Kimberly stared up at the stars, twinkling in false cheer in the absolutely clear Angel Grove horizon. This reception area was at the very edges of the city, overlooking a magnificent cliff-and-forest bit of scenery.
It would be so easy to throw herself off the balcony... be with Tommy again...
Kim had never been a quitter, never giving up no matter the untouchable odds and the impossible battles. Kim _never_ gave up.
"I never even told him that I loved him, never said it to his face... just a mouthed set of words I don't know if he saw..." she choked out softly towards the darkness of the cliffs. "I don't even know if he ever knew..."
"He knew, little sister," a soft, sultry, silky voice answered behind her. "How could he not?"
Kim whirled, hatred glittering in her eyes. "You! You could have stopped her-- could have-- could have--"
Immacolata faced the shorter Kimberly, looking her in the eyes. "I'm not in the habit of blaming myself for something I couldn't have prevented, Kimberly... What could I have done? Sacrificed myself? It would have proven nothing. Tommy knew her True-name... Tommy knew the prophecy. 'Destroyed by love and a father's touch, the dancing darkness and the still shade of white'. If he hadn't been who he was, Kim, a father, a lover, dark and light in equal measures, movement and stillness... you would not be here to speak of it, and neither would I."
"But did... did he have to die?" Kimberly pronounced. "And... leave me here, wondering if I'd been a little better trained, a little more powerful... I could have saved him?"
Immacolata shook his head. "Training is a means to an end, little one... it is not the be-all and end-all. You _are_ trained, forged through the fires of the rapture. What more could anyone teach you about your powers that you don't already know?"
"Just..." Kim spoke softly, "I could have saved him, couldn't I?"
Another voice behind her, just as gentle and feminine as Immacolata's. "The paths were shadowed, Kim... no-one knows if you could have or not. Walking in the light means that sometimes you are blinded by it... whether it would be, or may not be, is not for us to know."
Kim's answer was acidic and biting. "Oh, yeah, _that's_ supposed to help, Vree!"
There was a rustling of wings, a soft word, then the feeling of hollowness that told her Vree had left.
Another little rush of power, and the once-Heart of Darkness was gone, leaving only a single, bright-red ruby like a giant teardrop of blood lying on the shiny marble.
And a single note, written in a perfect, curved script on a thick sheet of scroll parchment.
Challenges can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks-- it's all a matter of how you view them.
Tionne and Vree
Kim reached down and picked up the stone, holding it up to the light. It sparkled translucently, casting off little red glitter-shines.
[What does it mean?] she asked herself, running a finger along the wafer-thin edges that smoothed to a wider center. [What's she trying to tell me? Tionne? Was that her name before she became Immacolata?]
A gentle, gray mist rose up about her, dampening her clothes and hair and leaving mist-raindrops dancing on her bangs and crown.
A song rose unbidden to her lips, and she tried valiantly to shove it down her throat. But she couldn't resist the pull of the menstruum and the music... not for long...
She turned her face towards the star-line, facing the constellation known as Draco-- the dragon-- that glimmered so gently in the sky... then changed her mind and tilted her head towards Virgo-- the Virgin.
Softly, she cleared her throat, surreptiously glancing around her to see if anyone was watching.
Somehow, she doubted that anyone had even noticed she was gone. [Except maybe Adam,] she amended, sadly. [Poor Adam...]
"On my own..."
[Forever, now... no matter what anyone says, I'll never find anyone to ever replace him...]
"Pretending he's beside me..."
[Tommy, please, dearheart... you can't leave like this... there's too much we've left unsaid, too many things we haven't done...]
*His lips touching hers, brushing against them... she trembling so slightly that she didn't think he'd notice...*
"I walk with him 'til morning."
*Soft strolls, hand in hand, along the paths of the moonlight, a gentle thumb stroking her cheek as he gave her his soul in a kiss...*
*The terrible blast of balefire, and his eyes boring into hers as he fell... her own scream echoing in her ears before she knew she'd released it...*
"I feel his arms around me..."
*Holding her in his embrace, promising the protection of her heart, that he'd never break it, no matter what...*
"And when I lose my way I close my eyes..."
*The gentle brush of soul meeting soul as he held her hand...*
"And he has found me..."
*White Ranger somersaulting over the heads of three Putties to dispatch of the one that had grabbed her roughly...*
"In the rain..."
*Laughing and swinging her around as the drizzling spring rains doused them with cool, fresh, sweet water...*
"The pavement shines like silver..."
*Walking her home at nights, pointing out the constellations, his clothes glowing in the moon and starlight, making him look almost holy...*
"All the lights..."
*The trails of white following his graceful, effortless kata as he drew the dark influence away from them and his son...*
"Are misty in the river..."
*His strong arms pulling constantly at the canoe oars as his hair whipped back from his face in a fluttering banner of chestnut... she laughing as strands of it plastered against his forehead, and kissing away the wayward curls...*
"In the darkness..."
*A single, soft finger [Son6]tracing her cheek, even as he thought she was asleep, and she heard the quiet pain in his sigh as he asked her not to go...*
"The trees are full of starlight..."
*Holding hands and sitting, even as the others of their group dozed, on the rocks near the forest, and together, watching the stars shine through patchy shadows in the foliage...*
"And all I see is him and me..."
*Watching him fight through the horde of enemies that he couldn't prevail over-- yet he had. Seeing him face down his worst fears, just to see her. Understanding his heart as he was tempted with all that he'd ever hoped for in the deepest recesses of his soul-- even her love-- and turning all of them down. Feeling the warmth of his body against hers as he embraced her to his side...*
"Forever and forever..."
[Was I ever that naive? I must have been... because I remember it...]
"And I know it's only in my mind
That I'm talking to myself and not to him."
*He listened so patiently as she summarized the day's troubles, hazel eyes understanding, showing he was paying attention despite the fact that he probably had much better things to do...*
[No more... never again...]
"And although I know that he is blind..."
[Doubly true for Tommy... he saved my life-- saved everyone's lives-- but my heart died with him...]
"Still I say...
There's a way for us..."
*"Would you be my date for the dance?" he asked, his face bright with hope and jubilant joy, shining in the sunlight. He'd never looked quite so handsome...*"
"I love him, but when the night is over,
He is gone, the river's just a river..."
*The fire streaming from her eyes, her nose, her ears, every pore of her body... flowing into him... with no result at all... he stayed as motionless and as if he'd been wax...*
"Without him, the world around me changes,
The trees are bare and everywhere
The streets are full of strangers..."
[My best friend is my mother, Billy is my father... they've been married for centuries... and they're Maid Marian and Robin Hood... my sister is in love with Death... I don't know anyone anymore... I don't even know myself...]
"I love him, but everyday I'm learning,
All my life I've only been pretending!"
Clinging to the illusion that she was just Kimberly Hart, just a teenage girl-- when in truth she knew, in her heart of hearts, the reason why she was a target so often, why she remembered a girl who looked just like her...
"Without me, his world would go on turning
The world that's full of happiness that I have never known!"
[Will I ever know peace again? Will I ever feel that surge of communion between two people again, of the linking of hearts and gazes that I tried to deny for so long... but now, don't know if I can live without?]
She felt a sharp pain bite into her hand, and looked down to watch dark blood, glittering like a gem in itself in the moonlight, trickle down her palm in a steady stream. Kim opened her closed fist to see the tear-gem covered in blood, no longer shining, and a wound flowing steadily.
