DISCLAIMER: This is an MMPR & Clive Barker's Weaveworld crossover. With a little bit of Tanya Huff's Child of the Grove thrown in. I loved her character Lord Death so much that I _had_ to put him in here. Near the middle, I use a little blip from Yvonne and CJ Plante's fanfic, "Choices". I loved that, too... everyone should read it!
Almost all characters are copyright of either Clive Barker or Saban. Almost all characters and their likenesses are also either Saban's or Clive Barker's. With the exception of Lord Death: he's Tanya Huff's. But the personalities I give the people are MINE! :)
Tommy sighed as he traced the fine line of Kimberly's cheek. She was asleep, of course. It was well past midnight. And something was bothering him so he couldn't rest, much less sleep. Sleep was impossible, something far away he kept reaching for. He knew exactly what the problem was... just not how to deal with it. He knew that he wasn't super-intelligent like Billy. But the problem was so _simple_... and he was at a complete loss about how to solve it.
He'd snuck into the girls' room, of course. The guys and girls still had separate sleeping quarters: a prerequisite of their parents if they were all going to share the same house for a week. But his karate training had made him as soft-footed as a whisper of wind... they'd never heard him enter.
[What am I going to do without her?] Tommy thought morosely. [I... I don't think that I could live... if she left. When she leaves. Oh, God...]
Kimberly was scheduled to go to the Pan Am games the day after the next. His girlfriend was leaving... likely for good. She was still weak from her separation with her Power Coin. But she hadn't cut off ties with her friends. Not yet. And not with Tommy. But he knew that it was inevitable.
[When someone leaves, ties get cut. Bonds get separated,] he pondered. [Hearts get broken.]
"Kim... don't go. I don't know... how I'm gonna live... with you gone." he whispered softly in her ear before he turned to go back to the boys' room and his soft bed.
He didn't hear the muffled sob that sounded in the dark as he left...
* * *
Kimberly wept in desperation at her plight, and that of her friends. She loved them all... no; she'd never doubted that. But now... she was leaving. Leaving them all behind.
She glared venomously at the snoozing Kat. The "sweetheart of Surrey Hill" was fast asleep, her long, blonde hair glistening slightly in the moonlight shining in the window.
[It's all _her_ fault,] she thought resentfully. [If she hadn't--]
She quickly chided herself for her uncharitable thoughts. It wasn't Kat's fault. It never had been. It was Rita's, and Lord Zedd's, and all those horrible _things_ that resided up there on the Moon.
She touched her chin gently, feeling where Tommy's fingers had caressed her cheek. There was another thing to worry about. Tommy.
[Do I love him?] she asked herself. She couldn't quite interpret the answer. [Can I live without him, knowing that he'll probably turn to Kat as soon as I'm gone? She led him away once before... what's to stop her from doing that again when I leave? I still think she really likes him.]
He had said he couldn't live with her gone. Was that the truth, or just what he believed?
[Oh, Tommy,] she thought, sadly. [You'll live when I go. You won't have a choice, will you. The world needs the White Ranger... and our friends need Tommy.]
What she didn't know was that there was someone creeping into the deep crevices of her mind as she thought... and worn out by grief, fell asleep.
* * *
The next morning, Kimberly cooked breakfast, humming slightly to herself as she busied her hands with pots, pans, eggs, bacon, rice and bread.
[Tommy's uncle's cabin really is beautiful,] she thought. [It may be a bit rustic-- cooking over a gas stove isn't my idea of a good time-- but it's nice. Comfy. Good place for a vacation, I guess.]
Rocky stretched as he plodded into the kitchen, promptly tripping over a stool that had been in his way. He fell to the floor with a 'plop', too sleepy to get back up.
"Kim..." he mumbled, "why'you up zo early? I'z too early to be cookin'..."
And with that, he dropped asleep on the lacquered, wooden kitchen floor.
Next to stumble in was Aisha. And she, of course, tripped over Rocky. Unlike him, though, she didn't fall. She blinked groggily at Kim and her frenetic cooking activity. Then she looked back at what she had tripped on. That woke her up in a hurry. Well, the sight of a snoring Rocky curled up on the kitchen floor would have woken _anyone_ up.
"Goodness," she quipped. "You must be a heckuva cook, Kim, to bring Rocky to the kitchen at _this_ time of the day. But then again, he's a bottomless pit, isn't he. Need some help? I mean, Rocky's stomach ain't the only one that needs fillin', and what you've cooked is about enough for just _him_."
The girls giggled, and Kim bent down to give Rocky a shake. "Ma?" he muttered. "Wha'z for breakfast?"
Kimberly rolled her eyes, and Aisha laughed. "See? What did I tell you."
