Billy and Zach sidled off to the edge of the park, over by the swings. "So, Zach." Billy addressed his old friend glibly. "How were things in Switzerland?"
"Fine, fine." Zach answered just as smoothly. "You're lookin' good these days; contacts, new clothes... biceps, highlighted hair..."
Billy chuckled. "Two more belts on my karate..."
Zach's face took on a fanadic stunned look. "And... m'man, I can actually understand what you're sayin'!"
Billy laughed outright at this and slapped Zach on the shoulder. And as suddenly as a time stop, as the others turned their gazes away from the pair, they lost their falsely cheerful attitude.
"Look... Billy, you're lookin' great. Really." Zach informed, earnestly. "Lookit you! You ain't the mouse we used to know... c'mon, man, ain't it time you admitted to her whassup?"
Billy raised both his eyebrows at Zach. "I don't know what you're talking--"
"Don't give me that, Billy." Zach cut him off. "Maybe you don't remember, but you asked me for advice. Girl advice, r'member? And I bet all my dancin' shoes that you spiffed yourself up just fer that. That one lucky lady."
Billy's warm golden tan couldn't hide the blush that colored his face crimson. "Oh... fine. Yeah. Yeah, I guess so."
"And lemme take one more guess: that li'l lady's one o' the kids who went with us to Switzerland."
"But there was only one girl going with you guys to Switzerland!" Billy protested.
"That's my point, m'man. Y'see, you're not as mysterious as you'd wanna be, Billy. Now tell the Zach-man true: is it?"
Billy couldn't lie to Zach: there was something in his eyes that demanded honesty. "Yeah." he sighed, closing his mint-green eyes. "It is. For a long, long, _long_ time now."
"Then doncha think it's time to tell her?" insisted Zach.
Billy's face took on a look of panic, so much like the old days when he'd been the closest thing to a wallflower of any of them that had Zach not been absolutely serious, he would have laughed. "But... I _can't_!"
"Why not?" Zach pointed out reasonably.
"Because... because... well, just _because_!"
"Because what?" Zach persisted. "Are you scared of what she'll say to ya? Oh, c'mon, Billy, you should know good ol' reliable Trini better than that."
"It's not that." came the returning whisper. "I'm not afraid of what _she'll_ say. I'm scared of what _I'll_ say."
"Say what?" asked Zach, confused. "It ain't that hard to 'fess up, y'know..."
"It's not that, Zach." Billy partially moaned, looking off at something Zach couldn't see. "You could never understand. Never."
* * *
"Tommy... do you know what she... she did to you?" Kimberly asked hesitantly. His head swiveled unerringly towards the sound of her voice, and she gave a little shiver that she was glad he couldn't see. Those warm eyes had always been full of feeling, of cheer, of compassion, concern, even shameless bravado, at times. One had only to look into his eyes to know which emotion had its hold on him. But now, his eyes were blank as a cloudless day, with about as much sensitivity in them. What made it worse was that his eyes weren't the cataract gray that most people, including Kim, associated with blind people. They were 'normal'... but in appearance only.
"Who?" asked Tommy. "Did what?"
"The... the Magdalene. How she... blinded you."
Tommy shuddered and curved into himself. "No." came the reply. "And if it was anything like anything _else_ she did... I don't want to remember."
"Tommy," Kim whispered to her unresponding ex-boyfriend. "What was done to you... in such a short time... that this happened? That you became like this?"
Tommy only curled into a tighter ball.
[The poor boy.] Kim thought sadly. [Is this the Tommy who used to run recklessly into battle to save the world--and his friends-- without even a thought of how hurt he might get? The Tommy who taught kids not to fear, because they could conquer anything? Ay, Tommy, take your own advice...]
Trevyan shook his huge head. "Don't press him, Kim. He's not the same anymore. I did not know him before this... but that I know." he rumbled in a menstruum-fueled undertone that Tommy wouldn't understand. "Being under Immacolata and Her sisters... changes a person. My aerie-mate, Vriea, would never recognize me."
He bowed his head. "Poor Vriea, how is she without me to hunt and care and feed the gryphlets?"
"What do you mean?" asked Kim. The naked sadness in Trevyan's eyes drew her closer. "Who's Vriea?"
"My aerie-mate." came the reply, muffled by black wings. "My... I believe that you would call her my... my wife. Ah, Vriea, she with the white feathers and the golden crest, the most beautiful gryphon in the Fugue. And our gryphlets... Ryas and Leane... how are they? I would gladly surrender to Lord Death's touch if I knew they were all right.... Has Ryas started courting a lady-gryph? Has Leane chosen a suitor to be her aerie-mate? Ayyy, my family..." he keened, closing his golden eyes. The sound echoed over and over around the black-walled chamber.
Tommy couldn't understand what Trevyan and Kimberly were talking about, but the unhidden sorrow in Trevyan's plea said enough. "Kim," he asked, uncurling himself and sitting up, "what's going on?"
"Trev misses his family." she replied bluntly.
"But _you_ got out of here, didn't you?" Tommy informed her coolly. "Why can't he?"
Trevyan suddenly stopped keening. And stared at Tommy.
"I knew there must be a reason why you thought him so special."
Trevyan quipped. "He's right."
Kimberly slapped her forehead. "D'oh. You mean you haven't _tried_ getting out?"
Trevyan gryph-grinned ashamedly.
"Oy." Tommy exclaimed before shaking his head. He hadn't been able to _see_ the gryphon's smile... but the silence was eloquent enough.
"Well, then, shoo!" Kim beckoned Trevyan out. "Go!"
"I shall trrry." he answered. He reared up on his hind legs and spread his wings out. Then he started to dance.
Kimberly stared. "What the heck are you _doing_?!" she yelled. "This is _not_ the time to be dancing!"
Tommy shook his head. "Leave him alone, Kim. I can feel the power that he's putting out-- this ain't no ordinary dance."
Trevyan's dance was leaving little patterns of glow along the air. Silver glow. And both Kim and Tommy could feel the pressure of Trevyan's immense power building. It made Kim's river of force look like... a drip of water from a faucet. It built until Kim and Tommy cried out with pain at the pressure--
And with a shriek and a stretch to the sky, Trevyan disappeared, taking the menstruum with him.
"Well, I guess it worked." Tommy joked into the resulting silence. Kimberly just stood, shocked, before she dropped to the floor in a dead faint.
* * *
"Um... hey, Trini." Billy fidgeted. Trini was sitting on the playground swings, gazing off in the distance with a faraway look in her dark eyes.
"Hmm? Oh, hey, Billy." she favored him with a small smile that was quite genuine.
"Room for one more?" he asked.
"Always." she replied. There was something different about her. The peace conference had... changed her. Trini was normally as earthy as a teddy bear. It wasn't like her to daydream. Except about--
Billy winced inwardly. Could it be she _still_ had a crush on Richie? No... no-one held a crush for a high-school flame that long. Right?
[Stupid, Billy. _You've_ had a crush on her for years, and you're saying that _she_ can't have a crush on someone else for that long? That's plain silly.
He sat down on the swing next to her and pushed off. For a while, the only sound that accompanied them was the creaking of the chains.
Finally, Trini broke the silence. "When I first left Angel Grove," she began solemnly, "I never thought that any of this would happen. That things would stay the same forever, and when I came back, everything would be as it was. That was... the only thing that kept us going, me and Jason and Zach, through the year. I never thought... that everything would be so different..."
Again, she looked off into the park trees, her eyes unfocused.
"No," she decided, "that's a lie. I knew that everything would change-- a year and a half's a long time-- I just didn't want to believe that it would. But I always understood that every_one_ would be the same when I came back. That you guys would still be close. But... but not like this... Kim was still my best friend... she _is_ my best friend..."
Trini broke off and started crying.
Billy reached out awkwardly and took her small hand into his big, rough one. He drew her close to him, and let her weep into his chest. "Shhh." he crooned gently. "None of us have changed, Trini. We're still the same people we were."
