Chapter 11 – Close Encounters of the Awk-weird Kind. Part I.

-

Ron Stoppable bent over the long wooden bench and scooped up one of the last remaining clean towels from a pile that had been left there. He unfolded it roughly and brushed it across his face, his nose wrinkling from the caustic scent of the school district issued laundry detergent.

"I suppose it smells clean… or at least something close to clean. Cleaning product, maybe?"

He sighed outwardly, letting loose the pent up weariness from the track practice and slumped down against a locker. The last few days had taken a heavy toll on the young man and it was starting to show in all the usual ways. His body ached from a combination of steady physical exertion due to his new after school commitment to the track team and his eyelids felt heavy from a lack of sleep that could be directly attributed to both late night study sessions with Bonnie Rockwaller and his own increasingly futile attempts to dodge Yori's steadily escalating love-attacks. He knew that he was coming close to the limits of both his willpower and endurance.

Something was going to have to change before he folded like a house of cards.

"I can't take much more of this. I need some sleep, I need a day off, I need Kim to stop being angry at me… Hell I need some nacos and twelve hours of Zombie Mayhem, maybe then I'll feel human again."

Ron wasn't much for planning, but he also had never really been in a situation before that really required much in the way of a plan, or to be honest, thinking more than a couple hours ahead. Recently however that had begun to change, and while he was still struggling to adjust to the entire concept of having responsibility, he felt that for the first time in his life he was starting to get the hang of it.

He rubbed his eyes and turned towards his own personal locker, mentally ticking through the list he had been assembling over the last day.

"Step 1: Solve the Yori sitch. Step 2: Make the track cut. Step 3: Make up with Kim. Step 4: Feed Eric to some monkeys. Step 5: BOO-YAH!"

He threw the now used towel into a nearby laundry hamper, the end of the towel sliding precariously over the edge, and reached for his clothes.

His new clothes.

Ron had been shopping. Gone now were his old baggy cargoes and the infamous red hockey jerseys and in their stead was a combination of simple blue jeans, white t-shirt and a black bowling shirt. He looked sideways at himself in the mirror that hung inside his locker and ran his fingers through his hair, momentarily pausing for effect, and then decided that for once what he saw really wasn't all that bad.

Originally when Bonnie had gone after him about his style, or more specifically, his lack thereof, he had started to protest loudly. It wasn't that he didn't agree that perhaps his choice in clothing was a bit dated, in fact, he actually agreed with Bonnie on that score. It was just that he still had bad memories from a certain haircut and the fallout that had ensued. He had reminded Bonnie of this, and then flat out said no to her on the clothes issue. Much to his surprise, Bonnie had just shrugged at him and said, "Whatever you want Ron."

It almost made his head explode.

Bonnie had really started to surprise Ron and he had often begun wondering if he had been perhaps a bit too judgmental about her. He begrudgingly admitted to himself that it wouldn't have been the first time that he had jumped to an unwarranted conclusion, yet despite Bonnie's apparent change of heart, he still had years of evidence to the contrary and it was hard to just dismiss it all. Oh, he had seen inklings of this slightly different Bonnie over the last couple of weeks, especially since the now notorious "Bueno Nacho Incident", but for some reason it seemed that the longer he spent time around Bonnie, the more she seemed to… tolerate him. Maybe even… like him?

"It's an act Ron," he heard Kim's voice echo in his mind.

It had been, and still remained, a possibility, and one that Ron had contemplated on more than one occasion. Still, he often found himself doubting which part of Bonnie Rockwaller's personality was the act and which was her true self. He sadly lamented that he probably wasn't smart enough to figure it out.

In any case, Bonnie's acquiescence to his demand of "No new clothes" had thrown him for a loop. It wasn't exactly what he had been hoping for, such a sudden end to what he had been anticipating would be an epic confrontation of wills and truthfully he had been a little let down. Arguing with Bonnie was… kind of fun, he thought. Oh, not in the mean spirited way that they often fought with each other in public, but more in the challenging way that two friends might verbally spar with each other. The two of them had many disagreements over the last few days, but for some reason Bonnie Rockwaller never accepted Ron's lame excuses or allowed him to divert the conversation in attempts to distract her. She had both a single minded focus and her own opinions about what was good for Ron and she made no bones about letting him know it.

