If Worrying was a Sport, We’d all have Gold Medals
“How are the kiddos holding up?”
“About as well as you’d expect after one of them got sent under the knife.”
“Team meeting,” Eric confirmed with a weak shake of his head, trying to forget the intense seriousness that had adorned those young faces whenever he’d passed by their room. “They’ll get through it though. Everyone else did.”
“Don’t use precedents as an expectation,” Wes, for all unworldly wisdom, chided. “Each team has its own-”
“Set of difficulties, yadda, yadda, I know,” Eric groaned, frowning at his morpher. “Save me the philosophical crap and give me an update already.”
“As you wish.” The cheer was not as heartfelt or sincere as Wes would have liked it to be, Eric knew, but he didn’t call the blond out for trying. “We’re doing better now that Kai and Leo finished the medical supply run. And uh…let’s just say we don’t have to worry about there being leftovers.”
“Lovely.” Eric rubbed a dirty hand across his face. There went his chances for dinner.
“Hey, waste not, want not,” Wes cheered. “Besides, I saved some for you, so no griping.”
There were other words he could say, things like ‘You’re the best’ and ‘You’re too good to me’ and ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ but Eric kept them to himself, having long since learned to trust in the survival instincts of minimal communication. Even with Wes.
“You’re welcome,” Wes replied. There wasn’t any hidden connotation to it; simply one friend returning a social courtesy to another. A regular happenstance.
It still drove Eric to a loss. Having…this. Friends. Wes. It was hard sometimes.
For a lack of anything else to say, Eric continued his progress report, pacing around his private office. “We’re okay over here. Once everyone fell back into the mass emergency protocols it all became pretty smooth sailing. Most of the reported injuries are minor. No one’s thrilled about the property damage, but all Silver Guardians have been accounted for, as have the rest of the Bio Labs employees.”
“Did you call in the off-duty agents?”
“I had them relieve the guys managing traffic and disaster recovery,” Eric explained. His gaze flicked to the window, where streams of uniformed and business-clad individuals were crossing in a continuous counter-flow; some in, some out, all busy. “Considering we haven’t had to deal with this kind of thing for a couple of years, I’ll say we’re not doing too bad.”
“Ideally, we wouldn’t be doing this at all.”
“Hope for the best-”
“Plan for the worst.” Wes sighed, a deep exhaustion that sounded as if it had crept into his bones, threatening total conquest. “How’s the kid Eric?”
“Just tell me,” the blond snapped. “I need to know.”
“You’re not responsible for everyone’s actions in the world,” Eric snapped right back, hand curling into a tense fist as he leaned against the wall. “So don’t go claiming responsibility for this kid for being a damn kid.”
“But I could have-”
“Don’t do this to yourself Wes.” Eric closed his eyes and wished it could sound more like the plea it was in his mind. “Don’t beat yourself up over stuff that’s done. He’s not on your team.”
“We’re all on a team.”
“Let’s cut it with the sentiments, shall we?” Eric offered. “You know what I meant; just like you know what you’re doing is useless, so stop being a morose son of a bitch, go find one of the many dogpiles of sleeping rangers scattered around your house and take a nap or something.” Eric paused for a quick breath, then continued before Wes could so much as come up with a very valiant ‘but-’. “You’re worse than Carter for Christ’s sake.”
The complete silence at the other end of the line almost made Eric think he had lost him, that Wes had actually passed out somewhere in the midst of his rant. It was an unsatisfying thought, because it had been one of Eric’s better lectures, but he couldn’t find it in him to be pissed. It still achieved his goal.
“You take that back.”
It was so quiet – a purely wounded whisper barely conveyed in a breath – that Eric almost missed it. Had he not been so practically attuned to all things Wes, he would have.
Smiling, Eric went in for the kill, clucking into the morpher. “You wanna be the new-Carter, Wes? Because by all means, keep doing what you’re doing.”
“That’s hurtful,” Wes muttered. There was a hint of bitterness to his tone that almost made the circus show that was post-disaster Bio Labs worth it.
