Disclaimer: Once again, the author is borrowing Saban's characters without permission. Hope he doesn't mind too much, but since I'm making no money off of this.... Anyway, this story follows "Til Death" and "Falcon Daughter," and while it tries to stick with TV continuity as much as possibile, it totally ignores the conclusion of the Space Ranger run for the convenience of my Muse. Sorry, all you power-purists out there. Thanks to Willow and Rob for all their input, proofing and general putting up with me. : ) CR January 1999
Blue eyes, diamond hard and cold as the dark side of the moon, narrowed as the viewing globe flickered to life, revealing a beautiful day in Angel Grove Park. The focus tightened on one individual in particular: a young woman with fawn brown eyes, caramel colored hair and a very concerned expression.
The Dark Lady's sibilant hiss echoed throughout the chamber as she watched her prey. It had taken no small amount of energy to recreate the powerful observation device she had smashed in the wake of the Mercyte debacle, but it was a necessity for keeping track of her despised rival in the past. Kimberly Hart meandered through the park, her mind seemingly a million miles away.
"All alone are we, Kimmie?" The ebony-garbed sorceress sneered, her hand caressing the crystalline orb lovingly as her quarry paused alongside a familiar pond, "and so absorbed with your thoughts that your guard is down. Finally, I can finish this once and for all!"
Her gaze never left the globe as she began casting her spell. Space and time began to spin, swirling about and folding in on themselves. Shrill laughter echoed in the deepest reaches of the enchantress' head; she paid it no mind, her attention absorbed by the arcane energies she had summoned. Still, she spared a wry thought.
_They say, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself._
_After all, this is where it all started with an innocent kiss._
To be honest, she'd been surprised when he had proposed to her in his parent's bathtub instead of out here.
Her tumultuous thoughts ebbed for a moment as she gazed on the antique diamond ring encircling her left finger. Her heart still bubbled over with happiness at the thought that she and Tommy were going to be married in a few months. A little over a year ago she had barely entertained the hope that she'd ever see him again.
_Has it really been a year?_
This time last summer, she had been living on the run, pursued by the Mercytes, lethal robot assassins, never knowing if she'd see another day. Coming home to Angel Grove had been a sign of her surrender. She had fully expected to die. She hadn't counted on running into Tommy againand certainly not on being reunited romantically. That had been beyond her wildest dreams.
The months since those hectic days and their triumphant last stand had been the most uneventful Kim had known since she first accepted her Power Cointhat is, after recovering from a hit-and-run with a drunk driver and learning the truth about Tommy's biological parents and the reasons he and his brother David had been separated. Tommy had returned to racing with his uncle, and she had enrolled again at Angel Grove High to finally finish high school.
In January, Tommy had decided to sign on with John for one more season since Kim had several months of school left. He wanted the money for their wedding and to open a dojo as he had always wanted. He'd been on the road off and on ever since. For Kim, graduation had come and gone; she'd just started a part-time job working for Rocky at his karate schoolthe man could teach martial arts but keeping the books was another matter!
Things had been going along so smoothly... almost too perfectly, and Kim was starting to feel edgy. For well over a year, someone had been trying to kill her; granted, destroying the time hole had probably put a serious crimp in her antagonist's plans, but she knew he or she would strike again. She had been waiting for the hammer to fall, and it finally had, but not quite the way she had been expecting.
Kim found a nearby bench and slowly sank into the seat, her knees feeling suddenly weak. The doctor put it at just about twelve weeks... Tommy's surprise visit at the end of February.
_Now what?_ she wondered. What were they going to do? She was supposed to work and start school at AGU in the Fall. Tommy wouldn't be home for good until late November/early December. They weren't supposed to be married until just before Christmas!
Kim buried her face in her hands, feeling lightheaded. She was going to have a baby! The thought didn't scare her as it once would have. She and Tommy were only nineteenpretty young to be parents but there were times when Kim's spirit felt as old as Zordon! There was so much to consider... to do.... How was she going to tell their folks? Well, Tommy's parents wouldn't be a problem; Jan had figured out she was pregnant before she had any inkling. She had even made the doctor's appointment for the pregnancy test. Besides, his folks had been so great already; they'd do whatever they could to help out, but her mother... ooh, that was one phone call Kim wasn't looking forward to. On the one hand, her mom would be thrilled to be a grandmother; on the other, she'd be worried about how it looked for her daughter to have a child out of wedlock. Sometimes her mom could be so old fashioned....
Kim felt another wave of dizziness hit her. She shook her head, trying to clear it; that only made her nauseous.
_Oh, tell me this isn't morning sickness!_
Kim finally pinpointed her greatest anxiety as what to tell Tommy. He'd be thrilled without a doubthe'd talked often enough about having his own family. But what would knowing he was going to be a father do to his racing career? He'd want to come and be with herwatch the baby grow. He'd probably want to get married right away, but they really needed the money from his drivingnow more than ever. If he gave that up, he'd never be able to start his own school. She didn't want Tommy to sacrifice his dream.
_We should have been more careful._
Kim was so wrapped up in her concerns that she failed to notice that everything in the park had become silent and motionlessuntil too late.
"What the...?" she gasped, jumping to her feet as a prickling along the back of her neckreminiscent of the feeling she used to get just prior to a Mercyte attack alerted her to the danger. She was poised, ready to defend herself (at least she hadn't let her fighting skills atrophy), but she was mindful of the life within her, depending on her.
However, when the attack came, it wasn't an assault. The world around her seemed to blur and spin, folding in on a tiny black hole in the center of the vortex her reality had become, and she felt herself inexorably drawn towards the eye of the maelstrom.
Then, the darkness began to swirl counterclockwise. Kim felt herself falling. The sensation was not unlike the time she had been sucked into a timehole. This time, however, she was ready. As reality began to unfold and re-form once again, the former Pink Ranger braced herself for whatever danger awaited her. Even so, she wasn't quite prepared for what met her.
It was an airy chamber but one clearly in ruins, as fragments of mortar and stone strewn about the floor and crumbling columns and pitted walls attested. It was difficult to see in the dim lighting, but there looked to be a dais upon which a throne, perhaps, had once rested. Whatever had occupied the center of the chamber, it had long since been reduced to rubble.
Although Kim had never been in this chamber before, it had an unshakable sense of familiarity about itlike she should know it. She strained every faculty at her command, trying to pierce the gloom in ways her eyes could not. She could detect nothing but the cold and silence. For the moment, she was utterly alone.
Then, she set about inspecting her more immediate surroundings. She stood upon a circular base, the perimeter of which glowed with a pink light. There was no evidence of any other sort of restraint... which meant there was more to the base than met the eye. Cautiously, Kim moved her arms, keeping them close as she reached into her pockets; although, she estimated she at least had sufficient space between herself and the inner edge of the illuminated perimeter to allow limited movement. She found a penny in one pocket, and she tossed it away from her. The coin impacted against a force field, the contact sending coruscating ripples of light and energy swirling about her. She closed her eyes against the brilliant display; when the snapping and crackling ceased, she opened her eyes again. Of the penny, there was no sign.
_Okaaay,_ Kim mused. She'd be fine if she didn't make any expansive gestures or lose her balance. With the limits of her mobility determined, she slowly turned around to see what else there was to see of her prison. There was nothing remarkable save an open balcony behind her. When Kim saw the panorama beyond the balustrade, her knees went weak. There, set against a diamond-flecked backdrop of blackest velvet hung the brilliant blue orb of the earth.
Now Kim knew where she was and why she thought it so familiar: Rita and Zedd's palace on the moon! Though she had never been there herself, Tommy and Kat had described the lunar citadelespecially the throne room well enough. Her next question was when was she. Was she in the present and Rita and Zedd had nabbed her? However, she thought Mondo had sent the pair packing. Was she in the past, like the time she would up in Angel Grove circa 1880? Or was she in the future and in the hands of whoever sent the Mercyte after her? She thought the latter most likely.
Kim contemplated her options, which, admittedly, were few. If she was in the future, it was highly unlikely that the current Rangers would be able to find her. Most probably, no one even knew she was missing yet. Pretty much, she was on her own. Her best bet was to just wait and see. Her captor was bound to come out and gloat sooner or later, and she couldn't afford to do anything rash with the baby to consider. The thought chilled Kim to the bone, and she prayed her jailer didn't know about the baby.
