Disclaimer: Nothing's mine with the arguable exception of Dirk Cunningham -- more's the pity -- and the universe in which this takes place. Borrowed from BVE -- no harm, no foul, no money made. All hail the mouse! Star Wars -- and all quotes and characters -- belongs to George Lucas *genuflects before the master*

Muchos gracias to 'Nessa and Jonathan for beta'ing. Muchos, muchos gracias to Gamine for not only beta'ing but also helping me plot this out and for constantly pushing me to write more and better. Lastly, muchos gracias to Steve for pointing out that this little piece of closure needed to be written. Ladies and gentlemen -- I thank you!

A few quick things to note:

First:- Within the Identiverse, this is timed at a week on from 'Mother's Boy' (some ten years prior to any Far Future story).

Second:- I've taken a few liberties with the PR (particularly MMPR-PRiS) timeline and certain events. The main thing is that as far as this universe is concerned, the last time Tommy sees Kimberly is when she leaves for Florida. Everything else, more or less, happened but without any input from Kimberly. (With apologies to MMPR purists.)

Third:- Yes this is a 'letter' story.

Fourth:- I make no apologies for the shameless use of Star Wars.

Lastly:- It's cold here. T/K shippers (whichever brand you happen to be) are welcome to flame me. I could use the extra heat. That's all they'll be used for.


Loves Lost; Love's Gain

Tommy Oliver, champion NASCAR driver and national hero, couldn't help but smile as he arrived at his destination. It might have been a long time since he'd actively practised martial arts but that didn't mean he'd lost his enjoyment of it, nor did it mean he'd let his skills atrophy. So when he'd found he had nearly a full week of time completely free of commitments the first thing he'd planned to do with the time was go home and take up Rocky's standing invitation to come down to the Ape Martial Arts Dojo for a work out.

It being mid-morning, Tommy fully expected the dojo to be empty. The pre-work workouts would be over and the lunchtime ones wouldn't have begun yet which would give him plenty of time to catch up with Rocky and have a good sparring session. As a result, he was more than a little disconcerted to find that the dojo wasn't quite empty. Going through the complex movements of a vaguely familiar kata was a relatively short, stocky, faintly Asiatic looking man.

Even as he was noting that, however, the kata came to a close and Rocky appeared out of his office.

"Looking good, Eric," Rocky observed. "Looks like you're almost back to full strength."

"Almost feel it, too," agreed the man -- Eric -- with a grimace.

Tommy idly wondered at the exchange and decided it was none of his business. Instead, he politely knocked on the door. "Is my invite still open?"

Rocky jumped. "Tommy?!"

Tommy offered a grin. "Sure is."

"Oh man...!" Rocky's grin threatened to split his face. "It's great to see you -- how long're you in town for? Of course your invite's open! You gotta come over for dinner while you're here..."

"Rocko, slow down," advised Eric dryly. "Give the poor guy a chance to answer!" Tommy flashed him a grateful smile. "Eric Myers," he added by way of an introduction.

"Tommy Oliver -- and I'm used to Rocky." Tommy turned to Rocky, who was still bouncing. "I'm in town for about a week, completely commitment free -- and I'd love to come over for dinner."

Rocky opened his mouth to reply, only to be silenced by the sound of a ringing telephone. With a roll of his eyes, he turned back for his office. "Excuse me, guys."

Tommy couldn't help but laugh. It was nice to see that Rocky hadn't changed one bit.

"So how long've you known Rocky?" Eric enquired, drawing Tommy from his thoughts.

"Since high school," Tommy replied. "Although it's kinda difficult to stay in touch sometimes." He grimaced. "Long story."

Eric offered him a knowing sort of expression. "Those are the sorts of things I've got a lot of experience with."

"How about you?" Tommy continued. "Where'd you have the misfortune to run into Rocky?"

Eric grinned faintly. "We met through my wife...she's known Rocky since high school too..."

Before Eric could say anything else, and before Tommy could ask what Eric's wife's name was, the door of the dojo flew open and in bounded a small, blonde whirlwind.

"Eric!" it yelled in joyous delight as it flung itself at Eric.

