Notes and Timeline: Early Morphin' period, just after Tommy's arrival. Although in the strictest technical sense this story takes place 'during', it is at heart part of the 'Before and After' series, a companion piece to "Forged in Flames".
Tommy Oliver sat alone at a table in the Juice Bar and considered the changes that had taken place in his life in the last couple of weeks. He'd moved to Angel Grove, enrolled in High School, met a cute girl he very much wanted to date, met a guy he knew would turn out to be a great friend and sparring partner, got possessed by an evil empress, tried to kill the Power Rangers, then became a Power Ranger himself. He couldn't resist a mental chuckle as he reviewed all these events. Well, at least he couldn't say his life was boring.
He thought about Kimberly. Tommy was normally a little shy when it came to girls, but something in the petite, chestnut-haired girl had reached straight into his heart. He sometimes found himself simply watching her from afar, feeling a warmth inside he had never experienced before. He was slowly but surely gathering his courage to ask her on a date.
If he had felt an immediate attraction to Kimberly, he had also experienced an instant feeling of kinship with Jason. The burly leader of the Power Rangers was a brother in spirit, if not in fact. Tommy still felt an almost overwhelming sense of awe when he thought about how Jason had simply accepted him as a Power Ranger; that gesture wiping away the guilt the teen had been overcome with when he realized what he had almost done. He found it almost inconceivable that a month ago he hadn't even known Jason existed.
It was Jason who had taken Tommy aside and told him some of the ins and outs of Rangerhood, and about some of the idiosyncrasies of his teammates. Among the things Jason had mentioned was the fact that the five of them had been friends for years, since they were all ten years old. That was the only problem Tommy had really encountered: that feeling that he was an outsider in a well-established circle of friends. And, while he had enjoyed almost instantaneous closeness with Jason and Kimberly, that had not been the case with the other three.
Of his other teammates, Zack was proving to be the easiest to get to know. While not as dedicated to martial arts as Jason was, Zack was a serious and talented student of karate, moving through the belts at a steady pace. He and Tommy had talked about the art several times, especially the integration of personal interpretations into katas. Tommy realized that the Black Ranger's first love was dancing, something Tommy knew absolutely nothing about. Impressed with Zack's incredible grace and innate sense of rhythm, he had already privately asked his teammate for dance lessons, his mind already planning ahead for a date with Kimberly. Pleased and flattered by the request, Zack had agreed, allowing them an opportunity to spend time together and further cement their growing friendship.
Tommy sensed that Trini was naturally reserved, holding back not out of suspicion or dislike, but because it was her nature to analyze a situation before taking any action. Jason had told him that she was a student of Kung Fu, and Tommy had seen her work out a few times. Impressed with her skill, he was just waiting until he felt a little more comfortable around her before he asked her to show him some moves and katas from her chosen martial art.
But Billy presented a dual difficulty for Tommy; the Blue Ranger was quite shy, plus he and Tommy had virtually nothing in common. The Green Ranger knew Billy was studying karate only because he was tired of being picked on by bullies, and because he needed to be able to defend himself against Rita's putties. Other than for defensive purposes, Billy had no interest in martial arts, while Tommy had no particular interest in science, the subject closest to Billy's heart. However, Tommy had come to suspect there was a lot more to the light-haired teen than just his incredible intelligence, and the Green Ranger was determined to get to know his reticent teammate better.
He was so lost in thought that Jason's arrival at his table startled him, causing Tommy to almost knock over his smoothie.
"Whoa, sorry Bro, didn't mean to startle you," Jason laughed as Tommy grabbed his glass, narrowly averting disaster.
"No problem, I was just lost in thought," Tommy replied with a sheepish grin.
"What we could do this weekend. I was thinking ... you know how Miss Appleby is doing this section on geology? What if we rented a boat and went to some of the islands a few miles off the coast? We could take some pictures, collect some samples, you know, do that as our required special report. She did say we could do a project as a group if it was big enough," the Green Ranger suggested.
"Yeah, she did. Sounds good to me. You know anything about boating?"
"A little. Do you?"
"Yeah. My uncle used to be a commercial fisherman when he was younger, and he taught me all about boating a couple of summers ago. I think I still remember the important things," Jason said.
"Good. Think the others will go for it?" Tommy asked.
"Probably. Even though Billy isn't that fond of the ocean, he'll go along if the rest of us will. As long as we don't pull a 'Gilligan's Island' kind of thing."
Tommy snickered at that comment. "Never happen."
They had all agreed to the plan, and pooling their resources had found they had enough money to rent a boat for the day. Jason had demonstrated sufficient skills to the owner of the rental, so they were able to take the vessel out alone after filing an itinerary.
The day was California perfect: cloudless blue skies, temperatures in the mid 80's, enough breeze to allow the boat to utilize its sail for the trip. The teens had packed a large lunch, scuba gear, and assorted testing equipment, planning to get the most out of the day.
"I just hope Rita takes the day off, too," Kimberly sighed as she stretched out on the deck to catch some sun.
"That would be a fortunate turn of events," Billy agreed from where he stood near Jason, who was piloting the boat toward the open sea and the islands just beyond their sight.
"Well, we have our communicators, so Zordon can reach us if needed. But she just attacked yesterday, so it should be a day or two. Maybe," Jason put in.
"Is there a pattern to her attacks?" Tommy asked the Red Ranger.
"No way. We never know what she's going to do. She's been known to attack for four days straight, then nothing for three days, then every other day for a week, and you get the picture," Jason grinned.
"However, she did seem to have invested a lot of effort into her 'evil Ranger' scheme, so she is due to take some additional time to regroup and plan a new strategy," Billy put in quietly.
"I sure hope so. I'm just glad you guys were able to stop me," Tommy commented, his expression solemn.
"Guys! Guys, we are not going to spend the day 'talking shop', you hear? So, let's drop the Rita subject and concentrate more on which islands we want to explore," Kimberly interrupted with a warm smile for Tommy and a quick glare at Billy, who flushed as he realized his blunder. Tommy was still sensitive about the things he'd done under Rita's influence.
"Speaking of which, I see 'land, ho' as they say in all the good pirate movies," Zack cut in with a wide grin.
"Where?" Trini asked, squinting in the direction Zack had pointed to. "Oh, I see."
The tiny speck on the horizon rapidly grew, and others became visible as Jason headed toward the clump of islands, anxious to get there and start the day's planned activities.
Four hours later the six teens lounged around on what they had dubbed the 'main' island, the largest of the six land masses they were exploring. Jason, Trini and Zack had gone scuba diving earlier, while Tommy, Kimberly and Billy collected samples from the first half of the islands, and did some exploring. They intended to check the remaining three places together that afternoon.
Billy had intentionally kept his distance from Kimberly and Tommy all morning, knowing that Kim would appreciate some time alone with the Green Ranger. Like the rest of the team, Billy knew that Kimberly had more than a 'professional' interest in their newest teammate, and having Billy hanging around them would not do much to help her get to know Tommy better.
"We found some awesome volcanic rock on the second place we explored," Tommy enthused.
"Yes, it's quite interesting that, even though the islands were all probably formed due to volcanic activity, they are each quite different," Billy agreed.
"That would be the perfect approach for our report," Trini added. "We found some interesting differences in the underwater landscape as well."
"Really? That will add an extra dimension to our report then," Billy commented.
"Yeah. You guys hear the rumor about this spot here? Or, well, at least one of these islands?" Zack asked suddenly.
"I haven't," Tommy replied, looking at Zack curiously.
"The word is that a few years back an transport ship bringing over exotic animals went down not far from here and a lot of the animals made it to shore. The shipment was illegal, so they didn't report it. Or so the rumor goes."
"So one of these islands is overrun by wild big game animals?" Kimberly asked in a disbelieving tone of voice.
"That's the story."
"That's almost as lame as the monster you heard about in Angel Grove Forest when we were kids," Kim scoffed.
"Wouldn't somebody have found them by now?" Billy pointed out.
"I don't think that many people come to these islands. They are pretty boring on the whole. The state owns them, protecting some sort of bug or bird that lives here. You know how that goes. But basically very few folks come over here."
"Weird. I'd have thought they'd be a popular 'get away' spot for day trips," Kimberly commented.
"Guess not. So, we'll all work together above water for the last three?" Zack asked, returning the conversation to the matter at hand and stretching out in the warm sunshine.
"Sounds like a plan to me," Jason agreed, looking around at his teammates.
They had just finished their lunch and none of them were in much of a hurry to get moving again. It just felt too good to lounge around in the sunshine.
"Are you sure it's a good plan if it requires moving?" Kim asked with a sigh.
"Come on, Kim, the day's just getting started," Zack retorted, but the Pink Ranger noticed he made no effort to rise.
Trini and Billy had already gotten up and started to put the leftovers and débris back into the huge picnic basket when Kimberly reluctantly joined them. Giving Tommy a meaningful wink, Jason stood and motioned the other two to join him, leaving Zack alone on the blanket. The Black Ranger had his eyes closed and a peaceful expression on his face. Silently, Jason indicated a corner of the blanket, grinning with mischief at Tommy. The other teen caught on quickly and grabbed onto the corner Jason had pointed to, while the muscular Red Ranger took hold of the other corner.
At Jason's nod, both teens pulled up and out with all their might, sending Zack flying into the sand.
"Hey!" the outraged Black Ranger cried out, jumping to his feet in mock fury. "I'm gonna get you two for that!" He immediately lunged at his two laughing teammates who turned and fled, heading down the beach.
"I guess this means we're stuck with cleanup," Kim noted drily as they finished packing up.
"So it would seem," Trini agreed, helping Billy fold the oversized blanket.
"Hardly seems fair. But, I don't believe in getting mad. I do believe in getting even, though," the petite teen mused, watching the three boys racing down the sandy beach.
"Uh-oh. Judging by the look on your face, I almost feel sorry for them," Trini giggled, while Billy looked on with a grin of his own.
"Oh, you know I won't do anything too terrible," Kim smiled with a gleam in her eyes. She found an empty container and filled it with sand before putting it in the basket.
"Just something to express my displeasure with their behavior."
The six islands were scattered over an area of approximately eighteen square miles. The largest was about ten square miles of total surface area, the smallest less than one square mile. Three of them were clumped together, with less than a mile between them, while the remaining ones were much further apart. The teens decided to explore the furthest island first, and then start working backwards toward the other two they had not yet explored. Then they would head home past the ones they'd visited that morning.
Jason, Zack, and Tommy were still full of mischief from their prank after lunch. They were laughing, joking, exchanging insults and threats in typical teenage fashion. The other three traded amused glances as Zack again threatened to get even with the Red and Green Rangers.
"Big talk, Zack, but they don't look real worried," Kim teased him.
"They should be. It may take a while, but I'll find a way to get even," Zack declared.
"Worried ... not," Jason mimicked Kimberly as he taunted the easy-going Black Ranger.
"I thought you guys were sooo sleepy," Kim commented. "Now you're running all over the place. Go lie down and rest, then maybe you can see fit to help us later," she suggested.
"Good idea, I think I'll just do that," Zack shot back at her, lying down on the forward part of the boat and closing his eyes.
"That does sound like a good idea, doesn't it?" Jason agreed, joining Zack, with Tommy right behind him. Soon the three boys were happily dozing in the sun, wearing nothing but their swim trunks.
They awoke to feel something being dripped on their backs and spread around.
"Just something to help you out," Kim murmured, quickly applying the substance to each of their backs and retreating hastily.
"Hey, this doesn't feel like suntan lotion," Zack muttered, a bit dozy from his nap and the warm sunshine.
"What the heck?" Jason groused, twisting his arm around to reach his back. He looked at the stuff that came off on his hand curiously. After a sniff and cautious taste he turned incredulously to his Pink teammate.
"Honey? And sand? Kim! Why?"
"Because you stuck us with cleaning up the picnic while you went off playing," she sniffed, her expression of haughty displeasure spoiled by the giggles bubbling just under the surface.
"Yeah, but honey and sand? Unkind, Kim," Zack echoed.
"It won't hurt you. And you can take a nice dip and clean it off. In forty minutes or so," Kimberly mock-consoled them, knowing the sticky mess would drive them nuts.
"Ah, man, I see what you mean about not getting her riled up," Tommy said quietly to Jason, flashing their smallest teammate a respectful look.
"You know, Billy, you could have warned us," Zack complained.
"Uh, she threatened me with bodily harm if I interfered," Billy confessed.
"Threatening your teammates now, Kim? Tsk, tsk, tsk," Zack joked, jumping out of Kim's range as she swung at him.
"You can just sit out here and stew," she declared, joining the other two teens, who had watched with considerable amusement.
"You know we'll get even with you," Zack mock-growled.
"Worried ... not!"
The afternoon's explorations went well, and by the time their deadline to head home arrived, they had collected an impressive array of samples and information, despite the fact that all afternoon Kim had kept up a running battle of pranks with Jason, Zack and Tommy. Once the three boys had managed to clean the honey- and-sand mixture off their backs, Zack found a particularly slimy clump of seaweed which he put down the back of Kim's shirt, sending her into wild gyrations as she fought to remove the disgusting mess. She retaliated by filling the boys' shoes with wet sand when they had taken them off to wade into the ocean.
The three boys were still trying to come up with a way to get back at Kim while they explored the last island. However, in the face of the fascinating rock formations they found, the competition was forgotten, and they all worked together to gather the samples they would need, along with photographs to use in their report.
"I suspect we will find some excellent samples of local flora just over that ridge," Billy said.
"Great! These are gorgeous. I'd love to see if I could get some to grow in Angel Grove," Kimberly enthused, having carefully dug up and potted some of the more attractive plants. She and her three erstwhile antagonists headed over the ridge, only to reemerge a few minutes later, their hands over their lower faces, expressions of disgust still evident.
"Oh, man, that stunk!" Jason gasped, taking a deep breath, trying to erase the memory of the stench they had encountered. His three companions were all doing the same thing.
"Hmm. Must have been one of those sink holes sometimes found on volcanic islands. Some chemical reaction causes the offensive odor," Billy noted calmly.
Jason was the first to suspect that the bland, innocent expressions on Billy and Trini's faces were not quite as genuine as they looked.
"You guys knew what we'd find, didn't you?" he accused.
"We've never been here before, how could we possibly know what you'd find?" Trini asked reasonably.
"You two know way too much about volcanoes and islands and such. You set us up," Kimberly cried in a tone of outrage. "Why would you do that?" she asked as the three boys stared in surprise.
The two quietest Rangers exchanged amused looks.
"We wanted to play?" Billy ventured, the gleam in his eyes not obscured in the least by his glasses.
"Oh, you want to play, do you? Well, then let's play get the Blue and Yellow Rangers," Zack declared as the four of them went after the other two teens. A wild chase along the short shoreline ensued, until Trini suddenly stopped, a worried frown on her face.
"Ha! Gotcha!" Zack exclaimed, grabbing her shoulders. He stopped when he saw her expression. "What's wrong?"
"That's wrong. There isn't supposed to be any storm activity today," she said, pointing further out to sea. They all looked a bit alarmed to see storm clouds gathering quickly; dark and threatening.
"Guys, I think we better head on home," Jason said firmly, clearly reverting to leader mode in the face of potential danger.
"Let's get our stuff back on the boat and get moving."
"Zordon! There is a severe atmospheric disturbance a few miles off the shore near Angel Grove," Alpha called out, scuttling quickly among the consoles in the Command Center.
"I have noted its appearance," Zordon informed the little 'droid. "I believe it is an aftereffect of the Rainmaker Monster Rita sent down a couple of days ago. It did discharge its weapons a few times, and I believe this storm could be the result. There should be nothing to worry about, but we will monitor it closely."
"Should we inform the Rangers?"
"No, Alpha, let them enjoy some time off."
The six teens had hardly cast off from the island when they were hit by increasingly violent waves and suddenly fierce winds. Their boat was beginning to be tossed about like a toy in a bathtub.
"I can't believe this!" Jason growled, fighting to control the boat's course. "We need to switch to engine power, which means we'll have to lower the sail."
