"Is this legal?"
"As legal as anything," Tommy confirmed, sharing an amused look with Kimberly.
Jason Lee Scott, former Red Ranger and original team leader - and best friend to both of them - looked from one to the other, his arms crossed over his chest as he stood in the doorway to Kimberly's apartment. "I don't know if I should kill you or hug you."
"Just offer your congratulations," Kimberly teased, reaching to bring him into the apartment. Ali had decided now was a good time to scamper off on her own vacation and wouldn't be back for a couple of weeks. "Or you could just let us explain before you decide on a course of action."
"This," Jason shook the picture post card they'd sent him while in France, "speaks for itself."
"It's not what you think."
"What I think, bro?" Jason looked from one to the other, his gaze dropping pointedly to their interlocked hands. "I think it's exactly what it looks like. The two of you ran off and skimped on the Wedding every Ranger, active or former, wanted to attend."
Laughing, Kimberly released Tommy's hand and headed for her small kitchen. "Coffee?"
Both men agreed - and her departure left the two of them alone. Jason slapped Tommy on the shoulder. "I could clock you."
"You could try - but then I'd let Kimberly have a go at you; she likes my face how it is."
"So you're serious - the two of you really are married?"
"Are you happy or upset by that fact?"
"Both." Jason moved past Tommy and into the living room, throwing himself into the arm chair off to the side and leaving the couch for the two of them - once Kimberly rejoined them. "Ecstatic you two finally wised up after all these years and furious I didn't get to pull the Tux I've been saving for the occasion out of storage. Before you ask, Trini's ready to have your head on a platter."
"Without cause," the former pink Ranger informed him tartly as she stepped into the doorway and leaned against the jamb. It was a move both men used often and one she'd picked up from their habits. "Let Tommy explain before you get all irate, would you?"
"Are you two sleeping together?"
"Is that any of your business?"
"You are - I knew it!" Jason pinned her with a knowing look. "So this is the real deal."
Shooting him a dirty look, Kimberly left the two of them alone.
"Not exactly," Tommy jumped in before Jason could make any more assumptions with her gone - or give him the third degree. "You know Kim's mom is dying, right?"
The other man's expression turned solemn, losing its mirth. "Yeah. She was pretty broken up about it before the trip over there."
"Right. Well, Kim asked me to go with her and pose as her fiancé."
"And you said yes?"
"It's not as crazy as it sounds." Though Tommy personally believed it was, he felt obligated to protest. His devotion to the woman who was his wife was something the people who knew him called 'legendary'. "You know what she meant to me; that I could never turn my back on her when she needed me. This was no different."
"She could have asked someone else."
Tommy shook his head. "You've been in her life, bro; you know there's been no one serious since high school. It had to be me or her mom never would have believed it."
"So what - you just decided to go ahead with a wedding while you were there?"
"Not exactly." Kimberly came out balancing a tray - which Tommy jumped to assist her with - before she spread the coffee around and took her seat on the couch with Tommy. "Pierre suggested it and mom begged us; I wasn't going to... I mean, Tommy hadn't come with the intention of marrying me or anything like that and I couldn't ask him to knowing it was a sham."
"But you got married anyway."
"It was that or tell Caroline the truth - we didn't think her heart would be able to take it after seeing the way she practically glowed when I told her I had asked Kim to marry me."
"You're both crazy." Jason sipped his coffee absently. "Man, if it had been me, there was no way I'd have been able to go through with it."
"Thankfully I'm not you."
"No offence, Jason, but I'm glad he's not you either."
"That makes three of us then. So what'd you do about your vows? Customize them so you weren't making a mockery out of the ceremony?"
"Let me get this straight," Jason leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees as he cradled the mug in his hands and looked from one friend to the other. "Kimberly called you-"
"Sent me a letter actually, asking me to call her."
"Whatever. So you two talked, came up with this crazy plan and you went along with it?" Jason didn't wait for an answer, but continued, as if trying to make sense of the whole situation. "So, you guys get to France - with Kimberly wearing your birth mother's ring - have Kim's step-dad suggest eloping and, again, you go along with it. You use the vows - which I know both of you consider sacred - as part of your deception, knowing you're not intending to keep them and then, after your married you just what - decided to enjoy the perks of being her husband?"
