Author's Note: This story contains spoilers for "So the Drama" (sorry Jawelik! mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...). If you've not seen the movie, then I recommend you give this story a pass, unless you don't mind having the ending spoiled for you.
"Well, maybe I don't want to grow up! Not if it means-" - Ron Stoppable, 'So the Drama'
Part 1: Fall
Chapter I: Setting Sun
It was a small one-bedroom apartment, located in a building that consisted of a great many other apartments just like it, located inside a city that contained a great many buildings that had the same basic purpose, if not the same architect. It wasn't a bad apartment at all: the landlady was quite pleasant, maintenance was quick, and it really reminded her of the attic room she'd had in her parent's house. The primary difference was that her attic room was a four-hour drive away, in another state, and that her apartment also contained it's own kitchen.
Normally this would not have been a problem, but despite her designation as 'the girl who can do anything', Kim Possible had one alliance of nemeses that she was never able to completely overcome: kitchen appliances.
Such was no barrier for Ron Stoppable, though. He had full mastery of the kitchen: pots and pans did obeisance to him, blenders and food processors abandoned all thought of rebellion, and ordinary kitchen knives had the perfect grace of a forged katana imparted to them by his hands. All things food bent to his will.
Which, Kim reflected as the smells of his latest concoction wafted through the apartment, was a good trait to have in a boyfriend. Especially when he owned his own restaurant.
Even though that meant that, occasionally, date nights turned into working sessions of menu taste-testing and assembly. So it was, then, that Kim Possible found herself seated at her dining table going over menu options for the opening. Ron, meanwhile, was five feet away, in front of the stove, tending to some new arcane concoction of his.
He was also thinking out loud.
"So what do you think, KP? Chicken or fish?" he asked as he stirred the gumbo and checked the rice.
"For the opening?" she said, still pouring over the desert options on the menu.
"Why not do one of each? You know, give people an option?"
"One of each," Ron said thoughtfully. "Yeah, if we do those two... yeah, that'll work."
"Okay," Kim said, making a mark on her paper. "Which two, then?"
"I'm thinking the Chicken Waikiki and the Sesame Halibut."
"The halibut?" Kim said, somewhat surprised. That dish hadn't gone too well, due to a batch of bad sesame seeds. "Why the halibut?"
"Oh, you know," Ron said deadpan, "just for the-"
"Sorry, KP. Couldn't help it," he said sheepishly.
"Right... so why the halibut?"
"Well, the sesame seed issue was a one-shot. Now that I've got a source that wasn't owned by Dr. Dementor…"
They both shuddered at the memory.
"Besides," Ron continued, "I can cook at lot of each at any one time, and since it'll just be me doing the cooking…"
"Ron Stoppable," Kim replied appreciatively, "seems to have learned to how to strategize. Would… would you need any help from me?"
Ron laughed nervously.
"Heh... uh, KP..."
"What? Oh come on, Ron. I can do anything, remember? I even mastered the mixer... mostly..."
"KP, KP, KP..." he said, walking away from the oven and over to her. He seemed serious, even with a 'Kiss the Cook' apron over his clothes. "You have done well with the mixer, this is true... but this goes beyond the mixer mojo.
"What I need to you do," he continued, crossing his arms on the back of her chair, "is to work the floor with your natural charm and grace."
She turned to look at him, crossing her own arms on top of his, and moving her head so their faces were just a few inches apart.
"Charm and grace."
"Well, the beautilicious eyes won't hurt nothin'..."
"Keep talking, Ron," she said with a smile and a raised eyebrow. He looked like he was about to, when a buzzer sounded from the oven. Ron felt a stirring in his pocket.
"Soup's ready," Kim remarked. "And I think Rufus is hungry."
Rufus had finally woken up from his nap and poked his head out of Ron's pocket.
"Uh-huh, uh-huh," he agreed eagerly, tugging on Ron's shirt.
"I don't know, buddy," Ron replied. "I'm not sure if you can handle duck gumbo..."
"After all the Bueno Nacho you've fed him?" Kim replied. "Rufus probably has a cast-iron stomach by now."
"Uh-huh, cast-iron!" Rufus squeaked.
