Disclaimer: Characters and situations are the property of BVE and Village Roadshow. Except for the ones owned by MMPR Productions and... well, still Disney at any rate. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's notes: Thanks to whitezeo and sugarsicons for the betas. Also? I must be very insane. This is part of the future ficlet verse, though you don't need to have read any of the ficlets in question to understand this story. There is no team up. The world is on crack. The world is high on life.
Rating: 14+ for innuendo.
"I'm forgetting something," Ethan said, surveying his apartment, and rubbing his eyes wearily.
"We've got everything on the list," Kira said. "I even remembered the snacks and the water."
"iPod?" Trent suggested.
"Got it," Ethan said, "I even have a theoretical list of iTrip frequencies."
"I have a tape adapter," Trent pointed out. "Why bother?"
"Good point," Ethan said.
"Toothbrush?" Trent suggested.
"Check," Ethan said.
"Rubbers," Trent deadpanned.
Ethan glared. "I'm not the one with the hots for Kira."
"We broke up," Kira reminded him.
Trent glared, but didn't say anything.
"You guys ready or what?" Conner asked.
"Ethan thinks he forgot something," Trent said.
Conner studied the former White Ranger, as if he knew something were up. "Dude, you got your allergy meds?"
"Yeah," Ethan replied.
"Anything else we can get in New York or Florida, right?" Conner asked reasonably. "I mean we're not exactly going to the wilderness here. Well, that little town in one of those Southern states might be a little tough, but mostly..."
"I guess," Ethan yawned.
Trent snagged the key ring out of Ethan's hands, and tossed the keys to Kira. He nodded at Conner. Conner grabbed one of Ethan's arms, and Trent the other.
"Come on, dude, you can sleep in the car," Conner said as he and Trent steered Ethan towards the door.
"Thermostat!" Ethan said in triumph.
"All ready turned it up," Kira replied as she followed.
"I hope you weren't this out of it for your test," Conner remarked as they went down the two flights of stairs to where Trent had parked his car.
"Kicked the final's butt," Ethan replied. "But it kicked back."
"Come on, you can nap until we hit that diner you and Kira like so much outside of Beantown," Conner said.
"Right," Ethan muttered as the others steered him to the car.
* * *
Ethan leaned back in the booth after the waitress left to place their orders with the kitchen.
"Want us to wake you up when the food comes, bro?" Conner asked.
"Nah," Ethan said. "I can sleep in June."
"We aren't expected to be in DC until day after tomorrow," Trent pointed out. "And you two are taking advantage of that."
"Says he who finished finals over two weeks ago," Conner yawned.
"Trent and I can go for breakfast, wander New York," Kira said, "you two can work off your sleep debts and meet up with us."
"Did you two go on again and forget to tell us?" Ethan teased.
Kira flicked Ethan's ear with her index finger.
"Serves you right, bro," Trent said.
"No, seriously, you guys," Conner said.
Kira rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Do I have to bring up Brooke?"
"Hey, no ex talk 'til DC," Conner reminded her, "or do I need to get into Beatnik Boy?"
Kira glared at Ethan. "I hope you're happy with yourself, giving Charles that nickname."
"Ecstatic," Ethan said.
"He's not even the one who had to talk Tommy out of flying out to Boston to beat him up," Trent pointed out.
"Like Kira and I wouldn't be enough." Ethan rolled his eyes at the thought of Tommy being so protective.
"At least you were able to keep him away," Conner said. "I got the in-person pep talk."
"Which came with non-dorm food," Kira pointed out. "Then he had to get back to grade midterms."
Conner shrugged. "At least Brooke's timing was good. Charles had to pick Reefside's spring break?"
Kira sighed. "Don't get me wrong, I love Dr. O--er, Tommy, but there are times he just..." Kira paused, searching for words. "Rrr."
Ethan's cell phone started ringing.
"Dude, you were supposed to turn it off," Conner said.
"Forgot," Ethan said, pulling it out and checking the caller ID. "Were his ears burning?"
"You'd better answer it, you know how he gets," Trent said.
Ethan flipped open his phone and flipped on the speaker phone. "We're fine, overprotective boy, or were your ears just burning?"
"Should they be? And do you have me on speaker phone, Ethan?" Tommy asked.
"Yeah, he does," Conner said. "I just want to point out we're on vacation."
"I know, I just wanted to be sure you guys found each other okay."
"We had to call our folks you know, Tommy," Trent pointed out.
"I know, Trent, I just worry," Tommy said. "It's an Irrational Remnant."
He didn't say, 'of the Power,' but they all knew that was what he was talking about.
"You just wait until one of you gets really busy and no one hears anything for awhile," Tommy admonished.
"Uh-huh," Ethan said. He started waving his hand around the antenna, as if to indicate they should pretend Tommy was breaking up.
"Is there something in particular you wanted to talk about, Tommy?" Conner asked, batting Ethan's hand away. "'cause I think I see the waitress with our food."
Kira covered her mouth to keep from giggling.
