Angel Grove Memorial Hospital....
Adam hated hospitals. He had always hated them, and now was no different. Especially now, he thought dismally, since he was there because he himself was sick. He slumped over in the hard seat and shut his eyes. He had been there for so long already... Fatigue overcame him, as it had been doing so often lately, and he fell asleep in the hard plastic seat.
* * *
"Adam, you look tired, man," Tommy Oliver said, eyeing the green Zeo Ranger with concern.
Adam shrugged it off. "I'm okay. Just need some sleep."
"You're awfully pale," Kat had chimed in.
Adam was annoyed. "I said I'm okay. Cut me some slack, huh?"
Rocky held up his hands defensively. "Easy, bro. We're just worried about you. Don't bite our heads off, okay?"
Adam sank back in his seat. "Sorry. Guess I'm a bit more tired than I thought."
Jason was staring at him thoughtfully. "You ought to go see a doctor, Adam. Maybe you're coming down with the flu."
To the Green Ranger's further irritation, Tanya moved around and pressed the palm of her hand to his forehead. "You've got a fever, Adam. You probably have a cold, at least. You should go home, and get some rest."
Adam spared her a baleful look. "Is that an order?"
Tanya looked wounded. "If you're going to be like that, then forget it."
He looked away, embarrassed and ashamed. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm not feeling so good right now."
"Go see a doctor, Adam," Tommy told him. "At least find out what's wrong. It's probably just the flu, but he might be able to prescribe something for you."
Adam sighed and nodded. "Yeah, okay. I'll make an appointment." He got up.
Tanya was at his side in an instant. "C'mon, Adam. I'll walk you home."
Adam merely nodded, too exhausted to argue...
* * *
"Adam? Adam, wake up, honey."
Adam stirred and looked up, bleary-eyed, into the face of a nurse. "Huh...?"
"C'mon, honey. We're ready for you now. Time for the tests." Adam allowed himself to be pulled up out of the chair and down the corridor to the right room.
* * *
Dr Sutton was waiting for him, the same MD who had ordered him to the hospital for the tests. He offered the teen a smile that seemed forced.
"How are you feeling, Adam?"
"Tired," was the immediate reply. Sutton winced visibly. "Okay. Hop up on this table and lie down. This might take a little while, so feel free to nod off if you like."
Adam did as he was asked and rested his head on the pillow that had been provided to him. He watched the proceedings for a little while before everything became a blur, and his eyes grew heavy. He vaguely heard someone telling him everything was fine, and to let himself go to sleep. Then, the voice faded into the distance, and everything went black.
* * *
"So, Adam, I haven't seen you in a while," Dr Eric Sutton said cheerfully as he showed the teen into his office.
Adam shook his head. "Not since I had pneumonia three years ago. Thank you for looking after me then."
"That was no problem. So, what's the trouble now?"
"I'm not sure. I think it's just a cold, but my friends said I should go to a doctor anyway."
Sutton nodded as he looked briefly through Adam's medical records. "Good advice. Especially since it's been so long since you last saw a doctor."
"Isn't that good?"
Sutton smiled at Adam, his eyes twinkling. "Yes. I'm just joking. Lighten up, Adam. You're too serious, sometimes."
Adam couldn't bring himself to smile. "Can we get on with this? I want to go home."
Sutton's smile faded. "Of course. I'm sorry. Now, you think you have a cold? Let's see." Taking up his stethoscope, he went around behind Adam and slipped it beneath the boy's shirt. "How have you been feeling lately?"
"Not so great," Adam admitted. "I... I've actually been feeling sick like this for the past couple of months. None of my friends noticed 'til now, though, and it didn't seem bad enough to go to a doctor."
Sutton paused with the stethoscope. "Not good, Adam. If you've been off-colour for the past couple of months, then you waited two months too long to come and see me. Now tell me exactly how you've been feeling."
"Well, I'm really tired all the time, and every so often, I get so weak that I have to sit down. I haven't been hungry at all... I think I've had a pretty constant fever... and there's been some swelling."
By then, Sutton had stopped completely. "Where has the swelling been?"
"Under my arms, and in my stomach."
"In your abdomen?"
Sutton came back around and pulled a chair up in front of the teen. "Tell me, have you had any problems with bleeding gums?"
Adam nodded slowly. "Yeah. I tried changing toothbrushes, but it didn't work. And they bleed during the day, too."
"What about bleeding under the skin? Have you noticed any of that?"
"I don't know. A little bit, I suppose. It's just bruising, isn't it?"
Sutton didn't reply. He turned and reached for the internal phone. "Christie? Cancel the rest of my appointments for today and apologize profusely for me. Something's come up."
He hung up, then turned back to Adam. "Adam, I want you to come to the hospital, just for a few tests. I'd like to pinpoint the reasons for why you're not well."
Adam nodded amiably, too exhausted to wonder what was wrong with him that it warranted such an urgent trip to the hospital. "Now?"
"Yes. Right now. I'll take you. C'mon."
* * *
Adam awoke with a start to find the tests were all done. Sutton was there, smiling down at him. "Feel better?"
Adam sat up slowly. "Huh?"
"Well, you should. You slept right through all of the tests, a grand total of nearly three hours. Never even woke up when we moved you for the x-rays."
The Green Ranger rubbed his forehead wearily. "Does that mean I can go home?"
Again, Sutton's smile faded. "I'd rather you waited here until we get the results, Adam. Would you mind...?"
Adam sighed. "Why not...?" he mumbled.
Sutton patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. "Thank you. I know it's not easy, putting up with a marathon hospital session, but it shouldn't be long now. The nurse here will take you back to the waiting room."
Adam went without protest.
* * *
Waiting by yourself in a hospital room was a lonely and frightening experience, Adam thought as he took up a new seat in the waiting room. Any other teenager would have had at least one parent with them, but not him. He had to go through this worry on his own, because his own parents were taking a so-called 'business trip' in New York, on the other side of the country.
He sighed miserably. He had to admit he was scared by all the tests Dr Sutton had wanted to do, but he understood so little of it that it couldn't frighten him too much. What he hated most of all was being on his own, but at the same time, he didn't want to call any of his friends and worry them needlessly.
_It's just a few tests,_ he told himself. _With my luck, I've probably got pneumonia again. That'll do the team a hell of a lot of good... Adam, you idiot, you ought to look after yourself better._
Adam looked up, startled by the familiar, albeit unexpected voice. It was Hank Cranston, Billy's father... "Ah... Hi, Mr Cranston," Adam said, more nervously than he'd intended.
Hank hesitated, then took the initiative and sat down next to the teen. "What are you doing in here, Adam? Your parents aren't sick or hurt, are they?"
"No, they're in New York," Adam muttered gloomily. "I'm... sort of here for me."
Hank felt a touch of concern, before he even had any idea what the problem was. "For you? What's wrong?"
"Oh, I think I've probably just got the flu, or something, but Dr Sutton, my doctor, wanted to do some tests."
Adam frowned, trying to recall what Sutton had said. He eventually gave up. "I don't remember. I slept through it all, anyway. I've been really tired lately. Oh, wait... He said he wanted to do a... a leukocyte count. Yeah, that was one of them. Whatever that is."
Hank had gone deadly pale in the seat next to him. "A leukocyte count?" He paused, looking towards the exit. He'd been on his way out after seeing a friend, and had only stopped to greet Adam out of courtesy to his son's best friend. Now, he got the powerful feeling that he needed to stay. "Your folks are in New York?"
"Yeah. Go figure."
Hank was not entirely surprised to hear a hurt and disappointment in Adam's voice that could not be ignored. He withheld a sigh and sat back in the uncomfortable chair. "Would you like it if I stayed, Adam?"
Adam started to say it wasn't necessary, but some deeper instinct stopped him. Finally he smiled faintly and nodded. "Yes, I would. Thank you."
* * *
Nearly two hours and five cups of hot chocolate later, Dr Sutton finally emerged into the waiting room and made a beeline straight for Adam. "We have the results of the test, Adam," he said quietly.
Adam yawned in response. "Good. Can I go now?"
"Not just yet. I need to talk to you." He paused, his gaze falling on Hank.
Adam introduced him off-handedly. "This is Hank Cranston. He's a friend."
"I offered to stay here with Adam," Hank said by way of explanation.
Sutton nodded, glad that Adam was not alone. "Good. Ah... would you both come with me?" They rose up and went with the doctor down the corridor and into an empty room.
"Sit down, please," Sutton urged them, and they sat down on a comfortable sofa.
"I've got pneumonia again, haven't I?" Adam asked disinterestedly.
Sutton looked distinctly upset. "I'm afraid it's more serious than that. Adam, I need you to listen to me, now. The test results... well, they're not good. I'm afraid it's worse than I was anticipating."
Adam sat forward slowly, forcing himself to stay alert. "What is it? What's wrong with me?"
Sutton stared at the boy with visible grief. "Adam, you have leukemia."
Adam sat still, feeling as though he'd just been clubbed by one of Mondo's monsters. Finally, he forced his way through the shock and managed to speak. "What...? Leukemia? That... It's just a joke. Say it's a joke..."
Sutton felt his stomach twist up. He had known Adam for a long time, had helped him through many crises. To have to deliver this news was like driving a six inch nail into his own gut. "I only wish I could. What you have, specifically, is Acute Myelocytic Leukemia. It... I'm afraid it's terminal."
Tears abruptly filled Adam's eyes as the shock began to fade. "I... I'm dying?"
"I'm sorry," Sutton managed to say, and realised dimly that he had begun to cry as well.
Hank, who had sat there in silence, spoke in a tense voice. "How long?"
"Three months, minimum. With continued Chemotherapy and radiation therapy, possibly eight to ten months. Maybe twelve. There's a slim chance it may even go into remission."
Tears overflowed down Adam's cheeks. "I want Mum and Dad..." he whimpered, starting to shake as he cried. Hank put an arm around the boy's shoulders, and drew him close. Adam turned his face inwards, and cried helplessly into Hank's jacket.
* * *
"He can't be allowed to go back to an empty house," Sutton said a short while later to Hank, when Adam had been taken to the cafeteria by a nurse to get something to eat and drink.
