"One Phone Call" – T – Part 3/3 (COMPLETE)

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."

Albert Schweitzer

Sunday, 2:27 AM
Harborside Apartments, Unit 506
Angel Grove, California

"And... Anton's dead, Jase."

Tommy fought back a choked sob as his best friend's harsh gasp echoed accusingly in his ears. He had managed cut the call with his parents short, pleading exhaustion and begging them to call David for him, but he couldn't just leave Jason for the morning. He was as much his family as they were.

"Are you sure? I mean, they said you were, too, and-"

He could feel the thin veil of control slipping away as the images shot through his mind. The waves of people rushing off the island. Their panicked, terrified expressions as the hordes of reprogrammed Tyrannodrones tore through the crowd of helpless scientists. His desperate search for Anton and the gems through the labyrinthine network of narrow corridors. And his startling confrontation with -

"Mesagog," he murmured hollowly, barely aware of speaking the name aloud. "He was waiting for me in Anton's office, and he never would have-"

"Mesa-who?"

His eyes automatically sprang back towards the sack and its despised contents. How could he do it? How could he tell Jason, the man who had entrusted him with the defense of the planet, that all of it, the entire disastrous chain of events, had been his fault? That he had been an utter fool?

He had thought he could control the Power. He had thought he could utilize it. He had thought he was experienced enough to harness it.

He had thought he could be Zordon.

Now Tommy understood that the night's tragedy had been the Power lashing back, bringing Mesagog down upon them in a rain of fire and death. And it was Anton who had paid the price, not him. Not he who had caused it, not he who should have known better, not he who had been so arrogant that...

"I can't." The words were uttered in a dead voice that didn't seem to belong to him at all. "I'm tired, Jase. I'm just really tired. Tomorrow, okay?"

"Bro. Please talk to me." Tommy knew his tendency to bury his emotions often drove Jason to the brink of madness, but a deep sigh was the only response he still had the energy to muster. He could almost hear Jason's grimace over the telephone line. "Tommy, there is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you."

He flinched visibly, tightening his grip on the receiver. That was the crux of it. He wasn't certain that Jason would feel the same way after he knew the truth of what had happened. And frankly, he was sure he no longer deserved that level of support. "Tomorrow, Jase. We'll talk tomorrow," he repeated dully.

Clearly uneasy, the former red ranger finally succumbed. "Take care, bro. I'll be up there to see you in the morning, okay?"

"I'll call you," Tommy replied noncommittally before disconnecting the line.

He slumped further into his chair and allowed his eyes to drift shut, grimacing as his cracked ribs loudly protested the movement. He was so tired, so completely spent. Maybe just a few minutes of sleep...

The sharp tang of the salty sea air slowly infused his senses. His body instinctively relaxed; he had spent so many weeks on the island recently that the scent of the ocean almost felt like home. He had even grown accustomed to the constant metallic thrum of the lab's self-supporting generators humming in the background, as if the island had a heartbeat of its own...

His eyes sprang open, suddenly startled into alertness by the perplexing familiarity overwhelming him. He sat up slowly, unable to comprehend the surprising feel of cool concrete against his fingers, the dense humidity in the air, even as his eyes took in the stacks of marked boxes and barrels of chemical components. The sudden recognition of the network of hallways nearly struck him dumb.

This was the lower storage bay of the AMI complex.

He was back on Mercer's island.

A tortured shriek echoed through the stone underbelly of the facility and Tommy sprang to his feet, dread settling coldly into the pit of his stomach. Without thinking, without hesitating, he lurched into a full sprint, tearing through the eerily empty corridors towards the source of the sound.

Anton.

Another piercing cry, more strident in its urgency, reverberated through the halls, seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere. He rocketed up the narrow concrete staircase into the main level of the facility, instinct driving the direction of his pounding feet. The way was far too familiar to him; he had spent many an evening with Anton over the past few months sharing both their professional opinions and personal ideologies as the quiet hours passed. They had grown close over these uninterrupted periods of camaraderie, and Tommy was proud to consider him amongst his friends – someone he trusted enough that he had considered revealing his entire history, especially in light of their most recent find.

The formidable set of double doors at the end of the hall loomed imposingly at the edge of his vision, but another, more pathetic scream spurred him to speed even faster towards the entrance to Anton's office. Gasping as he pushed himself harder still, he longed to reassure the more experienced scientist but his parched throat denied him even the feeblest squeak.

An iron fist abruptly drove itself into his stomach, sending him hurtling across the marble floor and into the wall. Dozens of hooked claws reached for him, pulling at his khaki jacket, his pants, even his hiking boots. Heedless of his frenzied struggles, dozens of Tyrannodrones lifted him into a standing position, their sharp talons digging mercilessly into his exposed skin. He could do nothing but stare – where had they all come from?

