Disclaimer: Haim Saban owns the Power Rangers. But...we own
our imaginations and the dimensions we've created in fanfictions. *grin* Ted
Oliver is courtesy Ellen Brand (thanks Ellen!). Monika Hammond is courtesy Jeremy
Ray Logsdon. All other original characters were hatched from the quagmire of
Author Notes: To JRL and Sereramie - arigato for the proof, Sibs! You're the best ever. Hellfire, thanks for letting me bounce ideas off you, again and again. Special thanks to Wolverine200 - who has to be the most patient and loyal person ever. Thank you for hanging in there. Same for you incredibly patient people who thought I died or gave up. Sorry...again!
If the future's looking dark
We're the ones who have to shine
If there's no one in control
We're the ones who draw the line
Though we live in trying times
We're the ones who have to try
Though we know that time has wings
We're the ones who have to fly...
Rush "Everyday Glory"
It was always dark in the Wraith's Realm. Thomas Oliver leaned against the corridor wall, frowning. He didn't know a lot of details about physics and astronomy, but as he stared out at the whirling vortex of black before him, he was fairly sure he was looking at an impossibility.
How much power did it take to hold the Realm on the edge of the Event Horizon?
How much would it take to blow it loose so it would be sucked in? That was what he really wanted to know.
"What do you want?" Thomas straightened suddenly, taking several steps away from the edge of the balcony. He knew without turning, that he was no longer alone. Black and emerald flames licked around his hands. It paid to be cautious around the Wraiths. Other than Jett, they weren't overly fond of him.
It was a sentiment he fully returned.
"You were close to the White Ranger, weren't you?" Mirage walked a slow circle around the young man. He stayed out of reach though. Humans had proven unpredictable at best. "Don't you wonder what happened to her? What the others are doing?" The Wraith's cold smile widened as the human's frown grew.
"What do you care?" They'd played this game many times. Mirage taunted him, verbally sparring. Like a child throwing rocks at a dog on a chain, knowing the dog wouldn't be able to get free and do anything. Only Thomas' eyes moved as he watched the Wraith.
"Don't you ever want to return to your kind?"
"I will." Thomas crossed his arms, favoring the shape-shifter with a knowing smirk.
"You really think Jett will allow you freedom?" Mirage forgot about being cautious, irritated by the human's smug attitude.
Cocky smile curving his lips, Thomas shrugged one shoulder. "She said that the Wraiths would be free, and I would be free with you." Emerald flames played in his eyes as he stared at Mirage.
"You will never be free." Mirage gave the young man a pitying look, stepping back. "You are in her favor now, but not forever. Yours will be the fate of all of us."
"What are you talking about?" Thomas' eyes narrowed. He'd had suspicions about Mirage and Jett's relationship but hadn't really cared enough to dig into it.
The Wraith's amber eyes darkened. "All that you are, I once was." Mirage shook his head. "Do you think Earth is the first to have been invaded by Jett?"
"You were human?" Thomas didn't know if the Wraith was telling him the truth, but if he was...
"You will not be free." Mirage laughed, a bitter parody of a laugh. "Or do you think I am?"
Growling in annoyance, Thomas turned away. "I think you're trying to stir up trouble."
Mirage shook his head. "I was on Earth recently. You might be interested to know the Rangers have already replaced your White Ranger."
"I didn't expect them to wait." Thomas kept his face turned away from the Wraith. "And she wasn't mine."
"She was here, you know." Mirage nodded as the young man slowly turned to glare at him. "When Jett and I defeated her on the rooftop, Jett sent her here."
Thomas crossed his arms, wanting nothing more than to wrap his hands around the Wraith's neck. "Why are you telling me this?"
Mirage shrugged, gesturing to the Black Hole. "Jett sent her to the Darkness. No human could survive there. Not even a Ranger. And a powerless Ranger..." He met the young man's eyes. "If it comforts you, she probably didn't last long before it crushed her." A cruel smile curved his lips. "Wasn't she someone special to you...Thomas?"
Getting no response other than a cold-eyed stare, Mirage took two steps away, then turned. "Or maybe your memory of her is already gone, wiped clean by Jett? Let me remind you..." The shape-shifter blurred his features, shrinking in mass, until a sixteen year old teenager stood in front of Thomas. "Now. Do you remember?"
It was a good imitation. Only the eyes remained black. Otherwise, it could have been Corry standing before him. Thomas stared for a moment, then turned sharply on his heel, striding away.
"Remember me," Mirage called in Corry's voice. "When you hold her in your arms..."
*If you go now, you will ruin all that we have waited for.*
Thomas Oliver scowled at the large, dark-skinned man. *I'm tired of being patient, Draanov.* Eyes darkening, the young man paced to the wall and back. *I'm sick of being used by her, and laughed at by every Wraith.*
*Thomas,* the angel sighed, well aware of how stubborn the young man could be, *your teammates are counting on you.*
"Which is exactly why I need to go!" Black and emerald flames sprang up around him.
"Where are you going, Dragon?" A form detached itself from the murkiness of the corridor, walking forward. Jett looked around, green eyes narrowing slightly. "Who is it you speak to?"
"Myself." Thomas knew she couldn't see the angel. He hoped she couldn't sense him. How long had she been standing there?
Raising a black eyebrow, the Wraith walked over to him. She stared into his eyes a moment, reaching up to run a cold hand over his forehead and face. "Do you feel well?"
"I'm fine," Thomas growled. He was tired of these Wraiths, tired of waiting, tired of being used.
Jett pulled her hand back and regarded him calmly. "Do you wish to go to Earth?" As if considering the possibility, the Wraith woman pursed her lips. "It has been quite calm down there..." She waited, frowning slightly when he didn't answer. "You haven't finished with the Rangers yet. Mirage tells me they replaced the White Ranger. What do you intend to do to rectify that?"
"Kill him." Thomas channeled all the pent-up rage into answering her, allowing the flames to burn in his eyes.
"Him?" The black eyebrow rose again. "So certain are you?" Jett crossed her arms, her expression as neutral and cold as a porcelain doll. "I wonder if your feelings are clear on this matter?"
Rage warred with uncertainty as Thomas struggled to control himself. Mirage and Jett were pushing him, prying into his mind where he desperately didn't want them. He couldn't deal with all the emotions and the pressure at once. Retreating behind a shell of cold impassiveness, Thomas gave a curt nod. "They are."
He was the jade warrior he had been on the tower at the amusement park, carved out of cold stone. It wasn't exactly what Jett wanted, but she nodded. "Come with me, then. We need to see to our guests from your homeworld."
Draanov followed, a silent, invisible presence. He was concerned about the young man. Thomas was nearer his breaking point than he had anticipated. The Wraith's constant wearing down had taken a toll on him. It wouldn't be long before he would break.
Then all hell truly would be loose, both in the Realm and on Earth.
It was time for intercession.
"Over here!" Olivia waved her arms.
"Don't think so!" Monika dashed in front of her, intercepting the black and white ball, and darted off with it.
"Hey!" Chasing after her, Olivia glanced ahead and grinned. She fell back and watched as Nisha swooped in and stole the ball from Monika, dribbling it back the other way.
"Oh yeah!" Jared stopped the ball as it was passed to him, caught sight of Raph and kicked it hard and fast. "Raph!"
"Woohoo!" Rhea blocked it, wincing as it smacked her stomach. "Dante!" She dribbled it a short distance and kicked it sideways to her teammate.
The young man easily controlled the ball with his feet as he ran down the field. He was grinning as he approached the goal.
"Guys!!" Corry knew an experienced soccer player when she saw one, and Dante definitely fit the bill. "He's gonna score!"
"Block it!" Jared yelled at her.
"Don't let it go in!" Nisha was running as hard as she could, but they'd left their goal open and were half the field away.
"Oh sure," Corry groaned as Dante came closer.
"I'll stop him!" Gavin darted forward to intercept, a look of determination on his face.
Dante grinned wider, stopped momentarily to change direction and was off again.
Gavin closed on him, and did a sacrifice slide into the ball, kicking it away.
"I got it!" Monika stopped the ball, saw Olivia, Jared and Nisha bearing down on her and changed her mind. "You got it!" She kicked it back to Dante with a grin.
"Dante!" Zhane waved his arms, open with no one guarding him. "Over here!"
"Ah, man!" Gavin scrambled to his feet, darting towards Zhane.
Dante wasn't about to give it up this close to the goal though. He put on a fresh burst of speed, grinning at Corry who was all that stood between him and his destination. "For the Kerovan team!" He kicked it hard, blasting it toward the girl.
"Yikes!" Corry gave a dismayed look and threw herself forward to block. The ball ricocheted off the side of her head and hit the net with a whoosh. "Ow, ow, ow!" Grinning ruefully, she lay on the ground rubbing her head as Dante jogged up. "That always looks so easy when someone else does it."
"Nice try." He grinned and offered her a hand up.
"And the Kerovan team wins by a goal!" Zhane ran up, laughing. "Good game, guys."
"We still lost," Nisha sighed.
"Yeah, well..." Jared shrugged, a wry grin curving his mouth as he put his arm around her shoulders. He knew how Nisha hated to lose.
"If you hadn't all decided you had to play forwards, we might have done a better job of defending our goal." Covered in grass and dirt stains, Gavin walked over to give his teammates a sour look.
"You're just sore 'cause you got dirty and we didn't." Olivia winked and nudged him with her elbow.
"Exactly!" Jared crossed his arms, grinning.
"Your head probably feels like my stomach." Rhea joined the group, rubbing her still smarting stomach.
"Like a guided missile hit it?" Corry chuckled as the other girl nodded.
"Maybe we should play morphed next game?" Raph shook his head. "I don't want to be goalie though. The thought of a power kicked ball coming at me is not appealing."
"What next game?" Monika stared at him in astonishment. "That was two games in a row! I'm pooped."
"No stamina," Nisha joked, winking at the girl.
"Hey!" Monika ruffled a little at the comment. "I'm only thirteen!"
"She was joking," Olivia assured her, putting an arm around the younger girl's shoulders. "She picks on me all the time too."
