Disclaimer: Saban owns 'em. Need I say more? This fanfic was inspired by a posting on alt.fan.power-rangers, by Derik Smith. Thank you for your idea, Derik. This fanfic is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. Contains scenes that may be disturbing to some readers. Set after the Turbo movie. No relation to my other fics, and set in a different universe.
KA-BOOM! With a loud explosion, Divatox's latest monstrosity bit the
dust. "All right!" Blue Ranger cried, his high voice carrying
across the battlefield. "One deep-fried monster to go!"
"Nice work, guys," Red Ranger congratulated. "Let's get back to the Power Chamber." In a stream of five colors, they teleported out.
* * *
"Oooooh! That Tommy makes me so mad!" Divatox ranted. "I can't believe how he leads those Rangers to beat us every time. He's so reckless, so headstrong, and yet he is constantly the victor. Rygor!" The monster popped up out of nowhere at Divatox's elbow.
"Yes, Divatox?" he rumbled.
"What have you found out about the Red Turbo Ranger? Something juicy, I hope."
"Like you wouldn't believe! After hacking into Mondo and Zedd's computer banks, and conducting a thorough search, I found out that this kid has the most psychologically damaging history I've ever seen! He was recruited as Rita's Green Ranger, back when the kids were still using the Morphin power, and was evil 'til he turned good. Then-"
Divatox lifted a hand to cut him off. "Just give me the print-out." Studying it, she chuckled wickedly. "Well, well, well. Looks like Tommy has a few things that he hasn't dealt with yet. Rygor, get me that lovely little toxin that we picked up on Lycos 9. Then take a squad of Chromites and capture the Red Ranger. I think we have an interesting day ahead of us."
* * *
The five Rangers were hanging out at the youth center, as they always did. Tommy and Adam were teaching Justin a few new moves, while Kat and Tanya sat by and watched. Suddenly a loud rumble outside caught their attention. "I don't like the sound of that," Adam worried.
"Me neither," Tommy nodded. "Come on, let's check it out." Running outside, the five found Rygor and about ten of Divatox's Chromites raising havoc.
"This is not good," Justin stated the obvious. "Those guys are going to turn this place into a major war zone."
"Well, let's kick some Chromite butt," Kat sighed. Throwing themselves into the fight, the Rangers began knocking the Chromites every which way. Even Justin, the ten year-old Blue Ranger, was holding his own. The Chromites were unused to fighters of the Rangers' caliber, and were quickly disabled. Rygor was another matter, however. Coming up behind Tommy in the fight, he caught the Red Turbo Ranger a glancing blow across the back of the head with his sword, sending the boy into unconsciousness. Slinging Tommy over one shoulder, he disappeared, taking the teen with him.
"Tommy!" Adam called. With a vicious punch, he disposed of the Chromite currently attacking him.
"Where'd he go?" cried Kat.
"That giant goon of Divatox got him," answered Tanya, defeating her opponent, the last of the attacking Chromites.
"I don't get it," Justin asked, puzzled. "What would Divatox want with Tommy?"
The other Rangers exchanged glances. Justin idolized Tommy, and was too young to understand the things that he had been through as Green Ranger. There was no way they could explain it to him.
"It's a long story," Kat sighed, "and we don't have time to tell it right now. The important thing at the moment is to get back to the Power Chamber and tell Zordon what happened. Maybe he can help us."
"Right," Adam nodded, slipping into his position as second-in-command. "Tanya, are we clear?"
Tanya checked for observers in both directions. "Yeah, we're clear." The four teleported out in streaks of colored light.
* * *
Tommy woke up in a dark place, with no one around him. Gingerly, he tried to move his arms and legs, and found that he was strapped onto some sort of surface. His arm hurt abysmally, and he'd bet a great deal that he had been injected with something while he lay unconscious. As he pulled at the straps that held him, a low whispering reached his ears.
"Who's there!" he called, trying to sound as challenging as possible. No reply came, only the same low whispering, hovering right at the threshold of comprehension.
"I said, who's there? Come on and show yourself, unless you're afraid of a guy strapped to a table."