"Hello, Kimberly, and welcome to my humble home."
Kim glanced around, trying to pinpoint where the voice had come from. It sounded familiar... feminine but not shrill or raspy like Rita's voice or husky and haughty like Divatox's. Cold, emotionless, but not robotic....
"Why don't you make yourself comfortable. After all, you won't be leaving here alive."
Laughter followed, dark and sinister, and yet the blackness of it didn't ring quite true as if it was affected or forced... or the person behind the tones hadn't laughed at anything in a very, very long time. Kim didn't find it very reassuring.
Then, off to her left, she detected movement in the shadows, a fluid motion like the flutter of cloth. Kim debated with herself whether or not she should say anything and play her captor's cat and mouse game. She made certain to keep her eyes on that flicker of movement at all times.
"What? No cries to Tommy to save you?" the figure in the darkness mocked. Kim stifled a snort that seemed to say, as if!' Her damsel-in-distress days (such as they had been) were long since gonethanks to the woman lurking in the shadows and even if she was so inclined to yell for help, even her old self would have recognized the futility of such a thing. She was on the moon, for pity sakes!
"Little Kimmie, trying so hard to be brave," the woman continued to taunt, her intonation of Kimmie' setting Kim's teeth on edge. She hated being called that! "Your precious Tommy would be so proud. He'll be so distraught when they find your body all over Angel Grove Park. I'll be sure to let him know you died well."
She was slated for a horrible death. Well, she'd been expecting death at the very least. Thankfully, it didn't sound as if Tommy was in any danger.
"What's the matter, Kimmie? Cat got your tongue?" her captor sneered. Kim could detect an edge of frustration in the woman's voice. Obviously, she wasn't playing the game properly.
"Who are you?" Kim asked, careful to keep her tone neutral, betraying nothingnot fear, anger, or excessive curiosity. She'd play alongthere was no sense in antagonizing her abductor but she'd do it on her own terms.
"I am the woman who destroyed Rita Repulsa. My name strikes terror in the hearts of beings all across the cosmos. I am the Dark Lady, but you may call me mistress.'"
"Why do you want me dead?"
"Be careful, Kimmie; curiosity killed the cat."
"I thought that was the whole point anyway."
"Ah, you're a lot more fun like thisthe sharp-tongued, savvy warrior than the sappy, sweet, All-American valley girl shop-a-holic who turned her back on her friends and teammates... who ripped her boyfriend's heart to shreds yet bewitched him so that he was incapable of loving anyone else!"
The venom behind those words startled Kim. _That's not what happened!_ She hadn't turned her back on her friends; they had urged her to follow her dream. Everything else that happened had been done to protect Tommy, but she was not likely to convince the Dark Lady of that. During her outburst, the woman had drifted closer; Kim could see pale hands clenched in tight fists at her side. Whoever the Dark Lady was, the vendetta against her stemmed from her relationship with Tommy. But who would care so intensely about that?
"Why do I want you dead? Because you made me what I am! You're the reason I exist! If it hadn't been for you, he would have loved me, and she wouldn't have been able to get her claws into me again!" the black-robed sorceress shrieked, and Kim felt an ice cold band wrap itself around her heart. She had a horrible feeling she knew the face hidden in the shadows, but for the life of her, she couldn't figure out how....
"But I have the power to change all that," the Dark Lady hissed, taking another step closer. "I will change it, and then none of this will have ever happened. I will have the life I should have lived!"
"II don't understand," Kim responded, her facade faltering for the first time.
"Poor Kimberly, I wish it didn't have to be this way," the shrouded figure mocked, and Kim's blood ran cold. Now she knew where she'd heard that voice! When Zedd had imprisoned her while draining her powers... she remembered someone coming into the chamber... standing over her. At the time, she passed it off as a dream... a hallucination. Her visitor had used those same words in that same tone. "You don't have to understand; all you have to do it die."
"Oh, God. Kat?" Kim gasped, her heart sinking as the woman at last stepped fully into the dim light. Though swathed all in black, pale gold hair cascaded down, flowing to the floor like a river of silk. Porcelain complected, as perfect as a mask set with bejeweled eyes, was her face. She was as beautiful and graceful as Kim remembered but as cold as the deepest reaches of space.
"Katherine Hillard died centuries ago; I am the Dark Lady," the statuesque woman intoned frigidly. Kim had the sense that she had struck a nerve.
"What happened to you?" Kim continued. She tried to recall how long ago Tommy had heard from their friend. She was supposed to be studying ballet in London.
"Do you really care?" the Dark Lady sneered.
_Of course I care; you're my friend!_ Kim wanted to shout, but she knew this Kat wouldn't believe her. This Kat hated her, wanted her dead. Trying to reach her with kindness wasn't going to workat least at this juncture.
"Would you believe me if I said I did?" Kim's words and tone were calculated to rankle.
"Then I guess I'm as good as dead," Kim declared nonchalantly. She had to goad Kat into revealing more. "I can't move out of this force field without being fried. I have no powers, and Tommy and the Rangers don't even know I'm missing. You seem to have all the cards."
"I don't know what you're playing at, Kimmie, but it won't work. Somehow, devoid of powers and Rangers to help you, you survived my Mercytes. The sooner you're dead, the better."
"Makes sense," Kim agreed, "but how satisfying will my death be for you? You've been plotting my death for a long time, I imagine. If you kill me now, I'll go to my grave never knowing what crime I committed; I'll die believing I'm innocent of any wrong doing.
"You know me, Kat, well enough to know that I don't like causing my friends pain. I'd die before I hurt a friend; can you imagine how horrible I'd feel if I really was responsible for you turning to evil?"
Kat's face was expressionless, save for her eyes, which narrowed in suspicion. She seemed to consider Kim's argument. Then, a chilling smile curved her pale lips.
"Yes, I would like to look in your eyes and see therein the horrible realization of what you've done just before I rip your heart out," Kat hissed maliciously.
Kim suppressed a sigh of relief. She had never been more grateful for Trini's lectures on trying to out-think an opponent than she was at this moment.
Kat paced before Kim's restraining pedestal, looking pensive.
"When did this begin?" she queried rhetorically. Kim wisely remained silent. "Was it before graduation when I realized Tommy was stillimpossibly in love with you? Was it when he and I split up just before I left for England? Or was it when I came home for my first visit? Ah yes, that's when it was... the summer I came home....
Katherine Hillard's heart pounded joyfully in her chest as she turned the rental car down the familiar streets.
_It's been so long... I can't believe it's been two years...._
It was her first extended break from the academy, and she was anxious to see her family and friends again. Unfortunately, she hadn't told anyone that she was coming, wanting to surprise everybody. She had just assumed her parents would be there, but it turned out they were in Sydney visiting relatives. She had tried Tanya next, but she was in Africa visiting Aisha and Ashala. However, there was still one person in Angel Grove Kat was longing to see, and she knew he was in town.
_Tommy,_ she sighed to herself.
Even though it had been two years, Kat still felt a flutter in her heart at the mere thought of those gorgeous, chocolate colored eyes and that warm smile.... For some reason, Tommy Oliver captivated her as no other man had.
They had parted as friends and had even kept in touch for a while, but both had become caught up in their hectic schedules, and their correspondence had become sporadic. Kat had tried seeking out other relationships, but none had lasted very long or had been very satisfying.
_And your relationship with Tommy was?_ she chided herself sarcastically. All right, so maybe things hadn't been perfect between them. She had caught Tommy on the reboundthat was a bad time to get involved with anyone. He had loved Kim so much, and the hurt she had caused had wounded him deeply.... Tommy's inability to let his first girlfriend go had always amazed and frustrated Kat. Still, the strength of his commitment to Kimthat a person could love someone that muchhad been one of the qualities that had drawn her to Tommy in the first place.
When she had been under Rita's spell, the witch used to go on and on about how nauseating true love wasimplying that that's what Kim and Tommy shared. Kat could believe it; she had never seen two people so in love, and she knew that was the sort of relationship she longed to have with a man. It was the reason she had been willing to be patient with Tommy after her friends' break-up; although, it had been sad to see that relationship fall apart in the first place. Someday, Tommy would be able to let himself love again as completely as he had with Kim, and Kat knew that it would be worth the wait.
