By the time Tommy had the chocolate ready, the towels were done. He collected Kim's treats and wandered upstairs.
"Special delivery!" he called as he tapped on the bathroom door. He heard a sleepy "Mmm!" and smiled. He pushed the door open. "Towels and a beverage for...."
The words stuck in his throat as he spotted Kim amid the profusion of bubbles. She had piled her hair on top of her head and leaned her head back against the side of the tub, a smile of pure bliss lighting her face. It was something in the line of her body that caught his eye... perhaps the trickle of water that caressed her neck and slipped down to the swell of her breasts which gently rounded over the crest of the concealing froth. Tommy had never seen Kim like this before--so vulnerable, so inviting. It was all he could do to keep from wading into the tub with her and taking her into his arms.
Tommy tried to shake off the powerful grip of his feelings. He had drooled over Kim before; he had seen her in clothes that covered less than the soap suds, but this was different. This was more than mere teenage lust; it was a yearning deeper than anything he had ever known. The sight of Kim's fragility and desirability stirred more than just his hormones; it stirred his heart as well.
"Are you okay?" Kim queried softly, and Tommy realized he was staring.
"Sorry, it's just that you look so..." he murmured huskily. With a blush he tried to master himself. "Here are the towel and a little treat for you."
Taking the mug, Kim took a sip. "You're mom's hot chocolate!"
"She won't mind sharing," He assured her. Tommy knew he should leave; if he stayed he was liable to do something he'd regret, yet he couldn't shake the spell Kim had over him.
"Was there something else you wanted?" Kim questioned gently, favoring him with a smile that threatened to rob him of all control.
"I was wondering..." For a moment, his mind went blank. Then, he thought of something else that she might like. "... would you like me to wash your hair?"
Tommy loved having his hair washed. It was the reason he was willing to pay the prices in regular salons. He enjoyed the feel of someone running fingers through his hair and massaging his scalp. He didn't know how many times he had nearly fallen asleep while the beautician washed his hair because he was so relaxed.
"Y--you really want to?"
"If you'd like me to."
Kim pulled out the hairclip in answer.
Tommy collected the shampoo and the decorative pitcher off the vanity and knelt down on the tiles behind Kim. He could have used the spray attachment, but he preferred to leisurely douse her hair with pitchers full of water. Kim didn't seem to mind; she let out a contented sigh as the water cascaded over her. Slowly, he massaged the pearly liquid into Kim's caramel colored locks.
Kim melted back against the side of the tub and nearly slid under the water in a state of perfect relaxation. Tommy's fingers felt so incredible as they massaged her scalp and combed through her tresses. Tommy played with her hair, piling it on top of her head, twisting it into shapes like a little kid would. She nearly giggled. She never imagined Tommy ever doing anything like this! She leaned forward as his rubdown wandered to the back of her neck. That felt good, too. Her neck was really sensitive... she wondered if he remembered. His hands felt so good... and then she realized that they were shaking. Why? What was there for him to be nervous about? After all, he was only washing her hair... however, she also recognized the intimacy of their situation: her naked in the tub, having the whole house to themselves, old desires surfacing... she had seen the look in his eyes as he stood there with the towels. It was a lot stronger than anything she ever remembered seeing in him before.
Tommy had to stop. He had to regain control of himself. It was just so tempting to let his hands slip lower and lower down Kim's body. He had never done anything like this before; he couldn't believe how erotic giving Kim a bath was turning out to be. However, this wasn't the time to give in to his desires. Kim had placed herself in his hands... she had put her trust in him. He couldn't abuse it. There would be a time to explore his feelings, but this wasn't it. It wasn't until he took the pitcher up once again that Tommy realized his hands were trembling. He hoped Kim hadn't noticed; he wasn't sure he could explain it to her. Getting a hold of himself, Tommy started rinsing her hair out.
"How was that?" he asked, the scent of lilacs filling his senses as he leaned close to her.
Kim shivered as his breath exploded hotly against her neck. "That was absolutely yummy," she purred.
