Author's Note: A special thanks to MrDrP who helped make this story what it is and who's assitance in this last chapter particularly was invaluable.
Thanks to all those who have read and reviewed. As always, leave a review, get a response.
Chapter 4 by johnrie18
It was dark by the time Josh Mankey had finally built up the courage to call Kim Possible and suggest that she meet him outside the mall. Now he found himself anxiously pacing back and forth in the shadows, the light of the full moon feeling like that of a search light upon a guilty fugitive as Josh tried to withdraw from it.
He tried to go through his rehearsed 'speech' again. This had to be right. This had to go perfectly. If Kim and Ron suspected that they were being forced together, it would only serve to drive them further apart. That much had already been made painfully clear.
"Hey, handsome." A flawless voice escaped from perfectly flawless full lips. Josh turned to see a flawless mane of crimson hair flowing down a flawlessly smooth face, with two flawless emerald eyes completely the flawless ensemble. It tightened Josh's breathing considerably.
Tara King had been a little surprised that Ron Stoppable had called to meet her a few minutes early of their date. The tone in his voice had made it sound quite urgent, and it had left Tara feeling jittery.
Do you really care about him? Or do you care about some dream?
Josh's stupid rhetorical question echoed over in her nervous mind, causing her feet to begin taping on the ground beneath her. She contemplated just heading inside Bueno Nacho and meeting Ron at their usual booth. But the full moon and unusual warm breeze that accompanied the evening was just too wonderful to waste inside.
Besides which, Tara didn't feel like sitting. Her legs would simply not allow it.
"Hey gorgeous." A gentle voice came from behind. Tara practically spun around to see a warm face staring back at her, caring eyes gazing deeply into her own and an always friendly smile greeting her just as it always did.
"So you ready to go?" Kim asked with an excited smile as she flashed a pair of matching tickets. "Smash Mouth awaits."
"Listen Kim, there's something I wanted to talk about. It has something to do with what we were talking about earlier." Josh began uneasily.
"So, Bueno Nacho?" Tara motioned inside invitingly. "We've got plenty of time before the movie."
"In a minute. There's something I wanted to talk to you about. It's about what you said earlier today… about me and KP." Ron seemed overly anxious as he spoke.
"Kim, about what I said about you and Ron." He noted the rising apprehension in her expression and quickly hurried. "I didn't mean it. I guess, it's just sometimes, I see the way you two are and I get over paranoid. Maybe it's a guy thing, but the point is, it was out of line. I didn't mean anything by it."
Oh boy. Now he was in it. He was lying. He was lying to Kim Possible. He was lying to a world saving super hero who routinely faced down some of the most dangerous men on earth and never even flinched. There were so many ways that this could end badly. If Kim ever believed that her boyfriend had dumped her because of her best friend, she'd resent Ron for it for sure. It might even be the final straw, on top of everything else he had said and done, that could drive them apart forever.
"No big." Kim assured with a relaxed expression. "Truthfully, it's kinda nice to have a boyfriend who gets jealous from time to time, just so long as you don't make a regular thing out of it." She warned playfully.
"No, it's not going to be a regular thing Kim, because I don't think we should date anymore." And with that, Josh Mankey felt the knife in his hand stab right through the back of Kim's heart and pierce his own.
"Look Tara, I thought a lot about what you said about KP and me." Tara felt very apprehensive as the tone of Ron's voice. It was so soft, so… serious. She had never heard him talk like this before. "It's just that KP and I are tight, we always have been. For a while, I didn't think there could ever be anyone else in my life but her."
Tara felt her lower lip tremble. She suddenly realized what was going on. He was breaking up with her! After all of Josh's stupid talk about them taking action, Ron had realized the truth all on his own. He was going to give her the dreaded speech, how they should stay friends, about she would find someone better for her than him. About how he would always care for her, even if not in that way.
"I understand." Tara answered softly as she shrunk away from her eyes. "She's a really great person. You're lucky to have someone like her."
"True, but she's not the only special person in my life, and I need to start waking up to that." For the first time, Tara noticed that Ron's arms had been anxiously held behind his back. As he spoke, Ron produced from behind himself a small wrapped present that he handed to her.
