The morning sun peeked in the windows of Tommy Oliver's bedroom, tapping on his eyelids and slowly bringing him awake. Briefly, he considered rolling over and going back to sleep, but the noise of activity from downstairs caused him to nix that idea. Sitting up, he stretched, and grinned as he noticed the near-pristine state of his bedcovers. From the lack of wrinkles there, he'd be willing to hazard a guess that he hadn't moved all night.
Well, he was entitled to sleep soundly. He'd spent the last two weeks on near-constant alert, from the attack of the Dianth pirates to the battles on Edenoi to the trial itself. He was definitely due a long sleep.
The trip had certainly been an interesting one, he reflected. Most of his time shipboard had been spent with Jason, just talking about everything. It had scared him to realize just how far apart they had drifted since Jason lost the Gold Powers. With Jason no longer a Power Ranger, it sometimes had seemed as if there wasn't any time for them to hang around together. And after the Morphin Warriors had been activated, Tommy had felt that to some extent, his old friend didn't need him anymore.
Well, luckily for all of them, that had been cleared up. He and Jason were best friends again, and this time, he wasn't letting that relationship go without a fight.
Speaking of friends... Tommy grinned. The trip to Edenoi had given him time to get to know Parker O'Neil better, as well. Theirs was an unusual relationship anyway, not only because of Tommy and Lillian's relationship, but also Tommy owed Parker a great debt. The reporter had been the first person to believe in the reformation of the Green Ranger, and his articles on the subject had gone a long way towards causing the people of Angel Grove to accept him as one of the good guys. Things had been awkward between them at first, but now they were finally smoothing out.
A crash from downstairs caught Tommy's attention. What in the world was that, anyway? He was usually the only one in the house up this early in the morning. Levering himself out of bed, he headed downstairs to investigate.
"I should have known," he groaned aloud, coming into the family room. Teddy was seated in front of the television, a fairly large bowl of chocolate and peanut butter- his favorite snack- in front of him. The crash Tommy had heard was no doubt something falling over as Teddy attempted to get the food off the top shelf. On the TV, the "Turbo Heroes" program was playing, and his little brother was watching raptly as six teenagers in Spandex fought cheesy rubber monsters.
"Hey, Ted," Tommy chuckled. His little brother looked up and smiled.
"Hey, Tommy. Want some of this? I have another spoon!"
Tommy grimaced. "No thanks, Ted. I have to watch my figure." The thirteen year-old snorted as his older brother sank down onto the couch next to him.
Teddy looked at Tommy out of the corner of his eye. "I missed you," he said, suddenly serious. "I was kinda worried."
"Hey," Tommy replied, slinging an arm around his brother's shoulders. "The Power Rangers always win. And there isn't anything in the universe that I'd let keep me away from you guys." That brought a smile to the younger boy's face. "So," Tommy began, knowing he'd probably regret it. "What did I miss?"
Teddy launched into a synopsis of the episode's plot so far, and Tommy relaxed. No doubt about it, it was good to be home.
On the front porch of another house in Angel Grove, Tanya Sloan watched the sun come up as well. She knew that most of the other Rangers would no doubt be sleeping like the dead, but she had far too much to think about, most of it having to do with Phaedos.
She was a Ninjetti, and a Black one, at that. It felt a little strange for her to have the same Ranger color as her boyfriend, but it was also kind of interesting. And she and Zack Taylor shared an animal spirit, which had been the grounds for some good-natured teasing when it came out. Still, she was somewhat in awe of her new abilities, which she had a feeling none of them had even begun to tap.
The trip to Phaedos had been interesting for other reasons, too. One of those had been a chance for her to really get to know Billy, not something she had ever really been able to do. During his time as the assistant in the Power Chamber, he had been so distant, and she had felt somehow that the Billy she was seeing wasn't the real thing. Their time in Dulcea's compound had proved her right. Instead of the self-contained, somewhat melancholy man, she had seen a capable leader, who thrived from the position, if not from the spotlight. She wouldn't say he was better or worse than Tommy- just different. And now, her relationship with him was far closer and her understanding of him far greater.
