Disclaimer: "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" is owned by Saban Entertainment. This story is a non profit tale and is not to be sold. This disclaimer should not be removed. Reproducing this story is fine as long as you don't sell it, copy it or alter it.

Explanations: An Interlude
by Stephanie Moffett and Kristen Fallon

"Did you get to see him?" Kat asked Tommy.

Tommy shook his head. He took a seat at the new outdoor area of the Juice Bar. Kat and Trini exchanged looks. Tommy looked depressed. Nothing new in other words but it was starting to worry everyone. Tommy sighed heavily. "The nurse said he was sleeping and not to wake him... He seems to be sleeping all the time."

"Um... Tommy," Trini said hesitantly, "He's not well. I was at the hospital all day today and I think he opened his eyes maybe once or twice. Give him a little time...."

Tommy completely missed her point. "He actually woke up? Did he say anything?"

Trini felt a headache coming on. "Tommy, he said hello and asked me what day it was. He's sick.... I'm willing to bet he barely understands what is going on."

Kat decided it was time to change the subject to a slightly less sensitive topic. "How're Aisha and Adam doing?" The teens had to take turns visiting their injured friends. Trini could get in, as could Jason... but they were on vacation from the peace conference and didn't have to worry about school. Visiting hours didn't work out with school hours and they were reduced to pleading with nurses to see their friends. A compromise had been reached, one friend per day after school, and that day was Tommy's.

Tommy's face brightened a little. The dark bruises on his face suddenly didn't look so harsh. "Adam should be getting out tomorrow, but he won't be in school until next week. His folks want him to take a break. Aisha is probably getting released next week. They both might miss finals, lucky them. It's really only Billy that...." His voice trailed off.

"Tommy, Billy will be fine." Trini said with a cheery note she didn't really feel. "It's just going to take a while."

"Really," said Kat. "Adam's getting out of the hospital after only three days. Aisha's going to be fine. Billy just needs more time to recover. He needs you to be strong and supportive while he's sick."

"He's not sick." Tommy said angrily. "He's hurt. And its my fault." He got up and stomped away. Both Kat and Trini sighed.

"I've never seen him like this." Kat said suddenly. "So... I don't know... edgy."

Trini chuckled slightly. "Tommy can be pretty moody when he wants. Once you get to know him better, you'll see that this is how Tommy copes with things. Once he understands that Billy will be okay... he'll calm down a little. This is his way of relieving stress."

"Yes but... is Billy going to okay?" Kat said the words that they all had been avoiding. In a way, she felt it was her place to be the realistic one. She barely knew Billy when it came down to it. And the guy she had thought was Billy was dead. She could be objective... sort of at least. Objective enough to know that after spending four months captive in Lord Zedd's palace, Billy wasn't going to be okay. "You've gotten to see him, Trini. How is he really?"

"Honestly, Kat he pretty much sleeps all day." Trini felt her eyes welling up wit tears and paused. "He was awake this morning but I only got a moment to see him. His dad forced the doctor to let me in. He was having a hard time registering what people were saying. He asked me why I wasn't in Geneva." Trini couldn't help it, she burst into tears. "That... that thing sent me letters, Kat. We made plans to get together. I feel so awful...." She let herself cry for a few moments, and Kat gave her a reassuring hug. Ernie unobtrusely set a box of kleenex on the table and Trini dried her eyes. "The doctors were saying that he should be all right, in the physical sense. I just hope he can keep himself together."

"Well... if he can deal with the last few months without being driven insane already, I think he has a pretty good chance of being okay." Kat crossed her fingers. So did Trini.

* * *

Billy rubbed a hand across his eyes and tried to concentrate on what the doctor was saying. He felt so tired. And drugged. He was pretty sure he hadn't taken any drugs but that was the feeling... sort of like he was floating above his problems. He glanced over at the two IV lines. Who knew what they were giving him. He was pretty sure that something other than saline was dripping into his veins. The last few hours, or days, he wasn't sure, had barely registered to him. That he was in a safe place and could rest for the first time in months had been enough.

"And as soon as we get you up and around, we'll have an out patient schedule set up for you." The doctor smiled. Billy cursed himself. Something was being arranged and he had missed it. Did he say therapy? Billy pondered. He thought he caught the most important part though.

"I can leave here soon?" He didn't like the hospital. All the door banging and people rushing in and out of his room made him nervous. If he had the slightest bit of energy left, he wouldn't be able to sleep. It seemed like someone different was in his room everytime he opened his eyes. It was scary.

The doctor frowned and glanced over at his father. He thought it was his dad... the light was pretty low but he was pretty sure. So far, his father had been in his room whenever he was awake. That eased his terror... his dad reassuring him. "Well, Billy, not for a few days. Maybe in a week. But you understand that..."

He closed his eyes. A week... he didn't want to stay that long. Slowly he realized that the doctor was still droning on. He considered opening his eyes again. He didn't feel like participating though. But, something was bothering him. He opened his eyes again and really looked around the room. "Dad?"

"Yes, Billy? What is it?" His father stepped over to the bed.

"Where's... where's Mom?" Billy's voice shook a little. It was really unlike his mom to not be, well... there. "I haven't... seen her... I think...." He knew that he was pretty confused, but he was pretty sure about that. In his few waking moments the last day or two... or three, he wasn't really sure about that, he hadn't seen his mom. He could vaguely recall Trini coming by, but not his mom. "Is she okay?"

"Um...." His dad's face took on an even sadder caste. He blinked back tears. Billy saw and suddenly remembered. The shooting... his mom's funeral... how his dad had just been picking himself up out of the pit of despair he'd been in when the whole clone mess really began. He could feel tears welling up in his own eyes.

"Oh, Dad, I'm sorry.... I... I forgot. I didn't mean to...." He blinked backed the tears. He could feel the exhaustion setting in again. "I'm so sorry.... I'm...."

His father pulled him into an embrace. "No.... This is my fault... I was so wrapped up in my own problems... I've been a monster parent." Billy could feel his father's tears wet on his skin.

"No... it's... okay...." Billy couldn't find it in his heart to blame his father.

"No it's not." His father hugged him hard. "But I promise... things are going to okay. I want to start over...."

"All right...." Billy rested his head on the pillow and sighed. Whatever, he thought, he'd caused his father enough suffering. He let his eyes close and drifted off... only to slowly find himself listening in to the doctor talk. Oh well, he thought to himself, it's eavesdropping but...

"....no, he isn't catatonic, Mr. Reeves," he heard the doctor say quietly. "He's very responsive...."

"But..." his father said, concern heavy in his voice, "He doesn't seem... I don't know, fully aware."

"It's shock mostly." He could hear the doctor ruffle through his papers. "Really... if this was all just physical, I would seriously consider releasing him tomorrow. I'm concerned about his weight loss, of course but that's very easy to fix. The light sensitivity isn't life threatening and he just needs to be careful in the sun until he's more acclimated. I'm also concerned about the partially healed skull fracture the x-ray picked up, but it is healing...."

Skull fracture? Billy wondered... he'd been hit on the head but he knew he hadn't been out for very long....

"... I think, judging from the good reflex responses and the MRI that there was no permanent damage, though I'm sure his headaches haven't been fun, and he'll probably continue to have them for a while. Its one of those things we really can't be sure of until he's better physically. The wounds on his back, legs, and chest look worse than they are...."

Wounds.... he didn't remember getting any wounds recently.

"... and fortunately there's no sign of infection. "

"Isn't...." His dad was hesitant. "Is there a greater danger of... complications if he's home?" His father, he could tell, was trying hard not to cry.

"From what I can tell and from considering the conditions that the Pink Ranger described... the palace, for all its unpleasantness, was a fairly sterile environment. I'd say at this point, it's likely his immune system isn't up to snuff simply due to the lack of germs... but the marks...."

Billy could feel the doctor raising his shirt and broke his silence. "Don't touch me...." he muttered and pushed away the doctor's hand. He twitched nervously as the doctor's cold hand brushed again his skin. He struggled to keep his eyes open.

"Billy, it's just me, Dr. Reardon." The doctor' voice was soothing, and Billy could recall vaguely that it was the same doctor that he'd been going to since he was little. He tried to relax a little as Dr. Reardon examined the marks on his stomach. "Do you know how this happened, son?"

Billy looked down at the marks, and tried to ignore his dad's sharp intake of breath. He was a little too startled himself to worry much about his reaction. There were long, jagged, scabbed over slashes on his stomach. Some looked almost healed, and some looked very recent. Too recent. "I... I don't know...." His voice trailed off. "I don't remember."

"Billy...." The doctor took a seat on the edge of the bed. "Can you tell me what you do remember?"

"It was cold. And dark...." Billy stopped. It was cold, it was dark. He was hungry all the time and scared to the point of barely being able to sleep but... with the exception of the last few hours, when he met Kat, he didn't have very many details to draw on. He held his head, trying desperately to recall something... anything. Nothing... just an empty blank place in his memory. "I don't... there's nothing there...." He felt a sudden rush of terror and tears came to his eyes, despite his efforts not to cry.

"Billy...." The doctor pulled his hands away. "It's okay... We don't expect you to have instant recall. I'm just a little worried about these cuts, but it's not that important. I don't want you to worry about this, okay?"

Billy nodded, but with no real conviction. He wiped away the tears and took a few deep breaths, trying to get some sort control back. Something had to be wrong... his memory was usually pretty good. And he was afraid, but of what? His father was upset too. He didn't like that at all... his dad didn't deserve to be upset even more. He felt suddenly ashamed, to cry in front of his father and... something touched the edge of his mind... laughter. He felt his cheeks burning and backed away from whatever it was. It didn't help that he was getting pretty sleepy again. "Okay... ," he said quietly, and he closed his eyes, giving in to his exhaustion. He felt himself drifting off and tried to give in to the feeling but the doctor was still talking to his dad. He liked Dr. Reardon but he wished that they would take the conversation elsewhere.

"... is why I want to keep him here longer. A psychiatric exam would help clarify if it's true memory loss or simply post traumatic stress."

"I just don't know if I want some strange doctor interrogating him." His father sounded tired... he wondered if his dad had actually gone home the last few days. "I mean... he isn't exactly easy talking to you, and...."

"And I'm familiar, yes. Look, Ward,... whether its true amnesia or not, you need to understand... post traumatic stress is going to be a problem. He may never really remember what happened, or he could remember tomorrow. He needs to be prepared for either. Counselling isn't an option, its a necessity. I know several good therapists...."

Not good, Billy thought to himself. He didn't really want to discuss much of anything with anybody, to be honest. And there were things he simply couldn't discuss, even to a psychiatrist. Well, actually he could, but telling a shrink that he was really a Power Ranger was not a good idea. He'd end up in an institution. He just wanted out of the hospital sooner.

He drifted off... only to awaken minutes? hours? later. It was hard to keep track of the time. The lights were still dimmed, though he could see daylight stream through around the edges of the curtain. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and looked around. His father was sitting in a chair, asleep. Next to him, thumbing through a karate magazine, was Jason.

Billy felt a rush of compassion for Jason. Jason looked exhausted, like he hadn't been sleeping well. He wondered why and then, the memory of the clone's last moments hit him. Jason holding a gun... firing. The clone going over the side, dragging him along. Trini pulling him up... and Jason and Tommy beating the clone's hand off him. Then, they had pulled him up and Trini had held him as he shook in terror. And then...

And then something happened, but... Billy struggled for the memory but there was nothing. Just the same troubling blank spot. He worried. In his heart, he knew, absolutely, that something had happened on the rooftop. Something important.

But he let it go. For the first time since... before it all happened, he felt rested. Like he might be able to keep his eyes open for longer than five minutes. "Hi Jason." It suddenly struck him that it was probably the first time he'd initiated a conversation in months.

"Billy? You're awake...." Jason got up and walked over to his bed. "How're you doing?"

"I'm... awake." Billy didn't think Jason wanted to hear about his memory loss, and beyond that, there wasn't much to tell. "A little confused...."


"Well...." Billy felt himself blushing. "I thought... shouldn't you be in Switzerland?" He didn't want to admit it, but he wasn't quite sure what day it was, and Jason and Trini's presence continued to confuse him.

Jason chuckled. "They gave us the summer off. School ended in Geneva about two weeks ago. Remember? We talked about it on the phone last month...." Jason's voice trailed off.

"No...." Billy sighed.

Jason blushed. It was, Billy thought suddenly, possibly the first time he'd ever seen Jason do that. Jason was actually turning purple. He wondered how to end the stalemate they had reached.

There was a sudden crash out in the hallway. Billy jumped, and felt himself tensing up involuntarily. He had to physically fight the urge to curl up in a protective ball. Instead, though he tried not to, he clenched the guardrails of the bed.

"Hey... you okay?" Jason looked out into the hallway and came back, his concern obvious. "Some nurse dropped a couple trays...."

"Okay...." Something about the look Jason was giving him made him blush. A look of pity. Billy felt his anger rise suddenly. It's so easy for Jason, he thought bitterly. He has no idea of what it was like... how a loud noise meant someone had seen you and was coming after you... or you'd made a noise accidently and drawn the attention of....

Of what? For an instant, he had been there. Lying on a cold stone floor, his body throbbing painfully from the sudden harsh impact. Trying to catch his breath back after running harder and faster than he dared risk in the semi-darkness. Cringing from the prodding and slowly, fearfully looking up into the face of.... He didn't know.

"Billy?" Jason edged towards the call button. Billy had gotten suddenly glassy eyed and unresponsive. Bad enough to see his friend obviously terrorized by loud noises, but Jason was getting worried. Billy was turning an off shade of grey.

"Yeah...." Billy shook his head, willing the vision to a safe place. He would consider it later, when he was alone. He blushed suddenly. He didn't want his friend's pity or sympathy. "I've just been... kinda tense lately... you know?"

Jason nodded. He'd been expressly warned not to upset Billy by the doctor. Don't ask him questions, try not to react badly if he says or does anything odd. Just be calm and supportive.... Jason heard the lie in Billy's voice. He let it go. Disagreeing would make things worse. If Billy said he was tense... then he was tense. Jason had no plans to argue with someone so sick.

"So...." Billy could tell Jason was groping for something to say. "How... how was Geneva?"

And for the rest of the visit, Jason told tales of Switzerland and wondered if Billy actually cared.

* * *

Billy wondered, a week later, if his father was actually going to be able to walk out the door and go to work. He knew his dad was worried, but he'd never seen his father fuss quite so much. He looked down at the plate of scrambled eggs and grinned as his father poured a glass of orange juice for him.

"Dad...." He nudged the eggs with his fork. "I can pour my own juice... and when did we start drinking juice anyway?" Coffee had been the standard breakfast drink in the Reeves home longer than Billy could remember.

Of course, a lot of things had changed around the house. He had noticed yesterday, upon entering the house, that it was much neater than normal. His lab had the same sparkly look that the hospital had... but he was, he often was forced to admit to his teachers, lackadaisical at best about cleaning up after experiments. His room was shockingly neat too. His closet had a shoe tree... and it was being used. It was so... organized. That morning, he'd gotten up and intentionally taken all the shoes out and dropped them on the closet floor. Then, he grabbed the grungiest clothes he could find and wore them. He wasn't going out after all... so who was going to see his really ripped jeans and ratty old preppie shirt that he'd spilled paint on. It was totally childish on his part but it made him feel good. Like he was in control of his belongings again. He was shocked, after thumbing through his wardrobe at just how much of his older clothes were still there. Considering the clone's taste was not close to his own, it surprised him to see his belongings still intact. Not that it really mattered much... everything was a few sizes too big. He was lucky he'd found a belt, or else he'd be holding his jeans all day.

"Eat your eggs." Ward waited until some egg actually made it into Billy's mouth before he turned away. "And you are drinking juice because it has Vitamin...." Ward blanked. "Well... Dr. Reardon said it was good for you. So drink it."

There was a sudden knock on the door. "Oh good..." Ward wandered off the down the hall, checking his watch as he did so. Billy smiled slightly and sipped the juice. Hopefully his dad would leave soon. He could raid the fridge for the junk food he knew was hidden behind the milk and wheat bread. Somehow he doubted that his father had truly gone on a health kick....

"Hi Billy." He choked on his orange juice. It was Trini, of all people. He'd thought it was the guys his dad carpooled with. Trini sat down and helped herself to some toast.

"Uh... hi." Billy watched as Trini piled a mountain of eggs onto a plate. Obviously she was planning on staying a while. He certainly didn't seeing Trini, it just surprised him. His father and the doctors had limited visits from his friends, and he hadn't thought that it would change so soon.

Ward wandered back in and picked up his briefcase. "Well... I've got to get going. I'll be home for lunch." He took in Billy's look of bewilderment and said softly. "I asked Trini to come over... to keep you company. You know."

"Oh...." He was rather put off by that. Yes, he'd been sick but he didn't need a babysitter. "Okay...."

"Well... you two have fun." Ward awkwardly left, sensing in the back of his mind that Billy was upset. Oh well, Ward thought quickly, he'd be damned if he left Billy home with no one there. The boy was still damn sick. And, it made Ward feel better knowing someone was there.

Trini waited until his father left to roll her eyes and grin. "Don't worry," she said pleasantly, hoping to take away some of the stinging humiliation that she knew Billy was feeling. She wished that Billy's dad had said something sooner. "I promise we'll have a snack before naptime."

Billy caught her teasing tone. "Well... as long as we have snacks then okay." He toyed with his eggs. "So... how did you get roped into babysitting?"

"You're lucky..." Trini said. "My mom was gonna do it.. I convinced her that you would rather have someone hanging around all day that didn't treat you like a five year old." She hesitated. "Um... also, I know how hard it must be for you to get away and I thought you'd appreciate someone who would... you know, go into a different room for a while."

"Oh...." Billy saw her point. It was a kindness few of his friends would understand. He'd spent so much time alone... everyone assumed that he wanted to be around people constantly. For the most part, he wanted to ease back into relationships. First with his father, and then with his friends. He needed a little time, and Trini, his oldest friend, was offering it.

Trini saw he got her point. She didn't want to belabor it. And, she had another more important issue to bring up. She hesitated. Billy was less than a day out of the hospital. He was still shockingly pale and no where near his normal weight. She could see the fading remnants of bruises and cuts. He was still pretty tense too. A lot of jerking back and forth at noise, twitching. Not as much shaking, which she thought was a good sign. She considered her next words carefully. "Um... Zordon's been pretty worried too. You know that, right?"

"Yes...." Billy could sort of remember hearing Zordon ask how he was doing through Tommy's communicator.

"Well... he wants to talk with you. You know... see how you are... maybe discuss some... things." Trini paused. Billy wasn't really reacting to her words. "I thought that if you wanted... you could transport to the Command Center and talk, and I could cover for you here."