Hank shook his head. "I have no intention of allowing that. I'll take him with me. Doctor... Is there any chance you're wrong?"
Sutton sighed miserably. "I wish I was wrong. I really do, Mr Cranston. I checked the test results five times over, with absolute scrutiny. I looked for any tiny thing that would give me cause to doubt the results. There was nothing. Adam has leukemia, and it is acute."
"I thought acute leukemia was restricted to younger children," Hank protested.
Sutton shook his head. "No. It's more common in younger children, but not restricted to that age group. It is unusual for someone of Adam's age to develop acute leukemia, but not unheard of."
Hank shut his eyes. "Damn his parents..." he growled softly. "When he really needs them, they can't be here for him."
Sutton spoke quietly. "If you can't keep Adam with you, then I'll take him in."
Hank shook his head. "No, it's all right. My own son left home a while ago, so it's just me. This will give me something to focus on. I'll take Adam in. I'll be able to pass word on to the parents of his friends, as well, and to the school."
Sutton nodded. "That's another thing. No excessive physical activity. Moderate daily exercise, and that is all. He's going to have to give up the karate, at least for any reason other than light exercise, and you've got the certificate and letter to pass on to the school principal."
Hank nodded, looking around as Adam was brought back by the nurse. "Get something to eat?" he asked, and Adam nodded wordlessly. "Good. I think we can go, then."
Sutton nodded and walked with them towards the exit. "Adam, you need to start taking these drugs tonight," he said, indicating the bag that Hank held. "No lapses. Understood?"
Hank laid a gentle hand on Adam's shoulder. "I'll make sure he takes them."
"And I'll see you back here in three days for the first radiation therapy session."
Again, Hank responded with a nod. "We'll be here."
* * *
"It might be best if we get all your friends together to tell them," Hank said quietly as they drove away from the hospital. "Just so we don't have to repeat anything."
"I don't want to tell them."
Hank looked around at Adam in shock. "What?"
Adam rested his head lightly on the window, staring out miserably. "I don't want them to know. I don't want anyone to know."
Hank was disturbed. "Adam, you can't keep this a secret. They'll find out sooner or later..."
"Please, don't tell my friends," Adam begged him. "I can't handle the pity. Please..."
Hank sighed heavily. As much as he hated it, it was Adam's decision, and it could not be made for him. "All right. I don't agree with it, but I'll respect it. The rangers won't find out. Not from me. But you can't hide it from your teachers. I have to pass that certificate and letter on to Victor Caplan."
Adam looked away again. "Whatever."
* * *
Adam slept fitfully that night, and when the time came to go to school the next day, he found he had to drag himself out of bed to get dressed. He was just pulling on his shoes when the door opened and Hank looked in.
"How are you feeling?"
Adam shrugged. "Okay, I guess," he said numbly. Hank walked in to the room and sat down next to Adam on the bed.
"Don't be afraid to cry, Adam. Theres no shame in it." Adam looked away miserably. "It isn't fair," he said softly. "I never did anything wrong."
Hank hugged the boy tightly. "Finish getting dressed, then come into the kitchen. I've got breakfast ready for you."
* * *
Adam ate very little, and only then at Hanks urging. When Hank took Adam to school, he found himself unwilling to simply leave the teen at the gate.
"Will you be all right?" Hank asked in concern. Adam nodded. "Yeah. I guess."
Hank pulled the large hospital marked envelope from his jacket. "You know you have to give this to Victor Caplan straight away, don't you?"
He handed the envelope to Adam. "Don't forget about it, Adam. It's important."
Adam took the envelope in trembling fingers and, without another word, turned and headed towards the building.
* * *
Adam had nearly made it to the building when a shadow fell across him and he walked straight into a solidly-built figure. Bulk....
"Why don't you watch where you're going, runt?" Bulk snapped. Just behind him, Skull frowned. Bulk had deliberately placed himself in front of Adam, ensuring a collision and a subsequent confrontation. Adam stepped back, and Skull was surprised, and a little disturbed, at how pale the younger boy was.
"I'm sorry...." he mumbled. Bulk towered over the exhausted teen. "You should be. You know what I do to runts like you that get in my way?"
Skull reacted, then, grabbing Bulks arm. "Let it go, Bulkie." Bulk, however, shrugged off Skulls hand. "No, Skull, I think the runt needs to be taught a lesson."
Adam sighed softly, and started to make his way around Bulk. He didn't need this. Not now....
Bulk reacted fast, and grabbed hold of Adams arm. "Not so fast, runt. Hey, what's this...?"
Before Adam had a chance to stop him, Bulk snatched the envelope from his hand and tossed it to Skull.
"Give me that back!" Adam yelled, starting forward, only to be stopped by Bulk.
"Open it, Skull. See what's in it."
Skull looked uneasy. "I don't think we should..." "Don't," Adam begged tearfully. "Please, Skull..." "Who's in charge, Skull?" Bulk growled. When Skull didn't respond, Bulk nodded. "I am. Now, open it!"
Not daring to look Adam in the eye, Skull tore the envelope open and pulled out its contents.
Bulk sneered. "What's the matter, runt? You sick?" Skull unfolded the letter and scanned it quickly. A moment later, he froze, his face draining of colour. Finally, he reacted and pushed the certificate and letter back into the envelope.
"Let him go, Bulk."
Bulk glowered. "I told you, Skull, I'm the lead..." "Shut up and let him go."
Bulk was so stunned that he released Adam without further protest. Skull held out the envelope to Adam.
Adam, tears streaming down his cheeks, snatched it back, turned and fled into the school building.
* * *
"Okay," Tommy yelled, storming over to the two boys with Rocky. "What did you two clowns do to Adam?"
Bulk started to make a sneering remark when Skull spoke in a grim voice.
"We just screwed up royally, is what. Excuse me." He hurried off, leaving Bulk alone to fend off Tommy and Rocky.
* * *
Skull soon found Adam in an empty classroom. The younger boy was curled up in the far corner of the room, sobbing helplessly into his arms. After a moments hesitation, Skull went over and crouched down beside him.
"I'm sorry, Adam."
Adam didn't look up. "So now you know," he sobbed, his voice muffled. "Now I s'pose you'll go tell everyone..."
Skull swallowed hard. "It's true, then?" "Yes!" Adam howled.
Skull shut his eyes, feeling sick to his stomach. Adam had leukemia... "I hope you'll still let me give you piano lessons." Adam looked up slowly, then, his eyes red and swollen. "Why bother? I'm not going to live long enough to learn very much."
"You can do anything you want to," Skull argued. "You taught me that. C'mon, you aren't gonna quit on me, are you? You were just starting to get really good."
"I... I guess not. I'm not allowed to do any really physical stuff, so I guess I can at least keep playing the piano..."
Skull looked gratified. "Good. Listen, Adam.... I am really sorry. For everything."
Adam bit down on his lower lip as the tears threatened again. "I'm only sixteen...." he whispered, his voice cracking with grief and fear. "I'm not even gonna live long enough to see my eighteenth birthday..."
The tears came again in a flood, and after a moment Skull reached out and put an arm awkwardly around Adams shoulders. Adam shuddered and slumped against Skull, and cried for a long while.
* * *
When Adam's sobs finally subsided, Skull gently pulled him to his feet.
"What are you supposed to do with that certificate and letter?" "It has to go to Mr Caplan," Adam whispered, rubbing his hand roughly across his eyes.
Skull nodded. "Okay. Let's go."
Adam looked at Skull in surprise as he followed him from the room. "How come you're helping me?"
Skull looked back at Adam seriously. "I'm getting sick of Bulk treating everyone like they're worthless. Especially since I started giving you the piano lessons and I saw how smart you were. I should have ditched him long ago, but I didn't think anyone else would want me for a friend."
Adam managed a weak smile. "Well, I appreciate it." Skull put his arm around Adams shoulders again, less awkwardly this time, and led him down the hall to Mr Caplan's office.
* * *
Victor Caplan had woken up with a headache, and so far, it didn't seem to be subsiding. Indeed, it increased in intensity when Eugene Skullovitch came into his office, followed by Adam Park. Withholding a groan, the principal spoke in a forcibly calm tone.
"Can I help you boys with something?"
Adam winced and would have turned around and gone straight back out, but Skull grabbed his sleeve and held him there.
"We have to talk to you, Mr Caplan. Well, actually, Adam does. I'm here for... moral support."
Caplan blinked in surprise. He hadn't thought Skull even knew what the word moral meant
"All right. Have a seat."
They did so, Skull taking a moment to shut the door behind him. Caplan leant forward a little, over the desk.
"So what's the problem?"
When Adam didn't move, Skull nudged him hard. The Green Zeo Ranger then reluctantly handed over the envelope.
"Everything you need to know is in there," he said in a soft, numb voice. Caplan frowned and took the envelope.
"It's been opened."
"That was an accident," Skull piped up, red-faced. Caplan frowned at him, then took out the contents, looking first at the medical certificate which asked for Adam to be excused from any and all physically strenuous activities. He then unfolded the letter and began to read it slowly.
"Oh Lord" The principal looked up at Adam in shock. "Adam, I would very much appreciate it if you would tell me that this is just a prank."
Adam watched him through a film of tears. "Its not a joke, sir. The doctor diagnosed it yesterday. He... He said I've got between three to eight months to live."
Caplan moaned, then, unable to hold it in. He'd had students become seriously ill before, but never had he had to deal with this. A terminally ill boy... Finally he brought himself to speak.
"All right. Ill take care of things on this end. I'll inform the teachers. What else do I need to be aware of?"
"Ill probably miss some school each week," Adam confessed in a trembling voice, "for the radiation therapy."
"That won't be a problem." Caplan paused, then spoke softly. "You boys had better get to class. You're late enough as it is. Here..." He pulled out a sheet of paper and scribbled a note on it. "Give this to your teacher. So neither of you get into trouble for being late."
"Thankyou," Skull murmured, taking the note. He then got up, drew Adam up as well, and then they both left the office in silence.
* * *
"How have your friends reacted to all this?" Skull asked as they headed along to class. Adam grimaced.
"They don't know. I only found out myself last night." "Oh. Sorry."
"It's okay. I didn't plan to tell them, anyway." Skull came to an abrupt halt. "What!? But you have to tell them! You can't not tell them..."
