Title: To Love and To Sin; Chapter Two
Relationship: Shane C/Hunter B
Word Count: 6,141
Author's Note: I've increased the rating for safety, partly because I'm unsure with the US system: any advice would be appreciated. As always, much love and gratitude to my beta lilyleia78, who has provided support, encouragement and inspiration through every step of this chapter's production - couldn't a done it without ya ;)
Disclaimer: I have no claim to the power rangers series, characters or anything else recognisable as being a part of the power rangers concept. There is no money being made from this work of fiction.
He was free, floating through pearlised clouds of rose, peach and gold, each lit from within by the shifting play of warm light. Shane no longer felt the weight of tired limbs or the heaviness of his solid form, but the natural flow of the currents of air with which he had merged. Golden threads traced intermittent pathways within the clouds, tiny filaments like spider webs shot through with stars forming bright constellations, expanding slowly until whole galaxies sparkled in his mind and he was aware of the light tingling warmth of them.
As they filtered through the clouds and were illuminated, he was able to see differences between the threads. There a buttery-yellow, smooth to his senses and here another, metallic brightness transfused with azure gleam. Here another that caught his eye, rose-gold; an image formed in his mind of steel blue eyes beneath a thick fringe of honey blond. There was no sound, but a sense of laughter and light and warmth drifted through him like a breeze, and instinctively he reached out to the vision. Drawing it to him as he had done with the currents of air, he breathed it in until it suffused his consciousness, becoming a part of him, and he felt complete.
It was the cold that brought him back. The hard chill was not a part of the dream but of that other reality where things were harsh and demanding. Pressure started on the back of his shoulders and hips where he lay on a hard surface and spread into a dull ache throughout his body. Try as he might to remain in that place of warmth and light, someone or something was pulling him back with irresistible force into the confines of his solid form.
The sounds that carried to him were distorted, and vibrated through him uncomfortably. A heavy tread on the floor pacing a short distance from him, deep echoes slow and deliberate, the low throb of a sound no human ear could detect, but which still rolled over his heightened senses, the restrained power of thunder, growing more fierce with every moment of confinement – Hunter. In identifying the familiar presence he was forced to focus on reality and so the last tentative threads of his dream were broken; and he mourned the loss, a soft groan escaping him as full sensation returned, and his body registered complaints of ill treatment.
“Finally,” a voice broke in roughly from somewhere near his head, and he flinched at the sound.
“Will it clear soon?” Hunter was saying.
“Possibly,” the voice he now identified as Cam returned, and Shane could almost hear the frown in the older youth’s voice.
“Where were you?” Shane started to pull himself up but thought better of it as a sudden wave of dizziness overtook him; Hunter reached over to help him lie down again but stopped suddenly as Shane gasped at the contact.
“What’s wrong?” the crimson ranger asked, a worried expression fleetingly replacing the scowl. Cam, after a fast assessment, muttered something about low thresholds that sounded more than a little condescending. He eased Shane back down onto the examination table he had been lying on and told him quite firmly to stay put.
Surprisingly this met with little resistance as the red ranger was too distracted to argue, unnerved by the flood of sensation that had passed through him when Hunter’s hand had touched his; for a second it had felt as though he were merging once more with the air around him. To cover his discomfort, he repeated his question.
“Where were you, Cam?”
“There was a disruption to communications, an energy pulse,” was the response, and he knew from the clipped tones that Cam had not succeeded in tracing the source of the disruption. There was something else in his voice, some other quality that eluded Shane, but he had to put it aside for more pressing matters.
“Where are the others, are they alright?” he asked,
“That remains to be seen. You’ll have to let me take a look at that,” Cam remarked, nodding pointedly at the bandages on Hunter’s wrist, but the blond just shook his head.
“It’s just superficial,” he said dismissively “I have enough first aid practice to manage that.” Glancing again at Shane, Hunter started walking towards the door. “I’m going to check on the others,” he called over his shoulder.
“Cam, the others?” Shane asked again.
“Tori has bruised ribs and a jarred wrist,” Cam responded, still glaring at the door Hunter had exited through. “Blake has a mild concussion. Dustin was showing some signs of shock earlier, but I think he’s adapting now; Tori’s with him”
“And me?” He was forced to ask when Cam didn’t supply the information. The older boy turned to regard him critically.
