His hand shook. Unimpressed by Jason Scott's glower, the tremors continued unabated. Sure, they were not as violent as before, but still they lingered, a constant reminder of the price he'd almost paid for taking the Gold Powers.
Zordon kept telling him that he would recover completely, but Jason had his doubts. He'd never experienced these kinds of physical symptoms, and he was angry and frustrated when they took too long to cease. The former Ranger was unaccustomed to his body not responding perfectly to his commands; he felt like he was in some sort of odd prison, held captive by uncooperative muscles and tendons.
He sat on the top of a small dune, looking out over the ocean, his usually open, friendly expression closed down and sullen. He'd already talked to the other Rangers; he'd even talked to Trini, Zack, and Kimberly by phone. None of them could break through the barrier of despondency Jason had thrown up around himself. Sparring with Tommy didn't help; it just highlighted his physical limitations. Lunches with Kat and Tanya were marred by his suspicion that they pitied him. Rocky and Adam seemed unsure as to how to treat him, so they tended to avoid the former Ranger. Jason couldn't blame them, really. He didn't like spending time around himself, either.
Lost in his dark thoughts, he didn't hear anyone approach until a shadow fell over him and he looked up to see who was daring to interrupt his brooding. Billy sat down beside him with a warm smile.
"I see they weren't kidding about your mood."
Jason's expression had lightened at the appearance of his friend.
"Billy! Oh man, it's good to see you! How are you? How's life on Aquitar? Are you still with Cestria?"
Billy chuckled a little at Jason's unrestrained greeting. "I'm doing great, Jase. Aquitar is incredible! I'm helping them develop better spaceships, a new design that can be used by both Aquitians and non-Aquitians. In between I'm working on some other research aimed at growing usable crops under water, including saltwater. So it may lead to help here on Earth. I've also gone to Triforia a couple of times, as well as Phaedos again. Cestro wants me to go with a research team on a six-month expedition next year." Billy's excitement and enthusiasm were evident, and Jason couldn't help but enjoy his friend's obvious happiness.
"As for me and Cestria...well, it's going good." Billy blushed faintly, much to his friend's amusement. "How're you doing, Jason?" he asked abruptly.
"I'm doing fine," the dark haired teen replied quickly, with a marked lack of conviction.
Jason looked at his friend slightly askance. "When did you start to use that sort of language?" he asked with mock outrage.
"When my friends started lying to me. You are most definitely not doing 'fine'."
"Okay, so I've been better. Still, Zordon says I'll recover fully, in time. It's just hard to wait, you know?"
"Yeah, I know. And you aren't the most patient person in the universe. But I don't think that's all that's bothering you. Is it having to give up the powers?" Billy asked quietly, giving his friend a searching look.
Jason couldn't meet that intense gaze. "No. Well, maybe. I don't know. It's not just that, it's...everything. You know? Being powerless, feeling weak, not knowing what I want to do with the next fifty or sixty years. At least with the Powers I knew I could do some good. Now I'm basically worthless," he concluded, staring out at the restless ocean with a haunted expression.
"At least you could still be useful behind the lines, even if it wasn't exactly what you wanted to be doing," he added, referencing Billy's time as the Rangers' mechanic/assistant/supervisor. "I know it was hard for you, but you at least had that. Me, I have nothing left. As I said, worthless," Jason repeated morosely.
"Jason, you are not now, nor will you ever be, worthless!" Billy was frankly puzzled; it was completely unlike Jason to be plagued by self-doubt.
Jason sighed. "I got used to doing good, being able to help people. I mean, we helped save lives, you know? And I liked that, more than I ever realized. I guess I'm going to miss being a hero," he muttered softly, embarrassed that he'd confessed that. He looked up hesitantly, expecting to see censure in the light eyes of his former teammate.
Instead what he saw was understanding, affection, and a mild glint of exasperated amusement. Debating with himself for a minute, Billy decided his friend needed whatever help he could give.
