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Disclaimer: Who would believe it but I don't own the Power Rangers or anything to do with them? Saban does. However, I did invent Skye Brannon so I guess I own him and any other new things you see in here. This is the second fic in the series, taking place after Questing Wolf. Enjoy!

Wolf in Darkness
by Peregrene

Billy walked wearily towards the Juice Bar. His sandy hair was tousled, his eyes bruised with fatigue and he would be the first to admit he was exhausted. There had been a heavy spate of monster attacks over the past couple of weeks and he had had very little sleep since after the battles he just about managed to fix a Zord and there would be another fight and the damn thing would be trashed all over again! He had finally managed to pry himself away from the Power Chamber, more at the request of Skye than lack of work though. The white haired artist had insisted (...loudly!) saying he was doing too much, and that he hadn't recovered from all the things that had happened over the last year.

The worst thing is that he is right, Billy thought to himself.

So for the first time in, well, months, he had come down to the Juice Bar where Skye said he would buy him a drink and they would just hang out... no pressure. He walked in through the door memories overwhelming him briefly. He was momentarily dizzy with images of the old times with Kim, Zach, Jason and Trini. They had practically lived in this place! Somehow things had seemed easier then, more clear cut. Not like now.

Billy sighed to himself and looked up automatically at their old table... the "ranger table". The Rangers were all there. Tommy, Kat, Jason, Tanya Adam and Rocky... and with a peculiar sensation he realized there was no place at the table for him. When they had met in the old days, if they were not all there a place was left, expectant of their arrival. In ways he tried to ignore, this oversight tore at a very vulnerable part of him but he convinced himself it was nothing. He had become very good at shutting things off since giving up the Power. He felt the wall of isolation crash down around him again as the others looked up with astonished expressions, as if he was a complete stranger or something.

"Billy! Great, I'll get the drinks!" a voice said behind him and he jumped slightly as the moment fractured.

Billy turned to see Skye putting down his sketch book and getting up awkwardly from a different table. If there was something that he had noticed since meeting Skye was that his new friend would sketch all the time, draw on anything that came to hand almost without thinking about it. He could drift off into another world when he had a pencil in his hand, much like he himself did when he was working on a problem. It was a bit disconcerting to see him do it though, in the middle of a conversation, him carry on talking and elaborate pictures just appear on the nearest available surface.

"Billy?" Skye smiled at him waving a hand in front his face and he realized he must have drifted out of it himself. He was having a really difficult time keeping his thoughts together.

"Sorry." he apologized. Almost unconsciously he smiled back tiredly.

He liked Skye. He could talk to him for a start, which was something rare enough in his life to be worth something. Maybe it was because neither of them were actually Rangers... or maybe it was something to do with Skye's abilities, admittedly slightly erratic abilities, that meant he didn't have to try to explain how he felt. Since the white haired artist had retrieved the Star Crystal from Sionas he reported that his sensitivity appeared to be growing and that he was often picking up surface thoughts and emotions without trying. Zordon was apparently helping him control these abilities. Certainly the Eltarian had taken a much greater interest in the artist since he had made it back from Sionas. Even now Skye had picked up something, he had that look in his eye. Billy tried to tightly bottle up his morose feelings.

The artist frowned. "You okay Billy?" he asked softly concerned

"I'm fine, fine really... just a little tired that's all." Billy replied, rubbing his eyes, not entirely for effect. His contacts had been in too long. Probably because... when had been the last time he took them out? He couldn't remember.

Skye looked unconvinced. "Look, you can tell me..." he began quietly, and stopped as Billy's expression froze up.

Skye changed tactics "Whenever you're ready, Billy". he said softly. He fixed his gray blue eyes on Billy until he got some sort of a response.

Billy nodded mutely, pleased to be let off the hook. He just wasn't ready for an emotional grilling.

What would he think if he saw all the negative thoughts and feelings I have? If they really knew how I felt about being Powerless, about how they act? What would any of them think? he thought, depressed. Best to never find out.

"I'll get your usual yeah?" Skye asked interrupting his scattered thoughts and Billy nodded again.

"Fine thanks."

"Okay back in a mo," Skye said lightly and limped over to Ernie to get the smoothies.

Billy turned to say hello to the others.

"Er... hiya guys" he said nervously. What was wrong with him? He felt like he was speaking to people he didn't know. For a brief, disorientating moment it was like he was looking at totally unfamiliar people, not friends with whom he had been through life and death situations. It felt so strange.

"Didn't expect to see you here " Rocky commented slightly taken aback, and then grinned in belated welcome.

"Well, Skye asked me down for a drink" Billy replied Why did he feel like he had to justify his presence?

"I have to get out once in a while," he tried a smile but his heart wasn't in it.

A small bitter voice inside of him said it had been a long time since any of them had asked him there for a drink... or anywhere for anything.

Yeah... true enough Billy" Adam said "Good to see you."

He looked like he was about to offer him a chair but as he did so Tommy interrupted in a low voice, "Say Billy, when you get back to the Power Chamber take a look at Red Battlezord, yeah? That last monster got me good a few times because it didn't respond very well to my commands."

Billy's blue eyes suddenly went coldly blank at Tommy's words. There was a moments silence.

"Yes," he said in dull wooden tones. "I'll just go and do that now".

As if without thought, he turned and walked out leaving them all shocked and surprised in his wake.

~*~

Skye was more than a little worried as he turned to go and get the drinks. Even without using the Star Crystal he could feel Billy's mind aching with a psychic pain. Dammit, you only had to look at the guy to realize that something was wrong, see the state of him. He could not believe that everyone was taking it for granted, that they were not seeing the problem. If he had managed to fit into the group easily, then maybe he could have had a few words, but to be frank though they knew him, they hadn't accepted him. Maybe because he wasn't a Ranger, maybe because they were worried about him reading their minds or something (he snorted to himself) or perhaps the whole "invader" on a close circle of friends thing. Whatever the reason, his relationship had been kept very much on an acquaintance level... arms length, cordial, pleasant but not exactly welcoming. Skye inhaled deeply.

I've made a big mistake, he thought. Billy needs them to help him not just me, and I'm not even sure that I can help him or if he wants to be helped! I should have pushed my way in to their group, been more assertive....but I just can't do that!

Billy was obviously very close to the edge, probably to do with the stress of the last few weeks in particular. He needed to try and talk him down now before something else happened, and maybe then buy enough time to get the others involved.

I don't think he will take another attack, he thought to himself as he ordered the smoothies. He is too close to the edge. I guess it didn't help being passed over by the Star Crystal either, rubbing salt in the wounds, as it were.The others appeared to have NO idea what they are unconsciously doing to him... but then is Billy letting them know how he feels?

Ernie passed him the drinks and just as he was turning with them he felt and mentally heard a sharp "CRACK" like a rifle shot that startled him so much he jumped and slopped the drinks. He whirled around just in time to see Billy walk out of the bar. Alarm bells ringing in his mind, with a burning anger he stalked over to the Rangers table and hissed, "What did you just say to Billy?!"

Tommy looked up, startled at the hostility in the artists voice. He had always seemed really easy going, but then he didn't know him that well.

"We said hi... and I asked him to look at Red Battlezord when he got back to the Power Chamber... and he walked off!" Tommy explained with a tinge of confusion in his voice.

Skye took his hand away from the Star Crystal, the entire scene having flashed through his mind from six different perspectives. All of them bad.

"You have no idea what you have done," he gritted his teeth "Dammit!" and he half-ran as swiftly as he could out of the Juice Bar after Billy.

Tommy turned around to the others and asked plaintively, "What? What did I do wrong? I was just trying to start a conversation!"

~*~

He had heard/sensed Billy's mind crack of that he was now positive. One last demand, one final pressure had finally tipped the scales on a mind too close to the edge. He had to find him, and the logical place for him to go was... the Power Chamber. Skye flinched mentally as he ran to the nearest "no see zone." What Billy could do... what he might do in his current state of mind! He could destroy the Rangers in a moment—they didn't realize how much they relied upon his expertise. Billy could shut down Zordon and Alpha and get rid of the Zeo crystal, but Skye thought that even now he would not try to destroy the thing that had hurt him, he would try to take himself out of the reach out such a temptation. At least, he hoped that was the case. Skye swiftly checked for watchers and using his own communicator given to him by Billy to stop him being seized by Mondo again, he teleported to the Power Chamber with a feeling of dread building in the depths of his gut.

