See you, Space Cowboy.
The Power of Trust
Warrior, Daughter, Sister
Yori sat atop a rounded stone next to a frozen brook and gazed at the kanji etched into the smooth lines of an obsidian river stone. The tiny circle of volcanic rock tilted in her palm, monopolizing her focus. The numbing snow packed around her toes and the icy breeze billowing through her hair couldn't compete with her simplistic eulogy. She felt numb, but the sensation had nothing to do with the dead of winter forced upon her by the towering, mountainous leviathans of ice and stone boxing her in.
The setting lay not far from where Yamanouchi once stood and would one day stand again. Upon their return to the burning remains of the school, Kim and Yori had found a small army of ninjas, the returned survivors of Simia's massacre, combing over the ruins. Her former teachers and classmates had gone wild with delight at their arrival, and the news of their would-be slayer's defeat had forged a victorious cheer that still rang in Yori's ears.
She had smiled at the time, while they bound the three teenagers' wounds, but now the cheer sounded as hollow as she felt. In time, she would join her fellow ninjas in picking up the pieces of their shattered home. Much work lay before them before life could ever begin returning to its former sense of normalcy. But before she could bring herself to deal with the tragedy of the husk of her home, one last unpleasant task needed taking care of.
At last, she tore her eyes from the rock and stared into the gleaming, static sheen of the brook. Hundreds of memories lay beneath its glacial surface, and in the barren cherry trees around it put down to rest for the season, and in the rolling field behind her which waited patiently for spring to make it green once more. Emotions haunted each rock, each tree, each inch of the frozen brook she gazed upon. No corner of this childhood sanctuary remained safe from her memory.
Movement caught the corner of her eye and turned her head. There, further down the brook, several slicked stones breached the surface of the ice, which melted beneath a sudden rush of sunlight that ill suited December weather. Yori watched the brook begin to babble once more as the snow vanished, replaced with lush green grass. Fat pink blossoms budded and bloomed on the trees around her, urged on by the laughter of two spectral children frolicking on the other side of the tumbling water.
"Bet you can't follow me, Yo-chan!" a graceful girl with gorgeous raven hair taunted. Tiptoeing on wooden sandals, she pranced across the trio of glossy rocks poking from the water's face, reaching the other side without misstep. She turned and bowed, then laughed merrily and performed a cartwheel for no other purpose than the joy of doing it.
Still stuck on the opposite bank, her shorter, gawkier friend trembled at the thought of crossing that terrifying brook. "Wait, Tsu-chan," she whined, "I can't keep up!" With tentative hops, the littler ninja skittered from rock to rock, using the peer pressure of her friend's success to override her overwhelming anxiety. When she reached the last rock, her luck ran out, and her foot began sliding in the shallow waters of the brook. "Ai!"
A strong hand grasped at hers and yanked her onto the bank before the water could go past her toes. The little girl crashed into her companion's chest, where she received a warm, emboldening hug that chased all but a tiny sliver of her embarrassment away. "Someone still needs to work on her balance," the older girl murmured into the top of her head before favoring her little friend's dark crown with a light kiss.
The little one leaned into her companion and sighed, drinking in the scent of sandalwood as her pounding heart settled back down after her horrifying, abortive river-crossing. "Someday," she sighed wistfully, "I'll be as great as you, Tsu-chan."
"Not a chance, little sister," murmured her graceful friend into the thick waves of raven hair beneath her lips. "You'll be even greater."
Ron's inquisitive tone banished the ghostly little girls with two syllables and returned the bitter winter blanket to her peaceful brook with a start. Yori turned toward the crunching footsteps behind her, spying Ron's hesitant approach from behind a naked tree. The expression on his face remained neutral, but Yori could sense beneath the turmoil and concern he couldn't hide. A man of many talents, Yori would always be thankful that deception didn't fall among the growing list of Ron's abilities. "Yes, Ron-san," she answered, granting him his unspoken request.
He walked with obvious discomfort, keeping his legs bowed as he shuffled toward her. Like her, Ron wore long charcoal robes that brushed against the cresting snow to keep the cold at bay. A black hood overshadowed the cleaned and bandaged cuts on his face, leaving his soulful eyes to shine in the light reflected from the endless white at their feet. "I hope I'm not interrupting," he said.
Yori shook her head. "I welcome the company," she admitted. Needing no more encouragement, Ron sidled up next to her on her rock, huddling next to her and resting a comforting arm across her shoulder which she leaned into, grateful for. Her eyes returned to the stone in her hand, which resumed its fidgeting. "I was just…thinking."
Kanji didn't come easily to Ron, but he recognized the name on Yori's rock, as well as the word 'sister.' The shadow hanging over Yori's spirit immediately shifted to encompass Ron's as well. "Oh." Awkward silence plagued them a moment as Ron struggled to find something to offer to her. Saying the right thing didn't come easily to him, either. "I…"
"You don't have to say anything." The blunt statement blurred into Ron, silencing him at once. Yori continued staring at her tribute as she leaned heavily into Ron's embrace. Her head bumped against his chin, and twin jets of steaming breath struck her scalp. "I know she was nothing more than a villain to you, Ron-san. But to me…"
"I guess it's tough," Ron said at last.
