Disclaimer: Power Rangers belong to Disney; I'm just playing with the characters. (I promise to put them back.)

AN: I love Time Force. It's probably my favorite PR season-it had such a cool storyline and fascinating characters. Had it not been for the obvious kids' show aspect, I could totally have seen it as primetime sci-fi show.

I also love the Wes/Jen dynamic, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for Alex in "The End of Time". Something told me there had to be a story there, and thus this plot bunny spawned in my brain and refused to leave me alone until I wrote it.

This is set between the end of "The End of Time, Part 3" and during/after "Reinforcements from the Future".

"For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."-Romans 8:24-25


Second Chance

The ring had been burning a hole in his pocket all day.

Alex Drake let himself into his quarters, locked the door, and leaned up against it for a long, long time. It was official. His life had gone to hell in a handbasket.

He'd been fighting the creeping suspicion that his life had turned into a nightmare ever since he woke up in the hospital, with astonished med techs telling him they didn't know how he could possibly have survived, but the true gravity of it did not hit him until Jen Scott dropped her ring back into his hand and zoomed back to the past to save Wes Collins.

His doppelganger replacement a thousand years in the past.

Only in Time Force, he thought wryly.

Jen had come back and Ransik was in custody, but that didn't mean Alex couldn't see the heartache in her brown eyes at having to leave Wes behind. The entire Time Force ranger team was in mourning.

He let the back of his head thud against his door. That's really great, Alex. How do you compete with a ghost? Especially a personable ghost?

Even at his worst, Alex had to admit Wes was a great guy. He was funny, compassionate, and relaxed—and he had been willing to die for his friends and his world.

Alex's hand found its way into his pocket of its own accord and withdrew the ring he'd given Jen. He turned it this way and that, watching the dim lights in his quarters reflect off its sparkling facets, and his throat closed up. Forever hadn't been as long as he thought it would be.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Alex moved further into the living room. He stared out at the city's glittering skyline with unseeing eyes before collapsing on the couch. The ring cut into his palm, but he couldn't bring himself to care. The dull ache in his chest overrode everything.

That piece of jewelry was as close as he was going to get to Jen now that everything had changed between them. She doesn't love me anymore.

The thought shattered him inside. He'd spent the past year moving up through the ranks, working to keep her safe in the past. That included following the rules which kept him from telling her he was alive.

Rules.

Alex closed his eyes. There were so many times he had wanted to chuck the rules—especially toward the end of the year, when Jen and Wes began growing noticeably closer. Opening his eyes again, he uncurled his fist to stare at the ring.

He knew exactly where everything went wrong.

I never should have gone after Ransik alone.

Out of everything that had happened over the last year, that decision stood out the most. At the time he'd been too blinded by pride and anger to realize the danger, but now…looking back…he realized he had been monumentally stupid. He should have listened to Jen and waited for backup.

The irony of this almost made him laugh. He worked to protect the timeline, had actually traveled through time, and yet he couldn't keep his younger self from losing the one person he truly loved.

—- —- —- —

Time passed. Life moved on. The Rangers adjusted to this new future, adjusted to him in command instead of Logan, and adjusted to a team without Wes, but the man's absence remained an almost tangible rift between Alex and Jen. She tried to hide it, but he frequently caught the way her face fell when she glimpsed him and realized he wasn't Wes. Her dark eyes grew wistful—and every time it felt like Ransik slipped a knife between his ribs and twisted. Alex actually thought he'd prefer that to this torture.

So he did what he did best—he shut down everything and focused on his job.

At the Academy he'd had a reputation for being cool, aloof, levelheaded. He drew on that reputation now. It had been long enough that few people remembered he and Jen were supposed to be engaged.

Within two weeks he started avoiding her as best he could. Their conversation had been practically non-existent since her return, but now he did not speak to her at all outside of official duty. Part of it was to spare her pain, the rest to ease his own breaking heart. He even locked her engagement ring in a desk drawer, unable to stomach the sight of it any longer. He'd spent far too much time replaying the moment Jen had taken it off her finger.

