Season: Jungle Fury (Lily, RJ)
Summary: Missing scene from "A Taste of Poison." Lily can't sleep after Casey gets hurt, and she's not the only one. (G)
Written for: lelola, who is made of win -- this is an extra fic for you ♥ It kind of got away from me, in the sense that it has almost nothing to do with what I meant it to be about, but I thought you might enjoy it anyway :) I love you!
She knew better than to try to sleep after a dream like that. She'd fall asleep, sure, but if the nightmare didn't come back it would only be something worse. She had to wake up enough that she could think about something else first.
Casey was sleeping out by the monitors tonight--practically in RJ's workshop, which made her smile. Supposedly he was there so RJ could keep an eye on him, but RJ hadn't left his side since they'd brought him back to the loft. He didn't even get as far away as his chair, he just... hovered. Except when she was hovering. Then RJ would sit on the floor beside Casey's hammock, forcing her and Theo to walk around him every time they moved.
He was gone now, though. Lily paused at the edge of the floor, squinting over at the unmoving red hammock. RJ was a Pai Zhua master, so she didn't doubt his ability to melt into the shadows. Still. If the point was to keep Casey company while the poison worked its way through his system, wouldn't he want to be seen?
It occurred to her that Casey might have felt well enough to get up, in which case she assumed RJ would be with him. Wherever he was. But if he wasn't in the hammock, then those were some really heavy pillows making it stretch like that.
So where was RJ?
She padded silently across the floor, drawn by some friendly instinct to the kitchen stairs. The only thing RJ liked more than his spirit-integrated technology was pizza--and some days, she wasn’t sure which was the first priority. He’d been spending a lot of time in the garage lately, but, present for Casey or not, she didn’t think he wanted to get that far away right now. Thus, missing master plus empty workshop equaled occupied kitchen.
A dark, occupied, very messy kitchen. There was a little bit of light from the roof upstairs, and that was it. She could hear the quiet shuffle of--maybe dishes being pushed around the counter?--a crinkle of plastic, and the whisper of air currents moving around their new teacher. Then the refrigerator door opened, and the spill of light outlined RJ: barefoot, striped shirt pushed up to his elbows, an orange baseball cap holding his hair back.
“RJ?” she said softly.
“Hmm?” He placed a plastic cover on top of a stainless steel bowl and stacked another one on top of it. He moved something she couldn’t see on the next shelf down, making room for two more bowls. It was only when he backed out to scoop them off the counter that she realized his eyes were closed.
“Um... what are you doing?” she asked, for lack of anything better to say.
“Restocking,” he replied, closing the door with a quiet thump. She tried futilely to blink the spots out of her eyes. “We seem to be running low on certain raw materials.”
“Oh, yeah, there was a little--accident, earlier,” Lily said, following his movements by the sound of his voice. “Casey and I had to re-shred and re-chop a lot of stuff.”
“Well, since it was an accident,” RJ’s voice replied mildly, “I applaud your recovery. Should it happen again, though, you may rest assured that you will also re-order. From your own paychecks.”
“Right.” Her eyes had adjusted enough that she could see his shadow again, still against the opposite counter. “RJ?”
His tone gave nothing away. “Yes, Lily?”
“It’s 3:30 in the morning,” she said.
If he moved, she couldn’t see it. “So it is.”
The refrigerator light might have temporarily killed her night vision, but she’d seen that striped shirt very clearly. “You haven’t been to bed yet, have you.”
This time there was no answer.
“He’s going to be okay,” she said quietly. “Really. Casey’s tough. He’ll get through this, and he’ll be out testing your new invention in no time.”
“Oh, I know.” RJ sounded so sure of this that she frowned in the darkness. “The tiger’s watching over him. That’s a pretty powerful spirit, you know. Maybe stronger than the lion. Bet Dai Shi would have loved to get its hands on Casey.”
He stopped there, and her frown deepened. “Jarrod--Dai Shi said Casey wasn’t worth his time.”
“Yes,” RJ said, as though he’d seen it himself. He probably had, on the--oh. She hadn’t really thought about how hard that fight would have been to watch on the monitors. “We can all be grateful for that, I suppose.”
She didn’t know what to say to that, but he obviously needed someone to talk to. She and Theo and Casey had each other. Who did RJ turn to when he was worried about something? He seemed to know everyone who walked into Jungle Karma Pizza, but she hadn’t seen him have a serious conversation with any of them. Well, except Fran. He and Fran totally understood each other.
