"So, when's the wedding, you guys?" Rocky asked, bouncing. "Hey, Billy, can I be best man?"
Billy looked uncomfortable. "Well, actually... I was hoping Tommy could be best man."
"Better tell him then, Billy." Aisha advised. "If you can find him."
Right on cue, Tommy bolted into the room. His eyes were wild, and his hair was in disarray. He was sweating from the run from the park to Billy's house.
"You guys, Kim's been taken!" They stared at him. Trini shook her head gently, and slid off Billy's lap. She stared him in the eye. "Tommy... I'm so, so sorry, but Kim's... Kim's gone."
Tommy looked at her, focus coming into his eyes. "No. She's not."
He then proceeded to tell the whole story, forgetting entirely that Kim had told him not to tell the others.
"...and then they disappeared!" Tommy finished.
Billy swallowed. He wasn't sure about this... "Tommy, she was taken by Lord Death?"
"But we can't _do_ anything about that, Tommy. We're not immune to Death. None of us... 'hold the menstruum'." he rolled the syllables on his tongue.
"I know, Billy. But Trev does, and Vree does... maybe _they_ can help us?"
"I don't know, Tommy." he said doubtfully.
"Billy... what would you do, if Trini was taken to be the bride of Lord Death?" Tommy asked, desperately.
"I'd find her, no matter what it took." Billy replied promptly. "Whether I had to kill myself to do it or not, I'd find her and take her back."
"Then you know what I'm going through."
Trini stared at Tommy. "Tommy, are you in love with Kim?"
In a voice that trembled only slightly, Tommy answered. "I love her more than my life and my soul."
"Even though she... dumped you?" Kat asked, shocked.
Tommy turned to her, his heart in his eyes. "Kat... look, I'm sorry... but you never had a chance with me to begin with. I love her. I always will. And to Hell with Death if he thinks he's gonna take her away from me!"
Tommy wasn't shaking, but his eyes were throwing sparks.
Rocky felt immensely sorry for Lord Death.
* * *
"Trev, can't you _do_ anything?"
"I am sorry, Tommy, but the most I can do is bring you to Lord Death's home. Only Kim would be able to bring you there, with herself as well. And as it is, I will be hard-pressed to send _one_ person there!"
Tommy was resolute. "I'm going."
Vree laid one gentle-taloned claw on his shoulder. "Tommy, featherless son, you must plan ahead. You are letting love blind you."
"Plan ahead for what, Vree?" he asked.
"Tommy... I would hate to suggest it, but what if she has fallen in love with Lord Death? It has been a month there-- long enough. No-one ages... but the fact is, Tommy-without-feathers, time passes more quickly there."
"A _month_? But it's only been a day, here!"
"That is time in the home of Death, Tommy. What if that should happen?"
"I... I don't know, Vree. I'm hoping it doesn't... I'm just going to talk to her. If she doesn't want to leave... well..."
Tommy didn't finish the sentence.
* * *
Tommy landed in a swirling cavern of nothingness, touched by hints of rainbow brightness and darkest despair.
"WHAT BUSINESS HAVE YOU WITH THE MOTHER'S SON?" a gentle voice asked loudly. It seemed to be a woman's voice, sweet and caring. Just... rather loud.
Much to his credit, Tommy didn't flinch. "I've come for Kimberly."
"SHE IS HERE OF HER OWN FREE WILL."
"I know that. I've only come to talk to her."
"YOU MUST PASS THE TRIALS."
"I'd go through Hell and high water, if I could see her again."
Whoever it was, it seemed satisfied with his answer. The voice faded away. Forms started to appear in the shapeless mist.
Tommy quailed and shrunk from one of the shapes. "No!" he cried.
"Oh, yesss." the Magdalene hissed. "Thought you would get away, my husssband? You shall not esscape me so easssily thiss time, ssspousssse."
"I'm not your husband!" Tommy proclaimed, though his voice shook.
"Yes, you are." came another, too-familiar voice out of the mist. It cackled happily as two cones of gray hair and golden clothing came into view. "What, the mighty White Ranger, brought so low!"
"Why, yes, you're right, my rotten buttercup!" came another voice. Angry red glow started to fill the mist. "What do you say, we do away of him now so that he'll pester us no longer?"
"Disobedience has itsss price, husband. I tire of thiss game. Come with me... or watch your Kimmy die, little by little!"
Tommy's fists clenched. He was afraid, deathly afraid-- but that had been the wrong threat to use. It may be a hopeless situation, but he'd go through with it. Even if it killed him. "Damn you!" he shouted at the trio. "Damn you to all the Hells! I don't care if I die-- but I'm gonna go down taking you three with me!"
There were expressions of shock on the three faces as they faded away.
A single door appeared in the mist, and he walked through it.
He found himself in a room filled with white and silver. "YOU HAVE PASSED THE TEST OF COURAGE, TOMMY."
"But I was so afraid!" he protested honestly.
"COURAGE IS NOT BEING UNAFRAID, TOMMY. COURAGE IS GOING THROUGH WITH IT, _DESPITE_ BEING AFRAID. YOU HAVE PASSED THE FIRST TEST."
"How many will there be?"
"AS MANY AS NECESSARY."
And Tommy found himself in another chamber. This one was filled with putties and tengas-- and all were heading for _him_!
He stood in karate defensive stance, and prepared to fight them off. "Oh, boy. This ain't gonna be pretty."
He didn't know how long he fought. His fists were bruised with the effort of punching, and his muscles ached with the effort of every movement. His gasps were his battle cries, his kicks barely enough to stagger the hideous opponents.
Just when Tommy felt he was about to give in, drop to the floor and let the things beat him to a bloody pulp--
He realized he was alone. He had defeated them. All of them.
A glittering door appeared.
He stumbled into another chamber, not as featureless as the first two-- or was it three? This one had a soft, padded chair in it, which he sunk into gratefully and bonelessly.
"REST, THEN, TOMMY. YOU HAVE ALL THE TIME YOU NEED BEFORE THE NEXT TEST."
"Thank you." he gasped. "I think I'll need it. Which test was that?"
"THE TEST OF PHYSICAL STRENGTH AND FITNESS. I MUST SAY, TOMMY, YOU PASSED WITH FLYING COLORS. MANY WOULD HAVE GIVEN UP BEFORE YOU EVEN STARTED THINKING ABOUT IT."
"I've never been a quitter, Miss....?"
"YOU WILL KNOW WHO I AM... IN TIMES TO COME. ARE YOU RESTED?"
Tommy shook out his long arms and legs, deciding that he was. "THEN BE PREPARED."
There was, once again, the brief moment of teleportation, and Tommy was in a room once more.
He passed the tests, one by one. Each time, he found himself in the room with the voice. Then he was sent to the next test.
He stopped counting after the tenth--or was that eleventh?-- one. Once more, he found himself in the white-and-silver room that signified the "rest period" between his tests.
But this time, he wasn't alone.
Tommy fell into karate stance. He was across from a man, blonde and blue-eyed, dressed in a pure black suit. The tux was impeccable and expensive, the shiny black shoes and tie tasteful. Every blonde strand of hair was in place. In short, he was immaculate. "Who are you?"
"Me? My name is Mephistopheles." the man answered in a smooth, calm voice. "Oh, do drop that silly posture-- I won't hurt you, and you _can't_ hurt me."
"What _are_ you? What do you want with me?"
"Oh, nothing... aside from your soul, that is..."
Tommy stared at the man called Mephistopheles. "Mephistopheles... $#!^. You're a demon!"
The demon grinned, bowing and leaning on an ebony walking-stick. "That's right. You've read your literature, haven't you. You can't hurt me, and I don't _want_ to hurt you."
"What do you want from me?"
"Like I said... I want your soul, Tommy-boy."
"You can't have it, I'm sorry. I may not be a die-hard worshipper, but be damned if I'll let you have my soul!"
