Disclaimer: Power Rangers Ninja Storm is the property of BVE and Village Roadshow Pictures. Their mecha's really the brainchild of Toei and Renaissance Atlantic Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. L. Frank Baum wrote the Oz books which Tori and Blake discuss. I think they're public domain at this point, but no copyright infringement is intended anyway. (What do you mean you haven't read them?)
Thanks to White Zeo and Megan for the beta reads, and Selma McCrory for some help writing the ending.
"This makes no sense, Kelzaks and no monster," Shane said, as he ducked a couple of blows.
"Not even Marah or Kapri," Dustin added, foot sweeping a Kelzak.
"Yeah, what gives?" Hunter added, ducking at the last moment so that two Kelzaks ran into each other.
"Dude, why'd we bother morphing?" Dustin added.
"Move closer together," Shane said. "They're trying to separate us."
Tori and Dustin, who had been double teaming, moved towards Shane. Hunter leapt over a Kelzak that was charging him to join the other three. Cam dodged expertly, rolling to join the group.
Blake was busy with three different Kelzaks, and couldn't gain any ground.
"Blake!" Hunter exclaimed.
"We'd better go to him," Shane decided.
"Right," the other four chorused.
They were immediately surrounded by Kelzaks. Including the three who had been attacking Blake. Blake moved to join the rest of the team, when a scroll descended from above, and hit Blake, knocking him down.
He didn't get up.
"Blake!" Hunter exclaimed for the second time in two minutes.
The others doubled their fighting efforts, but the Kelzaks retreated and teleported away.
"Weird," Shane observed as the others rushed to Blake's side.
* * *
"But why did you recall the Kelzaks, Uncle?" Marah asked. "I thought the plan was to get all six Rangers?"
"As usual, I appear to have underestimated the Rangers," Lothor said. "On the bright side, the spell being cast on the Navy Thunder Ranger will probably not only take him out of commission, but the Crimson and Blue Rangers as well."
"Ooh, good point," Marah said. "That's almost better than the original plan. How are they going to fight with half a team?"
"How indeed," Lothor said.
* * *
Electrical bolts cascaded over Blake's body.
"Oh, boy," Hunter said.
"He's demorphing, dude," Dustin said.
"You think?" Cam asked.
"He's more than demorphing," Tori said. "He's shrinking!"
And he was. Besides demorphing, Blake's body decreased in stature, his shoulders narrowed, and his muscles lost definition. When the process had stopped, he appeared to be a six year old boy.
The others demorphed.
"Blake," Hunter said, shaking his brother gently. "Blake, buddy, are you all right?"
"Buddy? Hunter why..." Blake stopped. "Why do I sound like a kid?"
"Dude, you are a kid," Dustin said.
Shane smacked him upside the head.
"What?" Dustin asked.
"Never mind him, Blake," Tori said, reaching out to hug him.
Blake recoiled against his brother.
"We'd better get you back to Ops," Cam said, frowning.
"OK, you guys go ahead, we'll be along in a minute," Hunter said.
Shane and Dustin nodded, and streaked out.
Cam eyed Hunter for a moment. "What's wrong?"
"What's the minimum safe age for Ninja Streaking?" Hunter asked.
"Thirt--oh," Cam said. "I'll have CyberCam teleport..."
"We need a minute, I think," Hunter said.
"OK, call me when you're ready," Cam said, streaking after Shane and Dustin.
"Blake," Tori began, taking a step towards the Thunders.
Blake tried to take another step back, but again ran into his brother.
"We'll be along in a minute, Tor," Hunter said.
Tori frowned. Then streaked towards Ops.
"Look, Blake, Tori's not..."
"I know. I know she's my girlfriend. It's just..."
Hunter waited patiently, but Blake didn't say anymore.
"It's just what?"
"Cam's probably monitoring. I'm pleading the fifth."
"Come on, tell me," Hunter encouraged.
Blake shifted from foot to foot. "'kay, I'll whisper, but you need to bend over and promise not to tell."
"I promise." Hunter leaned down.
"Girls have cooties," Blake whispered in his ear.
Hunter barely managed to keep a straight face. "OK," Hunter said. He raised his morpher. "Hunter for Cam."
"Go for Cam."
"Beam us up, Scotty," Hunter joked.
"What's the magic word?"
"Wingardium leviosa," Blake joked.
Hunter rolled his eyes. "Please."
The teleportation system took them to Ninja Ops.
* * *
Cam had brought out the medical scanners. Blake perched on the table, refusing to let go of Hunter's hand.
Cam ran several different scans using a multitude of scanners.
"Well?" Hunter asked.
"It's pretty much what it looks like. He has the body of a six year old, right down to the brain chemistry and, as near as the scans can detect, hormone levels," Cam said.
"Can you reverse it?" Hunter asked.
"I'm sure there's a way," Cam said. "Just don't ask me what it is."
"I'd like to get a blood test to..."
Blake threw himself into Hunter's arms. "No!"
Hunter gave him a quick squeeze, then tried to pry Blake off him.
"OK," Cam said. "I'll analyze what I've got first. I didn't know you hated needles that much."
"He had a really bad experience with booster shots," Hunter said as he finally convinced Blake to let go.
