Always a Ranger - Part 7

Changing the Rules

By Jeannine Trevizo

 

 

 

As the rangers stood at the gaming console area, the door chimed and Dr. O walked in, glancing about for his students and teammates. Once Kira noticed him, she shoved Ethan with an elbow and nodded in his general direction.

 

“I’m gonna put that day long marathon to break the code on hold for a couple of minutes, okay Hayley?” Ethan announced, slowly gravitating towards where Dr. O had stopped by the couches at the front door. Kira and Conner had already stared towards the couches and dropped down, Kira on one couch, Conner on the other.

 

Tommy decided that the team must want a slight debriefing, and settled at the opposite end of the couch Kira had claimed. A few moments later, Ethan took up the other end of the couch that Conner occupied, scooting as far down to the far end as possible.

 

A shrill toned voice brought the whole team’s attention to Cassidy as she continued to complain, not only to Devin, but to Trent and Hayley now. The team sighed and turned back to where Dr. O slightly gave Ethan a disapproving stare.

 

“You know, your obsession with this game really could have been more dangerous that this,” Tommy remarked seriously. As much as he believed that Ethan was a brilliant as Billy was, there were times that his foolishness seemed to override his smarts.

 

“I’m sorry Dr. O. I know that we had training and all, but I was so caught up in everything. You know?”

 

“Yeah, I do. But you need to be more careful. Just think what could have happened to you, Kira and the others if we hadn’t been able to find a way to get you out, and the wizard guy back in?”

 

“How did you do that, by the way?” Kira asked, looking to Conner.

 

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m glad that we got everybody out and sent that magnet guy back to nothingness,” Conner said, fidgeting a bit on the couch. He still didn’t want to say that releasing Kira and Ethan had been a fluke.

 

“Nothing,” parroted Kira, staring at the red ranger with a look that said she knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth on what had happened.

 

“It could have been a lot worse,” Tommy remarked, breaking into the tension filled discussion.

 

“How? Instead of ending up in Gondor’s world, I could have ended up surrounded by big breasted Lara Croft look-alikes that wanted to seduce me?” Ethan joked, but actually half serious.

 

“You *so* need a girlfriend,” taunted Conner in his usual manner. Tommy simply sighed as the two Alpha males butted heads with each other. Kira looked over at Dr. O and shrugged, not understanding her co-ranger’s attitudes either.

 

“So do you,” Ethan fired back.

 

“At least I have the girls interested,” Conner smugly remarked.

 

“Please… you are not *that* much of a player. Besides, it’s not like that’s going to be easy for either of us. How are we supposed to explain our ‘extra curricular’ activities?”

 

Conner came up short at that. None of them had considered this part of being a ranger yet. Then they swiftly turned to Tommy. He was the ranger with the most experience. Of course, if they’d guessed correctly, he had also been in a long-term relationship during the height of his career as a ranger.

 

“Don’t look at me,” Tommy demurred. “I don’t know anything about dating and being a ranger.”

 

“What? You and Kim never went to a movie?” Conner questioned.

 

“Or dinner, dancing, some kind of party?” Ethan followed up, looking at their teacher and co-ranger with curiosity.

 

“That’s not the same thing…” Tommy started, and then clamped his mouth shut. Shit…

 

“How’s that Dr. O?” Kira questioned, leaning in closer from her end of the sofa that they were sharing.

 

Realizing that the three of them were not going to let it go this time, Tommy sighed and resigned himself to his fate. With agonizingly slow motions, he shifted in his seat so he could face his students and teammates.

 

“I never had to ditch Kim like you’ll have to do to anyone you date. I watched all of my friends try to date people in high school just to see the relationships decay as duty took first priority over dating.”

 

“But you and Kim made it work,” Kira interjected, and then suddenly made a discovery. “It was because you were both rangers, wasn’t it?”

 

Conner and Ethan stared at her with awe. They hadn’t thought about it in those terms. It would be easier to date someone when they knew your secret; and when you morphed, they did too.

 

“Wasn’t it tough, I mean fighting with your girlfriend?” Ethan asked.

