Ever since becoming the Pink Ranger, Katherine Hillard had been painfully aware of the fact that she was Kimberly Hart's replacement. Kimberly's departure had left a gaping hole on the team, not least because of her relationship with Tommy, and Kat often felt like a child stepping into adult shoes that were too big for her. It didn't help that she had less karate experience than her predecessor, and that the others now needed to show her the ropes when they should have been concentrating on the fight against evil.
At first, the reminders of Kimberly's absence were a daily occurrence. The original Pink Ranger wrote and called every week, updating her friends on her quest for gold and eager for news from Angel Grove. Once or twice she called Kat, but the conversations were uncomfortable and underscored by the fact that Kat had originally obtained the Pink Ranger powers by stealing them. Tommy, Aisha, Adam, Rocky, and Billy would always talk about the newest skills Kimberly was learning, or the medals she had won, and then inevitably reminisce about "the good old days"—leaving Kat to wonder, was it her arrival that had brought an end to them?
Then there were the moments in battle when Kimberly suddenly resurfaced, such as when Kat took a hit for Rocky and the Red Ranger said, "Thanks, Kim," at first not even realizing his mistake. Worse was when she and Tommy were piloting the Falcon Zord, and the flash of disappointment she could see even through his helmet when he turned to her and she was too tall to be Kimberly. Once, he had called her "Beautiful." His haste to retract the word was understandable, but had still managed to hurt.
Things started to change when they became the Zeo Rangers. Kimberly had never been a Zeo Ranger; Kat finally had powers to call her own, not hand-me-downs. Now, no one shouted the wrong name to her on the battlefield. In fact, she had to work hard to remember that it was Tommy beneath the red helmet, not Rocky. With Aisha gone, the updates on Kimberly were fewer and farther between. Tommy rarely opened up on his phone calls with Kimberly, guarding them like precious jewels, and Kat was perfectly fine with this arrangement—although she wondered what sort of things he said to her, and was always surprised by the wave of jealousy that curled over her.
Eventually she figured it out. Some effects of Rita's spell, apparently, hadn't worn off; or maybe they were never part of the spell at all, and Kat had simply been clinging to the justification. Maybe that was why Kimberly began to pull away: because she knew that her replacement was in love with her boyfriend, and it was easier to immerse herself in gymnastics training than confront the issue.
Kat never did find out the truth, though, because then the letter came and no one, not even Billy or Adam or Rocky, heard much from Kimberly after that.
By the time they graduated from high school, Tommy had told Kat he loved her. He had kissed her under the stars until she was breathless. He had held her hand in public, attended her ballet recitals, given her pink flowers at unexpected moments, and even looked up the price of roundtrip tickets to London in case she was accepted into its prestigious ballet company. It was easy for Kat to dismiss the fact that Kimberly was still the only one he had ever called "beautiful"—after all, he had finally gotten rid of all the pictures in his room—but sometimes it was hard to escape the nagging suspicion that he was performing the boyfriend routine on autopilot. It might be a look that seemed to pass right through her, or a kiss that suddenly became distracted and distant: those were the moments in which she felt like an outsider in her own relationship, in which she wondered if she was still competing with the petite brunette who, after being rescued by the Turbo Rangers, had bolted back to Florida without so much as a word of goodbye.
But when Tommy told her that he wanted to make love to her, all of her doubts vanished. She had thought about having sex with him before, and had even gone on birth control, yet she had been too timid to bring up the subject when they were alone. She knew that he and Kimberly had never slept together, although they had considered it before she left for Florida; and a part of her, the one that still felt as if her powers and her boyfriend were only on loan from the original Pink Ranger, had been uncertain about truly claiming something as her own. The fact that Tommy was the one who initiated the discussion meant more to her than she was willing to admit, either to him or to herself.
They decided to wait until the night before they transferred their powers to the new Rangers. In retrospect, Kat should have seen the warning signs: Tommy was brooding over the prospect of stepping down from the team, and she was concealing from him the fact that, in all honesty, she was glad that the fighting was over. Being a Ranger, though important, was not something that had ever gotten easier for her. No matter which morpher she strapped on, she was always reminded of her predecessor… and she suspected that Tommy was, too.
