Author's Notes: I've had a lot of fun and late nights writing this, so I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it! This story will assume that you're familiar with the basic stories and Rangers until Jungle Fury, although I'm an old-school fan and I give a lot more focus on the older Rangers. The most important seasons to take note of are probably from MMPR through In Space, and Time Force. As with my other works in this fandom, I'm once again acknowledging KSuzie's The Coins Series, and KJ's Legacy, for being the first stories that spurred me on to complete my viewing of the entire series, and for being so masterfully crafted and inspirational in its own right.
Disclaimer: I don't own Power Rangers, to which I'm playing around with the characters from. I also shamelessly borrowed some ideas from Flashpoint, and yep, don't own that either.
This prologue serves as a jumping-in point on the main character of the story as well as a history of how the years have gone by for her and a few other characters via exposition. It's set in February 2009, and the main plot and premise of the story will kick in during the official first chapter of the story, but I promise if you hang on tight, it'll hopefully be as exciting as I am about it to you. This story also acknowledges the first movie as canon, i.e. Ninjetti powers and Dulcea instead of ninja and Ninjor. Standard issue canon pairings will make their ways in this story, although my emphasis will definitely be on my personal favorites (you can check my profile for more!). With all that said and explained, without further adieu...
ONCE A RANGER
She tightened her grip, her finger poised against the hard plastic of the trigger. She could feel the sweat slowly forming from her palms, and while she would like to wipe her hands down her pants and remove the cause of discomfort, any sudden movement could cause a chain reaction she'd like to avoid.
Breathe in. Out. Regulate.
"I don't want to hurt you." Her voice was even and steady; only someone who knew her inside out could pick out the tremor in her inflection. But this was no time for self-doubt, not in life-or-death situations like this one. She could hear her blood rushing, could feel her heart pounding against her ribcage and her vest, but she couldn't let any of that register a blip consciously right now. She had done this many times before, but each time the variables were different and her approach had to be tweaked to achieve the optimum result. This time was no different.
The room was getting stiflingly warm, even though it was the middle of February where the air wasn't quite as bitingly cold as the months before, but not quite as humid as she was expecting, almost like it was threatening her to just give up and run off. She wasn't a quitter, however. She'd never given up the fight before it even happened, not since a long time ago, and she wasn't going to start that again.
"Please." She tried again, her voice an octave higher than before, and the other man in the room faltered a little. She licked her lips nervously as she moved closer to him, carefully. Slowly. All the rules still applied.
"Why are you here?" The man all but screamed now, pointing the gun at her wildly. She stopped short of her stride towards him, her gun still aimed at him. "Get away from me!"
"You know why I'm here, Mr. Tomas…" She took a deep breath, then plunged in for the personal. "Peter. I just want to help you." She looked the man right in the eye, hoping her sincerity would shine through enough for him to see. To her silent relief, he finally nodded, as he bit his lip and his resolve crumbled right in front of her. And in that instance, he wasn't a criminal in her eyes. He was just someone who needed help, and by as far as she could give it, she would do her best.
"I just want to go home." His voice cracked, a tinge of desperation and defeat, as the arm holding the gun dropped to his side. He scrunched his face together in another futile attempt to stop the tears from falling off. Breathing a little easier, she made the final step to get the closest to him as she could, and quickly pried his hand off his gun.
"I know," she told him softly. "I'm sorry things had to go down like this." Clack went the handcuffs, and as she clasped it shut she shot him an apologetic look. Peter Tomas wasn't your ordinary run-of-the-mill crook. All he wanted was to get some money to pay his daughter's medical bills, except his method was just a little too extreme. And she knew that – she empathized with that, even though all her training expressively forbid her from creating too strong an emotional link with the subject. Connecting was the ideal, letting your heart open so widely that it leads you to that outcome… A big no-no, but she did it, too much too often. It was just the way she was, and it was her greatest strength and greatest weakness rolled in one.
After she led him out to where the rest of the officers were waiting to bring him in to the station, she slipped off quietly, trying to get a grasp of reality, fast. Ripping her bulletproof vest from her body and disengaging her gun, she sighed. The mission was successful – no one got hurt, they'd apprehended the suspect, but she still felt like there was something more that she could have done to help him. It was a usual debate for these few weeks now and she had no way to stop these thoughts from invading her mind. Her mind told her that her job was fulfilling – there wasn't any question about that. Yet, her heart hadn't quite agreed with the mind, insisting that she could do so much more.
