Chapter Three

An Ever Fixed Mark

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead…But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"

—Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"

The Diablo invasion lasted only two hours, before Global Justice was able to shut down Drakken's transmitter tower, causing the menacing robots to revert back to harmless toys. During that period, they had wreaked incalculable levels of damage to most of the major cities in the world, and the death toll mounted to the tens of thousands.

Drakken and Shego became the subject of the most extensive manhunt in human history. Even nations that were openly hostile toward the United States lay aside their grievances to assist GJ and other world law enforcement organizations to bring down the madman responsible for the Diablos. Not that it was necessary; even those who had allied themselves with Drakken and Shego in the past, such as Duff Killigan and Professor Dementor, were willing to cooperate with law enforcement to bring them down. Senor Senor Sr. personally offered a million dollar reward for information leading to the felons' arrests, as his hacienda was destroyed by the Diablos, and his son Senor Senor Jr. was gravely injured in the attack.

Within two months, the criminals were captured, tried and convicted for crimes against humanity, including mass-murder. As the sentence of death was passed, onlookers couldn't help but notice the strange, satisfied smile on Drakken's face. It seemed to them that, despite his immanent death by electrocution, he was behaving as though he had won.

And in a way, he had.

Kim located the white marble stone, just where the undertaker had said it was. She sadly read the inscription; "Ron Stoppable. 1988-2005. Beloved son and friend." Next to his grave was a smaller marble slab, about the size of a CD case, that bore the inscription; "Rufus. 2000-2005. Beloved companion." She took the two stones she carried with her and placed one reverently on each of the graves, following Jewish custom.

"Hey, Ron," she greeted the slab that marked the last resting place of her best friend since pre-K. "I'm sorry I haven't been by here sooner. But I guess I've been busy." 'Busy' didn't begin to describe it. She had spent the last six weeks convalescing at a Global Justice medical center. Her physical injuries were surprisingly minimal, but her emotional wounds were far deeper. By the time Will Du had escorted her to the center, she had reverted from nearly catatonic stupor to violent fits, thrashing and clawing at anyone within reach before the docs could sedate her.

The diagnosis had been post-traumatic stress disorder. For the next two weeks, she sat listlessly in her hospital room, seldom eating, barely registering her surroundings. Her parents and twin brothers, injured during the Diablo attack but recovering, visited her every day, staying at her bedside for hours on end. Dr. James Possible was there at her bedside the night she finally broke down, the façade of control finally shattered by the realization of her best friend's death. She sobbed brokenly, and all that Dr. Possible could do was hold his 'Kimmie-Cub' until the maelstrom passed.

Two weeks later, the doctors at Global Justice declared her fit enough to return home, although they stressed that she needed to avoid intense situations. After several agonizing discussions, James and Anne Possible agreed to lay down the law on Kim; for the foreseeable future, she would no longer go on missions or fight villains. She needed to heal before she could go and save the world.

They had expected a fight when they told Kim their decision. Instead, their daughter lowered her head and nodded slowly in full agreement.

"I'll try and visit here as often as I can, Ron," Kim promised her friend as she stood over his grave. "But it might be awhile. Mom, Dad, the Tweebs and I are moving. Our house got pretty trashed by the Diablos, and Mom got an offer from Go City General Hospital. Dad can still commute to the Space Center, and the schools in Go City are pretty good. Barkin's already transferred there. I guess most of Middleton's packing up and heading out now. After the Diablos got through, there wasn't much left of the town anyway." Sadly she turned to the bright blue sky overhead. "Besides, Go City's got its own heroes looking after it. Shego's sentencing somehow brought the rest of Team Go out of retirement. They've come back stronger than ever. I guess they're trying to atone for their sister's crimes. So I guess they don't need me pretending to be a hero." She could feel the tears starting again; she almost couldn't remember a time when she wasn't on the verge of tears.


Kim forlornly retrieved her Kimmunicator from her purse and pressed the comm button. "Wade?" she asked.

"Just thought you should know, KP," Wade announced, an edge of sorrow tingeing his voice, "the website's officially down."

"Thanks for letting me know, Wade," Kim nodded. "I'm sorry for the way things turned out."

"Don't be, Kim," the young computer-prodigy answered. "It was an honor to work with you."

Kim shook her head sadly. "You rock, Wade," she declared for the last time. "You have a good life, you hear?"

"You too, Kim," Wade answered. "You deserve one. Godspeed." The screen blacked out, and Kim switched the main power off. She knew that Wade was wrong; she didn't deserve happiness, not after her callousness cost her so much. She turned her back on Ron. Their last words to each other were either bitter or simply civil. She let the most important relationship in her life deteriorate, and now it was too late to correct her folly.