 

If they had posed this question a week ago, Tommy thought, he wouldn’t have answered them. But after today, with the changes that Conner, Ethan and Kira had made in regards the responsibilities of being a ranger, to both the world and their teammates, he owed them the truth.

 

“Yes and no. At least I knew where she was. Of course, there were all the times she saved my ass…”

 

“You’re kidding!” Conner exclaimed, shocked.

 

“What? Are you saying that women can’t rescue men? That we have to be the damsel in distress?” Kira shot back, her eyes blazing fire at her male teammate.

 

Chastised, Conner shrank back into the velvet fabric of the couch while Ethan and Kira leaned forward into the open space to focus on Dr. O’s reply.

 

“But there were other times that it was bad. When she was in danger and I couldn’t help. Or when I lost my powers and she was still on the team. Still, we made it work. No matter what was going on and even when one of us wasn’t a ranger.”

 

“Like now?” Ethan questioned, smirking at the black ranger as his eyebrows raised and waggled.

 

“That really isn’t any of your business.”

 

“Just tell her hi for us when you call her next. I’m sure she’ll be interested in our cyber adventure,” Kira suggested, her tone actually serious about her asking Dr. O to send the team’s regards to the former pink ranger.

 

“Sure,” Tommy replied nonchalantly, trying to drop the conversation.

 

“Well, not that this hasn’t been fun, but I have a game to beat,” Ethan announced brightly. “I’ll see you all later.”

 

With that, he got up and headed to the computers at the back of the café. Once Ethan had left, the rest of the group realized it was time to get back to their real lives. Kira got up next, and headed for the door, with Conner right behind her. Tommy sat just a little longer, wondering if there would ever be a time when being a ranger and dating would be easy.

 

And considering his track record with Kim after she left for Florida, he couldn’t say that his dating career had been any better than some of the other rangers. But he was working on fixing that for the long-term.

 

He was surprised though that the rangers had finally broken down and asked him about dating and being a ranger. It never really came up with the previous teams until things with someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend started to go sour. And of course, the subject of Kim had been something that the rangers had been almost politely avoiding addressing specifically until now. With a shrug, Tommy assumed that the circumstances rather than a burning desire to get more dirt on their teacher had spurred the Q&A session.

 

Looking up, he noticed that the place was starting to fill up, and that Ethan was still on the computer, working on his ultimate conquest of the world of whatever it was. With a sigh, he shoved himself up and started for the door. He had no groceries and needed to pick up some parts for the bikes that Hayley had asked for to upgrade the torque.

 

It took a couple of hours to get all the tasks on his list done, so by the time Tommy arrived home, the sun was starting to set. Focused on getting everything put away, then enjoying a hot shower to clean off the grime of fighting, he simply walked straight through the house to the kitchen. After putting everything in its place, he trudged back outside and got the parts, again taking them straight to their destination without pause.

 

At last, all his chores were done, and he glanced at the clock, noticing the time. It was late enough for him to be able to make *the* phone call. As he walked through the living room, he finally noticed the flashing light on his answering machine. Damn, how had he missed seeing the messages for the last half an hour? Puzzled about who would have called, he wandered over and found there were 2 messages. With a jab of the finger, he hit the button to play them.

 

‘Tommy, it’s me. I’m sorry, but I have to go to Washington D.C. for a few days. The Olympic committee is doing a press junket for the Athens games, and the team has to go. I’ll call you when I get back. Be careful. I love you.’

 

Once Kim’s voice disappeared, Tommy’s heart sunk. He’d been so looking forward to talking to her. Now, he was on his own. Then the next message started.

 

‘Hey bro, guess who’s coming in town? I’ve got my cell, give me a call, alright. We can catch up.’

 

All Tommy could do was stare at the message machine. Jason?

 

Without a moment’s hesitation, he scooped up the phone and his address book and searched for Jason’s cell phone number. A few moments later, the number was ringing, and Tommy was trying hard not to be excited, but failing miserably.

 

“Talk to me,” announced the male voice at the other end.

 

Jase?”

 

“Tommy!”

 

“It’s good to hear from you bro. What has it been, three months?”

