Fairer Than Death

- 7 -

"Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all."
The Princess Bride (novel)

Jason let the door shut behind them. "Well, was that as much fun for you as it was for me?" he asked lightly. He knew how much Billy hated talking about emotions, other peoples' or his own. "I didn't eat any lunch. You want to order a pizza?"

"I'd rather have Chinese, I think. I couldn't face pizza right now."

"Works for me," Jason said. "Want a Coke?"

"Is there coffee?"

"It's not fresh."

"Is it hot?"

Jason shook his head. "I'll get it. Let's find something mindless on the tube, okay?"

Billy nodded. He stood up, but he hadn't been paying enough attention; he'd forgotten to lock the wheels on the chair. It skidded and he went down, one knee twisting under him as he fell. Jason caught him before he hit the floor. The dark-haired boy didn't say anything, anything at all; the look on his face went from startled worry to just startled. And he didn't move.

Billy wasn't sure how long the moment lasted. He was acutely aware of the immediate, tactile reality; the abstracts, such as time, were lost in the sensate. Jason's arm under him, against his shoulders and back. Jason's hand on his arm. Jason's thigh under his hips. Jason's face, the black hair and porcelain complexion and the smoldering dark eyes over those cheekbones, so close to his face...

Later he looked for a reason. He was tired. He'd been walking through emotional minefields all day. No, for the two weeks he'd been back in Angel Grove. Hell, since October. He was scared. He was lonely. Jason hadn't dated anyone since November. But those weren't reasons. They were excuses. And poor ones at that. He knew it almost as soon as he started to do it.

He did it anyway.

He put his hand on the nape of Jason's neck and kissed him.

And then, because there was no way to pretend he hadn't just done it, and because he'd wanted to do it for three years or more, and because nothing he had done had been so completely pleasurable, he kissed him again.

He fully expected to be dropped the remaining eight inches to the floor. After that, he didn't know, though it probably wouldn't be good. He totally did not expect what did happen.

Jason kissed him back. Gently at first, moving his hand off Billy's arm to his face. Then he stepped it up a little, catching Billy's lower lip between his teeth and nibbling a tiny bit, pushing his thumb against Billy's jaw and thrusting his tongue inside his mouth. It was a long, passionate kiss, a movie kiss, a kiss Billy could have had go on forever except... "Jason," he said as soon as he could, "my knee—"

Then he was on the couch with no clear memory of how he'd gotten there; presumably Jason had carried him, but since he hadn't stopped kissing him, the details were hazy at best. One of Jason's hands was rubbing his knee; the other was braced beside his shoulder on the back of the couch, and Jason was leaning into him, kissing him deeply.

And then, just as suddenly, he wasn't. He was on his feet, a yard away, staring, an expression of sheer panic on his face. And before Billy could gather his wits enough to say anything, he was out the front door and gone. Billy heard the engine in the Subaru turn over before he could get to his feet, let alone to the door.

Oh, great. Just brilliant, he castigated himself.

And it didn't help that he was as turned on as he'd ever been in his life.

Just phenomenal. His knee hurt, he had a hard-on that wouldn't quit, and he'd almost certainly just lost his best friend. What a wonderful... he looked at his watch. What a wonderful, action-packed ten minutes that was.

He hoped Jason was going home. He really hoped he was driving carefully.

Well, that thought solved one of his problems, anyway. He should put a hot compress on his knee, maybe soak it. Which would leave him with the serious problem. The one that was entirely his own fault.

Luka came out but he didn't want to hear it. Later. He directed that at her as fiercely as he knew how. She let him know that there would be a later, but then she faded, leaving him alone. As he ought to be.

Leaning on the wall, he made it to the bathroom and turned on the shower.

Alone. What did Henry Adams say? 'One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, three are hardly possible'? Intelligent decision, he rebuked himself. He'd had three, now he might not have any. He'd probably lost Jason. Maybe he could keep Kim, but Tommy? He didn't know, and he wasn't sure if he'd keep Kim if he lost Tommy... And for what? He leaned against the shower wall and let the hot water wash away his tears until it started to run cold.

By then he was calmer. No happier, but ready to make a plan. Try and make one, at any rate.

The phone rang while he was dressing. He very nearly let the machine pick it up, but any distraction would be welcome at the moment. Holding his shirt in one hand he grabbed the phone.