"Rockin', little buddy," Ron said, giving Rufus a high-five with his thumb. "SOUP'S ON!"
A couple of bowls later, they were both leaning back in their chairs, resting contentedly. Rufus, having again stuffed himself, lay sprawled out on the tabletop. He let out a few burps, one of which flopped him over from his back to his stomach. No soup had been spilled, which was good thing, since Kim and Ron both were wearing light-colored pants.
"That," Kim said with a sigh, "was some good soup."
"Yes," Ron agreed, sounding very pleased, "yes it was. Who's the cook?"
"C'mon… who's the cook?"
"You're the cook," Kim acknowledged with a begrudging sigh. "And if you don't stop asking that, I'll whap you with the wooden spoon."
She reached for the one in the soup pot.
"KP! No!" Ron shouted as he moved to stop her.
"Ron, I wasn't really going to hit you-"
"No no no no, KP… " Ron said, shaking his head. "Don't cha remember what happened the last time you touched one of those?"
"Oh," she said, flushing slightly. "Right."
"Yeah," he said, gently taking her wrist in his hand and moving it away from the pot. "Let's just keep those hands away from the kitchen tools."
"It wasn't that bad."
Rufus stirred from his stuffed sprawl andshot her a dirty look.
"Kim," Ron said flatly. "Rufus was stained blue for a week."
"But he forgave me, right Rufus?" Kim said, scratching Rufus behind the ears.
"Still… no touchy the wooden spoon, KP. It's just not safe for you yet," he said in a whisper, making little o-shapes with his thumbs and forefingers.
"Hah-hah… enough with the kitchen jokes. Can I at least help you clean up, or am I not safe around brilo?"
He never got to answer, for at the point the kimmunicator beeped. Almost automatically, Kim pulled it out of her pocket. Ron scooted around to look over her shoulder.
"Go, Wade," she said, sound a bit brusque.
"Got a hit on the site," he started, and then paused at the tone of her voice. "Was I… interrupting something?"
"Nah," Ron answered, "we were just fussin' again."
"Oh, hey Ron," Wade replied. "Kim wanted to help in kitchen?"
"Wade," Kim said in annoyance. "Ugh, I'm not that bad, am I?"
"Remember the incident in Bonn, when-"
"Yeah, we remember Bonn," Ron said sharply, moving around behind Kim and resting his hands on her shoulders. "What's the sitch, Wade?"
"Oh, right," Wade said. "This one's from Global Justice. They've tracked a cell of the Panther Group to a warehouse in your city, and they were wondering if you could help take care of it."
The Panther Group was a collection of arms dealers and technology smugglers who specialized in selling the latest in military and civilian hardware to whoever had enough cash at the time. Drakken and Dementor were both listed as clients of the organization, at least before their incarceration, along with several others who made those two look like small time. There had even been an amount of cooperation between Panther and Jack Hench, though it was rumored that there had recently been a falling out, with elements of the Panther Group attempting a takeover of HenchCo.
There were even rumors that, instead of enabling the megalomaniacs, Panther wanted to join the megalomaniacs. They were going "big time", and were thusly a step above anything that Kim and Ron had faced before. Getting involved with such an organization would be risky.
But that didn't matter.
"We'll do it, Wade," Kim said.
"You sure about that, Kim?" Wade asked. "These guys are hardcore, and this won't be a Drakken-plot cakewalk."
"Doesn't matter," Kim said, determination beginning to settle into her voice. "If Panther is daring operating in the States now, then you can bet they're up to something."
"Just tell us where and when, Wade," Ron added. "We'll take care of it."
If anything, he sounded even more serious than Kim was.
"Alright," Wade said, somewhat reluctantly. "I'm sending coordinates and direction to the kimmunicator."
"Please and thank you, Wade," Kim replied.
"Don't thank me yet," Wade replied, sounding very worried. "Listen, you'll need the battle suits in this one. I'm pretty sure they're back in working order from the last mission, but… just be careful, guys."
"You're really worried about this," Ron remarked.
"Let's just say," Wade said with a sigh, resigned to the fact that his warning wouldn't matter, "that the Panther Group doesn't normally resort to kung-fu fighting. Even I can't make something that's invincible."
They were silent for a moment.
