Chapter 17

A Change in Me

I don't own Beauty and the Beast, the musical.

I cannot properly express my undying thanks and gratitude for my two betas, the real vampire and ValkyrieNyght, who have been very patient in the quest of updating this old story. It's embarrassing, some of the mistakes that they catch, and if it weren't for them this story would be much worse off. If you're interested in some extra Ninja Storm slash fiction you should check out the real vampire's story "A Place Without Exception". Come on guys, that title alone has brilliance written all over it :)


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Dustin was pretty sure that one of the basic rules in life was that bubbles were supposed to always lead to happiness.

Except for the odd, unprecedented occasion when bubbles did not equal happiness, and in fact did equal a very loud and blaring reminder that intelligence was not one of his strengths.

His kitchen sink looked rabid. It was foaming, and angry, and bubbling and he didn't know why or even how; and he had tried to look up answers on Google, but it seemed like nobody else in the world had ever even remotely had the same problem as him. Also, "What do I do with a bubbling kitchen sink?" did not lead to happy search results and should forever be avoided as a topic because apparently some people out there were confused with what a kitchen sink was and even more confused about what the verb "bubbling" meant.

So now he had to quarantine his computer for a week and he still didn't know what was wrong.

Dustin was about to chalk it up to a Lothor attack and call for the team's back up when he opened his dishwasher and immediately discovered the origin of the bubble mystery. It was an avalanche like no other, bombarding Dustin's face and moving onto the floor to conquer the rest of the kitchen tile by tile. Soon everything on the ground within a five foot radius of his dishwasher was covered with demon bubbles, innocently and maniacally attacking it all with complete disregard to proper bubble conduct.

This was not how bubbles behaved.

Was this a prank? Had someone snuck in and put bubbles in his dishwasher?

No… it didn't smell like usual bubbles; that was more chemical-like and unpleasant (the one real downside to bubbles, aside from when they decided to declare war on your face and subsequently your kitchen), this smelled more like-

Coconut?

He quickly lunged, then slid, then collapsed against the cabinet under his sink, whipping it open and rummaging around its dingy innards for that new bottle of dish cleaner he had bought.

Only it wasn't dish cleaner at all; it was hand soap.

Huh, kind of a weird thing to mix up. So there was the answer to that question. Also, he now knew what happened when you didn't use the proper cleaning solution for its proper job.

The bubbles got angry.

Sighing, he carelessly tossed the soap bottle back into the cabinet and dug around for a bucket and a rag.

His clothes were pretty much a lost cause by this point, just like his hair and his face and especially his socks (the real comfy ones that he specifically reserved for at-home usage) so he didn't bother changing. After wiping off his face and then re-wiping off his face because using a soap-covered arm to clear away soap wasn't really the most effective way to do things, Dustin rummaged up a few more old towels and started covering the perimeter of the frothy mess; attempting a barricade to keep it from spreading further.

There was nothing therapeutic about shepherding bubbles into a bucket. First of all they were mean (probably because they had been misused and abused and wanted him to know they were not at all pleased by that) and secondly, they seemed to have a tendency to aim themselves more for his eyes than his actual cleaning pail. It was like an evil little game for them, every so often they would build up and he would lose control and his face would become the target of a bubble rage kamikaze attack. By the time he finished cleaning off the floor on one side of the kitchen's island he had emptied the bucket five times, had been face-attacked four, and his eyes were stinging so badly he just kind of wanted to huddle into a ball and give into his desire to cry.

He didn't fully register that there was another person in the room until they were hovering right behind him, staring at the viscous bubbles with intense fascination. Or what he assumed was intense fascination, because he couldn't really see anything right now so he was mostly just filling in the blanks as best he could.

"Dude, what happened?"

Hunter, got it; it was Hunter the cool guy. Who had now just witnessed Dustin be incredibly not cool.

The mechanic shrugged sheepishly, keeping his face turned away from the blond as he herded some more foam into his bucket. "I confused dish soap with hand soap."

Hunter let out a low whistle, still taking in the waves of churning white. "I see that did not end well."

"Nope," Dustin replied, scrunching his eyes closed as he was attacked yet again by the bubble brigade. Hands still slick from cleaning, he lost his grip on the bucket and it clattered to the ground while he reminded his hands that the last thing they needed to do was go anywhere near his face. He exhaled sharply, trying to figure out if there was a clean spot on his shoulder left when Hunter's hand slid around his back and gripped the base of his neck. A kind of warm material was gently pressed against his eyes, wiping away the remaining soap.

When the material was pulled away Dustin risked opening his eyes, only to find that the crimson ranger was gone. He blinked again, heat still welling behind his eyes, and he turned his face away from the bubbles, attempting to…give his eyes some breathing room?

Whatever, he was getting sick of looking at this mess.