"Alice!" Eric responded as the whirlwind resolved itself into a girl of about seven or eight. "What's mom said about calling me Eric?"

Tommy watched as Alice heaved a sigh. "Sorry dad," she murmured.

For some reason, the appellation surprised Tommy -- although, given his own background, why it should, he wasn't sure.

"Tommy, meet my daughter, Alice. Alice -- this is a friend of Uncle Rocky's, Tommy Oliver," said Eric, conducting a brief introduction.

"Hi," said Alice brightly.

"Hi there," Tommy replied, smiling.

"So where are mom and Auntie Aisha?" Eric asked.


"You mean you left them carrying all the bags," Eric surmised. Alice hung her head contritely. "Go help them."

Alice sighed. "OK."

She trotted out of the dojo.

"They've been out shopping," Eric explained with a roll of his eyes.

"Uh-oh. Words to be scared by if you know Aisha," Tommy agreed.

Eric offered a conspiratorial grin. "Which is half the reason I'm in here and not just come back from the mall."

"No, Mr Myers," said a new voice, one that made Tommy's skin freeze. "It has nothing to do with why you're here." Tommy slowly turned to face the doorway to see the speaker, a petite, perky brunette. "You're...ohmygosh!" Her hands went to her face in an expression of complete shock and surprise.

An expression Tommy wanted to match but couldn't. He felt rooted to the spot by the sight of the one person who still had the power to completely rob him of his senses.


There was no denying it. No doubting it. "Kim."

From the doorway of Rocky's office, Tommy caught a soft, "Uh-oh."

"It's been a long time," Tommy stated.


There was a long, awkward silence.

"I guess you know each other, then," said Eric tightly. "Well don't mind me."

Before anyone could say anything, Eric headed into the locker room. After a moment's hesitation, Kimberly vanished at warp-speed in the direction of the locker room. If he'd been in any doubt as to who was Eric's wife, that solved it.

Tommy slowly shook his head. "Oh man..."


Kimberly hustled through the changing area of Rocky's dojo, hoping that there was no-one else currently using it and hoping that Eric would be easy to find. This was a nightmare. It would have been bad enough to just run into Tommy after so long. She owed him an explanation although she wasn't sure she was ready to give it. But this...

She entered the shower area. Eric was just starting to shed clothing, presumably in preparation for a shower.

"He's a very, very ex-boyfriend," she said. "Someone I knew in high school."

She watched as Eric sighed. "He is more than that." He wasn't angry, which Kimberly decided was a good sign.

"What do you mean?"

Eric slowly turned to face her. "Kim, I know you. I could see it in your expression. He meant...means a great deal to you."

It was Kimberly's turn to sigh. "It's complicated." Eric lifted his eyebrows. "He's the guy I dumped over Dirk."

Eric winced. "I see what you mean."

"Which," she admitted, "I owe him a proper explanation for." She sighed. "And I guess...I kinda owe you the same." Eric opened his mouth to say something. Kimberly shook her head. "No -- I mean it. You didn't have to apologise to me in that Novotel, but you needed to say the words. Maybe it's time I said the words."

Eric nodded. "I understand."

"And...you're right," she continued, "he did mean a lot to me...in some ways he still does and probably always will...but it's friendship. Only friendship." She moved closer to him until she could put her arms around his neck in a loose embrace. "You're the guy I love."

Eric offered her a smile. "Y'know...if everyone, including Alice, wasn't in the next room, I might just be tempted to make you prove that."

Kimberly smiled in return, stretched up and kissed him on the tip of his nose. "Hold that thought -- I'll take you up on that later."


"Look...I should go," said Tommy awkwardly. "I..."

"Thomas Oliver, don't you dare take one single step," said Aisha, who had finally appeared with Alice in tow.

"I don't want to cause any trouble."

From his position in the office doorway, Rocky groaned softly.

"And how much trouble do you think you'll be in if you go?" Aisha enquired. "Cos I can tell you it'll be a whole heap. Now sit your backside down on that bench and don't say a word."

Meekly, Tommy did as he was told.

"Score one to Aisha," Rocky murmured.

