Dawn slowly spread its light over the hills outside Angel Grove, shadows pooling in the hollows and depressions as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Normally these undeveloped areas are empty, populated only by jackrabbits and other examples of near-desert wildlife. Today, however, there was a new occupant.
As the world turned gold around him, Jason Scott slipped smoothly from one movement to the next, running through his kata with the ease of much practice. He was not the only Ranger with a habit of sunrise practices, he knew, and often those who rose early would seek each other out. But today, he knew, no one would come looking. They all had too much on their minds to practice in company.
He wasn't any different. Thoughts chased each other around his mind like frenzied preschoolers, refusing to settle down long enough for him to make sense of them. So much had changed, just in two weeks, and now he had to try and pick up the pieces again. Sometimes it seemed that was all he ever did.
Probably the experience that had most turned his world upside down was the Rangers' trip to Danata. He had always known that Jamie was of the Zarakin royal line, but seeing her actually accepted as a princess was a completely different experience. It wasn't often that Jason was confronted with his girlfriend's alien heritage. Most of the time, she was like any other human. Well, he thought, amused, maybe that was stretching things a little.
It had been awkward for him, though, to watch her struggling to reconcile her self-image and way of life with a part of herself she'd never really dealt with. And what scared him was, that way of life had nothing to do with him. He and Jamie had become almost part of each other- he couldn't think of an area of his life where her presence wasn't felt. But she was a PRINCESS, of a race that was very definitely not human. There would always be a part of Jamie that he couldn't quite understand. And that scared him, but if he wanted to be honest with himself, it was also part of the reason that he loved her.
Leaving that topic, his mind leaped to the incredible shock he had felt upon his return to Earth. The Power Chamber had been in shambles, and learning about the Shadowborg had sent a sudden chill up his spine. The idea that Earth had come to the brink of destruction, without him to help protect it, was sobering.
But the defense force had come through with flying colors. Jason didn't think he'd ever been prouder of the Turbos than when Alpha had recounted to the space-going teams just how the five kids had pulled all the heroes together into a force ready to face the threat. The kids had grown up, and Jason had the somewhat uncomfortable feeling that had been the case for quite a while. He'd simply refused to see it.
And Kim and Skull had gotten married. Jason could still remember the utter shock he'd felt at the news, the shock he'd seen mirrored on the faces of all of his friends. He'd always regarded Kim as a little sister, been her protector and mentor. He could still remember "suggesting" to Bulk and Skull that they stop pestering her before he got mad. And now she was married, to the very guy who'd been giving her trouble not more than five years ago. Now that was a weird thought. But for the Rangers, time seemed collapsed in on itself, somehow. Or maybe it was just that they all had to grow up a lot faster than normal. Jason found that thought a little sad.
Finishing the last of his kata, Jason sighed, snatching up a towel. His restless thoughts were settling down now, and it was probably time he headed back to town. It was going to be a scorcher, and he didn't want to be caught out in it.
It was a beautiful morning, but Billy Cranston barely noticed. He was ensconced in his lab, his favorite place to go when he felt confused or upset. It was perfect for uninterrupted thought, because his father knew not to bother him in there. And today, Billy had a lot to think about.
The past two weeks had been like nothing he'd ever experienced. Considering the wide variety of events his career as a Power Ranger had spanned, that was saying something. But the quest for the Great Power, on Phaedos, had been beyond even that. Seeing in real life the place of his false memories had been- strange, to say the least. Most of the time, those memories were distant, like dreams. That was due in part to the fact that they had been "downloaded" into his brain, and also the post-hypnotic suggestion Lita had planted in him when the memories had first surfaced.
On the surface of Phaedos, however, those dreamlike images had become much more real, lending a quality of double-vision to their quest. Although the training had been something far different. Billy smiled to himself, remembering how much he had enjoyed the rare chance to interact with Rangers from other teams. True, he and Ashley had spent a great deal of time working in the Power Chamber together, but this was his first direct experience with Carlos, and he had been startled to discover the other boy's phenomenal technical ability.