"W-what?" Kim's eyes went wide with a deep hurt that mirrored Josh's own. "You're breaking up with me? I don't… I don't understand."
"It's just us Kim. We're not working anymore. It's not any one thing; it's a lot of little things." Josh felt like he was seconds away from recoiling in nausea at the sound of his own words, yet he pressed on. "You're an amazing person Kim, probably the most amazing I'll ever know. I really do wish you were the girl for me, but you're not. And I have to live with that."
The truth of those last words gave Josh the little bits of courage he needed to finish this.
"I'll always care for you Kim, but I have to face facts. We're just not meant to be. I'm so sorry."
Josh could see tears welting up in those flawless eyes, her flawless lips trembling with ache from his every word. It tore him up. He wanted to take it back. 'I'm sorry; I don't know what came over me just now. I didn't mean it. I'm sorry Kim; please take me back, please!'
Instead, he turned away and walked home.
Tara's breath was caught, her chest felt like a vice as she eyed the simply wrapped package in Ron's hand. "Ron… what's… what is that?"
"For you." He explained simply as he handed her the present. For a long moment, Tara considered refusing it. Going through with what she had uneasily decided on and breaking things off.
Instead, her shaking fingers reached out for the gift, taking the wrapping paper in her hands and slowly, gently removing it. The wrapping paper shed away to reveal a simple brown cardboard box. Growing more curious with each passing second, Tara tore away at the box's top, only to find within a small, brown furred teddy bear with a rose red ribbon tied in a bow around its neck. It was almost exactly identical to the one five year old Tara had lost years ago when her parents had first moved her to Middleton, Colorado.
The bear in question was a Sir Huggington, a line of stuffed toy that was released almost at the exact same time as the Cuddle Buddies, and shortly thereafter discontinued as a result of the competition. Tara had never been able to locate her long lost stuffed friend and no store carried one to replace it… until now.
Tara couldn't speak, she couldn't breath. She just looked up, wide eyed at Ron.
"Had Wade track it down for me. Turns out there's a whole warehouse full of these little guys in California. The guy who still legally owns the inventory was happy to send me one. Hope you like him." He replied with a slight nervousness.
Tara's response was immediate. She grabbed Ron by the shoulders and pulled him in for the deepest, most passionate kiss the two had ever shared. Ron returned the kiss with the same passion, never noticing the tears of pure bliss that leaked down the side of Tara's face.
Their blissful moment was interrupted as Ron's cell phone rang from within his pocket. Tara pressed her lips even more into Ron's, desperate to keep him in this perfect second of time.
When the phone refused to heed her prayers, Ron pulled back for a second as his hand reached into his pocket to answer. Tara's lips never parted more than a centimeter from his, their eyes locking intently, as he breathlessly whispered into the phone "Hello?"
Tara closed her eyes. She knew who was on the other end of that phone line and she knew what they were calling about.
"What?" Ron's voice rose with a mixture of concern and outrage. Tara placed her one spare arm around Ron's neck as he spoke, even while the other clung tightly to her new present. "Are you ok?" A few more seconds of silence. "Well where are you now?" And then "Ok, hang on KP. I'm coming right over."
Ron quickly pocketed his phone as he looked down to Tara who looked back at him. "Tara, listen, I've got to run. KP…"
Ron was silenced as Tara pressed her lips to his. "It's ok. Just go. Spend as much time as you feel you need to with Kim. Take as long as you want. I'll be here when you're done. I'll wait however long it takes, I love you Ron."
Ron's eyes went wide. "Y-you love me?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He was crazy about Tara and he knew that she liked liked him, but to use the 'L' word!
"Yes. I love you." Tara pressed her lips into his one more time before finally drawing back, stepping away from him as she clutched her new present all the more tightly. "Now go take care of Kim. I'll be fine."
Ron didn't know what to say. This was huge. Even he was bright enough to realize that. He knew he should say something. Yet the sound of Kim sobbing echoed in his mind's ears and tore him in opposite directions, until finally his feet took him moving.