"I don't want them to know," Adam insisted softly. "Not yet, anyway. They... They have too much else to worry about. Please, Skull, don't tell them. Please..."
Skull's shoulders slumped. Even though he knew it was wrong, he couldn't resist Adam's pleading.
"Okay," he consented finally. "But don't wait too long to tell them, okay?"
"I won't. I just want to wait for the right moment. Just so they don't freak out on me."
"I understand," conceded Skull.
* * *
Miss Appleby, not surprisingly, was taking the class when the boys finally arrived. She was in the middle of reading a passage from Homer, effectively boring the class silly, when they came in.
"Well, Eugene," she said dryly, "how nice of you to join us. And Adam! Well, I would expect this of Eugene, but not you!"
Skull motioned for Adam to sit down, then without a word, he went up and handed Mr Caplan's note to her. She took it, read it through, then spoke with audible surprise.
"Oh.... Well.... I suppose this is fine, then. Take a seat, Eugene." Skull went back and sat down next to Adam, notably ignoring Bulk. The other rangers watched out Adam of the corner of their eyes, trying to get his attention, but he kept his head down, refusing to look at any of them for the duration on the class.
* * *
"Youre not doing anything deflect suspicion, you know." Adam looked around at Skull, startled. That was definitely not regular Skull-speak... Skull smiled sheepishly.
"I can quit acting dumb now, can't I...?" Adam sighed, and looked back to the top of the picnic table they were sitting at. "Its sort of hard to be happy when youve just found out that you're dying."
Skull struggled not to wince. The mere thought was enough to give him the shudders, so what was it doing to Adam...?
"Sorry. But your buddies must know that something is wrong. You aren't exactly your usual, perky self."
Adam looked back up at Skull for a long moment, took in the other boy's comical expression, and finally burst into laughter. Skull smiled, satisfied.
"That's heaps better."
"Thanks, Skull. I needed that."
"Yeah, I know. Now eat your lunch before I do."
* * *
Not too far away, the rangers sat together, watching the exchange between Skull and Adam with open confusion.
"Will someone please explain to me whats going on?" Rocky asked plaintively. "I mean, werent Bulk and Skull giving Adam a hard time just this morning?"
Tommy grimaced. "They were, and I don't understand it anymore than you do."
"Yeah," Kat murmured. "Everyone knows that Skull is giving Adam piano lessons, but they're not exactly best friends."
"Maybe they weren't," Jason pointed out, "but they sure look like they are now. Skull looks like he's ditched Bulk, too."
"Well," Tommy muttered, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm gonna find out what's going on. Cmon..."
He was interrupted, almost predictably, by the sound of his communicator beeping insistently. Exchanging weary looks with the others, they got up and slipped back into the shadows, out of sight of any peering eyes.
"What's up, Zordon?" Tommy asked in a low whisper. "Teleport to the Command Centre immediately, Rangers," Zordon told them. "There is an emergency situation."
"So what else is new...?" Rocky mumbled. Tommy shot him a warning look, then replied to the summons.
"We're on our way."
Just then, Adam joined them.
"Just some emergency, again," Rocky replied dismissively. Tommy shook his head tiredly, not bothering to answer to Rocky's comment.
Adam's face filled with worry at that. _Emergency...?_ he thought, remembering the order to avoid any physically stressful activities. But surely this was a different matter, and he would be protected by the suit...
"Cmon, guys," Tommy said, oblivious to the expression of worry and fear on Adam's face. "Let's go."
The five teens then teleported out in a flash of rainbow light.
Angel Grove Park....
The five morphed teenagers appeared in blazing streaks of light. They stood in formation and challenged the monster with their battle cry of "Power Rangers! Zeo!"
The monster, the hideous "Fabiobot", turned it's ugly head to sight the foolish puny creatures who dared to stand in its way.
"Puny Rangers! You should leave now, for you are not mighty such as I am. I could crush your heads in my fingertips, you are so weak!! Run away and fear the wrath of the Mighty One! Mighty! Mighty!"
"Oh yeah?" replied Tommy. "Well we'll see about that!! Hyaah!" And Tommy led the charge down the hill towards the Machine Empire's latest creation.
Adam was right on the verge of charging along with the others when he remembered the repeated warnings from the doctor. _No strenuous activity..._
He hung back, arguing with himself. _The Zeo Power will protect me. I'm not going to get injured by destroying a monster. I'll be fine._
He started forward, only to stop again. _Oh who am I trying to kid? I can't go down there and fight! Any excessive physical activity could just speed up the disease that much more. They'll just have to do it without me._ His decision made, he trotted down the hill after the others who had already engaged the monster.
They were having no luck and Rocky, ever the risk-taker, had leaped in the creature's back in an attempt to throttle it. The monster laughed cruelly and reached back to grab the Blue Zeo Ranger by the scruff of the neck and throw him bodily into Tommy. Both teens went down in a tangle of arms and legs.
The monster turned to see Adam creeping down the hill. "What's the matter, puny Ranger? Afraid to fight with me? You are wise, for I shall destroy you!! Come play with me!!"
The brave words of the monster struck Adam in an entirely new way than ever before. Usually they were just sheer bravado that the monster said to try and frighten them and dishearten them. The Rangers always shrugged off those unreal threats and destroyed the monster. But this time Adam was affected.
In his weakening condition, the monster was in fact very capable of destroying him.
Adam normally would have responded to the monster's threats with no words and a kick to the head, but this time was different. "I don't think so, Fabiobot. You're the one who's going down!"
He turned to his friends, who had regained their feet. "C'mon guys, let's form the Zeo Blaster and destroy him quickly before he can cause any more damage."
Tommy regarded his second-in-command with an odd look that was concealed by his helmet. "We can't do that Adam. It's a violation of the Rules. We can only match whatever is thrown at us. We can't step beyond that or we risk losing the protection of the Power. Now draw Zeo Swords. Hiyah!"
Tommy, Rocky, Tanya, and Kat all drew their swords and charged the monster, who easily tossed off their attack. Before Adam could blink twice, his friends were lying on the ground moaning in pain. Fabiobot turned to him and started a slow, methodical advance that was designed to scare the hell out of anyone. It succeeded admirably.
Adam backed away slowly, fearful of coming into contact with the testosterone-pumped creature. He tried to plead with the unfeeling machine, but his words stuck in his throat. His eyes widened as he felt the tree at his back. He was trapped. He had no choice but to fight. He jumped at the monster, not caring if he was injured, only knowing that he didn't want to die like a cornered rat. The monster caught him in a bearhug and squeezed tremendously.
Adam screamed in pain as his insides were compressed into an impossibly tight space. His eyes dimmed and he felt himself beginning to lose consciousness, and he could almost feel blood vessels in his chest breaking and beginning to bleed inside him.
The monsters arms loosened and Adam was rocked as the other Rangers shot at the monsters with the powered-up Zeo Laser Pistols. Fabiobot dropped the Green Ranger into a pile of hurting flesh and turned to battle the others. He knocked them all down several times and stomped hard on Tommy's chest, knocking the wind out of the team leader.
Adam struggled to get back to his feet. "Ugh," he moaned in pain. _That was one of the stupidest things I've ever done._ He managed to get to his feet. The monster pulled a force beam rifle out of the air and targeted him with it. Adam's battered body was hurled forcibly into the tree with the force of a speeding train. He heard a horrible crunching sound as his body connected with the tree, and felt more blood begin to flow.
He fell to the ground with a painful thud, and managed to raise his head in time to see Tommy yelling into his communicator before the world blackened and his head sank down onto the ground.
* * *
Tommy watched his second-in-command vanish into green light as Zordon teleported the teen to safety. He and the others could only hope to somehow destroy the monster before Mondo sent down Klank and Orbus to make it grow.
His thought process, magnified a thousand times over by the Zeo Powers, raced to the logical conclusion.
"I call upon the power of the Defender Wheel!" The PhoenixZord screamed through the sky, answering the call of its master. The bottom hatch opened and the Defender Wheel fell to the ground as Tommy's Zord raced back to its cave. Tommy jumped inside the circular weapon and programed its course.
"Defender Wheel! Engage!" The rolling weapon lumbered forward, gradually picking up more speed until it reached critical and it crashed into the suddenly terrified Fabiobot as Tommy teleported to safety. The monster gave out one final message right before it met its fate. "You are mightier than I." Then it erupted into flames.
Tommy heaved a big sigh. Then he and the others teleported back to the Power Chamber to inform Zordon of their victory and discover Adam's condition.
A short time later....
The rangers landed back in the Power Chamber, weary and relieved that the battle was finally over.
"Man, that thing was tough..." Rocky muttered. Tommy nodded his agreement.
Tommy nodded as he hurried over to where Adam lay on the rest table. "Adam? C'mon, man, wake up..."
Adam stirred and his eyes eventually fluttered open to stare dazedly at the Red Ranger. "Is it over...?"
"Yeah, man. Are you okay? You took a pretty bad hit."
Adam winced as he sat up slowly. "I... I think so..." He drew in a deep breath. Dull pain throbbed through his entire body, but he dared not let on. They would then want to know why the suit hadn't protected him in the battle, and that was an explanation he didn't want to give. Not just then.... He stood up, and managed to smile. "I'm fine. That thing was just really tough."
"And ugly," Kat muttered. Tanya nodded her agreement. "You can say that again..."
Tommy reached out and clapped Adam on the shoulder, and Adam was only barely able to bite back a cry of pain.
"Okay. As long as you're all right. But next time, don't hang back. We can't help each other if we all do our own thing."
"Sure," Adam said through clenched teeth. "C'mon," Rocky said quickly. "Let's get back to school. I'm starved, and lunch is nearly over."
Tommy grinned and nodded. "Yeah, let's go." The five teenagers then teleported out in a streak of multi- coloured light.
* * *
Skull was still sitting at the table when Adam came back, and he was horrified by the blatant deterioration of Adam's physical health. "Adam...? You look awful! What happened?"
Adam made his way over to the picnic table and sat down with a thud. If only he could hold out until school was over... Even as he thought it, he knew he wouldn't be able to do it. "I don't know..." he lied. "I just don't feel so great..."