 

“Closer to five. I’ve been really busy, traveling a lot for the business. The whole operations manager for the dojo chain is not an easy gig. Anyhow, I flew in Friday for a meeting with the Sun Dragon Fu dojo in Surfside, just down the way from you. My flight leaves Monday morning, so I stayed in town for the weekend, thinking that if you had the time, we could catch up, maybe catch, have a beer or two and some dinner?”

 

“That sounds so great. You have no idea. I have so much to tell you, you will *not* believe.”

 

“Where can I meet you?”

 

“There’s this restaurant called The Deep Dive; great seafood, its downtown right off Main and Harrison. How soon do you think you can get there?”

 

“I was just heading back to my hotel from a movie. How about I turn around and meet you there in twenty?”

 

“Great! I’ll be there with a table and a pitcher of beer.”

 

Jason hung up, and Tommy followed suit. Realizing he still had to catch a shower, he ran a quick, cold one to force him from staying in too long. Once toweled off, he threw on a pair of briefs, then his khaki cargos, a black t-shirt and a gray/black/white checkered flannel shirt. Shoes in place, he dashed out with his keys and wallet in hand to his jeep and headed out for the downtown.

 

It didn’t take long to get across town, and when he entered the restaurant, there wasn’t any wait. The hostess ushered him to a table near the door so he could keep an eye out for Jason, and left the menus. A few minutes later, the waiter had come by and gotten the order for the beer, and hurried off to put it in at the bar when Jase came in. He would have stood out anywhere, dressed in the baggy blue jeans, red t-shirt and tan colored windbreaker. With a smirk, Tommy wondered if once you were a ranger, the color stayed with you forever. If that was the case, he had some serious issues in the future…

 

“Tommy!” Jason called as he came through the door and headed straight for his former teammate.

 

“Hey Jase!”

 

The two met beside the table and clasped each other in a friendly bear-like hug. With a quick clap to the shoulder, Jason pulled back and took a seat. By an unspoken mutual agreement, they looked at the menu first and when the beer arrived, they rattled off their orders. As Tommy poured, Jason took the signal to open up the conversation.

 

“So, how’s the teaching gig?” he asked as he gratefully took the glass offered him by his oldest friend.

 

“Good. Tough sometimes. I can’t believe I was ever their age though,” Tommy replied, taking a sip of the beer before continuing. “But the teaching’s not the big thing though.”

 

“Okay, I’ll bite. What is?”

 

“I’m back in uniform.”

 

There was no mistaking what the word uniform meant to someone who had been a ranger, and Jason nearly spat out his mouthful of beer as the words registered. He carefully set the glass down and looked at his friend and former ranger… or actually no longer former, if what Tommy was alluding to was true.

 

“You’re kidding me,” Jason stated, deadly serious.

 

“Nope. But at least I’m not wearing white or red anymore.”

 

As Jason evaluated his friend intently, a light bulb suddenly went off over his head. “Black?”

 

“Like I told Kim – I’m trying for the record of most color uniforms in a career.”

 

“You told Kim about this? When?”

 

The flush that appeared on Tommy’s face told half the story. His taking a large swallow of beer in a desperate avoidance of eye contact hinted to the other. Jason pulled off his jacket, feeling the warmth of the restaurant finally and smirked at his long-time friend.

 

“Just can’t keep the two of you away from each other. So, what, you’re doing the e-mail thing while she’s in Boston?”

 

“Sometimes, but recently I’ve been calling. Mostly after things get interesting here, you know? Anyhow, she called today and left me a message saying they had some press engagements in D.C., so no call today.”

 

“And these daily…”

 

“Maybe twice a week.”

 

“Excuse me, twice a week calls are just friendly calls? You know, old comrades in arms talking over new events, or is it more than that? Do I need to plan that best man speech soon?”

 

“I’m working on convincing her to move to Reefside after Athens,” Tommy answered seriously.

 

Ahh.” Jason remarked, taking a slow gulp of his beer. “Just make sure you keep her this time. You might not get a third chance.”

 

“Don’t I know it.

