Fairer Than Death

- 3 -

"It happened just like that. There was nothing anybody could do. It isn't fair, there's no reason. But if we start asking why, we'll go crazy."
—Sam, "Sleepless in Seattle"

The mood of optimism that had characterized the team Monday was mostly gone by Tuesday, and all gone by Wednesday. The longer Billy stayed unconscious the worse it was; that was the consensus. Jason relayed the cautious words his mother said to him, and they didn't cheer up the rest of the team any more than they had him. Adam and Trini proved to be entirely too adept at looking up information, and not at all able to find anything encouraging.

Progress on other fronts was encouraging. A brief tangle with some putties in the park Monday evening introduced Adam, and a full-fledged encounter Tuesday with a typically Zedd-like chimera, half goat, a third flounder, and the rest who knew, proved that he could fit in. In fact, he more than held his own on a team that had gotten used to, if only as a habit, thinking of the Blue Ranger as—not not pulling his own weight, not that, but perhaps not having as much weight to pull. That was more like it. Certainly unmorphed and a perception that had bled over to all their fights, though unfairly perhaps...

They all felt a little guilty about it but they'd all been more than a little grateful that Adam was as good as Rocky, certainly, maybe as good as Trini in an unmorphed fight. That they all also knew they'd miss Billy the next time they wanted something built, unbuilt, or analyzed, helped; Adam wasn't a better Ranger than Billy, just a better fighter than him. Trini had volunteered to go over the Command Center with him so he'd be at least familiar with it, and he did have a hard science background with an engineering slant. Jason hoped they'd be able to keep Adam from feeling like he was supposed to be better than Alpha with the technology, but the new Blue Ranger, though conscientious, was smart enough to know he wasn't going to step into the Command Center the way he'd stepped into Triceratops...

Trini was, after her initial sullenness, back to being close to normal. Maybe a little snippy with Jason, but only a little and only with him and maybe he was just looking for it... She was welcoming with Adam, helpful and friendly and apparently able to look at the Blue Ranger, at least since the first time, without blinking and thinking about Billy. She probably did, Jason knew, but she never showed it to Adam, or any of the others.

Which was good, because he and Kim and Tommy weren't finding it so easy. Kim had actually known Billy a year longer than Jason had, both of them living on the same street after the Cranstons had moved in from Cincinnati. But the three of them had a friendship that dated back to fourth grade, and though Billy and Jason were both only kids, while Kim wasn't, they'd always felt like brothers and sister. Closer than Kim felt to her actual brother, though he was, of course, several years younger. And Tommy had come out of a lonely childhood of abandonment, foster homes, and getting into trouble to find himself being accepted, among friends for the first time in his young life. He and Kim had sparked the first time they'd met, strongly enough that she hadn't been able to forget that moment through all the subsequent what Rocky always called "evil Ranger stuff" that followed... And he and Jason had so much in common it wasn't surprising they'd become close. It was Billy's friendship, though, Jason thought, that had been the biggest key in turning Tommy from being what Frank Scott had described to his son as "a kid on the fast track to hard time" to someone whose first instinct was to help. Because Billy had no particular reason to like Tommy, several good reasons not to, and yet genuinely did. And Tommy was very good at taking things personally, assuming blame no one was offering... Jason had to worry about Tommy and Kim, too.

Oddly, in a way it could have been harder on Rocky, because he really enjoyed not having to keep things from Adam any more. The two juniors were again as close as they'd been before Rocky had met Jason, and then Zordon, and he was happy about it. They both were. The circumstances weren't what they'd have chosen, and Rocky kept bringing himself up short over it... But Jason didn't worry too much about Rocky. He had a way of simplifying and accepting that Jason sometimes envied, and since he hadn't even been in town over the weekend, Rocky couldn't shoulder enough of the responsibility to take it personally. And his innate, unquenchable good nature was something Jason found himself looking for, leaning on even, as the week progressed.