“Yeah, well, right now there’s a certain Lightspeed ranger passed out in his teammate’s recovery room, so I would say it’s less ‘hurtful’ and more ‘completely accurate’.”
“Have you slept any?” Wes asked. There had been a pause – a brief thing, almost unnoticeable – before he continued on their steady conversation like it was any other day.
Eric, who had been expecting the question, was still displeased by its presence. “Naps, on and off,” he admitted. Begrudgingly. “Once we got things settled with the Squad Leaders, things seemed to go easier. I had to pull Angela off of coordination duty a couple of hours ago, but other than that, everyone seemed to be doing okay.”
Never one to be thrown by extraneous details, Wes cut to the heart of the matter, voice stern. “How many, and for how long?”
“Wes,” Eric sighed. He didn’t bother hiding it, he didn’t exaggerate it, he was too tired to think of a proper way to convince the blond to hit the freakin’ hay already. “Things are calming down here, as much as they can. I can turn in for the night later, it’s not like I can’t hear my office’s couch calling my name.”
“The question, really, is if you’ll actually listen to it.”
“Tell you what,” Eric rolled his eyes, containing the urge to growl. “If I pull an Angela and pass out at my work station then yes, I’ll definitely make time for sleeping.”
“But not before?”
“Goodnight Wes,” Eric sighed again, dismissing the barely veiled disapproval before Wes could find yet another reason to remain conscious.
Eric ended the call with a flick of his thumb, depressing the concealed communications control in a swift motion before moving on.
The previously-mentioned couch creaked under the sudden onslaught of his weight, dipping in a familiarly comfortable fashion. It wasn’t the homiest looking thing, all black leather with metal, industrial legs, but it had served as his bed enough times that Eric considered it a second home; an accommodating alternative to the on-call rooms that provided so very little privacy just further down the hall.
He could shut his eyes for a few minutes. That should be fine. A short nap would be enough to rejuvenate him, and then he could finish up his notes for the revisions of the emergency response plans, get some dinner (maybe), and figure out just what the hell they were going to do with the new team-
He was asleep before he even finished that thought.
“Trip,” Justin hissed, following the older teen (slightly older, only by one year) down the hall in a half-crouch, sure to keep his head ducked beneath the line of sight of the door windows and regular windows scattered across the interior of Bio Lab’s Medical Center.
“Trip,” Justin repeated.
The hallways, thankfully, were mostly deserted at this hour. From what he had gathered from a half-asleep Adam, all of the rangers had finished receiving medical attention, which left only a skeleton staff of nurses and doctors hiding out in a staff room to tend to the injured. They were in a cordoned-off section of the Medical Center, the side closest to a secluded parking area. There had been a waiver involved, or some kind of legal document that emphatically insisted how very little any of the employees could talk about – or even to – the present rangers. Angela and some ace from Wes’ legal team had whipped it up in the time it had taken them to drive over. Justin would have been more impressed if he hadn’t been about five seconds from passing out and dealing with Trip who he wished, very futilely, would give into such urges, so the finer details of the ordeal had managed to escape him.
The fact that the green ranger, despite excessive amounts of energy depletion (and being mostly asleep earlier) managed to stay still while the doctor had attended to his arm (an arm that was, by the way, now sporting a bright green cast complete with bright green sling and- where did they find this stuff?) was a miracle in itself, which should have tipped Justin off. He should have known there was no way Trip would just happily pass out into the night, like Justin wanted him to.
No, he was a Xybrian on a mission – though what the mission was, or how long it would take them, Justin had no idea. He was honestly just around for damage control. Or to pull the dumbass into some hidden closet or closet-equivalent when he inevitably got out into an inconvenient, non-cordoned off, super public area. Because that was how this had to end. It had to.
“Trip,” Justin tried again. For the hell of it, really. Maybe he just wanted to hear his own voice right now, because Trip sure as hell wasn’t.