Kimberly Hart has led a colorful life so far, no doubt about it. Even beyond being one of Earth's protectors at the young, tender age while in high school, she had achieved more at age 30 (29 and 364 days, thank you very much, she protested in her head, but not before she rolled her eyes at herself) than a lot of people could say of their entire life. Being a competitive gymnast had won her more accolades than she ever thought possible, especially since she entered the fold of the competition older when compared to all her peers. To be able to qualify for the Pan-Globals three times and the Olympics twice, and being part of the reason why Team USA hauled so many medals back home, were very impressive things to be associated with.
After her run as a competitive gymnast had ended by way of a badly broken right arm when she was 26, she moved back to California. Florida and the training center were great places to spend when your mind had one focus, and one focus only. Now that the focus had dissolved, it was time for Kimberly to go home.
Home. That was a loaded word as far as she could tell.
In Florida, home was a moderately sized two-bedroom house shared with another gymnast. She too had to drop out competing herself, but had chosen to stay and train young hopeful girls for the games. Kimberly's decision came at a time when Casey Enderton's boyfriend had proposed to her, so it made sense for all the parties involved that Kimberly wanted to move across the country again, back to the sunny state of California.
Her problem was two-fold. Her initial plans were to move back to Angel Grove, but after days of thinking about it and sleeping on it, she finally decided that she couldn't do that. Angel Grove was a place that held memories both wonderful and disastrous, and she wasn't sure if she could handle that kind of influx again, no matter how trite or stupid it sounded. Some things were just better left in the past, and clearly, to her, she wasn't the only one who thought that. Naturally, her next choice was the nearby Reefside… until Jason had cheerfully told her that she could reconnect with Tommy, since he was situated there, and hey, didn't she hear about the Dino Thunder Rangers who were on call a year ago and how their own o'fearless leader was the Black Brachio Ranger on the team, and wasn't that just the most fucking hilarious thing ever?
She could've slapped her forehead when she was reminded of that. How could that have slipped out of her mind at all? Of course she knew about the whole Black Ranger deal. It was all her friends could talk about for months and the secure mailing list that Billy had set up for them was just flooded with reactions. If it weren't so absurd, astounding and awkward all rolled in one, Kimberly would have laughed. And she would have laughed a lot, and loudly too. Even inwardly she admitted that Tommy would probably never stray far away from the Rangering world, and that thought somehow gave her some comfort.
So, that was a mental crossing off both Angel Grove and Reefside if she didn't want to run into people. When it came to the fight or flight syndrome, Kimberly felt like she'd done too much fighting and could only finish up her lifelong quota of running away, or something quite as inane as that but which made total and complete sense to her at that time. It was the cowardly thing to do, she knew deep down, but given all the scenarios playing in her head, it seemed like the best thing to do.
Turtle Cove seemed like the logical choice. It was a dream come true – by the luck of the draw or, more likely, the Power watching out for them just like Zordon assured it would. Kimberly fell in love with the whimsical city that once housed the Wild Force Rangers, which wasn't that far away from Angel Grove or Reefside, but not that near either. The first time she met her neighbor and all the animals he had around the house (he was a vet, he explained while flashing her a cheery smile), something instinctively told her that he was part of the family. After a series of carefully prodding questions, Cole Evans confirmed his identity – in hushed tones, no less, and maybe a bit of awe mixed in between – and Kimberly felt a tinge of pride: their legacy had really carried on far and wide.
Kimberly spent a little under two months trying to figure out what she wanted to do, now that she was back in California and making fast friends with the Wild Force Rangers and her other neighbors. In the interim, Cole had asked Alyssa Enrile to recommend Kimberly for a job at the school she worked in. As she'd expected and braced herself for it, Jason had teased, once again reminding her that Tommy was a high school teacher, and wouldn't it just be fate's destiny drawing them together again if they were both teachers?
At that point, Kimberly snapped, short of pleading him to stop it with all the not-subtle-at-all Tommy references. Jason was genuinely apologetic, though definitely not surprised by a far stretch at her reaction. Tommy Oliver was a sore topic for her, he got that, but it was also his godforsaken duty as both Kimberly's unofficial big brother and Tommy's best friend to try and mend the breaks that had been exposed for far too long, to the point where the conflict stood unwavering, demanding attention to it.
