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. They are alternate Rangers, and assist as necessary.
Genre: Drama/Angst/Hurt/Comfort – 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: The first big attempt to bridge the chasm separating the team unveils some interesting viewpoints.
A/N: psyco_chick32 – And now we get to the parts that Shawn and I could have killed each other over if we lived anywhere near each other. Yay!
A/N: Shawn30 – It's always darkest before the dawn.
Saturday, October: Week 1
The sky was clear and the sun was bright, burning hot and heavy over the boys as they gathered on the Command Center roof. It was dry, hot and dusty… making already frustrating conditions that much more uncomfortable. Billy sat off to the side, scowling ineffectively at a piece of something metal, occasionally poking at it with a tool. Rocky lay on his back, squinting at the copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings he held above his head to block the sunlight.
Jason, Zack and Tommy sat quietly in a small group, awaiting Adam and the girls. For the first time in recent memory, Tommy was early to something, and of course the people he wanted to show his responsibility to weren't there to see. 'Looking good isn't the point, and it's going to take a lot more than being early to a meeting to show that I'm not a bad person,' he chided himself. 'This is a meeting to make things better for the team, not me personally.'
If things could be fixed.
A streak of pink accompanied a streak of yellow; Kat and Trini materialized. "Kim will be here in a few minutes," Trini said with a hint of exasperation. "You know how she can get. She's having a hair day."
"Why does Kat teleport pink?" Rocky asked out of the blue to kill time, slicing through the tension that had grown with Trini's pronouncement. All they needed was for Kim to show up to this pow-wow already upset.
"She absorbed pink Morphin' energy from Kim's power coin," Billy answered without looking up from his doodad, then grumbling softly when he nicked himself.
Jason waved around at the girls, "Pull up a patch of… roof, I guess." The girls arranged themselves in an awkward semi-circle with the guys, leaving room for the remainder of the team. They'd just settled when Kim, Aisha and Adam teleported to the edge; the Yellow and Black Rangers flanked Kim as they slowly walked to the group, Kim looking as though she wanted to be anywhere but there.
Trini patted the open spot beside her, nearly directly across from Tommy. After sharing a few looks and a couple murmurs incomprehensible to the guys, Aisha sat next to her predecessor; Adam sat with a space for Kim between them. When Kim lingered standing, Adam reached up and tugged lightly on her wrist. She stared at him. He shook his head slowly. With a sigh and what looked like a tiny pout, Kim settled herself beside him.
An uncomfortable silence fell as the ten teens sat together in a non-Ranger setting for the first time in just over a month.
All eyes fell on Jason. As the original leader, he commanded at least a small amount of respect from each of them – some more than others, he hated to admit to himself. He exhaled heavily, took a deep breath, and stood.
"I'm glad we're all here tonight," he started, kicking himself immediately for sounding so formal. "Guys, there have been a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings in the past month." He thought he heard Kim snort in wry amusement, but forged on. "A lot of shit hit the fan when Tommy… well, when everyone seemed to choose sides here. That's not right. We're friends. Good friends. Most of us have been together for years."
He'd started walking around by this time, unable to stand still. It was only because was he near her that he heard Kim mutter snarkily, "You'd be surprised how little that means to some people." Jason closed his eyes and hoped they'd be able to get through at least part of this group meeting without an explosion from the more temperamental members.
"We've been together through so much," Jason went on. "Rita, Zedd, now both of them. Some of us went to elementary school together… middle school, then all the issues that come with high school. We've defended the world and traveled to other countries and planets and galaxies and even dimensions. We have never been defeated. But now, we're divided and not working like a team. It's not because of an evil spell or a mission gone wrong or a trip to another country; it's because we've torn ourselves apart."
Behind him, Tommy stood. "Let's be honest, Jase. I'm the reason for this. And guys, I can't say I'm sorry enough." He came to stand next to his best friend, who put a hand on his shoulder. "I fucked up really, really badly and it's something I can never take back."
The White Ranger strode across the circle to where Adam stood next to Kim. He let himself look down at her for a moment before turning his gaze on Adam, who tensed up, clearly expecting another tongue-lashing for his various "crimes."
"Adam… I- fuck, we have been assholes to you and you don't deserve it one bit. Whether we like it or not, you have your own opinions and you were strong enough to stick by them, even when I know we hurt you a lot. It hurt to know you didn't have my back in the same way the other guys did, and I lashed out before thinking over what you had said instead of what I heard."
Adam stared at Tommy studiously, as though trying to dissect him with his eyes. It was a long, nerve-racking moment before Adam nodded. "It's fine."
Kim elbowed him sharply; Adam grunted and glared at her before rolling his eyes and turning back to Tommy. "Okay, fine. I'm not going to lie… it's not fine. What you guys did sucked, a lot. I'm not saying I don't understand where you're coming from, because I do. It's natural to lash out when you're feeling attacked," Adam explained, "but you even turned me away when I tried to make things right between us. Maybe it was too soon. I don't know… I know we can get past this, because we were friends once. But…"
Tommy nodded as Adam trailed off, flushing a bit as he wasn't normally so talkative or assertive. "I have to earn it. We all do, and we know that." He held out a hand. "Friends?"
Adam eyed the hand like a snake before pushing himself to stand. He took a deep breath and reached out. "Friends."
Rocky jumped up before things could go back to awkward and silent, shoving Tommy to the side. He turned to Kim. "Jason said that Trini said you feel like we've turned our backs on you. That you think we don't think what Tommy did was wrong, or that you should take him back, and stuff like that. I'm saying it now so it's flat-out: I hate that he hurt you. I hate what happened, and I in no way think he was right. I love you, Kimmy, and I don't like that I haven't been able to tell you that recently… but I guess I can see why you did what you did."