"Good. It was supposed to be," Tommy answered, pleased that she had enjoyed it so much. "Now, I'll leave you alone."
"Tommy, why are you doing this?" Kim wondered, twisting around to look up at him. "Because you deserve it." He placed a finger across her lips to silence her protest. "When you're done, don't get dressed right away. Just wrap up in a towel and meet me in my folks' room."
"Lots more, Beautiful. Lots more."
"... thanks, man, I really appreciate it."
"No problem, but why does it have to be so early? You're gonna owe me big time for this!"
"You name the favor; this means a lot to me...." Tommy heard movement behind the bathroom door. "Look, I gotta go. I'll see you in the morning." He hung up the phone just as Kim opened the door. As he had requested, she was wrapped in one of the huge bath towels, and she seemed to be glowing. "How do you feel?" he queried.
"Like an overcooked prune!" Kim laughed. Standing on tiptoe, she pecked him on the cheek. "It was wonderful. Thanks so much for doing all this."
"And I've only just begun," he declared with bravado. "If you will take a seat on the edge of the bed, we'll get on to the next little treat." He took her hand and guided her over to the queen-sized bed with its downy comforters. He unwrapped the towel on her head and spread it out over her shoulders. Next, he took up her hairbrush. He smiled at Kim's wide-eyed expression as he slipped around behind her on the bed and ran the brush through the wet tangles. He loved playing with Kim's hair, especially when it was dry--it was so soft and silky. Kim moaned her appreciation as the plastic teeth worked through her damp locks. Her response made Tommy feel good... he liked knowing he could make her feel good.
The longer he brushed, the more slumped Kim's shoulders became, almost as if she couldn't keep herself upright. Even after the last of the snarls was gone, Tommy continued playing with her hair until he felt Kimberly's head dropping forward and bobbing back.
"Lay down," he instructed, moving off the bed.
"Now what?" Kim wondered drowsily as she lay back where she sat.
"You'll see. Scoot up and roll over."
"Do you want me to sit up and beg, too?" she quipped. Tommy popped her with one of the pillows then pulled it out the sham and tucked it under her head. Once she was settled, he began kneading her shoulders. "You're going to give me a shoulder rub?"
"For a change. What do I owe you, like a thousand of them or so?"
"Something like that, but who's counting," Kim answered around a yawn. To Tommy's immense surprise, she tugged at the towel, pulling it loose, and folded it down to her waist. "Make it a full blown backrub, and we'll call it even."
"You got it, Beautiful."
Tommy alternated between deep, penetrating strokes and lighter caresses. In short order, his fingers had worked their magic on Kim's taut muscles, and he was rewarded to feel her tension ease. Once that happened, he abandoned the harder rub in favor of the softer, gentler strokes. He worked on Kim's back, letting his mind drift through memories of happier days. He had never felt closer to Kimberly than he did right at this moment. It was with some surprise that he discovered Kim was sound asleep. However, although he continued caressing her shoulders and back, his fingers occasionally wandering into her hair; he wanted nothing more than to simply sit with her as she slept. Reluctantly, he forced himself to stop. There were things he needed to do. Grabbing a quilt from the rack, Tommy tucked it around her.
"Sleep well, Kim," he whispered, placing a kiss on her brow. With a heavy sigh, Tommy went off in search of his father's spare cellular phone and his old communicator. He had a phone call to make.
"Yo, Tommy, I think I have the connection now. Give it a shot."
Tommy retrieved his father's second cell phone from the charger and dialed the number his folks had left for their hotel in Vienna. He hadn't wanted to chance using the regular phone lines as they were probably being tapped, and he wasn't sure if the service his dad used was capable of getting a call through halfway around the world, so he had gone to Dimetria for help. Thankfully, she was willing to bend the rules a bit for the duration of the "Mercyte crisis." He just hoped Alpha was able to transfer the call through the Rangers' communications system.
_What time is it in Vienna anyway?_ Tommy wondered as the call went through. Not that it mattered. Still, he hated waking his folks up--or worse, interrupting something. Two rings... Three....
"Guten Tag. Bon Jour. Hello!"