Tara lay on her bed, her head propped up on her pillows, absently stroking the teddy bear in hand, her gaze never once leaving it. She didn't even flinch when she heard the knock on the front door of her house, she never bothered to give a second thought to the footsteps that she traced from the door to her room's door and she never bothered to look up to acknowledge the frosty blonde as he entered her room.
"Hey." She answered softly as she continued to gaze at the bear, stroking it tenderly.
"Well… I did it." Josh admitted guiltily even as he slumped into Tara's desk chair. "I just walked away from the most amazing girl I'll ever know."
For a minute, Tara didn't answer. She just continued stroking and staring at the teddy bear in her hands. Finally, in a soft, determined, unchallengeable tone of voice, she stated firmly "I'm not breaking up with him."
"What?" Josh tensed in his seat as he looked at her incredulously.
"I'm not breaking up with Ron." Tara reaffirmed, her voice never rising for an instant, her attention still remaining solely focused on the Sir Huggington in her lap. "If you want Kim back, I'll talk to her for you. If you tell me to, I won't rest until the two of you are back together, but I'm not leaving Ron."
"What are you talking about?" Josh's voice grew in anger. "I thought we agreed…"
"NO, we agreed about nothing!" Tara shouted in pure rage at this filthy, evil outsider trying to take her Ron from her as she looked up to him with a glare that threatened to damn him for eternity. "You were the one having problems with your girlfriend and started spouting off dumb theories about how we should both break up with our boyfriends and girlfriends so that they can be together! You were the one who was unhappy in your relationship and decided you just couldn't be miserable alone so you had to drag me down with you! Well the hell with you!"
Josh shriveled back into his seat in terror before the blonde fury in front of him. Tara didn't let up for a moment.
"Ron makes me happy, he makes me smile. He cares about me and I love him! Why the hell am I going to break up with him just because Kim misses one of your art exhibits? What right do you think you have to just barge into people's lives and tell them how to live and who they can and can't be with?"
"Tara," Josh managed to get out meekly "this is for them. We can't be selfish about…"
"SELFISH!" Tara's anger tripled. "So now I'm a bad person for wanting to be happy? I'm a bad person for being with someone I love, someone who I want to spend the rest of my life with?"
Josh was frozen in his place by Tara's words.
"That's right, I said it! I want to go the Spring Fling with Ron, I want him to finally meet my parents, I want to go to the Prom with him, to date him through college, and if he doesn't ask me first then I'll ask him, but so help me I want to marry him!"
What remained of Josh's innards finally shriveled away. "Tara…"
"Shut up! Just shut up and get out! Get out!" Tara didn't say anything else as she fell into her pillow, an occasional sob or two escaping. Josh didn't say anything either. Instead, for what seemed like an eternity, he felt frozen into his seat.
Finally, slowly, quietly, Josh got up and left Tara to her thoughts.
It was late into the evening as Tara lay in her bed, her body and mind exhausted, yet sleep eluded her. She tossed and turned, never once having relinquished hold on her Sir Huggington, as her mind wandered.
He was every where in her thoughts. The sound of his laugh, the feel of his warm arms around her, the note of concern in his voice whenever something was wrong with her. He was brave, caring, goofy, and funny and she loved him. She knew that.
No good, jealous, controlling wannabe artist. Who was he to tell her who she could and couldn't love? Dump Ron? And then what? Go back to dating all those moronic jocks that Bonnie had always tried setting her up with in the past?
Ok, so Kim and Ron had been friends since forever. That was fine. In fact, it had been really helpful. Tara had been a little weirded out by certain aspects of Ron's personality when they had first started dating. Luckily, Kim had been there to help Tara through them, to show her the wonderful, loving person that Ron was underneath.
So the two of them were best friends. Fine. Tara had other friends outside of Ron, why shouldn't it be the same for him. That didn't mean that Ron and her couldn't be happy together. So what if Kim and Ron always laughed together… always. And maybe there was something a little more than just friendship between them. After all, they had known each other since before kindergarten, it only made sense that they would be really close after all that time.
Tara's thoughts tried to find its way back to images of her and Ron together, but every time it did, her mind would eventually drift and in every one of her wonderful scenarios, it was Kim basking in Ron's warm embrace instead of Tara.
