Chapter 3

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. Kat joined the team, but not as a Ranger – more as an alternate, like Jason, Zack and Trini are now.

Genre: Hurt/Comfort/Drama/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: Jumping ahead two weeks, tempers erupt a lot as people resort to various ways of coping. Soon, though, saner heads begin to prevail…

A/N: psyco_chick32 – A lot of people show really bad sides when they're pushed too far. It's not easy being an emotional teenager, dealing with the weight of the world, and trying to navigate relationships.

A/N: Shawn30 – Male pride is a tricky thing to navigate.

Angel Grove Youth Center
Tuesday, September: Week 4
4:00 pm

Kimberly was bent over backward on the beam when Aisha called her name. She wobbled at the distraction and quickly flipped to her feet before leveling a glare at her friend. "What?"

Wearing a mildly devilish smirk, Aisha nodded toward the door from where she stood at the edge of the mat. Mischief laced her voice. "Looks like you got a visitor."

Kim followed her friend's line of sight and smiled when she saw Alex chatting with Rocky. He had been a sweetheart at Homecoming – very patient, understanding when she didn't want to dance to a song that had too many memories attached, and there to make her laugh and smile. He applauded when she was crowned Homecoming Queen and joked about "escorting royalty." Even better, he made her feel special without making her feel smothered and pushed into anything. He'd even been polite to Jason, chatting lightly about karate with him when Trini dragged her boyfriend over.

Alex caught her eye then and nodded, saying good-bye to Rocky before making his way over. "Hey, how's it going?"

She smiled down at him from where she stood. "Pretty good. I'm sorry - I didn't know you were coming, or I would have wrapped up my work-out sooner."

"No problem. I'm going to go sit with Adam… he looks lonely."

Kim sighed when she recognized the same, yet another painful reminder of the ongoing state of things. "'kay." He really was a nice guy… and a good friend. Regaining her focus, she took a deep breath and launched into her dismount. Only a small bobble upon landing, to her pleasure, before she grabbed a towel and skipped up the steps. "What are you doing here?"

"Just thought I'd swing by." He'd spun a chair around and was straddling it, crossed arms resting on the back. "That was an amazing dismount." She blushed, and he chuckled. She was remarkable, and he'd only begun to grasp how deeply he felt about that. "I'd say one day Lisa might do flips like that, but she's about as tall as you are now and she's only nine, so-"

Trini and Aisha cracked up at the sour look on Kim's face. Even Adam was snickering at her expense. She shoved at his shoulder, and then playfully warned Alex, "Be nice!"

"For you, I will." That earned him a couple of cute looks around the table, though Adam rolled his eyes. And then Alex turned his head to eye where Jason, Zack, Tommy and Rocky were going over a Kata with a student. "You know, Rocky was telling me your ex has a karate tournament this weekend."

Kim shrugged nonchalantly. It wasn't like her presence was welcome.

Her mood was curious indeed, as was his sudden bravado. He wanted to impress her, or at least make her smile. "Anyway, I thought about asking him to spar a bit. Maybe see what he has."

The Rangers eyed each other, each with varying levels of surprise and uncertainty. Adam clearly thought it was a horrible idea, and Trini was wary. Aisha, though, looked ready to go don a cheer uniform and grab pom-poms.

"I dunno… he's pretty good…" Kim trailed off through clenched teeth. On one hand, Tommy could be kind of insanely competitive on even the best of days. On the other, he surely wouldn't cheat with students nearby. And she didn't want Alex's pretty face re-arranged, but the way he looked at her, like he was clearly hoping to drive home a point in his favor… well, as much as she wanted to rail against "animal-like, testosterone-driven, stupid guys" she had to admit that it made her feel a bit better to know somebody was willing to fight for her.

Tommy had once fought Zedd for her life; but none of her so-called "brothers" were willing to fight their friend no matter what he did to her. It still burned at her emotionally, aching in her chest.

"You can totally do it," Aisha encouraged, pleased with anything that might knock Tommy down a peg or two in the ego department. "Besides, Tommy's not all that great against grappling styles."

Although he was far from Tommy's biggest fan, Adam winced. This was going to end terribly. He knew the White Ranger all too well, having trained and sparred with him many, many times. No doubt Tommy would take this damn personally… and that spelled trouble.

Kim shrugged, not sure what was to come, but was curious enough to find out. "If you want to, go for it."

"I think I will." Having heard so much about Kim's ex from Adam and Aisha, Alex thought it was time to find out about Tommy face-to-face.

"James, it's repetition after repetition that will get you nailing this every time," Tommy calmly explained to his mildly dejected student. "You have half of this routine down perfectly, and eventually you will own all of it. Don't rush things. It'll come. You're putting the work into this that makes me proud. Just keep at it."

Having not had his best day of practice, James nodded while wiping his face with a towel. He felt better after his latest attempt and his teacher's vote of confidence. He was thankful for his teacher's patience. "Thanks, Tommy. I gotta get started on my homework. Can we pick up Thursday afternoon?"

"Not a problem." Tommy hi-fived his student, and then watched him walk away before someone new entered his line of sight. Alex, Kim's date to the Homecoming dance was walking toward him for some strange reason. Zack, Jason, and Rocky joined him as Alex reached him.

"Tommy, right?"

When Alex extended his hand, Tommy was more than a bit surprised. Nonetheless, he shook it. "Yeah."

"Hey, Rocky. Jason," Alex nodded at the former Red Ranger, who did the same. No real sense of friendliness here, but he'd expected as much. "Zack, right?"

"'Sup, man?" Zack replied.

"Nothing really, except… I was wondering if Tommy might wanna spar?" Alex dove right into the lion's den. "My discipline is Jujitsu. Word is you're a really talented teacher and martial artist. Thought I might see where I stack up these days."