Billy considered what she was saying carefully. His thinking processes were better, but he was no where near his usual comprehension speed. Trini, he could tell, was rather apprehensive about broaching the whole subject. Yet, he could see in her face that it was very important that he go see Zordon. His curiosity got the better of him. "Sure... um...." He reached for his communicator, and blushed. He'd had an older model that Kat and Adam had scrounged up to rescue him with... but he hadn't seen it since. It likely had come off in the struggle on the roof.

"Here...." Trini smiled and handed him her communicator. "Maybe today you can find a new one, or make one."

"Yeah...." Billy pressed the buttons and transported.

* * *

The Command Center was strangely quiet. Billy shook his head and leaned up against a computer console. Teleporting always made him feel slightly dizzy, even when he was at his best. He blinked and silently wished that the room would stop spinning.

"Billy," boomed Zordon from his stasis field. "It is good to see you." Zordon noted that his volume had made Billy jump, and adjusted it. The issues he wanted to discuss with the Blue Ranger were sensitive to begin with. Making Billy even more tense was not part of the plan.

"It's nice to be out of the hospital...." Billy wondered what was up. Somehow he doubted that Zordon wanted to chat.

"I am sure." Zordon nodded. The giant floating head took on a grim look. "Billy... I am truly sorry that I did not realize that a switch had occurred. It is my fault that you were...."

Billy shook his head. "I don't... I don't blame anyone for what happened." He was getting tired of hearing how sorry everyone was. When it came right down to it, he only felt worse each time it was said.

Zordon nodded and let the subject go. "Billy, I am concerned about your physical condition." Zordon didn't mention how worried he was for the Blue Ranger's mental state. He could only hope that recovery was possible... and that Billy was willing to go along with what he was about to suggest. "I do not want to see you injured further by Lord Zedd and Rita. I think you need some time to recover, without the threat of battle to worry about."

"What do you mean?" Billy's head started to throb. He'd been having headaches, bad headaches. Dr. Reardon had explained that he would continue to have headaches for some time. Along with some physical therapy, he was scheduled to have a few more MRI scans in the up coming weeks. The doctors and his father hadn't said anything but he had overheard their fears that he had sustained brain damage... that there had been an dark spot on one of the scans. He massaged his temple and hoped Zordon would cut to the chase.

"A vacation, Billy." Zordon paused. "Time you can use to heal and regain your strength. Jason has offered to take your place on the team for the summer. Trini will be taking Aisha's place until her broken leg heals." Zordon waited for an answer.

"But when the summer is over...." Billy wasn't sure he understood. "I... I don't want to quit, Zordon...."

"It is a temporary change." Zordon was inwardly pleased that Billy did not want to resign. He had worried greatly that the experience in Zedd's castle had stolen Billy's will to fight. Zordon was beginning to have hope that if given time to physically recover, Billy would be all right. Now, the task was to convince the boy that not only did he need to take the summer off, but that he deserved the break. "I am worried that a battle will overtax your strength and prolong your recovery needlessly." He hesitated for a moment. "I think you understand that."

Billy nodded. He had been dreading the whole idea of a battle. Sure, he was out of the hospital, but only he knew just how hard he'd had to plead with the various doctors to get out. He felt dragged out. Weak. In a fight, he'd be toast. A liability. "I guess... I could use a break. But just from the battles...." He gestured to the computer banks. "I can still help out...."

"Of course." Zordon agreed to that easily enough. The other Rangers were not as skilled as Billy in technical areas. Certainly Adam and Kat were able to perform the standard technical functions, but for more complex situations, Billy would be needed. "As I said, it is a temporary change."

"Okay...." Billy took out his coin. Part of him knew that he needed the break, and part of him simply didn't want to argue. In the back of his mind, he wondered how temporary it really was. But, he knew Zordon had his best interests at heart.

Zordon saw the slight hesitance. The transdimenasional being didn't want to hurt Billy any further, but the change had to be made. Billy was in no shape to fight. Zordon already felt terrible just seeing how ill Billy really was. He hadn't wanted to believe Jason and Tommy's reports. And... Zordon knew that if Billy didn't make a full recovery... physically and mentally... the change was much less temporary than it looked. "Billy...."

Billy held up his hand. He really didn't want to hear it. He was starting to feel odd. Zordon's tube seemed to be surrounded by blue light. "It's okay... really." He set the coin down. "I could use the summer off. And when the summer's over...." His headache suddenly thumped into overdrive. A wave of pain crashed through his skull. He staggered and slid to the floor, numbly hearing Zordon ask if he was okay. He looked up, expecting to see Zordon but instead, his vision was obstructed by dazzly spots. Then the spots faded into blackness....

* * *

Blackness. Billy reached out and felt the dark rock with his hand. Another dead end. He trudged back down to the fork in the tunnel and tried to figure out his next move.

The castle and its tunnels were a warren of twists and turns that was almost impossible to learn. He was trying though. He wasn't sure how long it'd been. Maybe a week. He had crawled off and hid for about a day, he thought, waiting for the Rangers to come and rescue him. Finally, hunger and thirst had forced him out. His stomach growled loudly, reminding him that he was still pretty hungary.

Food and water were rapidly becoming very important to him. Water was simply a matter of stealth. There were several faucets in the castle. He simply had to avoid being seen. Not as easy as it sounded. His ribs still ached from a blow from Goldar's sword. Goldar had spotted him getting a drink. He'd been lucky the blow had been with the flat and not the edge of the weapon.He was pretty sure his ribs were broken.

Food was worse. Most of the monsters did eat, but food was closely guarded commodity. It didn't look that appetizing either. Monster food, not human food. It didn't taste very good. He'd stolen a hunk of.... something. It was dry and crumbly and the taste reminded him of paste. Dry paste. And that meal had been a long time ago.

He pulled his shirt closer. It was cold too, though he had learned that some areas of the palace were warmer than others. The area underneath Zedd's throne room, for example, was frosty. He could see his breath sometimes. The tunnels near the monster quarters were warmer, though the odds of running into something were higher. He cocked his ears at the tunnel, listening for the telltale thumping footprints of one of the monsters.

They were all after him. Zedd had harangued an assembly of monsters and given the residents of the castle strict orders to find him. Then, Zedd explained to the monsters, not knowing that Billy was hiding in an alcove, when the Blue Ranger was captured, he would be killed in a very slow and very painful manner, for the amusement of Empress Rita.

Fortunately for him, the attention span and retention level of Zedd's monsters was very short. From his hiding place, he could hear several asking each other what they were supposed to be chasing. Avoiding the monsters was difficult but he was doing okay. He'd almost been caught a few times. It was hard, finding safe places to hide just to catch some sleep, and it seemed as though everytime he found a place to curl up... he was spotted. Chased. And roughed up.

He put his hand to his aching ribs, and leaned up against the tunnel wall. His ribs hurt each time he took a breath. Part of him wanted to sit down and rest, but he knew better. Sure, he'd probably hear a monster coming... they were kind of loud even when they were trying to be quiet, but he wasn't going to take that risk. He pushed off the wall tiredly. Where should I go now, he thought. He licked his dry lips and the decision came easily. To the water tap.... the water would at least fill him up. He stepped towards the right hand tunnel.

He heard a click, but he didn't register the danger until too late. Cold metal touched the exposed flesh of his neck, and he felt an explosion of pain. His entire body clenched up and all he could feel was the pain racing through him. Faintly, he heard an electrical buzzing.

The pain stopped, as quickly as it started. He fell, face forward, onto the cold stone floor. In horror, he realized that his arms and legs weren't responding. He could feel... in fact he hurt so badly that tears were streaming down his face, but something was very wrong. He could barely choke in air, and his limbs were twitching involuntarily. Some kind of electric shock, he thought slowly. Oh god... please let it be just a shock.... Rough hands picked him up by his shirt and shook him, apparently checking his responses. He watched his arms dangle and twitch, and tried to turn his neck to see his captor but he was dropped before he could accomplish the task.

A low, feminine chuckle. "Well.... Finster was right. Electrical current does effectively immobilize you humans."

Goosebumps rose on his arms... he knew the voice, didn't he? Before he could register where he'd heard the voice, he was flipped over. His eyes widened in terror. It was Scorpina.

Scorpina laughed at his fright. She was in a pretty good mood. Normally, life at the palace was pretty dull for her. If she wasn't part of the current plan, she had little to do. When the order came down that the Blue Ranger was to be found, her life suddenly took on a new dimension. An exciting dimension. She had so much to do. Planning the hunt, consulting with Finster... and the thrill of finding and stalking the prey. Not mention actually the thrill of actually catching the Blue Ranger. She chuckled maliciously at Billy, and with lightening quickness, she struck him with her whip.

He winced. He couldn't do much more... nothing was responding. His entire body was clenching and unclenching. The whip stung, and he knew that if he lived, it would probably leave a major bruise. Somehow though, he knew Scorpina did it more to humiliate him than to hurt him. He felt the shock wearing off a bit, in that he could catch his breath. He tried to inch away, but Scorpina only chuckled, and stepped down hard on his chest.

"You can't escape me, Blue Ranger." She ground her foot down on his chest. His ribs were on fire. He could feel the darkness closing in on him.

"You... won't get... away with... this." he gasped. "The Rangers... they're...." He tried to suck in more air.

Scorpina removed her foot and bent down close to Billy's face. "They're what? Going to stop me? Please...." She stood and looked down at the trembling teen. I really should call Lord Zedd, she thought suddenly, but what will that do? Oh sure... Zedd will be pleased with me... for now... and then what? Back to the daily boredom... unless.... She pondered the thought. Hunting the Ranger had been so exciting. Why not... throw him back? Have another chase....

She laughed again and with a mirthful chuckle, she swiped Billy with the whip again, drawing blood that time. Then without a backward glance, she walked away.

Billy groaned and slowly pulled himself up into a seated position. He took several deep breaths and touched the bleeding cut on his chest. The blood was sticky and warm on his hand. The Rangers will come soon, he told himself. It's only a matter of time. I can hold out....

* * *

Hands were touching him. Reflexively, he curled into a ball, and covered his head. He opened his eyes a crack. In front of him was a blinking computer console. He was on his side, on a floor.... but not in the palace. He uncurled a little.

"Billy? Aiy yi yi... Zordon, what should I do?"

The hands touched him again. He flinched and batted the hands away. Alpha, he thought suddenly, it was Alpha. He was in the Command Center. He pushed himself up off the floor. His head was still throbbing, and he felt nauseous. "Oh... man...."


He jumped. He never realized that it was possible for a robot to shriek with happiness. "Alpha... not so loud...." He stood shakily and looked up at Zordon. "Did I... faint...." The memory flash faded away but left him feeling not only physically tired but... He rubbed his chest pensively, feeling the ridge of scabs through his shirt. Funny... it didn't really hurt anymore but... in a way it hurt worse.

"Yes, Billy...." Zordon's voice was heavy. Billy was still too ill..."You were unconscious. It took several minutes to rouse you."

"Yeah...." Billy rubbed his head. It still hurt, but the weird glow had gone away. "I... I had some sort of flashback...." But, somehow, he didn't think Zordon would understand. Or could understand. Zordon had spent the last ten thousand years in the Command Center after all.

"Perhaps you should rest." Zordon suggested. He'd never meant to cause Billy even more distress. On the other hand, the team did need to be reorganized and immediately. The team had fought undermanned during the last battle. They had done all right but it couldn't be a continual thing.

As Billy teleported out, Zordon looked gravely at the coin Billy had left behind. He wondered if he'd really done the best thing after all.

* * *

"Billy!" Rocky was pretty hyped up. He'd just gotten his test scores back, and for once, he'd done really well. The others were still taking tests, but Rocky had the rest of the day free. He had driven over to Billy's with the intent of prying his friend out out the house. Billy was convalescing, he knew, but he figured that it must get tiresome staring at the walls all day. "My finals are done! Come on, I'll take you out for lunch!"

Billy grinned. Rocky was so up, he suspected it would take nothing short of a major crisis to bring him down. "Well...." He was hesitant. "I'll have to ask... come on in."

"You have to ask?" This was new, Rocky thought to himself. Billy's dad was known for his permissiveness.

"My father has gotten a little um... over concerned." Billy couldn't think of a nicer way to put it. In truth, it was a good thing that Zordon had relieved him of ranger duties a week earlier. His father had been in and out of the house all week, despite work. It was slowly getting better, but Billy knew that if he just walked out the door, the police would be called in roughly a half hour.

"Okay." Rocky considered. "Is Trini here? We can all go together...."

"No." Billy shook his head. "She had an appointment. That's why my dad came home for lunch... not that he hasn't been home for lunch everyday." Billy grinned wryly, and Rocky got the idea that perhaps Billy was finding it a bit tiresome.

Rocky thought Billy's dad had the right idea. Billy looked... well... ill. Certainly much better than before. Less nervous too. Rocky had been to visit, both in the hospital and after, and he could see the changes. Billy was less jumpy. That was good. Rocky wasn't a perceptive person but something about Billy's demeanor told him that Billy was troubled. He'd heard from Trini that Billy's memories of his time at the palace were sketchy, and he had wondered if that was what was bothering Billy. Still, it seemed to Rocky that having someone stay with Billy was a good idea.

After an extensive lecture from Billy's father on how Billy was not to walk to the Juice Bar, eat greasy food at the Juice Bar, or in any way overtax himself on the excursion, they finally got permission to leave. As Billy ruefully donned his sunglasses, Rocky could now see some of Billy's problem. Overparenting could be a drag when taken to extremes.

Upon entering the Juice Bar, Billy saw that it was nearly empty and the few kids that were there were bent over their books studying for their last finals. That was good, he thought. He wasn't completely unaware of the small measure of fame the only known person to have been in Lord Zedd's castle was likely to receive. He'd gotten cards, requests for interviews and various other offers. The cards he'd written nice thank you's too, the offers he'd turned down. He didn't want to discuss something he had only fleeting memories of.

There had not been any more flashes since the one in the Command Center. Only nightmares that left him waking up in terror and still not quite sure why. The image of Scorpina stepping on his chest haunted him, if only because he had a horrible suspicion that worse had happened. He was too marked up for that to have been all. He hadn't told his therapist... mostly because his therapist seemed put off by the whole situation. The poor man had no idea what to ask, and Billy didn't feel like volunteering. They usually discussed current events that Billy was behind on.

"Billy! Good to see you!" Ernie stepped from behind the counter and clapped him on the back. "How're you feeling? You look good! You two have a seat... whatever you want... on the house." Ernie bustled off, leaving Rocky chuckling.

"Free lunch... we should go out more often." Rocky grabbed a table and they sat down. In seconds, Ernie had thrown down cheeseburgers, fries and shakes on their table, Billy's favorites. "Thought you weren't supposed to have greasy food." Rocky added as Billy pounced on the fries.

"If you tell, I promise, I will kill you." Billy said in a mock serious tone. "Do you know what we eat now? Wheat bread, tofu, salad, fruit.... It's depressing."

"Oh the horror." Rocky chuckled, though he was surprised. On the rare occasions that he'd eaten at Billy's house, meals tended to be fairly eclectic. It was, Kimberly had told him, completely normal for Billy and his dad to eat ice cream for breakfast. Or tater tots, still frozen. Or raw hamburger placed on bread. "I won't tell... just don't pig out and get sick... then you'll be sure to get caught."

"Billy!" Billy jumped noticeably, though, Rocky thought to himself, it was understandable. If Bulk and Skull had shrieked his name that loudly, he'd have jumped to. The two junior cops sidled over to the table and sat down.

"Sorry we roughed you up the other week...." Bulk said offhandly. Skull nodded.

"S'okay," Billy muttered as he bit into the forbidden cheeseburger. He still marveled at the idea of Bulk and Skull as junior cops, but they seemed really into it. He was glad for them.

Skull looked at Bulk and Bulk nodded. They had an agenda, apparently. "Billy, you said the Pink Ranger rescued you right?"

Both Rocky and Billy choked. "Um...." sputtered Billy, "Yes, but she didn't tell me who she was...."

Bulk and Skull became crestfallen. "Well..." said Bulk, "Could you tell us what the castle was like?"

Billy paled. Rocky threw a harsh look at Bulk. "Maybe," he said in a quiet, angry voice, "it's not something he wants to discuss...."

"No...." Billy regained his composure, "It's okay... but there's not much I can tell you... I don't remember very much detail...."

"Oh..." said Skull. He considered that, and then his eyes lit up with another thought. "Did the Power Rangers ever apologize for leaving you there for so long?"

"No... they didn't." Billy said softly. Seeing Rocky's crestfallen look, he quickly added, "But I'm sure they meant too...."

"Well," said Bulk. "What do you remember about the castle? Was it filled with monsters?"

"Did the monsters look like Klingons?" asked Skull.

"I can't believe they didn't even say they were sorry...." Bulk added. It was obvious that he was disgusted. Disgusted and disappointed. "I mean... geez... bad enough they left you to rot for four months. I mean, you were pretty messed up... but to not even apologize... what jerks."

"Well...." Rocky's voice was slow and hesitant. "Maybe they are sorry... really really sorry, but they don't know what to say or how to say it.... Maybe they don't know what to say...." Rocky blushed. It was safe to say that all the rangers felt wretched abut the whole thing but it was just such a hard topic to broach.

"I figured something like that...." Billy said to Rocky. "But it's okay... I'm sure it's very hard for them and I know they are sorry."

"So you'd forgive them?" Skull asked. "Even though you're so messed up?"

Billy continued to look at Rocky, hoping to make him feel a little better. "Yes... I wish... things had worked out differently but...."

A familiar chime went off. Rocky excused himself and Bulk and Skull drifted away, leaving Billy to continued chowing down the fries. He never realized how good greasy fries were. He hoped Rocky felt better.... He knew the rangers were sorry...

"Billy?" Rocky waved him into the alcove that he'd hidden in. "We got a problem... Zordon thinks you should come with us...."

* * *

"This is weird Billy." Aisha stumped around the console that he was working on. "I mean... don't you feel weird too? Seeing someone else in your uniform?"

Billy sighed heavily. Aisha, in her inarticulate way, obviously expected an answer of some sort. The truth was that he felt fine. It had seemed strange, he admitted to himself, to not be heading off to the battle, but someone else in his uniform? Not really a big deal. The truth was, after his experience in the castle, being a ranger seemed easy. Tame almost. Battling a monster in a power suit was nothing compared to outwitting one with no power at all. "Well...." he said slowly, "It kinda reminds me of when you and Adam and Rocky first joined the team. Different... but okay."

"Well... I'll be glad when this cast is off and I can get back into action." Aisha leaned her crutches up against a console and slid down tot he floor. "Won't you?"

Billy fumbled with the components he was fixing. "I suppose... I haven't really thought about it...."

Aisha nodded brightly. "Well... we both have the summer off. I probably won't need that long. Maybe you won't either. And Jason certainly won't mind...." More to herself, though Billy did catch her words, she added, "He certainly likes keeping an eye on Tommy...."

"What? I don't quite follow...." Billy asked hesitantly. Aisha's comment was a little bitter sounding, a tone he couldn't ever remember hearing from her before.

