Lucky Number Seven
"Miss Possible, you're a true modern marvel." Sunni's smile sparkled beneath the sweltering lights. Whereas Kim's radiant glow rapidly degenerated into commonplace sweat, the television veteran weathered the heat without dilemma, a fact that Kim could tell pleased Sunni to no end. "A hero, and adventurer, a daredevil, and a strong, independent woman, all rolled into one." She cracked that manufactured grin of hers and said, "Any advice for the women out there in the world, trying to make it from day to day?"
Irritation tugged at the corner of Kim's face. Only her immense willpower kept her own, untested Hollywood smile intact. "Well, Sunni," Kim said, "My advice for 'everyone' out there is the same advice my father inspired me to live by: Anything is possible." She shattered the fourth wall with a pointed look into the cameras. "You have to believe in your dreams, and believe that, if you want it bad enough, it will happen."
Sunni didn't look convinced. "Sage, if a little tired. But c'mon; not all of us have rocket science and brain surgery swimming in our genes."
So that was it? Sunni wanted Kim to chalk up her success to her parents? Kim did nothing to hide the flash of ire breaching on her face. But another thought soon quelled it onto a serene smile.
"There is one piece of advice," admitted Kim. She paused, waiting until Sunni practically fell from the edge of her seat with faux anticipation. The audiences' posteriors perched at the precipice as well, eager to hear the one magical piece of advice that would change their lives forever. "In life," preached Kim, "There are always going to be people who tell you that you're not good enough. They'll do their best to convince you that your way is wrong, and their way is right. The world around you won't rest until it molds you into something it likes." With a twinkle in her eye, Kim said to her hooked crowd, "And that's why the hardest, smartest, bravest, and best thing you can do is this: Never be normal."
It took two whole minutes for the frenzied crowd to settle down. Sunni had to stand and wave her arms. Even the people waiting outside the studio window went nuts, waving and shouting and laughing. All the while, Kim indulged in self-satisfaction that sat like a cunning mask on her features.
"Goodness," gushed Sunni, fanning herself as she retook her seat. "I think there's a T-shirt somewhere in that one. That's quite the personal credo."
"It's not mine," Kim said sweetly, relishing in her plan's impending fruition. "It's Ron Stoppable's. My partner. He's the one your producer didn't want on the show."
Horror cracked Sunni's plastic face as her crowd began to boo. Calls of 'We want Don,' and 'Bring on that Stoppable chick!' rose above the din. Sunni's mouth flapped wordlessly. She tried calling for order, but her formerly adoring audience wouldn't hear her pleas. All the while, Kim basked in her handiwork, leaning back and crossing her legs. She twiddled her thumbs and grinned.
Ron watched Kim enjoy her anarchy through a black-and-white monitor set near the snack table. He could no longer see the stage directly; the size of Ron's personal crowd had grown to such as size as to block his view of Kim's interview. More grips gravitated at the crowd's perimeter, vying for a better spot among all the makeup crews, on-set writers, directors' assistants, rogue cameramen, and even other producers. They all offered their own boos on behalf of the center of their attention. Then they clamored for more, broadening the beam on Ron's face.
"Girl's got guts," noted Cooper with a nod in the colorless Kim's direction. "Nobody's ever turned Sheridan's own crowd against her before. This is a first."
The sidekick shrugged. "That's KP for you. She always had more guts than sense. And she's got a lot of sense."
Rufus nodded from Ron's shoulder, chittering incomprehensibly. His whiskers twitched with a small army of memories, all of which included Kim saving her boys' bacon with derring-do and a cool head. "Uh-huh, uh-huh," he squeaked.
Cooper slapped Ron on the opposite shoulder. The blow nearly unseated Rufus, and sent the mole rat squawking at the thoughtless grip. "Hey, c'mon," he said, as the teen rubbed his arm. "Don't cop out on us now. What happened next?"
"Yeah," one of the in-crowd producers shouted, "What did you and Kim do?"