Yori wished that she could cry, but her deadened eyes could muster no more tears. There was too much tragedy to cry over. It overwhelmed her. "She caused so much pain," she murmured. "So much needless suffering. Yet if you knew her before…" Yori looked back to where the shadows of the past had frolicked just moments before. "I had never known another like her. She was the best of us. And if the best of us can be consumed by such pain and hate, what hope is there for the rest of us?"
Silence returned. This time it felt appropriate as the two teens stared down into Yori's tribute, searching for answers. The recollections Ron had of Yamanouchi's destruction would haunt him for the rest of his life. If not for a slip of Simia's tongue, he would have left Kim to die from injuries inflicted by his own hands. What little sleep he had found before the dawn offered only nightmares conjured from his own memories, nightmares in which those he had respected and trained with screamed as he tore the life from their bodies, sundered their cherished homes into rubble…
"I'm not going to pretend like I know the answer," Ron decided aloud after careful consideration. "But I do know one thing." He brushed his hood back to better look into Yori's face, and offered her a sad smile. "The last thing she did was to save you."
Yori shook her head. "One act cannot make her a hero."
"It doesn't," he agreed. The rumpled shoulder of his robes muffled her reply as he pressed himself into her, wrapping his arms around her slender body. Yori pressed her face into his welcoming warmth and squeezed her eyes shut and felt safer than she had in years. If only the moment could last forever… "But it means I can still do this," Ron whispered into her ear as he squeezed her tight. "I'll always be grateful for that."
Yori sighed when Ron released her. Her hand traced his jaw line with tenderness, taking care to avoid the larger, nastier cuts still present. That he hadn't healed himself yet struck Yori as strange, but she feared the answer, and thus did not ask. Instead, she sipped in his bottomless brown eyes, knowing full well what his intentions were. She could read it in his face as plainly as the prophecy that had foretold his coming. "Yamanouchi will be rebuilt without its Champion." With a sigh, she added, "I suppose I needn't ask why."
The question Ron had been preparing himself for rocked him as a statement. He blinked, wondering if she had picked up mind reading as a talent during his absence. "Is it that obvious?"
"You are an open book to me, Chosen One," she said with a gloomy smile. But then the smile faded, leaving only gloom behind. "She may never love you like I do, you know." Yori felt her innards twist at the lie, knowing full well what Kim felt for her beloved. It was a selfish ploy, and she knew this, but she could not, would not, give up without one last effort.
A sheepish, sorrowful smirk splayed across Ron's lips as he ruffled his own blond crow's nest. "You're right," he admitted. "She might never. But I know how I feel. It isn't much, but it's enough." When his eyes returned, they gave to Yori the deepest regret she had ever known. "I'm sorry."
What could she do, but forgive him? "It is all right," she told him, though they both knew it was not. "I wonder, though, if Yamanouchi will survive these dark times without you. Sensei will not live forever…"
Ron leaned in, bringing his nose to rest on hers. She reveled in the intimacy of his touch. A simple brush of his skin felt electric to her, making her wish he felt the same. "You love this place, don't you?"
Closing her eyes, Yori confessed, "This school means as much to me as she does to you, Ron-kun."
"Which is why," he said, pulling back to nod, "You'll make a much better Sensei than I ever would."
Yori started back as their positions reversed and she found herself to be the startled one. Ron's cruel joke played with a tender spot on her pride, one not even he was allowed to touch upon. But looking into his somber face, she realized that he wasn't joking. "Me? Sensei? I fear you are mistaken."
"I fear I am not," he countered. "I already talked it over with Sensei and got a thumbs-up. As soon as the last nail goes into the rebuild, you start learning how to run a school." Closing an eye, he squinted in monocular examination of her, as if considering how well the fit would be. "With a little hard work and a few cut corners, I bet you'll be ready in about…twenty, maybe thirty years." His face fell back into its eternal humor, stretching his freckles.
Sensei had approved? Yori could scarcely believe her ears. And yet… "Even with Sensei's approval, Ron-san," she lamented, "The Council of Governors will never allow a woman to assume their school's highest honor."
Ron didn't even seem to hear her as he reached within his robes, withdrawing a rumpled white envelope from an interior pocket. "Maybe," he admitted, "But I bet they wouldn't turn down the Monkey Master's first choice when she comes with a glowing letter of recommendation." A light touch closed her gaping jaw before he handed her the dog-earred envelope. "I just hope I spelled everything right."
A 'whuf' escaped his lungs before Yori clamped them shut with a bone-crunching hug, pressing her face into his neck. When she pulled back, his sudden gasp cut short with a forceful attack of her lips. His head lolled in a daze as she pulled back and exclaimed, "Oh, Ron-kun! You really are the Chosen!" Her embrace returned, this time more reserved. "You truly are amazing."