She twisted out of his grasp. "That's where you're wrong, Billy." she choked. "You _think_ you're the same... you should look at it from the point of someone who used to know you. Contacts, fashionable clothes, 'cool' haircut... even sun-touched hair! Billy, if I didn't know it was you, I don't think I would even recognize you."
"That doesn't matter, Trini. We're still the same _inside_."
"You're wrong there, too, Billy." she turned away from him. "Do you remember what you used to be like?"
"Yes." he smiled, recalling. "I was afraid of everyone and everything. My inventions, my books, my few friends, those were the only things that mattered to me."
"Yes." came the reply. "You were also the shyest, sweetest, boy alive. Look, Billy, if I'd broken down like this... before, even before Tommy came, what would you have done?"
Without even pausing to think, Billy gave his answer. "I'd have panicked. I wouldn't have known what to do."
"There you go again, being wrong." Trini said, her exasperated tone of voice thick with affection. "You remember Marge, don't you?"
"Marge, Marge...." Billy thought for a while. "Ah! Yes, I remember her."
"You recall how she was kidnapped, right? And how you challenged Madame Woe outright for her?"
Billy nodded, still not understanding.
"Then you think too little of what you can do, Billy. If you could have done _that_... what makes you think you couldn't have dealt with me crying?"
Billy was silent. She was right, of course.
"You wouldn't have hugged me and told me nothing had changed... but you would have found a way all the same."
"I guess so... he admitted reluctantly.
"Ah, Billy, I guess you were right after all. No-one's changed all _that_ much... especially not you!" she smiled her traditional huge smile. She reached out and tousled his hair, not noticing the shiver that traced his spine at her touch. "This haircut really suits you, you know." she commented thoughtfully.
"Thanks." he replied, somehow keeping the quaver that shook his backbone from reaching his voice.
From behind them, there came a cackle of tengas.
"Heeheeheeheehee." the lead tenga sniggered. "How kee-yute."
"Bil-leee!" Trini screamed as she jumped off the swing and backed up. She dropped into her kung-fu stance instinctively, but her movements were jerky and her posture stiff.
"Trini!" he called back, having jumped off his swing himself. "What's wrong?"
Her answer came through gritted teeth. "I haven't practiced my kung-fu since we left for the peace conference."
"Oh $#!^." he swore under his breath. "I'll take care of it." he promised her aloud. He _could_ take on-- and beat-- this particular flock of tengas... provided none of them cheated. And _that_ could be a problem.
"But... Billy..." she protested. "You can't..."
_She_ evidently remembered the days when _she'd_ protected _him_... but things were different now.
He looked over at Trini, effectively shutting her up with his determination and confidence. No. It _wouldn't_ be a problem. There was no question about it: he'd fight, and he'd win, even if just to protect _her_. With a "Hee-YAHH!" and a series of backward somersaults, he landed in the middle of the group of tengas. So unused were they to him taking the offensive that he downed three of them before the others had even started to react.
With a roundhouse, he took another one out of the fight, at least temporarily. Then the leader took off after Trini, dragging her under the monkey bars. Trini may have forgotten _some_ of her kung-fu... but a year of laxness can't erase many years of training. She was giving him a good fight. Unfortunately, she was losing. "Uh-oh!" he exclaimed. With a leap, he grabbed the center rail of one of the monkey-bars, swinging up on top of them. He squatted down on the bars, perilously balanced like a parrot on a thread-thin wire. The lead tenga screamed in triumph and dropped Trini to the ground, believing his 'prey' trapped: Billy couldn't jump, and all around the base of the monkey bars clambered the rest of the conscious tengas. But the tenga hadn't counted on one thing.
He'd forgotten that Billy was more gymnast than martial artist any day. And he'd done the balance beam practices like any other gymnast... the monkey bars were simply a more perilous type of balance beam and parallel bar combined.
With a deep breath, calmly ignoring Trini's panicked cries of "Billy!" he aimed a flying kick at the head tenga. Who, completely baffled by this turn of events, got whacked right in the beak. Billy dropped back to the side pole of the monkey bars, barely catching his balance. The lead tenga squawked indignantly and took to the air once more, this time intending to dive-bomb Billy straight into the arms of his fellow tengas.
Billy locked his features into a cold mask, and his feet against the side-pole he was standing on. He stood calm as the tenga plummeted towards him like a hideous mutated peregrine falcon. Closer... closer... Time slowed, and the tengas cackled in triumph.
And at absolute last second, with the tenga's beak no more than a foot from his face, he no-hands-somersaulted backwards, hitting that dive-bombing beak smack under the chin. That, combined with the momentum of the fall, was disastrous--for the tenga.
It was knocked unconscious in mid-air, and with its impetus unbroken, headed beak-first for its fellows, who howled and disappeared, taking their unconscious comrades with them.
None of this changed the fact that Billy was falling-- back-first. When he'd struck the tenga's beak, it had stopped the force of his somersault, and he was plunging to the ground. Though the monkey-bars weren't very high, they were high enough for him to break his backbone if he hit the ground back-first. Better for him to break his wrists than be crippled... and in his tension, he didn't notice the screams coming from directly under him
He twisted, catlike, so that his stomach was towards the ground-- and realized that he was heading for the same spot where the tenga had dropped Trini. And Trini hadn't shifted an inch.
"Trini!" he yelled. "_MOVE!_"
Trini either didn't understand or was paralyzed by the strain of the situation. She didn't budge. Instead, she braced herself for impact. Billy bent his elbows to absorb the shock and closed his eyes.
It wasn't as bad as they had originally thought: Billy's twisting in the air had undone most of his original momentum, and his bent elbows and knees had mostly neutralized the rest. But there was enough left to drive the air from both their lungs and send them into unconsciousness for a few brief minutes.
* * *
When Kim awoke from her faint, Trevyan had already returned. The first sound she encountered was Tommy's voice, somewhat panicked, almost babbling to Trevyan. "--and she just dropped I heard her hit the floor and I can't see her and don't know where she is and is she all right or is something wrong--"
Trevyan cut him off, laughing. "It is all right, Tommy. She is fine. Look, she is awaking already..."
"I can't 'look', remember?" Tommy reminded him wryly. "But I'll take your word for it."
"Hmmm?" she mumbled through a mouth that felt somewhat gummy. She sat up and rubbed her head. "What happened?"
Trevyan snorted. "How long has it been since you had your last meal, child?"
"Meal?" she asked, surprised. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Trevyan shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Please answer the question."
"Oh... breakfast the day before I... left."
She staunchly refused to look at Tommy.
"Then that's it. That's why you fainted. You may not _be_ hungry... but your body needs sustenance, child! Using the menstruum requires more nourishment than running uphill ten miles straight!"
"Oh." Kim said, trying to get to her feet. It was true: she _did_ feel a little light-headed. She swayed where she sat, deciding that maybe a state of repose might be better...
"Don't get up!" Trevyan exclaimed. "It's all right. You would be better if you just stayed sitting."
"How come _you're_ O.K?" Tommy asked curiously. He hadn't exactly seen-- or heard, anyway-- the gryphon eat anything. "And why do you keep calling Kim 'child'?"
Trevyan's rumbling chuckle echoed and reverbrated. "I am fine simply by virtue of training. I do not need food. I can do things with the menstruum that she cannot; for example, the menstruum nourishes me. I have lived with it comfortably since I was a mere gryphlet. Which brings me to your second question. To me, Tommy, she _is_ a child. And so are you, for that matter. I have friends who have children your age, though mine are but four years old."
Tommy raised an eloquent eyebrow, but did not reply. Instead, he said, "What about Kim, then? Can you train her right now so she can do that?"
"You know, I really _hate_ being talked about like I'm not here." she inserted ironically.
"Sorry, Kim." Trevyan apologized. "But I can't teach you, not with you in this state. But--"
He brought out a huge picnic basket, almost the size of Tommy's torso, from where he'd hidden it, in the hollow of his stomach. "--I can remedy that particular state."
