All standard disclaimers in Part One.

Casting Stones Pt. II

By: Dagmar Buse

"Tom, are you ready to go?"

His uncle's voice drew Tommy out of his thoughts with a start. He shook himself and focussed on the hustle and bustle in the pit, taking in the mechanics fiddling with last-minute adjustments to his car, placing the tires in readiness, filling the tank ... while this wasn't exactly Formula One racing, a lot of the preparations were the same, and executed with the same kind of attention to detail. While Tommy took care to be involved with his car and general maintenance as much as possible, right now there wasn't much he could do. It was best left in his pit crew's hands.

"Yeah, Uncle John," was all he said, however. His whole family knew by now that Kat had left him, and while the open (and sometimes not-so-open) displays of sympathy and support were gratifying and soothed his anger and wounded pride, right now he didn't want any of that. The other night, he'd overheard his parents talk, and from snippets of their conversation he'd gleaned that Jason and Kat had gotten married last weekend. The rush of emotion he'd experienced held equal amounts of rage and pain, and it was all he could do to concentrate on his job.

"Now listen, Tommy," John Rush took his nephew aside for a moment. "You're sixth; as a starting position it's not too bad. You probably don't have a chance against Jackson and diBarello, but give it your best shot anyway, you hear? You should be able to drive into the points ranks today." Tommy nodded absently, his mind miles away. *How could Jase and Kat do that to me?* It was the one question plaguing him ever since their confessions.

"Tommy!" His uncle's sharp exclamation brought him back to the here and now with a jerk. Shaking his head in exasperation, the older man placed a hand on his shoulder. "Tommy, I know you're hurting over Kat, but it's over. Live with it. This may sound harsh, but it's the truth." A siren gave the drivers the last warning. Both men sighed. "Look, we'll talk about this later if you want to, but right now you have a job to do. Go out there and show them what you can do. Okay?"

"Okay, Uncle John." From somewhere, Tommy dredged up a smile. He knew John was right, there was nothing he could say, or do, to change things, that would miraculously turn back the clock to that weekend after Memorial Day. Why had he decided to stand Kat up? The crew could've handled the problem on their own, without his supervision. The truth was, he'd been bored at the prospect of sitting through a ballet performance, but he couldn't very well have told his girlfriend that, could he? Still, that was no reason why Jason and Kat did what they'd done. Tommy shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind of the onslaught of emotion. His family and friends all meant well, but .... how could they know what he was going through? How, if he didn't know himself what he was feeling?

Closing the zipper on his overalls, he collected his helmet and climbed into his blazing red car. Strapping himself into the shoulder harness, Tommy jammed the helmet over his long locks, adjusted his throat mike and slipped on his driving gloves. Drawing a deep, centering breath, he started the engine and slowly rolled to his position in the starting line-up. He'd qualified sixth overall in the trials; a respectable position, if not a great one. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a blue-green car slide in to his left. Acknowledging his Uncle's last-minute instructions over the headset with curt one-syllable comments, the former Ranger tapped into his martial-arts training to focus, but for some reason it was more difficult than at other times. He was tense, and his stomach churned; Tommy knew he hadn't felt this bad, this nervous since his very first race. Briefly, he wondered why that should be so, and immediately wished he hadn't. For just as the starting flag went down and he gunned the engine, images from the past began to flash before his mind's eye.

"Dammit! Not now!"

He didn't need this; wrenching his thoughts back onto the track with an effort, Tommy zipped through between two cars and approached the first curve. While part of his mind automatically catalogued the passing scenery, the spectator's stands, the pits, the commentator's booth, and his body worked the controls almost as if on autopilot, he leaned into the long leftward swing, and very much against his will, he started to remember ...

*The first time he saw Kat at the Youth Center and she asked him so prettily to fix her sports car; while he'd been happy with Kim at the time, Kat's blonde loveliness hadn't gone unnoticed by him. How she'd clung to him in apparent terror as Rita abducted them!

Kat's sympathy and concern after Kim's letter; he'd known by then that she was interested in him, but never made a move, respecting his promises of fidelity to Kim.

Their class project -- playing at being married. It was the first time he'd had the chance to talk with Kat, quietly, at length and in private, and had discovered so many new and intriguing things about her -- not the least of which was her gentleness and sweetness in dealing with the toddler they were guarding.

Jason's return from Switzerland; he'd been a bit worried about how the rest of the team would accept him, but it had been Kat who had smoothed the waters for his, Tommy's, sake -- she knew how much his best friend meant to him. By reminding the others how she had come to be a Ranger, it was easy for them to get over the disappointment of losing Billy's last chance at taking up the Power again permanently and accepting Jason in his stead.*

Another car, this one black with yellow stripes, swerved before Tommy. Instinctively, he jerked the steering wheel around, caught the fishtailing rear expertly and sped past, hoping that concentrating on the job at hand would make the flow of memories stop. He had no such luck. Swallowing hard, he pressed his right foot once more on the accelerator. More images appeared while he made yet another turn around the track.

*Jason and Kat in Gasket's arena, staring down the muzzle of his drawn blaster as first Kat, then Jason demorphed, trusting him and his feelings for his friends not to kill them. The others powered down as well, and he got his mind back, but he'd always known that it had been those blue and almost-black eyes which had drawn him back from the brink of near-madness.

Jason losing the Gold Powers, that oh-so-painful reminder of his own final times as the Green Ranger; Kat's support through all of this as their relationship slowly deepened from friendship into romance. Their first kiss had been sweet and gentle, putting the first healing layers over his still-bleeding heart.

The shock of seeing both Kimberly and Jason captured by Divatox, falling into that boiling lava pit on Muranthias and miraculously emerging whole, but with evilly burning eyes; how he'd been torn between worry for Kat, who barely managed to fend off Kimberly, and concern for his best friend and his first love as Maligore's Children attacked him and Kat with unbridled violence.

Kat leaving for London, tearing almost as big a hole in his heart as Kim's departure for Florida had, but then it had been Jason who'd helped him through, bolstered his flagging confidence when he missed his girlfriend in the long hours of night ...and reminded him to keep writing, keep calling Kat even when he would've given up long before.*

It hurt to think of this, but Tommy couldn't help himself; passing a car painted a dark purple, he made good another place. Dimly, he heard his Uncle's voice over his headset and coasted into the pit. He stared straight ahead unseeingly as his tank was filled up again, but he was once more miles -- and years -- away, and the experienced pit crew, mistaking his absorption for intense concentration, knew better than to yank a driver out of that almost trance-like state. Finished, Tommy got the signal to go ahead, and with a roar of his engine, he was back in the race. Jockeying for his former position again, the memories came flooding back more quickly and with greater intensity, and intuitively, the young man drove faster, trying to outrun the most recent pictures. It was no use.