"Actually, I decided to enjoy the perks of being his wife." Kimberly eased closer to Tommy. "I... kind of coerced him into it."
Jason snickered. "Right. Like Tommy's ever needed coercing where you've been concerned - except to ask you out that first time. Did you guys just decided to skip all that this time around and jump right in at the deep end?"
"Things didn't work out as we expected," admitted Tommy, wrapping an arm about Kimberly's shoulders and giving them a squeeze. "But we did spend some time together before we said our vows."
"A what - whole week? You two haven't seen each other for over ten years; a week isn't long enough to know someone."
Kimberly rolled her eyes. "You're just upset you didn't get to throw him a bachelor party."
"And shouldn't I be?"
"Jason, this isn't real. None of it is real," Kimberly didn't sound nearly as convincing as she could have - especially not snuggled under Tommy's arm as happy as she was. "Mom only got a few more months - a year tops according to Pierre. When she... when..." she swallowed hard. "When she... d-dies I want to be there... but..."
"Not alone." Jason finished her sentence, his tone subdued, and his dark eyes full of understanding. "And if you're still married to Tommy when it happens, he can get the time off work short or no notice and go with you. I get it. But he could have done the same if you'd just remained engaged."
A glare sent Jason's way accompanied Kimberly as she pushed off the couch and disappeared towards her bedroom.
Tommy shook his head. "And you used to call me dense. You know her mother, man; you know what it means to her to have her daughter loved as she is."
"And is she?"
"You have to ask?"
"I thought you got over her a long time ago."
"I thought so too." Tommy glanced towards Kimberly's room where they could hear her cursing to herself as she rummaged for something. "Our time here and then in France... It's the same but it's different. We're different people, but she means as much to me now - more - than she ever did before."
"By the whispers you haven't told her?"
Shaking his head, Tommy eased back against the couch. "She's not ready to hear it. Kim's under enough strain right now without me adding to it."
"Don't tell me you're not thinking permanent - I can see it."
"As life gets back to normal, we'll see."
"You're such a liar, Tommy. If she gave you even a hint she wanted more you'd jump on it like syrup on waffles."
"She's given me plenty of signs," the former White Ranger corrected his friend with a faint, amused smile. "But she needs me right now in whatever capacity she feels is necessary - it's enough."
"This is why, Jason." Kimberly returned to the living room carrying their wedding album - it was something they had unpacked first and appeared to have gotten buried in the mess that had become their room. She slapped it down on the table in front of Jason and flipped it open. Passing the first couple of photographs, she found what she was looking for and pulled back.
Staring up from the glossy photograph was Pierre and her mother, beaming with pride, tears in her eyes and looking as if she'd just won the lottery. Jason stared at it silently.
"Still think I'm crazy, bro?"
Lifting his gaze to his friends, he smiled faintly. He'd seen a picture of her mother's current state - but not this one. "If I could have done anything to put that kind of... life into Caroline's eyes at that stage, I would have moved heaven and earth."
"And now you know why I did."
Tommy extended his hand to Kimberly, seeing she was struggling again; reminders of her mother's terminal status were not sitting well with her. Fortunately, her mother had called every night for the last two weeks to check in on them - always indecently early in the morning when Kimberly was getting ready for work. Apparently it was a bit of a ritual between them when something momentous happened - he learned she'd done the same for a month when she'd sent him her first letter. It had helped motivate her to continue on.
Taking his hand, Kimberly allowed herself to be drawn down next to him. "No one but Tommy's parents know the truth, Jason. We'll tell Trini, but..."
"I get it," Jason conceded reluctantly. "I won't tell, but Zack will be furious when it comes out."
"I hope you're right, Kim. Wow... I mean, just wow. I thought you guys were pulling my leg when I got this," he shook the postcard again, "I didn't for a second think it was real."
"As real as it gets."
Jason smirked knowingly at Tommy's nonchalant reply and then pushed to his feet. "Thanks for the coffee, Kim - good to see you bro. Stop by sometime while you're in the city to see my place; I'll give you the tour."
"Your place place or your work place?"
