Title: "The Hart of the Matter"
This is the sequel to "Alone In The Dark With You"
Written by: Shawn

Summary: 48 hours later...

Category: Angst/Romance/Drama Rating: a hard R Ship: T/K Timeline/Spoilers: Everything up until the finale of "Power Rangers in Space" when Zordon dies. After that it's all my universe. Dino Thunder did not take place in this world. You must read "Alone in the Dark With You" first to understand what's going on here.

Disclaimer: Disney owns it all now, lol.

Email: personal archive: http/groups. Notes 1: Katherine, Tommy, Kimberly, and John (OC) take center stage here.

Authors Notes 2: Both Tommy and Kimberly are twenty-five in this story. They co-own and operate 'TK's Martial Arts and Gymnastics Academy.'

Dedicated to: Gina, my ex-wife from another life.


What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now is the only time there is. Make your now wow, your minutes miracles, and your days pay. Your life will have been magnificently lived and invested, and when you die you will have made a difference. - Mark Victor Hansen

Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and blows up the bonfire. - Francois de La Rouchefoucauld


600 West Congress B-4

Kim's apartment Tuesday, September 22, 2005 11:20 PM Angel Grove, Ca

At long last there was silence and calm.

After a long period of ravenous and near continuous sex, they were finally satiated. The ripe scent of passion filled the air inside her bedroom, as their bodies were hot and slick with it. Gentle night winds blew through the partially open window in the corner cooling their warm skin.

Tommy reached and stroked the back of Kim's small hand, leaving a trail of heat in its path. "Run away with me."

"Are you asking or is that a order?"

"I'm begging."

Lying on her chest beside him, his breathy request lifted a drowsy smile to her lips. "Wherever would we go?"

"I don't even care," he managed to chuckle as his heart struggled to beat normally again. He felt utterly drained and oh so alive. With his eyes shut to the ceiling above him, he laid on his back a broken man for all time. That last time in particular, she had ridden him relentlessly and wrung him dry.

For some strange reason when Kim at last opened her eyes again she focused on his hands. The recent memory of those fingers stroking her body sent a jolt of desire surging through her. Her nerves tingled in a flutter of tiny aftershocks. "How about Egypt? I've always wanted to see the pyramids."

He didn't even have the strength to wipe the sweat from his face. "Too hot."

"Alaska?"

"Too cold."

"Aquitar?"

"That would pose problems for getting to work each day, don't you think?" They shared a smile or two. Neither moved a muscle, or could if they tried.

"Well, I think we have truly mastered one art."

"And that is?"

If she said love making that might sound a bit presumptuous. Then again, what else could it have been? Three intensely aggressive love making sessions. It was as if the flame of their passion had ignited a firestorm, searing them together for all time. She searched the fog of her mind for something to say in reply. Nothing. She had nothing.

"Are you going to answer?" he playfully goaded her, still unable to move.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because you want me too," she purred defiantly. Looking up, she found his pointed stare upon her. A woman could drown in those dark brown eyes, she mused. Lord knows she needed a life preserver. "Are you mad?"

"No. I'm used to you being difficult."

"I am not difficult," she snapped, displaying a spark of her usual self. "You're just a control freak."

"Says the girl who was on top the last time."

"What about the first time?" she dared to remind him.

Her lips curved and he was reminded of a cat regarding a succulent saucer of cream. "We were on more equal footing." His mind was practically writhing with the erotic images of what they had done. "The second time was..."

Ego aside, Kim knew the blow job she had given him was a astonishing performance of technique and raw energy that left him enthralled as his ability to form a coherent thought disintegrated. Afterwards they ravished one another with a hunger that had not lessened since that first electrifying time two days ago. "So where do I rank?" she had the nerve and more to ask. Propping herself up on her elbow, she fixed him with a seductive smile that left no doubts as to what she was asking.

His slow gaze kissed over her lovely body, memorizing her every subtle curve and feminine dip. "Overall, or just that one act?"

"Both."

"You have no equal, ever."

He was full of surprises tonight. She half expected him to tease her or make her work for an answer. Instead, he thrilled her with the direct approach. "Neither do you."

His attempt to sit up failed miserably. Everything on his body ached. "I think you need to get a IV tank of Gatorade and put it by the side of your bed. I feel exhausted."

"I can't even roll over," she laughed at her current physical state. "And my legs are still shaking."

"You've got a small crack in your ceiling." Tommy pointed above him, but Kim just nodded and laid her head back down on the mattress. "You're so lazy," he teased her.

"Hey, I did all the work the last time."

"You enjoyed that work immensely."

"So did you." Her openly predatory gaze focused on him.

"Touché."

Following a night that changed things between them forever, Tommy woke up that morning to a empty bed. What was worse, he woke up to a small hand written letter on the other pillow. The irony wasn't lost on him. It simply said that last night had been wonderful and she had no regrets, but a lot of things to think about. She was heading home for a shower and some clean clothes because they had to open their school up in two hours. He didn't take waking up without her as badly as she thought he would, all things considered.

They worked as well as they always did that day, with no acknowledgement whatsoever of the night before. Perhaps they'd always shared a certain level of intimacy even as friends, and so there were no awkward moments, painful silences, or weirdness between them. They worked ten hours that day, handled a assortment of minor problems, sat down with their accountant for their quarterly books review, taught their classes, held a staff meeting, and went home without so much as a goodbye peck on the cheek.

They didn't talk on the phone Monday night either. No chatting online or emails exchanged. Space... they gave each other space. Nice comfortable friendly space.

That space evaporated twenty-four hours later.

Today was bad. Very bad. Bad as in it seemed like they were going through withdrawal symptoms, each exchanging a dizzying array of seemingly casual touches and intimate smiles. Their private interactions, whether in their office or over the lunch they shared were loaded with thinly veiled come on's and double entendres. There was no kissing or back room shenanigans. But after closing, Tommy offered to bring a deep dish pizza and a bottle of wine to her place just so they could unwind and talk about what had happened. Kim agreed to it without much fuss, and told him to be at her place by eight. She joked that be better not forget the pizza because she was hungry and that it better have pepperoni on it. She would provide the entertainment, courtesy of the new Mr. and Mrs. Smith movie on DVD.

A nice, simple dinner with a movie, shared by two very good friends.

Kim never got a good look at that pizza, but she thought the box had a large P on it and she surmised that it was probably from Pizza Hut. Maybe. And while she saw the bag that held the wine, she wasn't sure what brand or flavor it was. To be perfectly honest, she never even got a good look at the bottle.

Tommy's lips were on hers exactly nine seconds after she closed and locked her front door. As their passion rose furiously like a wind before a thunderstorm, Kim clung to him, surrendering fully and that was the end of that.

Her new blouse was ruined when he tore it from her, sending buttons flying all over her bedroom floor. Her Victoria Secrets satin bra rested in peace, or pieces as in two against the wall. Not to be left out, his shirt landed somewhere... she couldn't remember. His pants were still in the hallway. His boxers hung from lampshade.

His hungry kisses had her practically crawling up his body. They simply couldn't speak, as there were no words for what they felt. No accurate description to the primal lust that had come over them.

Kim was thrown to her bed, stripped, and taken with a savage, relentless, animal ferocity. She was a willing, enthusiastic, and demanding lover in return. Their sweat-moistened flesh soaked her sheets as they made love until they couldn't anymore and then started up again as soon as they could.

They shared an unquenchable thirst for each other, and it was spectacular.

Somewhere between the second and third time she heard him softly moan in her ear that he loved her, and she knew that she had entered the Twilight Zone because she came violently that very second and that only happened in trashy romance novels. Well her bed was treated to plenty of that tonight.

Triumphantly, Kim managed to roll over on her back; her head nestled now against his shoulder. Lying nude in bed with him after such an amazing sex session could become addicting real fast. But too much was still up in the air for her to truly enjoy it the way she wanted to. "Katherine left you a message on our answering machine at work."

"And on my cell phone," he replied without adding anymore.

"You need to sit down and talk with her."

"I'd like to forget her."

"You know you can't."

"I figured after that first night and what we just finished doing you would be all for me forgetting she was alive."

"Katherine's my friend too."

"Then call her right now and tell her what we just did. Then come back in here and tell me how good a friends you are."

The jerk in him, as in all men, peaked out every once in a while. "You don't hate her and you can't make me believe you do."

"I'm not trying to make you believe I hate Katherine. I don't. I just think she's a lying, cheating slut because I caught her in her bed lying and cheating with another guy. It really is that simple."

His pride, ego, and heart were still hurting badly. His need to verbally lash out was easy, and his only source of relief. He rarely, if ever, called a woman a bad name even if she deserved it. "She needs to explain and apologize to you as much as you need to tell her how this all made you feel. How else will you know where you stand?"

Tommy shut his eyes, breathing. "I know where we stand."