No. She loved Ron. He always put her ahead of himself, always was there for her whenever she really needed him. His devotion was beyond question, she'd never once caught him even looking at another girl, other than Kim (they were just friends!). And no one else laughed like they laughed… except for when he was with … (it didn't mean anything!)
Tara turned in frustration as she clung to her Sir Huggington. Ron was amazing. She loved him. She had said so.
So he hadn't said the words back himself. She could wait. She'd wait a lifetime to hear them if that was what it took. He'd only run out to take care of…Kim.
No, no, no! Tara flung her fists over her ears to blot out a sound that wasn't being made. She wanted Ron to meet her parents, her aunt, she wanted to go to college and smirk at all those dumb co-eds bragging about their rich, air-headed boyfriends while she smiled to herself, knowing that she had found the real thing. She wanted to walk down the aisle in a white silk dress and see him waiting at the end for her, to hear every one of the priest's words as he pronounced them Mr. and Mrs. Ron Stoppable.
She… she… just wanted him to be happy. As happy as he made her.
Tara's eyes flung open wide. Her hand shot in urgency for the lamp on her nightstand even as she desperately reached for the picture frame by her bedside. It was of her and Ron. It was honestly one of the ugliest pictures imaginable; just the two of them making obnoxious faces in front of the camera. Normally, it made her laugh every time that she saw it. Instead, she held it tightly to her chest and began crying.
Tara couldn't look up from the dirt, unable to shake the feeling of camaraderie that she held with the vermin crawling through it as she waited patiently beneath the morning sun.
Patiently hell, she was a wreck. She had spent what felt like years trying to get her hair just right, to try and look presentable on the outside so she wouldn't feel like she was oozing with slime and filth on the inside. She wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. Ron would show up, she'd do her thing, and then she would go home and cry herself to sleep, never to wake up again for another ten years. Piece of cake.
"Hey Tara." The joyful voice crying out to here from only a few feet down the sidewalk offered to lift her spirits from the dirt, but she kept them grounded as she looked up at him, a wide smile on his face that promised to sweep her cares away was met only with an impassive glance as he leaned in, planting a heart fluttering kiss on her cheek.
She felt her resolve wavering. She needed strength, but the only place she knew where to find it was right in front of her and she was about to forfeit any rights she had to his support. "Hi Ron."
Tara's voice sounded like it had been scrapped off the pavement, and obviously caught a cord with Ron.
"Tara, are you ok?" Ron's arms reached out to her shoulders, but she backed away.
Get this over with. Quick and fast. "Ron, I don't want to date you anymore."
Ron felt himself freeze in his tracks. His mind blocked out the last words that they had heard. "What?"
"I said we're over. Through. I'm leaving you." She couldn't look at him. She had no right to. She was dirt, scum and she deserved to feel like it to the bitter end.
"Tara… I don't understand. Yesterday…"
"What's there not for you to understand?" She shouted. She hated herself, she hated herself for ever being born and she lashed out in that fury at him. "I said we're done. We aren't dating anymore. It's that simple."
In spite of her hateful words, tears of pain rained down her cheek, inviting Ron's gentle hand closer to wipe them away. For a second, Tara felt them fall into his warm touch, but pushed back.
"Don't touch me!" Her face contorted in agony as she fell to the ground on her knees. "Don't touch me and don't look at me. Don't ever speak to me."
She couldn't stand, she could barely see straight. For a second, she saw Ron lean down, closer to her but she shied her face away again. "Tara, I don't understand. Was it something I did? Was it something I said? Just tell me please." He tried to reach out to her, his efforts for naught.
"Please Ron, just go. Please." She pleaded into her hands as she wept in them. She heard nothing else but the sound of her own sobs. She never knew how long Ron stayed by her, how long before he finally left, leaving her all alone, with her scum brethren crawling in the dirt.
Ron lay over the couch of his tree house, his mind thinking of nothing. He had had time to be confused, in denial, to be outraged, to be heartbroken and now, having run through the full gambit of post-break up emotions, he felt… nothing. He just lay there, drained.
