Disclaimer: La, La, La . . . I think I'm supposed to mention something about the Power Rangers and Saban being related somehow, but I don't feel like it so I won't. Oh, and whoever came up with Edwards as TJ's last name and Velasquez as Carlos' I'd like to give you credit for it, but I couldn't figure out who started the whole thing, so I apologize if I'm stepping on anyone's toes.
Author's note: This comes after "On the Wings of the Morning", and if you haven't read it, you might be a little confused later on in this one. I'd like to apologize in advance for the number of characters that are floating around in this fic. What can I say? I got a little too enthusiastic. It just seemed way too improbable for all these teenagers, living in the same town, to *all* be only children. I mean, come on, don't most American couples have 2.5 children! (How does someone have .5 of a child anyway?!) Oh, and I suppose while I'm at it I should mention the fact that I'm an incurable romantic, and I love a happy ending. Consider this your one and only warning. :) I love email, so any comments you have would be greatly appreciated. Having said that, here's the fic. Enjoy. (Or don't enjoy . . I guess it depends on what you like or don't like. . . . okay, okay, I'm shutting up. :)
Brothers and Sisters
Let's face it. Siblings are possibly the most annoying people you will ever have the misfortune of coming across during your entire lifetime. They tease you unmercifully, they know exactly which buttons to push to irritate you, and they know all of your most embarrassing secrets, which they have no qualms about telling to anyone who will listen. But every once in a while, they surprise you. You find yourself thinking of them as your staunchest ally while placing yourself as their appointed defender. Many an outsider have made the foolish mistake of openly insulting a person, only to be attacked by a defensive sibling. But it isn't until you've almost lost them, that you actually realize how important a brother or a sister can be to you.
By Rachel Lynn
The suburbs of Angel Grove
TJ eyed the elegant single story white house with a great deal of trepidation. He looked down at the slip of paper in his hands to confirm that the place he was looking for was indeed in one of Angel Grove's most posh and luxurious sections of town. _Everything looks so perfect._ He felt his hands shake as he walked up the paved sidewalk to the stained glass, mahogany front door. He gave a small laugh as he saw his finger quaver slightly as he reached out to ring the doorbell. _I can't believe I'm so worried about this. CC's my sister, we're related by blood._ He listened as the chime from the bell echoed through the interior of the house. Moments later, the door opened.
"Can I help you?"
A chocolate skinned man in a business suit stood patiently in the doorway. His maroon tie had been loosened slightly and he was missing his shoes, but other that, he looked like he'd just stepped out of one of Angel Grove's corporate executive offices from downtown. TJ took a deep breath as the man folded his arms across his chest.
"My name's Theodore Joshua Edwards. I'm looking for my five year old sister, Catherine Corrine Edwards. Social services told me she was placed here. I'm her older brother, and I was wondering, could I see her?" TJ asked as he resisted the urge to fidget with the hem of his red shirt. _For Pete's sake, I'm fifteen years old, almost sixteen and I'm her brother. Sure, she lives in a nice house now. And I'm sure she has a nice life with this man and his wife. But I'm a part of her life, too. I may have been separated from her six months ago, but I've found her. We are a family, and we're together again._ The man in front of him moved out of the doorway, and shut the beautiful mahogany door behind him.
"Listen Theodore," The man said as he put a hand on TJ's shoulder, "I know that Catherine is your sister, but she has a new life here. I'm sure you want to be a part of that life too, but my wife and I have decided that it is in her best interest, not to have anything from her old life in her new one. I won't mince words with you. Your father was an uncaring bastard, and he left our daughter with a great deal of emotional baggage. This is her chance to start things over again, a new slate if you will."
TJ nodded, and tried to hold back the tears that were forming in the back of his throat. _They don't want me to be a part of CC' s life. They think I'm a reminder of our father, and they're probably right._
"Can I at least say goodbye to her?" He asked hoarsely as the lump in his throat grew. The man in front of him gave a sympathetic shake of his head.
"I'm sorry son, she's not here right now, but even if she was, I couldn't allow it. We, well, we told her you died, and seeing you here would only confuse her and upset her unduly. Social Services warned us that you'd runaway, with the probable intent of finding your sister, why don't you come on in, son, and let me call them for you." The man said as he took a step towards the door. TJ stared at him in horrified shock. "I'm sorry this is the way things had to turn out, please try to understand." The man finished as he walked through the door. TJ looked into the interior of the beautiful house without really seeing it. _CC thinks I'm dead. This has got to be a joke. A really bad joke. Dammit, she's my family. She's all I have left anymore. . . but maybe its better this way. She can start over here, and I have no right to intrude on that. They're probably right in assuming I would be bad news. All I would bring would be bad memories and nightmares. Who knows, I might even turn out to be like *him*. She's better off without me. I'd better make tracks back to the Power Chamber before the social worker gets here. I am *not* going back to Napa Valley._
* * *
Angel Grove Park
TJ sat down hard on the park bench, as he wiped the memory away with a sigh. _It’s done and over with. CC lives with the Thompsons now. C'mon Teej, get over it and get on with the rest of your life._ He frowned slightly as he realized his pep talk to himself was a dismal failure as usual. _Its Thanksgiving day, and I'm sitting in the park trying to convince myself that I don't care what happens to my sister. My life sucks._ TJ gave a small snort as he cracked a grin. _Well, I guess it doesn't suck that bad. I've got six of the best friends that a person could ask for. I'm enrolled at Angel Grove University, and I have a job offer from NASADA that goes into effect the moment I graduate._
"Blanca, what the heck is that you're playing with? Paul, Cristian, do you think you two could give me a hand here, no, don't start clapping, that's not what I meant. Rocky, would you round up Rosa and Miguel before they fall out of that tree they're climbing in. Clara, you've got the picnic basket don't you, hon? "
TJ's head snapped up to see Mrs. DeSantos corralling her seven children towards a picnic bench a couple feet from his park bench. His gaze immediately fastened on Clara, and he sighed as he rested his chin on his hand. She had waist length chestnut colored hair, her skin was lightly tanned, and as far as TJ was concerned, she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever laid eyes on, regardless of what Carlos said. _Too bad I can't ask her out on a date. The first one was a disaster before it even started. I'm almost scared to imagine what the second one would be like._
TJ glanced above him as he heard rustling sounds in the tree behind his park bench. Hanging from the branches of the great old oak, were two children that were obviously the youngest of the DeSantos brood. The boy waved down to TJ happily, while the girl gave him a gape toothed grin.
"I think your mother is calling you two, don't you guys think you should get down?" TJ said as he held back a smile. Both children shook their heads, and TJ had to laugh. He was content to leave them there, to climb down on their own, until he saw the girl's foot slip slightly. Within seconds she was dangling precariously from one the old thick branches. It wasn't too far of a drop from the branch to the ground, but TJ found himself rushing over and carefully helping the crying child out of the tree anyway. _She's about as old as CC. I wonder if they know each other at school._ He smiled as he placed her on the ground. She gave him a teary grin in response as he gently tweaked her nose.
"Geez, Rosa! Are you okay? Miguel, climb on down from there before you give Mom a heart attack."
TJ turned to see Rocky DeSantos walking over to where he was standing with the girl and he gave a small grimace. Quickly, he turned to Rosa, gave her a wink, and without a word of explanation, turned and started walking away.
"Hey TJ! TJ, I need to talk to you!" Rocky yelled with a frown as he saw the teen in blue rapidly walk away from the park bench by the tree. TJ didn't even acknowledge his name. If anything, he walked faster.
* * *
"Please be home." TJ muttered to himself as he rang the door bell of the two story blue house in one of the middle class neighborhood of Angel Grove. He could hear the DeSantos brood on the other side of the door scrambling around and yelling in their enthusiasm to get the door. "God, if you're up there, could you please help me out a little on this one?" TJ asked as he bent his head back to address the moonless sky. Silence answered him.
"Can I help you?"
TJ looked to see a tall, rather intimidating Hispanic teen in front of him. He drew a deep breath and gave a rather audible swallow, as the older DeSantos teen took a step forward.
"Rocky! NO! Let me at least talk to him! Paul, if you value your life, you'll untie me. Now. Rocky, when I finally get out of these ropes, I’m going to get you for this!"
"He had his say when he didn't show up, Clara. Now he and I are going to have a heart to heart. Paul, don't listen to her." Rocky hollered back into the house before he shut the front door.
"Listen Rocky. It is Rocky isn't it? I need to talk to Clara. Please. I have something I have to explain to her." TJ said nervously as Rocky stepped off the porch and advanced on him.
"Fine. Explain. Why did you stand my sister up?" The teen asked tightly as he backed TJ out from under the light shinning on the front porch. The chocolate skinned teen in red held up his hands in a vain attempt to pacify the older DeSantos. TJ received a glare accompanied by a frown for his efforts.
"I, well, on Friday afternoon something, well this emergency came up, and I couldn't make it." TJ finished lamely. _That was a bad explanation if I ever heard one. Way to go Teej. But I couldn't exactly tell him I was out battling with Divatox and her gang of thugs, now could I? How did I ever manage to possibly mess things up this badly?_ TJ looked up to see what Rocky's reaction had been to the whole thing.
The next thing he knew, he was on the ground with a bloody nose, and a black eye. He knew from experience to stay down. If you got up, you were just begging for more, especially if you were up against people who were bigger and stronger than you. Battling monsters who looked like monsters was one thing, but battling people was something entirely different. He looked up and waited for the older teen to make the next move.
"My sister's tears are worth more than ten of you, but you've made her cry a whole river of them in the last weekend. Consider this your one and only warning. Stay away from Clara. She deserves something better than what you can offer her, and if I ever catch you around her again, I will pound you into the ground so fast your head will spin." Rocky spit out angrily, and then without looking back, he walked up the porch steps and back into the two story house.
TJ laid in the dark for a moment as he stared at the closed door. _I've seen enough of those to last a lifetime._ He could hear Clara's higher pitched voice arguing with her brother's deeper one, but it didn't matter. _I lost her before I even had her. Well, Rocky doesn't have to worry about me. He was right, Clara deserves more than what I can offer her._ TJ sighed as he listened to the muted voices of the DeSantos kids along mingle with the noises of the crisp California night. The air smelled like freshly fallen dew and blood he noted wryly as he gently wiped his nose on his red shirt.
