Author's Note: Yay! Blake returned to the series in "Return of Thunder," and incredibly, the writer's didn't forget about the sparks between him and Tori! But, as I predicted, the Wind Rangers don't seem to hold any sort of grudge, leaving some room for me to fill in the blanks, which is what I've decided to do. What follows is the companion story to "The Weakest Link," this time told in Blake's voice. As a result, the dialogue is nearly identical, though the perspective has shifted. Considering the limited insight we've been given into Blake's personality and background thus far, this is really more of an interpretation than a true reflection of the canon character. We'll see how the Blake/Tori relationship unfolds on the series. Maybe it'll validate my interpretation, and maybe it won't. Uncertainty sure hasn't stopped me from writing character pieces in the past. © April 2003.
It's an exceptionally hot day. The kind of heat that makes you reach up and loosen your collar. The kind of heat that makes you want to take refuge in the shadow of a large tree.
But I don't register the heat. All I feel is that comfortable chill of detachment. Like a self-imposed prison, I reject the warmth of true feeling. Because if I let myself really feel all the anger twisting inside my gut like a furious dragon, I'll never find my senses again.
Anger considering the hell I've been through the past few days, that's the understatement of the century.
How else can you react when your entire world is thrown upside-down? When you learn your allies are your enemies, and the enemies you've hated for so long just might be your only shot at victory?
This isn't the first time I've experienced this kind of upheaval. I seem to be cursed it happens time and again to me.
The first time was in my youth, so long ago that my memories are vague and unclear. I remember the feeling of simple contentment something that's been beyond my reach ever since the first tragedy in my life struck. The day my mother was diagnosed with a rare heart disease that slowly ate away at her strength. The woman I remembered as being strong and infallible became so very fragile; it was terrifying for a boy of six to experience. After several anguished months, she succumbed to the way of all flesh, and left my father and me alone.
The first vivid memory I have is of her funeral. Unlike the picture painted in all the movies, it was a beautiful day, and the heat of the sun made me itch in my neat black suit. I watched the coffin slide into the earth, and it struck me that I'd never see her again. That she was gone. And for the first time, I felt the burn of anger.
Not the typical temper a child displays when he wants candy before dinner. I mean the kind of searing anger that consumes all sympathy, and makes the world a cruel, dismal place. The kind of anger that kills innocence, and makes it so difficult to feel anything else.
It was impossible for me to comprehend that a person as good and loving as her should die. It's still just as incomprehensible to me today.
My mother's death scarred me but I still survived far better than my father did. He found his escape at the bottom of many liquor bottles, and for the next few years I watched the shameful erosion of the good man I had idolized. Once a respectable professional, he let his newfound drug of choice dull his senses to the point where nothing else mattered. And when alcohol wasn't enough to quench his need to escape, he explored other substances that promised to ease the ache of a broken heart.
He couldn't deal with the pressures of living without his wife. He couldn't handle the strain of being a single parent. I never knew how fragile a man could be until I experienced his self-destruction firsthand. And I learned about a new kind of anger one that is directed to an individual. I watched my father waste his life, hide in the corner of his room like a coward, and take his aggressions out on me and I learned to hate.
Hate and anger, hate and anger. They ruled my heart and soul, and swallowed the boy I once was. I endured life rather than enjoyed it, until my father committed a petty crime that sealed his fate. He was deemed an unworthy parent, and I was taken away from the only person I hated and the only person I loved.
I never thought I could care about another person again. I didn't think it was worth it, because the people you love hurt you the most.
Then I met my salvation my new family.
Parents who were wiser than my own saw the boy my experiences had forged. They discerned the hate and anger that rolled within me night and day. And they gave me the two greatest gifts I could ever ask for. One was discipline.
Through my ninja training, I learned to master my hate, and conquer my anger. I learned to keep a cool head, and never let my emotional state rule my actions. No more punching through walls in agonized rage. No more sobbing into the night, wondering if my mother could see what I've become. I focused my feelings, using them as fuel to fire my ambitions, rather than letting them drown me.
They gave me discipline, and even more importantly, they gave me love. A loving home, with considerate and competent parents. I even gained a brother in Hunter, the first person I was ever able to really relate to.
They gave me a life again. And for eight years I enjoyed these gifts freely, experiencing the closest thing to true contentment I was capable of.
But then upheaval hit again. Those wise, loving, intelligent, strong parents were taken from me taken from us.
All Hunter and I had left was each other. Each other, and all the hatred and anger that swallowed us whole. There was no room for sympathy, friendship, understanding, peace, hope nothing but hatred and anger. And they spawned something new in me: a thirst for revenge.
