Kim Possible is a registered trademark of Disney, Inc. All rights, properties, characters, locations, themes, and miscellaneous background props are used without license in this non-profit work of fanatical fiction. The author hereby claims no ownership of the canon characters, and makes no guarantees toward readership enjoyment of the following. All original concepts, etc., are property of the author, and are not to be reproduced or exported without his express, prior consent. Long live the Queen…or, at least as long as it takes to finish the series.
"Fools," crowed the Mighty Lord Destructeron, "Did you truly think you could best me in my own lair? I, the Mighty Lord Destructeron? I am the Master of the Earth, Lord of the Skies, and Conqueror of All That Lies Between. I am the Alpha and the Omega. Nature trembles at the mere mention of My name. Like a living tempest, I sweep across the land, laying waste to all that stands against Me, and all else I claim as My own. What infantile inkling compelled the two microns of intellect you possess to collide within the confines of your cavernous skulls, thus giving you this disastrous notion that you could defeat me here?"
Ron Stoppable shrugged, jangling the chains that hung from his wrists. "There wasn't much good on television," he said.
A groan escaped the tight line of Kim Possible's lips. Standing at her partner's side, she fought a grimace rising to her face. Her efforts went to better use examining their surroundings: a modern-day dungeon, composed of smooth metallic lines where bricks and mortar had been of old, lit with florescent lights instead of torches, and sealed with a thick hatch that slid in and out of the wall as needed. Cameras sat in each corner to capture their every move. At the moment, they stood watch over the Mighty Lord Destructeron's gloating session. His honor guard did likewise, lined up along the walls in their featureless red armor and blanking faceplates. Even as a prisoner, Kim gave their captor props; the chains around their wrists and ankles added a classical touch that she had to grudgingly admire.
The Mighty Lord Destructeron stood before them, setting his massive and plate mailed shoulders within the cell hatch frame. A spindly, sickly young man quaked in his shadow, clutching a clipboard, and clearly wishing he were anywhere else than at his master's side. "The legendary Team Possible," rumbled He, "Reduced to buffoonery to hide your fear. But your impudence does not amuse me."
Ron made a face and shuffled back. "My impotence? Dude, what have you heard?"
Irritated twitching worked at the Mighty Lord Destructeron's jaw, the only portion of their captor visible beneath the rim of his helm. He cast His dark scowl upon the blond. "Rest assured that your jests shall earn you no reprieve from My wrath."
"You won't get away with this, Destructeron," said Kim. Even as she spoke, she felt a little foolish. Such clichés were beneath her, but what else could she say in that situation? 'Way to go, you caught us?' He really wasn't going to get away with it, not if she had anything to say about it. She just hadn't figured out how he wasn't going to get away with it yet. But rather than admit it, she lifted her chin in a defiant glare, and said, "We know what you're planning—"
"You KNOW?" The Mighty Lord Destructeron flew into a rage. Saffron light arced between his fingers as he smashed his gauntlet into his assistant's chest. The energies danced across the spindly man's skin. He screamed and fell to his knees, suffering until his Lord's wrath had been spent. That done, the Mighty Lord Destructeron whirled upon his prisoners' impassive faces. "So," he growled, "You have discovered my plot to harness lunar rays to power my Fungal Hypnosis Cannon. It matters little. Soon," he revealed alongside the beginnings of a deep and malevolent laugh, "I will harness the power of the Earth's fungi, as well as the more dull-witted gym teachers of the world, to do my bidding!"
Kim exchanged glances with Ron, and then looked back to Destructeron. Incredulity painted their faces. "Okay," admitted Kim, "I guess we didn't know what you were planning."
"Yeah," added Ron. "We thought you were making your garden-variety death ray. This plan is way more stupid."
Fuming, Destructeron slapped his assistant aside with another burst of power from his gauntlet. "You fools cannot appreciate the subtle genius of My machinations. It matters not." Reaching into the folds of his cape, he withdrew a glowing orb the size of a basketball. A blob of pink fury squirreled inside, bounding across his prison's insides. "As you can see, there will be no naked rescues for you this time. Nothing can save you from the clutches of…" He paused, drawing the edge of his cape up in a dramatic swirl. "…The Shredulator!"
Again, the teens blinked and looked to each other, finding no answers between them. Ron shrugged and said, "The Whatulator?"
"Search me," answered Kim. "Sounds like a Salad Shooter."
"A Salad What-er?"
"ENOUGH!" Destructeron struck his mewling assistant again, expelling enough of his rage to calm his voice. "You will discover the terror of The Shredulator soon enough. You will both be the first to die at the hands of My magnificent machine."
"We can't both be the first," Ron pointed out.
The Mighty Lord Destructeron bristled. "Then you will be the first," he snarled.
Rufus squawked and yowled as The Mighty Lord Destructeron tucked him back into the velvety cloak, which whipped around for the madman's flourished exit. "Tomorrow at dawn, Team Possible," he promised them. "You will meet your end. Until then, prepare yourselves." His honor guard trouped out at his silent behest, marching to the tune of his maniacal laughter.
Ron cocked a brow. "Why tomorrow?" he asked, cutting short Destructeron' glee.
"What?" asked Destructeron.
"What?" hissed Kim.
"Why tomorrow," Ron repeated himself. "Why not kill us now?" He gestured around with his bound hands, jingling chains at the armored walls and the faceless guards. "I mean, you've got us dead to rights...pardon the pun. What's with the wait?" Ron grunted as Kim elbowed him in the gut.
A dark smile curled Destructeron's lips. "I grant you this final night, My worthy foes. Spend your remaining hours reflecting upon the sheer folly of standing against He Who Cannot Be Defeated. Prepare your pleas, so that they may please Mine unhearing ears."