Tommy's arms crossed as his brows narrowed and jaw tightened. It was enough that he had to stand here and eat his anger at this guy obviously mooning over Kim just ten feet away. Every time he made her laugh it was like a knife wound. But he had to the nerve come here, in Tommy's "house" of all places, and challenge him? The White Ranger exhaled deeply, not caring if Alex was good or not. He was going to regret trying to score points with Kim by coming after him. "Sure, why not. To seven points. I'll give you five minutes."

Alex smiled, and then glanced back at Kim's table where everybody was watching closely. "Cool, just let me change. See ya on the mats."

Rocky shook his head, and saw Adam doing the same. Oh, this had the potential to be bad. Really, really bad. "He's good. Really into grappling styles. He's not a pushover."

"Yeah, but this is some BS," Zack noted. "It's obvious what he's doing. Why not ask Jason or you or Adam? He's just trying to make a point in front of Kim. Did you see when he looked back at her?"

"Saw it all." Leaning back against a banister, Jason asked, "What do you think, bro?"

Tommy craned his neck, and then boldly declared, "Somebody better call 9-1-1."

What began as a routine sparring match soon evolved into a spectator scene; nearly the entire Youth Center stopped what they were doing to watch two very talented martial artists go at it. The breakneck pace of their fighting grabbed everyone's attention and refused to let go.

But the underlying storylines were obvious to anyone who attended Angel Grove High. Kim's new guy was going against her ex in a fast and furious way that surprisingly saw Alex up on Tommy 5-4. The new guy was quick and unafraid of his slightly taller opponent, having executed back-to-back take-down moves that scored to rousing applause. Even Bulk and Skull were watching intently.

Achy from that last take-down, and now very aware of the attention and noise of the fast-growing crowd around them, Tommy rose back to his feet, glaring. Maybe he'd taken this guy too lightly. Maybe he hated how bitterly Kim looked at him, or how loudly Aisha cheered. Whatever it was, he was agitated and growing more so by the second. "Ready?"

Alex stood back on the mat, shifting into his preferred stance. "Ready."

Three seconds later "Ooohs" and "Ahhhs" rang out when Tommy floored Alex with a blazing leg-sweep, using his superior length and Alex's need to get close. The score was now tied 5-5 and the crowd was amped, cheering every maneuver.

"Good move," Alex noted as he faced his opponent. Tommy didn't reply, eying him closely. Two points from victory, Alex threw a tiny smile at Kim; when she returned it he wanted to win that much more. He wasn't trying to show Tommy up, but he did think he was a fool to ever lose Kim. He certainly wasn't going to back down from a challenge. "Ready?"


Seeking the element of surprise, Alex went at Tommy hard and fast, throwing aside his grappling style to catch Tommy off guard and looking for it. After an aggressive exchange of frantic punches and kicks, he caught Tommy looking for a hold and leveled him with a solid straight kick to his chest, scoring point number six. One way from winning. He pumped his fist, and then caught himself from over-reacting. He hadn't won yet. But when Alex extended his hand to Tommy to help his opponent up, he found it swatted away.

This was what Jason feared, that look in Tommy's eyes… that fire that was as much skill as it as pride, and with Kim herself cheering for Alex, the former Red Ranger worried things were about to take a turn for the worse. He looked to Zack, who recognized the same thing.

Alex watched Tommy rise from the floor, and all signs of a friendly but spirited sparring match were done. But if he wanted to be an ass, so be it. Alex assumed his fighting stance. "Ready."

There were no words for this as Tommy stalked forward, pressing his length and speed in a way that gave Alex zero opening save for blocking. He was agile and understood how to fight, but he was fast on his heels. The wildly frenetic attacks he fended off were taking their toll and he had no time for a counter-attack.

A hush suddenly fell over the entire crows when Tommy launched into the air, executing a wicked roundhouse kick that connected with the side of Alex's face, nearly spiraling the young man in mid-air.

When Kim and Aisha ran over to him, he politely shooed them away. Holding his jaw while seated on his knees, Alex glared at Tommy. "Are we sparring or fighting?"

"There's a difference?"

Alex gave an angry nod, pridefully standing to his feet even as Kim looked very worried. Her ex had the nerve to appear angry even after that cheap shot. "Let's go."

"You sure you're okay?"

Feeling a bit winded, with the bells in his head still ringing, Alex sought to compose himself. Despite the close score he looked far worse for wear than his opponent. Tommy wasn't even breathing heavy. "Giving up isn't in my vocabulary."

Tommy gave a small smile. "Famous last words."

They circled each other, with Alex searching for an opening to attack. Instead he found himself on the defensive once more, parrying and ducking an awesome array of kicks and lunging punches that were a level higher than the competition he was used to. He felt over-matched, but gave it his all, seizing the moment as he met Tommy head-on.

They battled furiously, but Tommy knew when he had an opponent on the ropes. He launched for another roundhouse kick that Alex successfully ducked, and then caught Alex's right arm punching forward, swung around and took Alex to the floor in an arm-lock. He applied pressure as the Youth Center roared.

He hated to do it, but there was no way out of this hold and Tommy had it locked in tight. Alex angrily lifted two fingers, grunting, "I yield."

Point and match to Tommy. He released Alex, standing over him while glaring down. He wasn't a fan of this side of himself, but he enjoyed the battle and the victory. This was his "House." Period, end of story and no one coming in here was going to change that. Especially no jerk going after his Beau-

But then his eyes connected with James and four of his other young students. Suddenly his heart dropped as he'd shown such unsportsmanlike conduct in this match and they'd seen it all. The teacher in him felt horribly guilty, and he knew he'd have to talk to them and fess up about how he acted and didn't want them to be that way. He was gonna be a hypocrite, but he had to make this right.

"Here, man," Tommy extended his hand. Despite earlier, Alex took it as he helped him off the floor. "Sorry about the kick. It wasn't cool and if you want to dock me a point and go at it again, I'm fine with that."