"Right, why don't you guys go through the library, see if you can come up with a magical solution. I'll go through the scans and see if I can come up with something scientific," Cam said.
"Right," the others chorused.
Hunter began handing out scrolls.
"Dude, I can still read," Blake said when Hunter went right by him to hand one to Dustin.
"Maybe you should rest li'l bro," Hunter said.
"I can help!" Blake exclaimed.
"He seems OK. If he wants to help, why not let him until Cam says otherwise?"
"Thanks, Tori," Blake said as Hunter handed him a scroll.
They all settled at the Ninja Ops table poring through scrolls. Blake sat between Hunter and Tori.
"Dude, we look like the Scooby Gang or something," Dustin said.
"I'm Giles," Cam said from his station at the mainframe.
"Cam, you watch Buffy?" Shane asked.
"A friend gave me the second season as a present," Cam said, hoping he could keep the DVD buying binge he'd been on the week before a secret.
"So where'd the first season come from?" Hunter teased.
"I'm Xander," Blake added, partly to change the subject and partly to keep anyone else from calling the only other male.
"Dude, you're too young to be anyone other than Dawn," Dustin joked.
Blake stuck his tongue out at Dustin.
"Well, if Blake's Xander, I'm Willow," Tori said, wrapping an arm around Blake's shoulders and pulling him close.
Blake yelped in a mixture of surprise and fright.
"Sorry," Tori said, hanging her head and biting her lip.
Blake winced, realizing he'd hurt her. "I.. I.." the sight of Tori in pain--that he'd caused--became too much for Blake to handle. He didn't know what to say, what to do. He just had to get away. "I'll be in my room."
Blake dashed out of Ninja Ops command and into the living quarters.
"I'll go talk to him," Hunter said, and took off after his brother.
Shane reached out and squeezed Tori's shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Tor. I don't think it's anything to do with you."
Tori got up and examined the scans over Cam's shoulder.
"It's not your fault, Tori," Cam said. "Blake's hormonal levels are that of a six year old."
"Why does that not give me the warm fuzzies?" Tori sighed.
"Because you want your relationship to be about something other than hormones?" Cam said.
"Do you blame me?"
"No," Cam said. "But that's not all. His brain chemistry is more similar to a six year old than a sixteen year old right now. His social skills may be more advanced, but on an emotional level... His feelings for you... well, he's not so sure what to do about them now, I think. But it seems like he ran out of here because you were upset, not because you hugged him. If I were reading about this in a journal rather than living it it'd be very interesting from a psychological standpoint but..."
"We are living it," Tori said, biting her lip again.
Cam turned away from the computers and stood up. He put an arm around Tori's shoulders and drew her in. "It'll be OK. Just give him some time. I'm sure things will go back to normal when we get Blake back to normal."
Tori gulped. Then nodded. "Thanks, Cam."
She went back to the table to look through scrolls.
* * *
"Blake?" Hunter asked as he stuck his head into their shared room; formerly the Ninja Ops guest room.
Blake was sitting on his bed, the bottom bunk, hugging his knees to his chest. He had kicked off his shoes, his dirty-white socks bright against the navy bedspread.
"Blake? What's wrong?" Hunter asked, sitting next to Blake on the bed and laying a hand on his brother's shoulder.
"I don't know, I'm so confused," Blake said. "I mean, it's *Tori* I still care about her but... she gets near me and I freak out and just want to run." Blake finished in a rush.
Hunter ruffled his hair and started rubbing his back. "I think the problem is you have the memories of a sixteen year old, but the body of a six year old."
"So you're saying we're all about the hormones? That's not good," Blake said.
"No, I'm saying your feelings haven't changed but what you want to do about them has," Hunter said.
"You ready to go back to command?"
Blake shook his head. "I... I think I just need to stay in here a bit."
"You OK?" Hunter asked.
"A little hungry," Blake said, honestly. "And I can't keep my feelings straight and I just... I just don't want to deal with the whole team right now."
Hunter checked his watch. It was nearly one. "No wonder you're hungry, it's well past lunchtime. I'll get you a snack, it'll probably take awhile to get lunch together with the whole team here."
When Hunter got back from the kitchen, he found Blake standing on the desk chair trying to reach a book on the top shelf above the desk.
"You need something, bro?" Hunter asked.
Blake sighed. "The Marvelous Land of Oz."
"Sure." Hunter easily reached the book, then handed it to Blake along with a package of granola bars. "Here, eat. Both of them. I'm going to go remind people we're supposed to be eating."
Blake forced a smile, then crashed out the bed. He opened the granola bar and started munching, then opened the book.
"Need anything else, bro?" Hunter asked.
"I think I'm OK," Blake sighed.
Hunter reached out and smoothed his hair. "You rest, I won't be far."
He left the room, closing the door behind them.
* * *
"Right, so we have everyone's sandwich orders," Tori said. "Do you think we should stop at the thrift store too? Blake might want something to wear besides his shrunken Ninja Uniform."
"Great idea, but what size?" Hunter asked.
"Probably a ten-twelve or fourteen-sixteen," Dustin said.
The others stared at him in shock. "Dude, you guys unpack the clothes, I have to sell them."
"Oh," Hunter managed.
"Good, you can come with me," Tori said.
"Good idea," Dustin said. "Otherwise you'll get Blake the dorky clothes you think are cute."
