Disclaimer: The characters and settings used in here are the property of MMPR Productions and are used without permission and without financial gain of any kind on my part.
Note: This story is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Eric Frank, JDF's real-life brother, who brought the character of David Trueheart – Tommy Oliver's brother – so memorably to life for a few too short, wonderful episodes in PRZ. My depiction of David is not meant to reflect in any way on the actor who portrayed him, and whose life ended, due to illness, far too soon for his family, friends and fans in autumn of 2001. Any comments, as usual, will be appreciated. DB, 2001/02Brother, My Brother
Unpleasant memories assailed the Green Turbo Ranger's mind as he ran up the stairs two at a time to the hospital ward where one of their own was fighting for his life, hooked up to all sorts of machinery. The first to lie here had been Kimberly, after her balance beam accident just before she left for Florida, then – only a few short weeks ago – his best childhood buddy had been recovering from his injuries. Adam reminded himself sternly that both instances had had a lucky ending, even if Rocky had to retire from the team. It didn't help much to quell his anxiety.
Slightly out of breath from his mad dash across town and into the hospital, he took a moment to regain his composure as he surveyed the group assembled in the waiting area. The huge clock mounted on one wall showed that Rocky had called him only a scant hour ago; it felt more like ages. The stunt show had never seemed to last this long, but never mind however much he wanted to, his obligations to his job for once had to come before a friend's needs. Bad enough that Ranger business took precedence so often.
"How is he?" Adam asked in a hushed voice as he joined the rest of his friends outside room 227. They were all there, sitting, crouching, leaning against the walls – the former Zeo (now Turbo) team, Trini, Zack, David and Sam … Tommy was missing, but Adam assumed he'd probably be in with their friend, watching over him and waiting for developments.
"Not good," Tanya whispered back, suppressed tears roughening her usually smooth voice as Kat answered at the same time, "He's hanging in there."
The green-shirted young man's dark eyes wandered from one girl to the other, his puzzlement obvious. Kat managed a fleeting smile, realizing what had happened. Giving Tanya a one-armed hug, she explained to Adam. "What I meant is, Tommy's hanging in there. Jason, though …" she swallowed hard. "We just don't know yet if he'll make it."
Adam closed his eyes in silent despair. They'd faced interstellar monsters, giant robots, evil magic and even a creature risen directly from the Earth's core and come through with flying colors; impossible to imagine that one of them should be in danger of dying of something as insignificant, as mundane as an allergic reaction!
He hugged a by-now softly sobbing Tanya to him, trying to give comfort even though he had no answers himself. Attempting to find at least some rhyme or reason, he asked the group which had gathered around them, "What exactly happened? When Rocky called, all he told me was that Jase had been bitten by a poisonous snake. I mean … didn't they take an antitoxin along?"
"We did," an unfamiliar voice said hoarsely from the back of the room. David Trueheart was leaning against a wall, looking pale and sick although there was no visible sign of injury on him. "It's that which is killing him now." There was guilt written all over his features which looked so uncannily like Tommy's.
"I didn't know …" he murmured almost to himself, staring at his dusty hiking boots. "I just didn't know …"
"Didn't know what, son?"
Reluctantly, David lifted haunted brown eyes to his adoptive father's. Sam had come as soon as he'd learned of the accident, offering his own vast knowledge of local wildlife and traditional remedies to the doctors at Angel Grove Memorial. So far, their combined efforts were barely enough to keep the former Gold Ranger alive. But nobody was giving up quite yet – not as long as Jason himself was still fighting with every labored breath he took.
"I …. I didn't know at first that he'd even been bitten by a snake, or that he's allergic to the antitoxin," the young man answered.
After a moment of reflective silence, Rocky's eyes suddenly lit up with a strange flame. Keeping his voice down with an effort, he stepped up close to Tommy's brother.
"How could you not know about the bite? You were there with Jason, weren't you? I know Tommy had to teleport out because of Divatox's latest attack, but I can't believe he didn't tell you to look out for Jase!" Trini and Zack flinched, casting perplexed looks at the Truehearts; surely Rocky hadn't forgotten about Zordon's edict about keeping their Ranger identities secret from everybody? Noticing their surprise, Kat nodded reassuringly, letting them know silently that it was okay. Details could be explained later. Still looking wary, the two erstwhile Rangers relaxed, turning towards the long-haired young man once more.
The guilty look intensified, and David squirmed uncomfortably, feeling all eyes trained on him. The former Blue Ranger quite obviously had trouble keeping control of his temper.
