5 - Changes

Billy stumbled in through the doors just in time to hear the second bell ring and bit back a curse. He'd managed to sleep completely through his alarm after a late night of tweaking the zords... and cleaning them of cookie residue. He darted to his locker, hoping to avoid-

"Mr. Cranston!"

'Figures,' he grumped to himself, pasting on a smile for the school's principal.

"Good morning, Mr. Caplan."

"It's rare to see you arriving late, Billy. Is everything at home alright?"

Billy smiled. Mr. Caplan could be a taskmaster, and sometimes unintentionally humorous, but his heart was in the right place. "Just fine, sir. I simply failed to awaken when my alarm sounded."

Mr. Caplan nodded. "Happens to the best of us... I'm in a good mood, so we'll just consider this a warning - don't be tardy again, or I'll have to put you in detention." Putting a stern look on his face, he nodded determinedly and continued his hunt for students loitering in the halls.

Billy sighed with relief before realizing that every moment he stood around was another second out of class; with that thought, he quickly loaded his backpack and rushed to class.

The day passed all too slowly for the tired Blue Ranger. Finally, the bell rang for lunch, and for the first time in a long while, Billy was the first one out of the science lab. He made a beeline for the lunchroom – having forgotten his sandwich at home in his hurry – and eyed the unappetizing choices dubiously before deciding on a salad.

Tray in hand, Billy found himself relaxing in the company of his friends. Kim was playfully complaining about the battle the day before.

"We should have kept the monster," she said. "We could have locked it away somewhere as a chocolate-making machine or something."

"And wherever would we have kept it? It wouldn't fit in the Command Center," Trini pointed out, her eyes sparkling in amusement.

Kim grinned and shrugged. "By the zords? Zack's is encased in ice; we could have frozen the monster and hauled it out every time we needed a sugary pick-me-up."

"I thought you said you didn't need the extra temptation," Jason mocked. "Aren't you afraid you'd gain ten pounds?"

She stuck her tongue out at him, to the merriment of the others. "I'd work it off in gymnastics. Besides," she added, blowing her bangs out of her face, "there's nothing wrong with a never-ending supply of chocolate. I'm not saying we'd eat it all the time… I'm saying it'd be there if we wanted it."

"Well, I'd be happy never to see chocolate again," Billy muttered.

"Problems, my main brain?" Zack asked. It wasn't often their resident scientist sounded so disgruntled.

"Crumbs everywhere," Billy groaned. "The Triceratops is filled with them after hauling the largest pieces. Crumbs and chocolate are stuck in the chains, and it got into the gears, too."

"Ah."

The table fell silent, and it suddenly occurred to Billy that Zack and Jason were at opposite ends – as far from each other as they could get. He looked questioningly at Trini, who shrugged, and then rolled his eyes. Really, weren't they over their little spat yet?

Tommy spoke up, looking uncomfortable about breaking the tense silence. "Hey, Billy, did you need some help cleaning up? I owe you one after the help with Mr. Fewler."

Billy was pleasantly surprised at the offer. "Certainly."

"I'm not really tech-savvy," the Green Ranger admitted sheepishly, looking a bit red. "But I can definitely help clean stuff."

"That'd be much-appreciated," he responded. "Perhaps we can go later tonight… or even tomorrow. Alpha is working on a solution to help eat through the worst of it."

"Yeah, man. Just let me know."

By that time, Kim had begun discussing her plans for a trip to the mall with Trini, who was adding in a couple things she needed to pick up. Jason was teasing them (much to Kim's chagrin), and Zack appeared… wistful? He was watching Jason out of the corner of his eye, looking deep in thought.

Billy snorted softly. 'Really, it's just like the way Kim looks at Tommy.' After a moment, he re-assessed, 'Well, not exactly. But close. They want to act on it – why don't they?'

-xxx-

Kimberly snorted and stomped her foot, glaring at her foe sternly.

The stack of chairs remained unmoved and unimpressed.

The petite gymnast blew the bangs from her forehead, frustrated. "Why won't you move? And who the heck stacked these so tall?" She cursed her shortness silently and wished she'd thought to ask Zack or Jason for help. Not only was she getting absolutely nowhere; she was missing valuable practice time.

'I'm not a cheerleader any more... so why am I still volunteering to help out at pep rallies?'

she wondered not for the first time. Popularity was looking more and more overrated all the time...

She was so busy glaring (and trying to figure out how to get the chairs down the hall to the gymnasium) and she never head the door open.

"Need some help?"

Kim let out a yelp, spinning and falling into a defensive stance before realizing it was Tommy. She dropped her arms sheepishly, feeling a blush burn at her cheeks. 'Way to look like a paranoid idiot!'

Tommy was resting his chin on a raised hand, but it couldn't cover the grin twitching at his lips. She grumbled to herself before fixing him with a sour look. "Not nice to sneak up on people."

