I never had figured most of that one out. This one wasn't as weird. But it was going to be hard.
I'd followed him down to one of Angel Grove's less desirable neighborhoods. Old abandoned buildings, homeless people and rats in about equal numbers. The kind of place the city fathers probably hope Zedd or whoever will trash instead of the nice new bits. He skirted past a feral dog that gave him a half-hearted snarl but didn't really seem threatening and slid into a building that looked like it might fall down in a good rainstorm.
I took up a position across the street and thought. I'd already burned two more hours waiting for the school to let out, and another forty minutes following him home. Call it five hours left. I had no idea if I could get through to him in five hours. Of course, I really had twenty until the end of the world, 'cause we'd jump in at the fifteen mark if we left at the twelve-hour point or before. Every minute after that counted, though, as I'd understood Zordon's explanation. So if it took me six hours to convince him, we'd have fourteen back home. And so on. Twenty hours.
Of course the more of that fifteen I could give him to work with, the better. Somehow looking at him I didn't think he'd ever had a well-equipped lab to exercise that brain in.
Assuming that brain was still, or again, or whatever the right word was, that brain. I'd have to talk to him, try and guess if he was smart enough. Me, trying to quantify how smart he was: talk about surreal. But I wasn't giving up now, not when I'd finally found what I'd been looking for. I might not want to see the look in his eyes but I was guessing I was going to be making him the best offer of his life.
It could work out.
It could...But I figured it would be best to talk to him somewhere that sort of indicated I was serious. Not down here in Grant City.
I headed on down towards Melrose, hoping he wasn't going to take off while I was gone. I stopped in a JC Penney's on the way and bought some new clothes for himI knew what size Billy wore, after ten years of hanging out togethernot much, just a couple pair of Arizona jeans, a couple of shirts and tees, a package of boxers and a bag of socks, and some Reeboks. I didn't know if this Billy gave a damn where his shoes were made, or if this reality had the same problemsprobably, it was close to ours so no huge divergences I was guessingbut mine had and it stuck, even after months... I picked up a small piece of luggage and stuck everything in it and found a Motel-6 and got a room.
Then I went back up to Grant City.
And he wasn't there.
I damn near panicked. I'd burned another hour going to Melrose and back, leaving me four hours to find and convince him before the jump. If I couldn't, I'd have to gamble on finding another one, or I'd have to turn off the TTD and let the clock start running for real. Sure, I could jump again, later, but then we'd be down to three hours in the real reality, my reality. Three hours. My Billy, any Ranger Billy, could have done it in three, I bet, but odds of finding another one in the handful of realities I had left who could do it in three? Slim and none.
One in two that he'd even be alive. Then one in twelve he'd be someone I could even talk to about it. So that was what... I can do math. One in thirty-seven and five left... 190:1. Is that even as good as slim? Stick with this one.
Maybe I could find this one and just sort of take him with... but I had a feeling that would be a really bad idea. Just find him fast. And talk faster.
I hunted around Grant City for a couple of hours, and then decided my best bet was to go back to his 'home' and wait for him to show back up. A handful of clothes and school stuff left in boxes and a couple of worn blankets said he'd be back.
I paced like an expectant father in one of those old movies. It got dark outside. Time for the jump approached. I looked at the TTD, and then shoved it back in my pocket.
This was my strength, decisions like this. I had to be right.
Time came. Went. I was committed. And I felt better almost right away. No turning back, do or die, make it happen. That's where I live. I was at home.
And then, so was he.
The dog didn't give him any warning. Of course, I'd been phase-shifted when I waltzed past Fido, so it wasn't really his fault. He slid in the narrow opening under the chain on the door (much more easily than I had, that's for sure; this Billy needed to put on a bit of muscle) and pushed it shut, and then turned and put down a dirty paper bag from a donut place.
Out getting something to eat, I guessed. Scrounging, scavenging, maybe stealing... Well, that could stop. I waited until he was far enough away from the door for me to get between him and itthe only window was too boarded up for him to get out before I could stop himbefore I phase-shifted back to visible.
It took him about two minutes to realize I was there. When he did, he jumped about a foot, realized he couldn't make the door, and got his back to a corner in about twenty seconds. A corner where he had a handy piece of two-by-four.
Good reflexes. I wondered why this reality's Zordon had overlooked him. Who was wearing Blue here. Was it just a matter of his not knowing anyone else? Not having been with them when the othersthe fighterswere taken? Certainly Zordon hadn't expected the fringe benefits of Billy, the communicators and Zord upgrades. Shook that aside as unprofitable. Plus their-loss-our-gain, of course.