Because Adam's integration into the team was the only good news Jason was getting. Every phone call to the hospital, every conversation with his mom or Billy's dad, yielded the same thing: no change. Critical condition. Unconscious.

And Jason could read between the lines. His mom had been preparing him for bad news from the first time she'd talked to Billy's doctors.

But it wasn't something he knew how to prepare for, because preparation implied acceptance, and that was something he knew he'd never be able to do.

Not even after—if—it happened.

The Wolf moved slowly through the darkened mind. No spirit quest had been undertaken, yet this cub had been a warrior of light, bound to the Power, for years now. In his need, She aided him, and always would, though She was conscious of a resentment that he had never been told of Her existence and of a wish that She could reach him.
The Power thundered over Her like a storm, drowning Her senses, drowning out Her voice, nearly drowning Her entirely. She fought Her way through it, step by hindered step. It was too much, this augmented Reach, it nearly overwhelmed even Her. It made it well nigh impossible for him to hear Her, even had he known of Her. Many of Her kind, she knew, had lain down under it and melted into nothingness; still others had left their Chosen, returning to the Other Place, leaving behind them only a touch and a wistfulness. But this cub, this warrior, this blend of sorrowful patience and bright strength and questing spirit and honorable heart, She could not leave him. And sometimes he heard Her. And now he needed Her, as never before.
And then—quite suddenly—the storm ceased. Power flowed through Her, not over Her, and Her senses were alive again. He had lost that unnatural connection to the Power, and now She could reach him. Now She could make him hear Her. Now She could try to heal him, though after such hurt and so much time it would be hard.
But She only fleetingly cared about that. The body was of less importance than the life that dwelt within it, the flesh far less than the spirit. What was important was that now he was within Her reach. And She within his. At last.

Monday sometime Jason's parents had realized he'd been alone from eleven at night until he'd gone to school in the morning. Normally this didn't bother them, though it hadn't been until the previous year that they'd let their schedules do that, but they'd clearly put their heads together and decided they shouldn't be leaving him alone overnight under the circumstances. So, while Linda left for the hospital after supper and worked her twelve hours as usual, Frank took advantage of seniority and split his shift, leaving after Jason was in bed but coming home at six to oversee his son's morning, make sure he ate and went to school and that he had, in fact, slept. Which meant Jason had to act like he wasn't having nightmares, because Frank would have taken leave to be with him and while Jason appreciated the thought, the action would have taken the last of his ability to get through the day. The fact that Frank was gone when Jason actually fell asleep helped; when Jason found himself on the floor, clearly having lunged out of bed while dreaming, he knew he couldn't have kept the dreams from his parents if they'd been home.

So Friday morning Frank was there to fix breakfast and threaten to force-feed his son if he didn't eat. While Jason was contemplating the scrambled eggs his father had put down on the table in front of him the phone rang. Frank muttered something under his breath and got up to answer it. Jason halfway hoped it was a major crisis that would allow him to be alone; he was ashamed of the wish as soon as he realized he was thinking it, and he ate a bite of eggs in penance.

"Jason," Frank put the phone down on the table, an unprecedented occurance. "It's your mother."

"Jason?" She didn't waste any time. "You can't see him yet, but Billy woke up last night, and he was lucid." She paused for a moment, and then said, "That means—"

"I know," he found his voice. "He was making sense. Oh, God, Mom. Oh, thank God. He's awake." It was a good thing he was in a chair; he didn't think his legs would have supported him. "He's gonna be all right?"

"It's a bit early to say that for sure, Jason," she said gently. "There could be some neurological deficit, but Dr. Roth was pleased with his preliminary examination, and he's off the respirator. It's really quite a remarkable recovery."

Neurological deficit. Was that a medical euphemism for brain damage? "You said he was lucid?"