"I'm not afraid of you," a very familiar voice replied. The darkness seemed to lessen, and Tommy squinted, trying to see who was there. Suddenly the figure before him became clear, and Tommy gasped. Jason stood there, arms crossed lazily over his chest, regarding Tommy as if he were some sort of insect.
"Jase!" Tommy cried. "What are you doing here? Come on, give me a hand!"
"Why should I help you, Tommy? You never helped me," Jason spat, not moving an inch.
"What?" Tommy couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You tried to kill me! Then you have the gall to believe that you can join the Power Rangers and everything will be all right. Such a hotshot, always putting the team at risk just to prove how good you are. Then Zordon makes you the frigging White Ranger, the big hero, leader of the team, and I'm bumped down to second-in-command without so much as a 'Gee, Jase, glad you've been around.' You never helped me, but you sure helped yourself, didn't you? You helped yourself to my position on the team, to my friends, and to Kimberly."
"Kim? But you weren't- I mean, you encouraged me to go after Kim."
"I may not have wanted her for myself, but she was still my friend. You treated her like dirt, man! You never loved her! Look how quick you and Katherine got together. The girl that practically killed Kimberly by taking her Power Coin!"
Tommy frowned. "Wait a minute, how did you know that? We never talked about that. Kat, Kim, and I agreed that that was over with, in the past, and just among the three of us. Zordon wouldn't have told you. You're not Jason, whatever you are. Go away." The image of Jason faded into the darkness. Closing his eyes, Tommy sighed. That thing might not have been Jason, but its words had hit home nonetheless. He had thought about these things before, and now he wondered again if he had truly been the right choice for leader of the Power Rangers almost a year and a half ago.
* * *
"Excellent!" Divatox chuckled, watching Tommy on a number of screens in her control room. "The toxin is doing its work perfectly. Tommy is beginning to hallucinate, just as I predicted. And the beauty of this drug is that his hallucinations aren't just monsters and creepy crawlies, but drawn from the poor boy's already scrambled psyche. He'll see the images and things he's most afraid to confront, and in time, I'll break his spirit completely. He'll do anything to make the hallucinations stop, even destroy his Power friends for me. And then, maybe I'll have- other uses for him." She smiled cruelly, thinking of what else she could do with and to Tommy. "Those Power twerps will never rescue him. They'll never be able to fight their leader, and I'll be rid of them once and for all!"
* * *
"So Rygor just disappeared, and he took Tommy with him," Adam finished.
"Hmm," Zordon mused. "This is most upsetting, Rangers. Divatox is very cruel and most ingenious. I am most afraid for Tommy in her clutches."
"Somebody tell me what she's going to do with him!" Justin demanded. "And why Tommy?"
The Rangers exchanged more glances. "Justin," Adam sighed, "a long time ago, when Tommy became a Power Ranger, he wasn't chosen by Zordon. He was chosen by Rita Repulsa to be her evil Green Ranger. She put him under a spell, turning him evil. As a result of that, and some other problems, Tommy is far more vulnerable to evil spells and mind control than the rest of us. We're afraid Divatox may try to turn him against us again."
"Well, if that does happen, can't we just turn him back, like the Rangers did before?" Justin inquired, cocking his head to one side.
"Zordon?" Tanya asked, knowing there was something that the inter-dimensional being wasn't telling them.
"I'm afraid not, Justin. Divatox is not a magician, the way Rita and Zedd were. If she turns Tommy against the Power Rangers, it will not be through magic, but through other means. These means will be far more damaging than the magical spells used in the past. If we cannot reach him before Divatox manages to break his spirit, he will not be the Tommy we know anymore- or ever again."
Zordon's grim pronouncement startled even the three older Rangers, who had some conception of what they were dealing with. "I can't handle this," Adam sighed. "I'm not leader enough to deal with Divatox's plans. We need someone who's used to this. I think we should call Jason back."
"I agree, Adam. I shall call him now." In a flash, a white light transported into the Power Chamber and coalesced into Jason.
"What's wrong, guys? Where's Tommy?" The Rangers looked at each other once again.
