Note: I'm indulging myself here, so please, bear with me? This is an unabashed romance, nothing more, nothing lessI just had to get it out of my system somehow. Hope you'll enjoy it anyway. Rating is PG-13 or so, because of some suggestive scenes ... but no worse than what you can see on Primetime TV. The characters and references you recognize belong to Saban; the rest is mine. Warning: Severe romantic outlook required! Comments, as always, will be appreciated. DB, Spring 1999
The Crowne Hotel Angel Grove, Bridal Suite, September 2006sometime
in the wee hours of the night
Jason Lee Scott stepped out of the luxurious bathroom, still wearing his tuxedo trousers. He'd discarded his jacket and tie earlier, and his white shirt was open to the waist. He cast a fond glance at his wife who stood at the open window, her long blonde hair blowing gently in the light breeze. Her slender figure was clad in a cream floor-length nightgown with matching negligee, and he was eager to hold her in his arms again. Pouring two glasses of champagne, he crossed over to stand behind her, passing the frothy wedding gown which lay carefully spread over a settee.
"A nightcap, love?" He handed her one of the crystal flutes.
She turned brilliant blue eyes towards him and smiled her thanks; clinking her glass softly against his, she sipped the sparkling wine, savouring the taste. Her look was pensive, though. Jason deposited his own drink on a nearby table and enfolded his bride in a warm hug. Tilting her face towards his, he brushed a gentle kiss across the soft pink lips and offered his own smile.
"What is it? Something not quite right?"
"No; no, everything's fine. Today was so perfect..."
"I know what you mean. We've waited so long for this...it's hard to believe we're finally married, isn't it?"
"Mm-hmm. And to have all of our friends with us, toothat was unbelievable."
He laughed. "Well, it's a good thing we had a long engagementat least that way, everybody could arrange their schedules to come."
She took another sip of her champagne.
"It's just ... I've been thinking ..."
She elbowed him gently in the ribs, and Jason pretended to flinch away. Both shared a moment of laughter, then he kissed her again and drew her closer against his chest. More seriously, he asked, "What have you been thinking about?"
"Us. More precisely, I've been remembering ... how it all began ... how we began."
"Ah. Y'know, I've been doing that a lot, too, over the past few days."
"Oh yeah. When I was together with the guys, we all sort of reminisced how it used to be ... how strange it is that we all sort of ended up marrying each other."
The freshly-made Mrs Jason Scott giggled. "Everybody but Rocky. But you must admit, Mercy is perfect for him."
"Oh, I agree. Though, how Rocky, of all people, ended up marrying a Spanish aristocrat, I'll never know."
They exchanged an amused look. The unlikely match had come about as Mercedes Maria Renata Condesa da Silva y Aragon, on a visit to Angel Grove on behalf of her industrialist father, had been looking for a personal trainer and somehow had been directed to the Angel Grove Sports Academy, jointly run by Rocky DeSantos and one Kimberly Hart Oliver. It had been a stormy courtship, but they'd been married for over a year now, and were expecting their first child. Mercy fit in with the rest of the old gang as if she'd been there all along, and she loved her husband very mucheven if they were constantly bickering with each other. They did so laughingly, however. Laughter was very much a part of daily life in the DeSantos home.
Jason pressed a gentle kiss against his wife's temple. He'd been reflecting on their own courtship, which had spanned over six years and two continents, before they finally got together for good. He still regretted the time they'd spent apart, but it had been a necessary period for both of them, to find out what they truly wanted out of life. Returning to the original topic of conversation, he was curious.
"What specifically were you remembering about us?"
"Oh, this and that ... times in the past that were important for us ... like how it all began ..."
Katherine Hillard Scott leaned back into her husband's arms, looking out over the bright city lights far down below as she remembered one rainy autumn night, almost eight years ago.
London, Royal Ballet Academy, November 1998
Kat Hillard was still shaking with excitement. The performance had been over for over an hour, she had already showered and changed and was waiting for her friend, roommate and colleague Elissa Hunyadi to come out, but her heart was still beating a mile a minute. Her first public performance in a real theatre, before a paying audience! True, it was only a student's performance, where the Dance Academy pupils could get a taste of what it was going to be like, later, after graduation, but still ...! The ballet had been "The Nutcracker", and her role a small one, but she had danced Tchaikowsky on a London stage! It was quite an accomplishment for a student barely out of her first year. She only wished her family and friends could have been there to share the moment with her. Shaking off her regrets, she finally spied her friend, and the two girls made their way to the stage exit. Stepping out into the drizzly night, they were arguing about whether to take the Tube or splurge for a taxi in honour of the occasion, when a vaguely familiar voice called out Kat's name.
"Kat! Katherine, wait!"
The two girls turned warily; the voice was deep, male and seemed friendly, but they weren't expecting anyone, and they couldn't be too careful. While this was not New York or East L.A., it still wasn't all that safe in a city the size of London to be accosted by strangers at night. Kat peered into the darkness. A broad-shouldered young man with short dark hair approached her, a mischievous smile on his handsome face. Beside her, Elissa stiffened.
"Kat, do you know him?" she hissed, poised to cry out or flee, whatever should be necessary.
"I'm not sure, I ..." suddenly, Kat knew where she had seen him before. With a delighted squeal, she dashed forward, to be caught in strong arms and wrapped in an enthusiastic bear-hug.
"I don't believe this! What are you doing here?" Kat quickly introduced him to her friend.
"Watching our favourite ballerina make her stage début."
She gaped at him.
"Y-you were at the performance?"
Jason grinned and slipped his arm through hers. "Sure was. Way back, true, but I did see youevery crash and stumble."
"Hey!" Kat punched him playfully. "I'll have you know that I didn't stumble even oncenot on stage, anyway."
"Meaning you crash into the furniture only when you're off stage?" His martial arts-honed reflexes made him duck just in time as she lashed out at him, laughing.
"No, idiot! But seriouslywhat are you doing here? How did you know? And how, for heaven's sake, did you get here?"
"Huh. Tall orderlet's see." He began ticking items off his fingers as the three slowly made their way to the nearest Underground station. "I'm really here to see you perform; I came here first by car and then by bus, and as for how I knewwell, my mom met Tanya's mom, who had just talked to your mom, and, well, here I am." They had reached the station and Elissa said her good-byes; she was beginning to feel like a fifth wheel, they were so absorbed in each other, and this Jason fellow was obviously an old friend of Kat's. American, by his accent, and he seemed rather nice ... nevertheless, the Hungarian decided to wait up until her roomie came home.
The two former Rangers quickly made their way to Kat's favourite Indian restaurant, one of the small family-operated establishments that could be found all over London. Ordering tea and food, they settled down to some serious catching up.
"I thought you had started classes at AGUbusiness, wasn't it, to open your own dojo?" Kat warmed her hands around the cup of fragrant Assam tea, looking at her old friend expectantly.
"I did, at first - but business was boring me silly; then, this spring I got an offer I couldn't refuse." He grinned at the old cliché. "Didn't Tommy tell you in one of his letters?"
A shadow fell over the lovely features. Kat looked down at the tablecloth and her voice was strained as she answered.
"Jase ... Tommy and I aren't writing anymore. Haven't, actually, since the summer."
Jason covered her hand with his and squeezed gently. "Oh Kat ... I'm sorry. What happened? Or ... you don't have to talk about it, but if you need to ..."
The blonde swallowed hard, then made herself meet the dark, concerned eyes. Smiling wanly, she returned his grip.
"No, it's okay. I'm getting over it. Really," she added, as he raised a questioning eyebrow. "It's just ... I've been gone so long, and I'm even farther away than Kim ever was ... it wouldn't have worked out. I'm stuck here in Europe for the next two years at least, and it wouldn't be fair to either one of us to hang on to a relationship. There was no great breakup, neither one of us has met someone else, but ... we just drifted apart. Calling was getting too expensive and erratic, what with the time difference; the letters got fewer from both of us the more we got caught up in our new lives....Tommy called on my birthday in July, and we didn't really know anymore what to talk about. He has his racing, and I'm here; we just don't have that much in common any more, besides our former duties."
Her companion continued holding her hand.
"I...I don't know what to say. You guys seemed so happy together when I saw you last..."
Katherine smiled somewhat mistily. Try as she might, she couldn't quite keep the lingering sadness out of her voice.
"I thought we were, too. But it's over; there's no sense in hanging on to something that maybe wasn't meant to be from the start."
"Kat, how can you say that? You and Tommy..."
"...were both lonely and upset; him, because of Kimberly, and me because of what Rita had done to me. I caught Tommy on the rebound, and always knew it. I just thought, because of our shared experiences, that there was something more between us. There wasn't."
She squeezed his hand and put a smile on her face. To her surprise, it was easier than it had been before.
"Jason, please. It's overI've had to accept that, as hard as it's been. I...I just would like to put it behind me, okay? Let's talk about something else." She watched his skeptical expression and smiled again, a bit more genuinely. "Please?"
Jason reluctantly conceded to her wish, as their food was brought. He'd never been to an Indian restaurant before, and Kat readily taught him the names and properties of the various dishes and condiments. Digging in, the two returned to their original conversation.
"So...you said something about an offer you couldn't refuse?" Kat asked, grinning as she watched Jason make a grab for his water glass. He wouldn't listen when she'd told him that to the uninitiated, 'medium spicy' was, in fact, quite hot.
Once Jason could speak again past his burning palate, he grinned right back, acknowledging her I-told-you-so smirk and happy at what he had to tell her.
"You know about my stint at the Peace Conference, right? Well, seems like all of the delegates got offered scholarships to various European universities. I didn't think I'd qualify, because I left early, but in January I got a letter asking why I hadn't registered. I was feeling sort of dissatisfied with the classes I'd taken at AGU, and I took a long, hard look at what I wanted out of life. I still want to do something with martial arts, but I can teach that in my spare time; owning a business just seemed a little ... oh, I dunnotame? after saving the world."
"I know what you mean. It was pretty hard to get used to living at the Academy, but it's something I always dreamed of doing ... even more than diving. It's just that, as a performing dancer, I can give joy and, well, a bit of enchantment to so many people...I think it's worth iteven if tame in comparison."
Both ex-Rangers shared understanding smiles. They knew that all of their friends had the same problem and were coping in their own ways. Then, Jason resumed his tale.
"Anyway, before all that business began" he made the reference to his Ranger career deliberately oblique, " I'd sort of dreamed of becoming a policeman, or a lawyer. Doing something to make the world a better place, and all that jazz. Only, I don't think I take orders all that well, and I'd never been a good enough student to qualify for a really good law school. Besides, I talked some to Lt. Stone, and he told me stories about life on the Police Force... no, thanks. I want to have a family someday, and I don't want to subject them to that kind of stress." He tore off another piece of nan, the tasty Indian bread, and wiped up the last bit of sauce from his plate. Popping it into his mouth, he washed it down with some more water and returned his attention to his rapt audience of one.
"This letter I got....it really got me to thinking about law school again. My parents did put up a college fund for me, but there's no way they could afford a really good school. The scholarship took care of that; plus, if I do well, I'll have a chance at an Ivy League college to finish my education. I decided it was too good to pass up, so here I am."
"Jason, that's great!" Kat was sincerely pleased for her friend. It was a bit difficult to picture him as a lawyer; Jason had always been such a man of action, but she knew deep down that his motives were right for his chosen path. She beamed at him, delighted.
"So, you're back in Geneva?"
Jason grinned. "Actually, no. I'm in Brussels."
"Brussels? Why there?"
"I guess you know Brussels is the official seat of the European Community Commission, right?"
Kat nodded; she'd lived in England long enough to have gotten a fairly good grounding in European politics, just from watching the news.
"Well, what better place to study International Law? Besides, I'd already taken a few French classes while in Geneva, so the language isn't that much of a problem."
The dancer laughed merrily.
"Somehow, I'm having a very hard time picturing you speaking French!"
Jason laughed with her.
"Oh, picture all you want; it's hearing me that's the problem! I've been told my accent is...not quite good. Yet."
"Tell me about it!" Kat groaned in sympathy. "I have to learn French, too, since most of the great choreographies are written in French!"
Both commiserated with each other, sharing funny anecdotes about their various mishaps with that beautiful, melodious, difficult language as they lingered over a second pot of tea. Finally, Kat let her curiosity get the better of her.
"You're going into International Law, then? Politics?"
"Not on your life! No, I'm aiming for criminal law, ultimately. But the way I figure it, I can get all the other stuff out of the way here, and when I get back to the States, I can concentrate on the rest."
"Well, Brussels is certainly nearer to here than Geneva, and don't get me wrongI'm thrilled to death that you're here. I so wished for my friends and family to see me tonight, and to have at least one of you watch my stage début is more than I'd ever hoped for, but isn't it awfully expensive?" Kat was a bit hesitant to bring this up; if it had been Tanya, or Tommy (if they'd still been a couple), it would be different, but for Jason to spend so much money just to be there for her... she relaxed as she saw his reassuring smile.
"Don't worry about it, Kat. One of the guys at my dorm is from Cambridge; he's got his own car, and visits his family at least once a month; more often even, if the mood hits him. I grabbed a ride with him for a share of the gas, and I'm staying at the YMCA in Croydon. I can swing this easily."
The Australian perked up at that.
"You're here in London?" Croydon was one of the southern suburbs.
"Yep. I checked in this morning, and Colin will pick me up at Victoria Station tomorrow night at eight. That way, we'll make the late ferry, catch a few winks there and be back in time for classes on Monday."
The blue eyes lit up. "You'll be here tomorrow?"
Kat blushed slightly. She'd been about to invite Jason over for breakfast, but a sudden rush of shyness made her hesitate. She looked at him from under her lashes. The dark eyes were twinkling merrily into hers, and she had to laugh away her timidity. What are you worried about? This is Jason; you've trusted him with your life once, remember?
"I was just thinking...would you like to come to my place for breakfast? And, um, maybe talk a little more?"
It was Jason's turn to redden a bit around the ears. He reached for her hand again.
"Actually, I was kinda hoping you'd like to show me around town a bit, if you have the time?" An entreating smile played over the handsome features.
Kat didn't have to think.
"I'd love to. So, are you coming for breakfast?"
Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006
Kat laughed softly at the memory and snuggled deeper into Jason's arms.
"How was I to know you'd almost eat Lissa and me out of hearth and home?"
"I did not!"
"Sure you did. That first time and every time after that. Eggs, bacon, cereal, toast, the works. Every weekend you came over, you ate as if they weren't feeding you at all in Brussels."
Jason kissed her on the neck, nuzzling into the soft skin behind her ear and provoking the soft purr he so loved to hear. Chuckling, he nipped on her earlobe and mock-growled.
"Well, it was either my own cooking, or brave the cafeteria first thing each morning. I was just attempting to do justice to your cooking skills."
"Right." She cast a knowing look over her shoulder. Unrepentant, her husband shrugged and grinned the slightly devilish smile she could never resist.
"Oh, come on, Kath; you and Lissa loved mothering me; admit it!"
She leaned back into the warm embrace. Smiling, she let her mind wander the past a bit more. Sighing fondly over some of the memories, Kat recalled Jason's earlier remark, that he'd been remembering, too. Wondering which moments stood out in his mind, she arched her neck a bit as his mouth gently wandered down to her silk-clad shoulder once more, caressing the smooth skin.
"I admit nothing....mmmh."
"No? I bet I could make you," he whispered suggestively, pulling her closer. His wife had other ideas, though. With a playful show of reluctance, she disengaged herself from his arms and glided over to a couch, beckoning him to come sit beside her. Jason smiled indulgently. He didn't mind; this was her night as much as his, and it was nice to walk down memory lane with Katat least for a while still. Later, though.... He settled next to her and drew her across his lap; cradling his lovely bride in his arms, he kissed her gently and shared one of his own fondest moments with her.
