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Disclaimer: The characters and settings used in here are the property of MMPR Productions and are used without permission and without financial gain of any kind on my part.
Note: This story is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Erik R. Frank, JDF's real-life brother, who brought the character of David Trueheart—Tommy Oliver's brother—so memorably to life for a few too short, wonderful episodes in PRZ. My depiction of David is not meant to reflect in any way on the actor who portrayed him, and whose life ended, due to illness, far too soon for his family, friends and fans in autumn of 2001. Any comments, as usual, will be appreciated. DB, 2001/02

Brother, My Brother
by Dagmar Buse

Unpleasant memories assailed the Green Turbo Ranger's mind as he ran up the stairs two at a time to the hospital ward where one of their own was fighting for his life, hooked up to all sorts of machinery. The first to lie here had been Kimberly, after her balance beam accident just before she left for Florida, then—only a few short weeks ago—his best childhood buddy had been recovering from his injuries. Adam reminded himself sternly that both instances had had a lucky ending, even if Rocky had to retire from the team. It didn't help much to quell his anxiety.

Slightly out of breath from his mad dash across town and into the hospital, he took a moment to regain his composure as he surveyed the group assembled in the waiting area. The huge clock mounted on one wall showed that Rocky had called him only a scant hour ago; it felt more like ages. The stunt show had never seemed to last this long, but never mind however much he wanted to, his obligations to his job for once had to come before a friend's needs. Bad enough that Ranger business took precedence so often.

"How is he?" Adam asked in a hushed voice as he joined the rest of his friends outside room 227. They were all there, sitting, crouching, leaning against the walls—the former Zeo (now Turbo) team, Trini, Zack, David and Sam... Tommy was missing, but Adam assumed he'd probably be in with their friend, watching over him and waiting for developments.

"Not good," Tanya whispered back, suppressed tears roughening her usually smooth voice as Kat answered at the same time, "He's hanging in there."

The green-shirted young man's dark eyes wandered from one girl to the other, his puzzlement obvious. Kat managed a fleeting smile, realizing what had happened. Giving Tanya a one-armed hug, she explained to Adam. "What I meant is, Tommy's hanging in there. Jason, though ..." she swallowed hard. "We just don't know yet if he'll make it."

Adam closed his eyes in silent despair. They'd faced interstellar monsters, giant robots, evil magic and even a creature risen directly from the Earth's core and come through with flying colors; impossible to imagine that one of them should be in danger of dying of something as insignificant, as mundane as an allergic reaction!

He hugged a by-now softly sobbing Tanya to him, trying to give comfort even though he had no answers himself. Attempting to find at least some rhyme or reason, he asked the group which had gathered around them, "What exactly happened? When Rocky called, all he told me was that Jase had been bitten by a poisonous snake. I mean... didn't they take an antitoxin along?"

"We did," an unfamiliar voice said hoarsely from the back of the room. David Trueheart was leaning against a wall, looking pale and sick although there was no visible sign of injury on him. "It's that which is killing him now." There was guilt written all over his features which looked so uncannily like Tommy's.

"I didn't know..." he murmured almost to himself, staring at his dusty hiking boots. "I just didn't know..."

"Didn't know what, son?"

Reluctantly, David lifted haunted brown eyes to his adoptive father's. Sam had come as soon as he'd learned of the accident, offering his own vast knowledge of local wildlife and traditional remedies to the doctors at Angel Grove Memorial. So far, their combined efforts were barely enough to keep the former Gold Ranger alive. But nobody was giving up quite yet—not as long as Jason himself was still fighting with every labored breath he took.

"I.... I didn't know at first that he'd even been bitten by a snake, or that he's allergic to the antitoxin," the young man answered.

After a moment of reflective silence, Rocky's eyes suddenly lit up with a strange flame. Keeping his voice down with an effort, he stepped up close to Tommy's brother.

"How could you not know about the bite? You were there with Jason, weren't you? I know Tommy had to teleport out because of Divatox's latest attack, but I can't believe he didn't tell you to look out for Jase!" Trini and Zack flinched, casting perplexed looks at the Truehearts; surely Rocky hadn't forgotten about Zordon's edict about keeping their Ranger identities secret from everybody? Noticing their surprise, Kat nodded reassuringly, letting them know silently that it was okay. Details could be explained later. Still looking wary, the two erstwhile Rangers relaxed, turning towards the long-haired young man once more.

The guilty look intensified, and David squirmed uncomfortably, feeling all eyes trained on him. The former Blue Ranger quite obviously had trouble keeping control of his temper.

"Where were you, David? Why did it take so long from the moment he'd been bitten until Jase got to see a doctor? If Tommy hadn't returned when he did, and decided to bend the rules just a little by teleporting Jason directly here..."

The accusation was clear to everybody as it sank in on the group of friends that there seemed to be far more to the situation than a simple hiking accident. Equally obvious was that Rocky was on to something, if only because David had paled even more, his bronze skin taking on a greyish hue as he seemed to shrink into himself before their eyes. Only Sam Trueheart's calming presence prevented the Rangers, both active and former, from beating the answers they wanted out of their new acquaintance. The old shaman placed a protective hand on his tall son's shoulder and stopped the Rangers from venting their fear and growing suspicion with a single long look. Seating himself in a corner of the waiting area, far enough away from Jason's door not to disturb his parents and Tommy who were at his bedside, but still close enough to be on hand at once should there be any change at all in Jason's condition, Sam indicated that the teenagers should gather around him.

They did so without any questions, Adam still holding Tanya, Kat seated between Trini and Zack who had come home from Geneva a few weeks after Jason, having graduated from High School back in Switzerland. Rocky was still seething as Justin looked on uneasily. Kim hadn't arrived yet, but had been notified... and nobody knew if their hasty message to Aquitar had gotten through at all. Billy deserved to know.

Closing his wise old eyes for a few moments, cloaking himself in calm like a mantle that spread out to the others, Sam then addressed his son.

"Tell us what happened, David. Everything."

Though it was softly spoken, it was nonetheless an irresistible command. Unable to refuse, David swallowed the lump lodging in his throat.

"It all started pretty normal," he remembered. "Tommy had wanted me to meet Jason ever since his return, but somehow or other, the timing never was right. Anyway, this trip was the first opportunity that came up for all three of us, and we decided to go on a hike to Falcon's Pass..."


"This really sucks," David muttered to himself for maybe the twentieth time—ever since Tommy had called him yesterday to say that he was sorry, but there was a problem with Jason's car, and could he, David, drop by the Olivers' house so they could use Tommy's car? Short of calling the whole trip off, there was nothing David could do, so although it meant he had to go all the way into Angel Grove, then drive back half the distance to go hiking, he arranged for a neighbor to take him into town in the morning.