~*~

The lights were down in the Power Chamber. Billy had been and gone. Alpha was deactivated and Zordon in a transdimensional lock of some description. Skye, after racking his brains for a while, finally remembered what Billy had told him about Alpha and found his activation switch. Lights flickered on the little droid and he sprang to life.

"Ay-yi-yie! Billy what are you...." the little droid stopped, suddenly realizing the absence of his subject.

"Skye, Where is Billy?" Alpha asked, "He was acting most strangely.

"I don't know, Alpha. I need you to break the lock on Zordon and find out where he went!" Skye replied, urgency creeping into his voice.

Alpha quickly broke the lock and Zordon's familiar image floated back to life.

"Skye, I am glad that you are here, something is wrong with Billy," Zordon said in a concerned tone.

Skye resisted the urge to say, "No really?! I wouldn't have guessed!" remembering that Billy had told him that Eltarians did not appear to have a refined appreciation of irony or sarcasm. He took a deep breath.

"Yes... the pressure the isolation all the pain and hurt he has suffered has finally become too much " Skye said, a trifle bitterly.

"I did not realize that he had been under so much strain." Zordon sounded sorrowful.

Skye tried to bite back a response but failed as his long suppressed views rose irresistibly to the surface. "You all should have seen what it was doing to him! You're meant to be his friends! None of the others could see it either! What do you expect of him? Time and time again the result of each battle comes down to him, the lives of his friends, of the general population and they shut him off! Why? because he has no Power! to protect him? Ha! Because of guilt more like... he has given and given and received nothing in return... and the others isolate him for it, only you are all so wrapped up in it all that you can't seem to see it!" he shouted in a righteous anger.

Zordon sighed his features downcast "You are correct," he said.

Skye controlled himself with difficulty. "I apologize Zordon... I'm just frustrated and concerned on his behalf, and that wasn't entirely fair to you or the others." He fingered the Star Crystal nervously "I can't explain it... I get this feeling of... dread... it's just I have to do something!"

"He has teleported himself to Phaedos," Alpha reported.

"Would you teleport me there?" Skye asked hopefully.

"We will... it will cause a large Power Drain, but nothing too detrimental to the team," Zordon replied. "Can you help him?" the Eltarian asked suddenly. Billy was probably the closest Ranger there had ever been to him, more like a son. He had been aware of Billy's distress but not that it was so critical. He had meant to make him take time off but Billy resisted and had thrown himself into work... into the work that only Billy could do.

Skye touched the Star Crystal that hung around his neck for reassurance, surprised by the question from Zordon. "God, I hope so, Zordon, I really do! I will try anything within my Power," he replied fervently.

"Alpha prepare to transport Skye to Phaedos immediately," announced Zordon.

"Yes Zordon." The little droid moved over to the main console and paused, waiting for Skye to ready himself. The artist darted over to Billy's work area and hunted around for a small shard of Sionas crystal that Billy had picked up on their visit there. He found it and tucked it in his shirt pocket and turned to face the Eltarian before he was transported.

"One thing Zordon," the artist said "I don't think it would be a good idea for Billy to see the others just yet... not that I want to keep them apart, but right now after what happened... it could finish him... so maybe...."

"I will prevent them from following you to Phaedos as long as possible. I understand Skye". Zordon replied. "And may the Power protect you both. "

With that Skye disappeared in a shimmering beam of silvery white light.

"Bring him back safe to us" Zordon added quietly and prepared himself for the arrival of the other Rangers.

~*~

Skye landed a trifle unsteadily, very close to the temple of the Ninjetti, for which he thanked Alpha's thoughtfulness silently. His leg probably would not stand a really rough trek from the sea-cliffs to the plateau especially after the stretched and pulled feeling of such a long teleportation which was just a downright peculiar sensation. He looked around.

It was strange. It was the same, it was exactly how he painted it. If it were not for the seriousness of the situation he would be content to breathe in the air of this place that had lived in his mind for so long. It even smelt the same as he seen it, though that didn't really make sense. It was just he somehow had very distinct memories of this place, and certain events that took place here. Speaking of which..... He touched the crystal feeling his awareness expand swelled with its power. He could sense Billy up on the plateau in the Temple itself, but instead of his usual clear blue brilliant mindtouch, his mind was a chaotic mass of burning red/black rage and pain shot with crackling yellow white of fear. But there, approaching, the glimmering bright green and white touch of a Ninjetti mind, shining like a beacon to his sensitized mind.

"Dulcea!" he whispered aloud.

She appeared before him, stunningly dressed in, well very little actually, and supremely confident in her strength of mind, body and spirit.

"Hold!" she shouted a challenge to him that rang in the clear air between them.

"Are you a seeker of the Great Power?" she asked in accordance with the age old ritual.

He met her piercing gaze steadily. "The only thing I seek is the well-being and presence of my friend Billy Cranston of Earth" he replied formally. "Have you seen him?"

Dulcea relaxed. "Thank the Powers!" she said. "He is here but he did not appear to recognize me."

"You know him? Despite the timeline differences?" Skye asked. That had been something he had thought might cause a problem. If it technically didn't happen, then would Dulcea still accept Billy on Phaedos?

"Of course." Dulcea replied "The Great Power is a power of the spirit, and time holds no sway over spirit. The time-shift may have removed their ways of accessing the Power, but their spirits still achieved the Great Power, and that can never be altered. I certainly recognized him, but he was not aware of me... what happened to him?"

"He has been over-strained," Skye said delicately.

Dulcea's expression shifted to one of concern. "They pushed him too far? she asked softly.

Skye nodded slowly "Yes" he said simply, as she appeared to understand.

She shook her head. "The Wolf Spirits are often taken advantage of because of their need to give their all....and he is of the Blue also." she shrugged as if that statement explained it all.

Dulcea then looked at the youth before her appraisingly. It was strange but he felt like a Ninjetti yet she was absolutely sure she had never seen him before, in this timeline or any other. This may cause problems in his quest to help his friend. Phaedos had a tendency to be... unwelcoming to non-Ninjetti.

"I am afraid that you cannot enter the part of the temple where he has taken refuge unless you are Ninjetti" she explained regretfully.

To her surprise the newcomer seemed unperturbed "I am Skye, I am his friend and I must try to help him."

"But I have not given the test to you... I am the Master Warrior of the Ninjetti." Dulcea pointed out beginning to sound suspicious.

"Nevertheless­." Skye said firmly meeting her implied accusation impassively.

Dulcea twirled her Singing Staff experimentally, the haunting sound glittering in the air. It seemed to cause him no discomfort, which showed he was not evil of spirit.

"What is your Animal Spirit?" she demanded coldly.

Skye met her accusing emerald gaze straight on without wavering. "I cannot say" he replied ambiguously.

Dulcea frowned. Well so be it then. If he wished to be foolhardy he would gain nothing but discomfort....

"Then be warned Skye of Earth, for if you are not of the Ninjetti and you trespass on the Sacred Heart of the Temple, the punishment is unpleasant."

Skye nodded "I will be fine Dulcea." he reassured

Dulcea shook her head but walked ahead, beckoning him to follow. He would soon rue his masquerade—the shock the barrier could give was painful to say the least. The ways of the Great Power were not to be mocked or taken lightly.

~*~

The Sacred Heart of the Temple was a secret raised area beyond the normal level of the plateau where Dulcea conducted the ceremony of the summoning of the Animal totems. It was an area that had been used in the past, millennia ago, for the advance training of the Ninjetti and spiritual development. It was where Ninjetti Masters gathered and met also, on the very infrequent occasions in the distant past when such gatherings had been required. Dulcea admitted that she had been slightly surprised that Billy had seemed to know of it's existence, but the Wolf naturally sought the hidden knowledge. She spent much of her time there herself, when not flying in her Owl-form.

She stepped through the two pillar entrance, the black and white pillars, through the barrier and then watched in astonishment as Skye stepped calmly in behind her. But that would mean he was Ninjetti! But how?