"Just your average, ordinary sidekick, looking out for his friends," he assured her.
Yori held him at arm's length and admonished him with a look. Humility was one thing, but that Ron actually believed such a ridiculous statement? It made her sick to think that things would continue that way between the two Americans. But she did not say any of this, and instead contented herself with asking, "How is Kimberly-san?"
This chased the diffidence from Ron's smile. Yori dropped her hand to make room for his growing grin while he answered, "She seemed all right when I left. But you might as well ask her yourself." Turning, Ron called to an empty tree sitting a few yards from their rock, "How are you, Kim? Aside from being crappy at spying, I mean."
The blushing face of Kim Possible rounded the tree trunk with a cross look. "Number one," she huffed, exposing herself now that her jig had been upped, "I am not spying. I just didn't want to intrude is all. And number two, I am so not crappy at spying." Her words were caustic, but the scowl on her face melted into a guilty smile as she approached the two. She raised a hand in greeting, exposing the bulky wrap. "And I'm fine, thank you," she added sincerely to Yori, offering a bow to the ninja which Yori returned as best she could from her seat. "I'm not, am I? Interrupting, I mean."
Yori cast one last look at her eulogy before tossing it into a cresting bank of snow that rode the motionless waters of the brook. Come the spring, it would fall into the bottom, where all memories belonged. "No," she assured the redhead. A wordless glance to Ron produced a helping shoulder for her to lean on as she stood. The dressing around her ankle may have ensured a proper recovery, but it did not make walking any easier. She could limp at best, and she did so toward Kim. "I was hoping to see you before you left, Kimberly-san. I wanted to offer you my thanks…for many things."
Kim laughed nervously, squirming at the nebulous praise. "It's no big," she scoffed. "Any time you need to be sucker punched…heh." The blush returned to her cheeks as she looked away, remembering the disgraceful blow atop the warehouse. In retrospect, Kim saw her dishonorable actions and felt disgusted with herself. Whatever trust issues she had accused Ron of having, she knew he wasn't the only one who had them. "Oh," she said, perking up. "I brought a visitor."
A tiny pink head poked out of Kim's robes, looking about until it found a familiar face framed with corn blond hair. "Ron!" Rufus squealed, leaping between the teens and into his best friend's waiting hands. The two boys shared a tender moment with a warm, laughing hug as Kim watched on, struck with a sudden sense of nostalgia that held a distressing anticipation within it. But Kim pushed that feeling aside a moment as she noticed a pair of almond eyes examining her critically from her side, and turned to face them with a quizzical tilt of her head.
Yori examined Kim's frame with naked scrutiny, touching her finger to her chin as she ended the inspection at Kim's eyes. "You are indeed a very worthy individual, Kimberly-san." Whatever meaning the phrase held passed over Kim's head, though she noted a startled reaction from Ron, and wished she would have the time to ask him what it meant. Those melancholy longings evaporated as she felt Yori place a hand to her cheek. Rosy lips pressed into its opposite, lingering a second too long to be friendly and reducing Kim's strong voice to stammering mush. Remaining close, Yori whispered a startling piece of advice into Kim's ear before pulling back to speak aloud. "I am glad to have finally met you. Perhaps," she added with hope in her eyes, "We may one day become friends."
"I…I'd like that," Kim admitted, touching her cheek in shock. The well-known chuckle from off to one side pulled her back into her purpose for being there. She cleared her throat and found her confident voice once more. "But actually, I just came down to see if Mister Magic here could do a number on my wrist before I left." Her swollen, wrapped joint hefted between the three teens, punishing Kim for the movement with a twinge of pain. "Bad enough I had to miss Christmas with the fam," she shrugged. "It'll be worse if I show up looking like this."
Laughter cut Kim's hopeful look down into confused disappointment. Both teens missed the discomforted look crossing Yori's features as Ron said, "KP, if I still had my mojo, d'you really think I'd be walking bowlegged?" His feet spread wider to bolster this, squeezing his left eye shut with a twitch at the change. "Believe me," he hissed, "I wouldn't mind some of that myself…"
"Wait…it's gone?" Kim's jaw dropped as Ron shrugged helplessly. All that trouble, all that drama, all that loss, and now his magic had just vanished? "That's…"
A stately voice from behind said, "The sudden acceleration of Stoppable-san's abilities triggered a withdrawal within him." Kim jumped at the voice, whirling with fists raised. The perpetrator stood almost a head shorter than her, and had a good six-decade head start on her. He stood with his arms folded inside an oversized red robe, with twinkling eyes that hid behind stately eyebrows like shrubbery. "In order to protect his life," the Sensei said, "The Power was forced to become dormant once more."
"Now that," Ron pointed out to an embarrassed Kim, "Is sneaking."
Kim bit back a retort, and instead bowed respectfully to the Headmaster of Yamanouchi. "I am honored to meet you…in person," she added with a smile. "And I'm glad to see you're all right."
