Fairer Than Death

This is (sort of) a companion piece to "Blue Yonder", but you don't have to have read that one to get this one. All you need to know is, this isn't exactly the world you know — close, but not quite the same.
Continuity: Well, kind of to before Zeo, but not really... Rocky instead of Zack. No peace conference. You'll see.


- 1 -

I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.
—Marcus Cole, "Babylon 5: A Late Delivery From Avalon"
It was probably no more than ten minutes, but it was the longest ten minutes of Jason's life.

Trini screamed. Probably not for the whole time, but when he thought about it later, it seemed as if her screams were background for the entire fight.

Maybe he remembered it like that because that was how he felt: like screaming. A part of his mind was, the whole time, screaming in anger and denial and pain; the one small part that could afford to, the piece that wasn't the Red Ranger, in charge, responsible, not only for what had just happened but for what still might, would, if he screwed up again.

But the rest of him was doing what had to be done. From the minute Revenger's attention was distracted to the minute he and Tommy literally ripped the SOB limb from limb, he was focussed and functional. And for longer than that, because it wasn't over and somebody needed to be.

The remains of Revenger's body were dissolving at their feet, even evaporating off his cross-trainers. At least we won't have to try to explain that, he thought briefly, checking his team out with a quick glance. He could feel the Morphin power again; whatever had cut them off from the Grid, reverting them so abruptly to normal, was gone. "Let's get down there," he said.

They skidded to a halt next to Billy's crumpled body. "Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh," said Kimberly. "Is he... is he dead?"

Jason slid two fingers under his friend's jaw. There was a pulse, very slow, but the skin was very cold. "No." Jason took a single breath, a look around at the other three—Kim, wide-eyed and twisting her hands in her pink sweater; Trini, her arms wrapped around herself and her old-ivory complexion even paler than usual against the dark blue of the shirt Billy had lent her after their armor had vanished; Tommy, kneeling on the other side of Billy, poised and pissed off—and then took charge. "Kim, go call 911."

"911?" she protested. "We should take him to the Command Center, Jason!"

"No," he shook his head. "That won't do any good. You know the table's mainly for energy weapons attacks, some minor stuff. This is not minor. He needs to be hospitalized. Go call 911. Kim!" he stopped her. "Tell them he fell, he's hurt, and nothing else. Hang up and get back here."

"Right, Jason." She took off again.

"Trini. Trini," he stood up and and took her by the shoulders, giving them a shake. "Trini."

She flinched, and then looked at him, her dark eyes wide.

"Go back to the swimming pool—"


"Trini, you're supposed to be swimming. Your parents will never understand why you're here. Or how. It's trouble we don't need. We'll call you from the hospital, you can come, but you can't be here now."

"Yes, I see that." She looked down at Billy for a moment, and then left in a streak of yellow.

Jason turned to Tommy. "Before Kim gets back—"

"Yeah?" He hadn't moved.

"You can't be here either. Tommy—" He dropped to his heels in front of the other boy, putting his hand on top of the other's where it rested, lightly, on Billy's black-teeshirt-clad shoulder. Resolutely, he kept his eyes off his oldest friend and on his newest. "Look, man, we don't have time for subtlety. You can't be here either. If you're here, Ratkowsky will try to put it on you. Tommy—" he forestalled whatever the Green Ranger was planning on saying. Jason hated doing it, but he knew he was right. "He hassles my dad about you all the time. He'll decide Kim and I are lying and he'll dig and we can't afford it. I'm sorry, man—"

"No," Tommy shook his head. "You're right. The cops won't let go... not your dad, but—"

"Don't worry," Jason brushed off the half-apology as wholly unneeded. "Just get out before the paramedics get here. Go home or—"

"I told the Olivers I was with you guys." Tommy's dark eyes got briefly darker. "Look, I'll think of something to tell them. So I lied to them; they're getting used to it. Don't worry about me."

"I'm sorry."

"No. I am. It's my fault. But don't worry about it; you guys just don't know."

"Right," Jason nodded. "You just said you had something else to do when we called."

Tommy touched Billy's shoulder lightly. "Hang in there, Bill," he said softly. He stood. "I'm sorry, Jason," he said again, and was gone before Jason could answer.

