June 2008

Title: Clipped Wings

Author: JadeMax

Rating: T

Disclaimer: Power Rangers and their affiliates belong to Disney and are used without permission and no money is being made off of this. I'm simply destroying the sandcastles in their sandbox

Author Notes: My thanks to Cathy for letting me adopt this adorable little plot bunny and take it home! It er.. turned into something of a monster ficlet hangs head sheepishly

Teh Bunny:

Challenge One - Post 'The Letter' – Ficlet

Story Type: Short Fic (could be made into a longer piece -your choice) - POV
Timeline: Post 'the letter'.
Rating: PG

Tommy is watching the Pan Globals as Kim performs. He sees the leotard Kim's wearing; either white with green and pink accents (in honor of TommyPerhaps she could have a pink crane and green (since the leotard is white already) falcon in flight -she had it specially made. OR White with one red, yellow, blue, pink, black and green stripe (in honor of the PR team in general). You can come up with something of your own, as long as it's something that would have some meaning to her friends (Tommy specifically) back home.

What are his feelings on it? Is he happy (She does still love me?) or angry (cuz of the letter in general). What does he do about it?

--

Clipped Wings

Tommy was late.

While that was nothing new, the other Rangers hadn't expected it for that particular day; they'd gathered at Billy's house to watch Kimberly participate in the Pan Global tournament she'd left to train for over a year ago and surrendered her powers to Katherine.

It was spring again in Angel Grove, almost a year to the day since Kimberly had left to follow her dream. And while there had been much that had happened in that time - new powers, new friends, new Rangers - the most shocking of it all had been Kimberly's breakup - by letter - with Tommy. He'd obviously been hurt - who wouldn't have been? - but from what the rest of the Rangers had been able to tell he hadn't let it affect his performance as a Ranger.

If anything, it had spurred him on, focused him - forced him to become a better Power Ranger and leader.

It was all an act.

Of late it had begun to show. Tommy become more forgetful and seemed to space out at the oddest times. Of course, this was the hardest time of year for all of them - finals were coming up, school was ramping up for the big tests, but there was more to it than that for Tommy. This time of year had been when Lord Zedd had focused on Kimberly to eliminate her as a Power Ranger and, in a way, succeeded. This was also the time of year it had been when his own Powers as the Green Ranger had begun to wane, eventually disappearing entirely.

It was also the time when Kimberly had first agreed to be his date to the dance, when they'd shared their first kiss - and when they'd loaded her onto a plane for Miami almost two years later to chase her dream.

Spring was not a time of good memories for one Tommy Oliver.

Billy attempted to call the Oliver house but there was no answer and, eventually, he and the other Rangers settled in to watch without their leader.

--

Tommy hadn't heard the phone.

Oh, he knew Billy and the others were waiting for him to join them. He knew they were waiting so they could watch the Pan Globals as a group - but he couldn't bring himself to go. Couldn't imagine watching Kimberly - his Beautiful - reach for her dream with the rest of them.

Sure, he intended to watch - even her letter hadn't changed that - but he couldn't bring himself to do it with the rest of the guys. Knowing they were worrying about him would have dampened his excitement and enjoyment just as it would have theirs. Sure, his absence would still concern them, but this way he would be free to indulge in a little harmless Kimberly watching without having everyone watching him.

They meant well, but they didn't and couldn't understand.

Flicking on the TV, Tommy settled onto the floor in front of the couch, bending one knee and resting his forearm on it as the announcers for the games began to talk about the athletes and their competition order. Behind them, the gymnasts warmed up, stretching as they prepared for the vigorous workout they were about to put their bodies through. Many were in their competition leotards; others were still wrapped in their warm-up wrappers.

Kimberly wasn't on screen behind the announcers and it took little more than a cursory glance for Tommy to know it. He'd know how she moved anywhere - and she wasn't one of those gymnasts.

"...berly Hart is the Cinderella story of these games, Mike."

