It only took Cam a week to figure out that there was something wrong with the Rangers.
Honestly, it was insulting that they thought it would take him longer to figure out what they were doing.
But that minor infraction aside, he needed to deal with their- issues, and he knew the faster he called them out, the faster this'd get resolved. The same thing had happened when they'd first started dating; Tori and Blake had moped for weeks, staring at each other with yearning and guilt respectively, and Hunter and Dustin both seemed idiotically oblivious to the way they'd been subtly worshipping the other three with their affection and attention. Those five were terrible at solving their own problems, and Cam had stepped in time and time again to help smooth over the rough patches in their budding relationship, till the team was functioning better than ever and they finally left him alone to concentrate on his projects without being forced to play team psychologist and, somehow, resident dating expert.
And things had been going well, up until now. Things had been going so well, and it was all because of decisive action; so when they started to leave for the night, patting his back and punching his shoulder, Cam took a moment to push away from his desk and clear his throat. Tori stopped first, always tuned for announcements - likely because Shane and Dustin always forgot what he said, or hadn't been paying attention in the first place - and Blake followed Tori's lead a moment later, throwing out a hand to stop Hunter from heading up the stairs. It was like watching a chain reaction, and he couldn't help but think of them like interconnected chemical bonds; how else could they work, if not tied together through magnetic force? Bent and trapped and shoved together till they developed into something better than the sum of their parts - hydrogen and oxygen to make water, carbon layered over and over to make diamond. A team. Partners.
"You're not subtle," he said, with little preamble, because usually the only way to get this group to pay attention was to make sure they knew that he knew what they'd been getting up to. It worked, too, because Dustin's face immediately fell into guilt and sadness, annoyingly like a scolded animal. Shane elbowed Dustin in the side, but it was too late - and besides, Tori's expressions were better hidden but Cam was smart enough to know what she looked like when she'd been caught out at something she knew would get her in trouble. "And I understand that you all have to adjust to me being a ranger now, but there's no need to coddle me. On or off the field." He gave them a smile, trying, just like his father had asked, and added in a teasing tone, "I know where the infirmary is, unlike Dustin."
Shane frowned, which was the reaction Cam had expected from him - their fearless leader was overprotective, after all - but he hadn't expected Dustin, Tori, and Hunter to frown as well. He narrowed his eyes slightly, and decided to continue rather than letting them speak. "You don't have to- check up on me after every fight. The touching-"
Was unnecessary. Confusing. Painful.
Suffocatingly good, and he hated how it had only been a week but he still found himself waiting for them to swing by his desk or to his side after a battle, running their hands over his shoulders, rubbing out sore aches in his neck, asking for fist bumps or high fives or affection, and touching, like they had a right to do so. Like they did when they were with-
It didn't matter; what mattered was that it was starting to affect him, those casual touches, and he didn't want to depend on them any more than he had to. A week of this had sent him spinning when the touches had been withheld, confused and angry at what he might have done to make them deprive him, and the very thought was ridiculous. He liked his space, and their constant need to check on him had started something he didn't know how to stop.
"I know how to take care of myself if I'm injured. I know what an injury feels like. I'll tell you if I'm hurt - you don't have to keep prodding me."
So. Easier to call them out for their belittling behaviour and make them stop. It'd save him from explaining why he didn't like them touching him, and have the added benefit of showing them he wasn't to be trifled with - he was a genius, and he knew them. Far more than they knew him, at the very least, even if Dustin had been trying to change that for a while now.
"You're," Shane started, and the rest of the team slowly fanned out around him. Unnervingly, it felt like being cornered; the half-ring they formed around him put his back to the computer and blocked off escape routes, but it was- them. His team. His friends, though he'd tried hard to fight against the label, tried to be the tech guy they could ignore, especially when they'd kept being dismissive of his attempts to fix their zords and make them new weapons. His heart still pounded though, loud and heavy in his chest, and he couldn't stop himself from tensing until Tori and Blake had sat down on their low table, Dustin took a seat cross-legged on the floor, and Hunter sprawled against a pillar. "Of the opinion that we...coddle you?"