Tori didn't say anything, just stuck out her tongue.
"OK, we'll be back with lunch soon," Tori said.
* * *
Blake was still reading in his room when there was a knock at the door.
He hoped it was Cam. He really wanted it to be Hunter, but Hunter wouldn't knock; it was just as much his room as Blake's.
"Who is it?"
"It's Tori, can I come in?"
"I guess," Blake said.
Tori opened the door. She had a large plastic bag in one hand and a paper one in the other. "I've got lunch. And some smaller clothes if you want to wear something other than your Ninja Uniform. Store closes at 5, so if you're going to make sure they fit..."
"You're not going to want a fashion show, are you?" Blake asked.
"We can worry about other stuff later, for now, we just want to be sure you're comfortable. There's some larger sweats there that should do for pajamas."
"Thanks, Tor," Blake said, digging into the lunch bag.
There was an awkward pause.
Tori sat on the desk chair, peeking at the cover of Blake's book. "I always liked The Land of Oz. The Gump was always my favorite."
Blake was careful to swallow his food before speaking. "I always liked the Orks in The Scarecrow of Oz. But right now... well, gee, if Tip can cope with having been a boy for as long as he could remember, and then find out he's really a girl and get turned back and manage just fine... Well, I can handle being six for awhile."
Tori smiled. "The Scarecrow of Oz was cool because of Trot."
Blake shook his head. "Yet another girl coming from our world to Oz. I'll say this much for Ruth Plumly Thompson, she actually managed to bring boys to Oz too--unlike Mr. Baum."
"What about Button Bright?" Tori asked.
Blake snorted. "Him? He was always getting lost! He makes Dustin look like he's got both feet firmly planted on the ground and has the I.Q. of, well, Cam. He hardly counts."
Blake smiled. "At least it's good to know we can still find things to talk about without the whole hormonal thing coming into play."
"You're sure it's not coming into play? It doesn't happen often, but Cam's readings could be wrong, you know."
"Uh, Tori, I hate to break it to you, but I'm sitting here fighting the whole 'girls have cooties' response," Blake said. "Please don't take it personally, but I just can't seem to help it."
"Well, it explains a lot. You feeling better?"
"Do you want to come back to Ops with me?" Tori asked.
"Actually, I'd rather stay here," Blake said. "I've got this nasty feeling if I go back in there, Cam's going to insist on that blood test..."
Tori smiled. "Say no more. I'm outta here. You need anything?"
Blake shook his head.
"Ok. We're down the hall if you need us," Tori said as she left.
* * *
"Blake?" Hunter said about an hour later, poking his head into their room.
His brother was curled up on his bed, lying on his side, head resting on a navy pillow. He was hugging a crimson-cased pillow with one arm, the other holding onto The Marvelous Land of Oz--he was about half way through.
Hunter entered the room and closed the door. He sat down next to Blake on the bed, rubbing his back. "It's okay," Hunter soothed.
Blake climbed into Hunter's lap. Hunter sighed, then pulled Blake into a warm hug.
"What's going on?" Blake asked quietly, climbing down as Hunter gently hinted that it was time to move now.
"We need you in Ops," Hunter said.
Hunter sighed. "Cam wants to run more tests."
Blake gulped, but took Hunter's hand, allowing himself to be led back into the main section of Ninja Ops.
Cam approached them. "Blake, good, I need..."
The alarm went off.
"The quarry, *again*?" Dustin asked.
"At least there's a monster this time," Shane said. "Less likely it's another trap."
"Sensei, can you watch Blake for a few minutes?" Hunter asked.
"If you're going, I'm going," Blake said.
"Blake, we don't know how morphing will affect you at that age," Cam said. "It might interact with the spell so we can't change you back."
"Just the five of us, then," Hunter said. "Don't worry, bro, Sensei will take good care of you.
"No! Don't leave me!" Blake attached himself to Hunter's leg.
Hunter frowned. This was the wrong time for Blake to start acting his apparent age.
"Don't worry, Hunter, the four of us can take care of it," Tori said. "You can't form the Thunder Cannon without Blake anyway."
"You sure you're up to this, Tor?" Dustin asked.
"I've been wanting to hit something all day," Tori replied glibly.
Shane caught Blake's eye, gesturing towards Tori.
"Can't you stay, too?" Blake asked, gazing up at her.
"Watch the puppy dog eyes, bro, they're lethal," Hunter scolded gently.
"Not as lethal as his girlfriend's," Dustin murmured.
"I'm going," Tori said stubbornly.
Cam caught Shane's gaze, tapping his glasses. Shane nodded in agreement, they did need to keep an eye on her.
"Ok, let's go," Shane said.
Cam and the Winds raced out of Ninja Ops.
Sensei, Hunter, and Blake grouped around the terminal.
Hunter sat in Cam's old chair, Blake climbing into his lap. Hunter rolled his eyes, but figured accepting it was better than arguing. Blake needed comfort--and there wasn't anyone else Blake could go to. Sensei perched on the keyboard.
Blake reached out a finger to stroke Sensei's nose, but Hunter realized it and pulled Blake's hand away before Sensei could notice.
* * *
The four Rangers landed in the quarry.
Tori didn't wait, she just started wiping the floor with Kelzaks.