“Not a scratch. The elements enhanced your body’s healing once you merged.” Shane grimaced.
“So why do I feel this weak?”
“You’ve exhausted your energy reserves,” the other youth replied unsympathetically, briskly moving about the room and wiping a cloth over various surfaces. “Small wonder when you pull stunts like that. There’s a reason only the advanced students are taught that skill.”
“I managed though, didn’t I?” He demanded.
“You managed it through sheer dumb luck!” Cam snapped back, eyes meeting Shane’s in reprimand. “And it’s only through luck that overexertion is all you have to show for it. Using the power like that - without any instruction - was dangerous; not to mention stupid, you could have been seriously hurt.”
“Don’t get me started! In forming that bond with Hunter while you were merged, you put him in danger too! Or had you not considered that?”
Shane felt stung. He had often been called rash in the past, but he would never have knowingly put his friends in danger.
Across the room, Hunter was pacing like a cadged animal, the frustration coming off him in waves. Tori knew the thunder ninjas weren’t well disposed towards staying put for long and sympathized with him, feeling a little caged in herself; but the constant motion of the crimson ranger was beginning to get on her nerves. Twice she had started to say something to him, but both times she had hesitated as something in the blonde’s demeanor made it clear he did not want to be disturbed and she had resigned herself to waiting out his impatience, sure that he would calm down once Cam returned with positive news of Blake’s condition.
Gingerly shifting to a more comfortable position, she winced as she felt the tenderness evidencing her injuries and mentally threw another kick at the Kelzack that had managed to get past her defenses. It was going to take time for her bruised ribs to heal, and that meant she was going to have to come up with creative lies to cover her recuperation time. She hated having to do that.
She helped herself to the bowl of fruit Cam left out for after training sessions, noting as she did so that it was running low. Chewing thoughtfully on her apple, she added fruit to the list of supplies she would be collecting for Cam later in the week.
From the hallway she could hear the sounds of someone approaching, and she looked up, assuming it would be Cam with news.
When his vision finally cleared, Shane breathed a sigh of relief and keeping a hand on the cool surface of the wall for balance, slipped into the main room of ninja-ops, automatically falling into command mode and taking stock of his team.
At the table Tori was sitting quietly with Dustin, but she looked up as he entered; and, although she offered him a hesitant smile, he could see the strain of worry on her face. Today she wore white cotton shorts over a royal blue swimsuit; a sure sign she had probably come here straight from the beach when Cam had called for back-up earlier. Her long blonde hair tumbled over her shoulders, and he could tell she had been running her hand through it; something she only did when she was very agitated.
Dustin sat on a cushion by the low table, his legs folded under him and his yellow jacket pulled tightly about him for warmth despite the constant temperature of the room. He looked distressed and Shane’s first instinct was to immediately go over to comfort the younger boy, but after taking another step into the room, he came to the realization that the walk from the infirmary had expended the last of his energy and he had to quickly alter his course to the cushion closest to him lest his strength fail.
“How are you feeling?” Tori asked, pulling a hair elastic from her pocket and quickly securing her untamed locks back into a messy ponytail. Picking up the bowl of fruit, she offered it to Shane as he eased himself down beside her, sharp eyes studying him, he noticed, in the same way he had been assessing her. When he waved away the proffered snack, she pointedly placed it on the table within his reach, at the same time helping herself to an apple.
“I’m fine,” he insisted, knowing that she would have no trouble seeing past the lie; they had known each other for too long. Thankfully though, she didn’t call him on it. Perhaps because she wasn’t feeling so well herself, he thought, observing her carefully, and knew how little that mattered in their line of work.
Hunter was pacing in his accustomed place beside the screen separating ops from their training area. There was a new quality to his brooding, but by now Shane had learned not to disturb the crimson ranger when he was in one of his moods without due cause. Instead he observed the other boy closely, trying to read the blond through his body language, the power in his brisk motions, and felt an unanticipated heat rise from his collar. He quickly returned his attention back to the table.
Finishing her apple and looking for something more substantial, Tori rummaged in her rucksack and pulled out the snack box she had packed for the beach. The sound caught Dustin’s attention, and he briefly glanced up from his cup, still sitting untouched on the table in front of him.
