Chapter 33: So Long, Heroes
Billy did not want to invade Tommy's private moment, yet as it happened before the eyes of them all, he knew he had to step up. If there was anything he had learned from knowing them all, of being accepted into their friendship groups and becoming less socially inapt through their influence, it was that above hard facts and truths, nothing could counter raw human emotion.
Crouching down beside the white ranger, Billy was quick to realize he was not crying as first thought, but seemingly stuck in between a teary laugh and soundless self-comforting.
"Tommy..." he rested a hand on his shoulder.
Tommy turned his head to look at him, but his cheek remained leaned against Kimberly's tangled hair. "It's them, Billy...it's really them."
Billy pursed his lips, nodding slowly. "There is nothing in my heart that tells me otherwise," he told him genuinely. "If a miracle could possibly come from such a devastating scenario, this is it and so is the fact that we are here, together."
Tommy straightened up from his former girlfriend, staring at Billy with a lingering loss. "What about Trini and Zack?"
Billy sighed, looking over at their other teammates who had returned to talking amongst themselves. He swallowed, as images of his childhood friends instantly filtered in his ravished mind. "It is my belief that both Trini and Zack were kept alive at the facility for a similar time period to Kim and Jason, to serve the same purpose of being prime subjects in the cloning project...I have tried broaching the subject with them, but they both seem incapable of confirming this for me." He sighed. "But even if they were alive, Tommy, it's highly unlikely that remains the case. If they somehow escaped, they would have been killed by the IBI, or in the other scenario, we allowed them to die unknowingly in the inferno."
They both looked up as Katherine suddenly hunched over, whimpering longly as she scurried for the exit of the hut. Adam was quick to follow her, taking on his role as medical carer as sounds of the former pink ranger being sick caused Billy to squirm a little himself.
Adam stuck his head back into the hut. "Tommy, do you know if your aunt or uncle kept any bottled water here? Katherine's going to need some fresh water to drink as soon as possible."
Billy watched Tommy glance around the hut helplessly. "I wouldn't know, it's been over a year since uncle John last used this place," he admitted.
"I'll take a look around," Aisha suggested.
"And I'll uh, look for some blankets," Rocky added with a pursed expression.
Tommy nodded his thanks, before standing awkwardly, as though his limbs were unable to fold like they should.
"You guys had a rough time getting here," Billy guessed, motioning with a flick of his chin to Tommy's physical state.
"We were intercepted by IBI agents as we made our way to the facility. They tried to coerce us into custody, but we managed to avoid them, not withstanding a few injuries..." he smiled tightly. "You got the others here in good shape," he added with an unspoken pride.
"We were lucky, I guess," Billy admitted, unable to accept any praise for their rescue. "Bulk and Skull found us on our way out of the campus and put everything on the line to get us here. I was hesitant to divulge details as to our situation, however I had no choice but to brief them, but please don't worry; I believe strongly that they will not let our secret out."
Tommy nodded with comfort, but his eyes remained strained. "I don't know what to do now," he admitted, a hard smile shielding his fear. "All I could think about was escaping and now that we're here, I don't know what we're supposed to do or where to go."
Billy sighed, motioning to a nearby chair. "You should sit down, Tommy, you look like you have a fever," he noticed, waiting to continue till the white ranger awkwardly dropped onto the seat. "We need to get out of California- preferably out of the country as soon as everyone is fit enough to do so."
Tommy's face stared deeply. "We really need to get medical attention," he mentioned, rubbing a dirty palm over his face. "Adam still has a bullet lodged in his arm."
"I'll help remove the bullet," Billy assured him, despite his own apprehensions at such a prospect. "We will attend to everyone in order of severity…but you need to rest now, Tommy, you're exhausted."
Tommy shook his head fiercely and Billy sighed, not bothering to mask his disapproval and not allowing his friend to speak. "You know Tommy; you are no good to any of them like this. You may as well of died at the facility and we would still be carrying your burden like we are now- you're letting us down."
Billy motioned to the couch and Tommy's face contorted with stubbornness, filtered quite obviously by the tug on his emotions- the part of him that had always been so quick to do whatever it took in the face of losing his teammates.