He had a stupid hat. Had Justin mentioned the hat? It was awful. It was this black bucket hat thing that should have never come into his possession, but Trip was amazingly attached to it, despite the fact that it unapologetically clashed with his white Time Force uniform in an awkwardly painful way. Like wearing pajama pants with a suit jacket, or something. There was no taste.
Justin was willing to bet anything Trip had gotten it from Wes. That seemed like an atrocity the blond would commit.
“Shhhh.” The green ranger threw some frantic waving over his shoulder, deciding now that Justin was worth listening to. “I need to find them.”
Justin would say, “Find who?” but then Trip might actually answer him. And really, Justin didn’t want to know. His brain couldn’t handle knowing right now. His brain could barely handle walking right now, so walking and knowing at the same time seemed to be expecting a very unfair amount of work from him, if he did say so himself.
Thankfully, Trip was back to ignoring him and darted down a random hallway, feet deceptively silent as he swiveled his head this way and that, looking for…them.
Justin hoped ‘them’ would make Trip sleep. Because then he could sleep. Not that it was a biological necessity or anything. Yet, despite his own exhaustion he needed, for his own peace of mind- to make sure Trip was taken care of because clearly, he was bad at that himself. Justin was just trying to be a good friend.
There was nothing about this desire that necessitated being looked into. Really. He was a ranger; they did stuff for the power friendship right? Justin was pretty sure that was high on the list of afterschool-special life lessons they had traversed during his career as a monster smasher.
Without a hint of warning, Trip darted down a random hallway to the right, leaving Justin cursing as he stumbled to make a sharp turn. He hoped no one would see them, half-crouched in a high speed chase (or what felt like one, at least, because realistically Justin knew between the two of them they were going maybe two miles an hour, tops). He hoped there weren’t any cameras. He hoped Trip would pass out and he could have his nap time. He hoped Tommy wouldn’t show up during the designated pass-out time, because then he would want answers, and Justin didn’t have any that didn’t start with, “So there was this time I hated you,” and ended with “That time is now” and leave it at that.
He could remember the distracted tone when the white Ninjetti ranger had called him, how it was “Just a favor for some friends” and “You can handle it, Justin” and “Networking’s not a bad thing, you know” and then hanging up before Justin could decline because he knew the guilt would sweep in with unrestrained fury if Justin didn’t go.
He pondered for a few seconds, as he studied Trip’s determined march through the halls, how he would have felt if he hadn’t been called into this mess at all. If it would have made a difference.
They probably would have called him in anyway with the second wave of people – at least, Cassie or Tanya (or Rocky or Adam) might have – but if he had gotten stuck on the sidelines altogether, only hearing about it on the news after the fact-
He wouldn’t have met the other ranger techs. He couldn’t have brainstormed or done damage control, or felt more purposeful than he had finishing up either of his masters degrees. Not since the last time he had been called to step up and fight.
There was an unspoken note that he also wouldn’t have met Trip, but seeing as he was solidly lumped in with ‘the other ranger techs’ there was no particular point in acknowledging this.
Even if a small part of Justin did anyway.
You know, exhaustion and all that. Made you loopy.
He hadn’t noticed Trip’s abrupt halt until he was half-way to colliding with the guy, and the only reason they remained standing after that was through a precarious balancing game Justin did not have the coherency to understand. He only knew that by the end of it, Trip was on him with same stubbornness and consideration to personal space as a leech, glued to Justin’s side with his arms wrapped around his torso in a hug just this shy of painful.
Justin was tired enough to admit it wasn’t an altogether unpleasant sensation.
Which was about
as close to saying ‘It was nice’ as he was ever going to get, so…
“You feel that?” Trip whispered. Despite his proximity, his gaze was anywhere but Justin, eyes daring down both lengths of the hall, frantically possessed.
“You?” Justin grumbled. “Yes. Yes, I do.”
Something shifted in Trip’s stance, threatening to send them toppling over – again – and Justin reached out a hand to steady him, one palm laid out flat against the middle of his back, right between his shoulder blades. The white material of his jacket was slick beneath Justin’s hand, a weird sensation to counter the rough fabric of Trip’s backpack scraping at his fingetips.