"Where're mom and dad?" Alice wanted to know. "And why is..." she hesitated a moment then finished, "Uncle Tommy in trouble?"

With a barely muffled snort of laughter, Rocky retreated into his office.

"Coward," Aisha muttered. "Uncle Tommy's not in trouble, sweetie," she continued, turning to Alice. "And it might not be such a hot idea for you to call him that."

"Why?" Alice asked.

Aisha sighed. "It's kinda complicated but..."

And then sparing her the explanation, the locker room door opened and Kimberly exited.

"Mom!" Alice bounded over to her. "Where's dad?"

"Getting changed," Kimberly answered. "He'll be out in a moment."

"He's still in one piece?" queried Aisha.

Kimberly grinned a little. "Yeah."

Aisha's eyebrows lifted at that. Kimberly just shook her head. Aisha scowled and opened her mouth to say something, but Alice got in first,

"Mom, what's going on?"

But the locker room door opened again, this time allowing Eric to exit.

"Alice, hon, how's about you come with me and we'll go get some lunch," said Aisha, holding out her hand and resigning herself to interrogating Kimberly later. "I think mom, dad and Tommy have a lot of things to talk about."

"What?" Alice wanted to know.

"Grown up things," said Eric firmly.

Alice sighed. "OK." She glared around the room. "One day I'm going to be old enough to know what 'grown up things' are."


Rocky left his office in time to hear Alice's parting shot and couldn't help but smile at it. Tommy was still sitting on the bench where Aisha had instructed him to sit, and looking not a little bemused by everything. Rocky couldn't say he entirely blamed him.

"Do you want to bring this discussion into my office?" he offered. There was a muffled exclamation from everyone, which made Rocky smile again. They'd obviously forgotten his presence. "I'm guessing it's not something you want interrupted," he added.

There was a moment's pause then Kimberly nodded.

Minutes later, the four of them were seated in the office, Tommy on one side of the room, facing Kimberly and Eric who took the couch on the other side of the room. Rocky himself took up a position roughly in the middle, perching on the edge of his desk. Almost a referee, he mused.

"I guess..." Kimberly hesitated. "The first thing I should probably say is that everyone in this room is...or was a ranger."

Eric didn't appear surprised at that piece of information -- Rocky realised the other man had probably put two and two together on learning Tommy was an old high school friend. Tommy, on the other hand, was a little startled. Then again, when we were rangers, we were kids and we handed over to kids. Eric and everyone else I met last year was full grown adult. It's not so obvious, he decided.

Silence fell. Rocky watched as Kimberly laced her fingers together, studying the patterns they made. But just when he was about to offer her a way into the explanations, she said,

"Dirk was a really charming guy when I first met him. I was so homesick in the first month or so that I was in Florida and Coach Schmitt's compound was so different to what I was used to... So regimented and disciplined...it was almost like a boot camp. I...I'm not saying that it wasn't good -- and I don't blame the coach for what I did...or anyone else for that matter...except myself. Just that it was a culture shock. And one night...when I'd just missed you on the phone," and at his point she nodded to Tommy, "I found myself in a bar. Not to drink...just for a little...I don't know. Human contact.

"Dirk was the barman. I guess he was...is...maybe ten years older than me, and I sure wasn't looking for anything. Just someone to talk to who knew something other than gymnastics or -- and no offence to anyone in here -- martial arts which was all the guys at the compound knew. Literally. And that was Dirk. I think we ended up talking about..." Kimberly laughed a little. "That first night in the bar, we talked about politics. Bet that sounds weird...but any port in a storm, so they say.

"Before I really knew it, I was going there every week...then almost every night. I didn't know it then, though I do now, the son of a bitch was slipping something into my drink. I don't know what it was but it was addictive as all get out and traceless, too. Never once showed up on the drugs tests at the compound."

Rocky noted that Eric's expression had tightened. He suspected the other man did know what the drug was and judged Dirk to be exceedingly lucky to be behind bars. Tommy, meanwhile, looked aghast.

"But why didn't you say anything?" he asked.