Hunter reappeared quickly, clean, dry towel in hand, and he gave it over to Dustin so that he could fix his hands-can't-get-near-face problem. Dustin gave a spastic wave to show his thanks and he was about to ask what Hunter had used earlier when the blond nodded his head towards a piece of black material Dustin hadn't previously seen that was hanging over the edge of the island. It looked like one of the over shirts he had seen Hunter wear from time to time and he instantly felt guilty for ruining (because at the rate these bubbles were going it had to be ruined) his friend's shirt.

Hunter cut him off before he can say anything about it.

"Don't sweat it Dustin."

The yellow ranger snapped his mouth closed, looking away not-completely relieved.

The tall thunder brother was gone before he could find a way to express this, leaving him staring blankly at an empty space, and just as suddenly as the blond disappeared, he was back again, second bucket, rag, and two sets of rubber gloves in his hand.

Rubber gloves…yeah, that would probably make this a lot easier.

It would sure make Dustin hate his hands less.

He slipped his gloves on awkwardly (he always confused which one should go where and it never failed that no matter what he did he always put them on the wrong hands first) and Hunter moved to the other side of the island, attacking the sea of bubbles so that they would meet in the middle.

Dustin paused again and blinked in confusion, something…there was something-

Oh, that was it.

He cleared his throat hesitantly while he restarted his task, hand slowly swiping at his daemon bubbles.

"Hey uh…why are you here?"

He didn't mind Hunter being here, especially with him helping to clean up the mess Dustin had made, not that he wouldn't have hated him being here if he wasn't helping him; even if the blond had chosen to just sit at the kitchen table making snappy comments Dustin would have appreciated his company (even if that would make him cry a little on the inside, and possibly the outside), but it was just-

He came here for something right?

"I need your expertise."

Dustin frowned, wondering what he could possibly know that Hunter didn't.

"On what?"

The guy was way smarter than he was.

"I want to get Cam a gift, and I figured; you know him best, so I should ask you about it."

Why did he want to give Cam a gift?

And then the rest of that statement hit Dustin and he was slightly overwhelmed by the fact that the crimson ranger thought he knew Cam the best.

He took a moment to let that make him feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

Mood ridiculously cheerful, Dustin gave into his curiosity, scrubbing at his floor with renewed energy.

"What do you want to give him a gift for?"

Was it Cam's birthday? Dustin knew that the tech's birthday came before all of theirs and it was sometime in the winter, or was it the fall?

"I'm trying to ask Cam out," the crimson ranger admitted.

Well, that was good then right? Hunter was trying to reach out and become better pals with Cam. Awesome. Hey, maybe if he was really nice Hunter would invite him too.

Yeah, Dustin could just casually drop that into his answer.

The curly-haired teen felt a smile spread across his face, thinking of all the super sweet things they could trick Cam into doing.

"Well why don't you just ask him, that usually works for me," Dustin replied, voice cheerful. "Like, he might drag his feet a little at first but usually he's pretty good natured about that kind of thing, but…oh, he's been a little grumpy lately so you probably still want to get him that present." He blinked slowly, realizing he left something out. "Hey, uh, can I come?"

Because he did not want to miss out on happy-Hunter-Cam times.

Hunter didn't immediately respond, which worried Dustin because he didn't actually think the blond would say no. What if it was really exclusive, like what if Hunter could only score one other ticket to this super secret thing and he didn't want Dustin to feel bad and-

"Not…" Hunter began suddenly, breaking Dustin out of his thoughts. "There's so many things wrong with…" he trailed off and sighed; a particular sigh that Dustin knew from many a study session was followed by a sad head shake. "I want to ask Cam on a date."

what?

It was like…an error message or something, in his head.

Error, error, does not compute.

What did Hunter mean by 'ask on a date'?

"…What?" Dustin asked, titling his head off to the side as though his kitchen ceiling could reveal the answer he was so desperately looking for.

"A date," Hunter repeated, sounding oddly patient. "You do know what a date is right?"

Of course Dustin knew what a date was; he used to watch TV all the time before he went to the Wind Academy. He'd seen plenty of different examples of good dates and bad dates and really bad dates.

Yeah…TV might have scared him away from dating.

Still, he was beginning to think that Hunter might be a little confused on how the whole process worked.

"Yeah," Dustin explained, finally getting to be the one to teach something for a change. "You take a girl to the movies or to dinner or bowling or something like that, and then you drive her home and kiss her."

Actually that was just a basic outline on what happened on most dates. As the earth ninja said before, some of them did not go nearly that well.

There was a quiet pause from Hunter's side of the kitchen and Dustin could hear him grunt in exertion, probably his first bubble attack (the first one was the worst).

Another pause (cleaning away the shame) and then Hunter got back to him, coughing quietly. "Or a guy."

The confusion was back (was it ever really gone?) and Dustin returned to his ceiling for answers, begging it to break its silence and divulge the secrets of thunderhood he was sure it probably knew. Maybe he should call Blake; the other Bradley could probably explain it to him.

