Disclaimer: The Rangers belong to Saban, not me. I am not being
compensated in any way for writing this story (as my slender bank account
bears witness to), nor has Saban authorized me to use any of these. The
only character I own is Mariel (Mariah) Rose. If you want to use her,
be my guest, but give me some credit.
Notes: This takes place just after Jason loses the Gold Zeo powers. Billy's back from Aquitar (the show was missing a fundamental piece once he left), and it takes place as though Turbo Rangers haven't happened.
"So Kim's coming home?" queried Rocky DeSantos one bright Saturday morning at the Youth Center. He, Adam Park, Jason Scott, and Tanya Sloane were sitting at a table socializing over smoothies while waiting for Tommy Oliver, Billy Cranston and Katherine 'Kat' Hillard. They were all headed toward the county fair for a day out, early because there was a horseback riding demonstration Kat had hoped to see scheduled for that morning. One of her young ballet students rode, and Kat had promised to come watch her. The others had decided to join her at the Stone County Fair, figuring that it would be a nice excuse to hang out, see the animals and exhibits, and go on rides.
"Should be flying home tomorrow," answered Jason, smiling. "It'll be good to see Kim again. I've really missed her. Oh, and Tanya! You'll get to meet her for the first time! I think you'll really like her."
Tanya smiled. "I'm sure I will, from all the stories I've heard from you guys. But, correct me if I'm wrong, and don't hesitate to tell me if I'm out of line, but is Tommy okay with all this? I know he was crushed when they broke up."
Jason's face clouded over. "No, not really. And you're not out of line to ask. It's going to affect all of us on the team, and it wouldn't be good if you had no idea what was going on with Tommy. I suspect he's going to be pretty moody."
Rocky grimaced. "I've always wondered why Kim wrote that letter. It was so out of character for her. I mean, Kim's always been the type that if she's going to do something like that, she'd at least call. She's too warm to just blow him off in a letter. I don't think it'll be pretty when those two meet unless she's got a good explanation. I had hoped the whole Tommy/Kat thing might work out and help put it in the past, but he's stuck on Kim like nothing else. I always felt very badly for Kat. She honestly got the short end of the deal, which she didn't deserve. But I know Tommy's sorry for that, and Kat's forgiven him. Still×"
Tanya sighed. As Kat's good friend, she had been privy to a lot of tears over that fiasco. She cast a glance at Jason. Now there, thought Tanya, is a guy who would be perfect for Kat.
Unbeknownst to the others, Jason was thinking a similar thought. Kat was one of the most beautiful women he'd ever met. But she had been completely infatuated with his best friend, who had appeared to like her back. I could have killed Tommy for what happened with Kat, thought Jason. He began to wonder if he'd ever have the courage to ask her out. C'mon, Scott! He told himself. Emily dumped you over a month ago, the Gold powers are gone, and it's time to move on - turn over a new leaf. Maybe I can ask her today, he thought. Provided, of course, they didn't get ambushed by Mondo. The shock of losing the Gold powers had been hard on him, and every time he saw the other Rangers go into battle, it hurt a little. He didn't begrudge them their powers, but now he understood why his other best friend and 'little bro' Billy Cranston had left for Aquitar. Billy had come home after about a month, sick from the constant dampness and the defection of Cestria's affections. Billy was still sort of depressed, but he had now resigned himself to his position, realizing once he saw the glad looks on his friends' faces and heard their joyous voices when he returned, it was good to be home, powers or none. The other rangers had been careful about including him, and thanking him for all his work in the Power Chamber after nearly losing him to another planet, none of them realizing up until that point how much they'd taken him for granted. Jason for one, was extremely happy to see him. And, reflected Jason, Billy understands the whole Kim/Tommy situation. He'll be able to help there too. Not that Rocky, Adam, Tanya, and Kat weren't great, but they hadn't been there when the saga started, whereas Billy had.
Morning light shone across the sleeping face of Tommy Oliver, who was lost in a dream about none other than Kim Hart. "Of course, Beautiful. No, it's okay, I'm sorry for not being there for you enough. I'm so glad we're back together. I love you, Kimmie." Tommy murmured in his sleep. Just then, his mother Anna sailed into the room. "THOMAS OLIVER! You're late again! I thought you were supposed to be at the Youth Center at 9:30 to meet your friends! Get up!"
Tommy woke with a start, and tumbled out of the bed. "Thanks, Mom!" he called over his shoulder while attempting to grab clothes and find clean towels for a quick shower. Tommy groaned inwardly. His friends were forever teasing him about his somewhat×defective×memory and his chronic lateness. They were going to have way too much fun with this one. He finished his shower, dressed, toweled his hair, brushed his teeth, pulled on his shoes, and flew out of the house.
By the time Tommy had arrived at the Youth Center, Billy and Kat had joined the company. Everyone took one look at Tommy's slight dishevelment, and looks of understanding passed between them. "Forget to set your alarm, man?" inquired Rocky.
"Yeah," admitted Tommy. "Mom dragged me out of bed at the last second. I was so certain that I'd remembered to set the alarm last night! I guess either I managed to turn it off, or else I forgot to set it." The others simply smiled in amusement. Jason had told Tommy to be there half an hour early, so now he was just on time. It was a very convenient way of doing things, especially if there was something going on that they wanted to be on time for.
"C'mon" said Adam, checking his watch. "We'd better get going." The others concurred, and soon they were on their way toward the fairgrounds.
Once there, they all filed towards the small riding arena. It was too early for any of the booths or rides to be open yet, but the fair was buzzing with children and adults cleaning, clipping, feeding, or brushing livestock to prepare for the day's events. No sooner had they taken their seats than the announcer came on to begin the first riding competition. Kat cheered loudly for her young friend, who won the class. The classes began to blur together as they went on, especially for Rocky, who was becoming increasingly restless as he began to smell the food booths opening up outside the arena.
"At last!" remarked Rocky when the competition finished. "I was beginning to think that would never end. I'm starving! Anyone up for chili fries and funnel cakes?" Assorted laughter and groans greeted Rocky's suggestion, knowing that the Blue Ranger would eat his way through enormous quantities of food throughout the day.
