Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine (they're either borrowed from BVE without permission or borrowed from Ekat with grateful thanks) although the situation is now mine. The poem spoken at the end also does not belong to me (would that I could write so eloquently) -- that's borrowed from James Johnson/Stephanie Music, again without permission. Lastly, the quote Jen produces (and the chapter title) belong to Semisonic, from their song 'Closing Time' (if you don't know the song, I highly recommend it!). No harm, no foul and certainly no money made.
See the end for my thank yous.
Please offer feedback -- it tells me how I've done.
Every New Beginning...
Katie felt herself slowly drift back to full consciousness.
She was puzzled. What had happened? She remembered arriving at the power plant and then morphing but after that... Just a big black nothing.
"Kittie?" Jen's voice was soft, and her use of the name Katie had answered to as a very, very young child only served to emphasise that something was drastically wrong.
She tried to open her eyes, but that was when the headache made itself known. "Ow," she murmured weakly. "Wha' 'appen?"
"It's a long story," Jen answered, "but you're going to be OK."
Katie wanted to ask more but the pain was blinding now. It felt as if her head was going to explode at any second. So much so that she was barely aware of a hypospray being pressed against her neck. It only really dawned on her that someone had sedated her as the last shreds of consciousness fled.
When she finally came round again, she had the sense that time had elapsed since the previous waking moment.
Time and distance. She managed to crack her eyes open a little to prove to herself that yes, the speaker was Eric. Sure enough, when her eyes could finally be persuaded to focus, the person-shaped blur beside her resolved itself into Eric. She started to open her mouth, but he shook his head.
"Shh -- just rest," he advised. "You're going to be OK."
Confused, and still headachy, Katie found herself drifting back into unconsciousness once more.
Eric watched as the sedative did its work once more and Katie fell asleep. How had things gone so far wrong?
Subdued voices in the temple courtyard told him that everyone was now finally back from Rancho Diablo. He headed out of the little room where Katie was lying to find everyone clustered around the fire-pit.
"It's done," Kimberly announced, as he joined the group. "The last Putrid's been taken care of, the Mutorgs are done with..."
"Alex made sure of that," said Wes quietly.
"What happened?" Eric asked. "Danny was...kinda confused."
"Danny didn't know," Danny put in. "I'm still not sure I do."
"They had him trapped," Ben answered, his normally cheerful voice roughened by shock and emotion. "The three Mutorgs and this woman."
"Arachna," Lucas supplied. "She was one of the links in the chain to tracking down Biocon and Merle Askot."
"They started to close in on him," Taylor continued, taking up Ben's explanation. "He must have had the plastique's detonator in his hand or something."
"He just...lunged forward," said Cole, clearly shell-shocked. "He grabbed at the...Arachna and then..."
"He detonated the plastique," Wes finished.
Eric blinked, the implications of Wes' words taking a little time to sink in. "He..." But there were no words.
"I should have realised sooner," Nadira murmured.
"It's not your fault," said Merrick gently.
"There wasn't anything we could have done," Ben mumbled.
"You don't think..." Jen began.
Wes shook his head. "No."
Eric frowned; there was more to that half-asked question than he knew. He resolved to find out about it later. "So what happens now?"
"I guess," said Lucas reluctantly, "that someone needs to get in touch with Time Force...and Alex's family."
Katie woke again. This time, unlike the last, she felt clear-headed. No pain, no aches.
"Katie?" Shayla drifted into view. "How're you feeling?"
Katie frowned. "I...don't know," she admitted. "Weird."
"No pain?" Shayla queried.
"No...but..." Katie looked a little self-conscious. "I do feel kinda hungry."
Shayla smiled. "You've been sleeping for three days," she replied. "That is to be expected."
"Three days?" Fear washed over her. "What happened?"
Shayla's smile turned sad. "It is a long story, Katie," she replied. "And one I will not tell you on an empty stomach."
"I remember going to the power plant... Then nothing."