Well, like we figured, the police took to Wade's anonymous tip. Turns out they were more willing to listen to a stranger than to an eight-year-old. Go figure. Sergeant Preston assembled his best men to scout the base of Mount Trinity for the cave entrance of Calamitous' lair. As if there was a doubt; KP's intel was on the nose.
Storm clouds brewed at the snowy cap of Mount Trinity, casting shadow over the Tri-City summer. The dormant volcano stood watch over its three children from a respectful distance, a lone guardian rising above the smooth landscape. A venerable coat of dotted pines sat atop its hulking shoulders, and shoes of rocky rubble sat on its broad feet. Its presence, far from any mountain range or neighboring volcanic activity, had baffled geologists for decades. Some considered it to be a fluke of nature. Others thought it to be a miracle, and still others, an omen. A select few thought it was just a plot device to provide atmosphere, but they were discounted as delusional maniacs, and dismissed entirely. Regardless, the awe it inspired could not be denied.
Now, me, I would'a been perfectly happy to just kick back after all that. Couple of kids tracking down a super villain's lair? Definitely time for cartoons and soda. But Kim, she just couldn't leave well enough alone. If she couldn't be a part of the action, she at least had to see it. For most people, that would mean catching it on the evening news. Kim…She had to have box seats.
Ronnie squeezed his eyes and clung to the rim of his seat. "I'm not gonna die," he murmured over and over again. Even with the headset strapped over his ears, he could barely hear himself over the roaring rhythm of the blades beating above their heads.
"Oh, Ron," an exasperated voice huffed through his headset, "Why can't you relax? We're perfectly safe."
The voice cracked Ronnie's eye open. Mount Trinity and its sprawling surroundings waited far below outside of the Plexiglas bubble that he, Kimmie, and their pilot inhabited. Eight thousand feet separated Ronnie's soles from terra firma. That distance remained steady thanks to the helicopter's rotors, a marvel of flight that Ronnie didn't trust in the least to keep them alive. "How did you talk me into this?" he wailed, and clamped down on his eyelids once more.
Seated between Ronnie and their pilot, Kimmie just smiled and shook her head. "You really are something, you know that?"
"Right now, I'd like to be something lower to the ground," he moaned. His eye cracked again when he felt something stirring from his cargo pocket. "Rufus," he cried, "Get away from that!"
Rufus stood atop the helicopter's instrumentation. His tiny body pressed up against the glass as he stared out at their dizzying altitude. He peeled his nose away to look back at Ronnie. "Ho-ho, cool!" he chattered. Then he moaned when Ronnie's hand snared him and brought him back to the relative safety of Ronnie's lap. "Mwah…"
Ignoring Ronnie's latest panic attack, Kimmie turned to their pilot. "Thanks again for taking us up here, Mister Earheart."
Emilio Earheart flipped his aviator shades up over his brow to offer the teen a wink. "Least I could do, Kim," came the reply via her headphones. "If you hadn't pulled me and my family from that fire, I wouldn't even be here." He glanced over at Ronnie, whose pallor faded more with each passing second. "Is he going to be okay?"
"He's fine." Kimmie tilted her head to the radio rig set up next to the controls. "Do you think we could tune into that frequency I gave you?"
"Sure." With a shrug, Emilio dialed in a seemingly meaningless series of numbers. "Listening for Britina's latest single, are we?" His condescending laugh cut short when clipped tones began speaking through their headsets in a strange play-by-play. "Kim?"
She shushed the pilot and listened intently. "Preston to all units. Advance team is in position at the entrance. I'm seeing definite signs of development here. This is no ordinary cave."
"Sir, request permission to take point, sir," another voice broke in.
The channel buzzed with Preston's sigh. "Fine, Barkin. Take point. From here on out, maintain silence unless absolutely necessary."
Tense minutes rolled by as the helicopter foursome listened to the policemen's whispered breathing, holding theirs unconsciously. Ronnie overcame his acrophobia enough to notice the jittering of Kimmie's leg, and the way her fists clenched and unclenched. Kimmie's bottom lip vanished behind her teeth.
He knew where she wanted to be…where she deserved to be. She had cracked the case. She was a natural, and they both knew it. And when Kimmie caught sight of his attention, and flashed him an empty smile, he knew why she wasn't. He couldn't help but feel a stab of guilt.