Aisha lowered her eyes and looked away. She'd said too much. Billy had enough problems to worry about without adding in the team's. She, like the other rangers, had been expressly warned not to worry Billy with team problems. Billy is ill, Zordon had warned them all, and should spend his time recovering, not worrying about the team. Calling in Billy on the current problem had been a last ditch method... Kat, Adam, Trini and Alpha had puzzled over the console for hours . Billy had it up and running in minutes, of course. "Oh...." she said slowly, "Jason's just been... a little upset with Tommy...."

Billy's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

She gulped. Now what do I say, she thought to herself. I don't want to lie... but it's kinda touchy... Stupid stupid, she thought bleakly. She wasn't very good at lying anyway. "Oh... you know how they can be...."

Billy sighed. Do I want to know? he asked himself. Yes, but it wasn't worth the effort to grill Aisha. She was evidently trying to dodge the issue, and he didn't feel up to prying it out of her. Besides, if it was serious, his friends wouldn't keep it from him. He knew that. They had, after all, called him in to deal with a problem, hadn't they?

Not a big problem, true. The console for some reason was always fussy. Trini never quite mastered the knack of fixing it, and he had never bothered to show Adam or Kat how to do it. He crawled back underneath the console and continued adjusting it.

Aisha stood as the other rangers teleported in. They took off their helmets tiredly. To Aisha, they all looked whipped. Beat. It must've been a tough fight, she thought. She took in Tommy and Jason's scowls and had a feeling she knew why the fight had been so hard. "How was it guys?" She pointedly nodded towards Billy's legs sticking out under the console.

"Jason, you can't use the WolfZord the same way you did the Red DragonZord. You could've gotten us killed pulling that stunt!" Tommy's anger was barely under control.

"Guys...." Aisha said softly. Kat, Adam and Trini picked up on it. Rocky didn't but he was trying to calm Tommy down.

"Tommy... we're all okay and the monster's defeated." Rocky said.

"Yeah Tommy." Jason said darkly. "We're all fine... when you can manage that, let me know."

"Guys!" Aisha shouted. Billy pulled himself out from under the console. Tommy and Jason were fighting... over the team. Over what happened. He could see from the other's faces that it wasn't a new argument either. Rocky,Adam, Trini, Kat and Aisha all had the good grace to look embarrassed by it. Tommy and Jason were circling each other, not even noticing he was there.

"Jason, you have to listen to me when we're fighting! You can't just run off and take a monster on by yourself." Tommy muttered.

"Maybe if you were a better leader, I wouldn't being using the WolfZord, did you consider that, great white leader?" Jason shot back.

"Um...." Billy said, his face red. "I think... I'll head back to my place if... we're through...." He fumbled with his new communicator and teleported out before anyone could say a thing.

Back at his house, Billy suddenly felt the exhaustion crash on him like a blow. Not only had he been up and around the Command Center fixing things for hours, but he and Rocky had actually walked part way to the Juice Bar. And Tommy and Jason arguing like that....

He didn't understand that. He didn't blame any of them for his imprisonment, he'd made a point of not laying guilt trips. And, to tell the truth, every single one of the Power Rangers, with Kat the lone exception, had a certain level of blame to shoulder. He certainly didn't say that... it would be cruel. But that was the truth. Everyone had been taken in by the clone. No one had any right to blame anyone else... except Kat.

Kat, he thought as he prowled through the fridge, was surprisingly silent. He didn't quite know what to make of her. She was definitely nice... and he admitted to himself, she was pretty. Not as pretty as Kimberly... but Kimberly was off at gymnastics camp and she was Tommy's anyhow.

Another weird change... Kimberly being gone. He missed her. Oh, sure, she had called to make sure he was okay... In fact she called every few days to see how he was. But, he realized, her voice had that sympathetic guilty tinge that he heard from all the Power Rangers.

Except, he noted again, from Kat. Kat wasn't exactly cool to him but not overly friendly either. Pleasant, definitely. He figured she was just waiting for him to make the first overtures. Overtures that he looked forward to... but not just yet. He wanted to get everything straight with all of the others first.

He finally decided on a few peanut butter crackers... it was as close to junk food as his father now allowed and set them nicely on a plate. After a moment, he set a few more out. Trini would be by soon, and she liked peanut butter crackers. Into the living room he went, and curled up on the couch. Some TV, he thought as he spread out on the couch, and maybe a nap....

* * *

In the semi-darkness, he didn't see the ledge until he stepped off it and fell. He crashed down, arms and legs splayed out. It'd been months, he thought, since he'd had enough coordination to roll out of a fall. Ukemi was a great skill, but it was pretty dependant on the practitioner not being so exhausted and weak that they could barely stand.

He crawled up and briefly felt himself over for blood. It was a precaution he learned almost too late on one occasion. In the dark, blood appeared as black, not red. The walls in the palace were always clammy and his bare skin felt damp most of the time. A little extra wetness went unnoticed. He'd cut himself badly on one occasion and not noticed the blood streaming from his leg until he'd collapsed from dizziness. He'd been lucky. The bleeding stopped... eventually. He hadn't been able to do much more than huddle in a ball for what seemed like two days but he lived. That was something he wasn't going to risk again.

No blood, he noted thankfully.He took the time to assess his over all condition. Arms and legs... bruised, covered with semi-healed cuts. Body... pretty much the same. Head... his head was aching. It was always aching. Ever since he'd been beaten to unconsciousness by a gang of monsters, his head hurt.

He shuddered remembering. He'd awakened in Finster's lab, of all places. Fortunately for him, Finster's curiosity had gotten the better of him... He didn't want to take the chance of having to depend of the mercy of one of Rita's minion's again though. He'd gotten away as soon as he could... but that didn't stop the nearly incapacitating pain. It came and went... he waited a few moments just to see if the bearable pain would stay that way and not become a blinding, nauseating migraine.

He took the time to try and get reorientated. The date and time was a lost cause. He didn't know. He'd gotten to the point where he didn't care. Just like how dirty he was... he only noticed when he really thought about it. Dirty didn't begin to describe him any way. He felt the ragged shreds of his clothes. His shirt was once plaid... blue plaid... he could just make out the pattern underneath the layer of grime and the caked on blood.

He was in the lower level of the palace, he realized. Not a frequent spot for monsters. There was a water tap located to the south. If he was quiet, he could use the tunnel he was in to get to the water tap. He could get some water. Tears suddenly welled up in his eyes.

Where are they? he thought as the unwanted tears made tracks on his dirty face. Why haven't they come for me? I can't take much more of this.... For a few moments, he let his emotions overwhelm him and his body shook with the force of his quiet choking sobs. He hugged his arms around his body and tried to steady himself. It was hard. Finally, a few echoing footsteps from the upper level drove away his despair, leaving behind fear, it's close companion.

He couldn't afford it. He couldn't afford the self-pity, he couldn't afford the wasted energy and worst of all, he couldn't afford the loss of concentration. He shook off the sudden emotion and shakily stood, ears straining.

Nothing. He let out the breath he'd been holding. Some water, he thought slowly, that would be good. Food would be even better... maybe I can find something to eat. No food lockers to break into or trash cans to rifle through on this level though. He sighed. He could go down to Finster's lab... Finster was a human food junky. Candy mostly... though on rare occasions, he'd snagged an order of fries and once, memorably, an Arby's roast beef sandwich. He felt himself drooling involuntarily and cursed himself. Don't be stupid, he chastised himself as he inched along the tunnel, if you get anything to eat today, it'll be that monster stuff. Finster's lab is a last resort... I'm not that desperate today....

* * *

He opened his eyes. The TV blared the theme to "Gilligan's Island." He stared at it blearily, and grabbed a cracker. He wasn't hungry... but the dream was upsetting. No doubt it was a memory. A bad memory. He munched the cracker and took a drink of milk to settle his stomach. Milk? he wondered as he looked at the glass.

"Oh... you're awake." He jumped a little at Trini's voice but covered it. Trini made him nervous. It bothered him a little. Trini was his best friend, but for some reason, he jumped every time she spoke.

"I thought you'd want something to drink with those." She added. She was a little worried. Billy looked tired. Too tired. She wondered if he'd been working too hard. "Say... I'm going to fix something for dinner.... your dad said he'd be late. Why don't you.... uh... take a break?"

"Okay...." he said softly to her retreating figure. He hadn't planned on getting up, to tell the truth. The castaways were looking for the headhunters again, he noted as he laid back down. Somehow he doubted being a castaway was that much fun but they made him laugh. He ignored the slight blue tinge to his vision and closed his eyes. The blue tinge had happened before... when he was tired, like when he spoke with Zordon. His doctor had told him to lie down when it happened. Well, he thought with a slight chuckle, I'll just do what I'm told.

He pulled a blanket over himself and closed his eyes, smiling a little as he was lulled to sleep by the castaways' antics.

* * *

He drank thirstily from the water tap. He didn't notice the funny taste anymore. Metallic, and with a faint stench, like the smell of sulphur. He looked up and quickly glanced down both ends of the tunnel. Do I have time? he asked himself. No one coming yet, yeah, I do. He quickly splashed some water on his hands and face and tried to scrub some dirt off. Futile really... but it somehow made him feel better. He looked up again. Still no one. He bent down and took a another long deep drink. He didn't know when he would be unmolested at a water tap again.

He moved away, towards a crevice he knew about. I can get up into there, he considered, and head towards the trash barrels. He was too stiff from falling and from previous injuries to risk breaking into a food locker. Going through the trash was distasteful but safer. He crawled up and entered the new level.

It was quiet. He staggered along until he found a trash can. For monsters, the inhabitants of the lower tunnels of the palace were surprisingly neat. The trash was, he realized, not very helpful. It seemed... full of things he couldn't identify. Not much in the way of food. Some scraps... he ate them. Food was something he had to have. The situation was dire enough that he ate whatever was edible regardless of condition. Still, after serious sifting through, he got maybe three mouthfuls of food.

He looked down the tunnel again. Still no one. A quiet day... rare but they happened. He blinked... was that? He stepped closer to the object. It was a small box. Rations.... He considered a moment.

Occasionally, he knew from experience, rations were left lying around. It was rare, but it happened. More likely, waiting in the shadows was some monster. A trick, in other words. The food was bait. It was a game the monsters "played." He'd fallen for it a few times. He'd learned a few tricks himself though....

Like not grabbing the box and running. That was way too unsafe. There could be monsters all around. The second he grabbed the box, they would dive on him. He would get hurt, like the last time. And what if they broke his legs this time? No... grabbing it was out.

He listened carefully for what seemed like hours. A basic character flaw of almost all the monsters was a serious lack of patience. If there was a monster there, in hiding, it wouldn't wait very long before it got fed up and left. Or before it forgot why it was waiting.... The monsters weren't very smart. Most didn't remember who he was. He was just "that human" that they knew was there. Even Zedd and Rita seemed to have forgotten him. He knew if he waited, the monster would leave. After a certain amount of time, he could be pretty certain it was indeed, just a box of rations.

There had been no noise at all. Could he really be that lucky, he thought to himself. It was a fantasy... a whole box of rations was a week of food. He could hide down in the lower levels and... and rest. Maybe sleep. He furtively walked into the open tunnel and looked all around. Nothing. Okay.... he was gonna luck out. He grabbed the box and hugged it close. He didn't notice the sticky slime on the box until he took a few steps and collapsed. The tacky feeling on his fingers gave his slowly darkening mind the clue it needed. It was a trap... something was on the box. A drug of some kind...

* * *

"Billy?" Trini walked into the living room quietly. She'd heard the TV but really didn't expect to find Billy awake. She was right, she saw. He was curled up in a ball on the couch, a pillow tightly clenched in his hands. It looked uncomfortable... she considered waking him up.

He was tired though. She could see it. His eyes were almost black from exhaustion. So, instead, she turned the TV down and tiptoed out of the room. Better let him sleep, she thought with a smile, he needs the rest.

* * *

A sharp kick brought him out of the drug induced stupor he was in. He didn't know how long he'd been out. He tried to crawl away. Maybe I can get into a crevice, he thought fuzzily.

Another kick to the ribs brought tears to his eyes. A foot sweep knocked his hands out from under him and in seconds he was lying prone . The only saving grace was that he was on his stomach. He still didn't know who'd found him. It didn't matter... he was in for it. He saw the crevice only a few feet. He tried to inch towards it.

"You! You damn rangers!" Scorpina snarled. "First you foil Lord Zedd's plans then that Pink Ranger somehow manages to steal the Pink Powercoin back! And now the Falconzord has disappeared!" Each phrase was punctuated by a kick. Billy moaned but kept trying, almost instinctively, to reach the crevice. He barely registered that Scorpina had mentioned the Pink Ranger. Kimberly had messed up someone's plans... good. The rest was gibberish to him. He was more concerned with his own situation. Scorpina was raining blows on him, her temper was wild.

He gave up on crawling away. Instead, he pulled his arms around his head protectively. He couldn't afford more head injuries. He prayed her temper would be vented quickly.

She grabbed him and lifted him up. He shied away... Her face was so filled with hate, he half expected her to kill him right then. Instead, she slapped his face.

"You think it's funny, don't you?" She shook him and then smacked him into the wall. He grimaced and fought the urge to cry out. He sensed it would make it worse. She balled up a hand and hit him in the eye with her fist. He wilted against the wall and tried to push her away but she hit him again, in the stomach and he could barely keep his feet, let alone fight her off.

"Don't mock me!" She grabbed him by the neck until he was standing on tiptoes. His terror increased. Normally, Scorpina viewed catching him as a source of amusement. She would beat him, of course, and then taunt him. Humiliating, but survivable. The other monsters didn't have enough wits to understand that there was a line that couldn't be crossed when it came to injuring him. Scorpina understood that her fun would be over if she lost control and permanently injured him or killed him. The other monsters didn't see the need to pull their punches. But, he noted as his terror reached a fever pitch, Scorpina was so angry... She'd lost control. It was going to be bad....

She threw him to the ground. The drug had worn off and he scrambled to reach the crevice he spotted before. She growled at his movement and swung her whip at him. Her anger raged and she rained blows on him for what seemed like forever, all the while shrieking inarticulately. Finally, her rage ebbed away, or perhaps she got simply got tired.

He tried inching away again. He couldn't go any faster... It was instinct that got him crawling and nothing else. She had beaten him nearly senseless. He put a hand down and whimpered as pain shot from his hand through his whole body. Wrist is sprained, he thought dimly, maybe broken.

Scorpina heard his crying and got up from her seat. His eyes widened and he curled up in a protective ball. He shook in fear... he simply couldn't take any more. But instead hitting him, she forced him to a kneeling position. She stood over him and jerked his head back until he was looking up at her.

"They aren't coming for you." Her words were cold and without her usual evil grin. "They've forgotten you." She waited for her words to register on the stunned boy.

"No." Billy knew he was crying but he didn't care. "They haven't forgotten... they're just...."

"They've replaced you...." Scorpina saw that she had scored a hit. "They don't even say your name. You only exist here."

"No...." His words lacked strength. His greatest fear was being brought out. On the rare occasion that he got any sleep, his dreams were haunted by the idea that he would live what was left of his life in the castle. He shuddered. "They wouldn't replace me without trying to rescue me... to save me...."

"You're dead to them." Scorpina eased her grip. "They think you died. They won't be coming, Billy. Only I know you're still here."

"They don't think I'm dead." Billy trembled. "I'm not dead."

"You are dead... to everyone but me." She considered the tearstricken kneeling boy and smiled maliciously. "You should thank me, you know." She leaned up close to him and ruffled his dirty hair with her hand. "Without me, you wouldn't exist. You'd be forgotten forever." She yanked his hair viciously and bent back his head. "Thank me!"

"No...." His face was wet with tears and hot with shame. She pulled his head back further until he felt it was going to snap. She leaned in close to his terrorized face and snarled softly.

"Say it. Say thank you."

He couldn't breathe. The pain was torture. She was bending his neck back to the point that he could feel the muscles straining. Oh god, he thought frantically, she's gonna kill me.... I don't want to die... I can't... oh god.... His face burned in humiliation. "Thank you..." he whispered, feeling as if his whole world had crumbled. She was right, he was alive because she hadn't killed him. He tried to get control. She could still kill him, the quiet survival voice in his head told him. But, the voice wasn't as strident as usual.

She smiled and loosened her grip to allow him to return tot he kneeling posture of a supplicant. "Say thank you, Scorpina." she prompted.

"Thank you Scorpina," he said woodenly.

Scorpina chuckled. "Now say, I exist only because of you."

He did. "I exist only because of you."

"Both. Again."

The survival voice was suddenly overtaken by a new voice. Once is enough, the new voice said in a low growl. You don't want to die... fine. No one will ever judge you badly for doing what you have to survive... but saying that again is giving up. Giving up everything. How long do you think you'll live after that?

The voice had a point. He lowered his head, knowing full what was about to happen. "No."

"What?" Scorpina's eyes narrowed. She stood over him. "What did you say?"

"No." A little louder that time. The new voice in his head was overriding the survival voice. He waited for the blow.

It came quickly. With an inarticulate shriek of rage, Scorpina savagely clubbed him down. Blow after blow rained down on him until he couldn't even feel it. He was numb to the pain. Hands reached down and shook him....

* * *

When he opened his eyes, a pretty Asian face was curiously peering at him.

Billy gasped and felt his heart skip a beat. A wave of terror rushed through him, causing his whole body to tense. "No... go away!!" he cried, pushing her away as hard as he could.

He rolled over to get onto his feet, and fell to the floor, hitting his head on the coffee table as he went down.

"Billy!" Trini gasped, "calm down... it's just me...." She reached out to comfort him.

Billy didn't hear her. He jerked away from her touch and struggled to regain his feet. Run! he thought to himself, dammit, run! she's found you again.... His head was swimming and everything started to go hazy. The room was spinning and lit by an eerie blue glow. Had Zordon finally found him? Was he being rescued... teleported out?

Just in case, he tried to run anyway. An aching tension seized him and he fell to the floor, moaning.

Trini's eyes went wide with horror. Billy's eyes rolled back in his head and he began shaking uncontrollably, making awful gurgling sounds. He was having some sort of seizure. She froze for a minute, dumbfounded. Billy wasn't epileptic.

Realizing she needed to act fast to prevent Billy from hurting himself further, Trini came out of her stupor and heaved the coffee table out of Billy's way. She then tipped him to his side so he could breathe easier.

She wanted to hug him, to comfort him in some way, but she knew she shouldn't touch him. Instead, she removed her light jacket and protectively threw it around Billy's shoulders, making sure it wouldn't accidently strangle him or cover his face. She dashed into the kitchen to call an ambulance.

When Trini returned, Billy had stopped shaking. He was trembling slightly and convulsively sobbing softly to himself.

"Sssssssshhhhh, sssssssshhhhhh...." she whispered, kneeling down next to him and placing a reassuring hand on his forehead, smoothing back his sweat-drenched hair. "Billy, you're going to be okay..." She wished she could believe that herself.