"She needs to know. She needs to explain to you in detail exactly what happened and try and make things right between you two."

"You almost sound like you want us to reconcile."

"No," Kim added a little bit too quickly. She suddenly wanted to slap that smirk off his face. "What I mean is that I want you to do what you want to do. I want you to follow your heart." When he turned over her, his hands were warm and strong and gentle as they cradled her face.

"Trust me," he declared, "I am following 'my' heart." Her lips curved in a slow, seductive smile. His mood softened again. "I know I need to sit down and talk with Katherine, but right now I'm still too angry and hurt. I don't trust myself to act in a way that would help us gain any real closure."

There was the Tommy she knew and lov... liked a lot more than she could say. "She's a good person, Tommy. Flawed just like the rest of us, but still a really good person."

"I know that, deep down. But I've been cheated on twice and I'm still at a loss for words as to why it keeps happening to me." He felt her shrink away and pulled her closer. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. Just my old guilt kicking in."

"You have nothing to feel guilty over. Our past was what it was. I'd like to focus on our present." When her gaze lingered a heartbeat too long on his thighs, Tommy knew he was being expertly, seductively, summed up. "I'm where I want to be."

Kim insisted, "You're where you belong."

His lips captured hers in a devastatingly long, deliriously deep kiss that left her drugged. She felt hot. Feverish, as if she couldn't catch her breath to save her life. Her body flushed strawberry pink when Tommy slipped over her again, deepening their kiss.

"Okay... okay, alright." Kim turned her face only to have Tommy's mouth tenderly devour the sensitive skin of her neck. "As good as that feels, I'm starving and need a shower." His groan made her laugh. She held him close, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "Go heat up the pizza while I start the shower. We can share and then have dinner." His lips curled evilly. "No naughtiness in the shower, understood?"

"You drive a hard bargain, Ms. Hart."

"It's because I'm worth it, Mr. Oliver."

"You most certainly are," he added with another long kiss until she playfully shoved him away.


35 Minutes Later


"So where were you? I called twice and you never picked up the phone. Don't pretend you have a life because I know you don't."

Aisha's teasing persona filled the living room via Kim's speakerphone halfway through their dinner. Tommy sat shirtless on the couch, grinning mid-bite at Kim, who was already debating the merits of having a open conversation with her best friend while in the same room with her not-quite-official boyfriend, whom the best friend didn't know was in the room. This was going to be tricky to say the least.

"As soon as I arrived home I took a nap and shut the ringer off," Kim said while refilling her wine glass. She refilled Tommy's as well, and even stole a little kiss just for the heck of it. "I was in dreamland after that."

"Bad day at work?"

Kim heard her, but was to distracted to reply right away. Fate stepped in when she saw, and then wanted to lick a smear of pizza sauce off Tommy's bottom lip. It was nerve wrecking enough to be sitting beside him with his shirt off and all those hard muscles on display. "Not really. I just wanted to relax and unwind."

"Working so close to your ex-honey must be getting to you again."

'Again?' Tommy mouthed at her with a wink. Tongue firmly in cheek, Kim gave him the middle finger. The smug jerk pretended to be listening closely now. "Tommy is a non-factor and you know it," she taunted in his face. "He could walk around our office nude all day long and it wouldn't affect me one bit."

"Riiigght."

"Sometimes I forget he's even around."

"Like the time you 'accidentally' walked in your private office bathroom and he was in the shower. I seem to remember you telling me you were about to..."

"Sha, enough!"

"Lose your mind because he looked good enough to eat and you were a starving woman. You said some other things too, but my momma raised a lady and I can't use those words."

Blushing furiously, Kim ignored Tommy's hand-over-his-mouth laughter. She'd certainly hear about this later on. It was way past time to change the subject. "How was your day?"

"Boring as hell with the emphasis on boring," she relayed with zero affection for her job. "Working in City Hall is either crazy all day long or things move so slow you stare at the clock and wonder if someone is playing a practical joke on you. I thought I was getting 'Punk'd' or something."

Giving the side of her mouth a slow, lazy lap of her tongue after a particularly string piece of cheese, Kim felt a set of warm brown eyes watching her closely, devouring her every move. Let him stare, she thought wickedly. "How about after work?"

"Rocky cancelled on dinner at the last minute. Something to do with his sister moving out of her boyfriend's apartment. No big deal, really. Just like you, when I got home I crashed on my couch."

Crashed... If only she knew, Kim smirked to herself, then had to shove Tommy's hand off from her thigh. She wagged her finger in a no-no-no gesture. When she slipped on her oversized University of Florida sweatshirt and black underwear she wanted to feel comfortable as well as tantalize him all evening long. So far so good. "Yeah, I enjoyed 'crashing' this evening."

"We need to get laid, Kim."

"Sorry, Sha. I'm not turning into a lesbian."

"Dang girl, not with each other," Aisha laughed into the receiver. "I mean with your dusty lifestyle and Rocky and I barely getting past first base it's been a long time since either of us got some. You told me just the other day..."

Suddenly, Kim desperately did not want Aisha to finish that statement. She reached for the speakerphone only to have Tommy's strong arms yank her back to the couch. Sometimes she just wanted to kill him.

"... that you hadn't had sex in well over six months without the help of battery operated assistance."

Feeling a bit mortified pretty much summed up what Kim was going through at the moment. Tommy's slow head shake only made matters worse. "You certainly haven't been Living La Via Loca lately either, you know."

"At least I got a prospect. Rocky and I are slowly moving towards something. He touched my breasts last week. That's progress."

"Oh whatever."

"I'm not the only one with prospects," Aisha alluded to, and then paused on a serious note. "I'm sure by now you've heard about Tommy and Kat, right?"

Kim spared at glance Tommy's way, and saw him sink back into the couch. Aisha knowing what transpired meant all the former Rangers now knew. Gossip spread fast in their small circle of friends. "Yeah, I heard. I actually spoke to Katherine. But not for very long."

"I love my girl Kat and you know this, but she really messed up. Cheating is a terrible thing to do."

"Tell me about it," Kim sighed on the wing tips of memories past.

"Kim, her relationship with Tommy wasn't going to last. We all knew that. They drug it out for years and I don't think either of them wanted to admit it wasn't working anymore."

What Aisha said wasn't what Tommy wanted to hear, even if there was a note of truth to it. Yet again others saw what he could not. Just another bitter realization for him to choke down.

Kim recognized none of this was easy on Tommy. Her heart went out to him. "I feel sorry for both of them."

"So do I. And for what I'm about to say next, please don't think badly of me. But Kim, if you don't make a move soon I think you'd be making a huge mistake."

"Sha..."

"I'm not saying that you should take advantage of the boy. Nothing like that because that's not who you are. But we've talked about him before. I know you still have feelings for him whether you want to admit it or not. You told me that ever since you two opened your school you've become close friends again. Very close friends. I've seen him look at you, Kim. And I know what that look means."

Neither Kim nor Tommy could look the others way. They just sat there and tried to pretend this was a normal conversation. Tried with all their might.

"You told me how hard it was to work with him sometimes. How you just wish that things were different, but you never told me what you wished would be different. I think you need to think about that. Second chances don't come around every day."

"Things are complicated."

"Do you still love him?"

"Not like I used too."

"Exactly. Not the way you loved him when he was seventeen years old. What I'm asking is do you love the man he is now. The adult Tommy you've gotten to know so well in the past year. Do you love him?"

Moment of truth time, and boy was she woefully unprepared for it. Kim felt the weight of the moment bearing down on her, as was Tommy's undivided focus. "I'm to afraid to admit it," she confided after a careful moment. He seemed as relieved as he was disappointed.

"That's cool. There's no rush. All I'm saying is that if Tommy and Kat are finally over, I think you need to take a good long look at our former fearless leader and see if he's the one."

Aisha's revelations were making Kim feel very uncomfortable. That much was easy to see. Tommy crossed the space between them and took her hand in his, giving it a firm, reassuring squeeze. "I'll keep that in mind, Sha."

"That's all I'm asking. Anyway, I just wanted to chat for a few minutes to see how you were doing. I'm going to try Rocky on his cell phone. I have to make sure he isn't getting into any trouble. And that he ate something even remotely healthy tonight."

"Thanks for the advice. Goodnight, Sha."

"You're welcome. Night, Kim."

Reaching over to press the end button on the speakerphone, Kim settled back on the couch with her legs crossed. As awkward silences went, this one was a nine out of ten. They weren't even eating anymore. And to make matters worse Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were having post-fight sex in their kitchen on her TV. "Do you want the last slice?"

Tommy took a long, deep breath. "No, it's all yours."

"Suddenly, I'm not so hungry."

"Then why did you ask?"

"I don't know." She couldn't just come right out and tell him she had issues and didn't know what to say. Why couldn't the matters of her heart ever be easy? Summoning up her courage, she shifted her position, facing him head on. "Look, the other night I didn't set out to seduce you or anything like that. I swear I wasn't trying to come between you and Katherine. I wasn't planning on playing any games or anything like that."

