Disclaimer: Still someone else's sandbox … still play here because its fun.
Author's Note: Well, here it is. What everyone's been waiting for, including me. This part is dedicated to everyone who ever took the time to review this fic or even read it.
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Kat fingered the worn post-it-note in her hand, and sighed staring up the length of the metal ladder that ended abruptly at a small trap door. She didn't look at the words scrawled with a sharpie. There were too few for the message to be difficult to remember.
Top of the Command Center
There was no signature, but then it didn't matter because there was only one person in the world who would a leave a note for her on Lynn's primary control panel and be confident she would find it. Of course that rather dubious distinction actually belonged to Tanya.
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"Here, here, and here." Kat pointed the spots that needed work out to Tanya on the computer schematics. "Same procedure all three places."
"Right," The Yellow Ranger nodded throwing the tool sling over her shoulder. "Go up there unscrew the panels, play around with the wires so it looks like I've done something, call you to come fix it."
Kat rolled her eyes. "It's good to see you've been paying attention."
Tanya grinned. "I'm a fast learner. Seriously Kat, I'll be fine. See, I even took notes."
As proof she waved a bit of folded paper in front of her friends eyes before tucking it in the waistband of her jeans and turning to climb into the Zord.
But not before Kat yelled after her, "How do I know that's not a love note from Adam you're just going to sit up there and read?"
"You don't. That's why you'll come check me."
The Pink Ranger shook her head at her friend's antics. Tanya didn't like people to take things seriously unless she was taking them seriously and that was almost never. Still it was good to have her here. Surprisingly good. And she come with such a willing spirit, immune to the shadows and memories this place held.
Laughing, she walked over to the entrance, and sticking her head in, shouted up the ladder. "Uh-uh, I am not falling for that."
"No, Kat I really think you should up here." Her friend's face was serious as it peered down from the top of the shaft, but Tanya had pulled off better tricks than that before.
"Have you even bothered to unscrew the panel?"
"Kat!" The sharp word was accompanied by the echo of ringing metal as Tanya's hand slammed against the shaft that held the ladder. "You need to come up here."
"Okay." Kat grumbled and moved to the ladder, her face twisted in a puzzled expression, which she still wore as she swung round at the bridge. "What's up?"
Tanya was leaning against the control panel, staring at her in a way that was eerily reminiscent of the night their confrontation.
"Tan? Come on, you're scaring me."
"I found this on the nav screen," She extended her hand and it took Kat a moment to register the small slip of yellow paper stuck to the tips of her friend's fingers.
Numbly, she reached up and took it, her stomach already solidifying into a ball of lead, as though knowing what she would find. Still she stared blankly down at the writing unable to process the words.
"Please tell me that's Tommy's handwriting."
"No." She whispered. The hoarse monosyllable functioning both as a response to her friend's plea and a denial of what she held.
"That's what I was afraid of."
They simply stood there for a long while—Kat staring down at the seven little words, Tanya staring at her.
"So, are you gonna go?"
Her hand closed over the post-it crumpling it into a tiny ball. "No."
"Okay then." Tanya nodded as though that were the end of it.
But both of them pretended not to notice when Kat's hand slipped crumpled paper into her jeans pocket.
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Over the next few days she'd abused the note. That was really the only word for it. She took out her anger at the writer on that poor little scrap of yellow paper. She'd crumpled it and unfolded it and crumpled it again. She'd torn it up thoroughly and just as painstakingly taped it back together, only to repeat the process with a scissors when she found it was difficult to tear through tape. Hell she'd even thought about setting it on fire so she couldn't keep salvaging it, but the small singe in the left hand corner was a testament as to how far she'd gotten with that.
So here she was three days later, standing at the foot of this ladder. There hadn't been a date on the note, but she knew he'd be there. He had probably come every night since leaving the damned thing, giving her time, giving her space, letting it be her choice. Cursing him for that, Kat propped her foot up on the first rung, and asked herself the same question, she'd been asking at every juncture—Do you really want to do this? The answer had been the same every time—No.
But still she teleported here, still she turned right to come up to the Command Center instead of left to head down to the Zord Bay, still she closed her hand around the second rung above her head and began to climb.
No she definitely did not want to do this, but she had to.
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Billy stood waiting, his legs braced against the slope of the Command Center's roof. He had scrambled to his feet at the last minute, realizing that his first instinct of simply sitting with his back turned was either too comfortable or too cold, he couldn't decide which.
But now he waited.
He had counted each footfall, his heart beating a slow tattoo in time to her approach. And when she stopped at rung nine, just at the point where she would be able to reach the door's control panel, his heart stopped with her. No click came, just a terrifying silence. He held his breath, rationalizing that a lack of oxygen wouldn't matter if his heart wasn't pumping blood to carry it anywhere, and clasped his hands tightly behind his back to keep from reaching to open the door himself.
Then just when he was certain the next sound he heard would be a soft retreat, there was the tiniest of clicks, and the door slid open in a small whoosh.
Kat's head was down as she climbed the next few rungs, so it wasn't until she was high enough that his shoes had come into her line of vision that she seemed to notice he was there.
