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<P> <CENTER>&nbsp;</CENTER><B><I>Note:</B> I'm indulging myself here, so please, bear with me? This is an unabashed romance, nothing more, nothing less — I just had to get it out of my system somehow. Hope you'll enjoy it anyway. Rating is PG-13 or so, because of some suggestive scenes … but no worse than what you can see on Primetime TV. The characters and references you recognize belong to Saban; the rest is mine. Warning: Severe romantic outlook required! Comments, as always, will be appreciated. <B>DB, Spring 1999</B></I> <BR> &nbsp; <BR> &nbsp; </P> <B><I><P ALIGN="CENTER">Moments in Time</B></I> </P> <B><I><P ALIGN="CENTER">(A Power Rangers Love Story)</B></I> </P> <I><P ALIGN="CENTER">by</I> </P> <B><I><P ALIGN="CENTER">Dagmar Buse</P> </B></I><P><BR> &nbsp; </P> <B><I><P>The Crowne Hotel Angel Grove, Bridal Suite, September 2006 — sometime in the wee hours of the night</B></I> </P> <P>Jason Lee Scott stepped out of the luxurious bathroom, still wearing his tuxedo trousers. He'd discarded his jacket and tie earlier, and his white shirt was open to the waist. He cast a fond glance at his wife who stood at the open window, her long blonde hair blowing gently in the light breeze. Her slender figure was clad in a cream floor-length nightgown with matching negligee, and he was eager to hold her in his arms again. Pouring two glasses of champagne, he crossed over to stand behind her, passing the frothy wedding gown which lay carefully spread over a settee. </P> <P>"A nightcap, love?" He handed her one of the crystal flutes. </P> <P>She turned brilliant blue eyes towards him and smiled her thanks; clinking her glass softly against his, she sipped the sparkling wine, savouring the taste. Her look was pensive, though. Jason deposited his own drink on a nearby table and enfolded his bride in a warm hug. Tilting her face towards his, he brushed a gentle kiss across the soft pink lips and offered his own smile. </P> <P>"What is it? Something not quite right?" </P> <P>"No; no, everything's fine. Today was so perfect …" </P> <P>"I know what you mean. We've waited so long for this … it's hard to believe we're finally married, isn't it?" </P> <P>"Mm-hmm. And to have all of our friends with us, too — that was unbelievable." </P> <P>He laughed. "Well, it's a good thing we had a long engagement — at least that way, everybody could arrange their schedules to come." </P> <P>She took another sip of her champagne. </P> <P>"It's just … I've been thinking …" </P> <P>"Uh-oh." </P> <P>She elbowed him gently in the ribs, and Jason pretended to flinch away. Both shared a moment of laughter, then he kissed her again and drew her closer against his chest. More seriously, he asked, "What <I>have</I> you been thinking about?" </P> <P>"Us. More precisely, I've been remembering … how it all began … how <I>we</I> began." </P> <P>"Ah. Y'know, I've been doing that a lot, too, over the past few days." </P> <P>"You have?" </P> <P>"Oh yeah. When I was together with the guys, we all sort of reminisced how it used to be … how strange it is that we all sort of ended up marrying each other." </P> <P>The freshly-made Mrs Jason Scott giggled. "Everybody but Rocky. But you must admit, Mercy is perfect for him." </P> <P>"Oh, I agree. Though, how Rocky, of all people, ended up marrying a Spanish aristocrat, I'll never know." </P> <P>They exchanged an amused look. The unlikely match had come about as Mercedes Maria Renata Condesa da Silva y Aragon, on a visit to Angel Grove on behalf of her industrialist father, had been looking for a personal trainer and somehow had been directed to the Angel Grove Sports Academy, jointly run by Rocky DeSantos and one Kimberly Hart Oliver. It had been a stormy courtship, but they'd been married for over a year now, and were expecting their first child. Mercy fit in with the rest of the old gang as if she'd been there all along, and she loved her husband very much — even if they were constantly bickering with each other. They did so laughingly, however. Laughter was very much a part of daily life in the DeSantos home. </P> <P>Jason pressed a gentle kiss against his wife's temple. He'd been reflecting on their own courtship, which had spanned over six years and two continents, before they finally got together for good. He still regretted the time they'd spent apart, but it had been a necessary period for both of them, to find out what they truly wanted out of life. Returning to the original topic of conversation, he was curious. </P> <P>"What specifically were you remembering about us?" </P> <P>"Oh, this and that … times in the past that were important for us … like how it all began …" </P> <P>Katherine Hillard Scott leaned back into her husband's arms, looking out over the bright city lights far down below as she remembered one rainy autumn night, almost eight years ago. </P> <P ALIGN="CENTER">***</P> <B><I><P>London, Royal Ballet Academy, November 1998</B></I> </P> <P>Kat Hillard was still shaking with excitement. The performance had been over for over an hour, she had already showered and changed and was waiting for her friend, roommate and colleague Elissa Hunyadi to come out, but her heart was still beating a mile a minute. Her first public performance in a real theatre, before a paying audience! True, it was only a student's performance, where the Dance Academy pupils could get a taste of what it was going to be like, later, after graduation, but still …! The ballet had been "The Nutcracker", and her role a small one, but she <I>had</I> danced Tchaikowsky on a London stage! It was quite an accomplishment for a student barely out of her first year. She only wished her family and friends could have been there to share the moment with her. Shaking off her regrets, she finally spied her friend, and the two girls made their way to the stage exit. Stepping out into the drizzly night, they were arguing about whether to take the Tube or splurge for a taxi in honour of the occasion, when a vaguely familiar voice called out Kat's name. </P> <P>"Kat! Katherine, wait!" </P> <P>The two girls turned warily; the voice was deep, male and seemed friendly, but they weren't expecting anyone, and they couldn't be too careful. While this was not New York or East L.A., it still wasn't all that safe in a city the size of London to be accosted by strangers at night. Kat peered into the darkness. A broad-shouldered young man with short dark hair approached her, a mischievous smile on his handsome face. Beside her, Elissa stiffened. </P> <P>"Kat, do you know him?" she hissed, poised to cry out or flee, whatever should be necessary. </P> <P>"I'm not sure, I …" suddenly, Kat knew