Unfortunately, said neighbor had to make a 7am deadline, which meant the young man had to get up at what he thought of Godawful o'clock in the morning, then was stuck in a rattletrap of a pickup for nearly 50 miles between a smelly and WAY too friendly dog and a bunch of chicken cages, had to listen to the aimless mutterings of his foster father's crony AND had to walk from the highway exit all the way to Tommy's house, loaded down with his camping gear and wearing hiking shoes definitely NOT suited for pavement pounding. Temperatures were already in the high seventies this early in the day, but that was nothing compared to the low simmer of David's temper.

In other words, David Trueheart was well on his way to be royally pissed.

"Jason's car broke; you don't mind coming here so we can pick him up, do you?" David sneered a bit as he recalled his brother's words. Actually, he did mind, since the new arrangement inconvenienced him a lot, but nooo—of course it never occurred to Tommy that maybe his precious friend should be the one to accommodate the brothers instead of the other way around. However, there never was a chance to voice his objections because Tommy once more launched into a glowing report on what Jason had said, what Jason had done, how nicely Jason was recuperating from losing the Gold Ranger's powers... so much so that David was close to screaming with frustration if he had to hear the name spoken one more time.

"He can't be that perfect. Nobody is that perfect," he grumbled as he turned into Tommy's street, ignoring the few catcalls from high school kids passing him on their way to school. David was well aware of how he looked in his leather jacket and hiking gear, long hair held back by a narrow, pearl-embroidered headband that proclaimed his heritage even more than his bronzed skin, dark hair and eyes. Some people's ignorance couldn't be helped, and the boys taunting him really were rather young ... not young enough not to know better, though. Usually, these things didn't bother David much, but today—he shook off his dark thoughts, determining anew to enjoy this weekend hike with his brother, even if Tommy's best friend was going to be there, too.

Intruding on what should be a family thing—Tommy and I bonding, doing stuff together as brothers.

But David knew he couldn't tell Tommy of his resentment; not when Tommy was so obviously glad to have his best friend home again from Europe. Squaring his shoulders and pasting a smile on his face, David stepped up to the Olivers' door and rang the bell. Steps clattered inside, and then the door was yanked open suddenly by a young man whose family resemblance to David was unmistakeable.

"Dave!" Tommy's enthusiasm was unfaked as he drew David into a brief bear hug, and he felt his mood lifted by the friendly greeting.

"Hey Tommy," he murmured a bit self-consciously as he noticed Rachel Oliver in the kitchen door, looking at both young men with a somewhat strange expression. But she greeted him cordially enough, offering him breakfast and coffee, which David accepted gratefully. However, he couldn't enjoy the stack of pancakes Rachel placed before him in peace, as Tommy was fidgeting near the door, impatient to be on the way as much as any five-year-old about to go to Disneyland for the very first time. So David wolfed down his food far faster than he would've liked, and found himself hustled outside to Tommy's red 4X4 almost as soon as he'd swallowed his last sip of coffee.

"Come on already; Jason's waiting," Tommy called a bit impatiently from behind the wheel while David thanked Rachel for breakfast.

"Hold your horses, Tommy; he won't vanish into thin air just because we're five minutes late, if that," David groused, but obligingly climbed into the car and buckled up.

"Yeah, well..." Tommy grinned sheepishly as he started the car. "I know; it's just, I wanted the two of you to meet for so long, and now that it's happening..."

"...you're acting like a kid on Christmas morning," David jibed, grinning himself as Tommy blushed. "Drive on already!"

Muttering under his breath, Tommy backed out of the driveway and navigated through the quiet residential streets to the Scotts' house. Once there, he turned off the engine and jumped out of the car. "Come on," he called to his brother. "Let's see if Jase needs any help with his stuff!"

Slowly, David got out as well. "If he can't carry his gear from the house to the car, how does he expect to handle a five-hour hike?" he wondered, fresh resentment welling up in him, but Tommy didn't hear. He was already at the door, about to ring the bell, when the door opened and a slender blonde woman looked up at him with a friendly smile.

"Tommy! Good morning!" The blonde hugged Tommy, who returned the embrace warmly and without embarrassment.

"Hi, Helen," he grinned. "Is Jase up yet?"

"Of course I am, idiot," a deep voice came from the hallway, and a broad-shouldered figure emerged into the morning sunlight, giving David his first glimpse of his brother's best friend. "After all, I'm not the one with the memory problem!"

"It was only that one time before Junior year! And you gotta admit, I had a ton of things on my mind then." Tommy groaned comically. "Are you ever gonna let me live that down?"

"Nope," Jason grinned back cheerfully. "After all, you did ask us to help you with your problem, Bro!"

"You've helped, Bro," Tommy shot back. "And helped, and helped, and helped..."

The two broke into laughter over what was clearly an old joke between them, while the blonde—Jason's mother, David assumed—looked on with an indulgent smile, an expression that made absolutely no distinction between Jason or Tommy. Feeling somewhat left out, David took a step closer, only to stop short when Tommy flung a casual arm around the broad shoulders and drew Jason to stand next to him. The ex-Gold Ranger made no move to get away from this sign of deep affection, even intimacy, but slipped his own arm around Tommy just as easily. They stood like this as if posed for a few seconds, not at all embarrassed about letting others see how close they were.

David wanted to rip them apart.

That is MY place! something within him seemed to shout, but before he could do or say anything, Jason and Tommy separated again.

"Let's get this show on the road already," Tommy suggested, reaching for his keys to pop the trunk, but a mock-stern headshake from Jason stopped him. "What?"

"Aren't you forgetting something, Bro?" Jason asked.

Tommy looked at him, bewildered. "Not that I know of."

Jason rolled his eyes at his mother, who barely smothered a laugh. "What did I tell you? It's a wonder he remembered to show up here at all."

Mrs Scott did laugh then. "Be nice," she admonished him, grey eyes twinkling up at her broad-shouldered son.

"Yeah, yeah," Jason grinned, slinging his camping gear into the back of Tommy's car. "You just got me out of two weeks of lawn mowing, Tom," he said cheerfully.


Jason winked at David, who was feeling rather superfluous observing the banter between people who quite obviously had forgotten all about him—if they'd even noticed his presence.

"I made a bet with Mom that you would forget to introduce your brother to us," he said smugly. "Mom claimed you had better manners than that, but she doesn't know that leaky brain of yours as well as I do. And I won!" Grinning broadly, Jason then turned towards David, holding out his hand.

"Hi. In case Tommy hasn't told you, I'm Jason Scott. I already know you're that idiot's brother, that your name is David Trueheart, and I'm pleased to meet you."

Bemusedly, David stared at the outstretched hand, making no move to shake it. Part of him wanted to respond to the easy friendliness, but another part protested, resenting the familiarity and closeness Jason obviously shared with Tommy—something that deep down David felt ought to belong rightfully to him alone. Before the situation could get awkward, though, Mrs Scott shouldered Jason aside.