"I love him..."
*The gentlest brush of his lips against her forehead, her cheek, her lips...*
"I love him..."
*The hurt, the pain on his face as she told him that it was over. The tears glistening in his hazel eyes, the shock, the horror decorating his expression. The denial that she couldn't break off what love had fostered so long...*
"I love him..."
*Those same, soft eyes meeting hers as he faced what he must have known would be his death, mouthing tender words that shot pain to her very soul as he told her to give her heart to someone else and forget him...*
"But only on my own..."
Kim bent her head, and as the tear fell from her eyes into her palm, it solidified. By the time it touched her soft, bloody hand, it was a solid diamond, perfectly clear and faceted, in the shape of another tear. It landed in the small pool of her own sticky blood next to the ruby, the facets dulling with the dark opaque dullness, even as Kim's bright, caramel eyes bleakened.
[How can I forget you, Tommy, when you've sacrificed so much for me, to gain my love? I didn't want to love you... I thought that you'd only bring me pain in the end... and oh, I was right... but I _do_ love you. And you're gone-- not to another girl, as I thought you'd be, but because I was stupid enough to think that you wouldn't follow when I sent myself to my death...]
"Only on my own..." she whispered, her voice reverberating over the tile and marble and columns.
She looked up, and saw Altair winking at her from the constellation Aquila-- the eagle.
So softly, a baritone voice started to sing from behind her. An unfamiliar voice-- but strange and sweet to her ears all the same. Her heart leaped to think that it might be Tommy-- but he was dead. And she knew his voice as she knew her own throaty singing.
"Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?"
She didn't turn, didn't want to know who it was behind her who was singing in such a soft, gentle voice. Someone's brother, perhaps? So she countered it.
"Do you get what you're hoping for?
When you look behind you there's no open door.
What are you hoping for?
Do you know?"
That someone chuckled. "Very apt. And exactly what I deserved. But what's a pretty lady like you doing standing out here on the balcony all alone?"
She bristled. "What, is there anything wrong with wanting to be alone?"
Again, the soft chuckle. "No... no, of course not. In fact, I enjoy being alone a lot of the time. Easier to concentrate on my martial arts."
"Tommy said the same thing," Kim murmured softly, to herself, voice catching in her throat.
"Tommy. My... my former boyfriend. The karate teacher at the Youth Center."
"What happened?" the voice asked sympathetically. "Surely he wouldn't dump you-- no martial arts master would do anything like that and leave you dangling here alone..."
"Dump me?" she laughed bitterly. "Oh, no. Never."
"He... he died."
The man behind her sucked in a startled breath. "Oh... I'm so sorry--"
"You couldn't have known," she interrupted brusquely. Somehow, that apology really annoyed her--
"I know that," he agreed.
His reply was so startling that she turned.
She'd seen Tommy's outwittal of Mephistopheles through his own eyes. And she'd never thought that she'd ever see this face again.
*beside him, laughing, a younger boy, but still older than himself...*
"You're... you're David!" she gasped, eyes wide.
David cocked his head, dark hazel almond eyes curious and wide. "Have we... have we met?"
"You're the oldest son of a family," Kim informed him, her eyes devouring his face hungrily. "You have a younger sister named Rebecca, your mom makes cookies and your dad slaps you on the back..."
David nodded, his expression going more puzzled by the minute.
"And you have-- had-- a younger brother," she finished softly, "who disappeared..."
His expression turned from puzzlement... to consternation... to open shock and dismay. "How did you know that?" he whispered, horrified. "No-one knows that... only Mom and Dad... we never told Becka..."
Kim's eyes roved over him, picking out subtle differences in his build and Tommy's-- Tommy was more slender, flexible and whip-quick, like a willow, while this boy was a growing hardwood, unbending and strong. His hair was darker, and tousled in attractive curls to his shoulders, silhoetted by the light from the party. But his face--
The hazel eyes that regarded her with such shock were still soft, compassionate, gentle. Tommy's eyes. The angled, muted cheekbones were in sharp relief in the bas-relief light, darkness from the night and light from the stars and ballroom. The powerful muscles stood out more, and he was a little stockier and shorter than her once-boyfriend... but in the bare darkness, he was Tommy's shadow.
Before she knew it, she was on her knees, crying again.
"Shh, shh," came a flustered baritone voice from in front of her.
And from behind her, a soft voice that brought the image of peace. "Please, Kim, don't cry..."
"Death, go _away_! I don't want to talk to you right now..." she sobbed softly. "You took him!"
"I did _what_?!" the Mother's Son's eyes flashed amber, then to a bright, puzzled green.
His shocked answer stopped her crying cold. "What?"
David looked relieved that she'd stopped crying. "There, now, that's a good girl... why don't you tell David about it, and he'll see what he can do..."
"I didn't take him, Kim. I keep my bargains, you know that. A life for a life-- well, so to speak."
"Or," came a soft, hearfelt voice from the darkened corners of the balcony, "why don't you tell Tommy about it?"
Kim looked towards the shadows, not daring to hope her soft, dear song had worked, sung towards the stars... she hadn't put any power into it-- not that she knew...
He was dressed all in white-- as per normal-- and had no traces of the pain and exhaustion or sweat. He was just as perfectly handsome as she remembered.
She didn't need to see his face to know who it was. With a cry of fear, she backed away.
He stepped into the light, and David's eyes took on a look of absolute incredulity. Then they narrowed, almost snapping into slits, and he stepped in front of Kim protectively, the light reflecting on suspicious, open features.
Any old-style artist would have died to see that scene, to capture it forever in pencils and colors and rich turpentine against rough canvas. Two brothers, identical eyes locked, faces set in closed expressions. One shorter, stockier, harsher-planed like an ancient dark oak glorifying an equally-ancient forest, the other a young, graceful silver birch in a soft, green and white grove glowing in the darkness... Tommy dressed in pristine white, his head held high, back pole-straight and darkened eyes challenging, David setting himself close to the floor, clad in ebony, eyes narrowed to bare slits against the hazel, aristocratic features twisted. Tommy in shadow, David reflecting the light.
"You must decide, Kim," Lord Death whispered softly against her ear. "Is it truly the man you love?"
"Tommy?" she muttered, voice harsh with disbelief. "It can't be... you... you're dead..."
He looked towards her, directing his attention upon her face, and she thought those sweet, wonderful eyes gentled. "Kim... how can I be dead? You sang for me... I heard you..."
Tommy stepped out of the darkness, closing his eyes slowly as the light washed over him, stretching towards the darkened sky like a huge, gracefully languid cat.
Kim couldn't help but watch as the light caressed every curve and nuance, every muscle and languorously powerful plane, making him glow like a holy object, making him so very masculine as the light shadowed the high cheekbones and perfect lips, the long cascade of dark hair... Damn, he was sooo handsome...
David's eyes narrowed even further, becoming no more than black-slashed lines with hazel-white sparkles deep within...
Tommy dropped out of his stretch, turning his gaze towards David. He blinked. "D...d.d.David?" he stammered, the name dug up from memories of his temptation.
"Yeah," came the surly answer. "Who're you?"
"Tommy Oliver," came the cool, collected reply. It broke into very real shock as Tommy realized what that implied. "You're David... my God..."
There was no way that they _couldn't_ be related, never mind the differences in build and stance.
Tommy reached out a slim-fingered hand to David, and his eyes were expressionless. "Pleased to meet you."