"It will keep, Katie," said Shayla firmly. "Let me fetch you some soup and once you have eaten it, I will tell you."
Katie had to settle for that, but the nameless fear that something serious had happened during the gap in her memories meant that she couldn't enjoy the light broth that Shayla brought her. Somewhat to her surprise, she found she couldn't finish the bowlful.
The princess just smiled. "If that's all you can manage, then that is enough for now. Are you comfortable?"
"Please...what's happened?" Katie asked, even as she nodded.
Shayla took a seat beside the bed and folded her hands daintily into her lap. "You say you remember arriving at the power plant?"
"And that is the last thing you remember?"
"Yes." Katie knew Shayla was stalling but she couldn't see a way around it.
"You were partnered with Alex," Shayla stated.
"No..." The denial was whispered. It couldn't be that. Shouldn't be that. He couldn't be gone. "Not Alex..."
"You were cornered by the Mutorgs, Master Org and a woman by the name of Arachna."
But no matter how hard Katie tried to deny it, she knew Shayla was telling her the truth, almost as if her subconscious remembered events even if her conscious mind refused to.
"We do not know how you were injured," Shayla continued softly.
Katie's eyes glazed over as the memory suddenly burst forth. "One of them hit Alex," she murmured softly. "He was unpowered...they would kill him...no point calling for help...that would have killed him too...had to be me...had to do something..."
Arachna's leering, jeering face. Katie could see it with perfect clarity. She could feel her blood boiling as the Mutorg buried its fist in Alex's stomach.
"You will pay," Arachna hissed. "You and Time Force and the rest of your pathetic race."
"I had to protect him," Katie murmured. "I've never wanted to kill someone...not like that...never before..."
She started forward, intending to wipe the leer from Arachna's face. The batwinged Mutorg intercepted her. She could feel him literally catch her in mid-flight, turn and fling her away like she was no more than a piece of trash. There was an almost agonising moment of nothing and then...
"...I must have hit the concrete bunker...don't remember..." Katie trailed off. "He's dead. Isn't he?"
Shayla nodded. "Yes."
Shayla reached out and took hold of one of Katie's hands. "No. You are here. Which is what he wanted, I feel sure."
"But he's dead," she said tonelessly.
"Do you want me to tell you what happened?" Shayla asked.
Katie swallowed. "Please."
"You are thinking that it was the Mutorgs or Arachna who killed him," Shayla replied. "But that is not so." She squeezed the hand she was holding. "It was the other way around."
Katie stared in blank non-comprehension. "What?"
"Alex made the best of what should have been a hopeless situation. He carried out his part of the plan." Shayla paused. "It might sound cold comfort to you now," she continued softly, "but he did his job, and above all, he protected his family."
The emphasis on the word family caught Katie unawares. "What?"
"You and Alex were involved, you not?" Shayla asked gently. "You were planning on making a life together?" Katie nodded slowly, not seeing the connection. "You were...intimate?" Again Katie nodded slowly. "Then...the Wildzords are right."
Katie felt her skin grow cold. She had a nasty feeling that she knew what the princess was so delicately not saying -- and yet it couldn't be that. Shouldn't be that.
"You are pregnant," Shayla finally said.
"I...but..." It was too much.
Alyssa wandered aimlessly through the jungle of the Animarium. The last three days had been strange, and it wasn't just the fact that the Time Force rangers -- or at least, those who didn't have homes in Silverhills -- had been staying here while they waited for Katie to finally wake up.
If she finally woke up.
Alyssa shivered. She had known, on one level at any rate, that being a ranger was not without its perils. That every battle, there was a chance that you might die. But knowing it and comprehending it were two very different things.
Alex had died. Katie had been gravely hurt.
And suddenly, what had been almost a hobby had turned serious. And Alyssa wasn't sure what that meant for her or for the rest of the rangers.
Nadira leaned back against the foot of a giant tree, trying to comprehend everything that had gone on in the last three days.