Something of the tension Shane was feeling must have shown on his face, for Dustin’s eyes held a question as he looked in concern at the air ninja. Setting his jaw determinedly and offering a stiff smile, he clapped a hand to the younger boy’s arm and squeezed gently in a familiar gesture of affection. Not entirely convinced, but feeling somewhat reassured, the yellow ranger smiled back.
A few hours later the wind rangers were standing around the table conversing in hushed tones when Cam entered the room.
“Shane, what’re you doing up?” his tone suggested that there had better be a reason if he didn’t want to be escorted straight back to bed.
“I’m feeling better,” the red ranger answered him vaguely “I just needed some rest.”
“It is far too early for your strength to have recovered sufficiently,” a voice said from behind him; and Shane turned quickly, wondering just how long Cam’s father had been in the room and how much of the group’s conversation the wise old guinea pig had heard.
“Sensei, I wasn’t aware you were here,” he apologized, trying not to let on that his head was now spinning from moving too hastily.
“I do not always feel it necessary to advise you of my movements.” Executing a deft flip from the chair to his raised habitat podium, the transmogrified ninja turned and fixed Shane with a penetrating gaze that on any other guinea pig would have looked comical. Nobody laughed however; there was nothing funny about Sensei’s disapproval. “And I agree with Cameron completely; you should remain in the infirmary until your strength is restored.” He looked significantly at Dustin and Tori, clearly suggesting that they might also benefit from a period of rest.
“With all due respect,” Shane replied, “I know how I’m feeling. And how I’m feeling is tired of being cooped up for so long.”
Tori swallowed the nuts she had been eating “We were actually thinking that if we’re not needed here, perhaps we should get back to the city before someone notices we’ve been gone for so long.”
“This is not a plan I’m agreeable to,” Sensei started. Then he saw the determined look on Shane’s face and knew that the headstrong red ranger would undoubtedly find some way of getting out of the infirmary without his blessing if need be. Having come to know the rangers far better since Lothor’s attack than he had in the short time before, when he had been master of their academy, he sighed and proposed a compromise “however, if Cameron is willing to monitor your communications for any signs of distress, I will permit you to leave ninja ops for the time being. Provided,” here he looked at Shane “you promise to immediately notify us should there be any change in your condition.”
There were murmured words of assent and stolen glances passed amongst them until Cam loudly cleared his throat, reminding them that he still hadn’t agreed to their terms.
“I don’t like the idea of you leaving ninja ops before we’ve identified what we’re dealing with. What if you turned into a monster while you were in the center of town?”
“If that was going to happen, Cam,” Shane pointed out reasonably “it would’ve happened by now, surely!”
“We don’t know that,” the stern youth persisted; and the rangers felt disheartened, as they realized that against Cam’s stolid logic there was little they could do.
“Unless of course you’d rather we stayed here, under your feet.” Hunter stood in the doorway leading to the infirmary, leaning against the frame and contemplating Cam with a scowl. So involved in their discussion were the rangers that none but Dustin, ensconced in a pile of cushions by the door, had noticed his approach.
It seemed that Hunter, with his usual perceptiveness, had hit upon the most convincing argument there was; after a moment of consideration, Cam nodded and turned back to his computer, waving a dismissive hand in their general direction as an afterthought.
A ripple of conversation broke out amongst the rangers: Hunter announcing that he would pull a short shift at Storm Chargers and check in on Blake later, Dustin protesting the necessity of moving from his comfortable nest of pillows, Shane talking about a skate-video Kelly was showing later that day. Tori stood in the center of the small room, waiting for the others to grab their sweaters and jackets, a thoughtful frown on her face as she observed Cam.
His back was to her and the constant tapping of his keyboard indicated he was already absorbed in his work, but there was something about the way he held himself made her wonder if he was as unconcerned as he appeared. She walked across the room and placed her hand on the young man’s arm to attract his attention.
“We know how to cover our tracks by now Cam,” she murmured reassuringly, not quite sure what had prompted her to do this. “We’ll be fine. And if we need you, we know where you are.” She thought he wasn’t going to respond to her, but then he paused in his typing and briefly pressed her hand in acknowledgement, still not looking up, before returning once more to his data search.