"Or a guy…"

It took a few seconds for Dustin to figure out a plausible way for Hunter's comment to kind of fit into what he had just said, and the curly-haired teen's head began to hurt from all the contradictions.

"But then it wouldn't be a date," Dustin marveled, thinking back to all the TV shows and soaps he had seen his sister watch, and while they did go through a multitude of different people (this one guy went from a blonde, to a redhead, to a brunette, to back to the same blonde again all within one week, which was pretty amazing because Dustin was pretty sure they were still brewing the same pot of coffee during all of those episodes), he definitely knew, for a fact, that there had to be a boy and a girl.

It was like, basic science.

Except that Hunter didn't like the idea of basic science (which would make him a very bad match for Cam, were Cam a girl, because appreciation for like, the rules of the universe was one of Cam's necessities, or Dustin assumed it was because Cam seemed like that kind of guy (guy, clearly not a girl)) so the crimson ranger countered Dustin's argument with a simple, "Yes, it would."

If Dustin had thought his head was hurting earlier, it was nothing compared to what it was now. He had to put down his bucket and rag just so he could lean against the counter long enough for the spinning to stop.

No, no it wouldn't; he knew this, it was an undeniable fact. Why would they put it on all the shows and books and movies if it was a lie?

Dustin scrubbed at his head, confused and sad and betrayed, re-soaping his face anew. He growled, throwing off his gloves and shoving his arms against his chest, sliding down and resting his back against the side of the island.

He couldn't focus on both things at once.

Wait, TV wasn't the only place he had gotten his info.

He perked up a little, enough to lift his head. "My sister says guys are only supposed to date girls."

And Dustin's sister, while not his biggest fan, would never lie to him. Like, ever. Even when his feelings were at stake she had always been brutally (and he meant brutally) honest.

Well, that should put an end to that conversation.

He should start looking for his gloves again.

But Hunter, being Hunter, was by no means done.

"Dustin, do you know what the word 'gay' means?"

…or Dustin had thought he wasn't done, but apparently they were going to just change the subject now.

Right then. Whatever.

Smiling brightly (now that confusing conversation was finally over he could get back to work) Dustin began to explain.

"Yeah, it means lame or happy." But more often than not it meant lame. Dustin hadn't even known it could mean happy until Tori had told him. "The guys at school call me that sometimes but I don't really know which definition they mean. I've never worked up the nerve to ask them." He hoped it was the happy one, not that he was ever really happy at school; he just hadn't thought he had done something that warranted being lame. "Is that right?" he asked, trying to be polite.

Hunter hesitated before replying.

"…No," he answered, sounding confused (well that made two of them). "Well, yes, it means that, but it also means that you like guys."

So there was a hidden third definition?

Huh

Dustin would think a secret definition would be a little less…lame. Like, more exclusive, or something.

"So everybody's gay?" the brunette asked, scratching the side of his head.

Hunter's voice sounded startled whenever he replied.

"What?"

"Well," Dustin began, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I don't think there're that many people out there who don't like guys."

In fact, the only person he could really think of who didn't like guys was Lothor, but he didn't count because he pretty much hated everybody.

The head-shaking sigh was back.

"No, not like…" Hunter sighed again, and Dustin almost told him to stop cleaning because he didn't want to risk him passing out and choking to death on bubbles. "It's when a guy finds other guys sexually attractive."

A few minutes later, Dustin was still blinking stupidly at his kitchen cabinets, trying to mash together the pieces of a puzzle that clearly did not belong together.

Desperate for an answer that made sense, Dustin glared in Hunter's general direction, mentally shaking a fist. "…You're playing a joke on me, aren't you?"

That had to be it, this was all some elaborate-

"You've never heard of this?" Hunter asked, sounding honestly bothered by this idea, and Dustin had to fight not to jump over the island and punch the blond in the face. While Dustin was game for a joke at his expense (he wasn't a complete party pooper), enough was enough. He had thought Hunter knew that by now.

The yellow ranger bit back his anger, trying to go for the disappointed approach (he always felt ten times worse whenever Sensei was disappointed as to when he was mad).

"I'm going to believe you and then I'm going to go ask Shane about it and he's going to look at me like I'm crazy. Well, not today mister," Dustin lectured, wagging his finger even though the other ranger couldn't see it, and he could hear Hunter putting down his bucket with a sigh.

Stupid sigh. Stupid Hunter.

"Dustin, this is a real thing," Hunter urged, but Dustin shook his head thoroughly, disagreeing.

"I probably would have noticed something like that." Sure, he wasn't the most observant of guys but guys like, making out with other guys was something that was really hard to miss.

The closest he'd ever seen to anything like that was brotherly love and he was pretty sure that wasn't what Hunter was talking about. And there was no way Dustin was going to ask him if there was any funny business going on between him and Blake. Partly because if he said yes, Dustin didn't want to be the one to tell Tori.

And it would be gross.

