Disney owns, I don't. Takes place immediately following Redemption.
Ron looked out over the devastation. Even from here, the hospital a couple miles from the city itself, he could still see the smoke billowing from what had once been a bustling community. Salisbury had never been the biggest city, but it had been big enough to draw the attention of Monkey Fist, and in the light of a new day, he could see just what that madman had done. A swath had been cut through the city, almost as if, in passing over, Monkey Fist had wanted to elicit as much fear and terror as he could. Fires still raged in parts of the city, as most crews had been diverted to the much more badly damaged London, and Ron had been hearing ambulances arriving non-stop through the night.
Ron hadn't been able to sleep at all that night, everything still far too fresh in his mind. A brief talk with Yori and Hirotaka, a quick check on Bonnie and Shego's status, he tried to keep his mind off things, but with the filtering of daylight through the window, the sights that he could see, how he had failed to stop Monkey Fist earlier was all that would play through his head.
It was his fault all these people were hurting, were lying dead now, and the cheers he had received upon arriving at the hospital made him almost ill. He had screwed up, and they had cheered him. Thousands lay dead and dying, because he hadn't acted fast enough, hadn't been strong enough, and they had applauded. Even if those nameless thousands that he would never meet weren't enough, there were the ones he knew; William and Wendell Go, Sensei, Rufus, even Fukashima, all their deaths weighed heavily upon him.
Ron took another look out the window before he turned to head out. There may not be anything he could do to help those already gone, but he was damn sure going to make sure no one else ended up that way because of his mistakes.
Hobbling, still not accustomed to the weight of the walking cast, Ron made his way as quickly through the crowded hallway as he could. Those awake smiled as they saw him, a couple cheered, and it was all he could do to put on a fake smile for them. He knew from watching Kim just how much they needed their heroes to be confident, needed to be brave in the face of all things, how they needed him to smile in the face of adversity to raise their own hopes, to bolster them in this dark time. They expected their heroes to be able to weather anything, never realizing just how human they really were. If they knew how often their heroes doubted themselves, questioned themselves, considered just giving up…
Ron made his way to the ambulance bay, glad to see an ambulance already there, almost ready to head back into town. He walked slowly to the one attendant, an older man, and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. When the man turned to face him, Ron just nodded. "I'm going with you when you head back into town."
The attendant looked down at the walking cast, and just huffed. "Look kid, in case you haven't heard, we have a bit of an emergency here. I ain't got no time to be a bleeding taxi service!"
"I'm not looking for a taxi, I'm coming with you to help."
The man just smirked. "Not on that leg you ain't."
"What's the cock-up here now?"
Ron turned to see a woman in her late twenties, obviously the man's partner. "This blooming kid wants us to give him a ride into town, says he's here to help."
The woman took a quick look at him, a brief look of surprise on her face as realization set in, before turning back to her partner. "Gerry, this is that Yank Ron Stoppable, the one wot beat that Monkey Fist guy over at Stonehenge!"
The man's eyes widened as well. "I… oh… I guess… sorry bout that, I mean, geez, you're always welcome to ride with us!"
Ron just nodded, and quickly hopped into the back of the ambulance. During the ride into town, the pair tried talking with him, but Ron lost himself in thought, focusing on just what he would have waiting for him when they arrived into the city itself.
The town might once have been picturesque, but now all that remained was destruction. That didn't stop the city's residents though. It seemed every single able-bodied person, and even some that weren't so able-bodied, were out and working, sifting through the rubble trying to find survivors or consoling those that had lost someone or helping with the fires. Ron smiled a bit at that, how an entire community could come together in such a way, until he remembered that he had been the reason for all this in the first place.
Ron joined a few others in digging out what had once been a four-story building, working ceaselessly. He got the standard looks from those around him, but they would just nod to him and return to work. One person told him briefly that the building had been a hotel and when they had first started, had found a manager who told them just how many people were in the building. Fourteen had been accounted for, but eight still remained, they're condition unknown. Ron dug faster.
Two hours passed before Ron paused to take a quick break, mostly at the insistence of the other rescuers. They had found four bodies so far, and that had only added to the pain Ron felt inside. Now that he was resting though, he could feel the external pain as well. Almost no sleep in two days, no food in even longer. The first fight with Monkey Fist, and then the second right after. Every muscle in his body ached, yearning for rest, but Ron refused to give in, not when he could still do something.
As he sat there, chaos all around him, a tiny noise reached his ears, almost a crying. Ron shifted, trying to track the sound, waiting for it again. It came from behind him, and he moved closer. The sounds drew him onward, until he stood before a rather large pile of rubble. Shifting a large section of brickwork, the cries became more audible, and he knew someone was trapped alive down there. Moving another piece of rubble, he found an opening, barely large enough for one person. His eyes could not penetrate the darkness, but the sound of crying was now quite audible.
"Are you all right?"
The crying stopped, and for just a moment Ron considered his tired mind might have just imagined the whole thing. The reply silenced those fears. "My mummy and me are stuck down here, and I think she's hurt."