where she had seen him before. With a delighted squeal, she dashed forward, to be caught in strong arms and wrapped in an enthusiastic bear-hug. </P> <P>"Jason!" </P> <P>"Surprise!" </P> <P>"I don't believe this! What are you <I>doing</I> here?" Kat quickly introduced him to her friend. </P> <P>"Watching our favourite ballerina make her stage d&eacute;but." </P> <P>She gaped at him. </P> <P>"Y-you were at the performance?" </P> <P>Jason grinned and slipped his arm through hers. "Sure was. Way back, true, but I <I>did</I> see you — every crash and stumble." </P> <P>"Hey!" Kat punched him playfully. "I'll have you know that I didn't stumble even once — not <I>on</I> stage, anyway." </P> <P>"Meaning you crash into the furniture only when you're off stage?" His martial arts-honed reflexes made him duck just in time as she lashed out at him, laughing. </P> <P>"No, idiot! But seriously — what <I>are</I> you doing here? How did you know? And how, for heaven's sake, did you get here?" </P> <P>"Huh. Tall order — let's see." He began ticking items off his fingers as the three slowly made their way to the nearest Underground station. "I'm <I>really</I> here to see you perform; I came here first by car and then by bus, and as for how I knew — well, <I>my</I> mom met Tanya's mom, who had just talked to<I> your</I> mom, and, well, here I am." They had reached the station and Elissa said her good-byes; she was beginning to feel like a fifth wheel, they were so absorbed in each other, and this Jason fellow was obviously an old friend of Kat's. American, by his accent, and he seemed rather nice … nevertheless, the Hungarian decided to wait up until her roomie came home. </P> <P>The two former Rangers quickly made their way to Kat's favourite Indian restaurant, one of the small family-operated establishments that could be found all over London. Ordering tea and food, they settled down to some serious catching up. </P> <P>"I thought you had started classes at AGU — business, wasn't it, to open your own dojo?" Kat warmed her hands around the cup of fragrant Assam tea, looking at her old friend expectantly. </P> <P>"I did, at first — but business was boring me silly; then, this spring I got an offer I couldn't refuse." He grinned at the old clich&eacute;. "Didn't Tommy tell you in one of his letters?" </P> <P>A shadow fell over the lovely features. Kat looked down at the tablecloth and her voice was strained as she answered. </P> <P>"Jase … Tommy and I aren't writing anymore. Haven't, actually, since the summer." </P> <P>Jason covered her hand with his and squeezed gently. "Oh Kat … I'm sorry. What happened? Or … you don't have to talk about it, but if you need to …" </P> <P>The blonde swallowed hard, then made herself meet the dark, concerned eyes. Smiling wanly, she returned his grip. </P> <P>"No, it's okay. I'm getting over it. Really," she added, as he raised a questioning eyebrow. "It's just … I've been gone so long, and I'm even farther away than Kim ever was … it wouldn't have worked out. I'm stuck here in Europe for the next two years at least, and it wouldn't be fair to either one of us to hang on to a relationship. There was no great breakup, neither one of us has met someone else, but … we just drifted apart. Calling was getting too expensive and erratic, what with the time difference; the letters got fewer from both of us the more we got caught up in our new lives….Tommy called on my birthday in July, and we didn't really know anymore what to talk about. He has his racing, and I'm here; we just don't have that much in common any more, besides our former duties." </P> <P>Her companion continued holding her hand. </P> <P>"I…I don't know what to say. You guys seemed so happy together when I saw you last…" </P> <P>Katherine smiled somewhat mistily. Try as she might, she couldn't quite keep the lingering sadness out of her voice. </P> <P>"I thought we were, too. But it's over; there's no sense in hanging on to something that maybe wasn't meant to be from the start." </P> <P>"Kat, how can you say that? You and Tommy…" </P> <P>"…were both lonely and upset; him, because of Kimberly, and me because of what Rita had done to me. I caught Tommy on the rebound, and always knew it. I just thought, because of our shared experiences, that there was something more between us. There wasn't." </P> <P>"But Kat…" </P> <P>She squeezed his hand and put a smile on her face. To her surprise, it was easier than it had been before. </P> <P>"Jason, please. It's over — I've had to accept that, as hard as it's been. I…I just would like to put it behind me, okay? Let's talk about something else." She watched his skeptical expression and smiled again, a bit more genuinely. "Please?" </P> <P>Jason reluctantly conceded to her wish, as their food was brought. He'd never been to an Indian restaurant before, and Kat readily taught him the names and properties of the various dishes and condiments. Digging in, the two returned to their original conversation. </P> <P>"So…you said something about an offer you couldn't refuse?" Kat asked, grinning as she watched Jason make a grab for his water glass. He<I> wouldn't</I> listen when she'd told him that to the uninitiated, "'medium spicy' was, in fact, quite hot. </P> <P>Once Jason could speak again past his burning palate, he grinned right back, acknowledging her I-told-you-so smirk and happy at what he had to tell her. </P> <P>"You know about my stint at the Peace Conference, right? Well, seems like all of the delegates got offered scholarships to various European universities. I didn't think I'd qualify, because I left early, but in January I got a letter asking why I hadn't registered. I was feeling sort of dissatisfied with the classes I'd taken at AGU, and I took a long, hard look at what I wanted out of life. I still want to do something with martial arts, but I can teach that in my spare time; owning a business just seemed a little … oh, I dunno — tame?