Disclaimer: It's Saban's sandbox. I just play here because
Author's Note: This chapter is set during the ski trip with Tommy after Kim has broken up with him. Each chapter will continue to move forward through the Zeo universe (with minor alterations).
**This was a good idea,** Kat told herself for what must have been the hundredth time since coming on the ski trip. Staring at the flickering fire, she repeated her silent mantra once again.
Of course it was a good idea. The trip was giving them all a chance to bonda chance for Billy and Tommy to reconnect; for Billy and her to spend time together outside their now frequent late night talks in the Zord bay; and for Tommy and her to... do whatever it was that they were doing.
**What am I doing?** She thought with disgust. It wasn't as though she was having any success at pretending that seeing Tommy with Heather didn't hurt, at least not to herself. God, this trip was a *bad* idea.
"Is this a private party, or can anyone join in?" The warm, familiar voice brought a smile to Kat's face, her first one in hours.
"Only if you pay the cover charge," she joked, holding up her hands expectantly.
She was not disappointed. Feeling the heat of the mug in her hands, Kat brought it down and inhaled the comforting aroma of what had become their ritual beverage.
"Good thing I brought two." Billy smiled as he sat down in one of the overstuffed chairs. The corners of her mouth turned up a little response.
Kat took a sip and promptly frowned again. "Billy! There's no sugar in this!"
Normally he fixed her coffee exactly how she liked ittwo creams, two sugarstoo sweet in his opinion. Tonight however she stared down at dark brown liquid with absolutely nothing in it.
"Are you sure you didn't give me yours?" She queried hopefully.
Her teammate nodded, grinning with a wicked smile that told her he had something up his sleeve.
Actually, it was in his pockettwo packets of sugar, two prepackaged cups of cream, and a spoon. Setting them down on the side table in a deliberate row, he looked up at her. "My turn to hold something for ransom."
Kat groaned, "My coffee will get cold."
"Not if you answer honestly. Either that or learn to like it black, the way people should drink coffee."
The Pink Ranger stuck out her tongue. "Only in your opinion. Okay fine, ask away."
"How are you holding up?"
Hunching a little in her seat, Kat turned her gaze back to the fire. "I'm fine. Why shouldn't I be?"
She reached over to the grab a packet of sugar, but Billy stopped her. "If you're going to be this way, you'd better start liking it black. He's in bed, Kat, sleeping like a log. It's just you and me, and it is well past midnight."
Kat sighed, wishing fervently that she could pretend not to know what he meant, but of course she did. During the day they could make-believe all they wanted towith their friends, with each otherbut there lay the unspoken promise that, in the middle of the night when nothing else seemed real, whatever was shared between them would be.
"Am I really that obvious?" She murmured holding out her hand as a sign of her willingness to talk.
"No," Billy whispered in a way that meant yes.
A tissue followed the packet of sugar he had placed in her hand, and Kat dabbed at her eyes. "I fell so horrible. Kim has been an amazing friend. I mean what kind of person takes you shopping to make you feel *better* about trying to kill her?"
Billy laughed. "Only Kim. She has an incredible heart."
"Yeah." Kat's grip tightened on her mug as though were a life preserver. "That's what makes this so awful. When she wrote Tommy that letter... mostly I was sadsad to see him hurting, sad to think of what Kim must be going throughbut there's this tiny part of me that can't help but be excited because now I might have a chance. Oh God, I'm horrid!"
Kat broke into deep heaving sobs. **Stupid stupid stupid** She hadn't meant to reveal that much, even to Billy... but somehow he always had this way of sitting there quietly and listening, that made her pour her heart out.
God, what must he think of her? If he had been close to anyone on the team before her it was Kimberly and Tommy. Adam had told her once how inseparable the three of them used to be. How after Kim left, nothing was ever quite the same between Tommy and Billy, as if Kimberly Hart had been the invisible thread that bound them together. Now here she was admitting to being partly thrilled that the thread had been snapped.