She inclined her head "My apologies—I doubted you." she said. It was perhaps the first time she had apologized in several millennia and the words came with difficulty and brought with them an awakened spirit of curiosity that had been lethargic all this time. She had been wrong and she wanted to know why!

He just smiled in response and nodded as if he expected as much. Infuriating!

"Dulcea, I would ask you to leave me alone with Billy... and prevent anyone else from approaching. This will not be easy." requested Skye. To be truthful, he was exceptionally nervous about whether he could do anything. This had been done on a wing and a prayer, on the feeling that there was something he could do, though he wasn't entirely sure what it was.

"What is it you are hoping to do?" she asked.

Skye pulled the Star Crystal from within his shirt into sight and Dulcea's eyes widened in mild shock.

"You hold the Star Crystal?" she questioned. Ah well then, some part of this mystery was explained, but then a greater mystery was born at the same time.

"Yes am hoping to use it to reach into Billy's mind and heal him." Skye explained. A vague but essentially truthful answer. "It will be difficult have to get into his mind... and to do that he must trust me enough to let down his guard."

Dulcea nodded slightly, she had heard of such things. "I will keep you from interruptions." Dulcea said and then added in a serious voice

"But you must understand that if you cannot help Billy then he must not return to Earth. An insane Ninjetti is too dangerous to be allowed into the world—especially one with Billy's capabilities."

Skye nodded. He understood all too well but there was one point he felt he should clarify. "Dulcea, if I cannot help Billy the chances are that we will both be dead," he said flatly. His understanding was that if he lost control of what he was doing they would both be torn to pieces on a mental level. Which needless to say was not a good thing.

Dulcea looked grim and it was then that Skye realized the hidden message in her original statement: there was no place anywhere for an insane Ninjetti.

~*~

Skye could sense the turmoil of Billy's mind roiling and burning close to him as he walked to the centre of the stone hewed area.

"Billy!?" he called out "It's me Skye, your friend!" The sound of his voice echoed into the listening silence.

"Billy?"

"Go away!" shouted Billy his voice harsh with anger and pain "I have no friends!"

Then a mournful howl full of pain and sorrow rang out startling Skye... unsure whether it was Billy or a wolf. He took a deep breath, trying to quell his nerves.

"Billy you do have friends, many friends" he said soothingly "I am your friend, you are my friend , you saved my life, now I want to help you... remember?"

A low growling mumble came from the outside difficult to make out. "....remember loneliness... remember pain... loss... " it faded away into nothingness.

"Talk to me Billy" Skye pleaded urgently to the shadows around him. Oh god he was going to lose him before they even got a chance to try anything! "Tell me about it, you can trust me." There was a dead silence.

"I can't trust anyone!" screamed Billy from the shadows "Everybody hurts me in the end!"

"I won't Billy" Skye said softly. He touched the star crystal, picking up the surface emotions of his friend wincing at their harsh edges and painful texture.

"If I trust you you will hurt me." Billy's voice said as if stating an irrevocable fact. His emotions were of extreme vulnerability—he was lashing out because he was currently very insecure. Skye consider the situation softly. Maybe if he tried to give him back that control he lacked for... most of his life.

"Billy... What if I make it so I can't hurt you?" Skye suggested gingerly.

There was a profound silence from Billy's direction.. Hesitancy seeped into Skye's awareness from his direction.

"I promise I won't move or do anything until you feel safe... I really want you to trust me Billy." he said aloud and then slowly and deliberately sat down in the open area—silently terrified. Billy could and probably would do anything. Skye willed himself to shut his eyes and felt Billy prowling like a nervous wolf around the edges of his perception. He wasn't sure he could do this... he wasn't sure at all.

~*~

Hours later Billy had prowled near him—there had been outbursts of irrational shouts, but Skye had not moved. As he had sat here, glimpsing fragments of emotions and thoughts he had pieced together an idea of things from what he sensed and the conversations they had had in the time since they had met.

Billy felt that his life was under threat, his very self. Why? because he had defined his sense of self in his adolescent years through the assumption of the Powers. He defined his being as a Power Ranger... he made it not something he did, but something he became inside. It was easy to understand why... as it appeared that the pre-ranger Billy had chronically low self esteem and little sense of self. That he had gathered from the others and Billy himself. He appeared to disregard his intelligence as a valuable factor for self esteem but relegated it to the status of a useful tool. So when the Power was removed he could not let go of his position as a part of the team... it would mean destroying himself. So he substituted his abilities for the Power, but it was an empty shell to him. He ceased to be defined as a person, he began to define himself by what he could do and produce as his sense of self eroded away under the same, if not increased, responsibility and pressure that existed when he had the Power to support him. Control eluded him... he needed to re-establish it and Skye could think of no other way to do it.

Even when Billy had flung a stone at him Skye did not move much to the palpable amazement of the ex-ranger. Skye allowed himself a little smile as he thought that he would make a killing with this Star Crystal if he went into psychiatry. If he ever got the chance. This was a little more active than psychiatry... aggressive psychic psychiatry....he had to stifle a nervous laugh.

But when you looked at it what had he done for his friend? Run after him, thrown him a few platitudes and then just sat down and done nothing. He might as well have patted him on the head and said "there, there, it'll be all right, now lets never speak of this again!" Obviously things were getting to him. When would this waiting ever end!?

"Stand up." Billy's voice came from the darkness.

Astonished Skye obeyed, his legs trembling from inactivity. His left leg cramped badly from the strain on it's damaged muscles. Tense, Skye remained as still as he could as Billy contemplated his next move. Nothing happened. Silently Skye sensed Billy's approach behind him, his neck prickling with great fear. Dark memories began to rise from his subconscious and he clamp them down, but his mind started to scream in remembered fear.

This is not the time, he ordered himself.

Billy moved around in front of him and stared at him in a way that stirred hideous reminders of his past. A speculative look, a look of barely hidden violence, but the difference was the desperation the hunted backed into a corner look. Billy stared at him for a long unnerving time. His mind was more focused now, but oddly more... dangerous. And that just wasn't a quality that immediately sprang to mind when thinking of Billy. Skye shivered.

And then... Billy lunged towards him and Skye instinctively, knowing immediately he had made a terrible mistake, thrust his hands out to push him back, to keep him away. As if that action had justified his entire outlook on life, Billy's expression took on a look of fighting for his life as he attacked Skye with a demented rage. Skye struggled against himself not to fight back, realizing that that would make it worse. Besides, Billy had been a Power Ranger, there was no way he could fight him effectively. He was knocked to the ground, and curled into a ball to protect his head and face as much as possible.

"Billy please no!" he cried out.

Rapid blows winded him and made it impossible to speak.

"You will not hurt me!" Billy screamed "Not like the others! I will not let you!"

Skye lost track of time and sound, even the pain and everything as he retreated to that place within that he had found—where what happened outside did not matter, did not touch him. Curled into a tight ball he weathered the strikes to his ribs and chest, legs, back with fists sticks and whatever came to hand. After a while, he let that place inside take him again into it's warm protective nothingness and silent darkness.

Eventually as the body before him became still and the crys of pain ceased, his berserk fury spent and tears running down his face, Billy dropped to his knees with a cry of anguish of someone who had bought their survival at such a price that they wanted to die.

~*~

When Skye regained consciousness, it was dark, and alien stars shone down upon him. A strange combination of pain and numbness came to his attention, his body knew it had been hurt, but couldn't quite believe it. He was probably in shock.

He groaned and shifted unable to really move. He felt somewhat detached from his own body. Whether that was normal he really didn't know, but what he did know what that if the terrible tiredness that seemed to be seeping into his mind overwhelmed him before he could connect with Billy then all hope would be lost. There was a small fire lit next to him though and as he turned his head, he saw Billy watching him, his hunched figure perched on a rock near him holding a crudely fashioned spear defensively. He was regarding him with the same type of expression that you would regard a dangerous animal that you were not sure was going to leap up for one final fatal charge.

"Billy..." Skye gasped, his mouth dry with fear.

Billy looked up. "Why haven't you hurt me?" he asked piteously. "I hurt you and you haven't hurt me... I don't understand. All the others did!"