"Wait," barked Preston, breaking his own commandment. "What's that?"
"We've been compromised," Barkin bellowed. "I'm engaging the enemy."
"Barkin, no! It's a giant to—"
Once last scream crackled through the radio. Then, silence. A new voice entered the signal, calling fruitlessly for Preston to respond. Kimmie and Ronnie exchanged worried looks.
A sudden hiss of static broke the police jargon as the radio began to redial itself. Wade's voice broke the static once its numbers stopped spinning. "Kim, are you hearing this?"
Emilio tapped his headset. "Hello? Hello, who is this? Are you cleared for this channel?"
"I hacked your
radio. Kim, your police friend is in big trouble."
"You hacked the radio?" Ronnie gaped at Kimmie, unnoticed. "Can he do—Can you do that?"
"Big problems, Kim," said Wade. "I've hacked into Colonel Calamitous' security grid—"
"Again with the hacking? Kim, this kid's a computer's worst nightmare!"
"—and your police friend has been taken prisoner. The whole facility's gone into lockdown. Here, turn on your Kimmunicator." Kimmie did so after pulling it from her pocket. Confusing images flashed on its screen: The mouth of a cave, blocked off by a sheet of solid metal, with police on the outside pounding and shouting to be let in; endless corridors lined with laser cannon armatures where wall met ceiling; a line of disgruntled (but yet unharmed) prisoners being ushered into a large chamber by armed thugs; a dark silhouette, whose vile shadow broke only for a sinister smile and smoldering eyes. "Calamitous has them."
Kimmie's face darkened as Wade's image retook the screen. "What about the military? Anybody?"
A negative shook Wade's head. "No good. They'd never get here in time. There's no one left."
The spinning wheels in Kimmie's head must have drowned out Wade's nay saying. She pondered the mountain beneath them with a hard look that chilled Ronnie's blood. "A complex that big underground has to be ventilated, right?"
Wade blinked. "But they're guarded—"
"Not from someone already inside the security grid." Kimmie watched Wade's look shift from shock to awe, and then to excitement. Sausage fingers flew across his keyboard, bending and twisting code to his whim. Meanwhile, Kimmie began to root around the interior of the cockpit. "Find a good entrance. I'll be on the ground in a minute." She thumbed the Kimmunicator off, and then glanced back at Emilio. "Mister Earheart, do you keep parachutes in here?"
Emilio nearly looped the helicopter in surprise. "Are you insane? I am not letting you—"
"Never mind. I found them." Kimmie pulled a pack from beneath her seat and began latching it to her back. The chute's clasps and straps ordered themselves beneath her hands at once, as though she had been doing it for years. Within seconds, she stood at the hatch, fully ready to leap out into empty air.
Ronnie's hand gave her pause. He begged her with a look, and said, "Kim, don't do this. You're going to die." In a quiet voice, he added, "You promised."
He felt his heart breaking as Kimmie nodded solemnly. "Stay here," she told him. She turned away and scanned the ground far below. "When you guys get back, start calling everyone you can think of…except my parents," she amended quickly. "Just make sure…what are you doing?"
Kimmie's question came when she turned back and saw Ronnie tangled in the clutches of a second chute. He grumbled under his breath at the troublesome tentacles coiling around his body. "What's it look like," he shot with a glare. "I'm trying to kill myself." With a disgusted sigh, he looked down. "Can I get some help here?" Rufus skittered out from his pocket and worked his way around the chute's straps, tugging them into place and clasping them together with uncanny speed. "Thanks, pal."
"Ron," Kimmie said, "Don't. You don't have to do this. I don't want you getting hurt, or worse."
"Would you shut up?" said Ronnie. "I'm scared enough as it is." He exchanged worried looks with his naked mole rat. Rufus scrambled back into his pocket and tugged its flap closed, locking its clasp with a decisive click.
Don't ask me why I put that death-blanket on my back. Even I don't know. Maybe I didn't want to see her go down alone. Or maybe I was scared to fly back without her. In the end, it doesn't really matter. I'm proud to say, I handled my first jump like a pro.