"Oh, too late. I'm already damned. Can I have it now?"
"No! Go away! What kind of test is this?"
"How am _I_ supposed to know?" Mephistopheles shrugged. "I was just told by the Man Downstairs that I was s'posed to come up here and try for the soul of Tommy Oliver. That _is_ you, isn't it?"
"Yes, that's me. No, you can't have my soul. Go away."
"Now that's not fair." the demon pouted. "Give me a chance. Tell you what, I'll _trade_ it with you."
[This is too weird. I thought that whole 'selling your soul' business was just a folk tale! Then again, with all the years I've been with the Rangers, I should know better.]
"But why _my_ soul in particular? Why me?"
Mephistopheles shrugged. "Why not? We tempt everyone at some time or another. We tried when you were the evil Green Ranger under Rita, but obviously world domination wasn't enough. Of course, if certain people hadn't interfered..." he grimaced.
"Certain people... you mean the Power Rangers!"
The demon grimaced. "Yes, damn them. Not that we could damn them, of course. We lost them to _Him_."
He pointed skyward.
"But anyway, the boss said, 'hey, this time, let's try the direct approach! And it may as well be with the one-time Power Ranger...' So, Mr. Tommy Oliver, what do you want?"
Tommy continued to stare. "Assuming... just assuming that I believe all this, what could you possibly offer me? I'm not interested in eternal life, I'm happy, and I just want you to get out of my face!"
"Brave words. You want me to get out of your face, Tommy, without even showing you what I can offer? Nope, sorry, I'm a better salesman than that."
He strode forwards, and for a brief second, Tommy saw the slightest hint of a tail... hooves... horns...
Then Mephistopheles had taken his shoulder.
"Come with me. I have things to show you."
Tommy found himself near a beautiful house. It was evening, light spilling out the windows onto a beautiful garden, with an area near a small pond perfect for kata practicing. The air was crisp and sweet, and tasted of apples.
He let himself be led to one of the windows, and they looked inside. His breath caught in his throat, and came out as an almost-sob. "What... what _is_ this?"
"Oh, don't tell me you never wanted to know who your family was, Tommy. C'mon, now, you're adopted and you know it."
Tommy looked through the window again. There was him, still with shorter, curlier hair... an older, smiling woman bringing a plate of hot cookies and milk... an older man with streaks of grey in his hair who looked surprisingly like him... and beside him, laughing, a younger boy, but still older than himself. A slip of a child-- a girl-- sat beside him, munching happily on a cookie and taking copious gulps of milk. Who was--
"I have a sister and brother?" he whispered.
"Oh, yes. That little cutie's Rebecca, the boy's David." Mephistopheles nodded. "Always wanted a brother, didn't you. To talk to, to compare girls with... just to be with. And a sister: you can help her pick out dresses, check out her first boyfriend, help her with her school. You dad, clapping you on the back and encouraging you in your martial arts. Your mom, welcoming you home with hugs and food and love. Your family, Tommy. Your _real_ family. All in exchange for one little soul. I can have you back with them within a week, ten days at most. I can arrange matters, so that you're back with them. They still miss you, you know. They're still looking for their second son. So, is it a deal?"
Tommy looked with longing at the scene. "Arrange it? How?"
"Oh... a few anonymous notes, a bit of a 'face on the milk carton'... and voila, you're out of Angel Grove and in the arms of your family again!"
Tommy dragged his thoughts away from the scene. "What? Out of Angel Grove?"
Mephistopheles shrugged. "Well, if they lived in Angel Grove, you'd have found them by now, right?"
Tommy looked at him, rather upset. "I'll have to leave Ernie, and Mrs. Appelby, and Rocky and Aisha and Billy and Trini and Kat and Jason and everyone else?"
"Yes. Look, nothing happens to them! You're still friends. It's just that you had to make some sacrifices, and being with them was it! It's not as if they come to any harm..." Mephistopheles snapped impatiently.
Tommy remembered all the times when his friends had stood by him, been with him. The worst, as well as the best. The Green Ranger episode. When he'd become White Ranger. Getting new powers. All of them.
"No. Your price is too high. Take me back."
The demon sighed. "I still have a couple of offers. Don't say no just yet. Come, then."
He snapped his fingers and the visions vanished.
They ended up in a light, airy room. He was standing in the middle, teaching a karate class. The children smiled, laughed, and did the kata easily.
"What _is_ this?" he murmured.
Tommy waited. Suddenly a man came bolting in the door, his eyes wild and joyful. A lab coat trailed behind him. "Dr. Oliver, your theory was correct!"
"Which theory?" the Teacher Tommy asked. He snatched a towel from a nearby rack and vigorously rubbed off his face. The man came up to him, grabbed his hand and started vigorously pumping it.
"Congratulations, Dr. Oliver. You've just found the cure for AIDS."
The scene froze. Mephistopheles looked at Tommy. "The cure for AIDS. The cure for all sorts of cancer, no matter in what stage. A genetic manipulation theory of maize that would end world hunger. A new kind of filter that gets rid of all pollution. They'll all be yours. How many times have you watched the news, Tommy, and wished that you could do all these things? Well, just give me the word, and you'll be able to. You'll help the world, Tommy. Just like you've always wanted to. But now, you're not saving it from monsters, you're saving it from your people."
"Isn't it worth it?"
Tommy sat down with a *thump*. He looked up at the demon with disbelieving eyes. "You can do that?"
"Oh, sure. Easy."
"And just how do I lose this time? What's the flip side? The price?"
The demon grinned and spread his hands. "You don't lose your friends, and you won't have to leave Angel Grove. Don't worry! Come on, now, let's shake on it."
"Tell me!" Tommy shouted.
Mephisto sighed. "There is a bit of a nuclear accident. The radiation affects you, makes you a genius. Doesn't touch your body, won't make you go mad or anything like that."
"A nuclear accident? People die?"
"Yes, a few. But they need not concern you. You don't know them. And think of the _good_ you can do the world!"
He was right, damn him. He'd practically be able to save the world by himself. But no. Not at the cost of innocent lives, innocent blood.
"No deal. My soul remains my own. Now go."
Mephistopheles grabbed his arm. "Not yet. The rules say I'm allowed to offer you one last temptation, if you don't go for the first two. I think I know what you want. This one will be worth it. Trust me."
[Trust a demon? I must be nuts.]
They moved on again.
Tommy found himself back in his home. Moonlight streamed in through a window, and his clothes were scattered around on the floor and chairs. Just how he liked it. He leaned against a wall, and looked at a grinning Mephistopheles. "Now what? This is my room. So what?"
Mephisto gestured towards the bed. "Look. Look and consider."
Tommy crossed to his bed and looked down. His breath caught in pain, and suddenly he had to gasp for air. This had to be the cruelest temptation of them all...
He lay there, asleep. [So this is what I look like when I'm sleeping,] he thought distractedly. But there was a subtle happiness to the Tommy on the bed's face, a gentle smile to the sleeping lips. And it was obvious why.
Kim lay next to him, cradled in his arms and embraced against his muscled body. They were both rather... nude, and her caramel hair spilled across his neck and chest easily, soft skin glowing with moonlight.
[That's right, that's one of the little extra things I really liked about Kim-- how she fit so well right under my chin.]
As he watched, the other Tommy stirred in his sleep. Kimberly awoke and sighed, happily leaning up on one elbow to watch him. When he squirmed again, she pushed away a dangling lock of hair and pressed a gentle kiss against the underside of his chin. "Hi, lover... you are amazing, you know that?" she whispered tenderly.
The Tommy on the bed promptly dropped back into a smiling, peaceful sleep, and Kim nestled into his arms, against his chest, once more.
