Disclaimer: Alex, Jen, Wes and the rest of the Ranger team belong to BVE, or somebody around there. Colleen, her siblings, Jennings, and anyone else not obvious probably belongs to me.

Spoilers: "Moving On" and the rest of the serial, in particular "Favored Daughter".

Author's notes: This was an AU. Then Chris let me use our chat for "Favored Daughter", at which point it became a little less AU. Basically, my imagination came up with this little thing and it grew and is now a 200-pound plot bunny. Some of Alex's dialogue was written by Chris Funaro, who keeps insisting I'm just as good as he is with it....

Also, Alex's surname was a made-up one, thus "Pullings".

Alex's Gift
by Estirose
c 2002

Alex despised social gatherings like this one. Important enough to get invited, not important enough to get himself out of them, he always ended up playing politics with some faction or another. It was enough to leave a bad taste in his mouth.

But this time was different. He was going to use some of the idiots he was forced to gather with, and use them to do some good. Maybe it would sacrifice enough of his reputation that he might be spared more of the gatherings.

"Captain Pullings. How nice to see you."

Alex turned to the individual who had greeted him and deliberately or accidentally used the wrong rank. Either way gave him the impression that this guy was making nice with what he probably thought of as the hired help. Jennings, he remembered. One of Councilor Dravis' most important assistants, one who curried favor with the enlisted while at the same time sneering at them. He nodded a greeting at the ostentatious display by the lackey.

"I hear that your daughter has been accepted at the Academy. Colleen Mithril Scotts, isn't it? At least some things during your... liaison with Commander Scotts came out well. A pity, though, what happened to her."

"Jennifer was a fine officer. I doubt that anyone could have spent that long in another time and not be affected."

Jennings nodded quickly. "Ah, yes. Far be it to criticize your protégée's actions, but I'm surprised it hasn't caused further complications."

The man had no idea what had truly happened to Jennifer during her five-year visit to the twenty-first century, for which Alex was grateful. He wasn't sure that the Council at the time of her return had any inkling of the truth, and he really doubted that Dravis did either.

"Jennifer Scotts' visit continues to have unforeseen circumstances. Thirty years after the fact, we're still discovering what effect her team had on the twenty-first century." Inwardly he winced, knowing he was dragging Jennifer's name through the mud once again, which would not help his next argument with her.

"Oh?" Jennings responded, currently looking intensely interested.

"Yes. During the time she was there, she was forced to bring in a twenty-first century civilian to be a Ranger. Because he swore an oath to Time Force, we accepted responsibility for him. And he was so far out of his intended timeline by the time she finished with him that he's becoming dangerous to the course of time. My staff and I are hoping to bring him into our own time so that he doesn't cause further damage. We only lack proper clearance, but we're working on that."

Jennings' head began to bounce up and down. "I see. I see. Sounds like a decent project to me. Good luck, sir, and congratulations again," he said, before fleeing Alex's area. Alex knew a smug smile would be gracing Jennings' face, at the opportunity to have Alex owe him a favor.

* * *

The time passed more rapidly than Alex would have thought, for Jennings' assistance brought the permission that Alex needed to take a trip through time to retrieve Wes. There had been a council meeting, to which Alex hadn't been invited, and then the arrest warrant that his staff had been processing had been mysteriously okayed. Then there was the permission from IA, and the little niddly details that came about whenever one wanted to take a ride through time. Time Force rarely chased its criminals through time - Wesley Collins would be the second such after Ransik.

And Wesley hadn't done anything wrong, not really. Not other than bringing Alex three joys into his life, one of which was following him into Time Force, with all the good qualities that had attracted him to Jennifer. Yes, he and Jennifer could have had their children by now, but he had to wonder if the relationship could have lasted this long into marriage. At least Colleen had turned out right and would no doubt make her quasi-father proud.

Walking into the bright sunlight of the twenty-first century, he checked his log into the events that had surrounded Wesley Collins. On the day that he had landed, Eric Myers had called in sick, leaving Wesley in charge of the Guardians until his colleague returned, sniffling and miserable. It would be Wesley by himself, and he might even behave like the proper Time Force officer he was supposed to be.

As Alex entered the room, Wesley looked up from a pile of papers on the desk. Whatever he had been intending to say was plainly forgotten as he rose up in recognition. "Alex," he said coldly. "Why are you here?"

"I'm here to arrest you," Alex said, knowing he had to get straight to the point, and clutching the immobilization collar that would allow him to get out of the building without anyone wondering why the boss was handcuffed. "Wesley Collins, you are under arrest for willful interference with the time stream."

"I'm *what*?' Wesley asked, coming around the desk. "You can't arrest me. Removing me from my own century would interfere with the time stream, and I don't see anybody else coming here to try me."

"You've become a danger to your own time, Wesley. That's why I'm here to remove you from it. From the moment Jennifer swore you in, to the moment you relinquish your morpher, you are our responsibility."

Wesley deftly removed the morpher from his wrist and tossed it to Alex, who caught it. Putting it in one of his uniform pockets, he turned back to face Wesley, who for some reason seemed to be waiting for him to leave.

"You have your morpher back, Alex. Leave," Wesley said, going back to sit at his desk. "You've made your point. I'm a bad Ranger, at least to you. But I'm no longer your responsibility."

"Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. I have to take you back with me, Wesley. You're to stand trial before the High Council for your actions."

"What actions?" Wes exploded. "I haven't tried to manipulate the time stream. I've just been living in it. Time Force has always been reluctant to bring me forward... and now this charge for something I didn't do? If it wasn't you, I'd figure you were joking."

"Yes, you have been living your life. Unfortunately, due to interference by your wife... And your continued use of the morpher... You are quite a ways off your intended personal--"

"Destiny. I know. You were the one who gave Jen permission to leave the morpher in the first place." Wesley studied him. "And what will Time Force do if I'm convicted. I mean, even with what's happened, I'm still due to inherit BioLab."

"Yes, leaving you the morpher was my choice. And I regret making it. I will take full accountability for that before the tribunal. However..."

Wesley sat, stone cold and silent, as if he was a petulant child. Jennifer had seemed like that when she returned the second time.

"Your presence here is pushing other events out of synch. Wesley, you're becoming as detrimental to the future as the Trizirium Crystals. The more history allows for you to be off course, the more it will allow others to be. And we'll have another timestorm. If you won't listen to me, think of Jennifer. Think of your children. They will be written out of existence."

"So, whether or not I consent to go, I'll get dragged to the future. Put on trial for something I didn't do, except not follow vows I had no idea were still in force. And I guess all I have the right to do now is maybe pack up some stuff and leave with you."

Alex turned to look at the pictures, making himself ready in case Wesley tried to run and he had to do something extreme until he could argue sense into the former Ranger. "You needn't dismiss me so blithely. Believe me when I say that I'd have preferred to never see your face again, after Doomtron was destroyed. Unfortunately, my personal destiny seems to keep interweaving with yours. In all its many permutations. I wish I could be dealt a new hand of cards, as you have." He looked over a picture of Wes in Silver Guardian gear, standing side by side with Eric. "There will be... Consequences, to removing you from history. But you never married. You never had children. Not in the original timeline. I doubt there's much your personal timeline has in store that Eric couldn't substitute for."

That seemed to hit Wesley like water on a raw wound. "No, I suppose there isn't. Not if you're coming around to do it. At least you're not my commanding officer. Having Jen haul me off would be worse."

"In Jennifer's baseness, I *am* your commanding officer." Alex stated. "And as my responsibility, I was the one selected to bring you to your new time. I realize that things may be different when you get there, but be assured that everything possible will be done to adapt you to your new time." Alex turned. "Jennifer could not have made the arrest. She is too tied to you to do it effectively. It was up to me to do so." Turning, letting Wesley know that the confrontation was over, he added, "I will give you some time to finish up any personal affairs. Anything you need to leave for Eric to do, and to say goodbye to your family, if you wish. Tell me what you want to have brought and I will make sure that it is."