Placing her Kimmunicator on Ron's grave, she whispered, "I can't do it anymore. I can't save the world without you, Ron. I can't—"

Again the tears flowed, and again she didn't try to stop them. No longer able to remain near her friend's grave, she turned and ran away, the tears blinding her. She blundered through the graveyard, unheeding of the soft ground beneath her feet. Without warning, she stumbled headlong into an empty grave.

Unable, or unwilling, to stop running away, she fell...

Her body lurched violently as she thudded into her mattress, and as she sat up her heart hammered out a horrid tattoo in her chest. She glanced frantically, desperately taking in her surroundings. Pandaroo stared blankly at her from her pillow, her Kimmunicator was still in its recharging station on her nightstand and her alarm clock radio was blaring something by Coldplay. The red LED numbers flashed 7:00.

"Oh…migod…" Kim gasped as the implications worked their way through her still half-sleeping mind. She grabbed the Kimmunicator and pressed the comm switch. After a few seconds, the screen flickered to life and Wade's smiling face greeted her. "Hey, Kim, what up?"

"Wade?" Kim asked quickly, "did I call you last night, asking about the Tempus Simia?"

"Nada, KP," Ron answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Uh, no reason," Kim answered hurriedly. "Any news from the museum since last night?"

"All quiet here," Wade assured her. "I piggybacked my signal onto a government security satellite and did a quick scan of the area last night and again just before you called, and so far there's no sign of anything out of the ordinary. Looks like GJ maintained security until the museum could replace the skylight that Monkey Fist crashed during his escape."

Kim stared blankly for a second, before Wade's words registered. "It didn't happen…" she whispered to herself. "Thanks, Wade," she replied brightly. "You rock, as ever." Kim switched off her Kimmunicator and released the breath she wasn't aware she was holding. The chain of events played itself out in her mind.

She had dreamed it all.

It didn't happen.

She didn't fight Yori in the museum.

She didn't use the Tempus Simia.

She didn't change the past.

Ron was alive—

"RON'S ALIVE!" Kim shouted joyously, not caring if her parents or even the Tweebs could hear her.

"Indeed he is, Possible-san," a firm, grandfatherly voice intoned behind her. Kim spun around, and shrieked slightly at the sight of Master Sensei standing before her. "Be at peace, child," Sensei raised his hand to silence her questions, "this is but a thought projection. I am still half a world away, at Yamanouchi."

Kim managed to gain her composure at the sight of the ancient warrior. "Does it freak Ron out when you do that to him?"

"The first few times, yes he did," Sensei smiled warmly. "I am glad to see that you are well, Possible-san, and that you passed the challenge that I set before you."

"Whoa, wait a sec," Kim stammered. "What challenge?"

"The Tempus Simia, of course," Sensei announced.

Kim stared levelly at Master Sensei. "You sent the Tempus Simia to Middleton," she stated, her mind putting pieces of the puzzle into place. "You were using it to test me?" Sensei nodded. "But why? I thought you were mainly concerned with Ron."

"I am indeed concerned with Ron Stoppable," Sensei assured her. "And as you are his beloved, and the most influential person in his life, I am naturally concerned about you, Possible-san."

"But—but why?" Kim asked. "Why test me?"

"Someday, Possible-san," the master of the Yamanouchi ninja academy responded, "you will understand. As for now, I only ask that you not tell Ron-san the details of last night's dream, at least for the time being. Soon, you will be able to tell him everything. But for now, it is best that he be unburdened."

Kim stared at Sensei's image blankly. The idea of keeping secrets from Ron, only months after their relationship had turned the corner from friendship to love, didn't sit easily with the young heroine. Sensei's hooded eyes remained unchanging, but a gentle fluctuation in his aura seemed to put Kim at ease.

But another thought occurred to her. "Sensei," Kim asked hesitantly. "Ron never told me everything that happened to him when he was attending your school, did he?"

Sensei nodded serenely. "He keeps the secret of Yamanouchi, not because he wishes to keep secrets from you but because I asked him to. Like you, he has no wish to deceive the one he loves. But for now, it is necessary that he do so. Soon, though, the time of secrets will pass. Be patient with each other when the time comes to learn and reveal the truth." Without understanding how she knew Sensei's words to be true, Kim accepted their truth in her heart. Where once, her knowing that Ron hadn't told her the whole truth should have made her angry, she instead felt a strange peace, and a sense of relief. He kept the secret, not because he wanted to deceive her, but because he made a promise to Sensei.

