Casting Stones 5
Kat grunted as she tried to close the button of her favorite pair of jeans. It still was no use - she could hardly get it through the hole, and the way her stomach bulged over the waist was anything but attractive. Muttering darkly under her breath, the young woman stepped out of the too-tight pants, hung them away and reached for a loose calf-length skirt with an elastic waistline. Just before she drew the garment over her head, Kat caught sight of herself in her dresser mirror. Sighing, she let the skirt drop onto the bed and studied her reflection.
Long legs, rounded hips, slightly fuller waist and bosom ... all in all, Kat supposed her figure wasn't too bad as things went, but the dancer was painfully aware of every ounce of weight she still carried from her pregnancy and couldn't seem to lose, no matter how hard she tried. Nine-and-a-half pounds didn't sound like much, but they were enough to prevent her from fitting into most of her pre-pregnancy wardrobe. She scowled angrily, noticing the faint stretch marks on her pale skin. Again, it wasn't too bad, but it was yet another irritant in her life right now. Kat yanked her top down over her smooth belly, wishing it was as firm as it used to be.
*How the heck am I going to look in my leotards three weeks from now?* she asked herself. *It's bad enough that I'm so tall; do I have to be 'big' as well?* Miserably, she remembered the time right after graduation, when she'd prepared for her entrance exam for the Royal Dance Academy. In comparison to some of the other students, she'd felt positively huge. Realistically, she knew that her current weight was actually a little over two pounds less than at that time, but the thought didn't help her now. The usually firm flesh of her abdomen and thighs was now soft; the muscles had had no time yet to regain their former suppleness, but in her current state of mind, Kat was too upset to think rationally.
*I'm fat, and flabby, and ugly - I have no time to do something for myself. No wonder Jason won't look at me anymore, much less touch me!* It never even occured to the young mother that her husband's seeming neglect had nothing whatsoever to do with her slight weight gain.
As Katherine dressed in her cotton-print skirt and tucked a pale pink t-shirt into the waist, she mentally enumerated all the things that had gone wrong since her baby's birth. A fleeting smile curved her lips as she thought of the little boy asleep in his nursery across the hall; if nothing else, she loved her son with all her heart, more than she'd ever thought possible - even though the little rascal was the direct cause of her weight gain. The smile vanished.
Wandering into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee, Kat's thoughts once more returned to her problems while she sipped the hot liquid. The first three months or so after Robin's birth had been near-perfect - but with the onset of summer, that had changed. Suddenly, the cheerful, happy baby had begun to suffer from constant colics, crying with pain for hours. The pediatrician had reassured a frantic Jason and Kat that, while serious, the condition wasn't dangerous; it was a fairly common affliction that mostly hit baby boys. The colics could be controlled and soothed with a special diet, careful massages and hot-water bottles against the little tummy, but that didn't make the pitiful wails any easier to bear for the young parents. Kat had lost count of the nights she'd spent wandering their apartment, cradling her son as he squirmed in her arms, sobbing and in distress. Now, after almost three months, the colics had finally ceased, but Kat had paid the price by being in a near-constant state of exhaustion. She was only slowly regaining her own vigor.
*I wish I had the energy to exercise as I know I should,* Kat thought morosely. *But I'm so glad I can do things while Robin's asleep and then get almost a good night's sleep myself, I just can't bring myself to do more than I absolutely have to.* She still had to get up once a night to feed their small son, but it looked as if that time was going to be over soon. Robin had already slept through a few midnight meals.
The former Pink Ranger's thoughts turned towards their next problem - finances. She'd planned on taking a four-month break while she was nursing, but with baby Robin so sick, going back to work had been out of the question for Kat. She earned a little additional money by substituting now and then, but it was a far cry from her steady income of before. Jason's dojo was doing well, but as was normal over summer, attendance had dropped off, and the students were only slowly flocking back now that school had started again two weeks ago. It would have been okay for her to go on a longer temporary hiatus from work under normal circumstances, but what with the medical bills from her delivery and the baby's illness, money was rather tight in the Scott household for the time being. Kat looked wistfully at the JC Penny catalogue tucked into a corner. The front page showed a lovely dark blue winter parka the exact shade of her eyes, but the way things were right now, she'd have to make do with her three-year-old coat for another season. Not that it was that much of a hardship, but ... she sure loved pretty clothes! But shopping sprees like she'd indulged in with Aisha during their school days were definitely out of the question at present.
Sighing, Kat finished her coffee and made her way to the living room. Placing a basket full of laundry next to her on the couch, she clicked on the TV and sorted through the channels until she found one that didn't show cartoons. While she wasn't in the mood for music, she wanted to distract herself from the mindless task of folding underwear and sorting socks. As she started to separate the laundry into different piles, the young mother sat through the news, then watched with half an eye as one of the ubiquitous morning talk shows was announced. The theme was going to be "Rising Stars", and Kat was just about to switch channels, when something caught her attention.
*"...and among today's guests, Edie Jenkins will interview entrepreneur Mareta Locke and stock car driver Tom Oliver."*
Tommy? Tommy was going to be on TV? Kat sat up straighter, her laundry all but forgotten. The sports section of the Angel Grove Gazette faithfully reported on Tommy's career - after all, he still was considered a "local boy" - but this was the first time (to her knowledge) that he'd made one of the nationally-syndicated shows. A sense of pride in her ex-lover filled Kat that was all out of proportion. *I knew he could make it!*
Impatiently, the blonde sat through the first half-hour of the program. Then, finally, a last commercial break came on before Tommy's segment. Kat put Jason's socks aside, then jumped up impulsively and popped a tape into the VCR. She had the recording running just in time as the dark-skinned reporter announced her next guest; under a round of hearty applause Tommy entered the soundstage and sank onto the comfortable couch to be interviewed. Kat forgot everything about her as she drank in his open, relaxed features. This was the Tommy she remembered in her secret fantasies, not the pale, angry man who had all but thrown her out of his parents' house.
A small portion of Katherine's mind protested against her absorption as she hung on every word he said, laughed at every small joke he made. *What are you doing? Tommy's not your concern anymore! You're married to Jason, you have a baby! You have no business pining for him - not after all this time!* Impatiently, Kat shushed the voice inside her head clamoring for her attention. Instead, she focused all the more on the TV screen, taking in the persona Tommy presented on the show - every inch the successful, charming, charismatic athlete. His long mahogany hair gleamed under the klieg lights, wavy and slightly untamed, the way Kat had always liked best. She suppressed a small shiver as she recalled how it had felt to have those soft strands glide over her skin when they'd made love.
"Oh, Tommy," she sighed wistfully as another commercial break came on. "I wish you could forgive me!"
Kat stiffened slightly. What was she thinking! She was a married woman ... the next instant, the part of her mind that had persisted in reminding her of her former boyfriend at odd moments throughout the months since their breakup, that had caused the miserable flare-up last Christmas, slyly insinuated that there was nothing wrong with her wish. *You were friends once; if he forgave you, you could be friends again, couldn't you?* Implied was that out of friendship, something more could grow. She felt a blush rise in her cheeks.
*Jason promised he'd let you go if Tommy should forgive you,* the voice reminded her next. Angrily, Kat shook her head. *SHUT UP!* the rational part of her mind railed, but both voices fell silent as Tommy's smiling face reappeared on the screen. Kat listened hungrily to every exchange, marvelling at how suave her ex-lover appeared. While always self-confident, Tommy sometimes had been capable of showing an endearing shyness when dealing with women. None of that was visible in the skillful way he handled the show's hostess, whose questions became more personal and intrusive as the interview wound down.
*" .... a description of your dream girl, Thomas?"*
What was that? Kat figuratively pricked her ears. What was Tommy's dream girl?
*Don't you mean "who"?* the nagging voice in her head asked, but all of Kat's attention was riveted on the TV.
*"... a long-legged, blue-eyed blonde with a sweet disposition ... graceful and elegant,"* she heard Tommy say. The playful smile around his firm lips and twinkling in his chocolate-brown eyes seemed to be aimed directly at her as he gazed into the camera.
*That's me!* everything in Kat exulted. The overwhelming rush of pleasure she was experiencing almost made her miss the next words.
*"...have a very hard time to admit I was wrong and make amends. But, doesn't everybody?"* Again, the charming smile leapt at her, and Kat was lost.
*He's willing to forgive me! He all but admitted I'm the woman of his dreams, and what else can he mean by his statement? That HAS to be it!* Dazedly, the young woman watched the interview draw to a close and the next commercial come up. Automatically, she clicked off the VCR along with the TV; she'd seen enough, and needed time to think. If her conclusions were right, what was she going to do?
