It was going to be a beautiful morning. Finishing the last of his kata, Fred Kelman bowed to the rising sun. He'd pulled an all-nighter last night, one of the few times each year when he just didn't go to sleep. It wasn't insomnia, exactly, because he wasn't tired, and he slept just fine the next night. It was just one of those things.
He'd been rather grateful for the all-nighter, as a matter of fact. Although it had been more than a day since the defeat of the Shadowborg, he was still absorbing the knowledge that everything was finally over. Lita and Peter had both cautioned all the heroes that the nightmares might linger a little longer after this one. After all, the Shadowborg had surpassed anything they'd ever faced, in terms of villany.
Drying off, Fred stared at the pinkening sky to the east. It was funny, how much of a change this particular battle had been. Not just in terms of higher stakes, but in something more deeply personal. Despite the respect he knew the other Rangers had for him, Fred could see that they didn't quite believe he was capable of acting on his own. He himself hadn't believed it. Always, always, he had had Tommy to fall back on. During Dark Specter's first attack, Andros had been there, and there'd still been Zordon to tell him what to do. But during the Shadowborg fiasco...
He'd realized very quickly that this time, no one was going to tell him what to do. The various mentors and adults in the Power Chamber were more than happy to give suggestions and information, but everyone had been looking to him for orders. Even Ryan Steel, who was six years older than he, had done it. Even Dragon Borg.
It had to do with the mystique surrounding the Power Rangers, a mystique which he would be the first to admit that he didn't earn. However, it had resulted in making him, for the first time, the REAL leader of the offensive. It had frightened him at first, but he had very quickly managed to control that. And he had learned, to his own surprise, that he COULD do it. He had managed to lead the teams to victory without Tommy or Zordon to fall back on. Yes, he owed everyone in the teams his thanks; he couldn't have done it without them. But it had been his orders they had followed, and in the end, he had been up for the challenge. Suddenly Fred no longer felt like a replacement Ranger.
Grinning, he pulled one of the deck chairs out and sank down into it, watching the horizon as the sun began to creep over it. He could feel the warmth of the morning sinking into his bones, bringing with it the knowledge that it was really over. He didn't have to regard the shadows with the wariness and fear that the past weeks had brought. He'd come through it all, alive.
That thought brought home just how close he had come to losing his father. Fred shivered, remembering the coldness that had washed through him as he had teleported in to Forest Hills, only to see his dad staring Shadowborg in the face, refusing to run away. Fred had never been so proud of his father's courage as at that moment, but the confrontation had frightened him badly. Ever since his mother's death, his father had been all the family he had left in the world.
But that wasn't true anymore, he reflected. The other Rangers were his family as well, especially the other Turbos. Justin, Rosa, Tasha, Franklin, they were some of the most important things in the world to him, and he wasn't ever going to lose them. Not even if he had to face down Dark Specter himself.
"You're up early," a voice said quietly from the door. Fred turned back towards the house, seeing without much surprise that his father had risen as well.
"I never went to sleep," Fred replied, shrugging. His father knew all about his all-nighters and didn't worry much about them anymore. "Pull up a chair. It's a beautiful sunrise."
George Kelman regarded his son in mild surprise. He and Fred hadn't been spending a lot of time together recently. The boy was always running around with his friends, or hanging out with Tommy Oliver and company. But after a few nights of reliving his confrontation with the Shadowborg, he wasn't about to pass up a chance to spend time with his son.
Lowering himself into one of the other chairs, George watched as the orange ball of the sun pulled itself further up into the sky. For a long moment, all was silent. Then Fred spoke. "Dad- you do know that I love you, right?"
"Yeah, Fred. And I love you too," George replied. With that, the two of them watched the sunrise. Nothing more needed to be said.
It was going to be a scorcher. That was Justin Stewart's thought as he finished the last of his workout on the shelter lawn. The tree-lined area was quiet and shaded, the perfect place for him to practice without being disturbed. But this morning, even the usually cool glade was filled with the haze that signified hot, oppressive weather to come.
Taking a sip from his water bottle, Justin sat down and leaned against one of the trees. He hadn't gotten into the shelter until late last night, much to Gina's dismay. If it hadn't been for Detective Park, he would have been in hot water. Justin smiled, thinking how useful Franklin's father had been in protecting their secret identities over the past year.
