Kim Possible is the registered property of Disney, Inc. All characters, locations, themes, and trademarks are used without permission. The following is a work of fanatical fiction done purely for entertainment purposes. It has no inherent, physical, intellectual, or economic value, save for the total cost of the photon expenditure required to reflect the words from your screen to your eyes. Compensation for this may be obtained from the American Photonic Distribution and Reclamation Center, PO Box 00, Spectrum St, Photonia 11235 C/O Cyberwraith Nine.
Follow Me Home
by Cyberwraith Nine
Sunlight seared his eyes long before they opened. The scent of burning sand baked in his lungs. Each breath scraped his throat raw, tearing away at the soft pink flesh inside of him as his extremities cooked without his consent. Lingering shades of nightmarish faces vanished as he opened his eyes, and promptly suffered for it. A domineering throb permeated his head, trickling down the back of his neck and filtering throughout the rest of his body in sporadic bursts.
He opened his eyes, and regretted it at once. A static ocean of monochromatic brown pressed in on him from every direction, capped off above with cloudless panoramic blue. The ocean rose and fell as his eye traversed its sandy waters. Tsunami dunes threatened to crush him, and though they did not act on that threat at once, they left him with the unsettling certainty that they could, at any moment, swallow him whole without thought or remorse. An unblinking, fiery eye watched him awaken from its throne in the sky, laughing waves of pure heat down onto his trembling frame with less consideration than the dunes that heard its laughter.
"…oh." Ron Stoppable coughed into the sand beneath his cheek, wincing as the utterance tugged at flesh he hadn't known was burnt. "Oh, boy…"
It took over a minute just to rise from the oblong crater in which he found himself half buried. Once up, his shaky feet managed the task of shuffling counterclockwise so that he might get a better handle on his surroundings. The pit of his stomach dropped away when he realized that there were no surroundings to get a handle on. There were no enemies to battle, no allies to rescue, and his pocket had a distinct decline in its naked mole rat population. There were no buildings, no people, or anything.
"Okay," he said to his squirming insides, "You are not going to panic. Panic is the enemy. The big, hairy, monkey of the desert. Don't panic." He paused, taking several more deep, blistering breaths. As with all things obvious, the first question he should have asked took him three minutes more to realize and formulate. "Why am I in a desert?"
Memories rushed to answer, tripping over one another inside his head: flashes of green; panicked pink squeals; swishing red; cackling blue…
The threads of reality before his blackout shattered his resolve and left it in hot, terrible shards to tear apart his stomach. He pitched forward and expelled the shards onto the sand with the rest of his insides. Time and place took a back seat to the dry heaves that wracked his body. They continued long after he ran out of bile, becoming longwinded sobs and panicking hyperventilation. Precious water dripped down his cheeks and vanished into the greedy grit as he gave in to the terror of his predicament. He cried, feeling foolish and childish and weak and helpless, and he didn't care.
'I'm lost in the desert. I'm lost in a desert, and I don't even know which one. I don't know where I am, or how I got here, or even if it's my fault. It's probably my fault. Of course it's my fault.' He choked on a half-laugh, half sob, clenching fistfuls of sand in his gloved hands. 'I'm lost in the desert, and it's my own fault, and I can't even remember how it's my fault, and Kim's not even here to—'
"Ron!" A white shape called down to him from the nearest dune. The familiar voice stole his frantic breath and sparked a renewal of hope in his empty gut. A long trail of fire flapped from the figure's crown as she pulled back her hood and skated down the steep slope of the dune. From the resultant cloud of dust emerged Kim Possible, shielded from the blistering sun beneath a pristine, silken cloak. A muted smile lit her face as she said, "You're alive."
Ron's arms spread wide to envelop her in a bone-rattling hug. "KP, you have no idea how—"
Kim's hand lifted, keeping him at bay. "Hold still a second," she insisted as his arms dropped. Their sweet reunion lapsed into silent scrutiny, with Kim giving careful examination to Ron's face and eyes. "You were lucky," she decided aloud. "If we'd been flying any higher, you'd probably be dead."
Sizzling noise hissed at Ron from wherever his torn mission clothes couldn't shield him from the sun. He couldn't be certain if the sound was the product of his imagination or not at that point. "Well," he said, drawing on his waning inner reserves of humor, "I'm sure wandering through a desert for a while should fix that little error." Then he paused, sorting out her words from the pinballing pain in his head. "We were flying?"
The question went unanswered. Instead, Kim drew the hood of her cloak back over her crown and retreated back into its relative safety. "Come on," she said, "Let's get you one of these too, before you burn up."
He eyeballed the shimmering material appreciatively. "Is it designer, or off-the-rack?"
"Take off your parachute."
Ron's face scrunched. He felt around his shoulders, and sure enough, the straps of a parachute waited for him there. The numbness that permeated his body toned down the bite of the tight straps into an unnoticeable nip as he extracted himself from the pack. "I had a parachute," he groused with a roll of his eyes, "And the best way I could think to land was a belly flop in the sand. Another shining moment for Ron Stoppable, huh?"
Insistent hands pointed to the chute with no patience for his self pity. "Pull it out," said Kim from within the heavy shadow of her angelic coat. "Start cutting it with your knife."
The no-nonsense tone of her voice cooled his heated embarrassment. "What would I do without you?" Ron muttered the question just loud enough for her to hear, and cast a brief look of admiration up into her hood. The black hilt of his utility knife burned in his hand beyond his notice.
Kim's stern expression broke only for a moment to give him a tight smile. Then her businesslike manner returned. Crouching next to him, she walked Ron through the process of slicing apart the nylon folds of his chute, pointing his knife to the proper places and offering gentle encouragement. It took three tries, but when Ron holstered his knife, he did so beneath a sheet of white cloth which warded the worst of the sunlight from his body.
The loose folds of cloth settled around Ron's shoulders beneath Kim's approving eye. "How much water do you have," she asked.