"Well, we'd better get ready," Kim said. Wade looked as if he was about to say something else, then he nodded.
"Right. Call me when you get there?"
Kim promised they would, and Wade signed off. When the kimmunicator had grown dark, Kim and Ron remained silent for a time. Then Ron moved his hands off of her shoulders, and wrapped his arms around her.
"You really think we're ready for this, KP?" Ron asked, bringing his chin to rest atop her head.
"I don't know, Ron," Kim replied, sounding, for the first time, completely uncertain. "But if Dr. Director has to call us to handle this, then I don't think we have much of a choice."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"You seemed a bit more eager a few minutes ago, Ron," Kim stated, silently enjoying being held by him.
"I have family in Tel Aviv," Ron said with a sigh. "Panther… hasn't helped with that."
She placed a hand on one of his, and then moved to stand. Even Rufus had recovered from his stupor.
"Well, we'd better get moving, then."
Ron let her go and stood back, giving her room to push away from the table. They stared at each other for a moment.
"I… I guess it's too late for desert, huh?" Kim remarked.
"It'll keep," Ron said. "We can eat the cake when we get back."
"See you outside?"
"I'll be there," he said with a smile. "C'mon buddy."
Rufus jumped from the table into Ron's waiting pocket. With a final look he turned and walked out the door, heading to his own apartment down the hall to change into his battle suit. When the door had shut behind him she leaned against the wall and shuddered.
'I've just agreed to go head to head against the Panther Group. I must be crazy…'
Chapter II: Fading Light
They had parked a mile or so distant from the suspect warehouse and hiked the rest of the way. The warehouse itself was set in a spread-out storage/industrial complex about twenty miles outside of the city. There were fifty to sixty nearly identical buildings in this complex, but the one they wanted was easy to find: it was the only one with armed guards around it.
Kim and Ron took up position atop a roof two hundred yards away from the building. They were observing it through a set of binoculars that connected to the kimmunicator.
"Looks like five guards on the outside," Kim was saying. "Gray camouflage, rifles, and some kind of sunglasses."
"Probably miniaturized night-vision equipment," Wade said. "I'm picking up some EM activity from the glasses, and that would be the only reason to wear sunglasses at 10 P.M."
"What are those tube thingies on the rifles?" Ron wondered.
"Ron, those are grenade launchers," Kim explained.
"Kim," Wade interjected, "I need you to point the kimmunicator at the warehouse and then turn on the sensors. I want to get a good look at what's inside."
Kim put down her binoculars and picked up the kimmunicator, switched it to scan mode, and pointed the top end at the warehouse. She held it there for a minute while Wade ran the sensors.
"Okay, that should be enough," Wade said. "Just let me process this data…"
They watched him work his magic on the computer, his fingers flying across the keyboard.
"Okay, it looks like there's another twenty people in the warehouse, most of them armed. Looks like a bunch of crates, mostly containing explosives, ammunition, a few vehicles, fuel, and… wait a minute…"
He stared at his screen in disbelief, and then hit a few more keys, rerunning the analysis. Then he swore.
"Wade Load," Kim said, astonished. "Who taught you to talk like that?"
"Guys, you've got to get out of there," Wade said, sounding panicked. "I'm detecting radiologicals in the warehouse."
"What?" Kim gasped.
"Okay, let's pretend I don't know what that means," Ron said.
"It means," Wade replied through gritted teeth, trying to keep his voice down, " that there is an atomic bomb being stored in that warehouse."
"Yeah, okay, that's not good."
"No duh. Get out there, now, Kim. Let Global Justice handle this one."
Kim just lay there, looking at the warehouse.
"Kim?" Ron asked. "What're you thinking?"
"We can't turn back now," Kim said finally. "If GJ had to call us, then that means that they can't get here in time to do anything about it."
"So we're going in?" Ron asked.
"We can't let that nuke leave here," Kim replied. "Wade, call Global Justice. Get Dr. Director, in person, and tell her what we've found and that we're going in."
"No questions, Wade," she said with finality. "We can't let that nuke get out, and we may never get another shot at it. Just do it, Wade."
Wade nodded and signed off. Kim replaced the kimmunicator in its storage pouch, and then settled back on the roof, just looking at the warehouse. To Ron's eyes, it seemed as if she was… deflating.
