Disclaimer: The usual: aren't mine, are Saban's, no money,
Notes and Timeline: Zeo period, Jason and Billy are around. Tommy is dating Katherine, Adam is dating Tanya.
The seven teenagers sat around their usual table at the Youth Center enjoying an early dismissal from school due to teacher conferences, and discussing the upcoming three-day weekend.
"So, what is everyone up to for the long weekend?" Tommy asked, looking around at his friends.
"Well, we are having a mini family reunion at my house," Rocky sighed. "Mom's two sisters and their families, and one of Dad's brothers, and his sister, and their families. All at my house. Can I stay with one of you guys? Please!"
There was a general laugh at Rocky's pathetic expression. "Sorry, guy, it can't be that bad, can it?" Tommy finally said.
"How bad do you consider bad? We are talking just shy of thirty extra people. They all camp out in the back yard. Three bathrooms, one kitchen, five families, four days. You do the math." He sighed again.
Adam was giggling over his friend's plight. "You could probably sell tickets to that," he teased Rocky.
Rocky grumbled in his good-natured way. "Maybe I will, make some money off the whole affair so I can afford a motel. Hey, that may be a plan!" There was more laughter. They all knew Rocky complained constantly about his extensive family, but that did nothing to hide his affection for all his relatives. He loved being a part of such a huge clan.
"Well, I'm certainly looking forward to the weekend," Katherine interjected. "My parents and I are going up to the mountains. We rented a cabin from Billy's uncle, and some old friends from Australia are going to meet us there. Kristen was my best friend in grammar school; I am looking forward to catching up with her. I haven't seen her in such a long time, her family moved away from my hometown four years before we moved here."
"Sounds like fun," Jason said. "My dad has the weekend off and he wants to go ocean fishing and scuba diving, so we are driving up the coast to my grandfather's place. We'll spend the weekend there."
"My parents and I are going out of town this weekend too. There is a Traditional African Lifestyle convention being held in San Francisco this weekend. We are going to stay with an associate my father met through work and attend that this weekend," Tanya reported.
"David and I are heading to the Sierra Nevada for a three day backpacking trip. We are taking the minimum supplies needed and will look to nature to provide what we don't have with us," Tommy added.
There was a brief pause while the others looked at Adam and Billy, who had remained silent so far. The two exchanged a look.
"I'm staying home this weekend," Adam finally admitted. "My parents both have to work."
They turned to Billy. "Hey, don't look at me. I graduated. My whole life is a three day weekend at this point." He didn't sound particularly thrilled about that.
"Cool! I can come stay with one of you guys!" Rocky declared.
"No!" was the simultaneous response from both Adam and Billy.
The discussion dissolved in laughter.
After their discussion in the Youth Center, the teens had decided to get together in the park for a quick game of tag football. Jason and Tommy first needed to stop by the Power Chamber to check on Pyramidus's power level. There had been some problems with the power dropping unexpectedly, and Zordon had set up a power relay to bring the levels up to normal. He and Billy had some tests scheduled to try to pinpoint the problem once it was fully powered.
Billy had wanted to accompany them to the Power Chamber, but they insisted he stay with the others. Since Billy had given up his powers, and graduated, they saw too little of him outside the Power Chamber. When they did manage to get him involved in their recreation, they were careful to keep him there. And, he really wasn't needed in the Power Chamber at this time.
Jason and Tommy arrived in the Power Chamber in bolts of gold and red light.
"How is Pyramidus's power level looking?" Tommy asked.
"It is up to 93%," Alpha reported. "It should hit 100% in two hours. We can start testing it then to see why this is happening."
"Good. Do you want Billy to come back then?" Jason asked.
"No, the tests are already set up, they will run without assistance. We won't need his help until tomorrow," Zordon replied. "He needs to have some fun."
"I agree," Tommy said. "We will let him know he's free until tomorrow. Unless there is an attack, of course."
It couldn't have been timed better. No sooner had Tommy spoken, and the alarms sounded.
"What is it Alpha?" Jason asked.
"Quadrafighters. They are blasting randomly just outside the Power Chamber. Ay-yi-yi, I can't figure out what they are doing."
"I believe they are 'fishing'. Blasting at will to see if they get a rise out of us. This may not require any action at this time," Zordon decided.
Meanwhile, in the park the others had grown tired of waiting for Tommy and Jason to return. They decided to go to the Power Chamber en masse to get their two missing companions. They teleported.
As the five beams of light approached the Power Chamber, they encountered the quadrafighters. If the blasts from the quadrafighters had hit any of them directly, it would have been instantly fatal. As it was, they were hit by the percussion and energy from the blasts.
"Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi! The other Rangers are teleporting here! The effects from the blasts are causing a disruption in the teleportation beams!" Alpha was frantic.
He raced around the consoles, trying desperately to stabilize the teleportation beams as Jason and Tommy watched helplessly
"I think I got it, they should be here in a moment," Alpha reported at last.
No sooner had he spoken than five beams of colored light dissolved into the unconscious forms of Rocky, Adam, Tanya, Kat and Billy.
Alpha grabbed a portable scanner and rushed up to the crumpled figures. After seeing the results of the first couple scans, he relaxed visibly.
"Their life energies are all within normal parameters. They should all revive shortly," he said, relief evident in his voice.
Tommy and Jason exchanged a relieved glance, then stood watch over their friends, waiting for them to regain consciousness. Tanya was the first to stir.
"Easy, you're okay now," Jason soothed her as she sat up. She gave Jason an odd look, seeing how solicitous he was being.
"I'm okay, Jase. You don't need to hold my hand," she said.
Jason had the weirdest feeling something was very wrong here. Tanya never called him 'Jase', generally only Tommy and Billy did. He looked directly into her eyes and asked, "Who are you?"
Her expression was one of complete disbelief. "We have been friends for eight years and you have to ask me that?"
"Billy?" Jason saw Tommy look over in amazement.
"Of course. What is wrong with you?" was the cautious reply.
"It is more what is wrong with you," Jason said gently. He took the hand he had been holding before and held it up in front of Billy's eyes. He saw the dawning comprehension there. Billy looked around desperately, and saw his body laying still a few feet away.
"Oh, no. Not again," he moaned.
"Again?" Tommy looked more perplexed than ever.
"Never mind for now. Let's hope only Billy and Tanya are affected," Jason said with a worried look. He remembered all too well how miserable Billy and Kimberly had been when their minds and bodies got switched. The two long time friends had been reduced to a shouting match in the school hallway. He did not want to think about the mess that it would be if all five of his friends who had been involved were switched around.
Tommy heard a slight moan and realized Katherine was coming around. He hurried to his girlfriend's side. "Are you okay?" he asked as she sat up.
"I think so," was the soft reply as she put her hand to her head as if it ached. She removed her hand with a sound of dismay and scrambled awkwardly to her feet. "What the heck happened to my hair?" she cried. "What is wrong with my body? What happened?"
Tommy tried to calm her, putting his arms around her to try to still her frantic movements. Kat threw his embrace off with a cry of disgust. "What do you think you are doing?"
Tommy looked directly at her, holding her shoulders to keep her still. "Who are you?" he asked calmly.
"Rocky, who else?" came the answer.
"Oh, boy, we have major problems," Jason muttered. This was as bad as he had feared. He saw Adam starting to stir, so he went to his side to help, leaving Tommy to try to deal with Rocky. "Easy bro, you're okay."
Adam's expression was one of genuine puzzlement. "Bro? Since when am I a 'bro'?"
Jason sighed and asked, "Who are you?"
"What is that, a trick question?" As he spoke his eyes roved around the Power Chamber, eventually spying Billy working at the consoles with Alpha. At that sight he paled considerably and looked down at himself.
"Who do I look like?"
"Well, you look like Adam, but judging from your reaction I have to assume you aren't."
"I'm Tanya. Who is she?" she asked, pointing to her body.
"Where is Adam?" was her next question.
"We aren't sure, he is one of those two." Jason indicated two still prone figures, both of whom were finally stirring.
He left Tanya with Rocky, who was sitting quietly trying to digest all that had happened.
Jason and Tommy cautiously approached Rocky and Billy, who, of course, were not really Rocky and Billy, but Katherine and Adam.
Jason took Billy and Tommy took Rocky and, before either reviving teen could really gather their thoughts, asked their identity.
"Katherine," was the response to Jason's question.
"Adam," was the response to Tommy, who with Jason's help, explained what had happened to the two dazed teens.
"So we're stuck like this?" Katherine asked, her eyes widened with dismay.
"For the time being, until we find a way to reverse the effect," Tommy said. "Zordon, Billy, and Alpha are working on it now."
His words didn't seem to encourage the two confused Rangers, who drifted over to join Tanya and Rocky. They sat there in silence, no one looking at anyone else, trying to cope with the idea they were in someone else's body.
Jason and Tommy looked grimly at each other. This was a mess.
It had been almost an hour since the five Rangers had regained consciousness. Billy had a final look at the results of his research and sighed. This was not going to be easy. He approached the quiet group.
"Well, guys, the good news is we are all healthy. No lasting effects from the accident. Except the personality displacement, that is," he reported.
"Excuse me, that is a 'lasting effect'?" Rocky asked anxiously.
"Until we find a way to reverse it," Billy replied. "We are working on that. I, um, may have a solution pretty soon if I can find some old paperwork of mine."
Jason gave him a meaningful look. "The mind reading machine?" he asked.
"Yeah, I need to find the notes from when I built that." Billy answered.
"Don't you still have the machine?"
"No, after what happened, I dismantled it. It was just too dangerous, and quite frankly I never did get it to actually do what I designed it to."
"Damn, that would have been perfect." Jason grumbled.
"Sorry, I just never figured to need it again. And, I do believe Kimberly would have physically harmed me if I didn't get rid of it," Billy said with a rueful smile.
Jason smiled slightly in response.
The others had listened to this conversation silently. Tommy finally spoke up. "What are the two of you talking about. Earlier, when Billy realized he was in Tanya's body he said 'not again'. Has this happened before?"
"You never told them?" Jason asked Billy.
"No, and neither did Kim apparently. We did agree never to speak of it again. It doesn't exactly rate as one of our favorite memories," Billy replied.
"What are the two of you talking about?!" Tanya was out of patience.
Jason looked at Billy with a silent question. Billy sighed, and spoke up. "A few years ago, shortly after we first became Power Rangers, I came up with the idea for a machine that would allow one person to read another's mind. I built the machine, and Kimberly and I used ourselves as test subjects. We didn't read each other's mind, we got each other's mind. Just like we are now. God, she was mad at me. But only as mad as I ended up being at her. It was a disaster. I'm sure you have already figured out, you're going to be stuck living the life of whoever's body you are in. I didn't make a very good 'Kimberly'. And, in all fairness, she didn't make a very good 'Billy'. My father gave me strange looks for weeks afterwards."
The others look dumbstruck at the idea of having to live someone else's 'life'. They had been hoping Billy and Alpha would come up with an instant solution. The full ramifications of the situation were starting to sink in.
"I'm going to have to be 'Katherine'?" Rocky asked. "I have no idea how to be a girl!"
"Like I know how to be a guy," Katherine shot back. "Why couldn't I have gotten Tanya's body if I had to switch with someone? I hate this!" She was on the verge of tears.
