Just Go To Your Happy Place
He would never tell anyone, but Hunter had always been glad he had never gotten a little sister. He kept this fact to himself mostly out of self-preservation, because eventually Blake or Shane or any of the others would poke and prod at it until Hunter was either appropriately guilted or annoyed into it, and the words would come out in an embarrassingly frustrating tumble of pathetic reasoning.
Because girls weren’t boys.
No shit right? Must have taken a freakin’ master detective to deduce that stroke of brilliance, but the bottom line of it remained. Girls weren’t boys.
Girls were different; they thought differently and were molded into different things and moved about conversations differently and there was no base-line of communication Hunter knew he could fall back on where nothing could be misconstrued. There was no guarantee he would know what a little sister would want or if he would be able to learn her like he did Blake, knowing what motivated the navy ranger to do the things he did, how he would respond if Hunter did this or picked that fight or if the world started to collapse around the two of them, knowing that he would always have Hunter’s back.
Family, in general (Hunter was sure), would still have his back. Okay, so differing genders wouldn’t change that, it was just all the other shit that Hunter would have to worry about.
Except he didn’t have to, because his parents had never adopted another kid, and he and Blake were free to be their own broken unit of abandoned and emotionally-incompetent human beings.
So there it was, no more having to worry or think about it, except in those few-and-far between moments where Hunter was traumatically stressed into his old mindsets of “Why?” and “How?”, in regards to the opposite sex.
Then again, perhaps it wasn’t just the female-thing that was boggling his mind this time. There was a good chance that the “horribly evil” business was coming into play- ooh, or how about that whole severely and incompetently stupid aspect of the whole situation? Those were pretty good options too.
But Hunter was…getting away from himself.
In his defense, escaping into the sanctity of his mind to pursue whatever intellectual perusals he fancied was better than paying attention to Marah and Kapri’s insistent blathering.
He almost wanted them to revisit the idea of physical torture, but the blond knew that if he did it would somehow make its way back to Shane and give the red ranger a heart attack, if he hadn’t already had a conniption fit from unrelenting stress already. Hunter didn’t particularly give too much of a damn about himself, but damnit, Shane was his, and therefore not-Hunter, so the crimson ranger could hope he was okay. Shane got all of his optimism; it wasn’t like Hunter had much use for it now.
“Blue?” Marah chirped merrily, holding up an out-of-focus object for Hunter’s inspection before switching it out with another one. “Or purple?”
She thrust the second item into his face- his actual, helmet-less face, and waved it around with the giddiness of a five year old. “I’m thinking purple.”
“You should do blue,” Kapri offered from her perch across the room, working, from what Hunter’s muddled gaze could see, at filing her nails into threatening daggers. “It would bring out his eyes better.”
If Hunter cared to look at Marah’s expression, he was sure the brunette would be pouting with a skill that rivaled Dustin’s. “But I like purple,” she whined.
“You should do green!” Choobo suggested, all un-wanted enthusiasm and volume. He had snuck into the dim-twin’s new home base not too long ago, and no amount of prodding could make him leave. “Green’s the best.”
Appropriately, everyone ignored the would-be General’s suggestion. If the satisfied humming was any indication, Choobo didn’t care in the slightest. He had gotten to contribute.
Oh, to be contented by simple joys.
“You know what?” Marah began, sounding uncharacteristically speculative. “You’re right Kapri, I’m gonna use blue.”
“Good call.” The pink-haired kunoichi sounded the right amount of apathetic smugness to render her the sincerest form of irritating. Damn arrogant, self-imposed know-it-all, like she possessed the capacities to sound so damn sure-
“I hate you,” Hunter muttered, but at this point it sounded more like an unintelligible growl. It got his intention across, but it was all for naught, as it only earned him an amused laugh.
“Don’t worry puppy,” Kapri jeered, horribly pleased with herself. “We’re gonna take good care of you.”
You see, that was sort of the thing that Hunter was worried about.
“Forget about her,” Marah chirped, shifting her weight on the bed until she settled into a position that satisfied her needs. “It’s makeover time!”