Glaring, Wesley Collins swept past him and left the room. Alex fingered the immobilizing collar before putting it away. If Wesley decided to run, he would find him. In the meantime, the young businessman was in his rights to have some closure before he took up his new life.

* * *

About an hour later, after Alex had planted certain things that would make the revision on the time line easier, he found Wesley waiting at the timeship, a duffel in hand. It may have been a little too much, but Alex was going to allow it. After all, Wesley Collins was going to remain in the thirty-first, come hell or high water.

It was in the secret promise he'd made Colleen, to do some good to mend his relationship with Jennifer. Sure, Colleen didn't need the distraction, but he felt he owed Jennifer something for bringing Colleen to his point of view. Given her reaction to Colleen's 'defection', her continued belief that her daughter had been adapted, it was best to stay out of Jennifer's way. Besides, 'their' children were grown. Beja and Richard were living productive lives, and Colleen was safely ensconced in Time Force Academy where she belonged.

Time to make one attempt. Time to bring Jennifer the person that would help heal the damage in their relationship with one another. Bring her a Wesley who had not had seventeen years of frustration hearing his children growing up in a time he could not be in, and with no say in their upbringing.

In a way, Alex had tried to take Wesley's place, not because he was arrogant enough to believe that he could be the children's father, but because he was responsible for them almost as much as Wesley was. And Jen had resisted him from the beginning, mainly because he was the one responsible for taking her home - and not taking Wesley. He probably should have. Maybe it would have been best to remove Wesley from the very beginning and take him with his teammates.

Jennifer would have cursed him then, but he wouldn't have had to worry about her taking off with a timeship to 2002 to be back with Wesley. Beja, Richard, and Colleen probably wouldn't have existed, and he would have been left out of their equivalents' childhoods, but at least the kids would have been totally normal.

But he wouldn't have had Colleen, who despite her mother's influence had still taken the brave step of actually daring to *like* him. Who followed him to Time Force, just as he had done with his parents. To the universe, Colleen would be a third-generation Time Force officer. If prejudices didn't stop her, she'd rise high, maybe higher than Alex.

And Jennifer would have her Wesley, leaving him with Colleen. It wasn't as if he was being entirely unselfish. A fair trade. The damage between himself and Jennifer was irreparable, but he still had a chance with 'their' daughter.

"I'm ready to go," Wesley said, sounding understandably drained. He had been so arrogant to believe that he was untouchable, and given that he was actually a civilian, that was understandable.

Alex nodded. "Understand that I'm not here to make your life miserable, Wesley. I had not realized at the time I retrieved Jennifer that your destiny had been bent out of shape so far. The only safe thing I can do, both for your own good and the universe's, is to remove you to someplace where you will not cause such problems."

"You could have just asked, instead of abducting me."

"I didn't abduct you. Meddling with the timeline is a delicate business, Wesley, and you are a special circumstance. In most circumstances, you're a civilian from the twenty-first century. However, you are still a Ranger, and Jennifer swore you in for that emergency. As long as you continued to hold that morpher, you were considered a Time Force Ranger, leaving both you and us in the awkward position of figuring out what applied to you and what didn't."

"I don't hold it anymore, Alex. That should straighten out the timeline considerably. I'll freely admit that I'd love to see Jen again, but I know she wouldn't want me to give up my entire life for her. I didn't want her to do that when she came to be with me."

"Yet she did. And with that, your life was altered. You should have sent her back, but you allowed her to go on. You continue to alter the timeline through the knowledge you gained as a Ranger, however inadvertently. Therefore, the only thing we can do to maintain the integrity of our time is to remove you from yours. I do not know what the council will decide, but I doubt that they, given the evidence, will return you to this century."

He ushered Wesley into the ship, seating the displaced Ranger in a seat very much like the one that Jennifer had sat in so long ago when he'd brought her home, before Colleen was born. He took the immobilizer collar out of his pocket and brought it to the correct size. Wesley cringed as the collar was placed around his neck, no doubt having some suspicion of what it could do.

"What's this?" Wesley asked, fingering the collar. Alex made sure that it wouldn't choke his 'prisoner', made one final nod, then straightened up.

"You are still under arrest, and I figured it would be more... dignified than placing you in handcuffs. Not to mention more comfortable. Still, don't try to get too far away from me until it's removed."

The businessman still glared at him, but Alex ignored it. He doubted Wes was going to attack him and try to take over the ship. Still, he set the controls on the collar to immobilize Wesley if he got any closer to the controls than he was.

* * *

It was a short, though slightly rocky trip through time before Alex's ship emerged from the timesteam and settled in its bay. Alex reset the controls as he changed the settings on the collar; now Wesley would only encounter problems if he tried to leave Time Force headquarters.

Alex removed Wes' restraints. "You'll be taken to quarantine. The doctors there have been told that you were stranded in a crash and you've completely acclimated to the twenty-first century. You've acclimated so much that you are to be considered delusional. Therefore, no matter what you tell them, they won't believe you. It's for your own safety, Wes, yours and Jennifer's."

Wes continued to be unhappy, but he stood up as the medical technicians in quarantine gear came in to isolate the two officers. Alex allowed himself to be placed in the field and taken to quarantine. At least, unlike Wesley, he wouldn't be there that long.

* * *

The door to the visiting room slid open as Alex gazed out the protective window. He had yet to be cleared, but that didn't matter at the moment. Colleen came into the visiting room, dressed in a fresh cadet uniform, clearly not quite ready for her visit to her mother's place on the weekend. Jennifer would probably be quite unhappy if Colleen came home in her uniform.

"Dad? What are you doing in quarantine?" Colleen asked, taking a seat at the counter that ran under the window.

"I had to go to 2008 and remove a disruption. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you."

Colleen's face didn't betray anything. Had to give Jennifer credit for that. But she knew the implications better than anybody else alive. "It's all right, Dad, I understand. You had to do your job."

"I did. Are you ready to go home for the weekend?"

"Just about," Colleen said. "I know there's stuff to do first. I couldn't find you to say goodbye, and then I learned that you were here."

"I'll be here for a while, Colleen. You enjoy your weekend with your mother. Don't let her provoke you. I know she doesn't trust me much anymore."

Colleen snorted. "That's the understatement of the millennium."

Message received and understood. Yes, Colleen was quick to grab the implications. "Anyway, I'm thinking of visiting your mother this weekend. Maybe you'll smooth things over for me?"

His pseudo-daughter smiled and gave a small shake of her head. "I'll try," she promised. With that, she got up. "I'll see you then, if you can get out."

Alex nodded, and with one last look, Colleen left the visiting room. Alex turned back to the quarantine room. He'd had enough of it, but he could wait a while longer.

* * *

Colleen sat in the train, her emotions churning in her stomach. She could have driven, or gotten a ride to where she was going, but in her current mood, she wasn't sure driving was such a safe thing.

Uncle Alex *knew* that she was going to go home that weekend, and he also knew that her mother wouldn't receive him with wide open arms. Colleen had developed into quite the peacemaker over the last few years, and when it came to Uncle Alex and Mother, she was kept quite busy.

And if she guessed perhaps half of what Alex had implied, it was up to her to prevent his imminent murder by her mother. Uncle Alex had no doubt brought Dad home as a mercy, the best mercy he could give, but her mother would see it only as a final betrayal, an attempt to undermine her by proving he could do what he wanted with those formerly under her - with those that she loved.

Uncle Alex did not love her father, that was for sure. He loved her mother, but he'd messed things up so thoroughly that she doubted that Mom would ever trust him again. Everything had to have a motive, a selfish motive. In a way, though, it was selfish. Uncle Alex wanted to have her to himself, just as he had years before when he'd tried once or twice to take custody of her.

Just thinking of what she'd have to do to prevent World War Twenty made her tired.

She came into the house, not willing to put her bag into her bedroom and start unpacking. One day Mom might decide it was hopeless and just leave her to Uncle Alex. Of course, maybe she'd never lack for a bed here, as Mom tried to hold onto her as tight as possible. Mom's youngest, the rebel. The good Time Force cadet. Just as Uncle Alex was unable to let go, Colleen was afraid she'd discover Mom was exactly the same way.

