Timeline & Location: July 9th, 325 B.C. South Pacific Island. This is somewhat short, more of a bridge-type story.
Note: The couples in here probably aren't the ones you were expecting, and don't think I'm rushing the romance, please. All will be explained in time. The phrase shay'kreth'ashke means lifebonded, or your soulmate, and comes from the wonderful world of Velgarth, created by Mercedes Lackey, and is not my own creation.
Summary of Previous Events: The Time Rangers have found one shard of the Crystal of Ethos already, and have met the Timewalker. Having made friends in the distant past, they now search in the next stream of time for the rest of the shards.
"I could really get to hate this part of the trip!" Zack Taylor grumbled as he tumbled to the ground. He sat blinking for a moment, then grumbled out something foul as a form landed on top of him. "Thanks a lot, Rocky!"
The Green Time Ranger winced as he slowly got to his feet. "Sorry about that, Zack." Both of them stood up and quickly shuffled out of the way, as Aisha, Trini, Kim, Billy, and Jason followed them out of the portal, and not one but their leader landed on his feet.
"Everyone in one piece?" Jason asked as the portal sealed itself up and the Time Staff vanished into where he kept it when not in use.
"I think so," Billy touched his shoulder gently. "I think I might've strained something, though."
Aisha went over to touch it herself, her skilled fingers probing at it. "I think you'll be all right." the White Time Ranger told her companion with a smile.
"Thanks." He told her, then glanced around. "Where and when are we?"
Jason closed his eyes, seeking that part of him which knew these things now. "It's an uncharted and uninhabited island in the South Pacific. The year is 325 B.C. and we've been gone from Angel Grove for two days now."
Trini glanced around. "I wonder if one of the shards is here. And if it is, where it is."
"I'll see if the Staff can tell me anything." Jason summoned the magical device back, and they all glanced up at it. The crystal on top remained dormant and he shrugged. "If one's here, it's not near enough for this thing to react to it."
Billy scanned what they could see of their surroundings. They had landed in a broad clearing, somewhat similar to where they had landed when they had met Silence, only now they were all alone. Thick trees surrounded them, and he could hear the chattering of a waterfall not that far away. By the sun it looked as if it were just past ten in the morning. They had only recently ran through the Cave of Fire, and he, at least, was feeling a trifle winded.
"Let's take a break. We need to rest and have something to eat before we keep on looking." he suggested. "There's a waterfall over that way, we should be able to get some clean water there."
Kim's eyes lit up; she didn't even like going one day without a bath, much less two. "Let's go!" as she had led the charge into so many shopping malls and battles before, she rushed down through the trees. Jason shook his head with a grin.
"She never changes." He really wouldn't have wanted her to, either. He shouldered his bag and started after her, watching the others as they engaged in various forms of animated conversation. The seven of them had only been a complete team for two days, yet this felt as if it had been destined from time's dawning. Given what I know about time now, it very well could have been.
The Red Ranger gazed thoughtfully at his friends. Billy was as he had been since his return from Aquitar, quiet and pensive, but with a smile as Aisha raced by him, her long braids flying. Well now...None of them had been able to get much more than a smile from the Blue Ranger these days, but it seemed that his smile was always a touch brighter whenever Aisha came by. That was a pairing he'd never thought possible.
Even more startling was the looks he'd been catching between Rocky and Trini. Those two were so very different, but the looks were just. . .interested. That's for them to deal with, he decided. He'd long since learned that it wasn't wise to try and interfere with his friends' love lives.
Zack was the last one, and Jason wondered if his friend would ever settle down with one female. He and Angela had mutually decided, prior to his move to Switzerland, that they just weren't a compatible couple, to put it mildly. From what Jason remembered of that, however, Angela had been fairly smug about it: as well as smug about the fact she was now dating Curtis, Zack's cousin. He would never forget the pain in Zack's eyes all the way to Geneva. A young delegate from Africa had helped him get over her, though they, too, had wound up going their own ways. Zack had bounced from girl to girl over the last few years, even dating Trini for a while, but that hadn't lasted long, really.