He ignored Kimmie's forlorn look and pushed past her, taking position at the door. The latch felt deathly cold against his clammy fingers. An ominous drumbeat thudded in his ears—his heartbeat. It nearly drowned out Emilio's shouted warning. Before their pilot could pull them away, Ronnie yanked on the latch. The door flew open, letting in a powerful suction that almost overpowered Ronnie's terrified death-grip. "Push me," he shouted.
Kimmie hollered back, "What?"
Ronnie couldn't tear his eyes away from the far-off ground. The height churned his stomach. "I'm too scared to jump. You have to—"
Surprising strength slammed into his shoulders, sending him sailing into the sky. The thin air beat down upon him from the blades. Land and sky blended together in an indistinguishable swirl of brown and blue. But Ronnie didn't have time to notice; all his attention went toward keeping his lungs stocked with enough air to fuel his screams.
After an eternity of falling, Ronnie felt a pair of hands latch onto his arm. He looked over and saw Kimmie hanging next to him, with a fluttering contrail of red flowing from her crown. She flashed her braces at him and shouted, "Brace yourself!" Ronnie didn't have time to take her advice before she reached over and yanked on his ripcord. Then she vanished beneath him as tremendous force yanked on his straps.
Ronnie's screaming continued all the way down while he twisted and wafted in the wind. He didn't dare open his eyes until he felt something slam up underneath him. Crumpling, Ronnie lost his breath, unable to move as a cloud of white nylon drifted down around him. His cried returned as he thrashed against the blank, enveloping world, tumbling in a losing battle. One forever later, the nylon prison shot up to reveal a sloped mountain landscape and a concerned face hovering over him.
"Are you okay?" Kimmie asked, tossing his chute aside.
He lay on his back, slowing his hyperventilation to something resembling normal breathing. "That sucked," he decided. Kimmie helped him to his feet and dusted the pine needles out of his hair, all while he kept complaining. "This is it. We save the day, and then that's it. Assuming we survive." He locked his eyes with hers, sobering his fearful features. "Promise."
"I promise," she said.
"Good." Checking his pocket, Ronnie made sure Rufus was okay. Other than a tiny wet spot (which Ronnie couldn't really blame him for), Rufus seemed fine. "So," said Ronnie with a deep breath, "Which way to certain doom?"
A gunmetal vent stood watch outside of the grand, opulent doors of the inner sanctum of Colonel Calamitous. Indigestion rumbled behind its teeth, intermittently joined by a shrill cry of pain or a body part slamming against its metallic esophagus. Then its face exploded out on the feet of two teens, falling with them to the ground. The clang of its impact rang out in warning before it spun to as top, silenced.
Kimmie landed, cat-like, next to the heap of Ronnie groaning on the floor. The sanctum doors towered in front of them, weathering her challenging glare effortlessly. She brought the Kimmunicator up and opened its channel. "We're in, Wade. How are the doors coming?"
"Gimmie a minute," Wade answered. His keyboard chattered solicitously in the background. "Looks like he's a little more careful with this entrance."
Aches and pains protested Ronnie's ascent from the floor. He winced at the crack of his own joints, and half-listened to Kimmie talk back and forth with Wade. The rest of his focus went toward pondering the curious tremble beginning in the floor. He looked around the metal corridor as the tremble grew into a quake severe enough to give Kimmie pause. "What is that," Ronnie muttered, pushing down on the rising wave of anxiety in his throat.
He glanced at Kimmie. Her eyes saucered, and she shouted, "Watch out!" Ronnie started to ask, but Kimmie's tackle stole his breath. Good thing, too, or he would have screamed in her ear as a swirling vortex of blades and spikes roared through the spot where he had been. Kimmie's charge carried him away and backward, allowing him to see the entirety of the—
"Spinning Tops of Doom?" Ronnie watched a pair of the conical death machines begin to track them. Tasteful tile flew in the tops' wake, leaving long channels of destruction. Ronnie's face lit up at the sheer lunacy of the moment, jaw agape in awe at their eclectic design. "That is so cool!"
