Kai ran over the checklist he had on his clipboard, considering each thing over again. Sanitary facilities were being built, along the same lines that Maya's people used. Troops composed of tribal guards and GSA troopers were searching the general area, making certain that none of Trakeena's troopers had survived or were going to cause trouble if they did. Everything looked to be going along just fine.
"Hi, Kai!" a friendly voice hailed him, and he looked up from his work to see Leo and Kendrix coming over to him. The ex-Red Ranger looked happier than his friend could remember seeing him in all the months they had known each other.
Well, why wouldn't he be happy? He destroyed Trakeena and Scorpius, he and Mike are so close I'd swear they shared the same skin, and he and Kendrix are engaged! He's got everything going for him now...Kai dredged up a smile and waved at his friend. "Hey, Leo! What's up with you two?"
"Same old, same old. You?" Kendrix shrugged. Things had picked up for her almost where she had left off before. She was in the Science Division, Leo was still taking care of the kids of the colony, and their life together was beyond perfection.
They weren't the only ones happy, either. Mike and Maya had begun to seriously date recently, though they weren't quite as serious as his brother and her best friend were. The real surprise, however, was who Damon had fallen for, and who had fallen for him just as hard.
Shondra. The real Shondra, who had been one of those released from the stone-spell. When she had come to meet back up with Maya and renew old times, she and Damon had seen one another, and both had forgotten how to speak in that moment. Damon had, of course, seen the fake Shondra on Terra Venture, but the real thing had captured his heart without even trying.
Kai pushed his thoughts away from his friends. It wasn't much of an effort; he'd been having practice doing that for three months now. "Everything's going along just perfectly. Are you guys going to make it for dinner tonight?" Since the landing, Leo, Kendrix, Mike, Kai, Karone, Damon, and Maya had made a point of meeting for dinner on a regular basis, with Shondra joining them once she and Damon became an item. Mike said it was because they didn't want to lose touch with each other, after all they had went through. Leo was more of the opinion that they just didn't want to lose out on Kai's cooking.
"Sorry, we can't," Kendrix shook her head, a light flush adorning her cheeks. "We've kind of made....other plans."
The former Blue Ranger frowned just slightly; this was the first time in months any of them had canceled. Even when they had been in the midst of 'getting to know you' stage, Damon and Shondra had made it to dinner. "Oh." Kai concealed his disappointment. "Well, have fun."
As the two of them walked away, Kai didn't notice the way they glanced at each other, or back at him. Neither did he hear Leo whisper softly to his fiancée, "Think it'll work?", nor see her slap lightly at him in a silent urge for silence.
Kai noticed none of this, however, as his mind churned over what to cook for two less people. He had just decided on the old favorite "Chicken a la Kai" when he bumped into someone rather hard.
"Whoa....Kai, are you all right?" the voice was instantly recognizable, and a smile spread across his face as he saw Hannah there.
"Sure, I'm fine," he told her. The two of them had dated off and on since he had realized that she was single, but nothing had really come of it. He still considered her a good friend, however. "What are you up to?"
Hannah shrugged. "Helping put the colony together, like everyone else. You?"
Kai reflected momentarily that just about everyone seemed to be responding to him in that fashion later, then shrugged as the two of them walked and talked together. It had been a few weeks since the last time they had met, and he rather enjoyed getting to know her again. They had just reached the edge of the encampment when Hannah stopped, glancing down to check her watch.
"I've got to run, Kai! I'm meeting Darien for dinner tonight," she smiled at him. "It was nice talking to you again!"
"Darien?" Kai felt his heart sinking just a little. Had he hoped? Yes, I think I was hoping. "Who's Darien?"
Hannah grinned as she ran off, oblivious to the pain in Kai's eyes. "He's my boyfriend!"
As she vanished, Kai wondered briefly if he were doomed to eternal loneliness. All of his other friends were involved in relationships, and even the one girl he'd liked in the past few months had found someone else! Karone's not with anyone, his subconscious muttered to him. He promptly ignored that little note, however. The thought was just too silly.
The only thing that would make this any better would be if the others were here. The 'others' she thought about just then weren't the other ex-Galaxy Rangers. They were her friends, her first real friends, the Space Rangers. It had been quite a while since she had seen them last. Months. Six months, to be accurate.
