Disclaimer: Characters and situations are the property of BVE and Village Roadshow Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's notes: Thanks to Meg for the beta and Selma for the help with the writers' block. This is the third in the Team Bonding trilogy. (At least I was planning on a trilogy. Cam seems to have other ideas, but won't tell me what they are!)
"Dude, I don't believe this," Hunter said as he, Shane and Dustin headed for Ninja Ops and their afternoon training session.
"What?" Shane asked.
"You have to be eighteen to request a bonfire permit," Hunter said.
"So much for toasting marshmallows, dude," Dustin sighed.
"What am I, chopped liver?" Cam asked.
The group looked to their right. "Cam" dressed in a hockey jersey, camouflage pants, and a stocking cap was working on a computer console.
"No thanks, dude, we can't go anywhere with you," Dustin said. "I'll end up liquified again."
CyberCam gave Dustin a funny look and returned to his repair work.
"Not him, me," Cam said. This Cam was dressed in his black Samurai uniform and seated in his usual spot at the computer console. Except he was facing them with his arms crossed.
"So if we have a bonfire on Saturday night, you're in?" Hunter asked. It was hard predicting when Cam would want to spend time with the group and when he'd want to be alone to code.
"Yup," Cam said. "As long as there's chocolate and graham crackers involved with the marshmallow toasting."
"I think Tori could be talked into S'mores, dude," Dustin said helpfully.
Hunter gave Cam the permit. Cam looked it over and signed. "I need to go into town for some parts and groceries, I'll turn it in then."
"Thanks, Cam," Hunter beamed.
"So what time Saturday?"
* * *
"Weren't you guys supposed to wait for me?" Cam asked as he approached the bonfire pit.
The others had all ready built up a nice stack of logs and spare driftwood.
"We're just getting set up," Dustin said.
"Yeah, you can do whatever you want to with wood without a permit as long as you don't light it," Shane pointed out.
"We'd have been busted so many times in junior high otherwise," Tori added.
"You three were trouble," Blake teased.
Tori gently smacked him in the arm.
"What do you think, Cam?" Shane asked, indicating the pile of wood.
Cam walked around the fire. "Looks good."
Hunter pulled out some matches. Cam snatched them away.
"Hey!" Hunter protested.
"I'm not supposed to let minors play with fire," Cam teased.
Hunter cross his arms, glaring at Cam.
Cam surveyed the situation, struck a match, and placed it carefully under the kindling. He then put the matches down on top of the picnic basket.
Hunter reached for them.
"No you don't!" Cam snatched the matches back.
"Give me those," Hunter said.
"Take them!" Cam said, running off.
Hunter gave chase.
"Boys!" Tori said, loudly.
Cam stopped in his tracks, allowing Hunter time to catch up and grab the matches.
"Hey!" Cam exclaimed.
Hunter stuck out his tongue and put the box of matches safely back in his backpack.
"I shouldn't allow you anywhere near those things," Cam teased.
"Hello, Thunder Ninja, used to fire," Hunter said.
"Oh yeah?" Cam said, advancing on him.
"Yeah," Hunter said. He tried to get Cam in a headlock, but Cam reversed it.
"Think you're so cool, Thunderboy?" Cam asked, trying to draw Hunter closer to the fire.
"Cam, don't pull him into the fire circle," Tori admonished.
"Fire circle?" Cam asked, stopping dead in his tracks to stare at the Blue Ranger.
Hunter used the opportunity to escape Cam's grasp.
"Yeah, for safety?" Tori said. "You're supposed to stay 12 inches away from the fire at all times."
Cam looked at her blankly.
"It's a Girl Guard thing," Tori said.
"Uh-huh," Cam said.
"So, Shane, where are the marshmallows?" Hunter asked.
"The fire's way too high for S'mores," Cam pointed out.
"Or marshmallow toasting," Dustin added.
"Not the way Hunter toasts marshmallows," Blake said, rolling his eyes. "He just lights them on fire."
"Dude, you're like, so impatient," Dustin said.
"I could rearrange things with a fire poker," Cam offered, pulling one out of his bag.
"That ruins half the fun," Shane said.