In addition, the days of training and nights spent in conversation around the fire had reawakened the closeness he felt with Adam, and to a lesser extent, Tanya. Billy was uncomfortably aware that he had neglected his relationship with the young man who had once been his closest friend on the team. But different powers and different teams tended to cause people to drift apart.
In a way, this trip had been good for them. The team classifications tended to stratify the Rangers, because similar powers provided a closeness that was almost indefinable. Now, however, webs of shared experiences and shared powers cross-connected the three teams, with noticeable results.
Jason and Tommy, for instance, had re-established the bond that existed between them. Billy smiled faintly, staring at his computer monitor with unseeing eyes. The growing gap between those two had bothered him greatly, the more so because it was so amicable. Jason and Tommy had simply been going their separate ways, no violent disagreements or fights. But Billy had seen the power of their friendship, and it had hurt him to watch something so strong die, for no real reason at all. Now Jason and Tommy were brothers again, in all but blood.
The trip had been a good time for Billy to re-establish old bonds as well. Not just with Adam and Tanya, but with all the Rangers he had served with. In his time as a Morphin Warrior, he had, to some extent, lost touch with his Zeo comrades, and being cooped up on the Megaship together had given him time to re-connect with all his friends.
Billy smiled. The trip hadn't been a picnic, but in the end, he thought all of them were better off. Turning back to his computer, he began to transcribe recent events into his diary.
Zack Taylor lay out in his backyard and grinned at the sky. He knew the others all liked to work through their worries by running or sparring or practicing katas until their arms fell off. He preferred to dance, but seeing as most of his family was still asleep, he was pretty much stereo-less. So, he fell back on his second-favorite activity- sunbathing.
As he lay on the lawn chair, soaking up the warmth of the rising sun, he let his thoughts roam. First and foremost, of course, was the trip the Rangers had recently returned from. He had heard about the Ranger team's first trip to Edenoi, but actually travelling there had been something different. Before that, his only experience with interplanetary travel had been the trip to the Deserted Planet, to retrieve the Sword of Light. And that hadn't exactly been tourist material.
As it had for the past few days, thoughts of Edenoi automatically led Zack to the memory of that last battle in Tae Shalrith. That one had been haunting his nightmares for the past few days, although the intensity was slowly receding. But every night, he again saw the crush of troops pressing closer, heard Tommy's ragged breathing behind him, and felt the weariness weighing down his limbs as the fight seemed to rage forever. If Lexian's troops hadn't arrived when they had- Zack shook his head. No room for 'what-ifs,' the Black Morphin Warrior told himself. All you gotta concentrate on is what IS.
Zack grinned to himself. What HAD actually occurred was that he had been treated to the sight of a burly Edenite rebel carrying the unconscious Red Zeo Ranger out of Tae Shalrith, after Tommy had fainted from exhaustion. Zack hadn't been far behind him, and only pure stubbornness had allowed him to walk out under his own power. Seeing Tommy Oliver, Mr. Perfect and Fearless Leader, carried out like a sack of potatoes had given him new energy, though. He'd kept himself going all the way back to camp thinking of all the different ways he was going to tease Tommy about that.
Then they'd returned to Earth, only to be informed by Alpha that global crisis had been narrowly averted while they were gone. It was a sobering thought, that evil could attack their home planet behind their backs. Always before, the villains had preferred taking them on face-to-face. The idea that the space-going teams might have come home to a smoking ruin was a chilling one.
Zack shivered momentarily, but his personality was too cheerful to remain in the dark for long. Drawing his mind away from his memories, Zack applied himself to sunning with a vengeance.
"Don't you dare!"
"But I wanna see it!"
"Sylvia, give it BACK!"
"NOW look what you did!"
Trini Kwan grinned at the noises coming from her little sister Ashley's room. Her cousin Sylvia was spending the week with them, and Trini had been waiting for something like this all morning. The two girls were inseparable, but they fought like cats and dogs. And people say the main impression they get of my family is "peaceful," Trini chuckled to herself. Apparently, Ashley and Sylvia had gotten everyone else's shares of rambunctious, as well as their own.
Putting her book down beside her on the bed, Trini remembered more than a few times during the past two weeks when she'd wondered if she'd ever see home again. Her trip to Eltare hadn't exactly been the safest endeavor. She could still remember the chill in the Caves of Alshar, a test which could well have been fatal if the Rangers hadn't passed it.