Tommy, Zack, and Billy moved quickly toward the bow to comply, just as a particularly large wave hit the small craft. The violent movement of the small vessel knocked everyone down but Jason, who was holding desperately on to the wheel.
"Ow!" Zack cried out, cradling his left arm tightly to his body.
"Here, let me see," Kimberly told him as Trini carefully helped the injured teen to his feet. She made quick work of her examination of the Black Ranger's arm, and then turned to Trini, her demeanor totally businesslike. "Can you get me the first aid box, please, we need to splint this." She turned her attention back to Zack. "I don't think it's broken, but we should immobilize it just to be safe."
"Everyone, get lifejackets on, now!" Jason called out to them.
Billy and Tommy quickly located the lifejackets, and distributed them, helping Jason hold the helm steady while he put on his own. Then the two teens went forward to lower the sail as Jason had asked.
They had just started to loosen the rigging, when the rope holding the lower boom of the sail snapped, and it swung around wildly. Billy and Tommy were on opposite sides of the boat, and the boom swung first toward the Blue Ranger, catching him viciously in the chest and knocking him cleanly overboard.
"Billy!" Tommy cried out, aghast. He ducked as the boom swung his way, then scrambled to grasp the rope that had broken. The sail had only dropped halfway and Tommy could see where the lines had tangled, preventing it from collapsing completely. With a choice of either trying to anchor the boom or cut the lines to finish dropping the sail, Tommy chose the one he felt would do the most good. He released the boom and crawled toward the tangled lines, pulling his pocketknife out as he went. In moments he had cut the snarled ropes, and the sail fell to the deck in an untidy heap. Tommy staggered to his feet and stumbled toward the side of the boat over which his teammate had disappeared.
"Do you see him?" Jason called out, his voice sounding strained.
"No. Can we turn back once we are running on engines?" Tommy called back.
"I don't know. We can try. Keep looking," Jason replied.
Tommy felt the vibrations from the engines a few moments later. He continued to scan the turbulent ocean, seeking a flash of the orange life vest his teammate was wearing. If he could just spot Billy before they got too far away, they stood a good chance of rescuing him.
Jason had just started to turn the boat when another huge wave crashed over them, nearly capsizing the small vessel. He was barely able to hold on to the wheel, while Kimberly and Trini struggled to maintain their hold on Zack and the edge of the boat. When they were fully righted again, Jason saw that Tommy was gone.
The Red Ranger felt a jolt of terror as he realized there was nothing he could do for his two friends in the water. He suspected the hull had been breached, and knew he had to try to get to land, and safety, for the three who were still on the boat with him. He hated having to abandon Tommy and Billy, but there was little he could do for them, and much he could do for the others still with him.
With a silent prayer, and an apology to his two friends, Jason set their course for the nearest island, the largest of the six.
Jack Scott was at a crime scene on the outskirts of Angel Grove when he became aware of the odd change in the weather. The abrupt wind and drop in temperature startled him, and he looked toward the ocean with a concerned expression, worry for his son suddenly foremost in his mind.
"Would you mind finishing this for me, Harry. I want to check on something," he asked a fellow officer quietly.
"No problem, Lieutenant," was the calm reply as Jack walked hastily to his squad car.
He picked up the radio and placed his call to the station. "Betty Jean, can you tell me what the weather service is saying about this storm? I didn't think there was any bad weather predicted."
"Jack? Yeah, weather service is going nuts over this one. Totally unexpected, they can't explain it, but indications are that it will be a howler. They have put out ship advisories, I guess it's going nuts around the docks getting boats back in before it hits full blast. We got a bit lucky in that there really wasn't much traffic out there right now. But still, there are some craft that are going to have to ride it out. Are you concerned for any particular reason?"
"Yeah, my son and his friends rented a boat today to explore some islands. I'm going to head on to the docks and see if they made it in. Log me as off, would you please?"
"Sure thing, Jack. Let me know if Jason's okay, please?"
Billy had thought he knew what it meant to be afraid, but he quickly found an entirely new perspective on that. 'Afraid' was going up against one of Rita's monsters. 'Terrified' was finding himself in the churning ocean with no idea of which way to go to find land. He had lost his glasses in his tumble out of the boat, and that, combined with the high waves and a light mist rising off the ocean's surface, had rendered his already compromised vision much worse. His visual range had been reduced to a few hundred feet, and with nothing to use as a reference point he had no idea which way to go.
He realized he had been extremely fortunate to be wearing his life vest. First it had cushioned the blow from the boom, probably saving him from several broken ribs. Then it had brought him relentlessly back to the surface, and was now providing much-needed support, allowing him to tread water easily while contemplating his next move.
He was trying to determine if it would be better to try to maintain his position, or to start swimming and hope for the best, when he felt the brush of something against his leg. His fear of fish, which he had believed ... hoped ... he was over, came back with a vengeance. He nearly screamed, his heart stopping momentarily before taking off at twice its normal rate. He gasped for breath, all semblance of rationality gone. In a nearly mindless panic he began to swim, heedless of which direction he headed, his only intention to get away from whatever it was that had skimmed his leg.
An unknown time later he finally stopped, his panic at last decreasing to the point that coherent thought was again possible. He looked around desperately; he was still unable to see anything that would indicate land nearby. Billy knew he could try to simply swim ahead, hoping he'd get lucky and hit one of the islands. The thought chilled him, though; he knew the odds of his being successful were minuscule at best. The more he considered it, the more panic began to overwhelm him again.
"Help! Please, is someone there? Help!" he called out as loudly as he could, hoping perhaps Jason had managed to turn the boat around.
"Jason! We have to go back for them!" Kimberly shouted, her face pale and shocked.
"Kim, we can't. We're taking on water, we don't have much time to get to shore. It won't do them any good if we all get killed," Jason spoke in a harsh tone, trying to disguise his anguish at what he was being forced to do.
"Even so, we can't just leave them! Jason, they won't have a chance. They might be hurt! Jason," Kimberly flinched back when she saw his expression. That, more than anything else, told her just how Jason felt about leaving Tommy and Billy out there.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, reaching out to put her hand on his forearm. "I guess I'm just scared," she confessed.
"I know, Kimberly. Why don't you and Trini see about gathering together some supplies like matches, and some containers of water, the first aid kit, stuff like that? You know, just in case."
"Okay. Do you think we can make it to shore?"
"We're going to try. Now, hurry it up and get that stuff, alright? And Trini, try the radio, see if you can call the Coast Guard with our position. They could come and look for the others." Jason wanted to slap himself for not thinking of that sooner.
Kimberly didn't reply, but turned with Trini to duck below-decks and start gathering what they might need. She found some waterproof matches, and put one packet in her pocket, and the rest inside the picnic basket, which she'd emptied of non-essentials to make room for the things Jason had requested.
"Mayday! Mayday! Can anyone hear me?" Trini's voice filled the small compartment as she attempted to reach help on the radio. Shrill whistling static was the only reply to her calls. "There must be something in this storm that's blocking our transmissions," she told Kim anxiously.
"Great," Kim muttered disgustedly. "So we can't send anyone back for Tommy and Billy," she muttered.
"Kim, they'll be okay ..." Trini started to say, then a shocked expression crossed her features.
"I can't believe I didn't think of this! Zordon! We can call Zordon and ask him to scan for them. It may be sort of outside the rules, but Tommy and Billy's lives depend on it!" Trini reached for her communicator. "Zordon, Alpha, can you read me?" There was no answer, not even the soft sound of static.
"Zordon, can you hear me?" Kimberly tried her communicator with a similar lack of success.
"They must have been damaged by the water," Trini sighed.
"Well, then maybe we can morph and teleport back? Then have Zordon look for them?" Kim suggested.
"That may work," Trini said thoughtfully.
"Come on, girls, we're getting closer. Are you ready?" Zack's voice interrupted their discussion.
"Coming," Kimberly replied, tossing the bag containing their morphers into the basket. They had all removed the devices early in the day so they wouldn't be lost.
The two girls climbed quickly back onto the deck, and immediately saw that they were close to an island, the biggest one it appeared. The ocean had become even rougher, and their boat was being buffeted by the high waves.
"Did you get everything? Were you able to reach anyone?" Jason asked urgently as he fought the wheel for control of the boat.
"Yes, and no," Trini replied. "We got all the supplies we could, but the radio couldn't cut through some interference. And our communicators are fried by the water."
"Oh, man, that's bad. You got our morphers?"
"Safe in the basket," Kim told him.
"Well, at least there's that. Make sure it's secure, and find a safe place to sit where you can hang on. This is going to be rough."
Jack Scott stood on the dock staring out at the rapidly approaching storm clouds. The ocean was already more turbulent than normal, and boats were obviously hurrying back trying to beat the storm. He strode quickly over to the small building that housed "Captain John's Boat Rentals".
"Excuse me, but are you John?" he asked the overweight man behind the counter.
"Nah, I'm Jonah. There isn't any 'John'. But I figured no one would really want to rent from 'Captain Jonah', given the Biblical connection and all," he said, bursting into infectious laughter at his joke. Jack couldn't help but grin; it really was kind of funny. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"
"You rented a boat to a group of teenagers earlier today?"
"Yep. Nice group of kids, too. Very polite. They should be getting back soon. I told them to skedaddle back here if the weather turned. One of 'em yours?"
"Yes. Have they radioed in perhaps?"
"No, not a peep. I'm not real worried yet. I mean, this storm wasn't even predicted, you know? But, let me see if I can raise 'em. Hold on." The big man lumbered back toward the radio setup and threw a few switches.
"Base to Mermaid Four, come in, Mermaid Four. Mermaid Four, do you read?" The strident whine of static was easily heard outside the small structure. Jonah hurried back to the front window, scratching his head.
"I couldn't reach 'em. Sounds like the radio's dead. I'm gonna put in a call to the Coast Guard, tell 'em to be on the lookout. The kids, they were heading toward the islands, right? Well, if they get into too much trouble they can always go ashore there. I can't imagine there's too much to worry about."
Tommy fought the high waves, riding them out as best he could, trying to get his bearings. He knew that they had been somewhat close to one of the islands, so he figured it would be easy enough to swim ashore once he sighted it. After what seemed an age, he finally located land, and with a sigh of relief he started swimming.
He had stopped again to check his direction when he thought he heard a strange sound. He stayed as still as he could, concentrating on listening, but it wasn't repeated, so he reluctantly started swimming again. Only moments later he thought he heard it again.
Once more he stopped, listening, waiting to see if the sound repeated. He was about to give up when the faint noise reached him again.
"... help ..."
It sounded so far, so faint, he wasn't even sure where exactly it came
from. But his suspicion that it was Billy he was hearing made him determined
"Hello! Billy? Is that you?" he shouted as loudly as he could.
Tommy finally got a fix on the direction. "Hang on, Buddy! I'm coming!" he yelled, swimming with strong strokes toward where he'd heard the voice. A few minutes later he stopped again.
"Billy! Are you there?" he called out.
"Yes! Tommy, I'm here!" Billy's voice was much nearer, telling Tommy that his teammate was swimming toward him.
"Okay, keep shouting, we're getting close!"
The two teens kept calling out to each other regularly, until finally Tommy could see the Blue Ranger bobbing in the water a few feet ahead. He stalled, studying the smaller teen, trying to determine if it was safe to approach him. Tommy knew it could be dangerous to come within reach of a panicked person in the water, and the Green Ranger had heard the fear in his Blue teammate's tone of voice, could see the other teen's ragged respiration - much harsher than could be explained by hard swimming.
"Billy, it's okay, man. Are you hurt?"
"N-No. I'm o-okay."
"What's wrong? You seem kind of shook up," Tommy asked calmly, still staying out of Billy's reach, though he could see his teammate was starting to settle down. Given the fact they were both being constantly doused by the waves it was hard to be certain, but he suspected the other teen had been crying.
"I didn't know which way to go," the light-haired teen confessed, his terror suddenly very evident in his voice.
"You didn't ... oh, your glasses are gone," Tommy said, feeling a little foolish for not having noticed sooner.
"Yeah. And with the mist ... and no light ..."
"You are effectively blind," Tommy concluded. "Okay. Well, I can see the island, so just stick with me, all right?" He spoke soothingly; doing everything he could to reassure his teammate.
"O-okay." Billy reached out and managed to grab Tommy's shoulder, surprising the other teen with the strength of his grip. It was obvious the Blue Ranger wasn't over his fright yet.
"You're okay, Billy. I won't wander off and forget you, man. I promise. But you can't hold on to me. Just swim beside me. We are quite a ways off shore, so we need to get moving while we're still strong enough to swim. Okay?"
Jason honestly thought they were going to make it ashore, right up until the time they hit the reef and tore a gaping hole in the bottom of the boat. The sudden influx of water threw the craft off balance, and it tipped to its side, spilling almost everything on deck into the water, Trini and Zack included. Jason and Kimberly kept their grip, but just barely.
"Kim, grab the stuff you gathered, and let's go. This boat's had it!"
"Jason! The basket's gone!" Kim was looking frantically over the side.
"Then forget it! We have to get off of here," Jason grabbed her arm to get her attention. "We need to be away from the boat before it goes down, so it doesn't suck us down with it. Now come on. Let's try to stay together, and we'll find Zack and Trini. Come on!"
The two teens leapt from the damaged vessel just moments before it began its inexorable descent to the depths. They swam as quickly as they could away from its battered hulk, scanning the turbulent waters for their two friends.
"Jason, the boat was moving forward before we jumped, right?" At his nod she continued. "So they should be behind us, right?"
"Yeah. Come on, let's backtrack." He stopped and took in a deep breath. "Zack! Trini! Are you there?" His voice rang out strongly over the water.
"Jason? Where are you?" It was Trini's usually soft voice, raised in a shout, and fairly close from the sound.
"Trini? Stay where you are, we're coming. Is Zack with you?"
"Yes. But he's hurt. Hurry, please!"
"We're coming. Just hang on!"
Jason and Kimberly struck out toward the sound of Trini's voice, swimming powerfully against the waves. It wasn't long before they saw their two friends bobbing in the water, the Asian obviously holding on to Zack.
"Oh, thank God you're here. I couldn't swim and hold him above water, the waves are too high," Trini explained as Kimberly took a quick look at the unconscious boy.
"He hit his head somehow. See, here," she reported, indicating a slightly discolored bump high on his forehead.
"Okay, well, we can't do anything for him here. Let's start to shore. Put him on his back, and I'll grab under one arm, one of you take the other, and we'll get him to land. Okay?" Jason steadied the limp body with a sure grip, treading water while the girls swam to Zack's other side.
"Got it," Trini said, feeling steadier now that her teammates were there.
They quickly positioned Zack and started toward land. They traded positions periodically to let each of them rest a bit from the strain of dragging Zack along. Though their unconscious friend hampered their progress, the shore was thankfully getting closer. Still, it took far longer than they would have expected it to; they hadn't been that far offshore when the boat went under.
"Just a little further, guys," Jason gasped out encouragingly.
"Thank goodness, I'm worn out. Jason, we're going to have to find somewhere dry, and try to start a fire. Even though it's not very cold, Zack could be developing hypothermia. We'll be okay since we're moving, but he isn't," Kimberly told him.
"Well, finding somewhere dry could be a problem," Jason noted. The rain the clouds had foretold had arrived full force a half hour before.
"There should be a cave, or even an overhang, to protect us a little. I hope so, for Zack's sake."
Fifteen minutes later they were finally close enough to touch bottom, and they hurried onto the sandy beach, just grateful to be out of the water.
The beach was quite wide, sloping upward to a high, steep bluff that extended in both directions as far as the Rangers could see. Roots and shrubs protruded from the sheer surface, which was about 50 feet high at its lowest point.
"Let's get to the bluff, start looking for a cave or something. Jason, can you carry Zack okay?" Kim asked.
"No problem," Jason said gamely, shrugging off his own exhaustion and carefully picking up the Black Ranger in a fireman's carry. "Lead on."
The two girls applied themselves to exploring the base of the rise, seeking any spot that would provide some protection from the driving rain.
"Here! Guys, this should do," Kim called out from her position kneeling below some bushes growing out of the bluff's face. "It'll be a squeeze getting in, but it looks like it's big enough for all four of us, and dry, too."