She sincerely hoped that Tommy had been able to let go of Kim after all this time.
_You haven't exactly let him go,_ that snide inner voice reminded her, _you're hanging onto Tommy just like you did Mickey._ Kat hadn't thought of Mickey Black in years, but she had had a crush on him for ages. It had taken her a long time to accept that he wasn't interested in her. Her heart could be so stubborn sometimes. However, Kat pushed her memories of her first serious love interest aside as she turned down Tommy's street. She fully realized that Tommy might have gotten on with his life and not waited for her. She had no reason to expect that of him; after all, hadn't she called him and told him about Michael when she began dating him? He could very well be seeing someone else. Still, it was difficult not to hope....
_What's wrong with that?_
As she pulled into the Oliver driveway, she noticed that there was only one car in front of the house, and it wasn't Tommy's red 4 x 4. She was a little disappointed; before she had left, she had made sure to check Tommy's uncle's website to make sure the team wasn't on the road somewhere. As long as they were in Angel Grove, Tommy was sure to be home.
_He could be at the track,_ Kat mused as she emerged from her vehicle and headed up the walk to the front door.
Tommy's mom answered her knock.
"Yes, who... Katherine?"
"Hello, Jan." Tommy's mother hated to be called 'Mrs. Oliver,' and it had taken Kat forever to get used to calling her by her first name. The hazel-eyed nurse with her sand colored hair hadn't changed a bit since she had seen her last. The two women hugged warmly.
"Come in," Jan invited, ushering Kat into the living room. The place brought back so many memories from the trophies and ribbons on the shelves to the profusion of photographs on the mantelpiece. They passed from the front room into the kitchen; the gesture filled Kat with a sense of warmth, security, and renewed hope. The living room was for company; the kitchen was for family.
It was like old times as Kat found the glasses and Jan poured the iced tea as they talked about what had been going on in her life: going to school in England, touring with the ballet company and now her visit home after so long. Finally, Kat got around to asking, "What's Tommy up to these days?"
"Karate, what else," Jan said with a shrug, and Kat had the impression that the other woman assumed that she knew what she was talking about. "Ever since he opened the dojo, it seems like he's always there. I was so happy when he stopped racing and settled down. If you're trying to catch Tommy, you stand a better chance of finding him at the school instead of at the house."
Tommy was no longer racing and had a place of his own? When had that happened? He never mentioned it in any of his letters; although, it had been a while....
"I'd like to go look him up now, if you don't mind," Kat said eagerly. "Where's the dojo?"
"The mini mall in Jackson Street Plaza," Jan answered. Kat didn't notice the small frown that puckered her companion's mouth.
"Thanks, Jan; I'll see you later."
Fortunately, Kat remembered where the small shopping center was located. She was so excited for Tommy, recalling how much he always wanted to own his own dojo. _His own school, a house... he must have done fairly well with his racing._
The butterflies in her stomach were doing grande jetes as she pulled into a parking space in front of Angel Grove Martial Arts. Nervously, she tidied her windblown hair (it was too nice a day to have the windows up). Before entering, she paused by the plate glass window and peered in. Her heart skipped a beat as she spied her former teammate and boyfriend. He was as handsome as ever. Tommy was dressed in white gi trousers and tank top with a white bandana holding back his ponytail. She smiled as she caught him flipping a flyaway strand of hair out of his face before demonstrating a kick.
Catching her own reflection in the glass, Kat straightened her tank dress (in the vibrant pink Tommy said looked best on her) and tucked yet another strand of hair back in place. _Perfect._ Then, summoning her courage, she strolled into the studio.
She stood off to one side, observing Tommy's class. She noticed a second instructor and was surprised to see Tommy's brother, David. She had figured that if he had gone into business with anyone, it would have been with Jason. Kat waited patiently, then came the moment she had played and replayed in her mind ever since she had bought her plane ticket. Tommy looked up, and their eyes met across the room. A smile of surprise and delight lit his features. He told the class to take a break then rushed over to greet her, wrapping her in an effusive hug. (Okay, so she had envisioned a little more than the peck on the cheek he gave her, but still...!)
"Ohmigod, Kat!" Tommy sputtered, his joy in seeing her unfeigned and unrestrained. "I can't believe it! How've you been? When'd you get home? Man, it seems like forever...."
"Take it easy," Kat laughed, letting his enthusiasm surround her and overwhelm her. "It's so good to see you again, Tommy; I've missed you." She hadn't wanted to say so much so soon, but she couldn't help herself.
"Same here," Tommy concurred. Just then, David wandered over, and Tommy asked, "You remember my brother, don't you?"
"How could I forget?" she replied, favoring Tommy's sibling with a friendly smile.
"Hello, Katherine," David said, taking her hands and giving her an affectionate kiss of greeting. David then turned back to his brother. "I take it this means you're going to want to cut out of here early."
Tommy shrugged sheepishly. "Hey, it's not every day you have a beautiful ballerina show up on your doorstep."
"Not a problem. Go on; I'll finish up with this class," David offered.
"You'll still be coming by for dinner tonight, won't you?" Tommy asked.
"As soon as I'm done here. I'll join you guys later; I'm sure you have plenty of catching up to do."
They left Kat's car in the parking lot; she was more than happy to go for a ride in Tommy's truck (he had traded in the 4 x 4 a while ago). She made the mistake of asking Tommy about the school, and she wasn't able to get a word in edgewise as he went on about his pride and joy. She didn't mind. It made her feel good to see him so happy. If there were any shadows lurking in Tommy Oliver's life these days, she couldn't see them.
Tommy lived just a couple of blocks from the school; they probably could have walked. The house he parked in front of took Kat by surprise. It wasn't very large: single story with white siding and dark green shutters. The yard was well kept with lots of beautiful flowers. In spite of the basketball hoop affixed to the garage, the place looked much too feminine for a bachelor. All it lacked was a white picket fence.
"Come on," Tommy said, all but dragging her out of the vehicle. He was acting as if he had a great surprise he wanted to show her. Kat let herself be towed along as they entered the side door into the kitchen. The wonderful aroma of Italian cooking filled Kat's nostrils. She sighed hungrily; it had been a while since she had eaten last. As Tommy led her into the living room, she belatedly realized that if there was food cooking, someone else had to be home.
_Maybe he has a roommate._
"Tommy, is that you?" a very definitely female voice called out. Kat suddenly felt cold inside.
"Sure is, Beautiful."
"I have a surprise for you," Tommy replied. He turned to Kat and said, "Wait here." Then, he hurried down the hall.
Kat's heart felt like lead as she looked about the small living room. She hadn't noticed the pictures right away, but all of them were of a happy couple. There was one in particular of a bride and groom....
_Oh, Lord, he's married!_ she realized, feeling both sick and like an utter fool. With a growing feeling of dread, she drew closer to the shelf that displayed the photos. She wondered if she knew who the woman was. Well, she had hoped he had put the past behind him and moved ahead....
_I guess he did._
Then, Kat stepped on something that squeaked. Startled, she jumped back. However, instead of the pet toy she expected to find, she found a pink, rubber teddy bear.
"Tommy, what's going on; when can I open my eyes?"
"In a minute."
Kat spun around; she recognized that voice....
"Okay, now you can see...."
Before Kat could blink, Kimberly Hart Oliver dashed forward and flung her arms around her long-absent friend. Kat, however, was almost too numb to return the embrace. Her eyes were locked on Tommy standing back in the doorway. Balanced on his hip was a little girl maybe six months old.
"You look so good...!" Kim continued to gush, pulling away to hold Kat at arm's length, looking her up and down. "When'd you get back in town? How long are you here? How's London...?"
"Take it easy, Kim," Tommy chided gently, and Kat saw the warmth of his love glowing in his eyes... the way they once used to whenever he looked at Kim. She felt a lump in her throat. "Kat just got in; she's probably pretty wiped from the flight...."
"I'm sorry, Kat," Kim bubbled. "Let's sit down. Can I get you something to drink?"
"S-sure," she stammered in reply, too overwhelmed to do anything but accept.