It was Jason. Billy froze. Why would Jason be calling? Oh, god. "Jason?"

"Billy..." Jason sounded distraught. "Billy, I need to talk to you."

"Of course." The shirt slipped from his hand. "Jason—"

"Let me," Jason said quickly. "Billy... something happened to me this afternoon. I really need to talk to someone about it. And I know this isn't fair, but... you're the only person I have to talk to. About important stuff. Like this. My friend."

Billy sat down on his bed and pulled himself together. "Of course you can talk to me, Jason," he said, reaching inside himself for some calm. He wants me to play this as if I'm not involved... I can do this. I can be here for him. I can. "What happened?"

Jason was quiet for a moment. "I kissed a guy."

"You did what?" Billy was proud of that tone. It combined skepticism and amusement in just the right amounts.

"I kissed a guy."

"You kissed him? Or he kissed you?" And maybe that was cheating, but it gave Jason the out he so obviously needed. If you ignored the greater part of the... incident.

"Well... he kissed me first. But he wouldn't have done that without a reason. Nobody kisses somebody without a reason. And it doesn't matter. I kissed him back." Jason wasn't prepared to ignore things.

"What kind of a reason do you mean?"

"He must've thought I wanted him to. Must've thought..."

"Okay, forget that, Jason. What he thought doesn't matter." Billy jumped in without hesitation; the confusion and pain in Jason's voice wouldn't let him do otherwise. "I don't know how many times I've heard girls say some guy made a move they didn't want. Clearly gay guys aren't any better at reading signals than straight ones. Forget him. What about you? What do you mean, you kissed him back?"

"What does it sound like I mean?"

"Jason, it could mean you wanted to kiss him—except then you probably would still be with him, not home—are you at home?"


Well, that was something, anyway. Billy felt some of his tension dissolve. "It could mean you just like kissing. It could mean you were confused. It could mean—"

"Just like kissing?" Jason sounded disbelieving.

"Hey," Billy tried for casual, thought he came very close. Close enough for over the phone. "Guys like sex. I mean, your father's a cop. You have to have heard stories..."

Jason made a little noncommittal noise. "What was that other thing? Confused?"


"Is there another one?"

"What do you mean, kissed him back? You let him? You responded?" Billy hoped that was vague enough.

"Responded," Jason said disgustedly. "I was all over him... I mean. I got aggressive."

That was the magic word. "Aggressive? You took over?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Well, I mean, you could have punched him. But you got male with him that way instead. That's all it was."

"You think?"

"Yes. I do. I mean, aggressive sex is about power." This had to be the most surreal conversation he'd ever participated in in his entire life. He'd better be accumulating a lot of extra credit for this. "That's all it was. You felt threatened, maybe—"

"I wouldn't say that, exactly."

"Close though, am I right?" He waited a moment. "And you took control back. You went alpha male."

"If that's supposed to be making me feel better—"

Billy pounded his fist into his knee. He'd gone too far in the other direction; Jason had heard the wrong kind of stories. "No. I mean, all you did was kiss him, right? Right?"


"So, how bad is that? And he started it. It doesn't make you a rapist." He used the word deliberately, with a heavy dose of incredulity.

"Well, no, of course not... No. It doesn't." That sounded better.

"No," Billy repeated. "It makes you a guy who reacted to something unexpected in a pretty normal way. That's all."

"I guess so. I guess..."

"You okay, Jason?"

"Yeah." He paused a moment, and then, "Yeah. I am. Thanks, Billy."

"Any time."

Jason hung up and Billy stared at the phone for a few minutes. Then he put the receiver down and leaned against the headboard, staring into the fuzzy dimness of his room. Just maybe this whole thing was salvageable. Take a cue from Jason, pretend it was some other guy, listen to your own words—no good at reading signals—and just maybe Jason will still take your calls after you go to college. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on his knees, clasping his hands together at the back of his head. Luckier than you deserve to be.

He lost track of time again; didn't know how long he'd been sitting there when he felt the Power. He stiffened. Jason was coming down the hall. Why would he come over, after that phone call, except... He sat up and reached for his glasses, and then changed his mind and left them where they were. It wasn't like he needed them to identify him, and he didn't want to see the expression on Jason's face.