While I was wasting time on that, he was recovering. "Who the fuck are you?" he demanded. "What do you want?"
"I just want to talk," I said, carefully keeping my hands where he could see them. I could take him but that wouldn't open negotiations on a positive note. "You're Billy Cranston, right?"
"Will," he said forcefully. Then, "How do you know that? Who are you?"
Will. Will Cranston. Good, actually; it would be easier if I didn't have to call him by Billy's name, think of him that way. Will was a different person. The vocabulary alone was proof of that. Answer his question, Scott. "I checked you out at the school," I said.
"Whatever for?" A flash of curiosity under the hostility.
"Wethe people I work withneeded to be sure you were the right person to contact." That was vague enough to start with, something to engage that curiosity.
"We?" he asked, taking a quick glance around. "Who's 'we'?"
"It's a very long story," I said.
"Aren't they always?"
"I don't intend you any harm," I said.
"What do you intend me?" he asked, but he believed me enough to lower the two-by-four. Not enough to let go of it, but enough to start on.
"I have an offer," I said, "one I think you'll be interested in. But," I looked around the room myself, "this isn't the best place to discuss it."
He hiked an eyebrow at me. "Sorry," he said sarcastically, "my townhouse has the redecorators in."
"Yes." I couldn't think of a better answer. I shrugged. "I was actually thinking we could go to my motel and discuss it, perhaps over dinner."
"Your... motel," he said, in a tone that combined 'aha' with 'no fucking way'. Overlaid with a touch of fear. He shifted his hold on the two-by-four. "I don't think so. Why don't you go find somebody else to make your offer to?"
Damn. "Not that sort of offer," I said. "We've been paying attention to your school records"
"Why?" The fear was a bit stronger.
I did not like seeing that look on his face. It made me want to hurt somebody, if I only knew who.
"Why are you checking up on me?" he asked, his voice sharpening. "How long have you been following me around? How'd you get past the dog? What do you really want?" He shifted his grip once more, tensing. "I want some answers."
This wasn't working. I thought frantically. "Look, Will," I said, "I don't have to" I stopped. Don't go there at all, idiot. "You're interested in physics." That wasn't a guess; I'd had time to look at the books he had stashed away, and some of them were new library science texts. "We're interested in your interest. That's all. It's a physics problem."
Startled curiosity started to get stronger than the fear. "What kind of physics?"
"Like I'd know?" I said before I could think.
It seemed to be a good answer, though. He cocked his head. "You fetch and carry, do you?"
"In a manner of speaking... this isn't a good place," I said again. "I don't have any of the materials here. And I'm still hungry. What about that dinner?"
"Dinner?" He put down the two-by-four, within reach. "I'm not exactly dressed for dining."
"We could grab a burger," I said. Burgers were non-threatening.
He looked at me, calculating. I wasn't sure what, exactly, but it probably had to do with the price of a meal.
"Look," I said. "I'm hungry. Let's go to Mickey D'sthere's one on the wayand then you can decide if you want to hear what I have to say."
I think eating in McDonald's decided him: someplace open, public, with several exits. He was hungry, and curious, a powerful combination. He gestured at the door. "After you," he said.
I didn't want to let him out of my sight, but I could tell this was a test, so I turned around and squeezed out through the door. After a minute, he came out after me. We walked towards Melrose, Will making sure to be just out of reach. When we stopped at the fast food place, he ordered the Big Mac and super-sized fries, just like Billy would have, with two cartons of milk. I got a cheeseburger and a milkshake, and had to stop myself from reaching over and eating half his fries. Will was hungry enough he didn't leave a crumb.
I wasn't comfortable eating in silence; my parents had always believed in conversation at the table. I couldn't think of a good topic, though; I had no idea what his interests were, what to say... while I was hunting around in my mind, my mouth opened up and said what I'd been thinking all afternoon and evening. "How long have you been out of the foster care system?" Because surely to God they should have been doing better by him while he was still in school, even if California was bankrupt or something.
He'd swallowed a bite of Big Mac and said, "I expect they stopped hunting me when I turned eighteen. Which you apparently know I am?"
I answered. "October fourth."