Never before was I in a position to take action to return evil for evil. My natural parents were taken by chance and depression. This time, there was a person that took my parents. A person I could hunt down, and force to suffer all the pains I have suffered. Hunter and I made a pact, to never swerve from our new mission in life. We lived for revenge.
We chose that life of darkness and emptiness willingly, knowing that if we didn't take matters into our own hands, justice would never be served. We put the power of the Thunder Ninja Academy, and the prized Thunder Morphers, to their fullest use. The discipline we had learned helped us keep our goal clear in our minds, and gave us the strength to do anything necessary to reach that goal. We mastered our emotions, cloaking that internal fire in a chilling blanket of cold focus.
Our sights were set on the Master of the Wind Ninja Academy. And for weeks we sketched out the perfect plan to make him regret ever setting his sights on the Thunder Ninja Academy.
But we were wrong. We were manipulated by Lothor into striking the one force with the power to save this planet. My hate and anger blinded me to the truth I wanted so much to believe I'd found the murderer that I refused to consider otherwise.
Hunter and I came very close to committing an act we could never atone for.
Once again, our adoptive parents saved us. Their ghosts showed us the truth, and helped us see where our destinies lie. They made our enemy clear to us, and for the first time, the battle we fought felt right unblemished by personal conflict.
"Why don't we just go to Storm Chargers?" Hunter asks me. The sound of his voice breaks the drone of the ocean waves, snapping me out of my reflective haze.
"Because she doesn't work at Storm Chargers," I remind him, "but if we don't find her out here, that'll be our next stop."
There's still much we need to deal with. Hunter and I need to reassess our plans, both short and long term. We need to make sure that we never succumb to that blind, dark, cruel hatred that nearly tore our souls into pieces. We need to conquer our darker longings, or else they will conquer us.
We need to return to the site of the Thunder Ninja Academy; but not before I deliver the message to the one person that really should hear it directly from me, and not through one of her teammates.
I continue to scan the crowded waters of the ocean. I really can't believe she'd miss such a prime surfing day
"Is that her?"
There's a touch of surprise in my brother's voice, which urges me to turn around. Out on the sand, dressed in a two-piece that only emphasizes her athletic build, is Tori.
And she's not alone
"Maybe we should come back later?" Hunter suggests as casually as possible. I ignore him as I draw closer to Tori and her friend.
I can see it's not Dustin or Shane. This guy is thin and pale, with a high haircut inspired by John Travolta in "Grease." And I've never seen a more idiotic grin in my life.
He's hovering in her personal space, going on and on about "wiping out" or something. And she doesn't seem bored as she listens to the skinny guy boast how his skills helped him survive the terrifying threat of crashing water.
The temperature rises several degrees as I make my presence known. "Tori."
Her surprise is obvious; she startles as she slips on her sunglasses and turns to look at me. She offers no words of greeting or welcome.
"Tori, I need to talk to you for a minute." I barely keep from glaring at the clownish surfer-dude. "Alone."
She frowns suspiciously, and hesitates. I can't believe it! I know we're not exactly friends, but she must know I'm no threat to her. What could I possibly gain from pissing off the Wind Rangers?
She turns away from me, but I can still see the thousand-watt smile she gives the moron. "Hey, could you get me a soda? Please?"
I contain a triumphant grin. Tori's latest charity case really needs to get lost.
Surfer-dude has the guts to glare at me before objecting. "You sure, Tori?"
"This'll just take a second," she answers. And then she kisses him. She kisses him.
His entire face suddenly lights up, as if he completely forgot what's going on. Then he gets up, and does exactly what Tori requested. I swear he's practically skipping to the refreshment stand. Hopefully he'll trip on one of the sandcastles, and make a complete ass of himself
"So, don't you two have somewhere more important to be?"
I turn back to Tori, stunned by the acid in her voice. The brilliant smile she'd wasted on that idiot is gone, leaving her face cold and drawn.
"Yes, we do," Hunter contributes. I didn't even realize he'd followed me, and the added pressure of his impatience definitely isn't helping. An irritated glare reminds him of what we spoke about earlier. Why this is important to me.
Hunter frowns his disapproval, but at least he respects my wishes and leaves the two of us alone.
I turn back to Tori, putting my thoughts into some sort of order. I want to clear things up between us, let her know that when I first decided to use her to get to Ninja Ops, she wasn't really a person to me yet. She was just a means to an end, but things've changed so much over the past few days
Yet she blows my thoughts out of the water with one look.