This looks like a nice place for a quick rest, Jason considered as he pushed his own way through the trees to the waterfall. The last thing we need to do is get exhausted this early in the quest. "Once we have something to eat, we can split up and search this island, just to be certain the second shard isn't here. Once we know, we can grab some sleep and go on again."
Kim was by the stream that came out from the waterfall, and she nodded even as she drank some of the cool, clean water. "This tastes incredible! I've never had water like this before!"
As the others drank, Billy leaned back and examined it for a moment. "Considering the era that we're in, and our location, this water couldn't possibly be polluted in the slightest, that's why it tastes so good. All the other water we've had has had at least some form of pollutant in it."
"What about the water on Aquitar?" Rocky asked his friend. Billy's mouth tightened up just the tiniest bit, then he slowly relaxed himself.
"The water there's . . .well, different. It doesn't taste quite like this, but it's not bad. With an entire civilization living there, it's got a bit of pollution in it, but it's not the same as on Earth. They clean it up as fast as they can, and they've been working on a method that should clean it up entirely, but it isn't perfected yet."
He didn't sound angry, but something about the tone told them all bluntly he didn't really like discussing Aquitar. For several minutes, all that sounded on the island was the splashing of water and the calling of teenage voices in play. No one was exactly swimming or bathing, but they were having a good time. Nudity wasn't an issue with any of them; they'd all been friends for quite some time, and they had long since trusted each other in battle. A little flesh wasn't that much of a problem.
"What a couple of days," Trini yawned just a bit as she leaned against a tree, her slightly damp hair sticking to her face. "I think I'm having a good time, though."
"It is almost like old times." Rocky agreed. He had stripped down to a pair of swimming trunks, which had caused no few giggles when he had pulled them from his bag. He had replied with mock indignation that as a former lifeguard, he always came prepared for water hazards. Trini was finding it hard to keep her eyes off him, and finding it harder to keep people from noticing that.
I never ever imagined he was this gorgeous. Before the picnic that the Timekeeper had intruded upon, Trini had never really seen Rocky that close up before. When he, Adam, and Aisha had first encountered the Rangers, she'd been trying to figure out her feelings for two different people: Billy and Richie. She'd felt something more for Billy, since she'd known him all her life, and Richie was very handsome too. But in the end, it had been going to Switzerland that had solidified her mind on both of them. Richie had said farewell, and mentioned that he was going to be going to visit his girlfriend back home, thus closing off that potential avenue. Billy hadn't even noticed it at the time, but he had been glancing at Aisha even then. Trini had bid him a friendly farewell, and when there had been nothing more to his good-bye than just that between friends, she had known that they were, and would remain, only friends.
During her time in Switzerland, she had never dated, except for once or twice each with Zack and Jason. All of that had been just as friends, however, to have someone to talk to who understood her roots and her past in a way no one else could. Always in the back of all their minds had been Angel Grove, and when Jason had had a chance to go home, he had taken all their good wishes with him.
She clearly remembered the first time she'd had a very good look at Rocky. It hadn't been the real him; Jason had sent a picture of the current team to her and Zack in one of his first letters back. Zack had pointed out how mature and responsible Billy had looked, as compared to what he had been like when they had left. She hadn't noticed. She'd been too busy staring with wide eyes at the then-Blue Zeo Ranger.
"Trini?" she looked up to see Kim holding a sandwich out to her. The Pink Ranger had, naturally, packed food that wouldn't spoil, since they didn't know just how long it would be between proper meals, and they were all hungry. With a faint blush, she took it and started chewing. Hope no one asks what I was thinking about.
"I wonder what the others are doing right now," Aisha murmured, starting to take the braids out of her hair with one hand and rummaging in her bag for her brush.
Billy shrugged. "Probably turning Divatox's latest monster into spacedust. That's what they do."
"I wonder if they've noticed we're gone." Rocky murmured, his eyes on his left wrist. Instead of the red or blue he'd been used to, the communicator he wore these days was an elegant shade of green. He had borrowed one of Adam's old ones that had been left at his house during one of the nights his friend had slept over during their Zeo days; his old blue one had gone to Justin and he'd given his red one to Tommy when they'd become Zeo Rangers.
