Co-Authored by psyco_chick32 & Shawn30
Timeline: Divergence after Season 3. Kim never left, Zeo never happened. It's their Senior year of high school.
Notes: Jason, Zack and Trini came back for their Senior year.
Genre: Drama/Hurt/Comfort/Angst – take note, there are no magic answers in this story. It deals with a variety of issues, and people deal with them in a variety of ways.
Ships (so far): Jason/Trini
Summary: Lines are drawn in the sand as the Ranger team faces its first tests in the wake of Tommy's betrayal.
A/N: psyco_chick32 – It's amazing what emotions can drive a person to do.
A/N: Shawn30 - Sometimes "I'm sorry" just isn't enough.
Aisha Campbell's House
Friday, September: Week 1
Jason squared his shoulders as he rapped on the front door of the Campbell house, Zack and Billy behind him on the front porch.
Rocky had volunteered to take over Tommy's karate class that afternoon. Tommy had made tracks straight home, head bowed as it appeared the consequences of his actions were going to linger for a long time to come. The girls had rushed to Aisha's car so quickly it made his head spin; Adam's jeep was right behind Aisha's yellow Nissan in the driveway.
Clearly, somebody was in the house.
"Maybe they'd rather be alone," Billy offered softly. All day, the girls had been conspiring – no doubt trying to figure out how to handle this drama. Rumors were already flying around school; Billy knew if even he had heard them, the student body must be buzzing with gossip regarding AGHS's Golden Couple's scandalous break-up. His heart ached as he realized Kim would eventually have to walk into the hornet's nest.
"There's no way I'm leaving without at least giving Kimmy a big hug," Zack declared, leaning past Jason to pound on the door harder than before.
After a moment, the door opened. Aisha stared at them darkly, throwing the door open wide to show Trini standing behind her. The Yellow Ranger's arms crossed angrily as she eyed the original male Rangers angrily. "Really? Really. You have a whole lot of nerve to come here after everything you guys said today."
Jason took a deep breath, closing his eyes for patience. It was clear Aisha was beyond pissed and feeling protective, and that would just make it harder to make sure the girl who was a sister in all but blood to him was coping. "'Sha, we're not here to fight. We just want to see Kim."
She snorted. "Uh huh. Yeah. Now you care, right? Now that the truth's out?" Her bark of laughter was anything but amused. "Like you give a damn. Get out of here. Go check on your precious leader."
Zack's draw dropped. "What the hell-?"
"Did I stutter? I can put it into tinier words if you want. Go. Away."
Jason stepped forward, invading Aisha's personal space and putting his hand up, so she couldn't close the door. "Hold on just one moment. Who do you think you are? I've been Kim's friend since Kindergarten. I love her and I want to make sure she's alright – I'm not leaving until then."
"She's not okay, Jase," Trini said softly, looking none the less angry despite her calmer tone. "She's crying her eyes out and hasn't stopped. She only slept last night because I went to the Command Center and got a tranq for her. She's heartbroken… and not just over Tommy." Her gaze bored into his accusingly.
"Give me one good reason why we shouldn't go up," Zack challenged.
"Because you're part of the problem," Aisha spat. "You and your 'bros before hoes' bullshit. Your 'Oh, it's not like it's that bad' type of attitude. You think she really needs to hear that shit right now?"
Zack was getting pissed. "That's not-"
Jason pushed his bangs off his head. "We never said-"
"I understand your reluctance in letting us see Kimberly in the state she's in," Billy interrupted the two of them. "But if you will not allow us entrance, would you at least inform us how she is doing physically?"
Trini buried her face in her hands, taking a deep breath. "She's… honestly? She just found out 24 hours ago that her ex-boyfriend is a lying, cheating, manipulative asshole who spent three days fawning over her, either hoping she would never find out he cheated or thinking that maybe if he was sweet to her, she'd just… I don't know, ignore it?" She looked up accusingly at the guys. "How do you think she is? On top of everything, she feels like Jason stabbed her in the back, and let her be humiliated."
Jason opened his mouth to argue the point and Trini shook her head to cut him off. "There's no salvaging that, Jase. You should have told her the moment you found out, or dragged him here to confess."
"Basically, what my girl here is saying is, 'No, you cannot go upstairs and try to convince Kim of your innocence or of how Tommy needs to be forgiven,'" Aisha interjected. "What the hell do you expect to say? 'Oh, Tommy's a great guy, really! He just made a mistake!'" she snidely pantomimed begging, opening her eyes wide in a gesture of innocence.
"We just want to see her," Jason said with a calm he didn't feel. "We don't want to tell her anything except that we love her and we're here for her, for anything she needs."
"You don't get it, do you?" She stepped forward, poking a finger into his chest. "Let me clue you in. You already failed at that, jackass. You were supposed to be there for her four days ago. You were her brother, Jason. You were supposed to care about her first. Not him. You were supposed to have her back. Instead, you kept his secret and today, you defended him."
"I never said he was right-"
"Billy, why don't you go on upstairs," Aisha said. "It's not like you stuck up for the asshole, and Adam has no idea what to do with a hysterical woman. Plus, Kat's new. It would be good for her to be with somebody she's known for a while."
Billy looked over at his friends worriedly. He wanted nothing more than to go see Kim, to give her a hug and another shoulder to cry on, but…
Jason motioned with his head to go in, wearing a sour look. "Go on. We'll see Kim when she gets back to school."
"Not likely," Aisha snorted before shutting the door in their faces, pushing all her weight against Jason's hand. The clink of the lock signaled the conversation was over; they weren't interested in Jason's and Zack's arguments.
"God dammit!" Zack shouted, slamming his fist into his palm angrily. "What the hell was that?"
Jason spun on his heel, heading back toward his car. He wondered the same thing.
As the afternoon gently faded into late evening, Jason watched Rocky wave goodbye to Ernie before sprinting over to his car and climbing in the backseat behind Zack. He wished he had good news to report, but that was in short supply lately.
