To Revel in the Agony of Crushed Hopes and Dreams
“I want the record to show-”
“You think this is a horrible idea. Yeah, whatever, shut up,” Hunter replied quickly, waving a hand in Blake’s direction to indicate he understood and continued not to care about his protests. “Dustin, do you think…?”
“I might have found one,” Dustin chirped from his side of the building they had set up shop on, properly recono-sizing the area close to the building the rangers had been in that had a steady amount of people working through it. “There’s this young dude with like, a white badge over here. He looks like a good target.”
“None of the other guardians had white badges,” Blake noted quietly, being helpful despite his feeling on their current mission objective. It was completely obvious to everyone who had eyes, but he was still trying to be helpful, nonetheless.
Blake did have a point though; all the other guardians that had walked through, the old guys, had darkish grey ID cards attached to their belts. The kid that Dustin pointed out (which was also another clue, because the guardians themselves were like, late-twenties at the youngest and all looked like they could eat rocks for breakfast) had a white badge on a lanyard around his neck. He was moving confidently, with an assured air that he should be going where he was going, but…oh yes, Hunter did detect a hint of nervousness. New on the job then, or an intern. That fresh faced excitement mixed with enthusiasm said that the kid was new to the company, but there was still the expected anxiety that came from starting something for the very first time.
Hunter might actually feel bad about this later. Not too soon later; maybe in a couple of days, but still, it could happen.
Possible guilt was pushed aside as he judged the kid’s size from a distance. Tall and lanky, excellent; it was like they wanted Hunter to steal his clothes. Which, honestly, worked for him. Silver Guardians’ HQ was going to be given a pass for attempting to be stealth proof for delivering such well-proportioned intern/newbies onto them.
“If you’re gonna do this,” Blake muttered. “You better do it soon, before he hits the main entrance.”
Which fell under ‘other-shit-Hunter-already-knew’, but he took the prompting for what it was and got his mind into gear. The kid was on a side street now, having parked his car further down in one of the public parking lots (indicating he was not high enough in status to get to park with the big boys on actual Bio Labs property), and making his way steadily towards the main building where all the main…checking in and stuff happened; Hunter wasn’t sure, whatever. They needed to get the kid into an alley or something, somewhere off the beaten track.
Behind them, or, to be more precise, to the right of them and behind the kid, the sudden clattering of trashcans toppling over broke the peaceful silence of the afternoon. It came from the alley to their right, which was awesome, the kid was looking interested now, and Hunter slowly began to smile.
“Excellent,” he muttered. “Now all we have to do is make some more noise and-”
“I think Dustin’s one step ahead of you,” Blake interrupted, motioning to the now-vacant spot the yellow ranger had been previously inhabiting. Hunter shared a quick look with his brother, then immediately pelted to the other side of the building where a few pained cries were joining the sounds of more trashcans toppling over.
Dustin always beat them when it came to improvisation and creativity, Hunter noted, allowing himself a small feeling of pride at how the other teen continued to act like a wounded person trying to call for help, stumbling and failing to seek out medical attention.
The kid/new-hire/intern reacted as any civically concerned person would and ran towards the sound of the disturbance, ducking into the alley as fast as his legs would carry him. There was a chance he was about to say something, like “What’s wrong?” or “How can I help you?” or “Are you drunk?” but all that came out was a brief “Aag!” when Hunter leapt down and gracefully smacked him on the back of the head, safely sending him into unconsciousness.
His ribs twinged in protest, unwilling to be put into action again so soon, but he ignored them resolutely.
Blake landed next to him a second later and they paused, trashcan lid still held possessively in Dustin’s hand and Hunter with a foot propped up on a mound of unconscious person, all staring down at the poor kid’s inert body and figuring out there would be no turning back from here.
“What should we do with him?” Dustin asked, eventually tossing the metal lid to the side and tilting his head, eyebrows furrowed as he pondered their newest puzzle.
“There aren’t any abandoned buildings near here are there?” Hunter prompted, earning an aggravated sigh from his brother.
“Are you serious? You didn’t think of what to do with him?”
“Shut up,” Hunter ordered, flipping the unconscious kid over and pulling off his cap. Next Hunter moved for his collar, taking off the white badge (which up close read Mike Struthers, Intern) and began undoing the impressive amount of shit the Silver Guardians had decked “Mike” out in. Really? They really thought the intern would need both elbow and knee pads? Did they just assume he would be that inept? And what was with the shoulder strap contraption…whatever, Hunter would figure it out, eventually-
“Are you just going to leave him naked in an alleyway?” Blake asked, clearly against this idea, and Hunter waved a hand at him (again) to express a negatory.