– after saving the world." </P> <P>"I know what you mean. It was pretty hard to get used to living at the Academy, but it's something I always dreamed of doing … even more than diving. It's just that, as a performing dancer, I can give joy and, well, a bit of enchantment to so many people … I think it's worth it — even <I>if</I> tame in comparison." </P> <P>Both ex-Rangers shared understanding smiles. They knew that all of their friends had the same problem and were coping in their own ways. Then, Jason resumed his tale. </P> <P>"Anyway, before all that business began" he made the reference to his Ranger career deliberately oblique, " I'd sort of dreamed of becoming a policeman, or a lawyer. Doing something to make the world a better place, and all that jazz. Only, I don't think I take orders all that well, and I'd never been a good enough student to qualify for a really good law school. Besides, I talked some to Lt. Stone, and he told me stories about life on the Police Force… no, thanks. I want to have a family someday, and I<I> don't</I> want to subject them to that kind of stress." He tore off another piece of <I>nan</I>, the tasty Indian bread, and wiped up the last bit of sauce from his plate. Popping it into his mouth, he washed it down with some more water and returned his attention to his rapt audience of one. </P> <P>"This letter I got….it really got me to thinking about law school again. My parents <I>did</I> put up a college fund for me, but there's no way they could afford a really good school. The scholarship took care of that; plus, if I do well, I'll have a chance at an Ivy League college to finish my education. I decided it was too good to pass up, so here I am." </P> <P>"Jason, that's great!" Kat was sincerely pleased for her friend. It was a bit difficult to picture him as a lawyer; Jason had always been such a man of action, but she knew deep down that his motives were right for his chosen path. She beamed at him, delighted. </P> <P>"So, you're back in Geneva?" </P> <P>Jason grinned. "Actually, no. I'm in Brussels." </P> <P>"Brussels? Why there?" </P> <P>"I guess you know Brussels is the official seat of the European Community Commission, right?" </P> <P>Kat nodded; she'd lived in England long enough to have gotten a fairly good grounding in European politics, just from watching the news. </P> <P>"Well, what better place to study International Law? Besides, I'd already taken a few French classes while in Geneva, so the language isn't that much of a problem." </P> <P>The dancer laughed merrily. </P> <P>"Somehow, I'm having a<I> very</I> hard time picturing you speaking French!" </P> <P>Jason laughed with her. </P> <P>"Oh, picture all you want; it's<I> hearing</I> me that's the problem! I've been told my accent is … not quite good. Yet." </P> <P>"Tell me about it!" Kat groaned in sympathy. "I have to learn French, too, since most of the great choreographies are written in French!" </P> <P>Both commiserated with each other, sharing funny anecdotes about their various mishaps with that beautiful, melodious, <I>difficult</I> language as they lingered over a second pot of tea. Finally, Kat let her curiosity get the better of her. </P> <P>"You're going into International Law, then? Politics?" </P> <P>"Not on your life! No, I'm aiming for criminal law, ultimately. But the way I figure it, I can get all the other stuff out of the way here, and when I get back to the States, I can concentrate on the rest." </P> <P>"Well, Brussels is certainly nearer to here than Geneva, and don't get me wrong — I'm thrilled to death that you're here. I <I>so</I> wished for my friends and family to see me tonight, and to have at least<I> one</I> of you watch my stage d&eacute;but is more than I'd ever hoped for, but isn't it awfully expensive?" Kat was a bit hesitant to bring this up; if it had been Tanya, or Tommy (if they'd still been a couple), it would be different, but for Jason to spend so much money just to be there for her… she relaxed as she saw his reassuring smile. </P> <P>"Don't worry about it, Kat. One of the guys at my dorm is from Cambridge; he's got his own car, and visits his family at least once a month; more often even, if the mood hits him. I grabbed a ride with him for a share of the gas, and I'm staying at the YMCA in Croydon. I can swing this easily." </P> <P>The Australian perked up at that. </P> <P>"You're here in London?" Croydon was one of the southern suburbs. </P> <P>"Yep. I checked in this morning, and Colin will pick me up at Victoria Station tomorrow night at eight. That way, we'll make the late ferry, catch a few winks there and be back in time for classes on Monday." </P> <P>The blue eyes lit up. "You'll be here tomorrow?" </P> <P>"Yeah, why?" </P> <P>Kat blushed slightly. She'd been about to invite Jason over for breakfast, but a sudden rush of shyness made her hesitate. She looked at him from under her lashes. The dark eyes were twinkling merrily into hers, and she had to laugh away her timidity. <I>*What are you worried about? This is Jason; you've trusted him with your life once, remember?*</I> </P> <P>"I was just thinking…would you like to come to my place for breakfast? And, um, maybe talk a little more?" </P> <P>It was Jason's turn to redden a bit around the ears. He reached for her hand again. </P> <P>"Actually, I was kinda hoping you'd like to show me around town a bit, if you have the time?" An entreating smile played over the handsome features. </P> <P>Kat didn't have to think. </P> <P>"I'd love to. So, <I>are</I> you coming for breakfast?" </P> <P ALIGN="CENTER">***</P> <B><I><P>Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006</B></I> </P> <P>Kat laughed softly at the memory and snuggled deeper into Jason's arms. </P> <P>"How was I to know you'd almost eat Lissa and me out of hearth and home?" </P> <P>"I did not!" </P> <P>"Sure you did. That first time and every time after that. Eggs, bacon, cereal, toast, the works. Every weekend you came over, you ate as if they weren't feeding you at all in Brussels." </P> <P>Jason kissed her on the neck, nuzzling into the soft skin behind her ear and provoking the soft purr he so loved to hear. Chuckling, he nipped on her earlobe and mock-growled. </P> <P>"Well, it was either my own cooking, or brave the cafeteria first thing each morning. I was just attempting to do justice to your cooking skills." </P> <P>"Right." She cast a knowing look over her shoulder. Unrepentant, her husband shrugged and grinned the slightly devilish smile she could never resist. </P> <P>"Oh, come on, Kath; you and Lissa <I>loved</I> mothering me; admit it!" </P> <P>She leaned back into the warm embrace. Smiling, she let her mind wander the past a bit more. Sighing fondly over some of the memories, Kat recalled Jason's earlier remark, that he'd been remembering, too. Wondering which moments stood out in his mind, she arched her neck a bit as his mouth gently wandered down to her silk-clad shoulder once more, caressing the smooth skin. </P> <P>"I admit nothing….mmmh." </P> <P>"No? I bet I could make you," he whispered suggestively, pulling her closer. His wife had other ideas, though. With a playful show of reluctance, she disengaged herself from his arms and glided over to a couch, beckoning him to come sit beside her. Jason smiled indulgently. He didn't mind; this was her night as much as his, and it was <I>nice</I> to walk down memory lane with Kat — at least for a while