He crawled up and lay down next to her, on her right.
"KP? What's the plan?"
"Ron, I… I have a bad feeling about this."
"KP…" he said, concerned. "Do we need to abort?"
She waited for what seemed a long time before answered.
"We can't," she said simply. "We're here, we have to do something about this… but I don't know if we can."
He surprised her by removing the glove from his left hand, and then reaching over and removing her right glove, then slipping his bare hand into hers and squeezing tight. It was a surprise, but the skin contact felt good, and worked to set her mind at ease.
She squeezed back.
"KP," Ron pronounced, looking her in the eyes, "we're in this one together, not matter what. As long as we're together… we can do anything."
She nodded, smiled, and released his hand. They replaced their gloves, and left the roof.
"Okay," Ron said when they had reached the ground, "time for stealth mode."
He reached for the wrist control on his suit, but stopped when Kim grabbed him.
"Ron…" she started to say, then stopped, choosing simply to pull him to her and kiss him. He returned the kiss.
"Ron," she said again when they had separated. "I love you. Never forget that, no matter what."
Two ghosts, able to see but not to be seen, except by each other, moved swiftly and silently towards the warehouse owned by the Panther Group. Occasionally one of the five guards would see a brief flicker of motion through his goggles, but it never lasted long, and they simply discounted the glimpses as the result of nerves.
Each one collapsed unconscious from the time-release knockout gas canister, disguised as an ordinary lip-gloss container, which had been placed on them by the ghosts. Their inert forms were bound, gagged, and dragged away into the shadows, and their lost firearms were removed into the night.
Had any of the guards remained conscious, and had they been beneath the windows on the left side of the building, they would have heard the small pop of compressed air propelling two grapnels. They would have seen the lines attached to the grapnels carry the two ghosts through the air to perches on the windowsills. The windows themselves had been knocked out years ago, so the ghosts were easily able to enter into the warehouse.
They perched on ledges beneath the windows, and surveyed their prey. The first things they noticed were the crates. Hundreds of crates, each one branded with names and titles like "Kalashnikov" and "Semtex". The second thing they noticed were the ten workers, each one with a gun strapped to his back, each one dutifully filling ammunition magazines. Five others patrolled the floor, apparently keeping an eye on the boxes. Four armed guards covered a single box that was set apart from the others.
The ghosts made eye contact, and each understood: that had to be the nuke.
The last man stood in a corner, leaning against the wall and covered in shadows, nothing but a silhouette.
The ghosts could have completed their plan had the age of the building not betrayed them. The ledge beneath the male ghost was old, and gave way beneath him well before they could move. To his credit, Ron avoided crying out as he fell to the ground. Unfortunately, his control was in vain, as the noise of his landing was enough to alert the guards and bring a hail of gunfire upon their position.
The battle suits kept them from being pierced by the bullets, but the stealth systems almost immediately shut down, the suits redirecting power to damage prevention and repair. Suddenly visible, Kim leapt to the floor and dived behind some crates, the hail of fire keeping her away from the enemy.
She looked around, and saw that Ron was only twenty feet away, thankfully unhurt.
"Sorry 'bout that, KP," he called out when he saw her.
"Not your fault," she answered. "Any bright ideas?"
"Besides hiding from the bullets? Nope."
"Ron, there was a catwalk above where I think the shooters are," Kim called out after a moment, a few bullets whizzing past her head. "Can you see it from there?"
He peeked up over the crates, and then quickly pulled his head back down as he drew fire.
"Yeah, and it's right above 'em."
Kim reached into her pack and pulled out a bar of lipstick.
"Think you can hit the supports with the laser?"
"I can try."
She tossed the lipstick to him. He tried to get his head and arm above the crate, but each time he moved more fire came towards him, forcing his head back down and drawing many cries of frustration.
"This would be a lot easier," he yelled, "if they would stop shooting at me! I'm just sayin'!"
He tried again, ducked back down, and then Rufus poked his head out Ron's side pouch.
"Rufus!" Ron yelled. "Get back in there, buddy, it ain't safe for ya."