When Kim managed a small, sort of watery smile, he held out his arms. "Can I have a hug?" She chewed on her lip for a second uncertainly before pushing herself up and into his arms. She stood there for a second before wrapping her arms around him and clinging with the strength of an alien face-hugger. Rocky let her stay there, holding her tightly until she chose to break off the embrace. She finally stepped back, and he gave her a heartfelt smile before moving to sit next to Adam.
Kim was about to sit when Zack spoke next. "Hold up a moment." When the former Black Ranger got to his feet, he looked angrier than the rest of their friends. Worried looks were exchanged, but everybody had agreed (more or less) before the meeting that people needed to say whatever they felt they had to.
Zack stood in the center of the group now, staring directly at Kim. "Kim, I have known you since I was seven years old. I was there the whole time you dealt with your parents divorcing. You went to the hospital with me when my grandpa had heart surgery after his heart attack."
When Kim nodded hesitantly, unsure of what this had to do with anything, he continued. "When everything went down and everything came out into the open, the only thing I said was that I did not think Tommy should step down as leader of the Rangers over a personal issue." He glared at Aisha, adding, "Regardless of what you may or may not have heard, I didn't say anything about Tommy's actions outside of whether or not they should affect his role in defending the Earth."
Trini buried her face in her hands as Zack's voice grew louder. Kim took a half step back, her face losing color.
"Don't get me wrong; when Jason told me what had happened I was more pissed off than you can imagine. But I shouldn't have to say that, because you should already know," he insisted. "When have I ever turned my back on you? I have been there for you through everything up until now, Kim. And I wanted to be there for you for this, too, but you didn't want anything to do with me, or Jason, or Rocky. And you know what? That's cool. You were upset and grieving and I can respect that. But I kept coming by your place and calling and trying to talk to you for three whole weeks."
Kim opened her mouth to reply; Zack cut her off. "I'm not done, let me finish." He took a deep breath, cringing because he knew his tone was nothing but trouble. But these were things he had to get off his chest. "It's been a month, and this is the first time I get to talk to you, and rather than hugging you and telling you I love you, I have to tell you how much you hurt me instead. You judged me when you had no reason to. What in the world gave you any reason to believe that I approved of what he did? You may have assumed, and that's your prerogative, but it's not fair that you never asked or even gave me a chance to tell you why I was doing what I was. You ignored almost ten years of friendship for what you thought you saw in a week."
As Zack finished his piece, Kim realized she'd begun shaking. She glowered at Zack from across the circle and for a moment, a part of her was awed and dismayed that she could be that upset with her friend. But a majority of her attention was on the topic of Zack's rant…
"Are you finished?" she was sarcastically careful to confirm. When Zack nodded, she lifted her chin, facing him head-on. "Me, me, me," she mumbled, stepping forward. Her fists clenched and she could feel the heat in her face. Zack's eyes widened minutely and Jason tugged the former Black Ranger back to give her the floor. Kim let out a humorless laugh. "That's what this is all about, isn't it?"
When the guys looked confused, Kim clarified. "You! It's all about you. Of course it is!" Fingers combed agitatedly through her hair. "Heaven forbid my own thoughts be about me or what I'm feeling. Ohhh, no. It's not even about the asshole who started all of this! It's about you and how misjudged you are and how mean I've have been to you."
"That's not what-"
"No!" Kimberly cut him off as he had done only a minute ago to her. "You got to bitch me out with no interruptions. Now it's my turn and if you don't like it, you can fucking deal. Just like I've had to deal with everything the last month. I feel so fucking betrayed. You know that? I thought that you, and you," she added, turning to Jason, "would take my side in anything and everything. I never once thought that I could question how much you guys love me. Then Tommy decided I wasn't enough for him, and Jason of all people kept it a secret!"
Tears were welling up in her eyes, but she couldn't stop. "You're so shocked and offended that I would question how you feel? After a month of watching you try and cheer him up and make him feel better, you've pretty much made your point." Kim had begun to pace, twisting her hands angrily as though she'd like nothing more than to wrap them around somebody's throat. "I assumed you didn't think Tommy was wrong because you've never acted like anything was wrong or said anything was wrong! Never once until tonight have you had anything negative to say about your supposedly amazing 'bro.'"
Every single emotion – every thought, every hate-filled word, every memory tainted by the thought that her brothers in everything but blood had turned their backs on her for the man who broke her heart – came pouring out of her with a violent, vengeful anger.
Kim stopped, whirling on Zack and Jason with a steely glint in her eyes. "When Adam stuck up for me, you all treated him like he was worse than dirt. And yet you have the nerve to bitch and moan to me about doing the exact same thing you did to him! If you don't like how I treated you then maybe you should look in a goddamned mirror and check your own faults at the door. When Aisha dared chew Tommy out, you all treated her like she was a bitch, daring to question your amazing leader," she drawled sarcastically. "You're a goddamned hypocrite if you can say Tommy was wrong, but Adam's wrong, too… because Adam's opinion is that Tommy. Was. Wrong!"
Jason blinked repeatedly, leaning back. What Kim was saying eerily echoed Trini's words on the subject.
"You wanna know why I didn't ask you how you felt." When Zack met her eyes, she shouted, "Because I didn't need your salesman selling points as to why Tommy's the greatest ever, honest, and maybe I should give him a second chance because he's sorry and it was just one time!" She snorted as she repeated the phrases she'd heard. "It only makes sense… if you're still loyal to him because it was just one time and I should forgive Jason for keeping that secret because it was just one time then of course you'd think I should take that asshole back for the exact same fucking reason!"
Kim's harsh breathing was the only noise as everybody processed her angry words.