"One and the same - I live above my shop. I've gotta run if I want to open on time. Congrads you guys; the feeling in the family is going to be it's about time, no matter the reason."
Kimberly moved to give him a hug. "Thanks for understanding why we didn't invite you, Jason."
Jason nodded back to the binder of wedding pictures. "Just forward that shot of your mom to everyone; they'll understand too."
Tommy's time in Florida with Kimberly passed quickly. It was evident as the end of the summer neared and the gym where she was employed began to ramp up for the fall, that she needed to get away. She came home tense and frustrated, worried as her mother's phone calls became shorter every morning - and her mother seemed to be losing her ability to speak at any great length.
Taking it upon himself, Tommy called Caroline's hospital room and spoke with Pierre. He gave him his home phone number for Caroline or Pierre to use when it became necessary. Explaining his plan to Pierre - to bring Kimberly with him to his place to get her away from the stress of her work - he found a hearty companion. Pierre suggested that Tommy use Caroline as a lever to get Kimberly to go. Kimberly's stress was bleeding off over the phone in the conversations with Caroline and Caroline was worrying about Kimberly.
It was true enough and Caroline admitted to it when Tommy spoke with her briefly. Tommy suggested Caroline bring up the subject of a change of scene with her daughter at the end of the month - a month that had been strained for Kimberly, but not between them. She's reasserted her independence, but in such a fashion he was included - it was similar to their high school experience and Tommy found himself at loose ends.
When Kimberly was at work, he explored Miami, staying within the budget she set for them with careful precision as he knew just how important it was for her to feel in control just then. He read, visiting the library every couple of days to check his e-mail and online periodicals, keeping up to date with friends. Anyone who e-mailed him - Haley in particular - asking if he was sane, was ignored and his only reply was the words 'I'm fine, thanks for asking.' When she stopped and instead inquired how he was doing, he answered her honestly.
His nights were spent with Kimberly, making love to her or pampering her after a hard day at the gym and giving her a chance to vent. That transferred over into his own need to exercise - her place just wasn't big enough - and she suggested he join her at the gym in the mornings before classes. She was always early and, as such, had the place to herself. It was an arrangement Tommy couldn't refuse and evolved into sparring sessions. Kimberly hadn't spent much time working out the way they'd done in high school and Tommy was delighted to find that she remembered a good portion of what he and Jason has taught her.
When one of her students had been dropped off early one morning on their fifth day of sparring, they'd been completely unaware of their audience. Kimberly had ducked under a round house kick and gone in low, taking out his legs and sweeping him to the mat. She pinned him briefly, sharing his feral grin, before being launched across the mat.
The shriek of her student at her flight drew them both up short as Kimberly flipped back to her feet. Her smile had faded and Tommy realized that no one likely knew of their early morning sessions. The girl had come flying across the mat almost in tears, to tackle her coach. It had taken a couple of minutes before Kimberly had been able to calm the girl down and he'd been introduced - as her husband no less - and his wife had honestly told the little girl what they'd been doing. Tommy had taken his leave after that, expecting their morning sessions to be at the end - but Kimberly hadn't done anything of the sort.
Their time in Miami flew by, Kimberly's newly married status having made the rounds at the gym - courtesy of Ali and her students - and more than once he was asked to come by and meet them. Kimberly was anything but reluctant in showing him off, a promising sign if he took it as such. He attended a showcase she'd put together as a promotional stunt for the gym, met her colleagues and reacquainted himself with Coach Schmidt
Her old Coach - and now employer - had been delighted to hear of their nuptials, insisted he needed photos and then proceeded to throw them a party at the gym. Considering the gracious reception, Tommy managed to wheedle more time off for Kimberly out of the deal, convincing the man that Kimberly needed some time away from everything familiar for a couple of weeks. Coach Schmidt had looked at him, laughed, and then winked when he'd agreed to let Tommy take her away from Miami for a few weeks.
With the school term starting in just a week, it was in the nick of time. Coach Schmidt had told Kimberly himself - paid vacation he'd called it - as a way to unwind and get her focus back... and enjoy her newly married status.
