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Watching Your Back

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There were new Rangers in California. It was hard to miss if you knew the signs, even before the major news outlets started reporting their activities. A minor disturbance in the woods here. A few hastily canceled public events there. A disruption of a power station, a TV station, a government office. And if you were in a position to notice… a few students skipping classes or activities who didn’t usually skip classes or activities. It was obvious, if you knew what you were looking for.

Kimberly Hart knew what she was looking for, and those small signs were as clear as a klaxon. When the news stations started reporting monster attacks in Reefside the next week, she wasn’t surprised in the slightest. It was a strange feeling, being on the outside of events like this. It was a strange feeling to know intimately what was going on and yet still not be involved. There were mornings she woke with her instincts screaming at her to get on the next bus, to do what she could to help… and then reality would set in. She had no Power Coin. She had no Ranger abilities. She had nothing but her fighting skills, her gymnastic skills, and a long memory of battles fought a decade ago. That wasn’t her life anymore; it wasn’t her responsibility. Still, she worried. Three Rangers? How could that ever be enough?

It was when the fourth Ranger appeared—a Black Ranger—that the worry gnawing at her finally eased back. Kim knew that fighting form as well as she knew her own. And if Tommy was the one looking out for this new Ranger team, then they were at least in experienced hands. Still… it was hard to be the one sitting on the sidelines. Watching. Worrying. Unable to do anything to help. And seeing Tommy and his Rangers on TV week after week after week, seeing the dinosaur-based ‘zords appear for the first time since she’d flown one of her own… it wasn’t long before Kim couldn’t stand waiting any more.

Red Tyrannosaurus.

Blue Triceratops.

Yellow… Pterodactyl?

The ‘zord might be the wrong color, but the first time Kim heard it scream, she knew she had to go. The graceful Crane might be her Spirit Animal, but the pterodactyl had been the first to hold her soul and it had a mighty grip. She could no more not answer its call than she could walk by a person in need and not help. Ernie gave her the time off from the Juice Bar practically before she’d even gotten the question out of her mouth. Then again… he’d always seemed to know more than he should about any number of things. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that he knew about her, too.

Less than a day later, Kimberly was in Reefside, learning that her reflexes hadn’t lost a hair of their edge in the last ten years… but her common sense clearly had.

Of all the stupid— I know better than to go running in the park on my own in a monster-ridden town!

Kimberly had decided that a run was in order because she'd needed to take the edge off of her nerves. Once she'd arrived in Reefside, she hadn't been able to bring herself to even email Tommy, much less call him. That part of her life was long over, and now that she was actually here, she was less certain than ever that she had a right to be. Thus the nerves and the need for a run. She'd needed to blow off a little steam; to run off the excess energy so she could think… and she ran straight into a pack of—what were they called again? Tyrannodrones?—as if destiny had decided to stick a hand straight into her life and dump her back in time by ten years.

So much for that! The only saving grace on this debacle of a morning was that Kimberly found that her reflexes were still good enough for this, at least. She hadn’t lost much of her ability at all. Even so, after a few minutes she was starting to get winded. It was rare that a pack of Putties or Tengas had taken her on alone—she’d learned quickly enough to always travel with a Ranger buddy when she could—and while her reflexes were fine, her stamina was taking a beating. No amount of sparring against other humans, especially non-Rangers, could prepare you for this kind of a battle. So, it was with great relief that she saw that triple flash of primary colors ride up out of the corner of her eye. Red. Blue. Yellow. They must have been close, maybe on their way to school, given the time.

Kimberly forced away the guilt that that thought prompted, remembering all too well how many detentions she’d served for being late or missing classes for Ranger business. She just put her head down and fought on. It wasn’t long before she found herself face-to-face with one of the Rangers and, as luck would have it, it was the Yellow Ranger. The pilot of the Pterodactyl ‘Zord. Her ‘Zord.

It would have been a lie to say that seeing the Pterodactyl in yellow had felt… off, somehow. And yet…

And yet…

This Yellow Ranger was a scrappy fighter, but she was untrained. This Yellow Ranger wasn’t a martial artist, no more than Kimberly had been in the beginning. She was no Trini.

As was the nature of such battles, when Rangers showed up, the Tyrannodrones abruptly disappeared. There one moment, gone the next. Thanks to reflexes that wouldn’t quit, Kim caught the Yellow Ranger as she stumbled, thrown off balance when the Tyrannodrone she’d been about to punch disappeared. A quick nod of thanks was all Kim got in return. She remembered well enough that need to keep silent around non-combatants during a battle if one could help it, that fear of being discovered by someone who knew you. Even this was familiar. The shine of yellow body armor under her hands as she helped the Yellow Ranger to her feet. The sight of the white glove against her palm as they shook hands. The gleam of the white teeth around the dark visor of the helmet daring her to look closer, straining to see the deep, dark eyes that would lay beneath.

It was everything.

It was nothing.

This wasn’t Trini.