Slowly he climbed to his feet, and gave the cozy home on last longing look. With a sad shake of his head, he turned to leave. _Some things just weren't meant for some people, and I guess I'm one of them. How am I going to explain this black eye to the guys?_
* * *
The day after Thanksgiving 1998
TJ let out a disgusted sigh as he made his way towards the bridge. _You are such a coward. So he told you to stay away from his sister, that doesn't mean he's looking for a fight every time you see him. Things are different now._ TJ stopped short as he walked through the bay doors to find his two friends arguing in front of the viewing screen.
"Carlos, it doesn't work that way. I just can't conjure Elvis up. He may be dead, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to talk to us." She said as she turned and shot TJ an aggrieved look. TJ cracked a smile despite his mood.
Carlos's face lit up in a goofy grin, as he noticed his friend in blue. "So Teej, how was your Thanksgiving with your aunt and uncle?" He asked as he plopped down in the chair next to Cassie.
"Um, yeah, it was great." He mumbled softly. _Yes, I spent Thanksgiving with the aunt and the uncle who don't exist for the third year in a row. In a way they were the best thing I ever invented, and in a way they were the worst._ "What did you guys do this year?"
"Well, Andros spent Thanksgiving with Ashley and her family. Zhane and Carone left a couple of days ago to scout out Dark Spectre's old prison camps to make sure that everyone escaped with the fall of evil, so they're not here. I spent Thanksgiving with my older brother and my father, and you spent yours with cousins didn't you, Cassie?" Carlos asked as he turned to the girl in pink. She gave a slight nod of her head.
"Something like that." Cassie murmured as she and TJ exchanged a private look. Neither of them ever truly went home for the holidays. There just wasn't a home for either one of them to go to without spilling the beans on their respective situations. Cassie gave an audible sigh as she propped her feet up on the console in front of her. _Its really sweet of TJ to wait until I'm eighteen before we say anything to anyone. I know the guys wouldn't turn me in to social services, but sometimes its just better if they don't know until its all over. I hate being a minor._ Cassie turned her head as well as her thoughts as Andros rushed in through the bay doors with Ashley close at his heals. "What's going on?"
"DECA contact NASADA." Andros commanded, ignoring Cassie's question. "Maybe we can stop this before it even happens." He muttered to himself as Ashley gently rubbed his shoulder. Cassie shot Ashley a questioning glance.
"I don't know what's going on, don't ask me. We were watching a movie when he just jumped up and yelled that he had to get in touch with NASADA." Ashley said as she shrugged her shoulders in response. The room went silent though as DECA pulled up NASADA headquarters on her main viewing screen.
"Hello, this is Dr. Browning, how can I help you, Power Rangers?" The team stared at the older man in a lab coat for a second, and then all eyes shifted to Andros.
"Hi Dr. Browning, this is Andros, the red ranger. I was wondering, when you were going through the dark fortress to confiscate things you thought might be useful to the space program, you didn't happen to come across these five key cards, did you? They're about five inches long, it's a computer chip encased in yellow plastic." Andros asked as he regarded the elderly man in glasses.
"Oh yes, we came across those yesterday. I must say, we were fascinated by them. I had by colleague, Dr. Thompson, run a diagnostic check on them. We're hoping we can activate them and determine what's on them."
"NO!" All five teens yelled at the same time. The man on the viewing screen before them looked slightly disconcerted for a moment.
"Dr. Browning, the physco rangers are stored on those cards, and trust me, you don't want to activate them." Carlos injected for the rest of the teens. Dr. Browning had the good grace to look worried at the news, and the teens watched as the doctor fooled with his glasses for a second. Then as Dr. Browning shoved the glasses back on to his rather bulbous nose and wagged his shaggy gray eyebrows, the transmission went dead.
"DECA, what's the status? What happened?" Andros demanded as he moved to the nearest console.
"The transmission was terminated by NASADA." DECA's soothing voice flowed softly over the Megaship's intercom system. Each teen traded looks with another. _ _ This is not good._ _ TJ projected the thought that no one wanted to say out loud. Andros's face screwed up in disgust.
"Damn it!" He swore softly. "I didn't get to them in time." He muttered under his breath as he hit the console in frustration.
* * *
Angel Grove Cemetery
The day after Thanksgiving
"Drew, I don't know what to do. I don't think she'll take me back this time." Emanuel Velasquez said nervously as he turned to his best friend. "For some reason, she thinks I'm madly in love with LeeAnn. I don't get it. We're just friends. So what if she helps me occasionally with a couple of the harder concepts of Quantum Analysis? I just don't understand." he sighed in frustrations he ran a hand through his short, thick black hair.
"I don't know what to tell you, Manny. Chicks never make sense, that's just they way they were made." Andrew Hammond said with a sympathetic laugh. "Now you understand why I'm single. Despite my mother's matchmaking attempts, I've managed to keep just out of reach of most of the mad, raving lunatics that the world keeps insisting on referring to as women. Oh, and of course, you do know that the men who chase them are pretty much beyond the help of any shrink. As for Alicia, well, I wouldn’t give up hope just yet. She’ll come around. Eventually. It just illogical enough to be something she’d do.” He added with a grin. Manny just frowned at him.
“Well, as reassuring as that wasn’t, I’d like to thank you for coming along with me to see my Mom, you never know, your ugly smell might bring her back from the dead.” Manny said as he gave his twenty two year old friend a small shove. Drew just rolled his eyes and slugged the taller Hispanic playfully in the arm.
“Hey, she lived with your smelly carcass, I don’t see why she’d take offense to mine.” He retorted as Manny threw an arm around his neck and tried to wrestle him to the ground. _Poor guy, he asks me every year to come with him to visit his mother, and every year he ends up pretending for an entire hour that he’s not hurting on the inside. And what do I get out of it? A bunch of bruises._ Drew grabbed the black haired man around the waist and tried to pick him off the ground. He managed to succeed in getting the bigger teen about two inches off the freshly cut lawn.
“Well, I think she’d definitely take offense to you. It’s not exactly kosher to start wrestling with a grieving friend in the middle of a cemetery, you know.” Manny gritted out as Drew increased the pressure around his middle. Drew scowled as Manny grabbed a handful of his light brown hair and pulled.
“You started it.” Drew returned as his eyes began to tear, and his scalp began to feel like it was on fire.
“No your brother and sister started this.”
The two men released each other instantly and looked up. Encircling them were five armored beings who looked like they meant business. Before they could even blink, Manny and Drew felt two pairs of manacles glue themselves to their wrists. Within seconds, the two men were struggling as the beings pulled them into the melting ground beneath their feet.
* * *
Angel Grove University
The day after Thanksgiving
Alicia Hillard sighed as she sat down on the marble rim of the fountain right outside the campus library. _This is so lame. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I’m spending it here at school, moping. Manny just makes me so mad! We’ve been dating each other for a year, and he hasn’t told me he loves me even once. I tell him I love him, and what do I get? ‘Oh look at the time, 'Licia, I've got to go meet LeeAnn so we can study for Quantum Analysis.' Then he doesn't understand why I'm mad at him. He's got some nerve._ She sighed again as she blew her blonde bangs out of her face. _I should be home right now spending some quailty time with Kat and my parents. I mean, Kat doesn't exactly get to come home a lot, considering she's at college in England, of all places._
"Alicia? Alicia Hillard?"
Alicia looked up at the sound of the soft spoken voice to find a petite, worried looking girl about her own age. She wasn't dressed in the height of fashion, but then she didn't look mousy or overly nerdish either. In a way, the girl really reminded her of one of the teens her sister was always bring over to their house. _What was his name again? He ended up at Harvard or some place like that, I'm sure. He was definitely intelligent enough._
"My name's LeeAnn Cranston. I, um, well I was helping Manny out a couple of days ago, and he said you were mad at him because of, um well, me. I just wanted to tell you that there is absolutely nothing going on between us. Don't get me wrong, Manny's a nice guy, but he's not my type. Besides, I like someone else." The girl said nervously as she pushed her thin wire framed glasses higher up on her nose. "Not that he'd ever give me the time of day." She mumbled under her breath as she waited for the pretty blonde girl to reply to what she had said. Alicia smiled slightly and then patted the marble beside her. Reluctantly, LeeAnn sat down next to her.
"I'm not mad at you, and I know that you and Manny are just friends." Alicia said calmly as she propped her chin on her hands. LeeAnn gave the taller blonde a glance out of the corner of her eyes. "Men, if you can call them that, are such idiots aren't they? Its scary to think that most of the world's governments are run by them. I'm surprised they haven't managed to blow up the world themselves, what with the way they bungle *everything* up." Alicia added with a delicate snort. LeeAnn grinned as she turned towards the blonde.
"You should see my brother and father try and cook a turkey. I swear, they almost burned the house down this year, and they did manage to burn the kitchen down two years ago." LeeAnn said softly as Alicia beamed at her.
"We have to stick together against them, you and I. I think we'd make a really great team. Manny says you're really bright, so you'll be the brains behind the operation, and I'll be the enthusiasm. We'll just take over." Alicia grinned mischievously, and LeeAnn found herself returning the sentiment.
"Sorry girls, but taking over the world is our business."
Neither girl had even the time to scream before they were pulled from behind, into the watery depths fountain.
* * *
Angel Grove Zoo
The day after Thanksgiving
"Whose bright idea was it again to take the wild bunch to the zoo?" Clara DeSantos groaned as she rested her head on the 'missing children' counter near the alligator exhibit. Her friend, Lindsey Park cracked a sympathetic grin as she gave her a conciliatory pat on the back.
"Look at it this way, Clara, at least you only lost Miguel and Rosa. Things could have been worse, you could have lost the twins." The shy Asian teen joked. Clara looked up at her seriously.
"I wouldn't be that lucky." She said as she looked over to her twin brothers, Paul and Cristian, who were currently daring her sister, Blanca, to jump into the murky waters of the reptile exhibit. "Guys get away from those ropes and get over here. I already lost two of you, and I'm not about to lose a third to the gators. I don't care how exciting it sounds to you double disasters." Clara yelled over to the rest of her siblings. Reluctantly, the three trudged over to the counter and stared up at Clara impatiently. "I'm never going to have children. They're too much trouble." Clara said as she stared back at her three siblings. As a shoving match broke out between Paul and Cristian, Lindsey grinned as she watched her brunette friend roll her eyes in frustration.
"Yes, you are. You're going to have bunches and bunches of little cute babies with Mr. tall, dark, and handsome. Who is otherwise known as Tee, oomph." Lindsey grunted as Clara elbowed her in the side.