Tears began to roll down her cheeks as her anger gave way to sadness. "Why?" she asked mournfully, just loud enough to be heard. "Why would you treat him like him cheating on me means nothing? Even you've said we've been friends for more than ten years; why aren't I as important to you as him? I would hate for you guys to go through this… and why wasn't I enough for you!" The last bit she directed to Tommy, her voice raising in volume and pitch as she all but lost it, her emotions again taking off on the roller coaster they'd been on for weeks.
For a moment, there was silence. Then Tommy stood again, taking a deep breath before facing Kim. "You were always more than enough for me. You're all I wanted, and I fucked that up in ways that-" He stopped for a moment, choking on them before continuing, "I can't take it back. And we all know that I'm a fucking idiot. The guys… they never encouraged or supported me, Kim, or blew off what I did. I've been read the riot act more times than I can count, and I deserved every bit of it. I'm so sorry, guys. My parents raised me to be a good guy, not to cheat-"
"Instead," Kim snarled, "you're nothing but a lying, cheating asshole!" She wanted him to hurt as much as she did; his friends might let him off easy but she refused to. She needed him to feel just a fraction of what she did. "Maybe that lesson never sunk in since they're not your real parents!" The moment she finished shouting, she gasped, as though only realizing then what she had said. She couldn't have hurt him more if she tried and she knew it. What she said was devastating… cruel… meant to incite and enrage and hurt like hell.
He'd heard what she said, but the words didn't process in his mind right away. Fragments of dark, painful emotion burned through his veins. In front of every friend he had, Kimberly verbally razor-bladed the one issue she knew ate away at him still. His real parents remained as unknown as ever; while he couldn't ever recall missing out a single bit of love from his adoptive parents, his true heritage was a ghost that haunted him still.
Tommy swallowed, his mouth and throat dry as she verbally stabbed him in the gut and twisted the knife. Tears wet his brown eyes; through them, he stared daggers at Kim, unsure who she was or probably worse, what he had turned her into. His body trembled as though he'd absorbed a physical blow. He never noticed the way his fists clenched, the unnervingly deep breath he took, or the way he glared blackly at her.
"I'm sorry," he spat, stepping forward, only vaguely noting the way Kimberly backpedaled as he advanced. "I'm sorry that I don't have the perfect life, and that I'm only human. I'm sorry that I'm not perfect, like your precious Adam is."
Trini groaned into her hands before shooting a panicked look at Kat. Everything was going to hell.
Behind Kim, Adam's eyes narrowed at the slight. Not even ten minutes after apologizing, Tommy was back on the hate-Adam train.
"I'm sure Jenny thinks you're perfect. Only we know the truth… that you're a fucking bastard," Kim shot back. The back of her shoe scraped against Adam's and she realized there was nowhere left to go… and still, Tommy came toward her with a dark look in his eye. If she had been a guy, she knew he'd beat the shit out of her. As much as she knew he wouldn't hit a woman, she couldn't ignore her instincts, and braced herself for the blow. She'd be damned if she cowered from him!
The very second Kim shifted into a defensive position, Adam and Aisha were on their feet. Aisha stepped partially in front of Kim while Adam walked to Tommy, putting a restraining hand on his shoulder. "That's enough. Back off," he said.
'Break his hand!' flew through Tommy's thoughts. He twitched but pointedly ignored the Black Ranger. "Jason, get his hand off me before I rip it off." He stared down Aisha, who was glaring vile threats of dismemberment at him.
Adam's hand fell as Tommy's eyes swept over Kim. It was only then that he realized she was trembling – just slightly, but it was like a bucket of cold water. Was she actually afraid of him? His anger deflated almost immediately, replaced with an all-too-familiar wave of shame.
Jason's input made him feel worse. "Tommy, you need to sit down and calm down." It sounded like a suggestion; the tone was anything but, reminiscent of his own time leading the Rangers.
Tommy nodded shortly, adrenaline still rushing through him and wished he had an outlet.
Kim didn't ease from her own stance until Tommy was well across the group. As she sat, the Rangers shifted awkwardly. Adam eased down next to her, eying her warily. "You okay?" he murmured softly. She nodded, still tense.
Jason ran a hand over his face in frustration. This whole meeting was going to hell. Everybody was angry; every accusation was making things worse – although enough had been said that maybe, after everybody had time to think on it, they'd understand where everybody was coming from.
"Okay, guys, can we just-" His plea for civility was cut off by the multi-toned chirping of their communicators.
Saturday, October: Week 1
It was harder than Tommy could have imagined to focus on what Zordon was saying. Kim's harsh words still rattled in his brain, but he welcomed the distraction and a chance to work out his aggression.
"Your assistance is requested on the moon of Galaya - where The United Planetary Alliance has a medium-security prison. Several have escaped and managed to overwhelm their jailers."
Paperwork shot out of the printer, and Jason grabbed it. "I think this is best left to the active team," he murmured, eying the information provided. "Guards incapacitated… no reports of deaths, but the prisoners appear to have begun trying to break into the security systems. No major murderers among them that I can see…"
"I'm sure at least a few of them are smart enough to take down the security protocols," Billy said. "We can put our own in place as a temporary solution if we can break through their ranks. The added technology should help us subdue them fairly quickly."
Kim snagged one of the sheets being passed around, holding it so Adam and Trini could look on with her. "Looks like the prison has a small shipyard… I'd bet they're going to try and make off with a couple of the ships."
"The Alliance should be able to track them," Adam pointed out.
Kim shrugged, "Still should do our best to keep them from taking them in the first place. If they don't get off the moon, it saves time having to track the jerks down later." She glanced at Tommy – all business now – and then looked up at Zordon. "Let me take the Crane Zord and I'll keep them grounded."