still. Later, though…. He settled next to her and drew her across his lap; cradling his lovely bride in his arms, he kissed her gently and shared one of his own fondest moments with her. </P> <P ALIGN="CENTER">***</P> <B><I><P>Brussels University, Sports Department, Summer 1999</B></I> </P> <P>Kat made her way cautiously through the packed bleachers to a place where she'd have a good view of the mats. Jason had joined the University's Martial Arts team soon after he'd enrolled, and tonight was a big meet against a French college. She settled on the uncomfortable seat; briefly, she thought about the trip to Edinburgh and a performance of the Bolshoy Ballet she'd been invited to this very weekend. Kat smiled a bit regretfully. Jason had been there for her so often these last few months — beginning with that first surprise visit for her stage d&eacute;but to his goofy phonecalls and serious letters …. they'd become very close, very fast, and she was increasingly looking forward to his visits to London. His friend Colin was nice, and got along well with her roommate; the four of them often met for dinner before the two guys headed home to Brussels. Over time, Jason came to see her every two or three weeks, even when she had performances to attend; the least she could do was return the favour when he was scheduled to fight in his first big international competition. <I>*The Bolshoy has been around for a long time; I can always see them another time!*</I> </P> <P>The bell rang for attention. Kat sat up straighter as the crowd around her settled down and the announcer made the introductions. Oriental music blared over the PA system, and the combatants marched in, single file. Soon, she made out her friend. He was standing next to the end of the line, his powerful body clad in a black gi with a red dragon embroidered on the back. The two Japanese characters below were the symbols for "'Power' and "'Thunder', Kat knew, and had to smile; although she hadn't known either Rocky or Jason during that time, both young men had always spoken fondly of the Powers they'd once shared. When both had to retire from the team within a short time of each other, the girls had come up with the idea of giving them matching gi's. Kat was inordinately pleased that Jason had chosen to wear his tonight. </P> <P>Jason tried to concentrate on the announcer's words, but it was hard; when they'd filed in, he'd thought he caught a glimpse of pink topped by pale-gold hair in the audience that seemed awfully familiar. </P> <I><P>*Don't get your hopes up, pal; there are lots of girls around with that colour hair. She has that offer to go to Scotland for the ballet; why would she give that up to watch you in yet another karate match? She's probably seen more than she ever cared about back home, with the rest of the gang.*</I> </P> <P>He concentrated again on his immediate surroundings. When the bouts began, he was focussed, as usual, but couldn't help wishing for his friends. The last important tournament he'd fought in was right after Muranthias, and most of his friends had been there with him. Jason pushed the memory to the back of his mind. That had been almost two years ago; they hadn't been together like that since shortly after graduation. Apart from letters and rare phonecalls, the only link to his past and the Rangers was his deepening friendship with Kat. Instinctively, his eyes wandered towards the section of the bleachers where he'd seen the flash of sunny hair. The young woman — he was sure of it now — sat there, watching the matches avidly, but she was too far away for him to recognize her. The former Ranger shook his head at himself. <I>*Why should Kat give up her chance to see the Bolshoy just for you?*</I> </P> <P>Kat watched Jason compete with more absorption than she'd ever had for Tommy, but wasn't really aware of it. She just cheered him on as loudly as she dared, while she waited with bated breath for the results after each bout. She could only just suppress an exuberant shout as he landed the winning blow in the match that would bring him to the semi-finals. The bell rang, and the lights went on again. There would be a half-hour intermission, and the former Pink Ranger felt in need for some fresh air. Fighting the crowds after a brief detour to the restrooms, Kat made her way outside. She didn't care for the milling throng of people who'd had the same idea as herself, and moved around the corner of the building, where she'd seen a small terrace earlier, as she'd been looking for the correct entrance. Kat climbed the outside staircase. When she reached the top, she froze momentarily; a male figure dressed in black was standing at the stone banister, his back to her. Suddenly, her heart began to beat faster. He was wearing a gi, and on the broad back a red embroidered dragon seemed to writhe sinuously with every tiny little movement. The short dark hair and a glint of gold at his left earlobe clinched it. </P> <P>Stepping closer to the solitary figure on almost-silent feet, Kat felt a smile play around her lips. She watched Jason for a few moments more, the way he drew in deep draughts of the balmy night air, before she spoke softly, not wanting to startle him. </P> <P>"You looked pretty amazing out there." </P> <P>Jason whirled around. He hadn't been so absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn't heard <I>someone</I> approach — his reflexes and senses were too well-honed after being a Ranger for so long, and almost a lifetime of Martial Arts, but he'd <I>never</I> expected to hear that particular, softly-accented voice. </P> <P>"K-kat?" </P> <P>The Australian stepped forward, into the faint light from lanterns below. </P> <P>"In the flesh," she replied, smiling at his thunderstruck expression. She didn't resist as Jason grasped both her hands and pulled her closer. Resting them on his broad shoulders, she gave him a friendly peck on the cheek. The glint of surprise in his dark eyes made way for genuine pleasure as he looked her over. </P> <P>"Oh man, this is unbelievable! I <I>thought</I> I'd seen you in the audience, but couldn't believe it….What about your trip to Edinburgh? Did it fall through?" </P> <P>"No," Kat said, hopping onto the banister. She held his gaze as she confessed softly, "Coming here was more important to me. The Bolshoy will come my way another time. Your first big tournament won't." </P> <P>Jason stepped closer, loosely enfolding her in his arms. He tried telling himself that it was only to prevent Kat from accidentally falling off the low wall, but a small presence at the back of his mind had suddenly gone on full-scale alert. The young woman didn't seem to notice that her friend was holding