1 - Wary

"Look, Jase, it's not that I doubt your judgment-"

"Really? 'Cuz from where I'm standing, it looks like it." Jason ran his hand through his hair, scratching idly at his scalp. He hated - absolutely hated - to fight with his friends... especially his best friend. But it had been a crazy, long week, and everything that had happened had Jason feeling inferior and useless.

Zack questioning his decision to invite Tommy to join the team - and more importantly, their circle of friends - was unfortunately the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Jason..." Zack trailed off. He wasn't quite sure what else to say. He loved Jason like a brother, but the boy could be so stubborn sometimes that getting through to him was like knocking down a brick wall with your head: you got nowhere and ended up with a headache.

Jason sighed. "Zack, I'm sorry, but I'm sick of fighting about this. Tommy has the coin; he has the skills."

"Really, you think? He's been using them against us all week! And now-"

Jason's glare brought Zack's mouth closed with a snap. Frustration glinted in the Black Ranger's eye; Jason forced himself to overlook it for the time being.

"And now," he stressed, "Tommy is one of us. Look, he's new and doesn't have any friends. It's obvious Kim likes him - well, at least, she did," he had to concede for a moment, but forged ahead, "and so we'll probably be seeing more of him anyway. There's nobody else to give the coin to. It belongs to him. He's a member of the team... so get used to it."

Zack stayed silent, staring Jason down.

The teen in red sighed and raked his hands over his head again. "Look, I have to go to dinner. Mom will be ticked off if I miss another one. I'll see you tomorrow."

Zack nodded curtly, and Jason left with another frustrated sigh. It wasn't until the door shut that Zack allowed himself to slump onto his bed.

Jason's decision had been too hasty.

It wasn't that Zack had something against Tommy. He was sure Tommy was a perfectly nice guy. Well, probably. Maybe. It wasn't like they'd had a lot of time to chit-chat before he suddenly swooped down like a... well, like a Power Ranger-turned-bad guy. Jason had planned on sparring with him after school; Jase hadn't shown (or so they thought... in the end, Tommy'd kidnapped their leader, which didn't really sit well with Zack). Kim had invited him to join them at the Youth Center; he never arrived, and then he'd nearly made her cry.

Okay, so Tommy had been under a spell. That wasn't anything new; heck, Rita had Billy wearing a collar and Kim accepting a date with Skull, for goodness sakes. But... they hadn't tried to kill the team. And as much as Zack loved making new friends, it was hard to welcome the guy with open arms after everything that had happened.

Zack didn't want to think of it as a grudge - it was more... being cautious. Tommy had lied to Kim's face about Jason not showing. Who's to say he wasn't still a good liar? Who could say for sure if it was all from Rita's spell? They didn't know anything about the guy besides that he was good at kicking ass, and that he followed Rita's directions religiously while under her spell.

He flopped backward on his bed, groaning. And now Jason was all indignant because Zack would prefer to exercise a tiny bit of restraint in going "Hey, great job nearly destroying us! You should be on our side!" They'd all been friends before being picked to be Rangers... so shouldn't Tommy get to know them before joining them on the battlefield?

It wasn't an issue of trusting Jason's word or judgment. It was a matter of trusting Tommy.

-xxx-

Jason was seething as he walked home. It was thankfully a long walk - plenty of time to get himself under control - but all his usual attempts at taking his problems and shoving them into a tiny ball in the back of his mind to be thoroughly ignored just weren't working.

He'd never tell his friends, but being named "leader" often drove him to the brink of insanity. It fell to him to make the decisions other people didn't want to, or decisions that would break other members of the team. The group was tight-knit, though, and arguments didn't tend to last long. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he fought with Zack...

until now.

He sighed (he'd been doing that far too much lately) and threw his head back, running his hands over his face as he stared up into the clouds as if they would part and give him the answers.

No matter what he did, it was going to upset somebody. And the one person he really thought he could talk to about things thought he was making a major mistake.

He was frustrated, sore, mentally and physically exhausted; they'd been pulling long hours all week, first trying to figure out who the Green Ranger was, then how to get Tommy back, how to get Zordon back, not to mention how to fix the Command Center and their zords. That's not even touching on all their battles...

Tommy had thrashed them up and down Angel Grove. It had almost been pathetic and Jason's ears burned with the humiliation.

But the Green Ranger was on their side now. It was a great blow to Rita, to lose her prized warrior, and it was good for the team to have another solid fighter. Billy and Kimberly were getting better, but Jason wouldn't worry about Tommy the way he worried about them.

'Zack will.'

Jason bit back a curse, shoving that thought aside. Zack had made that point more than clear, and it rankled in Jason... he just wasn't sure why. It wasn't as though Zack had a track-record of being wrong… he could be goofy, but saw what other people overlooked and was a great judge of character. He'd had brought several great ideas to the table as Jason's second-in-command; the Red Ranger never had a reason to question the Black Ranger's intuition. So why was it so upsetting now?

'You're tired of being wrong.'