"How can you enjoy them if you can't hear them?" asked Ron. Then he grinned knowingly. "Wait. You don't really have a Shred-yew-whosits, do you?"
"Of course I do," said Destructeron in a rumbling bass. "But your bones will not whet its blades until I deem it so, when they are weighed with sorrow and fear."
"Oh, you so don't have it."
"No, really. I do."
Ron scoffed. "Yeah, sure."
Destructeron's growl grew into a roar. His gauntlet came aglow and clenched into a crackling fist mere inches from Ron's face. Kim winced in sympathy as she watched her unflappable friend stare Destructeron down, wondering how she could possibly stem the bleeding once their captor ripped Ron's lips from his face. But in the end, Destructeron pulled back and ravaged his kneeling assistant instead. "Fine," he snarled, "Spend your night building false hopes, pitiful sidekick. Come the morn—upon the Shredulator's completion," he snapped, "—you will meet your end."
"I knew it," Ron muttered to Kim, and received another elbow in reply.
The Mighty Lord Destructeron swept his cape aside and clanked out of the door frame. His foot soldiers formed around him, followed quickly by his scrambling and smoldering assistant. "Until tomorrow, Team Possible," Destructeron said with a sanctimonious bow, "When I shall—"
"—shred-you-later?" interrupted Ron, waggling his eyebrows.
Destructeron growled again as the door whooshed shut. One last agonized wail reached the teens' ears before a hiss of air signaled the soundproofed environmental seal of the door. They were trapped.
Kim's lightning hand smacked the back of Ron's head without delay from her heavy bonds. He gave a yelp, more obligatory than pained, as she snapped, "What is the matter with you? I'm surprised he didn't just kill us right off the bat."
The joviality filtered away from Ron's voice. "Don't start with me," he said. "I was just playing the numbers."
Red-faced, she reached up and dug through her carroty locks. Practiced hands pulled out a small pick hidden within her hair's thick folds, then set upon the complex locks of her manacles. "And do I even want to know what you're talking about?" she asked.
Though impatient in tone, Ron waited with soliciting chains for Kim to finish with herself and free him. The chains binding her soon succumbed to her pick, clanking to the floor while she moved on to his. "It's simple," he said. "When you tell a villain to do something, they usually do the opposite. I call it 'Ron's Law of Averages.'"
His chains joined hers, bested by Kim's skill. Kim replaced her pick and moved to the door, examining its design. No weakness revealed themselves to her careful eye. "That's called 'reverse psychology,' Ron, and it only works against idiots."
Ron grasped one of the two simple cots provided to them and dragged it into the corner. He stood upon its metal frame and reached for the camera mounted at the ceiling. One swift tug dislodged the cord from the electronic eye, making it useless. He jumped down and dragged the cot beneath the next camera to repeat the process. "Well, it sure seemed to work on Destructo-Boy, Miss Psychology PhD."
"No, it didn't," argued Kim. Her knuckles rapped on the door. Hollow pings answered her, feeding her secrets about the door that only she could hear. She listened intently, speaking only between knocks. "We're alive because his idiot machine isn't ready." After another moment of analysis, she stood and brushed her hands clean. "C'mere. I need your plastique."
At the last camera, Ron wrapped a length of the dislodged wiring through his fist and yanked. A long stretch of the stuff tore free, snaking through the hole in the wall until the other broken end appeared. Ron hopped down, coiling the wire around his shoulder. "You're such a—" The rest of his words became garbled as he dug his fingers into the roof of his mouth, working a false palate free from its moorings. "—sometimes," he finished, and handed the slimy explosives to her.
Kim accepted the salivated plastique with a brief grimace before she kneaded it into malleable putty. Reaching once more into her bountiful crop of ginger hair, she plucked three thin lines of detonation wire. She pressed the tip of one black cord into the long strip of putty and tucked the plastique deep into the crook of the door. "All I'm saying is, it wouldn't kill you to take things more seriously once in a while."
Ron knelt by her side and watched her tie the det cord end to end, creating a fuse three lengths of her hair long. While she worked, he stripped the ends of his wiring with his teeth, and then bit the whole affair in half. "I take plenty of stuff seriously," insisted Ron while he created two new coils. "What about all my Bueno Nacho points? Three thousand more and I win a free ride in a hot air balloon. That takes a serious collector, y'know."
"What about the Seniors' lair last week?" The two of them crossed the room backwards, with Kim feeding cord along their path. Ron grabbed the edge of a cot and hauled it beneath one of the cell's florescent lights. "You stopped thrashing Junior so you could ask him about the X-Cubestation Plus hooked up to his Plasma TV," she said, stepping up beneath the rectangular light. Gauging the distance to the light from atop her perch, she then said, "Would you mind? I'm not tall enough."
"Sure," he grunted, and climbed onto the bunk. The coil of wire fell into Kim's waiting hands as Ron sized up the glowing cover to the light. "And just because I can appreciate a dude's entertainment center, it doesn't mean I'm not all about the win. I know what's important. I beat him, didn't I?"
Kim's focus drifted for an instant as Ron peeled his mission shirt over his head, revealing pale, hardened lines of wiry muscle. "No," Kim reminded him. "I beat Junior while you were flipping through his game collection."
The black folds of his shirt stretched around Ron's fist, forming a protective wrap. "The man had Zombie Makeover Madness Vee, Kim. I'm not made of stone." Ron smashed his cottoned fist into the light, and flinched to avoid the hail of plastic shards. The room grew dim, now only half-lit, as Ron tossed his shirt down and began picking at the light's mangled guts. With a little digging, he managed to find the electrical leads, and pulled them free. The wires only reached a few centimeters out of the light, just enough to fit their needs.