Rufus ignored him and hopped out of the pouch, then scurried up Ron's shoulder to see what was going on. He saw the catwalk, saw the gunmen… and saw the bullets that he then barely dodged. He ran back down to the floor, and pressed his back to the crates as he caught his breath. Then the brave little mole rat grabbed the lipstick and ran out from behind the crates.
"Rufus!" Ron hissed, "Get back here. Rufus! Get. Back."
The gunmen ignored Rufus as he ran, lipstick held in his mouth, from the crates to the wall. He then scurried up the wall, using whatever hand and foot holds he could find, and the grabbed onto an electrical conduit. He climbed up that until he reached the ceiling, and the hung by his feet, dangling there above the floor.
Rufus took the lipstick out of his mouth, aimed carefully with both hands, and then activated the laser, burning through the catwalk support struts in just a single pass. Two more shots sliced through where the catwalk connected to the walls, and then the metal structure came tumbling down on top of the gunmen.
They stopped firing to dive away from the wreck… then Kim and Ron leapt over the crates, and fell upon the gunmen like a storm. The enemy was split into two groups, one on each side of the catwalk. Their first blows were simultaneous, but Kim immediately leapt over the catwalk to deal with the larger group.
Ron did not hesitate. He did not pause to taunt or pose, he simply attacked, lashing out with fists and feet, each blow sending a weapon flying or a gunman crashing into one of his partners. Then there was only one more foe, and Ron turned to face that one-
-and then he cried out and dived to the side as that foe fired a 20mm grenade from the launcher slung under the barrel of his rifle. He slid across the floor, and saw the grenade impact and explode on one of the crates. The gunman tried to bring his rifle around to fire again, but Ron raised his hand and fired the wrist grapnel, which attached itself to the side of the firearm.
Ron simply pulled the cable and yanked the gun from his opponent's grasp, then leapt up and delivered a knockout blow.
Things had changed since he'd chosen to embrace the legacy of the Mystical Monkey Power.
He turned and saw Kim dispatch her last opponent, and then the room was clear. They shared a "that was it?" look.
"And you were worried," Ron said with a laugh.
"I keep forgetting about Rufus," Kim replied, as the mole rat, having left the ceiling during the melee, scurried up to her and returned the lipstick.
"KP, it's like I always say: never underestimate the Rufus," Ron said.
"Boo-yah!" Rufus squeaked, thrusting his tiny fist into the air.
"Uh, KP…" Ron said, suddenly noticing something. "Where'd that shadow dude go?"
She looked at him, not comprehending.
At that moment, whatever was in the crate that the grenade had hit cooked off. The explosion rocked the warehouse, caught the walls and nearby crates on fire, and spread burning wood throughout the room. The shockwave knocked Kim and Ron to their knees and blew out the lights, plunging the warehouse into a darkness pierced only by the spreading flames.
In the space of a breath, before he could move, Ron Stoppable looked up and saw a shadow descend upon Kim possible. The silhouette of a man drove one of its legs into her side, knocking her over.
"KP!" he yelled as she cried out in pain.
"Ron!" she cried, dogging another blow, and managing to block a second. "Don't worry, I'll handle this guy. Get the bomb!"
More crates were exploding, some spreading burning oil across the floor. The flames would soon, it seemed, consume the warehouse.
The shade continued to advance on Kim, who continued to scurry back on her knees, unable to find a moment where she could draw herself to her feet. All she could do was block and parry.
Then Rufus appeared, and bit into the heel of the shadow. It did not cry out, but reached down and grabbed Rufus, then threw him across the room as if he was little more than a petty annoyance. Kim used the time wisely, and leapt to her feat, launching into a counterattack almost as soon as Rufus had left the shade's hand.
Ron, meanwhile, had followed Kim's instructions and raced towards the crate they knew contained the nuke. He caught Rufus, who had fortuitously been thrown in Ron's general direction, and placed the naked mole rat in his carrying pouch.
"Rock on, Rufus," he said quietly, giving his pet a thumb high-five on the run. "Rock on."
They reached the crate.
"KP!" Ron called. "The crate's nailed shut."
"So find a crowbar!" Kim grunted as she continued to fight the shade. Somehow the man always remained in the flickering shadows, his face and form concealed by darkness.