"No kidding," Skull growled. "C'mon. I'm gonna take you to the nurse."
"No..." Adam protested weakly even as Skull dragged him up. "Please, I'm just tired..."
"With you, that's something to worry about. C'mon..."
* * *
While the other rangers laughed about their victory, Jason watched from the sidelines as Skull pulled Adam to his feet and led him back towards the building. Something, he realised, was very definitely wrong...
He stiffened when Adam suddenly collapsed, nearly taking Skull down with him, and ran over before the others were even aware that anything was wrong. "What happened?" he asked anxiously, dropping into a crouch beside Adam's trembling form.
Skull shrugged. "You tell me. I have no idea."
The others had seen the trouble by then, and ran over to help. "Adam...?" Rocky asked anxiously.
"Aw, hell..." Tommy looked up at him. "Go get the nurse, now."
Rocky went without protest, and Tommy then turned his attention back to Adam. "Hang on, man...." he whispered anxiously. "Just hang on...."
* * *
Half an hour later, Hank Cranston arrived on the scene, much to the surprise of the rangers. Jason stepped forward to meet him. "Mr Cranston? What are you doing here...?"
Hank spared Jason a grim smile. "Let's just say I'm acting parent for Adam, since his own parents don't seem to give a damn. Excuse me, now...."
He side-stepped the teens and went into the infirmary, closing the door behind him.
* * *
"What d'you think is the matter with him?" Tanya asked, her voice reflecting the fear she felt.
Tommy shook his head as he leant against the wall. "I don't know. If he'd just gone to the damned doctor, like we tried to tell him...."
Off to the side, Skull stood in grim silence. He desperately wanted to tell them the truth, but Adam had sworn him to secrecy. As much as he knew he should tell them, he could not break his promise. _Leukemia...._ he thought again with a shudder. What had someone like Adam ever done to deserve that? It wasn't even like Diabetes, or some other illness that could be controlled with drugs. Even with maximum treatment, Adam was still likely to die....
Skull was jolted back to reality by Kat's voice, and he opened his eyes to find himself staring not only at her, but at all of them. "Huh? What...?"
Tommy stared at him suspiciously. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were crying."
Skull quickly lifted his hand to his eyes, and discovered his eyes were, indeed, wet with tears. _Damn..._ he thought. "Just... Just got some dirt in 'em," he grumbled.
"No, man," Rocky said. "You are crying! What's wrong?"
"You can tell us," Tanya told him warmly. "C'mon, Skull..."
Skull thought he was going to have to break his promise and tell them, just to get away from them, when the door opened, and Hank came out, supporting Adam. To Skull's relief, the attention of the other teens was immediately directed away from him, and he breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
"Adam, you okay, man?" Tommy asked anxiously.
Adam managed to smile. "Yeah, I will be. I'm just..." _Dying_ "...tired. Haven't been sleeping too good lately, and I guess it finally caught up with me."
Beside him, Hank sighed inwardly. _Why,_ he thought, _couldn't Adam just tell them the truth...?_
"Well, you get plenty of rest, then," Kat told him. "We'll... take care of things. Okay?"
Adam smiled gratefully. "Thanks."
Mr Caplan stepped in, then. "Okay. You kids had better get back to class. You're late enough as it is."
The teens all reluctantly filed off to class, until only Skull was left. While Hank looked concerned, Skull spoke to Adam in a soft voice. "Take care of yourself, Adam. We don't want to lose you before time."
Adam was touched by Skull's honest plea. "I will," he replied. Skull nodded and, shoving his hands deep into his pockets, headed off back down the corridor.
* * *
"So what really happened?" Hank asked once he had Adam home and safely in bed.
Adam sighed miserably. "It was a fight. Cogs, monster, the usual stuff. Not that much tougher than other times... I guess I just wasn't up to it. I don't get it, though. Dr Sutton only diagnosed me yesterday! How come it's affecting me like this already?"
Hank hesitated, then recalled what Sutton had told him later last night, after Adam had been diagnosed. "How long did you tell Dr Sutton that you'd been feeling ill for?"
"A couple of months...."
"Well, that's how long it's probably been since the Leukemia developed. That's two months that you've gone without any treatment, so it's not surprising that one fight would take this much out of you. It's surprising you've made it this far!"
Adam had to concede the point as he remembered how awful he'd felt after other recent battles. Today was just the first day that he had actually collapsed... He shuddered and slumped down miserably in the bed. Hank watched him for a while before speaking the thought that was on both their minds.
"You're going to have to quit the team." Tears instantly flooded Adam's eyes.
"I can't!" he protested. "It's the only thing I've got left!"
"You keep it up," Hank growled, "and you won't even have three months left. You know it's true. Don't put yourself at risk unnecessarily, Adam."
Adam shut his eyes, suddenly knowing how Billy had felt when he'd lost the last chance to be a ranger to Jason. Totally lost and alone....
Shutting his eyes, Adam rolled over and buried his face into the pillow, refusing to say anything more. Hank stayed with him for a while before finally going out and leaving Adam alone.
* * *
Hank wandered into the kitchen, wondering what on earth he could do. For some unimaginable reason, Adam seemed determined to keep everyone in the dark about his illness, even though it was shoving him right away from everyone. He paused, thinking back to what Adam had made him promise.
_Please, don't tell my friends..._
Adam had only asked him not to tell the rangers, which left it open for him to pass the terrible news on to certain others who could possibly help... Hank knew he was on thin ice, but as far as he was concerned, the risk was worth it.
Gritting his teeth, Hank went to make some phone calls.
* * *
Half an hour later, Hank had a small crowd gathered in the family room of his home. There were Tommy Oliver's parents, Jason Scott's parents, and the parents of Kat Hillard, Tanya Sloan and Rocky De Santos. Trying hard to keep his nerves at bay, Hank took up and waited for silence. A hush immediately fell over the large group, and they watched Hank expectantly, waiting for an explanation for the summons.
"I'm sorry to call you all here at such short notice," Hank apologized, "but I'm afraid this couldn't wait. Firstly, I've taken unofficial custody of Adam, and unless his parents come back soon and show some genuine interest in their son, I'll go to court for custody of him."
A murmur of surprise swept across the group, but they stayed silent, knowing more was to come. Hank hesitated, then sank into an empty chair. "Adam was in hospital just yesterday, having a number of tests, one of which was a leukocyte count."
"Leukocyte count...?" Mrs Scott echoed in shock. She was a trained nurse and knew the implications.
Hank nodded. "The doctor was very worried. He insisted Adam stay at the hospital until the results came back."
"And...?" Mr De Santos pressed.
"It's not good, I'm afraid. Adam has Leukemia." The silence that descended over the group was palpable until Mrs De Santos spoke in a stricken voice.
"Oh no.... Not Adam..."
"I'm afraid so," Hank murmured.
Mrs Scott spoke again, her voice strained from the sudden shock of the announcement. "What type of Leukemia? Do you know?"
"Yes. The doctor called it Acute Myelocytic Leukemia. It's terminal. Adam's been given approximately three months to live. It may be anything up to eight or twelve months with full treatment, but Dr Sutton couldn't be specific."
"Sutton?" Mr Oliver interrupted. "Eric Sutton? Well, that confirms there's been no mistake. That man is the best doctor in this state."
"This is terrible," Mrs Hillard whispered, stricken. "The poor boy..."
"I called you all here to tell you straight," Hank said grimly, "but also because none of your kids know, as yet. So far, Adam's refused to tell them."
"For Gods' sake, why?" Jason's father burst out. "Surely he's not planning to try and deal with this on his own...?"
Hank shook his head. "I don't know. I honestly don't know what his reasoning is. I don't think Adam really knows, either. All I do know is that I promised Adam that I would leave it to him to tell them, and I can't break that promise. In light of that, I have to ask you not to tell them, either."
"If you wanted us to promise that," Mr De Santos growled, "then you shouldn't have told us at all."
Hank stood up again. "Please, for Adam's sake, don't tell them. They'll find out soon enough. There's no way that Adam can hide this for much longer, but until then.... Adam needs to know there are people he can trust. If we go against his wishes then he's going to feel completely deserted. I don't want that to happen. It's the only reason I haven't said anything to the... to your kids. It's the one reason why I haven't contacted my own son to tell him."
A long silence reigned until finally Tommy's father spoke for them all. "All right. Well keep this between ourselves. But unless Adam comes clean with them soon, I'm going to tell Tommy."
The others nodded in silent agreement. Hank looked relieved. "Thank you, and I promise I'll do my best to convince Adam to tell his friends."
* * *
Hank went in to check on Adam early that evening, and was not surprised to find him fast asleep. He paused in the doorway, then went to the cupboard and pulled out and extra blanket, which he threw over the frail boy. Adam shifted a little and murmured something in his sleep, but didnt wake up.
Hank stayed still for a long moment before pulling a chair up beside the bed and settling himself in to wait out the long night with the sick boy.
Angel Grove High School....
Tommy wandered into the school grounds the next morning feeling inexplicably upset. Something wasn't right. He could feel it, but he had no idea what the trouble was. Adam collapsing yesterday wasn't helping things, either... He paused to try and think it through logically, then felt his heart rate suddenly pick up.
_Adam..._ Of course, it was something to do with Adam. There was something wrong, very wrong, and somehow it all revolved around Adam. He went back over it in his mind, starting with the fight. Adam had, for some reason, made every effort to avoid the monster during the battle. While the rest of them had taken direct hits in their efforts to beat it, Adam had kept skirting around the outside, not actually stepping into the line of fire. Almost, Tommy reflected, as though he was suddenly afraid of taking a hit...
But, of course, he had. The monster had eventually noticed him on the outer limits of the fight and let loose with a blast that had sent Adam flying straight into a huge Oak. Tommy frowned, chewing his lower lip as he walked. If he remembered right, it had taken Adam twice as long as usual to get back on his feet. Almost as though he was not wearing a protective suit and had taken a direct hit to his body....
He arrived at his locker almost without realising it, and looked around as his friends wandered over to join him. Adam, he noted, was not there.
"I called Mr Cranston's place," Rocky said quietly. "He said Adam's too sick to come today. Man, this is too weird!"