He winked a golden eye and with a flourish, grabbed the pink-and-white checkered blanket from the top of the blanket and spread it in front of them. From the basket, he first took out a steaming little breadbasket, from which arose the distinctive smell of hot garlic bread. Then three big sandwiches made of French bread. Then a miniature basket, holding warm pastries. Lastly, he pulled out three huge, perfect, crimson-red apples and a trio of Nestle Crunch bars.
"Gee, that smells great!" Tommy exclaimed blithely. "Garlic bread I know, pastry I know, but what's that other smell?"
"Hot roast beef sandwiches with fresh homemade butter on baguettes. That's miniature French bread." Trevyan added, grinning. "I suspected that this would happen, so I had Vriea prepare a picnic basket with enough food to feed a pair of fledging gryphlets. She is an excellent cook." he informed them with considerable pride.
Kim's headache from hitting her head on the stone floor suddenly vanished. "Geez, fledging gryphlets sure eat a lot!" she exclaimed. But then she cast a glance at Trevyan. "But all the stories say gryphons are meat-eaters."
"Oh, we are." Trevyan assured her. "But we all have our acquired tastes. I, for example, adore bread, fruit, chocolate and pastries." The tip of a pink tongue peeked out of his mouth. "And this Black Gryphon has just told the menstruum to leave him alone and let him eat!"
Kim laughed, and Tommy's stomach protested that _it_ wanted to eat _now_! Trevyan distributed the food and they all dug into the meal cheerfully.
* * *
Trini and Billy awoke to the sound of muffled titters and murmurs of "Wonder what they were doing that tired 'em out so much,""How come _he_ gets all the luck," and "That's _so_ sweet!"
Only _then_ did they realize what had elicited the laughs and the comments. Their cheeks were pressed together, warm breath laving each others' ears, and somewhere along the way, Trini's arms had wrapped around Billy's neck. And not the least of the scandalizing details was that Billy was lying full on top of Trini, practically squishing her to the ground, having fallen in that position.
"Well, Billy, that was sure fast... and I thought you said that you were scared of what her answer would be. Hey, I'd take that as a positive reaction any day!" Zach joked.
Billy's cheeks flamed a brilliant crimson, and Trini couldn't help but giggle at the stricken expression she knew would be on his face. "Dear, sweet Billy," she chuckled, her breath caressing his right ear. "I suppose you really haven't changed. You are still way _too_ cute when you blush. My poor darling."
He lifted himself up on his palms and looked down on her, his shock evident on his features. She didn't let her arms slide from around his neck. "You thought I wouldn't notice?" Trini whispered gently, speaking for his hearing only. "How you looked at me, how you were even more patient and sweet with me than with the others? Oh, Billy, I'm not that naive..."
Trini released his neck with one hand to flick a dangling lock of brown hair accented with gold away from his face. The cool autumn winds lapped both of them, and Trini had fiery orange and red leaves tangled through her black hair, making her look so young under him, so very vulnerable. Then she firmly dispelled that illusion as she pulled his head down to hers, closing her dark eyes, to gift him with a passionate kiss. One which he happily reciprocated, shutting green eyes to the earth and swirling into a world where it was just him and Trini.
When she released him, (or was it _he_ released _her_?) he murmured quietly, his breath kissing her mouth as his lips had only a few seconds earlier, "I would surmise that your emotions are corresponding to mine?"
She chuckled earthily and whispered back, "Affirmative," before joining her mouth to his once more, much to the delight of their teammates and friends.
* * *
"Ahhh." Kimberly sighed happily, taking little ladylike nibbles of her Nestle Crunch bar. "I could _live_ on chocolate."
Trevyan grinned through a mouthful of apple. "Yes, you could, Kim, but it wouldn't do much for your figure!"
Tommy laughed outright at that, and took another morsel of pastry. "Your... um... aerie-mate is a wonderful cook, Trev. That was great!"
"Well, yes." he agreed. "It amazed me when I found out my Vriea was very good at cooking people-food, rather than simply seasoning raw meat as most other gryphons eat. I'm not complaining, mind you-- seasoned raw meat isn't half bad-- but I'll take a good _real_ meal over plain meat any day. Besides, what Vree tells me is this: 'why eat like a barbarian if you can be a connoisseur?'"
"I think I'd like to meet her." Kimberly remarked contemplatively. "She sounds like an altogether sensible... gryphon."
"Oh, she is." Trevyan assured her. "I think you would like her. I have told her about you, and she would like to meet you, too... without my interference."
"Hmm, that's interesting." Kim commented thoughtfully. "Do you know why?"
Tommy felt gryphonic eyes on him. "Yes." Trevyan admitted. "But perhaps it would be better if my lovely Vree told you herself."
"Um... yeah. But how would I get to her?"
"You teleported before, did you not?"
"But what, child?"
"Don't call me child. But I was so angry I don't remember what I did!" Kimberly wailed.
"Ahh. Well, then, close your eyes... and sing. That is all. And you will be taken where you wish to go." Trevyan informed her wisely, narrowing his eyes.
Kimberly closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. Then she cracked her eyelid open. "Any song?"
"Any song. You don't need to even choose one. Simply will yourself to sing, and the right words will come to you."
Kimberly closed her eyes again, and opened her mouth.
"When you walk, through a storm.
Hold your head up high.
And don't be afraid, of the dark..."
The song flowed from her, and the menstruum wrapped itself around her like a second golden skin. Then she was gone.
"Well." Trevyan clapped his wings together briskly. "Now that she is gone, I can help _you_, my fine unfeathered friend."
Tommy turned his head in Trevyan's direction, and _stared_. "I doubt you could help me, unless you could either give me back my sight... or somehow convince Kim..."
Trevyan shook his head remorsefully. "I am afraid that the first is beyond my power. Kimberly has enough power to accomplish that... if she knew how to do it. Unfortunately, I suspect the only one who knows enough to do that... is Immacolata. And I cannot convince Kimberly to take you back, my featherless son, unless you convince her yourself..."
"Then what _can_ you do?" Tommy asked.
"I... I can give you a sort of radar system. So you will be able to navigate yourself. You will not be able to _see_ things in truth... but you will know how tall they are, how wide... you understand. Also, you will gain an ability most humans would not have... you will be able to judge personalities, know names, and have the ability to detect lies."
Tommy blinked at him. "Why? It'd be awful useful... but why?"
"Vree is... somewhat of a Foreseer." came the uncomfortable reply. "It is something not commonly known, as Foreseers are almost anathema to my people. I told her of what I know of you and Kim, and she told me that you would need those abilities."
"Then why couldn't Kim be here?"
"Ah, my dear Vriea is not only a Foreseer, featherless son." Trevyan laughed. "She is of the family of Aia, just as Kimberly is. She has the menstruum. She can teach Kimberly in ways I cannot. I am a chanter and a dancer and a weaver. Vree, like Kim, is a singer and knows what to do. Also, one cannot discuss male problems with a woman about, no?"
Tommy blinked. "Male problems?" he asked, befuddled. "What do you mean?"
"I am a married gryphon myself, Tommy, but it does _not_ mean I have forgotten what it is like to be young. I only took Vree as my aerie-mate a few years ago. I may not be able to _convince_ Kimberly... but perhaps you would like some sound advice?"
"I'd love it." Tommy sighed gratefully. "I didn't get to ask any of the others guys if they could help me out."
"Well, then, since you cannot see me, you can consider me 'one of the guys'." Trevyan informed him ironically. "But first, the spell."
Tommy settled down as Trevyan started to dance power around him.
* * *
Vriea grinned at the appearance of Kimberly. "Well, hello." she greeted, her fluted soprano tasting the power of Kimberly's menstruum. "You must be Kim."
Kimberly stared. If Trevyan was striking, then Vriea was downright beautiful. Trev hadn't lied when he'd said that Vriea had snow-white feathers and fur and a golden crest. But he hadn't said that the beautiful white feathers themselves were tipped with the same gold as her crest, making 'Vree' seem to glow in and of herself. Her beak and claws were of the same golden hue, and her eyes were a most astonishing blue, the hue of a fire's base.