"Not in front of the terrible two, but you're right. He'd probably be the only person in the entire world who could convince me that having kids would be a good idea. Of course, if he asked me to jump in the gator pit, I'd probably think that was a good idea, too." Clara said with a self-depreciating laugh. Lindsey gave her another sympathetic pat on the back and sighed along with her.
"Who would have thought they'd be Power Rangers? To think of the times we drooled over those spandex suits without even realizing it. Lord, how embarrassing. Have you seen him around lately?" Lindsey asked as she gave Cristian a gentle shove away from her side. The twin merely grunted in response and then went back to fighting his mirror image.
"He helped Rosa out of an oak tree yesterday at the park. Then my dorky older brother chased him off, as usual. Of course, you should have seen Rocky's face when he discovered sand in his favorite sneakers this morning." Clara said with a wink, pulling Lindsey's attention back to the conversation. "You remember how I said I didn't think he had close family around here? Well, I don't think he has *any* family in Angel Grove. He was just sitting there on a park bench, staring off into space. On Thanksgiving. I called information a little while back, to see if I could get his number, and they didn't have any listings for an Edwards. He could have an unlisted number, I guess, but its just really weird." She sighed. "Where's Blanca?" Clara DeSantos asked suddenly as she noticed that her ten year old sister was nowhere to be seen.
"For that matter, where are Paul and Cristian? I swear they were here just a minute ago." Lindsey Park added in confusion as she tried to locate the obnoxious pair of fourteen year olds in the crowd, but just like Rosa, Miguel, and Blanca, they had disappeared.
"We can tell you where they are, better yet, we can show you."
The two girls didn't even have a chance to struggle against their captors before they were pulled into the translucent ground beneath their feet.
* * *
Angel Grove Park
The day after Thanksgiving
TJ frowned as he shoved one hand in a pocket and held his scanner in the other. The team had decided that the best course of action was to split up, and scan various 'hot spots' of Angel Grove for the intruders. _Two hours of walking around the park, and what do I have to show for it? Eye strain. I hope the rest are having better luck, because there is nothing here._ He sighed in frustration as he flipped the scanner shut and shoved it into his other pocket. The park was virtually deserted with the exception of a handful of people who were walking down the nature path, or sitting under the park's oldest oak tree. TJ grinned, despite his mood, as he watched a teenage couple argue half heartedly a couple feet to his right.
"Eating french fries from McDonalds does not make me cannibalistic, Kenneth. I don't care what you say." Cari Kwan said as she stuck out her tongue at her taller companion. Kenneth Mark Hart rolled his eyes as the tiny Asian girl beside him crossed her eyes in addition to sticking her tongue out.
"It makes perfect sense, and don't call me Kenneth. Ken is some plastic doll who follows Barbie around and has no life of his own because he's too busy playing Mr. Mom while his wife goes out shopping. The guy has no spine. But anyway, back to the french fries. If you eat fries, you're a cannibal cause you're eating your own kind." The taller dark haired teen said as he grinned at her. This time she rolled her eyes.
"Are you trying to tell me you think I'm a potato? Mark, you are the strangest guy I know. I guess that's why we get along so well. What would I do without you?" She asked half seriously. He turned his brown eyes on hers, and took both of her hands in his.
"Cari, without me, you'd be in a padded room right now, wearing a straight jacket." He intoned gravely. Cari Kwan stared at him for a second, and then hooted with laughter.
"Ha! I think it would probably be the other way around, buddy. I was perfectly normal until I met you. You are the loco one, Mark. Sheesh. You think I'm a potato." Cari Kwan laughed as she curled an arm around his waist. Mark Hart grinned back as he threw an arm around her small shoulders.
"We think you both should be institutionalized, and we are just the ones to do it."
Both teens felt armored hands fall heavily on their shoulders and the ground beneath their feet begin to shift like quick sand when a blur of blue flew through the air and connected with one of the five beings. Cari and Mark gaped in astonishment as TJ and the blue Physco climbed to their feet and circled each other. Before anyone could even blink, the Physco ranger had TJ by the throat, and all three teens dissolved into the grassy turf of the park.
* * *
TJ gasped for breath as the blue physco's armored hand tightened around his neck. _Great. There are six other people looking for these weirdo's and I get to be the lucky one who finds them. Well, on the bright side, at least they only managed to pick off one ranger and not the *whole* team. If the whole team were here, then we'd definitely be in trouble._ TJ wheezed slightly as the blue physco slammed him against one of the dark gray walls of the rather spacious room.
"What did you bring *him* here for? This was not part of the plan, Blue. The strategy was to capture the siblings of the rangers, and then watch them squirm as we use their brothers and sisters as leverage to gain the upper hand against those colored bastards. He'll ruin our attempts to destroy the rest of them."
TJ managed to wrench his head in the direction of the new voice as Blue relaxed his hold slightly. _Oh great, the red physco. What do they mean they have the siblings of the rangers? The two I caught the physcos trying to nab aren't related to any rangers I know._ The question was dismissed from his mind as Blue's grip increased again, this time, effectively cutting off his air supply.
"He won't be any trouble, not without his morpher. But you best hurry and get the rest of those rangers, because I will not wait forever to destroy this one." Blue said as he turned his gaze to the teen he had trapped in his grasp. TJ's eyes widened and he began to struggle in earnest as the armored being moved into to grab his morpher.
A black eye and a couple of bruised ribs later, TJ laid on the ground in the far corner of the large room and tried not to groan as a group of people, half of which he didn't even know, leaned over him.
"Where are we?" Cari Kwan asked as she focused her attention on the person who appeared to be the oldest in the crowd. The Hispanic man gazed around the bleak room thoughtfully for a moment, and then turned back to the small group.
"I think we're in a warehouse. You know, one of the abandoned ones that are downtown. I mean, considering the fact that this place is covered in old burlap sacks, and empty cardboard boxes, its the only place that would really make sense. My name's Manny Velasquez, by the way. This is Alicia Hillard, Drew Hammond, and LeeAnn Cranston." He announced as he motioned to the blonde woman, the dark haired man, and the brunette beside him. Cari nodded in acceptance.
"I'm Cari Kwan, and this is Mark Hart. The double images over there, I know are Paul and Cristian DeSantos. They're in my English class." The fourteen year old Asian girl said as she motioned to the taller boy beside her and then to the twins. Paul and Cristian nodded solemnly at their names.
"Those wackos nabbed my brother Miguel and my sister Rosa while we were at the zoo. Then, they caught us and Blanca when Clara and Lindsey Park had their backs turned. And that's Clara's friend Zoe Oliver over there." Cristian, the more serious of the two twins, explained to the small group as he named the rest of the unfamiliar faces. TJ's head snapped up at the mention of Clara's name, and he had to bite back a groan as the action made his vision swim for a second.
"Hi TJ." Clara said softly as she drew his arm around her shoulders and held him steady while he tried to gain his bearings. He managed to flash her a small, confused smile before he turned to face the group that was expectantly waiting for him to fix the situation.
"I know why I'm here, and why Manny, Drew, Alicia, Lindsey and Zoe are here. They're siblings of rangers, and the physcos are planning on using them as bait for their brothers and sisters. But as for the rest of you, I'm not sure I understand how you fit into the picture." TJ said with a shrug. Lindsey and Alicia gaped at him in astonishment, and if the situation hadn't been so serious, TJ would have laughed at their confounded faces. _I guess you never really picture your siblings in a different roll other than the one they play at home. Ashley said once that it was hard to picture her brother with a life, and I suppose that's the way it is for most siblings. At least they didn't get CC in this wild kidnapping charade._
"I can explain the rest of us." Zoe Oliver said as she caught the attention of the crowd. "We're all related to rangers. Cari Kwan, your older sister Trini was the first yellow ranger. Mark, your older sister Kimberly was the first pink ranger. LeeAnn, you're younger brother Billy was the first blue ranger. As for the DeSantos', well, Rocky was the second red ranger as well as the blue zeo ranger." Zoe said with a grin as she met Clara's dumbfounded expression.
"My brother. Your boyfriend. The moron who put snakes in my locker because he thought I was Medusa, he was a Power Ranger?" Clara asked incredulously as Zoe nodded. TJ's expression of horror mirrored Clara's, but for far different reasons. _He was a ranger?! What are the chances? Lord, he held the same colors I did. Who am I fooling? He was probably a better welder of the power than I am, and if I don't get his brothers and sisters out of here, he's going to kill me. Ranger or not._
"I don't know when or how the physcos figured out who the old rangers were, or even who their siblings were, but I know that once they have their minds set on destroying something, almost nothing will stop them. They were almost impossible to stop the first time, so we can't rely on the team to save us from this. We're going to have to try and save ourselves." TJ sighed and then winced as the intake of breath jolted his bruised ribs. "Manny, you know some about architecture don't you?" He asked as he flipped into his 'leader mode' and ignored the pain.
"I'm three steps ahead of you, man. While you were fighting the physcos Alicia, Drew, LeeAnn, and I scouted out the building. We found a weak point in the structure, but its going to take some time before we have something big enough to escape out of, especially if those guys in armor are going to be breathing down our necks." Manny Velasquez said, startling TJ somewhat.
"Great. Can everybody whose over the age of fourteen help Manny out with the escape route?" TJ asked, and everyone nodded in agreement. "Clara, can you and Lindsey watch out over Rosa, Miguel, and Blanca? Try and keep them as far away and as out of sight from the physcos as you possibly can. I'll take care of the diversionary tactics." TJ said as he delegated.
"What about CC?" Rosa asked in childlike innocence as she stared up at TJ with big brown eyes. TJ looked down at her and for a moment, he felt his blood run cold.
"Who?" He asked, knowing somewhere in the depths of his soul that he knew exactly who she was talking about. He watched as she turned and pointed to a small sleeping form a couple of feet from the group.
"My friend CC. She was awake when Miguel and I got here, but she cried herself to sleep when the bad guys were beating you up. Is she going to go with Miguel, Blanca, and me?" Rosa asked. TJ could only nod in dumbfound agreement as he stared at the sleeping form of the sister he hadn't seen in two years.
* * *
Ashley watched out the family room bay windows as the sun began to slowly set behind the trees in her backyard. Distractedly, she twisted and then untwisted the small piece of paper in her hands as she contemplated the impact behind the simple words scribbled there. She could hear her teammates talking in the background, but their voices seemed like a dull hum, and they were easy to tune out.