It seemed as if Merrick's words at the power plant really had been true. When Lucas had contacted TFHQ to tell them about what had occurred, she had been told that Alex had already made plans for her to be permanently seconded from the academy to Covert Operations. She would serve out the rest of her training period as an active officer, which -- as Trip had told her afterwards -- was not unheard of in the case of a cadet of either exceptional promise or unusual skills. And Alex's recommendation had cited both.
He had believed in her.
He had seen beyond her father and seen her.
Oddly, Nadira found herself smiling a little at that. Of all the people she had considered, Alex had to have been the least likely member of Time Force to see that. After all, it was partially by her hand that her father had been able to strike Alex down at the prison. And yet he'd given her this chance.
I'm not going to let you down, Alex -- I promise.
Jen sat at the window, staring sightlessly out over the Silverhills skyline.
Alex was dead.
Alex was dead.
It hadn't hit her at the time -- there had been other things she needed to think about -- but now she was home there was nothing else to think about.
Alex was dead.
And Jen didn't know how she felt. Even when she'd been angry with him...even when she realised the magnitude of his lie to her -- when he'd finally told both her and Wes the truth about their relationship -- she had assumed that he'd still be there. Like he'd always been. Friend, confidant, older brother. Even knowing what he'd done, she hadn't wanted that to change, although she knew it would have taken time for their relationship to resume on that level.
Time she didn't have any more.
Alex was dead.
And, she realised, she was alive. Thanks to him. Thanks to him several times over, and not least by what he'd done three days earlier.
She had feared it had been his ultimate way of committing suicide -- his ultimate escape from his guilt and from the mess he'd made of his own life. Wes had put her mind at ease on that point.
"There was nothing anyone could have done that would have prevented Alex's death,"Wes had explained when they were finally alone together. "If the four of us had gone charging in..." Wes had trailed off and shaken his head. "Alex must have known that and chose to go down fighting."
Alex was dead, but life had to go on.
It would just take a little while.
Lucas studied the game of chess set up before him, but his mind was elsewhere.
"You want to talk about it?" Danny asked.
"Hm?" Lucas looked up.
Max, who was watching the chess match, snickered.
Danny offered him a smile. "You want to talk about it?" he repeated.
Lucas managed a faint smirk. "Well I'm not doing much good playing chess."
Max snickered again. "Considering how many games you've lost today, no."
Lucas pushed his king over, conceding the game. "I can't believe it's happened."
Danny didn't even pretend to misunderstand. This wasn't about chess. "What happened on Tuesday or what followed it?"
"Bit of both, I guess. Would it sound bad if I said it was mostly what followed it?" Danny shook his head. Lucas sighed. "Guess that doesn't stop me from feeling guilty."
Danny smiled wryly. "Human nature."
Lucas snorted. "No shit." He shook his head. "I still can't believe he did it. I didn't think he liked me!"
"Liking someone and knowing they're a good officer don't have a hell of a lot to do with each other," Taylor contributed, coming to sit down at the table. "Look at it this way," she continued, "he wouldn't have put your name forward for the position if you couldn't do it, and you wouldn't have been promoted into it if the selection committee -- or however it works -- hadn't agreed with the recommendation."
Lucas knew Taylor was right, and yet... "But me? As head of a whole department? Heck," he added, "I'm barely twenty-five and I'm suddenly supposed to order guys who've been in the force twice the length of time I have around?"
"You'll be fine," Danny assured him.
"Besides," Trip put in as he joined the group, "look on the bright side."
"And what bright side would that be?" Lucas wanted to know.
"You have Marissa, Nadira and me to help you."
I should have found a better way to tell her,Shayla found herself thinking as she pressed a cool washcloth against Katie's forehead, helping her to recover from the faint.
"Were you serious?" Katie whispered. "I'm pregnant?"
Shayla nodded. "Yes."