Jason shook his head. "The Timekeeper said he would make sure no one noticed, remember?"
Everyone was quiet for a time, then Aisha giggled. "You know, I think we're going to have to start calling Rocky 'Rainbow Rocky'. He's been red, blue, and now green!"
"Well, you've been yellow and white!" Rocky retorted. "And Jason's been red and gold!"
Billy's eyes lit up with a teasing gleam. "Ah, but you're the only one here who has been three different colors!"
Everyone burst out into laughter, and Rocky threw pitying glances all over the group. Trini said softly, "I think you look great no matter what you're wearing."
As she said that, they all went silent, and the Yellow Ranger blushed the severest shade of red any of them had ever seen on her. There was a tense silence, broken by Jason. "Is everyone ready to start looking?"
"Sure." Zack jumped up, quickly piling all the food back into Kim's bag, ignoring her squawks of protest. "Who looks where?"
Jason glanced around, and it entered his mind to do something, or at least try to do something about the relationships brewing among his team. But how to do it without them sensing he was trying something and balking?
Luckily, Zack came to the rescue. "Since there's seven of us, we can't split into even teams. You two lovebirds can go look that way," he motioned Jason and Kim in one direction. "You guys can look that way." Rocky and Trini were dispatched in another direction. "And you guys look that way." Next off were Billy and Aisha.
"And what about you?" Billy asked, showing no shred of reluctance to be with his assigned partner. "Where are you going?"
The Black Ranger assumed a nearly pious expression. "Why, someone has to watch our stuff. Hey! Stop that!" he lifted his hands to ward off the various leaves and dirt being thrown at him by his six friends. "Okay, don't blame me if your things somehow manages to find it's way into the water. .."
"You wouldn't dare!" Rocky mock-raised a fist and Zack just as mock-cowered away. With various giggles, the three groups split up and Zack leaned back against a tree. This should be interesting.
"Yeah." He brushed off some dirt and looked at her. "What about you? You've been kind of distracted for a while now."
Kim bit her lip; she hadn't thought he had noticed that. "Yeah, I'm fine." She hoped he wouldn't pursue the question. She really didn't think she felt like explaining, and if she had to, she didn't know how he would take it.
He looked at her for a moment, concern in his magnificent dark eyes. She could feel the quickly raised defenses crumbling, as they always had when she had looked at him. "Are you sure?"
"I. . .," she faltered, looking away, and Jason touched her hand gently. "I think we need to talk. While we were back in prehistoric times, I remembered something that . ..well, it's kind of disturbed me."
Jason pulled her over to a convenient rock, and glanced casually around. They were far enough from the others so no one was likely to hear them, and he had a suspicion that they would be involved in their own conversations as well. "What was it?" he asked gently.
Kim sat down, trying to put her thoughts together into a fashion that would not only make sense to him but to her as well. "It really kind of starts before then. Before I ever sent the letter to Tommy." He said nothing at all, just watched and listened. "I was trying to figure out how I felt. For the first time in my life, I was on my own, away from everything I had ever known, and I liked it. I was doing something only I could do. I loved being a Ranger, I love being one again now, but really, honestly, anyone can have Ranger powers. But I was the only one who was picked from Angel Grove to go to the Pan-Globals. It was something I chose for myself, not something I was picked to do by someone else." Her eyes shone with glee for a few moments.
He nodded; he'd felt something vaguely similar when he had went to Switzerland. She kept going. "But there was Tommy. I loved him, but at the same time, I kept feeling like we were growing apart, without meaning to. Then I met John. John was. . .well, he was intoxicating. I didn't want to fall in love with him, and I guess I didn't. But I did realize that it wasn't a good idea for me and Tommy to remain a couple. From his letters, Kat's, and everyone else's, and the phone calls, I could see what he couldn't. He was falling in love with Kat. I already knew she was in love with him."