He nodded; that didn't bother him as much as my knowing his name had. Of course, given the name the birthday would have been easy. "But if you're referring to my palatial residence, well," he shrugged, "it was all that was available two years ago in my price range, and I just couldn't be bothered to relocate yet. I've got my eye on a dorm room at UCLA." He shrugged again. "If I can keep my GPA perfect."
I think he was expecting some comment about his grades, but since my Billy had had enough credits to graduate last year that didn't faze me. UCLA instead of MIT, now that was weird... "Two years ago?" I said without thinking. "You ran away?" I could have bitten my tongue off.
He shrugged again, ate some fries, and said, casually, "He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Discretion is the better part of valor. A man's gotta know his limitations."
Dirty Harry? I was forcibly reminded all over again: this wasn't Billy. This was Will. And Will was a survivor, too, though in his case it was flight that saved him. I didn't even want to know flight from what; I'd read all the papers, time and again. I could guess. I didn't ask anything else, just ate my cheeseburger and brooded.
And reminded myself that Will would run before he fought.
When he was finished, he sat back in the chair and looked at me. His eyes were cool, not warm. I'd been right; I hated having him look at me like a stranger. I could tell he wasn't as relaxed as he was trying to look; for one thing, he could be up out of that chair and gone in nothing flat. I wasn't worried: I could morph, even if it alerted this reality's Zordon that something was going on. The fact that I was a Ranger should satisfy him, and morphed I could catch Will. I didn't want to do it like that, but on the other hand it might impress him. I was about halfway convinced I'd have to at some point in the upcoming conversation anyway. But the important thing was that he wasn't gone yet. He blinked at me a couple of times and then said, "So, what's the offer?"
I hesitated, and then said, "Look, Will, this really isn't the place to go into it."
"There are too many people here," I said, trying to sound like I had something secret to tell him, not like I didn't want witnesses. "Frankly, it's... complicated."
"Ummm," he said, weighing his options.
"Just come back with me," I said, "listen to what I have to say, look at what I have to show you about it. If you're not interested, no harm done."
"Does it pay?"
For some reason that question threw me a curve. I don't think I'd ever heard Billy wonder that. And we weren't allowed to use the Power for personal gain... but then again, Will wasn't a Ranger. Besides, I had the feeling that just getting out of Grant City would be all the payoff he'd ask. "Yes," I said firmly. "More, though, it's important. It's the most important thing you'll ever hear."
He scratched the corner of his jaw for a moment, looking at me with those cool, un-Billy eyes, assessing me. I didn't try to look harmless, but I did try to look responsible. It wasn't that hard, from what everyone told me I looked that way all the time. Finally he nodded. "Is it weapons research?" he asked. "Not that it really matters, I suppose... Okay," he said. "I'll accompany you to your motel and listen to your offer. If I don't like it, I'll be at liberty to say so and leave?"
I hoped I was reading him right. I hoped under that wary looking-out-for-number-one persona burned some form of Billy's boundless curiosity and drive to help everyone else. I said, "Sure."
We walked to the motel just like we'd walked to the restaurant. At the door, he hung back, unwilling to let me get between him and escape. Knowing how easily I could catch him if I had to, I went on in, turning the button on the knob to lock the door with one hand as I tossed the keys onto the dresser next to the carryall. Then I sat on the little table as he eased his way in, looking around the room before he let the door shut behind him.
In McDonald's bright lighting it had been obvious that, while he was probably able to grab showers in gym, it had been a while since his clothes had gotten washed. I thought he might feel more in control of things if he was more presentable. Billy had always been fastidious, like a cat. I had a feeling Will was, too, within the limits of his abilities.
"Why don't you take a shower?" I said. "There're some clean clothes in that bag, ought to fit you, I think."
He did, in fact, flick a glance at the bathroom. All the hot water he could use, soap, shampoo, clean clothes... I could feel how much he wanted that. Feel, too, the second the possible price hit him, the consequences of getting naked in a motel room with a (let's face it) weird stranger who had height and weight on him.
"Is this leading up to you screwing me?" he asked. "Because I'm not a hooker." He was pretty calm about it, really, wary and ready to run if I gave him cause, run or fight, but measuring me at the same time with those cool green eyes. Trying to decide if I could make it worth it to him?
That hurt. "No," I said harshly. "That's not on the agenda. I'm interested in your brain, not your ass."
He hiked an eyebrow. "My brain?" he said. "What makes you think I have one?" That was cool, ironical, andGod, I didn't know if I could stand knowing him this well and not knowing him at allalmost complacent. Oh, yeah, he had a brain, and he knew it if no one else did...