her almost in an embrace, and Jason shushed the voice that whispered at him to take just one more step, to lift his hands from the railing and place them around the slender back and…. </P> <P>"But Kat….you wanted to go so much…" </P> <P>"I wanted to come here more." Her tone was warm, friendly, but also quite adamant. "You came to my d&eacute;but last fall, and the least I can do is to return the favour. We're friends; that's what friends do for each other." </P> <P>"Yeah. Friends," Jason agreed, trying hard to squelch his disappointment. His first visit to London had indeed been meant as a friendly gesture — it had cost him little more than his time, after all, and had been a welcome break from studying, but with time, he'd returned again and again because….he wasn't sure. He only knew that Kat was appearing more gorgeous to him every time he saw her, and that he was getting increasingly impatient the closer the time for his visits became. To give them up now was near unthinkable. </P> <P>The two former Rangers looked at each other consideringly. Suddenly, they both had to laugh, and the slight tension that had sprung up between them with Kat's admission dissolved. Jason relaxed and leaned against the banister next to his blonde friend. </P> <P>"So … when did you come, and how long can you stay?" </P> <P>Kat swung her legs a little as she looked at him sideways, a mischievous smile on her lovely face. </P> <P>"I came this afternoon, and I can stay until tomorrow at five; I'll have to catch the train to Ostend." </P> <P>Jason nodded; he'd become quite familiar with the ferry schedule, and knew that she'd be on the ten o'clock ferry to Dover. </P> <P>"Did you book a cabin?" </P> <P>"No, a sleeper chair; I'll be in London early enough for a shower and change before classes. I'm off early on Mondays, so I can catch up on any sleep I'm going to miss." </P> <P>"And….what are your plans for tomorrow?" </P> <P>He felt like pumping his fist in the air at Kat's reply. </P> <P>"Well, I thought you might perhaps return the favour and show me around Brussels?" </P> <P>"Gladly." The deep voice had grown slightly husky, and Kat looked at Jason, surprised. The warm glow in his eyes made her catch her breath as he slowly straightened and took up his former position in front of her, his strong arms bracketing her on both sides. Before either could say anything else, however, a distant bell recalled audience and combatants back into the gym hall. Jason stepped back, reluctance in every line of his body. He swallowed once. </P> <P>Kat slid down from her seat and looked at Jason, as if seeing him for the first time. She'd thought she'd known him well, but all of a sudden his handsome face, his powerful, muscled body had quite a different impact on her than ever before. She could feel her mouth dry up. </P> <P>"I have to go." </P> <P>"I know." </P> <P>Neither made a move. Then, Jason reached for her hand once more. Stroking the back gently with his thumb, he wouldn't look at her as he made a request. </P> <P>"Will ….will you wait for me here, afterwards?" </P> <P>Kat's voice was hardly more than a whisper as she answered. </P> <P>"Of course." </P> <P>She was released from her momentary paralysis as she took in the smile lighting up his face. He didn't say anything as he was about to turn away, towards the entrance she hadn't noticed before, but Kat couldn't just let him leave like this. She softly called out his name. </P> <P>"Jason?" </P> <P>"Yes, Kat?" </P> <P>Her nickname had never sounded so gentle. She felt her heart beat a little faster. </P> <P>"Good luck." </P> <P>Jason laughed. </P> <P>"Thanks. I'm going to need it." </P> <P>How could he think that? He was the first Red Ranger, the Gold Ranger; he'd defeated Space Aliens and monsters, what Human opponent could possibly overpower him in a fair fight? Kat put a hand that was not quite steady on the muscular forearm. Earnestly, she looked up the short distance into his eyes — Jason was not quite as tall as Tommy, but still had a couple of inches on her. </P> <P>"No, you don't. You can win this." </P> <P>"You think so?" </P> <P>"I know so." </P> <P>The soft voice rang with conviction. Jason looked deeply into the sapphire eyes, which seemed almost as dark as his own in the semi-darkness surrounding them. The trust and belief in them settled into the core deep within him, and he just nodded his acceptance. He really had to leave; the bell had just rung a second time. Still, the two stood, staring at each other. Neither wanted to break away. </P> <P>A shout of laughter, running footsteps and the slamming of a door below broke the tableau. Jason ran a hand through his short, dark hair, and Kat briefly looked away. </P> <P>"I…" Words failed Jason. Drawing a ragged breath, he settled for reassurance. </P> <P>"Are you sure you won't mind waiting?" </P> <P>"I'm positive. Go, and win — I <I>know</I> you can do it." </P> <P>Kat saw the momentary flicker of doubt cross his features, but also the small ray of hope lighting his eyes. Without thinking, she reinforced the latter in the only way that came to her. She crossed the small distance between them and placed both hands on the broad shoulders, squeezing gently. </P> <P>"Go. I'll be waiting for you." </P> <P>Before Jason could answer that, Kat did something to rob him completely of speech. She leaned forward slightly and brushed her soft lips against his, in the lightest of caresses. Then, she was gone, skipping down the stairs and vanishing inside. </P> <P>He stared after her, stunned speechless and immobile, his lips tingling. He recalled himself with a shake of his head as he heard the coach bellow his name in the distance, and went back inside. The last-minute instructions and the march back into the arena passed him by in a momentary daze, until he found himself back in the spotlight. The announcer introduced the final four combatants, and when his name was called out, Jason automatically zoomed in on the area in the bleachers where he'd seen Kat's sunny hair before. Their eyes met and held across the distance, and suddenly everything came into focus again. The young man took his place on the edge of the mat, kneeling in the traditional position as he waited his turn. If he concentrated, he could still feel the brush of Kat's mouth against his own, and it filled him with joy and confidence. No matter what happened out here tonight, he would still be a winner — maybe, if he was extremely lucky, in more ways than one. </P> <P>Kat resumed her seat with burning cheeks and her heart beating in her throat. She hardly heard or saw what was going on around her, until Jason turned towards her to look directly into her eyes. She smiled, although it was highly improbable that he'd be able to see it, and finally relaxed. She watched the first pair fight, then sat up straighter as Jason bowed to his opponent. While he jumped, kicked and rolled on the mats, scoring point after point, her thoughts were whirling madly. </P> <P>*<I>Oh God, what have I done? What must he think of me? Whatever made me…kiss…him like that?