She was so genuinely overjoyed by this that she didn’t even complain when Choobo joined in with her cheers, dumbly following her lead in an effort to please his senior lackeys. This torture- and it was torture, don’t let the lack of physical destruction fool you- was probably one of Hunter’s more surreal hostage situations. And he had been shrunken and trapped inside a popcorn container before. Hunter had assumed that- and the butter- would be at the top of his list forever, but there was just something about the way Choobo was sitting cross-legged on the ground like a hyperactive toddler, rocking back and forth as he eagerly awaited Hunter’s punishment, and the way Kapri was still casually grooming herself like this was her usual Tuesday afternoon, or the way Marah kept lording makeup supplies over him as though Hunter gave a damn that forced the blond to reevaluate that fact.
And he did not give a damn. In so many ways Hunter did not. He just wanted his helmet back.
Screw his dignity; Kapri had already stolen that when they had lugged his gimpy ass through the process of breaking and entering the now-abandoned apartment. Marah had insisted they use this one because she liked the curtains. Or something like that. She had made it sound really important, but Hunter refused to believe their motivations for commandeering a living space and rummaging through someone else’s toiletries could be justified by leopard-print curtains. That wouldn’t be fair.
To neither the leopards nor the curtains.
“Blue, blue, blueee,” Marah was chanting under her breath, eye shadow…brush/stick-thing descending upon Hunter like an ominous cloud of discontent. “You are going to be sooo-”
“Don’t care,” Hunter grumbled, attempting to bat the offending limb away with a manly swipe.
She dodged it, but in his semi-conscious state Hunter decided to humor himself and think it had been a monstrously difficult task for her. Almost, dare he think it, impossible.
Marah was still humming. It took Hunter a few seconds to realize his eyelids had surrendered to gravity and his captor’s advances, theoretically to spare himself from having to watch, but deep down Hunter knew he was just tired.
His previous struggles to escape hadn’t gone well; maybe he would do better after he’d had a nap.
Yeah, he liked the sound of that.
“You should do his hair Kapri!”
Oh- loud, did she have to be so loud? Of course she did, she knew he wanted sleep-
“Good call sis,” the other demon/low-life/bitc- replied, enthusiasm rivaling her sister’s (but in a more subdued way, so she’d be cool). Hunter risked cracking an eye open to see her slowly saunter towards Marah’s side, eyes alight with a threatening vindictiveness and hair curler clasped menacingly in her hands.
Great, a thing that’s sole purpose was to get hot and be held near people’s faces. There was no way that could lead to an unfortunate incident.
“Oh!” Choobo cheered, thrusting one large, uncoordinated hand into the air. “You should give him bows! Everything’s better with bows!”
Please, please don’t-
“You know what Choobo?” Kapri drawled, fingers tugging on random strands of Hunter’s unkempt hair. “That’s the best idea you’ve had all day.”
“Please Kapri,” Marah scoffed. “That’s the best idea he’s had all year.”
“Yeah!” Choobo cheered again, unaffected by their snide remarks. Seemed like the guy had been delivered his own perpetual shitstorm to such extreme extents that he didn’t even perceive such comments as bad anymore. Anything was better than nothing.
No Hunter, the crimson ranger thought, now is not the time to come up with sympathetic back stories for the asshole who brainwashed you evil.
There were limits, y’know?
In the small gap between Kapri and Marah, Hunter could see Choobo begin clapping his hands together enthusiastically. “Bows, bows, bows,” he chanted. “It’s better with bows!”
There were worse mottos to go by in life, Hunter supposed. Certainly more damaging ones.
That didn’t make him hope for his own inevitable fall into insanity to be any less imminent, but it was a nice thought to tide him over.
An irritated “Just go,” had been the only thing that Kai- Sheila’s creator, the blue ranger - had bothered to deign Cam with once the calculations had been reviewed and the evidence insurmountable. If there was any hope of the Ninja Storm team properly contributing to the plan to take care of the Doompot infestation, Cam would be required to get planet side at the earliest measure, if not sooner.
Preferably his zord would have accompanied him on this trip, but after witnessing the Mega Winger’s twenty percent dip in efficiency upon Zhane’s own trip to Earth, Cam knew that would be impossible. Cyber Cam was more than capable of taking control of the Samurai Star Megazord, so Cam wasn’t worried about that; it had been mere courtesy to ask if Kai had felt comfortable with this sudden change mid-battle.