He didn't notice the footsteps (again, because he was too busy glaring at his bubble mess, deep in thought) and suddenly Hunter's hand was on his shoulder. Dustin turned to see the crimson ranger crouched beside him, staring at him earnestly.

"Dustin," he said, looking him dead in the eye. "I like guys."

There a moment where Dustin didn't want to believe him, where this…idea, this huge thing was just too much for Dustin to understand and he just wanted to-

But that kind of…you couldn't fake honesty like that. Dustin didn't… well, ever since the whole Toxipod island thing he and Hunter had kind of bonded and he wouldn't-

He wouldn't take a joke this far would he? Not anymore.

That meant…

Hunter like-liked guys.

He- Dustin's brain went numb, and he couldn't really think about how that made him feel.

But his mouth, ever the trooper, carried on without him, and he blinked at Hunter slowly. "You're gay?"

The crimson ranger visibly relaxed (it was nice to know Dustin wasn't the only one bothered by the trust issue) but his eyes remained steady. "I'm bi."

"What?" Dustin exclaimed, rubbing the side of his head furiously. "You said-"

Hunter interrupted him before he could get too far. "I also like girls."

What?

"Gay guys can't like girls?"

His head hurt.

"No," Hunter answered, reaching out to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. "It's the definition-"

"I'm so confused," Dustin confessed and Hunter gave him a pitying look, one he often gave the brunette during their tutoring sessions.

Dustin sort of hated that look, just a little, though he supposed he had really earned it.

"Look," Hunter began, making sure he had Dustin's full attention. "If a guy only likes other guys, he's gay." He paused to make sure it computed and Dustin nodded, allowing him to move on. "If he likes guys and girls, he's bi."

…Oh…okay.

"I guess that makes sense," Dustin admitted, running a hand through his hair.

If a guy only liked guys, he was gay; if he liked guys and girls he wasn't gay and…wait.

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

"…Holy crap." Dustin whispered, eyes widening in sudden realization.

That meant…if there was a word for it that meant- guys could like other guys, like, really like, like date them, instead of girls? Instead of mean, angry, soul crushing females?

(That wasn't fair. That wasn't fair in so many ways because Tori wasn't a soul-crushing female and neither was his sister Liv, or Kelly, or Shane's sister Dana and he knew at school nine times out of ten a girl would be more willing and less intimidating to work with on school projects than any of the guys, were more friendly and patient and less scary- Dustin knew that, but he also knew he was…scared of them, a little. There was something there he was supposed to see that he didn't, he thought, by the way all the other guys talked about it, by what he'd seen on the internet and tv and movies but he didn't- and that scared him. Because if he couldn't fit into normal company with a bunch of fellow males then what chance did he have with ladies? He didn't, that was what. Zero chance. Negative chance. If there was a way he could owe the universe chances he would have. He had just assumed he would live the rest of his life on his lonesome, no ladies, no scary, scary ladies who could turn mean if they wanted to, were even more frightening than guys because they hid their meanness behind smiles, you never knew you were forbidden from their presence until they deemed you worthy enough to tell you and-)

And if he didn't have to date girls…

"I didn't even know that was an option!" Dustin exclaimed, grabbing at the sides of his head because his mind had been thoroughly blown. "If I had known that I would have…"

He trailed off, unsure how to continue, because he wasn't really sure what he would have done but he didn't know, he didn't know, and why hadn't anyone told him?

He had thought he was going to grow old and die all alone.

Hunter looked at him with that look Cam usually got when he really wanted to figure out the answer to some riddle or puzzle or code or something and nothing was going to stop him from doing it. Unused to it being aimed at him, Dustin squirmed under the stare, fidgeting slightly.

"You would have… what?" Hunter asked, enthralled, and Dustin wished he could just think of a way to end this conversation so he could go talk to Cam about this whole gay-thing.

"…Nothing," he mumbled, edging away from Hunter slowly, but the crimson ranger just followed him (see, totally like Cam) moving his other arm so that he had a hold of both of Dustin's shoulders.

The yellow ranger gulped, trying not to look at intimidated as he felt.

He failed. Not surprising, but he was dealing with a thunder ranger so he thought it was reasonable.

"Dustin," Hunter asked, patient and quiet and completely serious and so different from any other time he was with Dustin that it scared him a little. "Do you like guys?"

Had Hunter asked him that when he first got here Dustin would have said yes, no problem. Dustin would have said yes and meant it because he hadn't known that-

He hadn't known he was allowed to romance a guy.

And he wasn't sure why that made a difference but it just- it did, okay? It did and even his stupidly below-average brain could comprehend that.

Mind buzzing, the brunette tried to pull away from Hunter again (feebly, more for appearances sake than anything else but it made him feel a little better).

"I…" Dustin mumbled, heat rising to his face. It was like school; he didn't know the answer and it was killing him. "Girls are mean," he settled on, staring at the bubbles.

It was inaccurate, but he could hide behind that. Dustin knew that from experience.

