Happy Early, Early, Early Birthday, Lady Griddlebone!
Versus – It Begins
It all started with a project.
"Now, class," Ms. Appleby said as she handed back the latest graded assignments. "Today we're going to take a new approach to last week's assignment."
Kimberly groaned under her breath, staring at her self-improvement project. It could use some improving itself: a C+. She slumped in her seat and sighed. It wasn't her fault she'd forgotten to do it! Tommy was just rubbing off on her, she guessed.
"This week, we're going to do partner-improvement projects."
Billy sighed. He'd gotten a solid A on the self-improvement project; no shock there. He was great at papers when he was doing them himself. It was working with others that could get problematic. He chafed at knowing his grade could be affected by others – often not of his own choosing. He could only be thankful for small mercies: neither Bulk nor Skull was in this class.
"Now that you've had time to see what you feel you need to improve on, it's time to have somebody else open your eyes to flaws. We all have them; some are more easily fixed than others. You will work with your partner for a full week, choosing one flaw per person and discussing how to tackle resolving the issue."
Ms. Appleby walked to the front of the room, gesturing to the first and fourth rows. "Turn to face the person next to you."
Billy spun to stare at Kimberly; hope glinted in her brown eyes.
"These are your partners. Scoot together now and get to talking through the end of the hour. You have 45 minutes."
Kimberly muffled an excited giggle as she moved her desk closer to Billy's. "Oh, this is so great! I won't have to worry about running out every time my 'pager' goes off," she said, bringing up her fingers to make air quotation marks.
"I, too, believe this will be a propitious arrangement," Billy agreed, before slightly frowning as Kim waited a beat… as though expecting Trini to chime in.
After a few seconds passed, Kimberly shook her head, as though coming out of a daze. "I'm sorry… huh?" Her eyes gleamed with apology.
"Our teaming up is beneficial to both of us."
"Gotcha." Kim scooted closer, taking great care to tuck her most recent paper under her book – but not before Billy could see it.
"Kimberly, I thought you had big plans for that assignment and expected an exemplary score."
Kim sighed, blowing her bangs out of her face. "Whatever I expected… it wasn't that."
"I think Tommy's rubbing off on me. I forgot."
Billy lifted an eyebrow. "I find that hard to believe. Tommy was doing the same exact project last week, remember? We pitched in to try and help him remember things and be on time."
Kim stifled a snicker. "Yeah. Didn't work too well, huh?"
"Much like your assignment," Billy added wryly.
"Well, when I did remember, there were other things to do!" Kim protested. "There was that sale at the mall Saturday… Rita has been coming at us like clockwork. I had a late afternoon hair appointment on Thursday and that's not even taking into account my gymnastic practices. Oh, and that awesome afternoon where Zordon had me practicing wheeling maneuvers in the Firebird zord. And spending time with Tommy on top of that!"
"So the primary reason is not that you were absent-minded, but that you were simply inattentive to the issue at hand."
Kim blew out her bangs again as she mulled the words over in her head. It wasn't that she didn't know them – reading them was just a lot different from hearing them, no matter how long she'd known Billy. "Well, I guess."
"Then I suspect that is the issue I will take you to task for over the next seven days."
Kim's eyes lit up. "Hey! Yeah! With you getting on my case, I'm sure to get everything done!"
Billy looked put out. "I do not intend to 'get on your case,'" he repeated, "as much as I hope to help you come up with a system that allows you to fit studying and homework in before your leisure time."
She sighed. "Fine." She was suddenly taken by an idea and sat up straight, eyes sparking.
He leaned back, not quite trusting the look on her face…
"If you have to focus on me cracking down, I'm going to focus on you learning to relax! To chill out a little bit!"
"Kimberly, my daily routine is quite complex and I do not think-"
"Exactly!" she interrupted. "You don't leave a lot of you time in there! Which means that you have less time for us, as well," she added with a pout. "And that means I bet you don't have a date for the dance next week, do you?"
Billy looked down and shook his head. "Negative. I was disinclined to partake, actually; the weekend will be a fabulous opportunity to witness an astronomical phenomenon-"
"You have to go! We're all going!"
"Nope. Nothin' doin'. You get to make me a better student; I get to make you a better 'teenager,'" she insisted, quotation marks and all. "And," she added with a hint of mischief, "Trini doesn't have a date for the dance either. Whaddaya say we make that an overall goal?"
Billy blushed, stammered, and tripped over his own tongue before he realized Kim was giggling. "I do not believe that acquiring accompaniment to the event should be a priority, considering I did not wish to attend."
Another pause allowed Kimberly to realize what Billy was thinking. "Billy, you know that even if you bring a date, we all go as a group. But I've seen the way Trini looks at you… and the way you look at her. What could it hurt?"