The door opened. "Billy," Jason said, and then stopped. "Billy, don't look like that," he said, "God, don't look like that, I'm here, I'm sorry, I was confused but I'm not any more." And then he was on the bed, embracing him, and before Billy could adjust to the new reality, Jason was kissing him. Not like earlier, not gently or exploratorily, but hungrily, overwhelmingly, his tongue thrusting deeply into Billy's mouth while he pushed Billy up against the headboard and kissed him until he was feeling a little light-headed. Oxygen deprivation, he conjectured, as he held on, which was about all he could do in the face of Jason's literally stunning passion. Resistance never crossed his mind. It was the last thing he wanted to do.

Jason kissed his way down Billy's throat to his chest, nibbling on his shoulders and then nipples. He yanked on Billy's shorts, tugging them out of the way. Billy lifted his hips to make it easier, and Jason pulled him down on his back, straddling him and continuing his way down.

When Jason took him in his mouth, Billy couldn't believe the feeling. He arched his back, thrusting blindly, reaching for Jason. Jason leaned one hand against Billy's hip, holding him down, and caught his hand, lacing their fingers together. His mouth was hot and driving Billy crazy. "Oh, god, oh god," he moaned, throwing his head back. "Oh, god..." With his last scrap of reason, he realized he was on the edge. "Jason. Jason, I'm—" He couldn't finish the sentence, because Jason's reaction was to go down harder. As the world exploded inside his mind, he heard himself howling.

When he could open his eyes, Jason's were only inches away, wide-pupilled and desire-filled. He reached for him, and Jason hesitated. Billy took only a second to realize why, and then tightened his grip on the back of Jason's neck and pulled his head down, tasting the new flavor of himself in the other's mouth. Jason's hesitation vanished and he bore down again, his mouth claiming Billy's. His left hand was still entwined in Billy's right, and he was taking some of his weight on his own right, but he was covering Billy's body with his own in a possessive manner that turned his bones into the proverbial water. Billy could feel Jason's cock between his thighs and he tightened his legs around Jason's hips as much as he could, his free hand sliding down to grip Jason's shoulder as the other thrust against him until his own release came and he collapsed, trembling, on top of him.

After a moment, Billy worked his hand loose from Jason's and flexed it. There were going to be some bruises there in the morning, but that didn't matter. He slid both hands under Jason's red sweatshirt, stroking him as he calmed, holding him.

He wasn't sure how much time passed before Jason moved, turning his head and kissing his shoulder gently. "Are you all right?"

"Better than all right," Billy answered.

"I didn't actually come over here to ravage you," Jason said against his throat.

"No? Then I'm glad you lost track of your agenda," Billy said.

"Me, too," Jason confessed.

"What did you come over to do?" Billy asked after a moment.

"Talk," Jason said. "Maybe neck a little..."

Billy chuckled. "Do you want to slow down? I think airbags might deploy..."

"God, no," Jason said.

"Good." After a long moment, Billy said, making sure the amusement was audible, "Okay. Now that was aggressive."

"Well, at least it wasn't confused."

"Oh, no," he agreed. "Not in the slightest."

Jason kissed Billy's throat and then pushed away.

"Where are you going?" Billy said before he could stop himself.

"To shut the door before your dad gets home," Jason said. "And I thought I might take off the rest of my clothes."

Billy chuckled again. "Perhaps I should get one of those window signs they sell for diners."

Jason stared at him, obviously not getting it.

Billy shook his head. "No Shirt, No Shoes—"

"No Service," Jason finished, shaking his own head and then laughing. "So, is that how you like it?"

"I think I like it any way I get it, if it's from you."

Jason paused with his shirt halfway off, and then finished quickly, pushing his shoes off with his feet as he snuggled up next to Billy, pulling the blankets over them. "Good," he murmured very seriously. "Because I want to take my time next time."

Billy turned over and rested his head on Jason's shoulder. "Works for me," he said softly.

"Tired?" Jason's voice had a hint of worry in it.

"Just sleepy, that's all."

Jason put his hand in Billy's hair and his arm over him, holding him close. "Sleep, then," he said. "I'm not going anywhere tonight."

"Ummmm," was all the answer he could manage.

When he woke, Jason had slipped out from under him, all but one arm. He was lying beside him, resting his cheek against Billy's shoulder, and Billy could feel him, just barely, drifting his fingers along his back. For a moment or two, it was just random motion, and then Billy realized Jason was tracing his scars.

