"Are you ever going to wake up?"
The petulant query pierced the thick morass filling Tommy's head, and it helped him find his way through the murkiness back to consciousness. Although, he wasn't certain he wanted to leave the darkness behind; what was there to look forward to? Norzod was destroyed. Kimberly was gone....
The void left behind from her transferring to Jax's mind loomed large and seemingly insurmountable. She had told him she couldn't stay, but he had always harbored the hope that he could convince her otherwise. He felt emptier now than he had the day he first heard of her death.
"At this rate, nobody is ever going to be able to have a bonding ceremony," the speaker harumphed, and Tommy recognized the put-upon woman as Shan.
He dimly recalled collapsing in the Command Center. When Jax had released the Imbera energy, the three-way mindlink had dissolved, and Tommy had been like a marionette whose strings had been cut. It had been like when Rita had drained his Green Ranger powers, except much faster. The others had probably taken him to the infirmary and posted a watch. How long had he been out? And did he want to wake up now and face the energetic teen's interrogation?
"I think he is faking it," came a new voice filled with amusement. It was Jax.
"Really?" Shan asked with interest. "How can you tell?"
"A little voice told me."
A little...! Tommy sat up –too quickly. Lightheaded, he crashed down on the pillow with a moan as a wave of dizziness swept through him.
"Welcome back to the land of the living," Jax greeted him. The statement was so unlike his normally serious descendant that Tommy wondered what else of Kim's –besides her knowledge– had rubbed off on their great-grandson.
"Are you really grandfather's grandfather?" Shan chirped eagerly.
It took Tommy a moment to mentally climb his family tree. He finally answered, "Yes."
"Shan, please let your great-grandfather know that Tommy has regained consciousness," Jax requested, sending her after Jamie.
"But...." the youngster whined in protest.
"You can ask all your questions later," Tommy promised with a long-suffering sigh.
"All right!" she bubbled happily and scampered off.
"You did not have to do that," Jax informed him with a knowing smile, as if to say he knew exactly what was going to happen.
"I know that look in her eyes," Tommy replied. "Sooner or later, she was going to pin me down. I might as well get the inevitable over with."
"For someone who is barely out of his adolescence, you are a wise man."
"My friends would have a lot to say about that –and not necessarily in agreement," Tommy chuckled. Then, he sobered. "How are you doing? And what about Kim?"
"I cam through all right; after releasing the power, I was only unconscious for a day. You have been comatose for three days," Jax said. "I am sorry, Tommy. Neither Kimberly nor I realized how deeply into the link you had been subsumed. I had drained not only the Imbera energy but yours as well."
"I'm glad I was there with you two," Tommy assured him, and he squirmed, anxious to find out about Kim's fate. "Is Kim still with you? Is she all right? The link didn't totally drain her, did it?"
Jax was cautious in answering. "She is all right –weak, but well. She has not returned to the Morphin' Grid yet; she is still teaching me a great deal about my powers. Also, she wished to be present for the bonding ceremonies."
"Can I talk to her?" asked Tommy hopefully.
"She is resting at the moment, trying to conserve energy, but...."
Tommy's conversation with Kim would have to wait. Jamie arrived with quite an entourage in tow. Accompanying him were Lris, Vlar, Beys, Twyn and Marg.
Exclamations of relief and happiness were traded all around, but Tommy noticed that Jamie seemed more reserved than the others –unusually so.
"What's wrong?" Tommy asked of his son.
"I cannot believe I fell for Norzod's deception," Jamie murmured guiltily. "I knew mother was dead, but I had always wished that I could have been able to save her...."
"Jamie, if I hadn't been talking to Kim all along, I would have fallen for it, too," Tommy consoled him. "We both wanted to believe."
"Jax told us what happened –linking with Mother and the rest. While you were recuperating, she told him everything that the two of you had worked out." Jamie shook his head in disbelief. "From the beginning, you kept insisting that you were hearing Mother, and I kept telling you that it could not be so. Then, when you kept telling me that the woman in lab was not Mother...."
"You didn't listen, either," Tommy laughed, trying to ease his son's feelings of self censure. He turned to Marg. "Did we ever figure out who that body really was? My guess is Norzod found Kim's pod and used D'Ez's powers to shape someone else to look like her."
"Good guess," Marg said, "but that really was Kimberly's body –a cloned body.
"I knew by the way the body crumbled at the end. Clones that are subjected to accelerated growth are unstable and turn to dust when they die: total cellular breakdown."
"Where did he get the material to make a clone? The pod?"
"No, dead tissue will not work," the healer replied.
"It came from the lab in the Command Center," Vlar spoke up.