"Really, Jason, your manners are as bad or worse than Tommy's," she chided, giving both young men a look that made them blush and squirm. "That's hardly the way to talk of one's best friend—especially not to a family member you have barely met." She smiled at David. "Please forgive Jason's lack of tact, Mr. Trueheart. I'm Helen Scott, this big lug is my son, and I welcome you to our house."

"Uh, thanks," David mumbled, nonplussed. He didn't know what to make of the situation. Good manners ordered him in one direction, his budding resentment of Jason into another, and he didn't know which way to go.


Good manners won. He let himself be drawn inside the comfortable house, but declined an offer of breakfast, wondering how Tommy could eat again already. Instead, he contented himself with sipping some orange juice, growing increasingly impatient while Jason and Tommy bantered their way through generous helpings of bacon and eggs, homemade blueberry muffins and whatnot. When finally the last morsel on their plates had been demolished, David cleared his throat and cast a speaking glance at the wall-mounted clock.

"If you two are done reducing the world's food supply to almost non-existent, isn't it time we were on or way? I thought you were in such a hurry to go." It took more of an effort than he liked to keep irritation out of his voice. He did not like feeling left out, and those two had practically ignored him, talking about people he didn't know, and things they'd done together that David wished deep down he'd shared. He'd rather die before he admitted that, though.

"Hey, this is the last time for the next couple of days that we get a home-cooked meal," Tommy protested, but got up with a good-natured groan when Jason stood and started stacking dishes before his mother could prompt him. "Thanks for breakfast, Helen. You're a great cook."

Helen Scott just laughed. "As long as you enjoyed it, Tommy."

He grinned back cheerfully while he handed the utensils to Jason, to put into the dishwasher. David wordlessly carried his glass to the sink. "Oh, I did! I love my mother to pieces, you know that, but cooking isn't exactly her strong point."

Jason snickered. "No kidding. Remember that one time she tried to make chicken teriyaki for the gang and messed it up so royally by adding jalapeno peppers for color?"

"Don't remind me, Bro," Tommy shuddered. "That was even worse than when she put sugar instead of salt into my scrambled eggs."

"Yuck!" Jason made a gagging noise like a Junior High kid, which sent Tommy into a giggling fit.

David silently wondered how the two younger men could speak so... disrespectfully of an Elder Female; it simply wasn't done! True, the pancakes Rachel had served him hadn't been as fluffy as others he'd eaten at home, the syrup had been a generic store brand, but that was no reason to publicly disparage her, was it? And why didn't Mrs. Scott reprimand them? She should be defending the other woman... He caught himself. The Olivers' and Scotts' lives were not like his own on the Reservation; Sam had warned him often enough since he'd met his brother not to make judgements based on their different cultures. Still, it was one more thing to lay at Jason's feet in David's mind—Tommy had never spoken so about his mother before. Not within my hearing, anyway... He was distracted by his blonde hostess's voice.

"Rachel has a very demanding job as an office manager, as you well know, Tommy. She can't be good at everything." Her tone was mild, but a rebuke nonetheless. David suppressed an approving nod.

Not so different, after all.

"I know, I know." The smile Tommy gave Helen was quick and apologetic. She mock-glared at him.

"As long as you do, I guess I can let it pass... for now." Helen then went over to the refrigerator and took out three half-liter bottles of water. "Here; nice and cool for your trip. Now get out of my house, all of you!"

"Yes, Ma'am!" Tommy saluted, then jumped out of the way of an only half-playful swat, bumping into David who barely managed to keep his balance. "Oops."

"Geez, Tommy, can't you be more careful?" David snapped under his breath, but found himself ignored as Tommy, after a long considering look, snagged one last muffin off the table.

"Thanks, Mom." Jason hugged his mother briefly, then slung his backpack over his shoulder. He snickered when he noticed his best friend chewing surreptitiously. Just like in High School. The thought was warmly comforting—some things just wouldn't change. "I'm ready when you are, Tommy; must you be always late?"

"I'll give you late," the other muttered, swallowing hastily. But there was laughter in their voices, and two pairs of brown eyes sparkled. The third pair, however, was hidden under half-lowered lids, so the annoyance in them remained unnoticed.

"Thank you for the juice and water, Mrs. Scott," David said politely. He then walked sedately out to the red car, standing beside the right-hand door with ill-concealed impatience. He was not giving up riding shotgun, no matter how much Jason might want to argue! Somewhat to David's annoyance, however, his brother's best friend didn't even try to talk him into the backseat. Instead Jason just waited for the doors to be unlocked, plonked his backpack into the trunk and climbed inside first.

"Ready," he smirked, making a big show out of waiting for the other two with exaggerated patience.

David shook his head reprovingly, but Tommy gave Jason just a look that set him to sniggering, then backed his car out onto the street. The three young men were silent as they navigated the morning traffic, which suited David just fine, but as soon as they were on the way to Falcon's Pass Jason scooted forward in his seat. To his chagrin, David found that the other managed to be much closer to Tommy by leaning his arms on the driver's seat backrest than David himself, who was buckled into his seat belt and could only relax by turning away from his brother, resting his shoulder against the window.

"Shouldn't you be belted in?" he asked a little sharply, but Jason only smiled and shrugged.

"I've just slipped out of the shoulder belt; see? I'm still inside the hip strap, the road's not all that dangerous, and besides, I trust Tommy to drive safely. He knows this is neither his stock car nor his Zord, don't you, Bro?"

"Yeah," Tommy said genially, sparing his brother a quick sideways glance. "You don't think I'd take chances with the two of you of all people, do you?"

David didn't particularly care to be lumped together with Jason like that, as it implied that Tommy made no distinction at all between them, but there was nothing he could say without appearing churlish. But he couldn't help that his voice sounded somewhat clipped, garnering him a strange look from Tommy. Silently admonishing himself to get his act together, for the sake of peace if for nothing else, David forced a small smile.

"No, of course not." He lapsed into silence again.

Jason met Tommy's eyes in the rear view mirror, but all he did was raise an eyebrow, then give a minute shrug. He was far too glad to be able to spend some quality time with his best friend, and get to know this newfound brother of Tommy's; he was not letting anything spoil his good mood.

Besides, he may just be pissed that he had to get up so early, come into town and now drive back again. All because some idiot rodent managed to gnaw through a few lines in my car's engine. Jason inwardly cursed the marten, ferret or whatever it had been; the critter had been making the rounds through the neighborhood lately, but optimistically he'd thought his car would be spared. Stupid, Scott, he told himself, but it was too late now. Oh well. I'm sure David'll get friendlier as soon as he's fully awake.

Determined to make friends with Tommy's sibling if he could, Jason nudged the other on the shoulder.