"Com'on, Rocky, up an' at 'em," Kimberly laughed. "Or I'll wake up Tommy and have him _spar_ the sleep out of you, you see if I don't! And you won't get any breakfast 'til _after_ the sparring!"
Rocky bounced to his feet, albeit slowly.
As the girls went about preparing breakfast, Tommy staggered into the kitchen.
"Hey, handsome." Kimberly greeted cheerfully without turning around. She always knew who it was.
"Not so handsome now, am I, beautiful?" he grumbled wryly. Kimberly turned around. It wasn't like him to sound so tired.
"Tommy?" Kim gasped. "You look awful! Did you get any sleep last night?"
It was true; Tommy _did_ look terrible. His long, silky hair was straggling around his face in knots, his boxers and t-shirt were rumpled, he had dark circles around his hazel eyes, his handsome, normally-cheerful face was as pale as an albino's, and he was unsmiling. Shadows of stubble crept around his chin. In other words, as if he had been tossing and turning in bed all night.
He rubbed his eyes wearily. "No." he answered bluntly, touched by her concern. "I couldn't sleep."
He exchanged a glance with Aisha, who understood. Kim didn't noticed, so worried about him was she. "Isha," she said authoritatively, "you go on cooking. I'm going to go get Tommy shaved and fixed up."
He pulled away from her. "Mother, I can dress and shave myself, thank you." he replied teasingly.
"No you can't." she replied. "I wouldn't trust you to spar with Rocky right now, you'd lose--"
"Hey!" Rocky protested.
Ignoring him, Kim went on. "-- And if you tried to shave, you'd probably cut off all your hair! And we can't have that, now, can we? Speaking of which, your hair needs combing."
"Help!" Tommy pleaded jokingly as Kimberly dragged him out of the kitchen.
"Well, that was interesting." Aisha quipped when the furor had cleared.
"Want me to help with the food?" Rocky offered.
"_No._" Aisha said, very decisively, staring at him.
Rocky pouted. "Why not? I'm a _very_ good cook, I'll have you know."
"It's not that!" she laughed. "I know you are! It's just that most of it would probably end up in your mouth!"
Rocky humphed indignantly.
* * *
Tommy grumbled as Kimberly hauled him into the bathroom. Despite her tiny size of 5'3", Kimberly had plenty of strength. And he really didn't have the heart to resist her. Not to mention he knew that if he did, her grip was strong enough to leave bruises on his wrist.
Bruises didn't bother him at all, as long as they were from Kim. But the fact was, bruises were bruises, and people asked where bruises came from. If he told anyone that they were from Kimberly, because he had refused to let her clean him up, he'd never hear the end of it. So he went along with her.
She began to tug off his shirt. He caught her hands and looked at her strangely, raising an eyebrow.
"Don't get any ideas." she chided him. "You don't want shaving cream all over your favorite sleeping shirt, do you?"
"Good point." he agreed. Then he yawned tremendously.
"Tommy, Tommy, Tommy." Kimberly sighed, taking out a bottle of shaving cream and washing a razor. "I don't know _why_ you do this to yourself."
"Because I like being fussed over by a pretty lady?" he suggested cheerfully as Kimberly smeared shaving cream on his chin and upper lip.
"Don't talk! I might get shaving cream in your mouth!" she scolded. Then she went back to his reply. "Maybe," she agreed, "but there are easier ways to get a girl's care than staying up all night!"
She gently drew the razor along the edges of the shaving cream, giving him a good shave that he would have never managed on his own. The razor's edge slid across his skin like a caress.
"How do you do that?" he mumbled, trying to move as little as possible.
"Do what?" she asked, concentrating on the razor.
"Shave someone so well."
"I don't know." Kimberly replied honestly. "My stepfather asked the same thing. And I think it's just you. When I tried to give him a shave, I cut him so many times that his friends thought that he'd fallen off a motorbike into a gravel road."
She wiped away the remains of the shaving cream on his face, washing away the little bits of stubble from the razor.
Tommy rubbed his palm against his cheek. "Thanks, Kim." he puffed gratefully. "No-one can give me a good shave like you."
"No problem." she replied seriously. She brushed his cheek herself with the tips of her soft fingers, then reached her hands upwards to hang them gently over his shoulders in a semi-hug. She leaned against his strong body. "Just... well, don't expect it very often anymore. Remember, I'm leaving."
Tommy gathered her in against his chest. "Yeah." he whispered into her soft hair. "I remember."
"Look... Tommy, we need to talk. I've seen you and Kat making eyes at each other."
He held her away from him. "How can you _say_ that?" he asked her. He couldn't have been more hurt if she'd kicked him. "How can you _say_ such a thing?"
"It's true, isn't it?" she queried, tears coming to her eyes. "You like her a lot."
"Kim, you're the only girl for me." he answered. "Always."