"You're home," her mother said, appearing out of the kitchen where she'd obviously been preparing something for herself.

Colleen allowed herself to nod. "I'm here."

"Okay, what happened?" Mom asked. "What did they say this time?"

Managing a small smile, Colleen answered, "Nothing... it's... I have some good news and some bad news."

"Good news and bad news," her mother stated, "Really good news or what Alex passes off as good news?"

Smothering a sigh at the latest battle of the parents, Colleen answered, "Uncle Alex had to arrest Wes Collins."

"He *what*?" Mom, who had looked like she was going to close in for a hug, backed off. "He's gone too far this time, Colleen. I don't care what twisted justification he has for this move, there's no reason to remove Wes from his own century."

Colleen made a motion to remind Mom that she wasn't sure it was clear, but her mother shook her head. "I swept a few minutes ago."

"Good," Colleen said. "Anyway, he wanted me to let you know. And tell you why, too."

Her mother sat down on a chair. "Go on."

"He's bringing Dad home for you."

"He's... bringing Wes home for me." The look on her mother's face was nothing short of disbelieving. "And you believed him? And why didn't he tell me himself?"

"He's in quarantine, Mom. He just got back from 2008."

"2008? He took Wes from 2008? Colleen, that's the man that Alex forced me to leave before you were born. He has no idea of what Alex has been up to the last seventeen years."

Colleen shrugged. "I don't know why he's chosen that time period, or if he chose it at all. Mom... don't blame it entirely on Uncle Alex. Part of it's my fault."

Her mother chose that moment to walk over to her and gently lift her chin with one hand. "Don't ever say it's your fault when Alex is concerned. Whatever you may have said or done, it was his choice to act upon it, not yours. He's a grown adult, Colleen, no matter how often he chooses not to act like it."

"Well, that's it, Mom. He's kept the possibility open for as long as I've been alive. It's just now that I'm full-grown and in Time Force, I think he's finally realizing exactly what he's done to you. And he knows it's too late, but he wants to try to make amends. He wants to try to give you back the person he took from you, and vice versa."

"I wish it were so simple. This is Alex. He doesn't't do anything that doesn't benefit himself."

"Reducing your hate of him isn't a selfish benefit?"

Her mother nodded sharply to indicate that she'd caught the point. "True. But I don't think something that small is worth his time."

"Mom. It took knowing me, and until I'd enlisted in Time Force for him to gather courage to do what he did. At the risk of his reputation and everything else, and I mean *everything* else, to attempt to give you back what he'd taken away. This is killing him. It goes against every thing he believes in. He's sacrificing part of himself to try to patch things up with you. Can't you trust him *just this once*?"

Sighing, her mother sat down again. "I wish I could. But it's a long time since I trusted Alex with anything. When you were sixteen, going there to be with him for six weeks... I was worried for you. And you coming home with bright-eyed enthusiasm about Time Force killed whatever trust I had in him."

"He's never told me this... but I don't think he trusts you much either."

"We've gone beyond the point of no return, Colleen. I don't know why he bothers to keep interfering in our lives. He could have just severed contact when you turned 18, but he just couldn't stop, could he? He had to see you follow him into Time Force."

"Mom, I can't force you to trust him. I can't force him to trust you. All I can say is that I trust you, and I trust him. And I believe, given what little he's told me, that he doesn't intend this as a way of showing you up."

"You realize that this one will have no memory of you growing up. If you're correct, if Alex is doing what he'd said he'd do, then *why* pull Wes in 2008? Why not the man we talked to two weeks ago?"

"Time Force policy would be my best guess. Pull him out before he's perceived as disruptive to the time stream. It's the reason why you chased Ransik at the beginning of his journey into 2001 instead of when he was established later, right?"

"Actually, if we hadn't homed in on the disruption his ship gave off in the time stream, we wouldn't have found him."

"Anyways, I know that Dad is going to miss our childhoods. I know it's going to be weird with him being a little older than Beja and Richard. But it's the best Uncle Alex can do. Can't you let him do his job? If not trust him, then trust me?"

Her mother sighed. "I don't think you know what you're doing... but I know you believe what you're saying. I'll try to let Alex do his job... but I can't promise more than that."

Colleen reached out and hugged her mother. "Thank you, Mom."

* * *

Wes tried flipping through one of the pile of books by the table in his room. It was getting tiresome, sitting there with no idea of how he'd get out unless he convinced Alex's superiors that he wasn't a danger to his own time.

Alex's arrest and accusation had caught him by surprise. He'd thought, back when Alex had come back to retrieve Jen, that the other one was bluffing. That he wasn't really bound by his oath. Apparently, he was dead wrong, and he was going to pay for it. Alex hadn't gone into what would happen if he failed to convince someone that it was a mistake, but he doubted Alex would want him back into the twenty-first century. Alex didn't travel into the past lightly.

He wouldn't be stuck in this situation if he hadn't taken the oath, yet he had been so full of enthusiasm, so much wanting to do right in Jen's eyes in those early days that he would have agreed to almost anything. Including taking an oath for an organization which had no weight, or so he thought, in his home century.

Closing his eyes, he could picture that day back at the clocktower. He'd just come over for a visit, a week or two before he'd moved in permanently. He'd always loved the tower, but his new-found friends gave even more incentive to come over and visit them instead of immerse himself in his father's business.

"Wes," Jen had said that afternoon as he stepped onto the floor of the top floor of the tower. She had had such a tired look, a tired but triumphant but sad one, that he'd immediately paused. She'd been sitting by their only communication device with their own time.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Captain Logan has given me permission to swear you in temporarily as an officer, given that he can't send support through."

It was always something he'd quietly feared, knowing that someone at any time could come from the future and replace him. "Okay," he said. He knew that to refuse a Jen command, a Jen request, would lead to trouble in its own way. A few weeks into knowing each other, and Jen was issuing him commands like he'd been on the team forever. "But why?"

"Because... if I don't, any arrests I make with you present are on shaky legal ground. I *have* to swear you in, and I finally convinced my superiors that I wasn't letting you go."

Wes nodded quickly. "So, what do I have to do?"

"Raise your right hand, and repeat after me," Jen told him, and he hastened to obey. "I, Wesley Arthur Collins,"

"I, Wesley Arthur Collins," Wes repeated.

"Do swear to uphold the guidelines and policies of Time Force," Jen continued.

"Do swear to uphold the guidelines and policies of Time Force," Wes repeated after her.

"To protect the integrity of the timestream and all within,"

"To protect the integrity of the timestream and all within,"

"To enforce the law with fairness and justice."

"To enforce the law with fairness and justice."

"So I swear on my highest honor, and so may I be cast down if I go back on my word."

Wes carefully repeated the last phrase after her, and then was assaulted from behind by a happy Trip, with Katie and even Lucas close behind. Jen was smiling, no doubt in relief that something related to him had gone well.

He should have been released when Ransik was captured. When Time Force had no need of him. But he wasn't. He doubted it was because of the morpher, but with Alex he never knew why.

Maybe he'd find out when he went to trial, or whatever.

* * *

Alex strode through the corridors of Time Force full of purpose. Wesley Collins had been pronounced free of quarantine earlier that morning, only a few days after he himself had done so.

He was actually relieved that Wesley had stayed in quarantine for so long. That meant that Jennifer had actually shown some sense and not tried a rescue like her teammates had so long ago. Colleen had returned to him with the news and he'd hoped that Jennifer would stay out of his way ever since.

Walking into the patient wing, he gave curt nods at the medical personnel there as he headed towards the area procured for those medical cases under tight security. He easily bypassed the security and let the door slide open for him, stepping forward so that it would close.

The object of his attention was lying there, eyes closed, body peacefully curled in sleep, in a hospital gown. The medical staff had destroyed the clothing he'd come in with, and they hadn't seen fit to return the rest of Wesley's belongings. He shook the other man. "Wake up."

Wesley did so with a groan, his eyes coming to focus on Alex as he stretched out. "Man, what not a good face to wake up to in the morning."