"How did it go?" Rocky asked as he strapped in his seat-belt. The frustrated glance he saw the two guys in the front seat exchange lowered his expectations immediately. "That bad, huh?"
"Worse," Jason replied. "Aisha wouldn't even let us in the house. She all but branded us traitors and slammed the door in our faces."
Zack could only shake his head as Jason pulled out of the Youth Center parking lot. "They think that just because we support Tommy remaining the leader, we that we approve of what he did and don't care about Kim at all." His fist slammed on the dashboard in frustration. "Sorry, bro."
"No need. I already did that earlier today. Twice." Jason drove on, heading for Tommy's house. They had to find some sort of understanding about what to do next. For the moment, he really didn't have a clue. "'Sha let Billy see Kim, and Adam was already there. At least she has a lot of people around her. I just wish we could be too."
Rocky sighed, though he wasn't entirely surprised. Today at school he and Adam hadn't said a word to each other. Had that happened in over ten years? "This is such a colossal mess."
"Amen," Zack agreed.
Nothing else was said on the ten minute ride to Tommy's house. Right after school he bolted for the exit without so much as a goodbye, though they knew he was available if Zedd attacked. The White just hadn't been in the right frame of mind to deal with his young students.
Jason parked in front of Tommy's house and killed the engine. He saw Tommy in the backyard meditating alone. He always did when there was a ton on his mind, and today had to feel like a thousand tons. But this was all his fault.
The guys exited the car and walked alongside the house, through the open gate into the backyard. Tommy's eyes opened, watching them approach. His best friends were angrier than they had ever been at him before. How had things come to this? He just didn't know. "How is she?"
"Broken," Jason surmised sadly, his arms crossed as Tommy stood to his feet, head bowed. "At least, that's what I'm pretty sure she's feeling. I wouldn't know, because I wasn't allowed to see her. None of us were." He paused, staring into his leader's eyes. "Apparently, we're with the enemy."
Tommy winced and then nodded. These guys have fought with him, bled with him, and dealt death with him. Their loyalty was now coming with a huge price… one he knew he could never repay. "Guys, I am so, so sorry for cheating on Kim and splintering the team like this. I'm so embarrassed and humiliated. I have no excuse for my actions. I completely regret what I did and I'll do anything you want me to do to try and make up for this."
"Can you undo what you did?" Jason snarled sarcastically. "Can you have not cheated, you bastard!"
Never had his best friend glared at him with such fury. In a low, apologetic tone Tommy offered, "If I could, I would. Cheating on Kim is the worst thing I have ever done in my entire life. I can't stand that I hurt her."
"Then why did you do it?" Zack questioned, getting in his face, so angry he could knock his lights out. He stabbed a finger into Tommy's chest. "You told me how much you liked Kim and how nervous you were around girls." He poked Tommy's chest again. "You told me how special you thought she was and how much you wanted to impress her and be sweet to her." He continued pointing. "You asked me for advice on girls and promised you wouldn't hurt her. So now I carry the guilt of helping hook you two up, and now my sister is broken-hearted and won't even talk to me because she thinks I'm fine with what you did. But I'm not fine with it!"
Zack took a deep breath, not wanting to be disrespectful to the Olivers who were inside the house. Tommy couldn't say a word, wouldn't defend himself. "You selfish motherfucker! And of all people, you fucked Jenny, who more guys have passed around than a football. Can you imagine how Kim felt to learn about your affair from her?"
"I hope Kimberly never takes you back," Rocky added as he stood in Tommy's next. "No girl deserves to be cheated on, especially Kim. I can only imagine how hurt she is, and for what? Nothing… you don't even want to be with Jenny. You don't love her. There's nothing behind what you did except lust. And you're a better guy than this… at least, I thought you were."
"So did I," Tommy added, barely loud enough to hear. Shoulders slumped, his hand slowly crawled over his face; it felt like his soul was crushed and there were no answer to fix this. "Guys, believe it or not, none of you can hate me as much as I hate myself. I just… God, I don't know what came over me." A tear trailed down his face, and he quickly swiped it away. The heartache Kim was enduring was his fault and he hated himself for ever causing her pain. He loved her still. Always. But his actions said otherwise. All that he could do now was start with this moment and do better. "What do you guys think I should do next?"
"Stay the hell away from Kim," Jason warned, even as a small part of him hurt for his best friend. Tommy looked like hell… but deserved worse. "Don't call her, try talk to her or go see her unless she asks you to."
Tommy nodded. "Alright, done. Anything else?"
"I don't know what you expect from us," Zack said, "but I'll tell you this. I support you remaining our team leader and a Ranger. I do that because we need you and no matter how angry I am at you, I just don't think your personal life should take that away from you. We have years of being brothers, and that's gotta stand for something. But those times we normally hang out, or work out together, or have movie nights or play video games? Forget about it. I don't even want to look at you right now. I don't know who you are, and you need to figure that out. You need to decide the type of person you're going to be in the future. I'll defend you this one time for remaining our leader, but never again."
Rocky chimed in, "We all still believe in you, bro. We've been friends for years now. But what you did… we never, ever expected that. It's gonna take a long time for us to trust you again. I hope you're ready for that."
"I know," Tommy conceded. "I promise you, I'll never do anything like this again. I'll never put you guys in the position you're in now. I can't say enough what it means to me to have your support to remain on the team. It means the world to me. Someday, I'll make this up to Kim and all of you… no matter what. I swear it."
"You better," Jason sighed as he began walking back to his car. "We expected more of you. We know you're a better person than this. But we're all so disappointed in you."
Tommy watched them leave. A bad day made so much worse by the fallout at school and at home was about to become another sleepless night. His Beautiful was suffering because of his selfish immaturity. She deserved so much better; the only person that deserved pain was him.
Walking back to the small blanket on the grass, Tommy resumed his meditative pose. He sought peace of mind and calm amidst the storm that was his life. It was all that he could do tonight.
Angel Grove Youth Center
Saturday, September: Week 1
Adam had faced dangerous solo-Ranger missions with less dread and nervousness than this.