Ron yelled for some of the others who were still digging through the rubble, and a number quickly rushed over. Ron grabbed a flashlight off one of them, and moved quickly toward the hole. A hand on his arm stopped him.
"You can't go down there son, it's just not safe!"
Ron shook the arm off, turning on the flashlight. "There's a little girl down there, and she said her mom was hurt. I'm going down there, and you can't stop me."
The man paused at the look of determination on Ron's face, and briefly nodded. Satisfied, Ron began climbing into the hole.
It was a tight fit, especially with the walking cast on his leg restricting his movement, but he slowly made his way down the hole. It seemed to go on forever, the pale light of the flashlight barely illuminating the area ahead of him. Crawling at a downward angle, the cries of the little girl were getting louder, and Ron doubled his speed as best he could, trying desperately to reach her. Just as the light of the flashlight showed a large open area ahead of him, he saw the waving of the little girl's hand, illuminated briefly. He shimmied out of the tube, and found a very small cavern, far to small to stand up in, but definitely not nearly as tight as the tube had been.
The little girl was covered in dirt and dust, streaks on her cheeks from tears creating patterns on her face through the filth. He moved up close to her, checking on her head, noticing how soft her blond hair seemed even as he focused on injuries.
"I'm here to help you. Are you hurt?"
The little girl sobbed briefly. "My leg…"
Ron shone the beam downward, and found her leg trapped under what appeared to be a support beam. He scanned the beam, and found that both ends were buried quite firmly in the rubble. He dug briefly around one of the ends, trying to shift enough loose so that he could at least lift the beam off her leg briefly, but as he started digging, a portion of the wall gave way.
Coughing on the dust that rose from the attempt, Ron moved away from the beam, bringing the flashlight up to the little girl, who was still crying. "I can't move the beam myself, so we are going to have to wait till they can dig us out of here before we can move you. You said your mom was hurt?"
The little girl pointed to the other side of her. "My Mummy got hit when we were going down the stairs. She said I should hold onto her hand and we would be all right. I've been holding mummy's hand, but she stopped squeezing back! Is she all right?"
Fearful of what he would see, he flashed the light over where the girl was pointing. He saw the hand that the girl was holding, and followed up. He moved the light away when he saw the woman's chest. There was nothing he would be able to do for her.
Ron grabbed the girl's other hand, squeezing it tightly. "We're going to get you out of here. I'll be right back."
The girl grabbed him tightly, refusing to let go. "Please, don't leave me!"
Ron squeezed her hand again. "I'm not going anywhere kiddo, but I have to let the people up there know we need them to dig us out. Can you be brave for me for just a few moments?"
The little girl nodded lightly, and Ron gave her hand a quick squeeze before he turned back to the hole. He stuck his head in just a bit, and began yelling back up. "We're going to need you to dig us out of here. The little girl is trapped under some rubble and I can't get her free."
"Will do. And the woman?"
Ron stared blankly downward, looking at nothing. He glanced back at the little girl before responding. "You better hurry."
He turned back to the little girl, grabbing a hold of her free hand again. "They'll be here soon to get us out. I'm going to stay right here with you until they do. My name's Ron. What's your name?"
She sniffled slightly before answering. "My name's Caroline. Is my mummy all right?"
Ron was glad it was too dark for her to see his face. "We're going to do everything we can to help her, all right? Can you tell me how old you are?"
"I'm eight and a half. Are they going to be here soon?"
Ron was about to answer when they heard the sound of rubble being shifted. He leaned in closer so that she could see the smile on his face. "Hear that? They're digging right now to come and get us. All you have to do is hold on, and they'll come get us."
They exchanged idle chitchat for a few minutes, as they listened to the people above them work. She seemed to be in better spirits now that she knew they were coming to help her. She didn't even scream anymore when dust fell on them from all the work above them.
A large crack interrupted their conversation. Ron looked up quickly in time to see the debris above them shifting immensely. Without hesitation, Ron threw himself over the girl, bracing his back against the rubble, sheltering her with his body on his hands and knees. He breathed a sigh of relief when he felt no pressure on his back, and chuckled silently to himself. Another crack sounded, and Ron felt the immense weight of the rubble pressing down on him in an instant. Feeling the power flare up, Ron braced himself for it, his muscles straining to hold on. Her screams pierced the rumblings as all around them, rubble fell, boxing them entirely into the space sheltered by Ron.
When the rumbling stopped, Ron was surprised to find them both alive. Coughing was painful as the rubble pressed down on him, but the dust made breathing difficult. He looked down into the blue eyes of the little girl, the light of the flashlight making the tears in her eyes sparkle. The strain was incredible, far greater than it had been in that cave in Africa.
Ron began taking shallow breathes, knowing that there wouldn't be much air, and needing to conserve as much as possible. "Are you all right?"
The little girl looked to her left, at the hand she was still holding, but nothing of her mother was visible past the wrist. "Mummy? Oh God… MUMMY!"
She tried to move, trying to dig with her free hand. "Caroline, honey. There's nothing you can do. You have to stay still."