Hunter's voice was still serious (Dustin just…he couldn't look at him) whenever he replied. "Just because you've had bad experiences with girls doesn't mean you're gay Dustin."

Dustin hadn't known Hunter taking his words seriously would lead to his inevitable defeat. He probably should have.

But then again, what if you never, never, never wanted to be around them…ever (except for Tori, and Kelly, but he never had any sudden urges to kiss them either).

And that wasn't true either because…Dustin didn't think about romance. He had always thought it was beyond him. And just because he was uneasy around girls wasn't a reason not to date them; that wouldn't affect if he wanted to like…kiss them and stuff but…

Well, he had never really wanted to kiss them and stuff. He had assumed that was because he knew he never had a shot at it, so his brain had like, prepared him for it, just focused on the high points in his life, what he could achieve, but there was something about this gay-business…

There was something about it Dustin liked.

And that scared him.

"But…" Dustin mumbled, looking up at Hunter timidly as he tried to focus his brain on something else, something he knew. "I like you guys."

Even Dustin could piece this one together. Because in just about every romantic comedy the boy and the girl (or the boy and the boy, he supposed now) became best-friends before they were dating. It was obvious. At the beginning of the movie the guy would be dating some horrible female and his best friend-girl would be waiting on the sidelines, totally perfect for him but he'd be too blind to see it until the end of the movie and then there would be a romantic declaration of love and kisses and flowers and tears and sometimes a puppy, and two people who were made for each other would ride off into the sunset, achieving a happiness they well and truly deserved.

To date someone, to really like-like them, you had to know them first. Meaning you had to be friends, good ones for Dustin, and if guys were now an option…

He had four to choose from.

And you know what? He really did like them. The team was his family and there weren't any other people in the world he would ever want to spend time with. He would do anything for them (anything, he meant it) and if something bad ever happened to them, if one of them ever…got bored of him and left, or if they got hurt…it would just kill him.

If there had been anything…any…feelings, he couldn't-

Nothing; he'd never let anything get in the way that could come between him and his friends because-

If…what if they didn't like him?

Like, like him- like him.

Back outside his head Hunter was still talking, voice soothing but firm. "That doesn't make you gay either."

Yeah, Dustin being lame or being happy or really liking other guys made him gay but what-?

Million dollar question, he had to ask it.

The brunette cleared his throat quietly, working up the nerve to ask what he really needed to ask. "Well, how do you know if you're attracted to…to a guy?"

Stupid, stupid; Dustin bet everyone in the world knew this already, he was- but he needed to know this. For the queasiness in his stomach, and the lightness in his head, and the instability of his world- this thing, this idea that kept-

It was like when you saw something forever and ever, and you never really noticed it until someone pointed it out to you, and suddenly it was-

Bam, everywhere.

Hunter gave a bit of a smile, a real smile, and Dustin immediately relaxed. "Usually you have these urges to make out with them."

He knew that but-

"I've never…" Dustin began, trying to phrase it right. "I…don't really want to make out with anyone." Because no one ever seemed to want to make out with him. "Or, if I did I want it to be…to be you guys but I couldn't…"

I couldn't ruin everything.

There was a painful pause, air heavy or pulsing or whatever air got like when something monumental was about to happen and Dustin finally got the courage to stare Hunter dead in the eye. "You like guys?"

The crimson ranger nodded at the quiet question, confident in what he was. "That's what I said."

How could he…he wanted to-

Could Dustin even ask, was that even allowed?

Why couldn't he have psychic powers and be able to tell Hunter all of this with his mind?

Because if I did his brain would have melted from frantic-thinking overload.

And good teammates didn't break their friends' brains. That was not nice.

Dustin was hesitant, and scared, scared about everything (he hated change, it was so…different) and scared about possible punches that could be thrown to his face, but he had come this far and how could he stop now and-

"Could you…" the yellow ranger asked, trailing off, not entirely sure how but Hunter seemed to get it, to understand what he wanted because in the next second the blond's lips were against his, and Dustin had to remind himself that on top of everything else kisses were supposed to be done with your eyes closed.

There were a million different things running through his mind, and he could barely give any thought to any of them because he was trying so hard to focus on what was going on outside his head. There was a hand in his hair and another on his back and it felt really good especially when that spot was-

Hunter's lips were soft, but that shouldn't be a surprise because they were lips and they were supposed to be soft (Dustin's were soft, why should Hunter's be any exception?) and they were kind of like two of the best pillows ever; they were soft and Dustin should really be getting off how soft they were because they were moving and that felt even better than the hair-touching thing and-

Hunter pulled back and Dustin was gasping, finally realizing that he hadn't been breathing during that whole exchange. His head was still reeling but his voice begged for more, because that had felt so good and why couldn't he have figured this gay thing out sooner?

"Can…" he gasped, putting on his best puppy eyes. "Can we…?"