*The night he and Kat became lovers -- she had come back from London a few weeks before, and confessed that she'd missed him as much as he'd missed her -- it had been during a weekend trip to Colorado. They'd gone whitewater-rafting, shrieking with glee like children as they got soaked by the river rapids. Kat's eyes had sparkled like sapphires with excitement and laughter as they returned to dry land, and he'd nearly lost it as he noticed her soaked t-shirt under her life-vest, outlining her gorgeous figure in glorious detail. She'd seen his reaction, blushed fiercely but had only given him a Mona Lisa smile, and come the night, one of their two rooms at the small country inn had stayed unused. It had been a little wild, a little scary -- both had never taken that step before, after all -- but there had also been a lot of love, he was sure of that.*

Tommy shook his head to clear it. Whizzing past a white-and-orange vehicle, the track was clear before him except for the taillights of a dark-red car, taunting him as they disappeared behind the next curve. Heart beating in his throat, Tommy carefully shifted his position behind the wheel and started inching his own racer towards the leading car. With an effort, the young man once more forced icy control on his raging emotions.

Where had he gone wrong? What had happened that both his best friend and his lover had gone behind his back and betrayed him? Creating a child between them, leaving him out in the cold ... for despite having found David, Tommy sometimes still felt the loss of his biological parents deeply. Kat's child should've been his! His, and not Jason's ... not that he wanted a family right now, but someday ... Jason and Kat had robbed him of that, and a fresh spurt of anger momentarily cleared his vision, just in time to see the flag signalling the last round. He was already trailing the other car's trunk. Looking for an opening to pass, Tommy once more became lost in images, this time in visions of Kat and Jason together.

*The dark and pale-gold heads huddled together over something at the Beach Club, jerking apart as he approached them. They'd said it had been for his birthday, and he had received a beautiful set of leather-bound books, containing old mythologies, from both of them, but what if that innocent scene had concealed something else?

Jason's willingness to substitute for him -- hadn't it been hidden eagerness to be alone with Kat? Had he himself thrown both together inadvertantly, naively believing he could trust them?

Kat and Jason getting married, probably running hand in hand up the steps of City Hall, laughing and sparing not a single thought for him, Tommy, the loner, the outsider once again, left behind like his parents had left him when they died, like Kim had left him for that guy in Florida ... like Kat had left Kim to die in Zedd's hidden chamber and like Jason had left the Green Candle in the Dark Dimension to burn down so he had to give up his Powers and his place on the team ....*

A part of Tommy knew that he was being unfair and irrational, that it hadn't been like that, but it was drowned out by the louder voices of hurt and anger, which were all he could feel ever since Kat had confessed her lapse to him. That same part of him winced at the remembered sound and sensation of his fist striking Jason's face, leaving a bruise almost immediately, but he'd silenced that part with another and another blow to his best friend's body, waiting -- hoping -- he'd fight back, but although the dark eyes flashed once or twice with pain and temper, Jason had taken it all unresistingly, silently acknowledging Tommy's right to hurt him as he'd hurt Tommy.

The rage that had made him beat on Jason rose again now, and to release it in some way, any way, Tommy floored the accelerator, feeding his car more power to escape the images his mind insisted on conjuring up. Jason, laughing, smiling, serious, understanding. Kat, cajoling, soothing, comforting, yearning. Jason holding out his hand to him in friendship and acceptance. Kat persuading him into a test drive. Jason, welcoming him back as the White Ranger. Kat, arranging the ill-fated date with Heather. Jason, Kat ... the two faces of the people he'd loved like family and more danced in a kaleidoscope of color and emotion before his inner eye, consuming everything until the pain blotted out everything else, and with a last burst of speed, desperate to escape the images, Tommy shot past the leading car and crossed the finish line half a length ahead of the other. The crowd went wild.

Dimly, Tommy realized that the race was over. Shifting his foot to the brake, he slowly felt the hurtful memories recede and the icy numbness that had enveloped him sink back into the dark reaches of his mind. John Rush and his crew were sprinting across the tarmac towards him, shouting and waving at him frantically. Tommy shook himself. He'd won his first-ever victory, but as he slowed down to a stop and dazedly climbed out of his racer, all he felt was a hollowness inside at what he'd lost.


It wasn't easy to adjust to married life. Apart from getting used to the fact that there suddenly was another person around, sharing space and occasionally even getting in the way, there was also the fact that neither Jason nor Kat were exactly prepared for marriage. While their minds told them they'd made the correct choice, their emotions were quite another matter. It would've been easier if they'd been in love, they knew that, but since it was only friendship that bound them together -- even a deep, true friendship like theirs still was -- it put an extra strain on an already tense situation. As a consequence, tempers sometimes flared, and while they both tried not to hurt each other, words were sometimes said in haste that lingered and festered. It didn't help that after a couple of weeks Kat began to experience severe bouts of morning sickness, just as she'd thought she might be spared that particular symptom of pregnancy. Jason tried to help as much as possible, but there was little he could do except see to it that Kat always found some saltine crackers and tea at her bedside in the morning.

Kat hated feeling so weak; she hated that her body began to change and swell, that she was weepy and moody, and she hated that she had to cook dinner every day and clean her apartment regularly. Not that she was untidy, but as long as she'd lived alone, who cared if she left the laundry lying outside instead of putting it away into the closets and drawers, or just had some fruit and yoghurt for dinner? Besides, her apartment really was too small for two people. Jason had stored as many of his belongings at his parents' home as he could, and she knew this was only a temporary arrangement, but it still grated to no longer have a truly private space she could call her own.

In her more rational moments, Kat knew that the situation was as hard on Jason as it was on her, but it didn't stop the snide remarks that slipped out, even if mostly against her will; and the flash of pain in Jason's dark eyes at some particularly thoughtless comment that compared him unfavorably to Tommy made Kat feel even worse. Her husband's ready forgiveness when she burst into tears at one such point was harder to bear still, and for a few days, both pulled themselves together and drew on their friendship to see them through.

Even so, it was not an easy time.

The most difficult thing to endure, Kat reflected as she stowed groceries away one afternoon about six weeks into their marriage, was the lack of someone to talk things over with. Neither Jason nor herself had yet found the courage to tell their parents the whole truth after all, and she still hadn't heard from Tanya. Sadly, Kat had decided that her best friend's ongoing silence was commentary enough -- apparently Tanya thought so badly of her and Jason that she wouldn't even talk to her. Well, she'd deal with that, too.

