"One Phone Call" – T – Part 1/3

Response to Perfect Chemistry Fic Prompt for July 2008

"One Phone Call"
by rapunzl

Rating: T for brief mentions of violent situations and mild language

Disclaimer: None of the Power Rangers or related characters belong to me (well, except for Rachel, but she might take offense to that insinuation). I make no profit off this little endeavor besides my own enjoyment... and hopefully, yours.

Summary: Pre-DT. Tommy struggles to come to terms with the consequences of his actions after the explosion on Mercer's island. Set in the Canon timeline.

Author's Notes: Loosely inspired by Kim/Pink-Green-White-4ever's story "Never Gone," which so poignantly illustrated just how powerful a single phone call can actually be. Thank you for encouraging me to write this despite my endless concerns. Another bit of thanks to Cathy/FalconCraneLove for her brilliant Fic Prompt, which revived this idea and motivated me to finally finish it. And finally, tremendous hugs and everlasting gratitude are sent to Angela/nm4ever for more than one late night of motivation and encouragement.

Author's Request: So... this is the first bit of writing I've mustered up the courage to post... well, ever. After my repeated debacles during the Eternal Search For A Beta (TM), I had pretty much concluded that it was the universe's way of telling me that my talents (if any) lie elsewhere. Luckily (or maybe not, you decide!) I found the quote for the first part of this fic and it inspired me to keep working on it; Cathy's July Prompt finally clinched it. I merely ask that you please be brutally honest with your reviews, if any. Thanks!


"Success comes to those who are neither afraid to fail nor discouraged by failures."

Unknown

Sunday, 1:46 AM
Harborside Apartments, Unit 502
Angel Grove, California

A high pitched squeal filled the dimly lit living room of a cramped but homey fifth floor apartment near the Angel Grove harbor. Luckily for its sole occupant, the neighbors didn't even stir in their sleep. In a city notorious for its devastating alien attacks, most residents of Angel Grove barely even blinked unless a full scale assault hit the city.

Thrilled to have the apartment to herself for the very first time, Rachel Ashley Sullivan skipped silently around her living room, loudly humming an all too familiar cheery tune. A precocious girl, she was well aware that exactly six years ago this minute, she had been born.

Six years ago, Miranda Sullivan had gone into early labor in the midst of a ferocious zord battle between the Zeo Rangers and the Machine Empire. Despite her intimate familiarity with monster drills, she hadn't been able to make it to the hospital before the barricades through town had been erected. A nurse, she had talked a brave but terrified teenage girl through the birthing process while they waited for the attack to come to its inevitable conclusion. As if in honor of the Ranger's success, Rachel's first cries in this world echoed the monster's shrieks as it exploded into harmless dust less than a mile away. Miranda had thanked the girl and promised that her daughter's middle name would be christened in her honor. Two and a half years later, Miranda and her startlingly bright toddler had been staggered to find that same girl, now a strong and proud woman, stand defiantly before Astronema and the world and proclaim that she was the yellow Space Ranger.

Rachel grasped the small television remote control, waving it wildly about her as if wielding a mighty sword while reminiscing about the very same battle that had heralded her birth. She swooped and ducked, jumping on and off the couch while fighting off dozens of imaginary Cogs. She had always adored the Power Rangers, their hometown superheroes in brightly colored armor, even though there had not been an alien attack in her memory. She even insisted on being a different ranger every Halloween – last year was yellow Zeo - but her action figures of the Space Rangers held a place of honor in her collection. She twirled around, being careful not to bump into the glass table, and imagined the evil Cogs exploding against her ferocious assault.

Her birthday had always been her favorite day, but not because there were presents, candy, and surprises. It meant that she was older, just one step closer to becoming old enough to be a Power Ranger herself. It was so frustrating; she just knew she was brave enough and quick enough and strong enough to be a Ranger right now. She could do it – if only someone would let her. She grinned. Her mother had always told her that once she put her mind to something, there was no stopping her. And Rachel was going to be a Power Ranger – and probably a yellow one, now that she thought about it. She moved towards her bedroom to eye the pink and white themed comforter and considered just how irritated her mother would be at a complete color change when she heard the muffled thump in the hallway.

Her heart suddenly leapt into her throat, the fearlessness she had displayed while battling her make-believe enemies long forgotten. She instinctually moved towards her mother's bedroom before she remembered that her mother was working the night shift at the hospital. She swallowed thickly. She was all alone. Why had she insisted that she was old enough to spend the few hours by herself? She gasped as she heard a quiet curse and the sound of someone – or something – leaning heavily on the door to their apartment.

The doorknob jiggled.

Her mind raced into overdrive, jumping to its inevitable conclusion: The Cogs were coming to get her! They knew she was aiming to be a Ranger and they were coming to get her now, before she had the power to stop them!

Gripping her only weapon – the remote control – in her small fingers, Rachel leapt behind the couch, trying to keep it between her and the oncoming enemy.