Tommy's attention was caught by the announcers and he tuned back in as they discussed Kimberly.

"You're telling me, Stan. A nobody less than a year ago, Kimberly's been a rising star and a very real contender for the gold at these games. Most of her opponents, like Michelle Nigura, have been gymnasts for years, training under coaches with this as their goal."

"True, but Ms. Hart's abilities to hold up under this kind of pressure is phenomenal."

"Not if you know her," Tommy told the announcer with a proud grin. Despite the ache in his heart, listening to the announcers was like listening to his friends talk about her. The same strength of spirit and heart were in everything she did. His smile faded - except their long-distance relationship.

Clearing his throat, he pushed to his feet and headed for the stairs leading up to the kitchen to retrieve a glass of water before the actual events started. There were four - vault, uneven bars, beam and floor. Kimberly was slated as first of fifteen, fifth of twelve, last of twenty and eighteen of twenty respectively, and he didn't want to miss a minute.

Collecting a box of crackers and a bottle of juice - his mother could yell at him later - Tommy returned to the basement in time to watch the second of five commercials. He used the time to brace himself for seeing Kim again. It wasn't going to be easy. He hadn't seen anything but her picture since she'd sent that letter and her smile - directed at him or not - had always had the power to affect him deeply.

The announcers returned and Tommy muted the sound, focusing instead on the area behind them as it panned and focused in on the vault that would be used for the first event. The lights around the location dimmed, casting the surroundings into shadow, and a movement on the edge of it caught his eye as he hit the mute button to regain the sound.

"... easy place to be in any competition, but to be the rookie and compete first out of anyone is especially hard."

"You said it Mike, but Kimberly's shown none of the nerves that most of the other rookies to these games have in the last week. For someone as young and talented, but new to this level of competition, her poise has been incredible."

"Not just her poise, but her whole attitude."

The camera panned back to the vault area as the announcer made a comment about Kimberly's past performances on the vault in practice and Tommy ignored them. He knew well that the vault was the least favorite of Kim's events - she'd always had to push herself to practice it - but he also knew how good she could be when focused. The cut away to the gymnasium floor included the echo of Kimberly's name as it was announced, as well as the name of her coach and school.

His attention was caught and held by a shadowed individual at the edge of the mat who was shrugging out of her warm-up wrap. A glitter of gold and silver caught his attention as she shifted, but without seeing her face he knew it to be Kim. Her head nodded towards a darker shadow - her coach? - and, squaring her shoulders, she stepped into the light.

A kick below the belt would have had less of an impact at that moment than the smile on Kimberly's face. It was animated, so full of confidence and determination it was like a physical wound. Tommy had believed he'd been ready to see her - even vicariously - but the force of her image as it penetrated his retina reverberated through his system like the aftershocks of a gong strike. A sick sensation careened through his stomach making his head spin for a fraction of a second before his vision cleared and he was no longer seeing two of her. Unthinkingly, he reached towards her, the need to touch her an almost overwhelming urge.

The camera suddenly shifted its angle and brought him back to his senses as her gaze no longer seemed to look straight through the camera, but was shown to be narrowed with intent focus on the stretch of floor before her.

His hand clenched and he dropped it swiftly, his forearm resting once again on his knee as he was unable to tear his gaze from her expression. This was the Kimberly he knew; the determined, beautiful, courageous young woman who'd battled at his side for two and a half years. The young woman who'd fought with him and against him and never once given up on him - until she'd moved across the country.

Already just seeing her - even knowing she was miles away - was twisting his insides in knots.

Panning away from her face, the camera broke his view of her face and he came up off the floor in shock, moving towards the television before he consciously thought about it. Kimberly's leotard was... was...

"-something else, Stan. What's the story behind Coach Schmidt's allowance for it?"

"Rumor has it she made it herself Mike, some kind of tribute to those who helped her achieve her dream."

