear the yells of his fellow Rangers.
"SHIELDS ARE FAILING FAST!" Trini yelled.
Billy barely sounded like himself. "WE'RE LOSING MOTOR FUNCTION!"
"Just… a few… more… seconds…" Tommy said through gritted teeth.
In one strong move, he jabbed the staff through the weakest point he'd found, a point at the monster's lower stomach. Fire surrounded them, smoke filled the air, but the monster was falling nonetheless.
"GOT HIM!" Zack yelled triumphantly. "WE FREAKIN' GOT HIM!"
The fire died out as the monster fell, and Tommy pulled the staff out. The monster exploded, knocking the Zord back several paces.
Tommy breathed a sigh of relief. They had won. He hadn't completely screwed up at his first command after all.
This was perhaps not the best time for Goldar and Scorpina to finally teleport in.
Rita was sitting on her throne, fuming. Her nails clacked against the gilded arm. No one else was foolish enough to be in the throne room right then.
"So…" she said slowly, dangerously. "You've finally decided to show yourselves."
The two warriors suddenly forgot their differences under Rita's hard stare. They forced themselves to face her, even though both of them felt the strong compulsion to run the other way.
"You'll be interested to know we've lost our recent battle against the Power Rangers," Rita said. "I don't suppose you can guess how they achieved this, even with two monsters, one of which was the strongest Finster had ever made?"
Goldar's eyes grew wide. "So… they got Titanus…"
"OF COURSE THEY GOT TITANUS!" Rita exploded. The two warriors took a step back at the outburst. "That's why I sent YOU two bumbling nitwits, though now I have no idea why. I should have sent Squatt and Babboo. Hell, two Putties could have done a better job."
Scorpina gritted her teeth. She wasn't sure if she'd deserved that. "Rita…"
"Don't you say a word, Scorpina. Neither of you." Rita's wand sparked once as the careful check she kept over her anger wavered. "You had superior technology… superior information. You had a headstart. And they had a rivalry spell on them. What more did I need to do to assure victory, do it myself?"
Scorpina held her tongue. She'd be damned if she told Rita the real reason for their failure. She felt sure Goldar felt the same way.
Rita was clutching her head, the usual post-magic headache coupling with the anger. "Just… get out of my sight. Both of you. I need to decide how to clean up your mess."
Goldar and Scorpina stalked out of the throne room. Goldar turned sharply into his room and slammed the door in Scorpina's face.
Scorpina considered the door. She could break it down… force Goldar to talk to her and stop being so wounded. Didn't he know, after all, that Tommy was ancient history? That in his current state she'd have no opportunity to take up with him again? Didn't any of that matter to him?
But breaking down the door would just start a fight with him and draw Rita's ire. Instead, she went to her own little-used room and flung herself on her bed.
Kimberly leaned against Tommy's arm as the sunset deepened from bright orange to deep purple. They were sitting on a low tree branch in Tommy's uncle's property after an entire day spent with each other. They'd mainly roamed Angel Grove: the mall, the park, the nature trail… They'd avoided the beach, and there were still a few awkward moments, but otherwise it had been paradise for Tommy.
"You have to go soon," Kimberly said.
"… Yeah." Tommy reached an arm around Kimberly. He was not eager to go.
Kimberly looked up into his eyes. "It's okay. We have tomorrow. And every day after that."
Their lips met. Tommy found he was afraid to breathe, as if he could burst the moment like a bubble and everything would end. He wasn't used to… permanence.
They broke apart reluctantly. Kimberly jumped from the tree branch, and Tommy had no choice but to follow.
It was a good thing they'd said their goodbyes in the backyard, as Tommy's father was waiting at the door. "Didn't want to interrupt," he said, "but it's about that time. Kimberly, you sure you don't want to join us?"
Kimberly smiled. "No thanks, Mr. Oliver. I really gotta get home."
She gave one last smile that practically melted Tommy on the spot, hopped in her car, and was gone.
"Nice girl," John commented. "She's the pink one, right?"
Tommy's eyes snapped alert. "Dad, you promised…"
"No one's around," John said. "Now grab the food in the kitchen while I get in."
Tommy picked up the grocery sack from the table and locked the house behind him. His father was already in the car. He put the sack on the floorboard, folded up and stored the wheelchair in the back, and finally they were on the road.
"I'm just saying," Tommy continued, "that we really have to be careful. I think Zordon was that close to finding out a way to wipe your memory… if he doesn't already have a way."
"Tommy, relax," John said. "I said I'd never reveal your identity, and I never will."
Tommy nodded once, but he was still nervous. "Especially… around Billy's mo… I mean Sylvia. You know how she feels about the Green Ranger. I don't want her to find out about me."
John nodded. "You really think she'd react that badly."