"We have our information," I said.
"Yeah?" He had opened the carryall, was looking at the clothes consideringly. He glanced back at me. "Andagainjust who, precisely, is 'we'? And just what, precisely, is it that 'we' want?"
"Just go on," I said, and I heard myself how edgy I sounded. I tried to calm my voice down. "Get a shower, get dressed. We'll talk after you're cleaned up."
He gave me a long, wary, measuring look from under those thick lashes. He wasn't yet a hundred percent sure I meant that 'no'. Wasn't sure he meant his, depending on what he could get in return.
God knows, part of me didn't want to mean it.
He wasn't Billy. He wasn't. But he was close... too close for my peace of mind at the moment. With those words hanging in the air between us. "Just go," I said again. Get out of my sight before I lose control...
He might have read my mind. He grabbed the carryall, skirted past me, and headed for the bathroom. And I remembered...
After the last one I needed to see him. Alive. Well. Smart. Himself.
I needed it.
If I had known what I was going to find there, would I have gone looking? Truthfully?So I found him. He was in the kitchen, blue polo shirt and khaki shorts, hair a little longer than I was used to but only a little, sitting at that scarred oak table they still had here, reading something and drinking coffee. I did something I hadn't done before: went around to the front and found the keyamazing how often the little things like that stayed the sameand, after checking the street, eased the door open and slid inside, making as little noise as possible. If he was reading something challenging he wouldn't hear me, but best not to take chances. Watching him through the window wasn't going to be enough this time.
I don't know.
Nothing has evereverhurt this way. Not even losing him hurt like this. It makes the losing worse; it builds and turns into one of those things, what's the word? gestalt? Like Dr Who's TARDIS? Bigger on the inside than on the out. More than the sum of the parts.
Oh, God. I don't know how long I can keep up pretending. Now that I know, I mean.
I stood in the doorway and drank in the sight of him. He was healthy. He was whole. He was the best thing I'd seen in... maybe ever. I knew that was reaction from the last reality, seeing him alive only in a clinical sense, no life in his eyes, less self-awareness than a hamster. But it was a real feeling. I stood there and reveled in it.
He was reading for pleasure, no hilighter or notes, just reading, flipping the pages quickly the way he did and smiling every now and then. Once he actually laughed out loud. I wondered what the book was; I might buy it.
When the back door opened I was more startled than he was. For a minute I even forgot they couldn't see me. When I got it back together, I was looking at this reality's me, taking a seat on the table next to the book and looking down at this Billy like... like I felt. It was weird.
It got weirder. I watched as this Jason put his hand on this Billy's where it lay on the table next to his coffee, and then slid it up his bare arm to his elbow.
"Can I finish my chapter?" Billy said, an undercurrent of amusement in his voice.
"I don't know. Can you?" Jason said, grinning. "Is that a challenge?"
"You'd lose," Billy said, not looking away from the page.
"Really? How many pages?" He reached down and flipped through the book. "Six. Hmmm..."
"I have excellent powers of concentration," Billy said, a smile tugging his lips.
"Well, that's true," Jason conceded. "Whatever you focus on is definitely focused on. Might be fun to try and distract you, though."
Billy turned the pageI knew he could read, watch the television, and conduct two conversations (in person and on the phone) and not miss a beat, if he was so inclinedand said, consideringly, "It might. If futile."
"Cranston," Jason said, "you drive me insane."
"I don't believe that's a drive," Billy said. "I think it's a putt"
"Stop with the damned book already," Jason said. "You know my parents are insisting I go to Santa Barbara with them to visit my aunt and uncle this weekend. You'll have three days to read this thing" he picked it up; I noticed he stuck his finger in it to hold Billy's place. "Hogfather? What the hell?"
"Terry Pratchett," said Billy. "Social commentary disguised as extremely funny fantasy. Brilliant. My favorite fiction writer... give me that." He took it back and slid the bookmark that had been on the table into it and put it carefully down. "It's best not to put any serious strains on your mental faculties in situations like this, I believe." He leaned back in his chair and looked up at this Jason.
I felt my own heart skip a beat, seriously I did. If I could have moved, I think I'd have run away. I'm still not sure whether I wish I had.