"Because you are my friend!" Skye cried out as loudly as he could "Friends can still care for each other even if they hurt each other, you know that! Sometimes you have accept that you can hurt or be hurt if you care!" The effort exhausted him.

Billy seemed partially convinced "But how do I know you are telling the truth!?" he accused. "Words are just words sometimes... empty and hollow."

Ah... the moment... the opportunity. "I cannot lie with my mind." he said weakly. "Will you speak to me in your mind and know that I tell the truth?" There was a long moment of deliberation and then Billy said simply

"How?"

Yes, thought Skye, and just in time as the pain of this was beginning to seep through and then focusing would be impossible. He struggled to speak.

"Reach into... pocket... a small crystal there and take my hand."

Billy did so and as the artist had hoped, the connection between them became stronger and more intense, and amongst the red flames Skye found what he was seeking, a sparkling glimpse of pure blue and leapt with the Star Crystal enhanced powers of his mind to join with Billy's tormented psyche.

~*~

Darkness swirled around them....Billy stood next to him seemingly himself again or at least a part of himself, dressed in bright blues. He stood in pale greys and he appeared unable to move. Maybe the fact that he had tuned himself so closely to responding to Billy's actions prevented him from acting. Well then, that was the way to go, he wouldn't fight it. Billy was in control and his abilities could only be woken by a question or order. What better way of introducing control back into his friends mind? He stood silent until Billy finally spoke to him.

"What are we doing here?" his friend asked.

"We are here to find out the source of you pain and enable you to deal with it, to make you whole again."

Billy seemed calm and accepting. "How do we do that?"

"You ask me." Skye replied simply.

Billy considered this. It had to be his decision then, he had to decide to face this. "Well then. Skye take me to the place where I need to begin this journey." he asked resolutely. The darkness shimmered and then they were standing in the Juice Bar earlier that day. The scene replayed but they both watched as observers, watching themselves as participants.

"This is the trigger," Skye said as Billy watched the events unroll. "Why?" he asked softly.

Billy took a deep breath. "I was a stranger to them" he explained and then shook his head "No worse than that... I am a 'fixer,' that is all I am to them now, not part of the team, not a friend but something to patch things to mend and....in some ways worse than being a nerd. Even when I was a nerd I was still a person... now I am an object. Every time I see them there is a sense of pushing away, of isolation. I'm not one of 'us,' I'm one of 'them' now, I can see it in their eyes—I am not a Power Ranger anymore and never will be!" he finished on a despairing note.

The images blurred and shifted in response to a scene of Billy giving up his chance at being a Zeo Ranger to Tanya. Billy's face was a stark contrast to the composure show by the image before them.

"And this?" prompted Skye.

"I had to give it up... I some how knew that even then that I had been affected by the explosion... but it hurt more than I could have imagined, to give it up, to be distanced from the others.." his expression hardened. He walked over to the image of the Tanya and then looked at them all.

"The times... the times I hated them for not protesting, for letting me do it. I catch myself daydreaming about what would happen if one of them were injured or something and I would somehow be able to take over their Powers, and I find myself wishing it would happen!" his voice was rich with self loathing. "Wishing my friends were injured... how sick is that?! Just so I can get the Power! I don't blame them for shutting me out. If they knew.....If they knew ...." his voice trailed off. He looked up with emotion darkened eyes. He looked at the Zeo Shard in Tanya's hand and exploded.

"I should have just taken it! I should have! and then to have the Gold Powers dangled before me and to find out I couldn't!....I wish I had never thrown myself in front of that console! Then I would be a Ranger and everything would be fine!"

Abruptly they were standing in the exploding Command Center and Billy watched himself throw his body in front of the Morphing Console to protect the others.

"No! No! Stupid! Stupid!" he shouted at his past self. "Why? Why did I do it!?"

Skye was suddenly able to contribute "Billy listen... if you hadn't have stepped in front of the console what do you think would have happened?" he asked.

A new image formed. One where Billy did not leap in front of the console, where they all survived and Billy became the Blue Zeo Ranger.

"See?" Billy said in bitter triumph.

Sky nodded. "I see, but continue to watch...."

And then at the first time they tried to form the Mega Zeo-Zord... the rangers spontaneously de-morphed and the zeozords began to break up. The Monster seized the opportunity and blasted the crumbling zords and the helpless team of rangers into fiery oblivion. Billy cried out involuntarily and then turned on Skye... "You are making this up!" he accused.

Skye shook his head "I have no power here... all that we see comes from your mind, based on your knowledge and conclusions. You will have to tell me why this disaster occurred."

Billy frowned. Flashes of colours burst around them reflecting his thoughts. Eventually he spoke slowly piecing the logic of the vision together.

."The anti-protons—everyone got a partial dose, not just me absorbing the full amount—not enough to prevent us from assuming the Zeo Ranger powers but enough to make them unstable when they were stretched to their full capacity and overload the Zeocrystal, it burst apart under the energy fluctuations." he seemed astonished at the fact.

"So you saved them... and yourself by absorbing all the antiprotons and sacrificing your chance at being a ranger!" Skye pointed out triumphantly. Thank anything and everything there had been some benefit to that selfless action. That should boost his self-esteem.

"I didn't know... I just... one of the others would have done the same!" Billy said uncertainly.

"No they wouldn't" Skye replied swiftly, "Not out of lack of courage, but through lack of knowledge. You knew that the Morphing console was dangerous, they did not. They would not have stopped it. You did."

Billy's face had brightened. "I feel better knowing that there was a purpose, but I still feel the sacrifice, I have no powers... and it hurts to be alone!"

They were suddenly plunged into darkness... but out of the moving shadows a familiar shape prowled. The blue tinged wolf with glowing eyes who stared at him reproachfully.

I have never left you, do not turn from me... soon, soon... all still there and more to come... it wolfspoke before melting await like a morning mist.

Billy shook his head. "I am not a Ranger though, not part of the team...."

Skye interrupted "Are you so sure? You have dormant power, you are a genius....there are ways and means its a question of finding them and using them. Maybe you will or maybe you won't find a way, but you seem to have denied yourself a choice! You have locked yourself away from fear of finding out that it can't be done so you can live with the possibility that it might be possible.. Same with your friends... you are so concerned that they will say 'he is no longer one of us' you have made it happen... but as much as you have your friends have neglected you you have pushed them away. " He paused for breath and then asked a crucial question.

"Why?"

The environment shifted... a car driving on a sunny day.... Billy pushed his hand to his head...

"No!"

..they flickered... a young bullied child....the car....Angel Grove High... the car... his father weeping... the car... his mother... the car..They were close, that was the key. In that image lay the heart of the loneliness and the fear of hurt and loss that drove him to shut himself away.

"Your mother Billy... what happened to your mother?" Skye pushed. The crystal pulsed with light.

Again the car, his mother driving the car along a sunny street, coming to pick his father and himself up from shopping, not fast because she saw them both standing outside the store and slowed down to wave smiling. She turned back to pull up at the intersection. The lights had turned red... but then... an out of control car that ploughed into it from behind and with a sound that defied description pushed it in the path of the thundering lorry speeding through the lights. The car was crushed, instantly, his father had pulled him into his tight embrace but not fast enough... not fast enough for him to miss the sight of the wreck exploding in a peculiarly pathetic explosion....

Billy was shaking, pale with shock.

"She was killed... a car accident. She left me, and I could do nothing about it, Nothing! I stood there and watched and for all my 'gifts' there was absolutely nothing I could do! She was killed and left me alone!"

Guilt washed over them both in a suffocating wave. Billy dropped to his knees

"I failed her, I failed. I can succeed at anything else but it means nothing because I failed then!"

This was it then, the centre of darkness, the despair that he carried around with him all the time, around which he had shaped his life. Why he remained isolated and why, despite his brilliance, he had this self-esteem problem... because deep down he regarded himself as a failure. But the only person who could tell him that there was nothing that he could have done and he would believe it was dead. Oh dear.

"Billy you did not fail your mother, just as she did not mean to leave you when she was killed." Skye said desperately as he sensed where this friends train of thought was taking him. Billy stood locked in a thought and the darkness became choking and deadly around them.