 

Before Jason could make another comment, the food arrived, and they focused on filling their stomachs. Dinner conversation was kept to non-ranger activities, including Jason’s potential promotion and Tommy’s class schedule. By the time they finished, Jason had grabbed the check, claiming he was on an expense account, and they were done.

 

“So, what else does Reefside have to offer?”

 

“The usual. Why, what did you have in mind?”

 

“Maybe a game or two on a fairly abandoned basketball court where two old friends can actually talk without being careful,” Jason explained in detail.

 

“You carry a basketball on the road?”

 

“Hey, I get bored at the hotel sometimes, especially on weekend trips, and just wander off to find a court in the municipal park or something. Besides, exercise keeps you young. You should try it.”

 

Tommy socked his friend in the shoulder but grinned nonetheless. It was good to have Jase here, and he did have things that couldn’t be discussed in a restaurant to talk about.

 

“Fine. I’ll show you I haven’t forgotten all my moves.”

 

“You should be saving those for Kim.”

 

After glaring at his friend, Tommy shrugged and got up from the table. Jason threw on his jacket and followed suit as the two headed out the door. Once in their cars, Jason followed Tommy down to the park near the strip mall off the main road. As they parked, Jason noticed the courts were lit, but mostly empty. Of the three courts, there was only one person practicing free throw shots. Shutting off his car, he rolled up his sleeves and popped the trunk to dig out his basketball.

 

As Tommy ducked around the corner of the car, he barely missed getting hit in the head as Jase tossed the ball his direction. It bypassed him completely and bounced towards the courts.

 

“Damn Bro! You nearly hit me.”

 

“What? You were supposed to catch it. Where are those ranger reflexes?”

 

Sighing, Jason slammed the trunk closed on his rental car and they jogged over to the courts where the ball had rolled to be stopped by the foot of the lone basketball player. As they got closer, Tommy slowed down, and then came to a sudden halt.

 

“Bro?” Jason asked, turning towards his friend.

 

“Dr. O?”

 

Tommy sighed aloud, and realized that there wasn’t much reason now to keep some secrets. They’d seen the journal. It wouldn’t take long before the former red ranger was recognized.

 

“Conner, this is one of my oldest friends, Jason Lee,” Tommy announced, moving closer with Jason at his side.

 

Conner stared intently at Dr. O’s friend, trying to place the face. The name and everything seemed familiar. When his eyes hit the red t-shirt, it all clicked.

 

“More old rangers?” Conner asked in knowing tone that had the short hairs on the back of Jason’s neck bristling.

 

“Old rangers?” Jason asked, and then stared at the young man a little more closely. He was athletic, somewhat cocky, with a confidence that seemed superimposed onto some heavy doubts. And wearing a red camp shirt… “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is the new red ranger?”

 

With sudden nervousness, Conner quickly looked around to confirm that there wasn’t anyone around. He was starting to think there was a billboard with their secret identities plastered on it at the rate that people knew who he was now. Once he was sure they were alone, he let go his own barrage.

 

“Hey! Just because you used to be the red ranger backing the prehistoric days doesn’t mean you get to rag on me.”

 

Tommy started to move in to diffuse the situation when Jase just smiled and laughed. “God, he’s got a bigger chip on his shoulder than you ever had.”

 

“I did not have a chip on my shoulder!” Tommy argued.

 

“You did so. You were arrogant, ‘Mr. Greatest Ranger Ever’,” Jason tossed back.

 

“Like you weren’t all ‘I was the first, I was the best’?”

 

Conner stood there, watching the two verbally scrap back and forth, and saw for a moment Ethan and he since they’d gotten their powers. They’d been sniping at each other, but were still teammates and friends, he realized suddenly. He hadn’t recognized that before, but for all the verbal sniping that Kira, Ethan and he engaged in, they were now not just his fellow rangers, but his friends as well. As Tommy and Jason continued to throw back and forth halfhearted barbs, he couldn’t help but laugh. Both the former red ranger and the new black ranger turned to stare at the chuckling new red ranger, effectively ending the debate.

 

“And you find this funny because?” Tommy asked, using his best teacher/mentor voice.