*What other choice do I have, really?* the dancer thought morosely as she turned on the kettle to make herself some tea. *I could probably talk to Jason since he's going through the same thing, but he misses Tommy just as much -- he's always shared his problems with him, and now ...*

Kat swallowed a moan at the rush of pain memories of Tommy still brought her. While he hadn't been around all that much before their break-up, she missed the comfort of their long-standing relationship, the shared memories and the sometimes impulsive but wildly romantic things he'd come up with for them to do -- like driving into the mountains at a moments' notice on Valentine's Day Weekend, to take advantage of a colleague's empty cabin in the woods. She smiled mistily at the memory. She'd groused about the primitive conditions for all of the two days, but to his credit, Tommy had done all the hard chores, like splitting wood, keeping the fire going and drawing water from the outside well. Still, it had been fun to share a sleeping bag with him and making love in front of an open fire even though her teeth were chattering with cold in the otherwise unheated, very rustic cabin. In Kat's opinion, it definitely had been worth the persistent cold she'd caught that weekend.

Kat took her tea into the living room and sank on the couch as she recalled that time early in February. That had been the last 'quality' time she and Tommy had spent together before the racing circuit took off again, and they'd definitely made the most of it, primitive conditions or not. Unbidden, her mind conjured up how it felt to wake up safely held in her husband's arms when she'd cried herself to sleep again, but Kat deliberately turned away from the image. She didn't want to acknowledge that the far less flamboyant gestures Jason sometimes made to make her feel good were slowly but surely softening her heart.

Her husband was rarely given to doing very impulsive things, but a tiny part of Kat couldn't help but appreciate the single piece of Godiva chocolate left on her pillow one night when he had to be out, or the lone flower he'd picked for her in the park when they took a walk one evening. Kat unconsciously touched the clasp that held her hair back in a ponytail. She really was a bit ... old ... to be wearing something like that, but the handmade ornament bought last week at a charity bazaar was so charmingly funny that she couldn't resist. It was a simple wooden carving, but the well-known cartoon cat -- a fat, orange-striped tabby -- wore such an engagingly silly, smug grin that Jason had purchased it without a second thought, and always grinned exactly like the lasagna-loving tom when she put it in her hair.

The young woman sighed and sipped her tea. Kat would've preferred coffee, but knew it was better in her condition to stay away from too much caffeine. While tea was also a stimulant, it was at least somewhat healthier than coffee, and no matter her feelings on her marriage, Kat wanted what was best for her baby. She leaned back against the couch with a sigh, surveying the stack of empty and already-filled packing boxes in one corner with some disgust. Only two more weeks, and she would have to leave her apartment, her first own home, to move into a bigger place with Jason. While the added space would be a relief to both, deep down she resented the necessity. They had found a nice apartment in a new development near the Youth Center, but it wasn't going to be hers -- not like this one was.

The doorbell rang. With an impatient scowl at having her rest interrupted, Kat got up and buzzed her visitor up. Looking through the spy hole in case it was someone she didn't want to let in, Kat nearly fainted at the sight of who came up the stairs. With suddenly shaking hands, she unlocked the door and threw it wide open.



The two friends looked at each other for a long, emotionally-charged moment, then the shorter woman stepped forward and simply drew Kat into a fierce hug.

"Oh Kat ... I'm so sorry I couldn't come sooner, but we've been out of town since May ..."

Kat tried to answer, but her suddenly constricted throat would not let her speak. Instead, she just burst into tears as she clung to her best friend. Tanya let the door drift shut behind her as she continued to hug the sobbing blonde, and closed her eyes in mingled sympathy and exasperation. She had come back to Angel Grove over Adam's protest -- after reading Kat's letter on their return from one of Adam's location shoots in Mexico, he'd called Rocky to get more details, and the two men firmly sided with their former leader. However, Tanya felt she owed it to her best friend to find out what really happened in person, and therefore had risked a serious quarrel with her husband when she simply gathered her jacket and purse and drove away, leaving Adam fuming behind in their comfortable house in Los Angeles.

After a couple of minutes, Kat managed to control her tears. With an embarrassed smile, she disengaged herself from Tanya's hold and led the young woman into the living room, apologizing awkwardly for the mess of partially-packed boxes.

"It's okay, Kat; I remember what a hassle moving can be."

"Yes. I ... we're moving in two weeks, and need to start packing ..."

"It's amazing what junk one accumulates even in a tiny place, isn't it?" Tanya readily agreed, trying to regain her own composure. Kat's tears had shaken her more than she'd realized, especially since she could sense her desperation underneath. *What's going on here?*

Determined to get to the root of the matter, Tanya exchanged a few more inane remarks with her friend to give Kat a couple more minutes to compose herself, then she turned slightly in her seat and put an arm around Kat's shoulders.


The Australian swallowed hard and looked down at her hands. She knew why Tanya had come, welcomed it in fact, since she needed to talk to someone, but now that the moment was here, she couldn't find the words. Helplessly, she looked into her best friend's eyes, asking Tanya silently for help. Understanding the unspoken plea, the dark-skinned young woman smiled slightly and squeezed Katherine's shoulder gently. Drawing a deep breath, she tried to find the right starting point for the myriad of questions running through her mind ever since she'd read Kat's message. If only they'd had their private messages forwarded along with their business mail!

"Kat, what exactly happened? I read your letter, but I couldn't really believe what you wrote. I'd like to help you if I can, but I need to understand .... what made you turn to Jason? Was it something Tommy said or did, or maybe didn't do?" 

"Nothing like that," the blonde sighed, wiping ineffectually at her still-damp cheeks. "It ... it wasn't like that. I wish I could explain it ..."

"Won't you at least try?" the former Yellow Ranger asked with an encouraging smile. When no answer was forthcoming, she prompted her friend with a soft question.

"Why were you going out with Jason that night, anyway? Didn't you tell me when you bought the tickets that Tommy had agreed to accompany you?"

"H-he called me just as I was getting ready," Kat murmured, feeling herself transported back to that evening in early June. Caught up in the memory, she haltingly related the events that had led to her pregnancy and marriage with another man. Tanya heard her out, listening for more than the obvious, and felt vaguely disturbed by an undercurrent in Kat's voice whenever she spoke of Tommy and her lingering feelings for him, and by the way Kat talked about Jason -- her husband of six weeks and the father of her baby.

"So Tommy was neglecting you for his racing?" Tanya asked, as Kat wound down her tale. She'd sometimes thought that Kat was a fool to let her boyfriend get away with so many last-minute cancellations, but Tommy's excuses had always seemed to be for genuine reasons, and what did she know about the racing circuit or mechanics, anyway?

"N-no; he was just really busy, and of course I wouldn't want him to neglect his safety," Kat replied, giving the argument she'd repeated to herself almost like a mantra ever since that night.

*Well, Tommy's said that often enough in the past,* Tanya thought, somewhat uncharitably. *If he hadn't bowed out at the last minute, this wouldn't have happened!* While she couldn't help but feel sorry for her former leader -- she knew Tommy well enough to know how hurt he must be by Kat and Jason's actions; his reaction to Kim's letter had been bad enough all those years ago, and he and Kat had been together longer, and been more intimately involved. Still, Tanya'd heard from Kat often enough about last-minute changes in plans that prevented Tommy from coming home, and knew that she herself would have given Adam what-for if he had stood her up like that at times. Of course Tanya hadn't wanted to interfere in her friends' relationship, but ...