David stared at the hand offered to him-- and pulled a necklace out of his shirt. On it was a half of a dark stone arrowhead, such as an Indian might have made, threaded on a leather thong and tied.
He'd seen the same object dangling against Tommy's throat.
Tommy pulled the leather-strapped necklace off his throat and handed it to him. With shaking hands, David put the two halves of the arrowhead together.
They fit perfectly, down to the clear-cut edges of the rough stone.
David looked up with shock. "You're... $#!^, you're my _brother_!?"
Kim looked from one identical face to the other. "I don't think that was ever in doubt," she quipped wryly. "It still remains to be seen, however, if you're really _Tommy_..."
Tommy looked hurt, puppy-dog eyes slanted as he frowned. "Kim... how can you doubt?"
She frowned in return. "After what we've been through these past few weeks? Easily. I don't know for sure if Shadowen is dead--"
Kim watched closely. The man in front of her didn't do anything as the Magdalene's True-name was spoken, except for incline his head slightly to look at her out of the side of one eye-- which meant that _he_ couldn't be the Magdalene in disguise.
But he couldn't be Tommy.
Tommy was dead.
["Challenges can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks."]
The quote came to Kimberly's mind like a gentle rush of insight.
Was this another challenge for her, another boundary that she had to get over, before she could truly say that she was at peace with herself?
[It would be so much easier if I knew what I was supposed to do...]
Tommy cocked his head at her, eyes intelligent and dark, long hair slinging gently over his shoulder. The darkness of his gaze bore into her until she shivered slightly-though with delight or fear, none could tell.
"You don't think it's me, do you, Kim," he whispered, his eyes looking downwards to meet hers. You don't believe it's me."
Another Tommy characteristic: he'd been _way_ too perceptive into the insights of her heart, of what she was thinking. That was why they'd never fought, never had the screaming matches that were supposed to bond couples together, if the couples stayed together.
Perhaps it was because they were tighter, closer, than blood could ever have made them. To fight would be to fray the bonds that drew them together-bonds that hadn't broken, even as she'd released him from his obligation to her.
Otherwise, she'd never have risked life and soul for him, he'd never have followed her to the home of Lord Death... and faced his darkest fear, just to save her.
"You shouldn't have done it, Tommy..." she turned away, whispering to a glittering star that twinkled with unnatural brightness. "There had to be some other way..."
Behind her, she felt warm breath ruffle the loose hairs on the top of her head. "If you can think of one, Kim, I'd love to hear of it." His voice was dry and humorous all at once, gentle and smooth, rich as new almonds.
Only she heard the almost-automatic shiver in his voice as he continued to speak. "The Magdalene would have killed you, Kim... you and Immacolata and Julian... Trini, Billy, Vree, Trevyan... Kim, if it had just been you, I _might_ have listened. But there were too many for me to risk a half-hearted fight, beautiful. Too many lives who would have suffered."
She turned, tilting her head up to stare into the chocolate-dark eyes that she had once thought held all the secrets in the world. Had that only been a few weeks ago? It couldn't be.
And it wasn't. A lifetime had passed in that span of time: the death of Kimberly Hart-and the rebirth of a bright, glowing woman, rippling with power and vibrant life.
[But who _am_ I? I don't know anymore.]
Tommy saw the uncertainty under peach lids, and brushed a single, shivery kiss across her forehead... just the slightest touch of his soft lips to an equally-soft brow...
They both quivered gently under the force of the gentle touch.
Tommy backed off, not entirely sure that he would be able to bear such close contact to Kim, with her looking at him in such a haunted despairing manner, without brushing the frown from her forehead with his fingertips, nuzzling away the pout of her lips, and kissing away the tears. As he'd always done... before.
And he didn't think he'd be able to live if she pushed him away again.
Where the impulse came from, he didn't know. There was something in the darkness of the sky, the orange glow of clouds crossing the moon's wide body, the gentle silk of the clouds. His voice just gently eased out of his throat like a prayer, a song.
Tommy wasn't known for his singing skills. He'd always been more one to concentrate on his martial arts and studies, rather than on a 'traditional' art, such as singing.
But in that briefest instant, Kim couldn't tell him apart from the best Broadway singer.
The softest of smiles flickered across her lips as the tune became known to her. [It figures that Tommy would pick something from Boyz II Men... fitting, somehow.]
"Darlin', I, I can't explain
Where did we lose our way?
Girl it's drivin' me insane.
And I know I just need one more chance
To prove my love to you.
If you come back to me
That I'll never let you go..."
Kim would have been amused had she not been so surprised. It was difficult, to say the least, to imagine Tommy singing-much less asking her to be his girlfriend in a _song_... that _was_ what he was doing, wasn't it?
"Can we go back to the days our love was strong?
Can you tell me how a perfect love goes wrong?
Came somebody tell me how you get things back
The way they used to be?
Oh God give me a reason,
I'm down on bended knee..."
Right on cue, Tommy slid to one knee, holding out a hand. There was a twist to the corner of his mouth that made Kim absolutely certain that he was wondering why he was doing it.
But her heart melted as his eyes met his, for once, lower than her own. He held a lifetime of pain and sorrow in those eyes-but she knew (he'd told her more than once) that she'd given him enough joy and wonder for any four men.
And that showed in expressive orbs, too, in the questioning slant of his brows, of the hopeful rise of eyes to hers.
"I'll never walk again
Until you come back to me...
I'm down on bended knee..."
His face was tilted up to her, as if he was worshipping a goddess or praying at a shrine.
Tommy's gentle, hesitant voice softened even further, until it was just the lightest, breathiest thread of melody and words against the hushed night air. David was utterly silent, watching the dramatic spectacle enfolding before him.
Kim and Tommy only had eyes for each other, Tommy down on one knee, holding out a hand to Kim-and Kim, her eyes still indecisive, but much calmer and with a sense of undeniable joy in them.
"So many nights I dream of you
Holding my pillow tight
I know I don't need to be alone...
When I open up my eyes
To face reality
Every moment without you
It seems like eternity
I'm begging you, begging you come back to me..."
His eyes tore into her with the force of a bolt of light in a darkened room of hostages: bringing pain, but bringing hope.
[Oh, Tommy, I love you so much...] she whispered to herself, the lightest murmer against the turmoil in her mind.
They'd been through so much, the two of them. And whether she _had_ brought him back to the world of the living, or not, the thoughts that he might have been a fake had been dispelled as soon as she'd seen the wonderfully wistful eyes... and heard him start to sing, so hesitantly.
Kim took a step closer to him, and took his hand from where it was outstretched to her. She backed off, still holding that wonderful, welcoming hand between both of hers, pulling him to his feet.
Then she moved into his arms, asking him to embrace her, to hold her like he had for so many years.
Tommy complied willingly, sighing contentedly with his strong arms holding her like a delicate doll and the top of her head cradled against his cheek. She was safe again, in the circle of his strength, that which he would have sacrificed so willingly to save the lives and souls of those whom he called his friends.
The soft roughness of the beginnings of a beard brushed against her forehead as he rested his cheek on the top of her head, long, feathery tendrils drifting down to lay against her temples and mingle with her hair.
Lithe, smooth arms were warm with life and light as he embraced her, skin caressing hers as he took her hand and pressed it to his cheek.
So, so softly that he wasn't sure whether it was the murmur of the stars or the soft voice of Kim, she began to sing.
"I feel the touch of your hand
And I understand
How much I need your love.