Not dignifying that with a reply, Alex handed the outfit to the recovering Ranger. Wesley frowned. "What's this?"

"Your uniform."

The other man pulled it out, studying it critically. "Why am I wearing it? I mean, I'm not in Time Force anymore. Wearing it would make as much sense as wearing a french maid's uniform."

"You are a member of Time Force, or were when the offense was committed. I cannot have you going in front of the council in any of your usual outfits." Alex would have thought that the reason was obvious, but maybe not to this backwards civilian that had captured Jennifer's heart. What had Jennifer seen in this lout?

"Yeah, and you can't attend an executive meeting without a necktie."

Alex let the sarcastic, cryptic response bounce off of him. "I'll allow you time to dress."

With that, he headed out of the room, allowing the other Ranger his privacy. If needed, he could force the other Ranger into the outfit... but he hoped Wesley was not that dumb.

* * *

Wes looked at the uniform outfit and wondered if it was worth it to fight Alex about it. He didn't wish to be manhandled anymore, but he certainly deserved better than to be dragged a thousand years in the future to be tried for a crime he didn't commit. And to have to go to trial in some weird version of the standard Time Force uniform... probably one that was specifically made for those former Time Force officers accused of a crime.

It still had the badges he was oh-so-familiar with from spending so long looking at his teammates' uniforms. The pants could have come out of the clock tower's closet. But whereas his teammates' jackets displayed their undershirts, this one had no provision. The outfit had an undershirt of fire engine red that he supposed was convict red around this place, since surely the council wasn't there to honor him as Red Ranger.

Knowing Alex, there was no way the man would allow him in there without wearing that bizarre uniform, and if he didn't get before somebody who could overrule Alex, he wasn't going to get home. Therefore, just as he had done to avoid his father's lectures, he began to strip and put on the uniform.

Alex was there almost as he had finished with the outfit, feeling awkward in the clothing, as if he didn't belong. Heck, he didn't, but he had to remind himself the indignity was worth it if he could win.

The other Ranger turned taskmaster, along with two guards, escorted him along the corridors. Occasionally he ran across someone in a familiar uniform, and even one in the same kind of outfit that he wore, albeit with a black undershirt peeking out instead of a red one. The young woman had looked at them, startled and staring at him, until a glare from Alex sent her on her way. Then they had reassumed their path towards wherever he was being put on trial.

* * *

Colleen walked into her room at her Uncle Alex's place, sitting down. She'd actually been done with her training an hour or so earlier, but she'd stuck around in hopes of getting a glimpse of her father, her true one. She'd gotten a brief look, luckily, but Alex had seen her and that was the end of *that*.

It was hard to mistake Dad for anybody else. The same face, slightly different hair, definitely different attitude and posture. The man that she had only known from photos had walked only a few hundred feet from her, live and in person.

Well, he was up and about, so she only had to worry about her mom. She activated the terminal, automatically dialing up home. To her surprise, Richard answered. Wasn't he working someplace?

"Hi," she said. "Where's Mom?"

"Off to see Aunt Katie," Richard answered easily, so easily that she knew that something was up. Somehow, in the last two years, her bonds with Richard and Beja had suffered.

"She couldn't have told me? Aunt Katie lives in town!"

Shrugging, Richard answered, "She didn't want to argue with Un-"

"Richard, *pretend* we're not going to have a fight."

Seemingly getting her message, he corrected, "She didn't want to fight with Dad. I know how you feel about him, but the rest of us don't. Maybe she'll get in touch before she leaves. She's a bit busy, you know."

"That's not a good reason to leave her daughter out."

"Who knows?" Richard asked, with a touch of anger entering his voice. "Deny it all you want, but Dad altered you. He did something to you that makes it hard for Mom to be as close as she wants. Can you blame her for not confiding in you when anything she said might end up in Dad's ears?"

"I would *not* betray her to Dad."

"Right."

Gritting her teeth, Colleen said, "Look, I have a different opinion about Dad, okay? I may try to argue her out of a stupid plan, but I wouldn't tattle to Dad about it."

Her brother shrugged. "She still wouldn't have told you. Look, you know where she is. If you want to get in touch, or not, I don't care. But she's not here."

"I'll keep that in mind," Colleen answered coolly, severing the connection.

* * *

The doors to the council room were at once ordinary and impressive. The kind of doors that wanted to state 'powerful simplicity'. He'd seen many of the type, though not quite the design.

Alex talked to some flunky, presumably to announce their arrival. Wes tried not to fidget as the flunky disappeared to no doubt announce their presence.

Finally, the doors swung open.

Wes tried not to fidget again. The collar, always near at hand, reminded him of what would happen if he stepped out of line. Besides, this would be the most important argument he ever made in his life.

How could he have ever expected to need to argue his right to go live in his own century? How could he, given Alex's attitudes over the previous times that they had met, have ever expected to be arrested for just being himself?

The guards ushered them in, leaving himself, Alex, and about a dozen people in uniforms much fancier than Alex's sitting at a high... bench. Council chambers. All of them were staring at him in ways that uncomfortably reminded him of the way one would treat a speaking dog.

Alex began to speak, as if following a silent signal. "Honorable council members, I bring before you a man who has violated the oaths he swore to our organization, though not out of malice nor violent intent. It was through the actions of the Ranger team that he was brought out of his intended timeline and influenced him to consider time malleable and undamageable. Still, the damage to his own personal timeline and our timeline remains, and every moment he stayed in his own century caused him to continue violating his oath. Therefore, we had no choice but to remove him to a time where he could cause no more damage. We believe that with a successful regimen of memory adaptation and introduction to this time that he could become a part of this century. We also owe him this much because it was through our actions, or lack thereof, that brought him out of synch with his own timeline."

"Noted," one council member, one to the left, told Alex. "And what would his status be? I notice you have given him the uniform of a cadet."

"Because, despite everything, he is our current Red Ranger," Alex answered smoothly. "Jennifer never removed that rank from him and I saw no reason to either. Due to the fact that he never went through the academy, I felt it improper to give him a full officer's uniform, but his special circumstances make him more than a civilian employee."

The female council member gave Alex a small nod, while Wes sneaked a small peek at his uniform. He'd been in a variety of uniforms before, from prep school to various times with the Silver Guardians, but he never thought he'd find himself in a Time Force uniform. Of course, then again, he didn't expect to find himself on trial, either.

"Defense," the one in the center of the chamber pronounced, sitting forward and setting her gaze firmly on Wes. Wes realized that he *was* his defense, and it was his moment to come forward and try to convince these judges, or council members, that Alex was insane.

"Honored council members," Wes began, "I never expected to be before you. I didn't know that I was considered a member of Time Force, nor did I know that I was still considered bound by the oaths that Jen - Jennifer Scotts - made me swear shortly after I gained my morpher. As far as I knew, she had released me from my oath. I knew something of how my life was supposed to go if I had never become a Ranger, and I tried to live it. I am therefore puzzled in what I violated. I know that the timeline can be damaged. I returned to what I could in order to make things flow a little bit more smoothly. But I didn't do anything beyond that. In addition, there is nobody to take my place in my father's company. Certainly *that* interference in time might hurt your timeline more than my continued presence in my own time?"

Wes mentally patted himself on the back as several on the council gave his testimony small nods.

At some silent signal, Alex nodded, leading a mystified Wes out of the chamber. The two of them and their security escort were left waiting outside for what seemed like forever before the council lackey decided to let them back in.

"Ranger Wesley Arthur Collins," the leader said, looking at him as she addressed him, "we have examined the evidence of your presence, both as independent witnesses of history and as those presiding over Time Force matters. As a civilian of another century, you would have the right to live in your time unmolested by us. However, when Jennifer Scotts swore you your oath, your status became unclear. You became both a conscripted civilian from another century and a Time Force officer at the same time. We commend you for your efforts to stop Ransik. Unfortunately, all of the Rangers were affected by their travel to 2001, and Time Force has suspected for some time that you may have been affected as well. Therefore, we release you from charges of purposefully affecting the timestream, but we must also, for your own safety and the safety of your own time, place you in protective custody. It is therefore the order of this council that you be memory adapted in order to acclimate you to this time."