Kim slapped him lightly on the arm. "Oh, don't give me that. We're all friends. We're good friends – teammates, even. It doesn't hurt to try, and even if she says no, it won't be the end of the world. Think of it as a test of how well this week helps you… become more social. And I swear, I'll work hard on what we think we need to do to make me a better student, 'kay?"
Billy's eyes echoed his uncertainty… but after a bit more encouragement, he nodded his acquiescence.
It all started with a bet.
"So," Jason managed with a grunt as he eased the arms of the weight machine back to their position on each side of his head, "what are we doing tomorrow?"
"Before or after our regularly-scheduled monster attack?" Zack asked rhetorically, spinning to the beat as he tried to master yet another move from a music video he'd seen the night before on MTV.
"Well, afterward, Kim and I are going to catch a movie," Tommy said, reaching for his towel and a bottle of water. "Spend some time together."
"You guys are always together," Jason pointed out.
"We want to be together without you tag-alongs, I mean," Tommy shot back. "Just us."
"And what, may I ask," Zack asked with a leer, "could you two be getting into that requires 'just the two of you?'"
Tommy flushed and turned to add a bit of weight to the bench press bar. "Get your own relationship," he muttered.
"He's tried," Jason jibed. "Angela keeps leaving him hangin'."
"She'll come around," Zack insisted. "Nobody can say no to the Zack-man!"
"Tell her that," Tommy said with a grin. "Anyway, Bro, what'd you have planned for tomorrow?"
"Thought we were going to study," Jason pointed out, sounding a little miffed. "Or did you forget?"
"You can study without me."
"Sure, you'd rather be kissing on Kim."
"Well, yeah," Tommy agreed with a laugh, though red dusted his cheeks.
"What's got you so riled up, Jase?" Zack asked. "It's not like you to get so bummed out about something like this."
Jason shrugged, beginning another set of reps on his machine.
Tommy narrowed his eyes at Jason, now growing a bit concerned. "You're not upset that we're going out, right? I didn't think you liked her that way…"
Jason made a face. "Ew, no. She's like my sister, man. That's nasty."
"Jase is just jealous; he hasn't gone steady with a girl in two years!"
"I'm not jealous! I'm just-"
"Jealous," Zack insisted. "Because Tommy has Kim but you don't have Trini and you've been pining after her for years now!" He immediately ducked a flying gym bag; it was amazing how quickly Jason could move when suitably motivated.
Tommy blinked, surprised by the turn the conversation had taken. "Wait, you like Trini?"
"No!" "Yes!" Jason and Zack spoke simultaneously, Zack grinning and Jason glowering.
"I thought Billy and Trini…" Tommy floundered for a moment, cringing a bit at the look that crossed Jason's face. It wasn't often his bro was tongue-tied, but right now…
And wouldn't a proper best friend take the best opportunity to rib him a bit? "You do!" Tommy said with a growing grin. "You like Trini but you're afraid-"
A towel flew at Tommy.
"I am not afraid!" Jason argued.
"But you like Trini. You didn't deny that," Zack pointed out, bouncing like a kid on Christmas morning. "Which means you do!"
"You are acting like a 10-year-old," Jason said wearily.
"But you like her. You didn't deny it yet."
"I denied it earlier!"
"But not now!"
Tommy cut in, "Wait. If Billy and Trini aren't… together… then why haven't you made a move?"
"Don't even say it," Jason cut in. "I'm not afraid. And I'm not saying I like her. But… if I did I still wouldn't make a move because it would be weird. We're teammates."
"Tommy and Kim are teammates," Zack pointed out amusedly. "And they seem to be doing just fine."
Jason had no comeback.
"What'd you always tell me when I was crushing on Kim?" Tommy asked, smiling. "Something about how if I never ask I'll never know?"
"She can't say yes unless you ask her," Zack repeated what he'd told Tommy not too long ago.
"Ask her where?"
"The dance next week," Tommy said, suddenly inspired. "Ask her to the dance. C'mon, make a move. Can't wait forever or you'll miss your chance, man!"
Zack grinning. "Hey, it's not that I don't have faith in our fearless leader or anything but… he won't do it. Hasn't for two years, won't do it now."
"Some friend you are," Jason muttered.
"Just tellin' the truth, my man," Zack told Jason with a grin.
"If he can face Goldar, he can face Trini," Tommy said.
"He won't do it," Zack responded. "I bet you anything that he won't."
"You're on! Jase can do anything," Tommy refuted.
"Oh my God," Jason said, hand kneading his forehead. "Are you guys really betting on my love life?"
"No, we're betting on your lack of one," Zack shot back with his trademark smirk.
"Or on you getting one," Tommy muttered under his breath while trying to look supportive... and not as amused as he actually was.
Not sure he really wanted to encourage this ridiculousness, Jason's mouth hung open for a second before he managed to phrase his question. "Alright bro, do I even dare to ask what the stakes are?"