Tommy walked up to her and gave his girlfriend a hug. That she was in the body of one of his closest male friends didn't matter. The group watched this somewhat uncomfortably.
"This is so weird," Adam said softly.
"You're telling me. I'm standing here watching Tommy hug my body. A new definition of weird. I was always grateful in retrospect that the incident happened before Kim started dating Tommy." Billy said.
"Yeah, what is this?" Tommy asked with mock anger. "My girlfriends keep ending up in your body. You end up in my girlfriend's body!"
"Excuse me, but he is my girlfriend," Adam declared without realizing how it would sound.
"I feel so special, Tommy and Adam are fighting over me!" Billy overplayed his reaction comically.
Everyone burst into semi-hysterical laughter, and the tension that had been building up dissipated with the sound.
The next couple of hours were spent in intensive study of each other's lives and lifestyles. The teens had joked when Billy provided everyone involved with a pad of paper to take notes on, but the necessity soon became obvious.
"You have how many cousins?" Adam asked Rocky in complete despair. "And the description 'long dark hair and brown eyes' is not helping a whole lot."
"Twenty-two, and sorry, but I'm not good at details," Rocky said resignedly. "Just don't call anyone by name, I think that is what half the family does anyway. How's your Spanish?"
"Pretty much non-existent. Why?"
"We play a game in Spanish that the entire family participates in. I suggest you develop food poisoning or something," was Rocky's suggestion.
Tanya was briefing Billy on what to expect at her home. "I cook my parent's breakfast each morning. They like fried eggs and bacon, or sausage and biscuits, or eggs benedict most mornings," she started.
"Whoa! I can't cook. None of the Cranstons can. It's genetic. People think we are naturally slender, we aren't, we're thin from eating our cooking," Billy was almost babbling in his worry about cooking.
"You can't fry an egg?"
"I can't boil water without burning it!"
Katherine was trying to prepare Rocky as to what to expect. "I call my mother 'Mum' and father 'Da', we always eat dinner together at 6:30 precisely. I set the table for Mum while Da reads the paper. I think they have that tradition because of what they saw on television before we moved here, they believe this ritual will ensure some stability in our lives."
"'Mum' and 'Da'? I'll try to remember that. It's just that I call my parents Mama and Father," Rocky explained. "As for setting the table, how many place settings, again?"
Adam explained to Tanya about his home life. "Over dinner my father and I discuss the book we are currently reading. He started doing this when I was very young. We both read the same book, one chapter at a time and discuss it over dinner. We are on Chapter 28 of 'Roots'" he admitted sheepishly.
"I'm supposed to discuss, in depth, a chapter of a book I have never read?" Tanya asked incredulously.
"I'll try to bring you up to speed," Adam promised.
Billy figured Katherine would have an easy time with his life. "Dad and I pretty much keep our own separate schedules. We do not traditionally eat any meals together. We just catch up with each other's schedule when we encounter each other."
"You rarely see your father?"
"He works odd hours, and my life is somewhat without structure as far as schedule goes at this time. It should be easy for you to avoid excessive interaction with him."
"If you say so. What do you do all day, since you aren't in school?"
"I work in the Power Chamber with Alpha and Zordon,"
Tommy and Jason had listened in on most of the conversations, and were growing increasingly worried. This was going to be much harder than it sounded. All five of their friends were worried about the effect the body switches would have on their families, friends, and relationships. No one had mentioned the upcoming weekend. There was enough to worry about as it was.
Billy realized there were some things that needed to be done now, before it was time for him to go 'home'. He looked over at Katherine.
"Kat, we need to go to my house. I need to look for the notes about the machine I built before, so I can get started recreating it."
"Okay, but why are you telling me?" She looked a bit confused.
"Because you have to come with me. You are me, remember?" He reminded her gently. "If my dad happens to come home, he might just wonder what Tanya is doing rooting around in my bedroom."
"Oh, yeah. I'm sorry, I'm just having a bit of difficulty with this."
"As are we all."
Tommy and Jason ended up alone again in the Power Chamber. Billy and Katherine were at Billy's house looking for the specs to build the machine he had created by accident years ago. Tanya, Rocky and Adam went to Rocky's house to surreptitiously look at his mom's photo albums to help Adam identify his new family.
"Zordon, I'm worried about the effect this problem will have on our ability to fight Mondo when he decides to attack," Tommy said, not bothering to pretend he thought they would be able to fix the problem before the next attack.
"Your worries are well founded, Tommy," Zordon replied. "I, too, am worried about the other Rangers' ability to fight effectively under these circumstances. I believe a call to the Aquitian Rangers may be in order. If they are aware of the situation I am sure they will be willing to provide backup in case of emergency."
"Sounds good, I know the others will all give their best efforts, but they will be fighting using a different body and unfamiliar zord, it could prove to be difficult. How did Kim and Billy do fighting when they were switched?" Tommy turned to Jason.
"They did quite well. But the monster proved to be fairly easy, and they only were switched for one day. We don't know how long it will be before Billy can replicate the machine," Jason replied.
"I can't believe neither Billy nor Kimberly ever mentioned that to me. Come to think of it, you, Zack, and Trini were all silent on the subject as well. Was it that bad?" Tommy asked.
"Well, like I said, as far as the team went, and defending Angel Grove, it went pretty well. But, on a personal level I think they both had a hard time of it. Billy wasn't kidding when he said he made a poor Kimberly, and vice versa. He tried to put on makeup, but it was a disaster, he looked like a clown, or rather she did, as it was Kim who ended up living with the consequences. She tried to teach one of his computer students and ended up blowing up his computer. It isn't that easy to get Billy really mad, but he was furious. They had a shouting match in the hallway at school, which was when Zack, Trini, and I found out about it. We had never seen the two of them go after each other like that. It kind of shook us all up. As far as... you know...anything else... personal like...I guess you would say...neither one of them ever has said. I seriously doubt they ever will."
"Oh, man, I didn't even think about that! We have two girls and two guys switched. I mean, I noticed I wasn't exactly hugging Katherine's body earlier, but I didn't even consider, um, the day-to-day logistics of her living in a guy's body," Tommy was actually blushing.
"Ah, but you looked so cute hugging Billy!" Jason teased him.
"Oh, shut up!"
Billy finally found the specs for the mind reading machine in a box in the corner of his closet. Katherine had sat quietly on the bed watching him search, and trying to acclimate herself to the room that was going to be hers for a little while.
Kat made an effort to shake off the melancholy mood she suddenly found herself in. "Did you find it?"
"Yeah, now all I have to do is reconstruct the device, then try to figure out what Squatt did to the wiring to mess it up in the first place. See, I had a little help with it from Rita's henchthing," Billy explained.
"Great, and how are you going to test it?" Katherine wondered.
"I still haven't figured that part out yet."
"Did I just hear your dad pull up?" she asked with a startled expression. While she was not in the least afraid of Mr. Cranston, she was nervous about impersonating his son. She barely knew the man. Except for Jason, none of the Rangers knew him well.
"Yeah, he's home early. Don't look so worried, even when he's home it's like he's not here. And, he'll probably have to go back to work later anyway," Billy explained, his voice carefully expressionless.
Katherine shot him a considering look. "Do you normally greet him? Or just wait until you encounter each other?"
"Just wait until we run across each other," he replied as he went to the door and opened it. "I don't believe he would be pleased if I were up here with a girl with the door closed. He trusts me, but there are some limits. I should be going home, myself. I think it is almost dinnertime." He tucked the specs in his backpack and headed toward the door, Katherine on his heels.
Wallace Cranston met the two teens on the stairs as they were coming down. He smiled at his son, then stopped as if waiting.
Katherine was puzzled, but Billy finally realized what the man was waiting for.
"Hi, I'm Tanya Sloan. You must be Mr. Cranston, Billy has told me all about you, which is probably why he seems to think we have been introduced," Billy said quickly, smiling broadly to try to save the moment.
"Nice to meet you, Tanya. Was he helping you with your homework?" he asked, seeing her backpack crammed full of books.
"Yes, math. She has a few problems with algebra," Katherine spoke up at last.
"Ah, well, then you are in good hands," Wallace smiled. "It was nice to meet you, Tanya." He went past them, speaking to Billy in passing. "I have to go back to work in an hour or so."
Billy gave Katherine a knowing look as they headed toward the front door. "I figured as much."
"Billy, what am I supposed to do?" Katherine asked in a whisper, a panicked look on her face.
"There are TV dinners in the freezer. Nuke one of those, anything but the turkey ones, I hate those, and watch some TV. No sitcoms, a movie would be acceptable. Sleep. Meet us at the park before school tomorrow. You will be fine, Katherine."
"Thanks, I guess. Good luck with Tanya's family."
Adam sat on the bed in Rocky's room, basically hiding from everyone. His mind was reeling from the crash course he had gotten on Rocky's cousins. He didn't know how he was going to deal with the mass of incoming relatives, but he had to find a way to make himself scarce during the long weekend. There was no way he would be able to remember everyone, and when they all started talking, trading stories, and the like, he would be in big trouble.
The members of Rocky's extended family would begin arriving tomorrow. Rocky and Tanya had tried so hard to help him, and he did figure he would get a larger percentage of the relatives correct than incorrect, but still, it was going to be awkward. He had even toyed with the idea of asking Billy if he could concoct something to make him a bit sick for the weekend. But, in the end he simply could not do that. He would just have to try his best not to mess this up. It would have helped if Rocky weren't normally so outgoing and outrageous. How was Adam supposed to imitate that?
There was a knock on his door. "Come in," he called out, wondering what this was all about.
Rocky's mother entered the room, looking concerned. "You didn't eat your dinner, are you ill?" she asked, placing her hand on his forehead.
"I'm okay, Mama. Maybe a little tired," he replied, working up a smile for the worried woman.
"You rest, then. It is going to be a very busy weekend. Good night," she kissed his forehead and turned to leave.
Billy found Tanya's parents to be wonderfully accepting, open minded people. He didn't say much during dinner, just listened to their discussion about archaeology. He found it fascinating. Then the talk turned to the upcoming weekend. They were leaving right after school let out the next day, and would be back midday on Monday. Billy felt worse and worse as the discussion went on, Tanya must have been looking forward to this tremendously. He was also getting very worried-he feared he did not know enough about the subject to pull off his impersonation of Tanya. His active mind sought out a solution, and was faintly surprised when it was so obvious.
He gradually let an unhappy expression come over his face. His parents noticed it, and his father reached out to take his hand gently.
"What is the matter, Sweetheart? Aren't you looking forward to this trip?"
"Of course I am. It's just...well...I'm a little worried about Adam. You know those two students from Stone Canyon who were killed in a car crash? They were old friends of his. He's feeling upset about that, and all his friends here will be gone this weekend. I'm worried about how he'll cope all alone." Billy prayed he hadn't overplayed his part.
"That's awful! Poor Adam," his mother said.
"I just wish he didn't have to be alone this weekend," Billy added sadly.
He saw the Sloans exchange a look, and all but held his breath. Had it worked?
"Why don't you see if Adam would enjoy coming with us? My friends have plenty of room. He would be welcome," Tanya's father said with a warm smile for his daughter.
"May I go over and ask him in person?"
"Sure thing, but be back by 7:30. It is a school night and you still have to pack."