A tribute.

Tommy registered the words in the rational part of his brain, but the irrational part wasn't listening. It was focused solely on the young woman standing proudly, her arms outstretched to her sides as she eyed the vault runway and mentally reviewed what she needed to do to get there.

Unable to help himself, Tommy's gaze traveled over the form-fitting garment. There'd been a reason he'd worn a shirt tied about his waist or left un-tucked through high school - and a shift in the weather wasn't it; she was standing before him on the television, steadying herself for what she had to do.

Swallowing the lump that had stuck in a throat suddenly gone dry, he visually traced the designs on the upper half of her leotard.

The white base - as was required by Coach Schmidt's academy - wasn't what held his attention. Instead, it was the white, gold and silver thread that adorned the back of the material, intricately crisscrossing the back of her uniform about the numbered patch in the center. The thread worked its way outward and down each of the arms, woven to look like feathers from wings. Wings that looked suspiciously like...

Falcon wings.

There was no way.

Yet, Tommy couldn't deny the evidence of his senses. The longer he looked, the more sure he became; the wings stitched across Kimberly's leotard looked almost exactly like those his Falcon Zord had sported.

The camera panned away again, this time towards her front as Kimberly lowered her hands, taking a deep breath, and then began to sprint towards the vault. It was kept at such an angle that the front of her uniform wasn't as easily seen as the back had been, but there was a kaleidoscope of colors: White, pink and green all mixed together as she sprinted and tumbled, a blur of color. A splash of red, a hint of yellow and blue, but predominantly green, white and pink.

She sailed through the air, as graceful as the Ninjetti crane that was her spirit animal, spinning and twisting in the fantastic feats of gravity defiance that were common to gymnastics and landed, hopping slightly before sticking the landing. Not perfect, but not bad either. Once she had her balance, her arms came up and she straightened, taking her final position.

And the air left his lungs again.

The center of Kim's breast held something he'd never expected to see. The images of a crane and a falcon - they couldn't be anything else - entwined in flight were flanked on all sides by a multicolored box. The crane and the falcon, entwined in a dive - what some might mistake as a mating flight - and what he only knew as a mating flight after he'd discovered the falcon wasn't only his spirit animal, but his totem as well. Black, red, yellow and blue lines encased the entwined birds in a diamond, lending the scene an elegance it might otherwise not have. The front of her arms sported wings, the same as the back - but done in pink, black and gold thread - a clear homage to her spirit animal.

Numbness washed over him as she stepped from the light, taking the incredible sight of her leotard with her. Pain sprouted through his spine as he fell back against the couch, seeming to deflate as Kimberly disappeared from view, and he paid no attention to her scores. He'd collapsed, as if unable to support his posture, and bashed his back against the edge of the sofa. The dull throb was a welcome sensation compared to the tightness in his gut and the sudden lightheadedness that threatened to overwhelm him.

What did it mean?

Did it mean anything at all?

A tribute, the announcer had said, but that had only been a rumor. Was there something more to it? Something more that he was supposed to see? He rubbed his hands over his face, letting his head fall back against the cushions of the sofa to stare blankly at the ceiling, the murmur of the announcer's voices having long ago faded to a background rumble.

What did Kimberly's leotard signify?

Flight? Probably. There was no other reason to have wings on an outfit than to think of flying. It fit; her spirit animal was one who couldn't be caged and needed the freedom of flight. It was the embodiment of everything Kimberly was - grace and poise - and everything she strove to become. So why plaster it all over her Pan Global uniform?

The announcer had said she'd made it herself, so the images were deliberate. This was no fluke, no chance image; Kimberly's choices had been deliberate.

He missed the ringing of the phone again - several times - and the only thought he spared the other Rangers was the relief that he didn't have to sit through their platitudes.