* * *

Billy looked around--lost. He'd been moved again. He tried lifting his hand to his eyes to wipe away the blearyness, but his hand didn't respond. He strained his eyes, horrified, to find he was restrained.

A wave of panic flooded through him, tightening his throat--he was in Finster's lab again... no... it was too bright. And warm. And he wasn't alone.

"Billy?" A warm hand reached out and stroked his hair.

He shuddered, yanking painfully at the restraints. "Please, Scorpina... no...." he choked, "Please leave me alone... don't touch me...." he repeatedly muttered under his breath, shutting his eyes.

Staggering backwards, Trini jerked her hand away. She could feel hot tears welling up in her eyes. Billy thought she was that... that awful she-beast. She was trying to help him, and had only succeeded in scaring him senseless.

Billy's eyes flashed open again. "Trini? Trini? Is that you?" A panicked edginess tinged his voice. "Where am I?"

Trini took a few steps towards the bed, then stopped. She didn't want to scare him again. "I'm here, Billy," she softly answered.

"Where?" Billy whimpered, straining his head to find her. "Where am I?"

Trini couldn't help it any longer--she instinctively rushed forward, ignoring Billy's sharp gasp as she came into his view. She noticed he was still rather disoriented. "Right here," she finally answered, hesitantly reaching out to touch him.

She rested her hand on Billy's head again. "You're in the ER... you had a seizure...." Billy started crying. "What happened?" she gently asked, hoping to find out what triggered the seizure--hoping to relieve the awful suspicion that it was her fault.

"Oh God, Trini... it was awful," Billy sobbed. He tugged at the restraints again. His head was throbbing. He felt like his whole body had been painfully sprung, like a watch that had been wound until it broke. The blue tinge had returned, though no where near as strong as before. Trini looked weirdly backlit by blue... blue and a reassuring yellow. He tried to relax as much as he could. "You... you can't understand...."

Trini leaned in closer. She didn't know what to do. Should she ask him for details? Press him? Just reassure him that it was over? She didn't know. "Billy, I'm your friend. You can tell me...."

"Trini...." He choked on the next few phrases, rushing to get them out. "I... I couldn't breathe.... Sh-sh-e was ch-choking me... blood... I w-w-was b-b-b-bleeding and she kept hitting me... and-d-d-...." He broke off, barely able to choke in air.

Trini knew there was more. She had known Billy her whole life and she knew something terrible had happened. She knew what to do now.. no matter that a big part of her didn't want to know. "Billy... don't stop... what happened next?"

He felt himself shaking. "I couldn't breathe... she-she was... She made m-m-m-me b-beg her... I... I had to... I didn't w-w- want to die... I'm s-s-orry...." His sobs were quiet. Almost as if he was trying desperately not to attract attention.

"Oh Billy...." Trini leaned over him and placed her arms around him. She felt her own tears returning and willed them away. Later, she told herself, later I can cry. "Billy, you didn't do anything wrong. She would have killed you." Trini looked deeply into his eyes. "Don't ever be sorry for doing what you had to. Do you understand? Because if you hadn't done what she asked... I know I wouldn't be able to talk to you right now. Don't ever regret keeping yourself alive." She gave him an awkward hug. Slowly, his breathing returned to slow, easy breaths.

"Hello." Trini spun around and Billy jerked harshly at the sound of the new voice. It was a doctor, in a white lab coat, not in the scrubs of the ER. He smiled and ran a hand through his dark brown hair. "I'm sorry... obviously I startled both of you.... I'm Dr. Ericson."

"Okay...." Trini took that as her cue to step back. Ericson smiled at her, in that you're not the patient so back off way that doctors had, and turned his attention to Billy.

"I hate seeing you back in here, Billy." Ericson said conversationally as he gave Billy a cursory examination. "Do you remember me?"

"No...." Billy said nervously. "There were a lot of doctors...."

Ericson glanced at a sheaf of papers as Billy spoke. "Well, I'm not surprised...." He checked Billy's eyes with a pen light. "Have you been having headaches lately? Maybe when you're tired?"

"Yes...." Billy admitted. He saw Trini flinch a little and the doctor frowned.

"Maybe you've not been getting enough rest?" Ericson said as he jotted down some notes. "Did you have a bad headache today? Wait, why don't you tell me what you remember...."

Billy hesitated. His headache was still there and it was getting worse. "I was taking a nap... and... and I had a really bad dream...."

"About your time in Lord Zedd's castle?" The sudden and yet offhand way Ericson asked the question made Billy's eyes narrow.

"Yes." Billy shook his head. He was too tired to fend off a psychiatrist. "And Trini woke me up and... I... I mistook her and...." He felt himself starting to tremble. "I don't remember... I woke up here.... Can you undo these?" He tugged at the heavy leather restraints.

The doctor smiled. "Not just yet... I want the results from a few tests...."

"What the hell is going on?" Ward Reeves stormed in. His tie was loosened and he had the wild eyed pasty look of someone who had just taken a bad shock. Which, Trini realized, he had. "Billy! Are you okay? What in hell happened?" Ward spun on Trini. "What did you do?"

"I...." Trini backed up.

"Dad..." Billy said softly. The weird blue tinge in his vision heightened. He clenched his hands to the hospital stretcher, trying to will the shaking to stop.

"Dammit Trini! "

"Mr. Reeves!" The doctor spun Ward around and shook him hard. "Calm down..." He pointedly glanced at Billy. "You aren't helping...."

"Dad.. its not Trini's fault...." Billy felt the shaking increase and he closed his eyes. He felt something prick his arm and opened them just in time to see the doctor withdraw a needle. "What..."

"Just a sedative Billy...."

Billy nodded. He could feel the sudden heaviness and closed his eyes again. He drifted off, picking up bits of conversation but nothing really making sense.

"no... the cat scan was clean..."

"but what..."

"... coupled with the sudden memory return... it was too much... the pressure... the head injury added to it... the MRI had that shadow..."

"... happen again?"

"... needs time... probably stress induced... ekg is okay..."

"... what stress..."

If only you knew Dad, Billy thought ruefully. Then he let the drug take him away.

* * *

"Guys, look." Adam pointed to the slowly advancing figure. "Billy escaped from his cage." He leaned back in his chair at the outdoor juice bar and chuckled. His folks had reacted much the way Billy's dad had. Adam had been confined to the house for days, and was still restricted from certain activities. Not that he was complaining... Adam knew he'd come just a little too close to dying only a month earlier. He was just starting to feel good after sparring, and not just winded.

Rocky and Tommy nodded along, and looked uneasy. Billy had, since having the weird seizure Trini told them about, gotten awfully strange. He started remembering things that happened, Trini had said, and then started crying. Trini crying was a sign tot he rest of the Rangers. Whatever he had told her had been bad. Real bad.

Rocky didn't want to know. He felt like hell already. He didn't want to know the grim details. Just looking at Billy told him enough. Whatever Billy would say would only make him feel worse.

Tommy felt differently. The forces of darkness would pay for what had happened to Billy, Tommy knew that. He was more concerned with how Billy felt about the rangers in general and if he would ever be able to rejoin the team. In Tommy's opinion, Billy was not really getting better. Sure, physically, Billy was better. It was hard to get much worse really. Mentally, of course, was a completely different story. Tommy didn't know what was up. Billy was being... weird. It was the sort of situation that he ordinarily would have talked with Jason over... but Jason blamed him and wouldn't let it go. And Tommy refused to be held responsible for the entire situation. If Jason was so smart, he mused bitterly, why hadn't he noticed the clone? God knows they had chatted on the phone enough.

Billy pulled up a chair and sat down with them. He was tired. Sleep had lately become a lost cause. He was starting to reconsider his therapist's offer of sleeping pills. He was having nothing but nightmares, the problem made worse by a hyper father and a therapist that was into chemical therapy. His father was in and out of his room at night, making sleep difficult to begin with. His therapist wanted him to check into the psych ward for observation. And his friends... his friends were concerned. That was nice. He just wished they would talk to him instead of just sitting there.

Like right now. He sighed.

"You okay, Billy?" Adam asked. Billy looked tired. Well, Adam qualified, more tired than usual. "You look tired..."

"I haven't been sleeping well." Billy waited to see what affect his words had. Tommy glared through the window.... Jason was evidently glaring back. It was safe to say Tommy hadn't been paying attention. As usual.

Rocky cringed a little and lowered his eyes. Another normal reaction. Billy understood that one a little better. Rocky simply felt bad about what had happened. More than the other Rangers, Rocky seemed to be kicking himself hard over it. Or, Billy mused, maybe it shows more with Rocky.

"Not sleeping well. Oh." Adam sighed and mentally braced himself to hear something awful. Billy almost smiled at that. Adam was tensing up, waiting apparently for an onslaught of emotion.

"I uh, gotta go." Rocky slunk away. Billy watched sadly. He didn't know how to help Rocky. Tommy took that as a cue to walk inside. That left Adam, waiting for Billy to spill something awful.

Billy sighed again. He wanted to talk to someone. Needed to, really. Trini tried, but she got so upset, and he hated to see her cry. He doubted that she had been getting much sleep lately either. His other friends tended to avoid him. But, he suddenly realized, Adam was still there. Tense perhaps, and probably hoping that he would just say nothing, but there.

"So...." Adam wasn't quite sure what to say. "You've been able to remember stuff, Trini says..."

"Uh huh." Odd, he thought, Adam sounds curious. Well, a little curious. "Enough, anyway." He tried to smile. "At least now I know where all these scars came from." He rubbed his arm as he spoke.

"Yeah..." Adam looked at Billy's arm. Pale... but no scarring. Adam had heard stories from Trini... stories about hideous scars. Billy's arms showed no signs of such treatment. Adam really didn't want to see some obvious disfigurement but he was confused. "How'd you manage to end up with no visible scars? I mean...."

"Do you really want to know?" Billy was blunt. "Because I... I need to talk to someone about this, and if you get up halfway through because you can't handle it...." He hesitated. "It's hard enough talking about it, you now?"

Adam nodded hesitantly. With that in mind, he knew he'd sit and listen. He didn't want too, but he owed Billy that. "Okay. So... how did you end up with no visible scars?" He gestured to Billy's arm. He was rather curious about it. "It doesn't look like you got hurt at all..."

"No." Billy said thoughtfully. "I was being chased by Scorpina...."

"Scorpina?" Adam shuddered. " You never said she was there..."

"I got away... that time."

Adam noted the hesitance. I didn't want to know that, he told himself. Scorpina did something to him.... something that went beyond the stupid trick she pulled on me. Adam could see the haunted look in Billy's eyes.

"But I fell down... well... it was like stairs. " Billy continued, not realizing the scrutinizing look Adam was giving him. "A rock or something... I cut it deeply. I was afraid I was going to bleed to death. I'm pretty sure the bone was cracked. I couldn't use my hand at all..."

"But..." Adam took a good look at the arm. "It really looks fine. What happened?"

Billy sighed. "That's where it got really strange."

* * *

....Billy huddled in the alcove, trying to retain some warmth. The caverns under the palace were some of the chilliest area at times, but they were also the most practical. Lots of niches in which he could hide. And, if he found one small enough, he was able to stay relatively warm and well hidden for a few hours. Precious hours during which he could rest.

For some reason, a lot of the monsters didn't like to come down here. It was very dark--darker than most areas of the palace--but, that wasn't reason enough to prevent a monster from trying to catch its favorite toy.

In fact, he had been running from the Primator, but Primator broke off his pursuit when they neared the caverns. Even Scorpina didn't dare come down here. He briefly wondered why, then pushed it from his mind--there were more important things to think about. He sighed--it would be the ideal place to hide until the Rangers could come and get him, if only there were a source of water. All the same, it was a good place to get some sleep.

And sleep was what he really needed. Billy was exhausted. His head was pounding--it felt like someone was stabbing him behind the eyes. His whole body ached. He was sure that he had been running on pure adrenaline for the past several days--he couldn't even remember the last time he had a chance to lay down. Accidently falling asleep on his feet nearly got him caught today.

Billy shifted position and winced in pain as his right arm brushed against the rock formation. He looked at his arm--it was bruised badly and bleeding again. Scorpina had caught him several days earlier, and in trying to get away, Billy had fallen down a flight of stairs and badly cut his arm on the jagged rock. He was lucky that it wasn't broken--nor any other part of him, for that matter. He pulled his arm close to his body and wrapped the lower part of his shirt around it, trying to stifle the bleeding. Billy bit his parched bottom lip to prevent from crying out, and only succeeded in drawing blood from it as well. He started to feel light headed and dizzy and fell from his alcove. He stumbled through the darkness, as if in a dream, trying to regain his hiding place.

A cool hand fell on his shoulder. Billy jumped and turned, half expecting to find Scorpina.

He threw his arms up to protect his face and yelped in pain as an intense white light assaulted his eyes. The light dimmed slightly as Billy's eyes slowly adjusted. In the center of the light was a figure he vaguely recognized...

"Mom?" he weakly stammered, blinking in disbelief and fighting back tears. "But... but, I don't understand... you're...." He couldn't say it. He started crying.

"Sssssshhhhhh," the figure responded, encircling Billy in her arms. She drew Billy close to her body, bathing him in the warm light that surrounded her.

Billy continued to sob in her embrace, even though he felt a wonderful sense of comfort as the light penetrated his chilled body down to the icy fingers and toes. Her cool hands stroked away some of the tension from the previous months.

Billy began to feel sleepy--a heavy, oppressive drowsiness was pushing down on him, clouding his mind. It was like nothing he had ever felt before; it frightened him. "Am I dead?" he murmured, fighting to stay awake. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought he heard her softly, but nervously, chuckle.

His mother stroked his hair. "No, sweetie," she whispered.

More tears welled up in his eyes. His eyes fluttered sleepily, causing a few of the tears to spill down his face. "But I'm going to die, aren't I?... Why?... Why haven't they come for me?"

Billy felt her embrace tighten around him. She didn't respond.

"Please don't let me die..." he softly sobbed.

Eventually the drowsiness overtook him and he withered in her arms.

When Billy awoke, he was lying against a massive stone formation that seemed to be a pedestal or altar of some sort. Billy put his hand against the rock--it was surprisingly warm, not cold and damp as he expected.

Billy staggered to his full height, feeling every cramped, still joint in his sore body groan and crack with the sudden shift.

The formation truly was a pedestal. On it stood a large, gleaming multi-faceted crystal, surrounded by a hazy, ethereal forcefield.

He felt strangely drawn to the crystal, as if some otherworldly force gripped him. Moving without volition, he half-consciously slipped his hand through the forcefield and dizzily set it on the crystal.

A bright snakelike energy beam shot up from the crystal, entwining Billy's arm. Expanding, slithering up to his shoulder, and tugging at his body, it drew him further inside the forcefield until the field completely enveloped him.

Another beam shot out from the crystal and penetrated his body, sending a spine-tingling surge of power flooding through him. Billy felt his body and mind expanding, filling the room he was in, as if he were floating above it and not contained within its walls. Several images flitted briefly before hie eyes--his family, his friends, a statuesque blonde girl whom he did not recognize, strange aliens, other Rangers. And all the while, the crystal loomed large in the background. He watched with detached fascination as the gash on his arm, and several other of his more serious wounds, melted away into fresh, clean skin--unbroken by any recent signs of trauma or scarring.

He blinked and was standing outside the forcefield again, his arms dangling limply at his side. Noting that his arms were truly healed, he passively staggered away from the crystal, commanded by... he did not know...

Later. It reassuringly echoed in his mind. Later. The crystal would be very important to him. Later...

* * *

He waited for Adam to speak. He'd chosen the least nasty memory of the palace to tell Adam, hoping that his friend could handle it. Maybe even have some ideas as to what the crystal and vision had meant.

"Ummm." Adam had no idea he was opening such an ugly can of worms. To him, it sounded as though Billy had just related a grade A hallucination, but he could tell Billy believed in what happened. "Um... Billy... have you told your therapist about this?" Adam hoped so... it seemed that Billy was about two steps away from a breakdown of classic proportions.

"No..." Billy sighed. It had been a mistake, he realized. Adam was not only pretty freaked out but starting to get that guilty, pitying look that most of his friends used. "My therapist doesn't want to hear stuff like that. I'm gonna go... maybe take a walk in the park." He didn't want Adam's pity....

Adam watched Billy leave, feeling guilty that he felt relieved that Billy was gone. Adam knew he'd just blown it, he wasn't sure how, but he had.

* * *

Zack inhaled deeply and smiled. The park smelled as fresh and clean as he remembered. He had missed it. In Switzerland, he had kept the whole idea of going home as his hedge against homesickness. Then, his parents had dropped their bomb. They were moving to Denver. He wouldn't be going home to Angel Grove after all. It had hurt, especially when he got off the plane in Denver and Trini and Jason had headed on without him. It had hurt even worse when two days later, Trini had called him and cried hysterically for ten minutes before managing to choke out what had happened.

Zack had been horrified. So had his parents. Billy was more than just another unfortunate victim of Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa. He was a friend of the family. Zack couldn't count how many holidays their families had spent together. His parents had agreed to let him spend the summer in Angel Grove with his grandparents because they knew he was worried about his friend.

He was worried about Billy, but Zack let himself be honest. He missed Angel Grove. As much as he was deeply worried about Billy, he couldn't stop himself from feeling good about coming home. It felt good.

The good feeling didn't deter him from his mission though. He was looking for Billy. He had kept his visit as a surprise, though after being briefed by the others, he wasn't sure that surprising Billy was such a good idea. As he spotted Billy sitting on a bench feeding the ducks by the lake, he mentally reviewed all the little rules the others had given him. "Yo Billy!"

He faltered a little when he saw Billy obviously jump. Oops, Zack thought as he trotted up to Billy, well, too late now. He frowned as he saw how pale and shaky his friend was. Billy was wearing a jacket despite the summer sun. Zack wondered how much of an improvement it was.... Trini had painted a pretty graphic picture and the few times he'd gotten to call Billy, Billy hadn't quite seemed there.

"Zack?" Billy put down the bread crumbs he'd been throwing and stood shakily. "How'd..." He st down again, suddenly dizzy. His head had been aching again since he'd chatted with Adam. He'd gone to the lake to try to relax.

Zack quickly moved to his side and sat down with him, cursing his idea to surprise Billy. "Didn't mean to scare you man."

"No... no... I'm just really surprised." Billy paused. He realized that he hadn't lied. He'd been surprised, but that surprise was not in any way tinged with fear. He smiled broadly at Zack. "It's good to see you."

"Cool." Zack's face lit up. Billy seemed all right. Not well, but not freaking out either. "I talked my folks into letting me stay with my grandparents for the summer."

"Zack, that's great." Billy grinned. Then, his headache increased in intensity. He winced and put a hand to his head.

"You okay?" Zack's happiness quickly passed.

"Yeah..." Billy's voice was soft and Zack could tell he was trying to keep the pain out of his voice. "I... have bad headaches sometimes... because of the skull fracture...."