Billy cleared the dishes and loaded the dishwasher in record time. He hurried out the door, anxious to make the necessary arrangements. He was pleased with the success of his plan-Tanya would get to spend the time with her folks, and he was off the hook, at least partially, for having to know about Traditional African Lifestyle.
When he got to the Park's residence, they were just finishing dinner. He asked 'Adam' to come out to visit for a while.
"Is something wrong, Billy?" Tanya asked, a worried expression on her face.
"No, I don't think so. Would you like to join us on our excursion this weekend. I have gotten your parents' permission to invite Adam."
"You what? How? Oh, Billy, thank you!" Impulsively Tanya reached out to embrace her friend, scarcely noticing she was actually hugging her own body.
"You're welcome. Now all you have to do is get your parents' permission here."
"I think I can do that. They were just saying a while ago that they wish I had something to do this weekend. Adam's brother, Adrian, is spending it with some friends in Mexico. This is so perfect," Tanya's bubbled happily.
"Okay, well, we leave tomorrow right after school, remember. Oh, and should anyone say something, I told my... your...parents that Adam is upset because of those students being killed in a car accident. Okay?"
"Okay. Is he? Upset, I mean."
"Yeah, actually, he is. He knew them a few years ago. I guess they had changed a lot. Why don't you go ask the Parks' permission, and I'll wait for you."
Tanya hurried off, returning in less than 5 minutes with the happiest smile Billy had ever seen on Adam's face.
"I can go! Thank you so much, Billy! Really! I have been looking forward to this for a long time."
"Tanya, just remember, you are a family friend, not their daughter. That may be a little hard to take, okay? But, I also am relieved you are coming, you will have to coach me on the subject, I simply don't know very much about this."
"Gladly. You get on home. You did give them both a big hug and kiss, didn't you?" Tanya asked, remembering that her friend was somewhat more restrained than she tended to be.
"I thanked them verbally. Was more required?" Billy asked with some concern.
"Billy! You should have hugged and kissed them both on the cheek. Be sure to do that when you get home. Hmmm, tell them you were so excited you forgot to thank them."
Billy looked less than thrilled with these instructions. "Okay. I'll do so. But I am not used to displays of affection."
"Well, it's about time you got used to it! Oh, I have to go pack, and get ready. You, too. Be sure to pack my more traditional garments. That would be best."
"What traditional garments. Tanya, I don't know a thing about feminine clothing."
Tanya looked worried about that idea. "Can I teleport in tonight and help you pack?" she finally asked.
"Affirmative. I'll see you then."
Billy hurried back to the Sloan residence, anxious to look at the specs for the machine that would hopefully undo this personality displacement problem. As he entered the house he remembered Tanya's orders, and sought out 'his' mother. He put his arms around her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"Sorry, I was so excited earlier I forgot to thank you," he explained as Mrs. Sloan hugged him back.
"I understand. Now, you should go pack, if you haven't finished already. We will leave as soon as you get home. Is Adam coming over here or will we pick him up?"
"He'll come over."
Hurrying to Tanya's room he looked around for his backpack. Pulling out the specs and notes he had found he began to work on the problem of replicating the machine. He was startled when his communicator beeped, and Tanya's voice issued forth.
"Can I come over?"
"Let me check, just a minute."
Walking to the kitchen to get a glass of water he saw the Sloans in the family room, engrossed in a movie. He hurried back to the bedroom.
"Come on over."
When Tanya arrived she was aghast to find Billy had not even started packing. She commandeered his assistance and got him packed and ready in record time, including choosing what he would wear the next day.
Billy, overwhelmed by the complications girls encountered dressing, was amazed with her efficiency.
"Thanks Tanya, I guess I needed the help."
"No problem, Billy. What did you find out about the machine? Will you be able to build one?"
"Yes, it should be easier than I anticipated. But it will take some time, and I will be gone for most of the weekend, so I expect I can finish it Monday evening or some time Tuesday. Perhaps with your assistance I can sneak out each night for a few hours to work on it. That would expedite the matter."
Tanya sighed. "We should be able to work something out. I'd better get home. See you in the morning."
Rocky looked around the ridiculously feminine bedroom in dismay. How was a guy expected to sleep when surrounded by so much pink? And that bed, so much lace! Stuffed animals, porcelain dolls, and a closet filled with soft, pink, clothing.
He began opening drawers, looking for some sort of pajamas to wear. Finding some sweats, he decided those would do. He slipped into them and settled down on the bed, tossing stuffed cats out of the way.
The evening had gone well enough. The Hillards were the sort of people who discussed work and school over dinner, which was pretty different from Rocky's usual routine. With so many siblings, he was accustomed to complete chaos at mealtimes, three or four conversations going at once, heaping platters of food being circulated until they were empty, and occasional emotional outbursts when teasing got too severe. This sitting quietly, having one conversation was unique to him.
He didn't really like it.
He found himself missing his brothers and sisters, the chatter and noise that made his house his home. The Hillard residence was simply too quiet for his comfort.
So, feeling strangely homesick, Rocky settled down in bed and finally drifted off to an uneasy sleep.
The teens had agreed to meet the next morning at the park to compare notes, go over their schedules for the day, and exchange homework. Rocky was the first to arrive, followed by Billy. The two of them were cheerfully eating some donuts Rocky had bought on his way over when Tommy, Tanya and Adam arrived.
"Billy! What are your eating?" Tanya's voice expressed her outrage.
"A donut," he replied innocently.
Tanya reached out and removed it from his hand, tossing it in the trash. "Not in my body, you aren't!"
"Hey! That was my breakfast."
"What happened to the breakfast you cooked for my parents?" she asked suspiciously.
"Um, it kind of got burnt. They ended up with cold cereal. I told them I was a bit distracted because of the trip this weekend," he explained hesitantly.
Tanya rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Great! Now my parents will think I'm nuts! Thanks a lot, Billy."
"I told you I can't cook, Tanya. I wasn't kidding."
Tommy listened to this exchange with some concern. Before he could ask any questions Rocky turned to Adam and asked about his evening.
"I just kind of stayed in your room. You mom thinks you may be not feeling too well, but otherwise it went okay. How was it being Katherine?"
"Okay. Too quiet around that house. They need more kids or something."
Jason walked up as Rocky was speaking, and had to laugh at the Blue Ranger's plight. "I don't think you'd find enough siblings no matter where you went."
"True, very true. How did you like having all those kids around, Adam?"
"They left me alone, basically. They are all excited about the family arriving today. Uh-oh," he said as he looked past Rocky. "Billy, I think you may be in trouble. I see you coming and you do not look very happy."
The others turned to see Katherine approaching, and as Adam had noted, she did not look a bit pleased. She went past the others to stand directly in front of Billy.
"William Cranston! When someone else is stuck occupying your body there are certain things it is important to know! That you are allergic to kiwi is one of them!"
Billy flinched guiltily. "Sorry. I never even think about it anymore. It never occurred to me to mention it."
"So I found out."
"What happens if you eat kiwi?" Tommy asked.
"What happens is he spends the next few hours huddled in the bathroom!" Kat snapped. "Not a very pleasant way to spend the evening. On the other hand, you father now thinks you are a blithering idiot for forgetting."
Billy groaned. "Oh, great! He already worries about me not paying enough attention to things, now this. Wonderful. Why in the heck did you go out and get kiwi anyway? I know there wasn't any in the house."
"I wanted some fresh fruit. What is it with you two? There wasn't any fresh fruit or vegetables to be found."
"We don't eat much fresh stuff. So don't go blaming me if you spent the night sick because you went out and bought stuff I would never eat. Did you finish your homework?"
That started the teens trading their homework and coaching each other on where they were in various classes. Fortunately, they did share a lot of classes, it made things a bit easier. They had decided the most logical thing was for each to do their own homework, then trade before school.
Katherine then left to return home and sleep some more, as she was still feeling a bit ill. The others headed on to school, walking in small groups discussing classes.
Jason and Tommy found themselves walking together.
"Sounds like it didn't go too badly last night. Except for Katherine. Poor Billy, he's going to pay for that one, unless I miss my guess," Jason had to smile.
"Yeah. Kat doesn't get mad easily, but when she does...wow...watch out," Tommy agreed.
The school day was reasonably uneventful. The biggest problems Billy, Rocky and Tanya had were remembering which sex they now were. Billy darn near walked into the boys' room, fortunately Rocky was there and steered Billy in the right direction. Then quietly teased him for the rest of the day. Rocky and Tanya both found PE distracting, but were able to handle it, if just barely.
After school the friends met again at the park, hurrying, as they knew Billy and Tanya had to leave very soon. They briefed each other on homework assignments, traded books and notes, and breathed a sigh of relief that the day had gone that easily.
Katherine's mood had improved with a day of rest, but she was definitely depressed by the realization she would miss seeing her old friend. She was going to brief Rocky on their visit that afternoon, as the Hillards were going to the cabin in the morning.
"Katherine, you know, it wouldn't be out of the realm of reality for me to want to visit my aunt and uncle over the weekend, as all my friends are out of town or otherwise occupied. They have a small cabin close to their house, which they keep for their visiting relatives. I don't know if someone else in the family might be planning a visit, but it wouldn't do any harm to check. That's my Aunt Katie and Uncle Otis Cranston."
Katherine's expression brightened immediately. "Thank you! Oh, it would be great if I could go up there. Then maybe 'Kat' will introduce 'Billy' to her old friend, yes?" She looked at Rocky with an expectant expression.
"It would be my pleasure," he smiled, quite relieved to think she would be there. It would makethings much easier.
"Billy, we have to go, now! See you guys on Monday," Tanya said, pulling Billy away from the group. They hurried toward the Park residence.
Tommy sighed. "I sure hope everything goes okay. David and I are leaving in the morning. But I have my communicator if anyone needs me."
"Same here. Dad and I take off in the morning as well. Good luck, you guys."
"Yeah, something tells me we are going to need it," Adam sighed, preparing to head home and greet 'his' family.
"Well, I'm off to go pack for the big weekend. Come on Kat, you can walk me home and tell me all about Kristen. We can plot how to get you two some time together."
Adam walked in the front door of 'his' home into what seemed to him to be a different dimension. The entire house was teeming with people named DeSantos, or related to someone named DeSantos. Children screamed and laughed, adults talked in English and in Spanish, there was the background sound of music and the rattle of pots and pans from the kitchen. There was also the smell of good home cooking, spicy and inviting.
Adam pasted a smile on his face and began to work his way toward his bedroom, greeting relatives without using any names. He noticed half the greetings he received were not by name, either. Apparently Rocky was right, half the family couldn't identify the other half by name.
He finally reached the door to his bedroom and entered, only to find about a dozen children, ranging from ages five to fifteen, had taken refuge there. Belatedly he remembered that he would be sharing his bedroom with at least three other kids. He continued to smile as he felt an overwhelming rush of panic. He had to get out of there, now.
He walked back toward the front door, still smiling, greeting people with a heartiness he was far from feeling. His hand was on the front door when he heard 'his' mom's voice.