"Hey Ashley, isn't that you're doorbell?" Carlos asked, snapping her out of her thoughts and back into the world of reality. She nodded as she heard the chime once again, and got up of the sofa. Moments later, with the rest of the team behind her, she opened the door to discover Tommy Oliver, Kat Hillard, Adam Park, two girls, and two guys she didn't recognize, standing on the front door step. She turned uncertainly to Cassie and Andros to see if they recognized the visitors, but each of their faces held a blank expression that she was sure mirrored her own.
"Hey Rocky! Adam! What are you guys doing here?" Carlos asked as he pushed his way past his confused teammates to greet his old sparring buddies. Rocky gave a sad grin, and then traded looks with Tommy. Carlos felt a shiver of dread creep up his spine as he noticed that none of the people on the stoop looked particularly happy to be there. "Tommy? Rocky? What's going on?" He asked warily as he cautiously glanced from one twenty year old to the next.
"Actually, we were hoping you guys could explain that to us." Tommy said for the group as he held out a small square of paper that Carlos instantly recognized. "It appears as if our brothers and sisters are being held hostage because we all used to be rangers." Tommy stated matter of factly as Carlos took the slip out of his hand and read it over. Grimly, the Hispanic teen turned to Ashley and nodded.
"Well, why don't you all come in and get comfortable." Ashley announced as she lead the group back into the family room of her house. "This is going to be a long story, and we definitely could use your help." She said solemnly as everyone settled, somewhat anxiously, down onto the various pieces of furniture in the room. Andros comfortingly rubbed her shoulder as she began to explain the situation to the newcomers.
* * *
Drew Hammond stared blindly off into the inky depths of the warehouse. The sun had set two hours ago, leaving the group to settle down into a restless slumber in the pitch black room. _Except I'm not asleep, and I probably won't be any time soon. How could anyone possibly sleep knowing that the physcos aren't even twenty feet away? I bet they have night vision, and I bet that unlike us, they don't need to sleep._ Drew gave a loud sigh as he pushed the board straight, brown locks back off his forehead. To his right, Manny's rather audible snore seemed to mock his strained nerves. _I swear, he could peacefully sleep through a hurricane. The dork. I wonder how Carlos and Ash are holding up, for that matter, I wonder how all of our families are holding up. Do they even know we're gone yet?_
"Drew? Drew, are you awake?" A soft voice whispered to his left.
"Is that you LeeAnn?" Drew asked as he heard rustling coming from that general direction. He didn't know LeeAnn Cranston very well, he reflected. She was really one of Manny's friend's, but he could recall hanging out with her and Manny during the occasional study break. She seemed like a nice girl, a little on the shy side, but still a nice girl. "Where are you?" He whispered softly as the rustling sounds seemed to get progressively closer.
"I'm right here." She said as she tentatively reached out into the darkness and bumped into his shoulder with her hand.
"Geez! You about gave me a heart attack there. I wasn't expecting you to be right beside me." Drew gave a weak laugh, and LeeAnn felt herself smiling slightly. _He is so cute when someone pushes him off balance. I love the way he tries to cover it up with that gorgeous smile of his, those dimples about bowl me over every time. Oh great. I'm in the middle of a hostage crisis and I'm contemplating on how cute Drew Hammond is in my mind. Could I be anymore pathetic?_ LeeAnn let out a sigh as she blew a stray curl out of her eyes.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to alarm you. Do you think our siblings will be able to extricate us from this predicament, or do you think we'll have to rely on our own ingenuity to liberate ourselves?" LeeAnn almost groaned as she heard herself ask the question. _Great, now I'm beginning to sound like Billy. Stupid family curse._
"Okay, I think what you're asking me is 'are we going to have to save ourselves', but I'm not sure." Drew's amused baritone voice reached her ears, and despite the darkness, LeeAnn felt her face flush.
"Sorry about that. I have a tendency to get really wordy when I'm nervous." She said softly, and for a moment, there was silence. _Me and my big stupid mouth. One of these days I'm just going to nail my lips together, and save myself the heartache. I've officially turned myself back into nerdy LeeAnn with that last question._ She rubbed her temple in frustration. _Why doesn't any of this socializing crap ever come easy to me?_
"Yeah, this whole situation is making me edgy too, but don't worry about it too much, LeeAnn. Everything will turn out for the best. It always does." Drew said as he found himself reaching out and wrapping an arm around her small shoulders in an attempt to offer comfort. For some unexplainable reason, the simple contact with another human being, LeeAnn specifically, soothed his frazzled nerves. Feeling suddenly relaxed, he leaned back against the large pile of burlap sacks behind him, and gently tugged the smaller girl closer to his side. She smelled good, and there was something definitely feminine about her, he realized as she snuggled up against his chest. Immediately he tried to dismiss the thought. _Here the poor girl is worried to death about the situation we're in, and I can't seem to get my mind off wanting to just haul off and kiss her out of the blue. Great, that's probably exactly what she *doesn't* need at the moment._
"Thanks Drew. For some reason, I feel a lot better now." LeeAnn said softly as she closed her eyes and leaned against his shoulder.
"Anytime, LeeAnn, Anytime." Drew replied quietly as he shut his eyes for the night as well.
* * *
Cassie listened half heartedly as the multitude of voices swirled around in what was becoming a rather heated debate. _I should have known Andros and Tommy would butt heads on leadership styles. I love the way everyone but Kat and me jumped into the argument too when it started half an hour ago. I guess the girls in pink are the only ones who are content to wait until they come up with a game plan._ Cassie casually glanced down at her watch, and tried not to groan out loud. _Its only 9:30. They're going to be at this until midnight or until everyone's exhausted. Men have such think skulls._ Cassie threw a bored glance to the other end of the couch she was sitting on, only to discover that Kat was sleeping peacefully against the armrest.
"Kat. Kat, wake up. If I'm not allowed to sleep through this, then neither are you." Cassie whispered with a grin as she reached over and tapped the older blonde girl on the shoulder. Kat cracked an eye open and then, after a feline stretch, returned the grin.
"I had to get my nap in while I could, you understand." She said with a delicate shrug. Cassie gave a small laugh, but she noticed that the pensive, worried look had managed to creep back into Kat's sleepy expression. Cassie was about to offer some words of comfort, when she noticed a slight distortion in the air between her end of the couch and Kat's. Her breath caught in her throat as the air coalesced into someone she hadn't seen in six months. Kat let out a small yelp, and leapt off the couch in one fluid motion.
"Who's he?" Tommy demanded as the debate was cut short for a moment. Andros turned to Cassie, expecting her to explain, only to find her torn between watching Kat and Phantom at the same time.
"That's Cassie's Phantom. Don't worry, he's an ally." Andros stated calmly as he tried not to laugh when Cassie shot him a disgruntled glare. _Well, for all intents and purposes, he is her phantom. She discovered him, she knows the most about him, and she's in love with him. I was only telling the truth._ Andros dismissed the squiggle of guilt that lingered in the back of his mind, and waited patiently for Phantom to explain his presence.
"You're having problems with the physcos, and they've taken hostages." The armored figure intoned seriously as he climbed off the couch and over to Andros and Tommy. "What is the battle plan?"
Cassie groaned as the group launched back into their debate. _He had to ask. They're never going to decide on anything now. How did he know to show up anyway? We haven't heard from him in six months, and then he just appears out of thin air. Literally. Where the heck has he been? 'I'll see you soon' he says. Six months is his idea of 'soon' ?!_ Cassie frowned as the thoughts began to rankle with her usually up beat nature. _He appears when we need him, and we know he's a friend. But he won't trust us with any information about himself. Not even his identity._ Cassie sighed as she drew her legs up onto the couch beside her. She had so many questions, and no way of finding out the answers.
* * *
TJ blinked as the sun's first rays began to filter through a dingy skylight in the ceiling. Slowly, he sat up, painfully aware of his bruised ribs, and quickly scanned the over the sleeping group to make sure everyone was still accounted for and present. _Everyone's here. Good. Now all I have to do is keep everyone in one piece until we can manage to escape. There is no trying in this situation. I have to get these people out of here uninjured, and they're relying on me to keep them safe. In a way, their families are depending on me too. If I don't get up and do my part, we're all doomed._ TJ grimaced slightly, but followed the advice from his own pep talk and carefully climbed to his feet. In the far corner of the warehouse, he could see the physcos sitting at a table and casting the occasional glance in their general direction. _Why did it have to be the physcos? I could have handled Divatox, heck, I could have even handled Dark Spectre, but these guys out number me five to one._ He pushed the thought further back into the recesses of his mind, as he wandered around and gently woke everyone up. Five minutes and about a hundred sleepy complaints later, he had the group gathered around him in a circle.
"Okay, we're going to put Manny's plan into action this morning. Is everyone okay with that?" TJ asked, noting half way through the sentence that his voice sounded really hoarse. _Must have bruised something when Blue had that death grip on my throat._ He gingerly cleared his throat and waited as everyone gave a sleepy-eyed nod of agreement. "Clara and Lindsey, you guys will watch over the kids while Manny and the rest of you dig us a way out of here, and I'll keep the physcos occupied." He said quietly as he saw the five physcos get up from their table.
"Its too risky TJ. You'll get hurt." Clara protested as the group began to disperse. Quickly, TJ put a finger to her lips and then gave her a little shove towards where Lindsey Park had ventured off to with the rest of the kids.
"I've got the least to lose, and the most experience, Clara. Try to understand, and try to keep the kids as safe as possible. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if something happened to you or to them." He pleaded as he gave her one last push away from the advancing physcos. Steeling up his strength, he then took a shallow breath, and went to confront the enemy.
* * *
"This place is awesome." Billy Cranston said as he investigated the consoles and the various equipment of the bridge room. Kim grinned, she could hear Tommy and Andros arguing with DECA in the background, but her attention was focused solely on her boyfriend's enraptured face. "Look at this! They have hyper rush capabilities, lightspeed maneuverability, and their teleportation system is far superior to the one we had when we were rangers."
"Billy, you can not take the ship apart. Remember my toaster?" Kim replied with a grin as he straightened and shot her a sheepish glance. She met Trini's eyes across the room, and both girls shared a moment of mutual mirth.
"Oh c'mon, Kim. That was *years* ago. Are you still holding it against me? I bought your Mom a new one with my allowance." He teased back as he walked over to her side. Her mouth turned up at the corners.