He shrugged, chagrined. "Sorry. But it would be so cool if it wasn't gonna hurt us."
Kimmie leapt with Ronnie in her arms, rebounding off the wall. The tops could not turn fast enough to keep up, giving Kimmie time to dump her friend off as the destructive engines tore into the wall behind them. "Break right," she called to him.
"Are you breaking right?" huffed Ronnie as he sprinted from the metallic shards torn free from the wall. The tops had already turned, and were bearing back down on them as they ran down the field-sized corridor.
"Yes! Break right, now!"
Ronnie bolted right in tandem with Kimmie's left turn. Accordingly, the giant tops behind them split apart as well, chasing a teen. "You lied!" cried Ronnie.
He thought about it for a few steps. "No, I guess not." One of his eyes lingered on Kimmie, while the other kept watch for anything that could trip him, thus ending his life beneath the deadly blades or the crushing tip of the enormous children's toy only a few steps behind him. The vortex washing off of its blades blew across the nape of his neck, hurrying his steps. "I thought Wade said he had security taken care of!"
"I thought I did," said Wade through the Kimmunicator. "I guess those top things are autonomous from the other systems. He must really like those doors."
"Speaking of which," interjected Kimmie. She had led her top to the end of the corridor. Her cheerleader legs carried her up the wall, where she leapt up and over the ten-foot top's spiked crown to the opposite side. The top crushed her launching wall and turned around, hot on her heels. "How about letting us at the bad guy, Wade?"
The ceaseless clack of his keyboard sped up. "Patience is a virtue," he said through clenched teeth and sweaty lips.
Ronnie juked out of the way of his pursuer, watching the ground in his wake turn to mulch beneath a storm of blades. "Screw your patience," shouted Ronnie.
"Ron," shouted Kimmie, "Run at me as fast as you can."
He ducked beneath a close call from a blade, rolling back the way he came with the top hot on his heels. Kimmie sprinted toward him at full tilt from the opposite end of the corridor. "Oh, come on. You really think that'll work?" Despite this, he put everything into his legs, and leaned into his sprint.
Kimmie didn't answer. She just ran as hard as she could, and Ronnie did the same. Endless seconds ticked by until Kimmie and Ronnie came together. She snared him by the waist and heaved, bowling them both over to one side. Just like she planned, the clumsy tops couldn't follow. They slammed into each other and exploded, torn apart by one another's fierce weaponry and power. Deadly debris flew across the broad corridor and imbedded itself into the first surface it found.
The two teens lay together on the ground, panting. They surveyed their handiwork. "You were saying?" quipped Kimmie as she stood.
Ronnie gingerly picked himself up around the shattered shard of blade buried in the floor between his legs, mere inches from having been the worst possible catastrophe. "I stand corrected," he deadpanned.
The sanctum doors cracked open in time with Wade's victorious shout through the Kimmunicator. "Got it. Go. Go!"
We ran for those doors like there was no tomorrow, not knowing what waited beyond. Of course, with all the noise those tops made, it was no surprise that Calamitous knew we were coming. Everything we had seen and done until that point was kids' stuff compared with this. But I was ready. No villain, no matter how bad, could possibly—
"Oh, come on!" Ronnie lingered outside the doors in fear while Kimmie charged ahead through the growing gap. "I'm your memory, and even I know you're full of it."
Fine. I was terrified. Mortified. Horrified. All kinds of 'ide's. But I went in anyway, because that's where Kim went. Happy?
"No," whimpered Ronnie, and followed in Kimmie's wake.
Like the corridor, Calamitous' inner sanctum stood in scales more suited for a giant. The cylindrical chamber sprawled out from the doors, empty and echoing, cradling its master and his prisoners in its center. An enormous engine of destruction sat to one side, its blue core pulsing, chasing shadows away with sapphire. Each captive policeman stood bound to a pillar with tight leather straps, watching helplessly as an armored figure cackled at the teens.