"So Dave, what's so great about Falcon's Pass, anyway? Tommy couldn't tell me much, except that it's right outside the reservation and great for hiking," he ventured.

David didn't look at him.

"My name is David, not Dave," he said curtly. He felt brief satisfaction when Jason jerked back a little, astonished, but relented before Tommy could comment. The question had been innocuous enough, and he was proud of what the Tribe had accomplished in the area.

"I'm not used to having my name shortened," David said by way of apology, summoning a half-smile. Jason shrugged.

"Okay. Sorry."

Tommy spared a glance from the road at his brother. "I've called you Dave," he said, a very mild rebuke in his voice. "Several times, in fact."

David opened his mouth to comment, bit back whatever he was going to say as too uncivil, when Jason said it for him.

"Don't be dense, Bro. It's different for you; you're his brother."

Jason's easy, accepting manner irrationally grated on David's nerves even more—because he knew he was being unfair. He didn't know what set him so on edge about Jason; so far, Tommy's friend had shown him nothing but acceptance, but that's how it was... and the fact that David didn't like himself very much for what he refused to name unfounded jealousy didn't help, either. Grudgingly, he nodded towards Jason.

"Yeah. No offense," he managed.

"None taken," Jason replied, and had to suppress a tiny smile at Tommy's relieved expression. David hadn't struck him as very congenial or friendly so far, but for Tommy's sake he could put up with some grouchiness until they got to know each other better. Optimistically, Jason reflected that until today, he'd always managed to get along with almost everybody—even Bulk and Skull in a pinch.

"Anyway, to get back to my question—what IS so great about Falcon's Pass?"

Determining to match Jason's behaviour, David decided to answer. After all, he did not want to be shown up by this interloper—not in his brother's presence, anyway.

"The Tribal Elders have voted to lease the land from the government and make it into some kind of park, or a nature preserve—only not the kind you'd find at Yellowstone, for example. Rather, we want to keep it as untouched by civilization as possible, to protect the plants and animals in their natural habitats and eventually offer guided tours to schools or other groups. No amenities except right at the entrance, no concession stands or stuff like that—and certainly no masses of people, either. We even plan to have visitors petition for admittance first."

"Sounds good," Jason commented. "That way, you'll keep control over who's getting access, in what way and for how long."

"That's the idea." David refused to be impressed by the other's quick grasp of the concept. He was not above a little personal boasting, though. "I've applied for Forest Ranger training; as soon as I'm done, I'll be working full-time as a Falcon's Pass Guide."

"Cool." There was genuine approval, if not admiration in the deep voice.

"You haven't told me that," Tommy said, somewhat surprised. Inwardly, he winced; he really should've made the effort sooner to inquire about David's plans for the future, instead of filling his ears with all the stuff he was doing at Uncle John's track. Sure, becoming a race car driver was far more glamorous than working as a nature guide, but he knew well both professions were equally worthwhile in their place, and he had to admit, it fit what he had learned so far about his brother's inclinations and chosen life.

Trust Jase to draw that out of David within an hour of meeting him, Tommy thought fondly, remembering how Jason had managed the same thing with him when they'd first met. He'd been the quintessential loner, wary, even suspicious of strangers, and even more so after having gotten involved with 'the gang' as Rita's Evil Green Ranger, but he'd been defenceless before Jason's genuine interest and openness. Within days, Jason had learned enough about Tommy—and offered the same degree of information in return—that it felt as if they'd known each other for ages. It had paved the way to friendship with Trini, Zack and the others, and Tommy knew he'd be eternally grateful for that.

Jase has been my Bro right from the start. My best friend, for always. Wish it would be the same with David...

But Tommy was aware why it couldn't be so, not yet, anyway; for one thing, his brother was too much like himself, reserved and keeping to himself, for another, they didn't live in close proximity and met at school each day as he and Jason had... and neither had the gift of making friends easily.

Not to mention the Ranger factor.

Having to trust one's very life, and the future of one's planet, to another had a way of cementing relationships fast, Tommy acknowledged wryly to himself. It wasn't anyone's fault that he'd found his brother under much different circumstances than he'd met his Bro. But, as there was nothing he could do about that, he decided to try and lighten the atmosphere by latching onto a detail that seemed pretty amusing, all things considered.

Tommy sent a grin towards David. "You know... once you're done, you'll be the only Ranger left, among the three of us," he said. "Jason's already retired from it twice, I get the feeling that now we're out of school the team won't be able to keep it up for much longer..."

Jason laughed, but David felt another pang of jealousy—this time one he could acknowledge for what it was, though.

"It's hardly the same," he said a bit sullenly. Did Tommy have to remind him of that one thing he'd had with Jason that David would never be able to share?

He didn't notice the sympathetic look Jason sent in his direction. The one-time Red, then Gold Ranger could relate to what David was feeling; boy, could he ever! He'd given up his Powers willingly for a greater goal the first time, and he'd known from the outset that the Gold Power would have to be returned to Trey, but that didn't mean he did not feel envy every time his friends' communicators chimed and they rushed off without him. How Billy had stood it for so long, he had no idea.

"Perhaps not," he mused, half to himself. "You won't handle giant robots or fight aliens from Outer Space like we did, but the kind of Ranger you're gonna be is doing something just as important—preserve the land from attacks that come from everyday people. Every day, too. Littering, pollution, careless exploitation, general neglect of nature's balance... and that's just for starters. And who knows, maybe in the long run yours is the better way." Jason grinned suddenly. "At least it's less dangerous, and you won't be put under any evil spells anymore."

David grunted uncommittally. For a moment, he thought he'd heard condescension in Jason's words, but he seemed sincere enough, and there was little sense in quarrelling. Not if he wanted to get at least some enjoyment out of this weekend, despite Jason's presence.

"Yeah, well," he muttered. "Anyway, Sam has made me promise not to disturb anything, so it'll be my decision where to camp, where to go and what to do. You two will have to follow my lead in this. Is that going to be a problem?" David challenged Tommy and Jason, leaders and strong characters both. Somewhat to his disappointment, neither objected.

"Of course not," Tommy snorted. "What do you take us for, anyway?"

He received a friendly cuff on the side of his head from the back seat.

"Careful, Bro," Jason sniggered. "David might give you an honest answer, and I for one am not going to help you kick him out of the car!"

Tommy put on a wounded-puppy expression. "Would I do that?"

"You don't want me to answer that, either." Jason sent a slightly conspiratorial wink at David, suddenly allying the two of them against Tommy, who assumed an exaggerated pout as he drove on. David managed a small smile. He envied the easy camaraderie between his two companions, but that wasn't anything new; he'd never been able to tease and banter like that with his peers. He had known that even before meeting Tommy and his best friend.

This isn't Jason's fault. It's the way I am; I shouldn't take it out on him.

