Ryan awoke in a cold sweat, panting, his eyes darting around in residual fear. The effects still had not worn off as he sat up and put his face in his hands. In the dream, he had been cursed by Diabolico with a tattoo that would kill him when it reached his neck. To his horror, when he finally did get out of his bunk to look, the cobra was still there. It seemed to be writhing as he twisted his back to gaze at it. Ryan padded ever-so-softly to the mirror near his closet. He turned the lights on so he could see his back more clearly.
"Something wrong?" it was Carter, leaning in the doorway. Ryan's shirt flew down almost as quickly as it had gone up. He looked toward the Red Ranger swiftly and shook his head.
"Just a sore spot," he replied. "I must've twisted it in the fight yesterday."
Carter knew, better than he cared to admit, just how strong and flexible Ryan was and the thought of the Titanium Ranger twisting anything in a fight with some obnoxious Battlings made him snort. The courageous firefighter-turned-Power Ranger crossed his arms and lifted a brow.
"Twisted your back…? How old are you? 60?" the jab was light-hearted and masked the concern the Red Ranger was feeling for his team-mate. Ryan answered with a typical grin and shrug.
"I guess I'm getting on in years," he chuckled. They both knew Ryan was barely over twenty and that Carter was his senior by at least three years. Nevertheless, the 'joke', if it could be called that, passed between them and lit both men's faces. Ryan had to admit, Carter's smile was addicting. His lips were full and pink, his teeth straight and shining white. The man had the smile of a real hero, something Ryan could only wish for. For his part however, Carter thought Ryan's grin rather endearing. His lips would cock crookedly and one could see a dimple on that side of his mouth. His canines were rather like fangs, Carter thought, but that was neither here nor there.
"I guess I ought to get back to bed," Ryan reasoned, feigning a stretch-yawn combo that couldn't have fooled a ten-year-old. Ryan walked toward Carter, who still stood in the doorway. He backed the Red Ranger into the jamb, their chests flush to one another. Ryan leaned further into Carter, their hips grinding ever so slightly, a potentially malicious smile flashing across his lips. Perhaps that was an echo of the old, deceived Ryan. So, too must have been his physical fascination with Carter. His mouth ghosted the other Ranger's, the grin returning and solidifying.
"Back to bed huh…" Carter's usual confidence was diminished by the proximity of the sixth Ranger. Ryan's hands never once touched the other man; his lips and torso did the job well enough on their own. Before the Red Ranger could get out another word, Ryan's mouth covered the source. The kiss was gentle but not at all hesitant. Ryan could read people like books and he knew what Carter wanted…Knew what he wanted. Instinctively, Carter's hands went to Ryan's waist, unsure of where else to go. Quickly as the cobra on his back, the Titanium Ranger's arms slid underneath Carter's, forcing them upward. Now, with his arms around Ryan's neck, Carter became rather helpless, his back literally and figuratively against a wall. Using the Red Ranger's momentary surprise, Ryan forced his tongue into the other's mouth. To Ryan's elation, Carter answered by sucking on the intruding muscle, arching into the other. He moaned quietly, hating the restraints his bedclothes were creating. When Ryan relented in his attack, his mouth went to Carter's ear.
"Not here," he whispered, his tongue flickering out. "Your bed or mine?"
Of course it was a moot point; they were already in Ryan's private suite. Sometimes Carter hated Ryan's cavalier attitude. He felt it undermined his role as chosen leader of the Lightspeed Rescue Squad. Perhaps those feelings were holdovers from the failed experiment with the Titanium Morpher. Originally, Carter was designated Titanium; Dr. Fairweather wanted him to use that device. To his shame, the thing was too powerful; it nearly killed him. He was bitter for awhile afterward. Tactically however, he was more often than not grateful for the brute force and power provided Ryan by the Titanium Morpher.
"Now is not a good time, Ryan," Carter hissed, suddenly apprehensive about this encounter. He wanted it…ooh how badly he wanted this…but he had a reputation and a position to maintain as the leader of the team. Falling into this most heinous of temptations, however freely it might be given, went directly against his upstanding character. This was a darker side of himself he was not used to. Rarely would it emerge, even in the heat of battle. Ryan seemed to have no trouble bringing this out in Carter, though; it scared him.