"Rocky," teased Tanya, "Don't you want to save up your appetite for the pie eating contest in the afternoon?"
"Rocky? Need to save up appetite? Never!" declared Adam, knowing full well the extent of his friend's appetite. "They probably wouldn't even have enough pies to feed him with if he was actually hungry!"
"Oooh!" said Rocky, hardly having heard Adam. "Look, there's the Zipper! Anyone want to go with me? After I get some fries?"
After lunch, Tanya and Katherine split from the guys, all of whom, even Billy, were at least semi-interested in going on rides and playing games - anything but looking at the craft exhibits, which was what the girls were headed for. It also gave the girls a chance to gossip a little bit.
"Kim's coming back" Kat stated flatly in the middle of a quilting exhibit. While mostly over Tommy, she was still stung from the experience. Oh, if only it hadn't ended the way it had, thought Kat. She'd somehow always known that Tommy was smitten with Kim, even after their break up. It was the little things, Kat reflected. The day she had accidentally worn her pink tee shirt with "Pan Globals" printed across the front from her own shot at the games and his sigh of melancholy, remembering that that was exactly where Kim was. The attempts to put his arms around her, and definitely having someone shorter in mind had been painful. Then, there had been that awful night that Kat hadn't even told her best friend Tanya the details of: Tommy had called her by Kim's name in the midst of a passionate liplock, and that had been the end. Kat had always wished she'd broken up when she had picked up on the smaller signals, and not waited until it was made excruciatingly clear. She wasn't angry with Tommy now, not really, more angry with herself for having been so blind. Of course, Tommy, the perfect gentleman, thought Kat slightly bitterly, had been so genuinely remorseful, it was hard to stay upset with him. Still, while their friendship was intact enough to interact on a daily basis in a friendly manner and serve on the team together well, Kat knew that they'd lost the once deep friendship they'd had. It saddened her, but right now, she still wasn't ready to begin patching up the deeper wounds with him. In time, definitely - Tommy was worth having as a friend, worth even the difficulties that would be encountered in putting the brother/sister bond back together, but at the moment, Kat knew she'd be doing a greater disservice to Tommy and herself if she didn't resolve her hurt feelings completely. Besides, she thought with a little bit of sunshine entering her black thoughts, she would have that done soon. She was moving on with her romantic life. She thought of Jason Scott, the face that was helping propel her out of the hurt with his kind and loving presence, and felt a little better. Tanya's voice yanked her back to the present.
"Kat? Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine, Tanya, just thinking."
"No," said Tanya, scrutinizing Kat's face, "You're not alright. I know that it's been about a month and a half since you and Tommy broke up, and although you're alright with the breakup, it hurts to see him going after Kim, right?"
"Something like that," sighed Kat. Much to her horror and surprise, she could feel tears beginning to well in her eyes.
"Oh, boy. I'm sorry" said Tanya, yanking her companion to a fairly secluded area out behind the building where they could have some privacy. "Kat, I know this is hard. What HAPPENED with Tommy? You always told me that you knew you couldn't go back, but you never told me×"
"I can't. The guys would kill him, you know how protective they are, not to mention you.""I promise not to tell Adam or any of the other guys and I promise not to kill Tommy or be mad. I know you've forgiven him, and that's enough to restrain me." Kat groaned at bringing up the dirty laundry, but seeing the sincere concern in her friend's eyes, relented. "Alright. That last night, he called me Kim in the middle of a passionate kiss that I thought was an expression of OUR love. That's the long and short of it. He apologized, I cried, he had tears in his eyes, and we mutually decided to break up. There's the story." It surprised her how much, despite how relieved at some level she was to have gotten out of a relationship where she was second-best, the whole thing stung.
Kat was weeping freely now, and Tanya regretted promising not to tell the others or kill Tommy. She now understood why Kat had stayed mum about the gory details, because this revelation would have divided the team. Poor Kat. She hadn't deserved that cruel an ending. "Oh, Kat. I had no idea. I mean, Tommy just doesn't seem the type to mess up that way. I would have×"
"I know. You would have wanted to kick his butt, and that wouldn't have helped anyone, especially not our team unity. He was already kicking his own butt hard enough, and I knew it. I have forgiven him, though. Honestly, I've gotten over him almost completely, despite the fact that I'm not displaying it too convincingly right now. It's just hard to watch him moon about Kim, because she was such a factor in a lot of the pain I went through. I'd be all right if it were any other girl he was in love with. It's also not helping that this has been a particularly rough week, what with Mondo attacking nonstop, and finals coming up. I'm overtired, not to mention PMS-ing a little. Actually, I kind of like this other guy, anyway×"
"You like someone else?" This wasn't a complete shock to Tanya, but the girl crossed her fingers and hoped this 'someone else' was a very specific someone. A someone with dark brown hair, midnight eyes, and a black belt in Shotokan Karate. A someone whom, she was pretty certain, liked Kat back and would make a much better boyfriend than Tommy. A someone who had truly gotten over his ex-girlfriend. "Do tell!"
"Well×" Kat wavered. "Um, I kind of like×"
"Yes?" Tanya prodded.
Inside, Tanya gave a little dance of joy. That, she thought approvingly, was a relationship that had a good chance of working out. Not that she didn't like Tommy, she did, but she had always suspected he'd been carrying the torch for Kim and viewed Kat halfheartedly. Not a good thing in any relationship, Tanya reflected. I'm so glad Adam wasn't on the rebound when we started dating. Adam, who had been a witness to part of the Tommy/Kim relationship, and then to the breakup, had, upon seeing Tommy and Kat begin dating, remarked bluntly to Tanya that he didn't see it working out. Rocky, party to the conversation, had been even more straightforward. "He's using her as a substitute for Kim. He's not doing it on purpose, but this is not going to be good for Kat. Of course, she's so enamored by him, it wouldn't stop her if he had a label reading 'Kim's Sweetie' stuck to his forehead. And why not try? Maybe he WILL get over Kim. Stranger things have happened!" As the time that Kat and Tommy dated drew on, it had seemed on the surface that Rocky's hope might bear out. However, the one time Adam and Tanya had double-dated with them, Tanya remembered that Tommy had seemed distracted most of the time. Not too obviously, Tanya thought, but just enough that someone who knew him really, really well would notice that something was wrong. Tanya had hoped that it was nothing more that worries about Mondo and the fact that there were some nasty technical problems with the zords that no one except Billy, who had been gone at that point, could fix. Kat had talked to her later that night, and Tanya had, with misgivings, reassured her that these problems could have been the cause of the distraction. Kat deserved better, Tanya thought. Jason could give her better: first place in his heart. Outwardly, Tanya maintained calm as she answered "I think he'd be perfect for you. And I'm pretty sure he might like you back."