With an effort, Tanya got back to the present situation. Kat was hardly in the mood to listen to any arguments like that, not if the way she was still defending Tommy's almost obsessive involvement in his racing career to the exclusion of anything else was any indication.

"...and he can't really help it if the sponsors make him stay behind, or his mechanics need him, can he?" the blonde concluded, her tone a mixture of defiance and helplessness. Tanya chose to disregard that line of thought for the moment; she sensed it was not the right time to point out to her friends that her wants and needs were just as important in a functioning relationship.

"Did Jason make a pass at you, then?"

Tanya thought that rather unlikely, having formed an instant rapport of respect and trust with the former team leader when he'd rejoined the Rangers. Jason wasn't really the type to intrude on someone else's relationsip, which made the whole affair even more puzzling. But stranger things had happened where men and women were involved, and given their already strong feelings of friendship the two culprits had developed over time, it was not totally implausible.

"No," Kat answered unhesitatingly. "He was nice, and charming, and funny, as always; it was just ... when we were dancing here, it felt so good just to be held, the music was so nice and soft, and Jason's a good dancer, and ... and then we kissed, and ..." the tears came again. Reliving that moment was not easy for Kat, because it always caused her to feel a very confusing mixture of shame and guilt ... and a little bit of remembered pleasure, which for some inexplicable reason was the hardest to bear.

"I never wanted it to happen, but when we kissed, it was as if my brain shut down completely, and all I could do was feel."

After a moment's pause, during which Tanya digested everything Kat had told her, she asked very gently, "what did you feel?"

Kat didn't answer right away. Slowly the color flooded her pale face as she struggled with her emotions. She didn't want to admit this, but she also couldn't lie to her best friend. Tears trickled unhindered down her cheeks as she struggled to get the words out.

"I ... I felt ... good. Like I was ... important. As if in that moment, nobody else existed but the two of us." Kat sobbed once and hid her face in her hands. Then, she lifted haunted blue eyes to the former Yellow Ranger. "But Tanya, I shouldn't have. I don't love Jason, I love Tommy -- I always have. You know that!" The desperation in the softly-accented voice was unmistakable.

Tanya sat back slightly, frowned and shook her head helplessly. What a mess!

"Yes, Kat, I know."

The two women talked on into the gathering darkness; Kat pouring out her heart to her best friend. It felt so good to have someone to listen to her pain and confusion, and who assured her that her feelings regarding the loss of privacy, for example, were perfectly natural. Kat also told Tanya about her problems in adjusting to married life in general, and found a sympathetic ear.

"Been there, done that," Tanya grinned. "You'd think Adam is the sweetest guy in the world, but boy, can he get irritable if he doesn't get his fresh juice for breakfast, or his toast is cold!" She related a few other incidents from her own early days of being married, smiling at the memories.

Kat tried to smile back, but instead had to fight yet another burst of tears. How she'd missed this easy exchange of confidences! Tanya shook her head. She'd never seen Kat turn on the waterworks that much!

"I'm sorry," the Australian choked. "I don't know what's wrong with me. Part of it is hormones, or so my doctor tells me, but I thought I'd gotten over it lately."

"Don't worry, Kat. One of my colleagues at the studio was the same when she was pregnant last year." Tanya frowned slightly; while this was true, Kat's emotional equilibrium seemed far more disturbed than Rebecca's had been.

Before she could say anything more, the two women heard a key turn in the lock, and an instant later, Jason's broad shoulders filled the doorway. His expression lit up with pleasure as he recognized Tanya, but clouded almost immediately as he took in Kat's tear-streaked face. With a few long strides, he was beside his wife and draped a comforting arm around the slim shoulders, drawing her close. Lifting flashing dark eyes to their former teammate, he tried hard to keep his sudden anger out of his voice.

"What did you say to Kat? If you've come only to accuse Kat of making a mistake, you could have saved yourself the trip. She needs a friend, not more blame." Jason turned back to Kat and gently ran his fingers down a pale cheek, tucking a strand of silvery-blonde hair behind Kat's ear. His voice was soft and soothing as he addressed his wife.

"It's okay, kitten; don't cry. You know I can't stand to see you so upset."

"I-it's allright, Jason; Tanya didn't say anything to upset me," Kat hiccuped, embarrassed at having been caught crying. She'd truly thought she'd gotten over her weepiness, and knew how much it disturbed Jason. She once more essayed a watery smile.

"Then why ...?" Those dark eyes were still wary, but their expression softened somewhat. While Kat tried to explain what had caused her tears and Jason listened attentively, completely focussed on his wife, Tanya observed the little scene with a great deal of interest. She was well aware that Jason had a strong protective streak towards all of his friends, most notably for Tommy, but what she was seeing here, and the way Kat unconsciously reacted to his very evident caring, made Tanya think that the protestations of "we're not in love with each other" Kat had made earlier were maybe not quite as heartfelt as the two thought they were. However, her train of thought was derailed as Jason turned towards her, his handsome face slightly flushed. He smiled somewhat sheepishly.

"I'm sorry, Tanya. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions like that. It's just, when I saw Kat cry, and you looked kinda ... disapproving, I just thought ..." his voice trailed off, and Tanya had to smile. She'd been taken aback by his subdued vehemence, but seeing the care Jason obviously lavished on her best friend made her forget her consternation pretty fast.

"It's okay, Jason. Adam would've reacted just like you, if he'd come upon me and Kat and I'd been the one crying."

"Yeah, well ... still, I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. I'm sorry," he repeated sincerely. It was one of the traits Tanya had always liked in her former teammate -- his willingness to admit mistakes and make amends as soon as possible. What a pity that the biggest mistake he'd ever made together with Kat couldn't be put to rights with a simple apology!


The three sat awkwardly for a while, no-one knowing exactly what to say, when Kat diffused the tension by asking a perfectly normal question of her husband.

"What are you doing home so early? Don't you have a class 'til nine?" It was now shortly after seven.

Grateful for the everyday subject, Jason smiled at his lovely wife.

"Not tonight; it's the Young Mothers ladies' self-defense group, and there's a presentation at the Elementary School where a lot of my students have their kids enrolled. Since most of the class would be absent, we decided to reschedule. But I already told you about that last week."