"That's not the way things work, Tommy." she told him flatly. "I'm leaving tomorrow. You know that, don't you. But you can't cling to me forever. I want to trust you when I'm gone... really I do. And I do trust you. But I don't want to be selfish. You'll find another girl to replace me in your life, Tommy. I know you will. And I don't want you to feel guilty about it. If you're happy with her, then that's great. Look... we're going to be going our separate ways, soon... Tommy, I think that we should break--"
Tommy held a forefinger to her lips. "Kim... oh, man, don't. Please. We'll work it out. Somehow. I know we will."
"Tommy, we're only human." she pushed his hand away. "It's better this way. I guess... this is the end of _us_, huh, Tommy? From now on, it's just Kimberly and Tommy. Not the couple any more."
"Kim... don't do this. Please don't." Tommy begged. His eyes were wet.
"I heard you last night, when you came into the room. I heard what you said. You _can_ live without me, Tommy. I thought about it for a long, long time. There's always Kat. You'll get over me, I know you will." Kimberly scrubbed at her eyes, which were wet with raw salt tears. "I've gotta go."
"No last kiss?" he asked, a final, desperate grasp at their loving relationship.
"Tommy..." she gasped out through tears. "Goodbye."
She ran out of the door. Tommy didn't even try to follow her-she wouldn't thank him for it. And following in her wake came the sound of a screen door slamming.
Tommy ran to his room, flopped down on his bed, and cried.
Soon, after a painful eternity of tears that brought no relief trickling down his face, he heard the door opening. And there, coming after him, was Rocky. "Look, Tommy... I couldn't help but hear what she said. I know... I haven't had much luck with girls either... but I haven't got anything to say about that. That was painful." he admitted, remorsefully.
"She's right." Tommy wept into his pillow. "She's right. But it doesn't mean... Oh, God, how am I gonna live without her?"
"I dunno, Tommy. But she made her choice, you can't change her mind." Rocky answered slowly, cocking his head to look at his weeping leader out of the corner of his eyes.
"What did I do wrong?" Tommy whimpered. "What did I do wrong that she...that she..."
"You didn't do _nothin'_ wrong, Tommy?" Rocky cried, shaking his leader's shoulders. "You were, like, the damn most devoted boyfriend I've ever seen in the world. But you're only human, man. You'll find another girl."
Tommy threw off Rocky's hands on his shoulders. "No, I won't!" he shouted into the Red Ranger's face. "Get out of here! Now! I'll never find another girl to replace her! I told Kim that she's the only girl for me, and I mean it!"
"O.K, O.K, I'm going." Rocky popped off the bed, unperturbed. As he headed for the door, he added over his shoulder, "But it's an awful pity that ya feel that way, 'cause Kat's somethin' special. You're a lucky guy, Tommy. The rest of us, we're a regular lonely hearts club. But you attract girls like some kinda magnet. Be grateful for that choice Kim made, 'kay. 'Cause she's right. You'll find another girl when she leaves; she knew it."
Rocky slipped out the doorway, and left Tommy alone with his grief.
* * *
Adam had seen Kimberly run out of the house in tears, and instinctively looked around for Tommy. When Kimberly was hurt, Tommy was sure to be there. He always had been.
[Those two are some special couple.] Adam thought. [I just wish I didn't feel like I do about Kim. Then I wouldn't always be wanting them to break up-- and for Kim to look to the good-looking teammate who wears the opposite of her former boyfriend...]
When Tommy _didn't_ come after Kim, Adam grew worried. It wasn't like them at all. There had to be something wrong.
[Maybe,] he thought with a burst of hope, [something happened between them.]
He quickly squelched such thoughts. He'd been hoping, dreaming something like that would happen-- but he didn't really _want_ it to. He was too close to Tommy and Kimberly for that. He could dream, he could hope-- but he never really, genuinely wanted it to happen. It would hurt both of them too much. It would hurt _all_ of them too much.
The bond between them was, sometimes, the only certainty in his life. He didn't even know if he'd survive the next battle-if any of them would.
He followed after Kim, easily tracking her progress by the trail of crushed branches and torn leaves she left in her wake, not to mention little scraps of pink cloth where she'd pushed between bushes and trees, tearing her clothes. He wondered if she realized just how easy she was to find-a monster with any hint of a brain would do it easily.
After following her trail, he came to a little section of forest. The trees here were different, he realized. They weren't pine trees and cypress like most of the rest. No, here were hardwood trees, mostly mahogany and oaks. These had been planted by loving hands many centuries ago. And Kimberly was curled into a weeping ball of misery at the base of one. Right above her was a heart carved into a tree trunk. It had been painstakingly been etched deep into the oak with a hand dagger, and read "Tommy & Kimmy: together 4ever."