He watched Tommy mindlessly bench-pressing 240 pounds; repetition after grueling repetition as if he was in a hypnotic trance, pushing himself hard so that he wouldn't have to think about anything. The Ranger powers augmented his already considerably strength even unmorphed, and when Tommy was stressed he would work out until he exhausted himself – Adam had seen it before. The Black Ranger knew this was probably the most stressful time in his entire life.
But he brought it all on himself.
It was harder than he expected to muster up much pity when the sounds of Kimberly's uncontrollable sobbing still rang powerfully in his subconscious. She was suffering ten shades of Hell, all due to Tommy's selfishness. She had said she wondered if there was one thing in her world she could trust anymore if Tommy could betray her like this. The day before, when the gang gathered to discuss possible ways to keep the team together he stepped in and took Kimberly's side. He felt so bad that she was the one considering leaving the team; the prospect of serving under Tommy's leadership after he betrayed her only made matters worse. So he simply suggested that if anyone had to pay the consequences of Tommy's betrayal it should be, well, Tommy.
Common sense, right?
Not where Man Law was concerned.
And Adam knew he broke Man Law in front of every guy friend he had.
From the very moment he suggested that Tommy could step down as leader and Jason could take over – only suggested that maybe Tommy should be the one to give up his Power Coin before Kim gave up hers – he felt a wave of dark coldness come from his leader, Jason, Zack, and even Rocky that he had never felt before. Guys tended to bond as brothers when they truly cared for one another, and you always had your bro's back in public. Not in ugly cases like rape or murder or something off-the-charts evil. But in the case of infidelity… well, you could denounce your friend. You could disagree with his actions and be angry with him and express how he had lost a great deal of your respect.
But you did not ever side against him. And the suggestion that maybe, just maybe Tommy should step down as leader and the team wouldn't suffer was a direct violation of Man Law. Walking away with Aisha – the instigator of the argument – only singled him out more.
He heard from Rocky that Jason had punched Tommy when he found out, that Zack almost came to blows as well, and that Rocky himself told Tommy he hoped Kim would never take him back. But they also noted how he was suffering, blamed no one but himself, and deeply regretted his actions.
For Adam though, it still wasn't enough. He wasn't there to apologize or take back his point of view. But he did hope to salvage something, or at least clear the air.
Two guys finished their evening workouts and left the weight-lifting area. Tommy was all alone, lifting without a spotter. That was dumb, but Tommy was angry at the world and himself the most, so he didn't care. Nonetheless, Adam walked over to him. "I have something I want to say to you."
Tommy clearly recognized the voice, but gave no reply save a brief pause.
"Right," Adam sighed, but went on anyway. "When I first met you and the team I wasn't sure if I'd fit in or not. I've been friends with Aisha and Rocky forever, but you guys were already a team and I've never made new friends easily. I'm kind of the quiet type, but all of you made me feel so welcome. I felt part of something so big, and becoming a Ranger was the high-point of my life."
Adam watched Tommy pretend ignore him, but he knew him well enough to know he was listening. So he continued, "I've seen you covered in blood after saving so many lives I've lost count. I trusted you as my leader and my friend. But we're also equals and I have the right to my opinion as much as you have the right to yours." He threw caution to the wind. "What you did to Kimberly was horrible and you deserve to bear the brunt of that, not her."
Tommy let the bar clang loudly as he dropped it on the stand, still lying on his back, just staring away at nothing. Then he began lifting once more.
"It's not just that you cheated on her, Tommy. You did it with a girl who hates her. One who has insulted and put Kim down for more than a year. She trusted that you of all people would never hurt her. She feels humiliated. She wanted her first time to be special and with you, and now she's heartbroken. So yes, in the face of my very good friend suffering I do feel that if anyone left the team it should be you. But I don't want anyone to leave. I want this to have never happened, but… look; I'm not going to apologize for having my opinion. But obviously I broke Man-Law and now you and the guys are acting like I don't exist. Just because I stood up for my good friend, you act as if I've never been your friend or teammate or anything at all. And to me, that's wrong."
Tommy dropped the bar one last time and grabbed a white towel from the floor. He wiped the sweat down his face and neck, still not uttering a single word… clearly fuming, though, like a bomb ready to explode at any minute.
"I don't want to not be your friend. I don't hate you, but I do hate what you did and I hate how you are treating me. If I'm wrong, correct me. Tell me your side of things and let's talk this out. We might not agree, but maybe we'd understand each other better." Adam stood his ground when Tommy marched up to him, fire and brimstone burning in his eyes.
"Are you fucking finished?"
Swallowing hard, Adam gave a nod. This wasn't going to go well and he knew that going in. But he had to try.
Tommy's jaw clenched tightly as he tried to speak. His chest heaved and he wanted to destroy something… anything to make the pain go away. "Thank you for the walk down memory lane. It was quite touching. I may shed a tear," he began venomously. "But let's be clear about a few things. One, I am well aware that what I did was wrong, and that I have broken Kimberly's heart and probably lost her forever. I live with that every second of every fucking day and it is killing me. If I could go back in time and undo it, I would in a heartbeat. Two, Jason and Zack feel I betrayed them by hurting Kim when I swore to them I never would. Three, Rocky said to my face he hopes Kim doesn't take me back to teach me a lesson. Then there's the wonderful fact that every female friend I have wouldn't spit on me if I were on fire. I'm sure Kim's mom hates my guts, and her dad would probably run me over with his car despite him not being around for her all that much. My own parents are disappointed in me and half my team wishes I would just give up my coin and walk away."
Tommy began nodding angrily as he circled Adam. "Of course, I still have school to deal with, and trying to keep the world safe. So when you remind me that I should bear the consequences of my actions then who the hell do you think is doing that if not me?" he shouted as people around them looked on, before turning away. "I have lost Kimberly. Don't you think I know that? I am sick to my stomach over what I did, but you know what? Even though Zack, Jason, and Rocky are angry as hell at me they didn't throw me under the bus the way you did."
Adam's eyes widened as he faced Tommy's wrath.