Cam shrugged and put it away.
"You brought a fire poker to a bonfire?" Hunter asked.
"You wouldn't believe the number of times it came in handy while I was in college," Cam replied.
"You had bonfires in college that often?" Blake asked.
"Yeah," Cam said.
"Ooh, story," Tori said, taking up a position and sitting cross legged. She looked at Cam attentively, looking a lot like an elementary school student waiting for their teacher to start reading from a book.
"You don't want to know," Cam said.
"Come on, Cam," Shane said, taking seat next to Tori. "This is supposed to be a team bonding expedition, and we know next to nothing about you."
Blake sat on Tori's other side. "If you don't want to tell us that story, what about another one?"
"Yeah, like Cam ever left the computer lab," Dustin said, sitting on the other side of Shane.
Tori snuggled against Blake. Hunter sat on the other side of his brother. Five pairs of eyes watched Cam expectantly.
"Ok, fine, but then someone else gets to start the ghost stories," Cam said flippantly.
"Ghost stories?" Blake started, nearly knocking Tori over. "Nobody said anything about ghost stories!"
Hunter put a hand on Blake's shoulder. "Take it easy, li'l bro. You have me and Tori here to defend you."
"You're scared of ghost stories?" Dustin said.
"Want Blake to find out what first name is on your Drivers' License?" Tori asked.
"Tori!" Dustin said testily.
"Then behave," Tori said sweetly.
"And I may have spent a lot of time in the computer lab, Dustin," Cam said, "but that doesn't mean that we didn't have fun."
"We?" Hunter asked.
"Yeah, I have friends," Cam said. "Right now they live in my computer, but I have friends. They were mostly other CS majors, so maybe 'hacking buddies' would be more appropriate."
"Does your Dad know about this?" Hunter muttered into his hand.
Cam glared at him. "Mostly we tried to break through the University's 'computer security'. But one of the big lecture halls in the computer building had these computer controlled lights. One night we were having a guest lecturer in our class the next day who had a rep for being... shall we say... boring. And using Power Point instead of the chalk board, so you're listening to a really boring lecturer in the dark. Unless the lights turn on in the middle of class."
"You guys set the lights to turn up?" Hunter asked.
"The lights stayed down the whole class session," Cam said.
"Don't tell me you messed up," Dustin said.
"No," Cam said. "My friends and I got grilled by some upper class men that night wanting to know how we'd avoided half their watchdog programs. Apparently most majors tried that stunt at some point."
"They told us next time we should be more creative," Cam said, laughing. "We were the only ones to ever get through so many watchdog programs."
The others chuckled.
"Dude, I never saw you as a practical joker," Dustin said.
Cam smiled mysteriously. "There's a lot you don't know about me, Dustin."
"And whose fault is that?" Shane reminded gently.
Cam rolled his eyes. "My throat's dry, I think it's somebody else's turn."
"Ooh, yeah, drinks," Dustin said, opening a cooler.
He started passing around dark brown bottles with lids somewhere between a pop top and a screw on cap. The others were keeping the labels, which he glimpsed as being sort of an ocean blue, turned away from him.
"Where'd you get that, Dustin?" Cam asked, frowning.
"Jacobson's Grocery, they have a lot of microbrew stuff," Dustin said. "Want one?" Dustin held a bottle out to him, the label facing him. It read "Pirate's Keg Root Beer".
Cam nodded, laughing.
"What?" Shane asked.
"I thought it was something other than root beer," Cam explained.
"Dude, gross," Dustin said.
"Yeah, what's the point?" Shane added.
"Someone spiked the fruit punch at the eighth grade formal, and it was the nastiest thing ever," Tori said.
"Except possibly for lemon flavored Propel," Dustin added. "Dude, if I never have to taste alcohol again, it'll be too soon."
Cam smiled, "Good little Ninjas."
"We're not that young," Shane said, crossing his arms.
"You're not exactly legal either," Cam pointed out.
"You do realize, now that you've said that, that we know exactly how to piss you off," Hunter teased.
"Yeah, but that's nothing compared to my Dad's reaction," Cam said. "Hundred mile jog anyone?"