"Two more months," Jason sighed as he dropped his pen onto the desk and rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly. He sat in his small office at the back of his dojo, going over the books. Two more months of increasing enrollment, and he'd be back on his feet again. If only Robin's illness hadn't dipped so into their savings! It wasn't that his little family was lacking anything important; it was just that their comfortable existence was temporarily strained. Both his and Kat's parents helped them in lots of little ways - filling up their pantry or freezer with precooked meals, or quietly borrowing the car and bringing it back serviced and filled up - but that was all the younger Scotts would accept. If nothing else, both he and Kat had their pride.
Unfortunately, their pride couldn't change the fact that Kat's salary was sorely missed. She was supposed to go back to part-time teaching at the first of October, but that meant daycare for the baby on three days of the week. As soon as Kat went back on a full-time schedule in January, Helen Scott and Doris Hillard had volunteered to look after their grandson on the other two. So, for the time being they were going to have even more expenses than before. But that wasn't the worst.
With another sigh, Jason opened a drawer and pulled out a sheaf of papers. They represented everything he'd worked for since he'd opened his school - the chance to get out of being just another small sports establishment in a relatively unpopular part of town and instead becoming the owner/manager of a well-respected Martial Arts club. He thumbed through the documents. It was the option on a lease for a new, larger dojo; the previous owner, Jason's first sensei, was about to retire, and had offered his former student to take over the excellent facilities. He would need only to spruce the place up a little bit, and he'd be set - it would be a big step forward from the somewhat cramped conditions that prevented the Red Thunder Dojo from attracting the best Karate students in town. However, it was not to be - not now. Jason simply couldn't afford the deposit on the lease. Next year, maybe ... the studio had an excellent location, in Merchant Square, right next to a small shopping center with lots of parking space. It was all but ideal - if he had the money. Jason smiled wearily, sadly, sorting the papers into a neat stack. By the time the young sensei would be able to come up with the required sum, somebody else was certain to have snapped up the place. Glancing resignedly around his cramped office, Jason did what he had resolved to do. He reached for the phone.
*"Ninja Warrior Dojo,"* a friendly female voice answered after a few rings.
"I'd like to speak to Mr. DeSantos, please," Jason said, forcing a calm he did not feel into his voice. He waited a few moments, then heard Rocky come on the line. He was breathless. *Probably in the middle of class,* Jason realized, but that couldn't be changed now.
*This is Rocky DeSantos; what can I do for you?"*
"Hello, Rocky; it's me, Jason."
After several heartbeats, the former Blue Ranger's voice came again, much colder than the cheerful greeting had been.
*"What do you want?"*
Closing his eyes briefly, Jason drew a deep breath. Rocky hadn't been kidding when he'd told him he'd break off contact except for business reasons. Well, this was business.
"I'd like to meet you at the Angel Grove Karate School, in Merchant Square."
*"Why?"* The cool indifference and suspicion hurt.
"Because the place will close down soon, and I hold the option of leasing it. Only I can't; not now, anyway. If you're interested, you can have the option."
Jason knew that like him, Rocky was looking for a new studio. It hurt to give up his own dream, but it hurt a little bit less to give it to a friend - even if that friend didn't want to have anything to do with him anymore. He felt his eyes sting a little. While Rocky had never been a really close friend, they'd often met to spar, to exchange techniques and information. Once, they'd even held a small inter-dojo tournament for their students. All of that had stopped with Rocky's condemnation of Jason and Kat on Tommy's behalf. The only contact they still had with each other was when they had Karate Association business to discuss, or when one or the other sent a student over to train. They both taught slightly differing styles, and Rocky's professional integrity wouldn't allow him to hold a student back whom he knew would benefit more from Jason's teaching than his own.
*"Allright. But I can't make it this week; the earliest free period I have is a week from Thursday."*
Jason checked his calendar. Today was Tuesday ... nine days from now, it'd be October already. Not that the delay would change much.
"Fine by me. I have a class at nine; will eleven be okay? In front of the building? It's number 247, right next to the construction site."
"Eleven. I'll be there." The line went dead. Sighing once more, Jason slowly replaced the receiver in its cradle. He wished desperately that he could talk to someone - anyone - about his problems, but there was no-one there. Both he and Kat still kept the true reason why they'd gotten married from their parents, and while Jason often longed to talk to his mother at least, he knew he just ... couldn't. Of their friends, Zack was busy with his internship; the happy-go-lucky young man had surprised everybody by deciding to become a pediatrician, and from all reports, he was doing great. The children at the hospital in San Diego loved Dr. Zack, and he loved them right back. Trini was still at Berkeley, going for her graduate degree and preparing for finals; it'd be highly unfair to dump his problems on her right now. Billy was lost to all of them, maybe forever, since he went to live on another planet, and Tommy ... Jason clamped down on the thought almost savagely. He'd blown that avenue shut himself one spring night a year ago.
He knew he really should talk his problems over with Kat; they affected her and their baby equally, but he loved her too much to worry her with something they just had to ride out. A genuine smile crossed Jason's face as he thought of his wife and son. Robin had claimed a piece of his heart almost from the moment he'd been born, but it was the discovery that Kat had won an equally large part of his affection that was so marvellous, in the truest sense of the word.
Jason picked up the framed 8 by 12 picture of Kat and smoothed a finger down her cheek, as he often did in reality. His dark eyes grew soft as he contemplated the blonde loveliness of the woman in the photograph. He had no idea how it had happened, or when, he just knew that one day this summer he'd looked at Kat and realized that the warm friendship and respect he'd always held for her had deepened into love. He'd been tempted to tell her a dozen times since then, but with Robin's illness, the right time had simply never come. Not when Kat was always so worried or exhausted, or both.
*Soon, though,* the former Gold Ranger promised himself as he placed the frame back onto his desk, next to a baby picture of their son. *As soon as Kat is fully rested, we'll leave Rob with our folks one night, I'll take her out to a nice restaurant ... maybe a movie, or dancing ...and then I'll tell her. Maybe she's even come to love me a little in return, too ...*
Kat was standing in line at the supermarket checkout, juggling her grocery cart and a fussy baby. Exasperated, she blew a strand of hair out of her face. It had taken her longer to make some purchases than she'd thought, and his full diaper was making Robin very cranky. If she didn't get out of here soon, there would be loud complaints from one very unhappy little boy. As she shuffled forwards another couple of yards, her gaze fell on a rack with newspapers and magazines. Idly she scanned a few covers; Kat usually didn't care for tabloids, but as there was nothing else to do while she waited, she read the lurid headlines with an inward chuckle. Suddenly, her breath caught in her throat. Leaning past the woman ahead of her, she snatched up a magazine and looked more closely at one of the pictures. It showed a group of elegantly-dressed people at some gala event or other. Right at the edge of the group, there was a long-haired young man who bore a striking resemblance to Tommy.
With suddenly trembling hands, she flipped through the pages. There - almost the same photo, slightly larger. It was Tommy! The smiling profile was unmistakeable. Before the young woman could read the caption, it was her turn to pay for her purchases. In a flash, the magazine joined the pile.
Driving home in a daze, Kat had to force herself to concentrate on what needed to be done. Perishables into the fridge, a change and a bottle for the baby, and at last she could sink onto a kitchen chair and read the article. Apparently one of Tommy's sponsors had taken a group of 'his' athletes to a charity event in Los Angeles; Kat smiled as she recognized the beneficiary. That particular problem - keeping young kids off the streets and away from drugs - had long been a pet concern of her former boyfriend; small wonder he'd chosen to be there. She looked at the colorful pictures, searching for other snaps of Tommy. There was a close-up on the last page; Kat drank in the sight with hungry eyes when she suddenly frowned. The petite woman whose hand rested on Tommy's arm - could it be...? She tilted the magazine to get better light. The height was certainly right, so was the hair color ... if she could only get a better glimpse of the face! Hastily, Kat read the sidebar text.
*"...among the attendees, former Pan Global silver medalist Kimberly Hart of California ..."*
Kimberly had been there; worse, had been there with Tommy!
Kat felt all the old jealousy and resentment against her predecessor rise within her again. When she'd joined the team all those years ago, there had been a long period during which she'd felt as if she'd never measure up to the first Pink Ranger. It lessened only when she received the Zeo Powers; they were hers, unconnected with Kimberly in any way. Then, when Tommy oh-so-slowly began to respond to her careful overtures after receiving Kim's letter, there had been a different kind of insecurity to overcome for Kat -- that of filling another woman's place in a man's heart. Again, it only ended once she and Tommy had lived through their own separation, reunited and become lovers. That had been the one thing Tommy and Kim hadn't shared, that was uniquely Tommy and Kat's. Right now, though, when she was feeling so out of tune with herself and her life, everything came back with a vengeance for the blonde young woman.