Were his tone any indication, as cool and controlled as he had made it out to be, Cam would say it was not the blue ranger’s most preferable outcome, but he understood the necessity.
The added, “Now get out of here and stop wasting my time” remained unsaid, but the message still managed to reach Cam, loud and clear.
There was no time for dallying.
“You’ll be fine dude,” Cyber Cam chirped in his ear, immediately taking over for the green ranger the moment his hands had left the controls. “I’ll finish this battle in no time.”
Unless, of course, his connection was somehow lost. It could only happen upon destruction of the receivers, which Cam had ensured were heavily protected, but there was always room for worst case scenarios.
His unease was not settled by the added factor of unfamiliar transportation.
“You’ve gotta stop worrying creator-man,” Cyber Cam continued, picking up on Cam’s hesitation. “The blue-dude lent you his own personal transport. That should speak volumes for its reliability.”
Yes, it should.
Though Cam had difficulty putting his entire faith (along with his well being) in something called a Jet Jammer.
Even less in one piloted by a foreign AI.
“Okay, now stop your fussing and get out of here. I need to work my magic in peace.”
For something he created, Cyber Cam was getting entirely too bossy.
“Are you sure you’ll be comfortable-”
“Yes, yes, you made me, you should know better than to ask,” Cyber Cam chided. “Stop stalling and get Jet Jammin’.”
“That’s not what it’s called,” Cam groused, despite knowing his program would counter his protest with a patronizing humming sound. “Space travel is-”
“Still sta-lliiiing,” Cyber Cam sang- and for one, brief moment Cam understood Hunter’s motivation to activate the signal blockers. “Now get, while the Jet Jammer’s still in range.”
As much as he loathed it, Cyber Cam had a valid point. It was enough for the green ranger to suppress whatever uncertainties he had and start making his way to the rear external hatch, preparing himself for an unscheduled trip through space.
Like it or not, it was time to fly.
Dustin could honestly say, heart-crossings and needles-to-the-eying included, that he been resolutely set on not being distracted until he found the others. He knew from what Cyber Cam had told him that there were battles taking place all over the city, but he had promised, on his honor as a ranger, to firmly ignore them. Yeah, an army of Doompots was something to be worried about, but they had an army of rangers which was infinitely cooler, and it wasn’t like they weren’t perfectly capable butt-kickers who had already saved the world or anything. If there was anyone who could handle themselves, it was the old ranger people. They didn’t need him, Dustin Brooks, to stumble into their battles and mess everything up.
That had been his thoughts on it anyway. And they seemed like pretty good ones, no matter how much they would make the rest of his team frown. There was logic in them.
But then one flying pick-up truck later and Dustin’s whole plan-of-attack had gone up in spectacular flames.
The return of the tree-thrower was not something Dustin had seen coming, and the fact that the monster had altered his projectile of choice to cars had left Dustin in a state of sad bewilderment as he tried to puzzle that discrepancy out, except he shouldn’t have, because why couldn’t it start throwing cars? They were kind of like trees, right? They were just as big and cumbersome and deadly to all possible-victims of cumbersome-projectile-throwers.
That was it; Dustin could totally justify a new side quest if it required smashing the Tree-thrower down so hard he wished he was a tree he had…thrown. Whatever, smack-talk wasn’t Dustin’s strongest suit. End of story, that thing’s face needed to get acquainted with the business-end of Dustin’s Lion Hammer.
For Hunter’s honor.
Also, for whoever it was currently trying to bludgeon to death via flying automobile.
But mostly for Hunter’s honor.
Attaching the Quantum Defender onto his belt (apparently Dustin could do that, who knew), the yellow ranger readjusted his grip on his weapon and quickly moved into position.
He had sooo much pent up frustration that needed to be let out, whack-a-mole style, this guy didn’t even know.
And hopefully, he never would.
Because he’d be unconscious.
Just to clarify.