"I just wanted to say 'have a good time,'" Tommy replied. "So have a good time. And humor your teammate and give me a call when you get to Florida, okay?"
"Maybe," Trent said.
"If you're lucky," Ethan added.
Tommy chuckled. "Okay, okay, I can take a hint, have a good time guys. 'Bye."
"Bye," they chorused, and Ethan's phone indicated the phone call had ended.
* * *
"So you want to check out the Natural History Museum?" Trent asked as he poured milk on his cereal the following morning.
He and Kira were sitting at his kitchen table having breakfast. It was large, oak, and Amish made with a modern finish that one of Trent's friends had applied for him. Like the rest of the brownstone Anton Mercer had bought for his son when he started college, it looked more like it belonged to hotshot Wall Street broker than a broke college student.
Kira munched her bagel thoughtfully. "The idea is not to think about the future. For some reason, any time I see anything dinosaur related my brain goes into overdrive," Kira replied.
"You're still sore over that monster in Dad's museum, aren't you?" Trent teased.
Kira rolled her eyes.
Trent took a bite of his cereal, chewing thoughtfully. "Metropolitan Museum of Art?"
"Why, Trent, do you think we lack cultural opportunities in Boston?" Kira asked, batting her eyelashes at him.
Trent shrugged. "We could just wander around Times Square and Central Park if you'd rather," Trent said. "The thing about New York nightlife is that it generally doesn't start until night. Not that there's a dearth of stuff for us to do before Conner and Ethan wake up." Trent picked up the AAA book from the kitchen chair where Ethan had left it the previous night and chucked it at Kira.
Kira caught it deftly, flipping through. "Did we ever decide how we were going to meet up with them?"
Trent help up his cell phone. "Anyone who isn't Conner or Ethan can talk to the voicemail."
"What happened to us, Kira?" Trent asked.
"Oh, don't start, Trent, we're still going to be going to school six hours away from each other."
"Right, snow," Trent joked, dropping the subject.
* * *
Trent's phone rang around two, while Trent and Kira were at the New York Aquarium, watching beluga whales hover in front of them. Trent had to back away from the tank quickly as the whale didn't seem to like his ring tone--it started spitting water over the glass at him. "Hey, sleeping beauty."
"Very funny, Trent, where are you guys?" Conner asked, sounding less than amused.
"New York aquarium," Trent said. "It'll be closing by the time you guys get here, though, so where do you want to meet?"
"We could swing by Times Square, check out TRL?" Conner suggested. "They're still going around 5 now, right?"
"If your idea of fun is standing around trying to glimpse VJs in the window," Trent replied. "I promise you the line's all ready formed."
"We could make a sign and try to get them to listen to Kira's demo," Conner suggested.
"You're crazed," Trent replied.
Kira looked away from the beluga tank, studying Trent quizzically.
"Maybe, but Ethan just hit the shower, so guess what I've been doing with your spare poster board for the last hour?"
"I'll pay you back," Conner said.
"What's going on?" Kira asked, retreating finally from the whale tank.
Trent relayed Conner's idea.
Kira shrugged. "It'll never work, but it can't hurt to try."
* * *
They didn't have any luck getting into the MTV studio to give someone Kira's demo. The guys were genuinely annoyed on Kira's behalf, but Kira had shrugged it off. She knew the chances had been infinitesimal--there were all sorts of legal issues surrounding unsolicited demos. As they exited the area gated for the outside audience one of the crew members still packing up tapped Kira on the shoulder.
"Yes?" Kira asked, turning around to find a balding white man in his late forties wearing a TRL t-shirt.
"Did you go to Berklee?" he asked, studying her carefully.
"I just finished my Junior year," Kira replied, shifting uncomfortably. Clearly he'd read her t-shirt, but...
The man nodded. "Mr. Mayer saw your t-shirt and wanted us to ask for the demo off camera."
Kira's jaw dropped.
"We don't like to encourage this kind of thing, but he was rather insistent. Something about helping out a fellow student."
"Thanks," Kira said, recovering quickly and pulling the demo CD out of her purse. It was a plain CD in a plastic case with her cell phone number, e-mail address, and snail mail address on a typed label on the front.
"The contact info on here current?" the man asked, tapping the label.
"Yes, thanks again!" Kira said happily.
"Break a leg, kid," the technician said, hefting the rest of his equipment and heading inside.
"Dude," Conner said with feeling.
"That's quite the alumni network you have going," Trent added.
Ethan's stomach rumbled. "Anyone else ready for dinner?"
"Is your metabolism spiking again?" Kira teased.
"I usually have two meals under my belt by now," Ethan pointed out.
"I could use some food myself," Conner said. "Where to?"
"Pick a country," Trent said, arms spreading wide, "and we'll hit my favorite place in the city."
* * *
"OK, where to first?" Conner asked the next afternoon, staring at the map to the national zoo. They had just walked in one of the many entrances and grabbed a handy guide. It was a nice, wooded area, the illusion spoiled by sounds of traffic drifting through the gate.
