Warnings/: Possibly OOC Justin (depending on your point of view)

Disclaimer/: Still don't own it.

Author's Notes/: As I've said many times before, my Justin is *not* cannon. I think he has every right to be bitter. So, he's a little more mature here, and a little more broody.

This is both an explanation as to how Rocky and Adam got a fish to Carlos in chapter 13 of Cataclysm, and the beginning of the friendship between Justin and Zhane that is eventually seen in Bright Skies.

Favors and Phone Calls

The sound of the doorbell was annoying, but not exactly a surprise.

Ever since the Astro Rangers had revealed their identities, reporters had been hounding him, trying to get the 'inside story' about them from one of their 'close, personal friends'. They'd backed off once the Rangers had returned to Earth, but not all of them had given up just yet. His dad had been a surprisingly great help at driving them off. Storm Blaster had been more than willing to give him a hand, but Justin had managed to convince him that while he appreciated the offer, having a sentient car chasing away reporters was really the last thing he needed right now.

He tried not to shudder at the thought. It was bad enough having to sneak out to see his friend as it was. His dad still didn't know about Storm Blaster, or what he was, and he planned on keeping it that way.

Seeing the others at school last week had made that decision pretty easy.

He took a peek at his newest creation as the doorbell rang again. He'd been bored and frustrated enough one day to attempt setting up a security camera system around the house, so he could keep an eye on all the reporters trying to catch a glimpse of him. His dad had been skeptical at first, but he gave in after it caught another guy trying to sneak into the back yard.

Justin glanced at the monitor and sighed irritably before shutting it off. He walked up to the door, opened it a crack, and snarled "No." Then he slammed it closed.

They knocked.

He leaned back against the door and sighed again. "I said no!" he shouted through the wood. "Go away!"

"Come on, Justin. We just wanna talk."

He scowled, jerking away to crack the door open again and glare at them. "No, you want me to do something for you. And the answer is no, so go away."

A hand caught the door before he could slam it shut again. "Justin," Adam began, frowning at him. He stopped as Rocky put a hand on his arm with a slight shake of his head, sighing and moving aside to let Rocky get closer. Unfortunately, he still had a hand on the door to prevent Justin from closing it.

Justin's eyebrows went up at the silent communication before he could stop himself. Huh. That was new.

"Look, Justin. Can't we just talk about this?" Rocky pleaded. "Inside, like normal people?"

He humphed. "None of us have ever been normal," he retorted bitterly. He hesitated, sighed, and let go of the door. Why do I do this to myself? he wondered as he headed for the living room, not bothering to look back to see if they were following.

"When did you guys get a security system?" Rocky spoke up as he heard the door shut.

He sighed, resisting the urge to slam something. "I put it in last week," he said shortly. "The reporters were getting pushy."

"Are you all right?" Adam asked, sounding concerned.

Justin closed his eyes, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from snapping at him. Just listen to what they have to say, tell them no, and kick them out, he told himself. That's all you have to do. "What do you want?" he asked instead.

There was a long pause. "We wanted to ask you if you could help us with something," Rocky said finally.

He rolled his eyes as he flopped down on the recliner. "Duh. I guessed that much. Now what do you want?"

Adam sighed, folding his arms as they looked down at him. "We wanted to send something to Carlos' hospital room, but we need to make sure it gets there."

Something in Justin's chest tightened.

"Still no update on the condition of Black Ranger Carlos Vargas, after he was admitted to Angel Grove Community General in the wake of his kidnapping by Lauren Hartman last Friday."

"All attempts to speak with the other Rangers about the incident have been unsuccessful."

" - hard to send live animals through delivery service."

He blinked, shaking his head. "What?" He had to have heard that wrong.

Judging by the earnest expression on Rocky's face, he hadn't. "It's not like we're trying to send him an elephant or something," Rocky assured him. "It's just a fish. And a card. But it turns out it's really hard to get fish delivered to a hospital room - for some reason - so we were thinking we could have it teleported in."