There was no trace of bitterness in her voice, and Jason was glad. Slowly, she kept going. "I hadn't really planned on breaking up with him through a letter. I wanted to say it to his face, but I wasn't sure if I could. I wasn't sure if I wanted to, really. I knew something had changed, but I wanted . ..I guess I wanted to be certain of what I was doing and why, and there was no one to help me make up my mind. I was about to call the whole thing off and just deal with things as they were, when something happened."
He was silent, waiting to hear what it was. Something in his inner core said that this was the most important part of what she was telling him.
"I was going out for a late walk. I wasn't even sure why, I just wanted to get out and do some thinking. The next thing I knew, I saw you, Zack, Trini, and Billy sitting at a picnic table ahead of me. You looked as if you'd been expecting me, there was a picnic and everything."
Jason's jaw dropped, and he stared. He knew that at that particular point in time, he, Zack, and Trini had been firmly in Switzerland; the only times he'd seen Kimberly after he had went to the Peace Conference had been those few times they had returned to visit, and never had he been to Florida, until after their encounter with Divatox. She kept talking.
"We talked. Oh, we talked about everything. But . ..I didn't realize it at the time, but you all looked. . .older. Stronger. Tougher. As if you'd been through things that I couldn't imagine at the time. And in the end, I realized that I didn't love Tommy the way I used to, and that it would be best if we went our separate ways."
She looked up at him. "You left once I figured out what I was going to do, and you made me promise not to mention to anyone that you had been there that night. Not even to yourselves." Kim took a deep breath. "Jason, the people who came to me that night were you, Zack, Trini, and Billy: as the Red, Black, Yellow, and Blue Time Rangers. At some point on our quest, we are going to wind up in Florida, and the four of you are going to have to talk me into writing that letter. Aisha, Rocky, and I. ..well, I don't know where we'll be, but that's what you're going to have to do."
Jason took a deep breath. It was one thing to wander through time. It was another knowing he was going to have to face his girlfriend before she was his girlfriend, and talk her into breaking up with his best friend. He shivered. No one could ever say being a Power Ranger, or a Time Ranger, was boring.
"Do you think we'll find a shard here?" Trini asked quietly, looking up at him with her delicate almond-shaped eyes.
"Maybe," he shrugged. "I don't think so, though. I mean, something tells me that the shards are all going to be protected somehow. I really don't think this place could offer that much protection."
She nodded. "I think you're right." He couldn't help the thrill that came from that approval. The two of them kept going on in silence for several minutes, until Rocky couldn't stand it any longer.
"Yes?" she glanced over at him curiously. She had been about ready to speak herself, and she wondered what had made him say something first.
"I ...I. . ." the Green Ranger searched for anything at all to say that would make any form of sense possible. He couldn't remember ever being this tongue-tied with a girl before. "I hear you used to be afraid of heights?" he finally dredged up a memory that Billy had told him once.
She nodded, a faint flicker of amusement in the very back of her mind. "I've heard some stories about you, too. Something about a plant, I do believe?"
Rocky shuddered; he still had the occasional dream about that thing. "I wonder which is more exciting. What we've been through as Rangers, or what we're going to be going through now, as Time Rangers."
"I guess we'll just have to wait to find out." Trini glanced at him, wondering if she dared to do what she was thinking about. It's silly. You hardly know him. So why does it feel like I've been waiting for him since the day I was born? Oh, stop dithering about it. That's what your problems always been. Before she could talk herself out of it, Trini quietly reached over to Rocky and took his hand.
The contact sent little thrills of electrical fire shooting down both of their arms and into their minds. The two of them stared at the joined hands, then back up at each other. As their eyes met, both of them felt the most unusual feeling of completion, as if they had been half and now were whole. Rocky smiled softly, then as if ruled by something other than himself, leaned down and touched his lips to hers, feeling as she returned the downy soft kiss with all her soul and then some.
"I missed you." Aisha's voice shook just a little. Billy looked at her, his heart in his eyes.
"I missed you too. I wanted to stay, but not if you weren't there."