And then there was Adam. Tanya smiled, thinking of her shy boyfriend. Spending so much time together had only strengthened their relationship. So many nights after their training had just been spent lying under the stars, talking about anything and everything that crossed their minds. When Kim and Skull had announced their wedding, right before the trial, it had been a spur for them to discuss where they wanted to go. After a long talk, she and Adam had agreed that while they weren't ready for marriage yet, it was definitely something they looked forward to in the future.
Sighing, thinking of her boyfriend and how much she loved him, Tanya sat back to enjoy the rest of the sunrise.
Entering the kitchen, Adam raised an eyebrow. Despite the fact that it was only seven in the morning, both his father and brother were already up and eating their breakfasts. He supposed he could understand it, though. God knew those left behind on Earth had undergone as much stress as any of the space-going teams, if not more. As for his mother, she didn't respond to stress by not sleeping. In that, both Park boys took after their father.
"Morning," Trevor greeted his older son, as Adam walked over to the table. "Sleep well?"
"About as well as could be expected," Adam returned, grabbing Franklin's box of Froot Loops. His father shuddered.
"I'll never understand how you kids eat that stuff."
Franklin shrugged. "We need the energy from all the sugar," he explained. For a moment, the three sat in silence, then Franklin grinned at his brother. "I'm glad you're back, Adam. We really could have used your help."
"I'm sorry about that, Frank. You guys did real good on your own, though."
"Yeah, we did," the younger boy agreed, with no hint of arrogance. He was merely stating a fact. Finishing his cereal, he looked at the clock. "And that is my cue to get moving," he announced. "I've got to go get a shower."
Trevor raised an eyebrow at his younger son. "Where do you have to be today?"
Halfway to the stairs, Franklin turned and flashed the two of them the trademark 'Park grin.' "I have a date with Rosa De Santos," he declared, then hurried up the stairs.
"Now there's a surprise," Adam remarked blandly. His father chuckled and returned to his breakfast.
Looking at his father in the morning light, Adam was suddenly struck by the depth of the lines on the older man's face. For the first time in his life, Adam thought his father looked old. He's not old! He's only forty-seven! the Green Zeo Ranger thought to himself, shocked. But he sure has been through a lot lately, he admitted.
"Dad," he began hesitantly, "about the past couple weeks- we didn't have much of a chance to talk after I got home last night. It must have been pretty rough for you."
For a moment, Trevor considered just giving Adam an excuse and letting it go with that. The trouble was, he knew the boy would never buy it. That was the problem with having superheroes for children, he reflected semi-sourly. They learned to see through appearances quickly.
Trevor sighed. "Yes, it was," he admitted quietly. "Not so much because I was worried about you, really. I was, but at least I didn't know what was happening to you, and I could tell myself that you were all fine. But Shadowborg... that thing nearly killed half of my squad, and all I could do was sit back and watch as Franklin went toe-to-toe with it. I don't think I've ever been more proud of the two of you, but it was a lot of stress, just the same."
Adam nodded. "I missed you too, Dad. I couldn't help worrying about what was going on back here, although I never imagined something like this. But it's OVER. We all made it back safe."
"Yeah," Trevor agreed, "and you'll never know how grateful I am." Reaching out, he gave his son a quick hug, which Adam returned with interest.
"Sure is a beautiful day," Kat Hilliard remarked, looking at the desert scenery which surrounded the jeep.
"Sure is," David Trueheart agreed. His gaze was locked on her, however, not their surroundings. Reaching out, he slipped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. "Did I tell you yet just how much I missed you, Kat?"
She chuckled. "Oh, only about five times. But please, go ahead and say it again."
"Without you, there was no sun, no moon, there were no stars... and I got stuck with third-hand reports from the Power Chamber," he grinned.
Pretending to pout, she turned away from him. "You only love me for my news connections?"
"No, but they're a serious fringe benefit. Now, you were saying something about Kim and Skull getting married? I can't believe it."