"Oh, God, Kim." he asked, hurrying to her side. He tried to get her to sit up from the unfeeling forest loam she was lying on, but she refused and slid through his hands to the ground. "What happened?"
"Tommy." came her whimpered reply, choked out through buckets of tears.
Adam's anger rose. "Did he do this to you?" he asked furiously. "If he did, I'll kill him, White Ranger or no White Ranger."
"No," she whispered, somewhat glad to have Adam to talk to. "I dumped him."
With that, she retreated back into her shell of grief.
Adam was puzzled and elated at the same time. Kimberly had dumped Tommy? But _why_?
"I didn't want to," she forced out. "I'd do anything if I didn't have to do that. But what can I do? I'm leaving tomorrow. And I don't want to return and find him sneaking around with another girl behind my back. I want him to be happy, be able to show his feelings openly. And if he's happy with another girl, probably Kat, then good for him. I want to remember him the way he's always been with me: the perfect, handsome, chilvarous, sweet, honorable Tommy. I don't want to have him feeling guilty because he's been sneaking around behind my back. So I'm fixing it up so he doesn't have to sneak around at all. But... I wish... it didn't have to... be this way. I... I... there's something special... between me and Tommy."
Adam felt his heart shatter at this revelation. Kimberly sounded almost as if... well, as if she loved Tommy, instead of just liking him as more than a friend.
"Kim," he asked softly, somehow keeping his voice from cracking with strain. "Do you love Tommy?"
Kimberly looked up at him, surprised. Her eyes matched the color of the autumn leaves woven into her silken brown hair. "Do I... do I love Tommy?" she repeated, staring at him. Adam couldn't bring himself to meet her gaze. "I... I don't know. Why?"
"Nothing." Adam answered. He couldn't bring himself to tell her how she felt. It would be taking advantage of her feelings. And somehow, he felt responsible for breaking her and Tommy up. Almost as if in hoping, his dreams had come true-- and he had found out they weren't all that he thought they'd be. "It'll be O.K, Kim." he rocked her gently, gathering her into his arms in a purely platonic hug. "It'll be O.K..."
"No it won't." she whispered into the Black Ranger's clothes, a whisper that none but the wind heard. "It'll never be O.K. again."
And as if Kimberly's words were a divine omen, things suddenly started to go wrong.
* * *
Kim drove away from the cabin the next morning, heading for the airport. She'd insisted that they not bring her there. She'd said goodbye to all of them... all of them but Tommy. She'd looked for him-she'd wanted to say her farewells to him most of all-but he'd suddenly disappeared. She knew where he'd be... but she couldn't go to him. A week ago, she would have gone and held him and comforted him for sure. But a week ago, he never would have reason to go the the grove where just the day before she'd been crying.
[Tommy... I'm sorry... but it had to be done... I hope you found the gift...] was her last thought before her mind was washed away in a rush of heat and fire...
* * *
Tommy danced among the trees, taking a shortcut to the oak glade. He always came here when he really needed to think... and Kim was going. That was definitely thinking material. But when he arrived there, there was something... something already there. A bright pink jewelry satchel was taped to the trunk of the tallest tree in the grove--the oak tree. Directly over the carved heart.
Puzzled, he took it into his hands and turned it over. He was filled with an impending feeling of dread as he felt the shape of a little box inside the jewelry satchel. Hands trembling as if he had palsy, he tugged at the drawstrings of the bag. It slid open easily, and its contents fell out into his large hands.
It was a ring box. Tommy knew that box. He himself had given it to Kim, a lifetime ago. That very day when he'd almost lost his Green Ranger powers completely... but become Kim's boyfriend.
There was no comparison. He would have done it again a million million times over.
He didn't need to open it. There was no letter, and there didn't need to be. He knew exactly what was in it: the ring that Kimberly swore that she would wear as long as she remained together with him. Two years ago, none of them could have seen this happening... Tommy slid to the ground, sobbing and clutching at the bark of the tree where he himself had painstakingly sculpted the words "Tommy and Kimmy: together 4ever" in a heart with the diamond-sharp point of the Dragon Dagger. There he'd swung Kimberly around, and she'd laughed and squealed, and kissed him. It seemed like an eternity ago. He sank to the crisp leaves at the bottom of the glade where no sun ever touched. He wept against the rough bark of the tall oak tree, and wished passionately to be dead.
It was Adam who charged up to him, wheezing and desperate, his face a mask of horror and despair.
"Tommy--" he gasped on his last breath, "$#!^.. Tommy, Kim's car just blew up! And she was in it!"
Tommy sprang to his feet in horror. "WHAT?" he asked, shocked. "NO! Kim... oh, God, no, KIM!"
He took off like the Devil himself was following him, not caring if grasping branches tore at his milk-white clothes and scratched his sun-bronzed skin. He never thought even once of teleporting. In an urgent situation-- human senses were the best to use.