Kim came running back. "They're coming, they'll be here in a few—where are Tommy and Trini?"

"I sent Trini back to the swimming pool. Tommy..." he paused while he pulled off his sweatshirt and laid it over Billy. "If his case worker knew he was here, Kim, it would be a mess we can't handle."

"Tommy would never hurt Billy!" she insisted.

"No, of course he wouldn't. And we wouldn't lie about it. But the guy has it in for Tommy, he'd be all over him, and we can't take that chance."

"Omigosh," she said. "You're right. And Mr. Kwan would kill Trini... He's gonna be all right, isn't he? He's not gonna die?"

"No," Jason said with a certainty that didn't reach the coldness inside him or quiet the screaming. "No. He's not."

She knelt down beside him and put her hand on his shoulder. "Jason? Are you—" He turned to look at her. He didn't know what she saw in his face, in his eyes, but she said, "Oh, God, Jason, I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Kim," he said, not even sure what 'it' was anymore. He took another deep breath. "Go back out to the main road and wait for the paramedics. And Kim—be a little hysterical."


"You're an airhead, remember? A seventeen-year-old mall rat who just saw one of her friends fall off a building. Try to be a little less—"

"Pink Ranger?" Kim didn't smile, but she nodded. "Okay, you're right, as usual. Here." She pulled off her sweater. "Put this on... him. What's taking them so long, anyway?" She was gone, running down the street as fast as she could, before he could answer.

Jason laid Kim's sweater over Billy's broken body and sat back on his heels. There was one more thing he needed to do, now that he was alone. It wasn't going to be easy, but he knew it had to be done, and he'd better do it while he was still in that cold place where even the blood on his hand, his best friend's blood, couldn't reach him. He touched the communicator. "Zordon? Come in, Zordon."

"Jason." Their mentor's voice sounded relieved.

"I don't know how much of that you could follow, since we were cut off from the Morphin Grid—"

"None of it. Alpha is getting a lock on you now. Have you defeated the Revenger?"

"He's toast," Jason said, and even that was only a mild satisfaction.

"You should return to the Command Center—"

"We can't," Jason interrupted. He didn't often, even usually, do that, but he could hear sirens in the distance and he had to hurry. "Billy's ... hurt. He's hurt bad."

"That is most distressing."

"Ay-yi-yi!" He could hear Alpha in the background but he didn't wait to see if anything else was forthcoming.

"He's not coming back in a couple of days, not from this. There's no way Zedd won't try to take advantage. We need to—" Jason faltered, swallowed, and finished, "we need to find someone to take Billy's place as the Blue Ranger. We won't be able to use the Megazord if we don't, or the Fighting-mode Dragonzord either. We need Triceratops for either of them..."

"You are correct, Jason. I will have Alpha begin searching for a new Blue Ranger at once."

"Yeah, great. I have to go, Zordon."

"Jason? Are you injured?"

"No. Nobody's hurt but Billy. But the paramedics are here." He cut the connection. He slid his hand under his friend's body, gently pulling the morpher away from the waistband of the khakis, trying not to jostle him. He held it, feeling the faint sizzle that meant it wasn't his; a shudder wracked his body, sudden and unexpected. He shoved the morpher into his pocket, trying to convince himself it was the right thing to do. He put his hand on Billy's arm, gently, and then unfastened the communicator from the slender wrist. The skin was cool under his fingers, the joint loose. "Sorry, bro," he said. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry..."

"He's down here!" Kim's voice preceded her and the two paramedics. Jason moved out of their way.

"Oh, my god," one of them said.

"What happened here?" the other, older one asked.

"He fell," Jason said simply. "He was talking to us and then he fell."

"Off the building, she said?"

"That one." Jason nodded. "We didn't move him."

"Good thing," the medic said. "Tim, hand me that cervical collar."

"What's his name?"

"Billy... Bill Cranston."

"Stay with us, Bill." The paramedic started taking vitals. Jason knew enough to be more scared with every word the man said into the radio, every answer he got back. Having an ER nurse for a mom had its drawbacks, he realized.