"Ryan Mitchell doesn't take 'no' for an answer, Grayson," Ryan replied, snapping down on Carter's surname at the end of his sentence, like a wolf might. After a minor struggle, Ryan hoisted Carter on his shoulders in an appropriate fireman's carry. At that point, the Red Ranger found himself in an uncomfortably tight spot. He didn't dare cry out, for fear of alerting the Lightspeed staff or Captain Mitchell. Nor could he struggle, in apprehension of the same. Simultaneously, his brain grappled with a way to free himself. If he allowed Ryan get him into his bed, Carter would almost certainly give in to the admittedly handsome Titanium Ranger's forceful advances. He whispered, pleading with Ryan.
"Please put me down, Ryan," Carter whispered harshly. "This isn't right; you don't want this…"
Ryan scoffed. "Don't tell me what I want, Carter."
The Titanium Ranger had clearly made up his mind as Carter's back hit the bed. Ryan was soon to follow, his heated body forcing itself down on the other man, hands clamping around Carter's wrists.
"I want you."
The demand was three words long but carried with it the weight of many long, sleepless nights. It held desire, passion and the camaraderie of vicious battles, won and lost. Ryan's thoughts were all on Carter as they had been since he had laid eyes on the boy scout-like human being. As the reality of his condition, of the cursed cobra tattoo on his back, set in, he realized how little time he likely had left. Ryan was sure he was in love with Carter, though, being raised by demons, he didn't have an adequate, verbal way to express his feelings. Gripping the other man's wrists tightly, he kissed Carter roughly, the force drawing blood. Carter bucked, stifling a yelp at the sudden pain. The noise, and their hips clashing, heated Ryan's loins, further hardening his already strained organ. It throbbed painfully between his legs. To the horror of the Red Ranger, his own member stiffened against his rather stubborn will. His groans of protest became wanton moans of lust as he was losing his ability to resist.
"Don't fight me," Ryan's voice was slightly pleading. "I know we both want this."
Slowly, he released his grasp on the other's wrists. When he was satisfied Carter would not strike out at him, his hands moved to pull their shirts up. As skin brushed skin, the heat became more intense than any fire Carter had ever fought his way through. His own hands found their way to Ryan's back and clutched him feverishly. Their lips clashed and battled, this time for mutual heat instead of escape. Ryan sat up, straddling Carter's hips. He pulled his own shirt off. Carter's eyes raked up and down the sixth Ranger's body, unable to stop his roving gaze.
"I take it you don't mind so much," Ryan ventured, his head cocking. "I'm done being evil, Carter."
The declaration was a promise, and a sincere one at that. His slate gray eyes told no lie to the leader of the Lightspeed Rescue squad and he shook his head.
"I believe you," he whispered. Those words were a salve to Ryan's broken, angry spirit. Without another word, Ryan tossed his shirt aside and dipped down, arms clamping around Carter's torso in a tight hug. The words 'thank you' could not begin to describe how Ryan felt at that moment. In his moment of trust and weakness, he uttered the words only his own family had ever heard from his mouth.
"I love you," he huffed. The words were not forced; they were not falsified. "Carter Grayson, I love you; I don't know what else I can say."
The crushing embrace surprised the Red Ranger and his body tensed reflexively. Instead of pushing Ryan off, as every self defense-geared instinct told him, he returned the hug, all frustration with himself and the other Ranger vanishing instantaneously. Ryan was hurting. His body was that of a man but his needs were those of a child. Having been raised by a wicked demon, he had no concept of what a father was, what siblings were, what love was supposed to be. The life before Diabolico had been almost completely erased and so Ryan was left with a clean slate. More appropriately, he was left with a broken heart and an angry, vengeful spirit.
"You'll stay here?" he mumbled, sitting back. Carter looked up at him and, mouth curling into a slow smile, he nodded. Ryan's eyes squeezed shut. Through the darkness, Carter knew there were tears. He lifted a hand to touch the other man's face.
"I'll stay," Carter said it aloud, as if to cement the fact in his own mind as well as Ryan's. "I won't leave."
Ryan's skin was soft, the stubble from a five o' clock shadow just beginning to form. His jaw was square, chiseled like the finest marble statue in an ancient Greek display at an art museum. The tears were warm and wet as Carter wiped them away, wishing he could do the same for Ryan's spirit. Physically, the Titanium Ranger was impressive. He had the physique of the finest Olympic athlete and fine-tuned, animalistic senses. His tears fell nevertheless. They sat in relative quietude for some time, Carter allowing Ryan to let loose his pent up sorrow. When he was able to stop, Ryan gathered himself and slid off Carter's hips, lying next to him instead.