Trent helpfully turned the map right side up and patted Conner on the head.
Conner rolled his eyes.
Kira craned her neck, standing on her tiptoes to look over Conner's shoulder. "How about the pandas?"
Conner pointed at the map. "If we start with the cheetahs and angle over this way, the pandas are pretty much on the way to the rest of the zoo."
"Sounds like a plan," Ethan said.
"Cool," Kira added.
Conner folded the map, trying to find a spot to put it in his pocket. Kira rolled her eyes, took the map, and shoved it into her mini-backpack. She then glared at Conner as if he were crazy.
"This from the girl who never used to carry a purse," Conner teased.
"It's handy sometimes," Kira said, pulling the straps over her shoulders. "Especially when you're traveling and going to be out a lot. Not to mention it got crazy trying to carry everything in the nonexistent pockets of women's clothing."
Conner chuckled as they approached the cheetah enclosure--basically a deep pit with a wall and a moat between them and the animals. They walked up to the edge and leaned over just a little to get a better look.
One of the cheetahs lazily opened an eye, starting at them.
"Creepy," Kira said.
"It's just sleepy or something," Ethan said reassuringly.
As if to prove him wrong, the cheetah got up, moving as close as it could, eyes never leaving them. Almost as if it wanted a better look.
Conner took a step back, moving to another part of the barrier. "Look at the cute little cub." He strained, trying to get a better look at the cub. The mobile adult cheetah followed Conner, watching him intently.
The four exchanged glances. Conner moved towards the other end of the enclosure, passing his friends and going as far as he could along the barrier. The cheetah followed.
Conner rejoined the group. "Let's get out of here before it decides to eat me."
"Aw, is Conner scared of an itty bitty cheetah?" Trent teased, his voice in the high, soft tone used to address small children.
"Come on, Conner, they would have a fence if the cheetahs could get out." Kira moved along the wall. "Besides, I want to get a look at the cheetah cub."
"Great, Kira's mooning over a predator," Conner muttered, shifting his weight nervously.
Ethan started reading the sign. Loudly, clearly and gently. As if to a small child. "Cheetah. Acinonyx jubatus."
"Kira? How 'bout we check out the pandas now?" Conner pleaded, tugging on her arm.
"Let's go," Kira sighed. "If he has nightmares tonight he'll wake us all up." She rolled her eyes impatiently.
"Gee, thanks, Kira," Conner said sarcastically.
Kira took his arm and led him towards the main part of the zoo. "It's OK, Conner, the little cheetah can't hurt you now." She patted his arm reassuringly.
Ethan and Trent chortled as they followed, Conner resigned himself to being teased the rest of the day.
"OK, which way to the pandas?" Kira asked as they reached the crossroads, craning her neck as if she could see.
"You tell me, Kira, you have the map," Conner replied testily.
* * *
A few minutes later, they were approaching the bamboo-lined walkway that hid criss crossing railings with unlatched chains leading up to the panda enclosure, when a small child attempted to barrel past them, but bounced into Kira when she stopped suddenly.
Trent squatted down to her level. "Don't you think you should wait for your mommy?"
The child looked up at him through dark eyes. "My daddy brought me. He knows Hip Hop Kido!"
The four college students barely had time to exchange glances when a man wearing black jeans and an Angel Grove Athletic Department t-shirt ran up to them. "Thanks for stopping her. Amy, you should know better than to go running off like that."
Conner couldn't be positive, but he was somewhat sure the man was Zack Taylor.
The small girl ran back to her father, putting a small cocoa hand in his big one. "Sorry, Daddy."
"Sorry about that," he said.
"No problem." Conner looked away slightly and subtly grabbed Kira's arm, turning to leave. They tended to avoid Tommy's former teammates at Ranger Beach Parties--socializing mostly with the Ninja Storm and Mystic Force teams, as they were closest in age. Maybe they'd be lucky and Zack wouldn't recognize them.
"Wait a second, Conner."
"Busted," Ethan muttered under his breath.
"You know them, Daddy?" Amy asked.
"They're friends of your Uncle Tommy."
Conner sighed. "Very busted."
"Busted?" Zack Taylor asked lightly.
Conner blushed. Why did he always have to make an idiot of himself around Dr. O's teammates?
"Busted, why?" Zack asked.
The others looked at each other.
"Tommy wasn't kidding, you guys are overly stressed if you think anyone over the age of thirty is out to bust your chops."
"Did they do something wrong, Daddy?" Amy asked.
"No, sweetie, they're just a little jumpy because they're under a lot of pressure."
"Ooh, they should go to the aquatic house and see the marine hermit crab!" Amy said.
The others exchanged glances.
"We could show you after the pandas," the little girl said, bouncing excitedly.
"You could join us," Zack said. "You could give me the skinny on Tommy the science teacher, and I can give you all the dirt on Tommy the teenager."
"Sounds like a fair trade," Ethan said, grinning wickedly.