The White Ranger was scowling, but nodded. "Ninjazords will be easier for this; they're more space-capable and will be easier to maneuver."
"We should only need one or two. Kim can keep them grounded and maybe Aisha to patrol the exteriors. Billy should be inside to help with security systems and I'm pretty good with them… how about Rocky and you cover us?" Adam suggested.
Fists clenched as he was not feeling friendly toward half his team, much less enjoying them taking his reins, Tommy still conceded that he had a point. "Anybody have any objections?" Heads shook, and he turned to Zack. "Hey, keep an eye on the systems; let us know if anybody comes in or out of the flight space. Alliance ships or not, the convicts probably have ties outside the jail and could be hitching a ride with somebody else in all the confusion. Play traffic cop if you have to."
"I'll let the Alliance know what we're doing," Trini added, making her way to the console.
"Let's get going, then. It's Morphin' Time!"
Jason watched them morph and teleport out. Crossing his fingers, he said a prayer that this battle wouldn't resemble the last that occurred right after a big fight.
Saturday, October: Week 1
Equivalent Time: 4:30 p.m.
"Guys… we're missing ships here," Kim informed the group as soon as she saw the open spaces in what she surmised should have been an unbroken pattern of parked vessels. "Unless some of the guards used them? Trini, can you find out?"
"I'm on it."
Kim turned her zord in lazy figure-8s as she waited, catching sight of the Megaship operated by the Astro Rangers of KO-35. She dipped the Crane's nose down in greeting before running her eyes over the fence that should have separated the prisoners from the ships.
"Kim, I can't clarify anything until Billy gets the systems up and running," Trini finally apologized. "The prisoners must have cut off the computers, because nobody can tell me if they were taken legitimately or not."
Kim didn't get a chance to answer, as Tommy's voice broke in. "Anything in the way of maps available? I know we skimmed them before we left, but this place is like a maze."
Once upon a time, she would have joked about his awful memory. She would have teasingly promised to pick him up a compass for Christmas. Now she bit her tongue, because the last thing she'd said directly to him had been so painful she wasn't sure she had the right… admittedly, in the deepest part of her heart, wasn't sure if she wanted it.
She suddenly wished she were in an active battle like the guys. Maybe then her mind wouldn't have free rein to wander.
Tommy cursed as he and Billy fell under yet more laser fire. Apparently a gang of prisoners had banded together and overwhelmed the guards near the weapons lockers, because he had yet to find more than three or four aliens that weren't armed and dangerous. "This is fucking ridiculous."
Billy didn't sound any happier when he added, "The longer they have access to the systems, the more likely they are to do long-lasting damage." Worst was the request that they do as little harm to the prisoners as possible; a strange requirement for Rangers who were used to taking the offensive when under heavy fire.
The laser blasts came to a sudden stop, and the two Rangers heard groans and the sounds of bodies hitting the floor. Confused, Billy peered around the corner…
to see Rocky and Adam looking at them, heads tilted. "You guys good?"
Tommy's jaw clenched. "Just peachy."
"Looks like we got turned around in here. It's like a video game or something."
Adam shook his head at Rocky's assessment. "I wouldn't mind that - a map in the corner of my visor wouldn't be bad."
Tommy rolled his eyes. "Which way did you guys come from? We'll head down the opposite and split up at the next hallway."
They were halfway down the leading hallway - oddly empty - when a wave of static nearly deafened them, followed by a shout. "Shit, shit, shit!"
"Kim? What's going on?" Rocky asked, head tilted up as though he could see through the roof.
"'Sha! A ship's headed your way."
"So knock it the fuck out of the sky!" Aisha sounded harried, and the boys exchanged looks.
"I'm a little busy here!"
"'Sha? Kim? Report," Tommy ordered.
His eyes rolled when Aisha responded, "Hey, hold your horses, flyboy. There's a bit of- god dammit, stop shooting at my zord!" She cut out for a moment.
Kim's voice crackled in, "Well, let's see. There's four… wait, five- no, six. Never mind, five - the Astro Rangers got that last one. Anyway, five ships out here and I'm running out of rockets and lasers. Zack says none are responding to his hails so God only knows if I'm shooting at innocents or not, which will be great since they asked us to, you know, not to." Static flickered again, making Tommy wince. "It looks like the Bear Zord has fleas since there are things climbing on it, but I think Aisha has it-"
"I'm good," Aisha growled. "I don't think they were expecting this baby can stand on its hind legs. Though I'm tempted to squish 'em all and get it over with."
"Minimal injuries," Tommy reminded her with a hint of warning in his voice. "No matter how tempting it is." He was still so angry, and running into with both guns blazing would have been a bit of stress relief. No luck, though.
Adam cleared his throat. "Do you have everything under control up there, Kim?"
"Everything but permission to fire at these ships, if you'd like to give me that. Two have tried to shoot at me, and I returned fire on one… the Astros got the other. But the other four are just hovering…"
No matter how angry he was at her, Tommy couldn't help the small twitch at the thought of her in trouble, but forced his voice to stay even. "Only fire if they engage you or try to land. Otherwise, leave 'em alone."
It was a small balm to Tommy that she didn't argue, and that Aisha didn't choose to insert a snarky reply. Maybe they could pull this out anyway.
The four young men had continued making their way around the jail, noticing far fewer convicts in their way. "Willing to bet most are outside now," Rocky said with a sigh.
"Possibly," Billy said with a nod. "Nonetheless, the girls can keep them under control for now. Let's find the security room and get things under control."
Tommy nodded and led the way, with Rocky and Adam breaking off at the next junction.
The sooner they were out of this place, the better.
