Disclaimer: Saban, not me, instead thereof, uh-huh. (Sorry, Bill Cosby ref.) This fanfic is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, language, violence, mature themes, violence, sexual situations- oh, and did I mention violence? This fic starts about five minutes into "Carlos and The Count." No relation to any other stories.
"See you in the morning," Justin called. Carlos waved to his
young friend one more time, then continued on his way through the park.
It was not too long after dusk, still light enough to see, but quite dark
all the same. Suddenly he heard a noise behind him. "Very funny, Justin,"
he muttered, chills running up and down his spine. Suddenly he whirled
to see a school of Piranhatrons appear behind him. He set into a defensive
stance as they attacked.
He managed to fend most of them off, but two grabbed his arms and held him fast. As he watched a bat appeared before him and suddenly changed into one of Divatox's monsters. "Who are you?" he cried, struggling with the fish that held him.
"I am Count Nocturne," the monster replied in an exaggerated Transylvanian accent. "I don't usually dine before midnight, but for Rangers, I'll make an exception." As the bat-like creature moved forward, Carlos elbowed one of the fish holding him. As it let go, he turned on the other one, hitting it so that it released him. Then the monster was upon him, attempting to bite his neck. He held it off as long as possible, but it was simply too strong for him. It sank its fangs into his neck, and a burning sensation spread through him. Blacking out, he knew no more.
Unknown to either Carlos or the monster, two other sets of eyes were watching the fight. Bulk and Skull, walking home from their movie-fest, were hiding behind a tree, watching the fight in wide-eyed horror. Suddenly, the monster bit Carlos on the side of the neck. When it pulled away, the boy dropped to the ground, unmoving. "That was most satisfying," the creature chuckled. "One down, four to go." Turning into a bat, it disappeared again.
The minute the creature was gone, Bulk and Skull broke from their hiding place, running to Carlos' side. "Bulkie, he doesn't look so good," Skull said nervously, leaning down to check Carlos' pulse. Then he looked up, his eyes wide. "Bulk, I'm not getting a pulse," he said, the strain in his voice belying his calm tone. "He's not breathing, either."
Bulk nodded. "I'll find a phone." He ran off, with surprising speed for a man his size. Skull, left behind, turned Carlos on his back and began applying CPR. In the back of his mind, he gave thanks that all members of the Junior Police Patrol had been required to pass a life-saving class before graduating the academy.
"Come on, Carlos," he growled, between chest compressions. "Breathe, damn it!" There was no response. Skull kept up the CPR, alternating between the chest motions and the breathing, even as the paramedics arrived. As Carlos' motionless form was loaded into one of the ambulances, Bulk and Skull shared a look. "How long?" Skull asked quietly.
Bulk swallowed. "Near as I could tell? Fifteen minutes," he replied.
Skull shook his head. "Come on. I left some of my clothes at your place, right? Let's head back there, get cleaned up, and get to the hospital. We probably ought to be there when his parents show up."
* * *
"Thank you for the ride, TJ," Nina Vargas said quietly, getting out of the car. "With Jorge out of town, and my car in the shop, I had no way of getting here."
"Hey, I'm glad to help out, Mrs. Vargas," TJ replied, following Carlos' mother into the hospital. "He's one of my best friends."
As the two of them entered the waiting room, TJ was surprised to see Bulk and Skull waiting on some of the hard chairs. He was even more surprised when they rose and crossed the room.
"Mrs. Vargas?" Bulk asked quietly.
"Yes. What- what has happened to Carlos? Is he all right? The doctors did not say much when they called."
"He's still in the ER," Skull replied. "We haven't heard anything yet. As for what happened...."
"We were walking home from our film at the youth center and we cut through the park," Bulk continued. "We saw Carlos get attacked by a monster."
TJ started. "A monster?"
The other two boys nodded. "Yeah, real ugly bat-thing." Skull replied. "It bit him, and he just collapsed. We called the paramedics, and they brought him here. That's all we know so far."
Nina swallowed. "Then- all we can do is wait, si?" Skull led her over to one of the chairs, leaving Bulk and TJ alone.
"He really got attacked by a monster?" TJ asked quietly. He was startled and impressed, to say the least, by the changes in Bulk and Skull. For once, they seemed completely serious and normal.
"Yeah," Bulk replied, shaking his head. "Listen, there's something you should know. We didn't want Mrs. Vargas to hear this but- his heart- when we got to him, he didn't have a pulse. Skull tried to revive him while I went for the phone." Bulk shook his head. "We were at it about fifteen minutes, and we didn't get a thing."
TJ paled. He knew what that meant, but he didn't want to believe it. "I see," he said numbly. Just then, Cassie, Ashley, and Justin came running in, Justin's father not too far behind.
"We came as soon as we got your call, TJ," Justin cried. "How is he?"
TJ swallowed. He wasn't sure what to say. "We- don't know yet, Justin. The doctors haven't come out yet."