Kat smiled. "I'm so glad. I think I still need to work through a few more things before I'm ready to pursue a new relationship with him, but I would be really, really happy if he liked me."
"Ready to go browse the knick-knacks?"
"Always!" The two headed inside happily.
On the other side of the fairgrounds, Rocky was dragging Adam on what felt to the Asian boy like the millionth ride while Tommy, Jason, and Billy had decided to take a break from rides and were seated comfortably on the grass of the midway. Billy noted that Tommy looked pensive and sighed. The shy boy hated bringing up anything that might cause his friend distress, but at this point, something had to be done. Tommy had been moping pretty much since the girls had split off. Billy gathered his courage and bit the bullet. "Tom, you're not okay, so don't tell me that you are×" he trailed off, not quite believing that he'd said that so×bluntly. Reminding himself to be sensitive, after all, he had been glad that no one had asked more than a few questions about him and Cestria, he looked at his friend.
"No," snarled Tommy, "I'm not okay. Kim's coming home tomorrow, I know I hurt Katherine over the whole thing, and I have no idea what to say to Kim! You wouldn't understand. How would you feel if Cestria decided to come to earth and you had to be around her? Huh?"
The instant he asked the last question, Tommy regretted it. He saw the flash of pain that came over his friend's face and could have kicked himself. "Billy, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. No matter how upset I am about Kim."
Billy looked at him, clear green eyes shining slightly. "I would feel awful. I had no idea what would happen×but never mind that." He stared off into space, as if searching for the distant planet and recalling the events there. Tommy realized that Billy DID know how he felt, and sighed.
Jason looked at his two best friends, wishing he could help. Just then, the ride ended, and a very hyper Rocky as well as Adam, whose face was beginning to look the same color as his green shirt, came over to join them. "Anyone else up for a ride on the Thunder Jets?"
"I think I'll go with you, Rocky" said Billy, standing up and leaving the others still sitting on the grass.
"Me too," said Tommy, glad for the distraction.
"Ohhhh," moaned Adam once the others had moved on. "Enough is enough. Remind me NEVER to let Rocky drag me on five spinning rides in a row." Jason grinned. He had always wondered how outgoing Rocky had gotten to be such good friends with quiet Adam. Then again, he thought, how had Billy and Zack, such complete opposites, gotten to be such good friends? One of those mysteries of life, he supposed. Jason's thoughts went back to the current situation and looked down at Adam. Adam, he thought, could be trusted right now. And Adam always seemed to have a calm, quiet wisdom few could impart in so many things. Normally Jason would have asked Billy, the other one with that quality, but he had seen the look on Billy's face when Tommy had talked about Cestria. No, right now, Billy was hurting a little too much to be asked to deal with Tommy's problems, and that fact concerned Jason almost as much as Tommy's moodiness. "Adam?"
"I'm worried about Tommy with Kim coming back. He's been acting snappish and moody, and someone's bound to get hurt if he keeps it up, if no one already has. But I'm also worried about Billy. Something happened on Aquitar that really upset him. I mean, Billy's never been one to talk about his problems, but I've tried everything I know to ask him what's wrong, and it's not working."
Adam was touched that Jason was confiding this much in him. Usually Jason sorted out problems without needing to really consult the others - he was such an excellent leader and attuned to their various personalities - that he normally figured out things on his own, or else talked with Billy or Tommy. "Well, you know Billy. But I agree, something has to be done. About both Tommy and Billy. And I do know a little about what happened on Aquitar. Not the whole story, but enough to fill in some blanks. The only reason," Adam added with a swift glance at Jason, who had been Billy's 'big bro' since they were ten, "that he didn't tell us together is that I caught him at the right moment. Basically, the impression I got was that he had fallen fairly hard for Cestria. The water from the eternal falls was working, and she was one of the few Aquatians who actually smiled or seemed to care about him."
Jason nodded. The brief time he'd spent with the Aquatians had indicated to him that they didn't convey emotions in their society except to family and close friends. He could see how that would be difficult for anyone, even Billy, who rarely conveyed his own emotions.
"Again, he had strong feelings for her. And apparently, she for him. So, they started dating, or whatever the Aquatian equivalent is. Things got serious, emotionally and physically. But Billy has morals. I know that sounds sort of weird for a scientist, but he really is a fairly devout Christian. He was raised in the church, and even though he's kind of quiet about his faith, he does find a lot of comfort in it."
"Yeah, he's gone to church with our family since he moved here. He doesn't TALK much about his faith, but he lives it. And if the occasion arises where he feels the need to define himself verbally as a Christian, he'll do it, but other than that he lives by the saying of St. Francis: 'Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words'. He'd rather show you by his lifestyle. Anyway, sorry, go on."
"As I was saying, Billy has standards. Cestria wanted to go further physically than he did, and Billy declined, saying that he wanted to wait. A month later, she was pregnant."
"He gave in?!"
"No, he didn't. That was the problem. The baby obviously wasn't his."
"Oh!" Jason gasped. "Poor Billy! That's horrible! No wonder he's been so quiet about it. I would have been too."
Adam blushed. He knew he probably shouldn't have spilled the secret, but Jason ought to know this one. "I shouldn't have said anything."
"I'll not say anything, I promise. Billy'll tell me in his own good time, and then we can begin sorting through it. Thank you, Adam. I appreciate your listening and telling me so I can be prepared to help."