Alex stumbled a bit, gathering his wits about him. His motives for wanting to spar were no better than Tommy's for wanting to win no matter what. He gave a half-grin. He'd almost like this guy if they both didn't like the same girl. "You won; it's no issue. You're damn good."

"So are you," Tommy replied with Jason and Zack flanking him.

He watched as Kim came to stand by Alex's side. His heart sank as, noting the faint bruise on Alex's cheek, Kim rose up and pressed a light kiss there. "You did great," she smiled, not sparing a glance at Tommy. "Come on; let me buy you a Smoothie."

Waving to Tommy and the guys, Alex walked off with Kim. "Sounds like a plan. Can I get an ice pack with that, too?"

Tommy heard their playful banter as they walked off. He wondered if he'd ever had a victory before that felt so hollow. "Ever win, but still feel like you lost?"

Jason nodded, "Yep. But let's deal with our students first. You got a lot of explaining to do."

Angel Grove High School
Wednesday, September: Week 4
3:30 p.m.

The sniping at each other had now reached epic proportions.

Tommy and Aisha were all alone in the huge detention room after a full-blown classroom argument gave the whole school plenty to buzz about during their third period Biology class. Having been partnered together for a project, it was doomed as soon as they started. There was genuine animosity growing between them and now they were stuck with each other for the next ninety minutes with nowhere to escape from each other.

Tapping a pen on the desk as much to annoy her detention-mate as to alleviate boredom, Aisha said, "This is your fault… again."

Tommy scowled, exhaling a deep breath. "According to you, everything is my fault. That's bullshit, but if it's what you have to tell yourself, then so be it."

Aisha slammed her notebook shut, slowly shaking her head. "We used to be friends, past tense. I used to like you so much, past tense. And I trusted you… again, past tense. We don't get along now because ripped my best friend's heart out and took a piss on it when you fucked Jenny. So yes, all of this – including how I can barely stand the sight of you – is your fault."

His headache got worse. "Cheating on Kim is a horrible mistake I made and I will always regret that. But being a bitch to me and the guys weeks after everything happened is all on you. Take a look in the mirror. You're not innocent here, either."

"I never claimed to be innocent," Aisha declared angrily. "But you weren't there all those nights when Kimberly was crying herself to sleep. Or the nights when she just couldn't sleep. Or the weekends when she didn't want to do anything or go anywhere. We could barely make her eat, she was so depressed. So forgive me for being a bitch to the guy who hurt her and the Good Ole Boys club that still supports him."

Tommy absolutely hated hearing how badly Kim was grieving. If only this were all a bad dream. "You can hate me all that you want, but I have a right to have friends, too. And the guys all love Kimberly. They were there for her long before you and I were around. If you ever got your head out of your own ass you might see that treating them like dirt and keeping them away from Kim isn't helping her."

"What would have helped her," Aisha noted softly, "is for you to have never cheated."

"I agree. I wish I could take it all back, but I can't. I hate myself for hurting her and I miss her every single day! I'd do anything for none of this to have happened."

"Were you missing her when you fucked Jenny? I'd like to know because I'm not clear on that point."

It would always come down to that, and Tommy accepted it. This was his cross to bear. But fixing things with Aisha seemed an impossible mission, and he didn't like her right now any more than she liked him. "You'll never know how sorry I am for that night."

Aisha glared, "I don't give a flying fuck how sorry you are!"

"Then at least care for Kim," Tommy fired back loudly. "Like I said, you can hate me all you want. But defending Kim against her brothers instead of encouraging her to at least hear them out and talk to them isn't right either. They may not have thrown me to the wolves, but none of them like what I did or even like me all that much right now. They all love and miss Kim deeply. They'd like to explain where they stand in their own words and you could help with that. But instead you seek to bitch the world out rather than truly help her. You're not a part of the solution; you're a part of the problem."

"You have some nerve," she began venomously. "Newsflash, I'm not running Kim's life. She doesn't speak to the guys because she doesn't want to. I've never told her not to. For the record, she talks to Billy at least every day… and Adam is always around her these days." Tommy's gaze darkened instantly. Oh, so the mention of the Black Ranger struck a nerve. Aisha intended to tap dance on that nerve. "Adam is usually at my house until he has to go home. Me and him and Kim watch movies and talk and try to keep my girl's spirits up. Sometimes when I fall asleep they talk for hours on the back porch… all alone."

He swallowed hard, knowing Aisha was dangling bait in front of him. He didn't bite, though even ghosting over the possibility of Adam and Kim growing closer… intimately closer made his stomach clench violently. Jealous rage was being held back by a thread. "You think you're helping, but you're not. Just think about encouraging Kim to hear Zack, Jason, and Rocky out. They miss and love her dearly. That's all I'm saying."

"Poor Tommy, thinking only of Kim now when you should have been thinking of her before you stuck your dick in another girl."

"I'm not asking for anything for myself. I know I don't deserve it."

"You need to quit acting like you're the victim."

"And you need to quit acting like the only right way is your way," Tommy all but shouted angrily at her. "Pointing the finger at me is fine, but everyone knows I'm guilty. Those guys love her just as much as you do. They shouldn't be treated badly over who they choose to hang with and who not to, just because they have their own opinions."

Aisha was seething. "And yet you act like Adam is a piece of garbage for standing up to you."

"I don't hate Adam for standing up for Kim. I don't hate Adam at all. I felt as his friend and teammate I deserved at least his support as team leader. But whatever, I don't talk about him behind his back and would never tell the guys they can't be friends with him or anything."

"Yeah, well, they all follow your lead."

"They are their own people and you'd know that if you shut the fuck up for five minutes and listened to them," Tommy lashed out. "Don't blame them for what I did… and at least encourage Kim to hear them out. They miss her and want to be there for her. I'm not asking anything for me; I'm asking for them."

"What makes you think you know what's best for Kimberly? You're the one who broke her heart."

Tommy took a deep breath as yelling at each other wasn't fixing a damn thing. "…I guess I'm just trying to not take more people out of her life. I know how she feels about me. Trust me, I know. But those guys have been like brothers to her for years. They're worried about her and miss her. At least encourage Kimberly to talk to them one time."

