Author's Note: I had lyrics to "Hero" here, but I had to cut them. Why? Because I don't trust people. Period. This is a one-shot, any rate, dealing with Cindy's feelings during and after "Stranded". Jimmy Neutron belongs to other people.
Lying on her back, Cindy watched the stars twinkle and sighed contentedly. Though she could naturally see a similar sight in Retroville, the view paled in comparison to the company. At home, they'd bicker endlessly and skirt around the issue, but here, nothing impeded their relationship. No family, friends, school, or obligations distracted them- they were liberated. A great weight lifted from her shoulders.
Jimmy named each one in turn, but she only half listened. Instead, she let his melodious voice wash over her, much like the waves had yesterday. Would it be horrible if they never returned? If they spent each and every day like they had today, enjoying each other's company and combating nature's problems together? She glanced at him questioningly, but let the topic linger mentally, not aloud. She feared he'd disagree.
"Can we always be like this?" she murmured, unaware she'd uttered it until he shifted his attention. Propping her head up on her hand, she contemplated him, the situation in which they found themselves, and what they might encounter. Sitting astride a log, he frowned and seriously considered his answer. A tropical bird cried in the relative silence, marred by a crackling fire and steady, transcendent water lapping at the shores.
Utopia, she thought, frowning herself. Literally, "no man's" land. It can't last.
"You mean…?" he let the question dangle, gazing at her earnestly. She waited for a foghorn to interrupt, Libby and company to call their names, but nothing interrupted this moment. A spell wove over not only the island itself, but them as well. Their gazes locked, but in contrast, no rivalry besmirched them. The last time she recalled mocking him, either in thought or spoken, had dimmed in light of everything else. If they stayed a little longer…
Maybe. But with my luck, who's to say? What if nothing ever develops after our rescue? What if we spend the rest of our time sniping when we could be in unity?
"What's going to happen to us when we're back home?" she said, continuing on her train of thought. "You'll have your lab, Carl and Sheen…"
"And you'll have Libby, your karate…" he countered and she cringed, remembering the piano lesson she'd inadvertently missed thanks to their 'adventure'. Next time they argued over something factual, perhaps she ought to look it up in a book. Still, how was she to know there was no actual line demarking the equation? True, she hadn't actually wondered or cared until Jimmy brought it up. Amazing how no matter what she'd been doing previously, he wiped that clean and any semblance of sense accompanying it.
"Why can't we be this honest when we're, you know…" she replied, wishing she possessed a greater ability to communicate herself than her present configuration. The notion of leaving their paradise behind, literally and figuratively, robbed her of a method of effectively communicate their loss. How could she make him understand what would happen if they were rescued? Sure, the amenities of modern civilization beckoned, but was it fair compensation? To create inventions but destroy a natural phenomenon?
"I suppose societal limitations and expectations simply exert too much strain and cause us to snap rather than confront the issue," he said and she refrained from rolling her eyes. Of course he'd assign a rather clinical explanation to the underlying problem. However, identifying it and preventing its recurrence were two different things. If society indeed stressed them out, then by returning, they'd lose any alleviation, the same that permitted them to be so lax here. Was it only when they were alone like this that their relationship flourished?
Now that's a depressing thought, she admitted. Beyond the island, beyond our spare scrap of heaven, we have no control.
She fingered the pearl he'd uncovered after examining one hundred and thirty seven shells. Would he ever painstakingly impress her again? Was it a futile effort to hope for a beginning rather than an ending? Too many concerns boggled her down and, impulsively, she leapt to her feet. Jimmy blinked, intent on his own ruminations and, though they included Cindy, he'd ignored her presence. Smiling coyly, she offered him her hand, which he took, baffled.
"I know there's no music; I know it's absurd, but do you want to dance?" she inquired, lips twisting in a smile. Smiling in return, he stood and wrapped his arms around her waist. Before wrapping hers around his neck, she caressed his cheek and her smile blossomed into a grin. Bigheaded, a 'nerd', yes, but they fit perfectly together. She shut her eyes and imagined more; grand balls with he, donned in a tuxedo and she, in a beautiful gown, swirling and swashing the night away. A gentle breeze tousled her hair and she rested her head against his.
Jimmy watched her rock to an inner rhythm and smiled wistfully, aware like she how little time like this remained. While his hypothesize sounded correct, it hardly corrected the matter. When and if they returned, they'd assume their old roles. There'd be no moments like this, with his hand atop her waist or hers, relaxed and blissful, about his neck. There'd be no days like today, where they obeyed only their whims, their wishes, their desires.