"It's like this, Jason," Adam began. "We were at the youth center today-"
* * *
Tommy lay on the table still, attempting to remain calm. He had occasional periods of lucidity, where he realized that the things he was seeing were not real, but they were few and far between. While he hallucinated, he believed the things he saw implicitly. Now the darkness began to lift again, and he braced himself for the next hallucination.
He was on Phaedos once again, watching as he and the other Rangers met Dulcea once again, asking about the Great Power. "The ground is littered with the bones of those who have tried for it and failed," she growled.
"Well, we're different," the younger Tommy replied, stepping forward. "We won't fail."
Even as she knocked his younger self off his feet, the watching Tommy winced. Had he really been so arrogant in those days? Certain that nothing could touch him now that he had powers that could not be stolen from him? Jason's words earlier were seeming more and more real all the time.
The darkness dropped again, but the whispering began. "Who's there? Who are you going to show me this time?" he called, trying valiantly to hold onto the last shred of his sanity.
"Hello, Tommy." The darkness lifted, and Kimberly was looking down at him, her brown eyes unreadable.
"Kim? You're here? Please, help me," he whispered.
"Why? Why should I give you anything? There was never anything between us. You never cared about me, or anyone but yourself. All you ever thought about was your powers. Like a little fool, I stayed, hoping I could change you, but I never could. All I got from loving you was pain. That's why I broke up with you when I went to Florida. I wanted to be free of you."
"But Kim," Tommy gasped, "I loved you. I still love you, with all my heart."
"You never loved me, Tommy," she shook her head. "I was never anything to you but a light to keep the darkness at bay." She faded back into the darkness, leaving him to call after her helplessly.
Suddenly a shaft of light invaded his darkness, blinding him. "Having fun, Tommy?" Divatox's voice asked.
"Go to Hell," he shot back, squinting his eyes against the brightness.
"Now, Tommy, is that any way to talk to someone who's come to help you?"
"What do you, want, you witch?"
"I want to make your hallucinations stop. I can do it, too. I have the antidote. All you have to do is pledge yourself to me."
"No. No matter what you do to me, I won't betray my friends. Leave me alone."
"All right, dear. We'll see how you feel after a few more visits from your friends." The light winked out, leaving Tommy in darkness once again.
* * *
"What is Divatox going to do to Tommy?" Justin asked Adam, once the Green Ranger had finished his story. "I don't understand."
"It doesn't matter, Justin. He'll be all right," Adam replied, with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"Yeah, Tommy's tough," Kat added. "He'll come through this just fine."
"We just have to find him," Jason sighed grimly. As the four older teens put their heads together, Justin watched them with mounting frustration.
"THAT- IS- IT!" he yelled, finally exploding. Everyone looked up at him in shock. "I am not made out of glass, and I'm not stupid! You don't have to smile and nod and tell me everything's going to be all right when it's not! Tell me the truth! I'm not a baby!"
"Justin, we don't think you're a baby," Tanya began, trying to placate him.
He cut her off angrily. "No? You've all been treating me like it! I know you never wanted me on this team in the first place, but I'm still a member. I deserve to know what's going on!"
"Justin, we just-" Adam began
"Just what?" Justin had worked up a good head of steam, and he wasn't about to lose it now. "Just don't want to worry me? Just want me to feel okay? That's what they did when my mom was dying, that's what my dad did ten minutes before he dropped me off at the shelter, and that's what the shelter people do every time something goes wrong. Well, I've got news for all of you. I'm smarter than that! I know something's wrong, even if you won't tell me! Don't try to protect me, because I don't need it."
"Justin, you're still young," Kat told him.
"So that's it," he said quietly. "Well, if that's your problem, fine. Rocky's almost healed from that accident. When he's better, I'll give him my Turbo Morpher. You'd feel better with him back anyway."
"Justin-" Tanya began, but never finished. Picking up his heels, Justin turned and ran out of the Power Chamber, leaving the other Rangers to stare after him in astonishment.