"Fools," cried the imposing figure cloaked in a crimson cape. "You dare challenge me in my sanctum sanctorum?" His armor bristled and swelled with a villainous laugh, gleaming green in the intermittent blue light. A helm split his face in half, but could not impede the dark scowl that turned their way. "You are quite bold indeed, my metallic malcontent."
Kimmie and Ronnie exchanged glances and shrugs. "Excuse me?" she asked.
Calamitous did a double take. He raised his visor and blinked at the children who had breached his lair. "Wait…you aren't the Steel Sentinel?" He sounded confused and disappointed.
"Um, not even close," Ronnie shot back. "And, who?"
""This is impossible!" bellowed Calamitous.
Kimmie grinned and struck a stance. "Nope. But you're pretty darn close." To Ronnie, she hissed, "Get everyone free and out of here. I'll distract him."
"But…" Kimmie was gone before Ronnie could finish. She caught Calamitous off-guard; he apparently hadn't expected a girl too young to drive to invade his base and attack him. The maneuver worked, buying Ronnie enough time to reach the policemen. He pulled Rufus out of his pocket and squeezed, compelling his pal to incisor his way through the leather bonds. "Don't worry, guys, I'll have you out in a jiffy."
"Bless your heart, kiddo," swooned Preston, rubbing his liberated wrists.
Barking seemed less appreciative, and more humiliated, as Ronnie and Rufus cut him free. "That's it," he muttered, "I quit. I'm going into something safer. This is just nuts."
"You guys get out of here," Ronnie said. "Kim's got it from here. You should get to safety."
Preston raised a bush brow at the teen. "You must be joking. I'm not going to leave two minors to fight an international criminal on—"
Calamitous' gauntlet crackled, belching a cloud of power. Kim's nimble agility carried her clear of the blast. It went wide, and struck Preston in the thigh. The old cop cried and fell to one knee, clutching his leg.
"Have a taste of my Pain Ray, fools!" crowed Calamitous. Another bolt sizzled through the air, tearing the tip of Kim's glorious ginger mane.
Ronnie examined Preston's phantom wound. "Pain Ray? Aw, that's weak."
Barkin slung Preston's arm across his broad shoulders and lifted the old cop, helping him toward the door along with the rest of the squad. "Get out of here, son," Preston called back. "Run!"
Ronnie backed away, once again returning to reality, where he remembered how afraid he was. He turned back to Kimmie's battle with Calamitous, only to find that he had missed most of it. With one last sweep of her leg, she set the armored oaf flat on his back. Calamitous rattled like a broker dryer full of cans, and then fell still.
Ronnie watched Kimmie stare at her beaten bad guy for a good, long minute in the intermittent blue light from Calamitous' doomsday device. Her features were hauntingly empty, as though she had lost something in the fight, and was searching for it somewhere in the villain's masking helm. Ronnie approached slowly, splitting his worry between her and the downed Calamitous. "KP?" He reached for her. "KP, are you okay?"
"Ron!" Kimmie jumped at his touch and jumped, gasping. She looked back at Calamitous, and then rubbed at her eye. "Oh. Oh, um…" A glistening streak trailed behind her fist when she swiped it across her cheek and sniffed. "Wow."
"I have to…have to disable the doomsday…thing." She held up the Kimmunicator with a shaking hand. "Wade's gonna walk me through it. Are you ready, Wade?"
Wade's tiny image gave them a thumbs-up. "With you, Kim."
Kimmie nodded. Then she patted her pockets, sniffing again. "I, uh…I don't have anything to cut wires with," she discovered aloud, smiling shakily.
Ronnie pulled a cowering Rufus from his pocket. The bubble-gum rodent quivered in his palm, which he offered to Kimmie. "Here," he said quietly. "Rufus can chew through just about anything."
An empty laugh echoed from Kimmie's mouth. "Gross," she muttered with a smile, taking Rufus in hand. "Just be a minute," she murmured. With uncertain legs, she trudged to Calamitous' glowing column of ambiguous doom. Ronnie watched her go, wishing he could impart some words of encouragement, but his voice wouldn't work. That's when he caught a metallic glint out of the corner of his eye, and saw the gun.
"Wait." Cooper frowned and rubbed his brow, using brain cells lax from inactivity to ponder the situation. "A gun?"