"I think someone else is wanting something to drink, too, Mommy," Tommy said as the child in his arms started fussing. Kim quickly took the girl from him.
"Kat, this is our daughter RoseAmanda Rose Oliver." Kim beamed at her daughter. "Sweetie, this is Mommy and Daddy's good friend, Kat."
All Kat could do was stare. The child had Kim's features but Tommy's big dark eyes and a head full of mahogany hair. She was the sweetest little thing as she sucked on a tiny fist. Then, she smiled and held her arms out to Kat.
_As friendly as her mother,_ Kat reflected as she automatically reached for the tot. The girl immediately went for the star necklace Kat had worn since high school.
"Did you remember to stop by the store and pick up more formula?" Kim asked Tommy as the group drifted towards the kitchen.
"I forgot," Tommy answered.
"Do you want to explain to your daughter why she won't have any dinner?" Kim queried exasperatedly. "I'm down to her last bottle."
"I'd rather change a toxic diaper," Tommy quipped. He grinned at Kat. "Hell hath no fury like a hungry baby. I'll be right back." As he headed out the door, he called back, " David's still coming to dinner."
"I'm cooking Italian; of course he's going to be here," his wife replied as if the idea of David not being there was absurd.
Kat's mind was still trying to assimilate these latest revelations of Tommy's life as Kim retrieved a bottle from the refrigerator and began warming it up. The original Pink Ranger was prattling on, seemingly heedless of Kat's state of shock. Her arms still full with Rose, Kat at last sank into a chair.
"... I so wanted to nurse Rose, but somebody just didn't like my milk, so we had no choice," Kim sighed. "Tommy thought that maybe my Ranger Powers had something to do with that."
Kat managed to extract her jewelry from the tiny fingers only to have them tug at her hair.
"... Rose is named after Tommy's birth mother and great-great-great grandmother who's wedding ring he gave me."
As Kim set two glasses of cola on the table and reached for her daughter, Kat noticed the ring in question: a beautiful solitaire set in the center of a rose in bloom.
"... of course, my mother thinks we named her Amanda' after her grandmothermy great-grandmotherbut we haven't bothered correcting the notion, have we, Sweetie?" Kim rubbed noses with her daughter then settled into a chair to begin feeding her.
Kat finally found her voice. "H-how long have you and Tommy been married?"
Kim frowned. "Didn't you get the invitation?"
"We sent you a wedding invitation; we got married last February. Rose was definitely a honeymoon baby; she was born in November."
Kat tried to think back. She had changed flats last year around Christmas, and much of her mail had been lost. She had had a devil of a time getting that straightened out.
"I never did," she confessed.
"Oh, Kat, I'm so sorry... you must really feel lost right now."
That was an understatement.
"When did you get back in Angel Grove? I thought you were going to Paris to live with your mother after the Pan Globals were over." She recalled reading in the paper that Kim had won a medal.
"That's what my mother thought, too," Kim sighed, "but I couldn't go to Paris without coming home and talking to Tommy about what happened between us."
"What did happen?" Kat asked, desperate to know. "How could you have broken up with Tommyhurt himlike that?"
She hadn't meant to be accusatory, but she couldn't help herself. Kim winced as if the memory was still painful. Then she gave off another long sigh.
"It wasn't that I didn't love Tommy," she began, shifting her daughter around so that she rested over her shoulder as she patted her back. "I never stopped loving him. It was just that.... I had to see what it would be like to have a normal boyfriend, someone without the world to save, someone I didn't have to share with anyone else. I'd never had a serious boyfriend before Tommy, and whenever we spent time together, it always seemed like we'd be attacked or have to run off and save this or that part of Angel Grove.... It wasn't so bad when we both had powers, but when Tommy first lost his and I still had mine... it was pretty tough. So when I gave up mine to go to the Games....
"All I wanted was a chance to see what a normal life would be like. I just didn't think Tommy would understand, that's why I made all that stuff up. It was the biggest mistake of my life. As for normal...." Kim laughed, but it was tinged with a harsh edge. "It was boring. The guys just didn't have a clue. They seemed so shallow... it was like they couldn't appreciate the little things, the quiet times. Their priorities seemed all wrong. And I couldn't talk to them like I could Tommythat was the worst. I couldn't open up to them... I always had to keep a part of myself hidden. When I finally came to my senses, I realized just how much I truly loved Tommy."
Kat said nothing, but Kim had just described the exact same things she had felt about dating other men.
"When I returned to Angel Grove, it was after you had left for England and the two of you had split up. Tommy was more hurt than he let on about how things had turned out for you guys; he blamed himself. And he was still pretty pissed off at me. We didn't get back together right away; in fact, when I told him what happened, we'd had the biggest fight we'd ever hadall without one of Rita's spells! I enrolled at AGU for a semester to see if he and I could work things out. Instead, he said he'd finally come to his senses and that it was about time he let me go and made a fresh start. He began dating a girl named Karen. It was awful to see them together, but I did my best to be happy for Tommy.
"At the end of the semester, I had decided to move to Paris; there was nothing for me in Angel Grove. I had gotten exactly what I'd deserved. However, the night before I was supposed to fly out, I was in the park. I met up with Tommy by the pond. He'd just broken up with Karen. It turns out he had made the same discoveries I had about dating other people and most especially that we both still loved each other and were miserable being apart. The next day at the airport, I never made it onto the plane. Tommy came to see me off and proposed."
_It's nice to know that he cared enough to regret the way things turned out between us,_ Kat tried consoling herself, and she couldn't help but wonder if maybe she would have stayed, had been around when Kim explained herself, Tommy would have come to his senses and they would have been able to work things out. However, there was nothing to be done about that now. _You can't change the past._
"I'm happy for you guys, truly," Kat murmured, not knowing what else to say.
"I should probably get going," Kat announced as Kim excused herself to put Rose to bed. "It's been a long day, and I'm pretty tired." All in all, it had been a pleasant evening, once she had gotten past the shocks. Tommy had returned with David, and it turned out that Kim was a very good cook. Being with her friends was something she had missed desperately, but it had been difficult watching the two together. She remembered how much she had envied their closeness when she first knew them. Now, they were closer than they had ever been. The soft looks, the touches, a kiss snuck in here and there.... It wasn't that she begrudged them their affection and happiness; it was more that she wasn't quite prepared to deal with it.
"Don't go," Tommy insisted. "Your folks are out of town, right? Where will you stay? That empty house? A motel?"
"Stay with us," Kim offered as she returned to the living room. "We can put Rose in the bassinet in our room, and you can have the day bed in hers."
"I wouldn't want to put you guys out," Kat demurred, not certain if she could stay.
"You wouldn't be putting us out," both insisted.
"You're always welcome at my place," David spoke up. "While I don't have a guest room, I do have a sleeper sofa."
"Thanks, you all; I really appreciate it, but...."
"I hate the thought of you staying some place all by yourself," Tommy said.
"This is really sweet, you guys, but I already have a deposit down on my room. Maybe tomorrow night, okay?"
"Will you at least come by for breakfast?" Kim asked.
"If you're cooking, can I come, too?" David piped up.
"Hey, you know you're welcome anytime," Tommy assured himand Kat.
"Which isn't bad except at diaper changing time," David murmured in a stage whisper, making Kat grin.
"I'll be by in the morning; I promise," Kat answered.
After making her good byes and declining the offer of a ride back to the dojo, Kat stepped onto the front porch and drew in a calming breath. Her hand shook as she grasped the railing.
"Kat, are you okay?" David queried. She hadn't realized he had followed her.
"The mush get a little too thick for you?" he pursued knowingly. His words gave her a moment's pause; had she been that obvious? David chuckled and shook his head. "You'd think that after a year of marriage and a kid, the lovey-dovey stuff would have worn off, but noooo, they're as bad as ever."
"They've always been pretty mushy," Kat agreed with a smile.
"You will be by for breakfast, won't you?" David continued. "Hey, it's worth the price of admission to see the former leader of the Power Rangers with baby food in his hair."
This time, Kat laughed softly.
"We'll see how late I sleep in."
"Are you sure you don't want a ride back to your car?"
"I'm sure. It's only a couple of blocks, and it's such a nice evening.... A walk will do me good, but thank you."
"All right, I'll see you tomorrow then."