The two of them had been walking through the Upperton mall, one of the few public places that Bonnie would allow herself to be seen with Ron since it was unlikely that any of their classmates would be around, when this exchange had taken place and Ron recalled how her words had brought him up short. He planted his feet and turned to her.

"What do you mean, 'Whatever'?" He had asked, a slight hint of irritation in his voice.

Bonnie in turn had just shrugged.

"Whatever, whatever,"she stated bluntly.

There was an awkward moment of silence and then the two of them resumed walking at a slower pace.

Ron's thoughts were jumbled around in his head and he spoke the first words that came to his mind.

"It's not like you to just give up like that!"

"Oh really?" Bonnie responded, feigning surprise.

Ron fumed for a second. Part of him suspected that Bonnie was up to some sort of trick, some sort of smart person trick, the kind of trick that Ron knew he was ill-equipped to figure out.

"You don't like my clothes," he stated flatly.

"Whatever gave you that idea Ron?" She said sweetly.

Ron, despite his normal goofy demeanor, was beginning to lose his cool. It was odd how he could shrug off insults from villains, bullies, even his best friend, like water rolling off a duck's back, yet when he was talking to Bonnie like this she could get under his skin in less than six seconds. The girl had skills, Ron had to give her that.

"No one likes my clothes."

Bonnie shrugged, followed by another lingering moment of silence, before she spoke.

"Do you like them?"

"They're comfy." Ron replied.

"Comfortable clothes are easy to find, you just have to look."

Bonnie had brought their slow amble to halt so that she could look into the window of the Upperton mall's branch of Club Banana. Ron thought he knew what was coming next, so he decided to nip it in the bud.

"I am not shopping at Club Banana. It's the same stuff that they sell at Smarty Mart, only marked up like a billion percent!" he sneered.

"Ok." Bonnie said.

The retort that Ron had planned to Bonnie's inevitable comeback died on his lips.

"Dammit! What is she up to?" Ron thought to himself as he thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his cargo pants.

There were rules to these kind of things. She would badger him, he would deflect. She would get insistent, maybe even pedantic, and he would obfuscate. She would get frustrated, he would drop a non sequitur so profound it would act like an amnesia inducing bomb and the entire interaction would be forgotten. These were the rules. Kim always played by the rules, why wouldn't Bonnie?

"I'm serious. It's all over priced," he said, sounding more than a little bit lost.

Bonnie slowly tore her eyes away from the impeccable Club Banana window display and started to walk way. Ron didn't notice it at the time, but she had gently latched herself ontohis arm and started to lead him through the mall.

"You like Smarty-Mart, don't you?" she asked innocently.

Ron nodded, "Yes…"

A subtle smile crept across the picture perfect lips of Bonnie Rockwaller. If Ron had been more observant he would have realized that he was about to be played… big time.

"There are… good deals there. Good value. Right Ron?"

Ron was momentarily distracted by the scent of baking pretzels as they narrowly worked their way through the food court. They hadn't eaten lunch yet and a Ron with an empty stomach was an easily distracted Ron.

"Right Ron?" Bonnie repeated.

"Uh… yeah, good value." Ron echoed in a low blood sugar induced daze.

"And the clothes… They're completely the same as Club Banana, right?" Bonnie cast these last few words about like an angler going for the big catch.

Ron took the bait.

"Absolutely!" he said by way of automatic response. There were very few things that could cause Ron Stoppable to be distracted from imminent hunger, but it just so happened that his love of all things Smarty-Mart was one of them.

"It's such a scam Bonnie! Did you know that both stores are owned by the same company?" Ron began his patented consumerist rant while Bonnie feigned surprise at his words.