Sensei returned Kim's bow, brushing his beard against the top of the snow with just a slight bend. "As am I, Miss Possible. I believe you forgot this." His hands parted from the interior of his sleeves, revealing a small statuette hidden within. As Kim's excited hands snatched it up, he added, "I believe the London Museum of Natural History will be very interested in examining this find."
"Thank you," Kim said gratefully. "I'm sure they'll be thrilled to get the Idol of Simor back."
"That is not the Idol of Simor." Sensei startled Kim a second time with the revelation. He gave the idol in her shivering hands another examination, already certain of his answer. "Yes," he nodded, "This is without question the Idol of G'dall."
Worry crossed the space between Kim and Ron as they looked at the unexpected find. "Do you think they'll notice?" Ron asked.
Kim considered it for a moment. One idol to save the world? She could live with that. "Honestly," she admitted, "I don't care. They lost a monkey idol, and they're getting a monkey idol. That's good enough for me." Her gaze lifted from the hideous stone monkey and back to the grinning visage of her best friend. "So, you…What does this mean? You're magic, but…not?"
He could only shrug again. "Wish I knew, KP. But Sensei says," and he cleared his throat, presenting a somber face that mimicked the old man's, "The lotus blossom will open between the hours of ten and nine, with basement bargains for all those in need."
"I never said that," noted Sensei as a chuckle escaped his prize student at Ron's side.
Kim tapped her foot. "Ron, those are Smarty Mart hours."
"Oh." Ron's grin grew as he exchanged glances and nods with Rufus. "Well, that's good, too."
The brief laughter from Kim sounded as hollow as any she had ever faked, and didn't last long. A lock of hair dislodged itself from the rest, and became Kim's primary focus as she averted her eyes from Ron's freckled face. She knew the words she wanted to say, and she even knew the words she would say instead, but neither set would come out. "I…guess all that's left is to say goodbye," she forced out, feeling her insides empty as the words left her and leave behind a vacuous space that tore at her heart.
"Take your time," Ron said, shattering her sadness into shards of confusion. "I've already said mine." His gaze flickered over to Yori, and the two shared a mutual sentiment of accepting regret. When Yori reached for his hand, he took it and offered it a squeeze, but the gesture didn't linger, and he stepped back to stand at Kim's flabbergasted side.
Kim blinked at his nonchalance. "I don't understand," she said. "I thought you were staying. I…I thought you two were…y'know." She didn't, but pretended to with vague innuendoes of her hands joining together.
Sensei cleared his throat, offering real wisdom where Ron's failed facsimile had fallen through. "Destiny is not a destination," he preached sagely. "It is a journey, something we must live up to. Stoppable-san's destiny will bring him back to Yamanouchi…"
"But for now," he said, beaming, "I think I know where I belong." His arm snaked around Kim's frame and dragged her into his side. The moment would have been sweet if his clumsy grasp hadn't enraged the multitude of injuries still present in the both of them, which forced them to part immediately with a yelp. "Heh," he said, rubbing the back of his neck, "As long as that's okay with you, KP."
Kim found herself nodding, considering the familiar stranger in front of her with anything but acceptance. The transformation from what he had become just one day earlier seemed so sharp, so startling, that she couldn't bring herself to buy it. This goofy, joyful façade before her wasn't the butcher of Yamanouchi, or the ninja who had tracked her tracking Gregory Fiske, or even the sidekick she once knew. But for the moment, Kim just wanted to go home.
"I guess we should get going," she said. "If I can get ahold of Wade once we find a phone…" She cursed her luck for losing the Kimmunicator during her fight with Simia in the mountains, but there wasn't anything they could do about it now. "Well, I guess showing up late is better than nothing at all."
Once more, the venerable elder of the conversation cleared his throat, returning his hands to their opposing sleeves out of old habit. Though his leathery face did not so much as twitch, the omnipresent twinkle in his eye danced as it came to rest on Kim's worried face. "Forgive my presumption," he asked with a bow, "But I have taken the liberty of arranging transport for two Americans and one exotic animal for a direct flight to Upperton International Airport." At Kim's dropped jaw, he released the smile he had been withholding. "After all you have done for us, Miss Possible, I believe returning you to your family in time for Christmas is the least we can do."
"I…I appreciate it a lot, Master Sensei," Kim said, hastily remembering to bow, "But with all respect, unless you've booked me on a time machine, I'll never make it there in time. It's already morning here, and by the time we make it back to Middleton—"
"You will be in time to see it become morning again," Yori told her. "Or have you forgotten the fifteen hour difference occurring across such a distance?"
Kim couldn't recall a time when she had ever enjoyed being wrong so much. An irrepressible smile blossomed on her face, and she grasped Ron's arm to hug, ignoring the painful squeak from his chest as she pressed herself against one of his deeper cuts. "We're gonna make it for Christmas with the fam?" she squealed.
"It is," Sensei assured her with an enigmatic smile, "No big."