Sensei's image began to fade, and the elder warrior spoke one last time. "The time of trial will be soon, Possible-san. You and Ron-san will soon face your greatest challenge. And I have every confidence that you will succeed brilliantly. Take care, Kim Possible. Take care—" The thought image seemed to shimmer, as though a reflection on a mirror pool had been disturbed by someone skipping a stone across the waters. Then, the image was gone and Kim was again alone in her room.

"It is like a pool, the still surface of the waters. Throw a pebble into the pool, and the ripples will spread out, until the entire surface is affected."

Yori's words came back to haunt Kim. But this time she heard them.

It all came back to him, the greatest constant in her life. Ron Stoppable. Best friend, boyfriend, partner, sidekick, distraction, sounding board, listener. He was her compliment in every way. When Kim was headstrong, Ron would be cautious. When she plunged ahead, he would suggest an alternate route. When she became grim, he would dispense wisecracks. When she felt overwhelmed, he would remind her who she was. When she was brave, he would show fear.

"Let's face it Kim, you can do anything." her cousin Joss had told her once, while discussing Ron. "So facing all those dangers and villains, well, it's just like you say. No big. A fella filled with that much fear, always chargin' into action with you? Seems to me that's a true hero."

Joss was right, Kim had realized. His fears, she had begun to realize, were a vital part of who he was. They were the obstacles he was able to overcome in order to become the Ron she knew and loved—yes, she could finally put the word to her emotion. She loved him, all of him, his fears, his anxieties, all of those things that, taken together, made him Ron Stoppable.

And for far too many years, she failed to see that. She disdained his attempts at levity, ignored his concerns, belittled his successes, or want him to change, to become something he wasn't. As if his past experiences in that regard didn't always lead to disaster; the new hairstyle, the muscle ring, the Naco royalties. Losing his essential Ron-ness, just to become something he wasn't.

Worse, she took him for granted, assumed that he would always be there, always have her back. And he always would. She was able to take him for granted, she realized, because she could. Because when it came down to the crunch, he proved as dependable as the sunrise. No matter the sitch, Ron would always carry her spear and follow her lead, even through the gates of Hell.

Without so much as a thank-you., she confessed to herself sadly. Right now, I'm so flunking the girlfriend test!

A steel resolve entered her soul at those words. Never again. She vowed to herself that she would never take for granted the wonderful gift that providence had given her. The gift of Ron Stoppable. She needed him in her life, like oxygen or water. She couldn't save the world without him. If she had no other reason to save the world, she still had one; Ron Stoppable lived in that world. That fact alone made it worth saving.

With the absolute clarity that comes with epiphany, she knew that there was one place she needed to be.

Within fifteen minutes she showered, shampooed, brushed her teeth, dressed and bolted down the stairs. Her mother was sitting in her favorite living room chair with the morning newspaper in her lap, relaxing from her graveyard shift at the hospital. "Hi mom," she stopped to kiss her mother on the forehead before rushing to the front door. "I did my homework last night, and I'm going to the mall with Ron, Monique and Felix now. I'll call when I get to Ron's. Love ya. 'Bye!"

Doctor Anne Possible winced slightly as the door slammed behind her daughter. She then smiled warmly, remembering what it was like to be a teenager and to fall in love with the gawky young man who would ultimately become her husband and Kim's father.

"Ron Stoppable's a lucky young man," she murmured to herself as she returned her attention to the headlines. "And Kim is a fortunate young woman.

"Okay, Rufus," Ron announced as he mixed the eggs, "cinnamon me!"

"Aye aye!" Rufus chirruped, flashing Ron a snappy salute before scampering to the spice rack. He quickly emerged from the cupboard with a small jar of ground cinnamon, which he presented to Ron with a flourish.

"Thank you much, li'l guy," Ron accepted the jar, smiling at the mole-rat. Whatever insecurity he felt from last night's incident with Monkey Fist, he wasn't going to let it get him down. He always felt better after cooking and eating a hearty breakfast, and French toast was a personal favorite of his. He measured out a teaspoon of cinnamon into the eggs, along with a few drops of vanilla extract, before whisking the eggs again for half a minute. He then poured the egg mix into a shallow pan and was about to place four thick slices of sourdough bread in the pan to absorb the egg mix (two for him, two for Rufus), when the doorbell rang.

"Hold that thought," he nodded as he re-closed the bread bag. "I bet I know who that is."

"Kim Kim!" Rufus chittered excitedly. Ron smiled in agreement as he headed for the front door.

The second he opened the door he felt Kim's arms around his neck as her lips latched firmly onto his in a searing kiss. Ron stood thunderstruck for half a second before his instincts took over, and he returned the kiss, his arms encircling Kim's slender waist. For nearly a full minute, Kim and Ron simply stood in the doorway, content to remain in each other's arms.