*</I> </P> <P>Kat trembled slightly at the memory of how warm Jason's lips had felt against hers. Unbidden, on the tail of that, came another thought that sent a fresh rush of colour into her cheeks. </P> <P>*<I>Do I want to do it again? Do I want him to kiss me? And not just fleetingly, but really?Deeply, like a boyfriend? Maybe even …. as a lover, someday?*</I> </P> <P>The answer to all questions, to Kat's surprise, was a resounding "yes". Yet another question popped up as she cheered automatically when Jason scored the winning point with a flawless roundhouse kick. </P> <I><P>*Am I in love with him? And if I am, when did it happen?*</I> </P> <P>She had no answer to the latter, but the former question brought a rush of warmth and well-being, even of peace, to her. Pushing everything aside, Kat applauded vigorously as Jason *<I>My boyfriend? Oh, I hope so!*</I> stepped up for the final match. Her heart in her throat, she watched, as mesmerized as the rest of the crowd, as Jason and his opponent, an olive-skinned Frenchman, circled each other. Both were about the same height, but where Jason fought with power and strength, the other brought a cat-like grace and incredible speed into the bout. Both scored even points, neither getting the upper hand. At long last, the Frenchman managed almost to pin Jason down, but it was not enough for a winning point. The former Ranger fought with all his might to prevent being thrown completely to the mat. He closed his eyes briefly to gather his slowly ebbing strength. Twisting as much as he could, he loosened the hold the other had on him slightly, then looked up towards the audience. Dark eyes met blue pools as if drawn by a magnet. What Jason found in them gave him the necessary impetus to heave up and out, twist and deliver a spinning back kick that would have made Chuck Norris proud. His opponent went down and didn't get up again. He'd won. </P> <P>The crowd went wild as his teammates, the coach and friends from his University swarmed him. For a moment, Jason was disoriented as he was hugged, cheered and jostled. When he came up for air again and searched the bleachers, the pale-gold head was gone. </P> <P>Kat waited patiently outside the University gym as the crowd of spectators and contestants slowly thinned out. She was shivering slightly; on the outside because it was getting late, and a not-quite gentle breeze blew around the corner, and on the inside, because she did not know what would happen once Jason joined her. </P> <I><P>*What do I want to happen?*</I> she asked herself for the umpteenth time since the intermission. Kat was no closer to an answer when finally the double glass doors opened and a powerful figure in jeans, t-shirt and loose flannel appeared. She slowly straightened from her perch against a walled flower bed as her friend and fellow former Ranger approached her. </P> <P>Jason dropped his gym bag on the floor and drank in the sight of Kat, from her wind-blown locks and sparkling, questioning eyes down her lithe, willowy figure clad in her trademark pink shirt and white summer slacks to her sandalled feet. His eyes were drawn upwards again and fastened on the soft pink lips. They moved, and he made out the single word with difficulty through his thundering heartbeat. </P> <P>"Congratulations." </P> <P>It was a whisper on the wind, and barely audible, but Jason didn't need to hear. Because Kat's eyes were speaking to him as well, and they were telling him things he'd hoped to hear for a long time now. Smiling his thanks, he took a single step that brought him to her, and Kat found herself enfolded in strong arms that warmed her inside and out. She buried her face in the red-and-black flannel and threaded her arms around Jason's waist. The two held each other for a long time, listening to each other's heartbeat, until another member of the winning Brussels team passed them and said something teasingly to Jason. He released Kat slightly and responded in his accented French. The other young man laughed and sauntered off, as Jason turned back towards her. </P> <P>"What did he say?" Kat asked, curious. His accent had been unfamiliar to her, her French was not <I>that</I> good to begin with, and she'd been … distracted. To her surprise, Jason blushed. He slowly, reluctantly released her. </P> <P>"Jase?" </P> <P>The young man cleared his throat. He could feel his cheeks flaming as he haltingly translated Luc's remark. </P> <P>"He…he said that I'm twice lucky tonight…to win the tournament and….and get the pretty blonde." </P> <P>"Oh!" </P> <P>Katherine felt her own blush rise up from her toes. She almost didn't hear Jason's mumbled next words. </P> <P>"Yeah, don't I wish." </P> <P>Suddenly, the butterflies that had plagued her ever since that fleeting touch of her lips against his were back with a vengeance. In hardly more than a whisper, she asked. </P> <P>"Wish … what, Jason?" </P> <P>He met her eyes. Swallowing hard, he gambled everything on the hope that suddenly rose brightly within him. </P> <P>"That I'd really won the pretty blonde." </P> <P>All at once, her doubts vanished. Kat reached out to the young man, her friend, her former teammate, and gently touched Jason's cheek with her fingertips. Trailing them downwards to his lips, which opened on an indrawn breath, she smiled tremulously and sought out the midnight eyes. Looking deeply and finding everything she'd ever wished for, she moved closer, back into his instinctive embrace, her voice sultry and sure. </P> <P>"Who says you haven't?" </P> <P>Jason's breath caught for a moment, then he felt his heart begin to race. Pulling Kat even more tightly to him, his voice was husky and deeper than usual as he whispered her name. </P> <P>"Kath?" </P> <P>"Yes." </P> <P>Further words became superfluous as their lips met and clung, opening to each other in an exchange as old as time. </P> <P ALIGN="CENTER">***</P> <B><I><P>Angel Grove, Crowne Hotel, 2006</B></I> </P> <P>Kat sighed softly and curled up against her husband's chest as Jason's mouth released her own and wandered up into her hair. She tilted her head and looked lovingly into his dark eyes. </P> <P>"That was the first time you called me "'Kath' instead of "'Kat'." </P> <P>" I just like it better; it's a bit softer, more gentle….just like you." Jason