"Here's some blankets," Rocky approached the pair, an oversized bundle of old blankets spilling over the sides of his looped arms. He dropped them on the floor, sending a spray of misty dust and smell of mildew amongst them.
"Put one on Tommy," Billy asked him, preparing himself for an objection from their leader which never sounded.
Instead, it was as though in the space of a single minute, Tommy's state had deteriorated considerably, as though allowing himself to lie down was permission for whatever affliction that was resting below the surface to come to bay.
Rocky was visibly shaken by Tommy's state, but Billy held onto his composure. "Stay beside him and let me know if he gets any worse," Billy told him.
"What's wrong with him?" Rocky queried.
"He seems to be suffering from some sort of shock," Billy explained. "You need to maintain his warmth…I'll check on the others."
Sensing Adam had Katherine's condition under control, he walked back over to where Kimberly and Jason were still clinging to each other. He crouched down before them, expecting a snarl, or lowly growl, but surprisingly neither reacted to his advance.
They just stared.
He reached for a blanket and slowly draped it around them both, pausing with a hand on Kimberly's cheek.
"Can either of you understand me?" he asked gently.
Jason's whole body jerked, causing Billy to flinch. "Th-The-Th…" he stuttered and slurred over the same sound, a strange pain tingeing his unfamiliar voice.
Billy immediately moved for him, grabbing Jason's face between his hands. "What are you trying to say?" he urged. "Are you in-."
Jason's eyes suddenly flashed with a brilliant argent glow, the explosion of energy so sporadic, that Billy's eyes slammed closed, his breathing shallow as he courageously looked back at him.
His breaths were all that sounded for a moment, before Kimberly murmured with no visible reason, her head dropping awkwardly as her eyes flashed with Jason's, in kind.
"What is happening here?" Billy whispered numbly, his face twisting with disbelief.
Billy looked over his shoulder startled, his eyes still heavy in a frown as he cast them up on his approaching friend.
"What's wrong with Tommy?" Adam asked him, his face drawn seriously.
Billy had to shake the fog from his head. "He appears to be in the initial stages of shock...skin discoloration and clammy skin," he explained, before he ran a hand to his face. "He has severe burns to his arms that need to be treated."
He sighed, his eyes falling on the bloodied tourniquet still in place on Adam's arm.
Adam crouched down beside him, his look grave; there was a painful realization that both men were quickly becoming overwhelmed by.
They had reached safety, but without emergency medical attention and supplies, it was as though they were still caught in a death trap.
"Katherine is still dehydrated and it's progressing quickly," Adam mentioned quietly. "Without water, I don't know if I can treat her." He seemed angry at himself, but pushed it away as he looked at their two friends still sitting before them.
"Are they okay?" he asked, before looking at Billy.
Billy didn't know what to say, but nodded numbly. "It's difficult for me to substantiate if they're in pain, because neither seems capable of speaking...though, I do have a feeling that they can comprehend what I am saying," he mentioned.
Adam moved closer to Kimberly, gently holding onto her chin with his fingers. Her whole body shook with exaggeration, and he let out a soft 'shh' as he used his other hand to examine her neck and face.
"They both seem to be in much better physical condition since their showers at the high school," he murmured, looking over briefly at Billy. "Blood can make things look a lot worse than they are."
Billy swallowed. He wasn't so sure that was it. Even now, at this close distance, his mind was either playing a harrowing trick on him or it was true- that somehow, Jason and Kimberly had considerably healed over a space of twelve hours.
Kimberly let out a random moan, her eyes closing, before flinging back open, a bright light expelling from their centers as Billy had seen in Jason earlier.
"Whoa," Adam flinched back, his eyes widening before dropping to his body.
"What? What is it?" Billy asked him.
Adam grabbed hold of his injured arm, his free hand pulling viciously at the tourniquet as though he were being choked by it. Billy could only stare, not knowing if he needed to intervene, sucking in a large breath as the stained material fell free from his skin, floating to the floor.
"Where's the wound?" Adam whispered, his finger prodding the skin with growing urgency. "Billy, I was shot right here, I-I don't-."