"Rocky! There you are! Come, say hello to your Aunt Cecilia, she has been asking about you," Adam turned and with the same smile went into the kitchen. Rocky was one of the oldest of the cousins, and to Adam's dismay, obviously the most popular. He was surrounded by a seeming horde of women, who hugged and pinched him until he was ready to shout in frustration. One aunt in particular kept patting his backside, forcing Adam to constantly try to maneuver out of her reach.
"Mama," he finally said, "I need to go over to Billy's house to get some notes for my science homework. He is going out of town, so I need to go tonight. I'll be back soon, okay?"
Mrs. DeSantos didn't look very happy, but she nodded her permission. Adam gratefully took his leave and had to restrain himself to keep from literally bolting out the door. He hurried toward the Cranston house, hoping Kat would be there.
She answered the door herself, looking a bit distracted.
"Rock...Adam, what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I needed to get out of that house! Kat, can I come in for a few minutes, please?"
Katherine saw the relieved look on Adam's face at the quiet inside the Cranston house. Of course it was quiet, she was the only one there. As usual.
"Are things going badly over at Rocky's?" she asked him gently.
"Not really. But, Kat, there are so many of them! Family members are everywhere. Half of them are speaking Spanish. They all have names, and relationships, and stories to tell and I am so confused. I don't know who anyone is. And, there's an aunt that likes to pat my...Rocky's...butt, and she was practically chasing me around the kitchen while the rest of a bunch of aunts were pinching my cheeks or hugging me....stop laughing!" Adam tried to look outraged, but found himself laughing at her merriment.
"Oh...I'm sorry...Adam....but I can just see you...swiveling around trying to get away from her.....oh, my.." Kat gasped out between giggles. She tried to sober down, and look properly sympathetic, but she just couldn't quite do it.
Adam was laughing at her reaction, and at the sound of Billy giggling. He'd never heard that before; indeed, he didn't think the reserved former Ranger even knew how to giggle.
"What is so funny, mister?" Katherine finally asked, sensing he wasn't laughing for quite the same reason she was.
"Billy has a funny sounding giggle," Adam confessed.
That comment set Katherine off again, and soon the two of them were completely out of control. It was then that Mr. Cranston chose to show up.
"Well, kids, sounds like you are having fun," he commented as he entered the house to find his son and a friend laughing hysterically.
"Yeah, Dad, Adam was just telling me a joke he heard," Katherine replied.
"Adam? I'm sorry, I thought you were Rocky," Wallace looked at the young man with some confusion.
"Oh, I am Rocky. Billy gets us mixed up all the time," Adam quickly replied.
"Oooookay. Guess he's getting an early start on the 'absent minded professor' reputation, huh?"
"Yeah, that's it," Adam grinned as Billy's father headed up the stairs.
"Jeez, Kat, Billy's going to come home to a dad that thinks he's losing his mind if you keep this up," he whispered to her when Mr. Cranston was safely out of earshot.
"I know. He's not going to be very happy with me. But I'm still having a hard time keeping everyone straight. I'm sorry, you had better head on home now. I need to pack for the weekend, I'm leaving as early as I can. Billy's aunt and uncle have room for me, and Rocky and I have it all planned out how I can spend some time with Kristen. You'll be okay, right?"
"Oh, yeah, I'll be all right. Insane, tormented, sick of people...but I'll be okay. I hope you have a good weekend, Kat." Looking a bit downcast, Adam went back home.
Billy, Tanya, and the Sloans arrived in San Francisco that evening and quickly settled in with Gabe Sloan's associate, Richard Zimmer, and his wife, Susan. Billy and Tanya were given rooms to themselves, which was convenient considering Billy was planning to spend part of each night at the Power Chamber.
"How are your going to get enough sleep to function?" Tanya asked him when he told her of his intentions.
"I can go days on very little sleep," he replied reassuringly. "I can get by. I'm going to rig a silent alarm to alert me if someone enters my room during the night. It will sound in the Power Chamber giving me time to teleport back into the bathroom so no one will know I am gone. This should prevent anyone from finding out I'm leaving each night. If something does go wrong, you will cover for me, right?"
That night Billy was able to spend five hours with Alpha working on the machine. They finished the basic device design and the first stage of the actual construction. The plan was for Alpha to continue the construction while Billy spent the day with the Sloans.
The next morning, after only three hours of sleep, Billy joined 'his' parents and Tanya for an early breakfast. When Mr. Sloan asked Billy to share his knowledge of a particular African ritual, Tanya broke in and asked to be allowed to answer instead.
As Tanya reeled off an impressive dissertation of the subject, Billy looked at her in awe. She knew so much about this subject, which was close to her parents' hearts-she had obviously studied it thoroughly. He felt once again the stab of sadness that this weekend was spoiled for her. She deserved this special time with her parents. After breakfast they all headed to the university where the event was being held.
There were lectures and demonstrations as well as displays. The Sloans were determined to take in as much as possible, so the day was spent going from lecture to lecture, while taking in the various demonstrations in between. They had lunch there, eating picnic style at a nearby park.
Tanya had been fairly bursting with enthusiasm. In an attempt to disguise Billy's lack of knowledge in this field, she had volunteered answers to the Sloans' questions, to the point Billy was becoming concerned that they would suspect something. He pulled her aside after an afternoon lecture to voice that fear.
"Tanya, you need to tone it down a bit. They are going to be wondering just how Adam knows so much about the subject. I did do some studying and I can answer some of their inquiries myself. I know this is very frustrating for you, but we have to make it convincing. Okay?"
"Okay. I guess I got carried away." She looked so downcast Billy reached out and gave her an impulsive hug. She sighed and looked at him with tearful eyes. "I had really been looking forward to this weekend."
"I know. I truly wish I could make it better for you somehow."
Tanya glanced around to assure herself that her parents were nowhere nearby. "Billy, you already did a lot by getting me invited this weekend. I apologize for seeming so ungrateful."
"It's okay, Tanya. I do understand."
She smiled softly. "Thanks."
Rocky looked around the cabin where he was staying with the Hillards. The adults were already at the next cabin over, visiting with their friends from Australia. Rocky was supposed to join them, but was taking his time, worried about meeting Kristen. Thank goodness it had been years since she had seen Katherine, otherwise Rocky was sure he would have had no chance of pulling this off. He was already getting some odd looks from 'his' parents, who were not used to seeing their daughter eat such odd things or make jokes like she had suddenly started doing.
With a resigned sigh he headed on over to the other cabin, entering with a smile on his face, greeting the Gilmores as old friends. Then he found himself face to face with Kristen. She was slightly shorter than Katherine, and more slender. Her copper colored hair fell to the middle of her back in shining waves, offsetting her fair complexion and pale blue eyes to perfection. Rocky suddenly found it hard to breathe. She was the most exquisite young woman he had ever seen.
Kristen hurried forward and enveloped Rocky in a hug, which Rocky returned enthusiastically. "Oh, Kat, it's so good to see you again! I have been looking forward to this for months," Kristen gushed.
"I have been, too. I didn't think this weekend would ever come," Rocky replied with a smile.
"Let's go for a walk by the lake, we can catch up with each other. I can hardly wait to hear all about your life here, all the cute guys you must know, everything!" Kristen enthused.
So the two girls took off for a long walk, chatting amicably. Rocky kept the conversation steered toward what Kristen had been doing, and Kristen seemed to have no objections to talking about herself. Rocky was grateful for the tutoring he had received from Kat, he was able to understand most of Kristen's references and make appropriate responses. After a couple of hours they returned to the cabin and Kristen finally wound down a bit.
"So, outside of nature walks, what else is there to do here?" she asked.
Rocky had been waiting for just such an opening. "Well, there is a dance tomorrow night. And a friend of mine from Angel Grove should be here, he may already be."
"He? Good looking? Your boyfriend? Do tell," Kristen replied, with a gleam in her eyes.
"His name is Billy, yes, he's good looking, no, he's not my boyfriend," Rocky replied with a smile.
"Great! And when is he supposed to get here?"
"Today sometime. His aunt and uncle are the owners here. If you want, we can go over to the main lodge and see if he's here yet."
"Let's go!" Kristen grabbed Rocky's hand and all but dragged him out the door.
At the main lodge Rocky found Otis Cranston and asked if Billy had arrived. Informed that he had, the two girls were given directions to the cabin where he was staying. Katherine was standing on the porch when she saw the two approaching and hailed them with a wave.
"Billy, this is my friend, Kristen," Rocky introduced the two, doing his best to maintain the charade.
Katherine stepped forward to 'meet' Kristen. She was pleased to see how beautiful her friend had become in the intervening years. "Nice to meet you, Kristen. Katherine has told me so much about you. Are you enjoying yourself here?"
Kristen and Katherine were soon engrossed in conversation, freeing Rocky to observe the beautiful Australian without her noticing it. "Darn, I wish Billy would hurry up and fix that machine. I'd love to meet Kristen as myself." Seeing how Kristen was hitting it off so well with 'Billy', another thought occurred to him.
"Heck, maybe Billy would let me borrow his body for a couple of days!"
Adam was fighting panic. The game Rocky had told him about was going to begin, and he had no idea what to do. It was basically a round-robin story telling game, the rules being the story had to be told in Spanish, and had to feature names of relatives. It wouldn't have been much of a problem if Adam spoke Spanish or could remember the relatives' names. He sat in the den with the rest of the family, pretending to understand the story as it went from person to person. He had a faint hope he would not have a turn, that maybe they would skip over him. He was using all his skill at making himself seem invisible to avoid being drawn into the game. Suddenly he heard his name, and all the family members seemed to be looking at him with anticipation. He swallowed dryly and opened his mouth with no idea of what would come out.
"I'm going to be sick!" he gasped, leaping to his feet and rushing toward the nearest bathroom. He hurried in and locked the door behind him. He made retching sounds, hoping to convince whoever may have followed him that he truly was sick. He bent over double to force the blood into his face, and placed a very hot damp wash cloth against his face to give him the appearance of a fever. Having done all this he unlocked the door to let his worried mother in.
"Mama, I'm sorry, I just don't feel very good," he said softly.
She reached out and placed her hand against his hot forehead. "It's okay, Rocky, go lie down. You shouldn't be trying to stay up with the family if you are sick. I will be by later with some medicine, but you rest for now," she said gently, herding him toward his room.
Adam felt a stab of guilt. He hated lying to Mrs. DeSantos, but he had been desperate. He quickly undressed and slipped into bed. He heard the family laughing and shouting as the game continued, and a part of Adam felt oddly left out. Unhappy, he turned onto his side and drifted into an uneasy sleep.
Tanya forced herself to smile as she sat with Billy and her parents. Though she truly was grateful for the chance to even be with them this weekend, she was still deeply disappointed. She did have to admit that Billy was so far doing a pretty darn good job as their daughter. He had applied that awesome mind of his to all the information that had been thrown his way, and after just a day at the seminar, and a few hours of study the evening before, was able to converse easily with the Sloans on the subject.
The talk turned to one of the lectures they had attended. It had concerned various family and marital rituals found in the different tribes and cultures throughout history. Billy and Tanya had both been completely fascinated with the lecture, and the vast variety of situations the rituals had covered.
Tanya eventually excused herself to go to the restroom, and when she returned she realized that something had gone wrong. Billy looked quite uncomfortable, though he was trying very hard to hide it. Her parents just looked supremely happy, beaming at their daughter.