"What," this Billy
not mine, not ever mineasked, "did you have in mind to do until you have to leave?"
not me, not ever meleaned over and, putting his hand on the chairback to take his weight, kissed Billy. It wasn't the first time, that was obvious. They fit like... like whatever it is that fits. Billy eased up out of the chair, moving sideways to stand between this Jason's legs, one of his hands in the short black hair and the other reaching around him to pull him close. This Jason's hands were sliding under the polo shirt, and then tugging it over the blond head to drop it on the floor. A few minutes only and then this Billy was stepping back, pulling on this Jason's hand and saying, "Bedroom."
"Bedroom, yes," this Jason said, and they left the kitchen, kissing again...
I found myself sitting on the chair this Billy had vacated, holding his shirt, trembling. I couldn't believe what I'd just seen... and yet. Oh, God, and yet...
It was all too easy to believe.
I held his shirt to my face and breathed in the smell of him, the sharp spicy scent of the deodorantthe same one, I'd betand the slight one of sweat and the musky scent that was, I guess, him... My fingers were clenched in the shirt so hard they hurt.
How had that started? Which of them had had the nerve? Was it easier in this reality? Harder? Did they care? Had this Jason almost lost this Billy, back in that deadly autumn, and realized what it was he'd almost lost? Had he looked into those warm green eyes and understood what they were saying? Like I did, now, remembering...
Too late. Too late the knowledge. Too late the desire. Too late...An hour later, maybe more, I couldn't help myself. I put the shirt back on the floor where they had left it and I catfooted down the hallway. This Mr. Cranston must be out of town; they hadn't shut the door. The room was quiet; I took a breath and peered in.
If I survive Rangering, live to be a hundred, I'll never forget that sight. So beautiful, so... so right. Blankets around them, this Billy's head on this Jason's chest, resting on his heart
in his heartand Jason's arms around him, Billy's around Jason, sleeping in safety.
God. This is harder than I thought it would be. And in different ways.
I never expected it to be this hard.
He shut the door behind him. I could hear it lock. What? Are you afraid I'm coming in there and... of course you are. It's probably happened to you.
I stopped myself from putting my hand through the wall, but just barely. This was a lot harder than I'd thought it was going to be, even after Thirty. And Thirteen. And Twenty Six. And reading the newspapers in the others.
And Thirty One. That damned Thirty One...I took a couple of cleansing breaths and tried to settle myself. I heard the shower running and took the opportunity to do a kata, to center myself. Shut out the images. Calm myself down. I had the feeling I was going to need it.
Time was running out. I had to convince Will and I had to convince him now. Just grabbing him and going back wouldn't work; this William Cranston wouldn't react well at all to tactics like that.
Of course, mine wouldn't have, either, but he'd have saved the universe before getting pissed off at me.
No clock reset when I went home. If we left in the next thirty minutes, Will would have twelve hours to adjust, get up to speed on the equipment, figure out a plan, and execute it. Would have been a piece of cake for Billy. Had to hope the extra time would give Will the chance to figure it out.
Because I wasn't leaving him. Even if you'd told me that in the next reality I'd find a perfectly well-adjusted non-Ranger Billy who'd spent his whole life in special schools, and already had two PhDsand going by the track record so far, that was (as he used to say) a probability approaching nilI wasn't leaving Will in this place.
Actually, come to think of it, that perfectly well-adjusted and expensively educated Billy would be missed. And badly. Will... well, let's just say the world would probably close up over him like pulling your fist out of a bucket of water: nobody would so much as notice a hole.
He came out. He was wearing the new clothes and he looked so much like Billy it ripped my heart out. I hadn't been smart enough to think about that, either, when I bought the stuff, I'd just picked what Billy'd like. So there he stood, a little too thin and shadowed, with his still damp hair in a kind of do-it-yourself-scruff that was worse than anything Billy had ever, in his worst days, had. But just like Billy usually had done, he was wearing that chic rake-his-fingers-through-it-half-dry-and-call-it-done look. The difference being that obviously this reality's Kim had never taken him to a stylist who could cut it so that actually looked good. And he'd chosen the blue plaid flannel shirt, and left it untucked, though he'd buttoned it up and buttoned the cuffs around his wrists, too, instead of rolling the sleeves up halfway to his elbow. And he was wearing the glasses I'd tucked into the shirt's pocket, one of a couple of pairs we had still in the Command Center from the days when carrying around a couple of spares was a good idea. So he didn't look just like Billy, but way closer than he had before.
Except that that look was back on his face, and he clearly wanted a two-by-four again.