He shook his head again slowly. Teleporting fish. Only Rocky. "I ... Okay, whatever. But what do you need from me?"

Rocky looked slightly sheepish. "Well, after ... " He paused, clearing his throat awkwardly as Adam looked away. "After the um, New Years ... thing - "

"You mean when Kimberly made Andros cry?" Justin interrupted wryly, fighting to contain his glee. Intellectually he knew it wasn't fair that he hated Andros as much as he did, but emotionally he was still too thrilled by the fact that she'd actually made him cry.

Rocky shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah ... Well, uh, none of us have really gone back up to Ranger Base since then. We're not really sure if ... well, if we're welcome, you know?"

"Probably not," he agreed, remembering the look on Cassie's face just before they'd all left.

"So, we were figuring you'd have a way to contact them, to see if we could borrow their teleporter long enough to sent Carlos his fish," Rocky explained.

Justin stared at him blankly. "Why would I - "

He stopped.


He stared at the piece of paper for a moment before blinking up at the Silver Ranger. "What's that?" he asked suspiciously.

"It's a phone number."

His eyes narrowed.

Zhane grinned faintly. "Well, it is," he insisted. "It's a phone number that reaches D.E.C.A. on the Astro Megaship. It goes directly to her, so even if you don't have a communicator, you can always reach her."

Justin frowned at him. "Why?"

"In case you need to get a hold of us for some reason. And I don't have one of those wrist-communicators like the others do, so - "

"That's not what I meant," he interrupted, still frowning. "Why are you giving this to me?"

Zhane blinked at him, looking genuinely startled. "Well, you're a Ranger too, aren't you?"

He didn't like Andros. He probably never would. Besides the fact that Andros had replaced him in the team, he could tell the other Ranger didn't like him. The moment they'd first seen each other face-to-face, without helmets, Andros had gone from friendly and welcoming to stiff and awkward. The way most people did when they saw how old he was. And he was sick and tired of people judging him based on his age.

Zhane was different. Zhane had ambushed him at the New Years' Eve party when everyone else had been smart enough to leave him alone. He'd talked about anything and everything, asking questions and giving answers even when Justin tried to ignore him, not caring that his company wasn't wanted.

But before everything else, Zhane had treated him as an equal. He hadn't batted an eye at Justin's age, and he'd never talked down to him the way the others sometimes did when they weren't thinking about it. He saw Justin as another Ranger before he saw him as a kid - which he wasn't anymore. And while he still didn't think of Zhane as a friend, that meant more to him than he wanted to admit it did.

At last he sighed. "So if I ask them to send your stupid fish, will you leave?"

But he was already getting up to head to the phone.

"You have reached the Astro Megaship. To whom may I direct your call?"

He started slightly at the sound of the robotic voice. He hadn't actually expected the number to work. "Um, yeah. Hi. Can I speak to Zhane, please?"

"One moment."

He waited, tapping his fingers on the counter impatiently as he avoided the odd looks Rocky and Adam were giving him. He didn't feel like explaining why he needed the phone to contact them when he still had a wrist communicator, let alone why he was asking for Zhane instead of anyone else. It wasn't their business, anyway.

"This is Zhane. What can I do for you?"

He swallowed. "Hi, Zhane. It's uh, Justin."

"Justin!" The greeting was surprisingly warm for someone he barely knew. "Good to hear from you!" He paused. "Carlos is doing better," he offered quietly. "He woke up this morning."

Justin closed his eyes, forcing himself to take a deep breath. Relief, anger, hurt, and gratitude warred within him for a moment. Half a day had gone by, and *now* someone was finally letting him know? "Thanks," he said instead.

"Sorry it took so long to tell you. Things have been ... pretty crazy." Zhane sounded apologetic.

How did someone who'd only met him once read him so well? "That's not why I'm calling," he said shortly, wishing he could control his temper better. "I ... I was wondering if I could ask you for a favor."

"Sure! What did you need?"

His eyes flickered to Rocky. "How do you feel about teleporting live animals?"