Brussels University, Sports Department, summer 1999
Kat made her way cautiously through the packed bleachers to a place where she'd have a good view of the mats. Jason had joined the University's Martial Arts team soon after he'd enrolled, and tonight was a big meet against a French college. She settled on the uncomfortable seat; briefly, she thought about the trip to Edinburgh and a performance of the Bolshoy Ballet she'd been invited to this very weekend. Kat smiled a bit regretfully. Jason had been there for her so often these last few monthsbeginning with that first surprise visit for her stage début to his goofy phonecalls and serious letters .... they'd become very close, very fast, and she was increasingly looking forward to his visits to London. His friend Colin was nice, and got along well with her roommate; the four of them often met for dinner before the two guys headed home to Brussels. Over time, Jason came to see her every two or three weeks, even when she had performances to attend; the least she could do was return the favour when he was scheduled to fight in his first big international competition. The Bolshoy has been around for a long time; I can always see them another time!
The bell rang for attention. Kat sat up straighter as the crowd around her settled down and the announcer made the introductions. Oriental music blared over the PA system, and the combatants marched in, single file. Soon, she made out her friend. He was standing next to the end of the line, his powerful body clad in a black gi with a red dragon embroidered on the back. The two Japanese characters below were the symbols for 'Power' and 'Thunder', Kat knew, and had to smile; although she hadn't known either Rocky or Jason during that time, both young men had always spoken fondly of the Powers they'd once shared. When both had to retire from the team within a short time of each other, the girls had come up with the idea of giving them matching gi's. Kat was inordinately pleased that Jason had chosen to wear his tonight.
Jason tried to concentrate on the announcer's words, but it was hard; when they'd filed in, he'd thought he caught a glimpse of pink topped by pale-gold hair in the audience that seemed awfully familiar.
Don't get your hopes up, pal; there are lots of girls around with that colour hair. She has that offer to go to Scotland for the ballet; why would she give that up to watch you in yet another karate match? She's probably seen more than she ever cared about back home, with the rest of the gang.
He concentrated again on his immediate surroundings. When the bouts began, he was focussed, as usual, but couldn't help wishing for his friends. The last important tournament he'd fought in was right after Muranthias, and most of his friends had been there with him. Jason pushed the memory to the back of his mind. That had been almost two years ago; they hadn't been together like that since shortly after graduation. Apart from letters and rare phonecalls, the only link to his past and the Rangers was his deepening friendship with Kat. Instinctively, his eyes wandered towards the section of the bleachers where he'd seen the flash of sunny hair. The young womanhe was sure of it nowsat there, watching the matches avidly, but she was too far away for him to recognize her. The former Ranger shook his head at himself. Why should Kat give up her chance to see the Bolshoy just for you?
Kat watched Jason compete with more absorption than she'd ever had for Tommy, but wasn't really aware of it. She just cheered him on as loudly as she dared, while she waited with bated breath for the results after each bout. She could only just suppress an exuberant shout as he landed the winning blow in the match that would bring him to the semi-finals. The bell rang, and the lights went on again. There would be a half-hour intermission, and the former Pink Ranger felt in need for some fresh air. Fighting the crowds after a brief detour to the restrooms, Kat made her way outside. She didn't care for the milling throng of people who'd had the same idea as herself, and moved around the corner of the building, where she'd seen a small terrace earlier, as she'd been looking for the correct entrance. Kat climbed the outside staircase. When she reached the top, she froze momentarily; a male figure dressed in black was standing at the stone banister, his back to her. Suddenly, her heart began to beat faster. He was wearing a gi, and on the broad back a red embroidered dragon seemed to writhe sinuously with every tiny little movement. The short dark hair and a glint of gold at his left earlobe clinched it.
Stepping closer to the solitary figure on almost-silent feet, Kat felt a smile play around her lips. She watched Jason for a few moments more, the way he drew in deep draughts of the balmy night air, before she spoke softly, not wanting to startle him.
"You looked pretty amazing out there."
Jason whirled around. He hadn't been so absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn't heard someone approachhis reflexes and senses were too well-honed after being a Ranger for so long, and almost a lifetime of Martial Arts, but he'd never expected to hear that particular, softly-accented voice.
The Australian stepped forward, into the faint light from lanterns below.
"In the flesh," she replied, smiling at his thunderstruck expression. She didn't resist as Jason grasped both her hands and pulled her closer. Resting them on his broad shoulders, she gave him a friendly peck on the cheek. The glint of surprise in his dark eyes made way for genuine pleasure as he looked her over.
"Oh man, this is unbelievable! I thought I'd seen you in the audience, but couldn't believe it....What about your trip to Edinburgh? Did it fall through?"
"No," Kat said, hopping onto the banister. She held his gaze as she confessed softly, "Coming here was more important to me. The Bolshoy will come my way another time. Your first big tournament won't."
Jason stepped closer, loosely enfolding her in his arms. He tried telling himself that it was only to prevent Kat from accidentally falling off the low wall, but a small presence at the back of his mind had suddenly gone on full-scale alert. The young woman didn't seem to notice that her friend was holding her almost in an embrace, and Jason shushed the voice that whispered at him to take just one more step, to lift his hands from the railing and place them around the slender back and....
"But Kat....you wanted to go so much..."
"I wanted to come here more." Her tone was warm, friendly, but also quite adamant. "You came to my début last fall, and the least I can do is to return the favour. We're friends; that's what friends do for each other."
"Yeah. Friends," Jason agreed, trying hard to squelch his disappointment. His first visit to London had indeed been meant as a friendly gestureit had cost him little more than his time, after all, and had been a welcome break from studying, but with time, he'd returned again and again because....he wasn't sure. He only knew that Kat was appearing more gorgeous to him every time he saw her, and that he was getting increasingly impatient the closer the time for his visits became. To give them up now was near unthinkable.
The two former Rangers looked at each other consideringly. Suddenly, they both had to laugh, and the slight tension that had sprung up between them with Kat's admission dissolved. Jason relaxed and leaned against the banister next to his blonde friend.
"So...when did you come, and how long can you stay?"
Kat swung her legs a little as she looked at him sideways, a mischievous smile on her lovely face.
"I came this afternoon, and I can stay until tomorrow at five; I'll have to catch the train to Ostend."
Jason nodded; he'd become quite familiar with the ferry schedule, and knew that she'd be on the ten o'clock ferry to Dover.
"Did you book a cabin?"
"No, a sleeper chair; I'll be in London early enough for a shower and change before classes. I'm off early on Mondays, so I can catch up on any sleep I'm going to miss."
"And....what are your plans for tomorrow?"
He felt like pumping his fist in the air at Kat's reply.
"Well, I thought you might perhaps return the favour and show me around Brussels?"
"Gladly." The deep voice had grown slightly husky, and Kat looked at Jason, surprised. The warm glow in his eyes made her catch her breath as he slowly straightened and took up his former position in front of her, his strong arms bracketing her on both sides. Before either could say anything else, however, a distant bell recalled audience and combatants back into the gym hall. Jason stepped back, reluctance in every line of his body. He swallowed once.
Kat slid down from her seat and looked at Jason, as if seeing him for the first time. She'd thought she'd known him well, but all of a sudden his handsome face, his powerful, muscled body had quite a different impact on her than ever before. She could feel her mouth dry up.
"I have to go."
Neither made a move. Then, Jason reached for her hand once more. Stroking the back gently with his thumb, he wouldn't look at her as he made a request.
"Will....will you wait for me here, afterwards?"
Kat's voice was hardly more than a whisper as she answered.
She was released from her momentary paralysis as she took in the smile lighting up his face. He didn't say anything as he was about to turn away, towards the entrance she hadn't noticed before, but Kat couldn't just let him leave like this. She softly called out his name.
Her nickname had never sounded so gentle. She felt her heart beat a little faster.
"Thanks. I'm going to need it."
How could he think that? He was the first Red Ranger, the Gold Ranger; he'd defeated Space Aliens and monsters, what Human opponent could possibly overpower him in a fair fight? Kat put a hand that was not quite steady on the muscular forearm. Earnestly, she looked up the short distance into his eyesJason was not quite as tall as Tommy, but still had a couple of inches on her.
"No, you don't. You can win this."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
The soft voice rang with conviction. Jason looked deeply into the sapphire eyes, which seemed almost as dark as his own in the semi-darkness surrounding them. The trust and belief in them settled into the core deep within him, and he just nodded his acceptance. He really had to leave; the bell had just rung a second time. Still, the two stood, staring at each other. Neither wanted to break away.
A shout of laughter, running footsteps and the slamming of a door below broke the tableau. Jason ran a hand through his short, dark hair, and Kat briefly looked away.
"I..." Words failed Jason. Drawing a ragged breath, he settled for reassurance.
"Are you sure you won't mind waiting?"
"I'm positive. Go, and winI know you can do it."
Kat saw the momentary flicker of doubt cross his features, but also the small ray of hope lighting his eyes. Without thinking, she reinforced the latter in the only way that came to her. She crossed the small distance between them and placed both hands on the broad shoulders, squeezing gently.
"Go. I'll be waiting for you."
Before Jason could answer that, Kat did something to rob him completely of speech. She leaned forward slightly and brushed her soft lips against his, in the lightest of caresses. Then, she was gone, skipping down the stairs and vanishing inside.
He stared after her, stunned speechless and immobile, his lips tingling. He recalled himself with a shake of his head as he heard the coach bellow his name in the distance, and went back inside. The last-minute instructions and the march back into the arena passed him by in a momentary daze, until he found himself back in the spotlight. The announcer introduced the final four combatants, and when his name was called out, Jason automatically zoomed in on the area in the bleachers where he'd seen Kat's sunny hair before. Their eyes met and held across the distance, and suddenly everything came into focus again. The young man took his place on the edge of the mat, kneeling in the traditional position as he waited his turn. If he concentrated, he could still feel the brush of Kat's mouth against his own, and it filled him with joy and confidence. No matter what happened out here tonight, he would still be a winnermaybe, if he was extremely lucky, in more ways than one.
Kat resumed her seat with burning cheeks and her heart beating in her throat. She hardly heard or saw what was going on around her, until Jason turned towards her to look directly into her eyes. She smiled, although it was highly improbable that he'd be able to see it, and finally relaxed. She watched the first pair fight, then sat up straighter as Jason bowed to his opponent. While he jumped, kicked and rolled on the mats, scoring point after point, her thoughts were whirling madly.
Oh God, what have I done? What must he think of me? Whatever made me...kiss...him like that?
Kat trembled slightly at the memory of how warm Jason's lips had felt against hers. Unbidden, on the tail of that, came another thought that sent a fresh rush of colour into her cheeks.
Do I want to do it again? Do I want him to kiss me? And not just fleetingly, but really?Deeply, like a boyfriend? Maybe even .... as a lover, someday?
The answer to all questions, to Kat's surprise, was a resounding "yes". Yet another question popped up as she cheered automatically when Jason scored the winning point with a flawless roundhouse kick.
Am I in love with him? And if I am, when did it happen?
She had no answer to the latter, but the former question brought a rush of warmth and well-being, even of peace, to her. Pushing everything aside, Kat applauded vigorously as Jason My boyfriend? Oh, I hope so! stepped up for the final match. Her heart in her throat, she watched, as mesmerized as the rest of the crowd, as Jason and his opponent, an olive-skinned Frenchman, circled each other. Both were about the same height, but where Jason fought with power and strength, the other brought a cat-like grace and incredible speed into the bout. Both scored even points, neither getting the upper hand. At long last, the Frenchman managed almost to pin Jason down, but it was not enough for a winning point. The former Ranger fought with all his might to prevent being thrown completely to the mat. He closed his eyes briefly to gather his slowly ebbing strength. Twisting as much as he could, he loosened the hold the other had on him slightly, then looked up towards the audience. Dark eyes met blue pools as if drawn by a magnet. What Jason found in them gave him the necessary impetus to heave up and out, twist and deliver a spinning back kick that would have made Chuck Norris proud. His opponent went down and didn't get up again. He'd won.
The crowd went wild as his teammates, the coach and friends from his University swarmed him. For a moment, Jason was disoriented as he was hugged, cheered and jostled. When he came up for air again and searched the bleachers, the pale-gold head was gone.
Kat waited patiently outside the University gym as the crowd of spectators and contestants slowly thinned out. She was shivering slightly; on the outside because it was getting late, and a not-quite gentle breeze blew around the corner, and on the inside, because she did not know what would happen once Jason joined her.
What do I want to happen? She asked herself for the umpteenth time since the intermission. Kat was no closer to an answer when finally the double glass doors opened and a powerful figure in jeans, t-shirt and loose flannel appeared. She slowly straightened from her perch against a walled flower bed as her friend and fellow former Ranger approached her.
Jason dropped his gym bag on the floor and drank in the sight of Kat, from her wind-blown locks and sparkling, questioning eyes down her lithe, willowy figure clad in her trademark pink shirt and white summer slacks to her sandalled feet. His eyes were drawn upwards again and fastened on the soft pink lips. They moved, and he made out the single word with difficulty through his thundering heartbeat.
It was a whisper on the wind, and barely audible, but Jason didn't need to hear. Because Kat's eyes were speaking to him as well, and they were telling him things he'd hoped to hear for a long time now. Smiling his thanks, he took a single step that brought him to her, and Kat found herself enfolded in strong arms that warmed her inside and out. She buried her face in the red-and-black flannel and threaded her arms around Jason's waist. The two held each other for a long time, listening to each other's heartbeat, until another member of the winning Brussels team passed them and said something teasingly to Jason. He released Kat slightly and responded in his accented French. The other young man laughed and sauntered off, as Jason turned back towards her.
"What did he say?" Kat asked, curious. His accent had been unfamiliar to her, her French was not that good to begin with, and she'd been ... distracted. To her surprise, Jason blushed. He slowly, reluctantly released her.
The young man cleared his throat. He could feel his cheeks flaming as he haltingly translated Luc's remark.
"He...he said that I'm twice lucky tonight...to win the tournament and....and get the pretty blonde."
Katherine felt her own blush rise up from her toes. She almost didn't hear Jason's mumbled next words.
"Yeah, don't I wish."
Suddenly, the butterflies that had plagued her ever since that fleeting touch of her lips against his were back with a vengeance. In hardly more than a whisper, she asked.
"Wish ... what, Jason?"
He met her eyes. Swallowing hard, he gambled everything on the hope that suddenly rose brightly within him.
"That I'd really won the pretty blonde."
All at once, her doubts vanished. Kat reached out to the young man, her friend, her former teammate, and gently touched Jason's cheek with her fingertips. Trailing them downwards to his lips, which opened on an indrawn breath, she smiled tremulously and sought out the midnight eyes. Looking deeply and finding everything she'd ever wished for, she moved closer, back into his instinctive embrace, her voice sultry and sure.
"Who says you haven't?"
Jason's breath caught for a moment, then he felt his heart begin to race. Pulling Kat even more tightly to him, his voice was husky and deeper than usual as he whispered her name.
Further words became superfluous as their lips met and clung, opening to each other in an exchange as old as time.
Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006
Kat sighed softly and curled up against her husband's chest as Jason's mouth released her own and wandered up into her hair. She tilted her head and looked lovingly into his dark eyes.
"That was the first time you called me 'Kath' instead of 'Kat'."
" I just like it better; it's a bit softer, more gentle....just like you." Jason pecked her nose playfully. "Besides, I never really saw you as a cat."
"No? What then?" His wife cast him a slightly wary look.
"Are you sure you want to know?" The deep organ shook with suppressed laughter.
Kat sat up straighter. Turning slightly so that she could look into eyes sparkling with mischief, she fixed her brand-new husband with a mock glare.
"Yes, I think I do. Out with it, Jason Scott, or I'll...."
"You'll...what?" He tugged at her hair playfully.
"I'll think of something, don't worry." Kat tried and failed to look menacing. Jason pulled her back into his arms, thinking her adorable when he ruffled her feathers. Which is why he loved doing it so much.
"Okay, but remember, you asked."
Looking his wife over critically and earning himself a playful swat, he seemed to consider the matter carefully.
"Well, you're tall, and graceful, and when you move .... especially when you run .... you sort of remind me of a horse."
"A...what?!" He grinned at her expression, which was a mixture of indignant and incredulous.
"Yeah....have you ever seen an Arabian thoroughbred move? When I was in Geneva, one of the study tours took us to a horse-breeding facility in Morocco. The horses there....the way they ran, and played....pure poetry in motion. Power, speed and grace. That's what I see when I look at you."