Knock. Knock.

She ducked her head lower behind the couch, whimpering. They were going to get her, and they were going to bring her to King Mondo, and he was going to make her into a machine, and she was never going to see her mommy or -

"Miranda? Are you home?"

The weary question penetrated the haze of fear that had enveloped her. How did the Cogs know her mother's name?

And why were they knocking?

Rachel felt a blush creep up her cheeks, abruptly hearing the mental version of her mother lecturing her about her wild, sometimes uncontrollable imagination. More clearheaded, she heard the person outside the door let out a fatigued groan before she heard another thump on the ground. Walking over to the door with more confidence than she actually felt – some part of her was still certain that it really was the Cogs out there – she took a deep breath.

"Who's there?" she asked, her voice trembling.

It was a long time before she heard the quiet, uncertain response. "Rachel?"

She immediately recognized the voice as the friendly man who lived down the hall from them. He had watched her several times a few months ago when her mother had to work very late, just like tonight, but he had been out of town for weeks now. "Hi, Mr. Oliver!" she responded cheerily, already climbing a stepstool and reaching for the chain. Mr. Oliver wasn't a stranger – he was tons of fun. Maybe he would play Power Rangers with her and help her battle against the Cogs...

Rachel shrieked and tumbled off the stepstool, landing hard on her rear. That wasn't Mr. Oliver. The man sitting on the ground outside their door had deep circles under his eyes, reminiscent of the monster movies she had peeked at when her mother thought she was in bed. There was a large, purple colored bruise swelling his jaw line, distorting his face into a grotesque, almost inhuman parody of his normally handsome features. The left leg of his pants had been torn open to the knee, revealing a blistering, inflamed scorch mark that ran the length of his calf. The rest of his clothes were more intact, but still damp in some places – yet, none of that was what had panicked her.

Rachel had seen people hurt before – she had sometimes sat with her mother at the hospital when she couldn't find a sitter – but this was different. It was his eyes... they were haunted, like ghosts and demons and something even worse than she could imagine lived inside and wouldn't ever, ever come out.

They were the eyes of a dead man.

She scrambled backwards until she could go no further, desperate to get away from the monster that had climbed inside of Mr. Oliver's skin. The involuntary cry she let loose as she slammed her back into the kitchen counter brought a touch of humanity back to the man's hollow expression.

"Oh Rachel, I'm so sorry," he mumbled apologetically, his voice low and gravelly. "I guess I don't look very good right now." He rubbed a hand down his face, wincing as his fingers pressed against a small cut just above his eyebrow.

"What happened?" she asked breathlessly. The horrific vision faded and Rachel finally recognized the man behind the bruises. She couldn't imagine who could have hurt Mr. Oliver so badly – she had watched him practicing in the side yard and was certain even a real ninja wouldn't be able to best him. Despite her earlier vow to herself about letting her imagination run unchecked, Rachel had the sudden intuition that real Cogs had gotten Mr. Oliver tonight instead of her.

"I..." He looked torn, an agonized expression flickering across his pallid features. She watched him swallow it down, forcing himself to remain calm. She knew what that looked like – she had seen her mommy do the same thing when she had cut herself in the kitchen but didn't want Rachel to know how much it hurt. "Rachel, do you know where your mom keeps the spare key to my apartment? Mine... got lost," he added lamely.

Nodding mutely, Rachel pulled herself to her feet and rustled through the junk drawer in the kitchen. Finding the small white envelope was easy – it was part of their safety plan. Her mother had told her that if there was ever an emergency like the one that happened when she was born, in her mother's absence, she should take this key and go to Mr. Oliver so he could take care of her until things got better.

The envelope clutched in her fist, she moved hesitantly towards him, realizing he hadn't actually moved into the apartment... or even stood up. "Are you okay, Mr. Oliver? Should I call my mommy to come fix you?"

"No." The response was quick and firm, astonishing her with its intensity. He hadn't managed anything much above a whisper before now, but he reached out and took the envelope from her fingers with a hand that moved with surprising steadiness. "Thank you, Rachel," he added, a touch gentler. "Go back to sleep, okay?" He began the arduous process of regaining his feet, and she noticed him clutch a small backpack tightly against his side.

"Mr. Oliver?"

He let loose another weary sigh before he turned to face her. "Yes?"

She squirmed, and then blurted out the first thing that sprang to mind. "You should call your mommy. She's worried about you. She called looking for you before my mommy went to work."

His face fell, and for a split second, Rachel was certain he was going to cry. But it was gone just as suddenly as it appeared and he mustered up a weak smile. "Thanks, Rach. I'll make sure I do that." He began limping down the hallway towards his apartment, his body hunched painfully around the pack.

"Good night, Mr. Oliver," she said quietly as she swung the door shut and locked it. She stared for a long time at the remote control still clutched in her hand before setting it quietly on the table and heading to bed.

Maybe she wasn't quite ready to be a Power Ranger after all.

At least... not yet.