"Thanks," Kim said. She reached up and tied one piece of Ron's scavenged wire to each of the leads, careful to keep both ends apart. Her gloves protected her from the electricity, though she felt a tingle running through her skin that may or may not have been imagined. Ron flipped the bed after her dismount, creating a barrier between them and the wired door. The thin, black fuse peeked at them from around the cot's corner. "Get ready."
Ron donned his shirt in a flash and ducked down alongside Kim. He covered his ear and gave her a nod. Holding her breath, Kim brought the live wires down to the fuse's tip and brought them together. The resultant short created a brief shower of sparks in her hands that nipped at the treated cord, igniting it. It began to burn with a hiss, and produced a white-hot sparkle that ran down the fuse's length toward the door. Kim managed to cover her ears before the jumping spark ran out of track to run.
Thunder clapped and sent a shiver through the floor beneath them. The air became hot and acrid with a haze of smoke. Their ears rang in protest of the explosion, but neither teen paid it any mind. Kim leapt up from their cover, ready to do battle with the forces Destructeron was certain to send in retaliation. But the door threw a hitch into their escape plans by refusing to yield; it stood as strong as ever, with a blackened badge of courage in its crook to mock them with.
"Wow," said Kim. She approached the door, coughing her lungs clean. Her outstretched hand could feel heat radiating from the crispy metal. A quick knock confirmed for her the door's resilience. "Wow," she said again. "Tough door."
"What?" shouted Ron. He rose above the cot's edge and saw the door. "Oh, hell. Are you kidding me?"
Ear held close, Kim listened for any sign of oncoming trouble. She might have welcomed it instead of the nothing she heard instead. "No air, no noise…We didn't even crack the seal," she concluded glumly. "I'll bet it just sounded like a bad case of gas to them."
"What?" Ron shouted again.
"Will you cut that out," Kim said loudly. She stalked across the room and kicked the cot back onto its legs. Ron scrambled to get out of its way as she shoved it back into the corner with her foot. "Well," she grumped, "That was a bust." She flopped down onto the cot and crossed her arms, with her back propped up against the wall and her lip jutted in an angry pout. "We need to come up with something else."
Ron followed suit, plunking down upon her cot's twin. "Guess it wouldn't have mattered," said Ron. He sighed. "This Destructo-Dude's got an army of henchmen just itching to play piñata with us." Kim watched him rub gingerly at the lump on his head. When he noticed her concern, he folded his hands across his knees and added, "If we could beat them, we wouldn't be in here in the first place."
Defeatist words, but all too true; Kim couldn't help but agree. The memory of Destructeron's overwhelming number of henchmen set her teeth grinding. There hadn't even been room for a proper fight; just a sea of elbows, fists, feet, and stun sticks, until both she and Ron had been captured. It irked her to no end. "It doesn't matter," she said. "We have to stop Destructeron's, uh, Hypno-Beam, and that starts with us getting out of here."
"No argument here," said Ron with a shrug.
Silent moments crawled by, knitting Kim's brows together as she assessed the situation. The setup didn't thrill her, but she knew they had gotten out of worse (though the circumstances of those pickles eluded her for the moment). The trick would be finding that one way out. Every situation, no matter how deadly, could be defeated by finding that one perfect angle—the weak spot in the trap, or the insane solution no one else would dare try, or the one oversight their foes made—and making it her own.
Kim eyes gravitated toward Ron, seeking his calm in her frustrated storm. He seemed so cool, so collected, twiddling his thumbs and humming a tuneless song under his breath. She envied him for it, and shifted around atop her sheets as the welling ball of anxiety in her stomach grew unbearable. How he could tarry on ever untouched by the slings and arrows of their dangerous lifestyle, she would never know. But it always gave her measure of peace to cling to, and she treasured that dearly.
Her fruitless thoughts flitted to her other impossible task. In the long months following their adventures in Japan, she and Ron had continued the arduous process of rediscovering each other. Kim had to admit that things were going better than she could have hoped for; they were laughing together, playing together, and synching together better than they ever had before. Late nights had gone by in a flash, ending captivating discussions about nothing at all that lasted until the breaking rays of dawn. The team operated more smoothly once Kim swallowed her pride and came to terms with Ron's fighting superiority. Once she had, she discovered that she could learn a lot from him, and had done just that, becoming a better fighter than she ever would have been without him. Trust had been difficult to rebuild, but easier once their secrets weren't secrets from each other anymore…all but one. Part of Kim longed to reveal that secret as well, but the timing had never been right. That perfect moment hadn't come along, forcing Kim to remain patient. And though Kim could do anything, she certainly didn't like to wait.
"Well?" asked Ron, intruding on her thoughts.
Kim shot him a quizzical look. "'Well,' what?"
"'Well,' how are we getting out of here?" Ron spun his hand, as if to wrap up her response for easy use. All it did was draw out a nasty look from Kim, which didn't stop him from stuffing his foot into his mouth; "We've been here for almost fifteen minutes." Then he blinked. "You do have a plan, don't you?"
Kim narrowed an eye. As wonderful as Ron's good points were, his flaws were just as irritating when he tried at it. "Oh, pardon me," she sneered. "I thought we were operating under Destructeron's deadline, not yours." With a groan, she flopped back against the propped pillow. Her head cracked against the wall, worsening the throb between her temples.
"Sorry, KP." A hangdog expression dangled on Ron's face. It made Kim feel lousy for losing her patience. "Guess I'm just worried, like you."
"I'm not worried," Kim snapped, and then kicked herself mentally. Whatever the stress worming through her system, it didn't give her the right to take it out on Ron. She shut her eyes, resting the blossoming lump on her head against the cool metal surface she owed it to. A great weight settled onto her shoulders with a sigh. Trapped in a lunatic's dungeon—for anyone else, that might be a noteworthy crisis. For Kim, that meant a slow Saturday night. "There's a way out of this," she said, this time in a calmer tone. "I just have to find it."