Tommy smiled; his father sounded like he was three sheets to the wind, not that that was remarkable; it didn't take much. His dad did not have a good head for alcohol--then again, neither did he. In the background he could hear his mother's sharp, "Thomas William...."
"Hi, Dad. It's Tommy."
"Tommy? What are you doing up at this hour?"
"It's the middle of the afternoon here, Dad."
"Oh, yeah, that's right."
"Wonderful city! Great food... even better wine... music... and the women...!"
"Don't you worry, Jan; you're still the loveliest lady in the whole country!"
Fortunately, Tommy was used to his parent's little side conversations.
"Ask the boy what he wants."
"Well? Did you hear your mother?"
"Yes, I did. Have you guys been to Paris?"
"He wants to know if we've been to Paris."
"Of course we've been to Paris; we went there first. I swear, sometimes his memory has more holes in it that Swiss Cheese!"
"Did you guys like it enough to want to go back?" Tommy interrupted, getting to the point of his call.
"Do we want to go back...."
"Thomas, give me the phone... Tommy, what is going on?" Janice Oliver queried as she took over the line, for which Tommy was grateful.
"Mom, I need you guys to swing back through Paris. It's important... it's about Kimberly..." and he gave his mother a brief outline of what had happened.
"... so you need us to go visit Caroline and let her know that Kim is all right--for the moment," his mother summarized at the conclusion of his tale.
"Kim hasn't talked to her mother since she fled Florida; I'm sure Mrs. Dumas is worried sick about her."
"What if we called her from here?"
"I wouldn't chance it. Kim's sure her mother's line is being monitored--our line is probably being monitored. It's a safe bet that they know you're in Vienna."
"Then how did you get a hold of us?"
"Some friends are helping bounce the call around." Tommy could almost see his mother's eyebrows climbing questioningly.
"The same friends you're always running off with at all hours of the day and night?"
Tommy smiled; if his uncle had been able to figure it out, then there was no doubt that his mother had to have, too--a long time ago. "Yes." There was an extended silence.
"Can your friends' help you two out? Will you be all right?"
"They're doing all they can to find out who sent these things; that's the only way to stop them. Kim and I can handle the tin cans now that we know these things are robots; we won't have to hold back. We're okay for the time being. Kim estimates that they won't be able to attack again until sometime tomorrow."
"You said Kim's hotel was torched; does she need anything?"
"Uncle John already took care of it."
"I knew there was a reason I liked that man. If she needs anything further, you know where the credit cards and things are, don't you?"
"Yes, Mom, you drilled that into my 'Swiss cheese' before you left."
"All right, young man, that's enough."
Tommy smiled at the affectionate jibe. "I need to get going, Mom, before someone figures out what I'm doing and traces this call. I didn't want to involve you guys, but it was the only way...."
"We're your parents, Tommy. We're involved whether you like it or not. You two take care."
"I'll see about changing our flight first thing in the morning."
"Is there anything else you need us to do?"
"Actually, there is one more thing."
"Can you recommend a nice restaurant?"
"Kim, time to wake up."Tommy's gentle prompting was followed by an equally gentle kiss. Kim, however, had been awake before he had even spoken; Tommy had made enough noise walking into the room to wake the dead, which was unusual because he used to be able to creep up on her without her being able to hear a sound.
_He probably did it to keep from being smacked again!_ She flinched at the thought. Still, she didn't feel much like waking up; she hadn't slept so well in ages! The bed was deliciously warm and comfy, and she felt so relaxed. She made sleepy, pouting noises, rolled over, and burrowed her face deeper into the stuffed animal tucked into her arms. She inhaled deeply... at first, she had thought it was Tommy's shirt because it smelled so much like him, then she realized what it was: Dragon, the stuffed dragon his great-grandmother had given to him when he had been very small. She recalled how Tommy blushed the first time she had been to his room and found it on his bed.
"A green dragon for a Green Ranger?" she teased.
"Nanna Maggie gave it to me when I was three. Said her knight in shining armor needed a dragon to slay," he admitted with a sheepish grin.