Needless to say, it didn't work. Regardless of the way things had changed between them, the fact remained that Alex was still hopelessly, desperately in love with Jen. Cutting her out of his life was like performing twenty-first century open heart surgery on himself and replacing his heart with a brick. He couldn't keep denying it was killing him that she didn't feel the same anymore.

And then one day, almost six months after that fateful day, Katie marched into his office and informed him that he was being ridiculous. Jen had nearly gotten herself killed trying to avenge his 'death' and now she was convinced he hated her with every fiber of his being. Worse, practically everyone in Time Force thought the same. Someone had even started a betting pool to see who transferred first.

It was a gamble, speaking to a senior officer like that, but the formidable yellow ranger knew she was right.

So did Alex, once he got over an initial surge of icy fury and actually thought about it. The dull ache in his chest had faded to the background, but it was ever present.

The next afternoon, at lunch, he did not look away when their eyes happened to meet. Instead, he nodded gravely. Jen was surprised—he could see it written all over her face—but she nodded back.

A week later he sat down at her table. Just to prove to everyone—and perhaps himself—that he really didn't hate her. Conversation was awkward and stilted, and he was painfully aware of his broken heart, but looking down at Jen's dark head bent over her plate as she shoved vegetables around, Alex realized how much he'd missed being around her.

He had to leave a few minutes after that—he'd spent months convincing himself that he didn't need her, but ten minutes in her presence rekindled the flame he had tried to extinguish. He wanted more. He couldn't help himself. He'd forgotten how she drew him like the polar opposite of a magnet. It didn't help that he'd felt her eyes on him as he walked away.

After that, things slowly grew easier. They began to spend more time together by degrees, just talking and rediscovering who they were. Lunch here, dinner there. Jen was different than he remembered—her time in the past had changed her and helped her grow—but her smile and her laugh were the same.

A small corner of Alex's heart began to think that perhaps there was hope after all.

And then Jen was assigned to a covert mission that took her back to Silver Hills in the twenty-first century.

Alex hadn't wanted to put her on the roster—every nerve ending in his body screamed for him to get her as far away from anything to do with the twenty-first century as possible—but she was undoubtedly the best person for the job. He watched her face as he explained the mission, saw her eyes sparkle with excitement, and knew instinctively she wouldn't be coming back.

The feeling was so strong it made him sick to his stomach.

No matter what the rules were, no matter what Time Force itself might say, he knew Jen would find a way to stay with Wes. She was dedicated like that. He'd been lucky enough to know, once.

His heart broke all over again, but Alex pushed it aside. He'd hurt Jen, and Wes…Wes had made her happy. She'd become a better person for her time in the past. If she disappears after the mission…

Well, it wasn't like they wouldn't know what happened.

Minutes and hours slid by in rapid succession as time drew inexorably closer to the moment of her departure. There wasn't anything he could do and he knew it. So, when the time came for her to leave, he bid her goodbye calmly, and in what he hoped was a friendly fashion. He tried to bury the pain and the worry. The mission wasn't easy; they both knew that. And then she stepped into the Time Ship and he didn't realize his pain and hurt and love had slipped through a crack in his thin veneer of implacable sternness and were shining forth for her to see.

Heavy-hearted, Alex watched the ship vanish into the portal. The ship might come back, but he was quite sure he'd never see its sole occupant again.

—- —- —- —

It's one thing to strongly suspect something, but it's quite another to find the truth of a matter. When the Rangers returned victorious, Alex knew he should have been there to greet them. It was his job, after all. But as his boots took him closer to the hangar, he realized suddenly that he didn't want to know. It would be easier to read she had vanished in an emotionless, detached field report than to hear the details first-hand from the people to whom she was closest.

Alex flexed his gloved hands into fists and rapidly walked away, each step taking him farther away from a truth he knew he'd have to face sooner or later.