"I'll consider asking Adam or Alex to talk to her," Aisha replied while looking away, hoping the point drove home… straight to his gut like a sucker punch. "Adam especially has plenty of sway with her these days. Always making her laugh…"

"Laughter is a wonderful thing. Terri just loved Rocky's sense of humor on their date last night." It felt good to watch her expression fall, though he hated himself at the same time. "Of course, he's going to have to wait for a second date. He came home so late he got into trouble with his Dad. But he told me it was worth it."

There was no way in hell Aisha was going to let him see her cry, but learning that Rocky had gone out on a date when they were so close to finally admitting… she felt so sad and hurt. She rarely said a word to him lately. She knew their friendship would survive this, somehow. But apparently he got tired of waiting. "Did you enjoy telling me that?"

"No more than you enjoyed telling me how close Adam and Kim are."

"You are the reason for all of this bad blood between the team."

"I might have been the catalyst, but everyone else is making their own bed. At least I am trying to get people to talk to each other rather than holding grudges."

"Doctor, take thy own medicine. How about you talk to Adam?"

Tommy's jaw ticked hard as he glanced away. "How about we stop talking. I'm as sick of your voice as you are of mine."

"I doubt that."

Nonetheless, silence reigned as they endured the rest of their detention without uttering so much as one word to each other. But both were broken-hearted on the inside. Both hated that things between them had changed so drastically for the worse.

Neither thought there was any hope at all of ever becoming friends again.

Angel Grove High School
Thursday, September: Week 4
2:55 p.m.

Jason sighed and hiked his backpack up his shoulder.

It had been a really long day… hell, a long month. Trini was still being cold to him, especially when she was around the girls. Aisha's temper had taken a turn for the worse for some reason and wouldn't even deign to speak to him, outside of glaring at him when he greeted Kim in the hall that morning. Kim had barely looked at him when she said, "Good morning" and he had quickly gone on his way. He couldn't force things… even if deep inside, he wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her, beg her to just talk to him and let him explain where he was coming from so everything could go back to normal.

"Oh, stop deluding yourself!"

Was that Kim? Looking up, Jason saw a group of students gathering in the entryway, chattering excitedly. He broke into a jog, eyes catching Zack as he came down another hall.

"Is it really a surprise that any man would prefer to be with somebody more developed than a middle schooler after three years?" Jenny's voice echoed in the stairwell over the general noise of the students preparing to leave school, and Jason put on a burst of speed as Kim's response rang out.

"Does it hurt to know you can't keep a man past twelve hours?"

"You're just jealous because you're a prudish little virgin."

Jason jumped down the last three stairs, looking over the heads of other students to where Kim and Jenny were facing off. The look on Kim's face – a mixture of venomous hatred and wicked pleasure – shocked him for a moment. His jaw dropped when Kim responded.

"Jealous? Oh, you caught me. I always wanted to be a filthy, needy slut. I guess I just hide it better since it's taken this long for somebody to catch on."

Laughter echoed from the popular girls gathered on one side of the mob. Jenny's mouth twitched into a frown before she lifted her chin. "Looks like somebody's showing off her bitchy side. Maybe you're not the good little girl you think you are."

Behind Kim, Aisha moved to step forward; Trini shook her head as Kim shot back, "Better than you flashing your tits around all the time."

"Oh, damn," Rocky muttered from next to Jason. He wondered when the Red Ranger had arrived. On his other side, Tommy was gazing at Kimberly with a mix of shock and amusement.

"You act like you're better than me, but when it comes down to it, I fucked your boyfriend before you could. You thought your relationship was so pure and precious," Jenny sneered, "but I made him a man."

Jason wondered what Tommy was thinking about this dirty laundry being aired in public, but he couldn't take his eyes off Kim. Having known her for roughly forever, he knew she was quickly reaching the breaking point.

"Yeah, and it made you that much more a whore that fucks other girl's boyfriends since you can't get your own. So congratulations on adding another notch to your bedpost," Kim deadpanned.

Jenny was visibly shaking with anger. "You're just pissed because guys want a real woman like me instead of somebody who looks like they haven't hit puberty yet."

Kim stepped forward, getting into Jenny's face. "You think you're in some sort of demand, but the boys pass you around like a hot potato and joke about it afterward. You have sex like it's going out of style, but I have class and friends." Kim's face contorted with a vicious sneer. "I'm a virgin, but I'm a person with self-respect. You're just a pussy with legs and bad fashion sense."

What seemed like the entirety of the student body gasped when Jenny tensed… and slapped Kim across the face.

Kim reacted faster than anybody else; with one crack, Jenny was on her back, blood streaming from her nose. Kat and Adam darted from behind Trini and each grabbed one of Kim's arms, tugging her through the crowd. She was clearly protesting.

Trini spun to follow them, shaking her head at the lunacy of it all. Jason began to push his way through to her as Aisha looked down at Jenny.

"You got off lucky. Leave her the hell alone or you'll be dealing with me, too."

Sighing at just how far out of control everything had gotten, Jason grabbed Trini by the arm before she could escape. "How the hell could you let her do that?"

"It's been coming for a while, Jase," Trini said slowly, as though she were talking to a kindergartener. "Jenny's been rubbing what happened with Tommy in Kim's face since this all began. It's been a month, and frankly, I'm surprised it took Kim this long to snap." She sighed. "I didn't expect her to hit Jenny, but I'm not surprised she retaliated. I would never encourage violence… but it's Kim's right to protect herself." She tugged her arm free. "Now, I have to go make sure she's okay."

Jason ran a hand down his face. 'Great. Just great.'

Angel Grove Park
Thursday, September: Week 4
2:55 p.m.

Adam and Kim meandered through the trees quietly, wandering various paths and moving away from the more populated areas of the park.

