Author's Notes/: Now we see the beginning of where my version of Samurai will deviate from canon, as this happens just after The Master Returns. In the Bright Skies universe, aliens were officially introduced to Earth society in May of 2010 - just under a year before Samurai starts. It's still a new enough development for there to be some prejudice. I'm still working on the official Bright Skies Timeline (because MMPR IS A PAIN IN THE ASS), but it will be posted on my website when it's done for anyone who wants to take a look.
They eventually moved Jayden to his room. Mia and Emily hovered with water and bandages while Ji fixed what he could. Kevin and Mike showed their concern by lingering nearby and running errands whenever someone asked for something.
The pain didn't bother him, not really. He was more troubled by the worry on his team's faces; the genuine concern for him he saw in their eyes. The burns were nothing compared to the feeling of knowing that he failed.
*She* wouldn't have failed, he thought dully.
There was a noise just outside the door, where Antonio slouched against the wall by the door frame. He sat down when the others carried Jayden to bed and hadn't moved since, lurking in the hall like a silent sentinel. Mia had tried to talk to him once, but he only looked at her before staring at the floor again.
Jayden wasn't sure why, but he had the strangest feeling that Antonio was mad at him.
The thought lingered long after Ji finished and the others finally left to let him sleep. Antonio remained outside the door, which made him smile. But the thought that Antonio was angry stayed with him as he fell asleep.
It was dark outside by the time he woke up. A quick assessment told him that his wounds were mostly healed, but his skin was still tender. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, wondering if he cared enough to check the time.
"Jayden." Antonio's voice was soft in the darkness. "We need to talk."
The request didn't surprise him; he'd known Antonio was beside the bed before he'd opened his eyes. "Outside?" he suggested, because his body had already healed enough to make him restless.
The walk to the practice yard was silent. Antonio wasn't scowling exactly, but he frowned at the ground as they walked. It wasn't an expression he usually wore, and it was making Jayden anxious.
Antonio pulled out his Samurai Morpher and threw up the symbol for barrier, followed by silence. He shrugged a shoulder when Jayden glanced at him and tucked his morpher in his pocket. "This isn't something I want anyone overhearing," he said simply.
Jayden frowned. "What about the team?"
Antonio shook his head. "Someday. Maybe. But you're the one I need to talk to right now."
He was still oddly serious, and it worried him. "What's wrong?" he asked in concern.
Antonio's eyes flickered to him. He seemed to be considering his answer. "I promised I would tell you everything someday," he said at last.
Jayden stared at him in surprise.
And then he hesitated. Antonio was usually happy to share things with him - stories, jokes, something he'd noticed, even fish - but he didn't look happy now. He looked ... solemn. "You don't have to tell me if you're not ready."
Antonio closed his eyes and let out a long, slow sigh. "I wrote you once, with a story about visiting my mother's country. Do you remember?"
Jayden nodded, a faint smile touching his lips. It had been one of his favorites; filled with warm, welcoming people, celebrating an equally bright and cheerful festival. "I remember."
"It wasn't a country. It was a planet."
There was a long pause as Antonio stared off into the distance. "A few months - well, almost a year after Papa adopted me, I met the Astro Rangers. They saw *something* in me ... I'm still not really sure what. But they knew I was Kerovian. We found out my mother was a refugee from what they called The Great War. She ended up on Earth with my father, I guess. No one really knows what happened, and it's not like we can ask ... " He trailed off with another sigh and shook his head like he was clearing his thoughts. "Dad thought I deserved the chance to know my heritage, so the Astro Rangers took him, Papa, and I to KO-35 for the Festival of Life." A fond, almost dreamy smile came across his face. "It was ... the most incredible thing I've ever seen. And I learned so much about my mother's people - *my* people. It almost felt like home."
"Why didn't you stay then?"
"Because it wasn't right. It was *almost* home, not home."
He fell silent again, and Jayden watched as Antonio seemed to wrestle with something internally. "Why are you telling me this?" He frowned as something occurred to him, and wasn't sure if he felt hurt or offended. "You didn't think it would matter that you're half-Kerovian, did you?"