Calling to mind all his foster-father's teachings about accepting one's own nature first so that he could accept others', David resolved to make more of an effort to be pleasant—if only that Sam Trueheart would have no reason to chide him once they got back. The older man had ways of learning things one wanted to keep hidden that were uncanny sometimes; David did not want to incur Sam's anger, or worse, his disappointment.

To that end, he launched into a description of Falcon's Pass and what the Tribe already had accomplished regarding their plans. To his satisfaction, he found two avid listeners who asked intelligent questions, and the atmosphere in the red car lightened considerably as they rode along on the increasingly bumpy roads, towards their goal. All three took notice of that... and none chose to comment.


Tommy parked the car at a small trading post right where the entrance of the future Nature Reserve was going to be; the proprietor had consented to let him use an old shed in the back as a makeshift garage so that the 4X4 wouldn't get damaged or stolen. They took the opportunity to fill their canteens with fresh, cold water for the trek to the campsite David had in mind, stocked up on a few munchies to eat on the trail, and struck out.

As the three young men walked at a leisurely yet brisk pace into the hilly wilderness, David critically looked at the others' outfits. He himself was dressed in sturdy cotton pants, t-shirt and flannel overshirt, with a lightweight suede jacket and well-worn moccasins. Tommy had chosen jeans, a trademark red shirt, windbreaker and ankle-high hiking boots, while Jason... David frowned. The t-shirt and flannel were sensible enough, but he was wearing shorts, and some rather weird-looking shoes. They looked like some kind of loafers; tough enough and certainly not new, but...

"Are you sure you're dressed appropriately?" he asked as neutrally as he could. "It gets pretty cold at night out here... and what kind of shoes are that, anyway?"

Jason grinned over his shoulder as he marched on. "Don't worry. The pants have detachable legs -" he pointed out the concealed zipper at the hem, "I have a weatherproof jacket packed, and the shoes were bought at a mountaineering store in Geneva. Zack and I used to do quite a bit of mountain-hiking on the weekends, when we had the time. They were okay for the Alps; guess they should do here, too."

Try as he might, David couldn't find fault with that, so he just harrumphed and quickened his pace, forging ahead—so much so that after ten minutes, Tommy called him back.

"Hey, what's the hurry, David? We on a schedule, or what?"

"No, of course not," David sighed, telling himself he better get his temper under control. The trail wasn't overly strenuous, but that didn't mean it was completely without danger—if a hiker wasn't careful, the loose pebbles and sand could lead to slips, those could result in hard falls... and they did not want to risk injury. So, David slowed down to a more reasonable speed, staying slightly ahead of his brother and Jason as he led the way deeper into the sun-drenched landscape. It was an intriguing mixture of desert and mountains, mostly dry but not overly so. There was plenty of hot California sunshine during the day, but they'd be able to find some shade for breaks, and enough shelter so the decidedly cold nights wouldn't bother them too much as long as they had their tent and a campfire.

Jason and Tommy were talking softly as they followed David, but the longer they walked, the quieter they became. It was past mid-morning now, the temperatures were approaching the mid-nineties already, and they all needed their breath for other things than conversation. About two hours into their hike, though, Jason, who was bringing up the rear by now, called for a halt. Surprised, Tommy turned back to look at his friend, and was shocked to see that the normally indefatigable Jason was flushed, sweating heavily and all but gasping for breath.

"What's up, Bro? Are you okay?" he asked worriedly.

"Yeah," Jason panted, a wry grin playing around his mouth as he reached for his canteen to take a few slow sips. "It's just... I'm still not quite over losing the Gold Powers," he admitted. "It's nothing serious, really, I just tire more easily than I used to. Man, I hate feeling so out of shape," he grumbled as he wiped the sweat off his forehead and screwed the cap back on his bottle. "I know Zordon said I'd get back to normal eventually, but can't 'eventually' come sooner?"

Relieved, Tommy grinned and took a deep draught of his own flask, grimacing a little as he swallowed. The water had become tepid by now, but it was wet, and that was what counted. "Oh, okay. As long as it isn't more than that..."

"Nah. I have more sense than that," Jason claimed, blithely ignoring the hoot Tommy couldn't resist giving as he rested his backside against a handy rock. "Although... tell me again why I shouldn't pack Mom's cell phone? Wouldn't it be a good thing to have, just in case of an emergency?" He looked questioningly from Tommy to David.

"It would, if there was reliable service in this area," David explained. "As soon as Falcon's Pass Park is fully operational, we're probably going to set up a relay pole, antenna or something at the Trading Post, but right now... cell phones do work, but it's a hit-and-miss thing half the time, depending on where we are. Up on the rises, it's mostly fine, but in the gulches..." He shrugged tellingly.

"And any accident, if there is one, will most likely happen in a place where it's impossible to call for help," Jason said drily. "Murphy's Law right at work."

"Isn't it always?" Tommy added, fastening his canteen again to the hook on his backpack. Jason's coloring was better now, his breathing had calmed, and he seemed to be recovering rapidly now that he'd had a few minutes to rest. "You ready to go on?"


"He better be," David muttered, irritated by Tommy's solicitousness towards Jason and by what he thought was an avoidable delay. "If we have to stop every half-hour, we'll never make it to camp."

Tommy looked strangely at his brother. "Come on, Dave; we've been on the go for nearly two hours already. And to be honest, I kinda liked taking a short break myself," he said loyally, not wanting to make Jason into the culprit for whatever was bugging David all of a sudden. "After all, it's not as if we have a set time to get anywhere."

"If he isn't fit, he shouldn't have come. The desert and the mountains are no place for weakness."

Jason drew a deep breath. He was becoming uncomfortably aware that what he thought was grouchiness in David ran apparently much deeper than that—and that it seemed to be centered on him. Well, he'd deal with that in his own time... and hopefully, without Tommy noticing that there might be problems between him and David.

"Would you rather I'd have kept quiet, played Macho Guy and collapsed on you?" he inquired mildly, bent on staving off a confrontation. This wasn't the place. "I am fit enough, or I wouldn't have come on this trip in the first place, no matter how much I might've wanted to. But I'm honest enough to recognize my limitations, and admit when I need a breather." The dark eyes were calm, but held a hint of warning and challenge for David. "You have a problem with that?"

"No," he mumbled. Aware that he'd nearly come off as the heavy in this situation, David hid the baleful look he would've loved giving the one-time Ranger. "Just as long as it won't slow us down."

"Trust me, it won't," Jason replied quietly, and adjusted the straps of his backpack. He straightened and took a couple of steps on the barely-visible path. "I'm ready."

"Then let's go," Tommy decided, and the three young men continued at a sensibly brisk pace, following the directions David gave from time to time. After a while, Tommy managed to let Jason take the lead and fell into step with his brother.