When he stepped out of the room, Kim plopped down on the bed and scooped up the emerald-hued toy. With a giggle, she fell back and regarded the gleaming button eyes. "Are you a wicked dragon who eats princesses? I don't think so. I think you're really very gentle and sweet, the kind who rescues princesses from other wicked dragons--just like Tommy." Then it was her turn to blush; when she looked up, Tommy was standing in the doorway smiling at her embarrassedly--he had heard every word.
"Come on, Cinderella. I thought a kiss was supposed to wake you up," Tommy teased. Kim opened her eyes and looked up into Tommy's smiling face. "I think you have your fairytales confused. You mean Sleeping Beauty; she's the one who woke up with a kiss."
"True, but Cinderella was the one who was going to the ball."
"Huh?" Kim sat up, belatedly recalled that she had nothing on, and ducked back under the covers. Then, she noticed the robe Tommy held out to her. He looked away modestly--to her amusement--as she gratefully slipped it on. Then, she observed that he was dressed in his best suit--tie and everything--and had his hair pulled back. "Who are you supposed to be? Prince Charming?"
"The ball starts at six, so unless Cinderella wants to eat dinner in the pumpkin patch, she'd better get her gown on."
His grin broadened. "If we want to make our dinner reservations, you need to get dressed."
"Where are our reservations for?" she asked, eyeing his formal attire with trepidation. "The country club."
"How in the world...?"
"Dad has a membership through the firm. He has to have some place to take clients to lunch and dinner besides McDonald's or Denny's."
"Tommy, we can't go to the country club for dinner!"
"Why not? According to Dad, they have great food, and you've always wanted to go there."
"I don't have anything to wear!" she objected. "Maybe Mom has something in the wardrobe you can use," Tommy suggested. "Your mother is a good six inches taller than I am."
"I think she might have a short cocktail dress or something that would work." Muttering a variety of imprecations under her breath, Kim scrambled out of bed and padded over to the antique wardrobe. She flung the doors open and froze....
Tommy could not keep the smile from his face as he saw Kim's expression in the mirrors set in the wardrobe's doors as she found the lavender dress. It was worth every dollar spent to see her surprise and delight... the smile on her lips and the happy tears that glistened in her eye. For a moment, he saw in her shining eyes a flash of the old Kimberly--the radiant image of a carefree young girl hopelessly in love. Then, practicality set in.
"Tommy...." she admonished, turning to face him. He had already abandoned his seat on the bed. He held her gently by the shoulders and brushed his lips across her brow. Then, he silenced her protests with a finger to her cupid-bow lips.
"Answer me one question. When you tried this dress on earlier, how did it make you feel?" She blinked at him, uncomprehending. "Did it make you feel beautiful? Special?"
"Actually, seeing the way you looked at me when I was wearing this dress made me feel beautiful," she answered shyly. "I'd almost forgotten...."
"Get dressed, and let me help you remember," Tommy whispered.
"Why are you doing this?" Kim whispered timidly.
"Because I love you," Tommy replied, his eyes oh-so-serious. Then, a bit of laughter flared in the chocolate depths. "And because every Cinderella needs a fairy godmother."
"I thought you were Prince Charming."
Tommy shrugged. "So I have to pull double duty tonight."
"Is this just a fairytale, Tommy? Am I going to wake up tomorrow in some cheap motel room or under an overpass and find out this was all just a dream?"
"If you so wish it, my princess, you can wake up tomorrow in my arms. This is real, Kim, as real as my love for you. As real as your love for me."
Kim melted into his arms, and the two shared a lingering embrace. "Come, Cinderella," Tommy said at last. "The ball awaits, and Prince Charming is starved!"
"So where are my ladies-in-waiting?" Kim teased, finally getting into the spirit of things.
"They have the night off; I'm pulling the ladies' maid duty tonight, too."
"Go find the pumpkin and the white mice and get the carriage ready," Kim laughed, shoving him towards the door.
Tommy bowed. "As my lady wishes!"