* * *
In his darkened room, Tommy lay in a pool of his own sweat, waiting for the next hallucination. He had lost track of time completely, only knowing that Divatox had been and gone a number of times, always asking him the same question. His replies had been more and more unprintable as time went on.
Now, as the darkness began to lift, he found himself standing in the throne room of Rita's old palace. "But- this was destroyed when Zedd arrived! What-"
"Hello, Green Ranger," Rita's voice cackled. Tommy whirled to see the witch standing behind him and leering at him. Reflexively, Tommy fell into a defensive position.
"What do you want, Rita?" he asked, never taking his eyes off her.
"I want you, of course. My Green Ranger. You were the finest warrior I ever created."
"You didn't create me, Rita. I made myself what I am."
"Oh? Think, Tommy. If I had not picked you that day in the youth center, would you have become the person you are now? Would you ever have been worthy of being a Power Ranger? I seriously doubt it. Oh, Tommy, how wonderful it was to see that old fool make you the leader! I know you, all your ins and outs, strengths and weaknesses! I've been playing you for almost a year now!"
Tommy shook his head in denial. "No. If that were true, if you could control us, you would have destroyed us by now."
"Why would I do that? It's far more interesting and fun to watch you completely destabilize the team. Things used to be a group, looking to Jason for leadership, but still the most disgustingly close friends I've ever seen. Then you came along, and made leader. Suddenly everything revolved around you. The team integrity was severely compromised. I'm surprised that you held out against Zedd, much less Mondo. My Green Ranger, how strong you are. Time to return to me."
"NO!" Tommy screamed, even as the hallucination faded out. He was left in darkness and silence once again, only the harsh sound of his own breathing for company.
* * *
"Hey, Justin, what's the matter?" Jason asked, coming up to the young Blue Ranger. Adam was inside the Power Chamber, trying frantically to find some way of locating Tommy. Justin, on the other hand, had dashed out the doors, leaving all the Rangers behind. Jason, following him, found him sitting on a cliff, overlooking the desert."
"They're such jerks!" Justin cried, startling the former Gold Ranger with the vehemence of his answer. "They treat me like a baby!"
"What are you talking about?" Jason asked, puzzled.
"This thing with Tommy. They're all worried about something, but they won't tell me what it is. I may only be twelve years old, but I'm a member of this team, too! I deserve to know what's bothering them."
"You heard what Zordon said about what Divatox might do to Tommy. That's all they're worried about."
"But nobody will tell me exactly what that means! What do they expect her to do to him? She can't hurt him. The level of pain it would take to break him would render him useless to her."
Jason looked at the little boy in astonishment. "That's a pretty mature observation for a twelve year-old."
Justin smiled bitterly. "Yeah, well, in the shelter you see a lot of things most people don't think kids see. I know Tommy, though. He's so strong. She couldn't break him without making him useless."
"There's more than one kind of pain, Justin. Tommy- he's never gotten over what happened to him as Rita's Green Ranger."
"But you were turned evil by that volcano! You seem okay with that to me."
Jason sighed. "I knew to some extent what it would be like. Tommy told me all about it, when he was Green Ranger. I was prepared, and I was ready to make that sacrifice. Zordon explained to us, all of us, what being Power Rangers might subject us to, and I chose to do it anyway. Tommy never had a chance to choose."
Justin thought about that. "What exactly can she do? Zordon said she wasn't a wizard, so she can't put him under a spell. What can she do to him?"
Jason sighed. "Tommy's mind is very delicate. I've had to pull him out of an almost suicidal depression before. He's gotten to the point where he can control it, but Divatox has ways that she could push him over the edge. And if she breaks him, there's no turning back."
Biting his lip, Justin said no more, simply looked out at the stars which were beginning to appear in the desert sky.
* * *
In the shadowed room in which he lay, Tommy was beginning to lose hope. Why should his friends come for him? He was nothing more than a selfish, self-centered, arrogant idiot. They- the whole team- would be better off without him. Maybe Divatox was right. Maybe there was no way around serving her.