"Dave? Don't be so hard on Jase, okay? He knows what he can do, and he won't slow us down," he explained. "We didn't delay all that long, after all." There was a faintly-troubled expression in the chocolate-brown eyes that alerted David that he better tone down his behaviour, or his brother would pick up on the fact that all wasn't peachy between his companions. And no matter what his feelings toward Jason, the very last thing David wanted to do was hurt Tommy. Not if he hoped to build as close a relationship with Tommy as he shared with Jason.

"Yeah, I know." He made his voice conciliatory. "I was just... well, really hitting a comfortable stride, if you know what I mean? The kind of pace that makes you feel you can walk for hours without tiring ..." Which was even true, as far as it went. It just wasn't the whole truth. "And having to stop just then... I guess it pissed me off, a little." David produced a weak smile, feeling vaguely ashamed of himself for prevaricating like that. Tommy pondered what he'd heard for a second, then smiled back.

"Yeah, I guess I can understand," he said. "Been there myself a couple of times." The brothers exchanged a faintly amused look. "As long as it wasn't anything more, though. For a second there, I was kinda afraid you had a problem with Jason."

David froze inwardly. He hadn't expected Tommy to notice, didn't want him to notice. So, to allay any suspicion, he assumed a purposely bland expression. "Why should I?" There was a momentary pang at the dishonesty; he had a problem with Jason, a very definite one, actually—David wished the other had never come back from wherever he'd been before, or at least not come on this trip with them—but he couldn't very well tell that to Tommy. Not when he was looking at him with such hope-filled eyes.

"Dunno, man. All I do know is that I want you and Jase to get along. I mean, until I found you, Jase was the only brother I had ... only he wasn't really, not like you are," the younger man confessed. "Next to my folks, you two are the most important people in my life."

"That... that's great, thanks," David managed, at once gratified that it should be so and intensely jealous that Jason should be included. He was fine with being in one category with the Olivers; after all, they were decent people, and the only parents Tommy had ever known. But an outsider? The idea grated. However, David knew that after what Tommy had just admitted, he had to keep quiet and hide his feelings. Casting about for an innocuous way to do that without raising suspicion, he had an idea.

"What about Kat, though? Isn't she your girlfriend and should be included?" David knew he could handle that; the bonds between man and woman were different from family. They took nothing away from him.

Tommy blushed and smiled sheepishly.

"Well, yeah. But that's... she's different."

Mainly, she's not Kim, Tommy thought with a small inward wince. He couldn't help it, but somehow, his relationship with his lovely blonde teammate wasn't quite going the way he'd envisioned it would. It was more than what he'd had with the petite gymnast, yet less... and wholly confusing, especially as Tommy was well aware he was still carrying a torch for Kimberly. However, this wasn't the point, and WAY too complicated to go into now, even if only in his mind. With by-now practised ease, he pushed the images of Kim back into a dark corner of his memories.

"Oh yeah?" David smirked, oblivious to his younger sibling's thoughts. Tommy resisted the temptation to stick out his tongue.

"Prettier than both of you, anyway," he shot back, with enough emphasis that it brought Jason to a halt. He waited until the brothers caught up with him.

"Who is?" he asked curiously.

"Katherine," David answered succinctly. Doing a classic double-take, Jason started to laugh. He affectionately punched Tommy's shoulder as the three resumed their trek.

"I should hope so," he chuckled. "I love you to pieces, Bro, but I do not want to date you!"

"Aww. And here I thought I could take you home, introduce you to Mom and Dad next," Tommy mock-pouted, falling back into the easy teasing he'd always enjoyed with Jason.

"Sorry, darling; the engagement's off," Jason simpered, and the two broke into gales of laughter, leaving David nonplussed and fuming quietly to himself. How dare Jason speak about love so lightly? His flippancy was denigrating everything noble about that emotion, and besides, why didn't Tommy defend his girlfriend? It was as if he was tacitly accepting what seemed like a putdown of everything that was so desirable to David... who was not aware that he didn't have all the facts, that he was blinded by unreasoning resentment from seeing the deep affection between Jason and Tommy beneath their banter. Jason may have spoken lightly about loving Tommy, but that didn't make it any less true... and Tommy knew it and returned the sentiment in full measure.

Or maybe it was just that David didn't want to see.


They reached their destination shortly after noon—a small plateau that afforded them an unhindered view across the craggy landscape, stark in its aridity but possessing a strange beauty nonetheless. There were a few bushes to provide meagre shadow, and a tiny well at the bottom of the rise for water.

"All the comforts of home," Jason quipped as he shrugged out of his backpack with a relieved groan. "Man, that last mile was brutal; I thought we'd never get up here!"

"You and me both," Tommy agreed, sinking down against a handy boulder and stretching his aching legs. "Whose brainstorm was this trip, anyway?"

"Yours," Jason smirked, massaging his close-to-cramping calves. "It'll be a bonding experience, you said. It'll make us feel closer, you said. We'll have fun, you said..."

"Okay, okay," Tommy interrupted him, laughing. "I said a lot of things. No need for you to rub my face in every single one of them, though!"

"Why not? It's fun," his best friend said, totally straight-faced. He received a handful of grit thrown at him for his trouble, a few grains of which caught in Jason's collar and trickled down his sweaty neck. Irritated, Jason tried to brush them off and succeeded only in rubbing them into his skin. "Hey! Stop that!"

"Why? It's fun." Tommy's expression couldn't have been more angelic.


Chuckling over Jason's outraged look, Tommy belatedly noticed his brother, who hadn't joined the two yet, but was poking around among the rocks and sparse shrubbery, lifting a stone here and peering into a crack there after leaving his pack near the two friends.

"Hey, David!"

"Yeah?" He hardly looked up from whatever he was doing, inspecting a narrow ledge on a boulder instead. Perfect place for a snake to sun himself... There was a crevice in the back, hardly visible; it looked as if there might be... Tommy's voice distracted him from his task.

"Why don't you pull up a rock and sit here with us? You must be as beat as we are. Whatcha doing, anyway?"

David glanced at his companions. "Checking for ants, scorpions, prairie dog burrows... signs that maybe a mountain lion comes here to drink. I really don't want to share the tent with something that bites or stings, or worse, stumble over it when I need to visit the bushes in the night," he said calmly, moving to yet another rock outcropping and smiling to himself as he heard Jason and Tommy wince nearly in unison. Clearly, they hadn't given a thought to the 'nasty and nice' surprises they might encounter in this part of the state, where the California desert gradually gave way to the mountains.

"Uh, right," Jason grimaced, the picture forming in his mind being rather unpleasant. As a boy, he'd fallen into an anthill once; it had been a very embarrassing and painful experience. "Need some help?" he offered, even though he wanted nothing more than sit here in whatever shade there was, unpack some lunch and rest his protesting muscles.

David gave him a sardonic look. "Would you even know what to look for?"