Finally, Ron pulled away and regarded the red-haired vixen who was now playing idly with his hair. "Not that I mind you wanting a little Ron-shine before breakfast," he commented, "which, by the way, I was just about to make, French toast if you're interested—" He stalled his stream-of-consciousness monologue when he noticed the faint wetness in Kim's eyes, and felt a faint tremor shake her frame as he held her. "Hey, Kim, you okay?"

Kim smiled warmly at Ron as a few scant tears spilled freely from her eyes. "I am now, Ron," she assured him. "It's just that—last night, after I dropped you off..."

"Nightmare, huh?" Ron guessed.

Kim shook her head slightly, saying, "I wouldn't go quite that far. It wasn't a scary dream, just pretty intense."

"I keep telling you, KP," Ron flashed his famous half-smile, causing Kim's heart to lighten. "Don't put the four-alarm Diablo sauce on your Nacos after eight P.M."

Kim laughed lightly as she and Ron disengaged the embrace. As Kim walked into the Stoppables' living room, Ron asked, "You sure you're okay? I mean, if there's anything I can do for you—"

Kim looked into Ron's chocolate-brown eyes for a moment and nodded. "Yes, Ron. There is one thing I want you to do for me," she answered solemnly. "I want you to promise—no, swear to me, that you will never call yourself, or even think of yourself as a loser. Can you do that for me, Ron Stoppable?"

"Kim, y'know I was still a little down about letting Monkey-boy get to me last night, but—" Ron hedged slightly as he absently began to massage the back of his neck with his right hand.

"Swear it, Ron," Kim insisted. "Don't make me pull out the PDP."

Ron grimaced, before gazing again into Kim's sea-green eyes. "I, Ron Stoppable," he made a show of raising his right hand as he made his oath, "hereby promise never to call myself, or think of myself, as a loser. Okay, KP?"

"I'm gonna hold you to that, Ron," Kim smiled again. "Because you are not a loser. You hear me, Ron? You are a hero."

Ron just smirked at Kim's statement. "Me, a hero? Yeah, right."

"I'm serious," Kim declared with the solemnity of a vow. "You are a hero, Ron. You're my hero."

Ron stood thunderstruck at Kim's statement, wanting to come up with a smart remark to answer Kim's declaration. After five seconds, the best he could come up with was, "I'm honored, KP."

Kim flashed Ron a beaming smile as her arms found their way around his shoulders again. Ron happily wrapped his arms around Kim's waist as she leaned her head into his chest. "It's true, Ron," she affirmed, whispering softly. "And if I've been a little random about telling you before, I am ferociously sorry. You've had my back all this time, you kept me from taking the whole save-the-world business too seriously, made me laugh when I needed it. I mean, if you weren't there for me when Erik played me, I don't know what I'd have done. I'd either have died ten times over or just hung up my mission suit and stuck to babysitting a long time ago, if it weren't for you." Kim lifted her head, meeting Ron's brown eyes with her green. "I mean it, Ron. You are more than just the man I love. You are my hero."

Ron regarded Kim with a lover's gaze, his warm eyes softly tracing the contours of her face. He then smirked slightly, commenting. "Well, that makes sense, right? I mean, you've been my hero for so long; it's only fair that I return the favor, KP." Kim found herself chuckling, again amazed at Ron's ability to find the humor in any situation. "And for the record, Kim," he added, his tone more serious, "I love you too." He leaned forward, his lips brushing against Kim's in the gentlest of kisses. The only other sound to be heard was Rufus's "Aww!" as he watched his two humans from his perch at the dining room table.

As she reluctantly ended the kiss, Kim cast a sidelong glance at her Best Friend/Boyfriend. "Uh, did you say something about French Toast?" she asked sweetly.

"Oui, Mademoiselle," Ron backed out of their embrace, bowing to her like a maitre'd. "Welcome to Chez Ron. Your usual table?" he asked, gesturing to the table. Rufus immediately pulled a napkin out of the napkin holder and made a show of folding it into an origami swan, placing it in front of the nearest chair, which Ron pulled out for Kim.

"Great," Kim mock-scolded Ron, while still maintaining her amused grin while Ron seated her. "The table right by the kitchen."

"Just a second while I prep two more slices of sourdough," Ron announced from the kitchen. "And I think we have some turkey sausage links in the freezer. But first, some orange juice."

Kim raised an eyebrow in amusement. "Wow, the full breakfast treatment," she smiled. "You sure we have time for that?"

"Check the motto," Ron reminded her as he emerged from the kitchen and handed Kim a large glass of juice. "You can do anything."