Tommy turned away. He couldn't take any more. Mephistopheles had got his weakness this time, all right. The demon's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Kimberly Hart's love. You want that, don't you? I can make her love you, Tommy. She'll adore you, marry you if you'll have her, bear your children. A whole lifetime of love, of waking up every morning in her arms. My final offer." The demon grinned. This would work. It had better.
All for his soul... to hold her once more, and have her hold him... to have her love him, forever, for sure... it was a good exchange. But... but what about her? What say did _she_ get in this demonic bargain? She'd be compelled to love him. She might never know it, but it wouldn't be her free will. And Tommy would rather be without her, and have her choose, than have her against her nature.
"No," he whispered, though it broke his heart.
Mephistopheles stared. "No? No?! But... but... but you love her! You want her!"
If demons could sweat, Mephistopheles would be dripping out of his expensive suit by now.
"Oh, yeah. But I don't want her through some bargain she gets no say in. I reject your final offer. Now leave me alone."
The demon screamed and there was a flash of light and brimstone. When Tommy could see again, he was alone in one of the white chambers. There was a bed here, much like his own, and to his relief, it was empty. There was a chair beside the bed, but he shucked his shoes and collapsed onto the springy mattress. God, but that had taken a lot out of him! There was a surreptious cough from the chair beside his bed.
He pulled his arm off from where he'd thrown it over his eyes. Another visitor?
He nearly had to pick his jaw off the mattress when he saw who it was.
"Hi, Tommy." she greeted him.
"No, sorry to disappoint you. I'm not Kim. My name is Kayla."
"You look just like her!"
"I know. I should. I'm-- was-- her sister."
"But... but... Kim hasn't _got_ any sisters!"
"Now. I died when she was a little girl."
Probably true. Kim wouldn't wear that flowing white gown if her life depended on it, for instance. And now he could see subtle differences in their faces...
"So what are you selling?" he asked. Better safe then sorry.
She folded her hands in her lap. "Nothing. I'm from the other side. And there's no need to be rude, you know."
"That's alright. I'm here to congratulate you. You managed to resist a very experienced--and effective-- demon. I'm very proud of you. Atheist or not, Power Ranger or not, you're still on track for us. So is Kim. But neither of you is due, just yet."
Tommy sighed. "Whew. That's nice to know, considering what I just gave up... my family, worldwide help...." he blushed, and Kayla finished the sentence for him.
"My sister." Kayla regarded him thoughtfully. "Tommy, if you are fated to find your family, you'll find them, don't worry. Meanwhile, that's no reason to give up your friends. And as for the cures, someone _will_ get them, mark my words. It just won't be you. You would have hated it-- no time for your karate or friends or just hangin' out: you'd be on the job day in, day out. Bulk and Skull would have tried to make friends with you." she watched him wince with satisfaction. "And as for the last offer... Tommy, he was trying to sucker you."
"Wha? So he _can't_ make Kim love me, can he." his voice held overtones of bitterness.
"Oh, Tommy. I'm sorry. But no-one, especially not Mephistopheles, can make someone love against their will."
"Yeah... yeah, that's what I thought." he sighed. "I just hoped..."
"Poor Tommy." Kayla voiced sympathetically. She stood up. "I must go."
"So what would have happened if I'd have taken him up on his offer?" Tommy asked dully. "On any of his offers?"
"They would have happened, Tommy. And you'd have gone to Hell at the end of your life."
Tommy looked up. "Wait... you're that voice!"
She nodded. "That's right."
"What do you mean, they would have happened? You mean all but the last one, right?"
"No, Tommy. I don't."
"But you said he couldn't make her love me!"
"He can't. He was offering you something you already have."
Tommy stared at her, his jaw hanging down so low it creaked on its hinges. Hope and despair glittered in equal measures in his darkening eyes, which were suddenly all pupil.
"Oh, do stop that. You look like a gulper eel. Yes, Tommy, she already feels that way about you. Freely given, no compusions. He could only make that offer because of how Kim already feels. You won't be bothered again, at least for a while. Now, at the risk of sounding like Kim, get some sleep!"
"How can you expect me to get some _sleep_ with what you've just told me?" he asked the empty air. "If I had the energy, I'd be bouncin' off the walls, screamin' 'YAHOO!'"
"GET TO SLEEP!" the voice boomed in again.
Tommy lay down in a hurry, and fell asleep smiling.
* * *
Kim looked down on Tommy as he slept. He had a serene, unfathomable little smile on his face that made her want to take him in her arms and--
[Nonono. Don't go there. It's too dangerous.] she scolded herself. [I mean, even though Lord Death said it's O.K, as long as I can still be friends with him. I guess the Mother's son figured out, finally, that he can't _make_ me love him. Yeah, right, as if I could ever fall in love with the guy that took my sister away! Adopted sister? Killed my sister. Whatever. I'll sort it out later."
She brushed back a dark cowlick of hair from where it had escaped from Tommy's ponytail and hung over his nose.
[He's so cute when he's asleep. I wish I could see him like this more often... he looks so peaceful. So serene.]
And indeed, Tommy did. His vaguely American Indian features glowed golden in the faint light emanating around the chamber, and his long, dark lashes brushed wind-light kisses against his cheeks. His mouth was curved in that natural, gentle smile that she saw-- had seen-- on his face so often. The worried, frowning eyebrows that so often shadowed the almond eyes were relaxed against his brow. His cheeks were neither hollow nor full, his exquisitely curved jaw smooth and free from those nasty shadows of stubble that appeared so often on teenage boys' faces. In short, he was so handsome that she forced herself to look away, else she'd find herself drowing in a river of her own love...
She turned around, examining the quarters. [Kayla, Kayla, Kayla. I mean, he passed the tests... couldn't you have put 'im in a nicer place?]
Kayla appeared before her, silently. "I _am_ sorry, Kim, but I don't have permission to put him anywhere but in the testing chambers. No-one else has ever made it, before..."
"Well, couldn't you put him in _my_ room?" Kim asked. "He'd sleep a lot better: my bed's a lot more comfortable."
"Kim, I don't think that's a good idea..." Kayla answered uncomfortably. "I mean... what about the Mother's Son?"
"Kayla, Lord Death has resigned himself to the fact that he can't make me love him, remember? He promised that as long as I stay friends with him, I can stay with whomever I want."
"Yes, I know. But you are still, technically, his fiance. I can do nothing unless he says so."
"What if I ask him?" Kim queried.
Kayla blanched. "You will summon Lord Death?"
"I can, you know. Just snap my fingers, and he said he'll come."
"Just for this man?"
Kim hesitated for a brief second. "Kayla, have you ever loved anyone?"
"Only one man, Kim, and I knew I could never have him."
"But what would you do if he was in this situation? He'd just passed a whole dozen-plus impossible tests, and at the end of it withstood temptation by a major demon, then was stuffed into this awful little room?"
With Kayla, there was no hesistation. "I would have him moved to my chambers. Death or no Death."
"You see my point, I hope."
"But Kim, do you love him? Really and truly love him?"
Kim stopped and simply looked at her sister with serious, meltingly brown eyes. She held her head high, and there was no tremor in her voice as she replied.
"I love him."
Kayla nodded. It took strength to admit love, bravery to admit it to another person and absolute and utter dedication to admit it to one's self.
Kayla only hoped that Kim had gotten to that precious third stage already...
"Very well. You have my permission."
"Yay!" Kim whispered, bouncing on the slim balls of her feet. "Thanks, Sis!"
Kayla sighed. "Yes, well, just be prepared to break the news to Lord Death tomorrow..."
Kim wasn't listening as she focused her golden power within her.
"I'm not talking of a hurried night.
A frantic tumble and a shy goodbye;
Creeping home before it gets too light.
That's not the reason that I caught your eye.
Which has to imply I'd be good for you.
I'd be surprisingly good for you..."
Kayla wondered, as Kim and Tommy demateriallized from the room, if Kim knew she was singing a very powerful song of seduction as well as a teleportation song to get back to her room.