Conner clapped Ethan on the shoulder. "You're up to no good, bro. Count me in."
* * *
"Dr. O was a Ranger, taught martial arts, did charity everything, and played on all the school sports teams? When did he find time to study?" Conner asked for the 100th time as they sat in a restaurant waiting for their dinner.
Trent shrugged. "Maybe the question is when did he sleep; he must've studied sometime if he got into MIT. It does explain why he never gave us any slack on turning our homework in late because of Ranger related activities."
"You know for a trip that was designed to get away from adults in general, we sure are talking about Dr. O a lot," Kira pointed out.
"Maybe it's time for a change of subject," Ethan said, grinning like a Cheshire cat. "We're in D.C. now, and you know what that means, Kira."
"Can't Conner go first?" Kira asked, her voice not quite a whine.
"He probably should," Trent said. "All right, Conner, what did you do?"
Conner's eyes darkened. "What makes you think it was my fault?"
"Brooke dumped you, didn't she?" Kira asked, batting her eyelashes at Conner.
"Your point being?" Conner asked. He shrunk back in his chair, playing with his napkin.
"You must've done something," Ethan said.
"More like something I didn't do," Conner muttered.
"Huh?" Trent asked. "What did you just say, bro?"
"Nothing," Conner replied firmly. "So, Kira, about Beatnik Boy..."
* * *
"We're staying where?" Conner asked as Trent pulled back onto I-95 from US-52 on their way out of D.C..
"Florence, South Carolina," Ethan repeated.
"I thought that was in Italy," Conner said.
"Backpacking in Europe is next summer," Trent and Kira said in unison.
Conner looked from one to the other. "Are you sure there isn't something you're not telling us?"
Kira rolled her eyes. "So, what is there to do in Florence, South Carolina?"
"As far as I can tell from the web? There's a museum and a National Cemetery." Ethan shrugged. "It was a comfy six hour drive."
"Hey, is this about the journey or Disney World?" Trent glanced over his shoulder and switched lanes.
"Why can't it be both?" Conner asked, fiddling with Trent's iPod.
"Don't worry," Trent said, "I'm sure we'll find something to do. Besides, it's only one night."
* * *
A flyer at the hotel advertising an outdoor jazz concert led them to the park. The weather was perfect, and the lure of the outdoors and good music was too much to resist.
Amidst a sea of audience members ranging in age from 3 to 80, the four sprawled on one of the beach towels that Trent had thoughtfully tossed into the trunk of his car; they were yellow and white, which gave Ethan and Conner too much teasing ammunition before the concert started. Once the music started, they listened quietly, playing a silent game of deuces to keep their hands busy, using Conner's soccer ball shaped deck of playing cards.
Their fellow concert goers were either similarly engaged, or raptly paying attention to the music on stage. The one exception being a young man wearing ragged jeans and an Incubus t-shirt who had been staring at them earlier. He had seemingly wandered off, only to return a few moments later and approach the group. He looked a little older than them, a college senior or a year out of school, perhaps. He was carrying two cups of beer.
He extended one of them to Kira. "A pretty little lady like you shouldn't be without a drink."
"No, thank you," Kira said sweetly, still lounging on the towel.
"Hot night like this..."
"I'm not twenty-one," Kira said, glaring. It didn't always stop her at school, but in this environment, underage drinking was asking for trouble.
"They only card you when you buy it." He winked. "C'mon, a nice girl like you, with all these guys who aren't taking care of you."
Kira sat up, crossing her arms. Her eyes practically shot daggers. "What makes you think I need taking care of?"
The guy rolled his eyes. "I'll just leave this here in case you change your mind. You'll thank me later." With that, he patted the small of Kira's back, left the cup at her side, and moved a few yards away.
Kira rolled her eyes.
"Want me to drink it?" Conner offered. "It'll piss him off big time."
"Party boy," Trent teased.
"I'm twenty one," Conner pointed out haughtily.
"Bad idea, Con," Kira said, looking around for a moment. "I'll dump it in that drinking fountain." She pointed one out several yards away.
"I'll come with." Ethan got up, eying the creepy guy suspiciously.
"Boys!" Kira rolled her eyes in frustration, but let Ethan follow her to the green drinking fountain. She dumped the beer into its silver basin and pulled her hand back in shock. Nestled within the ice was a half-dissolved pill.
"Oh, god," Ethan said. "What the hell is that?"
Kira shuddered. "Roofie? I don't know what they look like, but that's why Dr. O told me never to take a drink from anyone."
"You old enough to have that beer, young lady?" asked a uniform police officer. Her arms were crossed, and she was glaring at Kira, as if busting someone for underage drinking was a waste of her time.
"No, Officer Jarvis," Kira replied, reading the name off of her name tag. "Some guy walked up, gave it to me, and wouldn't take no for an answer. I poured it out and--" she pointed at the pill.
The woman craned her neck to have a look, frowning. "Good thing you didn't drink it. Do you see the man who gave you the drink?"