She laughed. "Sometimes I can't either, and I was THERE. Heck, I was a bridesmaid! She really was a beautiful bride, though, and it was a lovely ceremony." Smiling, she regarded him out of the corner of her eye. "I kept thinking of you."
Backing off, he raised his hands in mock horror. "If she pulls out a ring, she's walking home," he announced to the desert in general.
"No, you nut," she scolded, swatting him lightly. "It's just- I was so afraid that I wasn't going to ever come home. We'd come close to dying twice already, and I couldn't stop thinking about the chance that I might not come home to you."
Sensing the change in her tone, David reached out and drew her closer. "I was kind of worried about that myself, Kat," he replied. "Gave me a lot of sleepless nights."
"You're not- mad about it, are you?" she asked, blue eyes wide. He smiled.
"No, Kat, I'm not mad. But I do see why it's so hard for Rangers and non-Rangers to have a relationship. Most people in a relationship, they want to be first in the other person's life. I've been a Ranger, Kat. I know you can't do that. Your duty and your teammates will always hold first place in your heart. I'm perfectly satisfied with being equal to that."
Smiling, Kat slid her arms around his neck. "You are," she told him honestly. "And you always will be."
Chelsea Oliver cocked an eyebrow at her boyfriend, who stood staring out one of Pyramidas' window screens at the hills beyond. "For a man who's just gotten off the intergalactic hook, you don't seem too cheerful," she observed.
"Huh?" Trey turned suddenly. "Oh, hi Chelse. I didn't hear you come in."
"I figured," she drawled. "What's bothering you, Trey?"
He sighed. "Darkonda's candidate. I know he had one- guys like Darkonda are always prepared. And I'm pretty sure he's high up in the Triforian line of succession. The trouble is, I don't really know most of the men in the line of descent. I never planned on dying."
"It's over, Trey. Darkonda will NEVER be able to hold office in the Council again, and nobody associated with him will be able to get a job as town dogcatcher. Why is this still bothering you so much?"
"Because someone willing to ally with Darkonda to gain the Triforian throne is willing to go after it using other methods. And here on Earth, it would be pretty easy to arrange an 'accident,' and claim that I had selected him as my successor. But that's not really what I'm worried about. If somebody wants me dead, the best way to attack me is through my family. With me on Earth, they're vulnerable- and so are you. It would kill me if I lost you, Chelse."
She smiled. "Yeah, but I'm harder to kill than you might think," she pointed out. "And you've got the Rangers on your side." She hesitated, something suddenly occurring to her. "Trey, we didn't really have time to talk about this before- does my being a Deshaadra bother you?"
"No way!" her boyfriend replied emphatically. "I know that's been a problem for you in the past, with some of your Earth dates, but frankly, I find the fact that you can hold your own in any fight to be an asset, not a setback. If I wanted a wife whose sole purpose was to make me look good, I would have married one of those brainless lumps of fluff that have been trying to get betrothed to me for the last four hundred years."
"I guess I just needed to hear that," she sighed. "I guess there are some things even a Deshaadra warrior and the sister of a Power Ranger finds intimidating."
He hugged her tightly, and the two of them lapsed into a comfortable silence.
When Rocky De Santos awoke, it was to a completely new sensation- quiet. For as long as he could remember, his house had always resounded with the thumps, shouts, and occasional screams of his younger brothers and sisters raising havoc. This morning, however, he could hear nothing. No television blasting, no radios sounding, and no sounds of Juan threatening to use the twins as bases the next time he had to practice. Nothing but pure tranquility. It was beginning to spook him.
Rising from his bed, he looked at the clock. One in the afternoon! He knew he'd been tired after his return from space, but he hadn't realized he was THAT tired. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he'd missed breakfast. Which was a minor miracle in and of itself, he mused.
As he walked downstairs, Rocky pulled a shirt over his head, still trying to puzzle out the lack of noise in his house. He's seen his brothers and sisters trying not to wake someone- they usually failed. Even if they had been trying to be quiet for his sake, he should be hearing SOMETHING.
