Five days later....
Tommy stood at the edge of the cliff, staring out to the horizon with mixed emotions. Sadness, guilt, nausea.... He still hadn't dealt with the realisation that, in twelve months at the very most, they were going to lose the most vulnerable member of their team. He hung his head, feeling a fresh surge of grief. He had talked to his father for a long time the night after he and the others had finally found out the truth, and his father had admitted that there was little hope that Adam would go into remission. So, instead of wasting time fighting for something that would not be likely to happen anyway, the friends had all agreed to do what they could to make Adam's last year the best it could be.
Tommy opened his eyes, and focused on the rocky ground far below. How easy it would be, he thought dully, to simply step of the edge and end it all... as opposed to dying slowly and painfully over a period of twelve months or less. So easy...
The Red Ranger looked around quickly, then smiled a little as Jason joined him. "What's up, man?"
Jason eyed Tommy curiously. "I was just wondering that about you. What are you doing over here? All the action's back at camp."
Tommy sighed a little and looked back towards the sun, which was just starting to set. "I just needed a second by myself. I... I still can't believe were going to lose him."
Jason hesitated, then laid one hand gently on Tommys shoulder. "I know it's hard to deal with. When I got home that night..."
He faltered, and Tommy looked at him questioningly. Jason finally spoke again, his cheeks reddening some.
"I pretty much just sat down and cried for an hour. And I haven't even known Adam for that long! You've been here nearly all along, so I'd expect more... or less. You know what I mean."
"We're all taking it hard," Tommy murmured. "I heard Rocky decked his dad when he found out the adults already knew."
Jason frowned. "I can't believe our folks wouldn't tell us."
"Only because Adam didn't want us to know. I still can't work out whether he was being stubborn over what happened, or what...."
"There's gotta be another reason for it," Jason muttered. "He was diagnosed about two weeks before Zordon took back the Green crystal."
"And he'd been sick long before then," Tommy said. "Remember he was getting steadily weaker...? I didn't take that much notice of it before, but now that I think about it..."
Both boys looked around to see David approaching. The new Green Ranger strode up and clapped a hand onto each boy's shoulder. "Adam says to quit talking about him behind his back and get your butts back to camp. Now."
Tommy and Jason eyed one another amusedly, and allowed themselves to be hustled back to the camp site. Three days previous, Tommy had gotten a call from his brother, suggesting that they all take to the mountains to try and clear the air. Tommy had liked the idea, and had quickly organised a camping trip for the team, Jason and Adam included. He looked around the group now, and reflected sadly that the only one missing was Billy.
Adam looked up from where he sat on a log. "Finished talking about me, guys?" He didn't smile, but there was a twinkle in his eyes that couldn't be missed.
Jason went over and joined him on the log. "Just about. We'll start again when you're asleep tonight."
Adam thumped Jason playfully on the arm. "Smart...."
Jason chuckled, then looked over to where Bulk and Skull were cooking. "Burnt the food yet, guys?"
Bulk responded by flicking a single baked bean at the former Gold Ranger. Skull had been invited along to the camping trip at Adam's request and Bulk had tagged along. Since Adam's admission in class, Bulk had come back to earth and he and Skull had made their peace. Now, they were showing just how good at cooking they really could be.
Tanya paused, peering over Skulls shoulder. "Looks edible. Hey, we may not starve, guys!"
Bulk pulled a face at her. "Very funny. Even Jason over there could cook beans, thank you very much."
Jason straightened up a little, sensing he was being insulted. "Hey, what's that? I do a very mean barbecue, I'll have you know."
Kat snickered. "Yeah, that's right. The last time you cooked at a barbecue, you totally killed all the burgers."
Jason reddened considerably and sunk down on the log.
Tommy laughed as well, deciding for once not to defend his best friend. "You're right about that. This guy couldn't boil water without burning it."
"Well, thanks heaps, bro," Jason growled.
Adam clapped Jason on the shoulder. "I wouldn't worry about it, Jase. We all know cooking is women's work."
Jason gaped at Adam in shock, until Adam nudged him lightly. Then, the former Gold Ranger grinned, catching on. "Oh yeah, that's right. And doing the dishes, too."
Kat and Tanya looked at one another, not sure whether they were hearing correctly. Tanya slowly advanced on both boys. "What was that, Adam? Jase...?"
Adam grinned cheekily at her. "Cooking. Women's work. You know, just like house work?"
Tanya looked back at Kat who, by that time, had guessed it was just a joke. Rather tasteless, but a joke all the same... She walked casually around to stand behind Adam. "Is that right, Mr Park?"
Adam gulped as Tanya sauntered up to stand directly in front of him, closing him in. He looked at Jason.
Jason took one look at the evil gleam in the girls eyes and ducked out of the way. "Sorry, bro. You're on your own."
Kat grinned at Jason's retreating figure. "Don't worry, Jason. You'll get yours. You just won't see it coming." She then looked back at Adam. "Now..."
Adam swallowed hard. "I think I'll be going, now..." He tried to slip away from them, but they moved too quickly, and he was rapidly overpowered and brought to the ground. They then began to tickle the young boy with a vengeance, holding him firmly to the ground so he couldn't get away. Within a minute, they had him begging for mercy.
The guys stood a short distance away, watching in amusement until Adam's shrieks of laughter turned into a yelp of pain. Tanya and Kat jumped back, startled and a little frightened, and Adam sat up slowly, wincing in pain as he rubbed his shoulder.
"Adam? Are you okay?" Rocky asked tensely.
Adam nodded. "Yeah. I think I just caught myself on a rock. S'okay."
Kat went back to him. "Let me see."
Adam spared her an odd look. "I probably just bruised myself. Don't worry."
Kat did worry, though. "Quit being so stubborn. Let me see it."
Adam sighed and sat up on the log, unbuttoning his shirt enough so it could be lowered beneath his shoulder. Sure enough, there was an ugly bruise developing.
"Adam, we're sorry..." Tanya gasped, looking stricken.
Adam started to look annoyed. "It's okay. We were just fooling around, and it's only a bruise."
"I think you'd better just sit here and not worry about anything," Kat instructed firmly.
"Yeah," Tommy said in concern. "Don't do anything, okay...? Just take it easy." He paused, then tried to laugh it off when he saw Adam's glowering look. "I mean, that's what we're up here for, isn't it...?"
"I am not a china doll," Adam snapped in reply, standing up determinedly. "I'm not going to just sit around, thank you very much. I'm going for a walk."
"But the beans are done!" Skull protested. Adam hesitated, his plans to escape the suffocating concerns of his friend temporarily foiled. As much as he wanted some breathing space, he was hungry, too. After a moment, he sat back down with a thud.
"Okay. But I'm going for a walk after dinner."
"Sure..." Tommy murmured. "That's cool."
Adam looked around at all their faces, then sighed. "Look, just don't treat me like I'm going to break if you look at me! I may have Leukemia, but I'm not that brittle! Okay?"
Rocky sat down next to him "No problem, bro." The others all murmured their consent.
Adam nodded. "Thank you."
* * *
"Are you scared?"
Adam looked sideways at Rocky, who had accompanied him on the walk. "I don't know. A little, I guess. I haven't really thought about it. Not properly."
"I'd be scared," Rocky admitted. Adam glanced skyward. "Is there any point in getting scared? If I do, Ill just curl up in a ball and be totally useless. I don't want to do that, Rocky. I still eight or ten months left. Maybe twelve. I'm going to do everything I always wanted to do, but never thought I'd be able to."
Rocky smiled faintly. "Sorry, buddy. Bunjee jumping is out."
Adam rolled his eyes comically. "Damn."
Rocky slowed to a halt. "Seriously.... What would you like to do? Go to Disneyland...? Something like that?"
Adam smiled wryly. "Something a little more substantial than that, Rocky. I'd love to go to China. You know, see all the styles of martial arts that aren't available here. Something like that."
"Yeah?" Rocky said. "That'd be cool. You think you'll get to do it? I mean, Mr Cranston isn't that well off..."
"I know," Adam said casually. "I'm only sixteen, though. Well, seventeen in a week and a half. The Starlight Foundation caters to terminally ill people up to the age of eighteen."
Rocky nodded. "That's right. I hadn't thought of them. You're gonna ask for that, huh?"
"I might. It's something I've always wanted to do. I remember when I was just little, Mum and Dad came back from a trip to China. It was the first time I could remember that Dad actually talked to me because he wanted to. He told me all about the dojos and things they'd seen when they were there. It made me really want to go and see for myself. I've never gotten past wanting that. I really hope I can go before I..." He trailed off, leaving it unsaid.
Rocky sighed inwardly, and slung an arm over Adam's shoulders. "You'll get to go. I promise."
Adam smiled, and allowed Rocky to lead him back to the campsite.
* * *
Sprocket watched the exchange from a distance, under the supervision of his father. He had been given the task of capturing Adam, and was waiting to be given the go-ahead. "When can I capture him?" Sprocket whined. "When, Dad, when?"