The other medic asked, "How old is he?"

Something in his tone made Jason understand that it wasn't the first time he'd asked. "Seventeen. Eighteen next week."

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Jason said impatiently. "Take care of him."

"We are. They'll need his parents at the hospital. Do you know his phone number?"

"His father's out of town. My father has power of attorney for him. Detective Stone of the PD."

"You're Frank Stone's kid? What were you doing up there, anyway?"

Jason realized he'd failed after all, he hadn't thought about that question. Think.

"We were doing a science project," Kim said. "Pollution in the air. It makes the sunrise really red—omigosh, Jason!"

At her squeal, they all stared at her, though the paramedics went back to work instantly.

"We forgot the notebooks. On the roof. And Billy's camera!"


"I'm gonna go get 'em. Jason, you know we can't leave Billy's camera up there!"

"Miss, I don't think—"

"It's nowhere near the edge." Kim took off for the entrance.

That was true enough, since it wasn't up there at all. She must be planning to teleport to the Cranstons' and pick up some props. Smart... he should have thought of that. Jason stood there, his arms wrapped around himself. He felt like his mind was shutting down. He was cold all over now, not just inside; now he felt cold. And scared.

"Are you all right?"

Jason jumped. He hadn't noticed Kim come back. She had Billy's Minolta slung over her shoulder and a couple of lab notebooks in her hand. He reached inside himself and somehow came up with an answer for her. "Yeah. You?"

"Not really, no. What are they doing, what's all that—?"

"They're trying to keep him from bleeding to death," Jason answered. He looked at her; she was wide-eyed and pale. He could hear his voice, calm and disinterested. As long as he had to talk to her, had to keep her from getting hysterical for real, he could keep it up, this facade of being in control.

"He's not... I mean, there's not that much..." Her voice trailed off.

"Internal bleeding," he said. "Especially around the spine—"

"Jason. Shut up." But she wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his shirt, so he didn't think she was really mad at him. And holding her kept the cold at bay. He rested his chin on her brown hair and tried to think of something to say.

Nothing would come.

"C'mon, out of the way, kids." The paramedics were moving with a controlled speed that was familiar to Jason, and somehow more frightening than panic would have been.

"Jason?" Kim pulled his attention away from them as they took their silent, unmoving patient past. "Are you all right to drive?"

"Yes." He pulled his keyring, with the spare to Billy's VW on it, out of his pocket and tried to remember where the car was parked. "Come on."

Jason stared at the phone for a minute, and then dialed home. When his mother answered, he said, "Mom..."

"Jason? Are you and Billy not going to be home for dinner after all? Jason?" she asked again as he hesitated, trying to find the right words. "Jason? Is something wrong?"

"Mom." He swallowed. "Mom, there was an accident. Billy got hurt."

"Where are you, Jason?" Her voice sharpened.

"At the ER," he said. "They called Dad. I think. I told them about the power of attorney. I don't know where Mr. Cranston is—"

"Are you all right?" she said sharply.

"I'm fine, Mom."

"How badly hurt is Billy?" That sounded worried.

He wished he could say something helpful, reassuring. "I don't know, Mom. I think... really bad."

"Jason, what happened?"

He took a deep breath. The paramedics had bought it, maybe they had, but they weren't really interested parties. "We were helping Kim with a science project," he said, feeling the words take shape in the air between himself and the rest of the world, turning the lie into truth. "She's doing something about pollution. Billy was telling us about how the sunsets and sunrises are made more spectacular because of dirty air..." he let himself make the same half-fond, half-exasperated sound he would have made had it been real. "Anyway, we went up on top of the Kingsley Building to take pictures. Kim was going to take more tonight, tomorrow morning..." He cut himself off just as if the details he was giving were real. "Anyway, I don't know exactly what happened, Mom, I wasn't watching him, but suddenly... He fell off."

"Off the Kingsley Building?" she demanded. "That's four stories, Jason!"

"I know."

"Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine," he said. "It's only Billy who got hurt." Why did people make him keep saying that, he got it already.

"Is Kim there with you?"


"You two stay put," she ordered. "I'm coming right down. You think they called your father already?"