"Really?"

"Yep! All they do is slap a Club Banana label on it and then mark it up to high heaven."

Bonnie nodded in agreement with Ron, while subtly maneuvering him towards her intended destination.

"Some people, like a certain cheerleader who shall remain nameless, refuse to face the facts that they are being ripped off. Some people on the internet even call it a conspiracy, but not me! The way I see it, it's just a tax on fashion snobs. Those poor, poor, deluded sheep…"

Ron's voice trailed off as he looked up, finally realizing where they were.

"Hey… we're here…" Ron said with a hint of suspicion as he looked up at the familiar mortar board capped visage of the Smarty-Mart mascot.

Bonnie chuckled internally to herself and cast her line.

"Hey Ron? Aren't those pants the same ones that I just saw at Club Banana?" She said, while pointing to a large rack of clothing near the entrance of the store.

Ron's eyes narrowed as he stared at the articles in question. Something inside him snapped and a powerful feeling of vindication swept over him as he realized that for perhaps the first time in his life, he was about to prove to someone that he was right. True to Ron-form, he immediately became swept up in the moment.

"Yes! See that's exactly what I'm talking about! Look at these…" Ron marched off in the direction of the circular clothing rack, leaving a grinning Bonnie Rockwaller to follow in his wake.

The poor boy had taken the bait all she needed to do now was reel him in.

Even now, as Ron finished doing up the last button on his new shirt, he wondered exactly how he had managed to leave Smarty-Mart approximately two hours later with an empty wallet and a new wardrobe. Simply put, in his mind, Bonnie Rockwaller was quite likely the most dangerous woman alive. Sure, Shego could fry you on the spot, DNAmy would mutate you if she got the chance, and Kim could break you apart with 16 different styles of kung-fu, but to his knowledge Bonnie Rockwaller was the only person in the whole world who could make your own brain work against you.

"It was like some sort of girl Jedi mind trick. No, Ron, these are not the pants you are looking for."

Ron shook that disturbing thought from his head as he made his way out of the locker room and towards the now abandoned halls of Middleton High. School had been out for a couple hours now and the only people still lurking around were other athletes or people who had bizarre after school club commitments that Ron could never understand. Why join a club to stay after school? It was absolute madness.

"It's not like she really tricked me. Sure, I was hungry and probably not thinking quite straight but honestly… I kind of enjoyed it. It was actually fun and it was kind of nice to have a woman's opinion. Bonnie definitely knows her stuff too. I probably would have started dressing nicer ages ago if Kim would have helped me out."

Ron snorted at the inherent irony of his last thought. Kim Possible was the girl who could do anything, except it seemed, enter a discount retailer. It wasn't that Ron hadn't tried to get her to see the splendors of Smart-Mart's unique brand of value shopping; it was just that Kim, for whatever reason, avoided the place like the plague. He supposed that he understood, after all, Kim did have a reputation to uphold…

But then again, so did Bonnie.

"Am I slow or what? Bonnie… BONNIE ROCKWALLER went into Smarty-Mart with me. She didn't even ask me to keep it a secret. What the… Why? Why would she do that?"

Ron stepped out of the wide double doors at the front of the school, the cooling afternoon air caressing his face and banishing away his thoughts for a moment. He stood there for a few seconds, merely just basking in the fading sunlight and looking across the treetops towards the sky.

"She… she doesn't? Does she?"

Ron started to walk down the sidewalk towards his house, his feet following a familiar path, but his thoughts wandering down corridors that he had previously left unexplored.

Three words. Three little words. He had said them with abandon and without a thought to whom he was actually saying them to. Oh, how they had come back to haunt him.

"I love you."

Three tiny, single syllable words. Insignificant in the course of grammar, profound in the depth of English language, he had said them, in a darkened room to a cornered Bonnie Rockwaller. Three words that expressed exactly how he felt. Three words that laid bare his soul and heart. Three little words.

Three little words that he had said to the wrong woman.