"Feel up to dessert?" Tommy queried, setting his napkin next to his plate. For the most part, dinner had been an overwhelming experience from the food, to the service, to the overall atmosphere. Neither teen had ever been in so formal a restaurant. The two had spoken little during the meal; they hadn't needed to. A glance... a touch conveyed more eloquently what was in their hearts than mere words.
"Are you kidding? I scarcely have room to breathe, let alone eat anything," Kim answered. "I'm not even sure I can get out of this chair I'm so stuffed!"
"I hope you can, because I thought we might go out on the terrace for a bit." Tommy rose from his seat and helped Kim from hers.
"I still can't believe you did this," Kim murmured as she took Tommy's proffered arm, and the two headed through the enormous glass doors to the well-lit patio. They wandered along the railing until they reached a section overlooking the pond. Silvery moonlight shimmered on the dark waters. In the background, music wafted out from the lounge. Kim sighed as she leaned against the balustrade and gazed out over the picturesque scene. Tommy casually draped his arm around her shoulders. "What is your father going to say when he finds out you used his membership card?"
"He already knows," Tommy replied. "He's the one who suggested it."
Kim's head snapped up, and her eyes widened fearfully. "How did he know? Tommy, you didn't...."
"I called him in Vienna."
"Tommy, do you realize what you've done? Your phone lines are tapped! The Mercytes know you're helping me... they'll go after your parents... !"
"I didn't use the phone. I had Alpha route the cell phone's signal through the Power Chamber's communication system. So unless they're monitoring the hotel in Vienna or the Power Chamber, the Mercytes won't know I called."
"Dimetria let you?" Kim asked wistfully, biting her lower lip as she thought of a call she longed to make.
Tommy knew what she was thinking. "You know what I found out when I talked to my folks? Their next stop is Paris."
"Uh huh. I suggested that they look up your mom and...."
Kim flung her arms around Tommy's neck, nearly knocking him over. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
"You're welcome, but don't you want to hear the rest?"
"The rest? There's more?"
"During the next 'lull,' I told dad we'd place another call and see if we can get your mom on the line."
Kim's knees nearly gave out. "Oh God, Tommy, it's been so long...."
"I know." A silvery tear trickled down Kim's cheek. Tommy gently brushed it away. "No tears allowed at the ball," he said softly.
Kim chuckled and brushed at her eyes.
"However, dancing is allowed," he continued. "Will you do me the honor of this dance, milady?"
With a trembling hand, Kim took his hand. Tommy pulled her close, and Kim relaxed in his arms, the scent of his aftershave filling her senses and his breath warm against her hair. The beat of his heart pounded soothingly in her ears. As they slowly swayed to the distant music, she recognized the tune and began to sing:
"I didn't realize you knew anything by Chicago," Tommy murmured.
"Is that who sings this?"
"Uh huh. My aunt's played their stuff so much, I probably have the whole repertoire memorized."
"I heard this on an oldies station when I left Angel Grove after the tournament," Kim explained, "and it was so appropriate that it just stuck with me. All I wanted to do was tell you how sorry I was for hurting you. I wanted to tell you how I really felt--that you were the part of me I couldn't let go, but I couldn't risk it..."
"Sh, Kim. I know."
"It's just that... I really had given up, Tommy. If I hadn't been at the track when the sleazebuckets attacked yesterday, I'd have made my last stand, and when I'd have fallen, that would have been it. I never dreamed I get to tell you the truth... or even have a hope of talking to my mother again...." The emotions caused the words to jam in her throat.
"There'll be time for all that, Kim. There'll be time to see your mother again. Time for us to be together. Time for everything. Just don't ever leave again...."
While they were talking, the song had changed, and Tommy found the new ballad rather fitting.
"I nearly forgot what a nice singing voice you have," Kim murmured, moved by what the lyrics--what Tommy--was saying.
"I don't sing much except for Christmas carols," Tommy answered with a shrug. "Please, Kim... I don't want to let you go ever again." And he held her tighter.
"I don't ever want to let you go again, either." The two danced long into the night, softly serenading each other as each new ballad seemed to say for them what was in their hearts.