 

“Just imagining you two working together on a ranger team. It had to have been crazy.”

 

“Actually, when I led the team, I couldn’t have asked for a better right hand than Tommy. He always had my back, and the team’s,” Jason said simply, clasping his friend’s shoulder with a hand.

 

“Except for when I was kissing on Kim?” Tommy tossed back, unable to resist the last dig.

 

“Sorry about that bro.”

 

Conner fought to choke back more laughter at the image of a huge battle going on outside, and Dr. O and an older version of the former pink ranger they’d seen in the video kissing in the cybercafe, oblivious. Maybe dating and being a ranger didn’t mix…

 

“Okay, enough of the disrespecting of the elder rangers. Since you seem to be needing some taking down, how about you and me, one-on-one,” Jason announced, tossing the basketball at Conner’s chest.

 

“You think you can handle me?”

 

“I’ll give it a shot.”

 

The gauntlet thrown down, Conner and Jason began their game, each looking for the other’s weakness. A reverse here, and a fake there, and Conner had the first basket. With that, Jason had the ball, and started his drive for the post. This went on, back and forth for ten minutes before Jason realized there was something more here than just a late night practice.

 

“So Conner, do you want to tell me what happened today that’s got you out here trying to work off some steam?”

 

There was a short pause, and then Connor shrugged, as he stood a bit straighter, still bouncing the basketball. If anyone could relate, besides Dr. O who had been there, it would be Jason.

 

“Some things happened, and I was just feeling a bit like I wasn’t a good leader.”

 

Jason threw a look to Tommy, looking for more information and saw a similar expression of guilt. God, did they have to make ranger leaders out of the same self-depreciating mold?

 

“What happened?” Jason asked Conner.

 

“Ethan, the blue ranger was supposed to show up at training with me, Kira, the yellow ranger and Dr. O. I was a bit pissed, as was Dr. O that he didn’t show, and then we found out that something had happened to him. Kira and I got to the cybercafe downtown and got jumped by this monster. So, I sent her in by herself while I faced off with the monster, and she got sucked into this video game, just like Ethan had. I had no idea what had happened, what I’d sent her in to face,” Conner stated as he dribbled the basketball towards his predecessor. “I got in there, and found them gone and didn’t know what to do…”

 

“So, how did you get them back?” Jason asked as he swiped at the younger man, effectively blocking Conner’s progress to go around him.

 

“I got tossed on my ass and accidentally hit the code breaker Ethan made, freeing them,” Conner admitted finally.

 

On the side of the court, Tommy sighed and shook his head. No wonder Conner had been evasive on how he’d freed Kira and Ethan. But Jason just laughed and dribbled past the younger man.

 

“Don’t feel bad about it. Sometimes luck in a ranger’s best friend. But you have to understand one thing. You’re the leader, and sometimes that means making tough decisions, like you did with Kira today. Remember, your teammates are rangers, and can take care of themselves, or they wouldn’t be rangers. Yes, they’re your responsibility, even with Tommy here. But he’s not the leader. You are. You have to accept it and realize that if you work together, you’ll survive anything they throw at you. We always did.”

 

Conner stared at the older, former red ranger and nodded slowly. He was still trying to grasp the powers and the role of being the leader, but what Jason was saying really seemed to alleviate a lot of his misgivings. He was glad that he’d said something.

 

They continued to play, with Jason showing that he could keep up with the new ranger, even at nearly twice the kid’s age. But when Conner started to pull ahead in their game of one-on-one, Jason started to realize that the age difference was a bit more than he could handle. He was down 6 points when he decided to call it, and move on to someone with the same age handicap.

 

“Alright, I give. You win. Besides, before you tire me out, I still need to put the smack down on my friend here,” Jason stated, tossing the basketball at Tommy.

 

This time, he was ready for the ball, and caught it, then began to dribble it as he traded places with Conner. The two old friends grinned as they sized each other up, and then commenced their game. As they played, trying to out-maneuver each other, the conversation that Jason had been having with Conner switched to being directed at his old friend.

 

“So, how did you do it?”