When Justin was twelve he had fortuitously stumbled upon an experience that had, quite frankly, altered the course of his life in a staggering manner (understatement, horrible understatement, but it was the best description he could manage right now). It was a chance of one in a million, for someone of his standing, and he had been stupidly proud of it. He relished the opportunity, was fully aware of its rarity, its weight, and the unique understanding that had been gifted to him.
See, Justin could proudly say he was among the selective minority of individuals who got to drive a car at age twelve.
It was, for lack of better explanation, one of the most satisfying things Justin had ever experienced.
Driving was freedom. Driving was deciding when and where and how you would get from point A to point B, or if point B was even necessary at all, why not skip it and head straight for point C? Why not? The world was your oyster.
And even after…they, the Turbo team, had lost, and Justin had been left behind, he had still tried to keep practicing. To keep his hard-earned driving-skills intact. It was the most Justin could do, with the others busy saving the world, with him morpherless. Justin had held onto his practice sessions with an intensity that bordered on unhealthy, using that as a distraction from his inability to contribute to the Earth’s defense. He couldn’t get a real car, of course, but arcades existed for a reason and had the closest thing to driving Justin had access to, and when he was tired of trading his dollars in for tokens and quarters he jerry-rigged his own driving simulation. He’d broken down and rebuilt his Master System II and figured out how to code his own racing game, used his free time to look through scrap yards for a steering wheel and pedals, for a seat, a stick shift, for anything and everything he could possibly need to make his set up the next-best thing to really driving. Short of creating an actual vehicle, Justin considered his work satisfactory.
If it also served to fill that now-vacant timeslot he had once dedicated to being a ranger, Justin never consciously thought about it, instead focusing on new ways to make his set up better, more realistic, more challenging.
With a wry smile, Justin thought about how he if he had sold the damn thing then and there he would have revolutionized video gaming that much sooner, but it had never been about the profit, or the entertainment.
It had been about the training.
Getting Storm Blaster back had been like returning a piece of himself, his freedom was back, and Justin had abused that freedom appropriately. Late nights were spent on back roads, in abandoned fields and deserts, navigating the trickiest paths and maneuvers so that Justin would be the best.
He was a driver- he had the damn morpher to prove it, to back him up- and he refused for there to be an obstacle out there he couldn’t overcome.
Which was why Justin didn’t feel the least bit remorseful for his next stream of obscenities being particularly colorful and detailed, and why he didn’t pay attention to the way Carter’s helmet jerked his way and glanced him up and down in a kind of sorrowful, sort of disappointed way, as though Justin’s youth had gone to waste or something.
News flash, Justin had stopped being a kid the moment his mother had died. He wished everyone else would figure that out already so he could go about his life sans-criticism.
Screw it, he didn’t care. Growing up as a genius among his peers had trained Justin to be secure with who he was as a person, to let the judgments of others slide off him off him unaffected. He would always stand out, he would always be subject to critiques that had never been invited, it was just…part of his life. An unfortunate inevitability. People might see him as brash and young, stubborn, but really Justin was just angry. Angry he was still, to this day, doubted; angry he was underestimated; angry of being labeled as a prodigy and stuck under that stereotype- so that was why he wasn’t the smoothest in conversations, and that was why he wasn’t- could never be- normal.Justin had thought it would be better with the other rangers, considering the bonding effects of crisis situations, but even among that crowd he was an outsider. He would like to say he hadn’t been disappointed, that he hadn’t gotten his hopes up because finally, other people who had struggled the same way he had. Other people who had experienced something that such a small percentage of the population would ever truly understand. They were the maniacs that ran around in brightly-colored suits egging on monsters whose exclusive goal was to see to their untimely demise and, fully aware of these potential consequences, they had all done it anyway.
If anything else, that was a mark of insanity that should instantly earn you the title of equal, if not friend.
Yet somehow when the pleasantries had ended and the others who had not known Justin finally did the math, he was back to being the person no one knew how to approach in a conversation.
Which. Was. Bullshit.
Whatever, at least he had found consolation among the other ranger techs.
Which was really just a fancy way of saying “the smartest guys on the team”.