She stares at me, her blue eyes wide and searching. For one moment it feels like she's opening up to me, like she did on the car ride back into the city from Ninja Ops. After she had demonstrated complete trust in me, bringing me to the secret base of the Wind Rangers never dreaming I could purposely hurt her.
Then, without warning, it shuts down. She turns away, anger distorting her face as she hides behind her sunglasses. She takes a moment, visibly struggling to control herself, swallowing the angry outburst that makes her muscles tense.
I realize now, looking at her carefully neutral expression, that I'm not prepared for this encounter. I don't know why I suppose I underestimated how angry she'd be.
"Hunter and I are leaving."
I didn't think she could possibly feel so strongly about what happened between us... not when she knows why Hunter and I counted the Wind Rangers as our enemies. Now that we've formed an admittedly uneasy alliance, I had hoped she'd be able to look past our rocky start.
"Oh," she murmurs, after a brief silence. And with that one syllable, she crushes my hopes for a mutual understanding.
Now I'm really uncomfortable. I begin to squirm under her cold gaze. "We have to figure things out," I continue, filling that awkward silence. "We don't belong here."
Again I wait for some kind of response a sign that perhaps she doesn't want me to leave so abruptly. But she doesn't give me anything to go by. She's as cold and uninviting as a marble statue.
I thought I had begun to really know Tori Hanson. But five minutes ago, I didn't even imagine she could detach herself so completely.
And a nagging voice in the back of my head forces me to see reality. It wasn't her nature to be cold and detached. When we first met, she was shy and trusting. But over the past few days, something happened to scar her. Something made her cold and dubious.
It wasn't Lothor, and his constant schemes to defeat the Wind Ninjas. It wasn't even the near-loss of her Sensei, at least not directly. It was me.
It strikes me like a fist in the gut. I really hurt her. Perhaps I deeply hurt her. I used her, and I've made her world a bit darker I've killed some of that girlish innocence that I found so captivating.
And because I hurt her, I feel the pain too. Because when you care about someone, you leave yourself open to empathy, disappointment, and loss.
Suddenly, I can't stand to look at her.
I take a slow breath, forcing the heat of my feelings back into their prison. I can't afford to let my feelings take control. I need to make some space between us, for both our sakes.
I slide on my own sunglasses, and behind the veil of dark lenses, I survey the area. I see the surfer stand a few yards behind Tori, his fist tightly clenching a bottle of soda. He's like a vulture, hovering just beyond a battle, eager to pick up the pieces. Ready to come to Tori's comfort, after I tear another hole in her spirit.
Smarmy son of a bitch... but there's really nothing I can do about him, is there?
I wait until I have full control before I speak. I get right to the point. "We came to say goodbye. Tell Dustin and Shane."
That's all I can give her now. No resolution, no peace of mind. There's too much bad blood between us too many raw wounds. Right now, I think I only made things worse by seeking her out. She was fine before I showed up, and darkened her spirits. She needs some space.
The space becomes physical as I turn to leave. She makes no objection as I meet my brother, and continue away from the crowded shore. I sense the sting of her glare on my back, and I choose to ignore it.
I choose not to feel.
"You okay, Bro?" Hunter asks, quickening his pace to fall into step beside me.
"I'm okay. I'm always okay."
We walk together in silence. Time passes quickly, and so does the landscape, as we follow the shoreline to our destination. We soon pass the more populated beaches, and in an hour's time we've reached the barren, lonely shores where deep waters and jagged rocks discourage swimmers. Every so often, the sound of the ocean draws my attention, and I glance at those crystal clear, blue waters.
And I think of Tori's eyes.
When we first met, her eyes sparkled with the kind of optimism I've never seen in the mirror. But that last glare she gave me, so disillusioned and empty, keeps impaling me over and over again.
She doesn't deserve the weight of that kind of anger, that poisons the soul and darkens the world. Anger that turns into hate, the kind of hate that makes people do things they never would have otherwise.
I've felt anger fester. I still do. And when I consider what my hatred let me do to beautiful, trusting Tori I feel disgusted.
"How long do you think we'll be gone?" I venture to ask.
Hunter quirks his eyebrow as he looks at me. "Why? You have a reason to come back?"
"We both do," I remind him, my gaze hard.
He considers my response for a moment, and then nods his agreement. We both have to make Lothor pay for murdering our parents, and for using us against the Wind Rangers. We have a planet to protect from invasion, and while the Wind team is definitely more formidable than I gave them credit for, they could use our help.
And I have to face Tori.
When we first met, her eyes sparkled. After we spent some time together, it started to feel like those blue eyes sparkled just for me.
Now, there's no light. No sparkle. She'll never look at me like that again and I'll have to live with that.