Chapter 3: No monster can beat my low self-esteem

The days passed in relative tranquility after their visit to the amusement park. The Rangers' training routine was resumed and there were no attacks from Nighloks to threaten the citizens of Panorama City.

After a month and a half in this new life, Emily was already more than used to the environment and the people with whom she now lives.

Mentor is quiet and doesn't interact much with them, but it's noticeable that he cares for everyone nonetheless. In a way, he reminds me of dad.

Kevin also prefers to keep it to himself, training or reading, but occasionally he gets carried away by the group's jokes and manages to be really fun when he isn't taking things so seriously.

Jayden is ... an inspiration to her. It took a while, but after he opened up to new friendships, he became more than a samurai leader. She never imagined what it would be like to have an older brother, but she thinks it would be something like the relationship between them.

Mia has certainly taken on the place of best friend in her heart. As the only girls on the team they soon got close and Emily couldn't be happier about it. Apart from Serena, she had never had friends before, let alone a best friend. The sudden change in reality was a little strange, but certainly welcome.

And then there's Mike. After the fear she felt for him passed and the two got along, they became good friends. She didn't see him as a brother like Jayden, but she was certainly closer to him than to Kevin, feeling like she could confide anything with him, just like she did with Mia. Their friendship was light and uncomplicated.

Even after what she said in the park. 'So it can remind you of me.' Frankly, Emily, what's wrong with you?

She'd had no second intention with that sentence, and Mike didn't seem to care either, but the jump her heart gave at the moment couldn't be ignored. Nor could the jitters in her belly and her flushing cheeks either.

After that awkward interaction things got back to normal between them, but every now and then, during a conversation, training, or even getting ready to sleep, she remembers what she felt at that time and the slightest mention of the Green Ranger brings everything back. Which is bad at the moment, since in today's sword fighting training they were pitted against each other.

Emily used part of her energy to fight and the other part to keep herself from getting distracted by her thoughts. Stop it. It was just a slip up, something you said without thinking and now you're having a completely disproportionate reaction to it. On top of that about Mike. Your friend, Mike. It is not right to think these things about him. The two used the shinai to block each other and approached, trying to exercise dominance in the battle using physical strength. From the distance they were right now she could clearly see ... how beautiful his green eyes are.

Ah, enough! Driven by sheer frustration, Emily was strong enough to push Mike and began to strike blow after blow. She didn't even think about what she was doing, until one of her attacks left him unbalanced, causing the boy to fall on his back on the stone garden floor.

"Oh no! Are you okay?"

A grunt of pain was her only response and she quickly helped her friend to his feet. I'm an idiot. I ended up hurting him because of this nonsense. Now he will be mad at me.

"Did you hurt yourself? Let me see."

As she came over to examine his back, he pulled away from her hands.

"No, thanks. I'm fine."

When she insisted, he started running. But she wasn't going to leave it at that. It was her fault, when she let her emotions take control during training. She will help him, whether he wants it or not. So she ran after him.

As soon as they entered the house, Mike sat with his hand on his back and avoided directing his attention to the girl. He looked angry, staring at the floor with a frown and clenching one fist. The sight made Emily stop and consider her next action. The desperation to lose his friendship took over her body and her mind started looking for a way to resolve the situation. He's not letting me see where he got hurt, so what can I do?

She vaguely noticed that Mia and Kevin had joined them when an idea came up. Ah! I got it! Running to the kitchen, she placed two packages of frozen peas on a plate and returned to the conference table. I hope I can do it like Serena used to.

Placing the plate on the floor, she handed one of the packages to the Green Ranger with a hopeful smile.

"Here you go."

He looked at the item in her hands without understanding and even seemed a little scared.

"Frozen peas?"

"It's like an ice pack. I was accident-prone as a kid and it always healed me right up." His guard dropped for a moment and she took that as a concession. "Let me-"

"No, thanks."

He stood up and started to walk away from her again.

"You really should." Why won't he let me help? Did I piss him off that much? "Mike! Come on. It'll make you feel better!"

Before she could process what was going on, her foot hit the plate with one of the improvised compresses on the floor, gravity did what it does best, and in a matter of seconds Emily was lying face down in a bag of frozen peas.

"Emily, are you okay?"