As if that was a signal, the doors to the Emergency Room swung open, and a tired-looking doctor in white scrubs came out. "Is anyone here waiting for information on a Carlos Vargas?"
Nina shot to her feet. "Si, he is my son. How- how is he?" she asked hesitantly.
The doctor bowed his head. "I'm sorry. He was pronounced DOA. There was just- nothing we could do for him."
All the color drained from Nina's face, and another female voice was heard.
"Mama?" The assembly turned to see a pretty young Hispanic woman, in her late twenties, standing on the other side of the room. Dr. Julia Vargas, Carlos' older sister, flew across the room into her mother's arms. "I just heard," she sobbed, holding her mother tightly. "The news came up to the fourth floor. The admitting nurse recognized his name, and sent an orderly up to tell me." The two women clung to each other, crying freely. TJ looked at the other occupants of the room. Bulk and Skull looked saddened, but not all that surprised. Justin's father, who had barely known Carlos, was looking worriedly at his son. The other Rangers....
Ashley was shaking her head slowly, as if to deny the reality of what had occurred. Cassie had an arm slung around her friend's shoulders, and was rocking her slowly, back and forth. Hardest of all for TJ to bear was Justin. The little boy was standing stock still, an expression of utter desolation on his face. Absently, TJ thought that the boy had lost far too much for someone his age. This last blow might be enough to finally break him. It might be enough to break them all.
The quiet voice of the doctor broke through their grief. "I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but- I'm afraid we'll have to do an autopsy. It's standard procedure in cases of sudden death, especially cases like this one, when we don't really understand why he died. There was of course, the bite wound on his neck, made by the bat-monster you two described, but that wound alone wasn't nearly serious enough to account for what appears to have been a total systemic collapse."
Only one word had made it through Nina Vargas' daze. "Autopsy? Madre de Dios!"
"I'm truly sorry, ma'am, but it is the law."
Julia put an arm around her mother. "We understand. TJ, I'm going to take her home, all right? She shouldn't be alone right now." She made a wry face. "Neither should I. Thank you all for your help." Quietly, the pretty young doctor led her mother out the door.
"We should all go home, get some sleep," TJ suggested, looking around at his friends. "When the shock wears off, we'll need it."
* * *
The next day, the four Rangers were summoned from their various activities by the beeping of their communicators. As the four of them materialized in the Power Chamber, TJ couldn't help wincing at the sight of the column of green light along one wall. Looking at his friends, he let out a small sigh. Cassie didn't look so bad, but it was obvious that both Ashley and Justin were taking Carlos' death extremely hard.
"What is it, Dimitria?" Cassie asked, shooting worried looks at the others. The team was in no real condition to fight one of Divatox's creeps.
"I have two things to tell you, Rangers. First, I have retrieved the Green Power from Carlos, and it now waits for a new owner." The sorrow was so evident in the woman's voice that not one of the Rangers could find her statement heartless. "I understand and share your grief, but the safety of Earth is paramount. Someone must be selected to be the Green Turbo Ranger soon."
TJ nodded acceptance of the inevitable. "What's the second thing?"
Alpha 6 spoke up now, his cybernetic voice vibrating with fury. "I'm not sure how to tell you this, but- Carlos' body has disappeared from the morgue."
"WHAT?" four voices cried in unison. "Somebody stole Carlos' body?" TJ continued, aghast.
"It looks that way," the little android continued. "All I know is that I was monitoring the hospital, to see what data I could get from the autopsy, and I heard the commotion. The body wasn't in its drawer, Security swears that no one got past 'em, and there was no sign of a break-in. Now, unless he got up and walked away on his own, which I'm sorry to say is highly unlikely, somebody stole the corpse."
"Divatox," Justin spat, his eyes glittering. The naked anger and hate in them was so strong that Cassie took a step away from him.
"Well, maybe. But we don't have any proof of that, and there are other suspects. First off, there's the small possibility that humans could have done it." In any other situation, TJ would have laughed to see the little android ticking off the points on his fingers, but now there was no humor to be found anywhere. "I've run across references to this sort of thing before, mainly college pranksters and- well, anyway, it's not likely. I doubt that a human could have bypassed Security like that. Then there's option number two, Rita and Zedd. Course, they ain't got a major grudge against you, the way Divatox does. Same objection for da Machine Empire, option number 3. So yeah, I figure it's Divatox, unless there's a variable in the equation that we don't know about. With this job, that's always a problem."
"Why? Just to hurt us?" Ashley asked helplessly.
"Or to keep us from creating a defense against her monster," Justin responded. "If we knew what it was in the monster's bite that caused Carlos' systems to stop functioning, we might be able to keep the bite from affecting us."
"We've got to find his body, whoever stole it," TJ declared. "Problem is, where do we start?"
"With a new Green Ranger," Cassie said quietly. "Five of us will be a lot more effective in the search than four."
TJ nodded. "Suggestions?" He saw that Ashley and Justin would not be much help. Neither was quite ready to take that step, which would mean admitting that Carlos was really gone. He and Cassie didn't either, but they had not been quite as close to Carlos, and were better able to ignore their grief.