It took all three of them working together to get Zack's limp form through the small opening, but once inside they did have plenty of room, even if they couldn't stand upright. It was dry, and oddly warm inside.
"Good find, Kim. I wonder if we could risk a fire, just to give us more light? If we could find something to burn, and some way to start it, that is," Jason trailed off, a bit embarrassed.
"If you can find some twigs and stuff like that to start it which isn't wet, we can have a fire. I put a packet of the waterproof matches in my pocket. They're still with me," Kim said from where she was trying to make Zack comfortable.
"Great! Come on, Trini, let's see if we can find something."
The two teens searched the dark cave thoroughly, going mostly by feel in the nearly complete darkness. Slowly they gathered enough dry fuel to start a fire, and keep it going at least long enough to allow them to find more things to burn. Kimberly pulled out the matches, and shook one out of the special holder. It took a couple of tries, but finally she managed to get one lit, and the fire started. After a tense couple of minutes, during which it looked like the flame wouldn't take, they had a cheerful blaze.
Trini and Jason took advantage of the light provided by the glow to stockpile broken roots and dead brush, while Kimberly more thoroughly examined Zack. She found his skin was cold to the touch, and his breathing shallow.
"Jason, help me move him closer to the fire, okay? He's too cold."
The two of them shifted Zack as close as possible to the blaze, and Kim started removing his soaked clothing. Leaving only his briefs on, she then directed Jason to help her in massaging the unconscious teen to try to stimulate the blood flow and warm him.
"Trini, could you wring out his clothes, and maybe find a way to drape them near the fire? We can't put him back in cold, wet things. Stop for a minute, Jase, and let's see how he's doing without our massaging him."
They sat back and watched Zack closely to see if he showed any signs of waking up. He remained unconscious, but his skin was warmer to the touch, and his respiration seemed normal. Meanwhile Trini uprooted a couple of large bushes and set them near the fire, draping the Black Ranger's clothes over them.
"Looks like we're in as good a shape as possible under the circumstances. I think before it gets completely dark outside I'm going to see if I can find some more dry wood. Other than that, all we can do is wait out the storm," Jason said at last.
"Yeah, I guess we're pretty much okay, for now," Kim agreed, turning suddenly tearful eyes toward the entrance to their shelter. "But what about Billy and Tommy? I wonder how they're doing?"
Her only answer was the muted roar of the surf as it pounded the beach below.
Jonah, proprietor of "Captain John's Boat Rentals" was getting concerned about the kids in Mermaid Four. The Coast Guard had headed out toward the islands, but had been turned back by the sheer ferocity of the storm. And they had not spotted the missing boat. Jonah had put out a general call to any and all boats still out to look for his rental, but no one had seen it, and by all accounts the tempest was vicious.
"Well, Lieutenant, if you are of a mind to start worrying, I guess now would be a good time. There's no sign of the kids, and things are bad out there. The Coast Guard can't get through. But, like I said, if they saw the storm they may have headed to shore rather than try to make it back."
"Did you get personal information on all of them? I'm looking for the phone numbers if you have them."
"Right here. Come on around and use my phone," the big man offered, indicating his back door.
"Thanks," Jack muttered, picking up the receiver. He started dialing, with a feeling of déjà vu.
"Here we go again," he murmured.
They'd been swimming for quite a while when Tommy declared a rest break. While he treaded water gently to keep afloat, he considered Billy's condition. The blond teen was much calmer, both in appearance and in behavior. Though winded by his exertions, as Tommy was, he seemed to be holding up very well.
"You okay?" the Green Ranger asked.
"Yeah. As long as you know where we're going, I'm fine," Billy replied with a slight smile.
"Let's catch our breath, and we can start out again."
"Yeah, we need to be careful about not stopping too long, Tommy. Even though the water is not terribly cold, we're still at risk for hypothermia."
"I didn't even consider that. Thanks, man. Then I guess we should get going again, huh?"
Soon they had established a rhythm. They'd swim until they were breathing heavily, then would rest until their respiration had settled down. The storm had intensified to the point that the two were fighting harder to keep moving in the direction Tommy wanted to go, and their rest breaks were coming more and more quickly. As the rain pelted down ferociously, and the wind whipped over the ocean's surface, the light mist thickened. This, combined with the fact it was now just past sunset, made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. Tommy however kept them unerringly on track.
"How do you know where we're going?" Billy asked breathlessly as they stopped yet again.
"I have an excellent sense of direction. Rain, snow, sleet, dark of night ... doesn't matter, I can find my way no matter what."
"I've heard of people having that sort of ability. I have to admit I'm glad you're one of them, since I've almost no sense of direction at all. You're quite certain we're heading the right way?"
"Yeah. A couple of years ago I had a science teacher who had his classes do all sorts of tests on themselves to see if any of us had perfect pitch, ESP, that sort of thing. I totally aced the directions tests. I could correctly identify which way I was going, no matter what the circumstances were. I'm very certain we're going in the right direction, Billy."
"Well, then, lead on."
Tommy smiled and struck out again, trying gamely to ignore his increasing exhaustion and fear. If they didn't reach land soon he knew there was a good chance they would die, possibly only a few hundred feet from land. He was determined that would not happen. The tall boy knew Billy was depending on him, and that thought fueled his determination. Keeping a weather eye on his companion, he continued to lead them toward the island he had spotted earlier.
Night had long since fallen, and visibility had decreased to mere inches, so Tommy was startled when his feet struck something solid. Scarcely daring to hope he stretched his legs downward and felt solid ground beneath is feet.
"Billy! We made it! I can touch bottom!" Excitement temporarily chased his fatigue away.
"I can't feel it," Billy complained, sounding on the raw edge of collapse.
"Here, come on, you'll be able to in a minute," Tommy encouraged him, grabbing Billy's arm and pulling him forward.
"Oh, thank God," the Blue Ranger moaned as his own feet made contact with the land.
Able to stand at long last, they staggered toward the beach, their weary bodies feeling leaden. Once clear of the water they collapsed, lying face down beside each other, breathing raggedly.
They might have spent the entire night right there if Billy hadn't roused them from their near-stupor.
"Tommy, we need to get up and off the beach," the blond's voice was hoarse with weariness.
"Why?" the Green Ranger moaned, not enthusiastic about the idea of having to move.
"We need to find some sort of shelter and get out of this rain. Come on." With that Billy struggled to his feet, staggering wildly until he ultimately fell. He forced himself to his feet again, this time managing to remain upright until he was again in control.
Tommy knew his teammate was right, and with another moan of displeasure he forced his reluctant body to stand up. The two teenagers made their unsteady way to the trees beyond the beach, holding on to each other for support. In the near perfect darkness they stumbled often, eliciting soft curses.
Once under the trees, they found they were marginally protected from the rain. Standing quietly, trying to get their bearings, they looked around, doing their best to discern what the dark shapes they could barely see were.
"What do you have in mind?" Tommy asked finally. He figured Billy had an idea of what kind of shelter they might find on this island.
"We need to find a thicker stand of trees, or bushes, which would provide more protection from the rain. Like maybe that," the Blue Ranger replied, leading his companion toward a dark shape on their left that was visible even to his bad eyes. Going by touch alone, Billy found a place where they could crawl underneath the thick clump of brush. To his hands the ground felt quite dry, and that was all they needed at the moment.
"We can crawl under there. Hopefully we'll be protected from the rain and won't encounter any unfriendly arachnids or other insects," he explained.
"Okay. I guess that's cool," Tommy agreed, not really enthused by the idea, but grateful for anything that would prevent them getting any more soaked.
"We should go ahead and take off our clothes and at least wring them out," Billy suggested quietly. "That would hasten their drying and decrease our loss of body heat."
Without comment Tommy stripped and wrung out all his clothing. Using his hands, he tried to dry his body as much as possible. Putting back on the damp clothing wasn't particularly pleasant, but at least it felt much better than it had when they were soaked. Billy had followed suit, grimacing as he pulled his shirt back over his head.
Dressed again, they two crawled under the bushes and lay down side by side, shifting a little to find a somewhat comfortable position in the cramped area.
Within minutes both boys were fast asleep.
Marjorie Scott looked around the now crowded office of "Captain John's Boat Rentals", doing a quick head count. All the kids' parents were here. The Taylors, the Kwans, Eileen Hart, and Eileen's boyfriend, Ronald Lawrence, were all talking quietly amongst themselves. Her husband, Jack, was having a quiet discussion with Wallace Cranston. Marjorie couldn't help the smile the sight of the two men together evoked. They were so utterly different in appearance! Wallace was slender to the point of outright skinniness, his thick glasses and conservative haircut making him look like the archetypical 1950's dad of numerous television sitcoms. Jack had the burly, solid build of a boxer, combined with the broad pleasant features that one associated with storybook illustrations of a turn-of-the-century country priest.
She turned her attention to the couple sitting alone, holding hands and looking out the window at the rain pelting down violently. They had briefly introduced themselves as James and Hannah Oliver.
Marjorie had met Tommy a few times, and from what she'd seen, liked the boy. He always greeted her politely, and the one time he had stayed for dinner he'd helped clear the table and load the dishwasher. To Marjorie's way of thinking, that told her that he'd been raised by parents who cared a great deal about him. Looking at the Olivers sitting alone, she was reminded of the time when the kids were all ten and had gotten trapped in a forest fire. That was the first time all the parents had met, and at first they had all isolated themselves, like the Olivers were now. That had gradually changed as the seemingly endless night wore on, and fear and worry had rendered them all absolutely equal. By the time the children had been rescued, the nine adults had become friends themselves.
Marjorie stood and approached the Olivers. "Hi, I'm Marjorie Scott, Jason's mom. I'm sorry to be meeting you under such circumstances, but I wanted to tell you how impressed I've been by Tommy's good manners," she said.
"Thank you." James' response was automatic.
"You just moved to Angel Grove, didn't you?" Marjorie asked, trying to draw them out a bit.
"A month ago. It seemed a good place to set up my practice," James replied woodenly, not really interested in making conversation. Marjorie was not deterred.
"You're an attorney, right?"
"Yes. And Hannah's a therapist." He squeezed his wife's hand as she finally turned her attention to the other woman.
"You all seem so calm. Like you've done this before," Hannah observed. Anything to get her mind off her son's whereabouts, and this stranger seemed nice and genuinely interested.
Marjorie sighed. "We have." She told the Olivers the story of the fire, and how the parents had all met for the first time.
"And you've all remained friends ever since?" Hannah asked, looking a little surprised.
"Well, the kids have all remained friends, too. That's probably helped a lot," Marjorie admitted with a smile.
"Who is everyone again?"
"The couple sitting in the corner, that's Clayton and Sheryl Taylor, Zack's parents. Beside them, under the window, that's Russell and Michelle Kwan, Trini's folks. Beside them is Ron Lawrence, Eileen Hart's boyfriend. That's her sitting beside him. She's Kim's mother. Kim's dad is in Arizona on business, but I think Eileen called him. That's my husband, Jack, in the dark T-shirt, talking to Wallace Cranston, Billy's dad."
"We've seen Jason several times, he and Tommy seem to get along great. He's a nice kid, too. Zack came over once, if I recall. And we met Kimberly and Trini last week when they came by to drop off Tommy's homework the day he stayed home sick. I don't believe we've ever met Billy. What's he look like?" James asked.
"Quiet kid with light hair and glasses. Like his dad, he's kind of easy to miss," Marjorie smiled.
"Don't think we've seen him. His dad is here alone?"
"Wallace's wife, Billy's mom, died seven years ago in a car accident."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," James said. He paused for a moment, considering. "All these kids have been friends since they were ten?"
"Mm-hmm. Well, actually, Jason and Zack have been friends since they were nine, I think. The girls met when Trini moved here when she was ten, then Jason met Billy, and somehow the whole group of them became fast friends."
"You realize that's pretty unusual for children that age to form close friendships that last that long? Frequently friendships wax and wane during those years, but you're telling me that the five kids have remained fast friends? That says a lot about them." Hannah Oliver looked impressed. "They share a lot of common interests?"
"Hmmm. Not really. Jason and Zack both do karate, and I think Trini does Kung Fu. Kim and Billy don't do any martial arts that I know of. Kim loves to shop, that girl can out-shop me any day. And she's seriously into gymnastics, competes regularly. Billy's a genius. I mean that quite literally. He has a lab in their garage where he spends a lot of time doing experiments."
Hannah looked thoughtful. "They must share some interests. A club or hobby?"
"Not that I'm aware of. They just like each other," Marjorie shrugged. She'd long since gotten used to the fact the five kids shared a close friendship that nothing could shake. It was a bit of a surprise to see how someone else reacted to it.
"Very unusual. I have to admit I was surprised when Tommy made friends so quickly. He's usually slow to get to know people. He's always been that way, ever since we adopted him," her expression was mildly challenging, as if daring the other woman to say anything about Tommy being adopted.
"I sensed he was a bit reserved, when I first met him. But he thawed quickly. Of course, around Jason and Zack very few kids can hold onto their shyness," Marjorie grinned.
Hannah and James couldn't help but smile back. "They are rather exuberant," Hannah agreed.
Jack and Wallace had wandered over to hear the last couple of comments.
"Around those two even Billy gets wound up," Wallace said with a quiet smile.
Jack snickered at that. "Somehow I think our boy has been a bad influence on yours," he laughed.
"Jason has been a wonderful influence on Billy," Wallace commented sincerely, with a smile for his friends.
"They've all been good for each other," Marjorie corrected. She made the introductions between her husband and Wallace and the Olivers. By the time she'd finished, the other couples had drifted over. Soon the whole group was talking together, effectively absorbing the Olivers into their circle of friendship.
Jason sat near the entrance to their small cavern, listening to the storm outside. The weather had not abated a bit, in fact it sounded worse than ever.
Zack had regained consciousness a couple of hours after they'd taken refuge. Though he complained of a pounding headache, he was coherent and responsive. Kim decided it would be okay to let him sleep, but that they needed to wake him up periodically to check for signs of problems. Hence the night watch. Kim and Trini were both sleeping the unmoving sleep of the utterly exhausted.
Essentially alone, the Red Ranger found his mind wandering back over the events of the day. Especially his actions since they first spotted the approaching storm front. He knew now that they should have stayed where they were and not tried to head home. But the storm had approached so fast! He had never seen a weather front move like that. If he'd only taken the time to observe it, he would have seen that there was no way they could make it back to the mainland in time. His impetuous decision had possibly cost two of his friends their lives.
Or so his mind kept insisting.
He buried his face in his hands, giving in to his feelings for a time. He had no idea how long he had been sitting that way when he was startled by a gentle touch on his shoulder. He looked up into the sympathetic eyes of Trini.
"Hey," he said in a rough whisper, "What're you doing up?"
"I got the feeling someone needed a friend." She sat down across from Jason and took one of his hands in hers.
"Oh, Trini, I blew it. We should never have left that island we were on when we saw the storm. If we'd stayed there we'd all be safe now. Instead, Billy and Tommy .." his voice trailed off, unable to finish the thought.
"Billy and Tommy may very well be okay. As for staying on the island, well, Jason, there were six of us looking at that storm, and not one of us disagreed with your decision. And you know full well all of us will voice our opinions if we think something is a bad idea. Yes, you're our leader, but you're not autocratic. We're not afraid to disagree with you. So in effect it was a group decision. As it turned out, not a great group decision, but a group one nonetheless. None of us had any idea the storm would, or could, hit that fast. Jason, you're not the only one to blame for this."
"Trini, I should've stopped to think it through. I'm the one who was supposed to know what he was doing."
"Jason, no. You may know how to operate the boat, but Billy and I have done research into weather conditions. We're the ones who should've realized the storm was moving extremely fast. Besides, guilt doesn't do us any good at this point. Applying that mental energy to figuring out how to get home again would be more productive." She leavened her comments with a gentle squeeze of his hand and a warm smile.
"Thanks Trini. But it's hard to think of anything else when Billy and Tommy may be dead because of my stupid decision," he said as his gaze once again returned to the small entrance to their cave.