"I can't be...I..." Katie swallowed. "It's not possible. People from my time...don't get pregnant. Not without intervention...I just...I can't!"
Shayla smiled in sympathy. "Miracles happen, Katie."
"But is this one?" Tears were starting to roll down her face. "I can't do it..." Shayla noted that Katie's arm was curled protectively around her still flat stomach in a protective gesture she doubted the other woman was even aware of. "I can't...not on my own."
Shayla wrapped her arms around the other woman. "Alex may be gone, but you have a part of him forever, both in your child and in your heart."
"But I'm alone," Katie sobbed. "He left me..."
"You are not alone," Shayla murmured softly. "You have your friends."
Eric tossed down his pen in disgust.
He hadn't liked Alex...
...but he did respect and understand him. And he could admit -- to himself, if to no-one else -- that Alex's actions on that Tuesday morning had been the actions of a man who could only be described one way now: A hero.
It wasn't a word he used lightly, but how else could you describe a man who had, quite literally, saved billions of lives? Alex might have had some contemptible character traits in life, but they were far outweighed by the good that he had done with one single, unquestionably brave, cool-headed act.
Eric shook his head and picked up his phone. Dialling home was an alien concept to him in most respects, having lived alone for so long, and yet he'd already grown used to knowing there would be someone there.
And in a backhanded way, that was down to Alex, too.
Eric was still smiling wryly about that when Kimberly answered, "Hello?"
"Eric!" He found himself smiling, hearing the smile in her voice. "What's up?"
He rubbed the back of his neck feeling slightly sheepish. "Just...reminding myself how lucky I am."
Shayla felt Katie's sobs easing and gradually released her embrace.
"Do you want to be alone for a little spell?" Shayla asked.
"I...need to talk to Jen," Katie answered with a gulp.
Shayla nodded, smiling a little. "Then, I will go and find her. In the meantime, there are some clothes and washing materials here -- so that you can freshen up." She got to her feet, intending to leave the room, but Katie stopped her.
Shayla smiled. "It will be all right, Katie -- I feel sure of it."
Wes put the phone down.
"Who was it?" Jen called from the living room.
"Taylor," he replied. "Katie's awake -- and wants to speak to you." He walked through into the living room in time to see Jen ease herself off the window seat. "OK?"
She smiled. "I'm fine -- don't you dare go all overprotective on me. It'll be bad enough when Eric finds out!"
Wes laughed. "You think he's gonna mother hen?"
"And you don't?" Jen retorted.
"Point." Wes' laughter died away. "Taylor also said that tonight would be the memorial -- if we were ready for it."
Jen nodded. "That would make sense. It's time we let go. Life goes on."
Wes pulled her into a gentle embrace, one hand finding its way down so that he could touch her belly. "Yes it does."
Alyssa sighed, no nearer to a conclusion about her troubles.
"That sounds serious," observed a voice.
Alyssa's head jerked up and to her surprise, she found herself looking at Merrick. She squeaked his name in surprise.
Merrick looked a little amused. "Am I not allowed to be here too?"
Alyssa ducked her head in embarrassment. "I'm sorry -- you just startled me."
"Sorry. But I had spoken your name several times already. What has you so deep in thought?" A knowing look crossed Merrick's face. "Tuesday's events, perhaps?"
Alyssa nodded. "I just..."
"Didn't truly realise how dangerous being a ranger could be?" Merrick suggested. Alyssa nodded dumbly. "You're unsure if you can do it in the face of that realisation," he continued shrewdly.
"I'm such a coward," Alyssa mumbled.
"Not in the least," Merrick retorted. "No-one wishes to stare death in the face and have it stare so boldly back. No-one likes being reminded they're mortal."
Alyssa shivered. "No."
"And right now," he continued, "you're not sure if you can do this. Constantly stare death in the face and have it stare back at you. But," he added, "can you stand back and allow Master Org be unopposed?"