He kissed her again. Only slightly mollified, Kat settled back into Jason's arms. A look at him confirmed her suspicion that that wasn't all. He noticed, and his grin broadened.
"Of course, if you really don't care about the comparison, there's another I could have made..."
Kat tried to brace herself against an even more outrageous epithet. Her loving husband didn't disappoint her.
"Oh, if a horseor maybe steed would be a better wordis too big or whatever for you, you sometimes also remind me of a whippet."
For a moment, Kat was pleased, then the full picture descended on her with Jason's next words.
"Of course, since whippets are dogs, and you are female, that'd make you a..." He yelped as she pinched him, hard, torn between outrage and laughter.
"Ouch; that hurt!" He tried to assume an expression of wounded innocence. Kat just glared at him, trying to control her twitching lips. Jason tried once again.
"Ah, I've got it ... a fawn? Of course, you'd have to dye your hair brown for that....and your eye-colour is all wrong, too..."
Kat gave up the struggle against her laughter. He was impossible to deal with when in this mood. Instead, she settled for as dire a threat as she could think of.
"Jason, I swear, if I didn't love you so much, I'd....I'd...." she never got to finish.
Jason gathered her close again, chuckling, but his eyes still sparkled with unholy mirth.
"And I love you. More than ever."
The blue eyes softened, as they always did when Jason expressed his feelings for her in that tender, husky tone that sent shivers down her spine. Today no less than the first time he'd done so, all those years ago....
London, the weekend before Valentine's Day, 2000
Kat folded Tommy's letter into the precise creases it'd been in. Although they hadn't been a couple for quite some time, they still stayed loosely in contact as friends, like with Rocky and Adamor Billy, who had come back from Aquitar for reasons as yet unknown. He was now at MIT, breezing through his studies and headed for his first doctorate.
It should have come as no surprise to herTommy had accepted a place on a racing team based in Daytona, and with Kimberly still in Florida, training hard for the Olympics in her own hometown of Sydney this summer, it probably had been inevitable that the two had reconnected. They weren't a couple again yet, but had sorted out their relationship and were prepared to try again once Kim was under less pressure.
Katherine was happy and more than that with Jason, but it still hurt, in ways she wasn't altogether comfortable with. She'd always felt that she couldn't quite live up to the first Pink Ranger, that she somehow fell short. Everybody had always told her she was being ridiculous, but the irrational nagging had persisted. It had gotten better once she gained distance, emotionally and geographically, but the letter brought it all back. She appreciated Tommy's honesty in telling her himself, rather than let her hear it third- or fourth-hand from one of their friends, but still....she'd invested so much of her heart into that first love, that she couldn't help but reflect on what might have been.
The dancer sighed. She looked out into the drizzly gray sky, feeling depressed and lonely. It was only a few days until Valentine's Day, and the cheery decorations, hearts and flowers in the shop windows made her want to scream. To top it all off, her teacher, a tiny, ethereal woman in her early forties, had made a few remarks about her that stung, reminding her of the time after graduating from school when she'd become obsessed with her weight. Kat knew that she was a bit on the tall side for a dancer; since most male dancers weren't very tall, the added height of dancing on her toes made her tower over most of her fellow students. Her build was perfectly proportionate to her height, but Madame Orlovska's words made her feel fat and ungainly. Elissa wasn't home to commiserate with her; Kat checked her watch and came to a decision.
Money be damned! I need to talk to somebody who will make me feel better!
She reached for the phone and dialled a number on the Continent, with a Brussels area code.
I just hope he's in...
Jason arrived by train on Saturday morning; Kat met him at Victoria Station and the two set off, towards the theatre district. Jason inquired earnestly after the reasons for her not-quite frantic phonecall, but now that he was actually here, Kat found herself perversely unwilling to talk. Only yesterday Mme. Orlovska had made another scathing remark concerning her, markedly singling out the shorter, tinier, slimmer students. Kat was trying valiantly not to let it bother her, but wasn't very successful. Still, for Jason's sake, she attempted to make light of it when he insisted on knowing, to play all the little and not so little hurts down.
They strolled around Covent Garden, watching tourists and locals mingle with young and old street buskers around the square; then made their way through small sidestreets to Chinatownalthough the name "town" was rather misleading. Basically, it was one street running parallel to Shaftesbury Avenue, but cordoned off to permit only foot traffic, with street signs and phone booths all lettered in Chinese. They picked an inexpensive restaurant to have lunch, and finally Jason had a chance to cut through his girlfriend's determined chatter.
They were sharing a pot of jasmine tea against the February chill outside when he grasped her hands in his. Lifting them to his lips and gently caressing the knuckles, he made his voice as gentle as he knew how.
"Kath? Kath honey, what's wrong?"
She wouldn't meet his eyes. Instead, Jason felt her fingers convulse slightly in his own. He brushed a soft kiss against one palm.
His tone of voice was enough to make Kat blush guiltily. It was warm, tender, understanding, but it also told her that Jason saw right through her, and wouldn't be put off any longer with lame excuses and evasions. In her present state of mind, it made her even more irrationally edgy. And yet, she tried to tamp down on her roiling emotions. Looking at Jason from under her lashes, she impatiently freed one of her hands and brushed back her hair. Stalling a bit, Kat put a mock scowl on her face.
"You think you know me pretty well, don't you?" Her tone was sharper than she'd intended, and Jason frowned slightly.
"Don't I?" He countered her question with one of his own. Reaching out, he trailed the back of his hand down her cheek, and that was enough. Tears began to fill the blue eyes and threatened to spill over. Quickly, Jason abandoned his seat opposite Kat and sat down next to her, pulling her face against his broad shoulder. The blonde buried her face in his grey turtleneck and sobbed a couple of times before she got a hold of herself once more. Fumbling for a tissue, she nearly upended her large purse over the small table. Jason grinned involuntarily as he caught a pen, a hairbrush and a small, rolled-up umbrella just in time before they ended on the floor.
I'll never understand what she needs all this stuff for!
He surveyed the assorted paraphernalia amusedly while Kat blew her nose and wiped at her eyes. She caught his smile and bit back a sharp remark. It wasn't Jason's fault that she was so out of sorts; on the contrary, he'd come as soon as possible after her weepy phonecall two days ago, and was so nice and considerate....
So why is he setting my teeth so on edge?
Kat had no answer. Deciding that she had nothing to lose, she haltingly confessed her woes to him, starting with her teacher's slurs against her. Airing her complaints made them seem as petty and small as they really were, and Jason's understanding and gentle humour, spiced with a few choice remarks about Madame Orlovska, whom he'd had the displeasure to meet once, soon after they'd started dating seriously, soon brought a watery smile to her lips.
"I ... I'm sorry, Jase; I don't know why she suddenly gets to me so much." She poured another cup of tea. Reaching for the sugarbowl, she suddenly stopped herself. Mme Orlovska's barbs might not be true, but they still stungand there was a kernel of truth in themas a dancer, she couldn't afford any extra weight. It fanned the still-glowing embers of her temper, but Kat swallowed it down. Instead, she opened a packet of sweetener and stirred the two tiny tablets into her tea. She sipped the hot liquid with a grimace.
Jason lifted his own cup. Jasmine tea was not his favourite, but it was hot, and it seemed to soothe Kat. However, as the silence lengthened and the sapphire pools remained shadowed, he slipped an arm around her waist and squeezed gently.
"What else is bothering you, Kath?"
For a minute, Kat balked at giving her boyfriend the answer he deserved, but she really needed to get it off her chest. She was about to snuggle a bit more deeply into his arm, when a waiter jostled Jason's elbow, nearly upending a bowl of soup over him. With a regretful smile, Jason resumed his former seat. He held her hand in his, and rested his cheek in her palm. Kat could feel his warm breath waft over her wrist, and it sent a tiny shiver down her spine. Normally, she welcomed these tiny little signs of their growing intimacy, but today it only served to irritate her once more. She withdrew her hand from his and played restlessly with her belongings, which still lay scattered over the small table.
Kat drew a deep breath. Releasing it slowly, she couldn't look Jason in the eye as she mumbled out the real reason for her edginess.
"I ... I got a letter from Tommy the other day. From Florida."
She blushed a dull red. Jason knew that Tommy still sent her an occasional message, just as he received mail from the other female Rangers. He'd never seemed to mind, but somehow, this felt .. different. Kat couldn't look up, but noticed the slight stiffening in the powerful body across the table. The deep voice, however, stayed as calm and understanding as before.
"Ah. He told you, then?"
"What?!" She looked up sharply. The dark eyes regarded her with warm sympathy. "Are you telling me you ... you knew that he's taken up with Kimberly again?"
"Kath ... Tommy and I are best friends. Always have been, always will be. It was only natural that he'd tell me."
The Australian felt her temper rise from simmering to a slow boil.
"Why didn't you tell me?!" Fresh tears were threatening to spill over, and she dashed them impatiently away. Jason handed her another tissue, and tried to ignore her wrathful glance as she accepted it. "At least then I'd've had some warning!"
Jason sobered. This went far beyond anything he'd expected once Kat knew. He tried not to let it hurt him, that she still seemed so strongly affected by the fact that Tommy and Kim were starting over. Instead, he reached for a slim hand once more.
"Because Tommy asked me not to; he felt you deserved to hear it from him. Of course, if I'd known it'd take him three weeks to get around to contacting you ..."
"You knew for three weeks about this and you didn't think I might want to know? Is Tommy more important to you than I?" Her voice rose, and with an effort Kat brought it back down. The need for quiet in this public place grated on her nerves, making her even crankier. What's wrong with me? Why do I get so bent out of shape? I have Jason nowwhy am I still so obsessed about Tommy? Kat had no answer for the voice inside her head.
"Kat....you, and Tommy, are the two most important people in my life, next to my parents. Of course I wanted you to know, but I couldn't break my promise, once I'd given it."
Kat nodded reluctantly. She'd always known that, once given, Jason's word was his bond. Truthfully, it was one of the things she liked so much about him. Still, it wasn't easy to accept in her present mood. She almost missed his next question.
"Kath ... what's getting to you so much? I thought you'd told me it was over between you."
She heard the slight note of pain he couldn't quite keep out in Jason's voice, and it made her feel like a heel. It was her turn to reach for his hand and grip it reassuringly. Dredging up a smile, Kat finally looked at him. Her lips were quivering as she answered.
"It is over. It's just ... oh Jase, I don't know!" She almost wailed, looking down at their joined hands. "Everything's just piling up on me, I guess ... I failed a written test and have to take it again, I pulled a muscle last week, and it still hurts when I walk or dance, the others at school are nasty to me, Orlovska's comments aren't helping, I'm trying to lose weight, I really am, but I'm hungry, and you had to cancel last weekend, and I miss you, and I'm sick and tired of the rain and the cold and of Valentine's Day on Monday when everybody will have someone, only you'll be in Brussels, and I want to go home, and...."
Jason couldn't help himself, he had to laugh. Her litany came out in such a rush, and Kat looked so ... cute, like a lost little girl as she blurted out all the things that had piled up on her, that he could only lift her hands to his mouth once more, kissing the smooth backs as he tried to control his twitching lips. He couldn't hide the amusement in his voice or the merry twinkle in his eyes, however, as he tried to calm his girlfriend down.
"And on top of that, your former boyfriend writes you he's getting back together with his former girlfriend, which your current boyfriend knew...."
Kat had to laugh, as well. Jason's irreverent humour and well-developped sense of the ridiculous were infectious, and she blushed slightly.
"Yeah, something like that."
She tried to look away, but Jason wouldn't let her. He put two fingers under her chin and met her still-stormy blue eyes.
"Poor baby," he said soothingly. He didn't mean to sound patronizing, but somehow, that's how it seemed to Kat. She clenched her teeth against a fresh outburst as he released her and reached for his backpack, which rested under the table. Rummaging briefly around, he finally found what he was looking for under his change of clothes, and pulled out a roughly book-sized package, wrapped in pink with a shiny, somewhat rumpled red bow and a Valentine heart dangling from it.
"Here. Hope this will cheer you up a bit," he said as he handed the young woman the package. Kat took it somewhat dubiously, muttering her thanks automatically as she turned it over in her hands. It was slightly smaller than a legal pad, and maybe two inches high; as she hefted it, it rattled slightly, and it wasn't heavy enough to be a book. Skeptically, she looked at Jason.
"What is it?"
"Your Valentine. Since I can't be here Monday, I thought, instead of mailing it, I'd give it to you in person."
"Thanks. I... I didn't get anything for you, though ... I didn't think ..."
"That's okay, Kath. If you hadn't called, I'd have come next weekend, as planned. The way it turned out, I'll have to cancel that," Jason said, regretfully. They had intended on attending a rock concert together; now Kat would have to find someone else to give his ticket to, or go alone. But he couldn't afford two visits that shortly after another, and he had to make up the study time he'd lost by coming here this weekend. Not for the first time, he silently cursed the fact that the two of them were living in different cities, not to mention countries. Long-distance relationships suck, big time! No wonder Tommy had so much trouble, with both Kim and Kat. But I'm not gonna let that happen to Kath and me! No way!
"Go on, open it," he urged her gently, as Katherine tried to fight down a new surge of disappointment. She'd really been looking forward to having Jason accompanying her to the concert; for once, it was a group they both liked, neither her favourite solo artists, nor his more customary hard-rock bands.
Kat carefully unwrapped the shimmering pink paper. She caught her breath as the box inside became visiblebut not with delight. Rather, her heart began to beat rapidly with her growing anger. As she peeled the wrapping off, her worst suspicions were confirmedthe gold-coloured carton bore the logo of a well-known Belgian chocolate factory; one that produced totally delicious, but sinfully rich pralinés with cream or truffle fillings. By the size and weight of it, it contained at least half a pound of assorted chocolates. Jason had introduced her to the calorie-laden treat on her first visit to Brussels, and knew how irresistible they were to her. Normally, she'd have scolded him for spending too much money on things that were designed to settle on her hips as soon as she consumed them, but eaten the first one right away. Today, it was the straw that broke the camel's backor, in this case, caused Kat's already frayed temper to explode.
Pushing back her chair, she jumped up and lit into him, keeping her voice down with the utmost effort.
"You....you insensitive jerk! How could you?!"
Furious, she stared at him, her eyes shooting blue fire. Before Jason could answer, Kat ranted on.
"I just told you that I need to lose weight, that Orlovska thinks I'm too fat anyway, and you go and buy me chocolates?! I told you on Thursday that I can't afford this! But no, Mr High-and-Mighty Scott knows better, don't you? Haven't you any regard for my feelings?"
She didn't let him continue. Eyes dark with fury and brimming with tears, she began to stuff her belongings indiscriminately into her purse.
"I don't want to hear your lame excuses! If you cared about me anything at all, you'd never have been so thoughtless and .... and...." she sobbed with anger.
Jason sat back, stunned at her tirade. It was obvious that Kat was in no mood to listen to anything he might have to say, but he tried nonetheless.
"Kath, please, just listen to me! It's not what you think; if you'd just open it..."
"You don't know what I'm thinking! And you know what, Jason? I don't care! In fact, I don't care about you! I don't care if I never see you again!"
With that parting shot, Kat turned and ran out of the restaurant, leaving her boyfriend behind with her lipstick, her umbrella, a vial of aspirin (all of which had been in her purse before she upended it)and the bill. Jason caught a glimpse of her face as she dashed through the door; the tears had already begun to flow, and he desperately wantedneeded to talk to Kat, but couldn't follow her just yet. The waiter, who had observed the little scene with barely disguised interest, was gratifyingly prompt in bringing the bill, but by then it was too late. Kat had disappeared in the crowd. Sighing, Jason sat back in his seat and poured the last of the tea. Sipping the warm liquid slowly, he tried to decide what to do.
The wrapping paper had fluttered to the floor at Kat's hasty departure, but in her agitation, she had stuffed the offending package into her purse, along with most of her other things. That was a good sign, wasn't it?
I just hope she takes it back home; if she trashes it on the way...
Jason refused to consider that possibility. And even if Kat was still upset enough to do that, there were other ways to give her the message he'd hidden in the package. But maybe it would be better to let her calm down for a while. With another sigh, he got up to take a look at a daily newspaper that was available to patrons. If he had to spend his evening alone, he might as well check out the movie listings.
