‘Dont worry youre strong! If anyone can do this its you! And when this is all over you get to come back a HERO’
‘steph could you please take this seriously i’m dying’ Jun almost texted back, but quickly erased. Her accomplice, Stephanie, did a good job of cheering Jun on from back home, but especially so when brushing off Jun’s concerns. The imposter ranger was disappointed in her friend, but also disappointed in herself for even bringing up these feelings. She should handle them herself. Instead of the original text, she texted a simple ‘yeah. thanks’
Brandon walked up to her. “Hey Jun! Are you heading to the vending machine?”
“N-nah, I’m not really that hungry.” Jun quickly put away the phone. “You?”
“Yeah.” He answered.
“I’ll probably be going by that way though.”
Brandon smiled. “Hey, can I come with?”
Today would’ve been another day Jun spent alone, had Brandon not tagged along with her. It wasn’t like she wanted to become more distant from her new friends, but spending time around less people gave them less chances to notice anything off about her. The dark-haired ranger hadn’t even talked to Aiden that much in the past few days.
Brandon stopped by the vending machine where she and Aiden first met him. That reminded Jun to check her phone. It had been 36 hours since any of the warrant officers sent the rookie any messages on Aiden’s whereabouts. A new record! This either meant hadn’t gotten into any trouble, or that Jun would soon. She took the more positive option.
A few minutes later, the same boy that bumped into Jun a few weeks ago came out of the shower room, fully clothed this time. Jun lifted her head to greet him, and he did the same back with a smile. However, when he saw Brandon, the smile disappeared. Brandon stopped in his tracks, a sandwich cracker lifted midway to his face. He seemed like he wanted to say something to the boy, but the boy left before he could.
“Hey, isn’t that the same guy--?”
“Yeah…” Brandon answered dejectedly. “He’s cool. I wish I could apologize for back then, but every time I see him it goes like…like that.”
“Aww man…” Jun sympathized.
“Even if I do get to apologize, will I ever be able to talk to him? Be friends?”
Jun grit her teeth. “Hmmmm, the thing is, I can see that you’re turning yourself around, but if I were in his shoes, I dunno if I’d give you a second chance after what you did. I wouldn’t count on getting buddy-buddy with him, but he’d probably appreciate the apology.”
Brandon smiled weakly, looking a little disappointed. “Thanks, Jun. Next time, I’ll apologize for sure.”
“You want one?” He offered a cracker to Jun.
“Sure, thanks.” Jun ate the peanut-butter and cracker combo. “I think I’m gonna head out for now. See ya later, Brandon.”
The dark-haired ranger turned around, confused.
“You’re free today, too, right?” asked Brandon.
“Thought so. Matt, Jaleel and some of the others are waiting for you by your dorm.” he explained. “We were gonna surprise you!”
Brandon laughed. “It’s not a surprise if you know already!”
So Jun followed Brandon back to her dorm, and just as he said, a few of their friends were waiting for them.
“Hey Jun!” Matthew waved.
“Just the guy we’ve been waiting for!” greeted Jaleel as Jun got closer.
“‘Sup guys.” Jun stopped in front of the group. “Did you guys plan some kinda surprise for me? It’s not even, like, my birthday~”
“He knows already?” asked Antonio who Jun didn’t know that well, but he hung around Jaleel.
“Sorry, I had to tell him.” apologized Brandon.
Jun shrugged. “I still dunno what it is.”
“Good!” Jaleel clenched his fist. “There’s still a surprise left!”
“So what is it?”
“You seemed kinda down lately so we were gonna invite you to play ping-pong with us.” answered Matthew. “We also found out there’s laser tag on this ship and we wanted to check it out.”
This took the dark-haired ranger by surprise. For starters, was her weariness starting to show? If so, that kinda bummed her out. On a brighter note, the other guys noticing this and going out of their way to try to cheer Jun up showed that they cared in a way she never expected them to. How touching. Was this the meaning of being bros?
“Wow.” Jun looked away, humbled. “I-uhhh, you didn’t have to do all this, but, like, thanks for looking out for me.”
“Corey had to work today, so he couldn’t wait here with us.” Jaleel explained. “He might stop by later. Also, we couldn’t find Aiden to invite him, but you’re pretty good at that, so if you wanted him to come with us, he can.”
“Did you check our room?” asked Jun.
“...You guys are roommates?”
While the group exchanged sheepish expressions, Jun walked past them to her dorm room. Inside, Aiden lounged on the top bunk.
“Hey Aiden.” Jun leaned into the doorway. “Me and the crew are gonna play some ping-pong and laser tag, wanna hang?”
Aiden glanced down. “...Sure.”
The dark-haired ranger gave a thumbs-up to her friends waiting down the hall. “He said he’s coming!”
Whoops and hollers came from the group. Jun raised an arm, returning a half-hearted “Woo!”
Aiden shook his head, smiling, then jumped down from his bunk bed and followed Jun out of the room.