Ron's canteen sloshed next to his ear before he clipped it back to his belt. "'bout half," he grunted, ill-pleased with the discovery. Further exploration of his utility belt revealed the heated grip of a pistol at his hip. He pulled the gun from its holster and stared down its oversized barrel. A silvery glint stared back in the tube's depth. "I have a flare gun, too…apparently." Why he would carry such a thing was beyond him.
"Keep it," Kim said. "But dump everything else. We're traveling light."
"Traveling? Can't we just call Wade and have him airlift a jeep and some margaritas in?" At the worst, Ron had expected a dull couple of hours waiting to be picked up by a helicopter or a hoverjet. Hell, even a peg-legged camel would be a welcome sight. But walking in a desert?
The hood of Kim's cloak twisted negatively. Can't. I lost the Kimmunicator during the fight. I had already jumped and hit the ground to look for you by the time I missed it. We walk."
"M'waaahhhhhhaw," moaned Ron as the contents of his utility belt plopped down onto the sand. Smoke pellet Tic-Tacs, explosive Juicy Fruit, a decoder/uplink aggressor data chip cleverly concealed in a condom wrapper…all that time spent pleading with Wade for his own themed equipment, wasted. "KP," he whined, turning back around, "Can't we just—" But Kim already stood at the top of a dune, framed by the harsh sun. The ghostly drape of her cloak flapped with her insistent waving, motioning for him to follow. "Wait up!" he cried, and scrambled on hand and foot up the steep slope to follow.
Seconds passed like hours as they trudged up and down the unforgiving desert. Minutes passed like days as the featureless landscape denied them any sense of progress. Only two assurances of their perseverance existed: the tracks Ron watched disappear behind them, and the ballooning of the feet that made those tracks, namely, his own. Heat and pressure doubled at each of his steps, so much so that he wished he had possessed the foresight to wedge coal between his toes for the production of diamonds. Ron couldn't think of an appropriate analogy for the passage of hours. Presumably, the word had passed him by during one of his science class naps. Certainly, anything less than an eon would be a gross underestimate.
Only Kim kept his feet moving. She walked several paces ahead, keeping their path the opposite of the sun's. She paused only a moment at the apex of each dune to decide their course, and favored the more level directions. The soft sand made ascents and descents tricky, tiresome, and morally fatiguing. Every so often, Kim would turn and look back at him. Though encouragement painted the rest of her face, her eyes shone with open concern. With every glance she gave him, Ron grew more grateful that she had come to save him.
"Pretty lucky, huh?" Bonnie fell into step next to Ron, fingers laced behind her tussled hair. "Kay, showing up like that, ready to pull your bacon out of the fire."
Ron grunted, "Guess so," though he agreed with her completely.
"Otherwise," continued Bonnie, "You'd probably still be curled up in the sand, crying yourself into a prune and waiting for that gross little weasel thing to pop out of your pants and fix everything." She weathered his withering glare with a smile bright enough to blind him anew. "What?" Her smooth brown shoulders shrugged, tugging the hem of her purple cheerleader top higher on her taught, tanned midriff. "You are so helpless."
A gust of wind grated sand against his face. Bonnie yawned and examined her nails, waiting patiently for him to unturtle himself from his cloak once the wind died back down. Whatever comeback brewing in Ron's stomach died in a coughing fit when more sand nestled itself in the back of his throat. Kim glanced back at him once more with apprehension. She paid Bonnie no mind. Ron waved her off unconvincingly, still working the grit out of his lungs.
"Aw, isn't that sweet," cooed Bonnie. The small fit which wracked Ron's chest did not dull the sardonic edge of her tone. "Kim's worried about her Ronnie-poo." Ron's glaring eyes swung back up in time to catch her mock-gushing. "She takes such good care of her favorite little pooky. What is she going to do next," she asked with a laugh, "Feed you and change you?"
"You wouldn't understand." Ron grunted around the last of the sand which refused evacuation from his mouth. Stumbling steps took him up the last of the latest dune and back into view of Kim. Sadly, Bonnie had no trouble keeping up with him. Casting a sidelong glance, Ron explained, "You've never had a friend like Kim."
The comment produced its opposite desired reaction, a braying laugh from deep behind Bonnie's glossy lips. "You're right," she said after her laughter had ceased. "But then, how could I? My friends don't need to help me over every little bump on the road." Her low chuckle persisted as she added, "Why do you even go on these things anymore? Does Kimmie really need one more person to save that badly?"
Ron grinded sand between his teeth to weed out the cruder words in his oncoming response. All that survived the edit was, "Knock it off," which he grumbled at her around the bitter taste of what went unsaid.
The open desert tolled with Bonnie's amusement. Laughter reddened her face to match his, though hers was a more temporary discoloration. "I'll bet she doesn't even know, does she?" she said between guffaws. "She has no idea that you lo—"
"Shut up!" Ron tore back his hood and whirled upon Bonnie, who nearly fell from her doubled-over laughter. "Just shut up," he snarled. Blood boiled in his veins. Lightheadedness stayed his hand, which had become a fist with which to silence her. "You don't know…" he spat, unable to focus on her blurred image as the desert began to spin. "You—"
A soothing voice silenced Bonnie's laughter as Ron's knees struck the sand. "Ron," Kim asked above him, "What is it?" Her shadow fell across his, giving him something he could focus on to slow the desert's spin.
"It's Bonnie," said Ron, waving his hand in a vague upward direction. He could still feel Bonnie's sneer burning into the back of his skull, and so he glowered into the wavering sand under their shadows until the world held still, and he could give her a piece of his mind. "She's being all Bonnie-like, and stuff."
"Ron, Bonnie shouldn't be hassling you."
"I know, I know," he said with a sigh. At last, the world eased its spiral, and he looked up at the two girls backed by clear unyielding sky. Bonnie's smug smirk renewed his scowl. "I shouldn't let her get to me, but she's just so…y'know?"