"The new kid, Connor Madison," Cassie replied. "I've seen him working out in the youth center, and he's a heck of a fighter."
TJ nodded. "Yeah, he is. He's pretty nice, too. He helped me fight off a bunch of Piranhatrons that appeared at baseball practice."
"He's helped me with the kids at the youth center a few times, too," Ashley said quietly.
"I guess he's okay," Justin sighed. He wasn't able to summon up much enthusiasm about anything right now.
"So it's unanimous. Alpha, can you tell me where Connor is?"
"At the lake, working out."
TJ nodded. "Okay, I'm going to take care of this in uniform. Shift into Turbo!" In a flash of red light, Red Ranger was transported to the shores of Angel Grove Lake. Not too far away, he could see Connor Madison running through a kata. The other boy was about the same age as the other Rangers, and a little shorter than Carlos had been. Red Ranger winced at the pain the memory brought, then pushed it away.
"Connor Madison?" he asked quietly. Connor whirled, dropping into a fighting stance, his green eyes snapping. As he saw who was behind him, he relaxed.
"Sorry. Can't be too careful," he apologized, brushing his copper hair out of his eyes. "Can I help you, Red Ranger?"
"Yes, you can. Connor, you're an excellent martial artist, and we need your help. The Green Ranger-" Red Ranger stopped, swallowing audibly. "He's dead," he continued quietly. "He was killed in battle with a monster. We need a new Green Ranger, and we'd like it to be you."
Connor's jaw dropped. "Me? Why me?"
"We've seen that you're an excellent fighter, but you also care about people. You're the perfect choice for a Ranger. Please. We need your help."
Connor sighed. "Well, when you put it like that, how can I refuse? It's a deal."
"Good. Alpha, teleport us back to the Power Chamber."
"You got it, TJ." The two of them dissolved in twin flashes of light.
* * *
Carlos' first impression upon awakening was of darkness. He lay still for a while, trying to figure out where he was, and why he was so cold. Finally he realized that he was lying in some sort of metal box. Reaching over his head, he pushed until something gave. He slid forward into the light, realizing that he was in a drawer somewhere. Looking around, he realized where he was.
"I'm in a morgue?" he thought wildly. Looking down, he realized why he was cold, and grabbed a sheet to cover himself. "What happened?" he asked aloud. "I must have passed out after Count Nocturne bit me. That doesn't explain why anybody would think I was dead, though." Suddenly the surface of a metal cabinet caught his eye. Slowly, he crossed to it, unable to believe what he was seeing. "Where's my reflection?" he whispered, running his hand over his face, then over the surface of the cabinet. An awful thought occurred to him, and he ran his tongue over his teeth. Sure enough, his canines had lengthened into sharp fangs. Stunned, he leaned against the nearest wall and tried to think.
"I'm a vampire," he realized. "Oh, God. I'm really dead- sort of." He couldn't go home, of course. Better for his mother- for everyone- to think he was dead than to know what he had become. He had to get out of the morgue, though. If the doctors found him there in the morning, they'd autopsy him, and even if it didn't kill him, it wasn't something he particularly wanted to experience. "First things first," he told himself. "I've gotta get some clothes!"
Wrapped in the sheet, he sneaked out of the hospital, and managed to make it to his house without a problem. Once there, he climbed the tree outside his window and forced it open without effort, just as he had done many times before. Inside, he began to go through his closet, studiously avoiding looking in the mirror on his dresser. As he stared at the line of green shirts hanging within, he felt a wave of anguish rise up inside him. His days as the Green Ranger were over as well. His friends thought he was dead, and had no doubt found a replacement already. Even if that had not been the case, what good was a Ranger who had to sleep all day? No, his time on the team was ended. With that thought, he pushed aside all the green clothing and selected an outfit. Black jeans, a black T-shirt, and a black leather jacket. A pair of sunglasses hid the glowing eyes that he instinctively knew he had. Looking himself over, he nodded. This felt right, somehow. Taking one last look around the room, he moved to the window and climbed out.
* * *
A few hours later, Carlos was downtown. He had tried hard to fight the hunger growing inside him, but the thirst for blood would not be denied. To take his mind off of it, he had tested his new abilities, learning that he could see perfectly in the dark, leap far higher than he ever had as a Ranger, and was as strong as he had ever been when morphed. His gaze was just as hypnotic as the movies made out, and he had tested it on an overly concerned citizen, making the man ignore him, as if Carlos was not even there.
Now he sat on top of a building, fighting the rising blood-thirst within him, and trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly a sound from below caught his hypersensitive hearing. Looking down into the alley below, he saw four men approaching two frightened girls. He recognized them from school; their names were Miranda and Luisa. The two clung to each other as their assailants closed in.
A cruel smile crossed Carlos' face as he realized how he would resolve his dilemma, at least for this evening. Pushing off the building, he dropped three stories, landing lightly between the girls and their attackers. "Four men against two women? Hardly fair," he chuckled.