“I figured you could just take him back to his car,” Hunter explained, finally deciphering the intricacies of the shoulder-strap-whatever-it-was and moving onto the kid’s gloves. Gloves, they had given him gloves. It was almost cute.
“And then what?” Blake asked, making no move to help with Hunter de-clothing Mike. At least Dustin had started working on the kid’s boots. “He won’t stay unconscious forever.”
“Then keep an eye on him,” Hunter muttered, making quick work of the kid’s buttons. “If he wakes up and starts to freak, knock him out again.”
“Wow,” Blake droned, sarcasm oozing into his voice. “What an incredibly long-term plan. How ever did you think of it?”
Hunter threw an irritated glare at his brother, “Seriously Blake-”
“This isn’t a good idea,” his brother urged, fists clenched against his sides and expression open and beseeching, willing for Hunter to stop.
But Hunter couldn’t stop.
“It’s the only one we’ve got,” Hunter shot back, trying to hold onto his anger so he wouldn’t stop to reconsider, they needed to do this, they needed to keep going so they could see-
“We don’t need to go in there,” Blake muttered, statement quiet but with a definite weight to it, like he was aiming for a resounding truth. “The only thing we came here to do was return the gun. The longer we stay the more…” He waved a hand vaguely, trying to think of the right word and eventually settling on, “Crazy it’s going to get.”
“This could be important-”
“Hunter,” Blake interrupted, voice serious. “We’re only causing more trouble.”
The older Bradley brother halted his work on the kid’s belt, pulling his fingers away and running them through his hair, thinking. Yeah, he knew that they didn’t need to but-
They were rangers now. Had been for awhile now, there was no need for the “now” business, they were-
And Hunter just…He wanted to make up for all the mistakes they had made.
And Blake, Hunter realized after a few seconds contemplation, just wanted to make sure they didn’t make any more in a poor attempt to fix it all. He was worried that Hunter’s decision-making ability had been compromised.
“We’re already this far.”
The Bradleys had gotten so caught up in their mini-staring contest, trying to silently communicate their feelings and concerns and…needs in the moment that they were actually startled by Dustin’s statement. When they both looked over the yellow ranger had a determined look in his eye, like he had caught it all, understood what they were feeling and felt it too, and had already decided on the proper outcome.
“We’ve already come this far,” Dustin repeated, giving them both a level stare. “We might as well finish it. We did start this with good intentions right? It’s like…our duty, to the other guys, to see if we can help. Even though we can’t like, go up and talk to them cuz we’re ninjas, we can still…” Dustin shrugged, finally loosing some steam as his voice dropped. “We can still go see em’, right?”
He was so hopeful, yet pained because he knew or at least he thought that this mess was his fault, not Lothor’s. Not the team’s fault for getting captured, or the doom-pot guy for doing the capturing. Nope, getting chased by the Q-Rex, Hunter’s bruised ribs, Eric Meyer’s roughed up house and this kid getting knocked unconscious were all Dustin’s fault at the end of the day. In his opinion.
And Dustin was…he was sort’ve like their third brother, and Blake knew that too. Knew well enough that they had to support each other on these quests, because at the end of the day, they were the only guarantee they had.
In the back of his head Hunter could just hear Shane and Cam and Tori all protesting, because they were family too, but this was different.
They were brothers.
And brothers stuck together.
That was one of the irrefutable rules of being a Bradley. So obviously, they couldn’t turn back from here.
There was a slight pause before Blake’s surrender, because he and Hunter, they had both gone down the same mental trail and both knew what they had to do. The younger Bradley sighed, rolling his head back to glare at the sky again before offering Dustin a thumbs up. “…Fine.”
“Great,” Hunter replied, snatching the kid’s button-up shirt and pulling it on, one arm at a time. “We’ll just…put my extra clothes in Dustin’s backpack; I’ll walk in there, see what the fuss is about, and walk out, no sweat. Got it?”
“Got it!” Dustin chirped, nodding in confirmation as he finished de-clothing poor Mike, discarding his pants in a pile next to his boot. The kid was down to his undershirt, boxers, and socks. Well, at least he wasn’t naked. There was an appropriate silver lining to his day.