"I know your character, Kim. I never thought that about you."

"But after what you just heard..."

"All I heard was that you thought about me and talked some things over with your best friend. Newsflash, Kim. I did the same with Jason. I wasn't going to cheat on Kat with you or anyone, and I never did. But that doesn't mean I didn't desire you the whole time. Trust me, I did."

"Desire isn't enough, Tommy. People can't build a life around that."

Did that mean she wanted to build a life with him? "It was far more than desire."

She sincerely felt that, and didn't need him to elaborate any further. "We're quite the pair, aren't we?"

Tommy finished his glass of wine, nodded, and then sat it down. "It's all your fault," he stated out of the blue, his lips curled into a smile. She affectionately glared at him. "If you had never written that stupid letter we would be married by now with some kids and not in this mess."

They exchanged a look rife with sensual temptations. "Oh, so it's all my fault now?"

"Exactly."

"And everything in our relationship would have worked out perfectly had I not written that letter?"

"Do you think otherwise?"

"We'll never know," she said to his face. "Unless you have a time machine hidden around somewhere, we can't go back into the past and fix things."

"Would you want too?"

She looked him directly in the eyes. "No."

As expected. "Me either."

"I like the life I've lived. I'm proud of my accomplishments and the lessons life taught me. I'm proud of you too."

They were nice words and he appreciated them, even as a somber mood fell over the living room. Despite hiding it outwardly, he thought about Katherine a lot in the last two days. His feelings had grown from intense anger and betrayal to a numb sort of outlook, finding his remaining anger turned inward. "I wonder if she's with him tonight."

Spoken in a declining tone of voice, his darker inner thoughts laid bare before her. Kim pushed back a gentle swell of jealousy in her belly. "Do you want to call her?"

"I want for her to have never cheated."

"Then maybe you should go over there and try to work things out," Kim snapped a tad louder than she meant to. Something grew within her chest and she needed to vent, only to have the calm restored when Tommy sat beside her and wrapped his arm over her shoulder. "Sorry."

"I didn't mean it the way you took it. I don't want her to have not cheated so that we could still be together." What dawned on him next was a tough pill to swallow. Such was life. "I just hate the thought of not knowing how to make her happy or what I didn't do right. After losing two women I've loved, it makes a guy wonder what he's doing wrong. But trust me, I don't want to get back together with Katherine. This is just me taking a good long look at myself."

Kim suddenly felt all too young and a bit naive. She took it in stride, leaning into his side. For all the years of courage he exuded effortlessly, and all the dangerous risks he took in helping protect the entire world, he was still, at the end of the day, a normal person with insecurities. "You're a good man, Tommy Oliver."

He appreciated the sentiment. "Yeah, but why does this keep happening to me?"

"I don't know if I can answer that. I'm still asking myself why Greg cheated on me." That name rang an instantaneous and painful bell. Her last boyfriend before graduating from the University of Florida had deeply broken her heart. It had been her longest relationship to date. "He cheated on and lied to me, and yet days later I was blaming myself over what happened, wondering what I could have said or done differently. I was a mess."

"I 'am' a mess."

"I like your mess," she said with a renewed burst of her characteristic optimism, and was rewarded with a short but sweet kiss. "Some of life's questions may never have perfect answers. We just have to live and learn."

"I suppose so," he concluded in a far away tone of voice.

He's being distant, which isn't altogether a surprise knowing him as well as she does, but she disliked it nonetheless. Trying to cross all those long thought destroyed bridges back to each other wasn't going to be solved by making love. The physical release and the affection notwithstanding, if they were to get anywhere in life the bedroom wasn't going to get them there. He'd have to open up to her first. "Scoot forward." His raised eyebrow asked before he did.

"Why?"

"Just do it." Kim knew he appeased her because he knew she liked getting her way, which she did. With his new position having freed up room behind him, she took that space for her own, wrapping her arms around his neck and motioning for him to sit back. He settled against her softly. "I want to hold you while you tell me how you feel."

"Kim, this is odd."

"I used to wear Pink spandex and you used to call forth a robotic dinosaur with a flute. Odd is a way of life for us," she smiled against the side of his neck, enjoying the one he wore on his face as well. "Something's happening between us and it's not old. It's not something we are trying to rekindle. This is new and shiny and all ours." She hugged him tighter. "I just want to know what you're feeling."

"Do you understand what you're asking me? I'm a guy, remember?"

"Do you love me?"

"That's never been the issue."

"Then answer the question."

His innate sense of honesty warred with his common sense. "What were we doing in your bedroom not long ago?"

Neither of them was ready to take that final plunge into the unknown. Kim nodded; clearly satisfied she knew the truth. "Tell me."

Her tender embrace was like a soothing balm to his soul, and he knew that anything he confessed to her would be safe with her. He would always be safe with her. "In hindsight, you and I were kids when you broke up with me. I didn't know much about being a boyfriend or in a relationship. You made me more nervous than any of our enemies ever did. But with Katherine I grew into being a grown man. I figured out how she liked to be kissed. I learned how to be romantic and how to compromise with a woman. I knew how to listen and share my feelings and how to be considerate of hers. I honestly thought I knew what it meant to be a good boyfriend. I worked at it the very best that I could."

"No relationship is perfect and none has ever been or will be. You know that. Even if you do everything you think is right it can still end."

"But after almost five years it does make you take a serious look at yourself in the mirror."

"You and Kat were dating off and on for five years. You never took it to the next level. I hate to say this, but maybe you both were hoping for something to finally end it."

"Do you think she cheated on purpose?"

"No. I think Kat found someone that she developed deep feelings for. She just made a huge mistake in how she handled those new feelings. I'm not trying to defend her even though it sounds like I am, but you know her. She's a good person who made a huge mistake."

"What's even worse is that we've gone out on double-dates with John and his dates at least five times since March. We invited him as a friend of ours to Jason's backyard Bar-B-Que last summer. John and I get along well and I never felt like I couldn't trust him around Kat. Obviously, I was blind to the whole thing."

"Sometimes people turn out to not be who we think they are. Even people we've known for a long time or think are our friends. But you have to remember this. There are two sides to every story and you still need to hear Katherine's. It won't justify what she did, but at least you'll have the whole truth."

His dearest friend these last eight months might still be the love of his life. She had a way of dealing with him, reaching him on a deeply emotional level that he didn't fully understand. She never forced him to open up to her. He simply did without thinking twice. "I love Katherine, but not enough to marry her. And after five years and everything else, I think it's finally time to move on."

"And by moving on, you mean to me?"

"Aren't you supposed to just sigh and nod your head? Maybe tell me everything going to be okay?"

"Nah, that's what you expect. I just want to romance you." He lifted an amused eyebrow. Succumbing to the irresistible lure of his strong shoulder, she rested her head there. In a warm haze of need, she brushed her lips over his shoulder. "I want you."

Her mouth was searing his skin with her every breathy kiss. "In what way?"

"Every way possible. And I'm not bashful about saying so. I think you are a wonderful, caring, handsome man. I adore you."

"The feeling is mutual. Except the handsome part," he teased. "You are so beautiful."

Would the day ever arrive when hearing him say that word wouldn't take her breath away? She hoped not. "Kat's a fool for letting you go."

"So were you once upon a time."

"It might have taken me eight years and some change, but I'd like to have another shot." Loosening her arms from around his neck, Kim slipped from behind him and moved to the inn table in front of the couch he sat on. She had to force herself to remember to breathe. "Are you busy on Friday night?"

"Should I pretend to not be sure just so I don't look desperate or go with the truth?"

"The truth sounds good."

"Yes, I'm free on Saturday night. Why do you ask?"

"I asked because I would like to take you out to dinner and a movie. I would add in dancing, but you totally suck at dancing."

"I'll have you know I slow dance very well these days."

"Perhaps so, but you make love incredibly well and in the later hours I'd prefer that to a crowded dance floor."

"Hey, don't go assuming that if I say yes to your date it's a automatic 'you're-gonna-get-laid' night," he toyed with her mercilessly. His hands settled on her bare thighs, giving them a firm squeeze. "I am not a piece of meat, you know. If I order the lobster or the steak I don't want you to think that guarantees you sex that night."

Her lull lips curved into a wide grin. "You are such a asshole."

"But do you love me?"

"Of cour..." she caught herself just in time, feeling the color rise up in her cheeks. "Close, but no cigar." At the feel of his fingertips against her skin, Kim's mind emptied. She lowered her gaze so he wouldn't see the dangerous yearnings that leapt in her heart. "Can I have an answer?"

"To what?" he asked innocently enough. He could tweak her in so many ways.

"Our date."

"Oh, that."

"Yeah, that."