"Yes," she said. "My friend Danny—remember him? he works in the SICU?—said Billy knew who he was, what month, the usual checks. He doesn't remember the accident, but that's probably a good thing, Jason—"

Jason knew that was most probably Billy having no clue what story was being told. If that was the neurological deficit, that was okay... let that be it. "When can I see him, Mom? Just for a couple of minutes, what could it hurt?"

"Jason, you know the rules are for a reason."

"But if he's awake, how long will he be in the ICU?"

"Oh, Jason, that's impossible to say. There are way too many variables. The minute you can see him, I'll make sure you do. But I knew you'd want to hear this. It looks like he's going to make a significant recovery."

"Yes, thanks, Mom. Sorry to sound so greedy..." He backed off, not wanting to sound like there was a reason other than just wanting to see Billy... although he did. If there hadn't been any other reason, he'd still want to this badly. He couldn't completely believe in recovery; the image of the crumpled and bleeding body of his friend was too vivid.

"I understand, Jason. The very minute you can see him, I'll make sure you do. I'm sorry I don't have anything more definite to tell you."

"No, this is great. This is great, Mom. Thanks for calling."

"You're welcome, Jason. Put your father back on, will you?"

"Sure, Mom. Thanks." He held the receiver out. "She wants to talk to you." He collapsed against the back of his chair.

Billy woke up. The room was a big, light blur, dispelling the silver-blue dreams that faded despite his attempt to remember them. His mind was as blurry as the room, but after a few moments his thoughts sharpened to the point that he realized why the room was remaining fuzzy. Glasses. Or rather, no glasses. At least he could breathe.

Where had that come from? Yes, he remembered, a respirator. He'd been on a respirator, which was why his throat was so sore. He could have done without that memory; it had been bizarrely terrifying, being unable to breathe and yet not suffocating. They'd taken the tube out; fortunately he seemed be able to breathe on his own. At least, he was still.

He wished he could remember what had happened. He lay still, vaguely aware of a comforting spot of warmth somewhere close and sharply aware of pain, and tried to get his mind to work through the fuzz that clung to it. Respirator, and pain, and the sounds of medical equipment... he was in the hospital.

Mom? The stray thought ran across his mind before he could grab it and stuff it back where it belonged. Not that. He wasn't sure what, but not that. He turned his head and wished he hadn't.


The warmth he'd sensed focussed with the spoken word. "Dad?" He wasn't sure he'd actually said that out loud.

"Bill." His father's tone told him he had, in fact.

Not minding the pain, he turned his head the other way and saw his father's face, close enough that the worry on it was evident. "Dad," he said again. "What's wrong?"

"Not as much as I was afraid of," his father said, smiling through his concern. "Do you remember?"

"Remember what?" Billy asked, and then did, quite suddenly (and reassuringly). Or at least enough to have a fairly strong idea what the missing bits were. Revenger must have clipped me pretty good, as Jason would say... Jason.

"Jason's fine," his father said.

Billy blinked at him, and then realized he must have said it out loud. Unless Dad's turned into a psychic.... But it was good news.

"Kim's fine, too," his father added. "You're the only one who got hurt. Do you remember it at all, son?"

Jason, Kim... not Tommy or Trini. I have no idea what story they told... "No," he said, taking the easiest way out of it. "No. I don't. The way I feel... vehicle accident?"

"No," his father said. "You remember Jason, though?"

"No," he said, keeping his tone confused. "I remember going to bed... Friday?" He didn't have to work at working at it; it was hard to say more than a few words at a time. "But unless there was ... an earthquake, I must have been out, and ... I think I had plans with Jason. What happened?"

"There was an accident," his father said. "The doctors said I should let you try to remember today, not tell you yet. But no one else was injured, only you. You were with Jason, and Kim; does that help?"

"Jason... Kim," he said. "No. I'm sorry..." The regret was real enough; he didn't like lying to his father. He didn't like misdirection at all, even by the somewhat easier path of omission, but he really hated telling direct lies to his father.