In a matter of seconds, he was out of the woods and running for the road. All around the cabin flashes of color were appearing--Aisha's yellow, Rocky's red, Billy's blue... even Kat's lighter pink, but Kimberly's darker pink never appeared. He ran, a blur of pale light, a few metres away from the cabin. And there, sitting in the center of the road in a blaze, were the remains of Kimberly's pink convertible.
"Zordon!" Tommy screamed desperately into his communicator. "You got Kimberly out of there, right? The power protects us from things like this happening, right?"
There was a suspiciously nervous silence at the other end. "Tommy... a few minutes ago I lost contact with Kimberly. And now, when I bring her up on the viewing globe, I see only darkness. What has happened?" came the booming reply.
Zordon didn't get his reply, and all he heard was a wordless scream of anguish.
* * *
The Heart of Darkness laughed as she witnessed the pain of the young man.
[Such a wonderful male specimen. All the more wonderful for the strength of his emotions,] she thought, her eyes gleaming as she looked into the prism where Tommy's face was reflected. [So handsome, very muscular... one of the few _Cuckoos_ I have seen who can even come close to rivaling one like me, the Seerkind!]
She admired herself in the full-body mirror in her chambers. She was beautiful... very, very beautiful. Her hair was the soft silk of midnight... her skin the shade of the stars... her eyes the violet of impending gloom. But there was a wildness in her eyes that only the most twisted could cherish.
[I have no wish to be with one of the Cuckoos.] she thought wistfully, looking down on Tommy. [No matter how much like the Seerkind they look... one must remember they have not the power in their blood, the power to create. And my purpose is to kill them... all of them.]
She reached her alabaster-white hand out to touch Tommy's face in her glass prism, caressing it with a fingernail... and crushed it with a single move.
* * *
Tommy, senseless in his grief, didn't even notice the sharp touch of wind that brushed over his face. He clutched the box to his chest like he would perish without it, sobbing, if possible, even more violently than he had a few minutes ago. Aisha, Rocky, Billy, Kat and Adam stood over him protectively, their faces slack with horror and grief.
Kim was dead. They'd lost one of their own.
They stood their vigil over Tommy for hours, even as late morning turned into afternoon and afternoon began to fade into early autumn dusk And still, they grieved.
As the dusk came over them, a sudden six-tone page came over the communicator.
"Rangers." Zordon spoke. "What has happened to Kimberly? I can no longer detect her power signature."
At first, none of them wanted to answer. It was just too painful.
Finally, Kat, who had known her the least, got her voice back first. "Kim... Kim's dead, Zordon." she spoke, her heavy Australian accent tainted by her pain.
There was a heavy silence from the other end. "I... am sorry, Rangers. But I must distract you from your grief. There is a more pressing problem now."
Tommy lifted his head. His eyes were bloodshot, his clothes sticky with tears and dust, his face stained with liquid sorrow. He did not look to be in any shape to go to school, much less fight a life-or-death battle with one of Rita's and Zedd's monsters. "Zordon..." he grated out through clenched teeth. "We just lost one of the Rangers. We are not in any shape to fight anything or anyone. And you have the _nerve_, to say that there is a more pressing problem?"
Again, there was a short hush, as if Zordon was choosing his words carefully. "Tommy, this will sound very callous to you." he boomed. "But Kimberly was no longer the Pink Ranger when she lost her life. The Pink Ranger powers are Kat's now. Please, this is urgent. Teleport to the Command Center."
"We'd better get going, bro." Rocky said resignedly. "Normally Zordon would leave us alone, unless there really _was_ a big problem."
"Go on ahead." Tommy answered the Red Ranger. "You can form the Megazord without the Falcon. You guys don't need me yet. I'll follow."
"Quite the contrary, Tommy." came Zordon's reply. "This concerns you more than anyone else. You are not to go into battle... yet. Consider this... a briefing."
"Fine." Tommy answered curtly. "Then you won't need me for a while, will you."
"Shut up, leave me alone!" he yelled at the thin band of silver metals on his wrist. With that, he switched it off. He took the watch-like communicator off his hand and tossed it to Adam, who caught it and stared at it like Tommy had thrown him a bag of snakes. "Give this to Zordon for me. I'll be over there in a few minutes."
When they didn't move, he prompted them some more. "Go on, get going, man. It's probably important."
"All right, then, Tommy." Kat finally spoke, resignedly. "If you must insist. We'll go."
They teleported out in a signature rainbow, streaking across the sky. Tommy watched them go... then sat down Indian-style on the ground and pulled out a device of white and silver metal from behind his back. In the center was a single coin, made of a shiny yellow-silver material that wasn't gold, with the stylized form of a falcon on it. This, Tommy popped out and stared at for a while.