If she didn't, it could have-- not altogether-- unwanted results.
* * *
Kim sighed and flopped down on her chair as Tommy appeared on the rich, russet furnishings of her bed. Everything was in pink and white, as had been her chosen preferred colours, from the softly undulating curtains to the huge, silk-sheeted, canopied and frilled bed. It was her one concession to fripperies since she'd gotten here, and now she was glad she had. For Tommy's sake, if not for her own.
She hesitated, a dozen dozen qualms flipping through her mind as she looked down at him. He was exhausted, that much was obvious. His arms and legs were covered with bruises-- what she could see of him, anyway... the rest was carefully concealed by his hooded white sweatshirt with the sleeves taken off and the hem sewn up, and his faded white jeans, thin from constant use.
But damn if he didn't look so handsome, asleep like that, sprawled out like a little boy.
"This is gonna be one cold, difficult night." she sighed, curling up her lithe, thin frame as best she could in the hard-wooded chair. Even so, no sooner had she gotten her legs comfortable then a piece of wood prodded uncomfortably against her spine.
With frustration, she leapt out of the chair and shoved it to the floor. It fell with the hardened crackling of wood against stone.
Tommy sat up with a jerk and leapt out of bed, falling instinctively into a karate stance. His feet pattered across the floor, and he instantly encountered the plushy pink carpet next to the bed. He started... then growled. "Magdalene... if this is one of your tricks, I swear--"
"It's me, Tommy." Kim called out softly from the other end of the room.
Tommy's eyes narrowed-- with her menstruum-enhanced sight, she could see it clearly-- and he called right back, "Kim?"
She moved out into his line of 'vision'.
Tommy relaxed. Since the menstruum wasn't clouding his 'sight', he could presume that the person in front of him wasn't a menstruum-induced illusion.
"What am I doing here?" he asked, looking around. He might not be able to see details, but he could see general outlines well enough and they were telling him that he was in a plush, richly appointed room, decorated for a woman's tastes.
"I went to visit you after Kayla left." she explained. She smiled at him, knowing he would feel the glow of it. "I'm proud of you, Tommy, that you managed to get through all that. You're the first."
Tommy completely ignored her efforts to distract him."I've come to take you home, Kim."
"I can't go home, Tommy." It was a partial-truth. The fact was, she _could_... but what would be the use? Everyone thought she was dead...
"Why not?" he asked plaintively, hurt little-boy eyes shining out of the face of one who was obviously a man. "Kim... I told them."
She looked up sharply. He wasn't the least guilty of it, she could see that. And why should he be? _She_ hadn't known why she'd told him not to tell the others.
"Kim... Kayla told me..."
She looked up at him through lowered lashes. "I know."
"Kim... please... "
"I'm sending you home, Tommy." she told him coldly and clinically. "Please, tell the others I'm alright."
He took three long strides to her before she could blink, and grabbed her hands in his bigger ones. "Kim, don't be like this!"
"Tommy... I'm not going to go back until I can help something... _do_ something about my sisters."
She freed her hands from his, and reached up to caress his smooth cheek with the back of her soft, trembling hand. "Do something about _you_."
He grabbed the hand against his cheek and pressed it to his lips. She felt him murmur something into her satiny palm... then move in to immobilize her against his body, pulling one of her arms between their bodies, the other against her side. "Really?" he murmured throatily against her right ear, his breath tickling wonderfully against her lobe, "I think you should know better, _beautiful_." he stressed the compliment. "What bigger effect could you have on me?"
"Give you your sight back." she whispered half-heartedly, struggling weakly against his strong arms."Get rid of the Magdalene."
"I've got my sight, Kim, and I don't care about her." he pressed her harder against his firm, muscled body. "Kimmie..."
He made her name a caress, to set off the wonderfully solid grip he had on her... both physical and spiritual.
Too late, she realized the implications of the song she'd sung, and begun to struggle harder. "Tommy, let _go_ of me!" she cried.
"Do you want me to?" he asked her softly.
She didn't look up to meet his eyes. She knew what she would find there: they would be dark, smoldering, and so totally sensual that she would be dragged in by them instantly.
Which is why she didn't look up.
He released his hold on her instantly, letting go of his hold on her body. But not that on her spirit-- the one which he likely didn't even know he had.
Once again, she didn't meet his eyes. If she did, she'd be captured as surely as if he'd tied her up and thrown him over his shoulder. Not that he _would_... but still.
He was hurt, she knew. He was her friend of many years: if she couldn't know his emotions, then she wasn't worth the name. But it was better this way, perhaps.
"Go home, Tommy. Tell the others I'm alright."
"Come back to us, Kim." he pleaded as she felt the golden power rise up to flush the poisons of human emotions out of her bloodstream.
"I will." she looked up, then, as he took one step backwards, then another. "I promise I will."
Kimberly Hart, holder of the most powerful menstruum power in the known world, found herself submerged in chocolate eyes so full of feeling that nothing more needed to be said. Suddenly, she was supremely aware of just _how_ handsome Tommy was: long hair carelessly surrounding his smooth--oh, wonderful!--fine-boned face, his body honed by years and years of martial arts. Then she smiled. She had the perfect song.
"If you leave me now,
You take away the biggest part of me..."
[And let him make of that as he will!] she thought with some satisfaction as Tommy disappeared in a wash of golden power.
Tommy landed flat on his back in his bedroom, falling on his bed. His white clothes shone with the residue of the menstruum wrapping him a few seconds ago.
It was night, but there was no moonlight shining through the window. And he was alone, of course: his bed was cold and unwelcoming. Aside from that, the scene was exactly the same as that thrice-damned, thrice-blessed temptation had been...
[Teasing me, Kim?] he thought with only the slightest hint of acrid harshness. [Reminding me that you're strictly hands-off until Doomsday?]
:Actually, no.: a soft voice laughed softly in his mind. :Reminding you that sometimes temptation is a good thing... and they do come true, sometimes. I promise. And I don't break promises.:
Tommy sat up bolt-upright in bed. That voice, sure as Hellfire, wasn't his! [Kim?] he thought tentatively.
:That's right. I don't know what that blasted teleportation song did, but I think it did more than I wanted it to...:
[What do you mean?]
:Figure it out, Tommy.:
And with that, the voice disappeared from his mind.
[Jesus, what a lot to think about.] Tommy mused, lying down on his rumple-sheeted bed, resigning himself to a sleepless night.
Of course, no sooner had he relaxed and turned on the electric fan did his eyelids start to lower, sending him to oblivion.
And-- was it his imagination?-- right before he surrendered to that wonderful, blessed darkness, he thought he felt a gentle hand touch his beardless cheek and push feathery tendrils of drifting bangs away from his face...
* * *
"What's up with Tommy?" Rocky queried. "Have you heard from him?" "Hmmm?" Kat asked, her mouth full of pins. She spat them out into her hand. "Rocky, if you don't stop moving, I'll never get this thing fitted."
Rocky squirmed. "I feel like a girl, fitting on all these clothes."
Kat sighed, and picked up a pin. "It's only a tuxedo, Rocky."
"But why couldn't we just _rent_ one, or _buy_ one?" he complained. "Come _on_, Kat! Ow!"
"See, that's what you get when you move!" Kat reprimanded him, withdrawing the pin from his leg. "Now hold _still_! We'd never have found tuxedos of this design in any rental shop."
She was right, though. The embroidery was hand-done and unique: each tuxedo was either red, black, white or blue, and had a different animal embroidered on the back. Rocky's had-- to no-one's surprise-- an ape patterned in gold thread, holding up one clenched fist in victory, grinning fiercely. The rich, summerweight cloth of the tuxedo itself was a bright crimson. "Besides, we just need to pull in the length, that's all."
"But why meeee?" he complained.