"Don't worry about it, son." Edmund Cranston leaned forward in his chair and touched Billy's arm, gently and briefly. "It'll come back or it won't, but it's not important either way. What's important is that you're here."

The warmth grew stronger, and Billy had the urge to lose himself in it, just close his eyes and drift. It was an alien feeling; he'd never drifted in his life. He wasn't sure he wanted to start. He stared into his father's grey eyes—worry underlying the relief, telling him he was probably hurt worse than he felt—and found something to focus on. "Aren't you ... supposed to be in ... Oregon?"

His father smiled. Like most of his smiles, this one had an underlying sadness, but he was genuinely amused. "Oregon. Well, yes. I am supposed to be there. But I wasn't really prepared to give Eugene my full attention, let alone Bend—they are in real trouble—so I came back. Paul Gifford went up to Bend, and Eugene will just have to wait."

"Mr. Holliman?"

"Peter didn't seem to have any quarrel with my decision. I'm taking some vacation time." He touched Billy's arm again. "Don't start being foolish now, Bill."

"No, sir," he said, smiling back even though it hurt. He gave up and closed his eyes.

Billy woke up. Again, though he wasn't entirely sure why that word came into his mind. Then he remembered. Revenger, the fight... he still didn't know exactly what had happened, he was missing a few crucial minutes of memory, but he did know the important thing, which was that nobody else had been injured. He hurt, all over; he didn't think there was a single part of his body that didn't ache. Which was probably a good sign, he acknowledged, especially given his continuing inability to move many of the parts that hurt, but inclined him to believe what he'd heard about the inadequacies of pain management in American hospitals. The room was blurry; of course, he didn't have his glasses. His father had promised to bring his spare pair, but he needed his glasses to find them...

Somebody was in the room, or that portion of the ward that was mentally equivalent to "his room" though he wasn't yet up to figuring out how he could make that distinction. He wasn't even yet up to figuring out how he could tell someone was there. Later. It was somebody he didn't know and who didn't have that indefinable something—he was going to have to find a word for it if it was going to become part of his life—that had so far marked all the medical personnel who'd come and gone for the last couple of days. Even Jason's mother had it, though she had also been marked with a fainter variety of the warmth, for lack of a better term, that told him when his father was there. He turned his head, carefully, and saw a man sitting in the chair next to his bed. He was blurry, of course, but he didn't have the look of somebody Billy ought to recognize.

He looked up when Billy moved. "Hi, Billy," he said, sounding friendly.

Not friendly, Billy thought, just sounding that way. Besides, he genuinely hated strangers—and he didn't recognize the voice—calling him 'Billy'. That was okay for people who'd known him his whole life, or that solar physicist at the Marshall Space Flight Center who was from Georgia and was, at 40, still called 'Bobby'... "I'm sorry," he said. "You are?"

"Detective Ben Ratkowsky, Angel Grove Police," the man said, holding out his badge. Of course, he was holding it so far away that for all Billy could tell it could have been a crossing guard badge. But the name registered: Tommy's case officer. "I was glad to hear you're recovering, Billy," he said. "I was hoping you could tell me a bit about the, um, accident?"

The questioning intonation seemed to more about the noun than either verb, Billy thought. He gathered his wits and said, "I'm sorry, but I actually don't remember anything about the accident."

"Nothing? Not even who was there?"

"I don't remember anything," Billy repeated. From what his father had told him, which admittedly was limited, there was no reason for any policeman to be asking him questions. The Kingsley Building was public; they even had a little garden on their roof, as part of their 'civic-minded involved-in-the-community' image. And Tommy's name had never come up, except that he'd been to the hospital, left a card and some asters.

"Nothing?" Ratkowsky said. "Not even who you were with? Why you were up there?"

"You don't know?"

"Oh, I know. What I've been told, anyway. I was hoping you could fill me in a bit, Billy."

"Well, you most certainly know more than I do," Billy said. "I don't remember anything about that day."