Gentle hands urged her away from the wall by the shoulders. The cot creaked and dipped with Ron's weight as he slid in behind her. She tilted her head back, meeting muscular chest instead of wall as her eyes found a smile framed by yellow straw. Before she could ask, those gentle hands began kneading her leaden muscles. "You won't find it in that headache," he said into her hair. "Maybe you'd better let it percolate a while."
Kim's protests dissolved into a moan as his steely fingers worked her shoulders into clay. She collapsed back against Ron in surrender. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know I get a little snippy when we're trapped in the clutches of an evil madman."
"Just one of your charming quirks, KP." She heard wistfulness tucked just beneath the surface of his voice, like a diamond sparkling at the bottom of a pond. His breath rolled across her skin, raising the hairs on the back of her neck. It made her wonder what it would feel like if he leaned just a little closer, and kissed the hairs flat, and what she would do if he did. "Careful, Ron," she said in a playful voice. "If you're not careful, a girl could get the wrong impression." With a low chuckle, she added, "Or maybe a not-so-wrong one, hmm?"
The words hardly left her mouth before she regretted them. Ron jerked back into the wall, leaving her to fall onto the cot unsupported. He forced a chuckle and rubbed the back of his neck, still inching away from her. "Sorry, KP. I didn't mean…uh…"
"Soooo dense," muttered Kim.
"Nothing." Stillness reigned again. Kim didn't bother rising. Instead, she scrutinized Ron's inverted freckles. His breath came in even strokes, measured, almost rationed. Warm brown eyes never lingered on any one part of the room. They skimmed the cell's harsh lines tirelessly, all to avoid resting on Kim. She didn't miss the darting looks he gave her, though, nor the clenching and unclenching of his fist. "What's up?" she asked at last.
"Hmm?" He pretended to have been thinking of something else. As if Ron could ever fool her. Ha! "What's what?"
She squired across the sheets and rested her head upon his leg. "You. You're jittery, and surprisingly un-chatty. It's like you ate a bad burrito." His expression twisted with horror, to which she responded mechanically, "If there was such a thing. C'mon. Spill."
Ron shifted uneasily, though he didn't shy away from her this time. A shrug answered her at first, but her persistent eyes weren't sated until he stammered, "I was just wondering…" Then he looked away. "Nothing. S'nothing," he said, and focused in on the indomitable door. Only when Kim reached up and poked him in the nose did his concentration fold. "Hey!"
She sat up and faced him. "Something's bothering you," she told him, as if he didn't know. Or maybe he thought she wouldn't notice. Before the ordeal in Japan, he may have been right, but things had changed. Kim had changed. And after a short while, she had been surprised to find that Ron could be deep when he tried a little. "Are you going to tell me what it is? Because, time? Yeah, we've got some," she pointed out.
His squirming intensified. "I just…You ever wonder what would happen if we didn't…y'know." Kim didn't know, and the vague flapping gestures he made with his hands didn't clear it up. But the confusion on her face evaporated when he spat out, "Make it back. You ever think about what would happen if we…didn't?"
"What?" Confusion puréed Kim's thoughts. "No." She never had, and said as much. What had prompted this? They had been in situations a thousand times worse (though, still, Kim's memory could not produce the particulars). "Of course we're getting out of here," Kim told him. "What are you talking about?"
"Nothing." Ron rose in a hurry, jostling Kim once again. He scrambled across to his bunk and laid himself out, lacing his fingers behind his head. His eyes locked on the ceiling, not-staring at Kim. "Well, we're not gonna get out of here exhausted. I'm gonna take a snooze. Wake me up when you're ready to escape."
"Wake me up when…" muttered Kim. But Ron was already busy sawing fake logs in the worst impression of sleep she had ever seen. She repeated his name insistently, but nothing would sway him from his shtick, so instead she laid back and ignored him. Irritation bubbled at her lips, breaking the surface in half-uttered curses and complaints.
She pushed her partner's bizarre antics aside and returned to thoughts of escape. All too soon, though, the weight of the day's fantastic, previous battles returned to her deadened limbs. Even her soaring spirit became tied down by the weakness of her flesh. 'Can't sleep,' she chided herself. Her body answered with a fervent yawn. 'World's in trouble. Gotta find a way out. Gotta…find…'
The crashing waves meted out her steps against sunned sand, carrying her down the pristine shoreline. Panoramic blue floated above her, unbroken by clouds or constructs of man, kissing her naked body with summer warmth. A fresh sea breeze tempered the day's heat, chasing away the light sweat from her journey. The day felt almost perfect; only one ingredient remained lacking.
"Ron?" She cupped her hands to glossy lips and hollered. Echoes answered her from across the vast, calm ocean with the same question. Perfect hair fluttered behind her, flying her colors to flag down the one person she sought. "Ron, where are you?"
It felt like she had been hunting for him forever on that beach. The weather never broke. The wind always smelled sweet, and felt good against her ivory skin. The sand always cushioned her wriggling toes just right. But she couldn't find him. There could be no sweeter place on Earth, but it would remain incomplete until she found… "Ron?"
Again, the echoes answered her with her own voice. Seagulls cawed and snickered overhead at her frustrated failure, but scattered at the sight of her green ire. She had tried everything she could think of, looked for him through every inch of this paradise. Why couldn't she find Ron?
"Beautiful, isn't it?" intoned a voice she'd know anywhere. Kim turned back, spying a sandy ridge of rock seated next to the shore, perfect height to serve as bench for the person sitting atop it. Like her, the figure atop the outcropping wore nothing but a placid expression. He dipped his toes in the calm waters and rested his elbows upon his knees, staring out across the ocean. The ocean stared back.