"How about some food?" Zhane waggled his eyebrows. "You guys hungry?" The chorus of enthusiastic replies made the Kerovan man laugh. "Let's go see what we can scrounge up."
"Like Mom would make us scrounge, Dad." Rhea linked her arm through her father's as they all headed back.
"Coming with?" Gavin stopped to wait for Corry as she tied her shoe. She was as dirty and looked as tired as he felt.
"Oh yeah." She stood, wincing slightly. "Man, that sparring session with Andros yesterday about did me in!"
"I'm still feeling it too." Gavin had hit the mat more than his fair share. "The gravity here is slightly different. I suppose that could account for our unnatural clumsiness..." He grinned and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
Corry nodded, winking. "That's got to be it." She linked her arm through his as they walked. "You need a hair cut, Amigo."
"I know." He sighed. "But I always get Mom to do it, and..."
She hugged his arm tighter, smiling sadly. "We'll get home soon, Gav."
"You really think so?" He stopped to turn and face her, expression somber. "We've only got a couple days until Christmas." Gavin gazed sadly at his childhood friend. "We haven't heard anything from Tho-"
"I know." Corry looked away, cutting him off. She bit her lip, welcoming the pain to keep the other emotions at bay. She waited until she could trust her voice, then turned back to him, eyes watering slightly. "I was wanting to talk to you about that actually." Glancing ahead to where the rest of the two teams were laughing and jostling one another as they headed back to the Colony, she took Gavin's arm. "Let's go over here."
Waiting until they reached the tree line, Gavin crossed his arms. "What?" He favored her with a dubious frown. "You have some crazy idea, don't you?"
"Gav!" Corry did her best to look offended. "I..." Giving up when his expression didn't change, she sighed. "Yes."
"I knew it." Gavin let out his breath in a long sigh. "What is it? Might as well 'fess up now, Cranston."
"You don't have to sound like a man being led to the gallows!" Corry crossed her arms. "I never force you to do anything, you know."
"No, you talk me into it, and I usually regret it." Gavin shook his head. "It has to do with the Green Coin, doesn't it?"
Corry nodded. She had dragged Gav in on a lot of her schemes, for better or worse, all of their lives. She had never realized he felt that way about them though. "If you want, Gav," hesitating, Corry bit her lip, "I'll ask 'Livy instead. I didn't know you hated-"
"No." Shaking his head emphatically, Gavin held her gaze. "I'm not gonna be left out, and encouraging 'Livy isn't a good idea." He grinned and shrugged. "She's already impulsive enough as it is."
Snorting slightly, Corry favored him with a knowing smile. "Okay, I was thinking the Green Coin is still tied to Thomas, right? We should be able to track him through that bond." She gave a small shrug. "Ted and I kind of used the same idea when we were looking for him in your haunted house."
"Theoretically the coins are tied to us, yes," Gavin said dubiously. "I'm not certain Zordon ever made it exactly official."
With a slight frown, Corry pulled the pouch from her dimensional pocket. "Well, we can find out right now..."
"Shouldn't we eat something first?" Gavin asked hopefully.
She shook her head, mind already on the plan. "Once you morph you won't be hungry."
"Gavin." Corry grabbed his shoulders, staring at him intently. "The longer we hesitate, the longer Becca and Alex, Ben and Mady and all the others from the Arcade are prisoner." She shook her head. "I've waited long enough. I'm not leaving them there another day."
He knew he'd feel the same way if it was his little sister, Leah, who was being held a prisoner of the Wraiths. "Are we going to tell the others anything?"
Corry nodded, pulling another object out of her pocket. "You want to record the message or should I?"
"What are you, a Girl Scout?" Gavin grumbled. "Always prepared?" Reluctantly he took the beacon. "I'll do it. Raph might as well be ticked at me for pulling a stunt too."
Ruffling his hair, the girl hugged him. "You're the best, Gav."
"Yeah, yeah," Gavin sighed, accepting the attention with a grin. "Remember that next time we have to do maintenance on the Zords."
In the ruins of a once great temple, three figures stood around the prone body of a young man.
"But what about-"
"He will be fine," The woman assured him. "I will see that he is returned to Earth with no knowledge of the events that occurred."
*You are needed elsewhere, Kit.*
"You're sure Lon will be all right?"
"You have my sacred word as a Ninjetti."
"I'll hold you to that."
*We must go. Leave half of the arrowhead with him, Kit.*
"Yeah, no sense tempting fate again, eh?" The man stood. "All right, where to, Fur-face?"
*Close your eyes and tap your heels three times.*
"What?" The man stared at the Coyote in disbelief.
The woman nodded solemnly. "We will meet again. May the power protect you."
*Hold on, Kit. This might get bumpy.*
Before the man could reply, light swirled up, engulfing him and swamping his senses.
"Okay." Gavin looked up. "It's programmed to return to the Colony in," he checked his watch, "twenty minutes."
"Perfect." Corry took a deep breath, trying to calm and center herself. It was impossible. Too many sleepless nights and a slew of thoughts ricocheting around her head kept distracting her. Getting frustrated she clenched her eyes shut and tightened her grip on the coin. "I'm not getting anything."
A swirling mass of green light came to ground right in front of the pair, startling both into leaping backwards. Corry's eyes flew open as she tripped over a root and fell.
As the light cleared, they recognized the man standing in front of them.
"Ted!" Corry scrambled to her feet, throwing herself at the man.
"Kiddo!" Laughing, Ted caught the girl, hugging her. He looked at the other youth and reached out to pull him into a hug. "Good to see you both!"
"We thought you were abducted with the other people at the Arcade!" Gavin, a bit embarrassed at the display of emotion, stepped back, rubbing his neck self-consciously.
Corry was perfectly happy where she was tucked under Ted's arm, her arm around his waist. She smiled up at him. "What happened?"
"Uh..." Ted took a deep breath. "It's a long story, but," he looked around, "where are we?"
"KO-35 in the Kerovan System." Gavin pushed his hair back. "Also a long story."
"Ted, you can help us!" Corry grabbed his arm, looking up at him hopefully.
"With?" Ted's mouth quirked into a lopsided grin. He knew these two, and their history of madcap adventures.
Taking a breath, Corry rattled the plan out rapidly, even getting in why they were on KO-35.
Gavin shook his head as Ted blinked. "Cranston, you missed your calling as an auctioneer."
"Wait." Ted held up a hand, stalling any response Corry was about to make. "What makes you think I'll have a tie like that with Thomas?"
"Like calls to like. Green to Green, blood to blood," Corry said matter-of-factly. "You have it."
"Kiddo," Ted sighed, "I remember you being the one who found him in that haunted house-"
"You didn't know about Thomas at that point." Corry grabbed his hand, placing the Green Coin firmly in his palm. "Try it."
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Ted Oliver looked from the coin to the kids. He nodded, a rakish grin curving his mouth. "Let's do it."
"Set the beacon, Gav." Corry pulled her morpher.
"I hope I live long enough to regret this," Gavin muttered as he set the beacon on the ground. He straightened and pulled his morpher as Ted set Thomas' Green Coin in his morpher. "Are you sure you want me to come now that Ted's here?"
Corry tilted her head to one side, favoring him with a gentle smile. "I want you to come, Gav. If you don't want to, don't." She held out her morpher, smile hardening into a determined look. "White Ranger Chromatic!"
Noting the dumbfounded expression on Ted's face as the silver-white light died, Gavin sighed. "We'll explain that later too." He shook his head. "I don't think it would be a good idea to let you two loose together. You're too much alike." Yellow light surrounded him as he morphed with a mental command.
"Hey, we know how to have a good time!" Devil-may-care grin firmly in place, Ted summoned the power. "Green Ranger Power!" It was even more of a rush than he remembered as his vision filled with emerald light and the power surged through him. "Man," he breathed, "I don't remember it being like this!" He took a deep breath.
"There've been changes," Gavin agreed.
"Can you find Thomas?" Corry shifted, restless to be moving.
Ted took a deep breath, calming his mind and focusing his attention. He concentrated on Thomas, bringing to mind a mental image of his brother the last time he'd seen him.
Pushing aside his frustration, Ted tightened his jaw. This sort of thing wasn't his specialty. He'd never been the one with visions or extra powers. All he needed was his wits and his physical agility to get himself out of tight situations. Of course, the power had accentuated those abilities. Ted believed in a sixth sense, or intuition, but this... This was different.
Tommy had been the one who had a knack for the intuitive stuff, and Thomas shared that ability.
Ted sighed. "Corry, I'm just not gettin' anything."
"You're trying too hard." Walking over, the girl reached out to grip his arm gently. "Relax. Just think of Thomas and imagine a link between him and you." She stood in front of him, the chromatic armor shifting endlessly from color to color, form to form.
"Kiddo, that armor, and your voice...is...well, freaky."
"Don't look," Gavin advised dryly.
"But she sounds like a he." Ted blinked, shaking his head at the changing armor. She was taller and bulkier too.
"Ted." Corry sighed. "Please?"
He sighed. What the heck. Wasn't gonna work, but he hated to disappoint the kid. A link. Well...how about imagining reaching out into the blackness of Never Never Land? Ted grinned as that image formed in his mind.
His eyes snapped open as he felt a mental hand 'grasp' his. "What the hell?!"
"You had it!"
"But I don't know what I did." "Just do what you did before Ted!" Corry said impatiently. "C'mon!"
"Okay, okay." Sighing, he closed his eyes and repeated the imaging. "How do I know it's him?" As his mind was flooded with a familiar presence he startled. "Never mind. It's Thomas." No mistaking his brother's unique personality.
"Let's go!" Corry reached out for Gavin's hand, linking the three of them together.
"Three, going up and out," Ted cracked as the trio disappeared into a shower of emerald, silver-white and sun-bright yellow.
Draanov stirred, eyes opening. A breach had opened. The angel's gaze turned to the portal nearest him. It led to Jett's private quarters. The Wraith had kept Thomas at her side the entire day, continuing to question his motives and thoughts. It had been a very sullen Thomas Oliver that had accompanied the woman to her quarters. She knew he had changed somehow, Draanov was certain of that.
What surprised the angel was the Wraith didn't seem to care.
Sighing, the angel waited for Thomas to emerge.