"No!" Alyssa felt outraged by the concept, almost in spite of herself.
"Then you already have your answer," said Merrick, a small smile gracing his face.
Alyssa ducked her head again. "I guess I do."
"It'll be OK," said Cole, materialising out of the trees.
"How much of that did you hear?" Alyssa asked, suddenly feeling embarrassed all over again.
Cole offered her his hand. "Does it matter?"
Alyssa looked from Cole's open, honest expression to Merrick's more closed but no less honest one. Neither of them held it against her that she'd had doubts.
"I guess it doesn't."
Ben shuffled papers around the desk. Tomorrow he would be back out on traffic duty. A more mundane task he couldn't have wished for.
And the prospect was certainly not enough to wipe away the memory of what he'd seen.
He'd seen more gory deaths than Alex's had been. He'd lost close friends before -- and Alex was barely even an acquaintance.
So why was it bothering him?
Because it was for you -- and for everyone in this building...this town...this state. He gave up his life so that people who'd never even know he existed could continue to bitch about their grey little lives.
Ben sighed and gave up the pretence at work.
Because you don't know that you could have done the same thing in his position.
That was the heart of the matter. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that Eric, Kimberly, Wes, Jen, Taylor -- they'd have all done what Alex did. But could he have done?
Would he have had the courage?
The office door opened, bringing Ben to the here and now with a start. He looked up and found Eric standing in the doorway.
"Boss?" Ben said.
"Max has just phoned," Eric replied. "We're going to hold the memorial service for Alex tonight. You want to come?"
Ben blinked. "Me? But I..."
"Have as much right to be there as anyone else," Eric stated.
"I'm not so sure I do," Ben replied. "I'm not sure I'm..."
Eric snorted. "Bullshit," he said flatly, cutting Ben off.
"I mean it...I..." Ben studied his desk. "I couldn't have done what Alex did."
"Couldn't you?" Eric answered.
"I wouldn't have had the guts."
"Yes you would have." Eric's words were firm. "No-one knows when they're going to face that test. No-one knows when they're going to be called a hero. And no-one believes the can do it until it happens. Not me, not you -- not Alex."
"Lemme ask you something," Eric cut in. "Kim was telling me about the first battle with the Mutorgs -- when Wes and Jen showed up. She told me about how she thought she was toast; one of the Mutorgs had her down and was poised to strike when it was distracted. How would you class going into a fight, knowing your only weapon isn't going to be any use against your enemy and then firing on one of the enemy, drawing its attention away from its potential victim to you?"
Ben's jaw loosened and dropped open. For a full minute, he could think of nothing to say before finally managing, "It was the right thing to do."
Eric just gave the half-smile/half-smirk expression that Ben had seen frequently when Eric knew he was right about something. "You faced that test and you passed." Eric turned to leave. "Are you coming to the Animarium?"
Still stunned, Ben finally nodded. "Yeah -- maybe I should."
Katie was just straightening the borrowed blouse when a knock came on the door of the room.
She swallowed before saying, "I'm in here, Jen." Slowly she turned to face the doorway as Jen entered.
"Hey." Jen smiled. "How're you doing?"
Katie opened her mouth to say something light and easy but her throat closed over. Without hesitation, Jen closed the distance between them and drew her into a tight embrace.
"Let it out," she murmured softly. "Cry it out."
"He's gone..." Katie found herself sobbing. "He's gone and..."
"And I'm pregnant...and alone...and I can't believe this is happening to me."
Katie felt Jen stiffen.
"You're pregnant?" Jen echoed. "Is it..." Before Katie could truly realise what Jen was saying, she was enveloped in a near crushing hug. "Oh Katie..."
"You...you're not mad?" Katie gulped.
Jen pulled away slightly and met Katie's tear-stained gaze. "Mad? Why would I be?"
"Because Alex is...was...your..."