God, a year. Had it really been that long? A year since Lerigot's capsule had crashed on Earth? Yes, that had been last July, now that he thought about it. Just an ordinary day in the park for five friends. None of them could have guessed that the adventure of a lifetime was waiting for them.
It didn't seem like that long. _Time flies when you're running for your life,_ Justin thought to himself, amused. Maligore, the Demons of Nightmare, Ivan Ooze, Shadowborg, and of course Divatox's monsters of the day, all of them seemed to blur into each other and yet stand out clearly in his mind.
_Who was it that said war was "hours of boredom broken by moments of stark terror?"_ Justin wondered. Whoever it was had being a Ranger down pat, although the lulls weren't really boring. There was always something to do, and always with his friends. It made the time pass so quickly that he barely noticed that his father had only called four times all year.
Justin sighed. He had really liked meeting Tyler Steele, although he could have wished for different circumstances. But it had hurt, too. In Ryan Steele, Justin could see a reflection of the man he might well become, lost and a little confused by the absence of a father he loved beyond all reason. _But Tyler Steele had an excuse,_ he amended, slightly bitter. _HE spent ten years in VR. My dad's in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or-_ Justin bit back a frustrated curse. He didn't even KNOW where his father was anymore, and he was getting tired of making excuses. It was becoming very obvious to Justin that with his mother's death, his father just didn't care anymore.
That thought had occurred to him numerous times before, but this time, the rush of pain he expected didn't come. It hurt, yes, but there was an acceptance there that blunted the agony. For a second, he wondered why, and then he knew.
He still had a family.
Family wasn't just blood, a concept every Ranger knew well. All the members of the teams were his family now, from Billy and Jason to Andros and Cassie. His father's abandonment hurt, but he was no longer alone in the world.
"Yo, egghead. How's the morning workout?" Justin looked up to see Tasha Young smiling down at him, and felt something warm start to uncurl inside of him. His father might be gone, but he had four people willing to stand by him 'til the end of the world. And these four would never leave him, not unless there was no other choice. Reaching out, Justin snagged Tasha's hand and pulled her down to sit beside him.
"It's gonna be hot this morning," he informed her. She nodded.
"Yeah. Well, at least we can figure on a quiet day. If Divatox sends the Piranhatrons out, she'll wind up with a bunch of baked fish."
Justin grinned. "Good. I don't think I'm up to anything more strenuous than blinking, after the last two weeks."
"Hey, wasn't a total loss," the Yellow Turbo Ranger teased. "We met some real nice people."
"Yeah, like Roland Williams. You two were getting awfully chummy there for a while," Justin pointed out.
Tasha regarded him out of the corner of her eye. "Jealous?"
"No!" Justin thought for a second. "Well, maybe a little," he admitted. "You guys DID spend a lot of time together."
"That's cause you don't like to run," she pointed out. "I needed a jogging buddy. Roland's a great guy, and a real good friend, but that's it." She took his hand between her own. "Justin, what we have is special, and no one is ever going to come between us. I promise."
He smiled and nodded, accepting that. "But Tasha, what exactly DO we have? I mean, I can easily say that I love you, but-"
"The same holds true for Fred, and Franklin, and Rosa," she replied seriously. "Same here. But- there's something deeper between us, and I know you feel it too. We understand each other, better than anyone else on the team."
He nodded. "But does that make us like Kim and Skull, or Tommy and Jamie?"
"Maybe there's no difference for us yet," she pointed out. "We're only fourteen, Justin. Maybe romance isn't something we're quite ready for. However our relationship goes, though, no one is ever going to take away how we feel about each other. I can promise you that."
"I can't ask anything else," he smiled.
She couldn't have asked for a better day than this, Rosa De Santos decided. Her brother was home, even if he was currently sleeping like the dead. Shadowborg was history, and Zordon was back. And best of all, today she was on a real date with Franklin Park.