Jason's tone was perfectly friendly, not a hint of reproach in his voice, but Kat flushed deeply nonetheless. Tanya watched, astonished, as she stammered an apology that was far more abject than the small lapse of memory warranted. Jason readily forgave Kat -- not that Tanya had expected anything else -- and to make up for his earlier suspicion, he invited Tanya to have dinner with them. After a moment's hesitation, she agreed, curious to watch the dynamics between her two friends a while longer. Companionably, the three together prepared and shared a simple meal of stew, salad and rolls, and afterwards wandered back to sit in the cosy living room for a while, talking. However, their good mood slowly evaporated until the silences became long and uncomfortable. Kat excused herself for a moment to visit the bathroom, and Tanya looked at her host consideringly. Before she could say anything, though, Jason beat her to the punch.

"All right, Tanya, why are you here? The real reason, please."

While his tone wasn't exactly hostile, it still wasn't quite as friendly as earlier in the evening. Tanya understood his position, though; she met his probing eyes unflinchingly.

"I came because I wanted to hear from Kat -- from both of you -- what really happened. Kat's told me her version, that you both just ... just sort of slid into this. To be perfectly honest, Jason, I find that somewhat hard to believe. You're both normally very controlled, not as impulsive as, say, Rocky ... or me." She smiled a bit to take some of the sting out of her words. "I can't help but wonder what in Heaven's name made you lose control like that. It's so very much unlike you to go behind someone's back like that -- especially someone you both care about."

Jason ran both hands through his hair and shook his head. Snorting lightly, he looked back at Tanya.

"Do you think I don't know that? I've asked myself a million times what made me -- us -- do that, and I still haven't found an answer. Sure, Kat is beautiful, and a really wonderful person, but I've known that for years -- ever since I met her. But she's Tommy's girl ... or was, anyway," he added somewhat bitterly.

The feeling was more self-directed than anything else, Tanya could see that quite clearly. Still, she wasn't wholly convinced that it had all been as innocent as her two friends believed ... or maybe wanted to believe. There was quite obviously a whole lot of feeling between Jason and Kat, not all of it positive right now because of stress and strain, but definitely strong. One only had to be in the same room with them to sense their affection for each other, and if one knew them at all, it was almost palpable. The first time Tanya had noticed it was when both had been so frantic over Tommy's disppearance after Gasket had kidnapped him. The unity of purpose they'd displayed in their search for Tommy had surprised them all ... furthermore, Kat and Jason quickly had become each other's confidantes where Tommy was concerned, which maybe had only been natural, as girlfriend and best friend. However, Tanya began to suspect that neither one of her friends was aware of what was happening between them. It made her choose her next words with more care than she would have used otherwise.

"Well, whatever happened, happened, and you now have to deal with the consequences. I can't say that I understand, not completely, but that's beside the point, isn't it?" She shared a rueful grimace with Jason as Kat joined them again, sitting down next to her husband. Tanya noticed with secret amusement how his hand automatically reached for Kat's.

"For what it's worth, I think you made the right choice in regards to your baby -- both of you. Getting married and keeping it, I mean," she elaborated. "When's the due date?"

"First week of March," Kat whispered, having to fight her tears again. That small measure of approval meant more to her than she would've thought possible, especially coming from her best friend.

"I'll try if I can be here," Tanya said after a moment's hesitation. "I can't promise you anything, but if it's at all possible, I'll be there for you, Kat."

"Thank you, Tanya," the blonde choked, nearly overcome with emotion. "M-maybe we could meet before; I'm in LA next month to choose the costumes for our Christmas recital ..." her hopeful voice trailed off as she saw the uneasy expression cross Tanya's features. Although she tried to hide it, her discomfort was painfully obvious. "T-tanya?"

The dark-haired woman looked away, blushing with embarrassment. How could she explain her reluctance to her friends without coming across as a total fraud? But it had been hard enough to come to Angel Grove at all ... she sneaked a peek at the couple sitting opposite her from under her lashes, just in time to see realization dawn in Jason's eyes. His low voice was deceptively calm as he asked the question she dreaded.

"Tanya ... does Adam know you're here?"

Kat sucked in a sharp breath. She'd been so overjoyed that her best friend had come to see her after all this time that she'd never stopped to consider that possibility. Adam and Tommy had become pretty close after Billy's departure to Aquitar, far beyond than just being team leader and second-in-command. She looked from Tanya to Jason and back. The guilt in Tanya's expression let a cold ball of fear form in the pit of her stomach.

"Yes, he does," Tanya finally replied in a subdued voice, but she couldn't quite meet Kat and Jason's eyes. Inhaling deeply, she steeled herself to say what she must.

"Adam knows, but he wasn't exactly thrilled by my decision to come here. In fact, we almost quarrelled about it. I'm sorry, guys, but ... but he's siding with Rocky on this."

Jason stood abruptly and went over to the window. He crossed his arms and stood with his back towards the two women as he tried to subdue his anger and remorse. Still looking out into the darkness, his voice was toneless but even deeper than usual as he inquired further.

"And yet you chose to come. Why?"

"Because Kat is my best friend. Because even though I can't understand why you did what you did, I still happen to think that you don't deserve to be ostracized. Because whatever else may have occurred, you still are the decent people I've known and liked for years, and that's something I can't just forget or throw out the window. And lastly, while I love Adam with all my heart and certainly don't want to hurt or anger him, he doesn't have the right to tell me who to see or what to think. I'd do anything for him, but he doesn't own me -- and I won't be dictated to about my choice of friends, not even by my husband."

Jason turned at the quiet statement and looked deeply into Tanya's eyes. Seeing her sincerity, he found a small smile of thanks and appreciation, but it was fleeting. Instead, he stepped back to Kat, who sat stunned and motionless on the couch, her sapphire eyes dull and brimming with tears. Placing a large, reassuring hand on his wife's shoulder, he nodded once in resigned acceptance.

"I see."

Tanya reached out and took one of Kat's cold hands in hers. Warming the appendage by rubbing the back in small circles, she tried to explain her awkward position to her friend.

"Kat ... it's not that I don't want to see you, or be there for you, it's ... I just can't. I'm pretty sure Adam won't mind too much -- or at least, he won't say anything, not after the way I've made my position clear to him -- if I call you every now and then, but I don't think it would be such a good idea for me if I came to see you, or if we met in LA. I'm terribly sorry, but he is my husband, and ..." her voice trailed off as Kat summoned a smile from somewhere. Freeing her hands and tucking them under her arms in a protective gesture, the dancer bowed to the inevitable.

"I understand. I certainly don't want to cause problems between you and Adam. Thank you for coming at all."

She was being brave, and all three knew it. Tanya swallowed her own helpless tears as she saw the renewed misery in Kat's eyes. She wished with all her might that there was something, anything else she could do for her, but if it came down to a choice between her husband and her best friend, she knew what her decision would be. Better to offer Kat what little help and comfort she could than break off contact with her altogether. Shrugging her apology, she sat back, but the silence that descended on the softly-lit room was beyond awkward.

"I'm sorry," Tanya repeated after a while, at a loss for what else to say.