Tommy was so wrapped up in his thoughts, he completely missed Kimberly's uneven bar routine and barely caught her on the balance beam - but even then it was at a great distraction. Through the latter she looked like she was flying, bending or diving, the emphasized lines of her arms seeming that much more graceful for their symbolism.

Again he missed how she scored, the confidence in her bearing more confusing than it was reassuring. Was the suit a message or was it simply a way to re-enforce her self-esteem?

The announcers continued to prattle onwards, but Tommy paid them no mind. Since receiving Kim's letter, he'd run the gambit of emotions. Denial, anger, hurt, disbelief, and even hope. But nothing had affected him quite like seeing her as he could now.

Spellbound, his mind turning the possibilities over and over, he watched her perform on the beam. It was a routine he didn't know, one he'd never seen her perform, and probably the most technically demanding routine he'd even laid eyes on. She sailed through it seemingly effortlessly. Only after her dismount did he truly understand the level of concentration for she lifted ecstatic eyes to the crowd and punched her fist in the air - and they responded.

Kimberly had nailed a practically flawless beam routine.

He wanted to cheer with her - so he did. There was nobody home to hear him, and even if there had been it wouldn't have mattered. She deserved it; she'd worked so hard for it and now it was within her grasp. Only the floor routine stood between her and the Pan Global gold.

"Go Kim! That's my girl - show them what you can do, Beautif-!" He cut himself off, her nickname like a brand on his tongue. It burned, painfully twisting about inside him as he realized that not only couldn't she hear him, but - for the first time - it truly sank in she was no longer his to have.

She was no longer his.

A crushing, suffocating sensation squeezed his chest, making it ache and robbing him of whatever breath he had left even as the emblem on her leotard mocked him. He struggled against the sinking sensation that threatened to overpower him, dragging him down. The anger had fled after its first appearance several weeks back and never resurfaced. He couldn't - and wouldn't - hold a grudge against Kimberly, but that didn't make bearing the pain of her betrayal any easier.

And now this.

"Are you trying to tell me something, Kim?" His agonized question barely passed his lips - not that it mattered; she couldn't hear him. There was a slight ringing in his ears - the echo of the telephone - but he couldn't have answered it if he'd tried. Too many questions, too many emotions ricocheted around inside his head and heart for him to make sense of them. "Or do you just delight in torturing me?"

Kimberly's smiling face disappeared from the television screen and the spell was broken, allowing his head to drop back once more. A tortured groan escaped from his lips as he clenched his hands, seeking the control that was so intuitive to his normal state of mind. The discipline that was as much a part of him as breathing.

It was slow, but gradually he was able to reassert some control over what he was feeling. Organize it? Hell no, but clamp down on it and force it to stop controlling him - that was something he could do. So he did it. Staring at the ceiling of his parent's basement, he stared with one agonized half-breath, forcing his lungs to contract.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

Another breath, and then another as the panic welling within him subsided. Panic? That wasn't like him. Even when Kim's letter had originally come, he'd never panicked. Felt numb? Yes. Confused? Certainly. Who wouldn't've? But panic? Never had he felt so out of control - not since Lord Zedd had captured Kimberly and tried to drain her powers.

Lifting his head, he stared at the commercial, scrutinizing it, trying to see beyond it, back to the gymnasium - back to Kimberly. Her leotard had to have some significance, otherwise she wouldn't be wearing it and never would have created it. The creation would also have been a recent thing - likely since sending the letter - since he couldn't honestly see her having started it months ago and continuing with it if she no longer cared.

Was it her way of saying she wanted to be friends? That the offer in her letter was an open invitation if he would simply reach out and grab it? Or were the intertwined symbols of their spirit animals a different sign all together? One that said she'd never stopped caring about him, never stopped believing him to be her other half?

He didn't know.

Calmer, but not by much, he heard the phone ring this time and made a conscious decision to ignore it. If the Rangers really wanted-

His communicator beeped and his lips twisted into a sour smile. It was a sound he couldn't ignore and one he didn't dare refuse. "Tommy here."