Mondo withheld a moan. Sometimes his son could be so pathetic, he half-wished his other son, Gasket, would come back... "Patience, Sprocket. It's pointless to attack him when he's with even one of his friends. We must wait until he's alone. It won't be long, now. Just be patient."
If Sprocket could have scowled, he would have. "I hope you're right," he grumbled.
"Of course I'm right," Mondo retorted. "I'm always right! We'll have Adam in our grasp soon, and use him to manipulate the other rangers, and then, this planet will finally be ours!"
Both father and son burst into maniacal laughter, filling the still night with their evil presence....
* * *
Rocky and Adam froze halfway back to camp, the sound of evil laughter freezing up their blood.
"Did you...?" Rocky stammered. Adam nodded, unnerved. "Yeah. Let's get back, quick."
The two boys broke into a fast trot and hurried back to camp. They got back to discover the others had heard the laughter, as well.
"Thank God you two are all right," Kat said breathless with fear. Rocky rubbed his arms, feeling goosebumps prickle his flesh.
"You guys heard it too, huh?"
"Yeah," Tommy said. "We heard it."
He said no more, and they all thought the same thing. Mondo... "M... Maybe it was a wolf, or something" Bulk stammered, frightened. Skull spared him a grim look.
"Wolves don't laugh, Bulk."
"Don't worry," Adam said suddenly with remarkable surety. "It was just a jackal. They're pretty common around here. They laugh like that. Sort of like hyenas. They won't come anywhere near us."
The rangers could not believe Adam was telling such a tremendous lie, but it seemed to pacify Bulk and Skull, and they soon forgot about the eerie laughter, and settled down to enjoy the crisp night.
The next afternoon....
"You know, I could have just stayed back at camp" Adam puffed as he and Tommy stopped for yet another rest on their way up the mountain path. "You didn't have to insist on walking with me."
"Maybe I didn't have to," Tommy replied calmly, "but I want to." Adam sighed as he took a mouthful of water. "Tommy, you could have been at the summit by now. The others are probably on their way back."
Tommy clapped him gently on the shoulder. "Will you stop it, bro? Making it all the way isn't important. I don't mind taking it easy. Gives us a chance to enjoy everything without exhausting ourselves."
Adam spared Tommy a baleful look. "Speak for yourself." Just then, Jason came into sight, trudging slowly down the path. He was pale and breathless, and made no attempt to hide his exhaustion as he sat next to Adam on the log.
"Next time, I walk with Adam," he said hoarsely, gratefully accepting a drink from the water canteen that Adam offered him. "I might be able to keep up, then."
Tommy was surprised. "You got left behind?" "Oh yeah," Jason muttered. "Well and truly. I lost sight of them at about the half way point. I just couldn't make the distance. I'm going back to camp, and tomorrow I'm gonna do anything but hike up a mountain."
Adam smiled. "I'll join you. I've just about had it, too." Tommy conceded. It was getting too dark for him to go on to the summit anyway. "Okay. Well go back, and get a head start on cooking dinner."
The three friends then got up and headed slowly back to camp.
"I can't believe we're sitting around up here," Bulk grumbled, "when we could be back home watching out for the Power Rangers."
Groans filled the air.
"I thought you guys had give up on that?" Rocky asked. Bulk smirked. "Officially. We`' re using our detective skills now to track the Rangers down."
"Bulk, we don't have any detective skills," Skull retorted. "Face it, man. We're washout detectives. We couldn't find the Power Rangers if they were right under our noses."
The last sentence was said with heavy emphasis, and Skull looked intently at Tommy, Kat, Tanya, Rocky, David, Jason and Adam as he spoke. His gaze came to rest on Adam. "Not even if they talked to us every day."
Bulk grunted, unaware of the stricken looks shared between the other teens. None of them had missed the subtle meaning in Skulls words.
"I guess you're right. We would have found them by now, otherwise." Heavy silence reigned, and then Adam got up slowly. "Skull, could you come give me a hand? I need to, um..."
"Sure," Skull said abruptly, and followed Adam out of sight beyond the tents.
* * *
"How long have you known?" Adam asked softly, once they were away from the camp. Skull smiled a little.
"Since you morphed right in front of me outside the town music hall. I do have peripheral vision, you know."
Adam looked embarrassed. "Oh. How come you never said anything?" "It wasn't my place, and then I owed you one anyway for not telling anyone it was me that had been playing the piano. Anyway, I figured I'd be better off pretending I didn't know. Safer around Bulk, anyway. It was bad enough keeping it secret from him, without him knowing."
"I appreciate it," Adam murmured. "But you went public with your piano-playing, anyway..."
"Yeah, but that was my call. You didn't blow my cover. That was important to me, so the least I could do was keep your secret."
"The Leukemia, too?"
"That was different," Skull replied. "I just thought it was important to respect your wishes. Even if it was stupid."
Adam smiled wryly. "Thanks a lot."
Skull opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off loud splash from the stream nearby, and an even louder howl.
"What the..." Skull gasped in fright. Adam, however, only grinned. "It's okay. I'd say the girls finally got revenge on Jason. C'mon, let's go see."
* * *
They hurried through to the stream, getting there at the same time as the others. Sure enough, Jason was sitting in the middle of the stream, soaking wet and unimpressed.
"Very funny," he growled as Kat and Tanya laughed hysterically. "We thought it was funny," Kat managed to say between bursts of laughter. "Jase, you look so funny..."
Tommy couldn't help but laugh as he saw his best friend just sitting in the middle of the stream. "Jase, you're all wet!"
Jason glowered at them all. "No kidding. I'm damned cold, too." "Well, then, get up!" Rocky said, snickering into his hand. "I would," Jason snapped, "but I twisted my foot when they pushed me in, and now my right foot is jammed under a rock. I can't get up."
The laughter faded quickly, and Kat and Tanya exchanged guilty looks. Another of their revenge jokes had ended up with someone being hurt...
Tommy sighed and waded into the water, and was surprised when the water level reached his knees. Then again, Jason was sitting in water that was up to his chest....
Leaning over, he reached into the water, and soon found the rock beneath which Jason's foot was caught.
"Hang on..." he said, struggling to lift it up. "There!" The rock came away, and Jason allowed Tommy to pull him up. "You okay?" Tommy asked in concern. Jason didn't answer as he placed his weight carefully on his right foot. A moment later, he winced in pain.
"I think its twisted. I can't put my weight on it." Tommy guided Jason to sling an arm around his shoulders. "C'mon, let's get back to camp. Then, we can take a better look."
* * *
"It is twisted," Tanya confirmed when she examined Jason's ankle and foot in the light of the blazing fire. "Pretty badly, too. You're going to have to stay off it, for the next day or so, at least."
"Jason, we're really sorry," Kat apologized, tears just visible in her eyes. Jason sighed heavily.
"Forget it. It was an accident. I ought to be grateful. It gives me an excuse not to do anything for the rest of the trip."
Rocky leaned forward. "Hey, Tanya, you sure he isn't faking that?" An uneasy ripple of laughter swept over the group. Adam spoke up. "I'll be grateful, too. It'll give me an excuse not to leave camp when you guys go hiking again."
Tommy rolled his eyes. "Typical. Any excuse they can get..." More laughter filled the air, and this time the laughter stayed.
The next morning....
"Are you sure you guys will be okay?" Tommy asked in concern. He and the others had planned and all day hike, Bulk and Skull had already left to go fishing further downstream, and it meant Jason and Adam would be alone all day.
"We're sure," Adam said in exasperation. "What are we, helpless? C'mon, Tommy..."
"Just asking," Tommy replied defensively. "If there're any problems at all, use your communicators. Call us, and we'll be back straight away."
"We'll be fine," Jason growled in a warning tone. "Will you guys get out of here?"
"Okay," Tommy sighed, "we're going. We'll be back to cook dinner tonight."
Then, finally, the group turned and hiked away from the camp, soon disappearing from sight. Jason and Adam exchanged grins. Alone at last...
* * *
Not too far away, Sprocket watched with evil anticipation. Adam was alone at last. Jason was hurt, and didn't count as protective company, as far as the robot prince was concerned. Time to make their move....
* * *
The rangers came to a halt some distance from the camp to talk. "Don't you think it's time we called Billy?" Tanya asked in concern. "He and Adam were so close, after all."
"Yeah," Rocky said. "We've gotta tell him, Tommy." Tommy ran his fingers through his long hair. "I know. I just hate to dump this on him. You know what he's like. He'll come back and spend half his time in the Power Chamber trying to find a cure that just isn't there to be found. That'll only hurt Adam worse."
"I think you should call him," David said quietly. "Tommy, if Billy and Adam were as close as you say, Billy will only hate you all if he eventually comes home to find out that his best friend died of Leukemia, and no one told him. I think you've waited too long already, but if you hold off any longer, its gonna make it fifty times worse."