"Yeah," was all the answer she got, though. "So are we." Jason had wandered back to the window, obviously engaged in his own battle for control. Finally, he exhaled wearily.

"Thank you for coming," he echoed Kat's words.

"I had to. We all were too close once ... and maybe in time ..."

"Yeah. Maybe."

It sounded hopeless, and privately Tanya had her own doubts about an eventual reconciliation, given Adam's rather stringent views on the situation, shared by Rocky, but she refused to give up. Maybe something would happen that would restore the unity in their once close-knit group. She had no idea what that 'something' could be, but it seemed ludicrous that simple Human failing would succeed where far more sinister threats in their past had not. The Rangers had always persevered as a group, eventually forgiven each other for a lot worse transgressions, and the erstwhile Yellow Ranger refused to believe that that had really changed. Just now emotions were still running high, and only time could bring healing to all of them.

Tanya sighed as she slowly reached for her purse and stood up. There wasn't anything she could do or say right now to change matters, and if she wanted to make it home again tonight, she had better be going. With a look of regret, she cleared her throat.

"Guys ... I'm sorry, but ..."

"...but you have to go. I understand," Kat said once again, smiling wanly. Her expression tore at Tanya's heart, but she really didn't want to antagonize Adam any further. She hugged Kat warmly, then looked on as Jason draped a comforting arm around his wife's waist. Whatever else might turn up in their path, suddenly Tanya was absolutely sure that he would do anything in his power to protect Kat. It made her parting smile much more confident than she'd originally intended.

"I'll be in touch, as soon and as often as I can. I promise," she said sincerely.

"Thanks, Tanya. For everything," Jason replied, smiling back. It wasn't much of a smile, but the warmth and genuine appreciation stayed with Tanya as she took her leave and went on the long drive back home.


Adam was still up when Tanya let herself in the house, but didn't look up from the script he was ostensibly reading, making notes on stunts here and there. She kept quiet while she got ready for the night, wanting to sort out her thoughts and feelings before she talked to him. Finally, showered and dressed in warm pj's and a robe, she poured herself a glass of wine and curled up in an armchair next to the couch Adam was sitting on, his paperwork spread like a bulwark around him. Tanya regarded her husband silently while she slowly sipped at her drink, waiting for him to speak. She knew that despite his harsh words about Kat and Jason earlier, he would want to know what she had managed to find out; his sense of justice and fair play would demand he hear both sides, even if only second-hand from her.

Tanya lost herself in reflections on what she'd heard and seen this afternoon and evening, and so started a bit when Adam finally broke the silence.

"Well? How is the happy couple?"

The sarcasm wasn't really like him, and Tanya frowned to show her displeasure, but answered calmly.

"For one thing, not all that happy as Rocky and you seem to believe. They're both very much aware that they've hurt a number of people, not just Tommy, and both Jason and Kat would do anything to undo what they've done, if it were possible."

Adam sat back with an impatient sigh and threw his pen onto the table. It clattered as it rolled across the polished wood. Pushing back his long hair with both hands, he looked at Tanya.

"Why did they do it, then? That baloney Kat wrote, about it just happening ... I'm sorry, but I don't believe that. Tommy was her lover, dammit, and Jason's best friend! They should've thought about him before they started fooling around behind his back!"

"I don't think it was like that at all, sweetie," Tanya murmured. She'd listened very carefully for nuances in Kat's words, and was convinced her friend had been telling the truth, both in her letter and this afternoon during their heart-to-heart. "I think the two created a romantic situation without meaning to, and then got carried away. Well, it happens," she said, giving her scowling husband a meaningful look. Adam had the decency to blush; he knew exactly what Tanya was referring to.

Both had wanted and agreed to wait for marriage to become intimate, but there had been that one night on the beach ... they'd been at a party, there had been good food, nice company, warmth, a bonfire ... later, they had taken a walk alone under the twinkling stars, and when they'd found themselves in a secluded spot and started kissing, their good intentions had been washed away in the gentle surf lapping at their feet. The next morning, they'd been somewhat chagrined at themselves, but since no real harm was done, Adam and Tanya had been able to put the incident behind them with only sweet memories of their lovemaking to tide them over the last couple of months until their wedding.

Unfortunately, their friends hadn't been so lucky.

Adam sighed once more and pushed his papers out of the way, making room for Tanya next to him. She accepted the unspoken invitation and moved gracefully over to the couch. to snuggle down in her husband's arm.

"I can understand your loyalty to Tommy and Rocky, sweetie, but will you at least listen to what I found out today?"

Adam nodded; he leaned back and stared wordlessly at the ceiling as Tanya related the things she'd learned and observed in the tiny apartment back in Angel Grove. When she was through, Adam looked at her with a strange expression.

"You say Kat was miffed that Tommy stood her up at short notice; well, I guess I can understand that. But that's no reason to fall into bed with Jason that same night!"

"It wasn't the first time Tommy cancelled on her," Tanya reminded him. "Maybe this last time was just the straw that broke the camel's back."

"Are you saying it was his fault?" Adam asked, incredulously.

"No, and neither do Kat or Jason. They accept full responsibility for their actions."

"Well, they should!"

"Of course; but from what Kat told me, and from what I've seen over the last couple of years, Tommy's not entirely blameless. I can't be completely sure, but I think sometimes he called Jason in not for any real emergency, but just because he didn't feel like going with Kat. It was mostly anything to do with ballet that he cancelled out on, if I remember correctly."

"Not all guys are into that," Adam protested weakly. He didn't like to admit it, but Tanya had a point.

"Agreed. However, you come to my club performances even though I know you don't like the atmosphere." Tanya worked at the studio offices where Adam was an up-and-coming stunt coordinator, and was trying to make a name for herself as a singer on the weekends. She was slowly getting ahead, having already garnered a few favorable comments from club patrons in the audience, and hopes for a singing contract; in the meantime, the gigs provided a nice addition to their combined salaries.

"I don't like you coming back from there alone at night. Besides, I'm watching you on stage, not someone else." Adam suddenly felt ridiculously defensive. This was totally different from what Tommy had done, wasn't it?

"And the fact that you love me has nothing to do with it?" Tanya teased softly, resting her head against Adam's shoulder. He couldn't resist her smile and kissed her gently.

"It has everything to do with it."

The young couple shared a few moments of tender silence as they hugged and cuddled. Then, Adam stubbornly resumed their conversation.

"Okay, so maybe Tommy occasionally chickened out on Kat. Is that really such a crime?"

"No ... but I can see where someone like Jason, nice, handsome, attentive, already a good -- very good -- friend, could turn Kat's head in a situation like that."

"That still doesn't explain Jason's behavior. He made out with his best friend's girl!"

Tanya drained the last of the wine from her glass. She was tired, both physically and emotionally, but she felt she needed to at least try and explain what she'd observed.