"Adam and Jason are out with Aisha and Trini, helping them pick out a pattern for bridesmaid gowns. Billy is in the Command Center, seeing if he can get anything about Immacolata and Magdalene. Tommy is with his friends Vree and Trevyan. You were the only one left. Besides, we'll need to do minor adustments on everyone. Whoever sent these looks like they were going by sight to see what the measurements were."
Rocky sulked. "I bet all the other guys found something to do at last second to keep from getting fitting duty."
"Probably." Kat agreed. "But you didn't, so that's your fault. Has Billy told Tommy about being best man, yet?"
Rocky nodded. "He says that it's fine with him. I didn't know you were so good with a needle."
"Oh, Kim's better. She was really good at embroidery and sewing. But I can tuck up hems and things just great."
"Speaking of Kim... do you think she'll come to the wedding?"
"I guethh we'll have to wait and thee, won't we." Kat mumbled through a few pins.
"Ow! Hey, watch it!"
"...Isn't that so strange?" Trini queried, walking into the room. "I walked into the house... and there were two boxes lying on the floor. And when I opened them, they were bridesmaid dresses in--"
"Yellow and pink?" Kat finished.
"Yes! And the most _beautiful_ wedding dress in light yellow. How did you know?"
"Billy found a bunch of boxes in _his_ room when he walked in." Kat told Trini. "Tuxedos, enough for all the guys, in red, black, white and blue."
"This is getting really strange. You think we should call the wedding off?" Aisha asked, trotting in after Trini.
Billy teleported in, and everyone jumped. "I don't think so," he disagreed, reaching out to give Trini a kiss. "I had the tuxedos and dresses checked out by Zordon... no trace of the Heart of Darkness or anything nasty on them. I think they're a gift."
"Maybe." Trini held out a note. "Probably."
I saw this dress, and I just _knew_ you would make the best bride in it. Good luck at the wedding, and give Billy a kiss for me!
It was unsigned, and not written by any human hands. The letters glowed a perfect, even gold in the bright flourescent lights.
"Freaky." Aisha commented. "But most definitely Kim."
"I miss her." Rocky sighed.
"Me, too." Trini agreed. "I wish she'd come back... Rocky, nice suit. It's a little long around the ankles, though."
"Oh, shut up."
* * *
"Please, Kayla, you've _gotta_ let me go back for the wedding! Come _on_, sis, _please_! Trini's my best friend, and they've both been my friends for years!"
"I don't have that kind of authority, little sister. I would let you go, if I could, but Lord Death was upset enough that I allowed you to bring Tommy to your room... he still wants to know what transpired there. And so do I."
"Nothing! Absolutely nothing! He was too tired to do anything, he just slept, and when he woke up, I sent him home!"
"Kimberly, either you are both made out of stone or that seduction song you sang isn't as potent as you _know_ it is. Or you're lying."
"Then we're both made out of stone. Sis, _please_! Nothing happened! You have my sworn word on it! Besides, it's just a wedding..."
"Then show me what happened that night. In the menstruum. I know you can, Kim."
"Now or never... Lord Death will have my essense if I let you go back without proof that nothing happened that night." Kayla warned. "And I will never forgive myself for not taking care of my sister."
"Kayla, I'm not a child."
"If you'd been one, I wouldn't be asking you to do this." Kayla reprimanded sternly. "Show me, girl, or stay."
"You're not giving me a choice, are you."
"No, of course not."
*Kim sighed and flopped down on her chair as Tommy appeared on the rich, russet furnishings of her bed. Everything was in pink and white, as had been her chosen preferred colours, from the softly undulating curtains to the huge, silk-sheeted, canopied and frilled bed. It was her one concession to fripperies since she'd gotten here, and now she was glad she had. For Tommy's sake, if not for her own.
She hesitated, a dozen dozen qualms flipping through her mind as she looked down at him. He was exhausted, that much was obvious. His arms and legs were covered with bruises-- what she could see of him, anyway... the rest was carefully concealed by his hooded white sweatshirt with the sleeves taken off and the hem sewn up, and his faded white jeans, thin from constant use.
But damn if he didn't look so handsome, asleep like that, sprawled out like a little boy...
"...If you leave me now,
You take away the biggest part of me..."
[And let him make of that as he will!] she thought with some satisfaction as Tommy disappeared in a wash of golden power.*
Kayla stared speculatively at her sister as the past-turned-vision faded away in a tingling glow of gold. Starting to pace around her, Kayla examined everything about the child-woman who was her younger, living sibling, vibrant with the golden fire still flowing through her body, ready to be released at the crack of a whip. "I don't know how you did it, Kim. I really don't."
"You muted the effects of the menstruum. I would have called out in warning, when you started singing, but you were already gone... I expected you to show me a vision of you and Tommy tumbling together."
"I _told_ you, nothing _happened_!" Kim shouted, angry that Kayla had not trusted her own sister to tell the truth. "Can't you _trust_ me? Or, what, you think I'm like that, to seduce him with the menstruum and a song?"
Kayla's reply was as cool and utterly emotionless as Kim's was heated. "Far from it, Kim. I just thought that you might not know what you had done. The menstruum is a dangerous thing, both to the spirit and the body of yourself and others. It helps to be trained-- but half-trained as you are, you are dangerous to those around you. If you were fully trained, you would be able to sense what the song would do _before_ you started to sing it. But you cannot. I would not want you to rush into anything that you cannot remedy. Sleeping with someone can often not be remedied."
Kim's hands clenched into fists, and hot blood flooded to her cheeks. Gold started to tint her sweet caramel eyes, and an ominous wind started to flow, eddying around the pair. "I _didn't_ SLEEP WITH HIM, O.K?!"
She lent a tinge of gold to her voice, shoving her power obviously to the front of the words.
Kayla was not impressed. "You can't harm the dead, Kim, just as the dead cannot harm you. I am dead. Therefore, I can't touch you, and you can't touch me. 'Fair deal', I think Tommy would say."
"I know you didn't sleep with him. Memory-visions cannot be faked. But the emotions that come with the vision can't be faked, either. There's no denying you want him, badly."
"Yes, maybe you even love him. In fact, you _do_ love him, no maybe about it. I never doubted that. You know restraint. I've seen that. But do you know enough? If you go back to Earth, and make a fool of yourself, I can't stop you. I have no power in the domain of the living, and only limited power here."
She shook her head. "But I will let you go, Kim. I think that not even Lord Death will stop me on this. On two conditions."
"What?" Kim asked recklessly. "Anything!"
"That you won't do anything you would regret." Kayla's eyes were glowing gently, a storm-cloud blue against the chocolate-caramel doe-brown. "And that you be careful of your other sisters."
"I promise!" Kim swore brashly, not even really listening to hear what her sister's conditions were. "Can I go?"
Kayla sighed almost inaudibly, "I cannot stop you, my dear, reckless, headstrong, in-love sister. But please, have a care for yourself and those you cherish..."
"I leave now, but not forever.
I will return, I know.
The biggest part of me is here
Whether I leave or go..."
And Kim was gone.
* * *
"Billy! C'mon, man, get a hang of yourself! You _can't_ cop out on us now!"
"Rocky, let go of my arm." Billy growled, pacing back and forth, a wolf in a cage when the moon is full and the pack is running. "Or so help me God, I can't be responsible for the consequences."
Rocky let go, and Jason grabbed onto Billy's shoulder. "There's no need to be nervous, y'know, buddy," he comforted, grinning.
"Yeah. Right. Remind me to tell you that when _you_ get married! There's even a dictionary definition for 'wedding day jitters'," Billy snapped in reply. "I don't understand why I can't see her."
"Because then you'd be floating on clouds and forgetting your lines, m'man!" Zach cheered, bouncing around in his black tuxedo with a graceful-lined arching silver dolphin on the back. "Y'should 'a seen my sister's husband when 'e got married... they let 'im in to see my sis, and 'e messed up th' whole wedding 'cause he was starin' at 'er the whole time!"