The three guys exchanged glances and joined the fray, occasionally glancing over their shoulders to make sure Tori was all right.
Soon, Tori was battling one of four remaining Kelzaks. More specifically, she was pounding it to a bloody pulp in a flurry of rapid kicks and punches.
Dustin's Kelzak got away from him. And headed straight for Tori, brandishing his sword.
"Tori!" all five male Rangers yelled at once (Blake and Hunter over the com).
Tori ignored the warning, continuing to pound the stuffing out of the Kelzak she was concentrating on. Shane launched an air attack, managing to knock down the Kelzak trying to ambush her just as it reached up to conk her over the head.
Dustin and Cam quickly scared off the last two Kelzaks, then moved to the other two to regroup.
"Let's put 'em together, now," Shane said, clearly not in a messing around mood.
Shane fired without bothering with the voice command. The monster was crushed under a 1000 ton weight.
"Great, another scroll," Tori sighed as the scroll of empowerment dropped to grow the monster to building size.
"Tori, get your butt back to Ops, now," Shane commanded.
"You need me!"
"We have Power Disks to control your zord by remote," Cam reminded gently.
"Did you miss the Kelzak trying to take your head off?" Dustin added.
"We need to know you're safe before we can take care of this guy," Shane put in.
"Tori, please come back," Blake said over the com, his voice shaking.
"No fair, Hunter, I know you put him up to that," Tori muttered under her breath. Out loud, she said, "All right, I'm coming."
She streaked back to Ops, leaving Shane, Dustin, and Cam to call the zords and finish off the monster.
* * *
Tori walked into Ninja Ops Command a few minutes later.
"Tori!" Blake launched himself from Hunter's lap, bolted across the room, stood on his toes, and attached himself to his girlfriend's waist. "Don't scare me like that."
Tori hugged him back, awkwardly; she wasn't really sure how to react. She was relieved that Blake still cared about her. But his manner of showing it brought into sharp focus just how young Blake had become.
"I'm OK," she soothed, hugging him tight. She kept one arm around him and caressed his hair with her free hand
They needed to figure out how to restore Blake to his rightful age, and soon.
She looked up, realizing that Hunter was trying to catch her eye.
"Want help?" he mouthed.
Tori shook her head. It was OK for right now.
Hunter nodded, turning his attention back to the screen where the zords were kicking the monster's butt.
The Storm Megazord went into lightening mode and launched a ramp attack, finishing off the monster.
* * *
Cam and the others filed into Ninja Ops a few minutes later.
Shane raised an eyebrow when he found Blake, Hunter, and Tori seated at the table, poring over scrolls. Blake was sitting between his girlfriend and his brother, leaning against Tori.
Tori winked at Shane, but said nothing.
Cam sighed. They looked so comfortable. But he needed to disturb them. "Sorry, Blake, but we need to run those tests now."
Blake looked up at him, gulping visibly. Then glanced at Tori, appeared to steel himself and stood up.
"Okay," Blake said.
Cam led Blake to his workbench. "This is gonna be a stick, but it won't hurt long, I promise."
"What's that for?" Blake asked.
Hunter came up behind him, placing a hand on either shoulder.
"It's a blood test," Cam said.
Almost involuntarily, Blake backed into Hunter, who held him firmly. "Cam needs this test, bro."
"And I only need a few drops. It's not like at the doctor's office," Cam said. He picked up a box, opened it, and pulled out a small plastic case, like a mini-vial. He unscrewed the cap, then picked up a squarish device with a round protrusion on one end. He placed the plastic thing on it. "Ready, Blake?"
Blake nodded, taking one of Hunter's hands and squeezing.
"OK, give me your other hand."
Blake held up his left hand in confusion.
Cam took the plastic case off the instrument, revealing a thin needle.
"Ow! Blake, don't break my hand," Hunter said.
"It's OK, Blake," Cam said. He took Blake's index finger and inserted the needle. It beeped, and Cam pulled it back out.
"Ow," Blake said quietly. "OK, ready to try again."
"Try again? That was it," Cam said. "We're done."
"Oh. That wasn't so bad."
"Right, give me a few minutes with these results," Cam said.
Hunter checked Blake's finger. "Wow, it's not even bleeding."
The two joined the Winds at the table, poring through more scrolls.
A few minutes later, Cam slumped in his seat in relief.
"Did you figure it out?" Blake asked, bouncing out of his seat to Cam's side.
Cam ruffled Blake's hair. Blake batted away Cam's hand, glaring at him.
"What is it, Cam?"
"Hunter, there is no call to be short," Sensei said, leaping to join the others around Cam's computer station.
Cam turned to face the group. "The bad news is, I still don't know how to reverse the spell."
Blake moved closer to Hunter. "What's the good news?"
"Your body, your body chemistry, your hormone levels, everything... it's exactly consistent with that of a six year old boy," Cam said. "Which means, if we can't figure out how to reverse this, you should just grow up again on your own."
"So he's not in any danger?" Hunter asked.
"No," Cam said.
"Yes," Blake said at the same time.
"Blake?" Shane asked nervously.
"I don't think I could survive Junior High a second time," Blake said quietly.
Hunter drew him into a one armed hug. "You've got a big brother in high school to protect you now."