Kira looked around. "Nope. Big guy, long curly brown hair, wearing jeans with more holes in them than swiss cheese and an Incubus t-shirt."
The officer scribbled it all down on a notepad. "How tall was he?"
"'bout five-nine or so," Ethan replied. "And he was wearing those leather gloves with the cotton liner sticking out."
"Did the gloves have fingers?"
The officer sighed heavily, looking annoyed. She picked up her radio, repeating the description into it.
Kira looked at her quizzically.
"We've been looking for this guy for a couple of months now," she replied. "Be glad you knew better than to take that drink. He's wanted for rape."
"Let me get some contact information, and we'll take it from there," the officer said.
Kira gave Officer Jarvis both her home and school addresses as well as her cell phone number.
"What are you doing in Florence?" the officer asked conversationally.
"Driving to Disney World with some friends," Kira said.
By this point, Conner and Trent had wandered over, the beach towel draped over Trent's arm.
Officer Jarvis eyed the four of them skeptically. "You all go to Berklee?"
"MIT," Ethan said.
"University of San Francisco," Conner added.
"NYU," Trent finished. "We were all friends in high school."
Jarvis raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't say anything. "OK, Ms. Ford, we've got everything we need. We'll give you a call if there's anything else."
"Thanks, officer," Kira said.
Officer Jarvis left.
Conner draped a protective arm around Kira's shoulders. "How'd you know not to drink that?"
Kira flushed. "Dr. O."
"Wait, Dr. O giving useful advice?" Trent asked.
Conner shrugged. "It's been known to happen."
"You better spill, bro," Ethan said.
"Nothing," Conner said forcefully.
"Conner..." Trent started.
"Come on, let's get Kira out of here," Conner said, pulling Kira closer and glaring at Trent and Ethan as if they were somehow wrong for not suggesting it sooner.
"I'm fine, really," Kira insisted.
"You're shaking," Conner said, simply, leading her in the direction of the car.
"It's cold!" Kira protested, but the boys ignored her.
"You're not getting out of this conversation forever, Conner McKnight," Kira whispered as they entered the parking lot.
"Dream on," he shot back.
* * *
"Anyone for pizza?" Conner asked as they settled themselves back into the hotel room.
It looked pretty much like any other Red Roof Inn they'd ever stayed in--two double beds, a long desk, and just enough room for Kira's roll away with the table and chairs pushed along the window.
"Me," Trent and Ethan said at once.
"Kira?" Conner asked.
Kira shrugged. "I could eat."
A few minutes later and the pizza was ordered.
"OK, so what do we do while we're waiting?" Kira asked. "Walls are too thin for an acoustic concert."
"Tell ghost stories," Ethan said.
"How third grade is that?" Conner asked.
"Truth or Dare?" Trent suggested.
"And now we're up to sixth grade," Conner quipped, flopping back on the bed in exasperation.
A mysterious smile crept onto Kira's face. "What's the matter? Is the great Conner McKnight scared?"
"No!" Conner exclaimed.
"OK, so ground rules?" Kira asked, stretching out on the roll away.
"Truth anything goes," Trent said, "dares... um, nothing loud..."
"...outside the room..." Conner added.
"...overly sexual," Trent put in, throwing a concerned glance at Kira.
"Or involving the poor pizza guy," Ethan added.
Conner stared at Ethan, trying to divine the reasoning behind that statement.
"Let's just play," Ethan said, shifting uncomfortably.
"Who's first?" Trent asked.
The group looked around, and three rounds of rock-paper-scissors later, Trent had been dubbed the first victim.
"Dare," Trent said bravely.
"I dare you to do a headstand between the beds," Conner said, shifting from the edge of the right hand one to give his friend some more room.
Trent raised an eyebrow.
"You did say you could do it when we first checked in," Ethan pointed out.
Trent sighed and got up. He reached out, balancing between the beds on his arms, one hand on each bed. He hung between the beds, then, like a gymnast on the parallel bars, he kicked upwards--but flopped back down when his feet reached a position perpendicular to his arms. Trent pushed down on the beds, bending his knees, the toes of his shoes scraping against the floor.
Kira and the others winced.
"OK, I'll try again," Trent said, voice breaking with muscle strain.
"Don't," Conner, Ethan, and Kira said in unison.
"Trying's good enough," Conner added, hovering an arm behind Trent as if to prevent him swinging backwards again.
"We don't want you breaking anything." Kira's face pinched with worry.
"Yeah, dude, Disney with a broken bone would suck." Conner checked his watch.
"Might get us to the head of the line, though." Ethan bit his lip thoughtfully. "Maybe you should try it again, bro?"
Trent rolled his eyes and shoved Ethan affectionately. "You want to get to the head of the line so badly, you do it."
"No thanks," Ethan replied.
"You're next," Trent said with a feral grin.
"Truth," Ethan said, eyeing Trent suspiciously.
"Why the rule about the pizza guy?" Trent asked.