Caroline wouldn't listen to him. "But my Mummy… she's buried in there!"
Tears flowed freely down Ron's cheeks, joining the one's streaming down her face. "I'm sorry… I'm so sorry…"
It seemed like days, as Ron struggled to maintain the enormous load on his back. Caroline had stopped digging, and was now just whimpering quietly. Ron could tell the air was getting staler by the second, and he hoped that the people above would work faster.
Caroline opened her eyes, staring up at him with those bright blue eyes. Her voice was barely a whisper. "Are we going to go to heaven… like Mummy?"
Ron tried to sound as forceful as he could. "We are not going to die here… I won't let anyone else die today… not if I can help it. You have to believe me… we will get out of here!"
Caroline curled up into a ball as much as she could. "It's all my fault…"
Ron grunted as the debris seemed to shift again, uncertain just how much longer he might be able to hold out. "What's all you fault?"
"I wanted my dolly. Mummy said I should just leave her, but I didn't listen. That's why Mummy's dead!"
Ron wanted so much just to pull that little girl close to him, to reassure her that it wasn't the case. "It's not your fault Caroline, you did not cause this! You have to believe me!"
She stared up at him, her eyes wide, her bottom lip coming up into an almost partial puppy dog pout. "But I went back for my dolly. Mummy wouldn't have died if I hadn't wanted my dolly."
"Never believe that!" Ron's tone surprised her, and she cast her eyes away. "You didn't know what would happen, you couldn't know!"
"But if I…"
"NO!" The response came out stronger than he had intended, but at least she had stopped crying. "It's not your fault… it's mine!"
Her eyes went a bit wider at that. "Your fault?"
Ron wished he didn't have to look her in the eye, to do anything but stare into those tear filled eyes. "If I had stopped him earlier… if I had killed him when I had the chance… none of this would have happened! No one would have been hurt…"
The rubble above them shifted, and Ron felt the weight pressing in on him greatly reduced. A beam of sunlight radiated down, highlighting Caroline's face. The voices that echoed down were almost jubilant.
"They're alive… thank God, they're alive!"
Ron sat on the back of the ambulance, his legs hanging out over the end, every muscle in his body screaming at him. Someone had wrapped a blanket around him, but he had been too tired to even notice when. He watched as the ambulance crew carefully placed Caroline down on the stretcher, taking great care with her leg.
"You did a great thing here, saving her like that."
He glanced over at the officer, and felt his neck twinge on him as he did so. "It's my fault she got hurt in the first place."
The cop looked down at him, a bit of surprise showing through. "Oh really. How so?"
Ron cast his eyes downward again, almost as if studying the pavement below his feet. "If I had just stopped Monkey Fist when I had the chance. It would have been so easy too… if I had just killed him months ago."
The officer placed a hand on his shoulder, and Ron winced a bit from the pain. "Could you have killed him? Do you think you could have lived with that?"
Ron took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "If it had meant stopping this, then I could have."
"So I should take my gun and a few of the guys, and take out every single person in prison then?"
Ron turned quickly, shock evident. "What?"
The officer gave him a bit of a half grin. "Well, by your logic, wouldn't that be best? I mean, what if each of them was going to do something worse next time? Wouldn't it be safer to just kill em all and let God sort them out?"
"It's not the same thing."
The grin disappeared now, replaced with sheer resolve. "You're damn right it's the same thing. You couldn't know what he was going to do. You had no idea he could sink to this! But you damn well did something to stop it from getting worse!"
Ron cast his eyes over at the little girl, as the medics wheeled her towards them. "But that doesn't help her! She lost her mother because I didn't stop him sooner."
"But she's alive because you stopped him when you did. And I'll have you know, her father will be happy enough about that fact as anything." Ron looked up at him curiously. "I ran a check on the name you gave me for her, ran it against the reports of missing people. Her father is waiting for her at the hospital. How do you think he'll feel, having her back in his arms? Do you think he'll hate you for not stopping that monster sooner, or happy that you saved his only little girl?"
Ron had no response for that, and both men watched as Caroline was wheeled up to the back of the ambulance. The smile on her face was genuine, and as they pushed her past him into the back of the ambulance, she grabbed his hand, giving it a squeeze.
"I think you should ride with her back to the hospital."
Ron turned to the officer quickly. "But there might still be people trapped! I have to stay and help!"
The officer placed a hand on his shoulder, looking him square in the eye. "You've done your job son, that and more. Let us do our jobs now! Besides… I think she could use you more than any of us could right now."
Ron looked over at Caroline, her eyes bright, as she gazed at him expectantly. After a moment, he turned back to the officer. "Thank you."
The officer nodded, and helped Ron struggle up into a seat beside Caroline. With a final nod to the young man, he closed the doors to the ambulance, and watched as it carried its precious cargo to safety.
"No, thank you son!"
Author's Notes – This goes out to all the world's heroes, the soldiers, the firefighters, the police, the ambulance workers and doctors, all the everyday people, all those that put their own lives on the line for the sake of others, who wrestle with their fears and doubts and pains while helping fight off those of others around them.