*That ought to have been me at the gala with Tommy, looking glamorous, surrounded by celebrities, wearing a designer gown!*
The rebellious, envious thought suddenly filled Kat's mind, blotting out every measure of peace and contentment she had found over the last year or so. Nothing mattered anymore, not the love for her baby, not the quiet joys she and Jason had learned to share since Christmas ... nothing. The feeling was compounded by the sight of Kim wearing a slinky, short evening gown that hugged every slender curve, showing that there was not an ounce of excess weight anywhere on those limbs. Automatically, Kat's hand went to the slight bulge over her waistband, and she felt the blood rise to her cheeks. How could she ever compare to Kimberly, fat as she was? Sighing disconsolately, the dancer let the magazine flutter to the tabletop. Then, her eyes lit up with a sudden thought. The date - when had that gala taken place?
"Last weekend," Kat breathed, unaccountably relieved. The TV interview in which Tommy had described the woman of his dreams as a blue-eyed blonde -- *described me!* -- had been taped on Saturday - the day after the gala! Surely that meant that there was nothing serious between him and Kimberly?
"They probably just met because the have the same sponsor," Kat mused aloud. "They're still friends; why shouldn't they spend the evening together?" Echoes of how her relationship with Jason had developed sounded at the back of her mind, but Kat refused to listen. This was different -- it had to be!
Nevertheless, she felt compelled to watch the tape she'd made of the interview once again. Every single day of the week she'd gotten it out, listening to every nuance of speech, watching every fleeting expression on the lean, handsome face of her ex-lover.
*"...admit that I was wrong and make amends ..."*
The utterance, accompanied by a smile and a wink that seemed to leap off the screen directly at her, had begun to haunt Katherine. She knew that she was getting edgy, impatient with the baby and Jason, but she didn't seem to be able to help herself. Whereas it had disturbed her only a short time ago that her husband was distracted and didn't seek her out for any intimate contact except fleeting hugs and perfunctory kisses, now she welcomed the distance between them; encouraged it in fact by withdrawing herself. A small part of her protested feebly, telling her she was being unreasonable, that she was deluding herself, but it was drowned out by louder voices that resurrected dreams she'd believed shattered beyond hope, urged her to fantasize about her ex-lover and their reunion. These daydreams began to take over more and more of her time, letting her perform her daily duties mechanically and without enthusiasm. About the only thing anchoring Kat in reality was her baby. The baby's father became less and less important as thoughts of Tommy, of regaining his love, began to fill her mind during her waking hours ... and in her dreams.
Normally more observant of Kat's moods, Jason was too caught up in his business problems to pay much attention to what was going on in his home. Therefore, when he entered the kitchen on Thursday morning to eat a hasty breakfast - he'd played too long with a just-waking Robin and had to hurry if he wanted to make his nine o'clock class - he was completely unprepared for the surprise his wife had in store for him. Pouring himself a cup of coffee and snatching a piece of toast, Jason smiled distractedly at Kat as he kissed her good morning. He missed that she turned her face away so he'd only brush her cheek.
"Listen, kitten, I may not be home for lunch - I'm meeting Rocky at the new dojo at eleven. Business," he explained unnecessarily around hasty bites. He grabbed two pieces of fruit and a bottle of juice and stuffed them into his gym bag - there'd be time for a bite or two later. He hoped. "If this thing about the lease turns out okay, I'll have more time; maybe we can leave Baby at a sitter and go out this weekend? Would you like that?"
Kat drew a deep breath. She'd hardly slept a wink last night, thinking about what she was going to do. Over a week of agonizing, of mulling things over had crystallized a single thought - she needed to find out if Tommy had meant what he'd told that reporter. And to her overworked mind, already strained from her still-lingering physical exhaustion, there was only one way to accomplish that. The insistent voices that had plagued her so often during the early days of her marriage, silent so long, urged her to take this chance to get back with the man she'd always loved. That was Tommy, surely? Jason had promised he'd set her free when he proposed; it was her right to ask he keep that promise, wasn't it? She wanted Tommy, right? Nevertheless, she couldn't meet her husband's eyes as she spoke a single sentence in a hushed, but clear voice.
"I'd like a divorce."
The sudden silence in the sunny kitchen was deafening.
"You ... what?"
"I want out of this marriage. I'm going back to Tommy," Kat added, a bit more loudly. Now that it had been said, her wildly-beating heart settled down into a more steady rhythm. She glanced at Jason out of the corner of her eye. He stood stock-still, his face slowly draining of color. Kat suppressed a rush of guilt, making herself ignore the flash of pain shadowing the dark eyes. Before either could say another word, the grandfather clock in the living room suddenly chimed the quarter hour. Jason shuddered once, then forcibly collected himself. He carefully placed his mug on the counter and trashed his half-eaten slice of toast. He'd lost all appetite.
"I have to go. We'll talk about this later, when I get home," he said tonelessly, picked up his bag and marched out of the door, not looking back.
Kat stood in the kitchen, trying to control her churning emotions. "There's nothing to talk about," she muttered to the empty room, but even to her own ears it sounded ... hollow, somehow.
Jason drove to his dojo in a mental fog, barely able to concentrate on traffic. *Kat wants a divorce? She wants to get back to Tommy?* His thoughts were unable to get past that.
*What brought that on?* he wondered, completely bewildered. *Especially now? I thought things were going great -- well, fine, at least. What went wrong? Why does she want to leave me? What about our baby?* He had no answer as he changed and greeted his students as they drifted in. Focussing with a mighty effort on the task at hand, he started going through the warm-ups; only his almost life-long discipline enabled Jason to get through the ninety minutes of class. As he changed again into jeans and a sweatshirt for his meeting with Rocky, his mind continued to turn the problem over and over again, worrying, wondering, looking for answers, but coming up zero at every turn. Instead of answers, all he found was one single question.
*How can Kat not know that I love her?*
Around ten, Katherine brought baby Robin to a Daycare Center near her workplace. They had started with the regimen only at the beginning of the week -- while she was not yet teaching a full schedule, both she and Jason had decided it would be best to establish a routine before she did so, with the beginning of January. Besides, her mother couldn't take the baby right now; the Hillards had left for a prolongued visit to Australia quite suddenly, when a business trip of Kat's father coincided with the Silver Wedding Anniversary of Doris Hillard's favorite sister.
Refusing to dwell on both sets of parents' likely reaction to her decision, Kat went to the ballet school and taught her beginner's classes until noon; she then drove back home again to spend a long lunch break doing her household chores. While she felt sick at the thought of eating anything, knowing Jason would want an explanation once he came home from work, the native Australian still automatically started a casserole for dinner, taking refuge in the routine of the everyday task. Her mind was curiously empty, although her gut was roiling. The former Pink Ranger forced herself to remain calm, not allowing herself to feel and remember her husband's obvious shock at her announcement during breakfast. If she did, there was a chance she might relent -- and she didn't want that. The voice in her mind that had kept her innermost feelings focussed on Tommy wouldn't allow otherwise. Bolstered by yet another viewing of the interview tape, it drowned out a tiny whisper that asked, *how can you do that to Jason? After everything he's done for you, all that he's been to you - how can you just ... leave ... him?*
"Because I don't love Jason. I love Tommy," Kat said aloud into the quiet surrounding her as she chopped vegetables. "I always have."
If only she sounded more convincing, even to herself!
"There he is," the heavyset young man murmured to his former classmate as he watched the red-and-black Blazer draw into the parking lot on Merchant Square. Farkus Bulkmeier took off his safety helmet and wiped his forehead, grinning a somewhat strained greeting as Jason walked up to them.
"Bulk, Rocky," the young man murmured. "Is anything wrong?"
"Nah," Bulk replied. "But as I was telling Rocky just now, we're having something of a problem with your school."
It was on the tip pf Jason's tongue to say that the airy studio wasn't his, not yet, and likely never, now, but he kept quiet; this didn't belong here. Instead, he cast a puzzled glance at the low, one-story building, then at Bulk.
"What kind of problem?" A lot of construction workers were swarming about on the roof, and a big crane was swerving towards the studio from the lot next door, where a new structure had been added to the house in back. The renovations being done to the combination shop/office building were so extensive, it almost qualified as a new construction. The site had been quiet since the weekend; bad weather had prevented work until this morning.
Bulk snorted disgustedly.
"When the rain started last Friday, we had to stow a truckload of gravel we need to fill in the rooftop before pouring cement; some stupid kid on the afternoon shift had the cockamamie idea of loading it on the roof of your building to save himself a few trips up and down a ladder. Unfortunately, it's against the Builders' Union rules, so now we have to cart it down first before we can continue."
"Uh-oh," Jason grinned, almost against his will, winking at Rocky. While Bulk had grown into a responsible adult and respected, competent worker, he still wasn't overly fond of unnecessary labor. Rocky stared back at Jason unblinkingly, and he sighed inwardly. Except for a murmured greeting, he'd had no reaction at all from his former teammate. Well, he should've expected that; he could live with it. Becoming businesslike, he turned to Bulk once more, who watched his crew critically as the crane started gobbling up gravel and small stones, to drop them beside the building.
"Is there any reason why we can't go in? We wouldn't be in the way, and it won't take long, anyway."
"I don't see why not," Bulk said after a moment's consideration. "Only, it's gonna be pretty loud."