Soon. Very soon...
"You seem restless, Dragon." Jett trailed her hand down Thomas' arm. "Am I so boring?"
Turning his head slightly, Thomas glanced at the woman lying next to him, then away. "No. It's not you." The words almost choked him. His skin crawled where she touched him, but Thomas blocked the sensations off with ruthless efficiency. He'd had plenty of practice keeping his true feelings buried. It was an automatic reflex. The wall around his deepest self had first gone up when he was Rita's Evil Green Ranger. Thomas had added to it during his time as the Wizard's Green Ranger. At this point, the barricade was almost perfect.
It was all that was keeping her from discovering how he truly felt - and the surprise of Ted's presence suddenly touching his mind. Fortunately, he'd turned away from Jett at that moment, and she had missed the startled expression that had fleetingly crossed his face.
"You're not used to inactivity." Jett sat up to rub his back, reaching up to run her fingers through his thick hair. She leaned forward to whisper, "You know you don't have to stay here now."
Thomas shivered as her breath caressed his ear. "You said you wanted me close." He turned slightly to look at her. "Have you changed your mind?"
"No." The woman smiled, resting her chin on his shoulder. "But perhaps it is time to move." Jett reached out to trace his cheekbone as he smiled coldly. "We have waited a long time."
"Why wait to attack?" Thomas met her gaze and held it. "Isn't it up to you?"
"Always the warrior..." Jett leaned forward to kiss him deeply. She sighed and rolled away, standing. "I too must sometimes set aside my wishes for others." She turned to face him. "Do you still dream of her, Dragon?"
Thomas forced himself to show no reaction, slamming his feelings behind walls of ice. It wasn't the first time Jett had tried to push his buttons. She'd done this all day testing his loyalty. Probing for a reaction. Damned if he'd give her one. "I wasn't aware I dreamed," he growled.
"Oh..." Jett swept one arm up across her face and suddenly was transformed. Her hair was gold-blond and hung to the middle of her back. Blue eyes blinked innocently at Thomas. She wore a white crop-top and black velvety pants. "Does this jog your memory?"
It wasn't the first time she'd changed her form either. Eyes cold, Thomas shook his head. "It doesn't suit you, Jett." He stood and pulled on his clothing. "It's about time for my patrol."
Chuckling, Jett walked over. "I make you angry when I do this, don't I?" She reached up to cup his face. "Don't you want her? Don't lie to me, Thomas." She leaned forward until she was only millimeters from kissing him.
He grabbed her shoulders, barely containing himself from throwing her away from him. "You aren't her, Jett." Thomas dropped his hands, turning away. "As you remind me quite often, she's dead, so why does it matter?"
Jett shrugged and was again herself. Black hair cascaded down her back and green eyes sparkled at the man. "It's fun." She now wore a black silky shirt and the same velvet pants. "And you never do answer me."
Calling the black flames forth just enough to flicker in his eyes, Thomas looked at the Wraith. "I am here with you."
"I know you search for her, Thomas. You call to all of them in your sleep." Jett shook her head. "Search all you want, Dragon. You'll find her only in your dreams, or...in me." The Wraith stared at him long and hard before nodding. "Go. Patrol. Work your restlessness out on our guests." As he reached the exit portal, she added, "Send Mirage to me on your way."
Thomas nodded curtly, then pivoted and walked through the portal. Only those bearing Jett's favor could pass through it. He hated the thing. It made the skin on the back of his neck crawl. In a foul mood, he stalked down the corridor, barely pausing to pull his jacket on. The whole Realm was always cold to him. Dark, cold...it was enough to sap hope from the strongest wills.
*It will not be forever, Thomas.* Shooting a dour glare at the angel, Thomas bit back an acidic comment. No need to inflict his anger on Draanov. He nodded curtly. *Another minute here is forever.*
Draanov was wisely silent, following like a silent shadow.
"Mirage." Thomas stopped at the entrance to the Wraith's quarters. He had no desire to enter even if the being had allowed it. There was no love lost between the two. "Jett requires your presence." Thomas stepped back as the Wraith appeared out of the portal. Amber eyes glared into his dark gaze but the young man refused to look away. He was past feeling anything for Mirage other than disgust.
It was mutual. With a smirk, the Wraith brushed past him and disappeared into the inky blackness of the corridor.
All but snarling, Thomas pivoted and stalked down the corridor. *This whole damned deal I made is definitely the dumbest thing I ever did*
Draanov said nothing. There was nothing he could say when the young man was like this. Instead he subtly gave nudges to Thomas' subconscious, directing him into the farthest reaches of the Realm.
"Um..." Gavin frowned as he saw nothing but blackness. "Did we do something wrong?" No matter what he switched to, nothing was showing up. Not even with Night Vision.
"Must be a Dark Dimension," Ted noted wryly.
"Ha ha." Gavin wasn't amused. He didn't dare move in case they stood on a precipice. "Illumination on."
Ted winced away as Gavin suddenly began to glow, lighting a small radius. "Nice trick, Kid." He frowned. "Where's -" Spotting a flash of iridescent white, Ted grabbed Gavin's arm and pulled him over to a corner. "Corry?"
"Cor, what's wrong?" Gavin knelt next to her where she was curled up in as tight a ball as she could make herself. Ted knelt on the other side.
"T-this is t-the place!" She sounded terrified.
"What place?" Ted reached out to grasp her shoulder. "Kiddo, what's wrong?"
Gavin couldn't remember seeing her so scared. It unnerved him a little. He swallowed hard, forcing himself to remain calm. "C'mon, Cranston." He tried being as normal as possible. "'Fess up."
"Wolf found me here...or I would've...died." Corry gulped, feeling like the darkness was going to suffocate her. She was so cold.
"This is where Jett sent you?" Gavin looked around, trying to imagine what it would be like to be in this dark place alone, and unmorphed. He shivered. No wonder she was reacting.
"Not exactly...but...close." Shaking, the girl drew her arms around her legs. She couldn't control her fear, couldn't make herself stand.
Ted gestured to Gavin. "Can you turn up the light?"
The brightness increased in the corridor.
Ted took hold of the girl's arm. "Let's stand up, Kiddo." He nodded as Gavin took hold of her other arm and they stood in unison, lifting her to her feet. "Look around, Cor. It's okay. We're here with you."
Gavin shifted nervously hearing a noise from somewhere in the darkness. "We need to get moving and kill the light."
"No," Corry whimpered, trying to pull away.
Ted grabbed her, holding her against him, and ducked into an alcove. "Hold still," he hissed. She was still shaking, but she stopped struggling.
The corridor was again pitch black as Gavin ducked into a niche barely big enough, and switched off the light from his armor.
Footsteps rang through the darkness, sounding as though they were getting louder.
Gavin's stingers appeared on his forearms with a twist of his wrist. He braced his back against the wall and waited.
Ted knew he and Corry were defenseless as long as she was this terrified. He didn't dare let go of her as she pulled against his arms again. Tensing his jaw, he hoped whoever or whatever it was, would just go by.
The steps grew louder. One person from the sound of it. Ted frowned. He didn't know much about Wraiths but it seemed like they wouldn't make any noise at all. "Gav," Ted whispered on the internal comms, "do Wraiths usually make noise when they walk?"
"They can be tricky," Gavin answered warily. He wouldn't put it above a Wraith to try and trick them into thinking it was a human.
Ted shook his head. Every instinct was saying this was a person.
A very specific person.
Still, he had his hands full trying to make sure Corry didn't make any noise, unless. Ted closed his eyes, sent a quick prayer to the Big Guy that he wasn't wrong, and let go of the girl.
Ted was a step behind Corry as she bolted out of the alcove. He heard an impact and tried to stop before he hit whoever had just been run down.
Gavin winced as he heard what sounded like eggs cracking and multiple thuds. "Illumination on, dim." He wasn't sure he wanted to see what happened, but.
He jumped back as a large, African-American man appeared out of the darkness, light glinting off his ebony armor. "Draanov!" Relief made him feel weak-kneed.
"Gavin." The angel smiled. "It is good to see you again."
"Believe me, I agree completely!" Gavin looked at the three laid out on the floor. "You guys okay?"
Two people were sprawled on their backs, foot to foot. Obviously there had been a collision. Ted had apparently tripped over Corry, landing on Thomas' legs.
Ted sat up, shaking his head. "Damn traffic." He looked down to see whose legs he was sitting on. It wasn't white armor. "Thomas?"
He was out cold. Gavin knelt, glancing at Draanov who was kneeling also. "Is he gonna be okay?"
"Geez," Corry groaned. She put a hand up to her helmet. "Anyone get the number of that bus?"
"That bus," Ted told her dryly, "is Thomas."
"What?!" Sitting up, she yanked her helmet off to stare in astonishment at the scene. "Did I kill him?!"
"No," Gavin replied quickly to forestall any waterworks or hysteria. She normally wouldn't react that way, but given the way she'd been behaving since they arrived in the darkness, it wasn't a chance he was willing to try. "He's just unconscious."
"Having a morphed Ranger barrel into you will do that." Ted winced as he stood. "You sure he's okay?"
Corry bit her lip. "I'm sorry. This is my fault. If I hadn't panicked..." She crept closer, peering at Thomas in the dim light. "He doesn't look so good."
"Neither would you if you tested how hard the floor was with the back of your head." Gavin gingerly felt behind Thomas' head. "He's not bleeding and scanning doesn't show any permanent damage." He looked up. "He'll have a devil of a headache and a lump, but, simply stated, you knocked him out cold."
"He's got a tough skull," Ted sighed. "It's an Oliver trait."
"You must go, my friends." Draanov looked at the trio. "I will stay with him."
"Do I know you?" Ted had been watching the big man carefully. The other two obviously knew him, but the connection between him and Thomas was a mystery.
"Draanov is an angel." Corry looked up. "He's helping Thomas."
To his credit, Ted only raised both eyebrows and blinked. "Ah." He nodded. Growing up in Angel Grove he'd seen any number of oddities. As a Ranger, he'd fought against some of the weirdest.
Not much rattled Ted Oliver any more.
Nodding to Draanov, Ted said, "Uh..nice to meet you, Sir." It never hurt to be courteous to beings from Higher Realms.