"Probably not," Jason admitted with a rueful grin. "I just feel kinda uncomfortable letting you do all this poking around while Tommy and I sit here resting." He shifted his legs on the hard ground, wishing briefly he were back in his garden at home, where a comfortable lounge chair was standing at just the right shady spot under the apple tree and he was in it, a cold drink and a bowl of chips within easy reach. In a pinch, Jason decided, he'd also settle for lying on his air mattress at the beach, letting a cool breeze waft over him as he read a good book. Instead here he was, in the middle of nowhere, the California sun beating down on him as he recovered from a 10-mile hike through untouched territory to this out-of-the-way place, with only Tommy and David for company.

Could be worse. MUCH worse; I could be dead instead... Jason shook off the morbid thought with the ease of long practise. He'd learned to accept his mortality when he first accepted his Power Coin, not just when the Gold Power started destroying his body's defenses.

"Well, the offer stands, anyway, if you change your mind."

Feeling oddly touched—At least he's offered!—David shook his head. "Thanks, but no thanks. I'll be finished faster if I do it on my own." Which he proceeded to do, albeit somewhat more cursorily than he'd planned. Promising himself to perform a more thorough check later, David took a last look around their campsite and pronounced everything safe. He grinned at the tired cheers coming from Jason and Tommy, and finally sank down next to his brother, to eat the sandwich Jason offered him and drink the juice Tommy dug out of his pack.

However, the exchange helped in mellowing the atmosphere, and when the three set up their tent, formed a fire pit and collected fuel, there was a sense of camaraderie that was marked—especially as it had been absent before. The rest of the afternoon passed without further incident as David pointed out features of the area—a falcon's nest, a cougar's track... what little flora managed to eke out a life on and between the sun-baked rocks. He was extremely pleased to find his companions genuinely interested, and that they displayed a very good grasp of the ecological and environmental issues his tribe was concerned about and why they had leased the land. In fact, he grudgingly admitted, Jason was much better informed than Tommy—a result not only of personal interest, but of his time spent at the Peace Conference in Switzerland.


The Youth Teen Summit, or rather Jason's tales of it, also dominated the conversation later that evening, as the three sat around their campfire, eating the savory stew they'd cooked from their trail rations.

"...I wish I could've gone on some of other the trips the Committee offered, but I couldn't," he finished a recount of his visits to the major capitals in Europe. "This was one trip that was both obligatory and subsidized by the Peace Conference, and the delegates from the respective countries were obliged to take part in planning the itinerary."

"Why couldn't you go on any other trips?" David asked, curious despite himself. Travelling widely was a secret ambition of his, and he hoped that in a few years he might save up enough money to go at least to some of the places Jason had mentioned visiting so casually. He suppressed a slight pang of envy. It was one thing to know Tommy and his friends had visited other planets as part of their Rangering duties; that was something special and unique, not for ordinary mortals, he thought. But to know that a young man, only a couple of years younger than himself, had been to London, Paris, Moscow, Rome, Athens... seen the world-famous sights, soaked in the atmosphere... it hardly bore thinking about. If I'm very very lucky, I might get to see half of that by the time I retire, David sighed inwardly, trying not to feel resentful about Jason's good fortune. If I ever manage to save up enough to afford it.

Jason snorted lightly. It galled a little to have to admit it, but he wasn't ashamed of anything—least of all his family, who were so very supportive and understanding of his dreams and ambitions.

"Because quite frankly, I couldn't afford to. My folks did more than enough by making it possible for me to go at all; I couldn't ask them to ruin themselves for me."

David was astonished. Jason drove his own car, took part in all of his friends' activities as a matter of course, dressed well ... his own financial circumstances weren't exactly straitened, but then, Sam Trueheart was not a rich man, either. They had enough to live in reasonable comfort, but nothing more. Things like college, though, or foreign trips, were quite out of the question.

"But I thought you were..." David blurted without thinking, but caught himself just in time. Embarrassed at his near-blunder, he felt his face flush.

"What? That we're rich, or something?" Jason asked wryly, following David's thoughts without any problems. "Sorry to disappoint you, but no. My dad is a general contractor, Mom used to be a bank clerk until she was downsized last year... we're doing okay, but not great. I've always had to work for my perks. Paper route, supermarket delivery boy, I've done it all until I was advanced enough in karate to start as an assistant instructor at my dojo," he said matter-of-factly. Time to change the subject; this was not a topic Jason cared to discuss with a virtual stranger. His friends knew and accepted his circumstances without question and never let him feel in any way that his financial background wasn't quite as comfortable as Trini's, whose father was a doctor, Zack's, whose parents managed an upscale motel, or any of the others whose jobs were also a cut above his own parents'.

"But to get back to the trips offered at the Summit, there was one I took, with my folks' help, even... last fall, I managed to go to Scotland," Jason said, brightening at the memory. "Man, that was so cool!"

"Really?" This was news even to Tommy. Somehow or other, the specifics of Jason's time away from Angel Grove hadn't come up yet—nor had there really been time for a good, long talk. The immediate concerns of the Rangers' duties had to take preference, no matter what. "Why Scotland, of all places? If you could afford only one trip in all those months, I would've thought you'd pick someplace more exciting, exotic or whatever..."

Jason laughed. "Trust me, if you had been in my place, you'd have gone to Scotland, too."

"I don't think so," Tommy shuddered. "From what I've heard, it's mostly cold there, and not much in the way of excitement, either—just lots of whisky, heather and guys wearing skirts," he grinned.

"Hah. Shows what you don't know. There's history all over the place, it's pretty awesome how they manage to have both Gaelic and English side by side, how they keep their legends and traditions... but that wasn't the main reason I went there," Jason said quietly, staring into the flames for a full minute before meeting Tommy's eyes. "I went there and met my family."

"You... what?" Tommy was stunned. He'd thought he knew everything about the Scotts; they were a small but tight unit—Jason and his parents, his paternal uncle and family, a widowed grandfather living in a retirement community in Arizona because of asthma, or so he'd believed. "I didn't know you had family in Europe!"

"Neither did I, until Dad mentioned I might pay a visit to the Clan," Jason related. "I'm pretty sure he meant it as a joke, but when I had the chance, I jumped at it. Before I looked it up at the university library, I had no idea a Clan Scott really exists, with its own tartan and everything."

"Clan? As in, 'I'm Duncan McLeod of the Clan McLeod'?" Tommy wondered, feeling slightly overwhelmed by the concept. He of all people knew what it was like to discover a family he had never known existed, much less a probably big one—as he had found in David, Sam and the Tribe. To realize that Jason must have experienced much the same thing made him feel even closer to his Bro than before.

"Yeah," Jason had to chuckle as he recognized the quote from a TV series. "Only, the Scotts don't go around chopping people's heads off. Not anymore, anyway."