I couldn't figure that out. How had taking a shower and putting on new clothes... okay, everything fit. Pretty much. Well, I could explain that. The government, you know... or something like that. Some explanation that would let me maybe lead into things, or even just skip the whole dimensional thing altogether until we got home. But before I could say anything, he pulled the bronze-rimmed glasses off and held them beside his face, shaking them at me while he stared at me with wide eyes that couldn't be getting more than a red-and-brown blur from across the room. "How did you do this?" he demanded, and I could hear the fear in his voice again. "This is not possible."
I tried to decide exactly how to answer him, but he didn't give me a whole lot of time before he destroyed all my options but one.
"This is not possible," he repeated. "You could not know this. If you had the time and money and interest you could find out what size shirt, jeans, shoes I wear. I can't imagine why anyone would care, but it could be found out fairly easily. But this?" He shook the glasses at me again, and then, carefully, put them back on. His eyes snapped back into focus, and I realized they hadn't before, not when he had the other glasses on, and those hadn't been much different than the ones Billy had worn up until he was, what, fifteen? But before I could actually figure it out, he told me, his voice shaking. "How could you possibly know what prescription I ought to be using?"
Ought to be. Will's vocabulary wasn't as large as Billy's but he was as precise with the words he had as my friend had ever been. Now I realized what the difference was, not the frames but the look of those green eyes behind the lenses, eyes that were now narrowed at me in a valiant attempt to contain all the turbulent emotions spilling out between us.
"These aren't just a good guess, they're exactly what I'd be wearing if I'd been to an optometrist, which I haven't in five years. They're precision ground to my exact vision problems, the myopia, the slight astigmatism, the pronounced bilateral bifocalismand you don't even know what that is, so how could you have gotten these? And youWho the hell are you, and what do you want from me?"
He stood there, taut and poised to run if he had to, even if only back into the bathroom, and stared at me with an expression I had never, ever, thank God, seen on Billy's face.
Okay. I guess this is it. "Have a seat, Will, and I'll explain it to you," I said as calmly as I could, sitting down myself, on the bed, leaving him plenty of room to sit on the dresser, or the chair, either giving him a shot at the door. Not that I intended to let him through it if he tried. He was coming back to my reality and that was that. If I had to carry him bodily, I would. It was funny, but somehow the realization that he'd been left practically going blindfor God's sake, I could remember Billy going for new prescriptions every six months until he was seventeenwas it. More than the callous, casual physical neglect he had certainly suffered and the abuse he'd probably taken, and the soul-damaging psychological abuse he had almost certainly been subjected to, given the track record of the universe and the fact that he'd felt he had to run... I was the proverbial camel and that was the straw, and that sound wasn't my back breaking
...my heart breaking...it was my patience snapping clear through. I didn't care if I had five more realities to hunt through. I didn't care what Zordon might say. I didn't care about anything at all. I was done caring, thinking, planning. I was ready to do. I'd made up my mind. Now I had to make up his.
He chose the dresser, perching warily on the edge of it. He glanced toward the door; it was locked, of course. I think I could have grabbed him before he could have got out of it anyway, but I knew he couldn't get it unlocked and out, so I wasn't worried. I think he knew the same thing, and he was a bit worried by it, but there wasn't anything I could do about that, and since I hadn't grabbed him yet, he was only a bit worried.
Still, I knew I was going to have to talk as well as I ever had in my life.
"They were ground to your prescription," I started. "And you're right, I don't know what bilateral whatever is, but I'm not an optometrist. There's a place in Stone Canyon that's been making your glasses for nine years now. They know."
"My prescription?" he asked skeptically. "WhatI have an identical twin brother, we were separated at birth or something?"
"Not exactly," I said. "This may strain belief a bit, but I swear it's true"
"Just tell me."
"Your prescription. For you. But a different you"
"Nobody could clone more of a mammal than a mouse nineteen years ago, if that," he said. "Try again."
"Not a clone," I said. "A different reality."
He blinked. Then said something I wasn't expecting to hear. "What's your name?"
I think I probably blinked. "Didn't I say? I'm sorry... It's Jason. Jason Scott."
"I knew you. I knew who you were, anyway," he corrected himself. "You and I were in the same class in seventh grade. Here. I thought you looked a bit familiar and now I can tell... You died. You got hit by a car, Christmas seventh grade. But you're him." He gestured at the communicator I was wearing. "Is that your interdimensional travel device?"
ITD. Well, close enough. "No, it's something else. You mean you believe me?"