This didn't help Billy's frazzled nerves at all. "What if _I_ do the same thing, then?" he asked, throwing his hands up into the air."
"Don't worry about it, man," Tommy clapped Billy on the shoulder. "Trini'll love you no matter what."
That calmed Billy down. To a certain extent, of course. He sat down and stopped pacing. "I always promised myself that I wouldn't get wedding-day-jitters 'cause I'd always be sure about my marriage. And here I am, practically jumping out of my tuxedo," he laughed ironically. "But thanks anyway, Tommy. You always know the right thing to say. But y'know what?"
"No offense meant to anyone, but I wish Kim was here," he admitted. Tommy winced, but took it into stride. "She wouldn't be allowed in here. Guys only, r'member?"
"Oh, yeah. Right." Billy agreed. "Hey, can't I just have _one_ look at Trini? Please?"
"You'd be killin' tradition, Billy."
"Tradition be damned, I've waited three years to see her again, for Godsakes!" Billy cried. "And I loved her for four years before that! Gimme a break!"
Adam, Tommy, Rocky, Zach and Jason all had to forcibly restrain the restless Blue Ranger from rushing out the door. "Just five more minutes, man! Five more minutes, and you can go out there and get married!" Rocky encouraged desperately.
"Hey, I always thought that wedding-day jitters was cold feet, _not_ wanting to get married," Jason commented with some amusement. His tuxedo was the same shade red as Rocky's, but the lion embroidered on his back was silver.
Billy snorted. "Fat chance, bud. I've been waiting for this day forever."
"I can imagine," Tommy's eyes gained a faraway look. "I can imagine."
* * *
"Kim!" Trini hugged her friend, "I knew you wouldn't miss the wedding where you're maid of honor."
"Trini!" Kim was laughing. She was dressed in a frilly confection of the same pastel pink as Kat's, but where the golden embroidery on the Australian girl's dress was a graceful Thoroughbred mare, Kim's was a whooping crane in full flight, throat bared to cry out. "Didn't I tell you this would happen? Didn't I _tell_ you that he loved you?"
"I bet he's pacing around his room right now, wondering how he got into this." Trini muttered.
"Y'know, Trini, if you don't stop fidgeting, I'll never get this tied." Aisha threw her hands up in the air, letting go of the long, trailing, elegant yellow ribbons.
Trini cast a serenely annoyed look backwards at Aisha. "Aisha, there's a difference between fidgeting and _breathing_, you know."
"Here, let me get that." Kim commented, snatching up the lacy confections. "I _thought_ I shouldn't have gotten something so complicated!" she sighed as she tied it up into a big, perfect bow.
Kat reached out to touch Kim's arm, as if unsure whether she was really there. Kim cast an arched look at the Australian girl.
"I... I can't believe it, luv," Kat whispered, eyes wide. "You really _are_ alive..."
"Right," Kim agreed, briskly. "Trini, I bet he's pacing around the room wondering why he can't see you. I can even guess his exact words, 'Tradition be damned, I've waited three years to see her again, for Godsakes!'"
Trini chuckled throatily. "You're probably right, Kim."
Kimberly snorted. "Only _probably_? C'mon, let's go."
Aisha giggled. "Won't Tommy be surprised? And after all that trouble he went through to get you to come back... you decide to come back for your best friend's wedding!"
Kim grinned openly, "'Surprised' is not the word I'd use, Aisha. 'Royally P-O'd' is more like it."
There was a slight pause in the procession of the four girls as they stopped to laugh.
* * *
The subject of their conversation grumbled and looked pointedly at his watch. What could possibly take the girls such a long time? I mean, how hard could it be to put on a dress?
[Hard,] his conscience supplied him. [Think about it, all those buttons and bows and stuff... aren't you glad you're a guy?]
He sighed and tugged at his white tuxedo. It made him more than slightly uncomfortable to know that he was wearing something of uncertain origins... what was worse was that of all the six tuxedos that had been found in Billy's room, the only one that hadn't needed adjustments was _his_.
This, of course, had merely proved the point of the other boys that it was from Kim. Or so they thought. It had provided them with a lovely subject for teasing for the next two days.
Then again, he hadn't told them about his day with the Magdalene.
His head snapped up and he looked straight forward as the wedding march started. [Finally!] he sighed in relief, stepping behind Billy. First to trot up were a pair of cute little cherubs-- Trini's twin cousins-- one carrying a basket of bachelors' button and tiger lilies, the other carrying a pair of rings with all the five-year-old dignity he could muster. Then he had to nudge Billy to get him to pick up his jaw as Trini stepped in beside him.
Whoever had sent the dress had impeccable taste. It didn't look anything like any wedding dress _Tommy_ had seen-- or Billy, for that matter-- but there was nothing 'improper' about it at all.
The soft lemon-yellow suited Trini's joyful serenity as much as the graceful dolphin suited Zach's sense of fun and laughter. The curled vixen embroidered on her bodice stared out coolly, smiling gently in amusement.
The dress was as sleek as their Ranger outfits, but as lacy and frilly as any mother might want a wedding dress to be. The under-dress of yellow silk hugged her body tightly, but was mostly concealed by a plethora of soft, drifting yellow gauze veils, just hinting at the--very feminine-- shape underneath it.
Billy couldn't keep his eyes off her
. Then again, that wasn't exactly a surprise. In fact, it was an improvement to their ordinary 'can't see daylight between you two' position.
Tommy kept his eyes straight ahead, trying to keep from laughing at the expression on Billy's face. He looked like someone had hit him over the head with a crowbar, _then_ given him the sweetest kiss of his life.
Tommy knew that if he looked over at Billy, he'd start laughing. And since the priest looked so _very_ happy... maybe that wasn't such a good idea.
The ceremony was-- mostly-- short and to the point. The priest was one with-- amazingly-- a sense of humor, and was continually cracking jokes.
About sixty percent of them made Billy, Trini, or both, blush.
[Hey, I guess vows of chastity say nothing about dirty jokes,] Tommy smirked. Trini's mother didn't look very happy at all, but Mr. Kwan and Mr. Cranston were roaring with laughter and slapping each other on the back. Then came the vows.
"Well, now, another pair who've decided to say their own vows. I hope this is impromptu, 'cause dem prepared speeches are BORING! Probably the best idea anyone ever came up with, that," the priest informed them with a large, approving smile. "Well, you'd better begin."
Billy coughed, then realized that his tongue was actually still working. "Um... Look, Trini, I've known you a long time. Pretty much all my life. But I... I guess I was just too shy to do anything, say anything, when I found out that I loved you. I... when you left, it was like... like someone had ripped off an arm, a leg, and my heart. I prayed that you'd come back, one day... that you'd come back and you'd love me, too. I thought it was impossible... just a dream. That's when I woke up-- and realized that you were still kissing me."
He smiled, and the priest chuckled.
"I guess all I want to say, Trini, is that I know that I can be absent-minded... I can be mean, and snappy, or arrogant... I can be preoccupied. But please, Trini, no matter what, I love you... and no matter how trite it sounds, I always will."
There were various sniffles from around the room, and the ladies had tears in their eyes.
Tommy started when he felt a hand on his, twining with his fingers gently and with easy familiarity.
A frown crossed his face, and he shook the hand out of his, turning to tell Kat off. Softly, of course, it wouldn't do to interrupt Trini's vows by yelling at Kat. When would she ever learn?
He opened his mouth to reprimand her--
And found himself looking down into big, fawnskin-brown eyes. Framed by a delighted smile and a little half-veil of gauze that all the bride's maids wore.
"Hi, handsome," Kim whispered.