Kim sighed. The explosive blow-up in the hallway – the sight of Jenny flat on her ass on the floor – hovered triumphantly in her mind. After so many days of being needled, of reliving her confrontation with Tommy, of searching for answers she still didn't have, it felt so good to lash out.

To finally hurt somebody else instead of the other way around.

Adam stared at Kim out of the corner of his eye. He had a very important reason to drag her out away from prying eyes and ears, but he wasn't sure how to start. He'd never been the best with girls, and even his time around them lately hadn't taught him a whole lot. But from day one, Kim had been taking hit after emotional hit. During the battle right after Tommy's betrayal, inside the Command Center afterward, and even in the hours after she finally questioned Tommy, she'd begun to crack – vicious anger seeping through her armor of pain.

Luckily for him, she broke the silence first. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For not… yelling at me. Or saying anything about what I did." Kim rolled her shoulders and pushed a stray hair behind her ear. "I know Trini will lecture me eventually. And if I were on speaking terms with Jason, he'd bitch me out until he was blue in the face."

Adam shrugged as he ushered her through a break in the trees. "It's not really my place to tell you how to handle things."

"You always tell your karate students that they shouldn't resort to violence."

"You're my friend, not my student."

Kim shrugged at that and looked around. It was an isolated part of the park she hadn't been to in a while – her walks with Tommy generally revolved around the pond, the benches and the like, or where the Rangers often had their picnics in the more-frequented sections. "What are we doing out here?"

"I thought we might resort to a little more violence," Adam smirked.

Kim blinked. "What?"

"Oh, come on. You broke Jenny's nose."

"You don't know that. She could be fine."

Adam rolled his eyes. "With the way she was bleeding? The fact that you hit her dead on? And I would bet my bottom dollar that you used at least a little Pink Ranger power in that hit."

Kim blushed. "I didn't mean to. I was just so mad-"

"Exactly!" Adam took a stance across from her. "So hit me."

Kim crossed her arms defiantly. "I don't want to hit you! Trust me, on the list of people I wish I could squish with a Megazord, you are so far on the bottom you aren't even on the list."

Another eyeroll. "Kim, you have to work out some of this aggression before you pick a fight and get thrown in detention or worse. We're in an area where not a lot of people go, where you can let loose." He reached out and shoved at her shoulder, knocking her off-balance. "C'mon. If you keep bottling stuff up inside, you're going to explode."

Kim flopped to the ground, refusing to take part. "I'm not a guy, Adam. Hitting things doesn't make everything better. And we all saw how well that went between Alex and Tommy." Thinking of that filled her with politically incorrect warm fuzzies. Seeing Tommy hit the ground those six times was almost as great as hitting Jenny. The fact that Alex did it to kind of show off to her almost made it better, despite her eye-rolling at the macho-man Alpha Male act.

Adam sighed and sat across from her. "Fine, fine." Well, there went that idea.

They sat in silence, a cool breeze bringing goosebumps to Kim's exposed arms. She shivered, and he took off his sweater to hand it to her.

"I hate Jenny."

A common refrain – second verse same as the first – from a betrayed woman, Adam nodded. Entwining his fingers behind his head, he lay back on the grass. "Duh."

"If you and Kat hadn't jumped in, I would have beaten her ass into a coma," she declared. "And I wouldn't have felt guilty about it at all. I have always been the good girl, saving the world and leading the class and not falling for evil spells, unlike other people I could name."

"You're a good person."

"So being a little bad once in a while is okay, right? Nobody can be good all the time." She sighed, abruptly adding, "I deserve better than Tommy." Her voice, though, held a barely-there tremble that demonstrated her bravado was all for show.

"You do, but you still care for him." Adam stared at the sky. "I'd go so far as to say you probably still love him, for all Aisha and I want to pound him into little pieces."

Kim threw a handful of grass at him. "I do not!"

"Don't lie to me."

He still wasn't looking at her, and it was driving her insane. "I'm not! He's so fucking… he never gave me any answers," she pointed out. "Not once. I have no idea what's going on or why he did what he did and his 'oh, I was just selfish and made a mistake' crap is so old." Her voice was growing louder as she was slowly losing the tenuous control over her emotions.

"What did you want him to say?" Adam prompted.

"I wanted a reason!"

Adam shrugged. "Maybe he doesn't have one."

"That doesn't make any sense!" Kim stood up, stepping over Adam and stalking toward the tree line. Her voice grew louder as she walked away, though whether it was in anger or so she'd be heard, he wasn't sure. "There's always a reason! He tries to kill us? Oh, Rita caused that. Kat steals my Power Coin? Rita again. My attitude toward men? My jerk dad and now my scumbag ex!"

She whirled and began storming back. "Jason and Zack are dickheads, and that doesn't make any sense, either. They were my brothers first. Mine! And they keep hanging out with him like it doesn't even matter. Then they have the freakin' balls to keep wandering up to me, looking all disappointed when I don't want to listen to their shit? What the hell is up with that?"

Adam bit his tongue as her rage continued. "And here you are spending the day with me, when you should be hanging out with them, but noooo you actually have some freakin' morals and they're treating you like crap because of it." She skidded to a halt and looked at him. "I'm so, so sorry."

He pushed himself up. "About what?"

"It's my fault they're ignoring you!"

Oh, that. "It is not. It's theirs. And kind of mine, because I made the decision to stick by you even when I knew they'd be mad at me. I'd do the same thing again if I had to."

Kim sniffled. "You're a sweetheart."

"You need people to support you. So here I am." He opened his arms to her and she gravitated into his embrace.

"Hmmm… I caused so many problems." Adam's arms tightened. Trini had warned him that she may start blaming herself, but it hurt to hear it. "Tommy refused to say it… but I'm sure there was something I could have done to keep him from cheating. Then none of this would have happened."