"Jason?" he asked quietly, and felt Jason's hand stop moving. "Jason... do you mind?"

"Mind?" Jason sounded uncertain what he meant, and then, "Oh. No. God, no, Billy. They're beautiful. They mean you're alive." He shifted his position slightly and kissed one of the scars, and then rested his head on Billy's ribs. "You're alive," he repeated. "You're alive, and you're mine, and nothing in the world, nothing, can make that anything but beautiful."

At that moment Billy felt more alive and more complete than he had since waking up in the hospital, and happier than he had in years before that. Jason's weight against him was comforting, and his love was as tangible as his body, as real as his parents' had been. He could sort Jason's presence from the Morphin Power and he knew it would be with him always. In her corner of his mind, Luka was radiating approval. He sighed, his contentment so deep he couldn't find words to capture it and make it manageable. It just was.

Jason slid his free arm around Billy and found his hand, entwining their fingers. "That day," he said softly, "waiting while you were in surgery..."

"It's okay, Jason." He couldn't stand the pain in Jason's voice.

"Let me say it," Jason said. "I need to say it."

Billy reached up with his other hand and anchored himself on Jason's arm. "I'm listening," he said.

"That day, especially I think that night, I knew, part of me knew, anyway, just what I meant when I said I loved you. That 'like a brother' wasn't right, that there was no 'brotherly' feeling in me at all, that Tommy was my best friend because you were something infinitely more important, that if you died my world would turn to ashes..." His voice broke and Billy felt tears on his back. "That part of me," Jason resumed after a minute, sounding a trifle ragged, "I was so scared that part of me couldn't function, couldn't do anything at all but just run in circles screaming. When it wasn't shut down totally. The little part that was left, that was doing things—the Red Ranger part—he did everything that needed to be done, but..." he paused again. "That was the part that runs on automatic. The part that doesn't really think. That part was all I'm-not-gay, he's-just-a-friend, I'm-a-quarterback-not-a-ballet-dancer, I'm-normal. All not even thinking that on the surface. All everything you said on the phone, except none of it was true. God, no wonder you didn't know what was happening. I was putting out some really confusing signals."

"I don't—" Billy started.

"I know you don't," Jason interrupted. "You should. God, Billy, I almost nailed you on that couch. And then I ran like a dog. And then I made that phone call—was there ever anything more unfair than that phone call? God, if Anna hadn't broken up with me last month, I'd've gone out with her and nailed her. I almost called her anyway."

"But you called me," Billy said, "and that was the best present you ever gave me, Jason, you forgave me, you wanted to stay my friend—"

"I wanted you," said Jason. "I was still too scared to come over and say it, but I was hoping you'd talk me into it. And then you did your level best not to, to make me feel it wasn't my fault, and I woke up. But, God, Billy, I put you through hell today and I'm so sorry for it."

"It turned out well," Billy said, stroking Jason's arm. "I understand; I've been through it myself, remember?"

"I'm so sorry," Jason repeated, but he didn't sound as distraught as he had.

"I know you are. I forgive you. I love you."

"I love you, too." Jason kissed his shoulder. "Oh, lord," something suddenly struck him. "Anna... God, how you must have hated it, sitting there in L.A. and listening to me go on about her. Especially after she broke up with me."

Billy decided this wasn't the moment to say that had been easier in many ways than watching Jason date people. "I wanted you to be happy," he said, truthfully. "Plus, it could have been worse."


"It could have been an Andrew."

With a sudden convulsive movement Jason had them face to face, his hand on Billy's cheek and his eyes only inches away. "That will never happen," he said. "You are my forever. If you leave me, I'm still yours. Nothing can change that. Nothing."

Billy was shaken by Jason's intensity. "Speaking of things that will never happen, my leaving you is right up there on the list." He pushed Jason onto his back and claimed his mouth.

Jason cooperated completely, yielding to Billy's embrace. Then, as Billy settled against him, he said, "I'm sorry about this afternoon."

"Jason, please don't keep on apologizing for it. It's all right."


Something that H.L. Mencken had said came to his mind, and he decided it was apropos. "We are here and it is now. Further than that all human knowledge is moonshine."

There was a long pause. Then, "You are the oddest person," Jason said.

"Ummmm... in a good way? Or—"

"Always in a good way," Jason affirmed. "Better than good." He sighed and threaded his fingers through Billy's hair. "What happens now?"