"Maybe he got hit with something from the monster yesterday," Tanya suggested.
"Some sort of poison," Kat agreed. "He got hit pretty hard, after all." Tommy chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip. "I don't know. It could be..."
"Adam wasn't well before that fight," Jason pointed out. "He hasn't been well for the past couple of months. I'll bet that because he held off so long in going to the doctor, that he's probably come down with a mild case of pneumonia, or something."
Tommy grimaced. "If that's what it is, we might need you to step in for him."
Jason pulled a face and shook his head. "Sorry, no can do. I'm still getting over the effects from the last one, thankyou very much."
Tommy sighed as they began to walk to their classes. "Maybe we can get Billy to come back to step in for him..."
"Let's just wait and see what's wrong with him first, huh?" Rocky suggested. "It's probably nothing serious, anyway."
They continued on, none of them noticing Skull as they passed him in the corridor. The leather-clad boy watched and listened in silence as they passed, then, shoulders slumped and eyes downcast, turned and headed off in the other direction.
* * *
Adam suffered a raging fever through much of the day before an extra dose of something from the doctor helped get it under control. By late afternoon, he was feeling well enough to get up again, but was thwarted by Hank.
"You can just stay in bed," Hank told him when Adam insisted he was fine. The teen slumped back against the pillows, scowling.
"It's not fair. I just want to get up"
Hank pressed the palm of his hand to Adam's forehead for a moment before speaking. "You still have a fever. You aren't leaving this bed until it's gone."
"But what if there's an emergency? I can't go in my pyjamas!" "You won't be going at all. Adam, you completely wiped yourself out in that fight yesterday. You made yourself sick! If you persist in joining in the fights, it won't take Mondo long to work out that you aren't as strong as the others. When he does, you'll become a prime target. You know the truth in that as well as I do."
"But nothing. I don't want anymore arguments. You're staying in bed."
Rising up, Hank stalked out of the room before Adam could get another word in. Adam watched him go, then smiled a little to himself, unable to help it. His own parents had never been strict like that with him and even though it annoyed the hell out of him now, he sort of liked it. It was attention that he had never before gotten from his parents, and through the strictness he could see the concern that Hank had for him.
Sighing to himself, Adam slid down beneath the warm bedcovers and tried to will himself to sleep.
* * *
Hank was not surprised when the rest of the ranger team stopped by that afternoon after school.
"Come in," he told them, and ushered them into the family room. "Ill just go and see if Adam's awake."
He disappeared down the hall, and looked quickly into the room where Adam was. To his surprise, and partial relief, Adam was sleeping soundly. He backed out of the room and went back to the family room.
"I'm sorry, kids," he apologized, "but Adam's asleep right now, and I don't want to disturb him."
"It's okay," Rocky said. "We just stopped by to see if he was okay, anyway. Um... He is okay, isn't he?"
Hank hesitated. Here was where the trouble lay... "He'll be all right," Hank said finally. "He's just run down." It was almost a blatant lie, but he couldn't help it. He had promised Adam, and he dared not break that trust. "He's had a fever all day, but if it's gone by tomorrow, then he'll be back at school."
"That's good," Tommy murmured. "Well, I guess we'd better get going..."
"I'll tell Adam you were here," Hank reassured them as they left. Once they were gone, he backed inside and slumped wearily against the wall.
_Adam,_ he thought, _you have to tell them..._
A week later....
Adam was on his way home to Hank's house when his communicator chimed. He froze, remembering Hanks half-threatened warning.
_If that communicator goes off, you either ignore it or tell them you can't go. It's up to you whether you tell them why, but don't you dare go. You understand me, Adam?_
Adam ran his fingers through his jet black hair, feeling trapped. Finally, his loyalty to his friends overrode the warning to avoid conflicts, and he answered the summons.
"Adam, here. What's up, Zordon?"
"A monster is attacking the business area near you, Adam. You are the closest. You must try to deal with him until the others arrive, but be very careful. The sole aim of this monster is the destruction of the rangers. It has no other purpose."
Adam shut his eyes, and for a long moment he didn't answer. _Great. Just great...._
"Adam? What is wrong?"
"Nothing," Adam said in a strained voice. "I'm on my way."
* * *
It didn't take Adam long to find the monster. It never did, he reflected dimly. The monster wasted no time, and immediately turned its fury on the Green Ranger.
"I'll destroy you first!" it shrieked in hysterical glee. "Then, when your friends come, I'll destroy them, too!"
Adam didn't waste time with a return jibe. He knew he'd need every ounce of strength he had to avoid taking a hit. After the last time, he knew he could ill afford it.
For the next few minutes, Adam dodged around the monster, never scoring a hit himself but neither did he allow the monster to score a hit. Finally, just when he thought he would have to engage the monster in a real fight, there were four flashes of coloured light, and the others appeared.
"Adam, you okay, man?" Rocky asked anxiously. Adam nodded. "Yeah. I'm glad you're here, though."
Tommy thumped his fist into the palm of his other hand. "Okay. Let's take this beastie out!"
The other rangers launched themselves forward, engaging the monster in a full-blown battle, while once again, Adam held back, taking only the occasional shot with his blaster. Tommy finally lost patience and, when he was thrown out of the battle by the monster, yelled at the Green Ranger.
"Adam, what the hell are you doing!? We need help here! Quick fooling around and get into the fight!"
Adam felt sick as he began to realise that Hank had been right. He could not continue as a Power Ranger, not like this. He couldn't just back out right then, though. Gritting his teeth, Adam ran forward, and launched himself at the monster.
The beast turned at the last second and, with a piercing laugh, sent Adam sailing through the air with powerful hit to his chest. Adam hit a nearby wall and crumpled to the ground, not moving.
"Adam!" Tanya screamed. Rocky let loose a howl of rage and, along with the others, flung themselves at the monster. The beast was caught by surprise by the sudden attack, and could not defend itself and was subsequently destroyed, even before Clank and Orbis could cause it to grow. The rangers wasted no time, but immediately went to Adam, who still lay slumped on the ground.
"Man," Tommy whispered, upset and angry. "Not again.... C'mon, let's get him back to the Power Chamber, quick." The others nodded their agreement, and soon vanished in a flash of multi-coloured light.
* * *
Adam soon regained consciousness back in the Power Chamber, waking up to the concerned faces of his friends.
"What happened out there?" Rocky demanded to know.
"Yeah," Tommy growled. "You blacked out after taking one hit. What's going on?"
Adam sat up slowly, wincing a little at the dull pain in his skull. "I... I guess I'm not over being sick, yet. I'm sorry..."
"Sorry doesn't cut it, Adam," Tommy told him quietly. "Not with this. If you aren't physically up to fighting, then we're going to have to do something about it. This is the second battle that we nearly lost because you wouldn't involve yourself in the fight, and when you did you ended up in trouble because you couldn't defend yourself."
Adam struggled against the tears. "That's not fair" he protested weakly. Tommy glanced to Zordon, who spoke in grim support of the Red Ranger.
"I am afraid Tommy is right, Adam. Over the past two months, you have become more and more a liability to the team, most recently in your extreme efforts to avoid coming into conflict with monsters. It may not be your own fault, but it is starting to place the team in danger. That cannot be allowed to continue."
"What d'you mean?" Adam asked in a trembling voice. Zordon went on softly.
"I must ask you to give up your Zeo crystal, Adam. It must be passed on to someone who will not place the team in jeopardy."
Adam felt his heart nearly break as he looked around at the others, and they looked away from him in embarrassment.
_They're deserting me,_ he thought in grief, _and they don't even know, yet...._ He shut his eyes for a long moment before moving. He had known this would happen eventually; he had just not realised how painful it would be made for him. It was not giving up the crystal that hurt the most, it was Zordon's words.
_...a liability..._ Adam finally stood up and removed his zeonizers, placing them down on the table. As he did so, there was a glow of green light, and the Zeo crystal separated itself from the physical body of the boy who had risked his life to collect it.
Then, without speaking, he pressed the button on his communicator and teleported out for the last time.
* * *
Hank was waiting for him when he arrived home, and the mixed look of anger and fear on his face was painfully clear. "Where have you been? You didn't...?" He trailed off as Adam wandered past into the family room and collapsed into an armchair. "Oh, hell," he growled softly. "You never listened to me at all, did you?"
Adam stared vacantly up at the ceiling. "I did. Don't worry, it won't happen again."
There was a matter-of-factness to Adams tone that Hank found disturbing. "What do you mean, it won't?"
Adam removed his communicator and, to Hank's shock, threw it directly into the fireplace, into the dark ashes. "I'm off the team. Zordon kicked me off."
Hank was stunned. "What?!"
"I got kicked off the team," Adam repeated, tears building up quickly in his eyes. "Zordon called me a liability. He said I was putting everyone in danger." The tears overflowed.
Hank groaned softly. "That heartless bastard... I'm sorry, Adam."
"Why? Isn't that what you wanted? For me to be off the team?"
"Yes, eventually, but not like this. This isn't right." Adam"s voice cracked audibly as he spoke. "They all turned their backs on me. None of them would look at me. They've all deserted me, and they don't even know. How are they gonna treat me when they find out?"
"I think that's something you need to find out," Hank replied. Adam didn't reply, but finally burst into tears, unable to hold it in any longer. Hank reached out and gently took the boy in his arms, holding him protectively for a long while.
by Kenny Marks
Friends will go anywhere with you,
Friends share the good and the bad,
The times that I share with my best friends
Are the best times that I've ever had.
Whenever it's cold, dark and lonely,
Whenever my heart breaks in two,
When I'm needing somebody to hold me,
The love of a good friend comes through;
When I'm facing a mountain of worry
That some people don't understand,
A friend will stay right there beside me,
Willing to give me a hand.
Friends will go anywhere with you,
Friends share the good and the bad
The times that I share with my best friends
Are the best times that I've ever had.
Friends will go anywhere with you,
Friends who really do care,
And the times that I've really need a friend,
My best friends have always been there.
Whenever I'm down and discouraged
The love of a friend never ends,
My life's so much better for having,
A life of good love and good friends;
Wherever my life seems to take me,
God knows how to answer my prayer,
If I'm needing somebody to talk to
A new friend will somehow be there.