Saturday, October: Week 1
The active Rangers demorphed tiredly; Jason, Zack and Kat checking for injuries as Zordon, Alpha and Trini read through the results of their mission. "The United Planetary Alliance requests that two Rangers return in four of the moon's days to double-check the security parameters. All but one convict were recaptured; the missing Raiathan was convicted on a minor charge and, while they would like him to be brought to justice, it's not a concern that requires Ranger assistance," Trini rattled off. After her year at the Peace Conference, she'd taken on the role of Intergalactic Ambassador for the Earth Ranger Team.
"Okay," Tommy nodded, pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off a tension headache. "Why don't we send-"
"Adam and I will go," Rocky volunteered. "We've got a good handle on most of Billy's security work."
With a small sigh, Tommy acquiesced. He'd rather go himself, but with all the drama lately, it'd be better if he just trusted Adam to do his job… that, at least, he could admit the Black Ranger was good at.
Aisha smiled at Rocky. It was good to see him make the effort to reconnect with Adam; seeing them at odds had been insanely upsetting, given that they had been friends for more than a decade.
Kim found herself leaning against a console. She was absolutely exhausted - physically, mentally and emotionally. From the meeting - no, more like a fight - on the roof to the battle on Galaya, she felt like the world's biggest punching bag. 'Stop feeling sorry for yourself,' she ordered herself sternly.
"Rangers," Zordon intoned, breaking through the tense silence that was building. "I must commend you on your exemplary performance today. Tommy, the quick resolution of the conflict is a testament to your leadership. And the solutions you all were able to execute are a demonstration of your teamwork."
Tommy nodded, eyes forward as Zordon broached the topic he'd been dreading.
"Several weeks ago, I told you we would reassess the situation that caused strife and emotional conflict within the team. I feel enough time has passed for each of you to be objective in your decision-making."
Kim almost laughed at the irony. 'Yeah, things would be better… if we hadn't almost gotten into an all-out fight on the roof…'
"Tommy," Zordon began. "As leader, I turn to you first. Do you have lingering concerns that you believe would cause friction within the team?"
He took a deep breath. He thought about the way Adam and Aisha put themselves between him and Kim… her vicious slur against him, and the tension from just a few hours ago. Then he took a moment to review the fight they had returned from. "…no," he decided. "We clearly still have issues, but we are able to put them aside in battle. We showed that today."
Zordon shifted his attention to the other active members of the teams. "Billy?" Of all the Rangers, he had the fewest concerns with the Blue Ranger. He'd wisely done his best to stay out of the conflict.
Billy motioned to the papers Trini held. "Our results clearly demonstrate we are capable of overcoming adversity in our personal lives to better that of the Universe. Provided nobody disagrees, the best course of action is to leave things as-is for the time being."
"Adam, do you agree?"
The Black Ranger nodded immediately. He'd never wanted any of them off the team; if somebody had to go, he knew who it should be, but they were able to handle themselves well. He looked down at Kim for a moment, wondering if she had finally made peace with everything that had happened as it pertained to Rangering.
Rocky responded, "Yeah. We're good. No worries here."
Tommy's jaw clenched when he realized the two opinions that remained were those from the most outspoken member, and the person with the biggest reason to doubt him.
"Aisha. You were clearly angry at Tommy and other members of this team when we last discussed this. Do you feel the same way now?"
Aisha worried her lower lip with her teeth. She could almost hear the seconds tick by. The way Tommy had acted on the roof warred with his efficiency as their leader in the battle that day, and she sighed.
She cleared her throat. "I think our team can handle anything evil wants to throw our way."
Tommy let out a breath quietly. Just Kim left – if Aisha agreed he should keep his position, then wouldn't she? No matter what she thought of him outside the Rangers – her words were still like a knife in his back – she'd always stood by him as leader.
Zordon remained silent for a moment, regarding Kimberly.
"Kimberly." It wasn't a question, and so she was quiet, waiting for him to continue. "I do not wish to diminish your feelings – you were deeply hurt by what occurred. If you have any problems working with your fellow Rangers, most particularly under Tommy's leadership, please let me know now."
She drew in a deep breath. Would she still have a problem? She'd met with their mentor just the night before, concerned about her own position on the team. It was a conversation that lasted long into the night as Zordon reassured her that her emotional response was natural and that she was not to blame for the resulting drama that rippled through the team. So… how did she feel about Tommy's spot on the team? She wondered if speaking up against him would make her look worse in the other Rangers' eyes. Then Zack's words came back to her, and she wondered if it was even possible to look worse.
Still, she had to be honest with herself. Kim still didn't trust Tommy… but she knew how much Rangering meant to him. She knew how much he thrived on leading the team. It was the thing he was most proud of. It was a fleeting temptation to strip that of him, the way he'd stripped her of her self-confidence and self-worth. But that would be cruel, and she couldn't bring herself to do it.
She lifted her chin. "No, Zordon. I'll be fine."
"Alright. Rangers, things will remain as they are for now. If anybody has a concern they do not wish to air in front of your teammates, please come see me. Go home and rest, knowing you've done a remarkable job today."
With that, Zordon disappeared from his tube, to whatever form he took when not addressing or observing them.
Almost as one, everybody heaved a sigh of relief – for various reasons, but all thankful that the tension in the room had eased at least a little. Kim leaned against Adam tiredly. It had been a really long day.
Just then, sneakered feet made their way into her line of sight. "Hey, can we talk?" For all he spoke quietly, Jason's voice cut through her thoughts and she winced internally.
Of course this day wouldn't be over. She wouldn't be so lucky. She lifted her head and met Jason's eyes. The look on his face suggested he wasn't going to be put off like previous times, and she couldn't keep on letting Aisha fight her battles.
