Kim sat straight up in her bed, her heart pounding loud enough to sound in her ears. She'd had another nightmare. They'd been coming every night since she had returned to Florida. . .no, they've been coming ever since Jason and I were thrown into Maligore's volcano, she corrected herself quickly. That first night, before I came back here. . .she shivered, remembering how she'd literally woken up screaming that night. Kat, whose house she was staying at, had come running in to comfort her. Kim had literally cried her eyes and her heart out in the arms of her friend.
She and Tommy make a good couple, the former Pink Ranger remembered. She and Tommy had never been quite as good. The love she'd had for him had subtly changed over the months and years until she had come to think of Tommy only as a brother and a friend, not a potential lover or husband. But Kat had loved him totally from the moment she had laid eyes on him. Part of Kim's reasons for breaking up with Tommy had been in hopes Kat would realize her own feelings and get together with the Red Ranger. And they did.
She took several deep breaths, trying to remember what she'd dreamed about. The dream-images flooded back faster than she'd thought they would, and it was all she could do not to rip through her sheets in fear.
The volcano's fire had burned within her, the evil that was the very essence of Maligore had torn through her veins and flowed through her soul. She had only wanted to hate, to kill, to murder, to destroy anything and everything that got in her way. Her goal had been simple: destroy the Power Rangers.
"Maligore's children!" Divatox had called her and Jason. At her command, they had almost destroyed the Rangers. But in the end, Lerigot and his wife had freed them both, restoring their normal minds to them. There had not been time then for recriminations, for dealing with the guilt and pain that had come from attacking their friends. That had come later. After everything.
After they had saved the shelter. After they had defeated Maligore and sent Divaox running. After she and Tommy had talked, and she had apologized with all her heart and soul for breaking up with him in the heartless way she had. Both of them had known by then they weren't meant for each other, and maybe never had been. He was in love with Kat and she was . . .
A blush almost as fiery red as Tommy's shirts were these days burned in her cheeks. It was impossible! She couldn't be in love with him! He was. . .well, she knew perfectly well who he was with, and it wasn't her! She slipped out of her bed and went to the window, taking several deep breaths of the cool Florida night air. The Pan Globals were due to begin in just a few weeks, and their training had really stepped up a great deal. Coach Schmidt was determined that they would bring a gold home.
And he's determined that I'm going to be the one to do it, she sighed. He would be pounding on her door in less than an hour, she realized, glancing to where her clock read three a.m. He hadn't let her sleep past four in the past month of her return. The week she'd spent in Angel Grove had been the last time she'd been able to sleep late. Well, this is what I wanted, she thought a trifle sarcastically to herself. I dreamed about going to the Pan Globals my entire life, and I'm going to be. What a wonderful time I'm going to have too. ..AFTER them. ..sleeping. ..
She knew better than that already, though. Coach had told her once they were through with the Globals, the Olympics were the next step, and she was good enough for them. And he was going to see to it that she went, with him as her coach.
Kim sighed as she went back to her bed and curled up, trying for that last sixty minutes of slumber. Even as she did so, thoughts of her secret love invaded her mind. I can't possibly be in love with Jason Scott. . .
"I'm in love with Kimberly Hart," Jason winced at the look in Emily's eyes. His girlfriend of the past few months looked almost as if he had stabbed her, and he almost wished he had, it wouldn't hurt her nearly this badly, he felt. "I'm sorry, Emily. I really wish this hadn't happened, but . .."
"This has something to do with what happened when you and her vanished just before the fight to save the shelter, doesn't it?" Emily's voice was thick with tears she was fighting not to shed. "You were with her, weren't you?"
Jason knew precisely what she was trying to say, and shook his head as fast as he could. "Not like that, I was with her, but---," he stopped, he couldn't tell her the truth! He couldn't tell her that the two of them had been kidnapped by Divatox, a space pirate with the goal of unleashing her fiance, the evil and corrupt Maligore, or that they had been fed to the volcano the creature had been imprisoned in. He couldn't tell her how he'd attacked the Rangers and how he'd come so close to killing the Red Turbo Ranger.
He couldn't tell her how Tommy, his best friend, was the Red Ranger, and had saved his life when he might have been lost to the darkness forever. She would never understand. For the first time in their relationship, Jason looked at Emily Maddison with totally honest eyes, and what he saw shook him down to his core.
She was a beautiful, kind, loving young woman, who had been through many hardships in her life, not the least of which was the association with the youth gang that had brought so much trouble to Ernie's Beach Cafe just when it was starting to open. She loved him, and she was hurt by what she currently perceived as his betrayal of her.
And she could never understand the evil that had burned into his very essence by the flames of Maligore's volcano. As Tommy had been darkened by his time as the evil Green Ranger, now Jason had a somewhat similiar shadow on his soul, and would have to work through it just as his friend had. There was no way he could do it with Emily, however. He couldn't explain things to her about being a Ranger or what had happened to him. She'd been worried enough when he had been losing the Gold powers. This was even worse.