"No," Kim drawled, "Bonnie shouldn't hassle you because she isn't here. She's in Middleton." Apology warped her sunned scowl into a softer face. "We're kinda not."
Ron blinked up at Kim's rueful expression before flicking his eyes back to Bonnie. Dead, empty air filled the space where her lithe and pep-adorned frame had been. Kim's logic defied argument, but still; hadn't Bonnie been right there? He could have sworn…
Kim hovered over him as he got back to his feet. His burning ears reddened further with shame. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked. "We need to keep moving."
Dulled by heat exhaustion, his smile nevertheless seemed to assuage Kim's concerns. "Lead on," he said with far more enthusiasm than he felt. "I'm five by five."
She returned his smile with an uneasy facsimile of her own before turning to resume their trek. The folds of his cloak rustled through his sandy hair, resettling as he leaned forward and stumbled after her. "Get it together, Stoppable," he coached himself. "'s just a little heat. Just sweat the crazy out. Kim's counting on you."
"Doubt that," came a snide commentary from his side. A glance to his immediate left confirmed his fears. Bonnie strode next to him, burping copious amounts of sunscreen from its semi-cooperative bottle. The oily substance glistened around the returning smirk she wore at his expense. A pair of sunglasses waited atop her coifed locks, and a scrap of a bikini revealed firm fields of flesh that awaited more of the tanning butter. "You just don't get it, do you?"
Ron tugged the cloak further over his brow, obscuring everything but Kim in his narrow field of vision. It didn't help. He knew Bonnie remained, even if she wasn't there. "Go away," he demanded in a small voice. The swaying hem of Kim's cloak captured his eyes, lest he be tempted to indulge the figment with another look.
Bonnie didn't seem to mind. "Let me explain this to you in small, stupid words. Kim is a cheerleader. For reasons way past understanding, she's popular. She saves the world, and junk." The sound of lotion kissing bronzed skin proved to be more than Ron's stubbornness could bear. He looked over, greeted by the enticing gleam of her body. "You, on the other hand, are a gross, no-talent, freaky, badly dressed, taco swilling loser." She flipped the sunglasses down over her pert nose. Their roseate frames did nothing to dull the sugary venom in her gaze. "Your social life flat lined by the time you were six."
"Get lost," growled Ron.
"We are," Bonnie reminded him.
"You aren't even real!"
A roll of her eyes dismissed the retort. "I'm not the only phony around here." Brilliant white flashed off of reflective panels, which she held up to bathe her chest and face in liquid heat. "Booyah," she sneered. "Bon-diggity. Best friend, there for Kim in times of need. All about the platonic, right?" The sneer transformed itself into a hideous smile. The spine of the camel that carried Ron's resilience broke as she said, "What would she say if she knew you did it all because—"
"Shut up!" Ron bellowed. The cloak fell from his shoulders, which heaved with heated breaths as he shouted at the smug prima donna. "Just shut up! You don't know anything, okay?"
"WHAT?" he barked into Kim's face before he realized who had shouted at him. "What," he said again, looking away in chagrin. A chuckle parted Bonnie's smirk and added to his ire.
Green distress flashed in her look. "What is it?"
"It's Bonnie," he insisted.
"Ron," she said, "She isn't there." Bonnie laughed at this, catching some rays from behind Kim. A host of lewd, kissing faces made over Kim's shoulder gelled Ron's vision with red.
"Yeah," he groused, glaring at the sunning figment, "And she's being a real pain about it."
Kim knelt down alongside him as he collected his cloak with swollen fingers. "I'll tell you what," she said around a hesitant smile. "Why don't you talk to me instead." She waited patiently for him to don his cloak, keeping that soft encouragement in place on her features. Ron watched Kim's smile grow even as Bonnie's turned into a scowl, and he nodded in numb gratitude.
When they set out again, they walked shoulder to shoulder. Bonnie followed them for some distance, trying to break in as Kim listened patiently to Ron's inconsequential conversation about school and life between missions. She gave up at Ron's ignorance of her presence, and soon Ron couldn't see her at all. He didn't even notice her fade away, already too grateful for Kim's attentiveness as she led him across their scorching prison to care.
Too quickly did the eternity of day pass into night. Sunlight faded beneath an encroaching blanket of stars. A brief period of peace washed over the twilighted teens, where the awful heat began to buckle under a nocturnal chill. Sun burnt, exhausted, Ron closed his eyes a moment in reverence of the heat's cessation, and of the amiable silence that his and Kim's conversation had evolved into. So content did he feel, that confession pressed deep into the folds of his innermost secrets nearly clawed its way back up his throat to bring irreparable change to his friendship with Kim. Only luck, and a timely biting of his tongue, saved their status quo.
"We need to hunker down," Kim told him as she took stock of their surroundings. Ron did the same, and felt relieved in knowing that Kim undoubtedly saw something more useful in the endless dune sea than his own impressions of hopelessness and impending death. True to his expectations, she pointed to a steep embankment of sand, and said, "There. Those dunes should give us some protection if the wind picks up tonight."
Ron's head hurt too much to even think of arguing. "Personally, I'm looking forward to some rest," he confessed as they ambled down to the base of the incline. Tortured barking from within his shoes took the spring from his step and replaced it with lead. "My aching dogs are pro'lly a quarter mile out from becoming full-on frankfurters." The cool air, he hoped, would do him some good.
Her glorious red hair, shucked of its cloak and brought to life in the sunset's pallet, bounced with negativity, dashing this latest hope of his as quickly as he had expressed it. "We'll be lucky to get any sleep at all tonight," she said. "In another hour or so, it's going to get cold. Below zero."
The humor never left Ron's voice, though his crippled optimism suffered another blow. "I would like to go on record," he stated, deadpanned, "And say that I absolutely hate this desert. Easily the worst desert I've ever been lost in, hands down."