"Adam, why don't we go for a quick walk? I could use some fresh air, and I need to ask you a favor," Billy said at last, with a smile at the Sloans.
"Sure," Tanya replied with a puzzled look on her face. Something was definitely wrong here.
Once they were out of the restaurant, Billy turned to Tanya with an unhappy expression. "I am supposed to ask you if you can amuse yourself for a few hours tomorrow afternoon, while your parents and I perform the Acceptance Ritual."
Tanya gasped, tears forming in her eyes. The Acceptance Ritual was one of the more ancient and obscure rituals they had learned about that morning. However, it was very appropriate for her situation. According to what they were told at the lecture, the ritual was traditionally performed when a child was one year old. It signified the parents' acceptance of the new member of the family, officially accepting the child into the clan. Supposedly, if the parents declined to perform the ritual, the child would be given away or sold, usually into a life of servitude or poverty. Declining to perform the ritual was tantamount to declaring the child unworthy and unacceptable, a great shame to the child, one that would follow them to the end of their days. That Tanya's parents wished to perform this ritual was a great honor to their daughter. Billy was absolutely heartsick that this was happening under these circumstances.
Tanya fought the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. This was more than she had ever dared dream would happen. She knew her parents loved her, and she them, but to have an actual ceremony, sealing that love, and officially accepting her into the family was more than she had expected. Her heart swelled with happiness even as it ached with sorrow that she would not get to be a part of the actual ceremony.
Billy watched the play of emotions across her face with a heavy heart. He felt like the worst kind of intruder. He understood, perhaps better than Tanya realized, just how important this ritual was to Tanya and her parents. How it would help to ease the pain of all the years of separation they had endured.
"I wish, more than you can know, that there was some way to delay this until you are back in your own body," Billy began.
"Billy, it's okay. It can't be helped. The important thing is that they did indeed choose to accept me. I wish I could do the ceremony, but I will just have to focus on the most important fact. And that is that they did choose me, and want me," Tanya said, swiping at the moisture in her eyes impatiently.
Billy put a comforting hand on Tanya's shoulder, impressed with her strength of character in the face of what had to be a devastating disappointment.
"I'll hang out at the seminar tomorrow, tell them it's not a problem. And don't you go feeling guilty, either. It isn't your fault. I'll be okay," Tanya reassured him, tears again threatening.
"Okay," Billy replied quietly, then gave into the urge to give her a hug.
"And don't you forget, you are happy! You are very happy to be doing this," Tanya admonished him gently.
"Yes, ma'am. I'll be happy."
Kristen and Rocky had ended up spending the remainder of the afternoon visiting with Katherine. Kristen invited Katherine to join them all for dinner, an invitation Kat happily accepted.
"Mom, Dad, this is Katherine's friend, Billy. Billy, these are my parents," Kristen introduced the light-haired young man to her folks.
"Pleased to meet you," Katherine replied, pleased to see the Gilmores after so long.
Dinner was a barbecue, with everyone eating at the picnic table outside. Conversation was lively, with everyone pitching in with humorous stories and tales of their activities over the last few years. Rocky didn't contribute much, preferring to listen, and fearing he might say something ill advised with Katherine sitting right there.
When night finally arrived, Kat reluctantly excused herself, heading back toward the main lodge and the cabin she was staying in. She knew she needed to visit a bit with Otis and Katie Cranston, as they had been so nice about letting their nephew use the cabin on such a busy weekend.
Kristen and Rocky sat on the porch, apart from their parents, talking quietly.
"You were right, he is cute. Do you think he would want to go to the dance with me?" Kristen asked.
Rocky fought to maintain a straight face. Would Kat like to date Kristen? Part of him wanted desperately to laugh hysterically at the idea, another part wanted to scream in frustration. It was completely unfair that Billy should catch the eye of yet another attractive girl when he wasn't even there!
"I guess I could ask him," Rocky said finally.
"Would you? That would be so great!"
"Sure thing. No problem," Rocky sighed.
Adam awoke to the sound of arguing small children, the smell of bacon, and a feeling of uneasiness. He had spent a restless night, feeling very badly about deceiving Rocky's mom, and suspecting he wasn't doing a particularly good job of being Rocky. He sighed dispiritedly and headed toward the nearest bathroom to get in line to use it. Rocky hadn't been kidding-all these extra people with only three bathrooms was a major inconvenience.
Mrs. DeSantos happened by, and spying Rocky standing there approached and placed her hand on his forehead.
"Are you feeling better today, Rocky?" she asked gently.
"I think so. I'm sorry for last night, Mama," Adam said sincerely.
"It's okay, I thought you might not be feeling so good, you didn't eat much last night."
Good grief, Adam thought, If I'd eaten any more I would have burst! How does Rocky do that!
"I had been hoping I would get to feeling better so I could enjoy the game," Adam said.
Rosa DeSantos smiled at her eldest child. "Maybe tonight, then. We always enjoy your contributions to the story!"
Adam had just finished dressing when one of Rocky's aunts (whose name Adam could not have remembered if his life depended on it) rushed up with a baby in her arms and two toddlers in tow.
"Rocky, bless you, would you please change Ricky while I get these two cleaned up and dressed. The diapers and supplies are in my room. Thank you!" she said as she handed Adam the squalling baby and headed into the bathroom.
Adam looked at the child in his arms with a perplexed expression. Here was a problem he had not expected. He had absolutely no idea how to change a baby's diaper, or for that matter, which room that aunt, whoever she was, was staying in. He started searching from room to room, finally locating one that had a crib in it. Placing the baby on the bed, he hunted around until he found diapers and other supplies.
He was trying to figure out how to unsnap the baby's pants to get to the diaper when he heard two little girls arguing vehemently. He felt a rush of happiness as he recognized the voices.
"Maria, Theresa! What are the two of you arguing about now?" he called, hoping the girls would come to him.
"What Rocky?" Theresa asked, standing just inside the door with Maria. Though only eight and six, the two girls would most likely know more about diapering babies than he did.
"I asked what you two were arguing about. All that yelling is not needed with so many people around."
"We weren't arguing, we were discussing," Theresa stated, looking at her brother with all the disdain an eight-year-old girl could muster.
"Fine. What were you discussing so loudly?"
"I think Billy's butt is cuter than Adam's," Maria declared very seriously.
Adam nearly choked.
He slowly got the details from the little girls. It seemed a couple of older girl cousins had been discussing boys, and in particular, how attractive some teenaged boy butts could be. The younger girls, wanting to be part of the discussion, had started arguing about the two young men who had caught their fancy: Adam and Billy. Adam knew about the crushes that the two youngsters were nursing, the whole team did. Though both he and Billy were subjected to teasing from their teammates, they were both unfailingly kind to the two youngsters.
Adam managed to keep a straight face throughout, though it was difficult. The two of them were so serious about it. Finally Theresa faced him.
"So you can decide for us. Whose butt is cuter? Adam's or Billy's?" she asked her brother bluntly.
Adam bit the inside of his cheek hard and managed to reply. "I refuse to get involved in such an argument."
"If you tell us which one is cutest, we'll change Ricky's diaper for you," Theresa offered, reaching out for the supplies.
Oh, man, Adam thought, someday, some guy is going to have his hands full with this girl! However, he was not about to lose the opportunity to have some assistance with this duty he had no idea how to perform.
"Okay, deal. Change Ricky's diaper, and I'll make my decision." It was a testament to Rocky's relationship with his youngest sisters that they did not question him, but went right to work changing the baby's diaper.
Presented with a freshly diapered baby, Adam knew he had to honor his agreement.
"Well, now, I'm no expert. Truth to tell, I haven't done a lot of research on this, but I believe that Billy has the better butt. However, Adam has much better hair."
His plan worked. Both girls were placated enough to stop arguing (at least for the time being), he had a freshly diapered baby, and peace reigned for the moment.
Only a little over a day to go, he thought with a sigh.
Tanya sat dejectedly in the lecture hall, scarcely hearing the speaker expound on the different native insects that could be used to create a gourmet meal. She could only think about the ceremony Billy and her parents were participating in right then. The Acceptance Ritual. Her parents were officially, symbolically, emotionally accepting her into the family. Sealing them as a family for now and all time. She supposed it really was best she not be there, it would be harder to keep her composure if she had to actually see and hear Billy perform the ceremony in her stead.
She swiped angrily at her eyes, keeping her head down. Guys aren't supposed to cry, she reminded herself half angrily. But the truth was, she wanted to go somewhere and simply cry her eyes out. She had been able to speak so calmly about the situation yesterday, but now the reality of the disappointment was hitting her hard.
When the lecture ended she wandered over near the display where she was supposed to meet her parents and Billy at three. She didn't have long to wait, they met her barely five minutes later.
"Adam, thank you so much for being so understanding about this afternoon. We really appreciated it," Gabe Sloan said, holding out his hand to shake Tanya's. "It is extremely rude to leave a guest on his own, but this was a very private matter."
Tanya summoned up a slight smile. "I understand, sir. It was no problem."
"Well, let's hit the last demonstration for the day, then I will take us all out for a special dinner."
As they headed toward the next event, Billy hung back a bit, dropping in beside Tanya.
"Are you okay?" he asked quietly.
"Not really. It hurt much more than I expected it to. How was the ceremony?"
"It was very nice. They love you so much. And, remember, it is you they accepted, not me. I am just the body; you are the soul. You are their daughter, the center of their world. They are lucky to have you; you are lucky to have them."
Tanya looked at him with shining eyes. "Thank you," she whispered, touched, and a bit surprised, by Billy's words.
"They gave you this ring as a remembrance. Darndest thing, but I think you married them."
Tanya had to smile a bit at that comment.
Billy continued, still speaking quietly, wanting desperately to offer Tanya something to ease her pain. "Perhaps, later, you could invent your own ceremony. Present your parents with a token like this ring is, to seal the relationship on your side. If that makes any sense."
"Oh, that's a great idea! They have accepted me, but since I am certainly old enough to make my own decisions, I can accept them. Yes, that makes sense. Billy, you're a genius!" The first genuine smile in over a day appeared on Tanya's face.
"I glad to be of any assistance I can," he replied with a smile of his own.
Katherine strolled along the path that led to the large outdoor amphitheater where the dance was being held, walking between Kristen and Rocky. Her thoughts were a bit chaotic, switching back and forth between amusement and dismay.
Earlier that day, Rocky had shown up at her door, looking a bit disgruntled himself. He explained how Kristen was quite taken with Billy, and wondered if Billy would ask her to the dance. Katherine was at first ready to agree with the idea. It would give her a chance to spend time with her friend, which had been the goal of her coming up there. But, giving the matter some thought, she realized that would be very unfair to invite Kristen to the dance. It would be as if she was leading the girl on, and Kat did not want to do that. So, Kat had found what she hoped was a fair compromise. She invited both 'girls' to attend. Rocky had agreed that was a sensible decision.
Once her dilemma had been resolved, she asked Rocky what was bothering him. Rocky ended up confessing to his attraction to her friend, and his frustration at being trapped in a female body at such an inopportune time. Katherine could understand his feelings. Kristen had truly turned out to be a stunning young woman.