Friends will go anywhere with you,
Friends share the good and the bad
The times that I share with my best friends
Are the best times that I've ever had.
Friends will go anywhere with you,
Friends who really do care,
And the times that I've really need a friend,
My best friends have always been there.
* * *
Adam sat slumped over in the chair, listening miserably to the words of the song. Any other time, and it might have cheered him up, but not today. He rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes, brushing away more tears that formed there. It had been four days since Zordon had stripped him of his powers, and in that time he had been effectively alienated by the only friends he had.
Skull, Adam reflected, had stuck by him like the friend that the others were supposed to be. It still hurt, though, more than he could bring himself to admit.
"You're going to depress yourself again," Hank commented dryly as Adam rewound the tape and hit play for the fifth time. Adam sank back into the armchair as the music filled the room.
"Just one more time. Please?"
Hank sighed. "Whatever."
"Did you manage to find Mum and Dad?"
Hank hesitated, then spoke softly. "I spoke to someone in the company they work for, and he gave me the hotel they were supposed to be at..."
"They weren't there, right?"
"Hang on," Hank growled. "Let me finish. I called the hotel, and yes, they were there. Just not when I called. I left an urgent message, and I hope they'll get in contact very soon."
Adam looked away. "Sure. That'll really happen."
Hank sighed and was about to go back to his book when the song ended. Adam reached out and pressed stop, and was about to rewind it again, when Hank shouted. "No! Not again, please! Find something else to play!"
Adam paused, his finger just above the rewind button, and was about to press it anyway when the phone rang. Hank heaved a sigh of relief, seeing a chance to get Adam out of the room so he could hide the tape. "Adam, would you mind getting that?"
Adam spared Hank a rueful look, then got up and trudged into the kitchen to answer the phone. "Hello?" he spoke into it wearily.
"This is the Plaza Hotel, New York. Calling to return a message to Hank Cranston?"
Adam felt his heart skip a beat. _Mum... Dad...._ "I'll take the message."
"Adrian and Melissa Park checked out of the hotel one hour ago, but left no messages to pass on, nor a contact number."
Adam's spirits fell with a painful thud. They'd skipped out on him again... When he really needed them... "Is that all?"
"Yes, sir," came the brisk reply.
"Thank you," Adam mumbled, and hung up.
"Adam....?" Hank came into the kitchen behind the teen. Adam didn't turn around, but continued to stare at the phone as though it were at fault.
"They checked out of the hotel an hour ago. Didn't leave a number or anything," he said dully, wiping the tears off his face.
"Maybe they're coming back home."
"Yeah, maybe." But deep in his heart, Adam knew better.
The next day....
"This isn't right," Rocky growled as the rangers met at the locker the next day. "We shouldn't have done it."
Tommy spared Rocky an exasperated look. "Will you knock it off, Rocky? You know there wasn't any other choice. He was putting us all in danger."
"I think we did a pretty good job of putting him in danger the other day," Tanya growled, "waiting like that to see what he did with the monster. He could have been killed!"
"The suits prevent that," Kat argued. "We take a few knocks, but we never get hurt."
"The fact that Adam blacked out after taking one hit just shows that he can't handle it," Tommy said firmly. "Besides, we've done a lot better over the past few days, with my brother taking Adam's place."
"I think we're all despicable," Rocky muttered. "Adam probably hates us."
"Hang on..." Kat said in a low voice, and they all looked around as Adam came down the hallway and up to his locker.
The teen opened the locker door and started pulling books out when he sensed himself being watched. After a moment, he looked around to see all four rangers watching him intently. Adam returned their stares for just a moment before slamming his locker door shut and stomping off up the corridor.
"See?" Rocky growled.
Tommy shot Rocky a threatening look. "Rocky, will you quit it...?"
"No! I won't! Adam was my friend long before we knew anything about the Power Rangers, and now you expect me to drop him like a hot brick just because you say so? Forget it, Tommy! I won't do it!"
"I didn't say drop him as a friend," Tommy snapped. "I just meant quit complaining about dropping him from the team. Okay? Man, he's still our friend...."
Rocky cooled down as quickly as he'd heated up. "Okay," he conceded. "Good. Let's get to class."
* * *
Rocky wandered home slowly, contemplating what was happening. Admittedly, having David Trueheart on the team was an advantage, but he sorely missed Adam. Quiet Adam, with instincts like a tiger and martial arts skills to match Tommy. He sighed inwardly. Something had happened to weaken Adam, and Rocky suspected it was more than feeling tired and run-down. He suspected....
Rocky's thoughts trailed off as he came level with the Park home, which he always passed on his way home. There was a police car in the driveway, and a police officer was knocking repeatedly on the front door. With him, was a woman who looked to be in her late thirties.
He hesitated, on the verge of simply hurrying on his way before changing his mind. "Hey," he finally called out, getting the immediate attention of the two adults, "who are you looking for?"
The woman ventured down the porch steps before replying. "Were looking for Adam Park. Can you tell us where he is?"
"Sure. What's it about?"
"He's not in any trouble," the policeman reassured Rocky. "We'd appreciate it if you told us, though."
Rocky hesitated, then shrugged. "He's staying with Hank Cranston at the moment. I'll give you the address."
The woman nodded. "Thank you very much."
* * *
Hank stood outside, taking a moment to get some fresh air. Adam had come home even more despondent than usual, also suffering a fever and dizziness. He had just put Adam to bed, though the teen was a long way off sleep.
He sighed softly. All Adam really wanted right then, aside his friends, was his mother and father. He could not even give him that....
He shook his head and was about to head back inside when a police car pulled into the driveway. _What now...?_ he wondered wearily.
The passenger door opened, and a middle-aged woman got out. "Excuse me, are you Hank Cranston?"
Hank watched her suspiciously. "Yes. Can I help you?"
"I hope so. We're looking for Adam Park."
Hank went slowly down the steps. "Adam's here. What do you want with him?"
The woman glanced around. "Can we go inside, Mr Cranston? This is important...."
Hank hesitated, then nodded and led the way inside.
* * *
"So what's this about?" Hank asked once they were in the family room.
The police officer spoke in a quiet, grim voice. "I'm afraid Adam's parents have been in an accident, Mr Cranston. A plane crash, to be exact. They were on a plane coming back to Angel Grove...."
Hank felt the blood freeze in his veins. "Crash...?" he echoed. "Are... Are they all right?" Even as he asked, he knew the answer to the question.
The officer spoke unhappily. "There were no survivors, Mr Cranston. The fuselage exploded in mid-flight. The plane was a fireball before it even hit the ground."
"Oh god...." Hank moaned, sitting down with a heavy thud. "This is impossible...."
Irene Turner spoke up, then. "Adam has no other living relations, and because he is only seventeen, I have been instructed to take him into care."
"Care...?" Hank said. "You mean, foster care?"
"Yes," Turner replied. "If you'll just get Adam...?"
"Wait a second," Hank growled. "Just hang on a minute. What if I said I'd look after Adam? Officially? I'm sure he'd much rather stay with me than go and live with strangers, and I've had him here with me for the past two weeks, anyway...."
Turner smiled patronisingly. "That's kind of you to offer, Mr Cranston, but we have families listed to deal properly with foster children...."
"You don't understand," Hank interrupted. "Mrs Turner, Adam is sick. If you take him away from here, it'll kill him for certain."
Turner frowned. "Sick? How sick?"
"Adam has leukemia."
The woman was stunned. "But... that's not in our records!"
"It wouldn't be," Hank conceded. "He was diagnosed with it just two weeks ago. Mrs Turner, please. I'm willing to look after Adam."
"We really shouldn't..." she protested weakly.
Hank stood up. "Adam is dying," he said in a tight voice. "He's on chemotherapy and has already had a couple of sessions of radiation therapy. Even with all that, his doctor has only given him approximately eight months to live. Don't take that away from him by putting him in a place that he doesn't know, with people that he doesn't know."
Turner finally nodded. "Very well," she murmured. "This is an exceptional case. I'll do the paperwork, and organise for Adam to be left in your care.... for however long it is."
"Thank you," Hank replied, unable to conceal his relief. "I appreciate it. I'm sure Adam will, too."
They all looked around to see a thin, pale boy standing in the archway, looking in on the scene with confusion. Hank stood up quickly. "Adam, you should be in bed."
"I'm sick of being in bed," Adam mumbled. "What's going on?"
"Perhaps we should tell him now?" Turner suggested.
Hank had to agree. Holding off with something as serious as this would only be detrimental. Not tell him his parents were dead would be cruel when he was so anxiously hoping for their return. "Adam, come and sit down. There's something we have to tell you."
Adam blinked, dazed. "What is it?"
"It's your parents," Hank told him quietly. "They were on their way back here..."
Adam started a little. "They're coming back!? When?"
Hank felt sick. "Adam, be quiet and listen. They were coming back, but there's been an accident."
The teen blinked, suddenly confused again. "Accident? Well... they're okay, aren't they?"
Irene Turner came forward to crouch in front of the sick boy. "Adam, it was a plane crash. Honey, your parents are dead...."
Adam's lower lip began to tremble as the words impacted on him. "No... That's impossible..."
Hank watched in concern. With all that had happened over the past few days, on top of the Leukemia, it was possible that the news would be more than Adam could cope with.
"Say it's not true" he whimpered. "Please...."
"I'm sorry, Adam," Hank whispered, feeling the tears filling his own eyes. "I really am."
"No!" Adam choked out, tears spilling down his cheeks in a sudden flood. "It isn't true! They're coming back, they are! You said so! They aren't dead!" His voice had risen fast in volume, until he was screaming hysterically, and beating against Hank with weak fists. Hank remained still, taking the abuse without protest until Adam finally collapsed into his arms, exhausted and grief-stricken.
Cradling the frail boy in his arms, Hank looked back awkwardly at Turner and the policeman. "Maybe we could sort out the details later?"
Turner nodded. "Of course. I'll call you in the next couple of days. We'll see ourselves out."
Hank nodded gratefully. A short while after they'd gone, Adam finally calmed down enough to ask rational questions. "Wh... What's going to happen to me?" he asked, his thin chest hitching with suppressed sobs. Hank gently brushed the tears from Adam's cheek.