"Where were you, David? Why did it take so long from the moment he'd been bitten until Jase got to see a doctor? If Tommy hadn't returned when he did, and decided to bend the rules just a little by teleporting Jason directly here …"
The accusation was clear to everybody as it sank in on the group of friends that there seemed to be far more to the situation than a simple hiking accident. Equally obvious was that Rocky was on to something, if only because David had paled even more, his bronze skin taking on a greyish hue as he seemed to shrink into himself before their eyes. Only Sam Trueheart's calming presence prevented the Rangers, both active and former, from beating the answers they wanted out of their new acquaintance. The old shaman placed a protective hand on his tall son's shoulder and stopped the Rangers from venting their fear and growing suspicion with a single long look. Seating himself in a corner of the waiting area, far enough away from Jason's door not to disturb his parents and Tommy who were at his bedside, but still close enough to be on hand at once should there be any change at all in Jason's condition, Sam indicated that the teenagers should gather around him.
They did so without any questions, Adam still holding Tanya, Kat seated between Trini and Zack who had come home from Geneva a few weeks after Jason, having graduated from High School back in Switzerland. Rocky was still seething as Justin looked on uneasily. Kim hadn't arrived yet, but had been notified … and nobody knew if their hasty message to Aquitar had gotten through at all. Billy deserved to know.
Closing his wise old eyes for a few moments, cloaking himself in calm like a mantle that spread out to the others, Sam then addressed his son.
"Tell us what happened, David. Everything."
Though it was softly spoken, it was nonetheless an irresistible command. Unable to refuse, David swallowed the lump lodging in his throat.
"It all started pretty normal," he remembered. "Tommy had wanted me to meet Jason ever since his return, but somehow or other, the timing never was right. Anyway, this trip was the first opportunity that came up for all three of us, and we decided to go on a hike to Falcon's Pass …"
"This really sucks," David muttered to himself for maybe the twentieth time – ever since Tommy had called him yesterday to say that he was sorry, but there was a problem with Jason's car, and could he, David, drop by the Olivers' house so they could use Tommy's car? Short of calling the whole trip off, there was nothing David could do, so although it meant he had to go all the way into Angel Grove, then drive back half the distance to go hiking, he arranged for a neighbor to take him into town in the morning.
Unfortunately, said neighbor had to make a 7am deadline, which meant the young man had to get up at what he thought of Godawful o'clock in the morning, then was stuck in a rattletrap of a pickup for nearly 50 miles between a smelly and WAY too friendly dog and a bunch of chicken cages, had to listen to the aimless mutterings of his grandfather's crony AND had to walk from the highway exit all the way to Tommy's house, loaded down with his camping gear and wearing hiking boots definitely NOT suited for pavement pounding. Temperatures were already in the high seventies this early in the day, but that was nothing compared to the low simmer of David's temper.
In other words, David Trueheart was well on his way to be royally pissed.
"Jason's car broke; you don't mind coming here so we can pick him up, do you?" David sneered a bit as he recalled his brother's words. Actually, he did mind, since the new arrangement inconvenienced him a lot, but nooo – of course it never occurred to Tommy that maybe his precious friend should be the one to accommodate the brothers instead of the other way around. However, there never was a chance to voice his objections because Tommy once more launched into a glowing report on what Jason had said, what Jason had done, how nicely Jason was recuperating from losing the Gold Ranger's powers … so much so that David was close to screaming with frustration if he had to hear the name spoken one more time.
"He can't be that perfect. Nobody is that perfect," he grumbled as he turned into Tommy's street, ignoring the few catcalls from high school kids passing him on their way to school. David was well aware of how he looked in his leather jacket and hiking boots, long hair held back by a narrow, pearl-embroidered headband that proclaimed his heritage even more than his bronzed skin, dark hair and eyes. Some people's ignorance couldn't be helped, and the boys taunting him really were rather young … not young enough not to know better though. Usually, these things didn't bother David much, but today – he shook off his dark thoughts, determining anew to enjoy this weekend hike with his brother, even if Tommy's best friend was going to be there, too.
*Intruding on what should be a family thing – Tommy and I bonding, doing stuff together as brothers.*
But David knew he couldn't tell Tommy of his resentment; not when Tommy was so obviously glad to have his best friend home again from Europe. Squaring his shoulders and pasting a smile on his face, David stepped up to the Olivers' door and rang the bell. Steps clattered inside, and then the door was yanked open suddenly by a young man whose family resemblance to David was unmistakeable.
"Dave!" Tommy's enthusiasm was unfaked as he drew David into a brief bear hug, and he felt his mood lift by the friendly greeting.
"Hey Tommy," he murmured a bit self-consciously as he noticed Rachel Oliver in the kitchen door, looking at both young men with a somewhat strange expression. But she greeted him cordially enough, offering him breakfast and coffee, which David accepted gratefully. However, he couldn't enjoy the stack of pancakes Rachel placed before him in peace, as Tommy was fidgeting near the door, impatient to be on the way as much as any five-year-old about to go to Disneyland for the very first time. So David wolfed down his food far faster than he would've liked, and found himself hustled outside to Tommy's red 4X4 almost as soon as he'd swallowed his last sip of coffee.