"Not one of them patted me on the back, or told me that they hope Kim will one day forgive me. They don't even like me all that much right now. But when you call a guy your bro, it stands for brotherhood. It's what guys do, and we have fought, bled, and faced death together. So how the hell you could question my leadership or my right to be a Ranger is beyond me. Hate what I did and hate me, but respect what I do and have done as the leader of this team. I do not place anything above protecting the Earth and you know that. Billy abstained, but at least cared enough to call me last night and ask how I was doing. He didn't let one ugly moment tarnish years of friendship. He respected me enough to let Zordon make the call about leadership. I expected you to have my back at the very least when it came to being on the team, Adam. Maybe you hate my guts, and you can't hate me more than I hate myself. But you could have still stood by your brother. You didn't."
"I was busy watching Kimberly cry so hard she got sick," Adam fired back. "She's fought and bled and faced death by you, too. But you betrayed her. And you're so angry at every living thing right now that you won't even allow yourself to see I never wanted you off the team, and only made suggestions based on my opinion."
"My brother should have had my back!"
"Kim's boyfriend shouldn't have boned another girl behind hers!"
Tommy Oliver was a man of discipline and restraint, a teacher of the Martial Arts who upheld its principles for himself and his young students. But he came so close to losing that internal struggle over self-control. His hands closed into tight fists as his body prepared to strike, to lash out and pound this piece of shit into… suddenly, all the air fled out his lungs. He took a step back, feeling staggered. Had he fallen so far from the man he was that he almost took a swing at Adam? There was no one to blame for all of this but Tommy Oliver and he knew that. Raging at Adam wouldn't fix anything. "You should have at least stood for my right to remain leader."
"I'm not a lemming. I have my own opinion."
"And now you have to live with the consequences of your actions," Tommy noted while wearing a scowl. "I'm not perfect. Never have been, never will be. But I stand by my brothers always, even if they make a mistake… because when a person is down, that's when they need help the most. It's not that I don't expect you to be there for Kim if she wants you there. But you should have had my back as it pertains to the team. Jason punched me in the jaw harder than I've ever been hit in my life, but behind closed doors. Zack almost hit me. Rocky all but called me a piece of garbage, but not in front of the team. As team leader, I deserved your support. And if a guy at his worst human moment can't rely on his brothers to have his back, then what do you do?"
Tommy stood face-to-face with Adam and said, "You move on. You're my teammate and a guy I go to school with. Nothing more. Hate me all you want. I'm just about used to it. As for the rest of the guys, when you give your 'I'm a Ranger with my own opinion' speech… well, I hope you have more luck next time."
Adam felt his heart racing sadly, and his eyes water as he didn't know what to say. Sensitive and strong, Tommy's response cut him deeply. "What speech will you give Kim about love and trust?"
Tommy had no answer, simply choosing to turn and walk away.
Unfortunately, he turned right into Aisha. Her gaze shot past the White Ranger to Adam, who was clearly upset and doing his best to hide it. She turned her attention – better described as fury – back at Tommy. "I guess you can't do anything these days but hurt people."
"Just like you can't do anything but bitch people out."
"Only those who deserve it." When Tommy rolled his eyes and tried to side-step her, she got in his way. "I can't believe I used to like you so much. And the way Kimberly would go on and on about how sweet you were. And how much she loved you and how lucky she was to have such a handsome, patient, and considerate boyfriend."
Goldar had never hit him as hard as Aisha's words just did. There was nowhere to run from this pain. Nothing to strike. Tommy simply seethed. "Are you finished?"
"Stay away from Kim or you'll answer to me."
"I don't answer to anyone."
"You don't want to go there," she warned angrily. "You've hurt her enough. If you cross the line, you will answer to me."
Crossing his arms, Tommy glared down at her, and then sighed. "I could care less about your threats… but I'll stay away because she wants that, not because you said so. But understand this: I am the team leader. Period. End of story. I'm not stepping down. Deal with it or leave. Conversation over."
Who was this man and where was the guy she once thought of so highly of? She now hated the sight of him. "Friendship over." Walking past Tommy, she looped an arm around Adam and walked away.
Tommy felt like shit. Again. The things he said to Aisha… the way he said them… almost hitting Adam… he didn't know who he was anymore or which way was up.
Where in the world did he go from here?
Angel Grove High School
Monday, September: Week 2
Kimberly stood outside the double doors closest to her locker. It had been harder than she'd expected to talk herself out of bed… the pain of Tommy's betrayal was fresh, but she'd been so lucky to have great friends in Aisha, Trini, Adam and Kat. Even Billy had stopped by.
It was her other friends that had her still standing outside. Trini had told her about how Jason kept Tommy's secret. Aisha couldn't stop ranting about how the guys had leaped to Tommy's defense. And Adam was just disappointed that his friends had all but shut him out.
Her locker was right across the hall from her ex-boyfriend's, and it was common for everybody to gather there. In a fit of cowardice, she really, really did not want to face them. It would be bad enough tackling her embarrassment in front of the rest of the school; knowing her guy friends were so willing to back Tommy up was like a fist to her gut.
'I can do this,' she reassured herself for what felt like the millionth time. 'Just focus on school, ignore the guys, and go home.' Squaring her shoulders, she pushed the doors open and hiked her bag higher on her shoulder.
Her girlfriends were already waiting at her locker like an impenetrable army; she was uncomfortably aware of the guys on the other side of the hallway, watching her. Any other day, Tommy would have met her at her locker. He'd smile and kiss her cheek and ask how her weekend was, as if he hadn't spent most of it with her. He'd offer to hold her bag and stand next to her absolutely radiating contentment, as though just being near her made him happy.
Oh, how things could change in a weekend.
As she began digging for her books, mentally reminding herself that she could not, would not give him or Jenny the pleasure of seeing her cry at school, she heard footsteps.
"Morning, Kim." Jason – she should have expected this; he was never one to back down.
She chewed on the inside of her cheek, biting back a sarcastic comment. She couldn't help but wonder how he'd gotten Aisha and Trini to let him so close. "Hey."
"How're you doing?" Zack must have joined them.