Kat gave him a friendly peck on the cheek then headed down the drive without a backwards glance. She had never felt so lonely in her entire life.
She tried to hold back her tears of disappointment as she idly kicked at the pebbles in her path while she meandered down the sidewalk. She had tried so hard not to get her hopes up, so what happened...?
_It's not fair!_ She raged inwardly. It wasn't fair that Tommy had given Kim a second chance and hadn't even given her a first! _I loved you as much as Kim did, and I'd never have tossed you aside just to find out what a normal' relationship was... I'd never have broken your heart...._
If Tommy was so happily married, why had he greeted her as he had... with such emotion...? He seemed so genuinely pleased to see her... and he'd never been so unreservedly affectionate to her in all the time they had dated....
_That's because he was too afraid of being hurt again,_ Kat chided herself, a part of her insisting on being reasonable about all this. Still, the last time she remembered Tommy being so open with his friendship and love was back when he was still dating Kim, secure in their relationship. It was like he was so in love with Kim that he couldn't contain it all and had to share it. Perhaps that was all he had been doing at the dojo.
_Still, I wish he hadn't built up my hopes like that... how could he be so cruel? Doesn't he know... couldn't he tell how much I still care...?_
Even so, she knew deep down that her disappointment was her own fault for not letting go of something that had never been hers to begin with.
_I'm being ridiculous!_ Tommy was happier now than he had been in years. When she had first reached out to him, her only intent had been to ease his pain... to make him happy. She wanted to be happy for him nowhim and Kimshe really did. She just wished it didn't have to hurt so much.
Kat paused at the corner and looked back at the cozy little house. David was still on the porch, watching. Did he really know how troubled she was? Kat dredged up a cheerful smile and waved. She supposed she could turn around and go backaccept their invitation to stay. The deposit wasn't all that much.... However, she just wasn't in the mood at the moment. Maybe tomorrow, after she had time to make peace with her shattered expectations. For now, she wanted to indulge her sorrows.
She resumed walking, turning the corner, when she heard a sound that made her blood run cold.
"Here, kitty, kitty...."
"Rita!" Kat gasped, instinctively dropping into a defensive stance. She wanted to kick herself as she only just realized how unnaturally still the evening was. If she hadn't been so bloody wrapped up in her pouting.... What was that witch doing here? Now? None of them had been Rangers for years, and hadn't Mondo sent her and Zedd running to the far side of the moon?
"Poor Kitty-Kat... all broken hearted because Tommy married his precious Kimmie?" the would-be empress of evil sneered.
Kat's eyes narrowed, and the hackles on the back of her neck bristled.
"What do you want?" she challenged.
"Misery loves company," Rita quipped. She looked Kat up and down; the scrutiny gave the former Ranger the shivers. "Retirement has been good to you, I'll give you that. You weren't half this good lookin' when you ran around in those pink tights."
Kat blinked in astonishment.
"But even though you're drop dead gorgeous, you're still in Kimmie's shadow, aren't you?" the sorceress casually mocked. "Still looking to that pink pipsqueak and finding yourself wanting? You're a beautiful, graceful ballerinamaybe a little on the tall side and a bit big boned for the job. Yet even after having a kid, Kim is still small and cute. You never were half the Ranger Kimmie was... but you already knew that. You never felt like you filled those little white booties quite good enough, did you?"
Why was Rita digging all this up now? Kat had put those insecurities behind her a long time ago! She didn't need to compare herself to Kim or anyone else!
"Of course, Kimmie always seemed to have what you wanted, didn't she?" Rita purred slyly. "She was a Ranger and had the skills to kick putty butt. Zordon picked her; you got the powers because she gave them up, and for all Tommy, Rocky, and Adam's training, you were only a mediocre fighter without your powers, always calling for Tommy to save your wimpy pink behind. She made it to the Pan Globals and won a medal; you conked your head on a diving board, and bye-bye dreams!"
_Stop this!_ Kat seethed silently.
"Then there's Tommy.... She tossed him aside like yesterday's trash, and you couldn't get him to love you. She ripped his heart to shreds, and he still married the little tramp! Now they have a brat and are disgustingly happy."
Kat tried desperately to tune the witch out. Rita was up to something... there had to be a reason she was bringing all this up. She knew she shouldn't just be standing here listening to the sorceress' spiel, but she couldn't seem to help herself. Rita had just put into words the host of feelings churning around inside her. Kim had been one of her dear friends; she hadn't wanted to be jealous of her. Yet, even after she had received the Zeo Powerspowers Kimberly never possessedshe often felt like she never measured up to the original Pink Ranger. And the Pan Globals... she had trained for years to dive in the Games, whereas Kim got a lucky break. As for Tommy... if Kim truly loved him, she would never have let him go.
"It really is too bad that Tommy's married," Rita went on, strolling idly about. Was it Kat's imagination or did she honestly sound regretful? "A gorgeous hunk of flesh like him is wasted on one womanand a mousy lookin' one at that."
"You find Tommy attractive?" Kat gaped, almost laughing in disbelief.
"I'm evil, not dead," Rita snorted. "Tommy's a man any woman with a pulse could appreciate. I had more plans for my evil Green Ranger than just destroying the Power Brats. Tommy would have been a lot more fun in my bed than Zedd's been."
Kat shivered with revulsion at the thought.
"Look how long I've been married to Radiator Face and still don't have a rugrat to pass my wicked ways on to."
_Oh, Lord!_ Kat exclaimed silently, finally grasping the sorceress' plan. _She's going to go after their baby! Tommy and Kim won't be expecting an attack, not after all this time.... I've got to do something to stop her, but what?_
She hadn't kept up with her martial arts since leaving Angel Grove, and Rita had been right about one thing: her unmorphed fighting skills had never been what Tommy and the others' had been, though they had improved over her career. However, Rita made no move other than to sit down on the low wall surrounding the neighboring yard. She twisted her staff back and forth absently.
"Do you know at one time my stupid husband wanted to make Kimmie his queen? Can you believe that? What do men see in that skinny little weenie anyway? Now, if Zedd had decided to make a fool out of himself over you, I could have understood itat least you're a knock-out."
Though puzzled, Kat was willing to let Rita continue spouting, but there was no way she was relaxing her guard, no matter how much her clenched teeth and straining muscles ached.
"Kimmie! Kimmie! Kimmie!" the witch whined, sounding for all the world like Jan Brady ranting about her sister Marcia. Then, she continued more pleasantly, "I don't blame you for resenting her. She's caused you as much trouble as she has me! It's her fault I lost the Green Ranger. Oh, Jason may have destroyed the Sword of Darkness, but Kimberly was the one who kept Tommy from sinking into a dark, guilt-induced depression. If it hadn't been for her, I could have gotten my hooks into him again, and then I wouldn't have needed to make you my slave. If it hadn't been for that little pink bitch...."
_... I wouldn't have been put through that nightmare... no!_ Kat shrieked inwardly in fierce denial. She couldn't listen to Rita; the woman was evil, saying things to suit her nefarious whims. _She's twisting everything out of proportion!_
"Kimberly has stood in the way of everything you ever wanted," Rita claimed, standing again. She drifted behind Kat, placing a commiserating hand on her shoulder. Kat shrugged off the cold appendage, flinching away from the contact. "I remember when you were my Kitty-Kat slave. I remember the look in your eyes when you first saw Tommy. I saw how much you wanted him, but Kim had him. So you waited. Then Kim went away. She broke up with Tommy; you thought you had your chance at last, but she still had him. Tell me, would you have gone to England to study if you'd had the relationship you'd always dreamed of having with Tommy? If he had said, I love you; please stay' would you have?"
Had she loved Tommy enough to abandon her other life-long dream? Besides, Tommy would never have made her choose between the chance of a lifetime and himselfjust as he didn't make Kim choose. He'd have waited....
"If you'd have never gone to England, that could have been you in the park the day when Tommy stopped being so blind and stubborn and come to his senses. Then you'd be happily married to him and have had his baby and lived happily ever after. If it weren't for Kimmie...."
"That's enough!" Kat shouted, ducking her head and covering her ears with her hands. Then, she felt a buring at the back of her eyes and a numbing sensation seeping into her brain; she remembered Rita's touch in her mind from so long ago, and at last she understoodbut far too latewhy the witch seemed to be making so much sense.