That week became a whirlwind as Tommy and Kimberly packed to return to Reef Side. Ali was delighted to have the apartment to herself once more, seeing them off with a hug and a smile as they headed for the airport; there was no need for her to tell Tommy to take care of her friend - he'd already proven he was good at it. Tommy had called ahead to warn Haley that he was coming home and ask her to get them. She'd been less than thrilled to find out Kimberly was coming back with him, but a quick explanation had sorted things out - after all, Kimberly was his wife and it only made sense she would come with him.
The flight back to California was accompanied with a feeling of déjà vu. Upon landing, Tommy and Kimberly headed for the gates, quickly sidestepping those who would linger or lag on their way to the exit.
"You said Haley's picking us up, right?"
"Relax, Kim," Tommy squeezed the hand he'd been holding since they debarked as they headed for the doors leading to the arrivals meeting zone. "She won't bite."
"You said she knows about us - our history... she can't be happy about this."
"It's not her decision to make. Just be yourself and think of her as... as a female Billy."
Kimberly rolled her eyes, but the tension in her shoulders eased somewhat - until they passed through the gates. Haley wasn't the only one waiting for them.
Colors abounded - red, white, yellow and blue blurs swarmed them as they stepped through the doors.
"Welcome home, Doctor O!"
Tommy and Kimberly were nearly driven to the floor under the onslaught of enthusiastic hugs. Colors whirled around them and then receded, coalescing into individual people Kimberly didn't recognize - but she could guess who they were. Even after ten years, the majority of her wardrobe sported pink in one way or another.
"Sorry Tommy," Haley stepped forward apologetically to give him a hug. "Trent found out why I was taking the afternoon off and told Kira."
"And, of course, I had to tell Connor and Ethan," Kira piped in. "You must be Kimberly - I'm so psyched to meet you!"
"Kira, was it?"
She nodded - and accepted the handshake Kimberly offered with an ecstatic grin. "So are you taking Doctor O.'s last name or is he taking yours - 'cause calling him Doctor H. after all this time would be weird."
Kimberly laughed and answered without answering the question at all. "If I were to change my name, my profession won't know who I am."
The other former Dino Rangers jumped in to introduce themselves and Kimberly was pulled into an enthusiastic hug by Connor who was thrilled she was a former Ranger, treated to a slightly less enthusiastic hug from Ethan and then a hand shake from a slightly reserved Trent - his other hand having been claimed by Kira. The boy in White reminded her of the Tommy she'd known in high school.
Tommy finally reclaimed her attention and turned it to the last of the people who'd greeted them, making the introductions.
"Kim, this is Haley; Haley - Kimberly."
"I've heard a lot about you," Haley told Kimberly with a slight smile and handshake.
"Not all of it bad, I hope."
The two women shared a look before dropping the stiff handshake. None of the quartet of former Rangers around them picked up on the tension Tommy had been expecting. Thankfully, it was minimized. "Trent?"
"There should be a white and pink suitcase coming down off the carousel and a green and black duffle with red tags - would you mind...?"
"Sure thing Doctor Oliver." The young man smiled faintly, collared his friends and girlfriend and dragged them away, leaving the adults alone for a minute.
Tommy turned his attention back to Haley, grateful for the brief reprieve. He didn't see as much of his former students as he once had, but their enthusiasm sometimes made him feel old. "I hope you didn't all come in the same car."
"I brought your jeep," Haley replied, her gaze still on Kimberly. "Trent brought the others. They seemed to think you wouldn't recognize them if they didn't wear their colors."
"Right." Tommy pulled Kimberly close to his side, wrapping an arm about her waist under Haley's slight glare and sent the red head a warning look. "They haven't changed that much since last year."
"Not nearly so much as Tommy since I last saw him," Kimberly offered. "I didn't recognize him at first."
"Really?" Haley looked a little too smug with Kimberly's admission. "Why ever not?"
Tommy could practically see Kimberly's hackles rising as her smile turned sweetly condescending. "I think it had something to do with the fact he had shoulder length hair and no glasses last time I saw him. Or it could have been the color - he'd taken to wearing red back then, not black."
Whatever message Kimberly had been sending in the look she sent Haley, the other woman obviously received it and a measure of respect was given with a concession. "I remember when Tommy cut his hair; it was a bit of a shock to everyone."