"Jason, Billy is like a brother to you. And you told me you had an instant affinity for Tommy. Don't you think you'd sense it if they were dead? That you'd feel the emptiness where their friendship is supposed to be? Look inside yourself, Jason. Does it feel like they died? Does it?" Trini looked intently at her friend, willing him to feel what she felt.
Jason did as she requested. "No, it doesn't. It doesn't," he said at last, the despair in his eyes finally fading.
"I think somehow they made it. I don't know how, but I think they're still alive. And I'm going to hold onto that until it's proven otherwise. You should do the same," the Yellow Ranger said.
"Good advice," Jason replied absently, obviously still deep in thought. He focused finally on the serene countenance across from him. "Thank you, Trini. I feel better now."
"Better enough to sleep? I think it's my shift now."
Jason gave her a slightly sheepish look. "Not quite that much better. If you don't mind, I'd like to keep watch a while longer."
"We'll watch together."
Sheryl Taylor stared out the window at the rain-soaked darkness beyond. Somewhere out there her son and his friends were possibly struggling to survive against the raging storm, while she sat warm and comfortably dry in this small building. Her husband, Clayton, had run home to check on their two younger boys, who were staying with a neighbor.
She couldn't believe that they were all gathered together again to stand watch, waiting for word on their missing children. She remembered all too clearly the long hours of fear they had all endured when the kids were all ten. She wondered what the odds were they would have as successful an outcome as they had the last time. Earlier that evening they had all gathered around Jonah's small television to watch the news. They didn't have to wait for weather reports; this strange storm was the top story on all local stations. According to what the news reported, and what Jonah had heard over the radio, there were almost two dozen boats unaccounted for when the storm's fury hit the docks. The Coast Guard had done what they could, but sending out their own boats to search would only put more people at risk. Much to everyone's dismay, there was nothing that could be done for any of the missing except to watch and pray.
Sheryl had been doing that nonstop since Jack had called them to tell them what was happening.
Awareness seeped slowly into Tommy's mind, bringing considerable confusion. He couldn't figure out where he was, or why he felt so stiff, or where the lumpy pillow he was hugging came from. Gradually he began to shift around a little and was startled when the 'pillow' groaned at him.
"Wha..." he muttered, dragging his eyes open reluctantly. When he took his first look around, memory came back with a rush. The storm, being swept overboard, finding Billy, their long, arduous swim to shore, taking shelter beneath these thick bushes. That was no pillow in his arms, but his teammate, who was in the process of waking up, too. Tommy glanced down just as Billy glanced up. Without a word they quickly disentangled themselves and crawled out of their lair.
"I apologize profusely," Billy started, obviously embarrassed.
"I'm sorry," Tommy said simultaneously.
Both teens stopped and looked at each other uncomfortably.
"Look, we were both probably cold in our sleep and simply unconsciously sought out the nearest source of warmth," Tommy said at last.
"A valid hypothesis," Billy agreed, looking shyly at the taller teen.
"So," Tommy started, breaking the slightly uncomfortable silence. "Are you feeling okay? Up to exploring this island? Maybe we can find the others."
"I'm fine. I agree that would be a sensible course of action," the lighter- haired teen replied, still not looking directly at his teammate. "Do you have any ideas as to where we should start looking?"
"I was thinking we should go back to the shore and start working our way around the perimeter of the island. If they landed here, they are likely to stay close to the shore," Tommy said.
The two of them backtracked to the shore, and stepped away from the marginal protection of the trees. It was still raining heavily, the slate gray clouds low and oppressive overhead, and within minutes the two teenagers were soaked to the skin again. They headed out, walking along the edge of the tree line so they could observe both the shore and the forest.
"Tommy, over there," Billy said, pointing to something inside the forest. "That lighter green blur. I can't tell from here, but they might be a species of bush that usually grows along lakes or streams. Perhaps there is a fresh water source."
"Let's go check it out."
The two teens quickly made their way to the stand of bushes Billy had pointed out, and were delighted to find a small stream of crystal clear water. Both dropped to their knees on the bank and began scooping the ice-cold water up in their hands and drinking eagerly.
Their thirst slaked for the moment, they decided to rest there for a while as the thick trees offered some protection from the rain.
"I don't understand how I could've been so thirsty when I've been thoroughly soaked almost all the time since yesterday afternoon," Tommy observed.
Billy shrugged. "One of the quirks of our bodies, always needing water. Or perhaps we both ingested a bit of salt water, which would aggravate the problem." It was obvious the Blue Ranger's thoughts were elsewhere.
"Something wrong, Billy?"
"No. I ... I just wanted to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I really lost it out there," Billy said.
"You couldn't see, Billy. Anyone would be upset under the circumstances," Tommy said reassuringly.
"It wasn't just the not being able to see, though that was bad. It was also because I'm ichthyophobic."
"You're what-a-phobic?" Tommy asked neutrally.
"Okay, I know that means you're afraid of something. Water?" Tommy guessed.
"Fear of water is aquaphobic. Ichthyophobia is the fear of ... fish," Billy's voice became almost inaudible, and he looked away from his companion in obvious embarrassment.
Tommy contemplated his teammate for a moment, then spoke softly.
"Pardon?" The blond teen looked at Tommy in confusion.
"I'm afraid of cats. Have been ever since I was a little kid. I was about six when a neighbor's cat went psycho on me when I was playing with it. It latched onto my arm and bit my hand. By the time I got it off of me my arm was a mass of scratches, and I had deep puncture wounds on my hand. It started swelling that afternoon, and I ended up going to the emergency room for treatment, including a tetanus shot. Man, I freaked whenever I saw a cat for months. My mom's a therapist, and she worked with me for a long time, until I was over most of my fear. But between you and me, I still avoid cats whenever I can. Let me tell you something, if we'd been trapped in a room full of cats, instead of an ocean full of fish, I would've been freaking completely. So, I understand how you must've felt," Tommy concluded, looking at the other boy sympathetically.
"I was bitten by a fish when I was very young, but since I wasn't really injured, no one knew about it. I finally got over the worst of it not too long ago," Billy paused, looking out over the ocean with a slightly bemused expression.
"What is it? How'd you get over it?" Tommy prompted him.
"It's kind of funny, really. You got over your fear with help from your mom. Me, I got over it thanks to one of Rita's monsters," he chuckled slightly.
Tommy looked at his teammate with a puzzled air, thinking over what he'd just said. His first reaction was that it wasn't funny in the least, but very sad. Then, considering further, he saw the irony in what had happened, how his quiet companion might have found it humorous in a strange sort of way.
"Think Rita should go into business as a therapist?" he asked with a laugh.
"Sure. Shock therapy," Billy joked back.
Tommy chuckled. "Oh, man, you know I wanted to go on this boat trip to get a little closer to you guys, you know, get to know you better. Somehow this is not quite what I had in mind."
"You don't feel like it's working?" Billy asked ironically.
"We spent the night in each other's arms. I really don't think we can get much closer," Tommy quipped back.
Billy's expression froze for a moment, and Tommy felt a sinking fear he'd offended his teammate. Then the smaller teen burst out in a hearty laugh.
"Good point. Though I hope you won't mind if we keep that our little secret?"
Tommy had to grin at that. "No problem, Bro. Come on, let's see if we can find the others."
The two friends headed back toward the shore, more at ease with each other than they'd ever been before.
Despite the persistent pain in his head, Zack insisted on getting up and going with the others to look for supplies outside. They had decided that they needed to gather as much wood as possible, even if it was wet. They could 'dry' it by the fire before burning it. The second consideration was locating a source of fresh water, and some way to carry or store it. He was currently searching the waterline with Trini in hopes that some of the supplies from the boat had washed ashore, like a pot or other type container.
"Whoa, check this out Trini! This'll help," he called out to his companion, as he picked up a slightly battered aluminum pot.
"Great. We can use it for cooking, too. How're you feeling, Zack?" she asked in concern as the Black Ranger leaned against a nearby log.
"I'm okay, just a killer headache. Have you found anything yet?"
"Not yet, but I think I'm about to," she replied, going past Zack and pulling a half buried plastic container out of the sand. "This'll help, too."
"Now if some food would only wash ashore," Zack said wistfully.
"I think that'd be too much to ask for, I'm afraid. But maybe we can find some plants that are edible. I could make a soup in your pot, even," she smiled at the injured boy, trying to cheer him up.
"Right. 'Strange, Possibly Edible, Plant Soup'. Could win a prize in the next county fair," Zack grinned. Trini smiled back, pleased to have caused the lighter mood.
There really was very little for the teens to be happy about. It was still raining, though not quite as hard as the night before, and the wind was still unusually strong. The cloud cover was low, visibility was virtually nil, and the heavy surf pounded the beach violently. Within minutes of leaving the cave both teens had been soaked to the skin, and the wind against their wet clothing was unpleasantly cold.
"Come on, let's go share our finds with the others. Hopefully they had some luck locating fresh water. And we need to make sure the fire is still going."
Zack sighed and pushed off the log he'd been leaning on. "Do you really think Billy and Tommy are okay?"
Trini had suspected that was part of what was troubling the Black Ranger.
"I don't know how 'okay' they might be, but I don't believe they're dead. Somehow, I think they survived. And that if they can, they'll be looking for us, as we're looking for them. Or will be once the other concerns are addressed."
"Minor concerns like fire, food, and water?" Zack asked with a grin.
"Yes. It seems Jason thinks those things are important," Trini smiled back.
"Leave it to our fearless leader to be concerned with our survival," Zack said with mock irritation. "When he could be worrying about something useful, like how I'm ever going to explain it to Angela if I'm not there to help her with her science project tomorrow. I promised her I'd give her a hand after school."
"Gee, Zack, I don't know about that. I mean, the old 'got shipwrecked on a deserted island in a storm' excuse is so overused."
"Have I ever told you that you have a truly wicked sense of humor?"
Daybreak in Angel Grove had brought no relief to the ten worried parents seated in the office of "Captain John's Boat Rentals." It was quite obvious that there could be no search and rescue operation sent out in these conditions. The howling wind and driving rain had created zero visibility conditions.
"Can't they even launch a boat to go directly to the islands?" Eileen Hart asked, her pale face drawn by the strain of the night of worry.
"It would be putting the rescuers in more danger than is acceptable. If they knew for certain where the kids are, it would be one thing. But they don't know. That's the problem with all the boats that are missing. There is no way to know for sure where they may be. And there's something downright strange about this storm," Jonah said wearily. He'd stayed up all night monitoring the radio and the lack of sleep was catching up with him.
"There must be something we can do," Sheryl Taylor said with a note of desperation in her voice.
"Until the weather breaks, all we can do is sit and wait and pray."
Tommy and Billy trudged along the shore, not speaking. They had worked out a system where Billy checked the beach, while Tommy surveyed the surrounding forest. They were beginning to give up hope that their friends had landed on the same island.
"Wonder how far we've gone?" Tommy asked idly, wanting mostly to break the silence.
"Well, if we walk an average of three miles an hour, which is actually quite slow, times the approximately six hours we've been walking, we've covered about eighteen miles. Give or take, say, five miles. A considerable distance."
"You just calculate things like that right off the top of your head, huh? Man, I can't imagine being that good at math," Tommy grinned.
"Well, I can't imagine being as good at karate as you are, so I guess it evens out in the end."
"I suppose. Oh, man, look at this!" Tommy suddenly knelt down, looking intently at the sand.
"What is it?" Billy asked, squinting in the general direction of Tommy's gaze.
"Oh. Paw prints. Little ones, heading into the forest. Like from a small dog or a cat, perhaps. Wonder what made them?"
"I don't know. I don't believe there are any animals indigenous to this area. Perhaps someone lost a pet and it somehow survived and went feral," Billy postulated, wishing he could see the prints more clearly.
"We should be looking out for a possible place to take shelter tonight, I guess. With this cloud cover we won't have much light past sunset," Tommy commented, abandoning his interest in the prints and looking around with a worried expression. It had continued to rain all day; the high winds were still unabated. Their light clothing soaked through, both teens were well aware that the only reason they weren't uncomfortably cold was because they kept moving, and both were dreading the upcoming night.
"You know, I'd about sell my soul to be warm and dry," he added.
"I tend to agree with you there," Billy replied.
They continued walking, moving more quickly, and soon a sheer bluff replaced the open forest. Tommy paused periodically to check out possible caves or overhangs they could use for shelter for the night. So intent were they in their search that they didn't notice the distant figure moving toward them on the beach, until they heard a feminine cry of joy.
They looked toward the source of the sound, then turned to each other with a grin.
"Is that a small, pink blur I observe moving toward us?" Billy asked in a mock serious tone.
"That would seem to be what it is. Watch out, she seems to be aiming for you," Tommy replied with a laugh.
Moments later Kimberly launched herself into Billy's arms, nearly knocking the Blue Ranger over in her enthusiasm.
"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I'm so glad to see you guys! We thought you were lost, or on another island, or something. Jason's going nuts worrying about you though he doesn't want to say anything," Kim gushed, hugging her friend hard. Billy winced but returned the embrace gladly. Kim noticed his expression and backed off a little without comment. She turned to Tommy, hugging him as warmly as she had Billy.
"I thought I might not see you again," she murmured, for a moment overcome with her relief in seeing her two friends.
"Hey, we're just as glad to see you," Tommy replied, enjoying the embrace immensely.
"Oh, we have to get you two to the others. They've been worried too," Kim said, letting Tommy go reluctantly. She looked back where she'd come from with a soft blush coloring her cheeks. "Come on, we found a cave a ways down the beach."
She quickly led the way along the bluff. As they got nearer her apparent destination, Tommy noticed footprints in the sand. He smiled a little to himself, already heartened by that sign of their other friends.
Kim paused in front of a clump of bushes growing out of the bluff at about chest level. She knelt down and crawled into the small opening below.
"After you," Tommy grinned, gesturing for Billy to enter.
The other Rangers had looked up at Kimberly's entrance, noticing her flushed appearance and empty hands.
"Kimberly, are you okay? Couldn't you find any wood?" Jason asked, a concerned frown on his face.
"I found something better," she grinned, turning back to watch Billy crawl in, closely followed by Tommy.
Joy and relief flashed through Jason's soul like a bolt of lightning. He had consciously tried to stifle his worry and fears, but the relief he felt at the sight of his two friends made him realize he had not been very successful. The enthusiastic greetings Zack and Trini offered belied their earlier words of encouragement as well.
For the next few minutes the cave was filled with the happy sound of six teenagers greeting each other, laughter echoing into the farthest corners. Their voices tripped over each other's as they expressed their delight at seeing everyone was safe at last.
"You two look like a pair of drowned rats," Jason kidded them, his words lacking any sting thanks to the relief still very evident in his tone.
"I feel like a drowned rat," Billy muttered, moving closer to the fire.
"You should try to dry your clothes out a little," Jason suggested.
"I want Billy to take off his shirt anyway," Kimberly said suddenly.
"Why?" Billy asked with a nervous look at his petite teammate.
"Because you're obviously injured. I saw how it hurt you when I hugged you earlier. Take the shirt off, Billy." Her tone was implacable.
Looking both irritated and embarrassed, Billy nevertheless obeyed her command. When he pulled his sodden T-shirt over his head he heard all the others gasp in surprise.
"Oh, man, I had no idea you were injured. Why didn't you say anything?" Tommy asked, looking miserably at the Blue Ranger.
"It doesn't really hurt much," Billy replied, looking down at his chest with a frown. His entire chest was a palette of purples, reds, and a sickly shade of yellowish green. The bruise from when the boom had hit him stretched from his collarbone to mid-abdomen.
"It doesn't hurt?" Kim asked as she carefully probed for broken ribs.
"Well, it doesn't if you don't poke at it," he amended pointedly.
"I just want to be sure your ribs aren't broken," she said gently. "Does it feel like any are?"
"No, I don't think so. Just a bit tender is all."
"Well, okay. But I want you to tell me if it gets worse."
"I will," Billy promised, moving toward the back of the cave to wring out his clothing.
Soon the six of them were sitting comfortably around the fire, trading stories of their experiences since they had last seen each other, while outside the winds continued to howl and the rain to fall.