Jason's head spun. Rocky had been right when he'd said earlier that the letter from Kim to Tommy had been uncharacteristic of her. What could possibly have happened to Kim? And of course, Tommy was upset. Jason was dreading the meeting between them, yet hoping that they would emerge peaceably. Now, Billy's whole experience×what was going to happen with that? He stood up as he saw the Thunder Jets finishing. The rest of the day flew by, and before he knew it, Jason was home, and laying in bed still in turmoil, thoughts of asking Kat out abandoned for the moment. Now he was really worried about Kim's imminent homecoming and the delicate emotional relationships of the team. He fell into a restless sleep, tossing and turning.
The light streaming through Jason's windows found him in a knotted mass of covers, hanging half off the bed. He had slept badly, and trying to pry his eyes open as his alarm buzzed on and on proved to be more of a task than he'd realized. "Jason! Are you awake?" called Mary Scott.
"Yeah," muttered Jason, just loudly enough that his mother would hear him. He peeled the covers off himself and hopped into the shower. He had two hours to get to the airport to pick up Kim.
Tommy was not oversleeping that morning. In fact, he was awake pacing and prowling up and down the length of his room. If I had a tail, he thought sardonically, I'd be lashing it. Kim's coming back. And I have to face her. She'll be here in only an hour. What am I going to do? He sat down and buried his face in his hands.
Billy was also awake, lying in his bed, his hands folded behind his head, thinking. He knew that Tommy hadn't meant to hurt him, but oh, that remark about Cestria had cut deeply. Billy reminded himself that a girl with such loose morals wasn't someone he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, but it had hurt nonetheless. He had loved her more deeply than any other woman in his experience, and even in the first couple of months, he had hoped that this would be the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Tears sprung to his eyes.
At the airport, Jason checked the flight schedule. AA178 from Miami was right on time according to the computer, and he headed toward the assigned gate. Too excited to read the magazine he had brought to pass the time, he headed for a kiosk and bought a Coke. He was just finishing it when the passengers began to file off the flight. Kim was near the end, but unmistakable. Her caramel hair had been cut off to just above the shoulders, she was tanned, and she was dressed in a pretty lavender baby tee shirt with khaki cut off shorts. Cream and brown leather sandals adorned her feet, making her just a little taller than normal. She looked gorgeous, thought Jason, just before he was swept into an enthusiastic hug. "Jason! I've missed you so much!"
"I missed you too, Kim," Jason chuckled, glad to see her, all his nerves swept away for the moment. "You look wonderful! And congratulations on your placings at the Pan Globals."
Kim twirled lightly. "Thank you. I got tired of pink. It was definitely time for a change."
"Well, that purple suits you. Now, how about we pick up your bags and head for the Youth Center for a smoothie? I've got a lot of antsy people who are excited as anything about seeing you."
Kim grinned. "Sure. But while we're heading back, you have to tell me all about what's been going on with the×" Her voice trailed off, ever mindful of accidentally betraying their secret.
Once they were seated in Jason's small red SUV, Kim started grilling him. "So you are TRULY alright after your brush with death and the Gold powers?"
"Healthwise, yes. But as far as the emotional state, I have a new appreciation for why Billy wanted to get away and why Tommy all but became a recluse after they lost their powers."
At the mention of Tommy's name, Jason noticed that Kim looked out the window with a wistful gaze. "How is Tommy?" she asked softly."Well×" Jason hesitated. Was it better to be truthful or tactful? Kim would figure out the truth soon enough, but it wasn't really his place to explain.
Fortunately, Kim interpreted his silence correctly. "He's still pretty hurt, isn't he. Oh, how I wish I'd never sent that×" Her voice trailed off.
"You're not with that other guy still, then?"
"There was no other guy!" shouted Kim, her voice rising with her emotional pitch. "I just couldn't bear×I couldn't stand×"
"No other guy?" asked Jason, stricken. He had known that there was something fishy about that letter! "Kim, what's going on? It may be none of my business, but if you want to tell me, I'm here to listen."
Kim sighed. "Never mind." After an awkward silence, she began bantering lightly again. The rest of the ride passed quickly.
Billy was sitting under the Bullzord, attempting to rewire a weapons system that had been broken in the last brush with Mondo. "Argh!" he murmured in frustration. The delicate wiring was not responding to even his expertise, and his annoyance was mounting swiftly. Finally managing to finish the last splice, which had taken him over an hour, he decided to take a little bit of a break and at least stand up to stretch. He climbed the steps to the main chamber and lounged on the console. There was still about an hour before Kim could be expected back at the Youth Center. "Hello" he remarked aloud, suddenly noticing an interesting scan on one of the computer screens. "What's this?"
Everyone, with the notable exceptions of Tommy and Billy, was clustered around a table at the Youth Center eagerly awaiting Kim's arrival. Rocky was jumping around, unable to sit still for even an instant, Adam sat serenely but his face revealed his excitement. Tanya clutched Adam's arm, for once feeling ever so slightly nervous about meeting Kim. Kat sat with her perfect ballet dancer's posture, radiating calm. "There!" shouted Rocky, seeing Jason striding toward them. Kim followed a minute later. Rocky dashed forward to hug her, and the others soon had clustered about her. Kim and Tanya were introduced, and a general hugging and greeting commenced.
"Congratulations on the Pan Globals!" said Adam when the hubbub had died down. "I hear that you won two gold medals!"
Kim flushed, pleased. "Thank you. The Pan Globals were fun, but I'm glad to be home. I had thought about staying to try for the US Olympic team, but I was tired of all the competition and the yelling and the backbiting. I'm planning to get my license to teach gymnastics, and work through college once I finish the end of my senior year here." She paused. "Where's Billy? I had heard he was back from, er, Augusta after he and, um, Cynthia didn't work out."
"I don't know," said Kat. "I know he was planning on meeting us here, but he hasn't shown up yet. I suppose he's gotten busy, and lost track of time. I'm sure he'll be coming soon."
Kim had noticed Tommy's absence as well, but while she was a little disappointed, she was also relieved that she didn't have to face him right then. It was good to see the others, and not be worried about Tommy's reactions to her. "So, how is Billy?" she asked. Looks passed among the others.
"He's quiet." Adam finally said, unable to find anything better to use to describe Billy's emotional state without giving away his secret.