You have given me wings
And I can do things
I've never dreamed of..."
Tommy almost grinned ruefully. Too true-but it had nothing to do with _him_....
"For as long as we're together
I will cherish this everlasting love..
Oh, baby I need you so
You know that I can't let go
Always and forever I just want you to know
I wanna be where you are
No matter how near or far
And I wanna be the only one
Who can open the door to your heart."
Tommy hugged her harder as her soft voice got louder. He could feel the soft thrumming of the menstruum-hers-in his blood, as she sang: power barely contained, barely tamed. Soft, renegade strands of hair drifted up to caress his face.
"All your secrets I'll keep
They're safe here with me
My arms will comfort you
There'll be no river too wide,
No mountain too high.
My heart will follow you...
There may be times when rain will fall
But I won't mind it if you're here with me
We'll get by, and through it all
We'll have our love as all that we need..."
"That same love has gotten us through so much, Kim," his voice was soft. "If you hadn't loved me... I'd be dead, you know, Kim. Or even worse than dead."
"Tommy... if you hadn't loved me," she chided him, gently, "we'd _both_ be dead. Or worse."
"I can't help but regret-"
"Julian." Tommy's face was sad, and distant. "I can't help but feel sorry for him."
"Is he dead?" Kim asked tentatively, wondering if she should. Somehow, however, in that deep part of her, she was glad that Tommy felt for his young child. Even if he _had_ tried to kill her.
"He was never really alive... but he was still my son, in a way, and it was my obligation to protect him," Tommy murmured, softly, against the top of her head. "You're not mad, are you? I mean-I know that you and he... didn't get along very well," he added hastily, glancing over at where David was standing, looking very puzzled.
She snuggled deeper into him. "Don't worry, lovey," she told him, quietly. "Nothing doing, I'm glad you're concerned about him-but he was never really your son, Tommy. He was part of your body, yes-but unless you gave him, and his mother, your heart, then he was never your son."
Tommy sighed, ruffling the chestnut hair of her head. "Kim, you always know the right thing to say."
David didn't want to intrude, but he looked very upset all of a sudden. He looked at the embracing pair, and curiousity won over tact. "Look, don't mean to intrude-but I have no idea what you're talking about. Brother-Mom's not going to be happy that you have a kid."
Tommy unravelled himself from Kim, but kept her hand in his. "I don't."
"No, I don't." Tommy answered. And there was something in the way the younger man carried himself, the quiet certainty with which he spoke, that David didn't question.
"Then-all of this sounds arcane."
"Better that you not know," Kim suggested.
Tommy nodded so vigorously, hair flying every which way, that David had to laugh. "Oh, yeah. Better that you not know."
Then Kim caught Tommy's head in both her hands and yanked him into a gentle kiss.
David could have groaned at the obvious public display of affection, had it been anyone else. But as he watched their lips join together with agonizing slowness, saw Kim's small body and lithe curves fit across Tommy's warm, solid strength exactly, saw her arms slip down to drape over his shoulders as his hugged her even closer to him, he sensed, much more than saw, the obvious feeling of _rightness_ in their kiss. As if-[but it can't be--] this was how the world was meant to be.
As soon as Tommy felt her hands tighten on the back of his head, he knew that she was going to kiss him. Grab him, shock his soft lips to those he'd drunk from so many times, and let her soul flow back into the empty space in his body.
In a way, it frightened him.
He hadn't kissed her for... forever? No, just a month, maybe a little longer. But no more than that, truly. They'd learned more about themselves than anyone had the right to know, seen the darkness inside that was innate, touched that soft velvet night and been beckoned so temptingly...
And as their lips brushed, tentatively, like a first kiss, then joined in a true kiss, he couldn't have cared less.
It felt right, as nothing had since they'd broken up.
His eyes, heavy-lidded with wonder and sleep, opened as he realized something.
Kim was humming.
Humming a _gospel song_.
The strangest thing was that as she hummed, he knew the words.
"We rise again from ashes
From the good we failed to do..."
He closed his eyes and pressed the kiss harder-and felt her tongue press against his lips. A soft rumbling joined that soft, sweet tune.
"We rise again from ashes
To create the world anew."
His tongue dueled gently with hers, rubbing gently against the smooth planes of teeth and cheek.
"If all we know is ashes,
Then must these eyes be true?
An offering of ashes
An offering of you."
His eyes opened again-
And this time, there was no emotionless glassiness to his look. His eyes were focused hazel gems-perfect. They fixed on her, taking in her beauty, her soft pinkness, for the first time in almost a month.
"Kim," he whispered, pulling his mouth from hers almost desperately, "I... I can..."
She silenced him by tiptoing and pressing her mouth on his. But the soft, almost melodic bass undertone rumbling was still there, echoing softly through her bones.
She giggled, almost sucking his lip into her mouth as she did so.
Kim pulled away from his warm, hungry lips that sought to devour her very soul and tiptoed, pressing a delicate, cupped ear to his throat as one hand twirled through his long hair, massaging his scalp exquisitely.
The rumbling intensified.
Kim laughed, and hugged him with all the strength in her gymnastics-honed body. "You're purring," she giggled, stroking the column of his throat gently with one finger.
He sighed contentedly, but looked indignant. David grinned hugely. "Am not!" he protested good-naturedly.
"Yes, you are," she refuted sweetly. "Not now... but a few seconds ago." "Oooh, little brother's a big pussycat!" David teased, kindly laughing, as Tommy blushed.
"Yes, he is," Kim agreed, smiling and hugging him again lovingly as his arms encircled her waist.
But he shrank away from her.
Kim looked bewildered, brown hair drifting gently back to drape wispily over her back as her head snapped to face him. [Tommy,] she reached out tentatively to touch his mind-and found it full of confusion.
[She still wants to touch me-even though I'm no tough guy, no hard-as-steel martial artist?] was the first bewildered thought she encountered. [How can she stand it?]
[Oh, Tommy. My love,] it felt so natural to call him that, even in her thoughts. [Handsome... did you only now figure out that I love you _not_ just because you're handsome, and tough, and brave-but because you're gentle, you're sweet... you're Tommy. What made you think that I wouldn't love you if you weren't hard-as-steel? I know you're not. I've known for a long time.]
He looked at her, startled. [You have?]
Kim almost smiled. [You're more naive than _I_ was!]
"Hmm, I always thought lovers were supposed to do more than just stare at each other," David commented acerbically, looking between them curiously. "Look, I figure you two are sweethearts and all, and who hasn't heard about this 'healing power of love' thingie, but look... didn't she say you were dead, Tommy?"
Tommy chuckled and twitched an eyebrow. "Man, you don't know the half of it... let's just say that I was body-dead, but not heart-and-mind dead. And that's remedial."
The look on David's face was more than enough to send Kim to giggles. "If you're going to be moving here, David-you'll hear of many stranger things," she advised. "Be prepared for them."
"Um." He digested this warily. "Whatever you say. Look, I'm gonna leave you two lovebirds alone, OK, and go dance. Any chicks to suggest who are good at it?"
Tommy and Kim exchanged a look. "Look for a girl, about five-eight, with long, blonde hair and the prettiest white skin. Fiery blue eyes. Her name's Kat." Kim interjected quickly.
"Kat. I gotcha."
"Thanks, David," Tommy agreed, gratefully, to the stockier, older man with almost the same face. "We could use the time alone."
"I think you could, too," Tommy's older brother acquiesced. "You deserve it."