"Kimberly Anne Possible, don't you dare lift that!" Missus Possible swooped around the center island counter to pluck a platter of sliced turkey from her daughter's grasp. The browned bird dropped into Tim's hands as both he and his sister protested the change-up. "Not a word, you two. And you, little miss," she added with a waggled finger at Kim, "You're lucky I even let you out of bed."
Kim huffed, loving every minute of the parental fussing, though she folded her arms and pouted, careful to keep her fresh cast (the result of a hospital trip made at her mother's insistence that had consumed her Christmas morning) from bumping anything. "So not the drama," she scoffed.
"Honestly," moaned her mother, "Why can't you be more like Ron?"
The boy in question sat at the kitchen table with his feet propped up, nursing a glass of eggnog. A separate glass of Rufus burbled near his elbow on the table, where the naked mole blob caught up on a week's worth of lost sleep. "That's right," he said, sighing with contentment. He urged on the fingers kneading his feet on the chair opposite his. "That's great."
Jim wrinkled his nose at the bare feet rotating in his lap. "Are you sure the doctor said to do this three times a day?" Foot sweat clung to his hands, making him wonder if he'd ever be rid of the smell.
Ron's bullshit answer became lost in a smoky bang that released a plume of blackened nog smog through the crack beneath the door leading to the garage. The coughing cries of Mister Possible followed soon after. "Boys," he hacked, "Have you been 'adjusting' the mix ratio on my Nog Generator?"
The Possible twins shared a guilty look and a psychic moment before rushing through the garage's door. A cloud of burning yuletide beverage puffed in at their exit. In the confusion, Kim grabbed a bowl of mashed potatoes, looking to steal a taste, but her mother proved quicker again, yanking the buttery starches out from underneath her dipping finger.
Missus Possible began launching into Kim's full name again when a glinting at her daughter's neck caught her eye. "Goodness, Kim." A closer inspection revealed the curved, golden lines of a tiny heart hanging from a chain. The smooth symmetry of the heart broke only for a tiny hinge at one side, which squeaked as the elder Possible's fingernail pried the heart open to reveal a beautiful memory that brought tears to her eyes. "Oh, my," she breathed, "It's beautiful."
"Yeah," said Kim, averting her gaze. "Uh, Ron gave it to me."
Her mother couldn't stop gushing at the photo of Kim and Ron caught in an embrace from a Christmas ten years past. The nine year old pair grinned at the Possibles behind the camera. Their photographic smile far outshone the weak attempt on Kim's lips now. "Oh, Ron," the Possible matron said, "This almost makes p for all those years of Bueno Nacho Bucks—"
"Well, I don't mean to brag," began Ron. Then he stood and laughed. "Well, maybe just a little."
Another explosion rattled the windows of the house, and the garage's smoke detector started wailing in time with her men's terrified warbling. Missus Possible groaned into her hands. "I'd better go get the first aid kit."
"Ah," sighed Ron as the brainy Doctor Possible exited the kitchen on her way upstairs. "Christmas with the Possibles just isn't complete without the smell of iodine." He turned back from the kitchen's open door and propped his feet back up, lacing his fingers behind his head and letting his eyes flutter closed. "So, how cool am I," he asked his silent audience of one, "Wowing two babes with just one emptying of my bank account." When no one answered, he cracked an eye open. "KP?"
Instinct guided his fingers around the flat of a kitchen knife kept perfectly sharp by the masterful mother of the home. He stopped the blade's tip an inch from his eye, rocking back in his chair. His other arm pinwheeled to keep his seat upright. "Kim," he yelped, "What the freakin'—whoa!" Three more knives slapped into his hands, snatched from the air at impossible speed, but this time the effort did tip his chair. Ron rolled back from the spilled seat and rose with the knives poised to return to their previous owner. "What the hell?"
Kim held the last knife from the kitchen's empty holder, picking at the gunk beneath her nails with its deadly tip. "How long?" she asked, glaring at him.
"How long what?" demanded Ron. He marched over, waving the former projectiles with frenzied confusion. "How long have thrown knives hurtling at my head made me jumpy? Pretty much forever!"
"How long," repeated Kim with deadly calm, "Have you held out on me?"
"Held out what?" Despite almost being skewered, Ron had no worries about sidling up next to Kim to jam the knives back into the safety of their holder.
"This!" Kim slammed the final knife home, finally drawing a jump and a yap out of him. "You know what happens when someone throws knives at me when my eyes are closed? I die, Ron!" The locket at her throat bobbled with ire as she whirled on Ron, plunging a finger into his chest instead of a knife. "All this time, you've been able to do these amazing things, and you've totally been throwing our sparring matches."
Ron gaped at the fury pouring out of Kim's eyes, and weathered the green storm with a dinghy of disbelief. "That's your beef? That's why you threw pointy things at my head? Because I tanked a few practice matches?" He tapped her bandaged head. "They X-Rayed this, right?"