Antonio let out another long sigh, reaching up to rub his face for a moment. "What do you know about Kerovians, Jay?" he asked softly.
Jayden blinked again, tilting his head a little in confusion. "Well, not much. It's not like the Astro Rangers gave interviews about their species. Your species," he added with a teasing smile, so Antonio would know he really wasn't bothered by the idea that his friend was half-alien. With everything they dealt with as Rangers, how could he be?
Antonio's eyes closed. He looked like he was about to cry.
Jayden took a step towards him with a concerned frown. "Antonio ... ?"
"We're still human, like Earthlings. But there's something ... different, in our mental development. It gives us limited telepathy and telekinesis. Some psychic ability." Antonio turned, looking at him with an utterly serious expression.
It took several moments to process. "You ... you're a telepath?" he repeated. It didn't make any sense. What did that have to do with -
And then he froze.
"I can't read everything. It only works with people I'm really close to." Antonio was speaking quickly now, the words almost rushing out of him, and his eyes had gone from solemn to increasingly anxious. "I don't go into your head - I wouldn't do that to you. I won't ever violate your privacy like that, I swear. But when you think sometimes ... you think really loudly. I try not to listen, but I can't always help it. I try to distract myself, or be somewhere else, or - or bring you out of it, but - "
"You're a telepath," he murmured again. He felt numb. "You ... "
There was another sigh, and he knew without looking that Antonio was back to looking solemn again. "Yes. I know, Jayden. I know what you and Ji have been hiding. I know why, and I get it, I do. I don't like it, but I respect it. I won't tell anyone. But I promised you that I'd tell you everything someday."
Something about that statement snapped him out of the cold, distant feeling that had settled over him. "Someday," he repeated, looking up at last to meet Antonio's eyes. "Why is today 'someday'?"
For a long moment, they just stared at one another. Antonio's jaw clenched a little, and Jayden's eyes narrowed. "Why today, Antonio?"
"Because I heard you." Antonio's eyes bored into his, and now he could see that he'd been wrong. Antonio wasn't angry - he was *furious*. For a moment, Jayden he could even swear that he was almost ... flickering. "You were going to sacrifice yourself to stop Master Xandred today. Because you were thinking it didn't matter if you didn't survive, because *she* could take your place. Because you think it wouldn't matter if we lost you!"
"It - "
"Don't you *dare* finish that sentence!" Antonio lunged at him, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him hard. "I don't care about the plan! I don't care about her, or the sealing symbol, or any of it!"
He tried to push him away, to reprimand him for saying such things, but Antonio's hands were tight. "Antonio - "
"There may be seventeen Red Rangers on this planet right now, but there is only one Jayden Shiba!"
They were nearly nose to nose now. Antonio's hands still gripped his shoulders, and there were tears in his eyes. "I don't care about everyone else," he repeated quietly. "There's only one of you, and you're the one I don't want to lose. Don't ever try to say that you're expendable again."
Jayden flinched. "Antonio ... "
"I didn't tell you sooner because I was afraid of how you'd react once you knew I could read your mind. I was afraid that you'd be angry. But after today, I - " He shuddered, and Jayden found himself pulled into a tight hug.
Hesitantly, he raised his arms to hug him back. "I'm sorry," he mumbled against Antonio's shoulder.
"Don't do it again, Jay. Please."
He swallowed, feeling horrible. "I can't promise that."
Antonio squeezed him tighter, and there was a sigh against his ear. He tried not to shiver at the feeling. "Sorry. I know better than to ask something like that," Antonio muttered. "Just ... promise me that you'll look for another way first?" he pleaded softly.
Jayden closed his eyes. "I ... I'll try. I promise."
They stayed that way for a while, holding on to each other. Antonio seemed to need it, and Jayden was too comfortable to move. He wasn't entirely sure he was okay with knowing that Antonio could hear what he was thinking - when he thought 'loudly', and he wasn't quite sure what that meant - but he could learn to deal with it.
Eventually Jayden's eyes closed, and he tightened his arms around Antonio. He had questions - dozens of them - about what Antonio could do, what KO-35 was like. But none of it seemed to matter at the moment.
Later. He'd ask his questions later.