As though he could read her thoughts, Billy leaned over and put a reassuring hand on her knee. "It's okay."
Gently removing the coffee mug she still clutched in her hands, Billy set it down on the table and began to add the cream and sugar. "You know, you've just described the feelings of approximately seventy-five percent of the female population at Angel Grove High School. Well, they all probably have less guilt, but essentially the same. Here."
He handed the now properly prepared coffee back to her. "Kim and Tommy were the fantasy couple. I think possibly every girl had some small secret wish to be Kimberly Hart."
"I guess I'm a pretty poor stand-in."
"Hey! You are *not* a replacement for anyone. What made you say that?"
"Oh, come on Billy! Same Ranger color, same interests, same head-over-heels attraction to Tommy Oliver... we even have the same initials for Christ-sakes!" She sighed in frustration, "Sometimes I feel like this isn't really me, like I'm just living out Kimberly Hart's story."
"Kat, look at me." When she didn't, Billy put his hands on her shoulders and forced to her to face him. "You need to stop."
"I've tried! I've tried so hard to be different from her, but nothing works. I've even tried to turn off my feelings for Tommy, but that's obviously a failure." Kat met his gaze defiantly, "Do you have a cure for that pain, Dr. Cranston? Do you have something that will make my feelings for him go away?"
Maybe it was the darkness that seemed to wrap around them like a protective cocoon; maybe it was the way the firelight played across his face and danced in his eyes, Kat couldn't say. But for an instant that seemed to stretch into an eternity, something different and beautiful lit his eyes.
In that instant Kat thought he might say 'yes'. In that fleeting eternity, he could have told her that Tommy would never look at her again, and she wouldn't have cared. For a moment she could have fallen hard and nothing in her would break... because he would catch her.
And then it slipped away, so quietly and quickly that it might not have been there at all. Like a dream, it faded into something not quite remembered, and Kat was sure she had imagined everything.
Releasing his grip on her shoulders, Billy pulled away with a sad, apologetic look. "No, Captain. I'm sorry, I don't have anything for that."
"Then how am I supposed to stop?"
"But you just said..."
"That wasn't the type of stopping I meant. You have to stop trying *not* to be Kim, it's just as bad as trying to be her. Either way you wind up pretending to be someone you're not. Kat, you can't let the idea of Kim run your life. You're not her."
The Pink Ranger swallowed and focused her gaze back on the fire. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Neither. It just is. Look, I love Kim. She's been one of my best-friends for as long as I can remember, but she's not perfect."
Kat looked up at him sharply, but his gaze held nothing except honesty as he continued, "Kim has this effervescent personality. She almost literally bubbles with life and energy, and when you're with her, you can't help but be caught up in it."
Letting out a bitter laugh, Kat snapped, "This is supposed to make me feel better? God, has there ever been a guy on this team who didn't have a crush on her?"
Smiling sheepishly at being caught, Billy replied, "You might try Jason, although I wouldn't recommend holding your breath."
Kat just sighed and sunk down lower in her chair.
"You didn't let me finish."
"Fine, go on."
"Kim can be... overwhelming. She has so much presence and sometimes it's a little stifling. She was always doing *something*, always trying something new, like she was afraid to stop."
Kat looked up in surprise. No one had ever spoken about this side of her counterpart. In her mind the former Pink Ranger was perfect, never afraid of anything, never someone that a person wouldn't want to be around, but as Billy spoke, the truth of his words combined with her memories formed a slightly more real picture of Kim for her.
Billy continued talking, "For all the things that Kim knew how to do, she was never good at just *being*. You are." He smiled at her. "The times we've spent just sitting in the Zord bay, working or staring at the walls in comfortable silence. I couldn't have done that with Kim. Her motto seems to be 'have silence, will fill it'. I like silence, and I like that you're comfortable sharing it with me."
Kat felt herself smiling in response. "I like sharing it with you."
Needing the experience of sharing something with him that her counterpart couldn't, Kat let their conversation lapse. Picking up on her cue as he always did, Billy turned to the fire and quietly sipped his coffee, leaving her to her thoughts.