"That's not the point Billy." She said as she casually threw her arms around his waist. In the year and a half that she'd dated him, she had rarely known Billy to initiate any type of physical contact. She was okay with that though, because once she started things, he always seemed willing and happy to follow her lead. He reached up and rubbed her shoulder as they both turned to watch DECA scan through what appeared to be the various sections of Angel Grove. "My parents are so worried about him. I mean, Ken's just a kid. Oops, I mean Mark, he hates to be called Ken. Geez Billy, He's only fourteen. What if something happens to him, what if something happens to them all?" Kim asked in a small voice. It had been a day and a half since their siblings had up and vanished, and the group had decided earlier in the day, that they had to tell their parents everything. Some parents had taken the news better than others. "You should have seen my Mom, Billy. She was livid when I told her that I used to be a ranger. Dad wasn't much better."
"They'll come around eventually, sweetheart. Just give them some time. As for Mark, LeeAnn and the others, we'll get them out of there before anything happens to them. We have to have faith or this whole situation is going to seem pretty hopeless." He said as he curled his arms around her in one huge bear hug.
"I think I have a lock on the physcos." Andros' excited voice permeated the tense air of the Megaship. Everyone in the room took a collective step closer to the viewing screen. To everyone's horrified surprise, the faces of their enemies appeared on the screen before them.
"You have one day to surrender to us completely, rangers, or we will begin to kill off one person every hour afterwards until you do. If you attempt a rescue, we shall kill them all, no questions asked. We shall see you twenty four hours from now." With that said, the screen went blank, leaving the rangers to stare at each other in dismayed silence.
"What are we going to do now?" Cassie asked, voicing the question that now one wanted to ask.
"Looks like we'll have to be sneaky." Phantom said grimly as stepped forward to DECA's main control panel.
* * *
"Manny, have I ever told you how much you frustrate me?" Alicia grouched as she slid down in the pitch black warehouse, to the ground beside him. Her arms ached from chipping away at the rotten wood and crumbling concrete in the corner of the abandoned building, and her neck was stiff from having constantly looked over her shoulder during the entire day. The logical portion of her brain knew that now was probably not the best time to bring up the problems in their relationship, but she was tired, stressed and cranky. Logic had flown out the window with her sanity five hours ago. "Apart from my family, you're the most important person in my life. When I'm not having a good day, you're there to be an idiot and say something to make me laugh. When I have a problem I need to talk out, or if I just want to talk to someone, you're the first person I go to. *I* think we're a pretty serious couple, but I'm beginning to think that you don't feel the same way. You're my best friend in the whole wide world, but I don't think I'm yours." She said, daring him to contradict her.
"Alicia?" His voice held a tremor in it that she'd never heard before, and she turned to face him in the dark. "Alicia, are you breaking up with me?" Manny asked trying to keep the panic out of his voice.
"Its not fair for you and its not fair for me to stay in this relationship if you don't love me, Manny. I love you, and a part of me probably always will, even if we break up, but I don't think *you* love me. And if you're not in love with me, eventually neither one of us will be happy." Alicia added quietly and then hugged her knees to her chest. She could feel the tears begin to well up in her eyes, and for once, she was eternally grateful for the complete lack of light in the building.
"I-I, but Alicia, this can't be happening. You can't be breaking up with me. For Pete's sake, we're in the middle of a hostage crisis!" Manny said in a hoarse whisper as he dragged a hand through his short, raven colored hair. _I do love her. I do. I can't believe she's breaking up with me. Leave it to her to do the most illogical thing in any situation we have the misfortune of getting into. What am I going to do without her? She's my life._
"Manny, don't make this harder than it already is. You don't love me, that's all there is to it." He could hear the tears in her flat, lifeless voice, and he really began to panic. He bit his lip as he debated what he was going to say next, knowing that it would be one of the most important thing he'd ever say in his entire life.
"Alicia, I've never talked about this before, and I will probably never mention it again after this, but I have to say this for you to understand me a little bit better. You know my Mom died when I was thirteen right?" He asked, pausing for a moment, and pictured her nodding in his head. He sighed, and then took a deep breath. "Well, what most people don't know is that Carlos and I were in the car with her when it happened. She was making a right turn and someone in the oncoming traffic ran the red light. It was horrible, there was so . . . so much blood everywhere. The roof was just mangled around her lifeless. . . Anyway, I still have nightmares about it now and it happened nine years ago. Needless to say, Mom didn't make it. Dad took the whole thing really bad. He retreated into his work, and we rarely saw him after that. In fact, I can't even remember the last time we actually had supper together as a family. I can count on one hand, how many times he told me he loved me after that accident. Telling people we love them just isn't something we do in our family 'Licia, its kind of assumed that they already know. We're a family of three guys, we don't exactly express our emotions a whole heck of a lot. But, I-I do love you, Alicia Hillard. You are my life, my sanity, and my best friend. Please don't leave me." Manny said pleading from the depths of his soul, and ignoring how utterly pathetic he sounded to his own ears.
"Oh Manny. How come you never told me before?" Alicia asked as she let her tears fall freely. Tentatively she reached out and touched his shoulder. When he didn't flinch or turn away from her, she crawled closer to him and threw her arms around his neck. Instantly his arms were around her waist, pulling her closer. "I love you, Manny Velasquez, and I plan on telling you that every day for the rest of my life." She whispered determinedly. As she snuggled against his shoulder, she was almost sure she heard his deep bass voice rumble 'I love you, too'.
* * *
Clara blinked groggily as she tried to recall where she was and why Rosa's night light wasn't on in the hallway. For as far as she could see, there was nothing but darkness. Not a shadow, not a glimmer, not even a trace of light could be seen anywhere. _Oh damn. That's right. I'm still in this musty old warehouse. Okay, next question, why am I awake in this place in the middle of the night._ She gave a small grunt as she shoved herself off the hard ground and into a sitting position.
"NO! S-stay away f-from us. I-I will use this. I'm warning you!"
Clara frowned as she heard the cries. She couldn't readily identify the voice, it seemed as if it should be deeper than it sounded. More mature than the frightened childlike quality that it held. Quietly she felt her way along the floor towards the whimpering voice in the dark.
"Oh l-lord. What have I done? Get up, come on, get up! Oh lord. No."
Clara's hand reached out and she felt the slick material of someone’s shirt slip between her fingers as she touched the thrashing person. _Only one person has clothes like this on here._
"TJ? Wake up, you're having a bad dream." She said quietly as she gently shoved what she thought was his shoulder. The teen instantly let out a moan of pain, and grabbed her wrists. In one fluid motion, Clara felt TJ flip her over his shoulder and she let out a strangled yelp as her back connected with the cold, hard concrete. "TJ, it's just me, Clara." She added defensively as she felt the pressure on her wrists increase.
"Clara? Where am I? Oh shit." TJ looked around disoriented for a second, only to discover it was pitch black in the room. He then became suddenly aware of the fact that it wasn't the demon in his nightmare that he'd flipped over his shoulder, but the girl in front of him. Instantly he released her wrists.
"TJ?" The Hispanic girl asked uncertainly as he abruptly let go of her wrists, and scooted out of her reach. The toss had knocked the wind out of her, but as she gingerly sat up, she realized that she hadn't really been injured. "TJ where are you?" She asked as she reached out with one hand, and waved it in front of her. _TJ where are you? I feel like an idiot waving my hand around in the pitch dark._ She frowned slightly when all that reached her ears was silence. Steeling up her nerve, she crawled onto her knees, and began to search the space in front of her for the injured teen. After a few moments, her outstretched hand collided with the lapel of his gray jacket. Instantly, she latched onto the material and scooted herself closer to the person who was wearing it. He didn't move. "TJ what's going on?" Clara asked uncertainly. _There's more to this than a simple nightmare._ She felt him shift slightly and she waited patiently for him to explain.
_ _ I'm sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am. Go back to bed, Clara. _ _
Clara blinked for a minute, startled by the intrusion of the voice inside her head. Intuitively, she knew that it was TJ's voice she was hearing, but that was the only thing she was sure of. He sounded tired and world weary, and for a moment Clara wondered if she should in fact do what he had suggested. Curiosity and concern won out though, and she moved until she sat indian style in front of him.
"I'm not going to bed until you explain to me what that was all about." She said with as much determination as she could. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she really wanted to know, but the words had already been said.
"Some nightmares you live, and some you dream. Others bridge the gap between reality and fantasy until you can no longer identify what was real from what was imagined." He said contemplatively. Clara frowned slightly at the cryptic remark. _And that explains everything . . . how? If he thinks that's going to get rid of me, he is sorely mistaken. If he wanted me to go away, all he had to say was 'I had a bad dream'. I can't leave now, even if I wanted to. My curiosity is piqued._
"What were you dreaming about?" She asked, as she heard him drag a ragged sigh. She cringed slightly as she heard him give a soft, barely audible whistle of pain at the cost the motion afforded him. _I'm surprised he's still able to even move around. He got a couple of really hard hits to the middle, and he was limping something fierce when the sun started to set._
"My father." He said simply. There was a note of unmistakable disgust in his voice as he spit the word out. "I was dreaming about that bastard again. I can't escape him, Clara, no matter how hard I try. There is always something that comes up, and reminds me of him. When I look in the mirror, I see his face in mine. I remember his slurred words every time I see a case of beer in the grocery store, and whenever I catch a whiff of liquor on someone's breath I remember my Mom just cowering, pleading for him not to hit her again. I see his enraged face in front of my own every time I get angry. And every time I see a gun . . ." TJ let the words trail off, unable to make himself say the damning truth out loud. _Every time I see a gun, I remember pulling the trigger._ He let out a painful sigh, as he mentally kicked himself for having opened up as much as he had. _She doesn't need to know any of this you moron. Why did you have to go and spill your guts to the first person who asked?_
"TJ . . . I never, well, I never had any idea." Clara said softly as she tried to find the right words to say. Nothing seemed to come to mind though as she tried to fathom what TJ had just told her.
"Nobody here does, Clara." TJ said as he ran a hand over his scalp. "It's, well, I just, my father and that part of my life stayed in Napa Valley when I hopped the bus to Angel Grove." He closed his mouth and sat in silence for a moment. _What am I doing? Why am I telling her this? That part of my life is better left forgotten. I've left it all behind. The house, the graves, the town. I even left CC behind, so she could start a new life, too. But I can't forget._ "I'm sorry, Clara. I have no right to unload on you. I shouldn't have told you." TJ said as he gently untangled her hands from his jacket. Clara sat still for a moment, and thought of all the things she could possibly say.