Kim forced herself to take a step back, to thank her saviors, and to wave them on their way. The Yellow Ranger paused, seemingly torn between a desire to go with her friends or to stay. She was the only woman on a team of men, so encountering another woman who could fight, who wasn’t afraid to take on a gang of Tyrannodrones on her own, had to be a source of curiosity, at least… even if she wasn’t a Ranger. But that was the clincher, wasn’t it? Kimberly wasn’t a Ranger. Not anymore. What was she even trying to prove here?

This wasn’t her team.

The Pterodactyl wasn’t her ‘zord.

This wasn’t Trini.

So Kim backed away, waved the Rangers off, again. She knew as well as they did that they had classes to get to. Lives to live. Wise mentors to answer to. Kim still wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed that there had been no sheen of black amongst the red, yellow, and blue. In the end, Kim left without sending that email, without making that call. It wasn’t her place, and that time was long past. If Tommy needed her, he knew where to find her.

Kim returned to Angel Grove the next day--and if Ernie was surprised to see her show up to teach her classes the day after that, he didn’t show it. What he did do was silently leave a six pack of her favorite wine coolers on the bar for her to find when she finished up. Since no one was there to see it, Kim thought about opening one right then and there. What harm could it do? She hadn’t driven to work and one wine cooler wasn’t enough to get her drunk, but it might be just enough to help her relax. Just as she decided to open one, however, a yellow-clad arm reached past her to take it out of her hands. Turning, Kim followed the motion of that arm as it pulled the wine cooler back and joined up with its twin to twist off the top, tilt it back, and take a long drink.

That arm led up to the gentle slope of a shoulder, the slender column of a neck, the shimmering fall of straight, black hair, smooth skin in a face even now lowering from taking that drink, and the same pair of deep, dark eyes that Kim had known wouldn’t be behind the Yellow Ranger’s visor. With a small squeak, Kim launched herself at the woman, arms locking in a veritable stranglehold around her neck, her heart beating in a hard, staccato rhythm in counterpoint to the rapidly racing one beating equally hard in the chest pressed against her own. And no amount of serenity in those dark brown eyes could belie the truth of that beating heart.

Eventually Kimberly eased her hold and leaned back. She wanted to laugh and scream and cry and jump around for joy and never let go. She wanted to run laps around her friend in her excitement, and, at the same time, she wanted never to move from this spot. She settled for the harsh whisper that was all she could force past the lump in her throat. “I thought you were still in Geneva? Something about a degree in international law? What are you doing here?”

Trini smiled and placed the wine cooler back down on the bar so she could pull Kim close in another hug. So, it was into Kim’s ear that she answered that question. “I watch the news, too, you know. I saw what was happening in Reefside. I wasn’t sure if my help was wanted or needed, but… well. You know Tommy.” She shrugged. At Kim’s soft noise of query, all but buried in Trini’s neck, Trini huffed out a small laugh. “He’s not the best at asking for help when he needs it. I was still debating between showing up unannounced and sending an email when I saw that footage of you on the news the other day. So, I pulled some strings and got a flight back as soon as I could.”

“Me?” Kim leaned back again as that question exploded out of her in a squeak that was far from dignified. Covering it quickly, she added, “I was barely involved for a hot second! How did that end up on the news?”

Trini laughed again, and Kim smiled. She’d missed Trini’s laugh. She’d missed Trini’s smile. She’d just missed Trini. Trini shrugged, a twinkle of mischief in her eye and a smirk tucked into the corner of her grin—and, Lord help her, Kim had missed that, too—and said, “How do these things ever end up on the news? Anyway, I saw you get attacked. I saw the new Rangers show up and—“ Trini paused, a strange look passing over her face. She moved to the bar and took up a seat on a stool before turning to face Kim again, a frown on her face and a subdued look in her eyes. “…was the Yellow Pterodactyl weird for you, too, or was it just me?”

Kim immediately sat down next to her, nodding vigorously, “Right? I’m glad it wasn’t just me, either! It was like… I kept thinking—if your and my ‘zords had a baby, is this what it would look like? And then I realized that was ridiculous because ‘zords can’t have babies, but still.”

Trini met Kim’s gaze again and laughed, that moment of discomfort and melancholy forgotten just as Kim had hoped. “I can’t say I had that exact thought process, but it definitely occurred to me that it was odd how it seemed like our Ranger selves had been combined into one Ranger and— Well. I had to come.” She reached out to pick up the wine cooler, though she got no further than rolling it between her hands before speaking, again. “If you were here and you were getting involved… I knew I had to be, too. Because the Pink and Yellow Rangers belong together, right? Even if they’re two different people.”

At that soft admission, and, more precisely, at the way Trini wouldn’t quite meet her eyes after making it, Kim’s breath caught. It was true… but it wasn’t the whole truth The Yellow and Pink Rangers might belong together, but Kim had never felt that it was because they were the Yellow and Pink Rangers. It was because the Yellow and Pink Rangers were her and Trini. And they belonged together. They always had. And after Trini left to go to Geneva—without warning her that she’d even applied, no less—Kim had felt a little lost. In all the years since, she never quite felt like she’d regained her balance. Trini had always been her rudder, and without her, Kim was adrift. It was why she’d gone to Reefside. She hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but she’d been looking for a purpose; a place to belong… people to belong with. That had always meant the Rangers, in the past--but that hadn’t been true in a long time. It hadn’t been true since Trini, Jason, and Zack had left for Geneva all those years ago.