Fran wasn’t here right now, though, and Lily was pretty sure RJ hadn’t told her about the Rangers yet. It was too much of a coincidence that RJ was puttering around a dark kitchen in yesterday’s clothes the night after their first major casualty. Which meant that it was up to her.
“If you’re not worried about Casey,” she said carefully, “then why are you restocking a refrigerator that’s already full?”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t worried about Casey.” RJ sounded amused, like he knew exactly what she was doing. “I said I knew he was tough. Just out of curiosity, Lily, what are you doing in the kitchen during the witching hour?”
She smiled. “Isn’t the witching hour between midnight and one?”
“Possibly,” RJ said, after a brief hesitation. She could almost see his hands moving. “Does that make this... witching plus two? Or witching plus three?”
“I think it makes this a bad night for sleeping,” Lily offered. “I had a nightmare where the lion destroyed Casey. I didn’t want to have it again.”
“Interesting that you would put it like that,” RJ said slowly. “The lion, specifically? Not Jarrod, or Dai Shi? Or the tiger?”
“There wasn’t any tiger,” Lily said. “Dai Shi was there, but it was the lion that got Casey.”
“I see,” RJ murmured. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“It was just a dream,” she pointed out. “It probably just means Theo’s right, and I’m too much of a mommy. Casey can channel the tiger just fine.”
“Is that what you think it meant?” RJ sounded suddenly sharp. “That Casey couldn’t call the tiger in your dream? Was he taken by surprise, or was he physically unable to do it? Was there something wrong with him?”
“I don’t--I don’t know,” she said, taken aback. “He just... stood there.”
She heard RJ sigh, and then the air moved again and she could tell he was coming toward her even before he spoke. “Why don’t you go back upstairs, Lily. Meditate for a while before attempting to sleep again. I’m sure it will clear your mind.”
“Yeah, I can see that’s really working for you,” she retorted. “What’s wrong, RJ? Do you think it was more than just a dream?”
“No,” he said quickly. “No, I don’t think that. This really doesn’t have anything to do with your nightmare, Lily. Or even Casey. It’s just... something I have to work through, I’m afraid. And I tend to work through things at night, when they won’t bother anyone else.”
He sounded like he was smiling when he added, “Just your bad luck to be awake, I guess.”
“You said there’s no such thing as luck,” she reminded him. “Just karma, right? Just what we’re here to do. Maybe you and I are here to talk about Casey.”
“It isn’t about Casey,” he said irritably.
“What isn’t?” Lily insisted. It seemed suddenly strange that she’d never heard RJ sound annoyed before. He did stern and “busted” like no one’s business, but when it came to things he didn’t want to talk about he kind of... joked his way past them.
“The universe,” he said, with a forced lightness that sounded almost grim. “I get that sometimes it’s hard to tell, but it turns out that not everything revolves around the Red Ranger.”
He was trying to joke his way past this one, she realized. And doing a really terrible job of it. Still, if that’s the way he wanted to play it... “I’ll call Fran,” she warned him. “I really will, RJ. And you know she’ll come.”
This provoked a satisfying pause. “Because you... no,” he said after a moment. “I give up. Why would you call Fran?”
“Well, if you won’t talk to me.” Lily shrugged, because she was pretty sure he could see her better than she could see him. “Sometimes you talk to Fran. And maybe it’s easier to talk to someone outside the team, I don’t know.”
“What is it about me working alone in a dark kitchen that makes you think I want to talk to someone?” He sounded genuinely curious about this.
She stared in the direction of his voice. “What is it about living with three other people that makes you think you’re ever alone?”
When he didn’t answer, she turned around and hit the lightswitch at the bottom of the stairs. The kitchen was flooded with light, mysterious shadows suddenly filled with color and reality and ordinary things all around them. She flinched, eyes watering even as she squinted at the phone list posted by the door. Fran’s name was at the top of the employee contact list, and the dial tone was loud in her ear when she picked up the receiver.
The lights went out again, the number disappearing into darkness. She heard a click, the dial tone going dead as RJ put his hand over the phone. “I’m having a crisis of faith,” he said quietly. “It will pass.”
She didn’t move, the receiver still pressed against her ear. “Just because you stop thinking about something doesn’t mean it’s gone.”