"Dude, you'll be in college by then," Blake said, voice shaking.
"Even scarier for the bullies," Hunter smiled.
"Oh, yay," Blake said sarcastically, returning to the scrolls.
"Right, so back to finding magical solutions then," Shane said.
This time all six Rangers hit the scrolls.
* * *
"Dude, I think I found something," Dustin said from the computer terminal, several hours and a run for Chinese food later.
"What?" Cam said, coming over.
"I was looking over the log again, 'cause I thought I found a drawing that might help."
"Did it?" Shane asked, joining the other two at the terminal.
Blake, Tori, Hunter, and Sensei soon joined them.
"The drawing? Nah, but watch the scroll, dudes," Dustin said, playing the log from that morning back in slow motion.
They watched as the scroll hit Blake, and then rebounded into some bushes.
"You're thinking..." Shane said.
"It might still be there," Dustin said.
"Right, we'll need some protective gloves and a container," Cam said, going to get said supplies from his work area.
"I think that is a task best completed in the morning," Sensei said.
"But Sensei..." Shane started.
"You heard Cam earlier, Blake is in no danger. You will be cutting your curfews very fine if you do not leave soon. I do not wish for you to loose track of time while searching for the scroll and cause your parents unnecessary worry. We can hardly speed up the process of reversing this spell as Blake should be going to sleep anyway."
"But I'm not tired," Blake yawned.
"Sensei's right, buddy, bedtime," Hunter said.
Blake frowned, giving Hunter an odd look. "I told you, I'm not tired." Blake yawned again.
"Blake," Hunter started.
"Are you coming?" Blake sighed.
"Go on to bed, bro, I'll be along in a minute," Hunter said.
"Hunter?" Blake said, unsteady.
"It's OK. Go change and brush your teeth, I'll be there in a minute."
The other Rangers eyed Hunter strangely, but said nothing.
Blake sighed and headed into the living quarters.
Hunter sunk onto the floor next to Sensei's guinea pig pagoda.
"Rangers," Sensei said.
The group formed around him. "We will deal with this in the morning. That includes the scroll. Go home, get some rest. Blake is safe, you will be better able to help him when you are fresh."
"Yes, Sensei," the Winds chorused.
Shane took the protective gear and container from Cam. "We'll go see if we can find it in the morning on the way up here."
Cam nodded. "Call if you need help."
Cam would be very shocked if the Winds actually needed to stop anywhere in the morning, judging by the look on Shane's face.
"Will do," Shane said. "'night, Sensei."
With that, the Winds left.
Cam plunked down in front of the computer.
"You too, Cam," Sensei said to his wayward son.
"One minute, let me get the automated back-ups started," Cam said. "Ok, done."
Cam stood. "Hunter, Blake's probably waiting."
"I'll be along in a minute," Hunter said.
Cam sighed and sauntered off into the living quarters.
"I gather you wanted to speak privately, Hunter?" Sensei asked.
"How do you do that?"
"I am a father as well as a Sensei, you know."
Hunter nodded, sighed, and buried his head in his hands. "How am I going to take care of a six year old?"
"You are not alone in this, Hunter."
"You don't get it. Sensei Omino he... I think he took us in because we were destined to be Thunder Rangers. He probably won't want..."
"Hunter, do not dwell on the future you have no control over," Sensei said. "You and the others may very well discover a way to reverse this."
Hunter nodded. "I'm trying. But you don't get it. If Blake and I weren't destined to be the Thunder Rangers--we'd have been in an orphanage instead of the Thunder Academy, I'm sure of it. If we free Sensei Omino, and Blake's not a Ranger... what are we going to do?" Hunter nearly whispered the last part.
"You can stay here," Sensei said.
"Cam will be thrilled," Hunter said sarcastically.
The guinea pig winked. "He'll come around. If he hasn't all ready. Go, take care of your brother. And get some sleep. Things will seem easier in the morning."
"They do all ready. Thanks, Sensei," Hunter said. He rose, bowed, and headed for the living quarters to get Blake settled into bed.
* * *
"What time is it?" Shane asked as he, Dustin, and Tori piled into Tori's van.
"9, dude," Dustin said.
"You're thinking we've got an hour and a half 'til my curfew and we should swing by the quarry?" Tori asked.
"Why not?" Shane asked. "It's only a forty five minute drive into town and barring traffic..."
"If Sensei finds out that we didn't listen to him, we'll have another ten mile jog," Dustin pointed out.
"Who's gonna tell him?" Shane asked.
The others exchanged glances. Tori glanced over her shoulder to make sure the guys were buckled up. "Right. Quarry Express. Let's go."
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Tori pulled into the rock quarry. She, Dustin, and Shane divided up the flashlights and protective gloves, then began to search.
"Dudes, over here," Dustin said, his flashlight trained on a bush a short distance from where Blake had been hit by the scroll.
"Awesome, dude," Shane said.
He handed Dustin the container. Dustin donned his gloves, and took it. Shane, also wearing the gloves, picked up the scroll and carefully slid it into the cylindrical container. Dustin sealed it.
"So we leave it in my van and bring it back in the morning?" Tori asked.
"Exactly," Shane said.
* * *
"It's OK, li'l bro, wake up!"
Blake shrank away, huddling against the wall.