Both were worried that this evening's festivities could prove to be quite uncomfortable for both of them. Kat and Rocky had agreed that Rocky would, as subtly as he could, stay close to Kat and Kristen, as Kat would have no idea how to respond if Kristen tried flirting with her. And, quite truthfully, it was not something she had any desire to experience. Rocky was equally worried that some unattached male might be interested in him, which was something he had no desire to experience.
Once they arrived at the amphitheater, Kristen immediately took Kat's hand and dragged her to the dance area, leaving Rocky almost open mouthed in surprise. Kristen was a lot of things, but shy was obviously not one of them. Even though when the dance ended the two of them rejoined Rocky, it was only a matter of minutes before Kristen had her back out on the floor. All in all, after three hours Kat had danced with Rocky only four times, the rest had been with Kristen. Rocky had danced with several men who were dateless, managing to make his disinterest plain without being especially rude. At least he hoped he hadn't been rude. The last time Kat had danced with Rocky she had indicated she was planning on making good her escape as soon as possible. This was not working out well at all.
Watching the two dance, Rocky noted that Kristen had her hands all over Katherine's backside whenever possible. He was at a loss as to how to proceed, knowing Kat was depending on him to intervene if things got out of hand. He had decided to feign illness and request 'Billy' walk him home when a tall, good looking young man took him by the arm and asked him to dance. Without waiting for a reply, he firmly escorted Rocky to the dance floor and took him in his arms for the slow dance that was playing. Rocky tried to protest, but didn't want to cause a scene, thereby embarrassing Katherine and Kristen. So he gave into the man's insistence, hating the fact he felt more or less helpless in this situation.
When he was finally released from the fellow's arms, Rocky looked around immediately for Kat and Kristen, but they were nowhere to be found. He wandered throughout the crowd, looking for the two of them, and ducking out of sight when he spied any unattached men. He did not want to dance any more. All he really wanted to do was go back to the Hillard's cabin and forget this evening had ever happened.
Unable to find the girls, he finally decided to head back to the cabins. Maybe they had decided to leave, though he had his doubts about that, as he didn't believe Kat would leave without telling him. He was almost to the cabins when he heard someone approaching from the path leading to the lake.
Kristen all but ran into him, such was her haste and apparent ill humor.
"Kristen! What is wrong?" Rocky asked, startled by her expression.
"Oh, Kat!" she said, her expression immediately softening into one of dismay. "I didn't see you! And what's wrong is that...that...friend of yours!"
"Yes! He suggested a nice walk by the lake, so of course I agreed. He had seemed so nice. Then he...he...he tried to put some moves on me! The nerve! Why, I barely know him!" she was strident in her outrage.
"Billy put some moves on you?" Rocky repeated, disbelief evident in his voice.
"You don't believe me?" Kristen asked wide-eyed.
"No, I don't. I know Billy, I know him very well. And I think what happened is you made a move on him, and he rejected you. Let me tell you something. If you try to tell our parents this pack of lies, I will contact Livvy and make sure she tells everyone how my friend rejected you. She will spread it all over your school, you will end up a laughingstock!" Rocky said a silent thank you that Katherine had told him about a friend of hers who attended the same school Kristen did.
Kristen paled in fury, but made no other comment as she brushed past Rocky and stalked off toward the cabins. Rocky headed toward where Kristen had come from, feeling Katherine might be in need of a friend right then.
He found her huddled on one of the benches that dotted the shore of the lake. She had her knees pulled up to her chest and was obviously in tears.
"Kat?" he said quietly, not wanting to startle her.
"R...Rocky?" she replied, looking up at him with an anguished expression.
Rocky sat down next to her. "I saw Kristen. She said you 'put some moves on her'. Somehow I found that very hard to believe. What happened here?" he asked gently.
"She basically dragged me down here. I didn't want to put up a fight or make a fuss. Then she just grabbed me and kissed me and...and...groped me, you know, where you might grope a guy." Katherine was blushing almost purple when she tried to explain this.
"Oh," Rocky was no less uncomfortable than Kat was. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know. I think so. If she tells our parents, and she probably will, Billy is going to be in very hot water with my folks. He could get into all sorts of trouble, and it's not his fault." Fresh tears flowed down her face at this.
"That may not be a problem. When she told me what 'you' had done, I told her I didn't believe it, and if she told our parents that then I'd write to Livvy and have her tell everyone how she'd been rejected. Do you think that will work?"
Katherine's expression had lightened as Rocky spoke. "Rocky, you are a genius! Yes, I think it will. I have noticed that her 'reputation' as being cool is the most important thing to her. She would not do anything to jeopardize that. That makes me feel a little better."
"What else did she say?" Rocky knew that there had to be something else.
"She said that I...you...Kat had turned out to be a real prude, and was uninteresting and bland, and she was glad I was not around anymore as she would not be able to stand me," Katherine's voice was soft and controlled, but the pain she felt was clearly telegraphed.
"Kat, I'm so sorry," Rocky said, taking her in his arms, his concern for her allowing him to ignore her physical appearance. Kat's tears started anew in the face of his sympathetic kindness, and Rocky held her until she had cried out her hurt feelings.
"Thank you, Rocky, for being so understanding," she looked at her teammate with a new respect. She had just seen a side of the easy-going teen that few had had a chance to see.
"I'm just sorry you were in need of comfort. Kat, you are ten times the person Kristen is. I was attracted to her beauty, as I have been to yours. But your beauty goes all the way through, where hers is surface only. Really, she deserves our pity, don't you think?" He smiled at her winningly.
Kat chuckled, feeling better despite herself. "Why don't you let others see this side of you? This nice, kind, sensitive, caring side?"
"Oh, it only comes out when I'm trapped in a female body," he quipped, resorting to his normal behavior.
"Hmmm. Maybe this should happen more often," Kat shot right back at him, giving in to a giggle.
"I don't think so. It's a pain having to avoid all those guys. Jeez, you sure were popular in there."
Katherine chuckled, then fell silent again. They sat in companionable silence for a while longer, relaxing after their upsetting evening. Rocky had kept her in his embrace, and she had relaxed in his arms. Rocky looked over at her and saw a blush once again darkening her complexion.
"What's wrong, Kat?"
"Um...uh...Nothing I guess," she was blushing so deeply Rocky began to fear she'd have a stroke. She disentangled herself from his arms and moved a bit away from him.
"It must be something. What?"
Kat looked down and continued to blush, but refused to speak. Rocky happened to glance at her lap and realized what the problem was.
"Oh. Ah, I see. Just what did Kristen do to you?"
"I don't know. What am I supposed to do, Rocky? Will it just...settle down...on its own?" She could not look at him at all.
"Uh...uh...Kat..I...I can't discuss this with you. I just can't! I'm sorry, but I should be getting back to my cabin before your folks send out the local law enforcement team to look for me." Rocky got to his feet and began to edge away from the bench.
"Maybe Billy left one of his biology books at the cabin," he suggested before he hurried toward the Hillard's cabin, blushing to the roots of his currently blonde hair.
Adam had spent the day playing football, baseball, and soccer with various cousins and uncles. The entire family seemed to be athletically inclined and fiercely competitive. By evening he was exhausted and sore, having been tackled, kicked (accidentally), and whapped in the leg with a baseball bat (also accidentally-he hoped). Dinner had consisted of an extremely spicy enchiladas and burritos, served as always in huge quantities. Family members kept pressing more food on him, and Adam forced himself to eat far more than he normally would in order to maintain Rocky's reputation.
Consequently, he sat in a corner of the family room, listening to the story for the evening unfold, feeling the enormous amount of food he had consumed begin to revolt. He looked up and saw Mr. DeSantos looking at him in concern.
"Rocky, you don't look very well," he said in the sudden quiet.
"I think I'm going to..." the rest of the sentence was lost as Adam bolted toward the bathroom desperately. He didn't lock the door this time, there wasn't time to do so, nor was he inclined to. His mother followed him in, holding his head as he lost the huge meal he had eaten. She murmured soft words of comfort, holding a cool towel to his face as he waited for the dry heaves to settle down. Once she was convinced he had nothing else to lose, she helped him into his bed, giving him an elixir to settle his stomach and help him sleep. With a final kiss to his forehead, she went back to rejoin the family, leaving Adam alone.
He sighed as he settled down deeper in his bed. At least this time he didn't have the guilt that came from lying.
Tommy was the first one to get to the Power Chamber on Monday. He and David had gotten back into town by mid-morning, and Tommy was anxious to find out how close they might be to solving the personality displacement problem. Alpha filled him in on the status; the machine, a small, hand held version this time, was almost ready for testing. He just wanted to confer with Billy on some of the wiring specifications and fail safe measures.
Zordon informed Tommy that the Aquitian Rangers had been called in to fight once during the time the team was gone. The monster had been quickly and soundly defeated. Sent back to the Machine Empire Base, it had exploded, causing enough damage to make it so Mondo could not launch another attack for at least a few days. One piece of luck Tommy was grateful for.
Zordon was just finishing his report when Kat arrived, looking subdued and tired.
"How was the weekend?" Tommy asked, knowing the answer most likely wouldn't be very good.
"It was okay. But Kristen isn't like I remembered her. I really don't want to talk about it right now. How soon will we be able to make the switch back?"
"Looks like tomorrow, unless the testing goes really, really well. And, of course, depending on when Billy gets back here," Tommy told her.
He was telling Katherine about his weekend with his brother when Jason arrived back, followed shortly thereafter by Rocky. The Red and Gold Rangers noticed that there was an odd kind of tension between the other two teens, and wondered what exactly had happened up at the cabins that would have caused it. Rocky gave no more indication of being willing to talk about it than Katherine did.
Jason was starting to report on his weekend activities when a still pale Adam arrived. Though he was feeling much better than he had the evening before, he was still a bit nauseous, and had so far been unable to eat anything. The only reason he was not still curled up in bed was he was desperate to find out when their problem would be cleared up.
"Jeez, Adam, you look terrible," Rocky commented. "Or, rather, I look terrible. What happened?"
"I'm not sure, I think it is some sort of 24 hour bug. Three of your cousins got sick, too. In my case it was poetic justice, I guess. I faked being sick Saturday night, and darned if I didn't get sick for real on Sunday night."
"You look like you should be in bed, resting," Kat noted.
"I feel like I should be in bed resting. But I wanted to know how things were going here. No offense, Rocky, but I really would like to be me again. Any word?"
Filled in by Tommy, the other four teens looked cautiously hopeful, and anxious for Billy to arrive to give them a more accurate estimate.
The next to arrive back was Tanya, who looked around with some consternation when she was greeted by assorted sighs of disappointment.
"Well, I'm glad to see all of you, too," she said, only half joking. Her own mood was lowering now that the weekend was over and she had more time to consider all that had happened.
"Sorry, Tanya, I guess we are all just a bit anxious to hear from Billy how soon he thinks he can get this machine finished," Katherine explained.
"Well, he couldn't come here last night, he was too exhausted. He was pretty disappointed about that, but he isn't in the body that is used to going without sleep. He hadn't expected that," Tanya reported. "How was your weekend, Sweetie? Are you feeling okay?" she asked Adam, noticing how he looked.
"Fine, and not really. How was yours?" Adam replied.
"Okay. Better than not getting to go, but still hard. I don't really want to talk about it," she said, unknowingly echoing Katherine's earlier sentiments.
Adam wandered over to the side of the large room to sit down with Tanya, and Kat and Rocky drifted over to join them, the four conversing quietly.