Kim approached him with mounting joy. "Ron?"
The young man shook his head, tossing the crop of red straw at his crown. His emerald gaze broke long enough to flash Kim a freckled look of apology. "Sorry, no. Not all of me, anyway. You're in here too."
"Don't worry," he told her. "I'll explain it when I get there." His voice took a sorrowful tone as he turned back to the smooth seas and said, "But you won't like it."
Kim took a seat next to him, ignoring their states of undress, and the ocean that captivated him so. Instead, she studied his face and body, astonished at its similarities to her quarry: hardened lines of muscle, slouched in a pose of utter contentment no other human could hope to achieve, topped by a round face spattered with brown sunspots that danced when he smiled. But his hair burned red in the tropical heat, cow-licked, but wrong nonetheless. And his eyes…when her gaze pulled his back, the two met with one color, a shimmering jade that stole Kim's breath away.
The familiar stranger shook his head. "Beautiful, like I said. The sun and sand here are always perfect, aren't they? And you'll never see a wave here taller than your knee." He looked back out at the ocean, showing her the proof. "And that breeze? It's like every flower you ever smelled, isn't it? You could stay here and almost be happy, couldn't you?"
"Why can't I find Ron?" demanded Kim. She had no time for double-speak.
He shook his head again. "You'll never find him here. He's never going to be here, Kim. It's too nice, too clean."
"There." The stranger tossed his thumb behind them with a lazy gesture. Kim followed, and gasped; a brutish mountain range lurked on the opposite horizon, wearing a crown of the blackest clouds Kim had ever seen. Periodic lightning pierced the rainy haze, revealing silhouetted daggers of stone sheathed in the sky. "Ron's out there."
Thunder growled at Kim's fearful notice. Was he serious? Ron couldn't be in there. "That looks…"
"Dangerous? A tiny chuckle slipped through his smirk. "It probably is. Full of pitfalls. But the scariest stuff…you can't even see it from here. You won't, until it's right there, in your face. But that's where he is." Quiet hope possessed his voice. "Will you look for him?" A twinge of fear. "Is he worth all that?"
"I…" Kim turned away from the horrible mountains. She couldn't bear the sight of them, much less the thought of venturing into their perils. "Yes?"
"I hope so." The young man listened a moment to the lapping waves. Kim fancied him listening to a voice she couldn't quite hear. "Kim, I came to warn you. Love is coming."
Forcing her focus out on the still waters, Kim felt her confidence rise. "I'm not afraid. I can handle anything."
"No, you can't. Love is coming, and it's going to swallow you whole. It'll take the weakest parts of you, and tear into them until nothing's left. You've only got one chance to make it through."
He shook his head. "I'm not here to tell you that. All I can do is warn you." Then he cocked his ear again, listening to that distant voice. Kim listened too, but the whisper eluded her in the murmur of the waves and the rustle of the palm leaves. After a moment, the stranger turned back to his ocean, no longer interested. "You'd better wake up now," he said to Kim in a blasé voice. "I think Ron's about to try something stupid."
Kim faded out of her slumber. The room came into being one detail at a time, starting with an inexplicable clatter of metal on metal. Seconds later, she found the effort to roll over and open her eyes. There at her bedside, she saw a curious sight.
Ron stood behind his cot, deep into a strange stance and wearing a look of uncharacteristic gravity. He stared at his cot and flattened his fingers parallel to his palm. His hand exploded forward with a weird twist of his arm that rolled down his body. The power of the blow in the empty air lifted the edge of his cot off the ground. It teetered and fell back onto the floor, explaining away the sound of resonating metal. She watched him for several practice swings as he pushed back the air with his palm, making the cot dance. Then she said, "Ron, how are you doing that?"
Actually, all she got out was, 'Ron, how—' The soft intonation interrupted his concentration; he looked left as his arm shot out in another strike. A question puckered his lips, but a scream came instead after his shoulder let loose with a disgusting pop at the climax of his punch. His cot screeched against the floor and flipped up against the wall.
Kim leapt from her cot into full wakefulness as Ron collapsed onto his knees. The haggard blond clutched his shoulder and grunted a string of filthy curses between clenched teeth. Tears teased the edges of his eyes. "Ron!" cried Kim, catching him, careful to avoid his arm. It looked like a bad dislocation to her. Thank God her mother had made her take all those First Aid courses. "Ron, are you okay?"
His curses trailed off. "Am I okay? Does it look like—augh!" When he flopped his arm to demonstrate, he wound up doubled over in pain. "Okay," he squeaked, "That was stupid." Kim knelt at his side and cradled him still. Yelps became hisses as she examined the injury. "I think it's—"
"I know. Hush." Kim looked around a moment in wasted search. With a groan, she pulled her boot off and removed her sock, then re-donned her boot. "Here," she said, rolling and stuffing the sock into his mouth, "Bite down on this." She touched at his arm, wincing in sympathy at the sharp breath whistling through his nose. "This is going to hurt. Ready?"
"Nuh," Ron moaned around her sock. Then he screamed as Kim wrenched his arm back into its socket. Ron writhed free from her grasp and slammed his fist onto the floor. He looked up at her through tears and grunted, "Muh-vuh," before Kim yanked the sock out of his mouth. "—ucker," he finished.
Kim stayed at his side and rubbed his arm. "How does it feel?"
"Hurts like hell," he grunted. Unfurling his tongue, he added, "And I have cottonmouth."
She gave him a wry look. "You're welcome," she said, standing. Her cot croaked as she retook her seat. "What on Earth were you doing, anyway? After a beat, she added, "How did you do it?"
Ron one-armed his bed off of the wall and toppled it back onto its legs. He sat opposite Kim, hunched over his knees. Kim felt a vague sense of déjà vu. "I was…" He looked away. "I was working on a way out of here."