"Kim?" he gasped. Though he hadn't expected her to be here, he'd _known_, in his heart of hearts, that she wouldn't miss Trini's and Billy's wedding. Even if it meant flouting Death's authority.
Trini and Billy had known that, somehow, and had assigned her the coveted position of 'best maid', which had been fought over by Aisha, Kat, Trini's older cousins, Billy's elder cousins, and even Jason's sisters. The non-Rangers had grumbled about giving the position to a no-show... but the Rangers knew better. No matter who had a hold on her, she'd return to see them converged forever.
"... And by the power vested in me by God and country, I now pronounce you man and wife. Ain't it time for you to kiss the bride?"
And everyone, including Kim, cheered as Billy literally swept up Trini in his powerful arms and delivered a deep kiss.
As was the only proper way to end a wedding, after all.
* * *
Kim sat on the balcony of the fashionable club where the reception was taking place. The long line of people wishing to kiss the bride was just about exhausted, people were sitting down, and the dancing would start, soon.
She was just as tired. Her own wish to make Trini's wedding perfect had only been contrasted by her own want to jump at Tommy, holding him so tight that they would never be separated. It took _effort_ to silence her warring wants.
Her heart had jumped into her throat when she'd seen Tommy, resplendent in his white tuxedo-- the one that she _knew_ would fit him just-right-- that she'd sent to him.
It had dropped to her soles when a look of irritation flashed into his eyes as she took his hand. He turned to her, to very-discreetly reprimand her, slipping his fingers out from hers--
And she saw the surprise-- and welcome-- in those eyes, suddenly all pupil, as his gaze dropped on her. He'd been expecting someone else. Who? Kat?
"Hey, Kim," Jason greeted with sad familiarity. "You're back, huh? I'm surprised the guys aren't bouncin' to dance with you. And here _I_ thought I was gonna be the only wallflower at this party."
Kim chuckled, turning to greet her childhood friend. His tux fit him well-- though someone had made obvious adjustments to the inseams and the ankles: evidently, Jason wasn't as broad or as tall as she remembered, either. "Hello, Jason. How come you're back?"
"Me?" his mouth quirked. "We thought you were dead, Kim. You never bothered to tell us otherwise... Kim, is this for real?"
Kim looked up at him. He was still a good head taller than her, but somehow, despite her small stature, he could see that she wasn't the same Kim.
It scared him.
"Let me show you something, Jason," she told him with uncommon solemnity. "Take my hands... I don't know how this thing works..."
Jason took her hands, and watched her with wary, trusting eyes. Eyes of a friend to whom right and wrong are clear-cut, and who doesn't quite know which boundaries this experiment might fall into.
She closed her eyes, and reached inside her. Her hands, under Jason's, started to blaze with the contained power, and Kim quashed it like she did the loud thrumming of energy in her ears. She channeled the rushing waterfall to a gentle, soft trickle, no more than droplets.
Then she sang, but it was soft, a whisper. A summons, rather than a command.
"Well, life has a funny way
Of sneakin' up on ya when ya think everything's okay
And everything's goin' right.
And life has a funny way
Of helpin' you up when you think everything's gone wrong
And everything blows up in your face..."
Another girl trotted hesitantly to the balcony. "Um... g'day... I didn't think there'd be anyone else out here... Are you two... um... using this place?"
Jason blushed fiercely, and moved away from Kim. "Uh..."
Kim laughed, throwing her head back and baring white teeth without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. "No, no, come and join the rest of us wallflowers. You must be Kat's sister... Scarlett?"
Scarlett made a face. "Smack dab on th' nose, mate. I hate my name, really I do. My mum read 'Gone with th' Wind' too many times."
"I think it's a great name," Kim complemented, approvingly. "Very romantic. Oh, I'm Kimberly."
"You're the maid of honor, luv? The one they thought wouldn't show up?" Scarlett asked, with unabashed curiousity.
Kim grinned, "Yup, that's me! Are you new to Angel Grove?"
Scarlett nodded, smiling shyly, "I just moved here. I'm Kat's fraternal twin sistah, but I wanted to stay just a tad longer in Surrey Hill... I mean, it's home for me."
Jason chuckled, stepping out of the shadows where he'd taken refuge. "I can understand that."
Scarlett looked up at him, eyes guarded and wary. He held out a big, rough hand. "Jason Lee Scott, Angel Grove envoy to the Peace Conferences. I'm a friend of your sister's. Well, sort of, I only met her a few weeks ago."
"Scarlett Hillard, from Surrey Hill," she accepted his hand with a nod of her head. "I don't really know anyone here..."
Jason chuckled, "I think I know pretty much everyone... want me to introduce you?"
Scarlett's ice-blue eyes brightened visibly, and she tossed her shoulder-length blonde hair over one slim shoulder. Then they dimmed, and she looked disappointed. "Not right now... everyone's dancing."
This time, Jason laughed outright, smiling at Scarlett, "Then what do you say we join them?"
Scarlett blinked, and she blurted out, "You'd want to dance with _me_?"
"Hey, sure! Why not?" Jason pointed out.
"But Kat's not dancing with anyone... and she's very pretty..."
"So are you, darlin'. C'mon," Jason winked good-naturedly as he held out one arm for her to take.
Scarlett and Jase left, Jason asking her polite little questions about Australia and her hometown.
And Kim was alone.
['And life has a funny way of helpin' you up when you think everything's gone wrong... hmm, I guess it _did_ work. Just not for me and Jason. Well, maybe for Jason, but not for me.]
"Kim, you out here?" Trini called, squinting into the darkness.
"Yeah... why aren't you dancing?" Kim asked, curiously.
Trini laughed, coming out to sit with her best friend. "Billy's looking for you. He refuses to dance the next dance with anyone but you..."
"I don't know about you, but my Mom always told me to save a dance for the person who brought you _to_ the ball. Evidently, there's a male equivalent to that, too."
"Me? I didn't do anything!" Kim protested.
"Aside from introducing me to him, insisting to him that I loved him, too, bringing us together and leaving us alone, and your false death making Jason, Zach and me come back to Angel Grove... no, not much."
Kim snorted. "You're crediting me for too much."
"Kim, you practically single-handedly brought me and Billy together! And Billy and I can never thank you enough for that. Now go and dance with him, or else he won't let _me_ dance with him, either. Sooo..."
"Owtch. I'm goin', I'm goin'!" Kim bolted out the balcony's French windows.
Trini smiled a slow, easy smile as she refrained from mentioning that someone _else_ was looking for her, too...
* * *
"Billy, Billy, Billy," Kim laughed, dancing to the slow rock-- but not _overly_ slow, that would be improper-- music in Billy's strong arms. His muscles hadn't atrophied from inactivity, and yet he still held her with a delicacy, as if she would break if he let her down too hard. "Mothers can start letting their daughters out of the house without blindfolds and earplugs! I never thought that someone would make a married man out of Angel Grove's 'Cassanova'!
Billy snorted, and his eyes flicked up to the ceiling, "No, of _course_ not. You _only_ conspired to get her to come back from the Peace Conferences--"
"You think I did that on _purpose_?!"
"-- Don't interrupt while I'm lecturing," Billy scolded, a twinkle in his eyes, "You _only_ told me, time and time again, that she loved me, too... you _only_ kept the letters running between me and her... no, Kim, you didn't think. You _did_ it. I married Trini because I love her, but I'd never have known if it wasn't for you."
"Aw, gee, thanks..." Kim looked down...
Billy looked up over her shoulder, at someone else, "Hmm, I think someone wants to cut in..."
Kim made as if to look back over her shoulder, expecting Tommy. If it was him, she'd better think up a teleportation song, quick, or else she'd have to face him... and facing him through a slow-rock song wasn't the best of ideas...
To her shock, she found out that it _wasn't_ Tommy.
"Adam?" she asked. He was blushing violently-- but he obviously wanted to dance with her.