"Child," she reprimanded gently, a smile taking the sting out of her words, "did your parents never inform you that it is impolite to stare?"
"You're Vriea?" Kim expostulated. _Now_ she could believe why the gryphon had such a graceful, beautiful name.
"Indeed." Vriea laughed. "But please, 'Vriea' is such a formal name. Call me Vree, featherless daughter, if you don't mind!"
Kim was taken aback. "Another person claiming kinship with me?" she demanded, astonished. "The _last_ one tried to kill me!"
"Truly?" Vriea asked. "Well, the only kinship I would choose to claim with you, child, is that of Power. My power is that of the Aia; the strength of song, as yours is. You have naught to fear from me. But I believe I may be able to help you."
"Help me?" she inquired, puzzled. "How?"
"I mastered my powers many years ago." Vree chided her softly. "I can teach you how to use yours. Besides," she winked, and Kim realized that even her eyelashes were gold. "I have heard that you are having problems with your former aerie-mate?"
"Aerie-mate? Whoa, waaaaiiitt a minute." Kim protested. "I was never married to Tommy."
"I never said you were." Vriea pointed out. She-- Kim would have said walked, but it was too graceful to be even related to that clumsy stumbling-- glided over to Kim and tucked her under a wing. "Ah, how impolite of me. You are standing on the landing-pad, and I have not invited you in! You must come inside, I most certainly cannot instruct you here!" Kim wasn't about to argue with something that was larger than the biggest horse she'd ever seen. For all Vree's graceful beauty, she was obviously a predator.
Two shrieking hairballs the size of Kim's torso attacked them as soon as they strolled into the 'parlor' of Vriea's 'aerie'. Kim cried out and threw up her arms to defend herself... then realized that at a whistle from Vree (_how_ did she manage to _whistle_ with a _beak_?) the two hairballs had *splot*ted-- there was no other word for it-- themselves on the floor, looking rather... squashed.
"Leane, Ryas, you should know better." Vriea scolded. "I shall put you in the hot sun, next time you attack a guest!"
The two puffballs flattened to the floor looked up and whimpered. _Then_ Kimberly realized that the 'hairballs' had beaks, eyes, talons, feet... "Oh, they're _adorable_!" Kim cooed, kneeling before the first one, who was a lovely shade of cream with a crest of black, and feathers tipped in the same color. She gathered the gryphlet, who looked like nothing more than a fur rug, into her chest. It purred happily and snuggled into her neck.
Vree softened. "They are, are they not? The one you are holding is Leane. The one emulating a carpet is named Ryas. They are batch-sibs... in your words, twins."
"Hey, little one." Kim greeted the plaintive gold eyes looking up at her. "You're a _cute_ little gryphlet!"
"Gryplet_te_. She's female." Vree reminded her good-naturedly. "But enough about children, for now. That powerful talent of yours could be dangerous if untrained."
"True." Kim agreed, reluctantly letting the ball of fur and feathers roll out of her arms. It whimpered morosely and blinked pitifully at her. "Leane, Ryas," Vriea tumbled them out with the tips of her wings. "I believe that Uncle Firesong brought home some candy..."
The formerly flat gryphlets were out the door like huge chicks fleeing a cat. Kimberly had to laugh. "They're so _cute_!"
"Yes, they are." Vree agreed. "Especially Leea. But what looks like a cute ball of fur has claws and a beak... well. What would you wish to learn first?"
"Well... how to control my powers, how to drag 'em up from... wherever."
"'Wherever' indeed." asked Vriea, amused. "Your powers come from _inside_. You already know how to control them, with song. But to tap your powers, think of a waterfall. If you only want a little power, think of a trickle. The more power you want, the greater your 'waterfall' must be."
"Then how come... whenever I thought of a waterfall _before_ all this happened, no power went rushin' through me..."
"Now _when_, featherless daughter, is the last time you thought of a golden waterfall with yourself at the base..."
* * *
"Well." Trevyan sighed, collapsing down on the cold floor with a *plop*. "This is why it would be _so_ much more convenient to be of the Aia, not of the Lo. It is _so_ much less _tiring_..."
Tommy asked, curiously, "Can I open my eyes, now?"
"Go ahead." Trev waved.
"Oh!" Tommy gasped. "I can... I can see where you are!"
"Naturally." Trevyan answered with pardonable pride. "The menstruum never fails the task put to it."
Tommy walked around Trevyan, touching his wing, body and head. "You're... you're really a gryphon."
"Well, of course. To what purpose would I have lied to you?"
Tommy shrugged. "What would have been the purpose of Rita and Lord Zedd casting a spell on Kim and me to make us hate each other?" he suddenly realized what he'd said and clapped a hand over his mouth. Trevyan's brow-ridges jumped high to the effect of extremely raised eyebrows. "Rita and Lord Zedd?" he said, casually.
Tommy looked extremely nervous.
[Oh, _smart_, Thomas!] he cursed himself. [Just about _tell_ him you're a Ranger, why not?!]
Trevyan gave a chuckling purr. "I see. Don't worry, Tommy, I will keep your secret. After all, it is not often that one meets the Pink and White Rangers."
Tommy looked like he'd been poleaxed. "What?! How... what..."
"Your clothes are white, dear boy." came the laughing reply. "I suppose that _some_ people wear white every day as a whim, but it's not advisable: they make you _quite_ obvious. And Kimberly's are pink."
"Dammit! Me-and-my-big-mouth!" Tommy growled, punctuating each word with a slap on his forehead.
"Eh, one can't keep his mouth shut _all_ the time..." Trevyan laughed. "But it's only fit payment for regaining your sight... in a manner of speaking, that is. Now would you like some advice about Kimberly?"
He laughed again at Tommy's eager, begging look. "Don't pressure her. She has a _reason_ why she cut off aerie-ties... she needs time to adjust to her new powers."
"Yeah..." Tommy half-whined, sounding unreasonably young and vulnerable. "But what about the rest of us?"
Their only warning was the electric crackle of the air around them-- a tingling of nerves and soul alike. Then all thoughts were washed away in a tense flood of energy and warmth...
* * *
Vree applauded, her beak gaped in a smile. "You learn very fast, featherless daughter! Now... just _what_ did you call for?"
She had her answer as Tommy and Trevyan were dumped rather unceremonially on the cold floor of the aerie. Then she just gaped and stared at Kimberly.
"Did you do that?" she asked, immensely amazed.
"Well." Trevyan replied, as amused as his mate was amazed. He started brushing himself off with the tips of her wings. "Of course she did. Who_else_ do you see has enough power to knock us through a shielded chamber with barely enough effort to light a candle!"
"Kim? What _is_ this?!" Tommy asked. He was _not_ amused.
"Hello, Tommy." she replied calmly. Then she turned to Vriea with a smile. "So how did I do?"
"To be absolutely frank, featherless daughter, if I was not shielded and more experienced than you... I would be absolutely terrified of you." Vree answered, as cool as if she was telling Kim whether she preferred the color blue over green.
Tommy paled abruptly, but the uncomfortably atmosphere that had dropped the temperature twenty degrees did not lessen.
"But-- now, let us try using the menstruum to create." Vree continued, completely unruffled. "Let us see... could you create, perhaps... a whip?"
Kimberly's eyes narrowed at this, but she closed her eyes and concentrated-- forming a glowing golden whip in her hand.
"Good. Next time must be faster, though." Vree reprimanded. "Now-- can you control it?"
Kimberly burst out laughing. "Vree... I am a master with a whip. Even _without_ the power I could control it."
"Trust her." Tommy injected wryly. "You don't want to see what happens when she decides to _use_ that whip."
"Then I made a bad choice of weapon, then. Could you form that whip into, say, a bow and arrow?"
"There's something fishy going on here." Tommy whispered to Kim. "Those weapons are just _too_ familiar."
"I know how to use bow and arrow."
"I know you do. And I also know that you know how to use a whip. That is why I had you conjure something of that sort: it would be the most familar, and therefore the easiest to bring forth."