"Japanese Bed Flipping?" she teased tiredly.
Ron's muttered answer killed her humor. "Quivering Palm." The words sapped the color from his face. "It's something I learned at Yamanouchi. Sensei taught me himself." His eyes receded into the distance. "I watched him shatter a boulder the size of a bus with it."
Kim searched his face for some sign of the old Stoppable exaggeration. She couldn't decide which to feel first, anger or joy. They combined together into familiar annoyance. "You can get us out of here?" she snapped. "All this time, you've been hoarding some stupid ninja—"
"This isn't something I've been keeping in my ninja piggybank for a rainy day, Kim!" The volume and anger in his voice took Kim aback. Ron looked away again. Was he ashamed? Afraid? He sounded both. "I've only tried this move once."
The thought festered in their terse silence. "Okay," said Kim. "I'll bite. What's the catch?"
Ron's voice softened. "Quivering Palm relies on the Three Forces: Body, Mind, Spirit. Every person has buku potential split between them. The trick is aligning all three…" He brought his hands together and shot them forward in a straight line. A pained expression twisted his face. "Toshimiru was supposedly able to topple the peak of Yamanouchi in a single blow with it."
"Not seeing the catch." Her eyebrow rose, tugged high by her skepticism.
"The catch," he said, mocking her tone, "Is that you're channeling every ounce of force a guy can ever hope to put out in one go." He rapped his knuckles against the cot's frame. "Putting everything together like that takes decades of practice. If you don't get it all in one direction, it doesn't have anywhere else to go. It'll double back on you."
"But you said you've done it before," Kim protested.
"Yeah, I did." Pointed silence. He was driving Kim crazy with this vague, mystic mumbo jumbo. "I tried it the day after Sensei showed me. I tried it on a tree. Yori begged me not to, but I wouldn't listen. So she helped me."
More silence. "…and?" demanded Kim. This could be their chance. She respected Ron's adherence to his new Monkey Ways to a point, but if it could get them out of there…
"I didn't wake up for a week. Shattered every bone in my body." At Kim's startled scrutiny of his body, he said with a smile, "The magic of Sensei." He shrugged. "Yori wasn't out of the woods for another week." As an afterthought, Ron added, "Shattered the tree, though."
The pieces began falling into place, only Kim didn't like the picture they formed. "So, if you do this…"
"If I do this," Ron told her, "You make it out of here. You run down the corridor, find the hanger, and get into the one unguarded escape pod that every self-respecting villain keeps idling."
Ron rose from his cot, not waiting for Kim's response. Truthfully, she couldn't think of anything to say. She sat instead in silent study of his face as he worked the feeling back into his arm. The stern sobriety plastered in his features felt so alien to her, as though something had abducted her best friend's smile and replaced it with another man's worry.
"There's…something else, KP." Ron's practice swings pounded the air, creating currents in the stale room. "Back home, in my room, there's a…it's under my mattress. It's a letter." Kim watched him pretend to size up the door so he didn't have to look at her. "It has a lot of stuff about y…you…and everyone," he added quickly.
This didn't feel real. It didn't sound real. How could he be so casual about killing himself? And for what: Her? Part of Kim was convinced he was joking, that he would turn around any moment and flash his patented 'gotcha!' grin. She wished with all her might that he would.
"If it's not too much trouble, could you try and find Rufus?" Ron tried and failed to keep the shakes out of his voice. They infected his legs, too, when his stance slid low and wide in front of the looming door. His throat bobbed with a terror gulp. "You know how to take care of him. I know you'll—"
A pillow pounded into the side of Ron's head. His balance fell prey to the slumber assault, but trained reflexes righted him an instant later with fists curled and ready to strike. All the while, Kim stood passively by. She wasn't sure when she had grabbed her pillow, and she didn't remember getting up. It didn't matter so much. "Are you finished," she asked him.
"Ah! Do you mind?" snapped Ron. "You're wrecking my noble sacrifice here."
The words lit a flash of fire in Kim's belly, enraging her beyond reason. Her pillow pounded him again, this time in the face. "How about now?" she bellowed. Kim's pillow slapped him again. "Now?"
"Jeez, Kim. What the hell? Cut it out!"
"Do you feel ridiculous yet?" Kim glared at him from around her weapon's edge. "Because I'm not gonna stop until I've beat the Drama Queen right out of you." Ron started to protest, but her sharp tongue and flashing pillow cut him to the quick. She drove him hard into the door with a shove of her weapon. "What the hell is your problem?"
Ron's face puckered. "I'm just trying to be something besides a burden for on—"
She slammed him back onto the door. The pillow kept her claws dulled against his chest, and separated them as she shoved her face into his. "If you've got a death wish, all you have to do is wait," she snarled. "But don't do Destructeron's dirty work for him, you idiot."
"Step off, Kim," warned Ron. Anger clouded his chocolate eyes. "You don't—"
Kim rattled the door with his body once more. "Shut up," she barked. "Just shut up. You are so stupid! You're stupid, and you make me so mad." Cracks appeared in her voice as she forged on. She paid them no mind, and bolstered her glare. Her pillowed fists punched him without force of conviction, punctuating her caustic words. "A few hours locked in some dumb cell, and you're just ready to give up? Kill yourself over some stupid door?"
"It doesn't matter!"
They both froze. The pillow fell forgotten between them. Kim staggered back. "What?"
His eyes dropped. His anger evaporated back into a stony stare. "Kim, you don't do what we do for as long as we have without coming to this. And I decided a long time ago that when the choice came…" Gravel sifted through his whisper. "…you would be the one going home. And here we are."
