Author's Note: I hope you all enjoy this story, which will last eight chapters. I would love to hear any thoughts you have on it. Though the holiday is still months away, consider it an early Christmas present to the fandom which has given me so much.
And don't worry. Everything will be explained.
"I already told you, boy," Jimmy hastily explained while yanking a crisp can of Purple Flurp from the fridge. The can felt like ice against his already frozen skin – he yearned for a warm cup of cocoa instead. Yet James wasn't willing to waste a single moment boiling water. He kicked the fridge door closed with his foot and spun around to face Goddard. The mechanical canine sat in the middle of his lab's control room, patiently waiting for his master to explain.
"Today was the best day of my life." A hazy image coalesced in his mind's eye – ferns and fireflies flittered to life. The genius shook his head and the picture scattered to the winds. "And we're going to figure out how it happened."
James darted about the lab; every motion was hastened by clear purpose. The can of Flurp was popped and poured. A bag of chips was tossed onto the control room's chair. The last step was to lug out a heavy chrome box – if it wasn't for the electrodes trailing along the ground, it would pass for a cable box.
"Ah roo?" Goddard asked while cocking his head.
"Don't worry," Jimmy casually explained while plugging the device into the lab's main monitor. "The Temporal Dethreader worked fine when we used it to find that missing beef heart steak." Goddard rolled his eyes, but Jimmy waved off the gesture. "It all worked out in the end. And don't you want to see the show?"
"Roh-oh," Goddard uneasily barked as Jimmy grabbed the chips and settled into his chair. He set the snack aside and took a sip of the cold soda. The mechanical canine spun in a circle before lying on the floor. Jimmy scoffed and immediately scooped him up onto his lap. Goddard quietly groaned in content, and Jimmy turned on the main monitor. The giant screen brightened the dim lab and indicated it was synced to Jimmy's invention.
"Vox," Jimmy ordered while sticking the electrode's to his temple, "program the Temporal Dethreader to find the kid ultimately responsible for my current emotional state."
"Understood," Vox's enticing voice purred back. "Temporal Dethreader ready."
James leaned forward and poised his hand over the device's main button. He let out a proud smile and closed his eyes in anticipation. To Jimmy Neutron, time was merely a flimsy ball of yarn cobbled together by an old spinster. And he was about to untangle it. With the push of a button, the show began.
A sharp ringing reverberated throughout every room and hallway inside Retroville Middle School. Some classroom doors instantly burst open under the pressure form a dozen students eager to escape the searing acrid air. Other rooms erupted into frenzied shouts of joy. Yet the students before Ms. Creek quietly and calmly closed their books and folded their folders.
"Now remember, everyone," the amiable instructor said while setting her chalk down. Streaks of white clung to her sweaty fingers; she settled on wiping them on her long-abandoned sweater. "Enjoy your holiday break, but remember to finish your homework packets." A few groans of dismay simmered amongst the dehydrated students, but it was a half-hearted chorus at best. This was partially from the respect they held for Ms. Creek, and partially due to their borderline fugue states. "It will take two hours at most. Happy holidays, everyone!"
Jimmy scribbled a few final numbers on the paper on his desk before swinging his backpack over his shoulder. He smiled to himself, jumped out of his seat, and set the finished parcel of math problems onto Ms. Creek's desk. Blinking the sweat out of his eyes, James headed out into the hallway. He watched student after student make a mad dash for the cold outside, and was about to follow suit when a familiar harpy voice pierced his ears
"Find math productive, Neutron?"
Jimmy rolled his eyes as he spun to the left. Cindy Vortex was leaning against a locker, smiling smugly at him. Her ponytail was deflated into a messy lob; James was certain his hair had melted into a less glamorous style. He cocked his head at her legs – her khakis had been sheared into shorts. From the ragged bottom edges, it was evidently a hasty job.
"Surprisingly enough," James struggled to tear his gaze back to her smirk, "pre-algebra did not motivate me to solve Goldbach's conjecture." A distant siren was heard, and James smiled at the opportunity. He motioned at her and teased, "I'm assuming the fashion police have been called."
"Original as we are clever," Cindy tossed a final barb back, but she couldn't hide a slight grin at his quick remark. She fell into stride with James as he headed towards his locker.
Normally, the two friends slid into an easy rapport after their routine of shared barbs was satisfied. This time, however, there was an obvious unease coating Cindy's slim grin. It didn't take long for him to remember a likely explanation for her malaise.
"So," he began while grabbing his locker's dial and twisting it, "did you finish your book report?"
Cindy was quiet a beat too long; she waited until James opened his locker and was concealed by its door. "Actually, I talked to Mr. Pace and…" she swallowed hard and turned away from the locker. "I'm going to turn it in late."
Cindy listened to the rustling inside Jimmy's locker deaden and the door close. She curled both hands into anxious fists before facing her friend. James said, "I thought he had a zero tolerance policy for late work."
"He does," Cindy uneasily answered. "I'll get ten points off. A ninety at best."
For just a moment, Jimmy was puzzled by why Cindy was staring at him so expectantly. But before he could decipher her thoughts, a response fell from his lips. "Are you worried your mom will get upset?"
Cindy's gaze dropped to the floor, and she sighed in obvious relief. "No," she shook her head as a smile conquered her cheeks. "Not at all."
"Well," Jimmy rubbed the back of his neck, "if the need arises, we can always use the HypnoBeam on her."