The Rangers' exhausted parents spent the second night at "Captain John's Boat Rentals" much the same way as the night before. Periodically during the day one or more of them had left to take care of personal business, but always being sure a small group of them remained behind to keep watch. They made arrangements to cover work, care for their other children, or to simply get out of the now oppressive atmosphere inside the small building.
Wallace Cranston was one of the parents who'd not left, except for a brief, brisk walk along the wharf. He'd sat quietly in one of the uncomfortable chairs, working on his laptop between bouts of staring moodily at the churning ocean. His mind kept drifting back to the previous morning, when he'd briefly encountered Billy in the kitchen. The teen had been assembling some sandwiches, his contribution to the picnic lunch, he'd explained with a grin. Wallace had told him to be careful and to have fun, and then had grabbed a cup of coffee on his way out the door. A fairly typical father/son moment for them, he thought with a mental sigh. As Billy grew older they seemed to be drifting apart faster than the elder Cranston wanted, though at the same time it had been so gradual he hadn't really noticed until now.
He sighed again, so lost in thought he didn't notice Marjorie Scott sit down beside him.
"You're brooding," she pointed out quietly.
He dredged up a faint smile for his friend. "I suppose I am. Just thinking how fast our sons grew up."
She gave him a commiserating look. "Isn't that the truth. Seems they shot up overnight. And didn't even bother to ask permission to do so."
Wallace chuckled a bit at that. "Did we when we were their ages?" he asked with a small smile. "Still, I guess being here, in this situation, remembering the fire, makes me realize the years just flew past. Oh, Lord, I sound like my grandfather!"
Marjorie giggled a little at that. "As long as you don't look like him yet, I wouldn't be concerned. But I know what you mean. The feeling of déjà vu is almost overwhelming."
"Let's hope the outcome is the same," Wallace murmured, looking out the window with a wistful expression.
"Amen," the slender woman agreed fervently.
A silence had fallen over the group of teenagers huddled around the small fire. Though the quiet was not uncomfortable, exactly, it did give them more time to contemplate their situation, which wasn't likely to have a salutary effect on their spirits. Without discussion they began to settle down more comfortably, preparing to sleep.
"Hey, Zack, I think you should maybe be further away from the entrance. I really don't want to spend tomorrow trying to find you if you take it in your head to take a midnight stroll in search of an eggbeater," Jason said, pointing to a location deeper in the cave for the Black Ranger.
"Jase, one step out in that rain and I'd wake up in an instant," the other teen protested even as he moved to the indicated spot.
"I don't want to take any chances. We just got all of us back together again, I'd like to keep it that way."
"You sleepwalk, man?" Tommy asked, looking at Zack curiously.
"So they say," he muttered, giving the Red and Blue Rangers a dirty look.
"And so say our parents, your parents, your grandparents, your brothers, and I think even your minister," Jason retorted.
"Hmph!" Zack snorted in disgust, turning away from his grinning teammates.
"What's this about an eggbeater?" the Green Ranger queried.
"He has a strange kitchen utensil fetish," Billy said with a sparkle in his light eyes.
"Hey! Now that just makes me sound sick," Zack protested.
"Well, I'm not the one who wakes up cuddling a garlic press," Billy retorted.
"I don't cuddle them!" Zack cried, outraged. "I ... well ... I ... collect them!" he explained.
"Oh, well, that makes much more sense," Jason snorted.
Zack gave a thoroughly exasperated huff and turned his back on his teammates once again, his entire posture expressing his outrage. Tommy turned a curious expression at the other two boys.
"You want to explain this more?"
Jason shrugged expressively. "He gets up in the middle of the night, and sleepwalks into the kitchen and rummages around until he finds some utensil. Spatulas, eggbeaters, whisks, wooden spoons, whatever strikes his fancy, I guess. Then he brings them back to bed with him. His parents, and our parents when he'd come to spend the night, would put all knives up too high for him to reach. It was really pretty funny, to see his expression when he'd find some weird thing in his bed," Jason explained with a chuckle. "My mom used to set out some harmless items whenever he'd spend the night, just in case. Though the strangest occurrence was one time when we spent the night at Billy's."
Tommy turned his expectant gaze to the Blue Ranger as the two girls snickered, knowing the story already.
"Billy, you tell him and I will find a way to get even with you," Zack growled, not turning around.
Billy seemed to consider, then smiled at Tommy. "You haven't been over to my place yet, but I live in a two story house with my bedroom being upstairs. This particular time, we were all twelve I think, we were 'camping out' on my bedroom floor. My dad was downstairs reading, when he heard a sound. He looked up and saw Zack coming down the stairs, walking very slowly, holding on to the railing, being very careful. But also very purposeful. He walked right past my dad without a word, and went into the kitchen and started opening cupboards. Dad, who had already experienced Zack's nocturnal adventures, watched from the doorway until he realized Zack seemed to be looking for something in particular. My uncle used to sleepwalk as a kid, so Dad is pretty used to dealing with it. He walked up to Zack and asked him real quietly what he was looking for. I guess Zack looked at him with this really far off expression and said 'I need the vacuum, the bunnies are keeping me awake'."
Tommy snickered while the girls giggled as Billy paused.
"Dad wasn't too sure what to say to that, so he asked Zack what he meant. He just kept insisting the 'bunnies' were too noisy and keeping him awake. He needed the vacuum to take care of them. It took a while, but Dad finally realized he was referring to dust bunnies, presumably the ones under my bed."
The snickers had turned to quiet chuckles while the giggling intensified.
"My dad was stumped for a few minutes. I mean, really, what can you say to a sleepwalking kid who wants to get rid of the noisy dust bunnies?" Billy continued. "Finally he hit on a solution. We have one of those four-sided graters, so he took that and told Zack it was a special bunny trap. All he had to do was set it out and all the bunnies would be gone. Zack just grabbed the 'trap' and headed back up the stairs. When Dad checked in on us a while later we were all sound asleep, the bunny crisis over. Of course, it was three weeks before we found the grater again," he concluded with a grin.
The teens gave up any pretense of trying to suppress their laughter.
"Okay, okay, smart guy. I'll get you for this. You know I will," Zack threatened the team genius, the effect somewhat diminished by his chuckle.
"Oh, man, that's great. I'm sorry, but I can just see you searching around desperately for the vacuum, so determined to capture those pesky bunnies," Tommy laughed.
"I'm glad Rita can't hear us. Can you imagine? We'd end up going up against a fifty-foot-tall dust bunny," Jason chuckled.
"Hey, no problem. We'd just have Billy Boy build us a huge 'Dust Bunny Trap', right?" Zack asked around his own laughter.
The mental image of the MegaZord wielding a monstrous grater against an oversized dust bunny was too much for the teens. The small cavern reverberated with the sound of their laughter, as the storm continued undiminished outside.
The morning gloom seemed singularly appropriate, fitting the mood of the weary group gathered in "Captain John's Boat Rentals." As each weary parent woke, their eyes turned almost instinctively toward the windows to check the weather conditions. Ten times faint hope was raised, and ten times it was crushed before it had a chance to blossom at the sight of the still raging storm.
Friends and neighbors were called, other children checked on, and offices notified as the parents found themselves facing yet another day of watching, waiting, and hoping.
"Ah, another beautiful day in Paradise!" Zack quipped as he returned from a quick foray outside their shelter. The other teens were in various stages of awakening; muttering and grumbling.
"Still bad, huh?" Kimberly asked, looking depressed.
"Yep. Though it may be just a bit better," he added hopefully.
"At this rate it'll be a week before anyone can try to come find us," Billy groused.
"Come on guys, at least we're all okay, and we have someplace reasonably dry and warm to wait it out," Jason consoled them.
"And parents probably going nuts at home," Trini added with a worried frown.
Even Jason couldn't find anything to say to take the sting out of that thought, since it was probably quite true.
"Well, my parents had wanted to meet my friends' parents, so I guess they're getting the chance," Tommy commented wryly, unaware that he was echoing a comment Zack had made years before when the other five had been trapped in a burning forest.
"No doubt," Jason concurred, appreciating the newest Ranger's attempt to lighten the mood. "Come on guys, let's see about getting some more fresh water, and checking out the area a little more. Maybe we can find something to eat. Beats spending the whole day in here brooding, anyway." Circumstances had created a situation where there was nothing they could do to get themselves off the island, but Jason figured he could at least try to keep everyone's spirits up.
He got no argument from his teammates, who all quietly followed the Red Ranger out of their small shelter. Standing in a loose group they looked around with varying degrees of distaste and despair.
"Zack, why don't you and Billy take our buckets and get some more fresh water. Trini, you and Tommy could look for some edible plants down that way, while Kim and I explore the other direction. Don't anyone wander too far, okay?" Jason directed.
"Sounds like a plan to me," Zack agreed readily enough.
The teens split up and headed out in three different directions, talking quietly amongst themselves.
"So you'd recognize an edible plant, right?" Jason asked his petite companion as they headed toward the forest west of their cave.
"Sure. At least I think so," Kimberly replied in a slightly distracted manner.
"Kim, that's not terribly reassuring," Jason replied, giving her a searching look.
"Sorry, I'm just thinking about my mom. She's probably going nuts," the Pink Ranger confessed.
"I know, Kim. All our parents are very likely upset. But there's nothing we can do about it right now," he tried to console her, putting one strong arm across the slim shoulders.
Kim sighed softly. "I know. But still ..."
"The best thing we can do for our folks is make sure we all get back okay," Jason pointed out gently.
"You're right. Okay, let's see if we can find something to eat. Maybe we could look for clams? Or try to catch some fish? We could cook them on an open fire. Plus some seaweed is edible, though I'm not sure what kinds."
Jason smiled in satisfaction as the Pink Ranger began to warm to the task of finding food, setting aside her concerns about her parents for the moment.
"You're going to have to do all the toting, Billy Boy," Zack commented cheerfully as they carried the two battered pots they'd found the previous day. Despite his assurance that his arm wasn't bothering him very much, Kim had insisted that Zack keep it immobilized.
"That's fine," Billy replied absently.
"Hello, you with me, Billy?" Zack asked looking intently at his companion.
"Yeah, just thinking."
"Well, that's not exactly something new," the Black Ranger quipped. "Thinking of a way off this place?"
"Hmm? Oh. No, not this time. Just thinking. Where's the water source you guys found?" Billy seemed to shake off his introspection and looked around curiously.
"Over this way." Zack led the way to a small, cheerfully burbling stream.
Billy quickly filled their containers, setting them carefully down a short distance from the bank, then leaned over to splash some of the water on his face, scrubbing it with his hands. Zack followed suit, performing the task one- handed, then sat down under the partial protection of one of the largest trees.
"Strange how even when we're pretty much soaking wet all the time it still feels good to wash up," he observed, settling down comfortably. "You know, this isn't all that bad. We got lucky that none of us got very injured in the wreck, we're all pretty much okay, we have somewhere dry and sort of warm to hole up, and fresh water. Things could be a whole lot worse."
Before Billy could reply, a scream reached their ears. The two teens exchanged a startled, worried look.
"It may have just gotten worse," Billy grumbled as the two of them headed toward the source of the cry.
Hannah Oliver glanced round the small office of "Captain John's Boat Rentals", quietly observing the others. During the last 42 hours she and James had come to like and respect the other eight parents, appreciating how they had offered their support and acceptance without question. Being an integrated part of a group like this was something they'd not experienced for far too long. James had decided on a law career comparatively late in life, and the last few years had been a time of upheaval for the family as they moved first to the city where he could get his degree. Then followed three other moves to new locations as he progressed from firm to firm, looking for the right 'fit' between him and a law firm. Finally he had decided to take a chance and open his own practice, and Angel Grove had seemed to offer the best potential. So far that potential was being realized.
Hannah had found a position with a small, private counseling center and was already building a strong client base. They'd been impressed with the High School facilities when they'd enrolled Tommy in class, and with the clean-cut, cheerful students they'd seen. Despite some initial moodiness shortly after starting school, Tommy had settled in quickly, and had even started bringing friends home occasionally. Hannah had finally started to believe that Angel Grove would be the setting for their own version of 'happily ever after'.
Now this nightmare.
Doing her best to ignore the growing sense of doom, she reached for her husband's hand, returning his encouraging smile as well as she could. While outside the double-paned windows the storm continued, unabated.
"Tommy! Trini! Where are you guys?" Zack shouted as he and Billy ran toward the area they'd heard the scream come from. Crashing pell-mell through the thick foliage, they didn't pause to listen for a reply, but kept moving swiftly forward, Zack in the lead with Billy following closely behind him.
"We're here! Zack?" Tommy's voice sounded strained and breathless, but close, so both teens finally stopped.
"Tommy? Where are you?" Billy called out.
"Down here. Watch your step, man, or you'll be on top of us," Tommy replied. "It's a gorge, or deep gully, or whatever you want to call it. We didn't see it in time. Be careful!"
Billy and Zack edged forward, and despite their caution, they almost did fall.
"Oh, man, this is bad," Zack mumbled as he and his companion stared in shock at the predicament their two teammates had gotten themselves into.
The edge of the gorge was completely vertical, and very smooth, with virtually no natural hand- or footholds. Somehow, Tommy had managed to snag a protruding root, from which he hung by one hand, the other hand being clasped with frantic strength by Trini. Tommy had a precarious toehold, which relieved at least some of the pressure on his one-handed grip on the root. Trini could not find any footholds at all; the only thing preventing her from falling was Tommy. Though the gorge was not terribly deep, it was filled with jagged rocks, which would result in critical, and possibly fatal, injuries if either teen fell. Even as the other two teens watched, the root Tommy was holding on to pulled a little looser.
"Guys, this thing isn't going to last long!" Tommy gasped out.
"Hold on just a little longer," Billy instructed him. "We'll find something to pull you up with." He turned to Zack with a worried frown. "We have to find something. Something he can grab onto, so we can pull him up."
"A rope would be handy right about now," Zack commented with a frown of his own.
"Well, unfortunately, we don't have one." Billy's tone sounded distracted, and Zack noticed he was looking at the nearby trees with a speculative look. "You still have that pocket knife?" the Blue Ranger queried.
"Sure," Zack said, pulling out the requested item. The teens had pooled their resources, finding four pocketknives amongst them. The one Zack carried was the largest, with a long, sharp blade.
"We should be able to cut off one of these thick vines," Billy commented, indicating the nearby bush from which the vines originated. "If we lower one to Tommy, he could grab on. It's the only solution I see right now."
Zack nodded his agreement and followed his teammate to the vine, holding it steady as Billy sliced desperately at the base. Getting it partially cut through, the two boys combined their efforts and managed to tear it off completely. They quickly stripped off the off-shooting leaves before easing their way to the edge again. Billy stretched out on his stomach, hooked his legs under the stout limbs of a fallen tree, and carefully lowered the vine to Tommy.
"See if you can grab on to this," Billy suggested.
"I can't let go," Tommy gasped. "My foothold isn't nearly strong enough."
"Trini, could you hold onto Tommy's waist, perhaps? Free up his hand?" Billy called to the Yellow Ranger.
When Trini looked up at him, Billy felt another fear wash through him. Trini was not going to be any help at all; her eyes were dimmed with terror, her face pale and looking shocked. He shifted his glance to Tommy and saw the understanding and worry there.
"Zack, run, go get Jason and Kim, we're going to need help here. Hurry!"
Zack didn't waste time with questions or arguments, but turned and raced back the way they'd come, leaving Billy alone with the two imperiled Rangers.
"Tommy, I'm going to move this against your hand, so it'll be right there if that root gives up, okay? Zack's fast, he'll bring the others in just a few minutes, and we'll find a way to get you out of there. Are you listening to me, Trini? We'll have you out of there before you even know it," Billy insisted, his voice as calm and soothing as he could make it. He kept up a litany of comfort, directing it to both teens, knowing they would have to break through Trini's shock to make a successful rescue.
Tommy was considering the vine carefully, a plan formulating in his mind. "Billy, I'm going to try to wrap my legs around the vine, like when we do the rope climb, and maybe you could pull it up just a little, get some of the strain off my hand and arm?"
"Sure thing, Tommy. Good plan. Is it close enough?" Billy agreed, glad to do anything that would help his teammates.