Kim almost laughed. How was she doing? What kind of stupid question was that? She wanted to cry. She wanted to crawl back into her bed and hide under her covers until somebody revealed this as a big stupid joke. She wanted… wanted…
She finally willed herself to turn around and look at them. "I'm fine."
Zack's eyes darkened and Jason looked like he would refute her absurd claim. Aisha stepped in between them protectively. "We have to get going. Don't you have teachers to meet with, Kim?"
Relieved, the Pink Ranger nodded. "Yeah…" The sound of familiar laughter coming down the hall drew her attention; while she looked away, Trini gently shoved Jason and Zack back toward Tommy.
"Kim!" Some of the cheerleaders she'd captained through Middle School hurried over as a group. Their current captain wrapped her arms around the petite woman. "How are you holding up?"
Kim shrugged in the embrace. "Well-"
"Don't worry, he'll get what's coming to him," another girl spoke up. Kim pulled back and tilted her head questioningly. "You didn't know? Veronica told me that Rebecca told her she'd heard that that whore has herpes!" The entire group began giggling, nasty glints in their eyes.
She wasn't cheering any longer, and rarely hung out with them outside of a random lunch or two, but Kim was still one of the most popular girls in the school, and her former friends still had her back.
Tommy was going to regret ever cheating on her. And Jenny was doomed.
Kimberly poked lethargically at her salad with her fork. Even a few hours at school had been draining. She was trying in vain to tune out the chatter around her; the young women from all groups gossiping about Jenny and what she had done, the jocks talking about how stupid Tommy had been to get caught. The break-up of the high school's "Most Likely To Be Named Homecoming King and Queen" was big news, after all – especially with the dance just two weeks away.
"Actually, I heard Oliver has gonorrhea from sleeping with her," some junior at the table behind her murmured. Trini barely muffled her laughter. It was mean. It was a lie. It was also a bit of levity considering Kim was still all sorts of heartbroken and Tommy had been such an ass to Adam over the weekend.
He sat firmly at Kim's side, urging her to eat. "I know you're upset, but that's no reason to ignore your health." He was firm in the face of her glare.
The group was so involved in chivvying Kim – and in Aisha's case, warily eying the table where the boys sat, an island of solidarity in a sea of judgment – that they jumped when a lunch box and a brown bag were dropped at two open seats.
Even Aisha was distracted by the appearance of Bulk and Skull. Skull settled into his seat as though it was where he always sat; Bulk was a bit more apprehensive, but for once wasn't making a snarky comment.
Kim exchanged a look with Trini. The former Yellow Ranger shrugged.
"Can we help you?" Adam, whose guard was up following the weekend altercation in the Youth Center, asked with a raised eyebrow.
Bulk just shrugged while opening his lunch box, beginning to carefully assemble his sandwich. Skull hadn't looked up. Instead, he was digging through his bag. As they stared, he pulled out a Tupperware dish and peered inside. After a small moment of inspecting the contents, he smiled up at Kim.
"Cupcake?" He held the dish out; inside was a delicious-looking treat, topped with thick white frosting and a slice of strawberry.
Kim blinked, entirely thrown by this turn of events. "…what?"
Skull managed to adopt a slightly wounded look. "My mom made cupcakes. She doesn't bake often, but when she does, it's amazing." Next to him, Bulk nodded. "I thought it might make you feel better."
Aisha picked up on Kim's speechlessness. "No, I think she meant… what are you doing here?"
Skull shrugged. "Sitting with you guys."
"Why?" To say the group was flummoxed would be to put it lightly. It wasn't that they really disliked the two would-be bullies. It was more that they didn't generally travel in the same circles.
"It's not like we don't know what happened," Bulk said offhand, making Kim wince. "Tommy's always been a dork, but now he's the King of stupid dorks. Emperor of the dweebs, even." He gave Aisha a grin. "I heard you put your foot down on the dweebs being all nice to him, too. Good going."
Aisha blinked. "Um, thanks. I think?"
"You don't mind if we sit here, right?" Skull asked belatedly, as though suddenly realizing that their unexpected presence might not be welcome.
The Rangers exchanged looks. "I guess not," Adam said with a shrug. "Besides, that cupcake looks delicious." He snagged the container from Skull and nudged Kim. "C'mon, you like cake."
At Skull's encouraging look, and Bulk's threat to eat it himself if Kim didn't, the Pink Ranger took the treat.
Her heart was still broken, but life wasn't all bad.
Monday, September: Week 2
"I told him! I freakin' told him!" Aisha muttered as she found herself back-to-back with Rocky in a location that was clearly no longer the park. "But does anybody listen to me?" She caught a putty in the chest with an elbow, dispatching another with a kick. "Of course not!"
Rocky would have rolled his eyes if he weren't so used to Aisha's occasional tirades… and if he weren't keeping his eyes out for Zedd's newest stupid creation. "What did he say, again?"
The squadron of mooks finally dispatched, the Yellow Ranger tugged down her hood and mask. "The glass-faced mirror moron?" At Rocky's nod, she repeated what she'd heard before they were dropped in this strange Carnival Fun House-like dimension. "I think it was 'reliability is key' or something like that."
"Reliability is… what?"
"Key," Aisha snorted. "I'm guessing like a door key or something?" She was trying her best to shove aside personal feelings while on Ranger duty, but it was so very hard when she was potentially trapped with a guy she had feelings for, had been friends with for more than ten years… and was so very disappointed in. "Good thing you're with me – at least we don't have to rely on Tommy."
This time, Rocky did roll his eyes. "Whatever, 'Sha. He has never let us down as a leader, except the whole clone-thing, which really wasn't his fault."
Aisha shot him a nasty look. "You're taking up his side of things? Again? I'd always thought you'd have my back… when you're rallying for Tommy. I should have known I couldn't count on your support."
"Hello?" Kimberly pursed her lips, peering around at the reflections that seemed to go on forever, pink and white as far as her eye could see. She'd morphed upon arriving – having been jumped one too many times in weird locations.