But the frostiness didn't melt right away, and Kimberly had used the move across country as an excuse not to contact her friends just so she could have the reprieve of not hearing them urge her to call her ex-beau. And like she knew, she was being the biggest coward of the decade, but it wasn't like she hadn't attempted to make amends before. It was just… unfortunate that all these attempts were thwarted by external forces.
Whether it was a conscious decision or otherwise, she found that being a teacher just wasn't stimulating enough to warrant a whole career out of, even though it had been a childhood dream to teach. She enjoyed imparting her knowledge to the young, impressionable bright minds of the country's future, but something about staying rooted in the classroom screamed 'mundane' to her and she sought for something that would quench the thirst. If anything, it was residue Ranger yearnings, which definitely was a little something extra for her since clearly Alyssa had no problem adapting this so-called mundane work environment…
"Sarge!" A shout broke her off her thoughts as she turned around to look at the source. It was just an officer under her charge, and as he ran towards her she realized that she was still holding on to her gun instead of putting it back to the holster. Overthinking does that to you, she laughed a little at herself before meeting her eyes with the younger man in front of her.
"Yeah?" Warm smile on her face, most of her fellow police officers in the station knew how approachable she was, even though she commandeered a higher position than most of them. That hadn't deterred her from being friendly, which was a quality that hadn't diminished over the years. Truth be told, though, Kimberly was no longer the giggly 17 year-old girl who left Angel Grove with her lofty plans. Growing up did that to you, she mused. If she could go back in time and see her younger self, she'd probably burst out laughing at how idealistic she sounded at that time. Promises left unkept and the echoes of hearts broken were all that were left now.
"Are you riding back to the station with us or do you have other plans?" he queried, pointing his thumb towards the station cars parked in front of the bank she had just exited from minutes ago. She thought for a moment.
"I think I'm just gonna walk back home from here," she finally said, deciding that she'd write and submit the debrief at home. She strode towards the cars, the other man falling in step with her as she addressed the other police officers waiting for her command. "Have a nice weekend, boys! And enjoy your Valentine's Day, alright?"
A chorus of responses greeted her in return:
"You too, ma'am!"
"We will, thank you!"
The last one brought a wry smile to her face, as she waved them off and watched them get in the vehicles, and could almost hear the buzz of the excitement of the weekend. On the one hand, she usually enjoyed her birthdays, especially since it fell on the most commercial day of the year, and no one important could really use the excuse of forgetting it. On the other… she was turning 30, and holy shit, was that scary or what? That was more than a quarter of her life gone and here she was, hours away from being that and still having no clue to most things in life.
It was stupid in retrospect – when she was 16 she had envisioned being married and having at least two kids by the age of 28. Clearly that did not happen, she thought dryly. She was as far away from what she'd dreamed of than she could even imagined. Of course, that could all stem from the fact that at 16, the only person she could think about leading that kind of life with was him, and the glaring absence in her life had permanently stunted that type of growth.
Yeah, right, she scoffed, and kicked at a stone on the pavement. Most of which was her fault, she conceded, but you couldn't clap with just one hand. Attempt number one was when her and Jason had gone back to Angel Grove, her first visit in months and that trip had ended up really well, what with her and Jason being fed into the Pit of Eternal Fire and all. That drop didn't leave them unscathed either, and although she hadn't tried to actively hone her innate abilities, she knew that Jason had – or maybe it was just that what the Pit had enhanced for her came as a second nature.
The adjustment to her changed energies hadn't gotten as bad as Jason had it. Initially his ability to control raw kinetic power had caused severe headaches on his end, and his amplified strength had drained his energy far quicker than before. But Jason was as Kimberly knew him, and he didn't give up trying to control, and eventually he managed to wield these additional powers without them giving him much trouble. Coincidentally, that came around the time when Tommy had rounded up the Red Rangers for the mission on the moon, and Kimberly had hypothesized that the presence of his power coin and the more intimate link to the morphing grid had much to do with making the side effects go away.
One thing led to another, and the next thing she knew, Jason was transporting all over the universe with missions to go to, off worlds to visit other human colonies, assisting the Silver Guardians, helping out at NASADA, answering distress calls for Lightspeed - he would do anything if it meant being a morphing Ranger and helping people again. On one occasion shortly after the Serpentera mission, he'd dropped by Aquitar – and brought a more-than-willing Billy back home. Billy was fixated with trying to understand what was happening to the both of them, but regrettably couldn't draw concrete conclusions about anything without further exploring, and neither Kimberly nor Jason were too eager for him to probe around.