"Uh... Hi, could I cut in?" he asked, almost casually.
"Be my guest," Billy grinned. "All you had to do was ask..."
He sauntered off, leaving Kim and Adam together.
Adam poised his hands awkwardly on Kim's hips, and Kimberly chuckled lightly. "Adam, Adam, not like that!" she exclaimed. She took his hands and wrapped them around her waist, draping her arms lightly around her neck. She didn't lean on his shoulder-- that would have been as improper as if she'd done that to Billy-- but rather proceeded to step to the music.
No matter how awkward Adam was-- he didn't know how to dance-- he still had his natural Shaolin Kung-Fu grace. Dancing with him was far from unpleasant... but why did he look so uncomfortable, and so happy at the same time?
"Adam, is something wrong?" Kim queried.
"Um... you could say that," Adam mumbled. Thankfully, Kim was near enough to him that even if he muttered, she could hear and understand him. "Wanna talk about it?"
"I don't think there's any way I can't..."
"Ready when you are," Kim commented brightly.
"Not for this. Kim... do you love Tommy?" Adam didn't meet her eyes, looking away at the smear of white in the distance. Even though Tommy was far away, his proud mein and lily-white tuxedo made him obvious in the colorful crowd.
Inside, Kim's heart took a desperate squeeze. [Please, no... don't let him tell me Tommy _does_ have someone else...]
Instead, she replied with a completely innocent question. "Why do you ask?"
"Would it matter?"
"Of course it would! I... I... Kim... I love you," Adam blurted out suddenly, quietly, almost as if he was ashamed of that fact.
And Kim's regard of him took an entirely different light.
[Oh, $#!^. Jesus Christ in a bloody handbasket, oh no... this just can't get any worse...] Kimberly thought, a stricken expression on her gently made-up face.
Ominous thunder boomed outside, and all the lights went out.
[Oh yes, it can,] she amended, as the tingling of the menstruum started to flow all around her.
* * *
Tommy swore as the lights went out-- it didn't matter to his artificial sight-sense whether there were lights or not, but the dark menstruum blaring around him, blinding the sight as if someone had clapped blinders over him, worried him more than he wanted to admit.
Actually, it still scared him, that rush of power over his skin, drawing it up into cold goosebumps. It was nothing like the sweet, warm energy that surged up from his very center when he morphed... this came from outside, from someone else.
[And it's not Kim.]
There were very few other choices as to who would be using the menstruum at a wedding. And they did not look good.
Tommy started to shake. Despite his bravado at the trials, he was still frightened of his 'wife' and 'sister-in-law'... he'd had a cause, then, to find Kim and bring her back.
Now, he was lost without a purpose, blinded by the dirty crimson power, muted tones flowing in front of him as if he'd stood too long, staring at the sun, and it had damaged his dead eyes even more.
Then he heard Kim start to hum, softly, singing under her breath. It wasn't any tune _he_ knew...
And when she burst out in full song, he realized why. She was making it up on the spot. And that was more than dangerous. It could be suicidal, if she paused to think. Thankfully, it didn't do anything except convey Kim's feelings about her so-called 'sisters'.
"I thought I told you to be gone, witch-sisters!
Leave me and mine alone and I
Will leave you to yourself.
Maybe I'll let you go this time."
Immacolata laughed, openly. "You've no extra resources to tap into, little one. You can't do anything that would surprise Us, child. And you've got no friends to stand by you, this time. Trevyan Lo can't help you here, little sister."
Her voice was cool and comfortable, as if she was asking about the weather, or Kim's favorite food, instead about matters of life and death.
"You will pay for taking My sister's husband, young one," the Heart of Darkness shook Her head, long hair waving gently behind her. To Kim's menstruum-sight, she glowed an angry red, lurid sunset colors, tinged by blood. "So sorry, sister, little one, third of the Trilogy."
Kim stood her ground, glaring at Immacolata from her shorter height. The blood rose to her cheeks, making them rosy with fury at this interruption of what she'd thought was her sanctuary. "Explain this. How the Hell can I be your sister?"
"'Child of the worst and best', little one. The best of worlds and the worst, dark side and light," Her pale skin gleamed in the darkness, ghostly and ephemeral. "The Light is my family, the Aia. Your mother, as mine. You, little one, are the child of my mother's rape, when the Cuckoos took over the Fugue. You think that they would have gotten in without the intervention of the Dark Ones? I hardly think so. Dark and light, worst and best. My mother was the most beautiful... and so she was 'taken in' by one of the leaders."
The Heart of Darkness' voice was cold with anger and fury, no flush lighting Her cheeks, but eyes glittering with... tears?
"She bore two children, two bastards, before he died, before she tore his throat out with her hands. Then she left her children in the care of a Cuckoo's family... and died, herself. You, little one, are the only living survivor of those two children. I know, I killed your sister myself when she refused to join me," the Heart explained clinically, a tiny smile twisting my lips.
Kim backed away, hands clasped over her mouth. "No. You didn't."
"But I did, little one." Immacolata explained with uncharacteristic gentleness. "I thought that you might be more... pliable, easier to teach." she sighed, "But I suppose that is a futile wish. Prepare to die, child."
"If I... give myself up, will you promise not to hurt my friends?" Kim gestured around to where her friends were frozen in statuelike positions: dancing, whirling, whispering, laughing. A million million expressions contained within unmoving eyes, thousands of sounds just beginning to emerge from slightly-parted lips.
"Kim!" Tommy cried desperately.
Immacolata's head swirled instantly towards Tommy's voice. Much to Kim's horror, it was only her head that turned a hundred and eighty degrees, rather than her body. "Oh, it's you again. Your wife waits for you, you know."
Tommy clenched his teeth. "She's _not_ my wife."
"So you say. She's waited a long time for one like you, Tommy. You shouldn't disappoint her... much less abandon her for her sister..."Immacolata began to murmur, a regretful tone intended to put Tommy on a first-class guilt-trip.
It didn't work. Tommy's face turned stony, the fine planes of his face setting into stubbornness. "She deserves it. You don't know what she did to me, the witch."
A coldness pervaded the warmth of the building, and Tommy's face slackened with fear. Resolve was hard in his eyes, though, mingling with the apprehension, and warring for control.
The Magdalene wasn't insulted. "Ssso I am. And ssso isss yourrr _darrrling_ heeerrre, who you will jussst have to watssch die."
Tommy straightened from his slump-backed position, as if he was trying not to cower. "I'm not afraid of you," he whispered. "I'm not afraid of you..."
The rotten lips parted, revealing teeth blackened by centuries and exuding rot. "Yesss, you arrre..."
"Perhaps," Kim replied, a sibilant jeer to match the Magdalene's, "perhaps not. We are one on two, sisters. It's not a fair fight... but if you think I'm gonna die without takin' one of you with me, you're out of your mind..."
The Heart of Darkness laughed. "Little Sister, we have lived millenia. There are millions who have tried to kill us, to do away with us... and they failed. We cannot be defeated, much less killed!"
"That's what Napoleon said," Kim shot back. "Big talk, ladies-- but can you back it up?"
"Kim," Tommy hissed, "they _can_ back it up!"
Kim nodded at him, and gestured for him to be quiet. :I know,: he heard the words in his head, the gentlest of whispers, the lightest touch against the thought area of his brain, undeniably feminine.
Then she turned to the Magdalene and Immacolata. "Let's finish this. But not here."
She sang out a few words that Tommy was too stunned to hear, then disappeared in a wash of golden motes. Her sisters followed in bursts of lurid red and sinister black.
But he saw what she mouthed at him, before she'd parted her lips to sing. ^I love you,^ she'd told him. ^Goodbye.^
Not 'goodbye' as in 'see you later'. 'Goodbye' as in 'forever'.
And Tommy had a feeling that Kim wasn't going to be as lucky in cheating Lord Death as she had the first time...