"She healed you," Billy whispered back, staring at Kimberly in amazement. "I don't know how, but she did."
Tommy's eyes' snapped open. He licked at the sweat on his lips, his tongue almost staying at the roof of his mouth like Velcro, before he rolled over, his muscles screaming in protest.
They really had escaped the facility, their prison. He worried about the heat prickling across his bare legs, but the sound of flames gently flickering from the fireplace in the hut swiftly eased his mind. His stomach was queasy- but he remembered it was because he'd barely eaten in over a week.
Lifting his head slowly from the couch, Tommy expected the innards of his skull to thunder with painful objection, but surprisingly, he felt a sense of balance steady him. Noticing the absense of his friends, he was quickly reminded of the disrupted sleep he'd just endured, fighting through a listless fever and being somehow comforted and scared at the same time. Comforted, by the idea that he didn't have to run anymore, and yet terrified by the thought of never seeing their faces again.
Comforted by the way Kimberly's fingers had linked through his, easing him through his dellusions. But somehow that recollection itself felt like nothing more than an insane dream, even though he knew her touch was the only reason he was able to think right now. Breathe right now.
I wonder where they are?
Tommy slowly stood up and took a deep breath as he headed toward the only door in and out of the three-roomed hut. It was light outside, but through the window he could see the sky was still a sickly shade of tarnished gray. Smoke in the distance seemed to lap at scattered clouds, causing an almost marbled effect. It was the reminder of the war that had flattened a big chunk of the city they had spent years trying to protect; and yet it took only a handful of days for it to be ripped down.
Outside, he found his teammates scattered amongst the narrow stretch of grass at the back of their hideout. Beneath an oak tree, Rocky, Billy and Aisha sat cross-legged, pulling aimlessly at the grass amidst comfortable words, while a few feet away, Jason stood stony faced beside Adam who seemed to be the side of a one-way conversation.
Jason's eyes were lost, so very lost. Tommy stepped out of the hut and nodded a silent acknowledgment to him, but he didn't get one in return. Time. It would take time.
Tommy turned away and continued barefoot over the dewy grass to where he spotted Katherine and Kimberly together, the two women facing each other, but on an angle where Tommy couldn't tell whether they were talking or what they were doing. He could see that Kimberly had been changed, the bloodied hospital gown swapped for a rather odd ensemble of an over-sized men's shirt and no bottoms to speak of asides from her underwear. He felt a rush of guilt just staring at her; but Katherine's eyes met his and he continued toward her gesturing hand.
"How did you sleep?" she asked him, as he stopped beside them. "You're looking much better."
Tommy nodded a little stiffly. "The heat from the fire woke me up and I almost thought for a second I was at the facility..."
Katherine almost seemed uncomfortable about the reminder, before her eyes changed and she gestured to Kimberly. "Well; Kimberly can talk now," she mentioned.
Tommy glanced down at his high school sweetheart, a soft smile settling as she looked back at him with big eyes. It was a far cry from hours earlier, when he'd watched her disturbing form shudder just at his very look.
"Hello," she greeted, emphasizing every sound and vowel to perfection. "My name is..." her sentence fell, before Katherine softly scooped up her hand.
"Kim-ber-ly," Katherine drew out, offering her an encouraging smile.
Kimberly's face fell a little with strained shame, before she courageously looked back at Tommy, her face tripping over various expressions before she settled for a smile. "My name is Kim-be-lly."
Her carefully spoken words, so warmly filtered, sent a wave of goosebumps up his legs and arms and all he could manage was another smile at her. It was all pride and so much relief and without even noticing it, his hand was softly stroking her cheek.
"Hi Kimberly," he replied almost in a whisper. "I don't know if you know my name, but I'm Tommy...we used to know each other a long time ago."
He lowered his hand almost immediately, as he felt a stray palm from behind cup his shoulder.
"Tommy, how are you feeling?" Billy asked, reaching for the white ranger's arms.
Tommy held his limbs straight, unable to believe their now smooth, untouched surface. He had to wonder if Kimberly had any understanding of what she had done; how she and Jason had seemingly healed them all with their very touch.