"Whoever heard of a super villain with a gun?" someone from the crowd shouted.
A third voice added, "I think he's makin' this up."
Ron poured himself a cup of coffee while the accusations built up, allowing his crowd to work their disbelief out on his inattentive ears. Truthfully, he had a hard time believing it himself. Super villains had ray guns, and killer mutated animals, and Spinning Tops of Doom. They didn't carry nine-mils, and certainly weren't known for busting caps of any kind. "I know," he said as soon as they had settled. "Believe me, at thirteen, I had a hard time believing it myself. But there he was, back on his feet, and pointing a gun at Kim's head."
"He's making this up," said the voice from the crowd again. "Kim Possible ain't scared of nothin'."
Ron's brows dipped. He tried to find the source of the voice in the crowd, but it had become too thick with hanger-ons and new (probably fair-weather, he figured) fans. "You people haven't heard a word I said," groused Ron. "When you look at Kim Possible, all you see is the girl who can beat a barrelful of ninjas, and catch bullets with her hands, and program a VCR in eight different languages. When I look at her…" His voice quelled, drained of its anger as he thought back to happier days, before adventuring became the alpha and omega of his friendship with Kim. "I see the girl I used to get ice cream with. I see the girl who put band-aids on my knees when I fell off my bike…and I fell a lot. But she was always there to pick me up. Not because she's a hero, but because she's an amazing person."
A giant hand enveloped his shoulders, easing the sharp ache in his chest. "Gotta admit, kid," said Cooper quietly, "It's hard to picture that girl scared."
Chuckling reasserted the smile on Ron's face. "This was Kim's first fight, and it was with a dude twice her size, wearing Doctor Doom armor. That's enough to freak anyone, even rookie Kim."
"But she got the gun away from Calamitous, didn't she?" A new voice arose from the crowd, feminine and vaguely familiar. "I mean, she didn't get shot, right?"
Ron shook his head. "Kim was too busy disabling Calamitous' whatcha-ma-whoosit. Didn't see him, or the gun."
"So what happened?" the voice called back.
His eyes grew distant. "I made a choice."
"Goodbye, child," growled Calamitous, resting his sights square on Kimmie's shimmering red hair.
Ronnie had no idea what he was doing. He felt the wind whistling in his ears as some force barreled his body toward the armored thug and launched him into the air. It was as if he was watching it all happen from outside his body, which had latched onto Calamitous' weaponed arm. His teeth found purchase in Calamitous' gloved thumb. Blood spilled across his lips in tandem with the villain's howl, and the clatter of the gun hitting the floor somewhere in the distance. His tiny hands beat upon the larger man's arm and chest. His willowy legs kicked at impervious armor.
Calamitous tore Ronnie free of his arm, losing a good chunk of the skin from his thumb in the process. His hand wrapped around Ronnie's twiggy throat, holding him aloft and choking the life from him. Ronnie's bugging eyes stared into the red scowl of Calamitous' helm. A dark smile spread beneath the rim of its visor. "You've sealed your fate, fool," the smile sneered.
"Get off of him!"
A foot crushed Calamitous' visor into his nose, creating a cracked cradle for Kimie to land atop as her flying kick brought her back to earth. Ronnie fell free from Calamitous' limp grasp as the villain crumpled to the ground, wearing Kimmie on his face. She hopped off and rushed to Ronnie's side, babbling a mile a minute.
"Oh my gosh, Ron! Oh my gosh!" She yanked him to his feet with one hand, using her other to shake Rufus gleefully. "We did it. We did it!" Once Ronnie stood, she swept the mole rat into a crushing hug. "Oh, Rufus, you were awesome." Then she quickly pawned him off on Ronnie, adding, "But you're still kinda gross. Ron, that was so…I'm just…" She stopped. "Ron?"
Ronnie barely registered either her or Rufus. "Huh? What's up?"
"…Ron, are you okay?"
"Yeah," Ronnie whispered, staring off into space. "I'm fine."