Ron groaned as he rounded the corner towards the street that he and Kim lived on, its familiar shady trees playing shadow puppets on the sidewalk and across his body as he stared face down at the sidewalk, an intense mask of concentration on his face. His eyes focused on the tiny cracks and flaws in the concrete path, on the twigs and errant leaves that he trod upon. Slowly, the stubborn gears in his mind started to turn and he began to recall the events of the last couple of weeks with more clarity than he had known he possessed. For the first time, conversations and events that he had ignored or glossed over with blithe inattentiveness were starting to make sense.

For the first time in weeks, Ron Stoppable had actually begun to get a clue about what was happening in his life.

Sort of.

"Boy have I really misjudged Bonnie. After what I did to her in that closet, she's still going out of her way to help me get together with Kim. Of course, the worst thing is that I didn't even apologize to her! Heck, neither one of us has mentioned the closet or the next day at Bueno Nacho… She must be really embarrassed. "

Without realizing it, Ron passed Kim's house, and he stopped for a moment to gaze at the domicile that he had often considered his second home and the residence of the one girl in the world that he was utterly devoted to. His relationship with Kim, or sudden lack thereof, weighed heavily on his mind these days. He knew, deep down inside, that he wasn't good enough for the 'girl who could do anything'. It wasn't that he felt he was totally inadequate to be around Kim, that much was obvious since they had been practically inseparable for over a decade. Ron had this feeling that if Kim was a planet, then he was a satellite, eternally circling around her orbit, but never quite managing to touch.

When he was a kid, he hadn't realized this fact, but he felt this was owed to the constraints upon relationships that children had. Hanging out, playing together, running around and being silly, were just not in the same ballpark as such mysterious teenage past times such as 'dating'. He wasn't trying to denigrate the bond that he and Kim had formed over the years, but he found it increasingly difficult as he got older to ignore the facts of the situation. Regrettably, part of the process of growing into adulthood is dealing with the increasing categorization of your life and the reduced possibilities that this entailed. Kim, or so Ron believed, might actually be the one person able to defy such a fate, but Ron wasn't so sure about himself.

For instance, at the age of seventeen, Ron Stoppable was quite sure that he'd never be President, he'd never be a famous musician, or an actor, or an athlete, or even anything more mundane, but equally prestigious, like a lawyer or a doctor. It wasn't that he was completely incapable; it was just that he had taken a long cold look at not only his abilities but the limitations of his own personality. To be blunt, he just wasn't suited for excellence.

He was fine with that.

Kim on the other hand, really wasn't. She never raged at Ron, even when she had cause to and she had done her best to humor some of his more outlandish detours into weirdness or to encourage him when he was capable, but lacking in desire to succeed, but all those things aside, Ron had learned amongst the shifting emotional sandstorms of his emerging maturity that there was a big difference between dealing with a friend's failings and… a boyfriend's.

There were differences all right and the revelation felt like an arrow stabbing him in the heart.

Still, despite all this, despite knowing that he had a snowball's chance in hell, Ron soldiered on. It was, after all, in his nature; he had never given up on KP, not once in his life, and now that he was certain that he wanted to be with her forever he wasn't going to give up now. Things still looked grim, with Yori's ever present hovering on his mind, with Kim herself not speaking to Ron these days and with this newest revelation that he was quite possibly, unintentionally at least, taking Bonnie's friendship for granted…

He knew that he needed to get help. He needed someone to talk to, to sort out his feelings and to work out a plan. Who could he approach? His father was hopeless; he was still trying to marry Ron off to Yori for some unknown reason. Monique would be no good; she was Kim's friend more than Ron's. Bonnie recently had been a bastion of support for Ron, but now he was afraid that he had accidentally ruined their burgeoning friendship and didn't feel comfortable turning to her. Kim, of course, would normally be his first choice but given the circumstances, was entirely out of the question. Who then? Felix perhaps? Ron shook his head. Felix was Ron's second oldest friend and a great listener, but he ruefully admitted that Felix wasn't a major hit with the ladies; owing more to the fact that he spent most of his time glued to Zombie Mayhem and not other, more obvious, limitations.