He also got an up close and personal view of Trip’s perfectly tasteless hat. How wonderful.
“Not that,” Trip continued, oblivious to Justin’s distraction. “I mean – I’m glad you feel that, because if you didn’t, I’d be worried, but it’s not that.”
“Some specification would be nice,” Justin muttered.
Belatedly, he wondered why Trip was still hugging him. Enough time had passed for the guy to reclaim his bearings easily enough. Maybe the chaos of the day was finally catching up to him, the adrenaline had stopped pumping whenever the green ranger had stilled and Justin was just an unfortunate target of his body’s surrender (again).
Maybe this was just an alien thing.
Or maybe it was just a Trip thing.
Honestly, it wasn’t worth worrying about. Justin had stuff to do.
Right now, that stuff entailed pretending not to watch too closely as Trip started gnawing on his bottom lip, eyes unfocused and thoughtful, completely detached from this world.
The ‘alien thing’ theory was beginning to show some real promise.
It took Justin a few seconds, a couple of startled blinks, and one confused headshake later to realize Trip had spoken, and was, in fact, still speaking.
“Sorry, that must be a- I forget humans don’t always have the same abilities as me, sometimes. Since our morphers sometimes give us additional skills-”
“I get it,” Justin said. “No harm, no foul. But what energy are you feeling here?”
“It’s not really…” Trip trailed off with a frown, still gazing into the distance. “I don’t think I described it right. I get visions of the future, sometimes, and sometimes I have flashes of…I think you call it clairvoyance?”
“You see ghosts?”
Because power ranger or not- fighter of robots and Doompots and ninjas and sentient cars or whatever, Justin could not handle ranger-ghost news right now. He just couldn’t. There was a line.
Trip gave the wall he was so committed to staring at an exasperated look. “Not like that. Like, sometimes I cane see what someone else is seeing. Like I’m looking through their eyes. But only for an instant.”
Justin scoffed, muttering into the fabric of the stupid hat. “That’s telepathy, dumbass.”
At this point, Trip actually looked up at him, an impertinent pout as he leaned his chin against the blue ranger’s shoulder. “I can’t read people’s thoughts Justin.”
“Then you’re psychic,” the brunette insisted. “But don’t bring up clairvoyance; it makes it sound all supernatural.”
“You don’t believe in ghosts?” Trip looked genuinely curious at the idea, eyes wide as he considered the blue ranger.
Eyes wide and close and… yeah, Justin would be okay if Trip went back to ignoring him again, seeing as they were still, for some reason, glued together.
“So, this energy?” he prompted.
Luckily, like so many things in Trip’s life, the segue was an exciting one, leading to bright smiles and barely subdued dances in place, that half of said ‘in place’ team did not entirely appreciate.
And yet, they remained standing.
“The energy,” Trip began, grin huge as he talked against Justin’s shoulder. “It’s like a residual, kind of, for rangers. I mean, since our morphers enhance our strengths, my powers are even more effective against fellow rangers.”
Justin nodded, eyes squinting as he considered this. “Similar energy signatures,” he deduced. “Puts you on the same wavelength.”
“Exactly!” Trip agreed. There may have been some bouncing to accompany this; the excess energy Trip kept pulling out of nowhere lessened the already limited distance between their faces.
Justin reached out his free hand to steady the airhead before he could send them both sprawling. The best grip available was his hip, which – admittedly, wasn’t a place you even conceived to touch in regards to your friends, but this was Trip, and it was either control the movements or wait for the stumble that would collapse both of them.
And all the while, Trip kept talking. “It’s like their call is stronger, because it’s easier to – well, anyway, my point is that because of the extra boost I can kind of, like, feel where a ranger has been.”
“Has been?” Justin echoed, raising an eyebrow. “Don’t you mean, where they are?”
