I laid off the foot for two days - it was the most I could do, and despite the odd twinge here and there, I had gotten very good at knowing where to place my weight so that it wouldn't flare up too much.
I heard from Trini and Zack - they were bummed they hadn't been part of the team to Germany, but happy for Jason.
I spoke to Jason, and was very proud when he said he had accomplished what he had set out to do at the summit, and was personally invited to stay on in Germany, where they wanted him to act as primary representative and continue on to three other major cities in the country.
It was harder to reach Tommy on the phone, so I continued to write him, sketching details of my life in Florida, Coach Schmidt, my teammates, my fiercest competitors, and my gruelling schedule.
Billy wrote back, he was the best at correspondence, and his lengthy letters kept my homesick heart full with stories about Ernie, humorous ones about the latest exploits of Bulk and Skull, and stuff about their team missions that he thought I would find interesting.
I watched reports with coverage on the Power Rangers, and found that the Pink Ranger's fighting techniques had definitely taken on a style similar to my boyfriend's, albeit with more of the soft grace of her ballet background, as opposed to the hyper, flashy bursts that was Tommy's signature.
The days usually kept me too busy from missing my days as a Ranger, for my training schedule was tough and I would wake up with gymnastics on the brain and fall into bed at night exhausted from pushing my body to the limits.
The Games arrived, but without the fanfare I had been expecting. The crash and boom that surely I had built up in my head surrounding the bright red circle I had marked around the date on my calendar.
I woke up in the morning, waiting to feel some sort of rush, the kind of energy I had been used to feeling before going into battle, or when faced with one of the putties or a Tengu warrior, but none came.
I arrived at the competition venue, and the sights and sounds were overwhelming. Cheers erupted from the stands surrounding the central mat where we would compete, and the row of judges sitting to the side were intimidating.
Blocking it all out, I focused on the figure of Coach Schmidt standing with a couple of my other teammates. Teammates who had, over the course of the past weeks, turned into competitors.
We exchanged friendly grins and how-are-you's, but underneath it all, was a grim recognition that only one of us would emerge winner.
"Right, guys," called Coach, "this is it everyone. Get your head in the game and block out all else. Got it?"
We nodded in unison.
He lifted his chin at the families and supporters of my fellow three gymnasts and stuck a thumb in their direction. "Now go get your good luck kisses and wishes."
I stayed behind, dumping my gear on the bench reserved for contestants and dropped into a warm-up routine.
Coach frowned at me slightly. "Kim?" he asked questioningly, looking around and to the stands.
I looked up and gave him a tiny smile, shaking my head.
His frown deepened. "Not one?"
I shook my head again. My mom was pregnant, and there was no way any airline would let her travel this late in her pregnancy.
The Rangers have far bigger responsibilities on their plate, and Tommy, well, Tommy was their leader.
I told Trini, Zack and Jason to save the airfare and watch the coverage on TV instead. Though right now, I really, really wished I hadn't. I missed them all so much, and it would have meant so much to have them cheering me on in the stands right now.
I looked out to the wide expanse of blue mat smack in the middle of the hall.
It was big, it was blue and it was empty. It looked terrifying.
"Er, Coach Schmidt? I think I really need to make a phone call."
He nodded his head understandingly. "Be back here in twenty minutes."
I took off like a rocket, jangling a purse full of change I kept for this express purpose. Out of the competition hall, the sudden silence of the long corridor seemed comforting. I hurried down it, and located the pay phones, jerkily punching out a direct call to a number I could recite backwards in my sleep.
And rang. And rang.
"Pick up, pick up. Pick uppppppp..."
The dial tone went flat. Disappointed beyond belief, I stared blankly at the phone in my hand.
After several deep breaths, I replaced the phone on the cradle. Pushing my hair out of my face, I pulled out a piece of paper from the purse of change, flattening it out and dialled the number scribbled on that instead.
Trini answered after a couple of rings. "Kim?" she said in surprise, "Why're you calling me now? Aren't you supposed to be in a competition?"
"I know!" I wailed. "But I'm a huge basket of nerves and there's no one I love around!" I flailed my arm up helplessly, so miserable I could hardly stand it.
"Huh?" said Trini, sounding puzzled. "Isn't Jaso-"
Before she could finish, the phone was plucked out of my hand and a voice behind me said, "Boo."
I let out an un-ranger-like screech and spun around, arms crossed in a defensive stance, ready to pound the creep into pulp.
"Looks like I taught you well," Jason said approvingly.
I dropped my stance, nearly giddy with happiness and took a flying leap into his arms. "Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh! I can't believe you're here! You're actually here!"
He laughed, rich and low, and I gave him an extra squeeze for good measure. "I tried calling you, but you didn't pick up!"
"Now you know why."
I heard Trini laughing faintly from the phone still in Jason's hand. She said something and Jason handed the phone to me.
I snatched it up, dancing away from him. "He's here! He's here!"
Trini laughed. "Yeah, we're so sorry we couldn't all come. But they could only sacrifice one of us from the US team, and Jason called it."
I turned towards Jason and gave him a big smile. "Thanks for knowing me so well," I told Trini, but my eyes were on Jason, so he would know that I meant it for him as well.
"No problem, Kim," Trini said, "Now do us all proud and go kick some butt!"