She lifted her head and spat out some of the peas that ended up in her mouth. Looking around she could see the mess she caused. The small green beans practically covered the floor of the room. She managed to rip both packages at once. Yep ... that's definitly not how Serena used to do.

"They're everywhere. I'm such a disaster."

"No, you're not. You were doing a nice thing."

Mia was at her side and wiped her face, probably covered with peas. Mike approached them looking like he wanted to laugh but knew it was wrong. If I were in his shoes I would laugh. I must look ridiculous.

"I'm so sorry." He said and she was already expecting it. But she wasn't going to let him blame himself for something that was her responsibility.

"No, it was all my fault. I was being silly." Not only running after him, but thinking those things about him was also silly of her. She won't let it happen again. She'll control the butterflies in her stomach. "I'm always messing things up. I'm sorry. I'll clean it up."

But it seems like the universe did not want her to do anything right at that moment, since, as soon as Emily put her foot on the ground to get up, she slipped again and spread the peas even more around the room.

"Ah! Not again."

Will she ever stop embarrassing herself in front of the others? That way they would never take her seriously. Kevin and Mia smiled as if trying to tell her to not mind it. But it was not going to be easy to let it go and forget. Not when Mike seemed so disappointed in her. The look froze her blood and for the first time after they became friends, Emily was afraid of the Green Ranger. But she wasn't afraid of him per se this time. She was afraid of losing his friendship.

In the end, the three ended up throwing her out of the room to clean herself up. Having done this quickly in the bathroom, Emily felt a discomfort in her throat, probably from accidentally swallowing some peas, which is why she was currently in the kitchen. As she filled a glass with water, her thoughts flowed around Serena. It had been a while since she had questioned her ability to be a Ranger, but, after today, the reality that her sister would be the best option for the team hit her hard.

I'm too clumsy for this. I never had the agility and lightness that I always saw in Serena when she trained with mom. No matter how "good" I am at fighting, I will eventually end up hurting myself or hurting others unintentionally. Just like I did with Jayden that time. Just like I did with Mike today.

A sigh escaped her lips as she thought of the Green Ranger and remembered the reason for all the confusion of the day. She put some water in her mouth and unconsciously started to gargle. Another thing I lack in addition to grace is maturity. All of this happened just because I can't control my nervousness around him after accidentally flirting. The first handsome guy who treats you well and you act like that, Emily? Goodness gracious. If you continue like this, imagine if he ever hugs you-

"You okay?"

The unexpected questioning startled her and she spat (unintentionally) the water in the face of the person who interrupted her internal monologue, none other than Mike himself. Her eyes widened and she felt paralyzed with embarrassment, watching the drops run down her friend's face, who seemed to be feeling a mixture of irritation and an urge to laugh at the same time.

"Oh no!" The state of immobility soon dissipated and she turned to get a cloth from the counter that she could use to clean him. "I'm always making a mess."

Mike suddenly took the cloth out of her hands while she was busy trying to dry the water (and saliva too. Eww!) to do the job himself. Now he must be even more angry with me. Why am I so stupid? I can't even maintain a friendship for more than a month?

A huge wave of anxiety washed over Emily and she looked desperately for a way to turn the situation around. Her eyes landed on the cleaning supplies in the Green Ranger's hand and she suddenly remembered all the peas she had spread on the floor.

"I'll sweep. It was all my fault."

He took the materials out of her reach and offered her a small smile that, despite not containing the usual energy, was sincere enough to calm her troubled feelings and she felt as if she could breathe again. Maybe he's not that mad.

"You don't always have to apologize for everything. Everyone pitched in and cleaned up. Besides, you were just trying to help."

Emily smiled back, a little relieved and, looking into her friend's green eyes (His eyes are so pretty ... STOP!), decided to vent with him.

With a sigh, she started "I just make everything worse. I wish I was more like Mia." They leaned against the kitchen counter and she smiled at the thought. On the one hand it was true. "She's beautiful, she's graceful, she's smart. She can cook."

"Yeah, I'm not too sure about the cooking part."

"But-" Mike's joke went unnoticed by the blonde. Otherwise she probably would have laughed and agreed. "-every time I try to do something nice or good, I just turn it into a big mess. I can't do anything right. I'm hopeless."

"Emily, I'm being serious." The gravity in his tone made her look up and fix her eyes on him again. When did she even started looking at the floor? "It's not good to talk about yourself like that. Give yourself a break."