"Just you and me," he added when she didn't immediately shoot him down. "Up there," he motioned to the roof with his head, "I didn't get much of a say, and there's a lot of unspoken stuff between us that I'd like to get out into the open."
Kim sighed and rubbed the back of her neck, shooting a quick glance at Trini who was talking to a wary-looking Aisha and Adam. No doubt explaining the situation, she figured. "Um… alright. Can I take a shower first? I'm grimy and gross."
He smiled to hear her say something she would have before everything went to hell, and shooed her toward the door to the dorms. "Go on."
One by one, the Rangers trickled out. Tommy was the first to teleport home. Aisha and Trini hovered for a while talking in low tones with Billy and Kat. They eventually dispersed, Aisha going home, but not before leveling a stern glare at Jason. "I will be right across the hall," she warned him. "So help me God if you make her cry again I will repay you in full."
Jason rolled his eyes. "I have never wanted her to cry."
Zack came up to him, eyes looking slightly guilty as the weight of how he had lashed out at Kim began to set in. "I'm gonna head home, I guess."
"Get some sleep. Things'll be better in the morning," Jason said optimistically, wondering silently if he would be so hopeful after his own chat with Kim.
"Here's hoping. Good luck."
As the streak of black disappeared, he realized he and Trini were the only ones left. He held his arms open, and Trini stepped into them gratefully. For this one moment, it was just them, and he reveled in it.
Alas, it had to end. "Be nice to her," Trini murmured into his chest. She sounded weary and his heart hurt for her as he realized the toll this drama was taking on everybody. "She's still hurting, Jase, and I'm sure Zack's outburst didn't help." She didn't let him interrupt, rushing to add, "I'm not saying he's wrong. That's not my place. But the yelling... well, it was going to happen sometime." She sighed. There were no easy answers.
The two stepped apart when Kim coughed uncomfortably from the door. Her arms were already crossed over her chest - not angrily, but almost as if to shield herself from the coming confrontation. "Um, ready?"
Jason nodded. He dropped a quick kiss on Trini's lips, silently acknowledging her advice, and walked over to the diminutive Pink Ranger. "Let's go."
They arrived in Kim's room in a flurry of light. Kim immediately wandered over to her closet, ordering Jason to turn around while she changed into her pajamas. He took a deep breath, hoping upon hope that both of them could calmly talk through their differences. He was tired of her pushing him away; he didn't think he could take much more.
As he waited, he thought back to Kim's words on the roof: her anger, her frustration, her tears, and the vicious jabs she took at Tommy. That wasn't the Kim he knew at all. Sure, she'd always been a bit emotional, and she'd lashed out a few times during her parents' divorce… but nothing like he'd seen today. This Kim was a stranger. This Kim believed that he and Zack were capable of wanting her to hurt. How had she lost sight of their childhood, of the way they'd always had her back? He'd heard her arguments to Zack, and they made an uncomfortable amount of sense.
But in the end, she was wrong. They weren't excuses, and that needed to be discussed.
He took a seat when Kim walked over to the bed, sitting at the desk across from the bed. She shifted, moving pillows around, somehow looking small and exhausted. He wanted to go across to her and hug her, but there were things that needed to be resolved first.
"I'm sorry about not telling you," he started off when she was comfortable. Better to begin with his own sins – the reasons she had given for avoiding them. "It was a stupid choice, and I wish I could take it back. I wish I would have forced Tommy over to tell you right away, or that I had warned you. I did hit him, once," he insisted, "because I hate what he did. And you have to know that me not telling you isn't some sort of signal that I approved, because I didn't. And don't. His argument was that he should have been the one to tell you… and I agreed."
Jason paused for a moment as Kim piped up. "Do you think… if Tommy hadn't said anything, would you have told me eventually? He was… I mean, with all the nice things he was doing and saying before…" She trailed off, looking at her hands rather than him.
He seethed a little. "Of course I would! I would have made him tell you!" He ran a hand through his hair agitatedly. "See, that's what I don't understand about all of this, Kim. Yeah, I know I fucked up. And I know that the way we treated Adam wasn't any good, either. But the way you judged us, as though we had anything to do with Tommy cheating, it hurts. A lot."
"You never said what he did was wrong," Kim said softly.
Jason shook his head. "But just like Zack said – we shouldn't have had to! Even then, if you had let us in within even the first week or two, we would have told you that. We didn't pick Tommy over you… you just jumped to the conclusion that we did. That wasn't fair."
She hung her head. "It looked like you did. You kept his secret, you watched him be sweet to me when he'd just betrayed me. You were mean to Adam and Aisha when they were sticking up for me."
"Aisha was being really aggressive, Kim. And Adam… I don't think you'll ever understand. With Adam and the guys, it's deeper than that. But we're trying hard to fix things, because you were right. It's hypocritical to be mad at you for treating us badly, and then do the exact same thing to him."
When Kim didn't respond, he forged on. "What hurts the most is that you wouldn't let me be there for you. I didn't know how you were doing or coping. This is the first really big thing that I haven't been able to support you through, and it's certainly not because I didn't want to. You didn't want me here; you pushed me away."
"Then why would you do it?"
"I was hurting. I was angry and upset," Kim tried to explain. "In 8th grade, you gave Eric Johansen a broken nose for calling me a whore. But with Tommy, it seemed like you let it slide, because he was more important."
"I didn't let it slide. I hate that he hurt you, and he's aware of it. But I can't let things slide for you, either. We're all hurting." Did he dare tackle the cause of all this? He didn't want to, but this all had to be out in the open. "Speaking of Tommy… what you said to him? That was the cruelest thing possible, and you know it. I couldn't believe I heard you say it."
Kim nodded again, offering up no explanation. "I know."