She nodded slowly. The two of them had dated, very briefly and very secretively. It hadn't been often, but the emotions between them had been strong. Before it could become anything more, however, the experience with the Orb of Doom had happened, and Aisha had wound up staying in Africa. "Why did you come back to Angel Grove?" it was a fairly good shot that she was the only person he would tell, and she knew it. He might have known some of the others longer, but he had told her many other things that he had told no one else.
His voice was almost like that of one dead. "Because I'm under a death sentence on Aquitar. Death or banishment. I could choose one of the two. I chose to come home."
She stared at him. "What happened?" burst out of her before she could stop to think that he might not want to talk about it. She was about to say something else, when he shook his head.
"I didn't know at the time, but when I went to Aquitar, I was sick. Not just the aging, but a very severe form of pneumonia that was just getting started. Pneumonia is very dangerous to the Aquitian system. I..it started a plague." His eyes were suddenly full of tears and he gripped her hand without even realizing it. "Cestria was the first to die. The Alien Rangers didn't catch it, their powers protected them. But there were deaths all over the planet, their families and friends. People they had known for centuries. When they finally found a cure that would work, everyone knew that I was the one who had brought it. According to their laws, I was guilty of mass murder. Because it was unintentional, Delphine was able to convince the High Council to just send me back to Earth instead of killing me. But if I ever go to Aquitar again, I will be killed."
Aisha stared at him in shock, then did the only thing she could possibly think of doing. She pulled him into a tight hug and whispered softly what she had always dreamed of telling him, night after night in Africa. She had loved the work, but there had been something she had wanted even more. If the need hadn't been so pressing, she would have come home. . .
"I love you, Billy."
He said nothing in return, but she didn't expect it. She just held him, letting him feel all the love she had always had for him, and had kept concealed. There were a thousand barriers to their romance, and in that moment, Aisha Campbell, White Time Ranger, didn't give a flying fig. All she cared about was that the man she loved was in her arms, and crying his very soul bare.
Billy leaned against her, the tears burning their way out of his body. He had never been able to cry before when he thought of this, but now, here in this silent place where he knew only those who would be his friends would possibly hear him, he broke down completely. All he could think of, all he could feel, was that he was back home, where he belonged, with the one person who truly loved him and understood him in a way he could never duplicate with anyone else: and he had tried. He'd thought he'd lost Aisha forever when she'd went to Africa, and he'd had to stay behind. That was why he'd went to Aquitar, to attempt to find that bond with someone else. He'd thought he had it in Cestria. Her death had proven to him, in many ways, that he hadn't. Though he did mourn her, it was the mourning of one who had lost a friend. It was not the sensation of having lost half his heart and soul as he would have experienced if something had happened to Aisha.
A word occurred to him, a word he had heard on Aquitar. His heart went out to Aisha as it did, and he knew that was what they were. "Shay'kreth'ashke. Lifebonded. Soulmates."
She glanced up at him as he spoke through the tears. "It's what we are." He said to alleviate her confusion. "We're meant to be." he sniffled a little, and she handed him a handkerchief. As he wiped his eyes, both of them smiled a little. They'd been apart too long. It was time to be together again.
Kim shook her head, her hand tightly wrapped around Jason's. "Nothing. I think this island's clean. What about you guys?"
"Nothing," Rocky and Trini were also holding hands, and sending little fiery gazes at each other when they thought no one else was looking. Billy and Aisha also reported finding nothing, and though they weren't touching, their friends could all sense that something had changed about them.
Jason nodded. "We can get some sleep, then, and go on in the morning. We'd better keep watches, too. Just in case." His hand drifted briefly to the pouch in his traveling case where he kept the Red Shard they had acquired.
Slowly the seven of them settled around in a circle. "We still have a lot of time and space to cover." Zack said quietly. "There are six more shards out there, and the Timewalker could be anywhere, anywhen, doing who knows what."
"We'll find them all." Billy's voice was firm. "It's what we do."
All of them smiled. "After all," Jason chuckled. "We are Power Rangers!"