"Can you ladies play nice as I go track down the last of the luggage?"
"Aren't..." Haley pointed towards where Trent and the other former Rangers were cooling their heels, caught in a lively discussion behind him that he was disinclined to participate much in.
Messagog's defeat had changed the former White Ranger in ways no one had anticipated and, while able to relax with friends, he was withdrawn in most social settings. A naturally shy individual, Trent retreated within himself when he wasn't comfortable. Kira, fortunately, balanced him out.
Tommy shook his head. "They'll never find the third case; it's brown like everything else."
"Go." Kimberly shooed him away. "We'll be fine and go find a cart, right Haley?"
Looking from one woman to the other, Tommy knew better than to argue with either of them. Without thinking about it, he bent his head and brushed a kiss across Kimberly's lips. "Be nice, she's a good friend."
Tommy had his reservations about leaving the two women on their own and kept an eye on them from the corner of his eye. He wasn't disappointed. The moment he was out of ear shot, Kimberly turned on Haley and said something that completely shocked the genius. They traded words without moving forward for a couple of minutes before glancing his way. Seeing they had his attention, Kimberly pulled Haley away, leaving him to wonder what the two of them were talking about.
Whatever it was, when Haley and Kimberly returned in the cart several minutes later, there seemed to be a grudging respect between them. It was a discussion that had needed to happen and Haley would later tell him it was the turning point where she'd first started liking Kimberly. Of course, Tommy knew that anyone who met Kimberly would love her like he did - she wasn't an easy person to dislike.
Connor, Trent, Ethan and Kira went their own way to spend some time together and, since they were headed to Haley's Café, agreed to drop her off when she asked. Tommy thanked them all for meeting them - it was a much busier return than they'd expected - and packed Kimberly into his jeep.
She was quiet on the trip to his home, staring out the window for a good portion of the hour and a half long drive and just taking in the sights. Her only comment was how similar Reef Side was to Angel Grove - barring the obvious Dinosaur theme in the area.
It wasn't until they turned into his drive way that she spoke again.
"Where are we going?"
"In a forest?"
"I told you it was unconventional. I own a good chunk of land around here."
"Several. It made setting up the Dino Ranger command center in the basement easier - and less suspicious."
"How'd you do it without drawing attention to yourself?"
He sighed; he'd known the question was coming and hadn't been looking forward to it. "Separate contractors. There are enough ex-Rangers in high level positions with construction and development companies I called for a few favors."
"And they what, willingly footed the bill when you said it was for a group of new Rangers?"
"Something like that," it was a clumsy dodge, but he was saved by the sight of his home and Kimberly's suddenly rapt attention to it.
"You live here?"
"We live here," he corrected, pulling up to the porch and throwing the jeep into park, a sense of unease suddenly eating at him. "I know it's a little bigger than you're accustomed to-"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
He shut down the engine, staring at his home for a long minute before turning to look at her solemnly. "Because I didn't want you to come for me and stay for my house."
"Tommy!" She laughed, unbuckling her seat belt and throwing herself into his arms. The hug was awkward, but heartfelt. "I've never been, and never will be that shallow. I came because my boss forced me to take some time off."
"I'm kidding. You know I'm only here because you asked me to come - no more and no less. You could live in a palace with... with rooms covered in gold and silver and I wouldn't have come if I hadn't wanted to spend more time with you."
Her smile faltered as she drew back and she seemed on the brink of saying more, but Tommy jumped in before she could say something she wasn't ready for. "I wouldn't get too comfortable; my room might be in the same shape you left yours in."
"Once a week," he admitted, climbing down and reaching in to grab their cases. Kimberly grabbed their carry ons with a laugh. "I'm not one for housework, or cooking - though I do the lawn, what there is of it, on my mower."
"One of those ride along ones I hope, this would be killer on the arms otherwise."
"What else? Come on, this way."
After that initial, slightly awkward and uneasy introduction to his home, Kimberly settled in as if she'd never lived anywhere else. That first weekend they spent together was mostly Kimberly watching him as he prepared for that first week of classes. A new crop of young people would be frequenting his classroom and Kimberly was fascinated by his approach to creating a lesson plan. Fortunately he'd mapped out the new school year's curriculum so Kimberly was only seeing the fun part - and he let her help.
