'Lo, all. I wrote this a while back when going through a slight Ron-related obsession, and I figured I might as well upload it and see what you guys all think of it.

Warnings: Depression, Character death, implied violence. Disclaimer: I do not own KP. Disney does. Trust me, if I owed it, you would know.


To a human, the maze of ventilator shafts would have been impossible to navigate. Even the most highly sensitive tracking device would have had trouble locating anything from within the twisting turns of grates and fans. It had been purposely built this way, to prevent intruders. Giant whirling razor-like fans were a constant danger, and occasionally laser grids blocked off huge portions of piping. Not even Wade's most advanced robot had conquered this maze.

Rufus, however, had quite a number of advantages over a robot, including free will, instinct, ability to react, intelligence, flexibility, and a lack of weakness to magnetic disabling fields.

Most importantly, he had a built in tracking device that not only far surpassed anything Wade could ever build, but led him straight as an arrow down the path to his target:

His owner, his master, and his best friend.

After being separated for so long, Rufus was barely conscious of anything else as he clambered up to the blond teenager's shoulder, to snuggle into the curve beneath a freckled cheek and huddle against the long, thin neck. His highly sensitive nose took a deep whiff, relaxing as it smelled the unmistakable scent of his friend . . .

. . . and tensed again. There was another smell, much stronger and hinting of copper, that was sending warning signals screeching through his brain. Little black eyes shot open, and he saw red. Way more red than there should have been. Way more.

Rufus chattered alarmingly, nervously prodding his owner, and was rewarded with a slight movement. He relaxed just slightly again at seeing the chocolate brown eyes open, but was filled with concern at the tired and hollowed look in them.

But there was a small smile, and the barest whisper of a greeting, that filled the little mole rat with new hope.

"Hey, Rufus."

Help, he squeaked out in his garbled way. I'll get help. He made to return to the ventilator, but his friend shook his head slightly, his expression sad.

"No, don't go."

Help! Rufus insisted, waving his arms.

"It's too late."

Those three words froze Rufus' heart. No, no, he insisted, running up to stand on his friend's chest, to look him in the eyes. Not too late. I'll get help!

"Please?" The familiar voice was so broken that the boy barely sounded like himself. "I want you to be here. With me."

Rufus shook his head, but didn't move from his spot. You're being unreasonable! Kim and Wade can bring help! He knew that he was talking too fast now, and it would be gibberish to anyone else, but his owner would understand. You're not going to . . .

He couldn't finish that thought.

The small smile returned. His friend pushed himself up, to straighten out a little and sit up against the wall, but the action made him wince. From his perch, Rufus could feel the hissed intake of air.

Now that the teen had moved, Rufus could really take in the scope of his injuries.

The mole rat leaned against the thin, lean chest, and began to cry.

"Shh, little buddy." One hand reached up to stroke hairless pink skin. "Don't cry. If you start crying, I'll start crying again, too."

Rufus knew, logically, that he should pull away, to be strong for his friend. But he couldn't do it. He clutched the threadbare black shirt as if he could hold his master here by his own sheer willpower, his tears making the red stains glisten.

"It's okay, really," the soft voice continued. "It doesn't hurt much anymore. It's just kind of . . . numb. Everything's kind of . . . fading away."

Rufus shook his head fiercely. He wouldn't let this happen, not to his best friend. He would run back and tell Kim and Wade where Ron was, and they would come and get him and everything would be alright.

But he would stay for now, just in case. Just in case this really was the last time . . .

"You wanna hear something weird, Rufus?" There was a note of nostalgia in the teen's voice now, remembering better times when such conversations were commonplace. "You know how everyone says there's this really long, dark tunnel, and this really bright white light at the end?"

Uh-huh­, Rufus said automatically, curling up underneath a pale chin.

"Well, they got the tunnel part right and all, but the light's not white."

Brown eyes looked down at their closest friend and companion.

"It's pink . . ."

Rufus blinked his tears away and looked up, but his friend's gaze was distant, focused on something Rufus couldn't see. Underneath him, his friend's chest rose as he took one more deep breath.

"Thanks for everything, Rufus . . ."

Brown eyes closed, thin chest fell, and the familiar shoulders slumped just slightly.

A few moments of indecision passed in stillness before Rufus turned back to the air vent. He had to find Kim and Wade, of course, but already the world around him was becoming a fog of depression, and he wouldn't be surprised if he made a mistake trying to navigate the lasers.

But, for his friend, he had to try.

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