Wesley stood frozen as the sentence was pronounced. Then Alex gently guided him out of the room.

As Alex and the guards led him back down the corridors, Wes did the only thing he could do to preserve his life and sanity. Knowing Alex wouldn't expect anything, would be expecting him to be stunned by the sentence, he waited until his escort had loosened up a little, and then he ran.

Wes was unsure of where the corridors went, but one of them had to lead to a timeship bay or something else fortunate. The last time he and Jen had talked, all three of his teammates were still there and still active Rangers. Maybe he'd run into one of them. Maybe he would be fortunate enough to run across something before Alex could figure out where he was and get ideas about touching Wes' memories. Maybe pigs would fly, but he figured no time like the present to start the first porcine aviation class.

He paused to assess his progress. Why couldn't there be a map? Of course not. He started walking, hoping to pass himself off as a lost cadet. Nobody would expect him to be anything else.

As he looked down a side corridor, he nearly walked into another. He stopped, suddenly and instinctively.

"Sightseeing, Wesley?"

Wes stopped and recognized the speaker. Somehow, Alex and the guards had caught up with him, and Alex had out the stupid collar that would effectively end his chance for getting out of there intact.

Obviously even Alex got sarcastic sometimes. Somehow Wes had annoyed him - not that *that* was too hard to do - but he'd gotten to the point where he was turning, well, kinda human.

Which still didn't mean that Wes wanted to give him a chance to put the collar on him. To change him into someone he was *not*, and wipe Wesley Collins out of existence forever. To resolidify the Ranger team and make him into some obedient little... Wes couldn't finish the thought.

"Memory adaptation isn't painful, Wesley. It's like taking a brief nap."

"Yeah, right. Whenever I take a siesta, I always have to worry about losing *years* of my life!"

"It's for your own good. Why would you want to live here as an anachronism when you could live as if you had been born here? Why would you want to go through the rest of your life not quite fitting in? The council is granting you a mercy, not doing this as a punishment. It's our fault that you've become this way. We acknowledge that. We're trying to fix it."

"I don't want to be fixed. I don't want to forget who I am." But Alex was relentless. The collar remained in his hand, an ever-present reminder of Wes' exact current status. It didn't matter if he was under arrest or in protective custody, he was still in *custody* and he'd just attempted to get out of it.

He was utterly aware of one person passing through a parallel corridor stopping to stare for a moment before going their way. He was also utterly aware of Alex expanding the collar to a size which would comfortably accommodate his neck.

"You may not be thanking me for it now, but you would be thanking me for this later."

Wes rolled his eyes, trying to figure a way out of his current problem before he had to be led away like a prize specimen in the collar that would prevent him from getting away again, at least until Alex was out of sight.

After that... well, his teammates weren't *stupid*, after all. Neither was Alex, but the three or four of them should help him escape his fate and get him back home.

Gulping, he let Alex place the collar back on him and lead him back to the medical section. He was placed back in his room, and left there still wearing the collar.

Sitting down, he tried to think of a way out of there.

* * *

Alex left the medical section tired and ready to go home. After the debacle with Wes, he was severely tempted to let Wes go through the whole entire thing, without the benefit of what he'd had planned to deliver him to Jennifer intact. But that would get him into more hot water with Jennifer. She'd never forgive him if he didn't deliver her the Wesley she remembered from her illegal visit.

Of course, she might not forgive him regardless, but he wanted to give her as much of a chance as possible. If Colleen had not followed her into the academy, he probably would have severed all contact with her. Given the children up as a lost cause.

Beja and Richard were so poisoned that he'd long given up on them. He'd expected Colleen to be the same, but Jennifer's youngest still retained some amount of open-mindedness. She'd never known Wes as a father, not the way the other three did.

In any case, they had connected in a way that he'd not known it was still possible for him. All around him were either his loyal followers, those who were not loyal to him, those who actively opposed him, and the nuisances known as Jennifer's Ranger team. The only one who had really cared about him was himself.

Until Colleen. Until he'd found what it was like to have someone care about what happened to him. His only regret was that he'd never before gotten a chance to get to know her earlier, and she him.

As he walked into the adaptation center, he had decided that he'd might as well go through with his original plan. He'd lost Jennifer. He hoped, with Wesley back, that he wouldn't lose Colleen to her true father.

Allici Roberts, the head of the center, greeted him with a less than formal nod. She'd been close to him for years, been his right hand in a way. The nearest thing he'd had for a confidant before Colleen had come into his life. Enough that Jennifer had seen her as a threat, not that Jennifer would ever had admitted that. If he'd gotten together with Allici, he would have been a threat to Jennifer's custody of her own children.

But Allici hadn't wanted to get into the middle of Alex's dispute with Jennifer, and he didn't want her to. In fact, he'd met Allici before everything had happened, and Allici knew she wouldn't replace Jennifer in his heart.

"He's quite a challenge," she said by way of greeting. "I don't think we've ever been asked to modify the memories of a human back into the earliest ones. Nor had so little to work with. Except for the limited time he's been here, and even using the time he was exposed to his teammates, this is going to be tough. Bet the council never thought we'd be modifying someone from another century."

"How long do you think you need to work out an effective program?" Alex asked.

"A week or two, maybe more. Can you keep him in holding for that long?"

"He's in medical protective custody. We can keep him there as long as we need to. The problem might be... other sources."

Allici gave a sharp nod to indicate that she understood. "We'll work as hard as we can. I think the sooner he's adapted and out of here, the better."

"For all of us," Alex replied.

* * *

Satisfied with the progress that Allici was making, Alex tended to the rest of his afternoon duties before coming home. Colleen was waiting for him. His 'daughter' was studying in her room, obviously preparing for a test. Either that, or she was waiting for disciplinary action regarding that little stunt while he was taking Wesley to the council.

But... he'd learned almost too late that while discipline was important, so was love. She was important to him. She'd have been out of classes and all she'd done was venture where she really didn't need to be.

He set the kitchen to make dinner and knocked on the doorframe of Colleen's room. The door slid open as Colleen called, "Come in."

She was at her desk, studying some text required for her classes. From what he'd heard, she was a fine student, and if not for the fact that they were worried about where she was raised she would probably considered a candidate for Ranger once she got out of academy.

Colleen looked up. "Hi, Dad," she said, though she said it as she always did, a little tentatively. A little reminder that he was not her true father, and that it would always be part of their continuing deception. But part of it, he thought, had to be something true.

And right now, it was also the attitude of a cadet who was where she shouldn't have been and was now facing her commanding officer. "At ease."

She relaxed, a little, and he sat down on the bed. "Colleen, I'm not going to blame you for wanting to get a look at your father. Just remember that I'm not the only one that's got you under scrutiny. And that there are those who would wonder at your interest."

"Mom *did* bring back pictures. How can I help but want to know what her teammate looked like? What Uncle Wes looked like? I know, I know. They're so afraid I'll turn into Mom."

"They are," Alex confirmed. "You've got a strike against you, Colleen. You don't want to give them... ideas, not while your Uncle Wes is being a reminder of what else went wrong."

Colleen gave him a sharp nod. "I know."

"We just need a little longer to arrange things so that he can be released into society."

She nodded sharply again. "By the way, Mom's in town."

That froze him. "It took longer than I thought it would. Have you talked to her?"

Colleen shook her head. "Not the slightest. I called home and got big bro. I'm going to, though. Who knows what she might think when she finds out what you've done."

"Talk to her. Keep her from doing anything... foolish. Do what you have to so that the council doesn't have to to take action."

His 'daughter' gave him a small nod. "I will. I want everything to be okay."

"So do I. How were your classes today?"

As the kitchen cooked dinner, they talked.

* * *

Jen studied the plans for the main Time Force facilities as Katie returned with two cups of orange juice. The sun shone freely through the window, shining despite the fact that her husband, her *husband* was trapped somewhere in headquarters. "Any luck contracting Trip?"

"He'll call, he said. He's in the middle of something."

"Too bad Lucas is out of town. I wish he could break his racing commitments."