The double doors swung open with a nightmarish sluggishness, slowly revealing the horrific scene behind. Mercer lay huddled on the ground, his leg twisted underneath him at an impossible angle. His normally pristine AMI lab coat – despite his fortune, Anton had never been a pretentious man and refused to wear clothing more appropriate for a billionaire C.E.O. – was now stained a dark crimson. Tommy could not stifle a sickened moan; the jagged tears in the material were chillingly reminiscent of bite marks. Anton's eyes slowly turned up to meet Tommy's, full of a wretched pleading. "Help me," he mouthed.

"No," Tommy groaned, pulling helplessly at the iron grips around him. This wasn't right. It wasn't supposed to happen like this.

"Anton is already dead, Tommy, don't you remember?" Mesagog hissed, his voice dripping with derision. "And all that is left is me." The beast growled then turned slowly to face Tommy, his mouth forming into a garish leer. He bared his gigantic teeth and turned quickly, sinking them into the soft flesh of –

Tommy cried out, leaping to his feet in a rush of panic and terror. His fists flailed wildly in the dark as he reached for the reptilian creature, knocking over a lamp with a resounding crash. It was almost a full minute before he recognized his tiny apartment, and all the energy seemed to drain out of his body with the horrific realization that it was far too late to save anyone anymore. His worn body reacted violently, seeming to fold underneath him and sending him careening into the ground. His face contorted in agony as he dry heaved, struggling to hold back the waves of guilt that threatened to overcome him. Anton had been his friend for the past several years. He had fostered his interest in the ancient world, had given him a future, believed in him when even he hadn't... and Tommy had repaid him by leaving him to die.

Yet another mentor he had failed to save.

He finally opened his eyes, his face only inches from the decrepit backpack he had left lying carelessly on the ground. With shaking fingers, he unzipped the top and reached inside, withdrawing three lifeless gems: red, yellow, and blue.

None of them would accept him – he had known that for months. When he first discovered what they were, he had been bitterly disappointed that the red gem hadn't spoken to him; it was likely they would never bond with anyone now, not after they had been christened in Anton's blood.

A flash of red caught his eye and he glanced up, suddenly hopeful despite his newfound aversion to the gems. But it was the answering machine display again, still blinking "1" unforgivingly at him.

Puzzled, he sat up and tapped the Play button. He had been certain that he had deleted all the messages...

"Tommy? It's me. It's Kim. I know it's been a while, but..." He froze, his mind transported back to the only other time he had felt this lost, this despairing, this consumed with guilt – and the person who had been able to drag him from the abyss.

"There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you."

He was dialing before he realized he had picked up the phone, his white fingers gripping the receiver like a drowning man clutching at his last lifeline. He wasn't sure how he remembered the number she had left at the end of the message, but he didn't question it too deeply; his memory, often riddled with holes and pitfalls, had never failed him when it had been truly important. His heart began to pound wildly in his chest as he heard the phone spring to life.

Ring. Ring.

Tommy swallowed thickly. It was almost 3 in the morning. What was he doing?

Ring. Ring.

Did he want to be saved?

Did he even deserve it?

An unbelievably perky voice answered, startling Tommy into inaction. "Hi, this is Kim! I'm not here right now, or else I'm just ignoring you. If it's Jason, I'm definitely ignoring you. Leave me a message, and I'll get back to you!"

Disappointment coursed through him even as he listened to Kimberly's teasing laughter at the end of the message. What had he been expecting anyhow? He pulled the phone away from his ear, searching for the Off button in the oppressive gloom.

"No! Wait! Hang on!"

Blinking, Tommy stared at the phone for a moment before gingerly pressing it back against his ear. "I'm coming!" The voice was distant, but definitely there. Like she had-

A resounding clatter echoed on the other end of the line. "Shit! Ow! Hold on! Don't hang up! Stupid freak- Ow! Shit!" There was a sound akin to scrambling, then suddenly a breathless, wonderfully familiar voice. "I'm here! Jason? Is that you? Have you heard anything?"

Despite all he had suffered in the past two days, a soft chuckle began to rumble deep in his chest. The idea that beautiful, graceful Kimberly – a woman gifted with the agility of the crane, the elegance of the firebird, the power to leap tall buildings in one fluid movement – had tripped over her own feet to get to the phone tickled something entrenched in his heart. Ignoring the pain in his ribs, Tommy laughed, low and hard and with a sense of relief beyond words.

"Um, Jase?"

"You know," Tommy began, clutching at his ribs and slipping back into his armchair. "I think that was the only thing that could possibly make me laugh right now."

There was a long pause, and Tommy could almost see Kim biting her lip on the other end of the line. The image was so sweetly nostalgic that it nearly brought tears to his bloodshot eyes.

"Tommy?" The mingled relief and hope in her voice, so totally undeserved, abruptly wiped the smile from his face.

"Hey Kim-" His voice hitched, suddenly choking on her name as a garbled sob escaped his traitorous lips.