When she realized that was all she was getting, Tori looked back at the others to see if any of them had witnessed this, wondering why none of them had even considered the older youth. But then Shane smiled and waved her over, impatient to get out into the open air; and after a moments hesitation, she joined them, snatching up her bag of nuts from the table.
Once they had left, Cam stood looking around the small room hearing those last words replaying in his mind. “We know where you are,” she had said. Where I always am, Cam thought irritably, alone.
Closing his eyes, Dustin remembered again those moments before he had lost consciousness, the fright as the wall of magic had come rushing in at them. He had paused only long enough to pull Blake to him, supporting the smaller boy against his body as he sank into the protective embrace of the earth.
The ground had been hard and he had been forced to use too much of his power to dive to safety with Blake to risk resurfacing for the others; so he had lain there, feeling the navy ranger’s shallow heart beat against his own, worrying about those above them.
The movement caused the crimson ranger’s shirt to hike up, allowing a glimpse of the smooth white skin beneath. The thunder ninja had rolled his shirt sleeves out of his way, and Shane could see the contraction of firm muscle in his arms. For a moment he wondered what it would be like to place his hand on the warm skin and feel the strength beneath his fingertips; and, without meaning to, he took a few steps into the room. At that same moment, Hunter turned to snatch up another box and saw him there.
Something fell into place with a decisive click that was almost audible. The limited space that the storage room afforded seemed suddenly to become much smaller, and Shane could feel the heated aura of the thunder ninja as clearly as if there were only a breath of air between them.
In lieu of an enquiry Hunter grunted in his direction, a dismissive sound obviously intended to indicate his wish to be alone. His expression was hard; his eyes like chips of flint.
”I-I was wondering if you needed a hand” Shane breathed; and unconsciously he flexed his fingers, hoping to ease the aching need to feel the warm flesh now exposed at the opening of Hunter’s collar.
“No,” was the snarled reply and involuntarily Shane took half a step back.
“You should calm down Hunter. It’s not doing anyone any good to get like this.”
“Don’t tell me that, don’t you dare!” Hunter’s eyes flashed hot as coals. “How can you act like this, like nothing’s going on?” he pressed, stalking through the door, advancing on Shane “Blake is hurt! And all we’re doing is taking in stock like nothing happened.” His voice had risen, so that as he stepped out onto the shop floor Tori and Dustin looked up.
“What’s going on?” the blue ranger demanded, her voice holding a warning edge.
“Apparently nothing,” Hunter retorted.
Concerned at the extent of Hunter’s anger, Shane crossed the room and turned the sign on the door to closed, praying that Kelly would be out for as long as it took to get the enraged thunder ninja to calm down.
“It’s just one thing after another,” the blond was saying, and his eyes traveled to Shane, but he bit off whatever he was about to say with a curse.
Tori had unconsciously fallen into a defensive stance at the hostile tone in Hunter’s voice, and Shane put his hand on her shoulder to offer comfort. Hunter snorted derisively then.
“Look at you. We’re the power rangers for chrissake, and Lothor has us whipped!”
Shane eyed him warily and moved to deliberately place himself between Hunter and the others. He held up his hands as a sign he didn’t want to fight and calmly tried to reason with him, doing his best not to notice how incredibly hot the blond was like that; flushed and breathing heavily, blue eyes flashing.
“I’ve had it with this!” Hunter exploded as he lashed out at the pile of boxes Dustin had stacked earlier, sending them flying across the floor. The others could feel the energy that radiated from his anger as a cloud of heat, stifling weight pressing against them.
As he pushed past her, Tori felt the sharp snap of static against her skin and instinctively she stepped back.
As soon as the door slammed behind the furious youth, Shane walked over to the sofa without a word and snatched up his keys from under the cushions, brushing aside the empty wrappers and packets of various snack foods. His face was grim, determined; and Tori exchanged a look with Dustin before asking, “Where are you going?”
“I’m going after him,” was the reply. He didn’t even look at them as he crossed to the door, his thoughts focused completely on his objective. It was one of the greatest strengths of an air ninja, she reflected; and one of their greatest weaknesses.