"Say what?" Kimberly returned, no note of accusation in her voice. "I didn't really know what was happening to me, Master Vile didn't help the situation any, and I knew that you had duties and responsibilities here. What's one life in the face of the fate of the whole world?"

"And my point is it was your life," Tommy answered. "I'd have..."

"Dropped everything for me?" Kimberly suggested. "Tommy you couldn't have. You might have wanted to but what would you have done if you'd got to Florida only to find that Mondo...whoever...launched a major attack? Are you telling me you'd have quit being a ranger for me?"

That question hung on the air. Rocky noted that Tommy seemed to have no answer. Eventually, Kimberly nodded as if to say 'point proved'.

"Anyway," she continued, "late one night, Dirk and I stayed behind after closing. Talking, to start off with. He suggested a night-cap...and I said yes. One turned into two, then the whole bottle...I guess you guys can do the math on what happened next."

Rocky watched as Kimberly's fingers suddenly seemed to be the most fascinating things in the room as far as she was concerned. So much so that when Eric gently put his arm around her to offer his support, she jumped.

"The shit," she finally continued, "hit the fan in the middle of September, at the monthly physicals. They found out I was pregnant. Coach Schmitt was actually really good about it all. He went with me when I told Dirk; he helped me speak to my mom...who was convinced it was you and that you'd left me high and dry. She threatened to disown me if I didn't have an abortion..." She looked up at Tommy. "You know my mom. Anyway, coach managed to clear up most things...but she was adamant I have an abortion...I couldn't do that. It was my mistake, not my child's...and I wasn't as unready to be a mom as she thought I was. I knew...thought I knew...what was involved and...between Rita, Zedd and saving the world almost on a daily basis, I certainly wasn't a mallrat airhead." Rocky saw Kimberly smile bitterly. "If I had been, I wouldn't have wound up in the bar in the first place."

There was a long silence.

"What happened then?" Tommy finally asked softly.

"Dirk offered to stand by me. You know, the whole 'responsible man' bit. That was when I decided that the best thing I could do was write a letter and break up with you. And...I know it hurt you but believe it or not, out of the whole mess, the one thing I don't regret is writing that letter or where I sent it."

Rocky blinked. He hadn't seen that one coming, even though he knew most of this explanation. Tommy looked stunned.

"Y'see, at that point, I was speaking to your mom or your answering machine more often than I was you -- and there was no way in hell I was breaking up with you like that. Nor was there any way for me to come home and break up with you in person -- I didn't have the money for the flight. I needed that for practical stuff like medical bills. As for sending it to the Youth Centre..."

"You wanted to make sure everyone knew what had happened," Tommy completed.

Kimberly nodded. "You wouldn't have said anything on your own account."

Rocky was impressed when Tommy simply nodded.

Another long silence followed.

"So what happened?" Tommy asked gently.

Kimberly sighed. "What didn't?" she replied. "I got married to Dirk. I stuck it out for four years because I didn't have anywhere else to go. He was...slime of the worst kind...but...I didn't have anywhere else to go...and as long as he didn't lay a hand on Alice I...I could cope. God it sounds so dumb. I found so many ways to rationalise it...staying with him... A--and then he did lay a hand on Alice."

Rocky watched as the realisation of what Kimberly was saying swept over Tommy's face and waited for the explosion.

It came.

"He hit you?!" Tommy sounded outraged and angry and hurt and upset and a whole wealth of other emotions that Rocky didn't even try to name. "Where..."

"In jail," said Eric tightly. "Which is exactly where that sack of shit should be."

That seemed to bring Tommy up short -- as if he suddenly remembered that he wasn't Kimberly's 'white knight' any more. He subsided, although still visibly angry at the thought of what Dirk had done.

There was another lengthy pause after Tommy's outburst. Rocky watched as Kimberly struggled with her emotions and memories. Eric gently squeezed her shoulders in a gesture of support, and it seemed she did draw some measure of comfort from it.

"I don't remember what happened that afternoon. Not totally. I've blanked it. I just know that Dirk tried to start on Alice and I went for him...Miami PD were called... I nearly ended up being charged and then a neighbour or someone came forward and everything started unravelling... Dirk ended up being charged and got put away. And suddenly I didn't have anywhere else to go."