A small smile curved the angel's mouth. "Well met, Ted Oliver."
"We don't know where we're going." Gavin didn't like the thought of wandering around the dark corridors just waiting to run into the Wraiths. "This place is a labyrinth!" That much he could tell from the sensor readings on his visor. The corridors branched and branched again, on and on, until the scan looked like a huge maze.
"Contact the rest of the Rangers and have them meet you. I'll make sure you know the way." Draanov touched Gavin's shoulder and his hand began to glow white.
Gavin reeled slightly, steadying himself with a hand against the floor. "Whoa! Talk about sensory overload..."
"Now you know where you must go." Draanov stood. "There is a junction where corridors meet not far from here. Have your companions meet you there."
"I see it on the scan." Gavin shook his head. "Amazing. Suddenly I know where I'm going."
"A walking Navicomputer," Ted said in amusement.
Corry reached out to smooth Thomas' hair off his face, and looked up at Draanov. "You'll make sure he's all right?"
The big man nodded, dark eyes gentle. "His life is as my own."
Satisfied by the answer, she stood. "I'm sorry for being such an idiotic child before, guys."
"Forget it." Ted squeezed her shoulder. "Let's just get what we came for and go somewhere sunny and warm."
"Draanov," Ted reached out shaking the angels' hand. "Thank you for watching over my brother."
The man bowed his head slightly, smiling. "Walk in the Light, all of you." His eyes swept over the trio. "Go now, before you are detected."
"The junction is this way." Gavin pointed. "I'll contact the others as we go." He nodded at the angel. "Thank you."
Ted followed as Gavin began walking. He looked back when he saw Corry hesitating. "C'mon, Kiddo. Let the angel do his work, and us ours." He held out his hand.
Reluctantly, Corry met Draanov's gaze. "Be careful." Sighing, she softly said, "Back to action." Helmet once again in place, she took Ted's hand and left Draanov to care for Thomas.
Watching until they were swallowed by the darkness, Draanov knelt. "Come, Thomas. Our destiny awaits."
"Madre de Dios!"
"I can't believe..."
"Oh, what a huge surprise," Nisha drawled, crossing her arms.
"Crap," Jared sighed. He watched Raph prowl the room, muttering in quiet Spanish. "I knew we shouldn't have let those two out of our sight."
"I take it," Andros, arms crossed, stood to one side, "this isn't the first time?"
"No." Raph paused in his pacing, standing before the Red Astro Ranger. "I apologize for this, Andros. I should've -"
"It's not your fault, Raph." Nisha shook her head. "We all know those two's history." She looked at the Kerovan. "They've done it before, they'll do it again. It isn't Raph's fault."
Andros sighed. "Zhane has a tendency to do the same thing." He put a hand on Raph's shoulder. "Every team has at least one member who plays fast and lose with rules."
"What are we going to do?" Olivia clenched her hands together. "We have to help them!"
"How?" Jared shook his head. "We don't know where they went."
"Yeah, they conveniently forgot to leave details." Nisha was about as pissed at her two teammates as she'd ever been. "Anyone have any bright ideas?"
"Corry took the Green Coin with her." Olivia tried to stay calm, but her hands shook as she sat at the table. "That was how they were tracking Thomas." She looked up. "I suppose we could try to track them the same way..."
"Except none of us has the same ability Corry has for sensing that stuff." Raph shook his head, frustrated.
"None of us have tried," Jared pointed out. He shrugged. "We always had Cor here."
Andros watched the teens go from bemoaning their circumstances, to finding a way out. He was impressed with their maturity and teamwork. "Kerovans have telepathic abilities." He shook his head, "But I don't know how well it would work with Corry and Gavin."
"Only one way to find out." Jared sat, gesturing the rest to sit. "How does telepathy work?"
It was like a person how they reach for something in front of them. He never thought about doing it - telepathy was automatic. Andros smiled wryly. "Think of the person. Picture them as clearly as you can. Imagine yourself talking to them, or reaching out to them."
The voice, coming through loud and clear, made everyone in the room jump.
"Wow," Olivia breathed, eyes wide. "That's clear!"
Raph reached forward, swatting the comm on. "Gavin Skullovitch, where are you?" he demanded.
"Oh," Olivia blushed in embarrassment. "I thought..." She grinned at Nisha who shook her head, an answering grin curving her mouth.
"That's a little hard to say." The amusement in Gavin's voice was unmistakable. "But we wanted to invite all of you to join us."
"Where...are...you?" The edge in Raph's voice was enough to make Jared blink in surprise.
"Jett's Realm." Corry's voice broke in. "It worked. Come on, Rangers! Time is wasting!"
"She's got a lot of nerve...," Nisha growled under her breath.
Jared squeezed her arm. "Save it for the Wraiths, Nish."
Raph met Andros' gaze across the table. The Kerovan looked calm, but the tightness around his eyes betrayed his tension. "Andros, are you with us?" He heard the slight quake in his voice and winced slightly, but his gaze never wavered.
The Kerovan stood. "I'll assemble the team." He walked out swiftly.
"Okay, Andros went to get the Astro Rangers. How are we getting there?" Raph gestured for the rest of the team to join him.
"Morph before you go." Gavin again. "It's pitch black here, so be prepared for that. I'm downloading the coordinates to you now, Raph."
"Is there room for all of us?" Nisha hated being in small places. The idea of being in total darkness without room to move was not one she relished.
"Plenty," Gavin assured.
The door opened and the Astro Rangers filed in, already morphed.
Raph nodded, summoning his morpher. "Let's do it."
"Stand back," Gavin warned only seconds before nine beams of colored energy blazed into form, their light pushing back the emptiness of the darkness, if only for a brief moment.
"Oh man..." Nisha breathed. "It's not dark, it's totally black!"
"Easy." Jared held her arm.
"Not again," Ted sighed.
Yellow Ranger's armor began to glow slightly, providing enough light for the Rangers to see one another, if only dimly. "Welcome to Jett's Realm."
"Thomas?" Raph walked over to stand before the Green Ranger.
"Ted Oliver." The man inclined his helmeted head. "We found Thomas, but that angel..."
"Draanov," Corry supplied the name as Olivia scooted next to her. She hugged the Pink Ranger.
"Draanov," Ted went on, "said they had something to do without us." He shrugged.
"They'll meet up with us later then?" Jared asked.
Gavin nodded. "Draanov gave me a layout of this whole place, and I've got an idea."
"We have to get the hostages out," Corry insisted.
"We will." Raph turned to her, setting aside his anger. "They're top priority."
The two teams stood in a loose circle. "We don't have much time before they find us," Andros said quietly.
"I have a plan." Gavin switched the comm to internal, just in case they were being monitored. "But we're going to have to split up to do this..."
Thomas winced as he knelt. His head was aching for some reason. Glancing to the side, he watched Draanov, wondering what the angel was hiding this time.
As if sensing his gaze, the man turned to look at him. "The time has come, Thomas."
"What time?" He didn't know exactly what Draanov was referring to, but Thomas had a feeling he wasn't going to like it.
"For us to part."
"But..." Thomas shook his head. "If you leave now, what will keep Jett-"
"The Rangers are here." Draanov's dark eyes met the young man's gaze. "You need to find them and help them free those held prisoner."
"And you?" Thomas wasn't ready to part with the being who had been his anchor in the chaos; the only one who truly knew how close he had come to breaking. "You're coming with us."
"No." Draanov shook his head, looking past the young man at something only he could see. "You must return to your kind, and I mine." His smile was gentle as he again focused on Thomas. "Morph into your Ninjetti form and find the Rangers, Thomas."
The young man's dark eyes clouded, the tension easing from his face, as he stood. Closing his eyes he reached for the core of green energy deep within. "DragonZord." Green light swelled up, cloaking his form. When it cleared, he was dressed in the tunic and loose pants of the Ninjetti. Swinging the green-handled katana, Thomas checked the corridor to make sure it was clear before silently padding off.
"Walk in the Light, Thomas Oliver," Draanov whispered. Turning, the angel strode off in the opposite direction.
One more thing remained to be done...
Cold and proud, dressed in a gown spun from the purest darkness, Jett stood before her prisoners. Her eyes swept over the faces. Young and old, she had gathered them right from under everyone's noses. Even the Rangers hadn't realized until it was too late.
And they had no idea how many of their own she held.
The children had been the easiest. Their minds not fully formed, they had easily succumbed to possession. Some of the adults, whose minds were so open it was amazing nothing fell out, had also been easy victims.
"We offer you a life free of disease, free of suffering, free of death." Jett smiled benevolently. "Cast all your cares upon me, and you will want no more."
A group of police officers and firefighters, huddled together, scowled at the Wraith. "All we want is to be returned to Earth!"
"Then your wish will be granted." Jett shrugged, eyes glittering. "After I remake it to be our homeworld." She smiled as the Wraiths guarding the prisoners nodded, their amber eyes flashing their agreement.
Face pale beneath the grime of the fire he had been fighting when he was grabbed, the firefighter shook his head. "You don't know Angel Grove, lady. We don't give up, and we've been tested by some of the toughest the Universe had to offer."
"That's right!" A man in a rumpled suit stepped forward. His once immaculate white shirt was a dingy grey. "The government will never bow down to you!"
"And," a woman, clutching a small child close to her, joined the men, "the Power Rangers won't let you!"
Both eyebrows raised, Jett nodded. "Very good reasons, all of them." She shrugged. "None of that will make a difference." She walked over to the woman and reached out to stroke the baby's cheek. "You see, whether you're willing or not doesn't really matter to me." Jett smiled as the woman pulled the baby from her reach, shielding the child with her body. "None of you, combined or separate, are strong enough to resist possession."
Jett walked over to where two children stood, arms wrapped around one another. "You already are one of us, each of you. Think on that." She looked at the adults again. "You are what the Rangers cannot resist. What they cannot fight against. They will not fight not against those they love; those they have vowed to protect." She turned and walked up the stairs, turning to shake her head. "We are your future, your only hope." Green eyes glittering, she smiled. "Homecoming is going to be hell..." Jett turned and swept out of the room.