"You saved a life and were a hero long before you ever met Zordon," the former Blue Ranger said quietly.
Jason gave his friend a puzzled look. "What are you talking about?"
"Do you remember when we first met?" Billy asked, looking intently at him again.
"Sure I do. You'd been knocked down by those bullies," Jason replied, his mind going back to that day six years before...
It was a typically sunny Angel Grove afternoon. School had just let out for the weekend, and Jason was wandering along, happily considering his weekend plans. He, Zack, Trini, and Kimberly were going to have a volleyball tournament and picnic in the park on Saturday, then Zack was going to spend the night at his house. He knew Kim was staying at Trini's that night as well. Then on Sunday Jason's dad was going to take the two boys to the new skateboard rink in Stone Canyon, which both boys had been anxious to try out. All in all it looked to be an outstanding weekend coming up.
Lost in his pleasant daydreams he'd barely registered the slight boy walking toward him almost a block away. The other boy's arms were loaded down with a pile of books, while he also sported a heavy-looking backpack. Jason vaguely recognized him as a new kid in town; it was his first year in Angel Grove Junior High. He'd noticed the thin boy with the thick black glasses around school mostly because the kid tried so hard NOT to be noticed.
Next, Jason saw three much larger boys come running up behind the new kid, laughing shrilly. They rammed into the much smaller youth, knocking him violently to the ground, scattering books and papers, and sending the horn-rimmed glasses flying to land in the grass ten feet away. Still laughing, the bigger boys ran on past Jason and around the next corner, the sound of their cruel mirth fading away at last. Jason hurried forward and saw the other boy groping around, obviously looking for the displaced glasses, crying softly. He stepped forward and picked them up, handing them to their owner after ascertaining they were unbroken.
"Here. Are you okay? Those guys are such jerks," he said sympathetically. The other boy looked up with such a look of shining gratitude showing through his tears that Jason was almost taken aback. The smaller boy regained his feet and considered Jason as he composed himself.
"I'm fine, thank you," he said softly. "My name's Billy."
"I'm Jason. Why don't I give you a hand gathering all this up?" he offered, already starting to collect the scattered books. "Are you studying for a test in every subject?" he asked in surprise.
"Not exactly," Billy hedged. "Thanks for your help, I can probably manage from here."
"Where do you live?"
"A couple of blocks down, on Elm Street," Billy replied.
"Well, why don't I just give you a hand," Jason offered easily. "That's only a couple of blocks from where I live. When did you move here? We should've met before."
They walked along toward Billy's house, talking about school. Jason was surprised to find Billy had been attending a private school for the scholastically advanced in the city where he'd lived before.
"Do you miss it?" he asked with genuine curiosity, having lived in Angel Grove and attended public school all his life.
"Sometimes. Well, most of the time," Billy admitted, looking away with a wistful look. "They had an extensive research library, and the latest in resource equipment."
"What'd you do for fun?" Jason inquired, since his companion had not mentioned any friends or fun-sounding activities.
"I have a fully functional lab at home. I do a lot of experimenting."
"What about friends? You know, hanging around together, doing stuff?"
"I lived in a fairly secluded area, there weren't a lot of other kids around," the smaller boy said, carefully dodging the question.
Jason wasn't fooled by the evasive answer. It didn't take a genius to see that Billy seemed awfully lonely. The dark-haired boy had enjoyed their brief conversation, and had seen intriguing glimpses of the bright, inquisitive mind the new kid possessed. It made his decision easy as they walked up to the Cranston front porch.
"Well, seclusion isn't a problem here. Tell you what, why don't you join me and my friends tomorrow at the park. We can use an extra person to allow everyone a chance to cycle out of the volleyball game and rest a bit. Whaddaya say?" Jason asked with a smile.
"I'm not very good at sports," Billy said, his words at odds with the longing look Jason could see in the blue eyes.