"Do it again?" Hunter asked, smirk firmly in place. Something within Dustin flared at the sight; which was weird because that had never happened before and Hunter smirked like, eighteen times a day. He didn't get a chance to ask about it because Hunter was immediately on him again, pressing him into the counter and moving his lips in a…Dustin didn't know how to describe it; he' never-

There was a…wet!

The brunette jumped a bit, startled as Hunter broke away long enough (and Dustin may or may not have whined when it happened; he actually wasn't sure) but then he figured out it was just so the blond could breathe and chuckle (stupid breathing…and chuckling) and then he comforted the yellow ranger with a small peck before getting onto that wet-

Tongue, Dustin finally realized, sliding across his bottom lip and he didn't know what to do (were his lips tasty? What if lips were really tasty and he was missing out) so he opened up his mouth so he could try it and suddenly Hunter's tongue was with his tongue and holy-goodness-that-was-so-much-better.

So…yes, to that guy-liking thing. That should feel like a world-shattering thing to discover.

Right now Dustin couldn't care less.

There was a voice in the back of his mind that was telling him that this should be gross but he drowned it out with some sweet mood music (he wasn't entirely sure what it sounded like because he usually switched the channel when he got to that part so he just kind of winged it) and he tried to hold onto the churning chaos that was now his mind, handling all these new sensations.

Just as he was starting to get the flow of things Hunter pulled back. A wave of disappointment wash over the earth ninja. Just as Dustin was about to ask for more (seeing as Hunter was so nice about it the first time) the blond pulled him up off the ground, switching their positions so that they were standing with Dustin's back against the island counter. But before the curly-haired teen got a chance to ask why Hunter started doing this thing to his neck that felt really awesome. Seriously, Dustin had no idea what was going on down there, but it almost felt better than that feeling he got whenever he won a race. It was warm and a little wet and for some odd reason he kept feeling hot but he knew they weren't doing that much-

Hunter's hands were on his hips, one of them sliding under his shirt and rubbing against Dustin's abs in this painfully slow way that made his face feel hot and he felt a little bad because he didn't want to leave Hunter hanging because he wasn't really doing anything so he slid a hand under his shirt so that he could feel his back, all muscle-y and smooth and awesome and-

He almost didn't notice with everything that was going on, Hunter's leg slowly slide up between his, closing the gap between them and everything was touching; their legs and their chest and their arms and he was so close and-

Hunter shifted, or something shifted and brushed against Dustin's…private place and there was this… he didn't know if he should run but it felt so good, hot and sparking and friction and he had almost gotten used to it maybe but then the leg really moved and-

He was across the room in an instant, huddling in a puddle of bubbles on the other side of the island, freaking out (because he had known it was going to be good but he hadn't thought it was going to be that good) while his…He went through puberty, he knew the lay of the land but he didn't think-

The whole idea of somebody else doing that to him sort of freaked him out.

Hence, the sudden retreat.

"Stay…you stay over…" he tried to spit out between gulps of air, trying to ignore the waves of humiliation that seemed to roll over him with merciless glee.

He should run now. Yes, it was probably running time.

Dustin just barely heard the quiet sigh coming from the other side of the room over all the yelling that was going on inside his head. He quieted it down so he could listen to Hunter's declaration of hatred and the most assured challenge of fight to the death or something. Dustin was pretty sure that was what happened when you didn't hold up your end of the deal.

Hunter didn't come closer (which was good) and he didn't start throwing lightning Dustin's way (which was better). He just kind of reverted to what they were doing before the super-fun-make-out-time. The only sign that they even just had super-fun-make-out-time was the slightly breathless tone the crimson ranger tried to calm him with.

"That's perfectly normal Dustin."

What was normal? The kissing part, or the running part? The running part didn't seem like something that happened all that often…ever. Like, that wasn't even from TV or movies, that was just from using his eyes whenever he went places. People made out, and then they stopped, usually when they both agreed on it and not when one of them ran away like a little ninny.

Hunter kept talking; completely recovered from their thing and sounding positive for a guy who just didn't…get some. Yeah, that was the term.

Dustin had often wondered what the "some" was.

He had heard it was "The Sex", but Liv had refused to confirm that one for him.

"So, here's the good news," the blond began, happy tone contagious enough that even Dustin had to smile a little, even if he still refused to peak his head over the counter. "You're definitely attracted to guys."

But what if-

The question in his head spilled over into his mouth, blurting out unnecessarily loud. "What if it's just you?"

It probably wasn't a good question for his ego, because Hunter and Shane were pretty much duking it out all the time as it was. Dustin didn't want to give the crimson ranger any unnecessary ammunition, but he really did need to ask.

Thankfully Hunter let it slide, choosing to focus more on him. "Do you think it's just me?"

Did he?

Did…was Hunter the only guy, ever, that he would ever want to-

No. He wasn't.

Dustin… it wasn't like he wanted to look at strangers and be like "yeah, I'd make out with him" but if…

He didn't want to think it, or say it, or imagine it because it was…it was just so huge and so-

If Cam…or Hunter, he'd…

He liked them. He really liked them. Liked-liked, and… he would-

No.