"What do you want to happen?"

Jason was quiet for a minute. "I don't know," he admitted.

"That's to be expected. It's a new idea for you."

Jason threaded his hand through Billy's hair a couple more times. "How long for you?"

"Which? Being gay, or being in love with you? Not that it matters, I think they're the same thing. My whole life, I suppose. I knew it, oh, fourteen?" He shrugged. "Junior high, anyway, I knew for sure. I've never done anything, though."


"This is Angel Grove. Where would I go to do anything?" He raised his head to look at Jason. "And why would I want to do anything with anyone but you?"

Jason smiled, looking simultaneously contented and surprised. Then, predictably, "Oh, God. That was your first kiss?"

"Jason, it was everything I could have wanted my first kiss to be."

"And then—"

"Jason, did you hear me say no? Did you hear me say stop? Because I don't remember saying either. I wanted that. I wanted that as much as you did."

He stared into Jason's midnight-dark eyes, willing him to hear the truth. Luka added her vehemence to his, and after a few moments he felt Jason relax. He thought, though he wasn't sure, that Jason's bear, immersed in the Power, had nonetheless caught Luka's emotion and passed the certainty on. At any rate, Jason believed him, which was the crucial thing.

"Have you told your dad?" There was a touch of trepidation there.

Billy smiled, remembering. "Two years ago, a little longer actually, my father came home from a business trip to Northern California with some books. You might want to borrow a couple of them, in fact," it occurred to him. "Is It a Choice? and Straight Parents, Gay Children. They helped us a lot."

Jason sounded amused. "I don't know which is weirder," he said. "That they write books for everything, or that you can find one for anything. And do."

"Being human is being able to learn from people you never meet," Billy pointed out. "Even from dead people."

"My dad's not much of a reader," Jason said.

"Your mother is. And you don't know much, yet, either."

"True, all true. Okay, I'll borrow them. Later." He shifted so he could look into Billy's eyes. "So, what did he say when you told him?"

"Sorry. I was unclear. He told me. That's why he brought the books home. He was not knowledgeable on the subject, and he wanted to be. Before we talked."

"He told... Well, that's not gonna happen with my folks," Jason said, laughing. "I think I can guarantee that much. I don't know what I'm going to say."

"We'll figure it out," Billy said. "But we don't have to do it tonight. Or even this week."

"But soon," said Jason, in what he fondly imagined was a good Bogart impression. "And for the rest of our lives."

Billy was in agreement with the sentiment, so he let the delivery pass unchallenged.

Billy sat at the table in the Cranstons' kitchen and watched the other three with an air of bemusement.

"What's that look for?" Kim asked.

"Actually, I was just thinking—" he ignored the groans from Tommy and Jason "—that if there were such things as genii loci, the one in this kitchen would be extremely confused."

"Okay," Jason said exasperatedly. "What's a jeanie lossuh, and what are you laughing at, Kim? Don't tell me you know."

"I have no idea," she confessed. "I just suddenly pictured Billy as Rosalind Russell, handing you a little notebook—"

Billy nearly snorted coffee onto the table.

"What?" said Jason dangerously.

"Oh, no," Billy said. "It was her idea."

"Wasn't that Lucy?" said Tommy.

"That was the remake," Billy said.

"Somebody is going to get hit," Jason said, glaring at Tommy, the only one it was safe for him to threaten.

"It's Mame," said Tommy, snickering. "She gives her nephew a notebook and tells him to write down every word he doesn't understand—"

"Cute," Jason turned the glare on Kim. "It would easier to just buy a dictionary."

"We could just ask him," she said, turning her limpid brown gaze on Billy. "What is a genii loci?"

"It's one genius loci, two genii, and it means 'spirit of the place'," he said. "And this one would be confused because there are people here who know what they're doing in a kitchen."

Jason grinned. He was chopping onions prior to sautéing them and adding chicken; Tommy was stirring an alfredo sauce; Kim was tossing a salad. And all three of those activities were well out of Billy's range as a cook—as he'd told Jason, his idea of gourmet cooking was Marie Callendar in the microwave, and that was for special occasions only. And his father had taught him everything he knew—everything his father knew, that was.

Billy shifted slightly in his chair as soon as Jason turned back to the stove. He'd done way too much walking today; his legs ached. The therapist in L.A. had warned him about overdoing it, but he kept thinking, it's just down the hall... After a minute, he said, "So, what did you kids do in school today?"