The wind died as they settled at the bottom of the high dune, just as Kim had predicted. "Bury yourself in the sand," she said, and demonstrated just that. The desert swallowed her body whole, leaving only her shoulders and head unconsumed to make sure he did the same. "It won't be much, but it might insulate you some from the cold. Keep your cloak with you so it doesn't blow away."
Turning an old beach pastime into desert survival seemed like lunacy to Ron, but Kim always knew best. "You're the boss," he said with a shrug, and heaped a mound of sand over his poor, abused body. Soon, a blanket of the vile stuff covered him from toe to shoulder, while his half-buried cloak protected his face at Kim's added instruction.
"We'll have to make better time tomorrow," he heard Kim say through the white nylon. "Your water won't last more than another day."
Ron thought the estimate a generous one; of the half-filled canteen he had started their march with, only half of that remained, sloshing its siren song with each move Ron made. Though he only drank at Kim's command, and even then with only the most restrained sips possible, he doubted the canteen would retain anything by noon the next day, and his dehydrated body would likewise be empty before the following sunset. Still, he did not relay his own defeatist projections to Kim, and instead answered, "Right. More ground, better time. You got it."
They exchanged goodnights and lapsed into silence, which Ron struggled under. Without the need to focus on conquering each dune and forcing each next step, he found himself alone with a terrible thirst and an indescribable fear. All too soon, the comfortable cool became a clamoring cold which made Ron eat his earlier words. Thirst and fear gained a new ally in this chill, adding to the shiver in Ron's body.
"You've really stepped in it this time, Stoppable," a brusque, deep voice said from outside his hood. Ron tore the fabric away and looked to his side. There, the clean-cut head of Steve Barkin jutted from the sand, staring up at the night sky with his usual look of disapproving single-mindedness. He was buried in a fashion identical to Ron's; the crisp lapels of his sports coat peeked from beneath a sheet of sparking sand. "Can't you do anything without screwing it up?" he continued.
Ron squeezed his eyes shut, ignoring the sand trapped beneath their lids as he did so. "Oh, crap," he muttered with misty, rolling breath. "Not again." Over and over, he insisted to his belabored mind that this wasn't real. 'He's not here,' Ron thought. 'He's home in Middleton, failing me on my English homework. He's not here.'
When he opened his eyes, disappointment reigned in his vision, taking Barkin's impatient form. The terror of Middleton High now looked at him directly. "Are you finished?" he asked with a tone more fit for addressing troublesome three year olds. "I'm not here for you benefit, Stoppable. I don't come and go just because you want me to."
"You aren't here," moaned Ron.
"Hogwash and poppycock," Barkin snorted in reply, kicking up a small cloud of sand into Ron's face. "But I shouldn't be," he added, "And neither should she."
Ron glanced back at Kim's still, sandy silhouette. "KP?"
"She only dove out of the plane because you couldn't hold your own against a middle aged, out-of-shape blue crackpot," Barkin informed him. "Now, she gets to die in the middle of nowhere. I hope you're proud of yourself, Stoppable."
Dark clouds gathered in Ron's red face. "Kim was just looking out for me, like I do for her."
"Oh, really?" A wry look of snide humor entered the man's face as he relinquished his hands from the sand and held them up. "Let's go ahead and start listing off all the ways you've helped Possible today, shall we?" Quiet ensued, broadening the sick smile on Barkin's lips. "Tell you what," he offered generously, "We can extend that to whatever help you've offered her this week." Silence. "This month?"
"Go away," Ron whispered hoarsely. Guilt began swelling up like rising bile in the back of his throat.
"Stoppable," Barkin said with a sigh, "Despite everything I've ever told her, Miss Possible is the most talented individual I've ever known. She's going to go on to do great things." He laced his hands behind his head, staring up into the stars once again as if they held all the answers, or the future itself. "Her one and only mistake," he noted glumly," Has been her inexplicable friendship with you. And now it seems as though this single mistake has killed her. What a waste."
"No." The cold dug into Ron from every side, draining him of his disbelief. Real or not, this Barkin began to make a dangerous sort of sense. The repeated denial echoing from his mouth sounded hollow to even Ron. "No."
Barkin took a deep breath, letting the revelation soak between the two of them a moment. "You could still save her, you know," his teacher told him. "All you have to is disappear. Leave a note if you feel chatty." To hear him talk, one might think Barkin suggested a Sunday stroll through the park. "Just pick a direction and start walking."
Freezing black wormed into Ron, intensifying his shiver and disintegrating his granulated blanket. Moonlight burnished his red, blistered skin an icy blue as he scrambled back from his calm, stargazing consultant. "I'm ready stop hallucinating now," moaned Ron.
"Possible is resourceful," maintained Barkin. "Without you to drag along, she'll probably make it out of this." A piercing gaze split Ron's glacial innards with hot truth. "Isn't Possible that important? Isn't saving her life worth yours?" Ron knew the answer, though he couldn't bring himself to speak it aloud. "Get up," Barking commanded the teen. "A real man does what's best for the ones he cares about. Be a man for once in your life. Get up."
Limbs began moving of their own volition, inspired by Barkin's stirring words to raise Ron to his feet. His cloak fluttered to the ground, useless for now, needless after sunrise. No sense in prolonging the inevitable.
Ron turned to choose a tangent off Kim's chosen course. A host of glimmering stars each offered themselves as his guide, while Barkin's murmured insistence made his head throb worse. He turned again, finally settling on a direction, but didn't take two steps before he saw a shapely silhouette standing in his path.
"Hey," Kim whispered from the desert shadows. Only her outline, and her magnificent eyes, stood out against the pure black backdrop. But no darkness could hide her smile. He heard it in her voice. "Guess you couldn't sleep either."
"Um…" Ron balked, even as Barkin grumbled for him to get back on track. How did he explain something this important to Kim? She wouldn't understand. "I just—"
"It's the cold." The silhouette moved, hugging her chest and exaggerating a shiver as her head tilted back in the direction of his former bed. "Come on," she beckoned, swaying over to stand in his sand pile, and knelt down. "Maybe we can help each other out." When his feet still would not follow, her eyes shimmered with gentle firmness. "Come here," she said. "Lie down."