"I understand you likely don't realise your behaviour could be construed that way, but yes. You overindulge your protective instincts when it comes to me."
This was starting to feel more and more like a fight, with spectators watching his every rebuttal, but Shane's voice was level and calm, and nobody else seemed mad either. It was just Cam feeling the thrum of tension, their eyes on him just as heavy as their hands.
"Cam," Tori said, shifting to lean forwards and rest her chin in her hand, "do you think that...maybe, we have a different reason? For-" a slight smile barely hidden on her lips, "touching?"
Cam's eyes narrowed. "I get a perfectly acceptable amount of physical contact. Just because my father is a guinea pig-" he huffed, then caught his breath and held it for a moment so he wouldn't snap. "I know that people need physical affection to stay healthy and support personal bonds. You don't need to increase it."
"That's seriously the only other reason you can think of?" Hunter snorted. Dustin hit him in the shin, but not before Cam turned a glare his way.
"There are very few logical reasons for an increase in physical contact," Cam snarled, and oh he knew he'd regret it as soon as the words came out of his mouth, but he couldn't stop himself. "I understand that you're all touchy-feely, but I don't need that."
Dustin's face fell even further, aching and hurt, and he hated how the rest of the team followed suit in their own way; Tori, half-disappointed, half-upset, entirely pinning the blame on herself; Shane, with grit teeth and stiff shoulders, but sinking into himself because of the insult; Blake, already at Tori's shoulder, trying to stay unaffected but already seeking out her free hand, and Hunter, baring his teeth.
"For a genius you're pretty stupid," he spat, and Cam turned his attention to the enemy he could fight rather than the surge of pity and guilt that took place in his heart at the thought that he'd upset his team.
"For a Ranger you're pretty bad at saving the world. Or, wait. Was that because you spent several months trying to destroy it? Or because you keep acting like a villain?"
Dustin reached up and grabbed for Hunter's waist just as Hunter lunged forwards, barely managing to hold him back. He turned a disappointed look on Cam as Hunter snarled in his arms. "Low," he murmured, and the guilt intent on taking permanent residence in Cam's heart seemed to surge to new heights.
"This- behaviour-" he tried, his voice faltering, his hands shaking, and he growled low in his throat. "I don't understand you," he said, voice gravelly. "I'm trying, and I know I'm not doing a good job, but acting like this isn't fair. I've told you that I don't- that I hate this, that I don't want you to do it, that the way it makes me feel-!"
"You didn't," Blake said, a quiet interruption, and the whole room went quiet. Hunter leaned back into Dustin's grip, and Cam swallowed, his hands slowly tightening into fists. He opened his mouth to refute the claim, but Blake interrupted him again, standing up with Tori by his side a moment later. "You didn't tell us how you felt. Do you like it? When we're close. When we get to touch you. Do you like it when we're there?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to spit no, fast and easy and such a simple answer, but he'd never been made for simple answers, and to respond so quickly would be a disservice to the scientific principles he held close. No was what he wanted to say because it was easy, because it made every interaction easy, but- easy had never been the truth. And this truth was that the answer to all of those questions was a painful, terrifying yes.
Something on his face must have tipped Tori off, because she gave a tiny, sad sigh, looking at him in such a way that he felt carved to bare skin and organs in front of the rest of them.
"You can lie," she said softly. "It's alright. But we won't stop unless you tell us that you want us to stop."
"If he feels-" Dustin mumbled, his tone half a sulky growl, and Hunter gave a short laugh that cut off the end of Dustin's sentence.
"Then he'll program an excel sheet to tell him what he needs to do to fix it. Isn't that right, Cam?" Hunter sunk down on his haunches, and Dustin's grip shifted till he could rest against Hunter's lap.
"Excel is an inferior program," Cam said, and tried to ignore the small burn that came to his face at Hunter's teasing. "And you only know of the emotion balance chart because you spied on me while I was working."
