Notes: Originally written Dec 2012 for Alpha's Magical Fic Exchange 2012.

First Night on Terra Venture

rosabelle

Kai makes dinner that first night. The chicken is falling-to-pieces tender. He cuts thick slices of it and hands the plate to Mike, who adds a heaping spoonful of mashed potatoes before passing the plate down the table to Maya, who dishes out the green beans. By the time dinner reaches Karone, there's gravy on the potatoes and a thick slice of buttered garlic bread and Damon is pouring drinks into tall, slender glasses. She accepts it with a grateful smile, takes a sip of her drink—it's sweet and pleasantly fizzy, and she takes another, longer sip—and watches the rest of them pass the plates down the assembly line.

Before they eat, they raise their glasses to her and drink. This, at least, is a custom she is not unfamiliar with. Dark Specter did it on occasion, and she saw it often enough on Earth, especially following Dark Specter's failed invasion. Then, it was a toast to her failure; now, it is a toast to her success. The thought gives her pause, but she smiles and touches the rim of her glass to Maya's. She is not here to dwell on those memories.

"So?"

It is clearly an important question. Karone watches each of her new teammates turn towards her, though Damon at least continues to eat. She follows his lead and takes another bite of potato to buy herself some time. "Um," she says finally, "what was the question?"

Maya laughs, not unkindly. "So," she repeats, "what do you really think? Of Terra Venture, I mean?"

Karone is perhaps uniquely qualified to judge, having lived most of her life on one spaceship or another. She sweeps her eyes over the brightly-lit room, six people crowded around a friendly table eating real food. Outside, there is a sunlight so close to the real thing that she couldn't tell the difference. She remembers the Dark Fortress, with its bleak lighting and tasteless food, with no company save Ecliptor. And he loved her, he truly did, and sometimes that was enough, but—not always. Sometimes, she had been restless with the desire for more.

"It's amazing," she says fervently. "Really. Not even the Megaship is this nice, but don't tell DECA I said that. Or Andros."

"Or Damon." Leo snickers and Kai nods in agreement. "That place is like his baby."

Sure enough, the Green Ranger is glaring at her. "It's not really a question of nicer," he protests. "They were built with two clearly different purposes in mind."

"True," she admits, because it is. The Astro Megaship is a warship that became a home; Terra Venture is a home that became a war zone. "I'm glad we have them both."

The morpher is heavy on her wrist. She fiddles with it, twisting and tugging at the strap, until Mike notices and sets down his fork to frown at her. "Are you okay?"

Now they all look concerned. Karone tries to smile for their benefit. She was doing so well earlier. "I just didn't expect this," she says. "And I meant what I said before, that I'll try as hard as I can, but I'm not sure if I..."

"You can," Maya says firmly. She reaches across Damon to squeeze Karone's arm."Kendrix chose you."

"What's the problem?" Kai asks.

"I know you can fight," Leo says.

"It's not that," she says slowly, not sure she should tell them when she is still of two minds herself. "I'm not doubting my ability. That's sort of the problem, really. The last time anyone gave me any power, I tried to take over the universe."

"That's ridiculous," Damon says.

"Completely," Leo agrees.

"Maybe not," Mike says quietly. "It's understandable."

Leo frowns at his brother. "Mike?"

"The question is, though," Mike continues, heedless, "is what's really scaring you? Is it what you're capable of with the Power, or is it that you feel like you don't deserve it?"

"Mike!" Leo protests. "You—" When he falls silent abruptly, Karone suspects Kai has kicked him under the table.

"It's okay, Leo," she says, though if anything that makes him more indignant on her behalf. "He's right. I know Kendrix chose me, but what other choice did she have?"

"There's always a choice," Maya tells her. "Kendrix's spirit could have gone anywhere, and she came to you."

"The Power is yours now," Mike says. "What you do with it is up to you."

She meets his eyes, dark and serious, across the table, and wonders. She will have to seek him out later, perhaps, for a more private conversation. She suspects there are things he isn't saying, but his calmness is reassuring.

"I know," she says. "And of course I'll fight with you. It's what Kendrix meant for me to do, and it's what I want to do. I've always wished for a chance like this."

"We've all been given things we feel we don't deserve," Leo says. He's more subdued now than a moment ago and she can tell that yes, there is history here too. "But sometimes we have to keep them."

Maya nods silently, offering her a smile. Karone returns it tentatively.

"We're glad you're with us," Kai says.

Damon raises his empty glass to her. "Hear, hear."

She takes another look around the table, lingering on each one of them in turn. Her teammates. They've welcomed her more warmly than she had any right to expect, all things considered. And now she can't help but marvel, because she used to envy Andros his teammates. They'd been closer than family and though they too had welcomed her, she'd always felt not quite one of them. But now, here, this is different. Karone watches them, and she thinks, she is one of them. Or she will be. They are her teammates, and she thinks they could be her friends, if she would allow them to be.

She raises her glass to Damon in response.

"I hope you're still hungry," Kai says. "We still have dessert."