"My answer is yes. I would love for you to take me out to dinner, pay for it, then take me to the movies and pay for that too."

"And the sex afterwards?"

"That had better be a damn good steak and a great movie."

She could will herself to not say the words, but she knew if he looked into her eyes he would see that he was the moon and the stars to her. Fate had a screwed up loves timeline for them, and destiny needed a politically incorrect jump-start, but here they were. Ready to take baby steps towards what was meant to be. She slowly stood to her feet.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her."

He stared at her for a moment, genuinely surprised by what she said. "Kim, I saw Notting Hill."

"Dammit," she giggled, then batted her eyelashes. "You had me at hello."

"I saw Jerry Maguire too. And I never said hello."

"Uhm... I want the fairytale."

"Unfortunately," he laughed at her latest attempt, and then stood to his feet, towering over her. "I saw Pretty Woman too."

"Well, I'm fresh out of romantic lines." 'Mine,' she thought possessively when she was pulled into the strong protective embrace of his arms. Her lips curled into a womanly smile.

"Do you have any idea," he said roughly, "how much I've missed you?" The hell with protecting his male ego.

"As badly as I missed you."

Half blind with need, Tommy grasped a handful of her hair and tilted her head back. His lips hovered inches above hers.

And then he closed the distance.

A soft, yielding sigh slipped from between her lips to his. She twined her arms around his neck. Her body strained against his as they held onto one another in a way that left no doubt that this was where they wanted to be. This was where they belonged. And that this was worth fighting for.

Tommy looped his arms under her knees and lifted her off her feet, never breaking their kiss as he carried her to the bedroom, and made love to her until she screamed his name.


Katherine's apartment 1110 Wilshire Blvd

Thursday, September 24, 2005 8:00 PM Santa Monica, Ca

'But tell me. Did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the milky way to see the lights all faded? And that heaven is overrated. Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star? One without a permanent scar? And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?'

Lyrics from one of Katherine's all-time favorite songs. Drops of Jupiter by Train. For her, the song spoke of watching someone you love move on with their life when you had no clue they were doing so. Especially when your own life felt stagnant and old. She could relate to her interpretation of the songs message these days. What was once only music had now become the unofficial anthem of her life.

Sometimes it didn't pay to listen to the radio when you were trying to get through, much less over, a breakup.

Looking from the chair she just tossed her purse in, she was at least thankful she closed the front door to her apartment. Twice this week she arrived home after work, let herself in, and left the door slightly ajar. Absentmindedness was never something she worried about until her life turned upside down. The guilt she felt wasn't just killing her, it was wrecking her ability to function. What's worse is she knows she deserves it all and more.

Doing her best Alpha-5 impression, Katherine robotically made it through the week. She 'cowboy'd up,' a phrase Rocky said his father told him a person had to do when going through a rough period in their life. The professional in her wore a focused, polished face during the day. She cried twice in the ladies room, but other than that only John knew what she was going through. Well, to be perfectly honest, he didn't. Their last talk this past Sunday night ended with her tearfully asking for space. Total space for now while she figured out the next move in her life. His emerald green eyes were filled with such hurt, and yet he gave her what she asked for. Outside of a polite hello and goodbye at the start and end of each day, he said no more. She was thankful for that. More than she could say.

She needs dinner, but she wants a beer, so that sends her to the refrigertaor. Seconds later she has that necessary drink, now rounding the burgundy ottoman in her living room to take a seat on the deep-cushioned sofa. No television just yet. She needed to be alone with her thoughts for a while.

Her eyes danced towards the telephone, then quickly away. She swore to herself that today would be the first day since Tommy caught her in bed with John that she wouldn't try to call him. She knows him. Knows that he's angry and that will last until he needs his answers, and then he will seek her out. But none of that changes the fact that she's dying to apologize and explain and... she's just not sure at all. What if he never forgave her?

And what if he did?

She's torn between the love of two good men and the extremely poor decision she made concerning both. John didn't force her into anything. She was a willing partner. Eager, on nights when the guilt wasn't crushing her, she could admit that. But she loves Tommy. She has always loved Tommy. She honestly couldn't remember a time when he wasn't everything she wanted in a man. At least until life introduced her to something she wasn't even looking for that was equally special, but different.

And intriguing.

Her beer's finished before she realized it. Lying back, she unceremoniously kicked off her heels, shut her eyes, and tried to discover the true inner workings of her heart. And to quell that nagging little voice in her head screaming 'liberation'.

Whatever was that about?

Her parents have been married for twenty-nine years. Unheard of in this day and age. She's seen the way a good man treats a woman, and vice versa. Knows what it looks like. Understands what is acceptable and what is not. Her friends might not be perfect, but they're good people. She loves them. They have character and honor and are there for one another. So how did she turn out this way? A cheater, no less. Someone who would betray the man she loves.

It just didn't make sense to her. Even days later.

A one-time affair is unacceptable, but at least in terms of being an imperfect human being you could comprehend circumstances in which it could happen. However, a month long sexual affair, one that developed some very real emotional feelings, was just flat out wrong. Disgusting even. Add in that she couldn't imagine Tommy would ever cheat on her. The mere thought never crossed her mind, even if that sounded a bit immature. He was a man of his word and up until a month ago she felt she was a woman of hers. Hurting the man she loved, lying to him day after day, all the while keeping up the front that everything was okay only allowed herself a deep, dark look into what she was capable of.

Apperantly, she had layers and was a complicated woman.

At the moment, Katherine Hillard's least favorite person in all the world was herself. And she had no clue how to fix that. Not when John's kisses spoke of a future he clearly did not fear. Now when his warm embrace shook the foundation of her soul. When his patience and understanding lifted something within her sprit, she fought it for as long as she could. Her and Tommy's endless mating dance was a half a decade old, whereas John stated with no way to misinterpret, exactly what he wanted, why, and challenged her to take a good hard, honest look at her life.

Two nights later they made love for the very first time. And when it should have been brief, passionate, and afterwards regretful... it was glorious. That next morning she cried so hard she couldn't even make it into work. Her guilt was eating her alive.

The lies she told branded her a liar. She fell from grace, and possibly in...

"What am I going to do?" Katherine quietly asked herself in the quiet of her living room at the end of the day. A knock at the door drew her immediate attention. It couldn't be Tanya, who had thankfully spent the last two days at her place just to look after her best friend. Most everyone else she knew, who knew of the crazy hours she kept at work, would call before stopping by. All except one person.

Her heart pounded as she ran for the door, pushed back the lock, turned the knob and swung it wide open.

Kimberly.

Trying her best not to look horrifically disappointed, she painted on her best smile. All the while dreading the reaming she knew was to come now that Kim had talked to Tommy. That first night she stopped by was all about the shell-shock revelation, but no facts. Tonight, however...

"Uhm, can I come in? Or is this a bad time?"

Staring for a moment as if in a trance, Katherine shook her head, stepping aside. "I'm sorry. I don't know where my head is tonight. Of course you can come in."

Strolling inside her beautifully decorated apartment, Kim recognized the unrelenting bleakness in Katherine's blue eyes. It matched what she saw in Tommy's a few nights ago. Without a second thought she caught the blonde by surprise when she hugged her. Katherine was still at first, and then gave in, hugging her back. Sometimes it was amazing being a girl. They instinctively knew when another needed a hug more than anything else.

"I thought you'd hate me?"

"I could never hate you, Kat. You're a human being just like the rest of us. We've all made mistakes. I love you. Plus, us former Pink Rangers have to stick together." They shared a laugh.

Wearing what felt like her first smile in days, Katherine pulled away, so appreciative of the gesture. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." On the move, they sat side by side on the couch. Katherine didn't look like her normal self, and that worried Kim. "I just wanted to check up on you, and... and to... to talk," she stumbled somewhat nervously at the end.

Katherine didn't notice. "I'm not sure if I'll be good company this evening," she remarked on a soft, shaky, little laugh.

"Try me."

Katherine glanced at the first Pink Ranger. "I'm a wreck, Kim." Honesty hurt, but it's what you give a good friend if the emotion was real. She looked away... far away. "I don't know up from down right now. I haven't spoken to Tommy in almost a week and I can only imagine how much he hates me and never wants to see me again," she breathed sadly. "I've destroyed the best friendship of my entire life. And every time I try to think of the perfect apology, I ask myself if the roles were reversed and Tommy had been the one who cheated, would anything he could say to me matter? Would anything ever give me what I need to forgive him? All I come up with is a big fat zero."

"Before you worry about Tommy you might want to forgive yourself?"

"How can I?" she pondered. "I wasn't raised this way. I know what it takes to make a relationship work, and fidelity is one of the most important things. I know better than this. I don't come from a broken home."

Kim reminded her, "But I do, Kat." A shared look of understanding between them. "My parents marriage didn't work out, but that wasn't what made me cheat on Tommy. That was my own choice at that time in my life. Just like this one was yours."