Ha! Funny. Give myself a break, sure. Even if Mike's intentions were the best, trying to cheer her up, Emily knows the truth. She is not very demanding on herself, quite the contrary. It is because she is so relaxed that the mistakes she is making happen. Anyways, she smiles at him in thanks. He doesn't have to worry about that. Perhaps she should say something more to assure him that she feels better, but the Gap sensor sounded at the right time and she couldn't be more grateful for the interruption.

Negatron. This is the name of the new Nighlok that appeared to terrorize the city and create confusion. A vile creature capable of turning insults into physical attacks, which immobilized four of the five Power Rangers. Emily sighed deeply. They were back at Shiba house after the battle, sitting around the conference table and discussing what had happened.

That ugly creep managed to knock Mike off saying that he used training wheels on his bike until he was 10, calling Kevin boring, hitting Mia in the face with the fact tha she's a lousy cook and stating that Jayden hides a secret. But when he tried to use his insults against Emily, nothing happened. Nothing that the others could see, at least. Because every word he said, every 'klutz', 'airhead', 'clumsy fool', 'whiner', resulted in a shock wave all over her body. It hurt. It hurt a lot. But she was already used to dealing with insults and managed to turn the attacks into determination to keep fighting.

The others tried to console themselves about their insecurities and seek support from each other. They didn't have to worry about these nonsense. Each of them were better than these supposed weaknesses, and surely they would be able to get through this obstacle without problems, Emily had no doubts. The question here was whether she could handle another attack or not.

"Emily was the only one who wasn't affected." The mention of her name brought her back to reality and she turned towards Mike waiting for him to continue. "That nighlok knew exactly how to hurt us but why couldn't he hurt her?"

"Perhaps Emily has some special power."

Mentor's absurd suggestion was enough to dispel any fears that remained to tell the others about her "wonderful" experience in elementary and high school, and she couldn't contain a snicker from the irony. Yeah, great. My special power is being a bullying victim.

"It's nothing great like that. I was teased and called names as a kid. It made me sad. But my sister told me to just pretend like the person teasing me didn't say anything at all, and it really worked. So when the nighlok said those things to me, it was like he didn't even say them."

She watched her friends' expressions. All with a mixture of pity and sympathy, that she was expecting and wished she could have avoided. They're all very good people and really care about her, but they shouldn't concern themselves about something so insignificant. It's the past. She has already overcome it and forgotten it.

"Then why are you always putting yourself down? It makes no sense, unless that's what you really think about yourself."

Mike stared at her intently, his features twitching in irritation and his words weighed on Emily's back.

"Well, no, but..." But then why did she think what was said was true? Why did her childhood offenses hit her so hard and now she could ignore them? Was it because she believes those words really define her?

Kevin scolded Mike but she was no longer aware of her surroundings, lost in the questions that arose and in the boy's almost angry look. She wanted to get out of there. Now.

"I'm sorry... I..." Just get out. Get out, get out, get out. Then she ran.

Emily was in the garden, playing on the flute that same melody that Serena had taught her and that always soothed her. She thought about everything she has ever lived, felt and did up to that moment, all the decisions she made, consciously or not, and that shaped her into the person she is today.

She doesn't know when it started. Maybe it was in fifth grade, after Mary Elisabeth and her friends realized that it was really fun to pull her hair and humiliate her in the most creative ways possible and Serena comforted her for the first time, with the flute and mantra that she kept repeating whenever she was harassed at school.

Yes, that was the moment Emily decided she would be like her older sister one day and started to use her as an example in everything she did. But reality made itself present soon. She would never be like Serena. She lacked too many attributes for that. So she used the insults as an excuse for not being good enough. Mike was partially right. She doesn't think these things about herself, but uses them to justify her incompetence at being like her sister, who needed her more than anything after her illness. On the one hand, this is even worse.

The sound of footsteps made her stop and she turned, already knowing who she would see.

"Hey, Emily. Listen... I said too much back there and that wasn't cool. And I'm sorry."