Tommy looked at the subdued group and turned to Jason with a speculative look. "Well, at least they are all still talking to each other. I guess that is a good sign."
"I guess. I don't like the way Rocky and Kat are acting. Something happened, I hope it wasn't anything too serious. Tanya looks pretty down, too. But, you are right, it could be a lot worse. They could all be at each other's throats. I wish Billy would hurry up and get here," Jason sighed impatiently.
It was as if his friend had heard him, as Billy arrived seconds later.
The six teens immediately surrounded the team genius, questions battering the former Blue Ranger.
"Guys! Please, I haven't even looked at what has been done in the last day or so. Give me fifteen minutes and I'll let you know what the status is. Why don't you all wait in the park, okay?" he finally said, unable to answer anyone's questions.
The other teens agreed reluctantly, and left Billy and Alpha to confer in peace.
The time passed with excruciating slowness for the group as they sat around a secluded table, still not talking much. When Billy arrived he found them waiting much the same way a person waited inside a doctor's examination room.
"Well, guys, it looks like it should be ready tomorrow afternoon. Alpha is doing the testing now, and the preliminary results look pretty good. But, we have to be absolutely sure before we try it on one of us," he reported, looking a bit downcast himself over the circumstances.
"There is no chance it will be ready today?" Katherine asked with a pained expression.
"I'm sorry, Kat, but, no, I don't think so. This is not something we can rush into. Are things that bad being me?" he asked quietly.
"No, that's not it. I just...well, I just want to...you know...be me, see my family," she replied hesitantly.
"That's understandable. I'd prefer to be me as well. Not that Tanya's family is anything but great," he added, not wishing to insult his friend.
"Guys, it will all be over soon. I still have some homework to do, and my folks are gone to Stone Canyon for the day. Who would like to come over to study?" Tommy offered.
Rocky, Kat, Jason and Tanya took him up on the offer, while Adam elected to go back to Rocky's and get some more sleep. Billy needed to go home as well. It seemed the Sloans were having company that evening, and he needed to help get the house straightened up.
The group dispersed, anxious for the next twenty-four hours to be done so things could get back to normal.
The next morning found the teens again meeting in the park to exchange homework. The solemn moods were still in evidence, and there was little talk among them outside of the necessary questions regarding their studies. They agreed to all head to the Power Chamber as soon as possible after classes let out that afternoon. Katherine would meet them there.
"What are you going to be doing today?" Tommy asked her, noting she still looked pretty unhappy.
"I guess I'll watch TV, maybe read for a while. I never thought I'd miss going to school," she sighed.
"Only a few more hours, then you can have your life back to normal again. Or as close to normal as it ever gets," the Red Ranger reassured her as he prepared to walk to school with the rest of the group. "Just hang in there, Kat, it's almost over."
"Thank God. I don't think I have ever wanted to go home so badly," she said quietly, not wishing Billy to overhear them.
"Guess I can't blame you about that. We'll see you later, okay?" The six high school students headed toward Angel Grove High, while Kat headed back to the quiet Cranston house.
Katherine prowled around the house all morning, restless and distracted. She couldn't get what Kristen had said out of her mind. She wanted desperately to talk to her mother. She needed to confide her feelings, to have her mother's reassurance that what Kristen said was not true. Finally, unable to stand the quiet and solitude any longer, she decided to take a walk.
She wandered the residential streets randomly. She really wasn't paying much attention to where she went, just letting her feet pick their own path. So, she was a bit surprised to look up and see she was outside her own house. Tears formed in her eyes as she felt the nearly irresistible urge to walk up the front path, go inside, and throw herself in her mother's embrace. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she forced herself to walk briskly away.
Katherine was walking so fast it was almost a jog. She kept her eyes on the pavement in front of her, fighting to get control of her feelings before she ended up having an emotional breakdown right there on the street. Intent on her internal struggle, she did not notice the busy intersection up ahead until she was out in the street and heard the terrifyingly close blare of a horn.
She glanced up to see a car bearing down on her. She barely had time for any reaction at all before she found herself slammed into the windshield of the vehicle.
With a horrible crunching sound, her world went black.
It was around 2:30 that afternoon when Jason heard a commotion outside his next to last class, just minutes before the class was due to end. As soon as the teacher released the class, Jason started hearing the other students chattering about some accident that had happened to a recent graduate. He didn't think anything of it until a student named Mark Pierson grabbed his shoulder.
"Hey, you know that smart guy, right? Billy Cranston?"
"Yeah," Jason replied, a bit testily.
"Well, we heard on the scanner in shop class that he was hit by a car near where he lives. I thought you might want to know, if you are friends with the guy."
"Are you sure it was Billy that was hit?" Jason asked sharply.
"Yeah. That was the name. Billy Cranston. Guess he was hurt pretty bad," Mark reported, looking worried at Jason's expression.
"Oh, damn!" Jason muttered, heading toward the area of the school where Tommy's last class was held.
He quickly located Tommy, Adam, and Tanya. "Guys, have you heard?"
At their puzzled expressions he sighed, hating to be the one to bear bad news. "Billy was hit by a car. Rather, Kat was. We have to find Billy now. I don't think he should hear this from strangers, he's going to be upset enough as it is. And we need to get to the hospital, as soon as possible. Where is your next class?" he asked Tanya.
Tanya took Jason to find Billy, while Adam and Tommy went in search of Rocky. They were going to skip their last class and head to the hospital.
The six teens were seated around the waiting area of Angel Grove Memorial Hospital. Jason sat with Wallace Cranston, who was silently staring at the doors behind which his son was being treated for his injuries. Tommy and Tanya sat flanking the distraught Billy, who was watching at his father with a stricken expression. Rocky and Adam sat nearby, waiting and watching.
All they knew at this point was that Katherine had apparently gone out for a walk, and had, for reasons no one could determine, wandered directly in front of an oncoming car. She had leapt up at the last minute, sparing herself (and Billy) broken legs, but had suffered a head injury when she hit the windshield of the car. As yet there was no word as to how severe the injury was, or if there was any brain damage.
"What was he doing? What was he thinking?" Wallace asked quietly, knowing no had any answers, needing to ask the questions anyway.
Jason reached over and placed a comforting hand on the worried man's shoulder. "Billy will be fine. He was probably thinking about some experiment that he wants to do, or something like that. You know how distracted he can get. He'll be fine," he spoke softly, hoping to soothe his friend's father. He shot another look over at Billy, who returned his glance with a tear filled one of his own.
Tommy had noticed Jason's look, and a glance at Billy showed the teen that his friend was on the edge of his control. Mr. Cranston was obviously distressed, and it was tearing his son apart. With a meaningful look at Tanya, Tommy placed his hand on Billy's knee and leaned toward him a bit.
"Come on, Billy, let's get out of here for a few minutes. We could use some fresh air," he said softly.
Billy looked at him in confusion, his thoughts having been far away. But when Tommy and Tanya stood and urged him to his feet, he voiced no objection. The three of them went outside, walking away from the hospital into the cool afternoon sunshine.
"I can't believe this. What the hell was she doing? According to what I overheard she just walked out in front of the car. Didn't she see it? Oh, God, my father is going to go nuts," Billy's voice cracked a bit at that.
Tanya reached out and put her arm comfortingly around her upset friend. "Billy, I know Kat didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident. She seemed to be upset after the weekend, maybe she was just distracted. But, you have to keep thinking positive. She will be okay. You will be okay. And, believe it or not, your dad will be okay." She spoke with quiet conviction.
"I just can't stand seeing him hurting like that. He looks like he is going to cry, and believe me, that isn't like him at all," Billy replied.
"He just loves you. A lot, apparently," she smiled gently, tightening her hold on him slightly.
"I know. I love him, too."
Tanya snorted delicately. "Has it ever occurred to the two of you to tell each other this?"
Billy looked down, his expression unhappy. "We don't talk about it. It isn't our way."
"Maybe when this is all over you should work on that."
They continued in silence for a while longer, lost in their own thoughts and worries.
"You know, I feel pretty badly about Kat's parents. Their daughter is in danger, and they don't even know it. It seems unfair, somehow," Tommy commented finally.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. And I can't even bring myself to consider what will happen if...if my body doesn't survive," Billy's voice faded to a whisper.
"Don't even think that! She'll make it. She has to!" Tanya declared vigorously.
Before anyone had a chance to respond they heard their names being called. Turning they saw Adam and Rocky running toward them.
"We should have asked which way you were heading," Adam gasped, trying to catch his breath.
"What's up, guys?" Tommy asked.
"Got the word on Kat's...Billy's...injuries. He suffered a skull fracture. They aren't sure how much actual damage was done, he's still unconscious. They are going to wait at least 24 hours to determine if they need to do surgery. They put him in the ICU to keep tabs on his condition. His dad's in visiting him now. Jason went with him," Adam reported.
"So it's not exactly good news, and not exactly bad news," Tommy mused. "How is Mr. Cranston doing?"
"He seems okay for now. It seems to help having Jason there. Sorry, Billy," Adam replied with a sympathetic look at his friend.
Billy nodded disconsolately. He wanted nothing more in the world than to be able to help his dad, and his frustration at the situation was growing steadily.
The beep of their communicators distracted them from their worried thoughts.
"What is it, Zordon?" Tommy asked.
"How is Katherine?" Zordon's voice reflected his concern.
"They don't really know for sure yet, but she does have a skull fracture. She may need surgery. We won't know definitely until tomorrow."
"This is most unfortunate. However, I do have some good news for you. Alpha has finished all the testing on the device, successfully. It is ready to be used, whenever you are all ready to make the switches."
The five teens looked at each other with mixed emotions, no one really wanting to say anything with Billy standing right there.
"We should go get that done," Billy said at last. "We will switch everyone back, and I'll take Kat's body for the time being. It is the most sensible thing to do. If we need to fight Mondo we will be better able to do so if everyone is in their right body, as it were."
"Okay, let's go check in with Jason and your dad, then get this done," Tommy declared.
They headed back to the hospital.
Billy held the small device, checking it over one final time. Unlike the bulky, unwieldy machine he created before, this one was small and streamlined. However, it still did the job, or at least it should. He sighed and looked over at Tanya.
"Shall we go first?" he invited.
"Sure," she smiled at him encouragingly. He placed a couple of probes on her forehead, then placed a couple on his own. They sat down on the chairs Alpha provided, looking at each other with ill-disguised nervousness.
"Well, here goes," Billy said softly, and he threw the switch. It automatically shut off a few seconds later, and the two teens opened their eyes, which they had closed instinctively when the device activated.
Tanya's face was split by the happiest smile they had ever seen. "I'm back!" she declared forcefully, looking incredibly pleased. "Thank you, Billy!" She stepped up to where he was still sitting and kissed him on the cheek.
"You guys feel okay?" Tommy asked, concerned that Billy had remained seated.
"Fine, Tommy," Billy replied, seeming to sense Tommy's unvoiced question. "I see no sense in my getting up as I will be doing this procedure two more times. Why don't you have a seat Adam?" he indicated the seat Tanya had just vacated.
A couple of minutes later Adam stood up, looking as pleased as Tanya had. "I never thought I'd be so happy to look in a mirror and see me!" he laughed as Tanya held up a shiny piece of metal so Adam could see his reflection. "Thanks Billy, Alpha."