Ethan sighed, realizing that Trent had wanted him to choose truth. "You know I was working in pizza delivery my freshman year, right?"
The other three nodded.
"One Friday night, I get asked to deliver pizza to a neighborhood where the professors live. I get to the door and this girl ye high opens it," Ethan held his hand just above the bed, "and plants a big wet one on my lips."
Kira shrieked with laughter. Trent started laughing so hard that he lost his balance and fell backwards onto the bed.
"Could she kiss?" Conner chuckled.
"OK, first word jail, second word bait," Ethan said. "And besides, I think that was like, her first ever kiss, and she couldn't really reach, but she hit like, the bottom lip and the chin."
Conner roared with laughter.
"OK, enough about that, your turn Kira," Ethan said. It was difficult to tell, because of his complexion, but Ethan appeared to be blushing.
"Um, dare," Kira said, looking at Ethan sideways.
Trent smiled widely. "You remember that time your roommate made us watch 'The Breakfast Club?'"
"Y-yeah," Kira said.
"You said you could do that thing with the lipstick," Trent said. "I saw you using one of those stick ones this morning. No excuses, this time, let's see you prove it."
Kira dug through her bag and found the lipstick in question. She uncapped it, placed it in her cleavage, and leaned down, wiggling her head. Then she looked up.
The boys started laughing hysterically.
"What?" Kira asked. She stood so she could see her face in the mirror above the bar-like desk. The lipstick was smeared on the skin above her lips. "Ugh!" She looked around "Tissues?"
"In the bathroom," Conner supplied, pointing.
Kira scampered in that direction, shutting the door behind her.
"Oops." Trent looked sheepish, but chuckled in spite of himself.
"She'll get over it bro," Ethan said.
Kira walked back in a moment later, decidedly calmer. "OK, Conner, your turn." She smiled sweetly.
Conner bit his lip, eying Kira suspiciously. "Truth," he said finally. A cocky grin played at his lips.
Kira broke into a wide smile. "Conner, what are the exact circumstances of your break up with Brooke?"
Conner flushed the color of his old uniform.
At that moment there came a banging on the door. "Nat's Pizzeria delivery!"
"Saved by the pizza." Conner sprang to his feet.
"Dream on," the others chorused.
Conner opened the door, and paid the pizza guy. He returned to the bed, opened the box, selected a slice and started chewing thoughtfully. The others did likewise.
But when Conner reached for seconds, Trent snatched the box, banging it shut. "Answer the lady's question first, Conner."
Conner sighed, flushing again. "She dumped me because I wouldn't sleep with her." Conner started staring at the blanket to avoid the others shocked stares.
After a long silence, Conner looked up. "What?" Conner asked testily.
"It's just... correct me if I'm wrong here, but you and Krista, the summer after senior year..." Ethan managed. Barely.
"Not that it's really any of your business, but no, Ethan, I'm not a virgin," Conner replied. "That's really what you're driving at, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah, but then..." Ethan shook his head. This didn't seem to be sinking in.
Conner sighed. "I'd complain, but I guess I signed up for this when I touched the gem. Krista I trusted. Brooke... not so much. Commence mocking."
He was met with more silence.
"Or not," Conner said, deciding a change of subject was in order. "I guess we're back to Trent."
"How'd you really feel about your Dad and Elsa at the prom?" Ethan asked.
"Lizzie, not Elsa," Trent said. "I was fine with it, really."
Conner cocked an eyebrow.
"And really glad graduation was very, very soon," Trent added.
"Ah hah, thought so!" Ethan crowed.
"Okay, Ethan, your turn," Trent said, grinning with near menace.
"Uh-oh," Ethan said quietly.
* * *
Two days later, the former Dino Thunder Rangers were exploring the rocket garden of the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
"Are they all this big?" Conner asked, craning his neck, trying to see along the white and black painted sides to the top of the Saturn V rocket, which towered above them into the clouds.
"They gotta fit the rocket fuel in there somewhere, bro," Ethan said.
"You four are so busted," said a stern voice from behind them.
They turned as a fluid group, hands moving as if they were fighting the instinct to fall into a defensive stance.
"T.J.?" Ethan's eyes widened, his hands unclenching at his sides.
"Does Dr. O have an All Ranger Alert out on us?" Kira asked, wrinkling her nose. "We even texted him and told him we made it to Florida. The big worry wart!"
"Actually he just said if anyone ran into you four again to ask you to please give him a call," T.J. shrugged. "I think it's big news, and he won't tell everyone 'til he tells you. So I'd appreciate it if you could call him soon, since whatever it is seems to have Justin a little off and he won't talk to anyone about it. As for you being busted, I was just messing with you. Are you guys going on the bus tour?"
The others exchanged glances--they hadn't decided yet.
"'cause I could get you in to see the real thing," T.J. said, winking.
Ethan's eyes lit up.
"If you're sure we won't get you into trouble?" Kira asked shyly.
"Or well," Conner looked around, there were too many people in ear shot to say exactly what he wanted to, "you know..."