He'd been a Ranger for such a long time, almost as long as Billy. And all those years, he'd known for sure that Kim would be there, fighting right beside him in battle.
There had always been the knowledge that one day, one of them might fall. That the Power might not be enough to protect them. That they might lose someone they loved--maybe even their _own_ life. But to know is not the same as to have reality smack you in the face with _proof_.
No, not the same at all.
Suddenly, he dropped his morpher. It didn't clatter, rather fell with a *thump* that was so... so... _banal_ for such an important object.
Tommy snorted, chiding himself for his thoughts.
[No matter how _important_ it is,] he reprimanded himself, [it's still just a lump of metal an' plastic. Anyone could use it who had even a little bit of the White Ranger power in 'em, right? Anyone--]
Suddenly, an idea came to him. An idea that was just barely short of grief-borne insanity. In the old days, he wouldn't even have thought of it; he'd have thought it something akin to sacrilege to the sacred Power.
[Sheah right.] he scoffed. [Sacred Power. Uh-huh. If it's so high-and-mighty, why couldn't... why couldn't... why couldn't it protect Kim? Yeah... I'll do it.]
Then, with a gusty sigh, he proclaimed, "Zordon, teleport me out."
As expected, within a few seconds Tommy disappeared from the lakeside in a bolt of white.
"Whassup, Zordon?" he asked as soon as he dropped into the command center.
"Tommy. So good to see you." Zordon answered. He hadn't meant it to sound sarcastic, but somehow it did. "Observe the viewing globe."
"One o' these days, Zordon's going to have to come up with a new catch-phrase." Tommy muttered, turning towards the opaque white crystal ball that stood on the other end of the command center.
Most others would have been surprised by the sight of a floating head suspended in a column of blue light, but they, longtime Rangers, were used to the sight. So they simply ignored the fact that Zordon didn't have a body and talked to his head.
"That is the Heart of Darkness." Zordon boomed. In the viewing globe there was a picture of a beautiful woman with flowing black hair, skin as white as paper, a small, straight nose, a red rosebud mouth and--
*Tweet-tweeet!* Rocky whistled. "Are you _sure_ she's a bad guy?"
"I am sure, Rocky." Zordon replied. "Do not let Her beauty deceive you. Her attractiveness is that of the shark before it tears up its prey. She has two sisters--"
"Are they as good-lookin' as she?" interrupted Rocky.
Zordon went on, pretending he hadn't heard him. [*Sigh*. Teenage hormones. Why can Rocky not be as sensible as Tommy, Adam and Billy?] he thought. "--but none have seen them and returned to tell of it. Their looks are not known, only that one of them is called the Magdalene. The Heart Herself is named Incantrix Immacolata. It is understood that the Magdalene cares very much for the games of the flesh... but like a black widow, kills her mates."
"But the most dangerous of them is the Heart of Darkness Herself. She and Her sisters are of a race known as the Seerkind-- a magical race from which spring magic and mystery. They know of humans as Cuckoos... mimics which lay their eggs in others' nests."
[Not altogether wrong. Humanity _did_ ursurp their home, after all... drove it away, at least...] Zordon pondered.
"Hey! That isn't fair." Aisha protested.
"They come from a place called the Fugue-- otherwise known as the Garden of Eden to those who study the Bible. Yes, Paradise. Those who have glimpsed it go insane if they do not see it again. But Paradise was driven out by the humans."
"So Incantrix Immacolata and Her sisters' purpose for returning here is to commit genocide-- to kill the entire human race. So to return the planet to the four Families of the Seerkind. You see, She was exiled. By returning the planet to the Seerkind, She can once again be accepted back into Paradise."
[Of course, She was exiled for killing all her rivals in power who refused to become Her allies...]
"She don't sound so tough!" Rocky exclaimed brashly. Zordon glared him down.
[Damn teenage bravado, too. _Why_ didn't I choose another Tommy or Jason, one who can be leader and yet accepts things so calmly?]
"Do not underestimate the Incantrix, Rocky." he admonished. "She is more deadly than any murderer, simply because She is very intelligent-- and very sane. She knows what She is doing. And She is possessed of the menstruum."
"The _what_?" asked Kat. "I dunno about you, guys, but this sounds way too weird for li'l ol' me."
"No weirder than some of the things that we've gone through before, Kat." Aisha reminded her. "Now what's the menstruum, Zordon?"
"It is a flow of power that sometimes comes to the women of the Families... once in a century of centuries, to a man. It is sometimes called raptures. It can be controlled through music, weaving, dance, or something of the sort. But it is deadly. Observe." he nodded towards the viewing globe.
They could not hear sounds, but it was evident that Immacolata was chanting something. And as she intoned, the very air warped in front of her... lava-red fire flowed from her body, enveloping the crowd of aliens in front of her.