"It's okay. You're right." He looked confused and she decided to explain, or vent, or whatever. Honestly, she just wanted to get some things out of her chest. "Y'know, I used to cry all the time. I wasn't good at school. I couldn't do anything right. I was picked on all the time. When Serena would play her flute, it made me feel better. When I heard it, I immediately forgot about being sad. But then she got sick. When it was time for me to take her place as a Samurai Ranger, she was the one who was crying. That's when I told myself, 'you can't cry'. I needed to be strong for my sister's sake. I guess trying to fill my sister's shoes has brought back some of my insecurities. How can I expect others to stop putting me down if I don't do it myself? ... I'm sorry."

I talked too much, didn't I? And yet I didn't say everything I wanted. I really am a lost cause ... and I ended up belittling myself again. Dammit.

"Emily, stop being sorry. You have nothing to be sorry about. It's my fault. Here I am, trying to be stronger than Jayden, then I lose to you. You keep calling yourself insecure, so what does that make me?" Mike was opening up to her for the first time, saying things that made her curious. She had no idea that her friend felt that way. He was so confident that the idea that he might have any kind of insecurity didn't even cross her mind. Without realizing it, she started to approach him. She wanted to know more. He seemed to want to say something more, or perhaps elaborate better what'd said before, but in the end all that came out was... "It was jerky when I was so hard on you."

She smiled. She knew he wanted to say something else. She wanted it too. He returned the smile. They continued like that, just smiling at each other, until Mike's cell phone rang. He just listened for a few seconds before hanging up and Emily already knew what it was. But before they left, she had to say just one more thing.

"Uh-oh. Nighlok alert."

He started to leave and she quickly took his arm.

"You're not afraid to be yourself. I admire that. And you'll get stronger with the sword. I know it."

Mike's smile widened even more and she knew that she managed to help, at least a little, to undo the uncertainties inside him.

"Thanks, Em."

With that they went to the battle against Negatron. The chest pain that Emily felt from the last interaction between them served as a constant reminder that she couldn't fail now. She didn't know what was going to happen if she failed.

Everything was dark. There was no sign of life around her. There was nothing but darkness. How did she get there? What is this place? Trying to understand what happened, Emily remembered the fight against the Nighlok.

Everything was going well. Negatron focused all his insults on her who resisted with all her strength. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. The mantra taught by Serena years ago was repeated in her mind, helping to keep going, despite all the pain she felt. Emily was sure she could handle anything that the monster throw against her, until the moment he launched his worst attack yet:

"Silly girl, you'll never be as good as your sister."

It was like being stabbed right in the heart. A pain so intense that she was sure she would pass out instantly. But she wasn't going to give up like that. She would only fall after the enemy fell.

Sticks and stones. Sticks and stones. Sticks and stones.

Her body did not respond. She begged for her legs, her arms, her hands, anything to move but nothing happened. She was paralyzed with tiredness, or maybe pain. Only after Mike appeared to help her did her muscles return to obey the commands they received and, together, Green and Yellow Rangers defeated the Nighlok.

Everything was fine. Until after the battle with the zords, when Negatron exploded one last time and Emily's strength was gone. She doesn't remember anything, only to finally feel relief while losing consciousness.

I get it now. I fainted. Around her she began to hear murmurs and could feel her body swaying slightly. Without a doubt, the others were taking her home and someone was carrying her on their back. As her body woke up, the voices became clearer.

"Emily said she was fine, but I guess the nighlok's words hurt her after all."

It was Mia talking. It looked like she was close, walking a little behind Emily and her carrier.

"She hid it well. Everyone has something that they don't want to hear."

Jayden's voice came from the same direction as Mia's and was followed by a moment of silence. None of them wanted to comment on the matter, but everyone was curious about the supposed secret their leader was hiding. Maybe one day he'll feel comfortable enough to share it with his friends, but for now, it is better to let it go.

"She was incredible!" Mike broke the silence. His voice sounded close. Very close. Almost in her ear and Emily found out on whose back she was lying "The way she fought off that nighlok rocked. Girl's got guts."

"Her sister would be proud."

She couldn't help the smile that graced her face with this. Even the flushed cheeks and butterflies in the stomach were welcomed at the moment. Serena would be proud, but the most important thing is that Emily was proud of herself. I don't even know when was the last time that happened. It feels really good. Almost unconsciously she snuggle in Mike's shoulder a little more and felt her friend adjust her better in the new position.

"That's a sound I can never forget. Ice cream trucks are my favorite."

"Did someone say ice cream?"