A deep breath lifted his shoulders and lips, plastering a fake smile across his freckles. He slapped his hands together and rubbed vigorously. "We don't have much time," he said with a new, lilting tone. "It's gotta be getting' on into morning. Destructo-Dude's shredder thing is probably ready. On the off chance that it actually works, I don't want you anywhere near—"
This time it was bare fists that beat him upside the head. Kim attacked him without warning or mercy, startling even herself. Ron staggered beneath the onslaught, and dropped to his knees, whining. All the while, Kim shouted curses between blows. "You stupid—" Whack. "Moron—" Whack. "Asshole—" Whack. "Jerk—" Whack. "Jackass!" Whack! Whack! Whack!
Ron scrambled across the floor, shielding his head. "Ow! Kim, will you just—ow!" He retreated onto the bed and curled up as Kim descended upon him. Tiny and calloused, her knuckles found tender spots he hadn't known of before her fists plunged into them. "Ow! I need that," he wailed.
Kim climbed atop Ron's wriggling form. Her arms flailed and her fury burned, fueling her rage against her best friend. "'You' made the decision? 'You?' You're unbelievable, you piece of crap. You want out? You want to quit when things get a little hairy and leave me holding the bag? Well, screw you, too!"
"What are you talking about?" He squirmed in her vise-like legs. "I'm trying to save your life."
Kim pinned him by the shoulders and leaned in, burning a hole in his face with green fury. "So, you kill yourself with some Mortal Kombat crap. I go home, and then what?" She ignored his attempts at protest and lectured on, growing angrier with each word. "Then I have to tell your family what happened. I have to tell my family." Ron's struggles ceased, and Kim drew closer. Their noses bumped. Their eyes locked. "I go home to an empty house. No more jokes over breakfast. No more Naco runs. No more making fun of old movies. No more late night talks. No more Ron. And I have…" She paused as she watched a fat, salty drop splash onto Ron's cheek. Humiliated, she turned away with falling voice. "I have to wake up every day knowing you killed yourself because of me…you stupid jerk."
She rolled off of him, keeping her eyes anywhere but on him. As angry as she was with him, she felt even angrier with herself for getting like this in front of him. Ron was the only one on Earth who could make her feel weak and foolish, and she hated feeling either. She swiped her face dry with the back of her hand and scowled as she heard him say, "KP, that's not it at all. I…I mean…"
"You think saving my life's worth giving up yours?" Kim's voice cracked again. She smeared her sorrows across her cheeks again and sniffled, forcing her composure to return. Her eyes remained carefully glued to the wall; she'd lose it again if she looked at him. Anger and distress swirled inside her, churning. She didn't know whether to explode or vomit, but she felt like doing both. "I don't."
Strong arms encircled her from behind, quelling her stomach. She felt him press up against her back and rest his head on her cold shoulder. "I don't suppose you could keep in mind," he murmured sheepishly, "That I was just worried about you."
Like she said: foolish and weak. She loved that about him, too, but was too angry to let him off the hook yet. "It isn't noble," she grunted in a controlled tone. "It's just selfish."
"Yeah," he said. "I'm a bastard that way." He used that voice, that voice that sapped her rage and made her smile, even when she didn't want to. She buried her face into his arm so he couldn't see her grin. No amount of smothering could contain the shiver that went down her spine as he added, "You know I just act that way because I'm crazy about you."
Her resolve crumbled. Kim turned back, inadvertently pressing into him. Her arm wrapped around his waist, and his, hers. "And it never occurred to you," she murmured with half-lidded eyes, "That the crazy goes both ways?"
Ron's eyes closed and his head tilted forward. Kim felt her rib cage rattle with the pounding of her heart as she did the same. 'Why here?" the sarcastic little voice at the back of her mind whined. 'Why now?'
Hot breath rolled across her lips. Gentle hands cupped her body, easing out of Kim an aching longing almost a year in the making.
The floor rocked beneath them, slamming their teeth together. They bounced apart and fell to the floor at the tail end of a brief quake. Metal bulkheads around them shrieked, cracking under the pressure. Amidst the deafening squall, Kim saw a split run down the center of the door. The rumblings ceased, but in their place arose a distant howl of klaxons; the seal on their cage had broken.
"What the hell was that?" demanded Ron. He rubbed his mouth and rolled to his feet. Shouts of alarm filtered in through the door's breach, growing faint within a growing roar.
"It's an opportunity," she said. Kim raced to the door in a flash. Her expert eyes sized up the damaged door, running through silent calculations at breakneck speed. Everything she knew about martial arts, including her recent tutelage from the thickheaded blond behind her, pulsed through her body and curled her fists. All she ever needed was one chance to pull it all together, one tiny ray of hope to find victory. Now that she had found it, nothing could stop her.
Kim slid back from the door on the balls of her boots. She cried out and put everything she had into one kick.
The door didn't budge.
She bounced back, hopping on one foot. Pain ran up and down every inch of her leg. "Ow. Ow. Ow, ow, ow, ow!" Arms pinwheeling, she fell back into Ron's waiting grasp. Kim gave the door a baleful look as she limped back onto her own footing. "Well, that was a giant load," she grumbled.
"Tough door," agreed Ron. "Maybe if we kicked it together."
His voice sparked inspiration in Kim's mind. "Hold on," she said, whirling back on Ron. "Ron, your special move…Quaking Fist, or whatever."
"Wait," said Ron. "First you wallop me for trying to kill myself, and now you want me to? Why do girls keep sending me mixed signals?"
"Shut up for a second. You said Yori helped you…that she got hurt too when the feedback from your whatever went off." Kim's face darkened, zeroing in on Ron's. She grasped his shoulders and shook him. "You can channel it into another person?"
Realization exploded into Ron's face. He broke her hold and backed away. "No. Nuh-uh. Negativo."