That turned into a game once the school year started and, like he had for her, Kimberly helped him relax after classes. Tommy's job was no less demanding than hers, with hours needed for grading papers and planning surprise quizzes, but even with those demands on his time, they settled into something of a routine.
Quickly, so quickly it was almost frightening, word of Tommy's new wife spread through the community and within that first week back at school it not only felt as if Kimberly had never been absent from his life there, but she'd begun to make friends. During school hours, she borrow his jeep and learned the city, exploring the places his latest Ranger days had taken him and spending time with Haley at the cyber cafe.
Whatever she was doing won Haley to her side and Tommy was more than a little shocked when Haley told him she liked Kimberly and that he'd better not lose her this time.
Time flew by, days sliding quickly into one week and then two. Kimberly was waiting for him almost every night at home and they made a point of making dinner together. She would then sit with him as he graded papers - if he had papers to grade - or they'd find some other enjoyable way to pass the time.
As the third week passed and their final weekend together started - Kimberly was supposed to leave the following Saturday - they took a few moment of quiet apart.
Kimberly was upstairs luxuriating in a bubble bath. Tommy had settled himself outside with a glass of whiskey on the rocks, half sitting on the railing of his porch as he stared out at the setting sun. Taking a sip of his drink, he considered everything that had happened over the course of his summer.
A whole half of June had been spent in France and had held some of the most unexpected developments and twists his life had ever taken - which said a lot with his history as a Ranger. Engaged, sham though it was, to Kimberly and Married in the last days of June. Things had moved from sham, to semi-reality and then into something not exactly reality to something that felt real over the course of a few days.
They'd done more than just grant Caroline's fondest wishes when Kimberly had married him and the events they'd set in motion had been nothing short of astonishing.
Honeymooning in France and getting to know one another again. Kimberly initiating the step that moved their relationship from emotional to physical; acting like teenagers once again - except teenagers that had money, resources and understood the consequences of their actions. Reconnecting like things had never changed between them, but knowing that things were different.
Exploring those similarities and differences while in France and then, upon their return to the states, learning to really live with one another in close quarters. It was eerie how just how quickly they'd accustomed themselves to a married life together, finding things to do to just be together but also have their own space.
At her place, he'd found where to fit easily enough. Once their early morning sparring sessions had started, he'd thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of his vacation. Not that he hadn't before, but sparring with Kimberly was a different kind of rush than sparring with Jason had ever been. There was something stimulating on many levels about being able to throw the girl you loved around and having her do it back to you. The complete and utter trust involved was both humbling and invigorating.
Their time in Reef Side had, thus far, been less hectic than in Miami at Kimberly's. Here they relaxed. The school year had just started but he couldn't remember ever being so psyched to be finished his assignments since his own high school career had ended. Back then it had been to hang out with Kimberly at the Juice bar. These days it was to hang out with her at home, show her around his town and love her until neither of them could move.
There was something to be said for being an adult and not worrying about his folks being around.
Shaking his head, he tipped his glass back and took another sip, watching as the sun disappeared and long shadows crept towards his porch. One week. He had one week left before Kimberly returned to her life in Miami. One week to get in every dream and experience he'd ever wanted to share with her; one week before he would be obligated to let her go again.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Somehow he wasn't as surprised as he should have been with Kimberly's arrival.
"I thought you were enjoying your bath."
"Mmm, I would have enjoyed it more with you," she sidled up to his side, wrapping her arms around his waist, smiling up at him when he turned to brush his lips across her forehead. "It was too far away."
Tommy shifted his drink to his other hand to wrap his right arm about her waist as she stepped into the V his legs created with his position. "You'll be much farther than upstairs in less than a week."
"I know." Kimberly sighed softly, resting her head on his chest. "I don't want to go, but I know I have to."
"Is this where I'm supposed to know what you're thinking - like the last time?"
"Maybe." Her grip tightened. "Maybe not."
"You never did answer my question, back in France."
"What could I have said - what did you want me to say, to make you stay?"
"I can't believe you remember that - it was two months ago!"