"All I'm doing is pointing out that we have a mutual thorn in our sides," Rita replied smoothly, " and how much more enjoyable our lives would be without her."
Kat began to realize what Rita was driving at. "You want me to help you do something to Kim, don't you?" she gasped, drawing away from the witch. "I may be a little envious of Kim, but she's still my friend. I'm happy for her and Tommy, and I'd never do anything to hurt my friendsleast of all serve you again." She glared at Rita with fierce defiance.
"Too bad," Rita sneered dismissively.
Before Kat realized what was happening, she felt something cold and metallic close about her throat. Then came the fire... a fire she'd never forget as long as she lived, a conflagration that sill seared her nightmares. It burned through her veins, and she could feel her very being melting... changing.... She fell to her knees as her body began to shrink. The hairs on the nape of her neckall over her bodystood on end and enveloped her in a furry embrace. Kat raised her head to cry out, but the only sound that came forth was a plaintive mew.' Rita bent down to collect the white cat before she could bolt and run. "What a pretty kitty you are," the sorceress cackled as she walked off into the night.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...."
The somber scene played out in the viewing globe, observed by a pair of jewel-toned feline eyes. The snow-white cat reclined regally on the dark throne, watching the proceedings taking place on the planet that hovered beyond the balcony of the lunar citadel. Outwardly, there was no sign that the sleek bundle of fur was at all moved by the funeral. She climbed to her feet, yawned, stretched indifferently then nimbly leaped down the stairs of the dais, padding softly towards the pedestal housing the orb. However, on the inside, Katherine Hillard mourned the passing of a friend.
Time ceased to have any meaning for the young woman the day Rita closed the collar about her throat. Though she retained her human faculties, the passage of years had no affect on her; she had become as ageless as her mistress.' The only way she had kept from getting lost in the timeless haze was by watching the globe that had replaced the sorceress' old telescope. ("The picture is much better, and I don't have to squint to see!" had been the rationale.)
Surreptitiously, Kat had followed the parade of years, vicariously living through her friends in particular, Tommy and Kimberly. She had watched their lives unfold, sharing in their joys: the birth of the twins, Jason and David, Rose's marriage, the birth of their first great-grandchild ... and their sorrows: the loss of parents, friends, and the untimely, crushing death of their infant daughter Katie. She had observed them in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. She watched them grow old together, growing happier in each other's company until death parted them.
Kat touched the curve of the glowing sphere as the focus tightened on one of the mourners. Time had been kind to him. His face had weathered the decades well; though wrinkled and silver-haired, Tommy's frame was still strong, and his still-warm eyes, normally sparkling with laughter, were bright with tears of grief.
"Good-bye, Beautiful," he murmured, placing a pink rosebud on the casket. Then he joined the circle of his children and surviving friends who held him for a long time. Kimberly's death had been unexpected; she had passed away in her sleep. Though saddened, the family called it a blessing, sparing everyone the possibility of a lengthy and emotionally taxing physical and mental decline.
Kat's heart ached for Tommy; he loved Kim so, and she knew that while his children and grandchildren would help, they would not be able to alleviate the loneliness in his heart. Still, as her paw brushed at the tears which trickled down Tommy's still-handsome face, she wished with all her might that she could ease his pain somehow.
"Ding dong, the bitch is dead. Which ol' bitch? The cute pink bitch. Ding dong, the cute pink bitch is dead...."
Cringing at the horrendous warbling, Kat backed away from the globe, her hackles standing on end as Rita swept into the chamber. With the agility and speed only a feline possessed, Kat attempted to flee before the witch caught sight of her. She loathed it when Rita picked her up and petted her.
Part of her wished the sorceress had used the same spell she had the first time she had snared her ... the one that made her evil. Not that she wanted to be evil again, but if she had been turned to the darkness, she wouldn't have minded her captivity so much. Or Rita could have made her all cat, so she wouldn't have to know what was going on ... but no. This witch's familiar doubled as a spy once again. Though a white cat with azure eyes was unusual, the denizens of evil were so supremely self-confident that they paid a harmless kitty no mind, even if she was Rita's latest oddity. Kat always had the impression that Rita's adversaries would have been more wary if she had been a black cat instead.
She hadn't wanted to do the shrill sorceress' dirty work (at least Rita hadn't tried turning her against later generations of Power Rangers!). In fact, Kat had stubbornly refused. Tail held high, she would saunter out of a conference room she was supposed to be casing, or she'd fall asleep when she was supposed to be eavesdropping in someone's private chamber. However, she had learned to her extreme discomfort that there was still data to be gleaned from even the briefest of impressions. Rita never bothered turning her human to collect her information, but extracted what she wanted directly from Kat's mind. It became a matter of survival to cooperate; however, over the decades, she had found ways to confound the would-be empress of evil's plans.
At least she didn't have to contend with Lord Zedd as well; Kat was grateful for his conspicuous absences. He rarely put in an appearance, and no doubt he had found some other dimension to beleaguer and with him Goldar and the rest of his lackeys, leaving her and Rita alone. Sometimes, Rita didn't care one way or the other if Zedd was around, but lately, her grumblings had given Kat the impression that the witch was not at all happy with her husband.
"Here kitty-kitty...." Rita summoned, and somehow she managed to lay hold of Kat before she could find a concealing niche. Kat suffered herself to be stroked by those icy a cold she could feel through her fur hands.
"Poor little Kimmie finally bit the big one," Rita sneered, glaring at the viewing globe. "Good!"
The venom in the sorceress' tone caught Kat's attention. She had never heard Rita sound so ... completely and utterly hateful. She raised her head inquiringly.
"Too bad she didn't waste away," Rita hissed. To Kat, this sounded like more than her blanket dislike for the Rangers; it seemed personal somehow, but what had Kim done to the witch lately? "She'd have made a lovely living skeleton, don't you think?"
The screeching cackle had Kat's fur standing on end.
"Poor Tommy," Rita all but spat. "Now he can be as wretched and miserable in his loneliness as I am in my marital bliss!" Then, her tone became sly. "What do you think, Kitty-Kat? I bet you'd love to console your precious Tommy, wouldn't you? You can't stand the thought of him being all lonely and sad because Kim's left him again; can you?"
Kat did her best to tune out the witch's rantings. Never again would she let the sorceress get into her head.
"Maybe I should send him a kitty as a sympathy gift. Yes ... and he could name you Kim, and you could keep him company ... curl up on his lap and sleep ... that'd get you into his bed...!"
Rita laughed uproariously, and Kat shuddered. She wouldn't ... she couldn't...!
"Or better yet, I could make you human again and send you back to earth," Rita continued thoughtfully. "You've become such a willful kitty of late. Oh yes, I know who tipped off ol' Crater Face about my little scheme to swipe the wraith crystals."
The malevolent tone made Kat shrink back nervously. Suddenly, she felt Rita slip a finger under her collar, and Kat overrode her feline instinct to struggle; she had no desire to be choked again.
"Ah, get off me, you flea-bitten feline; you're getting hairs on my gown," Rita growled, abruptly throwing Kat away from her. That pretty much amounted to standard procedure for the witch: gloat and taunt a while, then toss the cat. Kat landed on all fours and started sprinting for a hiding place when pain ripped through her body like wildfire, so intense it dropped her where she stood. In her mind, Katherine screamed; in reality she meowed her agony. Then came the fire, and she felt her body uncoiling ... expanding.... Her inarticulate mewlings became all-too-human cries of agony. The transformation had never been this difficult before, but then, she'd never been a cat for so long either.
For the first time in seventy years, Kat was human. She slowly sat up, straightening her arms and legs. As she stretched out her cramped muscles, she wondered if she'd remember how to walk ... talk.... She caught her reflection in a polished obsidian slab. She looked exactly as she had seven decades ago, down to the fuchsia tank dress. Tentatively, Kat moved her arms, shaking some life into them. She rubbed her bare upper arms to get her circulation going. She'd never noticed it before, but it was freezing in the throne room!