"Thank you, Carter," he whispered. When next their lips met, it was gentle, rolling like warm waves in the heat of summer. Their bodies moved together and the heat built up again, this time comfortable instead of urgent. Carter's hands found the sides of Ryan's face. The younger man held Carter's hips hard, grinding them together. They moaned together, gasping and arching. Unbidden, Ryan's hands slipped down underneath the waistband of Carter's pants. They moved to the former fireman's tight rear-end.
"Do you want this…?" Ryan whispered. "I won't hurt you ever again."
Ryan was, of course, referring to the beat-down he had so recently dished out as a more evil version of himself. The Titanium suit was one of the most powerful Ranger suits ever designed by human hands and Ryan had been very capable of harnessing that power. Carter's heart was racing and he fought the urge to beg for it.
"I can't," Carter mumbled, his hands finding the sides of Ryan's face. He laid his forehead on the other man's and closed his eyes. "Ryan, I am the leader of this team; I have to—"
"You have to what?" Ryan snapped, cutting the Red Ranger off. Carter silently prayed Joel and Chad would keep sleeping. "You can't love me because of your reputation?"
"That's not what I said!" replied Carter, his whisper harsh. Ryan's hands found Carter's wrists on either side of his face and forced them down, rolling back on top of the other. "Please Ryan, this isn't what you want…I'm sorry…I just can't."
"You can't," snarled the Titanium Ranger. "I can."
Using the leverage on Carter's wrists, Ryan shoved him roughly to his stomach, grabbing a handful of his hair to stop his struggles. He leaned down, mouth to Carter's ear.
"Don't lie to yourself," he hissed. "If anyone asks, I forced you."
The logic was sound but Carter would be damned if he'd just let it happen.
"You promised you'd never hurt me again," replied the Red Ranger. The tactic was quickly-thought and slightly underhanded, considering the circumstances. By the same token, Carter had never been so scared in his life. He didn't want this. He wanted to love Ryan but not like this. The silence was tense, both men breathing heavily, unsure of the other's next move.
"I do love you, Ryan," Carter began, levering himself to lie on his back. Ryan was back to his position on the Red Ranger's hips. The heat was intense. "And you're right; I want it…I want you more than I've ever wanted another human being. At the same time, I have the integrity of our team and the entire Lightspeed Rescue organization to think of. I am not free to choose who I am with; you've got to understand."
"Take it slow, right?" Ryan's voice was absolutely despondent. He wished nothing more than to tell Carter what was going on; he wanted to let the Red Ranger know that it was likely his last night alive. His humanity won out in the end however, and Ryan nodded. Unbeknownst to him however, Carter had seen the tattoo. While the Red Ranger was still trying to work out the connection between it and Ryan's behavior, it wouldn't be long before he would make the connection.
"I'm sorry Carter; I almost made the biggest mistake of my life," he admitted grudgingly. "I'm really no better than the demons that raised me; I nearly broke a promise I only made five minutes ago."
The scene from Carter's angle was truly heartbreaking. The man wanted nothing more than to make Ryan happy again, to make him feel human. He knew the Titanium Ranger considered himself sub-human and that it was going to take a lot more than just a friend to show him otherwise. At the same time he knew he had the integrity of his entire team to uphold, just as he'd told Ryan.
"You can't blame yourself," Carter whispered. "You were a child."
Ryan knew it to be true but the bitterness remained. He had come to respect and appreciate the rest of the Ranger team, having never had friends before that. Clearly it was this very friendship that seemed to have damned him in a dream and, subsequently, in waking. Diabolico had made it very clear that if Ryan chose to morph and help the other Rangers, the cobra would slither its way up his back. When its fangs reached his neck, he would slip the mortal coil. His pride would not allow him to tell Carter what was really bothering him. For the second and final time that night, Ryan slumped, lying next to the other man. Carter turned onto his side and put his arms around Ryan. Reputation be damned; if someone walked in, they'd see whatever the Hell they wanted.
Perhaps someone did…
William Mitchell closed the slider door as quietly as he could as he made his way down the corridor to his office. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.