"Noise doesn't matter," Rocky piped up, impatiently. "I'd rather get this over with now than reschedule; I have other things to do."
*...than meeting with me,* Jason mentally added, interpreting the semi-hostile glance Rocky directed at him correctly. Turning away to hide his sudden sadness, he groped in his back pocket for the keys the owner had left with him.
"I need to be back at the dojo by one, as well," he just said lightly, masking his hurt. "Shall we, then?" Jason smiled politely and gestured Rocky towards the door.
The two erstwhile Red Rangers entered the spacious facility and let the glass door fall shut behind them. The construction noise became a muted roar in the background, punctuated by the scraping of the crane as it scooped up another load of gravel every few minutes. As Jason turned on the lights and showed Rocky around, the other grew more open as his excitement mounted.
"This place is great," Rocky enthused as the tour was complete. "It's nearly ideal - a few renovations, and it could be open within a month." He admired the skylights letting in plenty of the bright October sunlight. Having them redone would create a light, airy atmosphere and lots of fresh air, even during the cooler months.
"I know," Jason said quietly, unable to keep the wistfulness completely out of his deep voice.
"Why do you want to give up the option?" the slightly shorter man asked suddenly. "I thought you wanted to expand and move closer to downtown ..."
"Because I can't afford to right now," Jason answered bluntly. "I ... we had unexpected expenses, less students over summer ... believe me, if I could, I'd spruce up the place myself. If Master Soong could wait until January ... but he won't, and I'd rather give the option to you than to a complete stranger."
"Why me?" Rocky challenged, feeling rather uncomfortable all of a sudden. It had been hard to maintain his antagonism as he'd discussed the facilities and martial arts with Jason, finding the joy in teaching they'd always shared undiminished, despite their estrangement. He was unprepared for Jason's answer.
"Because you're my friend - or at least used to be," was the calm reply, accompanied by a steady look from dark eyes. It was Rocky's turn to look away and hide his blush. To cover his embarrassment and to regain his equilibrium, he cast about for something - anything - that would give him the opportunity to get away from that look for a few moments.
"I'll just get a measuring tape and a notepad from my car," he mumbled. "I need to take a few notes."
"There's both in the office, I'm sure," Jason offered.
"Nah, it's okay; it'll only take me a minute," Rocky declined. Hastily, he strode towards the door, stepping out onto the pavement. The din from the crane was nearly deafening. Grimacing, Rocky hurried over to his own 4X4, and rummaged in his glove compartment. Tucking the measuring tape into his pocket, he took another moment to hunt for a pen. Just as he locked his car again, he happened to look directly at the well-lit studio, seeing Jason stand at the far wall, studying the pennants which hung there.
Later, Rocky remembered that several things happened at once. The crane, which had just removed another load of gravel, suddenly lurched violently, the hook holding the scoop snapped, and the heavy metal contraption crashed back onto the roof of the studio. The gravel still piled there was flattened out by the impact, the scoop tilted and slid ... and broke through one of the skylights. The sudden loss of support weakened the structure, and with a sickening, crunching noise the beams caved in and the whole roof collapsed inwards in a big cloud of dust.
Everybody and everything froze for an instant. Then, an icy fist suddenly seemed to clench in Rocky's gut.
He thought he'd shouted his friend's name, but it had only come out in a strangled whisper; heedless of his own safety, the young man dashed towards the accident site, to be brought up short by a beefy arm.
"Let go of me," he choked, struggling against the hold.
"Rocky, you can't go in there," Bulk coughed through the still billowing dust. "It's unsafe!"
"You don't understand!" Rocky yanked free of the restraining hand. "Jason's still in there!"
Farkus Bulkmeier blanched.
"Are you sure?"
"Positive," Rocky rasped, a terrible sense of urgency filling him. "I saw him standing there, just when the thing fell," he pointed to the still-shifting pile of rubble at the back. A few broken rafters stuck up ominously from the greyish pile of debris.
"Good God," Bulk muttered. Then, drawing a deep breath, he started bellowing orders. Organized chaos broke loose around the two young men, who then carefully climbed towards the spot where Rocky had last seen Jason, and started digging.
Gene Skullovitch climbed out of his patrol car and approached the apartment block with a hard ball of dread knotting in his stomach. The things he had just seen, and which he now had to relate to someone who wasn't exactly a friend, but at least a close acquaintance, weighed heavily on his mind. Adjusting his tie, he tucked his peaked cap under his arm and searched for the right doorbell. Drawing a deep breath, he pressed the unobtrusive button once, noting in passing that it said simply "Scott" - no initials of any kind. Briefly he wondered at what unimportant details the mind chose to notice in a crisis.
When the buzzer opened the door, he made his way inside, taking the two flights of stairs rather than the elevator to gain a few more moments. In the third floor hallway, he looked briefly around until he saw the numeral 11 on one of the blond-wood doors. Walking up to it, his policeman's eye noticed that the spy hole darkened briefly, then he heard the sounds of locks being released. Sighing inwardly, he squared his shoulders against seeing Kat again under these circumstances; he loved being a policeman, but at times like this, he almost hated his job.
"Skull!" Katherine Scott exclaimed, a half-smile lighting her smooth features. She'd been rudely yanked out of her thoughts by the sound of the doorbell, and had to force her mind back into everyday tracks. What if Jason had decided to confront her now instead of tonight? But he would've used his keys; the man on the other side of the door had the same dark hair, but was leaner, less handsome ... she chased that stray thought away.
"My, don't you look good in uniform! I haven't seen you in ages; what brings you here?" She opened the front door and ushered Gene into the comfortable, bright living room. Smells of cooking came from the tiny kitchen, and with an apologetic smile, Kat closed the door on the inevitable mess of preparing a meal. Scooping a baby blanket and a stuffed toy off the couch, she gestured him to sit, but the young police officer remained standing. Kat cocked a quizzical eyebrow at her former classmate. "What's up?"
There was no sense in procrastinating; Kat needed to know what had happened, as soon as possible. Swallowing past his suddenly dry throat, the dark-haired young man forced himself to meet Kat's eyes.
"Kat ... I'm here on official business."
"Oh? Have I gotten a parking ticket, or has Jason been speeding?" she queried lightly, while she busied herself with putting other baby paraphernalia away. A queasy feeling she couldn't identify began to creep up on her.
"Neither," Skull managed. This was not going to be easy.
"Kat, it's Jason. There's been an .... an accident."
*NO!* a voice inside Kat's head cried out. The young woman's movements stilled. Despite the sunlight streaming through the windows, she suddenly felt icy cold and suppressed a shiver with an effort. Straightening slowly, she turned towards Skull. Her face frozen in an expressionless mask, she asked the obvious.
"With the car?" Jason had taken the Blazer into town that morning; it had been serviced only recently, he normally was a good, conscientious driver, but one never knew ...
"No. He ... he was in Merchant Square, inside building no. 247."
"His new dojo," Kat supplied, puzzled. A small knot of tension eased inside of her. "He said he was going over to meet Rocky there; some business about the lease or option he had on the place. Why, what happened?"
Gene briefly closed his eyes. This was going to sound pretty gruesome, no matter what. Still, he tried to be as tactful as possible under the circumstances. Cursing the impulse that had made him volunteer to do this, the former bully almost snapped to attention. As if he was reciting things to a superior, he reeled down the pertinent facts as fast and as succinctly as he could.
"The building next door, number 248, is in the process of remodeling; last weekend, one of the workers dumped a truckload of gravel on the roof of 247 - against regulations. The rain we had during the week added extra weight, and apparently it weakened the roof structure. Investigation on that has already been initiated. While the construction crew was attempting to remove the gravel this morning, the crane's scoop tore lose, crashed down on a skylight and broke through the dojo's ceiling. The whole thing, it ... it collapsed inward.
"Kat ... Jason was still inside when the roof caved in; he was buried under the timber and gravel."
There, it was said. Skull watched with morbid fascination as Katherine's porcelain skin seemed to lose all color in a slow rush. Only her sapphire eyes suddenly started to burn with an all-consuming intensity. Her voice was completely toneless as she asked the foremost question in her numbed mind.
"Is he ... dead?"
"No - but he's been severely injured. As far as I know, he has a dislocated shoulder, several cracked ribs, and one of his legs was trapped under a broken beam. It ... it pierced his thigh and nicked an artery. There also may be internal injuries - he was bleeding from his mouth," Skull related, watching the blonde worriedly. He didn't know what kind of reaction he'd expected, but it wasn't this zombie-like calm. True, Kat and Jason's marriage had come as a total surprise to everybody not close to them, especially since Kat had been dating Tommy for what seemed like forever, but Skull had just assumed that she and Jason somehow had fallen madly in love one day. Well, maybe he'd been wrong about that - or maybe Kat just had a hard time showing her feelings to others. He turned his cap in his hands, waiting for the young woman to speak. When she did, her light voice had taken on a slightly hoarse quality.