"I know that, deep down. My problem is I'm searching for answers, and I don't know where to find them." Mustering her courage, Katherine asked the one question that's been burning in her mind ever since Kim arrived. "How is Tommy doing?"

Katherine wasn't the only one feeling guilty in this room. "He's coping as best he knows how," Kim offered truthfully. "He's very hurt. He feels betrayed and made a fool of. He wants to hate you, but he can't."

Katherine suddenly felt cold inside. "He should."

"No, he shouldn't. And you shouldn't hate yourself."

"I've tried to apologize, Kim. I've called and left tons of messages."

"Why haven't you gone to his apartment?" Kim watched Katherine practically fold within herself, her head lowered. Her instincts proved flawless. Katherine harbored a secret fear.

"I've never seen anger in his eyes directed at me," she replied almost in a whisper, her eyes vacant as they stared ahead. "I couldn't stand it if he hated me. If he said it to my face." She turned back to Kim. "I know I'm a coward."

"You're just a person that made a mistake. You just need to figure out why."

"Tommy was my first love." She noticed Kim shrink back just an inch, and it was profound. "I trust and need him in my life."

Self-doubt crept into Kim over a host of issues. "Are you still in love with him?"

In all the long days and lonely nights since Tommy found her with John, Katherine never once asked herself that all important question. That life-altering question. And it was because she feared the answer more than anything else. "I don't know how to not be in love with him."

"Join the club," Kim confessed softly, her arms around herself. She felt Katherine's curious stare upon her. Would that soon turn to rage? "I'm sorry."

Katherine assured her, "It's alright, Kim. I know you're still attracted to him. I have eyes," she confided her own observations over the last year. "I also know nothing happened between you and Tommy, so it's alright." She shook her head again, laughing sadly. "Quite a little three-way we have, isn't it?"

"In Tommy's dreams," Kim said with a grin that slowly faded. "If you want to talk, I'm here for you. I mean, I know you have Tanya and Aisha, and neither of them are as close to Tommy as I am, but I don't want you to think I hate you or that you can't talk to me."

"I know and appreciate that so much, Kim."

"You'd do the same for me, Kat."

"I would." Standing to her feet, Katherine began a slow pace of her living room, hands in her pockets. "Do you want to hear how this all began?"

"Only if you want to tell me."

As clear as the compassion in Kim's eyes shone, there was something more that Katherine couldn't quite identify... yet. "If anyone can give me advice on Tommy, it's you." As good an option as that was, she didn't like it one bit. A part of her was still possessive. "If you had all the facts then it might help."

"Whatever you tell me is confidential."

Rounding the couch, Katherine sat back down, her hands resting in her lap. "His name is John Wayne."

"Like the old western actor?" Katherine nodded. "You're kidding me?"

"Not even," Katherine laughed. "He gets teased about his name every single day. The running office joke is that he's going to show up for work one day on a horse wearing a cowboy hat, chaps, and a pair of six-shooters on his hips. The funny thing is he's never even seen one John Wayne movie."

"Does he have a good sense of humor about it?"

"He has a great sense of humor. He keeps me in stitches." Katherine found Kim watching her closely. Why did it feel so good to talk about John? "He's twenty-nine years old. Graduated from Duke University with honors. He works in the legal department. His first day on the job he was given an assignment and partnered with me and two other people in my department."

"What was your first impression?"

"That he was a really sweet guy," she replied, remembering how he carried on a cute conversation with his mother in front of all of them, and didn't seem to care one bit that they were laughing too. It broke the ice. "He's handsome and so comfortable in his own skin. He's in pretty good shape for a guy that doesn't work out religiously like Tommy and Jason do."

"He sounds cool."

"He's a great guy, Kim. That's another reason why this is so hard. Even though he knows what we did is wrong that hasn't changed his feelings for me. He told me he's in love with me. He wants a relationship."

"What do you want?"

"The juries still out on that one."

Kim hoped she hid her disappointment well.

"Over the course of a year, John and I became pretty good work buds. We didn't see each other socially after-hours, but he knew I had a boyfriend and respected that. He never once made a move on me until a month ago. He was respectful and thoughtful and even asked me advice on women he was dating. He was a kind and sincere man. He wasn't rich or arrogant or anything like that. He treated me as an equal and a friend. And I liked it a lot."

In another place and time Kim would have added that Tommy made her feel the exact same way. But not here. Not now. "That's wonderful."

"About seven months ago he met Tommy for the first time and they hit it off pretty well. They weren't going to be best friends or anything because they're very different men. Tommy is intense and moody at times. John is casual and carefree. Both are sweet, but just not in the same ways. Tommy seeks thrills. John likes to read novels," she compared the two men. "Both are wonderful, caring men."

"You're truly torn, aren't you?"

"More than you know," Katherine declared on the wing tips of a long exhale. "My friendship with John deepened during a six-week project in late May we worked on. We were spending so many hours during the day all-alone, and in the evening working overtime. We talked and laughed and really got to know each other on a personal level. I learned all about his favorite games as a child with his two older brothers, and how he felt the day he was accepted into Duke University, and when his girlfriend of two years died in a car accident when he was twenty-two. I told him everything about my life except the Ranger parts. Over a time I found myself giving and receiving everything emotional that I needed from him."

"You made a connection."

"A powerful one at that."

"So what happened next?" Katherine's shoulders hung low. Her face fell blank, and then as if it all came back to her, she spoke.

"We almost kissed before leaving work one day. It was a few days after we had a long talk about... possibilities. I went to his place that evening with every intention of explaining how much I loved Tommy and that whatever he and I felt for each other, it would go no further than that almost kiss. That turned out to be the first night we made love," she finished in a ghost of a voice. "I'm not going to make any excuses of blame anyone, Kim. I spent the night becasue I wanted to. The next morning I called Tommy and told him that when I got off work late I was so bushed I went home, shut everything off and slept for ten hours. It was the first of many lies I've told him over the last month."

Though Kim could hardly compare her seventeen-year-old liaison with Katherine's adult affair, there sure were similarities. "Why didn't you break up with Tommy?"

"Because in my heart he's been 'the one' ever since I even knew what that meant." Her eyes glittered with tears. "I do love him dearly. And I never set out to hurt him on purpose."

"Of course you didn't," Kim sympathized with her friend.

"It's just that Tommy and I feel like we've been on cruise control for years. We break up, date other people for a few months, and then hook back up again. We're each other's safety net. With John, that safety net disappears. I just know that if we were together for any length of time things would progress the way they're supposed to. With Tommy, I'm never quite sure." She paused, almost choking on her next words. "And then there's you."

"What?"

Katherine didn't speak right away. The living room had gone deathly ill as she collected her thoughts. "When you first came back to California it was as if all of my accomplishments were in doubt. Here I was a college graduate with honors working in a good paying job with career advancement, and dating the guy I love who I wanted to marry. You two hadn't been together in almost ten years and we had seen you maybe nine times since then. But the first thought that went though my mind was what if she wants him back? What if he never got over her? I hate that I was so insecure, but I was." She turned to Kim. "You can't imagine what it's like to wake up one day and feel seventeen years old again, hoping the boy you like likes you as much as you like him."

Years passed and yet they're all back at square one. "So much has changed."

"And so much hasn't," Katherine pointed out. "When you and Tommy rekindled your friendship I was so happy, and not only for selfish reasons, but because it was a good and healthy thing to do. But when he decided to finally take that leap of faith and start his school, he only wanted you as his partner."

"But I was looking into starting a school myself."

"Tommy could have had his years ago. He saved a great deal of his money from his racing days and any of the guys would have jumped at the chance. Jason and Adam both proposed ideas to him and each time he turned them down. Only you convinced him," she then continued after a pause, "I certainly couldn't."

It was so true that everyone carried insecurities. Hearing Katherine's only made her feel closer to the former Pink Ranger... and farther away. "Maybe it was just the right time in our lives to make that move."

"Maybe," Katherine conceded, sounding far from convinced. "He cares for you deeply, Kim. He always has and he always will. It's just something I had to get used to."

It was time. Past time to be honest. Kim shifted and took a long, deep breath. She feared the next few minutes. "Do you want Tommy back?"

"We could try again." Katherine felt resigned to say as if it were the only appropriate statement she could make. "We've broken up before and said that was it, never again. And then months and lovers later, we're back together. That seems to be our pattern." Kim's utter silence was a subtle nod to whatever that curious thought was that's been nagging Katherine ever since she arrived. The first Pink Ranger's refusal to look her in the eyes spoke a phantom whisper of something she didn't want to ever hear. Something that caused her stomach to clench almost painfully.

Jesus, it was written all over Kim's face. Katherine stared, refusing to look away until at long last the truth was revealed to her. And it was ugly and mean. She rose from the couch, her face now etched in a mask of intense anger. "Kim, look at me?"