"The whole day?"

"That's right."

"So you don't remember Tommy Oliver being with you?'

"I don't remember anything," Billy repeated.

The detective stood up. Looming. Billy almost laughed; he'd been loomed at by far bigger and meaner things than a surly policeman. "Kimberly Hart is Tommy Oliver's girlfriend."

Billy didn't respond.

"Isn't she?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't realize that was a question. Yes. They're dating." A mild term for it, but accurate.

"So Tommy didn't come with his girlfriend when she went out with two other guys?"

Billy contemplated the effort required to explain how he, Jason, and Kim had been friends since fourth grade, with (unfortunately) no sexual element whatsoever, or how Tommy and Kim had a relationship almost entirely constructed of trust, or how close he, Jason, and Tommy were, and decided it was not at all worth it. "I don't remember," he said, "anything." He did wish he could see Ratkowsky's face clearly.

"Billy," the detective said, suddenly back to sounding friendly. Billy stifled a snicker; it must be very difficult to be good cop-bad cop all by yourself. "I know you and Jason Scott are close—"

For a brief moment, Billy wanted to know what sort of scenario Ratkowsky had constructed in his seriously-in-need-of-professional-help mind, but he was too tired and too, to be honest, angry to want to encourage it. The touch of warmth that brushed against his perception told him an ally had just arrived, so he he merely repeated, putting a little extra strain into his voice, "I don't remember anything."

"Nothing? Nothing at all?"

"Detective, just what part of 'I don't remember anything' don't you understand?" Edmund Cranston's voice was deceptively mild; it could, when needed, carry quite a cutting edge. "They're all simple words; true, two of them have three syllables, but they're quite ordinary. I believe my son has told you all he can. I want you to leave him alone now. He's been injured. He needs his rest."

Ratkowsky looked between the two of them. "Okay, I'll leave. Billy," he turned back to the bed, "if you remember anything else, please call."

"Certainly," said Billy. There was no problem with that promise, since it was highly unlikely that he would remember the few minutes he was missing.

Ratkowsky left. Edmund said, softly, "I'm sorry he was bothering you. I'll speak to the staff about that."

"It's all right, Dad," Billy said.

"I feel for the Oliver boy. How much longer does he fall under that man's jurisdiction? If he engages in that kind of witch hunting, perhaps something should be done to remove him."

Billy smiled. "I think Tommy is okay with it, Dad. I actually think he feels it's a deserved penance."

His father made one of those little sounds that, when Billy made them, either annoyed or amused his friends, depending on how well they thought they could interpret them. Billy, of course, had no trouble with this one: his father was still angry at the detective, saw the irony in Tommy's belief while not accepting it himself, and would probably talk to Frank Scott about it but at a later date because something else was on his mind at the moment. "Well, be that as it may," he said, "at least if they're letting the police in to talk to you then they can't complain much that who I brought isn't immediate family either."

"Jason?" Billy asked.

"Who else have you been wanting?" His father smiled gently at him. "He's outside; I'll send him in. Don't let him worry you; I think he's been blaming himself."

"Of course he has, and I won't, and thank you."

"You're welcome," Edmund said, entirely without irony.

Billy knew that his friends found his relationship with his father formal and distant, but it wasn't. They were a very similar pair of restrained people, who had fought their way back from the emotional devastation of Jeanne Cranston's death and reached a place where they were comfortable with each other. Billy hadn't needed this new ability to sense his father's warmth as an almost physical thing to know he was loved.

But that warmth, like a banked hearthfire, was nothing compared to the blaze that Jason brought with him when he came in. There was what he somehow recognized as a strong Morphin component to it but mostly it was Jason, which, if he had thought about it, would have come as no surprise. It was what Jason was.

It took a minute to get used to, though.

"Hey, buddy," Jason said softly. He sat down where Ratkowsky had been sitting and scooted the chair closer to the bed. "Man, Billy, do you feel as bad as you look?"