But it was her first time, and she wanted it to be perfect, so that night she dimmed the lights in her room and spent a shocking two hours getting ready: showering, shaving, plucking, brushing, debating whether or not to use perfume, trying on every piece of lingerie in her closet. She double- and triple-checked to make sure that the condoms were still in her nightstand drawer—knowing Tommy, he would probably forget. Finally, she donned a scandalously short pink slip that Tanya had wrangled her into getting, and that she had to admit flattered her figure.
When at last her preparations were done, she stood in front of the mirror and scrutinized herself. A tall blonde knockout: that was what Tanya had told her, and she repeated it now in order to let it sink in. She was the complete and total opposite of Kimberly Hart, and tonight was her night—not Kimberly's.
Tommy arrived with flowers and champagne, the former probably stolen from his parents' liquor cabinet. When she inquired, he smiled ruefully and said, "Well, we're not Rangers anymore… so I guess we don't have to be role models."
Kat couldn't think of a response, so she accepted the flowers and led him up to her room. It was spotlessly clean, and she had taken extra precautions to hide any and all items that she didn't want him to see: a box of tampons, the baby blanket she had stubbornly held onto since her preschool days, and the letter from the Royal Dance Academy announcing that training began next week. She had been avoiding breaking the news to Tommy.
Once they had imbibed a sufficient amount of liquid courage, they fell onto her bed in a giggling, jittery mess of limbs. For a moment, Tommy panicked—but then Kat pulled out the condom he had forgotten, and he laughed and kissed her. Slowly they shed their clothes: something they had done before, yet tonight with a tenderness that surprised both of them.
Kat gave him some space to put the condom on—she wasn't drunk enough to be so bold as to help him. For a dizzying second, she felt light-headed with excitement and nervousness. When he climbed on top of her, however, and gently kissed her and touched her in ways that made her moan, she forgot the possibility of pain. She forgot to do anything but breathe, and even that was soon a touch and go affair.
Sex with Tommy Oliver turned out to be everything she had hoped for. He was slow and patient, making sure that she was experiencing nothing but pleasure. As the coils in her stomach tightened she begged him to move faster, and he did. That was when she began to see stars, and she closed her eyes and melted into a puddle of incoherent moans. She came with a gasp of delight, and for a moment she could only try to catch her breath.
That was when she heard it, so soft that at first she thought it was her imagination: "Kim."
Her eyes flew open, and the mortified expression on Tommy's face told her more than words could ever have. "Kat," he whispered now, drawing back in horror. "I'm… I'm so…"
She was surprised by how dull her reaction was, how little she felt in that moment. Perhaps because, deep down, she had known it for so long, she found that there was no dismay, nor a sense of betrayal, nor even anger to be mustered from within. Instead, there was only disappointment.
"Kat?" Tommy asked, frantically searching her gaze for a flicker of anything.
She thought of saying the obvious: "You still love her." But there was no point, when it had always been the unspoken truth that she had so desperately tried to ignore. Tommy had never stopped loving Kimberly; Kat had been the easy way out, convenient because he was Tommy and she was the Pink Ranger, and that was how things were supposed to be. Katherine Hillard was Kimberly Hart's replacement, through and through.
With a sigh, she sat up and looked at the clothes on the floor: the lingerie she had fretted over for hours at the store, determined to find something that Tommy would like; the little pink dress, a color she was suddenly wholeheartedly sick of; and Tommy's clothes, a haphazard pile of red, white, and green.
"I think you should go," she said quietly.
"Kat, please," Tommy begs, his face ashen. "Can we talk about this? I didn't mean to—"
"I know," Kat replied softly, gently disentangling herself from him. "Please, Tommy, just go."
It didn't take long for Tommy to realize that there was nothing he could do, that he was completely helpless. It was, Kat mused, a taste of what life would be like for him the day after tomorrow, when he woke up without a communicator on his wrist. She briefly wondered which he would miss more—her, or the Ranger powers—and decided that she didn't want to know the answer.
Tommy finally left, his shoulders slumped and the laughter gone from his eyes. Kat watched him get into his car and drive slowly away. With his departure a weight was lifted off of her shoulders, and she understood then that she would not be seeing Tommy Oliver for a very long time.
She understood something else, too: as long as she lived in Angel Grove, California, she would only ever be Kimberly's replacement. Yet there were many other parts of the world, and she happened to have a one-way ticket to somewhere far, far away, to a place where a different team was waiting for her. A place where the only shoes she had to fill were pointe, and custom-made for her.
In the end, the decision was easy. The next morning, Kat surrendered her powers to Cassie Chan and left on the first flight to London.