And there it was. Some things girls just knew. Kim faced her friend wearing guilt as surely as she did her clothes.

"You fucked him, didn't you?"

Katherine's accusation bit through her bone deep. "It wasn't like that."

"Bullshit!" Katherine gave her a long, unfathomable look. "Don't you sit there and lie to me. Not about this. I want the truth."

"Something is happening between Tommy and I," Kim admitted, studying Katherine's shadowed eyes and pale complexion. It was only in this infinitely personal moment of total honesty that Kim realized she might lose her forever as a friend over this. And might deserve too.

"Something?" Katherine practically snarled, eyeing Kim who was now standing in front of her. "Why don't you stop playing these stupid kid games and say it?"

"I'm not playing games."

"Oh really? Then what the fuck was coming over here about?" Treachery in her every accusing word. "You walked through my front door pretending to be my good friend. You listen to me poor my heart out and all the while you've been making moves on Tommy behind my back."

"It's wasn't like that at all," Kim set the record straight in a calm tone of voice. "I went to see Tommy right after I left your place to check on him. We talked for a long time and... I don't know." The pained expression Katherine wore tore at Kim's heart. "I didn't go over there to seduce him. I just wanted to make sure he was okay. And I swear to you on my mothers life Tommy and I have not been fooling around behind your back."

"You're a real piece of work, Kim."

"I'm telling you the truth."

"You saw a opening and spread your legs. He was hurting and took what was offered."

Katherine's words hit their mark. The color drained from Kim's face. "I know you're hurt."

"I left hurt five days ago. I've been grieving," she explained bitterly. "I thought I could trust you."

Kim's own anger had been restrained long enough. "And I thought you wouldn't hurt Tommy."

"Hurt him? I've spent the better part of the last decade loving and taking care of him. I was there when you broke his heart and crushed him. I was there when he got over you. I was by his side when we saved you and Jason from Divatox. I was there when you ducked out of the gym after the martial arts tournament and he was disappointed he didn't get a chance to talk to you. I was there for a thousand and one moments in-between, through every triumph and failure and tough times in his life. You may have loved him first, but I've loved him best. So don't you dare lecture me in my house about hurting Tommy."

"None of that changes the fact that you cheated on him."

"I'll regret that for the rest of my life. Will you regret acting like a slut?" It was imperative that Kim kept her cool. But the train was close to flying off the tracks.

"Did you fuck him or make love to him?"

"I don't see what the point is."

"Just answer the question."

"Fine. Both"

The slap came so suddenly, and with such force Kim took two steps backwards. The sting throbbed along her cheek and the side of her lips. She's stunned, pissed, and hurt. "I'm going to ignore that because you feel like you deserved it. But don't you ever raise your hand to me again."

"You're standing in my living room. And I'll do anything I damn well please." There was an edge to Katherine's voice, a cold barely restrained fury. Kim approached her, stopping a foot away. "I hope you're proud of yourself."

"I sleep just fine at night," Kim replied darkly. "And far from alone."

"Enjoy it then. Since the only way you could have Tommy was to seduce him when he was emotionally vulnerable, you really made a point."

"For the last time, I did not seduce him. But yes, we share some very real, deep feelings."

Katherine rolled her eyes. "You're just the intermission."

"I want him. Is that what you've been waiting to hear?"

"I want this to have never happened."

"You're lying to yourself."

"You don't know my heart."

"I know my friend. And I know that for the last half an hour you talked about the man who reawakened something inside you that you can't admit has changed you. That man wasn't Tommy. You're in love with John. Not because I want you to be or because I say so, but because I can hear it in your voice. You're afraid of the truth."

"Care to enlighten me?"

"You needed a reason," Kim accused even as she felt bad for saying it. "You needed something to happen to shake things up for good, because deep down you knew you couldn't just leave Tommy. But cheating on him, yeah, that would do the trick."

Katherine felt stunned and deeply insulted. "You think I would do that to him on purpose?"

"No, not at all. But I think something had to happen. Something meaningful. Something that could finally do what you needed."

"And what was that?"

"To be set free."

Katherine felt frozen in place, staring at Kimberly, lost in maelstrom of her tumultuous feelings. There was no way ever she would hurt Tommy on purpose. But John's kisses burned the way Tommy's used too. His eyes spoke of an absolute devotion to more than a longtime girlfriend, but an eventual wife. She's alive when she's with him and doesn't have to ask herself if she feels alive. She's known him for around a year... and has... loved him for a few months now. Tears fell softly. Her hand covered her mouth as her walls finally came crashing down.

Kim was there to hold her despite it all.

Right there on the floor of Katherine living room the former Pink Rangers hugged. One held the other as the contents of Katherine's heart washed over her at long last. Real life just wasn't predictable, or comfortable, or even fair sometimes. But it never stopped moving. And if you looked ahead with an open heart you had the ability to see the good in even the worst of situations.

For the first time in over five years, Katherine felt... liberated.

"I love John." She tested the words out. Analyzed them. Considered their implications. Felt the truth of it all within her. "I love him."

"That's not a bad thing," Kim whispered, stroking her hair.

"But I hurt Tommy."

"Yes, you did. He's due an apology and the truth. I think he's ready to hear it." Katherine lifted her head from Kim's shoulder, facing her with wet cheeks.

"Are you in love with Tommy?"

Some moments in life were far more poignant, or poetic than others. Days in which you gave up trying to deny things you hid to protect yourself. Kim gave up the ghost at long last. "So much it hurts."

It was Katherine's turn to brush aside her tears, smiling. "That's a good thing. Perhaps it was meant to be all along."

"I never tried to take him from you."

"I know that. I was just angry. I'm sorry about the slap. That was out of line."

"Water under the bridge," Kim told her. "Nothing we're about to do is going to be easy."

Katherine gave a slow, meaningful nod. "Tommy and I are over, Kim. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but I have too. I just need to make things right with both of the men in my life."

"At least you know John loves you."

"Kim, don't." She ducked her face away from her. "I might like romance novels and movies with happy endings, but I'm not naive to life. None of us are. We've witnessed death and waged war as Rangers. But I do feel like you and Tommy just might be the real deal. Fated, somehow."

"I hope so."

"Don't hope. Make it so. Fight for your happy ending. Because I'm going to fight for mine." Katherine stood to her feet, pulling Kim with her. They smiled at each other, collecting themselves. "Thank you."

"Thank you too," Kim said back to her. "I think we helped each other."

"Kim, if you hurt Tommy again, I will be forced to kill you."

She laughed a good, heartfelt laugh. "Understood. And you better not hurt John. He sounds like a wonderful person."

"He is. And it's about time I told him that to his face."

Katherine broke out a bottle of wine, adding to the entertainment of watching some TV with a good friend, unwinding after a long day... a long life, even. And it was so much fun.


Blockbuster Video 1919 North Ave

Friday, September 25, 2005 6:25 PM Angel Grove, Ca

"Rent 'The Notebook.' It's her favorite movie."

Some moments in life left you speechless, baffled, and devastatingly unprepared. Such a moment was taking place right now for John. With his back to the individual who just spoke to him, the question he posed to the friendly older woman behind the counter was 'Could you recommend a good romantic movie to me, even if it doesn't have a happy ending? I haven't done the movies thing much lately and I don't really know what's good or not.'

Before the cashier could reply, one came from behind him, courtesy of his new girlfriends old boyfriend.

Oh boy...

Luckily, the cashier confirmed that 'The Notebook' was a very good, romantic movie. Someone had just returned a copy, so she had one right there at the counter. John calmly paid for the movie, and then stepped aside. When he turned around he came face to face with a man who had a very deserving axe to grind. One who could probably grind that axe in well over a hundred painful ways. Unprepared for this as he was, John stood his ground, even as guilt and some small amount of fear gripped him. "Tommy," he acknowledged with a small nod.

Hit him.

Hit him hard.

Hit him so hard he'd feel it days later.

Those three thoughts above all others entered Tommy Oliver's mind as he stood there, staring into the eyes of the man he found in bed with his girlfriend not more than a week ago. A man that he once called a casual friend, and a good guy. A man who when he first arrived in town and didn't know anyone, was openly invited to parties thrown by Adam, Jason, Tanya just so he'd have a chance to get to know some people.

A man who betrayed that friendship.

The pain of Katherine's betrayal was still a raw, open wound for Tommy. And now this.

Exhaling a deep breath, Tommy finally answered, "Hey." He wasn't going to attack the guy in a store, or even the parking lot. That just wasn't who he was. But it didn't hurt one bit that the guy didn't know that. Wearing a hard, intense expression, Tommy clutched his bag of DVD's tight and brushed past John, wanting no more of the sight of him.