"Oh, right," Ron said in reply, and looked around, finding one hanging nearby.
Their fight drove Kim and the shade into a side office.
It took a minute, but Ron managed to pry the lid off the crate. He could still hear the sounds of battle from the office, but he wasn't worried: it was Kim Possible, after all. He threw the lid to the floor and looked into the crate. The bomb was no bigger than a suitcase.
In fact, it was a suitcase, but the sensors in his suit confirmed that it was the bomb. He reached in and pulled it out from the crate, discovering in the process that it was a good bit heavier than it looked.
He had already turned away from the crate, bomb in hand, and started for the office to help Kim when he realized that the only sound he could hear was the crackling of the flames.
The battle had grown quiet.
He ran to the door, expecting to see a victorious Kim.
The silhouette stood there, triumphant, the room itself wreathed in flame. Kim Possible, the girl who could do anything, hung limp, held suspended above the floor by the shade's right hand.
It was wrapped around her neck.
Then the flames, which had reached the crates labeled 'Semtex' burned through the wood casing and set off the explosives contained within, and Ron's existence became a bright light and a great noise, followed by the rushing of air and the breaking of glass and the feeling of flight… and then darkness claimed him.
"Look, over there, on that mound-"
"It's the rat thing. I think he wants us to go over there."
"Dr. Director, this is Rescue One. We've found the mole rat."
Ron began to regain consciousness, and could hear voices, and footsteps approaching him.
'Where… where am I? What's happened, what's going on?'
Images came to him. Fighting, and fire, an explosion-
"Dr. Director, it's Stoppable! He's still alive. He- what's that briefcase?"
"Rufus, is that the bomb?"
'I'm… alive? Kim. Where-'
"Dr. Director, they recovered the device. I repeat, we have the device."
Two silhouettes. One held the woman he loved in a death grip.
His thoughts became voice as his body awoke with his mind.
It was still night. He saw two men in Global Justice uniforms coming towards him. In the distance, he could see glow of a burning building.
The agents reached him.
"Mr. Stoppable, are you all right?"
"Where's Kim? Where is she?"
"Mr. Stoppable, please… there's no sign of her. I'm sorry."
"No! Kim! She was in the warehouse, she could still be-"
"I'm sorry. No one's in there alive."
"No! Kim! KIM!"
He got to his feet and ran towards the glow. The agents followed him.
"Mr. Stoppable, wait-"
"You don't want-"
He wasn't thinking, just running, knowing that she could have survived, he just needed to get to her.
He crested the hill, and saw the building.
It was nothing but fire. He stopped, in utter shock.
The agents caught up to him.
"Mr. Stoppable," the first said. "I'm sorry."
"No…" he whispered, and then tried to bolt towards the inferno. The agents grabbed him, and held him back.
"Kim!" he cried again, as he yelled and struggled. The first agent nodded to the second, who pulled out a small hypodermic needle, and quickly stuck Ron in the neck with it.
"Sorry about this, Mr. Stoppable. But there's nothing more you can do for her."
Numbness spread through his body, and he could only whisper her name one more time before night claimed him.
Chapter III: Day's End
It couldn't really be called a funeral, as there was no body, but the memorial service for Kim Possible was something to see. The press was not allowed on site, by order of the Drs. Possible. Kim's life had been spent in service to others, expecting no recognition above the understanding that the helped would aid her in getting to where her next mission was. Her death, then, would not be turned into a media circus.
But the dignitaries… many people, indeed many nations, owed Kim a debt of gratitude. Those who could came to pay their respects. Even the President of the United States, and the three Presidents who had served before him, came to the funeral. He delivered a moving tribute to Kim.
The words of the minister, and the words of the President, were a comfort, albeit small, to the Possible family.
They would have been to Ron, had been able to hear them. All he could hear were his own thoughts as he looked at the empty casket; everyone else's words were, to his mind, just so much background noise.
'She can't be dead.'
A simple thought, more in his heart than in his head. No elaboration, no grand logical progression, not even rational in its birth and construction. But it was there. He simply could not accept the fact that Kim Possible was dead. Even after the service, and everyone but himself and the Possibles were gone; even after he laid a rose on her grave; even after he and Mr. Dr. Possible embraced in the way that only two men who have lost someone precious to them can; his heart revolted against the notion that she was dead.