As Ron turned toward the kitchen, Kim reached out and touched his hand, causing him to turn back to her. Shaking her head, she answered, "New motto, Ron. We can do anything."

Ron regarded Kim again with a loving eye, before returning to the kitchen

"'...And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare,'" Josh Mankey recited, his eyes never leaving Tara's face, "'As any she belied with false compare.'" He returned to his seat as a few students applauded politely. Mr. Barkin nodded once and announced, "B plus, Mankey." Turning to the rest of the class, Barkin announced, "Rockwaller? Do you have a sonnet to recite to the class?"

"I would have," Bonnie Rockwaller snorted disdainfully, "except, unlike some people, I have a life."

"You also have a C minus for the quarter, Rockwaller," Barkin intoned, prompting a few giggles from the back row. "Possible?"

Kim stood up and approached the front of the class. "I chose sonnet number 116," she announced. After clearing her throat slightly, she began;

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:"

She saw Ron in his seat next to hers, and smiled as he sat in rapt attention. She wondered how much of his attention was due to his genuine interest in the subject and how much was simply her recitation.

"O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken."

The words that she had memorized took on a new meaning to her as she spoke. After her dream-experience, she knew now that the last thing she wanted was for Ron to change. She loved him as he was; warts, monkey-phobias, clumsy moments, silly theories and all. She was proud of him, and prayed that he would never lose, for want of a better phrase, his essential Ron-ness.

"Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom."

And with each word, she silently vowed that she would never let him forget that he was loved. That he didn't need to be wealthy or handsome or muscular, that he didn't need to bend over backward to impress her. That he wasn't just the sidekick, the comic relief, the distraction. That he was her partner in all things; on missions, at school, in every aspect of their lives.

"If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."

Kim bowed slightly before returning to her seat, as Ron applauded and whistled vigorously. "A plus, Possible," Barkin announced, and the rest of the class joined in Ron's applause, except Bonnie.

"Stoppable!" Barkin barked.

"Here sir," Ron stood up suddenly and approached the blackboard. "I'm reciting Sonnet 29," he answered. Locating an empty chair next to Barkin's desk, he pulled out the chair and sat down, lowering his head. Kim's curiosity was piqued by Ron's stage-setting, and she thumbed through her textbook to locate Sonnet 29.

"What are you doing, Stoppable?" Barkin grunted.

"Just achieving the appropriate level of gravitas," he replied.

"Just make it quick, Stoppable," Barkin rolled his eyes. Bonnie placed her hand over her forehead, extending her index finger and thumb into an 'L'. Without even looking at her, Barkin announced, "And Rockwaller, you're just one more punk hand gesture away from detention." A few scornful laughs echoed from the back row, and Bonnie just sulked in her chair.

Finally, Ron began his recitation;

"When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,"

He lifted his head a little and sighed theatrically, his eyes scanning the classroom. He shook his head and continued;

"Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least..."

As he recited the lines, he regarded Josh, Tara and Bonnie. The popular students, the ones who had status in the school and seemed to accept it as their due, as though they were entitled to their positions at the top of the food chain. Josh and Tara regarded Ron attentively as he spoke, while Bonnie squirmed uncomfortably.

"Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee—"

He then turned his attention to Kim, who seemed to hang on every word he spoke. He sat up in his chair and his voice rose in timbre, from the whispered ache of his opening to a steadily building crescendo.

"—and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate!"

He stood up from his chair and delivered the final couplet with a transcendent shout of joy.

"For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings!"

He bowed low from the waist, like an Olympic gymnast nailing his dismount. Kim gazed in renewed wonder at her boyfriend, overjoyed to be the object of Ron's recitation. The class held their collective breath as they awaited their teacher's verdict.

Barkin stood stone-faced for ten seconds, before a faint smile played at his lips. "I never thought I'd live to say this," he announced, a faint but present tone of genuine pleasure in his voice, "but A-plus, Stoppable!"

A huge wave of applause hit Ron at that point, with Kim leading the charge, clapping her hands and whooping furiously. Even Bonnie clapped her hands, albeit reluctantly and with a scowl on her face, disappointed at being bested again. Ron, for his part, simply smiled back and waved off the adulation before returning to his seat. He exchanged glances with Kim, who flashed him a smoldering look, making him glad that this was the last class for the day. As the bell rang and Barkin dismissed the class, Kim slid up next to Ron and linked her arm with his.

"Once we get off campus," Kim whispered in Ron's ear as they filed out of class, "I'm going to give you a PDA that'll knock your shoes off!"

Ron regarded Kim with his best approximation of a leer. "Booyah!" he whispered.