"I think so," he said. "They asked for Mr. Cranston's phone number, said they needed to get permission... I told them Dad has power of attorney for Billy."

"Good boy," she said. "Wait there. I'm on my way."

He hung up.

"Is she coming down here?" Kim asked.

"Yeah. Do you want to call your mom, Kim?" he asked.

"No," she shook her head. "She's not home, and she wouldn't come, anyway. I want to stay until we know something, anyway... Jason, come on. You need to sit down."

He followed her to the chairs area and sat down when she pushed him but he didn't take his eyes off the door behind which too many doctors and nurses were working on Billy.

"Jason," Kim touched his shoulder. "I'm going to call Trini, and Tommy, and leave a message on Rocky's machine. Will you be all right until I get back, or your parents get here?"

"I'm fine." That had to be the hundredth time he'd said that, to her, to nurses, his mother, even to the paramedics. What was wrong with everybody that they kept asking him that? He kept his voice as gentle as he could. "What about you?"

"I'm falling apart," she said candidly. "But if I'm doing something, I'm okay... I want Tommy to get here." She patted his shoulder. "Hang in there, Jase."

"What are you going to tell Rocky? He's gonna feel bad about this."

"I know," she said, shrugging. "It's not his fault. He's not even the same Black Ranger."

He looked around sharply but no one was close enough to hear.

"I'm just going to say that Billy got hurt, that's all. He shouldn't get bad news on an answering machine. Not really bad news. I'll be right back. Nobody's going to want to talk." She patted his shoulder again and walked off toward the pay phones, pulling change out of her purse.

He sat quietly, feeling the cold creeping back. Then he heard "William Cranston" drifting from the reception desk in a familiar voice. His father's...


"Jason!" His father walked briskly over to him. "What happened, son?"

It was harder, looking into his father's eyes. "I don't know exactly. We were on the Kingsley Building roof, and Billy fell off. I don't know precisely. He must have tripped or something. I wasn't watching him, I was looking at the damned view." He was startled at the vehemence in his own voice.

His father had put his hand on his shoulder; now he tightened his grip comfortingly. "How are you?"

"If one more person asks me that I'm going to scream."

"Okay, son. Okay."

"I'm sorry, Dad."

"It's all right. Don't worry about it. Did you call your mom?"

Jason nodded.

"Okay. I have to go fill out some paperwork. Wait here. Okay, Jase?"

"I'm fine, Dad."

"I'm going to try and get Billy's dad on the phone." He looked at his watch. "He's probably not in his hotel, but I'll leave him a message to call us. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Kim came back right after that, dropping down in the seat next to his. "Tommy was home; Mrs. Oliver sounded kind of ticked off at him but he's coming. Trini said she was calling her parents and she'd be here as soon as she can." She bit her lip. "Jason, you know this is not your fault."

He didn't look at her.

"Jason," she tugged at his sleeve until he had to look at her. Her dark brown eyes were wide and worried. "There's nothing you could have done about this. Even Zordon didn't know he could, could unmorph us."


She kept on talking. "And he kept on talking about the Black Ranger and then he went right after Billy. You couldn't have done anything."

"Kim, this isn't the place for this."

"Maybe not," she admitted. "But you can't just sit there blaming yourself!"

"I'm not."

"You are. You always do."

Jason heaved a sigh. "Kim, this really isn't the time or the place to talk about it."

"Kim! Jason!" That was Tommy's voice; the Olivers lived pretty close to the hospital but not that close. He must have broken the speed limit by a lot to be here so soon. Jason was glad to see him, though, and not only because Kim gave up trying to talk to him and ran to embrace her boyfriend. Tommy hugged her, hard, and looked at Jason over her head. "Any word yet?"


"Oh, God," Tommy sat down, Kim next to him. "What did the paradmedics say?"

"Nothing," Jason said. "Not really."

"Jason," his father called. "Come over here, please."

"Good luck, buddy," Tommy said quietly as Jason got up.

"Yes, dad?"

"I don't know if you remember him, but this is Sgt. Mendoza," his father gestured at the man he was talking to. "He has a few questions for you."

"Your friend fell off the top of a four-storey building?"