"Sorry." He looked anything but, and Kim resisted the urge to stomp her foot again. "Did you need some help?"

"What are you doing here?" Kim asked in return, torn between much-needed assistance and the embarrassment of admitting she just couldn't budge the over-stacked carts of chairs. "Shouldn't you be at the Youth Center?"

Tommy shrugged. "I was going to head over there, but saw you through the door." He blushed as if realizing how that sounded; she found it ridiculously cute. "You looked like you were having trouble, so..." He trailed off, fluttering his hands a bit before dropping them to his sides, looking awkward.

She smiled, a little more at ease knowing that Tommy wasn't all too sure of himself, either. "Um, yeah. I need to get these chairs down to the gym for tomorrow's pep rally, but some idiot stacked them way too high." She shifted, biting her lower lip. "It looks really lame, I know, but I just can't-"

Tommy waved her off. "Nah, it's fine." With a grin, he added, "That stack is taller than you. Gotta get them to the gym, you said?"

"Yeah."

With that, Tommy strode forward, studying the tower carefully before lifting down a few of the chairs. "Do you think you can carry these?"

"Of course."

"Great! I didn't want them to fall on me." He leaned forward, and Kim took a moment to admire the muscles of his shoulders, rippling a bit through his shirt.

Really, it was dangerous to her teenage hormones for him to look so good.

'Not to mention his ass...'

"You coming?"

Kim jumped again, blushing guiltily as he looked at her, confused. Had he noticed she was drooling over him? Oh God, she hoped not...

She followed him dutifully down the hall, doing her best to avoid staring. She sighed with relief as she got to the gym; setting out the chairs would be a welcome distraction.

"What now?" Tommy motioned to the chairs. "Need to set them up?"

"Oh! You don't need to help," Kim demurred. "Now that you helped shorten the pile, I can get them laid out."

"No, really," he insisted. "It's no trouble to help out... in fact, I'd like to."

Kim blinked, unsure of how to take his last comment. After a moment, she shrugged. "Okay. Ten chairs to a row in front of the bleachers. We should have enough for the current football teams, coaches and cheerleaders."

The two worked in silence. Thoughts flashed through Kim's head almost too quickly to catch. 'Why is he helping? He was so mean before... no, that's not fair. He was under Rita's spell. Remember? He chased off Bulk and Skull before that. So maybe he likes to help. Maybe he likes me- no, stop it! He's just being nice. And a sweetheart. And-' She growled softly to herself, unable to rein in the idea that maybe-

"You okay?"

"Um, yeah..." Looking up, she caught a hesitant smile and found one of her own. "It was really sweet to help me out, thank you."

He ducked his head. "No problem... I feel better helping out, like I can maybe make up for..." He trailed off as his eyes widened comically, and he hastened to add, "Not that that's the only reason I want to help! I mean, you know... aw, man..." He rubbed the back of his neck, smiling wryly.

Kim laughed, tickled at his fumbling.

"I should- I'm gonna go grab another stack of chairs," he said hurriedly, and spun away.

Thinking quickly, Kim grabbed his hand. "Wait!"

Tommy turned back hesitantly.

Kim looked around, making sure nobody was around, before tugging him over to a chair. "I... I wanted to talk to you."

"Um... okay..."

For a few seconds, Kim just stared at him. For all his adorable fumbling and the loner vibes he gave off, he seemed so anxious to be accepted... and his eyes were shadowed. "You... you still feel really bad about what happened, don't you?" The moment the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to kick herself. 'Well, duh! He was evil and then yesterday, people were running and screaming from him!'

Tommy couldn't meet her eyes, and for a moment, she thought he wouldn't answer. Eventually, she squeezed his hand, and he looked up at her.

"Uh, yeah. A little, I guess." He forced a small smile. "I... I wanted to apologize, you know," he said hurriedly, almost stumbling over his words. "I was really mean to you and it wasn't cool at all and-"

"Tommy... it's okay." And suddenly, Kim realized that it was. He'd been cruel, yes, but he was so obviously repentant that she couldn't find it in her to stay upset. That didn't mean she was completely at ease with him (after all, he was a really, really good-looking boy who at least at one time showed a little interest in her), but in the end, how he'd acted wasn't an issue anymore.

After all, she'd switched bodies with Billy, and certainly didn't have his smarts. And sadly, Billy hadn't retained her fashion sense, either. Evil spells and Ranger-related events faded with time, and Tommy's personality change had, too.

Kim pulled her thoughts back to the present, smiling reassuringly at the Green Ranger, who shrugged.

"I dunno, Kim. Maybe I shouldn't have kept the coin… maybe I should have let the whole Green Ranger thing die down."

Kim shook her head. "No! You're doing the right thing." She brought her other hand up, cupping his. "People are going to learn that you're a good person, because they'll see you fighting with us. Things are going to be okay. You're one of us now, you know? And no lame plans from Rita can ruin that!"