"It's fine," Tommy assured the Blue Ranger as he slowly and carefully used his foot to pull the vine closer, then maneuvered it into position to be clasped by his feet.
"Okay, Billy, ready when you are," he called up.
Billy carefully adjusted his grip on the vine, taking the couple of feet of excess and lying on it to add security. He then began to pull against Tommy's weight, trying to take some of the pressure off without wrenching the two hanging teens.
Disaster struck so suddenly it nearly took both Tommy and Billy by surprise. The root gave way without warning, and the sudden increase in weight nearly broke Billy's hold. And only Tommy's quick reflexes kept Trini and him from falling to a painful, possibly fatal, conclusion. His hand flashed faster than the eye could follow and wrapped around the vine, transferring their entire weight to it.
Fortunately, Billy had kept a firm grip on his end of the extension, and though it slid a little, he quickly snagged it in tight, helped by the fact a branch stub caught on the side of his hand. The combined weight of his teammates pulled painfully against his shoulders, and slammed his already injured chest brutally into the hard ground, but he managed to hold on.
Tommy was also assisted by a branch stub, which acted like a knot in a rope, providing a more secure handhold. As the jolt sent shockwaves of pain through his shoulders and arms he let out a muttered curse, which was drowned out by Trini's sharp yelp of fear. At the sound of her cry, Tommy glanced down at Trini, who, if possible, looked even worse than before.
"Trini, it's okay, now. Billy has us, and he's not letting go. Jason and the others will be here soon, and they'll help get us up out of here," Tommy told her with a confidence he didn't quite feel.
He was a little surprised that Billy didn't add his own assurances, and glanced up at the Blue Ranger. He understood immediately why the teen was silent. The thin face was flushed with effort, his hold on the vine was white-knuckled. It occurred to the Green Ranger that the slender blond was hardly the strongest amongst them, and holding up the combined weight of his two teammates had to be pushing him to his limits.
"You okay, man?" Tommy asked softly.
"Fine," was the grunted reply, and despite the appearances, the look in Billy's eyes was calm and steady. Billy was experiencing the strangest reaction to the situation; an unexpected peace settled over him and he found himself focusing on maintaining his hold, to the exclusion of any other thoughts. The initial pain in his hands, arms, shoulders, and chest faded completely away, allowing him to maintain his sharp focus on the simple task of not letting his friends fall. The small, quiet corner of his mind that still continued his analytical tendencies realized that a surge of adrenalin, and possibly endorphins, was responsible for this phenomenon.
"I just wish Jason and the others would hurry."
Sitting and waiting, unable to do anything else, while a much-loved child was in peril was the perfect definition of torture as far as Russell Kwan was concerned. He remembered only too well how horrible it had been when the kids were lost in the burning forest, it was a feeling he'd never wanted to experience again, but here he was. Only this time it was water, not fire; days, not hours; and teenagers, not children. Different details, same anguish.
His wife, Michelle, had run home to clean up and check their mail and messages, leaving her husband to maintain their vigil. As the second day of waiting wound down the ten parents each began to turn a little more inward, conversation lagged, and the silence became heavier.
That silence was broken by the squawk of Jonah's radio, which drew everyone's attention.
"This is the captain of 'Victoria's Pride' calling the Coast Guard. We've spotted the apparent wreckage of a small boat one mile southwest of Hunter's Point. Come in, Coast Guard. Over." The male voice sounded young and a bit shook up.
"This is Coast Guard, 'Victoria's Pride'. Do you see any indication of people in the water? Over."
"Negative, no sign of people. We just spotted a large piece of wreckage and will investigate. Over."
The parents in 'Captain John's Boat Rental' hurried to the counter in order to more clearly hear the radio. Jonah looked up at the worried faces and made a quick decision. He picked up the microphone.
"Captain 'Victoria's Pride', this is Captain John's Boat Rentals, and can you see enough to tell what color the damaged vessel was? Over."
"Okay, yeah, it looks like it was white, and we saw some pieces that looked to be blue or green. Over."
"Thanks, 'Victoria's Pride'. I'm missing a boat, but that one isn't it. You be careful out there. Over."
"Will do. Hope you find your missing boat in better condition than this one is. Over and out."
John turned to the parents with a small smile. "Well, it's not exactly good news, but it's not bad news. Mermaid Four is a rather obnoxious shade of orange. That's why I gave the kids a good deal, no one really likes that boat because of the color."
Russell Kwan experienced an odd guilt as he felt the stress melt from him at that news. His daughter's fate was still unknown, but at least she hadn't been on that smashed boat. But someone's loved ones had been, and someone, somewhere, was going to be getting bad news that would forever change their lives.
Kimberly and Jason were enjoying some meager success in their hunt for food, Kim having harvested a couple of different greens she identified as edible. Jason was digging in the wet sand hoping to find some shellfish when he was startled from his task by a loud yell.
"Jason! Kim! Come on, we need your help! Hurry!" Zack called out to them, slowing when he saw he had their attention.
The Red and Pink Rangers exchanged a worried glance, then hurried toward the Black Ranger who was breathing heavily.
"What's going on, man?" Jason asked tersely.
"Tommy ... Trini ... cliff ... Billy help ... gotta hurry," he gasped out, turning even as he spoke and beginning to backtrack, trusting the other two would be right behind him.
"Trini, please, just don't look down, okay? You have to stay with us here." Tommy's voice was calm and soothing as he tried to break through his teammate's shock. The Yellow Ranger was slowly beginning to respond to Tommy's coaxing; the dull, lifeless look in the beautiful dark eyes was finally fading in the wake of his obvious concern. His goal at this point was to get Trini together enough to grab onto him and release his hand so he could perhaps attempt to work them both to the top. It was a faint hope at best, he was exhausted and weakening, and he didn't even want to consider how long Billy would be able to maintain his grip on the vine.
With that in mind he shifted his gaze upward to check on his Blue teammate's condition. Billy's face was flushed with strain, his eyes squinted down to slits, and Tommy could see how heavily he was breathing. He didn't speak to the other teen, realizing that Billy was focusing intently on his task and any distractions would be unwelcome.
The Green Ranger had just started to talk to Trini again when he heard the welcome sound of approaching voices.
"Gotta watch our step, man. It's right around here." Zack's voice was still a bit distant, but getting closer.
"Zack! Zack, we're here," he called out as loudly as he could under the circumstances. In moments his efforts were rewarded when he saw Zack, Jason and Kimberly peering down at him cautiously.
"Oh, man, Tommy, Trini, you two okay?" Jason called softly.
"Yeah, for now. But we need to get up there soon. Are there more vines you can use?" Tommy replied.
"I'll find one. It won't be much longer before we have you up out of there, guys." Jason turned his attention to Billy, noting his situation critically. He could take Billy's place easily enough, but the analytical part of his mind realized the ultimate futility of that idea. Since the light-haired teen was maintaining his grip, it would be better for Jason to concentrate his efforts on getting Trini and Tommy up to the top of the drop-off.
He turned to Kimberly and Zack, only to find his companions were already working on cutting off another vine. The Ranger leader gratefully pitched in, and between the three of them they quickly stripped the new vine and, moving as close to the edge as was safe, lowered it toward Trini.
"Trini, grab on to the vine, and we'll pull you up. You can do it," Jason encouraged her.
The slender Asian teen regarded the vine with dull eyes before reaching out a shaking, tentative hand toward it. To the sound of encouragement from her teammates she wrapped one small hand around the vine. But when Jason pulled up on it, her grip gave out before he'd even begun to raise her. Stumped, Jason turned toward the Pink and Black Rangers.
"She can't seem to maintain a grip," he said softly, not wanting to upset any of the others.
"I have an idea," Kimberly said hesitantly. Looking up to meet the hopeful gaze of the two boys, she offered a brave smile. "Lower me down, and I'll help her. Even together we won't weigh that much, and I can talk her into letting go of Tommy."
"No, Kim, that's too dangerous. If she freaks or something, you could both fall."
"And if we don't do something, she and Tommy will fall. You could relieve Billy, but he's not gonna have enough strength left to pull anyone up, and Zack has a bad arm. Jason, it has to be done now. I'm willing to take that risk, and I'm betting Trini won't do anything that could hurt me. It's their only chance," Kim pleaded, her determined expression overlying some considerable fear.
Jason was awed by the courage of his smallest teammate, as he was reminded yet again that underneath her assumed persona of an air-headed mall-rat beat a heart that was as fierce and loving as any he might be lucky enough to meet. Plus, there was no refuting her logic - they were running out of time.
"Okay, Kimberly, if you're willing to try, let's do it. Hold on good and tight, with a foot grip, too. I'm going to lower you slowly, and a bit away from her. Ready?" Jason asked, taking up the vine as they approached the edge again.
Ronald Lawrence was out of his element in this group, and was perceptive enough to realize it. But his budding relationship with Eileen Hart was worth the discomfort of spending hours in a cramped, damp boat rental place. He'd met her while on the job, as a loan officer at a bank. She'd applied for a car loan, and he presented her with the approved loan and a request to join him for dinner. That had been five months ago.
"Ron, if you want to go to work, or to just simply go home, I won't hold it against you," Eileen said softly, her tight grip on his hand at odds with her words.
"I'm where I want to be," he replied gently, returning pressure on her hand reassuringly. "I couldn't be content somewhere else, not knowing if Kimberly is okay." That comment was nothing more than the truth. He'd been falling in love with Eileen, and had grown fond of her two children, Kimberly and Kenny.
"Thank you. I have to confess, it makes me feel a little better having you here. I just don't know what I'd do if something happened to Kim."
"Don't think that way. She's fine, I'm sure of it. After all, she has her friends there, too, and they'll look out for her."
**Yeah, and they had better all behave themselves while they're at it,** she thought with a sudden internal wince. She trusted Jason, Zack, and Billy implicitly; after all, she'd known them for years. But she didn't know Tommy, even though she'd heard enough about him from Kimberly's conversations recently. Not that the boy would be able to do anything, not with the other three around, and the fact that all the kids accepted him in their tight group told its own story, of course; and Eileen trusted her daughter, but ...
It hadn't escaped her notice the kids weren't exactly ten years old anymore.
"Trini. Trini, look at me. Come on, Trini, work with me here. You have to let me help you. Look at me," Kim coaxed her best friend, worried by the other girl's unresponsiveness. It was unsettling to see the usually calm, serene Trini in a state of panic so severe she was virtually unable to respond.
"I can't," was the whispered reply, the soft tone still revealing the pain and shame the Yellow Ranger felt at her helpless reaction to the situation.
"Yes, you can. You have to. Just reach out one hand, that's all. Just one hand, to me. I'll help you. I promise, we'll be okay. But you have to reach out to me. Can you do that?" Kimberly's voice was calm, yet firm, and Trini finally began to respond to it as a somewhat less than steady hand reached out for Kimberly.
"That's it. You're going to hold on right here, see? Now, put your foot on top of my foot there. Great. Now, wrap the other one around. Perfect!" She kept her voice steady and upbeat, then called up to the Red Ranger. "Jason, can you pull us up just a little? Trini, now is the hard part. You have to let go of Tommy, okay? You can do this. See? We're already doing it, Jason's got us. He's going to get us out of here. Let go, Trini, please let go."
Tommy watched Kimberly gently, yet relentlessly, manipulate Trini onto her vine with a sense of awe. For someone so physically diminutive, Kimberly more than made up for it in strength of personality, and if Tommy hadn't already been half in love with the Pink Ranger he would fallen in love with her then and there. He felt Trini's grasp on his hand loosen, and was grateful as the pull on his arm was relieved. Letting go of the hand he had gripped for a seeming eternity, the Green Ranger hissed in pain as he tried to raise his arm to grab his own vine while still watching the two girls slowly rise toward the top of the gorge.
"I've got you, Trini, just don't look anywhere but up. See how close we are? It's almost over, I promise," Kimberly murmured at her friend, wanting to offer some comfort to her trembling companion. As their heads came even with the top of the cliff, Kimberly saw Zack reaching toward them with his good hand, obviously ready to help them to safety, while behind him Jason continued to pull upward on the vine. It was an awkward scramble, but the two girls were finally pulled to safety, and gently escorted to a spot safely away from the edge. Trini appeared to be unable to walk unassisted, and Kimberly was reluctant to release her terrified best friend. They sank down on the damp ground together and Kimberly set about trying to reassure and comfort Trini while Zack and Jason went back to get Tommy.
The Green Ranger had made it nearly to the top under his own power, but there his forward progress stopped. Jason and Zack quickly realized what the problem was, though it wasn't quite so obvious how to get around it. Billy still had a death-grip on the vine; it didn't take a genius to see he was completely focused on maintaining it, and was at the edge of his endurance. He'd be no help in pulling Tommy up, and Jason suspected at this point Billy would probably barely be able to let loose of the vine at all.
Jason looked down at Tommy's position and made a quick decision. "Zack, I'm gonna need you to hold this, okay?" he told the Black Ranger as he looped his vine around a nearby tree, leaving enough for him to wrap around his wrist and grip it firmly. "I need to anchor myself; I'm going to reach down and pull Tommy up."
"Got it. Be careful, Jase."
"I plan to be. As long as the edge doesn't give out under us we'll be fine."
Jason carefully approached the edge and hunkered down, reaching out for Tommy's hand. "Grab on, Tommy, let's get you out of there," he encouraged his newest teammate.
Tommy looked up into Jason's midnight eyes and made his decision. He loosened his leg hold, sliding his feet up a foot or so and tangling the vine firmly between them again, then used his legs to raise him a bit further, allowing him to reach Jason's outstretched hand. He gripped the offered appendage tightly, pausing just a moment before moving his other hand over to solidify his hold. As soon as Tommy was secure Jason stood up, pulling Tommy with him, and staggered away from the edge, bringing his Green teammate to safety. Zack immediately dropped the vine and hurried over to his friends.
"Here, Zack, why don't you help Tommy over to join the girls, and I'll give Billy a hand," Jason suggested, realizing Tommy was more than a little shaky.
"Sure thing, come on, Tommy. I could use a break myself," Zack said, putting Tommy's arm around his shoulder and heading toward the girls.
Turning his attention to Billy, Jason found his smaller teammate trying to rise, the vine still wrapped tightly around both hands.
"Whoa, buddy, let me give you a hand. I think you can let go of this now," Jason said, helping Billy to a seated position and attempting to take the vine from him. He was puzzled when Billy refused to release his grip, until he saw the expression on the Blue Ranger's face.
"I ... I can't," Billy stammered, flushing dully in embarrassment.
"Let me take a look," Jason replied gently, suspecting what the problem was. As soon as he touched his friend's arms his suspicions were confirmed. The muscles in Billy's forearms were tight as steel; painfully cramped and locking his hands around the vine he'd clung to with such determination.
"Come on, let's go join the others and I'll see if I can get this loose without causing you any more pain. Besides, I don't' know about you, but I'm getting tired of being rained on," Jason commented, leading his friend to where the other four were gathered under a thick stand of trees.
Kimberly was holding a quietly sobbing Trini, while Zack and Tommy watched uncomfortably, clearly wishing they could do something to help but unsure what that might be. Zack was using his hankerchief on the Green Ranger's hand, cleaning and soothing it. Tommy looked up as the other two boys approached.
"You okay, Billy?" he asked worriedly, seeing the Blue Ranger was rather unsteady and still carrying the vine.
"Yeah, I think so. Are you?"
"Yeah, nothing worse than some strained muscles and a sore hand. Thanks to you, that is. You did a good job, hanging on like that. Are you sure you're okay?"
Jason settled them both down beside the others and answered smoothly. "He's having some muscle cramps. Otherwise he seems fine, right, Billy?"
Billy nodded, his attention on Trini for the moment. He didn't notice Jason starting to massage his forearms, trying to loosen the tight muscles, until Jason began peeling the clenched fingers away from the vine.
"Ow," he hissed as Jason opened the cramped hand as gently as possible, revealing the abraded and painful-looking palm.