Adam growled. "Tommy is a piece of shit who fucked up and deserves everything he gets and more." Truthfully, he knew as well as Kim did that Tommy felt guilty as hell. But he probably believed it more than her. Still, listening to her now made him wish for a Tommy Oliver voodoo doll and a hammer. "You are innocent, did nothing wrong, and are free to do what you want."

After a moment, Kim sighed against Adam's shoulder. "I don't want to lose my powers."

"…why would you?" He looked down into a bush of brown hair. "That's stupid."

She finally pulled back. "Is it?" She stared him down seriously. "Zordon said we'd 're-visit the situation' when our emotions calmed down a bit. Emotions? That was clearly aimed at me and Aisha and maybe even Trini. We were the ones who were so upset. Tommy was all Mr.-Calm-and-Collected. Why would he lose his coin?"

"Because he's the one who screwed up. Majority rules."

Kim snorted. "Not on this team." It was hard for her to admit, "Tommy's powers are too strong for Zordon to just give them away. I'm replaceable… after all, they're training Kat in case she needs to take my place."

"We're training Kat in case she has to take anybody's place," he corrected. "Aisha could get hurt-"

"And Trini would step in," Kim interrupted. "There's Zack and Jason for any of you guys but obviously Trini would fill in for Aisha first."

Adam sighed. "We're not going to replace you. Besides, you're irreplaceable."

"That was really corny."

"It's true!"

"Yeah, about you being corny."

Sometimes he wanted to shake some sense into her. Or shake the crazy out. "You're weird." But he adored her nonetheless. "Do you feel better now?"


And other times, he wanted to slam his head against the wall. Or in this case, a tree.

She beat him to asking what was wrong. "I'm confused. There's so much going on and it's like I never have some time to just figure it out. I'm sad because what Tommy did really hurt. I'm pissed for the same reason, and because Jason is a lying asshole. I-I feel guilty. Because Trini's relationship with Jason is weird now, and because Aisha and Rocky were so close and now they won't even give each other a second look. And you and Rocky don't get to hang out anymore. And the team is all screwed up and then I feel stupid because I logically know it isn't my fault but I still feel like it is!"

He gave her another hug, unsure of what to do or say. This wasn't a monster he could fight or a puzzle he could solve. He could only reassure her and hope she began to understand. "Rocky and I are fine," he settled on. "None of this is your fault, as hard as it is to believe. And one day, you'll believe that."

"Maybe." She didn't sound so sure.

"Definitely. You're too smart to keep thinking something so wrong."

Kim shrugged, but was buoyed a bit by the optimism in his voice. Maybe he was right… and maybe, one day, everything would be okay again.

Angel Grove Youth Center
Friday, September: Week 4
5:55 p.m.

Jason sat at a table across from his girlfriend and waited. The last time they'd been in this position, she'd thrown a drink in his face. But it had been a few weeks, and they'd had a fun time at Homecoming, and both agreed that it was high time something be done about the Rangers.

Things were spiraling out of control. Kim hitting Jenny; Tommy's fight with Alex; Aisha reportedly came back from detention plotting new ways to launch Tommy into the sun, though Trini wouldn't elaborate on why.

Still, they agreed to discuss this like the adults they were.

"Jason, I just don't understand," she began. Better to jump into it, since they both understood where they were at. "The one thing that you guys are punishing Adam for is the one thing Kim had hoped for from you, of all people: support. Absolute, undying support – regardless of what the guys would think of you." Trini sighed. "She doesn't understand what she did wrong to make Tommy cheat – before you say anything, yes, she's begun blaming herself for that… and she doesn't understand what she did that could have made you turn your back on her when she needed you most."

"None of us have turned our backs on her," Jason fired back. "We've tried everything to talk to her… calling, trying to see her at school, trying to see her at Aisha's. She won't have anything to do with us, not even to let us explain where we stand." He was appalled by his girlfriend's words. "How could you say we wouldn't support her? I would do anything for Kim."

"Except support her over Tommy," Trini said softly. "And given the way you boys have treated Adam recently, Kim thinks you're not sticking up for her because you treasure Tommy's friendship more than hers."

Jason ran a hand through his hair. "C'mon, Trini. It's not about sides at all. Tommy fucked up. We all know it. But Tommy is my best friend, and believe it or not, he's suffering, too. I'm not going to just throw him away for making a huge mistake after he's been such a good friend to me over the years. This is about trying to be there for both of them, and I can't help that Tommy at least wants my support."

Jason's shoulders slumped, and then looked Trini in the eyes. He hated how this was interfering with what they had found between them. "As for Adam, it's… complicated. Everybody can make their own choices, and I would never insult him or threaten him. But… it's a guy thing, okay? You stand by your bros through thick and thin. He didn't. I don't hate him, but I want guys around me that have my back and will kick my ass if I need it, but then extend me a hand to help me get back up."

Trini stared at him with an expression akin to awe. Jason wondered if he'd finally gotten through to her. She slowly shook her head… then, with the back of her hand she smacked the back of Jason's head repeatedly. "That is the most ridiculous, truly hypocritical crap I have ever heard!"

Jason glared at her, rubbing away the sting on the back of his head. "Violence isn't helping."

"You don't understand at all, do you?" Trini asked, aghast. "You want to know why Kim thinks you've turned your backs on her? Because you're doing just that to the one guy who did stick with her! She's in so much pain from what Tommy did, from you guys, and because on top of all that, she thinks she's the reason you guys are ignoring Adam!"

"I can't undo what Tommy did."

She looked so very disappointed in him. "I'm not talking about Tommy right now, Jase. We're talking about you. You have been Kim's friend since childhood. You should have told Kimberly the night he confessed to you… or made him do it right away. But no, you chose him over truth. You chose him over what was right."

"I thought he was going to tell her sooner," Jason admitted, though he knew it was too late. "Trust me, I hate that he did this. But it happened. And I have tried to reach Kim and explain and listen and be there for her. I want to do all those things, but I am not going to abandon Tommy because as much as none of you may care he is suffering too and genuinely sorry."