He looked over at her, and she seemed to be in a world of her own, running her toes through the grass in an almost innocent delight.
"I feel good," he finally responded, sighing a little distractingly. "How are the others?"
Billy nodded. It was amazing how calm, how much he looked like Billy...and yet Tommy could see the lingering grief within his blue eyes. "I think it's time," he admitted. "We've had the fire burning for over six hours and we don't want to draw anymore unnecessary attention to the area…"
Tommy pursed his lips and nodded, before he looked over at the others, motioning with a hand. "Guys, over here," he called out.
"This is gonna be hard," Katherine breathed out nervously, and Tommy looked over at her, rubbing her comfortingly on her arm as their friends gathered around with mirrored expressions of anticipation.
"What's up?" Adam asked.
Tommy's eyes were perched on the ground, his mind a mess with all the things that should be said at that moment. He swallowed, and looked up at them.
"It's time for us to leave here and start heading for the Mexican border," Tommy detailed, watching as his words lingered in the form of mist against the cool air. "We will have to stick to back roads and we won't have enough money to stay in any sort of accommodation…"
"How much money do we have?" Rocky asked.
Billy removed a collection of dirty notes from his pocket. "Two-hundred and twenty dollars…thanks to Bulk and Skull, who also were generous enough to provide us with some buy-one-get-one-free and half price coupons for McDonalds."
"Man," Rocky stretched out. "I could really go a Quarter Pounder right now."
"We'll stop for something to eat, once we get well past Angel Grove," Tommy agreed. "We need to make a stop along the way so Billy can prepare some birth certificates and driver's licenses for us to use, if we need to, to across the border."
"You mean, you're going to make us fake identifications?" Katherine wondered.
Billy nodded. "They'll just be temporary, but should fulfill their purpose should a situation arise where we require them. We are fortunate that it's considerably easier to get out of the U.S than it is to get in- however, I can't stress how vital it is that we stay vigilant and composed, especially until we are all over the border. Even then, it is my recommendation that we remain in a single location no longer than a few hours."
Katherine bit her lip. "How are we going to get across the border?" she asked with an unsettled expression.
Tommy sighed. "That's the part of the plan that we haven't worked out," he admitted with honest shame. "But, uh...regardless of what method we use, it's going to require us to make drastic changes to our appearances and to separate for a short period of-."
Rocky groaned loudly, shaking his head as Aisha shifted her hands to her hips.
"The separation thing does not work for us," Rocky pointed out, but it seemed to be more in frustration, than objection. He rubbed a hand on his face. "I told myself I wouldn't let any of you out of my sight again," he finally explained, looking at each of them intently.
"It's not ideal, but I promised myself a long time ago that I wouldn't let any bad come to any of you," Tommy countered gently; void of deep emotion, but with sentiment resting subtly in his outstretched gaze, "I promise you all, once we get into Mexico, this won't be over...it won't be over for a long time and it might never be over. But...but we're doing this for each other. I can only speak for me, but if I didn't have you guys, I would probably given up a long time ago."
Billy nodded valiantly, before hands and arms intertwined, foreheads sharing burdens as they came together for one last moment.
"We can do this, guys," Aisha's voice floated in between their comforting scrum.
Tommy flicked a glance between each of them, setting one final gaze on the distant pools of chocolate beside him; the eyes he never thought he'd look into again. "Let's do this."
Angel Grove Lawn Cemetery
Three Weeks Later
In his experience, the weather was always extreme at funeral services, but Farkas should have known it would rain down the day they had to say goodbye to Them; that the skies would open and cry their hearts out at such a waste of life or maybe even the lie which Farkas and Eugene would both carry to their own graves.
There was no question that this was a memorial service for people that mattered, for true heroes. Stars and bands graced their identical coffins, beneath individual photographs of them all. There was a lack of flowers...not because people forgot, but because Farkas imagined that true heroes were above and beyond the norm. Maybe they would come out at the private burial services, he really wasn't sure.