It hadn’t been true since Trini had walked out of her life and on to a whole other continent.

Trini caught her lip between her teeth, a small frown settling onto her lips. Quietly she said, “I’ve upset you.”

Kim shook her head. “No. It’s not… you didn’t… it’s not what you think.”

When all Trini did was reach out a hand to take hers, her eyes wide and open and full of such understanding it made Kim’s heart beat faster, Kim let out a shaky breath and shook her head, again. “I just missed you, is all. I’m glad you’re here.”

At those words, Trini smiled—a small smile, a little unsure around the edges, but real. “I’m glad I’m here, too.”

“Because of the Rangers?” Kim reached her free hand up to tuck her hair behind her ears, a nervous habit that she’d never quite kicked from when she was younger. Her cheeks grew warm, and she ducked her head, unsure how to explain the sudden flush.

Moments later, a soft hand curled itself against Kim’s cheek, cupping her face with such tenderness that a lump rose in her throat and refused to dissipate no matter how hard she swallowed against it. That hand gently tilted her face upwards at the same time as Trini’s other hand tightened on hers. Kim allowed her head to be moved, allowed her gaze to rise to meet Trini’s, allowed a tremulous smile to grow on her lips as she saw the look that was meeting her from just a foot away, now. In Trini’s dark eyes was a question that Kim couldn’t have put words to if her life depended on it, but it was a question she understood, just the same.

Trini smiled and leaned in to whisper her answer into the space between their lips—a space that was growing smaller by the second. “No. Because of you. Because yesterday I watched you throw yourself into danger alone, knowing I wasn’t there to guard your back, knowing that I couldn’t be there to help. But then… in some strange way, I was. The Yellow Ranger was there, even though I couldn’t be. And I was happy that you were safe, that she was there for you, but Kim… it wasn’t enough. It isn’t enough to know that the Yellow Ranger will watch your back. I want it to be me who watches your back. And being on the other side of the globe is way, way, too far away for that.” She smiled. “So, here I am. Home. With you. For as long as you want me to be.”

Kim smiled in return, her heart slowing its frantic pace at those words—words that were everything she’d ever wanted to hear, and more. Letting a teasing lilt creep into her voice, Kim answered, eyes wide in feigned ignorance, “…there’s one thing I feel should be clarified.” At Trini’s raised eyebrow, Kim added, “It’s all well and good for you to be here to watch my back… but I wouldn’t mind if you watched my front, too, while you were at it.”

As their gazes met, Trini let out a husky laugh, one that Kim had never heard emerge from her throat before. It sent shivers straight down her spine.

She liked it.

They both leaned in then, and moments later, Kim couldn’t have said which one of them closed that final distance, but the moment Trini’s lips met hers, Kim knew all she needed to know. That first brush of lips was warm and dry, and so, so soft. A kiss between lifelong friends on the cusp of becoming something different. That first kiss was tender, gentle, a testing of waters long left silent and still.

Their second kiss was a maelstrom.

Lips opened and tongues met, bodies pressed as closely as they could, as Kim did her damndest to make up for years after years of separation in that one moment. Breath was lost and regained and Trini’s hands wandered from Kim’s face to her waist to pull her closer still. Kim’s hands were busy too, one tucked around the back of Trini’s neck, the other buried in her hair. By the time they finally pulled back enough for speech to be possible again, Kim was in Trini’s lap, legs firmly wrapped around her waist. Trini let out that husky laugh once more and let her head drop to rest against Kim’s chest. As their embrace relaxed, became something calmer, gentler, Kim resolved to do her best to get Trini to laugh like that as often as she could. It was new, and a little unfamiliar, but it was wonderful.

Trini was the first to recover her voice, though her words were preceded by a soft kiss that she pressed against Kim’s collarbone. “If you had any idea how many years I’ve wanted to do that… you’d laugh.”

And for a moment, at those words, time stopped. For buried within them was a truth that Kim had missed until this moment… it was a truth she hadn’t even wanted to see before now.

~If you had any idea how many years I’ve wanted to do that… you’d laugh.~

With those words, past events reshuffled and realigned into patterns Kim had never before noticed. The soft, gentle smiles that Trini had always saved just for her. The way she’d encouraged Kim with Tommy, but never let her return the favor with anyone else. The way Trini had applied for that opportunity in Geneva behind her back, and then followed through on it and left. The way she’d stayed away until Kim was in danger.

Kim had once broken her best friend’s heart and never even known.

Time resumed with a lurch and with Trini’s hands cupping Kim’s face once more, drawing her down into a gentle kiss that demanded nothing, yet hoped for everything. Trini would never bring it up on her own and she wouldn’t thank Kim for doing it, either. It was past, bygones, water under a bridge that had been long since rebuilt. This, here and now, was not about their past. It was about their future. And like that bridge, they would build it together.

Kim returned that kiss that asked for nothing with a kiss that promised everything.

It was a promise that was long overdue… and one on which she intended to deliver.