Her own enhanced abilities to read people and situations certainly gave her an edge in her line of work, although many would argue that it was detrimental in the long run. She could sense the future too, or catch a glimpse or two during a dream. Both Jason and Billy had dubbed these dreams as premonitions, and Billy had gone on as far as to predict that these visions would not just be confined to her dreams, but also when her conscious mind was working. Joy of joys, she thought wirily. She was the kind of person to live in the moment – to be able to know what was going to happen in the future was somewhat of an anti-climax, but she'd learned to cope with it and view it as a blessing and not a curse.
How she had gotten involved in the Police Force was nothing short of a bedtime story for a young kid. One warm night, while flitting in between the states of being half asleep and slightly conscious, she had literally seen herself in the uniform in a dream. When she woke up, it all fell in place for her. While still competing in games and tournaments, Kimberly had divided her time between training and attending the University of Florida, first lured by the English program, and then afterwards the criminology program as a minor.
For that entire morning, she wondered why it didn't just occur to her that a career in crime fighting was one for her, instead of relying on vague visions from the future. Turtle Cove was a relatively peaceful place, but there were still the usual criminals and sure, it wasn't the FBI or anything as big scale as that, but it was something akin to being a big fish in a small pond. Kimberly had climbed up the ranks of the Turtle Cove Police Force, rising from a common officer to a sergeant in a short four years.
Kimberly Hart, sergeant at the police force. If anybody told her this was going to be her life at 30 when she was a young teenager, she might have laughed right in their faces. Then again, how many people can say that they were exactly what they wanted to be when they were younger? Not even the backing of the Power could've helped them. Last she heard, Tommy was still a high school teacher at Reefside.
She sighed at the mention, as if she were unable to stop her fleeting thoughts about him. About five months ago, she'd actually found the nerve to call him. Her intentions were clear – they were good friends before they started dating, they remained good friends while still dating and it was a shame that a friendship like that ended after they'd stopped seeing each other. It was more of a shame that it was more than ten years since and all they'd exchanged were cursory 'hello's with nothing else substantial, or underhanded snappy remarks muttered under their breaths (more often his, but she wasn't a saint either).
It was a good feeling talking to him again in a civil manner, but because of both their hectic schedules; her with her work with the police force and him with torturing high school students with pop quizzes and – she posited – still running around helping out with everything Ranger related, their correspondence and updates withered down to the occasional emails and text messages. And she thought, maybe this was someone higher up telling her that there was never going to be anything as magical as the period of time when they were dating, and all that was left of this friendship was just that – a friendship, and so she stopped holding out for a sign, or an indication telling her otherwise.
The cool February breeze whipped through the air, prickling at her skin, as she forced herself to stop thinking about him, at least for the moment. The next topic of choice her brain grasped on was the fact that she was going to move out of the comfortable 20-somethings zone and on to a higher plane of reasoning, or one would want to hope for. While turning 30 was a problem, how she was going to spend it wasn't. As it was with each growing year, Kimberly had a few plans on how to properly celebrate the night leading to her actual birthday. She could either go to her friend Carl's bar, where she would most likely find some of her other friends spending the night there anyway, or she could play phone tag and get her closest friends to her house where they can indulge in some geeky time playing the Wii. Well, the Wii was a recent addition; before it was the Xbox, or the Playstation, or some good old running charades, a deck of cards, and a few rounds of drinks...
Whatever it was, she had to go home and change into some civilian clothes. Or grab a bite first, she thought sheepishly as her stomach growled. In the midst of work, Kimberly had completely forgotten that she'd skipped lunch during the day. A burger would have to do for now, she decided, and quickened her pace to the nearest fast food outlet just minutes away from her house.
The queue wasn't all that long and there were only two other people in front of her. Bopping her head to the music and ignoring the pointed stares some people were giving her and her uniform, she placed her order with a smile to the operator, and waited patiently for it to be ready. Just as she paid, picked the paper bag and turned around to walk right out of the outlet, she noticed someone familiar, and with an affable grin fixed on her face, she zeroed in on the yellow-clad woman.
"Hey, Kim," the former Wild Force Ranger returned her hearty hug, and pulled away with a big smile on her face. Kim didn't see Taylor all that often, since she was situated at the air force base down in Los Angeles and she shared an apartment with her boyfriend in Silver Hills, but she liked what she saw of the other woman.