"You're students of the dad of a friend of mine." T.J. winked.
"Justin?" Trent asked.
"Who else?" T.J. asked. "It's not like Tommy has other kids. Anyway, you guys want the grand tour or what?"
They stared for a moment, eyes growing wide at the prospect of a behind the scenes tour.
"Yes, please," Ethan finally managed.
* * *
When they reached the hanger, T.J. punched a code into the keypad, and the great, accordion door creaked upward, revealing an almost saucer-like ship, with a protruding nose and fins sticking up. It looked like a blue Millennium Falcon with the cockpit in the middle.
"So that's the Megaship Mock II," Ethan said in awe.
One of Tommy's favorite stories was of his adventure on the moon with ten Red Rangers.
A man with long, brown hair with blond streaks on either side approached them.
"You guys remember Andros right?" T.J. asked.
"Yeah," Conner said bashfully.
Conner had a nasty habit of getting intimidated by other Red Rangers--especially those that had worked with Tommy before. He got along just fine with Shane and Nick, but many of the senior Reds, Andros and Jason especially--well, they put him on edge. Conner expended a great deal of effort trying to avoid them at beach parties.
Kira poked Conner, who glared at her. He turned back to Andros and T.J. with a cocky grin.
It wasn't hard to snap Conner out of it.
"Did Tommy send you guys here to check up on us?" Andros looked at all of them with a piercing stare.
The four road trippers exchanged glances.
"He's joking," T.J. said. "I think."
"Did you pass on Tommy's message?" Andros asked.
T.J. rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "Is that a rhetorical question?"
"Red Rangers," Trent muttered under his breath.
"So what are you guys up to?" Ethan asked, deciding a change of subject would be a good idea. "We promise we won't tell Tommy.
"Just some routine maintenance on the Mock II," T.J. replied. "Nothing to write home about, but sometimes it's fun to unnerve Tommy."
"Oh," Ethan said, sounding kind of disappointed. He was hoping to help repel an alien invasion, or at least take a spin around the solar system.
"Have you guys ever seen the inside of a spaceship?" Andros asked.
"No," they said at once, eyes growing wider.
"Well, come on," T.J. said, leading them inside.
* * *
"Geez, Dr. O, we're not in school anymore, you don't have to be so wicked cryptic." Ethan frowned glaring at the screen of his laptop as if it was his fault.
"What?" Conner said.
Ethan turned the computer around.
Ethan, Conner, Kira, and Trent,
Hey, guys, I know you're feeling a little anti-adult right now, but I've got really big news that I can't wait to tell you. Can you please give me a call?
"What could he possibly have to tell us that can't wait?" Trent asked.
Conner checked his watch. "It's kinda late, even in Cali."
They had spent the evening hanging out with T.J. and Andros, which had led to a late night Denny's trip.
"We'll call him later this week," Kira agreed.
"Yeah, later," Ethan added.
* * *
Two days later, the group went to EPCOT center, starting in the World Showcase and working their way backwards towards the World of Tomorrow. The reverse of what the majority of the crowds would do.
In the late afternoon they had made their way to Journey into Imagination. They went on the ride, and despite the profusion of small children, could not help but play with the interactive displays at the end of the ride.
Conner leapt in the colored circles of light projected on the gray carpet with a couple of little kids. The kids giggled, the three of them coming up with some pretty cacophonous sounds. The kids' parents looked on, eying Conner warily at first, then realizing he was just having fun and didn't mind the kids "help."
Kira was wrinkling her nose.
"Are they offending your classically trained sensibilities?" Ethan teased.
"James, Kevin, time to go," said the kids' mother.
"Now, boys," she insisted.
"Bye!" The boys ran to their mother, tossing their parting to Conner over their shoulders as an afterthought.
Conner chuckled, finally looking at his friends. "Were you guys ready?"
Ethan put a hand on Conner's shoulder. "You looked like you were having way to much fun, dude."
Kira just shook her head.
"Think you can do better, superstar?" Conner asked, a smile playing at his lips as he gestured towards the colored lights.
"Yes, I can," Kira said. She stepped into the circles, moving to create a haunting melody.
Then two small kids ran up joining her. The dissonance rivaled Conner with his two little helpers moments before.
"Jeff! Emma!" A man who was presumably their father reached to grab them.
Kira held up her hands, making dismissive motions. "It's OK, sir, I think I've proven my point." She joined her friends. "So where to next?"
"I think we're down to going back to the Universe of Energy," Ethan said.
Trent stretched as he rose from the bench where he'd been sitting. "The line should have died down by now."
"We hope," Conner added.
"Lead on," Kira said.
* * *
"Did anyone else want to jump out of the cart thingy and rescue the brachiosaur in the tar pit?" Conner asked as they exited the Universe of Energy pavilion and headed towards Spaceship Earth and the main entrance.
"Um, Conner, they're audio animatronic. You know, robots?" Kira said.
"Well, yeah, but... I mean..." Conner stammered, not sure where he was going.