"Oh God, Tommy. Are you okay?"

"I've been better," he admitted shakily, then instantly regretted it. This was a bad idea. He had never been able to lie to Kimberly, and he didn't have the strength left to tell her – or anyone – the truth. It was time to hang up, time to go.

"Tommy? Are you still there?"

Her compassion was killing him, breaking his resolve. "I'm okay," he said in a voice that no one would have believed. "I-"

"Tell me. Please tell me what's wrong."

"I… I can't, Kim, I can't. Oh God," he moaned, burying his head in his hands, the gems falling listlessly into his lap. They seemed to stare accusingly at him, knowing his sin, knowing what he had done, what he had caused.

"Oh, Tommy," Kim whimpered. She sounded so torn, as if hating how helpless she had become. "Tell me what I can do."

He drew in a ragged mouthful of air, trying to steady himself again. "Talk to me?" His voice was barely a whisper, a childlike plea in the night.

"What? I didn't hear... Tommy, what did you say?"

He cleared his throat, trying to speak. "Please," he begged, his voice verging on desperation. "Just talk to me." His mind asked what he dared not speak aloud: Please make the nightmares go away.

He held his breath, grappling with the last of his composure, praying that she would understand his unspoken prayer. And even after all this time, after the years of silence, she still knew him. Still knew what do. Still knew how to be... well, how to be Kim.

"I'm living in New York now." She began hesitantly, unsure of herself; but as the words flowed, she relaxed, enjoying the feel of slipping back into an old, comfortable routine. "I ran into Tanya the other day, actually. She's really sweet – I like her. I only met her the once... um, right after the tournament, but I do like her. I think Tri would have, too. She's a lot like Aisha – I can see the family resemblance. And you should have seen her with the cabbies! She's definitely a yellow! What a firecracker! Imagine an early Saturday morning. All we had to do was grab a cab to JFK to get her on her flight. Have you ever been to New York? New York cabbies – they should totally be the eighth wonder of the world! I swear half of them really are aliens! And as someone who came into contact with aliens on a regular basis, I would know. Have you ever seen "Men In Black"? I think they had it right after all..."

Tommy found himself slowly easing back into the armchair, lulled into relaxation by the steady, bright chatter of her voice. He alternately fought back waves of grief and laugher at her wild stories, certain that she must be fabricating the majority, but loving her for it just the same. Tired eyes began to drift shut for longer and longer periods, his demons temporarily chased away by the sweet sound.

He suddenly jerked awake at the sound of her giggles, grimacing as his ribs protested yet again. He would have to remember to wrap them before seeing his parents tomorrow. Err, today.

He glanced at the clock, his eyes widening. "Kim?" he interrupted, his voice gravelly with disuse.

"Hmmm?"

He mentally calculated the time difference and grimaced. "Oh shit. It's like 5:30 over there."

Kimberly giggled again. "You never were good at time zones. It's 6:30." He couldn't believe the merriment he could still hear in her voice.

"I'm sorry," he apologized, his words slightly slurred with exhaustion.

"I'm not," she replied firmly, suddenly serious. "Why should you be?"

"I kept you up."

She laughed. "Technically, I kept you up." She paused, then added quickly, "Not like that! I mean, because I did all the talking! Jesus, I should know better than to chat with Rocky during his 'I'm drunk' calls – he's gone and finally corrupted me." He couldn't smother the surprised snort of laughter that erupted from his chest.

"Thank you." He had meant to be playful to match her own buoyant enthusiasm, but the deep gratitude in his suddenly gruff voice spoke volumes.

"Any time, Tommy. Really." She hesitated, and he could hear the depth of emotion in her next words. "You know I'll always be there for you."

His mind balked at the words, but his heart had already journeyed back nearly a decade to when a young girl had tenderly made that promise to her shy, awkward boyfriend, a boy suffering the agonized pangs of the Power being forcibly torn from his body; to when that same awkward boy, now with more confidence and strength, had returned that promise to the weakening girl, fear lighting her soft eyes. The ensuing smile that lit Tommy's features was one of unadulterated delight, illuminating his once haggard face with a radiance that drained away any residual tension. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, a deep-rooted aching inside him had finally been laid to rest.

"I... I think I can sleep now," he murmured quietly, almost in awe. The sense of weightlessness and relief had been dizzying, yet his entire body felt more relaxed than it had ever been. The contentment never fading from his lips, his head already had begun to slowly settle onto his chest.

"Sweet dreams, Tommy," she replied softly, and it was like the whisper of an angel.

"Talk to you soon, beautiful," he slurred, already half-asleep.

Almost three thousand miles away, Kimberly Hart smiled, clutching the phone to her heart for a moment before hanging it quietly on the receiver. "I'm counting on it, Tommy," she whispered, and an ember of hope ignited in her chest for a friendship she had thought lost forever.