"Ouch..." Zack was silent for a moment. "How'd you break your skull?"

"I got beat up. In the castle. By some monsters." Billy hesitated. "I thought I was going to die."

"But you didn't. You must've gotten lucky." Zack was getting worried. The others had warned him that talking about the castle seemed to upset Billy.

Billy stared pensively off at the lake. "No.... it wasn't luck...." He shifted uncomfortably on the bench and finally removed his jacket. "Is it getting hot?"

* * *

Hot... He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this hot. He could sense precious time slipping through his fingers as he struggled to stand. The fall--he felt himself falling. His head began throbbing again... a dull thud... still falling. Funny, he didn't remember actually hitting the floor.

Distant voices echoed in his head--low murmurs, hushed whispers. Scuffling feet alerted him to some movement nearby--maybe a few corridors over. Or on the floor above him. Then, as suddenly as they had come, the sounds were gone.

On his left side, the floor felt cool and hard against his skin. Maybe if he rolled onto his stomach and pressed his face to the floor, it would cool him down... no... gone... the sensation was gone. His best bet was to try and muster the strength to crawl down into the lower caverns.

Wait... now the cool sensation tingled at down his back. But it was different somehow.

Billy struggled to open his eyes. A large grey mass hovered over him. He strained to bring his eyes into focus. It hurt--gave him awful headaches--but he had lost his contacts quite some time ago.

Finster... the grey thing was Finster. A bright glint caught Billy's eye. A needle... he had a needle.

"No. Please--" Billy begged, but was silenced as Finster slapped a hot, muggy paw over his mouth. He whimpered as he felt the cold needle slide into his upper arm and a burning liquid forcefully oozing its way into him.

Billy struggled to push Finster away but was held back by the cold metal restraints that clamped his arms and legs to Finster's slab table. His efforts amounted to nothing more than the hollow rattling and clank of metal on metal.

"For goodness sakes, be quiet!" Finster hissed as he withdrew the needle and threw it aside. His voice sounded almost as panicked as Billy felt. "If Empress Rita finds you here, she'll kill us both!"

Billy ceased struggling. Rita didn't know he was here... yet. Besides, he was too weary to continue his efforts. And too hot. Whatever Finster had injected into him was slowly creeping through his bloodstream and nearly doubling the uncomfortable, feverish sensation he was experiencing. A bluish tinge clouded his vision.

Finster regarded the drugged teenager apprehensively for a few seconds before withdrawing his paw. Bright red blood stained his hand. He curiously studied it through his bi-focals for a few seconds before it dawned on him that it was Billy who was bleeding, not him. Besides... his own blood had a rather greenish-grey tint to it.

Billy cringed as Finster touched a finger to his trembling lip where it was bleeding.

"Fascinating," Finster remarked more to himself than to Billy, "you humans bleed so easily." He pulled Billy's lip back, ignoring the fact that the sudden movement startled the teenager, causing him to jerk nervously against the restraints. "And your teeth are so small," he commented, running his fingers along the smooth ridge of teeth set in Billy's lower jaw. "How do you eat?" His finger slipped off of Billy's teeth and further into his mouth, causing the young man to gag.

"Oops... sorry," he mumbled, pulling away from Billy and wiping his hands on his apron. "You're a very sick young man," he matter-of-factly stated. "I can't seem to get your temperature back up--"

"Up?" Billy croaked, closing his eyes against the increasing blue tinge and pounding in his head. "But... but I'm so hot... it's only supposed to be 98.6..." He could feel himself losing consciousness.

The sound of shattering glass reverberated in his head. Billy snapped his head in Finster's direction, causing a wave of pain and nausea to rush through him. The monster had dropped the beaker he was working with and was staring at him, dumbfounded.

"98.6? Oh my...." Finster puttered back to the table, stepping over shards of broken glass, "That changes things quite a bit." He touched a muggy paw to Billy's face. Billy shuddered--Finster's hands were the size of his entire head. "You are already at 104. I was trying to elevate your temperature to a stable, comfortable 110. I thought--" Finster broke off. Billy heard the clank of the restraints being released as Finster hurriedly bundled him in a blanket. "Well, it doesn't matter what I thought..."

Billy's head reeled as Finster jerkily heaved him upwards and proceeded to carry him out of the lab. Everything slipped from view and was replaced by inky blackness. He lost all sensation and was only dimly aware of what continued on around him.

"We need to get you below--there are cold springs down there which we can use to reduce your temperature..." the monster prattled on. Finster stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh dear..." he muttered. Billy distantly heard himself moan some sort of response.

"It's Scorpina."

* * *

"Oh god," Zack gasped, "what happened next?"

Billy vacantly stared over the glassy surface of the lake. A look of consternation darkened his face. "I don't know..." he distantly replied, blinking back tears, "I don't remember... I lost consciousness..." He shuddered--something touched the corners of his mind... something he didn't want to remember. Something about Scorpina... no, that was a different time.

"Hey, that's okay, man," Zack slapped a reassuring hand on Billy's shoulder. Remembering what the other said about not "touching Billy," he quickly jerked his hand away.

The sudden gesture hadn't gone unnoticed. Billy turned a puzzled--a surprisingly hurt--eye on Zack.

Zack mentally cursed himself--he should have known better. "Cold?" he asked, removing his lightweight jacket and placing it around Billy's shoulders, doing his best to cover his faux-pas.

Billy wasn't stupid--Zack's thoughts were as transparent to him as if they had been made of glass. He clutched at the jacket around his shoulders and blinked rapidly. His face flushed momentarily then drained to a past white. "What did they tell you?" his voice cracked.

An uncomfortable silence descended upon them. Billy began trembling. Horrified, Zack reached out to grab him--Trini had warned him about Billy's freak seizures. "Oh god... you're not going to have a seizure on me, are you?" He was just as surprised as Billy to find he had spoken those words out loud.

Billy jerked away from Zack. "What did they tell you?" he demanded again, barely keeping his sobs in check.

Zack knew it was useless to try lying to Billy. Besides, Billy was his friend and didn't deserve to be lied to--it simply wouldn't be "right." And Zack suspected Billy already knew the answer anyway. Zack sighed. "They told me not to upset you... that you didn't like to be touched... that you didn't like to talk about... well, you know... Guess I screwed things up pretty bad, didn't I?"

"Oh..." Billy coolly replied, resuming his vacant stare over the water. He was still trembling slightly. Zack braced himself for the other shoe to drop.

After passing a few minutes in unbearable silence, Billy spoke again. "Do you know how long I was there?" His question was more rhetorical that it was directed at Zack. Still, Zack shook his head "no."

"Four months," Billy could barely speak. He felt as if a band were tightening around his throat, strangling all the life from him. "Four months..." he hollowly echoes. Billy suddenly broke down sobbing. "Oh god," he cried, "four months..." Zack's hand rested gently on his shoulder.

Billy turned to look at Zack--almost apologetically, for his weakness. Zack looked back at him with... with sympathy. Sympathy. Not pity. "Do you want to talk about it?"

The look of absolute shock that crossed Billy's face startled Zack. "Oh man, what did I do now?" he wondered.

"No one's asked me that before," Billy mumbled. "No one wants to hear... no one..." Billy stopped, blinking back tears again. The band around his throat tightened even further.

"Hey... don't even think that," Zack pulled Billy close to him in a tight embrace, noticing for the first time how small Billy felt in his arms.

* * *

Billy pulled away from the awkward hold. "Let go of me!" he hissed.

"Stop it!" Finster snarled, readjusting his grip on Billy. He effortlessly hoisted Billy off the ground and tossed him back into the cage from which Billy had escaped.

Billy clambered into the corner of the cage and pulled himself into a tight fetal position. "No more..." he softly whimpered.

Finster felt pity for the boy--the last few days of experiments had been particularly difficult. But the chance to gather such important data on the human species was a priceless, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that he couldn't pass up.

"Just a few more..." he gently coaxed, reaching through the bars to grab Billy's wrist. "Just a few more... and we'll be done for the night..."

"No," Billy cried, attempting to pull his hand away. Finster's grip was like a vice. No matter how hard Billy twisted and pulled, he couldn't break free. He watched helplessly as Finster pulled his hand between the bars--all he had managed to do was further bruise his swollen wrist.

Finster stretched out Billy's fingers and removed a pair of sharp scissors from his apron.

Billy's eyes widened with horror. "Finster... please..." he stammered, "what are you doing?... please... stop..."

"Hush," Finster snapped, peering impatiently through his glasses. He had no time to explain to Billy--he had lost precious time in recapturing the runaway teen--for the third time today. Scorpina would be by soon, and Finster had to convince her he had everything under "control" or else she would report him to Rita and Zedd.

Finster shuddered--he didn't even want to think about what they would do to Billy. Over the past few weeks he had grown rather attached to the young man. Despite the awful ordeal he had been through, Billy remained rather psychologically stable... until recently, and he was remarkably articulate. Billy had provided Finster with wonderful insight to the human species, though he was understandably guarded when it came to their weaknesses. And he became quite flustered whenever the subject of human sexuality came up--a process that particularly piqued Finster's curiosity, but eluded Billy's lifetime experience. Monsters, and even he himself, were "created," not "born." And there was little to no parenting involved.

Conversely, Finster explained a lot about the life cycles and abilities of most monsters to Billy--though, he, too, would not discuss the particulars for their limitations. He was pleased that the teenager was intellectually curious about their creation and understood--even seemed to appreciate--the toil and labor involved in each creation--something Zedd and Rita took no interest in whatsoever.

Billy started trembling, snapping Finster back to the present. He had to finish this task and get underway on the next one before Scorpina arrived. He couldn't understand why Billy was so frightened this time--they had done this before. Perhaps it was because the last time he had accidently nicked Billy's fingers--Billy's hands were so small compared to his own. Or maybe it had something to do with electroshock he had administered two days ago... yes, that was probably it... that was about the time that Billy began acting bizarrely.

Finster quickly trimmed Billy's nails, being extra careful not to cut his fingers. "Your other hand," he demanded, dumping the first batch of nails into an empty test tube.

Leaning forward, Billy apprehensively passed his hand through the bars and watched Finster trim the fingernails, doing his best not to flinch.

When he had finished, Finster placed the test tube of fingernails in a rack containing other dry "samples" from Billy--skin scrapings, blondish locks of hair, and the like. He grabbed a nearby pitcher and poured a glass of water.

"Here," he said, turning and thrusting the glass through the bars, "drink this."

Billy clutched the glass and greedily gulped down the water--Finster had forgotten to give him anything to drink for hours. "Can I have another glass?" he hoarsely croaked, pushing the glass back through the bars.

Finster's face darkened. "That would not be advisable," he flatly remarked, quickly turning away.

"Why?" Billy asked, an uneasy feeling descending upon him.

The monster offered no answer.

"Finster...?" Billy warily questioned, rising to his feet. His world blurred, turned grey for a moment and spun out of control.

"Billy! Please sit back down," Finster pleaded as the boy's knees buckled and he crashed into the cage bars, "you'll hurt yourself!"

Supporting himself on the crossbars of the cage, Billy looked up imploringly at Finster. He turned guiltily away and began making preparations for the next experiment. Finster's image receded, as if Billy were looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Billy's wrists groaned angrily under his weight as it became increasingly more difficult to hold himself up. He closed his eyes, trying to shake the nausea slowly creeping over him.

"Finster... wha... what have you done to me?" he murmured as he felt himself being lifted out of the cage.

"It's just a mild sedative...."

The voice sounded as if it came from across the room. Too far away...

Billy forced open his heavy eyelids. Scorpina stared back at him.

Billy screamed.

"Shut up!" Scorpina shouted, dropping Billy's dead weight like a ton of bricks on the lab table and raising her fist to back hand him.

"No!" Finster intervened, clamping one paw over Billy's mouth while using the other to restrain Scorpina's hand. "We must keep him calm--and quiet!" he snapped as Scorpina reluctantly dropped her hand.

Finster turned his back on Scorpina and held Billy's face in both of his paws. "She's not going to hurt you... okay?"

The momentary adrenaline rush having passed, Billy slowly nodded, his ragged wheezing giving way to lethargic heaving.

"Good." Finster went across the room to finish his preparations. "Scorpina, prepare the patient."

"Yes, sir," Scorpina's voice was tinged with resentment.

Billy's heart skipped a beat as Scorpina laid her cold hands on him and rolled him on his side. She seized his battered wrists, causing a yelp of pain to escape from his lips. Ignoring this, she jerked his hands in front of him and began forcing them into a pair of restraints strapped to the side of the table.

"His hands won't fit...." she growled, pulling the leather restraints tighter, but unable to make the buckle close.

"They'll fit..." Finster absently replied, apparently unconcerned about Billy's pained whimpering, "His wrists are swollen from pulling at them earlier, but they'll fit...."

Billy yelped again as the restraints finally snapped into place, pinching his skin. Scorpina then moved down to the foot of the table, positioned Billy's legs to ensure he remained on his side, and fastened them down with a strap that spanned the length of the table. "He's ready," she announced, curiously admiring her handiwork. "What's the point of this experiment?" she asked, trying to conceal her curiosity by adding an air of contempt to her voice.

"With this sample," Finster began, puttering back to the lab table, "I'll be able to gain tremendous insight into human neurochemistry... and even, perhaps, to how the brain and central nervous system operate. You see...."

"That's all I wanted to know," Scorpina cut him short. She bent over to peer into Billy's face, a glint of mischief in her eye, which made Billy involuntarily shudder. "Why don't you just dissect him alive?" she lolled, "Then all of your questions would be answered at once..." A contemptuous sneer played across her lips as Billy's eyes widened with fear when Finster failed to respond.

"Hush," Finster snapped, obviously annoyed. "Quit trying to scare him--you're not helping."

"I tied him down, didn't I?" Scorpina responded, rising to her full height and assuming a more threatening posture. "And I haven't told Lord Zedd and Empress Rita about your little 'guest'--don't forget that."

Finster snorted, but made no reply.

Billy cringed as a blast of cold air pelted his bare back--Finster had lifted up his shirt. A sudden, sharp pain exploded in his lower back, then slowly, agonizingly penetrated deeply, cutting its way to the very depths of his spine.

Scorpina quickly covered Billy's mouth, stifling any potential scrams. Tears involuntarily welled up in Billy's eyes, and he began to jerk hard against the restraints, trying to wrench the needle from his spine.

"Keep him still!" Finster panicked, the needle momentarily slipping from his grasp.

Scorpina threw her body over Billy's, holding him still by sheer force of weight. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" she hissed.

"Hold him still!" Finster repeated, removing one vial from the end of the tap and snapping another in its place. "Almost done..." he shakily coaxed, trying to soothe his rattled nerves almost as much as reassure Billy.

Billy stifled a whimper as Finster slowly withdrew the needle. His legs twitched nervously as Scorpina loosened the restraints and rolled him on his back.

"I'll be right back," Finster called over his shoulder, disappearing into the next room.

"No!" Billy's mind raced furiously, "please don't leave me here alone with her..."

A grin crept over Scorpina's features as she began fastening a restraint across his chest.

Billy made a movement as if to run, but realized his legs weren't responding. "Oh god," he whispered.

Scorpina's face darkened. She drew back from Billy. "Guess I won't be needing the leg restraints," she sardonically remarked, tossing a blanket over Billy. She seemed almost... disappointed.

"Your little toy is broken," Scorpina called towards the other room.

"Wha--?" Finster absently wandered from the adjacent room.

He was answered with a stony silence as Scorpina stalked past him, slamming the door behind her.

* * *

Zack sucked in his breath. "Billy--" he began, but faltered, not exactly sure what he wanted to say, "I... well, I..."

"Please don't apologize," Billy waved off Zack's stammering.



Zack sat a few moments in silence, racking his brain for something to say. Billy remained next to him, completely drained both physically and emotionally. His soft, ragged breathing reached Zack's ears for the first time since their conversation began. Zack felt a stab at his heart. It was a painful reminder that Billy was still sick--very sick--and it was partially his fault. He should have spotted the fake....

"Stop it," Billy peevishly snapped.

"Stop what?" Zack wondered--again--if Billy was really able to read his thoughts that easily, or if he was just being paranoid.

"Stop staring at me...." Billy trailed off, not caring whether or not he was being "tactful." Zack noted Billy's face blanch another degree and his green eyes glass over.

"You look tired," Zack breached, trying not to sound overly concerned.

"I am tired..." Billy sighed.

"It's hard remembering, isn't it?"

"Yes." Billy could barely conceal the tinge of bitterness creeping into his voice. "But not as hard as--" he choked back the knot forming in his throat.

"As having been there," Zack finished Billy's thought for him. "Billy, I don't know what to say... I mean, had it been me... well, I dunno... I don't think I could have done it."

Billy sleepily blinked a few times. "Done what?"

Zack shifted uneasily. "Well... you know... survived and all..." Billy's eyes lit up and implored him to elaborate. "I mean... gosh, I probably would have gotten killed... or I'd have turned myself in... or something."

Billy shuddered, remembering more than one occasion when he had huddled in the castle's cold ventilation shafts and accidently overheard Zedd and Rita making plans for his capture and grisly execution. "Surrendering wasn't an option--they would have killed me."

"Not if you agreed to work for them."

Billy was genuinely shocked. "Do you think I'd--"

"No!" Zack interrupted, "I didn't mean it that way! But I think... I think _I_ would have..." he muttered, the blood rising to his face over this unexpected confession. "It didn't even cross your mind, did it?"

Billy mutely nodded "no," causing Zack to blush more furiously. "I don't think you would have, either," Billy placed a hand on Zack's shoulder and squeezed gently.

Zack smiled weakly, the heat in his face instantly dissipating. "Thanks, man. That means a lot to me."

Billy slid off the bench, absently tottered a few feet and sat down in the cool grass. Zack slipped next to him. "Are you feeling okay?" he asked, placing a hand to Billy's forehead. Billy's skin was cold and clammy, yet he was sweating. "Maybe we should get you home so you can rest awhile..."

"No... wait--I want to finish," Billy pleaded, shaking off Zack's hand.

"Finish? Uh... I think we really should get you--"

"I want to finish," Billy insisted.

"Um... okay... yeah, sure--go ahead and finish your story," Zack reluctantly conceded. Upsetting Billy would only make matters worse. "So... how did you escape?"

Clinging to Zack's arm for support, Billy pulled himself closer and smiled weakly.

"What?" Zack asked, noticing the faint smile. It was probably the first time anybody had seen Billy smile in days--if not longer.

"Its just..." Billy paused, his mind clouding over momentarily.

Zack slipped an arm around Billy, noticing his friend was becoming more distant. Not "aloof" distant, but "Tired" distant.

"Just... well, you assumed I escaped," Billy finally continued his thought, leaning heavily on Zack's supporting arm, "I think the others... others would have assumed... assumed I was released... not... not escaped... anyway..."