"The only person who can tell me the answers is dead" he said softly. He turned suddenly to his friend. "I understand how this works now... you have to answer or do what I say here." he stated.

Skye's expression became horrified ."No Billy... don't ask me to do that... please...."

"It is either that or we both die anyway," Billy said calmly "I cannot leave this place without answers. You know that."

Skye looked at him, caught by his own cleverness, but then how was he to know that Billy's problem stemmed from a death?

By asking one of the others, one of his friends you idiot! Jason would have known, or Adam! he berated himself. Chalk another big point up for the benefit of hindsight.

The two looked at each other for a moment and Skye sighed and nodded slightly, seeing no other way out and then Billy said, "Skye I must see my mother again... make this possible!".

With a gasp Skye felt the Star Crystal flare and giving in to his intuition with a mighty effort reached out to somewhere... and created a bridge to wherever would bring him what he needed, trusting that his instincts would guide him. Abruptly a bright light dazzled them both and a silhouetted figure stepped forward from its heart.

~*~

Dulcea had watched in growing horror at the unfolding drama in the Sacred Heart of the Temple. She had struggled against her instinct to interfere, but her Ninjetti promise prevented her from initiating action, and her animal spirit.

Owls are Watchers as well as Warriors, it had told her in its feather soft tones We see the Dark, the Light and all the Secrets in between. This is why you were Chosen. Do not fail your duty from impatience. And then after the savage beating she had wondered again whether to intervene, but following that intervention from her Power Animal she could not... she was glad she hadn't as they were now locked in a trance state, but they had been there for so long! And then the Star Crystal on Skye's chest had flared with light and the apparition of a woman appeared next to them and stepped into the light surrounding them. Wonder upon wonder.

As she debated what to do she sensed the presence of another on the planet, a non-Ninjetti but glowing Power colours of Gold and fiery Red to her trained mind.

~*~

She found Jason trying to run up the rough rocks to the Temple. She strangely felt compelled to observe him rather than issue the Challenge.

"Dulcea, I am Jason the Gold Ranger!" Jason called out, as he reached the edge of the Temple rather desperately. "I'm looking for Billy... and Skye."

The Master Warrior of the Ninjetti hesitated before revealing herself. There was something about this one... Something that spoke to her deep inside. She felt a familiar Animal Spirit echo, that she sometimes felt from the strong ones before they 'discovered' their spirits. The truth was the spirits 'discovered' them, and this one, he would have the spirit of a very familiar one to her, if he ever quested for the Great Power. Her Owl Spirit trilled in wistful recognition, and she decided enough was enough,

"They are here" she admitted stepping out from the shadows.

Jason looked relieved. "Thank God! I've been trying to persuade Zordon and Alpha to tell me where they went for hours... but Zordon is hardly saying two words to anyone. I finally decided... well actually it was Adam who mentioned that he might have come here. Where is Billy?" he asked eagerly.

Dulcea shook her head. "I cannot let you see him." she said firmly.

"Why not? If Billy is in trouble then I want to help! I know Phaedos is a dangerous place... Billy told me all about it and his Wolf-spirit. I've got help him! He's one of my oldest and best friends!" Jason said, worry tingeing his voice.

Dulcea was about to answer when she stiffened, turning her head over towards the dark woods. She sighed deeply and regretfully, she sensed a presence approaching that could only mean one thing.

"It is too late Jason."

Then Gold Ranger looked panicked "What's wrong? What's happened to Billy?!" he demanded, instantly realizing it was to do with his friend.

With that they both heard a scream of anguish and loss that brought tears to the eyes and a cold feeling of dread to the stomach and then suddenly out of the darkness a wolf, nimbus tinged blue and curiously insubstantial appeared and loped over towards the direction of the scream.

"No! Not Billy's wolf spirit! but doesn't that mean...?" Jason trailed off his voice trembling.

Dulcea stepped forward and with great sympathy said, "Go back now Gold Ranger... please.".

Jason choked back his emotions and tried to run after the wolf but Dulcea thwarted him easily.

"Teleport home now Jason" she said sadly "They need you." and she summoned the Ninjetti energy to transport him back to Earth.

Jason vanished in a stream of golden light as Dulcea sighed again. It seemed Skye's effort had failed. The Dark, the Light and all the Secrets in between... there were not many who could face them within themselves and survive. It had been a desperate hope at best. She had felt close to the Wolf Ninjetti, it had been a long time since a Blue Wolf had walked the Path of the Ninjetti and they rarely found their way as young as this one, but that was a matter of the past with the DeathSummons already in motion. Now she turned to await the arrival of Skye's animal spirit. The spirits came near death and if Billy stood on the threshold then so did the Ninjetti who was not Ninjetti.... She sensed its approach. She looked up and the stars in the night sky became occluded and she was for the first time in a millennia, rendered speechless.

"By all the Powers!" she managed before silence covered the Temple.

~*~

Out of the Star bright light Billy's mother stepped forward. Billy's face was transfigured by joy and hope. With an inarticulate cry he threw himself into her arms into an embrace that seemed eternal. His mother began to speak softly to him.

"Billy I'm so proud of you, of what you have done, everything you've achieved, what a man you have become!"

"But I let you down... I should have found a way to stop you getting killed!" Billy sobbed.

"You were only ten Billy... William love, it happened, it was an accident, God knows that I didn't want to die and leave you to grow without me" Billy's mother said her face a tragic mask of could have beens, should have beens and regret.

Billy spoke softly in a small voice, looking away from her "I was angry with you... for dying and leaving me alone."

She smiled " I understand. I was angry with myself. But some events cannot be changed. You forgive me?" she asked, her eyes deep amethyst with suppressed hope and guilt.

"Yes oh yes!" Billy replied fervently without even having to think about it.

"I know you were angry, but you have never been truly alone—I will always be with you as I have been" she grinned suddenly "if you need me I'll be there as surely as... "

"E equals emm cee squared!" Billy capped the private joke with the answering phrase and laughed.

"In time you may sense me when I am with you—you will never be alone—and you have good friends Billy."

Billy looked away "But they hurt me." he said coldly.

His mother touched his cheek "Yes, and they may do so again and you may hurt them," then her voice became intense, "but Billy if you do not open yourself to vulnerability and have the strength to give then you are not open to love, and not being able to love is the worst pain of all! Only you can solve the problems you have with your friends, some may support you, help you but ultimately the understanding comes from you that heals the wounds. Taking responsibility for your emotions is as important as taking responsibility for your actions, more so. They cannot make you feel a certain way unless you let them. If there is one thing you can change in life it is yourself!"

Billy's mother smiled at him tenderly. "You are the Wolf, Billy, in your heart, and the Wolf is teacher, heeler, thinker, warrior, seer, magician and Pathfinder rolled into one. A wolf gives of himself selflessly to his pack and his family, in his thoughts, his hearts and his deeds. To shut yourself way from your friends is to deny your nature. Your mind sets you apart, and always will but your strength is from who you are not what you can do. Adapt and learn my son, do not limit yourself by conceptions of what you think you are. Trust your friends, add your strength to theirs and there is nothing that you cannot do!"

She kissed him gently and then whispered "You can do anything my son,"

The Light flickered dimming.

She stepped back "I must go" she said regretfully and drew away from them.

"Nooooooooooo!" screamed Billy in anguish "I will not lose you again!" he rushed after her into the light

"Billy No!" Skye gasped but held by his bond to him was dragged into the light after them. It was like standing in the heart of a storm.

Stop Billy," his mother said in alarm "It is not time for you to die... or for your friend. You may not pass the gateway yet, you have so much left to do dearest"

Billy stubbornly clung to her but finally let go when she said, "Your father needs you."

She looked wistful. "Tell him to remember the night of stars on the hill and say I have kept my promise and that he should keep his. He will know what I mean." she sighed and caressed her sons face once more with a lingering touch.

"Goodbye for now my son."

Billy looked deeply into her brilliant blue eyes and said "Love you... " in a choked voice.

"Love you too Billy." she smiled.

She then embraced a now exhausted Skye and said "Thank you... I know how hard this was... and you have given us both a great gift. I am glad you are the friend of my son...." She kissed him on the forehead and then stepped back again.