Silence reigned. This was the all-important detail, after all. Tommy didn't want it to be anything too embarrassing; it wasn't that he doubted his best friend, but if Jase couldn't deliver…
Suddenly, Zack looked up with an absolutely unholy gleam in his eyes. "I get to be Red. For a WHOLE. WEEK."
"Red?" Tommy asked somewhat dimwittedly. Then his eye caught on Zack's handily twisted wrist, communicator catching the light.
Jason and Tommy traded horrified looks. "No," they simultaneously intoned.
"What?" Zack goaded. "Are you saying Jase can't do it? That's the only reason you'd turn this down."
"Hell no!" Jason responded. "What would-" he looked around, before hissing "-Zordon say about us betting a Power Coin on a stupid bet?"
"A stupid bet you're going to lose," Zack added with relish.
Jason's eyes flashed. No way. Zack did not just call him out…
The barely hidden grin on Tommy's face said otherwise. "You know, bro, technically I'm the one who accepts this bet or not."
"Yeah, but you're betting my coin!"
"Are you saying you can't do it?" Tommy unconsciously echoed Zack's comments from earlier.
"I can do anything," Jason asserted angrily. "Absolutely anything; I just think the bet is stupid."
"So win it and prove him wrong."
Jason eyed Zack warily. "And what happens if you lose?"
Zack stopped his bouncing, thinking.
Tommy burst into laughter. "Why change the theme? He'd have to be Yellow... or better yet, Pink. Can you imagine him in Kim's mini skirt?"
Jason grinned, nodding. "That's fair."
It all started with a challenge.
"Hey, Tommy!" Kim took a moment to admire her well-built boyfriend as he approached their usual table at the Juice Bar. "What've you been up to?" There was a twinkle in his usually darkened eyes; she'd love to say it was pleasure at seeing her, but…
"Nothing much. Working out with Jase and Zack."
"Oh really? Where'd they get to?"
"They went to play some one-on-one in the park."
"And you came to spend time with me instead?" Kim smiled her most charming grin. "How sweet!"
"What are you working on?" he asked, motioning to the books and paper spread across the table.
"Oh, my project for Ms. Appleby's class. I'm teamed up with Billy!" she said happily.
Tommy leaned over her shoulder, taking a moment to enjoy just holding her before looking at the papers. He grinned. "Billy's making you… a better student?"
Kim wrinkled her nose. "Yeah. Says I need to study more and," she sat up straight, attempting to lower her voice as she repeated, "'take a firmer control of my scheduling that which must be completed and those conflicting desires to find a happy medium.'"
"Something that meant happy medium. I don't remember what it was. It was in Billy and I'm not fluent."
Tommy laughed. "What are you doing for him?"
"Getting him a date with Trini," Kim responded matter-of-factly, pointing to the relevant list of goals for her friend.
Tommy stood up straight. "Trini? With Billy? For the dance?"
"Yeah!" When Tommy failed to respond, she twisted around with a confused look on her face. "Why?"
"Uhm…" Tommy wasn't quite sure what to say. On one hand, he should support her in all her endeavors. And Billy and Trini would make a cute couple.
On the other hand, Zack could not be Red for a week. The fate of the world literally rested on that fact!
"What's up?" Kim asked, tugging him by his wrist and guiding him to the seat next to her. "You look about as confused as I feel."
Tommy laughed at that. "Well… it's not that I don't want you to get a bad grade or anything, but I'm really hoping Trini doesn't take Billy up on the invite."
"Why not?" Kim thought of everybody, Tommy would be the one to support Billy. They both had the "shy, loner-type" personalities.
Rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, Tommy recounted his conversation with Zack and Jason… up through and including the bet.
"You bet Jason's mmph!" Tommy slapped his hand over her mouth as she nearly shrieked "power coin" throughout the Juice Bar.
Certain she was going to quiet down (though somewhat disconcerted at the way her eyes were boring holes in his head), he lowered his mouth and schooled his face into an innocent-puppy-like expression. "Well, no. Zack did. I just took him up on it. C'mon, it's Jase!"
"But… my grade is more important than a silly dare!"
"Than the Red coin?"
Kim squirmed uncomfortably in her chair. "I can't believe you… and then saying that either I or Trini would be Black? It can't be Trini; she'd kick your butts six ways to Sunday if she knew she was the focus of a bet!"
"So you'll do it?"
"Do I have a choice?" Kim muttered. "You know, though, that I'll have to win, right? I'm like, the master at romance."
"But I have Jason, and he's a sure winner."
"Are you saying I can't get Billy a date?"
"Are you saying Jason's a loser?"
The two stared at each other before breaking into grins.
"Fine. Let the best man win." Tommy held out his hand.
"Oh, Billy will," Kim promised, shaking his hand.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Power Rangers. They belong to Saban and Disney and other such companies.