Trip contemplated this with a shrug. “That too,” he agreed. “But I can also tell where they’ve been, just recently. There’s like this…”
“Energy?” Justin suggested. He meant to say it as a smartass, with a smirk and just a hint of mocking that could mix with light fun; kind of (he wasn’t the best with this, okay?).
Except the way it came out was more conspiring and friendly than it was critical, and Trip was doing that certain smile that made his nose all crinkly, like there was nothing else he would have rather heard at that exact moment, like he was grateful (and pleased) Justin had said it.
“Exactly,” the Xybrian whispered.
For an added effect that probably came from spending too much time with Leo (anytime; anytime was too much time with Leo), he waggled his sleek green eyebrows (a darker emerald that was almost black; not that Justin had been looking, it was just hard not to notice).
There was a chance Justin might have returned that smile with a tiny grin of his own, because he was only human. Who was he to reject such unrepentant happiness?
This was…this was good. This was nice. An easy feeling of contentment settled over him, brushing off the weariness that seemed engrained into his bones. It was an odd pause to the hectic rush that had overtaken the last couple of days. In Trip he’d found an intellectual equal who wasn’t afraid of saying the wrong thing, and blatantly ignored the distinct air of needs boundaries Justin tried to project wherever he went.
It was nice. And in a very sad, but very definite way, liberating.
“Uh…” Justin cleared his throat, pulling away from Trip’s demanding gaze as he took in their surroundings with renewed fascinations. “So, this energy...”
There was something (not endearingly) obvious about the way Trip blinked, clearly not connecting with Justin’s statement, before his mind rebooted and he was back to overflowing with excitement.
“Yeah!” Trip chirped, rocking back on his heels (slightly, because Justin still had a hold of him. “They’re gone!”
“Yeah, they-” And then the words actually processed- like, Justin actually understood the distraction he was so eagerly latched onto, it’s implications, and – “They’re gone?”
“Yep,” Trip continued brightly. The Xybrian’s reasons as to why this brought him happiness was revealed shortly, when he continued. “They must have moved them closer to us!”
“Trip.” There were a lot of things running through Justin’s mind right then, and damn though he tried, he could not actually work up the proper frantic worry that this news should instigate. “Dana was keeping them here, together. She told me right before we went to get you checked out, remember?”
The obviously lost blinking came back with unfortunate abandon, and Justin ignored the brush of Trip’s chin against his shoulder as the other teen tilted his head to the side.
“Huh,” Trip said after a few moments. “That’s bad.”
“We need to tell…someone.” Justin answered the next question before the green ranger asked it, because even in the short day (if that) he had known Trip, he could guess how the other ranger’s mind worked. “I don’t know who. Just- someone.”
He paused, thought after thought tumbling in an avalanche that overthrew coherent strategizing, until he was struck with a sudden notion.
When his brain refused to abandon it for a more pertinent idea, he gave into his curiosity with a sigh, glaring at the ceiling.
“Why are you still hugging me?”
There was a small crack near the far edge of the ceiling, a tiny thing that carefully threaded its way towards the center of the hall, near the edge of a doorframe. Shifting foundations; you had to watch out for that kind of stuff-
“Because I want to.”
Trip’s answer had Justin looking back to him in an instant, his head snapping down in a flurry of movement so fast it should have sent him reeling. There was nothing apologetic about the other ranger’s expression, but there wasn’t anything mischievous or that promised ulterior motives either. There was simply blatant honesty, a pure statement of fact that required no extra consideration, and that same damn smile.
Justin was going to miss that smile.
The thought was enough to startle him into reality, to force rule and order to come crashing down upon his head with unrepentant fury. There was nothing cruel about them, because facts did not work that way. They were neither kind nor ill-intended, they simply were, and you were left to deal with the aftermath.
Justin managed a scoff as he extracted himself from the green ranger’s hold, ignoring the feeling of those eyes boring into the side of his face.
He wouldn’t mention the contentment or melancholy because there was no reason to. He wouldn’t pay attention to the way Trip seemed to deflate with disappointment, the smile slipping from his features like paint melting off a canvas, a masterpiece ruined by one small action.