She'd left their hidden base six months earlier, called by some irresistible force to go wandering about the galaxies. She'd traveled from here to there, visiting the various planets the armies of evil had trashed during the wars. By now they had all rebuilt, or were in the process of rebuilding, and the scars were healing. She hadn't told them who she was, of course. She'd never quite liked being spat upon, and even though what she had done hadn't really been her fault, she still felt guilty over it.
Well, at least that's over with now. She smiled to herself as she stretched again, reveling in the luxury of having expiated her inner guilt. She considered trying to get back in touch with the Space Rangers; to let them know what was going on. Maybe later. She yawned a little; this was one of the lazier days since the landing. She usually took care of the kids with Leo, but today was her day off, and she was enjoying it as much as she possibly could.
Random thoughts and images floated by her mind and she lay there, soaking up the sun and warmth through her tight-fitting outfit. That was one holdover from her days of evil that she had never regretted; an intense appreciation of black leather. One thing it was definitely good for was catching the eyes of males. Too bad it didn't catch Zhane.
A faint frown flickered across her mind's eye, but was soon gone. She had long since reconciled herself to the fact Zhane had not only taken her at her word when she said she didn't want to see him again, but he had fallen in love with someone else. A mental wince followed the frown at the thought of who it was.
She held no real animosity towards Cassie Chan, but it still irked her just the littlest bit that the two of them hadn't even seen fit to say anything to her until after they were heading for Earth afterwards. She'd wondered why Zhane had changed his mind so quickly about remaining on KO-35, then found out that he'd been planning on going back with the Space Rangers all along, Andros had just made things a bit easier on him.
At least they're happy together, she mused. Zhane hadn't joined the other Space Rangers for the simple reason someone had to stay behind on Earth and keep an eye on things. There had been a few signs that some sort of threat was rising in the general area, and they wanted to be ready.
She turned over a little, almost snuggling up against a patch of thick grass and moss. Mirinoi reminded her of KO-35 in some ways, but not so much that she ever forgot the difference or expected to see any of her old friends coming along. Though knowing them, they could very well pop up one of these days.
Zhane and Cassie...Andros and Ashley...Leo and Kendrix...Mike and Maya...Damon and Shondra...so many couples...Karone yawned; the heat wasn't just baking her to a nice crispy brown, it was almost putting her to sleep. Be nice if I could find someone....there's a whole colony of gorgeous guys out there, girl..maybe one of them is the one for you.
With those thoughts, her eyes closed all the way, and the former Queen of Evil drifted off into one of the deepest, most relaxing slumbers imaginable.
I hope, he groused. Everyone else had wound up canceling on him today. First Leo and Kendrix with their 'other plans', then Mike and Maya had told him they were invited to dinner with Commander Stanton and his family, so they couldn't make it either. Finally, Shondra and Damon were going to be eating with her family; apparently it was some sort of Mirinoi romance custom. Kai found himself wondering if some sort of conspiracy were going on. Forget about it, Kai. You've got other things to do. Like get dinner ready!
He chopped, boiled, peeled, pared, sliced, and baked until dinner for two had been laid out. On a whim, something he almost never did, Kai set up candles and got out the very best plateware available. It almost looked...romantic.
"Kai?" Karone stood in the doorway, a somewhat dissatisfied look on her face. "Where's everyone else?"
"Out," he snapped as he half-jerked the last pot off the stove and began to dish it up. "Leo and Kendrix had "other plans", Mike and Maya are eating with Commander Stanton, and Damon and Shondra are visiting with her family. Looks like it's just us tonight."
Karone blinked. "Oh." Was all she said as she slowly made her way into the room and glanced at the table for two. "Looks nice."
The ex-Ranger nodded, then did a double take as he looked at her. "Karone, are you all right? You look kind of...well...." words failed him as he just looked at her.
"Fell asleep outdoors and I think I slept on my wrong side or something," Karone stretched, feeling muscles and bones popping as she did so. "It's just as well everyone's not here, I don't think I really feel up to being all that sociable right now."