"Step back from the brink of death" Billy's mother said.

They obeyed mutely.

"All my love to you..."

"...and mine to you" Billy replied his eyes streaming tears.

"Be well my son" she whispered as she faded into the light

Billy reached out as the darkness returned and then sighed and said

"Time to go." and with a shuddering sigh Skye let the bond between them collapse.

~*~

Billy opened his eyes to dawn on Phaedos, a golden burst of light spilling over the plateau like liquid fire. Momentarily he wondered what he was doing there before his memories crashed down upon him. He looked down to see the beaten figure of Skye next showing the results of his uncontrolled fear and was overwhelmed by horror at what he had done. In a cold panic he checked for a pulse and then cradled Skyes unconscious form muttering, "Oh God! Oh God! I'm sorry! Oh God! Skye please!" and he sobbed then in a cathartic remorse as the new dawn spread it's golden light over Phaedos.

~*~

When Skye awoke later, he was aware that he was in a fair amount of pain and that he was at least able to move, if a little gingerly. In fact his arms were bandaged. with a strange looking cloth and all in all things could have been a lot worse and more painful.

"You are awake then."

It was Dulcea approaching with a small bowl of some pungent paste in her hands. She stripped off his shirt without even asking him taking him somewhat by surprise. "Hold still—this will numb the pain and speed the healing considerably." Dulcea informed him clinically.

"Billy?" he asked in between brief gasps as it stung as the Ninjetti warrior efficiently slathered on the salve. "Did it work?" Skye asked ignoring the process.

Dulcea nodded apparently absorbed by her task "Though he is wracked with guilt over what he has done to you... you took a big chance, he might well have killed you."

"But he didn't" Skye replied.

Dulcea looked uncomfortable. "You both were very close to death" she said avoiding his gaze.

Skye suddenly looked up at her sharply. "It came? You saw it?" he questioned with sudden interest.

"Yes... not long after Billy's Wolf spirit. But you know that it has no visible form" Dulcea lapsed into silence and appeared awed and apprehensive. Skye sighed in mild disappointment.

"I apologize for doubting you... it spoke to me." Her eyes glittered with the memory. "It said that your lesson of fear has been learnt and that you have broken the grip of it on your spirit. You have proven yourself to yourself."

Skyes face lit up with astonishment. "My God! Of course! I thought because of what had happened, because of my past... well I always had this fear that I would not be able to willingly place myself into danger for another, and now I have broken that fear!" He looked pleased.

"There are lessons within lessons, Skye of Earth, even I was taught a lesson of wonder... the appearance of the One that is not named is a cause for astonishment." Dulcea said. "It was put into my mind that you are the one to look into the Mysteries of the Ninjetti. This will be arranged."

"I would like that...." Skye replied his eyes bright with anticipation.

There was a movement over to his right, and Skye gingerly turned to see Billy lurking at the edges of the Sacred Heart of the Temple. His head aching... the white-haired artist reached out with his mind and grinned with relief when he touched the brilliant star blue colours of Billy's in control-again mind.

"Billy!" he exclaimed in relief and joy at seeing his friend whole again, there were still mental wounds yes, but the fragments of himself that had been lost now appeared to be present and in time would bind themselves to the others.

Billy shook his head in disbelief unable to meet his gaze. "How can you bear to look at me after what I did to you?" he asked his voice rich with self-loathing.

Skye sighed. This was something that had to be stopped now before all the good that had come out of this....experience was lost in a morass of self-condemnation. "How could I not be pleased when you are safe and well again?" he said forcefully.

He reached out to take his friends hand only to have Billy recoil from him as if he was going to touch him with white hot fire. Skye looked hurt and then glanced at Dulcea who was observing their reunion with an impassive look.

Not one miracle is ever enough, star crystal Ninjetti... her voice sounded in his head. Miracle upon miracle is the rule of the spirit for its very existence is miraculous.

He sent a thought of affirmation to her. He looked at Billy "You're not going to believe me are you? " he stated "But I cannot lie in my mind my friend, if you can face the truth... then you know what to do."

Billy hesitated and then reached for the fragment of Sionas crystal he had from the previous night. Suddenly he felt the warm forgiving presence of Skye in his mind, who in turn let him see into his mind.

There was no denying the fear the pain that his friend had experienced, he wasn't trying to hide it at all. And in some ways, that convinced Billy of the genuine truth behind Skye's joy and forgiveness when he saw his mind whole and knew him to be healed once more. His mind radiated wonder at that fact, turning it this way and that to try and make it fit.

Soul-brother, Skye mindspoke to him, Why is this a mystery to you? Would you not take an injury for another to save them pain? Have you not already done so time and time again? Do you blame them for the pain that you experience as a result?

No... but... that....

This is no different Billy, Skye reassured. It was a willing sacrifice and requires no forgiveness, you saved my life on Sionas, you literally jumped through fire to save me and you barely knew me. So when I got a chance to help you I was going to take it. Sometimes even the giver has to receive. Do you believe me?

I believe that you do not hate me... but still I am not sure that I could do such a thing, Billy said. He hesitated.

"You would still called me friend?" he asked aloud tentatively

Skye smiled "My friend!" he said triumphantly and Billy's answering smile was accompanied by a careful hug.

"Ow... steady! What happened to my shirt?" Skye asked suddenly aware that it had disappeared completely

"Here" Billy pulled off his top, leaving him clad only in a t-shirt and gave it to him. "Take this."

"Thanks" Skye nodded and with a little help from Dulcea rather painfully pulled it on.

"One thing I will say... " Billy began in solemn tones, and Skye braced himself for a meaningful speech.

"Yes Billy?" the artist prompted.

"I regret to inform you that the medicinal compound currently assisting your recovery, is exceptionally malodorous and I may have to forfeit your company if you do not rectify the situation." Billy informed him with a deadpan expression.

"What?!"

"That salve reeks, and if you intend to use it on a regular basis, you are on your own!!" Billy translated with a wicked gleam in his blue eyes.

Skye start laughing helplessly and Billy joined in, letting go of the last of the tension between them.

"Dear God I've created a monster... !" Skye wheezed, catching his breath.

"No I'll leave that to Mondo and the Space Villains...." Billy replied grinning "Hey... Good name for a band huh?" That resulted in fresh hilarity.

Dulcea also smiled as she regard the two laughing Ninjetti.

"This is good. But I must tell you that the Gold Ranger came looking for you Billy, at a most inopportune time, at the point when your wolf spirit appeared, and the apparition of the woman...."

They calmed down rapidly. Billy was frankly amazed "You saw my mother?" he asked incredulously. She nodded.

Then Billy groaned. "We must get back! Jason will think I am dead, I told him about the DeathSummons! and when he saw the Wolf he must have believed....Especially as they haven't heard from us!"

"I had to send him back," Dulcea said with a hint of emotion in her voice "I sensed he was needed, though he tried to stay despite my orders....he has a noble spirit, worthy of a Ninjetti."

Billy nodded agreeing "We better return, they may need our help," he said concerned.

Skye marveled privately at how swiftly Billy turned his focus to the well-being of his friends after such a personally traumatic experience. They turned to Dulcea and bowed with respect.

"Thank you for everything Dulcea" Billy thanked her sincerely and tuned his teleporter to draw on Ninjetti Power to get them both back to earth.

He turned to give Skye back the Sionas crystal but the artist shook his head

"it is yours now, tuned to you... and I may have an idea on how to use it when we get back... keep it!" Skye then turned to Dulcea as they were about to leave touched the star crystal and said "Thank you... Shihana Dulcea-vai, lejana kai.."

"Rokan-sar vai...." Dulcea responded automatically in the ancient language of the Ninjetti as the two vanished in column of teleportation light.

Dulcea stood staring after them and then muttered to herself, "Zordon of Eltare if this is what I think it is....then you have some serious explaining to do!"

~*~

They materialized in the centre of the Power Chamber after the long delay of interplanetary teleportation.

"Billy!" Zordon sounded happy to see him—and if he was happy then Alpha was nigh on ecstatic. The little droid didn't know if he were coming or going! Billy laughed.