"You wanna join in, Sir Galahad?" one snarled. Carlos feigned shock. "You mean you actually made it to Arthurian legends? I'm impressed. Yeah, I think I will take you on." Turning to the girls, he raised an eyebrow. "Ladies, I think you'd better stand back." The two nodded, moving as far back in the alley as physically possible. Carlos returned to the men. "All right," he chuckled, removing his sunglasses and putting them in a pocket. "Let's rock." As he said that, he looked up at the four, who gasped at the sight of his glowing red eyes. One mugger cut and ran right then, but the other three decided to stay.
The biggest of the three charged Carlos, who threw him easily over one shoulder. Pivoting, he slammed a foot into the stomach of the second, and shifted smoothly into a roundhouse kick that knocked the third into a brick wall. In a matter of seconds, the fight was over, and the three men lay motionless on the ground. Replacing his sunglasses, Carlos turned back to the girls. "I don't think these men will bother you anymore," he told them. "Why don't you go call the police?" The girls nodded and dashed out of the alleyway. Carlos turned to the most conscious of the trio, hauling him up by the collar.
"You're about to find out what it feels like to be the prey," he said quietly, baring his fangs. The mugger began to scream, but not for long.
* * *
"Hey, TJ, did you hear?" Cassie said quietly, sinking down in the seat next to her friend. The Rangers were hanging out at the youth center, not doing much. Ashley had said almost nothing all day, just staring off into space. Justin had spent all his time beating up on one of the punching bags, and TJ was beginning to worry about the anger brewing in his young friend. He made a resolution to speak to the younger boy as soon as possible.
"Hear what?" he asked, turning to Cassie. "Luisa and Miranda nearly got mugged last night, but somebody saved them. Get this, though. When the two girls brought the cops back to the alley, their rescuer was gone, but the muggers weren't. All four were about a quart low on blood, too, and the only wound on them was two punctures on their necks."
"Like Carlos?" TJ asked quietly. Connor, sitting beside him, frowned. "Are they alive?" the new Green Ranger asked quietly. Cassie nodded. "Yeah, they'll live. The doctors checked them out, and they said they'll be fine."
TJ leaned forward. "Do you think it was Divatox's monster?" Cassie shook her head. "The girls say their rescuer was human, but they didn't get a good look at him. Besides, Divatox's goon would have attacked the girls, too." She looked around furtively, and her voice dropped another couple of notches. "Miranda told me something else. She knows it sounds crazy, but she said that she could have sworn that the guy who saved them was Carlos."
"That's impossible," Ashley said flatly, the first words she had said all day. "Maybe not. If Divatox took his body, she could have cloned him or something," Connor mused.
"Or maybe it really was Carlos," a young voice said behind them. The four turned to see Justin looking at them seriously. "The monster was a giant bat, remember, and Carlos' body disappeared. It bit Carlos on the neck and left two puncture wounds. Now something that looks like Carlos is attacking muggers, leaving the same wounds on their necks. Maybe Carlos isn't really dead. Maybe-"
"He's a vampire?" TJ asked quietly. "Justin, there's no such thing."
"Yeah? Well, there's no such thing as a lot of Divatox's goons, too. Think about it."
TJ stood up. "Justin, we need to talk. Would you come with me for a bit?" Justin looked ready to protest, but he saw the steel in TJ's eyes and did not. The two of them left the youth center and headed to the park.
"I know this had been hard for you, Justin, but you have to let it go. I know it hurts that Carlos is gone. It hurts me too, but you have to let him go. Otherwise, it'll never heal."
"I know that!" Justin cried. "God, don't you think I know that? I've gone through it more than enough times. My mom died, and my dad just left me at the shelter. When I became a Ranger, it was like getting my family back! Tommy- he was almost like a second father to me, and he was around when I needed him, unlike my real dad. Then they all went away too. Now Carlos. Why doesn't anyone stay with me?" With that last sentence, Justin sounded like a six year-old child, crying in utter devastation.
TJ sighed. He had known that Carlos and Justin were close, closer than any of the other Rangers. Why was it that Justin kept losing the people he cared about most? "I know it hurts, Justin, but you're not alone," TJ told him. "We're all here for you. Me, Cassie, Ashley, and Connor are all here for you."
* * *
Justin's expression changed. "I don't like him," the boy said plainly. "He gives me the creeps and I don't know why. I tried to like him. It's not his fault that he's taking Carlos' place, but I just can't like him."
TJ sighed again. "Justin-"
"I can't, TJ. I just can't trust him." Justin looked at the ground. "Something's wrong about him," he added, too quietly to be heard, "and I'm going to find out what."
* * *
Carlos was in a quandary. It had now been a number of weeks since his "death," and he wasn't sure what to do. He knew that he ought to leave Angel Grove behind, forget everything and everyone, but he couldn't. He had begun watching his friends and family, only after the sun went down. It broke his heart to see his family grieving for him. More than anything, he wanted to go and comfort them, but he could not. It would be worse for them to see what he had become.
