Disclaimer: The characters don't belong to me and nor do the events, they belong to BVE. No money made.
Comments: There is a rather large gap in the Identiverse between Eric's outtake and his appearance at the end of Chapter 15. This would be what goes there. The title is a reference to a song by Bon Jovi, which fits what I'm writing about although this is not a songfic and you won't find the lyrics listed at the end.
Thank you to Ekat for beta'ing and to Angel for reminding me that this needed writing!
Please note: This story won't make a lot of sense unless you've read What Matters
Please offer feedback -- it tells me how I'm doing.
Good Guys Don't Always Wear White
"What are you doing?"
The voice startled Eric from his packing. Looking round, he saw Alice standing in the doorway.
"Oh, hey Alice."
She smiled. "What are you doing?" she repeated.
Eric glanced down at the dufflebag and then back at Alice. "I'm...ah...packing."
"Packing?" echoed a new voice. That was when Eric realised that Alice was accompanied by her mother, Kimberly. "Why are you packing?"
"Hi Kimberly." Eric made no effort to answer her question, instead turned back to the bag and added the last of his clothing.
"Alice, go play with Pish and Tish," Kimberly directed, referring to Eric's two lovebirds.
"OK," Alice sighed.
Eric heard the six-year-old stump out of the house.
"Now," began Kimberly, "it's none of my business..."
"True," Eric agreed.
"But why are you leaving?"
"Who said I was leaving?" Eric retorted a little more sharply than he intended.
"Well, you're packing all your clothes into a bag; you're not at work..."
"Alright, so I am leaving." He turned to face her. "Does it matter?"
"It will to Alice," Kimberly replied. "You're the first guy she's met she's not run a mile from. She trusts you and likes you."
Eric shrugged, a little uncomfortable under Kimberly's gaze. "Nothing I can do about that."
"Stay," Kimberly retorted.
"I can't do that."
"Why not? What are you running from?"
"I'm not running!" Eric objected.
Kimberly waggled a finger at him. "Ah-ah. I know the signs. You're running from something and doing it big time. Now what gives?"
"It's none of your business."
Kimberly shook her head. "If it's going to affect Alice, it is my business." She folded her arms across her chest. "What gives?"
"I knew there was a reason I avoided making friends."
"Stop avoiding the subject, Eric. What gives?"
"All right," he snapped. "I'm leaving because there's nothing left for me here. I'm not welcome here."
"What do you mean, 'why'?" Eric demanded.
"You know," Kimberly observed, "for a supposedly intelligent guy, you can be incredibly dense. What's changed since yesterday?"
"I don't have a job."
Kimberly's eyebrows lifted. "If I remember the press conference right, you're the commander of the Silver Guardians." Eric nodded mutely. "And the Quantum Ranger." Again Eric nodded. "And you got fired?"
Eric shifted uncomfortably. "No."
"Then why don't you have a job?"
Eric sighed in exasperation. "Because I'm not wanted. Surplus to requirements."
"So you were fired."
"Then how do you know?" Kimberly asked.
"The bootlickers don't like me. I fit a picture in their minds of low class, white trash. I'm not blue blood enough for them. In their eyes I should never have been given the position of commander and I can almost see them running off and washing their hands each time they have to meet with me."
"And the bootlickers run CGD?"
"Then explain to me where the problem is. I'm assuming these bootlickers aren't a new feature," Kimberly replied in a tone of voice that told Eric she didn't think a great deal of what he'd said to her so far.
"Mr Collins was hurt yesterday."
"And so he's lying in the hospital somewhere very close to being dead, and the bootlickers have gotten themselves a puppet CEO."
"What do you mean 'uh-huh'?"
"I'm still waiting for the reason as to why you're surplus to requirements now," Kimberly replied, "because right at this moment I've not heard anything that suggests you are. It sounds to me like you're quitting on the off chance the bootlickers really have got themselves someone they can manipulate. And what makes you think they have?"
Why wouldn't she accept that he was right about this? "Because I know the guy they've got. He doesn't like me. And...he's kinda distracted at the moment."
"Why doesn't he like you?" Kimberly asked.
"Because I've...not exactly been..." Eric shifted under Kimberly's steady gaze. "He and I went to school together." Kimberly nodded. "I was...out of my league at the place." Kimberly's eyebrows rose again. "It was for the idle rich, and I was neither."
"You have such an inferiority complex," Kimberly commented.
"So would you have if you spent two years being looked down upon by people who couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time."