"Once we knew about the clone, we checked the tissue banks," Twyn took up the tale. "Those were in the lab D'Ez raided. He stole Grandmother's last tissue sample...."
"...created the clone, probably using D'Ez's powers to mimic the Imbera's injuries, and sent her to us in the hopes of obtaining the Imbera powers," Beys summarized.
"And you and Kim are sure Norzod didn't get away like he did the last time?" Tommy asked of Jax.
"We are positive," Jax declared, "but Norzod was right. There will be others after him who will come and try to conquer our world."
"But we will not allow ourselves to become complacent again," Vlar assured him.
"How soon will you be returning to Earth now that the crisis is over?" Jamie wondered.
"I don't know. I'm not even sure how long I've been gone –in Earth days," Tommy confessed. "So I should probably be getting back once Marg says I'm healthy enough for interdimensional travel."
"You will stay long enough to attend the bonding ceremony, won't you?" Lris invited.
"Of course I'll stay for that –Shan would kill me otherwise," Tommy remarked with a wry grin.
"She was rather put out that we delayed the ceremonies for your benefit," Jamie laughed.
"Ceremonies?" Tommy queried.
"Lris and myself...."
"Prist and I...."
Then all eyes turned to Twyn, Vlar and Beys. Twyn blushed, and Vlar smiled widely.
"Well...?" Tommy prompted.
"She has agreed on one condition," Vlar began.
"That Jax is successful in repairing the damage to my brain," Twyn finished.
"There is still some damage beyond my ability to repair," Marg explained, "but between my knowledge and Jax's powers, we should be able to correct the damage."
"I think everyone here would agree with me when I say it is about time," Beys concluded."
* * *
Tommy melted into the shadows as the wedding celebration continued, the merriment spiraling out of bounds until it was on the edge of becoming a drunken orgy.
Frat boys have nothing on Threans when it comes to partying, he observed.
"But then, it's not everyday that they celebrate the weddings of three Imberas and the destruction of the bad guy."
"Kim!" Tommy exclaimed happily. "I'd hoped to talk to you before I left."
"You're leaving before the party's over?"
"It seems like a good idea, all things considered." He gave a meaningful nod towards the festivities. "Besides, I don't know that I'd be able to say good-bye. It's too tempting to stay and see how all this –the family-- turns out. Jamie knows my plan, though."
"Do you know we're going to be grandparents again?"
"Uh huh, and I doubt Jax and Prist will be too far behind. What about Twyn and Vlar?"
"Hard telling. She still has a lot of healing to do."
"They'll be having another one if Beys has anything to say in the matter."
Kim had to laugh at that.
"You know something, Beautiful? We have a wonderful family."
"Just like we always dreamed of –once upon a time."
A weighty silence followed her words, and Tommy gathered his courage to ask his next question.
"You're returning to the Morphin' Grid?"
"Tommy...." Kim chided.
"I know; we've already discussed this," he sighed resignedly. "You can't blame me for hoping you'd change your mind, can you?"
"Let me go, Tommy," Kim advised. "I know you'll always love me, and we'll be together again someday. Until then, don't be afraid to open your heart to someone else. You have a big heart, Tommy; there's room for all the loves in your life."
Tommy felt himself growing misty-eyed at the thought of saying good-bye yet again to this woman he loved.
"I'll have Jax send me back to the Grid once he's ready to link with Jamie; that way I won't be in the way."
"Will you be all right? You won't be too weak, will you?" Tommy asked, a lump in his throat. He worried that she had expended too much of her energy and that her spirit would dissipate all the faster.
"I'm as strong as I ever was, thanks to you. I think residing in your mind and heart –your love– recharged me," she said. "I'll be able to keep an eye on this bunch –and you."
"But I'll never know, will I?"
"Maybe. Maybe not."
"I'll always love you, Tommy," she murmured, and Tommy could have sworn he felt something brush against his lips. "Now, go home. Live for me, Tommy. Live for us both."
As with the phantom kiss, Tommy felt something brush his wrist, and he saw that the signal to Billy had been activated. The dimensional doorway had begun to open.
"Good-bye, Beautiful," he murmured as space and time folded about him and Threa faded away.
* * *
"Tommy? Tommy, are you all right?"
The world around Tommy swam into focus, and the former Ranger found Billy trying to steady him.
Looking around, he saw that he was back in the demolished Power Chamber. He noticed, too, that Billy had brought in some supplies and had set up camp.
"Welcome back," a new voice chimed in, and another pair of hands guided him to a seat.
"Jason?" Tommy queried numbly.
"I wasn't sure how long you'd be gone, so I went to borrow some camping supplies just in case," Billy explained.