"Do you think that by not talking about your father, that he will simply go away, TJ?" Clara paused slightly, and when he didn't answer she plowed on. "I can tell you from experience that trying to push it into the far recesses of your mind won't work. Tragedies have a way of rearing their ugly heads, until you turn and face them. You have to talk about this to someone, TJ. I'll understand if you don't want to tell me, but you have to talk to someone. Trust me on this one." Clara said as she blindly grabbed his hands in the dark.
TJ felt her warm fingers curl around his as he contemplated what she had just told him. _I've tried my whole life to forget him. Hoping against hope, that if I didn't say his name out loud, he'd leave my life and my dreams in peace. But that hasn't worked. He's always there._
"Are you sure that talking about it will make the nightmares stop?" He asked uncertainly. There was no way he was going to bear his soul, unless it meant that the nightmares would vanish. "How do you know it will make them stop?" He asked. _I've lived with this for so long. How is talking about it going to do me any good? Will it really leave my dreams in peace?_
"My father and my best friend were hit by a drunk driver when I was ten. Lindsey made it, although she was in the hospital for what seemed like forever, but my father didn't. My Mom kind of retreated a little bit, and no one in the house could talk about Dad without having her burst into tears. So I never talked to anyone about any of it. By the time I was twelve, I had insomnia so bad my Mom took me to a therapist. I hadn't dealt with my father's death, and I had been having nightmares that were just so vivid that I was afraid to go to sleep at night. I stopped seeing the therapist two years ago, but I haven't had the recurring nightmares since. Trust me, TJ, you need to talk to someone." She said softly. TJ hesitated for a second as he debated how to start explaining his life. _Talk about things she says. Where do I start?_
"You know, that explains a lot about your older brother." He said finally. "Until now, I guess I never really understood where he was coming from, but now I do. If I were him, I would have hit me too. He's the father figure in your family, and I had to be the father figure in mine. My father left my Mom when I was just a baby, and for eleven years, everything was great. It was just me and Mom, and we were doing fine together. Then one day, the father I'd never known came walking back into our lives. At first I was ecstatic. After wondering what he was like for most of my life, I finally had a chance to get to know him. It wasn't until CC was born that he started to get really ugly. I'd seen the bruises on my Mom's arms before then, but I hadn't understood. The night CC was born, Mom had called a taxi to the hospital and had left me in the house. Around ten, my father came home roaring drunk, and when he couldn't find Mom, he woke me up. That was the first time I remember him hitting me. The rest of the times kind of blurred together after that. But all it took was that first time and I knew that he spelled trouble for my Mom, the new baby, and myself." He finished distantly.
"TJ. . ." Clara let his name trail off the end of her lips as she moved closer to him and gingerly wrapped an arm around his waist. At first, he didn't move and he didn't say a word. Clara felt a tingle of uncertainty worm its way into her mind. _Am I doing the right thing? I don't want him to clam up again. God, how awful this must have been for him._ She let out a soft sigh as she felt tears of sympathy begin to stream down her face. Then she felt him hesitantly wrap an arm around her shoulder and bring her closer to him.
"You don't want to get involved with me, Clara. Your brother was right, I'm just trouble. Thanks for listening to me though." He said quietly.
"I'm already involved, TJ, whether you want me to be or not. And as much as I love my brother, he is wrong *all* the time. I have faith in you, you are a good person. I've seen the proof." She said simply as she inter-twined her fingers in his.
Zoe blinked in the dark as she listened to TJ and Clara's voices faded into the inky obscurity of the night. _Rocky and I are going to have a *long* talk once this is done._
* * *
TJ blinked tiredly as the light from the dingy skylight spilled over his sleeping face. He moved slightly, only to discover that he was sandwiched in between two warm bodies. On one side, Clara was smiling slightly in her sleep, and unconsciously she wiggled closer to him as he moved. On the other side, his sister had his jacket gripped tightly in one hand, and her thumb in her mouth. He smiled slightly as he watched her sleep. _She's grown so much in the last two years. She's going to be beating the guys off with a stick when she gets older._ He sighed slightly and winced as the inhale of breath ricocheted against his bruised ribs. Ignoring the pain, he reached over and smoothed a stray raven curl out of his sister's cherubic face. Her eyes opened and she smiled slightly as she looked up at him with innocent brown eyes.
_ _ Hi CC. It's been a while hasn't it? _ _ TJ projected the thought, and CC's face lit up in delight. He grinned slightly as she brought his jacket closer to her cheek and looked up at him.
"I missed you Theo. Nobody talks to me like you talk to me. Why didn't you ever come and visit me? Don't you love me anymore?" She asked with child-like innocence. TJ looked at her, and for a brief minute, he felt his heart thud heavily against his chest. _ _ I love you, CC. I will always love you. I . . . I just thought that you'd be happy with your new family, and you didn't need someone like me hanging around. The Thompsons. . . they treat you all right, don't they?_ _
"Mom and Dad? Yeah, they're the best. They'd like you, Theo. I know they would. You can come and live with us." CC said seriously as she stared up at him. TJ gave her a bittersweet smile. _ _ I don't think that's a good idea, munchkin. You have a new life with them, and I don't think they'll be as willing to take me in as you are. Bringing home a person isn't the same as brining home something like a dog, besides, I’m all grown up now. It's time to get up._ _ TJ said as he sat up all the way. Reluctantly, CC scrambled to her feet.
"I'm going to go wake up Rosa and Miguel." She said as she turned to leave for the pile of DeSantos'. She stopped in mid stride though, and turned back around. In one motion she wrapped her tiny arms around his neck. "I missed you so much, Theo." She said and then released him. TJ smiled through the jostling, even though she had managed to hit a couple of bruises in her enthusiastic hug. _ _I missed you too, CC._ _
* * *
Blindly, Ashley crawled out of bed. She had never been much of a morning person, and the fact that Andros, Tommy, and Phantom had been up until three in the morning arguing over the plan of attack, didn’t help her current awareness of the world any. It wasn’t until she took a step forward, and tripped over someone’s sleeping form that she realized just how much she needed her sleep though.
“Ow.” Kat groaned as she woke up to discover Ashley sprawled haphazardly over her make-shift bed. “Morning Ashley.” She mumbled as she squinted her eyes to make out the yellow ranger in the bright florescent lights of the Megaship.
“Sorry Kat. I forgot you were sleeping on the floor. Trini’s not up yet is she?” Ashley asked as she looked up to the top bunk. The former yellow ranger’s sleeping form was still curled up in a little ball beneath the covers.
“Do you think they’re all right?” Kat asked worriedly after a few moments of silence. Ashley sat up and regarded the former pink ranger for a minute.
“I’m sure they’re all right. Remember, they do have TJ there with them. TJ will keep them all safe until we can get there.” Ashley said reassuringly. _TJ has the smarts. He knows what we’re up against, and I know he’ll keep them safe until we can get there. He just better keep himself in one piece, too._ “Besides, Alicia has Carlos’ older brother there. Manny won’t let anything happen to her.” Ashley said as she patted the blonde girl on the shoulder.
“Manny? Manny Velasquez? That’s Carlos’ older brother?” Kat asked, dumfounded. Ashley grinned and nodded. “My sister is dating Carlos’ older brother.” Kat said, somewhat dazed.
“I take it you didn’t know. From what Drew tells me, they’re pretty serious. You and Carlos just might end up being related by marriage.” She added with a grin as she stood up. Kat climbed off the floor, and ran a hand through her shoulder length blonde hair.
“Who knew.” Kat whistled softly. Ashley smiled broadly, and tried not to laugh at the girl in pink. Kat gave a simple stretch and then looked up to the top bunk. “Time to get up Trini.” She said as she walked over and gave the girl huddled under the blankets a small shove. “We have to figure out how we’re getting into that warehouse without getting anyone killed.” She said and then paused slightly. “Thank god Andros and Phantom could pinpoint where they were being held.” She whispered fervently to know one in particular. Ashley and Trini nodded absently in unspoken agreement.
* * *
“Manny, are we almost done? I don’t think TJ can take much more.” Alicia Hillard whispered as she drew closer to the Hispanic twenty-two year old. Manny turned and looked directly into her green eyes. She nodded her head slightly in the general direction of TJ and the rest of the physcos. He turned in to look just in time to see the blue physco land a pretty brutal punch to TJ rib cage. He cringed as the unmorphed ranger fell to his knees.
“We’re done, but we’re going to have to wait until tonight to break out. They’ll notice if we all start to disappear in broad daylight.” He whispered as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“We’re going to have to get the kids out first.” Drew Hammond added, butting into the conversation. LeeAnn, you and Alicia should probably make your way out first with Cari and Mark to make sure there’s some protected spot you can take the kids. On the off chance that they catch us escaping, you guys have to find a place to hide. Zoe, Lindsey, Paul, Cristian, Clara, and the rest of the kids can follow you out then. Manny and I will help TJ out because he’s not in any shape to make it out on his own.”
“You’re right, Drew, but in the meantime, let’s cover this hole up. Could you go and rescue, TJ? I don’t know where we’d be without him, but you’re right, if he gets anymore beaten up, he won’t be able to walk away from this.” Manny said as he released Alicia’s shoulder, and grabbed a nearby burlap sack. Drew nodded grimly as he got up and moved toward the group of physcos.
* * *
“I think your nose is broken, Drew.” LeeAnn said softly as she assessed the damage the physcos had done to the brown haired man in front of her. Tentatively, she reached out and smoothed a lock of his board straight hair out of his eyes. He gave her a painful smile, and reached over and gently tweaked one of her curls.
“Remind me, when we get out of here, that I have to ask you out on a date.” He said with a lopsided grin. “I’ll be fine LeeAnn, It’s TJ I’m worried about.” Drew sighed as he looked over to where the teen in blue lay. His cheek was swollen, as well as black and blue, and he seemed to be conserving his energy by moving as little as possible. _He said none of it was really bad, but I think it’s a lot worse then he’s letting on. I’m amazed he even was able to walk from one side of the warehouse to the next._ Drew’s head snapped up though as he saw Manny move towards him out of the semi-darkness.
“It’s time.” The tall Hispanic teen said abruptly as he helped Drew and LeeAnn to their feet. LeeAnn gave Drew’s arm one last pat, and then she moved with Alicia over to where everyone was huddled together.