"Yes. At least, Billy's not the jumping kind."

"I wasn't suggesting that. You and he were up there alone?"

Jason looked at his father, and then back at the other cop. "No. Another one of our friends was with us, Kim Hart. We were helping her with a science project."

"Kim your girlfriend? Or his?"

"Actually, neither. Billy's not dating anybody right now, and I'm going out with Anna Myers. And Kim's dating Tommy Oliver. What does that have to with anything?"

"Nothing, apparently," Mendoza said pacifically. "Is that usual? Him helping you with projects?"

"It happens all the time," Jason said, on sure ground. "Billy's a straight A student without breaking a sweat. He's always helping us." For some reason, his voice trembled on that sentence.

"Are you all right? You don't look so good."

Jason gritted his teeth and said, through them, "I. Am. Fine."

His father put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Take it easy, Jase. Steve's got a job to do. And, Steve, Jason and Billy Cranston have been friends since fourth grade. Billy's spent a lot of time at our house, stayed a week at a time when his father's been gone. Jason's upset, but I'm sure he's telling you what he knows. Billy's always been a bit, well, accident prone."

"That can mean a lot of things, Frank."

"In this case, it means he was probably walking backwards and talking a mile a minute. He's a certified genius, but—"

"No walking around sense?"

"No coordination," Frank Scott said.

Mendoza took another look at Jason and nodded. "Okay. Looks pretty straightforward, Frank. Sorry to have bothered you now, Jason, but I'm sure you know how it is."

"Sure. No problem." He turned to his father. "Have they said anything to you yet?"

"I'm sorry, Jase. No. Nothing. I'll see if I can find out anything. Why don't you go back to your friends?"

He did, aware that his father was still talking to the sergeant. He sank into the empty chair and rested his head on the back of it.

"What did Mendoza want?" Tommy asked; trust him to know who the man was.

"Nothing. But it's a good thing you weren't on the scene."

They sat in silence until Linda Scott arrived. She looked around the ER waiting room and went straight to her son. "Jason. Has anybody looked at you?"

"There's nothing wrong with me," he said dully.

"Yes, there is," she said, laying the back of her hand on his cheek. "You're in shock. Where's your sweatshirt?"

"I don't know. With Billy..."

Tommy pulled his off the back of his chair and handed it to her. "She's right, bro," he said seriously. "You look pretty bad."

Kim jumped up. "I'll see if I can find us some coffee," she said. "Come on, Tommy, you can help me carry it. Mrs. Scott, what do you take in yours?"

"Cream and sugar, thank you, Kimberly, and the same for Jason," she said. "Put this on, Jason, or I'll—"

"I'm not leaving, Mom. And I'm fine."

"Jason, you just saw your best friend get badly hurt; you're in shock. Put Tommy's sweatshirt on and drink the coffee when Kim brings it, or I'll get a doctor for you. I mean it."

It was too much trouble to argue. He pulled Tommy's dark green sweatshirt over his head and tugged it down. His mother sat in the chair Tommy had left and put her hand on his wrist. It was mothering, but he could tell she was taking his pulse. He pulled his arm away and ran his hand over his hair. "Mom, could you, you know, ask somebody something?"

"Sure, sweetheart," she said. "You stay here."

"I'll take out a lease," he said, but only after she'd pulled out her ID and pushed her way beyond the doors.

"Here, buddy," Tommy's voice broke through his weariness. "Drink this."

He didn't really want any coffee, he almost never drank it, but he knew his mother wasn't kidding. But the aroma that rose from the styrofoam cup wasn't bitter, it was rich and sweet. "Cocoa?"

"Yeah, well, your mom said cream and sugar, and Kim figured cocoa basically is milk and sugar, plus chocolate which never hurts, right?"

"Thanks, Tommy." He took a sweet swallow. "Where is Kim, anyway?"

"She went to the ladies' room. She wanted to wash her face."

Jason nodded. Several reviving swallows later, he was able to notice the shadows in his friend's dark eyes. "How are you, anyway?"

Tommy grinned wryly. "Is this my cue to bite your head off?" The grin faded. "I'll be a lot better if we get some good news. I figure, the longer he hangs on, the better."