"How come there's never a dragosaur in these things?" Trent asked, rescuing Conner from his babbling. "It's all brachiosaurs and triceratops and T. rex's."
"Because they're the cool dinos?" Ethan suggested, wiggling his eyebrows.
Trent shoved him affectionately.
"Then what's a brachiosaur doing there?" Conner asked as Kira led the boys to a souvenir shop.
"Brachios are cool, especially for cover," Ethan said, winking.
"I dare you to tell Tommy that to his face," Conner said.
"Somehow, I don't think he'd mind," Kira said, looking over an EPCOT snow globe.
"What do you think is so important that he's dying to tell us, but he won't tell T.J.?" Conner asked.
"It seems fishy," Ethan agreed. "I mean, if it were life or death he'd have told T.J. and Andros."
"Can't be good if Justin's upset," Trent added.
"Boys!" Kira rolled her eyes. "I bet Hayley's pregnant."
"No way," Ethan said.
"Why would Justin be upset?" Conner asked.
"The word 'duh' comes to mind," Trent said, rolling his eyes.
"Something you want to talk about bro?" Conner asked.
"Huh?" Ethan said.
"His dad and Lizzie," Conner said.
Trent made a face. "Please do not go there okay. Ick."
"Just 'cause she was our high school principal."
"Shut up," Trent said.
"So, Hayley? Pregnant?" Ethan shook his head. "I just can't buy it."
"I'm sure," Kira said.
"You want to make it more interesting?" Trent asked.
Kira shook her head, rolled her eyes, and stalked off in the direction of the cash register.
"Why not?" Ethan asked.
"Loser buys dinner tomorrow?" Trent asked.
"Done," Ethan replied.
"Let's get going so we can find out all ready," Conner said.
* * *
"Are we all agreed on this?" Kira asked, digging her cell phone out of her purse when they reached the hotel. It was indistinguishable from the Red Roof Inn in South Carolina--except for the Disney World paraphernalia, of course.
"Temporary suspension of the rules," Trent said solemnly.
Conner and Ethan nodded.
Kira turned on her cell phone and stared at it, perplexed.
"What?" Trent asked.
"No voicemail," Kira said, staring at it blankly.
"We even got your parents to back off? Impressive."
"Only one way to find out." Kira selected Dr. O's phone number in her address book, hitting the dial button. Then she turned on her speaker phone.
"Hey, Dr. O," they said as one.
"Who is it, Tommy?" Hayley asked in the background.
"Students prank calling apparently,' Tommy replied, his tone joking.
"Sorry, Tommy," they chorused again.
"You'd better be--this isn't news I'm sharing with my students," Tommy said. "Just my friends."
"It's us, dude," Conner said. "What's the big mystery?"
"How's your trip?" Tommy asked, sounding as though he was enjoying messing with them.
"You first," Trent said.
Ethan tapped the bed impatiently with his foot. "Yeah, you pass along mysterious messages through the Space Rangers..."
"Oh, is that who got you to call?" Tommy interrupted.
"...and then you send cryptic e-mails, and now you want to talk about our trip?" Kira picked up where Ethan had been forced to leave off. "You first. Spill."
"She'll pry it out of you one way or another, dude." Conner added.
Tommy sighed. "I'd say 'don't call me dude,' but I'll take that over Dr. O."
"Ok, Tommy, Conner's properly chastised, now spill," Kira nearly squealed.
"Sorry, kids, Tommy was trying to give me time to get on the extension," Hayley said.
"It took you that long?" Ethan asked.
"Stairs are getting to be a problem," Hayley said.
"Huh?" Kira asked.
"I'm pregnant," Hayley squealed.
Tommy added, "I'm going to be a dad."
Kira squealed, Ethan winced, and Trent got up and took a bow.
"Guys?" Hayley asked.
"Congratulations," the four said.
"Quit that, it's scary," Tommy said.
"Sorry," Conner said.
"Speaking of scary, Tommy, Justin might need a phone call or something," Trent said. "T.J. said something was eating him."
"Thanks for the heads up, Trent," Tommy replied. "So how was your trip?"
"We went to TRL in Times Square and I got my demo CD to John Mayer." Kira practically bounced on the bed as she spoke.
Conner flushed at the thought of what he had to tell, but spoke anyway. "I got stalked by a cheetah at the National Zoo."
"Andros and T.J. took us around Kennedy Space Center and on a tour of the Megaship Mock II," Ethan added.
"The Universe of Energy at EPCOT Center doesn't have a dragosaur," Trent put in.
"But it did have a brachiosaur, and that's why we called you," Conner added.
"How old did you guys say you were?" Hayley asked.
"And how much sugar have you had?" Tommy added.
"Now, don't start, Dr. O," Conner said. "We all ready have parents."
Tommy laughed. "Yeah, I know, Conner. I'm still allowed to tease you, right?"
"Right," the other said.
Hayley laughed. "Grow up all you want, some things will just never change."
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