_NO!_ he screamed mentally. _That's just your fear talking. You have to be strong. You can't break under this. You can't let her win._ The hallucinations were beginning to affect his thought processes. At times he thought the "she" he was fighting was Rita, at times Machina or Archerina, and at times he knew it to be Divatox. Although the faces of his friends ran through his mind constantly, he could not always remember which team was currently in service.
Suddenly he felt the blurring of reality that accompanied another hallucination. Bracing himself, he waited for the unreality to set in. He found himself standing in the Power Chamber, facing a frowning Zordon. Around him, all the Rangers, past and present, stood, regarding him with cold, unfriendly eyes.
"Thomas Oliver," the ancient wizard rumbled, "you are no longer worthy to bear the powers of a Zeo Crystal. I hereby remove any and all traces of the Power from you. You are no longer under its protection." Tommy's body was enveloped in a red glow, and a wave of weakness washed over him, forcing him to his knees. Looking up at the ancient sage through eyes blurred with tears, he whispered one word.
"Attempted murder," Jason declared coldly.
"Betrayal of trust," Zack added.
"Abandonment of friends," continued Trini.
"Arrogant, self-promoting behavior," Billy put in.
"Misuse of a love," finished Kimberly.
Adam looked at him with a mix of sorrow and contempt. "We trusted you, looked up to you. You were almost like a god to us."
"The mighty White Ranger, hero of the world. All you ever cared about was the glory." Rocky's face was cold and set, unusual in the normally warm and open boy.
"The Power was always about you," Aisha spat, her face twisted in fury. "Never use your power for personal gain, remember? But it was always personal for you, always about revenge."
"You were our leader," Kat told him. "You were supposed to take care of us. How many times did we nearly die for you?"
"But all we were to you were chess pieces," Tanya continued. "Grunts in your private war."
"I thought you were the greatest thing in the world when I saw you at the shelter," Justin hissed. "You never lived up to the things you taught me."
"You are not worthy to bear my trust," Zordon boomed. "All the other Rangers were selected for their strength of mind, of character. You were only a member of the team because Rita wanted a warrior. You would never have been a Power Ranger had the choice been mine."
"NOOO!" Tommy screamed, as the hallucination faded out around him. Sighing, he relaxed, safe in his darkness once more.
* * *
"I found him!" Adam yelled, just as Justin and Jason re-entered the Power Chamber. "He's on Divatox's ship. I've got a lock on him, and I can teleport us there!"
"All right!" In her exuberance, Tanya gave him a big hug, leaving Adam with a big dumb grin on his face. "Who says you're not as good as Billy?"
"Can we go get him?" Kat asked anxiously?
"I don't see why not. We'd better morph first."
Scuffing his feet, Justin approached the older Rangers. "Look, I'm sorry about my temper tantrum earlier. I shouldn't have lost it the way I did."
"And we shouldn't have treated you the way we did. We keep forgetting that you are a Ranger. We all apologize," Kat smiled.
"Now that we've got that done with," Adam smiled, "shift into Turbo!" In four flashes of light, the Rangers became the Power Rangers Turbo, teleporting out and heading towards Divatox's ship.
"Good luck, guys," Jason sighed.
* * *
When the darkness around him lifted again, Tommy found that he was once more in the Power Chamber, this time alone. Even Zordon was gone from his column.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," he remarked to himself, his voice echoing in the stillness of the room. Indeed, it reminded him of the dream he'd had while Prince Gasket had been attempting to brainwash him. _Not attempting,_ Tommy, _he thought to himself. He DID brainwash you. You fell right into his trap and never even questioned the things he told you. Why? And why was it so easy to attack them when they didn't fight back? Some days it seems like all I want to do is hurt someone, anyone, to make up for what I've suffered. That's not right._
Suddenly, in a flash of white, the White Ranger stepped out of the case he was entombed in, advancing on Tommy. Hearing a rustle behind him, he turned, only to find the Red Turbo Ranger staring back at him. The Red Ranger raised a hand, pointing at him. "Traitor," he hissed. His voice was and yet was not Tommy's. There was a quality to it that he could not name.
"Killer," The White Ranger chimed in, in a similar voice. "You were not worthy of our powers!"