"You're awake?"

In her defense she was already thinking of showing them that she had woken up a while ago. Mia mentioning ice cream was just an extra incentive. She laughed at Mike who seemed amused at the situation and made a move to get off his back. He, on the other hand, just held her legs tighter and, as soon as Kevin shouted "We got to catch up with that truck!" he took off running, like the others, towards the ice cream truck.

She felt like a child again, riding piggyback on someone's back, laughing, while running for ice cream.

"Sir! Sir! You can't leave yet! " Kevin was the first to reach the truck, which was already leaving. He looked very excited. Did he really like ice cream that much? "Thanks. I want a vanilla cone. What do you want? Mia? Jayden? "


"Strawberry. If you're paying, Kevin, it could be two cones."

"Ha ha ha, very funny Jayden. I thought Mike was the clown here. And what about you two? What do you want? How long are you going to carry her, Mike? "

Emily just laughed from her place and replied that she wanted chocolate too. Mike turned to Kevin.

"I want chocolate mint. And you know what, Kevin? I bet you that I can carry her all the way to the Shiba house without stopping. If I win, you pay for my ice cream. If I lose, I'll pay for yours. So, deal?"

The Blue Ranger seemed to consider the offer, looking at the two as if wondering if his friend was capable of that, thinking about the trajectory to the house, how heavy the girl must be...

"Fine. I'm in."

"Great! I hope you don't mind me using you to get free ice cream, Em. I promise to give you some after I win."

"I don't mind it, Mike. I just want to know how you're going to eat it while you're busy carrying me."

"Simple. Just give it to me in my mouth. Aaaaaa... "

If it wasn't for the ridiculous face he made, Emily was sure she would pass out again in embarrassment. But she managed to contain the familiar butterflies in her belly and just laugh, slaping his shoulder lightly.

"You are so silly."

"I know. It's my charm ... Hey, I wanted to talk to you tonight, after dinner, is that okay? I don't think I said everything I wanted earlier."

The sudden change in the mood of the conversation made her a little tense, but curiosity spoke louder than nervousness.

"Of course. I also need to clarify some things, I think."

"Great. Could it be in your room?"

"Sure, sure. I'll wait for you, then."

There was absolute silence in the blonde's room. Emily was sitting on the bed cross-legged looking at Mike, sitting on the floor on the other side of the room. He had asked for a few minutes to organize his thoughts and be able to say everything he wanted, but after almost five minutes without saying anything, the tension started to be too much for her.

"So... Congratulations on your win on that bet against Kevin."

"Oh thanks. It was easy. You are light as a feather and we weren't that far away." His expression quickly became serious and he looked her in the eye "Look, earlier today I implied that I had been mad 'cause I lost to you. And, okay, I was angry that I lost, but it wasn't because I lost to you. Losing to you on the sword is a privilege, to be honest. You rock. I should have been happy to be able to handle you for more than five minutes of fighting."

"Thanks. Don't worry, I understood what you meant." A detail from the conversation from earlier came to mind and she decided to ask him about that "Why are you trying to be stronger than Jayden? If you don't want to tell me, that's all right, I was just curious."

"No, no. I want to tell you. It's just... "He lowered his head and seemed hesitant to look her in the eye again " ... difficult to admit the reason out loud. You'll think I'm a loser."

"Hey, I'm never going to think that about you. I swear."

He smiled but still avoided looking in her direction, was silent for a few more seconds until... "Can you play your flute for me? It will help. Please."

Even though she was a little confused by the unexpected request, Emily took the flute from her drawer and started playing that same melody that soothed her nerves. Mike closed his eyes.

"I think I want to beat Jayden, be better than him, to prove that I can be a Ranger. Prove it to myself, yes, but mainly to prove it to my parents. They never trusted me. With nothing. My father started training me as a samurai when I was 10 years old. We spent half an hour in training until he decided it was enough and took me to play video games, or to eat pizza, or to go to a party with one of his friends. And we always trained only attack and defense. He just taught me the basic symbols. He certainly thought I wasn't going to need others. My mom was no better. She started teaching me how to dance at 6 years old. At first I thought it was just to have my company during classes, but after a while I realized that she was trying to make me more agile. She didn't trust me or my father. You had to see the look on their faces when Mentor's letter came to warn me to get ready. They said 'You'll do great, Mike', 'Don't give the others trouble, Mike', but the expression of fear they made... It was clear that they wanted to say 'Try not to die, Mike', 'Don't disturb the other Rangers, Mike'. They didn't believe I could do it. So I feel that, if I can beat Jayden, our leader, I can make them believe, you know?"