Jen shook her head. "You listen to me, Katherine Elizabeth Walker," she said fiercely. "Don't ever think that. Both you and Alex are my friends, regardless of anything else, and all I want is for you guys to be happy. And if that was together..."
Katie nodded, not trusting her voice.
"Oh Katie...I'm sorry." Jen tightened the embrace once more. "It'll be OK," she murmured as Katie started to sob again.
"It'll never be OK."
"It does get better, Kittie -- it doesn't stop hurting but it does get better."
Katie hiccupped. "And somewhere...he's probably laughing at me for this."
Jen pulled away to once more meet her gaze, this time with a smile. "Not Alex. Never Alex." From her pocket, she produced a clean handkerchief. "Here."
Katie hiccupped again. "I must...look a state."
Jen shook her head. "It's all right to cry; it's all right to grieve. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. Grams was right about that."
"Give yourself time. And don't forget you have your friends. Lucas, Trip, Nadira -- heck," she added, "Wes, Eric, Kim and I are only a comm. call away."
Katie sniffed and nodded. "I know."
She started to dab ineffectively at her tears with the handkerchief, only to find her hand gently batted away by Jen who had produced a damp washcloth. "Here, let me."
Meekly Katie submitted to her friend's ministrations.
"So what happens now?" Katie finally asked as Jen finished.
"Well," came the reply, "now that you're physically better, you, Lucas, Trip and Nadira will be going back to the future. Then what happens after that is up to you."
"What about..." Katie swallowed. "A memorial?"
"Tonight -- if you think you can face it?"
Katie turned the thought over in her mind. She could say she wasn't ready for it and her friends would abide by that. But she knew that by doing so would rob those who lived in this time of a chance to say good-bye.
"They know what to do?" Katie asked quietly.
Jen nodded. "Lucas told them."
Katie nodded. Voice barely above a whisper she said, "Then tonight it is."
In the temple courtyard, everyone was silent.
The six Wild Force rangers with Shayla, Nadira and Ben formed a semi circle around one side of the glowing fire pit while around the other side, the six Time Force rangers with the addition of Kimberly formed a second semi circle. From left to right, Kimberly, Eric, Lucas, Jen, Trip, Wes and Katie, each with a small handful of powdered roots.
Finally, Kimberly took a step forward. "What does it take to be a hero?" She dropped her powder into the fire and as the flames burned amethyst in colour, she stepped back.
Eric followed. "What does it take to be a man?" He dropped his handful into the fire. This time the flames were garnet hued.
Lucas took his turn. "You always there, always beside me." His handful of powder turned the flames a rich sapphire colour.
Jen stepped forward. "Holding my hand, every step of the way." She released her powder into the flames, turning them a brilliant tourmaline.
Trip took her place. "Through these eyes -- you could do no wrong." Emerald flames burned as he returned to his place.
Wes followed. "In these eyes -- you were brave and strong." He stepped back, releasing his powder and turning the flames ruby red.
Finally Katie stepped up to the pit. "In my heart -- those days live on." As she dropped her powder into the flames, turning them a dazzling topaz, a tear slid down her cheek. "I miss you, Alex."
TO BE CONCLUDED IN
BEGINNING'S END AND YOU HAD ME FROM HELLO...
The End Credits
As ever, a lot of people have helped in the writing of this story who deserve special mention, so in no particular order:
Vanessa -- a wonderful sounding board and a demon on my non-standard punctuation (!!)
Chris -- who has read much of this and offered plenty of advice, encouragement and feedback, not to mention spotted where I've made glaring errors.
Ree -- who has permitted me to bounce this off her and has continued my education in Americanisms
Gamine -- a friend, an advice bureau, a beta reader, above all, a wonderful human being
Thank you all -- I could do it without you, but it wouldn't be half as fun, and it certainly wouldn't be as good.
Lastly, thank you to you the readers. I was wary of this story and nervous of posting it, but you guys set my mind at ease with your feedback.
Three weeks, 25000 words -- the final book in the Identiverse is complete.