"Whoa." Aisha said into the silence that followed. "Yikes."
"The menstruum is deadly to those who cannot use it-- the merest touch of it can drive a man mad. Women have more resistance to it--inborn by their gender-- but even they cannot endure for long. It is even more dangerous to one who possesses it... but knows not how to control it. But that is not what I was to talk to you about. This is of utmost importance. I have received word that the Magdalene is in search of a husband."
"Uh-oh." Rocky exclaimed.
"Yes. Definately uh-oh." Zordon agreed. "Her only wish is that he be handsome, strong, intelligent... the best of his kind. Most unfortunately, Billy, Tommy, Rocky and Adam, from now on I will have to keep you under constant surveillance."
"Why?" asked Rocky innocently.
Tommy grabbed his second-in-command's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "Guess." he said, seriously.
"D'oh." Rocky exclaimed, slapping his forehead.
"Maybe you should rule Rocky out of the category." Aisha told Zordon.
Rocky puffed up with indignance. "And why?"
"Because I've got extreme doubts about the 'intelligence' part of that." Aisha replied, grinning.
[So do I...] Zordon thought, rolling his eyes and agreeing with the impetuous Yellow Ranger for once.
"Now, Tommy, why did you give Adam your communicator to give to me?" Zordon asked.
Tommy took a deep breath. Then let it out. "I'm taking leave of the team for a while." he told Zordon seriously. He pulled out his morpher with its falcon coin, and tossed it to Adam, who was so stricken he didn't catch it and it clattered to the cold floor. The sound reverbrated and echoed around. "I don't know if I'll be back."
Zordon's jaw dropped, and he was thankful that they were all so struck by shock that none of them were looking at him. It would have completely ruined his image of a fatherly mentor.
[I guess I should be thankful that I didn't choose another like Tommy to be Red Ranger...] he thought irreverently.
"But... but Tommy, why?" asked Kat, her Australian accent overwhelming.
[Bless you, Kat.] Zordon thought gratefully. [If I'd asked, it would have seemed as if I was taking too much interest in their private lives. That could damage their trust in me and Alpha.]
"Look, Kat, you're very nice and all, but you haven't been with the team very long. The only one here who was here before me is Billy. I... I guess I need to go back to what I was. _Who_ I was before we all got caught up with each other. Before we forgot who we were _before_ all this. K-K-" his voice cracked before he got the words out. "Kim made me remember that before everything else, I'm Tommy Oliver... not the White Ranger. So I guess that... it's goodbye, for now."
Kat ran to him and clung to his arm. "Tommy, you _can't_ go!" she exclaimed. "We need you here, luv! With us!"
"I guess Kim was right about you, huh." Tommy replied with a rueful smile, pulling his arm out of her grasp. "I need time, Kat. Time to remember. My last memory of Kim is of her dumping me. And that's not how I want to remember her, Kat."
"Ooooh, that girl makes me so mad!" Kat exclaimed. Yet inside, she rejoiced. Now... maybe she'd have a chance with Tommy. "She dumped you? Why?"
"Because she knew that we couldn't be together... and better apart and happy than together and miserable. And we _would_ have been miserable if we'd be going out long-distance. And she knew... knew that it would be hard for both of us, to stay faithful."
"Tommy, how could you _say_ somethin' like that?" Katherine Hillard, the "Sweetheart of Surrey Hill" asked, horrified. Tommy wasn't one to talk, being silent most of the time. But now... he was chattering like a bluejay.
"It's true." he continued blithely. "But... I need some time to myself, guys. So I'm taking a break from being White Ranger."
"I understand that... that Kimberly's death made a significant impact on you, Tommy." Zordon admitted. _He_ felt as bad, or even worse, about the former Pink Ranger's death than Tommy; not _because_ she had been Pink Ranger, but because he had really _cared_ for Kimberly. He had been closest to the first six Rangers, there was no doubt about it. He shoved the pain away. He'd deal with it later. "But the time is at hand when all the Rangers must be gathered to fight. And it will be difficult for me to track your location without your power coin. We have need of your powers."
"Adam, keep my power coin." Tommy told the Black Ranger. "When you guys need the White Ranger's power, Adam can call on it. I'm leaving Billy in charge of strategy, Rocky in charge of the groundside battles, Adam in charge of my powers, Aisha in charge of Zord battles, and Kat... you can pilot the Shogunzord by yourself, right? 'Cause if you can't, I guess I could ask Adam to join you there, and hook his Shogunzord up to Aisha's..."
"I can do it, Tommy." Kat said, reassuringly. Even so, worry was evident on her peaches-and-cream features.
"So do you guys think the duty distribution was even?" he asked the rest of the team.
"Yeah... but it won't be the same without you!"