He slipped out of the balcony without so much as a sigh.
Kim moved lovingly into Tommy's arms, holding his strong, warm body to hers until his soft warmth surrounded her and his gentle, masculine scent permeated every inch of her being. "Oh, Tommy... could you know.... How afraid I was? That I'd lost you?"
He swayed gently to an inner rhythm that only he could feel, and rocked her like one might a distressed child. "Yes, I could... remember, when we thought you were dead?"
"I'd have lost you, we'd _all_ have lost you, if I hadn't sung that last song. That came from my heart, Tommy."
Tommy's arms crushed her to him as if he was trying to make their two bodies one, a powerful, strongarmed, muscled embrace. He buried his face in her long, silken chestnut hair that glowed a soft, matte white-tan in the moonlight. "Oh, Kim," he murmured softly, face shining with sweet, ultimate joy and soft, clear hazel eyes, brilliant and happy. "Kim... you gave me back my sight... you gave me back my life... but that wouldn't mean anything to me, and I think I might have died already... if you hadn't given me back your love."
"I think, Tommy," she murmured, pressing her lips against a smooth, bare muscle on his shoulder, "that was something that was never taken from you."
"Ah," he whispered softly, gentling his grip until he was holding her as if she was his heart slipped out of his chest and into a cold world. Seizing her elbows with both hands, he pushed her gently away and dropped to his knees before her. "Kim, promise me you'll never leave me again," he pleaded. "I'd do anything for you-you know that, don't you?"
She reached over and hugged him again, though he was kneeling and she standing, and this brought him to a little above shoulder-height. Tommy's eyes flew open as he realized his cheek was pressed to her chest.
Greatly daring, for despite it all, Tommy was still a gentleman, he kneeled a little straighter and nuzzled his cheek against a rib, against which he could hear the soft, ancient pounding of her heart.
She sighed, contently, as he rubbed his face against her primal heartbeat. "Tommy... I can't... I won't make a promise I know I'll have to break, eventually. You can't tie me down... I thought I'd lost my wings when I lost my Pink powers to Kat... but now they're back, with a vengeance, and more." She caressed his face with all the love she held for her wonderful, sweet Tommy pulsing through her fingers and into his soul. "We're neither of us innocent anymore, sweetheart... or at least, not as innocent as we'd want to be. As we used to be. My dear falcon," she pulled him to his feet, "I'm not going to tie you down... and I can only ask the same of you."
For a second-just the briefest second-he looked helpless... then his features resolved, and he straightened, and gently, did the first few steps of a kata.
Kim stared at him.
To her astonishment, white power glittered in his wake and shimmered in his hands, tingling along his eyelashes and shining in his long hair. "No?" he murmured, taking her hands, though his still glowed with Power. A shock thrilled through her, not unpleasant, as whiteness joined with gold and tingled unnervingly.
She blinked, suddenly, rapidly. Yes, there was no mistake. Though to visible sight, Tommy's hands were shining just the faintest white, to her menstruum-sense, he fairly blinded and pulsed with the raptures. "I won't promise," she gasped, as he moved to kiss her behind the ear, with a a shock that was almost electric as his lips touched the hollow there.
"I'm not asking you to," he murmured, nibbling gingerly at her earlobe, as pulses of energy hit her like jolts of some unimaginally strong drug. "That was stupid of me to ask, wasn't it? I shouldn't even have bothered-I knew what you would say. What I'm asking is... I guess... Kim, do you love me?" he pleaded quietly.
She didn't even hesitate. "Of course I love you," she agreed, and kissed him preciously and passionately.
What Kim had forgotten was that Tommy hadn't turned off his power quite yet.
And neither had she.
It was like fireworks pouring out of his mouth and exploding against her lips, pouring down her throat in a trail of liquid fire-but it was the fire that warmed and heated, rather than that which burned, as his power flew into her body on white wings, joining with her own soft, glowing golden menstruum-which rose to touch him.
Thankfully, there was no-one to witness the joining of souls and powers in that kiss-for even to 'real' sight, Kim and Tommy were glowing like beacons on the darkest night: Kim, the clearest gold, and Tommy, the purest of white, haloing around them as if they were angels, brightening the cliffside balcony with their bright love.
And where their bodies touched, so too did their menstruum powers mingle together, gold flowing into white and white slipping small tendrils of glittering power into gold.
But Tommy and Kim didn't even notice. No longer were they even there.
For as their powers had touched and mingled, so had their minds-and their hearts.
There was no world, and no time... no sight but light, and the soft lukewarmth of a breezy summer day, the perfect rainbow of the world swirling through the colors of the air. But most of all... there was Kim.
She wasn't alone in the soft misty atmosphere-a separate identity, but also integrated with Tommy. Somehow, their souls were interweaved into a solid tapestry of comfort, touching more intimately than any human caress, than any solid embrace could achieve. At every point, they mingled, and the thrill of his touch was sheer ecstasy against her. Kim couldn't see him, but she could feel him... percieve the memories of horror, the aftershocks of his agony, but all of it was muted now, numbed and faded, far less important than his joy at having found that she loved him. Tommy couldn't hide that from her, now-their souls open to the other, sliding and slipping together and clicking like two puzzle pieces snapping into place. The only way he could have hidden his feelings was to have locked him out entirely, and to do that, he would have to become catatonic, completely cutting off perceptions of everyone and everything but himself.
And the only way he would survive that would be to open himself up again. Tommy had never been selfish enough to do anything like that...
And somehow, now, he didn't want to.
Tentatively, trustingly, he let the shields down off his thoughts-and felt the silky caress of her mind as they compared, warmed, slid and touched their minds and bodies both.
Maybe it was because _she_ was bare to his eyes, and couldn't hide from him, either-he could perceive her love for him, ardent and deep. Suddenly, he realized that before, long before-had it been an eternity, when they'd carved their names eternally into the hot, cork-bark of an ancient oak?-she'd only seen all his good qualities: his courage, his good looks, his courtesy, and more. But now she saw all of him, faults as well as sweetness: the temper, the impatience, the doubt behind the overconfident façade... the chip on his shoulder, for those who would challenge or hurt those he cared for so much. But somehow, his virtues were so much more important to her, so much of what she _needed_ and admired about him, so much like her own ideas of good and right, that his sometimes harshness and doubts seemed almost unimportant to her. She knew them for the front they were, the shield, and that they didn't really matter-but what they guarded, protected the man inside, did.
And as for Tommy, he was a total goner.
He'd seen behind the bright, flashy attitude that let her fight so fiercely, in the face of impossible odds. He'd seen in her glowing face and softly curved, silk-skinned body the most beautiful woman he'd ever met-at least to him. He'd always known, somehow, in his heart and soul, that Kim's soft cheer and blazing personality stemmed from inside.
Now he _knew_ that her beauty was only partly physical, that what raised him above every woman he had ever known was the sweetness and steadfastness of her soul. It was more beautiful, golden and fresh than her body had ever been-than _any_ woman's body could have been.
His own lack of purity saddened, but didn't repel her. How could it, when she'd seen the depth of his love for her?
Only now did she realize that when he'd said "Kim, if it had just been you, I _might_ have listened," he'd been lying through his teeth. He would have done it anyway-sacrificed his life, and his immortal soul, just to prevent her from any more pain-he, who had suffered so much and for less reason than any of them.