"What a pity. It seems to be a very convenient method of ridding oneself of unwelcome company," David commented drily, trying to make it sound like a joke rather than wishful thinking. Tommy did indeed laugh, even as he shook his head, but Jason gave the other a strange look—he'd detected an undertone that was not at all friendly.

David felt the dark eyes on him, and made himself return the stare, thankful that the flickering flames of their campfire helped him maintain a bland expression. After a few seconds, Jason shrugged minutely and resumed his tale.

"Anyway, my grandmother had dug up a bit of family history stuff; seems there was a James Alasdair Scott who came to America with Lafayette, during the Revolutionary War. I think he had to leave Scotland because he was involved with the Jacobite uprising somehow." Jason paused to take a sip of his water. "The information we had was really very sketchy, but there's this center at Aviemore where you can look up connections... I did that, found an address to contact the clan... and they actually invited me to come and visit. Once we'd cleared up all the details of how I'm connected to the Clan, I was even officially put on the member list." There was a quiet pride in Jason's voice; he'd found an inner connection with his very distant relatives he hadn't expected in learning about the Clan's history.

"Way cool," Tommy said. "Isn't it, David?" he added, wanting to include his brother in the discussion.

David was feeling slightly ashamed of himself; that last crack he'd made had really been unworthy of his upbringing, of everything Sam had taught him in his 20 years... so he gratefully accepted the branch Tommy held out to him. He might wish Jason to the far side of the moon rather than on the other side of the camp fire, but he did not really wish him any harm. He cleared his throat unobtrusively.

"Yeah," he admitted, impressed despite himself. If it hadn't been for Sam and the stories of Tribal Elders, he wouldn't know anything about his own family, nor would he ever have found Tommy. But it wouldn't do to let that show. So he latched on to what he thought was a lighter point. "All the 'Highlander' references aside, what is this Clan stuff about, anyway? Is it like a tribe, or just people sharing the same family name?"

Jason thought about his answer for a few moments.

"A little bit of both, I think. I don't know much about tribes—not the way you'd use the term, anyway—but not every member of Clan Scott must necessarily be named Scott, for example. I think the 'tribes' in Britain would be... well, nations, like the Picts or Scots—one t, not two, as in my name—which settled the different parts of the islands way back when, before the Romans even." He grinned a bit as he noticed the increasingly blank looks on both Tommy and David's faces. "Sorry 'bout the history lesson. To get back to the question, I'd say a Clan is more than a family, but not quite a tribe. If that makes any sense."

"Um, I guess," Tommy said a bit dubiously, feeling very much at sea. While he had some inkling about ancient European history due to his interest in mythology, he wasn't really up on the specifics, such as geographical location or exact time periods. To his surprise, though, David nodded slowly.

"I think I know what you're getting at. It's like with the Navajo—you have the whole nation, with its own language, customs, even ethnic look... but it's not a featureless, uniform mass. Instead the Navajo are subdivided into smaller and smaller tribes, each with its own distinctions, until you get down to individual families. Who may or may not all have the same surname," he smiled. "Not that I know all that much about the Navajo, not being one myself, but..."

"It sure sounds similar enough," Jason agreed, clearly intrigued. "How about your own background, though? How does that relate?" He returned David's smile somewhat deprecatingly. "Sorry, but the things I don't know about Native Americans is pretty staggering," he admitted with an apologetic shrug. "If I'm asking stupid questions, don't hold it against me, okay?"

Tommy chuckled. "You and me both, Bro. I've tried to catch up on stuff since finding my family, but... anyway, go ahead, Dave." He settled back against a rock, clearly waiting for his brother to continue.

David puffed out a breath of air. Sam had told him many things about this, but it wasn't really something he was particularly interested in—he'd always focussed more on the ways of his people of trying to live with the land, on the environmental concerns. Now he wished he had paid closer attention to his foster-father's teachings, if only to show that he could hold his own in this discussion.

"It may get pretty convoluted," he warned. "Plus, you should really ask Sam about this; he used to be quite involved in tribal politics."

"But Sam's not here; you are," Tommy said reasonably, a twinkle in his chocolate-brown eyes.

Since that was undeniably true, David heaved a resigned sigh that set the other two to snickering. He mock-glared them into silence. "Okay, okay. Have it your way. Just don't complain if I don't have all the answers."

"It's alright, David," Jason murmured, passing around fresh drinks and a bag of pretzels. "Whatever you can tell us is fine." He looked from one to the other. "I told you how the American branch of the Scotts came into existence; would you mind explaining a bit about your background? From what I do know, you don't really belong to any of the West Coast tribes, do you?"

"No, the family migrated west during the forties, when Sam got drafted... are you sure you want to know all this stuff?" he interrupted himself, giving Jason a searching glance. He returned it frankly, with no hint of a hidden motive David could detect.

"Positive. If I didn't, I wouldn't have asked." The deep voice was quiet and friendly, and David chided himself for being overly suspicious; after all, nothing in Jason's demeanor suggested something besides genuine interest, or even just honest curiosity.

"Very well then." Drawing a deep breath, taking a few heartbeats to marshal his thoughts, David then proceeded to relate his and Tommy's family history, and the tribe's—at least as much as he was able. To his gratification, as with the plans for the Falcon's Pass Nature Reserve, he found two intelligent, astute listeners who paid attention to what he said and then launched into a spirited discussion about tribes, clans, history, and other parallels between Native Americans and the Scots—things David had never even thought about comparing before.

It was fascinating, extremely interesting... and increasingly, an exercise in mounting frustration for David as he listened to Tommy and Jason argue yet another point. He knew he wasn't stupid; he'd always made excellent grades at school, but he had to admit that, while he was pretty certain that he'd received a decent education on the Reservation, he simply lacked a lot of the basic knowledge which had been taught at the rather cosmopolitan Angel Grove High. As for Jason's know-how in evaluating other cultures, his openness to accept differences and treat them with respect, enhanced and honed by his stay at the Youth Teen Summit... it galled him to have to admit that the young man was way ahead of both himself and Tommy.

So, David gradually withdrew from the discussion, growing more quiet as time passed, until a jaw-cracking yawn he couldn't suppress gave him the perfect excuse to make ready for bed. Almost as if somebody had thrown a switch, Jason and Tommy, too, began to yawn, and within minutes they had banked their fire, taken a last trip to the bushes and were stretched out in their sleeping bags. Briefly, David gave a thought to the fact that he'd never completed his inspection f the area for snakes or any other, less obvious creatures who might be hiding among the rocks, but it was too dark now and he was too sleepy to have another look. First thing in the morning, he promised himself as he climbed into his bedroll. A murmured good-night, a few grumbles and groans until they'd found comfortable positions, and within minutes, soft snores filled the tent as the moon rose over the desert.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4