"Is this really necessary, Tommy?" Billy asked.
"It is obvious that Tommy had thought much about his decision." Alpha decided. "We should leave him to his choice. The Power be with you, Tommy."
"Yeah, thanks, Alpha. I'll miss you."
"Tommy?" Zordon said, quietly. "Be careful. I hold myself personally responsible if anything should happen to you. We have lost Kimberly... my conscience could not stand up to the loss of another one of my adopted children."
"I'll be fine, Zordon." Tommy reassured him. It was the closest Zordon had ever come to an admission of fondness for any of them, and Tommy knew he wouldn't forget it. "Well..." he said, hesitantly, reverting back to his old self. "Catch you on the flipside." he said sadly before teleporting out in a beam of empty white light.
Kat, Zordon, Alpha and Rocky stared at Adam, Billy and Aisha, who had suddenly become very quiet and very stiff as soon as Tommy had made that particular comment.
"Whatever is wrong?" asked a puzzled Kat. She couldn't understand why her three teammates had suddenly become so still... and so sad.
"Kim said that." Adam spoke. "Catch you on the flipside. That was the day we went skydiving. The day we lost our powers... and got our ninja ones by going to Phaedos. He's not coming back, you guys. That's what he was trying to say."
Kat turned and thumped her fist into a column, stifling tears. "Dammit!" she swore angrily.
Aisha whirled on the new Pink Ranger. "Look, you." she hissed. "You don't know _half_ of what Kim and Tommy went through together. I wasn't even there at the very beginnin' of their relationship-- what the others said was that they were even _more_ devoted then. You don't know how much it killed her inside to do what she did. I saw her right after she'd dumped Tommy. She looked like she wanted to die. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd done something to her _own_ car... just to end her misery."
The room fell silent as they all stared at Aisha. Who suddenly realized what she'd said in her anger. Kim wouldn't have ever done anything of the sort. She'd loved living too much. The fact that Aisha had even suggested it said more about how strong Kimberly's and Tommy's feelings had been for each other.
Kat stammered, unnerved by the thought of Kim committing suicide. She'd never have done it... would she? "A-a-Aisha, that's not what I meant. I was talking about losing the White Ranger... we _need_ him here!"
"Tommy and Kim were close, Kat." Billy said, sorrowfully wiping his eyes. He popped his contact lenses out, put them in his pocket-case, and pulled a blue-edged silk handkerchief out of the other pocket to wipe away his tears. "You'll never know how close. I think she fell in love with him the first day she saw him. She will always love him, Kat. She... she _did_ love him... I don't know if she's ever admitted it, but I know how she felt... until the very last moment, I'll bet. And Tommy always felt the same for her."
"But all you guys love each other!" Kat exclaimed, uncomprehending. Or maybe not wanting to understand. Then she took a double-take. "Did that sound as stupid as I _thought_ it did?"
"Not that way, Kat." Billy explained. "Love, not friend-love. As in 'til-death-do-us-part-love'. As in the real thing. The kind of thing you never get over. I'm guessing that Kim felt that way... she just didn't know Tommy probably did-- and still does-- too. They didn't talk much. It was like... they had some kind of barrier on their relationship that they were both scared to cross. Kim... she broke up with Tommy to give _you_ a chance."
"Yes." Billy confirmed, nodding. "She presumed that once she was gone, Tommy would turn to someone else. I don't think she ever though he'd take it this hard..."
"So he's coming back? As soon as he gets over her? He'll come back?" asked a tearful, hopeful Kat.
"I doubt it." Adam answered, shaking his head. "I really do doubt it. Tommy's gone from the Rangers for good, this time. 'Cause he left by choice and not by anything else."
* * *
Tommy dove into the cool waters of the lake by his uncle's cabin, trying to freeze away his grief... and his shame...
He should have protected Kimberly. Should have made sure Zordon was watching over her. Should have--
Should have told her, really _told_ her, how he felt about her. Then maybe she wouldn't have done what she had, severing their relationship as a doctor might separate a child from its mother.
Clear water mingled with tears he couldn't stop.
He knew what he'd done was right, leaving the Rangers. He'd been thinking of taking a break anyway... when Kim left, just to watch her perform at the Pan Am games. To cheer her on. They could do without him for a week or so. And they could always call him if they really needed the Falcon.
Well, now he couldn't. Kim was dead. And he knew that unless there was a really good reason--like Kim coming back --he'd never take back his position in the Rangers. There were just too many memories associated with the Command Center, with the Zords, with the powers. With everything that the Rangers had touched, there was a memory. Many of them were too painful to remember. No, he'd never return. Adam could take care of his powers, just as Jason had so long ago.
And suddenly, Tommy screamed as he was torn from the fabric of the world and disappeared in a bolt of clear, white light.