Entering the kitchen, Rocky found a note on the kitchen table. His mother's graceful handwriting informed him that she'd dropped Alex and the twins at their playgroup, Juan at baseball practice, and Lindsey at ballet. Rosa was on a date with Franklin, and who knew when she'd be home. He was to expect an influx at five.
Setting the note down, he opened the refrigerator and began to forage. He didn't often get the house to himself, and he intended to make the most of it. Starting with making up for the meal he had missed.
He sure had been tired, he reflected. De Santos children were known for their inability to sleep through meals. Not that he wasn't entitled. He'd spent the last two weeks almost constantly 'on.' Whether he was worrying about the trial, or the five bruisers on Danata who were interested in making paperweights out of him, he hadn't really had much of a chance to relax.
Danata… Rocky grinned to himself, remembering how much he had enjoyed his short stay there. He'd never have been able to fit into the culture long-term, but a short visit had been a great deal of fun. Although he had been surprised to find that yes, there were some foods too spicy for even him to eat. As he put together his hero sandwich, he made a mental note never to challenge TJ to an eating contest.
The adventure in space hadn't been all of it, either. He figured that the shock of returning to find out about the whole Shadowborg thing had contributed to his exhaustion as well. The Turbo Rangers had obviously been trying to play the whole adventure down, but even what they had told him was enough to curl his hair. Still, the kids had come through with flying colors. Which made Rocky just a bit uncomfortable. He wasn't going to be able to ignore the fact that his little sister was growing up anymore.
With a sigh, he pulled himself away from those thoughts and addressed himself to his sandwich. After all, a Ranger had to keep his strength up.
Finishing her routine, Katarina Petronov looked up to see Ernie's television set playing a newscast about the recent Shadowborg fracas. She grabbed a towel and headed over to the bar, waving at Christina Collins as she did so. The White and Silver Zeo Rangers settled onto a pair of stool, eyes still glued to the set. Katarina whistled.
"We missed THIS?" she remarked, astounded. The television was currently replaying Shadowborg's first battle with the Turbo Rangers. Both girls winced as they watched their much younger colleagues being thrown around unmercifully by the evil Beetleborg.
Christina shook her head. "I can still barely believe they pulled it off," she replied. "With just a skeleton crew!"
"Allies can be powerful things," her friend remarked. "As has been most definitely demonstrated."
"Mmm," agreed Christina. Neither of them was likely to forget just how many unexpected witnesses had come to Zordon's trial to testify, not so much for Zordon as for them. It was a sobering experience to see how many people the Rangers had touched.
Katarina sighed. For years, ever since she had come to America, Christina had been her best and sometimes only friend. Even after their joining the Rangers, they'd been inseparable. Inseparable, that was, until the time had come for the Rangers to split up in space. Katya could understand the logic behind the choices- her personality, not to mention her powers as a Silver Ranger, made her the perfect choice for a trip to Danata. Christina, on the other hand, could not be separated from Billy, who was the only logical choice to lead the Phaedos contingent. And now her best friend was a Ninjetti, something she, Katarina, couldn't even begin to understand. There was a strange sort of reserve in Christina now, a wall Katarina wasn't sure she could break. But she was darn well going to try.
"You know, you never got around to telling me at the party- what was Phaedos like?" she asked.
Christina smiled. "Oh, it was beautiful," she replied, blue eyes dancing. "Oceans, and forests, and mountains- although we didn't get to see all that much of it. We were pretty busy with our training. The best part of the whole thing was that Billy and I had all this time to spend together. What about you? How was your trip?"
"It was marvelous. I've never felt so- well, free. We landed during a festival, and the atmosphere was very contagious. I loved it. I just- wish you could have been there."
Nodding, Christina took her friend's hand. "I know we're a little different now, Katya, but I don't want you ever to think that I'm not your friend anymore. I'll always be your best friend, and nothing is ever gonna change that."
Katarina smiled. "Same here, Chris. Same here."
"Ugh." Lillian O'Neil wrinkled her nose and made a face. "Parker, does this stuff really have to smell this bad?"