"C'mon Lindsey, Clara. We're making a break for it." The blonde haired girl said as she gently shook the Hispanic teen and then the disabled Asian teen. To her right, Alicia could see LeeAnn helping Cari Kwan and Mark Hart to their feet, followed by the DeSantos twins. Quietly, each of the four fourteen year olds grabbed the hand of one of the four kids. Within minutes, the group had headed to the small opening of the crude hole that had been chiseled into the corner of the rotting warehouse.
Cari and Mark led Blanca and Miguel out through the the small pocket in the wall, while Alicia and LeeAnn watched the murky interior of the building for any sign that their actions might have been noticed by their captors. LeeAnn crossed her fingers behind her back as Cristian and Paul went out with Rosa and CC. _So far so good. Dear God, if you're up there, please let this work, and if you have anything left over, could you watch over Drew, Manny, and TJ for me?_ LeeAnn looked up to the barely illuminated skylight and let the prayer slip soundlessly into the night.
Zoe Oliver tugged Lindsey Park's good arm, and within moments the Asian girl with the slight limp and the dark haired teenager had both vanished through the escape route. Alicia grabbed Clara's arm and forcefully dragged the Hispanic girl behind her as they too left. LeeAnn waited for a minute, and when Drew and Manny appeared out of the dark, supporting TJ between them, she gave a huge sigh of relief.
"Come on, the sooner we get out of here, the better I'll feel." Drew said fervently, as he gave LeeAnn a gentle push out the through the hole.
"The hostages! They're escaping!"
"Oh damn. We're in trouble." Manny said as TJ nodded weakly in agreement. They bolted out of the confines of the warehouse.
* * *
"Andros! I'm getting their signatures outside of the building. They must have found a way to escape." Ashley yelled as she ran down the hall of the Megaship, startling anyone and everyone in her path out of their musings. Instantly Cassie, Carlos, and Andros appeared, and together the small group ran the rest of the way to the jump bay.
"Hey you guys, Wait!" Rocky hollered as he and the rest of the former rangers rushed in the jump bay just in time to see the Astro rangers' heads disappear through the teleportation tubes. "Oh great. Now how are we going to get down there? They had this planned, you know." Rocky said as he turned and faced Tommy. Tommy nodded his agreement.
"Good thing we had a back up plan just in case." Tommy said as a smile slowly grew on his face. "DECA, six to teleport."
* * *
Clara felt Alicia release her wrist the second the cool Californian night air hit their bare skin. The sun was setting just behind the old dilapidated warehouse and the stars were just beginning to appear in the twilight sky.
"Lindsey, Take the kids and get behind that dumpster over there. If things even begin to look like they're going to get rough, get those kids out of site." Alicia ordered as she stood beside the opening, waiting for the four inside to walk through. The Asian teen nodded, and quickly led the eight kids to the other end of the abandoned parking lot. "Zoe, you and Clara best follow Lindsey, I'm going to stay until they make it out." The blonde twenty two year old said as she nervously hunched down beside the hole.
"Get that, Zoe. She thinks we're going to leave." Clara joked. _Lindsey will make sure nothing happens to my brothers and sisters, but I need to make sure that nothing happens to TJ. I can't do that if I'm hiding behind a dumpster. Besides, you don't get to be sisters of third degree black belts without picking up a few of their moves._ She allowed a wry grin to enter her expression as Alicia shot them both a confounded look.
"Alicia, I've had more experience with this type of thing than either of you. If you think I'm just going to sit around and protect my sorry butt until someone rescues me, you're going to have to change your plans. That's just not the way I was raised." Zoe said seriously as both she and Clara joined the older blonde girl beside the entrance. Alicia frowned for a second, and then shrugged.
"Okay, you two really didn't leave me with much of a choice though." Alicia finally said conceding to their presence. Zoe and Clara shot her apologetic grins. Seconds later LeeAnn burst through the escape route, followed closely by Manny, Drew, and TJ.
"We've got trouble! Run!" TJ yelled to the small group as he stood upright by himself and turned around to face the entrance. "I'll take care of these guys, you all just make it out of here. Get everyone to safety. Please." He ordered as he saw the five beings begin to materialize in front of him. The girls looked to each other, and then each dropped into a fighting stance. LeeAnn and Alicia looked to each other, both knowing that the other had little to no experience with any type of combat, but at this point in time, it really didn't seem to matter them. There was nothing that was going to make them leave the fight without their friends.
"You girls go, get to safety with the kids." Manny said as he and Drew fell into defensive stances. "We'll take it from here." He said with the faint trace of panic in his voice as the physcos advanced in a straight line. TJ threw the first punch as the blue physco came within reach. Manny's words were instantly lost in the fray as kicks as well as punches began to fly.
Clara began to realize just how deeply in trouble they were when her first side kick bounced harmlessly off the yellow physco's chest plate. _Oh boy. That cannot be a good sign._ Her eyes grew wide as Yellow began to advance. Hastily, she began to back up, rifling through her mind for any means of battle she could come up with that might be effective. Nothing came. In the corner of her eye, she saw the rest retreating in similar fashion. The only one who seemed able to hold his ground was TJ, and he was paying a heavy price for his sheer stubbornness.
She yelped as she felt herself falling backwards onto the ground. Confused she looked down only to see an old two by four board tangled in her feet. In what seemed like slow motion, she saw Yellow approach, and make a fist. Instinctively, she threw her arms in front of her face. It was easier to heal a broken arm, a fractured skull was another matter entirely. She closed her eyes tightly and waited for the blow to fall.
It never did.
In a flash of red, Andros leaped over Clara and thrust his spiral saber at the advancing yellow ranger. Clara cracked an eye open, only to realize that she was no longer engulfed in the fight. Alicia and LeeAnn had retreated slightly with the appearance of the four morphed rangers, while Manny, Drew, and Zoe renewed their attacks. For a moment, Clara couldn't move. The scene seemed so surreal, so unlike anything she had ever experienced in her entire life. It wasn't until she felt someone drag her up off the ground by the arm pits that she snapped out of her trance.
"Clara, thank God you're all right. Go and find shelter. We'll take it from here." Rocky said as he dragged his younger sister off the asphalt, genuinely glad to see her unharmed. As soon as she was standing though, he left her side and leapt into the battle. Clara quickly scanned the fight for TJ, only to see him battling the blue physco alone. Determinedly, she bent down and pick up the two by four in both hands.
TJ glared at Blue as he tried to ignore the throbbing in his leg as it radiated up through his thigh. He could taste the metallic stickiness of blood in his mouth and his entire chest felt as if it was on fire, but none of it seemed to matter. Time slowed, and TJ saw the punch coming before he felt the impact. _ _You haven't seen the last of me. It takes more than a couple of hits to break me._ _ He projected as Blue's fist collided with the side of his skull.
"Take that you Bastard!" Clara yelled as she swung the two by four as hard as she could at the armored being. The board connected with Blue's head with a solid thwack. As the physco staggered slightly to side, Cassie and Katherine threw punches, diverting the being's attention away from both TJ and Clara. Relieved, Clara scrambled over to TJ's fallen form. His eyes were closed, and for one horrible second, she thought he was dead. She laid a hand on his chest and breathed easily as she felt his chest rise and fall slightly as he drew in shallow breaths.
"Theo! Wake up!"
Clara's head snapped up just in time to see the seven year old bound through the fray and slide to a stop in front of TJ. There were tears in her innocent young eyes, and she grabbed his jacket as she fell to her knees beside Clara.
"CC, what are you doing here? You need to go back to safety with Rosa and the rest." She said as she gently put a hand on the girl's shoulder. In the background, she could here the sounds of a fight winding down, but she was still concerned for the little girl's safety.
"He's dead, Clara." She wailed. "Theo's dead! He's dead just like Mama was. He's not moving!" Her childish voice reached a hysterical pitch.
"He's not dead, CC. See, feel." Clara said as she took the child's small hand in hers and placed it lightly on TJ's chest. Beneath their palms, they felt the steady rhythm of his heart thud against his rib cage.
_ _CC? Clara? What's going on?_ _ TJ's voice intruded into her thoughts, making her jump slightly. Clara looked up at TJ's face and her eyes connected with hers. CC let out a squeal of happiness and Clara smiled softly as she put a hand on his brow.
"Help arrived." She said simply.
* * *
The Megaship was bustling with activity and people. It had been Andros' idea to teleport everyone to the Megaship, and then to teleport everyone's parents aboard. Ashley looked around and smiled through her happy tears as she watched her various friends embrace their parents as well as their siblings. Out of all the parents, Ashley noted, Mrs. DeSantos seemed to be having the most trouble expressing her obvious relief at having all of her children back. After all, there were seven of them, and she was having a great deal of difficulty in trying to hug them all at once.
"You were awesome out there, Ash." Drew said quietly as he threw an arm around her. In an uncharacteristic display of affection, he hugged her tightly to him.
"Thanks." She said softly as she returned the embrace. She glanced up to see how her childhood buddy and Manny were doing, only to discover that they were alone in their celebration. "He didn't show up, did he?" She asked sadly as she watched Carlos and Manny put up a brave front. Drew nodded sadly.
"We couldn't get a hold of Mr. Velasquez, apparently he's out of town on business . . . again." Drew said softly. He felt his mother and father move closer to them, and he released Ashley in favor of giving his mother another hug. Ashley walked into her father's warm embrace and put her face against his polo shirt.
"Papa, why do some fathers just ignore their kids? I can't believe Mr. Velasquez isn't here for this." She said, the irritation in her voice growing, and she felt tears begin to stream down her face. Her father rubbed her shoulder comfortingly.
"I don't know, Ash." Mr. Hammond replied softly as his little girl cried on his shoulder. _She's exhausted, that much I'm sure of. But she has always been extremely sensitive to the feelings of others, especially those she considers her friends._ He sighed slightly, and then focused his attention on consoling his daughter.
Drew turned away from his parents, only to catch sight of LeeAnn halfway across the room. In a few strides he was in front of her. Nervously he ran a hand through his hair as she looked up at him inquisitively. "I. . .um, LeeAnn, would you, uh, maybe want to go and see a movie or something with me next Friday?" He asked. She grinned up at him.
"It's about time you asked Andrew Hammond. I thought I was going to have to ask you, you turkey." She said as wrapped his arms around her in an exuberant hug.