"It's an explanation," he said. "I didn't think there could be one... And it's certainly theoretically possible. Certain facets of the work of DeutschNever mind. You still haven't answered the real questions. Who is 'we' and what does 'we' want?"
Oh, yes. I'd hoped it was there, under the attitudes, the curiosity. And it was. In spades.
"I'm a Power Ranger," I said.
He hiked a skeptical eyebrow. "Really?"
"I can show you that," I said, relieved about that much. "At least I ought to be able to. It might cause some problems with your Rangers"
"Not mine," he said.
"This dimension's," I corrected myself. "I don't know how, or if, they'll react to someone else drawing on the Morphin Grid."
"So, no demonstration?"
I shrugged, pulled out my morpher and showed it to him. There was a chance he'd recognise it from news footage.
He reached out and took it from me, looking at it with the same curiosity that had had my Billy running his hands over things in the Command Center that first day. I resisted the urge to grab it back from him, but when I held out my hand he, reluctantly, gave it back. "That's not Earth technology, is it?"
"No," I said.
"So, there's another me where you come from?" His eyes flickered in remembrance. "Billy?"
I wondered what memories that name held for him. I doubted I'd ever ask, even if we knew each other for decades. "Was," I said. "Yes."
"And he was a Ranger?" He sounded like that strained his powers of suspended disbelief.
I shrugged. "Yes, he was. The Blue Ranger. He was brilliantlike you. And we need that now. So"
"So you came looking for me?" He considered that quietly for a long time. I let him. We'd gotten here a lot faster than I thought, and he'd believed it a lot faster than I could have hoped. "And what, exactly? You want me to go back with you?"
"Yes," I said. "That's it, exactly. We need you."
"What is it you want me to do?"
"Zordon and Adamthat's our mentor and the new Blue Rangerthey can explain it a lot better than I could."
I shrugged. "Basically, something went kablooie inside a piece of equipment Adam rigged up to fight Zedd's latest gimmick, which was letting his monster step back or forward in time by about five seconds. And then the universe, or multiverse or whatever, went kablooie too. Giant interdimensional cross-rip. Getting bigger. Going to swallow up, well"
"Everything," Will said softly. "What about your travel device? Can't that technology be modified to use relativistic"
"Whoa," I said. "No point in even asking me. And time's running out."
"Let me see it. Please," he added as an obvious afterthought. I handed it to him. "Who designed this?"
"It's Zordonian, but Zordon doesn't know how to modify it. Adam rigged a homer on the communicator, so we can teleport back"
"Yes," I said, "but Adam's out of his league there. That was yours. His. Billy's."
He thought about that for a while. He looked like he couldn't decide if he should be pleased with it or not. Then he asked, "So, you're expecting me to walk in and look at this and fix it?"
"Expecting's not the right word," I said, though I was lying. "Hoping's more like. Look, Will, for all I know when we get back Adam and Zordon will have figured it out."
"But you doubt it."
"Yeah. This was what I could do..." I shrugged. "What have we got to lose?"
He didn't say he stood to lose a lot. I don't know if it's because he didn't think he did, or if he thought that if I could get here through the cross-rip then here was close enough to go up, too. I didn't ask. What he did say was completely unexpected. "So, what happened to me? Him? In your dimension, I mean?"
He deserved to know. I swallowed, looking at those green eyes, so close and yet so different. "He died."
"Last October. The day before his birthday. We were walking down the street near the high school. A drunk jumped the curb." I had never said this out loud to anyone, and the words sounded so plain, so ordinary. "Billy was on the inside of the sidewalk, and he was turned towards me saying something" but in the movie, Alan Grant accepted the role of protector of children even though he didn't like children... I hadn't been able to watch Jurassic Park since then. Or anything with Sam Neill in it... "and he saw the car coming. And he knocked me out of the way. And he died."
There was a long silence. Finally he said, "I never felt like dying to save anybody. It's been a long time since..." He stopped. Again I didn't ask, though I thought I could guess... his dad. Mr. Cranston would have cheerfully died a thousand times for Billy. "And you."
That threw me. "Me what?"
"You wish you'd died for him."
Well. Yes. I did. Was it that obvious? I couldn't say anything, and then, suddenly, I heard my voice. "I should have. If I'd been paying attention, maybe neither of us would have, but no matter what, I should have. He should still be alive. I was supposed to look out for him."
"He must not have thought so," Will observed.
"No," I admitted. "But I was. I always was, ever since we met. It was what I did, damnit, and I didn't do it well enough" I broke off very sharply, suddenly remembering who I was talking to.