'I freakin' hate other dimensions!' Drawing her Blade Blaster warily, she stepped, arm out. "Anybody there?"
'If Billy were here, he'd be able to figure it out.' As though the thought had flipped a switch, the Blue Ranger appeared – falling to a pile of blue on the floor.
"Kimberly?" With her help, he stood, stretching out a kink on his shoulder. "How did I arrive here so unexpectedly?"
Kim shrugged. "Dunno. One moment I was all alone and thinking about how much I hate these places, and that you'd figure it out, and then you were suddenly here."
"It would appear the monster teleported us to an alternate dimension, though I cannot be certain what triggered my sudden appearance next to you. I found myself quite alone when I re-molecularized originally."
She nodded. "Well, I knew you'd come through for me. I bet Adam's looking, too. I can depend on him."
For the second time in ten minutes, another Ranger materialized in their midst. "Oof!"
"Adam!" Kim smiled and threw her arms around the Black Ranger. "See, Billy? I told you he'd show up."
Billy's head was cocked, looking at Adam curiously. "Where were you before this?"
"With Rocky," Adam responded, muffled by Kim's shoulder. He gently unwound her arms. "He just suddenly showed up, grumbling about Aisha. It was really weird; I had just thought that I'd always be able to find Rocky."
"Like I did with you!"
"I believe I heard Zedd's monster make a comment about reliability. At first I suspected it was a throwaway line, but it would appear it was a key to unlocking this area. Perhaps it's only faith in our fellow Rangers that will allow us to traverse the dimension."
Kim snorted. "Oh, great. Then we'll be stuck here forever. Because there's no way-" She cut off with a cry as Billy suddenly popped out of existence.
"What happened?" Adam wondered.
"Billy will be back. Billy will be back. Billy will be back!" Kim chanted, hoping upon hope that her genius friend had figured it out. As though one of the kind Powers That Be heard her, Billy flickered in… and out… and in like a television with bad reception. "Um, what's happening?"
"Kimberly? Tommy?" Billy's voice sounded like it was underwater.
Kim's lips had thinned behind her helmet. If trust was the answer, she was screwed, because she didn't trust Tommy as far as she could throw him, and even that wasn't much despite The Power flowing through her body.
"Billy? You okay?" Adam asked, reaching out toward him. He could barely brush against him; it was more like touching static.
The Blue Ranger sighed. "One of you, please stop thinking about me. It would appear the rules of this world are trying to split me in two."
Adam nodded. "Kim, think about Aisha instead. Billy will come back."
Dutifully, Kim found solace in Aisha. The Yellow Ranger had rushed to her side once, even when she wasn't there, to defend her.
Aisha appeared, clad in her Ninjetti attire. "Girl, am I glad to see you!"
"What happened? Were you thinking about us?"
She lifted an eyebrow. "No. I was thinkin' about how I was gonna get through this place, kick that monster's ass, and then kick Rocky's ass to the moon. Why?"
Adam shook his head. "It's something to do with trust. I was thinking about Rocky when he suddenly popped in-"
"I told him he was unreliable and – go figure – he disappeared."
"I wonder if it was at the same time?" Kim muttered. "Or if like, we're in limbo or put all alone if nobody is thinking about us?"
Adam and Aisha shrugged as they continued to walk forward… left with nothing else to do until they could find a way out. "So, what's up with Billy?" Sha asked conversationally.
"Anything yet?" Jason was trying not to be annoying. Honest. He understood that Trini was under a lot of stress and that she did not often work in Billy's lab without the Blue Ranger there to guide her.
But considering there was a monster rampaging around downtown Angel Grove and the team was stuck in some dimension, more than likely trapped facing their worst fears or battling carbon copies of themselves or whatever else Zedd and Rita decided to play with today, he was not really in the best shape to be patient.
Trini's dark glower made him sit down and shut up despite himself.
"I will be finished in a few minutes," she said slowly, as though talking to a toddler. "I wasn't there when Billy last upgraded the Portal-Coms. Would you prefer we just run out to the park, set them up and randomly access a dimension in hopes that it's the right one?"
He wondered how she could make him feel like a bug without even raising her voice.
The next couple minutes were silent and dragged slowly. Jason had visions of falling buildings and giant monsters running through his brain, each image more cringe-inducing than the last. When Trini announced she was ready, he leaped out of his seat like he was rocket-powered.
"Okay, let's go!" He all but snarled when she tugged out of his grasp. "Trini, come on!"
The tapping of her foot suggested the former Yellow Ranger was nearing the end of her rope. "Jase. Do you have the scanner?"
He flushed. "Oh." Quick as a wink he snagged Alpha's technical doo-dad from the counter near where he'd been sitting. "Now can we go?"
She motioned for him to lead the way with a flourish. "If all goes well, we should be able to pinpoint at least one of them. I'll punch a vortex through. If they're together, we'll just have to do this once." Under her breath, she added, "and hopefully if not, we'll find Billy first and he can help me figure this out."
As they set up in the park, in an area generally hidden from prying eyes, Jason checked in with Zack. No change in the monster situation; it appeared to be running around making people turn on each other. Not maliciously, but suspiciously. It rankled in him to see the obvious jabs Rita and Zedd were taking at their expense. Just little things, to remind them that they were still watching.
'Aisha was right,' flickered through Zack's mind as he watched it play out on the Viewing Globe. Not that he'd tell her that.
"Um, bro? Not that I'm looking, but your crotch is glowing."
Tommy stopped dead in his tracks as Rocky's comment sunk in. He looked down, then tilted his head toward Billy inquisitively. "It's not my crotch, dumbass. It's my Power Coin. I just don't know why it's glowing red."
Billy shrugged then motioned for Tommy to demorph. He and Rocky took positions around him for protection in case it was a trap… but a moment later, a hole appeared in front of them.
A hole to the park! With Jason and Trini standing on either side of it, each looking around furtively.
"C'mon," Jason hissed, frustrated. "Get your rears in gear and get out of there!"
"Trap?" Rocky muttered under his breath.
"If it is, it's a pretty crappy but realistic one," Tommy responded just as softly. "Billy?"