“Just don’t do anything stupid,” Blake muttered, holding his hand out for Hunter to pass his belt over to him. The blond obliged and the navy ranger transferred the article of clothing over to Dustin, who carefully rolled it up and placed it in his backpack.
“Trust me,” Hunter replied, now finished with the buttons and moving on to switching his pants. “I don’t want to get noticed anymore than you do.”
“Less talk-y,” Dustin ordered, eyes focused on folding Hunter’s pants just so before shoving them into his backpack. “More change-y.”
“Sir yes sir,” Hunter muttered, going for sarcasm but unable to deny the hint of sincerity in his voice.
There was a small measure of comfort that came from following somebody else’s orders.
Despite the rather serendipitous measurements of the unconscious intern, Hunter’s newly acquired shoes still managed to be about a size and half too small, forcing him to ignore the uncomfortable pangs of hurt coming from his feet as he strolled up to Bio Labs’ main entrance. It figured; it would be way too fortuitous for everything to fit just right (and if it had Hunter would have probably been suspicious anyway), so he made do, readjusting his hold on Mike’s borrowed backpack and mentally reviewing its contents in an attempt to distract himself. There wasn’t much in it, just a few notebooks of various sizes, just waiting to be filled, a lunch (in a brown bag and everything, it was adorable), some pens, pencils, a MP3 player, and other assorted odds you would seen in a teenager/young-adult’s backpack. Hunter was almost surprised he hadn’t seen any sports magazines or…wow, he was sort of drawing a blank here, he couldn’t even think of an obnoxious stereotype for a teenage male. That was a kind of depressing he would rather not dwell on.
Hunter was making his way through the scenic plaza entrance area, about thirty yards from the Bio Labs’ main threshold, when a gruff, irritated voice rang out from just around the edge of the building, to Hunter’s right; three or four shadows casting on the ground drawing closer to the front of the building.
“Jones? Jones! Where the hell are ya’?!”
As the demand was finished the owner of the voice rounded the corner; a mean looking Silver Guardian, obviously weathered, flanked by what Hunter assumed where two junior officers/employees/whatever-they-called-themselves. He was sneering over his shoulder, agitation clear on his features as he turned back around, shooting a quick look at the other two before his mouth set in a definite frown.
Yeah, that guy was definitely the leader here.
“Jones!” said leader yelled again, calling back over his shoulder. Beside him the two lower ranking guys shared an amused look, or at least, the guy furthest from Hunter did. The other guy might have had the barest possibilities of a smile, the minutest tugging on the corner of his lips the only sign on his serious expression that he found the leader’s- who Hunter would now label as “Sarge” – antics entertaining. Gave the crimson ranger the feeling this kind of thing happened all the time. Just another afternoon ritual. He could just see it. First lunch, then a staff meeting, quickly followed by a half hour of good ole’ Sarge yelling at Jones to get his shit together, and then listening to the same grumbled lectures they always got while they went about their next staff-meeting/patrol/training-exercise. There was comfort in the routine. Everything was in balance; all was right with the world. It was casual, relaxed.
“Jones!” Sarge bellowed, causing the further junior officer-guy’s smile to widen. “Get yer ass out here!”
Sarge frowned, turning back to face the other two Guardians who immediately wiped the smirks (as small as they may be) off their faces and replaced them with similar looks of annoyance (or detachment, in the case of the closer guy), sympathizing with the higher ranking man. Catching sight of their expressions Sarge’s frown deepened, because he knew all too well they didn’t give a damn, and the one farther from Hunter happily reinstated his look of amusement, knowing the cat was out of the bag.
Okay, so further-man was the jester of the group. Whoever he was. And Jones had to be…
“Sir, for the millionth time, we’re ahead of schedule,” a calm voice called from behind the three Guardians. “You don’t have to start yelling at me until I’m actually late.”
There was a mild accent to the voice, British, Hunter would say, but the tone was distinctly exasperated, because he had gotten the short end of the stick by being the constant target of Sarge’s displeasure.
So Jones was the odd man out. Or the scapegoat.
Sucked to be that guy.
“Jones,” Sarge grumbled as the final member of their squad lumbered up, coming to a halt beside the jester. “As your squad leader I’ll be the one who decides when yellin’ needs to be done.”