"Next?" Billy asked with a slight grin, seeing Rocky looking anxious. "Ready to give up being a female?" he asked.
"God, yes! Let's do it!" Rocky declared, planting himself on the seat Adam had last occupied and leaning toward Billy so he could place the probes. Another flip of the switch and moments later the dark-haired young man was leaping out of his seat exclaiming: "I'm me! I'm me!" to the amusement of the others.
Billy sighed as he carefully removed the probes from his forehead and looked down on his 'new' body.
"You okay?" Tommy asked quietly, as the others shared an impromptu celebration behind them.
"Yeah, I'm okay. It's just a little disorienting to find myself in yet another different body. Another female at that. I'm fine, really," his tone indicated he was anything but fine, but Tommy didn't want to pursue it with the rest of the team, as well as Zordon and Alpha, around.
Then Jason arrived, smiling when he realized the device must have worked and three of his teammates were back where they belonged.
"Anything new with Kat?" Tanya asked anxiously.
"No change. She's not allowed visitors, except...uh...'her' dad. Well, they let me in, but only because I was with Mr. Cranston. There isn't anything we can do there, guys," he concluded. The rest of the teens were crestfallen, their momentary happiness at being in their own bodies fading at the grim report.
"I guess I should head on home. I have homework to do, and quite frankly, I want to see my parents. You will call if something changes?" Tanya asked Jason.
"Absolutely. You should probably all go home for now. We will let you know when something happens."
Glumly agreeing, Rocky, Adam and Tanya teleported out, leaving the other three alone.
"How are you doing, Bro?" Jason asked, not having had a chance to talk to his friend since the accident had occurred.
"I'm okay." Even to Billy's ears it lacked strength or conviction.
"Uh-hunh. Let's get out of here for a bit, maybe go someplace where we can talk," Jason suggested in a manner that allowed for no argument. He and Tommy both knew Billy needed to talk, they were not about to let him brood about what was happening. Not when they were around, at any rate.
They ended up in the park again, sitting at the same table they had used earlier.
"Tell me exactly what the doctor said, please," Billy asked Jason.
So Jason gave him a complete rundown of everything the doctor had noted about his condition. How it was really completely up in the air at the moment. With that sort of injury he could regain consciousness the next day and be fine, he could need surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, he could go into a coma for a day or a year, he could die, there could be brain damage resulting in a variety of physical and/or mental handicaps. Until they could perform more tests there was no way to know how it would turn out.
Billy managed to maintain an air of objective interest in Jason's report, despite his growing fear. Of course, the biggest fear of all was that he would be trapped in Katherine's identity for an extended period of time. He had no particular dislike for her body, nor for Kat's family, at least from what little he knew of them. It was the loss of sense of self, and the fact his father was going through hell, when in reality his son was quite okay. Those were the things that were hard to take. And he had to agree with Tommy about his feelings regarding Kat's parents. They had no idea what had happened to their daughter. If he and Kat were unable to exchange places, the Hillards would end up having an imposter in place of their beloved child. That simply seemed wrong, like some sort of weird cheat.
"...so they will run another CAT scan tomorrow afternoon unless she wakes up," Jason concluded.
"How's my dad? Really. How's he holding up?" Billy asked, looking intently at Jason.
"Billy, he's extremely upset, of course. I guess no one can figure out what happened. She just stepped off the curb into the car's path. The witnesses say it appeared she was deep in thought, not paying much attention. So, your dad is pretty worried about what may have been so much on your mind that you would do something so absent-minded. And I guess you...Kat...has been upset since getting home. He didn't have any idea why, of course. But, overall, he's holding up okay. Hoping for the best, trying to ignore the threat of brain damage. I think that's what is worrying him the most at this point," Jason stopped, seeing the pain in the blue eyes.
"Damn," Billy swore softly and sighed deeply. "Thanks for being there for him, Jason. That helps a lot."
"No problem. I just wish it wasn't necessary at all."
"What time is it?" Billy asked suddenly.
"Uh-oh, I think I'm supposed to be home. I better get going. See you guys tomorrow," Billy said as he headed off in the direction of the Hillard residence.
It was just past midnight when Jason jerked awake with a horrible suspicion that something was wrong. He knew the other Rangers sometimes joked about his occasional 'gut feelings', indeed Rocky had once called it the male equivalent of 'women's intuition'. But he knew his feelings were usually very accurate. Rolling out of bed he quickly dressed and teleported to the Power Chamber.
"Jason, is something wrong?" Zordon was surprised to see the Gold Ranger. Billy was the only one who frequented the Power Chamber at night.
"Just a feeling. Has anyone been here since Tommy, Billy, and I left this afternoon?" he asked.
"Billy came by to pick up the device. He wanted to modify the probe connections and work up a diagram of the wiring to test for other potential uses in the future. He indicated he was unable to sleep and needed a project to keep him busy." Zordon reported.
"Oh, no, he wouldn't..." Jason muttered to himself, suddenly filled with dread. "Alpha, can you please locate Katherine?"
Alpha hurriedly entered some data. "She is in Angel Grove Memorial Hospital, Jason."
"Did you scan for Katherine's body or Billy's?" Jason asked.
"Katherine's physical body. It is in the same area as Billy's," the android reported, suddenly understanding.
"Damn. Please contact Tommy, he needs to be in on this," Jason requested, starting to pace nervously.
Within minutes the Ranger's leader was in the Power Chamber. "What's up guys?" he asked brusquely. He was never at his most personable when awakened from a sound sleep.
"I think we have a problem. Billy is in Katherine's hospital room. And, he took home the personality displacement device. I wanted you to be with me before I went there."
"Oh, man. We should have realized he might try this," Tommy berated himself. "Alpha, can you teleport us to a nearby location, out of sight of anyone?"
"You got it, Tommy! Teleporting now."
They found themselves in a tiny bathroom. Opening the door quietly, Tommy looked out to see Billy lying still and pale on the bed, surrounded by machinery. Sitting slumped on a chair near the head of the bed was Katherine, the device clenched in her hands. Tommy stepped into the room, followed by Jason.
"Billy?" Tommy said quietly, placing his hand on his shoulder. The teen's head lifted at the gentle touch, and Tommy and Jason saw the tears streaming down the pale face.
"No, it's Kat. He made the switch. What did I do to him?" Even with her voice very low, her despair was plain.
"Uh, we should get out of here, if we get caught it will be hell trying to explain ourselves. Come on, Kat," Tommy said gently, helping her to her feet and toward the bathroom. Moments later they were again in the Power Chamber.
"Now, what did I do, Tommy? What happened?"
By the time Tommy and Jason had appraised her of the situation she was in tears again.
"And we don't know if he will be okay? Why did you let him make the switch?" she asked tearfully.
"We didn't let him, he just did it. We forgot to consider how much he wanted to be back in his own body again. Look, Kat, there is nothing to be gained by tormenting yourself. Go home. Get some rest. It may turn out okay," Tommy tried to soothe her, taking her in his arms for a comforting hug.
"I don't think I can sleep. But I do so want to see my mum," Katherine sighed sadly. "I guess you are right. Please, if you hear anything at all, you will call me right away?"
At their promise she reluctantly removed herself from Tommy's embrace and touched her communicator, teleporting home.
"Guess we should take our own advice, huh? What a nightmare this has been," Jason sighed himself and prepared to head home.
"That it has. Here, Alpha, please put this somewhere safe. I hope we never have to use it again," Tommy handed Alpha the small device and along with Jason headed home.
The next afternoon the six Rangers headed toward the hospital immediately after school let out. They were a quiet, subdued group, still trying to cope with the events of the last few days. Jason had stopped by the hospital that morning to be told Billy's condition had not changed. A call to his mom at noon produced the same report.
They checked in at the reception desk, asking about Billy's condition. Joann told the teens that she would check for them and let them know in a few minutes. They all found seats together and conversed quietly while they waited.
Jason glanced up and let out a slight sound of surprise as he saw Wallace Cranston approaching them with a smile on his face.
"Hi, kids. Joann told me you were all here. Billy is conscious, and it appears his mind is just fine. He's already bugging the doctor about going home soon. I tell you, it's a miracle!" None of them could ever remember Billy's quiet father looking so thrilled.
"That's wonderful! Can we see him?" Jason asked, grinning happily.
"I'm afraid not yet. He's still in the ICU for at least today. But I will tell him you were here. And he will probably be in a regular room, if not at home, tomorrow." Wallace smiled at the group of teens again.
"I tell you something, it is good to have him back!"
A week passed. Billy was released from the hospital two days after regaining consciousness. The doctors were astonished at the extraordinary speed of his recovery. Billy told the others that he suspected it was due to his having had Powers-a lingering after effect. He was somewhat stiff and sore, and subject to severe headaches, but otherwise fine.
The other teens all reveled in being back with their correct families, and things began to return to normal. However, there was a definite strain between some of the Rangers, the lingering effects of the events during the personality displacements. After discussing it with Jason, Tommy called a team meeting at his house on a quiet Wednesday afternoon after school.
"Guys, I have been sensing some tension among you. Kat for instance, does not seem comfortable around Rocky. Tanya seems stressed around Billy. You get the idea. I think we need to clear the air. We are a team, guys. So let's work together here to put this experience behind us."
Gradually, with prompting from Tommy, they began to talk about the things that had happened while they were switched. Katherine spoke of how her erstwhile friend had treated 'Billy', and the things she had said about Kat. Tanya told of her disappointment over the Acceptance Ritual she was excluded from as Adam. Adam inadvertently lightened the mood of the group by telling of his experiences as Rocky, especially his dealings with Theresa and Maria. Rocky related how frustrating it was to be pursued by the various men at the dance, trying to thwart their advances. Billy talked of his displeasure regarding his injuries, and the fact his father now thought he was dangerously absent-minded. Tommy and Jason gave Billy a piece of their minds concerning the fact he made the switch with Katherine at a time that was dangerous for him.
The occasional voice was raised, a few tears shed, and apologies offered and accepted. They all realized they had each done as well as they could under the circumstances, and thankfully no permanent damage was done. After two hours they ended the meeting by going en masse to the Juice Bar for a round of smoothies.
Tommy later speculated to Jason that the entire experience had probably brought the team closer together.
That evening Billy was watching a movie when his father arrived home. Wallace checked to see Billy was okay, then headed toward his home office. Since taking the previous week off to tend his son, he was working more at home in the evenings to try to catch up. Billy turned off the movie and went into the office.
"What is it, Son?" Wallace asked, glancing up from his paperwork.
Billy had spent the time since he got home from the team meeting thinking about what it had been like in the Sloan household. And something Tanya had said to him during that horrible afternoon when Kat was hit by the car.
He cleared his throat nervously. "Um...I just wanted to tell you...I mean I wanted to say.." His father looked at him curiously. "I need to...that is...well...Iloveyou." He blurted it out so quickly it sounded like one word.
Wallace smiled. Slipping his glasses off he stood up and approached his only child. "I love you, too, Billy. Guess I don't tell you often enough." He hugged his son tightly.
"I love you."
Author Notes: Thank you Dagmar for the suggestions and encouragement. And to Signkat and Cinders for the assist on the title.