And if that smile returned when he grabbed Trip’s hand and started hauling him back down the hallway, then that wasn’t worth paying attention to either. Not even the way the foreign grip gave his hand a determined squeeze, and a quiet laugh to follow.
“You should try to get some sleep.”
The advice – however wise it may have been – was lost on Wes in the immediate heart attack that followed; the blond whipping around in a sudden motion that had paper plates and at least one take-out carton flying to the floor.
He hadn’t heard anyone enter the kitchen. In fact, as far as Wes knew, the others were all occupied in the cuddle piles Eric had speculated about before.
It wasn’t an unfair assumption. Zhane himself had staked out the first guest room he could find, shuttered all the windows and declared it the Space Team’s territory for the time being, warning that no intrusions would be entertained for even the most vital of situations, and left it at that.
Between the few of them that had energy left – Wes, Chad, Lucas – they had herded Zhane’s still unconscious teammates onto the oversized bed and left the Silver ranger to his fussing, only violating his sanctuary with offerings of food and blankets, for him and his team respectively.
One of the cozier media rooms had been overtaken by the Zeo-Lightspeed connection. When Wes had passed by on a routine circuit of the house, Chad had been listening patiently, an impeccable expression of calm indulgence on his face as he nodded along to Tanya and Kelsey’s impassioned discussion on pop music. Ryan and Carter had driven to the hospital to look after Dana and Joel, and Kat – the only other Zeo ranger present – had gone to keep Kimberly company.
Though, if Rocky’s pained grimace was any indication, the pink Ninjetti ranger probably would have been better off with a ranger she didn’t know, rather than Kat. When he mentioned something about a ‘Tommy-thing’ Wes had immediately backed out of the conversation, both hands raised in surrender.
Two girls. One guy. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the issue there.
For both their sakes, Wes hoped Adam stuck around to play as a buffer.
In another room, Leo was worrying over his team in his own concealed way. And by this, Wes meant he was on a rampage of telling the corniest jokes imaginable, grinning at his friends’ inabilities to stop the torrent of knock-knock jokes. He’d laugh too loud, prod them when all they could manage were weak glares, while simultaneously adjusting pillows and blankets and switching out ice packs, insisting that soup be taken with a little more force than necessary, smiling through the fatigue.
Lucas, who had given Justin his consent to see Trip off to Bio Labs, trekked back and forth between Wes and the Lost Galaxy ranger, pressing food and company whenever it was needed, like some kind of silent watchdog.
It was nice, Wes thought, that his team - who he figured would never get much of a chance to be a part of any kind of ranger reunion (hell, he never thought he’d actually get to see them in person again) - was making friends. Leo and Justin, Adam and Angela. Even Eric.
And then, of course, there was-
“I can finish cleaning up,” Kai offered.
He started picking up dishes as he said it, cheap plastic containers from the hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place that easily had the best Pho in town. Wes had only discovered it when he and Eric had been trolling the town, desperately, for some sustenance after an attack that had done a lot more property damage than any of them would have liked. Unlike most of the businesses surrounding the restaurant that had learned to close down at the first sign of trouble, Wes was pretty sure Pho Hong Long would keep serving food until the building collapsed around them, and even then if you could make it through the rubble, Mr. Nguyen would be more than happy to whip you up a meal until quitting time.
Wes kind of adored everything about the place, and he wasn’t even surprised that their order - a massive thing emblematic of too much hunger and no restraint – was ready when they arrived not fifteen minutes later, packed away in worn cardboard boxes and crinkled brown sacks, tops folded down and stapled with neat efficiency.
He loved that place.
Kai had been there too, winning Wes brownie points left and right when he greeted the owners in (what Wes assumed was) their native language.
“You’re Vietnamese?” Wes asked as they exited the building, trash and rubble knocking at their feet as they made their way to Wes’ SUV.
“Chinese.” Kai made the correction with clipped efficiency, though there was nothing offensive about it, merely informative. “There are some similarities, so it was not difficult to pick up.”
“Did you grow up in China?”