"Where is he now?"
"The paramedics have taken him to Angel Grove Memorial" Skull supplied, more unnerved by Kat's composure that he wanted to admit. "I can take you there, if you want me to."
"I'd appreciate that. Give me a moment to take care of a few things, and I'll come with you."
"Sure." The young police officer watched his former schoolmate walk into the kitchen, turn off the stove and quickly stow food in various stages of preparation in the fridge. Then, she called what was obviously a Daycare Center to make arrangements for her son to be delivered to his grandparents' house, and collected a jacket, her keys and a purse. Not a single unnecessary word was spoken. She then faced Skull.
The ride to Angel Grove Memorial passed in near-total silence. Once at the hospital, Skull tracked Kat to the ICU, more worried than ever at her complete lack of outward reaction. He knew that it might simply be shock that made Kat react like this, but it was still weird. She had always been so open with her emotions, not as controlled as any of the others of their special group of friends - a group Skull would have given a lot for being allowed to join. But that was irrelevant now. As Kat made a beeline to the double doors separating Intensive Care from the rest of the ER, they passed the waiting area, where Rocky was pacing up and down. When he saw the young woman about to pass, he stopped her.
There was an awkward silence as the two old friends looked at each other; they had hardly spoken to each other since Rocky's confrontation with Jason shortly before their wedding, and for a moment, Rocky didn't know what to say.
*To Hell with it! Kat - and Jason - were your friends; they're going to need you now! This is not the time to dredge up grievances that were never yours to begin with!*
"Kat, I swear, I only stepped out for a minute to get my measuring tape and a notepad from my car; if I'd known ... but it all happened so fast ... one second, I saw Jason standing there, looking at some pennants, the next all I could see was the scoop falling, there was this awful crunching sound, and this enormous dust cloud over the building. I ... I went back in and started digging as soon as I could, but ...." the young man swallowed the lump in his throat as he remembered those frenzied moments when he'd realized that his former teammate had to be somewhere under the shifting, creaking mound of stones and timber. Recalling where Jason had been standing just before he stepped outside, Rocky clambered around the edge of the debris and started digging with his bare hands, not caring that he cut and bruised his hands in the process.
Praying fervently to whatever higher power would listen, Rocky shifted the gravel around with Bulk at his side. Taking a moment to cough his lungs free of dust, Rocky absently had noted a puddle of dark liquid gathering around his feet; it took his shock-numbed brain a few seconds to realize that it was blood. It seemed to come from under the débris. Having a concrete starting point, the two men resumed digging frantically once more, both breathing a huge sigh of relief as they found a hand ... and a pulse. Bulk's shout directed the rescue workers to them, and it wasn't long before they had uncovered Jason and loaded him into the ambulance, but Rocky knew he'd never forget the frightening sight of his friend's face, bleeding from numerous small cuts and showing a greyish color that was probably mainly due to dust and grime, but enervating nonetheless.
Kat's small smile never reached her eyes as Rocky told her briefly what he'd witnessed; she lightly touched his shoulder, though, and looked at him with hooded eyes.
"I'm sure you did everything you could, Rocky; thank you," she murmured, her eyes already turning towards the ICU again. "It wasn't your fault...." her soft, toneless voice drifted off as she walked up to a nurse, identified herself and then was whisked off through the doors, towards her husband. Rocky shrugged helplessly, then met Skull's concerned look. Both men sighed heavily. They knew how hard this was going to be for Kat.
"Did you tell her?" Rocky asked his former classmate as they walked back towards the waiting area.
"Man, I wouldn't have wanted to be in your shoes, then. It was bad enough facing her just now. Couldn't you have refused?"
"It comes with the job," the one-time punk shrugged again. "Not a part I enjoy, but ... anyway, I volunteered." At Rocky's questioning gaze, Gene blushed slightly. "I ... I just thought Kat'd take news like that better from a friend than from a complete stranger. Not that she - we - were ever really friends, but ..."
Rocky clapped Gene on the shoulder. "You are, Skull; a friend, that is. Maybe not as close as the rest of us, but still a friend. I'm sure, when Kat can think straight again, she'll appreciate the gesture." He looked back at the closed doors again. More to himself than his companion, he softly gave voice to his thoughts.
"Strange how all I can think of now is that they are my friends, despite everything. I was so sure we'd never talk again, not after what they did to Tommy..."
"What do you mean?" Skull asked, curious. "I mean, we were all pretty stunned when Kat married Jason, after all the time she's been with Tommy, but ..."
Rocky colored, and trying to stall, he busied himself with drawing a cup of coffee from one of the vending machines, wincing as his cut-up hands hurt with the slight movement.
"This is the first time in over a year that I've seen or spoken to Kat in person, and to Jason only on business, when I couldn't avoid it."
"But ... why?!? I don't get it - you were all so tight in school, I always thought that nothing could break you guys up. What happened?" Skull frowned in bewilderment. "You don't have to tell me, if you can't, or won't, but I would've killed to have friends like that all my life. And now you tell me you had a serious fight, or something? Over what?"
Rocky sank into one of the vinyl-covered seats and took a sip of his coffee. Looking into the confused blue eyes of his former classmate, he finally decided it couldn't hurt to tell Skull what had caused the rift in their once-inseparable group.
"Or something. Jason got Kat pregnant while she was still dating Tommy. He broke up with her, of course, and the rest of us - well, Kim, Adam and me, anyway - took sides with him. Tanya ... she tried to understand, to mediate, being Kat's best friend and all, but ... Adam doesn't like her to be too close to Kat now, and since they're married ..." Rocky shrugged eloquently. Skull could fill in the rest on his own; Tanya had had to make a choice between her husband and her friend, and he couldn't really blame her for choosing Adam. He concentrated once more on Rocky's tale. "Tommy didn't deserve that kind of betrayal, so we more or less broke off all contact with the two, especially after Jason married Kat."
The policeman's eyes widened as he assimilated the information.
"Whoa, back up a minute! What do you mean, Jason got Kat pregnant? Just like that? How? Did he rape her, or what?" It seemed highly unlikely, knowing Jason, but stranger things had happened in Angel Grove.
"Of course not! Jase isn't like that!" Rocky's indignant reaction was swift, and genuine.
"Then what are you talking about? If he didn't force her - and from what I remember from school, Kat may not be a martial artist like the rest of you guys, but she could more than take care of herself, and wasn't the type to let herself be forced, anyway -- how could Jason 'have gotten' her pregnant? That at least implies unwillingness on her part ..."
"Oh, she was willing allright," Rocky grumbled, the old disappointment and anger at his friends' behaviour rushing back. "According to Tommy, Kat told him it 'just happened'. Yeah, right. If they had only stopped to think for a second ..." Bit by bit, he told Skull what had transpired last year in early summer, concluding with, "...they gave no thought at all to Tommy's feelings, just cared about themselves, and the itch they needed to scratch." Rocky was taken aback by how bitter and resentful he sounded, but he told himself he'd had every right to that, as well as shun Jason and Katherine as Tommy's friend - didn't he?
Gene Skullovitch had gotten his own cup of coffee while he listened to Rocky's account. Sipping the bitter, black liquid slowly, he thought over what he'd heard, then looked at the former Blue Zeo Ranger.
"What did Jason and Kat have to say about this?"
"You heard all this from Tommy directly after it happened, right?" Skull asked quietly.
"Yeah," Rocky admitted, suddenly starting to feel uncomfortable. "He told me a few days after the breakup, and after he'd hi ... uh, confronted Jason."
"Meaning Tommy beat Jason up? Wow. I didn't think it'd ever go that far, they've always been so close," Gene remarked. Embarrassed at having revealed that bit of information, Rocky tried to bluster his way through.
"Well, Tommy had every right, didn't he? I mean, Jase was supposed to be his best friend! Best friends just don't do that to each other; Jason had it coming!"
"Did he fight back?" The shrewd insight, so unusual coming from the Skull he'd known at school, made Rocky blush as he reluctantly shook his head no.
"I didn't think so. Well, anyway ... while I understand your loyalty to Tommy, what I don't get is why you didn't go to Kat and Jason directly to hear their version of things?"
"I did, I ... Jason told me I had no right to accuse him of anything, that it was something between him and Tommy," Rocky confessed. The comment had smarted for a long time, especially since his conscience had said the same thing at the oddest moments. Whenever business had brought them together, to be exact, and he had had to force himself to keep up his hostile attitude.
"And that's why you broke off contact? Without listening to both sides? You guys always were so big on fairness - how fair have you been to Jason and Kat, then? You speak about the fact that Jason married her as if it was a crime; I happen to think it's the only way he could have acted, knowing Jason." Gene let that sink in. "The way I see it, you - all the rest of you - abandoned them when they needed their friends most."
"But they betrayed Tommy!"