Becca whimpered, tightening her hold on Alex. "I don't want to become like her..."
"We won't, Bec." Alex' caramel brown eyes were hard with determination. "We'll find a way out."
"There are more of them than before." Mirage looked to Jett. "They've split up and are spread throughout the Realm."
A smile curved the Wraith's mouth. "I cannot believe they actually came here." She chuckled. "They are more audacious than I credited them for."
"Jett," Mirage sighed. "These are Rangers. What do you want us to do?"
"Capture them if you can," Jett shrugged, "If you can't..." Her eyes narrowed. "Where is Thomas?"
Mirage shook his head. "I..I don't know."
"Or care?" Jett's expression hardened as she looked at him. "I'll find him. You search for the Rangers. Send the patrols to the outer corridors and have them work in." She looked back to the room the prisoners where in. "We know their goal." Her cold gaze went to his. "Don't let them have even one of those prisoners, Mirage. Not one."
The Wraith nodded sullenly. "I understand." Turning, he walked off.
Jett shook her head and gestured to the shadows. "Tighten the perimeter. Let nothing in or out apart from me."
Thousands of yellow eyes, appearing from the inky darkness, blinked their understanding.
Smiling approval, Jett took a deep breath. "Now...where has Dragon gone?"
"Everyone has their charges?" Andros looked at the four members of his team.
"Stay close to us," Ashley reminded the slight figure in the Black Astro Armor.
"Mom," Monika protested softly. She was a little scared of what they were getting into, but a frission of excitement made her shiver. Olivia, next to her, giggled out of sheer nervousness.
"Got 'em." Ted brought up the rear of the team, walking behind Olivia.
Raph shook his head as the team with Gavin and Corry disappeared into the inky blackness of the corridors. "I don't like letting those two be on a team together."
Blue Astro Ranger Dante snorted. "And with Zhane and Rhea, no less."
"They'll be fine," Jared assured his friend with a light punch in the arm. "Let's get going."
"Yeah, the sooner we're outta here, the better." Nisha fingered her nunchukus nervously. She didn't normally carry her weapons, but the circumstances had her jumpy. Better prepared than surprised.
Black Ranger sighed and gestured. "This way."
"I wish we could see," Pink Astro Ranger complained.
"There's nothing to see, Rhea," Corry sighed. Once again morphed in Chromatic form, she kept her jittery nerves under tight control. "Just a lot of blackness."
"How reassuring," Gavin muttered.
"Let's pick up the pace," Silver Astro lengthened his stride. "We have a lot of ground to cover."
"Just go by your sensors." Gavin didn't like it any more than the rest, but he was used to operating this way in the V.R. games.
"How about I just follow you?"
Corry had to grin at the tone in the Pink Astro Ranger's voice. Switching to a singular channel to Gavin, she snickered, "Looks like someone has an admirer..."
"Jealous?" Gavin was grateful she couldn't see the blush on his face.
"You know it." Corry teased. It sounded odd since her voice was a mixture of male and female while in Chromatic form.
"Don't lag, you two." Zhane had been warned to keep an eye on the two Earth Rangers. "Gavin, why don't you lead and I'll bring up the rear?"
"I'll follow Rhea." Corry gently pushed the Yellow Ranger past Pink Astro. "I wouldn't want to impede her view..."
"Don't forget I have footage of you as a Spice Girl, Cranston." Gavin was rewarded with silence, and had to grin. There were ways to make her shut up, you just had to know how.
Jett narrowed her eyes. What was he doing? The green shadow slipped silently out of an alcove and continued forward as the patrol passed. They didn't even notice him. Well, if you want something done right... Jett tightened her mouth into a line and followed.
There was a prickling at the back of his neck, a second of precognition...
Thomas tightened his grip on the green-handled katana and turned to stare at Jett. This was it. The point of no return. "Jett." He nodded slightly.
Lips a slight moue, the Wraith tilted her head. "You know they're here."
Good. No pretenses. Fine with him. "Yes."
"You chose death with them over life with me?"
She actually sounded upset. "Being with you is death." Thomas threw all caution aside and brought the katana up. "I'm joining them."
Jett walked forward until she was only inches from the tip of the katana.
"You would kill me for them?"
The katana shook slightly as the Wraith's form blurred and shifted. "Then you must kill her." Blue eyes met his unwaveringly.
He knew it wasn't Corry. Knew it to the depths of his soul. And yet...his muscles froze, knuckles white as he clutched the katana.
"Kill me, Thomas." It was her voice. "Or does some part of you know they'll never truly accept you now? You're tainted. You came with me of your own free will." She reached up towards the katana. "Would you kill one you shared so much with?"
The katana pulsed green as the Wraith touched it, and she hissed, pulling her hand back to stare at him angrily.
Thomas shook his head, clearing it. "I was never yours, Jett." The dark brown eyes bored into the soulless blue eyes. "Not in soul, body or mind."
A figure stepped forward out of the shadows, moving in one stride to stand between Thomas and the Wraith. "He has denounced you."
With a flick of her wrist, Jett was once again herself. Raising a dark eyebrow in surprise, she looked the tall figure in black armor up and down. "Do I know you?"
The man brought his sword up, dark eyes solemn. "I know you." "You have strong protectors, Thomas." Jett warily watched the man. "He is mine. Mine by his own free will."
"The Creators'," Draanov stated quietly, "since the beginning of time." White light began to make the sword glow. "Thomas, you must leave now."
"This is not your battle." The angel's expression softened as he looked at the young man. "Find your teammates, Thomas." Draanov looked at Jett again, his eyes darkening. "Go now."
Jett produced an ebony sword, twirling it up with a flourish. "You will not win."
Thomas backed away as the two suddenly leaped at each other, raining blows almost too fast to follow. At first Draanov seemed to have every advantage strength, height, reach...
But the Wraith was fast and agile. As the glowing white sword came close to cutting her in half, she dodged it, then leaped forward to hold the angel's arm tight across his body. Bringing up the dark sword, Jett smiled coldly. "You lose."
"Do I?" Draanov smiled serenely.
"NO!" Thomas couldn't help the protest that was ripped from his soul as Jett plunged the ebony blade into the angel's chest. He took a step forward, planning on charging -
White light surged forth from Draanov, engulfing the Wraith as she screamed. Thomas had time to throw up his arm before he too was engulfed in the blinding flash of white.
"What was that?!" Raph threw out his arms as the whole place rocked, throwing him off balance.
"We're almost there," Jared steadied Dante as the Blue Astro Ranger rebounded off a wall.
"Heads up!" Nisha pointed.
In the shadows ahead, eerie amber eyes blinked at them.
"Guess they know we're here," Dante gulped. He took a deep breath, summoning his weapons as the others stanced.
"'Bout time," Jared growled. He swung his sword, gesturing the Wraiths forward with one hand.
Black Ranger twisted his wrists and his Talons appeared. "Remember we're on their turf. Stay together!"
"Bring it on!" Red Ranger pushed past the Blue Astro Ranger. "I've been waiting for this!"
Dante glanced over at Raph just in time to see the Black Ranger crossing himself. "Oh man..."
"Hey!" Black Astro fell to one knee as the ground surged up under her.
"Whoa!" Olivia stumbled, trying to keep her balance as the corridor seemed to twist for a moment.
"Steady, Pink." Green Ranger reached out to grab her arm. The Spiral Sabre appeared before Andros was aware of even summoning it. Feet wide apart, Red Astro Ranger glanced at his wife. "Not good."
Ashley grimaced behind her helmet. Andros still had the gift of understatement. She summoned the Star Slinger and turned, putting her back to his.
"Think we're gonna have to fight?"
Olivia took a deep breath, trying to still the shaking of her hands. "Chances are, Mon." She pulled the Power Bow from thin air, readying a bolt for firing.
"Cool!" Twirling the Lunar Lance, the Black Astro Ranger cocked her head as everyone looked at her. "What?"
"Something's moving up there." Ted pulled the Dragon Dagger, putting himself in front of the girls, who moved back to stand with Ashley.
"I don't see anything." Andros came up next to him.
"That's the part I don't like." Ted pointed with the dagger as yellow eyes peered at them from the inky corridor ahead. "We have company..."
"There!" Gavin pointed. "Human life signs -" He broke off as the corridor suddenly lurched, throwing him sideways. "Whoa!"
"Ew..," Rhea moaned. "Tell me we're not inside some creepy alive thing, please?" The Pink Astro Ranger grimaced at the slightly squishy feel of the walls.
"That's just lichen." Silver Astro steadied his daughter, Silverizer already out and in his other hand.
"Lichen isn't squishy," Gavin muttered to himself.
Corry stiffened against a sudden wrenching sensation. She swallowed hard, feeling slightly sick, and closed her eyes. "Something is wrong..."
"That's an understatement." Rhea shook her head. "This whole place is wrong."
"Cor?" Gavin gripped her arm.
She gave a slight shake of her head. "We're close."
"C'mon." Silver Astro gestured them forward. "I thought I heard someone scream."
One minute he'd been caught in the wash of white light...then...
Thomas looked around. He was halfway across the Realm, with no conscious memory of getting there. Draanov... He closed his eyes, seeing the ebony sword plunge into the angel's chest again. Opening his eyes, Thomas' jaw tensed. Jett was gonna pay for that if she was still alive.
The corridor was clear. Twirling the katana, Thomas began walking. Time to see how many Wraiths one human could take out.
"What are these things?!" Dante slashed the Astro Axes at the black creature, splitting it almost in half. It disappeared, only to be replaced by two more.
"Wraiths!" Nisha was a whirlwind of motion, taking out swathes of Wraiths as she swung the nunchukus like a wildwoman.
The Blue Ranger was a blur as he swung his sword through the sea of black forms.
"Hey!" Raph threw his arms up, catching the sword with the claws of his Talons as it slashed down at him. "I'm one of us, remember?"
"Sorry," Blue Ranger shrugged, then turned and launched himself into the fray again.
"Man, it isn't easy being Black..." Raph raked the Talons across the chest of a Wraith, spinning and ducking as another wave came at him.
"There's no room to move!" Blue Astro Ranger put his back to Raph's and the two began to cut a widening opening in the sea of black.