pecked her nose playfully. "Besides, I never really saw you as a cat." </P> <P>"No? What then?" His wife cast him a slightly wary look. </P> <P>"Are you sure you want to know?" The deep organ shook with suppressed laughter. </P> <P>Kat sat up straighter. Turning slightly so that she could look into eyes sparkling with mischief, she fixed her brand-new husband with a mock glare. </P> <P>"Yes, I think I do. Out with it, Jason Scott, or I'll…." </P> <P>"You'll…what?" He tugged at her hair playfully. </P> <P>"I'll think of something, don't worry." Kat tried and failed to look menacing. Jason pulled her back into his arms, thinking her adorable when he ruffled her feathers. Which is why he loved doing it so much. </P> <P>"Okay, but remember, you asked." </P> <P>Looking his wife over critically and earning himself a playful swat, he seemed to consider the matter carefully. </P> <P>"Well, you're tall, and graceful, and when you move …. especially when you run …. you sort of remind me of a horse." </P> <P>"A … what?!" He grinned at her expression, which was a mixture of indignant and incredulous. </P> <P>"Yeah….have you ever seen an Arabian thoroughbred move? When I was in Geneva, one of the study tours took us to a horse-breeding facility in Morocco. The horses there….the way they ran, and played….pure poetry in motion. Power, speed and grace. That's what I see when I look at you." </P> <P>He kissed her again. Only slightly mollified, Kat settled back into Jason's arms. A look at him confirmed her suspicion that that wasn't all. He noticed, and his grin broadened. </P> <P>"Of course, if you <I>really</I> don't care about the comparison, there's another I could have made…" </P> <P>"Like what?" </P> <P>Kat tried to brace herself against an even more outrageous epithet. Her loving husband didn't disappoint her. </P> <P>"Oh, if a horse — or maybe steed would be a better word — is too big or whatever for you, you sometimes also remind me of a whippet." </P> <P>For a moment, Kat was pleased, then the full picture descended on her with Jason's next words. </P> <P>"Of course, since whippets are dogs, and you are female, that'd make you a…" He yelped as she pinched him, hard, torn between outrage and laughter. </P> <P>"Ouch; that hurt!" He tried to assume an expression of wounded innocence. Kat just glared at him, trying to control her twitching lips. Jason tried once again. </P> <P>"Ah, I've got it … a fawn? Of course, you'd have to dye your hair brown for that….and your eye-colour is all wrong, too…" </P> <P>Kat gave up the struggle against her laughter. He was impossible to deal with when in this mood. Instead, she settled for as dire a threat as she could think of. </P> <P>"Jason, I swear, if I didn't love you so much, I'd….I'd…." she never got to finish. </P> <P>Jason gathered her close again, chuckling, but his eyes still sparkled with unholy mirth. </P> <P>"And I love you. More than ever." </P> <P>The blue eyes softened, as they always did when Jason expressed his feelings for her in that tender, husky tone that sent shivers down her spine. Today no less than the first time he'd done so, all those years ago….. </P> <P ALIGN="CENTER">***</P> <B><I><P>London, the weekend before Valentine's Day, 2000</B></I> </P> <P>Kat folded Tommy's letter into the precise creases it'd been in. Although they hadn't been a couple for quite some time, they still stayed loosely in contact as friends, like with Rocky and Adam — or Billy, who had come back from Aquitar for reasons as yet unknown. He was now at MIT, breezing through his studies and headed for his first doctorate. </P> <P>It should have come as no surprise to her — Tommy had accepted a place on a racing team based in Daytona, and with Kimberly still in Florida, training hard for the Olympics in her own hometown of Sydney this summer, it probably had been inevitable that the two had reconnected. They weren't a couple again yet, but had sorted out their relationship and were prepared to try again once Kim was under less pressure. </P> <P>Katherine was happy and more than that with Jason, but it still hurt, in ways she wasn't altogether comfortable with. She'd always felt that she couldn't <I>quite</I> live up to the first Pink Ranger, that she somehow fell short. Everybody had always told her she was being ridiculous, but the irrational nagging had persisted. It had gotten better once she gained distance, emotionally and geographically, but the letter brought it all back. She appreciated Tommy's honesty in telling her himself, rather than let her hear it third- or fourth-hand from one of their friends, but still….she'd invested so much of her heart into that first love, that she couldn't help but reflect on what might have been. </P> <P>The dancer sighed. She looked out into the drizzly gray sky, feeling depressed and lonely. It was only a few days until Valentine's Day, and the cheery decorations, hearts and flowers in the shop windows made her want to scream. To top it all off, her teacher, a tiny, ethereal woman in her early forties, had made a few remarks about her that stung, reminding her of the time after graduating from school when she'd become obsessed with her weight. Kat knew that she was a bit on the tall side for a dancer; since most male dancers weren't very tall, the added height of dancing on her toes made her tower over most of her fellow students. Her build was perfectly proportionate to her height, but Madame Orlovska's words made her feel fat and ungainly. Elissa wasn't home to commiserate with her; Kat checked her watch and came to a decision. </P> <I><P>*Money be damned! I need to talk to somebody who will make me feel better!*</I> </P> <P>She reached for the phone and dialled a number on the Continent, with a Brussels area code. </P> <I><P>*I just hope he's in…*</I> <BR> &nbsp; </P> <P ALIGN="CENTER">***</P> <P>Jason arrived by train on Saturday morning; Kat met him at Victoria Station and the two set off, towards the theatre district. Jason inquired earnestly after the reasons for her not-quite frantic phonecall, but now that he was actually here, Kat found herself perversely unwilling to talk. Only yesterday Mme. Orlovska had made another scathing remark concerning her, markedly singling out the shorter, tinier, <I>slimmer</I> students. Kat was trying valiantly not to let it bother her, but wasn't very successful. Still, for Jason's sake, she attempted to make light of it when he insisted on knowing, to play all the little and not so little hurts down. </P> <P>They strolled around Covent Garden, watching tourists and locals mingle with young and old street buskers around the square; then made their way through small sidestreets to Chinatown — although