That seemed to be where Kimberly's explanations wound down, so Rocky put in, "At some point during proceedings, my name came up. Miami PD called me up and when everything was legally settled -- and that included a divorce including the severance of paternal rights -- I helped bring Kim home." Rocky smiled faintly. "Kinda home," he amended.

"Where did you go?" Tommy asked.

"Silverhills. Close enough that I could be on hand, far enough away so that..."

"So that I didn't run into anyone I knew," Kimberly finished quietly. "Anyone I'd hurt." Tommy left the 'you mean me' unsaid but it was palpable and Kimberly didn't try and deny it. "I was scared and hurt...I needed time to heal. I always planned to come back to visit but the longer I put it off, the harder it was...and the more scared I was of what people would say... And then Alice decided to make friends with my next door neighbour."

At that, Tommy frowned, clearly confused. "Your what?"

"Me," Eric clarified, smiling a little.

"Ah." Tommy nodded. "I see."

Explanations at a close, another lengthy silence developed. Rocky studied Tommy's expression and was surprised by what he wasn't seeing. For so long, his friend's expression had been haunted by the spectre of his first love. Now, finally, that ghost seemed to have been laid to rest. He turned his attention to Kimberly. She looked apprehensive, almost as if she was wondering what the reaction was going to be to all the revelations. But even as he noted that, Eric gave her shoulders another gentle squeeze and the apprehension melted from Kimberly's expression.

"I..." Tommy hesitated. "Thank you," he finally offered. "I'm sorry."

Kimberly blinked a little. "For what?"

Tommy shrugged a little. "For not being there for you when you needed me to be...and for causing trouble today."

Kimberly managed a watery smile. "I don't blame you. Never did. Don't start the Thomas Oliver Guilt Machine up over this."

There was a strange expression on Eric's face at that -- as though something had just become clear to him. Rocky wondered what it was.

Tommy, for his part, gave a huff of sheepish laughter. "I'll try not to."

"Do or do not, there is no try."

Rocky bit his lip. Tommy looked stunned. Kimberly looked a mix of amused and appalled. Eric, who clearly hadn't intended to say the words out loud, was clearly looking for a hole to crawl into.

"Oops?" Eric finally offered.

That did it. Rocky found himself laughing -- and it proved to be infectious. Soon all four of them were laughing -- although Eric looked sheepish. It had the benefit of clearing away the tension the explanations had generated, which, Rocky realised as his laughter subsided, could only be a good thing.

"I guess I deserved that, Yoda," Tommy finally managed.

Eric smiled, sheepishly. "Kim's been warning me for months that I'd do that. Sorry."

Tommy shook his head. "Just don't ask me to stand on my head and balance rocks."

Eric lifted an eyebrow. "I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience. He is not ready."

Tommy blinked. "Yoda! I am ready."

"Ready are you?" Eric shot back. "What know you of ready?" He paused, as if deciding something. "You are reckless." There was another pause, as Tommy hung his head. "He is too old. Yes, too old to begin the training."

Tommy slowly looked up. "But I've learned so much."

Eric offered a sigh. "Will he finish what he begins?"

"I won't fail you," Tommy promised. "I'm not afraid!"

Eric's expression turned mildly threatening. "Oh you will be. You will be."

Kimberly looked mock horrified by the exchange. "That's it, I'm outta here." She moved to stand up and head out of the office.

Rocky groaned. He knew what was coming almost before Kimberly had finished speaking. There was a quick glance between Tommy and Eric, then:

"Sister! So...you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will," Tommy intoned in a decidedly evil tone of voice.

Eric opened his mouth to reply but Rocky cut him off. "No."

There was a stunned moment. Then both Tommy and Eric swivelled to stare at him. "Why not?"

For answer, Rocky grabbed each one by a convenient hand and, to Kimberly's complete amusement, dragged them both out of the office. He came to a halt in the middle of the dojo floor. "Wait there." He then headed across to a nearby weapons rack and claimed a couple of wooden boken from it. Turning back, he handed one to Eric and one to Tommy. "OK, now you can do it."