A look of fear flickered over Kimberly's features-- then a flash of pain. "I... I..."
"You _were_ a Power Ranger, were you not?"
Kimberly nodded, somewhat pained.
"And your powers-- you were replaced by someone you... envied?"
Kimberly looked at Tommy before she nodded. Tommy looked stunned.
"Why, Kim, why?"
"Because she had _you_, Tommy." came the whisper. "I... let's go."
Vree was greatly disturbed. "I am sorry, I did not mean--"
"I know. Let's go."
She teleported out, bringing Tommy with her.
"Kim..." Tommy began. "I never knew--"
"I never wanted you to know. Yes, I was always jealous of... jealous of Kat. _I_ always wanted blonde hair and blue eyes, to be the kind of girl that boys whistle at, and call 'sweetheart'."
She turned away, and Tommy caught her arm. She stared at him. "How did you know where my arm was?"
"Trev did something to me. I've got a kind of radar sense. But... Kim... look, is it important that boys whistle at you, and call you stupid little names... You're Kim, and everything else isn't important after that."
She tore her arm out of his grip. He could feel her eyes boring into him. "Yes, it was always important to _me_, Tommy. Kat doesn't know how lucky she is. It's not _fair_! And now she has my powers, too... not _FAIR_!" she whimpered.
"You should have told me how you felt, Kimmy." he replied. He enfolded her in his strong arms, and she didn't struggle. "God..."
She reached around him and hugged him. Her hands strayed to his belt line, and she froze. "Tommy... where's your morpher?"
He reached around and unfastened her hands from the loop where it normally hung. "I quit the team."
"You _WHAT_?!" she wailed.
"I thought you were dead, Kim." Tommy explained patiently. "So I... there were just too many memories in the command center. I quit-- so that I wouldn't have to face them, anymore. It hurt too much."
"Tommy-- you didn't have to." she whispered into his chest, entangling his fingers in the belt loop again.
"Yes I did, Kimmy." Tommy murmured into her hair. "I'd have just dragged the team down. So I gave my Power Coin to Adam, and distributed my duties with the rest of the team."
"No buts, Kimmy. I was planning to do it anyway, when you left."
She looked up into his face. "You were?"
He smiled down at her. "Yeah. I was gonna take a break from being a Ranger, and watch you win the Games." he reprimanded her softly. "Can you expect any less from your boyfriend? I wouldn't like to think so."
"Tommy," she murmured in reply, "would you have done it-- even if I... hadn't done what I did?"
His smile held no humor as he answered her. "Yeah. But since you did, I'd just have made sure that you didn't see _me_. Ninjeti abilities, an' all that."
"Aww... Tommy, that's so sweet." Kimberly cooed. She tilted her head up to his gently and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Tommy seemed rather amused. "Since... well, since you won't let us be... together... again, can't we just be friends?" he pleaded, wistfully.
"Friends, then." she agreed. Then she added, silently to herself, [and we'll take it from there.]
* * *
"So." Kat was quite pleased. "_That's_ why you wouldn't go out with any other girls for the longest time."
Billy stole a look at Trini. Who quickly stole one back. "I... guess you could say that."
"I just wish we could have met again in more favorable circumstances." Trini said sadly, stroking the back of Billy's hands.
Jason groaned loudly. "That was one reason we knew she really missed ya, Billy. She started _talkin'_ like you!"
"Well, I was _wondering_ where his technobabble went. I guess it left with you, Trini." Rocky joked. Then he sobered as everyone looked at him. None of them wanted to be reminded of how Kim had left them.
"Hey, 'ave any of you seen Tommy around?" Kat asked, worriedly.
"Have you tried calling him?"
"His parents are as worried as we are." Aisha reported.
"Did you check the cabin?"
"He wouldn't go back there, but I checked it anyway. Zip." Rocky informed them.
"Um... the park? You know, by the lakeside? He might be there, practicing a kata." Zach added.
Kat blinked at him. "I thought he never told anyone about that."
"He didn't _tell_ me, he told Kim. And Kim told me to look for him there if there ever was trouble between 'em."
"I looked." Adam sighed. "He's not there."
"Then _where_ could he be?"
"Could he have been kidnapped by the Magdalene, or Immacolata?" Billy wondered aloud.
"By _who_?" came the chorus from the three former Rangers.
"You _don't_ wanna know." came Rocky's reply. "They're _nasty_!"
He took pause. "Did I sound as much like my sisters as I _thought_ I did?"
No-one answered. They all simply grinned. Trini cuddled into a blushing, slightly stiff Billy's chest. _He_ was perched on a stool, _she_ was poised on his lap, and _everyone_ thought that they made _such_ an adorable couple. And truly, they did.
"But seriously, though, guys, where could he be?"
"Right here, maybe?" came the amused reply. Stools whirled and creaked as they gaped at Tommy.
[Whew. I'm glad Kim's as powerful as Vree and Trev said-- getting us out of there took a lot out of her.] he thought, worried. [I wonder why she's hiding from the others, though.]
"Tommy!" Jason exclaimed, nearly knocking over the lithe, taller boy as he grabbed him into a bearhug. "God... we were so _worried_ about you!"
"Jason? Zach? Trini?" Tommy gasped. "But... what about the World Peace Conference?"
"No conference is as important as our friends, Tommy m'man." Zach explained. His expression was distressed. "Look, we heard about Kim..."
Tommy was wise enough to wince when he heard that. He shrugged off Zach's hand, and tears came to his eyes. "I... I know. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here. Damn... I'm sorry."
"For... for running off like that! Nothing... uh... irrepairably nasty has happened since I left, right?"
"You mean, like--" Rocky broke off.
"Yeah." Tommy nodded, worried.
"Nothing." Aisha reassured him. Tommy sighed in relief. "So... are you going to... come back to us?"
Tommy shook his head. "No. Not now. Maybe not ever again. Adam, take care of my coin for me, O.K?"
Adam flipped him the circlet of gold engraved with a falcon. "Nope. Sorry, fearless leader, I can't do that."
"I... I dunno. It doesn't _like_ me, I guess... the power won't come for me. I'm not your best friend, Tommy, I'm not that close to you. It won't obey me."
"But I don't _want_ to be a Ranger anymore..."
"You don't have to." Adam sighed. "I talked to Zordon... he said that we won't need a White Ranger. So he took the power out of the coin, and it's in the morphing grid now. You can't morph, but you'll keep all the abilities that you had before."
"Yah." Tommy said, pocketing the coin. "Thanks, Adam. I guess you know me better than I thought. How'd you know I wasn't coming back?"
"You gave yourself away, buddy." Billy slapped him gently on the shoulder. "'Catch ya on the flipside?'"
Tommy's wistful smile flashed on his face. "I suppose I did. I was hoping one of you would pick up on that."
"So where are you going?" Rocky asked.
Tommy shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe New York, go to see my grandparents. Or I was thinking of opening a school..."
"Would you come to the wedding?" Trini blurted. She clapped her hands over her mouth in consternation. "Oops."
Everyone very suddenly noticed the sparkling diamond solitaire that twinkled on her finger. It wasn't a very showy thing-- but it suddenly became as conspicuous as a celebrity's trial.
"Wedding?" Rocky looked stupid. "What? Whose wedding? What's going on?"
Tommy strode up to Billy, and clapped him on the back. "Billy, you sly dog!"
Billy's eyes opened wide as he stared innocently at his friend. "Moi?"
"Yes, you." Tommy's grin grew huge. "Don't play stupid-- I know it was you. Congrats, you two."
Billy blinked owlishly. "I guess you're more perceptive than I thought. How _did_ you know?"
"Look: you didn't go out with any girl more than twice after Trini left, and you two were always making calf-eyes to each other while she _was_ here. I kinda guessed something like this would happen if she ever came back."
Trini shook her head. "You didn't figure that all out on your own."
"All right, then: I had some help from Kim." Tommy admitted with a slight smile. "A long time ago. Even... even before we started... going out. I noticed that you two seemed awfully close, but _she's_ the one who noticed that Billy didn't really go out with anyone after you left."