Jones, fair faced with blond hair that was incredibly bright against the dark colors of his uniform hat, did not resemble Hunter’s mental image of a Silver Guardian. In fact, were it not for the thin scar running down the length of the left side of his face, from eyebrow to chin, Hunter would be surprised if the guy was a fighter at all.
But then again, who was he to judge? After all, it was a hell of a lot easier to sucker punch someone if thought you lacked the ability to.
…Wait, what the hell was Hunter doing? He had a building to infiltrate. It wasn’t like he was going to get any information listening to these guys pick on Jones. Well, he might, but it would best if he actually started moving again, seeing as he had stopped the moment they disrupted his stroll like a real pro.
Okay, so it was safe to say this entire ordeal was starting to wear down on him; he needed to get his act together.
Shaking his head, Hunter started to move on, pulling the backpack higher onto his shoulder while he continued to eavesdrop on the squad of Silver Guardians.
“I don’t know why you’re calling me out anyway,” Jones was saying, ignoring Jester-Guardian’s friendly elbow to his side as he pressed on with his complaints. “Henderson isn’t here yet either. And we’re still ahead of schedule.”
“That’s because Henderson’s looking for the new kid,” stoic man, the one who had yet to say anything, explained.
New kid? Hunter sure as hell hoped that wasn’t supposed to be Mike.
No, of course it wouldn’t be; that guy was an intern. They were probably referring to some new recruit or something. A fresh hiree.
“Yeah,” Jester chided playfully, smile bright. “He has orders; you’re just slow.”
“Shut up Dellario,” Jones muttered, returning the earlier elbow in a less companionable fashion than Dellario/Jester’s initial action.
During their banter stoic man turned to Sarge, asking quietly, “What’s Henderson’s progress anyway? Has he called in?”
He finished his question by tapping a spot along his belt on a…radio, Hunter could see it now, and in the distance Sarge shook his head, indicating a negative.
“Nope,” the grizzled leader replied. “Though I’m gonna have to call it a loss in a couple minutes.”
Jones set his jaw upon hearings this, and rolled his eyes in annoyance. “We’re ahead of schedule.”
“So you keep telling us,” Sarge grumbled, flicking a displeased look at the blond-haired Guardian. “Why don’t you call up Henderson right now and share that little nugget of wisdom right after you tell him to get his ass over here.”
“No need!” a voice called, loud, right behind Hunter (who was five feet from the goddamn door), and the other four Guardians whipped their heads in Hunter’s direction, Jones’ peeved expression slipping off his face as he took in who Hunter assumed was Henderson, the missing employee who just so happened to be clapping Hunter on the shoulder, a pleased smile on his face.
“I think I found him!” Henderson continued, flicking his eyes down to Hunter’s nametag and sharing a quick grin with the blond before turning his attention back to the others. “Should have known to check the front door.”
“Figures,” Dellario chirped, smile growing when Jones threw a small glare his way. Not a fan of the chipper attitudes, that one.
Okay, so Mike had been the new guy they were looking for, which was just freakin’ fantastic.
“You Struthers?” Sarge asked, leading his small pack over to Hunter and Henderson’s location. Hunter nodded in response, resisting the urge to glance down at his nametag to confirm this fact, and the older man frowned. “You’re late.”
“My car broke down,” Hunter offered, using the cover story he had invented on the walk over. “I got here as soon as I could.”
The Sergeant stared him down for a few seconds, eyes narrowing, obviously displeased by Hunter’s aloof delivery (and he would have changed it but hey, smoozing was Blake’s job, not his), before he eventually sighed. “Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll give ya’ a break since it’s your first day on the job.”
With that, Sarge made a sharp one eighty, turning on his heel and heading back in the direction he had come, motioning for the others to follow.
“Alright people,” Sarge began in a booming voice that reeked of authority, not deigning to baby “Mike” with simple things like introductions since he had been late. “Today we’ve got a basic patrol of the east side of Silver Hills. Commander Myers has ordered an upgrade in security-”
“Does this have something to do with the visitors we’re not allowed to see?” Jones asked, obviously not caring about interrupting his leader. He probably figured he was bound to get crap for something, might as well be something he had a say in.
Hunter was starting to like Jones.