Kat stormed into the apartment she shared with Elissa Hunyadi. The door banged shut after her, and she threw herself onto the couch, still fighting angry tears. Her roommate looked up from her book, took in the stormy countenance, and wordlessly turned off the stereo. This would need her full attention.
When Kat wouldn't speak, even after a wait of several minutes, the slender redhead sat down next to her friend and took the clenched fists in her hands.
"Kat? Kat, what's the matter? Where's Jason?"
Lissa recoiled as Kat sat up with an angry hiss that would have frightened a fellow feline.
"Don't talk to me about him!"
Elissa shook her head in confusion.
"I don't understand. Just this morning, you could hardly wait for his train to come in, because the thought of seeing him cheered you up so much, and now you don't want to talk about him? Why? I thought you were glad he could find the time to come today instead of next week...."
"That was before that...that...insensitive idiot had the nerve to bring me ... this!" Kat jerked the offending package out of her purse and slammed it on the coffee table. She'd been very much tempted to just toss it as she'd noticed its bulk on her way home, but something had made her stop.
Lissa recognized the brown-on-gold logo as well as she barely caught the box before it slid to the floor.
"That's all you have to say?" demanded Kat, still furious.
"Kat, what do you expect me to say? Jason knows how much you love these chocolates. A box this size can't have been cheap. He tried to do something nice for you. True, under the circumstances, it was maybe an unlucky choice, but..."
"Unlucky? Maybe? Lissa, there's no 'maybe' about it! He's an insensitive jerk, and I told him so! I hope I never see him again!"
Her friend stared at her, shocked into speechlessness. Lissa almost couldn't believe her ears. She'd never seen Kat this upset before. She watched the Australian simmer angrily for a while, then tentatively picked up the package. When Katherine seemed sunk in sullen misery, her friend tried for a friendly, noncommittal tone of voice.
"What do you want to do with this?" She indicated the box of chocolates.
Kat glowered impartially at her friend and the object in question.
"Nothing. I certainly don't want it."
"Look, Lissa, I don't care! Toss it, eat it, give it awayit's all the same to me! Just get it out of my sight!"
"Boy, you're really angry at Jason, aren't you?"
"You haven't seen angry yet. If he were here right now...!" With that dire threat, Kat turned away, to finally hang up her jacket and put her shoes into the hallway closet. Lissa heard the bathroom door open and close, and the sound of running water a few minutes later. Sighing, she put on the tea kettle. While the tea steeped, she eyed the gold box consideringly. She had to be careful about her weight as wellwhat dancer didn't?but surely a single piece couldn't hurt? Besides, Kat had practically given them to her....Her mouth watering despite herself, the Hungarian opened the lid of the box just as Kat reentered the small living room. Bewildered, Lissa stared into the open box. Instead of neatly packed squares of white and brown chocolate, filled with a variety of meltingly soft confections, she saw....
"What." Kat's anger was slowly dissipating, but now she felt even worse than before. Her reply was listless and disinterested as she wandered over to the window.
"Kat, I think you should be unpacking this."
"I know what those chocolates look like. I don't need to be tempted that way."
"But Kat...there are no chocolates in here."
"Excuse me?" Kat turned away from the window, where she had stared into the rainy sky, her thoughts as leaden as the clouds overhead.
"Look." Lissa tilted the open carton so that her friend could take a look at the contents.
"A....a box of muesli?"
Slowly, Kat made her way over and took the box from Elissa. She looked questioningly into her hazel eyes, but Lissa just shrugged and sat back on the couch. After a moment, the blonde knelt in front of the coffee table and opened the cereal package. Inside, there was another box.
"Birdseed?" Kat removed a succession of cardboard containers, each one smaller than the one before...frozen lasagna, fish fingers, a cheese carton...until she reached the last oneabout the size of a pack of cigarettes, or a cake of soap. This, however, was not some relic from a bachelor's kitchen, but rather a store-bought pink box with a proper lid. Kat closed her eyes for a moment. She felt absolutely terrible about the way she had lashed out at Jason. He hadn't been an insensitive jerk after all; instead, he'd gone to a lot of trouble to cheer her up by collecting so many silly boxes, fitting them all into each other until they really resembled a Leonidas gift package. Of course, to fool her, he had put the whole shebang into an original box. Kat held the small pink container in trembling hands. It rattled slightly, and although she was almost afraid to look at the contents, she couldn't stand not knowing.
She lifted the lid carefully and stared inside. Lissa, who had watched the growing pile of cardboard containers with proportionally increasing amusement, saw to her astonishment that Kat blanched almost sheet-white and big tears began to roll down her cheeks. Only when one splashed into the open box did Kat wipe them away and meet her friend's eyes.
"Oh, God, Lissa....what have I done?"
"Why? Kat, what is it?"
The Australian just shook her head. Wordlessly, she handed the small box over as her tears began to fall even faster. Lissa took it gingerly from her and peered inside. She caught her breath at the contents, and could only shake her head in exasperation and compassion.
"Oh, Kat....that's so sweet....and you chewed him out for this?"
The former Pink Ranger had no answer as she took back Jason's gift, looking again at the fragile container. This last box did indeed contain chocolatea single piece of her favourite whipped cream-nut filling in white chocolate, with a hazelnut on top. It was carefully wrapped in cellophane, and lay on a small card on which Jason had written two short sentences in his distinctive bold script. It was those two sentences which caused her tears to fall as she read them once more, whispering the words to herself.
"You will always be beautiful to me. I love you. Jason."
Kat raised stricken eyes to her friend. In a choked voice, she tried hard to produce a coherent sentence.
"Lissa....h-he's never told me that b-before..."
Sobs began to wrack her lithe frame. Elissa scooted over and draped a comforting arm about Kat's shoulder. The Australian buried her face in her hands as the enormity of her misconception began to dawn on her.
"Oh God, Lissa, what if I've lost him? I was so mean to him...."
"Kat, a man who goes to so much trouble to tell a girl he loves her doesn't give up on her this easily."
She looked at her roommate with eyes that were still brimming with tears.
"Y-you think so?"
"Yes, I do. However....." Elissa trailed off, choosing her next words with care.
"I think you need to take a good look at why you've been so upset that you could fly off the handle like that."
Kat just lowered her head as a fresh flood of tears streamed down her cheeks. She knew she was blushing guiltily, and that her friend was right. After Jason's written declaration, he deserved nothing less than an abject apology for her outburst .... and an honest answer. If he ever spoke to her again.
The next morning, Kat wandered into the tiny kitchen still in her pyjamas, looking rumpled and rather the worse for wear. Yesterday afternoon, evening and night had not been comfortable for her, what with all the soul-searching she had done. She had slept restlessly, crying often as she lay in her darkened room. As a result, her nose was shiny and red, and she had dark circles under her eyes. But she knew her own mind nowhad let go of the past and her lingering insecurities. For all her protestations to Jason in the beginning, she knew now that losing Tommy had had a far more lasting effect on her than she'd thought. However, it was time to move onand she wanted to move on with Jason. Her feelings when she realized that her involvement with the Red Zeo Ranger was coming to an end were nothing compared to the thought that she might have driven the first Red Ranger out of her life permanently. Losing Tommy to time and distance hadn't been half as painful as the realization that she must have hurt Jason with her outburst yesterday.
I only hope he can forgive me! If...when he comes, I'll tell him....he means more to me than anything!
Elissa looked up from the Sunday paper as she heard the shuffling footsteps. She watched in silence as Kat poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table, sipping listlessly. Wisely, she said nothing. Kat had worked through a lot last night, on her own and by using her as a sounding board. The Hungarian dancer had been astonished to learn that her lovely, sunny-dispositioned friend carried so many unresolved feelings within her. Hopefully, she had finally gained some perspective. As she'd gotten to know Jason over the last year or so, Lissa had come to respect the young man in his own right, and thought that he was exactly what her friend needed. Now it only remained to be seen if he was willing to wait for Kat to come to her senses. The dancer smiled slightly to herself. Somehow, she had a feeling the law student wouldn't give up easily. A glance at the infamous gold-coloured carton only reinforced that emotion.
Katherine couldn't sit still for long. She had no idea where Jason was staying; true, normally he checked in at the YMCA, but what if they hadn't had a vacancy? It had happened before....the only thing she could do was wait for him to come to her. Prowling around the tiny apartment, she was aware of her friend's scrutiny, but didn't care. Her thoughts were consumed with the need to talk to her boyfriend, to tell him she'd gotten his message, to let him know she cared ... Kat sighed deeply.
"Lis....what if he doesn't come back? What if I've lost him?"
She felt a single tear slide down her cheek and sniffed inelegantly.
Elissa got up, tore off a piece of kitchen paper and handed it to her friend. As she passed the living room window, she happened to look outside. It was early still, especially for a Sunday morning, and there weren't many people up and about. A slow smile spread over her face as she watched Kat dab at her red-rimmed eyes.
"I don't think you have to worry about that."
Kat looked at her, despair clouding the blue eyes.
"You don't know that, Lis. You haven't heard what I said to him, how I bawled him out...."
"Somehow, I'm convinced it doesn't really matter." With a slightly broader smile, the Hungarian gestured towards the window. Kat's gaze followed automatically, and her breath caught in her throat. There, on the other side of the road, stood a powerfully built young man with short dark hair, dressed in jeans, a white woolly turtleneck and familiar leather jacket. Every now and then, he would look up to their window, a doubtful expression on his handsome face.
Kat froze, drinking in the familiar sight. Her lips worked soundlessly as she watched him turn away again to wander a few steps down the street, then return to his vantage point. Finally, her vocal chords managed to produce a sound.
The blonde suddenly was released from her almost-paralysis. Turning on her heels, she dashed towards the door, only barely remembering to snag her jacket from the wardrobe on her way out.
Jason saw the front door of Kat's house open just as he was about to walk to the phone booth he could see at the next street corner. He wanted to call Kat before he rang the doorbell; if she was still angry with him, he didn't want to subject himself to another tirade. Her angry outburst had shocked and hurt him, but he loved her too much not to try again. He watched, astonished at first, then with growing amusement, as the willowy figure meandered through the sparse traffic. He'd never seen cool, serene, beautiful Kat quite in this state. With an effort, he controlled his twitching lips as he took in her appearance. Clad only in thin pink pyjamas, her pale-gold hair a flyaway mess, she clutched at her jacket as she approached him. Jason dared not look at her feet; the fuzzy pink slippers with the moving plastic eyes and silly embroidered face were a bit much this early in the morning.
Kat stopped her mad dash a few feet from her boyfriend. She drank in the sight of him, her heart beating madly. All night long she'd rehearsed the things she wanted to say to him if ... when ... he came back to her, but now her mind was a total blank. A cautious look into the dark eyes brought a tiny surge of hope to her, though. Jason didn't seem too angry with her, not if he could still look at her with so much warmth and understanding. However, he made no move towards her. Swallowing hard, she made the first overture, as she knew she must.
"I ... I opened your package." The softly-accented voice was rough with the tears she had shed throughout the night.
"Ah." Jason would give nothing away, although his heart began to beat faster with a surge of hope. He continued to watch her struggle with her emotions. At last, Kat stepped closer and met his gaze hesitantly.
"D-did you mean it?"
He didn't pretend to misunderstand her. Jason knew exactly what Kat was referring to.
He almost lost it himself as he saw a glittering teardrop course down the soft cheek.
"Jason, I...I'm s-sorry..." Kat couldn't go on. She didn't need to. Jason just pulled her close, enfolding her in a warm hug.
"I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have teased you like that."
"No, no, it was perfect..." her voice was muffled as she buried her face in his broad shoulder, inhaling his scent. Kat had never felt so safe, or content, although her heart was beating madly. Jason felt it hammering against his own. He trailed a hand up to her soft hair and touched her wet cheek. As Kat looked at him, he smiled lovingly. Holding her like this felt so right, he couldn't hold on to any resentment he still might have felt. He tilted the lovely face towards his. The deep voice was husky and sent shivers down Kat's spine as he repeated directly to her what he'd written on that small card buried in almost a dozen cardboard containers.
"I love you, Kath. Just the way you are."
Kat smiled through her tears. She knew that now, after last night, she could give him an honest answer, as she might not have been able to yesterday.
"I love you, too, Jason. With all my heart."
She was rewarded with a blazing look that lit the dark eyes, and Jason crushed her to him. They stood in the middle of the pavement, lost in each other, and totally oblivious to the amused glances of passers-by. At last, Jason noticed that the young woman in his arms was trembling. Concerned, he lifted his head from the sweet-smelling locks, but had to chuckle softly as he realized Kat had to be freezing in the chill February air. She gave him a sheepish smile as she blushed, trying to pull her jacket closed once more.
He threw his head back and laughed, bussing her soundly on her quivering lips.
"Come on, lovelet's get you inside and dressed!"
Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006
"I still can't believe I ran out on the street wearing only my pyjamas," Kat groused as she set down her champagne flute on the table.
"Oh, I dunnoyou looked rather cute. I especially liked those slippers."
Jason's grin was engaging as he refilled both their glasses and settled back, pulling his bride across his lap once more. Kat tucked her feet under her long nightgown and looked at Jason, a pretty frown creasing her forehead momentarily. As always, Jason smoothed it away with his lips.
"Will you ever let me live down those slippers?"
"Hmmm....can I get back to you on that? In about twenty years or so?"
"Oh, you..." Katherine's pout was irresistible, and Jason brushed his mouth softly against hers.
"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone ... well, maybe our kids, when they are complaining about their oh-so-strict mom."
A pleasant shiver crawled down Kat's spine as she imagined briefly what her and Jason's children might look like. She'd adore a little boy with his father's indomitable spirit, and if possible, she'd like to give her husband a little girl who would wrap him around a tiny finger....maybe one more....they were both only children, and wanted to have a larger, but not too large family. Kat knew Jason would be a good father, and thankfully their friends would fill the places of aunts and uncles, like they were already doing for precious Jasmine Park, the flower girl at their wedding. She'd looked so adorable, with her coffee-and-cream skin and large, almond-shaped eyes....Tanya and Adam were rightly proud of their three-year-old daughter.
Coming out of her pleasurable daydream, Kat just smiled serenely.
"Oh yes....then I can tell them about the time their dad strutted down a catwalk in a silver lamé shirt, just to impress a girl he wanted to date!"
"Oh God, don't remind me! Every time I run into Eddie at work, he tells anybody who will listen that I once used to date his wife! As if a police sergeant has nothing better to do than hassle an overworked, underpaid Assistant D.A.!"
"Can you blame him? Emily carried a torch for you a long time."
He inhaled deeply. They had not parted on the best of terms then, but had achieved a friendly relationship by now.
"Just like you did with Tommy?"
Kat had the grace to blush as she once more recalled that long-ago Valentine's Day weekend. Absently, she slipped a hand into Jason's open white shirt, softly caressing his tanned shoulder with her fingertips. She didn't notice the tiny intake of breath the gesture caused. She had wrestled so hard with her emotions that night....
"You know.... when I calmed down after I'd read your note, I realized something... I'd never really been in love with Tommy."
"Excuse me? You could have fooled us all, then." Jason's tone was non-accusatory. He had seen his wife and his best friend together, while they were still a couple, but he also knew that Kat's love for him was genuine.
"No, really. Of course, I was attracted to himTommy is gorgeous, after all." Kat cast a slightly mischievous look at her husband. It had become something of a joke between them and the Olivers recently, to praise each other's looks.
"I think ... I fell more in love with the White Ranger than with Tommy," she continued. "He was the quintessential Hero at the timetall, dark, handsome, a Power Ranger, a bit mysterious, that loner aura he gives off .... and he was unavailable. He was safe to have a crush on, because he was so obviously in love with Kim. Then, she left for Florida. Suddenly, there Tommy was ... just as lonely as I felt, although I was on the team and friends with the others. I guess that's when my feelings got a bit out of hand. Did you know I even used to wear shirts with his Zeo symbol? I was pretty pathetic."
Jason kissed his wife consolingly.
"Pretty, I grant you. Pathetic....I don't think so. It's never pathetic to care for someone."