John was man enough to know when he had to take his medicine, as well as when he owed someone a huge apology. With a polite wave to the cashier, he exited the store, and caught up with Tommy before he climbed into his car. He didn't know what he was going to say before he said it, and only hoped it would come out right. "Look, Tommy. I know you probably won't believe me, but I am truly sorry for how things went down. I was way out of line and..." this was similar to an out of body experience for him, seeing as how he'd never done anything like this before. "

A mean spirited laugh erupted in reply. "You have a lot of nerve, John." Tommy turned around as they stood face to face. Sizing him up, he knew he could wipe the parking lot with John in a fight. All men sized up the competition. Even friends sometimes. But this was personal. "When you didn't know anyone, Katherine and I showed you around town. We introduced you to our best friends. I trusted you when you worked those late hours with my girl... excuse me, since it's obviously now official, ex-girlfriend."

John knew he didn't have a leg to stand on, and saw no reason to pretend otherwise. "I know I betrayed your trust in the worst way possible. For that I am truly sorry. I have no excuse for my actions. And for what it's worth, I've never done anything like this before."

"You didn't have a problem cheating with Katherine while she was involved with another man. Who's to say you won't cheat on her?"

"I love Katherine, and would never hurt her," John tried to reason. He could only imagine what his word stood for in this mans eyes. "I know my track record with this situation is lousy, but my commitment and feelings for her are very real."

"She was involved, John."

"She wasn't happy, Tommy."

"That's no excuse to cheat on someone you claim to love."

"That's something you need to tell her as well, not only me." Cars drove in and out of the parking lot, oblivious to the tension that filled the air around the two men. "Look, I didn't handle things the right way, but we fell in love and you are going to have to deal with it."

Tommy took a tentative step forward, all the while reaching within himself for the restraint not to grab this guy by the neck. "What I have to deal with is a vicious betrayal from someone I loved. What I have to deal with is having introduced the guy she cheated with to all of my friends as a good guy. As someone they should trust. And then have them know how big a fool you both made out of me. What I have to deal with is this mountain of lies I was to blind to see were before my very eyes. I have to deal with the fact that you were both fucking behind my back for a month, sometimes in the same bed Katherine and I used to make love in. So don't you stand there and tell me what I have to deal with. Becasue at this very moment I am dealing with severely wanting to kick your ass all over this parking lot."

"Would that make you feel better?"

"It might."

"Then do it," John blankly said. "Go ahead and take out all your anger and frustrations on me. We both know I can't beat you in a fight. But even if you do what I can tell you sorely want to, it won't make you feel any better, or give you any peace of mind."

"You don't know me."

"You're right, I don't," John sighed. "But Katherine does. Despite what you think of her right now she still thinks the world of you. And she hates to think that you hate her right now."

"Having sex with another man and lying about it behind her boyfriends back doesn't exactly inspire adoration, you know." He could verbally brand this guy all day long, and wanted to as badly as he wanted answers. "Guys like you give guys like me a bad name," he explained. "Every guy out there doesn't lie or cheat around all the time. Some of us are trustworthy and tell the people we love the truth. But when guys like you come along, and it only takes one, we're all suddenly dogs that can't keep 'it' in our pants. You disgust me."

He'd said similar words to a man once upon a time. A guy who cheated on his best female friend. "I'm not in any way proud of my actions. What I did was terrible. But it is done, Tommy. Katherine and I are in love with each other and we are together. We're both sorry and know we can never make it up to you. I sincerely wish there was a way we could."

"Save your apologies for someone who gives a damn. I sure don't," Tommy stated angrily. "My feelings didn't matter to either of you. You both did what you wanted until you got caught. Well I'm not going to absolve your guilt by giving you my forgiveness." He opened his car door and climbed inside, shutting it loudly. He started the engine. "I will never forgive this or trust you again. But if you hurt Katherine there will be a line of people waiting to hurt you ten times worse, and trust me. None of them will get a chance because I will be at the front of that line. And for the record, I hope what goes around doesn't come around. Because from personal experience, you do not ever want to be on the other side."

Tommy sped off, leaving a man with a heavy heart and a world of guilt standing all alone.


Cycleland Speedway

Saturday, September 26, 2005 9:55 PM San Diego, Ca

As usual, it was her chasing him.

Likewise, he never wanted to be apart from her, but she was certainly the more aggressive of the two. It was as if life itself tipped his hat, a nod to the days of yesteryear. Some things never changed. Even here, on this 1/6 of a mile dirt track, that was basically a clay surface, with a thin layer of damp sand on top. Their eternal race towards each other continued.

Having worked all day long, and well into the evening with their accountants, their plans for the evening flew right out of the window. By the time they closed and locked down their school for the evening, the dinner reservations Kimberly had made at the new Italian restaurant that just opened across town couldn't be kept. Disappointed, but far from disheartened, an idea popped in her head and she was almost angry at herself for not thinking of it before the sweet, but clichéd romantic dinner for two.

Go-Cart Racing.

Having told him their destination was a surprise secret, and no more during the ninety minute drive to San Diego, upon arriving the warm brown eyes of the man she loved lit up like a 4th of July fireworks display. Something warm settled within her over the joy she gave to him. Unfortunately, they found out the facility was closing in twenty minutes. It was nearly empty, except for the six remaining clean-up crewmembers.

Kim had to step out of herself for a minute. Never one to use her good looks to get her way, she understood the powers enjoyed by an attractive woman and an extra hundred bucks. Comfortable with her sexuality, she knew understood to use it to her advantage. The manager was a nice enough fellow. An older, balding gentlemen who wore a wedding band that looked far from new. With an innocent lie of an explanation that she had gotten lost on the way here, coupled with a few polite compliments, a little sexy laughter at a joke he told with no clear punch line, and the extra money, he came around and gave the couple a hour on the track. No more than that.

The polite kiss on the cheek the manager received seemed to make his day. Yet again, Tommy marveled at the utter charm she wielded with an experts touch over the male population.

Given a pair of black Honda 350 plus cc engine go-carts, Tommy and Kim pulled on their driving gear and hit the track. Of course the more experienced racer gave the novice a few pointers, and then took her on a practice run so that she could get the feel of the go-cart and how it moved around the track. She caught on fast enough and they were gone after that.

Not surprisingly, Tommy won the first race so easily it wasn't even funny, and he had no problem reminding his lovely opponent every chance he got. Instead of verbally firing back, the taunting and teasing only served to fire up the former Pink Ranger, who observed how Tommy took the turns and avoided certain parts of the track because of the way the surface looked. While holding her tongue, she catalogued the information and implemented it in their second race.

Blazing dirt clouds erupted from her wheels as Kim hung right behind Tommy on the third of the five-lap race they were currently engaged in. Mostly likely their last due to time constraints, she intended to make the best of it, staying right on his heels the whole while. Chasing him around the track at speeds that had her pulse pounding was just the thing she needed after having spent most of her day in her office. The excitement and thrill of racing captivated her in a way she hadn't expected, and she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Kim especially enjoyed how Tommy now had to constantly glance over his shoulder. He had to accept her as a challenge, and not just the girl following him around the track.

But did he understand that keeping up with him was a goal for lesser woman? Kim wanted to win. And so she raced that way, taking chances to pass him up, while drifting behind him to maintain striking distance. The throbbing hum of the go-carts engines roared when she put the peddle to the metal.

Thankfully, they rented the track outfits they wore, seeing as how they were nearly covered in dirt and dust, as were their helmets and gloves. None of that mattered to the two combatants as the fourth lap saw them trade leads, all the while taunting each other. They took jumps over small hills, each trying to out do the other. The euphoria of gunning it around the track at high speeds, all the while needing to win just to spite your opponent, it was as good as any foreplay they'd ever experienced.

This was passionate.

Lap number five, the finale, saw Tommy take a sharp inside cut, speeding ahead of her towards the ending straightaway. Kim knew that if he hit that before her, any shot at her winning was over. They drove the same go-cart, so she had no advantage speed or engine wise. Just before the turn ended she glanced up into the stands, and saw no one around. Not even the clean-up crew. Feeling as daring as what she was going to do called for, she gunned the engine of her go-cart full speed ahead. The added acceleration positioned her closer to him, almost alongside.

"Hey, Tommy!"

The former White Ranger, and longest ever to hold the mantle of leadership had seen many things in his illustriously legendary career. Aliens of every shape, size, color, and variety had crossed his path. He'd fought with and against fifty-foot tall monsters and robots. He time-traveled before he lost his virginity and visited no less than three different planets within the first year of having his driving license.

So when Kim yelled his name, he looked over, and she reached down and lifted her shirt, flashing him, he couldn't understand how he lost control. Something in his brain shut down and all coherent thought flew outta his ears. Swerving to avoid hitting a barricade, he had to make a far wide lane that Kim criss-crossed, taking his former position. She hit the straightaway home like a rocket, and all he could do was smirk behind his helmet at the utter charm and cleverness of this amazing woman. God, how he loved her...

She was his perfect other.