Ron sighed and tried to direct his thoughts down another avenue before he started to consider asking Ned for advice. That, he resolved, would be the first and last sign that he had gone totally insane. Ron hesitated for a long minute outside of the Possible residence and then began to turn towards his own home. He wanted to make up with Kim, to at least, be friends again, but he knew that so long as the Yori situation wasn't cleared up, he didn't have much chance of that happening.

"Ok then, it's obvious. The first step is to figure out some way to get Yori to admit that we are not married. She'll be a tough nut to crack, too tough probably – she is a ninja after all. Dad on the other hand…"

Ron felt, nay, Ron knew that his father was involved somehow. He couldn't prove it, and the old man had been avoiding talking about it, but it didn't take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to figure out that Gene Stoppable, former actuary and current vice president, was at the very best, hiding a terrible secret from his family, and more importantly, from Ron.

"That's it. I'm going to target the old man and give him both barrels. This has got to end and if he doesn't back down, then I'll take Bonnie's advice. I don't want to, but I'm not going to let anyone, even my own family, decide my life for me anymore."

Ron puffed his chest out as he walked with determined footsteps towards the Stoppable residence. He knew that if he was going to make good on his threat that he would have to harden his heart and risk not only the wrath, but the alienation of his parents. He needed his life back and he needed it now.

-

Kim Possible flittered about her upper story bedroom like a hyperactive butterfly as she prepared for her evening rendezvous with Eric, her boyfriend. The two teens had been seeing quite a bit of each other recently, even more so now that she and Ron were on the outs, and tonight was no exception.

She felt a small pang of guilt whenever she thought of Ron and how she had treated him the last time they had spoke. Kim had known by the hangdog expression that the normally jovial boy had worn that their estrangement had been taking a heavy toll on him and in truth she felt more than a little responsible. She knew that she had overreacted, but knowing it and doing something about it were two entirely separate things.

"This is Ron we're talking about… he's clueless, but nice, and this whole sitch can't really be his entire fault… could it?"

Kim shuffled through an assortment of bottles on her vanity, looking for the perfect shade of either lip gloss, or eye liner, she couldn't decide. Eric had called only a half an hour before and while Kim was thrilled to be going out with her hunky new boyfriend, she hadn't planned on doing anything at all tonight – so she was more than a little unprepared.

Suddenly, she remembered something.

"That's not true I guess… I was going to call Ron."

Kim didn't know where that voice had come from and it's soft, yet startling clarity made her pause while she rummaged through her cosmetics. She looked up at the mirror, focused on her own piercing green eyes and tried to discern where that seemingly random thought had originated from.

"I meant to make up with him today, didn't I? I was going to call him and invite him out to Bueno Nacho and we were going to sit down and talk about…Yori and…"

Kim could barely force herself to think it.

"… and Bonnie fucking Rockwaller."

Kim didn't even hear the sound of her favorite eyeliner snapping in two as she fumed with impotent rage at her school rival and nemesis. Bonnie, it seems, had had it out for her since day one, since the cheer leading tryouts even, and no matter what Kim did, no matter how many times she turned the other cheek, Bonnie was dead set on trying to ruin everything that was good in her life. Kim honestly didn't know how much longer she could put up with the constant plots and insults that Bonnie subjected her to, but she did know two things – Ron would never pick Bonnie over her, and Bonnie was going to pay if she hurt Ron.

"God! What am I doing? I need to call Ron and talk some sense into him. Whatever it is that Bonnie's been planning, she's just going to use him up and throw him away. I need to…"

Kim's mental tirade was cut short by the sound of her mother's voice rising up the stairs from the living room.

"Kim! Eric's here!"

Kim's hand that had been reaching for her phone suddenly froze and all thoughts of Ron Stoppable, Bonnie Rockwaller and her insidious plots were banished from her mind. She looked down at her hand and the remains of pencil she had broken and swore silently.