"You're sweet," Kat murmured, returning the kiss. "But seriouslywhen Kim broke up with Tommy, all I could see was that now my dreams could come true. I never stopped to consider if those dreams were realisticif we really would be right for each other. Then, after giving up our Powers, it was so hard to let go of those dreams...."
"I know what you mean. And besides, it was a bit much all at once, wasn't it? Leaving your friends to live in another country, passing on your Powers, losing Tommy the way he lost Kimberly that time...."
"Exactly. Then, you came back into my life. I didn't fall in love with you the way I fell for Tommy; what I feel for you grew slowly, it didn't hit me over the head all at once. When I thought I might have driven you away through sheer stupidity, I realized that, although we had been Rangers together as well, I didn't love Jason the Gold Ranger, but Jason Scott the man. And that made all the difference."
Jason enfolded Kat in his arms. They had talked about this during that weekend they'd hardly done anything but talk, if one didn't count the time they spent just holding and kissing each other, but it still made him feel about ten feet tall to hear his Kath tell him this. His voice was a soft rumble as he reaffirmed his feelings for his beautiful wife.
"I know. It took me quite some time before I could bring myself to say it to you. I wanted to be completely sure that I was telling the truth before I told you I love you."
Kat smiled a bit mistily into the midnight eyes which looked at her with so much sincerity.
"I knew that as soon as I read your note. You wouldn't have told me at all if it hadn't been true. Besides, even if I hadn't known, you demonstrated that to me every time we were together...."
Another, even more precious memory engulfed the newlyweds.
Paris, July 2000
"Jason, no! I'm not going up Magic Mountain! No way!"
"Oh, come on, Kath! What's the use of being at Disneyland if you're not going to go on all the rides?"
Jason cajoled his pretty companion with an engaging, thoroughly mischievous smilean expression he knew from experience Kat couldn't resist. Sure enough, the blonde dancer let herself be tugged to the waiting line, grumbling all the way. She shrieked with only half-feigned terror as they began their descent, and the former Ranger was only too happy to enfold her in his arms. Not that he needed an excuse, but still...
The two were spending a long weekend in Paris, to celebrate Katherine's twenty-first birthday. The trip to Disneyland Paris was Jason's present to heralong with a delicate silver charm bracelet, on which hung a tiny enamelled nutcracker. It symbolized the first ballet Kat had danced in as a professional, and Jason fully intended to give her similar charms for as many classical roles as he could find. He'd already bought a delicate swan, because the year's end performance, for which Kat was already studying, was going to be Swan Lake.
They'd taken a sightseeing tour the day before, and they had another two days before they had to return to their respective schools. Both were taking summer classesKat, because she wanted to train in choreography, and Jason to work up extra credit for his eventual admittance to a prestigious school back in the States. Therefore, they were unable to take long vacations, but still spent as much of their free time together as they could, taking short trips all over Europe. Tomorrow night, Kat had tickets for the Paris ballet; a generous present from her parents, who'd been unable to come. Until then, they made the most of the various attractions the City of Lights had to offer.
Kat determinedly walked towards a nearby bench after they'd gotten off the ride. Her knees were wobbly, but she was breathless with laughter. Still, as much fun as Disneyland was, she'd about had enough. The Australian lifted pleading eyes up to her grinning boyfriend.
"Jase, please ... no more?"
He sat down next to her.
"Something wrong, love?" Jason was immediately concerned. Kat's voice had lost its playfulness and sounded genuinely exhausted.
"No, nothing," she assured him, smiling brightly. "This is a lot of fun, and I love you for thinking of itin all the time I spent in California, I've never made it to Disneyland before, but this cat has had about as much of the Mouse as she can take!" She cast a meaningful glance at Minnie who was prancing about nearby, to the delight of a group of pre-teen youngsters. It was past three o'clock, and they'd been at the park since shortly after opening time in the morning. Jason laughed at the image.
"Well, in that case, I'd better take my little kitten back to town!"
He pulled her up and draped a strong arm around her waist. Kat snuggled into him, and laughing and teasing each other, they made their way to the exit and the nearby train station.
Later that evening, after they'd had a delightful dinner at a small bistro near their hotel, they strolled hand in hand around Montmartre. The Place Clichy, where their hotel was situated, was right on the edge of the famous Paris amusement district, and they watched the tourist buses draw up to the Moulin Rouge, the nightclub where the dancers were among the most gorgeousand performing topless, clad only in high heels, tiny glittering g-strings and elaborate feathered headdresses. Kat smiled in wry amusement as she watched Jason look surreptitiously at the brightly-lit picture displays.
"See anything you like?" she teased him.
The young man blushed fiercely, but met the laughing blue eyes with a devilish smile of his own.
"Not really... I'm just trying to imagine what you would look like in one of these get-ups."
It was Kat's turn to colour up.
They walked on, up the narrow, winding streets that would eventually bring them to Sacré Coeur, one of the city's landmarks. The big cathedral was already closed, but it was a spectacular vantage point to look over nighttime Paris. Both felt no need for words as they meandered along, watching the Parisians drink their apéritifs in small bistros, the tourists laughing and talking as they hurried about. Finally, Kat let her curiosity get the better of her.
"Would you really want to see me as a show dancer like that?"
Jason tightened his arm around her waist and smiled. He'd thought about that, too.
"Not really. Of course, if it's something you'd want to do, then go for it, but if it were just up to me ... I wouldn't want anyone else to see you like that."
"What about yourself?" Kat blushed furiously. She couldn't believe she'd actually had the nerve to ask Jason something like that!
The deep voice became husky and sensual as Jason stopped to pull the young woman into his arms.
"If you ever decide to dance for me like that ... I'd be the happiest man on Earth!" His lips closed over hers in a passionate kiss. Breathless, they looked at each other once they separated. Both were at a loss for words, and after a few moments, they resumed their leisurely stroll, each thinking about what had just transpired between them. Neither couldor wanted toignore the growing awareness of what they shared and meant to each other. However, the time was not quite right. Yet.
The next day, Jason and Kat explored parts of the city they'd gotten a glimpse of on their sightseeing tour. They eschewed the Louvre, and the other museumsthe weather was too fine, and the charms of the Ile de la Cité, the medieval well-kept island in the middle of the river Seine, were a lot more interesting. Jason persuaded Kat to have her portrait drawn by one of the numerous artists plying their trade along the riverbank, but a quick whispered word while he went off to buy soft drinks had him included in the finished product. The two argued good-naturedly about who would get to keep the drawing, until they hit on the happy idea of making a photocopy once they got back home. The two laughed, and played, and explored to their hearts' content until it became time to return to their hotel, if they didn't want to attend the ballet in shorts and t-shirts.
It was time. Jason checked his appearance a last time before he shrugged into his wine-coloured jacket. The tiny red dragons decorating his tie seemed to dance on the dark silk, and he had to grin. The charcoal silk shirt and matching tie had been a Christmas present from Kat, who had found that a red dragon rampant was the Welsh national emblem. It had been the obvious choice for the first Red Ranger. Dark pants and dress shoes completed his outfit, and he just hoped that he would do justice to Kat. Inhaling deeply, he pocketed the old-fashioned keys, stepped out of his room and went down one flight of stairs to meet his girlfriend.
Kat had been waiting for the light knock on her door, and was ready but for a wrap and her evening bag. Opening her door, she didn't notice Jason's almost thunderstruck expression as he took in her appearance. Only the marked silence from behind her was unusualnormally, Jason said something funny, or complimentary when he took her out. She turned, and blushed fiercely at the look of unabashed admiration in the dark eyes.
"J-jason?" Her voice faltered slightly.
"Kath...." The young man shook his head and tried again. Stepping closer, he took both her hands in his, holding them away from the slender body to look his fill. "God, Kath, I've never seen you so beautiful!"
"Thank you." The blonde lowered her head demurely. She had hoped that the gauzy sundress with its full skirt and thin spaghetti straps would meet with Jason's approval. For once, Katherine had chosen cool blues and sea greens, in a stylized floral pattern, with only a few pink accents ... like her narrow belt, and the romantic bow which held her long hair back from her face. Low-heeled shoes, a clutch bag and a woolly shawl in white completed her ensemble. She hadn't been completely sure about the wisdom of her choice, but a glance from under her lashes convinced her of Jason's sincerity. With a smile, she returned the compliment.
"You're very handsome yourself."
It was Jason's turn to blush. Clearing his throat, he held out his arm to Kat.
"Yes, well... shall we?"
Kat laughed, a merry, carefree tinkle that put both at ease. Laying a slim-fingered hand on the proffered limb, she beamed up at her boyfriend, azure eyes sparkling.
"By all means!"
Letting the door fall into its lock behind them, the two left.
The night air was still balmy as the performance was over and Jason and Kat stepped outside. The Place de l'Opéra was almost empty, and they were drawn towards the waist-high stone walls facing the Eiffel Tower. The century-old metal structure was illuminated by numerous lights, and looked majestic and impossibly high from this close up. The steps leading down meandered past flower beds and cascades, all illuminated as well, and the whole effect was a lot like a picture postcard. Kat stopped at the wall and looked down, still lost in the music and the extraordinary performance she'd just seen. Jason knew her in this mood and didn't try to talk to her, just enfolded her in his arms from behind, offering his presence. To his delight, she wasn't too far gone, and leaned back against his broad chest, resting her smooth cheek against his own. The ex-Gold Ranger brushed a fleeting kiss against the temple of his former teammate, nuzzling slightly into the silky hair. Kat sighed in contentment. She knew that Jason wasn't all that fond of ballet; that he escorted her so willingly whenever she asked him to made her happy and feel good inside. She reciprocated by attending sports events with him, or accompanying him on things she'd never have considered doing on her ownlike free-climbing exercises, or whitewater-rafting in the Alps. Defnitely not her entertainment of choice, but mostly fun, nonetheless. Besides, if it made Jason happy....she loved the way his eyes sparkled at her when he was all pumped up with an adrenaline rush. Physical discomfort, like being soaking wet with icy mountain stream water paled against that.
The two stood for a long time, enjoying the view and each other's company. At long last, Kat turned away with a wistful sigh and smiled into Jason's eyes. He inclined his head towards the Eiffel Tower.
"You want to go up there tomorrow?"
"N-no....I don't think so. Have you seen the crowds down there? We'd have to spend a long time waiting for the elevator...and before you ask, no, I do not want to take the stairs!"
Jason laughed softly as they turned away to make their leisurely way to the next Métro station.
"Ah, you have no sense of adventure!"
"Being together with you sometimes is more than enough adventure, thank you very much!"
He just grinned and slipped his arm around the softly rounded shoulders. Bantering and teasing, they left one of the most famous edifices in the world behind.
At the Place Clichy, they wandered around a bit more, people-watching. Finally, they came to a small restaurant with a few empty tables, and very enticing smells wafting outside. A glance was enough, and they went inside, to share a small carafe of wine and have a light snack of freshly-baked croissants and smoked salmon. The longer they sat, the less they talked with words. Their eyes and smiles spoke for them instead. Their mood was mellow and tender as they slowly walked back home, arms around each other, stopping often to exchange soft kisses. They didn't notice the gently amused glances they garnered from tourists and locals alike; after all, Paris was said to be a city for lovers, and the sight of the attractive young couple in their elegant clothes only served to reinforce that image.
Once at their hotel, Jason walked Kat to her room. At her door, he pulled her close for a long kiss goodnight, when a noisy group of guests walked past. They laughed, but before they could pick up where they'd left off, the lift doors opened and an older couple walked by, arguing about something or other. Jason shook his head and gently brushed a silky strand of hair behind Kat's ear. She nuzzled into his palm and he was only an inch away from touching his lips to hers, when clattering footsteps raced down the corridor. Kat had to laugh as she rested her forehead against his shoulder. When she looked up again, Jason grimaced a bit ruefully. He loosened his grip around her waist, but before he could withdraw, Kat made up her mind. She wanted his kiss. Badly. Touching his cheek, she whispered his name.
She slipped from his arms and unlocked her door. Stepping into the dark room, she reached for the light switch, but Jason stopped her hand. His voice a soft rumble, he let his fingers glide upwards into her hair.
"I don't need any more light to see how beautiful you are."
It was true; the lights from the window were enough to let them see each other, now that their eyes had become used to the darkness. With a happy sigh, Kat let her handbag fall on the small table next to the door and lifted her arms around his neck. Snuggling closer, she basked in his warmth as she agreed.
"You're right; we can see plenty without it."
Their lips finally met, gently at first, then with more passion. The privacy of the room afforded them the opportunity to explore each other in greater detail, to nuzzle and wander about, sharing soft sighs and delighted little moans. Kat pressed herself more into Jason's solid strength as his hands wandered up to her neck to pull the satin bow from her hair. He combed gentle fingers through the soft tresses, and she purred like her namesake animal, eliciting a small chuckle.
She pouted at him prettily. It was not her favourite nickname, but since he didn't use it often, Kat let him get away with it. But a bit of reparation was in order, just to let Jason know to be careful. Kat nipped at his chin. His soft intake of breath suddenly made her heart pound. The two looked at each other for a long moment before their eyes closed and they kissed again....longer and deeper than ever before.
More than slightly breathless, they separated again when the need for air became overwhelming. Suddenly, the two former Rangers were all too aware of the intimacy of the situation. They were alone, at night, in a darkened hotel room ... and they were very much in love. Dark eyes caught blue pools. Silent questions were asked and silent answers given, and it was with great tenderness that Jason kissed the soft lips quivering against his own. There was no reluctance or protest in Kat's eyes as his hands came to rest on her shoulders for a moment before he slowly, carefully slid the thin straps of her dress down and off.
Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006
Jason's voice was just as husky as it had been that night so long ago.
"I spent half the night lying awake, watching you; you were so beautiful."
He ran a gentle hand up the length of her updrawn leg, smoothing the material of her nightgown over skin just as silky. A throaty purr was his reward, and Jason slipped teasing fingers under the hem, to walk them up to Kat's knee. She shifted in his arms.
"Did I ever tell you how long I'd wanted to make love to you before that?"
"Several times, but please, do so again," she invited with a slightly naughty grin. "I can't hear it often enough."
Midnight eyes lit with a tiny, hot flame that Kat was all-too familiar with as Jason began to whisper into the pink shell of her ear.
Kat listened silently, then smiled a smile that made his blood race just a little bit faster. He'd seen it for the first time the next morning, when she'd awoken in his arms. The blue eyes darkened a bit with remembered passion, and Jason caught his breath.
"I just wanted to lie like that forever, as close to you as possible. It felt so good to fall asleep with you, and have you kiss me awake again..." She drew the dark head down to bestow a butterfly kiss on her husband's mouth.
Hands began to wander again over cream-coloured silk at the soft confession, and Kat arched into the caress, sighing softly. It was their wedding night, after all, and remembering the night Jason had first made her his always had a very definite effect on her. She cast a glance over to the king-size bed, turned back invitingly and she felt a pleasant shiver course down her spine. Skilled, teasing fingers traced the lacy edge of her bodice as the two became more involved with each other.
However, another memory, of another night they'd spent as lovers, intruded, and destroyed her mood. Jason was too much attuned to his wife not to notice, and diverted his hands from their path towards thin straps that just begged to be slipped off to glide gently down a smooth-skinned arm. He lifted his head from the sweet-smelling neck to seek out the sapphire eyes. When he saw the slightly melancholy expression, he could make a very accurate guess at the direction Kat's thoughts had taken.
He turned her face to his.
"Don't go there, love. It's over."
"I can't help it. We were so happy that summer, and the next year....until that weekend in Scheveningen."
"I know. But what good does it do to remember it now?" He closed his arms more firmly around his wife. That weekend had started out with so many high hopes for both of them.....
Scheveningen, a Dutch seaside resort, June 2001
Kat breezed into the small pension with barely-concealed excitement. Jason had booked their room in advance, and was waiting for her, a delighted grin to match her own on his face. The two fell into each other's arms eagerly; due to exams and other obligations, they hadn't been able to meet for over a month. Now, however, they had a whole weekend to spend together, with no roommates to chaperone them or to intrude on intimate moments. They kissed until they were breathlessboth with laughter and suppressed desire. Finally, though, they both drew back. They continued to hold each other, eyes sparkling and hands gliding over backs and hips as they savoured the anticipation. Jason was the first to release Kat; he knew that if he didn't, they'd never make it out of the room again this day. His blonde lover smiled brilliantly. Kat wanted to be with Jason just as much, but they'd agreed in the beginning, when they'd first taken the step into intimacy, that they'd at least try to behave as normally as possible. And that meant, on a warm summer day like today, that they'd go to the beach. Sharing a last, passionate kiss, the two enjoyed just being together and in love before they greeted each other more conventionally.