By no means was Jun the best ping-pong player, but she still had fun talking to her new friends. She even learned more about them! For example, she only just found out Antonio and Jaleel were dating. They met through a shared hobby of collecting computer hardware. The others had a laugh at Jun, teasing her for not knowing sooner, but she was too happy for the couple to care. Matthew used to play in competitive ping-pong leagues when he was younger, which he absolutely showed off. Aiden tried to learn some ping-pong tricks from him, but couldn’t quite get the hang of it. According to Matthew, though, Aiden had a reputation for being talented with the IF’s jet armor. The other guys seemed to be aware of this too, praising Aiden’s skills. Jun doubted that Aiden’s ego needed any more pumping up, but it was nice to see the group go from completely terrified of him to this. Corey stopped by, only to get hit by one of Matthew’s serves, but it was alright, everyone had a good time.
Then came laser tag. Jun never played before, but that didn’t matter, because she annihilated everyone. Game after game, the result was the same as they all fell down before her. They had to switch over to other game modes to attempt to even out the playing field. Still, Jun managed to do really well. Many questions were asked about where these skills came from, but the dark-haired ranger never gave any satisfying answers. Eventually, members of the group parted ways until only Matthew, Jun, and Aiden were left.
“...And so I told him, ‘Yeah, we’re cool! Just don’t hit on me, haha.’ And then he was like ‘You really think I would hit on you?’ and I feel like I really learned something important that day.” Matthew concluded his story. “Anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only clueless straight guy here.”
“Cool.” Jun smiled at the irony of his words. She wasn’t a guy and probably wasn’t straight either, but Matthew didn’t need to know any of that. No one did.
“Anyway, I’ll see you guys tomorrow!” Matthew waved as he left Jun and Aiden behind.
Jun and Aiden began putting away their vests and guns. The latter had been oddly quiet for a while. Then, he wasn’t.
“What really made you quit the cops?” he asked suddenly.
Jun laughed nervously. “What? Where did that come from?”
Aiden held a stare both unimpressed and unwavering. Jun tried to shrug it off as hard as she possibly could, but her shoulders couldn’t shake hard enough.
“You’re too good at this to not be ‘cut out’ for being a cop.” he continued. “You’re a pretty alright fighter and you have freakishly good aim. Any pig would’ve begged you to stay. What’s the real reason you left?”
“Just because I have good aim with a laser gun doesn’t mean I do with real guns. They’re like completely different!”
“So you have shot a real gun before.” Aiden raised an eyebrow.
“That’s not-- I never said-- Fine.” Jun realized she wouldn’t be able to change the subject this time. “Fine. If anyone has to know, it might as well be you.”
Aiden didn’t say anything. He just waited for Jun to continue.
“In target practice, I found out I was really good at shooting a gun. Static targets, moving targets, big, small, you name them, I never missed. Everyone was really impressed with me. But then I realized something.”
Jun stared at the laser guns. “I was training to kill. Like, actual real people.”
“You just figured that out?” Aiden scoffed.
“I mean, like, I sorta knew, but I always figured if I ever really needed to kill anyone, it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, right?”
“But it was.” Jun continued. “The more I thought about it, the more I just couldn’t reconcile with ever having to kill anyone. Maybe it’s naive or whatever, but I feel like most people can change for the better, and who am I to decide the ones who can’t? I dunno, I just don’t feel right taking a life.”
“Hm.” the blond ranger seemed to contemplate something. “I don’t know if I 100% feel the same way, but I can respect you not being trigger-happy.”
Jun gave a wan smile. “Thanks.”
“So was that it?”
“Y--Actually no.” the dark-haired ranger corrected. “Something else was bothering me about the precinct I trained under. They kept pushing this thing where they were like ‘you can tell a criminal just by looking at them’ which, to me, had a lot of bad implications. I’m not even gonna tell you the stuff they’d say about the homeless. And it’s all like, I went to school for four years to learn the justice system and how it’s supposed to work, and you guys are gonna tell me I can arrest anyone who looks ‘bad’? And what does that even mean? Do I wanna know?”
“I think you already know.”
Jun turned to Aiden. “...I do. Maybe I shoulda stayed to change things from the inside. And like you said, they practically begged me to stay, but... I was so disturbed, I couldn’t do it.”
“Good.” Aiden responded.
“And now I don’t have any plans for my future. Oh well~” Jun threw her hands in the air, before they limply collapsed to her sides.
“That’s easy. Survive.”
“...I guess so.”
Aiden and Jun began walking back to their room.
“I knew a guy like you.” Aiden pointed to Jun. “Ex-cop. Tried to change the pigs, but they kicked him out and he ended up on Skid Row with the rest of us. Good cops don’t last long. They either change or they’re gotten rid of.”
“Ah…” Jun wondered if she would’ve gotten kicked out. She couldn’t see it, but she also didn’t expect her precinct to be the way it was. Some mysteries were better left unanswered. “You’re actually the first one I told the full story to. Thanks for letting me vent.”
“Of course.” Aiden smiled. “It’s nice to have someone else complain about the cops for once.”
“You know…” He stopped walking. “I think you're…”
“What?” Jun turned around.
Aiden squinted and seemed to contemplate something. He sighed. “Nevermind.”
Jun blinked, then shrugged.