Jason snarled at the innocent onions. He was still furious about the way Principal Kaplan had handled Billy's early 'graduation'. Rather than try to deal with any ADA-generated problems, especially for a science-heavy senior most of whose classes were on the second floor, the school had just decreed that Billy was graduated. It wasn't like he hadn't had the credits for it by the end of his sophomore year, he'd been taking honors, AP, and college extension courses since then, so Billy didn't really care. But Jason did. A quick brush-off, not being valedictorian (though Billy certainly didn't mind not having to give a speech), not even being there at commencement... the slightest reference to it angered him all over again. It was a new insight into his lover, how long he could actually hold onto a grudge... Billy was hoping to get him desensitized enough that he'd go to the commencement ceremony himself.

Kim set the salad bowl on the table. The four of them had been spending nearly all their time together since Billy had come back from L.A. Edmund Cranston had been out of town much more than usual, making up for not going out of town at all for three months, and they'd settled into a habit of eating dinner at the Cranstons' house a couple of times a week. Jason had accepted, back at Billy's welcome home party, that the other three Rangers weren't going to be there; Alpha had even told them that this team incarnation was much more usual. Billy missed Rocky and Trini, though of course he did still see them both, and they were still friends, and he regretted the opportunity to get to know Adam, whom he thought he'd have liked a great deal, but on the other hand, the closeness of this group was very special.

He remembered the night he and Jason had told Kim and Tommy about their relationship. They had both been a little nervous, especially Jason, for whom it was all new and rather scary. As it had turned out, they needn't have been. Kim was not only unfazed, she was unsurprised. Not to mention pleased—"Now we don't have to worry about either one of you picking some moron who'd ruin our friendship," she'd said joyfully. "Plus, now I don't have to worry about you two being unhappy. It's about time you realized you were meant for each other." And she'd already told Tommy, so whatever problems he might have had, they'd never know, because he had worked them out already. Jason had told Billy he couldn't even detect any difference in Tommy's attitude when they worked out. And when Kim added that she had no problems at all going out with the three best looking guys in town, Jason and Billy had both known they were safe with them.

It had been a good dry run for telling Jason's parents. Which they had yet to do. But it had only been a month, so it wasn't as if they were hiding. Really.

Kim broke into that train of thought by returning from the living room—he hadn't even noticed her leave the kitchen—with a short stack of what looked like college catalogs. "We had a meeting with the guidance counselors, for those of us who haven't settled on our colleges yet," she said. She exchanged glances with Tommy; they had something planned, Billy could tell. Luka stirred, manifesting interest. She approved of Kim.

Fortunately, she approved of Jason more.

Kim pushed aside the knife and spoon in front of Billy and put down the catalogs. The top one was Harvard. He glanced at Kim, and then looked at the second. U. Mass. at Boston. And Boston College was under that. "Jason said you were leaning towards MIT," she said.

"Well, yes—"

"Jason said you thought about Stanford but he was sure you preferred MIT," Tommy interpolated. "MIT's better. Mostly 'cause it's not in California."

Billy raised an eyebrow. The other three were native Californians, and he'd never heard them express dissatisfaction with it. He only thought about Stanford for Jason's sake.

"See," Kim said, "we were talking about it, me and Tommy. We don't think we should stick around after there's a new Ranger team."

"Oh?" Billy hadn't given that aspect any real thought. Now that he did—

"We'll figure out who they are," Tommy said, "I mean, we'll know Rocky and Adam anyway. And we don't want Rocky to be thinking we're looking over his shoulder, thinking we could have done better."

"Plus," said Kim, "this Ninjetti adept thing. If our animals are real, and if they survive—"

"Yes to the former, and so far to the latter," Billy answered her half-question.

"Then I don't think Zordon will want us trying to figure anything out in even the near vicinity of the Rangers. Jason thinks Rangers can't afford to think about it, and I admit he's right."

"Well, yes." That seemed self-evident now that it had been pointed out.

"So," she flipped open the UMB catalog at a post-it, "UMB has a Criminal Justice program." Jason turned around at that, and then turned back to his skillet and began throwing chicken into it with what seemed to Billy unnecessary force. "It would be perfect for Jason. I'm applying to Harvard, but I'll cover myself with UMB and Boston College. I want Harvard Medical, but BC has a good program, and there's Tufts, and for that matter, U Mass has a great medical school."

