Disclaimer: It's Saban's sandbox. I just play here because it's
Author's Note: This is my first Power Ranger's story, so I'd appreciate any feedback you have. I'm a little fuzzy on all the details, but I have tried to keep this accurate within the broad-strokes and major events. This piece is set during early Zeo before Kim breaks up with Tommy.
Kat couldn't believe how quiet things were in the Command Center. Used to the hustle and bustle that always accompanied the moments before a battle, the Pink Ranger found the silence that had settled over their base of operations atypical and slightly unsettling. Then again she had never been here when there wasn't danger, so maybe this was usual.
**I've certainly never been here at this hour,** She mused looking down at her watch. It was a little past one in the morning, but despite her exhaustion from the day's battle she hadn't been able to sleep. Apparently Zordon had because his tube was currently empty. Never having wondered what their mentor did when he wasn't informing them of the latest threat, Kat found it odd to think about him doing such mundane things as sleeping.
Trying to find Alpha, she turned a little and winced as her shoulder reminded her exactly why she hadn't been able to sleep. It had started off as a dull throbbing ache like most of the residual pain that demorphing didn't take care of, but during the night the ache had intensified and now there was a sharp shooting pain whenever she moved. In a lot of ways it reminded her of the pain from when she would hurt something diving, not serious enough to worry, but painful enough to keep her up.
Deciding that her discomfort overrode her curiosity about Zordon and Alpha's nocturnal habits, Kat turned and headed down to the infirmary.
As she passed the Zord bay, she heard a clatter and a muffled voice. Instantly on alert, the Pink Ranger typed in her security clearance and slipped through the opening doors.
She had only been in the Zord bay a handful of times and it never failed to take her breath away. Piloting them was one thing, but standing next to the behemoths was a humbling experience. Shaking herself a little, Kat refocused and began to scan the bay for the intruder.
Whoever had been there moments ago was now being perfectly still; either that or they were gone. Keeping her back against her Zord, Kat inched along trying to catch a glimpse of her target. Just as she rounded the corner, a figure dropped down to her right.
Emitting a tiny gasp, the Pink Ranger spun and dropped into a defensive crouch, only to find herself staring into a pair of familiar green eyes.
Billy Cranston stood there in a defensive position that was a near perfect mimic of her own. Relaxing at the sight of her, the young engineer let out a sigh of relief. "Geez, Kat you scared me."
"You?!? I thought you were an intruder." Wincing a little as the pain returned, she pulled out of her crouch to lean against the body of the Zord. "What are you doing here anyway?"
Billy's look of surprise had been replaced by one of concern. "I was going to ask you the same question, but I think I've figured your reason out. May I?"
At Kat's nod of ascent, his fingers began to probe along her shoulder blade with a firm yet gentle touch. As he hit a particularly sore spot, she hissed in pain.
"How long has it been like this?"
She started to shrug and quickly stopped. "Two, maybe three hours."
"Have you taken anything for it?"
Kat shook her head. "I'm not a big fan of pain medication, spent too much time on it while I was diving, so I don't usually keep any at home, but..."
"You can't sleep?" Billy supplied knowingly.
"I might have something in the infirmary that will help. Come on."
As Kat followed him, out of the Zord bay and down the hall, it occurred to her that Billy had managed to avoid her question rather deftly. Falling in beside him, she asked, "So what's your reason for being here?"
"I live here. Didn't you know that?" Billy replied nonchalantly, as he keyed in the access code. Turning to usher her in the infirmary, he caught her shocked expression and burst out laughing. "That was a joke, Kat."
Letting an embarrassed smile cross her face, Kat murmured, "Sorry, I guess it's just..."
"It seems really possible." The former ranger completed the thought for her with a wane, slightly forced smile. Turning away, he began to rummage through a few cabinets. "I've actually thought about it, you know. I mean there are nights when I might as well, and it would certainly be cheaper... but I'd go stir crazy."
Billy turned to her surprised. "Yeah, I moved out of my dad's house when I graduated, sort of following the natural progression. Plus there are only some many excuses I can create for being out until four in the morning. I'm sorry I thought everybody knew that."
Kat felt slightly abashed at his revelation. She really had never thought about where Billy lived, or what he did anymore than she thought about Zordon or Alpha. When he had been a Ranger he lived much the same life as all the other Rangers, and when he wasn't... well it had been so easy to shift him over to the classification of Alpha and Zordon. Need Billy? Go to the Command Center and you're bound to find him. It was just so easy to let it rest at that, only it wasn't really true.