"I understand that you were angry, and that he really hurt you. But what you said… you really need to apologize to him."
She stared at him in shock, as though absolutely appalled that he would suggest that.
"It's for the good of the team, Kim. You might not realize it, but he's been really upset about what happened."
She blinked a few times. She really had no idea what to tell him. She knew she had been out of line… but honestly? Making him hurt and rage was amazingly satisfying. She shouldn't have said it, and she regretted touching on that particular nerve… but she wasn't as sorry as she should have been for making him hurt.
Jason realized that particular issue was not going to be explored today and decided not to push. "Everybody would have been fine if you had just let us in to begin with," he couldn't help but point out, "instead of acting like we had to pick a side."
She recoiled slightly, looking away again. "…I know. I screwed up. I'm sorry." Her voice was small, as though it was killing her to say these things. "I'll apologize to Zack and Rocky, too."
"Good, because they were almost as upset as I was."
Jason was feeling much better, now that he saw Kim was contrite for what she had done. Kim didn't seem to, though, so he attempted to lighten the mood. "Do you know Rocky told Tommy he hopes he never gets you back?"
"This whole thing really divided the team," Jason mused. "Maybe we should have a rule that none of the active Rangers can date each other."
She snorted. "Doesn't look like it'll be much of a problem. I don't know what I want anymore. And I've screwed up Rocky's chances with Aisha… or maybe the other way around. I dunno. They were so close to getting together then Aisha jumped to my defense and everything went downhill from there." She sighed. "I really owe him an apology."
"If 'Sha and Rocky have issues, it's on them, not you. They're both adults. You can't blame yourself for everything."
Kimberly just exhaled deeply, a little lost in thought, a lot exhausted from the emotional toll of everything that had happened in the day.
Jason sighed. "Well, he's dating Tammi now," he offered in case she didn't know. It didn't seem to matter, and he frowned. "Hey, what's wrong?"
Kim shrugged again and let out a small sigh. "I've just… caused a lot of problems. I guess I didn't realize how many."
Jason waved her off. "Nah. All of us have made mistakes, and it started with what Tommy did. And all of our apologies will go a long way. Hopefully now we all know where we went wrong."
She winced like he'd hit her, then nodded, again staring down. Jason was growing frustrated again; why was she still so upset? He tried pushing the limit a little bit, finally figuring this was his time to talk about her, like he should have been able to from the beginning. "So… how are you really doing? I know this can't have been easy."
She let out a harsh chuckle that bordered on a sob, tilting her head straight back. For a minute, he thought she wasn't going to answer.
"I'm… I just… Zack said- When he- I shouldn't have…" It seemed like a dozen things wanted to come out of her mouth at once. She shut it quickly, and then shook her head. "Can we just… not talk about it right now?"
Jason almost made to argue; she cut him off. "I know you want to… be here. And do things and stuff, and that's nice of you. I'm just really tired. I really just want to go to bed."
She really did look exhausted: she was all but holding herself upright, with dark bags under her eyes. If he had to be honest with himself, she seemed like she was about to burst into tears. It worried him… and made him sigh to realize she didn't want him to see that, despite the hundreds of break-downs he'd held her through in the past.
"Alright. I do want to talk about stuff, though."
She forced a smile and nodded. When he stood to give her a hug, she wrapped her arms around him lightly, closing her eyes when he kissed her on the forehead.
"I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
He helpfully put out the light, then teleported out in a stream of red, looking somewhat pleased with the progress they'd made.
Letting out a long breath, Kim finally crawled between the sheets.
It had been a long day.
Angel Grove Park
Saturday, October: Week 1
Another shot rimmed off, rolling behind the backboard into the grass.
Zack glared at the basketball, then his own two hands. "Guys, you're failing me. Come on now. My jumper is the truth and you know it."
Racing after the basketball across the empty court, Zack took six quick dribbles, hit his "sweet spot" and launched a high arcing fade-away jumper.
Just not inside the rim.
The ball fell just outside the rim, skimming the net before bouncing back into the grass. It rolled to a dead stop and Zack didn't bother going after it. He simply stared as if it betrayed him…
The same way his good sense betrayed him on the rooftop of the Command Center. If he tried hard enough, he could still hear their arguing in the back of his mind. What began as a group meeting to try and hopefully heal a fractured group of friends turned into little more than a fight as his temper got the best of him. For weeks it built up inside him, this anger and resentment. But the way he'd gone after Kim wasn't- he shook his head, feeling like a world-class asshole.
He didn't regret what he was angry about, only how he presented it to the girl he considered a sister in every way, one who was still heartbroken and livid. In all the years of their friendship he could count on one hand with fingers left over how many times they truly were angry at each other.
Then he heard dribbling approaching. Turning around he found Adam walking onto the court; yet another strained friendship that hadn't healed. They greeted each other with a polite nod, and then Zack followed Adam's shot, a miss, with a rebound of his ball back to him back to him.
Ever blunt, Zack just dove right in, "On a scale of one to ten, with one being Count Chocula and ten being Darth Vader, how bad was I tonight?"
Blinking, Adam considered the question. "The things you said… is that how you really feel?"
Zack gave a nod, and then bounced his ball hard. The sound echoed around the court. "But I think I said it all wrong. I yelled and shouted and was so angry… I've never talked that way to her before and I think I made things worse. I know shouting doesn't exactly make for a conversation where both people listen to each other."
"You were a 242 on the asshole meter, br-… Zack." He'd almost called him bro; still wasn't used to how much things had changed. It still hurt, no matter how much he hid it. "She feels like all of you are against her."
"We aren't!" Zack defied, the notion absurd. "I have loved Kim since we were in elementary school. Anytime either of us have ever needed the other, we were there. No questions asked, no matter what was else going on. I love her and she should know that after all these years."