 

“What do you mean?” Tommy asked, confused, as he tried to block.

 

“I didn’t hear you mention anything about an entity like Zordon or Dimetria or anybody else being here,” Jason remarked, jumping up for a three-point basket. “Someone had to have given them ranger powers…”

 

Sighing, Tommy retrieved the ball, and turned to trot back to the half court line.

 

“I did. Actually, it was more of an accident that I had to give them morphers. But the fact of the matter is I got them into this.”

 

“And the problem with that is?” Jason questioned. “I mean, they’re rangers now. If they weren’t worthy of it, you wouldn’t have made them rangers, would you?”

 

“I didn’t choose, the crystals did,” he complained as he dribbled to his right, then zipped past Jason’s weak side and hurried towards the basket. Once the ball was in the air and through the hoop, he reached beneath to catch it, turning to toss it back to Jase. “I wouldn’t have pushed it on them except I didn’t have a choice.”

 

“Like you didn’t have a choice in being the green ranger?”

 

Conner watched and listened to two of the oldest rangers to ever wear a uniform talk about something that he really had wondered about. From Dr. O’s video journal, he’d gotten that Tommy hadn’t originally chosen to be a ranger, it had been forced on him, and he’d been evil. On the other hand, while he, Kira and Ethan had absorbed the crystal’s powers, they’d still been given a choice by Dr. O that first day to take the morphers and do some good with their new powers.

 

The longer he and the rest of the rangers worked with Dr. O, the more kinship Conner felt they would have with the man who had helped turn them into being superheroes.

 

“That was a long time ago Jase.”

 

“Doesn’t mean that, deep down, you’re going to ever forgive yourself for something that wasn’t your fault. Just like you’re doing now, beating yourself up over making Conner and his friends rangers.”

 

Tommy stayed silent, thinking about that as Jason used his friend’s introspection to his benefit, quickly speeding past him and putting up another two points. As the ball rolled around the rim and slid through the chain basket, Tommy stared at his friend, and fellow former ranger leader. Was his past as a ranger coloring his judgment now?

 

“We did get a choice, you know,” Conner stated from the sidelines.

 

Tommy turned to stare at his student and barely noticed Jason throwing another 2-point shot before he focused on the new red ranger as well.

 

“When you offered us the morphers, we could have said no. And I know that I said that I wanted to walk away, but I didn’t realize at the time just what I was giving up. I was just thinking about what I couldn’t do if I was a ranger.”

 

“Being a ranger is tough. It’s about making the hard choices and sacrificing for the team and for the good of others,” Jason remarked simply, then looked at his watch and grimaced.

 

“Shit! I didn’t realize it was so later. Sorry Bro, I’ve got to jet. My flight leaves at six in the morning, and I still need to pack.”

 

“No prob. I’m glad you came by.”

 

The two quickly hugged, slapping the other’s back as they reestablished the bond that had been between them for nearly ten years. As they pulled apart, Jason lightly punched his brother in all but blood in the shoulder with a smirk.

 

“I’m glad you’re on the path to being happy again, Mr. Black Ranger. And if I don’t talk to Kim before you do, tell her if she’s smart, she’ll take the first flight from Greece to Reefside.”

 

Tommy just grinned.

 

“And as for you young man,” Jason said, reaching out to offer his hand to Conner, “Good luck.”

 

After shaking Conner’s hand, Jason picked up his basketball and headed to his car. A minute later, Tommy and Conner watched as the car’s taillights pulled away from them.

 

“So, that was the first red ranger.”

 

“Nope, that was the first and best red ranger,” Tommy softly replied. “You couldn’t find a ranger or a better man to get advice from or use as a role model.”

 

“I’m glad I got to meet him. It’s so strange, I mean, my knowing former rangers. That’s not how it usually works, does it?”

 

“No, it doesn’t. There have been a lot of things with this team that aren’t how things have been done before. But we’re changing the rules.”

 

With that, Tommy jerked his head towards his jeep, and the two walked over to it.

 

“Come on red ranger, I’ll give you a ride home.”

 

-End-

 

tbc next week….

 

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