Ron shuffled back toward her with a mechanical gait. Each step along the way, Barkin kept telling him to turn around, to be a man, to do what's right. But the rumbling commands faded just as soon as he lowered himself to Kim's side atop his discarded cloak.
Kim asked, "Would you mind grabbing the blanket?" It took Ron a second to understand before he sat up and began burying them together. Kim pressed herself tight to Ron as he rested once more in the sand. Numbness stole away any of the sensations of the girl snuggled at his side, but just knowing she was there stirred an inner fire that kept him going. "You know," she said in a yawn to his deadened chest, "You make a pretty good space heater."
The intimacy they shared would at any other time have sent Ron's heart into a percussive frenzy, but the frigid and malevolent setting prevented him from taking any real joy from the moment. Instead, he focused on her shallow, even breaths and stared back at the voyeuristic stars. A lump of blue-lit dark red teased the bottom edge of his vision. Sleep didn't take him for hours: how many, he didn't know. He only knew stars, sand, Kim, and the intense wish that he could feel anything at that moment besides cold.
"Ron." The utterance of his name banished snatches of lost memories and snapped his eyes open to greet the first tendrils of dawn. Kim's voice, combined with her absence from his side, cut through his sleep to bring him to adequate wakefulness. She loomed over him, cloak already fitted, creamy features set with fatalistic determination. "Let's get moving before it gets really hot," she said.
A tingling, heated lack of feeling flooded his sun-stroked skin. Intense heat, followed by intense cold, and now the promise of still more heat to come, made very inch of Ron hurt. Only Kim's reproving eye provided the necessary motivation to rise and ready himself, and only just barely. Her expression didn't soften until he shook the sand free of his cloak and seated it upon his shoulders. With a wordless nod, she rejoined their path toward liberation from the nameless desert.
No amiable conversation crossed between the teens as morning plodded through midday and beyond. Ron had neither the energy nor the inclination to return her encouraging smiles and attempts at small talk. Eventually, they slipped into the previous day's routine; Kim would march ahead, scouting the best path, while Ron trudged some distance behind. The concern she showed him with every glance back no longer patched his fraying resolve. In place of their reassurance, Kim's eyes now fueled the painful guilt his faux Barkin had instilled into him.
"Y'know," Tara said, "It really doesn't seem like that tough of a choice. Don't you owe Kim, like, a million times, or something?" The hem of her violet skirt wagged at her thighs as she trotted alongside Ron. An emery board worked her manicured nails over needlessly, giving her something to do in between thoughts. Blonde curls bounced around her smooth shoulders as she tilted her curious expression in his direction. "S'not like it'd be hard, or anything."
Zita's exotic features frowned at Ron from his other side. "Yeah," she chimed in, "Seems pretty selfish to make Kim die just 'cause you're so pokey." Her fingers snapped before finding their way to her slender hips. Dark, waxed brows furrowed together scornfully on her forehead. "You're like some ubernewb who can't get past level one."
A third figure rounded into Ron's vision, clad in stretchy black fabric that shimmered in the heat. "Leave Stoppable-san alone," she ordered the other two girls. "He cannot help the way he feels." To Ron, the beautiful ninja said, "Do not listen, Stoppable-san. There is no nobler cause in this life than unrequited, hopeless love."
Ron kept his swelling tongue clamped behind his teeth. His vision swam with the three girls in the swirling heat, so badly so that he could scarcely keep Kim in sight. The sway of her hips beneath her cloak became his metronome, meting out his steps because he could no longer trust himself to do so. Beneath her draped shawl, the cant and bob of her body seized his gaze and grasped it tight.
The sudden and uncharacteristic focus didn't escape the notice of his entourage. Tara's emery board shuffled mournfully in tune with her sigh. "There he goes again," she said. Her nails now perfect, she placed the board behind her ear and adopted a look of condescending pity. "I kind of feel sorry for him," admitted Tara. "Always looking at the wrong girl. Know what I mean?"
"Psshh." Zita waved the notion off. "Count yourself lucky, girl," she shot across Ron's bow. Disdain splashed from her flashing eyes against Ron's crumbling defenses, and soaked into the sizzling sands at his burning feet. "Personally, I feel sorry for Kim."
Yori kicked up clouds of desert, circumventing Ron and his flanking critics. She walked backwards, placing herself in the way of his swaying motivation. "Do not listen to them, Ron-san," she told him again. Her arms spread wide in invitation as her golden countenance split into a dazzling smile. "Come. You are tired, and deserve a rest. Come lie with me."
Ron's eyes burned through her chest until he took a step to the side and reacquired his rhythmic guide. "Kim says we gotta make better time," he mumbled. Whether it was to Yori or to himself, he didn't know.
A chortle from his left made Ron wince. "Are you kidding me?" said Zita. "You'd rather follow Kim's caboose across this litter box while some Asian tamale is throwing herself at you? You really are a newb."
"Seriously, Ron," Tara intoned pleadingly, "Don't make the same mistake twice. Yori seems really nice and, well…Kim's never gonna happen."
The supple body wrapped in black stepped back across his view of Kim. "Ron-kun," entreated Yori with open arms. Luscious lips parted in a pleading smile that made the cracked remains of Ron's lips press tighter together. "You cannot continue on. You can barely stand. Come with me," she said. "I will take care of you. You can stay with me for as long as you like."
Ron dropped to one knee, offering only a grunt as his leg buried itself in the superheated sand. The new pain became lost in the constant, lava-like throbbing throughout his entire body. Dry heaves worked at his clenched throat, threatening to jettison his precious fluids. But then, as he listed to one side, about to topple, he saw a pillar of billowing white waiting for him in the distance, watching him with twin emerald gems inlayed in its shadows.