Zack shook his head sadly as Billy's voice trailed off into barely coherent muttering, and doubted Billy even realized that Zack had picked him up and was carrying him to the car.

* * *

Billy groaned slightly as he was unceremoniously dumped back on the cold lab table. The icy metal nipped at his bare skin, causing convulsive shivering to rack his near-broken body.

Pulling his arms tighter around his body for warmth, Billy struggled to pull his knees into a fetal position. Sharp pains cascaded down his back, ending with a painful, though not entirely unpleasant, tingling in his calves and feet. Unpleasant had been the numbing lack of response he had experienced for the last three days. Now it just felt as if his legs were asleep all of the time.

Finster tucked a blanket around the shivering teen and reached under his back, adjusting Billy and the table to an upright sitting position. Billy recoiled violently from Finster's touch. Whether the reaction was prompted by fear or pain--Billy's back was still a little tender from the spinal tap--Finster couldn't tell. He tenderly smoothed back Billy's hair--a gesture of affection he had seen on many TV shows, whose satellite signals he had intercepted--but rather than reciprocate the gesture, Billy shuddered and turned his head away.

Sighing heavily, Finster withdrew his paw. Billy had become increasingly withdrawn. He had flatly refused food and water on several occasions, and Finster worried that he would have to place Billy on a saline drip to prevent serious dehydration.

On top of it all, Billy's recovery from the spinal tap was much too slow and inconsistent. For three days he had not been able to move, and Finster feared that he might have permanently damaged Billy's spine. Then, earlier today, Billy had shown some progress. Periods of inactivity were offset by periods of bizarre hyperactivity. Extreme hypersensitivity, in which Billy was curled up and doubled over with agonizing pain, interrupted the "normal" periods during which he felt absolutely nothing. Over the past twelve hours, the cycles had regulated themselves to a steady 1 1/2 hour schedule. By Finster's calculations, the next cycle would be starting soon, and he wanted to keep Billy under close observation, in case Billy required assistance. A few more days, and perhaps Billy's mobility might be completely restored.

Almost as if on cue, Billy stifled a moan, and with lightning quickness, retracted into a fetal position, the mobility in his legs apparently no longer restricted.

"Here, drink this," Finster coaxed, rushing to Billy's side, attempting to straighten the boy out, and bringing a glass of bluish liquid to Billy's lips.

Billy pursed his lips and turned his head away.

"Billy, please!" Finster pleaded, "It will help you..."

Billy knocked the glass from Finster's hands. "Like the last time?" he snapped, "What will you do this time? Lobotomize me with an icepick? Rip out my heart to see how long it continues beating outside of my body? Dissect me piece by piece like some sort of machine?? I'm not one of your monsters, Finster--if you break me, you can't fix me!"

Finster's frustration mounted. He was angry with Billy--never before had he seen Billy this....stubborn... or upset. But most of all, he was angry with himself. He felt that he had been doing the procedures for Billy at first--to find out how Billy "worked" so that he could "fix" him better. But it got carried away--he did them now for his own scientific curiosity--and had hurt the boy. "I didn't mean to hurt you--"

"Well, you did," Billy sullenly interrupted. "I trusted you!!" he suddenly exploded, breaking down into sobs. "You're just like the others..."

"What others?" Finster asked, trying not to sound like he was exploiting Billy's vulnerability.

"My friends," Billy continued through his sobs, "I trusted them, too. And they've left me here to die, haven't they?..."

"No, they haven't," Finster assured. It wasn't a lie--they hadn't forgotten... really. They just didn't know. Eventually the clone would make a mistake, and the rangers would come for Billy. It was a dangerous waiting game--and time was running out for Billy. Even as small as the boy was, Finster could feel the intense heat rising from his fever-racked body. He tried to touch Billy, to give reassurance but the boy only flinched away from his hand. "They'll come..."

"Finster!!!" The shriek seemed to pierce through every room in the castle. Billy tensed, listening to the quickly approaching footsteps that reverberated in the hallway just outside the lab. "Finster! Where are you?!?"

"Shh!" Finster ordered, quickly bundling Billy in the blanket. He scooped up the teenager and carried him to the closet. "Quickly, we must hide you before she gets here," he whispered, setting Billy on the floor of the closet and throwing another blanket over him. "Don't make a sound," he softly reminded Billy as he closed the door.

Finster hadn't managed to fully close the closet when the lab door blew open and Rita stormed in. Billy shrank under his blankets, trying to make himself as obscure as possible.

"Finster! Where the hell have you been?!" Rita barked.

Assuming a more humble posture, Finster grasped for an explanation. "Well..."

"Nevermind!" she snapped, "I don't want to hear your pathetic excuses--you were supposed to be upstairs 15 minutes ago. Now get!" she ordered, shoving Finster towards the door. "I need to get that brat back to Earth before she's missed."

"Just a minute," Finster stalled, hoping to make is way back to the closet so he could lock it.

"Now! Go!" Rita screamed, pushing Finster out the door and slamming it shut behind her.

Billy shakily exhaled the breath he had been holding and pulled a blanket tightly around him in an attempt to control his trembling. He silently crept from his hiding place, his eyes darting nervously around the room, like a hunted animal.

His legs twinging slightly, Billy collapsed against Finster's workstation to rest.

Scattered around the table were various "samples" Finster had collected from Billy. Billy shook his head in disgust--it was a sloppy area at best--made his own lab seem immaculate. Several blood samples were spoiling from being left out too long. In the center of the workbench was a large book. Billy carefully slid along the table, using it to support himself as his weakened legs continued to slowly buckle under his weight.

When he finally reached the book, Billy cautiously thumbed through it, so as not to disturb the loose sheets that had apparently been shoved in as an afterthought. It was the book chronicling Finster's experiments and observations of Billy, handwritten in sloppy, scratchy English. Apparently, Finster was trying to read and write English in an attempt to "encode" his work. Billy flipped to the beginning of the book and read:

--Subject brought in by several monsters. Apparent head trauma--bleeding from he ear, fading in and out of consciousness... --

Billy sighed and flipped ahead--he didn't remember being brought in, and he wasn't so sure he wanted to. His eyes came to rest on a page written only two days prior:

--Still difficult to assess damage of failed spinal tap. Subject uncooperative at best, unresponsive at worst. Refuses to answer basic questions, perform basic functions. Considering injection of thorozine, to get him to be more cooperative--

Trembling, Billy turned the page to read on. The previous entry broke off--no more about a thorozine injection, for which Billy was thankful--and picked up with yesterday's entry:

--Scorpina becoming more insistent about turning Billy over to her. He wouldn't survive in her care--even if she didn't' kill him outright, he'd succumb to the various effects and illnesses resulting from her previous "care."

The fever persists--even after weeks of treatment. The complications from the spinal tap are still difficult to assess, though Billy seems to be showing some signs of pain--an indication that the damage may not be permanent. Other damage may be permanent--most notably slight brain damage from numerous concussions and a minor skull fracture (probably the result of Scorpina's beatings or the other monsters "playing" with the boy), and epidermal scarring from various deep welts and lacerations.

Still, I cannot keep him. Even if he wasn't painfully executed by Scorpina and/or Rita and Zedd, I lack the facilities to "fix" him and send him home. He will die if not sent back to Earth soon. As much as the potential to observe the death process and perform a human autopsy fascinates me, I do not wish to watch the boy suffer. Researching lethal injections... --

Billy's vision dimmed and he clutched the counter for support. Tears welled in his eyes--Finster was going to execute him. Whether out of scientific curiosity or some warped altruistic sense of "relieving his suffering," the result would still be the same--he'd be dead.

"He's going to kill me..." Billy muttered softly. A sheen of sweat dotted his forehead, and, for a moment, he felt himself start to black out. His hands clenched the book. "No," he told himself, "I'm not gonna die like a lab rat." The distance to the lower caverns seemed huge--insurmountable--but it was better, his battered mind said quietly, to go out fighting.

* * *

Upon returning from his "meeting" with Rita, Finster expected to find the worst. A quick inventory of the lab revealed that Billy had indeed fled, and had taken a blanket and a water bottle with him.

Finster sighed and leaned against his workbench, wondering what could have prompted the boy to flee, when he felt they were making so much progress. His hands lightly skimmed his book as he shifted his weight, and he turned his full attention to it, realizing he needed to log these latest developments.

The book was open to yesterday's entry. Funny, he didn't remember leaving it open... Billy must have been reading it... and, from what Finster could tell, had stopped at the part touching upon the lethal injection...

"Damn!" Finster spat, slamming the book shut and throwing it to the floor. Those random observations and musings had obviously frightened the boy into running. If it had that sort of effect on Billy, he could just imagine the sort of traitorous behavior someone as weak minded as Rita would read into it. The log would have to be destroyed.

Curious chatter captured Finster's attention and he suddenly realized he had left his newest charge standing outside. "Shoo!" he barked at the monsters, rushing to the door and waving them away. "Come in," he ordered the entranced girl, herding her into the room and shutting the door behind them.

This girl was Rita's latest attempt to undermine the Rangers. According to what Rita told Finster, this young lady was to infiltrate their ranks and destroy them from the inside. Apparently she had forgotten that she already had someone to do that--he was just waiting on his orders.

Finster was to place a spell on this young lady to allow her to transform into a cat at will so she could slip amongst the Rangers without any suspicion being cast.

Cat--a humorous pun on the girl's name, Kat. Finster studied the fair creature curiously--she was rather tall and slender. and pretty--for a human.

"Sit," Finster barked at her, setting up for the task at hand.

Kat hesitated. For a brief moment her vapid blue eyes flickered with a gleam of... stubbornness? Self-awareness?... before sitting on the table previously occupied by Billy only hours earlier.

Finster snickered. Just like all of Rita's plans, this one was destined to fail. Kat was already starting to fight the spell. A truly good heart could never be fully corrupted--Rita should have learned that with Tommy, and chosen her newest "candidate" more wisely.

Knowing Rita's luck, Finster mused, Kat will end up becoming good friends with the Rangers. Who knows... somewhere down the line, she may even BECOME a Ranger.

A sudden inspiration hit Finster. He scooted a stool over to the table and sat down facing Kat. He knew a little magic... this might work...

"Look at me," he snapped his fingers in front of her face a few times to draw her attention. When she turned her vacant stare upon him, he waved a paw over her face, easing the grip Rita's spell had on her. A glimmer of consciousness shone behind the girl's eyes.

"Good," Finster muttered, "Now... I want to tell you a story, but you must keep it locked in the back of your mind until the time is right. Understand?"

Kat slowly nodded "yes."

"Good..." Finster continued, "It's about a boy you will meet--a young man named Billy..."

* * *

"Grampa, I don't know what to do." Zack toyed with his dinner. His grandparents looked at each other, not sure if they knew how to help.

"Did you try talking to your other friends?" Claire Taylor knew that Zack's friends were closeknit. "Maybe your friend Billy has just misunderstood. He has been under a lot of stress, you know."

Zack shook his head. "I kinda thought of that, but I think he's right. Most of them just can't deal with it. I thought Adam was actually going to cry." He didn't mention that Trini had cried, or that Aisha had completely clammed up. "Tommy and Jason are at each others throats. It's splitting everyone apart and that's the last thing Billy needs... I think."

Cliff Taylor hummphed. "Sounds like your friend needs to get away and relax. He needs time, Zack. Between your friends bickering, his father's concern and the fact that he has been through a nightmare I can't even imagine... you're lucky you aren't visiting him in the looney bin, you know."

"Cliff..." Claire's voice had a hint of warning to it.

"The boy knows what I'm talking about." Cliff tipped his cigar towards Zack. "Your friend... we're talking about the shy one, aren't we? He was high strung to start with. You can be damn certain being tortured for months didn't help." Cliff saw his grandson cringe at the word torture. "Well, he was Zack. Damn near killed him. Hell... its almost too bad the kid didn't loose it. People would be a helluva lot easier on him."

"Gramps..." Zack hesitated.

"You want to help your friend." Cliff puffed his cigar. "He needs to relax... Take him fishing..."

"Fishing?" Zack didn't quite know what to say. "Grampa... Billy doesn't even like fish... he has this thing..."

"He don't gotta eat the damn things... doesn't even need to catch any... its the act..." Cliff set down his cigar. "Take your friend up to the summer house for a few weeks."

"The summer house? Just the two of us?" Zack considered. No one had headed up to the summer house in ages. It was a big two story log cabin more suited to hunting parties than the occasional family vacation. Zack couldn't picture Billy and him rattling around up there.

"Why not ask a few of your other friends too?" Claire said. "I think a few more people is a good idea. Just in case..."

* * *

"Sure Zack." Kat smiled brilliantly. "That sounds like fun." She took in Zack's sudden elation and sighed. "Not getting many takers, are you?"

Zack sighed. "I think some people need a break too. I mean..."

"Everyone has been under a lot of stress." Kat nodded. "I think its easier for you and I to see it. I just hadn't been able to figure out what to do. Its a good idea..."

"What? What's a good idea?" Rocky pulled up a chair.

"Zack and I are going to take Billy camping... up at Zack's summer place." Kat hesitated. Rocky had been notoriously silent about the entire mess. "Do you want to come with us? It's kind of a getaway."

Rocky frowned. Then, surprisingly, he said. "That's a good idea... I... I haven't really been able to talk with Billy.... He's been kinda... distant... I've been distant too..." Then he added, "I don't know though.... What about Billy's dad?"

* * *

"Absolutely not!" Ward couldn't believe what he was hearing. "It doesn't surprise me that his friends come up with nonsense like this...." Ward shook his fist at Cliff Taylor. "Dammit, Cliff... he's sick. The doctors aren't even sure whats wrong... They keep telling me he's not thriving... that he should be doing better. I don't know what to do. What if he had another seizure up there? Or.. or worse..."

Cliff was suddenly glad Zack had taken his frail looking friend to a movie. It was exactly the sort of situation that was likely not helping the kid's stress levels. "What if he does? There's a phone... Ward, look at yourself. You haven't left that boy alone for over a month. You need the break, and I'm willing to bet your boy does too.... He won't be left alone. Someone will have an eye on him. Admit it, you need the time too."

"I just...." Ward sat down heavily. "I feel like everytime I let him leave, it might... be the last time. " He sighed heavily. "This is my fault..."

"Are you going to chain him up in this house for the rest of his life?" Cliff asked harshly. "At least think about it..."

* * *

"I can't believe my dad agreed to this." Billy pulled on his jacket and sunglasses. "How long will it take to get there?"

"About six hours." Zack piled another box of supplies into the trunk. Kat and Rocky gave him a hand. Billy grabbed a box and stifled the sudden heavy breathing the exertion brought on.

"Okay..." Kat took the box, thankful that Billy hadn't picked up one of the heavy boxes. She didn't think he could lift one. Kat had, until Zack had arrived, been trying to stay back in the shadows as far as Billy's recovery went. Oh, sure she had visited Billy in the hospital. She liked him. He had a shy, quiet way about him that made her feel comfortable. She simply didn't want to put any pressure on him. But considering the way things had gone, she figured now it was her turn to try and fix everything. Or, she thought as Billy took the front passenger seat, at least help Billy.

* * *

Rocky glanced at Billy while he drove. Billy had curled up on the front seat after the first hour, and was sleeping so soundly that he hadn't even twitched when Kat had thrown her jacket over him. "He's dead out."

"Pull in at that truck stop." Zack commanded. "We need food."

"No arguing from me there." Rocky was starving. Trucks stops were a definite choice place to eat too. Zack reached over and shook Billy. "Hey man..."

Billy bolted upright. "What?!" Rocky slammed the car into a parking spot. Billy slowly got his bearings. "Oh... are we there?"

"No." Rocky's hands were shaking. "We're..."

"Just stopping to get something to eat." Kat said brightly. She got out of the car. "Come on guys." The only way both Rocky and Billy were ever going to feel comfortable was if they didn't make a big deal about things. And, Kat mused with a grin, hopefully it won't involve a car accident.

"This place has awesome food." Zack as they entered the diner. He ushered then to a corner booth. "My folks would always stop here on the way. The pie is to die for."

"Cherry pie?" Billy asked hopefully as he took a seat.

"Banana cream pie?" asked Rocky.

"We have pie for everyone's taste." Their waitress slapped down menus. "But try having lunch first... we do that pretty well too." The older woman trotted off.

"Food..." Rocky regained his good cheer. "Oh man... fried chicken and mashed potatoes..." He nudged Billy playfully. "Sounds good... I might have two orders."

"Yeah.." Billy was a little awed by the menu. "Guys... this is sad... This is the first place I've been other than the Juice Bar in... five months...."

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Then, "Billy, you need to get out more," just popped out of Zack's mouth. Billy burst into laughter and seconds later so did the others. Zack was beginning to think his grandfather was right. Billy just needed to get away.

* * *

Rocky spied Billy walk out onto the wooden dock. He smiled and swam over. Billy was in shorts and a T-shirt, an indicator of just how hot it was. Rocky had taken to the water to escape the unseasonably warm weather. It was summer, sure, but the 100 degree heat had everyone panting. If Billy, constantly cold, had forsaken heavy clothing, then it was just too hot.

Or, perhaps Billy was feeling better. Rocky couldn't quite believe the change in his friend. At first, Billy had been obviously nervous and tense. Slowly though, Billy had seemed to unwind. It wasn't unusual to see him smile. Rocky even thought he'd put on some weight. God knows they were going through enough food. Another good sign though. Rocky had worried at first. Billy had at first, been mostly picking at meals, but the last few days had done something.... Billy was actually coming close to rivalling him at putting away the food. No mean feat.

"Kat is making chili for dinner." Billy said as he sat down at the edge of the dock. "And Zack wants to have a another Monopoly tournament tonight."

"Another?" Rocky chuckled. He laid back in the water.

"Well..." Billy smiled easily. "I think tomorrow we'll head into town and rent some new movies..." He dangled his feet into the water.

"Why don't you jump in?" Rocky encouraged. Billy was sweating. "It's got to be over 100 today."

"106, actually." Billy said. "I don't have a suit...."

"Come on. Just jump in." Rocky said playfully. "Heck, don't even take your shirt off..." It occurred to Rocky that Billy had never really been cool about strutting around shirtless. "The water's great."

Billy peered into the water. "There's fish in the water..."

"And sea weed, and rocks." Rocky paddled back and forth. "The fish don't bite."

"I don't really know how to swim." Billy blushed. "And... I don't like fish..."

"You can stand here." Rocky demonstrated. Faintly, Rocky recalled Zack saying something about Billy being a little phobic about fish. Hesitantly, Billy stepped down the dock ladder into the water.

"This is.... different..." Billy never really liked the water. It was up around his chest and he was nervous. Something touched his toes and he jumped. "What was that?"

"Don't worry..." Rocky swished the water around, hoping Billy hadn't noticed the minnows. "It's just fish..."

"Fish? Here?" Billy backed up until he was up against the dock. "Maybe I'll just get out...."

Rocky chuckled. "Billy... I just do not believe you. Are you really thinking that the lake fish are gonna eat you?"