"I missed you," Kat laughed, still slightly out of breath from Jason's enthusiastic welcome.
"About as much as I missed you, I guess," was his answer, and the young man stole another quick kiss. She pretended to slap him playfully.
"Behave! Or I'm not going to tell you my big news!"
"Can't be any bigger than mine," he grinned as he released her to rummage in his suitcase for a beach towel and his swimwear.
"I wouldn't bet on that! Oh Jase, you're not gonna believe what happened! I...." she suddenly found her mouth sealed by yet another kiss. "Jason!"
Kat's slightly indignant tone only provoked a thoroughly infuriating chuckle. If Jason only didn't look so gorgeous whenever he got that devilish gleam in his eyes!
"I have an idea." He laughed at her skeptical expression. "Lookyou have big news, and so have I. What do you say we agree to keep both until dinner tonight? I know we both want to go to the beach, and we're likely to discuss it in depth. If we do that, though, I won't get to see you in your wet bikini!" He waggled his eyebrows in a comical leer. The dancer had to giggle, although the image and the expression in the dark eyes made her catch her breath.
"Allright, if you say so. But only if you promise not to wear those baggy swimshorts!"
"What, you want me to wear nothing at all?"
"No, of course not. At least not on the beach. Wear your bike shorts." The softly-accented voice turned sultry, and it was Jason's turn to draw air into his suddenly-starved lungs.
Before things could get any further out of hand, the young couple quickly packed a beach bag and hand in hand left the pension, to find a place on the soft white sand in the shadow of the Victorian casino which dominated the promenade. They swam and played the afternoon away, until it was time to get dressed for dinner. Anticipation had continued to build, and both Jason and Kat, although slightly exhausted from their day in and around the water, were more than ready for dinner and the opportunity to share their stories with each other. They found a small restaurant that served fresh fish, and placed their orders. Thirstily sipping their sodas, they eyed each other speculatively. Before either one could start talking, Kat excused herself to go to the restroom. Jason leaned back in his seat. He could hardly wait to tell Kath that he would be returning to the States with her, now that she'd gotten an offer from a Philadelphia-based ballet company. They'd still be in different cities, but Boston and Philadelphia weren't that far apart; they'd be able to work something out. After all, they'd managed to keep up their relationship for almost three years, and they hadn't even lived in the same country!
Katherine arrived back at their table just as the waitress brought their food, and by unspoken agreement the two postponed their discussion until they'd assuaged their healthy appetites. Finally, even Jason had had enough of the delicious fish platter. They ordered fresh drinks, and now the big moment had come. With a slight grin, Jason kissed Kat's hand and held it in his larger one.
"So, what's your big news?"
"Don't you want to tell me yours first?" Kat laughed, enjoying the buildup of suspense.
"Uh-huh. Ladies first."
"You only say that when it's to your advantage," Kat pouted, but had to grin herself at his unashamed smirk. Giving in gracefully, she slipped him a quick peck on the cheek.
"Oh, allright, if you insist. You know I told you about that offer from Philadelphia?"
He nodded. "Did you get the contract?"
"Yes, but I didn't sign it. Oh Jason, you're not going to believe it, but I've accepted a position at the Oranje Royal Ballet CompanyI'm moving to Amsterdam! Isn't that great?"
In her enthusiasm, Kat didn't notice right away that Jason stiffened next to her and that the light in his eyes suddenly went out. What got her attention, however, was the hoarse sound of his voice as he asked incredulously for confirmation.
"Y-you're staying here in Europe?"
Mystified, she took in his suddenly-pale features.
"Yes, why? The pay is a lot better, we'll be travelling a lot, but the home base is Amsterdam. Actually, I'm going there in a couple of weeks to look for an apartment of my own. No more YMCA's or hotels for us....." her voice trailed off as the misery in Jason's dark eyes registered fully. Something was terribly wrong; instead of sharing her joy at the really excellent opportunity opening for her, he stared at the checkered table cloth, his shoulders slumping dejectedly. A cold ball of dread began to form in Katherine's stomach. She reached for his hand.
He looked up at the slightly panicky tone. Swallowing hard, he pressed her hands with his.
"Kath....Kath, I won't be here come this fall."
Jason shook his head; his 'good news' had just become the exact opposite. He couldn't quite control the raspiness of his voice as he related what until moments ago had been the best thing in his life next to becoming a Ranger and falling in love with Kat.
"Remember right at the beginning, when I told you that I'd might have a chance at an Ivy League College one day? Well, six weeks ago they asked us to fill in applications; I guess I got so caught up in the exams and stuff, that I forgot to tell you. Besides, I thought it was only precautionary; I never suspected that they'd come through this quickly."
Kat sat numbly in her seat. She could see clearly what was coming, but tried to deny it with all her might.
"You've been accepted? Where?" Her voice sounded wooden and dead to her own ears as she fought against the rising of tears.
"Yeah." Despite his misery, Jason couldn't quite keep the elation out of his voice. "Harvard."
For a moment, it seemed as if the world would crash about her ears, then normalcy returned. Kat swallowed hard. Whatever mad hopes she might have harboured that Jason would turn down the offer to remain here with her, they had just been shattered. He'd told her often that a law degree from Harvard would practically open the path for him to do anything he wanted. This was truly an offer he couldn't refuse. And even if he would, she loved him enough not to let him. But oh, it hurt!
"Jason, that... that's great." She sounded forced, even to her own ears. Despite her best efforts, a first tears slipped down her cheek.
Jason tried to smile, but couldn't. Wiping the liquid diamond drop gently away, he scooted over to pull her into his arms. Burying his face in her hair, he kissed the top of her head as he tried to work up some of his former enthusiasm.
"It would beif you were going to Philadelphia." There was no censure in the quiet statement, but it was still enough to send more tears down the porcelain skin.
"I....I didn't know...." Kat sobbed, once.
"It's not your fault, love. Neither did I." His arm closed more firmly about her shoulder. As he rested his cheek on the sunny tresses, he caught the interested glances the waitress and a few other patrons were directing toward them. He reached for his wallet.
"Let's get out of here, okay?"
The young woman nodded miserably. Within minutes, the two were back at the beach promenade, walking through the gathering night, their arms around each other. When they reached an isolated bench, they sat down. The silence between them became nearly oppressive, but neither seemed able to find the right words. Finally, Kat sighed. Her tears had stopped, but they were still audible in her voice as she snuggled into a broad shoulder.
"What....what's going to happen?"
Jason's sigh echoed hers. He held her more closely as he stared out onto the gently crashing waves.
"You'll be moving to Amsterdam, and I'll be moving to Boston."
It sounded so simple, and yet it was anything but; it was nothing short of devastating to the two former Rangers. Kat was silent for a long time; she really didn't want to ask the next question, but knew she had to.
"What about us?" She whispered so softly that Jason almost didn't hear her, but it might as well have been a shout.
"I don't know."
He sat up and turned slightly, so that he could fully look at her. He took both of her hands in his and kissed them.
"Kath...I'm going to be honest with you. A part of me is telling me to say, to hell with it all, but I can't do that. Not if I really want to get ahead in my profession. I simply can't refuse this; there's another scholarship tied up with it, and I'll never get another chance like this."
"I know that," she replied softly. "I wouldn't want you to give it up; I know that it's been your dream for quite some time now."
He smiled, but it held no real humour.
"Yeah. Anyway, that's the logical, rational part of me. Another part of me asks why I can't just stay here, get my law degree here in Europe..." Kat interrupted him.
"No, Jason. You told me that it would be a lot harder for you to get it acknowledged back home, and it would be unfair to you in the extreme if you did that just to please me." Her voice gentled. "But thank you for even considering it."
Jason kissed her hands again. His next confession was going to be hard on both of them.
"Kath....love, there's more." He looked away briefly, before he sought and held the sapphire eyes of the woman he loved.
"Yet another partand one I'm having a very hard time silencingis urging me to do what I've been wanting to do for some time now." He drew a deep breath. "It's telling me to ask you to give up your contract, to come back with me to the States. As my wife."
Kat sat, stunned. She had dreamed that one of these days Jason would ask her to marry him, that their love was, indeed, forever, but she'd never thought she might have to make a choice between her professional and personal dreams because she knew she could not have both. Either she followed her original dream, which was just about to become realitya position in a well-known ballet company, with the chance to travel the world, or she gave that up and married Jasonsomething that had started to feature heavily in her fantasies of late. But it wasn't supposed to be like thisnot nowshe wasn't ready to make that choice! Something of her turmoil must have transmitted itself to Jason, because he gently stroked her cheek.
"Kath, love...please don't misunderstand, okay? There's nothing I want more than ask you to marry me, but ... I'm not going to do it."
He smiled ruefully at her look of confusion, regret and ... was that a hint of relief? It mirrored very closely his own jumble of emotions. Jason's heart was heavy, but he forced himself to continue.
"It's not that I don't love you; I do, more than I can say. I want you to be my wife, to be the mother of my children, but I don't want you to give up your dream because I'm following mine. If you did that, you'd always wonder...and might even come to resent me for it one day. I don't want that to happen, ever. Your dream is to be a dancer, and it's about to come true. You'll have to take this chance, as I must take mine."
The blonde sat silent for a long time, listening to Jason's words with both heart and mind. Her brain told her he was right, and by making the decision for both of them he freed her from feeling guilty. However, her heart cried out at her to tell him no, it wasn't right, that they belonged together. She silenced both voices. Wiping her eyes once more, she looked into his eyes. They were shadowed with an exact echo of her own pain, but determined. Her lips quivered as she made herself askshe wouldn't, couldn't live in limbo like she had with Tommy, not this time!
"So...are we breaking up, then?" It was a big effort to keep all traces of accusation out of her voice. Why does it have to hurt so much that he's right?
Jason surprised her, though.
"I don't want to do that. Kath, I love you. Nothing will change that. Not even the fact that we'll be apart. At least, not if we don't let it."
"Wh-what are you suggesting?"
He tried to collect his thoughts.
"I'm thinking that, if we really want to, we can keep our relationship alive. At least long enough to know if it's truly the real thing. It'll take me another couple of years or so to get my degree, then I'll have to take the bar exam. I'd like to go back to California, to Angel Grove, because I think it's a great place to live, now that the monsters are gone," both former Rangers shared a smile at the thought. It had been achieved by another group of Rangers, true, and it had taken Zordon's ultimate sacrifice, but they still felt pride that they'd once been part of the fight against Evil.
"... but that is something we can talk about when the time is right. Maybe then, you'll get another offer in the States, and we can be together then. We're only twenty-two; there's time yet. And I think, if we both work at it, and really want it, we can make it work. What do you think?"
Jason looked hopefully at Kat. She couldn't help but remember the way time and distance had damaged her relationship with Tommy, but what she felt for Jason was so different, so much stronger....a tiny glimmer of hope sparked in her. Smiling tremulously, she met his loving dark eyes. Biting her lip, she hesitated for a moment longer, then gave in to the urgings of her heart to say yes, to not give up on them without a fight. Not this time. Slipping her hand in his, she nodded once before she drew a deep breath.
"I'm willing to try if you are." "I am."
They kissed then, sealing their bargain. Slowly they made their way back to their room, lost in thought. Their bodies demanded their right as they settled into bed, and they made lovebut it was bittersweet. They both knew that their time together had suddenly become very shortJason had to be back in the States by August at the latest. to register, find a dorm....and he hadn't seen his parents for a long time, either.
Afterwards, they held each other wordlessly, and Kat's tears came anew. Jason held her, soothing her with soft nonsense sounds and gentle caresses until they fell asleep in each other's arms. They didn't know it yet, but this weekend would be the last time they'd share together for a very long while.
Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006
"Over three years," Kat sighed. She looked pensively at the last few drops of champagne in her glass before she handed it back to Jason. They had almost finished off the whole bottle, and in combination with the day's excitement and the late hour it was making her drowsy. She cast a slightly wistful glance at the invitingly turned-down bed. If she begged him really nicely, would Jason carry her? Of course, she could always offer him some kind of reward....she grinned to herself. The question was more, which of them would ultimately be rewarded.
Jason leaned back against the backrest, one arm lightly draped across Kat's shoulder. He was still caught up in his memories, of the long weeks and months they'd been out of touch. Once the ballet company had started going on tour, it had been extremely difficult to keep in touch for both of them. Often, the onus had been on Kat. Calling wasn't always possible, even letters had proven pretty erratic, and as for seeing each other....he'd gone to two tour stops, one in New York and another in Toronto, six months later during their second year of separation, but other than that.... it had not been an easy time for either of them. Yet somehow, they had prevailed.
"God, I missed you so much," he whispered into her hair. Kat snuggled closer. Her voice was very quiet as she answered.
"Me, too. It's a small miracle that we made it, but I'm so glad we did!"
Jason just chuckled. In retrospect, there had been funny aspects, like how they kept missing each other whenever some of their friends decided to get married, but usually one or the other had been present at these events. The only wedding that had taken place without any of the former Rangers had been Aisha and Zack's; they had opted for a traditional African ceremony in Kenya, involving the whole village Aisha used to live in. But they had thrown a small, private party for their friends on a visit to Angel Grove earlier last year.
"Yeah; I just wish we could have met more often. Writing and calling just was not the same..."
"Uh-huh. There were times when I needed you to hold me so badly...."
He kissed her. "Same here. But as I said, it's overthank God. It's not going to happen again."
The two sat silently, still caught up in the melancholy mood. Finally, Katherine shifted slightly. There was one thing....
"Jason? Can I ask you something?"
At his curious look and affirmative nod, she screwed up her courage.
"You...you don't have to answer, if you'd rather not, I mean, it doesn't matter anymore, not really, but I've sometimes wondered....of course, if you think it's none of my business I'll understand, but..."
"You're babbling, love," Jason interrupted her with an amused chuckle. "As long as it's not covered by professional confidentiality, you can ask me anything. I have no secrets from you."
"Not even at Christmas, or my birthday?" she teased him, relieved.
"Well, that's different," he amended. "But other than that....what is it you want to know?"
Kat regarded him seriously, the previous banter forgotten. She'd been truthful, it didn't matter anymore, but still....
"I...I was wondering....has there ever been anyone else? I know we didn't make any promises when we separated, and if you don't want to tell me, that's okay, but..."
Jason stiffened slightly. He couldn't quite look at his wife as he drew a deep breath into suddenly starved lungs. He'd waited for this particular question for quite some time; that didn't make answering any easier. In a subdued voice, he gave Kat the truth.
"Once." He swallowed hard. "When I'd taken that internship during summer break and couldn't make it to Jasmine's christening. Adam called me afterwards, and when I heard that you'd been able to come, after all...." he couldn't go on. The memories were too painful to go into, even after three years.
Kat remembered that time all too well. She'd been on tour in the Middle East, and an outbreak of minor hostilities had interrupted the schedule. Taking advantage of the break, she'd managed to return to California in time to be godmother to her best friend's daughter. Of the former Rangers, only Rocky and Justin had been there. She'd intended to make a detour to Boston, but had been recalled too soon. She remembered her angry frustration at the time; it enabled her to inquire further with admirable calm.
"What happened? Can you tell me?"
Jason let out a relieved sigh; the worst was over, and his wife was still resting comfortably against his chest; there was no accusation in her voice. He'd dreaded this moment for so long...now, he was only too glad to come clean.
"As I said, Adam called me after the christening and told me you'd been there. I remember being so angry, and confused, and most of all lonely... I missed you so much, and to learn that I could have met you if I'd come anyway....I went to the gym to work out my frustration, and there I met Susan...she was into karate as well, we'd seen each other before, at matches....in any case, we ended up having dinner together. One thing led to another, and....."
The ex-Gold Ranger swallowed again. This was harder than he'd thought it'd be.
