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In Sunshine and Shade

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Fran ducked automatically as the ball of dough flew over her head, not even pausing in her repetition of the order she'd just taken. "...absolutely no banana, because he's allergic."

"We got it, I promise!" Lily said, smiling as she tossed the dough back at Theo.

"Here," RJ said, appearing out of nowhere to wave a spoon in front of her face, "try this."

She automatically opened her mouth and he stuck the spoon in. Salty, a hint of sweet, a definite fishy tang... "A new soup?" she hazarded.

RJ's face fell. "I was trying to make a new pizza sauce."

"Oh, um, it's very interesting. I'm not sure if it goes with the cheese." She flailed a bit at RJ's dejected look. "But it's still very tasty and you can try again--"

"I told you," Casey said, lifting his head from the peppers he was slicing.

Theo snorted as he slid a bananaless pizza into the oven. "You said 'I think it needs more anchovies.'"

"Still, I did tell you it wouldn't work." Casey grinned impartially at everyone.

As Fran gathered drinks, Dom backed into the kitchen with a tray of dirty dishes, gleefully joining in the pizza sauce debate.

Taking the drinks out, she quickly seated another table and RJ came out to help, pulling three pizzas out of the restaurant side of the oven in quick succession. "Here you are," he said with a grin.

Fran stopped in her tracks for a moment, looking at her smiling coworker. Through the door she could hear the sounds of laughter that she knew from experience meant there was a Ranger being tickled. Probably Casey.

"Fran? Earth to Fran," RJ said, waving a hand in front of her face.

"Oh! Sorry! I do you do it?"

She almost clapped a hand over her mouth in embarrassment.

"Do what?" RJ tilted his head, his face wrinkling in child-like confusion.

"Be so...happy. When you know..." Fran waved at the pocket that held his morpher.

His smile didn't dim, but it changed into something more adult. "Later. We can talk, okay?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

"It's okay, Fran, really." He clapped her shoulder. "For now, let's serve some pizza."

"Okay." She nodded several times and grabbed two pizzas.

Hours later, the customers were gone. RJ scraped out an oven and Fran finished sweeping the floor, watching him out of the corner of her eye.

As she dumped the dustpan, RJ closed the oven with an air of finality and she looked up. He waved at her to follow and they silently went out the front door toward the bench in front of the bakery next door.

RJ settled down, stretching his legs in front of him with a pleased sigh. Fran perched next to him. She had a million things she wanted to say and ask, but she knew he wasn't going to talk until he was ready.

For a while, they watched people walk by—couples licking late night ice cream, college students in short dresses and glittery nail polish, and a lost newcomer who needed directions to the nearest ATM.

"This is why," RJ said suddenly.

"What?" She jumped in surprise, looking around, but not seeing anything unexpected.

He waved his hands vaguely. "There's so much life, so much positive energy. Being a Ranger...we're tied into that. Dai Shi, his beasts channel the fear, the anger, the hatred, but we channel things like love and friendship."

She considered this for a minute, watching an old man walking a very large dog go by. "Do the others know?"

"Consciously? No. But in their heart, their spirit, they do. So we laugh."

"Even though at any minute you could have to go fight some icky gooey monster and get hit on the head and punched in the stomach."

"Even so." He patted her hand. "Positive energy, Fran. Keep creating positive energy and Dai Shi can't win."

"Do I create positive energy?" She stared at him, surprised.

"Of course you do." He seemed startled by the question. "You're our friend. You help us and feed us when we're hungry and tired. That's the best energy there is."

"Oh!" She grinned at him. "That's...that's great."

"Positive energy."

"Positive energy," she repeated. "Wait!"

"What's wrong?"

"Does this mean I have to stop worrying and be cheerful because I don't think I can stop worrying when a big monster is trying to eat all of you and--"

He grabbed her shoulders. "Breathe, Fran."

She took a great big breath. "Right."

"I didn't mean you had to change. Be yourself. That's all we need. Okay?"

"Okay." She nodded. "And I still get to throw things at Dom when he's being annoying, right?" RJ was clearly hiding a grin and she smacked his shoulder. "Hey, I'm serious."

RJ managed to nod. "Yes, Fran, you can throw things at Dom."

"Good. Because being positive is all well and good, but he shouldn't always get his own way."

RJ couldn't resist the gigantic grin that spread across his face and Fran smiled, pleased with her good work. This positive energy thing wasn't all that hard, was it?