Looking down at himself, Tommy was surprised to see himself clad in the uniform of the original Green Ranger. "I'm not the Green Ranger!" he cried. "Not anymore!"
"You will always be the Green Ranger!" Red Ranger shot back. "It is the only uniform that you are worthy to wear!"
"You are nothing but a killer, a warrior. Though you say you are a Ranger, you do not fight for their ends!" added White Ranger. "You have served only yourself."
"I've always fought for the Rangers!" Green Ranger yelled, tears springing to his eyes beneath the helmet. "They're my friends! I've nearly died for them!"
"You fought for your own foolish pride, to redeem what you thought you'd lost. You never trusted in them, laughed with them, or did any of the things that friends should do. Instead, you held yourself apart, thinking only of your guilt and your powers," returned Red Ranger.
"Jason would have died for you a thousand times over," White Ranger growled, sounding much like the tiger whose symbol he bore. "But when Divatox had him, did you spare him a thought? No, everything was about Kimberly."
"And did you ever really love her?" continued Red Ranger. "No. You used her, like you used everyone else, to keep the struggle about you. All you've ever cared about is one-upping Rita, Zedd, and their kind. The Power Rangers become your friends, proving you're not evil. The Pink Ranger falls in love with you, taking their acceptance one step further. You are nothing but a selfish, arrogant boy!"
Something snapped inside Green Ranger. His head raised and his eyes narrowed. "Whatever you may say, whatever I may be, I loved her, more than my own life. I would have died for her, or even become Zedd's slave for a thousand lifetimes if it meant that Kimberly could live free. We may not be a couple anymore, or ever again, but I loved her then and I love her still. I'll love her forever. If you don't know that, then you aren't superior to me, no matter what you claim." Even as the hallucination faded away, Tommy thought he saw looks of surprise cross the impassive helmet-faces of his adversaries.
* * *
He awoke to a soft glove stroking his brow. Opening his eyes, he realized that it was no longer dark in the room. Standing over him were the Green, Yellow, and Pink Rangers. Pink Ranger was stroking his forehead gently. "Ohhh, I feel like I've been hit by a truck," he groaned. "Guys? Is it really you, or just another hallucination?"
"If you were hallucinating," Yellow Ranger replied, a hint of amusement in her voice, "would you be able to wonder if this was a hallucination?"
"Don't ask me riddles, Tanya. I've got a splitting headache." The others chuckled at the obvious pain in his voice.
"The answer is no, Tommy," Green Ranger smiled. "Tanya, Kat, get under his arms. We're taking you out of here, buddy."
"Where's Justin?" Tommy asked, scanning the room for a tell-tale flash of blue.
"We left him outside," Pink Ranger told him grimly, helping him to his feet. "We weren't sure what we were going to find in here."
"Well, you found a guy in desperate need of a shower and a shave," Tommy chuckled, moving his arms around the girls' necks. "Let's get out of here."
"Not just yet, Rangers," Divatox drawled, standing in the doorway. Rygor and a number of Chromites flanked her, looking menacing. "Tommy's not leaving here until he accepts my offer."
"Go to Hell," Tommy replied coldly. "Never in a million years."
"Perhaps if I subject your friend to the same treatment you've been getting," she mused, gesturing for the Chromites to advance on the four teens.
"I wouldn't," a new voice interjected. Divatox and her minions turned to see Blue Ranger, his pistol pointed right at Divatox. "You're going to let me and my friends walk out of here, or you will be very sorry."
She snorted. "You wouldn't pull that trigger. You're a Power Ranger. It's against your code."
"Code? What code? I'm twelve years old. I haven't had time to explore all these moral complexities. Don't push me," he snapped.
Divatox regarded the young Ranger for a long moment, then stepped aside. "Let them go." As the Rangers hustled Tommy past her and out into the hall, she smiled and called after them. "I'll be seeing you again, Tommy. Count on it."
Just loud enough for Pink and Yellow Rangers to hear, Tommy muttered a reply. "Only in my nightmares, Divatox. Only in my nightmares."