Whenever someone asks, 'Who would you rather be stranded on a desert island with?', they never ask, "What if you don't want to leave?'
Cindy stared unseeingly up at the bamboo roof of her makeshift home. She knew she would have balked to spend this much time alone with him, on an uncharted island, in the middle of nowhere, if she hadn't learned firsthand its benefits. Would she look back on today and think, "I wish I'd kept my mouth shut?" Would it mean nothing to her too? Swallowing hard, she willed herself and these disturbing notions be gone, but they lingered late into the night.
She finally slid into a dreamless sleep and, upon awakening she was no more refreshed than she had been beforehand.
Another morning like the first, but this time, it felt different and both sensed the change. Jimmy scooped up the bananas an errant monkey abandoned, decided today ought to be his day to collect fruit, and disappeared into the jungle temporarily. Cindy's eyes followed him, but she stayed put. This could never last.
Surely enough, an hour later, their search party arrived and, after a brief skirmish with the spider they'd mistakenly believed they'd evaded, they headed along their merry way. Libby plied her for details while Carl and Sheen tried the same tactic with Jimmy, but neither spoke. Sheen decided the alone time had traumatized him beyond speech and, though Libby pointed out he'd ordered him to accomplish certain tasks before, he overlooked logic as usual.
Onward they sailed, the tree with their initials and a heart carved into it a mere recollection. Libby wordlessly squeezed Cindy's hand and she smiled weakly back. At least she could wait until she recounted her day and a half. Sheen and Carl kept egging Jimmy until she thought the boy genius would roar and silence them both. She wished he would- they grew rather vexing.
Quietly, to prevent anyone from cottoning on, Libby murmured, "You know, girl, you're going to have to come clean eventually."
"Come clean?" Cindy squeaked defensively. "Come clean about what?"
"Don't play dumb with me. You think you're going to get away with not talking about it, but we both know something happened," she retorted, amber eyes flashing dangerously. Cindy glanced down, eyeing the treacherous waves that had delivered a blessing and curse. A curse because it was fated never to develop into anything else. Not if their silence was an omen.
"Nothing happened," Cindy lied flatly, rubbing her goosepimpled arms. Nothing permanent.
True enough, the next day found them arguing vehemently again. Hands brushed, but they jerked away, unwilling to succumb to the possibilities. Nonetheless, that night, she imagined the destroyed tree houses, the birds' call, and their linked hands by the fire. No Libby, Sheen, or Carl to abruptly drive them away. No tension; nothing hidden or held back. Just them.
She'd paid for her little adventure, too, in the heap of homework she received and her mother's scolding. She hadn't bothered to explain what had happened to her on the island, since she hadn't an instance to interject. Did Jimmy go through this too? Or was it merely her expected to surpass everyone and be the best at everything? So much pressure; it was insurmountable.
Maybe she took too much of it out on him. Maybe that was part of the problem. Or maybe it was the world in general, forcing them to argue and approach what they desired, but at a distance. Fate was cruel, she'd decided long ago. It'd put her under his thumb before and now, it kept her at a distance from him.
A half remembered line from a video game popped into her head. I don't feel like cooperating with destiny today.
Considering how they might have reacted, Jimmy thought he'd gotten off rather easily. Naturally, he was grounded for a few weeks, but that was to be expected. He'd worried his parents sick, as had Libby, Sheen, Carl, and Cindy. At least they cared more about his safety than how he fared at certain feats. Smiling weakly, he bid Goddard 'good night' and, moments after his head hit the pillow, he fell asleep.
"We don't have to go," she protested, lower lip quivering. "We can conquer the spider together like we did everything else. Jimmy, we don't have to go."
Carl, Sheen, and Libby stood idly by, but they weren't important. Seizing his hand, she squeezed it affectionately and smiled wistfully. Time had frozen around them and the world boiled down to his answer and their clasped hands. Slowly, a smile blossomed akin to hers and, lifting her hand, he kissed it tenderly. Her heart skipped a beat and her hand tingled.
"You're right," he whispered. "We don't."
Cupping her chin in his palm, he leaned forward and kissed her passionately. Carl, Sheen, and Libby melted away. The ocean lapped gently against the shores and Cindy had never felt more at home.