Even harder was watching the Rangers. Connor, the new Green Ranger, seemed to be taking his place in everything. He and TJ were always together, Connor had joined the soccer team, and it was obvious that he was interested in Ashley as well. Carlos was interested to notice that Justin was almost openly hostile to Connor, no matter what the other Rangers tried to do. It was actually somewhat funny.
Tonight, Carlos had followed Connor and Ashley to a movie. All the way there, he had been telling himself that he shouldn't, that he should leave them alone, but his feet hadn't been listening. He had never gotten the chance to tell her how he felt, and now he was regretting that deeply.
He had paid little attention to the film, dividing his time between watching the pair in front of him and wishing with all his might that vampires could eat popcorn. Even had he been able to metabolize it, however, getting the hulls out of his teeth later would have been murder. The smell was driving him absolutely batty, however. Smiling at his own pun, he pushed his desire for popcorn firmly out of his mind, and watched Ashley and Connor.
When the two of them walked home after the movie, Carlos was not far behind, still asking himself what in the world he was doing. The pair stopped on Ashley's doorstep, talking in low voices. Carlos watched as Connor tilted Ashley's head up and lowered his lips to hers. Fury washed through the vampire's veins, and the only thing that stopped him from charging in and breaking them apart was that Ashley beat him to it.
"Connor, I'm sorry," she said, pushing him away. "I'm- just not ready. It's only been a few weeks since Carlos-" she broke off, unable to finish.
"I understand," he replied, backing off. "I'll wait until you're ready. Sleep tight."
She smiled at him and walked into the house. Connor waited a few moments, then walked away.
In a daze, Carlos left the bushes he had been hiding in. What she had said- did she have feelings for him too? As he watched, the light in her bedroom window clicked on. All thoughts of leaving flew out of Carlos' head. He had to know. Walking to the tree beneath her window, he flexed his legs and jumped, grabbing a branch that approached the second-story window. Hauling himself onto it, he tapped on the glass.
Ashley opened the window and gasped. Carlos was looking back at her, looking hardly any different from the last time she had seen him. He was dressed all in black, and he wore a pair of extremely dark sunglasses, but those were the only differences. "Carlos? Oh my God! What-"
"Can I come in?" he interrupted her quietly.
"Of course! Come in," she replied, stepping out of his way. He jumped through the window. "How did you get up here?" she asked puzzled. "And why are you wearing sunglasses? And why did you let us think you were dead?" She asked the last question in a shout, stepping closer and pummeling his chest with her fists.
Grabbing her wrists, he held her hands still. "I am dead," he said quietly. "Actually, I suppose the correct term would be 'undead.'" Releasing her wrists, he removed his glasses. She gasped and took a step back. "I'm a vampire, Ashley. Divatox's monster turned me into this. I thought it would be better if you all thought I was dead."
"Then why are you here?" she asked softly, stepping closer to him once again.
"I've been watching all of you," he admitted. "I saw you go on a date with Connor, and I heard what you said when he tried to kiss you. I had to know- did you really have feelings for me?"
"I still do," she replied. "Carlos, I love you, and even your death wouldn't change that. I was so afraid you wouldn't feel the same that I never told you. When we thought you had died, I thought I'd never get the chance."
"I love you too, Ashley. I'm so sorry I didn't say something earlier." The two of them regarded each other for long moments, then he turned her face up towards him. Slowly, he lowered his lips to hers, and was pleasantly surprise when she kissed him back with all the strength she possessed. His arms slipped around her, and his lips left hers, sliding down her cheek to her throat. He felt her pulse against his lips, and his mouth began to water. Quickly he pulled away. "I'm sorry- I shouldn't have come," he told her, releasing her abruptly, turning away.
"I don't mind," she told him shyly. "If you need it, I wouldn't mind."
"NO!" he cried, whirling on her. "I can't risk hurting you! If I lost control-"
"I'd become a vampire?" she finished questioningly. He shuddered, but nodded. "I don't mind," she said again. "I want to be with you, Carlos. If that means becoming like you, I'm willing."
He actually turned paler, something she would have sworn was impossible. "NO! I would never make you like me! It's hell, Ash. I can't eat anything, I can't watch the sun come up, and I can't look anyone in the eye without my sunglasses. I'm dead, Ashley. I just haven't stopped moving around yet! You don't want to live like this."
"Isn't that my decision?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Not when I'm the one who'd have to make you that way. I won't turn you into a vampire, and that's my decision."
"Then at least let me help you tonight. If I can't be with you, let me help you."
Carlos shuddered. The hunger in him was growing stronger. He didn't have much choice. "Are you sure?" he asked, scanning her eyes for any hint of fear. There was none.
"Yes." Closing her eyes, she tilted her head to one side, offering her neck to him.