She froze—her hands braced against the rooftop, her body suspended between one world and another. For an infinite moment neither one of them breathed, neither one moved, like soldiers before the charge they simply waited. Then, almost fearfully, her eyes began to trace the length of him. He watched her face as it turned up to his with aching slowness, devouring every detail of her as completely as she did him. Finally their eyes met, and they were frozen again, drinking in the sight of the other.
It was like downing several shots of espresso in rapid succession, pleasant warmth sweeping through them, even as it set their nerves jangling violently.
Suddenly realizing that he'd been staring down at her like a callous dolt, Billy knelt and extended a hand to help her up.
The movement snapped Kat back into reality, and she hoisted herself up to sit on the edge of the opening, pointedly ignoring his proffered hand. Fighting the urge to look at him, she released a shuddering breath and focused on sliding the trap door closed.
God, she hadn't expected to see him face to face like this. She'd come thinking he'd be in his usual posture, back turned, waiting for someone to force their way into his own private world. She'd thought to take one final look, to tuck a picture of him away in her heart, and then speak her lines, all those pretty lies she'd rehearsed in her head, about how she was happy he'd decided to come back, that she hoped his time on Acquitar had been nice, and she didn't care one wit whether he stayed or left. And then she'd creep away, never having to meet his eyes, never letting him read the truth on her face.
But instead he stood facing her, asking to be let back in to her world, offering himself up to her vulnerable and unguarded.
"I brought coffee."
"I don't drink coffee anymore."
His body tensed momentarily, then loosened, and he dropped his head, accepting the lash as his due. "Oh."
Kat bit her bottom lip to keep from crying. It had been a tiny gesture, a fragile extension of himself, and she had felt compelled to slap it away, to remind him that the world had kept turning in his absence, when truthfully there was nothing in world she would like more than to share a cup of coffee with him.
"I guess, I had just thought . . ."
"What?" She snapped, "You thought what?"
Stop me Billy. Please stop me.
He shook his head. "Nothing. It was stupid, a stupid hope."
With a sigh, he got to his feet, and finally turning his back to her began to make his way down to the flat precipice where he had laid out two blankets and a thermos of coffee.
"So that's it?"
The sharp desperate pain in her voice, acted like a choke collar, drawing him up short, and he stood there in the darkness trying to catch his breath.
"That's all I get? Coffee and a stupid note?"
"You hate me."
"No, Billy, I don't." She sounded almost sad about it, and he turned. She was still kneeling next to the trap-door, hands spread on either side, ready to bolt if that had truly been all he had to offer.
"But I don't." She raised her eyes to his, letting him measure the truth for himself.
His mouth curved in a grim, half smile. "You always did let me get off too easy."
Kat snorted in response. "Well someone had to. You were so set on taking the hard way."
They started to smile at each other, but then Billy's eyes flickered closed, a look of pain crossing his face. "Are we really past tense?"
"I don't know. Haven't you finally found someone your relate to?" The words were acid and sarcastic, but they still tasted sweet on her tongue. She didn't hate him, but she couldn't yet forgive him either.
"She's not . . ." Shaking his head to negate whatever he'd been about to say, he tried to start again.
But Kat had latched onto his first attempt and she wasn't about to let go. "She's not what? Not close to you? Not someone you care about? Not someone you love?"
"Stop it, Kat." His voice had gone hard, warning her off the road she was determined to charge blindly down.
"Just explain exactly what she is and what she isn't, because I'm a little fuzzy on that part."
"She isn't you, okay!" The admission was practically shouted, and the words hung heavy in air, echoing in the blackness. It should have been enough, enough to get through to her, enough answer every doubt, but her emotions were too scarred over.
After a long moment, she muttered, "Is that a good thing or bad thing?"
"Neither . . . both . . ."
His voice was so sad, so full of remorse.
"You love her."
"No." Billy stared at the stars. "I wanted to, I really did . . . it would have been so much easier, but we both know I'm no good at that."
"So what is she?"
Slowly, he turned to face her, and for awhile he simply stared at her as though trying to figure out how to answer her question. Finally, very quietly and deliberately, he responded with a question of his own. "What is Tommy?"
"How dare you."
To her utter amazement, he laughed, a kind of low mirthless chuckle that she had never heard before. "I'm standing here, aren't I? Let's just say I'm feeling rather daring."
"And if I tell you its none of your business?"
"Then I guess I have my answer."
"Billy . . ." For the first time that night her voice reached out to him rather than slapped him away.
"What do you want from me, Captain?" It was not a demand, as it had been with Cestria, but an offer. In using the nickname he had transferred all power, she could ask for anything and he would give it.
"I don't know anymore." Kat slammed her hands against the roof in frustration. "If you had come back a two months ago or even a couple of weeks . . . God, Billy I would have done anything to have you back, to have you standing where you're standing now. But now . . ."
She emitted a horrible noise that somewhere between a scream and a sob, "Dammit I'd just finally gotten it into my head that you were gone! What gives you the right! What gives you the right to come back like this, and leave me this awful cryptic note and tear everything open again?"