When Tommy finally smiled again, she nearly melted.

Then she looked at the clock. "Oh my gosh! I'm running so late. I'm so, so sorry but I have to get my plans to the girls before cheer practice is over."

"Aw, man! I'm going to be late, too. Jase wanted me to show his class a kata." He grabbed his book bag from where he'd tossed it by the door. Before he could leave, though, he turned and looked her in the eye.

"Hey… thanks. It was really cool of you to not be upset."

Kim smiled. "No problem, Tommy. That's what friends are for."

He nodded. "I'll see you at the Youth Center?"

"Yup! Be there once I'm done with the girls."

"Cool. I'll save you a seat."

Kim waited patiently. When the door shut, she counted to ten… and then squealed, spinning in a happy circle.

Maybe everything would be okay, after all.

-xxx-

Tommy sat at the table with Trini and Billy yet again, playing with his straw and continuing to glance at the door.

From the way Trini kept looking at him, a smile twitching at her lips, he figured he wasn't being as subtle as he'd like. "When's she supposed to get here?" she asked.

"Had to do something with the cheerleaders," he responded promptly – then realized he'd been tricked when Trini started laughing.

"Spent some time with her today?" Tommy's blush answered her just as well as he could; probably more truthfully. "Well, good. You should spend more time with each of us; we need to get to know you better."

Tommy narrowed his eyes at Trini. From the way Billy was smiling, it was clear the Yellow Ranger was up to something. Jason had warned him that Trini was crafty…

"For example, did you know Kim's favorite color is pink?"

Tommy glared, opening his mouth for a rebuttal when he was interrupted by a flash of said color.

"Hey guys!"

"Hi, Kim. We were just talking about you!"

Kim stared at Trini suspiciously. "You were? Why does that not make me feel better…?" Tommy saw her glance to him and back to Trini, who tilted her head. Kim let out a relieved sigh, and Tommy was convinced he'd never understand girls.

"You will not be practicing today?" Billy asked, looking up from his drawings. Tommy glanced over and saw what looked like schematics for the Dragonzord.

Kim shook her head. "I got held up at practice; the girls wanted me to run through a routine with them. Plenty of exercise for today… and honestly, I'm beat. I slept awful last night. Where's Zack?"

Tommy pointed in the direction of the corner where the Black Ranger was chatting with Angela, who for some reason looked at least halfway-interested in what he had to say. Tommy hadn't been around long enough to really understand, but from the burst of excited chatter between Kimberly and Trini, apparently this was a very important moment. He wished he could hear what Zack was saying – he wasn't quite sure how to approach Kim and could use the pointers – but it was difficult to hear over the sounds of Jason's karate class breaking up for the day. About the same time, however, Angela rolled her eyes at Zack, giving him a disgusted look before heading up to the bar.

Zack pouted for a moment before turning to face Jason. The two stared at each other for a moment before Zack made his way over. After a very short conversation, the two slapped palms and began sparring.

Kim and Trini had fallen silent. In fact, Kim's mouth had fallen open. Trini wore a look of consternation.

"Wait, that's it?" Kim's voice could have cracked glass. "After all that – after the drama and the avoiding and the glaring and the… that's just it? They're friends again?"

"They didn't even resolve anything," Trini murmured, eyes on the two as if watching them would somehow make their actions make sense.

Billy was hiding a grin behind his book, Tommy saw from the corner of his eye. When Kim turned to him, he shrugged. "They apparently figured whatever was wrong out. Guys don't do a lot of the mushy talking stuff."

"But they were fighting and now they're not," Kim pointed out. "Don't they have to, like, talk about their problems and stuff to get to that point?"

"No?" Tommy shrugged again. "Maybe it's a guy thing."

Trini slammed her cup down on the table. "Kim, I think you're right. Guys are dumb."

"Told you so!"

"Yeah, well… I can't argue it now. Kim-logic wins again. I mean, look at them! It's like nothing ever happened!"

Billy shut his book, turning to the girls. "Again, I do not believe it is reasonable to justify a sweeping generalization regarding the entirety of a gender based on one specific event."

Kim looked at Trini, who quickly translated. "He doesn't think we should say all guys are dumb based on this one stupid non-resolution to an argument." When Billy nodded, she muttered, "Even if they are."

Kim smiled at Billy and reached out to cover his hand with her own. "Aw, don't worry, Billy. You're not included into the group."

Billy looked confused.

"You're not a boy. You're a Billy," she clarified, as though it explained everything. "So you're different. You're a not-dumb guy."

Sitting back, Tommy watched the banter continue between the three of them. Billy was torn between refuting Kim's statement on principle and being pleased that he was not included in her theory. It was strange… feeling welcomed, included. As Trini worked to pull him into the conversation in support of the girls' side, he smiled.

Maybe he really did belong.