Her brother raised an eyebrow at her as he dipped his pictures in the developer. "Listen, Sis, a girl who goes toe-to-toe with Rito Revolto should not be complaining about a little chemical stink."
"I was talking about your cologne," she shot back, grinning. "Besides, when I go up against Rito, I'm wearing a helmet. The stench doesn't get through quite as bad." Then she shrugged. "Not to mention Rito was always Jason and company's department."
Parker sighed. "I give up. You almost finished with that batch?"
"Just hanging 'em up to dry." Squinting in the red light of Parker's darkroom, Lillian examined the photos before her. "Hey, this batch is from Edenoi. Siege of Tae Shalrith. They turned out nicely."
"That's good," her brother replied. "Whoops, can't use this one. That's Tommy in the background."
"I'm not sure you wanna use this one, either. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out what that gesture translates to."
Taking the photo in question from his sister, Parker made a face. "No, Jacobs would skin me alive. Nice to see some traditions are universal, though." Turning to look at his sister, he found her staring at nothing in particular. "Are you all right, Sis, or is the developer just getting to you?"
Lillian started. "No, just thinking about the trip. I've gotta admit, of all the people I could envision taking a trip to outer space with, you wouldn't have been first on my list."
"Not how I would have expected to spend two weeks either," Parker assented. "But it was a great trip. Don't you think?"
"Aside from the fact that I still have nightmares about Tae Shalrith, yeah," she shot back dryly.
He cocked an eyebrow at her in the "reporter face" expression she'd come to know so well. "Wanna talk about it?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Not much to say. It's just that last battle, you know, with the sea of goons closing in on us. If it hadn't been for Lexian's troops, we would have been toast." Shivering, she shook her head. "I just- hadn't been quite that close to death yet in my career. It happens to everybody."
"Well, you know if you ever need to talk, I'm here," he told her seriously. She smiled at him.
"I know, Park. After all, what are big brothers for?"
Jamie Zedden was almost through with her sword routine when she suddenly had the sensation of being watched. It wasn't malevolent- after two-plus years as a Power Ranger, she'd learned to tell THAT feeling in a heartbeat. So she didn't whirl immediately. Instead, she finished her routine, banished her sword, and then turned around. As she had suspected, her father stood in doorway to the porch, watching as she worked out.
"What's up, Dad?" she asked, sinking into a chair. Walking out onto the deck, he did the same.
"I was just wondering," Larry Zedden began, "you went to Danata, correct."
Jamie nodded. "Yeah. That was a weird experience. It was like I belonged and I didn't at the same time. I felt so at home there- but at the same time, I wanted to get back to Earth worse than anything."
Her father smiled. "I know the feeling. It's about what I went through back when I first came to Earth. No matter how much I tried to pretend as Lord Zedd that Danata didn't mean anything to me, deep down inside, it was still my home."
"Do you ever think about going back, just for a visit? You could, you know. Thanks to Zordon and a little slight of hand, the whole galaxy thinks Lord Zedd is dead- which he is, in a way. I'm sure Zarador would be happy to help arrange things."
Larry sighed. "I've thought about it, but- it's probably better that I don't go. The way things are now, Danata's more like- the memory of a dream. I'm happy here, on Earth, with your mother and you. This is my home now. I don't want to take the chance on stirring up any old memories."
Jamie nodded. After a moments silence, she cocked her head. "You look like crap, if you don't mind my saying so. This must have been pretty stressful for you."
"You have no idea," her father laughed. "For millennia, I knew every hell-hole and scum-sucker to walk the Alliance of Evil. And all I could think about, from the moment you left to the instant you got back, was of you and the rest of the Rangers meeting up with every one of them. The only thing that kept me from going completely insane was the fact that all of you would probably send them screaming back to whatever holes they crawled out of."
She chuckled. "Your faith in us is staggering."
"Well, heck, you used to make ME feel like that. Even back when there were only six! I'd hate to see what twenty-plus would do to a villain's equilibrium."
With that, the two of them settled down to watch the sun set over Angel
Grove, secure in the knowledge that the Rangers were all home and safe-
least for the time being.