She tore his finger away and stalked across the kitchen. "You just…you're so…" Her shoulders fell as she hugged her arms, unable to ride her tidal wave of anger as it emptied as a trickle into a sea of regret. "You lied to me. You lied, Ron." Looking back, Kim flooded Ron with all manner of guilt as she added, "And I deserve to know why."
"Oh c'mon, KP." Ron tried desperately to laugh off the accusation, but the river of accusation pouring from Kim's shimmering eyes would not be navigated. "I just…I…uh…uh…uh…um."
A warm grasp enveloped his hands as he stared down at them, stammering in helplessness. He looked up into Kim's expectant gaze. The pout at her lips daunted him some, but she said, "Ron, please. Things have gotten so weird between us, and I don't want them to be. I need you, Ron. I need things to be normal between us again."
"But that's what I was trying to do, KP," he blurted without thinking. Both their eyes widened at the impromptu statement, his from horror and hers from shock. But the one comment opened a floodgate inside of him, one he was powerless to stop. "After…after I got back." He struggled with the stream-of-consciousness speech. "I learned so much in Japan. Yamanouchi," he amended with clenched eyes, recalling that keeping the secret no longer mattered. "For the first time in my life, I was actually good at something. I could finally help. Help you."
Choked with restrained tears, Kim said, "You must have worked really hard."
"Sunup to sundown," he joked without comedy. "Sometimes longer. I…I wanted to tell you so bad, Kim, but I just…I couldn't. Sensei made me swear…"
The new lie drew forth those tears Kim fought so hard to smother, which forced Ron's eyes to weep in sympathy. "You come back with some new moves." She sniffled. "The last thing to cross my mind is going to be 'Secret Ninja School,' Ron. Stop lying to me. Why have you been holding back?"
"I…" This was it. Ron could feel a climax six months in the making breathing down his neck, and he had just run out of places to hide from it. "It was the Global Justice thing."
"God, Ron!" she snapped tearily, jerking her hand away. "I thought we were past that! How long are you going to punish me—"
"It wasn't that," he shot back, losing his temper for that split second. Kim's outburst trailed off into muffled sniffles and dripping tears as she glared at him with demanding emerald fire. Her scowl melted as he said, "Afterward, I just…I wanted things to go back. Y'know, how it used to be. You were always the better fighter, Kim. Always. Until…And I just thought that if I changed anything else between us…"
Two and two made four. "You thought I couldn't handle it." Kim felt nausea boiling over in her stomach. She had to grab at the counter to keep her footing, refusing Ron's anxious hands as they tried to help her. "You thought I'd freak out," she croaked. "That I'd get jealous." A bitter little pill clung to the back of Kim's throat, where she tasted truth in all its revolting splendor. It took a good a great dose of humility to force that pill down, where she let it digest, spreading like cancer though her sickened system.
Ron swallowed a sob as he watched Kim turn away with revulsion dawning on her face. Her tears ceased at once, and he feared the expression germinating within her delicate features. "Kim," he pleaded, "I just didn't want—"
"We can't go back," said Kim, speaking in time with the revelation given to her by her own mind. She said again, "We can't go back to the way things were, Ron." Protest welled up in his throat, but the back of her head spoke with reproachful scorn, "All the lies and smiles in the world can't fix this." That one summer spent apart had sealed the fate of their friendship: A fourteen-year juggernaut, revealed to be nothing more than hollow, hot air, and popped by the pinprick of a three-month absence. Had they ever been as close as they thought? "We've both changed. And…And I…" Kim took a long, shuddering breath as she came to a decision. "I think we have to face facts."
"What? Kim, no!" Ron's sniveling grew desperate. He reached out for Kim, but an invisible wall of cold rebuffed his hands from her tensed shoulders. "We have major issues, but you can't—"
"We've grown apart." Kim's voice rang with finality that resonated all throughout the empty kitchen, yet overheard only by the Christmas turkey. "Slapping a patch over the problem won't fix it, Ron. It's over."
The words punched into the pit of Ron's stomach, doubling him over with a three-syllable knockout combination. It's. Wham. Oh. Wham. Ver. Ka-wham. Years and years of treasured friendship spiraled down the drain before his mind's eye. He felt the need to spray homemade eggnog across the floor, and then curl up into a ball and wait for this waking nightmare to end. Dry heaves worked up his windpipe, ready to grant him his first request when Kim spoke again;
"So we have to start over."
Down on his knees, Ron pulled his face from his hands and looked up. A tentative, hopeful face hovered over him and offered him a helping hand back to his feet. The warm grip kept him close, tingling against his calloused palms, as Kim gave him a weak smile. A world of questions spoke to him from deep within the gesture of her split lip, striking him silent for Kim's next words.
"Ron, I want to know the real you," she insisted. "All of you, not just some front you put up to make the world laugh." The fingers protruding from her cast grazed his cheek. Kim smiled when she felt Ron lean into her touch. "We need to spend some time together when the world isn't about to explode. Find out who we're becoming…Grow back together."
The notion made Ron's spirit soar back up from its guttural lows, and he gave Kim's healthy hand a squeeze before she pulled it away. "Spend all day doing nothing," he murmured, "And then stay up all night, talking about what we did all day? I've missed that."