But he could feel, through the pulsing of her soul against his, her soft urge to heal the wounds that other women had torn in his soul when they had hurt him, stroked the soft scar where she had, herself, ripped a hole in his heart-then healed it when she kissed him. She mended the chasm of those who had ground him into the ground-Immacolata, the Magdalene-until he had learned to strike back.
And strike back he had-and she soothed the well of his power, as it flowed to meet her gentle caresses.
Her touch-if the contact of spirit against spirit could be called that-was cool and soothing, then hot and inflaming.
*Damn,* she couldn't help but think incredulously. *Damn, I'd bet this beats lovemaking all hollow.*
*No,* Tommy whispered into her head, accompanying images and feelings wrapping around her like the softest, warmest blanket. *Kim, this _is_ lovemaking.*
And as her soul flooded him, with all its nuances and pleasures and soft shadows, and his heart coupled with hers, she knew that it was true. This _was_ lovemaking-but as it was meant to be. This was the ultimate pleasure: being joined heart and soul with someone that you loved more than your life, for whom you were willing to sacrifice anything.
This intimacy was what the poor, fumbling men restricted to their own bodies was trying to achieve with their clumsy fumblings and physical extensions.
This was more than bliss-it was ecstasy.
Then it was broken, as they moved apart to take breath.
:Tommy...: she thought/whispered/touched, thoughts moving against him before she could stop it from crossing to his head, their power flowing in an eternal backlash back and forth in gold and white. :How did you know the Magdalene's True-name?:
Tommy's head raised, and his hair fell back in a soft wave of chestnut and chocolate as he smiled, an amazingly innocent expression on such a handsome face. :Good question.:
He felt her shock, astonishment and horror before she voiced her words. :You mean-oh, Tommy, you didn't-:
:I don't know how I knew,: he made his thoughts a caress, soothing away her worries just as she'd soothed away his fears. :I just... did, I guess. The prophecy she told me, when she thought I was sleeping. But her name... it was fitting. So that's what I presumed her true-name was.: He was apparently unconcerned, and a wave of amusement rose up at her shock. :Why, Kim?:
:You could have gotten us killed!: she sounded so shocked that Tommy had to laugh. Aloud. And suddenly, the spell of Power was broken. And they were two separate people once again.
"Kim, better I die than I sit there on my @$$ and do nothing. We would have died anyway, sweetie-and I was desperate to do anything to save you."
She looked up into his eyes, and her astonishment was pure. "Why?"
"Because I love you," he murmured. "I know what love is, now, Kim-I wasn't willing to lose you, when I've just met you as you really are..."
She frowned, her power receding as she drew it back into her system and shunted it away, just as Vree had taught her-the waterfall in her mind trickled down to a drip, then to nothing. "What do you mean?"
"Kim... look, before, we had something special. No-one could deny that we were sweet-and I suppose we were, I guess... so devoted to each other, so loving." His lips twisted into a wry smile as he remembered. "Then you dumped me-and you know what, Kim? I think it only served my resolve to have you by my side again, to let me love you again as you deserved to be loved."
Kim's mouth twisted into a very wry smile. "And you think that you can do that?"
Tommy had to smile. "Now that I think about it... no. No-one can love you as you _deserve_ to be loved, darling... but I love you for who you are, and I love you because you're Kim... sometimes, that's enough."
Kim's eyes softened-but her senses snapped to attention as she felt the presence of two more people on the balcony.
"Well said, Tommy," Trini murmured, softly applauding. The quiet joy on her face was only fitting for a woman on her wedding day-she was serene as the vixen that curled wisely around her bosom. But the maturity and beauty that it added to her teenager's features belonged to a woman much older than she. "Well said, indeed."
"I wish I'd had a silver tongue like that when I'd been courting you," Kim couldn't help but hear Billy mutter, disgruntled, under his breath.
Trini laughed. "You did-just not this lifetime."
"Could you explain all this?" Tommy spread his hands in consternation. "I don't understand-how could you be Kim's parents if you're _our_ age?"
Trini giggled gently. "Yes-and no. Robin Hood and Maid Marian, as you know them, died a long time ago. But Robin was a friend of the Aia-and they agreed that future generations would need a protector. So even as we die, we are reborn-and we always come together, no matter what. But we don't remember until we share a kiss of passion and a ring of engagement. We do age-and we can be killed. But we will always be reborn."
"That doesn't explain anything, Trini," Billy complained, frowning.
"Wait, Billy, don't be impatient. The Magdalene-Shadowen-was my child from another marriage. I ran away from that, with Robin... what name were you going by then?"
"Right. James. I ran away, and brought my young child... then I had Tionne. You know her as Immacolata."
"We were killed in a battle against raiders-then born again. Tionne always believed that I had been taken by the raiders, and forced to give birth-she didn't know about our reincarnations."
"We were born again-we met at twenty, and had Kayla at twenty-one. I had you at twenty-five... but I died in childbirth."
"I couldn't stand it," Billy murmured, softly. "I left you with the Harts-they were friends of ours-and killed myself."
"We were reborn, of course-in the same city, in the same town, this time. We were destined to meet-but we didn't come into our knowledge until he asked if I would marry him, and I said yes."
"You mean-right then, all the knowledge, all the power came flooding in?" Kim gasped, staring at them incredulously.
"Oh, yeah-I had a headache for like the next _week_ after that," Billy grinned wryly. "But I'm still the Billy you know, Kim, Tommy-just with a few extra... advantages, I guess. I'm only nineteen years old physically-I think I'll enjoy being this young. In my first rebirth, I lived until I was eighty." He grimaced. "It wasn't fun."
Tommy's eyebrows jumped, and he shook his head quietly. "This is so weird. So it means that you'll be my _father-in-law_?"
Kim pulled away from him, flinching sharply. "Hey!" she objected loudly. "Who says I'll marry you?"
Tommy stared at her, eyes wide and mouth open, completely aghast. "You mean-you won't? I thought... Oh, geez, Kim-"
Kim pressed a finger to his mouth, and he promptly stopped speaking. "I absolutely refuse," she told him sternly, smiling just the tiniest bit in the corners of her eyes, "to marry someone who hasn't even asked me if I _wanted_ to."
Tommy drew back and slapped his forehead. "Oh. Ummm..."
Suddenly, his face flushed slightly, and he turned away.
"What is it, Tommy?" Trini asked, quietly, grinning widely enough to envelop the moon.
"I don't know," Billy added, moving beside her and wrapping an arm around her shoulders delicately. "Maybe he's nervous."
Kim stared, her soft eyes turning wide and astonished as they set on Tommy's burgeoning blush. "You're... _nervous_...?"
He grinned sheepishly in reply. "Well," he said in his own defense, "I was nervous the _first_ time I asked you out... and this is forever."
Kim laughed, this time, throwing her head back under the stars and letting the moon illuminate her features. "Oh, Tommy... even though our love has brought us through so very much... you haven't changed at all."
She moved closer to him, and whispered gently, "Well, maybe I should do the same thing I did the first time."
Kim reached up and pulled his head down to her level-and brushed the most innocent, most delicate of all kisses over his lips. And somehow, in that brief contact, she managed to communicate all that she felt for him.
All that she was willing to sacrifice for him to be with her.
"Oh, man," he couldn't help but whisper. "That's even worse than the _first_ time was..."
"I think that was probably the intent of it," Trini answered. "Go, silly! She's not going to wait-"
Tommy held up a hand. Suddenly, he did the first steps of a kata again-and closed his eyes with concentration as he stopped and held his hands together. Something flashed between his palms-and he dropped to one knee in front of Kim.