"You're going to stay here, with me. I'll look after you. Is that okay?"
Adam nodded miserably. "Yes." Even as he looked at Hank, fresh tears formed and spilled down his pale cheeks.
Hank rose up, drawing Adam up with him. "C'mon. I'm putting you back to bed."
Adam went without protest.
* * *
Hank paused at Billy's bedroom, waited a long moment, then went in. Adam had finally cried himself to sleep, hugging a spare pillow. Surely, he thought, there was something better than a pillow that Adam could cling to....
He went to the closet and opened the door. Inside was a large chest, which Hank dragged out and opened up. The chest was filled to the rim with soft toys that Billy would never admit to owning. Perhaps...
He found a teddy bear that was still in good condition, and was reasonably soft. He knew what he was doing was ridiculous but he didn't care, and he had a feeling that neither would Adam. Dusting the bear off, he went back into the spare room.
Adam had pushed the pillow away and was now tossing and turning restlessly in the bed. Hank went over and carefully placed the bear in Adam's arms. As soon as the teen felt the contact with the soft fur, he relaxed and eventually fell into an undisturbed rest. Hank smiled to himself as he watched Adam nestle down against the bear, then turned and slipped silently out of the room.
* * *
The bear had been a good idea, Hank realised the next morning. Adam had slept soundly through the rest of the afternoon and night without stirring, and looked much better when he got up the next morning.
"How are you feeling?" Hank asked quietly.
"Better," Adam replied. He still had the bear tucked under his arm, Hank noted with silent amusement. "Where'd this come from?" Adam asked about the bear as he sat down at the table.
"It's just one of Billy's old teddy bears. I thought you might like that better than the pillow."
Adam looked down at the bear, then sighed softly and cuddled the bear to his chest. "Thanks."
Hank nodded casually. "If you'd like, I can take you by your home. You can get your clothes, any toys or anything You know, keepsakes.... Maybe you'd like to get one of your own bears?"
Adam reddened a little. "I don't have any."
"What?" Hank asked incredulously. "What d'you mean? You don't have any bears?"
"No toys, or anything like that. Mum and Dad only ever gave me a cheque for my birthday, or for Christmas. When they remembered, that is. It was easier than having to bother actually finding out what I wanted..."
His voice was starting to tremble again, and Hank quickly went to his side. "It's okay, Adam. It's okay to talk about it."
Adam spoke, his eyes downcast. "I never thought about buying toys. I spent the money on martial arts lessons." He looked down at the bear with a touch of envy. "I never got anything like this."
Hank sighed inwardly. _Poor kid...._ "When's your birthday, Adam?"
"In... In a couple of weeks. But now they're gone... and I'm not going to.... I won't...."
He trailed off, starting to shake as the sobs fought to get out. Hank knew what was wrong, and he didn't blame Adam in the least. His parents were gone for good, now, ensuring no chance of reconciliation, and Dr Sutton's diagnosis predicted that Adam himself would not live to see another birthday. To make things worse, the only friend Adam had left who was sticking by him seemed to be Skull. It didn't look as though it would turn out to be much of a birthday for him at all.
_Okay,_ he thought determinedly, _I'll just have to throw the biggest damn birthday party for him that he's ever had._ He grimaced. _Possibly the only party he would have ever had...._
He hugged Adam quickly. "It'll be all right, Adam. You eat your breakfast and get dressed, and then we'll get going."
"Where to?" Adam asked, wiping away the seemingly endless flow of tears.
"First to your house to get your clothes, and then shopping."
"What about school?"
"Don't worry about school for today. You can go tomorrow."
"But tomorrow's Saturday!"
Hank smiled. "Well, then, I guess you don't have to go tomorrow, either!"
Adam had to smile at Hank's lame joking. Shaking his head wearily, he turned his attention to breakfast.
* * *
Adam sat at the desk in the spare room that night, staring at the blank piece of paper in front of him. He had an assignment due in on Monday that he had completely forgotten about, and he wanted start it straight away and get it done. So far, though, he'd come up with nothing.
"What's the problem?"
Adam looked around as Hank entered the room, and sighed heavily. "I've got an essay due on Monday for Miss Appleby. It's an oral report, actually, but we have to hand it in as well. I forgot about it, with everything that's been happening."
"What's the topic?"
The teen grimaced. "That's just it. There is no topic. We have to choose our own. I don't even know where to start."
Hank rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "Is it supposed to be factual?"
"Yeah. And Miss Appleby said she'd give us all detention if she got back fifteen reports on the Power Rangers."
Hank smiled. "I doubt you'd want to do that anyway, would you?" Adam shrugged. "I don't think I know about much else, and there'll probably be a load of essays about martial arts..."
The older man laid a hand gently on Adams shoulder. "Why don't you write about something that's close to you?"
Adam frowned. "Like what?"
"You think. This could be a good catalyst, Adam." With that, Hank turned and walked out of the room.
Adam watched him go, still frowning to himself, when he realised what Hank had been talking about. For just a moment, Adam baulked. Then, logic overcame all else and he realised there was nothing else he could do. Rising up, he went around to the bookshelf and took up the book that Dr Sutton had loaned him about Leukemia. Going back to the desk, he opened it up and began to read.
Machine Empire Skybase....
From the skybase, Mondo watched the boy with intense curiosity. Something was definitely wrong with Adam, and if he could just find out what...
He smirked to himself. He knew the boy had become considerably weaker, resulting in his ejection from the Power Ranger team, and if that was a permanent state, then Adam would be perfect as live bait to trap the other rangers.
Turning around, he roared for Clank.
"Yes, yer Majesty?" Clank asked, cowering before his king. "Go down to Earth," Mondo ordered, "and keep a close eye on Adam. As soon as you discover what is wrong with him, report back to me. Understood?"
"Yes," Clank replied. "I'm on my way."
Angel Grove Youth Centre, Saturday morning....
"You think we're ever going to find out what's going on with Adam?" Kat asked as she sipped her drink.
Tommy shrugged. "I don't know. I hope so. I just don't know why he's avoiding us so much."
"Maybe he feels like he doesn't belong with us anymore," Jason pointed out quietly. Tommy frowned.
"Is it?" Rocky argued. "C'mon! Zordon's never stripped anyone of their powers before! Losing them because it can't be helped is one thing, but being stripped of them is another thing totally."
"Okay, you might be right," Tommy conceded, "but it's not like we've ditched him altogether. Besides, he wasn't even at school yesterday for us to be able to talk to him. And when he is here, he's with Skull. So if he feels like we've dumped him, then it's his fault more than ours."
A tense silence fell as the teens glowered at one another, divided over the issue. Just then, Tanya came into the Youth Centre, along with David. Neither one was smiling, and Tanya's face was ashen. The others watched in concern as the two rangers joined them.
"Hey, guys, what's up?" Tommy asked worriedly. David nudged Tanya lightly.
"Go on. Tell them."
Tanya looked around at them with red-rimmed eyes. "Guys, I just found out why Adam wasn't in school yesterday. There... There's been an accident..."
Rocky was on his feet in an instant. "Adam's hurt? Where is he?" "No," Tanya said. "Not Adam. It's his parents. They were coming back to Angel Grove, and the plane they were on crashed."
"It exploded in mid-air," David corrected. "The fuselage blew up. There weren't any survivors."
"Adam's parents... are dead...?" Tommy said softly, stunned. David nodded.
"Yes. No one's been able to figure out yet how it happened. Tanya found out from your principal."
"Oh god..." Kat whispered. "That's awful..." Rocky stepped away from the table. "We ought to get over to Mr Cranston's place, see if he's okay..."
"They're not there," Tanya said tiredly. "I stopped by there after I found out from Mr Caplan. A neighbour said they went out this morning and have been gone all day."
"This whole thing is getting really weird," Kat grumbled. "I wish someone would tell us what is going on!"
Jason spoke up, then, his gaze on someone just beyond the group. "Skull? Everything okay, man?"
They all looked around to see Skull staring at them with eyes that seemed almost empty.
"You'll find out soon enough," Skull said quietly. "He can't hide it forever. Even he knows that."
Having said that, Skull turned and walked silently away, leaving the rangers to wonder all over again what was going on.
Miss Appleby sat wearily in her seat as Rocky finished his report. Three quarters of the way through the class, and she'd had to put up with ten reports on the Power Rangers, and four on martial arts. The only break in the monotony had been Jason Scott, who had talked about the Geneva conference, and the importance of the work done by teenagers all around the world.
Stifling a yawn, she glanced down at the list and saw there was only one student left. Adam Park....
_Why did I leave him till last?_ she wondered. She had tried to be different and not do it alphabetically, and somehow she had left the sixteen year-old till last. _He's probably just done another martial arts report,_ she thought tiredly. _Better get it over with...._
"All right, Adam. You're last. I trust you're ready?" Adam got slowly to his feet. "Yes, Miss Appleby." _As ready as I'll ever be...._
He went up to the front with a single sheet of paper clutched in his hands. Then, drawing in a calming breath, he began to speak.
"I was going to do a talk on Kung Fu, but I changed my mind." Nearby, he heard Miss Appleby's sigh of relief, and fought back a grin. "I decided to talk about Leukemia, instead."
The sigh of relief became a stifled gasp of shock. In the back row of the class, Skull sat up slowly, his attention aroused. Adam, not daring to look at anyone, spoke in a voice that was laced with tension.
"Not too many people know very much about Leukemia. It's a disease that's usually associated with children, but teenagers and adults are susceptible to it as well. Leukemia is basically cancer of the blood. It's when the body over-produces atypical white blood cells, called leukocytes, that are in bone marrow, the spleen, lymph glands, and areas like that.
"The presence of large amounts of leukocytes are detected by what's called a leukocyte count. That's one of the main tests used in the diagnosis of Leukemia.
"Symptoms of Leukemia include fatigue, loss of appetite, persistent fever, swelling and paleness, hemorrhaging, and anemia.
"There are two main types of Leukemia. There's acute Leukemia, which cause rapid degeneration. Without treatment, a person with acute Leukemia might live up to three months, but generally no longer. With treatment, unless it goes into remission, the person might live for up to twelve months. Acute Leukemia is more common in children.