"I don't think Trip is going to join us, either," Katie told her, sitting down and handing the cup to her. "He couldn't say much, but I think he believes that Alex might be telling the truth."

Jen groaned. "Looks like it's just you and me, then."

Her teammate set her juice down. "I know. I'm starting to wonder, though, if this is such a bright idea?"

"What do you mean? This is Alex. I don't trust him with Wes. I don't trust him with Colleen, either, but it's her life and she thinks she knows what she's doing."

"Jen, don't you think that Trip would be the first person to be charging in there for Wes if he thought there might be trouble? He sees Alex daily, often enough to know the guy's mind. And he did send you through without any memory modification."

"At least none that we know of," Jen said. "Who knows what Alex did? I wouldn't remember if he and his pet technician changed my memories around. All I know is that they *seem* to be intact. It's not like I can protest. And the fact that Trip can't find any evidence of Alex adapting Colleen doesn't mean that he didn't."

"Jen, that's less than he was supposed to. I mean, none of us like Alex. But he left your memory intact, more or less. Why shouldn't he do the same for Wes? Why tell Colleen that he was going to send Wes to you memories intact?"

"Because he's Alex," Jen responded automatically. Then she realized what Katie was saying. Finally. "You're saying that Alex might be telling the truth, just this once. That he might actually be doing something out of the good of his heart."

"Anything's possible," Katie said. "I'm not defending Alex or anything... but he didn't get to where he was by being stupid."

Jen nodded. "I just hate to sit here knowing he's sitting there helpless, probably under restraint."

"Trip's there. Colleen's there. No matter how she feels about Alex, Wes is her *father*.

Jen nodded again. "I just want to see Wes. I still don't trust Alex just saying he's all right when I could see it for myself."

"Maybe Trip can help," Katie offered. "He'd probably want to see Wes, too. I mean, we haven't seen him for years!"

Giving Katie a small smile, Jen answered, "Yeah."

The door signal bleeped, and Katie went to answer it. Jen sat there, waiting for Katie to deal with her visitor. To her surprise, it was Colleen, though even more surprisingly the girl wasn't in her cadet's uniform.

"Hi, Mom," Colleen said, dropping into one of the spare chairs, the one without a juice in front of it. "Richard said you'd be here. I wanted to see you."

"If this is to talk me out of seeing Wes, don't bother," Jen told her daughter. "I've got other plans."

"It would *really* not be a good idea," Colleen offered. "But he was fine, at least when I saw him briefly yesterday. He wasn't even restrained, though I bet they could have."

Jen favored her youngest with a wan smile. "What happened yesterday?"

"Well, the Council followed Uncle Alex's suggestion," Colleen said. "They're going to keep him in medical Protective Custody until he gets run through adaptation, at least that's the plan. He's currently in medical section under security."

Jen looked down at the map. "Security can be fooled."

Colleen smiled, a most un-cadet-like smile. "It sure can. It'll be easier in the evening, too. If you don't mind, I can tell Uncle Alex I'm out studying?"

"Studying?" Jen asked, trying to follow her youngest's train of thought.

"You aren't going to see Dad without me."

It was a statement, not a question, and if it had not been from a post-Alex Colleen she wouldn't have thought twice. "Why? If we're caught, you'll be in trouble."

"No matter what, he *is* my father. I saw him once. I want to see him again, as his daughter. What's wrong with that? Uncle Alex would like me to wait, too. I don't think I can."

"Jen," Katie said, "let her go."

Jen looked at her and looked at her, willing the other to know her doubts without telegraphing them to Colleen. What Colleen knew, Alex could know. It could be part of a larger scheme from Alex to further raise himself in the eyes of his superiors.

But if so, why hadn't Trip said anything? Once they'd gotten home, he'd deliberately strengthened his abilities, no mean feat for him. Quietly and secretly he'd done it, just so that they could make sure nobody suspected about Jen's trip or what happened after her return.

"All right," she allowed. "Now, how do we get in?"

* * *

Colleen was sitting at the table, staring at her mom's datapad, while her mother had a good long talk with Uncle Trip about getting them in there without security locating them. He'd had some theories about setting up false tracker signals for the ones implanted in the five of them, and Colleen didn't know if he'd gotten the signal blockers up and running yet.

A believer in Time Force she might have been, but Colleen knew that it wasn't one of the better decisions made in the universe. It had been some twenty years since the trackers were installed in their bodies, and they still weren't trusted enough for the things to be removed. They weren't even supposed to know about them, yet Uncle Trip had found out about them one day and her mom and teammates had known about them ever since. Even the one in Dad.

As yet another orange juice appeared before her and Aunt Katie sat down, she looked up. "You think Mom is okay with me coming?"

"She has her doubts."

Colleen nodded. "I don't blame her. She doesn't trust him, he doesn't trust her, she doesn't trust me because she doesn't trust him, and it's not exactly the easiest thing to deal with. But I want to see my dad. I want to see the person that Mom knew and Richard and Beja knew. It's not a thing between Mom and Da... Uncle Alex. It's just for me. I sometimes have a selfish thought too."

Aunt Katie smiled at that. "I know that."

"But she doesn't trust me. I just find it so frustrating that she doesn't trust me because I'm not following the party line on Uncle Alex."

"Lot of hate and anger there, Colleen."

Colleen held back a sniffle. "Wasn't that what caused Ransik to go back to 2001? That caused Mom to go back to capture him? But what finally won the day was someone bothering to wonder what all the hate was about. And now Mom's the one hating. And I feel like Nadira. Will it take me being wounded for her to see what's going on?"

"Of course not," Aunt Katie said, and Colleen found herself in a hug that was barely on the edge of crushing. "She cares about you. The two of them have escalated things so badly over the years, though...."

"I'm just afraid that one day one of them is going to pass the point of no return. That someday one of them isn't going to show reason. That I'm going to be stuck in the middle. I know that neither of them wants that, but it may yet happen."

Aunt Katie had heard it before. Several times. When Colleen had moved to the city in order to attend academy, she'd visited her 'relatives' several times just to ground her. No reason to make her parents' relations much worse than they were, and they'd snipe more at each other if she started sounding too much like Uncle Alex.

But she couldn't help it. She had to turn to somebody, just as Uncle Alex had started confiding things to *her*.

"Don't worry, Colleen," Katie told her, still holding her. "I have a feeling things might get better. You'll see."

* * *

Wes looked up as his door slid open, wondering if Alex was coming in there to gloat, or yet another doctor had an idea about psychiatric conditioning. Or one of the people whose job had to be wiping Wesley Collins out of existence, or at least the personality from 2008.

The corridor was strangely grey as the figures slipped into the room. Figures. He sat up in alarm, knowing that anybody who came in wasn't going to do that in that way.

"Wes!" Jen's voice hissed and he relaxed, turning on the light and at once wondering if that was such a good idea. But it gave him a good look at his visitors: Jen, Katie, Trip, and some young woman in a cadet's uniform that he thought he might have seen before, who gave him a nervous smile.

Katie gave him one of her famous crushing hugs, followed by a lighter one from Trip, and then finally, Jen sat down by his bed and gave him one. "It's good to see you again, Wes."

"It's good to see you, too. I take it this is a rescue mission?"

"Uh, not precisely?" the cadet in the room answered.

"Wes, I heard that Alex had brought you back and that the council decreed that you had to stay here. I'm sorry. If I had known, I would have fought it."

Jen's admission tore his attention away from the mystery cadet. "So, you're going to let him do it? You know he's going to erase who I am, and just replace me with whoever he wants."

His wife smiled softly. "I guess... I know this is a strange admission from me, considering *you're* the one who decided to trust Alex back in 2007, but I guess he wants to keep you intact. It's some kind of misguided attempt to win my trust back, Wes. He knew I wanted you back more than anything. You, intact, are his bargaining chip."

"Intact?"

"Memories intact. Like he did to me. I didn't want to trust him... but I don't want to find out that he's actually going to follow through with that promise."