"Kim," he murmured, "I love you. Will you..." he gulped slightly, "marry me?" He parted his hands, and between them was a soft, velvet ring-box of white, liberally veined with gold. He snapped it open carefully, and turned its contents towards her...
"Oh, Tommy," Kim sighed.
It wasn't a plain diamond solitaire at all-the ring was equal parts white gold and true gold, channeled sharply with the other shade and curving in and around until it formed... wings. Two wings-one white gold and the other yellow gold-that held a diamond within the cusp of them.
"We'll fly together," he murmured, quietly, offering it to her with no aplomb and ceremony at all-just his emotions, his heart laid bare in the softness of his eyes. "Kim... will you marry me?"
Of all her previous hesitations, all her qualms-she could think of none right now.
Who needed another reason?
"I love you, Tommy," she kneeled down in front of him. "And I think that's all we need. Of course I'll marry you."
The relief that flowed from his taut back as it relaxed and his strained features as they gentled once more was almost comical to witness-he'd been _nervous_? He'd thought that she might say no?-but the love flowing out of his eyes as he slipped the ring onto her ring finger-it fit perfectly, of course-and drew her to her feet and kissed her passionately.
"Dance with me, Tommy?" Kim asked as he released her, gasping for breath even as she asked him to join her.
"Ah, Kim-you have the most perfect timing," Billy murmured. "They're playing a song that I think would be perfect for you two. Come on, Trini... let's go affirm our love once more."
* * *
Adam felt like crying as he watched Kim and Tommy dancing.
"I've been through so much," he whispered, pain in his very voice, though none was meant to hear him. "Don't I... don't I deserve to have a dream come true?"
For as he watched Kim and Tommy dance, there was none of the awkwardness with which he'd sometimes seen them. They danced close together-bodies melding together in a fusing of frilly pink dress and white tuxedo, and their hands lingering together, even as their cheeks pressed against each other.
And the soft smile on their faces...
"After all the tears I'd cried
You'd think I would give up on love
Get off that line
But maybe I can get it right this time...."
Adam sang along-and meant it. His heart had been torn by various women-many of whom he'd been too shy to ask out, or perhaps, just as Kim had, been devoted to other men. He'd thought that maybe, just maybe, he might make it this time-
But the way Kim and Tommy held each other promised failure once more. He dropped his head and let a single tear fall from his dark eyes.
But behind him, a soft, huskily sweet voice started singing along, her voice as full of sadness and loss as his own was.
"I was there as passion turned to pain
Sunshine turned to rainy days
Yet here I am
Ready to begin once again!"
"You're Adam Park, aren't you?" she murmured quietly, and he turned to face the quiet singer behind him.
Her beauty struck him like a physical blow. She was almost as tall as him-about 5'8"-with legs to spare, and what leg he _could_ see out of the slit in the side of her wine-red dress was soft and white... long, straight black hair like a waterfall of raven's feathers tumbled down her back beautifully, and as she moved, it shifted slightly and showed that her dress was, in fact, quite daringly backless.
And those violet eyes, fringed by black, thick lashes, were so compelling...
"I... I..." he stammered, cursing himself for losing his tongue in front of this beauty, "Do I know you?"
Somehow, he could swear that he'd seen her before.
"No," she murmured quietly. "You don't. My name is... Tionne. I'm Trini's..." she thought quickly, "cousin."
Yes, now Adam could see the resemblance in the arch of the brow, the exquisite curve of the cheek... "I..."
He felt a pang once more as he looked out at Kim, her chestnut hair draping against Tommy's shoulder as her head leaned against his muscled chest, and her eyes closed in joy.
"They're a beautiful couple, aren't they?" Tionne murmured softly, her dark hair brushing against his chest as she leaned over to whisper. "Adam-there was never room for both you _and_ Tommy in Kim's heart."
He looked at her in alarm. "What-how-"
"It shows in your eyes," her own indigo eyes showed compassion. "I know how it is, Adam-I lost someone I loved, too, to another woman."
The woman who had once been Immacolata thought, just briefly, of soft chestnut eyes and rich, thick brown hair-blinded eyes that stared at her with such defiance. A powerful body-a beautiful soul that gazed out of his eyes.
Tommy, her sister's husband.
And she had lost. With her powers and body, she had lost a battle that had never been fought. Tommy had always been Kim's, even from the beginning.
Adam's eyes flickered up and down Tionne, and couldn't help but wonder what man would be crazy to let go of someone like her for another woman.
She saw his eyes move, and knew what he was thinking. "Ah, Adam-beauty is more than something on the outside. She was more beautiful inside than I could ever wish-ever hope or pray to be. She was willing to sacrifice everything for him... I could never do that."
"All my life, I've been a dreamer,
Dreaming dreams that never quite came true
But I still believe in love
And love believin'
Maybe you can make my dreams come true..."
[I think,] Adam though, idly wondering, [That this woman's lost as much as I have...]
"Do you," he stammered, nervously, "do you want to dance?"
He gestured out on the dance floor filled with swaying couples.
"I'd love to," Tionne smiled, taking the hand he held out to her. Her palm was smooth against his-the one of a woman who had never tightened her fingers into fists where nails dug into the balls of her hand.
Somehow, it was oh-so-comforting to find someone who wasn't a fighter.
Tionne's mouth twisted gently up into a smile that he couldn't fanthom. [Little does he know that I _am_ a fighter-but I fight with songs and power rather than with fists and feet...]
But as he held her close to him, and his body fit across her own like they'd been born as one, as wine-red silk slid gently across the black night of his tuxedo with its frog embroidered in golden thread on the back, and as her silken ebony-hair poured through his fingers and across his shoulder, none of it mattered.
And as his eyes rested gently on her, and she knew that he only saw what she was now, and not what she had been, none of it mattered at all.
"Here, content with who I am
I'm reachin' out my hand to him
At least I know I made myself a friend..."
"Tommy," Kim mumbled softly into the stiff whiteness of his tuxedo, "is that whom I think it is, dancing over there with Adam," she gestured with the tip of her tilted, petite nose.
She felt, more than saw, Tommy's astonishment in the way his body tautened beside hers, and his hips momentarily stopped moving. "What the-"
"She's one of the good guys, now, Tommy," Kim soothed before Tommy rushed off to 'rescue' Adam from a horrible fate. "She's really sorry for what she's done. Trust me on this one."
"Well," he hedged, reluctantly, "I guess so..."
"Tommy," she began, abruptly, "did you know that Adam loves me? Or he thinks he does?"
Tommy stopped dancing altogether at that one, and his head snapped up from where he had pressed his cheek to the top of Kim's head. "What?" he hissed, astonishment showing in every pore and crevice.
"Don't be angry at him," she pleaded softly, nudging him to get him to move again. He started moving-and gave her a twirl, to which she squealed with delight.
"I'm not," Tommy answered, letting his hair trail against hers, to her gratification. "How can I blame him for loving you, when I love you myself?"
"So you're not going to kill him?" Kim looked hopeful.
"Of course not!" Tommy looked horrified at the very suggestion. "I think we've had enough killing around us to last a lifetime, don't you think?"
Kim giggled, and looked over at the blissful Adam and peaceful Immacolata-now-Tionne-who opened one long, black-lashed eye to give her a wink.