the name "town" was rather misleading. Basically, it was one street running parallel to Shaftesbury Avenue, but cordoned off to permit only foot traffic, with street signs and phone booths all lettered in Chinese. They picked an inexpensive restaurant to have lunch, and finally Jason had a chance to cut through his girlfriend's determined chatter. </P> <P>They were sharing a pot of jasmine tea against the February chill outside when he grasped her hands in his. Lifting them to his lips and gently caressing the knuckles, he made his voice as gentle as he knew how. </P> <P>"Kath? Kath honey, what's wrong?" </P> <P>"Nothing." </P> <P>She wouldn't meet his eyes. Instead, Jason felt her fingers convulse slightly in his own. He brushed a soft kiss against one palm. </P> <P>"Kath." </P> <P>His tone of voice was enough to make Kat blush guiltily. It was warm, tender, understanding, but it also told her that Jason saw right through her, and wouldn't be put off any longer with lame excuses and evasions. In her present state of mind, it made her even more irrationally edgy. And yet, she tried to tamp down on her roiling emotions. Looking at Jason from under her lashes, she impatiently freed one of her hands and brushed back her hair. Stalling a bit, Kat put a mock scowl on her face. </P> <P>"You think you know me pretty well, don't you?" Her tone was sharper than she'd intended, and Jason frowned slightly. </P> <P>"Don't I?" He countered her question with one of his own. Reaching out, he trailed the back of his hand down her cheek, and that was enough. Tears began to fill the blue eyes and threatened to spill over. Quickly, Jason abandoned his seat opposite Kat and sat down next to her, pulling her face against his broad shoulder. The blonde buried her face in his grey turtleneck and sobbed a couple of times before she got a hold of herself once more. Fumbling for a tissue, she nearly upended her large purse over the small table. Jason grinned involuntarily as he caught a pen, a hairbrush and a small, rolled-up umbrella just in time before they ended on the floor. </P> <I><P>*I'll never understand what she needs all this stuff for!*</I> </P> <P>He surveyed the assorted paraphernalia amusedly while Kat blew her nose and wiped at her eyes. She caught his smile and bit back a sharp remark. It wasn't Jason's fault that she was so out of sorts; on the contrary, he'd come as soon as possible after her weepy phonecall two days ago, and was so nice and considerate…. </P> <I><P>*So why is he setting my teeth so on edge?*</I> </P> <P>Kat had no answer. Deciding that she had nothing to lose, she haltingly confessed her woes to him, starting with her teacher's slurs against her. Airing her complaints made them seem as petty and small as they really were, and Jason's understanding and gentle humour, spiced with a few choice remarks about Madame Orlovska, whom he'd had the displeasure to meet once, soon after they'd started dating seriously, soon brought a watery smile to her lips. </P> <P>"I … I'm sorry, Jase; I don't know why she suddenly gets to me so much." She poured another cup of tea. Reaching for the sugarbowl, she suddenly stopped herself. Mme Orlovska's barbs might not be true, but they still stung — and there was a kernel of truth in them — as a dancer, she <I>couldn't</I> afford any extra weight. It fanned the still-glowing embers of her temper, but Kat swallowed it down. Instead, she opened a packet of sweetener and stirred the two tiny tablets into her tea. She sipped the hot liquid with a grimace. </P> <P>Jason lifted his own cup. Jasmine tea was not his favourite, but it was hot, and it seemed to soothe Kat. However, as the silence lengthened and the sapphire pools remained shadowed, he slipped an arm around her waist and squeezed gently. </P> <P>"What else is bothering you, Kath?" </P> <P>For a minute, Kat balked at giving her boyfriend the answer he deserved, but she really needed to get it off her chest. She was about to snuggle a bit more deeply into his arm, when a waiter jostled Jason's elbow, nearly upending a bowl of soup over him. With a regretful smile, Jason resumed his former seat. He held her hand in his, and rested his cheek in her palm. Kat could feel his warm breath waft over her wrist, and it sent a tiny shiver down her spine. Normally, she welcomed these tiny little signs of their growing intimacy, but today it only served to irritate her once more. She withdrew her hand from his and played restlessly with her belongings, which still lay scattered over the small table. </P> <P>Kat drew a deep breath. Releasing it slowly, she couldn't look Jason in the eye as she mumbled out the real reason for her edginess. </P> <P>"I … I got a letter from Tommy the other day. From Florida." </P> <P>She blushed a dull red. Jason knew that Tommy still sent her an occasional message, just as he received mail from the other female Rangers. He'd never seemed to mind, but somehow, this felt .. different. Kat couldn't look up, but noticed the slight stiffening in the powerful body across the table. The deep voice, however, stayed as calm and understanding as before. </P> <P>"Ah. He told you, then?" </P> <P>"What?!" She looked up sharply. The dark eyes regarded her with warm sympathy. "Are you telling me you … you <I>knew </I>that he's taken up with Kimberly again?" </P> <P>"Kath … Tommy and I are best friends. Always have been, always will be. It was only natural that he'd tell me." </P> <P>The Australian felt her temper rise from simmering to a slow boil. </P> <P>"Why didn't you <I>tell</I> me?!" Fresh tears were threatening to spill over, and she dashed them impatiently away. Jason handed her another tissue, and tried to ignore her wrathful glance as she accepted it. "At least then I'd've had some warning!" </P> <P>Jason sobered. This went far beyond anything he'd expected once Kat knew. He tried not to let it hurt him, that she still seemed so strongly affected by the fact that Tommy and Kim were starting over. Instead, he reached for a slim hand once more. </P> <P>"Because Tommy asked me not to; he felt you deserved to hear it from him. Of course, if I'd known it'd take him three weeks to get around to contacting you …" </P> <P>"You knew <I>for three weeks</I> about this and you didn't think I might want to know? Is Tommy more important to you than I?" Her voice rose, and with an effort Kat brought it back down. The need for quiet in this public place grated on her nerves, making her even crankier. <I>*What's wrong with me? Why do I get so bent out of shape? I have Jason now — why am I still so obsessed about Tommy?*</I> Kat had no answer for the voice inside her head. </P> <P>"Kat….you, <I>and</I> Tommy,