"And I decided to keep him company, but we didn't expect you back so soon." Jason shook his head scoldingly and huffed, "You ought to know better than to go off having adventures without me."
"I explained everything to him," Billy said, and Tommy say the contents of his black box spread out in the center of the camp.
He wasn't sure how he felt about that. He didn't mind Jason knowing the full story about Kim and Jamie, but it still kind of felt like his privacy had been invaded. Not that he wouldn't have told Jason himself anyway. Perhaps, this was just an extension of his gloomy mood. He was already on edge....
"How long was I gone?" he asked tiredly, his whole demeanor dispirited, and he noted his friends' concern in their expressions.
"About two and a half hours," Jason answered.
"How long did that translate into on Threa?" Billy asked.
"About twelve days."
"Five days to one Earth hour," the young genius murmured, completing his computations.
"What happened? Did you defeat Norzod?" Jason pursued.
"He's gone for good –and so is she," Tommy choked out, his emotions threatening to overwhelm him, and he did nothing to check them.
Billy and Jason exchanged startled glances. There was only one she who provoked such a strong display of feeling in their friend. Both had been more than a little concerned about how Tommy was going to handle seeing the family he had created with her.
"Can you tell us...?" Billy prompted gently.
"I lost Kim again...!" and the tale of Tommy's adventures came pouring out.
Neither Billy nor Jason spoke throughout the recitation; they refrained from asking questions, sensing that Tommy needed this time to grieve.
And grieve he did, with an outpouring of emotion he hadn't allowed himself since Kim's funeral two years ago.
"You did the right thing, Tommy," Jason offered consolingly at the conclusion of his best friend's story.
"As difficult as it may be to accept, Kimberly wasn't truly alive, even though her consciousness still existed. What kind of life or relationship could you have had with a presence in your mind? What kind of existence would it have been for Kim to live vicariously through you? She had to return to the Morphin' Grid," Billy said as kindly as he could.
"Don't you think I know all that?" Tommy snapped, his words tinged with bitterness. "It doesn't matter how right it was; I still lost the woman I loved –again!"
"Tommy, you haven't lost her again. She'll always be there for you, and someday you two will be reunited in the Morphin' Grid. Until then, you have to move on and live, like she asked," Jason pointed out.
"What if I don't want to move on? What if I don't want to replace Kim?"
"Moving on doesn't necessarily mean finding someone to replace Kim," Billy said. "What it means is not turning your back on love if it should find you again. Don't let your feelings for Kim deny you another chance at happiness. I think you'll find your heart is big enough to hold all the loves in your life."
"That's what she said," Tommy grumbled petulantly. Then, he sighed. "It still hurts, though, guys."
"Give it time, Tommy. You're not yet twenty-one; you've a lot of time ahead of you," Billy said. "Grieve for her, then live for her."
"You know, there is another really good reason for you to move on," Jason began, a twinkle of mischief in his eye.
Jason couldn't keep a straight face as he replied, "Well, Kimberly said she'd be keeping an eye on you from the Grid, right? Do you even want to know how much trouble you'll be in if you don't do what she asked you to do?"
Billy added, "I, for one, do not wish to spend the rest of my days in the Morphin' Grid listening to her chew you out."
Tommy felt his lips twitching to smile in spite of himself.
"Yeah, when she got a burr under her saddle, Kim could make everyone miserable," Jason continued.
"Indubitably," Billy concurred.
"You'd be doing the rest of us a big favor...."
"All right! All right!" Tommy chuckled, holding up his hands in surrender. "I'll try, okay? I won't make any promises, but I'll try."
"That's all anyone can ask, Tommy," Billy said soberly.
As Tommy nodded in acquiescence, Jason and Billy relaxed a little. At least Tommy was willing to try. Giving vent to his feelings –making the effort– would be the first step in the healing process. In time, their friend would live and love again.
"Say, Billy, do you have to get back to Eltar right away?" Tommy queried suddenly.
"I have no pressing engagements at the moment."
"Jase, what about you?"
"I'm free for a while. What's up?
"I really don't feel like being alone right now."
"Of course, Tommy."
"What I really feel like is going some place, having a few drinks, and telling you a few of the stories Jamie told me about Kim. Man, there were some doozies...."
And in the Morphin' Grid, an indignant voice shouted, "Thomas James Oliver, don't you dare!"
My thanks to all the folks who have read this and have reviewed it. I appreciated all your wonderful comments; I'm only sorry I couldn't respond to you all individually (a two-year-old doesn't leave you much time for e-mail) : ) CR
PS: for all of you who wished for a little different ending, keep your eyes open. : )