"Chronic Leukemia is more generally found in adults. It's a much slower form of the disease.
"Treatment for both forms includes chemotherapy, which is a mixed application of drugs, some of which are called antimetabolites. The other treatment is radiation therapy.
"There's no cure for Leukemia. It's a fatal disease, and once a person has it, they're never fully rid of it, even in remission."
Adam faltered, then, his voice cracking on him. He stood stiffly for a long moment before looking over at Miss Appleby in distress. "I... I'm sorry. I can't..."
Miss Appleby nodded. "That's fine, Adam. You did very well."
"Hey, no fair," someone hissed near the back. "She's taking it easy on him because of his folks!"
Miss Appleby heard the remark, and so did Adam. The two looked at one another for a long moment, and then Adam gave a very slight nod, tears flickering in his eyes. The teacher stood up and spoke quietly. "Adam, would you like to explain why you chose this particular topic for your report?"
Adam shut his eyes. It was time for the truth. "I... I chose it because I wanted everyone to know a bit more about it and... and because I was diagnosed with acute Leukemia three weeks ago."
Stunned silence hit the room. Miss Appleby lay a hand gently on Adam's shoulder in silent support. Then, finally, Rocky rose to his feet. "No way," he said vehemently. "That's impossible!"
Tanya spoke as well, in a trembling voice. "It's a joke, isn't it, Adam? A really dumb joke..."
Near the back, Tommy slumped down in his seat, overcome with shock. _No... No, it can't be...._
"You can sit down, Adam," Miss Appleby told him, and Adam went quickly to his seat, still not daring to look anyone in the eye. When the bell finally rang, all students filed slowly out of the room except six. Adam stayed at his desk, and the rangers gradually gathered around him. Miss Appleby left in silence, shutting the door carefully behind her.
"Say it isn't true," Tanya begged, tears spilling down her cheeks as she tried to meet Adam's gaze.
"I wish I could," Adam whispered. He could feel the tears threatening in his own eyes, but they didn't quite come.
"Adam?" It was Tommy who spoke, and he spoke in the familiar leader voice that Adam knew so well. "Look at me, bro."
Adam couldn't resist, and looked slowly up at the Red Zeo Ranger. Tommy dropped into a crouch in front of Adam's desk. "It's true, isn't it?"
"Do you really think I'd lie about something as serious as this?" Adam choked out.
Tommy hung his head, suddenly ashamed of the way he'd acted towards Adam. "I'm sorry."
Adam looked away tearfully. "Yeah, you and everybody else. Sorry doesn't cut it, Tommy," he added, throwing Tommy's own words back at him.
Tommy reddened visibly. "For that, too."
Rocky cut in. "Hang on" he demanded. "Just hang on a second! Acute Leukemia? But you said..."
Adam nodded. "Three months to live, minimum. Maybe eight or so with treatment. I'm dying."
"Oh god, no..." Kat whispered, stricken. Adam looked around at them all, then.
"Look, I don't want sympathy. I'm getting enough of that from the teachers, from Hank, from my doctor. I just want my friends back. I need the support. That's what I want."
Long silence reigned, and then Jason responded by laying a hand firmly on Adam's shoulder.
"I'm here for you, bro.," he said quietly. Kat nodded. "Same," she whispered, leaning down to give Adam a quick hug. A long moment of silence followed, and then Tanya reached over and threw her arms around Adam in a tight hug, refusing to let go.
"There's gotta be something we can do," she said in a trembling voice. "Zordon will know what to do...."
Adam pulled back, away from her. "I've already been through denial. I don't want to go through it again. This is a human disease, not related in any way to the powers. There's nothing Zordon can do."
None of them argued over it. They knew, as much as they hated to believe it, that Adam was right. There would be no miracle cure this time...
"We're sorry, Adam," Tommy said again, and this time there was a different tone to his voice. "Can you forgive us?"
Adam sighed and got slowly to his feet, stepping away from the table. "I never hated you for anything that happened. It would have happened sooner or later... I guess what happened was my own fault. I should have told you all as soon as it was diagnosed. I guess I just thought that if I ignored it, it'd go away."
"Things don't work that way," Jason said softly. "Not in the real world. All the protection Zordon gave us from the monsters could never keep us safe from something like this."
Adam lifted his head up a little. "I'm not scared of dying. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I'll get scared of that later on. Right now, I'm just scared of being alone."
"You aren't alone," Rocky said firmly. "Adam, you're not alone. Not now, not ever. You got that?" He trailed off, tears flooding his eyes. "Oh god, I don't want to lose you..."
Adam shut his eyes as first Rocky, and then the rest of them, caught him up in the middle of a huge hug. He rested his head on Rocky's shoulder after a moment, feeling the tension of anticipated pain and fear ease with all his friends gathered closely around him. He silently thanked God that he didn't have to pretend any longer.
* * *
Outside the classroom, a figure moved in the shadows as it peered through the window, listening with great curiosity and excitement. If Clank could have grinned, he would have then.
"King Mondo is going to be very pleased to hear this," the robot whispered to himself, as he turned and slipped away across the grass, quickly disappearing back through a hole that led back to the skybase.
Tommy walked through the front door of his home nearly two hours late. His bag dragged behind him on the floor, and he stared ahead of him blindly. His father came into the hallway, having heard his son come in.
There was no anger in the older man's voice; he had spoken to Hank Cranston and knew why Tommy had stayed away for so long. Tommy looked up at his father, and his eyes were red and swollen from crying.
"Why? Why did it have to be someone like Adam? He doesn't deserve this!"
Mr Oliver sighed heavily. "I'd like to offer some sort of explanation, but I can't."
Tommy let go of his bag's strap. "He's only sixteen. He won't get to see his eighteenth birthday."
Mr Oliver placed a hand on Tommy's shoulder and guided him into the study. "We'll just have to see to it that his seventeenth birthday is everything that his eighteenth would be." He paused, taking in his son's depressed features. "Tommy, don't waste time moping around. Enough time has been wasted already, with Adam not telling any of you."
Tommy had to agree. "I won't, Dad. I just... I can have a few minutes, can't I?"
Mr Oliver smiled sadly and nodded. "Sure. Look, go and have a shower. I'll get your mother to reheat your dinner."
Tommy nodded and left the room, head hanging low in despondent silence.
De Santos Residence....
As opposed to Tommy, Rocky was taking the news a lot harder. He arrived home and charged straight through the crowd of his younger siblings and stormed into his room, throwing himself down on his bed. He had been there for a short while before his father came in to check on him.
"Rocky? What is it?"
"Adam..." Rocky sobbed into his pillow. "He... He... Oh, god...."
Mr De Santos sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Adam finally told you kids, did he?"
Rocky stiffened. Then, finally, he rolled over and stared up at his father. "You know? You know already?"
Mr De Santos nodded grimly. "Yes. We all knew. Hank Cranston got all of us parents together and told us. We've known for a little while."
Rocky sat up slowly, the anger building inside him. "You knew my best friend had Leukemia and you didn't tell me," he said in a soft, tense voice. "You couldn't tell me my best friend was dying?"
His voice had built to a shout, causing the older man to start up. "Now, Rocky..."
Rocky launched to his feet. "Why didn't you tell me!?" he screamed, nearly hysterical. The anger and shock finally erupted, and he lashed out, striking his father with a solid right hook. Mr De Santos reeled backwards, slamming into the wall. He thanked God he was solidly-built, and could handle a punch from his son. Reacting quickly, he used his college wrestling skills to force Rocky back and pin him to the bed.
"Now you stop it, boy. Just calm down."
Rocky struggled, but it was useless. His father was too strong for him. He finally gave up and stopped fighting. Mr De Santos nodded. "Okay. Listen to me, Rocky. I would have told you, but that Hank said Adam didn't want any of you to know. We don't understand why. Adam probably doesn't know himself. The point is that Adam trusted Hank to honour his wishes, and Hank asked us to do the same. Do you understand?"
"Yeah..." Rocky mumbled. "Could you let me up, now? You're twisting my arm."
Mr De Santos backed off, releasing his son from his grip. "Sorry."
Rocky eyed his father uneasily. "How's your jaw?"
Mr. De Santos grinned as he rubbed the spot where Rocky had hit him. "It's okay. You've got a pretty strong punch, there, Rocky."
Rocky couldn't smile. He sat down with a thud on his bed, and fresh tears filled his eyes. "I can't believe this is happening. It isn't fair, Dad!"
"Life isn't fair," Mr De Santos conceded. "We just have to deal with it, I'm afraid. It's never easy, losing people that we care about. It's worse when you have to anticipate it."
"Why couldn't it have been something curable?" Rocky asked in a whisper. "Why Leukemia? It's gonna be hell for him..."
"You remember your cousin, Rodney?"
Rocky nodded silently, recalling his cousin who had fought chronic Leukemia for nearly five years before it overcame him. Rodney had been tough, though. He'd been thick-skinned, and had taken the torture of the constant therapy without complaint. Adam, on the other hand, was so small and frail. And vulnerable... The thought of Adam suffering the hell of chemotherapy and radiation therapy was more than Rocky could stomach.
"I feel so sick" he whispered, staring bleakly at the floor. Mr De Santos gently touched his palm to the top of Rocky's bowed head.
"Try and be strong, Rocky. For Adam, if nothing else. He's going to need support. Don't go to pieces on him."
"I won't," Rocky promised tearfully, but in his own heart he was not so sure.
Mondo stood on the balcony, watching the proceedings with glee. He was soon joined by his wife and son. "What's going on, Dad?" Sprocket asked, his irritating voice filling the room.
Mondo turned around, excited and eager. "Wonderful news! Adam, the Green Ranger, has contracted some fatal human disease! He'll be dead within a year!"
"That is wonderful, dear," Machina agreed, "but you remember he isn't the Green Ranger anymore."
"Maybe not," Mondo replied, "but humans are so sentimental. All we need to do is capture Adam, and the Power Rangers will do whatever we want!"
"That's brilliant!" Machina gushed. "When can we trap him?"
"As soon as he is alone," Mondo said, turning back to watch as Adam went about his business in Angel Grove, blissfully unaware of what was being planned. "Then, we'll take him prisoner, and bend the Power Rangers to my will."