"You have an emotion balance chart?" said Shane, incredulous, but Cam refused to be cowed by his tone; he'd seen the mess that the other rangers got themselves into because they didn't keep a strict hand on their emotional needs, and he refused to let it happen to him. Everything was easier when you could break it down logically, and Cam'd always relied on his computer to help him do that. It was how he'd been able to spot the discrepancies in their behaviour when they'd first started- whatever this touching thing had been.
And he still hadn't gotten an answer as to what they were doing, with this sudden increase of touch and care and attention. Didn't know anything except that his team was terrible at clear communication and he was going to die of stress and frustration at a young age.
"Tori," Hunter said, amused and aggravated all at once, "this isn't working. I told you it wouldn't and I was right, and you said if you were wrong it was my plan we got to switch to."
"It's been a week," Tori said, and Hunter snorted.
"So it's been four days longer than when I said he'd call us out for the wrong thing - I'm still right."
Cam pressed his fingers to his temples. "If I'm 'calling you out' for the wrong thing, then what's the right thing?"
"You realising that this thing is better between the six of us. That you should've been a part of it from day one."
It took a moment to realise what Hunter meant; to pair the wide gesture he'd made to indicate the team as relationship and not Rangers. It took a moment longer for Cam's heart to stutter, and for him to take a step back.
"Part of-" he shook his head. "You're joking."
"Why would we be?" Hunter said, and he tried to cross his arms over Dustin's head, earning himself a batted hand swipe that made him smile softly. His expression shifted back to serious consideration when he tilted his eyes back up. "Look, Cam, you can disbelieve it all you want, but being without you- it felt weird. It feels weird. Tori wanted to ease you into it, but that's never going to work - so this is us telling you. You're our friend. Our teammate."
"You keep us on track," said Shane, offering his open palms for absolution, and Blake hummed his agreement before adding,
"Sometimes, talking to you- it's like you're a fire. You always fight back. You always stand up for us. Or to us, in Hunter's case."
"Hey!" Hunter complained, but Blake only stuck his tongue out.
Tori grinned. "You're not as insane as the rest of them are. I could use a little help wrangling our boys."
"We like you, Cam," Dustin said, and that was perhaps the first time Cam could find it in himself to believe what they were saying. "You're brave and strong and smart and the only reason we didn't ask in the first place was just- just 'cause it kinda already felt like you were with us. And then, when you weren't- when you weren't actually there, it felt weird. We like you, and we thought maybe- if we just eased you into it, it'd work out better."
"I need to-" Cam took another step back and bumped into his chair, tripping over the leg and staggering into the desk. Immediately, the team rushed forwards, ready to help, but a single outstretched hand stopped them. "Let me think."
Think about them; a dangerous topic, if ever he'd found one. Think about them curled up against each other during movie nights, that sweet pang of longing and happiness he felt at seeing them so adoringly happy and him with a place when he wanted it; think about them laughing and playing in battle, always including him without a single question asked; think about Tori's grace, Dustin's sweetness, Shane's strength, Hunter's humour, Blake's steady hand; think about their relationship, plus one.
Their relationship, plus him.
And they were right, weren't they, he found himself thinking dizzily. Dustin was right, which always weirdly seemed to be the case with him, for all that he got easily confused. Cam had already been involved in their relationship from day one, easy advice and calming presence making up for his sharp tongue, but for all that he viewed his inability to connect as a weakness, they seemed to enjoy his curt nature.
It just wasn't official. Hadn't been official until they'd asked him tonight, except he'd probably already been part of them without even knowing, and the thought left him reeling.
"Cam?" Dustin asked, and Cam finally realised that there were slow hands carefully reaching for him, a worried face hovering a few inches from his vision. "Are you okay?"
He paused, and then, even quieter, "I'm sorry if we upset you."
"You did," he said, and watched Dustin's face fall even further. Kept his eyes on Dustin's face, even with the weight of the rest of them watching him, and slowly reached out to cup Dustin's jaw. "I forgive you." Carefully tilted up Dustin's face so that there eyes could meet, and cracked a tiny, soft smile; the one only Dustin so far had ever earned, though perhaps that would soon start to change. "Will you forgive me for being the genius who didn't know he had romantic partners?"