Rufus looked on worried at his human. It was one of those occasions where he wished humans were advanced enough to speak rodent.
"Hey." A soft voice called out from the entrance to the tree house. Ron looked over to see a familiar crimson mane and twin emerald irises looking at him sympathetically. "Your mom told me what happened."
"It's probably all over school by now." Ron tried, but he didn't even have the energy to be upset about the idea. He just turned his head back, gazing mindlessly towards the ceiling of the tree house. "Bonnie's probably giving Tara a big pat on the shoulder for finally 'coming to her senses' about me."
"Ron, you don't believe that. I know you don't." Kim approached the couch, kneeling down by his side.
"I should have known the whole thing was too good to be true. Beautiful cheerleader, popular, all the signs were there." Ron went on, slowly gaining force in his voice.
"Ron, don't believe that. I've known Tara for a little while and I've never seen her as happy as she was with you." Kim consoled, even as she immediately sensed Ron's response.
"Well then why did she do it?" He asked angrily. "She wouldn't tell me what I'd done wrong or if I even did anything wrong in the first place. It was just 'get lost, don't speak to me, good luck' only there was no 'good luck'!"
"KP, be honest with me. What is it?" His question caught Kim off guard as he looked at her with desperate eyes. "Is it my hair, my jokes, my fashion, what? I'll change whatever it is, just tell me what it is girls don't like about me."
"Ron…" The tone in Ron's voice drew a horrified whisper from her.
"Is it my clothes? I can get new ones. I can buy that Club Banana stuff. It's pricey, but I'll do it if you think it will help." Ron offered with a faint trace of hope.
"Or my hair! I can get more of that French goop. I mean the stuff actually smells pretty mean but if you think it'll impress the ladies…"
"Ron!" Kim finally caught his attention. He looked to her for answers she simply didn't have. "Ron, if you could change any one thing about me, what would it be?"
This time it was Ron's turn to be caught off guard. "You? KP, you're perfect." He insisted without thought. "I mean you're smart, you kick butt, you're pretty…"
Ron noticed the slight blush across Kim's cheeks, and suddenly found himself wandering dangerously close to awkweird territory.
"Uh, I mean you're, well yeah, you're pretty and… well you're perfect."
"You sure?" Kim asked with a knowing glance. "Cause I've been told I can be kinda bossy."
"Well, uh…" Ron felt an uneasy sweat begin to gather around his collar that he tried to vent.
"And sometimes, I can even be a little obsessed about my fashion."
"Yeah, well that's not too bad." Ron felt her gaze trapping him on the couch where he lay.
"Worst of all, I've even been known to lie." Kim insisted with mock horror.
"It was just that one time." Ron insisted.
"Come on Ron. All that stuff I mentioned, you sure you wouldn't change anything about me?" Kim pressed on deeper.
Ron needed less than a second to ponder. "No way KP. Perfect or not, I wouldn't have you any other way."
Kim just smiled as she leaned closer to him, her face less than an inch from his. "Exactly. So I'm afraid I can't help you Ron. If you want, I'm sure Monique might be able to offer some constructive criticism, and I'm sure if you're ever really in the mood for abuse, Bonnie has a long list for you… a really long list." She added snidely.
"Oh har har, mock my pain."
"But for me, I think you're perfect the way you are Ron Stoppable, and I wouldn't have you any other way."
Ron tried hard to fight the irrepressible smile that crawled across his face, but in the end it won out. "Thanks KP. You're the best." He felt his heart lighten as he felt her smile warm every fiber of his being.
"And I know you wouldn't want me any other way." She perfectly mirrored his own smile, somehow that warm glow that came from his face granting her an inner calm and peace that she felt she had somehow been missing for a while now.
"Well, if I could, I would try to get rid of that snore of yours." He added playfully.
"I do not snore!" Kim shouted back at him in moderate irritancy.
"Well, whenever you are really beat and you haven't slept in a while, then you kinda do."
"I so do not." She insisted.
"Sound's like a truck backfiring." Ron joked.
"And there's a choking squirrel in the engine."