"I could have told you he holds to his word," Wes said, resisting the urge to laugh. It would have come out fragile, and besides, it wasn't something he wanted to express right now. "I just didn't realize what word he meant to keep."

Jen shook her head, still using the same smile. "I guess... it's been a rough seventeen years, Wes."

Wes blinked. "Seventeen years?" he asked, casually, trying to comprehend what she meant and utterly failing.

"Alex didn't tell him," Katie said, and he caught her looking at Jen, her expression... not precisely happy, that was for sure.

Jen put a hand on his arm. "Alex... instead of taking you out of the timestream parallel to me, for his own reasons took you out a year after Colleen was born."

"I know. Last I heard, Colleen was trying to eat Beja's crayons," Wes answered, smiling at the memory of Jen's exasperation with their youngest.

"Colleen, Beja, Richard... it's been seventeen years, Wes. We're seventeen years older than when you last spoke to us."

"Seventeen years," Wes spoke, looking at Jen, at Trip, at Katie. "It's been seventeen years? You guys don't look much older."

"It never came up... but Wes, any of us can easily live into our hundred-forties, or older. Once we get to adulthood, it's like we stay there for a long time before we start decaying."

"Because of the genetic engineering," Wes realized. "No diseases, perfect health."

Jen gave a small nod. "The kids are all grown up, Wes. You missed their childhoods. Most of their childhoods, anyway."

Wes stared at her. Somewhere he should be reacting to the revelation of seventeen missing years, but he just couldn't. "Are the kids... okay? What happened to them?"

Tears were brewing in Jen's eyes as she answered. "Beja and Richard... you'd be proud of them. They went into business together. Colleen...."

She stood up abruptly, walking over to the mystery cadet, and Wes suddenly *knew*. Jen put an arm around the cadet's shoulders, leading her towards him. "Wes, this is Colleen."

The young woman looked down at him almost shyly. "Hi, Dad."

Wes stood up and silently hugged his daughter. He drew back. "You've grown."

"Yeah, I guess it's been a long time since I've eaten crayons, hasn't it?" Colleen asked. Her eyes were brimming with tears, and Wes could tell his eyes were getting a bit wet, too.

He took a good look at her. Short, straight brownish hair, lighter than Jen's. A slightly rounder face than Jen's, and certainly his daughter had to be closer to his height than to hers. In short, he could probably look in the mirror and find her features disturbingly familiar. "Yeah, it apparently has." He took a look at her again. "I saw you while I was on my way to the council."

"Yeah... I almost got in trouble over that. Fortunately Da... Uncle Alex was the only one who caught it and he was in a good mood when he came home."

Wes caught Colleen's slip and took a look at Jen over Colleen's shoulder. His wife shook her head, and he let it go. "That's okay. I'm glad you were there."

"Thanks," Colleen said. "I guess I should go. Dad thinks I'm out studying. I mean, Uncle Alex. Sorry, Dad. I should go."

The cadet fled out the doors, though he saw her abruptly realizing that she shouldn't hurry out and resumed a more sedate pace after she reached the hallway.

"What was all that about?" he asked.

"Colleen's under a lot of scrutiny because of Jen," Trip explained. "Everybody here thinks Alex's her father. If she slips, they might get ideas."

"It's worse than that," Jen added. "Colleen... about two years ago, she went to stay with Alex for six weeks, and she came home changed. She started talking about enlisting, going through the academy. I'm still half-convinced that Alex sent her through adaptation. I think he could have influenced her through other ways."

"I don't think he did," Trip offered quietly. "I've been watching Colleen. I don't think Alex did what he did out of malice. I think he did it because he was lonely. He didn't have to do anything to her. I think it was that Colleen has always wanted to connect to somebody. Alex's need rang out to her. She's always kinda had a little bit of psychic ability. Wes, you're the same way, too."

"She got a little bit of psychic ability... from me?" Wes asked.

"From Alex, too. It's his DNA that replaced some of yours," Jen told him.

Wes had to sit down again.

"Slightly different, actually, more empathic than precognitive," Trip said. He looked down at something. "Jen, we gotta go."

Maybe seeing the panic flare up in his eyes, Jen told him, "You'll get us back, Wes. It's just that Trip can alter the cameras for so long."

"I know," Wes said. "You promise you'll be back?"

"I promise," Jen replied. She gave him a quick kiss before she and the others had to slip away.

Wes went to sleep with far more pleasant dreams.

* * *

Colleen stretched after rolling out of bed, trying to wake herself up for her classes and making sure she could answer the questions. She'd gotten some studying done, but since he clandestine meeting with her true father, she hadn't gotten in all the studying she wanted to do.

She shrugged into her uniform, knowing that her father - Uncle Alex - would expect it of her. She was a cadet, after all. And as far as he knew, she hadn't done anything wrong. She wasn't eager to disabuse him of that notion.

"Good morning, Colleen," Uncle Alex greeted her, and she remembered to shunt "Dad" into that thought. If she said the wrong thing, he'd *know* something was wrong.

"Morning, Dad," she answered, picking up her breakfast from the kitchen.

"Are you ready for today?" he asked, as he did every day.

"I think so. I studied enough."

"Studying isn't everything. But you're doing well, so far. Your mother didn't do nearly this well when she was in the academy."

Colleen nodded, not daring to let loose a comment just in case she blabbed her mother's visit to her father. "I try to," she said simply.

Alex gave a satisfied look. "I'll be busy today. Your mother hasn't attempted anything so far, but I cannot take the risk. I have to transfer your Uncle Wes to higher security."

"I don't know if that's necessary," Colleen said. "I saw her yesterday. I think I talked her out of that."

She knew it was getting risky, but Mom wasn't the only one who had to be kept out of trouble. Sometimes Alex needed that too.

"I know you're trying, Colleen," he told her, in one of his gentler tones. "But I know Jen. She's not going to sit there and let me adapt him."

"People might surprise you," she said, softly, but she knew that he heard her.

But he didn't say anything. He was, after all, Uncle Alex.

* * *

Jen sat sipping orange juice from a glass, sitting in Katie's living room. The visit to Wes had gone suprisingly well, considering that she hadn't come away with him. She could have, but where would she take him to? Alex would know that she'd taken him and the game would be up.

Her teammate and friend joined her, having taken a break from her job just to spend some time together. "It's still bothering you," Katie said, stating it as she usually did. No question there.

"I just don't like the idea of leaving Wes in Alex's hands," Jen replied, knowing Katie shared the same worries. "After all I've been through the last seventeen years... Alex brought home an innocent. Wes has no idea of how Alex has fought tooth and nail to try to take his place."

"Wes isn't stupid," Katie tried to reassure her. "I think you'd be surprised at how much he understands."

"I hope so," Jen said. She looked at her orange juice. "If I leave Wes alone, I don't know if he'll come home with his memories intact or if Alex will take advantage of Wes not being able to defend himself. I want Wes back, Katie, but I want the man I loved back and I don't know if Alex is capable of giving him back to me."

Katie nodded. "Trip seems sure."

"Alex will have trained against telepaths, Katie. Trip is getting good, but he's not *that* good. And before you bring up Colleen, just because Trip can't find any evidence of adaptation doesn't mean that she hasn't been adapted."

"Maybe. Or maybe Trip's right."

"Maybe," Jen said, looking at Katie's face, her expression. The team had always worked as a whole against Alex, but as of late it had become more fragmented. "But do you really want to risk Wes to prove it?"


"Jen... whatever decision you make, we'll be behind you," Katie said. But Jen saw behind Katie's expression the same as had developed at Time Force Headquarters: "humor the madwoman and perhaps she'll go away".

It wasn't something she cared to see, not in the face of her closest friends, the ones who had stuck by her time and time again, and not in something as important as saving Wes from what danger Alex posed.

Or... was she truly going mad? How could she tell?

No. She wasn't. She couldn't let the naysayers win. She couldn't become what they had made of her, with their whispers and their kind suggestions that she leave, go raise her family, have nothing to do with Time Force. Except, of course, when Alex came to try to draw what little she had left back into their realm, into their poking, into their prying.