Just that, no.

Because he liked kissing Hunter, he did, but Dustin knew in a heartbeat that he liked Cam better. If he had to choose…

He would pick Cam.

So he couldn't just like kissing Hunter.

No, Hunter was not the exception.

"No," Dustin murmured finally, almost to himself but Hunter still caught it. The blond gave him a moment to let it all sink in. Though all that could be sunk had been sank for the day, and Dustin wasn't sure he could handle too terribly much more.

He liked guys. It felt like it changed things, it did change things, but somehow he was still him.

He was still Dustin.

A silent truce was made, and Hunter finally vacated his old spot and made his way back beside Dustin, huddling down amidst the soapy waves.

"Okay," the crimson ranger began, cheerful and confident. "So there's definitely a physical attraction."

The sparky thing, yes, yes it was there.

"Now the second question is if there's an emotional one?"

Dustin actually understood what he meant, but Hunter continued on anyway, clarifying because he was a good teacher like that.

"Is there anyone who…makes you feel all warm inside?"

Dustin furrowed his brows, now slightly confused. "Define warm."

He thought they covered the getting hot and sparky thing with the physical attraction, he didn't think there was any other way to get warm inside.

Hunter dutifully filled him in.

"Who do you want to spend time with most?" he asked, and Dustin nodded, finally getting it.

Playfully, with a crooked smile, Hunter added, "And subsequently wouldn't mind getting naked with."

Naked…with?

Ah, the elusive "sex" thing again.

The brunette shoved his face into his hands as he gave an awkward cough, Hunter patting him on the back comfortingly in response, letting loose a small chuckle he just couldn't help. "Don't worry; you'll get there in time."

Dustin nodded, acknowledging he would while his mind moved on, pondering the question.

Spend time, warmth, best friends. The answer was kind of obvious.

Cam.

But also-

"…I like you," Dustin admitted, because he did. He did like hanging out with Hunter, he didn't make Dustin feel stupid (he actually made the yellow ranger feel cool) and once you got past the brooding he was really funny and nice.

It wasn't a fair competition anyway, because Dustin spent way more time with Cam than with Hunter. Maybe if he spent a couple hours a day with the blond he would like him just as much, know more of him, be really good friends on top of kissing and the sexing and-

Or maybe not. Dustin wouldn't know until he tried; he'd never been attracted to a guy before, that he was aware of (and that was the key here wasn't it, because he was great at pretending not to think or feel things he couldn't understand, were too difficult to deal with), so what would he know?

There was this nagging feeling in the back of Dustin's head, there was something important, something he missed, something he should be remembering right now but he just couldn't-

Wait.

Cam.

The whole reason Hunter and Dustin had even first started talking about this whole mess was because Hunter had wanted to ask Cam out. And while there was a lot of things Dustin should be thinking about that concerned Hunter like: why was he making out with Dustin if he wanted Cam; and did that only mean he did it to help, or was he a cheater or- but his brain immediately overrode all those things because did that mean Cam-?

The question tumbled out, no grace, no lead in, no nothing. "Cam likes guys?"

He was staring at Hunter intently, focused completely on him, itching to grip the other teen's shoulders to shake him, but Dustin's body remained frozen, needing this answer.

Hunter picked up on it, hesitating only a little before saying, "Yes."

Just, 'yes'.

Cam, Cam liked-

Dustin's heart felt all…his chest- there was a warm feeling (Hunter was not joking it was really there) and Dustin-

He never felt happier.

He didn't know why. He didn't know-

Cam likes guys

But-

Hunter.

Hunter.

The brunette's mind slowly boiled down to a quiet echo, repeating the name over and over again until it overcame the warm feeling and mixed his stomach back into a knotted mess.

It wasn't a pleasant fact, but he couldn't deny it, not when it concerned his team.

Hunter came first.

Hunter wanted Cam first, which meant that maybe Cam wanted Hunter first and even though Dustin hadn't known-

Why did Hunter have to kiss him? Why did he have to talk to him and do stupid things like making him understand and opening his eyes to-

Why did he have to make Dustin feel so good inside, and then just as easily make him feel like the most terrible human being that had ever walked the planet?

Dustin thought he hadn't hoped, but clearly his stupid subconscious had because he was feeling…empty. And sad. He liked Hunter and he liked Cam and Dustin thought Hunter liked him but it was a fact he liked Cam and the only way this stupid mess could work out - but it wouldn't because it was life and Dustin knew lunacy never worked out - was if Cam just happened to like both of them. Then they could be a happy trio and no one would be sad or crying.

Because if there had to be two, if someone had to be left out, that person would be Dustin. It had to be him because Hunter had figured everything out first. Hunter had decided what he wanted and set out to get it which was reasonable, but it didn't leave any room for the extra guy on the side who just found out they were gay and had warm feelings for Cam. It wasn't Hunter's fault that Dustin would get left out, just like it wasn't Hunter's fault that he was cool and mysterious and a good kisser that snarked with Cam all the time. It wasn't Hunter's fault that he and Cam were just like every bantering couple in a romantic comedy that were so obviously made for each other.