Trini gave a sad smile and spun her ring around her finger, easily moving to wrap her arm around Billy's waist. He gently draped one arm around her slim shoulders. "Yes." Billy agreed, solemnly. "It _would_ be like Kim to notice that..."
Tommy had to restrain himself to keep from shouting that Kim was alive. He shook his head and combed his fingers through his hair. "Well. I'd better get going... guess I'll see you guys around..." "Tommy, are you _sure_ you won't reconsider?" Kat asked plaintatively. "Please... we need you."
"No you don't." came the almost smug reply. "You need the White Ranger. And-- by Zordon's definitions-- I'm not the White Ranger anymore..."
"Goodbye, Kat. Billy, Trini, just send me a card when the wedding comes up, O.K?"
"Um." was Billy's only reply. But he understood Tommy's need to go, to see other places aside from those too-familiar. He'd felt the urge himself, sometimes... mostly to go to Geneva, Switzerland, where he knew Trini would be.
[God, I hope he doesn't get the urge to follow Kim to the underworld...] he thought worriedly. [Would he?]
The logical part of Billy's mind said he wouldn't. But logic didn't always apply to emotions...
"Oh, yeah. One last thing that gave you two away. If you don't want people to know you're getting married to him, Trini... don't sit on his lap and cuddle into his neck!" Tommy added, his head poking in the doorway.
Trini sighed. [Well, looks like Tommy hasn't changed much, either.]
* * *
Tommy tossed stones into the lake of the Angel Grove park. He'd been supposed to meet Kim here-- he'd found a note in his pocket though God only knew how it'd gotten there-- and she was five minutes late.
[Well, when's the _last_ time she was on time?] he thought good-naturedly. There was no doubt that he still... had feelings... for her, and there was really nothing he couldn't forgive her.
A cold blast of wind blew tingling into his veins as Kim appeared in a flush of the menstruum.
He shivered, and she smiled at him. But to his surprise, she didn't speak. She simply marched up to him and kissed him.
All his senses started screaming alarm at him. Kim? Kissing him? There was something definitely wrong with this situation-- Kim would never do anything like this.
Summoning all his will, he shoved her away and backed up, falling into karate stance.
"What's wrong, Tommy?" Kim purred, seemingly hurt. "Aren't you glad to see your Kim?"
"Kim? Yes." Tommy agreed. He did not release his defensive position. "But you're a little outdated on your information... Magdalene!"
He launched a kick at her and yelled in satisfaction when it connected. _That_ was what was wrong-- the name that his new senses were giving him certainly wasn't 'Kimberly Hart'...
Sure enough, he felt 'Kimberly's' outlines begin to blur, and the angry cold of the Magdalene to surround him.
She didn't speak... she never did unless she was in disguise. But Tommy's fear grew, and grew... until he was paralyzed by it.
[No!] he shouted to himself, struggling against the bonds his own body was putting on him. [Not again! Never again!]
He knew the fear was induced by her, and not his own, but that information didn't help him break the ties. Slowly, she drew him towards her.
"Leave. Him. Alone."
The three words came out of the lakeside. Tommy had been so distracted he hadn't felt the tingling of the menstruum.
The Magdalene hissed at Kim, and to Tommy's surprise, spoke. Her voice was that of an ancient snake, not much more than a hoarse growling hiss.
"He isss mine! _My_ husssband!"
Kim's reply was to open her mouth and sing.
"Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men.
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drum.
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!"
The Magdalene screamed, but did not move from her perch. And Tommy continued to be dragged towards her. He knew that if he touched her, he'd never escape again-- she was prepared for Kim this time...
"Oh, yeah?" Kim yelled defiantly. She started singing again.
I know just what you're saying
So please stop explaining
Don't tell me cause it hurts
I know what you're thinking
I don't need your reasons
Don't tell me cause it hurts."
This time, Tommy stopped moving as the Magdalene screamed.
"Oh, you like that, don't you!" Kim taunted. "Well, take _this_!"
"Don't tell me not to fly, I've simply got to.
If someone takes a spill, it's me and not _you_.
Don't bring around a cloud, to rain on my parade!
Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter.
Life's candy and the sun's, a ball of butter.
Who told you you're allowed to rain on my parade?"
"I will returrrn forrr him!" Immacolata's sister shrieked wildly as she faded away, leaving Tommy.
Tommy felt the slime of Immacolata's touch slide off his body, and he sat up again. His new-found 'radar' sense was clouded by the menstruum, so it made him truly 'blind' whenever a battle was fought... only now was it returning.
"Kim?" he asked, hesitantly.
"It's me, Tommy. Did she hurt you?" Kim replied anxiously. His breathing returned to its normal pace: the Magdalene cared for nothing but herself, and would never have asked such a question.
"No... I'm just fine. Thanks..." Tommy shuddered in memory. "God... she scares me..."
Kim sat down by him--he felt her-- and smoothed his hair away from his face. "That's because you don't understand her, Tommy."
His reply was sharper than he intended. "And you do?"
"Too well." came the answering whisper. "Ah, I understand her too well..."
A deep voice sounded, surrounding her with its power. "I should say you do, Kimberly-of-the-Power. She is your half-sister..."
Kim sprang to her feet. "Who's there!" she cried. Her menstruum-enhanced senses were screaming murder...
"I." came the amused answer. Turn, Kimberly, and see who stands behind your friend.
She turned slowly... and gasped. There was a man there, with crisp clean-cut figures, his eyes rainbow-green and his hair auburn: the sweet color of a calico-cat's brown shades.
"Kim?" Tommy asked, his sightless eyes staring straight at the man. "What's wrong?"
"Don't you see him?" she panicked, backing away and tugging on his hand.
"See who? There's no-one to see..." he comforted her. "It must be an after-effect of the menstruum..."
"Are you saying I'm crazy?" she screamed, her voice rising. "He's there! I can see him!"
"Yes, dear one, _you_ can see me, but he cannot. The menstruum chooses its bearers carefully... Tell him to turn now, as his hand is joined with yours, and he will see me."
"Uh... Tommy, turn around. And don't let go of my hand." Kim cautioned.
Tommy turned. Very slowly. And bounced back, falling into karate stance. And letting go of Kim's hand in the process.
"Hey! Where'd he go?"
The man's rumbling laugh echoed in Kim's ears. "Protective, no? You must introduce us some time when his caution has not overruled his good sense."
"Who _are_ you?" Kim asked, cautiously. "I feel like... I know you. But I've never seen you in my life."
"Both true. You _do_ know me, child, and you have never seen me. It is because only those trained in the menstruum can see me... and only if I choose to allow them to see me."
"Who _are_ you?"
"You have had numerous brushes with me, time and time again. You and all your friends. You just have never beheld my face."
He bowed somewhat mockingly. "I am the Mother's true and only son, by Chaos himself. You know me as Lord Death."
Kim jumped back with a shriek. She summoned the menstruum as quickly as she could, and the power came to her easily.
Lord Death laughed. His laugh certainly sounded ordinary enough, if a trifle hollow. "Your power can not hurt me, any more than mine can hurt you."
"It's not Tommy's time." she snarled. "And neither is it mine. There's no-one for you to take. So go away!"
"Such hostility! I mean no harm, sorceress." he informed her, amused. "No, I merely come to visit-- not to take any of my children with me."
"So you say."
"True. But if I wanted to take one of you, I would have, and you would not be able to do anything about it."
"Yeah, but I'd sure try!"
"Kim? Who are you talking to?" Tommy asked, curiously.
"Lord Death." she answered, shortly. Then realized how strange that sounded, and clarified hastily. "He's only here to visit."
Tommy was staring at her. And there was something that was not admiration nor love in his eyes.
He was afraid of her. Her, Kim. His former girlfriend. Who he'd said he trusted, and cared for.
["What guy would want to be with a girl who can kill him with a wave of her hand?" God, I hate it when I'm right...]
"Oh, Lord... Tommy..."