Kimberly waved the comment off. "Let me see if I've got this right. Your boss is critically ill. His bootlickers have found themselves someone they think they can control as the proxy CEO -- someone who you know and who you've been treating to the full chip-on-the-shoulder routine. So you're quitting just to avoid him having the chance to get his own back on you." When she put it that way, it didn't sound as logical and reasonable as it had when he'd been thinking it through the night before. "How do you know this guy will even be that petty?"
Eric shifted under her gaze again. He had to admit that he was judging Wes by his own standards -- something that Wes had already demonstrated wasn't a good idea in the aftermath of the Conwing fiasco -- but he couldn't help it. He'd seen the look on Wes' face the previous afternoon in the executive meeting. While Wes might have been in attendance, his mind was elsewhere and that would make him easy prey for the likes of Taylor and Jennings.
"You don't," Kimberly continued. "You're just judging him by your own standards. Wise up, Eric -- you're running without any reason beyond your own pride."
That hurt. Largely, Eric suspected, because there was more than an element of truth to her words. "Well if I don't have my pride what the hell do I have left?"
Kimberly opened her mouth to reply, then she closed it again and looked thoughtful.
Eric turned back to packing his clothing.
"Someone really hurt you, didn't they," Kimberly observed.
"Uh-uh. Don't lie to me, Eric -- I can read the signs. My high school boyfriend was just the same."
"So what if they did?"
"At the risk of sounding like a self-help book, you can't keep holding on to whatever it was...or whoever it was. At some point you've gotta say to yourself that they don't hold that power over you any more. At some point, you've gotta stop holding the world at arm's length."
"Uh-huh. Sure you're not," Kimberly retorted with sarcasm.
"Look," Eric began, turning back to face her, "what does it matter what I do? Or why? It's not like you know me." He inwardly winced at the harshness of his words, but Kimberly shrugged.
"You're right -- I don't. But there's a six-year-old little girl who does. Oh, maybe she doesn't know everything about you, but she knows enough to trust you. She sees something in you that she likes. Now maybe that's something you can't see for yourself. Maybe that's something that's got beaten out of you. But don't you ever doubt there's something there." Kimberly paused. "And you think about what it will do to her if you walk away like this."
"I'll miss her too but..."
"Damn it Eric," Kimberly exploded. "Stop thinking about yourself. OK. Maybe Alice isn't that important to you. What about the other Rangers? I'm betting they rely on you. Can you walk away from them? And what about the other Silver Guardians? What happens to them if you bug out like this? From what I've seen on news reports you're a damn good commander and you're doing a damn good job in difficult circumstances. Who's gonna take over from you? Yes, you're hurt. Yes, you're feeling like the whole world is out to get you but you have responsibilities."
Eric flinched at the outburst. "The other Rangers wouldn't miss me."
"Want to bet on that?" Kimberly retorted. "Like it or not, you're part of the team." There was an echo of what Wes and Jen had said after Conwing to Kimberly's words. "I'm guessing you worked your ass of to get to where you are. Are you seriously telling me you want to toss that all aside just because of your pride?"
"Then why the hell are you?"
And that, Eric realised, was the question he couldn't answer. She was right. He hated it, but she was right.
"Was there something you actually wanted?" he asked weakly.
"Only wondered if you're going to be here this evening," Kimberly replied. "I need a babysitter for Alice. But if you're hell-bent on walking away then..."
He sighed. "I'll be here...if you need me."
"Good." She smiled. "Can you come over for seven?"
"Sure." Eric turned back to his bag and started emptying it. He felt her hand on his shoulder.
"It'll be OK." She gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Just because the bootlickers can't see that good guys don't always wear white, don't let yourself believe you're the bad guy. See you this evening."
And with that, Eric heard her walk out.
Well if I'm staying, I suppose I'd better get changed and go into work. If Wes is gonna fire me, it might as well be in person.
As he reached for his uniform, his cell phone started to ring. Automatically, he answered it, "Commander Myers."
"Commander?" The caller was one of the squad leaders, Ben Johnson. "I know you've got the morning off to go see the dentist but...we're getting reports of a mutant attack in progress. It's not against Guardian protected property, but...it looks like the rangers are in trouble."
Eric grinned faintly. "Thanks, Ben. I'm on my way."
Wouldn't wanna disappoint the other Rangers and not show up for a fight, now would I?
He hastily pulled on the Silver Guardians' uniform and headed for the door. So his future might not be certain. Someone somewhere still needed him around in this city.