"Calm down Alpha! I'm fine! Really!"

"Billy I am pleased to see you" the Eltarian said with genuine emotion in his voice.

"Same here Zordon." Billy replied somewhat taken by surprise.

Alpha rushed up clasping a report "Billy the Rangers need your help. They are struggling against Mondo's latest monster, and with Pyramidis and Red Battlezord out of action and Adam has been crystallized, the Zeozords are taking heavy damage! Ayeyieyie!"

Billy looked very worried. "What happened? where is Adam? is he okay?"

"He is in the lab" Zordon replied. "He became very... distracted after Jason returned from Phaedos, and fell victim to the Crystallinator."

"And the others?"

"Fighting as we speak," Alpha contributed.

Billy frowned. "Too much to do too little time." he muttered and then startled as Skye tapped his shoulder for attention.

"I might have an idea on how to help..." he said "Take your tuned crystal and put it next to your skin, so you can use your hands and I'll do the rest."

Billy did so, slightly intrigued. Skye focused his will through the Star crystal and linked mind to mind in the deep rapport with Billy, joining their resources on a subconscious level. The ex-ranger felt an odd tingle and then a slight feeling of vertigo and then Skye looked up.

"Done" he said...

Billy looked around feeling slightly odd.

"What needs doing?" Skye asked.

"I need to analyze Alpha's data help Adam, look at the Zords...." as Billy listed tasks he suddenly became aware that it was being assimilated decided and tasks assigned on a subliminal level between the two of them. Billy looked at the data whilst seemingly at the same time examining Adam and trying resonant frequencies matches on the encasing crystal. Except it was Skye's body with Adam. And he was quicker than usual in processing data and it helped for Skye to bringing him items as the thoughts entered his head to construct a new device. It was literally like having a second pair of hands. Skye, he mindspoke realizing they were communicating that way through the crystal. What have you done here?

Skye's mental voice chuckled though Billy could sense the tiredness and the edges of pain from him

I have done the equivalent of giving your brain a memory upgrade of sorts... you use my resources I draw on yours... our minds work in rapport so deep that I just know what to do I don't have to ask what to do, the skill, expertise to accomplish these tasks is in our mind. That's the theory anyway... Never done this before, Skye explained.

Why not? Billy asked curious as he adjusted another device

I have never established a mindlink as deep as I had to with you on Phaedos... otherwise I would be asking not doing. In response to a delicate thought from Billy, Skye handed him a tool of which he didn't even know the name let alone the function.

"Resonance scans back on Adam," he said aloud and the information flowed between their minds lightning fast and Skye took the modified sonic projector Billy had been working on and began to test within the band frequency identified.

Billy finished the Sonic weapon and "heard" the frequency match when Skye discovered it on Adam's encasing crystal. Deftly he teleported the device to mesh with zeozord battle helmet 1. Stats flashed up on the console. Pyramidas was out of action due to a simple dimorphic crossfeed. That could be fixed in no time. The Red Battlezord needed a left stabilizer adjusted and then it would be battle worthy. In moments he was at Pyramidas and Skye was at Red Battlezord and it was done! and so quickly!

"Done! Alpha... send down Red Battlezord and Pyramidas to buy the Zeozord time to recover a little and then send Zeo battle helmet one down." He smiled, pleased.

"Well done Billy!" he heard Zordon say, but what he felt was Zordon's emotions of pride and affection for him much to his surprise.

Naturally, Skye mindspoke. You are tapping into my abilities, as I tap into yours.

Does he really feel that way about me? Billy asked in awe

Apparently so, Skye replied.

Billy smiled to himself. Well, well... Zordon a sentimental fool.

"Billy... Adam's crystallization is breaking down!" Skye announced.

"I'm coming" Billy said hurrying in.

Billy took the sonic resonator and tweaked it a little... this would work! How many time had a battle come down to his ability to restore a ranger? more importantly... to restore a friend? It was one of his secret fears that one day he would not be able to reverse the process. He had experienced recurring nightmares to that effect for a long long time. As he looked at Adam encased in shimmering crystal he was reminded irrestitably of the first picture Skye had done after meeting them both, of a Frog mid leap frozen in crystal. He shivered. Had that been some sort of premonition? Or was this a sign of something else? He could not shake the feeling that he was being shown more than a scientific problem to be solved, maybe something more....symbolic. Skye looked at him mirroring the concern in his eyes as suddenly the crystallization dissolve and collapsed completely. Adam in his demorphed state drew in a shuddering breath and began coughing violently.

"Easy there Adam" Billy said gently supporting his friend. At the sound of his voice, Adam snapped his eyes open in astonishment.

"Billy... Billy? But Jason said...."

Billy through his still open link with Skye and the Star Crystal felt the almost overwhelming burst of hope and emotion as Adam saw him and swirling in his memory the despair that he had felt, that all of them had felt when Jason had reported back from Phaedos.

"I'm fine Adam, really," he said at a loss for words.

Skye slipped a thought into his mind I'll check on the battle, he excused himself and melted away sensing the happiness in the two friends minds.

Skye stepped into the Power Chamber and stumbled feeling weak and shaky. The mindlink did drain his energy more than he was letting on. Especially on top of his injuries which despite Dulcea's miraculous (if stinky) salve were still making their presence felt....he couldn't lie but he could conceal parts of the truth in his mind. He sensed though that he had to hold the link open a little longer . If Billy could just for once feel that he wasn't alone and really know it to be true, it would make his problems with all the Rangers, not disappear, but certainly a lot easier to deal with. He steadied himself against the console

"Are you injured Skye?" Zordon asked concerned.

"Nothing serious Zordon" he admitted.

"I want to thank you for what you have done for Billy and the rest of the Rangers" Zordon said.

Skye nodded "S'okay Zordon" he replied tiredly feeling his strength draining away. "

"The Rangers are prevailing thanks to your timely assistance."

Suddenly there was a flash of gold light as Jason teleported in. The Gold Ranger look around to see Skye in front of him, wearing of all things Billy's jumper! Inflamed with grief and loss Jason lunged forward and grabbed Skye by the wrist.

"You! What did you do to Billy... answer me! You were there!"

Skye blanched with pain, rendered speechless by Jason's iron grip on his bandaged wrist. Another stupid mistake, he thought. We were so busy saving the day, that it slipped our minds to mention that Billy wasn't dead!

Billy in the adjoining room felt Skye's pain through their link and Jason's grief stricken presence. Dear Lord he had never realized how important he was to his old friend! He hastily ran to the Power Chamber.

"Jason!" he called out entering the room. "It's okay... I'm fine! Let him go...."

"Billy?" Jason gasped hope blossoming.

Billy smiled "The one and only..." he quipped.

Jason was astounded. Billy was alive for one... and smiling! He couldn't remember the last time he had seen his old friend smile so easily. He let go of Skye absently and stepped forward.

"I... I... thought when I saw the Wolf... I thought....I'd lost you bro... " he said his voice tight with emotion.

"I'm okay Jase, it was tough but I'm okay now" Billy replied soothingly.

Suddenly the chamber filled with multicolored beams of light as the other Rangers teleported in. They froze in astonishment at the sight of Billy and then the errant friend found himself mobbed by overjoyed friends. Skye watched from outside the group. Billy wore an inanely happy grin on his face. The weary artist kept the mindlink open so Billy could for once be aware of how much his friends cared for him and how much of their isolation had been misunderstanding. Skye smiled again weakly, feeling close to exhaustion.

"You okay?" asked a voice behind him.

Adam walked in unsteadily. Skye looked up in surprise. And nodded. "I'm fine" he said in stretching the definition of "fine" to the outer limits.

Adam's eyes flicked down and he observed the partly hidden bandages on the artists arms, and noted the lines of pain in his face. He could tell that wasn't the whole truth. As sensitive as he was to those around him Adam knew Skye had done something to help Billy, but what he couldn't begin to imagine.