Emily listened to everything from her place on the bed, playing the flute all the time as she was asked. But she got up and crouched beside her friend the second she realized he had started to cry, wrapping him in a hug. The position was a little uncomfortable but neither of them cared at that moment.

"I-I just want, once, to see that they are p-proud of m-me..."

"I understand, Mike. I get it."

They stayed that way for several minutes, only the sound of the boy's crying filling the room's silence. When he calmed down, he broke the hug and looked her in the eye, a genuine smile on his face.

"Thank you for listening to me. I needed to vent. Too bad you had to see that pathetic side of me, heh."

"It's not pathetic. I'm pathetic. I couldn't explain it to you earlier, but I found out why I keep putting myself down. I promised Serena that I would be strong, but for me, to be strong is to be her. So I tried to do everything she did. But, to no one's surprise, I'm not my sister. So I started using the insults they used against me at school to justify my failures. And I know that I don't have to be her, but it's hard to get out of her shadow."

She felt his hand rest on her head and stroke her hair carefully.

"You are not pathetic, Emily. You're the most amazing person I've ever met. I'm sure your sister is cool, but I bet my life that you're way cooler."

"Ha ha, I'm going to tell her that you said that. And you, Mr. Mike Parry, can do whatever you want. And if your parents don't believe that, I do."

They smiled at each other. Emily hoped her words had helped him as much as his helped her. Because after that conversation, she felt ready to try to be herself.

"Oh, one more thing. I have to apologize to you for today."

"Ah Emily, I told you to stop being-"

"Being sorry for everything. I know. But, I pissed you off today, there's no use denying it, with all that history of hurting you, and the peas, and insisting on seeing where you got hurt, wich I still don't understand why you didn't let me see, but you were angry about it so... What?"

He was laughing now. It would be a good thing during a conversation, if Emily was telling a joke, which was not the case.

"Em, I hurt my ass. Are you sure you wanted to see it?"


Mike's laugh only got louder when Emily hid her face with her hands so he wouldn't see how red she was. Honestly, she wasn't sure she would have been too upset if she saw his ass. Bad Emily. Stop it. Damn butterflies in my belly. Leave me alone.

"Y-Y-You could have told me that before the frozen peas fiasco, don't you think? And stop laughing!"

"My bad. You look funny all red like that. But it looks really cute too! Don't look at me that way." She cast her best murderous look in his direction, but it must not have had as much effect with that ripe tomato look she was sporting righ now. "I should have told you and not run away like that, but I was embaressed. That, combined with the frustration of having lost and the anger I was feeling at hearing you putting yourself down, ended up with me treating you very badly today. Sorry."

"You got angry?"

"I did. I just cannot get it through my head that someone doesn't see how wonderful you are. Especially yourself. If I had the chance, I would go to your city just to teach the assholes who offended you a lesson."

"Y-You are a dear." Why is he like that? So kind. So cute. This makes it difficult to control the butterflies, Mike.

"No, you are. Sometimes I don't control what I say and end up offending people unintentionally. Can you help me with this? Every time I say something that might hurt someone, give me a nudge or, I don't know, a slap in the face. And, uh, if you could help me with the sword it would also be great."

"Deal. I'll teach you how to improve with the sword and remind you to be nice if you agree to help me with hand-to-hand combat and, well, remind me to be Emily, not Serena."


They smiled at each other and Emily vaguely thought that this was the third promise they made to each other. A few seconds later Mike stood up and held out his hand for her to do the same.

"Well Miss Em, I think it's already quite late and good Samurai sleep early. I better go to bed. Thank you so much for listening to me vent. I needed it. Good night."

He hugged her tightly and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, before leaving the room without waiting for an answer. It was better this way. If he had stayed, he would have seen the paralyzing effect his loving gesture had on his friend, who stood in the middle of the room for a full minute, with her hand on her forehead, muttering 'good night' to herself. When she finally came out of the trance, she just managed to smile. Maybe she didn't want to control the butterflies after all.