"Just keep hacking!" Raph knew they couldn't last forever at this rate. Something had to give.
He hoped it wasn't them.
The Yellow Astro Ranger snap-kicked a Wraith, slamming it into the wall, before bringing up the Star Slinger and blowing the shadow to oblivion. She fell forward as a Wraith punched her in the back. Rolling, she took that one out with one shot. Before she could even think, two more jumped at her.
Red Astro Ranger slashed like a madman at the seemingly non-stop press of black bodies swarming him. The Spiral Sabre was a blur of silver and red as it cut through the press of Wraiths.
Black Astro and Pink Ranger were standing back to back, using their respective weapons as fast and efficiently as they could. Pink energy bolts shot through Wraith after Wraith, dusting them. "They just keep coming!" Olivia missed a Wraith and leveled the Power Bow, shoving it through the shadow's body. It turned to dust as it reached for her.
"Agh!" Monika grunted as a Wraith managed to swat the Lunar Lance aside and raked its claws along her visor. She reversed her grip and brought the lance up sharply, smacking the Wraith in the middle of its face, then twirled the lance and rammed it into the ebony body. Suddenly she was *very* grateful for all of the training simulations her father had insisted on.
Green Ranger was a blur as he moved through the press of black, almost as if he were dancing. A roundhouse kick knocked back several Wraiths, and he twirled to slash them with the Dragon Dagger. Without a pause, he snapped the dagger sideways, plunging it into the chest of another shadow. He ducked the swipe of a Wraith's sharp claws and plunged the dagger up into the creature's stomach.
"That's doing it!" Andros cut an 'X' into a Wraith and sidestepped as it fell to pieces. "I think that's the room Gavin said the prisoners were in!" He jumped slightly as a Wraith he hadn't seen was blasted by a burst of yellow energy.
"Fight to go that direction!" Yellow Astro Ranger fired off several more rapid shots, clearing a path for the two younger members. As they passed her, she blocked the arm of a Wraith then blinked as suddenly it turned to dust.
"C'mon!" Andros grabbed her arm, pulling her along with him. Seeing the rest of his group heading for the portal, Green Ranger gave a jaunty salute. "Been fun, gotta go!" He ducked under the arms of several Wraiths, barreled past two more and slashed his way past the last three blocking his path.
Seeing him running towards them, Andros stood in the open portal as the Green Ranger dove through, then moved aside, as Olivia and Ashley blasted the portal. "I doubt that's going to hold them!" He was breathing heavily. Even morphed, the Wraiths were proving a tough enemy.
"Wha-?" Green Ranger stopped in his tracks.
Every person in the room was looking at them, eyes glowing eerily amber.
"This is not good." Monika moved to stand next to her father.
"We're here to -" Ashley broke off as every single person in the place suddenly faded away.
"No!" Olivia ran forward, grasping for figures that were no longer there.
"Crap," Ted sighed. "I've got a bad feeling about this..."
"I'm worried." Gavin checked the timer on the detonator and straightened. "This is going too well."
"Too well?" Pink Astro put her hands on her hips and looked at him. "We set all our charges. That's good!"
"You think we're being allowed to do this?" Zhane was feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing also.
"I don't know, but...I'm afraid the others won't be having as easy a time." Yellow Ranger shook his head. "We got lucky and got a fairly empty sector." He glanced over at Corry who was finishing setting her detonators.
"That's odd..." She probed at the wall, grimacing as her fingers pressed into the black goo there.
"What?" Zhane looked around, half-expecting things to leap out at them.
"Eww..." Rhea grimaced. "More of that lichen junk!"
"I don't think that's a good idea, Cor," Gavin advised as she pushed her arm further into the blackness. "You don't know anything about-"
Corry waved him off. "Oh, don't be such a -"
"Corry!" Gavin dove forward, grabbing for her. His hands caught empty air as she suddenly fell forward through the wall.
"Cripes!" Zhane jumped over the Yellow Ranger to crouch in front of the wall where Corry had disappeared. He tentatively put a hand up. "It's solid." He banged on the wall with a gloved fist.
"What?" Rhea grabbed Gavin's arm, helping him stand. "But..."
Gavin shook his head, swallowing hard. "Some sort of portal."
"I don't know." Gavin got nothing but static on any channel he tried to get through to Corry.
"We've got to find the others." Zhane straightened. "Maybe she's with them."
He didn't sound very confident. Rhea patted the youth's arm. "She probably just found a short-cut."
Gavin stared at the wall as if waiting for it to open and reveal an answer.
Zhane? Andros didn't sound happy
We got to the room where the prisoners were.
"Great, we could use some good news," Rhea sighed.
"Are they all right?" Gavin found his voice again.
We have a slight problem. They heard Andros sigh. We're setting our detonators now.
"Ours are set, but-"
"Have you seen Thomas?" Gavin couldn't believe how scattered the group was. "We can't leave anyone here!"
"He's right. Corry's missing too." Zhane shook his head. "One minute she was here, the next..."
Andros' was quiet a long moment. Let's regroup. Head for Raph's team. Search as you go.
"Got it." Zhane put a hand on Gavin's shoulder. "We'll find her, and Thomas."
Gavin swallowed hard, nodding as Rhea squeezed his arm.
He hoped Corry's usual knack for getting out of scrapes hadn't deserted her. She was going to need every bit luck to get out of this one.
"Nice of you guys to show up!" Jared panted as Red Astro Ranger sliced a Wraith that was about to jump him.
"We got delayed by some party crashers." Holding the Lunar Lance in the middle, Monika used one end to slam a Wraith back, then twirled it and slashed the creature's chest.
"What made your group so popular?" Olivia picked off a Wraith trying to claw through Nisha's armor.
"I guess they thought we looked appetizing." Raph brought his arms up, breaking the Wraith's hold on his neck and slashed it into oblivion. "You know, snacks in a can."
"Let's hope they forgot the can opener." Green Ranger waded into the thick of things, moving like a man possessed. He winced as a yellow bolt slammed through three Wraiths right next to him. "That was kinda close, Yellow!"
Ashley shrugged. "I aim to please."
Blue Astro was pinned to the wall, practically nose to nose with the Wraith. Even morphed, he was tiring from the constant press of ebony warriors. He saw the Pink Ranger taking aim and shook his head frantically. "No! You'll hit me too!"
Olivia sighted the bolt and let it fly.
Dante closed his eyes as the pink bolt of energy blasted through the Wraith's head and into the wall next to him. Cracking an eye open, he let out a long breath of relief.
"Sheesh, have some confidence, will ya?" Olivia twirled the bow expertly, and whirled to jam it through another Wraith. "We've been fighting these things for months!"
She yelped and hit the ground as Nisha whipped the Nunchukus over her head in a whirl of red, all but taking off a Wraith's head. "Don't get cocky, kid!"
A blast of silver dusted a group of Wraiths as the Silver Astro Ranger charged down the corridor. Pink bolts shot out from the Satellite Stunner, knocking out a few more as Rhea joined the fight. Gavin followed at a slower pace, trying to make out his team's location in the press of bodies. Seeing a Wraith pounce on Andros, he raised his Stinger, sighted in and shot all three bolts right through the shadow. It dissolved in a slow burn of yellow energy.
It was over quickly. Against that many combined Rangers, the Wraiths didn't stand a chance. Once again regrouped, they knew they had to move quickly. "Your group needs to set your detonators, right?" Andros asked Raph.
"We're on it." Weary, but far from beaten, Raph gestured to his group and they fanned out across the junction, each stetting detonators.
"What about Corry and Thomas?" Gavin had tried scanning again, to no avail. It was as if she had disappeared from the Realm. Which, given her attraction to trouble, was a real possibility.
"And the prisoners?" Olivia reminded them quietly.
"I think it's a strong possibility the prisoners were taken away before we could get to them." Ted sighed. "Gav, you've scanned on every possible frequency and we're the only humans registering, right?"
Yellow Ranger nodded reluctantly.
"The Wraiths have tried to fool us in the past, though." Raph rejoined the group.
"Detonators are set, except for this one." Jared held the last charge up. "Once this is set, there's no going back."
Nisha was quiet as she joined the circle.
Raph looked to Andros. "What-"
"Jared." Gavin stepped forward, grabbing the detonator out of the weary Rangers hand. "This is armed!"
"What?!" Blue shook his head. "No way, I didn't set it!"
The red lights on the detonator were flashing, a sign it was activated.
"Decision's been made for us then." Ted gingerly took the detonator from Gavin's shaking hand and walked over to the wall, setting it. "Everyone outta here. We've got..," he checked the time on his visor, "fifteen minutes. Andros, Zhane and I will do a last rundown to see if we can find anyone."
"But-" Raph started to protest, only to be cut off by Andros.
"He's right. We three have the most experience." He looked at Yellow Astro Ranger. "Get them out of here, Ash."
She didn't like it, but the logic was undeniable. Ashley nodded. "They can work faster if they know we're safe. Let's go." She put her arms around Olivia and Monika.
"Go on, Raph." Ted squeezed his shoulder. "You four fought twice as long as us." His gaze included Jared and Nisha who stood next to their teammate. "Time's wasting."
With a curt nod, Raph turned, joining Ashley and the others. "Good luck."
As the wash of light from their teleport died, Zhane sighed. "You think we'll find anything?"
"I hope so, Zhane, " Andros sighed. "Let's go."
She had no idea what had happened. One moment she'd been setting the detonator, the next...she was here. It was sheer luck that she'd spotted him before he saw her, and sent Saba away. She almost laughed as an image of an ancient show, 'Lassie', came to mind. Saba would not appreciate the humor. Shoving the thought aside, she concentrated on the being before her.
"Who are you?"
She tensed as Mirage walked slowly around her. "A Ranger, Wraith. That's all you need to know."
The Wraith stood in front of her again, eyes narrowed. "What would Jett think if she knew you were alive...and here?" He shook his head. "You can't fool a shapeshifter twice...White Ranger. It's a very good disguise, and it would fool her."
"But not you." Corry dropped any ideas of trying to fool the Wraith. "So now what, Mirage?"