"I know he wasn't morphed," Kim said; she'd come up while Tommy was talking. "But we heal a lot faster now. And most people wouldn't have survived. I'm hoping that when whatever that was that was cutting us off from the Grid went away, he, like, reconnected and it's helping."

"Man, I hope so," Tommy said.

The weight of the morpher in his pocket pulled on his mind. He'd had to. Hadn't he? Anyway, Billy was still connected. Zordon hadn't given the Coin to someone else. You didn't have to have the morpher actually on you... how long can we wait? Is this using it for personal gain? Jason sighed and finished the cocoa and Kim handed him another cup.

"Here. I think your mom's right; you are in shock. I mean, I got to break down and cry. You guys can't do that."

"I broke a lot of stuff while I was waiting for you to call," Tommy admitted.

Kim hugged him, and then looked at Jason. "Where's your mom?"

"She went to find out something."

"Connections. Good."

"Where's Trini?" Jason realized. "Didn't she say she was coming?"

"She said she was. But she was all the way over at Stone Canyon, Jason, she might be a while yet."

"We'll still be here," he said.

"Listen," Tommy said, "I know I haven't known him as long as you guys, but he's tough. He can take a lot."

Kim jumped up. "Mrs. Scott, here's your coffee."

"Thank you." She narrowed her eyes at Jason but apparently she was satisfied with what she saw, because she merely took the lid off her coffee and drank. Then she said, "They took him up to surgery already. They've had a problem giving him blood for some reason, so they autotransfused—used his own blood, plus plasma. He broke a lot of bones, had some internal injuries, but he's holding on."

"But he's going to be all right?" Kim begged.

"Kimberly, I'm sorry. I can't tell you; they just don't know yet."

"The paramedics were worried about his spinal cord," Jason said.

"Oh, man, no." Tommy's voice was barely audible.

"It's possible," Mrs. Scott acknowledged. "We won't know for a while. Probably tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? You're not serious."

"I'm sorry, Jason. Billy's injuries are very serious. The surgery is going to be long and complicated, and they'll have to wait for post-surgical swelling and trauma to go away... I'm sorry, Jason," she repeated.

He wasn't sure if she was apologizing for the news or for telling it to him or the whole situation. Or even apologizing at all. He had noticed women had a wierd habit of saying they were sorry for something where a guy would say, impersonally, 'man this sucks'. Which meant they didn't think they were apologizing, so yeah well you oughta be or hey it's not your fault was often not the right way to answer them. So, since he didn't know what to say, he just didn't say anything at all.

He put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, putting his face in his hands.

"Jason?" his mother asked.

He could feel her hand on his arm, Tommy's on his shoulder, Kim's rubbing his back. I'm so cold, he thought. I'm so scared. But he couldn't say it. He might have been able to to his mother, but Tommy and Kim were his team, his responsibility. So he rubbed his face and sat up. "Can we go upstairs?"

"Jason, you can't spend the night here," his mother said.

"It's Saturday," he said, prepared to argue it. But they were interupted by the arrival of Trini.

"Jason?" she said, hurrying up to them. "Tomm—oh, Mrs. Scott. I didn't see you. How is he?" Her usual calm was nowhere to be seen.

"We don't know yet," Jason said, standing up to hold his arms out to Trini. "He's hanging in there."

She hugged him, and then stepped back to look up into his face. "But what happened? Kim said he fell?"

It was getting more real every time he said it. Pretty soon, he might be believing it. And wouldn't that be nice... "Yeah, from the Kingsley Building. I guess he got too close to the edge while he was talking."

Trini closed her eyes, hugging herself. "This can't be happening," she whispered.

Jason reached out and gathered her into an embrace. She clung to him.

"He's gonna be okay," said Kim, putting her own arms around them; Tommy joined in the hug as well. "Billy's tough, Tommy was just saying, he can take a lot."

"He's a fighter," Tommy agreed. "He won't quit on us."

He didn't know if they were saying it because they believed it or because they thought Trini needed to hear it. He wished he could do the former and he couldn't quite do the latter. Trini's distress was too close to his own; he couldn't lie to them both. "If it's up to him he'll stay with us," he said. He knew that much was true, at least.