"Isn't that in Worcester?" Billy asked.

"Worcester's only thirty miles from Cambridge," said Tommy. "I think she'd do better there than BC or Tufts."

"Whichever," Kim said. "The point is, if you're at MIT and I'm at Harvard or UMB or wherever, Jason ought to go to UMB, too."

"Jason is in the room," the brunet said pointedly.

"Your grades are good enough to get you into UMB," Billy said.

"It's not UMB I object to. It's college at all. I don't need to go to college."

"You're letting your current acute dissatisfaction with the educational establishment dictate your future," said Billy. "It's not smart."

Jason hunched a shoulder at him.

"Besides, if you develop a sudden passion for UMB you could postpone telling your parents for a year or more."

"Low blow, Cranston," said Jason, but he was only mildly annoyed. "Criminal Justice program, huh?"

"Leading to a career in Law Enforcement," Kim affirmed.

"So," Jason stirred the chicken. "How's the linguini, Tommy?"

"One more minute."

"You brought an application for me?" Jason gave in.

"Sure," she said, picking up the catalogs and putting them on the counter. "Best thing is," she sat down across from Billy, "if we're all in school in Boston, or at least the three of us, we can save a lot of money by living together."

Jason began transferring the chicken to a serving dish, a smile spreading across his face. "All of us? That part sounds good, at any rate."

"Yes," Billy said. "It does."

They had cut class. Well, she and Tommy and Jason were. But it was the last week of school, they'd taken their last exams, and no one really expected them to be in class. The freshmen had been released at noon, anyway... and sometime in the very near future, in fact the practically now future, four of them were going to be tapped for something beyond their wildest dreams. Kim eyed the pizza box on the Cranstons' coffee table and decided she didn't want the last piece even as Jason reached over her head to grab it.

He and Billy were on the couch, the blond carefully tucked up in a corner while the darker Jason somehow managed to sprawl over the rest of the piece of furniture without crowding him. Billy's eyes met hers; he smiled at her and she returned it, feeling happy despite what was about to happen. She leaned against Tommy, who was sitting back against the couch with his legs stretched out under the table. She felt unreasonably proud that he was so completely unruffled by Billy and Jason's relationship. Nothing had ever felt righter to her than the four of them. In an odd way, she could hardly wait to get to Boston.

Billy had no way to prepare them for what was going to happen. He'd been profoundly unconscious still when Adam took up the Blue Coin, and that had to be the defining difference. After all, they'd all of them been cut off from the Grid before, and the light touch of the Ninjetti Spirits hadn't shown themselves, even to Billy, whose Wolf was the strongest of them. It would be new.

They'd invited Trini to join them, and she would have but that her parents had taken her to San Francisco with them to attend a cousin's wedding. Kim hoped Trini would be okay, then thought, why do I think it'll be hard? Billy's fine... Even as she thought that, he held out his hand. She took it, holding tight, but neither of them said anything. None of them had spoken for half an hour, maybe longer.

Jason slid his hand over Kim's head in a light caress as he reached for his Coke on the table. Then, quite suddenly, he stiffened, and the Coke fell through his fingers. Tommy, amazingly, actually caught it before it hit the floor, reaching to steady Jason with his other hand. She put her other hand on Jason's leg next to her shoulder, felt Billy lean forward against Tommy to put his arm across Jason's back—

And then it was her. Her hand convulsed on Billy's, and yet... it doesn't hurt, she realized incredulously. It was ... liberating.

She wasn't sure how long they were like that, all touching, all feeling. How long does 'now' last? She could understand why Billy had been so frustrated trying to explain this: how do you explain color to the blind, music to the deaf, love to the alone? She couldn't even tell whether the crane that spread Her wings and began dancing was inside her mind or somewhere immense distances away—She was as near as the next heartbeat and as far. Nothing was real; nothing had ever been more real. For a time she was open to the stars, and then the universe shifted around her and she felt, just briefly, as if vast winds were lifting her. A cry, haunting and needful, carried to her soul. Tommy... far above her, right beside her, immediate, real...

She let go of Billy's hand and Jason's leg and reached for him. He came to her as urgently, their mouths hungry and nourishing. She felt him, solid and warm under her hands, his hands hot and urgent on her. She held him, anchoring herself to reality, and lost herself in it and him.