With one hand steering her victory lap, Kim waved to an imaginary crowd. She decreased her speed, grinning as if she'd won the lottery. Oh yes, she needed to have a picture taken to mark this event. The male ego had been officially stomped into the dirt she drove over.

Peering over her right shoulder, she caught sight of that handsome face of his. Those gorgeous lips curled into a mock of a frown. His dark short hair tousled so sexy. And as their eyes met he began to smile despite himself. He wore an expression that seemed as carefree and electric as the first day she met him. As he rode toward her, his gaze never left hers. She felt wanted, loved, and altogether feminine.

Hopping off her go-cart, Kimberly hung her helmet on the steering wheel as he approached. "You lost, Tommy. You lost badly," she declared with such utterly satisfying vindication. "All I had to do was show you what you've already seen and you couldn't even drive straight. It's a good thing Scorpina never flashed us when you were at the controls of the Megazord back in the day. The world might not even be around today."

Striding towards her, with his helmet in one hand, she's as beautiful as ever. Her loose ponytail caused her to look even younger, and more luminous. She's downright wicked at the moment.

"Aren't you going to congratulate me?" She smiled up at him, her heart glowing in her eyes. "Don't tell me you're a sore loser."

His mouth came down on hers and she tasted so sweet. The kiss was wild and deeply passionate. The kind of kiss a woman could drown in. A soft breath escaped her parted lips when his tongue plundered her mouth. She felt lightheaded and lost. His arms embraced her, while hers encircled his neck, locking their bodies tight. Her belly rippled with tiny waves of taut tension.

At long last, Tommy pulled back and his gaze moved over her hungrily.

"What was that for?"

"Taking me go-cart racing, flashing me, and looking so sexy tonight"
"So that wasn't a congratulatory kiss for my stunning victory?"

She had some nerve... and all of his heart. "That was a 'thank you for a wonderful evening' kiss."

"After spending the whole day at work together, I thought you'd be tired of me by now."

"I never get tired of you, Kim. I only love you more."

She fixed him with a perfectly calm, almost stoic expression until she burst out laughing. "That was a terrible line. I mean truly corny. Corn on the cob type of corny, if you ask me."

He looked away, laughing. "Zack's the sweet-talker, beautiful."

"The dancer too."

"Are you saying I can't dance?"

"Are you saying you can?"

From behind the manager called out to them, explaining that it was time to close up. Ten minutes later, Tommy and Kim were back in their normal clothes, strolling not towards the parking lot, but a small market area across the street.

They didn't walk hand in hand, but were intimately close enough. The weather was fantastic, and the sky was bright and clear. After having spent well over ten hours at work, neither of them looked the part of a model this evening, but they were comfortable and together. That was all that mattered anyway.

Upon passing a gourmet candy store, Kim saw something in the window she hadn't had in years. She stopped for a moment, grinning, and without saying a word Tommy walked inside. He returned five minutes later with two caramel and chocolate covered candy apples.

Getting used to a man who accepted her about legendary sweet tooth, and indulged her in it was going to take some getting used too. What he did was very sweet, as her smile conveyed. "Thank you," she said upon being handed her apple. The store's sign boasted of their candy apples being made from the finest ingredients. They started with hand-picked Granny Smith Apples, slow cooked in buttery caramel to perfection, then double dipped in warm silky chocolate, and finally hand-rolled in whatever yummy toppings the customer wanted.

Her first bite into the treat made her moan. It was damn near sexual, it tasted so good. "This is delicious."

"It should be," Tommy replied, biting into his. He had to admit it was fantastic. "These were eight dollars each."

"Quality costs, honey."

"I suppose so." Slipping his arm around her shoulder, Tommy guided them to a bench that sat by a large angel sculpted water fountain. They sat for the duration of eating in a comfortable silence, simply enjoying the evening and each other. He thought in a good mood that they could both use a shower, a comb, and some sleep. "Before tonight I hadn't raced in anything other than a video game for over two years. It felt so good to get back on a race track and compete."

"So you're saying I'm your best date ever?" Her voice dripped with sarcasm. He was far from offended.

"Something like that." He relaxed with her arm over her shoulder, possessively holding her close. "Seriously, though. Thank you."

"You're welcome." She snuggled up closer under him, loving the closeness. "With your racing background, I had a feeling you'd love this. I just wish I'd thought of it sooner."

"Tonight won't be the last time we come here."

"Or the last time I whip your pants off."

He whispered close enough for the warmth of his breath to brush her ear lobe. "You don't have to beat me at go-cart racing to get my pants off."

Her soft sigh was one of pleasure. "What a typically male thing to say."

"You're the one talking about whips."

"I did not," she defended herself, so amused. "On to another topic that has nothing to do with whips." Knowing she had to tread carefully, she did so. "Care to elaborate any further on your run in with John yesterday?" Juts like that, his mood turned somber and withdrawn.

"Can we not talk about it?"

"No."

Why was he not surprised? She's stubborn that way. "Like I said, we met up at the video store, exchanged a few words, and I left. The end."

"And..." His somewhat of a glare didn't deter her. "Please tell me."

"Why?"

"Because I think it helps you to talk about things rather than bottle everything up, which is how you tend to operate."

She knew him to well, and that was as much a blessing as it was a curse. "He told me that him and Katherine are officially together."

Kim didn't find that too surprising. "I told you Katherine is in love with him."

"She moved on real fast."

"Look at us, though." Forever attempting to make a complicated man see both sides of the coin wasn't going to be easy. "Are you jealous?"

"No, I'm angry."

From the tone of his voice alone she knew he was telling the truth. "Why?"

"She hasn't tried to call me in a week. She hasn't even stopped by the school or my apartment."

"You haven't tried to contact her either. And she did try to call you many times."

"I know," he sighed. "I'm thinking about asking her to meet me somewhere on Monday, so that we can finally hash things out."

"That sounds really good," she smiled, and was able to elicit one from him as well. Suddenly, his finger moved to her mouth, rubbing away a tiny smear of chocolate, then softly tracing the outline of her lips. When he pulled his hand away he licked at the finger he had wiped the tiny smear away with. "Okay, that was kinda sexy."

"I sure hoped so. I had another corny line I was going to toss your way if it didn't work." Their gazes locked in a moment of complete understanding. 'They' were long overdue. 'They' were meant to be. 'They' were in love."

'They're' time was now.

Something out of the blue caught Kimberly's attention. She saw a vending machine sitting next to the entrance of a closed beauty saloon. "Wait right here."

Tommy watched her when she crossed the street, walked up to the vending machine, and gave it a long perusal. Her back was to him, so he wasn't sure what she did, but assumed correctly that she bought something when she crossed back over the street carrying a small plastic ball of some kind. When she took her seat again he saw that it was one of those clear twisty balls that contained kids toys and such.

Whipping the gift behind her back, Kimberly took a deep breath, and addressed him. "I recognized that kind of vending machine because there's one near the laundromat I use. I know the kind of stuff they offer. I bought you something that I would like to call a promise gift."

She never failed to surprise him. "A promise gift?"

"Well, more of a promise ring." She saw his slight confusion. The male mind wasn't exactly a Ferrari. But she did love his. Pulling her hand from around her back, she twisted off the top of the ball and revealed a small Fred and Wilma Flintstone plastic ring. "This is my promise ring to you that I will never break your heart." She held it out to him.

Considering the ring for a moment, Tommy joked, "I'm only worth a quarter? I blew sixteen bucks back there on candy apples."

"Don't make me hit you." He could send her from zero to exasperated in 0.5 second flat. "I am promising you that I will never, under any circumstances, break your heart ever again. I will protect and cherish it. I will treat it as the precious gift that it is."

She meant it, of that he had no doubt. And to think he thought he couldn't love her any more than he already did. "Beautiful, you do realize I'm the guy in this relationship, right?"

"When I say you are, yeah." He shook his head, laughing, and so did she. Lifting his hand, Kim attempted to slip the ring on his ring finger.

"You do realize these were made for children, right?"

Biting her lip, she conceded with a giggle. "Okay, I think I just channeled my inner Valley-Girl. I thought I left her back in high school."

Tommy took the ring and lopped it around his key chain. Then he leaned over, meeting her half way in a long, luscious kiss. When they at last parted, still so very close, he whispered to her, "One day I will put a ring on your finger that fits."

"I'm going to hold you to that." They kissed again before leaving the bench behind. "I am so tired."

"Me too," he yawned, taking her hand into his as they walked towards her car. "How about we call it a night?"

"Sounds like a plan. Especially if you're staying at my place tonight."

"Where else would I be?"

"Is that where you want to be?"

"Always."

"I knew buying you that ring would get me laid tonight."

"I'm such a cheap date."

"No. You're the love of my life."

She left him speechless, at peace, and overwhelmingly happy.


The End

The last chapter in this still untitled series will be called "Amen"