"Shut up!" Kim pounced on top of him, her fingers moving for his tender side spots, tickling him with a righteous fury. The two shared in laughter well into the evening.
"It finally happened." Joyous realization dawned on Bonnie Rockwaller as she looked at the latest couple to arrive at the Prom. It was true. Sweet, merciful providence it was true. "She's dating that loser. Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable are dating!" Bonnie cried out with wicked delight, letting out a slight cackle even at the prospect.
For a second, all eyes turned to the pair who had indeed entered the extravagantly redecorated prom hand in hand, silent as a grave.
Then, all at once, a thunderous applause erupted from the audience of onlookers. The entire gymnasium shouted cheers of support and encouragement even as Kim and Ron looked anxiously at one another before turning aside in brief uncertainty.
From afar in the gym, Tara watched with satisfaction as Rufus leapt out of his resting place in Ron's pocket and gave a strong push on Ron's leg, pressing him slightly into Kim before rushing around to Kim's leg and doing the same.
A soft song began playing and Tara felt her date's hand on her shoulder, pulling her in for a dance. "We did it."
Tara just smiled at Josh, even as her head fell onto his shoulder to rest peacefully. "Yeah, we did."
The dance went on, couples ducking in and out of the dance floor, even as Ron and Kim seemed frozen in the center of the room together. Tara felt a great peace within her as she watched them from within Josh's arms. She wanted to freeze this one moment in time and hold on to it forever. Instead, she opted for some punch.
She felt herself reach the table and pour some of the red liquid from the bowl into one of the paper cups provided when a voice from behind startled her.
Tara practically jumped when she saw who it was.
"Oh, hey Kim." She replied with a slight apprehensiveness. "How's your prom going?"
"Spankin'," Kim answered with an irrepressible glow. "How are you and Josh doing?"
Tara just smiled as she glanced off to her handsome date still waiting for her. "Spanking."
An awkward silence lasted between them for a second before Kim decided to cut to the chase.
"Tara, I know."
Tara's brow sharpened in confusion. "You know what?"
"About you and Josh. Two months ago…" Kim let her words hang for a second for affect.
"You-you do?" Tara felt her chest seize tightly.
"Well, it took me a while." Kim admitted modestly. "Honestly, when you broke up with Ron and Josh broke up with me, I really thought it was just rotten coincidence. Then, I started to think that it was probably just because the two of you wanted to date without me or Ron around, but that didn't really make sense either. Cause maybe Josh might have wanted to not date me but there was no way you didn't want to be with Ron. I saw the two of you together. Then, it just all clicked."
Tara felt like a criminal caught in the act. "Have you told Ron?"
"No," she replied neutrally.
"Do…" Tara stopped herself to regain her composure before barely whispering her next question "Does he hate me?"
"No," Kim replied with a smile. "I think he was angry with you for a little while, but he doesn't hate you. Honestly, I think he just misses you."
"Oh," Tara replied softly, even as she resisted the urge to look over to the dance floor to see if Ron was still there.
"Tara," Kim began "I owe you more than I will ever be able to repay. What you two did… I honestly don't know I could have done the same thing in your position."
Tara finally looked over to the dance floor. She couldn't be restrained any longer. She saw Ron standing there, apparently talking with Felix. As she looked at him, a wide smile spread across her face. "Kim, if you really think you owe me, then you'll take care of him."
"Always," Kim answered back immediately. "You know, I'm sure he'd love a dance… if you wouldn't mind, of course."
Tara looked back at Kim, resisting the urge to jump in shock. "I… I really shouldn't leave Josh all…"
Kim cut in. "I'll watch after Josh. Truthfully, I'd like the chance to catch up with him."
"Really?" Tara asked hopefully.
"Well, if you don't mind me dancing with your boyfriend, I can't say I mind you dancing with mine," Kim replied with a wide grin.
"You just know it all tonight, don't you?" Tara asked with a moderately annoyed look.
"It's part of the job." Kim answered as she walked off towards Josh. Tara took another deep breath before she looked over again. This time, Ron's deep brown eyes met hers directly. She felt herself freeze again, but only for a second as she walked out towards the dance floor, towards him.