Tommy had to concede. "You're right. I know you're right. Damn what a mess. Look, tonight, I'll teleport to the Power Chamber and get Alpha to contact Billy. I'll ask him to come home, and if he doesn't want to, I'll just have to tell him straight."
The others nodded, knowing it was the best reaction they would get from their leader. They turned and headed on their way, only to stop again when strange sounds reached their ears.
"D'you guys hear that?" Kat asked tentatively. Tommy looked around. "It's coming from the camp. Sounds like like a..." "Like a fight," David concluded. They all looked at one another, suddenly stricken, and spoke in unison.
The five teens took off back down the path as fast as they could.
* * *
Adam and Jason had been taken completely by surprise, neither one anticipating any trouble. They had been lounging in one of the big dome tent that the boys all shared, drinking warmed up cocoa and comparing their times as rangers when there was a flash of light, and they were suddenly surrounded by cogs.
"What the..." Jason gasped in shock as four cogs effectively pinned him to the floor of the tent, while another tree grabbed hold of Adam. The former Green Ranger was not willing to give in without a fight, though, and he gathered his strength and managed to twist free of their grip, breaking out of the confines of the tent. Jason soon followed, limping heavily.
Sprocket appeared, then with even more cogs. "Why don't you surrender, Adam? Then you might not get hurt."
Jason looked breathlessly as Adam. "They're after you. Go after the others, I'll try hold these guys back."
"With one good foot?" Adam retorted. "Yeah, right. What d'you want, Sprocket?"
"You!" Sprocket replied gleefully. "Get him, cogs!" Neither boy was a match for the masses of cogs that converged on them, and they were soon held in unbreakable grips. Sprocket advanced, an idea forming in his warped little mind.
"I think I'll take Jason, too. Then, the Rangers will have to do what we say!"
"Think again, Sprocket!"
They all looked around to see Tommy and the other rangers skid into the camp clearing, ready for a fight. "Let them go, right now!"
Sprocket sniggered evilly. "No way! They're my prizes, and you aren't getting them back! So long, Rangers!"
Sprocket and the cogs vanished through the portal to the sky base, and they took both Adam and Jason with them.
* * *
"I don't believe this," Rocky moaned. "That little rust bucket must've been waiting for us to leave Adam on his own."
"He wasn't on his own," Kat argued. "Jason was supposed to be keeping an eye on him!"
"Jason had a twisted ankle," Tanya snapped. "He couldn't have fought off a tree."
"Knock it off!" Tommy roared, silencing them abruptly. "Look, Sprocket's got both Adam and Jason, and it's up to us to get them back. So quit arguing! Okay?"
"I think," David said in a quiet, grim voice, that we'd better get to the Power Chamber. Agreed?"
"What about Bulk and Skull?" Rocky asked. Tommy hesitated, then shook his head.
"They said they'd be fishing all day. We've got about eight or nine hours. Let's not waste them."
The others nodded, and then they teleported out.
Adam and Jason landed right in the middle of a huge cage that stood in the centre of a cold room full of stale air. Adam looked around breathlessly for a moment before going to Jason's side.
Jason shuddered in pain. "I think I did my ankle again Man, where are we?"
"You are in the house of his lordship, the glorious King Mondo," an accented voice announced, and the boys looked around to see a familiar face through the bars of the cage.
"Clank," Jason spat. Clank bowed in mock reverence to the boys. "Make yourselves comfortable, won't you?" he taunted. "You're going to be here for a while."
"Clank!" a voice roared, nearly frightening Clank out of his metal skin. A moment later, Mondo strode into the room, accompanied by Machina and Sprocket. Mondo took the liberty of hitting Clank across the head. "What have I told you about consorting with the prisoners? Get out of here!"
"Yes, my king," Clank said, and hustled himself from the room. Mondo waited until he'd gone, then look back to the two boys.
"Sprocket, I'm very pleased. Not only did you capture our original target, you managed to capture the pesky Gold Ranger as well. Oh Excuse me... Ex Gold Ranger."
Jason scowled, but said and did nothing. Mondo chortled cruelly. "You're probably wondering why you're both here. It's simple, really. I will use the two of you to guarantee that the Rangers do as I demand, so I can finally take over this pathetic planet."
"They'll never go for that," Adam growled. If Mondo could have smiled, he would have.
"Ordinarily, I would concede to that, Adam. But not now. Not when they see their friend dying from his illness ten times as fast as normal. From the moment I contact the Rangers and let them know my demands, the clock will be running. For every hour which they do not comply, you will lose one month of your miserable life. And, without the so-called treatment which you apparently need, I estimate you lasting three hours. Four at the very most. A much quicker demise, don't you think?"
Adam sat down with a heavy thud, too shocked and frightened to say a word. Jason got slowly and painfully to his feet.
"You can't do that, Mondo!"
"Oh, but I can, Jason. And I can do the same to you, if need be. You had better hope your friends comply with my demands. Otherwise..."
He left the threat unspoken, turned and stalked from the room. A moment later, Machina and Sprocket left also. Jason watched them go, then turned back to Adam, sitting down beside the distraught boy.
"Don't worry, Adam. The Rangers will get to us. You won't lose any time at all."
"But what if they can't get to us?" Adam whispered in a trembling voice. "What if? Zordon won't let them surrender just for me. Not when I'm going to die anyway."
"Don't think that," Jason growled, although deep down he knew it was true. "Adam, keep those thoughts out of your head. They won't let you die. Not like this."
Adam bit down on his lower lip, but it did nothing to stop the tears. "I... I'm scared. I don't want to die."
Jason put an arm protectively around Adam's shoulders. "You won't. They'll rescue us...."
"No," Adam whimpered. "I don't want to die at all. I'm scared of dying, Jason. I don't want to die."
Jason sighed softly and pulled Adam close, trying uselessly to shield the younger boy from the terrible reality of his condition.
* * *
"Any luck, Alpha?" Tommy asked anxiously. Alpha shook his head. "No, not yet. There is a lot of interference. I am trying to break through it, but it is very hard."
"We know you're doing your best," Kat reassured the little robot. David moved up beside Tommy.
"What about Billy? He could help."
Tommy spared David an exasperated look. Now was not the time to bring that subject up again...
"The interference is clearing," Alpha announced suddenly, but he did not sound happy. "We have an incoming transmission."
They all looked to the viewing globe to see Mondo's image forming there. Tommy stepped forward angrily.
"What have you done with Adam and Jason?" Mondo chuckled. "They're safe and unharmed for the time being. I am transmitting now to give you my demands. I want your immediate surrender, and banishment from this planet. That is all."
"Surrender?" Rocky spat. "Dream on, tin head!" Again, Mondo laughed cruelly. "I would not throw insults if I were you, Blue Ranger. You are in no position to do so."
Tommy placed a restraining hand on Rocky's shoulder, then moved forward. "You know we won't surrender to you, Mondo. Why are you even bothering to ask?"
"This is why," Mondo said, and his image vanished, to be replaced by that of Adam and Jason. Tommy's hands curled into fists at his sides as he watched his two friends trying to comfort each other as they sat in the cage. A moment later, Mondo reappeared.
"Here is the situation. For each hour you delay in obeying my demands, young Adam will lose one month of his life. If you haven't complied in four hours, from the time this transmission ends, he won't be worth rescuing. And should you fail to comply even then, I assure you that I can cause Jason to go the same way as Adam. That is your first and last warning. You have four hours, possibly less, to comply before you lose the first of your companions. Surrender, or they will both die."
The viewing globe went blank.
"Oh..." Rocky let go with an expletive that could not be heard in public. Tommy moaned softly.
"Hell... What are we going to do?"
David spoke up quietly. "I think it's time to call Billy."
Billy Cranston sat miserably in an uncomfortable chair, waiting for Cestria as she attended a meeting. He had been there for nearly two hours, and was starting to feel like a child who was being forced to wait while his mother tried on clothes at a store sale. After three months of living on Aquitar, he was becoming more homesick than he could bear. More than anything, now, he wanted an excuse to go home to Earth. Even if he was unappreciated....
A steady beeping reached his ears, and a moment later he realised with a start that it was his own communicator which was beeping. Feeling surprised, he answered it cautiously.
"This is Billy..."
"Billy," Zordon's voice came over loud and clear, and Billy felt the homesickness touch him once more. "I am glad we reached you."
Billy's homesickness faded to make way for concern as he recognised the familiar tension in Zordon's voice. Something was wrong....
_They lasted three months without needing me,_ he thought distantly. _A new world record...._
He shoved the thought even deeper into his mind. "What's wrong, Zordon?"
"I am afraid it is urgent, Billy. We need you to come home immediately. I will set up a teleportation beam for you."
Billy could have cheered, but at the same time felt a touch of unease. What could have happened that they needed him so badly?
"What's going on?"
"There's no time." That was Tommy's voice, domineering as ever.... "Billy, please, we need you, man."
Billy's shock increased tenfold. Never in his time as a ranger and working to aid the rangers had he ever heard Tommy use the 'P' word.