“Just because you talk about something doesn’t mean it makes sense,” he murmured.
The phone bumped against his hand when she went to hang it up. “Casey scared you,” she said softly, turning around. He was very close. One hand braced against the wall, head hanging in the faint glow filtering down the stairs. His silhouette looked funny with a baseball cap on, and she suddenly wondered whose hat it was.
“He scared me too,” Lily whispered. “I thought Jar--I thought Dai Shi was going to kill him. I thought that scorpion thing had killed him. And when he screamed like that... that was the worst thing I ever heard, and there was nothing I could do, and that made it even worse.”
“At least you were there.” She felt his hand touch her shoulder, squeezing gently. “At least he knew--you and Theo did everything you could. He may have been the only one who could fight Dai Shi, after all. You both knew Jarrod too well. Casey was the only one who could look at him and see evil... without question. Without hesitation.”
“We should have helped him!” Lily burst out. “Our animals could have fought!”
“Not without getting in the tiger’s way.” RJ sounded calm and confident and a little thoughtful as he added, “We should add spirit work to your training. You’re obviously ready for it. And if Dai Shi is letting the lion loose, your animals will have to learn to work together against him.”
“RJ...” She found his hand in the dimness, covering it with her own before he could wander off. “You did everything you could, too. You know that, right?”
“Well.” She heard his little laugh, the one he used to soften things he thought they would take the wrong way. “Not everything, of course.”
“Yes,” she said firmly. “Everything.” It was so much easier to say it to someone else than it was to believe it herself. “The only reason Casey had the confidence to be out there in the first place is because of you. He probably hasn’t told you, but he really appreciates all the extra training.”
RJ disengaged his hand from hers carefully, stepping away, and she knew right away that she’d said something wrong. “What?” she said quickly. “He does. We all do. We wouldn’t have gotten past the first rinshi without you, RJ.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have had to,” he said with a sigh. “Maybe Master Mao chose wrong.”
She stared at him in shock.
He must have seen her, or sensed it somehow, because she could see his hands move in abrupt apology. “Not you,” he assured her. “Me. I’m not the right person for this, Lily. I can’t handle it. I can’t look at Casey and--I’m sure it would be the same with any of you, I just...” He trailed off, but she heard him whisper “can’t” before he turned away.
“You can!” she said fiercely. “Everything we do is because of you! This isn’t your fault; it's just--it happens, RJ. I hate it too, I hate saying it and I hate seeing it but we are not sitting on the sidelines here. We’re the front line, and we’re going to take some hits. You can’t blame yourself every time one of us falls down!”
“What if you don’t get up?” His voice was so soft she held her breath to hear the words. “He asked for that training, Lily. He had to ask, because I thought he was better than that. I had no idea...”
She waited, but she couldn’t hear anything else. “He can do it,” she murmured, when she was sure RJ wasn’t talking anymore. “He’s brave and smart and strong. Master Mao knew what he was doing... and Casey does too. He’s not in over his head. He knows what all this is about.”
“No one should have to get a crash course in fighting for their life,” RJ said quietly.
“That’s all anyone ever gets,” Lily answered. “Because you’re never fighting for your life until you’re actually fighting for your life. There isn’t any training for that, not really. Casey’s doing as well as any of us. Including you.”
“I’m not doing anything,” RJ muttered.
“You’re doing everything,” Lily told him. “You’re the voice in our ears and the information in front of our eyes, RJ. None of us can do what you do--any more than you can go out there and be us. We’ve got us covered, okay? I’m not saying it’s not scary, because it is. But having you here makes it better, not worse.”
“Having you here makes this...” He paused just long enough to add emphasis to the word, “Officially, the most confusing thing I’ve ever done. And that includes the time I ended up on the Green Tortoise all the way to Seattle with a rubix cube and two of those curly nails you’re supposed to be able to pull apart.
“Actually,” he added, before she could reply, “someone else took them apart for me. I was trying to put them back together. Never did manage it.”
Lily smiled. “Well,” she teased, “what’s life without something to figure out?”
“Did I say that?” RJ asked. “I did, didn’t I. I should be more careful about what comes out of my mouth now that there’s someone around to hear it.”
“There’s always someone around,” she pointed out.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not,” RJ said, sounding more amused than anything. “But most people don’t really listen to what I say.”
“We’re listening,” Lily told him.
RJ sounded more serious this time. “So it would seem.”