"That was my favorite! Eric's here and I'm not even close to being ready!"

Kim began to panic and the upper register of her voice cracked when she hollered back to her mom that she was going to be just "one more minute". Busily, she started to primp and preen in front of the mirror, her eyes occasionally glancing over to her Kimmunicator and wondering if she had the time to place a single call…

"I'll do it after my date. I hate to say it, but Ron can wait a little bit longer. He's not going anywhere."

Kim had decided a long time ago that Ron Stoppable was more or less a permanent fixture in her life. The idea that there would ever be some sort of deadline or window of opportunity to make peace with him was a concept so alien to her that it didn't even enter into her mind, despite the fact that she knew that Bonnie Rockwaller was actively trying to get in between them. It was either her absolute faith in Ron's loyalty, or her own emerging arrogance that caused her to quickly pick up her Kimmunicator and place it into her handbag without placing the call that she knew she should have.

Ron, after all, had always waited for her. She felt very sure at that moment that he always would.

With a coy gesture, Kim tilted her head up so that the light hanging from her ceiling illuminated her features. She cast a careful eye over the work she had done with her limited amount of time and then with a satisfied smirk, pronounced it, "Good enough".She and Eric were supposed to go to a movie tonight anyway, so it wasn't like her face had to be absolutely impeccable.

"Kim!" her mother's voice came from downstairs.

"Coming!" she rejoined as she quickly spun around to join her boyfriend downstairs. Immediately she heard a crash that was preceded by a tug on her purse. The sound caused her to jump a little bit. Looking backwards, Kim noticed that she had accidentally caught her hand bag on one of the pictures that adorned her bureau. Sighing to herself and placing her bag on her bed, Kim squatted down carefully to retrieve the framed photo. It was a picture of her and Ron, one of her favorites, from when they were children.

Without warning Kim was caught up in a wave of nostalgia and for a moment it seemed like she was about to avoid making one of the worst mistakes of her life. Unfortunately however, her boyfriend's voice carried into the air…

"Kim, we're going to be late for the movie!"

Kim looked at the photo for a second, and then made a snap decision.

"Sigh. I'm going to have to get a new frame. Not tonight though, I have a date to go on first!"

Kim set the picture down where it had fallen from, not even noticing that she had appropriately set it face down.

-

Yori put the interminable bane of her existence, better known as her U.S. History textbook, back into her school bag and breathed a sigh of relief. Yamanouchi, besides training ninjas, had quite the rigorous academic curriculum, but unfortunately for Yori, the history they taught there tended to be more of the local variety. She was thankful that Steve Barkin generally taught from the book instead of relying upon students to actually remember material that they had previously learned because as it was, she was just barely getting by.

Heck, she had at one point even asked Ron's help with her homework. She giggled at that thought – it wasn't that Ron was dumb, far from it actually; it was just that he only showed his true genius when it came to things that interested him and it seemed that most of his school classes didn't fall into this category. Yori wasn't surprised by this actually, she had often mused that the most brilliant of men were often bored and not interested in the mundane topics that filled the days and lives of common people. When it came to Ron Stoppable, Yori was utterly certain that his genius would be tied to his destiny and she wanted more than anything to be a part of it.

With a long sigh, Yori flopped backwards onto the enormous bed that she had placed in the room that she now shared with Ron. It was easily big enough for four people, but she lamented that it had never seen more than one resident at a time. Sadly she noted that Ron's sleeping bag and pillows were still located in the corner of the bedroom where they had been placed the first night she had shown up.

"I knew this was going to be hard, but I didn't know it would be impossible!"

She didn't understand why Ron kept avoiding her advances. Certainly it wasn't because he didn't find her attractive – she had done more than enough testing of that theory with her impromptu displays of semi-nudity and total disregard for knocking before entering bathrooms. No, there was something else here, some other thing that was keeping the two teenagers apart, and try as she might, Yori was no closer now than she had been when she arrived at solving this thorny problem.