"I can barely see you, let alone me," Billy answered.

"Your glasses are over here. You want 'em?"

"Yes, please."

Jason picked them up, unfolded them and paused, clearly deciding that Billy had far too many tubes and wires and things sticking into him. He carefully slid the frames over Billy's ears and settled the lenses in place. "How's that?"

"You look like hell," Billy said. He did, bruised-looking eyes, pale and tired.

"Haven't been sleeping too well," Jason admitted. He pushed gently on the bridge of the glasses and then briefly rested the back of his hand on Billy's cheek. "You scared me, buddy."

"Sorry," Billy apologised, knowing Jason didn't really need an apology but did need some acknowledgement of his feelings. "Believe me, I'd rather have not."

"I'll bet. Look, I don't know how long I can stay. Your dad snuck me in."

"He's good about things like that."

"Don't talk so much."

Billy smiled. "Talking doesn't hurt. It's about the only thing that doesn't, at the moment."

"That's kind of a good thing, though, right?" Jason asked hopefully.

"It's better than the alternative," he acknowledged.

Jason's midnight-colored eyes eased somewhat. "Sense of humor's still intact," he observed.

"What happened Saturday, Jason?"

"You don't remember?" Jason's worry flared up again, almost visibly.

"I mean," Billy clarified, "what are you saying happened? I need to know what you told people, Jase. I've said I don't remember the entire day; I'd like to 'remember' most of it. It worries my father, for one thing. And for another, my neurologist seems unhappy about it. And that makes him want to run tests, which doesn't make me happy."

"How much do you remember?"

"Probably all but a few minutes," Billy said. "We were on the Kingsley Building, all of us but Rocky—you've said Tommy wasn't there? Ratkowsky was here—"

"That bastard." That was strong condemnation from Jason. "He will not let go of it. He thinks he can prove Tommy was there—"

"And what? Threw me off? Over Kim? And you what, just stood there and watched?"

Jason was suppressing anger. "He thinks Tommy's a mad dog. He probably thinks I'm scared of him—"

"Oh, well, that confirms my initial evaluation of his deductive abilities."

Jason laughed, and then sobered and put his hand on Billy's arm. All the Scotts were touchers; Billy generally found the contact comforting and the experience had led him to, when he thought of it, offer his own touch, as he had to Tommy when they'd been trying to convince him that they did want him, after he'd been freed from Rita. Today, he found Jason's touch more than comforting. It seemed energizing, as though the blaze he could feel in his friend was somehow actually warming him, not just metaphorically. He made a note to mention it to Jason when they had a moment. Jason said, "Seriously, though, man, your dad told me not to let you talk too much. I'll talk, you listen. Okay? If I miss a question you need answered, you can ask when I'm done. I don't want to make you worse; you look bad enough." He squeezed Billy's arm and then sat back, glancing around.

"Kim had a science project. You told her something about pollution and sunsets—"

"Yes." He remembered that conversation, and was absurdly pleased that Kim had.

"Okay. That's what she was going to do it on. So, she and I got some donuts and came over to your house that morning. We all kicked the project idea around a little and then Kim borrowed your camera to take pictures of the haze and whatever. Off the Kingsley building, since it has such a great view. Being on the edge of town, even if it's not very high—"

"It's sufficiently high, I believe," Billy couldn't help saying.

"Yeah. Thank God we weren't on the Tehachapi," Jason said somberly; that one was eleven stories tall. "We called Tommy; he said he had something else to do. He told the Olivers he was going to be with us, so he got in a bit of hot water, gave Ratkowsky something to nose around, but the three of us—you, me, and Kim—we don't know what he was 'really' doing. You drove us out to the Kingsbridge Shopping Center. We went on top of the building."

"And I fell off."