The other man didn’t pause as they finished loading the last of their boxes into the trunk of the vehicle, but Wes noticed a brief second of hesitation.
“Yes,” Kai replied.
It was short, a strict exhale of a word, before he was moving on and away back to his borrowed Jet Jammer to finish the journey above them.
And that was the end of that conversation.
Wes hadn’t seen Kai much afterwards. The blue ranger, as one of the less-effected individuals, had been keeping touch with the progress of everyone at Bio Labs. What the prognosis was, how they were healing, when they could be moved. He had been giving updates all night, between making trips for supplies and coordinating with Sheila.
Seeing him here, after doing all that was…interesting. Wes would have thought he’d go to Leo if he had downtime, not the kitchen.
After a few seconds, Wes realized he still had yet to reply and shook his head, centering himself. “Nah, I’ve got- I mean, I’m good. Thanks.”
His gaze lingered on the counters, rice and noodles and the occasional puddle of broth muddling the once immaculate marble with crumpled trash generously distributed in between. Add some plastic utensils, a few abandoned drink cups, and enough napkins to make a parachute (albeit, a rather ineffective one) and he had himself a proper calamity.
“But I would appreciate the company,” he continued, mentally calculating the time it would take to clean the mess up solo. “If you don’t mind.”
The answer came in the form of the trashcan lid sliding back down – it was one of the fancy slow-close lids, with the foot pedal you stepped on to raise the top – and Kai dumping an armful of soggy napkins into its depths.
“I assure you, I do not.”
Whatever agitation there may have been earlier with the whole China-conversation was replaced by a reserved kind of humor, this tiny smirk playing across Kai’s lips as he looked to Wes as though conspiring some evil plot through eyesight alone.
It wasn’t much, but Wes was up to his elbows in empty soup containers and to-go boxes, so the response to break into helpless laughter, while unintended, could not be stopped. It was just- it was funny, and not even funny in a real way, like a legitimately worthy way- just, kind of circumstantial.
That he was here, in his dad’s kitchen with the straight-laced and ever proper Kai Chen, cleaning away the messes of a rampaging army and wondering how the city hadn’t spontaneously burst into flames yet.
So perhaps it was a tad bit hysterical, but the majority was mirth, pure and simple.
When Kai joined in with a few quiet chuckles of his own, Wes knew the day had been won. He just- he knew. He had earned that.
He was riding the last of the chortles when he grinned at the blue ranger. “Thanks Kai.”
“My pleasure, Commander Collins.” The corner of his lips quirked upwards, the only visible remainder of his good humor. Save, of course, his eyes, which were unrestrained in their appreciation.
“Call me Wes,” the blond replied, grabbing at some empty containers and forcing them into a rough pile.
“Wes.” Kai tilted his head thoughtfully.
They worked in silence for a few minutes, each clearing their respective areas with half-attentive focus. It was simple work, made more pleasurable by company.
Whatever his reasons were, Wes was glad Kai had joined him.
“You performed admirably today, Wes.”
The words took the red ranger by surprise – though not in the way Kai had earlier. It wasn’t a heart attack resulting from a sudden change in his surroundings; it was more subtle in nature, an assault that slinked in while he was still half-aware, as though he could see it but wasn’t entirely sure what it was until Kai finally said something.
There wasn’t anything patronizing about the words; not that, even from the short time he had known the blue ranger, Wes would have expected that from Kai. He was beginning to realize that the other man did not exert effort unless it was necessary, and for him, there was no empty meaning to his words. He volunteered information when he suspected it would be most useful or when, in his opinion, it was simply a truth to be delivered.
And even in the rush of all that, Wes had a difficult time wrapping his head around the concept.
“I did okay,” Wes agreed. He didn’t want to throw the compliment back in Kai’s face, even if he didn’t agree with it. “But next time I’m leaving the coordination of ranger teams to Carter.”
“You do not think it went well?” Kai paused as he said this, each hand burdened with half-full containers, sorting out the leftovers from the garbage. Even a small task like that, he made it seem graceful; his fingers long and lean against the grease-stained boxes. “You doubt yourself?”