Both regarded him for a couple of minutes in complete bemusement.

He put his hands on his hips. "I am not having you light-sabre duelling in my office. It isn't big enough."

Tommy made a couple of experimental cuts with the boken. "Well -- I did come here for a spar."

Eric hefted his boken. "I'm game if you are."


Kimberly had followed the trio of men -- Boys; she corrected herself with an amused smile -- out into dojo. She now watched, entertained, as Eric and Tommy both took up suitable positions.

"Rocky, did you have to encourage them?" she asked as Rocky joined her.

Rocky just grinned. "This I'm looking forward to." Kimberly rolled her eyes. "C'mon. You mean it's never crossed your mind to wonder who'd win this one?"

"Well..." Kimberly hesitated. "It...did sorta cross my mind once." A memory surfaced of a day spent at the Novotel just East of Malibu and she found herself blushing a little.

"I won't ask," said Rocky, dispelling the daydream. Kimberly's blush deepened. "This should be a fair fight."

"What makes you say that?" Kimberly wanted to know.

Rocky waved a knowledgeable hand in the direction of the two combatants as they started to circle. "Tommy's always been good with swords," at that Kimberly nodded, "but he's rusty. Eric, on the other hand, isn't as hot with bladed weapons as he is open hand. Don't get me wrong," he added, "Eric's no slouch, but it's not his main skill." Again, Kimberly nodded. "So, all things considered..." Rocky grinned. "Should be a good match."

"Please tell me," said Aisha, joining them, "that this isn't what I think it is."

"Depends what you think this is," Kimberly answered as Eric made a couple of exploratory thrusts, testing Tommy's defences. Both were blocked.

"If you think they're duelling for Kim's honour," said Rocky, "you're wrong."

"Well -- good." Aisha frowned. "What are they doing?"


Eric took a glance at where Rocky and Kimberly were watching and noted Aisha and Alice's arrival.

"Looks like we've got a bit of an audience," he observed softly.

Tommy grinned mischievously. "Well -- this is supposed to be a light-sabre duel...whaddya say?"

Eric nodded, smiling. "Give them a moment to get comfortable."

Tommy nodded.

They circled again, just testing each other's defences. As he passed, Eric caught the movement of Kimberly sitting down on a nearby bench out of the tail of his eye. Meeting Tommy's gaze, he nodded.

"I've been waiting for you," Tommy said aloud, "Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete."

Eric raised his eyebrows, a little surprised by the choice of dialogue. Tommy just smiled.

"When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master."

"Only a master of evil, Darth," Eric shot back, and backed up the words with a powerful lunge.

"Yay Star Wars!" Alice chirruped, her voice managing to rise above the harsh sound of wood on wood as the two boken clashed together.

Tommy easily defended the lunge, deflecting Eric's charge away to his left. Eric went with the deflection, spinning round to meet the inevitable counter attack with a strong parry of his own.

Blows were exchanged with a rapidity that had the dojo echoing with the clack-clack of the boken striking each other, and Eric found himself being driven backwards as Tommy advanced.

"Your powers are weak, old man," Tommy stated.

"You can't win, Darth," Eric shot back, a little breathless. "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

"Y'know I don't really see Eric as an Obi-Wan Kenobi type. But Tommy makes a great Darth Vader." Aisha's observation floated over noise of battle.

Tommy, who now had his back to the watchers, looked outraged at that comment. Eric got the full beauty of the expression and that was very nearly the battle over, as he had to suddenly bite back the urge to laugh. Hard.

Buying himself a little breathing space -- and recovery time -- he dived to Tommy's left, ducking and rolling beneath the slash of Tommy's boken, and coming back to his feet immediately behind his opponent. Time for a little payback.

"Threepio!" There was a snort from the watchers. "You tell that slimy piece of worm ridden filth that he'll get no such pleasure from us."

Tommy turned in time to see the attack Eric married to the words. "The sail barge?!" he mouthed.

"Serves you right for making me laugh," Eric responded.

"You play dirty."

"Damn straight."