"Oh, man, Billy, that's got to hurt. Here, let me at least clean it," Zack said, releasing Tommy and moving closer to the Blue Ranger. He carefully inspected the damaged hand as Jason finally unfurled the other one, only to find it in the same condition. Zack carefully used his cloth to clean the injuries, working slowly and gently to avoid further harming his teammate.
"Guys, if you feel up to it, we really should get back to the cave. The rain is getting worse, and I don't like this wind that's kicking up," Jason said at last, noticing that Trini had finally calmed again, but was looking rather worn out. Tommy and Billy looked only marginally better.
Without comment the teens struggled to their feet and made their way back to the relative safety of the cave, each of them quietly reflecting on the morning's events.
"Ay-yi-yi, Zordon, I'm still not picking up the Rangers. The storm is interfering with all our sensors!" Alpha scurried back and forth amongst the consoles, chattering nervously to the Ranger mentor.
"Settle down, Alpha. The unusual electromagnetic configuration of this storm is causing the problem. However, it is also preventing Rita from launching an attack, so there is no need to panic yet. However, we need to continue to monitor the storm closely, and as soon as it lifts we can contact the Rangers. I'm sure they are safely ensconced somewhere out of danger."
Jason built the fire back up while Kimberly carefully bound Billy's damaged hands with more strips from Zack's shirt. Tommy and Trini were both silently contemplating the flames, while Zack made sure the fresh water they'd collected on the way back was safely stored in its usual corner.
"I just want to protect them from getting dirty," Kimberly explained to Billy as she tied off the second bandage. "No need to risk infection."
"Thanks, Kim. They feel better," Billy assured his friend.
"How's your chest feeling? It couldn't have felt good lying there like that," she queried.
"It's okay. No problem," he replied firmly.
Kimberly considered her teammate carefully. She suspected he was probably hurting more than he would admit, but at the same time she was well aware there was nothing she could do about it even if he did say he was in pain. They just didn't have a way to treat any but the simplest injuries, anything beyond that would have to wait until they were rescued.
But once they were rescued she was going to insist a doctor properly examine the stubborn Blue Ranger. The look on her face must have been plain, because Jason spoke up from the other side of the fire.
"We'll take your word on it for now, but when we get back to the mainland you're going to be checked out, got it?" the team leader insisted.
"Got it," Billy agreed, wanting nothing more than for the focus to shift from him.
Kimberly decided to take pity of him, and turned her attentions to Tommy, startling the newest Ranger from his thoughts.
"Let me see your hand," she requested firmly.
He complied without comment, secretly taking pleasure in the feel of her small hands holding his. She gently ran her finger over the reddened flesh of his palm, noticing it seemed a bit swollen, but the skin wasn't broken, and he could open and close it without problems.
"Looks like you're okay," the Pink Ranger smiled at her tall teammate.
"Thank God," came the soft exhalation from the Yellow Ranger, and the others all turned their attention to the slender girl.
Trini forced herself to meet Tommy's eyes. "I'm so sorry, I could have killed you. You all ended up in danger because I'm a coward." Tears shone on her cheeks, like liquid diamonds in the flickering light.
Kimberly immediately went to her best friend's side, wrapping her arms around the other girl protectively. "It's okay, Trini, we understand, really we do," she crooned to her friend while looking around at the boys with an expression that clearly said they'd better understand.
"Trini, you aren't the only one who's undergone a resurgence of a supposedly dormant phobia," Billy said softly, his faint blush visible in the soft light.
"Huh?" Zack questioned.
"He said I'm not the only one who was hit with a fear they'd thought they'd overcome," Trini translated with a sniffle. "What do you mean, Billy?"
"There are a lot of fish in the ocean," he commented obliquely.
"Figured that out all by yourself, huh, Billy?" Zack joked. "But what does that have to do with ... oh! When you were knocked overboard."
"Right." The blush deepened, but he caught Trini's gaze. "I freaked. When Tommy found me, I was totally panicked. If he'd gotten too close I might have drowned him." He dropped his gaze, obviously embarrassed by that confession.
"But, you didn't. And you didn't pull me down today, Trini. I understand why you were afraid. Heck, you think I wasn't?" Tommy asked with gentle humor. "I'm just glad we all came out of it okay. I had a sensei once who told me that all human beings had at least one phobia. The only difference was that some never figured out what theirs is. Mine is cats, by the way." He gave her a small, slightly embarrassed smile.
"Hey, I know mine, too," Zack added, his irrepressible humor cutting through the solemn atmosphere. "They even made a movie about it! Though I can't watch it without getting seriously freaked."
"What movie is that?" Tommy asked.
"Arachnophobia," five voices spoke as one, then dissolved in to laughter.
"Okay, okay, no need to be so happy about it," Zack mock-growled around his own laughter.
"So, we have fear of heights, fish, spiders, and cats. How about you two?" Tommy queried, looking at Kimberly and Jason.
"Sorry, guess I'm still looking for mine," Jason smiled.
"Um, fear of wearing plaids with stripes?" Kimberly suggested, glad to hear the resulting laughter.
"Fashionphobia. Every girl's nightmare," Zack chortled, eliciting more chuckles.
The gentle laughter faded, leaving a comfortable silence amongst the friends, until Trini spoke again.
"Thank you for being so understanding, Tommy. All of you. Thank you for helping me," she concluded softly.
"That's what friends do," Tommy replied with a small smile.
"They do, don't they?" Trini agreed, looking like a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Jason sat back, listening to the conversation, alert to the shift in atmosphere from tense and unhappy to a comfortable peace. Somehow they had bonded that morning, in a way they hadn't achieved before. They'd admitted weaknesses, fears and perceived failings, and found acceptance without judgment from each other. The Red Ranger knew such bonds existed between the five of them, but it was gratifying to see it expand to include Tommy as well. It boded well for the future of the team, provided they ever got off this island.
"According to the latest weather map from the National Weather Service we should see an end to this unprecedented storm which has battered the coast of California for over two days. It appeared suddenly, without warning, and has caused an estimated twelve million dollars worth of damage along the beleaguered coastline. In addition, it is reported that as many as thirty boats, ranging from sailboats to yachts, are unaccounted for, having been caught out by the unexpected weather front. The current satellite picture indicates that by early morning the storm will have run its course, allowing the coast guard to finally launch search and rescue operations ..."
Jack Scott stared out the window of "Captain John's Boat Rentals," scarcely believing the newscast's prediction of the storm's end. The heavy rain blew against the windows in sheets, mostly obscuring the sight of the churning ocean beyond. He glanced over at his wife and found her also staring outside, her normally bright eyes dulled with worry and fatigue.
"Did you hear what they said? It's almost over, then they can go look for the kids," Jack said softly, picking up Marjorie's hand and squeezing it gently.
"It doesn't look like it's almost over," she replied listlessly.
"Hey, this storm started so suddenly, it wouldn't surprise me at all if it ended just as abruptly. And I wouldn't be surprised at all to find out the kids are holed up on one of the islands, probably as worried about us as we are about them," he told her firmly, putting his arm around her and pulling her close. "Maybe by this time tomorrow we'll have Jason back with us."
"Oh, please God, I hope so," she whispered, her eyes still fixed on the stormy night, as if her gaze could penetrate the darkness and locate her missing son and his friends, wherever they might be.
By early evening all the Rangers had settled down in their sleeping spots, scattered around the cozy fire in a loose circle. Conversation had lagged, finally falling off completely as the six teens each lost themselves in their thoughts.
Jason glanced around, automatically checking on each of his teammates, making sure everyone was okay and accounted for. Kimberly was curled up on her side, her large eyes gazing into the dancing flames, her expression distant, and a bit sad. Trini was also curled up, but with her back to the fire, the long ebony hair puddled behind her head. Tommy was stretched out on his stomach, his head cradled in his arms. Though his eyes were closed, Jason was certain he was still awake. Zack was lying on his left side, his splinted arm carefully situated so as to not injure it further. Like Kimberly, Zack was staring into the fire, his mind obviously far away. Billy had been moving around restlessly, until he finally settled on his back, his right arm curled up under his head, while he seemed to find something fascinating to study on the ceiling of their cavern.
The Ranger leader was overcome again with a terrible sense of responsibility for the situation they found themselves in. Despite Trini's argument the first night, he still felt it was his decision to try to head for home that got them stranded on this island. And look at the things that had happened since he made that ill-fated decision: Tommy and Billy had almost drowned, Zack had been injured, now today Trini and Tommy nearly injured, or possibly even killed. His logical mind tried to argue that the best-case scenario would have still left them stranded on an island. But Jason was having none of that.
He was the leader; it was his fault. End of story.
On the other side of the fire, Trini fought her own battle with guilt. She was appalled and embarrassed that she had ended up putting three of her teammates' lives at risk due to her panic. What must Tommy think of her after her poor showing that afternoon? Sure, he'd been kind and understanding afterward, around the others, but how did he really feel about it? As for Kimberly, Trini had never really stopped and considered the core of courage and determination that fueled her best friend. That Kimberly was willing to take the sort of risk she did just to help Trini past her terror was both humbling and gratifying. And Billy. Her fear had put him at risk for the third time in the six years they'd been friends. First when they were fleeing the fire at Harper's Gorge, then when the putties chased the unmorphed Blue Ranger up on the rocks, now today. Why did he keep hanging around her when he knew she could, and would, let him down?
Carefully regulating her breathing so the others wouldn't notice, she let the silent tears fall, the sobs trapped painfully inside.
Tommy was quietly cataloging his aches and pains, tuning in to each one to assess their severity, then dismissing them. The last few days had been rough, but so far nothing had happened he couldn't handle, at least physically. But he was in awe of the way the other five supported and helped each other, both physically and emotionally. And they didn't seem to think it was unusual. That really struck him. It looked like they had no concept that what they did, how they treated each other, was unique and wonderful. At least it was unique in Tommy's experience. He'd had friends before, to be sure, but none who he would trust with his safety, or his feelings, they way these five did. Now he was a part of this, and despite the circumstances, he couldn't help but be pleased at being so accepted.
It was something he'd sought, without realizing it, all his life.
Zack glanced around at the others, considering, then dismissing, the idea of trying to cheer everyone up. They were all tired, most of them were at least a little sore, and frankly the continued bad weather was depressing them all. He suspected Trini was crying, and he noticed that Kim's eyes were suspiciously moist. Jason appeared to be brooding, while Tommy looked almost asleep and Billy seemed to be lost in thought. Well, nothing new there at least. Thinking was Billy's forte, after all. But today Zack had seen a side of his childhood friend he hadn't experienced before. The usually timid teen had calmly taken control of the situation, doing what had to be done efficiently, and making decisions without hesitation. And he'd managed somehow to hold up Tommy and Trini's combined weight for quite a while, which was a feat Zack wouldn't have expected him to be capable of. He was pleased and proud for Billy, but a bit dismayed on his own behalf. He'd thought of himself as Jason's 'second-in-command' for a long time, and it was a rude shock to find he had instinctively responded to Billy's orders in the heat of the moment. It would take some heavy thinking to understand how this turnabout had come to happen.
Seemed his assumptions regarding everyone's position on the team were wrong to a degree.
Kimberly sighed and shifted position again, trying to find one that was less uncomfortable than the others. At least the moving around distracted her from her worrying about her mother, and wondering if her father had come back to Angel Grove because of this. It made her nervous to think of her mom and dad encountering each other, shattering the peace their divorce had left. Not liking the paths her thoughts were wandering, she cast about for something to distract her. He gaze fell on the Green Ranger, and thoughts of her parents were banished by far more pleasant daydreams. She had felt an incredible attraction the first time she'd seen the tall young man, something more visceral, stronger than she'd ever experienced. When Tommy looked at her with those warm brown eyes, she got a fluttering warmth in her belly that she'd never felt before. When he smiled at her, she could feel her heartbeat speed up, and when he touched her ... well, when he touched her the rest of the world tended to fade away for a few seconds. Those feelings were only intensified by what she'd seen today; his determination to save Trini, and his kindness to the distraught girl after they were safe.
She closed her eyes and imagined him asking her to a school dance, a small smile playing about her lips.
Billy moved his arm slowly, bringing it down by his side, wincing at the pain that movement caused. His arms ached, his hands stung, and his chest throbbed with his heartbeat, each reminding him of the unusual activities of the previous three days. He was no stranger to injuries; he'd had more than his fair share of bruises over the years. But most of those had been due to either his own clumsiness or his ability to attract the attention of bullies with nothing better to do than pound on him. But this time the pain was different, especially his hands and arms. He'd pushed his physical limits, and succeeded in helping save two lives. And, though he would never want to see his friends in danger, he had to admit it felt good knowing he could do what it took to save a life.
Somehow he didn't figure saving lives was something a nerd would do, so maybe he'd better reconsider his assessment of himself.
So, lost in their thoughts, the six teens gradually drifted off to sleep, while the final fury of the storm vented itself outside.
Zack crawled out of the cave awkwardly, trying not to put any pressure on his injured arm. Despite what he'd told Kimberly and the others, his arm actually ached continuously, with a deep, throbbing pain that was as persistent as a toothache. He staggered a little with early morning clumsiness, before heading toward the secluded area they'd dubbed the 'boys' restroom'.
"Dratted birds, why are they sounding so cheerful?" he muttered to himself with atypical grouchiness. He had taken several steps before the implications of the sound penetrated his foggy mind. He stopped and focused on his surroundings with dawning joy and wonder, then scrambled back to the cave.
"You guys, come out here! You have to see this! Come on!" he called in to the others, hearing assorted grumbling in response to his shouts.
They slowly emerged from their haven, and Zack thoroughly enjoyed watching each expression go from curiosity or displeasure to incredulous joy.
"Oh my God, it's a beautiful day," Kimberly breathed, looking around with shining eyes. "And I bet we can finally expect a rescue!"
"Oh, man, I sure hope so," Tommy agreed, smiling happily down at her.
"We should build a signal fire," Billy suggested quietly, looking a Jason for verification. "Maybe add some green or wet stuff to make it smokier."
"Shouldn't be any problem finding wet stuff," Jason grinned. "We can dig a small fire pit, and use our inside fire for it. Good thinking, Billy."
"We'll look around for more dry wood," Trini added, a smile crossing her face at last.
"Yeah, with the sun shining finally we can probably dry out some of the damp stuff, too," Zack added. "Looks like we have a plan, guys!"
With renewed spirit the six teens set out to build their signal fire, combing the base of the bluff and the thicker areas of the forest for dry wood. Soon they had a respectable blaze going, its warmth helping chase the morning chill and dampness away, its dancing radiance absurdly cheerful and seeming laden with hope for an end to their ordeal.
"Okay, folks, that was the Coast Guard. They have launched all available boats to search for the missing vessels, including your kids. We can monitor them from here, and they promised to radio us with any news immediately." Jonah looked around at the assembled parents; hope was animating the group for the first time in over two days. **Now if they'd just find the kids okay ...** His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a worried, harried-looking man.
"Excuse me," the new arrival started, then his attention shifted to the assembled parents. "Eileen, is there any word yet?" Robert Hart asked.
"They just now lauched rescue efforts, the storm broke just before sunup. The Coast Guard will notify us as soon as they know anything," Eileen told him, her face and voice devoid of any recrimination. Their marriage had been rocky for years before ending badly, but the one thing they had always agreed on was that they loved their son and daughter without reservation. Eileen quietly introduced Robert to the Olivers and Ronald Lawrence as they all drifted back toward the uncomfortable chairs they had already spent so many hours on. But at least now there was a possibility that they would not be spending much more time in them.
Captain Harold Parker ordered the speed reduced as they approached the island cluster the group of missing teens was reported to have been exploring before the storm hit. They would begin with a methodical search of the beaches from onboard first. Circling each island, using binoculars to search for signs of the wreckage or the missing teens, then, if that didn't run up any results, they'd do a more thorough search of the most likely islands. A father of three himself, Harold's heart went out to the worried parents.
"Begin a slow circuit of the closest island," he ordered. "Jenkins, Brown; I want you both to search the shoreline. Give a shout if you see anything that might indicate people are on the island."
"Sir! Sir! Look over there," another voice piped up. He sought out the source of the call, then turned his gaze in the direction indicated by an excited young crewman. Barely discernible against the distant clouds was a thin column of smoke.