I'll destroy you.
"Blake," Hunter's voice was soft, concerned. Tender. "Wake up, it's just a dream."
Blake opened his eyes, still shaking.
The reading light over his bed came on, and a gentle hand ran over his hair. "Shh, it's OK. Calm down."
Hunter. The real Hunter. The one who made the imagined monsters surrounding him shrink back in fright. Not the Jell-O coated monster hell-bent on destroying him.
"Hunter!" Blake threw himself into his brother's arms. Instinctively, Hunter sat on the bed as he returned the hug, allowing Blake to climb into his lap.
"It's OK," Hunter said, rubbing Blake's back soothingly with the palm of his hand. "You're OK."
He just let Blake cling to him, unlike earlier in the day. Maybe it was because Blake was shaking, his breathing ragged. Maybe he'd been calling out in his sleep. Whatever it was that caused Hunter to allow this, Blake was grateful. He'd been worried that maybe he was bothering Hunter somehow. The honest comfort came something of a relief, and after a few moments, he relaxed in Hunter's arms. Blake's heart stopped racing and his breathing evened out. He felt warm, and safe. Like the dream was a million light years away.
"What was that all about?" Hunter asked.
"A nightmare," Blake said evasively.
"Well, duh, but what kind of nightmare?" Hunter asked.
'I can't tell Hunter. The last thing he needs is to know I'm still having nightmares about Vertigo Island.'
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Fine," Hunter said. He forcibly pulled Blake off his lap, dumping him on the bunk.
"The rabid monkey aliens dream again, OK?" Blake lied.
Hunter frowned. "You haven't had that dream since you were..."
"Eight," Blake finished.
"Liar," Hunter said, moving to climb into his own bunk.
Blake curled up in a ball on his side. "Please don't make me tell you."
He started shaking again.
Hunter relented and sat on the bed. Then changed his mind and stretched out next to Blake.
"Every thing's going to be OK," Hunter soothed, pulling Blake close. "We're together, we can get through anything."
Blake snuggled against him, glad of the comfort. And that Hunter had quit pressing about the nightmares.
"Sure you don't want to talk about it?"
Blake sighed. He'd thought too soon.
"C'mon, man, you'll feel better."
"There was a monster in the closet."
"Go to sleep," Hunter said, pressing his forehead to the top of Blake's head.
"Sorry I woke you," Blake said.
"No problem," Hunter said. He started humming.
Blake closed his eyes and drifted off into a much more pleasant sleep.
* * *
"Sweet dreams, li'l bro," Hunter whispered into Blake's hair.
The warmth of Blake in his arms was soothing. He just wished he'd gotten Blake to open up-- to tell him why he'd been calling out Hunter's name in fright.
Maybe he'd have better luck when Blake was older again.
Blake was sound asleep, Hunter could return to his own bed now. He tried to disentangle himself from Blake, but the small boy stirred when he moved. Hunter sighed, and settled back down. Maybe he'd better just sleep where he was.
* * *
"So what time did the Winds say they were going to come in today?" Cam asked as Hunter put pancakes onto his plate.
"They didn't, they have to go looking for the scroll, remember," Hunter replied, checking the pancakes the pan. "You want seconds, Blake?"
"Yes, please," Blake said.
Cam chuckled. "If you believe the Winds are going to have to look for that scroll this morning you..."
"Morning, Sensei," Hunter interrupted, as Sensei entered the Ninja Ops kitchenette. Hunter picked up Blake's plate and put two more pancakes on it, then gave it back to his brother.
"Morning, Dad," Cam added. He took out a bowl and filled it with guinea pig chow. This he placed on the kitchen counter that doubled as a table, next to where his father stood.
Sensei frowned at the bowl.
Blake cut a small piece of pancake and watched Cam and Hunter carefully. When their backs were turned, he slipped the piece of pancake onto the top of Sensei's guinea pig chow. He winked and smiled innocently at Sensei.
Sensei winked back.
* * *
Hunter entered Ninja Ops after leaving an antisocial Blake in their room. The Winds had all ready arrived, and Cam was scanning the spell scroll from within its protective container.
Cam pulled Hunter aside, "Any idea why Dad was licking his hands earlier?"
"Must be a new guinea pig thing," Cam frowned.
"Hey, Hunter. How's Blake?" Tori asked.
"Acting more and more like a six year old," Hunter replied. "It's freaky. How early did you have to get up to get the scroll here so quickly?"
"We got lucky and found it really quickly," Shane winked.
Hunter realized the Winds had gone looking the night before and used the excuse to sleep a little later than they otherwise could have.
"I've just determined it's OK to take it out of the tube," Cam added, donning protective gloves. "Let's see what we can find out."
He opened the container, and took out the scroll. He unrolled it carefully.
Behind him, Hunter could hear light footsteps. Blake came up next to him and took his hand.
"Feeling better, bro?" Hunter asked quietly.
Blake nodded. "Want to try to help."
"Ugh, what dialect is this in?" Cam groaned.
Blake craned his neck to look at the scroll. "When single shines the triple sun..."
Hunter shoved his brother. "Very funny."
"You never like my jokes," Blake pouted.
"Dude, I thought you'd want to borrow some comic books," Dustin said, pulling a stack out of his backpack.