But they had passed, and Zordon was back. On the voyage, she'd had a lot of time to think about what mattered to her. The first thing she had done upon returning was tell her family how much she loved them. The second thing had been to go visit Richie. Although she couldn't explain to him where she had been, there hadn't been much explanation needed. He seemed to take everything she did in stride. Besides, they hadn't talked much.
Trini grinned. Being a bridesmaid at Kimberly's wedding had been a blast, and she was looking forward to repeating it in a few years, when Kim and Skull had their official, legal, Earth wedding. But it had also sent her thoughts back to Richie, back on Earth. To tell the truth, Trini had long worried about her relationship with Richie. For most of the group, relationships with non-Rangers tended to end badly. After all, how could you open yourself up to a person who you had to keep a major secret from, who couldn't share your experiences, and couldn't perceive the world the way you did? Kat and David's relationship was different, but David had been a Ranger much. Zack and Angela- Trini was beginning to sense strain there, and she was worried about where that was going. And she and Richie...
But Richie always seemed to understand, without having to know. Sometimes Trini wondered if he had figured out her secret, but she hadn't yet found the courage to ask him.
Suddenly a loud thump cut through her concentration. Sighing, she rose to her feet and headed off to prevent her cousin and sister from inflicting deadly injuries on each other.
"You certainly know how to sweep a girl off her feet," Kimberly Hart giggled. She and Skull were enjoying the beautiful, if extremely warm, afternoon by having a picnic in one of the shady areas of the park. It had been Skull's idea, and he had insisted on being the one to bring the lunch. Since he was quite a competent cook, Kim had agreed without hesitation.
"Ah, but the best is yet to come," he chuckled. "Since we didn't get the chance to toast each other at a real wedding receptionů" Reaching into the basket, he pulled out a bottle of something. Kim cocked an eyebrow.
"Champagne?" she asked skeptically.
"Sparkling grape juice," her husband corrected. "We ain't twenty-one yet." Producing a pair of champagne flutes from the basket, he popped the top off the bottle and expertly filled their glasses.
Kim raised her glass, grinning as she did so. "So, what do you want to toast?"
"To my beautiful wife, to the best friends in the world, and to making it home with our skins intact."
Laughing, Kim clinked her glass with his, and the two of them took a long drink. After a moment, Kim looked up from her glass. "Are you sorry?" she asked curiously.
"Not really," Skull replied, shaking his head. "If there's anything I regret, it was that Bulk couldn't be there. I know that we'll have an official ceremony in a few years, but-"
"It won't quite be the same, will it?" she agreed. "I feel the same way. I wish my mom and dad could have been there, even though I know they would have gone through the roof. 'You're only nineteen years old!'" she parroted, mimicking her mother's voice exactly. "If she only knew just how old I was."
"You didn't tell her anything, did you?" he wanted to know.
Kim shook her head. "No. I live with my dad, so I just had him cover for me. I'd like to keep my Ranger career a secret from Mom for as long as possible. She still thinks of me as her baby girl, and I don't want to give her a heart attack."
Laying back in the soft grass, Skull stared at the clouds floating past. "I think I'm just as glad to keep our wedding secret from my family for a while longer. My parents would love you, but the last thing I wanna do is provoke the rest of the family into World War III."
"What do you mean, World War III?"
He sighed. "My mom comes from a rich family, and my dad from a working class one. Neither side of the family would give the other the time of day, and they've made me the center of their battle. Who'm I going to identify with? Who will I support? And this will just make it worse. My dad's parents will see my marrying you as selling out, because your family is pretty well off. My mom's parents, on the other hand, will see it as marrying beneath me, because you're not a pampered debutante. It's just a headache I wanna put off for a few more years."
Kim made a face. "Jeez. Even at their worst, my parents weren't that bad."
"I'm used to it. I don't LIKE it, but I'm used to it." Then he smiled. "Besides, it doesn't matter anymore. I have you, and the rest of the Rangers. That's all the family I need."
Smiling back, she snuggled up beside him, and the two of them continued to watch the clouds race across the sky.