"All my life, I've been a dreamer
Dreaming dreams that always broke in two...
But I still believe in love
And love believin'
I'll keep on dreamin'...
Because I still believe in love!
I still believe in love... and me... and you...
I still believe in love!"
As Tionne parted her body from Adam's, with open reluctance, he grabbed her hands. "Look... Tionne..." he began, awkwardly, before he lost all his nerve, "I'd really like to see you again sometime."
Tionne blinked, and blinked again. Her milk-white cheeks flushed into a rosy blush that somehow, highlighted every one of her beautiful facial features. "You... you're asking me out?"
Adam flushed, his cheeks turning red. "Um.. ah... well, not really..."
She looked disappointed, rosy lips turning in a playful pout. "Pity. I would have liked that."
He brightened. "Really?"
She looked hopeful-very hopeful, as she smiled up at him, showing previously-unseen dimples in the soft hollows of her soft, white cheeks. "Really."
"Oh... well, then... would you... uhm... would you like to go out with... uhm... me?" he queried, almost shaking with nervousness. It wasn't often that he asked a girl out and she said 'yes'...
Tionne squealed in delight, looking much younger and happier than she had in centuries. "I'd love to!"
She slipped something into his breast pocket, and skimmed off through the crowd, weaving through the people like a minnow in a brook amongst giant monoliths.
But not before pressing a kiss, with a hint of wonder, a flash of joy, and a promise of passion, onto his lips.
He grabbed for the note in his breast pocket-and it read, in flowing, sweetly ornate script on old-style notepaper that was thick and heavy and smooth, "659-035-8273... please, please call collect! Love, Tionne."
* * *
Tionne leaned against the balcony of her dimensional home, and clutched his image in her mind as if she could not let him go for fear of losing herself.
She had never, in all her centuries, felt quite so... out of control. So free. So giddy.
She twirled in the cold air, idly, for the sheer joy of it and letting her dress waft out in a circle around her.
[Is this what it is to be in love, Tionne?]
And her own mind supplied her with the answer. [No, Tionne. This is more than just being in love... this is truly being free of the strain of evil for the first time in your life. It's wonderful, isn't it?]
She laughed, her voice ringing bell-like in the air. The first time the world had ever heard her laugh without the pressure of cruelty on her, since she'd been a child, being raised with her sultry older sister and playful, beautiful mother and handsome, cheerful father.
Suddenly, a strip of parchment appeared on the balcony, drifting gently in to her on a waft of golden breeze that lifted her hair.
It had only eight words on it.
It's wonderful to laugh, isn't it?
She laughed again, for the sheer, unadulaterable joy of it, and answered to the cool air. "Oh, Kim-it's wonderful."
The words writhed in front of her, and an ascii grin appeared.
What's up with you and Adam? You guys seemed pretty... hmm... chummy, earlier. I think Tommy's squirming out of his skin at the prospect-you still make him nervous.
There was more than a little underhint of an obvious smile under the note, though, written in ornate golden script that shone and glittered under the dark night on the balcony.
Adam's been talking about you all night. You hit him hard, Tionne-I hope you're not just playing with him. Though I have to admit it's kind of a relief-his confession hit me hard, earlier.
Tionne couldn't help but smile, as she stripped off the man-playing nature from her soul and tossed it to the wind. That had been one of her most prominent of characteristics as the Heart of Darkness-and that woman was quite thoroughly dead.
There was only Tionne, now.
"I'm not playing with him, Kim-this is as much for him as for me," she murmured, envisioning his face and clasping her hands to her heart as a surprisingly gentle expression crossed her beautiful features. "Oh, Kim... is this what it's like, being in love?" Kim's return note had more than a tinge of wisdom in it, and maturity that bordered on that of one many years older than she.
Being in love is being in love, Tionne. There's nothing more to it, because it is the most amazing thing on this world or beyond. True love is ecstasy, my newfound sister-you must never, ever forget that, because once you forget that it is magic, you bring love into the hard, cold world, and something as delicate and beautiful as love cannot often survive in such a terrible place.
"Yours did," she couldn't help but wonder at that. "Yours and Tommy's."
We were lucky-luckier than we deserve.
"No," she thought aloud, her soft coral lips moving gently in the breeze though no words passed her lips. "You deserved it, Kim-you and Tommy both. Bring him my regards."
He sends his love-well, maybe not his love. His respects, I guess.
The woman who had once been the Heart of Darkness giggled like a woman many years younger than she, tossing back her hair and leaning playfully over the balcony. "I can't hope for more."
Not until he decides you're not planning to eat him alive. You can't expect him to get over what you two did to him so soon.
"The fact that he's willing to give me a chance," Tionne murmured into the wind that suddenly came up, pressing her dress against her body, silhoetting her against the sudden deep crimson of her outfit, "is more than enough for me."
Did you know he asked me to marry him?
"No!" Tionne cried in response, delighted. "He didn't-did he?"
Yeah, he did... thanks, Tionne.
Remember how you told me that "Challenges can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks-- it's all a matter of how you view them?"
"Yes, of course-I suppose that you put it to good use, since I saw you dancing with Tommy. You sung for him, didn't you? Kim, I'm so happy for you-really, I am. But what does that have to do with anything?"
Well, what are stepping stones or stumbling blocks to those who have the wings of love?
Tionne smiled and nodded in agreement, shining under the light of the moon. Her hair was gilded with soft silver, and if she closed her eyes just right, she could see Kimberly gazing up at the stars, held oh-so tenderly by Tommy's strong arms, cuddled in the warmth of his powerful love.
A love that had been strong enough to save the world as they knew it. Kim tilted her head back, leaning up against Tommy's shoulder for him to press a kiss against her soft, rosy lips that were gently parted to receive him against them. The winged engagement ring flashed as she twirled, still without parting from him, molten in the night.
She locked her fingers behind his head, and pulled him closer to her, their kiss becoming passion and flame as they let their power run free between them. They glowed against the warm night-beacons of light to those who had given up hope, and those who had gone over to the twilight.
"Oh, yes, Kim," Tionne murmured, watching their intimate, passionate kiss against the darkness of her inner eyelids. "Walking the dark path is easy, yes-seductive, tempting like a new lover. But the rewards of the light, though the path is twisted and difficult, more than make up for it. I think you'd agree, no?"
One of Kim's eyes opened, then batted down again, gleaming against the background of Tommy's dark hair, black in the dusk. A wink.
Tionne grinned good-naturedly, flashing soft white teeth-then her own beautiful violet eyes brightened as she heard the phone ring, and she hurried inside.
Ranko Notes: I didn't think this would ever be finished, did you? I used so many songs in this that I can't even credit everyone-but I know that I used quite a few: from Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Celebration and , to several national anthems (Bayang Magiliw-Philippine national anthem-La Marseille-French national anthem-a little bit of the Star-Spangled-Banner, too. I think that's probably all of it I know...) to Alanis Morissette, No Doubt, Boyz II Men, whoever sings 'Oh Baby I...'
I think I even put 'Ashes'-a church song-in there, somewhere. OK, to whoever's songs those were, I acnowledge that they are _your_ songs and not mine... but hey, they were really fun to use...
Thanks everyone, for sticking through with this thing to the end! Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for all comments-thanx, people! I know the ending's pretty sappy-anyone have any ideas? (I'm thinking of an alternate ending, but then again, I'm going through my depressive stage right now... ^_^")
This fanfic was written by Ranko, and is posted here with her permission.