"And I still have problems with my shopping list?" Tommy eased her away so he could see her face. "It's been bothering me, Kim. The thought that I could have said something - done something - that would have made you stay without regrets... it's been eating at me and... I don't want to make the same mistake twice."
She tilted her hand into his touch as he placed his glass on the railing and lifted cool fingers to cup her face, tracing the curve of her cheek. Her eyes glittered in the semi-darkness as the light from the setting sun began to fade. "When did this become so real?"
He smiled faintly. "The moment you asked for my help and knew I could never deny you, or maybe the moment I came to your rescue. Does it really matter?"
"I just..." she stopped, searching his gaze. "It would be nice to know when the line between pretense and reality was blurred. When we crossed it, you know?"
"No," he admitted softly, caressing her cheek with the pad of his thumb. He would never tire of looking at or touching her. "I don't know. I think we've been fooling ourselves in thinking this could be anything but real, Kim. It's felt that way from the start and it still feels that way now. Everything that's happened might have been undertaken with the idea that we were perpetuating a lie, but it feels right. This; you and me - and I know you feel it too."
"I do. I knew you'd never let me down, but I never dreamed we'd go this far. I never would have if it had felt anything but right."
"Me either." He bent, brushing his lips across hers. "I love you, Kimberly. I've loved you since the moment I laid eyes on you - I never stopped."
"Tommy..." Smiling through her tears, she lifted her hands to his face, looking him straight in the eye so he couldn't mistake her. "Those were the words I wanted to hear when I left last time."
"That's it. I think I knew it here," she placed one hand over her heart, "but I needed to hear it, to know for sure. But... you never said it - so I left."
"I didn't want to trap you. You have... no idea how hard it was not to tell you. How hard it's been." He let go of her face, sliding his hands down over her shoulders and down her arms. "Dare I hope you love me back?"
"What, it's not a given?" Her tone was teasing before turning serious. "I love you, Tommy; I've always loved you. You and only you, there's never been anyone else."
"Stay with me, Kim. Here, in Reef Side. Be my wife for real, forever - 'til death do us part."
"Is that a proposal, or an order?"
"It's a plea." he corrected her as he drew her close again, searching her features. "Marry me - again."
"No." He jerked as if slapped, but Kimberly's gentle smile as she shook her head should have been an indication she wasn't finished. "I married you in France - for real Tommy."
"You're the one who said our vows were a lie."
"I lied about that; I couldn't think of another way to get you to tell me how you were justifying them without having to explain my own reasons."
He'd been out-foxed by his wife. Shaking his head, he tilted it back against the beam he was leaning against, staring at the roof. Darkness had fallen, only the light from the windows behind them lending them any illumination. "I should be mad at you."
"But you're not."
"No... I'm not." He tilted his head to look at her again. "How'd you know I'd go along with your plan?"
Kimberly lifted her head, tapping the engagement ring he'd brought her with her thumb.
"Ah." He'd walked right into her trap, brought the noose and wrapped it around his own neck to boot - except it still didn't feel wrong. Somehow, knowing that Kimberly had half planned this all along was flattering... in a twisted kind of way. "Did you put Pierre up to it?"
"What? No!" She looked too insulted to be lying. "I never expected us to actually get married, but when he suggested it, and you didn't fight it, how could a girl resist? I was being offered a chance at the only dream I'd thought I'd crushed years ago. I wanted to marry you, Tommy, but I never wanted to trap you. I knew you'd feel that way if you knew how I felt. I never would have pressed if you hadn't been open to Pierre's suggestion."
"I had to convince you."
"I had to know it was your choice - that it's what you really wanted, Tommy. I couldn't... I never would have been able to live with myself otherwise." Kimberly looked apprehensive. "I'll understand if, knowing that now, you want me to leave."
"I have a mind, Mrs. Oliver," he told her deliberately, catching her close. "To let you make it up to me for the rest of your life."
"You don't want me to leave?"
"Never." Smiling down at her, Tommy bent his head to hers. "If I'd been smart, I'd have found a way to trick you into marriage a long time ago. How about it, Kim? Stay with me and be my wife for the rest of our lives?"
"On one condition."
"You never, ever let me let you go again."
Author's Note: Thanks for reading everyone; you've been a fantastic audience. :)