"Those are my Portal-Coms. I can see where I was forced to make some quick repairs after the Tenga attack when you were freeing Kim from Zedd's dimension a few months back. If this is a trick, it's incredibly believable."
"Oh for Pete's sake!" Trini stomped her foot. "I don't know how stable this thing is, and I want to get to Kim, Sha and Adam, too! So get out here or figure out where they are!"
Billy's eyes widened and he darted through. "Wait, how much power is left? I assume Jason made contact through Tommy's coin but the requisite energy the device consumes often leaves the batteries with little recourse than to drain themselves."
"Batteries are dead," Jason announced at that time, holding the inter-dimensional scanner aloft at that moment, as though Billy's comment was more of an order.
Trini's eyes widened. "Do you have back-ups? We can't just leave them in there!"
At that moment, a loud crashing could be heard, following by echoing laughter. "So, three of you trust each other? You won't when I'm through with you!"
"There aren't back-ups; they fried last week while I was attempting to replicate them!" Billy said anxiously.
Just then, Jason's communicator crackled. "Guys, you know I'm glad to see you, but there's the little matter of the monster running amok? You might wanna get on that!"
With a nod, Rocky and Tommy morphed to full power. Billy opted to hang back. "I think I can get the girls back. Jason and Trini, can you guard the Coms for just a short while longer?"
"Go do it."
Billy spun on his heel and – with a shudder – re-entered the void.
About 15 minutes later, Billy finally led Kim, Adam and Aisha out of the portal. All three were in Ninjetti garb, and Kim looked furious. Jason rushed to check on them while Trini helped dismantle the machinery; however, Kim gravitated to her best friend almost immediately.
Jason barely heard her mutter under her breath, "I knew they'd leave me in there. Big surprise, right?"
He bit his tongue on a snarky reply, opting to remind the remaining Rangers of their duties. "The monster is huge and the zords are out. Rocky and Tommy can't pilot the Megazord alone; they probably need your help to get to the killing, huh? Get going, we have this under control."
And thus, the first test of the Rangers: three people so distrusting of their leader that they would have remained trapped had Billy not figured out the dimension, now forced to work in unison with him in cramped corners. But they were Rangers, and teenage emotions be damned, they had a duty to the world.
"Let's go," Kim led reluctantly. "Let's get it over with."
They teleported to where the battle raged, and Jason sighed.
'What a mess.'
Monday, September: Week 2
The sheer tension in the Zordon's meeting chamber was thicker than the alien Xyper-steel that covered the Megazord.
That made Billy all the more uncomfortable as he gave the post-mission debriefing to Zordon. While that was typically Tommy's duty, the Blue Ranger accepted that today their leader might accomplish more by saying less. Or so he hoped. "…Trini's quick thinking and technical prowess prevented what could have been a tragedy. My follow-up research showed that had Kim, Aisha, and Adam remained in Dimension seven minutes longer we might never have been able to triangulate a location signal to rescue them. The stability was waning by the minute."
"Good work, Trini," Zordon singled her out for praise. "Your calm resolve under fire saved your teammates and ultimately, the day."
Managing a tiny smile, Trini gave a modest shrug. "It was Billy's machine. And Alpha had the scanner. I just figured out how to tweak them to find our teammates. I'm just glad everything worked out."
Ever thankful for the humbleness of the Earthlings he'd chosen to be Rangers, Zordon also recognized their less-than-admirable qualities as well. Billy stood close to his glass tube, while Kim, Adam, Trini, and Aisha hung together on one side of the room near the Viewing Globe as if they were a separate team altogether. Tommy, Rocky, Jason, and Zack remained on the other. Not a good sign at all. The Eltarian Wizard had never seen his team so fractured before, but in light of recent events Billy privately made him aware of, he wasn't exactly surprised.
"Tommy, please detail to me your assessment of today's events."
Exhaling deeply, Tommy stepped forward into the lion's den. Kim didn't so much as look at him, not that he was surprised. He'd hurt her so deeply and… he had to push that aside and deal with Ranger business for now. "It's obvious that Lord Zedd knows there are serious trust issues going on with our team. He used a monster with the ability to manipulate that in particular." Aisha's scowl nearly burned through him, while Trini's disapproval was obvious. Adam simply watched with an expression he couldn't read.
Clearing his voice, Tommy continued, "There are serious problems within our team right now, Zordon. We all know what I did, and that definitely contributed to today's dangerous situation."
Deep down, he knew he probably should have let it go with that; but Tommy felt defensive and just couldn't let this go without addressing it. "With all due respect, I have never – not one time – betrayed any of you in my duties as a Ranger and leader. So I just don't understand how members of this team think I would ever leave them behind or not protect them."
"We don't need your protection," Trini explained, her right hand resting on Kim's shoulder to calm the Pink Ranger before she exploded. "We need to be able to trust you, and right now I don't," she admitted honestly, hating the disapproving glance Jason fired her way. The nerve of him when he was a part of this growing distrust among the team! She tucked that little bit of personal hurt away for a later date. "When you broke my best friend's heart, you broke so much more than that… and some of us," she fielded glance at the guys across the room, "can't sweep it under the rug."
"No one is asking you too, Trini," Tommy replied. "But I would never leave anyone behind or let them get hurt on purpose. Not ever."
Aisha rolled her eyes, sarcastically noting, "We also thought you would never cheat on Kim, but look how that turned out." Though Tommy's gaze darkened in her direction, she met it head-on. "I don't trust you either, Tommy. Not anymore."
Jaw tightening by the second, it took all Tommy's self-restraint to remain calm. And deep down it hurt to hear his teammates say these things. There were his closest friends once, and now they felt like enemies. On top of it all was Kimberly's broken heart. He had never hated himself more, and that was saying a lot given his emotions after his streak with evil. He tempered his voice. "Okay… although I already did this privately with Zordon, I want to again apologize to him, to Kimberly, and every single member of this team for my actions and the way things are with us right now. I'm deeply regretful of what I did and I am sorry."