In the end, Jason did spend the night at the hospital. After Tommy, reluctantly, took Kim and Trini home and went himself to what he wasn't yet comfortable calling his own, Jason and his mom got into it. She had a lot of reasonable arguments, from Billy wouldn't even know he was there, he wouldn't even be in the same room, to it wouldn't do anybody any good if he made himself sick. Jason didn't respond to any of them; he just dug his heels in and refused to leave. Frank Scott rejoined them just in time to hear his son say, in tones that signalled the end of his tether, "—and if you have me thrown out I'll just stay on the sidewalk."

"Nobody's throwing you out, son," Frank said, quietly, giving his wife a meaningful look over Jason's head. "If it'll make you feel better, you can stay. I'll stay for a while, too... but I think we should get something to eat right now."

Jason insisted he wasn't hungry, but he gave in to the compromise. According to every book Frank had ever read, the boy should have realized he was starving the minute he took his first bite. Instead, he obviously had to force down not only that one, but all of them, despite not having eaten since breakfast. And that, knowing him, not much besides a couple of bagels and some juice.

After they ate, the Scotts split up: Jason and Frank went upstairs to wait in the uncomfortable chairs in the small room off the surgeries, and Linda headed back to the ER, where she was working an eight-to-eight shift (another of her arguments had been that she could run up and check on Billy during her breaks). Frank was working the first shift this month, midnight to nine a.m., but he didn't think he'd get any more sleep if he went home, himself. Both he and his wife were worried about Billy, almost as much as Jason was. The boys had, as he'd told his fellow detective, been friends since they were ten, and Billy had spent a lot of time at their house, especially after his father, Edmund, had gotten the promotion that took him out of town on a regular basis. The Scotts had come to look on him almost as the second child they hadn't been able to have; they knew, too, how strong the bond was between the two boys. They also knew that Jason had a definite tendency to caretake, and that it was especially pronounced with Billy, not, Frank had often thought, all that strange considering the boys had met when Jason, always big for his age and already studying martial arts, had run off three bigger boys who'd been engaged in beating Billy up.

It was that caretaker streak in Jason that worried Frank now. Linda, too, he knew, though she, being a professional caretaker, tended to think that Jason could regulate his impulses as well as she could hers. And he couldn't. He hadn't any training for it, and he was only seventeen—he didn't regulate any of his emotions. Especially not the strong ones.

Frank looked over at his tall son. The boy was leaning back in his chair, his long legs in their faded black jeans sprawled in front of him, a traffic hazard to any passers-by. His arms were crossed over his chest, an unfamiliar dark green sweatshirt's cut-off sleeves contrasting oddly with the red, white, and black stripes of his shirt, and he was staring at the ceiling. No, Frank decided, Jason was staring and the ceiling happened to be in the way. His midnight eyes were unfocussed and filled with pain. Frank wanted nothing more than to reach over and wrap his son in his arms, soothing away his hurt and telling him everything would be all right. But he knew it was a hopeless desire: what worked with a seven-year-old no longer did ten years later. Somewhere along the way Jason had become too old to want it and too adult to believe it, even if he wasn't too old to need it.

Frank sighed to himself. He was suddenly realizing that Jason was a real person, all at once as strange as he was familiar, a complicated individual balancing between childhood and adulthood... still, always, dearly loved but no longer protectable. Frank's own caretaker instincts, why he'd become a cop in the first place, had kicked in when he'd seen Billy being taken up to surgery; now they were reinforced by his paternal instincts, his desire to take care of his children, his son and his surrogate son both. His need to do that. And yet, he couldn't. Not anymore. Not either of them. What they needed was beyond his ability.

At least Billy was in good hands. Jason... Frank sighed again. When did you turn into this responsible person? he thought. When did your simple child's emotions get so complex, so murky, so adult? When did you give half your heart to Billy Cranston? That last thought, arriving so unexpectedly, startled Frank. He didn't want to examine it too closely, but he knew in its essence it was true. If they lost Billy, Jason would never be the same.

Frank hadn't prayed outside of church in a long time. But he prayed now.


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Epilog


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