There was no way Dustin could come between that. There was no way he could fight for Cam or Hunter because he liked his friends and he wanted them to be happy and if that meant he didn't get to be a part of what they had, then so be it.

He would be sad and yes, he would still be dreaming up that happy ending for all of them, where they could all be together. If there was anything Dustin was good at it was forcing his way into normal things and making them not normal, because he was Dustin Brooks, yellow ranger, so obviously-

…so obviously not normal.

And then it really hit him.

"Dude," Dustin mumbled, eyes wide at the sudden realization. "That's perfect."

Hunter, who had been sitting and quietly watching his face go from happy/sad/thoughtful/enlightened perked up at the brunette's vocalizations, happy for any kind of communication.

"What?"

"I like you and I like Cam." Dustin explained, almost giddy (a manly giddy of manliness) and he looked at Hunter eagerly. "And clearly you like Cam and you- Wait, do you like-?"

Because clearly a lot of this was based on the assumption that if Hunter was down with making out with him he might actually like him a little and-

The lips were back again, and Dustin almost kept talking but the hand was back in his hair so he just sighed into it, enjoying the attention.

Hunter pulled back slowly, eyes intent, and Dustin nodded slowly.

"Yeah, so you like me." That was awesome. "So, uh, if Cam likes both of us we could all totally date."

It was a big step. It was a stupid one too, and there was a small voice in the back of Dustin's head sounding suspiciously like Tori that kept telling him to slow down, to ease into it, to think about what was going on and accept and stop running into things full throttle without letting everything sink in properly but he just couldn't. Not when everything was so crazy all of the time. This was a huge thing for Dustin to deal with and he probably shouldn't be trying to date people until the dust had settled and he had- time to get used to it, maybe? He should wait, but life was sort of passing him by here. Any day Lothor could decide he didn't like Blue Bay Harbor so much and just blow it off the face of the world, so the way Dustin figured it; he had to take this opportunity while it was there. While he could.

It would be scary, dating people after he had thought it was a hopeless cause for so long, and it would probably be different because…well, guys, but Dustin wanted it.

Maybe tomorrow he would be freaking out, but right now, he wanted it.

Hunter blinked at him slowly, trying to make sense of what he had just heard while simultaneously trying to cover it up. He started up again slowly, still gently stroking Dustin's hair. "I don't think you understand how dating works."

Oh no, no, not this guy. See, Dustin thought he didn't know how dating worked, or he thought he did know, and then Hunter filled him in with crazy things that actually weren't that crazy, so why should this be any different?

The yellow ranger didn't back down, puffing up his chest slightly as he defended his argument. "No way man, you already like, blew my mind today." Blew it, blown it, it was gone. "And from what I've gathered…we're not normal people right? Most people don't train so they can be better at fighting evil space ninjas, so why should we date like normal not-fighters of evil space ninjas?"

Yeah, suck on that logic popsicle why don't yah?

He almost thought that Hunter was going to disagree with him, to insist that his way was right and Dustin was still way wrong, but instead the blond tilted his head and looked off to the side thoughtfully.

And just like that, Dustin knew he had won.

"I see no faults with this argument."

Because there weren't any; his plan was faultless.

"See, see, it's awesome!" Dustin shouted, jumping up enthusiastically and pumping his fist into the air. "Now, all we have to do is go convince Cam that there is no way he can deny our totally hot studliness."

He couldn't, there was no way this wouldn't work. Dustin already knew from past experience that if you tag-teamed Cam, certain victory was almost assuredly yours (as long as it didn't involve any of his computers/the zords/his uniform…okay, so there were a few things he stood up against).

Excited and happy and delighted and a million other things (terrified, terrified was a great deal of those many other things), Dustin ran about the kitchen picking up all of the soaking towels and throwing them carelessly in the general direction of the sink before he dashed out of the room to grab his keys. He was back in the kitchen in less than ten seconds (new record without streaking) sliding towards his table in two, grabbing up his cell phone and wallet and quickly making his way towards the door.

Once his hand hit the doorknob he paused, glancing over his shoulder at the amused Hunter who was still standing beside the island.

"Hey," he began, cheerful smile unabashedly bright on his face. "You ready to storm the castle?"

The grin Hunter gave him in response pretty much answered that question, not timid, not doubting, not in any way humoring, but a hundred percent on board with Dustin's plan.

It was enough to let Dustin think this just might work. Just possibly.


-:-:-:-:-:-


Endnotes:

Hey, so…not dead.

Yeah, not dead. That's about all I've got.

And also, a big thank you to Rogue for reviewing the last chapter. See, you didn't even have to wait for another Spring Break to come around for a new update! Look at me, so ahead of schedule :D

Until next time.