"Billy's always been quiet" said Kim. She caught the glances circulating again. "Oh. That kind of quiet. Well, maybe I can spend some time with him and get him to open up a little."
Everyone nodded. If anyone could do it, it would be Kim. Just then, their communicators chimed. "Uh-oh" remarked Rocky.
"If you don't mind, I'll come with you," said Kim, hoping that she'd get to see her old mentor Zordon again, and wanting to visit the new Power Chamber.
"Guys," Billy's voice crackled once they had reached a secure location, "there's something I need you to see. Can you teleport here?"
Once they reached the Power Chamber, they found Billy pacing with a computer read-out in his hand. "What's up?" queried Jason.
"Well, this is really odd. Apparently, there's some sort of power source we weren't aware of emanating from some human here on earth. That's why I called you here, because I want to be sure it isn't something generating from any of you guys. The power signatures are similar to ours."
"Not another mysterious ranger," groaned Tanya.
"No, no, not a ranger at all. I said the signature was similar, not alike. Actually, before I called you all, I checked some records of known signatures. It's a very unique but not unheard of fragment of the powers. See, whoever has this particular power isn't given it, like you all were. They're born to it. They can't morph to fight, so they're much more vulnerable in that sense, but yet their powers are stronger in some ways than yours. It's sort of like, well, you rangers would have been the soldiers and commanded by this upper power in the olden times. These warriors are designed not to fight monsters or minions, but often would be called upon to fight the sources - such as Rita or Mondo - themselves, virtually unshielded. They were a last resort, often used once the rangers were overwhelmed. They command one extremely powerful weapon that can repel any blow, and often are incredible hand to hand fighters, since they have to rely mostly on their own skill, unlike you guys where your capabilities are enhanced when you morph. This weapon that we're picking up is a sword named Gwydior, one of the most powerful of all the weapons. It is of the Green power, and we need to find out who has it before Mondo or any of the other goons do."
They all gasped softly. This was something totally different from anything they had heard before, and they had heard some distinctly odd things! "So," questioned Jason, "Is it possible for a person to have such a power and be unaware of it?"
"Yes, until they are forced into a confrontation, or alerted by someone who knows the signs. A long time ago, when the planets were working more in cooperation, children born to such families that were known to have possessed those powers - it is genetic, strangely enough - were watched closely for the signs. They were trained from early ages to fight in many styles with different enemies so that if the day came that they DID have to confront a powerful evil, they would be ready. Unfortunately, now, these occurrences are so rare, especially on earth, that this person may have little or no training. And since the person's genetics seem to be registering in the computer, I was hypothesizing it might be one of you."
Just then, Tommy teleported in in a streak of red light. "Hi guys. What's going on?"
Billy briefly explained the situation to him, and Tommy sighed. The mysterious powers were great and all, but they tended to be a major pain until they were identified. And whoever this was could very well be in grave danger if Mondo had picked up anything. The thoughts whirling were so intense for a minute, Tommy didn't notice the lavender-clad girl standing by a console.
Kim trembled. All she wanted to do was take him in her arms and kiss him and tell him how sorry she was. He was probably furious, she thought. What a mistake that letter had been. But he and Kat had been dating, last she had heard, and she didn't want to get in their way. She swallowed hard. "Hi, Tommy."
Tommy looked up. His dark eyes fastened on Kim, in a gaze of hurt, pain, and×was that gladness she saw behind the ache? No, no, she reminded herself, he couldn't possibly want you. It's just your imagination. "Hi, Kim." He replied dully.
There was no time for further conversation. Billy was already lining them up to scan. The scan took a few minutes, but much to everyone's disappointment, none of them held the mysterious power. Billy finished with Tommy. Plugging the results into the computer, he suddenly gasped. "Tommy, it's not you. But it's someone related to you, the genetics are very similar to yours."
"David?" inquired Tommy, wondering if his elder brother could be the one. It seemed unlikely, though, David was so attuned that it would have been strange if he had possessed some power and hadn't known.
"No. But definitely a sibling."
"I have another sibling?" This stunned Tommy. And he had thought the shock of seeing Kim had been bad enough!
"Apparently. Now that we have a close match with you, though, we can start searching for him or her using some of your specifics." Billy turned back to his console.
The next hour while Billy searched was nerve-wracking. Tommy was pacing worse than any of them had ever seen him, and the others were stuck watching him, trying to soothe him a little. Just as Billy yelled "Ah-HA!" indicating that he'd found the person, the warning siren went off.
Tommy swore softly. What awful timing Mondo had!
"This," boomed Zordon, indicating the monster on the viewing globe, "is Candor. He possesses a magic mirror that shows the innermost desires of a person's heart, sucking them into the mirror and the dimension behind it. Beware. He is a deeply dangerous foe. Do not look in the mirror, or you will be captured. Good luck, rangers. May the power protect you."
The rangers morphed and teleported out. Kim, Jason, and Billy remained behind. Zordon then addressed himself to the small company. "We cannot send a ranger to get the person - the "guardian" we shall term them. It would draw too much attention to the guardian's presence. Mondo and anyone else who cared would notice the movements of a ranger, and begin searching for what the ranger was interested in. That would certainly lead to an attempt to capture the guardian. Time is of the essence, though. Jason, you are still a too weak from the side-effects of the Gold powers to be harmed further if you are captured in this endeavor. Kim, though you are very trustworthy, you have not dealt with the Machine Empire. Billy, I am asking you to help find this guardian and bring him or her back alive and unharmed. Your intelligence and loyalty make you ideal for such a task. Will you accept?"
Billy paused. This wasn't the same as getting his powers back, but at least it meant a bona fide mission, and not just repair work. It was an honest strike against the Machine Empire, and possibly a devastating one to Mondo. He fought the grin coming up on his face at being back in the action, and forced a grave expression. "Yes, Zordon, I would be honored."
"Then go, Billy. May the Power Protect you."
With that, Billy carefully printed out the name, set the coordinates, and teleported into the heart of New York City.