"It's not funny."

Billy, Rocky suddenly realized, was deadly serious. A shadow moved across the water.

"Oh god! What was that?" Billy jumped so high that Rocky caught him on the way down.

Rocky started laughing. "A minnow!" he snickered, "You know, a 'little fishie.'"

Billy flushed. "Its not funny," he muttered kicking himself free of Rocky's arms.

"Oh yes it was," Rocky snorted between fits of hysterical laughter. "You should have seen your face!" His face turned bright red and tears began streaming down his face. "Definitely a Kodak moment."

Billy impatiently waited for Rocky's laughter to die down.

"What's that??" Rocky suddenly screamed, pointing into the water.

"WHAT?!" Billy shrieked, bending over and looking apprehensively into the water where Rocky was pointing.

"Oh no, Billy, its another fishie!" Rocky exclaimed, slapping his hand on the water and splashing Billy in the face. His hysterical fit of laughter resumed.

"You're so funny," Billy sardonically remarked, splashing Rocky back.

Rocky dodged the splash. "And I'm a better shot too," he retorted, splashing Billy in the face again.

"Ow!" Billy doubled over, grabbing his eye. "My contacts!"

Rocky stopped laughing. "Oh man... I'm sorry, Billy" he apologized as he waded over to where Billy stood. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked, placing a hand on Billy's shoulder.

"Yeah," Billy replied, slapping an hand over Rocky's, "'cause I'm the better actor!" He used Rocky's outstretched arm as a lever to toss him into the water and pushed Rocky's head under, just to make sure he got nice and wet.

"Hey!" Rocky sputtered, re-emerging. Billy had already started clumsily swimming away. "I'm not finished with you yet, Billy!" he shouted, taking off after him.

Rocky easily overtook Billy in a few easy strokes. "You're going down, man!" he said, grabbing the back of Billy's shirt and jerking him backwards.

"No! Wait!" Billy began. He never had a chance to finish--Rocky mercilessly pushed him under.

"Oops, too late," Rocky smirked.

But Billy didn't come up. "Billy?" Rocky called. "Billy?" he repeated, peering nervously into the murky water.

Suddenly something grabbed his feet. Rocky thrashed his arms about, managing to keep himself afloat as Billy popped up, holding his feet.

"I think its your turn," Billy sneered, positioning his hand on Rocky's head.

As Billy pushed, Rocky reached out and grabbed the front of Billy's shirt. "Oh no, its your turn--really, I insist!"

Rocky jerked hard on Billy's shirt as he went under. He heard something rip. Billy staggered backwards, clutching the bare spot on his chest where Rocky had ripped his shirt.

He couldn't help but stare at the huge gashes that crisscrossed Billy's chest. Some were completely healed, leaving a trail of puckered pink scarred skin while others were still scabbed over. Rocky shuddered, imagining how painful they must have been... must still be.

Billy shifted uncomfortably under Rocky's stare. He could feel his whole body flushing with embarrassment, and his lip began trembling. Don't... don't get upset.... he ordered himself.

Aware that his staring was making Billy uncomfortable, Rocky lowered his eyes to the sopping blue material in his hand. "Um... here..." he muttered, thrusting the cloth towards Billy, "sorry..."

Billy snatched the cloth from Rocky's hand. "S'okay," he muttered through gritted teeth, turning his back on Rocky.

Something needed to be said. Rocky felt it in his gut. "Jeez... Billy... why didn't you say something? That's..." he sighed, "I'm... I'm really sorry about... well, you know... leaving you there and all..."

"I said it was okay!" Billy snapped.

"No it's not!" Rocky spat back. "For god's sake Billy, you have a right to be mad, you know!" He felt Billy wasn't really listening to him. Rocky grabbed Billy's shoulders and swung him around to face him. "Look at me!" he ordered. "Damnit, Billy! We left you there for months. You have every right to be mad at us! Do you think you're sparing us any discomfort by not being angry? Do you?" he shook Billy for added emphasis. "You have to face it! We left you there to die!"

"Stop it!! Let go of me!!" Billy shrieked, hurling a fist at Rocky. Through his tears he could see his fist make contact with Rocky's jaw and blood spurt from the lip. Somehow, that only enraged him more and he continued to pummel Rocky. "There! You like that? That's what I get to face. That what every day there was like only multiply it a thousand times over! I'm going to be facing it for the rest of my life and all you can say is 'I'm sorry.' Well, it doesn't cut it! It's not going to cut it so just shut up!" With that Billy punched Rocky one last time and flung himself off into the water and swam to the dock.

Rocky stood numbly in the water and wiped the blood off his face. Billy had gotten lucky on his first punch, and the rest had barely stung.... Rocky had a feeling he was getting off lucky. He paddled over to the dock and got out of the water, very conscious of the fact that Billy was watching him from the water. He held out a hand to Billy. After a moment, Billy accepted it and Rocky gave him a quick pull up.

"You okay?" he asked. He deserved everything that Billy had said, but Billy was looking a little pale.

"No... yeah..." Billy sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. Rocky threw a large towel over him . "Thanks." He smiled shyly.

"No problem." Rocky suddenly felt a weight lift off of him and he smiled in return.

* * *

Kat's slender fingers pulled back the gauzy kitchen curtains, allowing her to peer out the window. She smiled slightly to herself as she watched the guys playing touch football outside.

After five minutes, she gave up trying to figure out who was on whose team. Apparently, the guys didn't know either--sometimes Rocky would toss the ball to Zack, other times, he'd be trying to take Zack down. Kat was surprised by how fast Billy could move--he was difficult to catch and easily overtook Rocky, whom Kat considered a very fast runner.

Most of their time, however, was spent retrieving wild balls. Kat couldn't help but laugh out loud as the ball bounced off Rocky's head--Billy may have been a good runner, but he was a lousy toss.

The... game?... came to an end a short time later when one of Zack's wild balls firmly planted itself in a tree. The guys stood under it a few seconds looking stupidly at the ball, as if that would make it come down. Zack made a running leap at the offending branch, completely missed, and landed hard on his rear. Billy and Rocky burst out in hysterical laughter and took off running once Zack regained his feet. Zack trotted off after them into the woods, shouting some sort of vague, testosterone-inspired threat that Kat couldn't make out through the thick glass pane.

Turning from the window, Kat padded over the stove where last night's leftover chili simmered. She jabbed a spoon into the thick chili, stirring the mixture of tomato, beef and beans. Spicy hot steam wafted up to her face, burning her nose with pungent odor. She gingerly raised the spoon to her lips, blowing softly on the spoon before sliding it into her mouth.

"Ouch!" she hissed, quickly retracting the spoon. Too hot. And maybe a bit too spicy--considering how Billy was kind of sensitive to the spice last night. But, of course, Kat reasoned, such opinions should only be formed after a second sampling.

Kat brought the spoon to her lips a second time, turning away from the hot stove. Someone was standing in the doorframe. Startled, she screamed, sending the spoon clattering to the floor.

"Kat!... Oh geez... Kat... I'm sorry..." Billy stammered, rushing forward and falling to his knees to help clean up the mess on the floor. "I... I didn't mean to scare you..."

"It's okay..." Kat sighed in relief, reaching behind her to grab a towel. She kneeled next to Billy, who was scraping up the spilled chili with his hands. "Here... let me get that," she smiled, taking his hand in her own and wiping it clean.

Billy blushed, self-consciously jerking his hand away.

Kat felt the blood rise to her cheeks as well. How sweet... she thought, I wonder if he was always this flustered around girls... His clone hadn't been--yet another thing that should have tipped off the rangers that "Billy" wasn't Billy.

Well, no point in pointing fingers now... enough people were doing that. "Are you guys done with your game?"

"For now..." Billy said softly. "Um... Kat....um...." He'd wanted to talk to Kat for a while but somehow he never could corner her.

"Yo Billy!" Zack bounced in. "Wanna take the rowboat out with me?"

"Um..." Kat felt the odd moment fizzle. Billy had been about to say something, she knew, but...

"Yeah... sure...." Billy blushed again and left. Zack simply blinked in surprise. He had interrupted something but it was too late now.

* * *

He heard the footsteps of someone walking down the path to the dock. Looking through the trees, he spotted Kat's blonde hair. He sighed and continued dangling his bare feet in the cool water. The footsteps thumped out onto the dock, much as he had suspected they would.

"Hey Billy." Kat gracefully sat down next to him. "The monopoly tournament will be starting soon."

"We need to find another game." Billy chuckled.

"Well... we have a few minutes..." Kat actually had told Zack and Rocky to give her some time. She had a feeling Billy wanted to talk.

"Yeah..." Billy hesitated. He wanted to talk but the attempt he'd made earlier in the evening still made him cringe. And Kat was so... sophisticated to begin with. No doubt she thought he was clutzy nervous wreck. "It's nice out tonight...."

"I know... it's always at night when I get homesick." Kat felt a sudden tug of loneliness as she spoke. "I look up... and the constellations are all wrong... and I keep thinking its just not the same." She blushed. "That sounds so silly..."

"No, that's not silly." Billy said softly. "Being lonely can... can be overpowering..."

"Was it really bad?" Kat asked gently.

After a moment, Billy nodded. "When I saw you... you don't realize...."

"Realize what?" Kat sensed she was very close to the subject that Billy had tried to broach earlier.

"It..." He took a deep breath. "You saved my life... I was... It was over. I couldn't go on... I was heading down into the lower chambers.... and I was going to die. I'd given up."

"Really?" Kat was surprised. "You mean... suicide?"

He paled suddenly. "No... not like that. You don't understand..." His hands clenched the dock. "I just couldn't go on... I could take the beatings and never getting enough rest or food... I could even make myself think that there was a rescue coming. I just couldn't... she knew.... she'd found the one thing left to hurt me with and I... I couldn't let that happen." He hesitated, his face getting even redder. "There's a point where... things go too far... and you can't let it go any further." As he spoke, the clouds that had been threatening all afternoon began to rain softly on the two teens. Billy sighed.

"Are you okay?" Kat asked. She rather liked the feel of the rain. It was soft and gentle, more a light misting than anything else. If Billy was upset by it though....

"Yes... no..." Billy pulled his feet out of the water. "It just.. reminds me... only a little... of that last time with Scorpina..."

* * *

Billy shuddered--he was dripping wet. He crouched low against the wall -- another dead end. he prayed she'd just go away.

Another freezing blast of pressurized water hit him against the back and knocked him to the floor. Billy sputtered and gasped for air against the onslaught.

"Want another drink, Blue Ranger?" Scorpina hissed, momentarily shutting off the hose.

Billy struggled to regain his feet and his breath when Scorpina turned the hose on him again. The column of water hit him in the center of the chest, and he was thrown against the wall. His head knocked hard against the wall. As he slid to the floor, a sharp pain shot through his head and darkness began to enclose him.

Throwing the hose aside, Scorpina strolled over to Billy and easily pushed him over onto his back. Billy moaned slightly, but stifled it as best as he could. He did not want to give her the satisfaction of crying out in pain.

Scorpina loomed over him a minute, then straddled his body and dropped to her knees. As her weight crashed down upon him, Billy unsuccessfully tried suppressing a gasp. He groaned as she slid herself to a comfortable position just above his hips and feebly tried pushing her away.

She laughed maliciously. "I thought you were dead. You surprise me...." Billy could tell that she knew he was too frail to fight her off. She easily swept his hands aside with one stroke. Billy cried out in pain as his hands slammed painfully onto the cold, hard floor above his head. Her lips spread into a smile as she heard it. No more whimpering... the actual cry...

"But you're not dead, are you, Billy?" she malevolently breathed into his ear, "At least, not to me... but to them..." She knew their last meeting was still fresh in his mind and glowered with gratification at seeing Billy's ill-concealed grief.

Scorpina slid further down his hips and leaned over him Oh God... Billy thought, trying his hardest to hold back sobs, she's gonna rape me... oh God... please help me... don't let this happen....

She bent over and placed her ear against Billy's chest, grinning with satisfaction as she heard his rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing. It was working. She took her free hand and lightly ran her fingernails up and down Billy's side, listening intently as his heart skipped a beat and began to race even faster. She slid her hand under the shreds of Billy's sopping shirt and traced a few of the more recent slashes along his stomach, digging her nails into one to draw fresh blood. Billy's shallow breathing gave way to silent spasmodic whimpers.

Billy blinked back tears as Scorpina shifter her weight again and sat back up. He struggled under her. "Quit struggling, brat!" she spat, slapping him across the face.

The slap did it... the tears began to flow freely now. "What's the matter, Billy?" she spitefully purred, "don't you humans like this sort of thing? Don't all young boys enjoy sex?" She stroked his soggy, grimy hair and ran her fingernails lightly down his face. "I'm the only one who loves you, you know... Isn't this how you humans show your love for each other?" Her pleasure heightened as each calculated word seemed to wound Billy in a way in which even beating him within an inch of his life never seemed to achieve. She could see the fire in his eyes dying, replaced with the dawning hollowness of a broken spirit. "You should love me too... After all, I'm all you have left. Show me how much you love me, Billy..."

Billy shook violently with sobs. "Please, Scorpina... no..." he weakly begged, feeling her lightly stroke his chest.

Scorpina reached under his head, seized his wet hair and violently jerked his head back. Billy shrieked for a moment but was silenced as she pressed her lips hard against his.

Billy struggled to close his mouth and force her away, but his efforts just encouraged Scorpina further. He convulsively coughed and gagged as she pressed herself harder against him. As she pulled away, she bit his lip hard, obviously relishing the taste of his blood in her mouth.

She let go of his hands and forcefully pushed off him.

Billy rolled over onto his side and curled up into a tight fetal position. He whole body shook violently with the force of his sobbing.

Scorpina stood nearby, watching him with perverse fascination. She pulled out her whip and let the lash fall once across his back, smiling viciously as Billy shrieked and convulsively shuddered.

Billy's shaking intensified and became more jerky. He felt an agonizing, cramping pain cascade through him, tensing his muscles to the point where he felt they would snap. It ceased momentarily, then started up again with a vengeance. His throat tightened, causing him to choke on his own sobs and faltering screams. Then it abruptly stopped.

Scorpina had never seen that happen before. She leaned over and peered into his face. His face was smudged and streaked with tears. But he was no longer crying.

Billy stared vacantly back at her, unable to move. He felt as if his body were no longer his own--he was mentally commanding it to get up and run but was only answered with spasmodic, painful twitching. He watched as she nudged him with her hand, obviously hoping to provoke some reaction. Nothing. Billy didn't even feel the touch.

Scanning him for life signs, Scorpina put a hand to his chest. Billy mentally winced seeing her hand so close to his body. Her hand rose and fell in sync with his slow, shallow breathing.

Scorpina carelessly picket up the drenched waif and tucked him under her arm like a rag doll. The swaying sent Billy's head reeling again. She would probably take him to Finster.

* * *

Billy closed his eyes and let the water drip off of him into the lake. He wasn't sure which hurt more--the actual pain he had felt at the time or the ache he was feeling now as it all came rushing back to him. "She was just put off by... by that seizure... she didn't understand..." He took a shuddering breath. "The next time... I couldn't let it happen."

Kat drew him into a hug, not saying a word. She didn't think she could say anything without crying herself. Finally she said, "I'm sorry... I wish we'd gotten there sooner. No one should have to have that happen."

Billy pulled away but after a moment, he smiled. "Thank you Kat."

"For what?"

"Just... thank you."

* * *

Rocky deftly flipped the flapjack. He smiled and piled it onto the huge stack. Breakfast was, in his opinion, best served in large amounts. Along with the mountain of flapjacks, he had made sausage and bacon for a side dish. He debated on frying up some eggs and then decided to wait. It was possible that all the food would be enough.

"Rocky?" Kat looked at the pile of food Rocky had prepared. "Who do you think will eat that?" Kat was simply not a breakfast person. "Zack went into town for supplies and Billy's not up."

"Not up?" Rocky's brow creased with worry. "You know... the last couple days, all he's really done is sleep. And eat... but not as much... Do you think he's okay?"

Kat hesitated. She had not shared what Billy had told her. It wasn't that he asked her not too, he hadn't. He hadn't said much of anything. Kat somehow sensed that she'd been entrusted with a secret, perhaps as a test. A test she fully expected to pass. She had a feeling that he would, at some future time, tell the other Rangers what had happened. The first time was the hardest, and she figured that a lot of why Billy was sleeping all the time was the inevitable emotional crash from baring his soul.

"I think he's okay, Rocky," she said finally. "Just worn out. You and Zack have been keeping him pretty busy. And.... he's been going through some... stuff."

"Stuff?" Rocky looked at his mountainous breakfast and frowned.

"Personal stuff." Kat piled some food on her plate and took a seat.

"I think I know what you mean." Rocky took a seat. "So... what do we do? Just be cool?" It sounded like a plan to him. Billy was doing okay.... if he needed to sleep and maybe just hang around, then that's what Rocky wanted him to do.

"That'll work." As Kat spoke, the door to the porch slammed and many feet pounded across the wooden floor. Zack bounced in, followed by all of the rangers.

"Hey! Look who I found!"

* * *

Billy sighed. The place was teeming with his friends. Even Aisha had decided to come up for a few days, though her cast kept her confined to the cabin.

Cabin was a misleading word, Billy thought as he walked out onto the wide covered porch. It was made of logs, true, but the Taylor family summer cabin was larger than Billy's home. The place was centered around a large open living room/dining room combo with a huge stone fireplace. Almost every night the last two weeks, a cheery fire was lit and they had played cheesy board games on the old latch rug. Most of the bedrooms were loft type rooms, opening off the stairwell to the second floor. There were a few bedrooms on the first floor, more nicely furnished, and Rocky, Zack, Kat and he had grabbed those when they first arrived. The place was huge. With ten people though, it got pretty noisy and hectic. He missed the quiet. The thumping sound of crutches reached his ears. "Aisha."

"How'd you know it was me?" She limped over to where he was standing and smiled at him. "You look tons better. I was worried about you. Now I wish I'd come along. Maybe I'd be looking as good."

"Oh, you're just being nice." he scoffed gently. "Besides, you don't look half bad."

Aisha was taken back for a moment by his words. Billy had never been one to kid like that. "Well, I try." She took a seat on one of the wicker chairs. "You do look better. You seemed so nervous before... Getting away has been good for you."

Billy leaned up against the porch railing. He gave Aisha a smile, a smile so open and genuine, Aisha felt her heart melt a little. She had missed Billy, more than she knew. The odd coldness of the clone was something that had worried her for a while but she had said nothing, figuring that Billy was just upset.Then, the clone was discovered and Aisha had felt like hell. She had felt even worse when she'd seen how slowly Billy was recovering. She smiled back, feeling suddenly at ease. "I missed you Billy."

"Same here." Billy said it easily. Aisha's openness and his own newfound calmness made talking with her somehow... nice. "How's your leg?"