'She cannot be dead.'
He had returned to his apartment the next day, and simply surveyed the many pictures of Kim that he had. Even had he wanted to forget, he couldn't have. Her face was on his nightstand, his wardrobe, and his desk. More than that; there was, in a secret compartment in his sock drawer, a small black velvet-covered box.
The restored naco royalties had been enough to make a down payment on the restaurant and buy one other item.
He feared that he would never get to use it.
Again, his heart revolted.
"She can't be dead," he said, finally able to give voice to the thought. It came out of his mouth like a chant of defiance in the face of a horde.
He sat in down in a chair.
"She can't be dead," he said it again, and again, and again, until he nearly broke down.
There was a voice at the door. He looked up.
"Ron… how're you holding up?"
"How does it look?" he said with a grim smile, the tears flowing down his face.
"Like you're going to fall apart," she replied. "Ron, I know it hurts, but you need to let go."
"I know, but I can't."
He looked her in the eye.
"Because I don't believe she's dead."
In saying that, the idea migrated from his heart to his head, and filled them both.
"Didn't find a body," he said, drying his tears. "They did find the bodies of some of the guys we fought but didn't find Kim or the shadow dude."
He stood up and walked to a window, simply staring out it at the city outside. Monique was quiet.
"So, what are you gonna do?"
"Maybe she is dead, maybe she ain't," Ron said in reply, "I don't know. But there is someone who does, and that's the guy she fought. If I find him, I find out what happened to Kim."
It took a moment for the implications of that sink in.
"You're going after Panther."
"If I have to," he replied. "It's the only way I'll ever know for sure."
"You really think Kim's alive?" Monique asked, after a few moments of silence.
"How… how can I help?"
"Keep things on track for the opening," he said with a smile. "Try and make it look like I'm still here, if you can.
"Oh, and let the Drs. P. and my folks know what I'm doing… and don't tell anyone else."
"I hope you're right about this."
"So do I."
He was one of the few people who knew how to gain access to Global Justice Headquarters whenever he needed to. This particular time, Dr. Director reflected as she watched Ron Stoppable enter the base, would definitely qualify as a 'need to'. She even figured that she knew what he was going to ask.
"Yo, Doctor Director!" he called out as he entered into the control room. "How's it hangin'?"
She smiled. He seemed to be bouncing back well. Even had the mole rat out, sitting on his shoulder.
"Welcome back, Ron," she said in answer. "It's good to see you."
He walked up to her and they shook hands.
"I can't begin to tell you," she said, "how very sorry we all are."
"Thanks, ma'am," he said, "but that's not why I'm here."
"You want to know what I know about the Panther Group."
"Y'all are good," he said with a raised eyebrow. Rufus nodded in agreement.
"Not as good as you might think, Ron," she said as she removed a small disk from a computer. "This disk contains all the information we have on Panther, but I can give you a summary."
"Sure," he said, taking the disk from her.
"Short version: every agent we have sent against Panther has been either captured or killed. We know they supply weapons and technology to the bad guys, but we can never confirm the existence and location of the shipments. We know they operate factories and assembly areas all over Europe and Asia, but we can only find one, and that one we can't get in. It cost the lives of three of our best agents just to identify that something was up at the warehouse here, and then rolling up that operation- well, you know that better than I do, of course."
He didn't answer, just looked at the disk.
"Ron… I hope that helps you."
"It oughta… where is that factory at?"
"A few kilometers outside of Alfeld, Germany. We can arrange travel for you, if you'd like."
"No thanks, Doc. I'm pretty sure I can do better."
The room went quiet.
"Wait," he said, embarrassed. "That didn't come out… what I meant was…"
"We know what you meant," she said with a chuckle. "Get going, Ron. And keep in touch."
"Sure thing, B."
When he'd left the room and was well on his way outside, one of the agents came up to Dr. Director.
"Dr. Director… do you think this is wise, sending him out like that?"
"Not really, Will," she replied. "But so far our investigations have done nothing but get people killed. Maybe the introduction of a random variable, the Ron Factor, is just what this equation needs…"
END PART I