"I have too," she said, and nodded. "It'll take time. And it starts now," Kim told him, digging through her pocket. "And it should start with me, apologizing." Her hand withdrew from her hip-hugger jeans, trailing with it a band of purple ribbon that ended with a dangling silver heart. The flattened five cents' worth of steel bobbed as she brought it up, parting the thin violet cord between her hands and offering it to Ron with cautious optimism. "I'm sorry," she said, "If I've ever made you feel like you can't be yourself around me."
Ron stared in awe at the cheap trinket, recognizing its pirouetting shape in an instant. "This is from your Pandaroo," he breathed with wide eyes.
Kim lifted the band and slipped it over his head, letting the metal metaphor bounce to rest over his red jersey. "Managed to grab it in the confusion after Mom's hospital freak-out," she admitted. The blurred reflection of her own nervousness hastened her clumsy words. "It was going to be a late Chanukah present, but…" Her gaze lifted from the necklace, and she felt relieved to see herself smiling in his eyes. "I think it makes a better 'Friendship Redux' gesture. I hope you like it."
The thin metal heart fiddled between his fingertips as he scrutinized her smile. His face became uncharacteristically thoughtful. Or perhaps not. Perhaps this new Ron looked before he leapt. Kim couldn't wait to find out. "That is so like you," he snorted. Her quizzical fright melted when he said, "You would have to one-up me in gifting, wouldn't you?"
"Let's call it 'as good,'" Kim suggested, smiling again as she lifted the golden heart at her neck.
"Thought we weren't going to lie anymore."
"Last one," she fibbed. "I promise." The two reached out and became one, drawn to one another's arms by an unspoken need to find unconditional acceptance in their embrace. Kim breathed in his musk through the fraying fabric of his ancient red jersey, oblivious to the thousands of aches his hug pulled from her dissenting body. She just wrapped her arms tighter and closed her eyes, resolved to never again let go or drive off this diamond in the rough. "Hi," she muttered into his pecs, "I'm Kim Possible. People tell me I'm pushy."
"The name's Ron Stoppable," he answered into the thick folds of her ginger hair. "I'm kind of a goofball."
Their moment didn't last. A derisive little chuckle teased them from above, shattering their perfect bubble. Looking in unison, Kim and Ron spied a blob of pink on the ceiling which jangled a green sprig over their heads. Another laugh drew their glance to the opposite side of the room, where Kim's family stood in voyeuristic delight of Kim and Ron's heartfelt scene. Jim and Tim, the obvious engineers of the intrusion, each clutched a spare sample of the dreaded Christmas weed.
"Ha, ha," Tim jeered, waving his mistletoe at them. "You know the rules."
Jim joined in while his parents laughed behind their hands. "Kimmie and Ronnie, sittin' in a tree..."
Kim ignored the taunts, including those from Rufus with his mistletoe above, and watched the chagrin unfolding in Ron's face. Another mask began forming around the subtle hints of his real reaction, which flashed too briefly for Kim to peg for certain. Humiliation? Discomfort? Desire? "Sorry, boys," Ron chuckled uneasily, putting some distance between himself and Kim. "I'm pretty sure there's some Jewish escape clause in Yuletide traditions."
Even as he spoke, Kim saw him turn to look directly at their twin tormentors. A double-layered defense; While he offered her a cheap, easy out, he lined up his cheek to give her a safe target as a safety net, evidence that she could no longer take for granted anything he said or did. She vowed to stop letting him sneak things past her, starting with that moment.
Yori's startling whisper danced through Kim's ears once more. She felt the warm lips of that kiss tingle on her cheek as she heard, "The journey of a thousand miles need not be taken in leaps and bounds. Start your journey to him in small steps, but start it soon."
Kim ended the chuckles and jeers, and the lame excuses coming from Ron, by laying a hand across his face and pulling it back to her. Their closeness she retook with a short step, pressing herself to him and raising herself onto her tiptoes. Ron's babbling trailed off in alarm before she brushed her lips against his. A startled breath signaled his impending escape, so she kept his place with her hand and quieted his protests with a silencing kiss.
The entire room froze, stunned. No noise interrupted the soft sound of their kiss. Rufus' shock pulled him from the ceiling and splattered him, mistletoe and all, next to their feet on the kitchen tile. As the kiss drew to a close, Kim unwillingly pulled back and dropped onto her heels. The floored expression on his face almost made ending the kiss worthwhile, and drew a titter out of Kim. When she saw the same expressions worn on the rest of her family, she shrugged, and said, "What? Mistletoe."
Oh, nasty," groaned Tim. He clutched at his stomach and made a great scene out of his disgust.
"Yeah, Jim moaned, "You weren't supposed to actually kiss him."
"Isn't that incest, or something?" Tim finished.
Kim gave Ron's astonished features a dazzling smile still in need of dental repair. "New beginning," she muttered. "Means new rules, right?"