"Come on already; Jason's waiting," Tommy called a bit impatiently from behind the wheel while David thanked Rachel for breakfast.
"Hold your horses, Tommy; he won't vanish into thin air just because we're five minutes late, if that," David groused, but obligingly climbed into the car and buckled up.
"Yeah, well …" Tommy grinned sheepishly as he started the car. "I know; it's just, I wanted the two of you to meet for so long, and now that it's happening …"
"…you're acting like a kid on Christmas morning," David jibed, grinning himself as Tommy blushed. "Drive on already!"
Muttering under his breath, Tommy backed out of the driveway and navigated through the quiet residential streets to the Scotts' house. Once there, he turned off the engine and jumped out of the car. "Come on," he called to his brother. "Let's see if Jase needs any help with his gear!"
Slowly, David got out as well. "If he can't carry his gear from the house to the car, how does he expect to handle a five-hour hike?" he wondered, fresh resentment welling up in him, but Tommy didn't hear. He was already at the door, about to ring the bell, when the door opened and a slender blonde woman looked up at him with a friendly smile.
"Tommy! Good morning!" The blonde hugged Tommy, who returned the embrace warmly and without embarrassment.
"Hi, Helen," he grinned. "Is Jase up yet?"
"Of course I am, idiot," a deep voice came from the hallway, and a broad-shouldered figure emerged into the morning sunlight, giving David his first glimpse of his brother's best friend. "After all, I'm not the one with the memory problem!"
"It was only that one time before Junior year! And you gotta admit, I had a ton of things on my mind then." Tommy groaned comically. "Are you ever gonna let me live that down?"
"Nope," Jason grinned back cheerfully. "After all, you did ask us to help you with your problem, Bro!"
"You've helped, Bro," Tommy shot back. "And helped, and helped, and helped …"
The two broke into laughter over what was clearly an old joke between them, while the blonde – Jason's mother, David assumed – looked on with an indulgent smile, an expression that made absolutely no distinction between Jason or Tommy. Feeling somewhat left out, David took a step closer, only to stop short when Tommy flung a casual arm around the broad shoulders and drew Jason to stand next to him. The ex-Gold Ranger made no move to get away from this sign of deep affection, even intimacy, but slipped his own arm around Tommy just as easily. They stood like this as if posed for a few seconds, not at all embarrassed about letting others see how close they were.
David wanted to rip them apart.
*That is MY place!* something within him seemed to shout, but before he could do or say anything, Jason and Tommy separated again.
"Let's get this show on the road already," Tommy suggested, reaching for his keys to pop the trunk, but a mock-stern headshake from Jason stopped him. "What?"
"Aren't you forgetting something, Bro?" Jason asked.
Tommy looked at him, bewildered. "Not that I know of."
Jason rolled his eyes at his mother, who barely smothered a laugh. "What did I tell you? It's a wonder he remembered to show up here at all."
Mrs Scott did laugh then. "Be nice," she admonished him, grey eyes twinkling up at her broad-shouldered son.
"Yeah, yeah," Jason grinned, slinging his camping gear into the back of Tommy's car. "You just got me out of two weeks of lawn mowing, Tom," he said cheerfully.
Jason winked at David, who was feeling rather superfluous observing the banter between people who quite obviously had forgotten all about him – if they'd even noticed his presence.
"I made a bet with Mom that you would forget to introduce your brother to us," he said smugly. "Mom claimed you had better manners than that, but she doesn't know that leaky brain of yours as well as I do. And I won!" Grinning broadly, Jason then turned towards David, holding out his hand.
"Hi. In case Tommy hasn't told you, I'm Jason Scott. I already know you're that idiot's brother, that your name is David Trueheart, and I'm pleased to meet you."
Bemusedly, David stared at the outstretched hand, making no move to shake it. Part of him wanted to respond to the easy friendliness, but another part protested, resenting the familiarity and closeness Jason obviously shared with Tommy – something that deep down David felt ought to belong rightfully to him alone. Before the situation could get awkward, though, Mrs Scott shouldered Jason aside.
"Really, Jason, your manners are as bad or worse than Tommy's," she chided, giving both young men a look that made them blush and squirm. "That's hardly the way to talk of one's best friend – especially not to a family member you haven't even met yet." She smiled at David. "Please forgive Jason's lack of tact, Mr. Trueheart. I'm Helen Scott, this big lug is my son, and I welcome you to our house."
"Uh, thanks," David mumbled, nonplussed. He didn't know what to make of the situation. Good manners ordered him in one direction, his budding resentment of Jason into another, and he didn't know which way to go.
To Be Continued …