"You were with her," Emily repeated the words quietly. "You were with her."
She stood up quietly, her eyes burning almost as Kim's had when she was under the power of evil. Jason's stomach turned to realize he had found her somewhat attractive even then! That just means you love her, good, evil, or tofu! he reminded himself, a faint smile wanting to pull at his lips, and stopped by sheer force of will. "You're right, Jason," she said, and it was obvious she was keeping her voice strong and level because she was too proud to cry in public. "We are through. I hope you and. .. Kimberly. . .," Emily was obviously holding back a great deal of hatred in that word. "Are happy together. Have a nice life."
With iron dignity and a spine of steel, she turned her back on the former Ranger and swept out of the Juice Bar he'd been talking to her in as if she were a queen and he were nothing more than the dust beneath her feet.
"It's hard, isn't it?" he looked up into the warm eyes of his best friend. "I take it you told her?"
Jason nodded as Tommy Oliver sat next to him. "I couldn't live a lie anymore," he said quietly. "I loved Kim since I was five years old, and I knew it for certain when I wasn't mad or jealous of you for being her boyfriend. I just wanted her to be happy."
A faint smile from the Red Ranger eased the slight touch of pain Jason was feeling. "And I want you to be happy with her. The two of you go very well together. Heck, when I first showed up here, I was half-convinced that you and her were already a couple!"
"I wanted to be," Jason said softly. "If you really want to know, I'd planned all that day to ask her out. Until I saw how she was looking at you."
Tommy smiled. "Well, we know how that turned out," he said. The sound of someone calling him across the Youth Center got his attention, and he turned to see Kat standing there, gesturing to him and glancing rather impatiently at her watch. "Ooops! Almost forgot, I've got a date with Kat this afternoon and it looks like she's tired of waiting!"
Jason chuckled a little as his friend bid him farewell and headed over to the tall blonde. They look awesome together, he thought. Completely awesome.
He sighed as he glanced at his own watch, and did the mental calculations to figure Florida time in relation to California. Deciciding it shouldn't be too late, he headed for the pay phones. It was time to reach out and touch someone.
"Gunther Schmidt's office, Terry speaking, how can I help you?" a cool, collected voice answered the phone, belonging to, if Jason had been able to see her, a cool, collected looking young woman.
"Yes, I'd like to speak to Kimberly Hart, please," he tried his level best to keep the nervousness out of his voice. The last thing he wanted to do was hint in any way that he was doing anything more than calling to talk to a friend. Remember, she broke up with Tommy because of someone down there. She has a boyfriend. You broke up with Emily because it wouldn't be right to keep dating her when you love someone else.
The voice replied, "I'm sorry, but gymnasts can't accept calls during training sessions."
"Oh," he frowned. "When would be a good time to call back?"
"For Miss Hart? Probably sometime next spring," there was no trace of humor or sarcasm in the voice whatsoever. "She's in tough training for the Pan-Globals, and Coach has already started making plans for the Olympics. She's not going to have any free time."
Jason was frowning almost at once. "And how does she feel about this?" he spoke mostly to himself, but he got an answer anyway.
"Well, if you want an honest answer, and I assume you do," the voice said, with just a trace of grief. "I think she'd rather not be here at all. She keeps staring into space, and her routine has fallen way off. I. ..who is this, anyway?"
"Jason Lee Scott," he said. "She and I were very close in Angel Grove, and I wanted to talk to her again."
"Well, Mr. Scott," the voice sighed. "I really shouldn't tell you this, but I think I want to anyway. She hasn't been the same since she got back from her vacation in Angel Grove. Do you think it would be possible for you or someone she knows really well to come down here and talk to her?"
Jason frowned for just the slightest moment, until his eyes fell on Adam and Justin working out on the mats not too far from him. He nodded briefly. "I think I can make it down there faster than you can imagine. Don't tell her I'm coming, either, please."
"All right," the voice replied. "Good luck."
As the other hung up, Jason found himself staring at the phone for just the briefest of moments. Kim, I'm coming to get you.
"Again, Miss Hart!" Coach Schmidt shouted as she did another backflip. "You were off your balance again! How do you expect to do anything decent at the Pan Globals or the Olympics if you're not perfect!"
Kim clenched her fists as she got back on the balance beam and started the routine again. How do I expect to do anything with my LIFE if all I do now is gymanstics, gymasntics, gymnastics?!
The week she'd spent in Angel Grove had driven home to her more than anything that she didn't belong here. In that week she'd gone shopping, scuba diving, rock-climbing, and dancing, she'd gotten involved in deep philosophical girl-talk with Kat and Tanya, in which gymnastics hadn't been mentioned once, she and Tommy had worked out their slight differences, she and Jason had been fed to a volcanic monster, they'd all been able to talk completely freely, without having to shut up suddenly in the middle of a sentence the way she had when talking to the people here all of a sudden. She'd been with people who had understood completely the things she had gone through. Tommy and Kat had been evil before, Jason had been touched by the same fire she had, all of them had been Rangers at some point.