"Pardon my French, but fuck Tommy," Trini declared boldly.

"Yeah, well, I can't see it that way."

Trini took a deep breath. "Jason, I just want you to understand is why Kim won't talk to you. Why are you treating Adam like crap when he isn't the bad guy here? Maybe he didn't blindly support 'Man-Law' like you all did," she said sarcastically, complete with finger quotes, "but he stood by Kim and that makes him a hero in my eyes." She pointed at him. "You were her big brother and she trusted you would always have her back, especially when she was hurting."

His throat closed tightly as he listened. Everything had been coming out proudly, loudly and angrily and… and then Trini spoke eloquently and with purpose.

"Jason, what you and the guys are doing to Adam is wrong. You act as if it doesn't matter that he has been there for Kim or that he misses you guys and has feelings, too. He's been Tommy's good friend for years, as well. Tommy betrayed Kim in the worst possible way, and now there's open war with everyone yelling and arguing, but no one talking. Kim loves you, but right now you are shunning the guy who has supported her since this tragedy began, all the while remaining loyal to the guy who broke her heart. Can't you see how that might look to her?"

Jason shut his eyes. "Am I supposed to dissolve my friendship with Tommy? Is that what you want?"

"No! As angry as I am with him, he's human and he needs you. Not to mention that I never, ever want to force you to do something you don't want to. But Kim deserves one hell of an apology from you… and so does Adam. Doing those things does not betray Tommy, who owes them as well. It's just the right thing to do." She walked around the table to him, laying her hand over his heart. He infuriated her, but she loved him. "This is about being a good person. If standing by Tommy is something you feel you need to do, then do it. But how you do it, and how you treat Kim and everyone else… all of it matters. But I know you will do the right thing. I know you and I love you."

She left him all alone to think. To ponder, consider… and maybe call a meeting with the guys. Had they truly fucked up this bad?

"Dammit," he swore under his breath.

Because he knew the answer was yes.

Angel Grove Park
Friday, September: Week 4
10:58 p.m.

With the heavens raining down upon him, Tommy's strikes were precise.



Dark intensity lived within every blow, raging ever stronger at any target he saw fit. Thunder crackled the sky above, seemingly lending added force to his fists as he beat upon the tree-mounted posts. His shirt clung to him like a second skin, soaked clean through.

Nothing was normal for him anymore as yet again he needed this. Sleep was for lesser men… or perhaps those that deserved it. Not him. Not anymore. Since peace fled his life, so did rest and his dearest love. All that was remained was a single-minded thought process.

Be the perfect Ranger… because he was so far from a perfect man.

Tommy felt faster these days. The sheer force behind his attacks was honed by hours of pushing himself to exhaustion and beyond… training until he could collapse in bed with nothing more left to give. Then he wouldn't have to deal with the horrible guilt and nightmares he couldn't control. His martial arts abilities were an element he could control, could continue to build, could affect with his will alone.

None of it filled the planet-sized crater in his soul left after Kimberly ended their relationship. It felt as if whatever good there was in him left when she did. When he broke Kimberly's heart with his immature selfishness he did more than even break the trusted covenant between them, or the trust of his friends.

He broke himself.

And what was left was only making it worse.

Relationships and friendships that pre-dated his arrival in Angel Grove were hanging on by a thread as a result of his actions and perceived allegiances. He knew how Jason felt about Trini, and how strained things were between them due to his best friend standing by his side. He knew all too well of the slow burn between Rocky and Aisha and how now he'd driven them farther apart than before… especially after their comments in detention. The girls he once thought of as sisters now thought less of him than dirt.

And then there was Adam. He considered while practicing a very complex Kata in the pouring rain that he'd never been angry at him one time before. It wasn't as if the Black Ranger was perfect, only that they got along so well and were such good friends. They were both quiet loners who needed people to help them break out of their shells. That bonded them, once upon a time. Tommy didn't have a group picture in the last couple of years that Adam wasn't in… not a family barbeque or his parents' 21st wedding anniversary or…

Tommy's arms dropped by his sides as the rain picked up. Adam's close friendship with Kimberly ate away at him, even as he wanted good people to be there for her. But no man wanted to think about the woman he loved being supported so closely by another guy, much less a friend. One who she wanted there… when she didn't want Tommy anywhere near her.

Just thinking about Kim was enough to re-open the gaping wound. If it were this bad for him every waking minute or every day, then how much worse was it for her? Or was it better now that she'd purged him from her heart? Maybe he was the only one grieving now. Maybe she has moved on… to Adam, to Alex…

It absolutely killed him to think that as his body burned with fiery exertion. He was drenched from head to toe. Moisture slicked his face and neck, trickling off his skin in cool droplets as his eyes shut to the natural music of the roaring thunderstorm.

Shutting his eyes for a moment, Tommy recalled he almost punched Adam a few weeks ago. Almost struck a friend and then purposely hurt Aisha by allowing her to make a painful assumption he knew wasn't true. It was absurd behavior; the last thing he'd ever do was hurt a friend, even one he disagreed with. But after betraying Kimberly it seemed as though the limits of what he was capable of were frightening.

"My, how the righteous have fallen."

Tommy spun around, his body instinctively readying for battle at the sound of that familiar voice. His hand moved to his wrist…

"No need to morph, Tommy, or call your companions. There will be no war today," Lord Zedd declared near the clearing, red energy glowing evilly around his body. "I thought we might talk."

"I don't talk to murderers."

"I've also been unfaithful to a number of women in my lifetime," Lord Zedd admitted almost playfully. "Will you talk to me now?"

A verbal low-blow, but Tommy wasn't taking any chances. He knew he should alert Zordon immediately, but a part of him wanted this fight and had for a damn long time. "What the hell do you want?"

Clutching his silver staff, Lord Zedd remained where he stood, facing his longtime arch foe. "I watch you, Tommy. Your struggles and frustration entertain me to no end… to see you battling for the pathetic life you so covet when the Great Power flows through you like a living star. Zordon empowered you with the White Ranger energies and you waste them fretting over what…?" He chuckled behind his mask. "A mere woman."