* * *
A few days had passed since Tommy's return to Earth. Although Zordon had provided him with an antidote to the hallucinogenic toxin with which Divatox had injected him, Tommy still had nightmares concerning the things he had seen. On more than one occasion, he had awakened to find himself barely holding on to a scream.
Now he and Jason were sitting up in the hills, near where they had sat the day Jason had lost the Gold Ranger powers irrevocably. Jason had suggested they come up there, knowing that his friend was burdened with things that he did not want to discuss. Hopefully, the quiet and isolation would loosen Tommy's tongue.
After a long silence, Tommy sighed. "I've been thinking a lot since I came back from Divatox's ship. I've been turning things over in my head, and I've finally come to a decision. It wasn't easy, but I think it's the right one, and I wanted you to be one of the first to know. I'm quitting the Rangers."
"WHAT?" Jason asked, unable to believe his ears. Tommy, who had fought so hard to stay a Power Ranger, was quitting? "Why, man?" Jason finally managed to gasp.
"A lot of reasons. I didn't tell anybody about those hallucinations I had. I'm not going to tell anybody but you, and you have to promise that it stays between us, okay?"
Jason nodded. "Always, man. You know that."
Tommy smiled. "Yeah, I know. Anyway, I saw you and all the Rangers, saying I wasn't worthy of being a Power Ranger, wasn't worthy of being a leader, and had never been a friend to any of you. I know it's not true," Tommy admitted, holding up a hand to forestall Jason's protest, "it was just my nutcase subconscious talking. The thing is, it brought up some good points, first among them that I am NOT the best leader the Power Rangers could have. That is, was, and will always be you."
"Man, you are a great leader!" Jason shot back. "The other Rangers love you, you've kept Zedd and Rita from taking over the planet, and you've never betrayed a belief or lost a Ranger. What more is there?"
"I've never thought of the team, Jase. For me, it was always about my private war with the people who hurt me. I just wanted to hit back." Tommy laughed humorlessly. "That's the first thing we teach in karate. If someone hits you, you do not immediately hit back. Wish I'd learned that earlier."
"Tommy, you were always a great leader. You worried about your friends, you cared about all of us."
Tommy smiled slightly. "Yeah, I did. I love you all. You're the greatest friends I've had in my entire life, and I want you all to know that. The problem isn't that I didn't care about the people, the problem is that I always put the individual, me, before the team. I wasn't fighting Zedd and Rita to keep the people of Earth free so much as to hurt them as much as they hurt me."
Jason sighed. "Tommy, Power Rangering is your life, we both know that. Do you really think you can just give it up?"
"You did. I've been putting myself ahead of the team for too long. It's time I started thinking about them for a change."
"What will you do?" Jason asked, leaving the question of Tommy's worthiness behind for the time being.
"I'm going away for a while. I'm not going to tell you where. I'll write, and I'll stay in touch, but I need time to myself. Much as I love you all, I have to be alone. After Rita made me the Green Ranger, my life went to Hell in a hand-basket. Tommy kind of fell by the wayside. I realized a few days ago that I really don't know who I am anymore. I'm just a bundle of nerves and reactions. I need some time to sort out who I am, who I need to be. The person I was is gone, but I've got to find out who I became before I can move on."
Tommy laughed. "She and I are really just friends, despite our dating. We figured out pretty early on in the relationship that I was looking for a Kim-surrogate, and she was still acting off her old programming, to steal me away from Kim and make the team fall apart. She'll miss me, but we're not boyfriend/girlfriend or anything."
"Tommy, you were one of the greatest Rangers I ever knew. You were stronger than any of us, no matter what you were facing. I don't know what Divatox has done to your belief in yourself, but you've got to have faith. Everything you've been put through has made you stronger."
Chuckling, Tommy shook his head. "You know, I'm actually grateful to Rita in a way? I never would have been a Ranger without her. I asked Zordon once if the person I had been, before Rita, would have been chosen for his team. He told me no. Oh, sure, he told me that I'd make it now, but not then. I've grown so much, just because of what Rita did to me, what she made me."