The rangers were not doing so well against Candor. It was hard having the secrets of your heart, including those that you wouldn't have even told God if He didn't already know them, revealed so cruelly. This battle was less physical than it was emotional, though Candor was armed with a full array of weapons that were tearing through the rangers like a hot knife through butter. From the Power Chamber, Kim and Jason watched in dismay. Tommy took a sudden hit from an energy blast, and in that instant, his exhausted mind, reeling from Kim, a new sibling, and fatigue snapped. His eyes gazed into Candor's mirror. The mirror spoke audibly to the rangers and those watching in a voice that was terrifyingly calm as it did so. "You still love one who broke your heart, Red Ranger. Come, meet her here. I can give you her love×"
Kim was too shocked to move. Tommy still loved her? "No, no!" she cried."That×THING×can't give you my love! Tommy, no!"
It was too late. Tommy disappeared, trapped within the mirror. "Keep fighting, Rangers!" commanded Zordon. "You must destroy the monster, or we cannot get Tommy out!" The rangers, renewed in their desire to destroy the monster, continued fighting. At last, after an array of weaponry and the Zeo Megazord, the monster vanished in a blur of exploding machinery and flame.
The rangers teleported back into the Power Chamber. "What about Tommy, Zordon?" asked Adam.
"He has been transported into a new dimension I was unaware of. It cannot be safely entered by anyone who bears or has borne the Zeo powers. Tommy suffers there because of his relation to those powers, and I will not risk losing any of you. We must wait until Billy can get back with the "guardian" as we presently have no way of entering the dimension with those here safely. Perhaps the guardian will be able to."
"What about me, Zordon?" asked Kimberly. "I've never held a Zeo Power."
Zordon cast a thoughtful eye on the small girl. "I would not send you in there unmorphed, though. You'd be defenseless."
"But Tommy is suffering! I have to do something! Please, Zordon, let me do this." The old sage sighed. It was against his better judgment to allow her, but he had one idea. "Kimberly. Go to the console. Press in these coordinates."
Kim did so. Instead of feeling the whoosh of teleportation enveloping her, a small drawer slid open. Inside was her old pink power coin. She shot Zordon a quizzical look. "What's this? I thought these were stripped of their powers."
"They were. However, after leaving them for so long, they have built up enough of a charge to give you your former powers for a short time. They are no good against the Machines, but I have kept them. It will afford you some protection in that dimension." Kim smiled. "Thank you. This means so much." In a flash of pink light she morphed and teleported out.
Billy had landed in what appeared to be a dorm. Girls with lanky legs and leotards ran through the hall in a busy hustle and bustle, while young men in tight tank tops and sweatpants dashed for what seemed to be classrooms. He walked down the hall clutching the paper with the room number and the name: Mariel Rose, Room 456. As he reached the room, he could see a girl of about 5'6" with porcelain white skin, raven hair pulled into an intricate braid, and a basic black leotard with light blue sweatpants sitting on a now-stripped bed amidst packing crates. "Almost done there, Mariel?" he heard a familiar voice ask.
Richard Oliver? Wondered Billy. Creeping slowly so that he could see better without being spotted, he affirmed his suspicion. What in the Sam Hill was Mr. Oliver doing in New York with this girl? Billy decided that caution was the best, and just to listen for a moment.
"That's the last of it" he heard the girl, presumably Mariel Rose, say sadly.
"Oh, Mariel, I know you're still sad about your parents. But we hope you'll like it out in Angel Grove, and we'll make sure you can continue dancing, at an academy even if you like, or you can live at home with us. I'm sure you're interested in meeting your brothers, but be forewarned: we haven't told Tommy - that's our son - about you yet. We didn't want to get his hopes up if the adoption fell through."
"Call me Mariah, that's what most people do. I appreciate your kindness so much. You didn't have to take me in after my parents died just because I'm related to your son. I'm very blessed that after Sarah made that confession about the abandoned baby that you found me just at the right time."
Sarah? Billy thought. Oh, right, he remembered. That's Tommy's birth mother.
"Well, we were supposed to get any child Sarah bore in that pregnancy, but apparently, she wasn't too with it when the two of you were born. None of us, including the adoption service, had any idea that she'd had another baby when she'd had Tommy since she gave birth at her apartment. Then she brought you to New York, and left you. You were found alive, but since no one knew who you were, they put you up for adoption. Your parents, Ava and James, adopted you never realizing that you'd been promised to others. When Sarah made that confession to the hospital chaplain before she died about the baby she'd abandoned, the police began tracking down any babies dead or alive around that time. They notified us out of the blue one day who you were and that your parents had been killed and you needed a legal guardian, since we were the next closest. And we're proud to have you. Anna and I always wanted more children, and we hope you'll be happy with our family."
So they've known about Tommy's sister, thought Billy. Would have helped if I'd known that she was coming to Angel Grove, but this is going to be convenient. He contemplated the best way to catch her alone. Billy did not need to wait long for an opportunity to present itself. "Well, then, I'll start driving back toward Angel Grove with your things. You'll be on flight US114, in four days out of LaGuardia. We'll look forward to seeing you then." Richard gently hugged the girl, and bounded out of the room with the last crates.
Billy wondered exactly how he was going to tell her his news. "Hi, you're a guardian of this ancient power and I need you to come with me because your life is in danger from giant space robots" was probably NOT going to be particularly convincing. However, time was ticking. Even now, Mondo could be picking up the trail, and preparing some sort of ambush. Billy knocked lightly at the door to the room and walked in. Mariel, or Mariah, looked up. "Who×" she began, but her dark eyes darted behind Billy suddenly and opened wide. "What in the×"
Kim landed silently. Now, she thought, where is Tommy? I've got to figure out what is keeping him here and get him out. She had gone in virtually blindly, oblivious to the 'how' of what she was going to actually DO anything to help him. "Tommy?" she called out softly. No answer. More silence and darkness greeted her. She took a few steps in one direction, calling again. Still, silence fell around her. She began to walk slowly, trying to get her bearings in this strange place.
In the Power Chamber, the other rangers were busy monitoring Kim and Billy. All of a sudden, the warning siren began to clamor again. "What in the×" Jason muttered. The coordinates for Mondo's strike were not within the normal perimeters. Only when he checked the coordinates for Billy's destination did he understand. "Oh, crap." He murmured. "I guess Mondo did figure out our little secret after all."