Turning to her escort, she smiled and squeezed his hand. He squeezed back, his dark eyes warm and contented. There was no awkwardness between them anymore, not like there had been. Rosa grinned faintly as she thought of how the girls at school always laughed and giggled about boys and romance. Most of them didn't have the slightest idea what love really was, couldn't even use the word. "Do you LIKE him, Rosa?" She'd been asked that a hundred times since she and Franklin had started spending so much time together. Her honest answer- "I love him."- had caught all of them off guard. The others simply didn't have the experience to understand it.
Rosa knew what love was, though. She'd seen it a hundred different ways, both dramatic and mundane. Love was Rocky making their lunches and driving them around when he'd much rather be sparring with Adam or Tommy. Love was their mother working late every night so that they'd get enough to eat and have nice clothes to wear. Love was Fred Kelman standing over her, taking on every Piranhatron that came his way, buying her time to get to her feet. And love was what shone out of Franklin's eyes every time he looked at her.
Rosa had never said anything about her feelings to any of the other Rangers. She was fourteen, after all, and it was kind of early to be having the type of romance that she suspected they were heading for. But she'd had crushes, and she'd had friendships, and his felt different than either. She loved Franklin, and she knew exactly what that meant.
"Over here, Rosa," Franklin suddenly said, pulling her off the sidewalk under a shady tree. The park was full of people on such a beautiful morning, but the area they were in was mostly deserted. The two of them sank to the ground, just sitting next to each other.
Sitting beneath the huge oak, Franklin studied Rosa's profile. There were times during the past few weeks when he'd come close to losing everything that made his life worthwhile. His father, his brother, his friends- and her. He'd told Rosa how he felt about her a hundred times, but he never got tired of saying it.
"I love you, Rosa," he declared quietly. She smiled at him.
"I love you too, Frank." Then she giggled.
Franklin raised an eyebrow. "What's so funny?"
"I was just thinking- I was talking to Tanya the other day, and she told me that it took Adam almost a year of dating before he got up the courage to say that."
Franklin smiled. "I'm not my brother," he replied.
"No, you're not," she agreed. "Franklin- is something on your mind?"
"I'm just working through my reactions," he assured her. "God, Rosa, Shadowborg nearly killed my father."
"But he didn't. Come one, Frank, your dad is as tough as old tires. Between him and us, there's nothing he can't survive."
"I know, but it still scared me. And I couldn't help thinking of how close I came to losing him forever, and all the time we spent fighting. I don't want to lose any more time with anyone."
She reached out and squeezed his shoulder in sympathy. Her shift in position brought their faces a little closer together, and the two of them froze, eyes locked. Slowly, Franklin leaned forward, closing the distance between them as their lips touched.
It was a simple, gentle kiss, but Rosa felt as if someone had set her entire bloodstream on fire. "Wow," she breathed as they finally broke apart.
"Wow," agreed Franklin. They settled back against the tree, still holding hands.
"Hey, Red," Adelle Ferguston grinned. Fred grinned back at her. She'd nicknamed him that, since he was always wearing that color in one form or another. The name was closer to the truth than she knew, but he wasn't about to fill her in on that.
"Your friends are over there in the corner," she gestured. "I think they're waiting for you."
He nodded. "Thanks, Adelle." Leaving the Surf Spot's owner behind, he headed over to the table his friends were currently occupying. Rosa and Franklin were holding hands, he noticed, and Tasha was sitting quite close to Justin. He couldn't help chuckling, even though he felt a little left out by the pairing off. He shrugged mentally. He was only fourteen- there was lots of time.
"So, how'd everybody sleep last night?" he asked, as Adelle brought them their usual round of sodas.
"Better," Franklin replied honestly. "I think it helped that Dad wasn't getting all that much sleep either."
"I bet," Tasha agreed. "This must have been pretty stressful for him, too."
Rosa sighed. "It's OVER," she insisted. "We made it."
"Yeah," Justin agreed. "Listen, I was just thinking this morning- I don't know what I'd do without you guys. You're my family, and I'm so glad to have you in my life."
"Same here," Franklin replied.
Tasha nodded. "I think it's unanimous."
Suddenly Fred rose to his feet, soda glass in one hand. "I propose a toast. To friends, to family, and to making it through another crisis by the skin of our teeth."
The other four Turbo Rangers chuckled, and raised their glasses as well. "Hear, hear!" Rosa responded.
Five glasses clinked, and five friends drank to each other and a bond beyond price.