Kim collapsed, her legs folding under her. She'd helped him, rescued him... and now he was frightened of her. She turned on Lord Death, looking desperately for someone to blame.
"This is all _your_ fault!" she yelled at him.
Lord Death looked genuinely surprised. "_My_ fault? I merely take people away when it is their time. What have _I_ to do with this?"
"Nothing." Tommy replied, grinning at the very spot where the Mother's Son was standing, blinking. "She just needs someone to use as a scapegoat."
Kim looked up in surprise as Tommy knelt beside her. There were still traces of residual fear shining in his hazel-gold eyes, but there was something else, as well. Was it trust that she saw in his eyes?
"Of course it is." Lord Death shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Humans. So indecisive."
Kim looked up at him. "You can read my mind?"
"Well, naturally. I like to know what those who are about to receive my touch think."
"It was a joke." Tommy explained to her. He looked up at Lord Death. "Right?"
He knew better than to contradict Tommy. "Well, certainly."
"How come you're so... so... so..." Kim looked for the word.
"Handsome? Young? _Normal_?" Lord Death suggested wryly.
"Yeah! All of those."
Tommy did not look particularly pleased. But Lord Death did. "Why would you expect me to look differently? After all, I _am_, of a sort, a God."
"You're also the one who ends everyone's lives, eventually, whether they want to die or not." Tommy snapped sourly. Kim shot him a look that said 'you're pushing it, buster'.
Death didn't look particularly insulted. "Oh, I know. But how would you know whether they want to die or not? After all, they are _dead_, as it is."
The question caught Tommy off-guard. "Oh... I don't know. Just... a lot of people die who have so much to live for: children, teenagers..."
"Yes, but think of it this way. All who I touch are, in some way, wishing for release from this world. Those who are sick wish for release from their sickness; those who die from violent means, for example, murder, normally have a reason for being killed."
"So the ends justify the means, is that it?"
"Boys!" Kim stepped between the two men, who were coming quite close to coming to blows. "Stop it! You're acting like children?"
When they didn't stop, she put a hand on each of their chest and pushed. They both stopped, though neither moved back an inch. Tommy halted and gaped at her, and Lord Death did the same. The two men looked at each other, then at her.
It took Kim a second to realize what she had done. She looked at her hand where it rested on Lord Death's chest. Then she looked up into Death's horrified face.
Kimberly did not drop dead on the spot. She just let her hand fall to her side, closed her eyes and waited for oblivion to come.
It didn't come. She opened her eyes a few seconds later, to find Death holding her hands and grinning a happier smile than she'd ever seen in her life.
"Kimberly, do you realize what you've _done_?" he asked her, his eyes brighter than stars.
"You've never heard the prophecy?"
"An Aia in a Cuckoo's nest; child of all the worst and the best; the girl who touches the forbidden one; whose power shines brighter than the sun; the completion of the Trilogy; will the consort of Lord Death be."
"You're kidding." Tommy stated flatly. "You made that up on the spot."
"Tommy!" Kim accused, startled. "You're telling Death that he's a liar?"
"Ah, have you never heard the saying 'Death cannot lie'? Well, I am that Death." the Mother's Son explained. He grinned again, suddenly. "Besides, I have no talent for poetry. I always thought that piece of prophecy was drivel, because there are none who can touch me and keep their life-spark... or so I thought. An Aia in a Cuckoo's nest... you were raised as a human child?"
Kim nodded mutely.
"Child of all the worst and best..." his eyes darkened. "Ah. I understand, now."
"Perhaps it is better you not know. Whose power shines brighter than the sun... indeed, for those who can see it, it is blinding. It is not often one is born with the golden menstruum in such quantity."
"But Trev... and Vree..."
"Trevyan is a male who has the menstruum. That says enough. And even _he_ is one who has the silver menstruum. Vree is a white menstruum gryphon."
"There are different _colors_?"
"But of course! The completion of the Trilogy..." his eyes became concealed with shadows.
"What does that mean?"
"You are the sister of Immacolata and Nyamet."
It was a fact, not a question.
"The Magdalene and the Hag... formerly one woman, one with her youth torn from her and another her age."
Tommy shrank back, his eyes haunted. "No... Kim, you can't be one of _them_..."
The wind whipped his hair from his face as he drew away. His cheeks were blanched white from shock, his eyes blank.
Lord Death looked satisfied, in an upset sort of way. "He has had unpleasant experiences with the Magdalene?"
Kim glared at him. "How would _you_ know that?"
"I watched. He was so near me the whole time that I was drawn by him..."
"Using the saying 'near Death' is the best approximate I know." "They almost killed him?"
"And _you_ didn't _do_ anything?" Kim's eyes flashed golden, and sparks blinked at her fingertips. A sudden wind tossed her waves of hair from her face. Though the same wind had made Tommy look fearful, it made Kim look... intimidating. Amazingly so, for such a tiny girl.
The flurries of wind played tag with separate tendrils of her hair, and her now-glowing fists clenched as Lord Death shook a negative answer.
Lord Death was cool as he answered her. "And what, pray tell me, was I supposed to do?"
"Woman, I am Lord Death. I am not a cosmic policeman."
"That's not what I meant!"
"I cannot stop them... I'm not supposed to interfere in the lives of mortals."
"Oh yeah?" she challenged him, poking a finger into his chest. "Then what are you doing here, claiming me as your 'consort'? Huh?"
He looked down at her, surprised. "Feisty, aren't you?"
"Call me stubborn. Answer the question."
A small, fanthomless smile lingered at the corner of his mouth. "I am _not_ interfering in the lives of mortals."
"Then what am I, chopped liver?"
"You are not mortal, woman."
"Stop calling me that. My name is Kimberly Hart, O.K? And the Hell if I'm gonna be your 'consort', Lord Death or not."
He grabbed her arm. "Woman, you have no _choice_. It is prophesized."
She snarled, throwing off his arm. "Haven't you ever heard of self-fulfilling prophecy?"
He didn't answer, but his mouth twisted into a thin line-- before he pulled her to him and forced his lips onto hers.
Tommy's heart dropped into the top of his high-tops.
Kim screamed into the kiss, a yell of sheer fury. Then her knee went up.
Lord Death doubled over with a groan, falling to the grass, face twisted in agony. Tommy could almost-- not quite-- feel sympathetic for the man-not-man. _He_ knew how hard Kim could kick...
"Whadja do _that_ for?" Lord Death moaned, bent over with his hands clutching injured flesh.
Kim's pretty face was twisted into a snarl, so Tommy decided to answer. "First rule o' courting a woman, Death, since you've obviously never heard 'em. Never force a girl unless you either want to get a slap and never seeing her again-- if you're lucky-- and a knee in the groin and never seeing her again if you're not."
Lord Death looked at him sourly. "I didn't know that." his mouth twisted wryly as Tommy grinned. "Shut up, or I'll touch you."
"Well, seeing the all-powerful Death get kneed in the balls by my former girlfriend was sure worth it!" Tommy laughed. Then he held out a hand to the downed man.
Death stared at the hand pointedly, then looked up into Tommy's hazel eyes. In an flash, Tommy found himself staring into his own eyes. He recoiled, withdrawing the friendly hand-then the blackness returned. "Are you really so eager to die, then, Tommy?"
"Tommy!" Kim screeched. "What are you _doing_?!"
"I just realized something."
"I'm not touching you." he backed off as Kim came towards him, a nonplussed expression on her face. "Whoa, I didn't mean it that way. I can see him. I don't think we've got contacting flesh anywhere. What does this tell you?"
Lord Death looked up at Tommy, his eyes stormy. "I must go. I know why... another mortal awaits my touch. Fare thee well, Kimberly. We shall meet again, and you _will_ be my bride."
"Not if I can help it." Tommy muttered.
In the same breath, Kimberly murmured angrily, "Over my dead body."
A floating voice wafted out of the air. "Forgive the graveyard humor, but that can be arranged..."
"Oh, shut up." Kimberly snapped crossly. The voice suddenly stopped wafting.
Tommy snorted. "Gee, even Death listens to Kim!"