"She offered, and I wasn't strong enough to say no. I spent the night with her."
There, it was said. He peered cautiously at Kat. She seemed lost in thought, then met his eyes.
"A one-night stand? Or was it more?"
"No. Just that one night."
"That's not like you."
The soft voice was non-committal. Jason tried to explain why it had happened.
"Kath....I'm not exactly proud of that. I was lonely, I missed you, and I basically used her. When I woke up the next morning and I realized that the woman I had been with wasn't you....I wasn't drunk, or anything, but the whole time I kept fantasizing it was you I held instead of Susan....it was unfair to her, to you, to myself....I've never felt so low in my life. Not even when I had to give up the Power a second time. It was all I could do to at least be civil to her until I could get out. I never wanted to go through that again, I was so disgusted with myself."
"Jason, it's okay. I understand."
"How can you? I betrayed you...."
"Do you think I haven't been tempted to find someone who would hold me, who would make me feel less alone?" Kat asked with some asperity.
"The only reason I didn't was that I didn't really care about any of the men I'd met. Of the dancers, Slavko and Aziz were gay, our choreographer was well over sixty and married, and I could never have gone with one of the stage-door johnnies!"
Her voice gentled then.
"To be perfectly truthful, I couldn't stand the thought of anyone else but you touching me."
Jason looked away. His disgust with himself was all too audible in his deep voice.
"At least you could hold back. I couldn't."
"Darling, just because you gave in to temptation and loneliness once doesn't make you the next Don Juan. You're Human, not a saint. Besides, I doubt I would want to be married to a saint."
The gentle teasing brought a slight blush to the handsome face. Kat smiled and kissed Jason gently. Cupping his cheek in her palm, she waited until the dark eyes met hers.
"I love you, Jason. That one lapse isn't going to change that." She frowned a bit. "It was only once, wasn't it?"
"Yes. I felt so bad about the whole thing ... I wanted to tell you sooner, but....I couldn't find the courage, or the right words. I'm sorry. It wasn't worth it."
Jason drew a deep breath.
"D-do you think you can forgive me? Please?"
"Of course I'll forgive you," Katherine said soothingly.
He lifted her hand to his mouth. Pressing a kiss into her palm, he finally felt the lingering guilt lift off his shoulders. He'd carried that around for a long time.
"You ... you don't mind, then?"
The young woman thought for a moment, smiling fleetingly at the hopeful tone. When she answered, her voice was serious, though.
"I mind that we had to be apart for so long; I mind that we were both lonely and miserable. I mind that I didn't know sooner what I know now, that I refused to see what was before me for so long, but I don't mind that you gave in to temptation once. As long as it won't happen again."
Jason hugged Kat close. He didn't deserve this, but....
"It won't. I promised, remember?"
....cleave only unto you.....forsaking all others.....
Their marriage vows echoed through both their minds. They knew that they'd both keep those promises for all time.
The soft affirmation brought their lips together, just as it had done after the ceremony. They hadn't needed the minister's permission to seal their union with a kiss in front of their friends and families. As then, it was gentle and fierce, tender and passionate, and made them both slightly breathless. They settled back into each other's arms, savouring their closeness. Jason, however, sensed that there was something else bothering Kat. He tilted the porcelain face up to his.
"What is it, love? Is there more?"
"Hmm. I was just wondering....why was everybody so surprised when you proposed to me? Hadn't you ever told anyone about us?"
"Well," he hedged with a sheepish grin, "not really. I mean, I wrote home and to Tommy and Billy that we were seeing each other, doing stuff together....but I sort of never got around to telling anybody that I was head over heels for you."
Jason was slightly red about his ears as he confessed this. Kat's answering grin was mischievous, but also slightly guilty.
"Hadn't you told Tanya?" he countered.
"Um....no, not that we've been more than friends. I think I told her the same you did Tommy."
"Any particular reason why?" Jason asked, shaking his head in mock disapproval and tsk-tsking herwhich earned him a playful, "You're asking me?"
Then, they both sobered, thinking back on their reasoning at the time. Why hadn't they told their families and friends that they'd fallen in love?
"I don't really know," Kat had to admit. "I think it'd have been different if we'd been home, but since it was just the two of us in Europe....it didn't feel right, somehow, to talk about you and me in a letter, or over the phone. And when I managed to meet any of the others, somehow there never was a right moment to admit something like that. And in a way, it felt kind of....I don't know... good to have you ... us ... to myself. Does that make any sense?"
"In a way, because it was the same for me. Besides, if I had told Tommy, or Billy and Trini, I would've had to admit how much I missed you ... how miserable I was feeling. I didn't want their pity, and it's always been so hard to keep anything from the gang, we were all so close ... having a secret was kinda great. Even if, in retrospect, it would've felt good to have had someone to talk to at times."
Kat suddenly laughed. She looked up at Jason with sparkling blue eyes.
"It was so hard not to jump you when we finally met again at Kim and Tommy's rehearsal dinner; but it was worth the wait. God, I can still see their faces when they found out!"
Jason joined her laughter.
"Yeah; I just wish I'd have had a camera! The only thing I can't get over is thishave you ever stopped to think about the fact that from our first kiss to when I proposed to you, we've always been in public? You think maybe there was something wrong with us?"
"Well, so far we've at least not yet made love in public," she teased.
"Believe me, that is one thing I intend to keep very private!"
They hugged as they recalled the stunned and delighted expressions on their friends' faces as they found out Jason had asked Kat to marry him.
Angel Grove, right after Christmas 2004
With a delighted squeal, Kimberly dashed towards the door to greet one of her oldest friends. Although it had been years since they used to hang out here together, whenever any number of former Rangers was in town, they made a point of meeting at least once at the Youth Center. Today, the reason was more festive than usualKim and Tommy were getting married, now that Kim had retired from active sports. She'd won a second bronze medal at the Summer Olympics, repeating her achievement from Sydney, and was now going into business with Rocky. His Martial Arts studio was doing fine, and they were expanding it to an all-round Sports Academy. Tommy was no longer actively racing, but still involved with his uncle's teamhe'd been getting impatient but now his wait was over. He stood up and drew Jason into a friendly bear-hug.
"Man, I almost thought you wouldn't come!"
"Can't have a wedding without your best man, can you, bro?" Jason smirked good-naturedly. He was trying very hard to kep his eyes off Katit had been weeks since they'd last talked on the phone, over a year since he'd seen her last...that hurried dinner in Toronto after her performance had barely been enough time to get caught up on their lives. They'd hugged each other fiercely, exchanged desperate kisses, but the too-brief encounter had left them aching for more. It had been three and a half years since they'd said goodbye at Brussels International Aeroport....
"Come on, sit down!"
Tommy drew his best friend onto a chair next to him. His world was just about as perfect as it could get....in two days, he was going to marry his first and final love, most of his closest friends would be there....he gathered Kimberly to him and the two shared equally delighted smiles.
Meanwhile, Jason greeted the rest of the gang, exchanging backslaps with the guys and chaste pecks on the cheeks with the other two young women. Rocky, Adam and Tanya....and Kat. The Zeo Team. He knew that Billy and Trini would be arriving the next day; they had gotten held up in Washington with a fundraiser for the proposed space colony. Jason rather liked the name of Terra Venture. Aisha was too far gone in pregnancy to fly, and of course Zack wouldn't leave his wife alone in Kenya at this time. They'd sent their best wishes, of course.
His eyes wandered back to Kat as he automatically answered Rocky's questions; he desperately wanted to pull her into his arms and crush her to him, but for some reason or other, they'd never told anyone about their relationship. It would have to wait for another time.
This time, we'll make time for us! We just have to! Oh God, Kath....
The dancer drank in the sight of the man she still loved with something akin to hunger. She'd missed Jason so much....if she had known three years ago what she knew now...it could have been them getting married today, instead of their friends. She was genuinely happy for Kim and Tommy; she just wished watching them wasn't making her feel so miserable! Kat sneaked a glance at Jason. He was laughing at something Adam said, probably an anecdote about her goddaughterthe most adorable little tot, but quite a handful now that she was beginning to walk. Rocky's younger sister was babysitting her, giving Tanya some much-appreciated time off to spend with her friends.
The seven laughed and talked, getting caught up with each other's lives. Tanya and Adam were in Los Angeles, where she hosted a radio show that was slowly gaining popularity, being picked up by more and more stations, and Adam worked at a major film studio as stunt choreographer; considering his dislike for cameras, he came in for quite a lot of teasing from his friends. Rocky and Kim were full of enthusiasm for their Sports Academy, and Jason talked about his life in Bostonhe had gotten his degree this fall and was now interning with a law firm while he prepared for his bar exam. They all knew that Billy and Trini were involved in the Space Program, while Aisha and Zack had opted for veterinary and human medicine, respectively, working for a relief organization specializing in Third-World countries.
After a while, Tommy noticed that his former girlfriend was listening intently, but not really contributing to their conversation. Her normally brilliant blue eyes seemed shadowed, and while she was even more beautiful than she used to betall, slim, graceful, with the elegant poise of the professional dancerthere was an aura of melancholy about her that the former team leader wasn't used to seeing in the erstwhile Pink Ranger. His eyes met Kim's briefly, and she nodded encouragingly; it hadn't escaped her that Kat seemed withdrawn and ....sad?
"What about you, Kat? Will you be staying with the Oranje Ballet?" Tommy's question caught Kat slightly off-guard, but she really shouldn't have been surprised. He knew her too well not to see through her forced cheerfulness, and was aware, like the others, that her contract, after the initial trial period, had been for three years. Which were up the following spring. She didn't want to be telling this, she really didn't, but knew she couldn't keep it from her friends. Very pointedly not looking at Jason, the Australian cleared her throat.
"I ... no. I'm not renewing my contract."
A stunned silence settled around the table. Kat was uncomfortably aware of six pairs of eyes fixed on her. Drawing a deep breath, she mentally and physically squared her shoulders, as Tanya asked incredulously,
"But ... but why? Kat, I thought this was your dream come true! A position in a first-rate Ballet Company, dancing all the classical ballets....traveling the world..."
"It was," she admitted quietly. "Only, I'm getting sick of living out of a suitcase. I have an apartment in Amsterdam, but do you know how much time I've actually spent there over the last three years? Less than eight months, all told. In a way, it's worse than staying at a hotel."
"I know exactly what you mean," Tommy interjected. "When I was still racing ... it was a bit hard to give up the excitement, and I never thought I'd find myself doing management and public relations, besides test driving, but it's worth it for the chance of having a real home again."
Kim squeezed his hand gently. She had had her share of being on the road, promoting gymnastics, catering to sponsors, and was equally glad to have come home at last. However, she could see there was more to Kat's decision. She reached out her free hand to her friend and one-time successor.
"That's not all, Kat, isn't it?" She waited a moment for an answer. When none was forthcoming, she coaxed gently.
"Kat, can't you talk to us? We're your friends; we'd like to help, if we can."
Katherine laughed, shocking them with the bitterness of the sound.
"If you want the truth, I'm quitting because I can't cut it."
Her friends protested immediately, as she'd known they would. It brought her scant comfort. One deep, all-too-familiar voice could be heard over the rest. Jason.
"Kat, how can you say that? You're a good dancer, you're always prepared, conscientious, a great person..." he trailed off as blue eyes, full of misery, met his briefly.
"Yes, I am," she admitted quietly. "A good dancer. But not a great one."
She saw the looks of incomprehension. Taking a sip of her watershe still had to be counting calories, darn it!she explained.
"I've been with the company over three years now. At first, I didn't mind that there were others, more experienced than me, who got the really big parts. I was the new kid on the block, after all. But when they moved on....I still only danced minor roles. I'm twenty-five years old, I've been with them this long, and they hired a kid fresh out of the Academy to star in next spring's new production."
"For heaven's sake, why?" Tanya asked. "Everybody always said you were good, and I know you, KatI'm absolutely sure that your technique and everything is flawless."
"It is. I talked to the manager about this a while ago; He told me something he'd thought I knew. He said that I'm one of the mainstays, that they rely on me to keep things flowing smoothly, but also that I don't have that certain something that makes a dancer shine. Call it glamour, or star quality, or charisma, whatever...according to him, I don't have it. That's why I'll always be in the chorus line, so to speak. The best I can hope for is to be the understudy for the star."
A few tears rolled down the pale cheek, and Tanya and Kim immediately enfolded her in a hug. The four young men sat, stunned. They had cheered for Kat when she won her scholarship to London, they had admired her poise and grace, but they'd never thought that she was lacking in something. Of course, while Kat was certainly beautiful enough, even Tommy and Jason had to admit that her beauty was quiet, not flashy, and Kat had never been one to seek the spotlight. She always worked more from the background, in keeping with her personality, which was quieter than most of the other former female Rangersexcepting maybe Trini.
Jason ached for her; he, more than most, knew what her dream had meant to Kat, what she had given up to pursue it. To have it not shattered, but turning dull like this must be terrible for her. However, he couldn't help the sudden surge of hope. If Kat was quitting the ballet ... or the travelling Company, at least ... did that mean that there might be hope for them, at last? He focussed once more on his friends. Kat was regaining control of her emotions, and dredged up a watery smile.
"Hey, we're your friends," Rocky asserted, giving her a one-armed hug across the table. "We're here for you." The others seconded his statement.
"What are you going to do now?" Adam wondered. "Are you looking for a job with a theatre, or something?"
Kat shook her head.
"No. Most theatres don't keep their own corps de ballet, and at those that do, the usual work is little more than background. I don't want to do show work, and with another company I'd have the same problems as I do now."
She drew a deep breath. Telling her friends had not been easy, but now she felt incredibly lighter. They didn't blame her for failing, they didn't pity her, but instead gave her unstinting supportas always. She caught a glimpse of Jason's dark eyes, which were fastened with an unreadable expression on her. Her heart gave a tiny lurch she refused to analyze too closely. There was one more thing she had to say.
"There's another thing. I tore a calf muscle last year. I'm okay now, but the doctor told me if I ever injured it again..." she didn't need to go on. Athletes all, they knew only too well the danger of risking permanent damage in cases like that. Kimberly once more hugged her friend. She, most of all, was familiar with the disappointments injuries like that could bring to an athlete or performer, and how devastating it could be to see lifelong ambitions destroyed. She'd been lucky, but that didn't mean she couldn't understand Kat's predicament.
"What do you want to do?" Kim asked delicately. "Tommy told me that after graduation you worked as a teaching assistant at AGH for the summer..."
"That'd mean I'd have to go to school all over again, and frankly, I don't have the money. My parents paid for my education once, the scholarship notwithstanding, and I can't ask them to do it a second time. Besides, I've spent to much time on ballet, I'd hate to see it go to waste."
The others had to agree. The conversation turned more general as they tried to come up with ways to help Kat, evolving into laughter as Rocky successfully lightened the atmosphere with ever more outrageous proposals of what career paths Kat might choose. Jason joined in, but stayed somewhat on the outside. He desperately wanted to help Kat, to find a way to get her through this ... but an increasingly vocal part of him told him that this was his chance, that now, when he was only a short step away from achieving his own goals, he could have her back in his life ... permanently this time. He tried not to listen. He desperately wanted Kat back, wanted to ask her a certain question, but he didn't want her to come to him because there was no other way. If and when Kat agreed to marry him, it had to be because she wanted to. And how could he ask her now, when it might easily be construed as charity? There was no answer forthcoming as the group of friends laughed and talked their way through dinner, the rehearsal at church and an impromptu gathering at the Olivers' house.
The next day, Jason wandered through Angel Grove's shopping district. He'd collected the rented tuxedo, bought a shirt and tie to go with it, gotten a fresh haircut at his mother's insistence and was idly gazing into windows as he took note of the changes that had taken place during his long absence, when something caught his eye. He stepped closer to the display. The item in question was perfect; a bit unusual, maybe, but within his budget ... if only barely. He hesitated for a moment, trying to convince himself he wasn't jumping the gun, but a last glance and an image of Kat's face ifwhenshe saw it, decided him. Before he could change his mind, he stepped through the glass door, oblivious to the musical chime of tiny little bells as he entered the Angel County Jewelers.