"All right Just let me tell Cestria, and then you can teleport me." "Tell me what?" a voice asked, and Billy looked around to see Cestria emerge from the room. Billy felt his nerves tangle up.
"Cestria, that was Zordon. There's trouble back home. They need me..."
Cestria looked wounded but Billy couldn't help but wonder whether she felt all that much concern.
"I understand. Friends are important. You must go to them." They stared at one another, and knew they would not meet again soon. Billy hesitated, then leaned in to kiss her quickly in a tender human gesture, then stepped back.
"Ready for teleportation, Zordon."
The last he saw of Cestria were two chestnut eyes, staring at him with a mixture of sorrow and relief.
* * *
Billy arrived back, and sensed immediately what was wrong. Everyone was present, but for Jason and Adam. He asked anyway.
"Mondo took Adam and Jason, and he's demanding we surrender in return for their lives," Tommy explained in a strained voice. "We've got three or four hours to find them..."
"Less," Tanya said, sounding even more upset. "Guys, Mondo said Adam would lose one month of his life for every hour that passed. Any longer than one or two hours, and it'll be too late for Adam, whatever happens."
Billy looked surprised at their panic. "I don't think a few months is anything to get upset over. We have plenty of time."
"No," Tommy said softly, "we don't have plenty of time. Billy, there's something you don't know. It's something we should have contacted you about as soon as we knew but it was such a damned shock...."
"What is it?" Billy asked tensely, sensing bad news. He had no idea how bad it really was. Rocky finally spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"Billy, Adam has Leukemia."
Billy froze. "What?"
"Acute Myelocytic Leukemia," Kat replied, recalling with perfect memory the name Adam had told them. "He's dying, Billy."
"The doctor gave him about three months without treatment," Tommy went on softly. "If we don't find him within the next couple of hours, then he'll die, and nothing will be able to help him."
Billy stood there for nearly half a minute in tense silence. _Why didn't you tell me!?_ he screamed silently at them all. There was no point in releasing the anger, though. Not then. Later, when they had Adam and Jason back safely, he could rant at them, but not then. Gritting his teeth, he marched determinedly over to the control panel.
"Let's get them back, then."
Machine Empire Sky Base....
"Are you feeling okay?" Jason asked Adam in concern. "You don't look so great..."
Adam looked up at Jason, pale and frightened. "I don't feel good, Jason. How.... How long has it been?"
Jason glanced at his watch, and felt his stomach turn over. "It's been an hour."
Adam's head dropped a little. "One month. I've lost a month already." The former Gold Ranger moved quickly to Adam's side. "You've gotta keep your hopes up, Adam. I'll bet they're looking for a way to rescue us right now."
"They might be looking," Adam whispered, "but that doesn't mean they'll find one. And, when I'm gone, Mondo will just turn on you..."
Jason's patience finally snapped. "Just where the hell do you get off being so damned negative? Snap out of it, Adam! You are not going to die in this place, and neither am I! It's not gonna happen! So either be positive, or just shut up!"
Adam stared at Jason for a long moment, then looked away, falling into a heavy silence. Jason kicked himself in the proverbial. The tongue- lashing had been meant to snap Adam out of his depression, but it hadn't worked. Instead, it had had the opposite effect....
"C'mon, Adam, snap out of it," Jason pleaded. Adam, however, buried his face in his arms and refused to speak.
* * *
"We're running out of time here," Rocky said tensely, pacing across the Power Chamber floor like a caged tiger. Billy glanced at him, equally tense.
"I'm working as fast as I can," he said, his voice more snappish than any of them were used to. A strained silence enveloped them all, until Tanya finally spoke.
"Maybe we should just... you... know do what Mondo says." Everyone looked around at her as though she'd suggested they all go step off a cliff. Tanya shrank backwards, embarrassed but still sure of what she was saying.
"I mean... Is it really worth losing Adam and Jason over this?" Tommy stared at her hard for a long moment, then sighed. "You don't get it, do you? This isn't about us. We're fighting for the planet here, Tanya. The Rangers made the mistake once of surrendering the source of their power for loved ones, and it nearly backfired completely. Mondo won't let Adam and Jason go. If we surrender, we won't only be surrendering ourselves and the power. We'll be surrendering the whole planet. We can't do that. As cruel as it sounds, if we can't rescue them, then they'll both die. There's nothing else we can do."
They were all stunned by Tommy's words, but none of them dared dispute him. Over by the control panel, Billy paused for just a moment to spare Tommy a cold, hate-filled look before returning to his work.
* * *
Mondo was in high spirits. Even the fact that the Rangers had made no attempt to acknowledge his demands had not deflated his swelling ego.
"I am such a genius!" he crowed, prancing back and forth with glee. "No one in the universe is as smart as I! No one is more evil!"
"You are so right, dear," Machina purred. Sprocket, however, was less than happy.
"I don't get it," he whined. "Unless the Rangers surrender, we're gonna be right back where we started!"
"No, Sprocket," Mondo intoned. "If the Power Rangers refuse to surrender, then they will lose two of their closest companions. If that happens, they will then spend more time bickering over whose fault it was than concentrating on the war. Either way, we are sure to triumph!"
Mondo and Machina began to laugh again, and this time Sprocket joined in.
* * *
"You hear that?"
Jason looked up quickly as Adam finally spoke. A moment later, he heard what Adam was talking about. Evil laughter, floating down the empty corridors towards them...
Jason got slowly, painfully to his feet. "That's it. I've had it." "What are you doing?" Adam asked in a trembling voice. Jason limped over to the door of the cage.
"I'm gonna try and get us out of here. I'm sick of just sitting around and waiting."
Adam hesitated, then pulled himself to his feet and joined Jason at the barred door. "How can we open it?"
"I'm not sure. Give me a second..."
Frowning to himself, he pulled his belt off and, wrapping the leather strap around his hand, he maneuvered the buckle pin around through the bars and into the lock. Adam gaped.
"You're going to pick the lock?"
"Yeah," Jason grunted. "Real imaginative, huh?" Adam didn't bother with a reply, but hung back to wait in nervous silence.
* * *
"This isn't working," Billy finally said, stepping back from the control panel. He desperately wanted to kick something to ease his anger, but he doubted he'd get away with kicking Tommy...
Tommy shook his head and moved away, the meaning of his silence all too clear.
"So that's it?" Tanya asked in a strained voice. "We're just giving up on them?"
"Take it easy, Tanya," Kat murmured. Tanya, however, was beyond consolation.
"No!" she yelled, tears filling her eyes. "No, I will not take it easy! This isn't fair! You know what the problem is? The problem is that because they're not Rangers anymore, you couldn't be bothered! If Adam and Jason were still Rangers, we'd part the Red Sea to get them back! But because they aren't, you don't care!"
"That's enough, Tanya," Tommy growled. "Jason's my best friend! Do you honestly think I'm happy to sit back and let this happen?"
"Maybe not," Billy spoke up coldly, "but you are letting it happen. Maybe surrendering isn't the final solution, but it would at least buy us all some time. Adam and Jason in particular."
"What are you saying?" Tommy asked, confused. "That we should surrender?"
"I'm saying," Billy snapped, "that you should start playing this game on Mondo's terms. It may be the only chance Adam and Jason have."
"I don't get it..." Tommy stammered, and Billy let out a frustrated groan.
"Tell Mondo you're going to surrender! Make certain he stops what he's doing to Adam. Then, turn the tables on him."
"You mean, trick Mondo?" Rocky said finally. "Lie to him?" "Exactly," Billy said. Zordon looked disapprovingly at the former Blue Ranger.
"Billy, that is not the way the Rangers operate. You know that as well as the rest of the team."
Billy folded his arms across his chest in a gesture that was reminiscent of Jason. "What I know, is that unless we start doing this another way, we're going to lose both Adam and Jason. I don't know about the rest of you, but if I was a ranger still, that isn't something that I could live with. It's time we quit taking the high moral ground. If deception is what's needed to save Adam and Jason, then I say we do it."
Tanya moved over to stand by Billy. "I agree." A moment later, Rocky joined them, and so did David. Only Tommy and Kat were left standing alone.
"Well?" David asked, staring piercingly at his brother. Tommy looked away, torn. Finally, though, he made his choice, and Kat conceded.
"All right. I'll go along with it. Zordon?" "You have made your decision," Zordon replied, and he could not conceal the obvious disappointment in his voice. "I cannot strip the powers from you for this, because you are not breaking the rules, as such. I must confess my own disapproval, though."
Billy spoke quietly.
"Jason was my friend long before you came into our lives, Zordon. As much as I respect you, I can't sit back and let him die just to uphold your standards. That would be even worse than what we're going to do."
"And if it doesn't work?" Zordon asked. Billy barely hesitated. "At least we won't be guilty of not trying." He looked to Tommy and the others. "I'm setting up a channel now. Be as convincing as you can."
Tommy nodded, his heart beating in his throat. They would have only one chance at this. If they blew it... He pushed the thought from his mind as the snow cleared from the viewing globe and Mondo appeared.