She glared at him laughingly. "That's not funny."
Tommy was serious as his eyelids half-dropped over his beautiful hazel eyes. "It wasn't a joke." Kim sat down suddenly on the ground and put her head into her hands."What's happening to me? What have I done in a past life to deserve all this?" Tommy reached out hesitantly, and put a hand on her shoulder. He kneeled down beside her, and ran a finger up the side of her face. She looked at him, and he smiled gently at her. He cupped her cheek and chin softly in his hands. "Kim, we don't ask for these things to happen to us. They just... well, they just do. But we've gotta go on. Gotta go on, 'cause there's no other way."
Kimberly looked up at her former boyfriend. His long hair was tangled with leaves, face and arms smudged with dirt and grass, and clothing askew.
She thought he'd never looked quite so handsome in his life.
Tommy smiled down at Kim. Even crouched down, he was so much taller than her that there was no comparison. The scent of her, though, the cup of her chin and cheek against his rough palm, the soft press of her body against his, brought back memories. Memories he chose to ignore. They'd only get in the way right now.
His self-control broke when a particularly resilient memory emerged.
*He was doing a kata next to the lake. There was no answering surge of vibrant green energy through his bloodstream, no tensing flush of adrenaline pumping through his system. Just the water, the wind, the earth, the sun and him. Because that was all he had left, right then. He didn't want his friends' pity for losing the powers. Didn't want their sympathy. They couldn't understand, and he didn't expect them to. They did what they had to, just like he did. And they went on.
Then _she_ came, blazing through his self-imposed solitude, a ray of gold in the darkness. Shattering the melancholy mood as surely as if she'd broken it with a hammer and drill. Shattering it, and deepening it at the same time... she'd never be his. He knew it. She was too special, too bright, for someone like him.
The only other planet in his space of solitude.
Yet he knew he could never think of Kim as anything as mundane, as ordinary as a planet. She was rainbows and light, that single snowflake that clings to the windows long after the snow's stopped falling, the preciousness of a first kiss.
No, nothing like a planet. More like a star.
She said, "They said back in the gym I'd find you here."
"Yeah," was his answer, "I like practicing outside, sometimes. Y'know, smell the fresh air..."
"How are you doing?"
"I'm hangin'." he answered with the slightest hint of a smile. "I've been workin' on my karate, focusing on my school... I'm just tryin' to keep busy, y'know."
She looked down, then back up into his eyes. "We miss you."
Again, that slight smile that wasn't echoed in his eyes. "Yeah... but you guys were a team long before _I_ showed up."
The slightest motion from her, vaguely like she was shaking her head. As if he didn't understand what she meant. She looked down for a minute, then back up again.
A moment of silence... then she spoke, softer now. "I miss you."
Those three words held as much meaning as if she'd simply said, "I love you."
He smiled again, shyly and sadly, looking down at the ground, and this time it _was_ in his eyes.
He took her hand into his, running a smooth thumb over her baby-soft skin.
She stood near him, anticipation in her soft eyes. Too near. As dangerous as a comet flaring through the atmosphere, desire flamed through his blood: more intoxicating than any drug. More risky than any drug.
Sweeter than any drug.
He bent down and kissed her. His senses howled and threw caution to the winds at the taste and smell and feel and sight and sound of her... the way she responded to his gentle kiss, sighing against his lips. Those eager eyes shuttering closed, his dropping in response.
It only lasted a heartbeat, but for him, it was long enough. It was a sweet eternity when he lived and breathed and fought only for her. Then it was over, never to be recaptured. But no matter his awful memory, Tommy knew that nothing could make him forget that one moment of perfect joy, of his first kiss with his Kim.
_His_ Kim. He guessed he should have known, long ago.
He loved her. Now he knew. And there was no prize as sweet, no flush of victory as wonderful, as knowing she loved him back.*
Tommy opened eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed. And his eyes were filled with tears. One trickled down his cheek as he looked at her: so beautiful, so wonderful, so sweet and smart.
"Tommy?" she whispered wonderingly. "Are you crying?"
Her small hand smoothed away the tear, leaving a wet streak on his cheekbone. He nodded.
"For... for everything, Kim." he choked out. "For myself."
She cocked her head at him, taking one of his hands loosely into both of hers, and moving to face him. "Why, Tommy? What happened."
"Are you _sure_ there's no chance for us anymore, Kimmy?" he asked, plaintively taking her hands. His hazel eyes commanded her, his heart shining through the golden sparkles. She couldn't look away.
[God... I want him so badly...] she thought, sadly, remembering his magnificent arms enclosing her so very gently, embracing her with his touch alone. The way he'd worked so hard so that she would be happy. And she'd dumped him, so easily.
Well, maybe not so easily.
She'd seen him remembering that one, perfect moment of sweet communion. That memory had shown too clearly to her, she who couldn't quite control the power inside her. She knew what it had been about, felt the resulting emotions that came with it: the flush of desire, and the slow, delicate, enduring flame of love.
[He still loves me.] she thought sadly. [And I still love him.]
"Tommy..." she whispered. This would break his heart-- and badly. He was better without her.
Then his plaintative eyes looked down into hers, and she couldn't say it. Couldn't shatter his dreams-- couldn't break hers into pieces. She wouldn't let herself give up.
"There's always a chance, Tommy." she finally whispered. "But there's a time for everything. And if its fated to happen, it will."
[But not until I can get rid of my 'sisters', and give him his sight back.] she promised herself. [Not until then, will I start listening to my heart and not my mind.]
He blinked at her, his eyes unusually bright. "What?"
"I didn't say anything."
"Yes, you did. You said that it couldn't happen until you got rid of your sisters and gave me my sight back. Not until then, would you start listening to your heart, not your mind."
"I said it aloud?"
Again, he reached out and cupped her chin in his palm, tilting it up to him. She looked up at him expectantly.
Her heart started to flutter against her chest as his eyes twinkled and glittered, his soft mouth curving with a smile.
[What's he _doing_?]
She realized just what as his face drew closer to hers, his sweet, warm breath touching her lips.
He was going to kiss her. What kind of man would kiss a girl who would dump him? That frightened her.
What frightened her more was that she wanted him to.
His lips brushed gently against hers, a waft of cloud against her mouth--
"Ahem," a voice coughed.
They sprang apart, gasping for breath. Tommy bounced to his feet. Kim held her ground easily and angrily.
"I thought that you were to be my bride, Ms. Hart." Death scolded, his auburn hair windblown. "And here you are, practically in the embrace of the Magdalene's husband."
His grin was not particularly nice.
"Go away." Kim commanded, glaring at him. "I'm not going to be your bride."
"Ms. Hart, you don't seem to have a choice. I am Death. What would you do, then, if I touched Billy? Or Trini, Zach, Jason, Adam, Rocky, Aisha, Kat..."
He ticked off the names on his fingers, taking malicious pleasure in the fact that Kim's face had paled considerably. Tommy's was cold and white as well.
But her face was resolute. That wasn't good.
"What would you do if I touched him?"
Death pointed at Tommy, a small smile appearing on his face.
Kim's face drained of all blood, and she slumped, defeated. "What do you want from me?"
Death's tan-white face softened, winged eyebrows lowering. "Is it such a bad thing, to be married to me, Kimberly?" He reached out, and held out his hand to pull her up.
She looked up at him. "That's the first time that you've called me by my name."
"Kim, I am not a cruel husband. And I do not touch people when it is not their time. I would not have harmed your friends."
Kim looked up at him, her eyes resigned. She took his hand and pulled herself to her feet. "I know you wouldn't have."
"Kim, what are you doing?!" Tommy asked, horrified.
She kneeled beside him, and put her mouth close to his ear. "Tommy, he can go where we can't. I never promised to marry him, remember. He can help us. Besides, he'll keep on interfering with everything, if I don't."
"It'll be all right. I'll return. I promise."
"Kimmy..." "Let's go." she told Lord Death.
He smiled sympathetically. "I would not take you away, if I didn't have to. You know that."
With that, they disappeared.