"...for those that gave, not only their time, their gifts or their unwavering strength to this city and this country, we thank you. Heroes are not defined only by what they do, but what they don't. These young people we commemorate today - the power rangers - had never been offered appreciation for all they did not get to experience. As the president of this country, I feel a sad sorrow that we as a nation, that you as loved ones, shall never have the opportunity to thank them for their services. My thoughts and prayers go out to each and every one of you in your time of grief."
Farkas trailed an inconspicuous gaze as the heavily surrounded leader bowed his head and left the microphone, settling to a respectful stance in the distance. The wind blew the rain again into Farkas' face, and he moved a quick hand to shield his eyes, hoping that nobody there was watching him. That no one saw the guilt in his eyes, the lack of tears, and the absence of sentiment that everyone else was lost in.
Their plan had worked. The entire country had declared the ten young adults dead as a direct participation in December's violent alien invasion in Angel Grove. Hundreds lost their lives that week, but out of all of them, the power rangers were the ones who had stolen the gloomy spotlight, just as heroes should. He pictured their ghosts before them now, yet they weren't a painful reminder of those lost, but of regret. Of a lie. Of an unthinkable sacrifice.
It was too much. The rain just dug it in.
"Come on; let's go," Farkas mumbled to Eugene, before he turned around and excused himself through the crowd behind them. He must have looked as rude as hell, but it was all becoming a bit too much for him. Pretty soon, family members would be crawling onto the podium and spilling their guts and hearts out for everyone to share, and it would have been wrong for Farkas to be in that presence.
"Hey, Bulk," Eugene called out after him, using a pet name that sounded too lighthearted, too wrong at that moment.
Farkas stopped behind an overgrown box shrub, shielding them from the view of the congregation.
"What was that about? You okay?" Eugene asked him.
Farkas nodded, unable to resist a look over his shoulder, and one over his childhood friend's. "We shouldn't be here," he explained calmly. "You seen all those agents around the President? A few of them were IBI…"
Eugene blinked thoughtfully. "They've probably just got him under tighter guard, given the recent attacks," he assured him and Farkas shuffled. Eugene sighed. "They don't know anything, Farkas."
"Yeah, well we can't be too careful. We both need to avoid any attention until this blows over…until our secret is buried six feet under the ground and the tributes stop, then we can afford to relax, but not yet."
Eugene nodded, his face falling somewhat. "Sure would've been good to know that they got out of the country okay," he pointed out dismally.
It would be a question that they'd been asking themselves forever, yet one that would never have an answer. Billy had said it in so little words: it was for the safety of the world. Farkas remained convinced, though, that he and Eugene had no understanding of the real reason why the group of heroes- why their former classmates - had gone to such extreme lengths to leave behind their lives. To create a lie and sacrifice everything they knew; to give up everything. Maybe they were used to sacrificing. Farkas didn't know.
All he did know was that he saw how dead and scared their eyes had been. They were the eyes of people who had so much to lose. What really happened in that facility, Farkas knew that would stay a secret burned along with all the others but he was changed forever now. It was hard. Vivid memories of a boy who idolized the superheroes were scarred by the knowledge that there wasn't any real magic in the world. Had the government, the one he had proudly represented in some small way been involved in the power ranger plight all along? Were there no monsters from space, but rather only monsters wearing suits and driving nice cars?
Eugene shuffled, seemingly uncomfortable as the rain drops became more pronounced. "You wanna maybe go grab a pack of beer and go back to my place?"
Farkas nodded quickly, albeit distractedly and he moved to turn before a softly spoken voice rose up from behind.
Farkas calmed as he recognized the man, but he almost couldn't look at him; couldn't take in his drenched gaze.
"Are you boys leaving so soon?"
Farkas nodded apologetically for the both of them. "We've been called into the station," he lied. "Most of the guys are here, so uh." he paused and shrugged slightly. "We better get going," he finished slightly.
The man nodded his head, but it wasn't clear if he was disappointed or simply struggling beneath his calm exterior. He was obviously holding back the tears he should have been crying for his son and Farkas wondered if that was because of the badge embroidered on his suit jacket.
"I'm very sorry for your loss, Mr. Cranston," Farkas offered as sincerely as he felt. "Take care."The man didn't respond, and instead turned around and walked off, his body moving stiffly as though untouched by the rain around them.