"Well, Rangers, have you decided?"
"We have," Tommy said. "We've agreed to surrender." It wasn't hard to let the bitterness and anger shine through. Mondo nodded.
"Very wise. For your friends as well as yourselves." "Stop whatever you're doing to Adam," Tommy demanded. Mondo nodded and, lifting a remote control device, pressed a button. A light that had been glowing green flickered off.
"There. And not a moment too soon, I believe. Now, present yourselves to me at the lookout in two hours. Adam and Jason will be returned then, after you have handed your crystals over to me."
The globe went black before any reply could be made. Tommy looked around at the others. He was pale, and fearful.
"We have two hours. Any ideas.?"
* * *
Adam had been about to sit down again when a loud click broke the silence. He looked around in surprise to see the door swing open, offering them a path to freedom.
"You did it!" Adam said in amazement. Jason nodded as he put his belt back on.
"Yeah, and not a moment too soon. I was about to lose my pants. C'mon, let's get out of this hell hole."
Adam nodded eagerly and followed Jason out of the cage and from the room.
* * *
"Maybe we could take Sprocket prisoner..." Rocky suggested lamely, for want of a better idea.
"Last resort," Tommy muttered. "Taking prisoners is a pain the butt." "We're floundering, here," Kat growled. "This was a stupid idea." Billy eyed her coolly. "You'd rather Adam died?" "He's going to die anyway," Kat blurted out before she could stop herself. Silence descended over the Power Chamber as previously hidden emotions began to surface. Tanya glared at her Australian counterpart.
"So you figured, why bother rescuing him at all? Is that it?" "No!" Kat protested. "That's not it..."
"The why did you say it?" Tanya hissed. Billy intervened between the two.
"Stop fighting. It isn't doing any good. We need to come up with a solid plan, here. Tommy?"
"I don't know," Tommy sighed. "I'm at a total loss." He faltered, an idea forming from his last science project, which he'd been aided with by Adam. "Wait a second..." He got up from the floor and began to pace quickly.
"Zordon, does Mondo know what the Zeo crystals look like?" "No," Zordon replied. "He was not built until long after the crystals were dispersed through time."
"Then he wouldn't know if we were giving him the real thing or not. At least, not straight away."
"True," Zordon conceded reluctantly. He paused, then decided that if he could not dissuade them from their path, he would try to help as much as he could. "It may be possible to infuse counterfeit crystals with some power, to continue the deception. Mondo will no doubt be planning the destruction of all of you, so if you can convince him to bring Jason and Adam out to you, we will teleport them here, and then the rest of you can hopefully finish the battle."
The teens exchanged relieved looks.
"Okay," Tommy said. "We need five look-alike crystals." "I think I can create the crystals," Alpha said, speaking up after a remarkably long silence. "It should take approximately fifteen minutes."
Tommy looked at his watch. "That will leave us around twenty minutes. Okay, go to it, Alpha."
Alpha shuffled off, leaving the rangers to wait once again in tense silence.
* * *
"How are you feeling?" Jason asked Adam in a concerned whisper as they made their way along the corridors. Adam hesitated, then spoke with a touch of surprise.
"No worse than I was half an hour ago. How long has it been now?" "Nearly three hours since you first started going downhill. You know what that means?"
"They agreed to surrender," Adam murmured. Jason looked grim. "Let's hope we get out of here before they actually do."
* * *
Machina hated to interrupt her husband's gloating, but she felt it necessary.
"Mondo, dear, hadn't you better check on the prisoners?" Mondo shook his head. "No. Don't bother. They can rot in there." "But you did stop the progression of Adam's illness," Machina pointed out. "They must have realised by now."
"So? They can't get out, and they're going to die eventually, in any case. I don't want anyone in the room, do you understand? That goes for you, too, Sprocket."
They grumbled a reluctant affirmative, and stayed where they were.
* * *
Billy was pacing idly back and forth by the control panel when he finally saw it. A faint beeping, that was very gradually getting stronger. Two life-force readings from the Sky Base, an impossibility unless....
"It's them" Billy whispered. "They're out..." Tommy looked over at him. "What is it?"
"It's Adam and Jason!" Billy shouted suddenly. "They're free! They're still in the Sky Base, but they're out of the force-field that was shielding them from us. I should be able to get a lock on them, and teleport them back here."
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Rocky demanded. "Get them out of there!"
Billy smiled just a little to himself and began to punch coordinates into the panel.
* * *
"I don't believe this," Adam whispered as a cog patrol marched past, oblivious to their presence. "They don't even know we're gone."
"Mondo mustn't be big on checking on his prisoners," Jason replied. "It's not going to make much difference, though, if we can't find a way out of here."
"Maybe if we get to the launch bays, we could steal a quadra fighter," Adam mused. "I think I could fly one..."
"Sounds good to me," Jason said. "C'mon, let's go." They started out from their place of hiding, and made it just a few metres when the Machine Empire Sky Base vanished in a flash of white light.
* * *
Adam and Jason practically landed on top of one another back in the Power Chamber, and had to disentangle themselves before they realised where they were.
"Power Chamber...?" Jason muttered breathlessly. Tommy pulled Jason to his feet, and Rocky helped Adam up. "Are you guys okay?" Tommy asked anxiously. Adam pulled a face. "Just great. What took you so long?"
Billy grunted loudly. "That's gratitude for you." Adam's face broke into a big grin as his gaze fell on his old friend. "Billy!"
Billy slipped through the crowd of rangers and took the liberty of pulling Adam close in a tight hug. The younger boy submitted willingly, feeling safe in the embrace of the boy whom he considered to be his big brother. When they finally broke apart, Rocky spoke anxiously.
"Adam, are you...? I mean..."
"I lost about a month," Adam said softly. "Providing I don't have anymore lapses from the chemotherapy, I guess I've got about six or seven months left. I think I need to get to hospital, though. I don't feel all that great right now."
Billy spoke quickly. "Ill go with him. You'll have to deal with Mondo at the lookout."
Tommy looked at Jason, who was leaning heavily on one panel. "You'd better go too, have that ankle seen to properly. We'll meet Bulk and Skull back at camp and tell them... Hell, we'll make something up."
Jason nodded, and limped over to stand with Billy and Adam. A moment later, they were teleported out.
Tommy looked at the rest of his friends. "Let's go and deal with Mondo."
A short time later....
Billy sat off to the side, watching in heavy silence as Dr Sutton treated Adam. He couldn't bring himself to think of Adam as having Leukemia, not yet. It was too much for his logical mind to cope with. People like Adam were not supposed to get sick, especially with terminal illnesses. It just wasn't right...
"When can I go home?" Billy heard Adam ask.
Sutton shook his head slowly. "Not yet, Adam. Probably not for a few days. I'm sorry, but until we determine exactly what's happened, we need to keep you under observation."
Adam looked past Sutton to Billy, and though he didn't say a word, Billy knew what he was thinking. _Get me out of here._
Billy stood up, grieved. He could not bear to look into those pleading brown eyes any longer. "I'm just going to go see how Jason is. I'll be back soon." He hurried from the room before he could see the pain in his friend's eyes.
* * *
Jason was a couple of rooms along, and Billy was surprised to find the former Gold Ranger lying impatiently on an examination table as the doctor and nurses plastered his leg. "Jason?"
Jason looked over to Billy, and grimaced. "I broke my ankle. Can you believe it? A stupid green-stick fracture! I'm gonna be in plaster for six weeks!"
The doctor attending the break merely smiled to himself. Billy responded with an annoyed growl. "Don't be so damn grouchy. It could have been worse."
"Yeah, maybe, but Kat and Tanya are gonna pay for this. They're the ones who pushed me into the stream." Jason paused, taking in Billy's bleak expression, and immediately turned his thoughts from himself. "It's hard to take, isn't it? Knowing we're gonna lose him."
Billy sat down with a heavy thud. "I can't believe it. Why Adam? Why not someone... someone who deserves it? It isn't fair."
"We know. We've been telling ourselves that since we found out, but it hasn't done any good. All we can do is make sure we don't crumble in front of Adam. He's scared, Billy. He admitted that to me when we were..." He faltered, glancing warily at the attending doctor and nurses. "I mean, when we alone at the camp."
Billy sighed in frustration. "For some reason, I've got a completely irrational desire to wring Tommy's neck."
Jason started up a little. "What!? Why?"
"I don't know." He paused as the doctor finished the cast and stepped back.
"All right, that stays on for six weeks. No excessive exercise, no being stupid. Understand?"
"Yes, sir," Jason replied, in a quasi-condescending tone of voice.
The doctor spared Jason a warning look. "I'm going to call your parents now. Don't move, that's going to take at least half an hour to dry." He left the room along with the nurses, and Jason and Billy were left alone to talk.
"Okay," Jason growled, starting up, "spill it, Billy. Why the sudden homicidal tendencies towards Tommy?"
"Don't move," Billy told him absently.