"Sorry, Bill," Jason really was. "But, man, you did. There wasn't anything else we could say. At least, nothing else I could think of at the time—"

"Jase," Billy cut him off. "When we decide to pitch somebody off a building, we can get together beforehand and discuss all the details of a truly artistic story. This one has the virtues of being short and plausible."

"Yeah," Jason nodded, and then gave him that slightly hangdog look he very occasionally assumed. "Even my dad said you weren't coordinated."

"I'm not really that bad, am I?"

"Bad enough to fall off a building? No, not quite... That was a joke," he added. "You know you're not. Not for a couple of years now. But you've got a reputation."

"Like Tommy," Billy nodded.

"Well, his is worse."

"This is indisputable."

The feeling of warmth increased slightly, and Billy looked around to see his father. Jason followed his gaze and jumped to his feet.

"Jason," Edmund Cranston said, "I'm sorry, but Dr. Roth is on his way to see Bill, and if you want to be able to get in again later, I think perhaps you should leave now before he sees you."

"Yes, sir. I expect you're right," Jason said. "Thanks for letting me in."

"Don't mention it. Bill wanted to see you, and it looks like it did him some good."

"Thanks anyway, sir. I really wanted to see him. Hey—" he pointed at Billy. "I'll be back."

"Thanks for the warning."

Jason snickered—Billy was pleased to note he looked much better than he had coming in—and turned to leave. Then he stopped and turned around, saying, quickly, "Man, I can't believe I didn't say—do you know Adam Park?"

Ah. That's who. Billy was mildly surprised to realize he hadn't asked. Of course they had replaced him, they'd had to. "Yes. He did that intricate seismology project for the science fair last year."

"That's him." Jason glanced at Edmund Cranston and finished, "He said to say 'hi' if anybody saw you. 'Hi and get well'."

"Tell him I appreciate it," Billy said.

"Okay, will do." And Jason left.

"I don't believe I've met Adam Park," Billy's father observed. It was as close to a question as he would come.

"He's more Rocky's friend than mine," Billy said.

"But he asked about you. That's nice." It still startled Edmund at times, how many people liked his son. He'd worried about keeping him in public school, especially when it seemed that no one was ever going to challenge him academically, but Jeanne had been sure it would be better for Billy, and it seemed she'd been right. "Jason looks very tired," he added.

"Yes," Billy agreed. "He admitted to not sleeping well."

"You both look better now. I'll try to bring him in again tomorrow."

"I'd appreciate that."

His father nodded and sat down in the chair Jason had vacated. "Did talking to him help you remember anything?"

Billy cocked his head slightly. He could almost believe his father knew they were hiding something... of course, he realized. His father thought Tommy had been with them; not a surprising conjecture, as Tommy and Kim did spend as much time together as Mrs. Hart would allow them to. He didn't think Tommy had hurt Billy, if only because he knew—Billy knew he knew it—that Jason would have been there like a junkyard dog... and where had that simile come from? Jason? Oh, this is too much to think about now. Later... "Yes," he answered after a moment. "Some things sounded familiar."

"That's good." He sounded genuinely pleased to hear it.

And maybe he was reading too much into it. His head hurt; he wasn't going to think about it any more today.

His father pulled a folded sheaf of pages from his pocket. "I checked your email last night," he said, half-apologetically. "These are from people who were concerned you hadn't been in touch. I answered some of them and explained the situation; quite a few sent you their regards..." he laid the papers on the table. "You can read them later, and I'll send any answers you want."

Oh, dear. He'd completely forgotten the readings he was suppposed to be taking for Bobby at Marshall, plus the two papers he was reviewing... can't be helped. And he doubted he could get his father to bring in a hundred-plus pages of physics to proof. Not while he was still in intensive care. "Thank you," he said.

"Taking a couple of weeks off will not hurt you, or anybody else," his father said.

Billy smiled. They knew each other too well... they had for years. That was all it was, nothing extra, nothing weird.

"And how are we today?" Dr. Roth arrived.


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


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