Curious now, Kat looked over at him and asked, "So where do you live?"
"I got a one room apartment near the University, which is kind of a joke because I'm only taking a half schedule there." Finally having found what he was looking for, Billy guided Kat onto a stool.
The blonde girl's nose wrinkled at the odor that emanated from the jar.
Billy gave her a weak smile. "Smell's horrible doesn't it? I'm still working on a way to mask the odor, but I haven't quite got it worked out yet."
Shaking her head at his unnecessary apology, Kat smiled back, "It's just a little... strong. What is that stuff?"
"Think of it as a cross between a localized anesthetic and a strong pain killer, but without the drowsiness or lack of feeling. I've been working on it for awhile."
Suddenly very serious, Billy set the jar down and looked straight at her. "I have to warn you, I haven't tested this on anyone yet. Based on all my preliminary work, I don't anticipate any adverse effects, but still biology is not the most exact of scientific disciplines. If you use this, I am going to ask you to stay here for at least a few hours so I can monitor you. Consequently, it's not going to help you sleep."
Watching him make the speech, Kat had been mesmerized by the sudden change in her teammate. The intensity of his gaze rivaled Tommy's, but it lacked the battle ready edge. Rather there was a firm warmth to it, and somewhere in the back of his eyes lay a tiny spark of intellectual curiosity, which she suspected had taken him a little effort to squelch.
Smiling reassuringly, the Pink Ranger laid her hand on his arm. "If I don't use it, I'm going to be up all night any way. I'd rather be up without pain." Sitting up very straight, she gave him a stern look. "Guinea pig me, Dr. Cranston."
The young scientist laughed despite himself and mock saluted her. "Aye, aye Captain Hillard."
"Captain Hillard... I could get used to that."
"Well, then Captain, I'm going to have to ask you take your shirt offjust the outer one." He quickly amended at her slightly startled look.
As it sunk in with her what he meant, Kat shrugged out of the button down shirt she had thrown over her pajama top and laid it on the stool beside her. Feeling Billy come around behind her, she tensed, suddenly very self-conscious to be sitting there in her spaghetti strap pajama top.
As though sensing her discomfort, Billy rested a warm hand on her arm, and Kat looked up to find him grinning at her. "I see you in pink spandex all the time, remember? This is modest."
Easing considerably, she found herself grinning back. Sweeping her hair to the side, she turned a little so that Billy had full access to her shoulder. With strong but gentle strokes he massaged the foul-smelling stuff into her skin, taking the time to work out knots as his hands encountered them.
Kat sighed in pleasure as she felt the pain recede. She had expected Billy's touch to be shy and tentative, much like his usual demeanor with members of the opposite sex. Instead he moved with the kind of absolute surety that he usually only had when fixing things in the Command Center.
**Which is exactly what he's doing** she suddenly realized. This wasn't the shy young man giving a girl a massage. This was the confident scientist taking care of a patient. This was the ex-Ranger offering help to a teammate. This was Billy Cranston in his element.
Opening her eyes, at the realization that his hands were no longer on her shoulder, Kat looked over to find Billy washing his hands. Sensing her gaze, he turned and smiled. "Feeling better?"
"Oh, only about a hundred percent. That stuff is amazing."
"Well, let's give it time before you pass judgment."
"No, seriously Billy, it feels great. Is there anything you don't know how to make?"
"Toast." He replied with a solemn expression.
Kat burst out laughing.
"Really, I burn it every time. My cooking skills are non-existent."
"Okay, besides food..."
Billy walked over to the bench and began to clean up. "I'm actually not that spectacular in Biology."
Turning to face her, he smiled like a caught child. "Okay, let me rephrase that. Relative to my other skills, Biology is a weak point. It's just not my favorite discipline. I like certainty and calculations. The biological sciences are a little variable for my taste."
"But you're good at it."
"I've improved a great deal actually. Once it became apparent that there would be the need for medical attention, and frequent trips to the doctor would raise suspicion, I taught myself what I thought would be useful. I'm gaining a certain affinity for it." Placing the jar back in its cupboard, Billy turned to her with a wicked look on his face. "You could say that Biology has *grown* on me."
"Ugh," Kat made a gagging noise. "That is a horrible joke."