Gently, Carlos leaned over and sank his teeth into her neck. Ashley stiffened at the initial bite, then went completely limp in his arms. He fed from her for a few more minutes, then gently set her down on her bed. Her blood had taken the edge off his hunger, which would allow him to find someone else to feed off of for the rest of the evening. Gently brushing the hair out of her face, he checked her pulse. It was still strong, and he sighed in relief. Rising, he headed back to her window and was gone.
* * *
"Justin, can I talk to you?" Ashley said quietly, coming up behind the younger boy at his locker. "In private?"
Justin raised an eyebrow at her, but simply nodded. The two of them slipped off to a deserted classroom. Shutting the door, Justin turned back to Ashley. "So what do you want to talk about?"
"You were right, Justin. I saw Carlos last night. He came to my room." Ashley bit her lip. "He's a vampire, Justin. The bat-monster's bite transformed him into a vampire."
Justin abruptly sat down on a chair. He had offered up the theory, but he hadn't actually believed it. The idea of Carlos truly being a vampire was a bit startling. "We have to tell the others! Maybe Alpha can help him."
Ashley shook her head. "He doesn't want anyone to know what he's turned into. Besides, do you think TJ would really believe us?"
"You're right," Justin sighed. "But we can't just let him stay that way! We have to try and help him!"
"I agree, which was why I told you. If anybody can help Carlos, you can."
Justin's mind already began working. "My dad let me set up a lab in the basement of our house. If you can get Carlos to come there, maybe I can help him."
"It's worth a shot. The problem will be finding him and asking him to come. He says he's been watching us, but I'm not sure who he's watching when."
"One other thing. We can't tell any of the others about this, but definitely not Connor. That guy gives me the creeps."
* * *
That night, Ashley received the ten-cent tour of Justin's lab, and was amazed at some of the things she found there. "Wow, Justin! Did you make all of this?"
"Nah. Some of it I got from Billy's old lab in the Power Chamber, with his permission. He let me have his technical journals, too. I now know everything he did making the Turbo Powers and the program for the Zords. I could probably build new ones, if I had the time and the materials."
"Wow." Ashley was definitely impressed. "It was nice of your dad to let me baby-sit for you tonight. I was wondering how we were going to have a private conversation without it looking a little suspicious."
Justin grinned. "Well, he needed the break, too. It's about time he started dating again. Mom wouldn't have wanted him to remain single forever."
"So what exactly are you planning to do?"
"Well, this device is like a miniature version of the Power Chamber's scanners. Billy designed it, by the way. I've set it to scan for any version of Carlos' biorhythms. Even if his transformation has altered them, we'll be able to lock on. Then I can analyze the alterations and maybe develop some sort of antidote. We'll know in a minute."
"What if this doesn't work?"
"We try Plan B," Justin replied grimly.
"Try and find that bat-monster and get samples. I don't need to tell you that I REALLY don't like that idea."
"It's kind of dangerous," Ashley agreed. "Not to mention that we haven't seen hide nor hair of the rotten thing since it attacked Carlos. Lots of other goons, yes, but not that one."
Suddenly the sound of breaking glass filtered down from upstairs. "I don't like the sound of that," Ashley whispered.
"Me either," Justin assented. "There's no phone down here. We can't call the police."
"We'd better check it out, carefully," Ashley decided. The two of them crept up the stairs, looking around themselves carefully as they exited the basement. Suddenly Ashley was grabbed from behind in a punishingly tight grip. Reaching out, Justin quickly flipped on the lights, gasping as he saw who had Ashley prisoner.
"CONNOR!" Justin snarled. "I should have known."
Connor Madison grinned. "Learn to trust your instincts, Justin." Justin tensed as if to leap, and Connor tightened his arm around Ashley's throat in warning. "I wouldn't," he said, still smiling. "You'd never make it in time."
"Did you always work for Divatox?" Ashley asked.
Chuckling, Connor nodded. "Oh yes. She knew that once Carlos was out of the way, you'd need a new Green Ranger, and I put myself in the perfect position. We've been monitoring you two, and I noticed that you're getting a little too close. So, Ashley and I are going to take a little trip, and you are going to deal with a friend of mine. Count Nocturne!" In a flash of smoke, the bat-monster appeared in Justin's kitchen. "Bite the little brat, and hide him somewhere so his friends won't know what happened. The lovely Yellow Ranger and I have some things to discuss."
Count Nocturne grinned and began to advance slowly towards Justin, who had nowhere to go. Suddenly the kitchen window that Connor had broken in through shattered all the way in, and a dark shape landed in the kitchen. "Let her go, Madison," Carlos hissed, baring his fangs. "I won't let you or Divatox get away with this."
Faster than thought, Connor pulled out a laser gun and placed the barrel under Ashley's ear. "Back off, Carlos, or I'll pull the trigger. This is one death that she won't come back from."
Carlos stared at Connor, helpless fury in his red eyes, but made no move towards the other. Connor turned back to Count Nocturne. "Kill the vampire, bite the brat, and make sure you get the transformation completed this time! Divatox wants the vampire side in complete control." Then he teleported out, still holding Ashley.