"Ooh, Young Justice!" Blake exclaimed, abandoning Hunter at Cam's workbench and running to the table. He plopped down the in front of the stacks--which Dustin had strategically placed next to Tori.
"Is that Robin and Superboy?" Tori asked. "I didn't know Dick Greyson and Clark Kent were the same age."
"Uh, actually, that's Tim Drake and a young clone of the real Superman," Blake said, "you see..."
His explanation of the various events of D.C. comic book canon was very animated and detailed. Tori smiled, just taking it all in. Blake was cute. And not running away from her. All was good.
Meanwhile, Sensei was translating the scroll for Cam.
"This tells us the spell that Lothor used, but does that really help us?" Hunter asked skeptically.
Shane looked at the translation. "Looks kinda familiar, actually; let me see if I can remember what scroll I was looking at last night."
Hunter walked over to the reference area and pulled up a medium size stack. "These are the ones you looked through."
"You sorted them all?" Shane asked.
"When we cleaned up this morning, Cam and I decided to put everything away by what pile everyone was looking at," Hunter said. "We figured that way if we found something that rang any bells, we'd have an easier time finding it again."
Shane grabbed a scroll. Hunter handed another to Cam, Tori, and Dustin. Sensei was still translating, and Blake was so contentedly reading through Dustin's comics by that point, it seemed best to let him have at it. He just sat on the other side of Blake, who Hunter noticed was sitting very close to Tori. At least some of Blake's sixteen year old self was still there.
"Here it is!" Shane exclaimed a few minutes later.
Cam read over his shoulder. "No way, it can't be that easy."
"Keep reading," Shane prompted.
"Oh boy," Cam said.
"What?" Blake asked, putting down the comic and getting up.
Cam reached around Tori and pushed Blake back into his seat. "Maybe it's better if you don't see."
Hunter craned his neck to read Shane's scroll upside down. "How risky is that?"
"Not very," Cam reassured him. "Infection at worst--but we can guard against that. It sounds worse than it really is; doesn't have to be much," Cam replied.
"I don't know about this, dude," Shane said.
"The risk might outweigh the benefits," Hunter added, his arm wrapping around Blake's shoulders and pulling him close.
"Ow! Hunter you're hurting me!" Blake squeaked.
Hunter loosened his grip. But not by much.
"What's wrong? Guys, I'm going to find out anyway. You need to tell me," Blake said, exasperation creeping into his voice.
"Where do we find some of these herbs?" Shane asked.
"I've been gathering some as part of my Samurai studies," Cam said.
"You won't need them?" Tori asked.
"Let me worry about that; we need them now, we'll use them," Cam insisted.
"The cilantro I think we have in the kitchen, marjoram is sold at the grocery store," Cam started writing down a list. "I think we'll need a trip to the Blue Bay Botanical Gardens for the witch hazel..."
The Winds and Cam quickly put together a list of herbs and other ingredients they would need.
"What about this?" Shane asked, pointing at an item on the scroll.
"Believe it or not, we have one in the collection of dangerous objects that we keep under lock and key away from the wrong hands," Cam replied.
Shane raised an eyebrow.
"Sometimes they come in handy," Cam explained.
"Wait, dangerous objects?" Blake asked. "What do we have to do?"
"Anything else?" Shane inquired.
"Hello, you need to explain things to the patient here," Blake interrupted.
Cam started making another list, "Rubbing alcohol, Bactine, Neosporin..."
"Maybe I should say victim? What are we disinfecting?" Blake pleaded.
Cam ignored him. "Liquid bandages. We have the cloth kind, but those are much better."
Blake got very frustrated. "Tori, they're ignoring me! Will you please beat them up?"
"Don't worry, Blake, we'll have you back to normal soon." Tori kissed him on the forehead.
"But," Blake squeaked.
"We'll be back soon, just sit tight," Shane said.
The Winds left Ops at a brisk pace.
"It's OK, little bro. There's nothing to worry about," Hunter said, trying to keep his tone reassuring.
"Then what's with all the disinfectant?" Blake asked.
Hunter picked Blake up. "Let's go watch Labyrinth."
"Do we have to?"
"It's either that or the super hero block on ABC Family."
Hunter made a face. He shouldn't have suggested that. But he dutifully took Blake into the TV room.
This left Cam free to set things up for the spell.
* * *
"Ok, guys, we're ready for you," Cam said, going into the rec. room to fetch them awhile later.
"Why didn't you say something when the Winds came back? I could've helped..."
"You were helping, Hunter. You were taking care of Blake."
Blake frowned at that, but didn't say anything. He decided he needed to start acting like the sixteen year old he was rather than the six year old he seemed to be.
Maybe then the others would quit treating him like a kid.
"Come on, we're waiting," Cam said impatiently.
Blake let Hunter lead him on. The needle poke Cam needed to analyze his hormone levels hadn't been a big deal. However, disinfectant, liquid bandages, and Neosporin didn't a comfortable feeling make. He hated being cut up and he had a feeling that the reversal spell was going to involve precisely that.
The Winds and Sensei were working on something in a brazier on the table. It was unlit, but the smells coming from it made Blake's nose twitch. Tori looked up as the three of them came in, and Blake couldn't decipher the look on her face before it disappeared.