Tommy gave an evil grin. "I'm looking forward to completing your training," he said aloud, driving Eric backwards again. "In time you will learn to call me master."

"Oooh the Emperor!" exclaimed Alice. "He's evil!"

Eric twisted to his right, avoiding a lunge rather than parrying it. "You're gravely mistaken. You won't convert me as you did my father."

Tommy actually laughed as he followed the avoid movement as easily as if he'd known it was going to happen. "Oh no, my young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken. About a great many things."

"You're wrong," Eric retorted, even as he noted he seemed to be permanently stuck on the defensive. "Soon I'll be dead -- and you with me."

Again Tommy laughed, pressing home his advantage. "Perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel fleet." Forward another few feet. Eric could sense the close proximity of the wall. "Yes -- I assure you we are quite safe from your friends here."

Again, Eric dived passed Tommy, not letting himself get pinned to the wall, which would surely end the fight. "Your overconfidence is your weakness."

"Your faith in your friends is yours," Tommy sneered.

So saying, Tommy slashed down, right to left. It was an expansive, showy move and apparently out of character. Eric frowned. He realised too late that as Tommy continued to move through the sword stroke, he let his body follow the move, taking himself into a crouch before pivoting round in a leg sweep that clicked Eric's ankles together, dropping him to the mat, even as it took Tommy back to his feet.

Eric's boken skittered away across the floor.

"Use the Force, Luke!"

Eric groaned as the four members of the peanut gallery yelled the advice. He knew he needed to move or the battle would be over but exhaustion was tugging at him now. The power drain of a week ago was still affecting him and given this fight was on top of his normal workout routine...

Tommy's boken was now hovering, point first, over his throat. "Do you yield?"

Eric offered a smile. "Of course..." He took hold of the boken's blade and pushed it aside. "Not!" So saying, he rocked back on his spine, kicking out at Tommy as he rolled over in an ungainly backwards somersault.

It was the turn of Tommy's boken to go flying away as Eric's feet connected solidly, forcing the practice sword out of Tommy's grasp.

Eric regained his feet and dropped into the more familiar ready stance of open hand fighting.

"OK -- that's enough," said Rocky, stepping in even as Tommy prepared for round two.

"Aw," Alice complained.

"So who won?" asked Kimberly.

"Honourable draw," said Rocky.

Eric relaxed his stance. "We'll have to have a proper rematch sometime when I'm back to full fitness."

Tommy's eyes widened at that. "You mean you're not?"

"Eric...um...dad's been sick," put in Alice, correcting herself as she spoke. "He was helping people."

Tommy slowly shook his head. "Guess you were right about those long stories, huh?"

Eric smiled wryly. "Something like that," he agreed.

"I guess this is as good a time as any," said Aisha. "We're having a barbeque on Wednesday. Be a good chance for everyone to catch up. You guys want to come?"

Eric glanced at Kimberly who nodded. "Sounds good," he said.

Tommy nodded too. "Count me in."

Aisha grinned. "Good."

Kimberly put her arm around Eric's waist. "C'mon, you -- if you've finished playing. We need to get home. You look dead on your feet as it is."

Eric smiled a little wryly and opted to make no reply.

"Maybe we can swap long stories," Tommy suggested as Eric found himself being gently but forcefully towed towards the door.

Eric offered a smile and a nod. "Sounds good to me."


Later that evening, after Alice had gone to bed, Kimberly watched as Eric stacked the dishwasher.

"You got on with Tommy all right?" she asked.

He nodded. "I did. Nice guy." He glanced over his shoulder. "Would I be right in thinking he's got a lot of interesting stories?"

Kimberly grinned. "Well he's never managed to get himself trapped in a collapsed building...but he's pulled his fair share of stunts."

Eric rolled his eyes. "You're not going to let me forget that, are you?"

"Honey, you were fifteen minutes shy of having eight feet of rubble land on you. I'm not likely to forget that -- I don't see why you should have that luxury."

He switched the dishwasher on and turned to face her. "If I promise, faithfully, I will never let it happen again..."

"I'll think about dropping it." Kimberly grinned. "Now...don't I have a rain check to collect on?"