"Maybe," Cindy absent-mindedly answered. She inhaled deeply, gripped her backpack's straps tighter, and let out a slow breath. "Walk me out?" she calmly asked.
"Um," a surprised Jimmy answered, "sure." He took two steps towards the right, down the main hallway. After he failed to hear Cindy's feet patter beside him, he turned to find her grinning. "That would involve you following me, right?"
The borderline sardonic remark didn't faze her in the least. She hoisted a thumb over her shoulder. "Let's go out through the basement."
Jimmy raised a skeptical eyebrow. "The principal said it was off limits until the HazMat team could move in."
Cindy patted her backpack and set off towards the stairwell. "Don't worry; I have a key. Come on."
Jimmy followed, and the two headed to a nearby staircase. They descended in stride, and hesitated before a chained set of double doors. Jimmy sniffed and scowled; the air held a rank trace of mildew.
"I'll make it worth your while," Cindy promised while pulling a golden key from her pocket. Jimmy noticed the ring was labeled Master Key. She unlocked the chain and pushed open the doors. The light from the hallway faded into a dark abyss; the mold-ridden scent seemed to rush from the basement's unseen depths. Both kids flinched as the odor strengthened to all out assault on their nostrils. Cindy tucked her nose and mouth into her shirt; James followed suit. He fumbled for a nearby lightswitch, but the power was long dead. Cindy yanked a flashlight out of her backpack and powered it on – the torch illuminated the area ahead.
For just a moment, Jimmy was mesmerized by the thick patches of mold on the ceiling, fern-like shrubbery peeking out of every doorway, and random fluttering fireflies. He was instantly reminded of the time his father had sent him to the Triassic period. This awe was abruptly shattered by the soul-clenching sound of slithering insects.
The flashlight settled on a swirling swarm of cockroaches, and Jimmy's lunch leapt into his throat. Cindy merely groaned in annoyance. "I thought one would do the trick," she explained while pulling a silver canister out of her sack. She yanked out its pull ring and tossed the grenade far down the hallway.
"How…" Jimmy shook his head, failing to comprehend everything as smoke filled the basement. "Why do you have teargas?" Jimmy asked in shock.
"It gets rid of the roaches," Cindy shrugged. She felt Jimmy's gaze bore deeper into her, so she calmly added, "It's been a weird day. Just follow my lead."
Soon the bugs dissipated, and the noxious vapors followed suit. Once the air was clear, Cindy led Jimmy through the prehistoric substructure. They ended their trek before a fire exit, and Cindy grabbed Jimmy's arm before he could push it open.
"Neutron," she gave a gentle squeeze and watched him face her, "do you know we're here?"
Jimmy glanced at the insanity around him, used all of his brainpower to figure out what the heck had happened to Retroville Middle School, and ultimately shrugged. "I honestly cannot fathom a guess."
Cindy let go of James and took a deep breath. "I want you to know something. Up until fifth grade, the only person I really had was Libby." Cindy leaned against the cement wall and rubbed her elbow; after a moment she slid down to the ground. "And as good as she was, she wasn't enough."
The sudden seriousness of their conversation paralyzed Jimmy, he could do nothing but side beside her and wait for her to continue. After a moment, her eyes met his and she went on. "I needed more than one friend. One person I could really talk to. I needed you and the guys." Cindy swallowed hard as emerald drilled deeper into cerulean.
"Until today, I never thought about what it really meant to have you four. All of you, together, make me feel like I'm not alone." She smiled and grabbed Jimmy's hand; he was shocked by how quickly he rubbed it with his thumb. "You don't know how good that feels."
James' mind instantly went back to over a year before, to when he cried alone in a far away cell. He remembered a high pitched voice asking, "So why don't you buck up, mister?" James closed his eyes and said to Cindy, "I do know."
He squeezed her palm, and Cindy placed her free hand on James' shoulder. "I need you to understand," she pleaded, "that we're not the same people we used to be. So we don't need to play the same game." She swallowed hard and whispered, "I learned today that we we won it, Neutron."
Cindy leaned her forehead against his. He instinctively held his breath as their noses touched. "I brought you down here," she whispered, "because I wanted to give you something. Do you remember when we officially became friends?"
Jimmy's chest tightened as he thought back to the aftermath of Intergalactic Showdown. "I," he struggled to mouth the words while inhaling her jasmine scent, "recall a trip to the Candy Bar."
Cindy nodded and pushed herself away from him. After rising to her feet, she offered him a hand. He clasped it with ease. As James was hoisted up, Cindy said, "I was thinking that it might finally be time to become something more. And make it official."
Jimmy gulped. "You mean, with a contract?"
Cindy let of James and grabbed the door's handle. "No. With a seal of trust." She swung open the door, and both children stared up at the dangling mistletoe. One final time, Cindy held out a trembling palm. Jimmy stared at the sweat on her skin, then into her desperate eyes.
"What do you say, Jimmy?" Her warm smile melted his hesitation away. "Do you trust me?"
He reached out and grabbed her hand. Their movements slowed; the doorway's bright light drowned out the fireflies. Both hands clenched each other, and James stepped towards his friend.
"Always," he simply answered. He and she stood for a long moment, then James used his free hand to touch Cindy's cheek. She trembled as a frightened breath left her lips. Then her eyes popped open, and Jimmy watched the all too familiar flames emblazon those beautiful emerald eyes. She dropped his palm, pushed both his shoulders back against the door, and slammed her soft lips onto his.