She plopped into her chair and leaned back, obviously in some pain. Kai served up the dinner quickly, taking his chair and starting to eat. The two of them were in silence for several minutes, at least verbal silence. The air between them, however, was thick with curious looks and partial words that never actually made it into full speech.
"Could you pass the salt?" Karone asked finally, the first sentence, or question, spoken since they had sat down. Kai blinked for a moment, then picked it up, handing it over to her. The tips of their fingers brushed against each other, and something almost like electricity appeared to pass between them.
Kai's really good looking, Karone found herself thinking out of nowhere. A little stiff, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with some time. It makes me wonder what kind of pains he's hiding behind that devotion to duty, though.
Karone's absolutely beautiful. I knew that the moment I saw her, but I never really realized it until now, I think. I know what she's done in the past, and I really don't think I care. She's almost like a little kid at times, but she's still a woman. A very wonderful woman. Kai looked at her almost as if he had never seen her before.
For just a moment the two of them stared at each other, their fingers still brushing. Then, the moment passed, and the two broke gently apart, Karone taking the salt and adding it to her chicken. Neither of them looked at the other for a few minutes, a strange sort of tension between them.
"The food's great," Karone spoke again. "A lot better than Synthetron food."
Kai smiled, feeling a blush rippling across his cheeks. "Thanks. I'm glad you like it."
The rest of the meal passed in silence. Quite a few looks came between the two of them, however. As the last bite passed down his throat, Kai heard himself asking something that nearly stopped his heart.
"Karone, would you like to go for a walk after dinner?"
What shocked him more was when she said yes.
"So after I got out of detention that time, my parents sent me to military school," Kai finished up one of the stories he'd told her about his life before Terra Venture. "It was either that, or juvenile hall."
Karone smiled just a little; he was telling her things he hadn't told anyone in all the time he had been with them. She had found herself telling him stories of when she had grown up with Ecliptor, and the two of them were discovering there were quite a few things in common between them. Both had been somewhat 'wild' when they were young, and had learned a special kind of restraint as they grew older. Kai's had been screamed into him at the military school, while Ecliptor had schooled Karone into being icy and heartless in their home.
"This is really fun," she murmured, glancing from him to the ocean and back again. "I like being with you, Kai, like this. No worries, nothing to think about...just being with a guy I really like." And perhaps the first guy I could possibly be truly falling in love with.
Kai smiled back at her. "I like being here with you, too, Karone. I don't think I've ever had a day so bad end so good."
The two of them glanced shyly at each other, both feeling more like they were teenagers on a first date than full grown adults who had both been through one form of romance or another in their lives. Karone could feel herself tingling at every word he spoke, Kai felt as if he could relax with her, something that almost never happened. She knew what he had been through in his life now, and it didn't matter to her, she'd been through worse things, and come out all right. She knew his strengths and weaknesses, and felt he had only improved for them all. He knew her past and what she had went through to come to this place, and all that mattered to him was that they were there now, together, forever.
The last of the light was just beginning to die from the sky as Karone looked directly into Kai's eyes. She had known him only for a few months, but there was a certainty in her heart that would last forever, she knew. He was different from Zhane, and from the few other men she'd dated since becoming her true self. The emotion had been slow growing in her, and had not even intruded itself onto her consciousness until now. Her mind flashed back to all the times when they had been in battle together, to when he had been hurt. She had been angry then, but had mistaken it for the rage any Ranger felt when their teammate was hurt. Now...now she knew it for what it always had been.
Kai thought about the first day he had ever seen her, when she had located and returned the Pink Quasar Sabre. Like any male with a pulse, he had truly appreciated the way she filled out the black leather, but there had always been something more there. Oh, certainly, he'd had feelings for other girls. Kendrix had been special to him, and Hannah....oh, he'd never forget how much of a fool he'd made himself over her...but neither of them were Karone. Neither of them knew his heart the way she knew it, and he knew neither of them the way he knew her.
Their eyes met. Their hands met. Their hearts had met long ago. Now, as the light fell to darkness and the moon's silver light rose over the mountaintops, Kai Chen and Karone of KO-35 slowly bent towards each other and embraced into that first, most perfect, of kisses.