"I'm running out of time, if I don't get Ron-san to agree to come back with me to Japan then I will have to…"

A sob started to well in her throat and she found herself unable to complete the thought. Instead she closed her eyes tightly and attempted to fight back the tears that she felt building whenever her mind turned to the circumstances under which she had left her homeland. She knew that it was unfair of her to put this burden on Ron, but she also felt that it was for the best, for both him and her. Certainly it was part of Ron's destiny as the Chosen One to someday run the Yamanouchi clan, if it came now or later it would not make much difference in the long run, but for now, in the short term, it could make a world of difference. There were forces at play in the corners of the shadowy politics of the ninja clan that even Yori as an insider was barely able to comprehend, but she knew bad road when she saw it. Ron, she had surmised, could save them all.

"He will come around. I have to believe that he will. I will do whatever I have to, I will be the best, most perfect, obedient wife on the planet if he would only come with me. It would be better if he would make this choice on his own, but I will do whatever I must, sacrifice whatever I must and eventually I will win Ron-san's heart. He will come to love me, I know he will, he's too kind not to."

Yori clung to these thoughts like a sailor to the rails in the midst of a tempest. They were the only things that made the pain and indecision about her current mission tolerable and without them she knew that her spirit would be crushed in defeat. The rejection that she had been suffering so far at the hands of Ron had taken it's toll on her, but she at least held out hope that things would improve eventually if only she could just get him to see how dedicated she was to him.

How dedicated she was to the Chosen One.

These thoughts occupied her mind when her acute hearing picked up the sound of the front door to the Stoppable house opening. She knew that Ron's parents, Gene and Meryl, were already accounted for, so the only other person who could possibly be arriving unannounced would be Ron. A quirky little smile graced her otherwise elegant lips and she bounced up from the bed, intent on running down to welcome Ron home. Perhaps, she hoped, tonight would be the night they finally made some progress.

"There's always a chance. Fight Yori! Gambate!" she thought to herself as she nimbly traversed down the second storey stairs.

Yori poked her head around the corner of the stairway entrance and glanced into the foyer and was surprised to see it empty. Usually when Ron came home, the first thing he did was throw his book bag on the floor and walk over to the couch to watch T.V. In fact, this was the only time that she could remember in the last couple of weeks where he had broken that routine. She wondered if perhaps he had been hungry and gone to the kitchen for a snack and was just about to walk off in that direction when she heard muffled talking from the far end of the living room.

Yori slowly walked closer and she realized that the sound was coming from the door that separated the main house from the Stoppable's garage. As she approached, the voices started to become clearer.

"How come you keep trying to change the subject?" came the first voice. Yori instantly knew it was Ron.

"I'm not doing anything of the sort son. I'm just saying that there are things going on here that you don't understand and they'll take time to fix…" The second voice was obviously Ron's father.

"Well, why don't you make me understand? I'm sick of getting the push off on this every time I try to talk to you and mom about this!" Ron was shouting now, and Yori didn't have to struggle as much to hear him.

"Ronald! Just put up with it for a little while longer and I promise you we'll clear the situation up."

There was a sound from the garage, like a trashcan being kicked and some low muttering that Yori was unable to make out.

"That's it! I've had it! I can't wait any longer on this; it's ruining my lifenow!"

"There's no need to be melodramatic. Is it really that bad? She's a very sweet and pretty girl. You know Ronald if I was your age…"

Gene's voice was immediately cut off by Ron who practically bellowed at his father.

"Why don't you, or mom, or Kim get it? I don't care! I'm not in love with Yori! I've never been in love with Yori and I never WILL be in love with Yori!"