"Oh, yeah," Tommy said. "You didn't see the news report I saw. And, honestly, I wouldn't blame her if she didn't forgive me. I terrorized her and nearly killed Billy. That's just not something you forgive in a hurry."
"Billy's forgiven you," John reminded him.
Tommy smiled softly. "Yeah, well, that's Billy."
They pulled in to the Cranston driveway, and Tommy took a breath. Of course he had to return to the scene of the crime to do this. It might not have been so nerve-wracking otherwise.
Dinner went smoothly. Sylvia had a way of making everyone feel comfortable and easy. Tommy even felt himself forgetting his worries surrounding her as she told funny stories about the kids she taught.
"I swear, the little Kindergarten girl was carrying a bag of sand all around the playground," Sylvia said as the other four laughed. "She filled that grocery bag up with sand and was not letting it out of her sight."
There were tears streaming down John's face. "But… why?" he managed out between laughs.
"You know, I asked her teacher that very thing. You know what she told me? 'So she'll have it if she ever needs it.'"
They adjourned to the living room with coffee, sodas, and the brownies Tommy had brought. The news was going off, and Wheel of Fortune was coming on.
"Oh, I meant to watch the news," Sylvia said. "There was supposed to be something about the Power Rangers."
"What's that?" Billy said, trying to seem uninterested.
"I saw that advance footage yesterday," Sylvia said. "Apparently they've got conclusive proof that the Green Ranger has joined the Power Rangers. That… what do they call them, Swords or…?"
"Zords," Tommy supplied automatically.
"That's right," Sylvia said. "Anyway, the Green Zord-thingy joined with other Zords." Sylvia frowned. "I just wonder what made the Green Ranger change like that."
Tommy was trying not to look at Sylvia, but he was actually studying her carefully. There was no longer the bitter edge in her voice there had been in the news report. She merely sounded curious.
"The Green Ranger was a Power Ranger in the first place," John reasoned. "Maybe he just found where he belonged. Ooh. That guy hit $5000."
Sylvia turned her attention to the TV. "No, don't guess a C, you idiot. Guess an R!"
Billy caught Tommy's eyes, and they slunk out of the room to Billy's lab.
"Nice cover from your dad," Billy said as soon as they closed the door. He began pulling out the final components of their project. They were presenting on Monday.
"He's good at that," Tommy said. "Years of explaining away arguments with my mom to me."
"Looks like Jason's plan worked, though. Now people might actually start believing you're part of the team." Billy smiled. "How did it feel, in the front seat?"
"Really cool… and really scary."
Billy laughed appreciatively. "You handled it well." He bit his lip, finally broaching the subject he'd dwelled on all week. "Listen, Tommy, about what I said about your dad…"
"Billy, you don't even have to," Tommy said. "I overreacted."
"You didn't," said Billy. "I should never have even thought it. I really like your dad. He's… good for my mom, I think."
They heard their parents loudly sounding out Wheel clues, competing to be the first to figure it out.
Tommy smiled. "I guess they are. And I'm hardly the one who should ever hold a grudge. You forgave me of something pretty damn big."
Billy tried to shrug it off. "Hey, I can finish this project later. Want to work on the car with me?"
"Are you kidding?" Tommy said. "Skip out on homework to work on cars? What do you think?"
Billy pulled the cover off an old hotrod he'd been working on restoring, wanting to upgrade from the Radbug. As they bent over the engine, Tommy felt a sense of peace he hadn't felt in a long time. He was part of a team. He had friends, and he had a best friend, and he had a girlfriend. His dad had found someone and was finally happy. His dad's words echoed in his head. For once, maybe he had found where he belonged.
Rita stood before her assembled followers. They were all grim and silent, for Rita was in a dangerous mood. Her eyes shone in a way that always meant danger.
"We have allowed a traitor to live," Rita said softly. She let the words sink in for each of them. She didn't have to say Tommy's name. It was the great unspoken word among them.
"I recruited him," Rita continued. "I gave him power. He walked as an equal among you, sharing in the triumphs and defeats. He lived here. He was one of us.
"Then he left. And he did not just leave. He joined our enemies to fight against us. He used the power I gave him against me. He's a thief and a traitor.
"And through it all, he considers himself righteous," she ended bitterly.
With a wave of her wand, she summoned the candlestand. A fat, green candle stood on it, untouched as yet by fire.
"I have considered many ways to repay him for what he's done. But they were all too quick, and we would profit nothing by his death. The Green power coin would go to Zordon and the Power Rangers.
"But we must not suffer him to continue to thwart us. To continue as living proof of our weakness."
With a flick of her hand, she conjured a fire and touched it to the white wick of the candle. The flame sputtered weakly, and then grew stronger. The wick blackened. Soon, the wax would start to melt.
"To your fall, Tommy Oliver."