Watching the flicker of firelight, she let her friend's comments roll around in her mind. During their past conversations, he would always jokingly complain about how perceptive she was. Tonight he had shown that his perception rivaled her own. Time and again he demonstrated a mature kind of self-knowledge that she found impressive, but even so she never realized that he let it extend to those he cared about it.
Could he read all of them so clearly? If she asked would he tell her about Adam or Rocky? She suspected that there was nothing he could tell her about Tanya that she didn't already know, but maybe Aisha or...
**Stop right now** She chastised herself and sighed. This was getting to be ridiculous.
"You can ask."
Kat looked up to find him staring at her with a thoughtful expression on his face.
"Whatever question you just thought of... you can ask me."
"How is he doing?" She whispered, feeling a slight twinge of guilt at bringing Tommy back into the conversation.
"Pretty bad. Kim really blindsided him with that letter. But since he's Tommy, he's putting on a brave face."
"I still can't believe she wrote him a letter. She couldn't have at least called?"
"I don't think she could have." Billy responded quietly.
Kat stared at him in surprise. She had meant the question to be rhetorical, but now she was curious. "You're not talking about having access to a phone, are you?"
Billy shook his head, "No. Kim hates to hurt people. It goes against everything in her nature. Intentionally hurting someone she cares about as much as she does Tommy? That had to be near impossible. If she had tried to do it over the phone..."
"She wouldn't have been able to go through with it." Kat murmured with understanding.
He nodded in confirmation. "She probably would have let it drag out far too long, and that would have been worse."
"I just hate to see him hurting."
"Give him time, Kat. He just needs some time."
"How do you feel about starting to date him when you're forty?" Billy joked.
At Kat's stricken look, he became serious again.
"Weeks or months, probably. I don't really know. I have absolutely no experience in this area."
"Oh come on, you can't tell me that there hasn't been at least one girl who's fallen for the charms of Billy Cranston." Kat teased, grateful for a chance to steer the conversation away from the turn it had taken.
A sheepish look crossed his face, and she pounced.
"So there has been! I want details Doctor."
"Is that an order, Captain?"
She nodded, and he saluted her with a grin.
"There have been a couple... several actually, but none of them ever went anywhere. Lot's of tried and failed reactions." At her confused look, he gave her a wane smile. "Sorry, bad chemistry joke. I don't know what it is about me, but I can kill a possible relationship faster than anyone I know."
"At least you never tried to kill anyone else's relationship."
"You were under a spell. Tommy understands that."
Kat sighed, "I know he does. We've talked about it, a lot actually. I think that's part of the attraction."
"His dark side?" Billy teased.
"No, the fact that he understands what it was like, what it *is* like. The memories never go away you know. I can still remember every horrible thing I did or tried to do."
He touched her hand. "That wasn't you."
"But it felt like me, and I don't just remember what I did. Billy, I remember *wanting* to do it. I remember enjoying it."
Whistling under his breath, Billy leaned back in his chair. "Tommy never told me that part."
"He never told anyone, not even Kim. It's not exactly something either of us feels comfortable sharing." Suddenly realizing everything she had just said, Kat stared at her friend in shock. "How do you do that?!"
At her question, Billy shook himself out of his reverie and looked over. "How do I do what?"
"How do you get me to open up like that? I never thought I'd tell anyone about that except Tommy."
"I guess I'm just naturally gifted." The young engineer smiled. "You're the same way, you know. Five minutes with you, and I'm sharing things that I would never have told anyone."
"Not even Trini?"
Billy choked on his coffee.
Looking over at her with a mixture of astonishment and fear, he snapped. "What do you know about Trini?"
Kat flinched. She had heard his voice take on that brittle tone before, when he was arguing the wisdom of a modification with Tommy, or when he someone came to him with a new problem after they had spent all night in the Zord bay the night before... but he had never directed it at her.
"I-I'm sorry, Billy. I didn't mean to... it's just..."