Yori had been pressing her ear to the door so as to eavesdrop on the two men and when she had heard Ron's pronouncement that he would never love her, she found herself feeling as if she had just been kicked in the chest, directly over the heart to be exact. She had known that Ron was resistant to the idea of being with her, but she had never dreamed that she would hear words like that coming out of his mouth. She had tried so hard, sacrificed so much for his sake and for the sake of Yamanouchi, only to hear him say that he would never love her…

She crumpled to the floor in a heap, her legs folding under her as she leaned against the door. Ron and his father were still talking, but for some reason Yori couldn't make out what they were saying. To her, their voices sounded like they were talking under water. She didn't even notice it when her breath started to become shallow and the sound of the conversation in the next room was replaced by a ringing in her ears. She wrapped her arms around her chest and huddled there on the floor for long minutes as she tried to put the pieces of her world back together.

Unfortunately, she had no idea where to start.

-

Gene Stoppable clutched his right arm in a vice like grip. He was a man that didn't yell often and in fact he prided himself on his level headed demeanor, but the truth was this wasn't so much a natural personality trait of his as much as it was dictated by the nature of his diagnosed heart disease. Already he could feel the numbness and the pain building up inside him and he fumbled around in his pocket for a small metal canister that contained his heart medication.

Gene swallowed the tiny blue pill and then leaned against his car, trying to both catch his breath and calm his nerves. He knew that his son was right, that what he was currently doing to the boy was nearly unforgivable, but he hadn't expected Ron to be so… forceful about it. Until this moment Gene had always considered Ron to be his son, in both temperament and demeanor and now he was more than a little shocked to discover that the boy had evidently picked up some of his wife Meryl's fiery temper.

"I need to sort this out as soon as I can. Even if it means losing my job, that's still far better than alienating my son, my wife and even hurting that poor girl's feelings. Lord, I never expected Ronald to threaten going to the police. Child protective services? I guess he's right – he's a minor and the whole thing is so shady that it'll be picked apart in seconds."

Gene started to feel his pulse slowing back down to normal and he reached into his shirt to pull out a triangle folded handkerchief that he often used to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. He had never seen his boy so angry before and while he was still surprised, he had to admit that in some ways he was a little glad. One of his major concerns in his life had been that his boy was a little bit too docile for his own good, almost to the point of being a house pet instead of a young man. He supposed it was to be expected, what with the way that he always followed around that Possible girl. It wasn't that Gene thought that Kim was a bad influence on Ron, quite the opposite actually; it was just that her personality was so overpowering that Ron's own development would be stunted.

"Well, I suppose that's a concern that I can forget about!"

Gene rubbed his eyes a couple of times, languidly allowing his hand to brush across his face and then replaced his handkerchief in his pocket. He felt sufficiently calm now and he knew that he needed to keep his blood pressure under control for the imminent confrontation with his wife. He was sure that Meryl would be supportive of Ron's position, but he also knew that she was going to be less than thrilled when he informed her that it could quite likely cost him his job.

He steeled his nerves and approached the door leading back into the house. Just as his hand reached for the doorknob he thought that he heard a sound on the other side, but when he opened it, he found no one there.

"Odd." He spoke aloud to no one in particular as he went to find his wife and face the music.

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A/N: Hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. It took me quite a bit longer to write than I had anticipated, but I was feeling that my story was losing its way so I made a resolution to tighten up the plot a bit so that we could see some forward momentum here. From now on the installments should feature a lot more progression and definite resolutions with a couple of new story elements being introduced in the next couple of chapters.

Also, I would like to thank everyone who nominated my story, Ron Stoppable: Ultimate Monkey Master for a Fannie award. For those of you who do not know what a Fannie is, I suppose you can think of it as the Oscars for Kim Possible fan fiction writers. My story is up for three awards, Best Story Overall, Best Novel-Sized and Best Action/Adventure. If you haven't read this story please check out my profile where you will find not only a link to the story, but also links to the Fannie polls where you can vote for me if you so choose!

Once again, thanks to each and every one of you for reading and for your comments on my work (I love getting reviews!) and especially for the Fannie nomination.

Cheers,

QC

PS: Special thanks toNoobfish for pre-reading this chapter and helping me make it semi-presentable to you guys. If my writing is improving, then you have him to thank.