She hadn't wanted to split up, but Tommy was hurt; she had to draw the Mercytes away from his position. They were close. If they had been alive, she would have felt their breath on the back of her neck... heard their breathing... Her own breathing was loud in her ears--_deep gasping breaths that burned her lungs with the effort it took to gulp in the air. Her heart pounded equally loudly. No doubt her pursuers' scanners would register it, but that was the way she wanted it--she wanted their attention focused solely on her and not on Tommy. She forced her sweat drenched body on through the dark of the night.
As she broke through the trees in the park, she ran into a wall of gleaming silver. Ambush! She'd been cut off! Cold, metal-jacketed hands cruelly twisted and pinned her arms, forcing her to her knees.
"Let me go!" she snarled, struggling. She didn't want to die anymore. She wanted to live; she wanted all the things Tommy had promised her.
"Command Unit, this is Field Unit 8. The target has been apprehended." Kim braced herself as she felt the vibrations of the teleportation effect. The lethal leader of the robot assassins shimmered into being before her. Kim glared at it with black defiance.
"Prepare to Execute Program Omega 13... termination of assigned target." The Command Unit leveled it's forearm cannon at her. Kim would not cringe; her eyes never left the cold, red optical sensors.
Then, the machine paused, light flashing on its chest panel "We have new instructions. Bring forth the other prisoner." The other... _Oh, Tommy, no!_ Kim cried in the deepest reaches of her soul as a pair of robots appeared with their captive. Tommy looked to be in as bad a shape as she was.
"This human was seen assisting the intended target. Our files indicate that he is one Tommy Oliver, former boyfriend of the intended target," the field unit reported.
"Tell me," the command unit demanded of Kimberly, "why would this human assist you when you scorn him? Unless that was all a ruse..."
Kim flashed Tommy a desperate glance and prayed he'd forgive her for what she was about to say. But she would do anything... say anything if it would keep him alive.
"I tricked him," Kim answered coldly. "I made him believe I still cared to get him to help me against you. Why would I ever go back to him?"
"Kim!" Tommy protested in disbelief.
"Then, he means nothing to you?" the command unit probed.
"Not a thing. You won't get anything out of me by hurting him. You'd just be wasting your bullets." _Please let them believe that!_
"Perhaps, but our programming requires that all who assist the intended target be terminated. No witnesses."
"NO!" Kim shrieked, throwing herself forward as the command unit whirled around. Though she tried, she could not budge his arm. He fired....
Vice-like hands caught her once again as she surged forward. Before her horrified eyes, Tommy's body was bathed briefly in the blood red glow, then, slowly it dissolved until nothing was left but ashes.
Kim surged forward, but hands held her back. She fought to break free, even as tears scalded her cheeks and her cries rendered her throat raw.
"Kim, it's me; Tommy. Wake up! It's a dream... just a bad dream!"
She opened her eyes to find herself wrapped in Tommy's arms. She was still in his parents' room; the covers from the bed had been scattered every which-a-way. A glance in the mirror revealed herself in a state of complete disarray from wild, tangled hair to red-rimmed, fear widened eyes and tear streaked cheeks.
"Tommy? Oh God, Tommy... t-they... they killed you... you died thinking I'd betrayed you...." she gulped between sobs, clinging to him as if he was her life line.
"Sh, it's okay now. It was just a nightmare," he murmured, stroking her matted hair. She shivered in his arms--as much from fear as from cold. Her nightshirt was soaked through with sweat.
"I don't want you to die because of me!"
"I won't, Beautiful. Do you really think a bunch of walking tin cans can do what Rita, Zedd, Mondo, and Divatox couldn't? We Rangers are a pretty hard lot to kill."
Slowly, Kim began to settle down. She felt ashamed of herself for reacting as she had. How many nights had she had nightmares similar to this one? How many times had she woke screaming and in tears only to have to calm herself down and reassure herself? Why couldn't she do that now; why couldn't she stop shaking? Why did it feel so much better to have Tommy hold her and soothe her fears away with gentle strokes and soft words?