She was babbling now, words pouring out of her like she was purging herself of some awful disease. It was too painful to watch. And before he could stop himself, before his brain could remind him that probably the last thing she wanted was to be touched by him, he had crossed the roof, dropped to his knees, and pulled her into his arms.
Clutching her desperately, afraid that it would be the last time, he whispered harshly against her ear, "Nothing. I don't have any right to be here, so tell me to go. Tell me to go Kat, and I promise you'll never have to see me again."
"You bastard." But her arms closed around him, even as she said it. "I would never tell you to go. You know that."
"Then tell me you wish I never came back."
It was whispered so softly against his neck that he barely heard it, but he felt it, deeply and completely. He felt it and everything fell away, trivial and inconsequential compared to this. "Kat . . ."
"You called me Captain once." She lifted her head slightly, and suddenly their lips were less than a breath apart. The tiniest movement of his head, and he could have her, touch her in a way he felt he'd waited a lifetime for. Still he needed permission.
"Captain . . . tell me you don't want me--"
But he never finished his sentence.
Kat's lips closed over his, swallowing his question, answering it with her caress. Soft and undemanding, she simply gave, pouring all the things she couldn't say, all the love that somehow kept getting twisted into bitterness by her attempts to voice it, into her kiss.
His response was tentative at first, unwilling to believe the miracle. But she tasted like vanilla and, despite her earlier protests, coffee. And at that he was lost, relinquishing his last shreds of control because they were unnecessary. She was his, his Captain, and he was safe with her.
When the kiss finally broke, it was only for her to whisper against his lips. "I want you, Doctor. I do want you."
She barely finished the declaration before he kissed her again, a laughing, celebratory kiss. She wanted him! Him with all his insecurities and poor judgment and hideously awful ways of dealing. She wanted him!
And when he pulled away it was to whisper teasingly in her ear, "You lied about the coffee."
Smiling a little, she whispered back, "Don't tell Tanya. She thinks she's cured me."
It was like being dosed in cold water.
"Hmmm?" She murmured distractedly, her lips brushing against the curve of his neck.
Pulling away reluctantly, he cradled her face in his hands, forcing her to meet his eyes. "Is that all she thinks she's cured you of?"
For a long moment she stared and him blankly, and then closing her eyes, Kat let out a long resigned sigh, "No."
But before he could release her, her hands closed over his, trapping them against her face. "Don't you dare . . . don't you dare pull away."
"The team . . ."
"The team . . ." She repeated sadly, "always the team . . . I am so sick of worrying about what the team will think or feel, at the expense of actually thinking or feeling."
"I can't just stop."
"No you can start! You can start putting yourself first, putting this first." Her hands moved to his face. "This is good. I know this is good, and nobody can tell me otherwise, not even you."
"Tommy . . ."
"Doesn't own me! For God sakes, you're the one who told me that I'm not Kim, that some color doesn't define me. Why are you letting this define me now?"
"You're still dating him Kat."
"Because he was here! You left me, and I was all alone. And I couldn't do it, I couldn't make myself more lonely. It was horrible and selfish, but that's all it was. You have to believe me Billy, that's all it was."
"But not for him."
"So I'm supposed to continue the lie? Compound my sin?"
Rolling away in defeat, Billy dropped his head into his hands. "So many people . . . I'm going to wind up hurting so many people, and all I was ever trying to do . . . God, I never meant . . ."
Reaching over Kat stroked the nape of his neck. "No one ever means do they?"
Gently, but firmly, he removed her hand and kissing her fingertips, brought it to rest on his knee, covering it with his own. "No, no on ever means . . ."
She stared down at her hand, and knew, knew that Tommy wasn't the only casualty, and though she felt a surge of resentment at the idea of Cestria claiming some portion of him, as she intertwined her hand with his own, she realized he was here with her, holding her hand, sitting on her roof. He had made his choice, and whatever tiny piece of him she had lost in the process was a small price to pay.
"We're going to be okay you know . . . as a team. We're too strong for this one thing to finish us."
Smiling down at her, Billy shifted a little, and bringing his arm to her waist, drew her close, brushing a kiss against her lips. "You have amazing faith."
Snuggling closer into his embrace Kat sighed, "I'm sitting on top of the Command Center, waiting for sunrise with the one person in the world I never thought I'd see again. Faith is easy."
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Okay, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, this story is not over. The bad news is this fic is. The entire universe of Conversations is being continued in a new fic called "If Camelot Fell" the start of which is posted tonight as well. I am doing it this way because the story will now begin to head in a new direction so that it is no longer solely character driven (though believe me it will still be primarily so), and expands to take in more of the other Rangers.
Believe, I agonized long and hard about this given my rather sporadic posting habit, but this was where I have intended the story to go since about part five, and honestly I couldn't picture it any other way. So rather than try to make you all read something forced. I thought I owed it to everyone who has hung in there to do this right. So I hope you will accept my Mea Culpa and follow me along on this merry little acid trip.