"Moving on," Blake said before a full scale argument ensued, "how 'bout someone else tells a story?"
"Something about you three in Junior High maybe?" Hunter prompted.
"We're gonna ask you to reciprocate," Tori said warningly.
"Well, duh," Blake said.
The Winds exchanged glances.
"Triathlon?" Shane suggested.
"Nah, tree incident?" Dustin put in.
"Getting back Dana Perkins?" Tori asked.
"Dude, we don't want to tell Cam that!" Dustin said.
"Hey, whatever you guys say here doesn't automatically go back to my father," Cam said.
"Promise?" Shane asked.
"I'm not in the habit of betraying confidences," Cam said. "So spill!"
"Dude, wouldn't you rather hear about the tree incident?" Dustin asked.
"You sure it's Cam you're worried about?" Shane asked.
"Well, in 7th grade, this girl at school was giving Tori a major rough time," Dustin said, glancing at Tori.
"She kept hiding my clothes in the locker room and... getting stuff in my purse wet," Tori said, wrinkling her nose.
"So?" Hunter asked.
"So she was having this big... um, Tor, I think you're going to have to tell this story," Shane said.
"She was having a big slumber party," Tori said, "and I was the only girl in our grade not invited. We knew the party was happening in the basement, so we'd be pretty safe as long as her parents were asleep. So around 1 AM we all snuck out of out houses and met at Alberts Park."
"We went with a four pack of toilet paper each," Shane interrupted.
"Gee, I wonder where this is going," Hunter said sarcastically.
"Thank goodness no one could find our house in junior high," Blake added.
Cam smiled. "Never underestimate the power of the PO box."
"Right," Tori said. "So we're all about halfway through our toilet paper, when we see this light turn on on the first floor. So we forgot about the other two rolls, and hightailed it down the hill."
"Like, a minute or something later, we hear this swearing and somebody shouting, 'We'll get you for this Ethan Faunt'," Dustin said.
"She totally thought it was her ex-boyfriend," Tori giggled.
"Apparently there were parental discussions over that," Shane said. "But in the end, with no proof, he didn't get in trouble."
"Which is kinda too bad, 'cause he kept fouling me in soccer," Dustin said.
Blake laughed. "Too funny, dude."
"All right, guys, your turn," Shane said.
"The farthest we could ever sneak out in the middle of the night was the academy grounds," Blake started. "So nothing quite so... exciting as TPing houses."
"But there was the time we turned the whole of the Academy into the Land of Oz," Hunter chuckled.
"What?" Cam and the Winds chorused.
"Not literally," Blake said. "But Sensei had just repaved this path with yellow brick for some reason..."
"It was probably on closeout," Hunter added helpfully.
"So we made a sign saying 'yellow brick road'," Blake said. "Then we put a sign on Sensei's office saying 'Oz the Great and Terrible'. We labeled a few other instructors' offices and then the signs for various training areas got relabeled as 'Munchkin', 'Quadling', 'Winkie', and 'Gillikin' countries."
"Sensei wasn't amused," Hunter said.
"We were on KP for two months I think," Blake said. "He said it was a supreme waste of time and a waste of paper."
Cam stared at them in amazement. "Did you guys use something to cover up the regular signs that wrecked them or something?"
"Nah, just paper and masking tape," Hunter said.
Cam gaped. "I'd have lost TV privileges for a night. Assuming Dad didn't just laugh and sign me up for some extracurricular thing on the assumption I just had too much free time on my hands."
Blake shook his head. "Sensei wasn't big on us doing extracurricular stuff. I think if it wouldn't have aroused too much suspicion, he wouldn't have put us in school."
Hunter shoved Blake, causing Tori to sit up. "You're too hard on him. He wouldn't have done that."
"Wait," Dustin said. "If you guys weren't allowed extracurriculars, how did you guys learn to ride like factory pros?"
"One of the instructors was into motocross," Blake explained.
"And a student who came back to visit and was a psychologist pointed out we needed to be well rounded people," Hunter added. "Not just excellent Thunder Ninjas."