Also, “visitors” obviously meant the Power Rangers Hunter had seen earlier. The fact that the Silver Guardians were being kept away from them worried Hunter for a few seconds, before he remembered that only a few of the teams had public identities, which meant that this was Myers and Collins’ measure to allow them the privacy they needed. Nice, but also, interesting. The fact that Myers had ordered more patrols meant he was definitely noticing the increase in aliens in his town and this measure, which Hunter guessed was outside of the Guardians’ normal duties, was to ensure the town’s safety.
But was that also the reason for the other Rangers being here, or was it something else?
“If it does,” Sarge continued, annoyed but not wanting to delay their conversation further. “It’s none of our goddamn business. Now the plan is for me and Burke,” (Hunter assumed that was the last guy, the more serious one), “to drive circuits of our designated city sector while the rest of you patrol on foot. We check in every ten minutes, no exceptions. Someone doesn’t check in, we assume the worst and formulate a plan to converge on their location, exercising caution. Now,” Sarge said, glancing over his shoulder as he finished laying out their plan, eying Hunter. “My name’s Miller; I’m the Squad Leader. Second in command here is Burke.” He gestured over to serious guy who nodded his head cordially, his small way of saying hello. “You have any questions, you go to him. Though I’m sure the rest of the guys will be more than happy to gossip with ya’.”
“Yes sir!” Dellario chirped, winking at Hunter as they continued down the sidewalk around the side of the building. “We’re a couple of real chatterboxes, right Henderson?”
“Right Dellario,” Henderson replied, smile in his voice.
Commander, Squad Leader, second in command and…regular Guardian, were the ranks Hunter managed make out from their brief conversation. It made sense, he guessed, that they didn’t have military titles. The Silver Guardians were a security group, not an army. They were essentially really well-equipped security guards. They must address each other by their last names as a way of making them more formalized or legit, for morale or…
Well, it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. They were still seasoned badasses when it came down to it.
“Alright,” Sarge- Miller grumbled, shaking Hunter from his thoughts. “Cut the chit chat ladies, let’s at least pretend we can be professional.”
“Sir, I’m wounded,” Dellario groaned in mock protest. “I’ll have you know I’m the most professional.”
“Can it Dellario,” Jones grumbled and Dellario, ever the joker, tried to elbow him again, though this time his British teammate had the foresight to step aside.
The chatter continued. Henderson, who seemed to be the most laid back and sociable, tried to keep Hunter/“Struthers” involved, informing him exactly what the Silver Guardians did on a day-to-day basis, what the training and selection process was, and after very little prompting, launching into loud renditions of the battles they had fought against Ransik. It was a lot of information to get into their ten minute walk, probably because Dellario had a short attention span and managed to change the subject just as Hunter was sinking his teeth into their topic of conversation, but eventually they entered a parking garage, occupied by a few scattering of Silver Guardian SUVs.
Miller scoffed as they made their way over to a particular SUV, throwing Henderson an unreadable look as he pulled a set of keys out of his pocket. “Save those stories for later Henderson,” he ordered quietly. “We don’t want to build the kid’s hopes up.”
He tossed the keys over to Burke who snatched them out of the air easily, not even bothering to look at them.
“This is going to be a normal run,” Miller continued, striding over to the passenger’s side of the SUV as Burke unlocked it. “Nothing more than a stroll through town.”
There was a part of Hunter that wanted to warn the man just as he was saying the words because a certain feeling of doom had descended upon him the moment Miller had mentioned getting Hunter’s hopes up.
Because he had, in a way.
All Hunter had wanted was to pretend to patrol with these guys. Just, walk down a stretch of the street for a bit before he streaked back to Bio Labs and did a more thorough perusal, maybe even return the damn gun, and make a hasty escape.
None of these things involved another “sneak” attack from Marah and Kapri.
But that was just what Hunter wanted.
So he honestly wasn’t surprised when, for the second time that day, the morons three (because of course, Choobo would never be left behind) popped out from frickin’ nowhere with an endless swarm of Kelzaks on their heels, storming the parking garage like it was a new world to conquer and clearly they were the only warriors worthy of such a challenge.
Hunter had enough time to hear Jones’ cursing and Dellario’s wild cheers (okay, so that guy had to be a little unbalanced) before the horde was upon them, and he realized, far too late, that at the moment he was not, in fact, Hunter Bradley.
He was Mike Struthers, and Mike Struthers was not a ninja.
Or a Power Ranger.
So…suffice it to say, hopes crushed.
Hopes crushed like it was their goddamn job.