“You can’t be serious. Shane, we have to get back to ninja ops to warn Cam!” She had caught hold of his arm as he passed her. “You felt the power he was using,” the blue ranger tried to reason with him. “This isn’t normal, even for Hunter; it’s got to be the effects of the spell! We don’t know if he’s turned against us.” Shane snatched his arm away from her grasp and she almost reached for him again but something in his gaze stopped her. Tori let her arm fall helplessly back to her side but remained where she was for the moment, still prepared to follow him if he attempted to pursue Hunter. He didn’t immediately move towards the doorway though; instead he stood a couple of feet away from her, glowering.
“I’m responsible,” he ground out, “for this team”
“Not this again, Shane,” Tori started, but the air ninja continued talking over her.
“We’re a team and we fight as a team; but at the end of the day, I’m the red ranger. I make the decisions that could get someone hur…” that was as far as he got, before Tori realized what he was saying and cut him off.
“You’re not responsible for this!”
She realized now that perhaps he would see it that way; that they should have made it clear it wasn’t his fault, instead of giving him time to brood.
The tension in the room was palpable as they stood facing off in silence for a moment. From the corner of her eye, Tori caught a slight movement and remembered that Dustin was with them, noticing for the first time that the yellow ranger had remained unusually still during all of this.
Finally, Shane broke the silence. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we don’t have much time to get into this argument. Hunter’s out there, and it may not be safe for civilians.” He took a step towards Tori now, hands spread in a placatory gesture. “I appreciate you’re trying to keep us all safe; but for Hunter’s sake, one of us has to go after him before he does something he’ll regret.”
Tori sighed; she had to accept the assessment, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
“I’m going after Hunter now.” Shane slowly pulled her into a hug, effectively cutting off her next protest. “But you’re right, someone should inform Cam.”
He released her and looked down into her face, making sure that she agreed with him. “Take Dustin,” he told her; and, reluctantly she complied.
Once they had gone, Shane stood thinking for a moment, then moved to the counter and scribbled a quick note of apology to Kelly. She wouldn’t be happy about this, and there’d be some serious repercussions, but that couldn’t be helped now. Turning off the lights and locking the door behind him, the red ranger turned his face into the wind, reading the night.
Dustin had returned to his nest of cushions in the corner and Tori considered him for a moment, noticing that the usually energetic youth was starting to doze. A thought occurred to her that maybe Dustin’s lethargy was a result of the spell, rather than shock and the water ninja returned her attention to Cam, intending to voice her concerns.
He was frowning, fingers of his other hand hovering over the angry red mottling that had appeared, making note of the placement and spread. Not wanting to disturb him, Tori decided to wait until he had finished. As he worked, she looked around at the room that functioned as their base of operations, seeing evidence of the past hours’ study in the books stacked open on the console table and the scrolls piled beside them, but little in the way of personal effects. She wondered at this, how Cam could possibly live such a regimented life. Sure there was enjoyment to be had in academic pursuits, but would it hurt to have a social life? Why didn’t a guy like Cam have a girlfriend? She caught herself at that thought, wondering what had brought it into her mind.
From beneath her lashes, she watched the look of intense concentration on his face and the way his lips moved silently as he muttered to himself, completely absorbed in the task at hand; and she admitted to herself that yes, he was an attractive boy - a little moody sometimes, but still. She looked at him – really looked at him – and started to notice what years of friendship had shielded from her before.
Abruptly, Cam let go of her arm and stepped over to the cabinet where they kept the first aid supplies. He hesitated a moment before selecting a small jar and passing it over to her, his expression all business.
As she took it from his hand, Tori shook herself inwardly; silly girl.
The citizens of Blue Bay Harbor had all retreated inside their homes in the face of this supernatural storm, leaving the streets eerily deserted, and Shane felt like a shadow as he passed through them in pursuit of his teammate, noticing how in the grey world of twilight, the only other color that existed was the inky black of the ninja uniform he had assumed upon leaving Storm Chargers.
The next wave of thunder sounded deeper than the first, and Shane could feel it resonating through his whole being, calling him onwards.
He felt frustrated, two of the supposed heroes were with him now and yet here he was, leading the way through the darkened building in search of a fuse and having more hassle than the task required just watching they didn’t end up breaking their necks. How ironic it was, that of all the talented students he had seen pass through the school’s gates, it was the three most inept ninjas in the school’s long history that now wielded the wind morphers. He’d said it would be pointless having them come with him, that he could manage on his own; but his father had insisted that it was unsafe for Cam to cross the building on his own in these conditions and offered to watch over Blake in their absence.