Billy whirled to face a brigade of cogs beeping and gesturing. He threw himself in front of Mariah, to protect her. It was no use. The cogs swarmed in, grabbing him and her. To his surprise, Mariah began fighting them using a martial arts style he was mildly familiar with, Tae Kwon Do, he supposed. From the looks of her moves, she was a multi-degree black belt in her discipline. Against cogs, however, she was eventually overwhelmed, and as she was, he felt the whoosh of Mondo's involuntary teleportation around them.
Kim walked for what felt like a very long time. The stillness began to bother her. It was so silent. She wanted to start whistling or humming to herself to break the dead quiet, but didn't want to alert anything that might be lurking to her presence unnecessarily. At last, she saw a small glimmer of light. She headed toward it, picking up her pace to a run.
Adam stared at the print out and groaned. "This guardian - Mariel - and Billy have been kidnapped by Mondo. What are we going to do? We can't penetrate the dimension they've been put in. It's the same one as Tommy and Kim."
"Then we must work on finding a way in, or hope that Kim and Tommy can find them and they can all escape," sighed Zordon. "This is truly a terrible situation, now more than ever since Mariel, the guardian, is involved. If Mondo figures out how to steal her powers, he will be much, much worse. Possibly unstoppable."
The others worked industriously now more than ever. The fate of the world again rested in their hands.
"Oof!" came the undignified sound of someone unused to teleportation falling hard. Billy reached out a hand. The light was dim, just enough for him to be able to clearly see Mariah a few feet away.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"WHAT IS GOING ON?!"
Billy sighed. Now his "kidnapped by space robots" speech was going to be quite applicable. "Sit down. I suspect we're going to be here for awhile, and I'll explain while I try to figure out the best way to get out of here."
"This doesn't seem to phase you." Mariah observed.
"Not really. It worries me, but I've had worse happen. You see, it's sort of a long story. A couple of years ago this sorceress, Rita was released×."
Kim reached the light. It was a circular column rising up from the ground, golden in color. In the center was Tommy. He cried out in pain at regular intervals, almost as though the light was burning him. Kim felt her heart breaking as she watched. "Tommy!" There was no response. Kim could not bear it any further. She plunged into the column.
"YES!" shouted Katherine, startling all of the other rangers, who by this time, around seven hours since the fight, were growing tired and frustrated at trying to penetrate the dimension.
"What's that?" asked Adam, getting up.
"We can't teleport them out, but I CAN contact them on their communicators, it looks like. Then we can at least let them know we're working, and maybe we can stay in touch long enough for Billy to give us a suggestion."
Billy had just finished explaining most of the history of the rangers, including trying to sum up her newfound family for her. "Well, Tommy, he's a good guy, and he's one of my best friends. He's also one for major guilt trips, and he'll feel bad that he couldn't protect us when we get back probably. He'll be very, very happy to see you though. Tommy's been searching for his birth relatives as long as I've known him, and it will just kill him that he's got a real twin." He had noticed, in the couple of hours he'd been talking with her, that Mariel Rose was absolutely stunning. The jet black of her hair set off the beautiful porcelain skin, and from everything she'd been saying, she seemed nice as well as lovely. Stop it, he told himself. That's Tommy's SISTER. Don't even go there. "So," he began, in an effort to distract himself from his feelings, "what about you?"
"Well, I'm a dancer. I dance ballet and modern. I'm seventeen years old, and I started ballet and Tae Kwon Do lessons when I was about four, because I drove my parents nuts since I had so much energy. When I was six, I got accepted into the New York Dance Academy. I started dancing professionally as a child dancer with the company when I was seven, and I began dancing as a principle for the company at sixteen. A month or so ago, my parents, Ava and James Rose, plus my sisters Ashlynn, who was six years older than me, and Chrissy, who was eight years older than me, plus my brother in law Mike were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. I was contacted by the Olivers, who had learned that my birth mother had me as well as their son Thomas, and they offered to adopt me. So, right when you came in, I was in the process of moving to their home in Angel Grove."
Billy heard the brittle tone in her voice as she talked about her parents and sisters. It was the tone of someone who is used to explaining the situation, but is not over the pain yet. He turned to her. "I'm sorry."
"Thanks." Mariah muttered.
"My mom died in a car wreck from a drunk driver when I was nine." Billy was surprised at his revelation. It was not a subject that he liked to discuss, especially with a virtual stranger. Somehow, though, Mariah didn't feel like a stranger. He sighed to himself. He was definitely beginning to like her the more he heard about her.
"Oh. I'm sorry. Then you know what it feels like×" Mariah's voice trailed off softly. The grief was still fresh, but it felt good to actually talk about her parents, especially with someone who understood. He's not bad looking, either, she noted within her head, then feeling rather shocked at her sentiment.
Billy crossed over to her. He was not a hugging person by nature, but she needed a hug. He remembered the terrible days after his mom's accident and his dad's silence. Wallace Cranston had been grieving hard over the death of his beloved Hannah, and was unable to comfort his small son adequately. Stiffly, he reached out and put his arms around the girl. Tears soaked his shoulder. He sat, holding her, suddenly aware that he didn't want to let her go. At last, she looked up. "Thank you" she whispered.
"Not a problem" said Billy, squeezing her shoulders gently.
Just then, he heard his communicator crackle. "Billy? Do you read? Billy?" Billy jumped to his feet. "Tanya? Is that you?"
"Yes," the communicator replied. "We can't teleport you out, but we can contact you right now. Tommy and Kim are also trapped in here, see if you can find them. We're working as hard as we can to get you out. Is Mariel alright?"
"She is. She's here with me."
"Start looking for the others. Tanya out."
Kim was surprised to find that the column let her through with no problem. "Tommy!" she cried out, throwing her arms around him.
"Yes! I could never leave you here, and the others can't get in. This is set up to cause anyone with Zeo powers a lot of pain apparently."
"I can attest to that. It hurts like the dickens, Kim, except when you hold me. I think you're blocking some component."
"So I'm helping instead of hurting you?"