'I'm not wrong this time!' he shot back, taking only a mere moment to question his sanity as he began to argue with himself. Normality had left his life long ago. 'I know I screwed up a lot this week. I let myself get captured; it never even occurred to me that the new kid might just be the new Ranger and that was pretty stupid considering his personality did a 180 for no other good reason. But this is different! If the team can get their act together, we'll be a lot stronger!'

If- that was the magic word. Zack was clearly unimpressed with Jason's idea; in fact, the Black Ranger seemed hurt that Jason hadn't at least taken a moment to bring it up to the rest of the team first. He cringed; it had been a spur-of-the-moment decision... and while he didn't regret it, Jason did feel bad for not thinking about everybody else.

But he wanted to wipe that self-hatred off of Tommy's face. It was obvious that the moment his head stopped ringing from Rita's spell, the enormity of what he'd done began to eat away at the Green Ranger. Jason remembered a similar feeling - the day he'd first caused a death, when his zord stomped a house still occupied, he'd spent days wracked with guilt and self-loathing.

The best way to combat it was to keep fighting, as dumb as it had sounded when Trini said it to him. She had been right. He couldn't save the person who died, but he could keep trying to save others.

Being on the other side of the battlefield would be good for Tommy.

'If the team can trust him. Otherwise, won't it make things worse?'

Jason clutched his head and wanted to scream. Why in the world was he arguing with himself? He was the leader - he didn't have the luxury of second-guessing his decisions.

'That's what Zack is second-in-command for. And you jumped down his throat for doing just that.'

Jason growled and kicked a stone in his path, watching it bounce away into somebody's yard.

Was his decision stupid? Was he setting himself... the team... Tommy up for failure? And why did his conscience sound like Kimberly, of all people?

-xxx-

"Tommy, sweetie?"

Tommy looked up from his homework with a sigh. He'd fallen so far behind that week, considering how much time he'd spent on the moon and in Rita's Dark Dimension... not really a good first impression on the school. Or the town, if they had known who was behind the green helmet. "Yeah?"

"Phone for you."

"Who is it?"

"A girl," his mother cooed, with a bit of a smile in her voice.

Despite himself, Tommy blushed at his mother's tone. "I'll pick it up in here. Thanks!" He stopped himself from reaching for the phone, though.

He could only think of two girls that would call him: Kimberly or Trini. He didn't know Trini all that well, and Kimberly... he cringed at the memories. He wasn't sure the pretty Pink Ranger would even want to talk to him after everything that had happened - and he wasn't sure if he had the guts to face her.

"H'lo?"

Luckily, he didn't have to. "Hi, Tommy."

"Trini?" Duh. 'Stupid question.'

"Yeah. How are you holding up?" She sounded genuinely concerned, and for that Tommy couldn't help but feel grateful. After everything he'd done...

He really didn't deserve her concern, or her kindness.

"I'm... alright, I guess. Hanging. Getting caught up on some homework; I fell really behind after-" He cut himself off. There was no need to go into detail.

Trini forged ahead through what would have almost certainly been an awkward pause. "Do you need some help catching up? We usually all try to meet in the park on Saturdays... do some homework, play some games, do a little practicing one-on-one."

Tommy sighed, looking out the window. He really didn't have any plans for the next day - maybe just working on his karate, but he could do that any time. It was tempting... his family had moved so often that he hadn't had a chance to make close friends; this was supposedly their last move, though, and it'd be nice to have some people his age to rely on.

'Maybe I'd better hang out with people I didn't try to kill...'

Shifting the phone from one shoulder to another, he replied, "I- uh... I dunno, Trini. Maybe I should-"

"You won't get caught up as quickly without help," she pointed out, clearly refusing to take 'no' for an answer. "And this way we can really get to know you. You're one of us, now, and we'll be more effective the more we know of each other. Right?"

"Well-"

"Good. We usually meet on the far end of the park, opposite the parking lots. Take the trail straight back and it's in the big open area. We're usually over by the picnic tables around noon. Don't be late!"

The phone hung up with a click, and Tommy was left somewhat speechless.

Sure, Jason had said he was "one of them" now, but after everything that went down, it was hard for Tommy to really believe it. Why would they want him hanging around? He nearly single-handedly destroyed Alpha (though Billy had fixed that quickly enough) and wiped their mentor off the map (but when Tommy was brought back to the Command Center after their bit of grandstanding toward Rita, the place looked like he'd never rampaged through there); logic dictated that they would keep their distance. Sure, he knew their secret, but he'd never tell... after all, he'd have to explain how he found out, and he'd never been a good liar. It wasn't like he wanted to broadcast his work as the Green Ranger.

It wasn't that he didn't appreciate it. Tommy was more than thankful for a chance to... well, he couldn't make things right, but he could try and make up for the damage caused by his rampages. He just didn't want to throw an obviously close-knit group of friends into a tizzy just to make room for him.

It didn't look like Jason was going to let him slip away, though. And now, neither was Trini.

Tommy wasn't sure whether to be thrilled or terrified; he wasn't sure what they were expecting from him, either.

Shaking those thoughts away, he packed his backpack and set his alarm clock. He'd better get to sleep - maybe he could keep his lateness down to a minimum, at least in the beginning... and set a good impression for his second chance.

That's what it boiled down to: a second chance... at everything.