Zoe finished hugging her parents and her brother, only to discover that tears of happiness were streaming down her face. Tommy reached out and gently tweaked her nose, which only made her laugh while she was trying to cry. _I sound like a hiccuping frog._ She grinned wryly at her brother and then scanned the room for her boyfriend. Rocky had just set down a delighted Rosa, when her gaze fastened on his. Determinedly, she walked across the room. The minute she was within arms reach, he enveloped her in a huge bear hug.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again." He said, a tremor of fear evident in his voice. Zoe smiled slightly as he held her tightly. _Poor guy. He's been through a lot. Almost his entire family kidnapped as well as his girlfriend. But that doesn't mean I'm going to let him off the hook._
"I need to talk to you about something, Rocky DeSantos." She finally said sternly. He looked down at her, mildly amused. "This is no laughing matter, pal. You owe TJ a *major* apology. How could you hit him? Especially after all the troubles you went through to get a girlfriend, you couldn't have had a little sympathy?" She asked as he looked down at the floor, ashamed. "Come on, don't you remember how hard it was for you as a ranger? He needed your support, and you didn't give it to him. I'll concede that you didn't know he was a ranger at the time, but still. Who Clara dates and does not date, is none of your business. She has to experience life for herself. You can't protect her from everything, as much as I know you want to." Zoe added as she watched his shamed expression grow. "Rocky, he was abused as a child." She said softly as she lifted his chin, his gaze meeting hers. His eyes widened, and he groaned.
"I . . . I, Oh Lord, I *really* screwed up this time. I've regretted that incident from the moment I let that first punch fly. I've tried to apologize to him, but every time I try to confront him, he hot foots it out in the opposite direction." He ran a hand raggedly through his short brown hair. "It all makes so much sense now." He said to himself. Zoe tugged on his sleeve, slightly, snapping him back into reality.
"Well, now is as good a time as any. He's in the med. bay with Andros. He's not going anywhere." She said, Rocky nodded and then turned to walk out of the bridge.
* * *
Clara inter-twined her fingers in TJ's as Andros ran a scanner over the injured teen once more. CC sat on the edge of the table, her fist still tightly clutching the lapel of his jacket.
"Well, Teej, I'd recommend about two weeks worth of bed rest, but you're going to be okay. As long as you don't run into any more physcos, those ribs should heal nicely, and that broken ankle should mend. You have a mild concussion and a broken wrist, but you didn't sustain any internal bleeding, and you managed not to puncture a lung with one of those broken ribs. The bruises, while they may seem really painful now, will fade in a couple of days. You have a chipped tooth. I'm sorry I can't do to much about that." Andros said as he flipped the scanner shut. TJ managed a slight smile which Andros returned. "It's good to have you back, Teej. The team wasn't the same without your level head. If its all right, I'm going to go find Ashley." He said as he gave an embarrassed smile. TJ smiled broadly, ignoring the twinges his split lip.
"Go ahead Andros, I need some time alone anyway." The blue ranger said as Andros shot him a knowing grin and then left.
"Do you want me to leave, too?" Clara asked as she began to disentangle her fingers from his.
"No, stay." TJ said as he grabbed both her hands in his one good hand. "I, actually, I was wondering, would you give me another chance Clara? I know I screwed up with that first date, but could you just try to see if you could give me another chance? That's all I ask." He said as he looked up at her. _ _Please give me another chance. I can't promise not to break your heart again, but I'll try my damnedest not to._ _ He projected. Clara looked down at him with a huge smile on her face.
"How could I say no to that? Especially after you risked life and limb for me? Of course I'll give you a second chance. You ever had any doubt that I wouldn't?" She asked as she rubbed his head playfully. He grinned and brought her fingers to his lips. Lightly he kissed them and smiled as a light blush spread across her cheeks.
"I win." CC said, interrupting the interchange between the two teens. TJ and Clara looked over at her, confused. "Rosa said you two would *never* get together. Come on Clara, I have to go tell Rosa I won the bet." CC said seriously as she hopped off the table and grabbed the teen's hand. Clara shrugged apologetically as the seven year old dragged her out of the door. "This is going to be so great. Rosa and I will get to be sisters when you and TJ get married. I always wanted a sister." CC said happily.
"Sisters? Married?" Clara's incredulous voice floated back into the room, and TJ laughed, immediately regretting the action as the movement jostled his ribs. He let out a slight groan at the stab of pain.
"Broken ribs are a pain in the ass aren't they?"
TJ looked up to see Rocky DeSantos standing over the med. table. The teen didn't look hostile, but that didn't mean anything to TJ. "Listen, before you say anything, Rocky. I have something to say. I like your sister. Nothing you say or do is going to change that. You can pummel me into the ground fifteen times, but I'm still going to keep asking her out on dates." TJ said looking the Hispanic teen eye.
"Listen. . . bro, I have something to say too. God, I feel so bad about what I did to you. I never should have hit you. Never. No matter how angry I had gotten, or how justified I felt I was, I had no right to haul off and punch you like that. My father died before Rosa was even born. My brothers and sisters mean the world to me, and I never wan to see them get hurt. That still doesn't excuse my actions though. Can you ever forgive me?" Rocky asked as he looked down at his feet. There was a long silence, and Rocky felt his heart fall heavily against his chest. _He's not going to forgive me._
"I forgive you, Rocky." TJ said finally. "I guess if our situations had been reversed, I would have wanted to do the same. Geez, even the thought of some guy messing with CC makes me want to take a couple of real hard punches at something, and she’s only seven." TJ admitted softly. "So you don't mind that I asked Clara out?"
Rocky gave a characteristic grin. "Mind, no. At least not until she starts screeching over the phone to Zoe and Lindsey about every detail of your date. Consider this a warning, she has a squeal so high pitched, it throws the sonar radars of bats off track. She probably leave you deaf in one ear by the time it's all said and done." He finished with a smile. TJ grinned back.
* * *
One week later
“So, how are you feeling?” Rocky asked TJ as the movie playing on the simludeck began. There were shrieks of laughter and demands for silence as the very crowded room of teenagers and kids, settled down to watch Aladdin. TJ managed a wry grin as Rosa and CC jumped up and down in enthusiasm. Clara laughed beside him as Paul and Cristian groaned in unison.
“Couldn’t we have gotten a cool movie? Like Independence Day or something?” Paul asked as his younger sisters bounded closer to the screen. TJ shrugged his shoulders as the fourteen year old shot him a desperate look.
“Sorry Paul, DECA chose the film. We had to make sure it would be okay for the younger ones to watch.” TJ explained. Rocky grinned as his brother reluctantly sat down on the floor.
“I’m fine, Rocky.” TJ said suddenly, answering the Hispanic teens earlier question. “Can you believe the way things turned out? Who would have thought?” He asked as he curled an arm around Clara’s shoulder.
“Yeah, who would have thought we would have ended up with baby-sitting duty?” Clara noted wryly as Miguel accidentally crashed into his younger sister. “I can’t believe Mom went out of town and left us with brat pack.” She added as Rosa began to screech.
“It could have been worse.” Zoe Oliver said as she snuggled closer to her boyfriend’s warm side. Paul, Cristian, Clara, and Rocky all stared at her with incredulous expressions. “It’s not that bad! Sheesh, you guys are warped.” She said as she rolled her eyes.
“Well, I for one, am glad that my sibling is here.” TJ said as he watched CC do a small dance to one of the musical numbers in the movie. Clara grinned as she grabbed his hand in hers.
“I told you the Thompsons would come around. They aren’t unreasonable people, just a little wrong headed about certain things.” She said as he grinned back at her. “Besides, they think they’ve just found the world’s greatest baby-sitter. You’ve taken care of CC all day today, and let them get their Christmas shopping done. You’re probably their savior at the moment.” She noted. TJ sighed happily.
“And I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He said as Zoe snickered at something Rocky had whispered in her ear.
“Look! It’s Clara and TJ!” CC announced loudly to the whole room as she pointed to the screen. In the movie, Jasmine was walking through the marketplace while Aladdin was staring at her dreamily from the awning of a local fruit vendor. TJ groaned loudly as Rocky and Zoe burst into peals of laughter. “Can Rosa and I be the flower girls at your wedding?” She asked. Clara giggled into TJ’s shirt.
“I take it all back.” TJ muttered with a half smile as he felt his face flush. “Sisters.” He added as he shook his head in mock dismay. This time, everyone in the room burst into laughter.
Cassie smiled as she walked past the doorway. It was good to see her friend had finally found what he had been looking for all this time. It was obvious to everyone, that TJ was quickly becoming integrated into myriad of people in the DeSantos household. _I’m happy for him. After everything he’s been through, he deserves a group of people he can call family._ She let out a small sigh as she headed to the bridge. _Now all I have to do is find what I’ve been looking for._
She drew up short as she saw the black armored back of the Phantom. He was standing defensively in front of the viewing screen, involved in what appeared to be a rather heated debate with DECA.
“DECA, just tell me where they are. I’m not asking you to spill your data bases, I just want to know where Zhane and Carone are.” the morphed being said, slightly irritated as he glared at the blinking light.
“Phantom, what’s going on?” Cassie asked uncertainly as she entered the room.
“Zhane and Carone are about to run into trouble, but I can’t get DECA to give me their location.” Phantom said as he shook a fist at the fiber optic head. Cassie bit back a smile at the picture the scene created.
“How do you know they’re about to run into trouble?” She asked as she moved beside him.
“Call it an instinct.” He muttered. Cassie frowned slightly.
“I’ll get DECA to tell you, but only on one condition.” She said as she turned to look at him. “You have to take me with you.” She said, expecting him to try wiggle his way out of the ultimatum. Instead he merely shrugged.
“All right. You get her to tell us where Zhane and Carone are, and I’ll take you with me.” He said simply. Cassie turned to the onboard computer, and within seconds, she had their exact coordinates. He nodded and motioned for her to leave the room with him.
“Wait I have to leave Andros a note.” Cassie said as she pulled a pad of paper and a pen out of her jacket.
Phantom had to leave, and I went with him. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with Zhane and Carone.
* * *
Second Author’s note: Whew! The End! I thought I’d never get to this part of this story! I am *never* dealing with this many characters again. :) I hope I haven’t frustrated you too much. Please don’t flame me, I know this sucker was a little disjointed. *Sigh* Oh well, you live and learn. :) This was one of those things where the heart was willing, but the mind was putting up a pretty major fuss. Thanks for sticking it through, though. :)