When reality settled down so that she could comprehend it again, her body and Tommy's were conspiring to send her mind over the edge into another, far more familiar paradise. She let them.

It wasn't until she collapsed, trembling, against his chest that she remembered where they were. And who else was there. Oddly, she didn't mind, really; she wouldn't want to make a habit of it, but this had been a very unique thing. She smiled; she could hear Billy rebuking her gently, there are no degrees of uniqueness. She'd have to ask him; she bet he wouldn't disagree with her this time.

She didn't want to open her eyes. She wasn't sure which would be strangest: seeing the living room filled with animals, or not. She was sure Mr. Cranston would prefer the 'not', but... she felt as if she had seen them. The Crane, most clearly, white shaded with rose, bold black neck and tail edgings. Tanchou—graceful, agile, dancer and fighter. She smiled in satisfaction. No wonder Billy hadn't been able to describe this. Tanchou was her and yet not her, inside her mind and yet from another place, another realm. Kim had always been at ease with the magical side of the Morphin experience, she slid into Ninjetti like... like a crane into a river. She smiled at the thought.

But Tanchou was not the only presence she could feel. The Falcon was there, sand and brown and black and blazing with white, like starlight, windrider, lord of the sky. And the Bear, a dark bulk with glints of red, dark but not in any way evil. Strong, solid... even as Billy had said half a year ago—no longer than that?—a fierce protector. If the Crane was water, the river of life and feeling, and the Falcon was air, the wind of soul and spirit, and then the Bear was earth, the rocks of heart and courage. And the Wolf... Luka, smiling at them—Kim could tell she was—silver-blue and lambently alive, Luka was fire, the flame of mind and ideas.

And with them, but separate, distinct, dearly loved and known and forever recognizable, the men... she could have put her hand out in the darkness behind her closed eyes and touched each one unerringly. She knew they'd been right in their decision to go to Boston together. She knew they'd spend the rest of their lives together.

She turned her head as something touched her shoulder. Opening her eyes, she met Billy's warm green gaze; he had pulled a throw off the couch and was draping it over her and Tommy. Another was already over him and Jason, who had clearly been too occupied with each other to notice any more of what had been going on not two feet away from them than she had. All she could see of Jason at the moment were his bare shoulders and the back of his black head, but she and Billy seemed to realize they had seen into each other's souls just then, if only briefly. They knew each other.

She and Billy smiled at the same time. "Wow," she said.

"Absolutely," he agreed. Then he dug his chin into Jason's thick black hair and said, "I guess it's a good thing Trini wasn't here."

The back of Jason's neck betrayed his blush. She didn't dare look at Tommy for fear she'd break out laughing. And who'd have thought Billy would have been the most at ease? That did make her giggle. She sat up, slowly and languorously, disentangled herself from Tommy, and leaned back against the couch, her hair falling over Jason's arm. "Kim," Tommy said, tucking the throw around her.

She giggled again; she felt giddy. "If anybody in this room should be worried about not having a shirt on," she pointed out, "it's not me."

Tommy blushed, but he didn't move. Cranes and falcons mate for life, she thought. And so do wolves. She leaned back a little, feeling the solid warmth of Jason against her shoulders. Remembering the expression on Jason's face when he looked at Billy, she added, and whether bears do or not, Jason does. Still feeling high, she looked at Billy and asked, "Is it like that every time now?"

"I have no idea," he confessed. "This was our first time with Jason not connected to the Grid, after all."

Jason made a small noise of protest or embarrassment or, Kim decided, both. It was cute. But Jason didn't have the same history with Billy that she did—watching movies and talking about her boyfriends; she'd been spectacularly unsurprised that he was gay. Any minute now Tommy will say something to prove he's okay with this..., she thought.

Billy added, "We can certainly hope."

"We could find out," Tommy suggested half-seriously.

"We could," Jason broke his silence, his voice actually regretful. "But unless my watch is seriously off, your dad's going to be home in twenty minutes."

"Omigosh," she said, sobering suddenly. "Thank God you guys have two bathrooms."

When Edmund Cranston got home, he found the four of them sitting sedately on the couch watching 'The Wheel of Fortune'. If they were a trifle rumpled and damp-haired, he didn't comment.


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


Original Fantasy:
  Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans
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Star Wars | Power Rangers | Real Ghostbusters
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
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