Jason grabbed his friend's shoulder fiercely. "Tommy, listen to me. Maybe you wouldn't be the person you are now without Rita's interference, but she did not make you! You could have become a hundred things off that experience. You made yourself, you chose your own path. You are not what anybody made you but you. And I have faith in what you can make yourself."
"Thanks, Jase. You always could inspire me. That's why I want you to have these." In a flash, Tommy's Turbo morpher appeared in his hands. "I want you to be the Red Turbo Ranger. There's no-one better to take it. I already talked to Zordon about this, so don't even think about telling me he won't let you do it. I need to know that the powers will be well looked-after when I'm gone, and I know you'll do it. Promise me."
Jason stared silently into his best friend's eyes for a second, then took the Turbo morpher, strapping it onto his own wrist. In a flash of light, the morpher disappeared. "It's done."
"You'll be a good Red Ranger, Jase. Keep an eye on Justin, will you? He's brave, and he's not stupid, but he's young. He doesn't know what he's capable of yet. Promise me that you'll look after him."
"I will. I'll make you proud of me."
"Man, I've always been proud of you," Tommy smiled. The two friends sat in the hills for a long time, watching the sun slowly set.
* * *
A few days later, everything was taken care of. Tommy had made some arrangements, said his good-byes, and was now driving out of the city. It felt a little strange to be driving a car that was so normal, but he supposed he'd get used to it. Change was the story of his life. It always had been, it always would be.
Sighing, Tommy looked at the sky above him. As the Green Ranger, and then as the White Ranger, he had wondered many times what it would be like for him if he ever left the team. He had envisioned himself crushed, devastated, pining for the power he had lost. He felt none of those things, however. For the first time in almost three years, he felt free.
* * *
Sighing, Jason headed out to the mailbox to get the mail. It had been a week since Tommy's departure, and he was missing his friend more than he had ever thought he would. Tommy seemed so far away now, just when Jason needed him the most. Still, Jason couldn't begrudge his friend the chance to get his life in order. _God knows,_ Jason thought, _Tommy has sacrificed himself and his happiness for us a dozen times over. It's his turn to get some time. That didn't mean that he wasn't missed, however._
Shuffling through the mailbox, an envelope addressed in a meticulously correct hand drew his eye. The writing was Tommy's; Jason would know it anywhere. Hustling inside, he placed the other mail on the kitchen table and ran up to his room to read Tommy's letter. Plopping down on his bed, Jason tore open the envelope and began to read.
"How are you? I'm doing okay. I've settled into a small town some ways north of Angel Grove, closer to San Francisco. It's in that area where the mountains meet the beach, so it's really nice. I take long walks, just thinking. You know, this is the first time in three years that I've been able to walk outside without worry? No one's after me now. I miss being a Ranger, but I certainly don't miss Goldar's grudge match, or that damn communicator going off at the worst possible times.
"Please, don't try to find me. I need to be alone. I just wanted you to know that I'm all right, and that you don't need to worry. Tell Kat that I think she and David make a great couple, and that she had better go after him before they're both thirty! Look after Justin for me, like I asked. He's brave, but he doesn't have a good idea of his limitations yet. I know you can protect him without treating him like a baby.
"And you, of course, are going nuts as the leader, right? Well, don't. You've always been a wonderful leader, Jase, and people follow you instinctively. We all trust you, Jason. Now it's time to trust yourself.
"I have to go now. I have other things I need to do. But I will always be a Power Ranger in my heart, and someday I'll be back. That's a promise. As Kim used to say, 'Catch you on the flip side!'
Jason smiled, folding up the letter and placing it in a desk drawer where it wouldn't accidentally meet any unauthorized eyes. Tommy was right. No matter what you went through, whether he was active duty or not, Tommy was and would always be a Power Ranger. Sighing, Jason looked at the red communicator that once again sat on his wrist. It had been a long time since he had worn that color, and truthfully, he had missed it. Even wielding the Gold Power had not quite been the same. Now he was in charge of the Rangers again.
_I'll make you proud of me, Tommy,_ he vowed silently, staring out his window, facing north. _I'll try and be as good a leader as you were, even if you didn't know it yourself._ He stayed that way for a long time, caught up in his memories.