The trio gathered around him as he struggled back to his feet. "Excuse me," he rasped to his watchful phantoms, "Kim's waiting for me." He forced himself past Yori's expectant embrace, working each leg back and forth through herculean effort.
Kim waited for him at the top of a low dune, a statue of patience until Ron staggered up to her. She freed herself of her hood with a toss of shimmering red hair and leaned in toward his face. Glossy lips parted to ask, "Are you okay? You've stopped sweating."
"I sweat?" The weak joke did nothing to lift Ron's spirits, and Kim's darkening look seemed equally amused. "I'm okay," he insisted without conviction. "The girls were just giving me a hard time and…yeah." As her expression continued to fall, he realized just how ludicrous he must have sounded. 'Nice, jackass,' he thought to himself. 'Make her worry more.'
Kim did just that. "Ron," she said in a neutral tone, "It's just you and me. Remember that, okay?"
"I remember," he nodded.
"Don't listen to anyone but me," she continued. "We're going to make it out of this, but I need you to be strong. None of them can hurt you, because none of them are real." Her beseeching gaze loaded Ron's burden with further guilt and shame, though he refused to buckle under the added weight, if only for her sake.
"You got it, KP," he said hoarsely. "Now what say we get out of this place? The service is lousy," he said, and lifted his shoe to let a fountain of sand pile beneath him from its nooks and crannies, "And it's filthy. I don't think they vacuum here at all."
That got at least a little smile out of her. "Let's go," she agreed, and turned to lead the way.
For at time, Ron felt safe in the quiet that followed. The girls gave up and left him after Kim's reminder that they weren't real—why couldn't he remember that, he needed to remember that, if only his head would stop hurting—and they resumed their path toward what he hoped was home. Kim's sway gave his eyes a marker to follow, allowing his throbbing and baking brain to wallow in its own stillness. He could not, would not, let Kim down again. He refused to let any more treacherous shades take advantage of him. He would be strong for Kim.
Night caught up to them once more, weighing heavily on the fiery emperor of the sky and easing Ron's burden, if only for a little while. He took small comfort in the cooling air this time around, knowing full well the cold that lay beyond it as price for the peaceful respite. Colors swam in the sky, fighting the blue with reds and yellows and pinks before they, too, would yield to a black starscape. Ron watched his towering shadow grow, nipping at the heels of his swirling white goal. She had long since stopped checking back, and now marched on with unilateral purpose.
"She's beautiful, isn't she?" A voice behind Ron spoke of his ghostly guide in a tone of admiration he couldn't help but agree with. "And brave. There isn't a doubt in her mind that you're both going to make it out of here. As long as she's around, everything will be all right."
"Yeah," Ron croaked. "Beautiful."
The speaker rounded into Ron's vision, trailing ribbons of silken fire behind her pristine mission uniform. She folded her arms beneath the gentle curve of her chest and joined in Ron's dreamlike admiration of the figure in white, who stepped from the top of a dune into the colors in the sky. "I understand how you feel about me," his companion said. "But you have to know how this will end."
Reality jack-hammered him on the tail end of her words, shattering the ethereal color around the distant Kim into a dark swirl of pitch and points of light which threatened to swallow her whole. He yelped and fell forward, stumbling to catch himself, reaching out to what he couldn't possibly touch. "I…" The sudden change left him dizzy and short of breath.
Kim leaned down by his side, brushing ginger out of her eyes, watching his panicked gasps with equal measures of pity and amusement. "You know how this ends, Ron," she murmured. "We'll get out of the desert. We'll be okay. And everything will go right back to the way it was. I'll be back in my world, you'll be back in yours, and in between?" A fistful of scooped desert trickled from her fist, vanishing into a cool twilight breeze. "Miles," she whispered. "Miles of desert. Expansive wastelands. Nothing."
Ron looked down at her condescending face, confused and sick. "You're my best friend," he murmured. Distance? Desert? Did she really believe that? Did…did he really believe otherwise?
"I know," lamented Kim. The corners of her mouth drooped. "And you have no idea how much that hurts."
Understanding brought Ron's eyebrows together, which he then turned on the redhead with as much malice as he could muster. It wasn't much. "You aren't Kim," he grunted, pushing back into his stumbled steps. The shards of twilight clung to the horizon before him. A small dot vanished over one distant dune. "You aren't even real."
Kim followed without delay or difficulty. The soft sand that daunted Ron's footsteps posed no threat to her. "And how do you know that? What makes you the Kim Possible expert?" She showed no signs of hurrying, and instead strode alongside him with purposeful paces. "I spend the best years of my life letting you ride my coattails, and you just brush me off. And you call yourself my friend."
"Go away." Ron tried walking faster. The fatigue in his wooden legs made the effort hurt.
"You need to realize something, Ron," Kim continued. "I'm not waiting for you. I'm not going to wake up one day and suddenly realize that we're meant for each other. There's nothing to realize. There's nothing there."
"Go away." Black teased the edges of his vision.
"I really am sorry, Ron," she insisted kindly. "I know it hurts, but you have to understand that you and I will never happen."
"Stop it." Rage clenched at his throat.
"We'll go home…"
"Stop it." Anguish stormed his papery defenses.
"And life will go on…"
"Shut up." Tears blurred the desert before him.
Kim continued, heedless. "And the next Josh Mankey will come along," she explained. "Someone playing at my level. And you'll go right back to pining away for something you can't have." She leaned in, whispering into his ear, "You can walk and walk all you want, Ron. But as long as you chase me, you will always be in this desert."
"SHUT UP!" bellowed Ron. He clutched at his pounding head, screaming, "Stop it!" Golden ground med his knees and filled his eyes, fulfilling Kim's grim assessment. Precious water dripped from his cheeks as sandy sobs shuddered through his entire frame. "Stop…" he gasped, working his fingers through his hair. "Stop…"
Ethereal white filled his watery eyes. Kim appeared as he wiped the tears clean, staring down at him from the hood of her angelic coat. "Ron," she said, addressing him with clear and commanding tones. "Ron we can't quit now. You have to get up."