Jason glanced at the cast, then groaned and flopped back down. "Will you just talk to me? Please! What's Tommy done that's so bad?"
"They called me back here to help find you and Adam," Billy explained, "and when I didn't have any luck, Tommy's attitude was virtually 'oh well, that's the luck of the draw'.... You know, like that. He was willing to let you and Adam die. He didn't even try to think of any other option."
Jason didn't respond. He didn't know how to respond. Billy took advantage of the silence.
"If it had been Tommy that was a prisoner, or even just one of the other rangers, they would have broken down the gateways of Hell to rescue them. It just seemed that because it was you and Adam, and because you weren't rangers, he didn't really care."
"That's not true," Jason said softly, although Billy's words disturbed him. "You know it isn't."
"Well, actually, I don't," Billy retorted. "You would never have considered the thought of letting anyone die for the powers, ranger or not. I know you wouldn't have. I'm not the only one who feels this way, Jason. Tanya said much the same things."
"Tanya cares a lot about Adam," Jason argued. "Her judgment would not have been the best. Billy, don't let this get to you. I know you're upset about Adam getting sick. We all are...."
Billy buried his face in his hands. "I know I'm being irrational. I'm just confused."
"We all are. Talk to Tommy, Billy. Get it out of your system. Do it for Adam, man. He looks up to both you and Tommy. It'd really hurt him to see you both at odds."
Billy sighed and nodded. "I'll do that." He got up. "I'd better get back to Adam. I can't believe my dad has been looking after him..."
"Your dad was the first person to find out, next to Adam," Jason remarked. "He really stuck with Adam."
Billy headed for the door. "I'll see you later. And don't move," he added. He left, but not before seeing Jason stick his tongue out in a completely infantile gesture.
* * *
"Didn't think you were coming back," Adam said. He had been left alone in the room, and Billy was stricken to see that he had been crying.
"Of course I was coming back," he said anxiously. "You don't think I'd leave you alone, do you?"
"No...." Adam said, but he didn't seem too certain.
Billy flopped into a chair beside the bed. "Jason's ankle is broken. He's swearing revenge on Tanya and Kat."
Adam whistled softly. "He's gonna be in plaster for six weeks. Well, at least they'll be able to move fast than him."
Billy laughed. Even with the situation he was in, Adam could still make a joke. He looked away, suddenly on the verge of tears. The worst of it was that he simply didn't know what to do or say. For the first time in his life, he didn't have an answer. "I... I was thinking," he finally said softly. "I could start working in the Power Chamber start researching, and maybe...."
Billy blinked. "What?"
Adam sat up a little. "I said no. I know what you want to do, and I don't want you to do it. I don't want you spending all your time in the Power Chamber, looking for a cure that you probably won't find. I need you to be with me, not hidden away in the Power Chamber, exhausting yourself."
"But, Adam I could..."
"No," Adam begged, fresh tears shining in his eyes. "Please, Billy. Be my friend, not my doctor."
Again, Billy had no words. By then, however, he at least knew what to do. Reaching out, he grasped Adam's trembling hand in his own and didn't let go.
* * *
Nearly an hour later, the rangers gathered at the hospital after sending Mondo packing. Had it been under any other circumstances, the victory would have been sweet. They'd arrived at the lookout to a gloating Mondo, and had taken great pleasure in telling him they'd changed their minds. Mondo, of course, had been incensed and brought up a picture of the cage in the Sky Base to show them what was supposed to be the rapid demise of both Adam and Jason. It had been the rangers' turn to laugh when the cage was found by Mondo to be empty.
A fight had ensued as Mondo dispersed his cogs to make a safe getaway, and the rangers had quickly defeated them, hurrying from the lookout to the hospital. Now, they waited for news that Adam's health had not been seriously jeopardized.
Billy emerged a while later, looking tired and sad. Tommy rose up to meet him. "Billy? Is everything okay?"
Billy stared at Tommy for a long moment, Jason's words floating back to him. _Talk to him..._ "Pretty much. I think we may need to tell Dr Sutton the truth about what happened, though. We can tell the truth without giving anything away. But Adam was right. He lost about a month. Dr Sutton estimates that he has approximately seven or eight months left. Maybe a little more. He can't judge for certain."
Tommy sighed heavily. "Damn...."
Billy paused, then looked over at Tanya and Kat. "Did you two push Jason into a stream?"
The girls looked embarrassed. "It was just a joke," Kat said defensively. "He was being chauvinistic. We decided to teach him not to cross women."
Billy couldn't resist a smirk. "Well, watch your backs. He's going to be gunning for the both of you."
"How come?" Tanya asked nervously.
"Because," Billy replied, "he has a broken ankle. He's going to be in a plaster cast for six weeks."
"Oh no..." Kat moaned.
Tanya looked stricken. "It was an accident!"
Billy only smiled, then looked around at Tommy. "Can we talk? Alone?"
Tommy nodded. "Yeah, sure man. C'mon."
The two headed out, leaving the others to wait it out in the hospital.
* * *
"What's on your mind, man?" Tommy asked.
Billy hesitated, then sat down on the grass. Tommy followed suit. "My problem is that I'm angry at you for all of this, and even though I know that's wrong, I can't redirect."
Tommy faltered, taking a moment to understand what Billy had said, even though it was in plain English. Finally, he spoke. "Why are you angry at me? Is it because of what happened in the Power Chamber?"
"Partly. I think that was just the end of a long chain of little things that have been building up. I thought I could put it aside when I decided to stay on Aquitar, but then you called me back and now I'm angry all over again. You know, I think I've been angry ever since Jason left that first time with Zack and Trini."
Tommy nodded. He understood that. "Even though Zordon made me the leader when I became the White Ranger, you all still looked to Jason when the decisions had to be made. When Jason left, you must have felt pretty lost."
Billy gaped, stunned. Tommy smiled. "I'm not as dumb as you think, Billy. I noticed it. Jason was a good leader, though, and a good friend, so I never worried about it. And contrary to what you might think, I wasn't glad to get Jason out of the picture so I could be the only leader. If I felt that way, I wouldn't have brought him back to be the Gold Ranger. And I'm sorry if I hurt you by doing that, but it wasn't as though you'd been overlooked. You were the first one we thought of. The first person _I_ thought of, when Trey said the power needed a temporary guardian."
Billy stared at the ground. "I know that was stupid. I was jealous of Jason to start with. Then, later on, Cestria told me the effects the power was having on him, and I was glad I didn't take the responsibility."
"So you were upset when Jason left, and jealous when he came back." Tommy smiled. "You're a complex guy, Billy."
"Tell me about it. Dad always called me an enigma."
"I think he was right. But what about Adam? You two got to be good friends."
"I know. That's the second part of it. When you said you were willing to let Adam and Jason die, all I could think of was that I was going to lose my two best friends, and you were the one who was going to let it happen."
Tommy sighed. "I understand. But Jason is my best friend, too, and Adam is like a little brother to all of us. I really don't know what I would have done if we'd lost them."
"But you were still willing to sacrifice them."
"I'm a warrior, Billy," Tommy said softly. "It's why Rita chose me in the first place. We all know that. I don't think the same way that Jason does, I never have. It's probably why we worked so well together. I dealt with the tactical side of it, and he kept the team in balance. I'm sorry if I seemed cold-hearted, but the truth was I just couldn't see any other way out. Even the thought of surrender made me sick. That's why I took so long to agree with you. You can probably imagine how glad I was when Adam and Jason got out on their own."
"You and me both," Billy murmured. "I have to be honest. I didn't really expect the plan to work. It was a last resort."
"I figured," Tommy replied. "It was the only plan we had, though, and that made it our best option. I didn't agree with it, Billy, but I would have gone along with it. Out of respect for you as well as wanting to get Adam and Jason back safely."
Billy swallowed hard. Had he heard right? Tommy respected him? All of a sudden, he felt painfully guilty. "You mean that?"
"Yes," Tommy growled. "I do. Billy, you're the smartest guy I know. I'm really glad you're back and I hope you're staying."
Billy smiled, then. "I am," he confirmed, softly. He offered no explanation, and Tommy didn't press for one. "Are we friends, then?" he asked finally, and Tommy laughed. It was a friendly laugh, with not even a hint of contempt.
"We've always been friends, Billy. And if you ever have any problems again, with me or the way I lead the team, then come and talk to me. We can sort it out. Okay?"
"Yeah. So what now?"
Tommy got up. "Adam's birthday is in a week. We're going to go back to the hospital, get together with the others, and your dad, and plan the biggest party he's ever had. C'mon, let's go."
After a lot of debate, they had finally agreed to ditch their plans for a surprise party. With Adam's condition being what it was, the shock would possibly give him a stroke. So the party had gone ahead, held at the Cranston home, with enough people there to fill not only the house, but the extensive back yard as well. A marquee had been set up outside in case of bad weather, but it wasn't necessary; the night was perfectly clear.
"Okay," Tommy said as he joined Billy and Jason in the kitchen. "Where's Adam? I haven't seen him for half an hour."