"Granted - but has Tommy ever asked himself what made them do this? Both Jason and Kat are among the most loyal people I know; I'm pretty sure they didn't do anything just on a whim." Skull checked the time, collected his cap and brushed off his uniform pants. "And even if they did - is one mistake worth ruining a friendship over? Does their being Human make them less worthy to know?" The look from the blue eyes was very piercing, and Rocky squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Hiding his confusion, he looked the former class clown up and down.
"Who are you, and what have you done with the real Skull?" he joked weakly, to cover his unease. There had been times during the last year when he had asked himself the same question, but he'd shied away from answering, telling himself he owed it to Tommy to maintain his distance. Maybe he ought to have listened ...
"I'm a police officer now," Skull said earnestly. "When I decided to join the force for good, not just playing at it like when Bulkie and I were in the Junior Police Department, I had to grow up - fast. I'm still not exactly the person I want to be, but I know I'm getting there. And over the last couple of years, I've seen things on the job ...." The pale blue eyes grew distant for a moment. Then, they refocussed on Rocky. "Let's just say, I can't afford to see only one side. The world isn't black and white, Rocky, not as it was for the Power Rangers when we were all still at school. It's not always that the bad guys have no good qualities at all, or that the good guys are always perfect." With that, he took another look at his watch, yelped in dismay and with a hurried "Think about it, will ya? See you around!" disappeared down the hospital corridor, leaving a very pensive Rocky behind.
Kat stepped into the cubicle the nurse pointed out to her, holding on to her composure with all her might. Her words to Jason of that morning now weighed heavily on her mind, and she wished she were anywhere but here right now. Hospitals were scary places at the best of times, and this ... this was definitely one of the worst. She forced herself to look at the bed. Her husband lay there bare to the waist, hooked up to all sorts of machinery while a technician and a nurse bustled quietly around, sparing her only a cursory glance as she approached the foot of the bed.
Jason looked terrible; apart from the grime on his hands, face and hair, his skin had an unhealthy pallor that was visible even to Kat's untrained eye. His left shoulder was discolored and immobilized, and the bloodstain on the pressure bandage around his thigh did funny things to her stomach. The young woman swallowed the bile rising in her throat. The immobile face, marred by tiny cuts and bruises, seemed to belong to a complete stranger, and Kat found herself wishing fervently that the midnight eyes would open and look at her, even if they held the same expression of hurt and confusion as they had in the morning. Had it really been only four hours since she'd put it there? Kat suppressed a moan. If there were a way to take back those words, she'd take it in an instant, she knew that now. She might want out of her marriage, but not like this! In any case, Jason deserved more than a cold-blooded request for divorce when he'd been everything she could have wished for in a husband - except being Tommy.
*I don't care anymore!* her inner voice wailed. *I just want him to wake up again!*
Her hands were white with strain as Kat clenched them around the guard rail at the foot of Jason's bed. They were starting to hurt, but the dancer was certain that, if she let go, she'd collapse to the floor. Try as she might, she could not avert her eyes from Jason, watching the shallow rise and fall of the broad chest as if mesmerized. The steady beep of a heart monitor should have been reassuring, but instead every tone sent a tiny dart of pain into her soul, pricking away at the numbness and opening a deep chasm within her.
A nurse came in with a basin of water and sponges; she took in the pale young woman staring at the patient, saw the wedding band on a slender hand and came to a decision.
"Mrs. Scott?" she asked softly, touching Kat carefully on the arm.
"Yes," Kat mumbled, dazedly. Her blue eyes were still fixed on the immobile figure on the bed.
"I was about to wash your husband, at least a little, so we can take care of the minor cuts," the nurse explained. "Would you like to help me?" She knew how it sometimes helped family members to do little things for their loved ones in crisis situations like this.
"I ... sure." Forcing herself to move, Kat picked up a sponge. Under the nurse's direction, she began to dab at the grime and dust streaking the handsome face, careful not to disturb the nasal tube or jostle the electrodes fastened to the tanned skin. She even managed to remove some of the dust from the short black hair, until Jason looked a little bit more like himself. He never stirred, though, and Kat could feel the lump in her throat grow, making it difficult for her to breathe. Just as she was about to stop, a doctor entered the cubicle. He briefly checked the monitors, adjusted the IV drip and motioned Kat outside. Numbly, she followed the man to the waiting area. Rocky was still sprawled in a chair, lost in his own thoughts, but he sat up as Kat faced the medic.
"Mrs. Scott, I'm Dr. Jones - I treated your husband when he was brought in at 12.17." Alec Jones drew a deep breath. This was never easy. "We fixed his shoulder, his ribs will be taped soon, and the cuts and bruises are not too serious. We hope the contamination through dirt can be contained, if infection should set in. X-ray found a hairline fracture in his skull, which accounts for him being unconscious, but that's not unusual. We'll immobilize his head somewhat, later. At first, we thought your husband also had internal injuries, but the bleeding from his mouth was caused by him having bitten the inside of his cheek when he was ... buried." The doctor saw Kat flinch at the word. He couldn't blame the young woman; the concept was rather frightening. "The biggest problem was the puncture wound to his thigh; we've sewn up the artery and stopped the bleeding, but ... Mrs. Scott, your husband has lost an awful lot of blood."
Kat tried to assimilate everything she was being told. It took an enormous effort.
"Can't you give him a transfusion?" she asked finally. That's what hospitals did in cases like this, wasn't it?
"Well ... that's where our next problem lies. Mrs. Scott, has your husband ever been exposed to radiation of some kind?"
Briefly, images of several magical rays their alien foes had fired at them flashed through Kat's mind, but Zordon and Dimitria's scans had never shown any lasting physical effects on any of the Rangers. Plus, it had been years -- surely there couldn't be any lingering damage?
"N-no," Kat stammered. "Not that I know of, anyway...."
"Hmmm. Strange. You see, it's like this - while your husband has a rare blood type -AB negative - it's not that rare. Our blood bank has enough serum on hand, but when we hooked up the first bag, he almost went into anaphylactic shock. We were extremely lucky that we caught it almost immediately, or we'd have lost your husband then and there. A more detailed blood workup was ordered, and we found some kind of weird element in his blood that has our lab people completely stumped. It's that which prevents us from giving him anything but saline solution to combat the loss of fluid."
Kat stared at the doctor, uncomprehending.
"What does that mean?" she whispered, only marginally aware that Rocky was now standing behind her, a hand on her shoulder. Alec Jones sighed.
"It means that, if we can't find a donor soon with that same element in his or her bloodstream, we won't be able to do anything. Saline transfusions can only go so far. And the systemic shock due to his injuries unfortunately inhibits the production of new blood. A proper transfusion would sort of kick-start the process, but without it ..."
"What you're saying is, without a real transfusion, Jason will have little to no chance of pulling through," Rocky said hoarsely. At the doctor's questioning glance, he introduced himself. "I'm a friend of the family."
It occurred neither to him nor to Kat to qualify that statement; it was nothing but the truth, after all.
"Unfortunately, yes," the white-coated man admitted. "We're doing everything we can, have already contacted the National Blood Bank and the Red Cross, but ..." he shrugged helplessly.
Kat swayed as the horrible reality penetrated her consciousness. Only Rocky's support held her upright.
"Is ... is there anything I can do?" she asked, unshed tears making her soft voice rough.
"You can pray," Alec Jones said solemnly. Before the middle-aged doctor could add more, he was paged. "I'm sorry, I have to go. Don't give up hope yet." With a smile that was meant to be reassuring, he hurried away.
"God, Kat, I'm sorry," Rocky murmured, stunned. This couldn't be happening - not to one of them! They were the Power Rangers; they were invincible - weren't they? He was briefly transported back to his own injury. It had been bad enough having to quit the team, but he'd never been in serious danger - not like this!
Before the young woman could answer, a nurse came up to them.
"If you want to sit with your husband, Mrs. Scott, I've put up a chair for you," she said sympathetically. It was hospital policy to give family members as much access as possible to critically ill patients when there was no danger of complications.
"Y-yes," Kat whispered, still in shock. Blindly, she wandered back to the door behind which lay the father of her baby, the man who had been sharing her life for over a year now. Before she could disappear behind the door, Rocky held her back.
"Is there anything you want me to do, Kat?" he asked softly, regaining at least some composure.
The blonde shook her head, then reconsidered. Lifting pain-filled blue eyes to her friend, she made a request.
"Please - call Jason's parents. They need to know. And ... and the others."
"Sure, Kat," Rocky mumbled. He didn't relish this, but he'd offered - besides, someone had to.
"Thank you," came the soft whisper, then Kat was gone, to sit at Jason's side. Where she belonged right now.
"...and when he lifted that thing, he fell over backwards and landed in the mud puddle. He'd expected it to weigh half a ton, and what he got were maybe twenty pounds," Adam finished with a grin as he held the door open for his wife.
Tanya laughed appreciatively.
"You guys are so mean," she giggled. "Worse than a group of first-graders, though!"