They were all sort of their own island of misfit toys in a way, similar in their focus if not in their quirks. Kai was someone to be respected, admired even, with the way he could ride the figurative storm without so much as changing his tone, steadfast and calm until the bitter end. The Samurai guy, okay, Justin could admit he really wanted to hate the to-be-named ranger, knew there was something he wasn’t sharing with the rest of them yet- but Justin could begrudgingly admit he was sharp, useful, and adaptive. Maybe not as focused as Kai, but pretty up there, and the way he gave as good as he got without doing any actual giving gave Justin the impression that patience was a greatly practiced skill in the Ninja Storm team.
After meeting the crimson ranger, Justin could understand that.
Angela, after her initial age-to-year-of-active-ranger-duty calculation had stored that knowledge away with a thoughtful nod and returned Justin’s offered handshake with a firm squeeze. From her there was no judgment, only professionalism and equality, and a quiet sort of welcoming and respect that made Justin physically hurt inside, the brief flashback to his mother unwanted and quickly repressed. It was easier once they got down to business, but Justin still tried to tread carefully around her, trying to protect himself from anymore unwanted memories.Damon was cool, for as short their introduction had been. The green Lost Galaxy ranger had been there and then he had been gone, ushered away whenever Kai took over as resident computer genius for the Mirinoi team. Damon was more of a robotics kind of guy, someone who dealt with the actual hardware rather than the software end of things, and he had already made all of them swear that they would talk gadgets when their ranger emergency was finally over, refusing to be left out what he had labeled as “tech time”.
Out of all of them, Justin would say Damon was the best people-person, jovial and enthusiastic to a fault and easily charismatic - enough to make Justin hate him in his envy, just a little - and he still liked Justin. Not respected, not understood. He liked him. Talked to him. As a ranger.
It was the misfit factor going into work for the whole lot of them, that they were so used to being the resident masters of knowledge the rest of their team would never understand that they just got it, moved past it, because there were bigger things out there to worry about and social harmony was not one of them. It was a benefit, sure, but not an ultimate guideline by which they should operate.
Unless you were Trip, in which case it was vital just like everything else was vital and that guy was so insanely energetic and passionate about every task that slid into his focus that Justin was amazed he hadn’t spontaneously combusted from the sheer intensity of it all. But he wouldn’t, because he was Trip, and even when he was at his busiest he could still manage to plaster a smile on his face, unless a smile wasn’t appropriate, and then the green ranger would work his ass off until it was so that he could so that everyone else could-
Justin couldn’t get a read on that guy, he couldn’t, maybe because Trip was an alien or maybe it was because he was from the future or maybe because he had the disposition of a damn puppy, all cheer and joy and love me, love me eyes that he would turn on the world unashamedly and everyone ate that shit up.
Trip was sugary sweetness so horribly strong it either made you ill or better, and everyone loved him, adored him, and maybe it wasn’t respect (except from the ranger techs, because they actually understood what he was talking about) but everyone would sit back and listen and fully support Trip’s ideas. They would let him carry on as he saw fit because they liked him, or humored him, or thought the way he worked with his screwdriver was adorable (Justin swore he had seen Leo taking pictures when the green Time Force ranger had been forced to use “tough love” on one of the computer monitors) but despite that, that degrading - that horribly patronizing attitude - they still trusted Trip. They supported him. They never discounted his suggestions because he was young. They never tried to coddle him.
Unless he started batting those Bambi eyes their way, and then it was a different story, because Trip could be a damn attention whore when he wanted to be (had Wes and Lucas firmly wrapped around his little finger), but even then it was on Trip’s terms.
It was so natural to want to hate Trip, because he had everything Justin wanted by being everything he didn’t want to be, but in the end Trip had won him over just as he had everyone else.
Despite his better judgment, Justin couldn’t say he regretted it much. Trip was actually…kind of fun.
In a purely intellectual way, of course.
And if it just so happened that he made some of the painful edges of battle melt away, lessened the tension of facing unknown and overwhelming obstacles, then that wasn’t something that ever needed to be discussed. Or consciously thought of, really.
“Justin…” Carter warned, breaking the blue Turbo ranger out of his reverie and back towards the chaos-filled present, where his skills, his lovingly honed skills, were being obnoxiously challenged.
Stupid monster should have thrown in the towel yesterday after they had beaten it, not shown up for round two.