Carefully making his way down the stairs by feel with the two ninjas in tow, Cam led them through the pitch dark subterranean passages that ran in a vast network beneath the school, before eventually climbing another staircase on the opposite side of the building and emerging into a room similar to the one Cam and Sensei had taken for their base of operations.
“Watch your head,” Cam called as he ducked under a beam that had fallen through the ceiling sometime during Lothor’s attack on the school. “The structure of this place isn’t sound and it could probably come down around us if that storm keeps on.” He stepped away, seeing there was just enough murky light filtering in for them to navigate the room’s dangers without him. “If it sounds like it’s coming down, get into the stairwell.”
It took them a while to locate the fuse box, each of them stumbling in the poor light until Tori called out that she could see it.
That was when they discovered that restoring power wasn’t going to be an easy matter; falling debris from the floor above had blocked their access. Tori was all for tunneling through it, until Cam pointed out that that could cause the whole thing to collapse on top of them. He thought the best solution would be to navigate up to the room above and lower himself in that way, whilst the others kept watch.
“Will that work?” Dustin queried, a hint of doubt in his voice.
“Do you have a better idea?” Cam snarled at him.
“Well if you can’t add anything useful to this discussion, go back to the training rooms and out of the way!”
In the darkness, he didn’t need to see Dustin’s face to know his words had hurt the sensitive youth.
“What’s happening to us?” Tori snapped out “We need to work together on this! Blake’s been seriously injured, Hunter’s on the rampage, Shane is out of his mind chasing Hunter through this storm and we’re at each other’s throats over one stupid fuse!”
There came a sound indicating Tori had sat down on the hard floor and after a moment, Cam eased himself down as well.
Resting with his back against the wall, he stretched out his hand in the general direction of the girl until his fingers brushed her hair. Finding her face, his temper cooled instantly as he felt the fine drops of moisture on her cheeks. With a sigh, Cam pulled Tori to him, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and squeezing in mute apology and reassurance, feeling the soft tumble of her hair against his face and catching the subtle coconut scent of her shampoo. After a short pause, he heard Dustin gingerly settling down a couple of feet away and, feeling a little guilty for his harsh words, he reached out and took hold of the yellow ranger’s sleeve to pull him closer.
They huddled together in the near darkness, listening to the raging storm outside.
“What are you doing?” Catching hold of the other youth’s arm, Shane didn’t anticipate the first blow, which came with such speed the air ninja didn’t have time to react.
Rolling with the punch as it caught his shoulder to minimize any damage, Shane automatically fell into a defensive position. Thunder exploded across the bay.
“I don’t want to fight Hunter!” He yelled over the noise, circling slowly as they squared up to each other, already bracing for the next attack.
Fast as lightning, the crimson ranger lashed out; and Shane moved to block and divert the force without injuring either of them. The next series of blows rained down faster, and the red ranger suddenly found himself having to work to keep up. He began returning the attacks with counter thrusts of his own, faster they moved; faster.
Every strike he made, the crimson ranger matched; driving them faster and faster until the blood thundered in his veins and his breath came in gasps. As they fought, the rain beat down with increasing force; and the ground beneath them became saturated and seemed to churn in dark oceans. Twice Shane went down as he lost his footing, only the inherent speed of an air ninja sparing him the full impact of Hunter’s more aggressive attacks.
He directed a cutting blow at Hunter’s throat, too caught up in the heat of the storm now to maintain control, and the thunder ninja caught it with lightning fast reflexes, exposing his right side as Shane had anticipated. Drawing power from the turbulence of air around them, the red ninja threw all his strength into a lunge that sent both of them tumbling to the ground, with Shane landing on top of his teammate.
Adrenalin spiking, the heat of a solid body beneath him, Shane’s acts were instinctive; taking Hunter’s face between his hands, he roughly pressed his mouth to the other boy’s, tasting the fire and fury of the storm as the thunder ninja’s power clashed with his own.
Gathering his strength, the crimson ranger hurled Shane off him to land several feet away. It was anger that had driven Hunter to this bluff, rage that called the storm and it was with the irresistible force of his channeled power the thunder ninja slammed into Shane, pinning the other boy beneath him, mouth claiming the red ranger’s fiercely as they wrestled for dominance.
The storm closed in around them.