"Just what?" The warmth and gentleness was back in his voice, but it remained guarded.
"I talked with Kim on the phone a few days after our first real conversation, and I was curious so I asked her whether there had ever been someone really special for you..."
"And she said Trini."
Kat nodded, wishing she had never mentioned his old friend. "I'm sorry I brought it up."
"Damn," Billy cursed under his breath. "You're going to get me to do it again aren't you?"
"You don't have to say anything."
The young genius shook his head. "No, I think I do. Besides, I made you talk about Tommy. It's only fair."
Leaning back in his chair, Billy turned his face up to the ceiling and closed his eyes. He remained that way for a long while, and despite his reassurances, Kat began to doubt that he would say anything at all. Still, she didn't want to push, so instead she tried to turn her attention back to the fire.
When he finally spoke, Kat nearly dropped her mug.
"Trini Kwan definitely tops my list of if-onlys and might-have-beens. She was my... well she was everything in a waybest-friend, confidant, protector, translator." He laughed softly at the last word.
Billy let a sad smile cross his face as he stared into the now dying fire. "Yeah, I used to use as much of my vocabulary as I could in every sentence. When I was younger my parents encouraged me to experiment with words and expand my lexicon. Unfortunately, it was alienating. Other children would give me a blank look and either stop talking to me or worse."
"But the first time I talked to Trini, she didn't even blink, just continued conversing with me as though the way I spoke was perfectly normal. She's always been like that, almost nothing phased her." Billy's voice had gone soft with the remembrance of something both pleasant and painful. "She became my connection to the world, suddenly all these doors opened because she was there."
"She sounds like a beautiful person."
"She was." Billy murmured in a way that made Kat certain he wasn't just talking about the Asian girl's inner beauty.
"Did you love her?" The words were out of her mouth before she realized it, leaving them to hang heavy in the air.
"I love all my teammates... but of course that isn't what you meant." Billy sighed with resignation, "I think I'm a little bit in love with the possibility of her, with what could have been, but I don't think I was ever actually in love with her. That kind of love is a pretty mature emotion, and I was still sort of young and naive when she left."
"I guess being a Power Ranger forces you to grow up."
"Trini *leaving* forced me to grow up. Suddenly it seemed like I had to face everything on my own... bullies, girls, social interactions. She wasn't there to filter out the bad anymore, so I learned to handle it."
"I think you've done really well." Kat whispered, aware that he hadn't really heard her. He was staring out the window at the mountains, as though waiting for something.
"Do you ever wish she hadn't gone?"
Billy laughed, "Does almost every day count?"
In attempt to lighten the mood, Kat pretended to think this over. "Hmm... I don't know..."
It did the trick. Chuckling a little, Billy sighed happily, "Thank you. I think I needed to share that with someone."
"I'm glad I could be that someone. Hearing you talk about Trini makes me wish I had known her too."
"You would have gotten along well. The two of you have this same quiet energy."
"Oh," was all Kat could manage in response. She knew that he had meant the comparison as a compliment, but something about it just made her feel... secondary.
Looking for an excuse to leave the room for just a moment, she murmured, "The coffee's cold, I'll get us a fresh cup."
Getting up, she reached over for his mug as well, only to have Billy stop her with a firm hand on her wrist.
"Don't do it, Kat." He warned.
"You don't want more coffee?"
He ignored her question, "Don't start thinking of yourself as my replacement for Trini. I don't have the energy to snap you out of that, so stop now."
Kat bit her lip to stop the tears. She hadn't even realized that was what she was doing, but once he said it, she knew he was right. **God, how does he do that?**
Billy had softened his grip, but kept his hand on her wrist. "Our friendship is completely different. If Trini came back today, nothing would change. She doesn't know me anymore, not like you do."
He released her completely and smiled, "You have something not one other member of this team can claim."
Billy's smile transformed into a mischievous grin. "No one else, not Kim, not Trini, ever has or ever will get me to call them Captain."
Kat laughed in delight.