Honestly, bad guys nowadays, it was like they didn’t even try to be courteous.
In the passenger seat, Carter shifted, so very minutely, the only indication of whatever inner-anxieties he might have. “Justin-” Carter began again.
“It’s fine,” Justin growled, yanking Storm Blaster’s steering wheel to the left sharply, narrowly avoiding the impact of the newest addition to Silver Hill’s main street. “I’ve got this.”
“The window,” Carter moved on, his own way of showing that Justin’s navigation hadn’t been his concern. “If you lower it I might be able to get a clear shot-”
“There’s also a good chance that you might fall out,” Justin countered, basing his argument on their three previous minutes of travel; all hectic, last second turns and lurches. “It’s too risky.”
“But necessary, at this rate,” the red ranger argued, his Rescue Blaster already resting in his palm, ready for the offensive. “If this thing drives you any further off course-”
“It has.” There was so very little to his tone that was critical, there was no heat in Carter’s voice, it was just a pure statement of fact.
A fact that was really starting to piss Justin off. “I won’t let it-”
And that was as much of the protest Carter got out before he was thrown to the side of the vehicle, plastered against his window as Justin careened out of the way of another flying vehicle, the impact close enough that they could feel the reverberations through Storm Blaster’s tires.
“Damnit, damnit, damnit,” Justin hissed, serpentining down the streets in a less predictable pattern, trying to out-navigate a thing they could barely get eyes on. “This isn’t working.”
If he hadn’t been so preoccupied it might have physically pained Justin to admit it, but luckily he was with Carter, who would keep his wounded pride a secret so long as they survived this.
“We need a new strategy,” Carter murmured, a segue more than an actual suggestion, the red ranger already knowing Justin had figured it out. “As long as this thing sticks to the rooftops, we’re going to be at the disadvantage.”
“Yeah,” Justin agreed with a quick hiss under his breath. “We need to find a place to make a stand, to get it down to our level and take it out.”
It was a simple enough plan. Which was enough of an indication that it would be a bitch to execute.
The simple plans always were.
But it was all they had, so they would make do with it, because apparently someone wasn’t going to let them get on their merry way until they had been properly destroyed. For real this time.
Despite the added frustration, Justin found he would be happy to oblige.
After all, what was one more hurdle?
“Wes, we’ve got something.”
Angela’s interruption was enough of a surprise to make Wes bring his motorcycle to a halt, fighting off the anxiety that wanted to draw him back into action, back to where he felt like he was contributing.
He pushed it all down with a shake of his head to focus, wondering why Angela had singled him out specifically.
“What is it? Did another Doompot show up?”
“No,” Angela replied, quiet patter of her keyboard a steady accompaniment to her report. “At least, not that I think. There’s been a call into the Silver Guardians hotline; an apartment has been broken into not far from your location. The suspects are two oddly dressed females.”
“Could just be burglars,” Wes suggested. “Some opportunists taking advantage of all the chaos, counting on diverted resources.”
“That’s what the initial operator suspected as well,” Angela said. “Except the civilian went on to explain that they had summoned henchman to throw them out.”
“Henchmen?” Wes began to ask, mind searching as the words struck at some familiarity, something that had happened before. “Do you mean-?”
“There’s more.” Which was confirmation in itself; Angela already aware of what he was going to ask. “They said they had a ranger with them. Unconscious, but definitely a ranger.”
That was him. That was the very guy Wes had been looking for.
Surprisingly enough, Wes found he wasn’t shocked by this discovery. He should be, he honestly should be, but he just wasn’t.
There was something to be said about the impression the Crimson Ranger had made on him, something horribly tragic, but at the moment Wes didn’t have the time to analyze it.
He had a teammate to save.
“Angela, could you-?”
“You drive, I’ll navigate,” the tech offered, two steps ahead of him and already in recovery mode. “Together, this damsel’s as good as rescued.”
“Here, here,” Wes agreed, the cheer a nice distraction to keep the concern at bay, eventually replaced with determination and purpose as Wes steered his motorcycle out of a back alley, shooting onto a main road and then off again, going wherever Angela guided him.
It was just one more stop. It was an important one, true, but luckily it was just one.
Wes could do this. He had this.