Quite frankly, he would prefer later.

He spent the evening sitting in his chair, looking out at the city's skyline framed against the night sky. Though deep in thought, his senses remained attuned to the noises in his quarters. He knew someone would be by to tell him the news at some point. He wondered which one of the Rangers it would be—they'd probably cast lots for the job.

He didn't blame them.

A soft chime warned him that someone was at the door. "Enter," he called out, without moving. He didn't bother to turn around either; it was either Trip or Katie behind him—the footsteps were too light for Lucas. "What happened?" he asked in a darkly wry tone, "Draw the short straw?"

There was silence behind him.

A faint, wistful smile crossed his face. "Let me guess. There was an explosion and she didn't make it out. Or did one of the mut-orgs get her while she was saving someone's life?" His voice was soft, with a weary sadness that made his visitor think he was close to a breakdown. "Whatever it is, I'll sign it. God knows she deserves to be happy," he muttered under his breath.

"Alex."

His heart stopped beating for the space of a breath. That voice whispering his name.

It can't be.

He started to turn around, but hesitated for a heartbeat before facing his guest. His breath caught in his throat.

She was dressed in casual clothes, and not the leather outfit she'd been wearing when she left, but all Alex could think, all he could say, was a weak, astonished, "Jen?"
Her lips trembled and her eyes filled with tears. "Alex," she asked in a quivering voice, "Did you really think I was going to stay in the past?"

He stood frozen, a thousand thoughts and memories assaulting his mind. "Wes," he said simply.

Jen looked away and then back at him. "He's a thousand years in the past, Alex. Even if I wanted to there's no way I could do it." Alex looked so vulnerable and lost there that it was all she could do not to wrap her arms around him and hug—and kiss—the look away.

"Why?"

Jen knew he wasn't asking about Wes; she could have disappeared if she'd wanted to. "The look on your face when I left—it broke my heart." She took a few steps closer. "I never meant to fall for him, Alex. You were dead and I was destroying myself mourning for you and he—brought me back. He gave me hope."

His eyes fell down to the bare finger on her hand.

"I'm so sorry, Alex." She shook her head. "I never meant to hurt you."

"Jen," he said in a low voice. "I haven't stopped loving you. I don't think I ever could."

Her breath hitched in her throat. "Do you really mean that?"

He flinched despite himself.

"I spent months thinking you were dead, Alex. And then you came to help and—and you were so cold." Jen wrapped her arms around herself. "I thought things in the future must have changed—that you didn't love me anymore." Her lip trembled again. "Then Wes sent us back here and you were my Alex again. I didn't understand. I don't understand."

Alex swayed on his feet as that realization smacked into him. "Jen," he said hoarsely, "You don't know how badly I wanted to kiss you senseless when I stepped out of that Time Ship." He laughed once, breathlessly, and ran a hand through his hair. "But I was responsible and I wanted to prove I was a better leader than a guy who'd never even been to military school."

"You're two completely different men," Jen said immediately. "You have different strengths, different weaknesses, and different styles."

Alex reached out a hand to touch her face, but stopped halfway. "We've got one thing in common, at least." He stared at her, tracing the features he had never thought he would see in the flesh again. "Why didn't you stay there?"

Jen took a step toward him. "Because my heart isn't in the year 2001." She drew in a sharp breath and he saw tears in her eyes. "Alex, the look on your face when I left—you broke my heart. Or maybe I broke my heart, considering I'm the reason you're heartbroken. I didn't realize—I thought you were over me. I didn't dare hope you still loved—"

Alex did not give himself time to over-think. He took two giant steps in her direction, snaked an arm around her shoulders, and pulled her into a kiss. It occurred to him that if he'd listened to his head a little less and kissed Jen a few times more often, they might not have been in this mess.

Not that at this point it mattered. She was here, with him, and she was kissing him just like he remembered. Better than he remembered, actually.

Maybe things would turn out all right after all.

If—no, when—they did, he still had that ring.


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