Blake steeled himself, trying to put on a brave face. "What do I have to do?"
"Stand here," Cam said, indicating a spot in front of the brazier.
Blake took his place, not letting go of Hunter's hand.
That was when he saw the knife. Ceremonial dagger, really, with an ivory handle, intricately carved with a Chinese dragon, painted in reds. Its eyes were formed by tiny, faceted rubies. Instinctively, he took two steps back. He tried for a third, but realized Hunter had run out of arm.
"It's OK, li'l bro," Hunter said. He looked at Cam. "Can I stay right here?"
"You're OK until we have to light the herb mixture, but then you'll have to stand back," Cam said.
'You're sixteen, you can do this,' Blake thought. Out loud, he said, "I don't have to cut anything off, do I?"
Cam's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "No. You need to sprinkle your blood over the herbs. Not much-- if you prick your fingertip with the knife, it should be more than enough. Don't be alarmed by the bleed rate, it'll look much worse than it actually is."
Blake gulped. "Do I have to?"
"Do you want to be sixteen again now?" Hunter asked. "Your other option is pretty much waiting ten years."
Blake looked from one Ranger to another, his gaze settling on Tori.
"Don't look at me like that, I can't date a six year old," Tori said, then bit her lip.
Blake suspected she hadn't been trying to be that blunt.
Blake sighed and nodded, hoping the look he shot Tori let her know he understood. He let go of Hunter's hand and picked up the knife. Hunter laid his hand on Blake's shoulder, squeezing it affectionately.
"Wait," Cam said. He doused a clean cloth with rubbing alcohol and handed it to Blake.
Blake obediently wiped the knife with the soaked rag and took a deep breath. He raked the knife along his fingertip, holding it over the bowl. Blood gushed at a rate that, as Cam had predicted, was disturbing. He held his finger over the herbs and let a few drops fall on the mixture in the brazier.
Cam handed Blake some gauze, which Blake used to apply pressure to the cut. Cam signaled for Hunter to join the rest of the group. Hunter gave Blake's shoulder one more squeeze and then retreated to the other side of the table with the Winds. Cam lit the herbs, then joined the rest of the group.
"Repeat after me," Cam said.
Blake repeated the incantation faithfully. He was glad that Sensei Omino had insisted that he and Hunter study Japanese. He had a feeling it was also a good thing that his vocabulary was getting rusty since he'd switched to Spanish in high school. He suspected it was one of the cheesiest things he had ever said in his life.
Cam fell silent, and Blake started to feel woozy. He couldn't quite feel his muscles, and his legs were starting to feel rather squishy. He sat down hastily, nearly falling in the process. Hunter moved as if to help him, but Cam wouldn't allow it. Blake's vision blurred, and his arms and legs didn't quite hurt. In a few moments, things began to stabilize.
"Did it work?" he asked.
His voice answered its own question, coming out in its usual not-quite-deep timbre. Blake started to try to get up, but that was made difficult by an armload of Blue Ranger.
He didn't want to get up after that, as she pressed her lips fully against his. He returned the kiss tenderly, fighting the urge to deepen it, as he knew that he and Tori had audience.
Sensei cleared his throat, and Tori reluctantly pulled away, standing up. She managed to get a hold of his hand and help him up. Hunter came in to hug him, but Blake had to return that one handed as Tori refused to let go. He bopped fists with Dustin and Shane and slapped Cam five.
"As much as I hate to break this up," Shane said quietly, "we should probably get home."
"Yeah," Tori sighed. "I didn't get any homework done yesterday."
"I think I got negative homework done," Blake said. "I'm gonna have to almost start from scratch for the Shakespeare quote test tomorrow."
"I'd offer to help, but I've got that blasted Joyce paper for tomorrow," Tori said.
Blake softly brushed his lips against Tori's. "I'll see you in school then."
"Bye," Tori sighed, a goofy grin on her face.
Shane gently grabbed her shoulder, "Come on, space girl. See you tomorrow, Thunders, Sensei, Computer Boy."
"You gotta come up with a better nickname than that," Cam called after the retreating Winds.
Hunter sighed. "Right, homework."
"What play is the quote test on, Blake?" Cam asked.
"The Tempest," Blake said.
"Sorry, I haven't read that one, or I'd help," Cam said. "The best strategy for that kind of thing is just to know character."
"And know that one of them isn't Commander Data," Sensei added.
"Thanks, Sensei," Blake chuckled.
He and Hunter headed for their room and started digging relevant books out of their backpacks.
"Look, bro... I'm sorry I've been such a pain the last day or so," Blake said.
"You weren't a pain," Hunter said.
"Thanks for taking care of me, even when you were exasperated," Blake said.
"I'm just glad to have you back to normal, bro," Hunter said. "As nice as it was for you to need me again..."
"Hunter, I do need you, just not the same."
"And not so much," Hunter said.
Blake gave him a bear hug. "Just different. I'm getting a little too distracted by Tori, aren't I?"
Hunter squirmed away and opened his math book. "It's natural."
"But you still need me," Blake said, suddenly realizing.
"Maybe a little," Hunter said.
"I'm here, bro. You may just have to smack me upside the head once in awhile."
"Careful," Hunter grinned. "I might take you up on that."
He dug into his math homework, effectively ending the conversation.