"Go ahead," Kim said from behind him. Her dark uniform melded into the backdrop, leaving only her sympathetic face. "You can't leave. Better you just stay here."
Kim crouched down, trying to see into his face. The edges of her cloak pooled at her feet and brushed the sands. "Ron, we have to keep going."
Kim shook her head and folded her arms. "It won't do you any good, Ron."
"Get up," said Kim.
Ron choked back a wail, and it wrenched at his guts instead. "What's the point," he whispered. "I can't do it."
Kim nodded. "Now he's getting it," she told Kim.
Kim obviously didn't hear her, for she leaned in further. Their faces almost touched as her eyes loomed near his. Waning sunlight brought the halos of green in her eyes to life, making them burn with quiet intensity that quelled his sniveling at once. "You can," she said. "You just have to get up."
"Don't you get it?" His bottom lip trembled as he felt the words coming. There wasn't humor enough left in his body to hide it anymore. There wasn't restraint enough to keep it bottled up any longer. "If I get up," he sniffed, "What happens then? We'll keep going. We always keep going. And I'll watch you go on…only you don't see me. You don't see me, Kim," he murmured. Fresh tears stole more of his water away and brought his hands to his face, where he tried to hide away from Kim in shame. "I look at you, and I see you in a way that you'll never see me with. I…I can't do it, Kim. It hurts."
He sobbed a moment more, unable to tear his hands from his eyes. No sounds came through his tears—reprimands, sympathy, denouncement, or even breathing—making him wonder if Kim was still there. At last, he managed to peek around a palm.
Kim crouched next to him still, arms folded across her knee. Her face remained an unreadable mask of reflection, her eyes, limpid pools of calm green. At last, she parted her rose petal lips and said, "If you mean any of that, you have to get up. If you care about me like that…If you honestly do, then you have to get up. I can help you, Ron, but it starts with you. So get up."
A low rumble cut Ron's answer short, a feral thunder that marked the first noise besides the wind that their desert had given them. Both he and Kim looked around, tracking its source, and found a hairy outline cresting the ridge in front of them. Wild yellow eyes pierced the black shadows, caught in the pale light of the full moon. The scraggly form of the wolf that owned the eyes bared its teeth at the sight of the teens. Its growl grew to a series of fearsome barks.
Kim whirled back to Ron, who had yet to rise from his knees, and cried softly in abject terror at the first fellow inmate their prison now showed them. "Ron," she said with mounting alarm, "You have to get up. Ron, get up. Ron!"
The wolf's feet pounded against the sand. A horrible howl tore from its throat as it charged their position, teeth gleaming, muzzle slavering, eyes filled with half-starved madness. Unable to move, Ron just stared at its blitz. The great beast closed to within a handful of yards when Ron saw a rush of white leap between him and it. But for all Kim's bravery, Ron saw the wolf tear straight through her and continue on, right for him.
"KP!" Ron cried before the wolf slammed into him. He yowled as the creature's jaws seized his arm and tore into the numbed flesh, eliciting new pains from that which already hurt terribly. Unsatisfied with the stringy meat, the wolf released him and went straight for Ron's throat. Ron's other arm caught the creature beneath its snapping jaw, keeping it barely at bay. His strength waned quickly, but the beast had power to spare. Its jaws drew closer with each passing second, anxious to rip apart his neck and claim its prize.
"Ron," he heard Kim's voice scream, "The flare!"
Forgotten at his waist for the better part of their journey, the flare gun suddenly leapt into the forefront of Ron's mind, right behind the wolf's frenzied chops. He flexed his injured hand, forcing torn tissue to work anyway, and snatched at the grip of the black pistol. Yanking it free of its holster, he brought it up nearer to the battle, where his face met with the wolf's.
"Ciao, puppy!" he snarled.
With a grimace, Ron jammed the barrel of the gun into the wolf's mouth and pulled the trigger, averting his eyes and squeezing them shut. The foul-smelling creature shrieked as the light of a thousand suns burned for a few seconds at the base of its throat. With a final whimper, the creature fell over, dead. Burning flesh wafted from its drooling mouth and into Ron's nose.
"Heh…" Ron rolled over, dizzy, bleeding, coughing, and looked over to where he last saw Kim. "Get it? Puppy Ch…Kim!"
Kim lay in the sands, draped in her cloak. Red ruined its pristine white, spreading fast to steal her purity away. Fatigue and injury vanished from Ron's mind as he raced forward, skidding to a halt at her side. Her mouth moved to smile up at him. Blood bubbled over the edges of her lips around his name: "Ron…"
"Oh, God," he choked, watching the hideous red spread faster and faster across her chest. The blood fountaining from his own arm meant nothing as he dug it into the sands to cradle her to his chest. He just held her close, lifting her head to his. "Kim, hold on. Kim, you just…you have to hold on."
"You'll save me," Kim whispered. "I know you will."
Energy poured into Ron's body, from where he didn't know, and didn't care. Cold assaulted them from all sides as the last of the day's heat vanished into the empty sky, stolen by the greedy stars. He didn't feel it. He couldn't feel anything anymore. Ron simply scooped Kim into his arms and rose, forcing the stiff, swollen lumps of flesh he once called legs to carry them across the sea of dunes.
His body ached. Let it ache. His body bled. Let it bleed. Let it wither and die. He would not let it quit before he got her to safety. "We're almost there," he murmured to her nodding head, keeping her close. It was as though she weighed nothing, though his leaden limbs now weighed enough for the both of them. She felt as cold as the desert night itself, constantly renewing his fear and always giving him energy enough for one last step. "We're almost there," he slurred. "Just hold on."