"Ronald." The name escaped Mister Possible's clenched teeth and floated about the room on a wave of menace. He crossed his arms and adopted a dark scowl before beckoning the blond over with a finger. "Why don't you help me with the old Nog Generator? In the garage? Away from Kim."
Ron had no chance for protest as Jim and Tim grabbed him up by his arms and carried him away. A frantic glance shot over his shoulder back at Kim, who could only keep smiling as the Possible men absconded with him into the garage. The door slammed shut, sealing Ron's fate and leaving Kim to scrape his mole rat up from the floor.
The gentle laughter of her mother drew Kim's attention away from her task of molding Rufus back into shape. "So, Kimmie," the elder Possible said with a smirk. "You've had quite a week."
All the ups and downs of the week pummeled Kim's mind's eye. Even after the wounds healed and the scars faded, she knew she would never be the same. But then, nothing ever stayed the same. No one could change that. Not even Kim Possible. But that didn't mean she couldn't roll with it. 'And,' she mused, touching her lips, 'It doesn't mean that all change has to be bad.'
Kim gave Rufus a squeeze, and replied, "Well, you know how stressful the holidays can be."
I didn't want to write this.
Not at first, at any rate. When finishing The Power of Love, I had this great vision for what the third story, The Power of Friendship, would become. I wrote the last chapter to TPoF even before TPoL reached its twelfth chapter. It would be a long road, but a glorious finish. Simple, no? In practice; no. Instead, I trudged on through achingly difficult writing. Chapters that would normally be "no big" became teeth to pull from my writer's mouth, each one placed onto the net in a bloodied tissue in hopes of a visit from the Review Fairy to bolster my sparse enthusiasm. The thought of a single, super-cool scene pushed me on, a battle sequence toward the end that I knew would make the rest of the drudgery worthwhile.
Any reader can go back to the beginnings of this story and see the correlation between this story and its predecessor; an outsider coming in to meddle with the KP status quo, a world domination scheme, etc., etc. Somewhere in the early stages of development, I resigned myself to accepting that this story would follow the tired sequel model: sickeningly similar, and not nearly as good as the original. I have, I must say, never been so thankful to have been proven wrong. I think being proven wrong by myself lessens the sting, if only just.
As the story continued, I wanted to not only continue the TPoL correlation, but enhance it, but with a twist. In this sortie, Kim was the one dealing with feelings of replacement and abandonment. This time, Ron had to figure out just what it was he wanted, and what was really important to him. And Yori…wow. As Yori developed, I found myself loving her character more and more. Yori wrote herself. I just helped with the typing.
Simia, too, was something unplanned in the initial stages of the fic. Originally, Gorilla Fist would provide the villain for this story, becoming a warmed-over copy of his brother. When I saw a list of the unaired KP episodes (Gorilla Fist being among them), I went into conniptions, and began rethinking my strategy. A new villain needed to take center stage, though Gregory remained for misdirection. And thus, Takata Tsuruko, the lady Simia, was born. Simia became another character that grew on me as well as within me. She, unlike her other villainous KP counterparts, did not enjoy playing the game. She planned. She prepared. She plotted. And when the moment came, she wasn't about to fool around. Only when she became a supreme being did her character slip a bit, becoming too arrogant for her own good. But I don't need to tell you that, because you were there.
The one real heartbreak of this story, the one tiny detail that will haunt me every time I read it, is that super-cool scene I mentioned earlier. As the story drew to a close, I came to realize that I had inadvertently written it out, and no amount of devilish writing could put it back in. The scene called for a fight somewhere halfway across the globe from Yamanouchi, a final battle between our heroes and Simia and her dark forces, which would no longer include Ron (having been freed by the girls' loyalty, or something to that effect). While the girls battled a losing fight, Ron would grow angry and angrier still, until he closed his eyes and stuck out his hand. At that point, the scene would break, and relocate to halfway across the globe, illustrating the beginning of a long journey for the Lotus Blade.
That's right. Ron was going to summon it halfway across the world. In, like, ten minutes. The scene would also bring about a brief cameo from everyone's least favorite semi-regular, Will Du, on punishment detail for his monkey business (hee hee) in TPoL as a Command Monitor Station lackey. Will's part would involve the detection of a baseball bat sized object streaking across the Pacific Ocean at Mach 10, and at an altitude of roughly two meters.
It would have been cool.
But in the end, I like the way the story ended up. And a sorry to you K/R shippers, for our intrepid duo hasn't quite found love yet. They'll spend some time rekindling their friendship, this time as equals, and then we'll see what they make of it. Aside from another go-between story along the lines of AHTM, I won't be returning to the Power Trilogy until probably this fall. That final chapter is still a long way off, and plenty can happen in the meantime, which means I'd better get my act together. Thank you all for reading and reviewing, and as always, if there are any questions, or you just want to spark a discussion, don't hesitate to send an e-mail. Until then, I remain your ever-loving, ever-humble…
Ghost of the Darkness
and your Queen of Fanfiction