"What are you doing here?" She queried. It was a rarity to see the pilot outside of Cole and Alyssa's get-togethers, but that hadn't stopped the two of them from conversing in emails on their own. Taylor's recounting of their adventures as Wild Force Rangers cracked her up and slapped her with a sense of nostalgia most of the time, while Taylor continued to be respectful of the legacy, which Kimberly appreciated, no matter how silly that sounded even to herself.
"Well… There's something I need to talk to you about, and this – " Taylor started, and glanced around at the crowded pavement almost conspicuously-like, before she continued. "Isn't really the most ideal place."
That piqued Kimberly's interest, and an impatient bubble surfaced in her mind. Of course, it was dinnertime and that meant everyone was going to be out searching for food. There wasn't much more than a sliver of privacy needed for whatever Taylor was being so furtive about, so Kim made the snap decision to point towards the general direction of her house and beckoned the lanky woman to follow her.
"We'll have some space when we get to my house," she explained, and Taylor nodded, the slight smile still on her face as they walked briskly away from the fast food restaurant.
"So, I hear it's your birthday tomorrow."
"Yeah," Kimberly nodded, then winced on a second thought. "The big three-oh."
Taylor scoffed good-naturedly. "You're fine, you still look like twenty-one."
"Tell me that again in those exact words in five years and I'll die a happy woman," came the deadpan response, before she broke through her own thoughts and laughed anyway. They fall into a comfortable silence, the only sounds accompanying them was the thumpity-thump of their shoes and the surrounding ambience, which faded away slowly as they got further away from the crowd, and closer to the little cul-de-sac that Kimberly's modest little house was situated.
"Alright, now that we're here, alone," Kimberly started as she stuck her key into the keyhole and turned it clockwise, before twisting at the doorknob and stepping into her house properly, and flicked the switch for the light on. "What's up?"
Taylor didn't say anything; instead, she reached behind her back pocket and pulled something out that made Kimberly's eyes widened slightly. She was still in Florida when the Time Force Rangers were spotted in Silver Hills, but as a former Ranger armed with the very ability to distinguish the outcomes of a situation, there was no mistaking what it was that she was being offered.
Still, she decided to play it like she had no idea what was going on, or what that … thing could do. Ignorance is the best bet, or at least pretending to be, right?
"A Chrono Morpher… and I recognize that look in your eyes that says 'I know exactly what this is', so come on, Kim. Take it. You come very highly recommended."
The confirmation didn't faze her as she quirked her mouth into a slight smile (although peppered with a grimace) but the other bit of information made her frown a little, leaving her a little confused. "Recommended by who?"
"That is classified information that I cannot divulge, unless you take up this conditional offer of employment at Time Force." Taylor sounded like she was reciting off the instruction manual and Kimberly grimaced for real this time. She felt her heart thumping against her chest as she stared at the Chrono Morpher. The weight of responsibility resonated from that little device in ways that no one could explain until they experienced it themselves.
Time Force had been the buzz in the Ranger community for weeks now, after both Lightspeed and the Silver Guardians officially confirmed that they'd received a transmission from the future that announced that the crime-fighting unit of the future was set up around this time. It wouldn't phase out the police organizations on Earth, but it would handle universal communications, emergency task force calls and crime fighting, as one would expect from a unit like Time Force. Additionally, as its name would suggest, the organization would also mark the firsts of time travel and space continuum distortion on Earth. When Kimberly had heard about that, she didn't really think much about it – frankly speaking, she'd been so out of the loop in the Rangering world that she hadn't even thought of herself as a candidate to help out in Time Force.
That didn't mean she didn't dream about it, and she wouldn't admit it even to herself that maybe it was thoughts like these that made her feel so unsettled about her current work. Thoughts like these that made her feel like she could do so much more, but with no outlet of doing so.
But now, what Taylor was offering her…
It was opening another lifetime of knowledge, of anticipation and answers, and Kimberly knew that it was the right thing to do, both to herself and for the bigger picture. Pursing her lips nervously, she stretched her arm out to take the Chrono Morpher from Taylor's hand.
Instinctively, just like every Ranger could do when infused with the knowledge any morpher would to the user, she clamped the device firmly on her left wrist. A surge of energy ran from her head to her toes, and a sense of familiarity washed through as the mechanic voice sounded right in her ears.
Like a jigsaw piece fitting perfectly into a puzzle, it felt… right.