Count Nocturne looked at Carlos, whose fangs were bared in challenge, then at Justin, who had managed to find a bulb of garlic somewhere in the kitchen. Shaking its head, the monster sighed. "It's not worth it." In a flash of green smoke, it teleported out.
"He got away!" Justin cried. "Now how are we going to find Ashley?"
"I can find her," Carlos replied coldly. "We're of one blood now. We have a bond. Justin, call the other Rangers and have them meet you at the Power Chamber. Hopefully Alpha can find Connor as quickly as I can. Have the others meet me there. You'll probably find Count Nocturne there too." Justin nodded, and teleported out. Carlos' eyes flamed even redder for an instant, then subsided. Quickly he hurried out the door, blending into the darkness of the night.
* * *
"Let- GO- of me!" Ashley cried, punctuating each word with a flailing kick. Connor had teleported them into a deserted warehouse, and quickly tied Ashley's hands and feet. Even bound as she was, she could still fight back, and was doing just that. Connor just chuckled, dodging her movements with ease.
"Now, Ashley. Is that any way to talk to the man who just saved your life? Think about it. Of all the Rangers, you alone will not be turned into a vampire by Count Nocturne. This is Divatox's gift for my faithful service. Don't you think that deserves a kiss?"
Ashley spat in his face, trying to worm out of his grasp. "I'd rather kiss Elgar," she snarled. Connor laughed.
"Well, what you want isn't really important right now." Grabbing a handful of her hair, he pulled her head back roughly, and moved to kiss her. Before his lips touched hers, though, he was brought up short by a vicious snarl in the darkness behind him. Releasing Ashley, Connor started to turn, but never made it. A bolt of black plowed into him, knocking him off his feet. Ashley stared in shock as Carlos and Connor rolled around on the ground, both too far gone to even think of using their martial arts skills.
"I'll kill you, you bastard," Carlos hissed, his fangs showing quite well. "You don't even think about touching her!"
"She's not yours any longer," Connor replied tauntingly. "You're dead. What makes you think she'd want to be with a monster like you?"
Carlos's eyes flamed. "Monster or not, I'll always be more of a man than you!" Suddenly three flashes of color appeared in the warehouse. Red and Pink Rangers quickly untied Ashley, who leaped to her feet. A sudden flash of green enveloped Connor, who never even noticed.
"What was that?" Ashley asked breathlessly, rubbing her wrists.
"Dimitria took back the Powers from Connor. We told her what happened," Blue Ranger explained. "Are you all right?"
"I am now."
"Not quite, Rangers!" The four whirled to see Count Nocturne standing behind them. "I will destroy you! Divatox commands it!"
"Even with four of us, we're a match for you," Ashley cried. "Shift into Turbo!" The four Rangers hurled themselves into the fight. It was long and brutal, and raged from the bottom floor of the warehouse up six flights of stairs. Finally, however, Red Ranger managed to slice through the monster, and it exploded.
"Glad that's over with," Pink Ranger sighed.
Yellow Ranger gasped. "Carlos! We left him back with Connor!" Quickly the Rangers hurried back to the ground floor, and were astonished at what they saw. Carlos had Connor picked up by the collar, and was holding him against the wall.
"I haven't eaten yet tonight," Carlos said in a low, menacing tone. "I'm very hungry."
"Please, don't," Connor whispered, barely audible. Carlos smiled, baring his fangs.
"Don't worry, Connor. I wouldn't condemn even you to what I'm going through. I'm just going to kill you. I promise that when I'm done with you, I'll rip your throat out. You won't have a thing to worry about."
"Carlos!" Red Ranger called. "Don't do it!"
"Stay out of this, TJ!" Carlos snarled. "This is between the traitor and me."
"Carlos, please," Pink Ranger pleaded. "This isn't right!"
"Right? Is what he did to me right? Look at me, Cassie! I'm a monster! He's just as responsible as Divatox."
"Carlos," Yellow Ranger said quietly, morphing back into Ashley. "He's the monster, not you. You're not a monster unless you choose to be one. He's not worth it."
"He hurt you," Carlos snarled, seeing the bruise forming on her cheek.
"I've had worse. If you kill him, you'll hurt me worse than anything he could ever do to me, because I'd lose you. Please, don't."
Blue Ranger could see Carlos wavering, and he also demorphed, walking over to his friend. "He'll pay, Carlos. Divatox doesn't like failures. She'll deal with him worse than you ever could. Let him go."
The insane light died out in Carlos' red eyes, and he dropped Connor to the ground. As the other was enveloped in a teleportation stream, Carlos smiled. "Give my regards to Divatox," he chuckled. Then Connor was gone, and the five were alone.
"Damn," Red Ranger said, returning to his normal form as he did so. Beside him, Pink Ranger did the same. "Carlos, is it really you?" TJ asked hesitantly.