There was a hard gleam in the Wraith's eyes. "I have no great love for Jett, Ranger. She treats me like a stupid slave. However...." He took a step closer. "If I were to bring you to her, she would see how valuable I am."
White Ranger's chin rose. "I'm not going with you." She took a step back, and froze as she ran into a solid form. Huge, muscled Wraiths appeared from the surrounding shadows, encircling the pair.
Mirage smiled, and shrugged. "I think you are." He chuckled. "Let's go."
Ducking into another dark alcove, Thomas listened as the patrol passed. The Wraiths were definitely stirred up. That was the third patrol in ten minutes. Waiting until he was positive they were gone, Thomas cautiously stepped out into the corridor.
He whirled, bracing one leg back in preparation for a kick...and stared in shock. "Saba?" The sword was the last thing he expected to see in the corridors. He'd been looking for the Rangers. Thomas frowned, pulling the enchanted sword back into the alcove with him. "What are you doing here?" Saba there could only mean one thing... "Where are they?"
"They split up," Saba informed him. "Mirage captured White Ranger."
Sighing, Thomas scrapped his plan. "The others are all right?"
"The teams are working on destroying Jett's control of this place right now," Saba acknowledged. His red eyes flashed. "My sensors indicate the citizens were also evacuated."
"Which way did Mirage take her?" Thomas' voice was grim. If Corry had the Green Coin, Jett would get more than she had ever hoped for in one sweep. He hadn't anticipated Mirage finding her before he did. "Was it just Mirage, Saba?" If so, he didn't doubt Corry would find a way to escape.
"There were at least a seven other large Wraiths with him, Thomas."
Nodding, the young man checked the corridor. It was empty. "Let's go."
There was a smudge of white in the center of the burly black figures. Thomas shook his head. Unmorphed, he didn't stand much of a chance against that many Wraiths. "Saba," he whispered, "I don't suppose you have access to anything in dimensional pockets, do you?"
"No." The sword floated next to the young man.
"Too bad." Oh well. So much for getting his coin. He gestured with his head, backtracking to an inky corridor. Saba followed. "Here's the plan...."
"No." Ted shook his head. Something was not right about this whole situation. "This might sound stupid, but..."
You think they're gone.
"Yeah." Ted's mouth crooked into a wry grin. "I met only light resistance. How about you two?"
Nothing like before, Zhane acknowledged.
They're doing this as a decoy?
Ted looked around, wishing once again he had Tommy's instincts for these situations. "I hope to God that's right. I don't like the thought of leaving innocents or teammates behind."
We'll keep looking until the last minute. Andros sounded as worried as Ted. Don't lose track of time, Ted.
"I won't." Ted began jogging again. "You do the same."
They were getting closer. Corry could feel the icy sensation she associated with Jett. It was growing stronger as they walked. She tried to stall, deliberately slowing down, but was shoved forward by the Wraiths. Stumbling forward, she used the momentum to barrel into the back of Mirage. Grabbing the Wraith around the waist, she rolled, pulling him with her as they tumbled to the ground. Suddenly she found herself with an armful of a huge, ebony snake that coiled around her as she struggled to stand. It's gold eyes flashed as a hissing laugh tickled her ears. "You should know better than to try to wrestle a shapeshifter, White Ranger."
"I...hate....snakes!" Corry grabbed the snake around its neck and tried to squeeze her hands shut in an attempt to throttle Mirage.
Ebony hands grabbed her arms and pulled her away from Mirage, bringing her roughly to her feet. She kicked out at them, trying to free herself, but there were too many of them. Her vision literally became black as the Wraiths pressed around her, forcing her into stillness.
"Don't kill her now," Mirage reminded them, rubbing his neck. He glared at Corry. "Save her for Jett. I'm sure she'll have something special in mind for you, White Ranger."
"Of course," Corry said sarcastically. "You couldn't handle me yourself, Mirage. You run to your mistress like the good lackey you are...." She laughed as his eyes narrowed. "Aw..poor little thing. Truth hurts, huh?"
"Be quiet!" Mirage shook his head. "You're just trying to fool me." He fisted his hands as she continued to laugh at him.
"That's not hard."
Mirage waved the Wraiths back, and stepped closer, glaring into the black visor. "Would you be so brave without your helmet, Ranger?" He reached up and unfastened the helmet, pulling it off her head. Two Wraiths still held her arms.
Corry smirked at him. "Oh....I'm sooo scared."
Mirage drew back his arm and cracked her across the face with her helmet. "Still want to take me on, Ranger?"
Blue eyes icy with anger, Corry tasted blood where her lip split. "Big man, aren't you?" Narrowing her eyes, she raised her chin. "Bet you aren't so big without your bodyguards." She ignored the voice cautioning her in her mind not to push the Wraith so hard.
Shaking his head, Mirage drew back his arm to hit her again and found his arm held in a vice-like grip.
"It's not polite to hit ladies." A green-gloved hand waggled a finger back in forth in front of his face, then backhanded the Wraith with enough force to send him tumbling. Grabbing the helmet from Mirage's grip, the figure in green pants and tunic whirled and pushed it into Corry's hand. "Power up," he said sharply. For one second their eyes met, and she saw the dark eyes were bright with controlled fury.
"Back to action!" With a white flash of light, the helmet reappeared on Corry's head. Fully powered, she took advantage of Thomas' distracting the Wraiths and grabbed one of those closest to her, still holding her arms. "Two against seven...good odds to me!" She threw it off, and turned for the other one.
The green Ninjetti was too fast for the Wraiths to catch, as he whirled and ducked under their swinging arms. Sweeping the feet out from under one, Thomas produced his katana and cut the Wraith in two. It disappeared with a low moan. He whirled, and began slicing into everything black and moving.
Ducking to avoid being smeared against the corridor wall, Corry dropped into a split and caught Saba, shoving the sword up into the body of the Wraith as it reached for her. It turned to dust and collapsed to the ground. "Whoa!" She rolled away as Thomas suddenly backed up, looking for fighting room, still swinging the katana. He seemed to be enjoying slicing and dicing the Wraiths, and certainly didn't appear to need her help.
With a grim smile, White Ranger turned to Mirage who was staggering to his feet. "Wanna go one on one, Mirage?" She stanced as the Wraith shifted form again, changing into an ebony wolf.
"Will you kill the image of your Guardian, Ranger?" Gold eyes gleamed at her.
"You aren't Wolf," Corry snarled. She leaped at the Wraith, slashing at it with Saba.
Mirage dodged, slinking sideways as one of the other Wraiths stumbled back, clutching at two criss-crossed slashes in its torso. It disappeared silently. Mirage snarled as Thomas advanced from one side, katana gleaming as the Ninjetti whirled it. All the other Wraiths were gone.
White Ranger stepped forward, blocking any retreat in the other direction. "Checkmate, Mirage."
"Two against one isn't fair," the Wraith whined, backing up.
"It wasn't on that rooftop either, was it?" Corry growled as she pointed Saba at him. "You didn't seem to care about the odds then."
Shifting back to human form, Mirage held up his hands. "Don't kill me...."
White Ranger hesitated. Destroying the Wraiths in the heat of battle was one thing...this was another. She shook her head, taking a step back. "This whole place is going to be destroyed, Mirage. I suggest you leave. Earth is off limits." She held Saba up, the sword's red eyes flashing. "Understand?"
Frowning in surly agreement, the Wraith glared at the two humans. "Fine."
Corry gave him a hard stare and backed away. She didn't trust the Wraith, but she couldn't justify destroying it either. "Come on." She touched Thomas' arm. "We have to get out of here." The detonators had been set the countdown on her visor showed only minutes before the explosives went off.
He didn't like the idea of leaving the Wraith alive. Thomas knew, better than anyone else, exactly how devious the Wraiths were. Corry tugged on his tunic, and he reluctantly nodded, turning to follow.
Mirage took two steps away and lunged for Corry, shifting form, mid-leap, to that of a Grizzly Bear. One ebony claw swiped out to screech along the diamond-hard, white armor, knocking the girl off-stride. She fell back as the massive bear pounced on her. "NO!" She threw up her hands to hold the bear's jaws away from her head, pushing against the enormous head.
The bear growled, eyes glinting with an insane light then were suddenly glassy as the strength ebbed away from its body.
"No..," Mirage gasped, even as his body began to shift back to human form. Thomas yanked his katana from the Wraith's body and reached out to pull Corry to her feet. She leaned against him, feeling sick as Mirage became pale grey, then slowly turned into dust that floated to the ground.
Thomas let out a heavy sigh as he put his arms around Corry, holding her against him for a moment. "You okay?"
She nodded, took a deep breath and stepped back. Her gaze went to the countdown on her visor and she grabbed his hand. "We gotta go! Saba!"
Picturing the colony on KO-35, Corry activated her teleporter just as the first rumblings of the explosion filled the corridor.
Silver-white and emerald green light washed through the corridor a split second before the explosion ripped apart the place they'd been standing.
For a moment, the Realm was lit with the burn of a Powered explosion. white-gold flames spouted, engulfing the corridors, blasting the magically held Realm free of its tenuous site on the Event Horizon. The black maze of corridors seemed to elongate, pulled by an unseen force, then suddenly wrenched free and was sucked into the gaping maw it had been spawned from.
The Realm was no more.
It was one of the longest teleports she'd ever done without another morphed Ranger to boost the power, or outside help. For a moment, time was suspended as white light, interlaced with silver, filled her vision. She couldn't feel or hear anything. All sensory input was gone, and even her heart seemed to have frozen mid-beat. All she could think of was how badly she wanted a breath of air, but her lungs were frozen also.
Sunshine and fresh air broke in as KO-35 suddenly appeared before her. Staggering, Corry fell to one knee, releasing Thomas' hand. She sat abruptly, head spinning slightly. "That was wild...." She took a deep breath, watching as the landscape spun.
"Are you all right?" Thomas knelt next to her, pushing back the Ninjetti face covering.
Corry nodded. "I just feel a little light-headed." She wondered if it had anything to do with being so far from Earth, the source of their powers. "I'm all right." With a mental command, she powered down. Suddenly her face began to ache in earnest and she couldn't help whimpering as the pain hit full force.