Minutes. Hours. Days. Years. They continued on, separated from time. Dunes passed in time's place, like the jerking ticks and tocks of a second hand. 'The next dune,' Ron kept telling himself, panting with effort and unable to speak any longer. He doubted Kim could hear him, but wished he could talk to her anyway. There were so many things he had to tell her. 'The next dune. That's where—'
Light teased the desert night sky, light that the watchful stars couldn't match. Like a moth to a flame, Ron found himself staggering toward the illumination. Were they marching toward heaven? Had Kim led him there? "Hold on," he said through swollen lips, barely able to form the words. "I see something. We're…We're almost…"
Ron rounded the top of the last dune, and fell into a trap of pure light. It took a second for his assaulted eyes to adjust. There, seated among the desert waves, was a small convoy of large, tread-driven vehicles with a small globe painted on the side of each one. Dozens of black-clad figures milled about, moving this way and that. Their encampment hosted a quartet of enormous lights, the offensive luminosity Ron had spied from so many dunes away.
None of the figures seemed to notice them as they skidded down the dune and into the camp. Ron tried forming words to ask for help, but found that his cracked and bleeding lips could no longer function as such. Kim felt lighter in his arms by the second, and her head lolled unnaturally. When her listing gaze happened upon his, a look of heartbreaking gratitude nearly did him in. In desperation, Ron parted his useless face and let loose with an inhuman roar: guttural, stuttering, animalistic.
It did the job. Rifles he hadn't seen in their possession snapped to the men's hands instantly. Those nearest to him knelt down to take aim, even as the black-clad men behind them approached and aimed high to avoid their comrades. All stood poised to fill Ron with projectile death, until a slight figure parted them with violent shoves and a biting tone capable of curdling milk.
"Stand down, you idiots!" Doctor Director yelled. Dressed for the desert night in a GJ jacket, the woman carried her commanding presence to the forefront of her men's formation and stood before them, blocking their shots with her own body. Her cyclopean glare cowed an entire formation of trained soldiers without delay. "This is the man we've been looking for. Stand down!"
"Ron?" A feminine voice drifted from behind the GJ agents' formation. Ron thought he recognized it, and looked down into his arms. Kim offered him another smile, and mouthed the words, 'thank you,' before a crown of fiery red pierced the human wall that had threatened Ron's life a moment ago. "Ron!"
Ron stood in abject confusion as Kim Possible bowled a full dozen men over and ran toward him. Her face bore several deep welts and a nasty series of burns to match his own, as well as crows' feet and dark circles that belied a fatigue almost as great as his own. Despite this, the expression around these injuries morphed into one of pure joy. The teen heroine flew right past Doctor Director and almost knocked Ron down, clutching at his arm as if to test his solidity.
"Oh my God, Ron," she breathed, snaring him in a sideways hug and resting her forehead on his shoulder. "It's really you. You're alive."
Amidst the confusion, Ron stared down at his arms. They curved upward, devoid of anyone or anything. Only blood remained, all of it his own, and nothing more. With nothing left to do, he tilted forward, collapsing into the new Kim's frantic arms. Distantly, he heard her voice calling out for a medic. Then, black.
Memories toyed at the edges of Ron's dreams, mixing reality with fantasy. Time still refused him, disallowing him any sense of how long he remained at the mercy of unconsciousness. When he finally woke from the strobe-light imagery of his own mind, he came into a thousand different pains ill-comforted by a medical cot's stiff white sheets. The tan canvas of a tent flapped gently above him, while different machines around him beeped, adamant that he was still alive, no matter how much his pain receptors said to the contrary. His opening eyes spied a host of tubes leading to his good arm, while the injured one now sported a coat of clean bandages, and probably stitches beneath that.
Something stirred at his side, and only then did Ron realize that his hand was not alone. Nimble fingers intertwined with his swollen sausages, refusing to let go as he flexed his hand. A fire-capped head rose from his bed, revealing bloodshot eyes that blinked away ill-sated sleepiness. "You're awake," Kim said.
His eyes were open, but the dreams still persisted. Behind Kim, he saw faint outlines of those who had visited him among the sands. Bonnie. Barkin. Yori. Zita. Tara. Kim. They jeered at him in silent reprisal. He knew they would never really be gone. "Am I?" he wondered aloud.
Kim either didn't understand, or didn't hear him. She continued, "I was so worried. When Drakken kicked you out of his escape pod, I was sure…I mean, we've been looking for days, and…" Tears trickled down the edges of her crinkled eyes, and a sniffling overwhelmed her words.
He could tell she had been trying to act strong in his absence, leading the charge for his rescue, just like she always did. Now, she seemed too tired for all of that. Now he saw the real Kim. He was certain of it. "Hey," he croaked, lifting their collected fingers to wipe away the teardrops. "C'mon now. I've lost enough fluids for the both of us, don't you think?"
A strangled laugh escaped her muted weeping. "I'm just so sorry," she said, lifting his hand to her forehead. Salty sorrow kissed his blistered skin as she ran his fingers along her cheek. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. God, I'm sorry, Ron."
Ron Stoppable squeezed the hand of his best friend, and waited patiently until her gaze met his. "What are you talking about," he said with absolute conviction. "You were with me every step of the way."
I wrote this story for Fa Zhou's Kim Possible Contest on Deviant Art. It was summarily schooled by the competition, most notably CaptainKodak1's winning story, "All is Fair in Love and War." I recommend you check it out, it's a great read.
Regardless of winning or losing, I'm damn proud of this story. I hope you enjoyed it. Until next time, loyal listeners!
Ghost of the Net
and your Queen of Fanfiction
...additionally, I found a great piece of fanart on Kineticboy2001's Deviant Art site as well, entitled "A Visual for a Great Story." Strangely enough, it's from the Power Trilogy, leading me to believe that it's been mistitled ;) Folks, if any of you has ever or will ever draw something from my works, please, TELL ME ABOUT IT! I absolutely flipped (joyously, I assure you) when I stumbled onto the picture. Tell me so I can plug the hell out of it: not only does it get my name out there, but it gets your art out there as well, to my literally dozen of fans.