"Sorry, I don't break out the good humor until 3 a.m."
"Well, I guess I'll get to see it tonight won't I?" For a moment the look on Billy's face flip-flopped between terror and excitement, as though he couldn't decide how he felt about her being here. Wanting to offer him a way out, Kat back-pedaled, "Unless, I'd be interfering. I could always just stay in the infirmary."
"No," Billy shook his head; his expression indicating that he had decided excitement was the way to go. "No, I'm just not used to company. It'll be a nice change, though."
Kat slid off the stool and grabbed her top. Shrugging back into it, she looked over at him quizzically. "Do you do this a lot? Stay up here and work, I mean."
He shrugged. "When it's necessary." Stopping in the open doorway, he gestured with a sweep of his hand. "Coming?"
Sliding past, Kat waited for him to fall in step beside her and asked, "So what's necessary tonight?"
"You are, or at least your better half is. I'm trying to adjust her so there's less recoil when you fire," He brushed his fingertips lightly against her shoulder, "Keep her from beating up on you again."
Kat felt something go through her at his touchso familiar and intimate, yet new and unexpected all at once. She knew from her previous interactions with Billy on the team that he was not one to engage in casual contact with anyone. Then again she felt that this night was allowing her to see a whole new side of their one-man support teammore open and at ease, the early a.m. Billy. She liked him like this.
Even as her thoughts struggled to wrap around this new facet of her friend's personality, another portion of her mind was processing what he had said, "Her?"
Billy looked over at the Pink Ranger's confused expression and smiled, "Yeah, your Zord."
"You gave my Zord a gender? Or is this just like the way guys call all cars girls."
The young engineer shook his head. "No, some of the Zords are definitely male, and I didn't just give them genders. I gave them names. Come on, I'll introduce you."
True to his word, Billy took her around to each of the Zords, and quite literally introduced hertelling her the names he had given them, their quirks, strengths and weaknesses. He encouraged her to run her hands along their plating, to press her ear to the metal and hear the soft thrum of their engines. Watching his hands trace along their surfaces, Kat had the suspicion that, if she asked, he could tell her the exact battle that had caused each dent.
Finally walking her up to her Zord, Billy made a grand sweeping gesture and pronounced, "Kat, I would like you to meet Lynn."
The Pink Ranger giggled a little in response, "Billy, that's my middle name."
"Did you... I mean, are all them named that way?"
Walking up to the Zord, he placed his hand against the side and closed his eyes. "It's a reminder. I like to remind them who they're protecting. I like to remind myself why they need so much attention. Besides, calling them Kat, Tommy, Adam, Tanya, and Rocky would just be too confusing for my feeble mind."
Moving up beside him, Kat rested her hand on the Zord next to his and whispered, "Hello, Lynn."
Relaxing at her obvious acceptance of this revelation, Billy grinned, "Follow me up, and you can really get to know her."
"Where?" Looking up, Kat turned in a small circle and tried to spot her companion. She had left him to his own devices half an hour ago, when it had become obvious that he was so engrossed in the system he was working on that he wouldn't be talking for a while. Coming full circle, she started at finding Billy hanging upside down in front of her.
"Here." He grinned unrepentantly.
"Stop that." Kat chastised, setting down the two mugs she had in her hands, "You almost made me spill the coffee."
"Coffee! Katherine Hillard, you are a true queen among mere peasants." Rolling back up, he twisted around and jumped down on his feet.
"And here I was going for being called Captain again." She teased, holding the mug just out of his reach.
"Captain Hillard, if you give me that coffee, I will call you anything you want." He was rewarded with a steaming mug and a warm smile.
"Thank you Dr. Cranston, but Captain will be fine."
"Aye, aye." Billy murmured as he came to sit down beside her on the floor.
"So how is Lynn doing?"
"She's unrepentant, but willing adjust. I think next time you should find that she won't give you near as much trouble."
Tracing her hand affectionately along the metal interior, Kat smiled, "She's never where the trouble comes from, but thank you."
Turning back to look at him, she found Billy wiping steam from his glasses with the tail of his shirt. "You're wearing glasses!"
"I've been wearing them all night. Am I going to have to put a sudden reduction of observational abilities down as one of the side effects of my foul smelling cream?" He grinned at her to let her know that he was teasing.
"No, I just... don't you usually wear contacts?"