Kat unsteadily climbed to her feet. Her knees buckled, and she fell. Rita cackled mockingly. Ignoring her captor as best she could, Kat made a second attempt. This time, she remained erect. Gingerly, she essayed a step. Then another. Haltingly, she made her way towards the glimmering sphere, which was still focused on Angels Rest Cemetery. The mourners were at last leaving.
I really am sorry, Tommy, Kat tried to say, but the sound would not come. Her hand came up to touch the crystal. The image went dark.
"You want to be there for him, don't you?" Rita sneered. "You want to hold him and tell him everything will be all right ... that his friends are there for him ... just like you did the last time his precious Kimmie left him."
Lord, what did I do to deserve this? Kat implored the heavens, eyes closed and fingers slowly clenching into fists. Haven't I suffered enough?
"... only this time, his precious pink love isn't coming back," the witch snidely continued. "Say, I bet even you would stand a chance with Tommy now."
"Just ... shut ... up," Kat forced out, her voice raspy from disuse.
"Oh, so you remember how to talk, do you?"
Kat turned to glare at the sorceress.
"You want out of here, don't you?" Rita needled. "You'd like nothing better than for me to send you home. Well, why not? I'm in a generous mood today, and you have served me well for the most part."
Kat's eyes went wide with astonishment at Rita's words. She couldn't possibly be serious, could she?
"However, there's one small, teeny tiny problem. Where would you go? Your parents ... most of your friends ... are dead. Hell, even you were declared dead decades ago. And the surviving power pukes you call friends are old geezers. But, on the plus side, Tommy's available."
Would you just stop going on about Tommy! Kat seethed inwardly. Yes, she loved Tommy probably always would in some way but she had laid that particular ghost to rest long ago.
"Can't imagine that he'd want you ... although, they say older men like younger women. Naw, I can't see it. You're not Kimmie; I doubt he ever really cared for you. If he had, why didn't he try harder to find you when you turned up missing? I bet when he heard you had disappeared, he said good riddance to bad rubbish."
"That's ... not ... true!"
Tommy had tried to find her ... all her friends had! They had missed her ... mourned her at the memorial service. Tommy and Kim had even named Katie after her.
"They cared," Kat asserted, her voice stronger now. "They did their best; how could they know you had abducted me? After all, they thought Mondo had sent you running with your tail between your legs."
"But they should have thought about that possibility. Tommy was the leader of the Power Rangers; he should have considered the notion that an old foe could have been behind your disappearance. He still had access to the Rangers' technology. He didn't use every resource at his command. Face it; he had Kim and the baby and abandoned you to your fate, and you still stupidly pine for him."
"I do not," Kat insisted. She wasn't that pathetic.
"You mean to tell me that if I told you I could send you back to earth and fix it so you could have a chance to live happily ever after with Tommy, you wouldn't leap at it?"
Kat felt her pulse quicken at the thought, but she maintained her skepticism.
"You don't believe me? With magic, anything is possible. Erasing the seventy years between you and Tommy is easy enough. The Fountain of Youth spell is so simple even you could cast it ... as long as the subject was willing."
"So what's the catch?" Kat demanded coolly.
"Does it matter? How can you put a price on freedom and the opportunity to spend the rest of your life with the man you've always loved?"
For the briefest of moments ... less than a heartbeat ... temptation reared its ugly head. However, Kat immediately squashed the impulse. What Rita was offering was too good to be true, and with the witch there was always a hefty price to pay.
"No deal, Rita."
"Ahh, but you thought about it," Rita tsked in a singsong voice.
It shamed and angered Kat that the sorceress had picked up on her moment of weakness. However, who wouldn't be tempted, if only for a second? After all, she was only human.
"No one would blame you for being tempted," Rita purred oily, as if reading Kat's thoughts. "It's not easy to say no to your heart's desire."
"Even if you managed to manipulate me like you did when you captured me, whatever you're up to won't work," Kat declared defiantly. "You said the spell would only work if the subject was willing. Tommy would never have anything to do with something that came from you."
"Even if I could give him Kim back?"
That gave Kat a moment's pause, but she was able to answer with conviction, "He'd die first."
"Not that he's that far from the grave these days anyway," Rita remarked with an indifferent shrug. "Of course, he wouldn't have to know; there are ways to cloud the mind as you well know."
"I'd know," Kat retorted. She would rather never have Tommy's love than to coerce him with one of Rita's spells. It wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be real.
"Oh well, you had your chance, Kitty-Kat," Rita concluded curtly. She turned to exit the chamber; however, when she reached the doorway, she turned back and looked expectantly at Kat. "You coming or what?"
"Are you just going to stand there staring at a blank ball, or are you going to come and find out where your room is?"
"You don't think I'm going to put you down in the dungeon, do you? It's too far to walk, and I don't have Squatt or Baboo to fetch and carry for me. Besides, I can keep a better eye on you up here. It still have plans for you, Kitty-Kat."
Seeing as how she had no other choice, Kat followed.
Kat checked the corridor; the coast was clear. Not that she expected to see anyone; she and Rita were the only souls in the castle, and for the past several months, the witch had rarely left her private quarters. Still, it never hurt to be cautious in enemy territory.
Since the day she had been made human again, Kat had felt more like a guest than a prisoner. She had clothing (all black and not exactly her style), food (nothing recognizable but at least edible) and could come and go as she pleased. Over the long months, she had explored virtually every nook and cranny of her home.' Though she had searched, she had never found a way to escape. For starters, she had learned almost at the cost of her life not to venture beyond the citadel's walls. The castle's magic did not extend past them, and after all, this was the moon. And even if she had found a way out, Rita would be able to track her down no matter where she went. Kat's fingers lightly skimmed the seamless band still encircling her throat. There had to be some reason the sorceress hadn't removed her pet' collar.
Gathering her trailing skirts, Kat slipped into the dusty hallway and made her way unerringly to a staircase hidden at the end of the maze. The musty passage led to a tiny library that had seen little use over the centuries, unless she missed her guess. Something about the collection contained therein had fascinated her, beginning with the way she had discovered it. It was almost as if she had been drawn to the study, but the geas didn't feel like Rita's. Kat knew the taste of her jailer's particular brand of magic all too well. Then, there were the tomes themselves ... not that she could read any of them. Still, there was something about them that called to her.
She lit the massive candle in its ornate, wrought iron stand. Melted wax dripped down the white cylinder looking for all the world like layer upon layer of icicles. Then, she turned to the shelves. She was meticulous about placing everything back the way she had found it lest Rita come upon the room and discover what she'd been about.
Her selection was a volume bound in white leather embossed with gold. It was a curious book insofar as it was the only one in the collection that hadn't been sealed in some fashion. The characters on the cover and the gilt-edged pages were complete gibberish to her, yet she felt compelled to thumb through the beautiful tome. As she examined the mysterious text, she couldn't shake the feeling that somewhere within the pages was the key to unlock the secret of the glyphs ... a way to translate the words.
Kat became so engrossed in puzzling over the book that she had lost track of time (easy enough to do about the castle anyway). The only reason she noticed the passage of hours was the twinge of hunger making itself known.
The morning's gone already? she mused, yawning and stretching. She was loath to leave the surprisingly comfortable room; however, the stillness was suddenly shattered by a rumbling quake.
"What the...?" Kat gasped, falling out of her chair. The tremor was followed by a loud explosion.
Was the palace under attack? Kat hurried from the secluded study. As she raced into the castle proper, the ruckus ceased, but the tension in the air was thick and heavy. Something was going on, and the best place to find out what was the throne room.
"You're what?" she heard Rita shout as she drew nigh the central chamber of the citadel. Thinking it best to be discreet, Kat paused in the doorway. To her surprise, she found the long-absent Lord Zedd reclining on his throne. Rita faced him, absolutely livid.
"I'm getting married," Zedd replied to her charge.
Kat blinked in astonishment.
"Think again, Zeddy," Rita hissed. "Last time I checked, you were still married to me, and unlike humans, there's no such thing as divorce for us."
That was an interesting tidbit of information. Kat pressed closer, not wanting to miss a thing.
"We're bound, body and soul I made sure of that when Finster married us," the sorceress ranted on. "I was determined that even if I couldn't rule the universe through you, I'd at least get your powers when some goon offed you."
Zedd waved her words aside nonchalantly. "True, but since you haven't provided me with an heir, I'm within my rights to take a second wife."