"He got lost in the family room about twenty minutes ago," Jason said with a chuckle as he leaned heavily on a pair of crutches. "He hasn't had a moment to himself all evening."
Billy smiled. "I'm surprised my dad allowed us to have the party here. He would never have allowed something like this before."
"I think he probably just wanted to keep an eye on Adam without looking like a chaperon," Jason replied.
Billy nodded. "You're probably right."
The door suddenly swung open, and Adam literally fell into the kitchen, out of breath. Billy and Tommy both went to him quickly.
"You okay, Adam?" Tommy asked in concern.
Adam nodded, grinning sheepishly. "Yeah. I just wanted to get away for a minute. I feel like I'm being smothered! What are you guys doing out here?"
"Talking," Billy replied honestly. "We thought you'd gotten lost, never to be seen again."
Adam grinned as he poured himself a soda. "Close. I've never been the center of attention like this before. It's enough to make me wish I was going to live to my eighteenth birthday." It was said as a joke, but the effect was profound, and Billy, Tommy and Jason all fell into a heavy silence, exchanging unhappy looks. Adam sighed. "Aw, don't start acting like that. Tonight's been really good. Don't get all depressed on me."
Tommy forced himself to smile. "Sorry. We keep forgetting, we're the ones who are supposed to be keeping you from getting depressed."
Adam smiled calmly, but there was a hint of a look in his eyes that could not be ignored. A look that said, _don't worry. you'll get your chance..._ "Well," he said with a mock sigh, "time to go back into the mob. If you don't see me in an hour, call out the marines."
Turning, he disappeared through the swinging door. The three friends watched him go, then exchanged sad, tired smiles and followed Adam back into the crowd.
A few hours later....
Eventually the Cranston home cleared, leaving only Adam, Billy, Jason and the rangers. They were all staying the night, and now lay around the family room floor in sleeping bags with pillows. Hank was in the kitchen, cleaning up the last of the dishes from the party.
"This has definitely been the best party I've ever had," Adam said contentedly. "Thanks, guys. It really means a lot to me."
Tanya, who was closest to Adam, leaned over to give him a big hug. "Our pleasure."
"Yeah, man," Rocky said. "We were glad to do it."
Adam smiled and rested his head on the pillow. Silence reigned for a little while, and then Kat spoke from where she was curled up on the floor near the heater.
"How about we play a game?"
"What sort of a game?" David asked, eyeing her curiously.
"The truth game," Kat replied. "It's something I always did with my friends back in Australia, when we went on school camps. Everyone has to say something truthful about themselves that no one else knows. Each person writes a topic on a piece of paper, and we pick them out one by one. So, if it's, say, things were afraid of, we each have to say one thing were afraid of. It's a good way of getting to know people better."
Tommy smiled. "Okay. Why not? Okay, guys, everyone think of something and write it down, and we can put them in the popcorn bowl."
The next few minutes was filled with silence as they thought it over, and soon the bowl held eight pieces of paper. Tommy shuffled them around, and then drew out the first piece of paper. A moment later, he groaned. "Somebody has no imagination."
"Why? What is it?" Rocky asked.
Tommy pulled a face. "Things we're afraid of. Oh well... Who wants to go first?"
A moment of silence reigned, and then Jason spoke from where he lay on the sofa, his plastered leg elevated by the armrest. "I will. Okay. There's one thing I'm scared of. I mean, really scared of, and that's spiders."
Tanya giggled. "The mighty Jason, scared of spiders? C'mon...."
Jason looked indignant when the others began to chortle as well. "Well, I am! I can't help it, I think I got it from my dad. He's terrified of the damned things, too."
Tommy snickered, unable to help it. "So if you woke up in the middle of the night, with a tarantula in your sleeping bag...?"
"Somebody would get hurt," Jason vowed, "and it wouldn't be me. Don't anyone think about it. I'm not kidding about this. I really am scared of spiders."
Kat smiled reassuringly at him. "It's okay. Everyone has a phobia. I'm scared of rats. Mice I can handle, but not rats. I'll scream if I even think I've seen one."
"Yeah," Rocky said casually, "well, girls are supposed to be scared of rats. But guys shouldn't be scared of spiders."
Tanya turned around and spoke to the Blue Ranger in a sugary sweet voice. "Oh no? And what are you afraid of, Rocky?"
"I'm not afraid of anything," Rocky said pompously.
Billy smirked. "Oh really? We'll see about that. I'll be back in a minute." He squirmed out of his sleeping bag and left the room.
"What's he up to?" Tommy wondered allowed. He shrugged. "Oh well... Okay, if there's anything I'm scared of, it'd have to be... ah.... Oh, yeah. I'm scared of heights."
Jason stared at Tommy in amazement. "Since when?"
"Since I had to climb up to the top of the Power Chamber and readjust the tracking dish, and quadra fighters blasted me off. I nearly went right over the cliff, and since then I've been terrified of heights."
"But all those times we've called on the zords?" Kat said in confusion.
Tommy smiled weakly. "Sometimes you just have to ignore it."
Just then, Billy came back, holding something behind his back. The others looked at him questioningly, but he only grinned and went over and knelt down by Rocky. "If you're not scared of anything, Rocky, then what about this?" Billy brought out a small, potted plant from behind his back, shoving it into the Blue Ranger's face. Rocky took one look at the plant and did the first thing that was in his instincts to do. He opened his mouth and lungs and screamed.
While David and Jason cringed, Tommy, Kat, Adam, Tanya and Billy all went into hysterical fits of laughter.
"Hey," David growled, "what did we miss, here?"
Adam finally calmed down enough to explain. "That's the hybrid plant that Rocky and I grew. Mondo turned it into a monster, and it nearly turned Rocky into a plant. When we got him back to normal and got rid of the monster, he freaked out so badly every time he saw the plant that I gave it to Billy."
Rocky scowled. "Okay, so I'm scared of a dumb plant. Is everyone happy?"
"Very," Kat giggled. "Oh, you should have seen your face..."
"Watch it," Rocky grumbled, "or you'll wake up in the middle of the night to a surprise in your sleeping bag."
"Don't even think about it, Rocky" Kat shot back.
David intervened quickly before things took an ugly turn. "I think it's my turn. To be honest, I can't think of anything that I'm really afraid of right now, but I can tell you something I was scared of not too long ago."
"Oh yeah?" Tommy asked curiously. "What's that?"
"Well," David admitted quietly, "I was scared for a long time that I'd never find my brother."
Tommy smiled. No words needed to be exchanged; each knew automatically what the other was thinking.
"My turn" Billy said finally. "Everyone knows I used to be scared of fish. It's probably a good thing that I'm not scared anymore, considering the amount of time I spent on Aquitar...." A ripple of laughter went around the room. Billy smiled and went on. "If I'm scared of anything now, I'd say it would have to be not knowing what happens to all of us when the Power Rangers aren't needed anymore."
They all looked wordlessly at each other, suddenly wondering the same thing. Finally, Tommy shook his head. "Let's not think about that. Not now. Adam, what about you? What are you scared of?"
Adam didn't answer for a long moment. _What,_ he wondered, _am I not scared of?_ "I think," he said softly, "that I'm scared most of all of going to sleep at night. I keep wondering whether something will happen, and I won't wake up. I'm scared that every night is going to be my last. I guess, all up... I'm scared of dying."
Silence fell. They all watched Adam, none of them knowing what to do or say. Adam shrugged a little. "You don't get used to it, but you do learn to deal with it. When I do get scared, I just shut my eyes and think about the way things used to be, back to when Zordon first made me, Rocky and Aisha into Power Rangers. When we got the Great Power from Phaedos, all those times. Then, I stop being scared, and I can go to sleep."
No one said anything for a while, and then Jason spoke. "If that ever stops working, think about this. Whatever happens, whether you die tomorrow or in twelve months time, you aren't alone. You'll never be alone. We won't let you go down this path by yourself. Whatever happens, you've got seven friends that love you, man. Don't ever forget that."
The others murmured their agreement.
Adam smiled wearily. "Thanks. Look, how about we just do one more? I don't know about you guys, but I'm tired."
"Sure," Tommy said. "Let's see what we've got here..." He pulled out another piece of paper, then hesitated when he saw the topic. _Who on earth thought up that?_ he wondered. Then, he recognised Adam's handwriting. "Okay," he said finally. "The topic is, something we've lost that was important to us." He smiled tentatively. "Somehow, I think the answer to this one is going to be the same for a lot of us."
"No," Kat argued. "It has to be something no one else knows about. That's the whole point of this. So I'm sorry, but we can't say our parents. As true as it might be...."
"I'll start," Rocky said.
Kat lifted her pillow threateningly. "Don't you dare say what I think you're going to say. You can keep that to yourself, Rocky."
Rocky frowned. "You don't even know what I'm going to say. Give me a chance, huh?"
Tommy spared Kat a faint smile, then spoke. "Go on, Rocky."