"That's... that's convincing enough for me." He paused, and then added, "People might die for people who aren't worth it, but when it's reciprocal..." he looked around the motel room. "I don't suppose there's enough time for me to sleep here?"
I managed a smile. "No. But I guarantee you a real bed on the other side. If we survive."
He smiled back. Almost a real smile. Close. "Now there's incentive."
Of course, we couldn't just go. There were those library books that had to be taken back. Some things never do change... Will had the same innate respect for books that Billy had, plus couldn't bear to think someone might come looking for knowledge and not find it because we'd left the library's only copy down in an abandoned Grant City building.
I think that was when I knew it was going to work.
So. We saved the universe. Verses. Whatever.
Big celebration at the Youth Center. Nobody but us knows why, of course, but that never stopped Angel Grovers from partying. And everyone was glad to meet Billy Cranston's "cousin". Because Will didn't want to leave us.
Zordon was right, we couldn't put him back. Good thing, too, 'cause I wasn't going to let that happen even if we could have. He needs us, needs people to look out for him and teach him how to be, well, what he could have been if anybody had ever given a damn for him in the past eight, nine years. And now, well, where could he go? He's too young to be on his own, and has no one here but us. We brought him here, that makes us responsible for him.
Whether he likes it or not. And sometimes he doesn't. Too bad.
Adam and he went in and hacked him some ID. Zordon waffled a bit on the ethics of that, but decided it was actually a small price to pay for (a) saving the universe and (b) protecting the identities of the Power Rangers. I'm not sure which item was more important to him, but I lean to (b). Will was more than happy to change his name to avoid the "coincidence" and to keep his "uncle" from having to call him by his son's name. So he's Robin Dayton now (they look (looked) like their mothers, after all, though they act like Billy's father), and he's an orphan and Mr. Cranston's taken him in. They get along okay, I think.
We all do.
He's not Billy.
You're gone, my friend. My brother. My beloved, how it counts.He's himself. He's a lot like Billy, but in that old nature-vs.-nurture argument it's pretty clear that nurture has a lot of depth off the bench. Still, he's a good kida good personand he'll make a good friend, once he learns how. And he's making the effort there. He's started to figure out that even people who didn't know Billy like Robin. And that even if he's still got 'prey' written on him, he's... how did Tommy put it?
I can accept that now. It hurts, still, probably always will hurt. But ... you went the way you wanted to, doing what you thought was the right thing. And I know now that if I stay angry at you for doing it, I'm invalidating it.
And I know more. I know you had a good life. I've seen how bad it could have been, and... at least I knew you. And you knew me. And you must've thought that was worth something. For you to do what you did.
And you're the genius, right? How can I argue with you? And win, anyway?
And maybe I balanced things a little.
"Even if he's a lost lamb in the woods, he's picked up some sheep dogs. We'll keep the wolves off."
And we will.
So, because it would be pretty dumb to try and pretend like he didn't know what was going on, and because it was pretty obvious he could be useful, Zordon agreed to let him stay on as an associate, working in the Command Center. He's good with the equipment, better with it, really, than with us. But he's getting better with both. Last week, he came up with the plan to stop Dog Boy... all by himself. And it worked. We had some party after that, and he's starting to realize he's valued for himself, not just as a second-string Billy. Sometimes I see him in the Command Center, running his hands over some piece of hybrid tech Billy pieced together and I can tell he actually understands it. Sometimes, I can tell he thinks he knows how to make it better.
Today, he actually said so. It was a big step. It was brave. I think he halfway expected me to say, 'If Billy built it, it's as good as it can get.' And part of me wanted to, I admit. But it wouldn't have been true. How many times did Billy improve some of the stuff around here, for one thing? And for another, how much did he not get around to, for whatever reason? And for the last, even if his IQ did start with 2, well, so does Robin's.
So I didn't say that. And I didn't say what was on the tip of my tongue, which would have been as bad in its own way, even though true, which was, 'Billy had that on his agenda.'
I just said, "That'd be great, Robin. Give it a shot."
I expected that to hurt. And it does. But not all that much. Maybe I've been as hurt by this whole thing as I can be. Maybe I'm finally getting better.
Maybe I just finally figured it out. You used to say I got there in the end. Took me a while this time, didn't it?And you know what? Actually, it feels pretty damn good.
But I think I finally got it. Life goes on. It does go on.
|part one||part two|
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans|
|Original Fan Fiction|
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Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
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