"I haven't provided you...? I think you've got that backwards, Zedd-boy. You're the one shooting blanks. I know all about your mistresses over the years; you haven't been able to get any of them knocked up."
"Oh, no? Then who's child is my twisted little J'bel carrying?" Zedd taunted.
"You mean that pathetic piece of trash is pregnant?"
"Yes, and don't get any ideas; J'bel knows enough magic to protect herself and the baby."
"And I was hoping she'd end up like all the rest of your little tramps: dead."
Kat shivered at the deaths-head smile Rita flashed her husband.
"You didn't...?" Zedd hissed, a red aura rising about him in his fury.
"Every last one. My little kitty and I found Ysmi's heart rather tasty."
It was with herculean effort that Kat kept herself from retching. All those unidentifiable dinners....
"No matter," Zedd responded with much effort. "They all failed me, and the price of failure is death." "I thought it was being shackled to you for all eternity."
"Stuff it, Zeddy."
Kat found herself inching ever closer even as she knew she should flee to the far side of the palace. Lord Zedd was making a serious mistake; he was treating Rita as if she were the same ineffectual buffoon she'd once been. She wasn't. Rita hadn't been anybody's fool for a long time now.
"I'm not sharing your powers with anyone. They're mine by right!" Rita's voice, instead of climbing shrilly, had become low and dangerous. "The only way anyone else gets them is over my dead body."
"With pleasure! Once I'm rid of you, I'll infuse my lovely J'bel with your powers and make her the queen she was meant to be!"
With that, Zedd struck first, leveling his staff at Rita and releasing a bolt of energy. The sorceress brushed it aside with a wave of her hand. The lethal flare struck the keystone of the archway Kat cowered in, sending a shower of crumbling stone crashing to the ground.
"You've been practicing," Zedd remarked with affected nonchalance. The blast should have fried his irksome wife.
"It's not like I had anything better to do, since I didn't have to spend all my time bowing and scraping at your feet," Rita sneered.
The witch unleashed her own volley, and the deflected magic once again sent Kat scurrying for cover. As the contest raged in earnest, instead of being driven further from the chamber, Kat inexplicably found herself driven closer to the battleground. In fact, a wayward burst sent her flying from her most recent shelter, and she went sprawling to the floor between the combatants.
"I see you've let the cat out of the bag," Zedd mocked darkly as Kat tried to scramble out of the way. "Getting careless, my putrid peanut. The only good Ranger is a dead Ranger; I thought you'd learned by now."
"Ah, she's harmless ... too stupid to get in trouble," Rita said dismissively. "After all, she still thinks I'm to blame for her predicament when it's all Kimmie's fault that she was out wandering the streets feeling sorry for herself."
Kat glared at Rita but didn't rise to the bait. There was no sense in getting into a pointless bout of contradiction.
"Besides, letting her roam around has had its uses. After all she found Xereth's library, and she even opened the Dammerung Grimoire."
The very name made Kat feel inexplicably cold. Dammerung ... it sounded familiar somehow. Then she recalled her flatmate Julie; she loved opera, and one weekend she'd watched the entire Ring of the Niebelung. The fourth part of Wagner's cycle had been titled Gotterdammerung ... Twilight of the Gods.
Lord, please tell me this doesn't mean the same thing! Kat tried to quell her rising panic. The only book that she had easy access to was that white volume, but it hadn't been sealed or anything. Surely it couldn't be....
"The Book of Twilight is yours? Impossible! Xereth's spell insured that only one of pure heart could turn those gilded pages, but she's tainted with your evil."
"I wish!" Rita snorted. "My spell making her evil doesn't count. The taint was never in Kat, just like it never was in Tommy which was why he could hold the White Ranger Powers and steal the Zeo Crystal from us the darkness was imposed on them. But who cares? The grimoire is open, and its spells are mine.
"First you, oh wicked husband, then the tramp and Zedd Junior," the witch vowed malevolently.
"No!" Zedd roared and launched himself at Rita, engaging her physically.
As the two grappled, their magics continued to rage throughout the chamber. Rita's crackled about her like lightning while Zedd's rose up in a swirling cyclone that howled like a banshee through the throne room. Kat stayed low and covered her ears against the shriek of arcane energies unleashed. The lunar citadel quaked, rocked by the tremendous force of the dark powers battering its walls. Kat was afraid the palace would come crashing down on their heads before either evil mage gave way.
She felt as if she should do something, but what? It was taking all her concentration to keep from being squashed or fried. Besides, who would she help? Both were her sworn enemies.
Above the wail of magic-gone-wild, Kat could make out Rita's voice, as shrill and grating as ever. She didn't know how the witch could concentrate on her chanting with the world gone mad around them and Zedd trying to choke the life out of her. However, the sorceress's incantation finally ended, and she grinned up at Zedd triumphantly. She ceased struggling, and Zedd's fingers tightened about her throat.
"Dak-tor!" Rita gasped out.
Zedd suddenly reared back, releasing her.
"What have you done to me, woman?" he thundered. Suddenly, his red musculature was engulfed in black flame. The fire rose high above him, swirling about in a tight column that pierced the arcane maelstrom raging above them.
"Calling forth your powers," Rita sneered. "Tsu't! I'm draining you, Zeddy, and when there's nothing left, I'll claim what is mine!"
"Do that," Zedd dared her. "Do that and be burned alive from the inside out. You can't absorb all that raw energy at once; you're already filled with magics of your own. The only way for you to take mine is slowly ... and you don't have the time. Once unleashed, if uncontained, my powers will destroy you, this palace, the moon ... everything!" Zedd cackled with malevolent triumph.
"You know, Zedd, for the first and last time in your life, you're right." So saying, Rita snatched up his staff. "Say good-bye, Zeddy."
Horrified, Kat watch as Rita skewered her husband just as the last of the black flames flickered and died. Zedd made no sound as he slumped lifeless to the floor. A massive bolt of obsidian lightning crashed down. In its wake, all that remained of the evil lord was a charred outline. Kat stared at the blackened floor numbly.
"Here, kitty-kitty," Rita called.
Kat gaped at her, incredulous. Did Rita honestly think she'd come?
"Come on, Kitty-Kat; repeat after me.... Dak-tor...."
"Are you out of your mind?" Kat gasped.
"There's too much power for me to absorb at once," Rita explained, actually sounding desperate. "If we don't find an empty vessel to contain it, you can kiss the pair of us good-bye."
"I doubt anyone would miss us," Kat snorted, then she realized what Rita was saying. The witch wanted to use her to hold Zedd's rampant magics.
"Maybe not, but they'd sure miss this moon and a good chunk of your precious Earth," Rita continued, and Kat's gaze shifted to the panorama of the peaceful blue orb hovering beyond the balcony. "That's right. If we don't do something about all this power floating around here, the moon goes kablooey and then what happens to your planet ... your friends...?"
Kat knew Rita was serious. The lightning was growing wilder by the minute, and the tremors threatening to upend her originated deep within the moon. But she couldn't absorb Zedd's magic ... all that evil.... Every fiber of her being recoiled at the thought of becoming evil again.
But could she let the Earth die?
Rita spoke again. "Dak-tor!"
"Dahk-tor," Kat repeated mechanically. She tried not to look, but the darkness above her began swirling in a new direction. Wispy tendrils snaked down from the whirlpool towards her.
The smoky fingers touched her, caressed her like hands both hot and cold. The mist surrounded her, penetrated her. She wanted to run screaming from the chamber ... from the sensations. The energy crawled about her, slithering serpentine-like, but Kat forced herself to endure. Unknowingly, she raised her arms in supplication to the storm roiling above her.
Lightning danced about her, the bursts striking the floor close to her, exploding and dispersing their energy into her waiting form. The winds grew fiercer, whipping her hair about wildly as the energy vortex spun faster and tighter with Kat as the eye in the calm of the storm. She could feel the darkness flooding her senses.
The last syllable came out as a shout, a primal cry torn from her heart and soul. The madness continued building in intensity, the universe spinning chaotically, tearing mercilessly at Kat's slender frame, which stood strong against the onslaught. Then, from the roiling heavens streaked an enormous ebon bolt, accompanied by a deafening roar of thunder. It struck.
And Kat screamed.
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