"Adam ... I can't be sure, but ... I think Jason's feelings for Kat run a lot deeper than even he thinks they do. He agreed completely with Kat when she told me they didn't love each other romantically, but from what I've seen ... the way he always tries to shield her, the way he touches her ... it's partially just the way he is, and I'm sure a lot is unconscious, but if he wasn't in love with Kat this spring, he's well on his way to fall in love with her now. And I don't think it's just because of the baby."

"At least they did that right," Adam muttered. He still wasn't ready to forgive his friends for hurting Tommy, but he at least approved of their decision to raise the child they'd created together as a couple.

"Yes. And if I'm right, there's going to be a lot of pain in their future ... because Kat is still clinging to Tommy in her heart. I think she doesn't want to see that it's over, and that Jason is beginning to care for her."

The young man pondered that for a while. He was very much tempted to say it served Kat and Jason right, but his sense of fairness wouldn't let him. That kind of emotional suffering would benefit no-one, and ultimately make everybody unhappy. Still, Adam wasn't quite ready to forget and forgive. He felt he owed Tommy too much in terms of loyalty and friendship to keep up a relationship with the Scotts, even if they maybe weren't quite the traitors he'd thought them to be; Tanya's judgement of people usually was pretty accurate.

"Well, it's no concern of ours. They blundered, and now have to live with it," he dismissed the topic.

Tanya wanted to object, but wisely decided not to push the issue for now. Instead, she looked pleadingly into Adam's dark eyes.

"Yes, they do. But sweetie ... would you mind very much if I called Kat now and then, to see how she's doing? She is my best friend, after all, and I would kind of like to see her when her baby comes ... it'll be the first for our gang."

"Do you have to?" Adam asked, unwilling to concede even that much. He didn't want to be drawn in by sympathy, not until he'd made up his own mind and talked to Tommy and some of the others in person.

Tanya gazed at him seriously.

"I think I do. Adam, I don't want to go behind your back on this, and I promise you I'll keep my contacts to a reasonable minimum, but if you can be this loyal to Tommy and Rocky, I think I have the right to be equally loyal to Kat. I don't approve of what she -- they -- did any more than you do, but I also can't just turn my back on her."

"Okay," Adam agreed after a long pause. Tanya was right; in all fairness he couldn't deny her that much. "Just don't expect me to go along."

"I won't," Tanya promised, giving her husband a grateful kiss. It was a small concession, but maybe it was the first tiny step for all of them to regain what they'd lost.


Kat looked around her empty apartment one last time, fighting her conflicting emotions. The wallpaper she'd chosen with so much care showed dark lines where her pictures had hung; the floor was bare and scuffed where the men -- Jason and both their fathers -- had wrestled with the larger pieces of furniture. Only the bathroom, although denuded of towels and decorative bowls and flagons, and the kitchen cabinets she had so lovingly stencilled with floral borders looked even remotely like the place she'd called home for the last three years. She'd been so proud when she'd found it after her return from London, and she'd spent a lot of effort on making it comfortable and into a real home.

It was here that she'd first cooked a meal for Tommy; here that she had started to build hopes for having a family one day, here where she had pictured herself as a bride, to be joined with the man she loved. Well, she was about to have at least the family soon; her slowly growing belly was a sure indicator, but everything else about the picture was ....wrong. Because there had been no elaborate, frothy wedding gown and ceremony, no honeymoon, no friends to share her joy ... because it was the wrong man who had married her and been sharing her apartment for the last seven weeks.

Kat swallowed hard, both to moisten her throat and to dampen her sudden resentment. It had also been here, in her comfortable apartment, that she had done her part in shattering that dream -- by making love to Jason. *Why???* she railed at herself for the umpteenth time. *Why did I do it? Why was it so easy to fall into his arms? Why didn't I stop after that first kiss, sweet as it had been????*

The young woman was no closer to an answer today than she had been the morning after, and resignedly she closed her eyes briefly against her surrondings. Her little haven looked so forlorn, not at all like the place of her daydreams and fantasies. Memories of lonely evenings spent without Tommy, waiting for the phone to ring, raised their heads cautiously, but Kat refused to look at them. If she allowed herself to admit that not everything about her relationship with the former Red Zeo Ranger had been perfect, she was positive her misery would be total. Much better to cling to the many good memories ... their first date, first kiss, first night together. Kat smiled sadly as she opened her eyes again. It was over; she'd had her chance at a fairy tale, and had blown it. The reality was the broad-shouldered man now stepping out of the bedroom, a toolbox under his arm.

Jason saw Kat leaning against the windowsill, looking very much like a little girl lost in her baggy jean overalls and with her hair in pigtails. He put the toolbox down and went to her, massaging her neck and shoulders gently. She sighed softly, but stayed aloof, not leaning into his chest as she sometimes did.

"What is it, kitten?" he asked, having a good idea of what was going through his wife's mind right now.

Kat remained silent for a few moments, then murmured rebelliously, "I don't want to move!"

Jason chuckled lightly and drew her resisting figure closer.

"I know. Neither did I, the first time."

Now that was intriguing. Kat turned slightly to look into the warm, understanding dark eyes.

"What are you talking about? That one-room place you were living in was ... well, not exactly a dump, but not too far from it."

"I'm not talking about moving from there to here, but from my folks' place to there." A reminiscent smile curved the firm lips. Kat could see the slightly distant look in Jason's eyes and recognized it as one she'd seen a lot in the mirror these last few days.

"I ... I don't understand," she admitted hesitantly. It was strange; while Jason was a dear friend still and offered her what help and support he could to cope with the aftermath of their transgression, Kat was very reluctant to probe too deeply into his emotions -- as if by discovering that Jason's feelings might be similar to her own, she would lose the hold she had on her memories of Tommy. It was something she didn't -- couldn't -- talk about, not even with Tanya when she'd come to see her two weeks ago.

Jason smiled once more, lost in his own reminiscences.

"I was looking forward to having my own place; I remember I wanted a place of my own, even if it was only something like The Sty." Both grinned fleetingly; while Jason had been neat enough, his one-room apartment had been so decrepit that not even the best housekeeper in the world could've transformed it into a home. Rocky had once labeled it The Sty, after a group of them had surprised Jason during a major laundry-sorting orgy that had encompassed every available surface, and the name had stuck. "It may not have been much, but it was mine; and yet ... when I'd packed all of my things in my old room at home, and looked out the window into the garden, I could've bawled. I'd grown up in that room, it had been my refuge for as long as I could remember, and it was harder than I'd ever dreamed it would be to leave it behind."

He squeezed the slim shoulders gently.

"That's what you're feeling right now, isn't it?"

"Y-yes," Kat admitted hesitantly. "Oh Jason, I don't want to leave here!"