Breathing a silent prayer that the smoke meant what he thought it meant, he ordered the course changed immediately.
Kimberly crowed with delight when she found the arm-sized piece of dry driftwood under a deep overhang in the bluff. Grabbing it triumphantly she turned back toward their fire, already scripting her taunt to Zack in her mind. The irrepressible Black Ranger had proposed a wood-hunting contest after he found a large piece earlier. The others had all found themselves caught up in his high-spirited antics, and the challenge was accepted. So far only Kimberly had been able to find a comparable piece of wood, and she was looking forward to rubbing that in.
She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't see the two uniformed men standing near the fire until she was quite close. When she did spot them, she leapt back in surprise, letting out a startled shriek.
"Oh, my God! Are you real? Are you here for us?" she asked, staring at the two men with wide eyes.
Captain Parker had to chuckle at the girl's reaction. "Quite real, and, yes, I'm Captain Parker, Coast Guard. We were sent to search for six teenagers last seen leaving the Angel Grove Marina on a bright orange boat. Would you be one of those teenagers?" he queried with an ever-widening smile.
"Oh my gosh, yes," she replied, turning with the intention of calling her teammates. She found she didn't need to, Jason and Zack were already nearly to them, and she could see Tommy, Trini, and Billy coming quickly from near the base of the bluff.
Captain Parker saw the other approaching teens with increasing gratitude. It sure appeared that all six were not only alive, but pretty darned healthy as well.
He raised his voice so they could all hear him. "If you kids want to put out your fire and gather whatever belongings you have around here, we'll take you on out to the ship. Rumor has it there's a group of parents waiting for you on the mainland, and I think they've waited long enough for their children to come home."
"This is the Coast Guard cutter calling Captian John's Boat Rentals," the voice, roughened by the static but clear for all that, came through loudly, filling the small building with hopeful anticipation.
"This is Captain John. Do you have news for us?" So far they had heard news of three successful rescues, and four cases where badly damaged boats had been found with no survivors on board.
"Yes, I do. Can the parents hear me?"
"That's affirmative, they are all here and listening in."
"Folks, we just took aboard six teenagers; two girls and four boys. Names of Taylor, Scott, Hart, Cranston, Kwan, and Oliver. That your crew?"
"Yes! Are they okay?" Jonah replied, knowing what the parents would ask next.
"Remarkably so. Some bruises, but the worst is a suspected broken arm. Our ETA is about an hour at Pier 17. Have the parents meet us there."
"Will do, Captain. And thank you." Jonah signed off with a satisfied smile, turning to find the parents hugging each other with exclamations of joy and relief. Tears stood in his own eyes as relief washed over him.
Jack took a moment to smile at Jonah, having appreciated the man's help and dedication to them. And he had noticed with increasing respect that the business owner had not even asked about the status of his property, only the condition of the teens. It appeared that Jonah was a man who understood what was important and what wasn't.
"How long has it been?" Sheryl Taylor asked anxiously, ignoring her husband's mildly irritated expression. She'd asked him the same question at least a dozen times already.
"About fifty minutes," he said quietly, taking her hand to comfort her. They had left the now familiar confines of "Captain John's Boat Rentals" a half hour earlier, none of them able to remain inside any longer. The need to do something ... anything ... was nearly overwhelming, but it was a bit easier to bear when they were outside.
The parents all passed the time by pacing restlessly and scanning the busy marina with worried eyes, watching all official-looking boats closely, waiting for the one that was bringing their children back to them. An ambulance was standing by; the paramedics were quietly discussing an upcoming seminar and grousing about the demands continuing education put on their already compromised personal lives.
Sheryl was about to enquire about the time yet again when Jack Scott's comment caught her attention. "This looks like it may be it."
They looked out to see a large boat heading directly toward pier 17, the American flag on the tall mast a vivid red, white and blue against the pale blue sky. Almost instinctively the parents drew into a tight group, moving to a safe distance, twelve pairs of eyes fastening their gaze on the deck.
It was with a collective sigh of relief that they saw the six familiar faces peering over the side, looking for all the world far younger than their sixteen or so years. Never in all of maritime history did a boat dock as slowly, or had it ever taken so long to lower the gangplank. But at long last the first of the missing teens, Kimberly, hurried down the walkway and into the welcoming embrace of both her mother and her father. The other five followed closely, each seeking, and finding, their parents, and with them the feeling of safety and security which would allow them to believe their long ordeal was finally over.
Captain Parker allowed plenty of time for the parents to greet their errant offspring, and as he saw the embraces begin to loosen and introductions being made, he made his way to the happy knot of people.
"Sorry to rain on anyone's parade, but all six of the kids need to be taken to the hospital to be checked over." He raised his hands to forestall any protests. "Sorry folks, standard procedure."
It was the cue the paramedics had been waiting for, and they now came forward, zeroing in on Zack first, since he was the one with the obvious injury. Within minutes they had herded all six teens to the ambulance, regulations requiring they be transported to Angel Grove Memorial for complete examinations despite their protests that they were fine.
"Well, if we have to go, can we at least use the siren?" Zack asked with a smirk.
That caused a round of laughter, which lightened everyone's mood, and with their parents' promises to be right behind them, the ambulance pulled out.
Jack Scott had plenty of experience with hospital waiting rooms, between being a cop, having a hospital nurse as a wife, and raising a son. He couldn't say he enjoyed spending time there, but it wasn't exactly a new experience to him. He'd felt a surge of pride when Marjorie had firmly insisted on going back to the ER area to keep tabs on the kids. He'd seen the grateful expressions on the other parents' faces, knowing they wouldn't have to depend on a stranger for a report on the kids' conditions. Despite having seen their children, none of the adults would feel completely confident they were unharmed until they got the word from the doctors.
He looked up expectantly when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and to his relief Marjorie ushered in Jason, Trini, Kimberly and Tommy.
"Got these four done," she smiled as they all quickly headed to their respective parents.
"But the doctors are being really cautious, so Zack and Billy are both having X-rays," she continued, speaking to the Taylors and Wallace Cranston as he made that comment.
"How did Zack hurt his arm?"
"Why would Billy need X-rays?" Wallace gave Sheryl and Clayton Taylor an embarrassed smile as their questions overlapped.
Jason gave the worried parents a slightly guilty look, but spoke up calmly. "Zack hurt his arm when the boat nearly capsized, and Billy got nailed in the chest by the boom."
"But they both insist they're fine, and I really think they are," Kimberly pitched in, as much for Jason's comfort as for the parents'. She knew Jason was still feeling guilty, and she, for one, thought it was sorely misplaced.
"It's just a precaution," Marjorie added. "I'm going to go on back there, I'll let you know if there's any problem."
Jack watched his wife leave, then turned to his son. "Nailed by the boom? How'd he avoid broken ribs, at best?"
"The life preserver protected him. But it knocked him overboard," Jason began, then caught sight of Wallace's stricken expression. "But he's okay, really."
"Sounds like you kids had quite the adventure," James Oliver observed, unconsciously tightening his hold on his son.
"Yeah," Tommy agreed, sounding tired. Now that they were all safe with their families, the deprivations of the last couple of days were making themselves felt. Tommy found he was exhausted, hungry, and was really looking forward to a warm shower. He glanced around to see both Kimberly and Trini looked almost half asleep already, and even Jason was showing signs of exhaustion. He couldn't help but wish the doctors would hurry up with Zack and Billy so they could all go home.
As if they'd heard his thoughts, Marjorie returned, this time with Billy, who walked over to sit by his father. Seeing the concerned looks on everybody's faces, he blushed slightly as he replied to the unspoken questions. "I'm fine. Just really bruised. And they bandaged my hands just as a precaution." He didn't have to look at Trini to know she'd flinched at that.
"They are putting a cast on Zack's arm, it's a minor fracture, no displacement. He should be done in just a few minutes," Marjorie told the Taylors before turning to go back to the ER. She stopped suddenly as Zack hurried out, grinning widely.
"Ha! I escaped!" he announced with a laugh, heading toward his parents, his arm encased in a glaringly white cast. The doctor followed him out, smiling indulgently.
The Taylors were given a brief report on their son's condition, instructions on life with an arm cast, and a prescription for pain medication if needed. Finally, with a flurry of paperwork and signed forms, the six families were cleared to leave and go back to their lives.
In deference to the teens' obvious exhaustion, and the need for all
of them to begin reestablishing their normal lives, the adults all bid
each other quick farewells and took their children home at last.
They ended up in Angel Grove Park.
While the teens had been indulging in much-needed rest the parents had spent the time calling each other, and a picnic dinner at the park was decided upon so everyone would have a chance to hear the whole story. All of them had gotten bits and pieces, but they all agreed they wouldn't be able to really put their minds to rest until they got a full accounting of what had happened.
So when Wallace and Billy Cranston arrived, they discovered the other five families were already there, though they found only the adults at the tables.
"You lose them all again?" Wallace asked Jack with a smile as he and Billy put down the ice chest full of sodas they'd brought. It was a tradition to have the Cranstons bring the drinks, since neither of them were particularly talented cooks.
"Not yet. I hope. The younger kids wanted to go swimming, and the older ones are keeping an eye on them. Or so they say," Jack replied with a grin of his own. "Billy, they asked me to send you on down when you got here."
"Okay, thanks," the Blue Ranger said, already turning his attention toward the lake. Getting permission from his dad in the form of a nod, he strolled quickly toward the lake, knowing his friends' favorite swimming area. Sure enough he found Zack's two younger brothers, along with Kenny Hart, playing happily in the sun-warmed water while the other Rangers watched from a nearby shady patch of grass.
"Hey, Billy. Glad you could join us," Zack greeted him with mock formality from where he was lounging back on the fragrant lawn. "Cool glasses, Dude," he added faceously, referring to the old pair Billy was wearing until he could order new ones.
"Where's your sister, Trini?" he asked, ignoring Zack for the moment.
"She found a group of her friends and went off with them," Trini told him, wondering why he would want to know.
"Good, so it's just us." Billy raised his wrist toward his face and the others were surprised to see he was wearing the familiar blue-banded communicator. "Please teleport now, Zordon." A few seconds later a vinyl bag appeared beside Billy.
The other Rangers exchanged bemused smiles as Billy upended the bag and began to hand out communicators and morphers, all the while explaining in typical Billy fashion.
"I keep a set of spare communicators in my garage lab, so I called Zordon as soon as I could and had him scan for our morphers. The sensors in the Power Chamber could easily find them even underwater, and as soon as Zordon knew they were missing, he initiated the scan and located them. Alpha made quick work effecting repairs and cleaning them up, and I asked them to retain the morphers and communicators until I called so I could ensure they were safe until I could distribute them. Now I'm going to have to make a new spare set of communicators, but Alpha can help with that ..." his voice trailed off as he realized his friends were all giving him odd looks.
"Geez, Billy, did you OD on coffee this afternoon?" Jason teased him gently even as he strapped on the welcome weight of the communicator.
"Sorry," his friend blushed, giving them all a sheepish look.
"That's okay, Bro," the burly Red Ranger assured him, cuffing him lightly on the shoulder. "Just slow down and breathe occasionally. Did Zordon have any news?"
"Just that the storm was because of the monster Rita had used before. And that even if we'd had our communicators, they wouldn't have worked. And while we could have morphed, we could not have teleported." He looked at Kim as he said that, knowing she'd felt guilty about losing the morphers in the first place. "There were some strange properties in that storm, and I'm looking forward to analyzing the readouts Zordon and Alpha took," the distracted look they all recognized drifted across the genius's face.
"Later, Billy. After you sleep some, at least. How're you feeling, anyway?" Jason asked.
"Fine. Just a little sore. How about you guys?"
A chorus of assurances followed that question, then the conversation moved on to other subjects until the call to dinner came.
It was as dinner was winding down that the six teenagers began to tell the story of what happened on that island. Starting with their spotting the storm, they took turns narrating their tale.
Wallace Cranston nearly choked when he heard how his son had been swept overboard, and he couldn't help but hold on to his son's arm as he related his fear when he found he was essentially blind, lost, and alone in a churning sea full of the fish he still wasn't completely comfortable with. That fear for his son was replaced with pride when the others told of Billy's feat of strength holding on to the vine that was keeping two friends from plunging to possible death.
James and Hannah Oliver glowed with pride when they heard Billy tell how Tommy led him to the island safely. And how their tall son held grimly on to Trini, ignoring his own pain as he kept her from harm. They didn't miss the admiration in the other teens' expressions as the story kept unfolding, and their dream that they would all be accepted in this new town appeared to be coming true.
Zack kept the narrative from becoming too nerve wracking with his frequent injections of humor and surprisingly insightful observations. His parents felt a renewed gratitude that their son was there with them after hearing how he'd been knocked unconscious right after the boat crashed into the rocks. Though Zack kept the quips coming thick and fast, it didn't completely hide the fear the teen had felt, the impotent anger at not being able to provide as much assistance as he would have liked to.
Russell Kwan tightened his hold on his younger daughter when he learned how close they'd come to losing her. He had known of her fear of heights, and the tremor he felt run through her slender body at the memory of hanging over those rocks spoke eloquently of how she'd felt. Meeting his wife's eyes over the head of their daughter, they felt once again the relief that they had Trini back safely.
Eileen Hart glanced down the table to where her ex-husband sat near the Olivers. They'd declared a truce for the time being, and neither of them missed how much their daughter, and son, seemed to appreciate that. Maybe it was time to let the anger and bitterness go. They couldn't be married to each other, but they could, and should, be a true parenting team. If they'd needed any reminders as to how important their children were, they'd gotten it in spades the last two days. Her gaze moved to Tommy Oliver, and she heard again Kimberly's assurance that everyone behaved properly, even though they were all sleeping together, in the most literal sense. She understood her daughter was not a child anymore, but she was most definitely not ready for her to 'become a woman'.
Jason watched and listened, both as a friend, and as the Power Ranger leader. Some of his friends/teammates had been tested pretty severely over the time they were on that island, and he felt a measure of pride that they had all come through it as well as they had. He glanced over at his parents, and caught his father's eye. Jack gave Jason a sympathetic look, knowing how hard it had to have been for his sometimes too-responsible son. It was ironic in a way; while Jack and Marjorie had waited and watched and worried that first night, Jason had been doing exactly the same thing. Thank God with much the same results.
When the story was finally finished, and the inevitable questions answered, the weary families packed up, ready to call it a night. Jason and Tommy carried the trash over to the dumpster, walking briskly through the deepening dusk.
"You know, you could let the guilt go now. We're all okay," Tommy commented quietly, startling Jason.
"What makes you think I'm feeling guilty?"
"Jase, I haven't known you all that long, but no one could miss that look. It really wasn't your fault."
"I still should have made us stay on that island when we noticed the storm." Jason could be incredibly obstinate when he wanted to be.
"Yeah, maybe so. But if you want to take it one step further, we should never have gone at all. So, it's my fault, right?" Tommy gave his friend a challenging look.
"Tommy, it's not your fault," he started, then paused, bemused.
"Gotcha, right? Come on, Jase, we could turn this into a total guilt-fest if we wanted to. If we worked at it we could probably make it Kim's fault. But what's the point? It's over, we're okay, our families are okay."
"You have a point," Jason capitulated at last.
"I know," Tommy said with mock seriousness. The two teens chuckled as they deposited the trash in the green dumpster and headed back to their families.
"Well, did it work?" Jason asked abruptly.
"What?" Startled out of his own musings, Tommy wasn't sure what Jason was asking.
"You wanted to do the field trip to the islands so you could have some time to get closer to Zack, Trini, and Billy. Do you think it worked?" Tommy couldn't miss the sparkle of humor in the dark eyes.
"Well, I don't know about Zack, but I think Trini and Billy are more comfortable with me. Maybe we should do this again?"
"Good idea. You can be the one to suggest it to our parents, okay?"
"Well, maybe not ..."
Author's notes: Thanks to Dagmar for beta'ing and for months of encouragement. Thanks also go to Rap and Peregrine who joined Dagmar in the rousing chorus of 'finish the island fic!' Thank you, ladies. 'Tis done.