"Almost all the time, but I can only wear them for so long. They start to dry out as it gets later at night. Also, I don't like to wear them when I'm working with chemicals." He placed the glasses back on his face. "If a chemical splashes it can get trapped between the contact and the eye causing permanent damage, so I always keep a pair of glasses in the Command Center."
"Then why have contacts at all?"
"To attract girls of course." Billy took a sip of his coffee.
For a second, Kat thought that he might actually be serious, but then he winked at her and she burst out laughing.
Billy looked down at his watch. "Three a.m. right on time."
"The good humor."
Kat collapsed in another fit of giggles. "No... no fair... *giggle*... I'm just too tired not to laugh."
"Which is the beauty of the three a.m. humor, it doesn't have to be funny."
Finally recovering from her bought of laughter, Kat leaned against the wall and took deep breaths. "Seriously, Billy why do you have contacts?"
The ex-Ranger rested his mug against his knees and looked off into the distance as though he could somehow see his past painted on the other wall. "I guess at first I did it to fit in. Change something here, change something there, stop making use of your entire vocabulary, stop wearing glasses and hope people will stop seeing a nerd. It was another step towards being normal, which at one time I thought I wanted."
"And you don't anymore?"
He shrugged, "Being a Ranger gave me confidence in myself for something outside paper knowledge, and somewhere along the way the confidence allowed me to be comfortable with the gifts I have and who I am."
"But you still wear contacts."
"Well, at some point I also became comfortable with putting synthetic material in my eye." Billy turned a little to smile at her. "Actually, for day to day work I find them more comfortable than glasses. I can put them in in the morning and forget about them until night. Plus I always found glasses to be a bit of a pain for working out. Going running with contacts is a much more pleasant experience."
"You run?" The moment Kat said the words she regretted them. **You don't have to sound so shocked that he exercises.**
Billy's full, pleasant laugh reassured her that she needn't have worried about offending him. "Yeah, I fell into it as a Ranger, running was my specialty." He gave her a self-deprecating smile and continued, "I keep it up now because, well I don't have the powers to help my physical condition, so something has to."
"I never thought about that. Do you think that the other ex-Rangers have all gained fifteen pounds? Sort of like a first year at university."
"I doubt it. With the exception of me, all the other Rangers started out enormously physically active and probably remain so. I was never very good at sports, but I like running. It allows me to put my thoughts in order, and there is absolutely no coordination required." Having finished his coffee, Billy stood up and moved back over to the spot where he had been working. "Besides, how else am I to maintain my stunning physique?"
Kat watched as he pulled himself up and swung his legs over the metal piping. "Do you always do that?"
Flipping up so that he now perched on the bar, Billy looked down at her, "It's hard to get a ladder up here. Can you hand me those?"
Picking up the tools he was pointing to, Kat walked over and handed one up to him. "No, I mean do you always make fun of yourself so others can't?"
For a moment Billy froze, and then continued on with his repairs. "You know, for someone who didn't realize I was wearing glasses for two hours, you are disconcertingly perceptive."
"And you're really good at avoiding questions."
Billy's only response was to hand down one tool and hold his hand out for the other one. When it didn't come he sighed and relented. "Yeah, I guess I do. Like you said if you get there first others are less likely to. Call it a defense mechanism."
He was rewarded by Kat placing the requested tool in his hand. "You don't have to have a defense mechanism with me you know."
"It's kind of hard to turn off. Are you going to ransom all of my tools this way?"
"The idea has merit. You're not an easy person to get to know."
Her only response was a grumbled, "This is going to be a very long night."
Kat struggled not to laugh, "Tell you what, promise me one thing, and I promise not to hold any of your tools for ransom for the rest of the night."
"Anything." Billy replied in a melodramatic tone that echoed against the metal.
"Promise me, that the next time you work late I can come keep you company."
This time her answer came in the form of an odd *clunk* and a muffled, "Ow!"
"Are you okay?" Instantly concerned, Kat moved to pull herself up on the pipe as well but Billy waved her off.
"Yeah, I'm fine. You're request just took me by surprise."
"So do we have a deal? Or do I have to continue to hold your tools captive?"
"You know I'm doing this work for you."
"I yield, I yield. Yes, Captain Hillard, I promise that the next time I work late you can come. In fact, I welcome your company. Now can I have my tools?"
Laughing, Kat pulled away and leaned against the wall, "I'll think about it."
Billy just whimpered.