"Your apology means nothing," Kimberly finally noted, having held her peace long enough. The maturity of being a Ranger had to be weighed against her devastated heart and the man who once swore he would protect it with his very life. Now even the sight of him tore her up inside. Coupled with her so-called brothers seemingly not caring at all… "I don't trust you, and I am not sure if I ever will again. I doubt you would let any of us die on purpose, but I don't think at the end of the day I know who you are anymore. And that concerns me out in the field." There, said with no tears or venting rages… both were being tightly held in for release later on when no one was watching.
Clearly appalled at what he was hearing, Jason spoke up next. "We all know what happened with Tommy and Kim, and we all hate that it happened. We all wish it never did… no matter what some of you think," he noted particularly in the direction of the group across from him. "But in the field, as our teammate and as our leader, I have the utmost faith in Tommy. He's never let us down as a Ranger. Yes, he messed up real bad by lying about what he did, but so did I." He ventured a look at Kim, who sent a scathing one back. She hadn't allowed him to see her or talk to her alone since everything went down, despite him trying every day. "I just believe in the separation of personal and professional issues as it pertains to being a Ranger. In his personal life, Tommy has to deal with the consequences of his actions. But as our leader he's done a hell of a job in my opinion. And I support him."
"Good for you, Jason. 'Cause you sure as hell don't support me." When Kimberly's trembling voice broke, most of the team had to look away as her pain was visible. Silence throbbed in the air like a living being. Finally, she asked, "Adam, what do you think?"
The quiet, sensitive Black Ranger found his voice at a time he wasn't sure he could. Addressing the team under normal circumstances normally wasn't his thing, and the way the guys were staring at him only made things worse… or easier, in some strange way. "Today showed us that Lord Zedd intends to use the bad blood in our team against us. So trust matters, and right now some of us don't trust Tommy the way we used to. It will continue to be an issue if Zedd keeps going after it."
"So I should step down as leader?" Tommy questioned directly, his shoulders tense, face etched in stone. "Is that what you want?"
"I want you to have never hurt Kim and betrayed our trust and belief in you." Of all the guys creating the cold vacuum he felt around him, that Rocky was among them hurt the most. Adam's sense of feeling alone to a degree was clear.
Having heard enough, Zack interjected, "I want that, too. But the fact is he did and now we have to find a way to work together as a team to protect the Earth." There was an edge to his voice when he spoke as he continued, "Trust issues are not a one-way street on this team. I can tell a number of us have issues with other people," he glared at Adam, and then sighed. "Nothing can be undone. All we can do as a team is move forward. On a personal level, well, that's obviously going to take a very long time to heal. But none of us are sweeping anything under the rug." His voice softened, looking to Kimberly for even a glimmer of recognition and understanding. He found less than none. She was so hurt and he hated that more than words could say. "Just because I support a good friend in remaining the leader of our team does not in any way mean I don't love my sister or approve in any way of what he did to her."
"You have a funny way of showing how you care when you side with the man who broke Kim's heart," Aisha declared angrily. "If the lot of you were any more insensitive you'd all be brick walls."
"None of us 'sided' with Tommy," Rocky challenged Aisha, who seemed half ready to rip his head off… while at the same time carried a note of sadness he recognized all too well. They were so close to something special, and now there was a Grand Canyon between them. He didn't know how to cross the distance. "Not one of us approve of what Tommy did. None of us think this is easy on Kim, or that we don't care at all about her. We all do." He sighed, ever the jokester who today had no jokes to tell. This was deadly serious. "The sum of who you are as a person isn't one mistake you made, in my opinion. I trust Tommy as the leader of the Rangers. As a person he's got a long way to go to win back all our trust and it ain't going to be easy. But I'm giving him a chance to do that."
"And I guess I just don't matter at all, right?" Visibly shaking, Kim shook her head, staring almost in shock at Jason, Zack, and Rocky. If they saw tears in her eyes, at this point she just didn't care. "So what if Tommy cheated? Maybe I should just forgive him and let it go and stop being a whiny bitch, right?"
"No, not at all!" The raw sorrow and vast disappointment on her face broke Jason's heart. That it was aimed at him only made it worse. "No one is saying that at all. I love you. We all do. None of us are going to tell you what to do or how to feel."
"I don't trust you either, Jason." The venomous words echoed around them, as loudly as her heart was beating… as hurt as the expression in his eyes. How could the man she loved and the big brother she adored betray her so profoundly, and then stand united against her? "I hate saying that, but I mean it. And I don't want any of us to get hurt out in the field because we don't trust each other anymore."
Tommy bowed his head, exhaling deeply as Kim's pain left him feeling wretched inside. He deserved that and knew it, but not her. Jason could only stare mutely, having never heard her express feeling like that at him before. Trini worried that things might never be the same again. Aisha tried to bury her hurt, as did Rocky. Adam just wanted out of there yesterday. Zack scarcely recognized the men and women in this room.
"Rangers!" Zordon broke in, capturing all of their attention. "Let us never forget that our duty is to protect the six billion lives on Earth. That has been, and will always, eclipse personal lives. When the day comes that it cannot, then I need to be made aware of it."
He continued, "I do not wish to sound insensitive to the genuine hurt feelings of those on this team. But our enemies want to kill and enslave the world. The loss of even a single life is not worth the issues wracking the team right now. Since everything between Tommy and Kim happened recently, and your feelings are raw, I am going to trust the maturity and good moral character in each of you to find a way to work as a team again. But we will revisit the situation in thirty days. If a change needs to be made, it will be. Until then, I suggest you remind yourselves of what it means to be a Ranger, and the oaths you all took. This is not about me. This is not about you. This is about protecting the Earth. First, last, and always. Maybe the Power protect you. You are dismissed."
With a heavy heart, Billy watched Team Kim silently walk away before teleporting off. He then watched Team Tommy do the same… all the while wondering how and why he'd named them as such. How incredibly fractured the team was now. He worried for the dark days on the horizon as he saw no easy answers ahead.
And he was infinitely sad that so many relationships and the entire team were broken.