Kimmie took Ronnie's hand. "Ron, it's okay. This is the last time, okay? You don't ever have to do this with me again." The vow earned her a horrified look from Ronnie.
I realized then and there that asking Kim to give this up was selfish of me. Making her live the life of a normal teen would be like condemning her to a slow death, killing off everything that made her so special. I wanted to keep her in my world, but she had just discovered a new one, one that I couldn't possibly compete with. But she had come so close to dying…if I hadn't… And now she was saying that I didn't have to…
But I did.
Ronnie's horror changed to delight with unnatural speed. "That was so cool, KP!" he crowed. He grabbed her hands and swung her around, laughing in delight. "You were awesome. And that was awesome! I can't believe we just totally saved the day."
She gave him a quizzical look as their grasp broke. "Really?" she said, eyeballing his joyous laughter.
All but Ronnie's eyes expunged the haunting fear he felt, and plunged it deep into his heart, where it could fester beyond Kimmie's notice. "Absolutely," he lied.
"So that's it," murmured Cooper, while Ron sipped at his coffee. Like the rest of the crowd, he looked at Ron in a whole new light. "You do this to protect her."
Ron took a long breath. "I'm crap at the hero game, that's no big secret. And I'd rather be doing almost anything besides dodging pot shots from the psycho de jour. And being laughed at, and losing my pants, and being digitized, and blown up, and dropped, and beat up, is no real treat, either." That faraway look returned to his eyes, sobering the depreciating smile on his features. "But if I can make sure Kim gets home okay, then nothing else matters. I don't care how many times I get laughed at, or pantsed, or digitized, or exploded, or dropped, or beaten. She's all that counts." Quiet reverence spread through the throng on murmured snatches of praise. Ron just shrugged, not knowing what to make of the attention. He did know that it couldn't possibly last.
"So you never told Kim about any of this?" Cooper still didn't sound quite convinced. An odd smile hovered on his fat lips, and surreptitious glances tore his eyes from Ron. "She doesn't know about…?"
He shook his head. "No reason to. Kim stays safe, and I get to keep my best friend. Why tell her when it'll just upset her?" He took another sip of coffee.
"You tell me, kid."
Cooper nodded back toward the crowd. The people parted, revealing a camera perched on a crew member's shoulder, its lens fixated on Ron. A pair of women flanked the camera, the identities of which made Ron spray his coffee into a cloud of disbelief. "Kim?"
Kim took tentative steps forward. Tears rimmed the bottoms of her eyes, escaping every so often to paint an emotional trail down her smiling cheeks. At her side, Sunni stepped forward and pivoted, facing the camera as she backpedaled toward Ron. "We're here behind the scenes of Cappuccino Chatter," she said into her portable mike, "Where we've just heard an amazing tale from one Ron Stoppable, an unsung hero who's getting his dues here in a world premiere."
"KP?" Ron gaped as Kim strode forward, allowed to pass by a reverent crowd and take Ron's hands in her own. Her shimmering gaze met his, saying a thousand things at once. "That's right," she said in a cracking voice, turning back to the camera to add, "His long over-dues," before planting a kiss on his cheek.
A blush spread through Ron's face from the point of her kiss. "Aw, I'm not…I didn't…"
"Ron," said Sunni, wedging her mike between them, "You silly boy. You're giving our backstage crew a sneak peek of your own interview, I see."
"Of course," said Sunni. An almost imperceptible dirty look flashed in Kim's direction, broadening the hero's smile. "I mean, look; we missed the beginning of your story. Would you mind telling it again?"
Shouts of encouragement rang out from the audience, egged on by Sunni's pumping fist. But Ron didn't hear a single one. All he cared about was the warm hand that slid down into his and intertwined with his fingers. Kim's green gaze flashed in his direction, luminous, loving, giving him strength enough to lift a mountain, and light enough to fly. She was all that mattered.
"I'd love to," said Ron, tearing the mike away from a surprised and indignant Sunni. Her ire grew as he wrapped an arm each around Sunni and Kim, drawing them in as he said, "Gather 'round, my plastic-surgery pretty, and I'll regale you with a tale of heroics and heart."
"Don't touch me."