I hung up with a big smile. God I love my friends. And I missed them so much.
My smile was still in place as I turned to find Jason watching me. I returned his look with a fond one of my own, then reached out suddenly to smack him in the stomach. "I thought I told you not to come!"
He chuckled and rubbed the spot. "Yeah, sure you did. But you'd have killed me if I really didn't."
I hid a smile and he touched my elbow, ushering me back to the competition hall. "C'mon, you've a competition to win."
The noise as we entered the event hall was nothing short of deafening, and the place was filled with adrenaline. This time though, I felt charged from the atmosphere, a complete difference from earlier when everything overwhelmed me.
I groped around blindly for Jason's hand, my eyes unable to leave the rows and rows of cheering people surrounding me. A sudden warmth engulfed my hand as he folded his fingers around mine. He gave them a squeeze and warmth radiated up my arm and settled around my heart. I took a deep breath, comforted by his steady presence.
Coach Schmidt smiled as he saw me return with Jason in tow. "Ah, this must be the famous boyfriend." He stuck his hand out for Jason to shake. "Tommy?"
Jason let out a soft chuckle. "Not quite," he said, grasping Coach Schmidt's hand, "Jason Scott, the best friend. Or one of them, anyway." He turned to me with a wink.
I beamed at him, proud to show him off. "He's the one at the World Peace Conference in Switzerland."
Coach Schmidt nodded. "Fine thing to be doing, young man. And I'm really glad that you showed up for Kim today." He reached into a bag and retrieved a spare pass that he indicated Jason should wear around his neck, explaining that it would give him access to the contestants' holding area. Then he tapped his watch and shooed the both of us off, and assured us that he would be along in a bit.
The holding area was massive, but grouped neatly into little areas, with each area sectioned off with tall plants so that we could each have some form of privacy. An usher led the both of us to a section with "K. Hart" labelled on each of the four chairs.
Jason dropped my duffel on the floor as I bent into light stretches that started off my warm-up routine. He took a chair, quietly observing as I sank into side splits and then into front splits.
I could hear the cheers from the spectators outside as the first contestant took his place on the mat. They were doing males first, and then females, so it would be some time before it got to my turn to perform.
"You good?" he asked, with a keen eye on the ankle that I was trying hard not to favor.
I pulled a face. It figured that he would be the only one to notice. He knew me, us, even better than we did ourselves. We were his, and he was ours, and he guarded us all with his life.
He knew us; and not just because we counted on him to pick up the slack whenever we couldn't. For him, more than anything, it was to best protect us, for he carried the weight of keeping us all alive on his shoulders alone.
He raised an eyebrow and indicated my right ankle. "That's the one that's giving you trouble isn't it?"
"Yeah," I answered, rising from the ground and taking a chair. "But I've sort of learnt to manage it. It doesn't hurt or give me any trouble when I do my routine in a certain way." I accepted the bottle of water that he offered me and took a sip.
He sank to a knee on the floor before me. Reaching for my right foot, he gently placed it on his thigh, pressing on the toes and helping me to stretch the heel.
There was an instant relief from the pressure that I had been trying to alleviate earlier and I gave him a grateful smile.
"You brought any bandages or wraps?" he asked, with a quick glance up at me from under those dark brows.
I nodded. "Yeah, in my duffle."
He reached for the side pocket and looked surprised as his fingers immediately closed over what he had been looking for.
I grinned and shrugged. "I pack my bag the same way you do yours."
He shook his head in amusement and I caught a glimpse of a smile on his face as he looked back down at my foot.
Somehow I found myself mesmerized by his hands as he carefully wrapped up my ankle.
They weren't the prettiest hands, far from it, they were callused and rough, with a lot more than a few scars on them. They crisscrossed his knuckles, some silver with age, some thin and raised, and all from the times he had counted on them to win a fight. To save the world.
They were strong, broad hands, capable of so much force, and yet so gentle now with me.
There was a sudden charge in the air between, a crackle. An odd feeling surged through me. An unfamiliar one where Jason was concerned, and it left me feeling confused, breathless, and disoriented.
"All done," he said softly, and placed my foot back on the ground.
The motion startled me and I blinked, flustered and unsettled. I was relieved when I looked into his dark, dark eyes and felt the familiar rush of warmth that I had come to associate with him. I held his gaze for a moment too long, my emotions a mix of old and a startling new. But here he was, solid and real, and I was so glad to finally see him again, in the flesh, after months and months of being comforted by just his voice through the phone.
"Thank you," I murmured, still unable to look away.
He smiled his Jason smile, the one that made his eyes crinkle and his dimples show. "Anytime, Kim," he said, giving my bare knee a short squeeze as he stood.
My breath caught and my heart skipped a beat.
The lingering warmth of his touch stayed until I heard my name being called. I stood up, wiping sweaty palms on my leotard, suddenly nervous.
"Morphin' time, Kim," Jason said, for my ears alone.
I caught a glint in his eyes and a sharp rush of adrenaline filled me. I've not heard those words from him in more than a year. And I could not have anticipated how much of an impact it made hearing them from him again now.
I was going to win. I could feel it. I could do anything with Jason here beside me. I stood up and walked confidently to the main hall.
It was time for me to perform.