"Hmmm" Adam commented, obviously this was not something that they were going to talk about just yet. Something had happened on Phaedos that he could tell. And he knew that Billy had lost it in the Juice Bar—he'd understood what Skye had said and he'd had a row with Tommy about it too. He'd never seen the others as shocked as when he'd laid into their leader.....and now... now Billy was smiling, he was more open even than he had been before, and it was something to do with Skye. Maybe he had been unfair to Billy's new friend. They hadn't exactly welcomed him with open arms, even though he knew their secret. There appeared to be something inside that screamed "not a ranger, not a ranger." that made them all inhibited when he was around. He felt a sudden chill inside. Was that what they had been doing to Billy? All this time?

"Well hey Skye... thanks for whatever you did... I know it can't have been easy," he said resolving to make more of an effort to get to know the artist in the future.

"Thanks Adam," Skye said looking surprised and swayed a little and Adam steadied him. Billy looked up as if called.

"Hey guys... I think I better go home... my dad will be concerned about me.." he said. They nodded understanding.

"Skye?" Billy asked. The white haired artist nodded and Billy said goodbye and the two teleported out.

~*~

Later at the Juice Bar, the Rangers were having an informal discussion. Tommy, like the others, had been distraught when Jason had reported Billy's death—partly because he felt it to be his fault. He was responsible for them all, if something happened to any of them it was basically his fault there was no denying it, whatever anyone else told him. Adam had been right to dress him down. But now questions began to arise.

"Did you notice," he said softly "that we never actually got an answer to what happened?"

Kat agreed "Yeah—when he left he was strung out and now he's... well I've never seen Billy like this before...." she said leaning forward conspiratorially.

"I have," both Jason and Tommy spoke up together. Meeting each others gaze the same thought went through their minds. Trini.

"I find it strange that Dulcea wouldn't let me pass," Jason commented "I saw the wolf, and heard the... scream... it was bad!"

"Look" Adam said firmly, "they will tell us when they are ready, though I agree, something happened on Phaedos, and it was no joyride for either of them."

"Yes" said Tommy thoughtfully. It occurred to him that he had underestimated the artists abilities. But he just couldn't bring himself to feel comfortable with someone who might be able to reach into his mind at any moment. Half the time he wasn't comfortable with himself, let alone with someone else.

"It seems to me that Skye had a lot to do with this, something for which we should be grateful" Tanya chipped in.

"We will find out eventually I'm sure" Rocky said.

Jason looked deep in thought, and got up slowly. "I'll catch up with you guys later." he said before walking out briskly.

~*~

Skye's knees buckled as they landed at Billy's house. the link snapped and Billy caught him under the arms as he began to slip gently towards unconsciousness.

"You're staying here!" he ordered concerned "Dad will be so pleased I have a friend to stay that he won't mind."

"I....won't object too much" Skye replied dizzy and disorientated.

"I'm not letting you go back to be alone, not in this state, especially not to that pit you call your apartment." Billy looked around "He's at work... good. I'll phone him and he can yell at me over the phone... I'll say I went on a retreat and forgot to tell him or something... he'll buy it." He hauled Skye up to the guestroom and introduced him to the spare bedroom.

"You should have told me how much the link drained you, and how weak you were" he rebuked concerned "You didn't need to keep the link open all the time."

Skye shook his head "most important time of all" was all he said.

Billy nodded in gratitude. It was one thing to hope you were cared for by your friends and quite another to feel and know it!

"Will be easier next time" the star crystal Ninjetti said wryly, lying down on the bed.

"Next time ?" Billy queried

"Of course" Skye said yawning uncontrollably "You need help in the Power Chamber... I have free time and I'd like to be involved... I'll help you as much as I can. Maybe then the others may accept me... a little... more.." Skye's gray blue eyes closed and whilst Billy stood there absorbing this information he drifted into a deep sleep.

Billy stepped back "Thank you my friend " he said quietly "Thank you for everything." he said before leaving the room.

~*~

He found Jason watching him from the bottom of the stairs. "Skye staying here?" Jason said. There was something in his old friends eyes that told Billy Jason had something to get off his chest. The way he clenched his jaw as if trying to hold back words.

"Yes... he's pretty exhausted" Billy said, and purposefully did not volunteer anymore information.

Jason was mentally trying to find a way to start things rolling, but felt oddly discomfited by Billy's attentive gaze and all he could manage was to blurt out, "You okay?"

"Pretty close to it now." Billy said after careful consideration and for once truthfully.

Jason rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at the suddenly fascinating carpet. Billy couldn't stand it anymore.

"What is on your mind Jase?"

"I... I... came to say... I'm sorry. Really sorry...." Jason held up a hand to stop Billy's protestations. "I feel like ever since I came back, I shattered your hope of becoming a ranger... and I just couldn't bear to see that in your face every time I saw you. So I guess.....I didn't see as much of you as I should, considering how close we were as part of the original team. Call it a guilty conscience or whatever it is still no excuse. I know something happened on Phaedos, and I should have been there for you... but I hope you'll have my apology for that"

Billy nodded astonished. Though he was be no means ready to share what had happened at the Temple of the Ninjetti with them all he could not let his oldest friend torment himself with guilt.

"Jason, it wasn't just to do with you and the others, it was something far deeper to do with me." He reassured his friend "Whilst there is still plenty still to deal with and everything is not "magically" fine...." he struggled to find the words that might tell his friend how profoundly things had changed within himself.

"I have been taught how to laugh again."

He saw the Gold Ranger's eyes widen in understanding and knew that he had remembered the harrowing day when a distraught 10 year old boy had vowed to his friend that he would never laugh or be happy again, as they stood together by his mothers fresh grave. And though in time that vow had faded, and some measure of happiness had crept back into his life, it had always seemed that his capacity for joy had been... wounded in such a way, that neither of them had thought it possible he would ever experience it to its fullest.

Jason swallowed feeling his throat tighten with emotion. "That is good." was all he could manage and Billy let him off the hook by offering him something to eat, and taking him through to the kitchen.

~*~

In the Power Chamber, for once empty of even Billy, Zordon contemplated the recent events and as he did so became aware of a presence manifesting before him. A ghostly apparition of an Owl swooped around his column before hovering mid air before him.

"So...." Dulcea's voice whispered "When exactly were you going to tell me?". An image of her face shimmered into view and her expression was severe.

"There are still many things uncertain, Dulcea." Zordon said calmly.

"Like what?" The Master Warrior said angrily "The Star Crystal has been claimed and you didn't think to share that with any of the Wise? Zordon you maybe the greatest Magician of us all but this is no time for secrets. "

"I am not going to assume the worst at this stage" Zordon rebuked "Yes the Star Crystal has surfaced, but there is no indication that it is NOW that things happen. We will all know when that is.... if it happens!."

"Even when the Nameless one visits Phaedos?" Dulcea informed him gravely "Can you remember when that last happened?"

Zordon was silent a moment. "I have heard tell of the event in the distant past."

"And your current Chosen? When have you ever had a group exposed to such a variety of aspects of the Power?" She turned and sensed around and looked alarmed "You didn't! You harnessed the Zeo Crystal to their morphing....but it was never meant to be used that way... and a human holding the Gold Powers....how by all the spirits he is holding himself together I will never know!"

"I am aware of the problems" Zordon said uncomfortably.

"I do not doubt your care or your wisdom, but do not hide from the truth by masking it in logic." Dulcea warned. "You don't want it to be them do you?" She suddenly realized, her green eyes gleaming.

"They are so young... "Zordon said softly.

"And we are so old" Dulcea said brusquely "Age has nothing to do with it. Spirit does. Zordon of Eltare, if you do not help them in learning the lessons they need to learn, then the Great Power will find a way to teach them in spite of you. If they are the ones then they will be taught by experience, which is a far harsher master. The maturity of the spirit is measured in terms of experience, and I think one of your Chosen has grown up a great deal in the past night."

"You are wise Dulcea" Zordon said.

"I am the Owl, Warrior and Watcher." Dulcea said "And Zordon, I will be Watching you and yours from now on. So will Dimitria, Alesto, C'Haal, Rhahamadra and the others of the Wise, for it is wise to prepare for the coming of Darkness when there is still Light to see." With that the projected spirit form of the Ninjetti Master Warrior shifted back into her owl-form and took flight before fading away.

And with that message, however much he would have liked to do so, Zordon of Eltare could not disagree.

End