"Okay. One thing that I lost that was really important to me was an old wooden toy train that my grandfather made for me when I was really little. It was broken, and I've got a feeling that Mum threw it out when I wasn't looking, but I've always missed that. It was the one thing I had to remember Grandpa by, 'cause he didn't have much stuff when he died. Most of what he had.... little trinkets and stuff.... got sold to pay for his funeral. There wasn't really anything left over to go to the family."
Kat looked apologetic. "I'm sorry, Rocky. I thought you were going to say something else."
Rocky merely smiled and shook his head. "It's okay. Anyway, that was my sentimental bit of sharing for the night. Who's next?"
Tommy smiled wearily. "Me. The thing I lost was a necklace that I had from before I was adopted. It belonged to my real mother, and I lost it about six years ago. That really hurt, because it was the only part of her that I had with me, since I never knew her."
"You might find it again, one day," Adam said sleepily. "My turn, cause then I'm going to sleep. I lost an old book that someone gave me. It was the first proper book anyone gave me, and I must've read it about fifty times. It was "Night Of The Dragon," but I don't remember the author. It was pretty important to me, because it gave me a chance to get away from everything...."
He trailed off, his body relaxing inside the sleeping bag. Tanya smiled and gently pulled a spare blanket up to cover him up properly. "He's asleep." She paused, then slid back down into her own sleeping bag. "I'll have to break the rules. The only thing I've ever lost that was really important to me were my parents. There was never anything else that seemed important."
Kat nodded. "It's okay," she murmured. "My turn, I guess. The only thing I can think of is when I lost my dog, back home in Australia. I left the gate open one day, and she wandered out onto the road...." Kat paused, drawing in a deep breath. "That was hard, because I had to deal with my parents yelling at me for a week straight as well as dealing with losing Sasha."
David yawned. "My turn, before I fall asleep. I lost a ceremonial knife that a friend entrusted to me. It was important to me because he'd trusted me to take care of it for him, and I let him down. He had to wait another season to go through the adulthood ritual because of me."
"I'd have to say that the thing that I lost which was important to me," Billy said, "was an old bear that my mother bought me. I think it got lost when my father and I moved to Angel Grove. I really missed that bear...." He shook his head. "I've had it. I'm going to sleep. Goodnight, everyone."
The others mumbled their agreement and said goodnight, all slipping down into their sleeping bags. Soon, the dark room was filled with the steady, deep breathing of sleeping teenagers. That was, all but one.
Once he was certain that they were all asleep, Jason maneuvered himself carefully off the sofa, through the mass of sleeping teens with his crutches, then went through into the kitchen.
Hank looked around in surprise as Jason came in slowly. "I thought you kids would have been asleep by now.... Is something wrong, Jason?"
Jason sighed and sat down heavily. "Yes and no. Sort of. Maybe..."
Hank blinked, then sat down. "Do you want to make up your mind?"
"It's just memories. We were playing a game...." Jason went on to explain the truth game, and the topics they had worked through. "I sort of avoided speaking up for the second one," Jason admitted. "I guess I cheated, but I couldn't tell them. It hurts too much."
"What is it?"
"The thing that I lost... The thing that was really important to me... It was my twin sister, Caitlin."
Hank nearly choked. "Twin sister?"
"Yeah. She died when we were six. We were on holiday in the mountains, and Caitlin and I ran off to play on the lake. It was frozen over, but we weren't supposed to go out there unless Mum or Dad was with us. We went anyway and we ended up in the wrong place. I don't know how it happened. I mean, I was heavier than Caitlin, but she was the one who went through the ice. I tried to save her, I really did... We just couldn't reach far enough to grab each other's hands! By... by the time Mum and Dad got there, it was too late. They took her to hospital, but...." Jason trailed off, his stocky frame trembling with suppressed sobs.
Hank sighed inwardly. No wonder Jason had not been willing to tell the others.... He paused, on the verge of telling him it wasn't his fault, then decided on a change of tact. "Do you remember much of her?"
Jason smiled through a thin film of tears. "Oh, yeah. A lot. I never let myself forget. She was always so happy and her laugh... She loved to laugh. It didn't take much to get her to laugh."
"Don't lose those memories, Jason," Hank told him quietly. "They're the most important thing you have."
"I don't intend to," Jason murmured. He sighed, then stood up. "Thanks, Mr Cranston. It's good to talk to someone."
"What about your parents?"
"They... They don't like to talk about her," Jason admitted. "It's like they can only think of when she died. So, I've pretty much kept it to myself. Only Trini ever knew, and she forgot after a while."
"Well, if you need to talk, you can talk to me."
Jason smiled, then, through his tears. "Thank you." He paused, then turned back to the door. "Goodnight, Mr Cranston."
Hank nodded. "Goodnight, Jason."
Jason head back into the family room, leaving Hank to wonder exactly when he had become patriarch and confidante to the teenagers of Angel Grove.
* * *
It was nearly five a.m. when the teens were woken up by faint sobbing. For a long moment, none of them knew what was going on, but then Tanya realised that the sobbing was coming from Adam's sleeping bag. Fear and concern flickering across her face, she shuffled over and gently shook the boy awake.
Adam started up, gasping a little. Tanya squeezed his shoulder gently as the others gathered round. "Adam, what's wrong? You were crying in your sleep..."
The former Green Ranger sat up slowly. "I.... I had a dream. It wasn't scary, just really sad...."
"What was it about?" Kat asked softly.
Adam hesitated, trying to remember. "It... It was Mum and Dad. They were both in it. Oh, man, it was so weird... They... They were waiting for me. They both just stood there, out of my reach, and then Dad said they were waiting for me. Then, they disappeared, and I saw the frog again...."
"A frog?" Tommy echoed. "You saw a frog in your dream? And what d'you mean, again?"
"I've been having similar dreams since Jase and I got away from Mondo," Adam confessed. "They're usually a bit different, but the one thing that's been the same each time is the frog. It was like Mum and Dad. He was just sitting there, waiting. But, he's gotten just a little closer each time I dream."
"Whats' a frog supposed to signify?" Tanya wanted to know.
Rocky, Billy and Tommy looked at one another unhappily. "The frog is Adam's spirit animal," Tommy explained. "We learned about the spirit animals on Phaedos."
"So what's it doing in Adam's dreams?" Tanya demanded.
Adam looked haunted. "I... I guess he's coming to get me. When he reaches me, I guess that'll be when it's time for me to go. Guided through life, and guided on to death..."
"No," Tanya begged. "Don't say that, Adam, please! You could still be okay. I mean, you could still go into remission...."
Adam started to dispute her then stopped. Right then, she needed the reassurance more than he did, even if it wasn't necessarily true. He sighed inwardly, then gave in. "Yes," he murmured. "It could still go into remission." Adam's words were enough right then, and she hugged him, then lay back down.
"Everything will be okay," she murmured. "Everything..."
Tommy watched her for a moment, then gently clapped Adam on the shoulder. "Let's get some sleep. And don't be afraid of dreaming, Adam. You've still got a long way to go yet, I know it."
Adam smiled sadly. "Thanks, Tommy."
"Hey," Rocky said, hitting Tommy lightly on the arm, "check it out. Jase slept right through this."
Tommy looked around, and was surprised to find Jason sleeping soundly on the sofa. He grinned deviously. "Since we're awake, let's wake him up, too."
"Don't be mean," Kat growled. "Let him be, Tommy."
Tommy ignored her, though, and crawled over to Jason, hissing back to Rocky over his shoulder, "Go get a glass of water. Quick...."
Kat snorted in disgust. "You guys are cruel."
Tommy started to snicker, imagining Jason's reaction. Rocky came back with the glass of water and Tommy took it, ready to toss the contents over Jason's face.
Jason awoke with a choked splutter as icy water splashed over his face, and he sat up with a violent start, nearly falling off the sofa. "What the..."
The others broke into fits of laughter, and Jason scowled when he realised what had happened. "Oh, thank you," he snapped, wiping his wet face and soggy pyjama top in annoyance. "Thankyou very much."
Tommy collapsed next to the former Gold Ranger. "Sorry, Jase. Couldn't resist. You looked so peaceful, there...."
He snickered, then began to laugh even harder.
Jason shook his head. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you've been drinking."
"We don't need to," Tanya giggled. "Oh, boy.... That was funny...."
"Not to me," Jason grumbled. "Don't you know how damned hard it is to get to sleep with a plaster cast on your leg? I was awake for ages after all of you went to sleep!"
The laughter faded, and the rangers looked guiltily at one another. Just lately, all their jokes seemed to be taking a turn for the worst....
"I'm sorry, Jase," Tommy apologized, looking embarrassed. "Really."
Jason sighed and slumped back down. "Sure. What time is it?"
"About five fifteen," Billy replied.
Jason grimaced. "By the time I get to sleep again, it'll be time to get up."
"We might as well stay up," Kat said with a shrug. "We'll have to get up in a couple of hours, anyway."
The others conceded, and talked on until it was time to get up.