Adam could tell Zack was being honest. But he still wasn't seeing the forest for the trees. "You sided with the guy that cheated on her and broke her heart."
"I only said I don't think he should lose his role as leader or be forced into leaving the team. That is it. Period. And I am so fucking sick of defending that one point."
Raising his hands defensively, Adam said, "Hey, I get you. I'm sick and tired of saying that all I meant when we first discussed this was that if anyone should leave – not that I wanted anyone to leave – but if someone did, it should be the person who did the crime. But apparently I'm Judas Park."
After the initial arguments had passed, Zack knew Adam was right and felt more than a little guilt over the freeze-out the guys placed on him. Maybe tonight was a good place to start talking again. "I'm thinking of going over to Aisha's house tomorrow to apologize to Kim for how I acted. I could have said what I felt without acting like I was biting her head off. Maybe take her some flowers. You think that would be a good idea?"
"You're really asking me?"
"Well, you seem as close to Kim as anyone these days."
He was, and that was a great plus in his life. "I think it's a good idea. But, um… look, just be nice to her. She's been through a lot and thinks everything is her fault."
"Tommy made his bed, not Kim. She should know that."
Adam sighed, not sure if what he was going to say would start another argument or actually help. "She sees all you guys taking up for Tommy, and to her that means you all feel he didn't do anything wrong. So to her this must mean it's all her fault."
Zack just stared at him like he grew a second head. "That's crazy."
"I agree, but Tommy was her first love and he betrayed her. She is still hurt and her self-esteem's in the toilet right now. Coupled with Jason's not telling her as soon as he found out, and then you and Rocky taking up for him… all of it just has her in a very bad place right now. She's fighting it, but the pain is still there."
He'd seen it in her brown eyes, the sorrow and heartache. "This is all Tommy's fault. Kim isn't to blame for what he did."
"You should tell her that… minus the recent obligatory 'but he's still a great friend.'"
"He's been a great friend to me since the day we met, and one huge mistake isn't going to make me turn my back on him," Zack declared. "And for the record, I never turned my back on Kim either. I tried seeing Kim every day for a week and left like eight messages on her answering machine."
Adam held up his hands. "Hey, I know all about trying to make amends and expressing yourself to people who don't want to even try and listen."
There wasn't anything Zack could say after that, as Adam's point was made. "There's a lot of screwing up to go around," he admitted. "Look, man. I'm sorry for how I've avoided you. I'm sorry for all of it. You didn't deserve to be thrown away the way we did… and we talk about it a lot, all of us, even Tommy." While the Black Ranger didn't appear to care, Zack could tell he did. "Tommy fucked up royally. If you think he doesn't know that, or isn't grieving and sorry, then you never knew him at all. I know you're hurt and pissed at all of us, but the reality is we were all bros for a long time before Tommy messed up. We had each other's backs through whatever. The consequences of his fuck-up are that he lost the girl he loved, lost most of his gal friends, lost the Harts' respect, his team is fractured, and he's lonely. Now he deserves all of that, no question. But don't go around acting like Tommy is just prancing around as if nothing happened. He's hurting. Not nearly as bad as Kim, but he is."
"I don't ca-"
"Stop it," Zack halted him. "You're hurting, too. You're angry and pissed and you have every right to be. We were wrong in how we treated you, and you're wrong in how you see Tommy. There are two sides to every story, but no one's talking and that's the big problem. You and Tommy need to talk one-on-one to resolve all the anger and jealousy going on."
Adam tilted his head, surprised. "Jealousy? I'm not jealous of him being the leader or anything else."
"No, he's jealous of how much time you spend with Kim, and how close you are. He still loves her deeply."
"Then he shouldn't have cheated."
"Exactly." Zack sighed, standing beside Adam now. "I wish to God he hadn't, but he did. He made a huge mistake and he knows that. He hasn't one time blamed anyone but himself. Believe it or not, he hates himself for what he did. He really does. I hope I never hurt anyone as much as he hurt Kim. But if I did make a mistake one day, I sure hope all my friends don't abandon me. I hope they hold me accountable, but still hold me up when I'm down. No one is perfect or ever will be. I believe he is a good man and will make amends no matter if he gets Kim back or not."
"He doesn't deserve her."
"That's for her to say, not us." This Adam was angry and bitter, a version of him he'd never seen before. How badly had they hurt him… Zack was only now getting a clue how truly messed up the team was. "This is a huge mess, but at least we are all talking now. That's gotta count for something."
Shuffling his feet, Adam asked the one question that burned him up at night. "Do you think I'm a traitor?"
Zack shook his head, sighing. "Not at all. None of the guys do, not even Tommy. I think you're a good bro. I just think we all got caught up in this whirlwind of drama and a lot of us shut out anything that went against what we believed in. I think no matter how much we argue and disagree, we gotta keep talking 'cause not talking is what got us here."
Adam nodded. "Some of these wounds are going to take a long time to heal."
"Yeah, well, that's life. At least we're all trying." He turned to Adam. "If I can get our imperfect leader to talk to you one on one someday soon, would you want to do that?"
"Want, no," he replied. "But there's a lot I want to say to him, and I'm sure he wants to punch me." Zack laughed, and then playfully punched his shoulder. "Would it do any good?"
"Kim doesn't trust us right now, but I hope she gives us a chance. I know you don't trust or like Tommy right now. But I hope both of you give it a chance. You gotta try."
"For the sake of the team, I'll give it a try if he does. But I'm not banking on it."
"Fair enough." Grabbing the ball at Adam's chest, Zack exhaled. "Wanna get a game? One-on-one. Winner owes the loser lunch next week."
Grinning, Adam laughed. "You're on."