Thomas winced, seeing the dark welt already forming along the side of her face. Blood caked her lip and chin where it split. "Bastard nailed you a good one," he muttered grimly. If he had any regrets for killing the Wraith, they had disappeared upon seeing Corry's bruised face.
"I was morphed too," Corry grimaced as smiling made her face hurt worse. She reached up to gingerly touch her throbbing cheek. "Guess that confirms standby mode isn't like a full morph..."
"KO-35?" Thomas looked around, seeing several buildings off in the distance.
Corry nodded. "I misjudged the spot." Talking hurt too. "'S'posed to be closer to the colony."
He saw several people running towards them. "Here come the others." Thomas stood, helping Corry stand. She was a little unsteady, and he put an arm around her. "Let's get you taken care of, then we can talk."
"I seem to end up here a lot." Corry held still as patiently as possible as Karone ran the beam over her bruised jaw. The aching was subsiding, thankfully.
"Me too." Rhea, watching from the other side, grinned mischievously. "So...tell me about tall, dark and hunky!"
"Rhea," Karone murmured. She gave her daughter a quelling glance.
"It's okay," Corry assured her. "Thomas is our Green Ranger."
"And?" Rhea's smile grew. "He's older, huh? Is he seeing someone or is there hope for a Kerovan girl?" Her grey-blue eyes twinkled.
Karone shook her head. Her daughter was so much like her husband at times, it was frightening.
"Well..." Corry blushed slightly under the dual scrutiny. "We've gone on a date." She sighed, remembering. "It ended horribly though."
"So..." Rhea was getting mixed signals. "Is he free or not?"
It was impossible to get irritated at the impish young woman. Corry grinned. "Not."
"Dang!" She winked. "Lucky you."
Karone decided to even the odds a bit. "I thought you said Gavin was the cute one?"
"Mother!" Rhea blushed furiously.
Corry laughed, delighted to realize it didn't hurt to do so. "Thank you, Karone. For your medical attention and your help."
"You're welcome." Karone smiled at the girl who reminded her of her daughter. She reached over to hug her. "Try to be more careful."
Rhea heard the door open and smiled. "You've got a visitor, Corry."
Seeing it was Thomas, Corry looked at Karone. "Am I finished?"
"It'll be tender for a couple of days, but the worst is healed." Karone nodded.
"Good enough for a smooch or two," Rhea whispered, winking.
Color flooded Corry's face as she hopped down off the examination table. "Thanks." She shook her head. Who needed Nisha when Rhea was there to say the same thing?
Thomas gave her a searching look. "It looks better. Do you feel all right?"
Surprised to find him still in Ninjetti garb, Corry nodded. Something wasn't right. Thomas looked as tense as he did when they were expecting a battle. "I'm fine. Are you-"
"Not here." He nodded to Rhea and Karone. "Thank you. Excuse us." He held a hand out to Corry, who took it and followed him out of the room.
Rhea sighed. "Well...that was a little rude." She frowned at the door.
Karone shook her head. "From what I've heard, that young man has gone through a very rough time." She put her arm around her daughter. "Give the other team some space, Rhea. Remember what has happened to them since they became Rangers." It was something Karone could relate to.
"I know." Rhea rested her head on her mother's shoulder. "I hope nothing like that ever happens to us."
"Me too, darling." Karone kissed her temple. "Me too."
Corry felt a little nervous as they walked along the meadow. He hadn't said anything since they left the others. For a moment, she had a flash-back to the person he had been that day in the elevator. His eyes were a clear dark brown, but something was definitely wrong. "Have they been able to get a hold of Dad?" She was still worried that they hadn't been able to find the people abducted from the Arcade.
"Only static so far." He took in a deep breath. The sun was sinking towards the hills, bathing everything in the golden light of afternoon. "I wanted sunlight and fresh air almost as much as my freedom."
Corry walked to a tree and sat, leaning against the trunk. "Do you think she's gone?" She looked out across the colony, not even turning her head when he joined her.
"I hope so."
The venom in his voice sent shivers down her back. Corry picked at the grass, unsure of what to say. He was and wasn't the same person. There seemed to be a lingering tinge of darkness in his personality that was a little unsettling. Then again, maybe you're just being overly emotional, Cranston...
Thomas sighed. "Draanov broke Jett's last hold over me." He'd briefly told her about the angel's fight, and sacrifice. "He..." Shaking his head, the young man tensed his jaw. "He cleansed me." Thomas looked up as a soft hand touched his.
Corry shook her head and smiled softly. "Draanov didn't die. He's a spiritual being. The physical form he took was for our benefit. What he did for you..." She squeezed his hand. "That was what he wanted. It was a form of redemption for him. He served the darkness once also." She met his gaze. "He wanted you to be free, and in helping you, he freed himself also."
"I..." Thomas' expression hardened. "He shouldn't have."
Cocking her head, Corry realized where he was going. "Don't go on a major guilt fest on us, Thomas." He pulled his hand away and she sighed. "Chelsea told me about Tommy and how he was the King of Guilt."
"Don't you think this time it's justified?" There was a touch of ice in his voice.
"No." Locking gazes, Corry raised an eyebrow. He'd come to get her, brought her out here to talk, so why was he being so distant? Time to give the Stubborn One some logic. Undaunted by the cool expression, she asked, "How is it going to help the team? Or make things right? What will you accomplish by feeling guilty?"
He blinked at her, taken off guard. The sessions with Jett pretending to be Corry had left a lingering effect on him. He was here with the person he wanted to be with, and at the same time...wary. It was hard to lower the walls that had protected him. Walls he had depended on to stay sane. Dropping them was proving to be difficult.
And she was waiting for his answer, gazing at him with those blue eyes. Thomas shook his head, surging to his feet. "What do you know?" Eyes blazing, he glared at her. "Were you there? Did she play her head games on you?" Pivoting, he took two strides before abruptly stopping.
That was not what he wanted to say.
Thomas turned slowly, taking deep breaths in an attempt to regain his control.
He lost it when he looked at Corry.
One tear trickled down her face, and her lips trembled as she tried to hold herself together and not cry.
"No...no..." At her side in two steps, he knelt and gathered Corry into his arms, holding her tightly. Pushing her away was what Jett wanted, and he was damned if he'd give it to her. Stroking Corry's hair with one hand, he held her to him with the other. "I'm sorry. I am *so* sorry, Corry."
She'd risked her life for him. More than once. And he repaid her by lashing out in anger. Thomas shook his head. "I didn't mean to hurt you. Ever. That's all I seem to do lately." He was afraid to loosen his hold, in case she pushed him away.
It had to be her choice to stay or go. Jett hadn't given him a choice, and he had hated her for it.
Reluctantly, Thomas pulled back slightly, enough to look into her face. She didn't meet his eyes, looking at his chest instead. "You've got every right to be mad at me, Cor." He swallowed hard, feeling the lump there as she still didn't look up or say anything. "If it makes you feel better, you could slug me..."
A sad smile lifted a corner of her mouth as she shook her head slightly. "Hurting you won't make me feel better."
Thomas winced. Truth did hurt sometimes.
Corry looked up, and met his gaze. "What I really want? Is to not be pushed away every time a problem comes into your life. You're not the lone Ranger, Thomas." She sighed and decided to say exactly what was on her mind. "It's a lot easier to go through rotten things with the people who care about you. Stop thinking you have to do everything on your own, and let the rest of us help. If I ask what's wrong and you tell me, you aren't burdening me. Pushing me away just hurts me all that much more. And I think it hurts you too."
It was definitely more than he'd hoped for more than he deserved. It was frightening to realize she knew him so well in such a short time. Where had all the wisdom come from? She was sixteen.... Looking into the blue eyes he caught a glimpse of Wolf's wise gaze. The Guardians chose those most like them.
"It's not easy for me to be open, Cor." Thomas sighed. "You're a team person. I have to struggle to be."
"I know." Corry traced the image of the panther on his Ninjetti tunic. "Panthers are solitary. Broody. Nocturnal."
"Wolves are happiest in a pack." Thomas shook his head. "We're opposites."
"I like quiet time alone too." Corry smiled slightly. "And you enjoy doing stuff as a group." She looked up at him. "Maybe it's just a matter of finding balance."
Balance. Yin and yang. The white and black that, together, were stronger than either was alone.
"You're willing to try and put up with my black moods? You know there's a chunk of my life I'll never be proud of. That's totally different from your life, Corry." Thomas' brows drew together as he frowned. "Not that it's a lifetime sentence or anything..." He looked away, hoping he didn't sound as much a fool as he felt. It had been a truly rotten day and every word he said seemed to make it worse.
"You know," Corry smoothed his forehead, "you are your own worst critic." She leaned her forehead against his. "Why don't you shut up and kiss me?"
Thomas felt the tension drain out of him as her arms went around his neck. A lopsided grin tugged his mouth up. "How could I refuse m'lady's request?"
Their lips had barely touched when a muffled cough came from the meadow behind them. "Uh...excuse me you two." Ted jogged up, looking a little sheepish. "Sorry, but it's necessary."
"You always had amazing timing, Ted," Thomas sighed. He stood, helping Corry to her feet.
In the twilight, Ted could barely see their expressions. "Uh..not sure how to tell you this..."
Corry felt a sudden chill. "Earth?"
Ted took a deep breath. "Jett made it to Earth somehow."
"What?" Thomas went cold. "How?"
"Don't know, but she's there. When the Realm blew, the block they had on communications gradually died. We just got through about a minute ago." Ted shook his head. "Jared about went balistic, but Raph calmed him down enough for me to get us all together before we go." Ted looked at the two. "I won't lie to you. It looks like all of Earth is involved. It's a mess."
"What about the prisoners?" Corry bit her lip as he shook his head.
"No word yet."
Thomas squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "We're teleporting?"
Ted nodded and held his hand out to Thomas. "I believe I have something that belongs to you."
Thomas looked at the coin, then at his brother. "How-"
"I gave it to Ted to use in the attack," Corry explained briefly. "Let's go!" She took off, bolting across the meadow like a startled deer.
Ted let his breath out in a long sigh. "Let's go, Bro. Time to kick the garbage off our planet."