She had fought him. She had fought *them*. Colleen had heard their siren song, but eventually she would see what had happened, what Time Force did to those who couldn't conform.

In the meantime, there was Alex, taker of children, constant pain in her side, who held Wes' continued existence in his hands. Who once professed to love her, and if his words to Colleen were to be believed, still did. Or believed he did.

If she made one wrong move, she'd lose Wes. If she believed the wrong thing, she'd lose Wes. Damned if she did, damned if she didn't.

Time to take things to the source.

* * *

Jen took a deep breath as she announced herself at the door. She had no idea if Alex was at home or even if he'd let her in. Probably would, just to humiliate her further.

But it wasn't Alex who opened the door. It was Colleen, still in uniform, probably out of classes for the day. Jen could remember well the training regimen that she'd survived to become an officer. But Colleen in uniform didn't spark a sense of pride. "Mom?" Colleen asked, apparently never believing that she would ever see her mom visiting her dad's place. Heavens knew that she'd never done it before.

"Hi, Colleen. Is your father home?"

Colleen shook her head gracefully, reminding her of Wes in the gesture. "Dad... working late as usual. Want to come in? I had tests today, so I'm kind of relaxing."

Jen had to smile at that, reluctantly, but she did smile. This was the daughter she had known, even wrapped up in a Time Force shell. "I will."

It was good to spend some time with Colleen before she had to talk to Alex. Colleen reminded her partly of Wes, mostly in looks, but there were some things that she had to have inherited from her father which were purely non-physical. Other than a tendency to tippytoe around Time Force issues, Colleen's experience could have been that of a freshman at any college.

She looked at Colleen and tried to visualize her daughter in twenty-first century college, carrying a backpack and going from class to class, choosing a major and having her grandfather fuss over the fact that she was not majoring in business. Colleen in jeans and maybe somebody's varsity jacket, her sister and brother graduating college before her.

A future that could never be. A future where Colleen would have been dead before she could have celebrated her first birthday. A future that Alex had rescued her from, just so that Colleen would see adulthood. If only he hadn't bungled it so much.

The front door opened and she rose.

"Jennifer," Alex said, obviously surprised by her presence. Of course, the fact that she hadn't been there since her second return from the twenty-first century had something to do with it.

"I've come to talk to you about Wes," Jen said, somehow managing to get the words out. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Colleen sit down, obviously unwilling to leave. Perhaps she didn't trust the two of them not to get into a screaming match.

"There's nothing that you can do, Jen," Alex stated simply. "Time Force is not going to release him, not until he's able to survive on his own. In his current state, he's unable to do that."

"Look me in the eyes, Alex, and tell me that you pulled him out of time because you had to, not out of spite or revenge."

Alex didn't hesitate or look away. The man met her eyes and responded. "I would never do that to you, Jennifer."

"Are we clear?" Jen asked, knowing any further questions, if they reached the wrong ears, would mean a trip back to the adaptation chamber for her... and this time, she wouldn't come out with memories intact.

"I swept earlier," Colleen volunteered.

"Colleen told me some of it, but I want to hear it from your mouth. *Why* did you take Wes out of time? And why 2008? Why not pull Wes out of an equivalent time... say, 2025?"

"I did it... for you," Alex said cautiously. "Having Colleen in my life made me realize how far I'd wronged you... and her presence finally gave me the courage to do what I should have done a long time ago. As for the time period... Time Force regulations specify the earliest period possible when removing someone. That I was able to get you out of there in 2007 instead of 2002 was a miracle... and every time you do something, they plug the loopholes in the regs. If nothing else, Time Force legal loves you for finding out what needs to be fixed."

"I know they think I'm a fruitloop," Jen told him tiredly. "Gone crazy. I'm never going to be a good little flunky ever again and they *hate* that. You hated that."

"I stopped understanding you," Alex admitted. "I couldn't understand why you'd taken the steps that you did. But then I realized... you do things for love that you wouldn't do otherwise. So did I."

Jen bit down on her first impulsive words and replied with, "This would have gone better if you hadn't insisted on interfering in my life so many times."

"I thought I was doing some good, or trying to," Alex responded. "My intent was to keep the four of you safe... and I guess I thought that you didn't know what you were doing. That you didn't know how it might hurt you. I guess I knew all along that I was 'running roughshod' over your feelings but I had it all justified."

Nodding, Jen changed the topic. "How extensively will this 'memory adaptation' go? How much is he going to have to pretend?"

Apparently started by a show of cooperation, he answered, "Heavily. The memory adaptation is such that it is best to get him out of the public eye as soon as possible, unless he is a better actor than I think."

"He's pretty good, but not *that* good," Jen told him. "And, just from my perspective... it'll be pure torture, Alex. Better that you return him to his own time than force him to pretend he's a whole other person."

"Unfortunately," Alex said, "Returning him is not an option. It would bring too much attention. This is why I didn't want to take him out of there in the first place. If I was wrong, I couldn't return him."

"I wish there was some way that you could," Jen said. "Or that there was a way to get him out of there without adaptation. I mean, he's been exposed to our time, through us. What else do they want out of him?"

At that, Alex looked thoughtful. "Maybe... there's a way out, for all of us," he said.

But true to form, Alex didn't elaborate. Jen was left sitting in his living room wondering what she'd have to worry about next.

* * *

"Captain Pullings," Jennings said, looking inordinately pleased. Alex gritted his teeth at the man's inability to get his rank right. "I hear you're having some difficulties."

"Memory adaptation has never been used to alter the memories of somebody's entire life before," Alex told him. "Fortunately, one of the adaptation technicians and I were discussing the possible problem, and she may have found a solution, which I shall be discussing with council members."

Jennings was nodding, which was a good sign. "I wish you luck. May I ask, what does this involve?"

"Memory adaptation takes the memories that the subject has and alters them to fit in with an existing continuum of memories. This is the difficulty we are having with Ranger Collins. His memories, for the most part, are of the twenty-first century, with only a small amount dealing with our own century. It is very difficult to induce his memories of his time with the Rangers to stretch out over his lifetime. On the other hand, inducing memories of how to function in this time is relatively easy and can build upon his time with his teammates. He would never be adapted completely, but he would be able to function. His teammates would be able to care for him."

"It's not like they're useful for anything else," Jennings said, sounding so smug that Alex was tempted to slug him. "I'll breathe a word to the Councilor. It sounds like a splendid plan to me."

Alex let him turn away, knowing the idiot would do so. That he'd get the council's approval. Wesley, unlike Jennifer, could be himself.

It was the best peace offering he could ever give.

* * *

Wes stretched out on the bed, coming to attention as the door to the recovery room slid open. Once Alex's alternate proposal had gone through, somebody in Memory Adaptation had apparently been able to fix things up so that he could go in within a day or two of the acceptance.

So far, he seemed to be intact, but he wouldn't know for sure until he talked to the people he knew best... Jen and his teammates. There were spots, he was beginning to find, where he'd recently just forgotten how to operate things he'd been trained to operate. Those must have been where the knowledge was tossed into his head during adaptation.

He sat up as Jen came in, sliding a chair over. It was much easier on the two of them when she didn't have to skulk in just so that she could see him. "How are you doing?"

"Better," he answered. "Alex was right - I'm still sleepy, twelve bureaucrats later."

Everybody had wanted to see the curiosity from the twenty-first century, the man that was not from their time yet part of their Ranger team. Well, was part of their Ranger team. He'd officially passed on his morpher and been discharged from service.

Jen managed a small smile. "It'll get better."

"I know," he said. "It's too bad, though, that I missed the kids growing up. I wish I could have been there to see them."

"You will, now that you're moving in with me," Jen said, fetching something out of her pocket. It was so weird, now, to see her in thirtieth-century civilian gear. Somehow, he'd never wrapped his mind around the fact that Jen wasn't a Ranger or a member of Time Force anymore.

She brought the box from her pocket into the light, and Wes could see through its transparent surface to the item within. It was a ring, much as he'd had before. "I feel like I've been waiting to say this forever."

"You don't even have to ask. The answer's yes," Wes said, hugging her. It was good to be back.

-end


Time Force fics