"Don't pretend you know anything about me," Tommy warned ominously.

"Do you think in all my hundreds of years of life that I have not loved even one woman?" Lord Zedd questioned Tommy as they now circled one another. "I have known love… and loss. It was only when I let go of such useless emotions that I truly began to live. Trust me, absolute power has no equal."

"Only you would place power over love."

"Only you would misinterpret the youthful longings of your heart for the end of your world."

Scowling, Tommy invaded his space, uncaring about the storm or the entity before him. "We've already danced this dance."

"Pity you never learn the steps." Lord Zedd tightly clutched his staff, closely eying his prey. "I won't stop, Tommy," he began quietly as blaring thunder boomed ahead. "I won't stop killing humans. I won't stop until I dominate this world and tear Zordon's from his space-tube until his decrepit aged form dies at my feet."

Yes! This was what he needed… something to rage against! Tommy glared at him. "I'll be there to stop you!"

"Because it's the right things to do?"

"Because you are evil."

"And I suppose you are good?" Lord Zedd would have smiled as Tommy's defiance ebbed ever so gently. "Betraying Kimberly revealed a side of you that every enemy you have ever faced saw in you… a dark side that craves your wants and desires, damn all else!" he shouted as lightening streaked the sky. "You proclaimed that you loved her more than your own life, and yet you crushed her spirit."

His expression gave no emotion. "I made a terrible mistake. I'm human."

"So was I… once." Surprise glittered Tommy's brown eyes, much to Lord Zedd's amusement. "We all have a beginning, Tommy. A moment… that one defining moment that sets us on our path. Perhaps you tired of being the good guy who had the sweet girlfriend and enjoyed picnics in the park." Goldar's master continued, "You gave up Kimberly for a one night stand with a whore." He laughed at him. "So for once, maybe the first time in your entire life you stopped listening to that part of you that whispers the so called right things to do, and simply took what you wanted. And you know what… I bet some part of you enjoyed it."

Tommy shook his head, growling, "I hate that I hurt Kimberly!"

"But you loved taking what you wanted, and not being denied."

"It was the worst mistake of my life!"

"It set you free. It finally showed you what you could have if you shoved aside your so-called morals!" Lord Zedd pushed his buttons even more. "You are so sick and tired of worrying about what people think of you now. You tired of the endless guilt over hurt feelings and broken friendships. You're hurting people on purpose now… the Yellow Ranger, for example, or the man who now looks to steal Kimberly away… and you can't blame that on me or stress or anyone else but yourself!"

Exhaling deeply, Tommy stepped back twice, creating distance between them. "One mistake does not damn my entire character. I'm more than that. And somehow I will make this right." Turning his back to Lord Zedd, Tommy prepared to depart.

"Perhaps I will take your precious Kimberly and allow my minions to rape her to death."

The threat lit a fire, sparked to flames that became an inferno of pure venomous rage! The sheer speed in which Tommy morphed into his White Ranger armor and lunged at him was as startling as Saba's blade now pressed to his neck.

Lord Zedd promised, "I would do it in a heartbeat. I would have her torn apart while you watched."

"I'll kill you first!"

"Do it!" Lord Zedd challenged him… pushed him further, harder! "Kill me now! End my life! Because you know I won't ever stop butchering humans until your world is a dead husk floating in space. I won't stop until every single person you love is dead!"

His chest heaving, Tommy's grip on Saba was lethal as he held the blade to Lord Zedd's throat. He wanted… lusted to end this disgusting creature once and for all. His self-control was failing once more as he craved murdering this thing!

"Damn the Code of the Rangers. It hasn't truly saved a single life on Earth so long as I draw breath. Kill me! Do it for all the victims who won't die by my hands. Do it for Zordon, who you know I will cripple and burn alive. Do it for your team, all of whom I will strip the flesh from their very bones! Do it for Kimberly… your Beautiful… who I promise you will suffer and be tortured until she bleeds out every drop of blood in her body!"

Raising Saba high above his head as the storm drowned them both, fury and fierce rage coursed through him as he slammed Saba down with all his immense might-

-into the dirt beside Lord Zedd's head.

Gasping for every breath he took, Tommy triumphantly rose above Lord Zedd, demorphing. "It wouldn't be hard to kill you, Zedd. The problem is it would be far too easy. And once I rationalized killing you, it wouldn't end with you. Death isn't the answer. Despite what you think of me, I will always honor the Code of the Rangers. We defend, never attack. We protect, never instigate. And it's never, ever personal. You may see some of yourself in me… in the darkest parts of who I am, but there's good in me still. Maybe I won't ever win Kimberly back. Maybe some things will never be the same again. But I am a good man, raised by a good man, surrounded by good people. I know right from wrong. I choose the hard road ahead… the one where I make the wrongs things right even if I don't get what I want in the end. I choose that over the easy way out."

As Lord Zedd quietly rose to his feet, clutching his staff, Tommy continued. "Thank you for giving me my defining moment. I wanted to kill you so badly, and you deserve death more than anyone else in the galaxy. But no matter how far I've fallen, I'll never be you."

Lord Zedd pointed angrily at him. "You're a fool."

"Maybe… but I'm an honorable one. What are you? Nothing but a disgusting shell of a former man. You don't stand for any true ideal. You have no honor and only think of yourself. There is only selfish cruelty in you."

"Every death I cause from this point forward is on your hands."

"Until I put you down… for good," Tommy replied.

Lord Zedd watched him calibrate his wrist communicator, teleporting him away. He was so close to claiming the young man into his Empire, to pushing him so close to the edge of oblivion that he'd have to turn to someone… to Lord Zedd! So close he could feel it… but Tommy was at last, a lost cause. One that he had no hope for.

And so he'd have to die. 'Unless…'