"Don't put everything into it," pressed Kim. She matched his backpedaling step for step. "Just enough. The door's already cracked."
"I'm not going to kill you!"
"You're not listening," Kim insisted. "This is our one chance, and it isn't your call." Kim glared at him as he bumped into the corner. With nowhere to retreat, she closed in for the kill. "Now, you're going to do your ninja thing, and I'm going to help you, and we're going to fight our way out of here, just like we always do. As a team."
Ron sweated nervous bullets. "But KP—"
"Both of us are getting out of here," Kim told him, "Or neither of us are." Her eyes and voice softened. "That's how teams work."
War broke out on Ron's face. Kim remained close, watching a tug of war between what Ron feared to dare and what they both knew he had to choose. He didn't let her down in the end. "Okay," he said in a deadened, defeated monotone. Ron led her to the door. The fractured portal towered over the both of them, defaced but still a powerful captor. Its solidarity still concerned Ron. Kim could see it all over his face as he pressed his fingers into the crack. "All right," he said, chasing the worry off his brows with a hard look. His feet slid into a broad stance, shifting around until they found their proper places. "Put your hands on my hips."
"Like this?" Kim rested her palms flat on either side of his waist. She kept her thoughts laser-focused when he lifted his shirt and moved her hands onto his cool skin. She knelt behind him, peering around his legs at the door. "Okay, now what?"
Ron drew a shaky breath and let it out slow. "Just hold on tight. You'll know this works when all the bones in your arms turn to powder."
There was no missing the plea in his words. "Guess I'll have to fight with my legs," she replied. "Do it."
Another breath took the ten-cent tour of Ron's lungs before he shook his arm loose. His glare leveled at the door. His wrist followed after, rotating his hand in a strange pattern Kim doubted she could replicate. As soon as he started his first practice swing, Kim knew just what he meant; she could feel vibrations shuddering up and down her arms, and he wasn't even trying yet. "Hold on tight," he warned her.
The door shot open just as Ron started his true swing. A third Team Possible uniform waited for them on the other side, loitering right in Ron's crosshairs. The mocha face sitting atop the crop top's neck split with a sugary grin. "Hey, guys, I—"
"Shit!" Ron twisted his arm. It popped free from his shoulder. Both Ron and Monique yelped; he from the dislocation, and she from the wave of rippling air from his palm. She flew back on the crest of the wave and slammed into the other side of the hallway. Kim would have laughed if the force of the vibrations hadn't blown her across the room. It felt like sledgehammers pounded onto the ends of her wrists. She crashed back into the cots and flopped onto the floor. Her arms, still intact, hurt like hell nonetheless.
"Whoa," moaned Monique as she pulled herself back together. "What was that?"
Ron's answer came in the form of a stream of horrible curses as he danced around and favored his arm. Kim lifted herself to her feet, wincing at a thousand new aches and pains. "Pressurized cells," she groaned. "Monique, how did you…"
"Wade got worried when you guys disappeared on-mission," explained Monique. Kim listened with half an ear as she marched to Ron's aid. She stifled a chuckle at Monique's expression as she shoved a rolled sock into his mouth. Both women winced at Ron's muffled scream when she jammed his arm back into place. "He called up me and your brothers, and, like, a million Global Justice guys to come charging in."
"Wait. My brothers are here?" Cold despair swept through Kim's gut. IT felt like someone just stepped on her grave. "Where?"
"At the command center." Another shockwave toppled the teens and renewed the blaring klaxons in the halls. The distant sound of collapsing superstructure accompanied a rolling cloud of dust down the hall. Screams echoed through the complex, and gunfire clapped in applause. "What's left of the command center," amended Monique. "I left to free you guys…after I picked up a little help."
A squealing pink mass leapt from Monique's pocket and onto Ron's shirt. "Ron!" Rufus squealed, crawling up to Ron's shoulder. "Kim!" Pieces of wire peeked from between his buck teeth, remnants of their door's electronic lock. Ron scratched his pal beneath his tiny chin and grinned back. Even Kim felt her heartstrings tug at the reunion.
"How's the arm? Hurt much?" Kim asked Ron.
He rotated it through one full turn. His face said it all. "Like you wouldn't believe." The twinge in Kim's arms begged to differ, but she didn't argue. "So let's wrap this one up quick, huh?" Ron gave her an uneasy grin.
Monique backed through the door. "Destructeron was putting up one hell of a fight. I think the GJ boys might need a little Kimstyle to clean his clock. You comin'?"
"Right behind you," Ron announced. When Monique shot from the room, he was hot on her trail. But he stopped when he noticed the absence of a third set of footsteps behind him. "KP?"
Kim stared at Ron, rooted to the spot. After everything that had happened that night, Ron acted as though nothing had happened. He had been willing to lay out his life for hers. No matter what she said, that still meant a great deal to her. But how did she deal with something like that? And more importantly, what about what they had almost… Where did that fit in?
The man from her dream echoed through her ears with his ominous warning. Kim wanted to tell Ron everything—the dream, the truth, and everything else—but she knew he wouldn't play it straight with her. Not now. Not yet. For all his courage, he was afraid of…that. Just like her.
She said instead, "You're awful gung ho."
This time, Ron's smile was genuine. "Are you kidding? I have to get home and tear up that letter before you get to it."
His smile was returned in kind on her lips. "Fat chance," she teased, and rushed past him out the door. It was hard to keep her laughter in check as she raced through the corridor of Destructeron's lair. Ron's pounding boots stayed close behind. She couldn't see it, but she knew he had the same stifled smile on his face, too. 'After this mission,' she promised herself. 'I'll do it after this mission.'
She had made the same promise before. She would make it again. But it was no big. She would find Ron in her own time. She just had to keep looking.
The Power of Friendship
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