"And we had all this excess energy that used to drive him nuts," Blake said. "Until the day the instructor took us to the motocross track--we rode 'til we were zonked, then read a bit and went to bed."
"And we were so much better focused in practice the next day that Sensei relented," Hunter finished.
"And we were allowed extracurriculars in high school, too," Blake said. "Though it helped that half the school--not just the instructors, the students too--was reminding him you need some of those to get into college. And it's not like we could put down 'Thunder Ninja'."
"Which reminds me, do any of you know where this rule about applying for the school literary magazine at the start of the year came from?" Hunter asked. "I was on staff at my old school and was hoping...."
Tori nudged Dustin. "We should go out for that next year, it'll look good on college applications."
"I'm not going to college," Dustin said.
Tori glared at him.
"Dad's written college recommendations before," Cam said. "We do have the martial arts school front and other such things for tax purposes."
"Ninja masters pay taxes?" Shane asked.
"Dude, you should have heard this one meeting between Sensei Omino and..."
"Don't remind me Blake," Hunter interrupted.
"Your Dad earns money?" Dustin added.
"I don't know all the details," Cam said. "But I don't have college loans, so I'm not complaining."
"We should be so lucky," Blake muttered.
Hunter squeezed his brother's shoulder. "You should see what some of Sensei's students have done with the college funds Mom and Dad started. It's impressive, dude."
"Is it just me or is the fire finally low enough for marshmallows?" Shane asked.
"Oh, yeah," Cam said. Shane reached into a box for S'more supplies, while Cam went into a bag.
"I'm afraid to ask what you've got in there, dude," Dustin said.
Cam came up with a handful of barbecue forks.
"Dude, you brought barbecue forks to a bonfire?" Blake asked.
"Do you know how many germs are on sticks?" Cam asked, handing them around.
"Dude, don't you think putting color coded tape on them is a bit much?" Dustin asked.
"This way if I'm short one, I know who to bug," Cam said. "Honestly, I just had to go find crimson and turquoise as these were all ready taped up from college stuff. I didn't think Hunter and Tori would appreciate orange and purple if everyone else got their Ranger colors."
"You did a lot of bonfires in college?" Hunter asked, taking the bag of marshmallows from Shane and selecting one.
"Yeah." Cam accepted the bag of marshmallows from Hunter. "They're fun, they're relaxing, they're a great way to actually get to talk with a girl without the pressure of it being one on one."
"You actually talked to girls?" Hunter asked, incredulously. He shoved the fork into the fire and lit a marshmallow.
"I think there must have been an IQ lowering portion to Lothor's love spell. I usually know chocolates work a lot better than acne wash." Cam held his marshmallow above the fire, toasting it.
"You know, no offense Cam, but you don't strike me as much of a heartbreaker," Tori said, checking the color of her marshmallow.
"Once or twice," Cam said quietly. "Got my heart broken a couple times too. Then I found the right girl."
"What?" the other five chorused.
Hunter carefully forced a swallow. "I mean, you're not exactly dating anyone."
"I am," Cam said. "Her name's Trini, she's in graduate school at Oxford University in England. I was supposed to join her in the fall. Then Lothor happened and I had to defer."
Tori looked at him sympathetically.
Cam shrugged. "No good being in love if there's no world left."
Hunter stood, placing a hand on Cam's forehead. "Who are you and what have you done with Cam?"
Cam rolled his eyes and batted Hunter's hand away. "I'm allowed to be philosophical once in awhile."
"Uh-huh," Hunter said.
* * *
"I think I need a receipt for that barbecue fork," Shane said as he handed his back.
Cam counted. "Nah, I have all six."
"This worked out pretty well," Blake said, "barbecue fork insanity aside."
Cam gave him a withering glare.
"Hey, a little team bonding now and then never hurt anyone," Shane said.
"Right," Hunter added.
"So next time," Tori started.
"Next time I get to pick," Cam said vehemently.
The others exchanged glances, visions of a team expedition to the science center dancing through their heads.
"No science center trips," Hunter said.
"Not what I was thinking," Cam said, smiling widely.
"That what are you planning?" Tori asked.
"Wait and see," Cam said.
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