"Tommy, it's Billy. Where are you - you're missing the show!"

"I'm at my place, Billy."

There was silence at the other end and then. "Would you like some company?"

"If I did, I'd be with you guys."

"Are you sure?" Tanya cut in skeptically.

"Thanks, but I'm better off here on my own. Gotta run - the floor presentations are about to start."

They were cut off as Tommy ended the call, turning his attention back to the floor routines. Mainly styles without music flowed from one to another, but some daring competitors chose songs with lyrics to tumble across the mat. Classical to rock to dance spilled from the speakers until finally, his patience tried, Kimberly stepped up to the mat. Her white leotard shot through with gold and silver threads glittered under the lights as she took up her starting position.

The voiceover of the announcer faded to the background as the name of the song she'd chosen flashed on the screen. "What's Left of Me" by Nick Lachey.

Silence filled the arena and Tommy leaned forward as Kim extended her arms and legs, looking all the world like a bird about to take flight as she waited for the song to begin. The opening tones brought with it a gentle movement of her hands first, followed by the undulation of her arms, her body and finally her legs as she moved into the music, seeming to lose herself in the lyrics - and as she was absorbed, so was Tommy and the lyrics washed over him...

"Watch my life pass me by

In the rearview mirror

Pictures frozen in time

Are becoming clearer

I don't wanna waste another day

Stuck in the shadow of my mistake.

'Cause I want you,

And I feel you

Crawling underneath my skin

Like a hunger

Like a burning

To find a place I've never been

Now I'm broken

And I'm faded

I'm half the man I thought I would be

But you can have

What's left of me.

I've been dying inside

Little by little

Nowhere to go

But going out of my mind

In Endless circled

Running from myself until

You gave me a reason for standing still

Every word seemed to pound across the speakers, Kimberly's movements a poignant expression of both lyrical and musical interpretation as she tumbled the second of several routines across the mat. Tommy's throat had closed upon listening to the lyrics of the song Kim had chosen. A song that he'd never heard before - but perfectly described what he felt like since getting her awful letter.

'Cause I want you, and I feel you

Crawling underneath my skin

Like a hunger, like a burning

To find a place I've never been

Now I'm broken, and I'm faded

I'm half the man I thought I would be

But you can have,

What's left of me.

Falling faster, barely breathing

Give me something to believe in

Tell me it's not all in my head."

Kimberly tumbled through the bridge of the song, a spectacular show of strength and stamina as she not only completed the tumble but then threw herself into an almost impossible backwards tumble routine of the same, only a complete reverse of what she'd just done. Backwards flips, reverse cartwheels, she gave it her all as she launched into a backwards handspring series completely with a reverse double twist as she nailed the landing.

"Take what's left of this man

Make me whole once again

'Cause I want you

And I feel you

Crawling underneath my skin

A hunger, like a burning

To find a place I've never been

Now I'm broken and I'm faded

I'm half the man I thought I would be

But you can have

All that's left

(yeah, yeah yeah)

What's left of me.

I've been dying inside you see

Going out of my mind,

Out of my mind

I'm just running in circles all the time

Way to take what's left

Way to take what's left

Way to take what's left

just running in circles all the time

Way to take what's left

Way to take what's left

Way to take what's left

Take what's left of me."

The routine ended with a flourish, Kimberly gracefully falling backwards into a controlled backwards somersault and continuing through it into a half-roll which ended with her legs being extended into the air, her arms flat out at her sides as if in supplication. The pose was a mimicry of her opening stance and one that made her appear as if some great bird had crashed into the mat. The music faded as she assumed her final pose, silence descending over the area for a pair of heartbeats before applause exploded like a gunshot

And through it all, Tommy couldn't look away.