"We have to, Kat," Jason said somberly. "You know we do. Nice as it is, it's really just for one person, and we'll need even more space when the baby comes ..." his voice trailed off at her glare.

"I know that!" she snapped, more sharply than she'd intended. But Kat's anger melted as soon as it had flared up.

"I'm sorry," Kat said wearily. "My head tells me that you're right, but at the moment I'm having a very hard time to convince my heart of that." She finally gave in to the soothing massage and leaned her aching back angainst Jason's strength. While everybody had seen to it that she didn't overexert herself, due to her pregnancy, Kat had insisted on doing what she could without endangering the baby. The young couple was silent for long minutes as they stood in the empty room, only a few feet from the spot where the kiss that had changed their lives so profoundly had happened. Finally, Jason rested his cheek against Kat's sunny hair.

"Kat ... I hope you know that I'd do anything to make this easier for you," he began hesitantly. "But ... in the last few days, when our new place took shape, I couldn't help thinking that maybe it's a good thing we're getting away from here."

The blonde looked at her husband with slightly disbelieving eyes. Only minutes ago, Jason had shown her he understood her feelings, and now he was making some kind of about-face? Before she could voice her irritation, however, Jason continued, in that same soft, tentative tone.

"I said I liked having my own place, and I did, but ... in all of the three years I spent on my own, I never had the feeling of having a ... a home, I guess. I put up my posters and bought plants and everything, but either I didn't do it right, or I just don't have a knack for it. Kat ... what I'm trying to say is, despite the inconveniences and the crampedness, this place -- your place -- was more of a real home for me since our wedding than The Sty ever was. And our new apartment ... even now with most of the furniture still in pieces and our things still unpacked, it's already beginning to look like a home. Our home. And I think that's your doing."

Kat was stunned into shocked silence. True, she had chosen the colors of tiles and carpeting and curtains and so on to blend both their belongings into a harmonious whole, because she couldn't live any other way, but she'd never dreamed that Jason would notice -- or that he would feel like that and even admit it to her. It made her earlier unwillingness seem petty and small-minded, but Jason left her no time to dwell on that as he continued.

"Kat ... I'd like to ask you something. Will you try to give me an honest answer?"

"I ... yes, of course," she said, somewhat hoarsely. Jason seemed uncharacteristically insecure. What could he possibly want of her to make him so hesitant?

"I know that this -- our marriage -- is not what you wanted. I know that you still love Tommy. But ... we're still friends, and I like and respect you very much." Jason paused for breath, and Kat interjected a quiet "I feel the same about you." Without that, she'd never have agreed to marry him at all, baby or no baby; and if she was honest, it was also a reason (one of the few she could identify) why she had made love with Jason in the first place that fateful night.

Jason smiled at the soft admission.

"That's good. Thank you for telling me. What I'm getting at is this, though ... I'd like for us to make a fresh start in our new place. Well, as fresh as possible, anyway; we can't erase the past. No more regrets or blame; just the two of us building a home -- together. As best we can. Kitten ... do you think that we can do that? For us, and for our baby?"

Katherine had to fight her tears. A part of her wanted to agree wholeheartedly, but there was still that persistent voice in her mind, whispering insidiously that if she agreed to Jason's plan, she would give up Tommy once and for all -- and she just couldn't do that. She loved the charismatic young man, had loved him since she'd first met him, and while it was true that it was her own fault that they were now separated, the hope that one day he would forgive her would not die. She sighed and turned her head away, but in doing so she caught the hopeful look in her husband's eyes. Jason wouldn't pressure her, she knew that, and something within Kat melted when he murmured softly once more, "Please, Kat?"

"I'll try," she choked out, thereby silencing the inner voice that abruptly shut up, to disappear in sulky silence into the depths of her mind. Kat knew it wasn't gone, but it didn't matter as she took in Jason's delighted and grateful smile.

"Thank you, Kat. You won't regret this; I promise."

The dark eyes shone brightly into hers as he repeated his pledge from the day he'd proposed to her, and Kat couldn't help but return Jason's smile with one of her own. Suddenly, the air between them seemed to be charged with ... something, and before Kat could identify it as the same sensation she'd felt that first time, his lips brushed softly against hers, as if asking permission. It was surprisingly pleasant, and after a moment's hesitation, Kat granted it, yielding her mouth to Jason's kiss. It had been far too long since he'd truly kissed her, she realized as her senses began to swim slightly; not since their wedding day had Jason touched her with anything but the greatest delicacy and respect. They might share a bed, but while he would kiss her cheek or hand, or hug her or rub her back, Jason hadn't touched her intimately at all, even though they were husband and wife. From somewhere came the realization that from today, this would change, but it felt right, and Kat didn't fight it anymore. She gave herself up to the kiss, slowly responding to the gentle claiming, and relaxed into Jason's embrace.

When they separated at last, Jason held his wife tenderly or a few moments longer, enjoying the full-body contact. Just as he was about to release her -- their folks were probably wondering where they'd gotten lost, and they still had a lot of work to do at the new apartment -- he suddenly felt something that seemed like a gentle kick against his abdomen. Simultaneously, Kat hissed sharply and stiffened in his arms. He raised his head from the blonde locks and looked concernedly into the blue eyes. Or at least he tried to; Kat suddenly seemed totally focussed on something outside his perception. It was as if she was listening to a voice only she could hear, or waiting for .... something shifted left to right against his belly. Jason's eyes widened in realization.

"Kat?" he asked breathlessly. *Could it possibly be...?*

She drew in a shuddering breath, and the sapphire eyes suddenly were brimming with tears.

"It's the baby, Jason," she whispered as the first salty drops began to course down her cheeks. "Oh God, it's the baby! It moved!"

Another whisper-soft punch hit his middle, and Jason began to laugh in stunned delight. He hugged Kat close, trying to squeeze her as hard as he could and at the same time being as careful with her as if he were handling the most delicate crystal. His own eyes were getting moist, but he didn't care; for the first time, their baby became real to them, no longer just some abstract entity that made Kat sick in the morning. The two looked at each other with shining eyes, all other considerations forgotten in the wonder of the moment. Their lips found each other again, and they kissed gently, tenderly, until they were out of breath.

"We have to tell our parents," Kat finally bubbled; she had been utterly miserable so long that she felt almost giddy with the sudden rush of unmitigated joy. She knew deep down that there would be other moments when the guilt and regrets would come back, but that didn't matter right now. Her baby was alive, it had moved within her, it was real!

"They're waiting for us at our new place," Jason reminded her with his most charming grin; something she hadn't seen for quite a while. He gave her another hug, then released her and bent to pick up his toolbox.

"Then what are we doing still here?" Kat asked, grinning back through her tears.

"I dunno; come on, Mommy -- let's go home!"

"Yes. Home." \par \par

Hand in hand, the two parents-to-be left the empty apartment, neither one looking back.

To be continued ...