"Neither are we," Jason replied easily, if not quite truthfully. "We just want to have fun, we don't care how good we are. Come on, you'll have fun."
Jason was rewarded with a rare, open smile from the other boy. The look on his face was one of awe-filled gratitude as he fumbled for words to thank this unexpected benefactor.
"I ... I'd like that. I'll be there, thank you. And thanks for helping carry all these home for me," he managed to say at last.
"Hey, no problem. See you tomorrow ..."
"... and I helped you carry your books the rest of the way. You sure had a lot of them that day," Jason concluded.
"Yes. I did. There was a reason I had so many books that afternoon," Billy said, his gaze again turning toward the ocean, as if seeking an answer there.
"Oh? What was the reason?" Jason was a little worried; Billy's expression was so serious.
"I'd cleaned out my locker."
"So my dad wouldn't have to ... after." Billy stopped abruptly, looking away from Jason.
"After what?" Jason encouraged him.
Billy turned back toward his friend with a pain-filled expression.
"Jase, I was headed home that afternoon planning on killing myself over the weekend," he confessed in a near whisper.
Billy sighed. "My mom had died the previous year, and then Dad moved us to Angel Grove. I know he wanted a fresh start, away from the painful memories, but ... I'd lost Mom, I didn't have any friends, and my dad was so ... caught up ... in his own grief, I don't think he realized I was even around. You remember what he was like in those days. I was so lonely, it just seemed there was nothing to live for. No one would miss me, no one would care. And I wouldn't hurt any more. Then you came along, and you offered the one thing I needed above all else. A friend." Billy chuckled a little, though tears stood in his eyes. "And you offered it so casually, so nonchalantly, as if it were no big deal. You quite literally saved my life that afternoon."
Jason was speechless. He'd known, of course, that he'd met Billy at a low point in his life, but he'd had no idea how low. Of the things Billy had just said, one thing stood out above the rest. He'd cleaned out his locker so his dad wouldn't have to. Jason knew enough about suicide to know the sign of a serious suicide attempt, as opposed to 'just' a cry for help, was that the person made plans. That Billy had obviously planned this made his blood run cold, even after all this time. That the handsome, happy, successful young man he saw before him had almost been lost before he had his chance at living was terrifying to his friend.
"I had no idea," Jason said at last.
"I know you didn't. Actually, I never intended to tell you, or anyone, about what I planned that day. I guess I always figured the most important thing was that instead of overdosing on sleeping pills, I went to the park and made four new friends." Billy smiled at Jason much the same way he had six years before. "So you see, I was very, very serious about what I said earlier. You saved my life long before we became Power Rangers."
"But, I didn't do anything special," Jason protested.
"Maybe not to you. But to me? To me your small act of kindness was a rare and precious gift. It made all the difference to someone who'd given up hope. You see now why you were my hero long before we became Rangers? I guess you always will be."
Jason didn't trust himself to speak for a while, knowing he'd just choke up. They sat there in companionable silence, watching the endless motion of the Pacific, each lost in their own thoughts.
"Thank you, for telling me that," Jason said at last. "I guess I needed to hear it, though it doesn't make this waiting for my health to improve any easier."
"No, I don't suppose it would," Billy agreed with a slight chuckle.
"And it doesn't tell me what I'm supposed to do with the rest of my life."
"No, I don't suppose it does," Billy agreed again.
"You are not a lot of help, are you?" Jason chuckled.
"No, I don't suppose I am," Billy said, managing to keep a straight face until Jason punched him lightly on the arm in mock outrage.
The two friends burst into laughter, the sound carrying out over the deserted beach as the sun began its slow descent toward evening. Jason realized he really didn't have any answers, but that wasn't the important thing at this point. He had friends and family to help him through, and the potential to help others along their way through life.
He figured everything else would find a way to work out.
Author's Notes: This story was inspired by an email I received from a friend, based on a true story. And thanks to Dagmar for the beta reading.