He sounded genuinely curious by the suggestion, and it was that blatant honesty that kept Wes from brushing off the conversation completely.
The blond shrugged, the nonchalance he was aiming for feeling awkward on his shoulders. “I didn’t do bad; I just think it could have gone better.”
“With Carter?” Kai prompted.
He was still immobile, eyes focused on Wes with a kind of neutral expression. Like he was examining the other man, but was sure to keep his own opinions out of sight. It was a disposition that must have been trained into him.
It was also kind of unnerving.
Wes shrugged again, looking away with a swallow. “Sure.”
The next few moments were tenser than they should have been; it wasn’t like Kai had done anything wrong, it wasn’t against the law to ask questions. Still, there was an overwhelming amount of relief when he heard the other man resume his work behind him, sorting and wiping up spills with careful silence.
As seemed to be his way, when Kai chose to speak again, he took Wes by surprise. Both in timing, and content.
“The first few months I worked with him, I was sure Leo was going to get us all killed,” Kai said quietly. He sounded almost disinterested, like they were talking about the weather, instead of the qualities of his leader.
It got Wes’ attention. When he turned back around, Kai’s gaze was stubbornly fixed on his work, continuing the conversation as though he was the only one in the room.
“I couldn’t trust him,” Kai said. “Not with my life, or any of the others’ lives and…” As he trailed off there was a hint of something, a frown, maybe, tugging at his lips. It was tiny, almost insignificant, but it was definitely there.
“As competent as I like to think I am; when we were granted our morphers, we were all on the same footing. We were all just as fresh to this fight.” Kai placed his perfectly stacked tower of boxes to the side with exaggerated care and turned to meet Wes’ eyes, unblinking. “Our past experiences, while they may have molded us, nothing could have prepared us for this. For what we were doing.”
Wes found himself nodding along, remembering back to his first few days with the morpher. His first meeting with Jen; Trip hunting him down; Jen threatening to take it all away just as he got his feet under him… Just as he was beginning to understand this massive, incomprehensible thing that had landed on his shoulders.
She had expected him to walk away and be done with it, because he hadn’t originally understood. He could fight, he had been training to do that for as long as he could remember, but there was a difference between picking a fight and fighting for something. For someone else.
It was greater than yourself, and very, very terrifying.
Kai took his nod as encouragement and moved on, eyes shining with an emotion he probably hadn’t meant to project. “And the fact that someone had to consistently put their life on the line and work with weapons that they didn’t understand, every day, with the stakes we had-” Those crazy, insane stakes. “…It’s a miracle we have leaders at all.” Kai finished. “Leaders that last. Leaders of quality.”
“What Leo does…it’s coping, right?”
It was the first time Wes had felt worthy enough to contribute, like he had the right to break into Kai’s carefully considered spiel.
It seemed to be the right question though, because Kai was nodding. “He found his own way to make it work.” He looked away, considering the kitchen window with no real focus on the outside world. When his gaze came back to Wes it was sharp and determined.
And, if he was perfectly honest, fierce in its protectiveness.
“I have learned that everyone has their own leadership style, Wes, and none are less effective than others, so long as they suit the individual.”
It…Wes understood what he was saying. Or more aptly, what Kai hadn’t said. That just because Wes didn’t fall into the category of how he suspected a leader should act, it did not automatically render him incapable of actually leading.
“You should remember that.”
Wes nodded, his throat feeling uncomfortably tight for some reason. He was about to thank him, about to promise how he would, he would remember, and how-
Lucas jogged into the room with no preamble, chest heaving, ever so slightly, his gaze darting between the two rangers.
For a normal person, this behavior would seem indicative of slight weariness, but this was Lucas, who kind of made playing it cool his own personal mission statement, if not his entire way of being. On Lucas, this was full out distress.
There was only about a second for possible dread to sink in before the blue ranger was saying Wes’ five least favorite words.
“We may have a problem.”