The gymnasts here didn't know or care about any of that. She had no one to talk to, no one she could open up with. That had been the main reason she had started to date Darien, the boy she had been referring to in her letter to Tommy. He had been the first person there she had felt like she could talk to. She hadn't told him any of her real secrets, about being the Pink Ranger or any of that. But much of the rest, she had told him, and he had seemed to listen and to care.
Seemed, she hissed to herself as she started on the routine for what seemed like the trillionth time. She would never, could never forget the day she'd went to meet him for a date and found him wrapped around one of the female gymansts. She hadn't said a word to him or her, had simply and quietly removed herself from the room and had told him at the earliest opportunity that they were through.
"Tell me, miss, would you possibly have any idea of how hot it can get in the depths of a volcano?" the voice was smooth and strong, and one she hadn't heard in far too long! Kim almost fell off the balance beam as she twisted around to see Jason Lee Scott leaning casually against one door.
"Hotter than hate and hell," she whispered, staring at him, then did a flawless triple somersault to land right in front of him. "What are you doing here, Jason?"
"Miss Hart!" the harsh voice of her coach growled. "What do you think you're doing!?"
Jason lazed around in the direction of the coach. He hadn't missed the sudden tensing in Kim's muscles at the sound of his voice, and he didn't like it. "She's talking to me," there was a dangerous glint in his eyes. "And then when we're done, she's going to pack up her belongings and go back to Angel Grove. To people who care about her, not about how good she is at something."
Kim's eyes went wide with pure shock. In the back of her mind something gibbered on how she should probably be upset that Jason faintly seemed to deciding something for her. But the most part of her was doing something else. It was stepping up next to Jason and nodding her head sharply.
"That's right," she growled with all her courage. "I've had enough of you screaming at me, of not having any friends or anyone to talk to about anything else but gymnastics. I'm going back to Angel Grove." she smiled faintly. "I'm going home."
"So how'd you get here so fast?" she wondered. "Last I heard, it took at least twelve hours or so to get here by plane, and you said you called here less than two."
Jason shrugged as he helped her pack her bags as fast as possible. "By this," he tapped the plain band on his wrist, and her eyes widened.
"Is that. . ." her eyes quite literally bugged out when he nodded. "How'd you get it?"
"Talked an extra one out of the new mentor," he said, reverting to their habit of not using names if they could get away with it. Kim nodded; she'd kept in touch with Kat and knew about Zordon's return to Eltar. "Had to do some very fast talking to get her to agree to me using the system for this, though. But I'm glad I did."
She smiled. "So am I. I don't think I could've lasted another day here without my friends." without you. "So what did you say to let her get you to use it?"
Jason didn't answer right away. In his mind's eye he saw himself talking with Dimitria, and admitting out loud to her that he loved Kim, and his fears that she was being worked too hard, much too hard. He wouldn't stand for it if she was, and if she wasn't, he wanted to be with her anyway. As soon as the words 'I love her' had passed his lips, however, Dimitria had told Alpha to begin programming the computer for Florida.
"The truth," he said quietly, and Kim turned to look at him at the emotion in his voice. "I told her I love you."
Kim couldn't believe what she'd just heard, and Jason kept talking, staring her directly in her eyes, wanting her to know the truth of what he was saying. "I do love you, Kim, and I have for as long as I can remember. I knew I loved you when I was happy for you and Tommy being together, because what I wanted was for you to be happy. I thought I had gotten over you while I was in Switzerland, but I was wrong. It just got stronger. I was thinking about you a lot of the time when I was with Emily in Angel Grove, and that was wrong. When I lost the Gold powers, and you came to visit, I was reminded all over again why I fell in love with you. What we went through on Murianthus only made it better and stronger. We were both hurt by that. ..," he slowly reached out and took her hand, and was glad she didn't move away. "And there's no one I'd rather get better with than you."
Kim smiled as she stepped up closer to him; she'd told him earlier about what had happened with the 'boyfriend' she'd written to Tommy about, and had wondered why his eyes had sparked with sudden joy. "Same here," she whispered, turning her face up to his. "I love you too, Jason. Love you forever."
He stared down into her eyes for a brief moment, then bent his head and placed his lips on hers for a warm, tender, loving kiss. They stood in each other's arms for a few moments, reveling in the joy and the peace of it. Both of them remembered the darkness that had invaded their souls during those moments when they had been evil, and how Lerigot's magic had freed them at last. What might have happened if he hadn't terrified them both.
But they had been freed, and their shadows would lift one day. Maligore's children, Divatox had called them. But the two of them were and always had been Zordon's chosen first and foremost, and with the strength that lay at the heart of every true Power Ranger, they would rise above what had happened.
That was what they did. And they would do it together.