"Hey, Jack had it coming," Adam protested. "He shouldn't have boasted so much!"
"Maybe," Tanya conceded as she sifted through their mail. Sorting it quickly into private messages, business and junk, she wandered into the kitchen after Adam, who stood at the fridge, drinking thirstily out of a bottle of juice. It was warm for October, and he'd put in a long day at the studio.
"Why don't you go take a shower while I start dinner?""she suggested.
"Good idea," he agreed. "Don't bother with something fancy, though; I'm not all that hungry."
"Leftover lasagna okay? And maybe a salad?"
"Great. I'll hurry," Adam promised, gave his wife a teasing slap on her shapely rear and jumped out of her reach before she could retaliate. "Gotcha!"
"Did I say first-graders? Preschoolers, more likely," Tanya grumbled, but with a smile in her voice. "Go take that shower, or I'll come wash behind your ears!"
"Yes, Ma'am!" With a jaunty salute, Adam retreated, whistling to himself.
The young woman shook her head, but couldn't help the fond grin playing around her lips. She loved it when Adam was in a mood like this -- it told her that his day had gone well, that his job had been fun and successful. On days when things were different, he tended to crawl into his shell of quiet and shyness, and it took all of her persuasive powers to coax him out again.
Humming to herself, Tanya took a container with homemade lasagna out of the fridge and placed it into the microwave; while the spicy dish heated, she quickly cut up tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, put them into a bowl and prepared the dressing. Garlic bread was warming in the stove when Adam came back down, freshly showered and still barefoot, and together they set the table -- place mats, a small pot with African violets, cloth napkins and a candle. Nothing fancy, but still a nice atmosphere the two tried to create as often as they could. They ate and talked in harmony, and later did the dishes together. Just as Adam stacked the plates into the cupboard, he saw the light blinking on their answering machine.
"Didn't you listen to our messages?" he asked Tanya.
"No, I forgot," she admitted. "Anything important?"
"Let's hear," Adam shrugged and hit the replay button. The tiny machine whirred as the tape rewound itself, then turned on. A couple of messages were from colleagues, a call from Dr. Sloan informing his daughter his flight into Los Angeles would be delayed, a follow-up confirmation by Tanya's mother that she'd pick up her husband herself ....
"Nothing urgent, huh?" Adam commented, but the answering machine held one more call.
*beep*"Adam, Tanya ... it's me, Rocky. I hate to tell you like this, but ... it's bad news, guys. There ... there's been an accident. Here in Angel Grove." Rocky's voice sounded strange, strained, as if he were fighting for control. Tanya and Adam exchanged an alarmed look, but focussed immediately on the tape again.
"It ... it's Jason. We were meeting downtown, and ... long story short, he was in this building, a crane crashed through the roof, and he was buried under the rubble. He's in Angel Grove Memorial now, and he's critical. I ... Kat thought you'd want to know. Guys ... it doesn't look good." Abruptly, the tape stopped.
The young couple stood stunned, hardly daring to breathe.
"Oh my God," Tanya muttered incredulously as she sank into a chair. "This can't be happening!"
"Rocky wouldn't lie to us," Adam said hoarsely, just as shaken by the news. "Not about something like this."
"I know," Tanya whispered as her brain tried to assimilate the horrible concept of someone of their close circle of friends being injured, possibly ... no. She refused to even think about death -- not unless she absolutely had to. What did that mean for all of them? For Kat -- and her seven-month-old son? The thought cleared her mind. She knew what she had to do. Tanya raised her head and looked at Adam with determined eyes.
"I'm going to Angel Grove. Tonight. Kat will need me now."
Tanya's voice brooked no argument, and Adam knew better than to start one. He gazed at the lovely dark-skinned face for long seconds, giving nothing of his own thoughts away. His dark eyes were inscrutable, but very pensive. Finally, his mobile mouth quirked in a very tiny version of his trademark grin -- the one Tanya had fallen in love with all those years ago.
"Want me to drive you?"
Tanya's shoulders sagged in gratitude and relief.
"Yes, please. And, Adam?"
He turned back towards her as he slipped into his shoes, lifting a questioning eyebrow.
"Thank you," Tanya whispered as she felt the first tears come.
Adam took his wife into a comforting embrace. They could spare a few moments. Nuzzling against the soft dark hair, his eyes grew distant as he said something that he'd all but forgotten, but was now very conscious of.
"We're friends. We don't abandon each other in need."
"No," she sniffled, smiling through her worry. "Let's hurry ..."
Katherine watched her inlaws walk towards the exit, John Scott gently supporting his sobbing wife. They'd promised to look after the baby while Jason was hospitalized, assisted by two of Rocky's teenaged sisters. It took one small load off Kat's mind, but as much as she loved her son, right now he was the least of her worries. Feeling still strangely detached - as she had ever since Skull brought her the news - she crumpled her empty coffee cup and absently tossed it into a trash bin. The door to Jason's small room loomed before her, and she had to draw several deep, calming breaths before she could steel herself to walk inside. Night had fallen outside, and the lighting was subdued; only the numerous monitor displays were bright at the far side of the bed. Sighing, Kat sank down into the chair at Jason's right side.
*He looks so ... strange,* she thought, *not at all like himself.*
It was true; Jason's vitality and strength were missing from the immobile figure on the bed. His color was way off, hidden under a sick pallor, and lingering traces of dust turned his dark hair to an iron-grey color that made him look far older than his twenty-four years. Involuntarily, Kat's mind was drawn back to the image of an aging, dying Billy just before Cestria whisked him off to Aquitar.
*But Billy was cured; while he hasn't come back, and probably never will, he LIVES - he's gone, but alive!*
The thought should have brought a small measure of comfort, but didn't. They no longer had access to the miraculous-seeming advanced technology of the Power Chamber, or their alien allies' miracle cures. Kat stifled a dry sob. She'd cried so often during the past year; why couldn't she do so now, when the situation was so much worse than some of the trivial occasions she'd shed tears over? She had no answer. Only the lump in her throat and the fist clenching around her heart made her aware that she was still alive; everything else was just ... numb. As the ward quieted outside, the steady beeping of the medical machinery was the only sound in the dimly-lit room; Jason's breathing was too shallow to be heard even from a few feet away.
The blonde didn't know how long she sat in the uncomfortable chair, watching her husband for any sign that he was still in there somewhere, that he hadn't already left the motionless shell of his body. She couldn't seem to focus on anything, her thoughts a chaotic whirl of images ... Tommy past and present, interspersed with memories of her marriage with Jason, her baby ...
*Tommy has no place here,* that niggling voice she'd finally identified as her conscience said sternly. *You are here to wait for your husband to regain consciousness; there is no room for another man!*
Kat knew the voice was right, and truthfully, she didn't want to think about her ex-boyfriend now. She hadn't wanted to admit it until now, not even to herself, but her memories of Tommy had dimmed with time - only that interview she'd watched less than two weeks ago had brought them back into focus, and reawakened her former feelings. Or so she thought. For the first time, Katherine asked herself if she hadn't read too much into Tommy's words - what if he hadn't meant her, after all, but just said the first thing that came into his mind when the reporter was trying to pry into his personal life?
*What if that magazine article was right - what if he's taken up with Kimberly again?*
The question hurt, but not as much as Kat thought it would.
*So what if he has?* she answered herself. *I'm married, with a baby; it's not as if I can just throw that away.*
And yet she'd nearly done that, anyway, by requesting a divorce from Jason. Again, Kat was assaulted by an image of her husband's dark eyes, flashing with pain and shock before they shut down on all emotion. Had it only been that morning? She moaned quietly.
*God, what have I done?*
*Let foolish dreams and hopes cloud your judgment,* her conscience replied. *You willfully chose to ignore reality for something that might never happen.*
The voice fell silent, leaving the Australian to ponder the truth of that.
As if to atone for her stupidity, Kat reached for Jason's right hand that rested on the crisp sheets. The nurses had dressed him in a hospital gown earlier after taping his ribs and immobilizing his head with sandbags, but there were still numerous electrodes and cables monitoring his vital functions running from his torso to the softly beeping and clicking devices on the other side of the room. The muted noises were at the same time reassuring and frightening.
Kat held Jason's hand in both of hers, rubbing small circles on the back with her thumbs. There was a sense of ... wrongness ... about this, and it was not due to the fact that usually it was Jason holding her hand like this instead of the other way around. No, it was that the skin was too cool, too dry - the appendage didn't feel like her husband's hand; it ought to be warm, and strong, and reassuring, not lifeless and still. Contemplating the limp fingers with their short, blunt nails and the tanned skin, Kat's mind slowly filled with memories of that very hand...
*... the way Jason used it to habitually brush her cheek oh-so-gently, or tucked a strand of hair behind her ear ...
...the way he held her own hand when he helped her over an obstacle on their walks in the park, or just when they were strolling along the streets with their son ...
...how reassuring his large hand always felt when he rubbed her back or massaged her shoulders when she was tired ...