"Yes, Kim. Oh, Kim, you always took away the hurt. When I lost the green powers, and so many other times you were wonderful. I just don't understand why×why the letter?" Tommy was so relieved to have Kim there, he forgot all his reservations and reasons why NOT to declare his still-strong love for her.
"I didn't know, Tommy" sobbed Kim. "I was so stupid. I was so sick one week, and miserable, and everyone kept writing me how much you and Kat were hanging out together. I figured I'd break it off with you before you could send ME a letter. And my coach frowned on boyfriend/girlfriend attachments. Said it took away from our concentration. So I sent the letter. I knew it was a mistake. But I×oh, how stupid. And then it was too late because you WERE dating Kat!"
"Kat? Kat and I were never in love. She was second in my heart. She knew it, I knew it. I wronged her greatly when I started going out with her. And I am so ashamed of that. But you×you still×" his voice trailed off.
"I still what?"
The low voiced utterance thrilled Kim to the very core of her being. If it hadn't been for those stupid helmets, she would have kissed him deeply at that moment. As joy enveloped her, the light around them faded. And suddenly, they were both sitting on the floor of the Power Chamber.
"Well, that ends that possibility." Muttered Billy, feeling very annoyed. Katherine had just contacted them that Tommy and Kim had arrived in the Power Chamber. No one was sure how or why, but they were trying to figure it out. As soon as they did, they would notify him and Mariel.
"What? Are we still stuck here?" asked Mariah.
"I'm afraid so. And there doesn't appear to be any way out. We've been walking around for some time now. Let's rest for a minute."
The two sat down. Billy sighed. "Yesterday I was so worried about Tommy with Kim coming back, the upcoming dance at the Youth Center, and feeling bitter. Now I just wish I could be back there."
"Why bitter, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Nah, I don't mind. My ex-girlfriend, who was from the planet Aquitar, ought to be giving birth in a few days here."
"To your baby?" Mariah was mildly shocked, but tried not to show it.
"Not to my baby. Someone else's. I've always believed sex is for marriage, but she didn't, apparently. It was a pretty ugly way to find out."
"I'm sorry. That is awful."
"I guess it's good that it didn't get any further than it did with us."
"It's hard," remarked Mariah. "The one guy I dated tried to push me. It's a terrible feeling, especially when he's not religious. I'm a Christian, so he didn't understand my beliefs."
Billy looked at her. He saw a deep look of understanding etched in her face. As he looked, something in his soul released, and in the next instant, they found themselves seated on the Power Chamber floor.
The other rangers crowded around Billy and Mariah. "You're safe!" shouted Rocky. "We were beginning to think we'd NEVER get you out! Then Tommy and Kim appeared, and we realized what the exit was."
"What was it?" inquired Billy.
"The monster we were fighting earlier, Candor, had a magic mirror. It would show you your deepest desires, and then when you reached for them, it would trap you in a strange dimension. The only way out of that dimension was to have that desire fulfilled. Mondo apparently was in a hurry, and sent you to that dimension, figuring you'd never guess what was going on or be able to find the exit and that you'd be lost forever, or at least until he could figure out what to do with you."
Billy glanced over to where Tommy and Kim were holding hands. He knew what their deep desire had been - each other. But what had Mariah fulfilled in him, he wondered. He had known that she was wonderful, and that some part of him was becoming whole again, but what had it been that he desired? All of a sudden, it hit him: understanding and honesty. He had wanted to be understood for once, even just a little bit. And she had. She hadn't condemned him, or shied away from talking about his mom, or laughed at him about Cestria. She hadn't been uncomfortable around him, talking to him. She'd been honest. He smiled. In a move he never would have believed that he'd have the courage for, he looked her straight in the eye. "Well, will you grant me one more wish? May I escort you to the dance at the Youth Center in a week?"
Mariah flushed with pleasure. "I'd love to."
"All right, all right," grumbled Rocky. "Enough with this lovey-dovey nonsense. Tommy! You've got a sister to meet! And what's this - how is she going to be escorting you to the dance, Billy, when she doesn't even live here?"
Mariah briefly explained the situation as Tommy came forward. "So," she concluded, "I'll be moving here to live with the Olivers."
Tommy looked at the girl. He could see the resemblance. Her coloring was much more pronounced than his with the black hair and pale skin, but the hawk-like, lean features and the dancing dark eyes were so similar, he wondered if he was staring at a strange reflection of himself as a female. "Hi." It was all he could come up with under the circumstances. And then he reached down and hugged his twin sister.
Kat had been in the basement of the Power Chamber, finishing some things when she heard the commotion upstairs. Dashing up to the main chamber, she gasped in surprise. "MARIAH?!!"
"Kat!" came the joyful reply. The two girls embraced hard, everyone else watching in utter confusion. "I took ballet with her during some summer sessions, and we've kept in touch" Mariah explained. The happy rejoicing went on for some time until introductions were complete, and reminisces exchanged. Mariah elected to stay at the Power Chamber learning the ropes of the team she would be joining until her expected arrival in Angel Grove, and the others departed for home and sleep.
Jason and Kat landed in their neighborhood. "Well×" said Kat. "Good-night Jase."
"Wait." Jason felt like his heart was going to stop beating, but after all he'd witnessed today, he knew what he wanted to do. "Kat×If the mirror had shown me my desire×it would have shown me you." He stuttered slightly, nervous.
Kat regarded him solemnly. "Jase×I don't know what to say×I'm sort of scared about getting into another relationship."
"We'll take it slow, I promise."
"Are you really over Emily?"
This was a hard question. Jason thought carefully about his answer. "Kat, I don't love Emily any more. I'm not longing after her, and it wouldn't matter if she showed up right here right now and asked me back out. We broke up, and while it was hard, it made me realize that the one I'd always wanted was standing right here under my nose. But I also must ask you: are you over Tommy? It's okay if you're not. I'll understand."
"I didn't think I was. It hurt so much that Kim was coming back, and to know that I could never be his love. But today, when I looked in that mirror, he wasn't what was there." Jason hardly dared to breathe. "Jase, you were."
Jason reached down and touched the soft, pink lips to his own. "Kat, will you give me a chance? And maybe," he said, smiling, "go to the dance with me?"
"I'd love to."