Carlos shook his head. "Not really. I'm dead, TJ. You're going to have to accept that."
"What are you going to do?" Cassie asked, apprehensively.
"What I should have done when all this started." Turning to TJ, he extended his hand. "It was good to know you, man. Don't forget me, all right?"
"I- I won't," TJ replied, swallowing hard. He had barely begun to realize that Carlos was dead when all this had occurred, and now he was losing his friend again. His emotions were numb, and he wasn't sure he was going to be able to handle this.
Carefully, Carlos hugged Cassie. "I'll miss you, Cassie. You were a good friend."
"You too," she replied, obviously on the edge of tears.
"Justin--" Carlos started, but the younger boy cut him off. "Don't say it," Justin asked quietly. "I've heard one too many good-byes already."
Carlos didn't respond, just swept Justin up into a tight hug. Then he turned to Ashley.
"Don't say it," she spat. "Just don't."
"It's better this way," he told her. "I can't live like this. Promise me you'll try to be happy?"
"I'll try, but I'll miss you," she sobbed, throwing her arms around him. He held her for a moment, then backed away.
"It was good knowing all of you. I'll never forget you," he said quietly. Then he disappeared into the night.
* * *
In the east, the sky was beginning to lighten, signifying the beginning of a new day. The increasing light was beginning to hurt Carlos' sensitive vision, but he did not put his sunglasses on. He was determined to see one more sunrise, even if it was the last thing he saw.
"You're really going through with it?" a small voice asked. Carlos whirled to see Justin behind him, sitting on one of the rocks that dotted Angel Grove Park.
"How did you know I was here?"
"There's a tracking device in my lab. Don't worry, I didn't tell the others where you were."
"Look, if you're here to talk me out of it, save your breath."
Justin shook his head. "I'm not. I just didn't think you should be alone right now. Nobody should die alone."
Carlos smiled slightly. "This probably won't be pretty," he warned.
"Neither is Elgar," Justin shrugged. "I handle seeing him just fine."
Carlos laughed out loud. "All right, I give up." The two of them sat in silence, watching as the golden orb of the sun began to peek over the horizon. Suddenly a beam of golden light washed over the park, catching Carlos full on. Screaming, he fell to his knees. Justin watched, mesmerized, as a black mist pulled itself away from his friend, rising into the air. As the mist dissipated, Carlos fell unmoving to the ground. Slowly, Justin approached him, wondering. All the old stories said that vampires combusted in the sun. So why was Carlos not burning? Reaching down, Justin checked Carlos' pulse- and his eyes widened in shock. He could feel the blood flow throbbing under his fingers.
"What the Hell?" Justin blurted. "Alpha, teleport me and Carlos to the Power Chamber! He's alive!"
* * *
The four Rangers clustered around the diagnostic bed, anxiously watching Carlos as he slowly began to stir. His eyes opened, and Ashley gasped as she saw that they were as dark and human as ever. "Carlos! You're alive!" she cried, throwing her arms around him.
"What?" Carlos asked groggily, running his tongue over his teeth. "They're gone! What happened?"
"Alpha and I have been working on that. It seems that Count Nocturne was the key to maintaining the vampire's hold over you," Justin explained. "When he was destroyed, you began to separate from your vampire side. The sunlight destroyed it, but you didn't go along with it."
Carlos looked around himself in shock. "You mean- it's really over?"
"You got it," Alpha agreed. In a flash of green light, the key and morpher of the Green Ranger appeared in Carlos' hands. "We'd like you back on the team, if we could."
"You're on!" Carlos cried. Strapping the morpher back on his wrist, he stood, rejoining his friends.
* * *
On Divatox's sub, the mood was definitely not so joyous. "You failed me," Divatox hissed. Connor, held between Rygog and Elgar, cringed. "You said you could handle it," she continued. "You said the Green Ranger wouldn't give you any trouble. Well, YOU BLEW IT!" she screamed. Pointing at him, she fired a blast of her eyebeams. Connor shimmered, shifting forms until he returned to his normal state- a Piranhatron. "Take him down to the sludge room," Divatox ordered. "See how long he can keep afloat." Elgar and Rygog hauled the struggling Piranhatron away, and Divatox turned back to her periscope. "Someday, Power Rangers, you will be mine!"
* * *
"The sunrise sure is beautiful," Ashley murmured, snuggling a little closer to Carlos. The two of them were up on the roof of his house, watching the sunrise together, as they had every day since his return to life.
"Yeah, it is. It reminds me of everything that I've got back." The Rangers had teleported Carlos home, and as far as family and friends knew, Carlos' death had been faked by Divatox, who had been planning to turn him into an evil Ranger. The Rangers had rescued him, and everyone was slowly returning to normal. Carlos and Ashley were now an official couple, and were rarely apart.
"You know I love you, right?" Ashley asked, turning to look at him.
He smiled. "Yeah, I know. But I like to hear you say it. And I love you too." He kissed her softly, and the two of them silently watched the sun rise.