...how gentle it had been during her pregnancy when he'd touched her swollen belly to feel their baby move inside ...*
The young woman smiled mistily as she recalled the sight of Jason cradling their newborn baby boy against his massive chest, his strong, capable hands as sure with the tiny being as when he did some small chore around the apartment; it was truly amazing how careful and delicate he could be for all the deadly accuracy he displayed when demonstrating karate moves to his students.
Unconsciously, Kat nuzzled her face into the calloused palm.
*I've seen him break stones and boards with his bare hands, and punch monsters into oblivion,* she reflected, *but I've also experienced his gentleness ... and the pleasure he can bring to me with these same hands every time we make love.* The thought brought an equal measure of delight ... and pain. What if she never experienced Jason's touch again?
Slowly, something crystallized within her mind.
*I ... I don't want to lose this - any of it. I've been leaning on Jason for a long time, even before we became lovers. I've held onto his hand right from the start of our marriage - and I don't think I could bear it if I really had to lose it. Lose him. I ... I just can't! He's always been there for me ... I need Jason too much ... have needed him forever, it seems.*
At long last, the tears came. They slowly filled the blue eyes until they would not be contained any longer, spilling over and trickling down the porcelain cheeks until they became a steady stream and sobs shook the slender body. Anguish threatened to overcome her and Kat cried until she was completely spent. Too tired to fight her true feelings anymore, the young woman trembled with the realization as she finally admitted to herself that she loved the man lying so still on the bed - had loved him for a long time and been too blind to see.
*If nothing else ... if I have to lose him ... please God, let me at least tell him before ...!*
Praying that it wasn't too late, begging the fates that this nightmare would end somehow, Katherine Scott kept vigil at her husband's side throughout the night.
Nurses from the morning shift ushered Kat gently but firmly out of the room. She was reluctant to leave Jason, hoping against hope that he'd open his eyes and smile at her as tenderly as only he knew how, let her ask for forgiveness, but she had no choice against their insistence. Reeling with fatigue from a sleepless night, she staggered to the waiting area where she leaned dejectedly against the window, staring outside with unseeing eyes.
*Jason ...* her tired thoughts called, but of course, there was no answer. He hadn't stirred all night, lying unmoving in his hospital bed with only the soft rise and fall of his chest and the steady beep of the heart monitor telling that he was still alive. Kat rubbed wearily at her burning eyes. How could she have been so blind - so stupid? Mooning over Tommy when she had a wonderful man as her husband, the father of her baby - someone who had never shown her anything but kindness and understanding? She didn't know, and she didn't care anymore. All she wanted was another chance - for Jason to wake up so that she could tell him she was sorry, hadn't meant the hurtful words she'd thrown in his face yesterday morning and ask for his forgiveness. Maybe, if she was very lucky, he'd forget about it eventually so that she could prove to him how much she had learned to love him ...
The soft female voice slowly penetrated her exhausted mind. The young woman knew it couldn't be her mother-in-law; Helen was probably busy with the baby until Elena DeSantos came home from school to look after the little boy. Slowly, she turned. The sight of the dark-skinned young woman in yellow brought a lump of a different kind to Kat's throat.
With a fresh sob, Kat fell into her best friend's arms. Tanya held her closely, tears streaming over her own face as she held the former Pink Ranger as she let go of her anguish. Finally, both pulled back. Summoning a wobbly smile, Kat wiped ineffectually at her wet cheeks as she tried to find her voice.
"Wh-what are you doing here?" she asked hoarsely; "doesn't Adam mind ...?"
"He brought me here as soon as we'd gotten Rocky's call," Tanya said quietly, more shaken by Kat's despair than she'd expected to be. Were Jason's injuries really that bad?
"H-he d-did? Why?" It seemed unbelievable; Tanya's husband had always been so adamant about them not being together too often ...
"You need us," a familiar gentle voice said from somewhere behind Kat. Hardly daring to believe, she turned slowly, to meet a pair of compassionate black eyes. "I couldn't stay away. Not anymore - not now," Adam Park admitted.
"Oh, Adam," Kat sobbed once more, accepting the tentatively offered embrace gratefully. "I'm so glad you're here!"
"Me too," he whispered as he hugged the weeping blonde. "I'm sorry." A look was enough to express everything simple words couldn't - and Kat's brave smile told Adam that he was forgiven, that they were once more friends, like they'd always been. Just like that. He had to swallow hard. Why had he held a grudge for so long? Especially one on behalf of someone else, friend or not? He didn't know anymore; he just knew that his and Tanya's place was here right now, in Angel Grove, with their friends, giving what support they could.
After a while, when the emotional storm had passed a little, the three friends settled in the uncomfortable chairs, and Kat filled the Parks in on Jason's condition. They were properly horrified, and tried to give her encouragement, but all knew how hollow it was right now. Eventually, Katherine felt calmer; she expressed a need to refresh herself some and excused herself to go to the bathroom. Before she'd taken more than a few steps, however, she swayed suddenly and would've collapsed if Tanya hadn't been there to lend support. She guided her friend back to a seat once more.
"Easy, Kat," she chided gently. "What is it?"
"I don't know," Kat mumbled thickly. "Everything just went black for a second ..." She wiped an unsteady hand across her brow, trying to clear her fuzzy brain. Colorful spots danced before her gritty, swollen eyes; her mouth felt dry and she swallowed several times, to no avail. Dizzily, she leaned back against Tanya's shoulder.
"When was the last time you've eaten something?" Tanya asked, guessing at the reason for Kat's sudden weakness.
"I ... I don't know," Kat admitted, frowning as she tried to remember. "Yesterday ... yesterday morning, I think ..." the soft voice trailed off wearily.
"That's far too long. Adam will get you something, won't you, sweetie?" the yellow-clad woman declared with a significant look at her husband,
"I don't know if I can, Tanya," her friend sighed. "I ... I don't really feel like eating." Even the mere thought of putting food into her mouth brought a taste of bile. Not to mention actually biting, chewing and swallowing ... no. Kat moaned softly, unaware of her suddenly pasty-colored skin.
"You'll have to, honey. How can you be there for Jason if you collapse yourself? He needs you now."
"I know. I'll try," Kat capitulated with a sigh. Fighting down nausea, she knew Tanya was right. For Jason, she'd make the effort.
Tanya beckoned Adam to her side and whispered to him. "Go get some soup, milk and fruit juice," she directed. "I doubt she'll manage something solid now, but she needs energy, or we'll have both of them in a bed."
"Right. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Kat did feel better after she'd consumed some cream-of-mushroom soup and orange juice, and thanked her friends with a slightly stronger smile as the three sat and talked. In the course of the morning, Rocky dropped in briefly between classes, and Trini arrived from Berkeley, bringing greetings from Zack who was on call and would arrive later during the day. Kat drifted in and out of Jason's room, alternately spending time with her husband and their friends as they waited for developments. It was just as Rocky came by again after his last class that Jason's doctor left the sickroom and approached the group of young people.
Kat straightened, alarmed. She'd dozed a bit, encouraged by Trini and Tanya, but was fully alert again. There was something in Dr. Jones' voice ....
Alec sighed. This was one of those moments when he hated his chosen profession passionately.
"I'm terribly sorry, but ... we've just heard from the Red Cross and the National Blood Bank. There's no exact match for your husband's blood type - or rather, that weird element in his blood - on record anywhere. Without it, we just can't risk a transfusion."
"But Jason's been stable so far, hasn't he?" Kat asked despairingly. This couldn't be happening - it just couldn't! Not now ... "You mentioned earlier today that he might make it on saline solution if he remains stable ..."
"I know, but unfortunately ... I just examined him again, and it looks as if his thigh wound is developing an infection. Seems like we haven't got all the contaminants out, after all. If we could replace the blood he's lost, there'd be every chance that enough broad-spectrum antibiotics would be able to lick it, but as it is ... your husband has just lost too much blood, and his bone marrow can't reproduce healthy blood cells fast enough to be of any use without outside help. Considering the additional problem of his skull fracture, he's in danger of slipping into a coma. If we can't find a donor within the next twenty-four hours ...." the man's voice trailed off. The desperate look in the sapphire eyes of his patient's wife wouldn't let him continue.
Stunned, the group of friends exchanged alarmed looks. It was Rocky who found his voice first and formulated the question on everyone's mind.
"What exactly are you saying, doctor?"
Alec Jones just shook his head, pity evident in his pale grey eyes. These young people truly cared about their friend; even a blind man could see that. Before he could speak, however, Adam beat him to it. His voice was toneless and full of pain as he faced the others. Unashamedly, his almond-shaped eyes were brimming with tears, but he knew it was nothing compared to the agony Kat must be feeling as they all realized what the doctor's pronouncement meant for Jason - and for their blonde friend.
"He's saying that ... if we can't find a blood donor today, Jason ... Jason will die."
To be continued ...