"I get the cast off next week." Aisha started as a sudden flash of lightening illuminated the dimming porch. The heavy scent of rain blew in with the breeze. "Looks like it's gonna storm tonight."

* * *

Dinner was surprisingly calm. Trini had worried about the whole idea of bringing everyone up. As much as she had wanted to come along, she had turned down Zack's invitation to spend a few weeks up at the cabin with Billy. She didn't think it would be a good idea for her. Sure, she and Billy were close friends, but they had been spending so much time together... and Billy was so emotionally needy. There was only so much she could take. It had gotten to the point where she'd started to feel like she'd been appointed as Billy's surrogate mommy. It wasn't healthy for either of them. There was such a thing as spending too much time together.

And her reasoning seemed to be right. Billy seemed... not exactly his old self, but better. Trini didn't hold out much hope that her often naive and gentle friend of old would ever really be back. It saddened her, not that she hadn't thought it would happen eventually anyway, but it still hurt. Her mother had warned her once that a person can't innocent forever. Trini simply wished Billy hadn't found out that truth in such a hard fashion.

"It's storming pretty bad." Adam said softly as she walked by. Adam was, Trini thought to herself, surprisingly closed off. She hadn't known him that well before but to her, he seemed almost afraid of trying to deal with the situation. Billy had given up even trying to talk to him and in fact, Adam had spent most of the day looking through old magazines. That was, to Trini, preferable to how Jason and Tommy were glaring at each other. Everyone was dancing around them and Trini had a bad feeling that it was going to erupt into an argument.

Jason and Tommy shouldn't have come up at all, in her opinion. They both needed to sit down and work out their problems. They needed to do it before they spent time with Billy. But instead, they were snarling at each other and making everyone miserable, especially Billy. Like Aisha, Trini had been heartened by the positive changes in her friend. Billy looked so much better, she almost thought it had been a mistake to have come up with everyone.

Billy saw Trini just looking at him and blushed. He leaned over the fireplace and started to stoke the fire, hoping the flames would cover his embarrassment. When Trini wandered back into the kitchen to help with the after dinner cleanup, he let out a deep sigh.

"You okay Billy?" He started slightly as Tommy clapped him on the back.

"Jeez Tommy...." Jason took a seat on the old lumpy couch. "You just about whacked him into the fire."

"I did not!" Tommy stalked over to a chair. Jason simply rolled his eyes. Billy felt his anger slowly rise and forced it back down. Somehow, he knew that he had the answer to why Tommy and jason were so angry but that was a memory that still eluded him. As he threw another log on the fire, the lights flickered and went out. A crack of thunder rolled over the cabin, rattling the windows.

"We have candles over in here." Rocky came out with a few small candles and matches. Adam took them and lit them. He handed a lit candle to Billy with a shy smile. "Careful."

Billy smiled. "No problem." He took the candle and started to move towards the couch. His feet caught on the latch rug and he spilled to the floor, the candle hitting the rug dangerously close to his head and catching the rug on fire.

"Adam!" Tommy jumped to his feet. He shoved Adam aside and stomped on the flames. Adam fell over on Billy, jabbing him painfully in the back.

"Ow!" Billy winced. He was really more startled than hurt.

"You idiot!" Jason whipped Adam off of Billy. "Look what you did!"

As Billy slowly stood, something started to resonate in his head. He'd heard it before.... Suddenly he realized that Jason and Tommy were still at it.

"It was an accident!" Tommy gave Jason a shove.

"Jerk!" Jason shoved back. "You never take responsibility! It's your fault!"

Billy felt the anger he'd been storing away rise up again. His hands clenched around the fire poker as he tried desperately to get control. Suddenly something Rocky said to him came back... 'You have a right to get angry, you know.' That did it. He gripped the poker and slammed it into the fire place. "SHUT UP!"

Tommy and Jason turned to stare at him. The others all looked up, startled and concerned. Billy didn't care. "You make me sick! All of you!" He smacked the poker into the fireplace again. "You're arguing about whose fault it is... well, let me tell you. You're all to blame! I spent months being beaten and starved! While you all were nice and safe, I was being tortured, experimented on, and damn near raped! And all you people can do is argue about who should get the blame! Well it's your fault!" Billy pointed the poker at Tommy. "Dammit, you had months to figure it out and you didn't." He swung around to Jason. "You talked to the clone on the phone. You could have noticed! Do you understand how it makes me feel? I can be replaced and you never noticed!" Billy turned to Adam, about to shout some more but he saw suddenly that Adam was crying. Sobbing actually....

He threw the poker into the fireplace and stomped to the door. Trini reached out but he brushed her off. "You're not my mother!" He stepped out onto the porch and broke into a run.

The rangers were shocked. No one spoke for a long moment and the only sound in the cabin was the pounding rain and Adam's crying. Then, Jason sat down heavily, his feud with Tommy forgotten. "Raped... experimented on... oh god...." Jason cradled his head in his arms.

"Why didn't... why didn't he say something?" Tommy asked softly.

"What was he supposed to say?" Kat had been silent all day, hoping against all odds that there would not be such an ugly scene. She had seen it building all day. "And when? We've all just danced around this... it's like Billy is just supposed to forget what happened and just be 'okay' with everything. Well, he's not... he can't just brush it off. And he can't play referee to your little blame fest."

Both Jason and Tommy nodded, seeing for the first time how badly they had been acting. They both hung their heads.

"Um... it's raining pretty hard out." Rocky was startled by the sound of his own voice. "And cold..."

"He shouldn't be outside." Adam said suddenly. He stepped over towards the window and a flash of lightening danced across his reflection. "We shouldn't let him wander around in a storm like that..."

* * *

Billy jogged through the sodden forest, barely registering the storm raging around. What was I thinking? he asked himself as he pumped his legs up a small hill. Oh god, Jason and Tommy are probably going at each other with knives or something, and everyone... everyone knows. When I go back, they're going want to know.... He reached the top of the hill and stomped for a moment. The wind whipped around him and he could feel the rain splattering down on his head.

Maybe I won't go back, he thought suddenly, but he knew he was just putting off the inevitable. It felt good though to be alone and running.... he felt not exactly refreshed but better. He trotted down the hill, not wanting to go back but realizing that he had probably scared the hell out of everyone.

The path was sloppy with mud. Before he could really register it, he had fallen and sliding down the slope. He reached out wildly and latched onto a tree root to stop his fall.

"Whoa..." he sat up and put a hand to his forehead. A headache was coming on. He suddenly realized where he was. Near the cabin, up on a ridge of cliffs. His feet... his feet were dangling over the edge. If I'd missed that branch, he thought, I'd be dead. I would have fallen to the bottom... close to 100ft. He took a deep breath and tried to will the shock away. It wouldn't go, and his headache grew worse. Falling...

* * *

"Billy, I've got you!" Trini, with Jason and Tommy's help, pulled Billy over the edge and back onto the hospital's roof. He was shaking.... vibrating almost and he couldn't make it stop. It was like he was in fast forward while everyone else was moving in slow motion.

"Trini? And... Jason..." He didn't really understand... He'd seen Trini earlier but he knew that was wrong. They should be in Switzerland. Not that it mattered. It suddenly struck home to him... he had escaped. He was safe. The hyper state of awareness that he had to live in to survive in the castle suddenly blacked out. It didn't matter anymore... where he was, who was around him. He was safe with his friends. Trini gently steered him away from the edge. He shook his head, feeling the trembling envelope him and the only thing that kept him from collapsing was the supporting arm that Trini had wrapped around him. He saw Kat and Rocky lean over the building edge. What? he thought to himself, what are they looking at... Dizziness enveloped him. "I don't... feel real good..."

Jason took a hold of him and steered him over to a knobby air conditioning unit. "Just... sit down, okay Billy?" He turned around, his hands still on Billy's shoulders, "Rocky.... maybe you should go find um... some help." Billy saw Rocky nod and speed off towards the stairs. He looked up at Jason, and felt what was left of his reasoning fall away. His vision was fuzzy and a bluish-red aura surrounded Jason. Jason looked down at him and he could see tears welling up in his friends eyes. Why is Jason upset? he wondered, I don't understand....

Jason's eyes hardened suddenly. He let go of Billy and stomped over to Tommy. Tommy was holding his shirt over the bleeding cut on his chest. Jason towered over him and Billy dimly realized that Jason was somewhere between being enraged and bursting into tears. Jason lifted Tommy up and shook him. "You idiot! How could you let this happen?" He yanked Tommy to his feet. "Look at him! God dammit!" He suddenly started shaking Tommy and Tommy wasn't resisting. Billy lost interest.

He stood up. Where did the clone go? His vision was blurry and fuzzy even when he was physically well and the bright lights coming from the street were dazzling him. He tottered over to the edge of the building and kneeled down. No luck... he could see the street as a white blur of light but nothing in detail. Suddenly, he was smacked down and he felt a sudden twinge of fear. He rolled away, and suddenly realized he'd rolled his upper body off the building. A pair of strong hands grabbed him and pulled him up.

It was Kat. She helped him turn over and sit up. "You okay?" He nodded, not quite understanding what hit him.

Tommy was also getting up off the rough asphalt. He shook himself and grabbed Billy by the shoulder. "Okay, man?"

"Uh..." Billy started shaking. Tommy took that in with a glance and turned on Jason.

"He nearly fell, Jason! Damn you!" He dove on Jason and in seconds they were fighting. Really fighting... Billy once wondered what a real drag-out knock-down fight between his martial artist friends would really look like. He had his answer. It was a swirling mass of violence that culminated with Tommy splitting Jason's lip with a high arcing blow. Jason's blood splattered onto Billy, Kat and Trini's faces. Billy wiped his face with a shaking hand and stared at the blood in a shocked, horrified way. The shaking enveloped him and his vision clouded into a bluish black haze and faded to black.

* * *

Black mud was squishing underneath him as he tried to scramble up the steep slope. His hands were shaking but he managed to curl his arm around the nearest tree root. I won't be able to get up the slope until the rain slacks off, its too slippery, but at least I won't slide off. The headache thumped on him and he cursed himself. You can't afford this, he told himself. You could fall and die... you will not have a seizure. Still, his vision took on the familiar tinge and he tried to brace himself.

"Hey! Help!" he called, hoping that someone, anyone would hear him. Then, the blue engulfed him.

* * *

Jason, Tommy and Adam ran through the forest, their nerves fried by the constant lightening and wind.

"This storm is bad!" Tommy's voice was barely audible over the thunder. "We gotta find him!"

"I know!" Jason shrieked back. "Where the hell did he go?" The wind whipped around him and he trained his ears to listen. On the trailing edge of the howling maelstrom, he heard... something. "Guys... this way!"

"What? Did you hear something?" shouted Tommy. They ran up tot he top of a small hill.

"Maybe." Jason looked around. They were near the cliffs. " Let's look around! "

They fanned out. Tommy was beginning to think Jason had simply had a bad hunch when he spied a slick trail of mud on one of the foot paths. Stepping nimbly, he walked down the steep grade. Then, he spotted a swatch of blue cloth. "Guys... over here!" As an after thought he added. "Be careful!"

From where he stood, he could just see that Billy was inches away from the edge of the cliff. Tommy couldn't tell if he was conscious or not, but he could see a slight twitch running through Billy's body like a wave. Jason and Adam slipped and slid down to his position.

"Oh geez..." Jason said through rushed breaths. "Adam... go get the others... we might need them. Adam nodded and ran off. Jason looked over the situation. "Billy! Billy? "

"He's either unconscious or just... out." Tommy said. "He's shaking..."

"A seizure."

"Yeah... man... we gotta get him away from the edge. If he's not aware, he could fall off..." Tommy didn't like it. The storm was raging... the footing was steep and slippery.

"We can do it." Jason pointed to a tree that was just out of arm's reach of Billy. He stepped down to it carefully and tested a limb. It held and he wrapped his arm around it. "I'll hold the tree, and onto you..."

"and I pull Billy up." Tommy finished. He clenched his hand around Jason's, a gesture so familiar from before that they both felt a shiver of sudden frission. A feeling of rightness enveloped them, and they both realized how lonely they had been. Instead of helping each other, they had pushed each other away until it was almost too late. He smiled at Jason, and wished he could take back all the weeks of anger.

"Let's do it." Jason said, feeling the same rush of friendship and regret. He gripped Tommy's hand like a vice. "Don't let go..."

Tommy inched down to Billy. He noted that Billy did seem unconscious but started talking anyhow. "Billy? Look man... I'm just gonna grab your shirt and pull you away from this cliff..." He reached out and took hold of the shirt. With one quick heave he pulled Billy up to where both Jason and he could grab a hold of him. Tommy was worried though. Billy was dead weight. Tommy and Jason carried him up to the top of the hill and set him down. Aside from being coated with mud and covered with scratches, Billy seemed all right, if unconscious. Jason patted him a little, hoping to maybe get him awake at least. It worked.

"Mmmmm..." Billy blinked and then closed his eyes again. So tired, he thought dimly.

"No... don't go to sleep." Jason felt a sharp edge of fear. He shook Billy again. "Come on..."

"Yeah man...." Tommy joined in. To Jason he added, "let's get him up..." They pulled Billy upright. He seemed, to both of them, not aware, just a shell that happened to blink every once in a while. They both held on and half carried half dragged him through the woods. Slowly, Billy came out his funk, enough to walk without much guidance. He shook off his friends hands as they neared the cabin and stopped walking for a moment.

"Billy?" Tommy asked. Billy's eyes had a glazed over look... a look that told Tommy that it was very unlikely that Billy would recall the rainsoaked walk at all. "You okay?"

"Yes..." Billy blinked rapidly. "Are you guys okay?" It was a simple question, but both Jason and Tommy knew that the question Billy was really asking went a lot deeper than how they were feeling. The two recent enemies looked at each other and grinned. "Yeah Billy," Jason said with a short laugh. "We're okay."

* * *

"I think we should call a doctor."

"The phones are out. Besides... the road is still flooded. The guy at the roadblock said if we could transport him down, they might be able to get him to the hospital..."

"Well... if he doesn't wake up soon... we might have to do that."

Billy groaned. He tossed off the hand made quilt that someone had thrown on top of him, and sat up. He ached all over and it was readily apparent that he was turning into a giant bruise. Dark streaks of abraised skin and swelled bruises were all over him. While he was in a fresh t-shirt and sweatpants, the clothes he had been wearing the night were in a sad state of filthy repair. Vaguely, he realized that Tommy and Jason had gotten him cleaned up and changed the night before. He nudged the mud encrusted clothes and was suddenly glad his friends hadn't just thrown him into bed. His stomach was growling in a boisterous manner. Food, he thought, that would truly hit the spot.

He stepped out into the large living room, feeling very self conscious. He had blasted his friends, he remembered that, and then he recalled nearly falling off a cliff. After that... he had nothing but vague impressions. He thought Tommy and Jason had been almost civil to each other, but he wasn't sure. Just like he thought it was Jason and Tommy having the rational discussion on whether to take him to a hospital.

"Billy?" Zack came up behind him and pushed a cup of cocoa into his hands. "Drink that... have a seat. You scared the hell out of us." Zack's voice was soft and controlled.

Billy took the cocoa and looked around. In fact, all of the rangers were littered about in various states of disarray. With the exception of Aisha, who Billy realized simply could not have gone chasing after him, they all looked damp and tired, as if they had spent the night looking around the woods and had simply fallen asleep where they dropped. They must've been worried, he thought suddenly. It was a realization that made him feel bad on one hand and on the other hand, he felt a sudden warm glow of affection for his friends. He took a seat on one of the puffy overstuffed couches. Tommy and Jason, who had been standing by the front windows, came over and hovered around him with concern.

"Hey Billy..." Tommy said suddenly. "About last night..."

"I'm fine." He said it with conviction. He'd said it before, to the doctors, to his father, to his friends and it always felt like a lie. For some reason though, this time it felt like the truth. "Is there any food?"

Jason quietly went into the kitchen and came back with a plate of pancakes. "Rocky is like... cooking anything that stands still." He watched Billy wolf down the pancakes in silence. "Um...."

"Billy," Tommy picked it up, "We were thinking... are you okay? I mean, do you need a doctor? Cause the roads..."

"Are flooded. I heard." Billy smiled. "No, I'm okay... just really tired, and hungry." He paused, not quite sure how to continue. "I'm sorry I lost my temper last night... no, I'm not, actually. I am sorry I ran out of here. I could've been killed and you guys could've gotten hurt too."

"It's okay." Jason said softly. "We haven't exactly been great about this."

"Yeah, man." Tommy added. "But we're going to try a little harder from now on."

Billy hesitated. "Guys... this has to work, okay? Because I can't do this again. I'm having... enough problems coping that I can't deal with yours too." He blushed suddenly."I need your help with this... I'm... I'm tired of being alone against this."

"Yeah..." both Tommy and Jason nodded. Then Tommy added, "I think we kinda forgot that you... were going through some stuff that made our problems kinda petty."

"That's not... how I meant what I said." Billy barely remembered what he said... just that he had shouted and told them off.

Jason shook his head in disagreement. "Things are going to change. "

* * *

Tommy and Jason were good to their word. Things did change, starting first with their attitudes. Rather than sniping at each other, they embarked on a mission to make Billy "ranger fit" since Jason couldn't stay past the summer and no one wanted a replacement. Billy hadn't been enthralled with two personal trainers but it was definitely better than the alternative. And better still, it worked. Morning jogs, a painful chore at first that Jason insisted on every day, slowly but surely increased his stamina. Tommy took over in the afternoon, with weightlifting and martial arts lessons. At first, it was a grueling ordeal and at times the only thing that kept him going was the gentle support of his friends.

The summer ended. Jason, Trini and Zack returned to Switzerland. Zordon deemed Billy to be fit for battle and the blue power coin was returned. Zordon had thought that would be that but after the brief ceremony, Billy lingered, something obviously bothering him.

"Yes, Billy?" Zordon asked.

"Something's been bothering me...." Billy wasn't quite sure how to broach the topic. He leaned up against one of the computer consoles and crossed his arms. "The night that... Kat rescued me... We were up on the roof of the hospital. Kat and Rocky were looking over the ledge... and they said they didn't see a body.... Zordon, is it possible that the clone survived?"

Zordon hesitated, but then relented. "Yes, it is possible. I was unable to track the clone but there is no evidence to indicate that he is dead." Zordon's face grew grim. "I fear that he has more than enough knowledge of my methods to make tracking him impossible."

"I could find him..." Billy said slowly. "We need to have this resolved." He hesitated. "I need to have this resolved too."

"Billy.... what will you do if you find him?" Zordon's booming voice rang with concern.

"Zordon.... I can't keep my side of the bargain if I don't know where he is. And I certainly can't make sure he's keeping his end of the deal if I have no idea where he is." Billy's voice was tight with emotion. "I need to do this."

Zordon sighed. He had no doubt that the Blue Ranger was correct. He just hoped that further contact with the clone would not be as disastrous as all of his senses told him it would be.