"Kim, what are you doing here?" Rocky asked his friend and business partner as she entered his office during lunch break. "Didn't you say you were taking today off, to be pampered and stuff so you're ready for your big day?" He grinned good-naturedly. Working with Kim was turning out just fine.
"Yes, I was, but I had to talk to you."
"Uh-oh. Sounds ominous," he wisecracked, but subsided as he saw her serious expression. "What's up?"
"Tommy and I have been thinking about what Kat told us yesterday."
"Yeahit's a shame, isn't it? She was so happy when she got that scholarshipshe said it was a dream come true."
"Right. But Tanya and Adam also told me that she used to work with kids at the Youth Centre, teaching them the beginnings of ballet....and that gave me an idea. Have I told you that some mothers in my classes have asked if I could recomment a dance teacher for some of the girls? They don't really want to do gymnastics, but would prefer dance lessons ... a few of the older students have asked to incorporate more dance elements into the aerobics classes...."
"...and I've had a few inquiries if we could also offer lessons in Tae Bo," Rocky interjected excitedly. He could see where Kimberly's train of thought was going. If she was interested, it could be the perfect solution for their friend.
"If Kat's willing ... I know she did choreography back at the Academy ... do you think she might come to work with us?" Kim asked hopefully.
"All we can do is ask her, and offer. Of course, she'd need to take a few belt tests to be able to teach Tae Bo, but between me and Tommy, plus what she picked up as a Ranger, we should have her ready in no time!"
The two friends shared a conspiratorial grin. It would be a perfect complement for the Angel Grove Sports Academy, turning it into a 'Sports and Dance' facility, if Kat agreed.
"I'll ask her during the fitting later. Thanks, Rocky!" Kim kissed her partner on the cheek and with a jaunty wave, bounced out of the office, to meet with her friends.
The wedding ceremony went off without a hitch as Kimberly Ann Hart and Thomas Oliver said their vows in front of family and friends. Jason took his place as Tommy's best man while David stood proudly with his own wife in the front pew, along with Sam Trueheart and Tommy's adoptive parents. Over the years, they had grown into a close-knit family, despite their different backgrounds. Kim's mother and stepfather had flown in from Paris, as had her father and brother from wherever they now lived. The music swelled as the processional beganTrini, Tanya and Kat in matching dresses patterned in both yellow and pink, Adam and Billy in black tuxedos like Jason's, with cummerbunds and ties in green, blue and red respectively. Kim was a radiant bride, but Jason's eyes were only fixed on the graceful blonde on the other side of the altar. Rocky had ushered her up, but she would be his escort once the ceremony was over. The blue eyes met his. They were a bit misty as Kimberly and Tommy said their vows, but they sparkled with something new, something that had not been there the other day, and Jason felt his own heart swell. Suddenly the second small box in his pocket seemed not quite as heavy. He handed Tommy the rings and once more met Kat's eyes. She smiled in delight as her two friends kissed, husband and wife at long last, and that smile didn't waver as she rested her hand on his arm as the bridal party left for the reception.
The dinner was sumptuous, the speeches thankfully short, and the dancing fully underway before Jason and Kat found the time to exchange more than a few words in passing. They were dancing, but a quick glance showed that one of the glass-walled terraces of the country club was empty. Jason twirled Kat expertly through the crowd until they had some privacy at last. The music filtered through the half-open doors as he pulled her to him. Kat came into his arms willingly, resting her forehead against his as he searched for words. It had been so long...
"Kath....oh God, Kath, I..." the deep voice was hoarse with emotion.
"I know," she whispered. She had longed for a more private reunion, but they'd both arrived in Angel Grove with little time to spare before they got caught up in Kim and Tommy's wedding preparations. It was sheer bliss to be held in those strong arms again!
"I missed you so...!"
"Me, too," Jason murmured, too busy burying his face in the sunny locks without disturbing her elegant hairdo.
"God, Kath, I want so much to kiss you, only I'm afraid if I do, I won't be able to stop," he breathed finally.
"I'm not sure I'd want you to stop," Kat said, blushing slightly. She met the dark eyes with her own, catching her breath at the look in them.
The two looked at each other. Silly grins began to spread over both their faces as the realization slowly sank in that they were back together, that there was still something strong and good between them. Jason fought a losing battle with his hopes as the contents of the small box he had purchased on impulse the day before seemed to burn a hole in his pocket. Kat, for her part, tried to think of ways to let Jason know that she wanted to resume the conversation they'd had on the beach in Scheveningen all those years ago, only with a different topic this time. Or rather, with a topic they'd discarded of necessity three and a half years ago.
At last, Jason could restrain himself no longer. Patience had never been his strong suit, and he'd had to have more than his share ever since he'd said goodbye to the girl he loved at an airport in Belgium, and last in front of a hotel room door in Toronto. Before he could say anything, though, Kat beat him to it.
"Oh Jase .. I wish I could've told you sooner, but last night, after the fitting, Kim talked to me..." her voice was excited and almost giddy. Kat looked at him with brilliant blue eyes, and as always, Jason couldn't resist that look. Giving in, he asked as she expected him to.
"Jason ... if I want to, she and Rocky are offering me a job and maybe later, if it works out, a partnership at their Sports Center! I'd be teaching ballet, and ..." breathless, she gave him the details. Jason could hardly believe his ears. If Kat really was considering this, then he could accept the Stone County District Attorney's offer, and.....he didn't care, he just had to know!
"Kath....Kath, please!" He pulled her close once more. She looked up, her story interrupted.
"Kath....are you taking the job?" The urgency in his voice and the light in his eyes took her breath away and made her heart beat faster.
"I'm thinking about it .... of course, I'd be still on tour for another three months, and wouldn't be able to start until after summer break ..." the lightly-accented voice trailed off. Jason's grip on her waist had tightened so, he was taut with tension ... taking a gamble on the love that had grown between them so long ago, Kat made her decision, hoping and praying it was the right one.
"Yes. Yes, I'll accept their offer. I'm coming back to Angel Grove."
Jason let out a breath he hadn't been aware of holding. He was lightheaded with more than the need for air as he once more looked deeply into the sapphire pools he'd drowned in so often.
"What if ... what if I came back as well?"
"You would?" The delighted smile spreading over Kat's face made him draw her even closer, until their bodies touched almost full length. They had touched like this before; for the first time on a summer night in a hotel room in Paris. Then, as now, Jason's heart was beating like a triphammer. That night, he had made Kat his in bodycould he make her his in a more binding way tonight? He drew a deep breath.
No time like the present to find out!
"I couldif I had a reason to come back."
"What kind of reason would that be?" she asked, her own pulse racing. Jason couldn't be .... could he?
"If I had someone to come back to. Kath ... if I had you to come back to, I would. In a heartbeat."
There was only one way to answer that. As she had so long ago, Kat touched a tanned cheek with trembling fingers, trailing the tips over firm lips whose touch had become so familiar since that first time. Her voice took on the same sultry note as on that summer night in Brussels as she replied to his unspoken plea.
"Who says you haven't?"
Jason caught his breath as he recognized the husky question. He tightened his hold around the slender waist as he leaned in closer. Their foreheads rested against each other as they lost themselves in each other's eyes. At last, Jason took a deep draught of air. He cupped Kat's face in both hands and brushed his lips once over hers. They were trembling slightly, but he was feeling none too steady either. Taking the biggest chance of his life, he sought out the azure orbs and committed himself.
"Kath... Kath, I love you. I never stopped, in all this time. I don't care how long it takes, but I don't want to wait any longer. Sweetheart, please ... I need you. Will you marry me?"
Kat thought she would drown in his heated gaze. She was trembling from head to foot, but at the same time felt a deep and abiding calm rise from her innermost core. She had lived her first dream, even if it had turned out to be short and not quite as sweet as she'd imagined. She had conceived another dream while she was still working towards fulfilling the first, one that was closely intertwined with Jason. Then, she had put one aside. The time had come to work towards making their shared dream come true. Her voice rang with love and certainty as she gave Jason her answer.
"Yes, Jason. I still love you, and I'll marry you."
Anything else she might have said was silenced as his mouth closed over hers, claiming her as surely as if it had been them who had spoken their vows that afternoon. Like Tommy had done with Kim at the altar, he took her left hand in his. Reaching into his pocket, he took out the square black velvet box. Opening it with unsteady hands, he held it out mutely to Kat, who took one look and blushed with pleasure.
"Oh Jason ... it's perfect!"
Smiling with relief, Jason took the narrow gold band out of the notch. The oval pink Angel's Skin coral was about the size of a fingernail, and surrounded by a circle of tiny glittering diamond chips. As he slid it over her finger, he was glad that he'd estimated Kat's ring size correctly. It fit as if made for her.
Tears of happiness welled in Kat's eyes as Jason kissed her hand with the ring, then drew her into his arms once more. She'd admired a similar ring that magical weekend in Paris; while Jason's gift was nowhere near as valuable, it meant the world to her that he'd remembered.
Both lovers smiled tremulously; then with happy sighs melted into each other's arms. Oblivious to their surroundings, they gave themselves up to their kiss.
Kimberly was dancing with Tommy, looking adoringly into his chocolate eyes. He smiled down at his brand-new wife as he pulled her petite form closer to his lanky frame.
"Happy, Beautiful?" he asked, already knowing the answer. It was there for all to see in her glowing face.
"You know I am. I just hope Kat and Jason will find someone as well; they're the only ones who haven't fallen in love yet."
"Aren't you forgetting Rocky?" Tommy queried. The former Blue Zeo Ranger seemed like the eternal bachelor, never staying with one woman for long.
Kim grinned saucily up at her tall husband.
"No, I'm not. I've told you about our 'special client', haven't I?"
Bride and groom completed another circle around the dance floor.
"You mean the countess? But you told me they can't be in the same room for ten minutes without getting at each other's throats..."
"Sure, but you should see their eyes while they're busy insulting each other," Kim laughed. Oh, it was fun seeing Rocky fight a battle he'd already lost! Only, he didn't know it yet. If Kim wasn't completely mistaken, Señorita da Silva was chasing Mr DeSantos until he caught her.
Tommy was busy scanning the ballroom for their friends. Rocky was talking to Billy and Trini, who were taking a break from dancing; Adam and Tanya were right next to them, as lost in each other as they swayed to the slow song as they'd been at their own wedding two years ago. That left only two people unaccounted for...
"Hey, where's Jason and Kat?"
"I don't know; I haven't seen them since I danced with Jason right after dinner..." Kim craned her neck around Tommy's tall form. The two weren't on the dance floor, and not at any of the tables. She unobtrusively checked the doors. Nope, not there, either.
"Maybe they're both in the restrooms," she suggested as Tommy drew her into another turn. It brought one of the small enclosed terraces with their glass doors into her line of vision. Kim stopped dead in her tracks, almost causing Tommy to lose his balance, and making them stumble into Tanya and Adam, who were rudely startled out of their reverie. Before anyone could ask what was wrong, Kim disentangled herself from Tommy and took a step forward. Her voice was almost a squeak as she stared fixedly at one corner of the ballroom.
"Someone please tell me I'm really seeing what I'm seeing," she demanded breathlessly.
Thoroughly bewildered, Tommy, Adam and Tanya followed her gaze. The tableau had drawn the attention of Trini, Billy and Rocky who joined their friends on the dance floor.
"What's going on? Something wrong?" Billy asked, a slight frown on his face.
"On the contrary," Tommy assured him, a broad grin spreading over his face. "If I'm not totally mistaken, I think something is going absolutely right!"
The others looked into the direction Kim and Tommy were resolutely marching towards.
"Oh my," Trini whispered, exchanging a delighted look with Tanya. The guys were grinning from ear to ear as they followed the bride and groom.
Jason and Kat were still lost in each other, kissing with gentle passion, as a very familiar voice broke through their absorption, trying very hard to sound stern and failing miserably.
"Allright you two, what exactly is going on here?"
"As if you didn't know, Tommy," Rocky smirked, trying hard to stifle his laughter. He could see the colour rising in both Jason and Kat, and he was enjoying himself immensely.
"Yeah, don't tell me you're so forgetful that you can't remember this as well!" Billy's drily amused tone broke the whole group up.
The newly engaged couple exchanged a rueful glance as they reluctantly separated. Kat briefly buried her face in Jason's broad shoulder, then met his questioning glance with a minute nod. These were their friends; they'd been through hell and high water together at times, and they deserved to knoweven if their timing was absolutely lousy!
Facing the curious and amused glances of the group gathered closely around them, Jason smiled first at Kat, then at the others. His dark eyes were alight with laughter and something they'd never seen in them before.
"What does it look like, bro? Kat and I are getting married!"
His arm around the slender waist tightened as he heard the note of pride in his own voice. Katherine's eyes glowed with love as she leaned against him, holding her left hand up in a none-too-subtle gesture. The coral in its circle of tiny diamonds caught the light, and the women automatically oohed over it.
Adam grinned at the former Gold and Pink Rangers. He knew exactly how Jason was feelinghe'd felt the same when he'd proposed to Tanya. Still, he couldn't help but needle his former teammate a bit.
"Congratulationsbut isn't this awfully sudden?" He waggled his eyebrows comically. To his surprise, Jason blushed and exchanged another glance with Kat, who broke into a tinkling peal of laughter.
"I knew we'd pay for our silence one day!"
Jason pressed a kiss against her temple, and earned a good-natured wolf whistle from Rocky. The others laughed, and wandered back into the ballroom. Jason looked at Kim and Tommy apologetically.
"Listen, guys ... this is your day. Kat and I don't want to take anything away from you. We..." He was interrupted by Kimberly Hart Oliver at her most determined. Hands on her hips, the petite woman stared imperiously into her solidly muscled friend's eyes.
"Jason Lee Scott, if you and Kat think for one minute that I'm going to let you off the hook before you've told us everything, you've got another think coming! This is obviously not a new development, and I want to hear every little detail. You're both going to talk, if I have to tie you down until you do. So talk!"
"Yes, Ma'am!" Jason threw a snappy salute. Everybody laughed, and the friends found a quiet corner to sit down. Champagne glasses were passed around, and after a heartfelt toast to the newest couple, Jason and Kat began their tale.
"You see, it all started on a rainy night in London, in November 1998..."
Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006
Kat stood once more at the window, looking out over the city below while Jason undressed in the bathroom. It had taken them almost two more years to get to this point, but the wait had been easier; once she'd left the ballet company, she'd returned to Angel Grove and had seen to getting her coaching qualifications. Later that summer, after passing the California bar exam, Jason had come home as well, now an Assistant D.A. for Stone County. They had wanted to get married sooner, but it hadn't turned out that way; Rocky had beaten them to it, and there had been other considerations. They had grumbled a bit, but it hadn't really matteredthey were together again, and had had the opportunity to rediscover each other. It had been a good time.
Jason came out again, a pair of black silk pyjama trousers riding low on his narrow hips. He experienced a strong sense of déja vu as he saw Kat silhouetted against the dark glass pane. As before, he stood behind her and rested warm hands on her slim shoulders. His wife had discarded the negligée, and he caught his breath at the non-existent back of her nightgown. The luxurious room was dark; Kat had turned off all lamps except a small, muted nightlight next to the bed. She sighed as she leaned back against his broad chest, purring softly as skin met skin.
He ran his hands gently down her arms, then skimmed back up over her smooth back. His breath was warm against her neck as she angled her head towards his mouth.
"Was it worth it?"
Jason's question was quiet as he gently kissed her shoulder.
"Every second," Kat replied just as quietly. She turned in his arms.
"For every moment of loneliness, there was a memory to tide me over," she confessed softly. "I sometimes wish that it could have been different, but then we'd be different. And I love you the way you are."
"Just as I love you."
Jason kissed his bride lingeringly. They had spent a long time walking down Memory Lane, but it had brought all the good times backtrue, along with some bad ones as well, but that was life. Kat was right; it had brought them to this day, and to what they were. Husband and wife at last. The deep voice took on a note that sent a delightful shiver down Kat's spine as Jason guided her slowly towards the wide bed.
"And now, Mrs. Scott, I think it's time I showed you just how much I love you," Jason whispered sensually as he lowered himself next to her on the mattress. A hand reached towards the single lamp and switched it off, because the newlyweds didn't need any light to see as they began their married life in each other's arms.