Regaining her feet gracefully, Kimberly turned towards the camera that was closest to the mat and stared right at it. The angle shifted, going directly to that camera - it wasn't uncommon for athletes to wave or give kisses, mouthing words to loved ones back home. No sound, no waves and no mimicked kisses were forthcoming; instead, Kimberly did something as unique as her costume.

She signed, using the very sing language she'd once taught him. Not just any signs, but gestures Tommy recognized - and ones he would never, ever forget. It was done quickly, but deliberately with tears in her eyes before she paused, smiled and turned to the crowd with a wave.

Stunned for the umpteenth time that day, he couldn't tear his gaze away from where Kimberly was doing a cute little curtsey to the crowd before darting off the mat. Again her scores failed to register, the pounding of his heart once again echoing in his head.

"I miss you, Handsome."

Four little gestures, containing the three little words that had brought them together before and the echo of his pet name for her in her pet name for him - words that, in some ways, personified their relationship. But in those gestures, Tommy got his answer. Kimberly's outfit, her embroidery, the designs and symbols - all of them had been a message he didn't understand.

A message he still didn't understand, but one he intended to.

Despite the hurt he'd been through in the weeks following Kimberly's letter, despite the upheaval and the pain, he couldn't face his life without her in it in some way. Their split, the silence due to separation, ate at him almost as much as the unknown cause behind it. A cause he'd been too afraid to try and discover lest she say the hurtful things in the letter to him in her beautiful voice. Words on a printed page he could handle - the contents of that letter coming directly from her lips would kill him.

Through the marks and following final floor routines he wrestled with his conscience. Did he dare call her? Obviously not right at that moment - she was in the middle of living the dream they'd urged her to follow - but later? He had her phone number at the dorm where she stayed with her coach, but he didn't know her itinerary. Through the final marks, he tilted his head back, completely missing the standings as he stared at the roof of the basement once more.

He knew what he should be feeling - and he knew what he was feeling. Like a yo-yo, the favored children's toy which delighted them by going down towards the ground at an alarming speed and then back towards the hand. That was how he felt - or perhaps taffy was a better analogy... pulled in several directions at once. He didn't know what to feel.

But Kimberly's message - her unspoken, blatantly obvious physical one and the subliminal one that called to him through her clothing and choice of routines were things he couldn't ignore. She wanted him to contact her. He didn't know why, but her signed message compelled him to action the way her clothing and routines never would have.

It amounted to a cry for help and he'd never been able to resist being her White Knight - even if he now wore red. Somehow, someway, he was going to get in touch with her and he was going to do it now.

Pushing up from the floor, he didn't spare the television so much as a glance as he stormed upstairs to grab the phone. Quickly checking the brochure that Kimberly had sent - Billy, bless his heart, had ensured Tommy had one - Tommy dialed the number for the building where the event was being held, he waited as the line rang.

And rang.

And rang.

A harried operator picked up and immediately asked if he could hold. Tommy bit back an impatient "no" and told her that of course he could. Never mind that this was a long distance call - no matter the cost, he had to get to Kim and he had to do it now. He had to let her know that he'd seen her and her message; that he understood - even when he didn't. If nothing else, she could call him back.

It took ten minutes on hold before another operator picked up and Tommy was almost at his wit's end. "I have a message for Kimberly Hart."

"You and dozens of others, sir."

Biting back the impolite urge to snap, Tommy took a deep breath. "It's important and it has to do with when she was looking at the camera at the end of her floor routine."

There was silence on the other end for several long second and then; "What's your message sir?"

"Tell her… Beautiful is as beautiful does – there is none more graceful than the Falcon's crane."

"Sir?"

"Word for word, give her that message; she'll understand."

"Yes sir. Shall I say who it's from?"

"She'll know." Tommy hung up the phone, a weight lifting from his shoulders and for the first time since receiving Kim's letter felt as if he'd take a step towards the light, out of the darkness that was the despair eating away at him daily.

The ball was in her court again – if she chose to respond or not was up to her, but this time… this time at least he'd tried.